Midsummer found Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry nearly deserted.
Minerva McGonagall walked quickly through the empty halls as she made her way to the dungeons, which managed to be as chill and damp in the heat of summer as they were in the dead of winter. McGonagall shivered slightly and pulled her robes closer around her. Her footsteps echoed in the oppressive silence. The rest of the castle might be uninhabited, but the dungeons felt abandoned. Even the ghosts seemed to shun them during the summer. But McGonagall knew there was one person, still here, who seemed oblivious to the loneliness of the place. She stopped in front of a wooden door and knocked briskly.
"Come in," came the muffled reply.
McGonagall pushed open the door and found Severus Snape frowning intently at a potion simmering on his workbench.
"Severus, I was just going over the class registers for next term. I don't see Mr. Potter's name on the list of your sixth year students."
"That's right, you don't," Snape said, making an entry in the notebook beside him and not bothering to look at his colleague.
"May I ask why not?" McGonagall inquired stiffly.
Snape lowered the heat under his cauldron then turned to face her.
"I only take the most capable students in my NEWT class," he said smoothly. "Mr. Potter is not one of them."
"He received an 'Outstanding' on his Potions OWL."
"Be that as it may, he will not be in my class."
The two professors stared at one another in a silent test of wills. At last McGonagall spoke in a tightly controlled voice.
"Severus, I allow you to browbeat my students, but if you think I will stand by and allow you to ruin Mr. Potter's future out of spite, you will find that you are very much mistaken."
"So, the famous Potter charm has finally worked its magic on you, I see," Snape said derisively.
"Don't be insulting," McGonagall snapped. "The boy has earned the right to be in your class. You have no grounds to exclude him."
"I'm astonished he would even wish to continue in my class given his usually abysmal performance," Snape said contemptuously.
"He wants to be an Auror and you know very well that NEWT-level Potions is required."
"An Auror," Snape sneered. "Naturally. One would have thought he'd have had enough of fighting dark wizards by now, but I suppose the allure of fame and glory is too much. Why don't you do us all a favor, Minerva, and advise the boy to go out for professional Quidditch instead. Surely that would provide him with the adoring fans his ego craves?"
"Is that what you really think it is, Severus? Ego? Hasn't it occurred to you that Potter may have decided, quite reasonably, that the only way he's likely to survive is by becoming an Auror?"
"It didn't help his father."
McGonagall's eyes flashed and she pressed her lips into a thin line. "I gave Mr. Potter my word that I would do everything in my power to help him become an Auror and I intend to keep that promise."
"Unfortunately, deciding whom I admit to my class is not within your power," Snape said.
McGonagall smiled slightly. "No, but as Deputy Headmistress, I can make your life quite miserable, you know. It's only two more years and then he'll be gone. I will not be. Do you really want to make an enemy of me?"
Snape's eyes narrowed as he considered the woman in front of him. "Very well," he said. "I will accept Mr. Potter into my NEWT class. But if he fails to live up to my standards, I will dismiss him."
McGonagall sighed, knowing that was the best she would get from Snape. "Fair enough," she said. McGonagall turned to go, but paused at the door.
"You know, Severus," she said, glancing back at Snape, "I would have thought you'd know the boy better by now."
She swept out of the room leaving the Potions Master to scowl after her.
Chapter 1: Summer
Harry pointed his wand at the pale young man cowering at his feet.
"Crucio!" he hissed.
The young man screamed and writhed on the ground. Harry felt his lip curl in a cruel smile, then he reluctantly released his victim.
"Perhaps now you will be forthcoming with the information I require," he said in a low menacing tone.
"Please," the young man sobbed. "I don't know where he is! I swear it! I'd tell you if I did. Please! I'm telling the truth!"
Harry looked into the young man's eyes and knew it was true. The fool knew nothing.
"Very well," Harry said. "I believe you." He pointed his wand at the trembling man once more.
Green light shot out of the end of Harry's wand and hit the young man in the chest. He fell back and was still, his vacant eyes filled with terror and shock.
Harry bolted up in bed gasping for breath. He had no idea who the young man was he'd just seen being tortured, but he knew that somewhere Voldemort had just killed him. Harry turned on his bedside light and got up to pace his room.
