The Time of Change
Chapter 1:  Harry's New Room

by Olafr (olafr@iinet.net.au)

Disclaimer:  Harry Potter and associated milieu, characters, and situations are owned by J.K. Rowling and her licensees.  This is a work of fan fiction, produced solely for enjoyment.  No infringement of rights is intended.

Rating:  PG-13 (so far)

Last updated:  6 February 2004.  Revision 4:  Incorporated beta-reader feedback: Substantial revision to Harry's letters; numerous vocabulary, word choice, grammar, and punctuation changes (but no plot changes to speak of).

Ship:  When I started this story I was thinking a Harry/Tonks fling followed by Harry/Hermione, but it's not working out that way.  We'll see.

Author's Notes:  This is my first fanfiction in the Harry Potter universe (I've written Ranma½ fanfiction before under another pen-name).  I'm most interested in commentary on characterisation – if I'm not careful my characters can end up sounding like a middle-aged consultant. Sometimes that's appropriate (Dumbledore) but other times it's not (Tonks, Harry).

Huge props and thanks to my beta-readers, Sarah Mandisa and Nosila.  Both have helped tremendously by pointing out some gross OOC'ness (particularly with Harry) and points of grammar.  Ladies, your help in pointing out problems in the story has been a massive help, and I think the story is far better for your contribution.

Chapter 1:  Harry's New Room

It wasn't the best way to start a vacation.  After only six days after returning to his Aunt's home from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry at the end of his fifth year, Harry Potter was bored.  Bored and lonely.  Already, this summer was shaping up to be one of the worst yet.

The beginning was the trip home from King's Cross Station with the Dursleys.  Dudley jiggled about in his seat, his pudgy hands with their sausage-like fingers locked around a handheld electronic something that beeped and buzzed annoyingly, made worse by the accompanying grunts and snorts and occasional yells of triumph from Dudley himself.  Once, Dudley's flailing elbow smacked painfully into Harry's side.  Harry glared at Dudley but the other boy remained oblivious, an unexpected expression of deep concentration on his moon-like face.  Harry retreated until he was leaning against his door, as far away from Dudley as he could possibly get.

The journey had started in silence except for muted traffic sounds and tyre roar punctuated by the beeps and burps of Dudley's toy.  After a time, Dudley insisted that music be put on, and now he fat boy tipped his head back and forth vaguely in time with the wailing of unknown instruments and singers who, Harry thought, could not carry a tune if it had handles.  In the front seat, Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon were talking.  Harry wondered what they were talking about but he couldn't hear them over the music.  He attempted for a while to make sense of their lip movements but to no avail, and after a while he ignored them.  Instead he spent the rest of the journey trying not to think about his classmates and Sirius, half-mesmerised as he watched the tall light poles of the motorway flick by.

The sun was setting and they had turned off the motorway when the music ceased without warning.  'Hey!  I was listening to that!' yelled Dudley.  Harry saw Uncle Vernon's neck twitch.

'You can have it back on in a moment, Dudders,' he said indulgently.  Uncle Vernon then met Harry's eyes in the rear vision mirror and his face went cold.  'Boy.'

Uh-oh, thought Harry, here it comes.  'Yes, sir,' he said.

'You'll be sleeping in the attic his year, boy.  Dudley needs his second bedroom for his training.  I've had the builders in to make it habitable, at great expense mind you, so I expect you to be properly grateful.'

'Duddykins is becoming a champion boxer!' put in Aunt Petunia proudly as Uncle Vernon paused to navigate the car around a left-hand turn, the indicator clicking loudly.

Uncle Vernon went on, 'Your freak friends seem to think that we don't treat you properly,' he said in a dangerous voice, his eyes slitted.  'I've never been so offended in my life!  Imagine, making baseless accusations in public like that.  It's just as well for you, boy, that nobody I knew saw that little scene, or there would have been trouble.'  He paused again, snarling to himself as he drove around a slower vehicle, an old, dark red Vauxhall sedan. 

'So listen to me, boy, and listen well.  You will stay in your room at all times.  You may keep your school books with you, as I'm sure you have a great deal of important homework to do.'  Uncle Vernon broke off to smile to himself maliciously before returning his attention to Harry.  'You will be permitted to use that rotten bird of yours, but only under cover of darkness.  And you had better make quite sure that you send those letters every three days, boy; so help me if one of those freaks so much as shows up at our door you will live to regret it, I assure you of that.'  Harry shivered at his uncle's tone.  His voice was deadly, laden with the promise of unspeakable retribution.

Uncle Vernon returned his full attention to the road.  The music returned, seeming louder and more annoying than ever, as they passed the sign which said that they were entering the bedroom community of Little Whinging.  Why is it that Uncle Vernon scares me as much as Voldemort? wondered Harry.

At length they arrived at 4 Privet Drive.  Harry struggled with his heavy chest and birdcage, but some deep instinct told him not to leave anything for a second trip.  Hedwig squawked shrilly as he jostled her cage, but Harry quieted her quickly with a few whispered words.

Uncle Vernon was waiting in the entrance hall by the foot of the stairs.  'Your new room awaits,' he said with a kind of smiling sneer.  'Upstairs.'  He led the way up the stairs and watched with hooded eyes as Harry trembled under the stress of carrying the trunk and Hedwig at the same time.

Arriving at the top of the stairs, Harry saw that a new, fold-out stairway had been installed which led into the house's attic.  The lightly-built metal stairway was down and it blocked access to Harry's room.  'Up!' ordered Uncle Vernon.

Harry wobbled unsteadily up the lightly-built metal staircase, feeling as though his fingers would be cut from his hands at any moment by the thin metal handles at each end of his trunk.  As his head rose above the ceiling he saw that it was dark up there.  The only light came from the open hatchway which reflected from the roof overhead.  His eyes adjusted and he could see a little in the gloom.  Harry saw that plywood had been put down on the ceiling joists to form a floor.  As soon as his trunk was through the hatch he slid it onto the floor.  Sighing with relief, he shook his hands to regain the feeling in them.

Curious, Harry looked around.  He spotted a bare bulb installed at the peak of the roof with a cord dangling from it, but in the poor light, he could see nothing else.  The ends of the attic disappeared in the gloom.  It was cold.

