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Introduction:

harry potter fanfiction
Harry Potter and the Scrivenings of Slytherin by Afterthought_btw
Chapter 1: A Normal Day, for an Abnormal Person.


It was another hot July day, with the sun beating down onto parched grass, and scorched earth. The annual hose-pipe ban was in full flow, and the normally pristine lawns were withered and dying. Of course, most normal sixteen year old boys weren’t bothered about the weather. Most normal sixteen year olds were inside, playing their respective consoles, with their other, normal, friends who would only leave the house when evening came, and the heat abated. Then, like most normal boys, they would go out, and find younger boys to beat up, and ‘practice boxing’ against, or find untouched public equipment to destroy.

Harry James Potter however, was not a normal boy, as his aunt and uncle never tired of telling him. What normal boy would be sitting outside on the hot ground, hidden from sight of the road, peering through glasses that looked as though they were held together by magic at a newspaper? What normal boy would pour through the said paper, looking more and more worried as he finished each article? Of course, if you listened to Harry’s Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, what normal boy would read at all?

Vernon and Petunia Dursley were right about one thing however, Harry Potter in fact wasn’t what you would call normal. Harry Potter; was a wizard. Not just that however, Harry Potter was the wizard that had defeated the most evil, sadistic, violent wizard in centuries when he was just a baby. And more than this – Harry Potter was top of the newly resurrected Lord Voldemort’s hit list.

Sitting here was as close as Harry could get to not being cooped up – if he remained inside then the best he could hope for was to go upstairs, to his tiny room, and be ignored completely. The worst case scenario was to be verbally abused by his aunt, uncle, and cousin. Thankfully the physical abuse seemed to be over for this year – his aunt and uncle weren’t afraid of him, as he couldn’t use magic out of school, but they were afraid of Mad-Eye Moody and his rolling eye. Of course, if he left the grounds of the house, then the best he could hope for was to be met by annoyed members of Dumbledore’s Order of the Phoenix, and sent back home with strict instructions not to leave again. The worst… was the thing that Harry had tried to avoid thinking about the most this summer. Well. Almost the most, he corrected himself.

Harry had only once left the house for a walk this summer, and that was when he didn’t trust himself to take anymore of the Dursleys’ constant insults and orders. As luck would have it, he ran into Snape, and the words that Snape had for him were as predictable, as they were unjust and barbed. Professor Severus Snape, the Potions master at Hogwarts, and Harry had a bond of mutual enmity between them that was seemingly impossible to break. For Professor Snape the hatred was born out of abhorrence of the father more than the son. He saw James Potter as an arrogant boy that had strutted around the school as if he owned it, didn’t care for rules, and bullied people he ran into. It probably didn’t help matters that James also happened to be the top student in the school, and constantly outshone Snape in everything he did. The problem for Harry; was that he couldn’t help but wonder if this hatred was in fact reasonable – this was possibly third in his list of things to avoid thinking about this summer. From Harry’s point of view, the fault for this less than savoury relationship between them was all Snape’s. Snape was unfairly criticising him, taking house points off him, and trying to get him expelled since the first day they had met.

After the meeting with Snape, Harry had spent his days as close to the boundaries of his relations’ property as possible, only venturing inside when he had to. The first week since Harry had returned to Number 4 Privet Drive from school had passed by without any deaths, at least, but with many calls for the resignation of Minister Fudge, and many articles of advice in the Defence Against the Dark Arts that was going to become vital in the next few years – and possibly longer they claimed, although Harry was sure that Voldemort wouldn’t wait that long. And once Voldemort had struck, there would only be two outcomes. He, Harry, would have murdered Voldemort, or Harry and his closest friends would be dead, and the wizarding and Muggle worlds doomed.

Since that first week however, wizards and Muggles had started dying, with a terrifying green mark over the area of death the only sign of the culprits. Hundreds had died: wizardborns, Muggleborns, and Muggles, and a Muggle was the only one who had managed to kill one of his assailants. The way the Daily Prophet told it, it sounded like the Muggle farmer had heard intruders, reached for his shotgun, and pumped pellets into a Death Eater from close range before being tortured and killed by the Death Eater’s comrades. The Death Eater – Vanda Murdock – had been left behind when the other Death Eaters had disapparated away, leaving a lead for the Ministry in the hunt for Voldemort’s followers. Voldemort had been most displeased that a mere Muggle had managed to deplete his numbers. Harry knew. He had punished the offending people in his dream last night. He had found out why this morning.

Harry’s hands were trembling – all of it was his fault! If he hadn’t prevented Professor Lupin and Sirius from killing Pettigrew two years ago, Voldemort wouldn’t have been resurrected. Sirius. He had killed him. He lived through it again and again at night. Sometimes he held the wand, sometimes Voldemort, or Bellatrix Lestrange did, but each time he saw Sirius come to his aid, and each time he could do nothing but watch the wand raise, and hear the cruel words: ‘Avada Kedavra!’ Sirius’ body would fall back, a look of astonishment and accusation on his face, and then … disappear. Harry had seen the veil so often in his dreams; he could picture it perfectly in his head even when awake.

He was pulled from his thoughts by a sudden crash of thunder. Looking up with a start, he could see nothing but blue skies and sun. Then –

“BOY! COME HERE THIS INSTANT!” Vernon Dursley roared.

Harry folded the newspaper in two, and looked to his right, where the yelling had come from. He took a double take. A small thundercloud was settled over a clump of begonias, raining hard, and producing mini lightning bolts which flashed brightly, although they didn’t seem to be doing anything particularly harmful to Harry. The parched begonias looked rather grateful for the water, and seemed to perk up in front of Harry’s eyes. Before he could stop himself, he gave close to the first genuine laugh he had mustered since that night in the Department of Mysteries. Almost at once, the thundercloud disappeared.

Uncle Vernon was advancing menacingly towards him. “What the DEVIL do you mean by this boy?! We told you… we warned you… there is to be none of your abnormality around here, not even a mention of it! Understand?”

“I’m not the one yelling about it in the middle of Privet Drive.” Harry replied coolly, removing his wand from his pocket, and holding it in his right hand, which was hanging loosely by his side. “It was an accident – I can’t help it.”

“Don’t you take that tone with me, boy!” Vernon Dursley’s face was turning an all too familiar shade of puce. “You will go inside and wait for me in the kitchen – do you understand? And put that thing away!” he hissed.

“Fine –” Harry shrugged before continuing “– I’ll see you in a minute then.”

Harry walked inside slowly, purposely keeping his wand out, willing himself to stay calm, and not cause any more accidental magic. He wasn’t sure if accidental magic was an expellable offence or not – he guessed not, as he had done some last year which wasn’t mentioned at his hearing, but he didn’t want to take any chances. Anyway, it would make the Dursleys harder to handle. Harry wasn’t afraid of the Dursleys anymore. He had his wand – he could do far more to them than they could to him. But, he might end up blowing the house to smithereens if the Dursleys riled him enough and he wasn’t careful. At least he wouldn’t have to worry about Voldemort then, he thought humourlessly.

“What are you doing in the house, boy?” Aunt Petunia’s shrill voice interrupted his thoughts again.

As much as Harry wanted to retort that he lived in the house too, he forced himself to reply in a neutral tone. “Uncle Vernon wanted to talk to me.”

Aunt Petunia sniffed. “Sit down then, and don’t you dare make a sound.”

Harry had given up asking her about how she knew Dumbledore, and in any case, did not want to get into more trouble than he was undoubtedly already in. He watched Petunia Dursley potter about the kitchen for a while, wondering for the umpteenth time how he was related to the Dursleys. After all, his mother and father were clever and magically powerful, wanted to make a difference to the world and sacrificed their lives for him, when he was a baby. He found it hard to believe that Lily Potter would, like her sister, have stayed home, and brought up a spoilt brat as a child, eavesdropping on their neighbours’ conversations, and using her nephew as a slave to keep the house spotless and the garden immaculate. He couldn’t imagine his father bullying his nephew for fun – he stopped. What about Snape?

James Potter had certainly embarrassed Snape when he had had the chance. The scene he had seen in Dumbledore’s pensieve was forever etched in his memory. Sirius and Lupin had told him Snape was into the Dark Arts, and James had always hated the Dark Arts. Was that really an excuse though? Snape had called his mother a Mudblood. Could he see himself using his wand on a Slytherin simply because of their Pureblood mania? Malfoy definitely, but wouldn’t it just be an excuse to curse Malfoy then? With everything Malfoy had done and tried to do to him, Harry felt he had every reason in the world to curse Malfoy. But he knew he wouldn’t pick on Malfoy just because he was bored, like James and Sirius had. Whenever something happened between him and Malfoy, Malfoy was the one that instigated it all.

Sirius and Lupin had said that his father had grown up, had stopped cursing everyone he met, and even if he still did curse Snape from time to time it was only because Snape would curse him if given half the chance. But the fact remained, that he, like Dudley, had sought out people who were weaker than he was, and then magically ‘beat them up’ just like Dudley beat up the few children younger than him that didn’t run away on sight.

Harry caught sight of Uncle Vernon passing the window with the begonias that Harry had magically watered snapped and the life wrung out of them, and shook his head in disbelief. They were so completely afraid of magic that they had to dispose of anything touched by it. He was more than slightly amazed that his books and trunk had lasted over the summer in his first few years at school. He couldn’t help the feeling, either, that Aunt Petunia was the only reason he also hadn’t been cast into the rubbish like those flowers. He clenched his fist around his wand and brought it up onto the table.

“Don’t you point that thing at me boy.” Aunt Petunia snapped.

“I wasn’t -”

“How dare you threaten your aunt, Potter?!”

“I didn’t -”

“Put that … that … away this instant!”

Harry’s effort to remain calm vanished. He swung around at Uncle Vernon, and pointed the wand at him. Jumping off his chair, he advanced on the man, red and gold sparks emanating from the wand tip, dissolving as they hit Vernon Dursley’s shirt. Harry’s uncle yelped, and retreated hastily back into the doorway he had just come through.

“Don’t… Don’t you try any funny stuff, boy. They’ll throw you out of the madhouse, you know that. If you use that thing on me, then you can say goodbye to that freak school of yours! And don’t… don’t think you’ll be allowed to stay here either!” he blustered.

“That’s what you said last year too, remember? Guess what? I’m still at Hogwarts, and I’m still living here. I won’t be expelled – they need me – I’m the only one who can get rid of Voldemort.” He hesitated, as he realised what he had just admitted. “Look, I won’t hex you if you don’t make me. Just… sit down, and don’t even think about trying anything. I’ll use this if I have to.”

Mr and Mrs Dursley gasped. Whether it was at the fact that he’d at last stood up to them, even threatened them, or the fact that he had admitted he was the only person who could kill Lord Voldemort, he wasn’t sure. He had the feeling it was the former. Why would his uncle and aunt care about the whole world, when their ability to bully him was in question? Petunia was speechless, but Vernon looked like he was torn between fury and terror.

“I will not be talked to like this boy! You’ll apologise and listen to me if you know what’s good for you… you… y…” Harry moved the wand closer to his face, and his Uncle sidestepped his way to a chair and sat down, trailing off.

Dudley had appeared behind his father, a look of horror on his face. His hands clasped firmly behind him on his backside, and he edged towards his mother, in the opposite direction to his utterly defeated father.

“Hello, Big D.” Harry greeted him coolly. ”You don’t have to stay here if you don’t want, you can go back and watch TV. Oh and I’m not going to give you a pigtail, so stop grabbing your bottom. Although, come to think about it, maybe I will turn you completely into a pig if you don’t watch out.”

Harry wasn’t sure why he was threatening Dudley – he only had a vague idea that it might be because he had nearly sixteen years of being on the other end to make up. Dudley had actually not been too bad this year. He seemed to have at last realised that Harry had saved his life last year rather than tried to kill him. Whether he had accepted that he had nearly killed them both by punching Harry, Harry wasn’t sure.

“How dare you threaten my ickle Duddy-kins!” Aunt Petunia had found her voice again, and was the latest to find a wand directed at her. “We took you in, looked after you, we saved your life by letting you live here. If it wasn’t for us, Lord Voldemort could just walk in, point his wand at you, and you’d be dead – and we wouldn’t have to look after you anymore.”

“Look after me? Look after me?” Sparks were flying out of Harry’s wand at ferocious speeds now. The cupboards and drawers started to shake, and the cutlery rattled. The light was switching itself on and off, and the curtains had closed themselves. A glass fell off one of the surfaces, and shattered; one of the cupboard doors came apart completely from its hinges, and hit Dudley in the leg, who yelled. Harry glared at them, and the glass repaired itself, and floated back into position, while the cupboard door reattached itself. Dudley stopped yelling. Harry barely noticed, but rather continued angrily: “You call shutting me in a cupboard, lying about who I was, who my parents were, letting Dudley use me as a punch bag…”

As he spoke, Petunia walked shakily over to the glass and examined it.

“You did magic!” She whispered.

Harry was so shocked to hear a note of concern in her quavering voice that he stopped mid sentence and all signs of magic – and his anger – abated.

“They’ll expel you. You’re not allowed. Quickly – go upstairs.”

“You heard your aunt – you’re done for now. You did magic, you can’t tell me you’ll get away with all that now! Now go upstairs!” Uncle Vernon’s tone was different to his wife’s – while not as furious as previously, it sounded strangely gleeful.

“I’ll tell them it wasn’t you Harry, you must go!” There was anxiety in her voice now as she walked over to open the curtains once more.

Harry looked at her, perplexed. “Who else would it be? I’m the only witch or wizard around here – they told me that at my hearing last year. And why do you care, anyway?”

“You’re the only one that can kill… him … you can’t be arrested. I’ll… I’ll tell them it was me, just go upstairs and I’ll lock you in – quickly, before they come!”

It was Harry’s turn to be speechless, he couldn’t help but feel that Aunt Petunia knew about the prophecy, and not just from what he had let slip earlier. Not only that, but it seemed like Aunt Petunia had some concept of the danger the whole world was in. But that she was willing to protect him? He couldn’t believe that. He stood looking at the Dursleys mutely for half a minute, until he finally found his voice.

“It’s accidental magic, I didn’t mean to do any of it. They won’t arrest me for this, it’s okay.” I hope. “They only arrest people for wand magic outside of school I think. I didn’t use my wand.” Suddenly he remembered what she had said – “Why did you think they’d believe you did it Aunt Petunia? They know that you’re all Muggles – I mean – normal people. You can’t do magic, they’ll know that.”

Dudley and Uncle Vernon flinched at the word magic, and Uncle Vernon had gone a little redder at the word Muggle, but Aunt Petunia simply turned white and then even into a shade of grey. As Harry finished, she became flustered, and looked around at her husband, but not for support it seemed, but rather apologetically. She looked behind her for a chair, and fell into it. When Harry continued staring at her, wand now by his side, she took a deep breath, gulped, tried to speak and failed.

“Petunia, dear, what is it?” asked Uncle Vernon

“Vernon, I’m… sorry. I… I… when I was… was seven, I… had fallen and broke my ankle. I had… to stay lying down all day.” She gulped again, “I wanted a glass of water, but I couldn’t get up to get it. The… the glass just… flew into my hand.” Uncle Vernon gasped, and talking to him now, she continued, “I was so ashamed of what I’d done that I didn’t tell anyone. I was not going to let myself become a… a freak! I was going to be a normal woman, with no hint of any unnaturalness – I wouldn’t disappoint my parents – so when that damned letter came for me; I burnt it before my parents could see it. Two more letters came, each trying to get me to go to that awful place, but I burnt them both, before my parents could see them and realise what I was.

“Then Lily got the same letter three years later, and she didn’t care about becoming abnormal, or a freak. And my parents encouraged her. They sent her off to that school and bought her everything she needed. She came back each summer more different and strange than the last, and my parents were proud! They didn’t see her for the weirdo she was. For the freak that I refused to be, for them! And then that Voldemort appeared and … he … and he killed them – all because of Lily meeting that” – she pursed her lips – “that Potter boy, and having you.” She said viciously at Harry. “And then you were attacked and Lily and her good for nothing husband died, leaving us with you and I was told that you were the only one that could kill this Voldemort for good, and that you had to stay with us, as you’d be safe here until you could fight him.” Aunt Petunia had seemingly forgotten about explaining about magic and gone onto a rant about Lily and Harry.

“Petunia? What… What are you saying, dear?” Uncle Vernon looked like his whole world had been turned upside down, which it probably had.

“Hang on. Are you saying you’re a witch?” It was Harry’s turn to feel weak and look for a chair. His head was swimming.

His aunt looked furious, his Uncle looked like he was about to faint.

“How dare you call me that! I refused to let that freakish behaviour control me, I forced it out.”

“Okay, okay – but … but are you… you are saying that you once had the ability to do magic right?”

His Aunt looked like she was being forced to eat a lemon. “Yes.” She spat.

“Well… you do know that magic is just a part of you, that you can’t stop it, right?”

“Just because you want to be a freak and refused to let us stamp it out of you, boy, doesn’t mean that your aunt can’t. She is completely normal, and proud of it. R–Right Petunia?” While Uncle Vernon undoubtedly wanted to either threaten or insult Harry, he sounded more like he wanted to believe what he was saying himself. Dudley let out a squeak of terror.

“Perfectly right, Vernon.” Aunt Petunia said decisively. “I haven’t done magic once since I was seven. I was strong enough to destroy it.”

Harry let out a frustrated sigh, his temper boiling over once more. “You idiots know nothing whatsoever about magic, do you? You’ve refused to even accept it exists for years. I, however, have been in the magical world for five years and have learnt about this kind of thing for those five years. Trust me,” He stressed, “you can’t get rid of the magic inside you. It’s not even a bad thing to have it! There’s nothing wrong with having magic.”

“Be quiet you insolent boy!” His aunt shrieked. “We know far more about things than you do. Magic isn’t natural; of course it’s wrong to have it. I destroyed it. As you ought to have done!”

“You fools!” Harry yelled, eyes flashing, and wand back out. “You can’t change the world to fit into your own little world. Magic exists and you can’t do a damned thing to stop it.” He kicked back his chair, and advanced upon Aunt Petunia once more.

Aunt Petunia was looking up at him, eyes wide open fearfully. As Harry advanced, his wand got ripped out of his hand, and flew towards his aunt. It landed right in her hand. She looked at it in horror, and flung it back at Harry, hitting him on the forehead, clattering on the floor.

Harry stooped to pick it up and yelled at her as he rose again. “You destroyed the magic then did you? What do you call that then?”

“No… I didn’t… I couldn’t have… I refuse to… No…” She whispered in horror.

“That, aunt, was a disarming charm.” Harry lectured sarcastically. “Expelliarmus it’s called. It disarms a man, woman or other creature of whatever it’s holding. I used it against an Acromantula once, a huge six foot spider.”

“No… It can’t be… I can’t have…” Aunt Petunia hung her head in apology to Vernon. “I… I’m sorry Vernon…”

“Why should you have to apologise? There’s nothing wrong with doing magic. There’s nothing wrong with being a witch or wizard!” Harry asked, rolling his eyes.

“I… I don’t want to be a freak…” His aunt whispered, barely audible, tears welling up in her eyes.

Oh Merlin! Harry moaned to himself. Aunt Petunia’s a witch and doesn’t want to be one… No wonder she doesn’t know whether to hate me or help me – she’s jealous of my mother, and blames mum and me for her parents – my grandparents – dying. What an absolute mess!

“Why doesn’t Dumbledore ever tell me anything?” Harry burst out savagely. “I thought he’d said he tell me everything after… after the Mi- OW! Oh for Merlin’s SAKE!”

An owl had just come though an open window and crashed into his head. It was a small owl – almost a feathery ball, and Harry recognised Pig immediately. He grabbed the note roughly and then threw Pig back through the open window. It was only when Pigwidgeon hooted merrily that Harry wondered where exactly this foul temper had come from.

“Hey Pig! Come back a second!”

The owl fluttered back hooting shrilly as if he had rather enjoyed the experience of being thrown like a tennis ball, and was looking forward to it again. Harry poured some water into a small glass and let the bird dip its beak in it. Pig flew up to his shoulder after he’d taken his fill, nibbled his ear and hooted softly, in what he must have thought was an affectionate way, and then flew through the window for a fourth time.

“Thanks Pig, I ‘preciate it.” Harry muttered softly as the owl disappeared.

He turned to the three Dursleys, who were looking at him dumbstruck with matching expressions of terror on their faces – almost as if they thought he was a madman who might explode at any moment. His temper flared for a second at their view of magic which was replaced by a feeling of pity – curiously, for Dudley most of all. As his emotions changed, his scar pounded in pain, and he clapped his hands to his forehead, screwing his eyes up against the agony.

Aunt Petunia was the first to find her voice. “Dudley, Harry, I want you in your rooms or out of the house: I have to talk to your father Dudders dear.”

Harry was all too happy to oblige, and, one hand still clapped to his scar, he staggered upstairs, to his room. Dudley stayed behind with his ear to the door, reminding Harry forcibly of the letter that had told him he was a wizard. His scar hurt even more.

In the small box room that was his bedroom, Harry fell onto his bed, and smothered his head in a pillow, trying to muffle the pain in some way. It didn’t help one bit. There was a searing pain that started off at the scar, and shot right through the back of his head, as if there was a hot poker stuck there. He heard yelling down below, but couldn’t register what was being said. Try as he might to think of something to divert his attention from the agony, he couldn’t concentrate. He tried focussing on the pain, dividing it up into smaller bits, concentrating on the pain of one of them, and trying not to think of the rest, but it was no use. An image flashed into his head of a graveyard, and a cold voice saying: “Crucio!”

Tom Marvolo Riddle Sr’s grave. His parents had saved him then. Along with Cedric, they had helped him escape from Voldemort. Even dead, they had continued to watch over him.

The pain faded. Harry dimly registered that he was screaming, and stopped immediately. The house was deadly quiet aside from some quiet hoots from Hedwig. He rolled over onto his back, taking his head out of the pillow, panting heavily, as if he had just run a mile at full tilt. Away from a horde of Death Eaters, and Voldemort himself.

The sound of Tekken being fired up on Dudley’s Playstation interrupted the silence and murmurs could be heard faintly from downstairs. Harry stood up slowly, limbs aching as if he truly had undergone the Cruciatus curse again. Slowly and gingerly, he walked over to Hedwig’s cage, and opened it. Hedwig swept out immediately, and flew to Harry, hooting reassuringly all the time. She buffeted him gently with her wing and nibbled on his ear as though she was trying to calm him down. Harry felt his cheek glisten and quickly wiped away the tear, reaching up to stroke Hedwig. She flew over to some parchment on Harry’s desk, picked it up in her talons and brought it to Harry. Her meaning couldn’t be clearer. Harry made a sound between a shaky laugh and a hiccough.

“What would I do without you Hedwig, eh?”

He walked over to the desk, and slumped down into the chair. Every move was an effort. He scribbled down two brief messages nearly illegibly.

Dear Professor Dumbledore,

We need to talk in person. Soon, and preferably not in Privet Drive.

Harry.

And:

To whichever Order member Hedwig finds first,

Please get this short message to the headmaster ASAP.

URGENT.

Harry.

Enclosing them in the same envelope, Harry sealed it, and tied it to Hedwig’s leg.

“Thank you girl. Can you give this to either Mrs Figg, or else an Order member, if you see them first?”

Hedwig hooted reassuringly and flew through the window Harry opened as swift as an arrow. Harry sank back on to the bed. He wasn’t sure what had happened, but he knew it was serious. Annoyed as he might still be by Dumbledore’s treatment of him, he knew Dumbledore would be the only one who could give an answer, or help. Occlumency, a voice whispered to him. You killed Sirius by not doing it, and you’re going to kill more people now.

“I haven’t killed anyone!” Harry yelled.

“YOU LOSE!” echoed through the wall from Dudley’s room, and he suddenly registered that voices had stopped talking from down below. Harry punched the pillow on his bed, hard. His temper had flared up again, but it was a weary sort of anger now. A helpless anger. He rolled over onto his back and lay on the bed silently, trying not to think about anything. He could make out some of what his aunt and uncle were saying now, or at least his uncle.

“The boy’s mad and dangerous! Listen to him. You saw what he did. It was…” Uncle Vernon roared in the distance.

Aunt Petunia was speaking more quietly, and Harry couldn’t make out the words.

“It’s all Potter’s fault, I’m telling you. You couldn’t have, it couldn’t have been…” Vernon was bellowing so much, that Harry wondered if neighbours would be coming round to complain. It seemed that Aunt Petunia was thinking the same thing, as Harry heard nothing for a few minutes until:

“You can damn well tell him that then!”

Again Harry couldn’t make out what Aunt Petunia said.

“I want him out of the house! I will NOT have him threatening my family. I’ve had enough of his abnormality. Dudders’ tail, Marge being blown up, those weirdoes that destroy the living room, those damn demented whats-its, I’m telling you Petunia, I’ve had enough of these freaks, and their magic tricks! It’s not normal!” Harry heard a door slam, and gave a wry smile as he realised that Uncle Vernon was insulting his wife all the time that he complained about magic. It was the first fight he’d ever heard them have.

The mentioning of the blowing up of the living room had reminded Harry of the letter Pigwidgeon had delivered. He rolled over to the side of the bed, and picked it up off the floor where he had dropped it when he came in. He ripped the envelope open untidily, and revealed Ron’s untidy writing, and an unusually long letter.

Dear Harry,

How are you holding up mate? Summer’s been about as good as you can expect here. Dumbledore’s put wards all around the Burrow, Dad, Bill and Charlie have been reinforcing them all summer. Charlie’s been apparating back and forth from Romania since the killings started, and is absolutely knackered, but he says that he isn’t going to leave us now that You-Know-Who is starting an offensive.

Ginny’s been helping the twins with their joke shop; I think she’s planning on taking over from them at school this year now they’re gone from Hogwarts. Mum’s furious, she says that she has to think of her future, and get good O.W.L.s. Speaking of which, Fred and George have improved their Extendable-Ears to get round imperturbable charms, and from something Mum and Dad said, the Astronomy grades are going to be graded higher because of Umbridge and her goons going after Hagrid. Hermione’s over the moon – I guess it means that she’ll get 50 Outstandings or however many she’s taking. Although, she probably would have anyway, come to think about it. Anyway, we should be getting our results any day soon. Would be great to see you when we get them – if I have Hermione owling me about where she lost 1% in Arithmancy, I might go insane… or worse! What if she uses the floo!?

Harry grinned. There was something about the way that Ron spoke or wrote, that made the simplest thing seem funny. Plus, he knew exactly what Hermione was like; he wasn’t looking forward to her finding out how badly he was sure to have done in History of Magic. Just as he finished the paragraph, Hedwig flew back through the window, and over to Harry’s side, where she perched keeping Harry company. Harry stroked her while reading on.

Mum says she’s trying to persuade Dumbledore to let you come stay with us. She says that we have enough wards all over the place to keep you safe, but Dumbledore hasn’t said yes yet. She’s really upset because Percy is still being a prat, and she is worried about you. You know how she is. Fred and George tried to explain how many dangerous things we’ve done and how we’re still all here, but it didn’t help. I wonder why! Bighead Boy, as Fred and George are calling him again, is refusing to apologise, saying that Mum and Dad should have shown support for the Ministry, and that it divided the Wizarding community, or some rubbish. That guy has more screws loose than Loony Luna.

He scowled. He was being mothered, fathered or manipulated or whatever it was that Dumbledore does to him, and finds that Percy is still a git all in one paragraph.

The Lovegoods have come around quite a bit recently. Mum and Dad are trying to help them with wards against Death Eaters, Luna’s father is just as mad as she is, not surprised, seeing as he edits the Quibbler. I guess the two of them are finding it a bit lonely. Luna keeps trying to talk to me though, I don’t get it. I’d have thought she’d spend most her time talking to Ginny. Ginny claims Luna has a crush on me, you got any hints on getting rid of girls? I think they’re hoping you’ll give them another interview sometime though, so be careful! Supposedly the Cacky Haired Crumpet, or whatever it is, left loads of interesting signs of its existence. Probably impossible to make out footprints or something, don’t ask me… But don’t ask them either, or you won’t be able to say a word for hours.

The next piece of the letter was written in a scrawl as untidy as Harry’s own had been just minutes before, was written in different coloured ink and by the looks of it, a different quill too.

Harry – Dad’s just told me that there was ‘sizable magical activity’ near where you live. Is everything all right? Be careful, Dad thinks You-Know-Who might be trying to break the wards on your house. Charlie says to get your broomstick ready in case you are attacked. You can get away under your invisibility cloak if you fasten it properly. They’re likely to torture the Muggles rather than kill them, so the Order should be able to help them. I’m sending Pig via the floo to Mrs Figg’s and he’ll fly from there. Send us a message as soon as you can if all is ok.

Ron.

Harry swore and jumped up off his bed. His knees buckled and he landed with a thump on the floor. Pulling himself up, he hobbled over to the desk again. Hedwig followed him.

Ron,

Magic was me by accident. Tried to stop it but couldn’t. Don’t think it was entirely the Muggles’ fault, but not sure if it was Voldemort. Am okay, don’t think Voldemort/Death Eaters are around, but will get my broom near in case.

Would like to see you all soon,

Harry.

Attaching a note to Mrs Figg, asking her to send it to the Weasleys via floo powder, he tied it to Hedwig’s leg, muttering as he did, “Sorry girl, but I need you to give this to Mrs Figg again; otherwise Ron and everyone might think I’m being attacked.” Hedwig hooted comfortingly, and shot back out the window.

He limped over to his trunk, opened it, and grabbed his Firebolt and Invisibility Cloak. His school books stared up at him, and he couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. He had been home for at least three weeks now, and had barely opened his school books. He didn’t have his O.W.L.s yet, and therefore couldn’t be sure about what subjects he’d be allowed to take. He did have a good idea however, of the subjects he wanted to study, and knew he should have at least looked at some of the books. He hadn’t even looked at the Defence Against the Dark Arts books that Remus and Sirius had given him at Christmas.

Harry retreated back to the bed, magical artefacts in tow. Sirius would have found the whole thing downstairs rather funny. The hatred of the Magic world by the Dursleys mirrored Sirius’ parents’ disgust of the Muggle world. Harry was sure that if one of Sirius’ parents had suddenly dropped the bombshell that they were in reality a Squib or Muggle born, that there would have been uproar. Sirius would probably have taken every chance to remind his parents of that fact too. Harry sighed. Sirius had had a worse life than him. Disagreeing with his parents’ Pureblood mania, and being sorted into Gryffindor, he had become estranged from his parents at an early age.

Moving out as soon as he could, he had a few brief years of happiness – with Harry’s parents, grandparents, and their friends being an important part of his life. Then of course, Harry’s parents had died, Sirius had been wrongly accused, and had wasted most of his life in Azkaban, where he had the happiness literally sucked out of him, until his escape where he was constantly on the run, and then shut away until Harry caused his death a few weeks ago. Harry had only had fourteen; nearly fifteen years with the Dursleys, and had been away for most of the last five, Sirius had had thirteen non-stop with the Dementors. Try as the Dursleys might have had to take any happiness from him, they had never been able to do it quite as successfully as Dementors.

Harry didn’t care what Professor Dumbledore had said, he knew, deep down, that Sirius’ death was his fault. If he had just worked harder at the Occlumency, then he wouldn’t have seen Sirius in the first place. If he had just thought it through, and realised he had been having the same dream for months, but had woken up before he could have seen Sirius, he’d have realised Voldemort was trying to trick him. The same as if he had just realised that Voldemort was, as Hermione had told him, counting on Harry playing the hero. If Harry had just remembered the present Sirius had given him, then he would have been able to check if Sirius was around and not have been fooled by Kreacher. There were so many things he could, and should have done that would have saved Sirius.

On a sudden impulse, Harry sat down on the bed, and concentrated on trying to rid his mind of emotion. Hedwig returned, and went out hunting again, and Harry barely noticed.
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A/N: Right, that's chapter one up. The next twenty-seven (which are already written) will follow as soon as possible (still trying to figure out how to post chapters quickly and hassle-free), and, of course, the others will follow when written. If you were asking me for a frank assessment, I'd say the first couple of chapters are the worst of my work (or the latter ones are the best, if your glass is half-full). Recap is over now, pretty much, but it wouldn't be the first chapter (featuring Harry) of a HP story without it, would it?

ATB

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Chapter 2: An Early Return.


Harry woke the next morning, not knowing when he had gone to bed, or how long he had spent clearing his mind the previous evening. Hedwig was perched in her cage asleep. His aunt was hammering on the bedroom door.

“Harry! Harry! Wake up boy!” She spoke through the door.

“Okay… I’m coming…” Harry yawned.

He got out of bed, wincing, and then crossed over to the door, and opened it a crack. The unmistakable grinning face of Tonks, with her favourite bubblegum pink hair peered over his aunt’s shoulder.

“Wotcher Harry! Thought I’d come visit!” She winked. His aunt looked in a frightful temper, and stormed back downstairs. “What’s up with her? Someone mess up her kitchen?”

“Tonks! It’s good to see you! Um… I’m… I’m not dressed – hang on…”

“I bet you say that to all the girls, Harry.” Tonks interrupted cheerfully, giving him another wink.

“Er… right, yeah… Um… I’ll be there… in a sec.”

Harry went red, and shut the door quickly. He quickly pulled on some of Dudley’s old jeans, and a tee-shirt, and wrenched the door back open. Tonks was standing there with an amused look on her face.

“I see what you mean about your cousin, Harry.” She chuckled, as she stepped into his room, and screwed up her face as if she was trying to remember something. Her nose turned into something resembling a pig’s snout. “With a little bit of basic transfiguration, he’d look just like a pig. Met him as I came in… does he always go around with his hands stuck to his bottom?”

Harry laughed. “Only when there are wizards or witches around. He ended up with a pigtail from one wizard once. A real one, not his hair- Well, I think he lives in fear of it happening again. Serves him right, too.”

He hadn’t meant to say that last bit. He didn’t like people to know how the Dursleys had treated him. He wasn’t entirely sure why, perhaps it was because, despite everything, they were the only family he had. Sure, people knew he didn’t enjoy his time there. But no-one knew about the years of neglect, slavery, and use as a punch bag. No-one knew that he had lived for ten years in a cupboard under the stairs. And he wanted it to stay that way.

Tonks was looking at him with an odd look in her eyes, “What have they been doing to you Harry?”

“Nothing,” Harry answered hastily, “nothing, really, they’ve been loads better this summer. I think they’ve been scared into submission or something.”

Tonks continued to look at him strangely, and then said “You look half starved.”

“No! I just… I haven’t felt… like eating.” Harry said defensively.

In truth, he hadn’t even noticed he wasn’t eating much. He had missed dinner altogether yesterday, and only picked at his food when he did eat.

“No… I don’t suppose you would… Look, Harry, have you talked to anyone about Sir-?”

“So, why did you come?” Harry cut in, “Did Professor Dumbledore get my message?”

Tonks looked at him with a worried expression on her face, and Harry bit his front lip to hold his temper in check. He had expected this. Everyone would of course be worried about him, and all the women would want him to talk about it.

“Yes, he did.” Tonks said slowly. “He sent me here with a Portkey. He’s expecting us –” She looked at her watch “– well, right about now actually.”

Taking a button from her pocket, she pointed her wand at it, and it swelled to the size of a Frisbee. Harry touched it, at a sign from Tonks, and she tapped it with her wand. The hook of a walking stick grabbed Harry by the navel, and a swirl of colours assailed his vision for a few seconds, until he ended up by falling face first in the middle of Dumbledore’s study in Hogwarts. Tonks pulled him to his feet.

“Ah! Good morning, Harry!” The twinkling eyes, that inhabited the face of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, were looking at him from across the room. He was stroking Fawkes.

“Good morning, sir.” Harry replied awkwardly.

“Right, I’ll leave you two alone,” Tonks interjected, “I haven’t had a chat with Sir Nick for an age. Harry, Albus.” She grinned at them both in turn, and strode out the door.

Dumbledore watched her go. When the door closed, he turned back to Harry once more. “So Harry, you have something you wish to discuss with me?”

“Yes sir.”

“Very well, please, sit down.” Dumbledore asked, taking the chair behind his desk himself.

Harry sat, and then launched into a brief description of the events yesterday – that he had got annoyed with his relatives, and then his scar hurt for an abnormally long time… with particular emphasis on the pain of his scar.

“My scar has hurt before, but never so long, and only so painfully when, well, when Voldemort is near. I didn’t know what I could put in a letter, so thought it best to tell you.”

Dumbledore looked at him keenly, “I wonder Harry if you could explain to me precisely how you were feeling from the time you first had this altercation with your uncle, until the time your scar hurt?”

“Well, I guess I was unhappy when I did the first piece of magic – the thundercloud. I went inside, trying to keep myself calm, in case I did any more magic, but when my uncle threatened me, it was as if I just snapped.” Harry remembered. “I was furious. I pointed my wand at him, until he backed off, then at Dudley, who came into the room after hearing Uncle Vernon’s voice. I think he wanted to come hear me being told off. Then it was Aunt Petunia. She said something, and I got so mad at her I couldn’t think straight. I’m not exactly sure what happened. I know I did magic though. Some things smashed, and I just looked at them, and they repaired themselves.

“Then my aunt said something that sounded concerned for my safety. I was so shocked that I think I forgot to be annoyed.” Harry caught Dumbledore giving a sad smile, but continued. “Nothing really happened until –” He stopped, his temper building once more. “Why didn’t you tell me she could do magic? I thought you said you’d stop keeping all these secrets from me, but yet you still don’t tell me that my own aunt is a witch!”

“I gave her my word, when I first wrote to her, Harry, that I would tell no-one of her secret. It is obvious to me, that she finds the wizarding world a little, er,” Dumbledore’s mouth twitched slightly, “distasteful. Please, go on.”

Harry glared at him. Dumbledore was just dismissing his anger in a few sentences.

“Ron’s owl delivered a letter by flying straight into my head. I grabbed the owl, tore off the letter, and then threw him out the window. When I turned back to the Dursleys, they were looking at me with expressions of terror on their face, as if I was a bomb that was going to explode at any time. Again I started to get really angry. I’m not even sure why. I looked at Dudley, who was torn between holding his bottom and cowering, and suddenly I felt sorry for him. For all the Dursleys, that they are so scared of magic. Almost immediately my scar began hurting.”

Dumbledore sprang up, and began pacing to and fro across the room. “You’re sure Harry, quite sure, that the scar hurt immediately you found yourself feeling sorry for your cousin?”

“Yes.”

“And the pain would not leave you until you thought of your parents, and how they were still protecting you?” He shot at him.

“No.” The headmaster continued to pace the floor, so Harry continued. “Professor?”

Dumbledore stopped. “Yes Harry?”

“Does this mean that Voldemort was trying to possess me like he did in the Ministry?”

“Undoubtedly, Harry. The question however, is how.” Dumbledore frowned. “Harry. Your aunt told you she could do magic?”

“She didn’t just say she could – she disarmed me.”

Dumbledore turned his head sharply to look at him. “Ah.”

He said nothing else, but rather walked back to his desk, and took down a mechanical instrument that Harry remembered breaking over a month ago from a shelf. A smoky figure emerged from two twin tanks, quickly followed by another. The smoke, or vapour, or whatever it was that gave form to these two figures were linked together, and ran between the shapes like liquid in a set of pipes. The connection between the two started to flicker, and then disappeared altogether.

“Ah.” Dumbledore repeated, and sighed. “It is as I feared.” He sat back down behind the desk, and eyed Harry intently.

“Professor,” Harry began, bluntly, “are you going to tell me what’s going on, or are you going to hide things from me again?”

Professor Dumbledore sighed again. “You must understand, Harry, that I would never breach anybody’s confidence unless it was absolutely unavoidable. Therefore there will be some things that I shall never reveal unless you are first told by the person involved themselves. For the moment, there may also be matters of a delicate nature, which prudence forbids me from revealing to anyone, even you. If you succeed in mastering Occlumency, then, of course, the situation may change in that respect.” He held up his hand, as Harry opened his mouth. “I’m not accusing you Harry. Occlumency is a subject which is rarely mastered by wizards that have studied far beyond their N.E.W.T.s. Professor Snape is one of a very few wizards currently alive that can truly be said to have mastered it. Until you manage to reach this level, you should be aware that certain plans are best known by me and me alone.

“The fact that your aunt has magical abilities is the main reason why I decided to send you to the Dursleys in the first place. You see, the magic in her blood, she neither wants, nor knows how to use. This magic, I bound to the blood protection ward that your mother gave you, and in doing so, increased the protection that her sister could give you. This protection extended not just to the house, but also to the area around it, meaning that as long as you stayed in Little Whinging, Voldemort and his followers would find it impossible to harm you. In fact, if you left the village, then as long as you were accompanied by Mrs Petunia Dursley, you would still be protected. It appears that Voldemort is aware of the magical energy in Mrs Dursley, and rather than trying to destroy the charm directly, is trying to cause your aunt’s magic to manifest itself, and thus prevent it from being channelled into the magical ward. I had hoped that he would not invest the time and energy into doing this if he was unaware of the words of the prophecy, but it appears that you have embarrassed him by successfully escaping from him so often.”

“So it doesn’t matter that he never heard the prophecy then?” Harry asked bitterly.

“It matters a great deal Harry, I assure you. Because you prevented him from hearing the prophecy, he is unaware that it says only you can defeat him once and for all. A Voldemort that is no longer afraid of death would be a terrible thing. He would roam our world, torturing Muggles, attacking Ministry officials, safe in the knowledge that they could not kill him. As long as he still fears death, we can fight him.”

“But if he manages to look into my memories, he may find out what the Prophecy is!” Harry said.

Dumbledore sighed. “That is indeed the worry. But more worrying than that is the possibility that he may successfully possess you. That is why I shall have to insist that you resume your Occlumency as soon as possible.”

“Not with Snape.” Harry said forcefully.

“Professor Snape, Harry. I said at the end of last year that it was a mistake for me to ask Professor Snape to teach you Occlumency, and to ask you to learn Occlumency from Professor Snape. I had hoped that your aunt’s protection would be enough to stop Voldemort over the summer, and you could resume your studies in the next school term. I shall have to try to find a way for you to use magic in the holidays without finding yourself in front of the Wizengamot again.

“It is basic Legilimency to try to influence the mood of your subject. It is difficult to detect for an unskilled Occlumens and in this case, allows Voldemort to judge how strong your protection remains. Voldemort hates positive emotions, such as love, or pity, but thrives upon emotions such as fear, or fury. I believe it is Voldemort's hope that if he can influence your emotions to darker ones, such as hatred, then he will not find the positive emotions present that drove him out at the Ministry. As a result, expect your emotions to fluctuate whilst you learn to protect yourself. When your aunt did magic, Voldemort suddenly found your body open to him for a few seconds. He tried to possess you, but found himself inhabiting a body that, although angry a few seconds earlier, was feeling heartfelt pity for someone. The pain that you felt was shared by both of you, you, however, doubly. Voldemort was in pain because he was feeling such foreign emotions that he despises, and you because Voldemort was attempting to possess your body, but also your body was sharing in Voldemort’s pain. Once you thought about your parents, how you felt they were still with you, not only did your emotions drive Voldemort out, but you indirectly invoked the protection your mother gave you.”

“I thought that as Voldemort took my blood, he can touch me. He proved that in fourth year. How can my mother’s protection help me at all?” Harry said bitterly.

“I have said before, I believe, that Voldemort’s biggest weakness is that he underestimates the magic he despises. Even if the protection your mother gave you was solely a matter of your blood, and that alone, Voldemort would still be unable to harm you magically without harming and draining himself. It is not solely your blood that runs through his veins. His body that was resurrected was alive in some form. His blood and yours mixed, but while his own blood remains in him, your blood still provides some weakened protection, and in fact most likely prevents him from regaining his full strength. But it is not just a matter of blood. The charm that your mother placed upon you when she died is part of your own magic now. Just as the fact that Voldemort is the one that she gave her life to protect you from, means that the ‘curse’ is integrally connected with his magical aura, as it were. While you two are marked as protected and antagonist, the protection is still in effect, and can still help you defend yourself if you call it into action. The night that Voldemort was reborn, the fact that it was your parents that came out of the priori incantatem effect is almost certainly one of the things that saved you.”

Harry wished he hadn’t asked – he really understood very little of that, so he changed the subject. “You said I was safe in Little Whinging. Why then wasn’t I even allowed to leave the grounds of the house? I needed a break from the Dursleys, but then Sn- Professor Snape jumped out in front of me and ordered me back. If Voldemort couldn’t harm me, then why couldn’t I go for a walk?”

“Lord Voldemort is searching for ways to kill you Harry. It is imperative that you are protected as much as possible. Your aunt’s protection weakens the further you are away from her, and I – the whole wizarding world – can not risk your life.”

“Yes, of course – the Prophecy.” Harry said sarcastically.

“To the people that know you, the person you are is more important than the person in the Prophecy Harry.” Dumbledore said softly. “Well, with the possible exception of Professor Snape.” He amended with a characteristic twitch of the mouth.

Harry scowled, and changed the subject once more. “But why is Voldemort concentrating upon trying to kill me if he doesn’t know what’s in the prophecy? I mean, surely he’d be better off trying to get more followers, and taking out people in positions of power?”

“You don’t realise what a symbol you have become Harry. As long as the baby lives, that banished Lord Voldemort for all those years, Voldemort appears weak. What’s more, after that interview you gave appeared in the Quibbler, Voldemort is seen to have failed to kill the same boy despite having all his Death Eaters with him, and engaging the boy in a duel. You have made him appear vulnerable, and given the people a figurehead to believe in. Despite his Death Eaters killing and torturing innocent people, too many wizards refuse to be cowed into following him. I would imagine that it has become a bit of a mania for him.”

“But I don’t want to be a hero! I never asked to be famous!” Harry yelled. “Why can’t I be a normal guy, who goes to school, learns magic, and doesn’t have to worry about anything except getting his homework in in time?! No prophecies. No Dursleys. No scar.”

“Do you really wish that Harry?” Dumbledore asked steadily, maintaining eye-contact, until Harry looked away. “Would you really rather someone else was in this position?”

“Y- No – Oh, I don’t know.” Harry replied exasperated, closing his eyes in frustration.

“Like it or not, Harry, you are a symbol of the resistance against Voldemort. You are the man that has evaded and thwarted Voldemort on numerous occasions. You have a choice. Do you stand up for what you believe in, and in so doing become a figurehead, a hero as it were. Or do you turn your back on the wizarding world, your fellow students, your teachers, your friends?” In response to Harry’s yelling, Dumbledore’s voice had become quieter – more soothing.

“You call that a choice? How can I do anything but fight Voldemort? You know I couldn’t run away just to help myself, if it meant everybody else suffered.” Harry scoffed.

“A boy called Tom Riddle did.” Dumbledore said softly.

Harry stared at him for a few seconds. It was easy to forget that Tom Riddle, at one stage a student like him, had been at Hogwarts. That Voldemort could once have been a child. Like Harry, Voldemort had grown up in the Muggle world without parents, had come to the school alone. Like Harry, he must have trembled while putting on the sorting hat. What would have happened, if Tom Marvolo Riddle had been sorted into Gryffindor, or one of the other houses? Would Riddle have turned out the same way? Would Harry be the same person if the hat had sorted him into Slytherin?

“Professor?” Harry asked eventually. “How did you know that I wouldn’t be like Tom?”

“How do you mean, Harry?” Dumbledore asked politely, although Harry privately bet he already knew.

“We both grew up without our parents, in the Muggle world, where we hated our lives before Hogwarts. Tom hated the Muggles, and eventually turned into Lord Voldemort. How did you know I wouldn’t do the same?”

“I didn’t, Harry. I hoped that when you found out what had happened, that you would blame the Dark Arts, and set yourself against them, certainly. But did I know for sure? There is indeed nothing in the prophecy that excludes the possibility of you becoming another Dark Lord, to take Riddle’s place. If I had known what was to happen when you were a child! Harry, you must believe me, I had no wish for you to grow up as you did, but once I had placed my faith in your aunt’s protection, I could not interfere, for fear that they might break the charm, and remove you from their care.

“The type of hardship that the two of you have endured, can affect a person in many ways. It gave you a desire to prevent harm from coming to people, as you understood all the better what misery was. It is that selflessness and wish to help others that you inherited from your parents, as I eventually hoped you would. Tom Riddle, however, was the son of a bitter, twisted, young man, and a passionate, reckless, young woman. He stored deep grudges, that he was only too willing to take revenge upon. Once he had started upon the path to darkness, it enveloped him fully, twisting him and warping him even more, into the man he is today. His knowledge of misery helped him perform terrible tortures on the people that stood in his way. Only once you decided to care for people rather than punish them, could I be sure.

“Is there anything else you wish to ask me, or talk about, Harry?”

“Will I be returning to the Muggles for the rest of the summer?”

“I am afraid I can’t answer that yet. It depends on how much success I have, while trying to find a way for you to practice your Occlumency. I shall have to leave Hogwarts for most of today, while trying to get around this problem. After the recent events, Minister Fudge may be willing to cooperate more than he has for the last few years. We shall see. I would ask you to remain in Hogwarts until I return, and among adults or ghosts as much as possible, in case Voldemort attempts to access your mind once more. I am afraid, however, that as you are on your summer holidays, you may not use magic, even here.”

Harry stood up. For the moment he had no more questions, he already had many answers to digest. “Thank you, Professor.” He said awkwardly.

Professor Dumbledore strode over to the door, and opened it. “Perhaps you could go to the Infirmary, Harry, so that Madam Pomfrey can check if you are physically alright after yesterday. The pain caused by the Cruciatus curse can last for weeks or longer if held for a long time, and you were put through an ordeal, even if not directly by Cruciatus.”

Harry nodded, and descended the stairs into the familiar passages of Hogwarts.

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A couple of potions later, Harry left the Infirmary, where Madam Pomfrey had fussed over him for a while, pronounced him malnourished, had tried to get him to talk about ‘things that might be bothering him’, and then given up in disgust. She followed him down the stairs, until they met Tonks once more in the Great Hall. Pomfrey then headed out of the room, home, Harry assumed. He knew most of the teachers didn’t live on the grounds during holidays. Trelawny did, but thankfully Harry hadn’t met her yet today. Soon after meeting Tonks again, she complained that she was hungry, and so it was, that at half ten in the morning, Harry found himself in a familiar corridor with a picture of a bowl of fruit in front of him. Harry reached out to tickle the pear, and the door swung open.

Harry barely had time to register that there were fewer house elves in the kitchen than usual, before he was almost bowled over by a speeding mass of clothes.

“Harry Potter, sir!” Dobby squeaked. “Harry Potter, sir. Dobby did not think to be seeing you for a long time. Dobby did not think you would be being in Hogwarts until the new school year. But oh! Harry Potter sir,” He continued mournfully. “You is not looking well sir. You is looking thin and unwell, and in need of looking after by Dobby, sir. Can Dobby get you anything to eat, Harry Potter sir?” Dobby looked like he was wearing at least two of every piece of clothing available, two pairs of socks, two shorts, two shirts, and two jumpers – one of which used to be Ron’s – and, thankfully, only two of Hermione’s elf hats now. He looked torn between delight at seeing Harry, and disapproval at Harry’s physical condition.

“Um, maybe just a sandwich Dobby, thank you.” Harry said, slightly embarrassed.

Tonks for her part seemed amused by how Dobby had greeted Harry, and said to the elves at large: “I remember when I was at school here; you did the most amazing éclairs. You wouldn’t happen to have any of them lying around the place would you?”

Several of the other house elves bowed low and one of them came forward and talked to Tonks. “Yes miss, we is having the éclairs. Would sir and miss be wanting tea too, miss?”

With a quick glance at Harry, Tonks replied in the affirmative, and seconds later they were presented with plates of sandwiches, chocolate éclairs, and other cakes, as well as a steaming pot of tea and two mugs. “I never understand how house elves manage to cook everything so well and so quickly, Harry.” Tonks said, taking a bite out of the nearest éclair.

The house elves around her beamed with pride.

Harry meanwhile, had turned to Dobby. “How are you and Winky finding Hogwarts now?”

“Winky is better, sir.” Dobby replied, “She is not having so much Butterbeer now, sir, and is working like a good house elf should. She is missing her old master, Harry Potter sir, but she is realising that Professor Dumbledore is being her new master now. But Dobby can not get her to wear any nicer clothes, sir.” Dobby’s ears drooped, and the other house elves looked uncomfortable. Then he brightened up and continued, “I is liking Hogwarts very much. There is so much work to be doing and I is doing important things that I is never doing before, sir. I is checking magical wards on Hogwarts, Harry Potter sir!”

Harry privately was unsure as to the wisdom of letting Dobby deal with anything to do with protection, after the way that Dobby had decided to try to save his life in second year, but rather than voicing his concerns, he said, “That’s great Dobby!” And taking a bite of a sandwich, he then continued, “And so’s this!”

The house elf beamed. “Harry Potter should be eating as much as possible, sir. But why is sir here? Where is Harry Potter’s Wheezy, sir? Wheezy would be making sure Harry Potter eats, sir.”

“Ron?” Harry grinned. “Ron wouldn’t leave anything for me to eat, Dobby! He thinks he’s too thin, and needs to fatten up and Merlin help anyone else! Ron’s at home. I’m here because I needed to talk with Professor Dumbledore.”

“Hey, Dobby!” Tonks interrupted. “Would you mind keeping an eye on Harry, and making sure he’s okay for a while, I’ve just remembered something I need to do urgently. I won’t be long.” Harry looked at her quizzically, and saw a mischievous expression on her face, that reminded him strikingly of the Weasley twins.

“Of course miss!” Dobby squeaked happily.

“What’s up Tonks?” Harry asked warily.

“Oh, nothing Harry, I’ve just remember I need to pick something up.” She replied sweetly. “I won’t be long.” She repeated before walking out of the room.

“Hey, Dobby,” Harry began, gulping down his cup of tea, “Would you mind going for a walk? I need some fresh air.” He felt odd being surrounded by dozens of house elves, and being the only human there.

He and Dobby therefore walked out of the castle towards Harry’s favourite spot by the lake. The elf was prancing around like a child and Harry laughed at his antics. He chattered away non-stop about his life in Hogwarts, and Harry quickly got lost at the amount of chores that Dobby was allowed to do. Dobby seemed quite carried away by the honour of it all.

“Dobby, do you see those two dots up there? Any idea what they are?” Harry asked suddenly, pointing back towards the castle, after Dobby had finished explaining to Harry how he had been asked to magically reinforce the North Tower.

Dobby strained his eyes, “They is looking like two people on brooms Harry Potter, sir.”

Harry automatically reached for his wand. “No idea who?” He asked nervously.

But Harry needn’t have asked. Red flaming hair was approaching, and the owner dived out of the sky to meet him, dropping Harry’s Firebolt into his waiting hands. “’Lo Harry!” Ron yelled down to him, swooping upwards once more.

“What are you doing here?” Harry yelled upwards, clutching his broom on the ground. “How did you even know I was here?!”

Once again his question was answered for him, by a Comet 360 swooping down, and Tonks alighting from it. “Wotcher again Harry! We wondered where you’d got to. We headed back to the kitchen, but the elves said you went almost immediately I did. Ron said you’d have gone outside – that you’d have been sick of being cooped up – so we figured we’d use our brooms to find you.”

Harry laughed. “You have any idea how corny that is?”

Tonks joined in the laughter. “Yeah, I couldn’t resist. We thought you might enjoy a quick game of Quidditch anyway, which is why we brought along your broom. I still don’t believe you’ve got a real Firebolt.” She said in awe. “Do you mind if I have a go on it?”

“Sirius got her for me in third year.” Harry fought a sudden choking of the voice, and welling of tears in his eyes. He had a spontaneous urge to tell Tonks she couldn’t try her and to never let anyone ride her again. “Sure, you can ride her. Sirius wouldn’t want it locked away somewhere, never being ridden. Just… be careful with her, please. It was the first thing Sirius ever gave me.”

“Look, Harry –” Tonks began.

“Hey, you two!” Ron yelled down, swooping overhead. “Are you coming for that game of Quidditch or not?”

“You haven’t asked me yet!” Harry yelled up, purposefully ignoring Tonks, and hitching a grin on his face.

“Okay,” Said Ron, swooping down once more, “Fancy a game of Quidditch mate?”

His face spread into an infectious grin, and the moment of uneasiness between Harry and Tonks was gone. He dismounted with a leap, and held out his hand, taking Harry’s with gusto, and bringing him towards him to slap him on the back. Holding him back at arm’s length, he inspected Harry critically.

“Blimey but it’s good to see you mate!” Harry couldn’t help but imagine an unsaid ‘alive’ at the end of it. “You’d better watch out for Mum though, she’s likely to keep you at the kitchen table for hours until you gain a bit of weight if she sees you! What have the Dursleys been doing to you?!”

“Is everyone going to be asking me about how thin I look? I had more important things to think about, okay?” Harry glared.

Ron just grinned at him. “Better start putting pillows under your shirts if you ask me, might stop some of it!”

Harry didn’t know if Ron was just being plain stupid, scared of him flying off the handle, or being unusually sensitive by not mentioning the obvious reason that Harry might not want to eat. It at once both annoyed him and gratified him – which of course confused him also.

Tonks laughed, “You look like you don’t know whether to laugh or be insulted Harry.”

Harry punched Ron lightly, and returned Ron’s earlier inspection. He wondered if Ron had grown yet another inch or five in the three weeks since they had last met, or if it was simply that Ron was just so tall. Ron was wearing a non-descript white tee-shirt that had a small orange Chudley Cannons emblem on, and a pair of shorts, looking very brown and very freckly. He looked over at Dobby smiling as he spotted his old jumper.

“’Lo Dobby! Thanks for keeping an eye on The-Boy-Who-Lived here. Or have the Daily Prophet changed it again?” He grinned at Harry.

“Watch it!” Harry replied in a mock-warning voice.

His face was grinning though. If Ron was going to joke about the fact that Harry was usually the one who saw the limelight, then that was fine by Harry. He preferred the Ron that was bent double with laughter, to the one that became twisted with envy. Harry just hoped that Ron would still make jokes about it if and when he found out about the Prophecy. Not that he expected Ron to be envious at all of course, but Ron wasn’t – no-one was – likely to find it a joking matter.

Dobby bowed low to Ron. “It was Dobby’s pleasure Wheezy, sir. Harry Potter and his Wheezy are great wizards, and Dobby is pleased to be helping them. But Dobby should be getting back to the kitchen and doing his work, sir. If sirs and miss is needing Dobby, then they should just call Dobby’s name.” He clicked his fingers and disappeared with a crack.

Harry offered his Firebolt to Tonks, who swapped it for her Comet wordlessly, and kicked off the ground in awe. Harry and Ron followed, giving chase to the Firebolt. Tonks beat them for pure speed to the Quidditch pitch, closely followed by Ron, with Harry, although urging the older broom forward for all it was worth, narrowly finishing third. Tonks had a look of ecstasy on her face, and did a summersault in midair to relieve her feelings.

“Wow Harry! This is amazing! It’s as if it knows what I’m thinking as soon as I think it.” As if to illustrate the point, she went into a short dive, and then pulled up vertically, shooting past them. Harry and Ron grinned at each other. Each of them was remembering the first times they had ridden Harry’s Firebolt. Harry had performed so well on his broom that he had inspired the entire Gryffindor Team to pull off their best moves. Ron’s first time had been a little later, and they had stayed up most of the night in the boys’ dormitory, discussing its amazing acceleration, and pinpoint turns.

“Right you two! Fancy a game of Chase Three?” She grinned.

Chase Three was a popular form of Quidditch played by groups of people that didn’t have enough to have a full game, or even put out a half side – two Chasers, a Beater and a Keeper, using a time limit. Similar to World Cup or other variants of Muggle playground football, players played against each other, or in teams, to try and put the Quaffle past the Keeper. Once a player or team scored three goals, they sat out until the next got through and so-on, until one player or team was left on their own as the only team to not score. Then the cycle would begin again. The winner, would become the next Keeper, or elect a victorious team member to do it.

Ron sped towards the hoops, leaving Harry and Tonks to face each other in the first match off.

“Accio Quaffle!” Tonks yelled. The ball flew into her hands, and she tucked it under her arm with practiced ease. “I used to play Chaser.” She winked.

“Hmm, an accomplished Chaser on a Firebolt as my opponent… Piece of cake!” Harry joked. “Hey! Keeper starts!”

Tonks had zoomed off towards the hoops, with Harry in hot pursuit. Laughing, she tossed the Quaffle to Ron, who grinned as he waited for Harry to catch her up.

“Now you know how it feels for the rest of us!” He chuckled, as he threw the Quaffle into the air between them.

Tonks got to the ball first, but only just. Harry immediately fell hoop side of her, and feinted as if to tackle her. She held her ground, and shot upwards. Harry followed, making sure to keep between the hoops and her. She forced her way inside the scoring area, but instead of trying to get past Harry, she fired off a shot. It was struck like an arrow, and forced Ron to pull off a pretty impressive save. He could only parry it however, and they both dived to catch it.

Tonks may have been on a faster broom, but Harry was just the better flier, and dives were his speciality. Grabbing the Quaffle first he pulled up out of the dive, sharply, as Tonks sailed past him. As he advanced on Ron, his friend started to circle the goal posts, not giving Harry a clear shot at any of them. Trying to time the moment, Harry shot. The ball sailed past Ron, but hit the hoop, and bounced clear.

“Bad luck Harry!” Tonks yelled to him from just behind, as Ron gathered up the loose ball. “Thought you’d gone one-up there.”

Harry found that his Seeker abilities served him well for the one v ones between himself and Tonks. Tonks, being a Chaser, usually had team-mates with which to work the ball, whereas Harry was used to working solo. Tonks was on the faster broom, but Harry was the better flier. Where Harry was let down however, was his shooting abilities. Tonks seemed to be able to shoot from anywhere, and despite some incredible saves from Ron, she comfortably beat Harry three – one.

“Whew! I’m impressed Harry, you pushed me pretty close. Most Seekers are rubbish with any ball bigger than the palm of their hand. Looks like it’s my turn on hoops!”

“I’m scared of winning now, if I’m going to have to keep against you!” Harry laughed, turning to Ron. “We’re gonna be unbeatable if you keep playing like that Ron.”

The tips of Ron’s ears went red with embarrassment, “Yeah, well, we know what I’m like in real matches, don’t we mate?”

“Yeah, you win the Quidditch Cup, and spend the next few days the hero of the school!” Harry replied. “You’re a good player, Ron – and you know it.”

The rest of Ron’s ears were red now, and he turned away with a gruff “Thanks.” Tonks threw the Quaffle high and over the two of them, and they gave chase. Ron and Harry were very even as far as Chasing ability went, and Harry’s greater speed in turning was still counteracted by his unfamiliarity with the red ball. Tonks was a pretty good Keeper, although not as skilled as Ron, and they were deadlocked at two-all for five minutes, until Harry deflected a Ron shot into the right hoop, claiming the victory against a complaining Ron. Harry was right to be wary of Tonks’ shooting ability; she scored three quick goals before Ron had even touched the ball.

“Okay – you two switch back brooms!” Ron yelled. “With butterfingers there on hoops I don’t have a chance!”

“Yeah, well, learn to defend Ron.” Harry shouted back, angry at his own poor performance.

He and Tonks flew towards each other and swapped brooms in mid-air. An hour later they were tired, but still playing. Harry was flying towards Ron, Quaffle under arm, when it happened. Harry’s scar burned sharply, obscuring his vision. The Quaffle dropped to the ground, and he clapped his hands to his head, plummeting downwards, out of control.

“Harry!” Ron and Tonks yelled together. “Harry! Pull up!”
________________________________________


“He’s coming round.” Harry heard a relieved voice say.

Ron let out a huge sigh of relief. “Are you okay Harry? Is your scar alright?”

Harry opened his eyes. A blurry shape handed him his glasses. He put them on, revealing Tonks and Ron standing over him, looking worried. He seemed to be on a kind of comfortable camp bed, in the middle of the Quidditch pitch. There was a canopy around him, with a couple of chairs and a table beside the bed. He pulled himself up slightly, and groaned. His whole body was hurting. He looked over to his left, just in time to see Dobby apparate into view, holding a vial of some nasty smelling liquid.

“Harry Potter should be drinking this sir.” Dobby squeaked, “It will be making him feel much better sir.”

“Drink it.” Tonks told him. “You’ll feel better.”

Harry pinched his nose, and downed the lot. It tasted a lot like one of the potions Madam Pomfrey had given him, but smelt fouler. Almost at once, he felt tingling in his limbs, and some of the pain disappeared.

“What happened?” He asked the three of them. “My scar hurt, and then I can’t remember anything after that.”

“You have Ron and Dobby to thank, Harry.” Tonks said soberly. “You went into an out of control dive, and were barely clinging to the Firebolt. It deflected most of the jinxes I tried to slow you down with, and you looked like you were going to plough yourself. You were going at such a speed you could have really got hurt. Ron thought to call for Dobby, and he apparated right below you. He slowed you down with a net attached to this.” She held up some billowing material. “He magicked a large mattress, and you crashed into it. I don’t know how he slowed you down; I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“It’s called a parachute Tonks. Muggles use them if they jump out of planes if they are in danger, or for fun. Not usually at such speed.” He added hastily, seeing a look of horror on Ron’s face. His head was pounding, but it was an ordinary headache rather than his scar. “I feel like I’ve been run over by a lorry.” He closed his eyes and shook his head as if trying to shake out the cobwebs. “Muggle reference, sorry.”

“I know what they are Harry, Dad tried to decorate the hall with pictures of them when I was eight.” Ron was trying to lighten the mood, but his voice shook. “Aren’t there any other potions we can give him Tonks?”

Tonks shook her head. “I can’t – I was rubbish at potions… Usually knocked the damn cauldron over.”

“Dobby can make Harry Potter some potions miss, just say what he needs!” Dobby squeaked.

“No Dobby –” she shook her head again “– these things need to be done by approved potions makers. Something as difficult as a strong painkiller is easily mixed up with poisons. I dare say Poppy or Severus have some stored in their offices, but I don’t know where they’d be. There is a dreamless sleep potion on the desk in Dumbledore’s office… Dobby, get it for Harry, and then look for Professor Snape, and I’ll see if Poppy is at home.” Dobby made a crack and disappeared. Turning to Ron and Harry, she told them, “The dreamless sleep potion will prevent You-Know-Who from attacking you when you sleep, and you’ll feel a lot better when you wake. I just hope Dumbledore manages to sort everything out with Fudge.” She walked away with her hands fumbling in her robes, a worried expression on her normally cheerful face and disappeared mid-stride.

Ron sat down on one of the chairs, and looked at Harry intently. “What’s happening mate?” He asked. “Tonks just appeared at the burrow, saying that you were at Hogwarts and asked if we’d like to visit. Dad, Bill, Charlie and Fred and George were all at work, and Ginny is at Dean’s.” He frowned. “I wanted to come of course, so Tonks went and got your Firebolt and we flooed here. But she wouldn’t tell me why you’re here. What happened last night? Are you okay?”

Harry slumped back down. “I’m fine.”

Ron let out a shout of laughter. “Only you could say you were fine while being force fed potions and lying down on a camp bed after being ploughed into a mattress, Harry. This of course being after something that got the whole Order worried, and you had to arrange a meeting with Dumbledore.”

Harry fought to contain a chuckle. “Well if you know I’m not fine, why do you ask?”

“Because I want to hear you admit it Harry. You’re always saying you’re fine when you’re bottling up things, or having your hand cut open by a toad like Umbridge.” Ron replied seriously.

“You sound like Hermione.” Harry told him.

“Maybe she’s having a good influence on me.” Ron said, with just the smallest hint of impishness in his voice. Harry looked at him sharply, but Ron maintained his look of seriousness.

Dobby appeared with a loud crack, holding a potion in his hand. “Harry Potter’s potion, sirs.” He offered it to Harry, who took it. “Harry Potter should be drinking it, sir, Miss Tonks told me to give it to you.”

“You have, Dobby, see.” Harry replied, placing it on the ground by the bed.

“Tonks wants Harry Potter to drink it, sir. It is for sir’s own good. Harry Potter must drink it sir. Dobby was given an order to make you drink it, sir, and Dobby must be a good house elf.” Dobby was adamant.

“She told you to give me it Dobby, not make me drink it. You have given me it, you aren’t breaking any orders. You aren’t being a bad house elf.” Dobby looked unconvinced. “Look. Ron will be here all the time, and if Voldemort tries to hurt me in any way, then I’ll drink it, or Ron will make me drink it.”

Dobby winced along with Ron at the sound of Voldemort’s name, and looked torn between his orders and his loyalty for Harry, but it was the latter than won out in the end. “Okay Harry Potter sir, if sirs need me then just call Dobby’s name again. Dobby must look for Professor Snape now, sirs.”

“Dobby!” Harry called before the elf could disappear.

“Yes, Harry Potter sir?” The elf replied eagerly.

“When you’re looking for Professor Snape… please make sure you don’t find him!” The elf smiled toothily, which Harry took as a yes. “Thanks Dobby – for everything.”

Ron laughed again, as Dobby left. “Okay Harry. What’s up?”

“Yeah, well, if you ask me too many questions, I’m drinking this.” Harry held up the vial of potion.

“Just one more, before you tell me what’s going on… Do you think Dobby will get us some lunch?”
________________________________________




A/N: Right, that's chapter two up. Rest will follow as soon as they are accepted, and I'm available on the net. Still trying to get used to the way you put chapters up in this system - I use word, and the best way seems to to paste it as 'plain text'. However, that means I have to go all the way through and reinsert things like italics. Still, I'm sure I'll find my way around eventually, and I think I've put the formatting back in again!

ATB

________________________________________
Chapter 3: Emotions and Surprises


For the half hour between half twelve, and one in the afternoon, Harry once more repeated the events of the day before. He also related a certain amount of the discussion with Dumbledore, taking care to let nothing relating to the prophecy, or Riddle or his own childhood leave his mouth. If Ron thought Harry was holding something back, he didn’t say so. He sat on the camp bed, facing Ron, who looked completely taken aback.

"You’re joking me." Ron said, when he judged Harry had finished. "There is no way that your aunt could be a witch. No-one could be thick enough to want to be a Muggle. Barking. There’s no way I can believe that."

"No joke." Harry replied. "I saw her do magic, she’s no Muggle. The only reason she hasn’t done it before, is Dumbledore’s been using her magical energy or something. Something he got her to agree to do must have sealed it in with the protective charms he’s put over me and the house."

"Barmy. Cuckoo. Completely bonkers. Why would anyone want to be a Muggle rather than a witch or wizard?"

"You’d be surprised Ron. Muggles aren’t completely useless. A Muggle is the only one to have killed one of the Death Eaters that attacked him. Besides, you ever seen a Muggle television? Or a computer? I think Aunt Petunia was scared of everyone hating her for being different, so she threw the letters away. I desperately wanted to be different, and so came. I guess it is kind of the opposite of her.

Ron was still shaking his head. As if he was making a conscious decision to move on – well, as far as he could. "So. Your aunt’s magic is the only thing that is protecting you in Little Whinging. And she doesn’t even know how to use it. This is crazy Harry – your life is being looked after by an aunt, that didn’t want to take you in, didn’t want to be a witch. She hates you because of your magic, she agreed to take you so that she could have no magic any more, and your life depends both on her continuing to keep you, and that she has completely lost the ability to do magic. What’s Dumbledore playing at?"

Harry shrugged. "I guess he just thought that it was an ideal solution. Keep me safe from Voldemort and stop my aunt from doing magic. And I don’t know if it is the only thing or not."

"Yeah, but still. What can three Muggles do against You-Know-Who? It’s thick."

"When are you going to start calling him Voldemort, Ron? Dumbledore always tells people to. Lupin does, Si- Sirius did, even Hermione does now. Voldemort wants people to be so scared of him that they don’t call him by his name. Why give him what he wants?" Harry asked.

"If you had grown up hearing about the things he did, you’d be scared of saying his name too." Ron shuddered. "Dumbledore and the Order will defeat him, and then it won’t matter that I’m scared stiff of You-Know-Who."

Harry glared at him. "You’re not going to fight Voldemort? That was one of the main reasons for the DA. So we could protect ourselves against Voldemort."

Ron looked startled. "I never said that mate! But come on! We aren’t going to try and hunt You-Know-Who down, are we? I mean, we need to protect ourselves, yeah, but what chance have any of us got to defeat You-Know-Who? If we can defend ourselves and let Dumbledore and the Order deal with him we should be fine, right?"

Harry let out a sound between a bitter laugh and a sigh. "What chance do any of us have against Voldemort…" he repeated.

"You’re not thinking of going after him Harry, come on! That’s mental! You’d be playing into his hands!" Ron said quickly.

"So what if I did? Not as if he’s going to stop trying to kill me is it? I’m sick of defending all the time. Voldemort comes after me and my family and friends, and all I do is defend. Am I meant to do nothing until Voldemort kills me, or everyone around me that I care about dies? If you’re scared of him Ron, then you ought to get away from me, because he isn’t going to stop. What was it Dumbledore said? I’ve embarrassed him by escaping from him so often. Voldemort wants me dead Ron, and he’s going to try to hurt me in any way possible. Helping me is a sure way of Voldemort wanting to kill you. You don’t want to fight Voldemort, then you shouldn’t remain friends with me." Harry’s voice and temper was rising.

"Calm down mate! There’s no way I’m leaving you to face You-Know-Who on your own. If he wants to fight you, then I’ll be fighting alongside you against him." Ron looked like he wanted to say something, but couldn’t find the words. "Look, Harry," He started hesitantly, "You can’t blame yourself for things You-Know-Who does. It’s not up to you to get rid of him."

Harry shifted on the bed, wincing visibly. "I guess I should take this potion. Tonks is right – my body will feel better after it." He bent down to pick the vial of potion up, and uncorked it.

"Wait, Harry, I’ll call Dobby so you can have some lunch before you sleep. It’s lunch time now anyway. You may as well just wait a few minutes." Said Ron, jumping up.

"I’m not hungry." Harry replied, shifting around on the bed, and downing the potion in one swift motion. He lay down, putting his glasses and the empty vial by the side of the bed, blinking as his eyes grew heavier.
________________________________________


Harry sat up with half opened eyes. He could tell he was indoors somewhere now, but the sleep and lack of his glasses combined, meant that he could only make out blurs. He was no longer wearing his clothes, but rather an annoyingly familiar set of pyjamas. Beside him, was a bedside cabinet and he reached over to pick up his glasses. He put them on, and saw Ron, to his slight surprise, bent over a parchment with a quill, writing something. As he levered himself into a sitting position, Ron turned to him, hearing him stir.

"Harry! Dumbledore said you’d wake soon."

"He’s back then? How long was I asleep for?"

"Er, about six hours, I guess. Dobby and Tonks brought you up here between them. Madam Pomfrey did a few things with her wand as you slept. Dumbledore came back an hour ago I think."

"Did he say anything?" Harry asked.

Not only was he eager to use magic, as he was any summer, but this was the second time he’d been in the Hospital Wing in the same day, for the same thing. He’d seen enough of the place to last a lifetime anyway, and could think of a good few dozen more preferable places to spend his days.

"Not much. Just asked me what happened, and I guess I just said what Tonks had." Ron seemingly unconsciously puffed himself out a fraction. "That Dobby came, and slowed you down and everything, but he looked a bit, I dunno, preoccupied. I guess he had some trouble, you know, finding you a place to practice."

Harry groaned. "I can’t spend all my time in the Hospital Wing, scared to move in case I kill myself when Voldemort tries to possess me or something."

"Tell you what," Ron grinned, "You promise to keep fighting You-Know-Who with Occlumency as much as you can, and I’ll try and keep a potion of Dreamless Sleep with me. At least if you fall asleep, you can’t plough yourself."

"Very funny. You should have a go trying to keep him out of your mind sometime."

"No thanks mate." Ron shuddered. "I couldn’t even throw off the Imperius curse in fourth year, remember?"

Harry yawned, the potion still affecting him. "S’not a bad idea tho’."

"What is?" Ron asked.

"Getting you to carry around a stockpile of potions for me. Would mean there was no chance of me meeting Snape anyway. I nearly ran when I heard Dobby was going to go look for him."

Ron laughed. "Yeah, he still hasn’t found the git yet. I tell you mate; he’d probably do anything for you. I bet the only reason he got a job at Hogwarts was because you were here."

"Don’t!" Harry pleaded, "I like the elf and all, but if he followed me around for the rest of my life, I’d go mad."

Ron chortled, "Take him on as your House Elf after Hogwarts,; you’ve definitely got no doubts as to his loyalty."

"Oh I’d love to see Hermione’s face if I did that!"

"Just try and give him seven days off a week, and pay him a thousand galleons a day and she’d be happy. You know he wouldn’t take it…"

Harry smiled, and fell silent for a few seconds. The castle seemed so quiet,; the only sounds were from the birds and summer outside. To think that tonight, there would probably be more attacks on Muggles and Wizards by Voldemort, more innocents killed on a day like this. It seemed wrong, somehow, that people should be killed like this in the middle of summer of all times. Of course, the Dementors would change that. Harry shivered. It was as if Voldemort was trying to turn the whole year into one long cold hard winter.

"Anything up mate?" Ron asked, still grinning slightly.

Harry shook his head, "Just thinking, that’s all." He cast around for another subject to turn to. "What were you writing?"

"Oh that! It’s a letter to Hermione. Dumbledore said he’d make sure it got to her, so I thought I’d write something quickly to make sure she heard from us. In fact," He looked guilty, "I was meant to tell Dumbledore when you woke up."

"Oh. Okay." Harry said in a blank voice. "I guess I’d better find what he’s going to do with me."

Ron looked at him oddly. Like six hours ago, he looked like he was teetering on saying something, but unsure as to whether he should. This time, he gave a smile, and walked out the room.

Despite himself, Harry was bothered by the fact that Dumbledore must be going out of his way to get letters to Hermione. She and her parents had gone for a summer long holiday, while the Order was placing protective charms on her house. Where they had actually gone, no-one knew except Dumbledore, and his protective charms meant that no owl could find them. But Dumbledore was still letting her know what was going on in her absence. And yet last year, Harry hadn’t even been away, and still wasn’t told anything. So he had Voldemort doing things to his head. So what? At least he could have actually helped if he was told this from the start.

He knew the annoyance was irrational, but he didn’t really care. Dumbledore had apologised, and had promised to try and keep Harry better informed. It certainly wasn’t any fault of Hermione’s that she was made aware of things that were going on. He’d tell her if he could, but they hadn’t even written to each other once over the holidays -– hadn’t been able to. But it felt good to feel anger; it felt better than the despair he felt whenever he thought about Sirius, anyway.

Soon Dumbledore would be here, deciding Harry’s life for him. It wasn’t as if he had much control over his life anyway, what with the Prophecy, but it would be nice if he could control something. He couldn’t control the fact he’d be a murderer or victim, he couldn’t even, he thought with a stab of frustration, control what went on in his head, and now Dumbledore would doubtless reduce his choices in life even more. The sound of footsteps approaching interrupted him, and he braced himself.

It was Ron however, that appeared in the doorway. An ashen faced Ron; and Harry jumped out of bed in alarm. Ron was carrying two pieces of parchment, and looked unable to speak.

"What’s happened Ron?" Harry asked urgently, sure that some calamity must have befallen the Weasley family.

Ron stood there mute, and then slowly handed Harry one of the pieces of parchment. It had Harry’s name on it. Harry unrolled it slowly, dreading what was contained within. The first sentence made him stop, astonished. He glanced quickly up at Ron, who had now sat down on Harry’s hospital bed. He was shaking his head, as if in disbelief. Harry read on.

