Truth and Consequences

We last left our story when Snape confronted Harry about his leaving Grimmauld Place.

Harry felt the hand on his shoulder, the tug turning him against his will. He also felt the

anger and hate in the man's voice, the unfairness of his actions past and present, and the

injustice of his virtual imprisonment (despite a few short escapes). He felt the constant,

unending and unremitting animosity that Snape had shown since his first Potions class,

and the unfairness of Snape's treatment.

As Snape spun him around, Harry didn't fight it. Instead, he balled his hand into a fist as

he spun, and moved so that he hit the man on the jaw, as hard as he could.

A second before impact, Snape saw what was coming but had no time to react. Harry's

fist impacted, and Snape's head snapped back, his feet actually lifting from the ground,

and he fell back, striking the wall with a "thud" and rested, unconscious on the floor.

Moody didn't move. He observed the confrontation and, to his surprise, the nimbus of

light that surrounded Potter's hand as he struck down the Potions' Master. Despite

protestations of "constant vigilance," he hadn't expected this and didn't move at first. He

did not regret Snape's comeuppance, but found himself at a loss a second later when

Potter finished his turn and stood in front of him, only a few feet away, his wand raised

and pointed at his face, a strange red glow at its tip.

He was quite clearly caught flat-footed and at Harry's mercy, and he did not remember

the last time he had found himself so vulnerable.

"You want to have a go at me, too?" Harry asked.

Moody did not have to think about his answer – he had wanted to see what Snape would

do and not start a war with Harry. And given the current state of things, he was relishing

his neutrality. "No."

"What do you want?"

"Just curious."

Harry looked at him, and Moody felt some power in the eyes staring him down. He

didn't flinch. "No lecture, no threats?"

"No, Potter."

Harry looked at him for a long minute, the nodded his head. "OK, then. I'll trust you not

to attack me after I turn my back."

Something about the whole confrontation made Alastair Moody quite certain he did not

want to disappoint Harry and somehow he knew he would not betray the boy no matter

what the cause. "Never."

Harry nodded, and smiled, and an agreement, unspoken, was reached. Harry turned to

the stairs, saying, "Good night." A couple of steps up, he half turned, and, looking at the

crumpled form of Snape, asked the retired Auror, "Will you take out the trash?"

The description of the unconscious man seemed apt to Moody, and only further enhanced

his opinion of the young man. "Of course."

"Thank you," said Harry as he turned and headed up the stairs to his room.

Let the story resume

When the fire in his office flamed green, Albus Dumbledore looked up in surprise. When the unconscious form of Severus Snape tumbled, unannounced, out of the fire, to crumple on the floor, he was shocked and rose to his feet quickly.

Alistair "Mad-Eye" Moody followed Snape out of the fire, somehow maintaining his balance despite his wooden peg-leg and the sprawled potions master in front of the fire. By the time Moody had brushed a few stray drifts of soot off his cloak, Dumbledore was kneeling beside Snape, and asked, "What happened?"

Moody had never had much tolerance for the Death-Eater-turned-spy, and had lost what little he had minutes before at Grimmauld Place. "He attacked Potter. He lost."

Moody looked on as Albus moved to the fire and summoned Poppy Pompfrey to tend to the unconscious man lying on the floor. Dumbledore moved back and Poppy came through the floo, bustling over her patient. She didn't say a word to Moody, and Moody returned the favor. Instead, as she fussed and Dumbledore fretted, Moody moved to the cabinet next to Dumbledore's pensieve. Opening it, he pulled out a heavy crystal glass and a matching decanter, pouring himself a good stiff drink of Dumbledore's finest firewhiskey. He turned, decanter still in hand, raising it to Dumbledore by way of question.

The headmaster shook his head, negatively. Moody turned back, and, ignoring the rejection, poured a second glass anyway. He set the decanter down and, holding both glasses, moved to stand next to his old friend.

Dumbledore asked again, "What happened?"

Moody gave a brief overview of Snape's words and actions. When he explained that Snape had grabbed and shoved Harry, Pompfrey looked shocked and Dumbledore very sad. Poppy finished the most important parts of her healing, explaining to Dumbledore that he had a concussion and a broken jaw that she had healed. She didn't do anything to ease the pain of the spreading bruise on his jaw as she woke him.

Snape woke and immediately felt the pain of his jaw and his head. He groaned loudly and, seeing Poppy hovering above him, shook his head to clear his mind. Immediately regretting it, he groaned again.

A few moments later, he realized where he was and struggled to his feet, shooing the mediwitch's ministrations off. He glared at Moody, and turned to Dumbledore, not noticing the man's disappointed look in his daze. Instead, he did what seemed to come naturally when it came to Potter – he launched immediately into another diatribe. "He struck me! He attacked me, the arrogant bastard! I demand that you punish him, teach him a lesson, make him behave!"

