Summary: Harry is gravely ill, and a friend takes drastic measures to save him.

Disclaimer: The characters and setting belong to JKR--I'm just borrowing them.

Rating: PG, for themes.

Time Frame: About a month after the events of "Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix." (spoilers)

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@hotmail.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.

AFTERIMAGES

Vernon Dursley leaned back in his chair and watched the evening news, snickering quietly at the latest misadventures of the Royal Family. It had been a good summer--quiet, uneventful. . .no sign of disturbing abnormal behavior from that ungrateful nephew of his--

RATATATATAT! The harsh sound came from the direction of the front door, and Vernon frowned as he realized that the sound was from someone banging on the entrance with a walking stick. He stood, bristled, and stalked to the door, snarling as he opened it: "Now see here, abusing my front door with a stick is behavior that I simply am not going to--" He blinked, and a low sound of distress came from deep in his chest before he managed to compose himself and say simply: "Ah, hello."

Mad Eye Moody--his bowler hat jammed down low over his magic eye--stood there glaring at him, his walking stick still clutched in his hand. Vernon involuntarily gave ground, and Moody barged past him into the house, followed by Tonks (who had assumed the same appearance she had worn when last meeting Harry's uncle to avoid confusing him) and Remus Lupin, who was wearing a simple, well-worn grey business suit. Vernon closed the door behind them and used the real outrage he was feeling to tamp down the equally real terror he felt before demanding, "What's the matter? Have you come to take the boy away early this year? You could have called--I would have told him and had him ready."

Moody looked murderous, and Tonks glared at Vernon. Lupin--regretting that he was obviously going to have to be the rational member of the group-- locked eyes with Vernon and said simply, "We haven't heard from Harry for four days--is he all right?"

Vernon blinked in surprise and shrugged. "As far as I know, he's upstairs. We came to an understanding last month when we brought him back--he takes all his meals in his room, doesn't disturb us when we have company, and otherwise he's free to do as he wishes--as long as he keeps sending those bloody owls to keep you lot away." He scowled and muttered, "Looks like he hasn't been living up to his end of the bargain."

Tonks started to open her mouth, only to be silenced by a look by Lupin. Lupin looked back at Vernon and asked, "May we go up and see him, then?"

Vernon knew it wasn't a request. "Might as well--damage is done and all that. Make sure that boy sends word from now on that he's being treated well." He gestured to the stairs, and Lupin, Tonks and Moody ascended and went to Harry's door, which was closed. Lupin knocked once and called out, "Harry? It's Lupin, Tonks, and Moody--we wanted to make sure you were all right." He waited, but there was no answer. Suddenly, he noticed a faint but unpleasant odor coming from behind the door. He blinked, turned and snarled, "Dursley--get up here!"

Vernon walked up the stairs, visibly nervous--but noting that the pink- haired woman and the crazy man with the bizarre false eye looked puzzled, while the thin man who had been so polite earlier had a look of barely contained rage on his face. He swallowed hard. "What's the matter?"

"You've been leaving meals outside Harry's door?" Lupin snapped. Vernon nodded, and the former Hogwarts professor pressed on: "And he returns the dishes afterwards?"

Vernon shrugged. "I guess--that's Petunia's department, you know."

Tonks' eyes widened--she saw where Lupin was going, and she asked, "How long has it been since he returned any dishes? How long has it been since you actually saw his face, Dursley?"

Vernon had an impulse to take a step back from the angry young woman, but any retreat would take him in the direction of someone who was--to all appearances--equally brassed off at him. He thought for a moment, and replied, "Three days."

Lupin cursed and tried to open the door--only to find it locked. He pulled out his wand and shouted, "Alohomora!" The door opened, and Lupin stepped into Harry's room, stopped, and stared in horror.

A pile of dishes was sitting on Harry's small desk--all of them containing food that he had apparently not touched. Some of the ones near the bottom had gone rather bad, explaining the odor that Lupin had detected.

Harry himself was lying on his bed, pale and unmoving. Lupin moved over to him and checked his pulse--it was weak, but there. The others moved into the room: Tonks gasped, Moody snarled, and Vernon stared at the dishes and bellowed, "Bloody hell! We'll never get the stench out of the walls--" He stopped in mid-sentence and squeaked as six eyes focused on him with the promise of violent, painful death if he finished his thought. He backpedaled and muttered, "Well, I'll let you handle the situation," before fleeing and locking himself in his bedroom and pulling the covers over his head.

Moody glared after the departed muggle with contempt, then turned to Tonks. "Use the portkey for Professor Dumbledore's office. We need to evacuate Harry to headquarters, along with his things." Tonks nodded and quickly vanished. The retired Auror looked at the spot where she had been, then down at the gravely ill young man on the bed as he whispered, "He's not coming back here ever again."

