On the Wings of Magic
by Bil!

T - General/Angst? - HP, MM, SS

Summary: AU sixth year, post OotP. Harry understands some hard truths; Minerva and Severus are drawn in. Not HBP compliant. Hero!Harry, Manipulative!Dumbledore.

Disclaimer: The characters and places herein were originally created by J.K Rowling. I have adapted them for my own nefarious purposes but am making no money from this. It's simply my way of showing appreciation.

A/N: I first wrote this a long time ago, way before HBP, before Manipulative!Dumbledore and Independent!Harry were quite so cliche as they have become. The three parts of this story span the entirety of sixth year, taking about 13,000 words all told, with each part told from a different point of view. I started this story wanting to write some Harry and McGonagall interaction; I still haven't figured out how Snape managed to stick his nose in.

1 - Harry - Finding Your Wings

Harry frowned around the garden, wondering where he should start. "Stop dawdling, boy!" his uncle ordered from the back door, and he hastily stooped and began pulling out weeds from the nearest flowerbed. Vernon grunted and turned away, but Harry didn't relax, knowing that Aunt Petunia was probably peering out the kitchen window watching for any misdemeanours. He'd grown quite fond of being fed during his time at Hogwarts, and had no intention of missing another meal.

His hands slipped easily into the rhythm of the accustomed chore, gently easing the frail weeds out of the soft earth. A worm came up, entangled in grass roots and squirming wildly as it was exposed to the dry heat of the day. "Sorry," he murmured, carefully pulling it free and putting it back in the dirt. It hastily disappeared back into the soil, and he envied it that easy ability to return to where it belonged. He had nowhere he belonged.

He moved on to the herb garden, freeing the rosemary and chives from the weeds that were crowding around them and suffocating them. Feeling an odd empathy with the plants, he worked determinedly to free them, breathing in the soft smell of fresh soil. But with nothing to focus on, his mind was able to wander, as it often did, to Sirius. He missed his godfather horribly, and knew that much of the blame for the loss lay on his own shoulders, for he'd been such an idiot the entire year. Yet at the same time there was a guilty relief that he wouldn't have to look at Sirius again, wouldn't have to remember the memory from Snape's pensieve every time he saw Sirius' face. His father, his godfather - two of the people he respected most in the entire world - had been bullies, had been the kind of people Harry had spent his childhood hiding from. It hurt worse for knowing that had he gone to school with Sirius and his father it would have been him being bullied and humiliated, for he had always been a target. No wonder Snape hated him.

But still he missed Sirius. Sirius had been his only chance at a normal childhood, a childhood with a loving adult figure and all those little things that most kids didn't even realise they had. All those little things that Harry wanted more than anything. Sirius had been everything.

But as strong as his grief for Sirius was, he was dealing with it. Harry had always dealt with everything: ten years with the Dursley's, nearly being killed by Voldemort in first year, nearly being killed by a basilisk in second year, nearly being Kissed by a Dementor in third year, Cedric's death and Voldemort's resurrection in fourth year... His life basically consisted of a series of terrible and horrible events threaded together by periods of isolation in which he was left to deal with the fallout alone. He had learned long ago how to deal with it. He dealt with it.

He grieved, he suffered through nightmares - and then he buried the grief down deep, out of sight and out of reach. The nightmares would never leave, circling his sleeping mind like jackals, but the grief, that he could get rid of. He had no choice. The only way to go was forward, the only thing he could do was go on. He was the designated saviour, the hero, the one who had to be strong and save them all. He had never had a choice. Just forward, forward, always forward, to save people who were willing to believe the worst of him, a society that depended on him to save them even as they derided him.

No, he told himself, pulling savagely at a weed whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He wasn't trying to save the idiots and fools who believed the last thing they'd been told, he was trying to save the people who had never done anything wrong but were being targeted by Voldemort. People like Hermione, whose blood shouldn't matter. The Muggles who didn't even know that they were under attack. The people who needed him, according to some lousy prophecy, the people who had no hope but him. It was insane; how could he, who had spent ten years in a cupboard, be a hero? He couldn't even save himself. He couldn't even save Sirius. How could he save a world? But, somehow, he had to.