Dear Mr Potter,

The Department of Magical Law Enforcement in the Ministry of Magic, requests your presence at the hearing of Severus Snape, Professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, for alleged Death Eater activity, and specifically, matters relating to May the twenty-sixth of this year. The hearing will be at 9 a.m. on the seventeenth of July. This hearing is compliant with the Wizengamot Secrecy Act of 1941, and as such, you may not discuss the details of the hearing with anyone except for your fellow students, who have also been asked to attend: Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger; and Professor Albus Dumbledore, who, as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, is aware of the circumstances.

You are not being investigated for any crime, but the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Madam Bones, believes you may have important information as regards the accused’s innocence or guilt. You are expected to be accompanied to the Ministry by your guardians, where you will then be informed of the courtroom in use. It is important for you to realise that because of the aforementioned Wizengamot Secrecy Act, your guardians may not accompany you into the courtroom itself.

Wishing you a good day,

Acrolyn Briant,
Undersecretary to the Head of Magical Law Enforcement,
Ministry of Magic.


Harry looked up, and stared at Ron. "Snape?"

"I told Hermione he was a Death Eater!" Ron said vehemently. "I told her, but she wouldn’t listen. I mean, it makes sense. Your scar has always hurt more after Occlumency sessions with Snape and-"

"Yeah…" Harry interrupted, having heard it all before. "I wouldn’t be surprised by it, but…"

"But what?" Ron asked.

"Well… What exactly did he do on the twenty-sixth that meant he was helping Voldemort? I mean, the fact that he was such an unhelpful git meant that we went to the Ministry all right, but he did tell the Order where we had gone. If he was working for Voldemort, why would he have said anything?"

"I guess." Ron agreed, disgruntled, "I dunno, he might have tried to wait as long as possible, so it looked like he was helping the Order, but that they would arrive too late."

"Maybe," Harry acknowledged, "but I think he’s just an evil slime ball that wants me dead regardless of Voldemort. Dumbledore trusts him not to be a Death Eater, and last time I didn’t trust Dumbledore’s judgement…" He trailed off, and looked away, out a window.

"Harry." Ron said forcefully. "You can’t blame yourself. You didn’t kill Sirius. It wasn’t your fault."

Harry stood up, and walked away from Ron, gazing out of the window. He couldn’t help but remember how he and Hermione had gone back through time in this very room, in order to save Sirius from the Dementor’s Kiss. How they had rescued Buckbeak, and led Sirius to freedom, only for Harry himself to have led him to his doom, just two years later. How could Ron know anything about the guilt that he felt? How could Ron, who has always had a family, even begin to understand the loneliness that came with losing your parents and your godfather before you could even appreciate that they were there for you at all?

Harry counted up the people dead so far because of him, his parents, Sirius, Cedric, even Crouch. Not to mention people like Mr Weasley, Ron, Hermione, and everyone else that had nearly ended up the same way because of him. And then there were all the people who had died or been tortured recently, because Harry revealed Voldemort’s return, and Voldemort was trying to scare people into submission. Would it have been better if Harry hadn’t been so public about it? Suddenly, he had an urge to pick up a glass, or some other delicate object and throw it at the nearest wall. Or maybe go back to the Dursleys and pick a fight with Dudley. He might lose, but he didn’t really care. He just wanted to hit something, or someone, as hard as he could. Pain would be just as welcome.

He was still fifteen! Why should he have to have so many people’s deaths and injuries on his conscience? For Merlin’s sake, he couldn’t even handle going on a date with someone! And yet… he couldn’t muster the strength to break the window in front of him into a thousand pieces. Or throw the vase standing on the windowsill viciously at a wall, destroying the delicate flowers contained within. Not even to curse Malfoy if he were here. Or to try and explain how he felt to anyone, even Ron or Hermione. Even Sirius, if he were here now.

He sensed, rather than heard Ron behind him. "Harry," his friend began, "I don’t have a clue what you’re feeling, or thinking, or planning to do, but I’m here for you if you need me. Even if you just want someone to yell at." Harry heard the grimace on Ron’s face, rather than saw it.

Harry sighed, but said nothing. Rather than reassuring Harry, it compounded everything. Why couldn’t Ron see that he should distance himself from Harry? The more Ron helped Harry, the more likely it was that Voldemort would target him and his family. If Harry had the death of Weasleys on top of everything else piling up over him- After everything they had done since first year for him, they and Hermione were the closest things to family he had left. And anyone close, or family, to Harry ended up dead.

A lump appeared in Harry’s throat, and he swallowed it down repeatedly. He didn’t deserve to be part of the Weasley family, no matter how they treated him. Something as impure as him, a murderer in the making, the cause of so much tragedy, had no place in such an inherently good family as the Weasleys. Even Percy, the idiot that didn’t appreciate what he had, deserved to be there more than Harry. He may have said and done things he shouldn’t, but at least he hadn’t directly caused people to die.

"You do know that, right?" Ron asked.

Harry stared at the window, looking not through it any more, but focussing on his reflection instead. His own eyes stared back at him. He had Lily’s eyes… He could see them now, his mother’s eyes. And his father’s, and Cedric’s, and Sirius’ all of them were staring at him, blaming him. Years of pain and suffering, and the years of joy that had been taken away from them, all concentrated in the eyes of his reflection, glared at their owner, accusing him. Harry looked away suddenly, and paced back to his bed, sat down, and then just a few seconds later stood up again and paced once more, finding himself on a chair this time.

Ron stood there in helpless silence, watching Harry’s musical chairs for a minute or two. "I’d better find Dumbledore." He whispered finally, and left the room, closing the door behind him.

Harry didn’t watch him go. He placed his head in his hands, messing up his hair even further, and then looked around glumly. He sighed, and looked down at his knees. Fixing a point on his pyjamas he stared at it, allowing it to blur his vision, and subsequently his thoughts. He didn’t want to think. If he did, he only thought of Sirius, or the prophecy, or-

Harry sighed again, deeper if anything. Even thinking of not thinking moved onto those subjects. Harry gave a very small wry smile, before standing up and pacing, concentrating on putting one foot after the other.

There was a knock on the door. Rather than speaking, Harry walked to the door and opened it. Dumbledore was standing there, looking rather sombre. Ron was standing with him.

"May we come in?" Dumbledore asked, unnecessarily, Harry thought.

Harry just gave a half hearted gesture and returned to the window, letting Ron and Dumbledore follow him. He felt empty, and drained, and didn’t have strength for the conversation that was before him. He didn’t have the strength for anything. All he wanted to do was to let the world pass him by and go on without him. But that couldn’t happen, could it? The world needed him to kill Voldemort, and they couldn’t do it themselves.

"Harry," Dumbledore’s voice began calmly, "Mr Weasley here tells me that you have both received a summons from the Wizengamot for Professor Snape’s hearing. I myself have been delivered one that I am bound to pass on to Miss Granger."

Harry nodded his head, still looking down into the castle grounds.

"Is he a Death Eater?" Ron asked, quickly.

"I do not believe so, Mr Weasley. The Minister, however, believes differently it seems."

"Why must we be there?" Harry said in a hollow voice. They were the first words he had said in minutes, and he felt as if he was drudging them up from some hard to reach place. "What have we got to do with any of it?"

"Fudge believes that Professor Snape had something to do with the night he saw Voldemort return. At least, that is what he is claiming for this trial. He did not want you there, but Madam Bones insisted. She may want you to verify or deny Cornelius’ version of events that night."

"They want me to…" Harry started in alarm. "I am not talking about… that night in front of the Wizengamot."

"I have so far refused to allow anyone from the Ministry to interview any of you, but I am afraid I cannot prevent the Wizengamot asking for evidence. I have Madam Bones’ word that she will try to avoid pressing you on details."

"And what about Sirius?" Harry yelled suddenly, his hollow insides filling with emotion once more. "He was not a Death Eater! I won’t let them call him one."

"We can’t clear Sirius’ name in a trial to convict another man, Harry. We will clear him, I promise, but it will not be easy while Cornelius Fudge is still Minister. We must wait, or risk his name never being cleared." Dumbledore was speaking calmly, reasonably, but Harry didn’t care what he had to say.

"I will not talk as if Sirius was a Death Eater. I don’t care what they do, or say, I won’t go along with them." He spoke through gritted teeth.

His reflection was staring back at him, a drop of moisture glistening on his right cheek. He made a show of flattening his untidy hair and then rubbed his face, removing the tear.

"Harry, we cannot risk another innocent man being put in Azkaban for a crime he didn’t commit. Sirius of all people would not have wanted that."

How dare Dumbledore try and use Sirius against him, Harry wondered furiously.

"Snape deserves it – Sirius would have told you that." He spat at the grounds below.

"Professor Snape is innocent, Harry. He has let an old schoolboy grudge linger, but that crime is not enough to send him to Azkaban." There was a steely note in his voice, which Harry had not heard addressed to him before, and he jerked at it.

It would be so easy to help Fudge convict Snape. Be so easy to get that greasy haired Snivellus chucked into Azkaban, where he couldn’t torment Harry’s life anymore. Suddenly, words that Dumbledore had said over a year ago came unbidden into Harry’s head.

Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right, and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory.¹


Harry stiffened slightly. "What do they claim Sn- Professor Snape did, Professor?"

"The Minister is refusing to give specific details as of yet I am afraid. I imagine they will try to claim that Professor Snape lured you to the Ministry, but how I can not say."

"Fine. I won’t help them convict him, but I will not lie about Sirius." Harry turned around and faced Dumbledore, glaring straight at his eyes.

It was a gradual thing. The fury Harry felt against the world started to turn to a rage against Dumbledore. He felt like an animal, coiling himself to spring at Dumbledore and sink his fangs into the man. The longer he glared, the stronger the feeling became, until comprehension dawned upon him. He looked away, a sick feeling in his stomach. He still couldn’t defend himself against Voldemort’s attacks.

"Occlumency." Harry mumbled the word.

Ron looked slightly bemused at what was going on, and so far had remained a relative spectator. Dumbledore however, immediately understood.

"I have talked to Minister Fudge, Harry, and he has refused to allow you dispensation to practice magic. I could not, of course, explain the exact reasons why it is necessary, and it is unfortunate, I believe, that the request coincided with the arrest and pending trial of one of my most senior teachers."

Harry felt a leaden feeling in his stomach. "So I’m stuck then. I can’t learn to defend myself at all against Voldemort? So eventually he’ll possess me, and then that’s that?" A defeatist feeling flooded through Harry that he hadn’t felt since the years he was beaten up by Dudley at school. "So what now? I go back to the Dursleys, and hope my aunt does no more magic?"

"I said that the Minister refused to allow you dispensation to use magic, not that you couldn’t use it Harry." There was a serious note in Dumbledore’s voice. "Occlumency is now more important than ever for you to learn. We can not risk your return to Privet Drive at this time. While the remaining charms should still hold against physical assaults, they will not protect you against assaults through your scar, as we have found out. Even at Hogwarts, there is inadequate protection."

"So I’m doomed whatever then?" Harry gave a mirthless chuckle.

"Harry, there is a place you can use magic without the Ministry knowing." Dumbledore’s voice was urgent now. "But you may not like it."

"Great." Harry replied sardonically. "Where?"

"Number 12, Grimmauld Place."

Harry froze. Taking a long shaky breath, he closed his eyes. He swallowed, and then whispered the two word question. "Why there?"

"It is the safest place the Order has. And it is under the Fidelius charm. The charm will prevent the Ministry from knowing who has used magic, what type of magic they used, and where they performed it. The most that they will be aware of is that somebody somewhere has caused their underage magic detection systems to react. Whether it is in Inverness or Wrexham, they will have no idea. It is doubtful that they will even realise that underage magic has been performed at all."

"Wait a minute!" Ron cried indignantly. "Are you saying we could have used magic last summer and at Christmas, and you didn’t tell us?"

"Yes, Mr Weasley, I am." Dumbledore replied in an amused tone. "I thought it best for you to obey the law for underage wizardry at that moment in time. Especially given the circumstances of the last hearing Harry had to attend."

Harry would ordinarily have been amused himself at Ron’s outburst, but he couldn’t muster the energy to be anything other than unenthusiastic at the thought of returning to Sirius’ home. He’d rather go back to Privet Drive. "I don’t want to go back there." He murmured.

"I am afraid you must, Harry. It is the only way you can learn to defend yourself and prevent these attacks of Voldemort’s."

Harry’s flinch at the word ‘must’ was almost as noticeable as Ron’s whenever he heard Voldemort’s name. "Not much of a choice is there?" he said bitterly.

"I am sorry Harry, but as you say, we have no choice." Dumbledore may have sounded genuinely apologetic, but it didn’t make it any easier for Harry to bear.

"When do I leave the Dursleys?"

Somewhere deep inside, Harry registered how strange it was for him to be unwilling to leave Privet Drive. It was usually the thing that he waited for desperately the whole of the summer, and here he was reluctant to leave when July had barely started. Since he had lost Sirius, it seemed his world really had been turned upside down.

"As soon as possible. It would be best if you could go this evening, assuming Madam Pomfrey releases you. I have already talked to Remus, and he and Tonks have both insisted upon being there tonight when you arrive. In fact, I believe Tonks is still around here, hoping to escort you there herself."

"Well you won’t be there alone mate." Ron said, to a flash of irritation from Harry. Completely oblivious, Ron continued, "At the very least, I can floo in and see you. And we can get a head start on the DA, you can teach me some of the stuff you’ve got planned." He stopped, as if struck by an unpleasant thought, and glanced at Dumbledore. "We will still be doing the DA now Umbridge is gone won’t we?"

"I certainly have no objections, and I am sure the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher won’t either." Dumbledore said with a smile. "If Harry wishes to continue to organise the group, then I believe there will be no difficulties."

Harry was struck by a strange feeling of both anticipation and dread. It would be fair to say that the DA had pulled him through the time with Umbridge at Hogwarts last year, but the last thing he wanted to do was to place even more people in danger by meeting with them regularly. And now that the term had finished, he had the same fear of teaching that he had had when Hermione first suggested the idea.

"I don’t know." He said slowly. "Hermione is the one that organised it all anyway. I guess I’ll think about it."

"Perfectly understandable." Dumbledore said briskly. "I would ask the two of you however, to refrain from, er, overuse of magic while at Grimmauld Place, and to try to perform magic only when Order members are around. There is a reason for the laws being in place." His beard twitched.

Both boys nodded, although Harry barely inclined his head.

"Good. Now then, I hope the two of you will stay and have dinner here in an hour or two. Your friend Dobby practically begged me to make you stay." Dumbledore raised his eyebrows, and Ron gave a snort of laughter. Even Harry gave a reluctant grin.

"’Course we will!" Ron said, to the same small nod of assent from Harry. "Um, could we go up into Gryffindor Tower, sir, if Harry wants to?" He shot a quick look at Harry, who said nothing.

"Certainly you may. I am sure that the Fat Lady will be delighted to see some of her students again. The password is invalesco animi. I believe dinner will be at eight. I am afraid I must take my leave for the moment; I have some protective charms to cast." With that, Dumbledore left the room.

"Come on, Harry, I’ll give you a game of Wizard’s Chess." Ron said, eagerly. "You could do with getting out of the hospital wing."

"Could he, Mr Weasley? I think I will be the judge of that!" The fussy voice of Madam Pomfrey interrupted from the doorway. "Back in here again are you? When will you students realise that Quidditch is a very dangerous game?" She tutted loudly, and then shoed Ron out of the way, in order to fuss around Harry’s bed.

"Well, a strengthening solution and you should be physically well again in no time. But you are mentally drained. I would suggest you make sure you don’t bottle up emotions over the next few weeks Mr Potter. Your mental state couldn’t take it." She lectured sternly.

"It’s quite difficult to stop yourself feeling." Harry muttered. I’ve tried. He added to himself.

"Yes it is." Madam Pomfrey agreed, "And it is a very bad thing to try to do it too. You ought to talk to people about the feelings, not hide them away Mr Potter."

Harry groaned, making no effort to hide his annoyance. "Fine. Can I go now then?"

"Drink these." Madam Pomfrey replied, pushing two vials into his hands. "Come on, quickly."

Harry gulped them down, feeling a languid warmth spreading throughout his body. As a whole, he seemed to perk up. He felt a bit more awake, and far less weary.

"I… Thanks Madam Pomfrey. I’m sorry, you know, for interrupting your summer and all." Harry said, slightly sheepishly.

"It’s quite alright. Now. Professor Dumbledore asked me to give you some Dreamless Sleep potion for you to take home. Have you been having trouble sleeping?"

"Well…"

"I need to know Mr Potter; I cannot simply give out potions for no reason. I am your Healer, I need to know whether you need it or not." She continued, with the smallest bite of impatience.

Harry glanced at Ron, who had returned to his parchment and was continuing the letter at a fair pace. He supposed that Dumbledore couldn’t have told Madam Pomfrey why he needed the potion, which was why she was asking.

"Yeah. I have." He admitted. "Just, well, nightmares about… things… you know."

Madam Pomfrey pursed her lips. "You really need to talk about this kind of thing you know."

"How do you think Professor Dumbledore knows?" Harry said, indignantly.

"Mm… Well, you can go. Just make sure you don’t do anything dangerous. I do not want to hear that you are back here for a third time today! Here." She said, handing Harry a bottle. "This contains the Dreamless Sleep potion. Try not to use it unless you really have to. You can start to rely upon it in order to sleep at all, and that is certainly not good for you. Try and avoid putting yourself under any unnecessary emotional stress."

Harry stood up, and hesitated. "Where’s my Firebolt, Ron?" He asked, with just a trace of panic.

Ron looked up from his quill. "It’s under the bed with my Cleansweep. You’re done then?" He asked, as Madam Pomfrey left the room.

"Yes, we’re done Mr Weasley," She said from the corridor, "but I absolutely forbid you to use those brooms for at least a week!"

"Good." Ron said vaguely. "Give me a second Harry, and I’ll just finish this, then I can give it to Dumbledore at dinner."

"Um, say hi from me won’t you?" Harry said quickly.

Harry grabbed his clothes and got out of the hospital wing pyjamas as quickly as he could, before surveying the damage done to his Firebolt. All in all it was in pretty good shape. A few bent twigs, a couple of minor scuffs on the handle, but nothing that his Broomstick Servicing Kit wouldn’t fix. The charms upon it that had deflected Tonks’ jinxes were also strong enough to protect against ploughing it seemed. Harry let out a sigh of relief – there was nothing, now more than ever, more precious to him than this broomstick.

"Okay, done." Ron called across the room after a few minutes. He rolled up the parchment, holding his hand out for his broom.

As they walked the familiar passageways towards the Gryffindor common room, Harry couldn’t help but notice how silent everything seemed. The portraits were conversing as normal, but the hustle and bustle that usually existed during the term time was gone. He mentioned it to Ron.

"Even in third year it was never this quiet, and there were what, five students here at Christmas then? It feels wrong, I dunno, sinister even."

"You’re too on edge Harry. Don’t blame you mind, but it just feels strange as we haven’t been here on our own before." Ron said confidently, "I’m surprised we haven’t seen Peeves yet though, I expected him to be annoying us non-stop today.

"Yeah, well, I’m not sad not to have seen him yet." Harry said darkly. "It’s just, I always kinda felt like Hogwarts was home, you know. That doing magic was the thing I should be doing and I belonged here. But it feels deserted now, not home."

"You’re as good as a Weasley mate," Ron assured him, "and better than some. The Burrow’s as good as a home for you if you want. I think Mum would adopt you if she could to be honest. If you want a family, then we’re here for you. Hermione too, you know."

"Thanks." Harry replied, sounding as sincere as he could, but his stomach had plummeted. "Um, have you written to Hermione much?"

"Yeah, as much as I can, I’ve been getting Dad or someone to give them to Dumbledore to send. She always asks about you. It’s been a nightmare with the two of you, you know?" Ron said cheerfully, "One that you can only reach through Dumbledore, and the other that you can’t write to regularly and only when there’s added security, or else the owls will be intercepted. It’s been bad enough with the twins not around much anymore and Ginny either helping them, or talking to Dean." He looked most unimpressed. "It’ll be good to have someone sane to talk to occasionally when you’re at Headquarters."

"Yeah, well, I’m sorry but I’d rather I wasn’t going there." Harry replied irritably.

"It can’t be worse than the Muggles mate," Ron said bracingly, "and you will have some idea of what’s happening at least."

"I don’t care Ron; I just don’t want to go back there. See the elf heads, the snake door handles, Sirius’ mother’s portrait, and if I see Kreacher…" Harry’s eyes narrowed.

"But isn’t it worth it?" Ron asked, a slightly hurt look on his face. "Being able to defend yourself, being able to use magic, being able to see us – isn’t that worth something?"

"It’s Sirius’ house Ron. How do you think I feel about going back there?" Harry’s temper rose.

"Which would you rather have? Life in a Muggle house with relatives that don’t like you, and being attacked by You-Know-Who all day, or else living in your Godfather’s old house, learning to defend yourself, and being able to see friends all the time? You told me that Sirius wanted you to stay with him in third year. He wanted you there all last year, are you going to tell me he wouldn’t want you in his house now, when you need it? Hermione will have to come back for the hearing; both of us can visit and give you a hand. In fact, I’m betting even Fred and George will want to help their primary investor. Everyone will be there for you." Ron’s ears were going red.

"Damn it Ron!" Harry yelled. "Why can’t you guys just leave me alone? I’m going to get you killed if you stay friends with me. Voldemort’s going to go after you one by one to get at me. Why can’t you forget you ever knew me?" Ron stopped walking, and was as still as a statue. Harry however nearly broke into a run; he hopped onto his Firebolt, and yelled without looking back, "I’ll see you in the common room."

Harry flew through the corridors at breakneck speed, turning sharply at the corners, and hearing portraits complaining far behind. He took a hand off his broom in order to wipe his face, furious at the tears. Why couldn’t Ron see that going to a Grimmauld Place without Sirius would remind him of just why Sirius was dead? Why couldn’t Ron see that everyone close to Harry got killed? How… How would he, Harry, react if Ron, or Hermione, or Ginny got killed next? He slowed down in front of the Fat Lady’s portrait hole. He wouldn’t be able to take it – he didn’t know what he’d do.

The Fat Lady was chatting to Violet and another of her friends when Harry dismounted. Looking up she looked highly irritated. "What are you doing riding a broom indoors? What are you doing in Hogwarts at all! It’s the holidays!"

"Invalesco animi." Harry replied curtly, head still overflowing with emotion.

The portrait looked him up and down, and in a somewhat calmer tone, nodded and replied, "Indeed dear." She swung open, granting access to Gryffindor Tower.

Harry looked around. The common room was completely tidy, devoid of the normal Gryffindor bits and pieces that usually had accumulated by this time of the day. It was similar to the early morning appearance, when the house elves had just finished tidying the room. Or, Dobby alone rather, as it was now. Strangely, although it was the middle of summer, a magical fire was roaring in the grate. He supposed Dobby must have set it alight on the off chance that Harry would want to come up here.

Automatically, Harry sat in his favourite fireside chair, but his already hot head, was now reaching boiling point. He jumped back up again and paced around, as in the hospital wing. He put a hand up, and felt his still slightly moist face, and a feeling of self-fury swelled up inside him.

"Get a grip!" He yelled aloud, thumping a nearby wall with the palm of his hand. "Here you are going to pieces when the most dangerous murderer in the world is after you. He’s going to just waltz into your mind at the moment Harry!"

He ran up to the – now sixth year – boys’ dormitory. It felt bare somehow, although each bed was as finely dressed as ever. Harry ducked into the toilets and dunked his head into a basin of freezing cold water. His head rose back up with a shudder, but he forced it under once more.
________________________________________


When Harry came back down to the common room, fifteen minutes later, Ron still wasn’t there. He felt somehow both pleased and annoyed with himself. If he had succeeded in pushing Ron away, then he and the Weasleys would be safer, he rationalised, but surely he could have approached it better. And there was a little voice in his head that was telling him he shouldn’t be doing this, that he should let his friends choose.

"I know what they’d choose." He growled softly, "The wrong option." Strangely, and to no small extent, to his annoyance, a warm feeling spread inside of him.

Ron chose this moment to cautiously step through the door. "Harry?" He asked cautiously.

Harry gave a wary acknowledgement.

"You still want that game of wizard’s chess?" He held up a couple of cases. "Dumbledore left them for us."

Harry helped Ron set the board up, grinning despite himself at the chess pieces. The pieces weren’t black and white, but rather pink and a warm yellow. And rather than being austere, the pieces themselves had a definitely soft feel of fluffiness to them. Rather than bladed weapons, each piece held a wand. Ron was staring at them, for the first time in his life, Harry guessed, feeling unsure before a game of chess.

"It’s just wizard’s chess Ron, you’ll still beat me." Harry laughed.

Ron seemed to perk up slightly, but at Harry’s tone of voice rather than the chessboard, Harry guessed, kicking himself internally.

"Right then, lets get started, er… who goes first do you think, pink or yellow?" Ron asked aloud.

The pink pieces in front of him turned towards him and shot white sparks into the air. "I guess that means I go first then." Ron muttered. "Alright then. Pawn to D4."

The first unusual thing happened when Ron took Harry’s pawn with his own. Ron’s piece invaded Harry’s square as normal, but rather than a scuffle, the two pieces had a mini wizard’s duel. They both squeaked out spells and sent them at each other, deflecting them with shields that they threw up themselves.

"Expelliarmus!" Ron’s pawn cried, and Harry’s pawn’s wand went flying to the side of the board. "Stupefy!" And then Ron’s pawn was dragging Harry’s off the board next to the wand. It then proceeded to create rope bonds and tie the pawn up.

Ron and Harry stared at each other, impressed. "That was pretty cool!" Ron said, in an awed voice. Harry agreed.

The best thing about it all, Harry thought, was that each duel was different. Some pieces battled for longer than others, some finished their opponent with an incapacitating move, others with a deadly one. When Ron’s Queen killed one of his pawns in a flash of green light, Harry barely even winced, he was so engrossed in the whole thing, and when one of his knights managed to take Ron’s Queen out with a leg-locker curse, followed by a cutting curse, Harry was spellbound.

Whether it was because each player was dumbstruck by the pieces, Ron was still unsure both about them, and him, or that he had just played a blinder, Harry didn’t know, but at the end, he had a bishop and a king left, and Ron a knight with his king. He took the knight with his bishop, who was in turn taken by the king, and they had a stalemate. Each king saluted to each other, and to both of the players, and then set about reviving (or resurrecting) their pieces and ordering them back into their respective cases.

"That was amazing!" Ron whispered. "What I wouldn’t give for a set of these."

"Great game." Harry grinned, suddenly not wanting to try to get Ron to leave him be after all.

Their talk, as they walked to join Dumbledore at dinner, was not one that centred about Sirius, or Grimmauld Place, or Voldemort, but on the game of chess they had just had. Ron was betting that Dumbledore himself had created the chess set, and that they hadn’t a hope of finding one they could buy. Harry didn’t care, he swore he would find one somewhere.
________________________________________


Dinner was in the Great Hall as usual, but they ate at the staff table, rather than one of the long house tables that took up most of the hall. Or rather, they ate at a small table in the normal position of the staff table. Tonks and Hagrid were already sitting down, as were Professors Sprout, Sinistra and Trelawney when they walked in.

"Hagrid!" Ron and Harry called as one.

"’Ello you two!" Hagrid smiled behind his beard. "Thought yeh might have come down to visit me today yeh know? All tha’ time yeh had here on yer own?" Harry opened his mouth to explain, but Hagrid continued, "I’m only jokin’ Harry, don’t yeh worry. I heard what happened. Dang’rous game, Quidditch." He added sagely, but with a wink to Harry.

"Ah yes." Professor Trelawny began in her misty voice as Ron and Harry took their seats opposite Hagrid, "I believe your troubles are only just beginning my dears. Soon Quidditch accidents will be the least of your troubles. Still, it is sometimes best not to be forewarned. When you have seen as I have seen, you learn that foreknowledge can be a terrible as well as wondrous gift. I sense there are dark times ahead of you both, and you must be ever alert if you are to avoid the trappings of fate."

"Um, yeah," Harry shared a glance with Ron, "good evening Professors, evening Tonks." Harry was surprised not to see more surprise on the faces of his Professors, as he was sure Dumbledore would not have explained the reasons for two students being in Hogwarts at this moment.

"Evening!" Tonks greeted.

Professor Sprout smiled, and answered in kind. Harry had rarely said anything to her in all his previous years, being neither top nor bottom of the class nor a particular troublemaker. Professor Sinistra nodded to them, and then continued talking to Professor Sprout. Harry was more than slightly relieved – he had barely even heard Professor Sinistra talk outside of lessons.

Ron and Harry immediately started questioning Hagrid. "How have you been?" They asked in unison, and then grinned at each other.

"Oh, I’ve been alrigh’," Hagrid replied casually, "been lookin’ after the grounds, yeh know. Those dratted centaurs are still trying to make life difficult mind. I dunno how the Headmaster rescued that Umbridge woman from them, but they’re still as stubborn as ever. They still won’ even so much as allow Firenze’s name to be mentioned. I told ‘em they were makin’ a mistake, but would they listen ter me? Ruddy mules. ‘Therwise the forest’s been a bit quiet really." He gave them such a meaningful look, it was a wonder the others at the table didn’t get suspicious.

"Where is Firenze?" Harry asked curiously.

"Ah, Professor Firenze, like myself, often prefers to eat in solitude. Solitude is one of the necessary burdens of the knowledge of Divination." Trelawny responded.

"It’s been hard on him, see, the loss of ‘is herd." Hagrid explained. "Centaurs are communal creatures, like humans, but they prefer to be amon’ their own kind. The only ones that can understan’ them stargazers are themselves anyway, I think. 'E’s a nice bloke, but this kinda meal isn’t ‘is scene."

Before Harry could reply, the doors to the Great Hall opened, and Dumbledore strode in. "It appears I am the last one to arrive!" He said jovially, "You all put me to shame with your promptness."

As soon as Dumbledore took his seat, dishes and their contents appeared on the table. Harry dove for the steak and kidney pie, and loaded some Irish stew onto his plate for good measure. For some reason, maybe because the good humour of his dinner companions was contagious, Harry felt hungry.

"So, Harry, any idea of the subjects you’ll be takin’ next year then?" Hagrid asked, as they got down to the important business of eating.

"Depends on my results," Harry groaned. "I can’t take Potions if I don’t get an Outstanding, and that isn’t likely."

"Want to keep takin’ Potions do yeh?" Hagrid said surprised. "Thought yeh told me you were goin’ to give it up."

"Can’t if I want to become an Auror, ‘least that’s what Professor McGonagall said."

"I didn’t take Potions N.E.W.T.s." Tonks interrupted. "I’m no great shakes at the subject, but they took me on anyway, as my other grades were okay. ‘Course, it might have helped that I’m a metamorphmagus, but you’re the ‘Boy-Who-Lived’, I’m guessing that might count for something!"

A flash of relief and hope passed through Harry. He hadn’t thought that the fact that Voldemort had failed to kill him might help his job prospects. Perhaps in this instance being treated differently might be a blessing if he couldn’t do Potions.

"So you mean there’s still a hope if I messed up my Potions exam?"

"Yeah, definitely, though a potions N.E.W.T. would help. You still have to do some Potions work in the Auror training anyway, so you’d find it easier if you kept it after O.W.L.s."

"What did you get for your N.E.W.T.s Tonks?" Ron asked curiously.

"Oh, Os in Defence, Advanced Defence, Transfiguration, Charms, and Muggle Studies, and Es in Herbology and Arithmancy."

"But you only have to do five N.E.W.T.s!" Ron said, surprised, "Why’d you do seven?"

"Wanted to." Tonks grinned. "I figured the more I knew the better. I wanted to do Advanced Defence of course, so that didn’t clash with anything. I couldn’t make my mind up between Muggle Studies and Arithmancy, so I did them both."

"Why didn’t Advanced Defence clash?" Harry asked. "I hadn’t heard of it actually, do they still do it?"

Tonks looked surprised. "It’s taught outside of normal lessons. I had it a couple of days a week straight after my last class. I guess it might depend on the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher as to whether you can take it or not. When I was here, Professor Keane always did it. I guess you’ll find out nearer the time."

Harry looked across at Dumbledore, but he was in animated conversation with Professor Sinistra.

"Yeah," Hagrid agreed, "It always depen’s on the teacher. Some don’ do it. Umbridge refused ter. Professor Lupin did though."

"What kind of things does it cover?" Harry asked eagerly.

"’Depends. Sometimes it’s just advanced jinxes, and defensive shields, there’s usually some defensive charm work, so you can prevent dark wizards from entering a building say, it’s usually up to the teacher. You don’t learn for a set exam, the exam is set for the things you learn, if you get what I mean."

"Kind of…" Harry replied, before bursting into another question. "What kind of things did you do?"

Harry spent most of the meal asking questions about the defensive classes, and Tonks and Hagrid did their best to answer them. Harry was so engrossed in the subject, that he barely noticed that Ron had hardly said a word the whole time.

By the time the last dish had been cleaned (including desserts of treacle tart, apple crumble, and spotted dick), the sky above had dimmed slightly, and it was approaching ten. Professor Trelawny was the first to leave, quickly followed by Professor Sprout and Sinistra, who left together, leaving the members of the Order and Harry and Ron on their own.

"Now," Dumbledore began, "As Harry and I agreed earlier, it is best for Harry to arrive in Grimmauld Place tonight. Therefore, Harry, I suggest that you return to Privet Drive, and then take a Portkey from there, with your things. Get some sleep tonight, and I shall see you in the morning. If you could go with him to ensure everything goes smoothly Tonks?"

"I’d be delighted." Tonks beamed.

Harry’s stomach plummeted once more. He had pushed the impending change of house to the back of his mind during the chess game and dinner, but now the emotions were rushing back. He felt like an emotional yoyo, and he was starting to feel very tired.

"Mr Weasley," The headmaster continued, "I am quite aware that you and your family may wish to visit Harry soon and often. I must beg however, that you are content to wait a couple of days before you do so."

Ron nodded mutely.

"Hagrid, could I ask you to escort our two students to collect their brooms, and then up to my office, where we can say our goodbyes please?"

"O’ course yeh can Headmaster. C'mon then you two." Hagrid stood, knocking his chair backwards.

"What’s up Ron?" Hagrid asked as they walked back up to Gryffindor Tower. "Yeh hardly said a word durin’ dinner."

"Just a bit nervous," Ron said gruffly, "it was all that talk of exams. Mum’s been going on about them all summer."

"Ah now Ron, there’s no use worryin’ over that. They’re done, and there’s nothin’ yeh can do about it."

"Yeah, I guess." Ron replied, unconvinced and quickly changed the subject. "How’s Grawp getting on Hagrid?"

"He’s loads better! I think he’s startin’ to learn a bit of English now too. I think 'e might even be gettin’ a bit bigger now that 'e doesn’ have the other giants pickin’ on ‘im all the time. I had a load of trouble with the centaurs about him though." Hagrid added in a lower, worried tone. "See, when he helped Harry and Hermione out, he ended up killing some of them and he hurt Bane bad. Real bad. They were gatherin’ up some of the other creatures in the Forest against ‘im when I met them after. They’d even got some of Aragog’s lot with ‘em. I put a stop to it mind, but they were furious. Mad as I’d ever seen ‘em."

"Well, if he did kill some of them, Hagrid…" Harry began reasonably.

"Yeah, I mean, it’s not surprising they’re frightened of him." Ron added.

"He didn’t mean ter kill them!" Hagrid cried indignantly. "They shot at him first, he was just defendin’ 'imself. Yeh can’t blame him for that!"

Wisely, Harry and Ron dropped the subject.
________________________________________


"Well, see you in a few days mate." Ron said, stepping towards Dumbledore’s fireplace. "Give me a letter, or shove your head in the floo when it’s okay for us to visit."

He took a pinch of floo powder from a snuff box, which magically filled in the crater that was left behind. Dumbledore lit the fire with a swish of his hand, and soon Ron was gone. With a start, Harry realised his heart was thumping heavily. In a few minutes time he would be in Grimmauld Place. Sirius’ house. Just the thought of the dark, old place, with the cloying feel of dark magic attached to it made Harry want to back away.

"Harry? Are yeh alright?" Hagrid asked in a worried tone.

"I… Yeah… I’m – I’m fine." Harry replied in a shaky voice. "Professor," He addressed Dumbledore, his voice dropping, "Could I go straight to Grimmauld Place please. I want to get it over with."

Professor Dumbledore looked at him with such an expression of understanding that Harry wanted to hex him or punch him, or something. How could anyone understand how he was feeling?

"Of course Harry. I am sure that Tonks would be willing to go and collect your trunk if you wish?" Tonks nodded.

"No." Harry mumbled. "She doesn’t need to, I can do it tomorrow, I just want to get this done with tonight."

"Very well, I will send your aunt and uncle an owl explaining your absence. I shall see you tomorrow morning Harry, I suggest you try and get some rest tonight." Dumbledore offered Harry the snuff box, and Harry took a pinch.

Harry took a deep breath. "Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place."
________________________________________


¹: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K.Rowling. Page 628, UK Hardback, first edition
________________________________________


A/N: Okay, sorry about not updating - to be honest, I wasn't on the net much at all in the last year, and when I was hpff.com slipped my mind, what with the verifying et al. I'll try and get the other 30 odd chapters up asap, promise.

Btw, if anyone know how to get this editor to allow some pieces of text to go into the middle, instead of the whole thing, I would be very much obliged. And I really don't fancy trawling through html on a 10k word document (or larger)...

Atm if I align centre, it aligns the whole document, and it's annoying...

________________________________________
Chapter 4: Tidying Rooms


The world spun around him, and Harry felt a bout of nausea approaching. As his head revolved, one thought repeated itself in Harry’s head. I hate travelling by floo. Harry fell out of the fireplace in Sirius’ sitting room, stumbling onto one knee. Remarkably, his glasses stayed on for once.

“Harry!” A memorable voice cried out. “How are you?”

Remus Lupin stood smiling at Harry, having evidently just risen from the settee. His robes were as shabby and patchy as ever, and he had bags under his eyes. His face was thin and gaunt – even more so than usual – and the look was matched by the rest of his body. Harry tried and failed to remember when the last full moon had been. As soon as Harry had finished inspecting his parents’ friend, the rest of the room started to invade his vision. It was exactly as it had been when he had looked out of the fireplace searching for Sirius. The same pictures were on the wall, the furniture was arranged identically, and added to this there was a gloomy feel to the place that almost suggested that the house knew its master’s bloodline was no more.

Harry took a deep breath. “I’m okay I guess, Professor. Don’t feel ready to be back here though.”

Lupin nodded. “I know how you feel. It gets easier after a while. Where are your things?”

“They’re – I wanted to do this before I lost my nerve. I’ll get them tomorrow. Professor Dumbledore said it was ok.”

There was a crack behind him, and Harry swivelled sharply, grabbing his wand from his pocket. He pointed it at the newly apparated form of Tonks. “St-”

“Hey! I come in peace!” Tonks held her hands up in mock surrender.

“I – God, I’m sorry Tonks!” Harry’s heart was pounding and he felt a bit faint, not to mention foolish.

“Not to worry.” Lupin’s calm voice spoke out, “It’s not surprising you’re a bit on edge Harry. No harm done. You should get some rest. You can worry about everything in the morning.”

Harry snorted, “I spent most of the afternoon asleep – I doubt I need any more just yet.”

“Some things are best thought about on a rested mind Harry, you might find it better –” Lupin began.

“Honestly Remus!” Tonks interrupted him grinning. “Stop mothering the poor boy. A fine welcome! Hi Harry, now go straight to bed!”

Lupin raised an eyebrow, though Harry fancied he may have been slightly affronted. “Why you cheeky young miss! With you and Molly anywhere near Harry I doubt he’d need any mothering from me at all!”

“Me?!” Tonks asked in horror. “I wouldn’t have the first clue how to mother somebody. Not the domestic type me, I’m more the find someone and beat them into submission kind of girl!”

Lupin pressed home his advantage with a wicked grin. “Really? Is that why you volunteered to collect Harry this morning, and insisted on being here tonight?”

Tonks was now a blushing red, and Harry laughed. A few seconds later Tonks chuckled too. “I asked for that didn’t I?”

“You did.” Lupin agreed. “If you wish to stay awake for a while, then do Harry, the choice is yours. I just know that after a long day, certain things are difficult to handle. First of all however, we should give you a room! Which do you want?”

“I – I’m not too pushed.” Harry replied, “Maybe I should just stay in the room I had with Ron last time.”

“That’s a tiny room Harry.” Tonks dismissed. “You should go for one of the others. Sirius would want you to have his old room you know.”

Harry’s chest constricted and he remained silent for a few seconds. “I’d rather not go in there Tonks.” He replied throatily.

Tonks’ hand went up to her mouth immediately. “Oh Lord. I put my foot in it, didn’t I Harry? I’m sorry, I just didn’t think.”

Lupin had winced, and turned slightly paler himself. “There’s a nice room on the third floor Harry, which Tonks and I had made up for you this afternoon. You’ll need all the space if you stay here until Hogwarts starts. I’d better get you some pyjamas for tonight too. Shall we go up there now?”

Harry nodded, surprised and slightly ashamed that he was glad he wouldn’t be taking his first few steps through the house on his own. Broom in hand, he followed Tonks and Lupin to the door.

“We still haven’t managed to get rid of Sirius’ mum.” Tonks said regretfully. “I don’t know what else we can try. Maybe we should just get rid of the whole wall!”

“You know, that’s not a bad idea Tonks.” Lupin mused.

Harry, whose stomach had plummeted once more, suddenly had a vision of a Muggle demolition ball destroying the whole property. It wasn’t as satisfying as he had expected.

“Is everything just the same as it always was?” The bitterness in his voice surprised even himself.

“Not everything, Harry.” There was a definitely painful sound in Lupin’s voice this time.

“Come on you two.” Tonks took command, and led them quietly through the door and upstairs.

They walked past the elf heads in silence, Harry averting his eyes. The stairs creaked loudly as they climbed. They had barely stepped onto the second floor landing, when the unusually guttural (for a house elf) voice of Kreacher sounded from a room along the second floor hall. Harry stopped dead. Tonks swore, and looked at Lupin nervously.

“I thought I’d locked the damn thing up.” There was a venom to Lupin’s voice that Harry had never heard before, and with a surge of realisation, Harry remembered that Lupin had lost his childhood friend twice. There could be no-one else left from his days as a Marauder.

“Filthy Werewolf and blood traitor brat tried to lock Kreacher away. If his Mistress knew the scum that were stopping Kreacher from doing his job, oh she’d throw them out alright. Mistress would be ashamed for her loyal house elf to be forced to serve these thieves that have stolen her house. Oh she would want Kreacher to save it for her. Mistress was so pleased when Kreacher told her he’d killed her worthless son and she thought she’d have her house to herself again, but no! These schemers and plotters are using her house to oppose the Dark Lord still.”

Kreacher had appeared into view now, face down and shuffling towards them, it appeared that he hadn’t seen them yet. He appeared even older than before, looking feebler than ever. Harry however, only saw the thing that had told him Sirius had gone to the Department of Mysteries, and then laughed at Sirius’ fate.

“Mistress was so pleased when Regulus joined the Dark Lord’s followers. She knew the filthy Mudbloods and Halfbloods had to be cleansed from her world. She never believed those nasty lies that the Dark Lord had killed him, oh no, not she. She knew that Regulus was brave and true to the Black family, not like that disappointment. Oh she was pleased when Kreacher told her what he’d done.”

Harry stepped towards the elf, before Tonks or Lupin could say anything. “Kreacher.” He spat, in a voice full of hatred.

“It’s the Harry Potter boy. Kreacher wonders what the fool is doing here, now that his Godfather is dead. It was so easy to persuade him that he had gone to the Ministry. Kreacher wonders how such a boy could ever have beaten the Dark... The boy is pointing his wand at poor defenceless Kreacher now, what would Kreacher’s Mistress say to someone who threatened her faithful house elf?”

Harry had indeed drawn his wand, was pointing it at Kreacher, and was advancing slowly. Lupin seemed incapable of motion, as if he was torn between stopping Harry and joining in, and therefore doing neither.

“Harry!” Tonks cried, and the sound of screaming could be heard below as Mrs Black’s portrait awoke. “Oh blast it! Harry let me handle the wretch, just ignore him.” She tried to put her hand on Harry’s shoulder, but Harry didn’t stop moving towards Kreacher. It was as if he didn’t even hear Tonks.

“The boy can’t control himself. Kreacher wonders what his Master would say if he saw such a wild beast in his house. Does it mean to kill Kreacher, Kreacher wonders? Maybe at last Kreacher will have his head... But Kreacher thinks that the boy couldn’t do it.”

“You’re going to wish you’d never hurt Sirius, Kreacher. Relashio!”

But Harry’s wand had flown out of his hand and straight into a wall to his right before he had finished the incantation.

“The Potter boy is going to try to hurt Kreacher!” The elf looked surprised. “We can’t let that happen. Mistress would never allow it.”

“STOP, HARRY!” Tonks yelled, drawing her own wand, and finally managing to grab Harry’s arm.

Before she could do anything however, Kreacher had left the ground and flown the length of the hall into a wall at the end. Harry’s wand flew back into his hand, and he broke out of Tonks’ grip and ran after the elf. The elf, was slowly getting to its feet, and was regarding Harry with a new sense of caution, and even fear, that Harry hadn’t seen before.

“Expelliarmus!” Tonks cried, and once more Harry’s wand flew out of his hand, this time towards Tonks. “Harry – calm down. Don’t make me stun you. You don’t know what you’re doing.”

Harry snarled at the elf on the floor below him. “You killed Sirius. You killed the last of your precious race of Blacks. You betrayed the family you swore to serve. You deserve to die.”

Finally, Lupin moved. He spoke softly, and yet as if each word he spoke was causing him difficulty. “Harry. No. Sirius wouldn’t want you to become a murderer for this piece of vermin. Just as you didn’t think your dad would want Sirius or me to be one for Pettigrew. Kreacher has to live with the fact that he betrayed everything his kind hold dear, that is his punishment.”

Kreacher was looking up in terror between both Harry and Lupin, who was now approaching Harry from behind. Lupin placed his hand on Harry’s shoulder, but rather than gripping him, he guided Harry around, back towards the staircase.

“Would you mind dealing with this thing and trying to shut Mrs Black up Tonks?” Lupin asked, in the same emotional voice.

“Of course Remus.”

“And can Harry have his wand back please Tonks?”

“Oh. Yeah. Sorry Harry, but I had to… Yeah. Here you go.” Tonks handed it to him uncomfortably.

Lupin guided Harry to the stairs, and up them. Harry was now on autopilot. He both couldn’t think, and couldn’t stop thinking at the same time. He allowed himself to be pushed through a door, and walked over to the four poster bed automatically. He sat down without taking in any of the room.

“I’ll get you some pyjamas or something to wear Harry.” Lupin said softly.

Harry’s thoughts gradually cleared into horror. He had tried to hurt another being. House elves may not be strictly human, but sometimes it felt like they were. He had really wanted to watch Kreacher’s skin burn when he had tried to cast the fiery sparks from his wand. He had wanted to launch Kreacher’s body down the hallway. He had to have, or else the wandless magic wouldn’t have worked. It was a miracle Kreacher was alive. The frail creature had crashed into the wall at some speed. He had wanted to kill him. Was it because he had to kill Voldemort that he was considering killing others? What was he becoming?

Harry’s stomach lurched, as it threatened to expel all the food it had taken at dinner. Forcing it back down, Harry looked around the room for the first time. It was far bigger than his bedroom in Privet Drive. Far bigger than Dudley’s even, maybe twice the size. To Harry’s surprise, the room was decorated in light, airy colours, quite unlike the rest of the house. A writing desk, a cabinet, and a small bookshelf were along the wall with the door, and to the right of the bed. The king sized four poster protruded into the rest of the room, with ample room on both sides for bedside cabinets, and warm rugs. There was another door leading off the left hand side of the bed. Harry stood, to investigate, and opened it to find an en suite bathroom.

This room must have been one of the Black’s own personal rooms, or else a guest quarters for important family members and friends. Turning back to the bed, Harry saw now that it was out of place. Unlike the light yellows that adorned the walls for example, the bedding was a dark and bloody red. The drapes were a Slytherin Green, and the ironwork of the bed itself was an imposing black colour. It was as if someone had decorated the room, and then transplanted a bed from another room into it. He sat down onto the soft mattress, as Lupin opened the door once more, holding up a pair of light red pyjamas.

“I had to shrink them to size I’m afraid Harry, they were Sirius’.”

Harry’s voice disappeared. He gave a small nod.

Lupin seemed to be having trouble finding his voice too. “Harry, if you want to talk about Sirius, then please, just tell me.”

“No.” Harry choked. “Not, not now, anyway. You were right before; I’d better try and sleep.”

“Oh. Okay, well if you feel you need to Harry, I’m here.” Lupin still sounded as if every word was causing him pain.

Suddenly, Harry found the need to try and explain himself. “It’s just, Voldemort, if I get too emotional…”

“No – It’s okay Harry. Get some sleep, we can talk tomorrow. Goodnight.” Lupin walked to the door.

“Night.”

________________________________________



A room, cold and Spartan, as if it had been chiselled out of bare rock long ago, spread out before Harry. He was sitting on a throne, looking down at masked faces which had formed a semi circle that travelled a distance from the left of his throne to the right, encompassing a black single mother family of four. The mother was on her knees, but still trying to hold her children close to her. Her breaths came out in gasps and the youngest child, who could only be about five, was wailing. His sister, an early teenager, was holding her mother tightly, tears staining her face. The oldest of the three children was lying flat on his back, blood coming from the side of his head.

The crowd of watching Death Eaters laughed.

“Crucio!” A manic female voice rang out.

The boy writhed on the ground, screaming. Harry stood up. A hissing beside him signalled a snake was moving towards the centre of the semicircle too.

“Very well Nagini, you wish to have some sport do you?” Harry’s voice rang out in a sibilant hiss.

The snake slid forward towards the five year old boy, who shrank back into his mother. The woman cried out.

“No! Whatever you want to do to him, do it to me! He’s only a child for God’s sake, please no!”

“Don’t worry – you shall have your turn. But for now you watch… Impedimenta!” Harry said coolly.

The woman could no longer hang onto the child, and with a motion of Harry’s hand, the child was dragged away from his family. He screamed, as the snake nipped his flesh softly, yet just hard enough to leave pinpricks and insert its venom into the body. The mother could only look on in horror as the serpent enveloped the child’s body, swaying, and squeezing, and torturing the wretch to the amusement of the Death Eaters. The elder boy rolled onto his hands and knees, and tried to struggle upright, but failed.

The watchers laughed, and Harry himself let out a high, cold laugh, so unlike his normal one. “The Muggle stirs! The filthy fool still tries to fight against those more powerful than him. Lord Voldemort likes courage, boy. My followers must be brave, or they will suffer my wrath,” Harry looked at the mask of a Death Eater whose shape reminded him of Wormtail, “but when someone who opposes me has courage? It is so much fun to watch them fight, to watch them wriggle, and struggle to stay alive, when there is only one thing that matters. Their lives are forfeit to me.”

Somehow the boy got to his feet. He spat at the ground, and with a speed that was surprising considering the pain he had obviously been put through, ran to his brother, and kicked the snake off of him. He tried to stamp on it, just behind the head, but was flung backwards into the pack of Death Eaters by a spell; the mob pushed him back into the middle quickly.

“Fool!” Voldemort snapped. “Those brave people who are so attached to their family to try to defy me soon die pointless deaths.”

The snake slithered across to the boy angrily, and struck like lightning, aiming to kill, and not maim. Again and again it struck to the body of the teenager. Harry tried to scream, but could make no sound.

“Ah!” Voldemort said, “It appears we have a guest my faithful Death Eaters. Harry Potter. The famous Harry Potter is here to watch along with us. Have you heard of Harry Potter, Mrs Thomas? Answer me! Crucio!”

“No.” She spat, once the curse was spent.

“Well Harry Potter is the reason you are here today, Mrs Thomas. Don’t you want to thank him for giving you the honour of meeting Lord Voldemort?” He laughed, a cold mirthless laugh. “You see your son is in the same year as Harry Potter. He is in the same dormitory as Harry Potter. And your son after tonight will see why he should never associate with Harry Potter again. He has such dangerous tendencies that one, aren’t you glad that we will be teaching your son to avoid him?” The Death Eaters joined in with Voldemort’s laughter.

By now, Nagini had finished with the lifeless body of the teenager that had defied him, and had turned back to the youngest child. Harry tried to think thoughts of his parents, of Sirius, of Ron and Hermione, of everyone he cared about, trying with all his might to wake up. All the while he tried, however, his eyes were drawn back to the remains of the boy who briefly fought Voldemort’s will.

Voldemort laughed. “It seems that our guest is getting bored of all this talking; let us show him how such worthless Muggles that dare bring Halfbloods into this world should be treated. Bellatrix, would you like to resume the fun?”

“Oh yes Master!” Bellatrix Lestrange said excitedly, as Voldemort, and Harry, walked back to his throne.

“So you seek to awaken do you Harry?” Voldemort murmured. “No, no, that will not do now, will it? You should know what standing against me causes. I wouldn’t want you to be run away with by the idea that you are actually helping this scum, would I? Every day that you try to fight against me, more people shall suffer. Oh do not worry, I shall not kill them all… where’s the fun in that? At least one of these fools will be sent back to tell your precious Gryffindor classmate what happened, and why. The more I spare today, the more I can torture tomorrow. Now, let’s settle down, and watch shall we?”
________________________________________



Harry jerked awake. As he did so, pain shot through his scar from Voldemort’s anger. He yelled out, and as he did so, nausea spread through every vein in his body. He tried to scramble out of bed, but could only get his feet on the ground before he threw up. Harry groaned, and lay back down, his feet still touching the floor. His door flew open, and Lupin burst in.

“Harry! Is everything alright? What happened?”

Harry just groaned in response. He felt exhausted. Lupin spotted the vomit on the carpet, and waved his wand. It vanished, and with another wave of the wand, a pleasant smell filled the room. Lupin sat down on the bed, next to Harry.

“What happened?” He asked again.

“Voldemort.” Harry struggled out.

His stomach was heaving again, and he staggered out to the bathroom, where he vomited once more. He rinsed his mouth with water from the faucet, and stumbled back to the bed, and Lupin.

“He was torturing Dean’s mother.” He said in a low voice.

“Calm down Harry, and tell me exactly what happened from the beginning.” Lupin urged.

“Dean Thomas! His mother and brothers and sister. Voldemort was torturing them. He killed…”

“From the beginning Harry. Where were you when this took place?”

So Harry told him everything he could remember. Everything about the room, how the Death Eaters were arranged, what happened to the victims, what Voldemort had said, everything. When he had finished, he lay back down again, staring at the ceiling, trying to control the panic and guilt he felt running through him.

“It’s not your fault Harry.” Lupin said quietly, as if he knew exactly what was going through Harry’s head. “If you hadn’t embarrassed Voldemort by surviving, he would simply have gone after other people close to people he feared, or wanted to intimidate. He knows you care for other people, and he wants to make you feel yourself to blame for what he does to them.”

“He’s doing a pretty good job of it.” Harry murmured, looking away from Lupin and at a wall.

“Would he stop torturing innocent people if you weren’t alive, Harry? Would more people be alive?”

Harry stayed silent.

“Of course he wouldn’t. Voldemort likes giving pain. He enjoys killing, and that is why we fight against him. For every innocent person he hurts, the more we want to stop him.”

“He wouldn’t have gone after Dean’s family if it wasn’t for me.” Harry said, huskily.

“No.” Lupin agreed. “And he wouldn’t have gone after you if it wasn’t for your parents standing up against him, and living to tell the tale. Do you blame your parents for Voldemort targeting you as a child?”

“Of course not!” Harry said dismissively. He blamed that damn Prophecy. He blamed himself.

“Then why blame yourself f-” Lupin began, but Harry cut across him.

“That was my fault too. I’m the reason my parents died.”

“Harry?” Lupin exclaimed. “Why do you think that?”

“The P- Voldemort told me. The only reason he killed my mother was because she was stopping him killing me. He wouldn’t have even been there otherwise. If it wasn’t for me my parents would be alive.” Harry barely registered that he had stood up. He walked to the wall, and hit it, as hard as he could. His hand and knuckles opened up with blood, and he yelled, “If it wasn’t for me, Sirius would still be alive.”

Lupin caught his arm, as he drew it back to hit the wall a second time. He whispered Harry’s name, and held him to him, in a hug. Suddenly, as if floodgates had been burst open, Harry wept.

________________________________________



Harry winced when he woke up the next day, remembering what exactly had happened during the night. His hand was red, ached, and covered in newly developing scabs, but was nothing in comparison to the wound to his pride that he had suffered. There was blood on his pyjamas, Sirius’ pyjamas, as well as the quilt, and it took a while before Harry was able to rinse all the dried blood off his arm in the shower. He pushed the door open, twirling his wand in his fingers, producing the dual effect of loosening his hand a little, and making it hurt like hell.

The halls in the house, and the rooms he glanced in upon, could not be decorated more differently than Harry’s room. They were more like the bed, covered in dark, striking colours, which projected power. Harry’s feet walked the path they had taken down the hall last night almost on their own. He stared at the wall that Kreacher’s body had hit, and then crumpled up below. There was a trace of dried blood on it.

“Scurgify.” He muttered, pointing his wand at the stain, but nothing happened.

He walked the rest of the way to the kitchen on autopilot once more; his mind had given up trying to process information, and seemed, on its own accord, to be concentrating on how exactly to get downstairs to breakfast.

When he opened the door, Lupin was standing up, leaning against the wall. He was talking to Dumbledore, but only half-heartedly. Dumbledore was sitting comfortably in a kitchen chair, talking quite merrily. They both turned to the door when it opened, Lupin with a jerk, and Dumbledore with a cheery nod.

“Ah! Harry! The house elves at Hogwarts always try and shepherd me away from the kitchen, but I believe that I make a reasonable scrambled egg, if you’d like some?” Dumbledore stood, conjuring a gnome covered apron and strode to the cooker.

“Um- er- Thanks!” Harry managed. He looked over at Lupin, who gave a small lopsided smile, which could have come straight from Harry’s own personal collection. He looked torn between saying something to Harry, and remaining silent.

“Take a seat, Harry, this won’t be long.” Dumbledore called behind him.

Harry sat. Nothing was said for a few moments, and Harry allowed himself to look into thin air. His head was blissfully blank – his mind seemed to have decided to continue to disassociate itself with him, and leave him out of the loop of its thoughts. It suited Harry just fine. He had been trying not to think for a while now.

Professor Dumbledore brought him back to the present by depositing an aromatic dish in front of him. “Eat up, Harry.”

As Harry took his first mouthful, Dumbledore sat down, and began to speak. “We found Mrs Thomas and two of her children alive in the middle of the night. They are now in St. Mungo’s, where they are being treated for their injuries. If it weren’t for your speedy informing of the vision to Remus, here, the younger of the two children in particular would have been in very great danger of losing his life.”

Harry finished chewing, and said bitterly. “I think being tortured by Lord Voldemort and his followers for fun can be considered being in great danger of losing his life already.”

Dumbledore continued, as if there had been no interruption. “His skin had been punctured by fangs in many different areas, and each cut had been treated with the same venom that St Mungo's had so much difficulty with when Arthur was bitten. Knowing that the venom came from the same snake enabled us to stabilise his condition very quickly. I believe Voldemort wanted Mrs Thomas to watch her young child die while waiting for aid, after they had been released.”

Harry knew that this should make him feel useful somehow, as if he had made things better than they could have been, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that she wouldn’t have been hurt at all if it wasn’t for him. The words stumbled in his throat, as he tried to explain to Dumbledore what had happened.

“The snake was toying with the child. It wrapped around him, half scaring him to death anyway.” Harry shuddered and fell silent.

“He will be all right, Harry. They all will. The mother and remaining child were both very badly injured also. Both had undergone curses and many painful punishments, but the important thing is that all will live.”

“Their brother didn’t. The snake, it…” Harry couldn’t find the words to describe what had happened.

“I know, Harry. They told us what happened.”

“It ate him.” Harry shuddered, and then shot at Dumbledore “All because his brother knew me.”

“I will not lie to you, because Voldemort undoubtedly is attacking those closest to you, to try to separate you from your friends, it is foolish not to admit it. This is his choice, however, one that he began to make before you were born. The Ministry and I have hastened plans to provide protective spells for all Hogwarts families, and in particular those that come from ones with links to the Muggle world, and those from Gryffindor. We can just be thankful that there was no further loss of life last night.”

“He said he was just keeping them alive so he could torture them again.” Harry sighed.

“Overconfidence is a failing that many powerful wizards have – both Dark and Light. We may hope that it will prove to be Lord Voldemort’s downfall. Now eat up. I believe it would be a good idea to make a start on your Occlumency training as soon as possible.


________________________________________




Harry’s lesson took place in a small parlour that Harry had rarely been in, away from the main thoroughfares of the house, and devoid of distractions. Dumbledore was sitting down comfortably in an armchair, while Harry was sitting on the edge of his.

“Now Harry,” Dumbledore began, “I would like you to describe to me how you clear your mind when practicing your Occlumency.”

Harry looked at Dumbledore nervously. How he cleared his mind? Well, he just tried to forget everything, and let his mind go blank. What else should he do?

“Well, I take deep breaths, and try to relax.” He began. “I kind of listen for stray thoughts in my head, and try and quieten them and push them to the back of my mind.”

“Where do you push them to?” Dumbledore asked.

“I- What do you mean?” Harry asked.

“When you are cleaning a room, you have to put the rubbish, and other bits and bobs you are cleaning away, somewhere. It’s the same with thoughts. You can’t just make things disappear – not even by magic – they always exist somewhere. So where do you put your memories?”

“I… didn’t realise.” Harry admitted. “When Sn- Professor Snape told me to clear my mind, I thought he meant to just make it go blank. He could have told me!”

“The strongest Occlumens are those that teach themselves Harry. Professor Snape himself is an example of that. He was trying to give you hints to help you discover what to do yourself. I myself will try not to instruct, as much as to suggest, the necessary paths to take.”

“But why are self-taught Occlumens stronger than others, sir?” Harry asked.

Dumbledore smiled. “An important question to ask. Occlumens that follow rules rigidly and impersonally will often find that a skilled Legilimens can easily work out how the Occlumens has organised their defences. If it is a common form, that they have been instructed to use, then the Legilimens may have come across it before. If, however, the Occlumens has a more personalised protection, then the Legilimens has to work out how the witch or wizard has stored their memories, and then how to access them. The more individualistic you are, the stronger a defence you can create.”

“But how can I learn how to do something, without someone or something telling me how to?” Harry asked, confused.

“Ah. That is one of the most important questions that you must answer to succeed in Occlumency, Harry. And it is one that you must answer yourself – once you have answered it, you will understand why. It is one of the reasons there are few skilled Occlumens alive today. Try clearing your mind now – tell me when you are ready.”

Harry closed his eyes, taking calming breaths, and tried not to think. The question that he had just raised kept running through his head, and as he automatically tried to push it out of his head, as he had taught himself to do, he remembered what Dumbledore had said about tidying a room. He pictured a cupboard in his head, and tried to push the thought in there. Mentally, he closed the cupboard door, and let his mind go blank once more. Other thoughts, some silly, some serious, came to mind, and he tried to treat them similarly, pushing them all into the cupboard and moving onto the next one. Eventually, he felt he was ready.

“Okay.” Harry said nervously.

“Excellent.” Dumbledore smiled, taking out his wand. “I want you to stand up, without taking out your wand. Try looking directly into my eyes, concentrating on defending your mind.”

Dumbledore fixed his eyes directly on Harry’s. As their eyes met, Harry felt the animalistic feeling rise up inside of him once more. This time, it was slower than it had been in the hospital wing, and Harry hoped it meant he was starting to control it. Rather than keeping it at a manageable level however, the feeling was still growing gradually, until, after half a minute, Harry had to look away. His heart was thumping, and he actually felt sweat drip from his forehead.

“Very good, Harry.” Dumbledore said approvingly. “Here, have a drink, and collect yourself, and we shall try once more.” A tray of lemonade appeared at the wave of his wand.

Over an hour later, an exhausted Harry was polishing off a glass of iced pumpkin juice, feeling rather pleased with himself. True, he could not prevent Voldemort’s feelings from surfacing indefinitely, but he could look Dumbledore in the eye for a good few minutes without losing control, and even talk a little bit to him. Each time he tried to clear his mind, he found more thoughts that he hadn’t put into the cupboard, and each time he placed them in there, he found it easier to block Voldemort out.

“That’s enough for today I think, Harry.” Dumbledore said, as Harry made to stand up again. “There is only so much the mind can take in at once. We can continue tomorrow. I would ask you to consider Occlumency if you get some free moments during the day. Often inspiration can hit just when you least expect it.”

Harry nodded, and then asked a question that he had been wondering for some time. “When I look at you, and can feel Voldemort, do you think he feels it too?”

“I am not sure.” Dumbledore admitted. “It is clear that this reaction you have is not governed by any intent on Voldemort’s behalf, but rather a reflex reaction caused by his feelings, and it is possible that he has guarded his own mind to such an extent that he did not register what was happening at that moment in the past. The more it occurs however, the more likely it is that he will become aware of our meetings. Nevertheless, after our meeting in the Ministry, it is almost certain that he is aware that our relationship already exceeds headmaster pupil, so there is far more to be gained by acknowledging this rather than concealing it.”

“Is that why the attacks have become stronger and more often?” Harry asked.

“Partially. There is also the fact that Voldemort managed to circumvent some of the protection on the house in Privet Drive. He undoubtedly wants to try to press home this advantage while it is still available to him. He must guess that you will be instructed in Occlumency, and the further the two of you are apart, the more likely that you can Occlude your mind from him with even just a relatively basic knowledge. He is of course also aware that there are ways I may be able to restore your aunt’s protection in time.”

“Do you mean that I will be going back to Privet Drive at some point?” Harry asked, keeping his voice neutral.

“I hope that you are able to go next summer, it is vital to keep your blood protection alive. Have you decided when exactly you wish to collect your clothes and school things today yet?”

“I thought maybe after lunch.” Harry said rather stiffly, as if to remind Dumbledore that he didn’t want to be forced to live here. “Aunt Petunia will be the only one around then, Uncle Vernon will be at work, and Dudley is almost always out at friends’.”

“I see. I sent your Aunt and Uncle an owl last night, I hope that there will be no difficulties, but either Remus or Tonks will go with you in case. If it comes to it, leave the magic to them.” Dumbledore warned.


________________________________________



At two that afternoon, Harry and Lupin entered the fireplace in Grimmauld Place, and appeared at once in Mrs. Figg’s sitting room. The batty woman greeted them warmly, and after a few minutes chat (which Harry avoided doing much of) they made their way to Number 4 Privet Drive. Lupin’s hand was in his coat pocket the entire journey, and Harry had the unmistakeable feeling that he was being watched. He could have sworn he saw Dedalus Diggle sitting on a park bench – or at least he saw a violet top hat and the back of a head over a hedge.

As they turned on to Privet Drive, and got closer to number four, Harry found a feeling of anxiety start to well up inside of him. It wasn’t that he was worried about what Aunt Petunia would do when she saw him. Hadn’t Uncle Vernon yelled that he didn’t want him in the house a couple of days ago? No, Harry was sure there wouldn’t be any problem with his leaving the Dursleys… It was just… He didn’t want Lupin to meet them, he decided. While they had seen each other at the station before, they had never been introduced, and Harry didn’t want his two worlds to intertwine more than they had to.

“This shouldn’t take long.” Harry mumbled, more to himself than anything, as they walked up the path to the door.

Ignoring the doorbell, Lupin rapped smartly on the front door, and waited. Aunt Petunia opened it, and stopped dead.

“Hello Petunia.” Lupin said in a polite tone.

She frowned, and pursed her lips before resentfully replying. “Good afternoon Mr Lupin.” She turned to Harry, and sniffed. “You’re going for the summer are you?”

“I, well, yeah.” Harry muttered, not meeting her gaze.

“Well I’m glad we were given such notice. Come in, your bird made an absolute racket last night, go and deal with it.”

“Hedwig!” Harry groaned. How could he have left her in her cage all day and night? Luckily she had had plenty of water, but she hadn’t been able to stretch her wings or hunt for over twenty four hours! He practically ran past his aunt upstairs to his room. He burst into the room to a disgruntled hoot from Hedwig.

“I’m sorry girl.” Harry said as he opened the cage.

Hedwig flew to the top of the wardrobe and turned her back on him. She was deaf to Harry’s apologies, and blind to the proffered owl treats. Finally, Harry opened the window.

“Look girl, I have to go back to Grimmauld Place for the rest of the summer. Would you like to stretch your wings and fly there?”

Hedwig finally turned around, and hooted grumpily. She flew down once more, buffeting Harry’s head hard, and perched on the outside of the window.

“Just be careful girl, okay? Voldemort’s Death Eaters might be trying to intercept any mail sent by or to me. And I promise I’ll let you out more than last summer – I don’t care what Dumbledore says.”

Finally Hedwig gave a more cheerful hoot, and launched herself into flight. Harry watched her go with a feeling of guilt. How could he have been so selfish as to forget about Hedwig being locked up all day? He had just been so caught up in having to tell Dumbledore what had happened, and then been so upset about having to live in Grimmauld Place that Hedwig’s plight had escaped him.

Harry looked around his room. Very little had been removed from his trunk since he had returned from his fifth year, and it barely took a second to repack. He recovered his Invisibility Cloak from where he had left it by his bed, and dragged the trunk to the door. He couldn’t help but wish he was allowed to bewitch it to make it lighter.

Lupin called up to him as he pulled it on to the landing, “Hey, Harry! Don’t worry about moving it – we can take the Portkey from up there. Are you done?”

“Nearly, just have to clean out Hedwig’s cage. I’ll be down in a minute.”

Harry took his time, savouring the moments he could spend away from the Black House. After a while however, he felt he couldn’t delay any longer. The cage was clean, the room was bare, and Harry’s mind was starting to wander again. He took his time down the stairs, and was surprised to hear Aunt Petunia’s raised voice.

“And Vernon? Is he safe? He doesn’t have the blood of anyone related to Lily in him, does he?”

“You all will be safe as long as you stay together.” Lupin replied in a calm voice.

“And what about Vernon’s work? He often has to go to meetings… What if he has to leave town on business?”

“We have had protective charms raised around his workplace for years now. It may be best if he delegates any journeys to the people working below him however.”

Harry walked in to see an irate Petunia Dursley holding a shaking teacup and saucer on her crossed knees, and a Lupin that reminded Harry of the Lupin that had taught him in third year. Calm, patient, and willing to thoroughly explain things to people that just found it hard to understand.

Aunt Petunia turned her head towards Harry as he entered the room, and said, in an almost hysterical tone, “You! Why are you going anyway? Is it because the defences that that Dumbledore put up have failed? It should have been impossible for me to do any magic – he told me so! Is he going to be coming here after us now the protection is gone, and you’re hiding and letting us be killed instead?”

“Of course not Petunia. Voldemort has weakened one of the many charms protecting you, but that is all. Harry is leaving because he needs to be able to use things that aren’t available to him in the Muggle world. You are better protected than almost any wizard or witch I know. We shall also continue to look out for any danger for you and your family.” Lupin replied reassuringly.

“But what if he gets through them? Then what?” Harry noticed that Aunt Petunia seemed just as scared to say Lord Voldemort’s name as most witches and wizards.

“As I said, he will still be unable to harm you or your son without causing great pain to himself, possibly death.”

“And Vernon?”

Lupin paused. “If it somehow gets that far, there will be people coming to help you immediately, and they will be able to evacuate you and your husband before any harm can come to you.”

“So he isn’t protected then? He has nothing that will save him against him?”

“He has the many charms that Dumbledore has placed over you, which it has taken weeks for Voldemort to even weaken just one of. Dumbledore is the only wizard that Voldemort has ever feared, because of his strength in magic. You have one of the best protected homes in the world.”

Harry spoke for the first time. “It’s true Aunt Petunia. They fought just over a month ago, and Professor Dumbledore defeated him. And what else could you do? You can’t just leave, and even if you did he’d find you. You don’t have a choice. Just like I don’t have a choice about what I have to do in the summer.” Harry’s tone was defeatist, and perhaps it was this that caused Aunt Petunia to go quiet.

“I’ll ask Vernon to get a gun.” She whispered eventually.

“It might help, but I doubt it.” Lupin said dubiously.

“Well it’s all we can do, isn’t it?” Aunt Petunia shot back.

“We should go.” Lupin said to Harry, who was still standing at the doorway. “Thank you for the tea, Petunia.” He continued, placing his saucer on a coffee table.

They walked upstairs, Aunt Petunia following them, until they were outside Harry’s door. Harry put his arm around Hedwig’s cage, and grabbed his trunk with the other.

“Here, let me take that.” Lupin held his hand out for the cage.

He took a glove out of his pocket, signalled Harry to touch it, and then tapped it with his wand. Taking hold of Hedwig’s cage he also touched the glove, and then spoke: “Home.”

Harry vaguely heard a gasp, before the familiar tug of a Portkey drew him through the whirl of colours. They landed in Harry’s room, and Harry ended up falling over his trunk, onto the bed.

Lupin grinned. “Nice landing.” Harry grimaced sarcastically, and Lupin continued, “I’ll be downstairs if you need me. I’ll let you unpack.”

Before Lupin left, Harry asked a question he’d been wondering since he heard the conversation with his aunt begin. “Did you and Aunt Petunia already know each other? I didn’t know you were on first name terms.”

“We’re not… really. Petunia was at your parents’ wedding. But I don’t think she got on that well with anyone there. Sirius and I – well, just me mainly – tried to talk to her, for Lily’s sake, but… lets just say that we were quite aware she didn’t like magical folk. I haven’t seen her since, apart from at the station this year.”

Harry spent the next while taking things out of his trunk, and putting them away. Then moving them around a bit, and finally redoing it for a third time. He had never really truly arranged his belongings in a room before. When at Privet Drive he never had actually owned anything to arrange that the Dursleys wouldn’t have destroyed anyway. At Hogwarts, or when he stayed anywhere else, he lived out of his trunk. He sat down on the bed and looked around him at the newly arranged room.

With a sudden flash of realisation, he found his mind return to the Occlumency lesson earlier. What had Dumbledore compared the storing of his mind to? Tidying a room! Had he stowed all his belongings in one small cupboard that he kept shut? But how should he store his memories? He supposed that was one of the things Dumbledore wanted him to take time to think about. The thought that he might actually have started to make progress in the subject caused him to sit down and apply himself to it, and it was only when Lupin knocked on the door to see if he was alright, that he stopped and went downstairs.

Harry brought his broom and broomstick servicing kit downstairs with him, ready to repair the damage that had been done. Lupin settled behind the Daily Prophet, but often glanced at Harry and the Firebolt. Harry felt it a bit unnerving, not because Lupin was watching him, but because the Firebolt had been a present from Sirius, and sure enough:

“Harry, Sirius-” Lupin began, and Harry’s head jerked up so quickly that Lupin faltered. Harry stayed silent however, so Lupin continued. “Sirius wrote a will at Christmas, in case he died.”

Harry made a noncommittal noise from his throat.

“It’s not exactly legally binding until he’s cleared, but, well, he split his money into thirds: a third to the Order and its members, a third to you, and a third to, well, me.” Lupin looked a bit awkward, although Harry wasn’t sure why.

Harry wasn’t sure what to say, so said nothing. Lupin, however, went on.

“He also left the two of us this place, as well as it’s contents et cetera” Lupin gestured with his hands, “to do what we liked with.”

“Sirius hated it.” Harry said venomously. “Why don’t we just sell it?”

Lupin looked at Harry with shadows under his eyes. “He may not have liked being back here Harry, but he always wanted you to have somewhere to go. Besides, I think he’d quite like it if we managed to turn it from the house he grew up in, to one where decent people could live. And it’s nice to have somewhere that reminds me of Sirius.” He said with a pained expression, almost to himself.

They were moving onto ground that Harry wanted to steer clear from, and Lupin obviously found it painful too, so he tried to move on. “So how do we go about decorating the place then?”

Lupin sighed. “We did a lot of the work last summer, but unfortunately the rooms” he waved his hand around him, “and some of the bigger furniture have permanent decoration charms on them. They’re used to keep the rooms decorated in the same theme even if new furniture gets brought in. These ones are so strong, that the only way you can get rid of them, is if you know the right password to change it, it seems.”

Seeing that Harry still looked confused, he continued. “Basically the room is bewitched to be decorated in a certain style. Anything put in the room will gradually turn into that exact same theme. If we put a light coloured cabinet in here for example, it would gradually turn black, and be transfigured into a more darkly ornamental style – like that one.” He pointed at a cabinet in the corner. “The only way you can stop that is if you put another decoration charm on it before you move it in.”

“What about the room I’m in?” Harry asked. “That’s completely different to the rest of the house!”

“Ah.” Lupin gave a slight smile. “Sirius and I tried off and on for months to find the right word for that room and failed, but Tonks and I gave it another go the last few weeks. It was ‘Kaadar’ – that’s Gobbledegook for ‘Pure’. Unfortunately the bed and everywhere else seem to have a different password.” Lupin took out his wand, and said, “Decoria destro kaadar.” Nothing happened.

Harry raised his eyebrows. “Now I understand why the place looks like it does. The words don’t even have to be in English?”

“Nope. Not even in a human language. They could be in Mermish or Pixie too. It was a fluke we got just one of them right. So decorating remains a bit of a problem.”

“Isn’t there any other way of doing it?”

“Well there are redecorating firms that could probably get around them, but we can’t exactly ask them to come here, what with this being the Headquarters for the Order and all. I tried asking Phineus Nigellus if he knew any of the words, but he refused to tell me.”

“You could always ask Mrs Black.” Harry tried to joke.

Lupin forced a smile. Harry returned to his broomstick, speaking only sporadically with Lupin until Tonks arrived later.

________________________________________
Chapter 5: Enter: Hermione


Harry’s next few days continued peacefully – Occlumency practice with Dumbledore in the mornings, and then afternoons spent either reading Defence Against the Dark Arts or Quidditch books, or doing things around the house. Harry soon gave up trying to discover the passwords for the permanent decoration charms. Random guessing wasn’t going to achieve anything, and he had no wish to talk to any of the portraits. Certainly not Phineus Nigellus, who of course would be privy to almost everything Dumbledore knew, being as he was, bound to service to the Hogwarts Headmaster.

Lupin often spent his time around Harry, especially in the evenings, when Tonks would also often appear. Harry was first annoyed, and then bewildered as Lupin kept bringing the subject of Sirius, and his death into the conversations. Bewildered, because Harry had made it clear that he did not want to talk about it, and also, although Lupin brought the subject up, he seemed unable to continue with it himself. In an effort to prevent the topic from even starting, Harry started practicing spells in the living room, and asking Lupin for hints and suggestions as to technique, hoping this would divert Lupin’s attention. This only had moderate success however, as often Lupin would remark that Sirius and Harry’s father had enjoyed using a certain jinx on Snape in school, or else that Sirius had never liked using that particular spell, as he felt it was too easy to spot coming.

Occlumency was progressing in a fashion, Harry felt. By now he had imagined a lot of cupboards in his head, each cupboard containing a certain kind of memory. He was finding it easier and easier to look Dumbledore in the eye as a result. While this was a small achievement, seeing as Dumbledore hadn’t even attempted to perform Legilimency on him yet, it was an improvement nonetheless. However there was no improvement as regards the nightmares that Voldemort sent him. Harry took the dreamless sleep potion twice in the three days since his vision of Dean Thomas’ family. The night he didn’t, he was presented another one by Voldemort.