* * * * *

Forty-eight hours later, the entire membership of the Order of the Phoenix had assembled at Number 12 Grimmauld Place--along with a few interested spectators who had demanded to be let in. Hermione--who had immediately left her parents in Florida when she heard the news about Harry--was sitting next to Ron, who was holding her hand and giving it a comforting squeeze occasionally. Neville sat between Ginny and Luna in a corner. Fred and George--who were due to be sworn into the Order later that summer-- sat near Ron and Hermione, looking unnaturally somber. Professor Dumbledore glanced over at each of them for a moment, his expression grave yet comforting, then cleared his throat and announced, "Very well, then. This emergency meeting is called to order. I don't believe I need to be too elaborate about our reason for meeting tonight--Remus, Alastor, and Tonks went to visit Harry at his aunt and uncle's home two days ago after he ceased sending messages to the Order about his well-being, and they found that he had fallen ill without alerting the attention or interest of the Dursleys--not that this is a great revelation to any of us." Dumbledore noted the near-unanimous expressions of disgust on the faces of the occupants of the room, though the expression on the face of Sevarus Snape was closer to contempt. He decided to change the subject, turning to the dignified-looking witch wearing a green shawl and a somber expression: "Emmeline, what can you tell us about Harry's condition?"

Emmeline Vance--the member of the Order with the most expertise as a healer- -stood up and replied, "As nearly as I can tell, Harry hadn't eaten or taken any liquids for about eighty hours before he was found. He was badly dehydrated and had lost about three kilos in that time--and he was too bloody thin before that, if you ask me." Dumbledore looked at her reprovingly, and Vance flushed slightly and continued, "We cast the usual maintenance spells and got his fluid level back to a more tolerable point, and we forced a few potions into him, but--"

"That should get him back to health, right?" Hermione burst out, getting to her feet and looking pleadingly at Vance. "He wasn't that far gone-- muggles survive similar deprivation all the time and bounce right back!"

Dumbledore noted that Snape was about to admonish Hermione for speaking up, and silenced him with a glance. He looked over at the young witch and said softly, "Miss Granger, there are times that we forget that you are not an expert in everything magical--at least not yet." Hermione would have ordinarily flushed at the implied compliment, but her concern for Harry left her expression pale and grim, and Dumbledore hastened to make his point: "Harry stopped eating because he was in what muggles would call a state of deep depression. They have come up with various drugs and therapies to treat people who are in such a condition; unfortunately, such remedies do not work on wizards and witches--their internal magic disrupts the effect on the mind that they need to operate properly. Fortunately, magical remedies do work for us, but there is a catch--Emmeline, I fear I am out of my depth after this point: will you proceed with the explanation?"

"Of course, Albus." Vance smiled, then turned to Hermione and continued in a tone that somehow blended a professor's lecture with a doctor's bedside manner: "Hermione, magical cures work on a single basic principle--that the patient wants to get better and when given the resources to defeat whatever ailment they have been victimized by, they will want it to work. A healing potion has a certain amount of intrinsic power, but the greater part of its potency is its ability to focus the internal magic of the wizard or witch to the purpose of healing the specific problem they have. Most of the time, this works very well and produces results that are far beyond anything that muggle methods have come up with--but in the rare cases where the patient does not want to get better, it creates a problem." Hermione gasped in comprehension, and Vance nodded sadly and elaborated, "Right now, Harry doesn't want to get better."

"He wants to die?" Ron asked quietly, getting to his feet and reflexively hugging Hermione while locking eyes with Vance. "I don't believe it--Harry wouldn't want to die."

"If he actually wanted to be dead, Mr. Weasley, he would be." Snape's voice startled Ron, and he was about to snap at his Potions professor before he noted the atypically gentle expression on his face. He remained silent, and Snape continued, "A wizard or witch can easily will themselves to die, if they are not constrained as far as the exercise of their powers goes. A rather nasty irony of Azkaban when it was under the control of the dementors was that the deaths that many prisoners had were far more lingering than they would have been if they had command of their powers-- the ones who die do so more or less as muggles do--though simple starvation and loss of will to live." He shook his head and added, "I suspect that Mr. Potter has simply withdrawn from the weight of events, and is unwilling to come back to reality. Unfortunately, it can be hard to bring someone out of that state--as the experience of Mr. Longbottom's parents has demonstrated." Neville cringed at the mention of his parents by his longtime tormentor, but Snape turned to him and concluded in a soft voice, "When one has experienced an extreme trauma, the survival instinct can sometimes take the form of complete withdrawal from existence, regardless of the harm that it does to oneself, or to those they may hold dear-- although they would never act in such a way if they were in their right mind." Neville swallowed hard, and nodded at Snape, who turned to Hermione and said simply, "If Mr. Potter is to be saved, he has to want to be saved."

