Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter

Chapter 20: Reawakening

It's nice to get positive attention for once, Harry thought as he walked down the Third Floor Corridor.

Of course, not everyone had figured out that the magical disturbance that had awakened a number of students emanated from Harry, but enough did, and word was spreading. People were looking at him wherever he went, but for the first time it was in awe and admiration, not fear or revulsion. Well, there was some trepidation, but not much.

Daphne had long since returned to Dressler Manor, but not before she, Dumbledore and Harry attempted to unravel the mystery of what had happened that night. Harry felt no ill effects from the burst of magic he had released, outside of the temporary magical exhaustion that he'd recovered from remarkably quickly. He'd performed several simple spells as a test, and found while they were a bit more powerful than usual, it was nothing alarming. Harry had noticed that his power had slowly been increasing as the year had worn on, which seemed to indicate that his body was naturally adjusting. He knew that he and Daphne would have a lot of work over the summer trying to complete the transition.

But outside of that, there was also the issue of how nearly half of the Dementors assigned to guard Hogwarts had simply vanished. The remainder seemed almost frightened of approaching the castle. For the short term, it wasn't an issue, as a detachment of Aurors (including the recently confirmed Tonks) had come to take the remainder back to Azkaban. Dumbledore had assured the Ministry that while still at large, Sirius Black would be unable to enter the wards. To many, it might have seemed strange that no one had ever thought of that, but to Harry, it reinforced the fact that there were still many things about the magic that flowed through Hogwarts that the venerable old Headmaster simply didn't know about.

His friends, however, had been another story altogether.

Hermione's reaction to her experience in the Forest had been difficult to judge, as she'd been immediately consumed by anxiety about their upcoming final exams. Harry understood that she'd broken her ankle in the process of fleeing through the Forest, and that none other than Blaise Zabini had come to her rescue; the Slytherin boy himself outside because of a stupid dare by Theodore Nott. Harry might have found the episode humorous if not for the dire circumstances it averted. Still, it served as a reminder that even Blaise still did idiotic, juvenile things. Harry had thanked his new friend, and Blaise had been somewhat awkward during that conversation. It obviously wasn't something he had envisioned being praised for in the past.

Then there had been Ginny, and her aloofness was what was troubling Harry at the moment. Something had happened deep inside the Forbidden Forest, something somehow worse than being tortured with the Cruciatus Curse by an ex-Death Eater. Ginny seemed to be having trouble sleeping, evidenced by the dark circles under her eyes and her snappish nature of late. She was very irritable, and asking her if she wanted to talk about it had resulted in the redhead growling and running for the safety of her dormitory. Hermione hadn't known what to make of it, though she'd promised to talk to Ginny at some point.

Harry had considered asking Daphne, but thought better of it. He wasn't sure what she had done to the Death Eaters she encountered, but he somehow knew one of them hadn't escaped to slink back to their hideout. He did have the full story of what had happened to Sirius, and now knew that not only was his Godfather innocent, but that Peter Pettigrew was alive. He had lead the other two Death Eaters and Greyback onto the Grounds, and had been seen by Daphne during the struggle.

Sirius Black's whereabouts were unknown, though Dumbledore and Daphne seemed unconcerned by this, indicating to Harry that they had a pretty good idea of where he was. Harry also noted that his Firebolt was missing, and Daphne told him that she'd given it to Sirius so that he could make his escape. She refused to say more about the subject, and Harry would bet a thousand Galleons that there had been much more than that. To Daphne, the fact that Sirius was innocent of betraying Harry's parents and the Order, and betraying Peter Pettigrew, was irrelevant. What was undisputed was that Sirius was guilty of trying to kidnap Harry, and whatever his reasons, that was, in Daphne's mind, an even greater crime.

Harry wasn't sure what to think of his Godfather. Really, he knew nothing about him except a few details about his background and some slips Remus had made while they were discussing Harry's parents. Black was obviously somewhat unbalanced from his stay in Azkaban. Harry had told Black that he was talking to himself in part to annoy him and throw him off balance, but also because it was very significant. Black obviously seemed horrified that his best friend's son had been sorted into the House of Serpents, and seemed to possess an irrational hatred of Slytherins, mostly because of Snape, for whom he held an entirely different type of loathing. Harry also suspected that his brother was a Slytherin, though he didn't know that for sure.

Occlumency lessons with the aforementioned Potions Master had taught him enough to keep his nightmares at bay, and he was making enough progress to make mastering it the next year a reasonable goal. Harry was grateful, both for the fact that he wouldn't have to let Snape grope around in his mind for painful memories, and that he didn't have to re-experience his near-death or Turning experience at the claws and teeth of Fenrir Greyback. For some reason, despite the fact that he'd emerged from the Forest relatively unscathed, it was the realization of how close he'd once again come to death that continued to haunt him.

He stopped in front of the door leading to Professor Lupin's office. He hadn't thanked Remus yet, really. And he hadn't managed to muster the composure and words needed. The thought that he should express his gratitude had been with him from the beginning, but things were, of course, easier said than done.

He knocked twice, and heard a muffled voice call for him to enter. He slowly pushed the door open, his eyes taking in the scene before him. Remus was seated at his desk, several essays lying in front of him, a larger pile of graded essays marked with red ink. The werewolf, looking paler and more fragile than Harry remembered, smiled warmly as he saw his student come in. "Hello Harry," he said in greeting. "What do you need?"

Harry stepped farther into the office and closed the door softly behind him. "I want to thank you," he began, running through the words in his head. "He also had me." There was no need to specify who 'he' was. Remus nodded gravely, clearing his throat.

"To be perfectly honest with you, Harry," he said in a soft voice, "it was the first time I've ever been grateful that I was a werewolf. I couldn't bare to see you suffer as I do. No one deserves that, especially not one who has experienced as much as you have."

