Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the world of Harry Potter, which is owned by J. K. Rowling and company. No one is profiting financially from this story.

June 8 1995, Little Whinging

Harry Potter stared out of the window of his bedroom at Number 4 Privet Drive but took no notice of the parched lawns or the setting sun.

Two weeks ago, the finale of the Tri-Wizard Tournament had led to the rebirth of Lord Voldemort, the greatest scourge of the Twentieth Century.

One week ago, the school year ended, and the guests and students of Hogwarts were sent away. Harry was banished to the home of his closest relatives, the Dursleys.

Harry was lost in a great gulf of loneliness. He was a single star in a cold, dark, empty universe. That Emptiness, as he called it, had been Harry's constant companion until he turned eleven. Harry had been running from the Emptiness ever since, always staying just outside its reach, thanks to the support of Hagrid, Ron, Hermione, and Sirius. But all of Harry's friends were just like anyone else; they left him. "Everyone leaves in the end."

The Dursleys had warned Harry that he would always end up alone. After all, no one wanted to be near freaks, even other freaks. Petunia especially liked to remind Harry that his parents died rather than deal with his freakishness. It was true: his parents had died and left him alone in a pile of rubble. Sirius had left him for Hagrid to deal with. Hagrid and Professor McGonagall watched, thinking nothing of it, while Professor Dumbledore left him on the Dursleys' doorstep in the middle of the night. The Dursleys were right when they said Harry was a burden they never asked for and never wanted.

Things were just as bad when Harry got to Hogwarts. McGonagall had left Harry, Ron, and Hermione to deal with the Philosopher's Stone with no adult help. None of the adults helped with the Chamber of Secrets either; one of the professors even attempted to leave Harry, Ron, and Ginny to the mercy of the basilisk. In fact, when had adults ever helped with the annual crises at Hogwarts? Why were he and his friends left to pick up their mess?

Now, Dumbledore had decreed that Harry had to stay with the Dursleys for at least four weeks this summer, despite what Harry, the Dursleys, or anyone else wanted. In the week since school, Harry had received one letter from Ron and Hermione and another from Sirius. According to the two letters, Dumbledore had forbidden them from discussing anything important with Harry by owl. Ron, Hermione, and Sirius had not only obeyed the headmaster, they took Dumbledore's orders to mean that they shouldn't owl Harry at all.

Every day, Harry felt less and less coherent. Since Harry had arrived at the Dursleys, he had gotten no more than 90 minutes of sleep at a time. When Harry tried to sleep, he would have nightmares of Cedric's cold, empty eyes as his lifeless body fell to the ground, and Voldemort's burning read eyes as he rose from the cauldron he was reborn in. When Harry was awake, he would drift off into daydreams (or were they visions?) of a room in the Ministry of Magic, a room with shelves containing hundreds of spheres. At least one of those spheres had Harry's name on it.

Loneliness wasn't the only emotion eating at Harry. Harry felt at times that every negative emotion, especially guilt and anger, were trying to get the best seat in his brain from which to cause havoc. In the end, they all succumbed to the Emptiness. Guilt and anger were strong, but even they had to yield to the vast sea of Emptiness inside Harry. Before Hogwarts, Harry had learned how to survive the Emptiness. Now, he seemed to have forgotten how.

But this situation was nothing new. Dudley had taken Harry's friends when Dudley and Harry attended primary school. Now it was Dumbledore's turn. Obviously, years of having friends had made Harry complacent. He needed to remember: no friendship lasts forever. "Everyone leaves in the end."

Harry remembered something he had read when he was eight: "Loneliness is the visual manifestation of the fear of abandonment." When he read that, Harry had realized, the only way to win the takers' game was to not play - to not care. They couldn't something from you that you didn't have and didn't want.

When he was younger, Harry had found peace with his situation by embracing the motto "I'm alone; I can't be abandoned." Maybe he needed to re-learn that lesson.

Before Hogwarts, insults from people like Marge and Malfoy wouldn't affect him. But now, they could control Harry through his reactions to their words. When had Harry given up control of his actions to people like Malfoy?

On the other hand, back then, Harry didn't realize all he was missing. Harry had seen couples at Hogwarts, pairs of people who snuggled, held hands, kissed. Nowadays, Harry yearned for someone he could talk to, a girl who understood him and his messed-up life and wanted to be with him anyway. Harry realized now that he had missed a great opportunity with Parvati last year. Maybe if Harry had paid proper attention to her at the Yule Ball rather than being an arse, he and Parvati could have dated. But Harry knew he was torturing himself with thoughts of something he'd never have. Parvati (and Hermione and Ginny) didn't even have a clue how screwed up life could get. They had families, support. They had adults they could have faith in. They would never experience the crap he faced every day.

Why did Dumbledore and Harry's friends abandon him? Harry could think of a half dozen ways to trade messages without using an owl; Hermione probably knew a hundred ways. Did they really think Voldemort would rifle through the muggle post, or bug his phone? Honestly! Didn't they trust Harry?

Had anyone currently living on Earth faced Voldemort as many times Harry had? (Four times so far!) No one except maybe Dumbledore or Moody. So why the hell would the headmaster exclude him now? Had Dumbledore done anything useful in the last four years? Did he get Harry out of the tournament? Did he get Sirius a trial? Did he even attempt those two things? It seemed to Harry that Dumbledore was relying on him to do all the dirty work.

With a chill, Harry suddenly understood. His scar hurt for a reason. Voldemort must know about their link.

Maybe the link wasn't one-way. Harry could see through Voldemort's eyes. What if Voldemort could see through Harry's eyes?

That's why Dumbledore couldn't trust him. What Harry knew, Voldemort knew.

In retrospect, Harry thought it should have been obvious. Right after his resurrection, Voldemort had touched Harry right on the scar, causing Harry extreme pain. Voldemort knew about their connection through the scar, and now he was using it.

But what was Dumbledore doing about it? Was the headmaster going to leave Harry to figure it out and fix it, just like always? Maybe that's what Sirius' message meant: Harry needed to stay safe and let Dumbledore handle it.

For the second time in as many minutes, Harry had an epiphany. Dumbledore was doing something about the problem, and the old man wasn't trying to isolate Harry. Dumbledore was keeping Hermione, Ron, and Sirius away from Harry to protect them. But if that were true, couldn't they discuss Quidditch or something with Harry? No, it was better – safer – for them to break ties. Harry could understand that. Harry would even understand if Dumbledore was blocking mail from them.

Sadly, all the time Harry had spent brooding hadn't sharpened his intellect. He was wrong about all of it: Voldemort did not know about the link, Dumbledore was trying to isolate Harry, and Dumbledore couldn't care less about Hermione's, Ron's, and Sirius' safety. Unfortunately, it would be a long time before Harry discovered any of this.

Now that Harry understood – and agreed with – what he thought were Dumbledore motives, Harry tried to think of things he needed to do while he waited for word from Dumbledore's lot. Train - Harry needed to train physically and mentally for whatever was coming next. Organize - he needed to go through his stuff and be ready to move.

Before any of that, there was something Harry had been putting off for four years. It was time he took care of it.

Harry turned to the only true, constant companion he'd had in his life, his owl Hedwig. Harry had to endure the Dursley hellhole, but it was wrong of Harry to force her to endure it. Harry wasn't certain who the best caregiver for Hedwig would be. She was quite distinctive; everyone at Hogwarts knew Harry Potter's owl on sight. Keeping Hedwig might make the person a target of Voldemort and his lackeys.

Rather than make that decision, Harry chose to return Hedwig to the person who originally chose her - Hagrid. Who better to take care of a non-human companion?

Harry wrote a quick letter to Hagrid, telling the gentle giant how poorly the Dursleys treated Hedwig and asking that Hagrid find Hedwig a new home.

Having finished the letter, Harry turned to Hedwig and steeled himself for the next part. He was expecting Hedwig to be very displeased.

"Hedwig, I need you to do one last thing for me. Please take this letter to Hagrid and then stay with him until he finds you a new home. If for some reason you can't find Hagrid, please find yourself a new human to take care of you."

Hedwig barked at Harry, clearly expressing that he had gone mad.

Harry did his best to channel McGonagall as he responded, "I'm serious, Hedwig. You can fly out on your own, or I can put you in your cage and ship you to Hogwarts on the Knight Bus."

Hedwig expressed her displeasure even more loudly, but finally grabbed the letter and took flight. Harry felt another part of himself die as his last friend flew away.

As Harry watched Hedwig leave for good, it really hit home that he was on his own.

First thing Harry needed was a plan. But, even before that, he needed to have a word with his relatives.

Harry went downstairs to find his aunt; talking to her would be quicker and simpler than talking to his uncle.

"Aunt Petunia?"

Petunia stepped out of the kitchen and responded, "What do you want, boy?"

"I wanted to discuss the summer with you. Now that Voldemort's back-"

Petunia's eyes went wide.

"-I have a lot of training to do. Of course, I can't do magic here, but I have a lot of studying and exercise to do."

"He- he's back? The one that killed Lily?" she asked quietly, as though afraid someone would hear her.

"Yes, he returned at the end of this last school year. As I was saying, I'll do all the normal outside chores, but as for the indoors chores, I'll only have time for the weekly linen wash."

Harry could see indignation and fear warring on Petunia's face, so he quickly finished what he wanted to say.

"Since I'll be doing less work, I'll buy my own food and otherwise fend for myself. You won't have to see me or deal with me outside of those chores."

"Fine then," she responded tersely. "I'll tell Vernon."

"One last thing, I'll be leaving on my birthday and I won't be coming back."

Harry turned around and returned to his room before Petunia could say anything further.

Once back in his room, Harry started to plan. Harry decided that, if Dumbledore and his merry minions didn't help Harry before his birthday, he would go to Gringotts, who were well known for wards and cursebreaking. He would hire a professional cursebreaker to examine his scar and deal with it. Maybe, if Harry was lucky, he'd survive the whole thing. Maybe, if Harry was very lucky, this could hurt Voldemort.

It wasn't much of a plan, but it was a plan. In fact, it was probably the most complex, well thought out plan Harry had ever concocted.

Harry created a daily schedule that he'd adapt as well as possible to every day this summer. The day was divided into alternating two-hour blocks of study and exercise for twelve hours per day. This would leave time for chores, meals, showers, etc. Harry created an exercise regimen that included push-ups, pull-ups (using his hovering Firebolt as a pull-up bar), sit-ups, and running.

Before planning out his studying, Harry decided to organize everything he owned that was in the Dursleys' house. Harry cleaned out his room and his trunk and organized all his possessions. Everything Harry owned still fit in his trunk except his Firebolt and Hedwig's cage. Harry was glad for that since he planned for this to be the last time he stayed with the Dursleys.

During the cleanup, Harry suddenly realized he might be able to get help after all.

"Dobby! Oh Dobby!"

Harry didn't get any response, so he decided to get back to work. Once he finished organizing his stuff, Harry started planning his study sessions. He had four years' worth of textbooks (except Lockhart's) for review material. He divided the subjects into four groups: wanded magic (Charms, Transfiguration, and parts of DADA), magical biology and chemistry (Herbology, Magical Creatures, Potions, and parts of DADA), stuff that was way out there (Astronomy and Divination), and mind-numbingly dull stuff (History). Each two-hour block of study would focus on one of the groups, but Harry assigned the most blocks to the wanded subjects. Harry decided he would practice every spell using a pencil instead of his wand. He would also say the words in his head rather than speak them aloud. Harry had started using silent casting for the Second Task last year. Since silent casting was required in sixth- and seventh-year classes, Harry thought it was a good habit to continue. Besides, it was better not to advertise your intent if you were in a duel.

Good planning also considers the most likely bad things that could happen. Although he hated to admit it, Harry brooded. He would sit and get wrapped up in an emotion until someone or something interrupted it. This summer, knowing this weakness, Harry devised a way to benefit from it. If he was hit with angry, impatient, sad or lonely thoughts that he couldn't shake off, Harry would launch into a round of sit-ups or push-ups (if he was indoors) or top-speed running (if he was outdoors). By doing this, he would burn off the thoughts that were trying to bring him down.

The last thing to plan was everything else, most notably what he would eat and drink. He would go to the local grocery store every few days and buy himself fruits, vegetables, jerky, and other food items that didn't require refrigeration, as well as jugs of water.

Harry started his routine and followed it religiously. Harry began truly internalizing the lessons he had barely paid attention to for the last four years. Because of his brooding contingency plan, in short order, Harry was learning to keep a clear mind and to be patient.

July 30 1995, Little Whinging

On the night before his birthday, the Dursleys were out for the evening and Harry was in his room reviewing third year Transfiguration, when Harry heard a loud noise downstairs.

Harry turned out the light in his bedroom and palmed his wand. He crept to the door and slowly and quietly opened the door just a bit. Sure enough, he heard whispers downstairs - someone had broken into the house.

"Remind me again why we're stumbling around in the dark," said a female voice Harry didn't recognize.

"Shhh. Constant vigilance!" was the response, in a voice Harry definitely recognized as Alastor Moody - or someone disguised as him.

"Harry's room is upstairs. I'll go get him so we can be done here," said a voice that sounded like Remus Lupin.

Harry decided that the people downstairs were legitimately people he knew, or elaborate disguises. Harry stepped out of his bedroom and walked down the stairs to the group. There were eight people in the group and he recognized two of them.

"Good evening, Professor Lupin. Why did you break into the Dursleys' house instead of just knocking on the front door? Do you normally just waltz into people's homes uninvited? And what's with the lights?"

"Ah, Harry, good. We're here to pick you up. I'll make introductions once we're at headquarters."

Moody stepped forward and said "Enough chatter. Get your things and let's go. It's not safe here."

Harry turned to Moody and responded "Really? Dumbledore told me I had to return here because it was the safest place for me. Did you not get the memo? Besides, I'm not going anywhere till I know what you've done about the security leak."

Moody turned to one of the women in the group, the one with pink hair, and told her "Tonks, get his things from his room. We need to get going."

Moody turned back to Harry and said, "Get to the point, boy. What's this security leak you're going on about?"

Harry lowered his voice so that only Moody and Lupin could hear. "I am. At times, I can see through Voldemort's eyes. I suspect that he can see through my eyes as well. He now knows that you and all these people work for Dumbledore. Are you planning on taking me somewhere where I can't expose anymore secrets?"

"Well, shit!" Moody responded.

Moody turned to the group and barked "Everyone apparate out now!"

No one moved. They all looked rather shocked.

"I said MOVE! NOW!"

Finally, people started to pop away, and the pink-haired woman came downstairs with Harry's trunk floating beside her.

Moody turned back to Harry and said, "Listen, Potter. I have no idea if you're right, but I intend to find out. I'll get back to you as soon as I talk to Dumbledore."

Harry responded, "Thanks. It's good to see someone finally doing something."

Miss Pink Hair dropped Harry's trunk, said "Wotcher, Harry!", and disappeared.

Surprisingly, Harry managed to stay calm throughout the whole exchange.

As Harry was about to take his trunk back upstairs, he heard a noise outside the front door that he recognized as an owl. "At least the owl's polite enough to knock," Harry said to no one in particular.

Harry retrieved the letter the owl was carrying, and it flew off immediately.

He opened the letter and read:

Dear Mr. Potter,

We have received intelligence that you performed the Leviosa charm at approximately twenty minutes past nine this evening. This constitutes a breach of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery.

As you have already received an official warning for a previous offense under section 13 of the International Confederation of Wizards' Statute of Secrecy, we regret to inform you that your presence is required at a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Magic at 9 A.M. on August 12th.

Hoping you are well,
Yours sincerely,
Mafalda Hopkirk
Improper Use of Magic Office
Ministry of Magic

"Well, shit!"

Harry was irritated but not surprised that Dumbledore's people had left him in a worse state than when they'd arrived. Now that they were gone, Harry thought it might be the ideal time to escape the Dursley hellhole.

Harry shoved the Ministry letter in his trunk and headed out the front door. At the curb, he stuck out his wand to summon the Knight Bus.

The bus appeared and screeched to a halt in front of Harry. Stan Shunpike, the conductor, stepped out.

"Welcome to-"

"Hello, Stan," Harry said quickly as he stepped in. "Would you get my trunk, please? Could you take me to King's Cross station?"

Harry didn't want to stop at the Leaky Cauldron, only to have someone waiting for him, like had happened two years prior. King's Cross was the only other place in London where Harry had ever been, and he thought it would be especially easy to find a cab there, making a trip to the Cauldron simple enough.

July 30 1995, London

Harry was right, he did find a cab easily, and when it dropped him off near the pub entrance, Harry decided the roundabout journey had been a good idea. Some lowlife was stationed at the pub's entrance acting as a doorman. From the looks of surprise and disgust from the people entering and leaving the pub, it was obvious the doorman was not a normal staff member.

Harry didn't think that Dumbledore had had enough time to know Harry was missing; it had only been about 30 minutes since Moody and friends had showed up at the Dursleys' house. In fact, how would anyone know that Harry was going to be at the Leaky on this particular night at this particular time? Then it dawned on Harry - this might be further proof of Voldemort seeing through his eyes.

Knowing that stealth might be futile, Harry decided to try anyway. He donned one of his plain, unadorned black robes, making sure his face was obscured, especially his scarred forehead. Harry also covered his trunk with his invisibility cloak, so it would be less obvious that he was a runaway minor. Once Harry was through the portal into Diagon Alley, he removed and stored the invisibility cloak, and made his way to Gringotts without incident.

Diagon Alley was a whole different world at night than it was in the daytime. All the family-oriented shops closed when the sun went down, and the restaurants, pubs, and such opened. People were loud, friendly, and all over the place. Nothing had changed in two years.

On the other hand, Gringotts always looked the same, day or night; only the clientele changed. On this particular night, Harry was one of two humans in a line of eight customers.

After another hour, Harry's turn at the teller arrived.

"May I please speak to someone about hiring a cursebreaker?" Harry asked.

"Who are you and why do you need a cursebreaker?" asked the teller.

"Harry Potter," Harry told the teller in a loud whisper. "I need someone to look at my scar."

"Come this way, Mr. Potter," the teller said, and then walked quickly to a hallway nearby without waiting to see if Harry was following.

The teller and Harry reached an office marked "Slipknot", and the teller knocked. Someone inside the room said, "Enter," and the teller waved Harry inside.

The room was sparse, having little more than a few weapons hanging on the wall, a desk covered with papers, a single chair in front of the desk, and a goblin sitting behind the desk.

"Sit," the goblin said, and Harry sat in the only available seat.

"I am Slipknot," the goblin said. "Snuffcase indicated that you wished to hire someone to examine your scar. Is this the case?"

"Er- yes, sir," Harry answered helpfully.

"Surely you know the Goblin Treaty of 1635 prevents goblins from using magic on human magic-users, and vice versa. Furthermore, would a human healer not be a better person to ask?"

"Sorry, sir, it's just that, this scar is supposedly the result of the killing curse, and everyone knows that goblins are the experts at cursebreaking," Harry said with some trepidation.

"Indeed," Slipknot agreed. "Nonetheless, we are not allowed to attend to your case. However, I have a client who is both allowed and interested. He has asked me, if you were ever to ask us at Gringotts for information regarding your scar, to extend an opportunity for you to discuss your scar with him. Would you be interested in meeting with him?"

"I don't know... I don't know of anyone I could trust."

"Let me provide a few more details, Mr. Potter, and then you can decide. My client is an Unspeakable, the head of several important projects in the Ministry of Magic's Department of Mysteries."

"An Unspeakable?"

"Essentially a magical researcher. Unspeakables are the people who work in the Ministry of Magic's Department of Mysteries. The purpose of this department is to investigate the various branches of magic, and to offer advice to the Ministry, specifically to the Wizengamot," Slipknot explained. "Sadly, many of the Unspeakables' recommendations are distorted or ignored by lawmakers. However, if some new magical danger arises, the Ministry looks to the Department of Mysteries to explain the phenomenon and resolve the danger."

"What's the catch? If I meet with him, can he take me back to some laboratory and experiment on me?" Harry asked.

"A valid question. The meeting would be here in Gringotts, which is neutral territory. My client would not be able to coerce you in any manner while in the bank. What humans do to each other outside of Gringotts is not our concern."

"Ok, I guess. How soon can he meet? I'm, uh, between residences right now, and it's not a good time for me to wait."

"I suspect he would make time to meet you within the hour. I will contact him now." Slipknot pressed a button and the teller from earlier entered the room. "Snuffcase, please escort Mr. Potter to Waiting Area One."

As it turned out, Waiting Area One was a room that included some very comfortable-looking couches and chairs, refreshments, and a wide arrange of magazines and newspapers. Harry sat on one of the couches and was asleep within a couple of minutes.

Sometime later, Harry was awoken by Snuffcase returning to the room. "Mr. Potter, please follow me."

Harry once again followed the teller, this time to a conference room. Slipknot and someone in a gray robe were waiting for him.

As Harry stepped in and the door closed, Slipknot said, Hello again, Mr. Potter. Allow me to introduce Mr. Gray."

"Good day, Mr. Potter," the Unspeakable intoned to Harry in a voice that sounded like a chorus of people speaking in exact unison. "I believe the Department can help you with your scar."

"Hello, Mr. Gray. If you don't mind me asking, why do you feel the need to be disguised? It's hard to trust someone who I can't see or hear properly. You could be anyone under that hood."

"A natural reaction, Mr. Potter. Should we come to an agreement, I will sign a contract to work in your best interest, to keep you informed in all issues that directly affect you, and to allow you to make decisions in all issues that directly affect you whenever possible. You will find that your headmaster has never taken made such a promise, and I am certain he never will.

