The cool winds of February gave way to the warmth of spring. The snow melted away, and was replaced with the beautiful greens of May. In spite of his upcoming surrender during the Third Task, Harry maintained his strict training regimen. Professor Jackson, as ever, remained a torturous task master. On more than one occasion, Harry barely made it back to the Common Room. His legs trembling, his arms and temples throbbing painfully.

With the threat of war seemingly growing closer with each passing day, Professor Jackson seemed more and more intent on driving Harry into the ground. From learning new spells to combat training. It was grueling training, but still Harry could tell that he was making progress.

The weeks and months blurred past in a torrent of classes and training. Before he knew it, the morning of the Third Task was upon them. Unlike the previous tasks, the families of the champions were allowed to visit prior to the event. To Harry's surprise and utter delight, both Sirius and the Weasley's were there in support.

It had been an enjoyable evening. Harry had almost forgotten how enjoyable life around the castle could be, when he wasn't constantly stressing himself out over the upcoming tasks. While the threat of Voldemort was still very real, it felt more distant than normal. As though he might actually have a normal end to the year for once.

Though he wasn't exactly holding his breath.

Night descended around them, as the castle began to buzz with excitement. Students whispered excitedly amongst themselves. Theorizing and debating on who they thought would take home the prize. Harry would catch the odd speculative glance in his direction every now and then, but he ignored them. He knew that he had garnered some attention in the past couple of months, and while it was oddly satisfying to know that people had turned the corner on him, he knew they were likely going to be disappointed.

Not that he cared. He hadn't cared much about winning since the beginning. Sure, it had been nice to perform well, and he took a tremendous amount of pride in what he'd managed to accomplish, but that didn't mean he wanted to win. He wasn't going to cheat one of the real champions out of the chance to actually win the prize.

Harry couldn't wipe the silly smile off his face as he descended down the steps of the Great Hall and began making his way onto the grounds. It was a warm spring night, and a pleasant breeze cascaded around him as he entered the small tent that acted as the staging area for the start of the task. The other champions were already there, varying degrees of excitement and anxiety clear on their faces.

Harry, meanwhile, cut quit the opposite picture. Carefree, and comfortable. Knowing well and truly that he would soon be free of the mess. Sure enough, and much to Harry's delight, he was only forced to wait another ten minutes before the Task began. As the points leader for the Cup, Harry was the first one to enter the maze. The look of abject surprise on the faces of his competitors when he took a single step inside before throwing up a jet of red sparks, would be one that Harry was sure he would cherish. Though he had been rather confused by the pinched expressions of both Fleur and Krum.

Still, he could have cared less about what the others felt and thought about him in that moment. He felt free. Full. It was a wonderfully liberating sensation, not having the weight of the tournament weighing down on him for the first time. The schools didn't seem to really know how to respond. For Hogwarts' students, the lot of them seemed equally torn between cheering in delight, and screaming in frustration.

Though perhaps that had been mostly due to the sheer number of wagers that had been placed on Harry to win the Tournament. Fred and George Weasley would have made a small fortune on their winnings for Harry to lose the Tournament outright as he did.

The Weasleys and Sirius, to their credit, didn't so much as bat an eye at Harry's decision. On the contrary, Molly Weasley looked as though she had finally released a long-suffering breath she had been holding, when Harry was announced as being disqualified.

Over the course of the next hour, they watched and chatted as the competitors within the maze dueled it out. Or at least, that was the presumption. It was dreadfully boring, Harry realized, to be on the spectator side of the Tournament. They couldn't see a single thing from the inside of the maze. But after about an hour and fifteen minutes, the first of the competitors emerged from the maze. Fleur appeared, battered, scraped, and bruised. Looking as though she had been roughly dragged through a thicket of thorn bushes.

