Don't Get Mad, Get Apathetic.

A/N I've always hated book 5. Took me AGES to get through it. Working with teenagers, I get that some of them become angry at the slightest provocation. But most of them are big shoulder shruggers. What if, somehow, Harry became less angry, less emo, and less invested in 5th year? Starts in hospital wing at end of fourth. Some OOC, some deliberate (and not) oopsies.

Harry looked around the hospital wing – again – with growing disquiet. He was practically wallowing in self-pity, but as another post-cruciatus tremor shook him, he thought he deserved a good sulk.

No matter which way his thoughts turned, trouble awaited.

He didn't have to take his end of year tests, but next year was OWLs. And he was increasingly worried that he had picked inane electives just to please his bully of a "friend," Ronald Bloody Weasley.

Friends. He had none. Maybe Hermione. But maybe she only helped him because he saved her life. Hadn't the Headmaster said something about life debts with the rat? Not that it had stopped the rat from slicing Harry up for some Voldemort soup. Yukk.

Dumbledore didn't ring true, either. Every bloody year, something happened that the Headmaster should have known about, should have prevented. Maybe, just maybe the dementors from last year were excusable. Maybe, even with all his grand-poobah powers and titles, the Headmaster couldn't stand up for an innocent man and require a trial for that man, instead forcing two 13 year olds to do the dirty work.

But how could he not put together what Hermione put together in second? A muggleborn with less than 2 years education could put the pieces together faster than Dumbledore? And what about first year? How could he bring a bloody Philosopher's Stone – dark lord bait if there ever was any – into a school? Again, maybe, just maybe it was all coincidence.

But this year, this year topped it. Wasn't Moody supposed to be among the Headmaster's besties? Dumbledore never noticed that it was some death eater under polyjuice? And what was with that look of joy when Harry admitted that his own blood was used in the resurrection stew? Harry knew how to watch adults – what the look in their eyes meant.

Speaking of asshole adults: Yet again, he'd be going to Privet Drive. And wow, they were sure to treat him well after the Margesplosion of last summer. He'd be lucky to get a meal a day and forced hard labor.

What was he going to do?

He noticed then that hot chocolate had appeared on the tray next to his table. He smiled. Hogwarts never let him down. Or rather, the elves of Hogwarts never let him down.


He stopped mid-cup-lift. The warmth of the steam off the cocoa tickled his nose as he argued with his conscience.

Then, he realized there was no argument.

Checking to make sure he was alone, he gently called, "Winky?"

The elf popped to him, staggered a little, but looked at him with weary, desperate eyes.

"Little wizard calls Winky?"

"Winky, do you have a home yet?"

"Winky is still being disgraced elf," she confirmed, her eyes watering.

"Winky, I don't have a home of my own, but I would love for you to be a part of my family if it will help you."

Her eyes, impossibly, seemed to widen. "Harry Potter would take elf of family that tried to kill him?"

Harry looked straight at her. "Harry Potter would be proud to have such a stalwart, honest, hard-working elf in his family."

Winky started to cry, and Dobby appeared. He looked at Harry with shock. "Great Harry Potter woulds not hurt Winky elf?" he stated/asked.

"Harry Potter asks Winky to join Potter family," Winky managed to weep.

Dobby looked, if possible, proud and sad at the same time. Harry had an idea.

"Dobby, I know you work for Hogwarts, but if you ever need a home, you have one with me. You know that, right?"

Dobby bounced. "Great Harry Potter knows that Dobby is Free Elf. Dobby works for Beardy Headmaster. But Dobby thanks Great Harry Potter. Dobby thinks Winky would be great Winky Potter and bes making sure that Great Harry Potter eats and gets clothes without holsies in them."

Winky sobered then, and looked closer at her new wizard. She nodded. "Wes do bond, then I's start to fixes you up, Master Harry Potter."

The elves took him through the bond, and he could feel her, there in his magic.

"Ooh, Harry Potter has strong magics." Her eyes grew luminous with wonder, and the markings of the butterbeer and other trauma of the year started to disappear from her.

"I have one last favor, Winky. We have to keep our bond a secret."

"Harry Potter is ashamed of Winky," she said sadly, losing some of her confidence.

"Not a chance! But first off, I live with muggles. And they HATE magic. Everything to do with magic."

"Great Harry Potter speaks truth. When Dobby tried to saves Great Harry Potter by doing magics, bad muggles locked Great Harry Potter in room like it was bad dementory place."

Winky huffed with disdain. "Winky elf be fixing yous room. Will still look like bad place to bad muggles, but will be good for little wizard."

Knowing that Winky had cared for Barty Crouch Junior, nursing him back from near death to robust health, Harry trusted that his room at Privet Prison would be quite acceptable.

"The second reason is my friend, Hermione," both elves flinched at the mention of the Knitting Horror. "She won't understand. And if anyone knows, she'll find out."

Winky nodded in understanding. She had a wizard, and he needed help. "Winky be starting on fixing yous room. Yous need to study like good wizard."

"Oh, that might be a problem. My uncle always confiscates my books and things. I might be able to get my books, but inks, quills, and that stuff don't hold up to shrink charms very well."

Winky smiled, slyly. She popped out. Harry turned to Dobby.

"Are you okay with this, Dobby? I would have offered you a place, but I think you like being a free elf? You can tell me the truth."

Dobby looked at Harry as solemnly as Dobby could. "Winky elf like being in family, Harry Potter Sir. Winky family good to Winky." Dobby didn't state that had not been the case for him at the Malfoy house. Then, his head tipped to the side. "Winky elf be calling me to help her fix up Great Harry Potter's room." He popped out, leaving Harry with a cooling cup of chocolate and a much better outlook.

The school year ended with Harry in almost complete isolation. Whenever Hermione or Ron wanted to talk with him, Ron would demand details of the third task and Hermione would hush Ron and they'd fight.

And Harry was just tired of it all. He was, in fact, tired all of the time. Of all the injuries he'd sustained in his short life, this one seemed to take more out of him. Maybe it was because this time, he'd lost. Cedric was dead. He'd been too slow, too stupid to figure it all out.

He spent the train ride back as he'd spent the last week: asleep. He missed seeing Ron's jealous and petulant expression every time someone tried to talk to Harry but left the compartment when they saw Potter asleep. Being the sidekick didn't count for much when the main attraction was out of commission.

Even Hermione read a book instead of talking to Ron.

When the pulled into King's Cross station, Harry stood and stretched, grabbing his trunk and Hermione's. He cooed to Hedwig as Hermione took both the owl and the cat with her. He felt that his owl would be safer away from his relatives, and Hermione agreed. She'd send him a message in a day, and Hedwig would stay or not, depending on the atmosphere. But there'd be no cage to lock his girl in, not this summer.

Harry's hands still shook a little as he carried the heavy trunks, but otherwise, he was well on the road to recovery, he thought. After dropping Hermione's trunk off with her parents and greeting them respectfully, he made his way to his uncle, who was waiting not-so-patiently as far from platform 9 and ¾ as he could get whilst still being in the station.

His uncle greeted him with a grunt. The ride to Little Whinging was tense, with Vernon suspiciously eyeing Harry in the rearview mirror. When they pulled into the drive, Harry pulled his trunk from the boot and walked into the house.

"Trunk," his aunt commanded, pointing at the cupboard under the stairs. Harry began to put the trunk in, thanking heavens he'd at least got the twins to shrink his books and

parchment to have in his room.

"Where's the bird, freak?" his cousin taunted.

"Staying with a friend," Harry answered, dully.

As he moved to the stairs, his uncle blocked his way. Putting his hand out, with a gleam in his eye, Vernon demanded:


They were demanding his wand. Harry knew he had no choice. He was even more glad now that he had bonded with Winky before school ended. He'd be helpless – possibly even dead – without her help. Handing over his wand without protest, he headed toward the stairs.

"Boy, you will earn your keep this summer. Every day, you will tend one neighborhood lawn. Then you will be given your meal. You will be allotted one shower a week. Otherwise, you will stay in your room. Any questions?"

Not bothering to answer, Harry just shook his head and continued up the stairs. There were four locks on the door and a cat flap in the bottom.

He was truly in prison now.

Looking into the room, he could see that the bars had been replaced at the windows. It was not surprising, but incredibly depressing, nonetheless. He was very glad that he'd sent Hedwig home with Hermione so that she could write the first letter. He didn't know exactly how he'd even get mail through those bars.

But as he stepped into the room, it all looked different. Felt different.

Felt wonderful.

Closing the door before his relatives could see a positive change in his posture, he heard the locks engage but couldn't find it in him to care.

Gone was the broken bed frame, the sagging, moldy mattress, the chipped desk and crooked bookshelf.

In their place were pristine examples of furniture made of warm wood. The bedding looked soft and comforting, the leather desk chair looked inviting. The desk had upon it all of the things he'd need to complete his schoolwork and more. Beside the desk was a stand with a small pensieve on it, and below that were shelves of memories. He wondered at them, as well as the set of muggle weights and exercise mat in the other corner of the room. The entire place was clean, bright, and inviting.

In fact, the room looked much bigger on the inside than on the out, rather like Mr. Weasley's tent.

"Winky?" Harry whispered. He heard her pop in.

"Master Harry be calling Winky?"

Harry bent down, and for the first time in his life, he initiated a hug. "Thank you, thank you so much. You have saved my life."

Winky patted at her wizard's back, noticing how thin he was. This would not do. Master Harry Potter was still sickly and needed to be seeing a healer. She told him as much.

"They've locked me in," Harry jerked a thumb at the door and nodded at the bars on the windows.

Winky thought for a minute then smiled. "Winky be popping you."

Before he asked, he thought. A pop was the sound the elves made when they traveled. He would be traveling by elf.

Couldn't be any worse than the other methods of magical travel. But before he went anywhere, he wanted to make sure Winky hadn't pulled a Dobby and done something that would eventually come back to haunt Harry.

"Where did all this stuff come from, Winky?"

"Well, Winky's old masters not be needing their stuff anymore. Theys both be deads." She looked down, sad for a minute. "But old snakeface not be needing Mr. Crouch's things. Winky and Dobby be taking furniture and all of Mr. Crouch's books and parchment and things," she pointed to a humped-back trunk that Harry would later find to be a multi-compartment trunk, holding all of the Crouch home contents. "Also, old master got the pensievey thing for young master, to keep him happy. Vials have things for wizard to learn. And muggle exercise equipment was to help young master get strong again. Winky thought Master Harry could use that."

"Thank you so much, Winky! You are so smart! I can use that, especially as I won't be allowed out, except to do yard work." Winky almost growled in disapproval.

"Winky, where did the things go that were in this room? And how is it that the muggles can't see this?"

"Oh," she answered, almost nonchalantly for an elf, "Winky put fakey picture on door so muggles see what muggles want to see. Have to be wizard and in room to see the real thing." Harry took that to mean that she had disguised the changes with an illusion.

"Will the ministry know you are doing magic here? Will any wizard or witch know?"

"Dobby elf helped Winky elf. Elf magic can change room back like that," she snapped, "and these Crouch things will pack away. And bad mugglesie things reappear."

Harry grinned. "Excellent!" He pulled a small package from underneath his baggy shirt. "Winky, can you unshrink my school books? I had a feeling that they would pull a stunt like this,"

"Why doesn't Harry Potter unshrink himself? Ministry not see undoing charm."

"They took my wand."

This time, Winky did growl. She tapped the package, and the books all returned to normal size.

"Bad muggleses should not be taking wizard wand. That is wrong."

"I know it is, Winky, but it's their house. Their rules. I have no choice."

"Winky will see. Winky will just see. Now, we go see healer. Give you new face first so no one knows Great Harry Potter not in prison."

Not taking no for an answer, Winky snapped at Harry's face then popped Harry directly to the lobby of St. Mungos. Harry looked around, seeing the strange differences and similarities to a normal hospital. He'd had to visit once, when Dudley's gang had beaten him until he had a compound fracture.

Winky guided him to patient intake. "This is Master. He hurt bad at work. Winky elf want to make sure he all better."

Harry smiled apologetically to the intake person. "She's protective." He shrugged. The man at intake did not seem to recognize Harry, so Winky's 'fakey picture' on Harry must be working. The gentleman just saw a wizard.

"Name?" he asked in a bored tone.

"James Evans," Harry replied. It wasn't great, but was the best pseudonym he could come up with on such short notice.

"Medical history?" the question was one Harry wasn't willing to answer in the middle of a lobby.

"Will be disclosed only to my healer," he said, with what he hoped was patience. This brought an annoyed scowl to the clerk's face.

"Payment scheme?" the clerk tersely asked.

"I have a Gringott's key, as well as several galleons," Harry answered.

The clerk looked him up and down. "Better be yours, lad. The goblins will take more than your hand for theft."

"Well, that'll be my problem, won't it?" Harry answered, sick of the man and not really wanting to see a healer. But he wouldn't hurt Winky's feelings, and she was dead set on him seeing a healer.

"Go to room 5, on the left. Healer Jacobson will be with you." Already, the bored visage was back on the clerk. He obviously dealt with rude people on a regular basis.

Harry went to room 5, wishing he'd brought something to read. There were a few copies of the latest Prophet, and he had time to thoroughly study them before his healer came to his room.