Snape took a breath, but before he could continue was stopped by Albus' single-word response, not said loudly but with an underlying strength that rivaled steel: "Enough!"

After Snape stopped, and blanched at the now clearer sight of his friend and mentor in front of him, Dumbledore quietly asked, "Alistair says you attacked Harry?"

Snape blustered, "I only tried to stop him, to make him listen!"

"You grabbed him and shoved him around," Moody growled.

Snape knew this was not going the way he wanted, and had a sick feeling that Potter would get off again, but pressed on, "Only when he turned his back."

The slap that Poppy landed on his already bruised face echoed through the room. "How dare you?!" she shouted. "A student, and you attack him! How dare you?" She looked like she would explode any minute judging by the bright red color of her face.

Snape realized that this was really not good. Poppy was normally one of the calmest and most caring people he knew, and he never would have expected her to become violent. He had an inkling that he had, finally, gone too far, which she confirmed when she closed her medical kit, not offering anything for the pain he knew she knew he was in.

Poppy rose, nodded to the headmaster, and left through the doorway, her anger made obvious to all through her loud steps and the slamming of the door behind her. She had uttered not another word as she left.

Alastair held the second glass out again to Dumbledore, and he took it. He took a sip and walked around his desk, sitting tiredly behind it. Moody took one of the seats in front of the desk. Neither said a word to Snape, who stood for a moment, uncertain of what to do before he, too, claimed a seat across the desk from the Headmaster.

Snape started, on three separate occasions, to say something, going so far as to open his mouth, before he thought better of it and shut his mouth again. Moody and Dumbledore sat quietly, sipping their drinks. Snape was very much aware that neither offered him a drink, nor sympathy.

Finally, Albus spoke, "I do not know what to do with you, Severus." When Snape started to speak, Dumbledore glared at him, and Snape again thought better of it. Dumbledore continued, "You had no cause, no justification, to be there. I can see no reason for your presence but to create a confrontation. Your aggression was improper, unwarranted, and inexcusable. Whatever issues I may have with Harry's response, your actions today do you no credit."

Dumbledore looked at Snape; Snape felt the full weight of the elderly man's disappointment in him, and felt a twinge of the conscience he tried so hard to bury. Albus nearly whispered his next words, "Go. Just go. I do not know what to say to you now, and I do not think I can bear whatever you are thinking about saying to me. We will speak on this matter in the future, when calmer heads may prevail."

Harry was surprised when Dobby shook his shoulder until he awoke. He rolled over onto his back and looked blearily up into the elf's eyes. He mumbled, "What do you want, Dobby?"

The creature perched atop him looked down, but answered, "Mister Lupins be telling me he is needing to talk to you. He is in the sitting room downstairs and is saying Dobby is needing to get Master Harry Potter as fast as he's can."

Dobby looked almost ready to punish himself, so Harry answered quickly, "That's OK, Dobby; I'll be down in a few minutes. Can you give him some tea while he waits, please?"

Dobby nodded his head affirmatively so hard that his hears made an odd flapping sound as they hit the side of his head. He beamed at Harry, and said, "Yes, Master Harry. Dobby is telling Mister Lupins you is being down soon."

Harry looked at the elf fondly, smiled, and thanked him; Dobby's smile threatened to wrap so far around his face that Harry thought that the top of his head might fall off.

A few minutes later, Harry found himself walking down the stairs to the lounge on the ground floor. He was apprehensive about this conversation – he and Lupin hadn't spoken all summer, not since Sirius had fallen through the veil.

When he entered the room, Remus looked up from the cup of tea he had been sipping, and gestured to the chair next to him, where Harry promptly sat. The werewolf spoke softly, as usual, when he addressed Harry, "I'm sorry I haven't made time to visit before this summer, Harry. I've been running about a fair bit for the Order, but that's really no excuse."

"That's alright, Professor. I understand you and everyone else are quite busy," Harry said, though truthfully he would have enjoyed at least a little company and certainly could have used the friendly face of his father's and godfather's old friend.

"I fear we've all left you to your own devices this summer, and even with my company I know how isolated Sirius felt, before . . . ," Remus' voice drifted off at the end, and his eyes seemed to loose a little focus.

Harry knew how Lupin felt – he too had trouble thinking or speaking about Sirius, still missed him greatly. "I've mostly been reading, studying to keep myself busy."

"I hear you've snuck out, too?"

Harry wasn't sure what to make of the question, but didn't much like the phrasing of it, and so answered shortly, "No, I didn't 'sneak' out. I left a couple of times to do some things I needed to do."