Judging by the harsh glare she turned on the maze as she was met by Maxine, that might have been a fairly accurate assessment. Cedric was next out of the maze. And he too wasn't looking particularly great. There was a rather painful gash across his middle, and a strange and sickly yellow puss oozing from the wound. Apparently, he'd gotten into a bit of a close call with an acromantula and the professors had been forced to intervene.

It was another thirty minutes, before Victor Krum finally appeared. He materialized in the middle of the starting area, his hand wrapped around the handle of the impressive-looking trophy. The on-lookers from Durmstrang immediately rose into a tumultuous cry of excitement and celebration. They rushed the field, swarming around Krum and hoisting him upon their shoulders. The onlookers from Hogwarts and Beauxbatons appeared torn between abject misery and polite happiness.

Harry didn't care. The moment the rest of the crowd began the celebration, Harry and his small party began slowly making their way back to the castle. Chatting amicably and listening to Harry regale them with the stories of his experiences during the Tournament.

The rest of the school year passed in a strange blur. It was quite unlike every other year Harry had had since starting school. For the first time, at the end of the year, he did not have to fight for his life. Was not forced into terrifying situations.

It was wonderful.

Instead, he allowed himself to become immersed in the mundane normalities of life at school. He distracted himself from the looming threats of war and dark sorcerers, and focused on simply passing his exams. He felt he earned that minor reprieve. That seemingly inconsequential liberty known as mundanity and normality.

It was delightfully refreshing.

But all too soon, the end of the year was upon them. First to go were the foreign schools and students. It had been oddly bittersweet to watch them depart. After a year of their constant presence, the castle felt entirely too empty. But Harry supposed that he wouldn't miss them all that much. The foreigners hadn't exactly been the most pleasant or the most welcoming of sorts.

On the night before the train was set to depart back to London, Harry was once again summoned up to the Dumbledore's office. Unlike the last several times that Harry had been to the Headmaster's personal quarters, there was no one else waiting for him. A sudden pang of apprehension washed over him. It would be the first time since Harry was a second year, that he would be spending any amount of time on his own with the Headmaster.

"Enter" Dumbledore called, before Harry even had a chance to knock on the door. The office appeared the same as it had every other time Harry had been there. Fawks trilled in pleasure and excitement upon seeing Harry arrive, letting loose a couple of musical trills of delight. Harry smiled at the large bird, before taking a seat in one of the chairs opposite the Headmaster's desk.

Dumbledore was busy writing a letter as Harry arrived, not even bothering to glance up from his work. Harry tried, for only the briefest of moments, to read what the man was writing, but considering the words were upside-down and backwards for him, he gave it up as a lost cause and he sat back in his chair and waited patiently.

With a final flourish of the quill several minutes later, Dumbledore finished with his postage, before folding the parchment into a small paper airplane, and tossing it into the nearby hearth. The fireplace erupted in a jet of green, before simmering down, the paper airplane message nowhere to be seen. Finally, the old man turned his gaze on Harry.

"Harry," said Dumbledore seriously, and the uncomfortable smile on Harry's face disappeared. "I have an important message for you from Professor Jackson."

Harry's good mood soured instantly. He and the professor hadn't seen much of one another of the last several weeks. Truth be told, no one had seen much of the man whatsoever. He had only ever shown up to act as judge for the final project for History of Magic, before disappearing again. Harry didn't know what kind of errands the man was running, but clearly, they were keeping him fairly busy.

"What is the message?" Harry asked coolly, doing his best to remain composed.

Dumbledore sighed, "Must you, Harry?"

"Must I what?" Harry asked. Maybe he was acting a little petulantly, but he felt he was entitled to it after everything he'd been through.

"Let us not play games, Harry," said Dumbledore wearily, "You and Professor Jackson really must put this differing of opinions behind yourselves. Or rather," he paused and stared meaningfully at Harry, "You must put it behind yourself, and either learn to accept the man, his flaws and all, or endeavor to try and change him. Though I fear that many have tried the latter, and thus far none have succeeded."