What he read bothered him. It looked as though the Prophet was picking up the line that Harry was lying, or worse, was delusional about what happened in the last event of the tournament. It would be bad enough if they stuck to that, but they seemed to be mentioning him at other times in stories, making fun of him.

Poking at the experience he'd had as though it were some sort of big joke.

As if Cedric's death was some big joke.

He was getting angrier and angrier and by the time the healer appeared, Harry just wanted to leave. He wanted nothing to do with this insane world of magic that thought it could just wish away evil.

That had done them so much good 15 years prior.

He took a deep breath, reminding himself that the non magical world was, for him, just as bad. Perhaps it was his fate to constantly be the statue, not the pigeon. Besides, this visit was for the little elf. He could suck it up for another hour.

"Hello, young man. I'm Healer Jacobson." Holding out a hand, the tall, thin man with stone-gray hair and a clean chin smiled at Harry.

"Sir," Harry answered. "Ummmm…" The healer raised an eyebrow. "Ok, here it is. In the muggle world, doctors are not allowed to discuss anything about a patient without the patient's permission. Call it doctor-patient privilege. Do you have that? Or would you be willing to take an oath not to betray my secrets?"

"So long as you've done nothing illegal that requires me to report to the aurors, then what happens in a healing room stays between us."

"Okay, then," Harry sighed. "Winky, can you put my appearance back to normal, please?" Snapping, Winky did as Harry asked.

The healer's eyes widened slightly. "James Evans. James Potter and Lily Evans. You are Harry Potter, I see. I knew your grandfather, slightly. Was the attending when he and Dorothea died of dragon pox. You look a bit like Charlus, though I see some of your grandmother in the shape of your face. Your eyes, though, must be from the Evans side?"

"So I'm told," Harry stated quietly. The healer frowned slightly, then straightened.

"So, what can I do for you today?" He asked.

"Master Harry Potter not healthy," Winky stated, then stood back and lowered her head.

"Go ahead, Winky. It's okay. You're my friend; you can tell," Harry encouraged.

"Master Harry Potter has weak bonses, not enough meat on them. And bads wizards did bads things to him. And big snakey bites him. And mean muggles not feed him. Master Harry Potter needs healing. More healing that Winky elf can do alone," though she almost felt guilty admitting it, she wanted her new wizard to live and live well.

Jacobson nodded, his face blank. "I'll be doing some basic checks on you first, if that's ok?" Harry nodded.

The healer waved his wand this way and that. A quill automatically wrote on parchment next to him. He looked at it, then at Harry, then waved his wand some more.

"Well, the news isn't all bad. I see that most of your bones are being repaired – and the malnutrition is being addressed – by the Hogwarts mediwitch. Her potions are in your system. It would be beneficial to continue the regimen through the summer, along with daily exercise. I'll make sure the potions are available to your elf before you leave. The snake bite has been treated to the best of anyone's ability – phoenix tears? I assume from Dumbledore's phoenix? You're a lucky young man. Your glasses are now of the self-correcting sort. Did she tell you she switched them for you? I would guess not by your look of surprise. Poppy is an excellent healer. The nerve endings are slowly repairing from the cruciatus. The acromantula venom counteracted the beginning treatment, so I'll add a few more of the nerve regen potions, too.

"The curse, however, worries me," he muttered, waving his wand again.

The calm reassurance Harry had felt that Madame Pomphrey had really been helping him vanished with those words.

"Curse, sir?"

"Hmm? Yes. Curse. Around that lightning bolt scar of yours. It's too much for a healer to cope with. If I were you," he looked at both Harry and Winky, "I'd hie my way over to Gringotts and hire a curse breaker. They might be able to get it off of you. Might not, but they'd have a better shot than most."

Winky nodded. The healer folded up a piece of parchment and spelled it to the apothecary. "I've already put in the order for enough potions for the summer. Surprised that Poppy doesn't send them with you, but again, she might think those 'mean muggles' won't let you have them. So, Madame Elf, if you pick them up at your convenience. Mention my and Mr. Evans names."

"Where do I pay my bill, sir?" Harry asked, relieved that the checkup had been so quick.

"Don't you worry, young man. It's little enough I can do for Charlus's grandson. We, none of us, knew where Dumbledore had stashed you. Kept you alive, he did, but not as safe as we all would have liked. You take care of this young man, Madame Elf," he stated with a kind smile, addressing Winky.

"Winky do," she stated, then, after changing Harry's appearance back to that of James Evans, she popped Harry to the entrance to Gringotts.

"Winky, do we have to do this now?" Harry asked, feeling fatigue weigh him down, again.

"Curse bad for young wizard. We get you in with Goblins and then I go get your potions and take them back to evil muggleses house."

He couldn't argue with her, not with that strong, stern set to her face. He'd never seen Winky so stubborn before.

He had no idea that she was acting just as an elf needed to act. Elves, symbiotic creatures that they are, know what their masters want. Usually, it was subservience. But in Harry's case, it was a caretaker. A mother. And, though Winky had never been allowed elflings of her own, she knew almost innately what Harry needed.

Upon entering the lobby, Harry's disguise fell. But as there was no line, there were no humans to see Harry Potter in Gringotts.

"Next," a teller tersely commanded.

"I'd like to inquire about the possibility of hiring a curse breaker."

The goblin looked up for the first time. The human had said something of interest. Possibly even of great humor.

"Why, human child, would you need a curse breaker?" it asked.

"Sir, a healer just told me this," Harry indicated the scar on his forehead, "has a curse in it. Human healers cannot address it. I was informed that if anyone could, it would be goblin curse breakers. I apologize if this is untrue and I have wasted your time."

"Wait," the goblin commanded. He stepped away from his booth and moved to another goblin. That one stared at Harry across the lobby. The two came back and the second ordered Harry, "Follow."

Harry followed the goblin down the line of tellers, then was pulled through a door into an office.

"I am Gemfinder. You are Harry Potter. Yes?"

"Yes," Harry confirmed, keeping his gaze steady and not squirming or elaborating. He had a feeling that goblins were no nonsense. If they had a question, he'd answer. They knew what he wanted. If they could help him, they would.

"You say there is a curse in your scar," the goblin again stated.

"I have been told this by a healer. Healer Jacobson, if that means anything," Harry answered.

"It does. Jacobson is not bad, for a human." Still, the goblin studied Harry. Still, Harry sat, tired, but trying desperately not to show any emotion.

"The fee for the curse breaker is not a set fee. It will be ten galleons for analysis. From there, we will haggle for cost."

Harry had just over ten on him, so he nodded in agreement. He would be able to refresh his pouch since he was here, anyhow.

"That's acceptable to me. When can we do this?" Harry asked.

"No time like the present, wizard. We have a curse team here on break from a South American dig. No humans on this team, so you're in luck," Gemfinder commented with what Harry believed must be a grin. Considering how humans on both sides of the magic line had treated him, he agreed with Gemfinder.

"I thank you," Harry replied, still with little emotion.

Gemfinder rang a bell and another goblin came in the room. After a few grunts and other alien sounds, the smaller of the goblins ran back out. "My nephew will get the room ready. I shall escort you there after you pay."

Harry pulled out his pouch and produced his key and some galleons. "Which method of payment would you prefer, sir?"

"The key, as it can only be used by account holders and will verify your identity," he stated, as though speaking the obvious to an idiot. Harry's brow knotted as the goblin produced the bill for 10G. He put his key down on it, and his name appeared next to the total as it turned black – paid in full.

"You have a question, wizard?"

"Yes, sir, but I do not wish to waste your time."

"Ask," the goblin growled impatiently.

"I am not usually allowed to come to Gringotts myself. Two of the four times I've required funds, Mrs. Weasley, my friend's mum, has taken my key and gotten money out. How can she do that?"

"Ah, Curse Breaker Weasley's mother is trusted. If there were any misappropriation of funds under her name, she would lose her home and her son. She knows this, so she has a certain amount of trust."

"She certainly has my trust, sir," Harry confirmed. Indeed, he had looked at his accounts ledgers quite seriously this last year, seeing if he had enough money to just run away. He'd confirmed that the Potter fortune had had interest added and only Hogwarts tuition (as well as his few withdrawals) taken out. With the "boy who lived" crap adding quite nicely to the Potter fortune, he did have enough money to live, quite comfortably. But if he left without passing OWLS, he'd have no access to those funds, even though they were made in his name.

The world just wasn't fair.

The smaller goblin came back into the office. "Go now with Goldfang. He will take you to Wymran, the lead curse breaker, for analysis." As Harry left the room, Gemfinder didn't even acknowledge his parting.

The room he was escorted to was cold and dank, with only a stone table in the center. He felt that perhaps he was being sacrificed to an Old God or something, but decided to trust the goblins. Winky could probably pop him out if it got too bad. Except, Winky wasn't in here with him. She'd gone back to St. Mungos to get his potions and pop them to Privet Hell.

Harry was on his own. Again.

"Sit," commanded the new goblin. Obviously, they'd all gone to the same school of manners and deportment. These goblins really knew how to make a lad feel comfortable and at home.

Careful not to snicker at his internal thoughts, Harry sat. The goblin pulled a knife and jabbed sharply at Harry.

Harry sat stone still, calmly ignoring the goblin.

He had no idea that the maneuver had just won him the respect of Wymran. Grunting, the goblin began to chant. His knife glowed and Harry's scar ached.

After a few moments, the goblin grunted again.

"You have a curse in that scar, wizard. Darkest of magics. Soul piece. We can remove. Will cost between 200 and 500 G, depending on how much it fights."

500 Galleons was a fortune. It was more than most people made in a year.

But a soul piece? It could only be Riddle's. And Harry wanted nothing of Riddle in his body. Had he not been bone-deep exhausted, Harry would probably have shown more emotion. As it was, he just wanted shot of Voldemort.

"I'll pay. Rather, the Boy Who Lived will pay. Let's get this done."

It took another few minutes for all of the curse breakers to get into place. Then, they began to chant. Harry took the time to focus on how much he wanted Riddle gone, how much he wanted Riddle dead. The scar began to glow a green-black. Ichor began to leak from it as Harry's head became a supernova of pain. But then, as quickly as it had begun, the chanting stopped. Wymran again came at Harry with his knife, not stopping this time. He pushed just the tip of the blade, which had been doused with basilisk venom, into the scar.

The reaction was cataclysmic.

The soul fragment came screeching out of the scar, and the scar bled freely. The soul shard looked for a place to hide, another soul to leech off of, and it changed direction quite suddenly, aiming toward the bowels of the great bank. Aiming for another like soul piece.

One of the goblins tagged the shade, and they followed that shade to the vault of the LeStrange family.

One of the rules of the goblin bank was that no one was to hold dark artifacts there without permission. The LeStrange family had not got permission. The goblin grinned – a visage that would strike terror into the heart of any human that saw it.

Meanwhile, Harry sat, the gash in his forehead bleeding freely, wondering what was going on. His head felt more free – more his than it had felt in… ever. The partial possession had apparently worn on him in ways he couldn't imagine. As days passed and his magic grew, his mind cleared, and his emotions balanced, he would look back on the days at the end of his fourth year in a sort of detached wonder.

The goblins discussed amongst themselves. How much to charge the wizard? They could charge him the full 500, but he had acted with honor. And they would be confiscating a vault worth at least ten times that, almost certainly more.

Catching his breath, Harry stood and was guided back to Gemfinder's office. It had been only half an hour since the start of the ritual.

Yet it had been a lifetime.

"You have been through battle, young wizard. Young warrior," he corrected himself. The boy had battled the spirit, according to the team, making their job very easy. And he had not once even moaned. "You have battled well and there has been much profit."

Harry dipped his head, acknowledging the compliment, but somehow feeling it would be best to say nothing.

"The discovery of the… leech in your scar has been of great profit to the Nation. It has allowed us to confiscate a vault of high worth and has led to the discovery of treasure thought lost. For this reason, we are willing to charge you only 100 galleons for the cleansing. Additionally, as acknowledgement of the gift you have, unknowingly, given us, we have given one in return. The several locator spells and other tags and malicious spells that were on your person have been moved to this leather band," he pointed out a bracer on Harry's wrist. He wondered when they had placed it on him. "It will also absorb any other spells of the same ilk. When you wish to be… anonymous, simply remove the band. Yes?"

Harry's mind was agog at the idea of spells – plural – on him. But now, he had some semblance of control. "I thank you, Gemfinder. This day has been… mutually profitable. Please present the bill that I might fulfill my end of our bargain."

Once again, parchment was presented. Once again, Harry's key paid the bill. After visiting his vault to withdraw more coins and exchanging some of those coins for pounds, Harry called to Winky to pop him home.

He was exhausted, but that night, he slept, and did not dream.

The summer months were hot. Hot and dry. Though he'd sent out some mail – thank yous to the goblins and Healer Jacobson, particularly, he didn't expect correspondence from them in return. Indeed, he got no mail, but it was not the first time that had happened. He suspected that Dumbledore had a mail block on him – as he'd never received Boy Who Lived fan mail, he expected he owed Dumbledore a great deal for the protection. But sometimes, what mail he did get went missing. Dobby stole it all his second year.