The big problem about the Occlumency, Harry found, was that sometimes he just couldn’t visualise the cupboards in his head. He would try and try to picture them, but they just wouldn’t appear, and so he was left with the thoughts and memories swimming around in his mind. If, during the day, he tried to assign memories to storage, it became rather hit and miss as to his success. Harry had a feeling that the more physically tired he was, the easier it became, but yet once at night it seemed impossible.

Despite all the problems, however, Harry was slowly starting to feel a bit calmer. Not that he was happy with anything that was going on, but rather the routine he was settling into was one which he was able to follow without stressing himself too much, and importantly, one that was passing without incident. It was, therefore, perhaps inevitable, that with less than a week until Snape’s trial, and just four days after Harry had arrived in Grimmauld Place, Dumbledore joined them one evening unexpectedly.

“I hope,” He began, “you can excuse my interruption, but I am afraid that the relative peace and quiet that you have had, Harry, must come to an end. The Order of the Phoenix must meet once more, and there is no place safer for us to be. I trust that you have used the time you have had to settle in comfortably, I know you have used it wisely as regards your studies. Naturally this will mean that the house will become more crowded, and at times we shall have to request privacy.”

Harry tried to phrase the sentence he wanted to ask, calmly in his head, but couldn’t find the words to say it. Dumbledore, however seemed to either sense what he was thinking, or expect it, and continued without a pause.

“If there is anything important that relates to you and your safety, or the safety of your friends, you shall hear about it, rest assured.”

“I have a feeling that our two youngest members would tell Harry anyway.” Lupin said with a smile.

“Quite so. We have already discussed the benefits and drawbacks of Fred and George Weasley’s entry into the Order of the Phoenix.” Dumbledore said with a twinkle in his eye. “I hope Harry, that you will be satisfied with this – as we have already discussed, the less people that are aware of some of our work the better, even amongst those in the Order.”

Harry made a noncommittal noise, before assenting grudgingly.

“But more importantly, I must come on the behalf of Miss Hermione Granger.” Noticing Harry stiffen, Dumbledore flashed a smile, before continuing. “We have managed to arrange her return to Britain to take place in a discreet manner tomorrow, but naturally she requires a bed until the trial is over. I could of course, ask Mrs Weasley if she would mind looking after another body, but I fancy that you might appreciate the company of a friend your own age, Harry.”

Lupin chuckled, “As opposed to an old man like me you mean Albus?”

Although Harry was still unsure as to whether he wanted his friends around him or not, he could tell that delight at Hermione’s visit was assumed from him. He tried to sound delighted at the idea, but had a feeling that Dumbledore at least was not convinced. Indeed, he seemed to be looking at Harry quite shrewdly, as if he thought he knew exactly how Harry might be feeling.

“Great! I take it your ban on the Weasleys’ visits has ended then too sir?” Harry tried to smile.

“It has indeed Harry!” Dumbledore smiled back energetically. “You are free to make a floo call to them whenever you like. They shall all be delighted to be able to see you. Molly in particular wished to visit as soon as possible. I believe I did succeed in persuading her as to the validity of my reasons for the delay however.” He paused, before continuing, “It would be best if you didn’t stay in the Burrow for more than a few minutes at most – the Burrow is well protected, but it would be wise not to risk drawing Lord Voldemort’s attention there.”

Harry’s stomach plummeted, and his voice caught in his throat as he tried to reply, betraying his feelings. “Y- Yeah, of course.”

“The longer we can keep Voldemort searching for our Headquarters, without any progress, the better. It prevents him from focusing his attention elsewhere, on to more manageable tasks. He is searching both for you, and for us, and the longer we can remain hidden, the more he will try to find us – and the more vulnerable he will become.”

Harry felt slightly better at the suggestion that Voldemort may be just as obsessed with discovering the whereabouts of the Order as to hunting him. Slightly, but not much. Dumbledore looked at him keenly.

“Voldemort seeks to divide us Harry; we are only strong by staying together. A united group of friends, family, and colleagues is far harder to defeat, than the same individuals warring between themselves, or fighting alone. Voldemort understands the importance of a loyal group. For Riddle it is, and always has been, loyalty to him that matters. We need to be loyal to ourselves and each other. Voldemort may underestimate the feelings that create this group, but he understands the power that the group can be.”

Dumbledore looked directly into Harry’s eyes. “We must not allow him to split up our friendships, or else Voldemort will emerge victorious. We need every person that is willing to fight him, to join as one against him.”

Harry looked away, wondering uncomfortably if Professor Dumbledore had heard about what had happened between Ron and himself in Hogwarts.

“Yes sir.” Harry agreed. Visions of Mrs Weasley’s Boggart that had appeared last year flashed through Harry’s mind.

“I– Professor?” Harry started, trying to change the subject. “When will Hermione get here?”

“Friday evening Harry, I can say no more. The method of her return is unorthodox, and relies on circumstances outside of our control. I should hope that it will be before midnight however.”

Dumbledore did not stay much longer, and Harry was left with a troubled mind. Occlumency was impossible that night, and he took a large dosage of the dreamless sleep potion.
________________________________________

Harry woke late the next morning, and for an instant had the bewildering sensation that he hadn’t slept at all. He still hadn’t got used to the way that the potion caused him to both sleep and wake as though by the touch of a button. There were no images left over from stray dreams to blink back, only the crisp thoughts that he had had before drinking the liquid. It only added to the feeling that he couldn’t escape from thinking about certain things.

Top of that list at the moment were Ron and Hermione. Dumbledore had spoken last night, as if he was quite aware of Harry’s fears, and that he could tell Harry wanted them to distance themselves from him for their own safety, but he hadn’t exactly banished his worries. He had said that they all had to work together to defeat Voldemort, but that didn’t really mean that it – that he – wouldn’t get either of his best friends killed. And after all, it would only be the two of them. Wouldn’t it?

As hard as it was to do, he had to admit that it wasn’t as simple as that. Ron’s parents were in the Order, as were most of the sons, and both Hermione and Ron would fight against Voldemort regardless – he couldn’t stop them. And what about the other people he knew? He didn’t want any of his classmates to die – he felt sick when he thought of Dean Thomas and his family. It wasn’t just the two people he wanted to protect in that way – it was almost everyone he knew. Dumbledore said that they had to fight together against Voldemort and that stupid Prophecy said that he was the one that had to kill him. If Dumbledore was right (as he usually seemed to be, Harry thought almost resentfully), then Harry had to fight alongside these people, and then, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, the twins, all that he cared about might die.

Harry’s eyes glanced at a mirror that was lying on the desk in his room. Its glass had been shattered, and there were only some very small pieces still attached to it. The rest of the glass was in his trunk. A lump rose to his throat as he thought of how Sirius had died because of him. How the fact that Sirius cared so much had caused him to come running to the Ministry. As Ron would have. How the fact that Sirius being at the Ministry had meant that his life had ended. As Hermione’s might have.

Harry reached for his wand, and pointed at the mirror. “Reparo.”

He jumped, as there was a crash of glass from his trunk. It was swiftly followed by more sounds of glass shattering, which grew softer and softer, until a stream of glittering light left through the Muggle lock on his trunk, and flowed through the air towards the mirror. Once there, it started to knit itself together, until the beam stopped, and it formed a smooth glass mirror once more. Harry was about to raise his wand again, when the mirror sped into his hand. He stared into it, seeing only his tousled reflection.

“Sirius. Sirius Black.” He said clearly. But just as at the end of last school year, nothing happened. “Sirius. SIRIUS!”

There was a knock at his door. “Everything alright Harry?” Lupin asked from outside the room.

“Yeah. I’m okay. I’ll be down in a minute.”

Harry quickly shoved the mirror under a pillow, in case Lupin came in. The last thing he needed was Lupin seeing something that would bring up Sirius and his parents into conversation.
________________________________________

Harry stuck his head in the fire that afternoon to let Ron know he could visit. Lupin had kept suggesting it over lunch, and although he still was unsure whether to listen to himself or Dumbledore, he did it anyway. Mrs Weasley was the person nearest to the fire. When she saw him, Harry got the distinct feeling that she wanted to pull him through the floo network and give him a rib breaking hug.

“Harry dear! How are you?” She beamed.

“I’m fine.” Harry lied. “Is Ron around?”

“It’s wonderful to see you again. I hope this means that Professor Dumbledore is allowing us to visit now.” She looked more than a little put out.

“Er, yeah. He saw us last night to tell us that the Order needed to use the house again.”

“Good.” Mrs Weasley replied with a little nod, “Someone needs to make sure you’re eating properly.”

“You shouldn’t worry about that Mrs Weasley, we’re managing okay.” Harry replied, to which Mrs Weasley gave an audible ‘hmm’, so he quickly changed the subject. “Mrs Weasley? Is Ron around? Just – I’m not used to doing this, and it feels a bit strange. I wanted to see if Ron would like to floo over.”

“Of course dear, I’ll get him for you.” Mrs Weasley moved out to the hall, and Harry could hear her calling for Ron. There was an answering shout, and then the thuds of somebody running down a staircase at the sound of Harry’s name. Ron’s beaming face appeared in front of the fire.

“This mean I’m allowed to visit mate?” Ron asked.

“Something like that.” Harry grinned back. “My neck’s killing me so I’ll go and you can come through.”

He pulled his head back through the fire, and closed his eyes, trying to ignore the feeling that his head wasn’t attached to anything and was rolling around as if it were a football. He got to his feet and sneezed, dislodging a few specks of soot that had settled beneath his nose. Ron appeared in the great fireplace a minute later, wand in hand. He looked a little nervous.

“Hey Harry.” He greeted. “Okay?”

“Been worse.” Harry replied.

Both of them stood there a bit awkwardly, Harry’s outburst when they had been on the way up to Gryffindor Tower was obviously foremost in Ron’s mind, as well as Harry’s. It was Ron who broke the silence.

“So can we really do magic without being detected here?” He asked, fingering his wand.

“Well, I have, and if I can get away with it, I’m guessing you can.” Harry replied with a lopsided grin.

Ron took a deep breath, and then said, shakily, “Lumos.”

As the tip of his wand lit, he screwed his face up, and hunched slightly as if expecting a barrage of owls from the Ministry of Magic. When none came, he relaxed, and gave a grin.

“I don’t believe no-one told us we could use magic here.” He said, but with much less indignation than when he had first heard it.

It had broken the uneasy feeling between them both (which they happily allowed to slip away without referral).

“So Harry,” Ron started to ask, “decided what we’re going to do in the DA next year?”

Harry shook his head, “I told you and Dumbledore, I don’t know if I want to keep doing it or not.”

“Why not? It went really well last year!”

“Well, for one thing, the only reason we started it was Umbridge, and she’s gone. We might have a really good teacher this year.”

“Oh come on Harry! Are you saying that we shouldn’t practice as much as we can in case You-Know-Who attacks? The more we learn the better, if we have to fight Death Eaters, surely? Harry,” Ron’s voice was deadly serious now, “the DA saved our lives at the Ministry. There’s no way we could have fought like we did without it.”

Harry half turned away. There was no way he wanted to talk about the fight in the Ministry of Magic.

“Look, Harry. You taught us a lot last year. Even Neville is way ahead of anyone else in our year. Even if you were just helping us with technique on the things we’d learnt with the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, it’d be worth it mate. I’m serious. Give me one good reason why we shouldn’t keep doing it.”

“Voldemort attacked Dean’s family because of me.” Harry said bluntly. “All because he’s in our dorms and he was in the DA. Because he was a friend of mine.”

“Dean?” Ron said, horrified. “Is that why… Merlin – Ginny!” Ron almost made to turn back to the floo.

Harry slumped into a chair. “It was a few days ago, and Ginny wasn’t there Ron, it’s okay.”

Ron sat down too, but stayed on the edge of his seat. “When was this? What happened?”

“Like I said, it was a few days ago. Voldemort had captured Dean’s mother and some of his brother and sisters. He was torturing them. One of them died. I saw it happen. I woke up and the Order managed to find the rest before they were killed too.” Harry swallowed. “I think they’re in St Mungo’s. I guess Dumbledore wanted to keep it quiet. I mean, who’d want their kids to be friends with me, or in the DA with me if it means they’ll get attacked?”

“Mum and Dad would.” Ron said immediately. “Anyone who is going to fight You-Know-Who would. But Merlin… Ginny…” Ron looked dismayed. He continued, before Harry could say a word. “She looked really upset two days ago, I suppose she must have heard. I’m such a PRAT!” He yelled the last word, hitting himself on the head.

“Er, Ron? What happened?”

“I… I asked her if Dean had done anything to her, and told her I’d sort him out if he had.” Ron continued mournfully. “No wonder she burst into tears and ran upstairs. I’m such a... a…” He tried to find a word foul enough to describe himself.

“Ah.” Harry said in understanding. “Ah. Um… Look, you weren’t to know, Ron.”

Ron shook his head. “Hermione’s right.” He moaned. “I am an insensitive wart. How could I say that when she was upset already? She hasn’t spoken to me since.”

“Where is she now?” Harry asked.

“In her room in the Burrow.” Ron mumbled.

“Go and apologise to her.” Harry suggested.

“Yeah… Apologise to her…” Ron looked up, and then at Harry frantically. “But what do I say?”

“Just… tell her you didn’t know and didn’t mean to upset her. Just say you were sorry. Don’t tell her I saw the dream though.” Harry added.

“What? Why not?” said Ron confused.

“Just, I don’t want her to know it’s my fault.” Harry said uncomfortably.

“Don’t be stupid Harry, it’s not your fault, and anyway, I doubt Ginny could blame you for anything much.” Ron said, without giving the idea any consideration. “You’re right… I… I’ve got to do it now.” Ron stood up, still looking completely flustered, and muttering under his breath. He had just reached for the floo powder, when he turned to look it Harry, “You don’t mind do you Harry? I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“Sure go on. Just don’t tell her I saw it happen. I’ll see you in a bit.”
________________________________________

“I take it it went okay then?” Harry asked a beaming Ron, as he stepped out of the fire over an hour later.

“Yup.” Ron replied. “Now where were we? Oh yeah, I had just persuaded you to keep doing the DA.”

Harry groaned. “Look, Ron… I’ll think about it, okay? Now can’t you please drop it?”

“Well there’s nothing to stop us practicing magic ourselves here now, is there? So maybe we can practice a few defensive spells? We had just got onto Patronuses when that cow Umbridge wrecked everything. Seeing as Dad says that the Dementors have rejoined Voldemort, I guess we should be learning this. I mean I should.” He added.

“Patronuses?” Harry repeated, trying to keep the horror out of his voice at this prospect – he wasn’t sure he could think of a strong enough happy memory at this point in time. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea Ron. Not straight away anyway. I mean…” He trailed off, trying to think of a good reason.

“Why not?” Ron asked. “It makes sense to continue where we stopped doesn’t it?”

“It’s not that, it’s just…” Harry desperately tried to think of an excuse. “When I was doing the DA, I’d work out how I was going to try and teach things beforehand. I can’t just try and teach something without having thought about how.”

“Well. How about you just show me what to do, and I try and copy you? You can correct my technique and everything, right?” Ron persisted.

“I-” Harry tried desperately to come up with a good argument against it, but couldn’t. “How about you try the spell and we kind of go from there? No promises, but we’ll see, right?”

This hadn’t been what he’d been expecting when Ron first visited. Sure, he’d imagined they might get onto the subject of magic, and possibly even do some mock duels together, trying out some of the less harmful jinxes, but he hadn’t expected to be forced to teach the Patronus charm of all things to Ron. Even with the Occlumency training, Harry had so many bitter tasting memories floating around his head, and so few powerfully happy ones. He was quite aware that his best Patronus at the moment was likely to be a feeble effort.

Ron was also obviously having difficulty with the charm himself, all he could produce was white vapour, and the more he tried, the mistier it became. For Harry, the reason for this was evident.

“Ron. Stop getting so worked up about it – you have to be thinking completely about a happy memory when you cast it, so if you’re really worried about trying to do it, or annoyed because you think you can do better then it won’t work.”

“I’m trying!” Ron groaned. “I just can’t do it! Expecto Patronum!” And, true enough, there was only a wisp of smoke that emerged from Ron’s wand.

Harry hid a grin. “Okay. You were really happy when you came in, right? Just try and remember how you felt then.” Ron rolled his eyes. “Seriously, just try it!”

Ron gave a sigh. “Okay.” After a few seconds, he said in a resigned voice: “Right, done that.”

“Oh that’s really happy!” Harry said with more than a touch of irony in his voice.

Ron used his wand to pelt Harry with a cushion from the sofa. “Prat!” He grinned.

“Hey!” Harry replied in mock indignation. “Okay. Now try and think of a memory when you were really happy, and weren’t too much bothered by anything else.”

“Well I guess-” Ron began.

“You don’t need to say what it is.” Harry interrupted. “Just keep the memory in your head and remember how everything felt. Just keep thinking about it for a few seconds, until you can remember it clearly. Now while you’re thinking about it, say the words ‘Expecto Patronum’”

Ron held his wand out in front of him, and muttered, “Expecto Patronum.”

To his obvious surprise, a shape appeared out of the wand. It disappeared almost immediately, but a large dark animal of some kind had momentarily formed.

“Nearly!” Ron said, with a hint of excitement.

“Not bad!” Harry said approvingly. “I mean, you didn’t really say it that clearly. If you’d really said it, I bet it’d have appeared fully.”

Just as Ron had raised his wand once more to try again, Lupin’s voice came from the doorway. “Hello there Ron. I thought you might be here.”

“Hi Professor!” Ron grinned.

Lupin rolled his eyes. “Okay you two. That’s enough.” he said in a mock severe voice.

“What?” Harry and Ron replied nonplussed.

“How long has it been since I taught you? Over two years, and yet you still call me Professor! I’m honoured – I think – but that’s a period of my life I’m unlikely to get back. I keep feeling I should be deducting house points off you with you lot treating me as your teacher all the time. I would hope the two of you trust me enough by now to consider me a friend.”

“Er, okay.” Ron answered with a grin. “Would you rather we called you Mr Lupin?”

Lupin rolled his eyes, “Well, I’d prefer just plain old Remus, or Moony to be honest.”

“We’ll try.” Harry offered, to a nod from Ron, “But you’ve just got to accept that you were the best teacher we’ve had for Defence Against the Dark Arts. We’ll do our best. Is that okay with you Pr- er… Remus?”

“It’s a start.” Lupin answered with a wink. “Now, what were the two of you up to before I interrupted you? Not resorting to duelling already I hope?”

“Oh, not much,” Ron replied, “Harry’s just been practicing his teaching skills.”

“Hey!” Harry interrupted, “You’re the one that practically begged me to give you a hand with Patronuses!”

“Patronuses?” Lupin raised an eyebrow. “That’s a very healthy subject to be teaching, Harry, I’m impressed. I shall have to start calling you Professor Potter soon!” He settled down into a chair, and looked at them with a grin. “Let’s see them then.”

“Hey, Professor!” Harry replied indignantly. “Ron’s doing the spell, not me. I’m just trying to suggest things to make it easier.”

Ron, on the other hand, looked nervous. “Er, Remus, I haven’t really got the hang of it yet. I was just about to have another go when you came in.”

“That’s fair enough, it’s often tricky to find the best memory to use. There was one I used years ago, which was perfect for some situations, and yet completely failed in others.” Harry and Ron’s faces invited him to go on, so he explained. “James had transfigured Sirius’ hair into a set of antlers when he thought he was sneaking sideways glances at Lily – this was before they were going out of course – and it turned out Sirius had simply put some Weeping Potion in Simon Gravesham’s drink, and was waiting to see if he’d drunk it or not.

“Unfortunately Sirius only managed to turn the antlers pink while trying to remove them; and James wouldn’t help for a whole day. Of course, Sirius was too proud to ask anyone else for help, and he spent the whole time telling people that he was considering becoming an animagus.” Lupin grinned. “Seeing as they were in the middle of actually doing just that, James decided that he’d better get rid of them I think.”

Ron laughed. “You’re not serious?”

“Oh yes! No-one believed them of course – they took it for what it was – Sirius and James fooling about.” Lupin gave a reminiscent smile. “Tell you what Ron, how about I produce a Patronus, then Harry, then you?”

“Oi!” Harry said, annoyed. “Don’t I get a say in this? I said I’d give Ron a hand, not do it myself.”

“I thought it might make it easier for Ron.” Lupin said cheerily. “I often found that just the presence of a Patronus helps calm me down, and makes me feel happier. Why don’t you want to do it?”

Once again, Harry couldn’t come up with a reasonable sounding excuse, so he backtracked. “Okay, okay, I’ll give it a go; I just really wasn’t expecting this. I dunno what it’ll be like though,” he continued, chancing a half lie, “Occlumency has really been messing my memories around at the moment, I’m not sure how easy it will be for me to use one.”

There was a definite grain of truth to this statement, as Harry had found it harder and harder to think of memories that he stored away in his cupboards, without actually taking them out of them again in his head. With his difficulty as regards imagining the cupboards, this meant that if he tried to immerse himself in a memory, then he would only get glimpses. So his memories were being messed around a lot by the Occlumency. The one problem with this excuse, of course, was that as of yet, he hadn’t created a cupboard to store happy memories in.

“Right O!” Lupin continued in the same happy voice. He paused for a few seconds, collecting himself; then: “Expecto Patronum!”

A brilliantly silver giant owl emerged from the wand tip, beating its wings and soaring around the room. Harry had to admit, that the Patronus did have a soothing effect. His mind, which had been racing trying to find a strong enough happy memory, relaxed slightly, and the thoughts, which had been directed into dark thoughts about Sirius, Voldemort, or any number of things that were troubling him, started to slow in number, and were replaced by less depressing ones. Lupin’s owl had seemingly skirted the room, looking for dangers, and then settled itself on its owner's shoulder, placing a wing behind his head, and bringing it forward right through Lupin’s face in a caressing motion, before disappearing.

“You know – I really should borrow Albus’ pensieve and show you that memory. It has to be seen – just talking about it doesn’t do it justice.” Lupin smiled.

Harry gave Ron a quick glance, and noticed that some of his nerves seemed to have gone. Harry’s, however, were building fast. He took his wand out, and quickly tried to imagine a world in which Voldemort had been defeated. Almost before the image had formed, he began to speak the incantation.

“Expecto Patronum!” Harry said, as confidently as he could.

But the half formed image of a defeated Voldemort began to warp. Mrs Weasley’s Boggart seemed to be invading his vision, Voldemort was dead, but so were Ron, Ginny, the twins, Sirius… White mist appeared at the end of his wand. Harry started to go red. He dared not look at Ron or Professor Lupin. He made as if to cast the spell again, but the calm voice of Remus Lupin stopped him.

“Take your time Harry. Don’t worry about how long you take to find the memory and remember it. We know that your Occlumency is going to make this harder for you, and it can be difficult enough to find the right memory for the occasion even without all that. Take as many minutes as you want.”

Harry turned away from Ron and Lupin to stop them seeing how red his face had become. Taking a deep breath, he tried to calm himself. He, Harry, was supposedly good enough at Defence Against the Dark Arts to teach his fellow students, and yet he couldn’t even produce a charm that he had mastered years ago. What had Lupin said when he had taught Harry for the first time? Think!

Harry had had difficulty finding the right memory then too. He had eventually settled upon the moment he had discovered he was a wizard and was leaving the Dursleys. Remembering that Lupin had used an early memory, Harry wondered if he should try using that again, but it didn’t quite fit somehow. It did however trigger another memory of Harry’s – a memory of a Tri-Wizard task less than two years ago, which he had been dreading, until he had suddenly thought that he’d rather be fighting a dragon than live with the Dursleys. The feeling he had had once he had grabbed the golden egg! Of jumping off the broom to cheers all around, and a rather ashen faced Ron rushing to find him to apologise for an argument which had seemed so trivial at that moment in time. Of Ron, who hours before Harry had been at odds with, yelling in indignation at Karkaroff of Durmstrang Institute for not giving Harry enough points in the scoring.

Almost without thinking, Harry turned around, with half a grin on his face, and spoke quietly, but in a tone of utter conviction, “Expecto Patronum.”

The stag that was Harry’s Patronus shot out of the wand, and galloped first towards Ron, then towards Lupin, and then returned to Harry, standing in front of him like a guard, poised to attack anything that might try to harm him. Harry stepped forward behind it, and placed his hand on the Patronus’ back. Like with Lupin’s owl, the flesh went through the stag, and Harry felt a warm, tingling sensation spreading throughout his body. Unlike the owl, however, the stag didn’t disappear. It continued to wait there, watchful for enemies.

Harry, Ron, and Lupin stared at the stag silently for a full minute, whereupon the stag turned, and made to nuzzle Harry’s free hand, before eventually fading away once more. Ron had a wide beam on his face, as if he was immensely pleased about something. Lupin also looked pleased, but there was a definite trace of sorrow in the lines of his smile, and his eyes.

Ron stepped forward. “Right.” He said decisively. “I know exactly what memory I’m going to use!”

Ron raised his wand, with a quick glance at Harry, and spoke loudly, “Expecto Patronum!”

A great big dog emerged from Ron’s wand. Although, like all Patronuses, it was silver, there seemed to be a dark quality to its fur, as if, beneath the shining, silver surface, black fur lay underneath. Its bright eyes took in the room, and then gazed straight at Harry, breaking into a run. Harry’s knees gave way, and he fell back on to his bottom. As Ron’s face turned into an expression of horror, the dog disappeared. Lupin was momentarily stunned, his face a picture of shock. Gathering himself, he rushed forward to Harry, reaching forward to him.

Harry fixed Lupin with haunted eyes, and whispered. “Sirius?”

“No, Harry. It wasn’t Sirius. It was just a Patronus. A dog Patronus, but it wasn’t Sirius.”

Harry pushed himself up off the ground, shaking his head, as though trying to rid himself of a bad dream. “No, I know it wasn’t Sirius.” He said in a stronger voice. “It didn’t really look like him at all, different shape. It just gave me a surprise, that’s all.” Harry shrugged, as if it was nothing.

“I… Professor, Harry!” Ron looked worried, seemingly taking the blame for his Patronus looking a little like Harry’s dead Godfather.

“It’s okay Ron!” Harry gave a small smile. “Nothing you could do about it anyway. It’s nothing, really.” Seeing Ron still looked scared, he continued, “Really, even if it was something, it wouldn’t be your fault anyway, you can’t control the shape of your Patronus!”

“It’s…” Ron began, before bursting out, “Why is my Patronus a Grim?”
________________________________________

Mrs Weasley had appeared later that evening, insisting on cooking dinner, and helping form a welcoming party for Hermione, when she came. It sounded like most of the family would be there. Mr Weasley and Bill were off doing something for the Order, but Charlie, Ginny, and the twins would all be coming over later to join in the gathering. It all promised to be a typical warm Weasley occasion, Harry felt, and to some extent he was glad of it. Apart from anything else, Fred and George might divert Mrs Weasley’s attention from his rather thin appearance.

He had already experienced that of course, and it was only Remus that saved him, by telling Mrs Weasley that he needed to talk to her about something for the Order. Unfortunately, not before she had promised Harry that she would ‘build him right up again’, among other things. Harry had fled upstairs, closely followed by a chortling Ron.

A crash of thunder sounded from outside, and it appeared that they were about to be hit by one of those storms that seem to come along when you’ve had so much sun you make the mistake of starting to get used to it. Dark clouds were swirling ominously, and, had Harry been given to believing in omens, he would have been worried something bad was about to happen. As it was, both he and Ron were giving nervous thoughts to Hermione, and her trip back to England for more practical reasons. They had no idea how Hermione was getting here, except that it was going to be clouded in secrecy. Although, as Ron said, it was unlikely that she was going to have to fly through this or anything.

They were just speculating exactly how Hermione was going to get here, when a loud ‘CRACK’ signalled the appearance of Fred and George.

“Evening Harry!” They said cheerfully.

“Do you have to be so bloody loud?” Ron asked, grumpily.

“A good salesman knows how to make a spectacular entrance little bro.” Fred said.

“Yeah, yeah, and what rubbish are you trying to flog to us?” Ron scoffed.

“Us? Flog substandard merchandise to our financial backer and our little brother-”

“-who’s a prefect no less!?” Fred continued for George. “We sell only the highest quality goods at the best of prices, and family get special discounts.”

“You two have been spending too much time throwing the sales pitch.” Harry grinned. “The joke shop’s going well then?” He said, as he eyed up the twins’ clothes, which seemed to be made of as much dragon hide as possible.

“Like a charm. Children of all ages have been queuing up all summer. Our Kidding Cards are going particularly well.” Fred grinned.

“Kidding Cards?” Harry asked, but Ron groaned.

“Do not play cards with these two Harry, I’m warning you. Last time I did, I ended up looking like a toddler for half an hour.”

“What do they do?” Harry asked curiously.

“Each time you lose a trick in the game, you get a little younger.” George winked, “Of course, if you’re as bad at cards as Ron here, you get to relive your babyhood.”

“You made a rather cute two year old Ron.” Fred laughed.

“You two rigged it.” Ron grumbled.

“Now Harry? Does that sound like us?” Fred had a hurt expression on his face.

“Honestly?” Harry asked. “Yes.”

George grinned, “Guilty as charged. Well we needed someone to test it on Ron, just think, without you, all these people couldn’t have had hours of endless amusement.”

“I’m honoured.” Ron replied darkly.

“So,” Harry said quickly, “do either of you know how Hermione is getting here?”

“Nope.” Fred and George replied together. Fred elaborated, “There haven’t been any Order meetings since you came here, so we haven’t had a chance to find out. Dumbledore hadn’t told a soul where they were though I don’t think, so I doubt we’d have been told anyway. Bill is off somewhere for the Order, so he might be involved… Although we know for a fact that Dad is off somewhere else…”

“In short, your guess is as good as ours.” George concluded.

There was a knock on the door, before Ron or Harry could say anything else, and Ginny appeared.

“Hi Harry.” She said in a voice that wasn’t quite as bright as usual. “Mum says she thought she asked you two to tell them dinner was ready.”

“So she did!” Fred replied. “Well Harry, well Ron, Mum says dinner’s ready.” The twins swept out the door, and Harry, Ron and Ginny shared glances before following behind.

“I hear you’ve had an eventful summer Harry.” Ginny said quietly.

“Not until a few days ago. Dull as History of Magic class before that. I did meet Snape once though. That was fun.” Harry replied with a slight smile.

Ginny giggled, “He was his usual charming self I take it?”

“Oh yeah, and then some!” Harry lowered his voice to a whisper, as they walked down the stairs to the bottom floor. “I swear he thought we were still in Hogwarts. I was expecting him to say ‘fifty points from Gryffindor’ at any minute. All for daring to leave the house and try to walk down to the park.”

“I would say he can’t be that bad, ‘cept I know he can. Come on! I’m starving!” Ron hissed.

Ginny rolled her eyes, and they tiptoed past Mrs Black’s portrait, into the kitchen, where a steaming array of foods had been laid out. Mrs Weasley had obviously taken the task of fattening Harry up seriously.

“Ah! There you are Harry.” Mrs Weasley said, wiping her hands on a tea towel, and then carrying a large jug of pumpkin juice to the table. “We may as well get started – I’ve no idea when Hermione and the others will get here. Remus, if you wouldn’t mind carving please?”

“Of course Molly.” Lupin replied genially, as everybody took their seats.

There was far too much food for Harry, Ron, Ginny, the twins, Lupin, Mrs Weasley, Charlie, and Tonks to get even half way through – or so Harry thought – but despite Harry’s small appetite, the others ate with gusto, and empty dishes started to appear in front of them. Just as Mrs Weasley swatted Ron’s hand away from a serving spoon to offer Harry a second helping (as opposed to Ron’s fourth), the doorbell clanged loudly, causing Mrs Black to shriek even more so, and an even louder explosion of sound came from the table, as people scrambled to get up to answer the door, and shut Mrs Black up.

It was Bill Weasley, Mad-Eye Moody and, a wet, slightly queasy looking, Hermione.

“I am never, ever, going within ten foot of a broomstick again.” She declared, slumping against the wall, bags falling out of her hands, and trunk being levitated past her by the aged auror.

Bill laughed heartily, especially once he saw the inquisitive looks on his family and Harry’s faces.

“You didn’t fly here in this?” Ron asked incredulously.

“Not in this, nah. Just on the way here. Where’s your sense of adventure Hermione?” Bill replied, still chuckling. “Admit it! It was fun!”

“Fun.” Hermione said weakly, now hugging Ginny, who had helped her back onto her feet. “You call portkeying to a spot five thousand metres above the ground on a broomstick fun!”

“Hey that does sound like fun,” Said George, “fancy giving it a try tomorrow Harry?”

Harry however, much as he enjoyed flying, didn’t think it sounded particularly enjoyable at all, so he ignored George.

“So you had a safe trip then Hermione?” He asked, in an innocent voice.

Hermione just glared at him.

“Safest way we could get you here lass.” Mad-Eye growled, reappearing after taking Hermione’s trunk upstairs. “No chance of being spotted where there are no people. Virtually impossible to track too.”

“Right then you lot.” Mrs Weasley interrupted them. “We were just eating dinner, so there is plenty of food on the table if you want to recover from your journey.”

“Thanks Mum.” Bill said grinning, as he made his way into the kitchen, followed by the stumping Moody, and still slightly green Hermione.
________________________________________

“So, how did you get here?” Ron asked when he, Harry, Ginny and Hermione had found a bit of space to themselves. He grinned and continued. “I mean, apart from taking a flying Portkey and all.”

“Very funny Ron.” A collected Hermione responded. “Well, Bill and Moody met us in Austrai-”

“Don’t say it.” Harry said quickly, but it was too late.

Hermione looked at him quizzically, “Harry, what-”

“What if Voldemort finds out where you and your parents are through me?” Harry groaned.

Hermione stiffened slightly, before relaxing and continuing. “Oh, that’s okay. They’ve already moved on somewhere else. And Australia’s a big place you know.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t want to put you and your family at risk.” Harry said, with a hint of self anger in his voice.

Hermione stared into space for a few seconds, obviously thinking hard.

“So,” Ginny prompted, “how did you get here?”

“Sorry. Well, Dumbledore went to move on elsewhere with my parents. I don’t know where they’ve gone myself. We took one of those stupid Portkeys into midair, before landing and taking another one.” Hermione said in a voice which carried a similar amount of disapproval to the one she used when Harry or Ron didn’t do their homework. “Then we landed in – somewhere else – so we could take an international Portkey to Europe, and did the same until we landed in Scotland, and took the Knight Bus down here.”

Ron whistled. “Sounds a bit dangerous alright.”

“A bit!?” Hermione said furiously. “I fell off the broom once!”

“Er…” Ron and Harry began with worried expressions.

“Bill caught me on his broomstick. He’d already apparated to the spot in case anything happened.” Hermione explained impatiently, as if they ought to have known that.

Ron sighed. “Good job Bill!”

“And it was a practice one from not very high up, onto a net.” Hermione continued, with a glint of laughter in her eyes.

Ginny launched herself at Hermione with a cushion in her hands; Ron closed his eyes, and muttered something under his breath. Harry, however, surreptitiously sent a light tickling charm towards Hermione.

Hermione, being pummelled mercilessly by Ginny, was also giggling uncontrollable at the invisible hands that were traversing her body, finding her vulnerable spots and tickling them. “Stop it Ginny.” She gasped at last. “Stop tickling me.”

“I’m not,” Ginny said surprised, and giving Hermione some respite by withdrawing to take a look, “see?”

“Okay. Wh- Who is it? Fr- Fr- Fred? George? Y- You know I can’t do magic… Stop it!”

Harry shared a grin with Ron, and then they took out their wands, flourished them in a Lockhart-esque manner, and bellowed, “Finite Incantatem!”

Hermione’s face was a picture. Her face briefly fought to stop laughing and her expression changed to one of complete horror, until she then looked at them as if they had gone mad. Ginny had succeeded in putting a passable imitation of shock on her face also, and avoided Hermione’s eyes by staring at the two boys, giving them the smallest of winks from the eye Hermione couldn’t see.

“You IDIOTS! Have you gone completely insane? Is it not enough we have to go to one trial, without you two trying to get yourselves expelled and arrested too?” Harry and Ron just grinned at her. “I don’t believe it… you two have lost your minds, don’t you know what you just did?”

“You want to tell her, or shall I?” Ron asked Harry.

“Go ahead.” Harry winked back.

“The Ministry… don’t know we did magic.” Ron began. “They might know that some underage wizard somewhere did some magic, but… not us.”

“I- What? How!?” Hermione demanded.

“As long as we stay in Grimmauld Place, no-one can know we did magic.” Harry grinned.

“Why?” Hermione asked, desperately trying to work out the conundrum.

“Because of the Fidelius charm.” Ginny explained impatiently.

“Ginny!” Ron yelped. “We were enjoying that!”

“Yeah, it’s fun knowing something Hermione doesn’t for a change.” Harry chortled.

“Because of the Fi- Oh!” Hermione said in a tone of realisation, her eyes widening.

“Don’t say we should have known it sooner.” Ron said warningly.

“But we should have! Of course! It all makes sense. How could the Ministry know that we were doing underage magic without breaking the charm? But - but how did you know?”

“Worked it out of course.” Ron said with a straight face. “I mean, it is kind of obvious when you think about it. Nearly killed me when I realised we could have done magic in the holidays.”

Harry sniggered uncontrollably, as Hermione looked at Ron in absolute surprise. “You worked it out?”

“Yeah.” Ron replied nonchalantly.

“Of course he didn’t.” Ginny said smiling, as Harry finally laughed out loud. “Professor Dumbledore told them.”

So Harry found himself explaining the events at Privet Drive, and then Hogwarts once more, to both Ginny and Hermione. Ginny had only heard about it second hand from Ron, of course, and Hermione had learnt even less from Ron’s letter. He didn’t mention the subsequent dream. Hermione’s eyes never left him, and she demanded to know what was being done about it. Harry could tell he was about to be interrogated.

He soon found himself talking about the Occlumency lessons with Dumbledore, how exactly he’d spent his time in Grimmauld Place, and even, although he wasn’t sure how, referring to the decoration charms in use in each room.

“Oh!” Ginny cut in excitedly, after Harry had mentioned how he and Lupin had been practicing charms and curses, “So you’ve already got more things lined up for the DA next year then?”

Ron snickered behind his hand, as Harry half banged his head against the back of the chair he was sitting in. “I don’t know whether we should keep the DA going or not. Or if I want to keep doing it.” He added, as Hermione and Ginny opened their mouths to argue. “Just, give me a while to decide could you?”

“It’s not too bad.” Ron cut in before either of the girls could say anything. “It’s not too difficult to persuade him to practice spells with you. I got him to go over Patronuses again earlier.”

“Was yours corporeal this time?” Hermione asked interestedly.

Ron’s ears went slightly red at the tips. “Yeah.” He grunted, slightly offended.

Hermione blushed too. “I didn’t mean…”

“Go on then, show us Ron.” Ginny interrupted, and Harry gave her a grateful look for stopping the possible argument.

Ron looked so pleased to be asked, that Harry couldn’t help but say mischievously, as Ron was about to cast the spell, “So you don’t think your Patronus is a Grim anymore Ron?”

“Git.” Ron hissed, as he nearly dropped his wand, and Ginny gave a giggle.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Load of superstitious nonsense.” She muttered under her breath.

The next time Ron tried to cast the Patronus, it was fully formed, and its large handsome dark features seemed to shine, as it sprinted towards the doorway, and then disappeared. It looked nothing like Sirius’ dog-form; that much was obvious to Harry now.

Harry looked up from the doorway to find Hermione’s eyes fixed on him again, although she quickly looked back to Ron when they made eye contact, and she saw Harry’s angry glare.

Ginny turned back to her brother too. “Well I can kind of see how you thought it looked like a Grim. I wouldn’t worry though, seeing as only people supposedly about to die can see the Grim and we all saw it, obviously.”

“How comforting.” Harry inserted dryly.

“Very funny.” Ginny scowled, in a don’t-say-things-like-that voice. “And anyway, you’d just have to cast your Patronus at passing Death Eaters and they’d kick the bucket.”

“I wouldn’t worry Ron.” Hermione cut in next. “If all that rubbish was true it’d be quite useful to have the dog that haunts graveyards protecting you as your Patronus. After all in a lot of ancient cultures big dogs are the guardians of the underworld, which must be where the Grim myth comes from.” She sniffed.

“There you go Ron!” Harry ended, “You’re being protected by the guardian of the underworld, that’s pretty impressive!”

“If you’ve quite finished making fun of my Patronus…” Ron said grumpily. “How come my Patronus didn’t circuit the room and then come back to me like Lupin and yours did Harry?”

“Dunno.” Harry replied. “Maybe it just takes practice.”

“It’s because Patronuses can sense how their caster is feeling.” Hermione explained. “The less threat or danger there is to its master, or the happier its owner is feeling, the less time it stays around for.” She looked surprised at their inquiring faces. “I read it in Defence of the Spirit, Defence of the Mind by Augustin Pilato.”

“Honestly, I don’t know why I still get surprised when you come up with things like that.” Ron said shaking his head. “So what does it mean if they come back to you, and guard you then?”

“Did that happen to Harry?” Hermione asked.

Harry nodded.

“Well,” Hermione began, and it almost looked as if she was choosing her words carefully, “returning to the owner and staying with them usually means that the person that summoned it has an uneasy mind, or needs some sort of protection. Patronuses project pure, positive emotions, and so they can calm a person’s mind.”

“So are you trying to say I’m a nutcase or something?” Harry began hotly.

“No!” Hermione said hastily, “No, that’s not what I mean at all. It might have… It might have been trying to protect you from Legilimency or help you with your Occlumency, or defend you in that way.” She turned away, but still looked sideways at Harry. “Have you talked to anyone about Sirius at all?” She bit her lip almost as quickly as the words had tumbled out of her mouth, as if the question had slipped out without meaning it to.

“No.” Harry said bluntly. “And I don’t want to either, so don’t start.”

“Harry, you need to talk to someone about him, if you don’t…” Hermione began.

“I told you Hermione, don’t start.” Harry said warningly, his voice rising.

“How can you deal with it if you won’t talk about it?” Hermione was doing her best to keep calm, as if determined to go through with what she wanted to say, now that she had started.

“Hermione!” Harry nearly yelled, but it was Ginny that stopped her.

“Harry, calm down. Hermione, you’re not going to get him to want to talk about it like that. Let’s not talk about it at the moment, okay?” She said firmly.

Hermione glared at Ginny, but the younger girl held her gaze unafraid.

“So, Harry, what’s the trial going to be like?” Ron asked, obviously trying to change the subject.

“I’m not that sure.” Harry said nervously. “My trial was kind of simple, either I did the magic around Muggles for no reason, or I didn’t. I guess Snape might have witnesses, and so might Fudge. I really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“Mum’s going to take you there,” Ginny interrupted, “and I’m going to try and get her to let me come along too. I might be able to help, and I can at least give you guys support.”

“They won’t let either of you in with us.” Harry told her, “Your dad wasn’t allowed to come into the court with me last year. The two of you will have to wait outside.”

“I should be there.” Ginny said stubbornly. “I was there that night too. I don’t care if I have to wait for you outside the courtroom – I should be there.”

“I dunno Gin.” Ron shook his head. “I doubt Mum will let you come.”

“She’s already said no.” Ginny said. “But I can work on her.”

Hermione was quiet, the remnants of a scowl were still on her face, and she didn’t say much for the rest of the night.

When Ron and Ginny left for the night, to return to the Burrow, Hermione still looked exceptionally put out, and she soon after went to bed herself, with a frosty goodnight to Harry. When Harry went up to bed, he tossed and turned, trying to store away his memories as Dumbledore wanted him too, but soon gave up, and reached over for the bottle of Dreamless Sleep potion, quite aware that he would have the same things preying on his mind when he woke up.
________________________________________

In Harry’s next few Occlumency lessons, Dumbledore began to show him defensive techniques, but it wasn’t, like Snape had made it, an ordeal, but rather a guide through the process of what happens. Dumbledore wasn’t so much instructing him, as explaining how Legilimency worked.

Harry stood, wand in front of him, facing Dumbledore. He had just forced Professor Dumbledore out of his mind by the same technique as he had used against Snape a couple of months earlier. When Protego had repelled the spell however, Harry barely saw a flash of colour before being forced out of Dumbledore’s mind.

“Very good.” Dumbledore smiled. “Severus informed me that you had made progress at that particular defence. However, this defence is the most basic, and therefore the easiest to be defeated. Few wizards, if any, can maintain this defence successfully for a long period of time. That is not to say it is useless, by any means. The stronger the vacuefacio defence, which is its name, the easier it is to utilise other defences.”

Harry nodded, and Dumbledore continued.

“Occlumency and Legilimency ultimately cause a battle of minds, or wills to take place, not unlike the Imperius curse, or the priori incantatem effect that you encountered when your wand duelled with Voldemort’s. The Legilimens spell strengthens the will of the attacker, and Occlumency techniques weaken it, or strengthen the defender’s, or both. What you have been doing, when you have been storing your memories away, is giving yourself something to protect, if Tom, or some other Legilimens manages to circumvent your defences. Let me show you.”

Dumbledore pointed his wand at Harry, and said softly, “Legilimens.”

It was a strange experience for Harry. Automatically, he had tried to clear his mind, and push out Dumbledore, but it almost seemed to be brushed aside. Rather than flashes of memories, Harry’s vision blurred, until all he could see was darkness. He wasn’t standing on anything, but rather floating. Professor Dumbledore was also here, and, as Harry looked around, he also noticed the cupboards that he had placed his memories into. Each cupboard had a name describing its contents, although Harry hadn’t named them when they were created, or when he used them normally.

Dumbledore’s voice echoed in Harry’s head, almost as if he wasn’t really hearing it, but it was being transmitted directly into Harry’s mind.

“This,” He said, “is where the final fight for control occurs: wherever you have stored your memories. You have the advantage, as the Occlumens, of choosing the rules for the location. You can make it look like a certain place, you can prevent people from speaking if you so wish, whatever specific rules you feel like. The Legilimens has to both discover where the memories they seek are, and to find a way to retrieve them. The stronger the Legilimens, or the more general your rules are, the more likely they can break the rules you have put in place, and find your memories. The stronger the Occlumens’ initial defences, the less chance there is of that happening.” Dumbledore’s body shifted before Harry’s eyes, until he seemed to just vanish.

“What can be done in here is only limited by the minds of the two combatants. An Occlumens has to create the laws that narrow this down.” Dumbledore reappeared, and simply held out his hand to one of the cupboards and it appeared beside him. “Now, concentrate on trying to drive me out of your mind, Harry.”

Harry stared at Dumbledore, willing him out of his head. A few seconds later, they were facing each other once more. Harry almost fell forward from disorientation.

“Excellent.” Dumbledore said, approvingly. “I will allow you to absorb this overnight, and we can continue exploring it after tomorrow. For now, I think we should introduce another defensive technique. Inculco, is a technique where you attempt to force a Legilimens…”

By the time the lesson had ended, if nothing else, Harry had learnt exactly why Snape and Dumbledore had explained the subject as being complex, and taking a long time to master. He had the distinct impression that there were plenty more types of defence other than inculco, or vacuefacio and that Dumbledore could sweep away any of Harry’s current defences with ease. Dumbledore had left him with the promise that he would explain exactly how to create the rules in his final refuge after the trial.

As Harry was walking upstairs to look through some of his Defence Against the Dark Arts books, a delighted shriek came from the Black’s drawing room. Hermione’s ecstasy, however, had caused the curtains in front of Mrs Black’s painting to burst open.

“BLOOD TRAITORS, FILTH, SCUM! LEAVE MY HOUSE VILE BYPRODUCTS OF DIRT!” When she saw Harry, who had drawn his wand, ready to try to stun her painting, she gave an even louder scream of rage. “YOU! HOW DARE YOU ATTACK MY HOUSE ELF? FILTHY HALF-BLOOD! HOW DARE YOU INHABIT A HOUSE THAT HAS BELONGED TO PUREBLOODS FOR CENTURIES? HOW DARE YOU DEFOUL MY PROPERTY, AND HARM MY SERVENTS!”

Hermione’s face looked downstairs sheepishly, and Ron and Ginny both ran downstairs with her to give Harry a hand.

“Shut up you old cow!” Harry yelled back, “Or I’ll burn your painting!”

Mrs Black spluttered with rage. “FOOLISH CHILD! PUREBLOODS PROTECT THEIR PROPERTY WITH ONLY THE STRONGEST CHARMS, WEAK MUDBLOODS OR HALFBLOODS LIKE YOU COULD DO NOTHING. ONCE YOU FORSAKE THE WIZARDING WAY YOUR POWERS ARE NOTHING COMPARED TO OURS! NOW GO! GO OR I SHALL MAKE YOU LEAVE!”

“Want a bet?” Harry said, raising his wand. “We could always find out.”

But Ron and Hermione’s hands on his shoulders forced his wand down, and together, the three of them managed to close the curtains on Mrs Black’s shrieks, while Ginny stunned the other paintings, and soon there was silence once more.

“Sorry Harry.” Hermione whispered. “But wait until you see what we just found!”

She practically ran back up the stairs, and Harry looked around at the two Weasleys in surprise. They didn’t look quite as enthusiastic as Hermione, but followed behind. When they went through the drawing room door, Harry looked around, slightly bemused.

“What?” He asked Hermione.

“Oh! It’s sealed itself.” Hermione answered in mild surprise. “Here, let me show you how we found out.”

“Hermione! What are you talking about?” Harry asked exasperated.

“Look!” She answered excitedly, pointing to a piece of paper which seemed to be showing a square box.

“Okay, I’m looking. Now mind tell me what’s going on?”

“It’s a mapping charm.” Hermione said impatiently. “I was reading about some of the things we’re going to be doing this year, and thought I might try them out. I think that’s how your father, Sirius, and Professor Lupin made the Marauders Map, well, and tracking charms of course. But look!” She pointed at the map. “There’s a little room behind the family tree.”

“A room?” Harry asked suddenly eager, “Have you got in there yet?”

“Of course, look!” Hermione pointed her wand at the tapestry of the Black family tree, and said, clearly, “Oscul Majora!”

The wall seemed to shimmer slightly, and then swung open, seemingly creating a door when none had been before. Inside was a room about as large as two big broom cupboards, but amazingly, ten foot high. Inside the room, along the three sides away from the door, were books. Hundreds of neatly stored books, stacked on shelves up to the magically enhanced ceiling, with wheeled ladders stretching up to the very top so that a witch or wizard could reach the topmost tomes. In the middle of the room was a small desk, so that people could do the research away from the drawing room, Harry supposed.

Hermione’s face was shining with excitement, “This is amazing!” She gushed. “Just think of the age of some of these books!”

Ron walked forward, into the room, and took a book from the shelf. “‘Bloodlines and Purity’,” he read, “by Jean Eleanor Alogie. Sounds useful.”

“Well, you have to expect a certain amount of books not to be of much use.” Hermione replied unruffled, taking a book out herself, “How about this – no… maybe not this one – here we go! ‘Dark Arts – Pushing the Law to its Limits’ by Lenora Black, I guess one of the older Blacks was an author.”

“Do you think the Order knows about this Harry?” Ginny asked.

“They must do,” Harry said, “Sirius grew up here, he would have known about it.”

Hermione was now examining the titles of books on the bottom shelves, and collecting a pile of them, obviously to look through later, on the little desk. She only stopped when Ginny continued to speak.

“I wonder why they didn’t tell us about it then. I never saw anyone really reading anything that might have come from here.”

“Maybe they didn’t trust us to be able to read books about the Dark Arts, without being corrupted.” Harry said sourly.

Just then, a book that Hermione had taken down from a shelf flew open, screaming. Its pages flew open to a page depicting gruesome acts, and the power that the protagonists gained as a result. Harry found himself interested in reading what was written, and Ginny and Ron also started to show more interest in the book. Quick as a flash, Hermione drew her wand, and tapped it, muttering ‘carontalas’. The book fell silent at once, and made no struggle when Hermione closed its pages and returned it to the shelf. The urge to peruse its pages left Harry immediately.

“Maybe that’s why.” She said. “I suppose a lot of these books would belong to the restricted section if they were in Hogwarts, and without being able to use a wand to control them, they might be quite dangerous.”

Ron nodded his head fervently. “Some books can trick you into reading them, and are so persuasive they can make you do things you wouldn’t normally. Especially the older books, there are laws against that kind of book nowadays. Dad told me about a family that found one, and ended up jinxing each other whenever something happened to upset them. They’d refuse to apply the anti-jinx too, it wasn’t pretty he said, and that was one of the less harmful ones. They were in St Mungos for weeks.”

“We’d only have been able to get in here if we knew the password anyway.” Hermione continued. “And we might have needed our wands for that too.”

“Yeah, how did you know the password Hermione?” Harry asked.

“I didn’t. That was an unlocking spell I read during the summer. Alohomora or the other ones we learnt in school didn’t work so I tried it. It’s part Celtic, and isn’t very well known according to ‘Gaelic Charms of the Middle Ages’. The author of the book kept refining it to make it stronger, and it works differently to the other ones. It’s fascinating really,” Hermione enthused, “how he took the charm, and discovered how it worked, and combined it with other spells he knew.”

“Er, okay.” Harry said, trying to cut her off before she really got started on the subject. “But what about the mapping charm? Could we make something like a Marauder’s Map of Grimmauld Place?”

“We could try, but I don’t know how they did it. Maybe we can ask Professor Lupin.”

“Remus.” Ron corrected with a grin.

Hermione returned to eagerly searching the mini-library for books, while Harry, Ron, and Ginny spent a more leisurely time experimenting with the mapping charm Hermione had used, and discussing the trial that was due to take place tomorrow. Ginny had successfully persuaded Mrs Weasley to allow her to go with them, and they were due to floo in together to the Ministry early morning before the trial began. Harry started to feel a slightly nervous sensation around his stomach. Whatever happened tomorrow, he was certain he’d find himself talking about things he’d rather forget.

________________________________________
Chapter 6: Trials...


At half past eight in the morning the next day, Harry staggered out of the fireplace, ignoring the sniggers of the Ministry officials who were directing people in and out of the floo network. Mrs Weasley grabbed him, and started brushing the soot off him, but it was hardly necessary – the Ministry kept their fireplaces well swept. Harry’s stomach lurched as he noticed that the Fountain of Magical Brethren was no longer in its pride of place. There was nothing there now – just a cordoned off empty space on a polished floor.

Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were all trying (and failing) to look at him surreptitiously to see how he was reacting to being back here. He would have been irritated by this continued concern, but he was too busy attempting to escape the clutches of Mrs Weasley and his brisk brushing down, to do more than send the occasional glare at them. Ginny got the message, but Ron and Hermione seemed to be obstinately ignoring his annoyance.

“Names and purpose of visit?” A lanky young wizard, who looked like he was barely out of school drawled, in a voice that reminded Harry of Draco Malfoy.

“I’m Molly Weasley, and this is my son Ron, his friends Hermione Granger and Harry Potter, who are here to attend a Wizengamot hearing, and this is my daughter Ginny.” Mrs Weasley pointed out each student in turn.

The wizard, whose name tag declared him as Jonas Birch, stared at Harry for a long time, until Mrs Weasley gave a sharp cough, and he was jogged back to his senses. His forehead creased as he looked up and down a clipboard, before his mouth formed a silent ‘O’, and he waved his wand at the parchment in front of him. He made four tick motions with his wand, and then paused.

“Hang on! There’s no Ginny Weasley down here.” He said, almost aggressively, Harry felt.

“She isn’t going to go in to the hearing – she’s going to wait outside with me.”

“I’m sorry Mrs… Weasley? Only the witnesses and their guardians may proceed to the courtroom level. Your daughter will have to return home.” There was very little apology in the man’s voice, and he seemed more fixated on staring at Harry’s forehead than trying to do his job.

Mrs Weasley bristled. “If you think I am going to leave my youngest daughter on her own at home, when You-Know-Who has returned, you have another thing coming to you.”

“I’m sorry ma’am but it is not up to me, I have my orders.”

The Ministry official tried to glare at Mrs Weasley, but he soon found, as so many had before him, that he was facing a woman who could cow all but the fiercest of adversaries.

“Do you have children Mr Birch? Would you leave them at home and risk seeing the Dark Mark above your house when you return?”

Mrs Weasley’s voice was rising shrilly, and people were turning to look at them now. She couldn’t care less about this attention, but the junior official was looking around nervously at the other Ministry workers.

“How dare you suggest I should leave her behind?! But the Ministry doesn’t care much for us witches and wizards and our families do they? You knew that You-Know-Who was back last year, but you refused to tell us, didn’t you.”

“Settle down Madam.” A wizard said from her side. “What is the problem Jonas?”

Mrs Weasley responded before Jonas Birch could get a word in. “This man is refusing to allow my child to come with me while we wait for the trial to finish. I shall not leave her at home while You-Know-Who is around.”

Several witches and wizards were trying to hear what was happening, and one witch in the queue that was forming behind them whispered something to her neighbour.

Perhaps it was this that made the new wizard say swiftly, “I see no problem with that Jonas, let them through.”

Jonas Birch opened his mouth to say something, and then obviously thought better of it. “Yes sir.”

He conjured up badges and handed them to Harry, Ron and Hermione, which read: ‘Witness – Wizengamot Trial’. Mrs Weasley had a badge describing her as ‘Guardian – Wizengamot Trial’. Ginny was a ‘Visitor – Courtroom Level Clearance’.

“Excuse me.” He said cautiously, as they made to move away, “Where are the Guardians of the other two children?”

“Their Guardians are Muggles.” Mrs Weasley said brusquely, “Their Magical Guardian is therefore their Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, who is in the Wizengamot.”

“Oh. You can go then.” He said to their retreating backs.

As they weaved slowly through the crowd of Ministry workers, past the area where the fountain had been, images of the fight between Dumbledore and Voldemort flashed through Harry’s mind – how Dumbledore had shielded him using the figures from the fountain, how Fawkes had got in the way of a killing curse that had been meant for Dumbledore, how Voldemort, when seemingly beaten by Dumbledore, had tried to possess Harry. Harry winced as his scar gave a huge jolt, and then glanced around quickly to see if anyone had noticed. Hermione had, and he glared at her as she opened her mouth, shaking his head. Ron, Ginny, and Mrs Weasley however, were reading a sign where the fountain had been. Harry turned from Hermione to read it too.
After the desecration of the Fountain of Magical Brethren by He Who Must Not Be Named, the Ministry of Magic are proud to announce that a new centrepiece shall be constructed by the well known sculptor Edvard de Flamente, with the theme of the Solidity of the Magical Community once more to be prominent. An announcement will follow in the Daily Prophet as to the date of the Opening Ceremony.

Minister Cornelius Fudge, Order of Merlin First Class.

“Who’s this Edvard de Flamente chap?” Ron asked.

“No idea.” Harry replied. “Sounds foreign.”

“That’s because he is.” Ginny inserted exasperatedly. “He’s German. He made the Monument of Majesty for the German Ministry of Magic.”

“Never heard of it.” Ron said.

“Sounds a bit… I dunno…”

“Pretentious?” Hermione supplied for Harry. “Should fit right in with Minister Fudge then.”

“Sounds like Gild-” Ron began, and then hastily changed his sentence when he caught sight of his mother. “Like it’ll cost a lot of gold. Bet he’s getting lots of Galleons for it.”

Harry quickly changed his laugh to a cough, amused at the sight of two female faces, angry at the slight that was almost levelled at Gilderoy Lockhart. He got a couple of glares for this too.

“He’s supposedly a fabulous artist.” Mrs Weasley told them, while still shooting Ron a hard look. “People travel for miles to see his work.”

“Supposedly.” Ron muttered loud enough for just Harry to hear him. “Bet he’s as bad as Lockhart.”

“With any luck we won’t meet him then.” Harry whispered back, as they continued onwards towards the golden gateway which led to the elevator, where they surrendered their wands to the witch there – a severe looking woman named Helga Burns, who was seated at the security desk, reading Witch Weekly.

“You’re here for the hearing, are you?” She asked, and then continued without waiting for a reply. “It’s in courtroom four – I’ll call for someone to take you down.”

“It’s okay, we know the way.” Harry offered.

“Yes, well, you would wouldn’t you?” She sniffed disapprovingly, and didn’t even try to hide a scowl. She then spoke into something on her desk, “Eddie? They’re here, can you take them down to the courtroom please.”

“Not a fan.” Ron whispered to Harry, who glared back as Ginny snickered.

Harry guessed Eddie was probably Helga Burns’ son, as he looked younger than Ginny, although Harry couldn’t remember seeing him in Hogwarts. He was short and slightly on the plump side, and seemed to have none of his mother’s dislike of Harry, who pursed her lips as he approached them excitedly. Once they recovered their wands, Eddie led them to the elevator, and kept stealing idolising glances of Harry. Harry was reminded slightly of the Creevey brothers.

“Did you really duel with” he lowered his voice, “You-Know-Who?”

Mrs Weasley’s eyes narrowed, and Harry simply replied “Yes, I did.” He left it at that.

Eddie, however, wasn’t satisfied, and kept trying to find out more from Harry. He soon found this a hard job, and ended up being scolded by Mrs Weasley each time he asked a question. Eddie, who had he been a Weasley would have been frightened into compliance a while ago (Harry felt Mrs Weasley was holding back), finally gave up.

“Alright, keep your hair on!” He said grumpily to Mrs Weasley, before turning back to Harry again. “What’s Hogwarts like?”

“Why? Aren’t you in first year yet?” Harry asked, astonished.

“I’m thirteen!” Eddie replied indignantly, “Just… Mum wouldn’t let me go. I get tutored at home during term time.”

“Why wouldn’t she let you go?” Ron asked.

“She just… wouldn’t.” He answered lamely. “What’s Albus Dumbledore like?”

“Brilliant.” Ron grinned. “He’s a bit crazy –”

“Ron!” Mrs Weasley admonished.

“What? He is!” Ron replied. “He’s an absolute genius though. Knows almost everything.”

“When you say he’s a bit crazy…” Eddie began, and Hermione broke in, as if she understood something the rest of them didn’t.

“He’s not lost his marbles or anything. He’ll just have a joke and a laugh with people. If you want to know what he’s like you should read ‘Great Wizards of Our Times’. It’s got a great description of him in the first chapter.” Behind Hermione’s back, Ron rolled his eyes.

“So he’s not…?”

“No.” Hermione answered firmly.

Eddie continued to fire questions at them about Hogwarts for the rest of the ride in the elevator, and Harry was glad of it. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny fielded most of the questions, allowing him to fall back into the background, as other people got on and off. Mrs Weasley kept looking at him with a worried expression on her face. The two of them were the only ones that remained silent, as they walked down the stairs to the courtroom.

“We’ll wait here.” Mrs Weasley told Harry, Ron and Hermione, as Eddie pointed to the big heavy oaken double doors that led the way into the courtroom. She conjured two chairs. “Good luck, and if you don’t know what to say, let Professor Dumbledore help you. Remember – he’s innocent.”

Mrs Weasley gave them each a hug, and to Harry’s surprise, Ginny did as well. She looked just as terrified as any of them, and she whispered a ‘Good Luck’ as they turned to the doors.

“Well, here we go.” Ron said, trying to sound confident.

He took a deep breath, and walked forward, pushing one of the doors. They swung open on their own magically, revealing a crowd of people who looked down upon them from the upper tier. The three of them stared into the room for a few seconds, and the Wizengamot stared back.

Harry stepped into the courtroom, flanked on either side by Hermione and Ron, and watched by a nervous Ginny, before the door swung shut once more. Like Ron had done, he took a deep breath as he looked around. Many witches and wizards from the Wizengamot were seated in the upper circle. On the left, where the elders sat, Harry recognised Madam Bones and Dumbledore to her right, who had stood as the doors opened. Cornelius Fudge sat on the other side of the Head of Magical Law Enforcement, and Harry caught his breath as he gazed into the eyes of Dolores Umbridge, reinstated Senior Undersecretary to the Minister. She gave him a sickly sweet smile, as if content that everything was pre-arranged to her satisfaction.

“Mr Potter, Mr Weasley, Miss Granger,” Madam Bones’ voice boomed out, “Thank you for coming. If you could take your seats opposite us please, we shall get started soon enough.”

They looked across to the right, as one, where there was a semicircle of completely empty seats. They gave each other nervous smiles, but said nothing, as they took their seats. Directly across from them, there were two men sitting down together. The men looked friends, or at the very least, acquaintances. The rest of the lower circle was empty.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione said very little as they counted down the minutes until nine o’clock, and it seemed to be an agonisingly long wait to Harry. He was starting to wish they had been as late as he had been to his hearing last year. It was infinitely preferable to the nervous wait they had now. Now and then, the doors opened, and witches and wizards entered, sometimes giving small waves to people they knew, before climbing the stairs up to the top tier, to take their seats. Finally, a loud gong, followed by a clock’s chimes, signalled it was time to begin.

“Very well,” Madam Bones said, when the chimes had died down, “bring in the accused.”

Severus Snape walked into the room, flanked by aurors on either side. Hermione let out a sharp gasp. Snape was in chains. Remarkably, he was looking almost unfazed, and managed to glide across the room despite the clinking of metal. Looking around the court, he seemed extremely disdainful of the whole proceedings. Even when he sat down in the chair, in the middle of the room, and the chains from the chair linked with the manacles on his hands and feet, he allowed no sign of fear to escape him. His guards sat opposite Harry and the others, and Harry recognised one of them as Dawlish – one of the Aurors that had accompanied Fudge to Dumbledore’s office all those weeks ago.

“Severus Snape, you stand here accused of helping He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named in his attempt to learn of a Prophecy made about both he, and Harry Potter. You stand furthermore accused of returning to the Death Eaters, under He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named’s leadership. Before we start, do you have anything to say about the charges?”

Snape sat back in the chair. “Only that the charges are completely unfounded, and ludicrous in extreme.” He sneered. “If I had indeed been helping the Dark Lord, then I would not have warned the Minister of his return over a year ago.”

There was a mutter around the Wizengamot, and Fudge stood up.
“The court recognises Minister Fudge.” Madam Bones acknowledged, and sat back into her seat.

Fudge gathered his notes, and cleared his throat. “I am quite aware of the words you told me a year ago, Severus Snape, I am also aware that you were acting under orders from Albus Dumbledore, and that to do anything other than to declare his return would have compromised your role as a spy. However, we are here to decide upon your innocence, or guilt,” He let the word hang a little in the air, “and either prevent you from continuing to spy for You-Know-Who, or else clear you of all charges.”

“I am glad you haven’t prejudged me.” Snape replied, his lip curling.

Harry was amazed at how Snape was keeping his emotions in check, especially as he himself seemed to have an uncanny ability to rile Snape up. The watching witches and wizards leant forward as one, as if to intimidate Snape, but Snape just sat there, as if there was not even at a trial at all. He did not have the regality, which Bellatrix Lestrange had displayed on the same chair, but rather the comfortable poise that someone might take if they were having a fireside chat with a colleague.

Fudge ignored him. “Will you be calling forward any witnesses?”

“I see no need.” Professor Snape replied.

“Why don’t we begin then?” Fudge smiled at the court. “You are Severus Snape, Professor of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, resident of 32 Willow Road, Oxford, are you not?”

“I am.”

“What do you teach at Hogwarts?”

“I am the Potions Master.”

“From the inspections carried out by the Inquisitor of Hogwarts last year, I see that you have annually applied to be the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. Is there any special reason for this?”

“I have had significant experience of the Dark Arts, both during my time as one of the Dark Lord’s Death Eaters, and after I became a spy in their midst for Professor Dumbledore, and the Ministry. I believed that my knowledge would be of use to students.” Snape replied coolly.

“And yet you have never been granted the post?” Fudge asked incredulously, but continued before Snape had a chance to reply. “Could you please describe the relationship between yourself and Harry Potter.” It wasn’t a question, it was an order.

As one, the room looked at Harry, who started. He hadn’t expected this. He hadn’t thought to be involved as someone who would be used to convict Snape, but rather as a witness for his defence. For a split second he enjoyed the idea of sending Snape to Azkaban, but a quick glare from Hermione put paid to that idea. Besides, giving Umbridge her come-uppance and causing Fudge further trouble was just as nice really.

“I fail to see the relevance of the question, Minister.” Snape replied, his mouth thinning ever so slightly.

“The question of your relationship with the Boy-Who-Lived, Professor Snape? I would have thought it was obvious. Mr Potter over there defeated the ‘Dark Lord’ as you called him. Mr Potter was lured by the ‘Dark Lord’ to the Prophecy Room in the Department of Mysteries. The question that needs to be answered is how he achieved this. Who would help him to lure Harry Potter to the Ministry, and why?”

“Mr Potter is a student at the school I teach, Minister Fudge. I treat him, as I treat any student. Often people indulge him because of his unusual status in the wizarding world. I try to keep his feet upon the ground.”

“So you would often take House Points off him, for example? Or give him detentions?” Fudge persisted.

“Yes, if the occasion warranted it.”

“Tell me, how many points have you taken from Mr Potter in his time at school?”

“I really have no idea.” Snape replied, in an almost bored voice now.

“So we may assume it is quite a lot then. More, or less, than most other students?” Fudge asked.

Umbridge’s smirk had been getting wider and wider as each question was asked.

“As I said, Minister, I penalise Mr Potter when the occasion warrants it. As it happens, Mr Potter often believes he can get away with more than the average student, because of the way his popularity impacts the way he is treated.” Snape let out the first sign of irritation Harry had seen so far.

“Indeed? How enlightening.” Fudge was playing to the crowd here, with the skill of an accomplished public speaker that had worked himself into office. “I would ask the former Inquisitor of Hogwarts, and my Senior Undersecretary, Dolores Umbridge to put this into perspective. If you would, Dolores?”

“Hem, hem.” Umbridge stood up, clearing her throat in the breathy voice Harry remembered.

“From observation, and consultation of the School Hourglasses, that record the house points, Professor Severus Snape took away three times as many points from Gryffindor as either Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw. From his own house, he took away virtually nothing. Likewise, he awarded practically no points to Gryffindor. Over a quarter of all points deducted from Gryffindor by Professor Snape were taken from Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger combined. It should also be noted, that while Hermione Granger’s knowledge in her lessons meant she was frequently awarded house points for her work, Professor Snape gave her none.”

“Do you have a dislike of Mr Potter and his friends, Professor Snape? A deep resentment to the fact that he is the Boy-Who-Lived? Or are you going to explain it away as a petty family feud perhaps? Possibly the Potters and the Snapes have always hated each other. Could that be true?”

Even had Snape wished to admit to his dislike of Harry’s father, now, more than ever, it seemed a pitiful defence. Fudge was showing how he had managed to become Minister in the first place.

Snape looked collected and calm still however, and replied. “May we also see your own records Undersecretary? I certainly remember you giving detention to Potter because he informed you that Quirrell was possessed by the Dark Lord in his first year. But what was the one that started it all? Ah of course! You gave a detention to Harry Potter, after he told you that the Dark Lord was risen, a fact which was true. What was the punishment that you handed out Ms Umbridge?”

He was trying to fight fire with fire, and his comments provoked ugly faces from the Minister and the Undersecretary, and apprehensive faces from some of the onlookers.

“The Minister’s Undersecretary is not under trial here.” Fudge bellowed over the excited faces. Umbridge’s smile had vanished, and she was glaring at Snape.

Dumbledore stood for the first time since the trial had begun. “It is well documented in the Wizengamot charter, I believe, that contexts for figures may be asked for. It is also documented – it is again my belief – that the people who are trying to prove guilt may be cross examined by either the prisoner, or his legal advice. The first regulation, is fourteen point –”

“We are well aware of the charter, Dumbledore.” Fudge said sharply.

“Well, Minister, Undersecretary, what punishment was used in that first detention between Dolores Umbridge and Harry Potter.” Snape gave a tight lipped smile.

“He was given lines.” Umbridge said immediately.

“I think, Madam Bones, that we shall understand far more about it if we ask Mr Potter himself this question.”

“Indeed.” Madam Bones agreed. “Harry Potter will approach the Wizengamot please.” Ron almost made to get up with him, and Hermione watched him go nervously.

Harry stood in front of the judging panel of Dumbledore, Madam Bones, Fudge and Umbridge, and waited for the first question. It was by Madam Bones. “What were you given detention for, Mr Potter, in your first class with the then Professor Umbridge?”

“I said that Voldemort was back. That Cedric Diggory’s death had not been an accident as the Ministry was telling people, and that Voldemort had been reborn – more terrible than ever. I told her that I had duelled with Voldemort myself, like I told the Quibbler. I got angry at her as she said that I was lying about these things that had happened. She gave me detentions for the entire week.” Harry related, anger creeping in once more from the way he had been treated.

His scar gave a particularly noticeable jolt. Concentrate on the Occlumency, he thought suddenly.

“What happened in the detentions?” Madam Bones asked from her chair.

“She made me do lines. I pulled out a quill and parchment, ready to start, but she told me to put my quill away, for I’d be using one of hers that didn’t need ink. As I wrote on the parchment, the lines were written in red ink: I Shall Not Tell Lies. Each time I wrote the sentence, I could feel the quill ripping through the skin on the back of my hand until the sentence was burned there. I still have a scar from it now.”

The level of noise increased by an octave. There was a furious fire in Dumbledore’s eyes, and disgust in Madam Bones’. Instinctively, Harry realised that he had earned Snape an ally on the bench. Many of the Wizengamot looked up at Fudge and Umbridge, with looks of fear that Harry couldn’t understand. For some reason, Hermione was looking scared senseless, and she reached over towards Ron to tell him something. Madam Bones removed her monocle, and wiped it on a handkerchief. She shook her head slowly for a few seconds, and stayed quiet.

“Using a blood-contract quill for a detention?” She finally asked in near disbelief. “You may sit down once more Mr Potter.” She told Harry, leaning down.

Harry walked quickly back to Ron and Hermione. Madam Bones replaced her monocle.

“How many times, did the Undersecretary use this same punishment on Potter? How many times did she award Mr Potter house points in her class, despite the fact that he has recently achieved an Outstanding Recognition in his O.W.L. results, which are to come out in a few days? Similarly with Mr Weasley, and Miss Granger – how many house points did she award them?” Despite the fact that Snape was chained to a chair, he seemed to be the one in charge with the questions. “Shall we ask Miss Granger?”

“Very well, Professor Snape. Could Miss Hermione Granger please approach the stand?” Madam Bones requested.

Hermione looked at Ron and Harry nervously, before standing up, and tracing Harry’s steps. She stood beside Snape, trying hard to let no sign of fear escape her before the court.

“Miss Granger,” Snape began, taking the initiative after a sign from Madam Bones, “In Ms. Umbridge’s classes, how many house points did she award you?”

“None.” Hermione replied in a shaky voice.

“None? How about Mr Potter or Mr Weasley then?”

“She… she didn’t give them any either. I don’t remember her awarding any Gryffindors any house points.” A small smile played around a couple of the faces of the onlookers, as Umbridge’s own condemnation of Snape was being mirrored back towards her.

“Really?” Snape raised his eyebrows, “We know she punished Mr Potter for telling the truth, did she also take points away from you or Mr Weasley for equally bizarre reasons?”

Umbridge looked livid, but a glance from Fudge kept her quiet. Harry saw Hermione meet Dumbledore’s eyes, visibly strengthening her. She drew herself up, as if determined to take the opportunity to shame Umbridge.

“She did, from both of us.” Hermione said clearly.

“Would you care to give us an example?” Madam Bones prompted.

“In our classes, she made us read the set text. By the time the second class had come around, I had read the whole book. I put up my hand and asked her what I should do instead. She didn’t believe me, and asked me a question from the book, which I answered. I disagreed with the books interpretation, and said so. She took points off me for what she called a ‘meaningless interruption’. She never told me what I should be doing while everyone else read the book, all the way until the end of term.”

As Hermione came to the end, the people that had been smiling before, were now openly amused. Fudge looked furious.

“Very well Miss Granger. Professor Snape, I believe you have made your point, there is no need to continue.” Fudge growled.

Hermione walked back to her seat far more quickly than in the initial journey.

“Indeed.” Madam Bones agreed. “Unless the Undersecretary would care to reply to these charges, it would appear that there can be little difference between your own disciplinary scheme and the Undersecretary when it comes to equality between the treatment of the children. As a result, we should bear in mind that both the Undersecretary and the Professor appear to have similar feelings towards Harry Potter.”

Madam Bones was seemingly oblivious to the fact that she was accusing the Minister of Magic and his Senior Undersecretary to be as likely to be the criminal as Professor Snape. Harry hid a grin. Perhaps people had finally got fed up of Fudge, and his 'hide his head in the sand' approach to government.

“Are you ready to continue Minister?” She continued.

“I think we could do with a five minute recess to absorb the information so far, Madam Bones.” The Minister replied, trying to sound cool and confident.

“Round one: Snape.” Ron muttered. “And you two.”

“Harry!” Hermione whispered urgently as she sat down. “Harry! I think Fudge has tried to buy the verdict. You know what Remus said about the calls for his head getting stronger. Well think of what might happen if the things that Umbridge did when in school got out, or she was sent to Azkaban for them. No-one would want Fudge in charge, and he’d have no hope of getting even a job as a departmental head. If he can convict Professor Snape then he’ll gain public support for putting a Death Eater spy away, and acting quickly upon the events that showed Voldemort to the public. This could make or break his career.”

“And you think he’s bought a guilty verdict on Snape?” Harry replied shocked.

“Definitely.” Hermione replied decisively. “When you were talking about that detention Umbridge made you do, you were telling everyone how incompetent she and Fudge are. Most people looked at them as if scared. As if they didn’t want to vote against the Minister. I don’t know what he’d have promised, power, money, keeping illegal things quiet; I guess he’d promise anything.”

“You should have seen them when you were speaking, Hermione.” Ron grinned. “They were almost laughing at Umbridge.”

“That won’t last Ron,” Hermione replied brusquely, “If Fudge is paying them, then they won’t want to say Snape’s innocent.”

“But why go after Snape, I don’t get...”

“Oh come on Harry,” Ron interrupted, “Who’s the evillest git out of all the teachers in the school? Who’s the only greasy haired oily ex Death Eater we know?”

“Fudge and Umbridge need to make it look as if she was trying to help you against Snape. Fudge needs to make all those decrees last year look like they were good things. If he makes the Inquisitor position look like it helped the school, and you in particular, then both of them are out of trouble.” Hermione said earnestly. “They’re setting Snape up to take the fall for them.”

“But they don’t honestly expect me to help them do they? Not even against Snape, after the things that toad and Fudge did last year.” Harry said incredulously.

“I doubt it mate. They’ll probably try to warp whatever you say.” Ron interjected.

“This feels so wrong…” Harry mumbled, “You know, helping Snape.” Ron and Hermione smiled slightly.

“It’s probably going to hinge on that night at the Department of Ministries,” Harry winced but Hermione continued without noticing, “They must be attempting to make it look like Umbridge was trying to protect us. We’re just going to have to make sure they know what Umbridge did: that she almost put the Cruciatus curse on Harry.”

A loud noise brought an abrupt end to their discussion, and Madam Bones stood up once more, face still showing signs of disapproval at what she had just heard.

“Are you ready to proceed; Minister?” She asked.

“Yes, Madam Bones, I am.” Fudge replied. “I would ask Alexis Ferrell to give evidence. Weasley, could you fetch him please.”

Percy Weasley, whom Harry had not noticed when he came in, rose from his seat, and hurried to the main doors; minutes later, he had returned with a man. Harry looked across at Ron, who was eyeing his brother through narrowed slits. From the way that Ron had watched every step that Percy had taken; Harry had half a mind to hold Ron down in his chair. On the other side of Ron, it looked like Hermione was having similar thoughts. Percy returned to his seat, as the man looked around the court, with something resembling fear in his eyes.