Lupin looked him in the eye then, and seemed a little angry, "But you didn't wait for an escort, didn't worry about what could have happened to you? You just went where and when you wanted."

"I asked for help – but no one was willing to give it. Hardly anyone would even really talk to me. So I did what I had to do."

Remus sighed, and leaned back in his chair. He folded his hands together, and said, "Dumbledore wasn't happy that you left here unprotected, Harry, and I must say that neither am I. He asked that I speak with you. He wasn't very happy with how you treated Molly or Snape, either."

Harry looked at the man in front of him for a moment before he answered. "So you're here as his message boy? I thought you might have actually wanted to see me, talk to me? I'm an idiot!"

Lupin looked ashamed, but Harry continued to speak before the man could interrupt, "Maybe Dumbledore should talk to me himself if he has something to say. And maybe he should worry about how Mrs. Weasley treated me, how Snape treated me, before he tries to have you lecture me about it."

"Harry, he is worried about that, too."

Harry took a deep breath, and realized he didn't want to talk to Lupin anymore. "I think you should leave," he said. "I haven't anything further to talk to you about, and I don't want to trouble you with wasting your time on a stupid teenager."

Remus was shocked that Harry would ask him to leave, and that Harry seemingly felt that Lupin didn't care about him. "Harry, it's not like that, really! I don't consider you a waste of time!"

Harry calmed a bit, but had to finally speak the thoughts that had lingered for so long on his mind – what he'd wondered about often before, "Really? Where were you all summer then? When you were my professor, why did you wait so long to tell me anything about my parents? After, when you were with Sirius, why didn't you feel like trying to talk to me?"

Lupin felt truly ashamed, but Harry hadn't finished – he had one more question, "Why did you leave me all alone with the Dursleys for so many years, with no idea who I was or who my parents were?"

Harry had risen from his chair, and as he turned to leave the room, he asked the last of the true Marauders a final question, "What would my Dad have done for your son if the tables had been turned?"

Remus Lupin sat quietly in the room, staring at the empty fire grate, for quite some time before he eventually left. He knew he had cared about Harry, truly cared, but he had allowed his own fears and feelings of inadequacy, and even Dumbledore's pleas, to overrule his desire to see his friend's only son, and he was finally seeing the results of years of accumulated mistakes and poor judgment come home to roost.

Harry's anger had faded by the time he got back to his room, but not entirely evaporated. He threw himself on his bed, and replayed the short conversation in his head several times. He found himself regretting his words, but also realizing the strength of the emotions behind them, feelings he had buried for weeks now. He felt again the sorrow and abandonment of Sirius' death (and he knew it wasn't Sirius' fault he was gone but he was left so alone by it that he wanted to cry). He felt the sadness and guilt and abandonment caused by Mrs. Weasley's letter that ended his dream of really being part of that family, and the betrayal and abandonment of the Dursleys. He relived the short joy he'd felt when he saw Dumbledore's relief and happiness upon Harry's return, and then his growing loneliness and frustration as the summer progressed.

He thought fondly of Cathy and the few, short happy memories he'd had that summer, where he could be himself and laugh and have fun and talk to someone his own age, and not worry about everything else going on in his life. And he remembered how Mrs. Weasley didn't care, and seemingly neither did Remus or Dumbledore, about his happiness.

He wondered whether Dumbledore really did care about him or not – or whether he only wanted Harry around for what Harry had to do in eventually facing Voldemort.

He skipped lunch – he couldn't eat, no matter what Dobby asked. Later that evening, he did finally eat some of the soup and fresh, hot bread Winky brought up, but if you had asked him when he finished it what he had eaten, he wouldn't have been able to say.

Hermione Granger, who happened to visit the Burrow in the afternoon after Harry's last date with Cathy, at first couldn't believe Mrs. Weasley's story about Harry's treatment of her. Ron was much more willing to believe it, given Harry's anger of the past year and his rekindled jealousy from Harry's birthday gift to Ginny. When the twins told them that Harry had hit Snape, Ron smiled for a minute, but Hermione was furious, and her anger helped Ron to remember that he was mad at Harry, too.

When they heard that Harry had all but thrown Remus Lupin out of Grimmauld Place, their anger with and disappointment in their friend grew.

Months later, Hermione would agree with anyone who cared to ask that the letter she sent to Harry had been ill considered.

Harry's response was a simple, terse note, "Thanks so much for standing up for me! It's good to know who one's real friends are. Bugger off!"

Ginny saw and heard it all, and argued that they weren't seeing the whole picture. Ron and Hermione didn't really listen to her views (which she thought of as typical for Ron and disappointing for Hermione), and alluded to her long-dead but not forgotten crush on the Boy Who Lived. Both managed (just barely) to escape her Bat Bogey Hex.