Ginny blinked, then turned to Dumbledore and asked bluntly, "Why is this happening now? Harry was sad and angry after Sirius died, but he hadn't withdrawn from the world--what changed?"

Dumbledore felt a tingle of affection for the youngest Weasley. * Right to the point, this one is * He looked at Ginny and replied, "The last five years have been difficult for everyone in this room, but Harry has been the focal point of Lord Voldemort's malice during that time. The link between the two of them has been a strain on Harry's psyche, in spite of our efforts to alleviate it. Also. . .Sirius' death convinced me that Harry had the right to know the nature of what the true connection was between himself and Lord Voldemort, and that withholding the information from him would only make him more bitter and run the risk of another disaster due to his ignorance of the truth. The knowledge seemed to diminish his anger and allow him to go on, but I fear that it may have gnawed at him over the weeks, without even the active malice of the Dursleys to distract him as it would have in previous years. A rather bitter lesson as to the unintended consequences that can result from our most benevolent intentions."

"Albus--what exactly was in that prophecy that could have hit Harry so hard?" Kingsley Shacklebolt looked over at Dumbledore, his eyebrows knitting in intense thought as he continued: "He's endured so much and come through it with remarkable composure--why was this the straw that broke the camel's back?"

Dumbledore sighed and looked back at the Auror before replying, "Kingsley-- Lord Voldemort is not privy to the entire contents of the prophecy in question, and I believe that the results of his doing so would be disastrous. As all of us in this room are at threat for being the subject of his attentions--including the possibility of abduction and extraction of information by torture or spell--I have decided to not pass it on to any of you at this time. Suffice it to say that protecting Harry from Voldemort-- or from himself, if need be--is to be considered as important a duty of the Order as thwarting the goals of Voldemort."

"What can we do to save him from himself, then?" Luna Lovegood sounded more somber and rational than anyone could remember hearing her be as she stood up and looked over at Dumbledore. "How can we help Harry, Professor?"

Dumbledore saw the look in the young Ravenclaw's eyes, and saw it mirrored in the eyes of the other occupants of the room--the emotion he felt was pride, tempered by continued concern. He looked around the room and said, "Harry is in no immediate mortal danger--bringing him back is going to be a gradual effort, and will depend largely on our ability to convince him that fighting is better than withdrawing for all concerned. I encourage you to go about your daily duties and otherwise maintain the appearance that all is well--Voldemort will surely know that Harry is not well, but we must not hint at the degree of the problem. I would ask that each of you sit with him when you can, and speak to him--the company of those who care for him cannot help but do some good. I hope that it will be enough." He stood and said quietly, "Meeting adjourned. For those who can stay, Molly Weasley has been kind enough to arrange refreshments in the living room." The others stood and began to file out of the room, some in silence, others whispering back and forth. The last person hesitated, then turned and walked back to the table. Dumbledore--who was gathering papers and placing them in a battered briefcase--smiled at the Order member and commented, "I noticed you were being uncharacteristically reticent in the meeting--do you have a plan that you wish me to consider?"

The Order member nodded, and spoke for three minutes. Dumbledore listened, nodded occasionally during the explanation, and smiled when it was completed. "A well-thought out course of action. I suspect you will need some assistance to pull it off properly." He named two other members of the Order, and suggested how they could assist in the plan. "Best keep it among the three of you--you will need to avoid premature revelation of the nature of your actions to Harry, and a secret is always harder to keep among twenty than among four." The Order member nodded again, and turned to leave, only to be stopped by Dumbledore's comment: "You may save Harry with this plan--but he may not thank you for it."

The Order member blinked, then turned back to Dumbledore and replied simply, "So be it," before turning again and leaving the room without another word. Dumbledore smiled sadly, finished gathering the papers, and left the room.

* * * * *

Harry drifted in and out of consciousness. He was aware that the gnawing pain on hunger in his stomach had vanished, and the occasional glimpses of his surroundings told him that he was no longer in the little house on Privet Drive, but on each occasion that he felt himself coming to full awareness, the waves of anguish overwhelmed him, and his mind shrank away, pulling him into the comforting embrace of oblivion. He had the impression that someone--different someones--were sitting next to his bed, but he only got brief impressions: Hermione's bushy hair and sad eyes--Kingsley Shacklebolt's composed, concerned face--Luna watching him sadly and reading the Quibbler to him. . .after a time, they blended together, and he could not distinguish individual faces or names.

Somewhat later, Harry perceived that the lights in the room had been lowered, and that the chair next to his bed was empty. He blinked--he sensed that he was not alone. He turned his head to the left--and saw the figure standing in front of the closed door. His glasses were not within reach, and he squinted as the figure walked over to the bed.