For the first time, there was shock on Snape’s face. A few seconds later, he recollected himself and his face became snide and complacent once more. The man that Percy had fetched – a small, thin, ferret-faced man – shuffled in front of the Wizengamot, while keeping his distance from Snape, as if scared. Snape glared at him from his chair. Something about the shifty movement of Ferrell’s eyes reminded Harry of Wormtail and he couldn’t help but wonder if protection was being given to the man in return for his oncoming testimony.

“I always wondered why they put you in Slytherin, Ferrell, not clever enough to even beat Muggleborns or near Squibs in anything. I suppose you didn’t work hard enough to be in Hufflepuff and you certainly weren’t brave or noble enough for Gryffindor.” Snape said in a low scornful tone, which none the less carried throughout the room.

“The accused will please be quiet!” Fudge said loudly, “Now then, Alexis Ferrell, are you acquainted with Professor Snape at all?”

“Yeah,” The man replied in a hoarse grunt, “We were at ‘Ogwarts t’gether. Same year ‘n’ ‘ouse.”

“Are you honestly going to try and convict me by things from my school days?” Snape interrupted impatiently.

“The accused will please remain silent during witness’ evidence unless the adjudicators allow him to speak.” Fudge said pompously. “If you can’t control yourself, then you will be magically silenced until we ask you questions.”

Snape looked as if he had just been slapped. He glared at Fudge, but said nothing.

“Good. Now, could you tell us about Professor Snape’s friends in Hogwarts, Mr Ferrell?”

“’E always wen’ around wi’ kids tha’ were Death Eaters. McNair, ‘Dolphus Lestrange, Knott, the Kinnears. ‘N’ he always ‘ung around the older Slyth’rins, Malfoy, ‘is girlfriend Narcissa Black, Crabbe ‘n’ Goyle, or what’s-‘er-name… Cassandra Falk.”

“Indeed?” Fudge sounded like a child about to open a new toy. “Did Professor Snape have a girlfriend by any chance?”

Snape looked furious, but managed to keep an even tone in his voice, as he addressed Madam Bones, “May I speak, please, Madam Bones?”

Her eyes, which had been narrowing continuously throughout the testimony – one of them around her monocle, relaxed slightly. “Certainly, Professor Snape.” She replied, before Fudge could say a word.

“I fail to see that the company I kept, or the mistakes I made, in my childhood affect anything nowadays. Obviously I made friendships, and decisions I regret, given that I became a Death Eater, and then turned away from the Dark Lord as I grew older and wiser. I would ask the Wizengamot to remember that I turned away from these people for a reason.” Snape had contained has emotions by now, and his voice was smooth, and level.

“You turned away from them? Is that so? If that is the case, then you have nothing to worry about, do you? Or do you have something to hide?” Fudge sneered.

“I simply want to remind the Wizengamot that the person who was in this group of people is far less than half the age of, and has completely different beliefs to, the one who is sitting in this chair – any testimony on this subject is pretty much worthless.”

“Really? If there is nothing else, perhaps the witness can answer the question then. Mr Ferrell, did Professor Snape have a girlfriend?”

“Yeah, ‘e did. Narcissa’s siste’. Bell’trix Black. She were a year ‘bove us, and they were togethe’ fer years.”

“Bellatrix Black? The same Bellatrix that became Bellatrix Lestrange?”

“Yeah. Tha’s ‘er.”

Alexis Ferrell’s confirmation drew a gasp out of the assembled witches and wizards. Harry clenched his fists, and his knuckles slowly turned white as his circulation was cut off. Again, he felt his scar prickle irritably. Remember what Dumbledore told you, Harry!

“Was there a particular reason that Snape could get himself into these groups, and relationships?” Fudge asked, and Harry was sure he knew the answer that Fudge was angling for – something that he had heard himself about Snape and his magical knowledge.

“Yeah.” He grunted, “’E knew more Dark Arts then them all put together. ‘E could do the cuttin’ curse in first year ‘n’ ‘e always said ‘e could do the Unforgivables. ‘E used to teach Bell’trix ‘ow to do the Imperius curse on their dates. She always liked power, she did. If ‘e showed ‘er something new, they never got back to their beds tha’ night. I’m betting she jumped ‘im ‘n’-”

“That will do Alexis, thank you.” There was a mild look of disgust on his face. “Did the young Severus Snape show his prowess at teaching to any of the other students, by any chance?”

“Oh yeah. ‘E used to teach Lucius Malfoy and ‘is gang dark magic, and they were five years ‘bove ‘im, coming from respected Pureblood families tha’ve been traced fer centuries withou’ a Halfblood or Mudblood in ‘em. Tha’s why they talked t’ ‘im”

A couple of the Wizengamot stood up, outraged by the use of the word ‘Mudblood’. Fudge looked nervous, as if sensing a change in the dislike of the Wizengamot away from Snape, and towards his witness.

Madam Bones intervened. “If the witness continues to use such offensive language, then he will be ejected from the courtroom.”

“I only have one more question for the witness.” Fudge cut in. The look of surprise on Ferrell’s face suggested that he had originally had several. “What was Severus Snape’s attitude to Muggleborns, or wizards with Muggle blood?”

“Oh, ‘e ‘ated ‘em. Thought they were scum, ‘e did. ‘E’s the one tha’ first called ‘em… tha’ word you don’ wan’ me to say, in the year. ‘N’ ‘e always said it to ‘em too.”

“So he agreed with You-Know-Who’s ideas of wizarding blood then?” Fudge prompted.

“Yeah, ‘e did. ‘E was all fer the, ‘ow’d’e say it? ‘Purification o’ the wizardin’ race’. ‘E ‘n’ Bell’trix were always talkin’ ’bout it.”

“Thank you Alexis Ferrell.” Fudge finished. “You may go.” Ferrell left the courtroom with a scamper.

“Professor Snape?” Madam Bones prompted.

“I was eleven.” Snape said, scornfully. “If you want to get a feeling for my character now, perhaps you should ask my fellow teachers at Hogwarts, or perhaps the Headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, who trusts me enough to allow me to teach students, both of Muggle and Wizard descent.”

Dumbledore, who to Harry’s surprise had been relatively silent so far, stood, “I have previously given evidence on this matter on numerous occasions. My opinion now is the same as it has always been – I trust Professor Snape implicitly. I certainly have no reason to believe that any of my staff believe otherwise.”

“You would rather your current associates were mentioned then?” Fudge asked. “Could Auror Dreyfus McCarthy approach the stand please?”

A lean, tall man with sinewy muscles, hair as red as any of the Weasley family, he strode forward with the confidence of a man secure in his own ability.

“Auror McCarthy, you were in charge of the attempt to trace Professor Dumbledore’s whereabouts earlier this year, were you not?” Fudge began.

“While Professor Dumbledore was wanted by the Ministry, yes sir.” The auror replied with a respectful nod to Dumbledore. Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled. McCarthy had a broad Irish accent, but it was nothing like Seamus Finnegan’s. There was a different, deeper kind of tone, and musical quality to it. “I’m sorry sir, but at the time there were warrants for your arrest.”

“You have nothing to apologise for,” Umbridge cut in. “Albus Dumbledore had led the Minister to believe he was raising an army against him.”

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled, as he replied “It is quite alright Dreyfus, I assure you. Give my best wishes to Elaine, won’t you?”

“I will, thank you sir.”

“Could you please explain to us how you searched for him, Mr McCarthy?” Fudge said in a frustrated tone.

“In many ways, I assure you Minister, but the one that applies here I believe, is following known contacts of Professor Dumbledore. At least one Auror was assigned to each teacher, and other regular contact of the Headmaster. Professor Snape was followed by two around the clock.”

“So you can give us a good idea of Professor Snape’s movements then?” Fudge prompted.

“To some extent, yes.”

“Only to some extent?” Fudge asked.

“Yes, he sometimes managed to leave Hogwarts without our Aurors realising it. Well, that’s not strictly true – we could determine that he had left, but not where to. There were obviously some very powerful charms that would not allow us to follow. He also managed to give us the slip in London a few times, but otherwise we managed to trace him pretty well.”

“London… that’s where Sirius Black was meant to be hiding, wasn’t it?” Fudge said, in a pensive tone.

“Yes sir, but the murderer wasn’t the only person in London. We actually speculated that he may have been meeting with Headmaster Dumbledore in one or both occasions.” The Auror replied fairly.

Ron grabbed onto Harry’s arm, and prevented him from rising from his seat. He wanted to scream, to yell at Fudge that Sirius was not a murderer, that he was innocent, but although his mouth formed the words, no sound came out. Nobody was looking at the three of them though, no-one else saw a thing, they were too busy watching the witness and Snape, who had gone white with rage at Sirius’ name. Nobody except Albus Dumbledore that is. Dumbledore was looking directly at Harry, and gave a small shake of the head, as if to say: ‘Now is not the time.’

“So, where were you successful in following Professor Snape to?” Fudge continued.

“When Professor Snape left Hogwarts, he primarily visited three locations. The first, and most frequent of these areas, was Malfoy Manor. He often visited Lucius Malfoy, and would talk with him into the night. During these visits, it was common for Mr Crabbe and Mr Goyle to also arrive, and occasionally others, such as McNair and a younger man called Jugson. Most of the people that visited when Professor Snape was there were captured by Headmaster Dumbledore when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named made his return.” Again, he gave a respectful nod to Dumbledore.

“The second of these locations was Diagon Alley, and Knockturn Alley. He generally seemed to buy books, or potion ingredients on these expeditions, but occasionally entered Gringotts and made transactions there. We were unable to follow inside Gringotts of course, because of the Wizard-Goblin Treaty of 1849. Unsurprisingly, they refused to offer any assistance as to the particulars of Professor Snape’s visits.

“Thirdly, he very occasionally visited a small village in Surrey by the name of Little Whinging. The reason for his being here is still unknown. He would often circle the area, as if looking for something, and occasionally would search one particular area very carefully, but he never performed any magic that we could tell. He would generally spend a few hours doing this, before apparating back to Hogsmeade, and then returning to Hogwarts.”

Everyone had turned towards Harry now, who was now as stiff as a board. He stared at Snape, trying and failing to see what Snape’s reaction was. Snape hadn’t moved during the Auror’s narration once. He caught a glimpse of Dumbledore’s eyes, which sparkled, as if to say that this was okay, that it was under his orders. He relaxed gradually, settling back into his chair. Fudge looked mildly displeased that Harry had controlled himself, and finished the interview with the Irishman quickly.

“Thank you Auror McCarthy, that was most illuminating.” Fudge concluded. “You may sit back down for the moment.”

“Right you are sir. Madam Bones, Headmaster Dumbledore.” He nodded to each in turn, and then returned to his seat without even acknowledging Umbridge.

“So, Professor Snape!” Fudge began dramatically. “Why exactly were you wandering around Little Whinging, and what were you looking for? For someone who thinks of Harry Potter as no more or less than a student, it is rather strange to see you so close to his home. A home where, the Ministry is well aware, there are no other magical beings for miles around. Were you investigating protective charms perhaps? Trying to find a weak point, and a way to breach the defences around Harry Potter while he is home for the holidays?”

“As a matter of fact I was, Minister. I was, as you say, examining the protective charms in place, and also trying to find a weak spot, that could be used to bring the protection down. The Headmaster was afraid that the defences could be breached, and asked me to have a look at them, and identify any areas that The Dark Lord might try to exploit. Just ask the Headmaster yourself.” Snape gave a small thin lipped smile.

Professor Dumbledore rose with a smile, and simply said. “I did ask Severus to do this for me, yes; I could see no-one else better qualified for this type of work.”

“That’s all very well if Professor Snape is on our side as he professes to be, but with the company he has been keeping in that time?! Lucius Malfoy – brother-in-law to Bellatrix Lestrange, ex-girlfriend of the accused – and a man currently in Azkaban pending trial for his part in the Department of Mysteries Incident. A man who, according to the account of Harry Potter, is a very senior Death Eater, privy to many of You-Know-Who’s secrets and plans.” Fudge was building up steam here.

“That’s all very well Minister,” Snape sneered before Fudge could continue, “but I can assure you that if you can provide a way for me to spy in You-Know-Who’s circle of followers without actually meeting with them, I shall be delighted to do so.”

“Oh, of course,” Fudge’s voice was absolutely dripping with sarcasm. “How silly of me – of course you would automatically be spying upon these Death Eaters. It’s a shame that you have been unable to provide us with any information that could have warned us about the attacks so far this summer, isn’t it?”

“My sources happen to be locked up in Azkaban at the moment.” Snape spat. “Unfortunately, I can know nothing of his plans, unless I have sources that can tell me what’s happening. The Dark Lord himself does not trust me again yet, so I must find out information through more willing Death Eaters, wizards I was once a friend, even a teacher to, for example.”

“Of course… it’s so simple, so simple.” Fudge gave a fake sigh. “So simple, that only the most naïve would believe it.”

“Indeed Minister? How would you suggest I attempt to gather information then, that would allow the less naïve to believe me? I need hardly add that it gets harder every word we speak about it.”

“Minister Fudge, Professor Snape, perhaps we could move on?” Madam Bones interrupted.

“Of course Amelia, my apologies.” Fudge gave her a warm smile. “Now then, Professor Snape, last year, did you at any stage have one to one sessions with Harry Potter? Where you would teach him without anyone else being present?”

“I did.” Snape replied coolly collecting himself once more. “Despite the way that the Ministry and on their instruction, the Daily Prophet, were trying to make him appear insane, Mr Potter professed a desire to become an Auror. His potion’s marks weren’t good enough to make the required grade, and I was pushed to give him remedial lessons by some of my colleagues.”

“And how long would these sessions take?”

“It would obviously depend a great deal upon the potions we were studying, and the amount of progress achieved. Not being official lessons, they had no set time limit.” Snape sneered.

“So the length of each lesson depended solely on how long you wanted them to be.” Fudge summarised for the Wizengamot. “I see. Tell me Professor; are you aware of the twin magical subjects of Occlumency and Legilimency?”

“He knows.” Harry thought with an unpleasant lurch. Ron had grabbed the table in front of him, Hermione had grabbed Ron’s arm. “How does he know?” He mouthed at the two of them. They shrugged at him, their faces blank. Ron noticed Hermione’s hand and turned towards her quizzically, she withdrew it with a start, and a tinge of a blush.

“Obviously,” Snape was saying disdainfully, “how could I have been a spy in the ranks of the Death Eaters otherwise? The Dark Lord would have known everything if I was not a practiced Occlumens.”

“So you would consider yourself an expert in these areas then, I assume.”

“I would.” Snape replied.

“Good. Could you perhaps explain to us what these subjects are?” Umbridge’s face held a smile that had reached the very width of her face.

“Legilimency is the magical study of the penetration of the mind. A skilled Legilimens can peruse the memories of the subject, using them to discover information, or bring certain memories to the attention of the subject. The most skilled Legilimens can possess the subject. Occlumency is the study of the protection of the mind against magical penetration. A skilled Occlumens can defend themselves against Legilimency, memory charms, or even the Imperius curse and Veritaserum.”

“Very useful then. I am sure you are aware that not many people are Occlumens, and yet it would help defend them against an Unforgivable Curse or such a powerful truth potion. Can you explain this?”

Snape curled his upper lip. “It is a very hard branch of magic to master, Minister, most minds are too weak to become accomplished Occlumens without years, or even decades of study, if at all.”

Fudge had a smug grin on his face, as if everything was going according to plan. “So a mere student in other words, would find it impossible to learn Occlumency, or Legilimency, say.”

“Not impossible. But very difficult. It requires a strength of mind to be able to suppress your emotions that few teenagers can muster.” There was a sneer in Snape’s voice, which Harry knew was meant solely for him, and his lack of success at the subject.

“In Legilimency, Professor Snape, would it be possible to place memories in a subject’s mind, that weren’t there to begin with?”

“Yes. However, without the subject being aware of the fact a memory was placed there, it is doubtful. Eye-contact is near vital for Legilimency, and the subject sees and feels any emotions or memories that the Legilimens views or implants.”

“Really?” Fudge raised an eyebrow, and Harry had a nasty feeling in his stomach. “Can you not think of any way that this could be achieved without the recipient’s knowledge?”

“Not off-hand, no.” Snape’s expression remained disdainful.

“Madam Bones, I would like to ask Robin Fleming, Head Professor of Defence of the Mind, in the Auror Training regime here at the Ministry, to come to the stand.”

Snape’s eyebrows raised, but he showed no other emotion. Madam Bones nodded, and the other man stood up, and approached the stand.

“Professor Fleming,” Fudge began, “You are an expert on the mental defence of the mind, teaching prospective Aurors how to use techniques such as Occlumency, are you not?”

“Among other things, yes.” Professor Fleming had a rather non-descript appearance, at just under six foot, a face that wouldn’t stand out in a crowd, blond-brown hair, a slightly protruding stomach, and just a slight midlands accent.

“And would you agree with the description of Occlumency and Legilimency that Professor Severus Snape has just given us?”

“In general, yes. The Professor described it quite succinctly.”

“In general? So there are parts of his description that you do not agree with?” Fudge sounded surprised.

“There are.” Fleming confirmed. “It is quite possible for a skilled Legilimens to impart false memories to an individual without their knowledge. Although eye-contact makes Legilimency easier, it is not absolutely necessary if the two people are very close together, and the subject is in a relaxed, open state. For example, a Legilimens could cause a recurring dream that appears like a vision to a sleeping boy. All the Legilimens would have to do would be to place the memory in the part of the mind that controls the dreams and reinforce it now and then.”

“Are there any other ways that a Legilimens could achieve this?” Fudge probed to a script.

“Indeed. There are potions, even in the O.W.L. level of the Potions course, which can dull the senses of the mind, and if altered slightly, this can be achieved from just the fumes. So a skilled potions maker could cause a stupor in the subject, which could then be exploited. A person undergoing severe pain could also have the erroneous vision placed without their knowledge. They would be unable to distinguish memories that flashed up in their mind because of the difficulty to concentrate in such circumstances.”

“In your opinion, could an expert in Occlumency and Legilimency not be aware of this?” Fudge asked.

“It is one of the first things I teach to my students in the matter. Most people, if not everyone, with anything approaching an advanced knowledge of the subjects would be aware of this.”

“I see.” Fudge said with an expression of bemusement on his face. “Would you say, then, that Professor Snape is not an expert in these subjects as he claimed to be?”

“No, I think there can be no doubt about that. To be able to act as a spy, these subjects would be vital. If, indeed, Professor Snape did spy on He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named at some stage, then he would not be alive today without these abilities. If not, then it would have been discovered in his trial fifteen years ago without his having an extensive knowledge of these subjects.”

“So you don’t believe that Professor Snape was telling the whole truth earlier?”

Snape snorted. “If you are going to change the question, obviously there will be a different answer!”

“You have been warned against making outbursts. The court will willingly exercise its right to silence the accused if the accused attempts to speak out of turn just once more.” Despite sounding angry, Fudge seemed hard pushed to prevent himself looking positively gleeful, Harry thought.

“Madam Bones,” Snape snarled, “may I be allowed to speak?”

“Certainly, Professor Snape.” Madam Bones replied, putting out a hand to signal Fudge to stop.

“I was under the impression,” he said through gritted teeth “that we were talking about actual memories, not dreams or visions. I know of absolutely no way that a person could implant a false memory via Legilimency without that person being aware that they were being manipulated. The person is still aware that something has happened to him, even with no knowledge of the subjects whatsoever.

“Regardless, there are too many other memories that would have to be changed along with it, and finding them would be an altogether time consuming operation, quite apart from changing them sufficiently to confirm the faked one without causing further problems. Immediately you change one memory, you have to change another, and then another and another. Memory charms, of course, do this, but they are too clumsy for such an application.

“Dreams are a different matter entirely of course. Nothing is being changed in the subject’s mind, or accessed in any way, so it is plausible that the subject may be unaware. I might add, that Professor Fleming also neglected to mention that it is conceivable that people with any sort of unusual magical connection between them could also be more vulnerable to Legilimency between each other. It is also possible to implant a vision or dream at the same time as that mind is being accessed for some other purpose by another person without an unskilled subject being aware of the second Legilimens.”

“Is that so? You did not simply want to conceal these possibilities?” Fudge asked, sharing a knowing smile with the rest of the Wizengamot.

“Certainly not.” Snape replied firmly, but the people surrounding him in the upper tier of the courtroom looked doubtful.

“You may sit down, Professor Fleming.” Madam Bones told the man, who strode back to his seat. “Do you wish to ask for a five minute recess again Minister Fudge?” She asked the man on her left.

“Yes, I think that would be a good idea.” Fudge agreed. The Wizengamot broke into quiet discussions.

“Harry, mate, are you okay?” Ron asked quietly, Hermione looking across him.

“I… Yeah… I’m okay.” Harry forced out in a strangled voice. Hermione rolled her eyes. “I’m fine Hermione.” He hissed, “I just got a shock. That’s all. Well a couple of shocks. That and my scar’s been twinging all day.”

“What do you think’s coming next?” Ron asked, moving the conversation on, before Hermione could lecture Harry in the middle of the court.

“I dunno.” Harry answered. “I bet it has something to do about Occlumency though, Fudge has set it up hasn’t he? How does he know?”

“I’m not sure…” Hermione began, “I suppose Dumbledore must have told him that V- Voldemort – Oh come on Ron – lured you to the Ministry. Maybe he just guessed.”

“Oh shut up Hermione, you were the same a year ago.” Ron replied, nettled.

“Well I grew up, didn’t I?” Hermione replied haughtily.

“Come off it Hermione, the whole wizarding world doesn’t like it, are you saying my grandparents haven’t grown up yet?”

“We’re in the middle of the Wizengamot court, are you two really going to argue until they start again?” Harry cut in, in annoyance

“Yeah well, try telling that to Hermione!” Ron whispered.

Hermione looked furious, but Harry didn’t let her reply, “But why is Fudge going to let us say Umbridge tried to use the Cruciatus curse. It’s insane.”

“It’s political suicide.” Hermione agreed.

“Maybe he doesn’t know.” Ron said, with a shrug.

“What?” They both asked as one.

“Maybe Umbridge didn’t tell him. He doesn’t know that she sent the Dementors after you a year ago Harry, maybe he doesn’t know about the Cruciatus curse.”

Harry stared at him, Hermione’s forehead creased. “Why is Umbridge letting him do it then?”

“No idea.” Ron replied. “Maybe it’s just because she’s an arrogant cow that thinks she can get away with anything.”

“I can’t believe she hasn’t told Fudge. It’s her neck too.” Hermione said decisively.

“Maybe she’s going to try and stop us mentioning it.” Ron said defensively. “Have you got a better idea?”

“Not really.” Hermione admitted with a shrug. “Snape’s pretty confident, isn’t he?”

“Just too cocky to believe he can be convicted.”

“Arrogant slimeball.” Harry nodded with Ron.

“Maybe,” said Hermione, “but you’ve got to admire the way he’s defended himself against Fudge. I was nervous just telling them about Umbridge.”

“Told you, he’s an arrogant b-”

There was a loud bang from Madam Bones’ wand. “I believe we are ready to resume. If you would, Minister Fudge?”
________________________________________


A/N: And so ends part one of the trial. When I originally wrote it, I had intended it to be one chapter - until I found that it was ridiculously long compared to the others. So I decided to leave you hanging in between ... :P Hope you enjoyed it.

Like any author, I love getting reviews - and that is even though (unlike some) I don't plead for them each chapter. (Begging is so demeaning....) But if you do leave one, I can assure you it will be very much appreciated.

I'm off house hunting, and living in rented accomodation, which will make accessing the web tricky, but I will try to do so once a week, and thus keep the chapters coming.

Side Note: I wrote this chapter before JKR said on her site that Occlumency can help against truth serums. So I'm rather chuffed that I came to that conclusion on my own. :)

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Chapter 7: Tribulations...


“Thank you Amelia,” Fudge gave a small bow, as if about to introduce some entertainment, “I would like to ask Auror Dreyfus McCarthy to return to give us more evidence.”

“This is most irregular, Minister, witnesses are normally required to give all of their testimony at once.” Madam Bones turned to the Minister.

“I am aware of that, and apologise, but it was necessary, to make the argument easy to follow.”

“Very well,” Madam Bones acknowledged with a frown, “Could Auror McCarthy please resume his place in front of the Wizengamot.”

The Irishman took his feet, and strode back over in his easy stride. He smiled at the elders.

“Auror McCarthy, after the search for Professor Dumbledore was called off, you were placed in charge of an investigation of the events in the Department of Mysteries, the night that You-Know-Who made his return known, is that correct?” Fudge began, and the entire room seemed to draw in their breath, as if this was the moment they had been waiting for.

“It is.” The Auror acknowledged.

“Could you give the Wizengamot a brief outline as to your findings to date?”

“I could, but I reckon the people who know what happened the best are sitting over there.” He nodded to Harry, Ron and Hermione genially. “We were not permitted to interview them about the occurrences on the night of the twenty-eighth of May by their Guardians and Headmaster, and many details are not known for certain. I can tell you what we believe to have happened however.”

“Yes, yes, please do.” Fudge sounded irritated, and Harry could tell that either the conversation hadn’t been rehearsed, or the Auror was refusing to simply say solely what Fudge wanted him to.

“On the afternoon of the twenty-eighth of May, the O.W.L. students at Hogwarts had a History of Magic exam, which started at two p.m. Professor Tofty reports that Mr Potter had to be led out of the exam early complaining of ‘a nightmare’. At six-thirty p.m. the then Headmistress Umbridge became aware of intruders in her office. Her suspicions were heightened when Mr Ron Weasley reported to her that the school poltergeist was causing trouble when she knew he was the other side of the castle to the reported area. She immediately returned to her office, where she found three more friends of Mr Potter keeping watch. Entering her office she found Miss Hermione Granger keeping guard at the window, and Mr Harry Potter attempting to communicate via floo powder to persons unknown.

“Ms Umbridge reports that she attempted to question the intruders, and from the intelligence they offered, she ventured into the Forbidden Forest with Mr Potter and Miss Granger. Unfortunately she was met by a band of mutinous centaurs and Mr Potter and Miss Granger eluded her during the struggle. We believe that everyone that had been apprehended by the Headmistress then flew on Thestrals to the Ministry of Magic.” There was more than one gasp from the Upper Circle, but the Auror continued. “The Thestrals in Hogwarts are completely trained, and the students obviously knew that.

“From the hurry that they were in to reach the Ministry of Magic, and the happenings in the History of Magic exam, we believe that Harry Potter had a vision of something or someone in the Department of Mysteries. Given that we believe Sirius Black to have perished that night, and the man’s connection with the murders of Lily and James Potter, Harry’s parents; it is possible that he was attempting to apprehend the escaped convict.”

Once more, Harry found Ron’s hand on his shoulder, and this time the court watched his fight to stand up.

“We realise that the subject is difficult for you, Harry,” Fudge said in the fatherly voice he had used in Harry’s third year, “but we must ask you to try to remain calm for the moment.” Harry glared at him, and forced himself half out of his seat, before Ron pushed him down again.

“You won’t clear his name here, with Fudge and Umbridge going after Snape.” Hermione hissed, quiet enough for only Harry and Ron to hear.

Harry did not look at Hermione, but he stopped struggling.

“Very good Harry, very good.” Harry heard Fudge say distantly.

He was staring straight ahead, past Snape, at a spot on the wall below the Minister, trying desperately to control the mixed emotions that were swelling up inside him. He was torn between fury and despair, and only the inability to make up his mind between the two was preventing him from speaking. And he wished that damned scar would stop hurting, making it even harder to think straight. Clear your mind, Harry.

McCarthy was speaking again, but Harry was only barely listening. “Yes Minister, as you say, as far as we can make out, You-Know-Who sent his Death Eaters to force Harry Potter to take down a prophecy that referred to the two of them. Although the prophecy was removed and the charms protecting it negated as a result, Mr Potter refused to hand the prophecy over, and a fight ensued.

“Unfortunately, many prophecies were destroyed in the fight, including, we believe, the one that You-Know-Who was so interested in. As far as we know, it remained unheard, and so we have no way of knowing why he wanted to hear it. During the fight, Sirius Black was forced through the veil, and, we must believe, perished. Bellatrix Lestrange and You-Know-Who himself cornered Mr Potter, but fled from Albus Dumbledore when he came upon the three of them.”

“So, not only did He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named nearly gain knowledge of an important prophecy, but Harry Potter, and five of his friends were placed in danger because of a vision?” Fudge asked.

Harry took a deep breath, and continued to only pay partial attention to the words being said.

“As far as we know.” McCarthy agreed. “We could find no other reason that Harry Potter and his friends could have for being in the Ministry at the same time as Death Eaters. We all know that Harry Potter had good reason not to believe the Ministry would help him just a few months ago,” Fudge glared at the Auror, but McCarthy looked unabashed, “I would theorise that he was trying to communicate with Professor Dumbledore about the vision via the floo powder, I can see no other conclusion that would fit the facts as well.”

“But the vision is certain?” Fudge pressed.

“Almost certain,” McCarthy corrected. “There must have been some message that alerted Mr Potter of Black and the other Death Eaters. The fact that he told Professor Tofty he had had a nightmare, would suggest that the vision was the form of the message. The fact he had a vision, naturally means Legilimency is very probably involved. He certainly could have had no defence against Legilimency, if that is what it was – it would take years for him to be able to block out any invading mind.”

“Thank you, Auror McCarthy.” Fudge said triumphantly. “I think that that will be all. Thank you for being so candid.”

“Thank you Minister.” He nodded at Dumbledore and Madam Bones again, before sitting down.

Fudge seemed to take a deep breath before continuing. “I would like to ask my Senior Undersecretary to give evidence. I realise this is again unusual Amelia,” He continued, before she could say a word, “but I feel we need the ex-Headmistress of Hogwarts to give evidence concerning what happened that night.”

Madam Bones merely nodded as a reply. Harry tuned back in again. He, Ron and Hermione shared meaningful glances. This was it. Fudge and Umbridge’s biggest obstacle and their chance to shame the two of them was surely here. Umbridge stood up from her chair, and walked down the stairs to the ground. She and Snape eyed each other contemptuously, but neither said a word. Snape was taking Fudge’s threat seriously.

“Dolores Umbridge,” Fudge began, “You were the Headmistress of Hogwarts on the day of May the twenty-eighth, were you not?”

“I was, Minister.” She replied, in her girlish voice.

“We have heard already that you apprehended six students that night, all of whom were related to an effort to use the Floo Network from your office, is this correct?”

“It is Minister. I had heard about Mr Potter’s nightmare in his exam, and was concerned about both his and his fellow students’ safety, so I was headed towards the Hospital Wing, where I was told he would be. On my way there, I was accosted first by Argus Filch, who told me that Peeves the Poltergeist was in the astronomy tower, and then Ron Weasley, who told me the Poltergeist was in the Transfiguration Room. This struck me immediately as suspicious, and when some alarm charms told me my office had been broken into, I was immediately worried for the children’s wellbeing. I found the other children as I returned hastily.”

Harry, Ron, and Hermione looked at each other in disbelief, but Fudge had an expression of deep understanding on his face, as he continued, “I see. What did you do when you found Harry Potter attempting to use your fireplace?”

“I immediately pulled him out. I could tell something important had happened, or was about to, and I was worried for all their safety.”

“Of course, of course.” Fudge murmured.

Harry wondered if a single person was fooled. Although, if Hermione was right and the court had been bought, then they probably were all too willing to be fooled.

“I questioned the children, but they refused to tell me what was happening. I cajoled, bargained, and practically begged them to let me know what the problem was, but to no avail. I could see on their faces that something was bothering them however, so out of desperation, I sent for Professor Snape, and asked him if he knew of any reason they may have been trying to use the fireplace. Snape refused point blank to help. He looked unsurprised to see the children there, and stared at Mr Potter, keeping eye-contact.

“He sneered, and suggested I poisoned Potter, until he told me what the matter was. I realise now that he must have scared Mr Potter for he burst out in desperation a message that I was unable to understand at the time.

“‘He’s in the place that it is hidden!’

“Of course, I realise now, that he must have been referring to the Department of Mysteries. Snape smiled, and then left the room looking extremely satisfied.”

“What utter rubbish!” Snape burst out.

Quick as a flash, Fudge had his wand out. “Silencio!” He muttered. “I’m sorry Professor Snape, but I did warn you on numerous occasions. We simply can not function as a court if our witnesses are being interrupted, or intimidated. My apologies Dolores, please, continue.”

Snape looked beside himself, he strained at his chains for the first time, since he had entered the room. He looked like he would like nothing better than to be allowed to perform curse, after curse, on the Minister. Harry was open mouthed, both at the nonsense Umbridge was spouting, and the fact that Fudge had silenced Snape.

“Thank you Minister.” Umbridge simpered. “Once Snape had left, Mr Potter’s panic left him, I suppose that he believed that he could get to the Ministry to go after Black himself, or else was just more comfortable without the man in the room. I was extremely worried at this stage, and pled again, for them to tell me what was happening. I am ashamed to admit, that my concern overrode my senses, and I even threatened them. Miss Granger, the poor dear, actually believed me, and told me that the reason why they were using the fire was in the Forbidden Forest. I of course, followed them to the forest, and you know what happened from then onwards. If I had only known what Mr Potter had seen, I could have stopped them, and explained that it was most likely a trap. I do not blame the boy for wanting revenge, but if he had only confided in me, all this could have been averted.” She sighed.

“Thank you Dolores, I think that is all we need to know.” Fudge ended, a note of satisfaction in his voice.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione just stared at the scene in front of them. Harry’s mind had stopped working. It seemed to have got stuck on wondering how on earth Fudge and Umbridge thought they could get away with this.

“Now,” said Fudge, “We have presented our evidence to you, and Professor Snape did not request any witnesses, so I would ask the Wizengamot to decide whether or not the accused, Professor Severus Snape, is guilty.”

Madam Bones held up her hand. “I would like to verify the events if I may, Minister. That is why I asked Mr Potter, Miss Granger, and Mr Weasley to attend. Their testimony as to the events that night could condemn or vindicate a man.” She turned to the three friends. “I quite understand that your guardians do not wish you to talk to the Ministry about the events on the twenty-eighth of May, and we will ask you to divulge as little as possible on the subject. However, in order for us to properly try this man, we require you by law to give an account of the events.”

“Of course Amelia,” Fudge said immediately, with an apologetic smile, “Mr Weasley, would you mind?”

Ron glanced around nervously, shocked at being singled out. Harry had been half out of his seat, expecting to be asked, and Hermione had had a look of determination on her face. Ron, however, seemed to have forgotten that he might be called upon to give evidence. He rose tentatively, as if hoping someone else would go for him. And it was only after Fudge repeated his request that he moved forward, before the whole court. He stepped forward before the court, his ears going red, looking quite shell shocked.

“No need to worry son.” Madam Bones boomed. “We just need to ask you a question or two.”

Immediately Ron had stood beside Snape, and looked up, Fudge took the initiative. “Mr Weasley, you have been a friend of Mr Potter’s throughout school, have you not?”

“Er, yes, I have.” Ron replied nervously.

“Excellent. You sleep in the same dormitory in Gryffindor, do you not?”

“Um, well, yeah, we do.”

“Have you noticed anything different about Mr Potter’s sleeping patterns in the last year? Has he been sleeping badly, or having nightmares more than usual?” Fudge dropped the bombshell before Ron had time to gain any of his confidence.

There was a nervous silence, where nothing was said. Hermione and Harry watched Ron without breathing. “N- No, not really.” But there had been too long a hesitation for anyone to believe him, and Harry knew it. There was a murmur in the court, and Ron looked desperately at Harry and Hermione and his already red ears started to reach a deeper shade.

“Mr Weasley –” Dumbledore began, in a calm voice, but Fudge interrupted him.

“Professor Dumbledore, I am aware you are only trying to help, but we must obey Wizengamot protocol, only I or Madam Bones should ask the questions.”

Dumbledore’s eyes became a steely blue, but for now he seemed content not to intervene. Harry was betting he would if Snape was convicted.

“As you wish Minister.” He said in a tranquil tone.

“Are you sure, Mr Weasley?” Fudge pressed.

“I- yes, I’m certain.”

Fudge didn’t press, but moved on to another question. “These one to one remedial potions lessons your friend had with Professor Snape – did Mr Potter seem different after them?”

“Not really.” Ron replied, trying to sound more confident.

“What do you mean?” asked Fudge.

“Well, he wasn’t really any different to how he was after any of the potions classes. I mean, they have never got on from the day they met.” Ron seemed to realise that that wasn’t the best thing to have said, and, trying to recover, continued, “He wasn’t as bad as after his detentions with Professor Umbridge though.”

Of course – comparing the sessions to getting your hand ripped open, and the blood used as ink, probably wasn’t the best move either.

“I see…” Fudge mused. “On the twenty-eighth of May, to your knowledge, did Harry Potter have some kind of vision?”

By this time Harry, was looking at Dumbledore imploringly for help for Ron, and saw Dumbledore give the smallest of nods. Ron however, was looking at Harry and Hermione for assistance, rather than Dumbledore. By the time Harry had thought to pass Dumbledore’s message on, there had been another lengthy pause, which told the watching witches and wizards all they wanted to know. That Fudge’s version was right.

Ron floundered, unable to form a coherent sentence, and Fudge seized upon his nervousness. “Now, now, Mr Weasley, there is no need to be anxious, you and your friends are not on trial here, nor will you be. Surely there was a reason for you coming to this building that night?”

“I, well, yes there was, but-”

“And that reason was based upon something Mr Potter had told you, is that correct?”

“I… yes, it was but-” Ron looked horror-struck at his unconscious admission, and blurted out, “It’s not Harry’s fault!”

“No-one is blaming you or your friends for anything, Mr Weasley.” Madam Bones cut in. “Can we assume that Mr Potter did have a vision then?”

“Yes, I think he did.” Ron admitted at last. “He saw Sirius being t- tortured by Y-You-Know-Who.”

“Sirius?” Madam Bones asked in a tone of surprise. “Sirius Black, I take it?”

“Yes, Harry’s Godfather.” And at last, Harry was glad of Ron’s response. They were finally moving towards clearing Sirius’ name.

“Of course,” Fudge said in a low but clear voice, “you wanted to take advantage of his being in a weaker state.” He continued questioning before anything else could be said or done. “So the six of you went looking for Black did you?”

“Yes, we did. That’s why we went to Umbridge’s room, we needed the Floo network, and all of the other fires were being watched. I mean, the Ministry would have taken every opportunity to try and get Harry in trouble, wouldn’t they? You just have to look at what Umbridge did that night.” Ron had finally found his feet, and was beginning to make a stand. “But Sirius wasn’t -”

Fudge interrupted him, completely changing the thread of the questions, obviously trying to avoid references to what had happened in Umbridge’s office or Sirius Black. Onto the subject that presently unnerved Harry the most: the Prophecy. “Mr Weasley, the Ministry believes that the particular prophecy that involves both Harry Potter and the Dark Lord was one of the many prophecies that were broken, is that correct?

“Yeah, it was.” Ron nodded.

“Did anyone hear what it said, before it was broken?” Fudge continued.

“Hem, hem.” Umbridge interrupted. “Cornelius, given what it is that Professor Snape is on trial for, perhaps it would be best if he was escorted out of the room, so that he is unable to gain any information for his master.”

“Alleged master.” Dumbledore corrected quietly.

“Quite so, quite so.” Fudge agreed, “Amelia, do you see any problems with this?”

“I don’t believe so Minister, if it were a matter of evidence against the accused, our laws would forbid it, but it is more a matter of understanding the gravity of the situation, and any consequences of the event that have to be dealt with.”

“Excellent. Dawlish, Ferguson, could you escort the accused back to a holding cell please.”

The Aurors that had accompanied Snape into the room, now sprung up, to take positions either side of him. The chains undid themselves, allowing Snape to stand, which he did, glaring at his accusers, and still silenced by the charm. He allowed himself to be steered out of the room, and only when the doors slammed shut again, did Fudge re-ask the question.

“Mr Weasley, to your knowledge did anybody hear or see anything of the prophecy when it was destroyed?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t see it break.” Ron replied stoutly.

“From what you have been told by friends, did anyone else see it break?” Fudge pressed.

Ron didn’t hesitate this time, but his ears, which had been returning to a normal shade, became a little redder. “I really don’t know. None of us have really wanted to talk about it much.” This wasn’t exactly true of course – Hermione in particular had wanted Harry to talk about the events that night.

Madam Bones seemed to be able to tell Ron wasn’t being entirely truthful, and said, in a far gentler voice than usual, “We really must know Mr Weasley, it is very possible that these people could be in grave danger if He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was to find out that they had witnessed some part of the prophecy.”

“Then it would be best if I didn’t tell you, even if I knew,” Ron said smartly, and Harry gave an inward cheer for him, “after all, if no-one knew about them, You-Know-Who wouldn’t be able to find out either, would he?”

“It is far-” Umbridge began, but was interrupted by a polite cough from Dumbledore, who had a look of amusement on his face.

Fudge was forced to make the same statement he had made to Dumbledore, “Thank you Dolores, but it is best if Amelia or I to ask the questions I believe. Mr Weasley, it is imperative that we can make arrangements to protect the witnesses from You-Know-Who, as if he is able to find out their names on his own, they will be defenceless without our help. Also, this prophecy may be key to thwarting him.”

“Minister,” Dumbledore said calmly, “is this hearing supposed to be about ascertaining the innocence or guilt of a man, or fighting Voldemort?” There was the usual flinch at the name.

“The prophecy is vital to the understanding of the events, Dumbledore, I merely added that it was something that could be used to fight You-Know-Who too.” Fudge, now, was turning slightly red.

“I’m afraid I must agree with the Minister, Albus,” Madam Bones replied, “if He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s goal was this prophecy, then it is the motive for the crime that Professor Snape has been accused of. It is of utmost relevance to the trial, and the Wizengamot.”

Professor Dumbledore bowed slightly to Madam Bones, and said no more. Harry if anything became even tenser than when the subject had first been introduced. Ron, of course, knew that both Harry and Neville had been right next to the Prophecy when it smashed. He also knew that neither of them had heard it then, and had no clue that Harry had heard it later. But Fudge wouldn’t believe it from Ron. He’d want to ask Harry, and Neville, and who knows what magical means there might be of recovering the prophecy from their memories. He started when he felt a hand grasp his own. Hermione had slid into the seat next to him, and was doing her best to show support – just as Ron was trying to protect him in the centre of the room. Harry felt a surge of gratitude to his friends.

“Mr Weasley, to your knowledge did Mr Potter give the prophecy to anybody else during the fight in the Department of Mysteries?” Fudge asked.

“I don’t know.” Ron replied, trying to delay the inevitable.

“So in other words, as far as you know he didn’t.” Fudge supplied.

“No I didn’t.” Harry said loudly, rising from his seat and withdrawing his hand from Hermione’s. “Ron wouldn’t know, he had been hurt during the fight, so why don’t you ask me the questions instead?”

There was a deathly silence in the courtroom. Everyone had turned to look at Harry. Ron looked torn between relief, worry, and surprise. Harry wasn’t sure about Hermione, but he was willing to bet that if he looked to his side, he would see a face of set disapproval. Fudge had an expression of greed on his face, Umbridge an expression of anticipation, and Madam Bones an expression that bordered on amazement. Dumbledore, however, looked supremely unperturbed by Harry’s interruption, if anything he looked like he had been expecting it.

“Very well, then, Mr Potter,” Fudge surprisingly was managing to keep an even tone, “could you retake your position before the court please.”

Harry stood up, deliberately not looking at Hermione, but sensing her glare nonetheless. He made his way towards Ron, who for his part stood there, waiting for Harry to join him. Not out of uncertainty as to what he was meant to do, but out of a determination to stand by Harry.

Madam Bones spoke before Harry had quite reached Ron’s side, and before Fudge had begun to say anything himself. “Before we go any further, I should like to return to the matter of what took place in Headmistress Umbridge’s office that night. Specifically, as regards Professor Snape, the accused. Was Professor Snape indeed summoned to her office?” Fudge turned scarlet with anger, but said nothing.

Ron answered quickly, before Harry could. “Yes, he was. Professor Umbridge was livid that Harry had been using the Floo and demanded that we told her why. She and her Inquisitorial Squad –”

“Her what?” Bones asked.

“The Inquisitorial Squad was a group of Slytherins that she gave power to do what they liked in the school. They were the kind of people that would come up to us, and take house points away for someone not being of Pureblood. They were holding us as prisoners, Neville was almost suffocating. She yelled at us some more, and then summoned Professor Snape. He ordered Neville to be released from the grip that was around his neck. Umbridge asked him for some Veritaserum, but he told her she had taken his last stock to quiz Harry about Dumbledore’s location and that she should have plenty left of it if she’d used it properly.” Ron sounded like he was trying to say everything he could before Fudge interrupted him again.

“Are you telling me,” Madam Bones began, enraged, “that the restrictions for the use of Veritaserum have been completely disregarded by the Minister’s Senior Undersecretary, and likewise the man that supervised her running of the school, our own Minister? Please continue Mr Weasley, what else shall we find out?”

Fudge’s shade of red was slowly becoming paler, not from any less anger (indeed, he seemed angrier if anything), but from fear it seemed. He turned to glare at Dolores Umbridge.

“Harry tried to tell the Professor that Sirius was being tortured by You-Know-Who, not scared he might kill him. Harry was staring at him non-stop, I think he was hoping Snape could see the vision he had seen via Legilimency. Snape left, after being told that he was being put on probation for his lack of cooperation. She threatened Harry with the Cruciatus curse if he didn’t tell her what she wanted to know. She said that the Minister wouldn’t care how she got the information. As if to prove this, she told us that it had been her that had sent the Dementors after Harry a year ago.” Almost everyone gasped. “She finally decided to use the Cruciatus curse to try and get information and was halfway through the incantation, when Hermione pretended to break down and tell her ‘everything’. She already started to say it. None of us could do anything else.”

“The Cruciatus curse? Commanding Dementors to attack an underage wizard? Ms Umbridge, what have you to say?”

“I told you I lost my temper and threatened them; I had no intent to follow through with it. The lie I said about the Dementors was part of the threat.” Umbridge’s voice was cold, and ever-so-slightly strained.

Fudge’s face was one of utter surprise, whether real or contrived, and he quickly inserted, “I have no idea what has happened, Amelia, I should like to get to the bottom of this myself.”

Madam Bones stared at Umbridge, a look of unbridled disgust on her face. With a huge effort she turned back to the two boys on the floor. She did not continue the subject, but picked up on something else Ron had said.

“You knew Snape could do Legilimency, Mr Potter?”

As his name was the one that was asked, Harry opened his mouth for the first time since he had come to stand beside Ron. “Well, we kind of worked it out. But that’s not really the point, is it?”

Harry chanced a look at Hermione. She didn’t look quite as furious as he expected but just as determined. He imagined she must be trying to conceal her feelings.

“Well, Mr Potter, the fact that you know that Professor Snape is able to do Legilimency certainly lessens the chance that he would have been able to impart a vision to you without your knowledge.” Madam Bones switched tack back again. “So Mr Weasley, Miss Granger managed to fool the Headmistress did she?”

Ron’s affirmative, was joined by another voice, Hermione’s own. “Yes, I did, Madam Bones.” She walked to her two friends in the middle of the court uninvited, and the three of them stared up at the Wizengamot. “I told her that we had been working on a weapon for Professor Dumbledore, and wanted to try to tell him it was completed. I told her it was in the Forbidden Forest, and she took Harry and me there, without wands.

“She told us to go in front, and so we did, after Harry had asked for a wand if we had to go first, and were told that the Ministry valued her life, a lot, lot more than they valued ours. We met some centaurs that she provoked into attacking us, and we managed to get away in the fight.”

Madam Bones’ expression of disgust was copied by some of the others in the upper seating. “We seem to have a completely contrary report from these students to the one we were given by Ms Umbridge. I believe there is enough in what the students have said for an enquiry to be carried out about the Minister and his Undersecretary’s actions this past year. But I think what we have learnt as regards this trial is that Harry Potter knew and trusted Professor Snape well enough to try and get a coded message through to him, without the person he feared knowing.

“I shall let the Minister resume his previous questions now, unless the three of you would like to say anything more?” She asked the trio, who shook their heads.

Fudge still looked livid, but his face was now white with fury, and, Harry suspected, the probable loss of his life as Minister.

“I can assure you, Madam Bones, that there will be a full inquiry into the matter. I had no idea–”

“I am sure there will be an inquiry Cornelius, and I should like to head it.” Madam Bones said frostily, “If we could return to the matter at hand however?”

Fudge nodded decisively. “Very well. Let us see what we can find out.”

Harry knew that Fudge had to want revenge, but he felt he could cope with anything that was thrown at him. He wasn’t sure whether it was because he had Ron and Hermione beside him, or if it was the fact that he was getting revenge against Umbridge, but he felt as determined as the night when Sirius – when they were in the Department of Mysteries. He had had five friends at his back then, all ready to stand alongside him, and face the Death Eaters. Even though there was the fact that he had been tricked into placing them all in danger, they had all stood beside him, trusting him to make the correct decision, to say the right thing. He could almost picture the scene, Malfoy, and Lestrange and the rest of the cowards that hid behind masks. Bellatrix took her hood off, showing her face to him–

A surge of anger that Harry had rarely felt before briefly travelled through him. He would kill her. Whatever happened at the end, Bellatrix would die at his hand. Suddenly the idea of murdering someone didn’t seem as unappealing. But… Lestrange was a murderer. Voldemort was a murderer. Pettigrew was a murderer. If he became a murderer then would he be any different than them? What if he enjoyed the feeling it gave him? How could he ever face his friends again? The rage left him to be replaced by helplessness. He swayed slightly, and shook the thoughts out of his head. Fudge had been saying something.

“Answer the question! Could you explain how the prophecy got broken please, Mr Potter.” Fudge said in an aggressive, irritable tone.

“I – Sorry – I got hit by a jinx, and couldn’t keep hold of it; it flew into the air, and then smashed upon the ground. Because of all the noise and action around, I was the only one who even saw it, but I couldn’t hear a word the prophecy said. No-one could, even if they had seen it.”

“So you didn’t hear it then?”

“No. I didn’t.”

“So you have no idea what it may have said, then?”

“I… What do you mean? It smashed in the middle of a fight – I said I didn’t hear it.” Harry responded, being careful not to lie, but trying to choose his words in such a way that they could be misinterpreted. There was no such luck however.

“Do you have any idea of what the prophecy may be, Mr Potter? Were you able to find out from other sources?” Here Fudge glanced at Dumbledore, “What about the person the prophecy was made to?” His voice sounded venomous, as if he wanted to cause as much trouble as he could to those that had been instrumental to the possible loss of his job, as he saw it.

“I…” Harry felt sluggish somehow, and he could practically see Dumbledore’s office.

The scene while he was waiting for Dumbledore in the morning of the twenty-ninth. The scene where he had discovered what the words of the Prophecy were. It was as if it were a film for him to watch, just progressing as Harry remembered. Dumbledore appeared, spoke to the portraits, and soon Harry would be told the Prophecy. The damn Prophecy. Beside him, Hermione seemed anything but sluggish, and he vaguely heard her asking what right the Ministry had to know anything about a prophecy relating to two people, if they wish it to be kept silent.

But Harry wasn’t listening to the words Hermione had to say, or the words that were being returned. He didn’t even feel Ron’s arm on his back, to help him keep his balance. All he could see was the study, and all he knew was that soon the Prophecy would be revealed to him. ‘It is time for me to tell you’ he could hear Dumbledore say, and wanted to yell that he didn’t want to hear it. What timing Dumbledore had had! Here you go Harry: you just have led your fellow students into a trap; you’ve lost Sirius, the closest thing to a parent you have known; you’re in the middle of destroying my office, you are so miserable; and now I’ll go and land this Prophecy on top of you. Harry’s scar flared. Not enough for him to yell out, but enough for him to know it was there. He gasped, and heard someone else do the same. There was a muffled sound all around him, almost like people talking at once a long distance away.

Suddenly he felt that hand on his back, forcefully keeping him standing. Somehow Ron was now in his memory of Dumbledore’s office. Ron, knew how much Sirius had meant to him, Ron knew how his parents had died, and the traitor that did it got away free. Ron knew that Sirius had been innocent. Ron… was saying something behind him. That was odd… Harry thought vaguely, Ron wasn’t even here in Dumbledore’s office, how could he say something?

“C’mon Harry, fight him. If I had that dreamless sleep potion I’d give it to you, but you promised you’d fight him as hard as you could if it happened. Remember something else! Show him something he doesn’t want to see.”

Something he doesn’t want to see? Something who doesn’t want to see? How could Harry change the memory he was living anyway, and what would he change it to? Oh God, he missed Sirius. Sirius always gave him the answers he needed to hear – even if he didn’t know it at the time. Sometimes they were right, sometimes they were wrong, but he had needed to hear the words he said at those times. But Sirius was now…

The image changed - a memory of Sirius, a picture of him frozen in time, flying towards a veil. Harry let forth a howl of misery. A second later, it was joined by a howl of pain, as his scar burst into oblivion. A howl which was echoed from elsewhere in the courtroom.
________________________________________


“Harry!” Hermione whispered frantically. “Harry, wake up!”

Harry looked around, feeling a bump on the back of his head. Hermione and Ron seemed to have dragged him away from the centre of the room. To his surprise, he wasn’t being stared at by the entire Wizengamot, but only a small group. The attention of the bulk of the court was directed at Professor Robin Fleming who was lying in a heap without moving. Auror McCarthy’s wand was pointing directly at him, and his wasn’t the only one, Professor Dumbledore had a furious fire in his eyes, and his aim did not waver.

He sat up, and accepted Ron’s hand, which helped him to his feet. His legs seemed to want to collapse, and his stomach gave an alarming lurch, but he was determined not to show it. An old woman, who was looking at him with a worried look on her face, carefully stepped forward.

“Are you okay dear?” She asked in concern.

“Yeah.” Harry replied, but he had to fight against vomit that was trying to fight its way out. “I think I need some air.” He said weakly.

“I’ll take you lad,” A stout man with a scraggly beard said, stepping forward too, “you’ll feel better outside the courtroom.”

“We’ll come too.” Hermione said stepping forward.

“No.” Harry said, and then muttered so that only she could hear, “Tell me what happens in here when I come back.”

Harry’s legs wobbled ever so slightly, and the man came to his side, and took his arm.

“Come on, here we go. Easy now.”

As the doors of the courtroom opened to allow them to exit, Fudge’s voice echoed across the courtroom. “Where are you going with Mr Potter, Carruthers?”

The man by Harry’s side turned around to answer. “The lad needs air Minister, I was helping him outside.”

Harry continued out of the door, where Mrs Weasley and Ginny were waiting. They jumped up off their seats, as the door closed behind him, so Harry could not hear what was being said in the courtroom between Fudge, and the man who had helped him to the door.

“Harry! What’s happened dear?” Mrs Weasleys asked, as she made to give him a bone breaking hug.

Harry backed off slightly. “I’m just not feeling great. I need to go to the toilet.”

Mrs Weasley grabbed hold of Harry, but gave him a hug that was so delicate, it seemed as if she thought he would be knocked down by a small breeze.

Harry extricated himself from her clutches. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

“I’ll go with you.” Ginny offered.

Despite himself, Harry’s face cracked into a grin, and Ginny suddenly realised what she had said.

“I meant walk you up to the bathrooms you great twit!” She glared.

“I’m not that ill.” Harry said irritably, “I’ll be back in a few seconds.”

Harry had just made his way up to a corner, when he heard a man shout from behind him.

“Mr Potter! Stay where you are, and we’ll escort you.”

Harry didn’t look back, or show any signs of having heard the man. Once he was out of view of the doorway, he ran. He heard Mrs Weasley yelling at whoever was behind him, and somebody shouting back.

“I think he can find his way to the toilet on his own!” Mrs Weasley was yelling. “You’ve probably scared him out of his wits! You DO know that the Ministry was trying to commit him to St Mungo’s for all of last year, don’t you?”

Harry couldn’t hear all of the reply, but what he did hear confirmed his fears. “You don’t understand Ma’am! We have to make sure he’s safe… could be dangerous! Professor Fleming… You Know Who! … kill … find him!”

Of course – Harry thought. He had just had Voldemort inside his head, and crashed to the ground in agony. The Ministry probably thought Voldemort had possessed him, and was running around the Ministry, ready to kill anyone he came across. Harry ran up the stairs that led to the Department of Mysteries floor, and the elevator. He wasn’t sure where he could go, but he wanted to avoid being captured and thrown into Azkaban, or some warded room in St Mungo’s for as long as possible. Irrational thoughts flooded his head all at once, mixing together, and making even less sense.

The door at the top of the stairs burst open in front of Harry before he reached it. He ran through it and looked to his right, where the lift had just come to a stop, and people were about to step out. A couple of them had raised wands, and were pointing them right at Harry. He looked around frantically. One of the witches who were aiming at Harry yelled. Harry leapt to the side, afraid of a curse, and before he had even reached for his wand, the lights dimmed, the people who were jumping out towards him were flung back inside, and the elevator door slammed shut.

The only way left to Harry was inside the Department of Mysteries itself, so, barely knowing what he was doing, he ran down the corridor, until he reached the black door at the end. Again, without need for wand or hand, the door burst open, and slammed behind him as he entered. The lights dimmed, and the room revolved around, as it had when Harry and the others had entered it weeks ago.

Harry paused. Where could he go? He was trapped, in a place that was full of dangerous unknown things, which even the most knowledgeable wizards knew little about. There was a banging sound behind one of the doors – Harry assumed the one he had come through – and Harry reached out to the door knob of the one immediately opposite him. It was locked. The door seemed to bend towards him, as if it were a thin sheet of plywood, and someone, or something behind it was trying to get through to Harry, but it stayed fastened.

Harry backed away, and tried another door. A large room which seemed to be made up solely of working desks opened up before him. He had the barest of moments to notice bell jars, tanks, and artefacts of various shapes and sizes scattered around the room, before a man cried out.

“Hey! What are you doing here! The charms should have kept anyone without clearance out!”

Harry slammed the door closed, and he heard a resounding click, as if the door had locked. The room revolved, and he chose another door at random. The room that was revealed caused Harry to draw back. It was a large rectangular room, with many doors leading into it. Rows upon rows of benches descended to a pit, where, upon a stone platform, was an archway, with a tattered black veil covering the entrance. There was no-one inside. Harry swallowed and looked around wildly. It sounded as if there were people trying to bang their way through every other door that opened into the room he was currently standing in. Harry was trapped. There was nowhere else to run. He stepped through the doorway, door closing behind him.

Like a dream, or a nightmare, Harry descended to the pit, jumping onto each bench, one by one, slowly approaching the veil. This was where Sirius had died. Lupin had stopped Harry going through the archway, to try to pull him back, back to the world of the living, where Harry needed him. There was whispering coming from behind the curtain, just like Harry remembered, and as he reached the ground, and drew near to the raised dais itself, the curtain seemed to be blown backwards, as if an invisible figure had been thrown through it.

“Harry! Harry! What are you doing?!” Ginny’s panic stricken voice came from the top of the room.

Harry didn’t answer, but rather raised his hand, to touch the crumbling structure. It was cool to the touch, clammy, more like a very ill person’s skin, than powdery stone. Harry didn’t withdraw his hand. He was struck by a sudden urge to enter the archway, and see what was on the other side. It had to be better than this. Harry jerked back. He didn’t know where that thought had come from, but it scared him. Looking around, he saw Ginny making her way down the benches, or steps, or whatever they were, towards him. As their eyes met, she stopped.

“Please Harry, come away from there.” There were tears in her eyes now, and Harry looked away.

Back towards the stone arch.

There was the sound of a gasp from Ginny, as she apparently found it impossible to keep descending. An invisible barrier had formed stopping her from continuing down to Harry. A door opened above, and Harry looked up sharply. A man was about to enter the room through one of the side doors. It was the auror called Dawlish. Harry glared at him, and he stopped moving before he could enter, the hand holding his wand struggling to lift it, and point it at Harry. The door slammed in his face, sealing itself shut with a squelching noise, once more blocking the way through to Harry.

Harry faltered, and swayed on the spot. He felt drained and tired. He reached out once more to the veil, touching the material itself this time. It was smooth, like silk, and deathly cold. Twisting it in his fingers, he was gripped with a sudden surge of anger, and tugged the frail material. Nothing happened. The cloth barely rippled.

“Harry please!” And Ginny was fighting against the tears now. “Please step away from it. We need you. Everyone does. Please.”

Harry’s voice was hoarse, but didn’t shake, as he replied slowly. “Don’t need me. Need The Boy-Who-Lived.”

Emotions were welling up inside of him, and he fought against every unhappy feeling, everything he wished had never happened, which wanted to come to the surface. He rested his head on the stonework around the veil.

“That’s not true Harry.” Ginny said urgently. “None of us could care about that. It’s you, Harry Potter, the person we need. Please – you have to believe me.”

“That’s all I am Ginny. The-Boy-Who-Voldemort-Should-Have-Killed-But-Didn’t with his famous scar, and his band of mindless followers, that’s what the Daily Prophet called me isn’t it? And now the whole of the Wizengamot knows that Voldemort can attack me through Legilimency whenever he wants. What am I going to be now? The-Boy-Who-Lived-His-Life-In-Azkaban, or In-St-Mungo’s?”

“No they don’t Harry.” Ginny said quickly, still trying to get through the invisible barrier, and speaking as fast as she could. “Some Professor was using Legilimency on you, and he’s under arrest. It wasn’t You-Know-Who.”

Harry turned to look at her. Tears were running down her cheeks, and she looked frantic.

“Please Harry!” She entreated.

“I heard that Auror and your mum.” Harry said. “He was talking about Voldemort, said I wasn’t safe, and might kill people, and he had to find me.”

“That’s not what he said!” Ginny cried, “They think this Professor’s working for You-Know-Who, and someone might try to kill you. Dumbledore wouldn’t let them try to attack you. Fudge would have a riot on his hands anyway, haven’t you read the Daily Prophet? Everyone wants Fudge out because of the way he treated you and everyone else last year! You have to believe me! Please… get away from the veil!”

Harry turned back once more, pushing his hand on the material, allowing a fingertip to pass underneath the stonework. It grew icy cold, and the very tip seemed to disappear. Harry withdrew it immediately. He stared at his hand, but it looked completely normal. For some reason, his mind flew to the Prophecy once more. …Either must die at the hand of the other… Did that mean Voldemort was the only one that could kill him, just as he was the only one that could kill Voldemort? He was again struck by the urge to walk through the curtain. Once more he drew back.

“So Voldemort’s back, and everyone needs The-Boy-Who-Lived again. I can’t do it. I can’t do this.” He waved his hand in a half-hearted gesture.

“Harry…” Ginny began, but Harry interrupted her.

“I can’t be this person that people want me to be. I can’t do it. No-one would care less about what happened to me if I wasn’t this ‘hero’ that banished him when I was a child. They seem to think I’m brave, and noble, and clever, some sort of six foot muscled guy who could stop curses with his bare hands, and k- kill dark wizards by blinking. I’m none of those things. I’m not special. I’m just me. Just Harry.”

He turned to look at Ginny once more, and she looked away for a second. When she met Harry’s haunted eyes again, she seemed to be having trouble opening her mouth to speak.

“No-one expects you to kill You-Know-Who Harry, that’s not your job.”

The bitterness in Harry’s hollow laugh surprised even himself. “Wanna bet?”

“And you are special Harry.” Harry opened his mouth to protest, but she overrode him with a half sob, half laugh, which took him completely by surprise. “Anyone that can get that ass of a brother of mine to apologise for something in less than a month is nothing less than amazing.

“I was one of those people that had this vision of you as untouchable. Don’t you remember me in first year? I thought you’d be this amazing guy, really confident, handsome, popular, cleverest person in the school. And then I met you. I was too scared to even talk to you, even though you were my brother’s best friend. Then you saved my life in the Chamber, even though it was I that had released the basilisk.” She shuddered at the memory. “It wasn’t The-Boy-Who-Lived that saved my life, it was you, Harry.

“I was still too scared to talk to you, no matter what Ron, or the twins, or Hermione said. When I finally managed to pull up the courage to say something, you know what I found? That you were normal. Just like me. Even after everything you’ve been put through, you are a normal person. Someone that laughs, talks, and skips homework just like anyone else, and someone I’d take as a friend over what I’d imagined any day. You’re special Harry, after being brought up with those Muggles, attacked by dark wizards, and dragons, and whatever else, you’re still just you, just Harry. That’s what makes you special.”

Harry opened his mouth to say something, and the Weasley fire in Ginny ignited, and she said ferociously, wiping her tears from her face. “Don’t you dare disagree with me! Now let me get down there.”

“What?” Harry said blankly, as Ginny kept trying to push her way through the barrier. “Oh… I don’t know how I’m doing that.” He shook his head and then gave a sad smile and half shrug. “I don’t really know what’s happening at the moment.”

There was silence for a few seconds, until Ginny asked, “What’s that noise?”

“I think there are people whispering behind the veil.” Harry said. “Dead people, or people that were forced through it.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?” Ginny prompted, softly.

“I don’t know. When Sirius was sent flying through it, I thought he’d come back out a few seconds later.” He swallowed. “I thought if only I could reach through the veil I could pull him back. But Lupin wouldn’t let me.” He turned away from Ginny again, face contorted with a superhuman effort not to let his emotions show.

“Harry, Sirius loved you. He’d have done anything to help you, and keep you safe. You were the thing that kept him going. You could just tell – when you were about he just became far happier. You didn’t see him in the summer, before the Order fetched you from Privet Drive, he was restless, and looked as though he’d rather have been anywhere but Grimmauld Place, but when you came, that all changed. He’d have done anything to make you happy.”

“Then why… why did he have to…” Harry’s face fought for a minute, and then became an eerie model of composure.

“Why did he have to what, Harry?” Ginny asked, quietly.

“I don’t want to talk about it Ginny, I’m sorry.” Harry replied in a voice as hushed as hers.

“Have you talked to Lupin about Sirius at all?” Ginny asked tentatively.

“I don’t… I just don’t want to talk about him okay? Why does everyone want me to talk about him? You, Hermione, Tonks, Lupin, everyone! I’ll talk about it when I’m ready.” Harry said in a voice full of anguish.

“I just asked, because, well, Lupin isn’t looking great either. Both of you seem to spend your time walking around with this huge weight on your shoulders, but he looks like he has no reason left to go on. As if he… I don’t know… as if he is doing it, only because he knows he should. Does that make sense? And he won’t talk to anyone either, Mum told me. I don’t think anyone other than you really knew Sirius nearly as well.”

Harry slumped to the ground, until he was sitting on the platform, back against the frame of the archway, elbows on knees, hands supporting his head. Up on the benches, Ginny found she could move towards him again, and slowly made her way down, one step at a time. Harry watched her approaching cautiously. He felt exhausted.

“How did you get in here?” He asked Ginny. “Nobody else seemed to be able to find me, except the Auror up there.” He pointed to the door that he had sealed shut. “And they must know where I am, and they still haven’t come in.”

“I had a feeling you’d be here.” Ginny told him.

“I didn’t have much of a choice, everywhere else seemed to have people in, or trying to find me.”

“Okay, I just thought you’d be here anyway.” Ginny said, sitting down beside him. “Feminine intuition. Some Irish Auror managed to break the sealing charm on the door. I made him promise that I’d go in alone if I told him where I thought you’d be.”

“So he’s still up there now?” Harry asked.

“Yes.”

“And he’s not going to throw me into some prison cell somewhere?”

“No, Harry. Can you imagine what Dumbledore would do if he tried?”

Harry gave a small chuckle. “I guess. Do they know what happened in there?”

“I don’t know.” Ginny told him. “What did happen?”

“Voldemort tried to access my memories I think. Fudge was asking me what was in the Prophecy, and I could tell Voldemort was trying to see my memories. I don’t know why that professor cried out.”

“You know what the Prophecy is.” It was a statement, not a question.

Harry looked at her, but said nothing. Her tear stained face was looking at him shrewdly.

“From what the Auror said, they think that professor guy was trying to perform Legilimency on you, to try to learn what the Prophecy was. Are you sure it was You-Know-Who Harry?” Ginny said, changing the subject back.

“Yeah. My scar hurt. It had been hurting all day. I guess he was trying to spy on the hearing. It was Voldemort alright. No idea what’s up with the professor.”

There was a slight pause, then they both spoke at once.

“Well-”

“Harry-”

“Go on.” Ginny said.

“No, you.”

“You know you can’t control what You-Know-Who does, don’t you Harry?”

Harry grunted, warily.

“Nothing he does, or shows you, is your fault, you can’t stop him doing that. You aren’t forcing him to do anything.”

“Ron told you.” Harry said flatly.

“Sorry?” Ginny asked.

“Ron told you about the vision I saw, didn’t he? I thought I asked him not to.” Harry stood up, annoyed.

Ginny stood up too and there was fire in her eyes once more. “Yes he did. He was worried about you, we all are Harry.”

“I’ll manage. Probably manage a lot better if people actually are decent enough to do what I ask them to.” Harry said walking to the other end of the platform, back turned to Ginny.

“Are you afraid people will blame you for seeing these things?”

“Will Dean blame me?” Harry shot back.

“I… I don’t know. I don’t think so. He doesn’t want to see anyone at the moment. I’ve only seen him once since.” Ginny admitted.

Harry turned back to her and gave a little shrug, as if to say ‘There you go then!’ He scanned the room above him. It almost looked like a gladiatorial pit. He wondered if people used to fight each other for people’s amusement in ancient times, where whoever pushed the other through the veil won.

“But he doesn’t know what’s going on Harry, none of us that do would even think about it.”

“Yeah, well, that’s a comfort, good thing most people know what’s happening then isn’t it?” Harry said moodily. “And you can bet Voldemort will let them know it’s my fault anyway.”

“Why didn’t you want me to know about the vision? Why did you tell Ron not to tell me?”

“I didn’t want you to know it was my fault.” Harry said gruffly. “Dean is your boyfriend, after all. I didn’t want you to blame me.”

“I know it’s not your fault Harry, it’s just you that doesn’t!”

“You didn’t hear what he said Ginny. He wouldn’t have gone after Dean’s family if it wasn’t for me. He told her the only reason he was doing it was to make Dean hate my guts. Well, not in those exact words. If it wasn’t for me, Mrs Thomas would have been okay.”

“And somebody else would have been hurt instead. Would that have made it any better?” Ginny asked.

“No, but at least it wouldn’t have been my fault.” Harry said exasperatedly. “I suppose I should be used to it by now. In first year everyone whispered about me behind my back because I was the Harry Potter, second year because I could speak Parseltongue, third because of Sirius, fourth because the idiots thought I wanted to be in that goddamned tournament, and fifth because… well… yeah. Now I’m going to be the person who caused all their family members to be tortured.”

Ginny shook her head. “You don’t fool me Harry, you don’t give a damn what those idiots think. And it’s only the idiots that would blame you.”

“Yeah? You say that now, but what would you think if your mum or dad, or a brother was killed by Voldemort, and he told you he only did it because you knew me? He might be the first person you blame, but who would the second be? Me.”

“No!” Ginny protested. “Harry, there’s no way I’d do that, nor would Ron, or anyone!”

Harry snorted softly, shook his head, and gave her a sad smile. “I guess we’d better head back, see what happens now.”

“Don’t change the subject.” Ginny yelled after him. “It’s not your fault!”

Harry simply climbed the first step, and then leaned down to help Ginny up with him. They climbed in silence. As they reached the final step, Ginny turned to Harry once more.

“Thanks, Harry.”

“Thanks? For what?” Harry asked.

“For not going through the archway.” Ginny said, leading the way to the door, where Auror McCarthy was waiting for them, before Harry could answer.

“You alright you two?” He asked them.

“Yeah.” They said together. Harry may have muttered it, but Ginny’s reply carried conviction.

“You might want to, er, clean up before we head back down, like.” He said with a wink to Ginny, who felt her face, and turned slightly red. “Besides, didn’t you say you needed to go yourself Mr Potter, before all this happened?” He grinned.

“Erm, yeah.” Harry said, embarrassed.

“I’m sorry about this.” The Auror continued. “My fault, I didn’t realise you’d think we were trying to arrest you, you know! Should have thought a bit, not all of us agreed with what the Minister was saying last year.”

“Thanks.” Harry said, not knowing what to say.

“That was some impressive magic you did there Mr Potter.” The Auror continued, as they walked back out of the Department of Mysteries.

“Well, I wasn’t really in control of it.” Harry replied, still rather put off his stride by the Auror’s praise.

“I know.” McCarthy nodded, “That’s what makes it impressive. Without a wand you were putting some powerful charms up, even without realising it. And you were maintaining them too. Very impressive magic I’d say.”

Harry mumbled something indistinctly, but even he didn’t know what it was.

When they were finally standing outside the courtroom again, Mrs Weasley, who had looked quite distressed, leapt up, and this time did give Harry a bone crunching hug.

“Oh my dear, I was so worried!” She said as she gave him air, only to give him another hug immediately after.

Harry looked over her shoulder to see Ginny smirking at him.

“Are you quite alright dear? There was such a commotion” Here she shot the Auror a glare, “that I was quite worried.”

Harry fought for breath, “Yeah, I’m fine Mrs Weasley, really. Auror McCarthy was great about the whole thing, and Ginny really helped. I’m fine. Really. It was just a shock, that’s all.” He gave the Auror a grin, “I didn’t expect to be on the run from the law at someone else’s trial.”

McCarthy gave a good humoured laugh. “Indeed not Mr Potter. If you’re ready, we’d better head back in.”

So with a last glance towards Ginny and Mrs Weasley, Harry re-entered the courtroom.

________________________________________
Chapter 8: ... and Their Immediate Aftermath


Harry stepped back into courtroom four nervously, the Auror Dreyfus McCarthy following behind. A worried looking Ron and Hermione were sitting down once more and Hermione at least seemed to give a visible sigh of relief when they saw Harry. A split second later, however, Harry started. Sitting in a chair in the middle of the floor was not Severus Snape (who, Harry realised, had still not been recalled to the courtroom), but rather Professor Robin Fleming, in a position next to Snape’s chair. Not only this, but he was bound by chains. Like a prisoner. His head was bowed and limp, as though he were sleeping.

The whole of the Wizengamot seemed to sigh as he was brought in, as if an atmosphere of impatience had finally been lifted. Harry looked around nervously, fancying that the Wizengamot were more than willing to punish him for the delay. Maybe they’d like to have Voldemort loose in their heads! He thought, irritably.

"I trust everything is completely alright now Mr Potter." Fudge said, with no attempt whatsoever to hide his annoyance. "Merlin knows it’s taken long enough."

The Auror beside him stepped forward before Harry could say a word. It was almost as if he was trying to deflect the intolerance that was circulating the room away from Harry, and towards his rather more solid frame instead.

"I’m afraid that’s my fault Minister." He said calmly. "I startled Mr Potter by my thoughtlessness, and combined with the fact that an assailant had just invaded his mind, obviously having caused considerable pain in the process, I felt that forcing him back here for the trial prematurely would be unnecessarily cruel."

"Very well." Fudge spat. "If you could both please take your seats then, unless, of course, there is something else? I understand that there may be some repercussions from what has just happened, which we may have to deal with later."

Harry whispered a hurried ‘thanks’ to the Auror, and retook his seat next to Ron and Hermione. They both shot worried glances towards him, and Harry wondered how much they knew about the reason for his long absence. Worse, he wondered if something had happened in the courtroom after Ginny had talked to him, which meant he was, after all, going to be punished for having his head ripped open. Or the magic he had done running away.

The entire Wizengamot were now staring at the man in the chair, and to Harry’s surprise, Fudge was scowling at him in a way that seemed to convey complete and utter loathing.

"Now that everyone is here," He sneered in Harry’s direction, "It appears that we have to sort out this debacle."

Professor Dumbledore stood up, interrupting him. "Seeing as the accused, being his own council, is not here, I feel it is my duty to ensure his interests are being represented." He began.

Fudge turned to glare at the headmaster, but it would have been a brave man indeed to attempt to silence him. "Very well, Dumbledore."

"Thank you Cornelius." Dumbledore replied with a smile. "Now then, given that either the prosecution or another, as yet unknown party, seem to have attempted to circumvent the laws of this court, by illegally performing Legilimency on a witness, I would request that the court throws out the request to learn about the Prophecy concerning both Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort."

"Out of the question." Fudge spluttered.

Madam Bones however, calmly asked, "On what grounds, Professor?"

"Why on the same grounds that were used to banish the accused from the court Madam Bones." Dumbledore replied. "Given the events, it appears obvious that this was a pre-meditated decision, if this is the case, it also seems obvious that we have untrustworthy people in this courtroom, who may be able to get word to Voldemort about the contents of this Prophecy. As Ms Umbridge said, and the Minister and you agreed when ejecting Professor Snape from the court, we cannot risk this. Seeing as it is impossible to determine whether there are other people with similar mal-intent, the contents of the Prophecy must be thrown out."

Madam Bones gave him a piercing look, and after a deliberation of a few seconds, nodded. "Agreed. The Wizengamot throws out any discussion of this Prophecy’s contents as evidence."

"Thank you Madam Bones. May I also suggest, that as discussion of this Prophecy’s contents is now forbidden, the accused is allowed to return to the courtroom."

"Certainly. Could the court scribe please inform the Aurors and the prisoner?"

Percy Weasley stood up once more and left the room. Harry wondered what was said, if anything, when he walked past Mrs Weasley and Ginny. Percy really needed to be knocked back to his senses before he lost his family forever.

Before Percy could return, Harry turned to Ron and Hermione and hissed, "What happened?"

Ron and Hermione glanced at each other, and then Hermione answered. "We don’t know. They enervated Fleming and all he seemed to be able to say was ‘I saw You-Know-Who’ over and over again. Fudge called for Aurors to go and find you in case Voldemort was around. They gave Fleming some kind of potion, and he seemed to fall asleep. I imagine it was a really strong calming draught or something."

"Never mind that!" Ron said, "Are you okay? Was it You-Know-Who?"

"Shh!" Harry said quickly, looking around, but no-one had heard. "Yeah, it was. Why did Fleming go all cuckoo?"

"Maybe…" Hermione said slowly.

"Maybe what?" Ron asked.

"Well, maybe Fleming was trying to perform Legilimency too, at the same time. He must understand what he’s doing if he teaches it-"

Harry and Ron snorted, but Hermione ignored them, and continued.

"-he teaches it, so maybe he could sense V- Voldemort’s presence?"

"But why would he do it?" Harry asked. "If he was working for Voldemort he wouldn’t be saying he’d seen him."

"Wait a minute." Ron said. "Maybe Fleming was doing it under Fudge’s orders."

"Fudge?" Harry asked in disbelief. "Not even he…"

But he trailed off – Hermione was nodding.

"That’s what I think too." She said.

Harry opened his mouth to speak, but Percy, Snape, and the Aurors, had returned. Snape glanced at the chair and stopped. He then glared at Fudge, but spoke quite politely to Madam Bones.

"Madam Bones, could you fill me in on what I just missed please? I believed I was the one on trial here."

Harry and Ron looked at each other in astonishment. Did Snape just crack a joke?! The tension in the room decreased suddenly, as smiles were shown once more.

"Certainly, Professor Snape. If you’d take your seat?"

The still shackled Snape swept to his chair, looking at his erstwhile opponent in the field of Legilimency with interest.

Fudge looked as if he was about to speak, but Madam Bones beat him to it. "You shall not be silenced, Professor Snape, but I would advise you not to make any outbursts, or my colleague shall repeat his curse."