Instead, Ginny penned a short note to Harry, telling him that, although she didn't know the whole story, she was certain that it wasn't all his fault, that she couldn't believe that he would do things in the way people were saying or without provocation. She also asked if they might speak on the train ride to Hogwarts.

Ginny's letter was probably the best thing that happened for Harry in the days following his blow up with Lupin; he wrote her a letter back, thanking her for her faith in him and assuring her that he would relate the whole story when they had the chance. He told her he was looking forward to seeing her on the train.

Harry's Occlumency practice had been progressing well. After the day of Lupin's visit, he threw himself further into his meditation exercises. He already loved to fly around in owl form in this quasi-dream state, but wondered how he might protect his thoughts in this form – a serious challenge to the castle that held those thoughts might be mounted by an intruder and he wouldn't be able to do much of anything as an owl, no matter how much he might want to.

As he flew as an owl in his thought-world, he thought of Snape trying to break into his mind again. His anger, and his need to defend himself against Snape and Voldemort, and his anger even at Voldemort for the violations he had suffered in the last year, crystallized in his thoughts into another form. In is own dreamscape, as he flew over the grey mist below and looked down on his castle of thoughts, he morphed into a fiercer, nearly invincible creature, driven by a need to protect his castle, his keep, his treasure.

And in all of these thoughts, he moved beyond the subtle art of basic Occlumency, and formed his own mental reality, laying the foundations and setting the ground rules for any future confrontations, without realizing he had done so. Instead, he reveled in the new and different feeling of flying, his leather-like wings beating furiously as he rose and then dove over and over again, the wind whistling over his shiny, opalescent black scales, the acrid odor of flame and smoke as he breathed deeply, and the subtle adjustments in airborne flight possible from even small twitches in his snake-like tail.

Intruders in Harry's mind would be most uncomfortable.

When Lupin reported on Harry's reaction to Dumbledore, he could have sworn that the Headmaster aged several years right before him.

"Remus," he said, "I am sorry I asked you to carry that message to Harry. I had thought that a friendly face and sympathetic ear might have been welcomed by Harry, but instead I seem to have misjudged how my message might be received."

"I admit we really haven't done right by Mr. Potter. We left him there, alone and to his own devices. I know he asked to do some shopping, but it always seemed as if it could wait, as if there were more important things to worry about," the old man continued. "But now that I consider it, it is entirely natural that a young man would like to not only have a few things of his own, to feel good about himself, but he would like company and companionship, as well as fresh air and a change of scenery."

"The mistake I made with Sirius I repeated with Harry. I regret that this old dog didn't learn any new tricks, and asked you to try to clean up my mess."

Remus didn't know whether Albus had intended the literal (and slightly disgusting) image caused by his allusion, but didn't comment on it. Instead, he answered, "I could have handled it better. I still don't agree with what he did – not entirely – but, by the same token, he shouldn't have to put up with the abuse. I spoke with Molly, and she did say she pulled her wand on the boy – can you imagine how that felt to him, after everything that's happened this summer and last year? And with how the Dursleys treated him?"

"I know that Snape torments him, too, and he shouldn't be attacking a student. Harry may have overreacted, but I can't really fault him too much, given Severus' constant goading of him."

Albus agreed, "Yes, I think that most men, when pushed beyond reason, will react strongly, often violently. Harry has been sorely pushed, sorely tested these past many months, and I haven't remembered to see that he gets the help that he needs. It will not help that so many in the Order think he has gone too far, and do not consider what we have asked from and expected of Harry, without considering what we should be offering to him."

"I've been more guilty of that than most," Lupin admitted. "I haven't been there when he needed me, and he finally called me on it. I've always had an excuse, a justification, but the truth is that I've too often been a coward, and now I'm seeing the consequences of my own actions."

The discussion continued for some time thereafter, but the end result was that Dumbledore vowed to himself to try to do a better job of thinking about and helping Harry, and Lupin did likewise. Both hoped that they might be given one more chance at redemption in the young man's eyes.

Lord Voldemort's recovery had taken longer than he would ordinarily have tolerated, but he had felt the reactions of his own body when the Healer had tried to speed the progress. He had even relented from torturing the man for his failure. Mostly.

His inauspicious return to England was mostly unheralded. Wormtail had reported on the number of his Death Eaters killed (and Voldemort seethed but didn't punish the little rat), and Snape had reported that Potter was well and healthy – the day after the incident! When Snape couldn't tell Voldemort where the young man was, Voldemort had punished Snape, although not to the extent that would make the man ineffectual in his work.

Voldemort considered trying to enter Potter's mind, but put that off until he could decide what he would do with the access once gained; he only knew that if he could do it again, he might not have long or often more to do it, and so held it back in reserve. Instead, he set his remaining Death Eaters off to recruit more, like-minded people. He most particularly tried to leverage off those remaining to regain some of the influence within the Ministry that was lost with Malfoy's death.