This summer was a different story.

Hermione's initial note had come and been full of concern but no real news. He'd written back, asking if she'd heard anything. At the same time, he wrote to Ron. He'd written to his friends for news and they wrote back with nonsense. He gave up after two rounds of that, and from that point on, he ignored their "letters," and simply told Hedwig to visit when she liked, but to stay with Hermione if she pleased.

So his isolation would have been absolute and complete… had it not been for Winky. She popped him to a gym in Greater Winging every morning at 5 and most evenings also. He took classes in weight training and martial arts and yoga; he worked out on machines and he swam. And he met people who didn't know him, or his reputation, so they were willing to help. Eventually, there was an almost quiddich-team type camaraderie for Harry at the gym, and he was having the best summer of his short life.

He'd told them some of his history, adapted, of course, for muggles. His dad had been a cop, and crossed the wrong gang of thugs. When he was a child, the leader of that group targeted his family and killed his parents. He attended a private school, but the gang was powerful and had sent enforcers after him, so he needed to defend himself.

So, he learned practical defense – he was getting really good with a slingshot, which was a weapon that had been underestimated since Biblical times – and he could dodge and run away with the best of them. Of course, he'd had lessons on that all his life, thanks to Dudley the Beluga.

He also mowed lawns and weeded flower beds, daily. Not that much grew in this drought. But the Dursleys were anxious he give them their pound of flesh, so they rented him out far and wide.

A side result of the exercise, full meals, and potions regimen was that his body was finally, fully recovering from the abuses of the past. He was whole and strong and actually growing.

Not only did his physical body blossom that summer; Harry's mind, now free of outside influence, was allowed to reach its potential. When he wasn't working, he was studying. Barty Crouch had books from every level for all the Hogwarts courses and lots of things besides. He even had accompanying memories of lectures on both magical and non magical courses. Harry was teaching himself – he felt more clarity of mind than he ever had, and he wondered how much that soul shard affected his mind.

He'd revised all of his Hogwarts courses and written to Professor McGonagall to drop the travesty known as divination. He wanted to test to see if he could take runes or arithmancy, instead. Both seemed to come very easily to him, now, and he felt, if he continued at his current pace, that by the end of summer he could test into at least the 4th level, if not 5th. And he wanted to take all of the OWLS – even divination and muggle studies. He felt the more tests he took, the more likely it was he would pass one, which was all he needed to get out of Dodge.

He also took the time to try to catch up on normal classes. He'd had Winky pop him to a bookstore and he'd gotten all of the homeschooling books he could. He was lucky that the muggles were very supportive of homeschooling. He just needed to take the GCSE's in order to qualify for sixth form. Not that that would be an easy task. But his newly freed brain seemed to get the gist of the maths and sciences, and he'd never minded reading (no matter that he'd not been as good at it before as he was now). He might not make the summer, but he should be able to take the test before he turned 17. One year lost was not horrific – he'd be able to claim he'd been ill. St. Mungos would provide documentation, he was sure. He'd sent Winky with a letter to Healer Jacobson, just to confirm. She returned with a packet of muggle-acceptable documents that he could use for the purpose.

Sometimes being a "boy hero" had its perks.

The only problem was that he still had the occasional nightmare from the third task. But even those did not weigh on him as they had before the cleansing ritual. Also, on Winky's advice, he had started studying occlumency: a method of clearing his mind and protecting it from invasion. It helped Harry in many ways. He could understand new information more quickly, he had better recall and a longer attention span, and, mostly, it helped him control what emotional upheaval he still sometimes suffered.

It was one evening in late July when he was practicing occlumency that he felt it: the cold, the ice cold and debilitating terror of the dementors.

Part of his mind argued that dementors could not possibly be in Surrey, but then he saw Winky's face.

"Master Harry Potter, sir, the bad things. The bad creatures…" She froze, pulling in on herself. He wanted to ask her to get his wand for him, but she was gone. She could no more get his wand than pop herself to safety.

"It'll be okay, Winky," Harry reassured the shivering, catatonic elf, while he, himself, wondered how it could be. He didn't trust the wards that Dumbledore said protected him while he was in residence on Privet Drive. But, without his wand, he really was as helpless as the muggles on the street.

Why, oh why, hadn't he had Winky steal his wand before? He'd asked once, if she could find his wand for him, and she had not answered or looked him in the eye. It took him a while to remember what had happened the last time she'd stolen a wand.

He hadn't asked again.

Suddenly, he heard his aunt scream for Dudley. He tried to yell; tried to warn his relatives to stay inside. He stood at his window and screamed for everyone to stay inside.

They didn't listen.

Eventually, the cold disappeared. The dementors were gone. The wards had held. But with the screaming outside, he assumed his troubles were just beginning.

"Winky, I want you to put the room back. Only my few things should stay – any books that I've been studying from should stay, and parchment, quills, or ink from my trunk should come up here. Take my broom, cloak, photo album, and map, too. I have a feeling visitors are coming."

"Winky do. Will wait for word at Hoggywarts with Dobby. Okay, Master Harry Potter?"

"Perfect, Winky. Keep yourself safe," he commanded. She nodded, snapping her fingers. The change was immediate. Gone was his safe haven of the last two months. In its place was the hovel he originally thought would be his prison.

It was a long quarter of an hour before he heard the bolts on his door moving. He paced the room like a caged tiger.

"Harry Potter?" called a commanding voice. "This is the auror force. Put down any weapons or prepare to be taken down with force."

Harry simply stood at his barred window, looking at the door. It exploded inward and two men and a woman in long, drab overcoats came into the room, covering each other.

Harry felt like he was in some sort of spy thriller. It wasn't very thrilling, though. Dead scary, but not thrilling.

"Harry Potter, you are under arrest for the suspicion of doing dark magic," began the first auror.

"Whoa, hold on, sir. I don't even have a wand. How am I supposed to do magic? I've been in my room – locked in as you very well know. I was studying," here, he pointed to his potions text open on the chipped desk, "when I felt the chill of the dementors."

"What do you know about dementors, kid?" the female asked.

"They were placed on Hogwarts grounds to protect us from Sirius Black my third year, ma'am," Harry answered respectfully. He was using his fledgling occlumency overtime. He wanted nothing more than to shout back at these intruders who were accusing him of horrid things. But it was in his interest to stay calm.

"Auror Jennings," the female filled in, looking around the squalid room. This is where the Great Harry Potter lived? Something was seriously wrong here.

"Mr. Potter," the third auror chimed in, cutting off the first speaker, who looked as though he was about to shout at Harry again. "I'm Auror Shacklebolt. Could you explain to us the occurrences of this evening?"

"Auror Shacklebolt? It's as I told your partner, Auror…" he waited until Shacklebolt provided him with the first auror's name: Dawlish. "It's as I told Auror Dawlish. I was sitting here, as I do in the evenings. Studying. I felt the cold first, then the despair. I shouted to my relatives to stay inside, as Headmaster Dumbledore has insisted that this is the safest place for me. I assumed he put some sort of protection here. He must have. The dementors never came in here, though they did hover outside for at least a minute or more. It felt like an eternity," he breathed, truthfully.

"Anyway, my relatives didn't stay inside. I heard them screaming, then I heard nothing, then I heard one of the neighbors scream. I have no idea what happened, as I couldn't get out of the room."

"Bollocks," Dawlish responded. "You know alohamora, and word is out that you can do a patronus. You just let your relatives die, like the Diggory kid, eh?"

Harry never wanted to lash out more than he did now. But he simply washed all emotion from his face, staring at Auror Dawlish coldly. "As I believe I stated earlier, I do not have possession of my wand. My uncle does not like 'freakish' things in his house. I've been able to sneak a few books from my old bedroom downstairs when I've come in from doing chores, but my wand is in a safe in his room. I have no access to his bedroom, sir." The last sir was said with just enough hesitance and disdain that the Auror himself blushed with the recrimination.

"I'll confirm," Shacklebolt stated. "Dawlish, go out and hold the scene for the evidence team. Jennings, stay with the kid."

The two men left the room, leaving Jennings with Harry. "Ma'am," he started, quietly, "Can you tell me what happened?"

"Either someone did soul magic, or there were rogue dementors. At least six muggles lost their souls tonight. Without magic, their shells die instantaneously."

Harry swallowed, hard. He didn't like his relatives, but he'd never wanted this for them. "My aunt, uncle… cousin?" he asked, quietly.

"All among the confirmed dead, Mr. Potter. I'm sorry." She stated quietly.

Harry looked down at his hands. Could he have done more? Could he have had Winky get his wand? She had a real aversion to wands since the last time she'd held one, she'd been given clothes. He couldn't ask her to steal his wand back. And tonight, she'd been just as affected by the dementors as anyone; he didn't think he could have gotten her to steal his wand if he'd tried. She wouldn't have left his side.

But it didn't stop him regretting that he hadn't tried.

As he sat, wallowing in regret, Kingsley Shacklebolt searched around the house. He made his way to the obvious master bedroom: there, in a small safe, was Harry Potter's wand. He had checked the safe carefully; there was no evidence that Potter had ever been near the safe. There was an opulent yet unused bedroom, another muggle teen bedroom, and the tiny bedroom Potter obviously used. The door sported four locks on the outside and a catflap in the bottom. Potter was a prisoner of the muggles. He decided to find the rest of Potter's things and search the rest of the house while he was at it. What he found disgusted him. There was no evidence of Potter living in the house at all, except for the second floor cage. There was no bedroom on the first floor and none in the basement that he could tell. Deciding to try one last time, Shacklebolt performed a pointme spell for Harry's trunk. He found the boot cupboard under the stairs. At first, he thought that Potter was lying, had to be exaggerating. Then he noticed the little writing on the wall: "I am not Freak. I am Harry." With growing dread, Kingsley performed the spell for blood trace, and the cupboard lit up like Christmas.

Potter has always been a prisoner in this house.

Kingsley felt sick. Dumbledore had put the child here for protection (which, given the fact that dementors couldn't get in, obviously worked to some degree), but at what cost? What had been done to the Boy Who Lived? Given the attitude of Fudge's pet auror, Dawlish, Kingsley wasn't sure what awaited the boy wizard. While the obviously aggressive auror wasn't in the house, Shacklebolt took a load of evidence. He was going straight to the top with this. Too many people had failed this kid. He wouldn't.

He brought the trunk up to the boy's "room."

"Pack up your things, Mr. Potter. We've got your wand. Child wizarding services will place you somewhere tonight."

As Harry packed his books – which was about all he had in the room – and the spare sets of Dursley clothes, he took a moment to be glad that he had sent his most precious possessions away. The attitude of the other two aurors made him hope against hope that the rest of his things wouldn't be too abused. Jennings, meanwhile, was stunned by the state of clothes that Potter carefully packed. They were one step up from rags and several sizes too big for the boy. Something was terribly amiss here. She was rapidly re-thinking her initial conclusions about the kid. He wasn't a spoiled brat, and he didn't seem, as the papers said, to be a delusional attention-whore.

He looked more and more like a normal wizard who just happened to be an abused kid. When she'd been sent on this mission, she'd wanted to bring this kid who thought himself so much above wizarding law down. Now, she wasn't so sure.

Just when Harry finished closing the latch, another set of footsteps came up the stairs.

Dumbledore walked in the room, looking sad and aggrieved.

"Harry, oh, Harry. What has happened?"

Harry looked at the headmaster. He didn't know what to think. On one hand, the wards had held. On the other, he'd had quite enough of the mushroom treatment, thank you very much. So, he decided on a political answer.

"Auror Jennings, am I allowed to speak to Headmaster Dumbledore?"

Jennings wasn't an avid fan of Dumbledore, especially given that he'd just been booted from the Wizengamot, but she did have a certain respect for the old wizard.

"Mr. Dumbledore, Mr. Potter's relatives were rendered soulless by undetermined magics. Though Mr. Potter was not in possession of his wand at the time, and a search of his things finds no secondary focus, he has not been fully cleared of this situation. Additionally, as his guardians are now deceased, Mr. Potter will need to be placed by WCS this evening."

"That will not be necessary. I have acted as Mr. Potter's guardian in the magical world and will continue to do so. I will be taking him with me to another safe house."

"You can do that AFTER he's been officially questioned at the ministry, Mr. Dumbledore. I'm afraid that has to be the situation. This situation demands instant questioning, sir," Dawlish joined in. When he had come back, Harry didn't know. But it looked as though he had it in for Harry.

Surprise, surprise.

Dumbledore didn't like it; that much was obvious. But his hands were tied. "Harry, my boy, I will take your things to the safe house and meet with you at the ministry. Try not to let your temper get the better of you before I get there, eh?" Dumbledore smiled wanly, then startled, looking at Harry's brow.

The scar was thin, white, and almost healed. This was a strange portent, and Dumbledore did not know what it meant.

Dumbledore took the trunk and left the house, getting beyond the wards before turning on his heel and apparating out.

Harry felt his wrists encased in handcuffs and felt a drain on his magic. They were arresting him with absolutely no proof.

He hated wizards. At that point, he hoped with all the hope in his heart that Voldemort took every one of these sad sons of bitches and tortured them until death.