Harry wasn't sure how to respond, but suddenly felt very awkward standing there. Remus drew his wand and Summoned a chair that had been pushed against the wall. "Please, take a seat." He paused, almost as if he was preparing a speech. "Harry, I'm sure what happened to you was frightening, not so much because of the physical threat to your life, but because of what you could have become as a result. Please, understand that I am not offended by this. Like it or not, werewolves are among the foulest Dark creatures on this earth. That we can exist as normal wizards for most of the month doesn't change this, nor does the fact that with the help of the Wolfsbane Potion, I can control my wolf. It does not change the fact that with one Bite, I can ruin a life."

Harry sank hard into his chair. Remus was being more open and candid about his condition than Harry had every heard him. He'd obvious tried to plan out what he was going to say in advance. He opened his mouth to respond, but couldn't find the words. Instead, he blurted, "What happened to Greyback?"

Remus shrugged. "I don't remember much – even with Wolfsbane, my memories of the event are fuzzy at best. Despite the fact that he was larger than me, I am more agile." He shrugged again. "I don't know how he manages to retain his mass despite the transformations. Perhaps he has so embraced his wolf that he no longer becomes ill by the prospect of the Transformation." He looked Harry in the eye. "The fact that I don't understand how he does it is the reason that I am not like him. Regardless, we likely fought to a standstill. I was in quite a bad way when I stumbled into the Hospital Wing that morning. Madam Pomfrey fixed me up, though."

Harry nodded in understanding. He frowned as something occurred to him. "How did you know where to find me? How did you know that I was in danger?"

Remus smiled bitterly. "Sirius has always been a bit clumsy with his things. Leaving the Marauder's Map open on the floor is somewhat typical of him. I was able to find out what happened, but I wouldn't have gone anywhere except for the fact that I saw Greyback trailing you. I had to act!" he said, with more emotion than he probably meant to.

"I'm glad you did," Harry said softly.

Remus looked at him. "You don't need to thank me, Harry. I did what I did because I had no choice. I didn't go after him because it was you…" At Harry's look of confusion, he clarified, "What I meant to say is that it didn't matter who it was; I wasn't going to allow Fenrir to ruin another life the same way he ruined mine. I was lucky, Harry, because I found several close friends…and I'll even include Wormtail in that, because whatever caused him to turn against us, his friendship before that was genuine. Most of my kind live alone, abandoned by society and some even by their loved ones." He paused. "That's the most nefarious thing about my kind, Harry. We can create a difference that overcomes reason and family bonds. That's why I hate Fenrir Greyback."

Harry nodded, impressed. Remus was a shining example of the Gryffindor House. He was a man that, no matter what the odds, would stand up for what he believed in and put himself at risk to save and protect others, whether they were close to him or not. Harry wasn't sure if he could say the same about himself. Would he be willing to risk his life for Ron Weasley or Draco Malfoy? Probably not.

"I understand, to an extent, why Daphne sent Sirius away the way she did. Though I doubt she had his well-being in mind, she wanted him away from you, and the fact that it was the much safer path for him, however coincidental it was, makes it the right choice." He sighed. "I just wished I would have had a chance to talk to him. To apologize for giving up on him."

"I think he'll forgive you," Harry told him. "He's probably desperate for your friendship right now."

"What about you?" Remus asked.

Harry blinked, surprised. "Sorry?"

"What about you?" Remus repeated. "Will you be able to forgive him? He deserves a second chance, Harry. His first one wasn't exactly under ideal circumstances."

Memories rushed back to Harry, especially those involving the fear and despair he'd felt while he was under Sirius's Imperius Curse. He'd vowed that he'd never be controlled again, and devoid of his magic, there was no way for him to break free. "He did something he shouldn't have," Harry said carefully. Then, throwing caution to the wind, he blurted. "He used the Imperius Curse on me."

Remus's eyes widened a bit, and he closed his eyes. "I don't mean to play down the effects that had on you, but I can assure you that that must have killed him. He's probably still beating himself up about it."

"He was in desperate circumstances," Harry reasoned. He shook his head. "After last year, I don't…I don't know if I can forget that."

Remus looked at him for a long moment, measuring his emotions. "I'd like to ask you to try, Harry. He deserves to get to know you. He's as loyal to you, in his own way, as Daphne is. He'd die for you, Harry, and because of that, you should give him a chance."

"I'll…I'll try," Harry agreed. Remus nodded, content.

"Rest assured, he'll smother you with apologies the next time you meet. He detests Dark Magic in every form." He might not ever forgive himself."

Harry was silent for a while, and Remus took that as a sign to continue. "I suppose I'll be seeing a lot of him this summer…and probably for some time after that…"

Harry frowned as he processed the implications. "You aren't coming back next year?" he asked, surprised. "You've been an excellent teacher, putting aside the quality of our previous instructors."

"Thank you for that, Harry, but really, my choice has nothing to do with how good a teacher I've been or haven't been. It'd been very stressful trying to keep my secret, and I get the idea that Snape will let it slip at first opportunity. If that happened, parents would complain to the Ministry, and not only would they order Dumbledore to sack me, but they'll also question his decision to hire me in the first place. They might also pass a law that prohibits the arrangement I've had with him in order to live and work here," Remus explained. "I want to go out on my own terms."

"Where will you go?" Harry asked him.

Remus shrugged. "I don't know. But Dumbledore has bent the laws a bit, and I'll have enough financial resources to live in relative comfort. And I'm sure Sirius wouldn't mind giving me some of his family fortune." He smiled, "I don't like accepting handouts, but it will be the rough equivalent of dancing on his parent's graves. Imagine their faces if they knew that some of the Black Family fortune was being given to a werewolf."

Harry smiled, appreciating the irony. "You'll be here for the rest of term, I'm sure."