And so, things were quiet for a while.

Draco Malfoy found that the muggle girl, Margaret, was really quite pretty. Obviously, she was much below him, almost beyond contempt, but she was quite pretty. She served sometimes on weekday afternoons at the pub where he picked up small jobs and sometimes got a pint.

Snape wasn't around much, and he really didn't like consorting with muggles, but given the festering boredom of sitting all alone at Spinner's End, he decided finally that a little fun with the girl would be an adequate diversion. One afternoon, after moving several crates and cleaning the back room, he settled down to a pint in a back corner of the pub. It was a slow day, and so Margaret settled in a seat next to him carrying her own pint. They chatted, and he learned that she was a couple of years older than him, though he lied and told her the same fiction he had fed the pub's owner – that he was nineteen. The owner didn't believe it and looked the other way; Margaret did likewise.

The conversation wasn't about much of anything, and Draco didn't really follow half of it as the muggle terms and activities didn't make much sense.

Afterwards, Draco found himself surprised that he had actually been enjoying the company of this pretty and funny muggle girl.

On the fifteenth of August, the second day after his last date with Cathy, Harry was surprised by a visit from Dumbledore.

Dobby knocked on his door a little past nine in the morning, rousing Harry from a book he had been reading, to tell him that Albus Dumbledore was downstairs and wondered if Harry might have a few minutes for him.

In all honesty, Harry wasn't sure what he wanted to do, and took a few moments before answering. Dumbledore had been honestly overjoyed when Harry had escaped from his kidnappers and turned up in the Headmaster's own office. He had said all the right words to show he was concerned about Harry and had seemed to promise that Harry would at least have something other than the horrid summer that had evolved after their return from Diagon Alley to Grimmauld Place.

And the Headmaster had utterly failed in following through. He'd had little company, other than from Dobby and Winky; the only thing that seemingly had garnered the old man's attention had been the revelation that Harry had resolved to do for himself what no one else seemed interested in doing. Harry was also perturbed about (as well as at) Remus Lupin's visit that had been prompted by Dumbledore.

On the other hand, Harry desperately wanted to come to some sort of terms with his headmaster. He knew he could use – in fact, he needed – the Headmaster's help if ever he were to have a chance of defeating Voldemort. So, in the end, Harry made the responsible and mature decision to see Dumbledore, following Dobby down the stairs and into the ground floor sitting room.

Winky bustled about for a couple of minutes, setting out a tea service and some biscuits, as well as a bowl of the fiery cinnamon candies Harry had come to favor. Harry greeted his visitor, "Professor, this is a surprise. How are you?"

Smiling, Harry held the bowl of hot candy out to Dumbledore as he sat, offering a treat in a gesture reminiscent of the Professor's own habit. Dumbledore, not wanting to seem impolite, took the candy and popped it into his mouth. Judging from the look on his face and his reddening countenance, Harry supposed the spice might have been somewhat unexpected, but resisted the impulse to laugh.

Working his way around the treat, Dumbledore took up his cup of tea, and answered Harry, "I am fine Harry, thank you very much. However, I also find myself again in the embarrassing position of having to apologize to you."

"Oh? What for?" Harry answered, genuinely curious about Dumbledore's thought process.

"First and foremost, I have neglected you. No matter how busy I have been, or how many things I have asked other members of the Order to do, I should not have left you here, so long, without ensuring that you had some companionship. I have failed to see to it that you obtained the most basic and important requirements of a happy and healthy life, and for that, Harry, I am truly sorry."

Harry just nodded, so the Headmaster continued, "I should have seen that your requests to go shopping, to get the things you need, were dealt with in a more reasonable and timely fashion. And I should not have sent Remus Lupin to speak with you – I should have come myself."

"I am well and truly sorry, Harry."

Harry looked down for a minute, composing his thoughts, and sighed deeply. When he looked up, he fixed on the Headmaster's eyes, and saw none of the twinkle there, and believed him.

"I believe you, sir, and I accept your apology. I know I am quite a bother – and not one that you have taken on willingly."

Dumbledore started to respond, but Harry overrode him by continuing, "But, by the same token, I can't just forget that I have some needs, too. That I ought to have some rights – like getting decent clothing, or having someone to talk to. It may not be fair that you have to worry about me – and I am sorry that you do – but I can't and won't let you just lock me up in a prison."

"I won't tolerate it. Not anymore."

Harry sat back, and waited for Dumbledore to respond, and noticed how old he looked at that very moment.