Harry wondered if she had come to the same conclusion that Hermione had, for it seemed she wasn’t going to allow Fudge to take the initiative at all. That is, if Fudge had it in him to take the initiative. He still had some fight left however, which is more than could be said for his Undersecretary. Umbridge had apparently disappeared into the shadows; she was certainly trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. Harry realised that Fudge hadn’t looked at her once since he had come back into the courtroom. Perhaps Ron had been right.

"Of course, thank you Madam Bones." Snape replied courteously, and Harry could tell he sensed the tide had utterly turned in his favour.

"Mr Fleming there attempted to perform Legilimency on Mr Potter during part of his testimony –"

"Excuse me Madam Bones, but this was testimony about the Prophecy I assume?"

"Indeed."

"Thank you." Snape had an arrested look on his face, and he swung his head to look at Harry for a second.

"As I was saying, he performed Legilimency on Mr Potter, but it seems Mr Potter managed to expel him from his mind."

At this, Snape’s eyes grew wide, and he turned to look at Harry with a half-satisfied smile on his lips. Harry could tell that he was giving himself credit for this, and he scowled back.

"Has he said anything that might explain his motives Ma’am?"

"Not yet. He couldn’t make sense when we woke him, so we have given him a soothing solution. We were about to question him, when Albus successfully challenged the use of the Prophecy as evidence, and asked you to be returned. Minister Fudge, would you like to do the honours?"

Fudge pointed his wand at the man, and said clearly, "Enervate."

The man slowly came to. He looked as if he had just come out of a deep sleep. His eyes sagged groggily, and the first sound he made was a stifled yawn. He tried to raise his hand to his mouth, but, obviously, failed. The fact that he was chained seemed to be the thing that brought him back to full wakefulness.

"What happened? Why the hell am I in chains?" He asked sharply.

"Mr Fleming," Fudge began with complete disgust in his voice. "You have been caught performing Legilimency on a witness, Harry Potter, which, as I am no doubt you are aware, is completely against the Wizengamot laws."

"Merlin’s beard! Harry Potter!" Fleming interrupted. "Minister, I saw him! He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named – in Harry Potter’s mind!"

The court broke into a bout of muttering. All of them were looking over towards Harry, who shrank back in his chair slightly. Nervously, he patted his fringe down. Although he didn’t think hiding his scar would hide the fact he was Harry Potter this time.

"Settle down please." Madam Bones’ voice boomed across the courtroom.

"Go on," Fudge said, his interest obviously piqued. "You-Know-Who, in the boy’s mind? How can he have got there?"

"Madam Bones," Snape began, "interesting as this may be, I should dearly like to know what reference it has to this trial. Surely our time would be much better spent seeing who it was exactly, if anyone, that set him up to this?"

"Be quiet." Fudge snapped. "Let the witness talk."

"I believe," Dumbledore said serenely, "that the accused has a point, Madam Bones, how exactly does this move towards exonerating, or condemning Severus?"

"Minister?" Madam Bones prompted. "If you can answer this, I would be very much obliged."

Fudge took a couple of deep breaths, as if to control his emotions, before saying smoothly, "Why, this calls into question the mental stability of one of the previous witnesses. Just as this witness’ credibility has been called into question, his consequent evidence may also raise doubts over the veracity of Harry Potter’s testimony."

Harry vaguely heard Ron whisper from beside him ‘ver-what?’, but he paid him no heed. He was beet red, and gave a quick irrational thought to reaching for his wand. How dare he try to call him mad again? Fudge’s stupid excuses had made his life bad enough last year!

He rose from his seat before Ron could stop him, and yelled, "Haven’t you tired of trying to tell the world I’m insane yet? I thought when I’d finally been proved right about Voldemort’s return you’d give up!"

Ron was pulling on his arm, trying to force him back down, but to no avail.

"Potter!" Snape spat furiously across the room before anyone else could say a word. "For once in your life control your emotions!"

There was renewed mutterings in the Wizengamot, and Madam Bones was forced to bang her wand once more to make herself heard.

"Quiet! I will not allow this trial to degenerate into a circus." She bellowed. "Mr Potter, sit down. I want to hear no more interruptions from you for the remainder of this trial, is that understood?"

Harry was breathing heavily, as if he had just done some very strenuous exercise, and he struggled to slow his breathing down, and think.

"Is that understood?" Madam Bones repeated fiercely.

"Yes, Ma’am." Harry said, willing himself to calm down. He sat.

"Good, because if it isn’t, I will willingly eject you from this court, or at the very least silence you until you may be required to speak. Professor Snape," She continued, turning away from Harry, "I believe you have already been warned on numerous occasions against interruptions. Seeing as yours was not the initial disruption, however, you may consider this your last warning."

Fudge looked like he wanted to interrupt, but Madam Bones turned her furious face towards him this time.

"Minister, I believe that we have already heard confirmations from two witnesses about the majority of Mr Potter’s testimony, it appears to me, that not much he has said can be disproved."

"Some, but not all of it can be considered supported," Fudge asserted, "for example, his claims about his detentions with Professor Umbridge, the events that occurred in her office, his knowledge of the accused’s ability to perform Legilimency, his claims about what took place in the Department of Mysteries, his claims that the Prophecy did indeed smash, or that he failed to hear it –"

"The contents of the Prophecy may have no bearing in this hearing." Madam Bones cut in, furiously.

"Indeed." Fudge replied swiftly, "I was not going to speculate upon its contents, but merely was pointing out that many of Mr Potter’s statements may or may not be true. Also, we must bear in mind, that both the witnesses that concurred with his events are very close friends of his, it is only natural that they would agree with his version."

Ron had turned scarlet now, too, and Hermione whispered so sharply that the whole Wizengamot could hear, "Shut up, the pair of you."

There was a small laugh that was quickly stifled from the upper tier, and Madam Bones’ mouth became a little less thin.

"Thank you Miss Granger." Hermione blushed. "Minister, you may continue, but Merlin help me, this had better be worth it, I still intend to carry out that inquest."

"Thank you. So, Professor, have you any idea how You-Know-Who got into Mr Potter’s mind? Was it a remnant of him, from days, weeks, or months ago, or was it current?"

"I…" Fleming looked unwilling to speak.

"Mr Fleming, we are already aware that you were attempting to perform Legilimency on Mr Potter, refusal to answer Minister Fudge’s questions will only make things worse for yourself." Madam Bones warned.

He obviously considered these words for a while, before replying, "I’m not sure. I don’t think it was just a remnant however, it was far too strong. Whatever it was caused unbelievable pain when I was expelled. It could have been anything, a charm, the Imperious curse, Legilimency, or he could have possessed the boy, we all know he boasts some very powerful abilities."

"Madam Bones," Dumbledore cut in, "this is all just hearsay. We have no proof for any of this except for the Professor’s word, and at the moment, that, I would venture to say, is not entirely trustworthy."

"Agreed. Can you offer any further backing to this claim, something solid? Professor Fleming?"

Robin Fleming, Head Professor of Defence of the Mind, in the Auror Training at the Ministry, was silent for a moment, obviously trying to think. Fudge answered for him, however.

"The boy came face to face with You-Know-Who under two months ago Dumbledore, he could easily have cast a charm upon him then, or cast the Imperius curse. Or he could have since, I do not think we need to offer proof for these possibilities, everyone can see they exist."

Harry bit his lip. He didn’t like the way this conversation was going, and didn’t see how anything to do with him could impact upon the trial at all. Fudge wanted revenge. That was it, he told himself.

"Really Cornelius?" Dumbledore replied mildly, "You forget that I was there when Voldemort faced Harry, and in fact duelled with him. I can vouch for the fact that Voldemort cast no charm upon him. As for Voldemort turning up at Harry’s home, and casting a curse which prevented anyone from using Legilimency on him, why, even if such a curse exists, I fail to understand what he would gain from it. Quite apart from this, Voldemort would be unable to touch Harry there without disabling the charms protecting him first, and then I would know."

"And why should you be the one to control these charms for the protection of Harry Potter?" Fudge spat viciously. "Something as important as this should be in the hands of the Ministry and their team of specially trained operatives."

"I asked Felian Doggett, who was Minister at the time if I could be the one to place any protective charms, and he agreed with me wholeheartedly." Dumbledore continued in the same mild voice. "That however, is neither here nor there, as I’m sure you’ll agree."

"Yes, well… I am not so arrogant as to assume I know how the way You-Know-Who’s mind works Dumbledore! I am sure he may have a very good reason in his own mind for casting whatever jinxes he chooses. You say he cast no spell on Potter when they last met, and is unable to have done so since without your knowledge? Well assuming you are not wrong-"

"That is, of course, always a possibility." Dumbledore agreed pleasantly.

"Assuming you are not wrong, well, he could have cast a spell earlier couldn’t he? After all, if the stories in the papers are anything to go by, Harry Potter duelled with him on his own over a year ago. And of course it has been well reported that Harry Potter feels pain in the scar that You-Know-Who gave him. Is it too much of a leap in reasoning to suppose that there is some kind of magical connection between the two of them? Especially given the circumstances? Surely there is every reason in the world to allow Mr Fleming’s testimony."

"Do you really believe that the Dark Lord would intentionally abduct Potter, the boy that the world believes defeated him the first time, tell his supporters he was going to kill him, and then allow him to escape, Minister?" Snape asked contemptuously.

"I… Well… There’s still the matter of the scar…" Fudge spluttered, almost incoherently.

"So you are trying to prove to the Wizengamot that the Dark Lord has the power to control Potter over long distances, any time he wishes?" Snape asked him, in a snide voice.

"Well, it must be allowed as a possibility." Fudge said, speaking defensively. "We all know he is a very powerful wizard."

"Fine with me." Snape said, sitting back into his chair lazily. "Go ahead, I won’t stop you."

Fudge goggled at him, without saying a word. Harry could almost see the cogs in his brain turning. When he made no reply, Snape continued, speaking to Madam Bones this time.

"Madam Bones, the Minister wants to prove that the Dark Lord somehow has a connection to Harry Potter that allows him to influence him at will. I will willingly concede this point, without any further discussion on the subject."

"Very well, Professor Snape." Madam Bones replied. "Minister, the point has been conceded, you have successfully proven that there is a possibility You-Know-Who may be able to have influenced Harry Potter, and his testimony. Can we continue please?"

"If I may, Madam Bones, I’d like to say something?" Snape cut in.

"Certainly."

"If, as the Minister has successfully argued, Harry Potter can be influenced by the Dark Lord whenever he wishes, then I would ask the Wizengamot to question why, if I were in his service, he would require me to fool the boy into going to the Ministry of Magic, and the Department of Mysteries, after a Prophecy. I would also ask the Wizengamot to consider the fact that the Minister’s witness, the one who was telling you what exactly I could or couldn’t do, if I so wished, with Legilimency, has shown that he cares little for laws himself, openly defying the Wizengamot’s own laws of procedure."

Fudge gawked at Snape, and opened and closed his mouth like a suffocating fish. There was a silence where the entire room was looking at the Minister, and watching him seemingly search for a place to hide. At last, he spoke, in a weak voice which grew steadily stronger.

"That is not what I aimed to prove at all Snape, I- I was merely pointing out that there have been instances recently where the mental stability of Mr Potter has been in question. I mean, he claims to have seen a dead man! Pettigrew! I ask you! We all know that Sirius Black brutally murdered him along with thirteen Muggles years ago, and yet Potter has also been heard to claim that Black is innocent! Whether it is You-Know-Who behind the scar in his head, or just madness makes no difference!"

"Minister," Madam Bones replied cuttingly, "Mr Potter is sitting right there, listening to every word you say, perhaps you would like to hear what he has to say in reply to your accusations?"

Harry, who was physically being restrained into his seat by Ron, breathed deeply, trying to keep control of his emotions, and not make an arse out of himself.

"Mr Potter?" Madam Bones prompted.

Harry took a couple of seconds longer to compose himself, and then spoke from his seat.

"That is exactly what the Minister was saying when I told him that Voldemort had returned, and who his supporters were. Well, because of that, Voldemort had a year to do whatever he wanted to regain his strength and gain followers, and the people I named had an extra year before being thrown into Azkaban didn’t they? Sirius is innocent, and maybe he’ll believe it when he sees Pettigrew this time. S- Sirius died saving my life fighting the Death Eaters, how could he confund me to believe that?"

"A very mature response." Madam Bones replied, glowering at Fudge.

"We have witnesses that swore to seeing Black kill Pettigrew. And it wasn’t just Pettigrew that he killed. Are those Muggles somehow still alive too?!" Fudge replied, looking distinctly hot under the collar.

"Pettigrew’s an animagus." Harry said loudly. "I’ve seen him twice; he was the one that helped Voldemort back into his body. He was the one that killed the Muggles and betrayed my parents."

Fudge actually laughed in disbelief. Worse, some of the people in the Wizengamot did too. Snape turned around and glared at him. He looked furious. Dumbledore was shaking his head at Harry, as if trying to tell him to keep quiet, but Harry didn’t care.

"And are there any objective witnesses you can call to back up your tall stories? Aside, of course from your two friends who will back-up anything you say, and a werewolf who was a good friend of Black. Maybe we should just go and ask some Death Eaters? We have plenty of witnesses who saw what happened, we also have the word of the Chief Warlock that Black was James and Lily Potter’s secret keeper. We have plenty of proof."

Harry looked around desperately. The entire Wizengamot were grinning now, as if they found his plea for Sirius’ innocence funny in a pitiful kind of way. You fool! He told himself. So what if you were proved right in the end last year, they’ll still think you’re a nutter! Snape’s eyes were closed now, as if his day couldn’t have got any worse. The fleeting idea that he probably thought that even at his own trial Harry and Sirius were stealing the spotlight entered Harry’s mind.

Suddenly, the answer hit him. "Veritaserum!" He called out desperately. "Give me Veritaserum! That will prove it!"

Fudge laughed again, "That will only prove you believe what you are saying. Not that these events actually occurred."

Professor Snape cut in with a growl. "Could somebody please tell me what the hell this has to do with my trial?"

"I happen to agree with you." Madam Bones agreed firmly. "I have heard just about enough of this case. And at the moment it is going absolutely nowhere. There seems to be nothing else for the prosecution to say in relation to the trial, so I would ask the Wizengamot to raise their hands, if, like me, they believe that Professor Snape should be cleared of all charges."

A little less than half the Wizengamot raised their hands immediately. Their neighbours looked around at them, then at Fudge, then at Madam Bones, and gradually, a spattering of people raised theirs too. It was very close to being half, but which side of half it was, Harry couldn’t tell. He could hardly believe it. It seemed obvious that Fudge had less than half a leg to stand on. Hermione must have been right; he must have bought the court. Maybe that was why he was willing to touch such dangerous subjects as were raised. Perhaps the way his case had simply crumbled had caused some people to change their minds. Harry certainly hoped so. After Fudge’s latest outburst, Harry wouldn’t mind seeing him fed to Buckbeak – Malfoy for starters, Fudge for dessert.

"I see." Madam Bones’ eyes narrowed, her voice was quiet now, and somehow more dangerous than her normal booming bark. "Very well. All those who believe, that given the evidence we have heard today, Professor Snape is guilty, please raise your hands."

The rest of the Wizengamot, as one, raised their hands. Harry glanced over at Snape, whose face had turned slightly to take in the vote. To his absolute disbelief, Snape was still sitting in as relaxed a pose as Harry had ever seen him. Harry was struck by a sudden thought. If Snape was sent away, then Voldemort would naturally believe that Snape may still be a loyal Death Eater. When Voldemort broke his imprisoned followers out of Azkaban, he was likely to take Snape with him too. Perhaps Snape would use this to discover information about the Death Eaters once more. Or perhaps – a little voice said inside Harry’s head – perhaps he would rejoin Voldemort’s side and fight against Dumbledore, if he had, in fact, ever been away.

Madam Bones looked down and seemingly read from her notes. Harry supposed that some form of magic had tallied the votes and given her the result. She stiffened slightly, and a leaden feeling suddenly fell through his throat, and almost past his stomach before it had begun.

"The result," She began, slowly, "by just three votes, with one abstention, goes in favour of Professor Snape."

"What?" Fudge snapped angrily. "Let me see that, who…"

Madam Bones cut him off. "Professor Snape, you are free to go. Your wand will be returned to you by Auror Dawlish."

The chains that had bound him to the chair slipped free, and fell to the floor. Professor Snape stood up, brushing his robes down, as if they were dusty, and then, nodding to Madam Bones and Professor Dumbledore, he left the room with measured strides, Aurors following him to the door.

Madam Bones wasn’t finished however, once Professor Snape left, and Harry, Ron and Hermione were about to stand and follow suit, she continued. "I’m sure I needn’t remind you all, that any discussion to outside parties about this case is expressly forbidden by law. I certainly would not advise you to attempt to break the charm, given what happened to the last person that attempted to do just that. All you may tell people is that Professor Snape was found not guilty. Court adjourned. Mr Potter and Mr McCarthy, could you wait behind please."

Harry glanced at Ron, and Hermione, who looked back equally confused.

"What do they want with me now?" He muttered.

"Must be about what Fleming did." Ron replied in a low tone. "Look, he’s still chained."

"Yeah, but why the Auror too?" Harry asked. "Unless… oh crap… this must be about the magic I did!"

"You did magic?" Hermione asked, horror struck, "Oh Harry, this isn’t Grimmauld Place you know!"

"I know that!" Harry said nettled, and louder than he had intended to. He lowered his voice again. "I didn’t mean to do the magic, I just did. I thought they were trying to arrest me for having Voldemort in my head. I don’t know what I was doing, I just seemed to do magic."

"You’ve got to tell us what happened when we get out of here, you –" but Ron stopped mid sentence, people were starting to move, and leave the courtroom.

They watched the Wizengamot file out of the room (Umbridge fled as fast as she could) until the court was empty, save for Madam Bones, Professor Dumbledore, Minister Fudge, Dreyfus McCarthy, and, of course, Professor Fleming and the three nervously waiting teenagers. Madam Bones beckoned them forward, and they walked to the grim, chained chairs nervously, where Dumbledore conjured three armchairs for them.

"Mr Weasley, Miss Granger, you can wait outside." Fudge said bossily.

"They can stay." Madam Bones said curtly. "Now, Professor Fleming, I am well aware that you performed Legilimency on the prosecution’s orders, is that not so?"

Fudge gaped at her. Fleming seemed almost as stunned.

"I- No, of course – I…" Fleming trailed off.

"Come now Professor, it is the only rational explanation, admit to it in a written confession now, and I will be willing to forego the trial that I would ordinarily pursue, and you need not be sent to Azkaban."

"Amelia –" Fudge began in an almost placating tone, but Madam Bones was having none of it.

"I am offering this chance so it need not go public Minister." She said without looking at him. "Now. Professor?"

"Well… It was Madam Umbridge who asked me to."

"I see." She passed her notepad to the Professor, and her quill and ink. The chains binding him disappeared at some unsaid command. "Please write words to that effect, and sign."

Fleming did so, and soon was on his way out of the door.

"Thank you, Minister, that is what I wanted you to stay behind to see, you may go now."

"And what do you want to talk to Potter for?" Fudge asked, nastily.

"I wish to conduct an initial hearing privately, to see if there has been any breach of underage magic." She replied coolly.

Fudge, obviously not wishing to suffer any more of Madam Bones’ ire, allowed himself to be dismissed without a fight. There was something about the way his shoulders slouched as he left the courtroom that in another situation might have made Harry feel sorry for him.

Madam Bones let out a huge sigh, but whether it was out of relief that Fudge had gone or not, Harry couldn’t tell.

"Auror McCarthy." She began.

"Yes Ma’am." The Irishman replied smartly.

"I have been told that there was a case of underage wizardry during our enforced recess earlier, where Aurors and Ministry personnel were flung back into the lift, or prevented access through doors, by Mr Potter. Is that correct?"

"No Ma’am." McCarthy replied.

"No? But we have extensive eye-witnesses to the case. Auror Dawlish reported being hit by the Impediment jinx, and the door he was trying to enter being locked by a charm he was unable to break. Did these things happen?"

Ron looked admiringly at Harry, and even Hermione, as worried as she looked, also seemed slightly impressed.

"They did Ma’am, but Mr Potter did not use his wand, it all appeared accidental. He believed we were going to arrest him, rather than that we wanted to guard his safety. None of the spells that he used were aggressive in any way, and all of them seemed to be done without his intent."

"That is some very powerful accidental magic." Madam Bones replied dubiously.

"Yes Ma’am, very powerful, but for a person his age to be able to perform wandless magic that powerful is even less likely."

"Very true." Madam Bones replied, ruminatively. "Do we have confirmation that he did not use his wand?"

"I don’t know Ma’am, but it is not difficult to check."

"Very well, is this true Mr Potter?"

Harry couldn’t agree quickly enough, it looked like he was going to be alright. "Yes Ma’am, I didn’t really know what I was doing, or how I did it, it just sort of happened."

"Very well." She smiled. "You do seem to have your brushes with underage magic Mr Potter, but I do not believe this warrants further investigation. Thank you Mr McCarthy, you may go now."

Harry flashed the Auror a grateful smile as he left the room.

"There is another reason I wished you to stay." The Head of Magical Law Enforcement continued. "Albus Dumbledore has asked me to reopen the case on Sirius Black."

Harry stared at her for a second, before a mixture between delight and relief played its way on to his face. Sirius’ innocence was finally on its way to be proved. Sudden shame crept its way into his head about his outburst earlier, when Dumbledore had managed to reopen the case anyway, but he pushed it out of his mind quickly. There would be time enough to feel guilty later, after all, Snape had got off, hadn’t he?

"I can tell you are pleased with this possibility. However, before I grant Albus’ request, I would like to ask you a few questions. Firstly, all three of you say you have seen Peter Pettigrew alive, and that he is an animagus?"

"Yes, he –" Harry began, but was quickly interrupted.

"Just answer the question please."

All three of them nodded.

"Was there anything you particularly noticed about Pettigrew?" She asked.

"Well, he’s missing a finger." Hermione supplied.

Madam Bones nodded, as if this was what she had wanted to hear. "Good. Now did you see Sirius Black die?"

Hermione and Ron shook their heads no, but Harry, with a slight lump in his throat replied in the affirmative.

"How did he die? Just the facts please."

Harry was silent for a few seconds, fighting the emotion, not wanting to get upset in front of everyone. "He… He died saving my life. He was duelling Bellatrix Lestrange and was hit by a curse. He went through the curtain."

"In the Arch Room in the Department of Mysteries." Dumbledore supplied.

Harry noticed that Madam Bones seemed to be more interested in his face than what he had said. At least, she was gazing intently at him. Finally, she lent back in her chair and nodded.

"Very well. I shall conduct an inquest." Harry let out his breath, which he only just realised he had been holding since he finished speaking. "Are you still willing to undertake the use of Veritaserum Mr Potter? Bear in mind that you will have no control over anything you say."

"Ye…" Harry stopped, a lot of the things he had to say could jeopardise the Order.

He looked across to Dumbledore, who was looking intently at him, and it struck him, as if they had communicated without words. He turned back to Madam Bones.

"I’ll take the Veritaserum… as long as… as long as Professor Dumbledore is the only one to ask the questions."
________________________________________


Harry was quiet on the trip back up to the atrium. He especially found it hard to speak to Ginny. She had seen a side of him that he wasn’t proud of, and would have rather kept secret. He was quite glad, therefore, when Hermione kept them entertained by explaining what exactly had happened to Carol Verkausky, who had tried to reveal to the press what had happened in the Vampire Romanovsky’s trial in 1962. (She had read about it in Important Trials of the Twentieth Century by some author, whose name Harry didn’t catch. Why exactly she had been reading it, Harry didn’t know, except, perhaps, because it had a cover and a lot of pages.)

Mrs Weasley was to return by floo to The Burrow, where, if all was safe, she would send Tonks through to let them know they could come. They couldn’t risk flooing straight back to Grimmauld Place of course, seeing as they were using the Ministry’s floo. It seemed to Harry, that he was having to suffer even more security than last year. Mad-Eye Moody, however, had insisted upon it. He, Ron, Hermione and Ginny loitered around the notice declaring the imminent new statue, while waiting for Tonks.

"Harry!" An unwelcome voice whispered in his ear. It was Rita Skeeter.

"What do you want?" He replied warily.

"An interview with the Boy-Who-Lived about how he feels knowing his Potion’s master may be a Death Eater working against him for You-Know-Who of course."

"How do you know about the trial?" Ron asked aggressively.

"Why it’s public knowledge of course you silly boy. Now what isn’t public knowledge is what happened in the trial." Her eyes went misty all of a sudden, as if imagining finding out all this information.

"He was found not guilty." Harry said shortly. "Now shove off."

"What are your feelings about being taught by someone who might want to kill you, Harry? Scared? Angry? Any of that anger directed towards Dumbledore for that appointment?"

"It’s happened before." Harry growled. "If you make up anything about me, then I’ll let everyone know about your little secret, so stop bugging me."

Rita Skeeter recoiled. "She promised." She hissed, pointing at Hermione.

"She did." Hermione agreed. "But Harry didn’t."

As Rita Skeeter turned angrily to go, Harry was struck by an idea. "Rita?" He called.

She turned back to him, eyes ablaze with hunger for the story and replied ingratiatingly. "What, Harry?"

"If you want my advice, you’ll forget about the Snape story, and go after Minister Fudge and Umbridge."

"As in his Undersecretary, and former Inquisitor of Hogwarts?" Rita asked with a glint in her eyes, which seemed to be as wide as saucers.

"Yeah. But no quotes from me, understand?"

"That’ll teach Fudge what it feels like." Harry said in satisfaction after Rita Skeeter had gone.
________________________________________


It certainly did not take Rita Skeeter long to work her own dubious form of magic, for early the next day before Harry’s Occlumency lesson, Hermione (who was taking the Daily Prophet while she was back in England) let out a gasp, and spread the paper on the table, knocking cutlery and plates out of the way. On the front page, was a large bold headline:
Inquisitor of Hogwarts Must Face Inquisition!

Followed by the first paragraph:
Dolores Umbridge must be called to account for the actions she took while employed at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, reports Rita Skeeter. Minister Fudge’s controversial decrees that allowed him to virtually assume control of arguably Europe’s most prestigious school have since been revoked, but the happenings that these laws allowed to take place must be addressed. Students at the school, who wish to remain nameless after reading the slanders that the Ministry directed at the Boy-Who-Lived last year, have named whippings and detentions with blood quills as just a couple of the gruesome punishments that occurred in Umbridge’s brief reign of terror. The Minister, who reinstated her as his undersecretary immediately after her dismissal, must surely be equally called to account for her crimes against children.

Ron – who was spending most of his time in Grimmauld Place now – punched the air in jubilation, and let out a violent exclamation: "Yes!"

"I notice she still managed to mention me though." Harry said, rolling his eyes.

"It goes on like this." Hermione said in satisfaction, "Rita must have really taken you seriously Harry. It’s as if she smells blood."

"As long as it’s Fudge’s or Umbridge’s rather than mine, or some other poor innocent sod, I don’t care." Harry replied savagely.
________________________________________


As promised, in Occlumency, Dumbledore started to guide Harry around the place he stored his memories (which Harry quickly dubbed ‘The Sanctuary’). He showed him the spell needed to create laws to govern the area – which Harry hadn’t expected, as up until now, Occlumency didn’t seem to be magic as such, more… mental discipline, for want of a better word.

"But doesn’t it depend on the strength of the spell as to how strong the law is?" Harry had asked, curiously.

"Indeed it does. Repetition of the spell does no harm, and is likely to reinforce it, so I would ask you to settle into a routine where you perform the spell once a day, until you feel confident. Once you have decided upon the form of your ‘Sanctuary’ as you called it, of course. You can test their strength yourself, as you are governed by the same laws any assailant will be." Dumbledore replied.

"But what should it look like?" Harry said in frustration before adding hastily. "I know, I know, I have to choose it myself, but I don’t know what I am looking for."

"In all likelihood it will take a time to show itself to you." Dumbledore said unconcernedly. "If you want my advice it should be somewhere you know well, whether a real place or imaginary, although it need not be associated with happy memories. The stronger your memory of the place, for whatever reason, the easier you will find it to assert control over it. It may be as big, or as small as you wish."

"Yes, well, it could be anything." Harry said with just the smallest irritation in his voice.

"Rushing the choice will only make it harder, you have to be happy with your choice – if you are not, then you will not be able to defend it."

Harry continued through the lesson diligently, but as it went on, something else crept in to Harry’s mind. Why had Dumbledore not said anything about the trial? He had almost ruined everything, and yet Dumbledore hadn’t said a word. And there was something else that had started to worry Harry. From the way Fudge had been trying to discover the Prophecy, Harry wondered how many other people did in fact know. His aunt seemed to know, and if she knew, then who else might? And what if Voldemort discovered this?

As the session came to a close, Harry found himself having to ask.

"Professor? Who knows the Prophecy, apart from me, you, and my aunt?"

Dumbledore looked at him keenly, "I have told nobody except your guardians, and Neville’s and your parents, and then only to a guarded extent."

"So Mum and Dad knew?" Harry asked. "They knew that’s why Voldemort was after them?"

Dumbledore nodded. "At the time it could have been Neville as well, so I had to inform Frank and Alice too. I told Sirius at the start of last year. Have you told anyone about it?"

So his parents knew, Harry thought. They knew that he had been the reason they had died. Did they blame him for being the reason Voldemort was hunting them he wondered? He mentally admonished himself for being silly – after all, his mother had died in order to save him. He suddenly realised that Dumbledore had asked him a question.

"No, not yet anyway – I haven’t wanted to."

"It is your decision, Harry, as I confess it always should have been." Dumbledore said with a tinge of regret.

"But if I tell them, that will make them a target for Voldemort." Harry said desperately.

"If Voldemort were to find out they knew, perhaps, but there may be benefits that telling them would bring also. I leave it to you to decide."

Harry said nothing, but as he was leaving the room, he turned back, and said awkwardly.

"Sorry about yesterday in the trial sir." He found he could not meet Dumbledore’s eye, but rather looked down at the floor in front of him.

If he had looked up, he would have seen Dumbledore’s eyes sparkle happily at the apology. "It is often wise to trust your heart Harry, but perhaps not to allow it to make the decisions for you. Now, think about what we have discussed overnight, but do not allow yourself to be rushed."

The moment Harry had left the room, he found himself confronted by Ron, Hermione, and Ginny.

"We need to talk mate." Ron said uncharacteristically seriously.

"What about?" Harry said, completely caught off guard.

"Let’s go upstairs."

They marched him upstairs to the drawing room, where he sat down confused. Hermione cast a noise dimming charm on the room, and they then began, without any preamble whatsoever.

"What’s going on Harry?" Ron began bluntly. "You’ve been trying to push us away all summer, and then you go and almost commit suicide yesterday. What’s happening?"

Hermione winced, and closed her eyes in frustration at the way Ron had decided to start the proceedings. Harry however didn’t notice. He glared at Ron.

"Excuse me?" He said coldly.

"Something’s up Harry, something’s got you, and you’re getting dragged under by it. What is it, and how can we help? You won’t talk about anything that’s upsetting you, and it’s killing you."

"Well you can start by leaving me alone, and not telling people things I ask you not to. That might help." Harry said, in a voice that remained just as icy.

"Yeah, well I tried that, and then you try to kill yourself, don’t think it’s working, is it?"

"Ron shut up." Hermione cut in at last with a glare. "Harry – he’s just worried about you, we all are. I don’t know what it is, whether it’s because of Sirius, or the Prophecy, or something else, but something’s wrong, and you’re not getting better. Yesterday’s proof of that."

"I didn’t try to kill myself." Harry said, looking away.

How could he? If he had then who would defeat Voldemort? What would happen to the three people who were interrogating him now, or their families? Besides, he obviously hadn’t meant to kill himself… After all, he had drawn back each time he had even thought about going through the veil. But then, he had had the thought in the first place, hadn’t he? Anyway, it couldn’t have killed him. Voldemort was the only one that could do that wasn’t he? Well, until the Prophecy is fulfilled anyway.

"That’s not what Ginny said happened." Ron broke in again.

Harry looked at Ginny, who had remained silent so far, and began aggressively, "What is this? If I confide in someone then all three of you must know or something?"

"Well if you nearly walk straight through the veil, then yes." Ginny shot back, the Weasley fire fighting in her eyes, although she managed to do a better job at controlling it than Ron had done. "Could you honestly expect me not to tell your best friends that you are so upset you almost took your own life?"

"I wasn’t trying to kill myself, okay?" Harry said in frustration. "I didn’t even want to be in that room. It was the only place I had left to go, Aurors were coming from all around. I just wanted to be left alone, not to kill myself!"

"Harry," Ginny said softly, "You couldn’t stop looking at the veil, you hardly stopped touching the archway, you even put your hand through it."

"I didn’t," Harry protested uncomfortably, "It was just a finger."

Hermione gasped, and her hand flew up to her mouth. Harry felt even more uncomfortable.

"It was just a bit cold, that was all. I’m fine, see?" He wriggled the offending finger.

"But why did you do it?" Hermione asked.

"I dunno…" Harry mumbled, embarrassed. He tried to remember – was it before or after he had wondered if Voldemort was the only thing that could mean he died? "Curiosity I guess."

"Now do you see why we’re worried Harry?" Hermione asked.

Harry looked away again, he wondered if there was any part of the drawing room that might swallow him up, and save him from this, but it was not to be. Hermione dragged her chair closer to his.

"Is it the Prophecy?" She asked gently. "Is that it?"

The attempt to sympathise with him irritated Harry. He didn’t want to be comforted. "Damn it I don’t know!" He spat angrily, "It’s everything I suppose!"

"You can’t keep everything bottled up inside Harry, you have to let it out, just telling people helps." Hermione said earnestly.

"Well it’s worked so far!" He said savagely.

"Well it obviously isn’t working now Harry." Hermione replied. "You need to talk to someone."

"You didn’t bottle everything up last year." Ginny told him. "You talked to Sirius."

Harry looked at her angrily. "Did you talk to people after Riddle’s diary?" He asked viciously. "Did you want to talk to people then?"

Ginny looked away, visibly upset, but Harry didn’t care. If they were going to gang up on him and make him feel so wretched then damn it he was going to fight back. He stood up furiously and strode to the window. He had found himself doing that a lot lately. In fact, it was a wonder he had stayed sitting down for so long. It was relaxing watching a world go by without him, and when things were constantly moving, as they were outside, it was easier not to think.

"There was no need for that Harry." Ron said angrily, "Leave Ginny out of this."

Harry thought he heard a sniff, or a stifled sob, but he was too busy trying to control his own emotions to care. Despite himself, he swung around on Ron this time.

"Yeah, well, if all three of you are going to gang up on me like this, and tell me what to do, don’t expect me just to sit there and take it. Have any of you had your parents killed while trying to save you? Or your Godfather? Or had to stand and watch while someone was murdered just because he was standing next to you? Or grown up in a house where everyone around you wished you didn’t exist? Or led your friends into a trap because you’re too goddamned stupid to realise it, and nearly killed them because of it? Or spent the last five years with every single person in the wizarding world watching you, and either thinking you’re a hero, or more usually that you are an utter nut job that wants to kill people or grab as much fame as he can? Or had an insane dark wizard killing and torturing people just because they or their relations know you? Or had this stupid bloody Prophecy made about you that makes all of this your own fault?"

Every single painful thing started to pour out of Harry’s mouth before he could stop it, and he finished with an expletive, that even Hermione didn’t comment on. He could feel all his anger, all his rage, and yet also all his despair and every unhappy feeling he’d ever had fighting to reach the surface. Hermione and Ron were looking completely stunned by all of this, and Ginny had tears once more freely running down her cheeks.

"No?" Harry finished, with a renewed surge of ferocity. "Well until you know how it feels, don’t tell me how to deal with it!" He turned back to the window, tears welling in his own eyes now.

"But don’t you see Harry?" Hermione said, in a small, mournful voice herself, "You’ve never been through this either. I’ve been reading some books –"

Harry snorted, not caring how it sounded. "Why am I not surprised?"

" – and in everything I’ve read, it’s said that holding things in and refusing to tell anyone about them only makes things worse. You’re the only one you can talk to about them, so it just keeps running through your mind making you feel worse and worse."

"Books don’t have the answers for everything Hermione." Harry said grumpily, some of the anger leaving him, and leaving him feeling very tired.

"But they’re written by people who have some kind of experience of the things you’re dealing with, and how to solve them."

It was Ron who snorted this time, "Yeah right, like Gilderoy Lockhart’s books."

Hermione rolled her eyes, but restrained herself from glaring at Ron. Ginny gave a small hiccough.

"What if I’m not ready to talk about them?" Harry asked the window softly.

"You have to try." Hermione replied. "I know it’s difficult. Well… no, I don’t know through experience." She said hastily, as Harry turned his head sharply. "But I can guess it must be."

"You said the Prophecy made everything your fault." Ginny said, in a voice so small that Harry could barely hear her.

"Do you want to tell us it, mate?" Ron asked gruffly.

Harry looked through the window but saw nothing. He supposed he had to tell them sooner or later – Dumbledore had even inferred he should, by not forbidding him – but telling them would just make them bigger targets. He swallowed hard.

"Don’t you see? You know all the effort Voldemort went through to try and get the Prophecy, but it smashed before he could hear it. He tried to pull it out of my mind at Snape’s trial. If he knows that you know it, he’ll just go after you as well. He’ll already be after you ‘cos you’re my friends anyway, but if you knew the Prophecy too… I can’t tell you – I just can’t." He said in mild desperation.

"That’s even if I wanted to talk about any of this." He added quickly, before they had any ideas about having ground him down.

"Harry, we’re already targets. I’m Muggleborn, and a Gryffindor and a Prefect, just the kind of person V- Voldemort would go after." Hermione said timidly. "Even if we wanted you to protect us, then you couldn’t."

"Yeah, and I don’t give a monkey’s if being your friend, or knowing the Prophecy makes V- V- V- You-Know-Who want to come after me." Ron said, bravely, "There’s no way I’m not going to be standing by your side whatever happens."

"He’s already gone for me once as Riddle." Ginny said in a voice that was shaking so much it didn’t sound like her at all. "If I can do anything at all to help you against him, I want to."

"I’ve put you in too much danger already." Harry said flatly.

"Yeah? How so?" Ron demanded. "We’re friends with you because we want to be, not because you forced us to you know!"

"Do you really think that knowing Sirius, we wouldn’t have gone to rescue him if we thought he was in danger, unless you asked us to?" Hermione asked. "Ron and I decided to go with you to try and find the Philosopher’s Stone first in first year too, remember? You didn’t force us to."

"And you didn’t make Malfoy’s dad give me Riddle’s diary." Ginny contributed.

"And how exactly did you make our lives more dangerous in third or fourth year?" Ron challenged.

"The Dementors or the fake Moody wouldn’t have been there if not for me." Harry replied, with almost a touch of defiance.

"No… The Dementors wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for the Ministry wrongfully arresting Sirius." Ron replied, in the air of somebody who was patiently correcting a child.

"And Barty Crouch Junior didn’t actually even attempt to do anything to us." Hermione reminded him.

"And I suppose you’re now going to tell me that being friends with me doesn’t put you in danger either?" Harry asked sarcastically.

"No, we aren’t, but that isn’t your fault either. It’s not as if you asked for You-Know-Who to try to kill you." Ginny told him.

Harry gave a loud, exasperated sigh, facing them once more. "Supposing I did tell you what the Prophecy was, and Voldemort found out. He then tortured you until you told him the Prophecy, and killed you, or you ended up like Neville’s parents. How do you think I’d feel? Or supposing you didn’t go insane, but rather had to live with the fact that you’d told him, which meant that Voldemort ended up killing… killing thousands of innocent people, and no-one could stop him?"

There was silence. Harry watched the three of them exchange glances, but none of them could reply. They sat like that for several minutes until Hermione spoke up timidly.

"If the Prophecy could do that, then it’s too much for anyone to bear on their own Harry, and that’s without everything else you have to deal with. You have to tell someone."

"I don’t have to do anything." Harry shot back, but as he said it, he knew it was hollow.

After all, that was what this Prophecy meant, wasn’t it? He had to kill Voldemort, or be killed, and condemn the world to an eternity of hell. He had to stay in Grimmauld Place, or else Voldemort would find out the Prophecy, and the world was doomed. He had to not push Ron and Hermione and everyone else away, or else they would not be a strong unit to fight Voldemort, and would be defeated easily. He had lost even the illusion of control of his life.

"True, we can’t force you." Hermione agreed.

"We can try and work it out though." Ron said stubbornly. "Hermione’s right, if it’s that big, then you can’t be the only one that has to worry about it. That’s what friends are for, to take some of the pressures away, right?"

"So because you’re my friends, you’re going to ignore the fact that I don’t want people to know?"

"You’d do the same for us." Ron told him.

"It’s obviously something big." Ginny said, "Or else you’d have told us."

"Yeah." Ron agreed, "And it’s gotta be something that you think will scare us or something, or that we won’t like, or you’d have told us, wouldn’t you?"

"What do you think you’ll be able to do if you know the Prophecy?" Harry said loudly. "How exactly do you think you can help? This is a Prophecy about me and Voldemort – ME. Not one of you."

"We can help you." Ginny said simply. "Whatever it is you or You-Know-Who has to do, we can help you prepare for it, or do it, or just be someone for you to talk with."

"Trust me. You can’t." Harry strode to the door.

There was a crunching sound, and Harry couldn’t open it. He turned around furiously. Hermione was looking both completely scared, and yet also determined. She was holding her wand. He quickly took out his own wand, and tried to open the door. Nothing happened.

"If you don’t remove the locking spell," Harry said in a low, dangerous voice, "I am going to blast through the door, and you lot can get out of this house."

"Harry! Please! Just listen for a few seconds!" Hermione begged. "I know things always seem to happen to you, and you’re sick and tired of it, but just imagine… imagine if it were one of us that was scaring you by refusing to talk to anyone about things that were obviously hurting us. Imagine if Ginny or I had suffered the loss of someone that we loved, and loved us. Imagine if Ron was the one that had a Prophecy about him that seemed to be causing some kind of black despondency. Imagine what you would feel if –"

"But you aren’t." Harry replied through narrow slits. "I’m the one with the scar, aren’t I?"

"The… scar." Hermione said slowly, her eyes opening wide. "Oh Harry, it’s not… Please tell me it isn’t…"

"How can I?" Harry yelled irritably. "I don’t even know what you’re talking about – all I’m asking you to do is open the bloody door!"

"The scar that connects you and Vol- Voldemort, the reason you were in the Arch room. You’re not… Your lives aren’t tied together are they? If one of you dies then the other will." She clapped a hand to her horror struck face. "That’s it… isn’t it? That’s why you were thinking of killing yourself. If you die, then Voldemort does too. Oh Harry!"

Ron and Ginny had gone white. Ginny looked like she was going to be sick.

"I WAS NOT THINKING OF KILLING MYSELF!" Harry bellowed. "And you’re wrong." He said, breathing heavily. "If I kill myself, Voldemort will not die."

"Fine." He snarled. "You want to know the Prophecy? It was Trelawny that made it. So I’m sure you’ll just consider it rubbish anyway Hermione." He said nastily.

Hermione didn’t say a word, neither did the other two. Harry, who had learnt the Prophecy off by heart by now, started to speak very quickly.

"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches … born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not … and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives … the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies.¹"

"Now let. Me. Out." Harry started to count to three, but before he reached two, the door clicked, and he was able to wrench it open, and flee upstairs.
________________________________________


Harry did not come out of his room for lunch, or dinner. For the main, he had just sat there, replaying the conversation in his head, and fuming over the fact that he had lost his temper and recited the Prophecy. Why couldn’t they have left him alone? Although it took many hours before he was willing to even think about answering this question.

Lupin had knocked on the door a couple of times; saying that Hermione had said he was ill, and asking if there was anything he could do to help. Harry barely knew the words he had said to reassure Lupin. At least he had respected the locked door. Hermione, Ron, and Ginny wouldn’t have. He half wished he knew how to put up anti-apparition wards, on the off chance that the Weasley twins might appear.

It was only when he heard a massive commotion downstairs, with Mrs Black’s portrait screaming, and people’s voices raised, that he stirred. He almost reached for his Invisibility Cloak, but decided against it, and crept out of the door noiselessly. As he reached the first floor landing, he saw Hermione standing, stiff as a board, looking at the scene below. Harry hesitated.

"We need a healer, damnit!" Someone, maybe Kingsley, shouted below.

"We can’t risk moving him any further," A woman’s voice said, "get Severus, he might be able to stabilise him, so we can take him to Poppy."

"Did anyone get Arnie?"

"He was dead… dead when we got there…" A hollow voice, that sounded frighteningly familiar to Harry, replied.

But it was Mrs Weasley’s shriek that caused Harry to run forward, his insides fighting to get out.

"Fred! Oh Freddy! My baby, you should never have joined. Oh Freddy!" She burst into sobs.

Harry reached the banister beside Hermione to see a sight he had been dreading. Fred was lying motionless on a stretcher, blood pooling out from a wound to his side. George was standing beside him, bloody and bruised, and looking as white as a vampire. Mrs Weasley was being restrained by Lupin and Kingsley Shacklebolt.

"We have to keep him stabilised Molly. If someone even touches him slightly, it could make everything that much worse."

"Someone get Snape!" George yelled out desperately, "I’m going to get him!"

He made to walk from his twin’s side, but he stumbled, and a witch Harry thought was called Emmeline Vance caught him. She conjured a chair, and placed him in it.

"I’ll go." Rumbled Kingsley in his deep voice.

There was the sound of running footsteps, and Charlie Weasley appeared in the doorway. He had obviously just flooed over.

"What happened?" He asked quickly, until he caught sight of Fred lying on the stretcher. "Merlin… what happened?" He repeated urgently. He strode over to George and put his arm on his shoulder.

Harry looked away, he wanted to watch… he wanted to see if Fred would be okay… but it was just so painful. He looked across at Hermione, who had tears running down her face. She looked as bad as Harry felt.

"Oh Harry!" She cried, and put her arms around him, sobbing into his shoulder.
________________________________________

¹:Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K.Rowling. Page 741, UK Hardback, first edition

________________________________________
Chapter 9: The Birthday Present


Fred Weasley was placed into a small bedroom on the first floor, where he was regularly visited by Snape, but otherwise was not permitted to see or be seen by anyone. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and George, who stayed together the next day but said virtually nothing, waited impatiently for news which never seemed to come. It was only late the second night when all bar George were struggling to stay awake, and Hermione and Ginny had already lost the fight, that Charlie came in, looking as exhausted as Lupin usually did.

“He’s stable.” He sighed with a smile. “Madam Pomfrey portkeyed to his room and managed to stabilise him. She says he’ll be okay.”

Harry said nothing, but closed his eyes in relief, and in the process almost drifted off to sleep. George, however, stood up.

“I’m going to see him.” He said firmly.

Charlie held out his hand to stop him. “Madam Pomfrey won’t allow anyone to see him now George, she says he needs at least another day before he’s in any condition to see anyone. Get some sleep, and we’ll see what we can do in the morning.”

“I need to see if he’s okay.” George insisted.

It wasn’t easy, but Charlie eventually prevailed upon both of his brothers and his sister to return to the Burrow. It had been left up to Lupin and Mr Weasley to persuade his mother – and Harry wasn’t sure how they’d done it. They left however, and soon it was just Lupin, Harry, Hermione, Fred, and either Snape or Madam Pomfrey (who exactly it was staying with Fred, Harry wasn’t sure) that were left in Grimmauld Place.

Harry, Remus, and Hermione said goodnight in very few words, and Harry and Hermione walked up the stairs together.

“Are you alright, Harry?” Hermione asked anxiously.

Harry gave the reply he knew she knew he would. “I’m fine.”

It didn’t fool her, but then, he didn’t expect it to. Harry dreamt that night – not of a vision planted by Voldemort, but of Sirius once more.
________________________________________


Over the next few days, Fred seemed to be recovering. He had a large gash down his side, which travelled from just below his shoulder, all the way down to his waist, and he was having more potions a day than Harry could count. Speaking was too difficult for him, so generally a family member would just enter to keep him company, or talk to him without expecting a response. George spent most of his time there. Harry and Remus had suggested to the Weasleys that they stayed in Grimmauld Place while Fred couldn’t be moved, and at least one of them spent the night every night, in order to be close to him.

The day of Hermione’s supposed return to her parents came and went, with Professor Dumbledore explaining to Mr and Mrs Granger that she would be staying a little longer. She certainly did not want to leave when Fred was still so dangerously weak, and, Harry thought, blaming himself slightly, probably was scared of what she thought he might do. They were all treating him with kid gloves, and it annoyed him no end. The only positive thing about Fred’s injuries from Harry’s point of view was that he hadn’t been interrogated further about the Prophecy. Or at least, he thought it was a positive thing.

Seven days after Fred had been pronounced fit to visit; Harry, Hermione, Ginny, Ron and George were all sitting with him, when Ron asked the question they had all thought about, but not dare raise before now.

“So what happened?” A hush fell around the room, and he added quickly, “You don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to.”

Fred gave a racking cough. “No… it’s okay. Already had to tell Dumbledore, anyway. George and I were tailing someone we thought was a Death Eater, with a guy we’d persuaded to join the Order. Arnie Kravitz.”

“So we followed him down Diagon Alley,” George continued, “and then into Knockturn Alley. Arnie went first, as he was nearest, and we followed. We weren’t together – we were on our own, just trying to blend in, you know, talking over Whispering Wires – something we invented for the Order, lets you talk to each other over long distances – so we weren’t ready for the ambush.”

“Someone knew we were following him.” Fred croaked. “They struck Arnie down in front of me, and I yelled to George, and Kingsley, who was listening in, in case anything went wrong. I tried to get to him but…” he trailed off.

“He was duelling with two Death Eaters at the same time.” George said. “He took one of them out, but then the b- the man we were following, came at him from behind with this sword or something, and he got hit by a curse at the same time. I stunned him and the other ran but it was too late.”

Fred pointed to his scar. “I don’t remember much after that. I just remember waking up in this room, with Madam Pomfrey fussing over me.”

“Yeah, when did Madam Pomfrey become part of the Order?” Ron asked.

“She didn’t… Dumbledore just gave her a portkey to travel to and fro… she doesn’t know where we are at all.” George explained.

“Arnie didn’t make it.” Fred said in a guilt laden voice. “If I hadn’t started talking to him a few months ago, he’d still be alive.”

“I was the one who brought up him joining the Order.” George said glumly.

“Don’t blame yourselves.” Harry said fiercely, and to the surprise of his companions he could tell. “You didn’t force Voldemort to become a tyrant, or force his Death Eaters to do any of it.”

“Yeah, well, we were following them, weren’t we?” George said. “Not surprising they attacked, is it?”

“And you wouldn’t have followed them if it wasn’t for Voldemort trying to kill everyone! It’s not your fault, there’s nothing you could have done. You have to accept that.” Harry said pleadingly.

If Fred and George couldn’t avoid blaming themselves for this, then what hope was there of him getting over the guilt that remained lodged in his heart?

“That’s good advice,” Ron nodded looking at Harry through almost appraising eyes, “I get the feeling that we all will have to remember it in the future. I mean… we’re in this together, right?”

Hermione and Ginny nodded, and a silence fell. It was broken by a ‘tap-tap’ on the window. Three large, important looking owls were waiting to be allowed in.

Hermione’s eyes widened, and she looked fearful. “Oh God! They’re here… Our O.W.L. results!”

Ginny opened the window, and each of the three owls flew to one of Harry, or Hermione, or Ron.

Ron grimaced as he looked at the writing on the parchment. “Better get it over with I guess, Harry.”

Ron broke the official looking seal, and Harry did the same. Hermione however, was looking at the scroll as if it might explode.

“I can’t look.” She muttered. “I just can’t look.”

Ron rolled his eyes. “Come on Hermione, you’re the only one of us that we know for certain has done well! Well… Here goes!”

Harry and Ron unrolled the scrolls together, and began to read.
Dear Mr Potter.

I am pleased to include the results of your O.W.L. examinations. Each subject is listed below, with the respective O.W.L.s awarded for both the practical and written examinations.

Astronomy:

Written: E
Practical: A

Care of Magical Creatures:

Written: E
Practical: O

Charms:

Written: E
Practical: O

Defence Against the Dark Arts:

Written: O
Practical: O* (Please see below)

Divination:

Written: A
Practical: P

History of Magic:

Written: P
Practical: N/A

Potions:

Written: E
Practical: E

Transfiguration:

Written: E
Practical: O

Congratulations on your results!

*You have been awarded an Outstanding Recognition for your practical Defence Against the Dark Arts examination. This honour is bestowed only for exceptional achievement in the field – the Ministry of Magic would like to offer its congratulations and also its support should you wish to pursue Defence Against the Dark Arts in any future career choices.

Paul Pytharulus,

Wizarding Examinations Authority,

Department of Magical Education,

Ministry of Magic.


“Go on then… what did you get?” George asked Harry with a grin.

“Oh! Er… did pretty well… looks like I’m not getting into Potions though. Just hope I can still be an auror.”

“Let’s have a look then.” Fred said, holding out his hand.

Harry, slightly reluctantly, gave him it. “How’d you do Ron?”

“Outstandings in Defence Against the Dark Arts!” Ron grinned. “Told you the DA was bloody brilliant. Did okay in Charms, better in Transfiguration… even did alright in Potions – an A and an E.”

“Same here-” Harry started to say, but Fred had just started choking.

“An Outstanding Recognition? And here were we thinking you could be saved when you weren’t made Prefect.” He said in a tone of utter disgust.

“This is a sad day for the Weasley-Potter family.” George agreed.

Hermione let out a squeal of excitement. “An Outstanding Recognition? Wow Harry, they hardly ever give those out. That’s really unusual! The last person to get one of those was Alexandria Caputh twelve years ago in Charms. She’s in the Department of Experimental Charms now.”

“How do you…” George began.

“She read it in a book…” Ron replied.

Hermione ignored them.

“Bloody hell Harry, these results…” George trailed off as he looked down the scroll himself.

“Just because you two only got three O.W.L.s doesn’t mean that it’s a surprise if other people do well.” Ginny said.

Fred was now looking at Ron’s, and let out another sound of disgust. “You three have to realise there’s more to life than exam results.”

“They’re not that good.” Ron said, blushing slightly.

“This is Fred and George we’re talking about, remember.” Ginny said, still needling the twins with a grin.

“Well, if they’d had Hermione’s notes and revision timetables they’d have done okay too.” Ron said, still red.

“Aren’t you going to open yours Hermione?” Harry asked.

She looked absolutely terrified, and Ginny solved the problem by telling her: “Right, either you open it, or I’ll open it for you.”

Hermione tentatively slipped her finger under the seal. The eyes of the room were all upon her as her eyes scrolled down the page, getting wider the further she went. Unsurprisingly, she had aced it.

“So, Fred,” Ron began when the talk of O.W.L. results had finally died away, “Are you going to be up in time for Harry’s party?”

“My party?” Harry asked blankly.

“Yes, your party.” Ginny said firmly.

Seeing Harry’s face, which had a look of complete lack of comprehension fixed, Ron continued. “You know, the thing which you have on birthdays? Your one of which is coming up quite soon?”

“A birthday party?” Harry asked, still not really understanding what they were talking about.

“Of course.” Ginny said. “But don’t expect us to tell you what we’re planning.”

“Leave it to us.” Fred said, “I’ll be out of here in no time, and George and I will fix you up a Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes party, the likes of which you’ll have never seen before.”

“That wouldn’t be hard.” Harry told them. “I’ve never had one before.”

The Weasleys gaped at him.

“You’ve never…” Ron said faintly.

“You’ve met the Dursleys, Ron, so have you two,” Harry nodded to Fred and George, “do you really think they’d want to hold a birthday party for me?”

“Right.” George said, rubbing his hands, “We’ve got plenty of time to make up for then.”

Harry looked at them warily. “Nothing too big, please.”

“But Harry…” Ron started.

Hermione came to his rescue, by glaring at the whole bunch of Weasleys. “I think Harry’s had enough of being in the limelight, if he doesn’t want it to be huge, then it’s his party.”

“Thanks.” Harry mumbled, not looking at anyone.

“We’ll still make it one to remember.” George promised.

Harry had indeed had quite enough of the limelight, and luckily, the Prophet was doing quite a good job at deflecting attention towards him from the outside world for once. Firstly with the announcement that an inquiry into the case of Sirius Black was being planned and that the Magical Law Enforcement Department believed that he may not have been guilty after all, and secondly thanks to articles describing the shambles that the Ministry seemed to be in. Since they had run that first article on Umbridge by Rita Skeeter, a number of others had come out, with headlines like: Department of Law Enforcement Sets Date for Umbridge Enquiry; or The Chequered Past of the Minister’s Favourite; or Hogwarts Governors Demand Compensation for Inquisitor’s Reign of Terror.

Fudge wasn’t escaping the heat either. What the Ministry’s Fudging has Meant, Twelve Ways the Minister Helped You-Know-Who Return, and the rather blunt Fudge Must Go all reared their heads in the papers. The Sorcerer’s Star was already running polls as to who the public wanted as the next Minister (Dumbledore was winning), and Garrow’s Gambling Group was taking bets for the date of Fudge’s resignation. It was just three days before Harry’s birthday that movement in the Ministry was first announced however.
Senior Undersecretary Resigns!


Late last night, controversial Senior Undersecretary to the Minister, Dolores Umbridge announced her decision to resign from her position in the Ministry. Umbridge has come in for a lot of criticism recently following her spell in Hogwarts last year and the pressure seems to have become too much for her. It is rumoured that tales of her misdeeds first truly surfaced in the trial of Professor Severus Snape just a few weeks ago, and has caused both her and her long friend Minister Fudge to come under heavy criticism from the rest of the Ministry, although the Daily Prophet has been unable to verify this. Umbridge and Fudge have seemingly now played their last card to revive public opinion in the Minister, by the sacrifice of the former Inquisitor of Hogwarts.

“I deeply regret that my actions and poor advice have been blamed upon the Minister, when it has been no fault of his own.” She told reporters last night, reading from a prepared statement. “My failings as an advisor must not be allowed to tarnish the Minister’s reputation. As a result I feel it is only right that I resign, for the offences that have been levelled at Cornelius Fudge are mine and mine alone. I have no doubt that the current Minister is the one to see us through this current crisis with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”

While the cynical way at looking at this move suggests it is just a last gasp effort to regain support for Cornelius Fudge, even if we do allow Ms. Umbridge to take all the blame for the Ministry’s ineptitude, questions must be raised as to the suitability of a Minister that can be so easily manipulated into performing such questionable deeds and ignoring as many countless warnings as has happened in the last few years. The resignation of the poison tongue in his ear gives no guarantee that another will not rise to take its place, possibly by a follower of You-Know-Who himself. After all, one of the biggest fund raisers for his campaign to become Minister in the first place, and one of the biggest financial contributors to the current government, was one Lucius Malfoy, now in Azkaban as a known Death Eater – one that Fudge had already been warned about by The-Boy-Who-Lived, Harry Potter.

Sources in the Ministry have indicated that the forthcoming enquiry relating to Dolores Umbridge’s activities will take place regardless of her resignation, and, it is believed, that either in the same enquiry, or a separate one, the Minister himself will be required to face the music. If found guilty of any misconduct, the Minister may find himself forced to step down, even if he refuses to resign himself. For further details about some of the crimes Fudge may have to answer to, turn to page 3.


Harry couldn’t repress a smile when Hermione showed him this article, nor indeed, when he saw the tone of the rest of the paper. There was something immensely satisfying about it all. Ron, Ginny, and the Weasley twins shared in his delight. Hermione, however, was strangely negative about the whole thing.

“I just hate to think what might happen if a Death Eater or someone Voldemort controls becomes Minister.” She said, looking worried.

“Well, Fudge did as much to help him last year as any Voldemort sympathiser could have done.” Harry told her.

“You know that’s not true Harry.” Hermione said with a bit lip, and the same worried expression, “Fudge may have made it easy for him to regain strength, but if an actual supporter of Voldemort became Minister, they could make it easy for Voldemort to find the strongest people that opposed him. He could look like he was fighting against the Death Eaters, when he was actually helping them the whole time.”

“Dumbledore won’t let that happen.” Fred said confidently. He was now up and about, although he wasn’t as exuberant as he usually was. “You can bet he’ll have the whole of the Order making checks on any of the runners for Minister.”

Hermione’s expression didn’t change. “There’s only so much that Dumbledore can do. He has enough to do anyway; he has ever since Voldemort came back.”

“Well, Fudge isn’t gone yet.” Ron told her.

“Not yet, but he will be, just read the papers… Everyone wants him out.”

“Don’t blame me.” Harry said slightly defensively, “Fudge was always going, after the world knew Voldemort had come back, I just sped it along slightly.”

“Blame you?” George asked.

“He set Rita Skeeter on them.” Ron sniggered.

Fred and George’s eyebrows raised, and they grinned. “There’s hope for you yet young Harry!” They chorused.

“Right.” George said. “Sorry to leave you, but we’ve got work to do.”

“What kind?” Harry asked, interested to know if it was Order work, or Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes.

“Just a couple of inventions we have in the works. Only a couple of days left you know Harry!” Fred winked.

They disapparated before Harry could reply.

“Why am I filled with a sense of dread?” Harry asked rhetorically.

“Because you have at least half a brain.” Ron grinned.

“Don’t worry, we’ll keep them under control.” Ginny promised him.

“Harry, I’m sorry.” Hermione began. “We shouldn’t have put you on the spot like we did about the Prophecy.”

“Yeah. Me too mate.” Ron chimed in. “We were just worried, you know?”

“Yeah, well, it’s done now, isn’t it?” Harry said. “You know the Prophecy. Either I kill Voldemort, or he kills me. And if I don’t kill him, no-one else can, so no pressure.”

“We’ll help.” Ginny told him.

“Thanks, but there’s not much you can do.” Harry told her. “I told you, it’s me or him, no-one else involved.”

“Well, we can help you by trying to find ways to weaken Voldemort. Some of the books in that little library we found are ancient, maybe there’ll be some old magic in there that could help.” Hermione told him. “Something that no-one has thought of using, because it’s all been forgotten about.”

“Or we could help you practice duelling.” Ron told him, as if months of trawling through musty tomes didn’t appeal to him for some reason. “Or…” He looked terrified as he continued, “Or… Well, the Prophecy says you have to kill him, but it doesn’t say you can’t have help when fighting him, does it? We’ll be there every step of the way with you, I promise.”

“And we’ll always be here for you,” Ginny continued, “if ever you need to talk, or play Quidditch or something to relax or whatever, we’ll always be here.”

“I don’t want to put you in danger.” Harry said, but half-heartedly, for in truth, despite everything he had been thinking this summer, he was touched that they still wanted anything to do with him after hearing his future.

“And we don’t want you to be in danger either.” Ron told him. “So we’re going to do our best to make that danger as little as possible.”

Harry sighed, but said nothing for a few seconds. When he did open his mouth, Hermione beat him to it.

“Look, Harry, I know you don’t want to talk about Sirius,” Hermione began, and she pressed on before Harry could say anything, “and I promise I won’t keep asking you to talk about him. I’m sorry, I’m… I’m just worried about you. Just promise me that if you feel like saying something that you’ll talk to someone, okay? I’ll try not to go on about it, I promise.”

Harry swallowed. He was quite wrong footed by everything. He had been ready for another barrage of questions and orders, but not this. Hermione’s apology meant a lot to him too. If there was one thing that Hermione and Ron (and maybe he himself, a little voice said) had in common, it was that they didn’t like to admit they might be wrong. That was one of the reasons they bickered so much.

“Thanks.” He said gruffly, “And I promise.”

He meant it too.

“Voldemort knows the Prophecy exists.” Hermione began, changing the subject back once more. “But does he know anything else about it?”

“Why?” Harry asked.

“Well, I was just thinking…” Hermione said, as if she was still mulling over whatever idea it was herself.

“And?” Ron prompted.

“Well, one of the reasons you said you didn’t want us to know the Prophecy, Harry, was in case V- Voldemort tried to pull it out of our minds, like he’s been trying to do with you.” Harry noticed that although she had been saying Voldemort’s name for three quarters of a year, she still stumbled over the word occasionally. “Well, what if we get a Legilimens like Dumbledore or Professor Snape to put a false Prophecy in our heads? Say one that predicts his downfall if he tries to kill you, or something?”

“Well, that’s assuming he doesn’t see this conversation.” Harry said, dubiously. “I dunno, I’d have thought if it would work, Dumbledore would have done something similar with me.”

“It was just a thought.” Hermione shrugged.

“He knows the first half of it.” Harry told them. “Dumbledore told me that one of his Death Eaters heard the bit about me being born, with power to oppose the Dark Lord, but they caught him and made him flee before he heard any more, so he doesn’t know that he marked me as his equal, or that only I can kill him.” He wondered whether he ought to tell them that it could have been Neville rather than him, but decided against it. It seemed kind of unfair, given that Neville didn’t know himself.

“It’s an idea.” Ron said, nodding.

“Well I’d much rather you weren’t captured or had him inside your heads.” Harry told them.

“So would I, mate.” Ron said, with a quick grin, “But if it did happen, you know, at least we might stop You-Know-Who knowing what the Prophecy was.”

Harry felt his temper rising, and he struggled to control it. His emotions were always so close to the surface and it took little to set it off.

“It’s easy to sit here making clever little plans, but don’t you realise how much can go wrong? You can say that you wouldn’t tell him anything now, but you have no idea how much the Cruciatus Curse hurts, you just want it to be over, and you’d do almost anything to stop it. Then there’s the Imperius Curse, and any one of hundreds of curses Voldemort uses to get what he wants, and his snake and its venom. You have no idea what it’s like. If you’re going to plot and plan, you should be working out ways to stop that happening, not things in case it happens.”

Hermione, Ron, and Ginny stayed silent. Somehow the silence said more about how seriously they were taking it to Harry, than any protestation they could have made.

Harry sighed. “I’m sorry… It’s just… I’ve seen too much death already. I’ve been a part of too much death.”

Things were looking up however; Harry felt when he went to bed the night before his birthday. Fudge was getting slaughtered by the Prophet, Umbridge had resigned, Sirius might finally be known as the man he was, innocent, and a fighter versus Voldemort. And despite everything, Harry was starting to feel better about having told his friends about the Prophecy. He didn’t think they fully understood it yet, that they knew what was going to happen, but didn’t appreciate what it actually meant, but the knowledge that his friends were there for him just made Harry feel a little more positive about everything. Another big plus point was the fact that he hadn’t taken any of the Dreamless Sleep potion for a whole week.

And Harry had to admit, that he was looking forward to his first ever birthday party.
________________________________________


There was screaming, a man’s voice. Harry looked around frantically. He was in a richly furnished room, with luxurious drapes and curtains adding to the embroidery which decorated the rest of the room. Portraits of moving pictures signalled this to be a wizard’s house, and judging by their robes, and the cruel set of their eyes, it looked to be a dark wizard’s home. A golden snake slithered along the wall in a circle, and Harry had to look twice before he realised that it was in actual fact gold, and not alive. He took this all in in just a few seconds, but promptly pushed it to the back of his mind, for he had spied the maker of the screams, and his torturer.

A tall, thin man with piercing red eyes, long jet black hair, and dark green robes was lounging in a chair, wand pointing at his victim. It looked spookily like Voldemort, except he looked more humanlike, both in body and expressions. He had a definite nose, rather than the slits that belonged to Voldemort, and similar subtle changes were repeated all over his face. In his whole figure there was almost a vibrancy about his appearance that didn’t exist when Harry had seen Voldemort in his new body – the Voldemort Harry knew was dangerous in his systematic approach that at times seemed almost emotionless.

The victim to this Voldemort-like man had his neck held by a noose suspended from the ceiling, his arms and legs unbound and dangling uselessly by his side. His right lower arm was hanging at an unnatural angle to the rest of his body, as if it had been badly broken in more than one place. Likewise, his bloody, bruised, battered body was perched on two legs which looked like they could hardly support his weight. The man was half naked, and burn marks could be seen all over his torso. Vomit and blood surrounded the body, and his whole appearance made Harry feel ill himself.

Harry looked away from the scene, and the ability to control his own movements made him look down at his own body – for it was his own body. Was this a dream? When Voldemort attacked him through Legilimency he had always been in Voldemort’s body, or where Voldemort’s thoughts had been, in the last year. What was happening? Who was this man that looked so much like Voldemort? Who was the man being tortured?

There were renewed screams from the dangling man. More scorching burns appeared on his chest.

“Who are you?” Harry yelled. “Why are you doing this?”

His voice echoed around the room strangely. Neither of the two men showed a sign of having heard him. It reminded him of when he had been in Dumbledore’s pensieve, or Riddle’s diary.

“Reducto.” The torturer grinned.

The curse hit the man on the right knee cap. It cracked backwards as the skin and bones ripped making the man scream as the blood poured out. The scream was cut off as the noose strangled both the man, and his cry. He fought to gain air by putting his left foot on the ground to support his weight, but to do this he had to try to place weight on his useless right leg.

This man was sick, Harry thought, as sick as Voldemort. It was just another of his similarities to Tom Riddle. Harry looked away again. Instinctively he knew he had no way of interfering in or controlling this dream world. The torturer was laughing, a cold, high laugh. A knock at the door interrupted him.

“Enter.” He said coldly, flicking his wand hand towards the door so that he could curse anyone that came in.

A man behind a Death Eater’s mask opened the door. He was short and slightly plump, and looked around fearfully, before dropping to his knees and averting his head.

“Wormtail. My patience has its limits. I trust you bring me good news for if you don’t, then…” The menace in his words didn’t require him to finish the sentence, especially with the thing dangling from the noose that barely looked like a body anymore.

Wormtail? Why was Pettigrew here? But this man wasn’t Pettigrew. He was too slim for one thing, and his body looked almost youthful. And then it hit Harry. The man that looked so like Voldemort was Voldemort. A younger Voldemort. One who still had his original body. This had to be a memory. Voldemort was showing Harry one of his own memories. Harry tried to wake up, whatever Voldemort wanted to show him, he didn’t want to see. He pinched himself. It hurt.

“I do my Lord. They have made me their Secret Keeper. I can give you the Potters.” Wormtail said hesitatingly, almost wincing as he did.

Harry couldn’t breathe – his mind was numb. His parents! Voldemort was showing him how his parents died. There was no way Harry wanted to see that. He struggled to extricate himself from this nightmare, but how he was to achieve that he didn’t know. How could thinking about his parents help in this situation? Voldemort obviously would have accounted for that, seeing as he was showing him their deaths.

Voldemort let out his shrill cold laugh. “They made you their secret keeper? They must not be as clever as I had allowed them to be. Did those emotional fools really believe you would be brave enough to protect them despite all of my methods of persuasion?”

“They did Master, th- they live in Godrics Hollow.” Wormtail confirmed nervously.

“Excellent. We leave now.”

Voldemort rose from the chair energetically, and walked to the door. Harry stayed put – he did not want to go wherever Voldemort went. He paused as he reached the doorway, looking back to the wretch that was barely alive. Giving a wicked grin, he pointed his wand at the man.

“Tarantellegra!”

As Voldemort left the room, Harry tried desperately to dig in his heels and not go with Voldemort. He closed his eyes so as not to see the man in agony, but couldn’t close his ears to the screams. The next thing he knew, the screaming had stopped, and when he opened his eyes he saw he was in a corridor. Voldemort walked straight through him towards a set of stairs. Harry watched him go, with the sinking feeling that he would be dragged wherever Voldemort went whatever he tried. Wormtail followed a respectful distance behind his master.

Next, Harry found himself in a different hallway, whereupon Voldemort walked through him once again. When he had at last left the house Voldemort disapparated, and the three of them appeared in a dark street in a country village. He stood boldly in the middle of the Muggle road. There were no lights; neither streetlamps, nor cars illuminated the dark night. The only aids to sight were the glimmers that came through curtains in the large houses along the road.

“So, Wormtail, where exactly are they then?”

“The Potters live here Master. In the house called Chaser’s Rest.” He pointed to the house right in front of them.

Voldemort let out a sound that seemed halfway between a sigh and a hiss as he saw his target. Harry half-wondered why he had been able to see the house before Wormtail had told them where it was. Of course, he was inside the house even now in this memory. After all, he was the reason Voldemort had come to kill his parents. He must’ve known the secret when he was just a little child.

Voldemort started muttering words under his breath, casting a complex spell of some kind. Harry looked around, taking in the street that had once been his home for minutes, while Voldemort performed his incantation, apparating to different spots around the house. Harry could tell he was trapping them inside somehow. As he finished, a bright flash of light illuminated the sky above Harry’s parents’ house, creating a kind of dome and then fading away until it was black again. Curtains were drawn back in the house, and a man’s face was silhouetted in a window. Even from this distance, Harry knew it was his father. Horror was on his face, and Harry could see him mouthing words. He disappeared from the window.

Voldemort laughed. “They know I am here. Good.”

“Are… are you not going to cast anti-apparition wards my Lord?” Wormtail asked in a petrified voice.

“Are you questioning me Wormtail?” Voldemort asked sharply.

He held his wand at Pettigrew, extending the forthcoming Cruciatus curse for at least half a minute. Pettigrew was screaming loudly, but none of the Muggle houses seemed to hear anything. Voldemort seemed completely unworried by the time he was giving the Potters.

“The Potters may not escape without leaving their child. Their Floo is cut off, and they will find Portkeys shall not work. As for leaving on foot…” He paused, and a strangled cry came up from behind the house.

“James! He’s set up an age line! I can’t get Harry through!”

“Take Harry on my broom – take him and fly over it! I’ll try to hold him off.”

Voldemort let out a wicked sigh. “Such nobility. I believe that is what it means to be a true Gryffindor Wormtail, loyalty to your friends and family above all, selfless sacrifice to save your dear ones’ skins. But that kind of foolish bravery can be broken, as I have broken many before them, isn’t that right?" He glanced at Wormtail with a sardonically enquiring eyebrow, as if daring him to disagree. "I wonder if I can break their spirit and watch them flee to save their own worthless lives without the child?”

“But Master, if they leave, then they will know I am the one that betrayed them, I will not be able to be your spy!”

Voldemort laughed, “Still concerned about your own hide, Wormtail? Fear not, for Lord Voldemort has far more useful spies than you in his ranks. You shall not enter the house, Wormtail. Wait here for my return.”

Voldemort strolled up the pebbledash driveway, past a pretty garden with a variety of flowers, until he reached a Muggle car. Harry, knowing it was impossible to avoid continuing in the memory, followed. He looked at the car with an expression of violent distaste.

“Call yourself a witch and wizard?” He muttered in disgust. “Real witches and wizards have nothing to do with filthy Muggles. Incendio!”

The car exploded in a violent storm of fire. The murderer continued past it without a second glance. With a wave of his hand, the front door burst inwards, crashing against the wall behind. Voldemort stepped through the opening. Harry followed unwillingly.

Voldemort sniffed the air, as if trying to scent the Potters’ smell. “Now… where will he be?” He asked in a loud mocking voice.

“Lily, take Harry and go! It’s him! Go! Run! I’ll hold him off - the two of you must survive!” James Potter’s voice sounded from behind a door.

Voldemort strode forward laughing, the door bursting open as he did. Revealed was Harry’s father, wand drawn, slightly hunched, worry, but not fear etched on his face. Voldemort still had not withdrawn his wand.

“Voldemort.” He uttered, in a one word greeting.

“How brave.” Voldemort replied, baring his teeth in a smile. “Not only do you say my name, but you try to fight the most powerful wizard in the world in order to save your family. Touching, I must say. Of course, there is another word for this. Stupidity. I will give you this one chance to flee – it is your child I want, as I am sure the Muggle loving fool has told you.”

James did not reply, but rather sent a rush of flame at Voldemort. Voldemort simply held out his hand, and the flame went either side of a large shield that was surrounding him.

“Very well. I am not usually so generous as to offer people chance at life. It is as well that you refused it.”

“We’ve already escaped you three times Riddle, we’ll do it again.” James yelled, avoiding the curse that Voldemort had sent his way.

Harry didn’t want to watch. He knew what would happen, but he found himself unable to avoid looking at his father’s eyes. He could almost see his mind working hard to find ways to slow Voldemort down, and maybe help Lily escape with Harry. Although Harry knew that it was a fight doomed to failure, he couldn’t look away. James had just deflected two curses, and dodged another, and he banished a couch straight at Voldemort. It burst into smithereens but he had found cover.

Harry moved around to get a better view of his father. He was transfiguring some wreckage into ferocious dogs, which left the cover, and flung themselves at Voldemort, snarling, while James continued his transfiguration behind a sturdy bookshelf that was lying on its side across the room. Voldemort, although first taken by surprise, had an amused look on his face, and fought off the animals with ease.

“Come now Potter is that all you can do? I expected better. Wormtail wanted me to recruit you into my Death Eaters rather than kill you, you know. Oh yes! The little rat told me where you were all right. He has been working for me for quite some time now. See how the weak betray your compassion? Far better to keep them in their proper place, serving the strong! Just think – you can flee now, and warn your precious friends of his treachery, or you can stay and die while failing to protect your family. What should you do?” Voldemort laughed.

Harry’s father made no reply. Harry could see beads of sweat dripping from his face, and he looked to see what was being transfigured. It was a Muggle gun. James leapt out from behind his shelter, and with his wand in his left hand, and the gun in his right, he pointed them both at Voldemort, pulling the trigger, and yelling, “Acidus!”

A golden shield surrounded Voldemort, and the spell glanced off. The bullet from the gun, however, was too quick for the shield, and lodged in Voldemort’s chest. Voldemort doubled up in pain for a split second, and James rushed forward, shouting the forbidden curse as he did. “Avada Kedavra!”

Voldemort vanished, and reappeared to his side, the curse destroying part of the wall behind where he had been standing. His wand was out, and it pointed at the bullet wound. The bullet spat out of his torso, and the wound knitted itself together. Voldemort’s face was flushed with the heat of battle, and he sounded almost elated when he said:

“So the pure and righteous auror knows how to play? It was an ingenious idea even if it was not good enough against a wizard that cannot be defeated. Perhaps you would have made a good Death Eater.” He mused.

“Never.” Harry’s father spat, casting another vicious curse.

“It was not an offer. I don’t recruit people who are about to die.” Voldemort’s smile was back, and he flung curses at James one after another.

Each curse made a loud clanging sound as it was blocked, and seemingly threatened to throw James backwards off his feet by the whole power of them. He may have been able to keep Voldemort at bay for a while when Voldemort had no wand, but the Voldemort firing curses at his full strength was another matter. He was forced down onto one knee when Voldemort sent a killing curse at him. Diving to his side, his wand flew out of his hand, and Voldemort approached his helpless prey. Tears were welling in Harry’s eyes, and he was finding it difficult to breathe, but he couldn’t look away.

James Potter squeezed the trigger of the gun once again, but Voldemort’s shield this time stopped it in his tracks.

“And now, you die.” Voldmort said softly. “Goodbye, Mr Potter. Avada Kedavra.”

James Potter, husband to Lily, father to Harry Potter – his one year old son, who was now watching nearly fifteen years on – fought no more. His lifeless body stared up at Voldemort with unseeing eyes. His killer immediately changed his attention to the search for Lily Potter, and the boy the Prophecy had warned him about, as if he had done nothing more than drink a glass of water. By contrast, Harry crouched down on the ground, unable to take in what he had just seen. He had just watched his father die. Harry found himself dragged through the house in Voldemort’s search, but he took nothing else in. He could picture his father’s dead body in his eyes now, and it wouldn’t leave his vision. It was only the words Voldemort said next that jerked him away.