'Get up there, boy!' yelled Uncle Vernon from below.  Frowning, Harry did so.  His uncle followed him, the stair creaking alarmingly, until his head was above the floor level of the attic.

'Uncle Vernon?' Harry asked uncertainly.  A sudden cool draft made him shiver.  The weather today had been mild and intermittently sunny and with the setting of the sun, the temperature had dropped.  It was cool outside, and the attic lacked the warmth of the main house.

'Now listen here, boy, and listen while I'm talking to you.  You will keep quiet up here and not disturb the neighbours.  That bloody bird of yours may only fly at night, not during the day.  Meals will be delivered via the dumbwaiter.  If you waste food you will be punished.'  Uncle Vernon paused and smiled at him, the light from below giving him an unsettling, almost evil appearance.  'Good night.'  With that, he retreated down the stairs and, with a great clatter, folded the staircase and pushed it back up until, with a click, the hatch closed.

It was now pitch black in the attic.  Another cool breeze wafted past Harry, making him shiver.  Groping, he soon found the dangling cord he had spotted earlier and pulled it.  The light clicked on and he gasped at what he saw.

The attic occupied the entire plan of the house.  All the ceiling joists had been covered with plywood, and the raw, unfinished brick of the house's gable ends – where the house stood near its neighbours on each side – could be seen.  The unfinished, rough-sawn beams of the roof itself were exposed with little bits of wood sticking out, splinters waiting to happen, and Harry could see that he would have to be careful not to hit his head.  The pallet from his time under the stairs lay nearby, and against one of the gable walls there was a toilet, shower, basin and mirror with a couple of small shelves.  The floor and part of the wall in that area was covered in a nondescript but waterproof linoleum to keep water from seeping through to the house below.  Against the gable wall at the other end was a low cabinet that appeared to be built in.  Some boxes were piled to one side.  Other than that, the space was bare.  Gritty grey dust covered everything, even the new floor and bathing area.

Hedwig fussed; Harry leaned down and opened the cage to let her out.  She stepped onto his wrist and he petted her, earning a friendly nibble on his finger by way of reply.  She hoo'd uncertainly.  Harry smiled weakly.  'I don't know either, girl.'  Looking around, Harry spotted the dormer windows that had been added, two on each side of the house.  'Would you like to go out and hunt, girl?'  Hedwig gave an affirmative wh-hoo and Harry stepped over to the nearest window.  He saw that it was not glazed, but instead had wire mesh behind large, fixed louvres.  Cool outside air flowed in through the mesh, and Harry was glad he would not be here over the winter... summer would be bad enough.  There was a small handle which Harry pulled, then pushed, and the louvre opened out to reveal the roof and an excellent view of the serried ranks of suburban roofs that comprised Little Whinging.  He held Hedwig out and she launched herself into the night sky.

Feeling tired, Harry took a moment to find the little hook which secured the window open so Hedwig could get in when she returned from her hunt.  He then shuffled over to the small mattress that had served him until he was eleven years of age.  Too tired to bother with the thin pillow, he changed into his pyjamas and drew out a cloak from his trunk, turned out the light, and collapsed onto the mattress.

But Sleep did not find him straight away.  His thoughts turned to Sirius, just as they had throughout the last week.  Wistfully, he recalled his first meetings with Sirius here at Privet Drive, then his thoughts flipped willy-nilly to the conversation he had had with Nearly Headless Nick.  Was it only last night?  It felt much, much longer ago than that.  He had so wished that Sirius would be present as a ghost so Harry could talk to him, but Nick had dashed that hope forever.  Thoughts of Sirius led him to curse himself silently at the depths of his folly in forgetting about the mirror... could he have avoided Voldemort's trap, and Sirius' death, if he had not been so irresponsible?

He could feel the black tide of depression rising up to engulf him, but then his thoughts turned to Luna Lovegood.  She too had suffered a devastating loss.  Her matter-of-fact attitude and firm conviction that she would see her mother once again had been both surprising and a balm on Harry's soul last night.  He decided to write her a letter tomorrow, thanking her.

Sleep beckoned now, and in a half-remembered conviction to not let Voldemort get him ever again, Harry attempted to clear his mind before drifting off to sleep.

The next day had been filled with surprises, both pleasant and otherwise.  He had awoken to the ching of a brass bell.  He sat up and looked around, wondering where the noise may have come from, but he could see nothing that might have caused it.  After a long couple of minutes there was a rumble, then after a minute or two more it came again.  Ching.  This time Harry caught it:  The sound was coming from the low cabinet.

Opening the doors, Harry saw inside a note.  In angry writing, it said, Don't Waste Food!!  Behind the note was a plate with half a grapefruit, two slices of toast (now cold), and a spoon.  Quickly he grabbed the plate before it could be taken away.  Scant fare though it might be compared to Hogwarts, grapefruit and toast was far better than nothing.

His next surprise had been the shower.  The hot water simply refused to run, leaving Harry with the unpleasant choice between cold showers and nothing.  He decided to wait until the day warmed up before showering, since he didn't seem to have a towel and so would have to air-dry himself before dressing again.

Despite the attic's unpleasantness, Harry revelled at being able to use his schoolbooks whenever he wished.  He could get out and leave out his parchment and quill and ink if he weighed them down so they didn't blow away.  He could even get out his books and so on.  The only problem was, he had no need to.  Until the OWL results were returned, no homework could be assigned since not all students proceeded to the NEWT level, and of those that did, each student's course mix could vary widely.

So he had unfettered access to his books but no homework to do.  Oh, the irony.

Instead he decided to follow up on last night's decision to write to Luna Lovegood.  And if he could convince Tonks to make a few modifications to his little abode here, he could see himself being very comfortable.  He had no desk of any kind, but for now the floor was flat and, after some hard puffs that left him feeling a little dizzy, relatively clean.

2 July, 1996

Dear Luna,

Thanks for talking with me the day before our return from Hogwarts.  Our conversation helped me a little.  I was wondering – would you mind telling me more about how you feel you'll see your Mum again?  I suppose you're referring to what Prof. Dumbledore calls, 'The next great adventure.'

I was really sorry to hear about the way your dorm-mates treated you.  I know what it's like to be picked on.  Perhaps we can think of a way to stop them.

Sorry if this letter is not welcome, but I do hope to hear from you.