He saw that the visitor was surrounded by a faint silver glow, which caused him to squint harder to discern his features. He felt a shock of recognition, and he blinked and recoiled momentarily--by the time he had recovered, the visitor was standing next to his bed. Harry stared at the dark eyes and long black hair, and the robes he had worn when Harry had last seen him. The black mood which had ruled him for weeks tried to draw him away from the obvious conclusion, but he shook it off and whispered: "Sirius."

The man nodded, and Harry sat up in bed as if someone had slipped a noose around his neck and yanked him up. Harry felt a moment of sheer bliss, and the despair of the last month fell away like cobwebs in a hurricane as he blinked and asked simply: "How?"

Sirius shrugged. "Does it matter? You needed me, and I came." Harry noted that Sirius seemed a lot more calm and composed than he had been before, and that the aura of suffering that he had worn since his escape from Azkaban seemed to have departed--leaving him looking far younger than Harry had ever seen him. Sirius noted Harry's study of his appearance and added, "I can't stay long, Harry--there are limitations to this sort of thing."

Harry nodded, and Sirius continued, "Harry--you know it wasn't your fault, right? Dumbledore kept you in the dark, and Vol--Voldemort tricked you using knowledge that a traitor gave him. I knew the risks, and I died fighting the good fight. It's a lot better deal than I had been given for the past fourteen years of my life." The older wizard looked downcast, then whispered, "I'm just sorry I won't be at your side for what is to come, Harry--you need all of the help you can get."

Harry felt a burst of anger. "Yeah--I should seek out everyone I can to fight at my side, so they can be murdered by monsters and left for me to cry over while the bastards who killed them run off to plan to kill more people I care about!" He glared at his godfather and snapped, "Better that I lie in this bed for eternity and rot--no one else will die to protect me."

Harry was shocked to see Sirius glare at him. "You've got it all figured out, don't you? Just run away from the world, and no one will suffer, or die, or EXIST with you gone! Harry, for someone who obviously cares greatly about his fellow human beings, you can be an insufferably arrogant bastard sometimes."

Harry blinked in shock, but the outrage he was feeling allowed him to snap back, "You can't understand--I've got a damned prophecy hanging over my head! Either Voldemort dies or I do, which means I get to either be a corpse or a murderer--with the fate of the whole bloody world hanging in the balance! Not to mention that until I learn Occlumency I have to worry about Voldemort reading my mind and figuring it out, which will make him want to kill me and everyone around me even more than he does now! I'm a bloody menace, Sirius--we'd have all been better off if I had died when Voldemort had that Avada Kedavra blow up in his face."

Sirius seemed to pale momentarily beneath the silver radiance surrounding him, and it was a few moments before he replied, "Harry--being in Azkaban kept me out of the loop for a long time, but that bastard would have been back a long time ago if you hadn't been around to stop him. It might have been the Sorcerer's Stone, or Ginny dying in the Chamber of Secrets, or maybe he just would have kidnapped an Auror and used her blood to cast that spell to bring him back, with no one the wiser. He was always going to come back, Harry--it was just a matter of who was going to stand against him when he did. For the past five years, you've been one of those people, and a whole lot of people--wizards, witches and muggles--are bloody well better off because you did. I'd still be in Azkaban or drooling in a corner somewhere without a soul if you hadn't been around--do you really think I'd rather have had that happen than be dead two years later? Ask Remus or Dumbledore--they know me well enough to give you a straight answer to that question--better two years knowing my godson than a lifetime of misery or a fate worse than death."

Harry looked away, knowing that Sirius was being honest with him but not wanting to admit it. He heard Sirius sigh, and looked back to see him watching Harry sadly. Sirius shook his head and whispered, "Harry, anyone in this house--well, except for Kreacher--would gladly face death with you. It's their fight too--he's threatening their lives and happiness. . .everything they believe in. I would have been there all along if I hadn't been in prison. It's a fight worth having, Harry--but they can't do it if you give up and hand that bastard a win that he'd have the fight of his life getting without your help." He turned away and walked toward the door. Harry reached out, but Sirius was too far away to touch. Sirius looked back over his shoulder and called out softly, "Rest now, Harry--and think about what I've said." There was a silent flash of silver light, and he was gone.

Harry stared at the spot where Sirius had been, and tears flowed down his cheeks for a few moments before the despair that had been absent during the encounter returned with a vengeance, and he knew no more.

* * * * *

Harry was more aware of his surroundings, but he remained withdrawn as his friends continued to take turns sitting by his bed and keeping him company. Ron talked about Quidditch--joking that he'd duel Harry over who would be the captain of the Gryffindor team for the upcoming year. Tonks showed up and spent her time changing her face into the most outrageously funny appearances she could muster--Harry closed his eyes to avoid laughing and noticed that she smelled like lilacs. Molly Weasley sat silently, occasionally mopping Harry's brow with a damp cloth and sighing occasionally. Harry blinked, and drifted off to sleep.