It had only been three weeks since the end of term, but already this was shaping up to be the worst summer of Harry's life. He had been frustrated the previous summer by the total absence of information about Voldemort. Only now did he realize how lucky he'd been. Be careful what you wish for. You may get it! Harry thought sourly.
Since Voldemort's return had become public, Death Eater activity had exploded. The Daily Prophet contained almost daily accounts of torture, murder and disappearances. Hardly a night went by where the Dark Mark didn't appear in sky. But Harry didn't need the Daily Prophet. His mental connection to Voldemort gave him a front row seat for the horror.
More than ever Harry was sorry that he hadn't worked harder at his Occlumency lessons the previous term. He had been so starved for information that he hadn't wanted to block out the only source he had. After witnessing the resurgence of the Death Eaters, however, he understood why Dumbledore had thought it a bad idea to allow these visions to continue. Harry was quite certain that he was losing his mind.
I can't keep on like this. I have to do something, Harry thought desperately. He could write to Dumbledore, but what use would that be? The headmaster couldn't do anything for him here at Privet Drive. Neither could Ron, Hermione or Lupin who were the only other people he could think to turn to for help. He thought of Sirius and felt the familiar ache in his chest. His godfather couldn't have helped him either, Harry knew, but just having Sirius around would have been a comfort.
Sirius' death had left a huge hole in Harry's life that he didn't know how to fill. Sirius had been the only real family Harry had ever had, certainly the only family that cared about him. Of course, Harry had many close friends, but somehow it wasn't quite the same, though he couldn't have really explained why. The simple fact was that no other adult gave him the undivided attention and unconditional support that Sirius had. No one else acted like a father to him. At almost sixteen Harry was annoyed to realize how much he still needed that.
Harry shook his head to banish his thoughts. There was no point in moping. His parents and Sirius were all dead, so he'd just have to manage on his own. At the moment he had to find a way to control these visions. He'd spent three months studying Occlumency with Snape. Surely he had learnt something useful in all that time. He thought back to what his professor had told him. Empty your mind. Control your emotions. During those classes with Snape he had discovered that was easier said than done, but he had to try.
Harry sat down on the edge of his bed, closed his eyes and tried to relax. He took slow deep breaths and tried to think of nothing. Concentrate on breathing. In. Out. In. Out. After several minutes Harry opened his eyes. He definitely felt calmer, but he wasn't sure this would help to block his visions. Unfortunately, at the moment it was all he had. He climbed back in bed, turned off the light and once more focused on his breathing. He drifted off to sleep, mercifully undisturbed by visions or nightmares.
The following morning Harry was up at 5:30 as usual, and set about doing the odd jobs his aunt had given him. By noon he had finished weeding the flowerbeds and washing the windows. He made himself a quick sandwich and retreated to his room to work on his homework, or rather the extracurricular homework he'd given himself.
After Harry had got over the initial shock of learning of the prophecy that he must kill Voldemort or be killed by him, he'd become nearly obsessed with honing his defensive skills. He was still quite proud of all that he and his schoolmates had accomplished in the DA meetings during their previous term, but he realized that what he'd taught them would never suffice against Voldemort. Harry knew he'd only escaped death by chance in all of his previous encounters with the evil wizard. If he was going to have to stand and fight he'd need more than luck to win.
Consequently, he'd written to Lupin during the first week of the summer holidays and asked his former Defense teacher to send him some books on advanced defensive techniques. Lupin had responded almost immediately by sending him a huge tome entitled The Complete Book of Curses and Counter-Curses by Beatrice Arronby.
Harry had been dismayed to discover how many different curses there were, particularly the advanced ones. Many he wished he had known a month ago when he'd been fighting the Death Eaters at the Ministry of Magic. Others were so obviously Dark Magic that they made his skin crawl. Fighting his revulsion over some of the illustrations in the hefty book, he had set about memorizing as many of the curses and counter curses as he thought might be useful. He also practiced.
Harry knew that just reading about the spells wouldn't be enough and was determined to perfect his reflexes so that he could cast a wide range of curses and counter-curses without thinking. He didn't actually cast the spells, of course. After nearly being expelled the previous summer, he was very careful not to perform any magic. With this in mind, he had saved a likely branch from his work in the Dursleys's garden and had fashioned it into a rough wand, which he used in hours of imaginary duels against Voldemort and his Death Eaters. He might have spent too much time dwelling on Voldemort, however, because that night, despite repeating the Occlumency exercises, his visions were back.