“Mrs Potter. Ah… and young Harry. The last two Potters. You may leave Mudblood, it is only your child that must die – I shall allow you to survive.”

There was a sudden flash of light, and Voldemort had an almost impressed tone when he continued. “So… You managed to break my charms did you? You’re still too late.”

“No!” A woman’s – Harry’s mother’s – voice screamed desperately.

Harry looked up, and stared into his mother’s face. She ran from the window at which she had been standing to a spot between Voldemort and a cot which housed the young Harry. He had never seen her so vividly in his dreams, or the photos that he had of her. She was beautiful; there was no other word for it. Her youthful beauty shone through even the darkness of Voldemort’s presence. There were tears in her green eyes, which looked identical to Harry’s own. Her red hair seemed to be ablaze as she took a protective stance over her child.

“Not Harry! Not Harry! Please – I’ll do anything! Anything! He’s just a baby. Let him live!”

“Stand aside – Stand aside girl, and you may still live!”

“Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!” Lily pled.

Voldemort sent a curse at her, but it hit a barrier in front of Lily and disappeared. Voldemort gave another laugh.

“Cute trick, but it won’t save you from the Unforgivables. Stand aside, you silly girl – stand aside, now – you may leave and live.”

“Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead – not Harry! Please, have mercy! Have mercy!”

Harry knew what was going to happen, and placed himself between the two of them, wanting to stop this horrible scene. He was crying openly now, but he didn’t notice.

“Why Mum?” He whispered. “Why couldn’t you and Dad have left me?”

“Crucio!” Voldemort said coldly.

Lily Potter screamed, a sound that contrasted violently with Voldemort’s amusement, as he continued to laugh. He lifted the curse, and told her once again:

“Stand aside you silly girl! You may still disapparate and survive.”

“Not Harry.” She gasped. “You can’t kill Harry. Kill me! Kill me instead!”

“Very well, I gave you your chance. Avada Kedavra!”

“NOOOO!” Harry yelled, and he watched, as though in slow motion, as the green light of the killing curse sped through his chest, and pierced whatever charm Lily had put in place to protect both her and Harry.

He watched, as the life was extinguished from the emerald green eyes of his mother, and the body that had looked so full of energy and spirit crumpled to the floor. Dead. Voldemort continued to laugh as he approached the baby Harry in the crib. Harry watched him cross the floor, sobbing.

“And now, Harry Potter, the one who would oppose me, now that I have killed the people closest and dearest to you, now I shall kill you.”
________________________________________


Harry’s eyes shot open. Circling his bed were Ron, Ginny, Fred, and Hermione. There were some balloons with writing, and confetti floating in the air, in fact, his whole bedroom was decorated in bright, gay colours, and party banners.

“Harry!” Hermione exclaimed. “Thank God, you’re awake.”

Harry tried to speak but couldn’t. He closed his eyes and lay there. Lupin’s voice came from the hall.

“What’s happened?”

“We don’t know, we came in to surprise him, but he won’t wake up. Nothing we do works.” George answered him.

“He’s awake!” Ron yelled out to them.

“Give him room, you’re crowding him.” Lupin said calmly, as he saw the people around the bed.

Obediently, the four surrounding him took a step or two backwards. Lupin’s face came into vision as Harry blinked open his eyes, concern etched on his features.

“Voldemort?” He asked Harry swiftly.

Harry nodded, still unable to speak.

“Are you alright? What did he show you?”

“He – He – Halloween –” Harry had found his voice, but it was constricted. “He – My parents – He –”

Harry’s whole body convulsed as he fought to contain his feelings. Lupin’s face had gone white as he understood, and his usually calm face was gripped by something that looked almost like fury.

“Are you okay?” He asked in a voice that belied his facial expressions.

“Just… Give me time to myself.” Harry choked.

Lupin didn’t argue, but turned on his heel. Harry distinctly heard him say under his breath, “I’m going to kill him, damn what Dumbledore says, I’m going to kill him.”

Harry knew that it was the look that had gripped his face that caused Hermione to run out of the room after him.

“Harry, are you okay?” Ron asked in a hushed voice.

“I need to be on my own.” Harry repeated.

Immediately the door to his room closed, Harry sat up on the edge of his bed and looked around. A large bright banner was proclaiming ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY HARRY’ above the door. Without thinking, he jumped up, grabbing the sign in his clenched fist, and tearing it to the ground. A ragged sob tore its way out of his throat. As his room started to be unsystematically destroyed, the faces of his father, his mother, and Sirius all flashed before him.

“Why?” He yelled savagely, again and again and again.

Harry’s emotions finally wore themselves out, leaving him feeling tired and yet still distraught. And it was in this state that one more face intruded into his view. Remus Lupin’s furious white face, saying, ‘I’m going to kill him.’ He couldn’t kill him. Harry was the only one that could, but Remus wasn’t to know that. There would only be one outcome if Remus tried to fight Voldemort.

The celebratory banners, balloons and other party trinkets that the Weasleys had arranged were strewn in disarray throughout the room. Many of Harry’s own possessions joined them on the floor. Harry didn’t care, what import did his birthday have compared to the lives of his parents and their best friends? Although so often before Harry had found the album of photos of his parents a source of solace, just looking at the photos compounded everything in Harry’s mind.

There was a soft knock on the door. Lupin’s voice came through the wood. “Harry? Are you alright?”

Harry swallowed. “C’m’in.”

It was the old Remus that entered the room, rather than the one that had been seized by anger earlier. He put down a bowl he had been carrying as he entered, and walked over to the bed, where Harry was now sitting. He sat down beside him, placing his hand on Harry’s shoulder, squeezing slightly.

“That should have been my life:” Harry said hoarsely, “my parents, Sirius, you. I should have grown up with you all. Mum and Dad should have been alive, Sirius should have been free. Voldemort took everyone away from me.”

“It’s not right Harry, no-one should have to put up with what you have, but you still have people here for you. I’m still here for you, Dumbledore, Hermione, the Weasleys, Tonks – we’re all here for you.”

“Voldemort kills the people who get close to me.” Harry said in the same voice, “He even said so after he killed – killed my parents. He said that after he’d killed everyone close to me he’d kill me. I couldn’t take it if you…” He trailed off.

They met each others eyes. It suddenly struck Harry how much pain there was behind Lupin’s.

Lupin offered Harry a comforting smile. “I’ll always be here for you, I promise.”

“I heard what you said this morning when you left the room.” Harry told him throatily.

He was quiet for awhile, before he replied, “Hermione told me you’d heard. I’m sorry Harry, I shouldn’t have said that. I was emotional, and wasn’t thinking. Voldemort’s taken everyone away from you – he’s taken everyone away from me – and I was angry, upset. I promise you I won’t do anything stupid.”

Harry didn’t say anything. He stared at a spot on the wall, but didn’t really see anything. His parents’ dead bodies floated before his eyes again. “I can’t lose you too.” He told him in a low tone.

Lupin responded by giving Harry a kind of half hug. “You won’t if I have anything to say about it. I won’t take any risks I don’t have to.”

They sat quietly for a few minutes. Harry found the silent companionship rather comforting. He offered Remus a slight smile, and looked unseeingly around the room. He had seemed sincere about not taking any risks, but Harry could remember the contours of his face precisely when he had realised what Harry had seen last night. He also vividly remembered what Ginny had said about Remus, and how she thought he was acting like he had no reason to live. And if Lupin died, then…

“He gave them the chance to flee and leave me.” Harry said at last. “He kept saying that they could apparate out, and leave me to die, and then they could survive. But they wouldn’t go. Dad… he fought… he… he…” Harry couldn’t go on, his chest shuddered as his body remembered the tears that had come before.

“And you think that it’s because of you that they died.” Lupin said softly, although it wasn’t a question. “Harry, Lily and James… Did you know that they had escaped Voldemort before then?”

Harry nodded.

“The last time they met Voldemort before… before that night, they stayed behind to slow Voldemort down so that people they had never met could escape. They would never leave anyone behind. James would even have stayed behind for Snape.” He gave a quiet chuckle and then was serious again. “Never, ever, think for a second that it is your fault that they died. You did nothing wrong, you have nothing to berate yourself for.”

He was visibly upset, and seemed to be biting the inside of his mouth, his eyes looked moist, and suddenly Harry sensed that there was something that Remus was holding inside which meant he had blame to deal with as well.

“Remus…” Harry began, not knowing what to say.

“Did you ever wonder why Sirius thought I was the spy Harry? Why Sirius thought that I was the one that was feeding Voldemort information about Lily and James’ movements?”

Harry didn’t answer – he could tell he wasn’t required to.

“In the months before that, Voldemort had let it be known that he would give werewolves more rights, as long as they were wizard born. My ancestors have been witches or wizards for the last couple of centuries, which meant I would have had more rights under Voldemort’s scheme. That was when people really started to distrust werewolves. Think Umbridge and you’ll have some idea.”

“But Sirius wouldn’t-” But Lupin cut Harry off.

“Sirius, Peter, and I had tried to cast protective charms for Lily and James before they used the Fidelius. One of them nearly killed Lily, the Barohan Charm. Have you heard of it?”

Harry shook his head.

“I’m not surprised, hardly anyone would have. The targets of the spell lend some of their life-force to a witch or wizard that they choose, so that the target can tell if they’re in danger or not. It would give us a warning if you were under attack. Sirius was paired with you, Peter with James, and I was paired with Lily. Only it didn’t work.” He said heavily. “It was really old magic, and no-one knew that much about it to be honest, not even Dumbledore. Lily had found out about it, and suggested we tried it.”

“Mum found it?” Harry asked, causing Lupin to give a small smile, but it didn’t extend to his eyes.

“Yeah, Lily was amazing with her charms. But we soon found out that this one wasn’t meant to work with werewolves. Halfway through the charm, Lily fainted. We stopped, revived her, and she seemed to be okay. She wanted to try again, so the next time, even though she again fell unconscious, we continued with the charm. We knew there was something wrong immediately. When she came round she foamed at the mouth, writhed in agony screaming, her eyes had rolled back, and immediately she woke, my whole body was racked with pain too. James, Sirius, and Pe-” He took a deep breath, “James and Sirius barely managed to reverse the charm in time.”

“But that wasn’t your fault, you didn’t ask to be a werewolf. You didn’t know it would happen. Sirius and my parents wouldn’t have blamed you surely?” Harry interrupted.

Lupin exhaled, and shook his head. “I blamed myself. We left that spell alone after that, but I spent more and more time on my own. I couldn’t face Lily again, I’d nearly killed her. I’d make excuses not to spend time with them, and saw practically no-one for weeks. And when Lily turned up and made me listen to her, persuading me to spend time with them again, and the next protective spells we tried failed for no apparent reason…”

Harry wanted to grab Lupin and shake him, to shake some sense into his head. How could anything be his fault? So he’d been scared by what had happened, so what, anyone would have been! He hadn’t meant it to happen, had he? That didn’t mean he was a spy. That didn’t mean he had caused Voldemort to attack, or made Wormtail betray them. He stared at Lupin. His eyes were red, with large black shadows below them. His face was thin and pale, and Harry noticed that his mouth had the look of someone who hadn’t smiled for a long time, maybe even one that had almost forgotten how to smile properly – the corners seemed to be fixed on a downwards curve. With a jab of understanding, he wondered if this was how he himself looked to Hermione, Ron, and Ginny.

Lupin sighed. “I couldn’t blame Sirius for suspecting me. It was Wormtail who sabotaged the charms of course, but we had no way of knowing that. I always assumed it was my fault because I was a werewolf again. Lily and James refused to point the blame at anyone, but Sirius suspected me, or at least that’s what he told me these last few years. He persuaded Lily and James not to tell me about the change in secret keeper and hid himself, ready for when Voldemort was told that he could tell him where they were. Everything pointed at me, and I had the chances to disprove it. I didn’t, and because of that Lily and James were betrayed.

“But you shouldn’t blame yourself for something you couldn’t control. I’m sorry Harry. I ruined your life. That life you say Voldemort took away from you, that was my fault.” He finished bitterly.

Harry swallowed. He had had no idea, and had no idea what to say.

“Moony,” He began hesitantly, “you weren’t to know that someone that you trusted would be a spy.”

Remus shook his head, “Even if I hadn’t worked out Wormtail was the turncoat, I’d have known Sirius was innocent, he wouldn’t have been sent to Azkaban, and you wouldn’t have been mistreated by the Dursleys.”

“I had to go to the Dursleys… The blood magic, you know.” Harry told him.

“Can you imagine Sirius letting them hurt you? He’d have been with you most of the day, making sure you were alright, teaching you about our world. Your whole life would have been different.”

“How do you know?” Harry challenged him, “How do you know they would have trusted your word about Sirius?”

Remus shook his head yet again, “Even so, I shouldn’t have left you like I did. If I was the only Marauder left, I should have looked after James and Lily’s child, but did I? No, I hid myself away, ashamed to even see you after what I’d done to your life. And so I would be today if Albus hadn’t offered me a job in third year. No Harry, you have nothing to torture yourself about, you, Sirius, James, Lily, you’re the victims of my stupidity.”

Harry suddenly knew exactly how Lupin was feeling. It was the same way he’d been feeling all summer. But how could he make Lupin see that it wasn’t his fault?

“It’s Wormtail’s fault, not yours, he was the one that betrayed them – us – isn’t he? He betrayed my parents, which meant that Sirius was sent to Azkaban, which meant I went to the Dursleys. You thought Wormtail was a friend, didn’t you? Why should you think a friend would betray you to Voldemort? It isn’t your fault.”

Remus sighed, “Well it certainly isn’t yours, anyway, alright? Tell me that, please?”

“Only if you say it isn’t yours either.” Harry replied stubbornly, and the ghost of a smile finally forced its way onto Remus’ face.

“Deal, I’ll try not to blame myself, if you try to do the same.”

“Deal.” But Harry knew it wouldn’t be as easy as that, for either of them.

“What did you bring in with you?” Harry asked, changing the subject.

“Oh, that,” And Lupin looked tense once more, “it- it’s nothing Harry, forget about it.”

“Go on, what is it?” Harry asked, his curiosity peaked.

“No, forget it, I should be– I shouldn’t have– I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“Tell me.” Harry demanded.

Lupin looked troubled. “I don’t know why I– I feel awful for asking this Harry but… I need to see it for myself. I need to see what I – what Peter did. I need to know. That was Dumbledore’s pensieve I brought.”

Harry felt sick. “You’re not s–” He inhaled deeply. “What would I have to do?” He asked warily, although he had been fully intending to refuse. When it came to it, Lupin hadn’t wanted to tell him what he had been intending.

“You stick your wand to your temple, concentrate on the memory you want to include, and say ‘Memorium’, then you just put the tip of your wand in the pensieve.” Lupin said nervously. “It’s not like Patronuses, you need not think about what happens in it, just think of the memory, and say the word. I’m sorry, I just… I need to see.”

Remus left the room hurriedly for some privacy, and when Harry next saw him, he was very pale indeed, although there was a determined expression on his face. The others treated Harry very carefully, and there were few mentions of his birthday. They did their best to cheer Harry up without looking insensitive, and Fred and George managed to include a few of their inventions (like the Ballooning Bandages, which caused whichever appendices they were wrapped around to expand a little like Harry’s Aunt Marge had done). Mrs Weasley looked rather tearful herself, and insisted on looking after Harry, and hugging him whenever she had the chance. Harry was touched by the sentiment, but found it reminded him painfully of the fact that he had never really known his parents.

Dinner was a large affair, but it certainly wasn’t a party atmosphere. The entire Weasley clan was present, as were Tonks, a couple of other Order members like Mad-Eye and Kingsley Shacklebolt, and, of course, Remus. Conversation was arranged so as not to refer to the reason they were all together, and Harry had refused to open any presents today, either when his friends had offered them earlier or when Mrs Weasley suggested it before dinner. In fact, the only sign that it was his birthday at all was the cake, which was finely embroidered with Quidditch hoops, and broomsticks and players that hovered above the surface. Harry made the initial cut on Mrs Weasley’s masterpiece, and they shared the cake around, but Harry found he could barely taste it.

As everybody rose to leave the table, there was a sharp beeping sound. Kingsley fumbled to the wand in his pocket, said a few words, and a strip of paper emerged from the tip of his wand. He swore loudly, earning a rebuke from Mrs Weasley.

“Sorry Molly.” He rumbled in apology. “He’s attacking Azkaban.” He told the listening people.

Suddenly, everyone was alert. Fred, who had still been sitting down, jumped up, withdrawing his wand.

“You’re not going.” Mrs Weasley told him sharply.

“Oh yeah?” Fred said mutinously. “You need all the Order members you can there.”

“I forbid it. You’re not recovered. And you’re not going either George – we need Order members here to keep in contact with Dumbledore and everyone else.” She told him fiercely.

“Your mother’s right.” Moody growled over Fred and George’s protests. “Besides, we need people here to guard Potter and the others. He may know our location, and this could be a feint.”

Fred and George glared at them.

“I need you two to contact Dumbledore and tell him what’s happening, understood?” He barked, and when they didn’t answer immediately, he continued, “Or are you rethinking your decision to join the Order?”

“Fine.” George said resentfully. “We’ll contact Professor Dumbledore.”

When everyone had disappeared, Harry looked around at Ron, Ginny, and Hermione.

“Do you get the feeling Voldemort’s trying to tell me something?” He asked despairingly.
________________________________________


A/N: Okay, okay... so I am evil, cruel, and just generally nasty towards Harry... I sure am glad I'll never meet the poor guy face to face after some of the things I've done to him in just nine chapters! Another chapter, then they're finally off to Hogwarts - hope you enjoyed! Oh - and don't expect me to be any nicer to Harry... mwahahahahahahaha... :cough: ... hahahahaha... er... yeah... ;)

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Chapter 10: Padfoot and Prongs


“You-Know-Who has a spy in the Magical Law Enforcement staff Kingsley; it’s the only thing that makes sense.” Arthur Weasley was saying tiredly.

“None of the senior staff would turn to his side from our division. I know them all too well.” Kingsley replied protectively. “They’re good men.”

“It could be in the Minister’s own people.” Someone Harry hadn’t heard before suggested.

“Well I’ve known most of the men in our department for years. The traitor’s not there.” Kingsley said with an air of definitiveness.

“I knew Pettigrew for years.” Harry heard Lupin’s voice say quietly.

Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny were sitting upstairs in the dining room, upgraded Extendable Ears to their ears. Fred and George had given them to them as soon as the Order members returned. Harry knew it was because they had been forbidden to go to Azkaban with the Order.

“What kind of clearance level would they need?” Bill was now asking.

“They knew where all the recording equipment was, how to get past all of the charms, where exactly to go to disable the anti-apparition jinxes...” Moody told him. “Only the Head of the Magical Law Department and the heads of the sub-divisions would know that kind of information. Unless the security has been getting lax since I left, Kingsley, one of your pals is the man.”

“It’s not our department that’s the problem Mad-Eye. It’s Fudge! You should see what he’s done to security in the Ministry, he wants to know everything whenever he wants it, it’d be easy to find out anything for his staff.” Tonks said.

“Sooner he goes the better.” Kingsley rumbled. “Hope Amelia applies; we might get some proper security back in our internal affairs. Tonks is right – Fudge has made it a circus.”

“What about Veritaserum?” One of the twins asked, “Check out the people who could’ve done it.”

“It wouldn’t work Fred,” Bill told his brother, “You can bet any spy would take antidotes to truth potions every day, they’d be masters at techniques for defending their minds too. It just wouldn’t be reliable enough.”

“Keep your eyes out, all of you,” Moody was saying, “even on people you think are friends. We’ve been betrayed by people we thought were our own before. Constant vigilance, that’s the way.”

“When’ll Albus be here?” Someone asked, the voice seemed slightly familiar to Harry, but he couldn’t place it.

“He’s talking with Madam Bones about security, and where they can put prisoners.” Arthur Weasley’s voice replied. “He said he’d arrange an Order meeting tomorrow, he’ll let us know in the normal way.”

“I don’t know what happened in Severus’ hearing,” Kingsley said, “but I think she’s had more than enough of Fudge – he’d be furious if he finds out that the two of them were meeting about something like this, but I don’t think she gives a damn.”

“Well we all know that worse than him might get elected.” Moody growled. “Dumbledore ought to get into his head that that’s where we need him most, but he won’t leave the damned school.”
________________________________________


“So,” George Weasley asked early the next morning (there hadn’t been time to discuss it when the meeting had ended) “I take it you heard everything?”

“Yup.” Ron told him. “So there was no-one there when they arrived?”

“Well, there was,” Fred corrected him, “but they seemed to know exactly where to break the charms to stop themselves being seen, and exactly where to cast their own spells to stop anyone getting to them. By the time the Order got through, they were all gone.”

“Malfoy too?” Harry asked, knowing the answer.

“Everyone was gone, even the non-Death Eaters.”

“So the people he set free have almost certainly joined him.” Ginny summed up glumly.

“Yup.” George confirmed.

“How do we stop You-Know-Who if he has spies in the Law Enforcement Office?” Ron asked. “He’ll know everything the Ministry is doing.”

“We better hope he doesn’t have spies in the Order.” Harry said.

No-one said a word. Everyone looked very, very tense.

“So...” Fred began tentatively, “Did Snape sound convincing in his hearing? Is he a spy?”

Harry and Ron looked at each other, and then at Hermione.

“Er... I really don’t fancy ending up like Carl Ferkosky –” Ron began.

“Carol Verkausky.” Hermione corrected.

“– Yeah, her – so I dunno how much we can say about it.”

“Dumbledore trusts Snape.” Hermione said exasperatedly. “I don’t think it matters what he said in the trial. If we can’t trust Dumbledore’s opinions, who can we trust?”

“Dumbledore makes mistakes.” Harry told her, in a tone that revealed a touch of exasperation as well. “Yeah, he’s really powerful, clever and all, but he’s still human, he still makes mistakes. He gives everyone second chances – sure, that works when it comes to people like Hagrid, but what if he was wrong to give Snape one?”

“And what if he was right?” Hermione shot back, “What if all this time he has been giving Dumbledore important information that has helped Dumbledore fight Voldemort?”

“Then why were so many people killed earlier in the summer? If Dumbledore knew what Voldemort was doing, why did he let so many people die?” George replied.

“Imagine if he’d saved them all, then he would have revealed that he had a spy in Voldemort’s Death Eaters. Voldemort would have known it was Snape.” Hermione said.

“So you mean he’d let all those people die, just to keep his spy alive?” Ginny said in horror. “Dumbledore wouldn’t do that.”

Harry looked around. Ron looked a bit pale, Hermione did too, but also looked determined not to criticise Dumbledore for anything regardless, and the twins had identical expressions of unease. It was a scary thought, that Dumbledore might let people die in order to try to win this war.

“What if it meant that a thousand times more people lived?” Hermione asked, doing her best not to sound unconvinced herself, but failing.

“Why should Dumbledore decide who lives or not?” Ron asked her. “What do you do if he decides you’re not worth saving?”

“It’s not like that.” Hermione said horrified. “What if he had two choices – one which meant thousands died, the other that meant hundreds died? What would you do?”

“I’d find another way.” Harry told her.

“It’s not as simple as that.” Hermione told him. She seemed the only person who was willing to argue for Dumbledore. “What if there is no other way?”

“There’s always another way.” Harry told her stubbornly.

“Dumbledore’s been doing his best to protect people Harry.” George told him. “He’s had almost all the Order working all summer on providing protective charms for people, but you can’t protect all the Muggles that are out there. How do you explain a charm that would prevent them entering a house without a password?”

“But that’s different... you’re not killing people. Actually letting someone die to save others... that’s not right.” Harry said.

“That’s not killing people.” Lupin’s voice came from the doorway. “If there are two groups of people that might die because of Voldemort, and you can only save one of them, then you have still saved one of them. Voldemort is the one culpable for the deaths of the other group. You can’t afford to blame yourself for the death of the others.”

“That’s heartless!” Ginny told him.

“That’s war.” Lupin replied sadly, walking over towards them. “In war people die. It’s decisions like that you have to make in the Order. That’s why we wouldn’t let you join us last year, that’s why your mother didn’t want you to join this year, Fred and George. Having to make a decision between saving a pregnant woman or saving a father and his two sons is one nobody should have to make. None of you should have to play any part in a war.”

“And the Order and Dumbledore have the right to make these decisions?” Ron asked.

“It’s not a matter of right.” Lupin said heavily. “We have to. If Death Eaters are attacking somewhere then we have to try to save as many people as we can, whilst at the same time fighting the enemy. None of the deaths would occur if it weren’t for the Death Eaters. If they kill an innocent, or one of us, or we kill one of them, they were the ones that caused the death. That is the difference between defending and attacking. When you attack, you are setting out to cause harm, when you defend you are setting out to prevent it.”

Seeing that none of them, even Hermione, seemed to be convinced, he continued. “Look, let’s put it this way. If there were two groups of people, both in identical danger of dying, and you only had enough time to save one of them, what do you do?”

“There’s no way to save them both?” Ron asked.

“No, and the longer you try to think of a way to save them both, the harder it is to save one of them. You have to make a split second decision, and go for it. It hurts – it hurts like hell – but you have to remember that if it wasn’t for you, if you weren’t there to make that decision, then more people would have died. Do you understand?”

They all nodded. “But that’s not actually causing people to die yourself. It’s not the same thing.” Ginny argued.

“Okay, let’s take it one step further. If someone was about to kill an innocent family, and you had one chance to stop them even if it meant killing them, should you do it?”

“Yes.” Fred, George and Ron said immediately.

Hermione bit her lip, “If there was no other way of stopping them?”

Lupin nodded.

“I would.” Ginny said very quietly.

Harry, who had stayed very quiet during this, glanced at Hermione, and had, as he had had so often this summer, the distinct feeling that she had just been looking at him, even though she was looking at Lupin.

“I guess it would be the right thing to do.” Hermione said, sounding convinced.

“But that’s still not the same as allowing one lot of people who you could save die, just so you gain a tactical advantage.” Ron said.

“Okay then, let’s take one more step. Suppose that you know that there is a risk that some people may suffer, even die, but the reward for that, is that it greatly increases the chance of stopping far, far, more people suffering the same fate. What do you do?”

And at this their faces grew uncertain once more. It was Harry that spoke softly, not to the group as a whole, but rather to Ron.

“It’s like chess... You always told me that you had to make sacrifices to win, Ron. That sometimes you had to lose a piece here to checkmate the opposition somewhere else. That’s why you always beat me, I’m too busy trying to keep them all alive.”

“That’s different though.” Ginny said, horrified. “I mean, that’s just chess, this is people’s lives we’re talking about!”

“Ron’s right though. Chess may not be the same as real life, but to win a war you have to make sacrifices. Sometimes, they can even cost people’s lives. Is it the right thing to do?” Lupin shrugged. “I often remind myself of how many people’s lives will be saved, not just people alive today, but people who aren’t even born yet, if we get rid of Voldemort. And every Death Eater that can’t support him, every innocent we save, every new piece of information we have to fight him, it all helps.”

“Victory at all costs?” Hermione asked dubiously.

“Possibly, but it depends what that ‘Victory’ stands for. A ‘Victory’ that stands for getting rid of Lord Voldemort isn’t enough for me. A ‘Victory’ that signifies a world that is changed for the better however... One where people like Voldemort can’t hurt us, one where true justice is upheld, one where prejudices, whether of blood, or otherwise, don’t exist.”

“But if to get that you had to kill innocent people yourself...” Hermione trailed off.

“... then it could never produce the true ‘Victory’.” Lupin finished. “How can you build a paradise on a foundation of arid soil? If a Death Eater kills somebody, then it is the Death Eater’s own fault. Blaming yourself for other people’s actions is pointless, and yet a mistake I myself have made all too often. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t try to take into account what other people are likely to do, but like in the first example, you can’t blame yourself for not being physically able to save everybody.”

“Have you... Have you ever k- killed anyone Moony?” Harry asked quietly.

All eyes turned back to him. Lupin’s face was a picture of composure, but the twins, Harry noticed, looked unusually sober. Harry wondered if they had fully understood what being in the Order might mean. Lupin’s eyes flickered downwards, and replied in an equally soft voice.

“Yes, I have.”

“During work for the Order?” Fred asked.

“In work against Voldemort, yes.” Lupin told him. “It isn’t something I’m proud of, but yet I am not ashamed of what I did either. It was something that had to be done.” He then added lightly, “By the way, how did you get those Extendable Ears to work around your mother’s Imperturbable charms?”

It was something that had to be done. And that, after all, could be said about the Prophecy looming over Harry. Killing Voldemort was something somebody had to do – otherwise he would just go on torturing and killing innocent people. And, Harry thought to himself, after everything Voldemort had done to Harry, his friends, and family, maybe he should be the one to do it anyway. Maybe.
________________________________________


Professor McGonagall actually made an appearance a couple of days later, although it did coincide with an Order meeting. With her, appeared three letters describing the subjects that their O.W.L. results allowed them to take and a quick word of explanation about one of them for Harry and Ron. Hermione had taken her sheet and disappeared upstairs to study it thoroughly without more than a couple of words.

“Professor Snape has been prevailed upon to extend his N.E.W.T. level class to include those who achieved Exceeds Expectations in either of their O.W.L. Potions results. However, he has reserved the right,” McGonagall continued, at the incredulous faces of Harry and Ron, “to monitor each student’s work closely, and if he feels that the student’s work is not up to scratch, he will request their removal from his course. So Potter, Weasley, if the two of you truly wish to become Aurors, then you had better make sure you produce a high standard in his lessons.”

“Sn- Professor Snape will let us continue with Potions?” Harry asked disbelievingly, Ron gaping by his side.

“He will. And Potter, what I said last term still stands, even if Dolores Umbridge has been removed from the school, so I would hope you make good use of this opportunity.”

It wasn’t exactly a threat, but Harry got the message. He didn’t know how she did it, but he was willing to bet that this new found generosity of Snape’s could be traced in some way or other back to Professor Minerva McGonagall. Unfortunately, this knowledge meant that Harry knew he had no choice but to continue with Potions. He had seriously been considering trusting Tonks’ opinion that being the Boy-Who-Lived would make it easier to be an Auror than taking Potions N.E.W.T.s.

“And while I’m here,” Professor McGonagall continued, “There is the matter of Quidditch to discuss. As I imagine you have guessed, with Inquisitor Umbridge’s ridiculous Decrees revoked, your Quidditch ban is no longer in effect, Potter.”

Harry grinned. He had pretty much assumed it alright, as had Ginny and Ron, but it was nice to actually hear one of Hogwarts’ Professors actually say it.

“However, before you get carried away with by the news, I ought not to need to remind you of my complete and utter disgust at the way you conducted yourself in your last match, and if anything like that ever happens again, you may very well see it return. Understood?”

“Yes Ma’am.” Harry acknowledged sheepishly.

“Very well. Now that that is over with, there is the matter of the Quidditch captaincy. You two and Katie Bell are the only remaining players from the original Gryffindor team last year. Miss Bell told me last year that she did not want the extra pressure of the captaincy to go with her N.E.W.T.s, which means that either you Potter, or you Weasley, are the most suitable candidates.”

“Me!?” Ron asked in disbelief. “But Harry’s been in the team since first year, I’ve only been there a year.”

“Yes, you, Mr Weasley. When it comes to Quidditch you have a far better disciplinary record than your friend, and discipline is necessary for a captain. Plus,” And here she actually gave a small smile, “from all I have heard you can talk a very good game of Quidditch. Up to date on all the latest Quidditch news and tactics are you not?”

Ron blushed. “Harry –” he started.

“Ron –” Harry said at the same time.

“– should be Captain.” They finished together.

“Does nobody want the honour of the captaincy of Gryffindor?” She asked, pursing her lips as though annoyed, although Harry fancied she was in actual fact amused.

“No, no,” Ron said hastily, “I’d love to be Captain, it’s not that. It’s just, Harry’s the most talented player in the school, he was the youngest player in centuries, and the only time he hasn’t grabbed the Snitch is when he was attacked by Dementors. He was better than I am now the first time he rode a broom! If anyone deserves it it’s him.”

“Seekers are solo players,” Harry replied quickly, “Keepers are more part of the team. I have to concentrate on the Snitch, while Ron has to watch everything that’s going on. The only way I know what else is happening is usually through the commentary. Ron’s great at tactics too, whether it’s Quidditch or chess, he’d be way better than me from that point of view. I’d be a rubbish captain, Ron would be better for the team.”

Of course, another, unsaid, thing was, Harry got quite enough limelight at school anyway, despite not being made a Prefect, and he didn’t want to go asking for even more after everything that had happened last year.

McGonagall closed her eyes in mock frustration. “Whoever’s Captain can always ask other people for help you realise. You don’t have to do everything on your own.”

“Okay,” Harry said quickly, “I’ll give Ron a hand.”

“Is that okay Mr Weasley?”

“Er, well, yeah, sounds... sounds great!” Ron said in surprise.

“Excellent,” she said crisply, “May I suggest that you organise tryouts for all positions, after last year, it might be worthwhile having a couple of reserves.”

“Yes,” Ron said thoughtfully, “it would be worthwhile looking for a couple of new Beaters too – I’m betting we can come up with better than Kirke or Sloper... Even if we can’t, it’d keep them on their toes anyway. And I always thought Gryffindor’s Chasers should’ve practiced the old Loganstock’s Leap manoeuvre, the old moves are still often the best, and Slytherins in particular have always looked dodgy when covering Chasers that use the pitch vertically as well as forwards and sideways.”

“I’m pleased to see that you are taking to your new role so quickly, Mr Weasley. If you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.” She half changed into her animagus form, and then reverted as if she had had second thoughts. “Please make sure you owl me your choices before this time next week. Professor Dumbledore seems positive about our chances of a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher before the weekend, so your booklists will be out soon after.”

And with that, she transformed into a cat, and the cat vanished from view with a soft popping sound. Harry turned with a grin to Ron.

“So Captain, do I make the team?”

To his surprise, Ron was scowling slightly, and he said, slightly aggressively, Harry felt, “Why didn’t you want to be Captain?”

“I told you,” Harry replied in astonishment, “I’d be a rubbish captain, I don’t know as much about pro-Quidditch as you, but how many of the top teams have a Seeker as a captain?”

“None.” Ron replied, “But that’s not the point, we’re not playing as professionals, are we? Diggory was a Seeker, and he was a good Captain.”

“Yes, but he didn’t really talk on the pitch, not like Wood did.” Harry said impatiently, “It was that Beater that left two years before last, Graveney, that did all the talking in the matches. He had to look for the Snitch, didn’t he?”

“Yeah and you could’ve done the same.” Ron said angrily.

“And look how well Hufflepuff do at Quidditch!” Harry replied, his own temper rising. “What’s your problem? You’re Captain aren’t you? What’s so bad about that?”

“It’s because you think I’m useless don’t you? I’m poor, and the stupidest of the family, and so you’re taking pity on me. Tell McGonagall you don’t want to be Captain and she’ll give it to Ron, give him something to celebrate. We all know I’ll never do as well as Bill or Percy in work, Charlie at pretty much everything, and the twins’ll make more money in a year than I probably will in my life. Even Ginny would probably out duel me, and she’s a year younger.”

“What the h– What are you talking about?” Harry asked.

“Oh come on Harry, we both know you’d make a miles better Captain. You just think you ought to make me believe I’m better than you at something, because everyone knows I’m just your sidekick.”

“What? Ron, you saw me try to keep against you and Tonks. So I’m a better Seeker than you... that’s why we play in different positions! What’s got you all worked up?”

“If I was any good at Quidditch I’d have been in the team before fifth year.”

“Ron, Wood was CAPTAIN!” Harry yelled, “The Captain was playing in your position! That kind of makes it hard to get into the team!”

“So what?” Ron shouted back, “I wasn’t good enough was I? I single-handedly lost the second match I ever played, and if it wasn’t for you I would have cost us the first too. And it’s not just Quidditch, you’re better than me at everything, even the thing I got an Outstanding at, you went and got an Outstanding Recognition!”

“What? Come on mate! Our O.W.L. results were nearly identical! Okay, I beat you at Defence Against the Dark Arts, but you were way better in History of Magic, and you beat me in Divination too. How can I be miles better than you at everything?”

“Oh, come off it, look at everything you’ve done! And what have I done? Had loads of goals scored against me in Quidditch, and been knocked out a couple of times by people you went on to stop. Quidditch, Riddle and his diary, I was just used as part of a challenge for you in the Tri-Wizard, then there was the Brain, even Sirius stopped me being any use in third year didn’t he?”

Harry, who had been firstly confused, and then annoyed by Ron’s outburst, turned his back on him without even thinking. His insides had suddenly been replaced by iron piping. There was utter silence. Harry strode towards the door, but before he could reach it to open it, it sprang open, and Hermione was standing behind it.

“Why all the shouting?” She asked. “Harry, what’s –”

Ron interrupted furiously. “Harry seems to think that I’m not good enough to do anything myself, and that I want his pity.”

“Harry, what...?” Hermione asked walking in to the room.

Harry said nothing, but pushed past her, slamming the door behind him. He leant against the wall, trying to control his breathing, and regain some feeling in his stomach. Ron’s voice came indistinctly from the room. Suddenly there was a burst of noise from the room behind him. Hermione had exploded at Ron.

“Did you even bother to think that maybe Harry is sick and tired of everyone staring and pointing at him? Maybe he doesn’t want any of this attention! And who says he’s going to have the time to do it anyway? What with Voldemort – YES VOLDEMORT – and the Prophecy –”

Harry regained control of his body, and practically ran as fast as he could away from the room. He could still hear Ron and Hermione yelling at each other sporadically as he lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling. (“And what if Harry meant what he said, and wasn’t making excuses, Ron?” – “Yeah right Hermione, he’s mad about Quidditch, why wouldn’t he want to be Captain?”)

An hour later, Hermione knocked softly on Harry’s locked door. “Are you all right?” She whispered through the door.

Harry didn’t answer, but she continued to talk from behind the barrier. “Harry, Ron’s sorry, he didn’t mean to bring up Sirius like that.” Harry remained silent. “Look, I’ll be in my room if you want to talk, Harry, okay? Ron’s gone home.”

Harry heard her walking away, and had no intention of going to see her anytime soon. He stared at the mirror in his hand, looking through it as if it wasn’t even there. He didn’t understand Ron’s outburst, and had no intention of bothering to work it out at the moment. He was too busy asking himself why even the mention of Sirius got him worked up. He had to deal with it somehow, or else his parents’ sacrifice that Voldemort had decided to show him would all be in vain. And yes, Sirius’ sacrifice too. For Sirius’ death had been caused because he had wanted to protect Harry.

Harry continued to lay there, his mind moving on to wondering if Hermione’s books were right or not. Maybe it would help to talk with someone; after all, Dumbledore had claimed that the only reason he had had to immediately relive the fight with Voldemort in fourth year was because it would be harder the longer it went on if he didn’t. But then he had talked about what had happened to some extent, to Hermione and Ron. He hadn’t gone into great detail, but then, he didn’t need to. And then there was the fact that every time he thought of Sirius, his mind froze, his chest constricted, and his legs turned to jelly.

If he did talk to someone – not saying he would do, he told himself, but if he did – who would he talk to? Not Hermione, she’d be too full of suggestions as to what he should do, and he didn’t want to hear them. Not Ron, even if he hadn’t just had a temper tantrum about something, Harry knew he’d just get tongue-tied and not know what to do or say either. So who? Tonks? Lupin? Harry liked talking to Tonks, but... he couldn’t see him talking to her like that. Maybe Lupin then? But he was having difficulties talking about Sirius too, according to Ginny. Although having said that, she also seemed to think that he was the person who could help Lupin get to grips with Sirius’ death, and he severely doubted that.

Then of course there was the fact that Lupin had continuously tried to talk to Harry about Sirius when Harry had first come to Grimmauld Place. Harry still wasn’t sure why he had done that, but he guessed it meant that Remus was quite willing to discuss him. Ginny also claimed that Lupin looked like he had nothing to live for, and despite the talk they had had, the image of Lupin saying he was going to kill Voldemort meant Harry was inclined to think Ginny may have been right to some extent there.

There was another soft knock on the door. “Harry?” It was Lupin – he had obviously returned from whatever Order mission he had been on.

Harry sat up, but remained staring at the mirror in front of him, and only looked up when the door creaked open. Remus walked a pace or two into the room, closing the door behind him, then stopped, and stared at the mirror in Harry’s hands.

“Sirius gave it to me last Christmas.” Harry told him quietly, looking back at the mirror. “It was after I found out about Snape’s Occlumency lessons. He told me to use it if Snape gave me a hard time. I never even opened the package, I thought he’d burst into Hogwarts or something and get arrested. When I had the vision... I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t realise I could contact him immediately... I didn’t think of it...”

Lupin’s weight caused the mattress to depress, and his voice came hoarsely from Harry’s right.

“Is that James’ mirror?” He asked.

Harry nodded. “Did you have one too?”

Remus gave a reminiscent smile. “No, not me. They often used them to set up pranks and things, often enough on me as well! When they made them, they wouldn’t have known enough magic to make a three-way one anyway. And changing it later... would’ve been a pain to do. No... Sirius and James always had a special bond. I couldn’t believe it when I discovered Sirius had betrayed him. I shouldn’t have believed it.” He said, shaking his head.

Harry suddenly noticed that despite their promises, they had both pretty much brought up things they felt guilty about in almost their very next private conversation. Remus seemed to have noticed it too, for he gave a sheepish smile.

“But nothing that can be done about that now, right?”

“No.” Harry agreed. There was a short silence, before he continued spontaneously. “Moony? Did you ever feel a bit lonely because my dad and Sirius were such good friends, and they hung out together all the time?”

Remus looked surprised. “Why ever do you think that?”

Harry shrugged. “I dunno. I just thought of it then. People are always telling me they were inseparable, and I just thought – I dunno – I just thought it must have got a bit annoying or something.”

He shook his head. “Not really. After I got the bite I had to be kept away from other children. The fact that James and Sirius didn’t care about it – it told me everything I really needed to know about their friendship. If they went off on their own, or talked to each other on their mirrors, then I knew they were just trying to pull a trick on someone. They knew it wasn’t something I’d do, and I might even try to persuade them not to do it, so the fact they didn’t include me in it didn’t bother me.”

“See, that sounds lonely.” Harry said.

Remus laughed. “No, it wasn’t. Just knowing I had people as friends – real friends – that was enough for someone like me. Werewolves have solitary lives you know, I’m one of the lucky ones that have friends willing to look past – past my little problem, as James used to say.” He gave a genuine grin.

“What were they like in school?” Harry asked him. “I mean, I kept hearing all this really nice stuff about them from people, and then I saw that memory of Snape’s. What were they really like, the bad stuff as well as the good? There’s so much I wanted to find out about Sirius as well as my parents. I mean... I feel like... I feel like I know him –” his throat constricted, “like I knew him – really well, and yet like I didn’t know him at all.”

Remus looked thoughtful for a few seconds. “If you like, I could ask Dumbledore for his Pensieve again, and show you some of my memories – of our time together. I can promise you that not many of them are like Snape’s.”

“But some are?” Harry asked, almost rhetorically.

“Yes. Some are.” Lupin said grimly. “Otherwise... Otherwise ... Maybe ...” he continued slowly, “Do you have our map?”

“The Marauder’s Map?” Harry asked incredulously, “Of course I do!”

“Can I see it please?” Remus said evenly, but Harry thought he was struggling to contain a grin.

Harry sprung off the bed and rummaged around in his trunk for a while, finally producing a piece of worn, battered, old parchment. He handed it to Remus Lupin expectantly. Remus took out his wand, tapped the paper, and spoke in a clear voice.

“Padfoot, Prongs, are you here?”

The map did nothing. It stayed just as blank as ever. Harry looked at his companion inquiringly. “Moony, what?”

But Lupin was grinning now, and held up a finger. “I’m sure there’s a way...” He muttered, more to himself than anything.

He tapped the map again. “Prongs, it’s Moony here.”

Again, nothing happened, until gradually, almost reluctantly, writing appeared on the blank piece of paper, and Harry looked at his companion in utter astonishment; he was looking rather pleased with himself.

Prongs, proud founding member of Hogwarts’ magnificent Marauders, is around.

By the time Harry had looked back, another sentence was written below, in a style of handwriting that called to memory letters that he had looked forward to desperately, in the last couple of years. It was not as strong, and was untidier than the script that had adorned those letters, but there was a certain similarity.

Padfoot, noble protector of all that is true and just, waits at attention.

Remus laughed heartily and looked at the parchment in a fondly reminiscent way. “I’d almost forgotten that when we made this they were going through a bit of a preening phase.” He tapped the parchment again, “Right you two, like I said, this is Moony, I’ve got someone here I’d like you to meet. His name is Harry.”

Moony? Wrote Padfoot’s hand. I knew we ought to have included voice recognition in the charms, Prongs. How can we be sure?

It would have taken too long, especially to allow for changes by age and everything. I told Wormtail that when he asked for it. You backed me up if I remember correctly too. Now if we only could have had Evans working on it with us, it would have been a cinch! Was the response from Harry’s father.

Give it a rest about Evans Prongs, women only distract you, they’re good for nothing else.

Oh yeah? Who’s your latest at the moment then? Bryony Featherstone? Leigh Wallis? Patricia Stibbons?

Harry lifted his eyes to Remus’ again, who rolled his eyes. “Sorry about this. To be fair, we were about fifteen when we made the map.”

“Is this... Is this really? How... how did you do it? How do you talk with...” Harry stammered.

“Didn’t you know? We had to find a way to test people as to whether they were worthy to use our map, as James put it.” Remus replied, “So we each left an imprint of ourselves, so we could quiz any finders, or just insult them if someone like, er, Severus was to find it, as I seem to remember happened while I was teaching at Hogwarts. I must admit I had imagined that you had talked to us to pass our test as it were, and just hadn’t worked out you might be able to talk normally as well – I wasn’t sure myself. Although come to think about it, I would never have imagined you would have rooted through Argus Filch’s drawers looking for it.”

Harry grinned. “It was Fred and George, they gave it to me as a present.”

“To get past the Dementors.” Remus supplied with a twitch of the mouth. “Yes, I can see James and Sirius taking to the Weasley twins straight off, I know I would. Wormtail of course, would just have gone along with whatever our imprints wanted.” He said with distaste, before adding. “I think the fact they had nicked the map out of Filch’s office would have just given them added brownie points. ”

Padfoot and Prongs had finished their little discussion as to women on the Marauder’s map by now, and a third version of handwriting had joined the discussion. It was Remus Lupin’s own, and seemed just as neat, just as tidy, as the version of the older Moony that was sitting beside Harry right now.

Very well, if you are me, there is an easy way to check. Why am I known as Moony?

That’s EASY! Complained Padfoot.

Remus tapped the paper with his wand again. “I am a werewolf, Padfoot, Prongs and Wormtail called me Moony once they discovered my affliction and became animagi to keep me company at the full moon.

Who gave me the bite?

“Fenrir Greyback.”

What is my second least favourite vegetable?

He laughed. “I’m quite impressed with my fifteen year old self, Harry!” He tapped his wand yet again. “Spinach, behind leeks.”

“This... this reminds me of Riddle’s diary.” Harry said, apprehension suddenly welling in him.

“No need to worry, it’s nothing like that.” Lupin said jovially. “That sounded like it was deeply in the Dark Arts, and none of us, least of all James, would have touched something like that with a bargepole. This is simply an imprint of the kind of people we were, almost like a painting really. Imprints can’t grow from their experiences – no matter what, the Marauders in this map will always act like we would have acted at that time in our lives. But to make something that can actually grow... To give it a soul... That is almost the stuff of myths. Look, try talking to them, you won’t know the true Sirius and James obviously, but you will know that no matter what they did as teenagers, they were both in essence still good people.”

Okay, wrote both Padfoot and Prongs in synchrony, who is this Harry?

Harry tapped the paper with his wand – he could imagine this could get a bit annoying after awhile. “Er... Hi. I’m Harry.”

Are you the person that has been using our map? Prongs asked.

“Yeah, I have. How’d you know?”

Moony would never have been after curfew as often as you have, and I can’t see him teaching!

Remus smiled at Harry, who grinned back.

“Professor Lupin was the best Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher I’ve ever had.”

Glad to see you’re doing something useful with your time, Moony, nowadays. Came the untidy scrawl of Padfoot.

Thanks, guess that means I got through my O.W.L.s alright then. Came the map’s Moony’s own reply.

Harry got the feeling that if he had just opened up the map at the right time before now, he might have seen the Marauders having a conversation. It was bizarre, and he had a similarly confusing set of emotions running through his head as well. He wasn’t sure what to think, whether he was nervous, excited, worried, delighted, scared, trusting, or a hundred other sets of feelings. The thought of stopping the conversations, however, never entered his head.

Moony, a teacher?! Honestly? But you said was, came Prongs’ writing, if he was a great teacher, why isn’t he still teaching now?

“Snape told the Slytherins he was a werewolf. He had to resign.”

Those damned prejudiced c- and Prongs’ went into a colourful rant against Purebloods and wizards in general that cared more about blood and people’s family trees, than the kind of person they were. Harry grinned in pride.

How could that greasy haired Snivellus ever become a teacher? Padfoot asked in disgust.

Steer clear of him Harry, Prongs advised, he’s trouble – he seems to spend all his days making up new curses to cast at people.

So do you. Moony reminded him.

Yeah, but that’s only for a laugh! I don’t actually hurt people with them, just teach them a lesson. And I don’t spend all my time brewing poisons, and yet can’t be bothered to even brew a potion to fix my oily hair.

So because you spend more time looking after your hair than he does, it’s okay? Padfoot wrote, and Harry could sense the easy way they had together, and imagined many days of friendly jibes and laughter.

You’re one to talk! Up before everyone else, and still down last! How many different types of conditioner do you use every morning?

Lupin tapped the map again. “I just thought I’d introduce you, believe me, Harry is worth talking to, I’ll let you folks catch up on old times later when I’m gone.

What do you mean old times! OI! Moony! What do you mean about ‘old times’?! Padfoot scribbled.

“Fin.” Lupin said, and then glanced at Harry to explain, as the writing faded. “James loved Muggle movies. I think it may have been because your mother was Muggleborn, and he wanted common ground to start a conversation, but I’m not sure. He used to drag us along in the summer, and at the end the word FIN always came up, so when we made the map... But anyway, I’ll try to borrow Dumbledore’s Pensieve again, and then you can see a bit more for yourself.”

They didn’t talk for that much longer, but when they did finish, Harry felt rather pleased with himself. Not only did he have a way of talking to his father and Sirius, even if they were only faint imprints, but Remus had actually looked far happier, even to his own eyes, which seemed to see far less than Ginny’s. Dinner that night was just Hermione, Harry, Lupin, and Tonks. Ginny was at Dean Thomas’ house, and Ron and the rest of the Weasleys spent the night in the Burrow.
________________________________________


When Harry and Ron next met, Ron gave a grunt of apology, but no explanation for his behaviour. Harry didn’t bother trying to find out the reasons why. He had learnt to grow used to Ron’s touchiness when it came to things like his family’s situation as regards money, and knew not to read too much into it. He wasn’t sure why exactly Gryffindor Quidditch captaincy should trigger it, but wasn’t going to let it rankle. The two of them put their heads together to decide upon the subjects they would be taking for N.E.W.T.s, although neither of them had much difficulty in selecting Defence and Advanced Defence Against the Dark Arts, Charms, Transfiguration, and Potions, to add up to the required five. Harry and Ron had long since decided to drop Divination and History of Magic, but to Harry’s huge surprise, Ron was trying to convince him to take one of the others as an extra subject.

“I mean it’s like Tonks said, isn’t it?”

“What is?” Harry asked.

“Well, she was saying that she figured the more she learnt the better when it came to wanting to be an Auror. I mean, alright, Astronomy mightn’t be that useful, but what about something like Herbology? Be useful to be aware of what plants do what in the field, wouldn’t it?”

“What about Care of Magical Creatures?” Harry asked.

The thought had suddenly occurred to him that Hagrid would probably be counting on his three favourite students doing his subject, especially after their exam results. Hermione had already decided upon her selections, and Harry knew that Hagrid’s subject wasn’t part of them.

“I’m not looking after Grawp.” Ron said flatly, and then held up his hands at Harry’s glare. “Come on!” He protested. “These are our N.E.W.T.s we’re talking about, I mean I don’t want to hurt his feelings or anything, but we need good grades if we’re going to be Aurors, don’t we? We can’t afford to take it just to make Hagrid feel good.”

“Be more useful to take Care of Magical Creatures, wouldn’t it?” Harry joked, “We might get good duelling experience!”

“Ha. Ha.” Ron said sarcastically.

The two of them were still arguing about the matter, when Hermione came down. To Harry’s complete annoyance, she agreed with Ron about the extra subject. In fact, her expression of initial surprise quickly turned into a beam, and she immediately set about trying to convince Harry. Ron looked rather chuffed with himself.

“Look, we found it hard enough last year studying for our O.W.L.s,” Harry told them, “it makes more sense to make sure we have enough time to do the important subjects.”

“But you never know how the exams will go.” Hermione told him earnestly. “It could be a really tough exam, or your brain might freeze, and having another subject to fall back on could make the difference. Plus it shows the Auror Studies Acceptance Board or anywhere else you apply for a job that you are willing to work hard to get where you want to go, it creates a good impression.”

“Or it could mean I get average grades in everything, instead of five good ones.” Harry said grumpily.

“As long as you make a good revision timetable and follow it, you’ll do fine.” Hermione told him, and then rolled her eyes. “Oh alright, as long as you follow the timetable I’ll give you you’ll do fine.”

“Remember this conversation when I can’t keep up with the homework and ask you for yours.” Harry said darkly.

“You’ll do that even if you are keeping up with it.” Said Hermione, hiding a smile. “Oh come on Harry, look at it this way, you can always drop the subject halfway through the year, but can’t take up another one. And what if you decide you want to drop Potions?”

It was perhaps this last sentence more than any other that eventually persuaded Harry to take the extra subject. He wasn’t just worried about wanting to drop Potions, but he also remembered McGonagall telling him Snape had the right to throw students out of his class. He wasn’t planning any more visits to Snape’s memories via the Pensieve, but nevertheless...

“Fine, fine, I’ll do it.” Harry told them finally, in an irritated manner. “I suppose you’d say to do Herbology too instead of Care of Magical Creatures?”

“Well,” Hermione began, “Neither of you did well enough in Divination, and you didn’t do well enough in History of Magic Harry, although I think Ron should consider taking it on further –”

“Not a chance.” Ron said firmly.

“Those who ignore the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them.” Hermione told them, and with an air of impatience continued. “It’s a Muggle quote Ron. History is a very important subject you know.”

“Yeah, yeah. And how is it meant to help me be an Auror?”

Hermione pursed her lips. “Fine. I’d suggest Astronomy then, it gives a lot of background information on the other subjects, especially Potions – it helps you learn the properties of the different ingredients in the different seasons. But it would also help with a subject like Charms.”

“Why so?” Harry asked her.

“Didn’t you know?” Hermione asked in her usual tone of voice which suggested that everyone should read the same things she did. “The more complicated a charm is, the more the alignment of the planets comes into it. You can still perform the charm without allowing for it, but it won’t be as strong.”

“It’s all theory, isn’t it?” Harry asked her shrewdly.

“Well, there is a lot of theory in it, yes.” Hermione admitted, and then quickly added. “But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.”

“I don’t know if you noticed or not, Hermione,” Ron told her, “But both Harry and I did better in our practical O.W.L.s than our written. Makes sense to do a practical kind of subject, doesn’t it?”

Hermione’s beam faded slightly. “Well that just leaves Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures then.”

“Yes.” Ron confirmed, unnecessarily.

“Out of the two of them, I’d take Herbology.”

“Why not Care of Magical Creatures?” Harry demanded.

“Because, well, and I’m not saying Hagrid is a bad teacher Harry – his lessons last year were loads better – but, Professor Sprout has been getting people through their N.E.W.T.s for years now, and although Hagrid will show some really interesting animals, the things Professor Sprout teaches will be more useful really.”

Seeing Harry was still not persuaded, she continued. “Care of Magical Creatures is a stand alone subject – it doesn’t tie in with any of the other subjects – whereas Herbology is really useful for Potions. Hagrid will understand, he wants us all to do really well in life, and if that means we drop his subject, he won’t mind. You have to choose the subject that’s right for you, not other people.”

Harry looked at her sceptically. “Well you can tell him that the three students that offered to do everything he needed a volunteer for won’t be keeping on his subject then.”
________________________________________


Harry had been looking forward to a chance to leave Grimmauld Place, and get some fresh air in Diagon Alley, but his hopes that he may be allowed out one afternoon to get his school books were soon dashed. True, he had to go to Madam Malkin’s for new robes, seeing as he had had a growth spurt, but nothing else he needed actually required his presence at purchase, and Malkin’s, like many stores, were now offering a floo-in floo-out service.

Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny all flooed into the robes' shop, waited in the pitch black for the security grate to open, and then were quickly fitted with Hagrid waiting outside the door as a rather obvious bodyguard, and probably some less obvious ones around the place too. Remus and Mrs Weasley dealt with the mundane things like books and potions ingredients that Harry would have liked to do. Not to mention getting a look at Fred and George’s shop.

The days were flying by thick and fast now, as the countdown towards the return to school continued, and Harry couldn’t wait until he could go, and leave the house that was his prison. He had successfully persuaded Hermione to spend her last few weeks with her parents – she hadn’t necessarily wanted to leave, but Harry played a couple of his trump cards. Firstly, quite truthfully, that he had never known his parents, and that he didn’t want to be a reason that stopped Hermione seeing hers, and secondly that if she was going to insist on helping him even though she knew the Prophecy, then she should also know that it’s going to be really dangerous with Voldemort about, for both her and her parents. It worked, and she, Ginny, Ron, and Harry all agreed to see each other in London. Ginny was spending more and more time with Dean, and even Ron was exercising his ability to have different scenery a little more often.

But Harry remained stuck inside Grimmauld Place, cooped up and irritable, and not entirely sure why. It wasn’t just the fact that he was stuck in Sirius’ old house, there was something else, although it certainly wasn’t his friends, they were dealing with Harry’s irritability remarkably well, and he couldn’t blame them for wanting fresh air, especially after he had been the one to persuade Hermione to go. Nor was it the fact that Sirius’ inquiry had not occurred yet, and there was no fixed date as to when it might take place, for the reason for that was that Fudge had finally been forced out of the Ministry, and candidates for the new Minister were frantically distributing manifestos, making promises, and generally spreading propaganda about how they were going to defeat You-Know-Who (even if they couldn’t say his name for terror).

While Harry knew members of the Order were disappointed that neither Dumbledore nor Madam Bones had thrown their hats into the ring, Harry was unaffected by their fears – he was just glad to see the back of Fudge. Besides, if Kingsley or Tonks were to be believed, then the current Head of the Auror Department, Rufus Scrimgeour would be a decent enough Minister – he was one of the many people whose owls had delivered election literature. No, it was not this that was causing Harry’s irritation.

Harry didn’t think it was the talks with Lupin that caused his moodiness either, despite them being about both Sirius in general, and the things he and his father had done in Hogwarts. In fact, the fact that they had had more since their first two, and that they were getting more frequent, wasn’t quite the grievance he might have thought it would have been. He enjoyed the talks with the Marauders Map as well, even if he hadn’t thus far divulged much information about himself (however he sensed that the imprints of the Marauders were only still talking to him because of Remus’ introduction, and they would stop if he didn’t become more interesting). Nor was he being plagued by visions from Voldemort anymore – the exercises he practiced before sleeping seemed to be working, and he even thought he could feel Voldemort trying to enter his mind, and repel it while sleeping once, although that may just have been in his dream, for it was a very strange one, which had included centaurs, one of the Ministry’s Courtrooms, a skunk, and Neville Longbottom’s grandmother’s hat.

No, if Harry had to blame something for his tenterhooks, it would have to be one of two things. The first, was that very rarely would he go to bed and not dream of Sirius in some form or other, most often in the Department of Mysteries, and was invariably haunted by it for most of the night. The second was that try as he might, he still could not think of a suitable place to store his memories. It was such an open ended question, that Harry found it impossible to answer.

“It usually takes witches or wizards months to discover the most suitable memory to base it upon.” Dumbledore told him patiently. “I myself am aware of wizards that took years before they settled upon their final choice. I have even changed mine once, although the work involved in relocating memories, removing the rules governing the old one, and then creating the new one from scratch would make me think thrice before doing it again, and I would certainly not recommend it to other people.”

“I just – I don’t know how I’ll know if it is right or not.” Harry burst out angrily, Dumbledore looked supremely unconcerned. “Can’t you give me some kind of hint as to what I should be looking for?”

“I can not Harry, for as I have already said, what may suit me, may not be ideal for you. I might suggest a memory of a cool, still summer’s evening beside a tranquil lake, when you might best be served by a packed discotheque in a busy town.” Harry looked at him almost mutinously, and Dumbledore continued. “I will, if you wish, show you the memory I have chosen, and explain a little about it, but I warn you that it is unlikely to provide much help for you, as the characters of an old man and a young person are so dissimilar.”

“Could you?” Harry asked, almost in desperation.

“Very well.” Dumbledore said, almost as if he had been expecting this to happen. “Seeing as you are not a Legilimens yourself, you had better use your wand to repel my curse back towards me. Wand at the ready now.”

Harry quickly removed his wand from his back pocket, and nodded.

“Legilimens.”

“Protego!” Harry shouted.

Rather than, as previously, seeing a brief flash of light, and then looking straight into Dumbledore’s eyes in the middle of the small parlour, the first thing Harry knew was the scent of salt and the cold of a stormy night. He looked around – he was standing on a pier beside Dumbledore. Waves were crashing against the shore behind them, and battered the wooden struts beneath them. He was dressed in his same clothes, although his wand was nowhere to be seen.

The pounding of the rain battered Harry’s head, and he was soon drenched to the bone. A foghorn sounded in the distance over the water, and behind him it was joined by the lowing of an unfortunate animal which had no shelter to hide from the elements. Behind them, on the shore, Harry could see fearful faces peering out of streaky windows, and shutters being hastily closed in the buildings above locked shops designated by their owners’ names. It looked to Harry like one of those small seaside resorts that Uncle Vernon was especially critical of (he was mainly critical of the lack of things to do).

Harry had read about seaside towns like this in his primary school English textbooks, but then they had been sunny and bright, filled with small boats and the occasional person swimming. He looked at Dumbledore, wondering exactly why he might have chosen such a gloomy place to store his memories in. To his astonishment, Dumbledore was looking around at the scene himself rather sadly.

“I think Harry, that there is little more to be gained by getting wet. Let us return to Grimmauld Place.” Dumbledore had to shout over the wind, rain, and waves.

Harry felt something grip him from behind, and tug. He flew backwards at a tremendous speed until everything became a blur of colours. He screwed his eyes up against the brilliant light, and tried to dig his heels into the air he was flying through, in a desperate attempt to slow himself down. When he opened his eyes again, he was once more holding his wand, but was no longer pointing it at Dumbledore, who had sat down comfortably in a chair. Harry’s clothes were bone dry.

“Sit down, Harry.” Dumbledore offered.

Harry did so. “Sir, why...?”

“That is a memory of the first time Grindelwald and I confronted each other.” He replied, answering the unfinished question.

“What happened?”

“Ah how quickly the present turns into long forgotten history. I was unable to thwart Grindelwald on that particular occasion. He was either too well prepared for me, or else I was too confident in my own abilities. That village behind us, and the pier upon which we just stood, was destroyed in a freak tidal wave, caused by the tremendous storm we just braved, or so the Muggles believe.”

“Then why...?”

“Why have I chosen it as a final fort to defend my memories from intruders from?” Dumbledore finished. “I will not tell you, but leave you to make your own conclusions. That would be most helpful for you.”

But try as he might, Harry couldn’t come up with many reasons as to why Dumbledore might choose it. He couldn’t see how it would be easier to defend against enemies, unless they didn’t like rain. He couldn’t see how Dumbledore could ever find himself at ease in such a scene, and Harry himself had always found he did his best magic when he was confident. And he certainly didn’t understand why Dumbledore would plague himself by having to continuously revisit a scene which he obviously looked upon with regret. In fact, the only reason Harry could think of, was that maybe Dumbledore wanted to make up for not being able to save the place the first time. But he was unable to think of anything else.

“You must not become dispirited,” Dumbledore told him, “Unless I am very much mistaken, your current knowledge of defensive techniques will more than suffice in keeping Tom Riddle out of your mind while at long distances, and while you are not yet prepared to face his Legilimency skills in a face to face encounter, that will come with time.”

“But we don’t have much time, do we?” Harry said desperately. “I’m going back to Hogwarts next week, and I’ll have lessons, and homework, and...” Harry paused, not wanting to sound as if his having fun was more important than trying to defeat Lord Voldemort.

“And Quidditch, among other things, which is very important too.” Dumbledore finished with a wink. “After all, what could be better from the point of view of honing your reflexes? You are quite right Harry, time will be far scarcer upon your return to school, but this may prove to be a blessing in disguise. While the more technical aspects of Occlumency, which were certainly most important upon your removal from Privet Drive, may have benefited from the rigorous studies we have engaged upon so assiduously, the more creative tendencies of the subject have perhaps suffered.”

Seeing the look on Harry’s face, Dumbledore explained further, “A subject as complex as Occlumency requires different things to other, more rudimentary forms of magic. For example, time is just as necessary for the brain to get to grips with certain ideas, and almost certainly more so, as tutoring. It is my hope that you shall find that the enforced reduction of time spent on Occlumency in fact helps you to manage aspects of the subject that you have struggled with thus far.”

Harry, however, found this difficult to believe. How could you learn more from studying something less?! Nevertheless, he resolved to work as hard as he could at Occlumency, and, to somehow, complete the impossible task of picking the right memory. Even if that meant he had to work at not working as hard, or... Harry sighed. How exactly was he going to accomplish that?
________________________________________


The return to Hogwarts was at hand, and the advanced security that Harry and Grimmauld Place were undergoing meant that Harry had as circuitous a route as any to even reach Kings Cross Station. He stepped through the fireplace at Grimmauld Place, complete with trunk, Hedwig’s empty cage (the owl had wished to make her own way to Hogwarts), and bodyguards - Remus and Tonks. When he emerged in Mrs Figg’s house in Little Whinging, he then had to stand around awkwardly for twenty minutes, listening to the three adults making small talk, waiting for an Order member who was strategically placed in the Floo Regulation Panel’s office, and a message from the Burrow, to let them know that the coast was all clear.

When Harry finally appeared in the Burrow, he barely got to say a word to the Weasleys before being hurried into a Ministry car which carried the students and bodyguards, and which furthermore was also being escorted by Ministry Aurors (which included Auror Dreyfus McCarthy, who offered a smile, and a friendly nod). The return trip to London, although far longer than the outward journey, was so uneventful in the extreme, that Harry gave Remus a frustrated glance.

“I know all this security feels unnecessary to you Harry,” Remus said in a voice that couldn’t carry to any Ministry representatives, “but the Ministry, such as it is at the moment, had to be seen to be protecting you, and it is still far safer both for you and the Order to do it this way.”

“I’d have thought it was far more obvious that we were here with all these people around us.” Harry said grumpily.

“Maybe so, but it makes sure Grimmauld Place stays secret, and remains a safe house.”

Harry made no reply.

When they left the Ministry cars outside the station, and made their way inside, Harry actually found himself looking around for Obliviators following behind them to start wiping the memory of the Muggles that stood gawking at the group hurrying through the station, and when they found themselves at the wall which separated the Wizarding train from the Muggle ones, he couldn’t see how they could get through it without being seen. The Auror closest to him however seemed to have no worries of the kind, he grabbed Harry’s arm and practically pulled him through to the other side. Harry angrily pushed himself away from the man, and watched Ginny and Ron do similarly as he turned around.

“Was that really necessary?” Ron asked the other two, annoyed.

“No.” Harry told him firmly.

Ginny, however, was looking around her, “There’s Dean! I’ll probably see you later.” And with that she left them, and made her way into the crowd.

Harry followed her with his eyes, and found a horrible feeling creep in to his body at the sight that was in front of him. No more was the bustling platform complete with happy voices searching out long unseen friends who greeted each other with hugs and handshakes, eagerly answering questions about the holiday, and eulogising about the Harpies - Puddlemere Quidditch game they saw, or retelling stories of far off continents complete with strange people and animals. Nor were there the mothers, managing to get some last minute scolding in before they lost the chance to for a quarter of a year, or younger siblings, who were insistent upon the gaining of promises of presents, stories, and letters from their older, Hogwarts-going brothers and sisters. No longer was the sound of laughter heard on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.

In its place was a stage filled with weeping mothers and fathers, tearfully bidding their children goodbye, and making would-be confident promises about seeing them at Christmas, as well as desperate hugs around the necks of parents from students that didn’t want to leave, but knew that they must. The students that were desperately searching out friends were now doing so with a fearful look in their eyes, and stricken sobs signalled the discovery that a dearly liked student would not be returning to Hogwarts this year. Indeed, the only sounds of joy to be heard, were the sounds of relief upon the safe reunion of friendships.

Harry looked away from the scene with a lump in his throat. Ron, grim, but unsurprised by the sight, followed his gaze to the side of the station. There stood Neville Longbottom, with an arm on his shoulder belonging to his grandmother, who looked more proud than Harry had seen her, and the two of them were joined by a smiling Hermione, who had spotted them as they came in.

“Coming, Harry?” Ron asked, as he made to join them.

“What? Oh, y- yeah.” Harry said, still shaken, and forced his body into motion.

“Mr Potter, Mr Weasley, I am delighted to see you again.” Came the voice of Neville’s grandmother clearly through the air as they approached. “Neville was just showing Miss Granger his new wand.” And sure enough, a wand was being proudly displayed in Neville’s hand. “Such a shame about Frank’s - But he and Alice would be very proud of Neville, very proud indeed, as indeed, I am sure your parents would have been Mr Potter, and yours must be Mr Weasley.”

Neville went slightly red, but looked happier, and more confident, than Harry had ever seen him in his grandmother’s company. Harry had always felt that she must be very hard on her grandson, and never appreciated him or his talents for what they were, but rather compared them to his parents. He remembered vividly when Neville had admitted to his fear of Professor Snape before he faced the Boggart in third year, and then had misunderstood Professor Lupin, and been scared it might turn into his grandmother. Now however, there was obviously a definite change.

“Good morning Mrs Longbottom!” Remus’ voice came from behind them.

“Mr Lupin! Oh, and Molly, and this must be one of your eldest?”

“This is Charlie, Augusta, my second…”

Harry, Neville, Ron and Hermione edged away from their guardians, dragging their trunks behind them.

“Gran’s been amazing since that thing at the Ministry. You should hear her - any chance she gets she starts telling people how I fought the Death Eaters alongside Harry Potter, and how we managed to fend them off until help arrived. I thought she’d be furious about Dad’s wand, but she hardly mentioned it, we went straight out and bought another, and she told Mr Ollivander and the first year and her parents in the shop why I needed one. She’s never…” Neville trailed off, deciding not to finish whatever he’d been about to say.

“Wish my parents have.” Ron said moodily, kicking at the ground. “Well, Dad’s been okay, he always is, but Mum! You should have heard her! She was giving out about everything - about breaking into Umbridge’s office, breaking free of her goons, going to the Department of Mysteries, not stopping Ginny from going, not stopping Harry from going, riding Thestrals, getting attacked by Death Eaters, getting attacked by a mutant Brain, Ginny breaking her leg… Supposedly I should have been able to stop all that because I’m a Prefect.” Ron pulled a face. “You know she never gave out to Ginny at all? Everything was all my fault!”

“I’m sure she did, Ron, you just probably didn’t hear her.” Hermione said soothingly.

“Yeah right, have you tried not hearing Mum yell at people at home before?” Ron replied, causing a grin from Harry.

“She probably did it when you were out of the house, and anyway, she must just have been really worried about you.”

Ron looked at her as if to say: ‘Yeah right!’ again, but said nothing.

“It’ll be good to be back in Hogwarts,” Neville told them., “I mean, with Dumbledore there, it’s got to be the safest place to be, and we’ll be learning things to help fight You-Know-Who with. Oh yeah… Harry, when’s the first DA meeting going to be?”

Ron and Hermione smirked at each other. Harry however, hastily said, “I dunno if we’ll keep doing it or not, I mean, there’s no need, is there? Umbridge won’t be there this year.”

Neville looked horrified, “You don’t mean it? I couldn’t have done anything without the things you taught us! I even got Exceeds Expectations in my O.W.L. results. And Harry,” He continued, lowering his voice, “it kept us all alive at the Department of Mysteries.”

“Well, I’ll see,” Harry said, his insides squirming, and quickly changed the subject, “look, shall we get ourselves a carriage, before they’re all gone, and then come back and say goodbye to everyone?”

“Oh! Good idea, Harry,” Hermione said, “that way we can get everything stowed away before Ron and I have to go to the Prefect’s Carriage.”

“Oh yeah.” Ron said, making a face, “I forgot we had to do that again, sorry Harry.”

“What for?” Harry asked, “Look, come on, let’s go.”

And with that, he led the way.
________________________________________


A/N: At least one person has taken issue with Harry not wanting the Gryffindor Quidditch Captaincy, saying that what a captain needs is leadership, which Harry has plenty of…

I’m not going to bore you with exactly why I made my decision for Ron to be captain, unless you really strongly disagree and want to tell me why you think I’m wrong… just be warned that sport is the one area I consider myself to actually know something about! I have been manager, captain, and vice-captain in successful (schoolboy: up to 17/18) teams at quite high levels… so I ought to know what you need in order to be a captain – maybe I don’t – but I should do if I don’t. Er. If you see what I mean.

One of the not sporting reasons is that I know Harry won't have time to do it :P

________________________________________
A/N: Here we are, Chapter 11. It's taken a while, but Harry has finally returned to Hogwarts. Enjoy! (I hope!)
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Chapter 11: The Gruesome Twosome


The sight of Luna Lovegood was a welcome one for Harry. She alone was unaffected by the sombre feeling as evidenced by the Platform. She remained just as dotty as always, wearing a necklace that was made up of corks she later told them came from the local drink (called something she couldn’t pronounce, but told them meant ‘fruit wine’) when she was at the major Wizarding settlement in Sweden. Harry remembered she had said that that was where she was looking for Crumple-Horned Snorkacks. She opened the door to their compartment as the train started to move off, dragged her belongings into the room, which she bewitched to fly into the overhead rack (just as Harry and Neville had scrambled up to give her a hand), and then sat down, looking at them owlishly.

“Hi.” She greeted them.

It may have been a slightly strange manner of appearance, but Harry didn’t care. He had gained a new appreciation of her abilities which quite compensated for her weird behaviour, after both teaching, and fighting alongside her last year. And she, alone out of his friends, knew what it was like to lose someone close to you, after having come to rely on them. Neville, like himself, had never known his parents, which was just as bad, but in another way.

The three of them were happily munching their way through Pumpkin Pasties, and the usual supply of chocolate, when Ron and Hermione came in, not looking at all happy.

“What’s up?” Harry asked, chucking them both Chocolate Frogs.

“Voldemort killed the person who was going to be Head Boy.” Hermione said, catching her frog, but not looking remotely interested in eating it, “The day he got his badge.”

Harry, Luna, and Neville all stared at the two prefects, scarcely believing Hermione.

“He was a Slytherin.” Ron told them. He looked like he didn’t know what to think.

“He what?!” Neville and Harry said together, loudly.

“I know he was a Slytherin, but he was a really nice person–”

“For a Slytherin.” Ron interrupted.

“He was, Ron,” Hermione said angrily, “he was nothing like the Slytherins we know. He was even civil to me when we had to patrol the corridors with Filch, and you know what they’re usually like with Muggleborns. He was ambitious, but he was still really nice. The rumour is, that Voldemort and his Death Eaters came to recruit him, and he refused.”

“That doesn’t sound like a Slytherin to me.” Harry told them. “Isn’t the whole point of being a Slytherin that you save your own skin, even if other people die instead?”

“Apparently, he’s meant to have said that Salazar Slytherin would never allow one of his students to take the Dark Mark, saying it would mean they were someone else‘s property or something.” Ron told them sceptically.

“Not all Slytherins are like Malfoy, you know.” Hermione told their disbelieving faces. “Some of them just believe in the Pureblood thing, some of them just are really ambitious. If all of them were bad news, they would have got rid of the Slytherin House centuries ago.”

“It must be easier to keep track of them to keep them in Hogwarts.” Luna said serenely. “They could put Incaflan potions in the drinks, and cast Tartina charms on the students.”

Harry looked at his companions, none of them looked willing to ask what Tartina spells or Incaflan potions were. Although he half-wondered if they were types of cake or something.

“You know what it was, don’t you?” Ron told them at large, and they waited for him to explain his theory. “It’s a warning to all the Slytherins to either join with You-Know-Who or die. I suppose it was a win-win situation for You-Know-Who, either he had the Slytherin Head Boy flashing his Dark Mark around in the common room, convincing the new first years to sign up, or else he kills him, and lets everyone else know why. I mean, it’s like Harry said, isn’t it, Slytherins look after themselves first, before anyone else, even their family. Stinking cowards.”

“I never realised he would go after Slytherins as well.” Neville said shakily.

“They almost seem a bit nicer now, don’t they?” Luna said conversationally.

And in a strange way, Luna had a point, the fact that some of them might refuse to join Voldemort, did make them a little bit more likeable.

Ginny joined them later, and with her came Dean (Seamus stayed with the ladies, as Dean put it), and although Harry had to suffer renewed requests for the recommencing of the DA and a very awkward moment when Neville had asked Dean how his summer had been (Dean made no mention of the attack), he was nevertheless having one of the most enjoyable times of his summer, with discussions ranging from Quidditch to some of Luna’s most wacky creatures.

“We went to Upton Park, you know? Even had a tour of the changing rooms and everything!” Dean told them.

“Er… where?” Ron asked.

“West Ham’s ground, it was amazing… got Paolo Di Canio’s autograph too!”

“West Ham… Oh! Are they that Fullball team you support?” Neville said interestedly.

“Football.” Dean corrected, before being interrupted by a sound at the door.

“Well… If it isn’t the saviour of the Wizarding world, the Weasel family, oh, and I see you’ve picked up another Mudblood.”

Harry didn’t need to look up in order to see the blond hair, the sneer, or the two oafs either side of the speaker to know whom it was.

“Malfoy. What are you doing here? Do us a favour and shove off again.” Ron said angrily.

“Manners, Weasley. I just thought I’d get a good look at the person–” He sniggered disdainfully, “–who’s going to lead the fight against the most powerful wizard ever, before the Dark Lord kills him of course. Crabbe here wanted to get your autograph Potter, didn’t he Goyle, he thinks it will be worth a fortune. Of course, Crabbe has never been particularly good with his predictions.” His companions laughed stupidly.

“Why would I want to fight Professor Dumbledore, Malfoy?” Harry said coolly.

“Tschah, Dumbledore’s a fool.” Malfoy told them derisively. “And besides, the Dark Lord cannot die, he will always be stronger than Dumbledore. What can be more powerful than immortality?”

“Voldemort fled from Dumbledore at the Ministry of Magic.” Harry told him. “You know, when your scum father got himself arrested?”

Malfoy’s face turned ugly for a couple of seconds, before he regained his composure. “Now, now, Potter, you are in a bad mood, anyone would have thought you’d had to put your dog down, or something.”

Malfoy’s face was now one of complete satisfaction, as Harry stood and withdrew his wand angrily. Hermione however, had also jumped up, and whether by accident or design, had stood between the two archenemies.

“Get out, Malfoy.”