He was taken by Jennings to the edge of Number 4 Privet Drive. As she activated what he now knew to be a portkey, he looked at the neighborhood for what he dearly hoped would be the last time.

Harry sat, cuffed to a chair, in a large, empty room. He was okay with that. It allowed him to work on his occlumency.

Eventually, a woman with gray hair and a monocle accompanied Aurors Shacklebolt, Jennings, and Dawlish into the room.

"Official questioning of Harry Potter, 30 July, 1995 in reference to the magic perpetrated in his neighborhood of residence, Little Whinging, Surrey, on this evening. Mr. Potter, thank you for coming in."

Harry looked down at the cuffs restraining him, looked back up with a raised single eyebrow, but said nothing.

"Can you tell us again, for the record, the events of the evening?"

"Ma'am, I could. But I would ask, is there a way you can ensure that I tell the truth? Perhaps some sort of truth serum, or the use of a pensieve?"

"How do you know about them, Mr. Potter?" Jennings again asked in surprise.

"Headmaster Dumbledore has one, ma'am. I'm more than willing to surrender my memory or take truth serum."

"Well, Mr. Potter, memories are not admissible as evidence, so are not used in official questioning. But truth serum can be administered."

"Please, then, do so."

"Aren't you afraid of some of the questions we'll ask? You can't lie under truth serum, boy," Dawlish stated.

"I have no fear of the truth," Harry stated, coldly.

Amelia Bones, head of the DMLE, looked at Dawlish with contempt. She wasn't even sure why he had been on the response team to the Potter situation. He and Shacklebolt had come back with completely different stories and had almost come to fisticuffs over the treatment of this boy. Dawlish had opinions – most likely sourced out of the Minister's office. Kingsley had evidence, and if half of it was true, it was a sin. But Dawlish was blind to evidence.

The more he talked, the more she wanted to fire him. If his uncle wasn't the Minister for Magic, himself, she would have. But politics was a game, and she didn't have quite as much power as she would like, so she continued to play by Fudge's rules, biding her time.

Sending a message, she commanded the resident potioneer to come with veritaserum. As they waited, they discussed what questions the boy would answer.

With the potioneer came a few other spectators. The minister, his undersecretary, and advisor in the form of Lucius Malfoy all came demanding the proceedings stop. Dumbledore also came in, demanding to stand for Harry. Others followed, sensing something interesting going on. Bones simply smiled and erected the sound bubble. They could hear the questioning, but they could not affect it.

"State your name for the record."

"Harry James Potter."

"How old are you?"

"What time is it?"

"Why does that matter?"

"My birthday is July 31st. If it's after midnight, I'm 15. If not, I'm 14."

Laughter chittered on both sides of the bubble, but not from Harry. His face remained passive.

"State for the record any magic you did today."

"I performed no magic today. I have not performed magic since leaving Hogwarts. My uncle confiscated and locked up my wand upon taking me to his house." If one bothered to look at the faces of the observers, all showed some sort of disgust or disdain. Even Cornelius Fudge looked outraged that a muggle would take the wand of a wizard.

"State for the record what you know of this evening's events that resulted in the death of your relatives," Bones continued.

"I was in my room when it suddenly got very cold and depressing. It felt like the dementors from third year. They pushed closer but stopped at a certain distance. I heard my aunt yelling for my cousin. I tried to yell for her to stay in the house, as it seemed the dementors could not approach. She did not listen. I waited for a few minutes, then heard popping near the house. It sounded a bit like guns. Eventually, my door was forcibly opened by the aurors, who then questioned me and took me into custody."

"Did you harm your family this evening."

"I did not. I could not help them. I wanted to, but I couldn't."

"That's just crap. Those muggles abused him, Madame Bones. Of course he wanted them dead. Maybe he hired someone to do the damage? Spoke to someone? Obviously, this is his fault. He's beat the serum somehow." Dawlish carried on, obviously on cue from his uncle.

But Shacklebolt wasn't about to let that stand.

"Dawlish, look at the evidence, you moron. There was no residue from any spellwork or ritual. There was a witness in the house behind Potter's that saw him IN HIS ROOM throughout the entire attack, yelling for people to stay indoors. The call came in to us from a squib who lives in the neighborhood. She might not be a full magical, but she identified the source of trouble as dementors. The injuries and deaths all align with dementors. Unless you're saying that Potter controls dementors, he's clear."

The last of that phrase was shouted in the face of the petulant Dawlish, and though it seemed not to please either the Minister or his Undersecretary, Shacklebolt was correct.

He was cleared. Harry noticed that no one questioned where the dementors came from, but perhaps they would do an alternate investigation. He doubted it, though, as only muggles were killed.

The potioneer administered the antidote for veritaserum. Harry shook his head to clear the last of the effects.

"Madame, if I might ask a question?" Harry asked as the magic-suppression handcuffs were removed.

"Of course, Mr. Potter. After how you've been treated tonight, I think that's the least I can do."

"How come no one ever came and questioned me about the third task of the triwizard tournament? I would have thought you'd want to find out what happened that evening."

Amelia Bones smiled as the privacy bubble came down. "I've not been allowed to investigate that matter, as it has been officially closed by our Minister," she answered, looking over at Fudge, who glowered back.

"Interesting," Harry murmured after a slight pause, to the surprise of many in the room. He didn't protest, didn't rant. He just looked at everyone in the room and shrugged, mentally.

He had one year to get through. Once he took owls, he was leaving. Moldy shorts could have them: the pureblood fanatics (even the Weasleys fit this to some degree, as they disowned their squib cousin), the ones who buried the truth (the Minister was firmly in this category, as were his stooges and henchmen), and the ones who let them (he had previously put the Prophet and Dumbledore in this column, and now, sadly, he would add the director of Magical Law Enforcement).

This world wasn't worth fighting for.

Dumbledore met Harry at the door and drew him away from the crowd.

"I have arranged for you to come with me, Harry. The minister wanted his friend Lucius Malfoy to take custody, but your known feud with that family as well as my obvious ability to protect you swayed child protective services back to my side."

Harry managed to stay silent, though internally, he snorted. Ability to protect, indeed. That's why he knew exactly how many tiles were in the Hogwarts infirmary ceiling.

When they got to the floo network, Dumbledore handed Harry a paper. "The meeting place of the order of the phoenix is 12 Grimmauld Place."

"Have you committed it to memory?" Dumbledore asked.

"Yes, sir," Harry answered, confused.

"Put in some floo powder, then, and we are off!"

The spinning feeling wasn't so bad this time, and Harry found that he was able to keep his balance at the end of the trip.

"Harry!" Molly Weasley chimed as he stepped out of a fireplace into a dark, dank kitchen. "I am so sorry about your family, Harry," she whispered as she hugged him.

"Thanks, Mrs. Weasley," he muttered into her shoulder. She stepped back and put his face between her hands.

"Well, it's a late night for you. I've put you in with Ronald. Try and get some rest?" It was both a question and a command, so he smiled and started to leave the room with her.

They were met at the kitchen door by Sirius. Harry hugged his godfather, happy to see him in person again at long last.

"Welcome to my lovely home, Pup," Sirius growled. "Molly, I'll take him up."

Molly Weasley looked askance at Sirius, not completely trusting the man, but Harry looked comfortable and more at ease than she'd ever seen him with an adult. Not that she considered Sirius Black an adult, mind. But for the evening, it was most likely okay.

Meanwhile, Harry was doing his best not to stew. This was going to be a bummer. He was used to solitude, time to do what he wanted, sunshine over his head by day, and quiet nights. As anyone in the boys' side of the tower could attest, Ron snored like a machine gun – loudly, and constantly.

He'd have to think of a way to remedy the situation.

The next morning at breakfast, there was a rather loud reunion. Everyone greeted Harry and wished him a happy birthday. He smiled and hugged Hermione, shook hands with all the Weasley boys, and nodded at Ginny (who immediately flamed red with embarrassment. Girls were weird.)

They talked about what had happened to Harry the night before, all expressing shock and dismay both at the dementors and the questioning. Harry calmed Hermione down. "It's fine, Hermione. Honestly. I'm completely clear."

She nodded, then looked at him. "You really do look decent this year. Did the Dursleys feed you, then?"

Harry grunted a laugh, "As if. No, they actually hired me out to do all the neighborhood yard work - a different lawn every day. Then, when they collected the fees, they threw me back in my cell... err… room with my one meal. They even let me shower once a week."

"Then why…"

"Promise you won't kill me?" He asked, thinking he could always throw Ron between them if it came down to it.

"Harry Potter, what have you done?" Hermione asked, channeling Mrs. Weasley.

"You know that Dobby is my friend, Hermione. And he loves to help. Thanks to a house elf, I had food, I was mostly clean, and I had books to keep me entertained and to study for school. You'd not believe how many books get abandoned at Hogwarts. I have old copies of both the Runes and Arithmancy courses – and I'm dropping divination in order to join at least one of those instead."

He was proud at how he'd pulled a Dumbledore with those statements. He'd hoped his misdirection would work. Everything he'd said was, on the surface, true, though he'd left out a lot of details. However, he thought his throwing in the idea of him switching subjects would be enough to cover for his… fabrications.

He was entirely correct.

"Wha'dya mean, you dropped divination? I'm gonna have to go through that barmy witch's classes alone?" Ron protested.

"Nah, Neville's still in there with you, Ron. Besides, you're the one who wanted the easy O. I'm thinking more on what I want to do with my life, and ironically, I don't see divination in my future."

That got a chuckle out of most of the group, and they finished breakfast planning on what still needed to be done before school.

It seemed that Molly had commandeered the house for herself and had ordered the kids staying there to begin cleaning manually. She was also throwing out books and heirlooms, as though they were hers to discard. Harry knew, from an earlier letter from Sirius, that this would someday be Harry's house. So it was Harry's stuff she was ditching.

"Bollocks to that," Harry murmured. The minute he was alone, which was not nearly soon enough, he called Winky. The little elf immediately popped to him, accompanied by Dobby.

"Master Harry is safe! Winky could feel Master Harry was safe, but Winky still worried."

"I'm sorry, Winky, I couldn't call you. I haven't had a moment to myself before now."

"Where is we, Great Harry Potter?" Dobby asked.

"My godfather's house. Sirius Black is my godfather," Winky's eyes, impossibly, got wider. "He's innocent, Winky. Anyhow, we've been commanded by someone here to 'clean' this house. But she's throwing away stuff without even knowing its value. Do you guys think you can help?"

Winky and Dobby both smiled and started to work on the room immediately, making a little pile of things that they were sure the humans wouldn't like – they smelled like dark magic – and scrubbing everything. As they worked, another elf popped in the room.

"Filthy half-blood's elves will not be taking Kreacher's family's treasures!" it snarled before attacking.

"Hold up. Hold up!" For some reason, Harry's voice almost held the new elf. "I'm just asking these elves to hide the things the woman would throw out. I'm trying to save your stuff, not knick it!"

Kreacher looked at Harry and snarled, but saw that the pile of things in the room had something he desperately wanted. He'd been ordered not to touch any of the people or harm them in any way. But he could damage an elf.

Harry, however, saw the direction the new elf looked in and saw that something in the pile meant something to the elf.

"Winky, grab that pile and come to me!" Harry ordered quietly as Dobby fought Kreacher. When Winky put her elf hands on the pile, Kreacher started to change opponents.

Then Winky spoke.

"This neckylace, Master Harry Potter sir, it feels like bad scar Master Harry Potter used to have. The ones the goblinies cleaned."

This stopped Kreacher in his tracks.

"Goblinies clean bad magics?" He demanded. Harry could see the hope warring with the anger in the elf's eyes.

Harry nodded. "Dobby, get me parchment and quill and ink, will you please?" Dobby nodded and popped out and in quickly. Harry started to write. "Here, Kreacher. If you wish, take this note to Gemfinder at Gringotts along with that necklace, if you want it cleaned. I've authorized the cost out of the Potter vault. Go ahead."

The creature's eyes narrowed, but he saw that the famous halfbreed's forehead was not so marred as he had heard. Perhaps he knew what he was about. He popped out and Dobby and Winky finished cleaning the room and hiding the loot. They also found the things that Molly had attempted to discard – some in the garbage, some hidden in Kreacher's room. They put it all in a warded room they found in the basement.

They had processed two rooms when Kreacher came back. The little elf almost looked at peace. "Goblinses took out bad magics. Goblinses did not takes money, said necklaces was treasure enough. Where treasure from room?"

"Dobby elf and Winky elf put treasures in no magic room in basement. OK?"

Kreacher thought, then smiled (which creeped Harry out). "Good. Blood traitors no go into basement. Black treasure safe from Red Headed Menaces. Kreacher work your way now."

Harry laughed and wished the elves well at their jobs. Then, taking one of his books, he sat in the newly cleaned room and revised through the afternoon.

The table fairly sagged beneath all of the food and his presents that evening. Though he'd gotten presents before, this was his first birthday party.

It was kind of cool.

The real Moody was there, still drinking from a flask. Sirius and Remus and the Weasleys and even Professor McGonagall and Hagrid came to celebrate Harry's birthday.

"Harry!" the half-giant boomed, "Heard them dementors came teh yer house last night. Had to come see yeh fer myself, dinn I? Glad yer safe!" Hagrid boomed, pounding Harry on the back. Then he handed Harry a badly-wrapped present. "This is from me, course. Hope yeh like it."