"Those in the Department who would handle your case are qualified healers. Like muggle hospitals, we handle medical cases with three steps: investigate, plan, act.

"First, we investigate the target. We use scans and tests that will characterize the target but not change it or the patient.

"Second, we plan how to treat the target based on the results of the first step. This includes weighing the options and making decision. Of course, the final decision will be yours.

"Lastly, we implement the plan composed in the second step. Easy enough, right?"

Harry thought a moment, then answered, "Yeah, it sounds easy enough, but what's the catch? What do you get out of it?"

"We learn whatever your scar has to show us. Your welfare is our priority, though."

Harry knew he still wasn't getting the whole story, and that whatever he didn't know would come back to bite him. Nonetheless, "Gryffindors go forward," he thought.

"Okay, what do I have to do?"

Mr. Gray pulled out a contract that stated the steps and provisions mentioned earlier. Harry read the contract, and they both signed it.

Mr. Gray then said, "Now that the paperwork is done, we'll go to the Ministry, where you'll be staying for the duration of your treatment."

"How long will it take?" Harry asked.

"The first round of scans and tests will take a day to administer and another day to examine the results. The results will tell us what scans and tests to include in the second round. This will continue for hopefully no more than four rounds. Then we discuss and plan. Then we implement. All in all, I expect it to take eight to twelve weeks."

"Well that won't work. I have to return to Hogwarts in just about a month."

"That won't be an issue. So long as you are under treatment, we will provide you with tutors for all your OWL subjects, plus any additional you wish to study. We'll provide facilities and supplies for your studies, for practicing magic, for exercise, and even for hobbies, if you like.

"Wow! That sounds great!" Harry replied, somewhat in awe. "But I think Professor Dumbledore might want me to return to Hogwarts."

"Mr. Potter, at the selection ceremony of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, the headmaster and the Ministry agreed that you could sign legally binding contracts. The contract you just signed ensures that no one other than you and our Department have a say in what you do until your treatment is complete or you choose to end it."

With that concern addressed, Mr. Gray asked, "Before we leave, do you have any other questions or concerns?"

"Yes, one more thing. I got this letter for underage magic. I have to attend a hearing in a couple of weeks."

"Don't worry about it, Mr. Potter. I'll take care of that myself. Minister Fudge is overdue for a discussion on his handling of your affairs."

Mr. Gray and Harry flooed directly from Gringotts to the Department of Mysteries. Mr. Gray then deactivated the floo and showed Harry to his assigned quarters with the promise a tour of their working area the next morning.

July 31 - August 2 1995, Department of Mysteries

The next morning, Mr. Gray was waiting outside Harry's room when Harry emerged.

Their first stop was the dining hall for breakfast, where Mr. Gray introduced Harry to the rest of the team. Apparently, none of the team except Mr. Gray used the nearly-formless, face-obscuring robes that all the other Unspeakables used. Naturally, everyone on the team knew who Harry was. To Harry's surprise, he recognized two of the junior staff. Kevin Tomkins had been a seventh-year Ravenclaw and Rachel Zeller a sixth-year Ravenclaw when Harry was a first year. Harry had never had the opportunity to interact with them, though, so he had to be reminded of their names. Kevin was one of the laboratory staff; he hoped to study alchemy while working in the Department. Rachel was a junior healer who planned to be the magical equivalent of a psychiatrist.

After breakfast and introductions, while giving Harry a tour of the area, Mr. Gray explained the team's history. After Harry's first year at Hogwarts, the Unspeakables heard rumors that Voldemort AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle might still be alive, or perhaps undead. Harry's second and third years offered further proof that Riddle and his minions were still active. Finally, in the past year, the Unspeakables decided to stop waiting for Dumbledore to do something and formed the Riddle Response Team to study and address the Voldemort issue. The response team was given its own sealed off area in the Department and dedicated staff members.

With Harry's arrival, the team consisted of 21 members: one project lead, nine healers, four researchers, two laboratory staff, four facilities staff, and the subject of study. Harry was obviously the subject of study and Mr. Gray was the project lead.

The team had three senior-level healers, four standard-level healers, and two junior-level healers. Healer Smith was a senior healer and was the lead healer of the Project. The two other senior healers were McCoy and McGann. The four standard-level healers were Baker, Hines, Manning, and Ward. The two junior healers were Rachel and a recent Durmstrang graduate named Bjorn. Whenever Harry was in an examination, each healer would either be directly involved or would observe and be on standby. The healers would rotate direct involvement, so that no one was irreplaceable and no one was only marginally involved.

The team researchers were specialists in runes and arithmancy, with a strong knowledge of potions. The researchers would be required to observe Harry's examinations but would not be directly involved. Their primary work would be before and after the examinations.

The laboratory staff included Kevin and one other person. The primary tool for their work was potions. The lab workers would not be directly involved in Harry's exams.

The facilities staff handled security, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and the like. The facilities staff would not be directly involved in Harry's exams, but they would assist with the setup and cleanup, and would provide security during the exams.

All staff members would be allowed to observe the exams if they were not otherwise engaged. Harry didn't like the idea of being watched, but he felt it was a small price to pay for all the trouble the staff was going through on his behalf.

The area within the Department that was assigned to the Riddle Response Team was isolated from the rest of the Department, and it was the most heavily shielded area in the Ministry. It included two floors.

The top floor had a dining hall, a large conference room, laboratory facilities, an examination room, and several smaller multi-purpose rooms. The multi-purpose rooms could serve as meeting rooms, classrooms, practice rooms for spellcasting or potions, exercise rooms, or a host of other useful things. The dining hall and conference room could each hold up to 60 people without crowding.

The bottom floor contained 32 small apartments, one for each team member and spares.

The area also had a second examination room. They called it the "unshielded" exam room, but it did have some minimal shielding. The unshielded exam room would be used for matters where the outside influences were needed.

Mr. Gray ended the tour by telling Harry the security rule for leaving the area. Any trips outside the area had to be approved by Mr. Gray, and had to have a two-person security escort. This limited how many people could be out of the area at once. All team members had agreed to this when they signed on, and Harry had no problem with it. Not all the team were single, but Mr. Gray had chosen staff members who had no dependents at home who needed constant care.

After the tour and lunch, Mr. Gray sat down with Harry to discuss Harry's education. Harry told Mr. Gray of the study and exercise regimen he had followed earlier in the summer. They decided to plan out a similar schedule with the understanding that the blocks of time would have to be fit around the examinations and treatments Harry would undergo. It really dawned on Harry that this might not be as quick and easy a process as he had envisioned. But then, when was anything in his life quick or easy?

Mr. Gray decided to stick with two-hour blocks for "classes" and exercise but divided the academic subjects slightly differently. The new academic topics were: Transformational Spellcasting (more-or-less just Transfiguration), Non-Transformational Spellcasting (mostly Charms and parts of DADA; Harry just called it "other wanded magic"), Magical Biology and Chemistry (Herbology, Magical Creatures, Potions, and parts of DADA), Perceptive Magic (Astronomy and Divination, but completely different from what Trelawney and Sinistra taught), and Societal Studies (History, plus government and a whole bunch of other topics). Lastly, Mr. Gray added a topic called the Mind Arts, which included Occlumency and Legilimency. Mr. Gray also adapted Harry's exercise regimen to encompass all the training equipment that Harry now had available.

Mr. Gray then decided on teachers to cover Harry's subjects. Healer Hines would teach Harry Magical Biology and Chemistry, Healer Manning would teach Transformational Spellcasting, the lead researcher would teach Non-Transformational Spellcasting, Healer Baker would teach the Mind Arts, and Healer Ward would be Harry's physical trainer. Each of them held at least one mastery in the subject they would teach. Even better, they were all qualified to teach.

A master of Perceptive Magic would visit from outside the area to teach Harry once a week. Similarly, Harry would be taught Societal Studies by several visiting experts.

Once the education planning session was done, it was nearly time for dinner. Mr. Gray told Harry to report to the shielded examination room the next morning so they could get started.

Day Two of Harry's stay in the Department of Mysteries was quite memorable for him. It reminded Harry of the time when Voldemort held him under the Cruciatus Curse.

The procedures themselves were normally painless. The Unspeakables had never seen a case where that wasn't true. Like always, Harry proved to be the exception to a long-established "rule".

The cause of Harry's pain was discovered easily enough: his scar did not appreciate investigation. In fact, the scar was downright opposed to it. Harry had thought it was Voldemort that caused his scar to hurt. It was actually caused by any interaction with magic, and Voldemort was just the most frequent source.

After the first scan, which had Harry screaming and thrashing until he fell off the bed, the Unspeakables were somewhat unsure how to proceed, or whether Harry would allow them to proceed at all. All the while, Mr. Gray watched dispassionately, saying nothing. Once Harry had regained his voice and could stand, he laid back down on the bed and said, "Continue." They did, but strapped Harry down first so that they wouldn't be interrupted again.

Every one of the Unspeakables that witnessed Harry's examination was astounded by his tolerance for pain.

Day Three started just as painfully as Day Two, and only a few minimal tests were accomplished. At this rate, the healers felt that it might be years before they gathered enough data to form any kind of diagnosis. Around lunchtime of the second day, Mr. Gray and the healers convened to discuss other options. Just before dinner, Mr. Gray sat down with Harry to discuss the new approach.

"We appreciate the resolve you've shown so far," Mr. Gray said. "But it's obvious our current approach is not working. The lead healer has proposed another method and we believe it to be our best chance of success.

"Healer Smith's idea is to adapt a set of runes in such a way that they would be invisible to the scar, and then use those runes as a go-between for our spells. If we align the runes' power sequence to the lunar cycle, the runes will activate slowly enough that the scar will never see them as anything out of the ordinary. We can then activate and deactivate scans and tests indirectly, through the runes, rather than interacting with the scar directly."

"That sounds straightforward," Harry replied. "Where and how would the runes be carved?"

"We would etch the runes around your scar."

"Would the runes be permanent? Visible, I mean," Harry asked.

"Yes and no," Mr. Gray answered. "We would cut and lift the skin around your scar to etch directly onto your skull. We would heal cuts immediately afterward. The etching on your skull would be permanent."

"And this would take four weeks?"

"Yes. You would only be on the examination table for about an hour a day. We would observe your scar remotely while you went about your daily activities, and while you slept."

"Would there be any side effects?"

"This is such a non-invasive procedure that we think there will only be a small lingering bit of pain, nothing like what you've endured so far. Likewise, there should be no side effects, although we will monitor you closely."

"How soon would we start?"

"The next two new moons are August 24 and September 24. On the morning of August 23, we'll set up and execute a test run of the runes. That way we'll be familiar with the procedures and tools when the real test starts on the morning of August 24. We will conclude our work on September 23."

"And then we plan, and then we implement," Harry responded.

"Exactly," Mr. Gray said, obviously happy with Harry's repetition of the process steps.

Harry thought a few moments, then said, "Let's do it. Do we carve the runes right away, or on the 23rd?"

"Any time before the 23rd of August, the sooner the better. We would like to give you a few days to recuperate first. If it sounds alright to you, we'll do the inscription on the 14th. Until then, you're free to continue your studies and other activities," Mr. Gray responded.

"Let me know if you have any questions or concerns," Mr. Gray said as he rose to leave.

After the discussion with Harry, Mr. Gray went directly to the Minister of Magic's office. Most witches and wizards found Unspeakables unsettling. One reason for this was how they moved. An Unspeakable wearing the trademark Unspeakable robes did not display any leg movement. It almost looked as though the Unspeakable floated just above the floor and glided from place to place. Couple this with being unable to identify the Unspeakable's age or gender, and it made them seem non-human.

When the Minister's secretary noticed someone bypassing her desk and heading straight to the Minister's office, she reflexively rose to stop him from barging in and disturbing the Minister. Fortunately, she realized who the intruder was and allowed him to pass before he had to correct her.

When the door to his office banged open, Cornelius Fudge looked up angrily and said, "What's the mean-" Once he saw Mr. Gray, Fudge stopped and slumped back in his seat.

"Minister," Mr. Gray said, "it's come to our attention that Harry Potter recently received his second warning from the Ministry regarding underage use of magic."

"Oh, really," Fudge said nervously, "Imagine that. What on earth has that boy been up to?"

"As it happens, that is no longer your concern. We will be expunging Mr. Potter's records except for those from Hogwarts."

"Now see here! This boy is a menace! Dumbledore has him spouting this nonsense-"

Mr. Gray moved closer to Fudge and continued, "Was I unclear? Harry. Potter. Is. Not. Your. Concern."

Mr. Gray moved closer still. "Focus instead on this: what would the members of the Wizengamot do if they knew that the lord of an ancient and noble house could be held at Azkaban without due process for more than a decade? What would befall the Minister who perpetuated this travesty?"

Mr. Gray stopped mere inches in front of Fudge and said, "Consider this as well: why is your friend Lucius Malfoy so anxious to keep this travesty in place? What - and who - would he sacrifice to keep it in place?"

After a pause, Mr. Gray said, "Is everything clear now?"

"Yes, yes, certainly. I understand. I will leave Potter alone. I will investigate the unlawful imprisonment of the lord of an ancient and noble house."

"Good. Thank you for your time, Minister." Mr. Gray said, then turned and left the room.

Harry's first Non-Transformational Spellcasting lesson went extremely well. The instructor, Healer Manning, had Harry explain and demonstrate a rather comprehensive list of spells, which included pretty much all spells from Hogwarts' first four years except Transfiguration. Harry not only verbally defined all the spells adequately, he successfully cast all of them silently. His practice at the Dursleys' in the first half of the summer actually proved very fruitful, even if he couldn't actually cast the spells.

Harry's first Transformational Spellcasting lesson was not as impressive, but still went well. Harry could define the Transfiguration spells through fourth year and was able to cast them all within two or three attempts. He couldn't cast any of them silently, but he was able to just whisper the incantations.

Harry's days fell into a routine. After breakfast each morning in the dining room, Harry would exercise for two hours, shower, and then have two hours of lessons. After lunch, Harry had another two hours of lessons, then time to practice spells and do whatever else he'd like, then dinner and more free time till he went to bed. Some of the medical staff often joined Harry at meals, especially Kevin and Rachel. Kevin talked a lot about his current job and what he hoped to do with alchemy. Rachel was much more introverted, but Harry started to enjoy asking her questions and drawing her out of her shell. Harry was surprised by how many of Hermione's tactics he remembered.

August 3 1995, Hogwarts

Albus Dumbledore sat at the desk in his Hogwarts office, looking through a long letter from the International Confederation of Wizards summarizing their last meeting. The parchment used thousands of words to say that no decisions had been made or even any progress.

Dumbledore looked up when his fireplace flashed, indicating an incoming call.

"Headmaster, this is Mr. Gray," the caller said, following the usual protocol of introducing oneself when calling via floo connection.

"Ah, Mr. Gray, what can I do for you?"

"I thought you might like to know that Harry Potter has set up residence in a safe area within the Department. We will be examining his scar and determining what actions to take. If you would like to contribute any information, now would be the best time for it."

"Mr. Gray, surely you understand that this course of action is ill-advised."

"I understand that the only thing worse than dealing with Mr. Potter's scar is not dealing with it."

"Really, Mr. Gray, I must insist-"

"Insist all you like but do it on your own time; don't waste mine. Mr. Potter has been invited to stay while we handle his scar. We have tailored a study and exercise regimen for him up through OWLs. It is highly likely that Mr. Potter will not attend Hogwarts for his fifth year."

Mr. Gray finished, "Good day, Mr. Dumbledore. You know how to reach me, should you decide to slip out of character and be helpful."

Dumbledore sat frozen in shock for a moment, then looked back down at his letter. Fawkes was on his desk and had regurgitated a pellet onto the parchment.

"How appropriate," Dumbledore thought.

August 3 1995, Department of Mysteries

Later that day, Mr. Gray met with Harry.

"Mr. Potter, not long before you were born, a prophecy was made. It's believed the prophecy applies to you. Under normal circumstances, I would take you to the Hall of Prophecy so that you could watch it. However, given your connection to the Dark Lord, I don't believe that would be wise. If the Dark Lord knew that you knew the prophecy, he would attack your mind in earnest as soon as you were out of our shielded area."

"I understand," Harry said, somewhat irritated that he had to be kept out of the loop about something that involved him so directly.

"That's not all," Mr. Gray continued. "The Dark Lord heard part of it, and so it's safe for you to learn that part."

Mr. Gray pulled a piece of parchment from his robe. "Destroy this once you've read it. You may discuss it with other team members, but not with the visiting instructors or anyone else. If you discuss it with anyone on the team, let them know not to discuss it outside the team. Tell them it's covered by their Department oath."

Harry looked at the parchment.

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches, born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies.

"I take it my parents 'defied' Voldemort three times? Is there anyone else to whom this prophecy might apply?"

"Yes. You and Neville Longbottom were the only magical children born in Britain at the end of the July following the telling of the prophecy. Note that the date and location are assumptions."

Mr. Gray continued, "Because Neville Longbottom was also a candidate, the Dark Lord had planned to attack the Longbottoms after attacking your family. When the Dark Lord disappeared, his most loyal Death Eaters attacked the Longbottoms in hopes of discovering something about their master's fall. Frank and Alice Longbottom, Neville's parents, were tortured into insanity and now permanently reside at St. Mungo's."

"That's... not good. Poor Neville. Can anything be done for them?"

"Nothing we currently know can cure them. There are many treatments in the muggle world that have not been used in the magical world. One of them may hold the key to curing the Longbottoms. However, very few healers are willing to consider muggle techniques. Miss Zeller hopes to join the healers looking into adapting muggle techniques."

"Yeah, she had mentioned that. Regarding the prophecy, have you heard all of it?"

"Yes. It narrows the list of candidates down to one: you."

"Well, shit. I should have guessed. I had wondered why Voldemort went to a lot of trouble to kidnap me from Hogwarts last year when he had already captured Mad-Eye Moody."

"The Department will provide you all the tools at our disposal so that you can make your own future, regardless of what you decide in regard to the prophecy."

"Thank you, sir. Thank you very much."

August 3 1995, Grimmauld Place

That evening, a large group of adults and teenagers were gathered in the ballroom of the Black family's London residence. The ballroom was the largest room on the ground floor of Number 12 Grimmauld Place and was filled with nothing but chairs to seat the group in attendance. The adults in the group were members of Dumbledore's Order of the Phoenix. The teenagers were Hermione Granger and the four Weasley children still attending Hogwarts.

Harry Potter had disappeared from the Dursley home five days prior, right after a visit by several Order members. Harry had received another citation from the Ministry of Magic for underage magic and a hearing had been scheduled. The people in the room were collected in smaller groups discussing the situation when their leader arrived.

Everyone quickly seated themselves in the chairs lining the four walls. Dumbledore moved to the center of the room and began to speak.

"I imagine you all have an inkling of why I've called you together. I-"

Molly Weasley cut in, "Professor, why are these children here? They should not be sitting in on Order business."

The "children" started angry retorts but stopped as Dumbledore held up a hand asking for silence.

"Molly, I've asked them here because they are affected by the news we have to share, and they will no doubt soon discover the news even if we exclude them from this meeting. Now, let's continue. As you all know, the night when Alastor went to retrieve Harry, he was distressed and unwilling to accompany the team back to headquarters. Alastor dismissed the team, then came to Hogwarts to inform me of Harry's decision. When Alastor returned to Privet Drive, Harry was gone, and he has not returned since. Fortunately, I have new information regarding Harry's situation."

Dumbledore paused for effect, then continued, "Quite on his own initiative, Mr. Potter has dedicated himself to training and study this summer in seclusion. He has obtained a private facility and qualified tutors to assist in this endeavor. After some consideration, I felt it was prudent for him to continue uninterrupted."

The room exploded with noise as people yelled questions or comments.

"Please, please, one at a time," Dumbledore said loudly enough to be heard over the din of voices.

Sirius barked out, "Where is he, Albus? He's my godson. I should at least know where he is."

The headmaster responded, "I'm sorry, Sirius, the secret of Harry's location is protected. I cannot share that information, no matter how much I would like."

As Sirius cursed, Hermione asked, "Is Harry alright? How can we contact him?"

Dumbledore answered, "Harry appears fine. I will let you know how to contact Harry once I determine the best means to do so."

Molly Weasley asked, "What about his hearing for underage magic?"

Dumbledore looked to her husband and said, "Arthur?"

"The Minister canceled Harry's hearing and cleared his record of this offense and the previous one."

Bill Weasley asked, "What exactly did he do this time, or last time for that matter?"

Arthur responded, "It appears he cast a Leviosa on the night Moody visited Privet Drive."

Nymphadora Tonks spoke up, "Did he really get a citation for that? That was me."

Sirius snapped back, "Really, Tonks? You work for the DMLE and you didn't think about the consequences of casting magic there?"

Tonks shot back, "Hey, don't blame me. The magic detectors normally filter out any registered adult wand. Something's wonky about the magical sensors around that neighborhood if they report all magic."

Dumbledore cut in, "Nymphadora, please investigate the magical sensors in the Surrey area. It would be preferable that this not happen again when Harry returns home. In the meantime, I'm certain we all have things to do. Unless something arises, we'll meet at our normal time this weekend. Thank you all and have a pleasant evening."

While Dumbledore was asking Tonks to investigate the suspicious magical sensors, Minister Fudge was in the act of having them removed, as well as any evidence that the special sensors had even been used on Privet Drive. The Order's efforts were too little too late. The point was moot anyway, since Harry Potter would never live at Number Four Privet Drive again.

August 4 1995, Department of Mysteries

After the usual morning meeting, Mr. Gray took Harry aside to show Harry a memo Mr. Gray had received from the Minister of Magic's office. The Ministry wanted to declare the Tournament a four-way tie and split the winnings. To do that, the Ministry would need Harry to return the Tri-Wizard Tournament winnings. Harry responded immediately that they could take the 1000 galleons – and no more – from Harry's vault. Despite all the decisions Harry had already made since joining the Riddle Response Team, he still found it strange to be part of the decision-making process. Mr. Gray acknowledged Harry's decision and told Harry that he would take care of the details. Mr. Gray also told Harry not to worry; Mr. Gray and Harry were the only two people who could access Harry's vault anymore.

After dinner that evening, Harry wrote the Weasley twins and told them that he was returning the Tri-Wizard earnings to the Ministry. Harry then reassured the twins that it didn't affect them; the 1000 galleons Harry gave them was a gift from his personal funds. They would never need to reimburse him.

August 6 - 10 1995, Department of Mysteries

Since Mr. Gray's discussion with the Minister, the Daily Prophet had not mentioned Harry or Dumbledore at all. Three days after that eventful meeting, the Prophet had a new hot topic for the masses. Several members of the Hogwarts Board of Governors had resigned, some new members had been added, and the new board had elected new leaders. The article speculated the possible repercussions to Britain's world-renowned learning institution.

The team discussed the article at breakfast that morning. In the after-breakfast meeting, they asked Mr. Gray if the Department had any insight into the changes. Mr. Gray mentioned that the Department had "assisted" with the board's changes but wouldn't elaborate beyond that.

Two days after that, the Prophet reported that Dumbledore had collapsed on his way to his first meeting with the new Board of Governors and had to be taken to St. Mungo's. Dumbledore was currently in critical condition.

The Prophet emphasized how unfortunate the timing was. With the new board possibly attempting sweeping changes while the headmaster was incapacitated, what would become of the nation's iconic magic school?

As with the earlier article, the topic was brought up at the morning meeting. Mr. Gray told the team that the Department was assisting in Dumbledore's diagnosis and treatment. The team thought there was a lot more to the story, but Mr. Gray had nothing more to say about it.

Two days later, the Prophet reported that Dumbledore's condition had been diagnosed and he was now being treated for a degenerative memory disease. The healers suspected that a prolonged illness Dumbledore had in 1990 weakened his immune system and made him susceptible to the disease.

The Prophet reported in detail how Dumbledore's decisions since 1990 had ranged from "questionable" to "disastrous". The paper said that Harry Potter was *not* a delusional, attention-seeking liar, but rather a victim of Dumbledore's dangerous instability since the disease began to affect him.

The Prophet gave several examples of Dumbledore's instability, including the troll and a teacher possessed by "a malevolent spirit" in Harry's first year. The Prophet also mentioned the Chamber of Secrets fiasco of Harry's second year, as well as Gilderoy Lockhart's crimes and deceit. The paper especially highlighted how the board and Dumbledore had clamped down on outside communication that year, ensuring that the DMLE and parents were ignorant of the danger the students and staff faced.

The Prophet's next example of Dumbledore's instability was the Tri-Wizard Tournament. According to the tale spun by the Prophet, Harry and Cedric had been kidnapped when they reached the Tri-Wizard Cup together. Their kidnapper was a former follower of You-Know-Who who had been trying to capture the Boy-Who-Lived. Harry had survived and escaped but had been unable to save Cedric. (Harry just knew that people would be calling him a coward and blaming him for Cedric's death). Unfortunately, the identity of the terrorist was unknown, and he had escaped. The paper went into detail about how poor a job the staff had done at protecting the students.

The Prophet mentioned as a sidenote that, because of the terrorist's interference with the Tournament, the Ministry had decided to declare the contest a draw and to divide the winnings amongst all the champions.

The last of the Prophet's Dumbledore articles mentioned that he was being treated for the memory disease and was expected to recover before the school year started, although some permanent memory loss was anticipated. The article conjectured that Dumbledore would be replaced in his roles at Hogwarts, in the Wizengamot, and in the ICW.

Mr. Gray's told the team that the Prophet was correct, both about Dumbledore's current condition and about how monumentally stupid Dumbledore's past actions had been.

August 14 - 19 1995, Department of Mysteries

Once the Day of Etching (as Rachel had labeled it) arrived, Harry endured hours of various healers inscribing runes on his head. Each healer wore magnifying goggles and used their wand like a high-precision laser. After the first examinations Harry had endured, having people slicing open the skin on his head seemed practically painless. Even so, after the third hour of etching, Harry decided that this was a poor way to be introduced to the topic of runes.

The healers couldn't use numbing charms on his head for fear of causing a reaction from the scar, so they used a topical anesthetic from muggle medicine instead. To Harry, the pain of the laser-like beams slicing open the skin on his forehead was roughly the same as lemon juice in paper cuts. The discomfort was trivial, and it would help Harry get rid of the damn scar, so he considered it a win.

After the sixth etching session, the healers spent another hour examining their work before declaring it a success. As Harry got up to leave, Mr. Gray stepped in.

"Hello, Mr. Potter. It appears you survived the rune carving procedure."

"Yeah, just another day's work, right?" Harry said nonchalantly with just a bit of a smirk.

"If you say so. Regardless, you've earned a night off. Senior Healer Smith wants to do another examination tomorrow morning, then a checkup every three days until the 24th, the day before our first real examination with the runes. You should be able to resume your regular schedule by mid-morning tomorrow.

"Great. Thanks," Harry responded surprisingly energetically, considering the day he'd had.

"Also, starting on the 24th, we'll be using the lesser-shielded examination room. It will allow celestial influences in, so that we can power and utilize your new runes. Until then, they'll be inert. Any questions?"

Harry shook his head to indicate 'no'.

"All right then," Mr. Gray finished, and left Harry to finish up.

Other than the Day of Etching, Harry's life had become very ordered. Harry was pushing himself to excel at lessons and exercise, and it was paying off. Thanks to Kevin and Rachel, Harry was also avoiding loneliness and depression. The trio had progressed past "acquaintances" and were now at the "regular conversation partners" stage. They sat with each other at meals and spent free time in the evenings together. Both Kevin and Rachel were unattached. Prior to this project, Rachel had lived with her parents and Kevin had shared a flat with another guy who worked at the Ministry. Kevin's roommate had had a boyfriend, though, and had rarely spent time at the flat, so Kevin had essentially lived alone.

Harry found both Kevin and Rachel to fit his vision of a Ravenclaw; they were both inquisitive. The difference was obvious, though. Kevin was very linear and methodical with his questions, much like Hermione, whereas Rachel's questions seemed so much less linear, approaching an idea from multiple angles at the same time.

When Kevin and Rachel began to ask Harry about his home life and his childhood, rather than answering, Harry turned the questions back on them. Both were pure-bloods, but they both were very familiar with the muggle world. Kevin told Harry that healers tried to keep abreast of muggle medicine, making their families more muggle-aware.

Kevin's father and grandmother had been healers; both were retired. Kevin had three siblings, all older than him. Kevin's uncle ran the family's brewing company, Sir Tomkins and Company, "makers of the best damn whiskey in the British Isles!"

Rachel's mother and father were both nurses at St. Mungo's. Rachel had one sister, Rose, who would be starting at Hogwarts this year.

Both Kevin and Rachel found Harry to be nothing like his advertised image. After the one time they asked him about it, Kevin and Rachel learned just how much Harry hated all of that, so they avoided bringing it up. Regardless of that image, it was obvious they liked the real Harry. Kevin commented that Harry needed a better public relations person.

Later that week, Kevin invited Harry and Rachel to his room after dinner. Kevin had received a gift from his family, a case of "the finest beer in the world" (one of the Tomkins family's brews, of course). That evening, Rachel and Harry realized the unpleasant truth: Kevin was a master of Exploding Snap.

After a dozen hands and about a half dozen beers each, the trio was sitting around a card tower about six cards tall. Rachel and Kevin were sitting cross-legged. Harry was perched on his knees, looking closely at the tower as he carefully inserted a card that would start a new level. Unfortunately, one of the cards on the top level took offense to Harry's new card and exploded. As usual, this caused a chain reaction of all the cards in the tower, hitting Harry directly in the face, and causing Kevin to Rachel to burst out laughing.

"Poor Harry," Rachel said, still chuckling at Harry's soot-covered face. Harry sat back on his bottom and tried to flatten his wind-swept hair. Rachel crawled over on her hands and knees.

A quite inebriated Rachel brought her face within two inches of Harry's and whispered, "Does poor Harry need Rachel to kiss it better?"

Harry, even more inebriated, this being his first time, couldn't speak. His mind was blank, his mouth hung open, and his eyes were locked on hers.

Rachel leaned in closer, Harry could feel her breath on his lips, then she moved up and planted a soft lingering kiss on his scar. She sat back and snickered, then yawned and laid down.

Harry sat flabbergasted for another ten minutes, then turned and noticed Kevin slumped over and snoring. Harry laid back on the carpet and smiled.

The next morning, all three woke up when Kevin's alarm started blaring. All three were still on the floor, having fallen asleep in place. None of them were particularly hung over, since Kevin knew the trick to avoiding a hangover and thus had them all stay hydrated.

Harry woke up on his back with Rachel using his chest as a pillow. Before Harry could process having a wonderfully female girl laying on him, Rachel woke up, stretched and yawned widely, then hopped up and said, "Up! Up, you lazy boys! You don't want to know Mr. Gray's penalty for tardiness."

Both men groaned but got up. Rachel left for her room. Harry followed her out, but she disappeared into her room before Harry could stop her to talk. Harry was left standing in the hall, wondering just what the whole kissing thing meant. Was she just kidding around? Was she interested in him?

She couldn't be interested in him. He was 15 and she was 20. She was pretty, with her deep blue eyes and dirty blond hair, and she was awesomely smart, and he was, well, lame.

Harry shook his head and decided not to worry about it. He had work to do. I mean it wasn't like they were having sex or anything, right?

August 20 - 23 1995, Department of Mysteries

Harry, Kevin, and Rachel were once again together after dinner, this time in Rachel's room. Things were becoming more hectic as the new moon approached. Each of the three depended on their nightly get-togethers to unwind. Since each set of quarters had minimal space and minimal furniture, the three friends sprawled out practically filled the room. Kevin was sitting backward in the room's one chair, his chin on his arms, which were on the back of the chair. Rachel was lying stomach-down on her bed with her head up. Harry was sitting cross-legged on the floor. Each of them held a bottle of a blue, fruity, alcoholic concoction made by Kevin's family distillery.

Harry asked, "What is this stuff again?"

Rachel answered, "Avoiding the question, are you?"

Harry sighed, "Remind me: why are you so interested in my one-and-only date?"

"C'mon, Harry. I've told you all about the two boyfriends I've had. Kevin's told us about his also-limited experience, plus way too much about his roommate's melodrama. It's your turn."

"There's nothing really to say. I think Ron and I thoroughly hosed it up. Neither of us knew how to dance, so the whole thing made us nervous. Plus, the girls all ran in packs - it was impossible to get one alone. It made Ron and me so nervous that we waited till the last minute to get dates. Fortunately, there was a pair of twin sisters who was free. The champions had to dance the opening number, and my date twirled me around like I was a doll and made both of us look good. After that experience, I really didn't want to dance anymore. I was still thinking about the girl I wanted to go with - Cho, and I ended up spending the rest of the evening watching her and her new boyfriend, Cedric, the champion who died. Ron spent the whole evening watching Hermione. I don't know if he was jealous of Krum dancing with Hermione or of Hermione dancing with Krum. Anyway, our dates got bored and found other dance partners."

Rachel was slack-jawed. So was Kevin. Finally, Harry couldn't take the silence and spoke up. "What? We were bad dates. I already told you that."

Kevin answered, "Wow. That is epic in its failure."

Harry really did want to know what he did wrong, how to make it better, and how to avoid the same mistakes in the future. Kevin and Rachel took pity on him and described how both Harry and Parvati had probably been wrapped up in their own thoughts and desires that night and had failed to think of each other.

Rachel's advice was to try and think about his date and what she needs or wants, what would make her feel happy. "Make her feel special by paying attention to her. Listen to her when she talks. Learn what she likes and dislikes. Ask her friends for ideas."

Kevin's advice was to take it slow. "Your body will want to rush to a conclusion quickly. Nothing could be less satisfying for your partner. Savor every time you hold hands, every kiss, and so on."

Rachel agreed with the way Kevin phrased it and summarized, "Don't rush it. Savor every moment. Explore what makes your partner happy."

Harry was very ready to test out their advice. He still had pangs of loneliness when class, exercise, or his friends weren't there to distract him.

The next day, Harry had an exam of sorts in his Occlumency class. He tried to visualize his magic, and hold the image while his instructor, Healer Baker, performed Legilimency.

"Good, good," Healer Baker said as she withdrew from Harry's mind. "Keep practicing this in your free time and I believe you'll be ready for the examination on the 23rd. That exam should prove quite interesting."

"Really? How so?" Harry asked, his interest piqued.

"You will be connected to a device which was specifically created to enable this testing. The imager, as it's called, will project what you are able to visualize. Essentially, the examiners will stand in a simulation of what you see. At the same time, it will appear to you as though the examiners are in the visualization, in your mind. It should be a fascinating means of communication."

"Oh, wow," Harry said, somewhat awed. "That sounds so useful, like it'd have a bunch of applications."

"Yes, yes, it would," Healer Baker said thoughtfully as she left the room, effectively ending the conversation.

The day of the dry run finally arrived. For the week prior, the team had a post-breakfast meeting every day to discuss progress and issues. Mr. Gray described the imager and how it worked in greater detail. They also discussed the steps of the test, expected outcomes, and possible pitfalls.

Mr. Gray assigned Kevin and Rachel to be on call in the observation chamber while Harry was in the examination room. They would be his moral support and backup as needed.

Harry asked about the difference in shielding between their normal area and the unshielded exam room. He also asked if they would have to walk through the main part of the Department to get to the unshielded exam room.

Mr. Gray used an analogy to describe the unshielded exam room. "Think of the Department of Mysteries as a half-sphere."

"Like a snow globe," Kevin said.

"Exactly. Now think of a smaller globe inside of it with thicker glass. That's our area. Now think of a little bubble on the side of the bigger snow globe. The two snow globes and the bubble all touch in one spot. That spot is the door from our area to the unshielded exam room. There is no hallway or other area to pass through."

At this point, Harry realized that a whole lot of expensive resources were being used to study his problem.

"The unshielded exam room does have transportation wards. Those negate any type of teleportation or portal travel. Since the room is underground, anyone who tries to apparate or elf-travel into the room will materialize in the rock right outside the room. Portals, like vanishing cabinets, will not work in the unshielded exam room, just as they won't in our area."

After the morning meeting on the 23rd, Harry, Kevin, and Rachel went to the shielded exam room. In the center of the room, there was a table and a comfortable-looking chair that was reclined about 30 degrees from vertical and that faced away from the table. A rough-hewn obsidian cube sat atop the table. It was obviously the "imager" Mr. Gray and Healer Baker had mentioned. The cube was about 500 centimeters in length per side and had white etchings all over it. A small metal bowl that looked to be made of nickel was set into the top of the cube. The bowl was also covered in runes, but these were red. During the last meeting, Mr. Gray had mentioned that the red runes were etched in Harry's blood.

The table was surrounded by witches and wizards attaching what looked like tentacles to two sides of the cube. Two of the tentacles were about three centimeters thick; the other two were only half as thick. When they were done, they turned to Harry and signaled that they were ready for him.

Harry looked at his two friends. "I guess this is it. Wish me luck."

They did so, Kevin with a punch to his arm and Rachel with a hug. Feeling unusually bold, Harry snuck a hand down to her bottom and squeezed. She shrieked and punched him in the abdomen hard enough to double him over. Kevin and Harry laughed, while Rachel looked indignant but amused.

Rachel and Kevin left for the observation room, and Harry sat in the chair next to the cube. One of the healers took Harry's glasses, then the healer in charge, Healer Smith, brought the two smaller tentacles over and placed them on his temples. Then, he brought the two thicker tentacles over and, while two healers held Harry's eyelids open, placed them on Harry's eyes. They didn't hurt at all, but they felt weird, like they were sucking his eyeballs.

A few minutes later, Healer Smith said, "Now Harry, visualize your magic. Focus."

Harry repeated the exercise he had been diligently practicing and brought up the image in his mind of what he could feel as the magic inside himself. It looked much like a simplistic picture of the sun, a big, yellow, glowing ball. Harry was shocked when images of the four healers stepped beside the glowing sphere, each of them about the same height as the ball.

They all walked in a circle around the magic ball until Healer Smith stopped and pointed at a dark orange spot, the only dark spot on the ball.

"Now notice over here there's a darker spot. Harry, please focus on this."

Harry did, and the image zoomed until that spot was the same size as the healers. They all chattered and murmured and scribbled notes in the journals they were carrying.

After a few minutes, Healer Smith said, "Ok, Harry. Please return to your original focus." Harry did, and the image returned to its original state.

The healers continued circling the magic ball, chattering, murmuring, and scribbling notes for another hour or so. Harry did his best to stay focused the entire time.

Finally, Healer Smith declared the test complete and the healers stepped out of the image. The healers removed the four tentacles from Harry and handed Harry his glasses.

As Harry sat up, Healer Smith told him, "Well done, Harry. Your visualization was much better than I expected. Our examination tomorrow should proceed quite well."

"Thank you," Harry replied. "I appreciate all of this, Healer Smith."

"No worries, Harry. We're helping each other."

There was the obligatory after-exam meeting, in which Smith explained the technical minutia of what they'd seen. Essentially, when the exam started the next day, they wanted to get a good look at the dark orange sport to see what was going on.

Once dismissed, Harry, Kevin, and Rachel went to get lunch. Afterward, they returned to their regular duties until dinnertime.

August 23 - 24 1995, Department of Mysteries

After dinner, Harry returned to his room, ready to clean up from his studies and exercise for the day and prepare for the big day tomorrow. Instead, he spotted a set of letters he'd received a few days ago, one from Ron and Hermione and one from Sirius. He wasn't certain if they came by owl, by elf, or by royal mail. Harry discovered them on his desk two days ago when he returned from dinner before meeting Kevin and Rachel. Harry had opened the letters and read them aloud when he was with the other two. Harry explained how Dumbledore had told them not to share anything important with Harry and how they had chosen to stop writing him altogether. While it hurt, Harry agreed with their decision. Apparently, it was ok to contact Harry now that he was in the Department, but Harry wasn't certain he wanted to risk it. Why would they be safer now that Harry was in a more secure location?

Rachel replied, "Harry, are you worried for them, or deep down are you trying to hurt them the way they hurt you?"

Harry wasn't offended by Rachel's painfully insightful comment, but he did have to think on it a while. Harry finally concluded, "No, I think it's just concern for them. I've made my peace with being isolated now that I'm not alone and helpless. They did what they thought was right. The only person I'm truly disappointed in is Sirius. I feel like I'm an afterthought to him. I'm just glad I went to Gringotts and met up with Mr. Gray."

The day of the new moon started much like the day before. The team had breakfast, met, planned, asked questions, got answers, and headed to the exam room. This time, though, it was the unshielded (or more accurately, the "semi-shielded") exam room.

Just as Harry was having the slurpy tentacles put on his eyes, Voldemort struck. He drilled into Harry's brain looking at memories. Harry screamed and writhed as pictures of his childhood with the Dursleys passed through his mind.

Someone called out to Harry, he couldn't tell who, and told him, "Focus. See your magic."

Harry trudged through the fog of pain like a person in a blizzard. Finally, he reached the image of his magic, the bright yellow sun. The dark orange spot on his magic was now a bright red, like Jupiter's big red spot. It had grown, and it oozed magic like pus or blood. It was pinned in, though, by a tiny circle of runes that Harry had not seen earlier - they must be the runes etched recently by the healers. There were long cords coming out of the spot and heading out to different places out of sight. One of the cords was obviously the thickest, as round about as Vernon Dursley, and was red and pulsing, like the spot itself. Several other cords were only as thick as Harry's arm, and were orange and seemingly dormant. There were a huge number of the cords that were like gossamer thread, almost invisible depending on which way they faced.

Right off, Harry knew which of these was his link to Tom Riddle, but what should he do? The Harry remembered the words of the best DADA teacher he'd ever had, the fake Moody, "Play to your strengths".

Working around the excruciating pain, Harry focused hard on the red spot. Thinking of the good times with Ron and Hermione, meeting Sirius the first time, hanging out with Kevin and Rachel, and squeezing Rachel's butt, he yelled "Expecto Patronum!".

The yellow ball erupted with what looked like a sunspot but grew and changed color until Harry's patronus emerged and charged the red spot. Prongs charged right into the spot and stopped. Slowly, the patronus was absorbed into the spot, not shrinking but becoming more and more transparent. The spot lightened to nearly as clear and yellow as the rest of the ball.

Harry felt the tentacles wrenched off his head and he was practically dragged out of the room. At this stage, he was in shock, feeling nothing physically or emotionally, almost in a buzz.

When Harry came back to his senses, he was lying on his bed in his room. One of the junior healers was sitting in Harry's one chair, while Kevin and Rachel were each sitting cross-legged on the floor.

Harry groaned and suddenly everyone moved. The junior healer rushed to Harry and told Kevin, "Get Smith and Mr. Gray." Kevin stood and ran out of the room. Rachel stood but stayed out of the healer's way.

The healer did a few scans and then Mr. Gray and Healer Smith burst into the room. The junior healer stepped out of the way as Healer Smith stepped up to Harry. Smith did a few scans then turned to Mr. Gray, "His neural pathways seem undamaged."

"Well that's good," Harry said. "At least the lorry that ran me down didn't hurt my brain."

Mr. Gray said to everyone, "Meeting in the conference room in 30 minutes," then walked out with the healers.

Kevin stepped back in, and he and Rachel stepped up to Harry's bed. Harry still didn't feel like getting up.

"Don't tell me, this is like one of your end-of-the-year adventures, where you wake up in hospital with Ron and Hermione beside your bed."

"Yeah, close enough. It hurts just as much."

The trio spent a few minutes of calm together, then Harry finally got up and they went to the conference room.

The conference room had a single, long, rectangular table surrounded by chairs, with chalkboards on all the walls. It had dozens of colors of chalk, as no Unspeakable could illustrate his or her point with less than four colors.

As the trio stepped into the conference room, they couldn't help but notice the imager sitting atop the table. Everyone already knew that the bowl on the imager was a mini-pensieve that created gaseous memories from images as the imager projected them. The memories then drained from the bowl to the cube, where they were stored. The imager could replay any scene it "recorded". Anyone watching the scene could slow down, speed up, reverse, or stop the scene by touching the imager with their wand and saying the command.

Once everyone was seated around the table, Mr. Gray started replayed the short morning session. The scene started with Voldemort's attack already in progress. A loud whooshing sound accompanied the images, like wind in a wind tunnel, causing everyone to cover their ears.

"Silent," Mr. Gray said as he (not his wand) touched the imager.

The sound stopped while the images continued. When the playback reached the part where Harry's patronus stepped into the red spot, Mr. Gray spoke again. "Stop."

The image froze as Prongs was translucent, half absorbed into the spot, and the spot was changing color.

Mr. Gray pointed at the transparent patronus and said, "This is the point at which Harry drove Riddle from his mind."

Mr. Gray turned to Harry, "Explain precisely how you did this."

Harry responded, "I was trying to use what little I know to attack Riddle. 'Play to your strengths.' I imagine the Patronus charm is review to you," about two-thirds of the table nodded 'No' and the rest nodded 'Yes'.

Harry continued, "The Patronus charm affects creatures that thrive on despair, dementors and lethifolds. That's what Riddle is to me - loss and despair. I focused what I normally do for the Patronus, then aimed and fired."

Mr. Gray looked at all of the team members and said, "I will be drawing up a schedule for Patronus training for all of you. Those of you who can already cast the charm will, in pairs, teach the others."

Mr. Gray touched the imager again and said, "Loop next ten seconds." The image of Prongs being absorbed into the spot, and the spot changing to a dark yellow replayed several times until Mr. Gray said, "Stop."


The junior healer that had been present when Harry awoke said, "Mr. Potter apparently has better control of the link than Riddle. I would conjecture that Riddle was pushed back through the link and ejected into his own mind."

Mr. Gray replied, "That was my guess as well. Mr. Potter, does this relate in any way to your past encounters with Riddle?"

"Now that you mention it, yes it does." Harry retold how his and Riddle's wands reacted in their duel right after Riddle was resurrected. A buzz of quiet conversations broke out as Harry finished the story.

After a few minutes of conversation, Mr. Gray told the group, "Think on it. Meet back here at 13:00 ready to discuss the pros and cons of restarting the examination immediately. Dismissed."

With that, everyone filed out of the room, going their separate ways. When Harry got back to his room, he fully intended on collapsing back in bed, but his mind kept drifting back to the examination. Harry thought that, now that he knew the visualization techniques and how to apply the patronus feelings, he could keep Riddle at bay. Of course, Harry thought he was biased by the "charge ahead" attitude he had always had.

At 1 p.m., the entire team was gathered in the conference room. Once Mr. Gray kicked off the meeting, ideas were thrown back and forth. In his short time as a guest of the Unspeakables, Harry had learned not to interrupt the battling intellects. Finally, when they reached the point of just rehashing ideas and arguments already presented, Mr. Gray called a close to the debate.

"As the final input, Mr. Potter, please share with us what you think."

Harry stood and said, "Well, I agree with almost everything said. My biggest motivation is my desire to end Riddle once and for all." Then he added with a smirk, "That, and 'Gryffindors go forward.'" I say we restart today, just as soon as we can get our stuff together."

Mr. Gray made his decision, which matched Harry's conclusion. The meeting was dismissed, and people left quickly to prepare to restart the examination.

August 24 - 27 1995, Department of Mysteries

It was about 2 p.m. the same day when the team was ready to restart the exam. Once they were in the room and Harry was hooked to the imager, Voldemort attacked again, and Harry repeated the process of summoning his mental patronus and directing it into the spot. This time, however, the spot fought back.

The thread leading back to Riddle lightened to yellow and calmed down, just as before, but the spot only lightened a bit, to a reddish orange. Suddenly, the spot spewed forth bolts of magical lightning in every direction it faced, lancing through the imager and everyone in the room except Harry, who was shielded by the chair. At the same time, Harry started screaming in pain from the spot's backlash. Harry had just enough presence of mind to yank the tentacles off his eyes and forehead and the image of his magic disappeared. Harry then fell out of the chair, collapsed on the floor, and vomited.

The observers rushed into the room, and Mr. Gray directed them to get everyone and everything out of the room. Only five team members had been in the room at the time, Harry, the two senior healers Smith and McCoy, and the two standard healers Baker and Ward. The imager was taken straight to a spare room and quarantined. The four injured people were only taken as far as the hall outside of the unshielded exam room, then laid down to be treated. Three of them were dead already. One lasted through 30 minutes of treatment before also passing away.

It was a somber group that met at 4 p.m. It was an all hands meeting - everyone on staff was required to attend. Mr. Gray started the meeting with, "As you know, healers Smith, McCoy, Baker, and Ward are dead. The bolts we saw were pure magical energy, strong enough to overload their nervous systems."

Everyone in the room was silent. The attack by the spot was essentially the same as an image in a pensieve attacking a living person. No one had ever even conjectured that was possible.

"We will be working round the clock to determine what happened in the last examination and how. We will reconfigure the unshielded exam room to keep this from happening again, then we will restart the examinations."

Mr. Gray looked around the room and said, "What we witnessed was a demonstration of how powerful and how intelligent Tom Riddle is. We will not underestimate him again."

Once everyone was dismissed, the next few hours were filled with a rush of activity in the hallways. The unshielded exam room was blocked off for the time being. The temporary storage room of the imager was remodeled to keep the imager as safe and "uninfluenced" as possible long-term.

After breakfast the next morning, the team meeting included a pensieve with shields around it. The imager was locked away and would stay that way until Mr. Gray deemed it safe to use it again. As usual, the team meeting included everyone except the six facilities personnel.

The team watched the previous day's two examinations several times, with special focus on the attack in the second examination. When someone pointed to the bowl atop the imager and asked if the use of Harry's blood might have been a problem, something clicked in Harry's mind.

Harry related tale of Quirrell's death and Dumbledore's theory that it was Harry's mother's love that did it, then Harry mentioned the use of his blood in Voldemort's resurrection.

These two revelations started a lot of chatter amongst the group. For once, it didn't bother Harry to have the whole room whispering about him.

After some more discussion, Mr. Gray dismissed the meeting, asking Harry and Rachel to stay behind.

Once everyone else had left, Mr. Gray said, "Mr. Potter, it's obvious that we need more information about the interactions between you and Riddle. With your permission, I would like Healer Zeller to journal your life. The team will review the information, but their secrecy contracts ensure that they can't share it outside the team. Of course, if you want, these could be the basis for your biography."

Harry looked pained as he said, "I'll do whatever I have to in order to defeat Riddle."

Mr. Gray turned to Rachel. She nodded but said nothing.

Afterward, Harry went off to exercise. He poured himself into the exercise to block the images of the four people who died as part of the Project to help him, their eyes empty and unseeing, just like Cedric's. After two hours, Harry collapsed from the intensity of his workout and sat cooling off.

Rachel walked into the exercise room and sat next to Harry.

"Want to talk about it? I'm not taking notes," Rachel said softly. "Yet," she finished with a small smirk.

Harry smiled involuntarily, and once again thought about how very good Rachel was at drawing smiles out of him.

Harry talked about being bound and seeing Cedric falling to the ground, dead and staring at nothing. Harry then said that Healer Ward had fallen and looked the same way - vibrant and full of life, then empty.

The researchers delivered some news at the next morning meeting.

Research was progressing very quickly. The lead researcher told the team, "Using Potter's blood in the imager turned out to be a big mistake. Because of the inclusion of Potter's blood in the Dark Lord's resurrection ceremony, Potter's blood acts as a focusing agent for Riddle. We were fortunate this time, because it was the spot and not Riddle himself that initiated the attack. Let me clarify: Riddle attacked Harry but was driven off. Immediately afterward, the spot shot out its magical bolt. The real Riddle could have done far worse than a bolt of magical energy."

After some discussion, Mr. Gray pointed something else out. He brought up an extremely close-up picture of the runes on Harry's forehead, which could be seen glowing red during the spot's attack.

"The runes should not have survived the attack. The runic array should have been shattered. Not only did it survive, but it kept the spot from growing any larger."

After the meeting was dismissed, Kevin, Rachel, and Harry were walking out when Harry told the two that he'd like to start the biography discussions that evening. Harry asked Kevin to bring some of his family's finest stuff because very few parts of the discussion would be fun.

It took Harry about two hours to describe his four years at Hogwarts in detail. It took another two hours to address all of Kevin's and Rachel's questions. By then, they were all wrung out and Harry and Kevin fell asleep on the bed and comfy chair in Harry's room. Rachel stayed up late into the night writing up everything Harry had shared.

The next morning, the third morning after the spot attack, Rachel handed out copies of the report detailing Harry's Hogwarts years at the morning meeting. She also presented a summary to the team.

After Rachel's presentation, the researchers delivered some more news. "We had already determined that the threads represent magical connections between Mr. Potter's spot and other things. Specifically, the big thread is the connection between the spot and Riddle. Upon further analysis, we've identified the type of magical energy in these connections. It's soul-based magic. Since the connections and the spot are made of the same material, that would imply that the spot is a portion of Riddle's soul."

Sudden loud discussion broke out, in a way that only scientists with a new discovery can manage. Finally, Mr. Gray silenced the room and told the researcher to continue.

"We think the medium threads are echoes of Riddle binding his soul to several anchors, one anchor for each thread. These anchors, including the spot, keep Riddle's soul from leaving this plane of existence."

The pandemonium and shushing happened again, and the researcher continued again.

"Lastly, we think that each of the tiny threads mirrors the bond between Riddle and the Dark Mark on a follower. In summary, we believe Mr. Potter's scar is the key to killing Riddle and identifying his followers."

August 27 - 29 1995, Department of Mysteries

The bombshells that the researchers dropped at the morning meeting fueled hours of discussion. Lunch was served in the conference room. Finally, around 2 p.m., the meeting dismissed, and Harry went on with his usual schedule.

Surprisingly, the discoveries didn't bother Harry too much; they actually excited him. Harry might be able to make a direct contribution in the war against Riddle. Essentially, Harry's role was that of a missile launch pad, but it wasn't the worst thing he'd ever had to do. Use of the words "Dursley" and "underpants" in the same sentence still made him shiver.

That evening, at Rachel's recommendation, Harry had started trying to write Sirius, Ron, Hermione, and other friends. At this point, "other friends" included the Weasley twins, Ginny, and the Patil sisters. Harry even thought about writing Neville, since the relatively meek Gryffindor had originally been the other candidate of the prophecy that shat so hard on Harry's life.

The trio were in Kevin's room. Kevin and Rachel were each doing some recreational reading - Kevin a Quidditch magazine and Rachel a muggle psychology text, while Harry wrote. Harry was using his valuable evening-with-friends time to write because that was where and when he felt safest. Feeling safe helped Harry work past his separation from Sirius, Ron, and Hermione and write a calm letter to each of them.

Harry decided he would restart his relationships with Hermione and Ron at the level of acquaintances and build from there. That would be safest for them. Harry wrote Hermione a detailed summary of his regimen of exercise and study. Harry mentioned how much easier it was to study at his own pace than at the pace of the class. This was especially true in Transfiguration and History, where the syllabi followed a set path, regardless of the strengths, weaknesses, and progress of the students.

Next, Harry wrote to Ron. Harry included a much shorter summary of his regimen of exercise and study than what he told Hermione. Harry mentioned that the soonest he would be attending Hogwarts was January. Harry expected Ron to join the Gryffindor Quidditch team and keep the cup in McGonagall's office since Harry couldn't.

Harry wrote his letter to Sirius last. He decided to do what he had with the other two: keep it light and simple. Harry included the short summary of his work regimen and that he wouldn't be attending Hogwarts before January. Harry asked what subjects each of the Marauders had taken, and how they had managed some impressive feats of magic in their time at Hogwarts.

Writing those three letters took the whole evening. The Unspeakables had some secret way to send and receive mail, so all Harry needed to do was set the three letters aside to be mailed.

At the meeting the next morning, the researchers asked Harry to sit through more examinations of his scar. The examinations were in the shielded exam room and were done without the imager, since it was still quarantined. Kevin and Rachel insisted on being there, even though it would probably be uneventful and boring.

It was. Mostly the researchers peered at the runes carved around Harry's scar and occasionally poked it with magic.

That evening's post-dinner get-together was in Harry's room. Harry talked a bit about his time with the Dursleys. Harry described his introduction to cooking at age five, which had been the first time Petunia had hit him with the cast iron skillet. After hearing that, Rachel stopped writing and came over to hug Harry; Kevin joined them, making it a group hug.

Many drinks later, Harry decided to change his mood by writing to a beautiful set of twins. Rachel thought it was a bad idea for a "former romantic loser" to write potential paramours while buzzed, but Harry overrode her concern with his trademark Potter smirk. That earned Harry a skeptical eye-roll.

Harry decided it would be best to write separate letters to Padma and Parvati. He started with his letter to Parvati, which took almost three hours to complete. The letter rambled just a bit, but Harry was satisfied with it. Harry quickly penned a similar letter to Padma.

Writing the two letters drained the remainder of Harry's energy. Kevin and Rachel had left some time back, while he was writing, so Harry set aside the two letters to be mailed and went to bed.

The post-breakfast meeting the next morning proved to be as interesting as previous meetings since the spot attack.

One team of researchers announced they had another way to "wire" the imager so that it could be attuned to Harry without using his blood, and so that it was not tied to the lunar cycle. It would take about four or five days to reconfigure the imager, and then a few days (and Harry's help) to give it a few test runs in the shielded exam room. After that, the imager would be ready to use in the unshielded exam room again.

After that announcement and discussion, a second team of researchers presented some unexpected results of the runes they had etched around Harry's scar. Unknown to the team, the runes had been reinforced by Lily Potter's sacrifice, which is why they didn't break when the spot attacked. That attack actually fused the runes and the blood sacrifice, making the spot permanently constrained by the runic array. In other words, the spot could no longer grow. The level of effort it would take for the spot to breach the rune "barrier" would kill Harry. This might sound like bad news, but it meant neither the spot nor Riddle himself could possess Harry, and Riddle could no longer see into Harry's mind. Harry was safe from Riddle's intrusions.

After a long pause for discussion, the research team detailed their suggestions for changes to the wards on the unshielded exam room to incorporate the capabilities and limitations of Harry's runic array.

August 30 - September 7 1995, Department of Mysteries

The next morning was the sixth morning after the spot attack. The post-breakfast meeting started with Mr. Gray introducing two new team members: Senior Healer Fielding and Healer Pryce. Senior Healer McGann was now the lead healer.

The next order of business was the progress on the unshielded exam room and the imager. The researchers responsible for the remodeling of the unshielded exam room confirmed that reconstruction was on schedule. Likewise, rebuilding the imager was on schedule. It still looked as though the modifications of the two would mean that Riddle should not be able to perceive the team's future forays into Riddle's spiritual space.

The next stage was to have Harry try to enter one of the threads and see what he could perceive from it. The large thread was Riddle's main consciousness and was strictly off limits; the team needed to avoid his attention at this time, not go running right into it. The tiny threads were also off limits, as they seemed so delicate and easily broken. No one knew what might happen to Harry if he was in the middle of a thread that broke or disappeared.

The last order of business surprised most of the team. It came from Harry.

"I've been focusing on the runes in my latest meditation sessions. I'd like to have a session with the imager in the shielded exam room as soon as the imager's ready. I might be able to siphon energy from the spot."

After the initial awed silence, discussion started again on how soon the imager could be ready. They finally arranged a schedule with double shifts that would have the imager ready by September 2nd.

Over the next two days, Harry received responses from all his letters. The first was Padma's response, which thanked Harry for thinking of her, but that Ron had already apologized and was attempting to make restitution.

Ron's reply was even more surprising. Ron apologized to Harry for having been so unhelpful over the summer, then assured Harry that he would try out for the Gryffindor Quidditch team as soon as they had tryouts. Since Oliver Wood had graduated, Gryffindor was sure to need a keeper. Ron also mentioned that he had seen Padma at Diagon Alley over the summer. Ron had apologized profusely, and they were now dating. Harry had definitely not seen that one coming.

Parvati's reply was disappointing. Until Harry read it, he hadn't realized how much he was looking forward to a date with Parvati. Her letter mentioned that the Yule Ball turned out to be a good thing for her. Parvati had met her boyfriend from Beauxbatons after she and Padma had left Harry and Ron. Like Padma, Parvati appreciated the idea of restitution but said it wasn't necessary.

Sirius' reply was more frustrating. The Ministry had reopened Sirius' case and had publicly acknowledged that Sirius had never had a trial. Sirius had mentioned how good it was that the Ministry was finally listening to Dumbledore. Harry knew from Mr. Gray that Dumbledore had never done a thing on Sirius' behalf, and that Mr. Gray was the one to force a trial. It appeared that either Sirius was assuming Dumbledore's involvement, or that Dumbledore was stealing credit.

Hermione's reply was more of the same. She mentioned how glad she was that Dumbledore arranged for special training for Harry and that Harry was following Dumbledore's lead. Hermione also scoffed at Harry's assertion that there was anything substantial to Divination.

It seemed so odd to Harry. Ron was growing and maturing. Sirius and Hermione were stuck in their ruts. Harry wasn't surprised by Sirius but was quite surprised by Ron and disappointed in Hermione.

Ginny and the Weasley twins had also written Harry. The twins mentioned that their preparation for business had improved greatly with Harry's investment. They also congratulated Harry on the prank of not telling them he was a son of a Marauder. The twins were now extracting genius from Sirius and Remus Lupin, the last of the Marauders (Sirius and Remus had expelled Peter from the group and marked him for a special kind of retribution.)

Ginny's letter was the most forthcoming of the bunch. She mentioned specifics of what her family had done over the summer. They had apparently stayed at Sirius' old family house. Ginny explained a bit of Black history and what a dingy place the Black home was. Molly Weasley had coerced the kids into cleaning the hopeless house all summer, but the crud seemed to grow back when their backs were turned. Ginny suspected that Sirius' demented house elf was sabotaging their efforts.

The imager was ready per the revised schedule. The exam started in the shielded exam room immediately after the post-breakfast meeting.

The bottom portion of the imager, the cube and tentacles, looked the same. The pensieve-like bowl on top of the cube looked completely different. Instead of metal, the bowl was white with red markings - thestral bone with runes etched in thestral blood.

There were no issues getting Harry hooked up and started. This was Healer McGann's first exam as lead healer. He and three more healers were in the shielded exam room with Harry, overseeing the procedure.

After the team watched, Harry brought up the image of his magic, the big yellow ball with the obvious orange spot. The runes circling the spot were practically invisible before but were prominent now. After some inspection by the healers, Healer McGann told Harry, "Alright, Harry, we're ready for you to start your show."

Harry focused hard on the spot, but no one noticed any change. After ten minutes of this, the runes began to glow a deep red and the spot flared up orange. The spot was obviously now constrained by the rune barrier. The runes glowed brighter, and the spot tried to lash out, but finally stopped as though it was tired, out of energy.

Harry said, "That's it."

The healers looked somewhere between nonplussed and perplexed, but after some more inspection, they closed out the exam.

A meeting was scheduled at 4 p.m. to discuss the results. This would give the healers and researchers at least a bit of time to look over everything. Harry was a bit woozy, so they gave him a full physical examination as well.

When the 4 p.m. meeting started, the lead researcher tapped the pensieve on the conference room table and replayed the exam. After playing the image through once, he restarted it and pointed at the runes.

"Notice the circumference of the runic array here," the researcher said then forwarded the playback to right after the increase in glowing.

"Now look at the runes. The circumference has decreased by 30 micrometers." The change wasn't visible, so the team took it on faith that the measurement was correct.

Chatter broke out, but the researcher continued. "At the same time, Mr. Potter appears to have experienced a twenty percent surge in magical levels."

The chatter increased. After an hour of discussion, the team decided they needed to determine if this new development would help their forthcoming efforts. Mr. Gray ended the meeting, and the team split off into smaller groups to start the research.

The after-breakfast meeting the next morning turned out to be quite volatile. Research had uncovered cases of wizards and witches having absorbed magic in the past. Fortunately, some of these experiments were well documented. The first documented case ended with the wizard absorbing 200 percent of his inborn magical capacity before he literally exploded. With such a spectacular result, the Unspeakables of that time were reluctant to continue the research. Finally, another group was overcome by curiosity and tried it again. This time the witch in question absorbed 400 percent of her inborn magical capacity before she rose and left the experiment, only to surface the week following as one of the most fearsome dark witches of that century. The third and last attempt was also on a witch, and it also ended in a messy explosion.

With these results, the researchers on the team were united in their recommendation that a lot more study be performed before they try to use this method in their Riddle-related efforts. Mr. Gray agreed but assigned three of the team's four researchers to the full-time task of researching this magical absorption.

Harry, on the other hand, wondered if he would have to explore this option by himself. The imager made it easier for Harry to focus on his magic, but Harry could now operate without it. The imager was mostly needed so others could see the images and so that the images could be recorded.

Three days later, the unshielded exam room was ready for use. The after-breakfast meeting was brief, and the team prepared for the first semi-shielded exam since the four healers had been killed.

Healer McGann started the exam with Harry bringing up the image of his magic, as usual. There were researchers in the exam room this time, unlike all the other exams in the unshielded exam room. The researchers and healers were taking measurements with all sorts of instruments Harry hadn't seen before.

The exam team finally decided to their satisfaction that Riddle had not detected them. Healer McGann pointed to where one of the medium-sized threads came out of the spot, and said, "Harry, would you please focus on this spot and try to zoom inside of it."

The image flickered for a moment, then the focus changed as requested. As soon as the focus went inside the thread, Harry screamed, and the image turned into a sea of red without the big yellow ball or other shapes. Harry quieted, and the view zoomed to its original state.

"Hmmmm," said Healer McGann. "Harry, would you try sending your patronus to that spot, then zooming it?"

Harry summoned and moved the patronus as directed. With the patronus in place, Harry was able to enter the thread without the barrage of pain, as though the patronus was shielding him. From the inside, the thread looked like a long tunnel filled with a dark orange liquid. Moving the patronus and his view through the tunnel was very slow and tiresome. After an hour of effort, Harry couldn't sustain the patronus any longer and zoomed out of the thread back to the starting position.

"Well done, Harry, well done," Healer McGann said. "I believe we've done enough for today."

Harry responded, "Sir, may I make a suggestion?"


"I think it might be easier to traverse one of the tiny threads. Would you consider us doing that tomorrow?"

"I'll discuss that with the team and we'll have a decision by tomorrow morning."

"Thanks," Harry finished.

With the exam finished, Harry left to exercise and study, and the others cleaned up the room and prepared to examine the results of their scans.

The next morning, as promised, Healer McGann rose and repeated Harry's proposition. Most of the team felt that, without being able to run tests in a more controlled environment, like the shielded exam room, Harry shouldn't be exposed to the risk. After all, the point of this whole exercise was to rid Harry of the scar without killing or permanently maiming him.

Harry disagreed. "The point of this exercise is now beyond me. The point is to deal with Riddle and his followers permanently."

Kevin responded, "Which we can't do if you're dead or a vegetable."

Harry glared a bit at Kevin but didn't respond.

In the end, against all the advice, Healer McGann agreed with Harry attempting it. He postponed the exam until 10 a.m. to ensure the team had time to prepare the unshielded exam room.

They repeated the previous day's procedure, choosing a random tiny thread instead of the medium-sized thread. The interior of the thread looked the same, like a fluid-filled tunnel. Harry was able to quickly traverse to the end of the tunnel, where he found a large "room" with two windows. Harry went up to one of the windows and looked out, seeing what appeared to be a desk in an office in the Ministry. Harry was apparently seeing out of the eyes of the person sitting at the desk. The office was filled with the stuffed, mounted heads of various magical creatures, from an acromantula to a yeti.

Healer Pryce whispered to herself, "Amazing."

Harry's view backed away from the windows. "Are we certain this guy is a Death Eater?"

Mr. Gray, who Harry hadn't known was there, said, "This is Walden Macnair's office. We are certain he is a Death Eater, a particularly vicious one."

"Yeah, I remember Macnair. Good," Harry said. Then Harry started to glow.

In the projected image, the room (which represented Macnair's mind) began to collapse, and the view was pushed back into the tunnel (which represented the thread between Macnair and Harry). As the collapse continued down the tunnel, the view was pushed back even more. Finally, there was no more tunnel, and a huge surge of energy burst forth into the yellow ball of Harry's magic.

Then the room exploded.

Date and Time Unknown

Harry didn't know where he was. The last thing he remembered was attempting to absorb the magic from Walden Macnair, then there was a huge explosion of energy, then... he wasn't sure what.

Harry was standing in an infinitely large area. He could see no roof or walls. The floors were hard and smooth, like granite, and were a bland off-white color. He could see no ceiling or walls, or anything that would tell him if he were indoors or out.

There was only one notable thing about the place he was in - doors. Rows and rows and rows of doors. Each row went on forever forward and backward, and there seemed to be an infinite number of rows. It was like an infinitely large warehouse of doorways.

Each doorway was attached to nothing except the floor. Harry looked at the doorway closest to him. The front was a door in in some innocuous suburban style with a handle instead of a doorknob. The back of the doorway was featureless and seemed to be made of the same off-white material as the floor.

Harry grasped the door handle and opened the door slowly. He expected to see more of the floor material, like the back of the doorway. Instead, it was foggy. He could hear voices and other sounds beyond the fog - music, wind, the sound of the seashore, ... Harry leaned forward, trying to see what he was hearing, until his head was in the fog. Suddenly, Harry was bombarded with images from hundreds of years of history all at once. Hundreds of people were born in Britain each day, and hundreds died each day. Each person was a pixel in an impossibly large picture of the universe. Each pixel hardly made a difference to the image overall. The world existed before each person was born, and the world continued spinning just fine when each person died. Each scene that Harry viewed came with inherent understanding, like someone was narrating, explaining to Harry precisely what was going on.

The images slowed and focused on the events that lead to Harry Potter's birth, life, and death, but it wasn't him-Harry. It was some other Harry Potter, a Harry Potter who followed the path Dumbledore set out, dying to fulfill Dumbledore's plan. That Harry Potter named his son ALBUS *freaking* SEVERUS *freaking* POTTER! What mind-altering drug was that Harry taking?!

Harry pulled away from the door, out of the fog, and the images stopped. Harry thought that if he had stepped through the doorway, he would have gone to that world. Would he have replaced the Harry there, or would they have both existed? He didn't care. Harry wanted no part of a life ruled by Albus Fumble-more.

Harry moved to another doorway and opened its door. He saw the life of another Tom Riddle, another Harry Potter and Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley and so on. He loved Hermione romantically? Really? How strange was that?

Harry tried another doorway, then another, then another. There were so many different ways Harry's life could have turned out. Lives where he grew up living with Sirius, or with the Weasleys, or the Grangers, or the Greengrasses (?).

And there were so many girls he could have been with. Hermione. Ginny. Susan. Pansy. (Really? She was human?) Narcissa. (Whoa! No Way!)

Was one of these his life story? Harry saw one doorway glowing brighter than the others, so he moved to the door and opened it. Rather than seeing images, Harry was pulled through the door and began falling. Down he fell, unable to stop, until he finally stopped with a hard thud.

September 7 - 8 1995, Department of Mysteries

Harry sat up in his bed with a start. Mr. Gray was standing next to his bed but didn't appear at all fazed by Harry's sudden awakening.

"Welcome back, Mr. Potter."

Images of what he saw last, the last exam in the unshielded exam room, were still playing in his mind. It included everyone in the unshielded exam room being hit with a powerful wave of magical energy.

"Is everyone ok?" Harry asked Mr. Gray.

"Yes. Fortunately, no one had anything more than minor injuries. Please tell me in detail what you did during the exam."

"Ok, everything was normal until I reached the end of the thread we chose. The end of the thread was apparently inside someone else's magic, specifically Walden Macnair, and I was able to see out of his eyes. I suppose I might have been able to possess him if I tried. Once you identified him as Walden Macnair, I started absorbing his magical power, just to see if I could do it. Once I started, though, it just poured out. I couldn't stop the flow and it finally overwhelmed me."

Mr. Gray took up the story. "And you released the excess magic in an explosion. We're all very lucky to be walking away, let alone with only minor injuries. Your thoughtless action put everyone in that room at risk, not just you. Fortunately, no one received permanent damage. The Project is on hold pending your signature on this addendum to your contract. The addendum states that, while working on the Project, you will not perform potentially dangerous procedures involving others without approval."

Harry signed without hesitation. "I'm so sorry about the injuries. I saw an opportunity and went forward without thinking. I'll be more mindful of consequences, but, please, we have to continue. We're so close!"

"You can explain it to the team, and we'll make a decision from there. I'll call a meeting as soon as the healer has given you a once over."

Healer Pryce came in. She had what appeared to be a sunburn. She quickly ran some diagnostic spells over Harry and wrote her finding on parchment.

"Congratulations, Harry. You're probably in better health than you've ever been. Your eyesight is a good example."

Harry noticed then that he felt energized but also restless, like he was full of energy and needed to get up and move. He did. Then he noticed in the mirror that he wasn't wearing glasses and he reflexively put a hand to his face to verify he had no glasses. Then it dawned on him what Healer Pryce had just said.

Harry let out a happy sound. "Yes! They're gone! I hate glasses!"

Harry turned to the healer. "Look, Healer Pryce, I'm really sorry about-"

"I understand, Harry. You're so very, very Gryffindor. Please be more careful next time, though. For all our sakes."

"I guess I'd better. I just signed a contract saying I would."

Later, at the meeting, Harry repeated his apologies to the team, and told them about the contract addendum he signed. No one seem perturbed at him, although Rachel and Kevin had each punched an arm - hard! - to express their frustration with "crazy Gryffindors".

When that was done, Mr. Gray put up a picture of Walden Macnair's office.

"A Ministry employee went missing from his office today, Walden Macnair. All the Aurors found were his robes and ashes, as though he'd been cremated. I made certain the case was closed and the file sealed. I also acquired the ashes for your inspection."

Harry asked, "How did they know it was Macnair?"

Mr. Gray responded, "The ashes were devoid of magic, so they couldn't be used to identify the person. The wand that the investigators found in the robes was Macnair's, so they assumed the ashes were him."

When that discussion was done, Mr. Gray asked Harry to explain what he knew of what had happened. "I had a vision of sorts after the absorption. It gave me some understanding of what I'd done. Let me see if I can put this into words."

Harry collected his thoughts for a moment, then continued. "Life is magic. It's magic that keeps plants growing, animals breathing, and so on. The opposite of that is desolation, barrenness. When I absorbed Macnair's magic, I took every last drop, right down to the magic that was holding his body together. Without it, he was just dust."

That spurred another hour of discussion, which continued in small groups after the meeting ended.

That evening, in the trio's after-dinner get-together in Rachel's room, Rachel and Kevin again expressed their frustration with him. The trio sat and talked for a while. Harry told them how good it felt to take the magic - the life - out of one of Riddle's followers, one he had seen as Riddle's post-resurrection gathering. Harry was afraid he could become addicted to the rush of magic, and to the thrill of ending an undeserving life.

Rachel said that he was smart to be worried; it was not a good path for anyone.

After Rachel and Kevin left, Harry read through a surprising letter he had received from Fleur Delacour of all people. She skipped any small talk and asked him exactly why his owl was now living with her little sister Gabrielle. Gabrielle knew it was *his* owl and loved and doted on her, claiming it was a sign of Harry's affection for her. Needless to say, Fleur was suspicious of Harry's motives. Fleur insisted that Harry tell her what was going on immediately.

Harry easily penned a response to Fleur. Harry explained just how poorly his relatives treated Hedwig and that he had been selfish to make her stay there four years. Harry told Fleur how he had sent Hedwig back to Hagrid, telling her that Hagrid would find her a new home. Harry had told Hedwig that, if Hagrid couldn't help her, she needed to find herself a new, loving home. It was the last time Harry had seen Hedwig.

The next after-breakfast meeting announced another breakthrough. Apparently, the researchers kept a very weird sleep schedule to keep things moving.

"We believe we can direct the energy Mr. Potter absorbs, or rather, give Mr. Potter the ability to direct that energy, using runes inscribed on his body."

Their idea would involve inscribing runes on Harry's bones, like they had done for the scar, but just about everywhere. It would take seven 12-hour etching sessions to do it all. Once it was done, though, all the energy would be channeled into Harry's body and mind automatically. The researchers weren't sure, but they thought the runes might also allow Harry to direct the flow himself, so that he could have it specifically go to his heart, his brain, his feet, or wherever else he wanted. The only way to know for sure was to test it, but they weren't certain how to test it without absorbing the life of another death eater and perhaps overloading again.

Bjorn, the other junior healer besides Rachel, spoke up. "What if we place a smaller artifact, maybe just a charged crystal, within the image area and see if Potter can absorb from that?"

After some discussion, the idea was approved. They would start the seven consecutive days of etching on Harry on the next day.

September 9 - October 14 1995, Department of Mysteries

Harry's first 12-hour etching session went as expected. Afterward, the healers decided to delay subsequent etching sessions to teach Harry how to perform magic absorption on inanimate objects, things not tied to him with spiritual threads. To do this, they would start a regular examination in the shielded exam room and place a magic-infused object, like a large crystal, in the image area right next to the big yellow ball representing Harry's magic. Harry would then try to reach an amoeba-like arm from him magic to surround the object, essentially creating a thread to it, like the threads he had to Dark Marks.

After four days of trying, Harry was finally able to expand his magic to engulf the crystal and form the magical connection. Harry was immediately able to drain the crystal of all its energy. Unfortunately, Harry once again had trouble controlling the drain, and the crystal was absorbed until only dust remained, just like with Macnair. Fortunately, because of the setup, the crystal had much less energy than a wizard, so no explosion occurred. It took another week of practice before Harry could control the speed and amount of the drain.

Once that was done, the healers taught Harry to transmit magical energy. This was absorption in reverse, which sounded easy enough but wasn't. The difference between absorption and transmission of magical energy was like the difference between pushing a boulder downhill and pushing it uphill.

There were no recorded experiments of magical transmission. As far as the Department knew, no one had tried it before. Charging magical items was always done with rituals because of the huge cost of magical energy. The researchers had stumbled on the idea and had requested the healers to try it. It took several weeks, day after day, but Harry finally mastered taking the energy from one charged crystal and pushing the energy into an uncharged crystal. Harry was even able to charge a crystal without having another crystal to drain first, although it left him needing rest for a day or two. Subsequent efforts at draining and transmitting magic became easier and easier, until Harry had finally mastered both giving magic to magically-empty items and taking magic from magically-infused items. They repeated the procedures with other items, everything from foe detector to an old racing broom to a cursed toilet seat.

Of course, all of this was only possible with use of the imager. It acted as the bridge between Harry's magic and the items. Every now and then, the researchers would discover something new based on Harry's examinations. These discoveries lead to incorporating improvements into the imager.

Once Harry learned magical absorption and magical transmission (i.e., giving and taking magic), the etching sessions started again. After each session, the team would move to the shielded exam room to test their work. Harry would drain the energy from a charged crystal and direct it to the newly rune-etched area of his body. By charging parts of his body or mind with magic, the infused area would become healthier and more powerful. Bit by bit, the effects of years of malnutrition disappeared as magical energy was focused on the various parts of Harry's body.

The last area done was his head. This required three independent sets of runes: one for his brain, one for his eyes, and one for everything else. The "everything else" set was first. This set increased the health of his head, just like the rune-sets for other areas of his body. Next was the rune-set for Harry's eyes. Harry was extremely careful when they tested this rune-set since a mistake could blind him permanently. After the first very small charge, Harry's vision improved. After the rest of the charge for that crystal, Harry's vision was nearly 20/20. By the end of the next exam, Harry's vision was better than perfect. If he was a good seeker before, he would be phenomenal now.

Harry noticed immediate benefits to the absorption sessions. His studies seemed just a bit easier, and his exercise was spectacular. Harry's speed on the treadmill for a four-kilometer run averaged 25 kph, and he lifted 10 percent more in weights than his previous record. Old scars from his days with the Dursleys were disappearing, and Harry finally stopped looking like a clothed skeleton.

The researchers and healers were quite nervous about etching the last set of runes, intended to charge Harry's brain functions. There was simply no data available on what would happen if a magical person had their mind directly infused with magic. After days of debate, Mr. Gray decided to defer this option. The team would consider whether to continue that experiment after Riddle was dealt with.

Once that was decided, it was time to get back to dealing with Riddle and his band of followers.

September 9 1995, Hogwarts

Hermione Granger had decided that things had changed so much at Hogwarts that it was almost a different school.

First, her closest friend, Harry Potter, was absent. Ironically, the last time she'd seen him, she had promised him that they would be in touch with him very soon. Headmaster Dumbledore's prohibition of writing Harry anything substantial made her a liar, a fact that still irritated her to no end.

Hermione, Ron, and Sirius had recently received letters from Harry. He was training and studying intensely. Harry told them that he had a tailored regimen of study and exercise with qualified instructors. If Harry continued his private tutoring for the whole school year, he would still be taking OWLS with them in June. Hermione was jealous of the one-on-one style teaching Harry was receiving. She wondered how much she could achieve with that same advantage.

Harry also mentioned to Ron and Hermione why he thought Dumbledore had told them to limit their contact with Harry, and that he agreed with it. Ron wondered whether following Dumbledore's request had finally cost Ron his friendship with Harry. What could he do, though? Ron felt like they had to follow Dumbledore; he was the leader of the "good guys" in magical Britain. Hermione agreed with Ron and didn't worry about it further. Even if she wasn't close to Harry anymore, it was no big deal. She had made more friends since Harry left.

There were much greater changes at Hogwarts than Harry Potter's absence. The Hogwarts Board of Governors had changed members and elected new leaders, and then Dumbledore had fallen ill. The illness had cost Dumbledore his role as headmaster, as well as his roles in the Wizengamot and the ICW. Fortunately, Professor Dumbledore had recovered, although he seemed different from the Dumbledore that Sirius, Ron, and Hermione remembered.

While Dumbledore was recovering, the new school board had been quite busy. The board had no choice but to replace the headmaster, and they took the opportunity to make other staff changes as well. The students had arrived on September 1st to find they had a new headmaster, Horace Slughorn, and a new deputy head, Professor Vector. The heads of house for Gryffindor and Slytherin had changed as well. Professor Sinistra was head of Slytherin, and Professor Hooch was now head of Gryffindor. Because of her new head of house role, Professor Hooch would no longer referee Quidditch. The school board planned to hire professional referees to replace her, and to have three referees per game.

The list of teachers had also changed somewhat. The ghostly and ghastly Professor Binns had been replaced as professor of history. The new professor was a former Ravenclaw who had just gained their mastery in history. The students agreed that no matter how young, nervous, and inexperienced the teacher was, they were still a huge improvement over Binns.

Professor Grubbly-Plank was now the full-time teacher of Magical Creatures, and Argus Filch had been retired (regardless of his wishes). The Hogwarts caretaker position was now responsible for all upkeep of Hogwarts, inside and out, and the keeping of keys. This essentially covered all of Filch's and Hagrid's former duties. In practice, the caretaker would oversee the house-elves while the elves performed the labor, much like Hagrid and Filch should have been doing all along. Hagrid was the new caretaker, and he was also getting tutoring so he could legally cast magic again. Hagrid did not move his residence to the castle. Regardless of his duties, Hagrid was content with his hut.

While Dumbledore was no longer headmaster, his achievements were recognized by granting him the status of Professor Emeritus and making him the professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts. It remained to be seen if the one-year DADA curse would affect Dumbledore.

The biggest change to Hogwarts was the new policy for security. After hearing about trolls and basilisks loose in the halls, first years having detention in the forbidden forest, werewolves and Death Eaters being hired to teach, and the other "risky" occurrences of the last four years, the new school board had instituted the Guardian Angel Program. At any given moment, 56 elves watched over the students, one elf for each house, year, and gender. Four six-hour shifts of elves and extras as needed ensured that all students were always accounted for. Students were allowed privacy so long as they were in their house dormitories or in class. They were watched at all other times. This ensured the students' security, but also kept them out of trouble. Most interventions did not require any action from the elves other than reporting it immediately to the affected heads of house and maybe a nearby staff member. However, if someone's safety or one of the specific safety rules was as risk, the elves would intervene directly. For example, this meant that every time the Weasley twins tried to leave the school, they couldn't unlock the appropriate passages. Similarly, when another group tried to enter the Forbidden Forest, Hagrid and their head of house were warned immediately. Using this method wasn't ideal. None of the staff liked such Orwellian measures. But until they found a better method of keeping the students and staff safe, they would continue the Guardian Angel Program.

September 9 1995, Grimmauld Place

Meanwhile, at Number 12 Grimmauld Place, Sirius was making huge changes of his own. He had decided that, if he was going to be stuck in this house, he was going to "cleanse" it. With a lot of help from Remus Lupin, Sirius was taking inventory of everything in the house and getting rid of anything that wasn't one-of-a-kind, too dark, or a Black heritage item (like the family tree tapestry). His hope was to have the place entirely renovated by the winter holidays.

All the portraits in Grimmauld Place had been donated to Hogwarts. Kreacher, the Black house-elf, had thrown a mighty tantrum when Sirius had torn down a wall to remove his mother's portrait from the house. Sirius finally told the elf, "Enough, Kreacher. The Black family considers your contract complete. Go mount yourself to the wall with your ancestors."

Kreacher was proud to be deemed fit to join his ancestors. The house-elf physically attached his head to an empty spot next to the other heads, then decapitated himself. When Kreacher's body hit the floor, the body and blood banished itself in his last act of service to the Black family.

By mid-October, the house had been completely redecorated, top to bottom.

October 16 - 23 1995, Ministry of Magic

As the fervor over the Hogwarts changes settled down, the Minister made a show of calling into question the previous administration's incarceration-without-representation of the heir to an ancient and noble house. The Wizengamot was in an uproar, shocked and angered that one of their own could be treated like that, right up until they discovered that the offended person was Sirius Black. By that time, the DMLE had already been tasked to get the man a trial as soon as possible.

The trial started a week later. Since Black's location was unknown, he was tried in absentia. Despite Lucius Malfoy's best efforts, Black was pardoned. Lucius was shocked to learn that no one would support him against Minister Fudge's agenda. It appeared that Fudge now had more public clout than Lucius did. Lucius would still be able to direct behind the scenes with bribery and coercion, but his days of leading in the spotlight were over.

October 24 1995, Hogwarts

The 1995-96 school year would go down in Hogwarts history as the Year of Change.

Albus Dumbledore sat atop one of the Hogwarts towers, watching as the cold autumn winds introduced themselves once again to the Hogwarts grounds. Dumbledore was enjoying the scenery as he mused over his greatly changed role at Hogwarts.

It had started this summer when the school board had changed its membership and leadership. Dumbledore remembered being very worried at what havoc the new board would wreak upon Hogwarts.

Shortly thereafter, Albus had been overcome by the effects of a rare degenerative memory disease. As far as he remembered, Albus had been on his way to a meeting with the new school board, then he woke up at St. Mungo's and was told he had been there for three days. Albus had not only lost those three days, he had lost about a third of his memories from the past century.

While Albus was out, the Daily Prophet had published a summary of the problems of Harry Potter's years at Hogwarts. Dumbledore had never thought of those events from an objective stance before. Seen from the outside, Albus realized just how poorly he had managed those situations. Albus was glad to be rid of that whole morass now.

In fact, Dumbledore felt like a huge weight - the weight of the world - had been lifted from his shoulders. He had spent most of his long lifetime fighting the likes of Lucius Malfoy with very little to show for his efforts. Lucius had released a basilisk on Hogwarts - every living creature in Hogwarts and Hogsmeade had been in mortal peril - and Malfoy's punishment was to be sacked as school governor. That fact still made Albus feel completely impotent.

In retrospect, Dumbledore realized that in trying to solve the world's problems, he had completely lost sight of the school's problems. Now that he was back to having only one job, teacher, he was more content than he'd been in as long as he could remember.

Dumbledore was intrigued by the changes the new board had introduced. It would be interesting to see how it all played out. The former headmaster would watch and perhaps learn something new himself.

In the meantime, Dumbledore would continue passing on his knowledge of magic to the latest generation of witches and wizards. Maybe he would see about taking on an apprentice - anyone except Harry Potter. Dumbledore had decided that the best way to fix his mistakes in that poor boy's life was to let Harry and whoever he chose repair the damage rather than trying to do it himself. Perhaps the distance between himself and Mr. Potter was a good thing.

While Dumbledore was reflecting on the year's changes, so was Draco Malfoy. Draco sat on his bed in the Slytherin dorms in a funk. This was turning out to be his worst school year ever. It was almost November and the Slytherin hourglass had no points, due largely to Draco and his friends Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle. In fact, it was the first time in Hogwarts history that the staff had considered the idea of negative points. Fortunately, they had chosen not to implement the idea.

At the beginning of the year, when the new staff had been announced, the new headmaster had mentioned that bullying would no longer be tolerated. Draco hadn't been worried since the members of Slytherin House had long ago perfected the art of never getting caught.

But this year was different.

It started the first day of classes. Draco had made a loud comment when Draco's clique passed Justin Finch-Fletchley and his friends in the hall between classes. Draco had said quite loudly how sad it was that the Heir of Slytherin hadn't finished cleaning the school of filthy mudbloods. Halfway through the next class, Draco received a note from his head of house, Professor Sinistra, indicating he had lost 20 points for Slytherin and gained a detention that evening because of his comment. As soon as class was over, Draco had gone to the professor and complained loudly about how "those filthy mudbloods" had made up the whole story to get him in trouble. Professor Sinistra listened to Draco's protest, then asked him to submit a memory of the event to clarify what had happened. Apparently, the heads of house now each had a pensieve to use in cases like this. Draco was flabbergasted that his word wasn't enough to close the incident. Since Draco staunchly refused to provide evidence that the incident was false, the loss of points and detention were sustained.

A few days later, Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle had stopped two Hufflepuff firsties in the hall when no one else was around and demanded that the firsties hand over whatever money they had as tribute to their betters. Minutes later, after the two firsties had paid and run off, Draco and his two goons were summoned to Professor Sinistra's office. When they arrived, she told them to sit down until everyone else arrived. The other attendees turned out to be Headmaster Slughorn, Deputy Headmistress Vector, and Draco's, Vincent's, and Gregory's parents. Professor Sinistra then had everyone view the event in a pensieve. After they emerged from the pensieve, Draco loudly exclaimed that the memory was a fake, but Professor Sinistra assured everyone that the memory was legitimate. Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle each lost 100 points for Slytherin, and were suspended and sent home for a week. The parents were informed that they were free to appeal the decision through the school board, but that would make this private matter public. Not wanting the Daily Prophet to get wind of this matter, the parents chose not to appeal.

Needless to say, the parents were not happy with their children and expressed their displeasure over the week in which their kids were suspended from school. After a week at home with very irate parents, Draco learned that he needed to keep his mouth shut. His monthly stipend, and perhaps even his inheritance, was on the line.

For better or for worse, the Guardian Angel Program was having a very noticeable effect on Hogwarts students' lives.

While Draco Malfoy was lamenting his lot in life, Ron Weasley was thinking about having the best year of his life. Ron's improving fortunes revolved around the significant changes to Quidditch at Hogwarts this year.

First, the Board of Governors had gotten 50 brand new Nimbus 1900s for Hogwarts. All flying on Hogwarts grounds was required to use the new school brooms. Students couldn't even bring their brooms to school anymore.

Second, Hogwarts had added a second broomstick-based sport: broom racing. This was divided into several categories based on the length of the course and amount and type of obstacles. Ron was a decent keeper, but he was an excellent racer on a high-obstacle course. Having grown up with a pair of beaters for brothers had made Ron very agile on a broom, especially when the broom wasn't older than dirt.

October 24 - 26 1995, Department of Mysteries

While Dumbledore, Draco, and Ron were ruminating at Hogwarts, deep in the British Ministry of Magic's Department of Mysteries, the healers of the Riddle Response Team had completed what would hopefully be the last etching in Harry Potter's body. The etching and testing had taken weeks longer than planned as they learned more and more with each test. After learning about Potter's affinity for basilisks and phoenixes, the researchers had remapped the runic sequences on Potter's bones. The runes now incorporated basilisk blood and powdered phoenix feathers on all 206 bones in Potter's body. On the plus side, the runes would greatly improve Potter's focus in his use of magic. In theory, Potter would be able to cast almost anything wandlessly and silently - "point and shoot" as the muggles would say - and to focus his magic inward or outward. On the minus side, they had to modify all the previously etched runes to incorporate the changes.

While the healers had been etching, the rest of the team had been debating the ethics of attacking unprovoked and defenseless Death Eaters. The healers had sworn oaths to protect life where possible, and so they tended to argue against further attacks like the one on Macnair. The rest of the team felt that this was the best opportunity to undermine Riddle's support, and to execute justice on those who had escaped through the legal system. Mr. Gray included all the Riddle Response Team - including facilities staff - in these debates, as the decisions could impact the fabric of magical society.

Rachel had been silent on the issue, preferring instead to observe the debaters and analyze their thoughts. While the trio were alone in the evenings, Harry had asked her directly what she thought, but her answers remained elusive.

Mr. Gray decided the issue when he delivered information that another team had gathered. Mr. Gray provided evidence from a Death Eater that showed that to cement the bond of the Dark Mark, a follower had to willingly violate or murder another person. That act essentially destabilized the follower's soul and allowing the Dark Mark to bond with it.

Mr. Gray also provided a live Death Eater so that Harry could explore the capabilities of the Dark Mark in a controlled environment. Working with the Death Eater, a man named Amycus Carrow, was relatively safe since his hands and feet had been permanently removed and not replaced. As long as they kept Carrow fed, watered, and clean, he was the perfect test subject.

The first test with Carrow was held on the afternoon two days after Mr. Gray brought him into the Riddle Response Team's area. They were set up with the imager in the shielded exam room, with Carrow sitting right next to the spot where the imager would display the big yellow ball of Harry's magic. The researchers expected that Harry would feel no connection to Carrow, since they thought Riddle acted as a bridge between Harry and the followers' Dark Marks. When they turned the imager on, though, a thread appeared from Harry's magic ball to Carrow. Just as he had with Macnair, Harry was able to enter Carrow's mind.

The first test the team did was to see if Harry could read Carrow's thoughts. Harry encased himself in his patronus, then traveled down the one thread he could see right now, the thread between himself and Carrow. Once Harry was inside the room signifying Carrow's mind and seeing through his eyes, Harry tried several times to read Carrow's thoughts, but with no success. The team wasn't certain if this was because it wasn't possible, or because Harry just didn't know legilimency yet.

The last test they tried was a controlled absorption of Carrow's magic. The healers measured Carrow's magic level, then had Harry very slowly and carefully "tug" on the magic in Carrow's mind. Harry did that once then stopped. The healers checked Carrow's magic level again and found that it was one third of what it had been. Carrow looked much, much weaker and emaciated. On the other hand, the runes on Harry's bones were glowing so brightly that they could be seen through his skin, a blend of red and green. After a few minutes, the glowing died down. After another hour of healers thoroughly examining his body and magic, Harry was once again declared to be in better health than he had ever been before.

The team was now certain they could use this method to destroy Riddle's followers - if they chose to do so. Now the team had to see if Harry could handle one of Riddle's soul anchors.

October 28 - November 1 1995, Department of Mysteries

Harry's schoolwork and exercise had sped up considerably after he absorbed the magic of Macnair and Carrow. Harry felt as though a fog had been lifted from his mind. His studies in runes and arithmancy seemed so natural, so intuitive, that Harry didn't understand why most Hogwarts students considered them such difficult courses. Of course, given his cooking skills, potions also seemed much more natural to him now as well, not to mention how fast and intuitive Harry's work in the wanded subjects had become.

Harry's work in Herbology brought up unpleasant memories. When tending his aunt's garden, Harry used to eat many of the grubs and insects he found just so he wouldn't starve.

While exercising, Harry remembered seeing a character named Flash in some of Dudley's old comic books. The character was apparently able to move faster than the human eye could see and was sometimes shown testing his speed on a treadmill. Harry liked to picture himself as the Flash when he pushed himself on the magical treadmill he used. Of course, the panting, sweating Harry was quite visible to the healers observing him. He was not yet ready to outrun curses flung at him.

The next few exams in the unshielded exam room involved Harry traversing to Riddle's soul anchors using the medium-sized threads in the image of his magic. Unlike the thread to Riddle's followers, inhabiting the soul anchors didn't give Harry any visibility to the outside world, or even any way of determining what the soul anchor was. Did Voldemort use everyday items as anchors, like rocks or books, or did he use magical artifacts, which could provide protections of their own?

One soul anchor proved very different - it was alive. Apparently, Riddle had anchored himself to a living creature. No one on the team could understand why Riddle would attach himself to a creature that was guaranteed to die one day, but the image from Harry's mind made it obvious that Riddle had done exactly that. The most recent soul anchor was the very large and lethal snake called Nagini that Harry had met in the graveyard when Voldemort was resurrected. This soul anchor was almost always at Riddle's side.

The team also had Harry visit many of the small threads while in the unshielded exam room, but not absorb the magic of the person on the other end. The team was able to verify who many of Riddle's marked followers were.

The team had decided to use All Hallows' Eve to have Harry absorb one of Riddle's soul anchors. The date was one of the links between Harry and Riddle. More importantly, it was the day of the year when the barrier between life and death was the weakest. The researchers felt this would be significant when Harry pulled the magic out of a soul anchor and into himself.

The room and Harry were set up as usual. Once the image of Harry's magic was in place and the team could see all the threads, Healer McGann indicated for Harry to enter the medium thread they had chosen for the absorption. Harry summoned his mental patronus and traveled down the length of the thread. When Healer McGann told him to start, Harry began absorbing the magic from the soul anchor.

As the medical team and observers watched, the image and Harry himself began to glow, until both were too bright for them to see. Minutes later, the glow died down, and the image showed only the big yellow ball of Harry's magic, plus all the threads except the one Harry had absorbed. From what the image showed, the procedure had been a success.

At the same time, Harry was still glowing as his body shed excess magic. Something else was going on, though - the runes were glowing through his skin, and were moving. They seemed to be multiplying and rearranging themselves, while everyone watched in awe. No one - not even the most experienced Unspeakables - had ever seen a rune sequence rewrite itself. Harry's runes were changing, rewriting into sequences more complex than most of the researchers had seen before.

Finally, the runes stopped glowing enough to show through Harry's skin. Harry stirred, sat up, removed the four tentacles from his eyes and temples, and spoke.

"Whoa, what a rush!"

The team retreated to the shielded exam room and began to look Harry over head-to-toe quite thoroughly. The first time, months ago, when Harry was had to stand naked in front of the healers while they examined every inch of him with strange goggles or other examination tools, he found it embarrassing. Now, it was all rather routine. It was like getting fitted for robes at Madame Malkin's store, except that Harry was totally nude.

Despite the months that they had worked together, Harry still managed to surprise the healers from time to time. This time, they found that his runes had arranged themselves in a network throughout his body. The researchers and healers were rushing around just to document the new rune sequences, not even trying to understand them.

The study went on late into the night. For the first time in a while, the trio missed their post-dinner get-together, and Harry found that he really missed his time with his two friends.

Harry wondered about what he had thought at the beginning of the summer: "Everyone leaves in the end." Maybe they did, and maybe Rachel and Kevin would leave one day, perhaps as soon as when this job was over. Even if that were so, it didn't have to mean that he couldn't enjoy being with them now. Like Ron and Hermione had been, Rachel and Kevin were some of the brightest spots in his life, Kevin with his boisterous smirk and Rachel with her shy smile. He wasn't going to let them go, and he wouldn't give them up easily.

The post-breakfast meeting the next day had the usual post-exam revelations. The researchers showed diagrams of Harry's new rune sequences and mentioned how the interwoven rune networks seemed to be arranged so that Harry could channel magic very precisely but also in great volumes if needed. In theory, Harry could both absorb and transmit magic without using the imager.

That, however, was not the big revelation. After the rune networks, the researchers showed the image of Harry's magic ball after the latest absorption, then pointed something out.

"Notice, the spot is gone. Whatever part of Riddle's soul was there was absorbed. However, notice that Mr. Potter still has all the connections to Riddle and his followers - the threads. We're not entirely sure how this happened, but we can observe that it has happened. It could be because the soul anchor inside Mr. Potter was absorbed rather than destroyed, or it could have something to do with why Carrow's thread was visible when we examined Mr. Potter and Mr. Carrow together in the shielded exam room.

"The real question is: can Riddle still use the big thread to see into Mr. Potter's mind. Unfortunately, to learn anything more, we will probably have to study the link in the unshielded exam room."

"Still, the good news is that Mr. Potter no longer harbors a bit of Riddle in himself."

That was such good news that everyone applauded when the researchers were done talking. The meeting dispersed with everyone in a good mood.

That mood, and some of the amazement, continued in Harry's next session of the Mind Arts. The instructor tested Harry's occlumency and marveled at Harry's new level of control. To the instructor, Harry's mind was a vast open area with no details. He could read nothing whatsoever from Harry. It was almost as though Harry wasn't there at all. Feeling both perplexed and challenged, she arranged for several visitors to come into the area that afternoon, all of them expert legilimens, and all of them in the gray Unspeakable robes. All of them tried to legilimens Harry with no success. His mental defenses were impeccable.

November 3 1995, Department of Mysteries

In the post-breakfast meeting on this Friday morning, the subgroup of researchers that were studying Dark Marks spoke up.

"We've completed more research regarding Dark Marks. This information came straight from the mouths of Death Eaters. We have a high confidence in its accuracy.

"The first piece of information is that we have verified that getting the mark requires a voluntary act of violence against another person, most often rape or murder. This is done during the ceremony to receive the mark. From what we understand, the violent act is essentially equivalent to signing a magical contract. It binds the person's magic to Riddle."

"The second piece of information is that Dark Marks are taken voluntarily. The Dark Lord considers them a privilege he grants his most loyal followers.

The team discussed these findings, focusing on what the Dark Marks did for Riddle and for the followers. One conclusion was that the mark was voluntary. It was feasible that someone might be coerced into participating in the ritual, but the nature of the magic would probably not allow the mark to be formed with that person.

Next, the team discussed the status of their efforts for the project. Harry mentioned that his physical training had been seriously stepped up. His trainer had added martial arts and gymnastics to Harry's workouts. Also, Harry and the trainer had developed a specific training regimen for right after each magical absorption session. This regimen would allow Harry to burn off the sudden excess of magical energy.

Someone raised their hand and was called on. They asked Harry, "Did you consider the section in the Kama Sutra describing rituals for transferring magical energy between sexual partners?"

Harry sat with his jaw dropped until Mr. Gray took pity and asked, "Any other suggestions?"

With nothing more said on that topic (except for snickers and a very red-faced Harry banging his head on the table), Mr. Gray asked what preparation was needed so that Harry could finish absorbing the magic for Riddle's soul anchors. No one had anything - they were ready to go.

The next topic blossomed once it was introduced. One of the team members asked for a review of what all was Harry able to do through a small thread. This led to further questions. How could the team determine if it was possible for Harry could use legilimency on someone through their Dark Mark? His previous attempts had failed, but did he just need practice? This led to legilimency being moved to the top of Harry's list of studies.

The questions continued. Could Harry learn to identify people with Dark Marks by examining their magic? If Harry could use legilimency on someone through their mark, could the team download memories en masse via the imager?

The questions then got simpler but much tougher. What all should the team do with the small threads? What was ethically acceptable? Should they hunt down and kill all of Riddle's followers? Should they leave the followers alone and let the DMLE handle it?

That discussion continued until Mr. Gray called a halt to it an hour later. He closed the meeting with a statement to Harry.

"Mr. Potter, I would like to try something very different today. Given your new abilities, I would like you to try your hand at healing."

Mr. Gray ended the meeting and took Harry to the shielded exam room, where a woman was lying in a gurney with a healer attending her.

Mr. Gray told Harry, "This is Alecto Carrow. She has various external injuries she gained recently, and the nerves in her brain have been overstimulated to the point of ruin. I would like you to follow the direction of Healer Pryce and see what you can do for Carrow's injuries."

"Ok," was all Harry replied. He looked somewhat dubious, both at the patient's identity and her condition. Obviously, Mr. Gray had kept her injuries from being healed so that she could be Harry's practice dummy.

By now Harry understood that magical energy was the physical manifestation of one of the two ruling forces of the universe: Order and Entropy. While Harry might not be familiar with the cellular specifics of Carrow's injuries, he could transmit a stream of magic to "restore order" in Carrow's body. Given his "give and take" abilities, Harry understood the inherent Order and Entropy intimately.

Healer Pryce directed Harry to a long, deep cut along Carrow's left arm. It reminded Harry all too much of the cut Pettigrew had made in Harry to get blood for Voldemort's resurrection. Harry laid both his hands on the cut and focused. He sent a steady stream of magic at a controlled level and rate. As he did so, that area on Carrow's arm glowed and began knitting itself together. After a couple of minutes, Harry removed his hands to reveal Carrow's clean unblemished skin.

Healer Pryce spent a few minutes scanning Carrow's arm, then said, "Perfect. There is no sign of the injury at any level."

This continued for injuries all over her body. The nerves severed in the back of Carrow's legs took more time than the other wounds. The eye that had been pierced took even more time to repair, but all the parts had been there, if not all the fluid. The magic Harry transmitted was able to duplicate enough fluid to fill the repaired eye.

One of the last injuries was an ear that had been cut off. Harry was able to heal the cut, but not regrow the whole ear. The ear looked like an ear that never grew to normal size, or wax dummy ear that had been half melted off.

The last injury Harry dealt with was Carrow's brain. Harry had no problem channeling magic to her brain, but shortly after he started, Carrow's eyes went wide and she began to scream, a loud, high-pitched screech. Harry was startled; he reflexively stopped transmitting magic to her, removed his hands, and backed away.

Healer Pryce examined Carrow with several spells and said, "Her neurons were healing, but it must have been extremely painful. You're free to continue, Mr. Potter."

Harry looked at the healer in open-mouthed shock. The healer raised her eyebrows and pointed to Carrow.

Harry was not looking forward to channeling magic to a woman screaming in pain. Nonetheless, he started up again.

After another 25 minutes of channeling and screaming, Harry was done.

Healer Pryce stepped over to Carrow, looked her in the eyes, and whispered, "Legilimens."

After nearly ten minutes of examination, Pryce ended the spell, stood up, and pronounced, "Her mind is physically healed, but the healing restored the brain cells to their default states, not the exact states they were in when they were damaged. This means that the memories that were in the damaged portion of her brain were not restored. She has lost the memories of most of her adult life."

Mr. Gray stepped over to Harry and said, "Your part here was quite successful, Mr. Potter. Thank you. I believe a trip to St. Mungo's might allow you more practice with this new healing capability, if you're willing. Now that your occlumency is working so well, I believe the only way Riddle could get to you is if he shows up in person."

"That sounds like a useful trip. It would be nice to practice and to help out while I'm doing it."

"All right. I'll arrange the outing for tomorrow morning. In the meantime, please continue your normal schedule for the rest of today."

"Yes, sir," Harry said, then left. Mr. Gray and the healers continued discussing what they'd learned in this session.

November 4 1995, St. Mungo's

Harry's visit to St. Mungo's took all day. To protect his identity, Harry was disguised with both muggle and magical techniques and given the pseudonym "Mr. Carver".

Their first stop was the Dai Llewellyn Ward for Creature-Induced Injuries. Harry had no trouble healing all three of the patients he was shown, once their wounds were cleaned and any toxins removed. Once the lead healer of the ward, Senior Healer Smethwyck, witnessed Harry's healer powers, he wanted Harry to spend time with all the patients in the ward. Mr. Gray insisted that they had to move on.

They visited several other wards, including those for spell damage, potions and plant poisoning, and magical diseases. Harry did well with damaged body parts, but poisons and diseases proved to be beyond his current capability.

Their final stop was the Janus Thickey Ward Harry's first patient here was none other than Gilderoy Lockhart. After only a few minutes with Lockhart, Harry turned to Mr. Gray and said, "There nothing to heal. He's not damaged."

They spoke with the healer on duty, and she confirmed that Lockhart was physically alright but had lost about 95 percent of his memories.

Harry asked her, "Why is he here then? Is someone trying to restore his memories?"

"No. Gilderoy has no family or friends to take him in. He's staying here while he relearns his magical education and how to be a productive member of society."

Harry could think of several better ways to do this but chose not to comment.

Harry's last two patients were Neville's parents, Frank and Alice Longbottom. After spending time with them, he told Mr. Gray, "They'll require more magical energy than I have on hand."

Mr. Gray nodded and told the healer on duty that he and Mr. Carver would follow-up with the Longbottoms another time.

They said their goodbyes, and most of the staff warmly invited Mr. Carver to return anytime. Harry found it nice to be appreciated for something he did, rather than for money or fame he inherited.

November 5 1995, Hogwarts

Hermione sat at lunch reading her latest letter from Harry. Harry was telling her his thoughts about some careers. Harry was certain he wouldn't like being a researcher, but he thought he might like being a cursebreaker or a healer.

Hermione noted how different this writing was from Harry's norm. Harry was sharing a lot of thoughts with her that he had never wanted to discuss before. On the other hand, he was much more guarded about certain topics as well. It was like Harry had learned more about himself, what he wanted to share and what he wanted to protect. Hermione thought that someone less familiar with Harry might think the letter was a fake. She saw enough signs in the language and handwriting that she knew it was genuine.

Hermione realized that Harry was growing and changing. He sounded so much more mature now. The sequestered training was changing Harry. When she saw him again, would she recognize him? Who did she like better, the old Harry or the new Harry?

While Hermione was intrigued by her lunchtime reading (as were Parvati, Padma, Ginny, Ron, the Weasley twins, and even Lavender Brown), Professor McGonagall sat staring past her lunch, lost in thoughts of her own.

Minerva was remembering the questions that the school board had peppered her with. She had been totally unprepared for what they had asked her. Each staff member had been "interviewed" separately. Minerva had never felt so alone as she had when she stood in front of the new school board.

"Why do you let unqualified people teach here? Doesn't the deputy headmistress share the responsibility for hiring and maintaining competent staff?"

"Do you ever verify house point deductions? Why do you let Snape and Dumbledore make a mockery of the points system? How can the system be taken seriously if any staff member can so blatantly and childishly skew it in favor of one house?"

"What do you do for members of Gryffindor House that other staff members don't do? Presenting school announcements, enforcing school rules, and talking to students when they visit your office are all faculty duties. What do you do in addition to that as a head of house?"

"You know that Professor Snape actively bullies non-Slytherins, rather extremely so for Harry Potter and Neville Longbottom, including credible threats to their lives. You know that Draco Malfoy bullies students of all houses similarly. By allowing their actions to stand unaddressed, you are sanctioning that type of behavior. So tell us, why do you sanction bullying?"

"When students come to you with problems, do you attempt to solve their problems, or do you attempt to convince them their problems don't exist?"

"How do you help muggleborn students adapt to living in a new world?"

"Do you think that being taken into the Forbidden Forest to hunt a creature that kills unicorns is an appropriate detention for a first year caught outside their dormitory after curfew?"

Minerva had been silent as question after question rolled past her. Despite the current rumors, Minerva had not been sacked from her deputy and head roles; she had resigned from all three of her positions. The school board had accepted her resignation but had later practically begged her to return and teach. They had said that, in addition to her teaching skills, her presence would provide students with continuity and stability while the school incorporated the rather severe changes.

Minerva was reluctant but had finally agreed to return. She still didn't know why the board didn't offer the Transfiguration professorship to Dumbledore. He was happy as the DADA professor and she was enjoying the decrease in responsibilities, so Minerva wasn't going to question it.

While Professor McGonagall continued her thoughtful stare across the Great Hall, Parvati, Padma, and Lavender gathered and starting excitedly discussing their letters. Hermione was joined by the Weasley siblings, and they too discussed what Harry had to say.

November 5 1995, Department of Mysteries

While the Patils, Weasleys, and friends were discussing Harry Potter, he was in Diagon Alley having lunch with Rachel and Kevin. Harry had begged for some time off outside of the Department. He didn't mind the underground environment, but he had not seen sunlight since his last birthday. Mr. Gray agreed to lunch and an afternoon out for the trio, so long as they reported afterward regarding if Riddle attempted to reach Harry through their mental connection. Harry, Rachel, and Kevin enjoyed an afternoon out and reported back that nothing Riddle-related had occurred.

Mr. Gray told Harry that it now seemed safe enough for Harry to hear the full prophecy regarding him and the Dark Lord. After dinner that night, they went to the Hall of Prophecy.

After picking up and listening to the prophecy, Harry commented, "That's still so vague. There could be hundreds of interpretations."

After a moment, Harry asked, "How did Voldemort find out about the prophecy anyway? I would have thought Dumbledore would have protected the information."

Mr. Gray responded, "A Death Eater overheard the first part of the prophecy. Dumbledore caught him but let him go without removing the memory of what he'd heard."

"What? Why? How could Dumbledore not know that Riddle would try to kill any baby that fit the bill?"

"Your guess is as good as mine. Truth is, we'll never know. The school board required physical examinations of all staff this year. Dumbledore's mental health has apparently been in decline. Fortunately, he's now undergoing regular treatment at St. Mungo's. Dumbledore's lost some memory, but his condition is safe and stable now."

No one except those directly involved would ever know that Mr. Gray was responsible for Dumbledore's change.

"So Dumbledore will never have to answer for his actions," Harry said thoughtfully.

"No, although the loss of intellect itself would be a punishment to him."

"By the way," Harry continued, "Who was it that told Riddle? Who overheard the prophecy?"

"Severus Snape," Mr. Gray said. "Dumbledore has kept a tight lid on that knowledge. He believed and testified that Snape had repented of his actions. Unfortunately, that repentance did not come in time to help your parents or any of Snape's other victims."

"Mother f****r," Harry said, now lost in his thoughts. "All this time that greasy son of a b***h has tormented Neville and me, and we lost our parents because of him."

"Snape had a hand in it, Mr. Potter," Mr. Gray said, interrupting Harry's thoughts, "but ultimately the responsibility lies with the ones who committed the acts, not anyone else. Just as you and I are responsible for the lives we've taken."

Harry looked straight at the hood where Mr. Gray's face should be and replied, "That doesn't make Snape any less of an a******e!"

"True," Mr. Gray said as they left the Hall of Prophecy.

November 6 1995, Department of Mysteries

The healers decided to wait at least two weeks before allowing Harry to absorb another of Riddle's soul anchors. While the rest of the team planned, analyzed, researched, and practiced, Harry continued his academic studies in earnest. Since the beginning of summer, he had essentially relearned everything from first year through the first half of fifth year, including arithmancy and runes. For the wanded subjects, he had learned to cast silently.

Harry was likewise progressing in his physical regimen. With the influx of magic, his body had healed and made up for years of starvation and the physical abuse from his cousin's gang. Harry now channeled his emotion through meditation and exercise rather than being controlled by his emotion. The healers had noted that Harry now had the body, including the brain chemistry, of an eighteen-year-old.

Harry also felt more useful than he had his entire life. With the death of Macnair, he had declared war on Tom Riddle and his sycophants. He felt some guilt over what had been done to the Carrows, but he could live with that.

Of course, Harry was still an object of study. He now had a very complex organization of runes all over his body. They were normally hidden underneath his skin, but could be seen glowing when Harry was sending, receiving, or using a large amount of magic. The researchers and healers found that, if the runes had time, they would rearrange themselves to protect, heal, or empower Harry as needed. Harry no longer needed to use a wand or implement the normal motions associated with spells. If Harry focused on the spell for a second before casting, the runes in his right hand would rearrange to suit the intended spell. Harry was now truly "point and shoot".

Harry was trying interesting new things in gymnastics. They had to leave the shielded area for some of the tests, like when Harry tested his falling capabilities. If he fell from a height between three and thirty meters, he could land softly. He did this by "banishing" the Earth, which didn't actually banish the Earth but did slow Harry's velocity toward the Earth. Similarly, Harry could jump huge distances, run incredibly fast, and stay underwater for prolonged periods. Harry was also practicing handling exposure to very cold and very hot environments.

The team had finally had Patronus training classes. There were three identical, two-hour-long classes, one for each work shift. The classes were held an hour after the group came off shift. Harry attended all three as an assistant, demonstrating each time how to physically manifest positive emotion through the spell. Harry was surprised to see that the form of his Patronus had changed. It was now a shining white owl, very reminiscent of Hedwig.

The Patronus-like extension of magic Harry used during sessions with the imager had long ago stopped looking like Prongs. It usually just looked like a smaller sphere of magical energy emerging from the big yellow ball of Harry's magic.

November 8 1995, Diagon Alley

Harry had asked Mr. Gray for some time to meet with Sirius. Mr. Gray had agreed but wanted the meeting to take place in public. It would be good for Harry and Sirius to be seen in public, and most people would have the sense to leave them alone.

Harry and Sirius met in a cafe at the opposite end of Diagon Alley from the Leaky Cauldron. Sirius couldn't help but notice how Harry had changed physically. Sirius almost didn't recognize his godson.

They talked first about Harry and his training. Harry stayed away from the secret topics but was more than glad to talk about his studies and physical fitness routine. Most of it wasn't news to Sirius; most of Harry's letters mentioned his work and progress. Sirius enjoyed hearing it face-to-face though, but lamented the fact that Harry wasn't learning in a social environment.

Harry talked a little bit about Rachel and Kevin. He didn't mention their surnames, and asked Sirius not to hunt them down, for everyone's sake. Sirius had noted when their visit started that Harry had wordlessly cast a dozen privacy spells around them. Sirius approved of the caution.

Harry finally got around to the topic of Hogwarts. In a surprisingly frank moment, Harry mentioned that he was still somewhat lonely, although the relentless pace of his work kept the loneliness at bay. Rachel and Kevin were great, but they weren't that special someone, someone he could hold, someone who could reassure him that he wasn't becoming evil with all this stuff the team was doing. Harry wasn't thinking of sex or physical pleasure, really; he was thinking of companionship and physical comfort, things that he could feel the need for but had never really experienced. Sirius commiserated, and related the tale of how his girlfriend was killed just weeks before the Potters were attacked. The summer of 1981 had been a very busy time for the Death Eaters; a lot of decent people had been senselessly killed. Since then, Sirius hadn't the chance to look again. Now Sirius wondered if he was too used up to be of use to anyone.

Returning to lighter topics, Harry mentioned how he was now pen friends with more people than he'd ever spoken to when he attended Hogwarts. Parvati had asked Harry to include Lavender Brown in conversation. Harry agreed. Hermione had asked Harry to include Neville. Harry agreed. Neville had asked Harry to include Susan Bones and Daphne Greengrass, of all people. Harry agreed, and from there it had blossomed.

The worst by far had been Cho Chang. She had asked him to tell her what exactly had happened to Cedric. Harry agreed, but said that they would have to meet face-to-face for her to get that story. He suggested that they meet the following summer if she was still interested. Since those first uncomfortable letters, Harry and Cho continued trading the occasional letter talking about lighter topics.

Once assured that Harry wasn't trying to make time with her sister, Fleur had begun a series of more cordial letters. Harry had learned about her family, about Beauxbatons, and about magical life in France. Harry felt he had less to share, in that he had no one he would consider family, and his pre-Hogwarts life had been somewhat sheltered - in a closet, to be precise.

Of course, Ron, Ginny, and Fred and George were still keeping in touch. Ron had progressed to letters with three whole paragraphs of dialog! Ginny was proving to be far more interesting than the shy ginger he had known at school and at the Burrow. The twins shared their progress in their business ventures, as well as their frustration at the much tighter security at Hogwarts. The good side of it was that the twins had started talking to their "captors", the house elves, and had found out a lot about wizarding life, history, politics, and government. The vast amount of what they'd learned had them rethinking their business plans.

Finally reaching the point of his diatribe, Harry mentioned how many of the last set of letters had mentioned a new development at Hogwarts. Headmaster Slughorn was bringing back the tradition of a Valentine's Ball. About half of the last set of letters - all but one of them from girls - had suggested that Harry should come and that they might be available to escort him.

Harry was seriously considering going, to see his pen friends new and old, if nothing else. It was almost silly to be worrying over a dance when there was a war going on, even though it was a hidden war, not a public one. It made Harry feel guilty that people could be dying while he was partying. Sirius reminded Harry that if he didn't take of himself, he couldn't take care of others. More importantly, part of becoming an adult was learning to take care of yourself - eating, getting enough rest, balancing between work and leisure to stay sane.

Harry agreed and said he'd speak to Mr. Gray about it.

November 11 1995, St. Mungo's

Harry and his escorts had returned to St. Mungo's with Harry in his Mr. Carver guise. The healers had peppered him with questions on how his powers worked, but he didn't have answers to give them. Harry was still bound by contract to keep the team's work secret. Harry had started trying to use the magic he transmitted to help a patient's body expel foreign substances, like snake venom, but still hadn't mastered the process. Harry made enough progress that he felt he could learn the very precise use of the magic needed to fully learn this skill.

Harry thought that maybe he could be a healer once he graduated from Hogwarts. It would be especially nice if he could keep a separate identity from all that Boy-Who-Lived crap.

November 15 1995, Department of Mysteries

The time for another absorption finally rolled around. This would be the second of Riddle's soul anchors they had dealt with, not counting the piece in Harry himself that had been absorbed.

The team had stated more than once how lucky it was to have access to Riddle's soul anchors through Harry. Finding out what and where the anchors were could have taken decades, and Riddle could easily have moved them if he discovered the anchors were at risk. On the other hand, the team might never know what the anchors had been. For example, no one anywhere knew that when the Riddle Response Team had destroyed Riddle's soul anchor on All Hallows Eve, in Number 12 Grimmauld Place, hidden in a nook that the house elf Kreacher had called home, a locket had glowed brightly and finally dimmed. If anyone ever found the locket, all they would have is an inert piece of jewelry, with no magical properties and no trace of the former link to a Dark Lord's soul.

Harry still couldn't identify which soul anchor he was traversing until he reached the end of the thread. That proved inconvenient this time, As Harry discovered that he had reached Voldemort's snake Nagini. This was the only soul anchor that provided a view to the outside, since it was the only soul anchor embedded in a living creature. What they could see had the entire team wide-eyed. They were looking up at Tom Riddle himself.

Harry told the team, "I'm sorry. I picked the one soul anchor we didn't want to deal with yet."

Healer Pryce spoke up. "Before you withdraw, let's try a little experiment. Can you make her move, Harry?"

Harry replied, "Let me see." The thought hard about moving to the left.

Nagini hesitated at first, wondering "Why do I want to move?"

Harry thought back, "We need water. Find water."

Nagini responded, "Yes, I am thirsty. Where is water?" She turned and went looking for water.

Harry told the team, "I have to speak with her conscious mind to have her do anything. I don't know how well I could coerce her into doing something she didn't want, like biting Riddle."

Everyone then heard a cold, high-pitched voice, "Nagini, attend." and the view turned to again face Voldemort.

The Dark Lord leaned down and raised the snake's head with his right hand. He stared her in the eyes and mumbled, "What troubles you, Nagini?"

Harry had no idea how Voldemort detected him and didn't care. It was time to leave this snake's mind.

Before Harry could withdraw, he heard the dreaded voice again. "What a surprise. How nice to see you again, Harry."

Harry Potter was not a great thinker. For him, study was work, not recreation. However, Harry Potter was a master of reaction. Harry performed best and most decisively when the world around him was descending into chaos and ruin.

The moment that Voldemort appeared beside Harry in Nagini's mind, Harry reacted. He pulled magic from Nagini and flung it at Riddle. It hit Riddle hard, like a torrent of high-pressure water from a fire hose. Like Harry, Voldemort didn't have the chance to withdraw before he was caught up in battle. And then the battle was over.

Voldemort's physical body was sitting at the head of the formal dining table in Malfoy Manor, in a throne transfigured from a chair. All the Death Eaters who were in Riddle's Inner Circle sat in the chairs around the table. They saw Riddle lean over and talk to his snake in Parseltongue, then three things happened at once: the snake shriveled up into nothingness, Voldemort's body caught fire, and his head exploded. Bellatrix Lestrange and Lucius Malfoy, who had been seated at Riddle's right and left hands respectively, were impaled by shards of Riddle's skull and drenched in the flaming, liquefied gray matter that had been Riddle's brain.

Chaos ensued as Riddle's followers, all male except Bellatrix and Narcissa, ran like frightened children from the sight of their dark lord's flaming corpse. No one particularly noticed the dark, malevolent mist rising from Riddle's corpse. Lucius Malfoy noticed, though, as the mist engulfed his eyes and ears, and entered his brain. Lucius screamed as the mist burrowed into his mind and magic.

Back at the Department of Mysteries, the healers were busy unhooking Harry from the burnt-out imager. The room hadn't exploded this time, but only because Harry had absorbed most of the backlash. The rest of it had overloaded the imager. The healers moved Harry to a gurney and wheeled him to the shielded exam room. The rest of the team moved everything out of the unshielded exam room and sealed it up.

While Harry slept and healed, the researchers sorted through the remains of the imager. The magical backlash had fried pretty much every part inside the imager. Fortunately, the researchers removed and stored all memories after each session, so only the latest set of memories were lost. Unfortunately, the researchers were looking at a couple of months to rebuild the imager.

November 16, Department of Mysteries

The next morning, Harry was fit to attend breakfast and the obligatory post-breakfast meeting. The team watched Harry's memory of the previous day's session with the pensieve they had used before.

Afterward, the researchers shared the bad news regarding the imager. After that, the floor was opened for discussion.

One person asked, "What are the chances that Riddle was killed in the blast?"

Mr. Gray answered, "Remote at best. Harry did not absorb his magic, and so Riddle's remaining soul anchors most likely allowed him to live. I suspect Riddle's body did not survive the blast, and that he is once again non-corporeal. We won't know for certain until Mr. Potter makes another run."

Harry added, "Riddle has possessed people in this form before. He might do it now."

"Perhaps. We should plan for that possibility, but not assume that it's true."

The discussion continued. The team decided that they didn't need to build a new imager. Harry could now call up the image of his magic, as well as absorb and transmit magic, on his own. The imager was no longer needed for this. All they needed was a way to see what Harry saw inside his mind. The researchers felt it would not be difficult to modify a pensieve to do this. They should be able to have it working in a few days.

Once the meeting was dismissed, everyone got back to work.

After dinner that evening, Kevin, Rachel, and Harry met in Harry's room, which was now the place they always met. Rachel presented Harry with a rather thick set of pages.

"'Harry Potter: From Then Till Now'", Harry read aloud, "'The story of Harry Potter from birth to age fifteen, as told to Rachel Zeller.' This looks like you're thinking of publishing. Are you?"

"There's no harm in being prepared, right?" Rachel replied. "It's up to you, of course. But since the public is going to have some written record of you, wouldn't it be better if the record was something you approved?"

"Yeah, I guess so. I'll look it with that in mind. I just... It's just creepy telling people all this personal stuff about me."

Kevin jumped in. "As Rachel said, you're a public figure. People are going to have an image of you. Wouldn't it be nice to control that image? Tell your story. Even better, you can prosecute anyone who tries to tell your story without your permission."

"Ugh. That's so much work," Harry said dejectedly.

"Not at all," Kevin said. "That's why you hire PR people and lawyers."

"You may have a point," Harry conceded.

Rachel decided that she and Kevin might need another night of drunken debauchery (beer and exploding snap, that is) to get Harry to agree. It was a small price to pay, especially since Harry opened up so much more with alcoholic incentive. Beer was like the grease that oiled the hinges of Harry's jaw.

This was not that night, though. The trio was laying low on the beer until they knew when Harry would be doing his next absorption session. They had never mixed alcohol and absorption, but they assumed it would be a disastrous mix. Or an explosive one, in a bad way.

November 18 1995, Department of Mysteries

It only took the researchers two days to modify a pensieve to use in Harry's sessions. They spent a day testing it in a shielded exam room. Harry's only criticism was that it still required the four tentacles from the pensieve to his temples and eyes. He could never get used to the feeling of the tentacles' suction cups sucking on his eyes.

On the next morning, after the meeting, the team set up for another session in the unshielded exam room. The first image they saw was the typical image they always saw of Harry's magic, but there was one very noticeable difference. The huge thread representing Voldemort's primary consciousness had shrunk to a size just smaller than the soul anchor threads.