Remus nodded. "Yes. I don't plan to say anything to the students, though you may of course tell Ginny and Hermione. I feel somewhat guilty about leaving like that, but it would bring up a number of questions that I don't want to answer."

Harry decided not to argue with Remus, as it was clear that his mind was made up. He smirked inwardly. One way or another, the Curse of the DADA Professor lives.

"There is one more thing," Remus said. He produced the folded parchment that he'd previously referred to. "I believe you should have this. James, Sirius...Wormtail, and I created it during our time at Hogwarts. Lily even made some improvements to it. Regardless of what you think of your father, I think it's only right that this particular heirloom is passed on."

"So it's a kind of magical map?" Harry asked.

"It's a little more than that," Remus said with a smile. He lay the parchment flat on his desk, tapped it with his wand, and said, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

Harry snorted. But his amusement was short-lived. As soon as Remus spoke, ink lines began appearing on the previously blank parchment. When they finished appearing, Harry was staring at a map displaying not only every floor of the castle, properly labeled, but also every person in the castle. Including him and Remus. "Merlin, that's amazing," Harry breathed.

Remus smiled proudly. "I daresay James spent more time creating this than he ever did on his homework. Sirius too. It's yours, Harry. Do with it what you wish. Since I am no longer your teacher, I don't feel guilty about it. I'm sure you'll find use for it, even if you don't follow in James' footsteps."

"I'm sure you're right," Harry said. "Thank you."

"Ah, just one more thing. To clear the map, simply tap your wand and say "Mischief Managed." Remus did, and the parchment was soon blank. Harry took it from him and stuffed in the pocket of his robes. He decided he would tell his friends about it, but few others.

They spent another hour discussing lighter topics, including the remaining material they had to learn before their exams. Harry was very pleased by how well he and Remus were getting along. He admired the man in many ways.

Ginny Weasley sat on the edge of one of the couches in the Slytherin Common Room, absently swinging her left leg around and staring directly into the roaring fire. Inside the redhead's mind, her thoughts swirled around in a confused mess. She'd been there for at least an hour, probably more, and it was well past curfew. Anne had finally given up on trying to get her to come upstairs, and just left her alone with her thoughts.

Truth be told, Ginny didn't want to go to sleep. The nightmares were simply too much. And the worst part is that I can't tell Harry, she thought glumly. I can't destroy his relationship with the only mother he's ever known. What kind of friend would I be if I did that?

Harry's relationship with Daphne was one that Ginny couldn't understand at times. She wasn't sure if she'd still love her own mother if Molly Weasley had done half the things that Daphne Artemis Dressler had done to Harry. Let alone what she'd done to other. Daphne was sick, that was very clear. She should have a private ward at St. Mungo's, not legal guardianship of the Boy-Who-Lived. And yet at times Harry wouldn't hear a word against her. His doubts about her competency that he'd expressed to her seemed to have evaporated overnight.

What Ginny had seen in the Forest told her that Harry had been right to worry about his guardian…and that it was even worse than both of them had guessed.

And Ginny had absolutely no idea what to do about it. All she knew was that every night, when she lay her head down and closed her eyes, vivid nightmares of what Daphne had done to the Death Eater cycled through her mind. She knew she actually hadn't seen a large amount of what had happened, but her mind was more than capable of making up the difference. Sleep came in brief, interrupted spurts, and she often spent hours tossing and turning, unable to drift off peacefully. She could only hope that it would get better when she returned to her mother and to the Burrow, where she felt at home. It wasn't as though Hogwarts was foreign to her, but the dungeons simply didn't possess the warm, welcoming feeling that her childhood home had.

She sighed tiredly, glancing down at her twirling leg. She reached into her robes for her wand cast the Time Spell. It was about twenty minutes to midnight. She smiled, imagining that Hermione was probably still buried under a couple of metric tons of textbooks, holed up in a corner of the Gryffindor Common Room. It still amazed Ginny that despite the fact that Hermione was the best student in their class, she still feared academic failure constantly. Perhaps that motivation was what kept the quality of her work up? Ginny didn't know, and wasn't entirely certain she wanted to find out. She liked Hermione, but that didn't mean she wanted to obsess about classes and marks as much as she did. Ginny was a fine student, she worked hard when she had to, and she was attentive and energetic in class (with the exception of History of Magic, which only Harry and Hermione could find enjoyable.) She was sure her mother would be pleased with her performance, even if she didn't match the near-perfection of Percy, and too a lesser extent, Bill. She smiled at the thought of her walking around in perfectly clean robes completely devoid of wrinkles, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and wearing her hair in a tight bun. No, that was not her.

Of course, returning to the Burrow would mean yet another summer of Ron's brainless and ignorant declarations about the evils of Slytherins, Harry in particular. The two hadn't clashed directly yet this year, but it was clear that neither one would be offering his hand in friendship any time soon. Percy still had some reservations, but everyone else seemed to have gotten used to the reality of having a Slytherin in the family. It was still somewhat odd to see her green-trimmed robes in a pile of red-trimmed ones, awaiting Molly Weasley's Cleaning Spells. But what Harry had told her about Slytherin House had done a great deal to erase her doubts. She was proud to have been Sorted into the house of the sharp-minded and cunning, and could see those traits in a positive light.

Harry was as important a role-model as he was a friend to Ginny. He obviously cared about her, though she wasn't as certain that he felt something deeper for her as she had been before. She was hoping that she hadn't just imagined it, that it was some vestige of her childhood crush. She had enough to deal with without bringing that back into the picture. Regardless of that relic of her childhood, the reasons she liked Harry were very evident to her. He was intelligent and thoughtful, and showed, despite his stubbornness and occasional delusions of grandeur, a willingness to listen to both her and Hermione. Hermione's influence over him could be easily explained. It was the fact that he treated her the way he did, despite the fact that she was a year younger than him, that made him special. He didn't ask much of Hermione or Ginny, and he was always willing to help either one of them, (though Ginny needed his help and advice far more often than Hermione did.) It wasn't fair to say that she wouldn't have done as well in her classes if not for their help, but they certainly didn't hurt. And some of the Quidditch advice that Harry had given her had been invaluable. She'd suffered a big loss of confidence after her lack-luster debut, and he'd helped her through that.