Harry slithered silently along the ground as embers floated up into the night sky from a house that was engulfed by fire. Figures in dark robes and masks hovered around an old man and woman who looked defiant even though they had clearly been tortured. As he moved towards them he flicked his tongue and could taste blood in the air.
"You won't be going back to the Aurors," one of the black robed figures said. "By the time we're done, there won't be an Auror left alive."
The old couple glared back at the Death Eater, but Harry could smell their fear and it was intoxicating. He made straight for them and could sense their fear spike as they caught sight of him. Then he reared back and struck.
Harry awoke after too little sleep with the night's horrors fresh in his mind. His mood wasn't improved by the arrival of the Daily Prophet. The headline read "Death Eaters Escape Azkaban!" and the article went on to detail the escape of the Death Eaters that had been captured barely a month before at the Ministry of Magic.
Harry cursed. It wasn't as though he hadn't been expecting it, of course, but it still galled, especially the thought of Lucius Malfoy going free. He had rather relished the idea of Malfoy being locked up in Azkaban. Worst of all, this escape would undoubtedly mean a fresh round of attacks, which he'd be forced to witness in his sleep while being helpless to prevent. Harry shuddered and opened the paper hoping to find something to take his mind off his visions.
He skimmed the pages until he came to the editorial page. This was nearly as depressing as the news of the Death Eaters' escape. Most of the columns were hand-wringing affairs that either directly or obliquely looked to him for salvation.
"The Boy-Who-Lived, who has escaped You-Know-Who not once, but four times…" "The young man who alone inspires hope…" "He defeated You-Know-Who once. He can do it again!"
The sole dissenting voice belonged to Averill Pembroke. He was the senior editor at the Daily Prophet and seemed to have nothing but contempt for Harry.
"Any wizard who believes that a mere boy could defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named needs a stay at St. Mungos!"
Harry wasn't sure which of these opposing views he found most disturbing as he tossed the paper aside. Suddenly, he felt closed in by his room. He pulled on a t-shirt and jeans and went downstairs. Aunt Petunia tried to stop him with a list of odd jobs, but he brushed by her without a glance and left the house. It was a beautiful morning, but Harry didn't notice. He had no particular destination in mind, so he just walked, as if putting distance between himself and Number Four Privet Drive would somehow diminish the visions that gnawed at his mind.
It was late afternoon by the time Harry returned home and he didn't even open his book on curses. Instead he devoted his time to practicing Occlumency. He was getting better at calming his mind, though he was skeptical as to whether it might actually help keep his visions at bay. He really didn't trust Snape to teach him anything useful. Still, the exercises couldn't hurt and he had no other ideas for blocking his mental connection to Voldemort. He stayed up late and finally crawled into bed with a kind of fatalism. He was asleep almost at once and the night produced no visions, though he did have a terrible nightmare of Sirius falling through the veil at the Department of Mysteries, which, all things considered, wasn't much better.
It was three weeks later that the neat, blue envelope arrived. Uncle Vernon was sorting the post and opened it as Harry sank into a chair at the breakfast table.
"Look Petunia," he said handing the note to his wife. "We've won a sweepstakes you entered."
Aunt Petunia frowned slightly. "I don't remember entering a sweepstakes."
"Well, you must have done," Uncle Vernon said around a mouthful of sausage. "We've won dinner for three this evening at Chez Vous. That's that French place over on Romney Circus, isn't it?"
"Yes," Aunt Petunia's eyes lit up at the prospect of fine dining. "It's very nice from what I've heard."
They both turned to glare at Harry who had been following the exchange without interest.
"Now listen, boy," Uncle Vernon warned, brandishing his fork at Harry. "We'll only be gone a few hours and I don't want any funny business while we're away. You understand me?"
"I won't destroy the house while you're gone," Harry said biting into a piece of toast.
"I don't want any of your sort hanging about," Uncle Vernon growled, his jowls wobbling.
"Don't worry. No one I know would want to come here." Harry didn't bother to hide his disdain.
"You ought to be grateful you're here!" Uncle Vernon said, turning crimson. "You've got nerve turning your nose up at respectable people!"
"Sorry," Harry said without sincerity. He swallowed the last of his toast, stood up and left, leaving Uncle Vernon to fume noiselessly behind him.