It was Dumbledore's turn to sigh deeply. And then he said, "That is more than fair, Harry. You have needs and hopes and rights, and I shall endeavor more fervently than ever to remember them, and to act to afford you the best type of life I can. But you are wrong if you think yourself a burden. Every time I speak with you, I am reminded how much of a joy you are, and I berate myself for not treating you the way you ought to be treated. I am sorry, Harry, more than I can ever say."

Harry nodded, and said' "I already accepted your apology. It's OK."

"It is not OK, but I hope it will be. Soon."

Dumbledore freshened each of their teacups, and sipped his for a moment as they sat in silence. Finally, he said, "There is more we should discuss, Harry. First, you need school supplies, and the like, do you not?"

Harry answered in the affirmative, telling him that he had already procured his books for the coming term, but needed potions supplies, school uniforms and robes, and the like. At the end of this, he asked a question that had been niggling at him since he got his OWL scores, "Professor, I only got an "E" in Potions, but it was on my list of courses I could take. Not that I'm complaining, but did Snape change his requirements?"

"Professor Snape, Harry. And he did not change his requirements; rather, he is no longer teaching Potions, though I must ask you to keep this to yourself. He will be teaching Defense."

Harry couldn't help but groan a little, and then answered, "Your secret is safe with me, sir. But I will refer to Snape as I see fit, here, in my own home and especially when he never shows me any respect or even civility."

Dumbledore surprised Harry by accepting his remonstrance, though he did look a little sad. And then he brought up Harry's last visit with Snape and Molly Weasley, "There is another matter, Harry. Your last interactions with Professor Snape and Mrs. Weasley were not entirely satisfactory.

Harry did his best to hold his temper, and mostly succeeded. He clenched his fists, and stood, pacing to the far end of the room before walking back and facing Dumbledore again. "I don't know what you heard on either account, sir, but I don't think I behaved badly after being provoked."

"Mrs. Weasley just showed up, and thought she could order me around. When I said I was leaving, she pulled her wand on me! What right does she have?!"

"And Snape! He's vile. He's been rude and cruel since my first day in class. Why is it his business where I go or what I do, much less to the point where he can come here – its my house after all – and attack me?!"

Harry sat again, panting a bit from his short tirade. Dumbledore spoke, softly, "It is their business, Harry, because they are all trying to protect you."

But Harry just shook his head, "NO! If they were here – if they took any part in my life – then maybe they would have that right. They are not my parents, or my guardians, or anything. They obviously don't want any real responsibility for me, as they haven't said one word to me all summer. They gave up that right – all of your precious Order did – when they left me alone all summer."

And then Harry said the words that cut right to Dumbledore's heart: "Just like Remus did when he decided to ignore me before Hogwarts, and then again when he could have been my friend in third year, and again after Sirius was killed. And just like you did – when you abandoned me with the Dursleys, and again in fifth year, and again this summer."

"I want and need your help, sir, and I will listen and try to work with you. But, as no one has ever accepted responsibility for me, much less showed that they really care for me, I don't see what right any of you have to try to tell me what to do or to control my life."

Harry settled back into his chair and didn't quite glare at his professor. Dumbledore studied his hands for more than a minute before answering, "What would you have us do, then, Harry? What would you have me do?" When he looked up, Harry could not help but notice the track of a single tear down the old man's cheek.

Harry took a deep breath, and spoke quietly and calmly, but with passion, "Help me. I need you, and the others, and I know it. I don't hate any of you – especially not you, sir. I want to work with you, I need your help and your advice, and maybe even your friendship if you will offer it. The fact that I won't let you control me doesn't mean that I won't listen or that I won't be greatly swayed by what you say and ask. I just can't let anyone control me."

"Very well, Harry. I will do my best to assist you, to offer comfort and advice as best I can. And I hope you will consider me to be worthy of your friendship, although I must admit that at this time I do not feel worthy of it."

"Do you recall, Harry, when we met that lad in the Weasley twin's shop?"

Harry had no idea where this was leading, but nodded his head, wondering at the change in topic.

"You introduced me then as your friend, and even called me 'Albus.' I would be honored, and greatly pleased, if you would call me by my given name, Harry."

Harry was more than a little surprised, but felt he couldn't refuse such a simple request. "Alright, Albus," he said, trying it on for size and feeling quite odd doing so.

Dumbledore seemed pleased, though, if one were to judge by the smile on is face and the returned twinkle in his eye.

Their conversation continued more easily after that. Dumbledore told Harry that he had spoken with McGonagall, and confirmed Harry could, in fact, sit a NEWT exam even if he didn't take the course, and was quite surprised when Harry told him he had made great progress with Arithmancy over the summer. He was impressed with Harry's progress in Occlumency but didn't test him on it. And he agreed he would arrange a trip for Harry to Diagon Alley to get the rest of what he needed on the twentieth of August.