"He killed someone in cold blood. In front of me, and then tried to lecture me about how it was the right thing to do. That he was saving lives or some bollocks. This is more than a difference of opinions, Professor!"

Harry's cheeks felt warm, he hadn't intended to shout the last bit, but he'd gotten a little…overzealous. It had been happening more and more frequently lately. In spite of his good mood at the end of the Tournament, he'd been feeling especially irritable. Though he supposed that was only natural, what with the stress of end of term exams.

Dumbledore considered Harry closely for several seconds, then nodded. "I have done enough to try and shape your life, Harry," he conceded, "And I will no longer endeavor to do so again. But if you will allow an old man to at least offer some advice, I think it would prove beneficial to at least hear me out."

Harry felt annoyance surge through him, and for a moment, he was tempted to say no. But…he felt Dumbledore was actively trying to do right by Harry in the moment, so he decided he would at least hear what the older man had to see.

"Perseus is…a complicated man. Whatever your compunctions with his morality or sense of duty and justice, know that what he does, what he has done, and what he will go on to do…they are all in the name of preserving peace."

"But he-" Harry found himself beginning to say, but Dumbledore calmly raised a palm to him, and Harry fell silent.

"I know, Harry," he said, "I know, and I happen to agree with you. You know very well that Perseus and I differ greatly in how we believe that we should approach this coming conflict."

"And yet you seem to be cowing to his demands."

Dumbledore arched a brow, his eyes twinkling as he gazed over his half-moon spectacles at Harry.

"A…curious choice of words," he said softly, staring intently at Harry. "And words that I would disagree with, vehemently." He said the last words harshly, and Harry almost flinched. "I have been foolish in my time, Harry. Foolish, complacent, and even arrogant. In the last war, I allowed my own arrogance to trick me into thinking that I could win the war on my own. That I could stop Tom, and prevent bloodshed without taking other lives unnecessarily." He sighed, slouching down in his chair somewhat, his hands folding demurely in his lap.

"It was a hopelessly foolish belief. One that undoubtably cast ruin onto the lives and families of others. Lives were cut short, families torn apart, and futures left in tatters. But it was one born of hopefulness and good intentions. Intentions that, perhaps foolishly, I believed were enough." His expression became stormy and Harry felt himself unconsciously sit up a little straighter in his chair. Dumbledore stared into Harry, and it felt to Harry as though the older man were staring into his very soul. Those electric blue eyes boring into Harry, and breaking through every muscle, every bone and seeing every thought and emotion as clear as though they were his own.

"Harry, there is a time for such beliefs as all life is sacred. That kindness should prevail over evil. I am afraid, that times of war, are not such times. Professor Jackson knows this. Understands it better than anyone, for I do not believe there is a soul on this planet, who has sacrificed more or less more."

"And that is supposed to justify executing a man in cold blood?"

"It is not," said Dumbledore, "And neither myself, nor Professor Jackson, would attempt to persuade you that it is."

"Then what are trying to say to me here, Dumbledore," snapped Harry. His temper flaring and his agitation getting the better of him.

"I am saying," Dumbledore replied calmly, apparently not bothered by Harry's outburst in the least. "I am saying, that Professor Jackson is doing what he believes he must. Perseus understands something about conflict Harry, that you could never in a million lifetimes, hope to comprehend. Not because you are not intelligent, but because you have been lucky to have never been forced into the kind of life that Perseus has been forced to endure. I am not saying that what he is doing is right. That he is just. What I am saying, however, is that he feels that he is right. He feels that he is right, because of the life he has lived. The experiences that he's had, and the lessons he has learned. Do you truly believe that a man like Percy Jackson is simply born with the capacity to take a life as callously as he is?"

It was a rhetorical question.

"Perseus' life has been little more than conflict, Harry," continued Dumbledore. "And as such, he views the world differently. Views how justice and peace can be achieved, differently. Very differently, I might say, than the likes of you or myself."

"Then why do you listen to him?" Harry pressed, "if he's so different to you, why do you choose to listen to him. To allow him to call the shots!"