Back in his room, Harry brooded, unable to make up his mind whether to study curses or Occlumency. He sighed; he wasn't sure if either were doing him any good. Hedwig hooted softly as she came to perch next to him. He stroked her gently, but it gave him little relief from his melancholy.
He was lying on his bed staring dejectedly at the ceiling when a small owl flew in through the open window and began circling the room. Harry couldn't help but grin at Ron's owl, Pigwidgeon, though Hedwig was clearly put out by his arrival. She flew back up to her perch as Harry stood up eagerly and scooped the tiny bird and its overly large parcel out of the air. Harry opened the letter first which turned out to be a birthday card. It read:
Happy Birthday Harry!
Hope the Muggles aren't being total gits! It's quiet here at the Burrow with Fred and George gone most of the time. But they're doing so well with their shop in Diagon Alley that even Mum has come round and says it was the best thing for them. They've sent along their latest invention as a birthday present. Maybe you can use it on Dudley. Ginny sent you a gift too, though she won't tell me what it is. Girls!
I'm sure you've been following the papers, so I don't need to tell you how tense things are. It's all been blown out of proportion though. You-Know – Voldemort has got everyone spooked. It's stupid really! We're all fine of course, so don't worry. Just take care of yourself.
Harry let out a slow breath. Ron might want to brush it off as no more than an annoyance, but Harry knew all too well how bad the Death Eater attacks were. He was isolated from Voldemort's rampages here in the Muggle world, particularly at Privet Drive where Voldemort couldn't touch him. It had to be awful for Ron and his family being in the middle of it, especially since the Weasleys were known for their sympathies towards Muggles and Muggle-borns. Harry felt his stomach twist in fear and he clutched Ron's letter tightly knowing that, for once, his best friend was probably in more danger than he was.
Pig hooted and nipped at Harry's ear. Harry got the excitable little owl a treat then turned his attention to the parcel. Ron's present to him was, predictably, a book about Quidditch. The twins had sent him a bag of Weasleys' Colorful Candies, multicolored jellybeans guaranteed to turn whoever ate one the same shade as the sweet for an unspecified duration. Harry grinned at the thought of slipping Dudley a green one.
Ginny's gift was a small box wrapped in simple brown paper. Harry opened it to find a pewter charm on a chain. The charm was the head of a dog that looked uncannily familiar. A short note in Ginny's handwriting said,
He'll always be with you.
Harry stared at the words then looked back at the charm. He took it out of the box and held it gently in the palm of his hand, tracing the finely etched design with his index finger. After a moment, Harry took a deep breath and ran a sleeve across his eyes. He slipped the chain around his neck and tucked the charm inside his shirt.
Harry stashed the rest of his gifts under his floorboard with the book on ancient magic Hermione had sent him several days earlier. Next he scribbled out separate thank you notes to Ron, Ginny and the twins that he sent off with Pig. Finally, he sat down to compose a letter to Hermione. It wasn't easy; he didn't want to let on how worried he was about Ron, but he did want to know if she had heard anything more than he had.
Thanks again for the birthday present. Pig was just here from the Burrow. Ron says things are pretty quiet there, but I was wondering if you'd heard anything from them about Voldemort. Ron didn't say much and I feel a bit in the dark.
That should be all right, he thought. Make her think he was just feeling left out. He gave the letter to Hedwig who disappeared out the window.
The Dursleys left for dinner at six o'clock, warning Harry darkly not to 'do anything' while they were gone. Harry briefly considered sticking chewing-gum in all the door locks as he'd once seen Peeves do, but decided it wouldn't be worth it. He settled for studying his curses on the sofa in the living room, then running through his Occlumency exercises before bed.
No horrors assaulted him, not even nightmares of Sirius' death. Instead he dreamt of his neighborhood, the streets of which had become a familiar landscape during his summers.
It was dark and cold. Streetlights illuminated the empty streets and blank facades of the houses. He walked up Magnolia Crescent, past the playground and paused at the corner of Privet Drive. He looked up the street to number four, but a movement to his left caught his attention. A figure stepped out of the shadows. It was shrouded in dark robes and silently approached him. As forbidding as this apparition was, Harry felt no fear and when the man spoke, Harry felt a thrill of recognition.
"All is ready, my Lord," said Lucius Malfoy quietly. "The house is surrounded. The boy will not escape this time."