She didn't hear him silently creep down the stairs, but she felt a presence behind her, and spun around in surprise. Harry stood there, wearing his pajamas underneath a green robe. His hair was tousled and untidy, something that Ginny found absolutely adorable. The expression in his remarkably alert emerald eyes was both curious and puzzled at the same time. "What are you doing down here this late?" he asked.

Ginny tried to organize her thoughts. "Just…thinking," she admitted truthfully. Inside, she was trying not to panic. Harry had a way of making her want to blurt out exactly what was troubling her. His presence, at least when he wasn't worked up about something, was soothing and comforting. He really was, despite his shortcomings, an amazing friend.

"About what?" he asked, moving around the couch and plopping down beside her. She immediately felt even more uncomfortable. Harry was blissfully unaware of that fact that she possessed knowledge that would, at the very least, provoke a strong and emotional reaction from him. He'd been doing so well since the Forest, and she didn't want to upset him. That wasn't fair.

Nothing. Please go away! "I've been having nightmares," she admitted. No! Bloody hell, why did I tell him that!

Harry frowned. "About the Forest?" he asked, venturing a likely guess.

She nodded, cursing herself again. She felt pathetic. She couldn't keep a secret from Harry, not if he asked her about it directly. It was the exact same with Harry, except that it was Hermione who could force about anything out of him. She didn't always need to deny him her companionship; her voice and insistence were enough. What are you, some immature little schoolgirl?

She tried to reel in her self-deprecation. Harry was just trying to be helpful. Hermione had told her that Harry had been haunted by many nightmares during his first year, nightmares he'd dealt with in the past, but ones that seemed to be exacerbated by the absence of Daphne and the stress he had been under. He hadn't had anyone to turn to, and Hermione thought he'd done something in response that embarrassed him to the point where he refused to speak about it. Ginny wasn't sure that really made sense. Harry might have done something stupid, but breaking a rule wasn't a good enough reason to keep it from his best friends. Harry was too open for that; no, Ginny suspected he'd found out about something else, something that was too personal to share. She didn't have any idea what it was, however.

Harry was staring at her now, concern in his eyes. "Are you sure you're alright?" he asked again.

"Yes, I'm sure," she snapped at him, throwing him a withering glare. He flinched but held his ground. Ginny felt her anger evaporate and be replaced by shame. What is wrong with me? she asked herself.

Harry looked torn between telling her that he didn't believe her and just letting the matter go for now. "You shouldn't be down here," he said finally. "You…well, you look awful, Ginny. You definitely need to get more sleep."

"Thanks Harry, I hadn't noticed," she replied sarcastically. Inside, she was screaming for him to go away, to leave her alone. But Harry had gone through this before, and Ginny knew that he wouldn't let her suffer through it alone. And as much as she hated him for that, she also loved it. His persistence and unwillingness to surrender or give up was one of the things that made him so special…and so infuriating.

Harry looked taken aback. "Sorry," he blurted, "I didn't mean...well…I didn't mean to upset you. I was just trying to point out the truth." He shifted closer to her and tentatively put his arm around her shoulders, obviously trying to comfort her as best he could. She stiffened at his touch, and her internal screams for him to leave her in peace got even louder.

He pulled his arm back, surprised. "Did I…did I do something?" he asked, sounding stunned. "You're angry at me," he said, a bit uncertain.

Ginny frowned. "How do you know that?" she asked, somewhat indignantly.

Harry shrugged, looking into the fire. "I'm not sure. I just…know," he told her.

"Well don't do it again," Ginny told him, shifting towards the other end of the couch. Can't he just take a hint and leave?

"Why?" Harry asked, yawning.

Ginny glared at him. "Because I like having privacy? Has it occurred to you that I don't like having people, even my friends, rummaging around in my head?"

Harry looked decidedly uncomfortable now. "I wasn't rummaging," he got out. "I just felt, well…these strong feelings of animosity. I've done some reading on the abilities of really powerful wizards, and the ability to sense feelings…not quite to the extent that a person with Empathy can, mind you, but…" he shrugged again. "Well, I can sense them."

Ginny nodded, trying to stay composed. She was failing rapidly. Without warning, she flung herself at him, latching onto him tightly and burying her face in his shoulder. Harry slowly, awkwardly wrapped his arms around her, one of them gently patting her back. She shuddered, waiting for the tears to come. They did. Harry sat there, unmoving, rocking her in his arms, trying to do his best to comfort her even though he didn't actually understand what was wrong.

Finally, exhausted and feeling the effects of fatigue beginning to catch up to her, she broke away, sitting down on the couch next to him. She deliberately avoided looking at him, embarrassed by her emotional display. The incident was bringing back memories of her first, miserable night at Hogwarts.

Harry reached out and gently pulled her chin so that she was facing him. Concerned eyes looked over her. "Are you sure you don't want to talk about it?" he asked again.

She turned her head away and he let go. She shook her head. "No. I'm sorry, Harry, but you can't help me with this."

"Can you at least talk to Hermione?" he suggested. He paused, and then said, "I don't like seeing you this upset. And you won't tell me what's bothering you…"

Ginny closed her eyes. "Harry, please go. I'll go to bed, but you need to leave." She opened her eyes to see his response.

Harry nodded and got up. "Alright," he said slowly. He began to head for the stairs down to his dormitory. He stopped, turning around slowly. "Ginny?"