Harry opened the present to find a small leather-like pouch.

"Mokeskin," Hagrid said. "Hide anythin' in there an' no one but t'owner can get it out. They're rare, them."

"Wicked!" Harry grinned at the giant. He figured Hagrid was one of the few worth fighting for in this world. But Hagrid could fight for himself, come down to it. "Thanks!"

"I figger, what with all the things keep happenin to yeh, yeh might be wantin to keep yer broomstick miniaturized in there. Quick getaway, like."

Harry nodded, thinking the map and cloak could fit easily, too. He'd think about putting his slingshot in there, but he didn't think anyone at Hogwarts would know what that was or just how dangerous it could be. His smile at Hagrid was quite devious, though Hagrid would never have guessed that.

Harry circulated the room. While he was eating a piece of truly excellent cake, he approached his hostess.

"Mrs. Weasley, thank you so much for the party. It's been so nice seeing you all after the beginning of the summer. But I have to ask, why are you all here?"

"Safety in numbers, dear," she answered with a smile.

"But right now, anyhow, Voldy and his band seem to be to keeping everything low key. Attacking you doesn't seem to be something that would fit in with the plans of denying his return so he can build his support."

"Is that what you think he's doing?" Arthur asked, joining the conversation.

Harry shrugged. "It's what makes sense. I won't deny that I'm probably a target – I always have been. But you guys shouldn't have to live in this… grim manner just because I do."

"Good one, pup," Remus smiled.

"What? I missed it," Ron joined in.

"Grim manner? Grimm manor?" Sirius smiled, pointing to himself then the house. Another general chuckle followed.

"But Harry, dear, who would cook for you?"

"Mrs. Weasley, I've been cooking since I could reach the stove. Honestly, there's no reason Ron and Ginny shouldn't be flying around your fantastic backyard. It can't be healthy, and honestly, it's rather dangerous for them to be around all this dark magic. I especially worry for Ginny, what with what happened…" Harry let it drop. The seed had been planted.

By noon the next day, the Weasleys had started talking about going back to Ottery St. Catchpole. By evening of the next, they were gone.

Ginny looked both sad and grateful.

Hermione soon followed, then Harry told Sirius exactly how he'd gotten his own way that summer. Sirius barked out a laugh and said Harry was welcome to follow whatever schedule he wanted. He agreed to help Harry with his studies and training where he could. To that end, he made a great number of short- and mid-range portkeys and a permanent return portkey to Number 12. Harry practiced landing, and eventually Sirius started hitting him with portkeys by surprise. That, apparently, had been a common deatheater tactic in the War.

Harry wouldn't be taken by surprise again. He could land easily now. He just needed to find a way to disguise himself, and his runes books had given him an idea on that. He hoped he had enough time to perfect that before Voldemonkey kidnapped him again.

Meanwhile, Sirius re-keyed the wards to the manor. There was no reason to have the order there, making Harry less comfortable. Harry was able to study, exercise, eat what he wanted when he wanted.

It was a perfect end to the summer.

But summer did end, and then it was time to go back to the castle. Back to Hogwarts. Back to what used to be a home, but was now just a reminder to Harry of any innocence the Dursleys had left him being lost.

He was glad, in a way, that his eyes had been opened. But sometimes he wished he could look at the school as a safe haven again. As he wished it, he knew he never would. Events at the welcoming feast underlined that.

As Dumbledore spoke, a woman Harry remembered from the questioning at the ministry interrupted the Headmaster's speech. Her manner was saccharine; her words barely concealed darts.

She was trouble, and Harry would do everything in his power to avoid her.

Hermione, her Gryffindor courage leading her, looked on in disapproval and spoke openly about her mistrust of the new defense teacher. Harry shrugged and helped himself to more food. Hermione became frustrated.

"You don't understand," she huffed. "It means the ministry is interfering in Hogwarts."

Harry put down his utensils and looked her in the eye.

"No, you don't understand, Hermione. I. Don't. Care. It is Not. My. Problem. This is OWLS year. I'm going to study. You're going to study. We're going to study and pass our exams. That is our only problem this year."

Ron looked between the two of them, his best friends, in confusion. The role reversal – Hermione passionate and Harry coolly deliberate – did not compute in his head.

His world-view took another spin when they all got back to the common room. Harry called for everyone's attention. Harry, who'd spent the last four years doing everything he could to be invisible, actually stood on a table and asked people to listen to him.

"I'd like to make an announcement. Before the year gets underway, I want everyone to know that I won't be playing quiddich this year."

The chatter began immediately. Questions and complaints and distinctly threatening mutters were aimed at him, but he waited, keeping his face carefully blank. When the muttering died down a bit, he continued.

"I have a few good reasons for this. First off, it's my OWLS year, and I'd really like to do well on them. I need to study a great deal more than I have in the past," there were some nods and many smirks when he admitted to this, and a few of the nay-sayers found themselves in agreement, no matter the desire to have a Gryffindor cup again.

"Second, I've been almost killed in a game every year. My first year, Quirrelmort cursed the broomstick I rode – I was lucky to escape with my life. Second year, someone cursed a bludger to come after me. Third year it was dementors. I don't want to risk it again." Those who had been at any of those games also found themselves reluctantly nodding at this. It was one thing to be a hero; it was another to knowingly put your life at risk for a game that, in the end, was just a game.

Ron was still pissed, though. Neither of these reasons had reached him, as was evidenced by the growing redness of his ears.

"The last reason is that… well, I don't think I'd be allowed to play for long." This statement was met with skepticism and queries, but Harry continued. "First, any of you who take the Prophet will notice that there have been a number of slurs against me. Now, I get that this 'Boy Who Lived' image gets tarnished, having seen this happen at least twice here at Hogwarts," some of the students looked shamed at this, but most still glowered. "But it seems slightly suspicious to me that these slurs questioning my sanity appear when the Ministry is doing all they can to discredit my version of the events following the third task of the Triwizard Tournament last year. I suspect some influence there. This suspicion is backed by my second point: someone sent dementors to my relatives' house this summer. A pair of the beasts kissed no fewer than five people – right outside my house. Ahh, I hear you, Finnegan. Why didn't I use the patronus? Well, I can't do that one without a wand. How about you?"

"Why didn't you have your wand?" Lavendar asked.

"George, can you please tell the rest of our fellow lions what my living conditions are like at the Dursleys?"

"Summer before fourth – err, that would've been Harrikin's second – year, we pulled him out of a tiny room – full of broken stuff. He was locked in, as was Hedwig, and there was a flap at the bottom of the door. We figured that was probably how they fed him. There were bars on the windows and everything. His stuff was locked in a boot cupboard which, by the way, had "Harry's Room" written on the inside of the door. Was that where they kept you when you were little?"

Harry hadn't wanted to go there, but it was out of the bag now. He nodded. "Until my first Hogwarts letter – addressed to that same cupboard, actually. When Vernon and Petunia suspected they were being spied upon by wizards, they moved me to a more normal room. My cousin's old toy room, actually."

Those around who had known Harry now were able to let themselves see what they hadn't before. He came to school, every year, a stone or so lighter than he left. And he was never anything bigger than thin at the end of the school year. His shoes were taped together; his clothes were obviously not bought with him in mind. Though this year, come to think of it, he looked a normal, healthy weight.

"So you just let them die, then?" Finnegan again burst in.

"No, Seamus, I didn't let them die. I screamed and screamed for them to stay indoors. Dumbledore had some sort of protection on that house – but it only extended to the property edge. They didn't listen. They went out. They got killed. I didn't have my wand because I never have ANY of my magical things in the summer; this summer they went so far as to purchase a special safe to keep my 'stick' in. Even if I could have gotten out of the room, I couldn't have gotten that wand.

"But this is all beside the point. Dementors – supposedly controlled only by the ministry, but possibly rogue – were loose in Britain. They made their way only to one house in the entire kingdom, and it happens to be the one I stay in over summers? Not buying that, even with the cursed triwiz winnings.

"Last point: you all saw her. The new defense professor."

Nods went through the crowd, though most were confused by the reference. "Think she'll try'n do you in, Harry?" Colin asked.

"Why not? Every other DADA professor has tried to kill our Harry," Parvati stated flatly. The gossip queen knew of each and every showdown; she'd hounded Hermione until she'd got all the details.

Harry chuckled mirthlessly. "No. Well, I don't think so. But I do think she's here to make sure that my discrediting continues within these hallowed halls. And I think she's here to, as my brilliant friend, Hermione, stated, 'interfere.' I think if I wanted to play quiddich, she'd use it as leverage against me; against my friends; against my house."

He stopped, looked around. Most of his fellow Gryffs were nodding or looking down, somehow sad or shamed. But he couldn't find it in himself to care.

"So there you have it. I'm not going to be a target, if I can help it. Please don't ask me to be. I don't even have my broom here; I left it and anything of real value to me in the safehouse I lived in this summer," a lie of course; his mokeskin pouch had a shrunken broom (not his firebolt, but a broom specially made for shrinking, and one of Sirius's extra birthday presents to him along with a two-way mirror that would allow them to communicate during the year), the cloak, and the map. But he didn't need to give away a tactical advantage. "I'm here to study, to pass my OWLS, and that's it." He smiled at Hermione then turned and went up the steps to his dorm. He heard a quiet discussion begin behind him, but he didn't bother to tune in.

The following evening, after supper, Harry was called to meet his head of house. He had spent the morning taking comprehensive exams in both arithmancy and ancient runes, and hoping to test into one of those fifth year classes. He hoped his head had good news.

"Yes, Mr. Potter, you passed both exams that Professors Babbling and Vector administered. I suppose you actually did study this summer, and quite hard by this evidence. You will join the fifth year classes for both, as well as fifth year Care. Divination has been dropped from your schedule, though you will be administered that exam, as well as Muggle Studies, as per your request. I do hope that your study habits continue, and that I see the progress in transfiguration, hmmm?" she queried, looking up from the paper she was reading from and studying him above the rims of her glasses.

"Of course, Professor," Harry stated calmly.

Handing Harry the new schedule, Minerva McGonagall sighed and decided to broach another, touchier subject. She'd heard details of Harry's "speech" in the common room the previous evening, and she wanted to reassure him of her protection.

"Mr. Potter, I understand that you've resigned from the quiddich team. Though I can't do anything but respect your decision, especially given the first two reasons, I hope you understand that if what worries you most with respect to the Undersecretary comes to pass, I would be there to help you?"

Harry stared at his head of house in disbelief. The old Harry would have stated something to the effect of "You? Stand up for me? When did this new policy start?" But the new Harry said a placating, "She's from the ministry. I wouldn't expect you to put yourself at risk for me."

His Head could see his disbelief though, and she called him on it.

"Mr. Potter. You seem to think that I would not stand for you? I always stand for my cubs!" Her fiery temper was starting to bubble to the surface.

Harry nodded, then saw that she wouldn't back down.

"Heir of Slytherin. Potter Stinks," he stated quietly, holding her gaze. She looked down first. "May I go now?"

Saying nothing, she simply nodded. Harry got up and left his stunned professor who sat, looking out her window, lost in her thoughts and shame.

He had been completely, utterly correct, from his point of view. In her efforts to remain neutral in the school, to be seen as a professor who showed no favoritism, she'd done great disservices to Harry Potter. And she'd lost from him and any respect he had for her, and likely any of the staff at Hogwarts, through this behavior. His voice had been quiet and unemotional, though. It was as though he just didn't care. They'd managed to kill his inner passion, his inner light.

She'd have to talk to Albus about this.

Classes were interesting. His two new electives were full of the quiet, studious types at the school, and aside from a few raised eyebrows, no one approached him. He worked his way steadily through all of his classes, managing even to keep his temper when Snape low-balled his potion grade.

After all, Snape wasn't grading OWLs.

Defense was the first real trial, though. Umbridge was an unknown quantity, and she gunned for him from the first class. He was used to that treatment from Snape, and his occlumency was becoming stronger all the time. The pink toad would not get a rise from him, no matter how ludicrous her course objectives and Voldemort denial were.

"Well, Mr. Potter, do you have something to say?" Umbridge questioned in a saccharine-sweet voice after she stated the students had no reason to practice magic.

"No, professor," Harry answered brightly, opening his Slinkhard book. Umbridge frowned. She'd not been able to get a rise out of the golden Gryffindor at all.

If she didn't know better, she'd say he was Slytherin trained.

The rest of the Gryffindors noticed that Umbridge poked at Harry at every turn. She attempted to get him to be disrespectful, to rise to her bait. But he wouldn't. He remained placid and calm beneath his growing occlumency shields, biding his time, collecting the evidence in favor of putting this crazy world behind him.

Ron, particularly, was bewildered. It was as though someone else had taken the place of his best mate. Harry never stood up for what was right anymore. And Ron'd had enough. He confronted Harry in the Gryffindor common room one night after Harry refused to play a game of wizarding chess with him.

"What is wrong with you? You never do anything but study. You quit quiddich. What happened to you?" the redhead steamed.