Excited chatter broke out. Harry was able to absorb the magic from the soul anchors, although it was a challenge for him to handle the amount of raw magical energy each of them held. Riddle's consciousness apparently now held less magic than any of his anchors. Would Harry be able to absorb it, or was there some connection between Riddle's consciousness and the remaining soul anchors that would complicate things?

Mr. Gray finally broke in and said, "Enough talk. Let's gather some information. Harry, start with Riddle's main thread."

Harry did as he was told and traveled down the thread to Riddle's main consciousness. Harry was able to enter his mind with only a bit more effort than it took to enter Macnair or Carrow.

When Harry reached the room representing Riddle's conscious mind, the image showed the typical portals showing the outside world. Voldemort was once again sitting on his throne in the Malfoy dining room. The room had only one other person in it, Riddle's servant Peter Pettigrew.

Harry asked the team, but Mr. Gray in particular, "I'd like to try possessing Riddle. Would that be ok?"

After a moment of discussion with the others in the observation room, Mr. Gray said, "Do it."

Harry focused on gripping the space he was in - Lucius Malfoy's brain - and forcing the body controlled by that space to do as he directed. It worked.

As Peter tended to his lord, the man called Voldemort stood and looked down at him. Voldemort grabbed Peter by the neck and lifted him from the floor.

"Hello, Peter. Mr. Riddle has stepped out for the moment. This is Harry Potter. Do you like what I've done to your master?"

Even as Peter gasped, trying to breathe, his jaw dropped and his eyes went wide. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"Tell all your friends, I'm coming for you. You can't run, you can't hide, and there's nowhere you're safe."

Voldemort dropped Peter, then said, "I look forward to seeing you soon, Peter. Remember, let everyone know I'm coming."

In Riddle's mind, Harry asked, "May I absorb Riddle?"

This time Mr. Gray responded without discussion. "Do it."

Harry pulled at the magic in Riddle's consciousness. Riddle clung to Lucius' mind, trying hard not to be taken. Eventually, Riddle's strength gave out, and the scene collapsed as Harry absorbed Riddle out of existence. Harry did not absorb any of Malfoy's magic, but Riddle's presence and extraction took a huge toll on Malfoy's psyche and magic.

The exam room was flooded with light from the glow of Harry's skin and his runes. Harry rose and disconnected the tentacles, then left the room to perform his post-absorption exercise.

Harry ran faster than he ever had before, so fast that he was only a blur to the team members watching him. Finally, the glow died down and Harry slowed down. Not long after, he slowed to a walk, breathing hard.

That night, after dinner, the entire team met in the dining hall. Mr. Gray outlined to them what had happened, and had Harry describe it from his point-of-view. The team shared bottles of champagne, but Harry begged off early. Harry was knackered and plopped in his bed as soon as he got to his room. He was asleep immediately.

December 1 1995 - January 1 1996, Department of Mysteries

Two weeks later, Harry absorbed another soul anchor. In a secret room at Hogwarts, a diadem glowed bright for a few moments, then dimmed. The ghost of Helena Ravenclaw felt its passing. With the magic and the taint removed from the diadem, her business on this plane of existence was done, and so she left. With Helena's ghost gone, the ghost of her murderer also found his business complete and followed her off the mortal coil. That same day, two ghosts approached Professors Sprout and Flitwick, the heads of Ravenclaw and Slytherin, requesting to be the lost spirits' replacements. Only then did the residents of Hogwarts realize the passing of the Grey Lady and the Bloody Baron. At breakfast the next morning, Headmaster Slughorn announced the unexplained passing of the two ghosts and held a moment of silence in their honor.

Two weeks after that, Harry absorbed another soul anchor. A ring in a dilapidated shack glowed brightly then dimmed. Decades later, a muggle construction company would find the shack. By that time, the protective magic around and inside the shack had faded with the loss of its creator. The company bulldozed the shack out of existence, and another century passed before the ring was found.

Mr. Gray gave the team nine days off for the holidays, December 24th through January 1st. Rachel spent the time with her family. She was quite anxious to tell her sister Rose about working with Harry Potter. Unfortunately, her oath regarding project secrecy wouldn't allow it. Kevin visited his family and had the same problem.

Harry spent Christmas morning with Sirius and Remus and the rest of the time working at the Department. He enjoyed his time with Sirius and Remus but was still somewhat emotionally distant. It would take time before Harry was ready to fully trust them again.

Albus Dumbledore spent his first truly peaceful holiday with his last living relative, his brother Aberforth. The younger Dumbledore couldn't bring himself to hate the new version of his brother like he had hated the old Albus. It had taken nearly a century, but the two Dumbledore brothers finally reconciled.

The Malfoy family had reasons to celebrate this Christmas, but they came at a high cost. Voldemort was gone. Ironically, upon hearing Pettigrew's story, Riddle's followers scattered like rats from a sinking ship. Malfoy Manor was once again free of its destructive guests. However, the incident had severely injured Lucius, leaving him in a coma. The best healers that Malfoy money could buy didn't think Lucius would live very far into 1996.

January 2 - February 13 1996, Department of Mysteries

The 1995 winter holidays came and went. Mr. Gray scheduled another absorption session on January 3rd. Everyone was anxious to eliminate the last of Riddle's soul anchors.

The session occurred with no complications for the team. In a vault in Gringotts, the Hufflepuff Cup glowed bright for a few moments, then dimmed. Like the Ravenclaw Diadem, the Cup no longer had any magic, but it was still priceless in sentimental value. It would be years before the vault had an examination thorough enough to uncover the Cup.

The end of Voldemort proved to be a bit anticlimactic.

After the session, Harry once again went straight to the treadmill to burn off excess magic. It was fortunate the treadmill was magically reinforced to handle ridiculously high speeds, because that's exactly how fast Harry ran.

Harry's runes continued to evolve, and they were always a hot topic of study for the team. The runes seemed almost alive now with how they moved, interacted, and changed. And their effect on Harry was noticeable. He now had the brain chemistry and the physique of a young adult, someone of age between 19 and 21. His innate magic levels now matched Dumbledore after he graduated Hogwarts.

The runes had made Harry's body unnaturally adaptive. He healed cuts and scrapes almost as fast as they occurred. His body rejected poisons and other toxins with almost no effect. Unfortunately, Harry's days of enjoying an alcohol-induced buzz were over.

Before absorbing the soul anchors, Harry had been coming to terms with being different, even in the wizarding world. Harry was embracing his inner freak. Now, the runes took the freak thing to a whole new level. Harry was doing his best to adjust. He was extremely glad this project was an oath-bound secret. He planned never to tell anyone outside the project of the changes he'd undergone.

Rachel was almost like a full-time therapist for Harry now. He was seriously considering hiring her when this project was done. She made no secret of the fact that she reported to the Department, specifically Mr. Gray for now. Harry still felt like he could trust her, that any emotions he shared with her would not be aired in a public forum.

Harry mentioned to Rachel his worries about how the rush of power made him feel. He didn't want to become another dark lord. They discussed ways that Harry could stay grounded, including using physical exertion and meditation to "ride the wave" of magical energy he absorbed.

Harry and Rachel discussed him going to the Hogwarts Valentine's Ball. Rachel said it might be a stepping stone toward integrating back into Hogwarts. It looked like the project would be complete in time for Harry to attend his sixth and seventh years at Hogwarts. Harry still hadn't decided if this was a good idea though. Maybe attending the ball could help him decide.

After a week of analysis, much of which occurred outside the team's shielded area, the team declared that Tom Marvolo Riddle was dead and gone. Several people asked about the Dark Marks on Riddle's followers. The marks hadn't disappeared with his passing. The researchers said that the marks were now attached to Harry. Harry didn't care for that news - he was sustaining the soul stains that dozens of quite evil people carried. The researchers assured Harry that any taint associated with a Dark Mark were carried by the person carrying the mark, not by Harry. Harry was still anxious to eliminate those threads to him, one way or the other.

Mr. Gray led the team in developing a plan for information gathering through the marks. Once they had gathered enough information, they would decide on a case-by-case basis what to do.

Now that Voldemort was gone for good, Mr. Gray arranged that same day for a meeting with himself, Harry, Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge, and Head of the DMLE Amelia Bones. When they met, Mr. Gray first got an oath of secrecy from Fudge and Bones, then explained to them in detail about the return of Voldemort, the Riddle Response Team and its efforts, and the recent demise of Tom Riddle. Harry added in details where appropriate, but Mr. Gray and Harry did not describe the changes Harry had undergone during the team's efforts.

After a long discussion, the four decided that an indirect way of closing the issue would be to release Harry's biography, but to add an additional section. That section would reveal the prophecy but would also explain how Voldemort was completely defeated and the prophecy fulfilled on the night the Potters died in 1981. The credit for defeating Voldemort would go to all three Potters, not to just Harry.

The events of Harry's time at Hogwarts would be rewritten to exclude any mention of Riddle. Quirrell would be described as a mad professor who had been grievously wounded in his travels to Albania and had sought to heal himself and gain immortality during Harry's first year at Hogwarts.

The Heir of Slytherin would be described as an artifact from the founders' time that had been inadvertently activated in the 1940's, then again in the 1990's. No mention of possession would be made, and Ginny would be written as a hostage of the Heir, not as the victim of possession. This version of the story would corroborate the news that Hagrid was innocent of the charges from the 1940's Chamber incident.

Lastly, Crouch Jr. and Pettigrew would get full blame for the Tournament travesty. The story would say that they did all of it to perform a very powerful dark ritual of unknown intent. According to the story, Crouch and Pettigrew's comrades-in-arms joined Pettigrew at the start of the ritual, while Crouch was still at Hogwarts. The ritual was intended to end with Harry being sacrificed, but Harry's ability to throw off the Imperius allowed him to just barely escape. The identities of some of the conspirators would be revealed as they had been in during Voldemort's resurrection after-party. There would be some fallout from the Malfoys and others mentioned, but Harry would have at least one barrister and one PR person to weather the storm.

Harry didn't mind the adjustments to what really happened as they deflected some of the attention from him. He would have preferred to leave out the casting-off-Imperius thing, but the other three insisted it was necessary for plausibility.

When the meeting broke up, all four participants were happy with the results. Fudge and Bones were glad that a potential war had been diverted (or 'privatized', as Mr. Gray said). Also, Fudge would gain his independence from the financial backers that had been dictating his policies, and Bones would be once again receiving strong backing from the Minister's office. While Harry was less than thrilled about his soon-to-be-released biography, he remembered what Rachel and Kevin had told him about having his own version of the truth available to the public.

The book would be released sometime during the summer to allow time for Rachel to make the agreed-upon changes and for the books to be printed. An announcement in the Daily Prophet summarizing the contents would be released right away.

After that discussion, Mr. Gray had other topics to discuss with Fudge and Bones that didn't require Harry, so Harry returned to the Department. Several hours later, Mr. Gray returned as well.

For the next four weeks, Harry spent time traversing the threads to the various Death Eaters. The team gathered information, and Harry tested various abilities like possession and legilimency while he was inside the minds of Riddle's followers. Both abilities were possible, but only because of Harry's much amplified power levels. Harry was also learning to identify who a thread belonged to without traversing it, so that it would be easier to visit them later.

Harry also used the investigation period to learn more about the Death Eaters personally. He verified that all the marked Death Eaters had gotten their Dark Mark willingly and were still actively hurting and killing people. For example, Severus Snape continued to rape and otherwise victimize folks, mostly students, even after "repenting" and joining Dumbledore's team. Snape was *very* good at not getting caught; he was as good at obliviation as Lockhart had been. Everyone who had heard of Snape knew he was a git, but no one suspected just how depraved he still was. Snape was still an ongoing threat to humanity.

Likewise, all the other remaining marked Death Eaters still victimized people and took great joy in doing so.

A week into the investigation and tests, the Ministry announced that the DMLE was replacing the Dementors as the guards to Azkaban. The goblins would be employed instead. There was little doubt that the goblins would enjoy administering a prison full of humans, and that they would relish the irony of being paid to do so.

During the four-week thread investigation period, the healers and researchers had also begun testing Harry's reactions to different environments, like extreme heat and cold. Harry still couldn't fly on his own, but ifs he was conscious, he could fall from great heights and land softly. The tests proved out that Harry could easily step off the Hogwarts Astronomy Tower and land on the ground as though he had just taken a single step down a flight of stairs.

February 14 1996, Hogwarts

Harry did go to the Hogwarts Valentine's Ball. He had asked Hermione to attend with him two weeks prior, but she had been asked and accepted on the day the Ball was announced. Harry considered who else he could ask, but finally decided to attend without a date. He figured he would share a dance with all his female pen friends, then dance once with any other girl that asked.

When Harry arrived, he received a lot of shocked stares. He made a beeline for Ron and Hermione, and shared hugs and handshakes with them and their dates, Padma and Neville respectively. Harry made his rounds shaking hands and talking with quite a few people before taking his first dance with Cho Chang. After the dance, Cho pulled him outside to talk. Harry really didn't want to, but he couldn't tell Cho 'no' when she looked at him with her dark, pleading eyes. She would be able to read the official version of the story in a few months anyway. After Harry told her how Cedric died, she spent the next hour venting heart-wrenching sobs into his shoulder. When she was cried out, Harry hugged her and escorted her back to her dorm. She kissed him on the cheek before she left.

Harry returned to the Ball and continued spending time with friends. Katie Bell had also come to the Ball without a date, so Harry spent the last few dances with her. He escorted her to Gryffindor Tower. Before reaching the Gryffindor dorm, Katie pulled Harry into a deserted classroom to express how glad she was to see him. After some intense kissing and groping, they talked a bit. Katie was quite shocked to learn she was Harry's first kiss.

February 15 - May 16 1996, various locations

After Valentine's Day, the team held Death Eater absorption sessions as often as Harry could handle them. The healers monitored Harry very closely and planned to postpone a session if Harry's health was the least bit off. Fortunately, that was never a problem.

Of course, Harry still had his regimen of academics and exercise. He was trying to complete the equivalent of Hogwarts' sixth year before he took his OWLs.

In addition, "Mr. Carver" visited St. Mungo's about once per fortnight to lend assistance.

By the beginning of May, when Harry was finally ready to attempt to heal the Longbottoms, there were only a few marked Death Eaters still alive. Harry decided it would be poetic justice to use Snape as his "assistant".

Snape's absorption would be different than the others. This time Harry had two patients into whom he would channel the energy he stole from the Death Eater, and Harry would need the patients right next to him to make that transfer. Rather than bringing Neville's parents to the Department of Mysteries, Mr. Carver had a special "operating room" set up at St. Mungo's for the "procedure". Only Riddle Response Team members would attend the procedure, and they would all be in disguise.

Fortunately, they did not need Snape to attend the procedure. Because of the thread from Harry to Snape, Harry could still strip the magic from Snape no matter where he was on Earth.

Once everyone and everything were set up in the operating room, Harry quickly absorbed half of Snape's magic. He then stood up, removed the tentacles attached to his eyeballs, and laid hands on Alice Longbottom, who was lying on a bed nearby. As was common with head injuries, Alice screamed as Harry healed her brain. Soon, though, Harry was done, and Alice relaxed for the first time in nearly sixteen years. Harry quickly repeated the process on Frank Longbottom, using the last of Snape's magic.

The next day, Augusta and Neville Longbottom were called to St. Mungo's to see the result of "Mr. Carver's" work. Frank and Alice were up and about and functioning normally, except that they had large gaps in their memories, and very few memories at all from the last sixteen years.

One by one, the marked Death Eaters disappeared from Azkaban. Having been forewarned, whenever one of them disappeared, Bones simply announced that the prisoner had died and been cremated. After all, that was the truth, from a certain point of view.

A week before the OWLs occurred, Harry absorbed the last of the marked Death Eaters. With Voldemort and the marked Death Eaters all dealt with, the project began to shut down. Mr. Gray told Harry that there would still be a group of healers, trainers, and researchers available to him after the project ended. Mr. Gray would provide him details sometime in the summer. Now Harry just had to find a new home. He had waffled over whether to stay with Sirius and Remus or to get his own place. Harry finally decided to give the two old Marauders a chance and moved into Grimmauld Place with them.

Harry went to Hogwarts to take OWLs with the Fifth Years there. He reunited with his pen friends, but only had a little time to spend with them before the tests. For some reason, some of the girls, including Hermione, seemed a bit flustered around him. Harry felt he did well on all the tests he took, but most especially in DADA and Runes.

After the OWLs, before Harry left Hogwarts, Professor Slughorn approached him to invite him back to Hogwarts the next year. Harry thanked the Headmaster for the personalized invitation and promised to consider it and contact the professor when he decided. Given Harry's level of knowledge, he would not return as a sixth-year student. Harry wasn't particularly concerned about it; he had all summer to negotiate the terms of his return. Regardless, Harry's private study and exercise would continue.

In the meantime, Katie had given him her home phone number so they could communicate more quickly than by owl. She had even suggested they should spend some quality time together in person this summer. And there were always his pen friends to talk with and visit. Harry was confident that he could find something interesting this summer to keep him busy.

June 1 1996, Department of Mysteries

Mr. Gray had completed the long, arduous process of closing out the Riddle Response Project. Everything had turned out as expected except for the staff members who had died early on. Mr. Gray still regretted their deaths. They and the surviving team members were the secret heroes of this war, but they would never receive the credit they deserved.

Now Mr. Gray sat at his desk awaiting Harry Potter's arrival to finish the last task of this project.

At that moment, Harry was walking through the Department of Mysteries on his way to Mr. Gray's office. Harry was wondering why he had been summoned. He had not expected to be back so soon after moving out of the Department.

Harry reached Mr. Gray's office and knocked. Mr. Gray let Harry in and indicated for Harry to sit in one of the chairs in front of the desk.

Harry had seen this office once before. It was now even more spartan than it had been then. There was nothing in the office except the two of them and furniture.

Mr. Gray started "Alright, Mr. Potter. It's time for the last stage of the project." And then he began to remove his robe.

Fortunately, Mr. Gray was wearing street clothes under his Unspeakable robe.

After disrobing, Mr. Gray turned to face Harry.

Harry's mouth dropped open and he muttered, "No f***ing way."

Mr. Gray was an exact copy of Harry head-to-toe except for the clothes.

Mr. Gray said, "At the beginning of all this, you and I thought that if we wanted anything done, we'd have to do it ourselves. We were so relieved to meet Mr. Gray and the team.

"Unfortunately, we were right. You need to go back to start the project.

"Now listen very carefully, to finish this, you will reinvent time travel. Everything the Department knows about time travel and dimensional travel is wrong."

If possible, Harry's jaw dropped even farther.

"There's an important caveat to this: this method of travel will only work for you. For someone else to use it, they would have to become like you. The circumstances of your metamorphosis are so unique, the likelihood of anyone recreating it is zero."

"Here's another important limitation to remember: you can't carry anything when you travel like this. You do not want to see what will happen to a living creature if it tries to travel with you. Of course, since I've seen it, you will too."

Mr. Gray pushed a folder in front of Harry and said, "These will get you started. Just get a good look at each page so you can retrieve them by pensieve."

Mr. Gray waited while Harry read through the twenty-or-so pages in the folder.

Once Harry was done, Mr. Gray said, "After you've mastered that, you'll meet your research partner, and she will supply you with everything else you need."

"Wow. That's a lot to absorb," Harry said.

"Yes, it is. That's why I haven't given you any other information; you have enough to deal with as is."

Harry asked, "When do I leave?"

Mr. Gray looked at his watch and said, "In about two minutes."

Mr. Gray stood and pointed to the wall to Harry's left. The wall was featureless except for two concentric circles of runes seemingly carved into it. Harry stood and the two walked up and stood side-by-side in front of the circles. Mr. Gray placed his right hand in the center of the two circles, and the runes began to hum, glow, and rotate in opposite directions: the inner ring clockwise and the outer ring counter-clockwise. Considering the runes were etched into the wall, seeing them move startled Harry.

"For this trip, you'll need a focusing element. Once you learn to travel, you will do so without an external focus. The destination time and place are already set. Whenever you're ready to leave, place your right hand in the center of the circles, just as I did," Mr. Gray said to Harry. "Since you can't carry anything with you, you'll arrive naked."

Harry took a deep breath, then pressed his right hand where Mr. Gray had. The outer ring expanded until its diameter was the same as Harry's height. The inner ring shrank until its diameter was the size of Harry's hand. The runes grew brighter and the circles spun faster and faster until the runes were no longer distinct. Harry felt himself drawn in, and he stepped forward. Instead of impacting the wall, Harry passed through it into whatever lay beyond. The clothes Harry was wearing fell to the floor as he disappeared.

Once Harry was gone, the two circles of runes slowed and their glow faded, until they disappeared altogether. The wall was now just a plain wall, with no sign of Harry and no sign that the etched runes had ever been there.

Once Harry and the runes were gone, Mr. Gray stepped over to the other Harry's pile of clothes. He vanished the clothes he was wearing with a thought and donned the other Harry's clothes. He folded the Unspeakable robe and slipped it into a pocket of the everyday robe he was now wearing.

With that, Harry Potter left the Department to start his post-war life.

Author's Notes:

I originally posted this story in twenty chapters from September 2016 to December 2016. The chapters were very short, so I believe the story will be more readable in this form. Thank you to everyone who reviewed, favorited, or followed the original version of this story. Your feedback was greatly appreciated and very encouraging. I saved off all the original reviews so nothing would be lost. I value feedback too much to throw it away.

Also, thank you in advance to anyone who reviews, favorites, or follows the story in this form.

originally published: 29 September 2016 to 10 December 2016

last updated: 24 December 2020