"Because, Harry, Perseus understands war better than I could ever hope, or wish to know. A fact which, if I may be so bold, I count myself lucky to be able to say. Barbaric and brutal as some of his methods may be, there is reason and logic behind them. A reason and logic which, had I'd been more willing to see and understand last time, could have saved countless lives." Dumbledore sighed, removing his spectacles and rubbing tiredly at his face.

"But, alas, I did not call you here to exclusively discuss the philosophical questions of war. I called you here to pass along a message, a message with which I whole-heartily agree with." He replaced his glasses and stared at Harry. "Until such time that I or someone we trust comes to collect you and Sirius, the pair of you are not to leave the safety of your home."

Harry was floored. A fresh wave of righteous fury crashing through him. He stood, his chair clattering loudly to the floor. He slammed his fists on the desk, a strange brass instrument clattering to the ground.

"Sirius spent twelve years in prison, and now you want to lock him into his home?"

"I would hardly call the comforts of one's home comparable to Azkaban," said Dumbledore dryly, not even fazed by Harry's rage. "But rest assured, it is not our intention to hold you captive."

"It certainly seems like it!" Harry snarled, "What? Twelve years with the Dursleys wasn't enough?" It was a low blow, but Harry didn't care. The man was trying to control him. Again. He'd sworn to himself he wouldn't allow it to happen again.

Dumbledore flinched, but did his best to remain composed.

"Harry…" he said carefully, "You must think of the greater picture. Remember what we discovered, yes? Voldemort needs you, for whatever nefarious purpose, he needs you in his possession. We cannot, under any circumstances, allow that to occur. Your home is protected by some of the most powerful magic on this earth, Harry. Magic that ensures your safety and survival. Do you understand what I am saying? So long as Voldemort does not have you, for whatever he needs you for, then we have a chance. Then he will be weak. Vulnerable. But we can only ensure that you're safe if we know where you are. If we can control the environment."

He gazed imploringly at Harry. It might have been the most vulnerable Harry had ever seen the man, and his resolve cracked somewhat under the truly desperate gaze. The old man's genuineness tore through his own rage and calmed him enough to think through the man's desperate plea. He needed to admit to himself, that it made sense. A lot of sense. Dumbledore was quite right. They did know that Voldemort had wanted Harry for something. It was why the man had had gone to such lengths to get Harry in the Tournament. It therefore made sense that Harry should be protected. Especially since the man's plans had been so thoroughly foiled. He would still be needing Harry, and would therefore continue planning to come after him. He wouldn't be safe out in the open. Out in the wider world.

But Harry didn't like it. Didn't like the feeling of being backed into a cage. Like he wasn't capable of looking out for himself. Hadn't he done just that for twelve years? Before Sirius ever even came into his life, Harry had only ever had himself to rely on his safety. Where had Dumbledore been when Quirrel had been trying to kill him? Or when Dudley and his friends had been looking for a punching bag? Or when Professor Jackson had been petrified? Harry was more than capable of looking out for himself. Right?

He nearly shook his head, and tried to clear the thoughts. He was being ridiculous. Dumbledore, in spite of Harry's misgivings, was clearly right. Sure, he had learned more powerful magic in the last year, and was probably more adept at looking out for himself than the average fourteen-year-old, but this wasn't an average threat. This was Voldemort. Second only to Dumbledore himself in terms of magical ability. Able to seemingly cheat death itself. Even weakened as he likely was, what hope did Harry have?

He sighed, and nodded his head.

"All right, professor," he said grudgingly. "Sirius and I will stay put for the summer."

Dumbledore sagged, as though a tremendous weight had finally been pulled from his shoulders. He smiled genially, his eyes twinkling in delight.

"Thank you, Harry," he said. "And if it is any consolation, I dare say that neither you nor Sirius will be sitting idle for very long. There are many errands that we will need to be running this Summer. Much that needs to be done. So, fret not, I believe that you will only have a month or so on your own before the excitement begins."