Harry felt himself smile. "Good, Lucius," he said in a cold, soft hiss. "Very good. It is time to be rid of Harry Potter."
Harry opened his eyes, too terrified to scream. He knew with certainty that what he'd just seen had been no dream. Voldemort was coming for him. Harry rolled out of bed and grabbed his glasses and his wand. His scar was already throbbing painfully. He ran from his room and down the hall.
"Wake up!" he called frantically pounding on Dudley's door. He continued to his aunt and uncle's room and repeated the pounding.
"Wake up! You've got to get out of the house!"
There was no answer, so Harry threw open the door. The room was empty, the bed obviously not having been slept in that night. Harry frowned and ran back to Dudley's room, which was empty as well. Where were they? They had gone to dinner, but surely they should have been home by now.
Wherever they were, they clearly weren't in the house, Harry realized as he made his way downstairs, checking every room as he went. He leaned against the wall in the hallway, relieved that the Dursleys at least wouldn't have to face Voldemort.
A shadow passed across the living room window and Harry gripped his wand tightly, his mouth dry. He tiptoed quietly to the window and peeked through the crack in the curtains. He could just make out two cloaked figures hiding in the shadows on either side of the garden. He backed away from the window, hardly breathing and made his way to the kitchen. As stealthily as possible, he peered out the window and spotted three more figures. Harry let out a shuddering breath and retreated to the hallway where he leaned against the wall once more. So it was true. They were here and he was trapped.
But how could this be happening? Voldemort wasn't supposed to be able to touch him at his relatives. Obviously he's found a way around that, Harry thought bitterly. Still, Harry knew the house was being watched by the Order of the Phoenix. Surely someone must have seen Voldemort and his Death Eaters arrive and would have sent for help. Unless Voldemort killed them before they could raise the alarm, a pessimistic voice in Harry's mind reminded him. Lucius Malfoy certainly hadn't seemed concerned about being caught and neither had Voldemort.
"And either must die at the hand of the other…" Harry recalled the words of the prophecy. If it was his fate to kill Voldemort or be killed by him, Harry knew which way he'd bet at the moment. Voldemort and the Death Eaters had him surrounded and he was standing here alone and barefoot in his pajamas.
Well, he wouldn't die without a fight. Harry moved down the hallway so that he had a clear view of the front door, but could still hear anyone attempting to enter through the kitchen. He strained his senses to their limits trying to pick out the smallest sound or movement outside the house. Then he heard it, the sound of slow measured footsteps coming up the path, up the steps, onto the front porch. Harry's heart was pounding wildly. There was a pause. Then, without warning and to Harry's shock, the front door was blasted off its hinges. Harry, fighting down panic, fled back towards the kitchen as an unnaturally tall and thin man stepped over the threshold and into number four Privet Drive. Harry stumbled into the table in the dark and knocked over a chair.
"Harry." Voldemort's voice sent a chill down Harry's spine. "There's no point in running. Better to face me and die like a man."
Harry could hear Voldemort coming down the hall. He kicked open the door to the back garden then quickly and quietly ducked back through the dining room and into the living room. He peeked back into the hallway and heard Voldemort in the kitchen calling to his Death Eaters through the back door. Harry slipped soundlessly past the remains of the front door and up the stairs. He had reached his room when he heard Voldemort come back into the hall.
"I know you're up there, Harry. You've nowhere to run."
There was no more point in stealth. Harry wrenched open his window and climbed up onto the sill. He could hear footsteps rapidly ascending the stairs and looked desperately left and right for an escape route. The roofline sloped steeply up above him and there was no ledge, only a gutter and he had no idea if it would support his weight. He was looking for handholds on the roof when he sensed rather than heard the presence behind him. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Voldemort standing in his bedroom doorway with a wand leveled at him.
Instinct took over. Harry swung out his window to the left and flattened himself against the roof just as a jet of green light shot past him. He scrambled up onto the gable above his window and waited. A moment later the misshapen head poked out of the window beneath him.
"Stupefy!" Harry yelled, but Voldemort seemed to anticipate him and jumped back into the room. The spell had missed and Harry could hear Voldemort's cold brittle laughter.
"Well done Harry! Very well done indeed! But you cannot win."