When his eyes opened again, it was as it had been the night before--the room was dark, and the chair was empty. With a sense of certainty, Harry looked over to the door and saw the dark figure surrounded with the silver glow. He squinted and called out, "Sirius?"

The figure shook its head, then stepped forward. Harry saw the medium length auburn hair first, then the emerald gaze that mirrored his own. He stopped breathing, and could not speak for several moments. The visitor watched him with an expression that blended deep concern with infinite pride, and Harry spent several seconds composing himself sufficiently to utter the one word that he needed to confirm the evidence of his eyes: "Mom?"

Lily Potter nodded once, and replied quietly, "Yes, Harry--it's me." Her voice was calm, and Harry thought that she sounded younger than she had in the moments he had heard her voice before. He frowned, then remembered that he had only heard her voice in life or death moments--his memories of Voldemort's attack on his parents, and her spectral message to him the night that Voldemort returned: it was hardly surprising that she would sound a bit less haggard in this moment.

Harry shook his head in disbelief and whispered, "Mom, why have you come to me now? I've been in greater danger than this before."

Lily shook her head. "Harry--you could not face a more dangerous opponent than the one you have chosen for yourself." Harry frowned in confusion, and Lily elaborated, "Harry--your courage is becoming a legend in the wizarding world: you've stood against things that would have frozen the souls of a lot of good, brave people--and you've faced them down. The Patronus Charm isn't just a matter of raw magical power--it's a manifestation of the bravery of the wizard who casts it, and you've mastered it to a level that most adult wizards never do. I am very, very proud of you for that." Harry blinked, and tears filled his eyes as Lily continued, "But no one is brave enough to face the demons released when one unleashes one's own worst fears and refuses to face them, Harry--once you have done that, the battle is over. Harry--Remus taught you how to defeat a boggart in your third year: what is the secret?"

"Use the Riddikulus charm to make the boggart look absurd as it assumes the form of your worst fear, and repeat until it dies," Harry replied automatically, feeling very strange indeed to be quizzed by his dead mother about school lessons from three years ago. He looked at Lily and asked, "Why do you ask?"

"Harry--if you were locked in a room with twenty boggarts and without your wand, with each of the boggarts assuming the form of a different fear you had, how long do you think you would be able to stand it?" Lily asked calmly, sounding a lot like Professor McGonagall describing a particularly involved Transfiguration procedure.

"Not very long." Harry could see where his mother was going, and wasn't sure he liked it. "But--"

"That's what you're doing to yourself, Harry." Lily interrupted, and locked eyes with him--letting Harry see the depth of the worry she was feeling. "You've shut your feelings away in a little place in the back of your head, and all you're letting yourself feel is every horrible thing that could possibly happen to people you care about if you don't lock yourself away from the rest of the human race. If they could make criminals do to themselves what you're doing to yourself, Harry. . .there would never have been a need for Azkaban, or dementors. Your friends all know what is happening to you--what do you think this is doing to them? Do they deserve this?"

Harry blinked, and found he could not look at his mother. "No."

Lily sighed, and Harry shivered as he heard her quiet words: "Harry-- Professor Dumbledore has told you what happened the night your father and I died, and I know the memories of it are part of the burden you carry. What you have to understand is this: the hardest part of what I did was not dying in order to save you--it was knowing that I would be leaving you alone to face whatever dangers your life would present you, whether it was He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or some other evil that I could have only imagined in that moment. I made the choice, and I'll never regret it--but it was the leaving, not the dying that made it the worst." Harry turned back to Lily, and she nodded at the comprehension in his eyes as she continued, "Harry--it takes a brave person to face death and do what needs to be done. . .but it can take even more courage to allow those we care about to do the same. You are a born leader, but you must be able to learn this lesson before you can serve in that function and help your friends defeat the monster you face. It is a hard thing to love and cherish someone, and to watch them die in a cause they believe in--but it is something that you must accept, even as you struggle to stop it from happening. By doing this, you give them a better chance for survival than they would have had-- that's all anyone can do." She smiled lovingly at him and whispered, "It's what I tried to do for you, Harry."

Lily blinked, and a tear fell free as she stepped back and said quietly, "I have to go, Harry."

Harry sat up--the horrid sense of despair that had ruled him for weeks had departed, replaced by simple exhaustion. He reached for Lily and whispered, "Please don't go. . .could you just sit quietly with me for a while?"

