Title: First steps

Author: Whomping Willow ~

E-Mail: JeanneL229@aol.com

Rating: PG (for violence)

Summary: It's the summer after Harry's fifth year and the little chat at King's Cross between the Order and Harry's relatives didn't make quite the impact they were hoping for. Harry is a survivor and will have his chance to prove it when Voldemort attacks and his relatives become the least of his worries. He'll take his first steps to dealing with the grief and guilt the fifth year left behind. It's going to be an eventful sixth year for Harry Potter. WIP

Disclaimer: All characters are the sole possession of J.K.Rowling. I don't own Harry Potter, and have no chance of profiting from this. I'm just playing in J.K.R.'s playground and I invited all of her friends.

Chapter one: Changes ~

***

His footsteps were quiet, on the cool stone . . . the long dim corridor of the Department of Mysteries stretched before him once again. He was walking slowly, approaching the plain black door. A torch flickered beside him and his pace quickened, increasingly determined to reach his destination. The black door swung open before him.

His heart pounded in his chest as he stepped into the circular room, blue-flamed candles illuminated its many unmarked doors. Continuing straight across the room, through the second door without hesitation, he broke into a run. Patches of sparkling light danced on the walls and floor blurring as he hurried through to the third door which opened instantly before him . . .

Once again he was in the cathedral-sized room full of shelves covered in dusty, glass spheres . . . heart pounding . . . number ninety-seven . . . turning left he hurried down the aisle . . .

There on the floor . . . a black shape – a man, making pained movements on the cold stone . . . fear and excitement mingled within him . . . he moved closer still . . .

His voice commanded, high and cold, "Give it to me . . . take it down now . . . I cannot touch it, but you can . . . I must have it . . ."

The black shape shifted, stubbornly not moving toward the shelves. Harry raised his arm. Long cold fingers clutching a wand of Yew, aimed steadily at the shape . . . the voice ice cold exclaimed, "Crucio!"

The man on the floor cried out in pain, crumpled and writhing before him. Harry was laughing. He raised his wand and lifted the curse. Released temporarily from the torment, the man stilled sucking deep breaths . . . his only sign of life.

"Lord Voldemort is waiting . . . "

The man on the floor trembled still crumpled on the ground and raised his bloodstained face, pained and angry . . .

"You'll have to kill me," whispered Sirius, his voice hoarse, from screaming.

"Yes, but not just yet," spoke the cold voice. "There is still much to accomplish. You will fetch it for me . . . and then perhaps I will let you die, but first . . . " Voldemort lowered his wand once again . . . taking aim at the man crumpled before him . . .

***


Harry awoke in the Great Hall screaming and disoriented. He missed the concerned stares of those around him as well as the voice of the professor calling to him. Scar burning, he picked himself up off the floor and fled the room.

Dashing through the corridors avoiding questioning onlookers, praying he was not being followed, he made his way to the Gryffindor tower. He spat the password at the disgruntled portrait, racing through and up the stairs to his dorm slamming the door shut behind him. He dug in his trunk until his hands found the brown paper wrapped mirror Sirius had given him at Christmas, safely tucked under a pair of Uncle Vernon's old socks.

Desperate for answers he shouted into the mirror, "Sirius! Sirius!" Please, please be all right he begged silently. After a long moment he was rewarded with the image of his godfather's worried face.

"Harry, what's wrong? Did something happen?" Sirius asked.

"Thank God. You're safe! Where are you?" Harry asked.

Seeing the tears welling in his eyes, Sirius could tell something bad had happened to upset Harry like this.

"Same place as always, kid. I'm just tending to Buckbeak." The hippogriff lay on the floor behind him, leg wrapped in bandages. "He managed to hurt himself somehow. I'm just patching him up. Now what's got you all worked up? It's not Snape again, is it?"

"No," Harry responded somewhat soothed by the news that Sirius was safely hidden at headquarters. "I fell asleep during my History of Magic exam and had a vision that you were in danger."

"Have you told anyone about it yet?" Sirius asked.

"No, I just left the exam without telling anyone. Besides who is there here to tell? Dumbledore is in hiding, McGonagall is at St. Mungo's and Snape would just mock my lack of Occlumency skills." He sighed. "I guess everything is all right, as long as you promise not to leave for any reason."

Sirius thought it over for a moment. "I still think we need to tell someone about this. I'll see if I can find Dumbledore. Keep the mirror close. He may need to speak with you himself."

Harry tucked the mirror safely into his pocket just as Ron and Hermione burst into the room with anxious looks on their faces.