Your friend (I hope),

Harry.

2 July, 1996

Dear Tonks,

Here's the first of my regular reports.  I'm fit and well, so far.  My relatives have given me a room in the attic.  In most respects it's a big improvement over my old room.

Tonks, can I ask a favour of you please?  I would like to speak with you, stuff that I don't want to put in a letter.  If you do come, please come by broom and I will leave an attic window open for you.  (That's how Hedwig comes and goes.)  The only other way in is a hatchway from the upstairs landing which my uncle keeps locked.  Please don't knock on the front door as it will only cause trouble.

I look forward to seeing you, but if you don't come I'll understand.

Harry.

Harry had thought deeply about the letter to Tonks.  He had to allow for the possibility that Hedwig might be intercepted, so he couldn't simply state his desires directly.  The result had been a rather unsatisfactory compromise but he had sent it off. 

And now, Harry was bored.  With no homework to do and with no way of getting outside, he had at first played with Hedwig, but that had not lasted long before he had guiltily given in to her clear desires and let the poor bird sleep.  He tried napping, but found he could not.  Restless energy sang along his arms and legs.  He had to do something.

He got out his books.  The formed quite a pile now, after five years, and he was thankful for the lightening and expansion charms he had remembered to cast on his trunk before leaving Hogwarts even if they weren't as powerful as he would have liked – without them he couldn't have carried the trunk at all.  However he couldn't bring himself to study them right now.  He felt Voldemort pressing in on him; not through his scar but in his memories and in his awareness of the prophecy.  He decided to try and practice his Occlumency.  However, after half an hour, he found that he was being no more successful at clearing his mind than he had previously.  The very act of pushing thoughts to one side simply brought them and their relations to the fore.

So with a sigh, Harry plucked the first book off the pile and opened it.

The final surprise of the day was a letter from Hermione.  She could only have been home one day when she had written it, and it was so long!  Curious and a little nervous, Harry broke the seal and opened the parchment sheets.

2 July, 1996

Dear Harry,

How are you doing?  Are the Dursleys treating you well?  After the fuss that Mad-Eye Moody and the others made at Kings Cross, I should hope they are.

It seems an eternity until we're due to get our OWL results.  I know you're not expecting to do well in Astronomy given the problems during the practical, but I certainly hope you do well enough to get into the NEWTs you need to become an Auror.  I know you said that was what you wanted to do.  I must say that you have the advantage over me there – I don't really know what I want to do.  Maybe a healer, maybe an Auror... maybe a teacher, maybe go into research.  I think it's still a little early to be making final decisions about my future career.

I might even decide to just become a housewife!  (Imagine that.)

My point is, I guess, that I'm keeping my options open.  I'm hoping my marks will be good enough that I have that luxury.  I can think of others that will not, although I have read that O-levels are more than enough for most of the 'worker' level positions in Wizarding society.

Oh, listen to me!  I sound like an intellectual snob!

Anyway, I suppose I should get to the point.  Harry, the reason I'm writing is that I want you to know that I'm here for you.  You were treated so badly this year by just everyone, and on top of that there was all that happened in the Department of Mysteries.  You must be feeling so alone, Harry, so let me tell you now:  You are not alone.  You have friends.  You have family, of a sort – I'm sure the Weasleys consider you to be part of their family... and what of your extended family on both sides?  Neither your mother nor your father sprang like Athena, fully formed from the brow of Zeus; they must have had a father and a mother, siblings, uncles, cousins... why not spend some time looking for them and making contact with them?  They can't all be like your Aunt Petunia and her horrid husband and son.

And finally, Harry, you have people who love you.  I'm pretty sure that Ginny loves you, and that Molly Weasley loves you, and even one or two of the other girls from school have feelings for you, I'm sure.  (I don't mean Cho, and I don't mean the shallow lustful-sigh fan brigade either.)  And last but not least, Harry, I love you.  You are my dearest friend; four and a half years ago you and Ron came into my life and transformed it into something magical, and since then, you've always been there for me.

So let me return the favour, Harry.  Let me be there for you, to help you keep from drowning in the sea of sorrow that I know you're struggling with.  Please talk to me, let out your grief, and let me help you through this dark tunnel into the warm light of day once again.

Please.

With love,

               Hermione

Finishing Hermione's letter, Harry let it fall from his trembling hand to the floor.  Lying on his side on his small, single mattress, he felt a hot pain, like a scab had been ripped from his heart, leaving him bleeding.  Images flitted across his mind's eye:  Sirius smiling at him, the look of surprise on his face as he passed through the veil, Umbridge's snarl, the Dark feel of the quill she forced him to use to mutilate his own hand, the way his year-mates had turned their backs on him... the hollow feeling at Dumbledore's revelation of the latest 'truth', the hot flood of anger that followed.  The fact that Hermione cared enough to write him that extraordinary letter, even after his treatment of her this year, even after her near-fatal injury....  It all made him feel intensely sad, somehow, and he could not stop the corners of his mouth from pulling down in a rictus of misery.  He felt worthless, unworthy.  Strong abdominal spasms pulled him involuntarily into a foetal position, and he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to breathe past the aching lump in his throat.  Hot tears leaked from his eyes as sobs wracked him, slow and deep, and Harry frantically clutched his thin pillow to his face to muffle the noise.  Whatever threats had been made to the Dursleys, Harry knew that any noise would bring the wrath of Vernon Dursley down upon his head.

For a long while, Harry wept.  The sun set with its usual summertime reluctance, and it was almost full dark before he lifted his head again.  His eyes felt scratchy.  His pillow was cold and wet.  He was getting chilly now that the sun was down.  And he was exhausted.  But somehow, he felt better.  He pushed himself up with leaden arms and sat up on the edge of his pallet.  He picked up Hermione's letter and put it on his trunk with a small smile.  He would write her back later.  For now, he was tired.  He stood and took a moment to pet Hedwig, who nibbled on his finger in response.  Then, Harry took off his outer clothes, turned over his pillow, and slipped under his cloak into bed.

*    *    *

3 July, 1996

Dear Hermione,

Thank you very much for your letter yesterday.  Thanks to you, I cried last night, for the first time since Sirius died.