Lily hesitated, then nodded, moving over to the chair and pulling it just out of Harry's reach before sitting down. Harry turned his head on the pillow and looked at the smiling face of his mother. An overwhelming sense of peace and comfort filled him, and his eyes closed after a few seconds. He didn't see his visitor stand up, lean over and kiss him gently on the forehead, and vanish from the room in a faint flash of silver light.

* * * * *

Ginny watched Harry sleep. She noticed that he seemed less pale than the day before, and his chest rose and fell evenly as he breathed. He had not reacted to either of her prior visits, but she wasn't about to let him discourage her--she would come back until the house fell down if that's what it took. She frowned thoughtfully. * What to talk about today? Oh well, might as well follow Ron's lead * She leaned over and spoke softly: "You know, Harry--with you stuck in this bed, Ron's going to end up as team captain and I'll be Seeker again. Should be fun--I can knock Malfoy off of his broom, make Cho cry again--"

"Ginny, it's *my* job to make Cho cry--I've gotten bloody good at it. As for Malfoy--I'd suggest trying out for one of the Beater positions if you want to knock him around--though I'd rather see you playing Chaser. The Seeker job is taken."

Ginny blinked, and turned her head slightly to see Harry's green eyes sparkling with the same humor she had just heard in his voice. * Stay calm. Stay calm *

The squeal that echoed through the room quickly brought Vance, Moody, and Lupin running through the doorway and up to the bed. They saw Ginny energetically hugging Harry and whispering, "You're awake, you're awake, you're awake." Harry's expression was a combination of embarrassment and affection, and the others watched for a moment--with even Moody not bothering to hide his relief.

After about thirty seconds, Harry had reached for his glasses and put them on--only to look at Ginny and see that her expression looked a great deal like an approaching storm front. He swallowed hard and asked nervously, "Ah, Ginny--are you all right?"

Ginny's eyes flashed angrily, and she was about to open her mouth when Lupin swooped in and grabbed Ginny by the arms, lifting her off the bed and carrying her out of the room. Ginny looked furious, and Harry heard his old professor whisper urgently to the young woman, "Not now, Ginny--but later I might want a turn myself."

Harry shivered, then looked at Moody, who looked amused as he commented, "Remus has a fair amount of experience with the hazards presented by an angry redhead." Harry chuckled, and the retired Auror pulled up a chair and asked quietly, "Are you fit, Potter?"

Harry sat up and shrugged. "You mean am I ready to face all of my friends and admit I was being an idiot? As ready as I'm ever going to be--except that I had some odd visions while I was out. They weren't like anything that I've had when Voldemort was trying to influence me, but Healer Vance should probably examine me to make sure nothing is wrong."

Moody frowned. "You shouldn't have had any visions, Potter. Dumbledore put a rather powerful ward around the bed you're in--no mental emanations can get either way through it. Not practical for you on an everyday basis, but he figured you'd recover better without your scar paining you or Voldemort trying to feed you more balderdash. Must have just been a dream, whatever it was."

"Maybe." Harry frowned, then looked up at Moody and asked, "Could you let everyone know I'm going to be all right, and tell Professor Dumbledore know that I'm ready to throw myself to the mercy of the court at his convenience?" Moody nodded and turned away, but Harry wasn't finished: "Oh, and if Hermione's around, could you let her know that I'd like to see her right away--without any sharp objects in her hands or a curse on her lips?"

Moody chuckled and departed. Harry glanced over to Emmeline Vance--who was bringing a restorative potion over to him--and thought very hard indeed.

* * * * *

"You've all got a right to be furious with me, and I don't blame you for it. All I can say is that I've put the time to good use, and I'm ready to face things again--even though I'm not kidding myself--things are probably going to get pretty bad from here on in. I'm going to have to deal with the fact that people I care about are going to be in mortal peril a lot, and that some of you might not. . .might not make it. But I'm going to do my best to stop that from happening, and I'm terribly grateful to know that you'll be doing the same for me--and for each other." Harry smiled weakly, then whispered, "Thank you."

There was a moment of silence, then Ginny walked up to him, glared for a moment, then reached out and hugged him gently as she whispered in his ear, "I'm still going to give you a pummeling the next time we're out on the Quidditch pitch."

"Looking forward to it," Harry replied. Ginny smiled and withdrew, and the others crowded around him, welcoming him back, making humorously disparaging remarks, and otherwise letting him know that they weren't *too* mad at him. Harry smiled, managed a few verbal jabs of his own, and waited for the room to calm down.

Professor Dumbledore noticed Harry's expression, and he called out, "I believe that Harry has had enough excitement for today, and there is no further business before the Order. I hereby declare this meeting adjourned, and wish all of you a safe journey home."