He managed to get dinner, to his relief. And then later he lay fully dressed on his bed, not trying to sleep, just staring up at the ceiling, wrapped in his darkling thoughts.

That was the day he first realised the truth. There was no bright flash of light, no particular happening to make him realise it, just a sudden understanding of what he should have known all along. Betrayal pounded through him, aching hurt, thick anger. He laughed. Uncle Vernon stuck his head in the door and snapped at him, then slammed the door shut and locked it. Harry just laughed harder.

He'd been such a fool! Snape had been right all these years, he really was an idiot, a moron, a dunderhead, a bludger-for-brains. He'd thought he'd been fairly clever and definitely lucky, but he saw it all now, he'd been used all along, he was just a chess piece. He'd thought maybe He cared about him (finally, someone who cared about him), but no, he was just a fairly important pawn, hardly any different to any other pawn, with no control and no freedom.

But he saw it now, he saw it so clearly. All these years of "adventures" had been just a carefully crafted plot to make him into a hero, to turn him into His puppet, to get him to think how He wanted and do what He wanted. Trapped in a box that He had convinced him to make himself. To Him, Harry wasn't a person, he was just a piece in an elaborate game that had been playing since before he was born.

Well, he wasn't going to be a pawn any longer.

Harry thought a lot over the next few weeks. When the Dursleys locked him in his room, he thought. As he did boring and monotonous chores, he thought. And when he wrote letters to the Order he thought very carefully and made sure that he sounded as though nothing had changed. Because Harry had changed, very thoroughly. He had pulled himself apart, ruthlessly baring his soul in self-examination. He had studied his prejudices, his assumptions, his flaws, his weaknesses. He had pulled himself into a thousand shattered pieces, and then when he'd put himself back together he'd changed things. If he wasn't going to be a puppet, there was a lot he had to change.

The Dursleys couldn't touch him anymore. Their petty insults meant nothing to him, he could only feel amusement at their ignorant attitudes. They lived in their own little world and thought that it was the only one that mattered, even though they had surely been told of Voldemort's return. They acted as though the man couldn't touch them, as if Harry was the only problem in their boring, perfectionist lives. To his surprise, he actually felt sorry for Dudley, who was so pampered and spoilt and utterly unprepared for the real world, expecting everything to be handed to him. Dudley's parents hadn't been kind to Harry, but, in another way, they had also not been kind to their son. Harry, never pampered, always the underdog, knew how to survive.

It was strange, but in coming to understand himself so well, as few people ever do, he was able to understand other people much better as well. They weren't nearly so complicated as he'd always thought, and while he half wished to never return to Hogwarts and Him, Harry couldn't wait to return and see what new things he could understand about the people there.

When he had finished refashioning himself, he thought back over the past few years and wondered something: if a Patronus was such a difficult charm, how had he managed to cast it when only a third year? His classwork had never been much more than average - none of his other wandwork showed any particular promise. A want of application and motivation, certainly, but surely there was more to it than that?

So he went inside himself one evening, and studied his magic. To his only partial surprise, he found some kind of block, a shield on his magic that allowed only a certain amount of it to be accessed, that used his own magic to tie his core up on itself. It couldn't be natural, not a snarled, ungainly piece of work like that. So certain was he that it wasn't natural that he spent the night deep in his magic, untying it and unravelling it, pulling it slowly, carefully apart and into a coherent form. He had no idea what the result might be: for all he knew he would end up killing himself. But he didn't care. It felt wrong, it felt like another part of the box He had used to cage him, and he wasn't going to be caged any longer, he wasn't going to be a pawn anymore.

It took him all night. When he pulled himself out of the trance, tired but triumphant, something waited for him, something he couldn't see or hear, only feel, not on his skin, but with an odd sense he hadn't known he had.

Hello, the something said into his mind, and it laughed with delight. I'm so glad, it said, so glad you can talk with me again.