 I suppose I'm not supposed to admit that – I think Ron would tell me it's not manly – but I feel I can tell you anything.  I feel somehow as though I have purged myself.  Thinking about Sirius' death still makes me want to cry, but thanks to you I think I can see a time in the future when I can deal with it.  You're not alone in encouraging me to not blame myself:  Dumbledore told me that he felt he should take most of the responsibility.  Luna told me something that made me think, too:  She believes that she will see her mother (who died when Luna was 9) once she passes on.  I've asked her for more details but to tell you the truth, it's a thought that gives me some comfort.  If I believed that too I think I'd be able to deal with Sirius' loss... and my parents.

As for the rest of your letter:  You – a housewife?!  Well, I suppose you'd be really good at it – you're kind, and having seen you take care of the younger students through your Prefect duties, I think you'd be great with kids too.  But don't you think you're meant for greater things than that?  I mean, you can be a housewife and have a family too, of course, but I can see you passing on both knowledge and enthusiasm to young minds at Hogwarts... just like you did for me and the others this year.

Thanks very much for that, by the way.  I actually think I have a fighting chance at getting good enough marks to continue to work towards being an Auror, with all your tireless efforts.  I would have understood if you had given up on me, too.  I certainly didn't deserve your attention, Hermione, but I'm very grateful for your persistence.  (Even if it didn't seem like it at the time.)  The thing is, after our visit to the Ministry this year I'm not sure if I want to have anything to do with it.  It now seems to me that the Ministry is corrupt and exists as a parasite on the body politic.  (See?  I do listen in HoM classes.)  How else could someone like Fudge, or that wart on humanity Umbridge, not only exist, but thrive?

I'm sorry, we can talk about that some other time.  What I meant to say is this:  I don't know how long it will take, but I feel like I've taken the first step along a road, and even though there's lots of obstacles – such as Voldemort – I can feel that the road does indeed break into the sun and warmth.  Thanks for your understanding and love, which appear to have persisted despite me almost getting you killed less than two weeks ago.  I'll try to be more deserving of your friendship and love in the future.

I remain your true and faithful friend,

With love,

Harry.

*    *    *

3 July, 1996

Dear Harry,

I'm so glad I was able to help, even if it was only a little.  I won't say I'm sorry I made you cry, I think it was necessary, but I'm glad the price you paid appears to have been worth it; in that you can see a way forward now.  (Don't worry, I know that guys feel they're not supposed to cry.  You can trust me not to tell anyone, even though I think it's stupid.)

I blushed when I read what you wrote about me and children – do you really think that?  I think that's the sweetest thing anyone's ever told me – thank you.  As for helping you and the others:  It wasn't a one-way street.  Teaching material to others helps your own understanding of it – didn't you find it so when you taught the DA?  As a result, I'm reasonably confident I did well in the OWLs.  And it was a real pleasure helping you, Harry.  I got to spend time with my best friend, time when he wasn't being defensive and pushing people away.  (That's you, you idiot, in case you can't guess.)  Besides, it wasn't me who people asked to help train them in DADA, it was you.  I simply helped around the edges, it was you who led it.  (Or perhaps I should say, it's you who people trusted to teach them in spite of any reservations they may have held about your stability or convictions.  And as the DA grew, it was a reflection that people were coming to trust you and perhaps seeing that their earlier perceptions were wrong.  So last year wasn't all bad, was it?)

How are the Dursleys being?  Are they bothering you?  I'm really hoping to invite you to spend at least part of the summer here at my place, but Professor Dumbledore hasn't responded to my letter yet.  My parents would love to have you spend some time here, though.  My mother in particular wants to get to know you for some reason.  I hope she isn't thinking of playing matchmaker – it's a bad habit of hers.

Well, Mum's calling me to go shopping with her, so I'll have to wrap this up now.  I look forward to hearing from you soon.

With love,

               Hermione

*    *    *

July 5, 1996

Harry,

Guess what?  Charlie invited all of us over to Romania for the summer holiday!  They've given him a big house all to himself, and he says he'd like to spend some time with the family, but they won't let him leave his work just now coz he says there's a clutch of young dragons going through a critical time.  Anyway, Dad's taken leave, and we're all going over by Portkey tomorrow afternoon.

So I'm afraid we won't be able to invite you over for part of the summer.  We'll meet you either at the train on September 1 or perhaps at Diagon Alley on August 30 – we're planning to finish the holiday in the Leaky Cauldron.

Anyway, I hope your summer is okay and the Muggles behave themselves.  See you at the train!

  - Ron

*    *    *

Life had fallen into a routine for Harry.  He would get up, stretch, have his breakfast, and begin study and deal with any letters that had arrived – and there was often one from Hermione.  After lunch he would shower in cold water with a small bar of hard soap that he had discovered and afterwards he would lie on the wooden floor while he waited for the water to evaporate.  On most days this was not unpleasant as the weather was usually warm, but yesterday he had woken to cold air and rain, which did not let up until early afternoon.

He had discovered the joys of isometrics as he lay naked on the floor and waited to dry, although he did not know it by that name.  Starting as adolescent self-inspection on his second day – looking at his arms and legs and other parts of his body, wondering how he would look with the kind of long, smooth muscle of a gymnast, tensing his abdomen to try and form a 'six-pack' – Harry had discovered that by tensing muscles of opposite function against each other he could get much more impressive bulges going.  The process also burned energy, leaving him feeling pleasantly tired after a time, and by the day after his second report – this time to Moody – he was spending an hour and a half before his shower in isometric exercise.  He exercised nude to save his clothes, as his only way of washing them was to rinse them under the shower or in the basin and then lay them out on the floor to dry.

Luna had written back this morning.  A rather tatty-looking barn owl had arrived just after dawn at the window which he now left permanently open, waking him with its low-voiced call.  He had scrambled to retrieve the rather bulky letter from the owl, and after offering it water and an owl treat Harry settled down to read.

The tone of Luna's letter was initially surprised, but she had then proceeded to use a whole scroll of parchment to outline her beliefs for him.  In short, she believed in an after-life.  She cited examples from the works she had access to on the role of the curtain and ghosts and death in general, and more information about near-death experiences than he had ever wanted to see.  She believed the voices from the curtain were related to their shared ability to see thestrals, and saw both as being firm evidence that death was simply what happened when the soul moved on.  Confusingly, she also wrote about how the collective memory of a person could also be seen as a kind of after-life, but she dismissed that as a secondary discussion mostly of comfort to those who did not believe that death was not the end, but simply the process of birthing the soul into the next stage of life.