She turned. "Yes?"

He sighed, obviously trying to find words. "Don't…don't hold it inside. Trust me, it isn't good for you. All it causes is pain." With that, he turned and walked down the stairs without looking back. After staring into the fire for another minute, Ginny got up, straightened her robes, and headed for the other side of the room to do the same thing.

Harry's eyes hardened as they stared into the blank blue eyes of Daphne Greengrass. The girl returned his gaze without blinking. Her emotional control was remarkable for a girl of her age. She radiated calm and serenity, with a slight bit of curiosity. Her almost flawless visage betrayed no emotion; no trepidation, no anger, no frustration with Harry's lack of response, not even the pride or arrogance that so characterized Pureblood Heirs such as herself. It was easy to see now why she was so easily lost in a crowd; her blank, disinterested expression simply didn't catch one's eye. Her blond hair, probably quite stunning if it were properly arranged, was tied in a simple ponytail that fell to the middle of her back. It was almost hard to believe that she was human.

Her voice was the same way. Flat, devoid of emotion or indications that she cared about what she was doing. "You have nothing to say?" she asked, slipping in a bit a disapproval. Of course, it was impossible to know if she disapproved or not; she was just as good at manufacturing emotions as she was at hiding them. Harry supposed that she probably wasn't very good at displaying strong false emotions, but it didn't really matter because it would be so out of character that no one would believe it. Daphne Greengrass and Daphne Dressler shared nothing but a first name; their personalities were almost the antithesis of one another.

"I must admit I'm a bit surprised by this news," Harry told her. "I hadn't expected that…that my actions would have such far reaching consequences."

Daphne considered that. "You probably aren't as familiar with the histories of powerful wizards as you should be. Otherwise you wouldn't be as surprised." Again, there was a slight hint of disapproval, but real or fake? Harry couldn't tell.

"I will seek to change that," Harry said after a brief pause. There was no denying it; Daphne Greengrass had embarrassed him during their last meeting. She was an expert at this; he was merely a novice. And while not all purebloods were like Greengrass, enough of them were that he needed to learn to pick up subtle hints and not fall into verbal traps laid for him. He needed to control his impulsivity and think out his responses. Eventually, he believed, this would come naturally to him, and he wouldn't have to spend as much time thinking about what he was going to say.

"Good," the Heiress replied simply. "You should expect a letter from my father sometime this year. I do not know when, nor would I tell you even if I did. My father would be taking a great risk throwing in his lot with the Light. But not choosing a side last time cost him dearly."

It still astounded Harry how Daphne could speak about the death of her mother and older sister in such neutral tones. Harry himself had trouble keeping the pain and anger out of his voice when he discussed the murder of his own parents. He was getting better at it, though.

"I look forward to it," Harry said, trying to keep the enthusiasm he felt out of his voice. It wouldn't do well to appear like a child bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet waiting for a birthday present. Then, something Daphne had said caught his attention. "If I may ask, why do you feel that allying with me is the same as pledging your loyalty to the Light?"

For the first time, Daphne seemed somewhat taken aback. She blinked in surprise, obvious caught off guard. She recovered her composure as quickly as she had lost it. "Are you not loyal to Dumbledore?" she asked, genuine interest showing through her cold exterior.

Harry shrugged. "I respect the man, but I do not see him as a mentor."

"Interesting," Daphne said, though Harry couldn't tell if she was being sarcastic or not. She paused, then asked. "Tell me, Potter, do you ever see yourself pledging your loyalty to the Dark? Not to the Dark Lord, obviously, but declaring yourself a Dark Wizard? I daresay the uproar would be spectacular."

Harry considered that. She was right, of course. Most of the Wizarding World tended to regard Dark Wizards with suspicion at best, directly associated them with Voldemort at worst. Light and Dark pureblood families regarded each other with contempt born of centuries of political and at times military warfare. The news that Harry Potter, the heir of a predominant Light family, the boy who was credited with defeating one of the most feared wizards in history, the boy who had been raised by the Grey Maiden, one of the staunchest defenders of the Light to ever live, had chosen the Dark, would send shockwaves through the magical community. And yet Harry couldn't dismiss it out of hand. He knew better than most wizards, knew that Dark Wizards and Witches weren't evil. They practiced different rituals, believed in different philosophies and tactics. Dark Wizards allowed emotion to empower them, but only those who allowed it to rule them were at risk of becoming corrupt. Light Wizards didn't shun emotion, but felt that by using less harmful spells and fighting for what they perceived as the common good, they had the moral high ground.

"Tell," he stopped, finding his words. "Tell your father that I remain open to all forms and philosophies of magic at this point. And that I will not allow my family heritage to dictate my path. I will choose it based upon which I feel I am best suited for. I have no other choice."

Daphne studied him for a long moment, and then smiled slightly. "I am pleased to hear it, Potter. And I must admit I am impressed by the fact that you would even consider declaring for the Dark. Perhaps if you did, it might change the inaccurate perception that Dark Wizards are scum that seek chaos and destruction. It sickens me that we are perceived that way. Lost is the appreciation of the simply beauty and elegance of Dark Magic."

Harry nodded, understanding. "It would be good if I could do that. But misconceptions run deep in our society."

Daphne simply nodded. "Expect a letter from my father. It will likely be delivered by a peregrine falcon, a rare bird found in North America. It has been in my family for two generations."

"Alright," Harry replied, cautious. "I suppose that's all you wanted to tell me?"

Daphne paused. "I felt your magic that night. I was something I'd never expected out of you. I'd always believed that you were a false hero, a baby lauded for no reason by a Wizarding World desperate for a savior. I thought you would arrive here arrogant and full of self-importance. I also believed that you be exposed for what you were. My father believed I was mistaken, and told me so repeatedly. Aiden Greengrass has an appreciation for you that I simply cannot understand," she said, using her father's first name for the first time. Harry saved it to ask his guardian what it meant. When purebloods had unusual names, they normally had a secondary meaning. Aiden was not a normal name, like Daphne or Harry. Though he had to admit, Harry was more common in the Muggle world than it was among wizards. He'd never met another Harry.