At last, Dumbledore took his leave, and Harry returned to his book.

Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger continued their exploration of their new relationship through letters and visits over the next several days. Ron's anger with Harry calmed somewhat, but he remained unhappy with his friend's words and actions towards his mother. He couldn't understand the fight Harry had apparently had with Lupin, and he was both jealous and annoyed over Harry's gift to Ginny; he thought it too much and also inappropriate, and wondered (and even worried) that Harry might fancy his younger sister. He was not at all in favor of Harry and Ginny getting together – not only because of the danger of her getting close to Harry, but because of Harry's mood swings that seemed only to be getting more extreme and even violent. He read but did not respond to the letter Harry had written him.

Hermione was scandalized by Harry's treatment of Mrs. Weasley, Professor Snape and Remus Lupin. Whilst she might make allowance for one or even two of these blow ups, she thought he had gone off the deep end. His response to her first letter had been infuriating, and his decision to not respond to the other three letters she sent him had worked her into a tizzy.

It did not help that Hermione thought Ron was unreasonable in his jealousy of Harry and Ginny, and didn't fail to "mention" it whenever anything close to the topic came up. By unspoken mutual consent, Ron and Hermione soon decided that Harry Potter was not a topic for conversation over the remainder of the summer.

Molly did, eventually, calm down about the "incident." She was helped well along her way by a conversation she and Arthur had with Albus Dumbledore and Remus Lupin. She had not understood the magnitude of the torture inflicted on Harry until it was explained in sufficient detail to turn her stomach. When it was pointed out that she was the first person since his kidnapping to draw her wand on Harry, and that until then Harry had seen little of anyone and had most likely felt abandoned by everyone, she felt a little corner of her formerly frozen heart (as far as Harry was concerned) melt.

She was confused and ambivalent about what to think and do with or about Harry once again.

Ginny Weasley spent some time with Dean over the next many days, and wrote a few letters. She enjoyed the visits, and learned a little about the "football" games Dean loved so much. She also observed her mother's softened attitude toward Harry, going so far as to ask her father about it. He told her she understood better what Harry had been through and so accepted why he had said the things he did, but refused to get further into it with her.

Ginny was more than a little annoyed with both her brother (which was not unusual) and Hermione (which was) over their attitude toward Harry, but didn't see that there was anything she could do about it. She traded another round of letters with Harry, telling him what was going on at the Burrow (including with her brother and friend); he responded by telling her he understood what was going on, and thanking her for thinking about him.

Harry told her how he occupied his time with exercise and study, and she couldn't help but notice that what he didn't describe was any interaction he had with others; she correctly assumed that it was because there really wasn't any. She couldn't help but be sad over that fact, and the generally sad tone of the letter he wrote, even though she was sure he wasn't aware of it. Her resolve to be his friend, and to help him in a way that no one else was, grew during that time.

On the twentieth, Remus Lupin and Tonks arrived early in the morning. Harry was just finishing his running up and down the stairs, so he hurried through his shower and dressed to have breakfast with the two of them.

Conversation during the meal was somewhat strained despite Tonks' best efforts to interject some humor into it. When they finished eating, she stood, looked at Remus and said simply, "Talk to him!" She turned and left the two of them alone in the kitchen.

Remus seemed to gather himself up for the conversation, and then looked Harry in the eye. He said, "I'm sorry, Harry," and Harry believed him.

"I am, too."

"No, Harry, you shouldn't be. What you said was true, and I needed to hear it. I let your father and mother and Sirius down – but more importantly, I let you down."

Remus continued, "I knew you as a baby, Harry. I held you and fed you and even changed your dirty nappy. I didn't, and don't, ever expect to have children, Harry, because of my condition. But I loved you and thought of you as a part of my family, and that makes everything I've done all the more terrible."

"I knew the Ministry wouldn't let me take care of you, and that Dumbledore placed you with your family. I didn't see any place for myself in your life, and so I gave up. And when I could have come back into your life, I made excuses because I was afraid you would reject me."

Harry felt he had to say it: "But I wouldn't!"

And Remus acknowledged that. "Yes, I know that now and have for a while. I know I can't replace Sirius but I can't even understand for myself why I didn't seek you out this summer. You are a fine young man Harry, and my absence from your life has hurt me more than it has you. If you are willing to give me another chance, I promise that I will do better."

Remus had a hopeful look on his face, and Harry found that he wanted that – he wanted Remus in his life as a friend. Harry reached across the table to shake Remus' hand, and when Remus met his hand, Harry tugged and gave him a one-armed (and very awkward) hug that started the two men on a new and fresh road.

This time he didn't take the floo to the twins' shop; he explained to Remus and Tonks that he was not certain of his reception after his argument with their mother. Instead, they took a Taxi to the Leaky Cauldron and entered the Alley through the archway behind it.

Harry still had a lot of his money and didn't need to stop at Gringotts. Instead, they gathered potions ingredients, owl treats and writing supplies before finally going to Madame Malkin's, where Harry bought the robes and uniforms he would need for school, as well as dress robes and a cloak that would fit him, and a few select other items he needed or wanted to outfit himself for the school year.

Through it all, people looked and pointed and whispered, and many came up to speak with him or shake his hand. When a couple of reporters came up, he told them simply that he was shopping for school and didn't have anything else to say, although when pressed he did wish Madame Bones luck in her new position.

At last, time came for the visit he dreaded. He didn't know if Fred and George hated him by now, but also didn't feel comfortable not at least trying to see them while he was at the Alley.

He found that he needn't have worried. The two greeted him like long-lost family, and when he asked whether they weren't bothered by his words with their mother, they pointed out that they had moved out to the flat over their shop because, as they put it, they "didn't have the balls to stand up to her the way he had." He was most certain, though, that everything was OK when they all sat down to tea and his teacup bit him on the nose, causing him to spill the cupful of thankfully tepid liquid in his lap.

He laughed almost as hard as Tonks did, and was very happy to see the smile on Remus' face as well.

The twins remarked that it was too bad he had come so early, since the rest of the family and Hermione were supposed to do their shopping on the twenty-sixth; Harry allowed as how he wasn't sure that would work out so well.

When the two commented that Ginny at least would be very happy to see him (and hug and kiss him hello), he only blushed a little, but got them back when he told them how much he would look forward to that.

Harry and Tonks and Remus left the shop and the Alley shortly after.

On the evening of the twenty-third, Harry thought he would see what he might do with his Animagus transformation. He knew what he would be, he had gained proficiency in both wandless and soundless magic, and he knew from experience he could summon the focus needed.

He had come to understand why people who mastered the transformation were rare and why it supposedly took so long to learn the whole process. Other people had friends and family and lives of their own, and so the time for meditation and the very rare and specific magic was harder to find. Luckily, Harry had none of those distractions.

Harry settled himself in his room, the windows open to admit a gentle breeze. The elves had been asked to give him privacy, and Hedwig was on her perch observing him curiously. Harry calmed himself and gathered his magic around himself, feeling it as a living thing. He focused on his form, feeling the shape and wings and feel of flying that he experienced in his own mind-place.

He felt himself shrink and stretch – it was not painful, but strange. And then it was done, and he felt his wings and talons as he sat wobbly on his bed. Under a pile of clothing; apparently, he had forgotten to envision them changing with him, and had left himself bundled in a pile of what he had just been wearing. He flapped and shrugged, as much as an owl can shrug, and freed himself, before awkwardly winging himself into the bathroom and in front of a mirror. What he saw was a soft, grey owl with a few rumpled feathers above one of the two bright green eyes that stared back at him in the mirror.

If he could have smiled, he would have.

So, he flew out the window, Hedwig in his wake, and up into the sky. His mindscape became reality as he and Hedwig dove and swooped and then flapped their wings hard to gain altitude and speed. Finally, tired, they landed on the branches of a tree on the Mall in St. James Park. As they sat, Harry felt very tired and he felt himself unwillingly slide back into human form, where he found himself sitting starkers in a tree in the dark looking down the Mall at Buckingham Palace.

He really didn't notice the couple snogging while lying on the grass below until the woman looked up and saw him in the tree. The scream, however, caught his attention, as it did the woman's boyfriend. He twisted, dumping her over while looking around rather than up and distracting the girl for a while. Harry pushed his magic hard and disapparated soundlessly, reappearing in his room, where he couldn't help but laugh outrageously.

Hedwig forgave him for abandoning her after a few less than playful nips and several owl treats.

On the twenty-sixth of August, Molly Weasley found herself escorting her youngest son and only daughter out of the Leaky Cauldron and toward the bookshop, where they were to meet Hermione and her parents.

Harry had learned to hold his transformation better and had gotten familiar with transforming with his clothing. He had flown early that morning to Diagon Alley and roosted at the top of a tall building, where he could watch for the arrival of the Weasley's.

Harry watched from afar as Mrs. Weasley and her children came down te Alley and disappeared into the bookshop. He saw them as they left and followed their progress throughout the day; he even saw Ginny as she greeted Dean Thomas, and followed the two couples and their parents wander about the Alley.

Through it all, he wished he wasn't there at all because it made him so sad that he wasn't there with them. And he wished he was down on the ground, walking and joking and laughing with them, as he might have done in the past, as if he actually had a real life all his own.

And he realized that, most of all, he wished it was him and not Dean that was holding Ginny's hand and walking with her on this glorious summer day.