When he had finished reading the lengthy letter cum report, Harry put it to one side, stripped off his clothes, and began his isometric exercises.  It was then that he heard an embarrassed cough.  His face blazing cherry-red, Harry scrambled for his clothes and pulled on his boxers and jeans before straightening and facing the open window.

There was a shimmering and Tonks faded into view.  She looked similar to when he had last seen her – a purple Weird Sisters tee-shirt and many-time-patched jeans, this time with funky purple hair that matched her tee-shirt.  She was blushing brightly.  'Wotcher, Harry,' she said softly.  'Looking good.'

Harry sighed in relief even as his face burned in embarrassment.  After so long, he had convinced himself that Tonks wasn't going to come.  He stepped towards her.  'Hi, Tonks,' he said.  'Thanks for coming.'

She smiled gently and looked around, taking in everything.  'Sorry to barge in unannounced.  So this is your new room?'

He nodded.  'It's a little lacking in comforts, but to tell you the truth, it's an improvement overall I think.'

'Oh?'

'I don't have to interact with the Dursleys.'

Tonks frowned.  'They've locked you in here?  How d'you eat?'  Her eyes raked him.  'You've lost weight since Hogwarts.'

Harry gestured at the cabinet that delivered his food.  'They deliver my meals using the dumbwaiter over there.'

'Why didn't you say anything?'

He frowned a little.  'I said there were things I didn't want to say via owl.'

Nymphadora Tonks sighed and sat where she stood, folding her legs into a tailor seat.  'You'd think we'd know better by now.  Harry... I didn't come because of your request.  I came to give you something from Dumbledore.'

Harry froze.  'Dumbledore,' he repeated in an unhappy voice.

'Yep.'  She proffered a letter, at least two sheets of parchment, from what he could see.  He looked at it, not attempting to take it, breathing deeply to calm the surge of anger that welled up in him at mention of the Headmaster's name.  After a while Tonks asked, 'Aren't you going to take it?'

There was another long pause as Harry looked at the parchment.  'Why should I?' he asked at length.  'How can I trust him?  I want to, but I'm not sure I can.'

Tonks' jaw dropped in stunned amazement.  'Wh-what?'

'He's kept me in the dark all this time.  He all but abandoned me this past year, kept me away.  He admitted he was part of the cause of Sirius' death.'  Harry closed his eyes and continued, 'Yes, of course I share the blame for his death, I did some really stupid things too.'  His breath hitched, and he forced himself to continue.  'But now, barely two weeks after promising to not keep any more secrets from me, I find that I'm being ignored and still kept in the dark!'

'Harry, it was Moody who vetoed your request for me to come, not Dumbledore.  Albus never knew about your request.'  She tossed the parchment so that it slid across the floor to stop at Harry's feet.  'Why don't you read his letter and find out what he has to say?  Maybe it's worth reading,' she concluded softly.

After a long moment looking into her eyes, Harry looked down and picked up the letter.  'I'm sorry, Tonks.'

'No, that's okay, Harry.  I don't know the whole story, but I guess I'd like to.  I'm certainly willing to listen if you have something to say.'

Harry said nothing, but at length he nodded.  He then cracked the wax seal and opened the letter, which was an astonishing five sheets of parchment written in the Headmaster's close, elegant hand in purple ink.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster

July 6, 1996

Dear Harry,

I hope this letter finds you well.  Your team of watchers (I'm sure you can guess who they are) tell me that you have reported no problems so far; I sincerely hope this is in fact the case.  Nymphadora has agreed to hand-carry this letter to you since it contains information that I cannot afford to risk via owl post, and she will be able to give me a detailed report afterwards of your physical condition, mental state, and your treatment by the Dursleys.

Firstly, so far as I am aware there has been little to no activity by Voldemort and his cohorts.  We of the Order feel that this is likely a consequence of losses suffered during the Ministry raid and the additional vigilance which has followed new public awareness of his existence.  We can only hope that this comparatively happy state of affairs will continue, but alas, I suspect that might be wishful thinking.

Secondly, as I implied above the Ministry has finally acknowledged Voldemort's return.  While this is good in that at least the Order no longer needs to work in strictest secrecy and against the explicit opposition of the Ministry, it has had the expected side-effect of generating a flood of fan mail for you, Harry.  You may have deduced that the main purpose of the wards around the Dursleys is to hide your presence from scrying spells and other spells of detection.  This also prevents most people from sending you owl post.  I assure you, Harry, that when you return to Hogwarts you will realise this is a good thing.  Letters sent to you by people you do not know are redirected here – after all, everyone knows you attend Hogwarts – and Dobby tells me that so far he has received over 1,000 letters and has disposed of 28 'dangerous' letters or parcels:  23 abusive howlers and 5 charmed letters which posed a threat to health (3 blindness hexes, one skin ablation curse, and one permanent Confoundment curse).  I would imagine the ordinary letters are approximately equal proportions abuse, adulation, conversation, fawning appeals, and marriage proposals, but these are being kept unopened for you to decide their fate.

Thirdly, you may recall I told you that I had withheld the position of Prefect from you because I felt you already had far too much to deal with.  I hope that on reflection you have come to see, as I have, the irony of that decision given your involvement in DA.  I wish more than anything else that I could award you a Prefect position for the coming year, but to do so would require removing Mr Weasley from his post and he has not done anything to warrant the disgrace that would follow such a move on my part.  Furthermore, were I to put you in his place, I rather imagine he would resent you powerfully for that action.  If he chooses to resign his position then we will re-visit the question, but for the moment I regret, I truly regret that I cannot make up for my earlier short-sightedness, particularly since I now feel that there is no better candidate in your year than yourself for the position of Head Boy in 1997-98.

With regards to Dumbledore's Army, which I will henceforth refer to as D.A.:  I am extremely proud of your achievements in leading D.A., Harry.  In addition to the bravery, skill, and enterprise shown by you and your five friends in your visit to he Ministry, preliminary results from the Defence Against the Dark Arts OWL examinations suggest that D.A. members averaged at least one full grade level higher than the general student population.  It seems that you have a future as a teacher amongst your many other talents.  I was wondering if you would consider continuing D.A. next year in the guise of a formal club or association with staff support?  I have not yet found a new Defence teacher, so I cannot make this offer definite, but at the moment, I would very much like you to continue offering that service to the school.  We will discuss this further as the new school year draws closer.  (Perhaps a name change might be in order, however.  May I suggest the Defence Association?)