And Harry knew who it was. It was magic.

September first. Harry grinned quietly to himself as he found an empty compartment on the Hogwarts Express and stowed his trunk out of the way with a surreptitious touch of magic. Prefects Ron, Hermione, and Ginny couldn't sit with him, but he was joined by Neville and Luna. Malfoy and his bodyguards stopped by for the traditional verbal duel, and though Harry was smirking inwardly at the idiocy of the insults, he pretended to be offended.

No one would know of his little change of heart, or the new skills he had gained through his friendship with magic. He had created a sort of Occlumency that he called naive-Harry. Naive-Harry was the person he had been before, who didn't realise he was just a pawn, who hadn't grown up yet. It was much better than the Occlumency Snape had failed to teach him, for what use was a shield that anyone could see was there? That just put up a big sign saying "secrets hidden within". Naive-Harry had thoughts and feelings and memories, so that people would think they'd gotten into his mind. Naive-Harry would make people - make Him - think that they knew everything about Harry.

As he chatted with Neville about what the other boy had done over the holidays and listened to the magic's comments in his mind, Harry smiled inwardly. He was going to enjoy this year.

After the Feast, Harry made his way to Dumbledore's office as McGonagall had told him to. Though she'd told him the password he didn't get a chance to use it, for the moment he reached the gargoyle guarding the entrance it sprang aside. The magic chuckled knowingly.

He went up the stairs and knocked on the door, a shy, timid knock. His face was a careful mask of nervousness, but inside his grin was getting bigger. He was going to enjoy messing with Dumbledore's head this year.

Entering the door, he shuffled over to Dumbledore's desk. "You wanted to see me, sir?"

"Ah, Harry, welcome back. Please, take a seat. Sherbert Lemon?"

Harry shook his head and sat, looking up at the Headmaster with feigned apprehension. Had he really been such a drip? Dumbledore smiled at him with a faint touch of uncertainty that Harry would never have detected last year, and he belatedly remembered the last time he'd been in this office. "I'm sorry, sir," he said quietly, hanging his head.

"For what, Harry?" He'd give the man this, he was very good at the concerned grandfather approach.

"For so getting angry." He looked up, and felt the man pushing into his head with Legilimency.

Dumbledore's smile held no uncertainty this time, only pleasure. Naive-Harry interpreted the pleasure as pride in him. Harry knew better; it was pleasure that he had his precious little pawn exactly where he wanted him. They talked briefly, inane little pleasantries that Harry took no pleasure in. But back in Gryffindor tower, in his bed in the silent dark, Harry laughed. Dumbledore believed him.

He fell asleep still chuckling.

And was woken what seemed like moments later at five in the morning by the magic, coy and excited. He laughed at its enthusiasm, but willingly got up and dressed silently, following it downstairs and into the still, empty common room. The fire had long gone out, but he summoned it back with a thought; it was easy to do magic now, with the magic clustering around him eagerly and the block gone from his core.

He sat, the fire the only light in the room, and waited for the magic to tell him what had it so excited that it couldn't wait until a more reasonable hour. To his surprise, it was a new voice that spoke.

Harry was enjoying himself immensely this year. He was in charge of his own future for the first time, and he had two new friends. First the magic, and now Hogwarts, the very castle itself, sentient after a thousand years of magic. Its first words to him had been "You've finally learned to speak!" and now it was a constant companion. Nowhere in the castle was closed to him, and if he asked it would tell him what was occurring anywhere within its walls.

He slowly distanced himself from his human friends, but couldn't be lonely, not with the magic and the castle around. He stayed friends with his old friends, of course, just pulled away so that he was less of a presence in their lives. They were too young, too fragile, and didn't need to be a part of his war. They were precious to him in their innocence, and he didn't want to taint them with what he was becoming. He had never really had a chance to be a child, but he would give them the chance for as long as he was able.

They didn't notice him pulling away. Hermione and Ron had gotten together over the summer, something about a fight that ended with an unexpected kiss, and they were still in the rosy blushes of young love and not observant to notice anything subtle. The only possible threat to his withdrawal was Ginny, who had proven her perceptiveness last year, but he wasn't naive-Harry now, he was quite capable of such deviousness that even she wouldn't notice. It wasn't as if he was cutting himself off from them, he was just spending less time with them, keeping his thoughts more to himself. In fact, he was speaking to Neville more now, having realised that the boy had no close friends and so was often excluded. (There was so much he had never realised. He must have been blind.) They thought he was still grieving over Sirius, subdued, but basically okay. They tended to avoid mentioning his godfather, watching him with worried eyes when someone (usually Ron) slipped up.

It was so easy to understand them now, though. So easy to paint things in a light they appreciated and make them think everything was normal. No wonder Dumbledore managed to appear so omniscient; there was no need for any kind of magic, just sharp observation and a memory for details. Who needed Legilimency when people gave themselves up so easily?He just needed to look for the little things that most people missed.

He still talked Quidditch with Ron, tactics and teams and players, but only to keep up appearances (and so that Ron didn't bore Hermione silly). Quidditch, the sport, didn't matter anymore. Who cared which team managed to win a match when Voldemort was out there killing people? It just wasn't important. Quidditch was still one of the best things in his life, though, not for the game, but for the excuse to fly. He had always loved to fly, but now, with the block gone from his magic, it was even more vital. In some ways, flying was everything.

When he wasn't flying and had escaped from his friends, he spent a lot of time in the library, thumbing through the books and searching for some clue as to how he could defeat Voldemort. Every day that he failed was another day Voldemort was free to wreak havoc on a world that didn't deserve it.

Today the library was almost empty; it was a Hogsmeade weekend, and he had claimed an overdue essay as an excuse to stay behind. That the essay had been completed a week ago didn't bother him as he nosed through an ancient tome he was pretty sure hadn't been touched in five hundred years; the layers of dust on it would probably be of interest to a geologist. As he squinted at the tiny print, he wondered idly when the Restricted Section had been put in, because if he showed this book to a teacher it would go there before he had time to protest. He put it to one side under an invisibility charm, and fetched some more books to look at.

Knowledge, he had found, could be addictive under the right circumstances. And knowing that an evil wizard was out for your blood, with your only possibilities to kill or be killed, certainly counted as the right circumstances. So did having a desire to slip out of His meddlesome fingers and live his own life.

Eventually he left the library, only checking out one book, one which he could use for his DADA assignment. He didn't want anyone to have any record of exactly what he was reading. Flashing an open, guileless smile at Madam Pince (who me? the smile said innocently; when people saw openness they assumed you had nothing to hide), he stepped outside. Alone in the corridor, he shoved his wand up his sleeve and held out his hands. The books he wanted to look at appeared in his hands. Since he was alone, he indulged in a quiet, dangerous smile that would surprise anyone who thought they knew him.

Even if Pince discovered the books were missing, who would suspect him? He was just an average student (or at least maintaining the illusion of such). How could he possibly break the anti-theft spells that surrounded every book in the library in a musty haze of protective magics? An innocent smile curling his lips, he sauntered towards Gryffindor Tower, imagining the consternation. Of course, Snape would blame him on principle, but that would give him even more cover, as McGonagall and Dumbledore hastened to defend their poor little prodigy from the big bad Slytherin. Snickering at the thought, he absent-mindedly changed the covers of his purloined books to Quidditch books.

Getting people to underestimate him was a surprising amount of fun, now that he wasn't bothered about silly things like pride. He probably studied harder than Hermione now, making sure he knew enough to keep his scores perfectly average and didn't slip up. And he'd never thought he'd have reason to thank the Dursleys, but because of their less-than-stellar care not even Hogwarts food could make him anything but short and skinny. Once this had been a constant annoyance, but now he realised it had distinct advantages: it made him look young, even fragile. If a Death Eater was confronted with him and Ron, he'd automatically assume that Ron was the tougher candidate. He'd be completely wrong, but that was just fine with Harry.

He sat in the Common Room, waiting for his friends to return, and glanced through a book currently labelled A Seeker's Guide to Quidditch. Its contents didn't match the title: woodcuts of people part-way through animagi transformations couldn't conceivably be related to Quidditch.

Harry's favourite room in the castle was one that even Dumbledore didn't know about, one the castle had shown to him; it was a part of the original building, wood and plaster instead of stone, with walls and ceilings that met at unusual angles, warped and twisted with age. The Founders had walked in this room once, and though he knew that they were just ordinary people (after all, he himself was famous, he knew that famous people were no different to any others) it was still a thrill to think that those four had once been in this same room where he now stood. The room itself was fairly simple, and he liked that; this wasn't like Aunt Petunia's magazine-perfect house nor was it the ornate elaborate decoration that the public areas of Hogwarts tended towards. He was becoming quite fond of simplicity. Fudge liked elaborate, and so did He. Harry wanted to be as little like them as possible.

The room was his hideaway, his place to learn and practice and play, far from prying eyes and questioning mouths and curiosity seekers. Dumbledore never suspected that Harry roamed the corridors at night, because the castle never told him. The man never dreamed that the castle might choose to lie to him. The all-seeing Headmaster had no idea how little he really saw, and sometimes Harry just had to laugh at it.

His room was fairly large, though the ceiling was lower than the average room in the castle, with room to run about and shelves for his books and tables to work at. It was here he learnt about pain, bouncing pain-causing spells off a tall mirror he had transfigured from one of the chairs, because he would not be vulnerable to pain again, would never again be stopped by mere pain. He even cast the Cruciatus on himself, but only much later. He hadn't expected to be able to cast it, having failed on Lestrange, but she'd been wrong when she said it required the caster enjoy causing pain. Sometimes it just required need. To his surprise, some of the other spells caused more pain than Crucio, and he thought it wasn't so much the pain level that caused it to be an Unforgivable, like everyone said, but the fact that it was unblockable and the way it seared nerves and tore at a person's magic.

Harry learnt more in that room than he ever had in his classes, with the magic and the castle looking over his shoulders, and even set up a miniature potions lab in one corner. And when he was alone, or at night when he couldn't sleep (and that happened often, because there were so many things for him to have nightmares about, both old and recent), he came to his room and he learnt.

He learnt how to become an animagus. It wasn't hard, and he didn't know why people talked about how difficult it was or why it required so much careful training. It was easy, with the magic pushing him on, eager for him to succeed, and the castle, who had seen so many animagi in the past thousand years, keeping him on the safe path. It was late one night when he made the first transformation, and he stared at himself in the mirror while the magic and the castle spoke over each other in jubilation.

He was a great snake, slender and wiry, head held up like a cobra so that he was as tall as when human, with large feathered wings. He was black, all over black with no markings at all. Even his scar was gone, and he was delighted by that little side effect. He flexed his wings, watching their easy movement in the mirror, and suddenly he laughed. No wonder he was so taken by flying!

He changed back into human and summoned his invisibility cloak to his hand, hurrying out the door. He ran through the sleeping castle, seeing no one, and hastened to the top of the Astronomy Tower. Stuffing his cloak in his pocket, he stood on the edge and glanced down at the ground far, far below without fear. He could feel the magic grinning at him, felt the excitement building up inside him. He jumped.

He fell, human, as though diving into a pool, and then he changed, with no doubt that his wings, never before used, would hold him. With a peal of snake laughter he spread his wings, felt them catch the air, and soared up into the sky. He played among the stars, cavorting blissfully in the air, able to forget just for this one moment all his duties and responsibilities and the pressures of his life. For a brief, carefree instant there was no Voldemort, no Death Eaters, no prophecy - and he was completely unaware of the professors far below him, searching frantically for the student who had jumped from the Astronomy Tower but disappeared before the safety spells could catch them. The air was his domain now, he was free.

Broomsticks would never be exhilarating again.