The occupants of the room started to file out, and Harry waited until most had left before calling out the name of one of the members of the Order, who turned as Harry added, "Could I talk to you for a moment?" The Order member nodded and pulled up a chair, and Harry looked at Professor Dumbledore and requested, "Sir, I had a few questions for you, too--if you're not urgently needed elsewhere."

"Of course, Harry--what can I do for you?" The three of them were alone in the meeting room, and Dumbledore closed the door and mumbled a Silencing Charm at it. Dumbledore turned back to Harry, pulled up a seat, and waited.

"Professor--Moody told me that you had warded my bed against mental intrusion--that would have stopped any visions or other manifestations of the Sight, right?" Harry asked quietly, looking at the silent Order member as he did so.

"Yes I did, Harry--and yes it would," Dumbledore replied, his eyes twinkling. "If you could spend your life in a small hospital bed, it would solve many of your problems. Hardly worth it in the long run, though."

Harry laughed involuntarily, then continued, "Professor--Hermione told me that a ghost or other similar manifestation would be subject to the effects of the Fidelius Charm as much as a living being. Is she correct?"

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. "Even more so--there's a subtle nuance that is not in any of the standard texts, which is undoubtedly why our clever Miss Granger was not aware of it. A ghost of someone who previously had access to a place protected by the Charm loses such access until and unless the Secret Keeper entrusts them with the information again. It's a safeguard against a person in the know being murdered and transformed into a malevolent undead creature, then used to attack the location protected by the Charm."

Harry nodded. "Very sensible. By any chance, did you give the spirits of Sirius and my mother access to 12 Grimmauld Place?"

Dumbledore shook his head, and his gaze fell on the visibly squirming member of the Order with a touch of sympathy in his eyes. "I would never take such a step without consulting the rest of the Order, even in the unlikely event that their spirits visited me."

"No, I didn't think you would, Professor. Thanks." Harry smiled and added, "That's all I wanted to ask you--could I have some time alone with-- "

"Of course, Harry." Professor Dumbledore stood up and noted the faintly pleading expression on the face of the member of the Order. The ancient wizard smiled faintly, whispered, "I *did* warn you, you know," and left the room.

Harry looked over and inclined his head at the Order member, indicating that she should sit beside him. She stood and stumbled over the chair she had been sitting in before taking a moment to straighten herself and carefully move over to the chair next to Harry, where she managed to sit down without incident. After a moment, Tonks sighed and asked quietly, "All right, Harry--what gave me away?"

"Just a few things--you heard me ask Professor Dumbledore about some of them," Harry replied, watching the Auror with a carefully neutral expression. "If it wasn't a vision, and Sirius' and Mom's ghosts couldn't have gotten in--that pretty much leaves someone assuming their identities, and that doesn't leave many people who could have pulled it off. A couple of other things--Sirius never had any trouble saying 'Voldemort', but you stuttered when you said it, then avoided it for the rest of the conversation. Mom seemed to be avoiding it too--and I have a hunch that she never would have called him 'He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.' Oh, and I thought it was strange that Sirius, Mom, and you all smelled like lilacs-- though it took me a bit of thinking to remember they had: you had me pretty thoroughly distracted." Tonks swallowed hard, and Harry concluded, "Now--who helped you?"

Tonks frowned and asked, "What do you mean, Harry?"

"I'm pretty sure I knew Sirius better than you did, Tonks--but except for those little slips I would have had no idea that it wasn't really him." Harry spoke softly, his eyes carefully studying Tonks as he continued, "I'm pretty sure you never knew my mom--you're only six years older than I am, but you got her pretty much perfect, from the little glimpses I've gotten from memories and visions over the years. The voices, the mannerisms--you got them dead on. You're good at what you do, but I don't think you're *that* good. I assume that Professor Dumbledore helped you--who else was in on it?"

Tonks watched him silently for a moment, then sighed. "I needed memories of your mother and Sirius to do an effective job of impersonation, and a way to absorb the memories thoroughly enough to use them to improve the quality of the change--particularly their voices. Professor Dumbledore was kind enough to loan us his pensieve, and he and Remus provided memories of Sirius and your mom which were exactly what I needed."

Tonks paused, but Harry pressed: "And who helped you absorb the borrowed memories--not to mention the impressive special effects that made you glowy and hid the sounds of your Apparating?"

Tonks locked eyes with Harry, and she replied quietly, "I'm sorry, Harry-- the other person swore me to secrecy regarding their involvement. If you are angry at them, you'll have to take it out on me."

Tonks was surprised to see Harry smile--though there was a touch of bitterness in the smile. He sighed and responded quietly, "No need for that--there's plenty of hostility between me and that person to let this one go without challenge. Someday I'm going to have to properly thank him for the things he's done for me, so I can be appropriately brassed off at all of the nasty things that git has said to me over the years."