Next, you will no doubt be aware that the Weasleys have gone to Romania for the summer.  While I did not organise this, it is a happy coincidence since it gets some vulnerable people out of harm's way.  I gather that Fred and George Weasley will stay on to run their newly-successful business, however.

Finally we come to the matter of this summer.  You now know why it is necessary for you to spend the time that you do at the Dursleys, and I trust that you will tolerate your stay there for the time required.  OWL will not be delivered to students until 21 July at the earliest, and I know that the Dursleys are not making you do outside chores, so perhaps you might consider spending at least some of the time this summer studying certain areas that will, I hope, help you to defeat Voldemort when the time comes (and, incidentally, survive other challenges that come up before that time).  In addition to continuing to work on Occlumency, so that Voldemort cannot interfere with your general health and happiness via your scar – not with Professor Snape, I think; that was another well-intended mistake of mine – I feel that the time has come for you to start down the road of understanding that will begin the process of unlocking those gifts that should be, based on the history of your family, your birthright.  I am not being deliberately condescending in making the above statement.  The way the brain processes information changes as one grows towards adulthood; for example, it takes time for young people to learn to think in abstract ways.  This is partly a question of practice and partly a question of hormonal development.  But I feel that you may now be able to cope with what I propose.

I have secured Nymphadora Tonks' services for Hogwarts as part of an enhanced security program.  If you agree, she will become your tutor and aide for the remainder of the summer.  Aide, since she is not skilled in many of the things I would like you to learn, but her greater experience in magic and different point of view may help you past barriers you might not otherwise be able to overcome.  Naturally, she can also tutor you in other subjects such as those covered by the standard school curriculum or the Auror Academy if you so desire.  She would also install anti-detection wards so the two of you can perform magic without being bothered by the bureaucrats of the Ministry.  I will tell you frankly, Harry, that as the closest in age to you of your watchers, she has also been chosen so that she might be able to help you through the mourning process for one who I know was almost as a father to you, your love for him was so great.  I wish that I could be there to help you, for as I alluded to in our conversation after the Ministry, I love you like a favourite grandson.  Alas it is not possible for me to be there, and I have chosen her to be my proxy in that regard.

I look forward to hearing your reply at your earliest convenience.  Please send your reply with Nymphadora, not by owl.  If you choose not to reply straight away, Nymphadora will return daily until you have a reply, yea or nay.

Yours sincerely,

Albus Dumbledore

P.S.:  Harry, please also tell Miss Tonks the names of any people with whom you expect to carry on a correspondence this summer.  I plan to tighten the wards controlling owls around your house, but I wish to ensure that you are not cut off from your friends.  I will ensure that owls from the people you nominate will still be able to get directly to you; other mail addressed to you which would ordinarily come to you (e.g.: from your classmates) will be hand-carried by your watchers.

P.P.S.:  Please allow me to once again apologise for my errors, Harry.  I know that our relationship has been damaged, and I can only hope that we can build a new and stronger bond between us, this time built from knowledge and fellowship rather than simply awe and assumption.

Harry put down the letter with a sigh and raised his head.  'Thanks, Tonks.  I'm glad you made me read it,' he said with a smile.

Tonks smiled back hopefully.  'Good news, Harry?'

'You don't know what's in it?'

She shook her head.  'Nope.  He just gave it to me with that smile of his and the twinkling going full blast.'

'You don't know what he has proposed for you, then?' Harry clarified, surprised.

Tonks raised her eyebrows.  'Nope.  Should I?'

Harry passed her the letter.  'I don't think there's anything in there you shouldn't know.  Why don't you read it?'

'Thanks,' said Tonks as she took the letter.

Harry thought over the Headmaster's offer while Tonks worked her way through the very long letter.  He found, however, that there was really nothing to think over.  For a change, the old man had explained himself fully with uncharacteristic directness.  For the first time in a while, Harry found himself thinking positively of Dumbledore and discovered that he had already decided to accept his offer.

At the sound of Tonks' snort Harry looked up with a smile.  She was shaking her head and looking at him.  'So... what's it gonna be, Harry?' she asked.

'It's not about me, Tonks.  I'm going to study all summer regardless of what Dumbledore says.'  He smiled wryly, adding, 'His guidance would be useful, since he has so much more knowledge and experience than me, but that's about as far as it goes for now.  No, it's about you.  Are you willing to be stuck here all summer?  With someone like me?'

Tonks stared at Harry in shock, then got up onto her knees and scrambled over to Harry.  She grabbed him into a tight hug, pulling his head onto her collarbone.  'Harry... it's okay.  You're a worthy person, and really nice on top of that.'  She stroked his hair.  'Of course I want to do it, if you're willing to have me.  I really like you.  Besides, maybe I'll learn something from whatever it is that Dumbledore has in mind for you.'

Harry raised his arms to return her hug and he suddenly found himself choked up and his eyes wet for no apparent reason.  Finally, after a couple of minutes, he let her go and tilted his head back.  'Thank you, Tonks.'

She caught his eyes and after a long moment she said in a quiet, sincere voice, 'You're welcome, Harry.'  She pushed him back suddenly and held him by his shoulders.  'So, shall I tell him "yes"?'

Harry nodded.  'Yes.'  He briefly squeezed her waist then let her go.  'Here, let me jot down a few names for you to give to him.'

Grabbing a quill and a small piece of parchment, Harry quickly wrote down 'Hermione Granger' and 'Luna Lovegood'.  He paused then, considering.  Tonks looked over his shoulder.

'Only girls, lover boy?' she asked with a quick poke in the ribs.  'What about Ron?'

With a sigh, Harry nodded and quickly wrote 'Ron Weasley' and 'Ginny Weasley' as well, then after a pause he added 'Neville Longbottom'.  He considered adding Fried and George as well, but with a shake of his head decided that having Moody screen anything sent by the twins would be a good idea.  Looking up, he said, 'Ron's been... distant, I guess.  And he's going to be spending his summer in Romania, so I was thinking that if his letters get delayed a day waiting it wouldn't matter too much.  But you're right, I'd feel bad leaving him off, even though we haven't exactly exchanged many letters this year.'