"I glad too. My guardian told me the truth very early," he stopped, realizing that it was possible that Greengrass didn't know…

Daphne favored him with a sly smile. "Continue, Potter. My father has a theory of how you survived the Killing Curse twice. The first, he believes, was by your mother's protection. The second was by the Philosopher's Stone."

Harry gaped at her. "How..?"

"My father is the foremost expert of Dark Curses and their uses and drawbacks," she explained. "As he told me this year, there are only two ways to stop a Killing Curse. The first is a form of ancient emotional magic. The second is by obstructing it with a powerful magical object."

She continued. "My father says that the former is a kind of blood magic, actually evidence that Light Wizards weren't as averse to the use of blood in magical rituals as they claim to have always been. It is a charm that creates a temporary protection by draining the magic of a witch or wizard to shield a person he or she loves the most. It is a complicated charm, mastered by few. This love must be so powerful that the person casting it must be willing to surrender life and magic for the person they seek to protect. It cannot exist between husband and wife, as they are not related by blood, but it can between brother and sister, father and child, cousin and cousin, or, of course, mother and child."

Harry nodded. "Lily gave her life to save mine."

"More than that, Potter," Daphne corrected him. "She also gave her magic. She was, for all intents and purposes, a Muggle when she died. My father has always been fascinated by this phenomenon, as it contradicts the conventional wisdom that a Killing Curse cannot be blocked. It most clearly can."

"My mother's magic protected me in the Forest during my first year, too," Harry told her. "Voldemort tried to harm me, using his servant, Professor Quirrell. He was unable to approach me, but it almost killed me."

"I am not surprised," Daphne told him after a moment of thought. "Much of her magic was destroyed when it absorbed the Dark Lord's Killing Curse. What little was left stayed with you. But to fend off the Dark Lord a second time, it needed your magic as well. It was the first time that you suffered magical exhaustion, and that is always the most dangerous time as well." She paused. "You'd be amazed how often my father talks about this, Potter. It fascinates him. He is obsessed by it. And yet, strangely, he still believe in your power. He believes that you have the capacity and the destiny to kill the monster that destroyed my family." She flicked a few rebellious strands of blond hair that has escaped her pony tail back out of her eyes. "I will reserve judgment, for now."

Harry nodded. He was suddenly very much looking forward to meeting Aiden Greengrass. "The second time, as you said, was dumb luck. Voldemort's curse happened to hit the pocket where I had the Philosopher's Stone, and that saved me."

Daphne simply nodded. "This will be the last time I speak to you this year, Potter. Be watchful, Potter. The cloak of darkness will hovers over the horizon."

With that, she slipped back into the shadows of the dungeons, leaving Harry alone, his mind racing.

"Mr. Potter," the diminutive Professor Flitwick asked Harry, "would you please demonstrate a Warming Charm by casting it on me, followed by a Cooling Charm?"

Harry nodded, aimed his wand, and cast the Charm. An orange light emerged from the tip of his wand, enveloping the Charms Professor. He clapped in approval. "Excellent, Mr. Potter! I must say I'm grateful; Ms. Patil overdid it a bit, but you were just perfect."

Harry held back a smile. Padma rarely screwed up at anything, but it seemed that she hadn't been in top form today. He had no doubt that Flitwick was referring to the Ravenclaw Patil, because the Gryffindors hadn't taken their Charms Exam yet.

"Now, Mr. Potter, a Cooling Charm, please. Do hurry up; it's getting a bit toasty."

Harry performed the spell, and was satisfied by the haze of blue light that he produced. The Charms canceled each other out, and Flitwick looked pleased. Harry hadn't been particularly worried about this exam; it was his Transfiguration exam that he'd spent the most time on. Potions had been quite a challenge, as Snape had decided to create an entirely different exam for his two advanced pupils, one that tested both their knowledge of different potions and their ingredients, and also tested their precision and attention to detail, both critically important skills for successful potion brewing. At the higher levels, a slight mistake could mean the difference between a well-made potion and an explosive mess. The Head of Slytherin had also made it obvious that he wanted to continue the tutoring next year. They'd also keep working at Occlumency. Harry wasn't exactly blowing through the training, but he was making progress, albeit with a bit of regression mixed in. His dreams, at least, were peaceful. It took Snape about two minutes to completely break down his defenses.

"Very well done! Full marks!" Flitwick told him. Harry smiled. "If you would please send in Ms. Turpin?"

Harry nodded, gathered his things, slung his bag over his shoulder, and exited the classroom. Lisa stood near the door, waving her wand around in precise patterns. She glanced up at him as he approached her. To Harry's immense relief, the Muggleborn Ravenclaw didn't seem to have held what Harry had done to her under Riddle control against him. They weren't close friends, but they hadn't really been before she had been Petrified. Still, she was a nice, intelligent girl, and she'd been one of the first Ravenclaws to give him a chance. "Your turn," he told her.

"Thanks," she, grabbing her own bag. "How did it go?"

"Very well," Harry admitted. "Don't worry about it; I'm sure you'll do fine."

Lisa gave him a pleasant smile and entered Flitwick's classroom.

One more exam, Harry thought. Just the Defense exam this afternoon and I'm finally finished. And then I can go home, and start training.