Tonks blinked: something about that last sentence hadn't sounded right. She looked at him and asked, "So--does this mean you're not about to scream at me for lying to you and manipulating you and generally jerking you around like a trout on a hook?"

Harry smiled at her and replied, "I was disappointed when I realized that it couldn't really be Mom and Sirius. . .but you made it seem as if they had been there. Professor Lupin knew them better than anyone still alive-- if you went to him for the memories, I know it's pretty close to what they would have said. They looked younger and happier--made me feel better about seeing them." Tonks blinked again, and her eyes were moist. Harry noticed and pressed on: "Tonks--I know it had to be done, and I really don't want to still be in that bed trying to hide from existence--and I appreciate the lengths you went to--including saying what had to be said no matter how harsh it sounded--so that I would be ready to come back. I do have one request, though."

Tonks felt a moment of relief, followed by curiosity: "Of course, Harry: what is it?"

"I want to see what you really look like, Tonks. The door's closed, we're all alone, and I won't tell anyone if it's not something you want to share." Harry saw a flash of fear cross Tonks' face, and he added gently, "I'm not demanding it--I'd just like to see, and I'll explain why afterwards."

Tonks hesitated, then swallowed hard and nodded. She closed her eyes and concentrated, and her appearance--which had featured violet hair and scarlet eyes--began to flow and change. The color seemed to vanish from her eyes before they turned a light, silvery blue. Her face remained more or less the shape he was accustomed to seeing her with, but the cheekbones became more pronounced and the skin grew more pale. Her height increased slightly--Harry guessed that she was about three inches taller than her. Last to change was her hair: it lengthened substantially, flowing down to her shoulders in long waves that shone gold in the lights of the room. Harry studied her for a moment--the family resemblance was quite obvious. Tonks was looking at him quietly, with a hesitant smile on her face. Harry smiled back at her and commented, "You look a lot more like Mrs. Malfoy than you do that bitch Bellatrix: that face is a lot prettier when it isn't accompanied with an expression that looks like you smelled something foul."

Tonks looked down, surprised by the compliment, then looked back up and asked quietly, "So why did you want to want to see me like this?" She was startled into paralysis when Harry leaned forward and up and kissed Tonks very softly on the lips. He held the kiss for a moment: Tonks noted that it was a dry kiss, though he also reached out with his right arm and pulled her slightly closer to him before releasing her and leaning back, watching for her reaction.

Tonks was silent for a moment, and Harry whispered, "I wanted to deliver my thanks to you, not to one of your masks--as much as I enjoy those masks." Tonks blinked again, and Harry added, "You went out of your way to help me with a good plan, and you let me feel as if I had a chance to say good-bye to them--it's more than I ever had before. Thanks, Tonks." He grinned at her, and Tonks shivered--for once he seemed like an ordinary sixteen year old boy without a care in the world.

Tonks drew back from him and changed form--her hair turned brown and her eyes black, though her skin remained as it had been. She stood up and looked down at him, and her voice was quiet and thoughtful as she commented, "Harry--after we kick You--after we kick Voldemort's arse into eternity, and after you finish school, you'll be reporting for Auror training and you're going to need a mentor. I'd suggest that you start thinking about who you want to ask to serve in that capacity."

Harry shrugged. "I'll give it some thought--any reason it shouldn't be you?"

Tonks grinned wickedly, and Harry saw a twinkle in her dark eyes as she leaned down and whispered in his ear: "Ask me that question again in a couple of years, Harry." She moved slightly, and the tip of her nose brushed his before she kissed him in much the way he had just kissed her, except for lingering slightly longer at the end of it, and brushing his cheek gently with her hand before turning away and leaving the room without another word.

Harry smiled to himself. * Well, at least she's not crying * He stood up, deep in thought, and was completely oblivious to his surroundings until the bucket floating over the door came tumbling down on top of him. Harry sputtered and discovered that he was covered in a sticky goo that was changing colors by the second. He heard two familiar laughs and didn't bother to turn before yelling: "FRED! GEORGE!"

There was more laughter, and Harry turned, only to see about a dozen familiar faces holding balloons that appeared to be full of some liquid. He had only an instant to squeak before he was hit with the barrage of soft missiles and started flashing in an even wider variety of colors. He stood there dripping, and he heard Fred say, "I think that the Multi-Color Missiles have proven themselves worthy of entry onto the merchandise list of Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes, don't you?" There was a general cheer, and Fred added, "Let's have a nice hand for our test subject and silent partner Harry Potter, shall we?"

The applause came, and Harry felt only slightly ambivalent about being applauded by his oldest and dearest friends while he was dripping glowing colored goo on the floor and blushing crimson. Of course, he would come up with a truly epic means of retaliation.

But not today.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired.