A/N: Finally:) I hope this is a somewhat satisfactory reward for waiting so long! Many apologies for that, by the way. I won't bore you with the multiple excuses. Many thanks to all of those who have reviewed, you all were the reason I continued and finally finished this; and thank you to all of you who have stayed with me from the beginning.

This has not yet been beta read; I will replace it once it has.

Chapter Eleven – The End of Another Year

Pain was radiating from Harry's scar, against which a white hot knife was surely slicing through the skin, twisting, trying its best to dig into his skull, the very bone. Someone was screaming, screaming as though they were dying; if he could only escape this excruciating pain, then he could go get help, save them from whatever was causing them such horrible pain and misery… Then, through the thick, dark red haze of pain that blinded him and hid the outside world, Harry felt someone tightly grasp his shoulders; the hazy redness lessened slightly, and he could hear snatches of conversation in between the screams that pressed against his ears.

"What's happening?"

"Severus, you said that spell was supposed to block the connection!"

"It was! Potter, focus! Focus!"

Focus? He was supposed to focus? On what?

Someone removed a hand from his shoulder and roughly grabbed his face; he must have been moving his head. It was funny how he didn't realize what he was doing.

"Potter, close your mind!"

Close his mind? To the pain? How?

Vaguely, he felt someone lift his eyelid.

"Severus, Voldemort is no longer possessing him, look at his eyes."

"… don't understand…"

"Where's Dumbledore?"

The pain was obscuring him again as it intensified in jabs and spikes. Harry felt his stomach roil, and then choked as acidic vomit filled his throat and mouth.

Then all was dark. Again.

The first sensation Harry felt was warmth; it was so different from the icy cold darkness that he had been lost in that waking up felt rather like swallowing a mouthful of butterbeer. Then, as though that first feeling had sparked a fire, Harry was suddenly aware that a bright light was piercing his eyes through his shut eyelids, there was a sour, slightly metallic taste on his tongue, which contrasted sharply with the burning sensation in his throat, and that his body was aching and heavy, as though it was filled with lead; his head felt like it was made of stone rather than flesh and blood.

He supposed that he should open his eyes and find out exactly what the hell was going on, but it was so much easier to just lie on this soft surface and remain oblivious. Yet just as he decided to remain in his present state of oblivion, vague memories of Snape, Voldemort, and a dead Dumbledore, who was somehow alive, threatened his peaceful state of mind. Slowly, he dragged his eyelids open. A blurry person was seated next to his bed, apparently reading a book. He tried to turn his head toward him, but the slight movement made his head pound and he could not suppress a groan. The person – a man – looked up sharply. "Harry?"

The man jumped up upon seeing that Harry was conscious, and in seconds Harry did not only have his glasses, but a sip of water, as well. Able to focus, Harry saw that the man was Lupin.

"'Lo," Harry rasped, wincing as the half-word scraped up his throat as he said it.

Lupin let him take another drink of water, concern evident on his face. "It's good to see you awake. These past two days have been a little scary. How're you feeling?"

Harry let out a raspy laugh that made his head pound even more. "Like Dudley fell on me."

Lupin's worried grimace twitched briefly. "From what I hear, that doesn't sound like it would be pleasant."

Harry gazed around the deserted hospital wing. "Where is everyone?"

"Well, as it is not even quite seven o'clock yet, the large majority of the castle is either still asleep or beginning to get their breakfast in the Great Hall. Both Professor Dumbledore and Professor Snape should be here shortly," said Lupin, checking his wristwatch.

"Dumbledore," Harry said suddenly. "I thought he was dead, but then – "

"It was a diversion," Lupin said, cutting Harry off. "Professor Dumbledore knew that there was a possibility that Voldemort might try to possess you if – and as – you were being transported back to Hogwarts, so Kingsley Shacklebolt went instead, disguised by Polyjuice Potion, as a dead Dumbledore, who had been too weak to deal with the horror and pressure of your second kidnapping. Not to say that he wasn't worried – God, we all were – but Dumbledore's supposed death, proving his 'weakness', boosted Voldemort's ego and took his mind off of you – which I am sure that you noticed. And with Dumbledore waiting for your return to Hogwarts, he was able to anticipate Voldemort's being transported to the school with yourself. He was able to repel Voldemort from your mind almost immediately, with a spell created by Professor Snape."

Harry nodded, and when a sharp pain radiated through his skull, he decided not to do that again. His eyes began to slip shut, and, blinking rapidly, he tried to keep them open; he had so many more questions. What had happened to Snape? Kingsley? Malfoy? Where was Voldemort now? But Lupin merely shook his head. "Get some sleep, Harry."

When Harry opened his eyes, the only light was emanating from the oil lamps hanging from the walls of the hospital wing and sitting upon his bedside table. Lupin was gone, but the fuzzy shapes of Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were all seated around his bed, bent over books and scrolls of parchment. Harry licked his dry lips. "Did I miss the study group memo?"

Hermione jumped up with a squeak. "Harry!" She took no notice as her enormous book, parchment, and inkwell slipped from her lap and onto the floor, black ink splashing all over her lengthy essay and copy of History of Magic. "How're you feeling? Do you need water? Here are your glasses," she asked rapidly, slipping his glasses onto his face.

"Water," Harry said hoarsely.

After a long drink of the cold, sweet water, and a dose of pain medication that Madam Pomfrey had prescribed upon his return to consciousness, Harry asked if they knew what had happened.

All three of them frowned and rolled their eyes. "No," said Ginny bitterly, "No one would tell us anything once you disappeared. Dumbledore and Snape took Malfoy off the pitch immediately, and the Heads of Houses made us return to our Houses. Then that evening, at dinner, both you and Draco Malfoy show up in the middle of the Great Hall, and…"

"Were you being possessed?" asked Hermione; her voice was blunt, but her brown eyes betrayed her concern and fear of the answer. Ron, who had been staring at anywhere but Harry while Ginny spoke, looked up sharply.

Harry paused. "Yes," he said reluctantly, speaking to his bedside table. "I – this isn't the first time it's happened. He possessed me last year, at the Ministry, and it's what he's been trying to do this year. He's been trying to possess me from a distance. And he was finally able to do it; he possessed me before I passed through the protective wards." He looked up at their pale faces. "You know where I was taken when I touched that Portkey? The Forbidden Forest. The damn Forbidden Forest."

There was an uncomfortable silence. Harry shifted slightly. The pain medication had helped with the pounding in his head, but did nothing for the soreness that resided in the rest of his body. He opened his mouth.

"Oh, Harry," Hermione breathed. "You – "

Ron held up his hand. "Let the man finish."

Harry looked gratefully at his best friend. Ron always seemed to know when Harry needed to stop and when he needed to keep going; right now Harry needed this poison, these horrible memories, to be extracted and diluted, made easier to bear. He needed them, his best friends, who he knew would follow him anywhere, to know exactly why Harry had to find Voldemort and defeat him. He swallowed. "I have to tell you all something, and I have to start at the beginning. Before I was born, a prophecy was made…"

The sun was once again poking his eyes with its bright rays when Harry awoke the next morning; the only differences was that he felt slightly better, and this time his company was composed of not only Lupin, but Dumbledore and a pale Snape, also. The three men were standing at the foot of Harry's cot, talking quietly.

Not wanting to bother them, Harry made to lift himself into a sitting position so that he could find his glasses and get a cup of water on his own. To his dismay, however, he quickly found out that his head still objected to any concentrated movement, and his failure to stifle a moan alerted the professors to his state.

"Idiot boy," Snape snapped, "You – "

"Severus," said Dumbledore sternly. "Remember what we talked about yesterday?"

Snape shut his mouth, an unpleasant look on his face. "Yes, Albus," he replied sourly. Then he turned sharply and left the hospital wing, his black robes billowing behind him.

"What was that about, Professor?" Harry asked once he had his spectacles on and had had a glass of water.

"Severus is worried about his blown cover. Not only is he no longer of much use to the Order, but in addition to Voldemort, now the large majority, if not all, of the Death Eaters know of his betrayal. He must now take extreme care in regard to his life."

"What happened to Kingsley after I was brought back here?" Harry asked.

"From what he himself and Professor Snape told me, he fought admirably against the Death Eaters and Voldemort himself before Apparating with Professor Snape to safety."

"And Malfoy?"

"Draco Malfoy is still here at Hogwarts, unaware that he aided in your escape, having been Confunded and his memory modified, and is being closely watched by the staff."

"But – why is he still here? He turned the Snitch into a Portkey. He – he wants me dead! He – "

"Would you not be even more worried if you did not know where he was, if you did not know whether or not he was far away or close by? The old adage is correct, Harry: Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Remember that, Harry."

Dumbledore fell silent. After a moment, Harry looked up. "I'm going to defeat him, Professor."

The headmaster looked up, piercing him with his bright blue eyes. "Yes, Harry, you will."

Harry spent the rest of the day and the next in the hospital wing; he had been an obedient patient for Madam Pomfrey, on the promise that the next morning he could go back to Gryffindor Tower.

That night Harry laid in his bed listlessly; the sky had long ago grown dark, his friends had left to fall asleep in their own beds, and he was now waiting for the pain potion Madam Pomfrey had just given him to kick in. When he heard footsteps come toward his bed, he assumed it was the nurse. "What now?" he asked, injecting a little jauntiness into his voice so that she would know he wasn't being disrespectful. Instead of the friendly nurse, however, the face that looked down at him disdainfully was the face of Severus Snape.

Harry jerked to the opposite side of the bed, both in shock and, embarrassingly, in instinctive reaction. Snape raised an eyebrow.

"What do you want?" asked Harry defensively.

"I came to inform you that we will no longer have Occlumency lessons the remainder of this term. We will begin again in September."

"Why?" Harry asked. With Voldemort's successes this year, Harry would have expected the complete opposite.

The Potions Master's lips twisted in a sour grimace. "The Dark Lord is now concerned about betrayal in his own ranks; if my cover being blown did anything positive, it has temporarily taken his focus off of you. Afraid of more traitors among the Death Eaters, he is now more secretive than ever, and from what I hear, interrogations of even his most faithful. The Headmaster is also concerned about your health," said Snape, the tone of his voice suggesting that he felt the headmaster's concern was groundless.

"Where is Vol- You-Know-Who?" asked Harry, quickly correcting his slip of the tongue.

"Our source tells us that he has taken over Malfoy Manor. And yes, Draco Malfoy will be returning to his home over the summer holidays," Snape added, apparently anticipating Harry's next question. "He will be closely watched."

Harry opened his mouth, to ask the question that had been bothering him from the moment he had awoke – why had Snape been a double agent in the first place? – when the strong pain potion finally entered his bloodstream. His sore brain and muscles seemed to sigh in relief as the blissful numbness spread. No longer able to articulate his query, he closed his eyes and allowed himself to sink into the mattress. He vaguely felt someone remove his glasses before everything went dark.

"Bloody hell, what're they thinking, giving us this much homework over the holidays?" Ron asked indignantly a couple of weeks later, as he and Harry packed their trunks. Classes were over, and they would be leaving Hogwarts the next day. Ron was gazing, horrified, at the assignment sheets each of their professors had given them, listing the books to be read and the essays to be written. "I might as well be writing my own book, look at all of these inches we have to write!"

"Sounds like their out to kill you, mate," Harry quipped, throwing his clothes haphazardly into his trunk.

Ron sighed. "Yeah," he said miserably. Then he paused and turned to look at Harry, a calculating look upon his face. "Hey – are you planning on coming back next year? I mean, are we going to finish our seventh year, or we going to go after You-Know-Who?"

Harry paused. He had thought about both options, and he had still not come to a decision. "Let's see what happens this summer. So go ahead and do your homework."

"Damn. Well, it was worth a shot," said Ron dryly.

The next day Harry found himself squinting in the bright sunlight as he stepped off of the Hogwarts Express at King's Cross. Pulling his trunk with one hand, and Hedwig, sleeping in her cage in his other, Harry followed his friends toward their parents, the Grangers standing nervously beside Mr. and Mrs. Weasley and Fred and George, who were dressed in robes that flashed in reds, oranges, maroons, and pinks that all clashed horribly with their copper-colored hair.

Mrs. Weasley was fussing over Ron and Hermione, whose hands had not separated quickly enough. "When did this happen? Ronnie, why didn't you write? Oh, I was waiting for the day this would happen!"

Harry was snickering at Ron and Hermione's mortified faces when he felt a warm hand tug at his arm. "Hey, come over here for a moment." It was Ginny.

Harry followed her through the barrier and over to a vacant area, where she turned to face him. She appeared to be steeling herself. "Harry, when you were telling us of your plans to defeat Voldemort – I was just wondering, was I included in your plans? I mean, I completely understand if you don't want me to go, you're much better friends with Ron and Hermione, and I would just get in your way – "

"Yes, you're coming – that is, if you want to," Harry interrupted. It was true, he wasn't nearly as good of friends with her as he was with Ron and Hermione, but he strangely found himself wanting her with him as much as he did the other two. "I don't have any clear plans yet, but I'll write over the summer."

Ginny grinned prettily. "Great. And I'm sure you'll be at the Burrow by summer's end."

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry could see the Dursleys waiting for him impatiently. "I sure hope so."

Harry turned to the remaining Weasleys and Hermione, who had just come through the barrier. "We'll have you over as soon as Dumbledore says so," said Mrs. Weasley cheerfully as she enveloped him in a tight embrace. "You are, as usual, entirely too thin."

"I think my prominent cheekbones make me look more dashing," Harry replied cheekily, smiling as his friends failed miserably to stifle snorts. "What?"

He was going back to the Dursleys, but his spirits could not be low: though he had a dark journey ahead of him, and no clear plans on how and when to start that journey, he had something that many people, not to mention Voldemort, did not. Friends – faithful, amazing friends, better friends than he ever could have imagined while growing up alone, friends that would follow him until the bitter end. Without them, he could do nothing.

A/N: Well, that's it! I hope all of your questions were answered; if not, be sure to ask me in a review. I will not be writing a sequel for many reasons, one of which being good ol' college. However, I am willing to let those of you who desire to to write a sequel of your own, with my permission. Just ask me in a review or an email. If you don't get my permission and I see a sequel being posted on any of the many fanfiction sites I visit (I still read fanfiction when I have time at school), I will report you to the site for plagiarizing. But anyway, I hope you enjoyed this, I certainly did.

Please review, thanks for everything, and have a safe and Happy New Year!