“Or what, Mudblood? I am a Prefect too you know.”

“Or I shall report you to your Head of House.” Hermione snarled.

Malfoy took a step backwards, “Oh no! Please don’t tell Professor Snape.” He laughed. “Do you really think that he would care what a Mudblood had to say about a Slytherin Prefect?”

“Speaking of Slytherin Prefects, I suppose you think Appleby deserved what he got, do you?” Ron asked fiercely.

“Of course.” Malfoy replied, bored, “there are two sides to this war, the winning one, and Dumbledore’s. Only a fool would tell the Dark Lord to his face that you did not wish to follow him. A fool or a Gryffindor, if there’s any difference of course.” He added disdainfully.

“Hermione, move out of the way.” Harry told her through gritted teeth.

“Yes, do Mudblood, let’s see if Potter has the guts.”

The rest of the compartment, even Luna, had now stood up.

“What kind of idiot would seek a fight with more than twice as many people?” Dean asked aggressively. “Get lost Malfoy.”

Malfoy turned to Dean this time. “I am amazed to see you in Potter’s company, Thomas, I would have thought you’d have learnt your lesson.”

Harry felt a chill go through his body, and he saw first Hermione, then Ginny, and finally Ron, understand what Malfoy was alluding too. Crabbe and Goyle clenched their fists into knuckles menacingly, as if they were well aware that their only hope of winning a fight was one in which magic wasn’t involved.

“This is your last warning Malfoy.” Ron said, advancing on Malfoy threateningly.

“What, he doesn’t know, and you don’t want him to find out?” Malfoy said mockingly, “How brave of you. That’s true Gryffindor nobility for you, Goyle.”

“What are you trying to say Malfoy?” Dean asked angrily, but there was a trace of hesitation in his voice.

“Why, your family of course! Don’t you know why the Dark Lord attacked–”

“What Malfoy is trying to say, Dean,” Harry said loudly, furiously, “is that one of the reasons Voldemort might have attacked your family this summer, is because we are in the same year, and the same house. Because you were in the DA last year, and weren’t one of the people who were calling me loony. Malfoy here, because he’s the son of a Death Eater, and wants to have the honour of licking Lord Voldemort’s muddy boots when he grows older, probably has the job of telling everyone in Hogwarts that.”

“He… what?” Dean said faintly, and Harry thought he recognised some of the emotions that were going through the Gryffindor’s head. Harry was expecting anger to show itself very soon.

“Fasolio!” Ron yelled, but Malfoy and his cohorts had already retreated through the door, malicious smiles on their faces, and the spell hit the carriage door harmlessly. “That slimy git!” He spat.

Harry however, was looking at Dean. “Dean…” He began quietly.

“Don’t… Don’t speak to me.” He replied in a low voice, fury underlying every syllable.

He picked his way past the still standing students carefully, in utter silence, until he reached the door, and he turned to look at Ginny, his lip slightly curled. “You told them what happened? Thanks.” And with that, he left the compartment, door left open in his wake.

Harry strode to the door, none of Dean’s measured steps to be seen, and slammed the door so fiercely, that not only did the glass shatter, but it also came off its rails, revealing an impressive dent. He turned to look at Ginny feeling that his point had been proved.

“Don’t you dare, Harry.” She said fiercely, “Let him have time to think.” And she marched off after her boyfriend.

“Reparo.” Hermione whispered, causing the door to mend itself.

“Well that wasn’t very nice of them.” Luna said calmly.

“What was that about, Harry?” Neville asked. “Dean’s family were attacked? How come you knew?”

“Yeah.” Harry said shortly. “And Voldemort wanted me to know.”

Ron and Hermione tried to steer the conversation away, back to pleasanter things, but Harry remained quiet, and stared morosely out of the window, watching trees, fields, and Muggle buildings flash by. Rain started hitting the train windows, and his view became obscured behind rivulets of water. The countryside outside smeared and grew dull. He had expected it, of course. He had told Ginny it would happen. But that didn’t make it easier. And then there was Malfoy … Malfoy of course, as well as his gang, would make sure the whole school knew about it. Damn Slytherins.
________________________________________


“Firs’-years! Firs’-years over ‘ere!” Hagrid yelled over the heads of the arriving students, perking Harry’s spirits up considerably, although the mood of the students in general seemed to be just as depressed as when they had embarked.

It was drizzling lightly, and the station looked rather gloomy. Perhaps it was the dismal air of the place, or maybe it was Hagrid’s size and slightly wild appearance, but Harry saw a group of small children nearby look absolutely terrified, and concluded, correctly, that they were first years.

“That’s Hagrid,” he told them kindly, “Keeper of the Keys at Hogwarts, and Care of Magical Creatures teacher.”

The relief was palpable on their faces, but some of their expressions quickly turned to awe, as the youngest of the group, a fair-haired girl, pointed at the scar on his forehead. “Are you… Are you… him?”

“Okay Harry? See yeh up at the feas’, alrigh'?” Hagrid’s voice boomed over the milling students.

To Harry’s severe discomfort, most of the students on the platform turned to look at him as he waved in acknowledgement. To his slight surprise, however, most of them didn’t have the accusatory looks he expected. Indeed, many of them were like the small group of first years, who were looking up at Harry as if he were Victor Krum.

“He is…” A small boy breathed, “He’s Harry Potter, aren’t you?”

“Er… Yeah, I’m Harry.” Harry said, offering a lopsided grin, “Look, you’d better go with Hagrid, I’ll see you all up at the castle.”

And sure enough, Hagrid had resumed his shouts of ‘Firs’-years!” and was trying to gather them all to him as quickly as possible. Maybe it was Harry’s imagination playing tricks upon him, but it almost looked as if the older students were helping the first years to get to Hagrid as soon as they could. The Slytherins exempted of course, they alone were pushing in front of younger students to get to the Thestral driven coaches first. With a small smile, Harry wondered if they would be quite so desperate to get there if they could see the animals pulling the coaches. Although judging by the amount of apprehensive faces, quite a few more of the students than last year could in fact see them.

He looked around to see Ron and Hermione’s grinning faces.

“He is! He’s Harry Potter!” Ron said, imitating the young first year.

“Shut up.” Harry told him good-humouredly.

“You know Harry; it’s your own fault. You’re just too helpful for your own good.” He continued.

“Leave him alone, Ron, he’s just being a good role model to those younger than him.” Hermione said.

“Shut it you two, you’re meant to be the Prefects you know, why weren’t you helping them? Prats.” He continued, grinning himself now.

They made their way to the coaches, Hermione and Ron eyeing the (to them) empty spaces between the shafts gingerly. Harry’s attention however was on the Auror bodyguards that were lining the platform. Tonks was among them, and she gave Harry a quick wink and a wave. Harry almost felt a little bit trapped at the sight of the imposing line of wizards providing escorts for the students.

He strode ahead, looking for an empty coach, feeling eyes from fellow students, and the Aurors on his back. He ought to be used to it by now, but he couldn’t help looking forward to the week after the first, when people’s curiosity began to be sated.

“Seriously, Harry,” Hermione whispered to him, as Ron helped Luna and Neville into the coach they had taken for themselves, “give Dean time, you just had to look at them on the platform, most of them won’t blame you for Voldemort’s attacks, even if some do. You’re a hero to most of them.”

“Yeah, well, that’s just as bad sometimes.” Harry told her.

Hermione grimaced sympathetically.
________________________________________


“That must be the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.” Hermione said excitedly, almost before they had found their places at the Gryffindor table.

Harry and Ron followed her gaze. Sitting between Professor Flitwick, and Snape, was a man. What he looked like was difficult to judge, for he was leaning back, not allowing the candlelight to play upon his face, which meant he seemed to blend into his surroundings, which today were decorated with black. As far as Harry could tell, he had long black hair, and was reasonably tall, although that, of course, may have been because he was sitting beside Flitwick. His robes were a smart dark blue, and of a simple cut.

“Wonder who he is?” Ron asked.

“Maybe Dumbledore has got an Auror to teach us!” Neville said excitedly.

“Look at Snape.” Harry said suddenly, for his gaze had momentarily fallen upon the form of the man that had goaded Sirius into leaving Grimmauld Place.

Snape, however, had turned his head to talk to Dumbledore, so no one could see what he had seen.

“What about him, Harry?” Said Hermione in a wary voice.

“Snape was staring at him when he just talked to Flitwick, he almost looked as if…” Harry tried to put the look into words, “as if there was something strange… something… I don’t know, something Snape was trying to work out about him.”

“He’s probably just trying to decide if he’s another Lupin, Umbridge, or another Crouch.” Hermione said impatiently. “There’s enough reasons to be suspicious of a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher already.”

“No, it wasn’t like that, it wasn’t… I don’t know, it was…” Harry racked his mind, trying to think of the appropriate description. “It was quizzical.”

“Maybe he thinks he might have met his mother or something.” Ron said. “You’re too uptight, Harry, you’re too worried about what the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher will be like.

“I guess.” Harry shrugged, hearing the truth in Ron’s words. “I wonder what Snape thinks at having missed out on the job again!”

“Maybe he didn’t.” Hermione observed. “Maybe he’s a new Potions teacher instead, and that’s why the two of you are allowed to do Potions.”

Ron looked aghast. “Don’t say things like that. They might come true.”

“Dumbledore’s kept Snape away from the job for a reason.” Harry told them, “He’s hardly going to stop now, is he? Besides, McGonagall said Snape had been prevailed upon to let us in, didn’t she?”

Hermione opened her mouth to say something else, but at that moment, the doors to the Great Hall opened, and the students turned as one, to watch the procession, headed by Professor McGonagall, and made up of first years that seemed even smaller than last year. In the main they were looking around themselves, near petrified, although some of them were staring at the ceiling, looks of wonder on their faces. The group that Harry had spoken to at the station were looking around with expressions of interest on their faces, and Harry groaned inwardly, as they spotted him, and started pointing him out to their neighbours.

Some of them had awe struck gazes that looked remarkably like the Creevey brothers (who Harry had been careful to make sure were seated a reasonable distance away from him). Nevertheless, the longer he sat here, in the Great Hall, surrounded by his fellow students, the more comfortable he became. Finally, there was a feeling that things were progressing as normal, and maybe the fact that he was still being gazed at was part of it.

There was sudden quiet in the Hall, as the Sorting Hat had been placed upon its stool, and all conversation was extinguished, as they waited eagerly for its song. It opened its mouth as if taking a deep breath, and began.
Welcome to Hogwarts!
The schooling year begins.
My job’s to sort the students
So that everybody wins.

To Gryffindor go the bravest,
The most unwavering of heart,
To Ravenclaw the wisest,
Whose brains set them apart.

Slytherin gains the ambitious,
Pureblood’s of import to you,
And Hufflepuff the industrious,
Loyal, generous, and true.

‘Twas many years ago
When I came into being,
For two friends had become foes
And, the founders, seeing –

That the traits they valued,
Would be lost under another,
Thought to divide the students,
With likeminded sister or brother.

For Gryffindor and Slytherin,
Caused a battle to come to light,
Which after all these centuries,
People still profess to fight.

It is for this I warned last year,
And this warning I repeat.
For if we fail to stay together,
Then we must surely face defeat.

Our world faces great danger,
There can be no doubters now.
And it is up to each our houses,
To stand together – refuse to bow!

The Gryffindors must fight,
For all that’s true and just.
Never doubt your bravery,
Some risks are a must.

The Hufflepuffs must work hard,
Remind us what we fight for.
Your gentleness, love, and industry,
Must persist and survive this war.

Our Ravenclaws, our thinkers,
Shall play an important role,
For research, and new ideas,
Are needed for our goal.

Slytherins, are with split loyalties found,
For it is in the name of Salazar,
That the beginning of this war is traced.
But to our school’s fourth leader –

Death Eaters cannot be true,
In service to Voldemort do they begin to fall,
For power bestowed through a tyrant,
Is not truly power at all.

It is my belief and hope,
That Hogwarts may be one,
And in the houses’ true unity,
Will the threat to us be gone.

I’ve warned you once, I’ve warned you twice,
May this time be the last.
Now it’s time to sort you all,
Then commence our wondrous repast!


The applause rang out as usual, and unlike last year, there was little talking in the midst of it. Instead, the eyes of everyone along the Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff tables were turned to stare at the Slytherin. It was almost as if the Hat had issued a challenge to the Slytherins: ‘Which side are you on?’

Malfoy picked up a fork and examined it in a studious yet bored manner, then glanced at his watch and yawned. Not all of his companions were quite as sure of themselves however. A boy in Harry’s year called Blaise Zabini, tall and handsome, was looking intently at the Sorting Hat, eyes half closed, and a calculating expression on his face. Opposite Malfoy, and also in their year, was Pansy Parkinson, who, Harry could see from side on, had her mouth wide open, and was furiously red. She turned back to Malfoy with a jerk, and Harry imagined she had just been kicked under the table. Many of the table seemed to be looking towards their Head of House for assistance, and Harry turned his head to see how Snape had reacted to the song.

It wasn’t Snape’s expression that Harry first noticed, however, but rather the face of the new teacher beside him. He had leant forward, and was staring at the Slytherin table intensely, appraisingly. Harry could see his facial features now, and they looked to him almost pretty and sculptured, rather than strong and handsome. His heart sank. Was this going to be another Lockhart? All talk and no action? As if he had sensed the eyes of someone upon him, he leant back gradually, gracefully, away from the candlelight.

Beside him, Snape took a sip from his goblet, and looked at it as if admiring the taste. He gave the barest of glances to his students, before turning to his left, and saying something to the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. Taking their cue from Snape, the Slytherin students started to act as if nothing was the matter, and nothing un-commonplace had just occurred.

“What do you make of that?!” Ron said with satisfaction to Harry and Hermione, but before they could reply, McGonagall had called the first person forward.

“Creswell, Caerphyllus.”

The boy belonging to the (slightly unfortunate, Harry thought) name walked forwards. His muddy blond hair was cut in a bowl shape, and his stocky frame pulled itself on to the stool. The watching students seemed to inhale as one. For some reason, that none were sure about, the location of the first student’s house seemed to be of more importance than normal.

The boy took the hat from McGonagall in trembling hands, and placed it on his head. The seconds ticked by, students of all tables leaning forward, holding their breath. The poor child looked rather confused, almost torn, as the hat worked its magic.

“Slytherin!” It shouted.

Applause broke out from the Slytherin table, but almost as loud were the whispers between the pairs of eyes that watched every step of his way from the other tables. Professor McGonagall’s normally ferocious stare did nothing to stop the speech, and it was only after she coughed and called the next girl forward that there was silence.

“Crowley, Emily.”

“Gryffindor!”

Harry joined in the applause, this time free of interruptions. He noticed some of the first years looking a little happier now that they knew what was happening, and soon their number started to decrease.

“Lawson, Chloe.”

The girl that had first recognised Harry as the Boy-Who-Lived on the platform picked up the Hat and shoved it on her head, intrigued. There was a second, when she seemed to be tensing, ready for some kind of explosion, before she looked up startled. Obviously she had just heard the Hat’s voice, Harry thought, amused. After a slight deliberation, it made its decision.

“Ravenclaw!”

Harry followed her slightly hesitant walk to the table, finding his eyes drawn to Cho Chang as Chloe walked past her. They made eye contact for a few seconds, before Cho looked away, applauding the newest member of her house. Beside her, sat Marietta Edgecombe, face covered by heavy make-up which, Harry was pleased to see, failed to completely conceal the odd formation of pimples which spelt out ‘SNEAK’.

When the last first year (Wiggins, Ophelia) had found their seat, Dumbledore stood up. His twinkling eyes were sad now, his dress subdued, quite in keeping with the general feeling of the Hall today.

“Allow me to give our new students a warm welcome to Hogwarts.” He began in a ringing tone. “To our returning students, as always, I am delighted to see you. Our Welcoming Feast is normally one of joy, and celebration. Alas, however, the first action of our new year must be one of mourning.” The black drapes were explained for those who hadn’t guessed. “Many of you sitting here today have faced dark times at the hand of Lord Voldemort this summer. Many of our friends and family, including some of our students, have paid the ultimate price for the innocuous crime of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.”

The jugs on each table magically filled themselves as though at a signal. “I would ask each and every one of you to fill your glasses and join me in giving these brave people the respect they deserve.”

Dumbledore paused as the deathly quiet students filled each other’s goblets, and only once everyone had a drink in their hands, and had joined the teachers and headmaster in standing did he continue.

“To Caiaphas Appleby.” Dumbledore began, and the name was echoed throughout the room.

Harry glanced over at the Slytherin table. It seemed not all of the Slytherins shared Malfoy’s views. Many of the younger students in particular looked distraught.

“Celes Frost. Raymond Stokes. Justin Finch-Fletchley.”

Harry’s voice caught in his throat as he repeated the name. Justin! He wrenched his neck frantically to the Hufflepuff table. He wasn’t there. Ernie Macmillan was standing perfectly straight, but Harry could see the lump in his throat, similarly with Hannah Abbott. Harry continued to repeat the names Dumbledore spoke, but his mind was busy thinking of Justin, a boy he had first been introduced to in his second year, when people thought Harry had attacked him with Slytherin’s monster, and that he had ended up teaching in the DA last year.

“To all our friends that are not here, know that you shall never be forgotten.” Dumbledore concluded, drinking deeply from his goblet.

“Never.” More than one person repeated forcefully, as they toasted their friends’ memories.

The teachers, and then the students returned to their seats, Dumbledore, however, stayed standing. “I shall have some beginning of term announcements, not least of which an introduction, to make, but they should wait until later. Now, we should eat heartily, in memory of those who are no longer with us.” And with a sweep of his hand, the bowls and dishes filled.

Harry sat there, not seeing anything. His feeling of normality disappeared. This wasn’t how it was meant to be. As Dumbledore had said, the feast at the start of the new school year was one reserved for celebration, not mourning. This wasn’t right.

Harry looked at Ron, who was also, very unlike his normal self, making no effort to serve himself food. It was Hermione, of all people at the Gryffindor table, who made the first move towards the dishes containing the aromatic food which suddenly held no interest to the would-be diners. She reached over to Harry’s plate and spooned out some stew.

“Eat.” She advised. “No-one we care about, or have ever cared about, would want us to starve for any reason. It isn’t the way to remember them.” She gave them a brave smile, and did the same with Ron’s plate.

“It feels wrong, somehow.” Harry said throatily.

“I know.” Hermione said in a strangled voice. She stifled a sob.

“’Mione.” Ron said, making as if to get up, but Hermione shook her head.

“I’m fine, don‘t.” She told them.

Further down the table, a third year that had lost a sister was crying softly into a friend’s shoulder. Not a table was exempt from similar scenes; even the Slytherin table had its share. To Harry’s absolute disgust however, Malfoy was eating heartily, and was abusing any of his friends that weren’t doing similarly. He couldn’t stomach seeing the blond haired boy any longer, and his eyes were quickly drawn once more to Hannah Abbott and Ernie Macmillan at the Hufflepuff table instead. They were sitting straight-backed and proud, eating slowly, and urging others to do the same. There was something immensely solemn and truly respectful radiating from them that Harry felt slightly ashamed.

“You’re right.” He told them.

Ron filled up their glasses. “To Justin.” He said, repeating the toast.

Hermione and Harry joined their goblets with his. As Harry echoed the words, there was a sudden surge of emotion within him. Justin Finch-Fletchley, the boy that had almost gone to Eton rather than Hogwarts, the boy that had been so wide-eyed at the world of magic that had been revealed to him, the friend that had trusted Harry, and sworn to fight Voldemort and his Death Eaters along with the rest of the DA. Justin would be avenged, as would everyone that had suffered at the hands of Voldemort. Harry would make sure of it.

When the last knife and fork had been laid down, and the last plate finished with, ending the sober meal, Dumbledore stood once more. Just the motion quieted the room, and he smiled gently.

“Thank you. For the first point of business, I should like to welcome Professor Aravenne, who has graciously agreed to take up the post of Defence Against the Dark Arts this year. Thank you Professor.”

Dumbledore turned to the man two seats away from his own, who stood up, allowing the students to see him for the first time. Harry felt his first impression had been right, as he joined in the polite applause. Aravenne’s face was elegant, aristocratic, with almost a feminine touch, and Harry was unsurprised to see more than one female student’s eyes linger as they looked upon their Professor. It was hard to judge by looking at robes, but if he had to guess, Harry would have said he was lean, and had an athletic body, which was the only sign that he may have the steel needed to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts – especially in the seemingly cursed Hogwarts’ position. Aravenne gave as warm a smile as could be considered appropriate considering the situation, and sat down again.

“Mr Filch has asked me to tell you that Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes’ Skiving Snackboxes, which were selling so superbly well at the end of last year, have joined the list of prohibited items, as have, most particularly, their Portable Swamps. He has also asked me to warn you that any of their items are likely to join the banned item list at any given time. The full list, may, as always, be viewed on the door of Mr Filch’s office.

“It is also my happy duty to inform you, that with Inquisitor Umbridge’s dismissal from the school, all Educational Decrees that came into operation in the last fifteen months have been repealed. This means, that among other things, reading the Quibbler, is no longer a punishable offence.”

Ordinarily, these last two announcements would have caused at least one person to laugh, or in the case of the last, a spontaneous burst of applause. Such was the mood at present however, that all that happened were a few reluctant smiles.

All that was left for Dumbledore to announce were the usual warnings about the Forbidden Forest (which was exactly as the name might suggest), information about Quidditch practices (which would be announced on the house notice boards by tomorrow evening at the latest), and the expected date for the first Hogsmeade trip of the year (which Dumbledore assured them would take place, but with Auror escorts).

Dumbledore soon dismissed them, and as he and Hermione started calling the first years to them, to show them to Gryffindor Tower, Ron whispered to Harry. “Password’s same as when we were here. See you up in the common room mate.”

Harry was one of the first through the door, and he did not want to linger. He would make a point of speaking to his friends in the other houses tomorrow, but for now, he just wanted to make sure Dean had a chance to avoid him if he wished. The two he most wanted to see were the Hufflepuff Prefects, and they were doing exactly the same thing as Ron and Hermione were doing right now anyway. He turned off the normal route to the tower, and instead took a route that would take him longer, and would therefore be quieter. He had barely gone twenty yards when a voice from behind made him stop.

“Potter.”

Harry gave a quick thought to carrying on regardless as if he hadn’t heard, but thought better of it. It was Professor Snape. He stood a distance away, regarding Harry with complete contempt. Slowly, deliberately, he walked towards him, the eyes of the sallow face never leaving Harry’s own.

“This is not the way to your common room, Potter.”

“Not the most direct way, no.” Harry replied coldly, not leaving that hateful face with his own eyes either.

“I believe I have told you before Potter, to address me as ‘Sir’.” Snape said silkily.

“You have.” Harry replied. “Sir.”

“Why then, are you not going the most direct route to your common room, Potter?” Snape asked, the flickering torches on the walls making the Potion’s master look all the more threatening, despite the fact that Harry was now almost as tall as him.

“I wanted time to myself!” Harry said, more than a touch of annoyance creeping into his voice. “What’s wrong with that?”

Snape made a disbelieving sound through his nose. “Time away from your devoted followers? I doubt it. What are you truly up to Potter? Trying to find a way past Hogwarts improved security already?”

Harry didn’t answer.

“The security that has been put in place for saintly Potter’s protection as much as anyone’s I might add.” Snape continued. “We could always find out why you are wandering the corridors.” He said, withdrawing his wand.

Harry broke eye contact, well aware of what Snape was threatening to do. “I’m not doing anything wrong!” He said angrily.

“You truly have no control of your emotions.” Snape spat. “I would have thought, by now, you would have learnt the lesson that the death of your dear Godfather should have taught you.”

Harry drew his wand furiously.

“Obviously not.” Snape continued. “Put that away, Potter, or do you wish to be expelled for attacking a teacher?”

“I say!” A portrait on the wall interrupted, “Threatening a teacher, that’s not on dear fellow, not on at all!”

Harry glared at the portrait, a man standing on a castle ramparts. Beside him, a picture of three old hags stirring a potion seemed remarkably interested in what was happening too. He turned back to Snape.

“You… You…”

“Yes, Potter?” Snape invited. “Do you wish to blame me for your Godfather’s death perhaps? Blame somebody else for the things you did? I would be more than glad to say I killed Black, but I am afraid I would be taking the credit for something I was unable to accomplish.”

With a huge effort, Harry turned away from the goading teacher. “If that is all, I should like to return to Gryffindor Tower. Sir.”

“No Potter, that is not all.” Snape snapped.

Harry turned around sharply to face him. “What is it then?”

“I wanted to thank you Potter.” Snape told him.

“Wh– What?” Harry said, momentarily stunned.

“I said I wanted to thank you Potter.” Snape repeated. “Your inability to even partially control your emotions, and guard your mind from external forces may make you a pitiful Occlumens, but the fact that you are unable to guard your mind had some use. After all, it caused your little stunt at my hearing, when you allowed the Dark Lord to look through your memories for the Prophecy, and that, and some of your testimony, are two of the reasons I am still a free man. Even if your bumbling idiocy nearly contrived to ruin all of the good work.”

Harry looked at him. That was possibly the most insulting piece of gratitude he’d ever heard.

“Call that a thank you? Come now man!” The portrait that had spoken before interrupted once more. “You can do better than that. Let the lad see how important it is to you.”

Snape looked at the portrait, sneering. “Potter’s help was purely unintentional. He had no thoughts apart from gaining revenge on another. He is not worthy of such sentiment.” He spoke with such loathing; Harry wondered if Snape knew how to produce ‘such sentiment’.

“Perhaps I should thank you too, then, sir.” Harry said suddenly.

A look of something that almost looked like amusement appeared on Snape’s face. Harry had never seen the Potion’s master with such an expression before. “Go ahead.” He invited.

“Thank you then, for attempting to save my life in first year, even if it wasn’t you that managed to do it in the end, and the only reason you tried to, was because my father saved yours. Then again, perhaps I should thank you for third year, when you thought you were saving me from Sirius, even though you managed to attack the one that was trying to save, rather than kill me.”

Harry chanced a look at Snape, he still had that very same amused look on his face, and so he continued, allowing some of the rage he felt against the man to come out. “But I must wonder, sir, why you have since spent your time trying to get me expelled, and spent more time trying to make me do things that I might get punished for than actually teaching me. Is it because I look so like the person that once hung you upside down by your greying underwear, or is it something else?”

To Harry’s absolute annoyance, the countenance of the Potions teacher hadn’t changed; he had felt sure he would get some reaction with that last line.

“Again, Potter, you give me too much credit.” Snape said easily. “I saved your life in first year, oh yes I did save your life, for if I had not been uttering the counter curse, you should have plummeted to your death–”

“I was holding on quite well if I remember.” Harry snarled.

“Do not interrupt me Potter, you asked a question, I am answering you.” Snape’s eyes narrowed. “I saved your life in first year, because you were a student of this school. Nothing more, nothing less. Your ancestry is of no interest to me.”

Harry did not attempt to hide a snort of disbelief.

“Similarly in your third year, quite despite the fact that you had flaunted all the precautions that were in place for your protection, you were still, somehow, a student at Hogwarts. How you remained so is beyond my comprehension.”

“Professor Dumbledore believes in second chances.” Harry said, hoping to incense Snape this time. “Doesn’t he Professor?”

“Albus does indeed.” Snape said coolly. “However, when it comes to you, Potter, you have long since left your third, fourth and fifth chances behind, which would normally be enough to remove the most obstinate students. While I have been at pains to point out the many school rules you have flaunted, you have still failed to receive the punishments other, less famous, students would receive.

“As for your other claim, regarding my teaching methods.” Snape’s eyes narrowed. “Despite the fact that you are such a lamentable potions maker, you received Exceeds Expectations in your O.W.L.s did you not? If I can cause even you to pull through with such a grade, then I shall maintain faith in my methods.”

“My Potions was more thanks to Hermione than you.” Harry told him angrily.

“How much of the Prophecy did he see Potter?” Snape snapped, changing the subject suddenly.

“None.” Harry replied coldly, not attempting to hide the dislike in his voice.

“None, sir.”

“Whatever, sir.” Harry snapped back.

“Let me be understood Potter. Even if the Prophecy makes you a vital part of this war against the Dark Lord, you are still an arrogant little boy, who has got where he is thanks to the fact he is famous for a piece of luck, rather than any magical ability. The Ministry may have rejoined your little fan club, but you will put effort into learning Occlumency and shielding your mind. Am I quite clear?”

“I have.” Harry told him, and continued fiercely. “In fact, ever since you stopped taking me for Occlumency lessons, I have actually been learning the subject.”

“Learning the subject.” Snape repeated sardonically. “Occlumency is not something you do twenty minutes in a day – it is a way of life. It is not enough to be in control of your emotions at times of your own choosing, because Legilimens will not attack you at times of your own choosing. Legilimens.”

While he had been speaking, Harry had returned to looking at his eyes once more, forgetting the dangers contained within. Automatically, Harry started to practice the techniques Dumbledore had taught him, fighting to prevent Snape’s access to his mind. Slowly, inexorably, like being the weaker of two tug-of-war opponents, Harry felt his defences weaken, and Snape tug his way into Harry’s mind, until the final shred of resistance fell through his fingers like sand.

The reflection of Sybil Trelawny was shown before him, and with a gasp, Harry knew that Snape was going after the Prophecy. He concentrated all his might on trying to force Snape out, to raise his wand, and produce some kind of hex, anything, as long as it broke the connection. Professor Trelawny began to speak harshly.

“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches … Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month di–”

The vision was gone, replaced by one in which Snape stepped backwards, slightly off balance but unharmed. Harry supposed he must have forced him out with his mind rather than wand.

“That took too long Potter.” He said angrily.

“Why are you so annoyed about it?” Harry asked rudely, but feeling he had every excuse for his rudeness.

“Because, Potter, while I am delighted to see the end of Sirius Black, I would rather not be next.” And with that, Snape turned sharply, cloak billowing with the sudden movement, and marched up the torch lit hallway. Before he disappeared from view, his voice rang out once more. “And ten points from Gryffindor, for your lack of respect to a Hogwarts Professor.”

Harry watched him go, trembling with fury. Completely unable to come to terms with the different emotions he was feeling, he continued to Gryffindor Tower fuming. By the time he finally got there, the common room was empty save for Hermione and Ron. As usual, all the students had gone to their dormitories immediately after the feast.

“What took you so long?” Ron demanded, jumping up from his chair, as Harry entered through the portrait hole angrily.

“Snape.” Harry said loudly, slamming the portrait shut.

There was a muffled ‘Ouch!’ from the Fat Lady on the other side.

“What happened?” Hermione asked in concern.

“He tried to use Legilimency on me, among other things.” Harry snarled. “He was trying to find out the Prophecy.”

“He WHAT?” Ron yelled.

“Ron, shush.” Hermione said anxiously, looking towards the stairs.

“But he – oh, sorry –” Ron said, and realising what Hermione meant, he lowered his voice. “But if he’s trying to see the Prophecy, then he must be working for You-Know-Who, mustn’t he? I mean, Dumbledore’s the one it was made to.”

“What happened?” Hermione asked anxiously, before adding. “Sit down and tell us.”

So Harry did. He fell into a chair, and gazed into the fire. Crookshanks jumped up onto his knee, demanding attention, and he found himself stroking the cat as he gave them a brief rundown of what happened. He found the presence of the cat rather relaxing, and as he remembered what happened, he started to piece his thoughts together for the first time.

“Did he see any of it? The Prophecy I mean.” Hermione asked, in a worried tone.

“He saw the first bit.” Harry told them. “The bit about me having the power to beat Voldemort.”

“What did he do then?” She asked.

“He said something about me not being good enough at Occlumency and then turned his back and walked away.”

“Harry, you have to tell Dumbledore.” Ron urged. “I knew he was a bloody Death Eater. I knew it. Even you have to admit that now Hermione.”

“That doesn’t make sense.” Hermione said slowly.

“He is a Death Eater, admit it Hermione, teachers can be bad news too. Harry, you have to tell Dumbledore.”

“I can’t.” Harry replied, anxiously. “Not for a week anyway, he said he wouldn’t be around until the second week of term in my last Occlumency lesson, and I’ve no way of telling him now, even if he’s still here.”

“Of course teachers can be bad news.” Hermione snapped at Ron. “Look at Quirrell, Crouch, and Umbridge. That‘s not what I meant. Think about it.”

“About what?” Ron replied mulishly.

“Well, why would he try to look through Harry’s memories so obviously? I mean, if he was working for V– Voldemort he wouldn’t want anyone to know, would he?”

“So?” Harry asked.

“So why wasn’t he more subtle? Try to teach Harry Occlumency again, and find out that way or something?”

“He knows I’m never taking Occlumency with him again. Maybe Voldemort is tired of waiting, and wants to know now.” Harry told her.

“But he could have been far more clever about it, couldn’t he? I mean, if he’s working for Voldemort, then he’d want to stay under cover so he could spy on Dumbledore, wouldn’t he? But he didn’t even try to Obliviate you, did he? Snape isn’t stupid. It would be like he had said that he was a Death Eater in his hearing if he were to be found out that way.”

“So why’d he do it then?” Ron fired at her. “How exactly is it going to help Dumbledore?”

“I don’t know.” Hermione said in frustration. “But it doesn’t help Voldemort either. It’s like I said, it doesn’t make sense. Maybe Dumbledore wanted him to test out Harry’s Occlumency.”

“Dumbledore said it was a mistake for Snape to do Occlumency with me.” Harry said angrily. “Why would he then tell Snape to try and catch me unawares? Besides, he knows I’m not strong enough to keep him out when I’m ready yet, let alone when I’m not. He was talking about me needing time before I’d ever be able to keep Voldemort out face to face.”

“I don’t know why.” Hermione said. “But there has to be a reason. There has to be.”

“You have to tell Dumbledore.” Ron told him, ignoring Hermione.

“I will.” Harry assured him.

“Great start, isn’t it?” Harry told them, wanting to hurl something across the room. “First Malfoy, then Snape.”

“Don’t worry about the Gruesome Twosome Harry.” Ron said, and despite everything, it drew a smile.

“The Gruesome Twosome?” Harry repeated.

“Yeah. Look, they’re not worth getting worked up about. Send Dumbledore a letter tomorrow with Hedwig or something, and then forget about them.”
________________________________________


When Harry finally went up to bed, his mind was still full of Snape, full of his mocking voice telling him that it was Harry’s fault Sirius was dead, full of the fact that Snape had tried to learn the contents of the Prophecy; and yet Hermione still claimed he couldn’t be working for Voldemort. He lay on his four-poster bed, leaving his unpacking for tomorrow, and tried to practice his Occlumency. Before long, he was asleep.

He found himself in the Arch room in the Department of Mysteries again. Sirius was standing in front of him, handsome face smiling at Harry. He stepped down from the dais towards Harry, with a welcoming motion. Harry raised his wand.

‘Avada Kedavra’.

Sirius’ face turned to one of surprise, then one of betrayal, as he sailed backwards through the curtain, and vanished.

Mocking laughter filled the room, and Harry felt himself turn. Snape was sitting on one of the benches, clapping.

“Bravo! Well done Potter, you beat me to it.” He said jovially.

“I didn’t… I…” Harry faltered.

“Now, now Potter, lying is against the school rules.” Snape’s wide smile was suddenly stern now. “You must be punished. Dumbledore isn’t here to stop your punishment this time.”

“No! I…”

“Crucio!”

Harry screamed, his whole body in absolute pain. His head was forced to the side, until he was looking directly at the arch Sirius had just gone through. How long he bucked and writhed in agony he did not know, but eventually the pain faded, and he found himself looking at Bellatrix Lestrange.

“You have failed me Bellatrix.” He said coldly. “I am tired of your failures.”

“My lord!”

“Crucio!”

Harry found himself holding the curse on Bellatrix this time. He watched her scream and writhe in agony as he had done a short while before.

“My lord!” The woman screamed through tortured breaths. “He will come my lord! He will come!”

Harry lifted the curse. “That’s better. When will he be here?”

“Four – four days time Master.” Lestrange gasped.

“Four days is four days too many.” Harry spat. “Next time Lord Voldemort gives you orders, I expect them followed to the letter, is that clear? Crucio.”

With a jerk, Harry realised that this was no longer a dream.
________________________________________


He sat up, panting. He punched his pillow. Snape! It was all that damned Snivellus’ fault.

“You alright Harry?” Ron’s voice came groggily from across the room – the other three were asleep.

“Goddamned Slytherins.” Harry told him. “Go back to sleep.”

Harry himself fell back onto his pillows with a thump, but didn’t close his eyes. He waited for Ron’s breathing to slow, and his snores to begin, before pushing the bedclothes off his legs, and tiptoeing to his trunk. As he fumbled inside for the remains of the dreamless sleep potion (despite the magical enlargement of the bottle meaning there was more liquid than might have been expected, it was running out – he would have to ask Madam Pomfrey for some more), his hand caressed instead something he instinctively recognised as the Marauder’s Map.

Taking out both the potion and the map, Harry decided to give into his hunch, and check in on the map for Snape. He closed the curtains around his bed once more, and slid underneath the sheets, placing the bottle on his bedside table, and picking up the wand.

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” He whispered.

The small dots slowly slid into view. As luck would have it, it opened on Gryffindor Tower itself, and Harry saw five dots, motionless in their beds in the sixth year boys’ dormitory. His eyes passed over the girls dormitory as he followed the parchment vertically, looking for the Potions master. He stopped and double-checked for a second. One of the dots in one of the girls’ dormitories was moving. Hermione obviously couldn’t sleep either. Or rather, she couldn’t sleep and Harry was slightly afraid of sleeping. Harry looked at his watch. It was half past one.

His eyes moved on, there was Filch, skulking through the castle, causing Harry to wonder when exactly the man did sleep. Maybe the Squib did have some magic in him – the ability to stay up all night trying to put students in detention. The other side of the castle was Mrs Norris, Filch’s beloved cat, who had just turned off the main corridor it was patrolling to avoid a prowling Crookshanks.

Harry’s eyes travelled down to the dungeons, and Snape’s classroom, which adjoined his quarters. It appeared Snape couldn’t sleep either, for he was pacing back and forth, rather than settling down to sleep. Harry was slightly disappointed, he would have rather Snape was nowhere to be seen, that would have been more suspicious. He wondered whether Snape was mulling over the best way to fulfil Voldemort’s latest orders, or whether Hermione was right, and despite everything he had done, he still followed Dumbledore’s command.

Thinking of Dumbledore, Harry’s eyes now searched out the Headmaster’s office. As he had expected, there was no sign of him. Was he out trying to discover Lord Voldemort’s weakness perhaps? Harry imagined it had to be something that involved subterfuge, or at the very least cover of darkness, if he had to go at this time of night, rather than wait until the morning. How would Dumbledore react when Harry accused Snape (yet again) of working for the other side? He had the feeling Dumbledore was getting rather tired of it, and that no matter what Harry said, he wouldn’t change his mind.

Planning anything? Padfoot’s writing asked over the Headmaster’s office.

Harry cast a quick muffling charm over his bed’s curtains, before tapping the paper, and replying, “Not really. Why are you awake?”

Couldn’t sleep. Prongs replied.

“Okay, silly question, I take it you guys don’t need sleep.”

No, we don’t. Moony said.

So, why are you awake? Prongs asked.

“It’s a long story.” Harry replied.

Another hand of writing appeared, one Harry didn’t recognise, but immediately knew had to be Wormtail’s. Well tell us, I thought Moony said you’d be interesting. Padfoot and Prongs have told you loads about themselves, but you’ve told us nothing about you.

Harry didn’t reply, scowling at the map. Why had he not let Sirius and Remus kill Pettigrew?

Harry, are you there? Harry could almost hear Remus’ voice coming from the parchment.

“I’m not telling you anything while that traitorous scum is listening.” He muttered to the map.

What? Who? Padfoot demanded.

“Pettigrew.” Harry spat. “Mischief managed.”

But although the corridors, rooms, and inhabitants of the castle faded away from the maps’ representation of Hogwarts, the Marauders’ imprints remained. They immediately jumped to Wormtail’s defence.

Wormtail’s one of us. Prongs scribbled. Marauders are true Gryffindors through and through – Gryffindors don’t betray people, and they don’t falsely accuse people either.

Padfoot’s script was more laid back, relaxed. Very funny, Peter may be small, but what he lacks in magical ability, he makes up for in guts. He wouldn’t be one to turn traitor.

How dare you! Wormtail’s script shouted indignation. I would never–

Moony’s script interrupted his sentence. I doubt he’s still there, we’ll find out what’s going on when he tries to use the map next.

It better be good. Prongs wrote menacingly. No way is an enemy of a Marauder going to use this map.

Relax James, Padfoot wrote, like I said, he’s joking. Probably half asleep for that matter. Moony wouldn’t have vouched for him if he were an enemy of the Marauders.

It better be a joke. Introduction from Moony or not, no one falsely accuses my friends of anything.

Just promise to hear him out if he is serious, Prongs, Moony wrote, my counterpart would hardly have let him use the map, let alone talk to us, without a good reason.

Harry read no more, but rather folded the map, and put it on his bedside table, allowing the imprints of the Marauders to talk between themselves. He drained the glass on the table of water, and filled it with Dreamless Sleep potion. The first day back, had by no means been the return he had been hoping for.
________________________________________


A/N: Well, hope you enjoyed. As always, although not getting reviews isn't going to make me stop posting (I don't understand that... why write something for free if it depends solely upon whether people give reviews or not?), any feedback will be deeply appreciated.

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Chapter 12: Professor Aravenne


“Harry, mate, wake up.” Ron’s voice floated fuzzily into Harry’s head.

“Ungh, wha?” Harry said thickly.

“You took some of that sleeping potion, didn’t you?” Ron said in frustration, still shaking him. “Look, it’s morning, we got to be down at breakfast in a few minutes, first day of term and all that.”

“Yeah.” Harry said, his own voice sounding distant. He forced himself into a sitting position.

Ron disappeared for a few moments, and Harry heard the sound of thundering water coming from the adjoining bathroom. “Have a shower, that’ll wake you up.”

Harry stumbled towards the sound of the water, and, undressing, practically fell towards the jet. He gave a shout, and fumbled with the controls. It was freezing cold.

“Told you it’d wake you up.” Ron laughed. “Hurry up will you, we get our timetables today. Hope we don’t have Potions.”

“That makes two of us.” Harry yelled out to him. “I’ve already seen enough of Snape for a week.”

“When are you going to send that letter to Dumbledore?” Ron asked.

“It’s not going to achieve anything is it?” Harry said bitterly. “Snape will just say he was doing it to spy on Voldemort somehow.”

“I think you should do it anyway mate, you know. Then at least Dumbledore will know.”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

By the time Harry and Ron had reached the Great Hall, however, they had very little time to do anything other than take their places beside Hermione, who was holding on to their timetables with a very disapproving look on her face.

“About time.” She said stiffly, handing Harry his timetable.

“Yes!” Ron yelled, punching the air. “Free period first thing! Let’s eat.” He reached out to the plate of sausages eagerly.

Hermione shook her head. “Why are you two so late, anyway?”

Ron removed the fork that he had already started towards his mouth. “Harry had taken some of the dreamless sleep potion.” He whispered. “I was trying to wake him up.”

Hermione’s frostiness vanished. “I thought you’d stopped Voldemort’s visions, Harry. You didn’t have another one did you?”

“Yeah.” Harry muttered, a sick feeling welling up inside him. “It was Snape. I couldn’t concentrate. Why couldn’t you sleep?” He asked, changing the subject.

“What?” Hermione asked. “How come-”

“Hermione, I have the Marauder’s Map.” Harry told her.

“Oh. I was just … thinking.” She glanced at her watch. “I’m sorry, I have to go, Arithmancy is going to start soon. I’ll see you in Transfiguration.”

She stood up, grabbing her bag, and slinging it over her shoulder. Harry glanced at his schedule; double Transfiguration was his and Ron’s first class.

“Yeah, sure.” He said to the back of her retreating head.

Ron was grabbing more food from the serving plates and trying to stuff it in before it disappeared at the end of breakfast. “LooknbrysyArry.”

“What?” Harry asked, watching Ron swallow his mouthful.

“Oops. I said look on the bright side, Harry. I mean, it gives you time to write that letter, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, I suppose so.” Harry replied, reaching himself for some toast now. “Oh, hi again Hermione, forget something?”

Hermione had just rushed back to where they were sitting.

“No, well not really.” She told them, “Look, Harry, don’t send that letter to Dumbledore until we’ve talked, alright?”

“Oh.” Harry said, nonplussed. “Oh, okay, but why?” But Hermione had disappeared again.

Ron just shrugged at him. “I guess not then.” He said looking to the heavens for support. “It really would be nice if she explained herself occasionally, wouldn’t it?”

Harry laughed, and started on a boiled egg. “Come on, you know Hermione - nothing gets in the way of her classes. She’d probably make sure Voldemort waited until after her History of Magic lesson before attacking Hogwarts.”

He looked around the Great Hall; apart from a few similar sixth and seventh year students, who also were starting their school year with a free period, it was deserted. He looked upwards; the ceiling was a clean cloudy white.

Ron followed his gaze. “Not bad Quidditch conditions.” He remarked. “No sun to get in the eyes, and not much chance of rain either. Oh damn it.” He said, looking down to the table again (the plates of food had vanished). “Never mind. Look, I was thinking of holding tryouts on Thursday, what do you think? I’ve just got to check it with Professor McGonagall of course.”

“Thursday.” Harry repeated.

“Yeah, and make sure you’re there, and not in detention or something.”

Harry grinned, remembering Angelina last year, but his smile faltered when he saw Ron’s face. “What is it about people when they’re made captain?” He wondered out loud in disbelief.

Ron laughed loudly, before cutting his eyes, and hissing, in a low, serious tone. “Look, I need the support, okay? It’s going to be my first time doing anything like this. Maybe we can talk about the kind of things we should do later?”

“I’ll be good – promise!” Harry told him.

“Hi Harry, Hi Ron.” A girl said from across the table. It was Susan Bones. “Mind if I sit down?”

“Sure.” They told her as one.

She looked pale, as if she hadn’t slept for a long time. Her face was drawn and slightly blotchy.

“Are you okay?” Harry asked in some concern.

“Yeah, it’s … it’s just been hard. Even since J– Justin was…” Her lip trembled, and her cheeks glistened. “I’m sorry,” she sniffed, reaching for a handkerchief from her robes’ pocket.

Harry didn’t let her finish her sentence. “Don’t be. I know how it feels. I lost someone at the start of the summer too. How are the other Hufflepuffs coping?”

“Better than me.” She said with an attempt at a smile. “Ernie and Hannah have a Care of Magical Creatures lesson now. They seem to be able to cope with anything.” There was a touch of something between admiration and jealousy in her voice.

“There’s no such person.” Ron cut in, and Susan looked at him. “Trust me; there are some people I used to think the same kind of thing about, until I found out otherwise. You know, some people that you look at, and you wonder how they keep so calm, but they don’t really, they’re just the same as you underneath.”

Harry glanced at him, surprised. Ron was probably right, come to think about it. Moony always seemed so calm, so in control of things, and yet Harry knew from their talks, that he suffered just the same as he did. He wondered when exactly Ron had become so perceptive.

“When did it happen?” Harry asked, speaking around the lump in his throat, not looking at either Ron or Susan, but rather staring at the wall at the end of the table now.

There was silence and Harry belatedly realised that asking Susan questions about Justin’s death wasn’t probably the most considerate thing to have just done in the circumstances.

“I’m sorry,” He said quickly, still not looking at them, “I just … the first we heard about him was … yesterday, at the feast.

“Oh.” Harry could hear the tears in her voice. “It was You-Know-Who’s Death Eaters. One … One of the first attacks.”

Harry swallowed, and looked down at the table, head now supported by a hand. He pinched his nose.

“I– I’m sorry.” Susan stammered. “I didn’t mean to talk about J– Justin. I– I’ll go.”

“Don’t.” Harry told her. “Don’t. It’s my fault. It’s my fault.” He repeated. It’s all my fault.

“What were you going to ask?” Ron asked her.

Susan dabbed at her eyes with her hankie, and took a shuddering breath. “Well, I was just … I wanted to know … Luna Lovegood said that you weren’t intending to keep teaching the DA, and I wanted… I wanted to know if it was true or not.”

“We may not need it.” Harry told her, “I guess we’ll know after Defence Against the Dark Arts this afternoon, won’t we?”

“But it wasn’t just because of Umbridge before, was it?” Susan Bones sniffled. “It’s like Hermione Granger said, we need to learn to protect ourselves against You … You-Know-Who. And we need to keep learning as much as possible, or we might, we might…” She stopped speaking, fighting against the tears that were trying to make their way through.

“I–” Harry didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know how to tell her how he was responsible for Justin’s death, and how he would be responsible for any other DA member’s death if he continued to teach them. “But I–”

“We’re all going to be attacked in the end, aren’t we?” She said in a small voice. “We have to try to be ready or fight back.”

Harry felt himself crumple. “I– I’ll arrange a meeting in the usual way, and we can decide what to do then.” He mumbled, barely loud enough to be heard.

“Susan, are you alright?” A strange girl’s voice said from above Susan’s shoulder.

Harry turned to look at the newcomer. It was someone he’d never talked to before, he guessed a Hufflepuff seventh year. She glared at both Harry and Ron, and put her arm around Susan’s shoulder.

“I’d better go.” Susan said. “I’ll, I’ll see you later Ron, Harry.”

Her companion helped her up, and looked back at the two Gryffindors as she went, as if to say, ‘not if she could help it’.

Harry groaned, and looked around the hall bleakly. “Let’s go up to Gryffindor Tower until Transfiguration.” He told Ron.

On the way up, and for the rest of the period, Ron explained his ideas for Quidditch. Harry said next to nothing.
________________________________________


“So,” Hermione began, as they sat in the Transfiguration classroom, waiting for students to arrive from Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures lesson, “Did you get any work done this morning?”

“Work?” Ron asked. “We haven’t even had a lesson yet, what exactly are we meant to do work-wise?”

“Forget it.” Hermione said in a long-suffering voice. “What’s up Harry? You’ve hardly said anything.”

Harry didn’t respond, but rather stared straight ahead of himself.

“Well, we saw Susan Bones after you went, and–” Ron started to explain.

“Oh no.” Hermione said anxiously. “She was going out with Justin, wasn’t she?”

“Was she?” Ron asked, surprised.

Hermione’s face grew even more worried. “If only I was there. What happened?”

Harry continued to look at neither friend, and not say a word. Ron rushed through a hasty explanation, Hermione’s expression changing all the way through, with the occasional shake of the head. When Ron finished, she sighed.

“It could have been worse, I think.” She said, but in a voice that suggested she wasn’t sure how. Ernie McMillan and Hannah Abbott made their way into the room, at the head of the Care of Magical Creatures lot, so they lowered their voices even more, as the room started to get ready for the lesson.

“What’s that meant to mean?” Ron demanded in a fierce whisper.

“Well, it’s just… neither of you have any subtlety!” Hermione told them, biting the inside of her cheek. “If only I was there.” She repeated.

“What’d we do wrong?!” Ron demanded in indignation.

“Well, instead of demanding to know what happened, you should have asked her if she wanted to talk about it, don’t you see?”

“No, we didn’t know that she was going to, well, did we?” Ron said, and Hermione sighed again.

“Honestly – you two… You were putting pressure on her. Of course she was going to get upset.”

“But…” Ron stopped; the rest of the room had fallen silent.

There was no chance for either of them to continue their discussion, or Harry to join it, as the class was now full, and nobody with any sense at all talked in Professor McGonagall’s class. She eyed the students carefully, and placed her case on her desk.

“First of all,” She began, “congratulations to you all, it is no mean feat to achieve Exceeds Expectations or better in a Transfiguration O.W.L. Do not, however, believe that you are entitled to rest on your laurels, for there is a very good reason why I refuse entry to all students who fail to achieve either of the top grades.

“Put quite simply, the course is far too advanced for anyone who received a bare pass or a fail to have a hope of continuing in, and unless you put the necessary work in, it will prove so even if you achieved Outstandings. I will not waste my time with those of you unwilling to put the effort in, and anyone who I deem to not be working hard enough will soon find themselves on the other side of this door. I give you due warning.”

As she spoke, she looked around the class, succeeding in fixing each student with her eyes in such a manner, that each of them had the impression that she was talking to them personally. Hermione, in particular, looked desperate to prove she would put the ‘necessary work’ in.

“For many of you,” McGonagall continued, “you are now embarking upon the final years of your education, and as such, this shall be your toughest trial, not to mention your most important one. For the rest of you, the ones who may be considering further studies in order to progress in academia or to continue on to their chosen career path, these next two years will decide whether you succeed or fail with your ambitions. Whichever of the two of them you may be, your N.E.W.T.s are vital.”

Harry felt a strange sense of déjà vu, it was only last year that he had heard something similar coming out of the same teacher’s mouth. He hated to think of what the introduction to seventh year would be like.

“Advanced transfiguration deals with the far harder subjects of creation, or conjuring, and precision transfiguration, such as human transfiguration. Such subjects require great concentration,” Her expression narrowed, “and so it is imperative that you pay attention to me, Mr Malfoy, when I am speaking.”

Malfoy, who was looking rather different than normal with his normal stooges, Crabbe and Goyle, nowhere to be seen, had just passed a note to Blaise Zabini. Zabini was obviously less enamoured with Malfoy than the other Slytherins in the year, for he was ignoring him aloofly, and paying rather more attention to the class. Malfoy scowled, and said nothing.

“Accio.” The paper flew into Professor McGonagall’s hand.

Rather than reading it, she eyed it up, and passed her wand over it. The paper folded itself, crumpled slightly, and then grew fur, legs, and a snout, until it was a rather large hamster. It would normally have been a simple piece of transfiguration, but up until now, the students had only ever transformed things into something of the same size. Lastly, out of thin air, she created a clear container around the animal, to prevent its escape.

“Creating a large object from a small one, or from nothing at all, is one of the hardest areas of transfiguration.” McGonagall told them. “It requires the ability to conjure material out of nothing other than air and dust. There are two types of conjuration, temporary conjuration and permanent conjuration. I shall expect you to be able to create a butterfly, and keep it conjured for at least two days by Christmas. We shall not touch permanent conjuration until your seventh year.

“Conjuration directly follows from vanishing spells. Today we shall begin an intermediate spell, called manifestus. It is easy to make something vanish,” To illustrate, a wave of the wand caused the hamster to disappear, “as you know from your O.W.L.s, but to cause it to manifest itself once more is a completely different matter.” Another wave of the wand, and the hamster reappeared in its box.

She set the class to work with a snail apiece, which they first had to vanish, and then make reappear. Remembering how long exactly it had taken him to learn to vanish a snail, Harry set to work, thinking with resignation, that it might take a while. To his surprise however, he managed to achieve some success with it before the end of the first period, and had started (admittedly with no progress) on mice by the end of the second. Hermione, of course, had finished with mice too.

“That wasn’t too bad, was it?” Ron asked as they went to get some lunch; he, like Harry, had been successfully manifesting snails by the end of the lesson.

“No, that went quite well.” Hermione agreed. “But it’s meant to be harder to manifest something that somebody else vanished.”

“It’s a start though; it’s nice to feel you’re actually getting somewhere.” Harry said, remembering Occlumency.

“Are you feeling okay, Harry?” Hermione asked, and Harry knew she was referring to the fact that, before that sentence, he hadn’t said a word to her since he sat down in Transfiguration.

He shrugged. “You know, the annoying thing about this Occlumency is that now I have no excuse if I have mood swings.” Hermione nodded understandingly, and Harry continued slightly exasperatedly. “I wasn’t being serious Hermione – I’m okay, honest.”

“Yup.” Ron said, “Definite mood swings.”

Harry looked at him, but didn’t feel like thinking up a witty retort.

“So,” Hermione said, “you’ve decided to keep doing the DA?”

“No.” Harry told her, “I said I’d arrange a meeting in the normal way to decide what to do. I mean, I couldn’t really say anything else, could I? How could I tell her why I don’t want to do it when she was upset?”

“Why don’t you want to do it?” Ron demanded, waving away Harry’s explanations. “Yes, I know you’re going to say we might not need to if Aravenne is any good, but that isn’t it, is it?”

“I told you in Grimmauld Place.” Harry said, sitting down, and dishing himself some lunch.

He looked around; Ginny was sitting at the end of the table with Dean. Was he going to end up hardly seeing her if Dean wanted to stay away from him? Were Ron and Hermione never going to see her either? Ginny had been one of them all last year and during the summer – it was she that had been foremost in helping him talk to Sirius through Umbridge’s fireplace.

“You think that if you teach the DA, then Voldemort will attack us, don’t you?” Hermione said, “Like Dean’s family, like Justin.”

Harry looked at her. “Sounds reasonable to me.”

“Do you know that that’s why they were attacked Harry?” Hermione asked.

“Well Voldemort pretty much told me, didn’t he?”

“I thought you said he attacked Dean’s family because he slept in the same dormitory as you?”

“Pretty much the same thing, isn’t it?” Harry said, slightly annoyed, why did she have to argue about semantics?

“No Harry, it isn’t.” She said earnestly. “You can’t help sleeping in the same room as Dean – he would have attacked him even if you were mortal enemies. And Justin… Harry, Justin is – was – the same as me. Muggleborn. Voldemort was attacking all Muggleborns. It isn’t your fault.”

Harry wasn’t convinced.

“What if you’re right Harry? And V– V– You-Know-Who is attacking people because they’re in the DA? It still isn’t your decision to make.” Ron said.

“Why not.” Harry said, eyes narrowing.

“Because we aren’t kids, and you aren’t our parents.” Ron said firmly.

“Ron’s right, Harry, it’s not your decision. You said you’re going to arrange a meeting in the normal way; tell everyone that doing it might make them targets, and let them go if they want.”

Harry sighed – he didn’t want to argue. “There’s something else.” He said, remembering his conversation with the Marauders Map the night before.

“What?” Ron and Hermione asked.

“My parents were betrayed by Pettigrew, what if…”

“What if someone in the DA does the same thing?” Hermione finished.

“Harry?” A voice interrupted. It was Cho Chang.

“Oh, hi.” Harry said, looking over Ron’s shoulder to the pretty Ravenclaw. It wasn’t the warmest of greetings, but they were hardly on the warmest terms at the moment.

“What do you want?” Ron asked, even colder than Harry had.

“Well, I was just… Well…” She looked nervous, and then began rather desperately, “Look, Harry, I’m sorry about what Marietta did, but… don’t you think she’s suffered enough? Can’t you…”

“Not up to me, sorry. You’re wasting your breath.” Harry said roughly.

“You don’t think people should know that your friend is likely to sell out people she makes promises to?” Hermione asked, eyes slits.

“She made a mistake.” Cho said angrily. “Just one mistake! Don’t you think she deserves another chance? She’s a lovely person really, you don’t even know her.”

“She sold all of us out Cho, even you.” Hermione said frostily, unwittingly repeating words Harry had said. “Because of her, Dumbledore was forced to leave the school. You know he’s the only one Voldemort fears, what if it had meant Voldemort had attacked? Would you then be saying she was ‘a lovely person who made a mistake’?”

Cho looked like she would have liked nothing better than to slap Hermione. “So you’re just going to leave her like that for the rest of her life then? She’s tried everything she could this summer; she still couldn’t get rid of it. You’re going to ruin her life for one small thing?”

“I’m sure she’ll find a cure eventually.” Hermione said harshly.

“Fine.” Cho said loudly, wheeling away, saying as she did so. “You two are made for each other Harry.”

Hermione blinked. “What?” She said to Harry uncomprehendingly.

“Don’t you remember?” Harry asked her, “She was determined to believe that we were going out.”

“Oh yeah.” Ron said, laughing in a slightly odd fashion. “But I take it you’d have told me, right.”

“Don’t be an idiot Ron, of course we aren’t going out.”

Hermione, however, was watching the Ravenclaw table with a slight smile on her face. “You know Harry, she still fancies you.”

“What?” Ron asked, “How does all that make you think that?” He waved his hand at the Ravenclaw table in general.

“Well it doesn’t really matter.” Harry said. “I was relieved it was over to be honest, and there’s no way I’m getting back in it. I’m not going to make the same mistake twice.”

“Anyway Harry, about what you were saying before Cho came over, there’s a way we can deal with it I guess, but I don’t really want to.” She said sadly.

“What?” Harry asked.

“Why not?” Ron said.

“Well, it would mean destroying that sheet we all signed with Dumbledore’s Army on, and making a new one.” She said regretfully. “And, well, and that would mean no zits for Marietta.”

Ron laughed. “Cho will probably be all over you again in a second Harry. I still think you're well shot of her though.”

“Very funny Ron. Don‘t worry Hermione, you might not have to. You’re assuming the DA will reform.” Harry told her.

“No, I’d better,” She said, as if steeling herself, “I don’t want too many people to know how I removed the jinx, so I’ll do it before the meeting. Anyway, Ron, Ginny and I will all want to keep going.”

Harry looked away, and scanned the room again. Snape had taken just that moment to enter the Great Hall, and Harry automatically thought of the letter Hermione had stopped him writing.

“Why didn’t you want me to write to Dumbledore Hermione?”

“What? Oh! No, it’s not that I don’t want you to write to him.” She said hastily. “It’s just, sending him a letter isn’t very reliable, is it? I mean he might be anywhere, he might even be apparating regularly, and Hedwig wouldn’t be able to get the letter to him, would she? And what if he needs secrecy? No, all I was thinking was that you should tell someone in the Order, like Professor McGonagall, and that they could contact him.”

“Oh.” Said Harry. “I hadn’t thought of that. I don’t really want to tell McGonagall though, all the teachers here will think I’m just trying to get Snape in trouble or something.”

“I don’t know, Harry–”

“I’ll send Hedwig with a letter to Remus.” Harry said, making up his mind. “He at least knows how much of a git Snape is.”

Neither Ron nor Hermione argued with that logic, and after a quick bite to eat, Harry agreed to meet them at the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, rushing off to write the note in private, and then send it.
________________________________________


“Sent it then?” Ron asked, as Harry scrambled into a seat next to him.

The classroom was absolutely packed. Harry wondered if there was a single student not doing Defence Against the Darks Arts. There were so many, they had been divided into two groups, Gryffindors were paired with the Hufflepuffs, and Slytherins with Ravenclaw.

Harry nodded. “Yeah.”

“I hope it doesn’t get intercepted.” Hermione said, slightly nervously.

“I just wrote: ‘Sni– Snape was trying to force me to talk about the Department of Mysteries. Wasn’t a nice experience. Worried.’” Harry told her. “That should do, shouldn’t it?”

“I suppose s–” Hermione stopped; Aravenne had just walked into the room.

He shut the door gently behind him, and walked slowly to his desk, eyeing each student carefully. Harry didn’t know why, but he had a sudden jab of nervousness. The newest Professor was playing with his wand, twirling it easily by his side in his left hand. He hadn’t said a word since he had entered the room.

Suddenly, Aravenne came to life. In one fluid motion, the wand raised to point at Harry.

“Incarcerus!”

Harry fell backwards on his chair, the light of the curse barely missing him. He scrambled onto his knees, reaching to retrieve his wand from his pocket. The rest of the class were motionless, mouths agape. Aravenne however, was quick as lightning.

“Petrificus Totalus.” Neville was suddenly stiff as a board.

“Impedimenta!” Susan Bones couldn’t move.

“What are you doing?!” Harry yelled to his classmates, “Move!”

Another curse came at him as he raised his head. This time he didn’t duck. “Protego!”

The spell fizzled against his shield, and dissipated. Harry looked across at Ron; he at least had taken cover, although he was clearly confused. Hermione however, was still sitting down, staring at the Professor in incomprehension. Harry launched himself at her.

“Get down Hermione!” The two of them tumbled behind the safety of a desk. “Fight back!” Harry hissed.

Aravenne was still casting spells at will; students were tied up, frozen in mid-motion, or otherwise unable to move. Harry raised his head, firing his own spell at the teacher.

“Stupefy.”

The spell was easily swatted, but it at least gave Harry time to look around. His classmates had finally hidden themselves behind some cover, which was now being levitated away, as Aravenne, who was still standing by his desk, continued to cast spells at the students.

“Farcio!” Harry yelled, trying to knock the wind out of the man who was attacking them. “Come on, give me a hand here!” He shouted to his fellow students.

Ron was first to react. “Stupefy!”

Hermione raised her head, wand at the ready, “Imped–” She stopped mid-word.

Harry looked over at her; she had been gagged and was tied up, head still looking over the desk. By now however, the rest of the students – all four of them – finally had some semblance of idea of what was happening, and were firing curses, and then returning to cover.

“Enough!” Aravenne roared, and the students peered out of their hiding places, ready to dive back in again if necessary.

The man had stowed his wand. The students stood, wands still pointed at the man who was supposed to be their teacher.

“Take twenty points for Gryffindor Mr Potter.” He said easily, in a strong voice, that seemed to have little twang of an accent.

“What?” Harry asked, not lowering his wand from the face of the man who had just been attacking them.

“You alone reacted to the unexpected event of being attacked by your teacher. Not only did you avoid my original curse, but you also warned the people around you, and attempted to organise them to combat the threat. Superb instincts, you are a natural.” He waved his hand, releasing the captive students from whichever enchantment was holding them. “Congratulations are also in order to the rest of you who managed to team up, and start to turn the tables. Take five points each Mr–” He looked at Ron, obviously asking his name.

“Er… Weasley, Ron Weasley.” Aravenne nodded, and moved onto the next survivor.

“Dean Thomas, sir.”

“Hannah Abbott.”

“Sally Perks, Professor.” Said a rather timid Hufflepuff girl, who tended to avoid drawing attention to herself in class.

“Excellent, five points to Mr’s Weasley and Thomas, and five points also to Miss’s Abbott and Perks. To the rest of you, if you are going to be attacked, you are not likely to be warned beforehand, therefore, you must be able to think fast. I was an unknown quantity – you knew nothing about me, and yet you were not ready for a possible threat. If attacked, firstly, take cover, like Mr Potter did, and then shield yourselves from, or evade, any further attacks, in order to give yourselves time to think. Your first thought should be one of defence.”

“You weren’t ever trying to hurt us, were you Professor? That’s why you only used immobilising hexes, isn’t it?” Hermione asked.

Aravenne looked at her, “Correct, Miss…?”

“Hermione Granger, Professor.”

“Indeed Miss Granger, I wished to see how you would react to unexpected danger.”

Harry gradually lowered his wand. His heart was still thumping with adrenaline. This had all been some kind of test? As the Professor reached for his wand once more, Harry’s grip tightened.

“As Miss Granger has pointed out, had I truly been wishing to harm you, I would have used more destructive or deadly curses,” He said reassuringly to the group at large. “However, between us we seem to have wreaked far too much destruction to comfortably learn in. If I could perhaps ask you all to step aside?”

The class slowly filed to the front, some of them, like Harry, still keeping wand to hand, not completely trusting Aravenne’s explanation of a test. Aravenne however, appeared quite unconcerned. He worked methodically and before long, desks were upright, chairs in one piece again, and bags mended.

Aravenne spent the remainder of the class lecturing them on precautions to take to prevent themselves from being taken by surprise, and steps to take in the occurrence that they failed. He again complimented Harry on his natural instincts, and Harry started to feel himself go a bit red. With not far left until the bell, Professor Aravenne changed tack. He withdrew a long rectangular box from a bag a quarter of the size, and opened it, so they could see what was contained within. There were straight, solid cylinders lying on the velvet inside, made of what Harry with his Muggle upbringing, thought looked like plastic.

“Does anybody know what these are?” Aravenne asked the class as a whole.

No one answered, or raised their hands. Harry found himself looking at Hermione, and he wasn’t the only one, but she seemed as clueless as the rest of them.

Aravenne nodded his head. “I didn’t imagine you would. They are a new invention from America, called Abramites, named after the wizard who had the original idea. They are in essence, practice wands – they can be taught to recognise the effects of spells, and reproduce them in a safe environment. Rather than the spells they cast hurting their target, they merely restrict the movement in imitation. If, for example, I were to cast the Cruciatus curse with this wand, the target would feel no pain, but their body would writhe in agony, and movement would be almost impossible for them.

“The reason I am telling you this, is that our double period on Tuesdays will, at least to begin with, be dedicated to duelling, and we shall be using these wands. Please be prepared – you shall not need your books for the lesson. Oh – and please refrain from informing your fellow students yet to have this class, of what to expect.” He ended with a smile.

The bell rang, and they filed out toward the Charms’ classroom, where the Slytherins and Ravenclaws were just coming from (Charms, likewise, was fully taken up by the students in the year).

“That, was different.” Ron said, letting out his breath in a whistle.

“I wasn’t expecting that.” Hermione admitted. “He sounds like he knows his stuff though, doesn’t he?”

“Well it definitely started with a bang.” Harry agreed. “I don’t know whether I trust him or not though.”

“I think that was the point of the lesson, Harry.” Hermione told him. “Not to trust someone without proof of their intent.”

“Constant Vigilance.” Harry said in imitation of Mad-Eye Moody. “When was the last time I was taught that?”

“Yes, well, that was something Mad-Eye would have been telling us anyway, even if Crouch wasn’t pretending to be him. It doesn’t mean this Aravenne’s going to be the same.” Ron said, reasonably.

“Maybe not, but I’m going to keep my wand handy whenever he’s around.”

The remaining two lessons of the day, Charms and Herbology, were far more orthodox, both beginning with lectures similar to Professor McGonagall’s about the importance of N.E.W.T. level studies. Harry wondered why they didn’t just agree between themselves for one of them to do it.

That evening, neither Dean or Ginny appeared in Gryffindor’s common room before nine, when Harry, both tired from the night before, and not wanting an awkward scene with Dean, decided to go up for an early night. As he drew the curtains around the bed, his eyes fell upon the map on the bedside table. He didn’t feel like dealing with it now. Maybe tomorrow. Remembering, however, that he hadn’t wiped it the previous night, he reached over, tapped it, and whispered ‘Fin’. He debated for half a minute, but also poured some of the dreamless sleep potion into his glass.
________________________________________


Harry woke early the next morning, feeling as if something had woken him up, but not being sure what. None of the others seemed to be conscious. Pulling the curtains around his bed apart, he reached for his glasses; a shrill beeping was coming from his trunk. Wondering vaguely if it was his Sneakoscope, he bent down to open it. As the top of the trunk lifted, he blinked hard, and closed it again. A beam of light had just blinded him.

“Ron!” He whispered. “Ron!”

However, his red-haired friend stayed silent. Feeling that he was being silly to wake someone, and ask for their help to deal with a bright light that beeped from his own trunk, he didn’t persist with his efforts. He cautiously lifted the lid once more, and then exhaled. The white light was coming from his father’s mirror. Hand trembling, he picked it up gingerly causing the light to immediately stop.

He looked at the glass, and gasped. “Remus!”

A quick glance around showed his roommates to all be still fast asleep. He looked again into the glass, which should be showing his own reflection, but instead had Remus’ grinning face in.

“Remus, how are y– I thought you said you didn’t have a mirror?”

“I did some searching in Sirius’ room when I got your message last night Harry, and I found this, his mirror, the twin to James’.”

Harry put his fingers to his lips, and looked around at the motionless other beds. “Sh – you’ll wake the others. Hang on, I’ll go downstairs.”

Remus shook his head, “Don’t worry about that. James and Sirius didn’t want anyone to hear them talking in their detentions, sometimes they were far too close to teachers for that. The mirrors only allow their users to hear them; the other Gryffindors won’t be able to hear anything either of us says.”

“But, how?” Harry said, still whispering.

“I told you Harry, James and Sirius were the best in the school. Seriously, don’t worry about speaking quietly.”

“Well, okay.” Harry said, speaking a bit louder, and then checking everyone was still asleep.

Remus grinned, and then became more serious. “Anyway, I thought I’d better get in touch with you so we could speak in person, what exactly did Snape do?”

“He tried to find out the Prophecy with Legilimency.” Harry told him angrily, lowering his voice when he mentioned the Prophecy through sheer habit.

“You do know the Prophecy.” Lupin said in a worried tone. “I thought you must. Well I can tell you that as far as I know, that was not in Dumbledore’s plans. Tell me what exactly happened, and I’ll get in touch with him.”

Harry told him everything, about how Snape had stopped him as he was on the way to Gryffindor Tower, how he had delivered a very bizarre thank you, and then how he had caught Harry unawares with Legilimency.

“Did Severus hear the Prophecy?” Remus asked.

Harry hesitated. Remus of course, knew none of the Prophecy, and it was hard to tell him what Snape heard, without also telling him the Prophecy, which Harry didn’t want to do. At least, not yet.

“He heard some of the start… but nothing Voldemort would find useful. Dumbledore will know what I mean.”

“Harry, do you want to tell me it?” Remus asked, grimly.

“I – The less people know the better Moony, I think.”

He looked anxious. “I wasn’t putting pressure on you Harry, I just want to be here to help you if you need me.”

“It’s fine,” Harry told him, “Don’t worry about it. I know what you mean.”

“Okay.” Remus said, still looking worried. “Anyway, Hermione’s right, that doesn’t sound like something Snape would do if he was working against us. Something fishy is going on, but I don’t know whom this is intended to serve. I’ll get in touch with you later, after I’ve spoken to Dumbledore. Keep the mirror with you if you can.”

“Sure.” Harry told him.

“How did the first day go?” Remus asked.

“Weird.” Harry told him fervently. “Defence Against the Dark Arts was… interesting. I don‘t know what to make of the guy.”

“Aravenne?” Lupin inquired. “Yes, I haven’t met him, but Dumbledore sounded rather pleased with the appointment, which would suggest to me that he must be interesting.”

“He started off by attacking us.” Harry told him, and then laughed at the expression upon his father and Sirius’ friend’s face.

They talked for a few more minutes, and Harry told Lupin about the map.

Remus nodded understandingly. “Try telling Padfoot and Prongs the truth, Harry. That’s all you can do. Of course,” He sighed, “at this stage Pettigrew may be as clueless as we were that he was to turn traitor.”

Harry was still the only one awake by the end of his discussion with Remus, and he got dressed quietly, slipping the mirror into his robes’ pocket as he did. He sat in his favourite common room chair, turning over what looked like a gold Galleon coin repeatedly in the palm of his hand. He felt as if he had few choices when it came to the DA. He could just tell them he didn’t want to keep it going, couldn’t he? Or could he?

If he was honest with himself, then he had to admit that if it weren’t for Voldemort’s desire to attack people that had anything to do with him, he would probably have been looking forward to the DA. Did he have the right to refuse to teach them for their own protection, even if they were quite aware of the risks? Did he have the right not to teach them for that matter? He had this vague feeling, maybe because of the Prophecy, that it was somehow his duty to try to help people learn to protect themselves as well as possible.

The next person down to the common room was Katie Bell. “Couldn’t sleep?” She asked Harry.

“Just woke up early.” Harry told her.

She glanced at the coin in Harry’s hand. “Heads the DA stays, tails it stops?”

“Not quite that simple.” Harry grinned. “I’ll arrange a meeting next week or something, when everything starts to die down. We can sort everything out then.”

“Fair enough. I wouldn’t mind keeping it going. Hear we might be doing Patronuses in a couple of months’ time in Defence Against the Dark Arts.” She grinned too. “So, McGonagall made Ron captain? I got the feeling she was going to ask you.”

Harry shrugged, glad for the change of subject. “Nah – she was really pissed off with me about last year. Ron’s more suited to being captain than me anyway. Seen anyone that might be any good?”

“There was a first year I saw in the grounds yesterday that might make a good Seeker if it weren’t for you, she looked a natural.”

Harry grinned at her, sure that she was having him on. He of course, had been the youngest Seeker for over a century, and for that matter he had been the first first-year for something similar.

“No, seriously.” Katie told him, “I know what you’re thinking, but she’s a born flyer. Shame she’s so small still or she might make into a decent Chaser too, but she wouldn’t be able to handle the physical side. You wait a hundred years for a natural flyer like that, and then two come along within six years of each other.”

“Tell her to come along to the practice.” Harry suggested, “Ron’s looking for reserves for the team, she might make reserve Seeker.”

They spent the rest of the ten minutes they had before other Gryffindors started gradually to make their way downstairs discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the other houses’ teams. They knew the Slytherin’s probable team, and even for the positions they weren’t sure about, they had a pretty good idea what kind of player they would be facing. Dirty and big, with little skill or subtlety. The other two were harder to judge, not least because Ravenclaw’s team had been hit by Voldemort’s attacks. Two of their players had been caught in Death Eater attacks. Both Harry and Katie skirted around the question of who would replace them.
________________________________________


The Defence Against the Dark Arts double lesson proved to be just as interesting as the opening one. Professor Aravenne had met them at his classroom, and then led them down to a disused classroom on the first floor. Most of the students gasped when they stepped inside, for the classroom had been completely renovated. Firstly, it had been enlarged, so that the inside was far bigger than the outside. The second glaringly obvious change was that rather than desks, there were instead four roped off areas, filled with solid looking obstacles, walls, and doorways. They were obviously intended to be as realistic as possible duelling rings.

Both Defence Against the Dark Arts groups were present, and Harry wasn’t exactly sure why, but he had the feeling that there would be many Gryffindor – Slytherin fights in the time allotted to them. Aravenne led them through the middle of the roped off areas, to where two miniature stands had been erected. In between them, stood a table on which the Abramites lay, still in their box.

“Professor,” Seamus Finnegan asked, “you said these wand things are American, does that mean you’re American too then? I’ve got a cousin over in New York, at the school over there.”

“No, no, I’m British, just like all of you.”

“I’m Irish, sir, not British.” Seamus told him.

“My apologies, like most of you then.” Aravenne said comfortably, “I have spent most of the last score years abroad however, travelling all over the world. I only recently returned to my homeland.”

Harry thought many of his fellow students looked like they believed that recently would have been a better time to be travelling in the opposite direction. He tended to agree with them. Why would you return to a country on the brink of a civil war caused by Lord Voldemort?

“Listen up!” Aravenne told them. “There are a few ground rules. Number one: each fight will be one witch or wizard against another, each using an Abramite wand. There are no restrictions on types of spells to be used, except, of course, for the Unforgivables. Use of an Unforgivable will result in your disqualification, and if you actually manage to succeed in casting one, I warn you that you shall find yourselves watched very closely for the remainder of your time at this school – time to yourself will become an impossibility. The arenas are charmed in such a manner, that if any debris strikes a person, it will react in the same manner as a spell from an Abramite wand, so do not worry about taking it easy.

“Number two: if not in a duel, you shall sit down in either of these stands, not influencing the outcome of a duel in any way. I expect you to act as the mature teenagers you are. As only eight people may be duelling at a time, I realise that you may have to wait a while for a duel, and I apologise, but there is no way to avoid that. I also expect you to need the rest between duels. Future duelling sessions shall involve teamwork, and as such, there shall be less waiting.

“Rule number three: each duel shall be finished when any of the following is true. Either person is incapacitated, in other words, stunned, or dead. Either person yields to their opponent. Or finally, either duellist holds their wand to the throat of their opponent, who is disarmed. Furthermore, if either person resorts to physical duelling, attempts an Unforgivable, or uses their normal wand, they shall be immediately disqualified.

“If anyone decides not to follow these rules, I shall be quite happy to deal with them.” Aravenne finished.

Harry thought that trouble was unlikely to be forthcoming for Aravenne, at least, not after his initial class, as he took his place next to Hermione in the stand. Ron was one of the first duellists, as he faced off against Crabbe, and as Harry watched the duels, he found there to be no possibility of getting bored, despite Aravenne’s hint that that may happen. When each duellist entered the field, a large dark red bubble appeared over the right of the field, and a large dark blue one appeared over the left. The more drained the combatant on the left became, whether physically, or due to spells, the brighter the blue bubble became, similarly on the other side of the field. If the bubble flashed, the person it referred to had lost the battle.

Professor Aravenne seemed to have eyes like a hawk, for he took each combatant aside as they left the arena, and gave them a few quiet words on things he had noticed in the duel, which considering four separate duels were going on at once, was quite an achievement. He also seemed extremely well prepared, for immediately a loud gong signalled the end of a combat in one of the arenas, he seemed to know the next pairing to be called at any given stage of the lesson.

“Potter versus Zabini in arena four,” he called out, “and Malfoy versus Boot in arena two.”

“Nice job.” Harry told Ron, as they passed each other.

Ron, who had looked like he was toying with Crabbe, and enjoying himself immensely, gave a panting: “That was bloody brilliant.”

The new duellists stepped over the ropes, walking to the centre of their respective sides. Above them, the bubbles returned to their normal colours. Somehow, Harry thought as he looked around, the arena looked even more realistic from the inside. There were rooms with windows, basic furniture, or something similar inside them, and they all seemed completely solid.

“Arena four, begin!” Aravenne bellowed, and as he did so, the ropes that were cordoning off the arena seemed to disappear, to be replaced by solid walls.

Harry, who had never had to cross wands with Blaise Zabini before, quickly gained a grudging respect for his spell work. He certainly knew his stuff, even if most of the magic he used seemed to be geared towards inflicting pain, rather than disabling an opponent. Before long, he made the unpleasant discovery that his ‘Protego’ shield was unable to prevent some of Zabini’s nastier efforts, and his left arm, although painless, hung limply by his side.

Harry decided to go back to basics, and dodge, rather than shield, spells if possible. His curses were having just as great an impact on Zabini, not least because he was firing a greater variety of hexes at his opponent, causing hastily muttered counter curses, and much scrambling out of the way from the Slytherin. Zabini, however, although having difficulty avoiding or deflecting many of Harry’s hexes, was still standing, all be it slightly unstably, and he was still sending spells at Harry after over five minutes of duelling. As a curse hit the ground in front of Harry, and actually caused him to fly backwards a few yards, Harry finally decided to play his opponent at his own game.

“Reducto!”

The Slytherin dived out of the way, and the wall behind him cracked in two. Harry struggled back up onto his feat, and as his enemy raised his head, Harry sent sparks of flames at him, and he ducked again. Keeping his wand trained on the spot, Harry slowly approached, but Zabini didn’t show his head this time. Some instinct told Harry to dive to the side, and it was as well he did, for his opponent’s voice came from his right, and the floor he had been standing on exploded.

As Harry spotted Zabini, he also saw what looked to be a crate directly behind him. Thinking quickly, he concentrated on it, and yelled, “Accio!”

The Slytherin looked around in surprise, and the speeding object smashed his wand arm. His wand fell out of his hand, and he dropped to pick it up in his left. Harry however, was too quick for him. Summoning the Abramite, he approached his enemy, and held both wands to his throat. A loud gong sounded above the two of them, and suddenly Harry became aware of where he was once more. His left arm felt like it had never been hurt, and Blaise Zabini scrambled to his feet. The crate that Harry had summoned was sitting right where it had been originally.

To the surprise of both, applause burst out from the stands, where it seemed their duel had caught the attention of all of the watchers. Harry held out the practice wand he had summoned from the ground. The Slytherin took it. He seemed to be eyeing up Harry. Neither of them spoke for a few seconds, or even moved when Aravenne called out the next pairing to take their place. Finally, Zabini nodded, almost appreciatively.

“Good duel Potter, but I’m going to want a rematch.” He turned before Harry could reply, and climbed over the ropes, which had reappeared instead of the walls.

Harry followed him, but allowed the Slytherin to get to Aravenne first, who was speaking quietly, while watching Lavender Brown duel against Hannah Abbott. It looked a good battle, with Hannah sending spells that Harry had taught her towards Lavender, who was defending well, and launching counter attacks, in the battle of the DA members.

“Ah, well duelled Mr Potter.” Aravenne called to him. “Very well duelled indeed. However, you did not truly start fighting to your potential until you went on the offensive. You need to learn to be ruthless. Duels are often matters of life and death, and if you hold back in a duel, it can cost you your life. It is easier to subdue your opponent, as you eventually found, if you rough them up somewhat before hand.”

“Are you telling me to try and hurt the person I am duelling against?” Harry asked in apprehension.

“If you ever find yourself duelling a Death Eater, or even just a petty criminal,” Aravenne told him, turning the question around, “do you think they’ll have any second thoughts about trying to hurt, or more likely, kill you? Ah, Miss Brocklehurst.” He called, signalling to Harry to return to the sidelines.

“Nice job Harry.” Ron told him as he sat down. “That was pretty impressive to watch.”

“I’m exhausted.” Harry told him. “Zabini’s a good dueller.”

“Not good enough to stop the person that got an Outstanding Recognition though, was he?” Ron said. “Bet Aravenne didn’t criticise you much after that. He told me I should have ended the fight quicker when I had the chance to against Crabbe. Don’t think he liked the fact I kept hexing him, rather than finishing him off.”

“He told me to be more aggressive. That if I’m fighting someone they’d be trying to kill me, so I should do the same.” Harry said, shaking his head to show he disagreed with what he said as he spoke it. “But it’s not as if these fights are to the death or anything, is it?”

When Hermione came back from her duel, she had similar thoughts. “It’s as if he wants us to kill rather than stun.” She told them. “I don’t like it.”

“The duels are still brilliant though.” Ron told her.

That, Harry agreed with. He had two more fights, one against Theodore Nott, another Slytherin, and the other against Seamus. Neither of them quite matched the fireworks of the first battle, but they were still exhilarating. In fact, as they left the classroom, and returned to their respective common rooms for a shower and change of clothes, all anyone could talk about were the duels. Indeed, when they sat down at lunch, Harry noticed most of the sixth years telling friends in other years exactly what had happened in the class. Aravenne certainly knew how to create interest in his subject.
________________________________________


As Harry was about to polish off his dessert, a shrill sound rang around the hall; it was the mirror. He reached down to his pocket quickly, to shut it up, when he suddenly realised that no one else had reacted to it at all.

“Can’t you hear the noise?” He asked Ron and Hermione, quietly.

“What noise?” Hermione asked.

Ron was listening intently. “I think… I think I hear a faint beeping sound, is that what you’re talking about?”

Harry didn’t answer, but rather took out the mirror, silencing it.

“Remus,” he said to the reflection in the mirror. “Can you call again in ten minutes, we’re just finishing lunch. Or whatever you call it when you contact me on this thing.”

Remus grinned. “Sure.”

Harry stowed the mirror again, and then looked at his friends’ faces. “What?” He said.

“Er, Harry.” Hermione began. “Why exactly were you mouthing at a mirror?”

“Oh,” Harry said, realising he had forgotten to tell them about his conversation with Remus earlier, and then taking a spoonful of apple crumble from his steaming dish. “I’ll explain when we’ve finished. Remus is going to call back in ten minutes.”

“Um, what?” Ron asked again.

“I’ll explain it later.” Harry told them, now wolfing down his pudding.

After he had succeeded in hurrying his friends up, he led them out of the hall at a brisk walk, and found a disused classroom to explain what exactly the mirror was.

“How does it work?” Hermione asked interestedly.

“Well, you say the name of the person with the other mirror, and it lights up and emits a kind of whistling noise until it’s answered.” Harry told her.

She held out her hand for the mirror, which Harry gave to her, and he saw her mime into it, with an expression of slight scepticism. It quickly turned into one of surprise, and then the expression she usually had when she opened a new book for the first time.

She appeared to be talking into it for a minute, and then turned to them, “Can you really not hear what I’m saying?”

“Nope.” Harry told her.

“I wonder how they did it.” She asked, and then turned back to the mirror.

“How long do you think she’ll be?” Ron asked.

Harry shrugged. “I heard women spend forever on the telephone.”

“I heard that Harry!” Hermione yelled over to him.

“Shame that thing doesn’t work both ways, and she can’t hear what we say either.” Harry said with a lopsided grin.

After a few minutes, Hermione handed Harry the mirror. “Remus wants to talk to you.”

Harry looked into it – for a second all he could see was his own face – and then Remus reappeared. He walked away, letting Ron and Hermione talk between themselves out of earshot.

“So Moony, what did Dumbledore say?”

Remus still looked slightly worried. “Just that he didn’t know why he did it, but not to worry about Snape having seen that part of the Prophecy, whatever it says. He said he’d investigate it as soon as he could, but in the meantime, not to be too concerned about it.”

Harry could tell Remus wasn’t convinced himself. “Is that all?” He asked, in disbelief. “He expects me to go to Potions now, and not worry about it?”

“You have Potions next?” Remus asked, looking troubled.

“Double.” Harry told him.

“Well, whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to be on your own with him. Make sure Hermione and Ron are with you at all times. If he tries to separate you, tell him to talk to me. It’s better safe than sorry.”

“Great.”

“Harry, I don’t like this either, but we have to trust Dumbledore. He’s the only one of us that has any idea of the full picture here.”

“I didn’t trust Snape before Sunday.” Harry told him.

“Yes, and neither do I completely, but Dumbledore…” He hesitated, “Harry, Dumbledore is the person who keeps this fight against Voldemort going, he’s the one who gives it some purpose. If we start to doubt him, the whole Order could fall apart.”

Harry sighed. “I am not going to place blind trust in someone that invaded my mind, looking for the one thing that Voldemort wants from me above anything. Especially not someone who was an ex-Death Eater.”

“I’m not asking you to Harry, just, trust Dumbledore. He’ll sort it out.”

Harry nodded.

“Could you pass the mirror back to Hermione?” Moony asked, “I want to make sure she and Ron keep an eye on you when Snape’s around.”

Harry handed it to her, and then told Ron what Remus had said.

“How can they still be saying to trust Snape?” Ron asked.

Harry shrugged. “I know. Although this time, it’s trust Dumbledore rather than trust Snape.”

“That makes more sense.” Ron allowed. “But still!”

“I know.” Harry said wearily.
________________________________________


Double Potions started exactly as Harry had expected, and then some. Snape looked more irate with Harry than ever, as he stood at the front of the class, staring down at them.

“Normally,” He began, “there would be just three of you sitting in this classroom at this moment. However, your year has a never before seen ineptitude, which meant that out of a year of eighty students, only four received an Outstanding in either or both their Potion’s practical or theoretical O.W.L.s, and only another sixteen received Exceeds Expectations. One twentieth of the year would have ordinarily been able to continue at N.E.W.T. level, and one of them has not returned to the school. You have surpassed any other year I have taught by your complete and utter lack of talent.

“Unfortunately, your year is not normal, is it? Because of the circumstances in our world at present, I have been –” He paused, before speaking the next word in a rather ugly voice, “persuaded – to relax my entrance conditions, and allow less able students in, rather than have such a small class. It appears that some of you,” his eyes glittered on Harry’s for a moment, “have considerably overachieved to even get this far, and others,” and here his eyes were fixed menacingly at a table full of Slytherins, Malfoy at its core, “have underachieved, but no matter. Despite the lessened talent in this room to previous years, I shall expect the same very high standards I have always done. Live up to my expectations, or face the –” for the first time in his speech, his tongue slipped lovingly around a word, “consequences.

“Today’s shall be a completely theoretical lesson, so open your books. The relevant sections in your textbook begin at page forty-seven, and continue on to page fifty-four of Advanced Potion-Making. Take this down.”

Snape waved his wand at the board, where the words ‘Discovering Antidotes to Unknown Poisons” wrote themselves in a thin, spindly script.

The lesson was torture, and Harry was sure Snape had planned it this way. A double lesson of pure theory and note taking was normally bad enough, but Snape had not even started them at the shallow end of theory, but rather dropped them in somewhere far out to sea. When he demanded that they complete questions in the textbook for the last half hour, Harry found himself staring at the paper, whose words were blurring into each other. To make matters worse, Snape was forever looming around them, putting pressure on Harry in particular.

Just as he felt he had started to make some headway on the second question (describe, in detail, the steps necessary in order to reduce a compound poison into its formative parts) Snape bent down close to Harry’s ear.

“The Ministry may have decided that your Outstanding Recognition in Defence Against the Dark Arts gives them the right to force my inclusion of you into this class, Potter, but I warn you, no matter which of your fan club you turn to for help next time, if you do not produce work of what I consider to be a high enough standard, you shall find yourself with some more free time on your hands.”

“What?” Harry asked.

“Do not play dumb with me, Potter. I know quite well that the Ministry offered to aid you in your mistaken belief that you are of the required standard to be an Auror, and I am equally well aware that you let them know you wished to take Potions.” Snape snarled.

“I didn’t – and how do you know what was on my results parchment?” Harry said angrily.

“Because,” Snape said coldly, “I am the only person alive today, that was granted an Outstanding Recognition in Potions.” He rose, and stalked away.

Snape’s terrible temper did not improve throughout the lesson, and today, unusually, his ire was directed at (if not evenly) the six Slytherins as well as the other members of the classroom – four Gryffindors, two Hufflepuffs, and five Ravenclaws. Two additional Hufflepuffs, and one Ravenclaw that had made the entrance requirements, had, as Snape had put it, ‘not returned to the school’. Indeed, his displeasure was such, that after he had collected the class work at the end of the lesson, he had ordered the Slytherins to stay behind, and thereby nullified Harry and Remus’ fears that he might seek a private meeting with Harry.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione were the last to leave the class, and they lingered momentarily around the door, wishing they could hear what was being said, until Ron produced from his robes, three pairs of Extendable Ears.

“Where did you get those?” Hermione asked in astonishment.

“Bought them off Fred and George,” Ron told her, “I thought–”

“Never mind that now, let’s just use them.” Harry hissed.

They fed the strings towards the door, and then backed into a shadowy alcove along the dungeon corridor.

“– think you have no need to study very hard because of the Dark Lord’s reappearance.” Snape was saying angrily, “Some of you may even think that connections will assure you of good favour, but you should think again. Do you honestly believe that uneducated wizards will earn His favour? By not applying yourself to your studies, you are an insult to all that the great Salazar Slytherin stood for, and to the Dark Lord, his direct descendent. Do you truly wish to kneel before Him and say that you know less magic than a mere Mudblood?

“This is the first year I have ever taught that has failed to produce even one adequate potions brewer from my own house. We normally have several. I expect you all to prove yourself worthy in this coming year; there is not one of you here that shouldn’t be achieving Outstandings in their Potions N.E.W.T.s, let alone their O.W.L.s. Do not disappoint me.”

There was a scraping of chairs, but Snape had one final instruction. “Draco, wait behind please, the rest of you may go.”

Harry, Ron, and Hermione recalled their Ears, much as they wished to hear what Snape wanted to say to Malfoy, and hastily set off upstairs.

“Snape is furious about our being allowed in his class, isn’t he?” Ron said happily to Harry.

“Furious at me more like,” Harry told him, “you know what he thinks I did?” He stopped. “You knew, didn’t you?” He asked Ron.

“Knew what?” Ron sounded confused.

“Knew that the Ministry had forced Snape to allow students that got Exceeds Expectations into his class, because that meant I would get in? That was why you got so annoyed after McGonagall told us.”

“I, well,” Ron looked embarrassed, “well, yes I guessed, but can we forget about that, I was an idiot. I’m sorry, okay?”

“Why would the Ministry…?” Hermione asked.

“Because of the Outstanding Recognition. They promised to help me with any future career path I wanted in the field of Defence Against the Dark Arts, remember? I bet you anything McGonagall got onto them, and asked them for help. Oh well, at least I know why Snape is being such a b–”

“I doubt that’s the only reason Snape let more people in, Harry.” Hermione told him, cutting across him.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I was one of the people that got an Outstanding in Potions, and Terry Boot and Ernie McMillan were the others. Can you see Snape not bending his rules for his precious Slytherins, let alone Malfoy? He may act all annoyed about ‘being forced’ to change his rules, but I bet you he’s really quite glad.” Hermione told him in a rather satisfied tone.
________________________________________


A/N: As always, hope you enjoyed. Feel free to tell me if so or if not! :)

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A/N: This is my longest chapter yet I think, and I can assure you that they won't get much longer! (This was going to be longer originally but I cut bits out.) One thing, before I let you get down to the reading part... If there's one thing I despise, it is making up names of characters, especially minor ones... so I may steal some of JKR's names there... Hey! It all adds to making sure it fits in her universe, right?

A/N: One thing in this chapter also occured in canon: it was always going to be included... I guess you'll just have to take my word for it. I might have actually written it pre HBP release. You'll know it when you read it.
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Chapter 13: Darkness and Light


By Wednesday, Harry was starting to feel as if he had hardly been away from Hogwarts. They had picked up where the O.W.L.s had left off, with tough lessons, and just as hard, time consuming, homework being heaped upon them. The free lessons that they now had, however, were working wonders in lessening the load, as was the fact that he had avoided getting detention every day of the week, unlike at the start of last year. The only change was really the spells that they were being taught, or, in the case of Herbology, the plants that they were dealing with. The things that they were learning were now beginning to demand maturity, and a brand of respect, that would prevent misuse of these newer, more powerful pieces of magic. Harry couldn’t help feeling that some people, like Malfoy, would abuse this trust the moment they got the chance.

Two things in particular that they were told Wednesday morning served to reinforce this feeling of added trust, and to cause the students to put their heads down and prove they were willing to work hard. The first was in Transfiguration, when Professor McGonagall told them that Apparition lessons would be beginning in October, and that the work they were doing now, with Manifesting, and Conjuring spells, would give them an advantage over other students attempting to apparate for the first time. The second, no one was completely sure about how it had spread; someone, and people were adamant it was a person who should be in the know, had mentioned that the Charms students would be learning how to create Portkeys this year.

Harry’s year had possibly never applied themselves more to their studies.

Harry’s mood personally, was given a bit of a boost at lunchtime. Ginny had decided, that rather than sitting with Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnegan, and the others that she had joined for the week so far, she would instead rejoin Harry, Hermione, and Ron.

“Has something happened between you and Dean?” Harry asked, concerned.

“No.” Ginny said firmly. Ron looked rather disappointed.

“Then–”

“Dean is not going to make me choose between him, and my friends and family.” Ginny told them, and no one that heard her could doubt her words.

“How is Dean?” Hermione asked her.

“He’s okay. Hasn’t talked about what Malfoy said on the train at all really, except to ask me why I told you about what had happened to his family, which of course I hadn’t. And no, I didn’t tell him how you knew, Harry.”

“I didn’t expect you to.” Harry said, quite honestly.

The three of them filled her in with what had happened so far this week, quietly discussing Snape, and talking about Aravenne in far louder tones when Neville appeared, fresh from his Care of Magical Creatures lesson, and sat down beside them.

“How’s Hagrid?” Ron asked him.

“Oh, he’s okay.” Neville told them. “We’re doing Aethonan Horses at the moment.”

“What are they?” Ginny asked.

“Winged horses,” Hermione answered for Neville, “like the ones the Beauxbatons had, but smaller.”

“Or Thestrals, but less creepy.” Neville told them, forgetting that Harry was the only other one there who had seen them. “He’s planning on getting Granians, and then Abraxans too, and getting us to tame them. Hagrid says that he wants us to compare them.”

“So no Chimeras, or more Blast-Ended Screwts, or Giants, or anything yet?” Ron asked (to a kick from Harry at the word ‘Giants‘). “Typical, he starts to get less dangerous animals when we stop doing the subject.”

“Have you any idea how big Abraxan Horses are?” Neville asked nervously.

Harry lost track of the conversation after that. Dean had just walked in the doors to the Great Hall, and his eyes had locked with Harry’s. He sat down as far away from them as he possibly could. Still, even if Dean decided to stay away from Harry, at least it didn’t look like he’d lose Ginny as a friend too.

The afternoon continued with a free period, and then Potions, and, as they expected, Snape continued to pile on the torture. Despite the fact they were still doing theory, and for much of the class Snape was lecturing them, he still had the amazing ability to single Harry out while lecturing. In the main, it consisted of carefully placed accents on wordings, and an accusing gaze in Harry’s direction, while pointing out possible pitfalls, but occasionally he threw in some on the spot questioning about things that nobody knew (except Hermione, and even then not always), but Harry alone got the questions, and then abuse. As usual, Harry was one of the first to leave the class at the sounding of the bell.

“I don’t get it.” Harry said, grinding his teeth, as they waited for Professor Sprout to appear for their last class of the day. “Is he going to keep this up for every single Potions class?”

“I doubt it,” Ron said, in an effort to cheer Harry up, “he has to get bored after a while.”

“Five years and counting.” Harry told him.

“He probably thought, like you did, that last year was going to be your last in Potions class.” Hermione told him.

“It’s not funny.” Harry told her through his teeth.

“I know it isn’t, Harry, but look at it this way,” Hermione told him, in a bracing tone, “he seems to like you being in Potions as much as you do.”

Harry just looked at her in exasperation.

“Right then chaps!” Professor Sprout’s cheerful voice rang out as she entered the greenhouse. “Greenhouse seven today, you will need your dragon hide gloves, and your wands.”

Harry saw Neville’s eyes light up, they had only very rarely entered Greenhouse seven, as it contained some of the rarer and more dangerous plants in Hogwarts. It was perhaps unlike Neville to seek out danger, but then maybe his love of plants was a little similar to Hagrid’s love of magical creatures – it did not particularly worry him if they were dangerous or not. Harry peered through the door gingerly, before following the teacher and Neville through the doorway; he seemed to remember a particularly hungry carnivorous plant known as a narcissus avidus that liked lurking close to the entrance. This time, however, the giant yellow flowers that signalled its presence were nowhere to be seen.

“Today,” Professor Sprout said, leading them through the greenhouse, to an area they had never been in before, “we shall tend a plant we have only mentioned in passing before.”

Harry stopped immediately he spotted what they were approaching, to the complaint of Ron behind him, who quickly shut up, once he saw the thing Harry had.

“Come a bit closer boys, let everyone have a look.” Professor Sprout told them.

The rest of the class were quite interested in the vines of the plant that spread out from its stalk (which resembled more of a trunk), but Harry, Ron, and to some extent, Hermione, wanted nothing to do with this blast from the past. Harry and Ron stood a few steps behind Hermione, who was at the back of the crowd.

“Come on boys, come on.” Professor Sprout said impatiently, “It won’t harm you if you listen to me.”

Harry looked at Ron, who had an apprehensive look on his face. He also happened to have a petal, from the narcissus avidus, stretching out towards his shoulder. Harry grabbed Ron’s arm and walked forward, next to Hermione.

“Good, now can anyone tell me what this is?” Professor Sprout asked.

Ron put up his hand slowly; Hermione’s had shot up like a rocket.

“Mr Weasley?”

“It’s Devil’s Snare.” He said, warily.

“Quite so, take five points for Gryffindor. And why should you approach it with caution?”

“Because it’s bloodthirsty, and will strangle you if it gets the chance, squeezing tighter and tighter the more you struggle, unless you scare it away with fire.” Ron said fervently.

“Indeed, apart, of course, from the suggestion that it is bloodthirsty. Devil’s Snare in fact does not actively seek animals as prey – we only have to worry about its defence – although it will seek out other plants for food, so care must be taken when growing it, as to where it is allowed to flourish. Devil’s Snare is considered very precious, despite its dangers, can anyone tell me why? Mr Longbottom?”

“Its fibres are really strong.” Neville said. “It’s nearly the only thing that can be used when making clothes from Dragon skin.”

“Exactly, and it is even more necessary for anything made from Graphorn hide. Take five points.” Professor Sprout said, beaming at possibly her favourite student in Harry’s year.

She soon directed the students to divide up into groups of four (Harry, Ron, and Hermione teamed up with Neville, which in Herbology was always quite useful), and then directed them to prune the plant, harvesting its vines to be refined into exceptionally strong threads. This involved freezing the appendage they were going to attack, which, in theory at least, relaxed the plant into a near unconscious state, preventing it from feeling any pain, and stopping it from fighting back. One of them then had to cut the vine with the Serate spell; two of them drag the vine away from the plant, while it continued to wriggle, and attempt to squeeze them (despite the fact that it had been cut away from its main body); and the third had to cover the wound with a brownish paste, while it reacted to the loss of its limb. (Thankfully Neville volunteered for that, and talked to it gently, while he covered it carefully in the sticky goo.)

“Done!” Neville called to them happily – he was enjoying himself.

Harry and Ron, however, were still struggling with the long, green, wriggling piece of plant, attempting to stow it in the large magically enhanced bag they had been given for the purpose of storage. Hermione was standing close by, wand in hand, in case she had to conjure fire to quieten the burden. She had started off being closer to Neville, in case he got entangled by the rest of the plant, but soon found that he was not the one that needed any back-up. Harry had no idea how Neville was able to cope so easily with the live thing, and yet they struggled with the dead part.

“Okay.” Harry sighed, pushing back his fringe, and wiping away the dirt and sweat.

Hermione chose another one for freezing, and then made a slicing motion with her wand, enunciating clearly, “Suh-rah-tay!”

Neville helped Harry and Ron start to drag the newly separated limb away from the rest of the body of the plant, and, immediately he let go to tend to the seeping wound, Harry and Ron started to struggle again.

“I need a break.” Ron said, as Hermione’s fire scared away their burden (which had just been attempting to strangle the redhead). “You give Harry a hand, and I’ll cut the plant, then I can switch with Harry.”

“What about Neville?” Hermione asked.

“He’s having the time of his life,” Ron said sagely, “leave him be.”
________________________________________


Although Herbology would normally have been the last class of the day, today was also the first lesson for Advanced Defence Against the Dark Arts, and so after a quick shower and clean up, they found themselves in Aravenne’s classroom again, with quite a large amount of enthusiasm. The Advanced class was far smaller than the normal one, with only the most successful students in Defence Against the Dark Arts O.W.L.s being allowed in. This, Harry was pleased to see, included a host of DA members, Parvati Patil, and Dean from Gryffindor, Ernie McMillan, Hannah Abbott, and Susan Bones had all reached required grades from Hufflepuff, Terry Boot and Parvati’s twin, Padma, were two of a number of Ravenclaws, which meant that ten of the seventeen students had been involved in the resistance movement against Umbridge.

Harry was, however, disappointed to see that Malfoy had been successful enough to enter the class too. He had hoped that Malfoy, who by all accounts had been more interested in the outside world than his O.W.L.s last year, might have been unable to take this class. Still – his father probably had enough contacts to force Malfoy’s inclusion despite being known as a Death Eater. His love of surrounding himself with fawning idiots, however, was emphasised, by the fact that neither of the two other Slytherins in the class were part of his gang. Crabbe and Goyle were repeating many of their O.W.L.s, to Ron and Harry’s delight (although they were taking a couple of N.E.W.T. level courses).

Aravenne came in through the door casually, twirling his wand in his wand hand, as was his wont.

“Ah.” He began, as he stood behind his desk. “Here we have the best of the best, as it were, when it comes to Defence Against the Dark Arts. All of you achieved very high marks when it came to your O.W.L.s, so, tell me: What is Defence Against the Dark Arts?”

The question was met with blank faces. What was Defence Against the Dark Arts… well, wasn’t it obvious?

“Anyone?” Aravenne continued, with a slight smile, as if he knew what the class were thinking. “How about you, Moon?”

A Ravenclaw boy, Robert (pronounced ‘Robair’) Moon looked at him rather nervously. “Um, well, it’s… it’s defending yourself against well, the Dark Arts, you know, against Dark Wizards and Dark Creatures, isn’t it?”

The Professor grinned, appreciating the humour. “Yes, I guessed it might be defending yourself against the Dark Arts, but let’s be a bit more specific, what exactly do you understand as the Dark Arts?”

This time Harry put up his hand, trying to answer this seemingly simple question.

“Yes Mr Potter?” Aravenne asked.

“Well, the Dark Arts – it’s, it’s when people or creatures use dark magic, trying to hurt you or other people, isn’t it?” Harry suggested, watching his teacher for a sign that he was on the right track. “And Defence… it’s trying to stop them.”

Aravenne’s head swayed from side to side, as if weighing up what Harry had said. “We may be getting there.” He said slowly. “So, what is dark magic then? Let’s try to get this down to its most basic description, we’ve gone from Defence Against the Dark Arts, to the Dark Arts, to dark magic. If there is dark magic, I can assume you would all agree that there would also have to be a classification of magic known as light magic?”

There were murmurings of assent, which Aravenne nodded to. “So we have light magic, and dark magic, which we have to describe, is there any other type of magic we need to deal with?”

Hermione put up her hand, “What about a spell like Lumos? That isn’t really dark or light magic, is it?”

“Indeed, so shall we make a third branch? Called… neutral magic, say?”

Aravenne waved his wand towards the blackboard, and three columns appeared, respectively headed by the words: ‘LIGHT’, ‘NEUTRAL’, and ‘DARK’.

“Is that okay with everyone?” He asked, to the class that were nodding, unsure as to where this was leading. “Right, can somebody give me a spell they would classify as ‘dark magic’? Mr Malfoy?”

The Slytherin was eyeing the proceedings contemptuously, as if this was pointless, and he didn’t know why he had bothered coming. “I don’t know,” he said lazily, “how about… Falxia?”

Aravenne nodded, and the word ‘Falxia’ appeared under the column of DARK. “Falxia, the scything spell, often accompanied by bright light, the redder the light, the more powerful the spell is. It is often improved, if that is the right word, into the very dangerous Falxiardor spell, which combines the cut with fire. Would everyone agree this was a spell that deserves to be described as dark?”

There was a murmur of assent, and Ron whispered to Harry, “Trust Malfoy to know a spell like that.”

“Mr Weasley,” Aravenne said, continuing, “perhaps you would like to offer up a piece of light magic?”

“Um… well, what about the Patronus charm?” Ron asked hopefully.

“Good choice.” Aravenne said, eyes staying on Ron for a few seconds, “The Patronus charm produces a form of pure energy, representing all the happy feelings in your heart, most often used to protect from Dementors, or Lethifolds. Any arguments against its placement as a light spell?”

As the class shook their heads, he added it to the blackboard in the relevant column, he also added Lumos underneath neutral spells.

“Good. We have a set then, a dark spell, a light, and a neutral spell. Let’s just make sure we understand why which is which. Miss Patil – Parvati,” he amended, “why is Falxia a dark spell?”

“Because it’s meant to cause harm?” she answered hopefully.

Aravenne nodded, “Patronus, then… Padma Patil this time.”

“It’s meant to defend the caster?” The twin replied.

“Excellent, and Lumos, then, Mr Macmillan.”

“Because it isn’t meant to attack or defend.” He replied confidently.

“Very good. Now I’m going to explain to you why I believe you’re all wrong.” He laughed, but not maliciously. “Let us remember our reasoning for a spell being dark or light magic. We said that if it is designed to cause harm it is dark, and if it is designed to prevent harm it is light. Shall we take Falxia then? Shall we suppose that you discover an innocent person tied up, in a situation where he will be tortured? You then use Falxia to cut his bonds, so that he can escape. You have just, therefore, used supposedly dark magic, to prevent harm; but by our reasoning that means it is light magic rather than dark. So it should be… here:”

He waved his wand, and Falxia appeared under Patronus on the board. Confused faces stared up at him. More than one student started to speak, but ‘but’ was the only word they managed to produce.

“Are you saying that Falxia isn’t dark magic sir?” Hermione asked, the most composed of them all.

“Not at all. In the majority of situations nowadays, I would agree that Dark Wizards use the spell, and therefore it is often performed as dark magic. What I would like you to do however is challenge the assumption that magic can be categorised. Magic is neither good nor evil; it is only its usages that can be classified as Dark or Light. Shall we take the Patronus charm, surely one of the purest, most ‘Light’ forms of magic there is? How would you classify it, if a Dark Wizard used it to herd a large group of Dementors towards a group of Muggles, who have no ability to ward them off? I have seen it happen, and it is one of the darkest pieces of magic I’ve ever experienced.”

Patronus then appeared underneath the column headed: ‘DARK’.

“So you’re saying that Falxia is neutral magic too, sir?” Dean asked, not following the reasoning.

“Yes Mr Thomas. Imagine, for a second, performing the spell in thin air, with no purpose, and hitting nothing. Was that a protective, or a harmful spell? Of course not! Similarly the Patronus – although it can become more complicated with that particular spell,” He allowed, “the same principle remains, regardless. Likewise, normally neutral spells can be used in dark or light manners.”

Another wave of the wand, and all three columns now contained all three spells.

“So you think that a spell like Lumos is dark magic?” Draco Malfoy sneered.

“What I am saying, Mr Malfoy,” Aravenne said in a clear voice, “is that all magic is neutral, and that it is only their usages that can be classified as being part of the Dark Arts, or Light Arts. I am sure that you can come up with situations where even a simple spell like Lumos can be cast with intent to harm, or protect. If it is not the spell however, but rather you believe that your Professor’s teaching methods are not worth considering, the door is over there.”

Malfoy said nothing, and Aravenne continued, leaning over his desk and giving them all a hard look. “If you are to take this class, I expect full maturity from each and every one of you. A subject like this is far too dangerous to be treated irreverently. You may find some of my theoretical ideas hard to grasp, or you may disagree with them – that is fine by me, theory is meant to be questioned, and then refined to produce the truth – but I do expect you to listen, and consider the underlying ideas. If any of you think you already know all the answers, then you have no business being here.”

There was silence, the insolence was wiped off Malfoy’s face, and Aravenne drew himself back up to a standing position. “Good. Now, are there any other questions?”

Harry noticed that he hadn’t had to even take points of a house so far this year, and yet he was treated with a respect for discipline that rivalled Professor McGonagall or Snape. Even Malfoy backed down before him without needing proof of the trouble it might land him in.

Hermione raised her hand again. “Yes, Miss Granger?”

“Sorry sir, but how can the Unforgivables be anything other than the Dark Arts?”

Aravenne gave a smile. “Ah yes. The Unforgivables, three of the most dangerous spells in existence, although not necessarily the most. The fact, however, that they are dangerous, does not automatically mean that they are Dark Arts. Do any of you know what a Nundu is?” He asked.

The class shook their heads, so Aravenne continued. “I met one of them while I was in East Africa, or rather; I saw a hunting party out looking for it, and they eventually successfully killed it. A Nundu looks rather like a gigantic leopard, but is more dangerous than a Chimera, more dangerous than a Dragon; its very breath causes disease on a huge scale. It has never been successfully hunted by fewer than a hundred skilled wizards, which will tell you much of the threat it represents. The three spells they use more than any in this hunt, are the Unforgivables, and yet they are attempting defence on the highest scale.”

Harry could see his point, sort of. Was it really Dark Arts if it was used to prevent a Dragon from eating you? But Cruciatus… wasn’t that just causing pain for the fun of it? What had Bellatrix Lestrange told him after he had tried to turn the curse on her? ‘You need to enjoy causing pain’. Surely then, the only way you could cast it was if you were a Dark Wizard?

“But Professor…” He began, and then trailed off, not knowing what to say.

“Yes?”

“To cast something like Cruciatus… don’t you… don’t you have to enjoy causing the pain, to really want to torture them?”

Aravenne was suddenly alert. His fists clenched involuntarily. Harry could tell he was having difficulty controlling the level of his voice, even as he strove to keep it perfectly calm, the voice of a teacher in control.

“You know how to cast an Unforgivable Mr Potter?”

“I- No!” Harry said, almost in horror. Me and my big fat mouth. “It’s just… A Death Eater… told me.”

Aravenne’s narrowed eyes started to relax a bit once more. “If it were not for the newspaper articles I have read over the last nine months, that statement would worry me just as much. However, I happen to have read them. I take it that it is not too much of a leap in reasoning to guess that you have felt its effects firsthand.”

Harry looked away; Aravenne nodded. “I could understand why you would believe the Death Eater then. However, like any powerful magic, it is not good or evil that powers it, but rather the witch or wizard’s magic ability. They must put their heart and soul behind the magic, yes, but that does not necessarily mean hate. No, a powerful wizard who wishes to fight the Dark Arts could use the spell just as well as a maniac.”

“But how?” Harry asked, “How can a spell like that be used on a person as a force for good? It’s more painful than anyone could imagine.”

“I can think of examples where it, where any Unforgivable, can not be considered Dark. Take for example, a wizard that is threatening to kill. If you then use the Imperius curse to subdue them, or perform the Cruciatus curse in order to weaken them before stunning them, or even use the killing curse to prevent them from carrying out their aims… Can that truly be dark magic?

Again, Harry could, unwillingly, see the point. It was a bit like what Remus had said, wasn’t it? It is the Death Eater’s fault, rather than yours if you kill him. He, after all, is the one who will kill innocent people if you don’t. He supposed that the Cruciatus curse even, in that kind of situation would be being used for good rather than evil. If you were able to cast it that was.

“Does that answer your questions? Miss Granger? Mr Potter?”

Harry and Hermione weren’t the only ones that nodded.

“In the same way, healing spells which are designed to heal a person so that they can commit acts of atrocities must be considered Dark. Witches and wizards have fallen into the trap of trying to shirk responsibility for their own actions. It is not magic that is either good or evil, but rather the people themselves.”

That, Harry agreed with. If you were to heal Voldemort, when he was about to be killed, you would be just as much to blame for the people Voldemort would kill after that.

“You may wonder why I am labouring this point. Well then, some of the spells I shall teach you in these lessons, if misused, may be considered Dark. Indeed, some of the spells that you shall be learning, you may also find used against you should you be misfortunate enough to have to duel a servant of the Dark Arts. Some of your parents may be concerned that you are learning spells of danger. Professor Dumbledore, however, agrees with me, not only in that you can not successfully defeat something that you cannot understand but also, that against certain opponents, such as Death Eaters, knowledge of these spells will help you survive, and defend yourself successfully. Defence against people such as Death Eaters is of course, exactly what this subject is about.”

The class was completely silent, no-one willing to attempt to disagree.

Aravenne spent the rest of the lesson demonstrating the Falxia spell that Malfoy had mentioned, but more than that, demonstrating some of its weaknesses, and the best ways to defend against it. This may have been the first lesson that they had had with Aravenne that didn’t involve action, but Harry, Ron, and Hermione left it once more, talking about the lesson they had just had.

“Okay, I give up.” Ron said. “Is he trying to make us use the Dark Arts, or defend ourselves or what? This whole magic isn’t Dark, people are stuff… Everyone knows Avada Kedavra is dark magic… it just… is!”

“He has a point though, doesn’t he?” Harry said, looking at Hermione. “Or do I just want to believe him because” he looked around quickly, “of the Prophecy?”

“It does make logical sense…” Hermione said grudgingly, “but I don’t know, there’s just something about it I don’t like. I prefer to think of it as it being possible to use Dark Arts for good as well as bad. I’m like Ron, I still don’t know what to think of him yet.”

“Well I still don’t trust him.” Harry said. “He talks about it being people that are evil, not magic, but maybe he just wants to get people to enjoy the feeling of using these spells.”

“That’s one way of looking at it.” Hermione agreed. “You can’t imagine that Dumbledore would let him teach after all that has happened since we’ve been at Hogwarts if he couldn’t be trusted though, would you?”

“He still hasn’t got rid of Snape.” Ron reminded her.

Hermione, however, didn’t take the bait, but rather rolled her eyes, and turned away with an expression that clearly said that she knew she was right, but knew better than to try to explain the multitude of reasons why, yet again. Thankfully, Ron wasn’t looking at her, but rather was leading the way back to Gryffindor Tower, and thus, an argument was avoided.

Harry found that Ron’s interest in the subject of Aravenne started to wane quite quickly this afternoon, before long he was talking about the Quidditch tryouts tomorrow, and what they should do. He talked incessantly about it during dinner, and then continued in the same vein until Harry went to bed, when he went to sleep thinking about nothing other than Quidditch. He forgot to take the Dreamless Sleep potion, but it didn’t matter, for he dreamt about broomsticks, Snitches, Quaffles, and Bludgers all night. Even Sirius didn’t make an appearance.
________________________________________


Harry finally succeeded in manifesting a mouse the next day in Transfiguration, and then groaned when he found that he couldn’t manifest even a snail that Ron had vanished. Transfiguration had to be one of the most annoying subjects at Hogwarts, he felt. There were so many little bits and pieces that had to be performed perfectly, and it meant that unless you had Hermione’s memory and concentration, learning anything tended to take an absolute age. Still, he took comfort in the fact that most of the class were having similar problems, and some, if not most, worse.

Charms was likewise proving to be tough, they had started doing basic healing charms, and helping the skin knit quickly was nowhere near as easy as Madam Pomfrey made it look. Even Hermione was having trouble mending a wound larger than the size of a fifty pence piece. Then of course there was the fact that you ran the danger of making everything far, far worse if you got it even slightly wrong. Often the life size mannequins that they were practicing on would squeal, signalling that the cut had suddenly increased in size, and one of Harry’s attempts made it life threatening.

“I can’t take much more of this,” Ron told Harry and Hermione as they walked down the corridor from Gryffindor Tower to the Great Hall, “I’m starting to get a headache from all this concentrating. Knowing our luck, Aravenne will probably try and get us to learn the Unforgivables, and then Snape will demand that we make some impossible potion like…”

“Felix Felicis?” Hermione suggested, with a smile.

“I’ll take your word for it that it’s complicated, whatever it is.” Ron said. “But seriously… what cruel person set us Transfiguration, Charms, Defence Against the Dark Arts, and then Potions in a row? I’m going to have to sleep through the free period so I’m okay for Quidditch this evening!”

“Who knows, Ron, we might be doing duelling again with Aravenne!” Harry laughed.

Ron gave a mock whimper.

Defence Against the Dark Arts wasn’t as bad as Ron had predicted however. Aravenne had decided that they needed practice shielding themselves from spells, and so the lesson for members of the DA was simply revision – none of the other students having been taught Protego by previous teachers. They were however set background reading for Effringo – the next type of shield that they were going to learn – for next Thursday’s lesson. Tomorrow they were going to be dealing with more offensive spells, or so they were told.

Which just left Potions, and then Harry and Ron were finished for the day – although Hermione had Arithmancy. They entered Snape’s dungeon classroom with Ron whispering in Harry’s ear, in a slightly strained voice.

“This is your last class before the try-outs, so please whatever you do, don’t get detention!”

“You are – you’re channelling either Oliver or Angelina’s spirit. Or is that Quidditch Captain badge cursed?” Harry pointed at the badge sitting neatly beside Ron’s Prefect badge. Indeed, more neatly than most things of Ron’s ever were. “I think we should get Aravenne to take a look at it and see if it is dark magic.” He grumbled.

“There is no dark magic, remember? Just dark usages.” Ron sniggered, as they took their seats.

“Well maybe whoever created it created with a dark usage then.” Harry told him. “Give it a rest will you? I’ll be there.”

“You better be, I-”

“When Potter and Weasley have finished their discussion, we can begin.” Snape’s sneering voice rang out. “Five points from Gryffindor. Today we shall be seeing if any of you dunderheads have learnt anything from our theoretical lessons this week. I have here a poison none of you will recognise. I want you all to fill up a large flask with it, and then attempt to successfully find an antidote. Seeing as this potion is also dangerous when contacted by skin, you shall need to wear protective clothing – I have an antidote already made up, but I do not expect to need to use it. Am I understood?”

“That was your fault,” Harry muttered to Ron, as the class took out their things noisily, “if he tries to put me in detention now, remember it all started from you lecturing me not to do anything.”

“That was only seconds.” Ron said disbelievingly. “He really has it in for you this year Harry.”

“Congratulations.” Harry said under his breath.

They may not have been brewing Felix Felicis, but this was just as complex, Harry felt. He scanned the pages of Libatius Borage’s book trying to follow the instructions within, but it wasn’t easy when you had Snape hovering nearby, sneering, and making near disbelieving noises whenever you did anything. It was made even harder, by the fact that Hermione’s subtle hints and reminders, which so often had saved him in the past – to some extent – were made impossible by Snape’s continued presence near Harry’s potion.

“Tell me Potter,” Snape said lazily, attracting the attention of the entire class, “Are you trying to make an antidote, or a poison to rival the strength of the one you have been given?”

“An antidote.” Harry snarled.

“Sir.” Snape amended.

Harry glared at him. Neither said anything for a few seconds, until a rather sharp kick to Harry’s leg from Ron caused Harry to add, very quietly, “Sir.”

Snape’s eyes narrowed, but he made no comment about Harry’s lack of respect. “There is then little point of continuing with your current experiment. Try again, and this time, pay attention to your work.”

He vanished the liquid in the vial Harry was currently working on – it had reached a black colour, and was looking a little similar to liquid tar. Or it was before it disappeared. Harry carefully poured one of the poisons he had separated from Snape’s compound one, into a small vial, in order to start again. He held up his bottle of newt’s stomach juices, feeling that he had made some progress with that previously, and allowed it to trickle into a vial, and then reached for some arrowroot, allowing a couple of carefully crushed pieces to drop into the juices.

Snape’s voice intruded once more, mockingly saying. “Not only do you have no knowledge of magical ingredients and their properties, Potter, but you also obviously have an abysmal memory. Do you not remember that after you eventually separated the base poison: putor minor; with the specialis revelo incantation, you tried the same combination of ingredients, and they failed miserably?”

“No, I forgot.” Harry said coldly. “I –”

But Snape cut across the sarcastic remark he had been about to reply with – to Ron’s delight, no doubt. “That is also useless, Potter. Try again.”

The attempted antidote disappeared again, at the swish of Snape’s wand. With a great effort, Harry tried to blank Snape out, and returned to work. He discovered an interesting thing, while working behind his cauldron, trying to prevent Snape from distracting him. Almost without realising it, he started using some of his Occlumency techniques in order to clear his mind, and think of nothing but the potion, thus shutting out all intrusions, and with a stab of surprise, Harry realised it was helping. Soon Harry had forgotten that Snape was even behind him at all, and it was only the loud bark behind him that snapped him out of his reverie.

“You have five minutes to bottle your final antidote, or attempt at one, clean your apparatus and store them away. Go. Now.”

Harry looked at the blue liquid he had in his beaker, sent a silent prayer to anyone that was listening for it to be okay, and then carried his things to the workbench at the back of the classroom to be cleansed of the poisons they had contained. Harry carefully removed his gloves and placed them in a purging solution, the toxins of which effectively destroyed anything weaker than dragon hide – which meant that although it destroyed most poisons, it was inadvisable to drink it as an antidote.

Snape patrolled his class, taking each student’s attempt, and mixing it with a little of the poison. If the ingredients successfully cancelled out the poison, then the liquids would swirl together, creating a clear, water like substance. While there were a few successes – a couple of Ravenclaws, Ernie Macmillan, a Slytherin or two – most of the mixtures failed, turning into colours which ranged from black, to pink, to putrid yellow. Due to the fact that Harry, Ron, and Hermione always tried to get the back table – in theory getting as far away from Snape as possible – theirs were the last three. Snape placed three beakers of poison in front of Harry – he was sitting in the middle.

Snape looked venomously at Harry. “Where is your antidote then Potter?”

Harry handed it to him without a word. He hadn’t had time to test it, so hadn’t the foggiest notion as to whether it was better or worse than the majority of attempts so far. Snape eyed it up carefully, delicately scenting the smell coming from it, which Harry thought smelt like furniture polish. Still wearing his own protective gloves, he slowly allowed a drop to flow into one of the beakers of poison, and then gradually the whole of the liquid slid in. Harry watched nervously; he didn’t like the way Snape seemed to be making it more dramatic than the others.

The potions swirled together, one running into another. Its colour started to change gradually, from the violent green that was the poison, and the dark blue that was the antidote, into a vaguely silver kind of colour. Harry let out a sigh. It might not have been clear, but it was a damn sight closer than most of the other attempts by his fellow classmates.

“Are you satisfied with this attempt Potter?” Snape barked menacingly. “If you were to drink this poison now, then do you think that your antidote would be enough to save you?”

“No.” Harry said, slightly defensively. “I just felt that it was an improvement, that’s all.”

“An improvement.” Snape repeated disdainfully. “Potter, if you continue to just be satisfied with ‘an improvement’, you will soon find that Potions will no longer be part of your curriculum. Nothing suffices in my class except perfection, and you will produce it.”

Harry said nothing, his momentary pleasure at producing what he felt was a more than reasonable attempt at finding an antidote for the first time subsiding in an instant. Snape said nothing else, but rather vanished the beaker, liquid and all, and held out his hand for Ron’s antidote. Snape sneered as he saw the attempt, which was orange, and smelt of over ripe fruit, and then slowly lowered it to one of the two remaining beakers of poison. Nothing happened when the first drop hit the poison, and so Snape continued to pour.

It happened in an instant: the beaker cracked, and then – BOOM – it exploded. The mixture spilled out, flowing over the table in front of Harry. Snape hastily withdrew his wand in his free hand to vanish the dangerous liquid. Unfortunately, as he did so, his forearm struck the third beaker, which was full of untouched poison. It flew through the air, smashing against Harry’s stomach, as he tried to push away from the original danger. The liquid seeped into his robes, and Harry felt the moisture touch his skin.

Snape was furious. “Twenty points from Gryffindor for allowing your ineptitude to endanger your classmates Weasley. I want a scroll and a half at least on proper methodology to brew an antidote by Monday.” He spat, before turning on another student whose antidote had been particularly ineffectual. “The same goes for you Macarthur.”

“Professor!” Hermione said anxiously. “Harry got splashed by the poison!”

Snape looked at Hermione with an expression of disbelief. “Thank you for pointing out the obvious Miss Granger. I am aware of the fact.” He shook his head. “Luckily the effects of the poison take rather longer to cause any danger when absorbed by the skin than when imbibed. Potter, follow me, the rest of you may go.”

Ron moved towards Harry, to attempt to help him out of his seat, but Snape said in a tone of pure fury. “I do not wish to have an epidemic on my hands Weasley, kindly do not touch Mr Potter, he is perfectly capable of following me on his own, he will not start vomiting for at least another five minutes.”

Snape strode towards his desk, before turning once more. “Well Potter? I admit it is your own life you are risking by your reluctance to move, but I would rather not have to deal with the death of a student in my class. There is rather a lot of paperwork involved.”

Harry stood up, and walked to the front of the class. Admittedly, he didn’t feel poisoned yet. Snape conjured up a set of robes and undergarments out of thin air, and handed them to him, along with a vial of cyan coloured liquid.

“In there.” He spat, pointing to a doorway. “Leave your clothes in the basket in there – they shall be returned to you once they have been cleansed – wash yourself down, put these on, and then, and only then drink this.” Snape rounded on the rest of the class, who were watching the scene interestedly. “I thought I dismissed you?”

Harry opened the door to find himself in a small changing room, obviously designed for such a purpose. A large basket stood beside a closed cubicle to a shower, opposite a bench. The scraping of the chairs and tables as he closed the door signalled that the students had finally done as Snape had ordered, and started to leave. Harry placed the conjured clothes on the bench, quickly stripped out of his own robes, and stuffed everything in the basket, before entering the shower, intending it to be one of the quickest he had ever had. There was nowhere he wanted to be less than near Snape at the moment.

Not long through the shower however, he doubled up in pain. His stomach felt like it was being ripped in two, and his head felt like it was starting to swell, getting heavier and heavier. The pain momentarily subsided, and Harry stumbled out of the shower, reaching for the antidote, and swallowing half of it in a huge gulp. He doubled up in pain again, somehow gripping the vial tightly, and preventing the rest of it from being spilled. His head, now between his knees, gradually started to return to normal size, but the furious pain in his stomach remained. He downed the rest of the potion in his hand.

He sat there for a couple of minutes, until the pain started to leave him. There was a loud knock on the door. It was Snape.

“Potter,” The voice said snidely, “are you quite finished in there? I have another class to teach.”

Harry was tempted to throw the empty vial at the door, but decided against it. He threw on the conjured clothes, and took a minute to catch his breath before making his way out the door.

A class of first years – Gryffindors and Ravenclaws it looked like – were sitting quietly, looking up to the front of the class where Ron and Hermione were standing, glaring at Snape, whose eyes were likewise narrowed with anger. Murmurings were extinguished by a glance from Snape almost as soon as the students recognised the famous Harry Potter emerge.

“Outside. All three of you. Now.” Snape said in an angrily steady voice.

Snape showed the three of them the door, and then followed them out, shutting it behind him, waving his wand to prevent his class hearing anything. Harry suddenly noticed that Hermione and Ron had put themselves between him and Snape.

“I am telling you this once, and only once, all three of you. The werewolf does not teach in Hogwarts anymore. He has no authority. If I tell you to do something, you will do it in future, no matter what he says.” There was suddenly a manic glint in his eyes.

“You think we’re going to leave Harry with you after what you did the night of the Welcoming Feast?” Ron replied aggressively.

“Professor,” Hermione said in a would-be calm voice. “Remus said to take it up with him and Professor Dumbledore if you have a problem with it, but we are not going to let Harry be in any danger if we can help it.”

“Danger.” Snape repeated. “I am a teacher, Miss Granger.”

“A teacher that tried to find out the thing Voldemort wants to know above anything.” Harry yelled at him.

Hermione and Ron turned to look at him, Hermione with an expression of shock on her face, “Harry, what are you-” She began in surprise.

“You fool, Potter,” Snape sneered his interruption, “I saw nothing that I did not already know. Hadn’t you realised? Couldn’t you see why I knew exactly where to look? Merlin Potter, how you have survived as long as you have is beyond me. But very well, I shall take this up with Albus and the werewolf, and I shall expect your obedience Granger and Weasley in future.”

He turned, slamming the door behind him. Harry looked at Hermione, who was pulling him along the corridor.

“Why did you…?”

“I had to try to make Snape think Ron and I knew nothing about the prophecy, Harry.” Hermione told him, “I thought it would be safer. Now come on!”

Ron’s face was crimson. “Harry, I’m really sorry mate, I didn’t mean… I didn’t know… Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Harry said absentmindedly, refusing to budge.

“Come on Harry!” His feet started to move unwillingly.

His mind was churning over what Snape had just said. He had seen nothing he didn’t already know? Hadn’t Harry realised? What should Harry have realised?

“Harry, let’s go!” Hermione said urgently, still tugging at him, trying to move his reluctant feet a bit faster.

He knew exactly where to look. How could he know exactly where to look? Unless… unless… he knew some of the memory already. And if he knew some of the memory, then… Suddenly, it clicked. Harry stopped allowing himself to be shepherded up the corridor. How else could Snape know?

“That ba- The little- I’m going to kill him.” Harry breathed, and fought off Hermione’s grip on him, turning around.

“Harry, what are you talking about?” Hermione asked in a terrified voice.

“How else could he have already known that part of the Prophecy? The bit that Voldemort knew? Ron let me go!”

“What are you doing mate?” Ron asked nervously.

“He was Voldemort’s spy!” Harry roared. “He’s the reason Voldemort knew part of the Prophecy! He eavesdropped on Dumbledore, and then told Voldemort that I – that – He’s the reason Voldemort killed my parents! I’m going to kill him!”

He struggled against Ron and Hermione, who had both grabbed him, until suddenly he felt a surge of energy well up inside him, and he flung them off him. He ran back up to the door to Snape’s dungeon, and tried to turn the knob. It wouldn’t move. He withdrew his wand as Hermione and Ron got back to their feet and sprinted after him.

“Harry, no!” Hermione shouted.

“Alohomora!” Harry yelled.

The spell glanced off the door and ricocheted away to hit the wall behind Harry. Harry panted, trying to decide the best way to get through the door.

“Screw it,” he muttered aloud, “I’ll just destroy the damn thing. Reducto!”

Again, the curse just reflected off the door, this time going directly towards Harry.

“Mutucutus!” Hermione shouted, and a large barrier formed between Harry and the curse, which dissipated upon contact.

“Harry – you try to do this, and you’ll be expelled, and you know what that means?” She said, as Ron stood between him and the door. She gripped Harry’s shoulders. “It means you won’t be able to defend yourself against Voldemort. It means you won’t be able to avenge anyone. None of us know enough to fight his Death Eaters and win on our own, let alone Voldemort!”

Harry forced away her hands. “You know what he’s done to my life?” He asked powerfully. “He, Pettigrew, and Voldemort? They cost me my parents, Sirius – they forced me to live with the Dursleys, Hermione! I haven’t had a life because of Snape!”

“And you won’t if you attack Snape!” Ron said bluntly. “If you want to try and kill Snape, you’re going to have to kill me and Hermione first. You’ll end up spending your life in Azkaban or something, until You-Know-Who decides to kill you. I’m not going to let that happen.”

“Get out of the way, Ron.”

“No.” Ron told him. “Not unless you put your wand away, and walk back up to Gryffindor Tower with us.”

Harry stood there, looking at him, panting. “Fine.” He said, raising his wand. “I’ll make you then.”

Ron put his own wand away, and just stood there, between Harry and the door. He made no effort to defend himself. Hermione said nothing; neither did she move to stand between Ron and Harry herself.

Harry’s wand pointed at Ron unsteadily. Why didn’t he cast a spell!? Get Ron out of the way, and then deal with Snape. For what seemed like minutes, there was no sound apart from Harry’s rapid breathing. It would be so much easier if Ron drew his wand, making it a fair duel.

“Draw your wand, Ron. If you’re going to fight me, I want it to be a fair fight.”

Ron shrugged. “There’s no point. You’d win. You’re way better than me at duelling, you know that. If you’re going to curse me, then just do it.”

Harry stared at him, emotions bubbling inside him. He fought back a burning sensation behind his eyes, gulped, and then very slowly, lowered his wand. “I can’t.” He said, shaking his head, and then turning to the side.

Hermione finally moved. “Come on Harry, let’s go up to Gryffindor Tower. I’ll borrow your mirror and tell Remus what’s happened. He wanted to know if Snape did anything. We’ll get this sorted out, I promise, Dumbledore won’t let Snape get away with this.”

“Dumbledore knew.” Harry said quietly. “He told me that he discovered the spy before he could hear all of the Prophecy. That’s why he said it didn’t matter when he heard the part of the prophecy that Snape had discovered. It’s because he knew that Snape already knew it. Dumbledore doesn’t care that Snape did that.”

Suddenly, he despised the Headmaster, and he knew it wasn’t a problem with his Occlumency this time. How could he? How could Dumbledore stick up for Snape, even force Snape on him as a teacher, when he knew what Snape had done? When he knew that Snape was one of the biggest reasons that he, Harry, was an orphan? How could he stick up for Snape every time he did something to Harry, ask Harry to treat the greasy haired piece of scum with respect, when he knew… he knew that Snape had done something which could never been forgiven?

Harry found himself dragged through corridors bathed in sunlight, filled with portraits which seemed to be doing their best to get a good look at him as he passed. Many of which followed him into their adjacent portraits, going as far as they could, until they invaded the wrong painting, and were beaten back, prevented from following any further. They had almost reached the portrait hole, when the unwelcome sight of Peeves the Poltergeist popped into view as they turned a corner.

“It’s Potter the poisoned!” He said cheerily, and then burst into song.

“There was a madman named Potter,
Who started to feel hotter and hotter,
He felt his blood boil,
Like scalding hot oil,
So he attacked the poison’s creator!”

Harry felt his temper boil over once more, and yelled at the Poltergeist. “Get lost Peeves!”

“Oooh!” Peeves said, cackling, “The Potty-one is feeling a bit-”

But Peeves stopped speaking. His mouth closed involuntarily, and his cheeks were expanding as though they were being filled with air from a car pump. The Poltergeist felt his now oversized head for a few long moments, unable to stop the swelling, then, his mouth opened, and Peeves found himself flying down the corridor, and out of sight, like a balloon that had just found somewhere for the hot air inside to escape. He didn’t return.

“Wow, Harry!” Ron said in admiration, “How did you do that? You didn’t even use your wand!”

Harry shrugged, and continued walking towards Gryffindor Tower. “No idea.”

“Invalesco animi.” Hermione said, as they stopped in front of the Fat Lady.

She swung open, saying. “Are you feeling quite alright, Harry dear? I heard you were poisoned? Shouldn’t you be in the Infirmary?”

“I’m fine.” Harry mumbled. That was one of the problems of the portraits in Hogwarts, news tended to travel relatively quickly.

They walked into the thankfully empty common room, and Harry sat down heavily in a chair. “The mirror’s in my trunk.” He told Hermione. “I’ll get it for you in a second.”

Hermione and Ron sat down, on the edges of their seats. Harry felt a bit of irrational irritation stir up inside of him. “I’m not going to do anything stupid now.” He told them. “You stopped me remember. Relax. You look like I’m going to jump up and start cursing the next person that comes in the door.”

“Harry, are you okay?” Hermione asked, slightly timidly.

“Of course I’m not!” Harry told her. “How do you think I feel after finding out that Snape sent Voldemort after me and my parents?”

To his surprise, Hermione smiled.

“It’s nothing to grin about.” He said angrily, and the smile swiftly vanished.

“I’m sorry Harry, I wasn’t smiling about that.” Hermione said quickly. “It’s just… I was afraid you wouldn’t talk about it, but just let it make you feel worse and worse. I was smiling because you’re going to be alright.” She finished simply.

“How do you figure th- Oh forget it.” Harry said in resignation.

The three of them were silent for a while. Harry could almost see words being formed by his friends’ mouths, and then discarded as they searched for the right way to phrase their concerned questions.

“If Snape does anything – anything – that proves he’s a Death Eater, then I’m going to be the one to kill him Hermione.” He looked her squarely in the eyes.

“Just make sure he is, Harry.” Hermione pled. “You wouldn’t be able to take it if you killed an innocent man, even Snape.”

“Snape’s hardly innocent, even if he isn’t a Death Eater.” Harry snapped.

“Look, Harry…” Ron interjected. “You need to do something to take out some frustration. How about you and me take a couple of Beaters bats down to the Quidditch pitch, and take a few swings at some Bludgers?”

“Ron –” Hermione began in what sounded like exasperation, and then she stopped, and shook her head in disbelief.

“I dunno.” Harry shook his head. “I’m not sure I feel like Quidditch.”

“It’ll do you good.” Ron continued. “You know, fresh air, exercise. Maybe take your mind off things for a bit. And if not, you can always pretend the Bludger looks like Snape’s head.” He added as an afterthought.

“That could be therapeutic.” Hermione said drolly.

“Might as well I guess.” Harry said. “It’s either that or sit here and be continually asked about that s- about Snape poisoning me, isn’t it?”

“Whatever makes you feel better.” Hermione said, but in a voice which suggested she could scarcely believe what she was hearing. “Could you get the mirror for me before you go though?”
________________________________________


Quidditch, while it didn’t make Harry forget about Snape, did give him time to think. There was nothing that he could really act upon from this knowledge – not yet, anyway. Dumbledore already knew about Snape’s familiarity with the start of the Prophecy, and he still trusted him, and until Dumbledore stopped trusting Snape, there was no way Harry could do anything to the person who had caused Voldemort to attempt to kill Harry’s parents. In fact, all that Harry could take from it was another reason to hate Snape.

He swung the Beater’s bat at the one Bludger that Ron and he were hitting between them, and the impact hit the club out of Ron’s hands, as he tried to hit it back. Ron swooped to reclaim the weapon, dodging the Bludger as he did. Harry hit it in the opposite direction.

“Damn, Harry, you don’t want to play Beater as well as Seeker do you?” Ron asked, taking a swing at the ball himself.

“You told me to imagine it was Snape’s head.” Harry said, half-apologetically.

“Well, I take it back.” Ron yelled, avoiding the Bludger that Harry sent at him this time, rather than trying to hit it. “Hang on. Impedimenta.”

He had withdrawn his wand from his pocket, and aimed it at the Bludger. It froze in mid-air. Ron flew towards Harry.

“Look, mate. If you don’t want to be at the tryouts tonight, you don’t have to. If anyone wonders where you are, I can always just tell them you’re recovering from that poison of Snape’s.”

Harry looked at him for a second or two. “Nah – I promised you I’d give you a hand.”

There was a flicker of something like relief on Ron’s face, but it was quickly replaced by concern once more. “You sure? It’s fine if you don’t – I mean – don’t do it just because I asked you to make sure you were there. I wasn’t expecting something like this to happen, you know.”

Harry shook his head, and gave a wan smile. “Positive. Besides, I need to get to know the people I’ll be playing with, anyway, don’t I?”

Besides, in a strange way, the fact that Ron had actually suggested that he didn’t go, despite all of his fears about his first duty as captain, made Harry want to do it. Harry didn’t understand it himself.

“Thanks. Look, I was thinking we’d both have a look at Chasers first, then Beaters, and finally while you had a look at anyone who turns up for reserve Seeker, I deal with finding a reserve Keeper with the help of the new Chasers.”

“With the way that Ginny flies, you might only be looking for someone to partner her and Katie.” Harry told him.

“Hope so, I’m really in trouble if she isn’t much suited to Chasing.” Ron said nervously.

Harry could see what he was getting at, and tried to reassure him. “Relax – Ginny’s a good flyer, and she comes from a family of good Quidditch players, mate. Even Fred and George were surprised by how well she flew.”

“Hope so.” Ron repeated.

They spotted Hermione making her solitary way down to the Quidditch pitch below them soon after, and Ron said to Harry, with a touch of something in his voice that Harry couldn’t quite make out. “She missed her Arithmancy lesson for you, you know?”

Before Harry could do or say anything, Ron had swooped down to meet her. Harry froze the Bludger once more, and then followed.

“I just came down to watch you two.” She was telling Ron, “Don’t feel you have to stop.”

“Hermione, you’re a bad liar.” Harry said, as he got off his Firebolt. “The only reason you ever went to watch Quidditch matches was because one of us or both were playing. You’re just worried I might turn psycho and try and kill Snape, aren’t you?”

Hermione went slightly red. “Don’t be stupid. You’re perfectly sane. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. And…” She hesitated.

“And what?” Ron demanded.

“Well, I wanted to let you know that Remus is furious, I wouldn’t want to be Snape tonight. He almost came to the school immediately I started to say what had happened, but I thought that that would be the last thing you’d want Harry.” She looked at him anxiously.

“Just think what the rumours would be then…” He muttered. “Did you tell him about Snape knowing the Prophecy, and that he’s why Voldemort came after us?”

“Well, I did, I told him the basics. And talking about rumours…” She trailed off again.

“What is it?” Ron urged.

“Well, I thought you ought to know, Harry. There’s a rumour going on in the school, started by the portraits and Peeves of course.”

“Which is?” Ron pressed.

“Well, that… that Snape poisoned you, and, well, that you threatened him. And that that was the reason Ron and I stayed behind, to stop you from doing anything.”

To the surprise of all of them – including Harry – Harry laughed. Not heartily by any means, but yet still a true laugh.

“Er, Hermione, you are sure he’s perfectly sane, aren’t you?” Ron asked.

“Sorry,” Harry said, laughter slowing a little. “It’s just, well, I was wondering what would happen if Rita Skeeter heard. I just had this picture of a Daily Prophet headline, in big bold letters: Death Eater Poisons Potter! Boy-Who-Lived Vows Revenge.”

“Er. Okay.” Ron turned back towards Hermione. “I say again, you are sure he’s perfectly sane?”

Harry slapped the back of his head. “Prat.”

“It is rather stupid, I know.” Hermione agreed with Harry, “I mean, did you swear revenge after he poisoned you, or after you took the antidote? I can’t see it lasting, I wouldn’t worry about it, I just thought you should know.”

Harry’s momentary vision of the bright side faded however, and he said, more quietly. “Not that strange though, in a way, is it? I mean, think about what happened.”

“You mean in that you did want revenge for something that Snape did?” Ron said.

“Yeah. Well, Yeah.” Harry said, suddenly feeling rather silly, and not knowing why. After all, he had plenty of reasons for hating Snape. “You know, this is the first rumour they’ve made up about me that’s been anywhere near the mark, and yet it’s the stupidest one yet?”

Ron and Hermione offered weak smiles. Harry could tell they didn’t know how to react. He shrugged it off and moved on.

“I told Ginny there’d be rumours about me this year, there always is, isn’t there? Will they ever leave me alone?” He sighed. “It shows you though, doesn’t it? We’d better make extra sure that we don’t speak about anything important like the Prophecy unless we know for certain no one, or no thing can hear us. The portraits might hear something.”

Ron and Hermione nodded.

“Seeing as you came down to watch us play Quidditch, Hermione,” Ron said suddenly, obviously trying to lighten the mood, “you can take a fly on my broom.”

“Er, Ron, we’d probably get rid of that Bludger first.” Harry reminded him.

“Oh, right, Accio!” Ron struggled with the ball, pushing it back into its place in the box containing the Quidditch balls.

“No. Way.” Hermione said decisively. “I swore that I would never get on a broomstick again.”

Both of them, even Harry, enjoyed immensely the time they spent tormenting Hermione with their broomsticks before dinner.

It was probably a good thing that Harry had been warned about the rumour by Hermione, because he managed to look so disdainful whenever it was raised, that people soon stopped asking him about it directly. Hermione was a great help too, for she would snap at persistent questioners:

“Who do you think he got the antidote from?”

And retorts like that, although effective, Harry found himself more than loath to do. He had no wish to praise or thank Snape in any way, no matter how indirectly. Despite the forewarning, however, Harry got halfway through his dinner, before he pushed it aside. The more people looked at him, or asked stupid questions, or whispered about him, the tighter his stomach, the straighter his back, the more constricted his throat became.

“I can’t take any more of this.” He hissed to Ron. “I’ll see you at Quidditch.”

Ron took a reluctant last look at his plate, and pushed it away, “I’ll go with you.” He told Harry.

“I thought we’d agreed that I was still sane, and not going to try to kill Snape?” He whispered in frustration. “You don’t have to chaperone me or something you know?”

“It’s okay Ron, I’m not hungry.” Hermione said brightly. “You finish up your dinner. I’ll head up with Harry.”

“No, no, it’s fine. Don’t want to eat too much anyway, would weigh down the broomstick.” He replied equally gaily.

Harry looked at them both with an expression of complete exasperation. They both looked back at him with completely innocent smiles; Harry didn’t know whether to curse them or thank them.
________________________________________


The Quidditch tryouts went really well, Harry thought. Ron may have professed to be nervous, and to be fair, he did look a little scared before people started to arrive, but once he got into his stride, he seemed a natural. Ginny was superb as a Chaser, and it took no time whatsoever for her to seem an automatic choice for one of the two vacant spaces, regardless of the other applicants. Ron’s first big decision as captain came with the choice for the third first choice Chaser however, there were two people who were by far a cut above the others. Demelza Robins, a third year, and Dean Thomas.

Harry, who had been surprised that Dean had showed up at all with the Seeker being none other than Harry Potter, the person he blamed for Voldemort’s attack on his family, was also rather impressed from a Quidditch standpoint with how well he worked with the other Chasers – Ginny in particular – finding each other with unerring accuracy. Demelza was very lithe on the other hand, and the way she moved when dodging Bludgers, and the angles she shot from, were both signs of a good player.

“What do you think?” Ron asked Harry. “It’s either Dean or Robins. I’m thinking Robins.”

“I dunno,” Harry told him, “Dean is far better when it comes to teamwork; the way he and your sister combine is quite impressive.”

“That’s okay when they’re still going out, but what if they break up?” Ron said, “I don’t want the whole of the Quidditch team to fall apart because the players suddenly stopped snogging each other.”

Harry grinned. “True.” He allowed.

“I’m going to talk to Dean, I think I’m going to go with Demelza Robins, it’s my gut feeling.”

Harry put an arm out to stop him. “I don’t blame Dean for being annoyed at me. Don’t stop him being Chaser because of me. He can’t mind being around me too much if he wants to be on the Quidditch team, anyway.”

Ron looked at him. “My decision’s still the same, Robins has more potential I think. Dean’ll be first sub though.”

Harry didn’t know what it was Ron said to Dean, but it must have made complete tactical sense, because Dean seemed resigned rather than at all angry, and in fact, he tried out for the position of Beater as well. Some of the others didn’t take rejection quite as well, despite the fact they were streets behind the three chosen Chasers (and Dean) in terms of ability. One seventh year in particular, a guy named Cormac McLaggen, who was so bulky, he looked bigger than Crabbe and Goyle put together, looked furious at being told he wasn’t good enough. (He had earlier been heard boasting that he was a far better Keeper than Ron, and a better Seeker than Harry, and it was only because they were the Captain, and the Captain’s best mate that he wasn’t playing in either of the positions. He seemed, however, to believe that the reserve positions were ‘beneath’ him.)

It was in this second possible crisis that Ron once again came to the fore. The red faced, muscled, behemoth appeared just inches away from Ron’s body, although luckily for Ron, he towered over the older boy, so McLaggen wasn’t quite as intimidating as he had obviously intended to be.

He still snarled at Ron however. “You know quite well I was better than any of that lot flying out there. You just wanted to let your sister fly in the team, didn’t you?”

“I picked the people I believed were best for the position McLaggen, you didn’t make one of the reserves either. Now if you want to try for any of the other positions, I suggest you get out of my face.”

The seventh year pushed Ron backwards with a grunt. “Fine, I’ll show you what a real Beater is like then. I could probably teach you a bit about Keeping come to think about it.”

“Actually, you know what?” Ron said, his ears going red, and walking towards him, “I can tell you right now that you won’t be getting any of the other positions either. Anyone who wants in my team has to be more concerned about the team as a whole than themselves. That means you,” He jabbed his finger at McLaggen’s chest, “have about as much chance of getting on the team as a Slytherin.”

The lout turned, and stormed back up to the castle, broomstick in hand. Harry noticed the rest of the team treated Ron with a new respect after that altercation.

Dean turned out to be a decent Beater as well as Chaser, and although Ron hesitated slightly, he agreed with Harry when he suggested him as one of the two Beaters. The other place was vied for between two boys, Ritchie Coote, and Jimmy Peakes. Coote looked rather wiry, and a bit of an ill build for a Beater, especially as opposed to the younger, but more muscled Peakes, but his accuracy would have made anyone sit up and take notice. Harry and Ron were unanimous. Coote, with Peakes first reserve, Seamus would be second reserve if needed, which, with Dean being the only worthwhile Chaser substitute, was more likely than at first seemed.

With that done with, Harry took the reserve Seeker wannabes – all three of them, slightly surprising considering Harry’s propensity to get injured – on his own, to put them through their paces. Among them was the first year that Katie had recommended, looking rather unhappily at her broom, a school one, and yet seemingly determined to impress. Harry had a quiet word with her before she took off.

“Look, don’t worry about the broom; I know what they’re like. What I’m going to look for from you is how you manage to control it, and how much you can get out of it. If you’re good enough, Ron and I will have a word with Professor McGonagall; see if we can’t bend the rule about first years and broomsticks. She’s done it before.” He winked.

He had been planning on directing them from the ground, using his Omniocculars so that he could judge them as fairly as possible. However, the longer he stood there by himself, the more thoughts of Snape entered his mind, so with a troubled mind, he took to the skies on his Firebolt. One of the three was absolutely useless – a fourth year called Alumyna Terry. Emily Crowley – the first year – was quicker and more agile on the school broom than Alumyna was on her Nimbus. Dennis Creevey was the other trialist, and he was no great shakes either, although he was the best of the lot, if they were to play on their current brooms.

Ron strode over to the half of the pitch where Harry was. Harry swooped down to meet him.

“Any good? My lot were abysmal, worse than me on a bad day.” Ron muttered.

“Not great.” Harry admitted. “The first year looks decent, but you know that rule about first years. Wouldn’t mind seeing her on a decent broom. Otherwise Creevey’s the only one of the other two with any ability at all. Ginny would be better, and Dean as Chaser.”

Ron nodded, then blew his whistle, while Harry summoned the Snitch to his hand. He waited for the three Seekers to return to ground, before saying. “Right guys, good job. The reserve Keeper will be Romilda Vane, the Seekers are nearly done, but Harry wants to see you on my Cleansweep rather than that old school broom, Emily, before making up his mind.”

The first year took the broom with an expression of delight on her face. Ron nodded approvingly as he watched her control the broom and change direction with ease.

“Not bad Harry, what’s she like with the Snitch?”

“Good. Watch.” Harry released the fluttering ball from his grip, and then sped up after it on his Firebolt, He yelled out to the first year, and led her tumbling across the field after it, shepherding the ball into as many awkward manoeuvres as he could. Emily caught the Snitch the first chance she got.

The two other hopefuls looked rather deflated as they returned to the ground. Harry and Ron conferred, but only because they felt they should, the decision was obvious.

“Emily, I’d like you to be the reserve Seeker. We’ll have a word with McGonagall; see if we can get dispensation for you, otherwise, we’ll find some way around the rule.”

That night, before Harry fell asleep, he lay there, trying to push the memory of that afternoon with Snape into a cupboard, as he was still doing when it came to Occlumency. The memory didn’t want to be hidden away somewhere, and so Harry struggled on, thinking desperately that he needed to find some way to improve his Occlumency. He was still struggling with it when he fell asleep.
________________________________________


Harry looked around the pit he was in. He knew this room, the benches, and doorways, the arch; he could probably recall it down to the very last item while conscious, if he ever wanted to. He was dreaming about it. Again. There were two other people in here with him, duelling. Harry heard one of them laugh mockingly at the other.

“Is that all you can do Bellatrix? You can do better than that!”

Short pants interspaced the woman’s slightly manic reply. “You are no match for me, cousin. I am the Dark Lord’s favourite, his Chosen One! He – he has taught me things you couldn’t even imagine! Avada Kedavra!”

Sirius avoided the curse easily. “Oh I can imagine the Killing Curse alright. Why don’t you show me what you’ve got?!”

“NO!” Harry yelled.

He had no wand, but regardless yelled “Falxia!” pointing his hand at Bellatrix’s figure. A flash of crimson light appeared on the Death Eater’s chest. A look of surprise, and then… Both she and Sirius shattered into a thousand pieces of glass, flying across the room, but hitting some invisible barrier in front of Harry.

Silence. There was no mocking laughter, no figure falling through the curtain, no torturer on one of the benches. Just. Silence.

Harry looked around. He was the only one in the room now.

“Sirius?” He questioned nervously. “Sirius, are you there?”

No one replied.

Harry climbed the benches, slowly, sure that someone else would appear in his dream. No one did. He reached towards the handle of a door, the one that led into the reception room, and walked through. It was as if he had just walked into the Arch room, rather than out of it. He stood at the top of the pit, looking down at the empty room before him, door to the entrance of the Department of Mysteries at his back.

Confused, he walked around the room once more, this time reaching for the door handle of the wooden barrier that Dawlish had been behind when Harry had run from the Aurors at Snape’s hearing. He stepped through, this time appearing with the Brain room’s door at his back. This was bizarre. He tried the other doors, each one leading back into the same room he was now standing in.

Finally, Harry lowered himself back down to the pit floor, and climbed up onto the raised dais. He looked at the curtain, the material looked so real. It didn’t just look, as he soon found out when he touched it, its texture, its temperature, everything felt just like it had when Harry had put his finger through.

“This is only a dream.” Harry told himself. “Only a dream, and this is the last one to try.”

He screwed himself up; and walked through the arch.

Harry sat up in the pitch dark, panting, bed sheets falling off his torso. It was while he tried to remember what had happened, listening to his fellow students sleeping peacefully, that it hit him. He knew what his final Sanctuary had to be, the place where he was to store all of his memories, the place where he was to defend his mind above all else. It was the place that Sirius had died.

He felt a surge of elation at his discovery, thinking vengefully that no matter what Snivellus might have said, Occlumency was something he could achieve, if given the right instruction anyway. Let’s face it; Dumbledore was a far better teacher than Snape, after all. And with gleeful thoughts of Snape’s inadequacies, he lay down once more; it would not be his last dream of the night.
________________________________________


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1 comments

neonytssReport

2014-03-29 10:00:01
....aahh were can i find ds story on net...???

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