In addition to his Transfiguration and Potions exams, Harry had already taken his Care of Magical Creatures, Ancient Runes, Astronomy, and Herbology. He'd passed all of them without a great deal of difficulty. Ancient Runes had involved more memorization than the others, though Harry had needed to remember a large number of plants and their properties for Herbology. Care of Magical creatures had been completely practical, without a written examination. Basically, they had been asked to identify a few different types of creatures, tell him the best way to approach a hippogriff (Hagrid hadn't actually brought one with him,) keep a Flobberworm alive and healthy for an hour, and to spot the different between a cat and a Kneazle. It hadn't been very challenging. Astronomy had involved making a basic map of the heavens and memorizing the planets and some of the moons.

Harry headed directly for the Library, where he knew Hermione would be, studying for her two remaining exams: Defense Against the Dark Arts and Potions. The latter was actually tomorrow (the schedule never called for students to take more than two exams per day) but it was the one that worried Hermione the most. Hermione had more difficulty with Potions than she would admit to, especially now that they were required to work alone. Her memory of ingredients was exceptional, but she had trouble adjusting after she made a mistake. She became flustered and panicked, and though her marks were quite good, they weren't what she wanted. Still, she didn't need to study any more than she did; her failings were never in the preparation but in the execution. As for Defense, Remus had told his class that he would be preparing an obstacle course of sorts that would test their knowledge of some of the Dark Creatures they'd learned about.

One of them would be a Boggart, and that was the reason that Harry felt somewhat guilty at the moment. He hadn't exactly asked out of that part of the examination, but he didn't exactly fight Remus on it, either. Remus might have been able to convince himself that it was the right thing to do by reasoning that Harry's worst fear wasn't exactly something that could be made humorous. Hermione had refused to be exempted, and Harry wasn't looking forward to results of her experience with the Boggart. The rest, Harry thought, wouldn't be much of a challenge. He was quite capable of dealing with Kappas, Hinkypunks, or whatever else Remus decided to throw at them.

He found Hermione where he expected to: holed up behind several stacks of books arranged on several tables and chairs. Her eyes were currently glued to what looked like their Potions text. Harry scanned the titles of the stacked books, and wasn't surprised to see that many of them seemed to cover exactly the same material as their textbooks did, albeit in greater detail. Hermione obviously didn't hear him approach, nor sit down next to her. "You know, you don't need to study advanced Potions to get an 'O' on the exam. Snape might take points off for you trying to show off."

Hermione apparently had noticed his presence, because she didn't jump in surprise. "I know that," she replied, not taking her eyes off the book. She flipped backward a few pages, evidently re-reading something she hadn't memorized word-for-word the first time around.

"Have you been here since Breakfast?" Harry asked.

She nodded, still reading. "What else did you expect me to be doing?"

Harry shrugged, and then realized she couldn't actually see the gesture. "When's the exam again?" he asked.

This time she did look at him, but only to glare at him. "It's in thirty minutes. Honestly, would you care to stop pestering me?" she asked. She returned her attention to the Potions textbook. "Potions doesn't come as naturally to everyone as it does to you."

"I realize that," Harry told her. "But don't you think you are just making yourself more anxious with all of this last-minute studying. You've been preparing for weeks!"

Hermione glared at him. "Are you trying to tell me something?" she asked impatiently.

To make his point, Harry walked over and yanked the textbook out of Hermione's hands. "Hey!" she protested.

Harry scanned the page that Hermione had been reading. It dealt with a variety of Sleeping Potions that they covered after Christmas Break. They were only supposed to be able to brew the most basic ones. For example, none of them would be mixing up the Draught of Living death, a potentially deadly sleeping potion, especially if it was improperly brewed. That particular draught wasn't one that Harry figured Hermione would have trouble remembering, seeing as it was the subject of the first question he'd ever asked Harry. Snape had also taken points randomly from Hermione for "helping" Harry.

Harry sometimes felt guilty for admiring Snape when the man had initially treated him so horribly. And if Harry had continued to remind him of James Potter, that torment probably would have continued. Snape was bitter, judgmental and certainly knew how to hold a grudge.

Hermione was now glaring at him, arms crossed over her chest in indignation. "Are you planning to actually ask me something or do you intend to just stand there?"

"Fine," Harry said. He quickly found what he was looking for, "What ingredients are used in the Dreamless Sleep Potion that are not used in a typical Sleeping Draught?"

Hermione huffed. "It's not just different ingredients…but to answer your question, extremely small amounts of wormwood, Fire Crab extract, and a substantial amount of crushed Folen leaves are the additional ingredients. But the Dreamless Sleep Potion also contains more Flobberworm Mucus," Hermione said, practically reciting the textbook entry verbatim.

Harry closed the book and tossed it back to her. "Why are you studying again? You know everything, yet you refuse to believe that possible. I can see Neville or Weasley putting in this much time; not that that idiot ever would devote any of his precious time to anything productive."

"He's quite good at Chess," Hermione pointed out, "but I suppose I see your point." She sighed, staring at her hands. "I just get anxious and feel like I'm going to forget everything."

"You know that's not true," Harry told her, sitting down in the opposite chair once again. "You're bloody brilliant, Hermione, probably one of the best Muggleborn witches that Hogwarts has ever seen…and," he added in a low whisper, "you have a power that you haven't even begun to explore yet. You're going to be something great, and you know it. But you still have doubts."

"On that note," she said, also in a whisper, "do you think I should ask Professor McGonagall about getting lessons from her? Professor Dumbledore seemed to leave the decision up to me."

Harry shrugged. "It's your choice. I'd wait another year, and just avoid using fire-related spells in the meantime. No need to burn down your house."

"You have no idea how concerned I am that I'll do exactly that," she told him. She pressed her lips together, and seemed to be anxious to ask him something. Harry stayed quiet for a while, then it dawned on him what she wanted to know.

"You want to know how I dealt with it, don't you?" he asked quietly.

Hermione nodded, biting her lower lip. "I don't understand how you dealt with that. Especially because your power is so much more erratic than mine is. I only have problems when I use certain kinds of spells; you just have too much magic at your disposal."