Harry nodded, but couldn't quite bring himself to look at the headmaster. He might acknowledge the intelligence behind lying low for the time being, but that didn't mean that had to like it.

"Well then," Dumbledore clapped his hands together, "It is getting late, and you have an early morning. I believe we shall call it an evening, for the time being Harry." Harry nodded, and turned to leave. He stumbled somewhat, flushing in embarrassment as he nearly tripped over the discarded chair. After fumbling for a moment, and refusing to meet the man's amused expression, Harry took his exit from the office.

As the spiral staircase slowly began to descend, Harry casually cast a disillusionment charm over himself. He'd found that it was far more convenient, not to mention comfortable, to use the spell rather than rely on his invisibility cloak. He'd made it a habit to disillusion himself most days lately. Especially when leaving the headmaster's office. He was already the topic of enough rumors around the castle, and he'd really rather avoid anything more if he could.

He began making his way back to the Tower. He allowed his mind to wander during the trek back to the castle, trusting in his feet to take him where he needed to go. He could hardly believe that it was already the end of term. It felt like so much had happened. That it had all gone so fast that it hardly felt real.

And that spoke nothing of the revelations of the year. He reflected back on everything that happened. How much of his world had seemed to shift. How the world had seemed to make so much sense only a year ago, but now, it was like life was more uncertain than ever before. It was odd to him, as he wandered around the castle. It had become ever more apparent over the last couple of weeks, but it got even stranger the more aware of it he became. He couldn't fathom how…carefree, his classmates were. How little they understood of the danger they were in, the danger the world was in.

One of the single greatest threats to world peace was on the verge of making his return to power and his classmates didn't even notice. They were just living their lives. Getting on with the monotony of living one day to the next. Laughing, and giggling, and gossiping and stressing over exams and relationships and all other such nonsense.

It was incredibly odd to Harry, but he also found that he strangely enjoyed it. He enjoyed that they had that kind of peace of mind. That they had that kind of ignorance. They had no idea the danger they were, and they were able to sleep soundly at night, and live their perfectly normal lives. It made Harry oddly…happy. Happy that they weren't burdened by the knowledge of Voldemort's return. Happy that they were allowed to simply live their lives.

On some level, sure, he was a little jealous. He could admit that. But his own envy was grossly overshadowed by his sense of relief.

He smiled, but the expression quickly morphed into a frown as he realized where he was. His feet, the little traitors that they were, hadn't taken him back to the tower.

They'd taken him to Professor Jackson's office.

Light streamed from under the crack of the door, and Harry could hear the flurried sound of harried movement inside. He realized with a start exactly why he had ended up where he was. Ever since his second year, he'd started and ended every single term with Professor Jackson. He'd unconsciously just done as he always had this time of year.

For a moment, Harry considered knocking. Considered speaking to the man. But as he raised his knuckle to the wood, a fresh wave of utter rage erupted inside him. How dare that man treat Harry as he had. How dare he coddle Harry. Try and lecture him, him, on the true nature of the world. Who was he to speak to Harry in such a manner.

Scowling, Harry turned on his heel and slithered away from the office.

Halfway across the country. Tucked away in the comforts of a disheveled and crumbling old manor home. The warmth of the fire felt delightful against the chill of the night air, as a light breeze danced through the small gaps in the foundation of the manor. Swathed in a bundle of blankets, in a large armchair before the large and blistering hearth, a brittle and grotesque homunculus smiled, watching in delight through its mind's eye as Harry Potter strode quickly back to his dormitory.

His plans might have been temporarily disrupted, and the loss of Crouch Jr. was disappointing, but his plans were never disrupted permanently. Not even death, had managed to wrap its cloak around his person. And if he could manipulate death itself, then the emotions and thoughts of a pubescent child was a simple feat.

Lord Voldemort giggled in delight.

Soon, all too soon, the world would once again, feel his might.