"What happened to me? I watched a friend die, Ron. I watched a boy, our age, get cut down in a split second. The blink of an eye. My life can't be quiddich and chess and mucking about. Not anymore. I'm sorry. It just… can't," Harry shook his head, walking away from his friend, not seeing the color of fury fall away from that boy as he realized just how different Harry's life had been from his own.

Others had heard this, the despair and hopelessness in Harry's voice, and they lost even more of the confidence they had in the leaders of their world. The boy they looked to as a hero had lost his faith.

They watched him, they followed him, they hoped that he'd come back. And their watching was nearly worse than anything he'd dealt with in his first four years. One evening, it came to a head for Harry. Finding an alcove, he called to his elf.

"Winky, is there a place I can study, alone?"

Winky thought for a minute, then smiled. "Come and go room. We go now."

He followed her through passages to the seventh floor and, upon her pacing in front of a wall, a door appeared. A room opened, and it was full of the detritus of a millennium. Harry goggled.

"What IS all this junk? Is there anything useful in here?" he asked.

"Winky not know. Room be what you need. Elves put things wizards not want anymore in here."

"It's like a huge treasure hunt!" Harry said, smiling. It was the first fun he'd had in his new term at Hogwarts, and he imagined several months of simply sorting.

Through the weeks, when he got a bit tired of studying or exercising (Winky had set up the Crouch's exercise equipment in the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry worked out down there, daily) or working on his side projects, he wandered. He found books that he had the elves return to Madame Pince (when he saw that they weren't books he, himself wanted.) He found all sorts of dark creatures that he tested his spellwork on. He found weapons and gems – those he delivered to the goblins with instructions that, if anything was of value, the remaining portion of the sale after Gringotts commission should be deposited in the Hogwarts fund anonymously.

He always did this wandering with Winky in tow, as she was not about to let her wizard do dangerous things. When he found the tiara, Winky stopped him from picking it up. "Has bad smell, like necklacey thing, Master Harry Potter sir."

Harry sighed. Another piece of Voldemort? How many did this guy have? "Take it to Gemfinder, will you?" Harry asked, penning another note to the goblin.

The goblins, meanwhile, were very concerned. This made four pieces of the evil wizard. They had no question in their minds that the dark one was walking back among the living. And he was bad for business.

Goblins therefore made it their business to find out all they could of Voldemort. His claim to be the heir of Slytherin led them to the last known Slytherin-gets: the Gaunt family. Using a great deal of discretion, the goblins hosted a small expedition to the Gaunt family ancestral grounds. The manor that had been taken over by muggles showed signs of having hosted the dark one recently. The hovel that had been the home of the final Gaunts had strange wards and curses in it. It took a team over two weeks to complete the delicate work, but the prize was won. Yet another piece of the dark wizard was cleansed, but this time, the piece was nothing more valuable than the Gaunt family ring. The goblins decided, as the Potter heir had treated them with nothing but honor and had been the source of almost countless profit (aside from the LeStrange vault and the profits from selling the random treasures he sent them, they now had priceless relics from three of the Hogwarts founders), they needed to somehow pay the young wizard some compensation. To uphold their honor, they would put this ring in his vault with the understanding that they would keep the rest of the soul vessels. Goblins were protecting their way of life and acquiring treasure: nothing could be better. And, though Voldemort never knew it, he was all but mortal.

Christmas holidays arrived with the highest of anticipation for Harry. For the first time in his life, he had a home to go to with people who wanted to celebrate the holiday. Some of his friends were gone from the castle already – Mr. Weasley had been attacked as he worked in the ministry by some big snake. It was, Harry mused, probably Voldemort's snake. Or, rather, had been Voldemort's snake. Mr. Weasley had been channeling Mad Eye's paranoia, and had some sort of super-sensory charms around where he waited. He had killed the snake before it could harm him. But Mr. Weasley's presence in a strange place in the ministry had warranted an investigation and a few days off without pay (he was a pureblood, but not the right sort of pureblood, so his superiors argued over his fate). Additionally, his close brush with death (that gargantuan beastie would have killed him, no doubt) had made the Weasley family want to spend a longer time with each other that holiday.

Without Ron's whinging and snoring, the dorm was strangely quiet. Harry left a castle of tension anticipating much mayhem in the Grim Manor of 12 Grimmauld place.

He arrived to an utterly renovated home. Winky and Kreacher actually got along, and they, together with Dobby, had completely changed the mansion to be a livable place. Gone were the dark motifs. Gone were the dank corners and dusty chandeliers. In their place were light colors, warm furniture, and an overwhelmingly positive feeling.

Harry had the feeling he wouldn't want to leave.

By mutual agreement, no mention was made of any conflict outside the manor. Sirius and Remus had taken to distancing themselves from the rest of the order of the phoenix, since those people were trying to use the remaining Marauders to influence Harry in their own direction. Harry had spoken with both of the older men (through a set of nifty communications mirrors Sirius had from old Hogwarts days) at length about how tense the situation at the castle was, and how Harry had taken neutral ground. After thinking about how aligning with Dumbledore had rewarded them all, they agreed with his stance.

Harry and Remus made a trip out to do some shopping – Harry had mostly done shopping in Hogsmeade for his friends, but he had a few last minute things he wanted, including some shoes and clothes that actually fit, now that his tremendous growth spurt seemed to be concluded. They splurged on some extremely silly Christmas fare and, in all, had the happiest holiday in memory for any of them.

He also made his way back to the gym in Greater Whinging daily, and was surprised to receive a Christmas gift from the manager.

"Harry, me an my brother thought you could be using this," the burly older man stated, handing Harry a brown-wrapped package.

Harry opened it to find a taser. He looked at the manager, a stocky man who went by the name of Mick, with a question in his eye.

"I remembered what you said about your parents, and stuff. Then your relatives were killed… and the way they were ended, well it didn't make no sense. Not to me. But my brother, he made sense of it for me. Especially when I told him your name. See, Davis went to this school in Scotland… Hogwarts?"

Harry's eyes widened. Mick smiled.

"Yeah, he's what they call a muggle born. He told me your real story. Then he gave me this to give to you, after catching up on Britain's goings on. He lives in Canada now. Couldn't abide your government and their racism, but couldn't give up the… stuff, right?"

Harry nodded, smiling, then studying the taser. It had a false cover he could put over the handle, and the "real" handle had runes all over it.

"Davis, he's an engineer. But he fits his engineering with your stuff, if you know what I mean. Apparently, that's not easy, as electricity and… stuff don't go together? He says that this is a way you can defend yourself non-magically. You don't have to worry none about your government. And if you want out when you get out of that school, you're to call me and I'll call him and… you get the drift."

"Thank you so much!" Harry stammered. No one, not one single person in the magical world or muggle world, had looked out for him out of kindness. Some did their jobs, barely (He thought of Hagrid, who'd kidnapped him in the first place. Or Madame Pomphrey, who'd never ensured that he was protected from, let alone removed from, an abusive household, though she did do some work to mitigate the abuse. Or Remus, who'd never, for all his protestations of loving Harry, ever bothered to even drop him a birthday card… the list went on. The adults in the muggle world had been worse, if possible. He'd never had anyone look out for him except Winky. This was very strange, indeed.)

"So, according to Davis, them funny drawings will take the… stuff that would normally muck up the electronics and keep it constantly recharged. You'll have to be careful – that taser will be lethal in a place with a lot of… stuff." Mick was obviously uncomfortable. But the kid had been a good, respectful kid, a good customer, and a damn hard worker.

When the kid had started showing up at the gym, Mick had gone to a pub in Little Whinging a few times to get the story. He was amazed to hear the local folks talking him down like he was a hoodlum. When Mick subtly got them talking, he wondered to himself – how could a five-year-old be a delinquent? And didn't they know that his da had been a cop, targeted and snuffed by the very thugs he put behind bars? The stories didn't add up. And the school he supposedly went to – some school for wayward boys – didn't exist. He'd been curious enough, the kid did come to his gym daily, and if he was bad news Mick wanted to know, to do some research. When he found out who Harry Potter was, really, he'd been pretty peeved. The hero of that weird world that took his brother was treated like garbage. And those weirdos let it happen. His brother wasn't surprised, but after reading up on what was going on in the madhouse of the British Ministry of Magic, had advised Mick how to help.

So, Harry now had quite a few methods to defend himself that Umbridge and her ilk would never see as a threat.

Harry felt the determination slip into him as he flooed to Hogsmeade the day term re-started. There was no requirement to take the Hogwarts Express on holiday return, so he didn't. He made his way to the castle in his casual muggle clothing covered with a warm, snow-repelling wizarding cloak. Winky popped his trunk directly to his dorm.

The winter progressed. Harry kept his head down and his nose clean. His grades were good – exceptional if one understood that two of the professors were determined to give him nothing higher than an A. He'd made his way through the first two or three years of normal secondary education, too, and was steadily plowing through the maths and sciences. The taser made him want to understand engineering and any possibility of techno-magic. It could be interesting and a way to blend both his worlds. The humanities side were coming along, too, but only out of necessity. He was determined to take those GCSE's no later than Christmas of next year.

Harry's new-found peace was something one particular self-proclaimed foe could not take sitting down. Within a few weeks of failed jibes, after holiday, Draco decided to take his taunting to a new level. He approached the almost-empty Gryffindor table one morning while Harry was breaking his fast and reading a book. He'd done his morning exercises and was quite hungry.

"What's with the new attitude, Potter? Are you scared? He's back and you know he's coming for you and all the mudbloods," Draco sneered.

Harry didn't harm Draco, he simply cast a silent silencio, keeping his wand in the holder Moody'd given him for his birthday. He'd been practicing on his own, quite a bit, after all. He had silent casting down on lots of spells. He could even do four spells wandlessly, though he was keeping that a secret, too.

Turning, he answered the little dragon who had been a thorn in his side since the day he started in the world of magic.

"And purebloods did SO well under his tutelage, Draco. Let's look, shall we? What's the birth rate among marked death eaters? It sure seems like most of the men are impotent – you were the only child born to your family and I'll bet you were made before Daddy took the mark. I'm guessing the mark makes men sterile, but maybe it's a cruciatus thing – maybe the nerve damage makes it so men can't get it up? Sure would explain your father's permanently frustrated face. Anyway, there's your cousin, Regulus Black. Dead. Your childless Aunt, Bellatrix, whose mind is broken. Most of his followers are permanently twitchy. He doesn't have equals, he plays purebloods against each other, and he uses you all. You want to laud that? Well, have a party. But have it soon. Before he does to you what he does to everything he touches. He's like the Anti-Midas. And Draco? The last laugh is all on you guys. He's a mudblood. His mom was a squib. His dad was a MUGGLE. And he's got all of you guys worshipping him. Don't believe me? Ask your dad about Tom Marvolo Riddle. See what kind of answers you get."

Harry shook his head, got up, and walked away, waving a finite back at Draco, whose entire world had been dealt a sharp blow.

Hermione had watched the interaction, noting in the back of her mind that Harry was already doing silent casting. She could use help on that. She could use help on most of the defense curriculum, but Harry was never anywhere to be found when it was time to study.

She finally cornered him after Runes one afternoon and asked him to stay in the classroom with her.

When all the other students had left, she sat at a table and invited him to join her. He sat, a question on his face.

"Harry, I noticed that you were able to use silent casting the other day. You're leaps and bounds ahead in the defense curriculum, aren't you?"

Harry shrugged. "I've always liked that stuff. So I study extra on my own."

"Well, you know I'm good with the book side, but I've always needed help with the practical. Do you think you could help me?"

Harry frowned in thought for a moment, but this was Hermione. He owed her for years of her help. "Sure. We just need to find a classroom and get a professor's permission."

It was Hermione's turn to frown. Harry didn't usually think about permission or rules. This was just more evidence of how he'd changed.

"The problem is, Harry, that so many of us need help. Professor Umbridge isn't really teaching us anything, is she? I was thinking, maybe we could teach our own defense class. Just for OWLs students?"

"No, thank you. I'll help you, but have to pass on the rest." Harry picked up his bag in preparation to leave.

Hermione, however, had reached the end of her tether.

"Harry, what's happened to you? Fred, George, and Ron got that unfair quiddich ban and had their brooms – more than the Weasleys can afford - confiscated. The Patil twins have been targeted by some of the nastiest Slytherins because of their mixed heritage. The Creevey brothers and Lee are being tortured by Professor Umbridge with some sort of quill that makes them write in their own blood. But you just sit there. You don't speak to them about it. You don't say a word. My Harry, the one who fought a troll for me, would NEVER just sit by."

Harry looked down at his hands. Sometimes, even with the occlumency, it was very hard to hold his tongue. And, with his new, clear mind, he knew Hermione was his friend and deserved and explanation. He sat down again, not looking in her eye.

"It started with Cedric. Pettigrew just slaughtered him. No hesitation. No backward glance. Then, Voldemort rose, crucio'd the crap out of me, and tried to kill me. All those purebloods – the ones who bought their freedom and run the government – they stood there and watched with glee. I'd done nothing to any of them, I was all of 14 years old, and they were delirious with happiness that they got to watch me be tortured.

"Did you catch the 'run our government' part? The night of the dementors, aurors burst into the house and put me under arrest. Arrest. I didn't have a wand. I had nothing in that room aside from broken furniture and some of my homework books. They had to break through four locks to get to me, and there were bars on the windows. After a bit, they found my wand, locked down as I said it had been. And still, with that overwhelming evidence that I was a victim, not a criminal, they cuffed me with magical restraints and hauled me to the Ministry.

"They accused me of killing my relatives. They accused me of letting them die. They accused me of hiring someone to kill them. They were looking for ANY way of tying me to that crime; any excuse to throw me in Azkaban. Think about it. We know two adults who've had just that done to them. Both Hagrid and Sirius were put in hell on flimsy evidence with no trial. Only the fact that I was already serving time in Durskaban saved me from that same fate. Is that ironic, or what?

"But the end point of this is: they're gunning for me. The death eaters in charge and the lackeys who don't want to let go of their ill-gained power will do anything to silence opposition. I just can't do it Hermione. I can't be that opposition. I'm sorry."

"Oh, Harry, I understand. I do." Hermione looked him in the eye with both sympathy and determination. "But you know, if good men do nothing, evil will prevail. Why aren't you standing up for anyone? Even if it's not with Professor Umbridge, you could stand up to the Slytherins. Do something for morale around here!"

Thinking about the students who Hermione was asking him to help, Harry felt something inside him break.

"I don't defend anyone else because no one, save you, has ever stood up for me. Well, Fred and George have, but I saved their sister's life, so I think we're clear. Ron ditched me both last year and this year. Everyone else? They look at me only to see what they can use. I'm done with it all."

He looked out the window and laughed humorlessly.

"You know, I learned, back before primary, that most people are shite. They looked at a woefully thin, poorly clad, dirty four year old and declared that he must be a deliquent. My teachers in primary, who have been trained to know better, marked me as the trouble-maker when I was pretty obviously an abused, bullied victim. I thought it might be better here, but if anything it's worse. Twinkles makes these Iron Wizard Challenges for me every year, and I run the gauntlet just like a good little gladiator. One of these times, the lion's going to win. The rest of the teachers stand by and let him. Or they torment me themselves. Then, when I've barely recovered from the year's trial, he sends me back to my own prison, complete with prison rations. If I hadn't had help, I almost certainly would have starved this summer. Possibly to death. You know I'm not exaggerating that."

Hermione did know that, so she turned her argument.

"I understand that you don't trust adults. But Harry, if you don't teach the students to defend themselves, they'll die."

Harry laughed without humor in his voice.

"Are you having me on? They don't want my help. They either think I'm the heir of Slytherin, or that I cheat, or that I'm a delusional attention seeker. They're no better than the kids in primary – the ones who avoided me because I was dirty and dressed in rags, the ones who laughed when my cousin and his band of thugs played their latest round of Harry Hunting and beat the stuffing out of me.

"Besides, the students in this school have had plenty of favors from me, starting with the sacrifice of my parents all the way to me battling old Snake Face in the graveyard. But now? It's up to them. I'm nothing special. They can do what they need to protect themselves."

"Whether you like it or not, you're iconic. That's why the ministry wants so badly to blacken your name. You're a hero, you could make a difference!" Hermione was trying so hard to reach him, but he just couldn't be reached.

"Hermione, I'm no one's hero. That's all a scam made up by some folks to make a quick galleon. I'm just here to take my classes and sit my exams. I'd suggest, as a muggleborn, you do the same. You've been keeping up with non-magical classes? If not, you should send to your parents for review books. Magical Britain isn't going to be safe for anyone who isn't pure in a few years. If you want to help? Pass that on. Put together a true muggle studies group for all of the mudbloods: a title I'd gladly bear. The only way we'll survive is if we leave this cesspool to self-immolate. Maybe when they've all slaughtered each other, we can come back and re-start the magical society. But I don't want to be a casualty of their stupid power games. I certainly won't set myself up for that status. If you want to do that to yourself, well, have at it. I'll be sure to send a condolence letter to your folks."

With that, Harry walked out of the room, leaving a crying, stunned Hermione behind.

Neither of them noticed the portrait taking extreme interest in their conversation or the fact that, when they stopped speaking, it disappeared to another frame, to tell the tale of the Boy Who Didn't Care.

A few days later, Deputy Headmistress McGonagall delivered a note to Harry on her way to the faculty table.

The Headmaster wished to speak with Harry. In the Head's office. Directly after the meal.

Harry finished his meal, calming himself, deciding what to do. He covertly studied the faculty table and noticed that McGonagall sat, sternly watching the students, between Dumbledore and Umbridge.

It was time to put his place firmly out there, Harry decided. He walked to the table and spoke directly to McGonagall.

"Excuse me, ma'am," he interrupted quietly, "I was wondering what academic or behavioral infraction I'd committed to warrant a summons to the Headmaster's office? I've been doing my level best to stay out of trouble this year, Professor."

McGonagall smiled.

"Your efforts have been so noted, Mr. Potter, as have your exceptional grades. I believe the Headmaster wishes to speak with you on more personal matters."

At this statement, Harry could almost feel Umbridge's piqued interest in the subject. Knowing her attention had been caught (and Dumbledore's had been since Harry approached), he slightly bowed his head, hiding a smile.

"In that case, Professors, I must respectfully decline the invitation," he said calmly, his reply encompassing both the Headmaster and his Deputy.

The shock was palpable.

"Mr. Potter, one does not decline an invitation from the Headmaster," McGonagall managed to state around her shock.

"That is certainly true if the matter is something related to school, professor. His desire to speak with me on personal matters, however, does not compel my attendance. I would no more accept an invitation to dine with Professor Umbridge, respectfully, ma'am," he said, nodding to the professor in question, who looked about to explode in indignation. "Both respected professors are representatives of two sides of an… argument outside of Hogwarts. Through no desire of my own, I have been publically allied with one side of this conflict. I don't want that. I want to be left out of this."

"Mr. Potter, surely you see the need to stand up for the light?" McGonagall was shocked.

"Ma'am, I've lost my entire family because of my parents' alignment with Professor Dumbledore's ideals. The only memory I have of my parents is them being slaughtered by Voldemort. Now, someone most likely aligned with the dead Voldemort's allies somehow managed to send dementors and kill the rest of my relatives. I'm 15 years old. I don't want anything to do with any of it. Respectfully, ma'am."

Umbridge's eyes narrowed slyly at Harry's mention of the "dead Voldemort". She wanted to question him, but didn't want any more attention brought to her actions with the dementors.

"Mr. Potter," Dumbledore deigned to join the conversation, "you stated at the end of the tri-wizard tournament that Voldemort had risen. Do you recant that testimony?" Dumbledore queried, his eyes lacking twinkle, staring over his half-moon glasses. His features were stony. The headmaster was angry.

At this point, almost the entirety of the great hall was silent, waiting for Harry's reply.

"Headmaster, I was poisoned by an acromantula, had broken my ankle, had been kidnapped, stunned, stabbed, crucioed, and physically beaten. I witnessed a friend murdered. I thought I saw Voldemort. Could I have been confounded or simply fooled? I suppose. If the minister closed the investigation, and the head of the DMLE agreed, I must have been mistaken. Only an idiot would question the leaders of his government."

The glee that showed on Umbridge's face could not be suppressed. Neither could the outrage on Hagrid, Flitwick, or McGonagall.

Snape, at first bothered that his meal had been interrupted by the horrid Potter boy, now looked at said creature as if, for the first time ever, Potter had done something worthy of interest.

"Better to be thought an idiot than to be a coward," McGonagall replied.

"People think lots of things about me, professor. I've learned I can't control that, so I don't really care anymore," Harry dismissed with a smile that didn't come close to meeting his eyes. "Besides," he continued, "it's not as though my opinion matters. I repeat: I'm a 15 year old. My opinion on these adult matters means nothing. I have one job here: to get through OWLs. I think that's probably what my parents would have wanted me to concentrate on. I think they, as Mrs. Weasley has always proscribed, would have wanted me to let the adults worry about adult matters. I have enough troubles of my own, as you well know. So, if that is all?"

"You are dismissed, Mr. Potter," Dumbledore sighed, suddenly weary. It was just as Minerva had stated. Something had managed to break the boy. Whether it was the loss of his deplorable family or something else, the deed was done. He was no longer a poster for the light. With his scar being so different… it might be that he wasn't necessary for the fight any longer. Perhaps the prophecy he'd planned on sharing with the lad that evening was no longer relevant.

Dumbledore could only hope that was the case.

Voldemort, on the other hand, was feeling strangely… nervous. He'd lost his familiar to the blood traitor from the blasted Order before the Christmas holidays. His attempts to make another horcrux had been a failure; his soul had been split asunder too many times, it seemed. He had the other treasures, but until he had firm control of society, he didn't think it wise to check on those precious items. Someone might notice and wonder… perhaps even put clues together.

Because some were watching, and not in a reverential manner.

He'd noticed a look in Malfoy's eye, for example: a questioning, mistrustful look that had no place on any of his followers. Malfoy was in the doghouse for having destroyed one of the precious treasures, but somehow didn't look as shamed or scared as he should. Voldemort had no idea what was going on behind those silver eyes; Malfoy had enviable skills in occlumency. The look hadn't spread yet, but it was… disquieting.

Speaking of occlumency, when he had first arisen, Voldemort had immediately re-tested the connection that he had with the Potter boy. During his possession of Quirrel, the Dark Lord had noticed how easy it was to broach the boy's mind. Again, following Potter's escape from the graveyard, Voldemort had noted that he had that same mental connection. He could even pull some of the boy's vast power (it didn't hurt to admit the boy had immense potential; how else could the toddler have set back Voldemort himself so easily?). But shortly after the resurrection, within weeks, that connection and power source was gone.

Something was decidedly rotten in Denmark.

He needed to know the full text of that prophecy in order to avoid any future missteps. He'd hoped to lure Potter into pulling it from the shelf, as his sources had let him know that, once shelved, only those personally addressed by a prophecy could listen to them.

With the mental connection closed and all intelligence on the boy stating that child would not be drawn into anything, Voldemort knew he'd have to get it himself. But how to do so without drawing attention to himself? He needed to build his power base more. Next week's operation of freeing his servants from Azkaban was a good start. Still, he needed more open followers, more full backing before he declared himself.

Perhaps he should put in a new minister that he could imperio freely? It was something to ponder upon. Surely, though, the wording of that prophecy was of import. Who knew how many missteps he had taken because his servant had only delivered partial, faulty wording.

He would have to think on it.

Spring slowly made its way to Scotland. Harry kept his head down and kept on his guard. He made a practice of only being seen for classes, meals (twice a day, as required by Hogwarts bylaws), and curfew. Otherwise, he kept to himself. It was a lonely existence, but then, it always had been.

When he would begin to weaken, he would get further evidence of the stupidity and obstinacy of the wizarding world. When a mass breakout occurred from Azkaban, and all of the escapees were marked death eaters, this was not looked at as evidence of a return of Voldemort. No. Obviously it was the workings of Sirius Black.

Harry had never in his life so hoped that an afterlife existed. Fudge would burn in hell, he was sure, for allowing those monsters loose on innocents again. But Harry was determined to stay out of it. After all, the innocents bought the illogical lines in the Prophet hook, line, and sinker. They made their own beds.

He made it to exam season with a sense of heightened awareness. The other shoe would drop. He didn't know when. The castle had become a completely miserable place to be. Many of the muggleborn had withdrawn – until the ministry had passed a decree that they could not leave magical Britain without OWLS awarded by the ministry. Minister Fudge used the excuse of the statute of secrecy was in danger of being violated. Harry was convinced that he just wanted the first line of victims available for when Voldemort revealed himself.

Because it was increasingly obvious that he would reveal himself. Muggles were being attacked now, and anyone could see it was death eater tactics being used. There were even some reports of dementor attacks (as the dementors had fled Azkaban to follow Sirius Black… or so the Prophet told). And when war was openly declared, if the muggleborn weren't there to be the first line of victims, well, half bloods and upstanding purebloods might get hurt. That couldn't be tolerated.

Harry simply put word out there on how to check oneself and one's possessions for tracking charms. He contacted Mick – and through him Mick's brother, Davis – on how to make a container that would hide magical signatures. Hermione, though stubbornly still trying to get Harry in on her anti-ministry crusade (for which she had her own hand-scars now), had taken to making sure that all of the muggleborn indeed had a way to hide themselves, and were even then warning every muggleborn in Britain that they could track down.

It was a waiting game, but muggleborn had long memories. They would not be the victims this time. In her way, Umbridge really had been the best defense professor they'd had. She'd taught them that there was no defense when the people in charge were gunning for you. They were all (those who hadn't already left the country due to discriminatory practices), decree not withstanding, making escape plans.

Exams rolled around. Harry sailed through them, feeling confident that, if he had neutral observers, he'd aced them all.

Due to its timing, the astronomy practical exam would be administered last. It would be a distinct disadvantage to have to take an exam at midnight and then another at eight AM the next day. For once, the wizarding world used logic, and Harry found himself on the astronomy tower, the last night of the exam period, waiting his turn at the telescope to take his practical.

When the examiner smiled at him, Harry was sure he'd aced his last exam, and he turned away after thanking the examiner. He felt he somehow should be relieved. Exams (well, magical ones, anyhow), were over, and he was certain that he had done really well. But somehow, he felt strangely tense. Strangely aware.

And then he felt it. Something hit him, and he felt that hook in his gut.

Just as he had practiced dozens of times with Sirius, he felt for the power of the portkey. He paced his own motion with the spinning and falling, As he hit the ground, he quickly activated the charms on his necklace and rolled away from a stunning spell shot in his direction.

"Spread out. Find him," Were the commands issued from one of the death eaters surrounding him. He was pretty sure it was Malfoy, senior. Harry grinned, knowing they'd not have much luck in that.

His necklace had been his biggest project – and Mooney and Padfoot had helped tremendously. He'd been studying physics for the normal exams when he came to the conclusion that, to truly disillusion himself, he'd just need a few charms on a necklace. He wasn't strong enough, yet, for a permanent enchantment. But he made the charms and could power them for a short period. Currently, they worked for about ten minutes before burning out. He hoped that was enough time.

He took stock of his surroundings. He was in some big room with a bunch of glass spheres in it. He had no idea where he was. He was, however, being stalked by figures in dark robes. Death eaters. Fortunately for him, they were walking around with lit wands, making handy targets. Readying his slingshot with a decent-sized ball bearing, he took aim. As he shot the first hunter in the skull, knocking the man senseless, he quickly, silently, and wandlessly summoned that man's wand, placed it in his pocket, and moved on.

He tracked down three more of the death eaters in the same manner. He may have killed them – he didn't know – but a simple spell wouldn't be waking them. He'd almost certainly concussed them, at the least.

If he saw all the death eaters on landing, there was only one left. Bellatrix. But Harry wasn't concerned with her. He was trying to find a way out. Harry had figured out, by that time, that he was in the ministry. He was trying to remember how to get to the main entrance – and had made his way to that room to see it guarded by a death eater. He'd just wholloped that guy when he heard Bellatrix calling out for him. She was a crazy bint, to be sure, but she'd ducked from his ball bearings twice now. She seemed to have an uncanny knack for self-preservation. She was sing-song muttering about prophecies and orbs and he put together that he was supposed to have been used to retrieve a recording of a prophecy concerning himself and moldyshorts.

That wasn't going to happen.

He waited until she was distractedly picking at her arm after leaning over her downed husband before shooting again.

His aim was true, and she didn't dodge this time. The bitch was down.

Harry sighed in relief and was making his way to the floos when several figures smoked into the room. More death eaters.

They started casting randomly. Apparently Bella had called them and somehow warned them. Harry knew he was done for.

But there, in the group, was the madman himself. If Harry was going down, he wasn't going alone.

Stealthily, Harry made his way directly to the snake man. The death eaters weren't casting near their leader. Why would they? Who in their right mind would approach the madman who was their revered leader?

When Harry was within arm's length, Voldemort noticed something off. But it was all too late. Harry had his taser out, pushed into Voldemort's chest, and firing before Voldemort could say crucio.

The older man started to buckle, and Harry went with him, keeping the stream constant. His disillusionment charms failed then, but it was too late for the enemy. The others in black suddenly grabbed their arms, falling to the floor.

And suddenly, the room was full of others: aurors flooing and portkeying and apparating in. The minister and his lackeys, called to emergency due to magic unprecedented being cast in the ministry.

And they all witnessed Harry Potter, tasing the Dark Lord to death.

It took no more than a few seconds. When Harry smelled the wiff of burned flesh, he disengaged the taser and pulled away from Voldemort. He looked around him.

Death eaters littered the floor. They were moaning, so they weren't dead.

"Mr. Potter, what is the meaning of this?" Amelia Bones, head of the DMLE approached him almost angrily. She'd been emergency flooed by her niece not fifteen minutes before. One of the fifth years – Gregory Goyle – had hit Harry Potter with a portkey destined for places unknown. He'd gotten the portkey made by Delores Umbridge – temporary Headmistress of Hogwarts – so it easily bypassed Hogwarts wards.

She'd been prepping a team to go up to Scotland, reminding them not to cross the Undersecretary if they cherished their positions, when the warnings of Ministry breech had rung.

She'd arrived to find death eaters on the floor and a Voldemort lookalike being… cooked?... by Harry Potter using a lightning stick. She'd not seen magic like this before.

"What is that magical artifact? As head of DMLE, I require that you put it on the ground and surrender it."

Harry put the taser on the ground, as instructed. He put his hands in the air. "Madame Bones? It's not magical. It's a muggle protection device. My wand is in a holster on my right arm. You'll find I haven't used it all night."

Bones nodded to Shacklebolt, who approached Harry warily. The kid seemed innocent enough that summer, but he just put down a grown wizard with a force unknown. Kingsley took no chances. He confiscated the wand that he immediately recognized as Potter's. Performing the spell to see what had been cast, he shook his head.

"No magic from this wand for a while, last spell was a patronus?" he questioned Harry, already knowing the answer.

"Defense practical was this afternoon. The examiner asked me if I could produce one." Harry shrugged. Most of the DMLE had already heard that story. It had left Hogwarts on rumor wings – a fully corporeal patronus from a fifteen year old.

Kingsley was resigned. They had a powerful light wizard in the making here, and they'd alienated him. Even now, the boss was treating a boy who'd obviously harmed the death eaters with suspicion. Sometimes, he was amazed at how far Bones would go to tow the party line. He ran diagnostic spells on the lightning stick and saw it, too, was completely muggle in origin. He shrugged and handed it back to Potter. The law was clear; they could only confiscate magical devices.

The kid had his rights, and Kingsley would not be one of the wizards that tromped on them. Though Bones scowled at him, Shack had a clean conscience.

Fudge, meanwhile, looked around. Two of the three escaped LeStranges were on the ground, as was Dolohov. Whatever the Potter boy had done had captured most, if not all, of the escaped Azkaban prisoners.

But, who was the man that Potter had killed?

He did look a great deal like the Dark Lord. The death eaters had followed him.

Had Potter been telling the truth all along?

Harry, meanwhile, could see the lines the minister was following. He'd had a plan forming in his head. It was marauder style, and he hoped he had enough of his dad in him to pull it off.

"Minister, as you can see, your plan worked completely. The Death Eaters were completely lulled into complacency by your postured denial. I'm sorry I didn't understand your plan right off, but I'm just a kid. You were right. Hiding his return was absolutely the right thing to do. You've got my vote next term!"

He thought he put just the right amount of enthusiasm into his voice. He wasn't sure.

"Yes, yes…" Fudge began. He floundered.

Was that Lucius that the aurors were bringing from that hallway? In full death eater regalia?

"Well, then. Mr. Potter. I'm sure I'll excuse your use of underage magic for ending this threat and getting back our escaped prisoners," Bones interjected, seeing the way the wind was blowing.

"I didn't use any magic. Just a necklace charmed to hide me in case of emergencies."

"How do you explain the wounded men, then, Potter?" Dawlish asked, though not quite so confrontationally as before. Uncle Cornelius had, after all, agreed with the kid moments ago.

"Oh, I used a sling shot. I figured out after this summer's… misunderstanding… that I should never use magic outside school. Not even a little. So I got really, really good at defending myself without it. I can demonstrate, if you'd like?" Harry asked innocently, pulling out his sling shot and a ball-bearing and toying with the idea of shooting Dawlish in the goolies. It would almost be worth the trouble.

Mediwizards and witches were now arriving, checking the death eaters. It seemed that most of them were magically drained.

Harry figured that, if magic did damage to electronics, then electricity must do damage to magic. Voldemort had some kind of link with his followers magic – didn't Karkaroff say something about the mark darkening as Voldemort got stronger? Maybe this would permanently harm the death eaters.

Harry hoped not. He didn't want to go to trial for staling pureblood magic or some rot.

Fudge, consummate politician that he sometimes was, finally decided on a plan of action. He needed to distance himself from Lucius, immediately.

"Madame Bones, I order to question all of these death eaters with veritaserum. We must find if we've gotten all of them this time. Mr. Potter, thank you for your patience. I know that our plan was hard for you to follow, but I am glad you see the wisdom in my maneuvers now. For your patience, I think an Order of Merlin, First Class. Meanwhile, back to Hogwarts for you?"

"If it's all the same, I'd rather stay in London. Exams are done. I've no need to go back there. I've a safe house I stayed in this summer."

Fudge hesitated. "You can be reached by owl?"

Harry smiled, taking off the leather bracer on his arm. "I can if you destroy this," he said, knowing the goblins had tied the mail ward to the bracer, along with all the other malevolent charms Dumbledore and others had loaded him with.

Fudge nodded, and Kingsley was assigned to escort Harry from the ministry. As soon as they were out of earshot, Harry contacted Sirius by mirror. Pettigrew had been among the unmasked death eaters – another hasty plan had the minister admitting that he now had proof to exonerate Sirius and publicly thanking Harry for agreeing to the minister's non-existent plans.

Harry didn't care. Ends, means, whatever. If Sirius was free, then Dumbledore wouldn't be able to dictate Harry's life anymore. He called Winky to him. She had been so worried about her master, and now she was crying in relief. When he'd calmed her, she popped him, after he thanked Kingsley, back to number 12. Dobby brought all his things from Hogwarts.

Harry slept the night through, ignored the Prophet roundly in the morning, and sent a missive with the ENTIRE truth to Hermione.

The death eaters were not permanently squibbed, but would take quite a while to recover. No one lamented that. Dumbledore was placed back in his position as Headmaster, though he had not resumed his position as chief of the Wizengamot. Nowhere was he given any credit for any part of the downfall of Voldemort, but it had surely been accomplished.

Albus had seen for himself that the prophecy had been fulfilled. Harry had certainly used a power that Voldemort had known not. It was also a power Albus knew not. The entire situation still mystified. The fact that the death eaters, Snape included, lost their dark marks (and a good percentage of their magic) meant that Riddle was well and truly dead this time. Dumbledore didn't know how or why, and Harry wasn't talking. At least, not to Dumbledore. If he was in the country, he was under Black wards. As all tracking charms had been neutralized, Dumbledore couldn't find the boy to finagle the truth out of him, either.

The curiosity and lack of knowledge was driving Dumbledore mad, not unlike an itch that simply could not be scratched.

Albus suspected that the Granger girl might know the hows and whys of the fall of Voldemort, but he'd not been able to confirm that. He wasn't reinstated until after the students left Hogwarts. She'd avoided all of the faculty in her remaining days in the castle. This was not surprising, as they'd not protected her at all in her Hogwarts tenure. (McGonagall's self-image and self-respect never quite recovered from the nasty letter that Hermione left her.) Having passed OWLS, Hermione had also resigned from Hogwarts permanently, and subsequently moved with her parents from their previous residence. In short, Albus had no way of finding the truth from her.

Dolores Umbridge, who had almost gotten their world taken over by death eaters, in Fudge's eyes, was sent to the Island Nations of the Carribean to be an ambassador. The native mages there did not take kindly to her discriminatory ways, and it was not long before a Vundun priestess made the toad-like woman truly a toad.

As for Harry? He accepted his Order of Merlin with grace and a knowledge that he needed to avoid the spotlight for the rest of his life. He credited all of the success of the "plan" to Fudge and said without the minister, it would have completely failed. That much was true, although not in the manner Harry intimated. Had Fudge not completely alienated Harry, Harry would never have prepared himself as he did. He would have fallen to the death eaters instead of felling them with muggle weaponry.

Sirius was officially pardoned, though he never appeared publicly again, if he could help it. He'd tired of the magical world and lived, outside his home, as muggle as he could. Remus did the same. The two opened a business - estate purchasing and resale – and used their magic to ensure huge profits on what they sold. As they were simply fixing muggle antiques, the ministry gave them few hassles.

Harry went on to pass his GCSE's. Eventually, he went to university and got several masteries in magic. He found himself targeted by MI-5 – really, would no government leave him be? – and eventually went into weapons research for both sides. Apparently, MI-5 had ties with the Unspeakables in the magical world. So long as his name was kept out of it, and normal people were being protected, Harry had no problem doing the work.

He kept in touch with Hermione, who became a doctor (and healer) and who eventually used genome research to prove emphatically that magic was NOT in the blood.

Overall, with the mass exodus of muggleborn and the loss of so many powerful purebooods, the magicals who were left had to chart a new course. The common voter never did learn to question those in power, but it was now the entrepreneurs who had the ears of the politicians, not the old guard. This group was more inclined to reward ingenuity, talent, and work ethic than patriarchal line, so eventually, muggleborn stayed and flourished and society changed. It didn't necessarily improve, for, as Harry had discovered in his youth, people were mostly the same. Most people didn't want to concern themselves, were inclined to believe what they were told, and voted for the prettiest person who promised them the moon.

But none of that concerned Harry. He had his little, hard-won niche. He survived both Voldemort and Dumbledore. He survived Fudge, who did his best to reign in Harry's popularity, with Harry's complete cooperation. Most people had forgone the mythos of the Boy Who Lived after a decade of no one selling the story.

Nineteen years later, when Harry's firstborn received a Hogwarts letter, the family discussed the possibilities. A polite decline letter was sent. Magic would be taught by tutors; day school was more important.

All was well.