"That's part of it, yes," Harry admitted, "The other problem is that my magic seems to have a mind of its own. Like me, it doesn't like being confined or restrained, and it has a survival instinct. The Dementors were feeding on my magic, and that's why it lashed out. It was trying to protect itself, not necessarily me." Harry shrugged. The idea, which Daphne had introduced to him, was a disturbing possibility, but there wasn't really much he could do. So long as he had strength of will, he could harness his power and not the other way around. If not…well, it wasn't a very pleasant image. Not at all. "Just try not to think about it. You won't be doing magic over the summer anyway, not unless you've become completely incorrigible overnight." Hermione smiled at that, laughing a bit.

"I don't think you have to worry about that," she said, her spirits obviously lifted. She closed her eyes, taking a few deep breaths. "Thanks," she said finally. "I needed that."

"No problem," Harry said, grinning. "C'mon, why don't you head over the Dungeons early so that Snape doesn't take points for being 'late.' I heard that one of his younger students blew up a cauldron this morning. He's probably not in a good mood."

Hermione gathered her things, and the two of them left the Library.

Peter Pettigrew stumbled through the densely-packed trees of the Dark Forest of Albania, his wand held in front of him like a lantern, trying to peer through the darkness. He was on his own; Alecto, still mourning the death of her brother, had refused to come with him and had stayed at the inn where they had rented a room. Peter had encountered many clues that had finally led him to this location. The fact that his Dark Mark was burning more and more with each day he trekked into the Forest seemed to confirm that he was getting closer to finding his master.

It rained constantly here, or so it seemed. The ground was soaked, and his boots were coated with mud. Every so often he'd step into a particularly deep puddle of muck, and he'd get one or both boots stuck. He slept in caves, or in logs. He could at least keep himself dry, but he couldn't conjure anything – he'd always been completely useless at that, failed most of McGonagall's classes. The result was that his living was far from comfortable. But the Dark Lord would surely reward him for coming to him. Perhaps it wasn't out of blind loyalty of the sort that Bellatrix possessed, but he appreciated in his own way that Voldemort had thought of him as valuable. He wasn't searching out of fear.

He shook his head, re-casting the Impervious Water-Repelling Charm on his person and clothing. It was a somewhat strange experience to be rained on without actually feeling wet, but Peter had gotten used to it. Now if only he could do something about this darkness. There were countless tales of the fearsome creatures that inhabited the Dark Forest, from basilisks to feral werewolves, men so consumed by their curse that they lived like animals even in human form. Werewolves that made Greyback look docile. Of course, there were also tales of vampires, territorial centaurs, wild wraiths, and other Dark or dangerous creatures. Peter didn't want to run into any of them.

Suddenly, his Dark Mark flared. He yelped in pain, slapping his right hand over his left forearm. The pain faded, but he knew he was getting even closer. He pushed aside some undergrowth, disturbing some kind of small rodent, which scampered away out of sight. Peter looked around, but still saw nothing. He pulled his cloak tighter to his body; it felt like he was getting colder.

As he moved through the trees, a cave came into view in front of him. It sank into the ground, disappearing into the earth. He saw motion out of the corner of his eye, and spun to face it. A snake slithered away from him, disappearing into a crevice. Another snake slithered out of the cave, heading past Peter and into the Forest. He felt a cold, all-too-familiar presence lurking ahead of him, and his breath caught in his chest.

Using his wand to light the way, he slowly climbed down the slippery slope into the dank and dark cave. More snakes appeared along the walls, watching him. He knew now that he had found who he was looking for. He slowly advanced into a dark chamber that appeared wider than the tunnel he had just come through. "Master?" he queried, shining his light around.

A high, cold laugh answered him, seeming to come from every direction at once. He spun around repeatedly, then slipped on the slick, moss-covered rock and fell on his backside. The laughter intensified, and then a voice spoke. A voice that he had heard many times before…and still froze his blood.




Well, this story definitely ended up different than what I had expected. The characters, as they are apt to do when their personalities are developed enough, kind of took on a life of their own. I was pleased with the way my writing seemed to improve, at least in my opinion. You may feel differently, however.

Anyway, about the final chapter. Remus is fine. I never had any intention of harming him, and I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing that I had people anticipating that he and Sirius would die. It's hard to kill people like that so early in the story. It's hard to kill anyone of major importance this early in the story. Too much remains to be told at this point.

The Harry/Ginny conflict is one that will be a major theme of the next book, remaining even if and when they get together. Ginny's opinion of Daphne Dressler has been forever altered, and while Harry is able to see the glaring flaws that are in front of him, he also doesn't want to believe that his guardian is finally broken. He's appriately defensive. When a person loves another person in the way he does, they can be easily blinded. Daphne's coming apart mentally, and Harry has tried to look the other way. I hope the interaction between Harry and Ginny doesn't seem forced. I think it's gotten much better. You also see that Harry can be a bit clueless at times, just like everyone else. The Harry and Hermione bit was included for more of a look into her psyche, which was a bit overdue.

Harry told (the other) Daphne, Greengrass, about what happened on Halloween because he wants to establish a relationship with her father. Was it the smartest thing to do? Of course not. Aiden Greengrass will be formally introduced next book. I promise you this: he won't be anything like what you expect. Daphne resembles her mother, not her father.

I thought about including another scene with Luna, but decided against it. She's not done in this series, of course.

At this point, I'm keeping the Tri-wizard tournament more or less intact, but altering the events a bit. I'm not inventive enough to think up entirely different tasks. Sorry.

Peter is a bit of a pathetic character who I like for some reason. Therefore, you'll be seeing more of him. He's screwed up in his own way, yet scared to death about half the time.

Anyway, I've started the prologue for book 4. Should be out within a week.