'Unlike these two?'

'Well, Luna's been helping me deal with Sirius and I suppose my parents.  And Hermione...'  Tonks shuffled around so that Harry could see her and nodded. 

'Yes, we've noticed that Hedwig has been rather busy.'  Harry blushed a little and looked away.

'Yes, Hermione has... been there for me.  I wonder if, maybe....'

'Maybe?'

Harry looked Tonks in the eyes.  'Maybe.  Of course, that'd just about kill my friendship with Ron 'cause he's had a crush on Hermione since the Yule ball in fourth year.'  He put down his quill, folded the parchment and gave it to Tonks.  'Better to err on the side of caution, I guess.'

Nodding, Tonks took the paper and tucked it away in her jeans.  'So... what did you want to talk to me about when you wrote?' she asked suddenly.

Pausing to collect his thoughts, Harry considered.  'Well, I guess this magic ward of Dumbledore's makes the point kind of moot, but I wanted you to fix up the attic a bit with magic – you know, like make hot water available – and find a way of getting books and food to me without being detected.  Maybe a bed, I guess, and a desk and a bookshelf.  Glazed windows would be nice.  Clean it up.  That's all.'

'Food?'  Tonks frowned.  'What're they feeding you?'

'Half a grapefruit and dry toast for breakfast, a Marmite sandwich for lunch, and a sausage, some cheese, and an apple for dinner, usually.  I get water from the tap, of course.'  Harry sighed.  'It's not like I haven't lived on that before, but Hogwarts has ruined me, Tonks.  I'm just so hungry.'

'Well, I'm not surprised.  That's nowhere near enough for a growing boy... no wonder you're short for your age.'

Harry looked at her in confusion.  'Huh?'  Tonks screwed up her brow in concentration.

'I'm not sure I can explain it.  Maybe I can get you a book to read as well as some decent food.'

'If you say so,' said Harry, letting the subject drop.  'But to tell you the truth all I really need is the wards, then I can do the rest myself I think.'

Hesitantly, Tonks nodded.  'If you say so.  I'm not sure how much I can help you right now, since any magic I do will be detected by the Misuse office and will be put down to your account, and Dumbledore doesn't want more than the absolute minimum number of comings and goings.'

Harry nodded.  'I can understand that.'

'Well, will you be okay tonight?  I'll come over tomorrow with everything we need to get started.  Okay?'

'Okay,' Harry replied with a smile.  'I'll be fine tonight.'

'Good.  And Harry?'

'Yeah?'

'I'm sorry for... earlier.  You know, when you stripped off, but you know, you really caught me by surprise.'

Blushing, Harry nodded.  'It's okay, Tonks.'

'Usually it's only my boyfriends I see like that.  Besides,' added Tonks with a rakish grin, 'from what I could see you don't have anything to be ashamed of.'  She skipped out of Harry's range and the cuff he aimed at her arm missed.  She broke into giggles, which soon had Harry snickering.

'See you later, Tonks,' said Harry as Tonks raised her wand above her head preparing to Disillusion herself.

'See you tomorrow, lover boy,' she replied just before disappearing from sight.  Moments later a slight rustle signalled her departure out the open window.  Harry stood where he was for a long moment, grinning in spite of himself.

*    *    *

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster

7 July, 1996

Dear Miss Granger,

Thank you for expressing concern over Harry in your letter of 4 July, and for extending the invitation for him to spend the summer at your home.

Regrettably, it is not possible for Harry to leave the Dursleys at this time.  I assure you that this is for his protection.  Perhaps it will be possible later in the summer.

On a happier note, it is my pleasure to inform you – informally, of course – that based on preliminary grading data, you appear to have topped this year's OWL scores for the British Isles.  Congratulations, and I hope that you continue to excel in the future.

Sincerely,

A. Dumbledore

*    *    *

Harry weathered an unseasonably cold night, but bore it with fortitude, knowing that Tonks would return that day and make everything alright again.  He sat up late writing letters to both Hermione and Luna, sending them off with Hedwig before curling up beneath his winter cloak on his thin mattress.  He wasn't actually cold as such – clothing designed to keep one warm even in winter at Hogwarts ensured that would never happen – but the continuous breezes of his well-ventilated attic home, whether warm or cold, were beginning to wear upon him.  More than once he had been forced to chase after sheets of parchment as they skittered across the floor to fetch up against the edge of the roof where they were almost impossible to reach.

Today the weather warmed quickly, the sun shining from a mostly clear, blue sky.  The dark shingles of the roof heated quickly and soon Harry was dressed in shorts and one of Dudley's cast-off tee-shirts as the attic rapidly became sweltering, despite the mild temperatures outside.

Lunch was, unusually, a hunk of cold roast beef, some cheese, and an old banana.

It was almost dinner-time by the time Tonks returned.  Harry had refrained from exercising in the nude as he had become accustomed to, since he had no way of knowing when she would return.  He had hurried his shower before spending the afternoon paging through some of the books he had received for his birthdays over the years.

The sound of light steps drew his attention to the open window.  Tonks shimmered into view, to one side of the dormer.  Harry smiled at the sight of her – today her hair was bright cyan – and opened his mouth to greet her but she held her finger up to her lips and he fell silent even before he had truly made a noise.  Fascinated, he watched as she shrugged off a backpack and drew from within it six wooden blocks, each shaped like a triangular prism.  These she placed one at each corner of the attic floor and, floating upon what Harry presumed was an invisible broom, one at each end of the peak of the roof.  Finally, a squat pyramid of what appeared to be obsidian went right next to the electric light.  Tonks tapped it with her wand and Harry thought he saw a brief shimmering out of the corner of his eye which covered the floor, the gable walls, and the interior of the roof.

Settling to the floor next to the closed stairway hatch, Tonks put the knapsack down on the folded staircase and grinned.  'Wotcher, Harry!' she said in a normal voice.

Standing to greet her, Harry asked hesitantly, 'It's okay to talk now?'