"Harry! What happened? Why did you just run off like that?" They said, scarcely pausing to catch their breath. "Are you all right? Are you ill?" Hermione asked adding, "Think about what that will do to your O.W.L. score."

Harry rolled his eyes at that last one, but answered calmly, "I had a vision that Voldemort had captured Sirius . . . was torturing him . . . it was terrible. There was no way I could stay and finish the exam. I needed to know for sure."

"And?!" They questioned, in unison.

"He's safe. I just spoke with him and he promised not to leave headquarters," he said, and they all breathed a sigh of relief.

"Harry, I thought you weren't having those visions anymore," demanded Hermione.

Just then Sirius' voice called out from his pocket. "Harry?" He pulled out the mirror and shushed his friends as they began to talk nervously over what the vision could mean.

"Right here," he replied with a lopsided grin.

"Who's that I hear with you? You best put up some silencing charms to be safe."

"It's just Ron and Hermione, but I will just in case someone else comes in." Harry excused himself ducking into his bed closing the curtains and setting the necessary charms to ensure privacy.

"Did you find him?" he asked and Dumbledore's face soon replaced Sirius' before him.

"Sirius tells me you had another vision and it upset you quite a bit."

"Yes sir," he swallowed nervously. "I wasn't expecting to fall asleep during my History of Magic exam and – er – I'm not doing very well with Occlumency," he admitted sheepishly, "so I had another vision."

"Care to tell me more about it. Sirius was rather vague."

"Of course Professor," he replied. He explained about the dreams about the Ministry of Magic, the room filled with shelves and glass spheres and finally about Sirius being tortured and ordered to take one off the shelf. All the while Dumbledore remained silent. His expression was sad and there was little twinkle left to his eyes. Finally he spoke.

"I'm sorry, my boy. I have made a terrible mistake. I have something to tell you – I've been waiting for the right time and I realize now, that time has come."

Harry ran his hand through his hair worried what could make Dumbledore look so grim. As he did so, something caught the Headmaster's attention.

"Harry, hold your hand up closer to the mirror. I'd like a better look at the back, if you will."

Harry looked at the back of his hand and blanched when he realized what the Headmaster had seen. Sometimes he could still feel it ache when the water hit it in the shower or if he held his quill too tight. He slowly held up his right hand for inspection. The still pink scars clearly read "I must not tell lies."

After further inspection the Headmaster asked, "Who did this Harry?" His expression, if possible was even more grave than before.

"It was Professor Umbridge, sir." He admitted quietly. "She makes us use a special quill during detentions – writing lines. It carves the words right into your skin."

"Us? You mean she has done this to others as well?!" Dumbledore was livid. "Why didn't you tell someone?"

"Yes, I'm not the only one. As for why I didn't say anything . . . I know it's dumb, but I didn't want to give her the satisfaction of knowing she got to me."

Dumbledore just nodded his understanding. Before they could say more, Ron alerted Harry that Professor Umbridge was on her way up to see him. Without another word Harry jumped out of the bed and stashed the mirror back in his trunk hoping that the Headmaster and Sirius hadn't heard Ron's warning on the other end.

***

Harry looked to the doorway knowing where the sound came from. It was the call of the toad-faced Headmistress Professor Umbridge ("Hem, hem"), "Mr. Potter, you will come with me," she croaked in her little-girlish voice.

"Is there anything wrong?" Harry asked innocently, knowing full well what she was there about.

"We shall discuss your latest infractions in my office." There was a bitter edge to her voice and a dangerous gleam in her eye as she grabbed his arm tightly and led him out of the room.

***

She did not waste any time, upon arriving in her office she locked the door behind them and began her interrogation.

"So Mr. Potter, what did you find so urgent that you felt you needed to disrupt an entire hall full of students during O.W.L. exams? Your screaming and abrupt exit were hardly fair to the other students who - were - trying - to - concentrate, don't you think? I do believe your fellow students deserve an explanation, as do I." Her tone was cold as were her eyes. "And," she continued, "if I'm not satisfied with your answers I shall be calling Professor Snape for a bit of encouragement." She smiled at that and waited for a response.

Harry straightened up a bit, took a deep breath and replied, "Well Professor, I had a bit of pain and got all queasy. I thought I was going to be ill, so I left. Must've been nerves or something."

She looked at him for a long moment before nodding, with a smile so wide on her toad like face she looked as though she had just swallowed a particularly tasty fly. "All right if that is the way you want to play, I'll just call Professor Snape." She walked to the fire, threw in a pinch of floo powder and called "Professor Severus Snape." Several minutes later Professor Snape's head appeared in the grate.

"You wanted to see me, Headmistress?"

"Yes, I did. I need you to bring me another bottle of Veritaserum, as soon as possible, please."

"Another? I already gave you a full bottle to interrogate the Potter boy. What happened to that one? Surely you didn't use it all so soon."

She flushed slightly. "Don't you have more? This little trouble maker is up to something. I am sure of it. I need answers, now!"

"I told you only three drops. That was my last bottle and it is complicated to brew. I'm afraid you will simply have to come up with another means of getting your answers from the boy." His gaze drifted to the spot where Harry stood silent and sneered.

"Any suggestions . . ." she inquired. "One such as yourself must have acquired a few tricks over the years."

Turning back to the Headmistress, Snape's eyebrow arched. "I believe, that it would be best to keep our tricks to ourselves. When dealing with the likes of Potter, you have to throw away the book. Now, if that is all?" She nodded reluctantly and his head disappeared from the fire.

"Dear me – how shall I manage to loosen that tongue of yours . . . perhaps I could persuade the dementors to pay you another visit, they were so eager last time . . ."

Harry gasped. "You – you sent the dementors after me last summer?"

"Well somebody had to do something. Everyone in the Ministry was looking for a way to silence you, only I had sense enough to act. Cornelius wasn't about to do anything on his own. I think if he knew he would thank me." Her lips formed a cruel smile. "Don't worry yourself about how to spread that tale – one little Obliterate and you won't remember a thing . . . "

"I think I've heard enough," said Cornelius Fudge as he strode into the room flanked by Arthur Weasley and two Aurors. "Arrest her," demanded Fudge. "You can start the list of charges with illegal use of Veritaserum on a minor – orchestrating an attack of dementors in a Muggle neighborhood and cruel and unusual punishment. We heard it all, Dolores, your days at this school are through."

Turning to face Harry as Umbridge continued to splutter behind him, Arthur Weasley asked, "Are you all right Harry?"

Harry nodded dumbly. "What are . . . how did you . . . ," temporarily at a loss for words.

"Anonymous tip." Mr. Weasley replied with a wink.

Harry watched as the still spluttering Professor was escorted out of her office. Fudge paused only briefly to apologize to Harry, as he tried desperately to find a way to minimize the Ministry's involvement in the whole fiasco.

The days till the end of term flew by at an unbelievable pace. Professor Dumbledore was returned to his rightful post as Headmaster and Professor McGonagall was released after a speedy recovery in St. Mungo's. Even Hagrid reappeared safe and sound.

Harry met with Professor Dumbledore for a long overdue chat, where the Headmaster revealed the reason for the dreams that had been plaguing him since the summer before. The Prophesy was finally revealed and it became obvious to all involved that Voldemort had been planting the dreams in order to trap Harry in the Department of Mysteries and finally hear the full Prophesy for himself.

With a promise to work hard on his Occlumency studies and to stay inside where it is safe, Harry packed his things and boarded the train bound for King's Cross with his friends. Upon arrival they said their goodbyes and promised to write as much as possible.

Stepping off the train, Harry was immediately greeted with an enormous hug from none other than his godfather, accused murderer and escaped convict, Sirius Black. "What are you doing here?" Harry hissed without breaking the hug. "Do you want to get caught?"

Sirius laughed, eyes sparkling like never before. "I wanted to surprise you – it seems I succeeded. You see, the night that you had your last vision we sent order members to the Ministry of Magic to see if we could catch Voldemort in the act. Unfortunately he wasn't there himself, but a certain rat managed to get himself caught. I've just been cleared of all charges. No more Dursleys – you are coming home with me."

Harry tightened his grip on his godfather, eyes brimming with tears. "Home . . . for real? You're really free?" His voice was choked with emotion and the tears spilled down his cheeks.

"Yeah kiddo," he said, tightening the hug even further, "I'm really free."

His arms began to dig painfully into Harry's sides and his squeaked protest for air went unheaded. The ache grew more uncomfortable by the moment and he tried to pull back to gain some space, but the more he backed off, the tighter the grip became. Soon the tears spilling down his cheeks were from mingled pain and joy. Is this what they mean by 'love hurts'? He whimpered hoping that Sirius would get the message that enough is enough. They were causing a scene and he wanted to go home, but the grip seemed tighter still.

Someone was laughing lightly nearby. It was a strange sound, high and tight. It was getting louder, almost insistent . . . not quite laughing . . . almost like tapping . . . tapping . . .

His eyes flew open in the darkened room, focusing slowly. His thin blankets were wrapped painfully tight around his body. Tear tracks still fresh on his cheeks were quickly renewed. Memories flooded his aching head. 'It was just a dream,' he choked back a sob . . . 'Sirius is dead,' the words echoed silently in his head. Struggling free from the prison of blankets he went to let Ron's owl Pigwidgeon in the window to stop his enthusiastic tapping before it could wake anyone else.

One whispered word escaped his lips along with a flood of tears . . . "Sirius . . . "

***

When morning came, Ron's letter lay abandoned on the desk, all his well wishes and kind words forgotten. Pig had been sent off almost immediately with a hastily scrawled note assuring all that he was still alive. He made no mention of the dreams and was careful that he left no sign of tears on the parchment. (No need to make them worry after all).

Harry sat cross-legged on the bed – elbows on knees – head in hands. He tried to be strong, but the dream renewed the ache of guilt in his heart. 'If only . . . ' Those were the words that seemed to start every thought. 'If only I had listened to Hermione . . . ', 'If only I had tried harder at Occlumency . . . ', 'If only Dumbledore had told me about the Prophesy . . . ', 'If only I had used the mirror . . . ' The list went on and on. Things could've been different. They should have been different.

Surely he was not the only one to blame – Dumbledore, Kreacher the treasonous house-elf and Voldemort . . . many had a hand in it, if truths be told, but still the guilt weighed heavy on his soul. No matter how he tried to busy himself with chores and homework, the feelings pushed themselves into his conscious mind. He even tried meditation in the quiet hours between dinner and bed, but the painful thoughts that entered his relaxed mind often denied him sleep. Better to lie sleepless than to dream . . .

His thoughts suddenly interrupted by the click of locks and pounding on his door, he sprang from his bed ready to begin another day. He dressed quickly as his Aunt Petunia's shrill voice pierced the air, "Up, get up you lazy-boy! I will not wait breakfast on the likes of you."

Sometime during his contemplation, between the dream and his aunts screaming the sun had risen unnoticed. It was going to be another hot day and Harry was glad the lawn and garden had been on his to-do list the day before.

Harry warily slipped out of his room and down the stairs toward the kitchen. He wasn't going to deny himself a meal, although it was rare that they called him for one at all, except when he was expected to cook it. Peering around the corner suspiciously, his eyes met with the sight of a large, beefy man with very little neck, known as Vernon Dursley. Next to him sat a slightly smaller, yet wider version of the man, his son Dudley. Both wore matching gaping smiles as they greedily stuffed their faces. He realized the reason he was called down this morning. Of course, how was Dudley supposed to gloat over his new car without Harry there to witness its delivery. Dudley having turned sixteen, was going for his drivers test today and his father decided his son should do so in style. After all, nothing is too good for his Dudders.

Of course they failed to realize that Harry had no reason to be jealous of Dudley's car, as he could see no real need for owning Muggle transportation, with perhaps the exception of a heroic Ford Anglia such as the one that saved him and Ron in his second year or a charmed flying motorcycle. Once he passed his Apparation test – travel would become far simpler – and there are things far more important in this world to worry about than motor cars . . .

Squashing that thought, Harry entered the room. He sat down and cautiously took a slice of slightly burnt toast. He kept a wary eye on his uncle for any sign of reproach – while waiting for the taunting to begin. Today was a proud day for Vernon Dursley and his eyes shone with pride as he watched Dudley demolish another plate of bacon and eggs. He sneered occasionally in Harry's direction. Of course Harry knew what this day meant for him. His endless list of chores just grew by one car wash, but perhaps it might also mean that its owner would spend more time away from the Dursley home, where Harry was doomed to remain.

Before the sneer turned to insults – or Harry could finish his slice of toast – the doorbell rang. He rose from his seat, sure that he would be ordered to answer it, but was shoved roughly aside by the other occupants of the room. "Out of the way, Boy," was all that was said as they pushed past, all eager to have a look at the new car.

Harry watched from the livingroom window. After several long minutes were spent in the driveway loudly admiring the shiny new vehicle (for the neighbors benefit), papers were signed and the car delivered; Vernon Dursley proudly handed over the keys to his son. The Dursleys then loaded in and left. Harry was grateful to be left alone to clear the morning dishes.

Not knowing how much 'Dursley free' time to expect he headed straight to the important business. His trunk was once again locked in the cupboard under the stairs and he wasted no time in relieving it of the padlock, inwardly thanking the twins for passing along that skill. At the train station, in his haste, he had grabbed the wrong book. Upon arriving, he realized he had smuggled his Divination book in under his shirt instead of Transfiguration. Although he could thank that error for his newly acquired study of meditation, he didn't wish to waste any more time on the subject of Divination.

After grabbing enough parchment and ink to complete the summer's correspondence, he looked longingly at his Firebolt. The top of the line racing broom was a gift from his godfather. He was thankful for its return – but saddened by the memories it provoked. After locking his most treasured possessions away once more, he hid his school supplies safely under the loose floorboards in his bedroom.

***

Tired and depressed – Harry left the now spotless kitchen for his bedroom, knowing that Uncle Vernon would be murderous if he were found in any other room upon their return. As it was, he was sure to be blamed for their failure to lock him in while they were gone.

Thinking back once again to the 'little chat' his welcoming committee had with the Dursleys at King's Cross station – Harry had to shake his head – what were they thinking? It was quite a site he had to admit – Remus Lupin, Mad-eye Moody, Tonks and the Weasleys all gathered together. He knew they meant well – but had they thought that threatening his uncle would make his summer holiday any better? Initially, they had been shocked – shock turned quickly to outrage.

By the time they arrived at Privet Drive, a plan was forming and new rules were to be set. Once his trunk was inside, it was banished as always to the cupboard under the stairs. Although Harry was glad he wasn't relegated to the small cupboard as well, he was no less, locked in. Uncle Vernon had seized Harry painfully by the wrist and literally dragged him up the stairs to his bedroom, where he stood, menacingly punching his fist into his palm turning an increasingly violent shade of purple. He wanted to know where "those people" got such ideas about him and his family. After much yelling and cursing (the nonmagical kind), he was locked in to think about the new house rules.

Harry had thought much about those rules – almost as much as he had about the loss of Sirius and the threat of Voldemort. He was living in an increasingly dangerous world – a fact his relatives were all too happy to remind him of.

***

A gaunt white face with crimson eyes – almost inhuman – glared from beneath a black hood. Masked faces surround the high throne where their master sits – anger seething behind his cold stare. Not enough –our numbers should grow – instead there are many missing from my circle – some dead some entombed in Azkaban, they shall return to me soon. "Bella – I expect, by now, you have learned something from the fiasco at the Ministry?"

"Master," she cried throwing herself pitifully at his feet, kissing the hem of his robes. "I tried . . . the Aurors they . . ."

"Enough! – I have no need of your excuses – I need your assurance that you will NOT fail me again. Crucio!"

Everyone's full attention was drawn to the woman screaming and writhing in pain on the floor in the cold, dim room. They were grateful to see the torment end while she still lived. All present were silently praying they wouldn't be next. They had all been punished for the incident at the Ministry, but for some perhaps a reminder was necessary.

Many of the room's occupants took a turn at the end of Voldemort's wand before he addressed them again. "We had a plan I thought could not fail, yet it failed. Months of preparation for nothing . . . My Prophesy has been lost, but the boy still lives and that will not do . . . you my Death Eaters were thwarted by children and fools . . . now the Ministry can no longer deny my existence."

He scanned the crowd . . . Who would be next to spoil his plans? If he knew, he would rid the world of their useless flesh before another plan dies of their incompetence. This time he must be guaranteed no slip-ups. The boy-who-lived must not be trained.

"Wormtail! I have a new plan, and this one had better not fail."

Peter Pettigrew, the Animagus also known as Wormtail hurried to his masters feet, looking worn and shabby but for his silver hand glinting in the dim torchlight. Kissing the hem of the robes before him, bowed low in deference. He spoke nervously. "M-Master, how may I serve to you, my lord?" His voice was squeaky and his mind was racing. Voldemort rarely singled him out for anything but punishment.

"Wormtail – you above all others should be aware, that the greatest weakness one can have – is often his closest friend. You know of the location of the Potter boy's friend – Not the Mud-blood – the Muggle lover. Bring him to me. We shall find out all we need to know from him."

Wormtail's mind whirled faster than before – The Dark Lord, His Master wanted Ronald Weasley, his little master – I was his pet . . . his rat . . . Scabbers . . . he was a good master . . . he let me sleep in his bed – gave me Bertie Bott's Beans . . . he would be tortured; perhaps even killed for information on the-boy-who-lived . . . Ron – his little master . . . No . . . another way . . . there must be another way . . . perhaps the boy . . . a way to give him the-boy-who-lived . . . lived . . . he lived . . . where was it he lived . . . think – think . . . Fred and George in Ron's room, planning a rescue . . . where . . .

"M-Master – there may be a bet-t . . . a-a-another way . . . "

Voldemort's eyes were cold – his voice mocking – "This is a remarkable show of backbone from you Wormtail – wherever does it come from – well, don't keep us waiting . . . "

***

PS. Reviews are appreciated

~ Whomping Willow ~