'Yup!' replied Tonks.  She reached down and groped for a bit, then touched her wand to something.  A broom shimmered into view.  'Say hello to your new flatmate.  Got a bed for me?'  She grinned at the blush that spread across Harry's cheeks then bustled about, pulling items from the knapsack and stacking them to one side.  When she had a pile of shrunken items about two feet high she stopped and looked again at Harry.  He was staring at her.  'Harry?'

Harry shook himself and focussed on Tonks.  'I'm sorry?'

'Come over here, there are some charms to do to make this place liveable and I thought you might like to do them.  The wards are now in place so we can use magic without getting you in trouble.'

'Can I?' asked Harry hesitantly.  'I don't know anything about the kind of charms you're talking about, Tonks.  Except for undoing the shrinking and lightening charms, of course.'

'Sure you do, Harry.  You just don't know that you do.  It's easy.  Here, bring your wand over here and I'll show you what I mean.'

Late that night, Harry lay in his comfortable bed filled with a glow of accomplishment.  Tonks had used magic only to create training object for him, but all the actual work of making the attic a place to live and study had been done by Harry himself.  The attic space itself was now at least sixty feet long and thirty feet wide, and vertical walls had been 'inserted' making it more like a small church in proportion.  The bathing area had been enclosed by a wall and now featured a deep tub large enough for six as well as a luxurious tiled shower area and a separate toilet.  A double-sided fireplace faced into the living area which was located next to the bathroom.  The rear of this fireplace faced into the bathroom, even though it was unlikely they would need it during the next few weeks.  Tonks had said something about needing practice and doing a job properly when she had made him do it that way.

The living area was a quartet of deep armchairs and a couch which faced the fire, and on either side of that were the sleeping areas, one for Tonks and one for Harry.  A bed cloned from Harry's memory of the Gryffindor dormitories resided against each wall, together with a chest of drawers and a wardrobe for clothes and effects.  Rugs decorated the floors in tasteful colours.

Further into the room, there was a massive yellow pine kitchen table which defined the main kitchen area which started at the centre of the room and flowed over to the wall on Tonks' side of the attic.  A low cabinet divided that area from the remainder of the attic space, which was left empty except for the now forlorn-looking dumbwaiter cabinet that rested like a wart at the base of the now enormous gable wall.  On the other side of the attic was the study.  Four massive bookcases half-filled with books that Tonks had brought with her, a large library table, chairs, and two writing desks defined this area.

Except for the bathroom and toilet, the entire area was open plan.  'I prefer it that way,' said Tonks when he asked her about walls.  'Besides, don't you prefer the feeling of a large space rather than a closed-in room?'

Harry hesitated to reply.  'Er, what about....'

'About?' prompted Tonks.

'What about... privacy?'

Tonks chuckled briefly.  'Oh, is that all,' she said.  She stepped in front of him and took his shoulders in her hands.  'Harry,' she said seriously, 'I've already seen everything you have to show... through no fault of yours, of course!  So if you get changed in my view – even if we share that big tub – it's not going to bother me.'  Tonks smiled impishly, continuing, 'As for me, I don't see why you can't see mine now that I've seen yours.  And it's not like you're going to take advantage of me, Harry.  Not only are you honourable to a fault, and would never contemplate that, but believe me when I tell you that you wouldn't succeed even if you did try and force yourself upon me.  Auror training is more than just magic, you know.'

Harry felt his face heat, he felt as though he must be cherry-red.  'But... what if I... err...'  He gestured in the direction of his groin and it was Tonks' turn to flush a delicate pink.

Looking into his eyes, she said, 'It's nothing to be ashamed of, Harry.  It's a normal part of life, and as long as you don't flaunt it, it's not a problem for me.'  She moved into a hug, and lowered her voice to murmur into his ear.  'To tell you the honest truth, Harry, it's rather exciting for a  girl when a boy you like shows that kind of honest excitement over you.  It's a kind of power, and flattering, and nice.'  She pulled back again and looked him in the eyes once more, her expression now serious.  'But only if it's honest... and usually only if it's someone you trust... someone you know or like, or both.  Boys who want to use a girl, who try to deceive, who are perverted or bad or... that's bad.  Do you know what I mean?'

Harry shook his head in confusion, his eyes wide.

'Maybe if I give you some examples,' Tonks said, her cheeks pinking once more.  'Guys who force themselves on girls, that's bad.  Guys who go out of their way to expose themselves to others, that's bad.  But in consensual activity, anything is good.  For example, if we're sharing the tub, or I'm in front of the mirror in the bathroom and you're showering and you get an erection, that's fine.  If you then stand up in the tub and thrust it in my face... that's bad, unless I've asked you to.  Do you understand now?'

'Yes, Tonks, I think so.'

'Good!'  Tonks grinned again, bringing back the jovial mood.  After a moment, though, her expression became concerned.  'Oh, Merlin!  Here I've been thinking that the person you're concerned about here is me, not you.  I don't have a problem with you seeing me or with seeing you.  But I've forgotten to ask you.  Do you have a problem with me seeing you, or with seeing me?  I'm so sorry.  I forgot that teenagers can be very private.'

Grinning at her obvious remorse, Harry shook his head.  'No, Tonks.  I don't have a problem with it.'  He looked to one side, blushing again.  'Although if you hadn't caught me in the altogether like you did, I think my answer would be different.  I'm not a... what did Seamus call it... an ex... exhi....'

'Exhibitionist?'

'That's the word.'  He sighed.  'It's weird, you know.  If I didn't know better I'd assume that it's you who's the exhibitionist.  I mean, offering to bathe with a teenage boy?  Really, Mrs Weasley would be shocked.'

Tonks grinned at Harry, her eyes twinkling.  'Who says I'm not?  And who says I don't want to look at a rather handsome and well-put-together teenage boy?  I'm not that much older than you, Harry.  I might be out to catch you.'

Harry shivered as he recalled the thrill that had raced through him at Tonks' teasing tone.  Somehow he had known that their conversation had become a kind of escalating battle, and for all that he generally sucked at chess, he had somehow managed to reply.  Putting a thoughtful finger to his chin, he had said, 'Hmm... Nymphadora Tonks, Luna Lovegood, or Hermione Granger.  Who should I choose?'

Tonks gasped at him, her eyes wide, and they broken down in mutual laughter.  It felt good, really good, to just laugh with no darkness or worry overshadowing his mood.