Suddenly, the roof next to where Harry was perched exploded. Harry lost his balance and fell, sliding down the roof. He tumbled over the edge and without thinking, caught the gutter to break his fall. His feet dangled in midair as the sharp edge of the gutter cut into his palms. His wand was somewhere below him in the hydrangea bushes. He could hear running figures converging on him from below. Death Eaters. Harry closed his eyes momentarily in resignation then looked up to face the monster smiling down at him. Voldemort raised his wand, but just then, two gray streaks came racing across the roof and launched themselves, hissing and scratching, at his face. Voldemort cursed and swatted at the cats.
"Harry!" a voice called from below.
Harry looked down and was astonished to see Remus Lupin standing below him.
"Harry, get down from there! Let go!"
Harry dropped from the roof and landed in a heap in the bushes. Lupin tried to pull him to his feet, but Harry resisted, feeling around frantically on the ground.
"I've got to find my wand! I dropped it!"
Voldemort had succeeded in throwing off the feline attack, but now there were other figures in the yard and they began hurling curses up at him. Red and green sparks arced over Harry's head as he and Lupin searched for his wand in the dark.
"This is ridiculous," Lupin said. "Accio wand!" Harry's wand immediately came flying out of a nearby bush and Harry grabbed it thankfully.
"Come on," Lupin said, pushing Harry in front of him. They ran in a crouch, keeping close to the front of the house. They slipped around the corner, out sight of the battle raging in the front yard. Lupin stopped and picked up a rusted paint can.
"This is a Portkey," Lupin said. "Hold on!"
Harry numbly took hold of the handle, as Lupin gripped the bottom of the can firmly.
"Aardvark," Lupin said and Harry felt the unpleasant jerk just behind his navel that told him the Portkey had been activated. A moment later he was standing in the unkempt square outside Number Twelve Grimmauld Place.
"Come on Harry, let's get you inside," Lupin said.
Harry hesitated. He hadn't been to Grimmauld Place since before Sirius had died and he wasn't sure he could handle those memories just now. Lupin seemed to understand and put a hand on Harry's shoulder.
"Come on Harry," he said gently. "Sirius would have wanted to know that you were safe here. Besides, I think it's clear you can't return to Little Whinging."
Harry nodded and followed Lupin into the house. It looked the same as he remembered it. The portrait of Mrs. Black still hung in the hall by the front door and Harry was careful not to wake her as he followed Lupin to the kitchen. The memories of the last time he'd been in the house brought a lump to his throat and he pushed them away.
"So the Order is still using this as its base?" he asked.
"Yes," Lupin answered. "Sirius left the house to me, so we've continued to use it. It's still unplottable and about the safest place we could find." Lupin hesitated uncertainly. "He would have left it to you, but he didn't think you'd want it what with all the Black family history."
Harry nodded numbly. "I'm glad he gave it to you. He was right. I wouldn't have known what to do with it."
Harry lapsed into silence and Lupin frowned in concern.
"Can I get you anything Harry? Tea?"
"No thanks, Professor."
"I'm not your professor anymore, Harry. Please, just call me Remus."
"All right, Remus," Harry said, smiling slightly. "Listen, I need to find my aunt and uncle. They went to dinner, but they should have been home hours ago and I don't know where they are."
"Don't worry, Harry, they're safe," Remus said.
"How do you know that?" Harry asked, frowning.
"We, er, arranged for them to take a bit of a scenic drive," Remus answered looking slightly guilty.
"We're the one's who arranged for them to go to dinner this evening, Harry," Remus said. "Then we put a Confundus spell on their car so they wouldn't be able to find their way back home." Remus couldn't contain his grin. "They'll be driving around all night, looking for the house."
Harry stared at his former teacher and felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck. "Then you were expecting this?"
"Yes," Remus nodded. "We received word that Voldemort was going to go after you tonight."
"AND YOU DIDN'T WARN ME!" Harry exploded.
"We couldn't, Harry."
"Why not? You had enough time to get my aunt, uncle and Dudley out of the way!"
"It would have looked too suspicious! Voldemort had to think he was taking you unawares, otherwise it would have compromised the source of our information."
"I almost died!" Harry said furiously.
Remus grimaced. "That was my fault. We expected you to be asleep when Voldemort arrived, not standing in the front hall. I Apparated into your bedroom just before Voldemort blasted open the front door. My heart nearly stopped when I realized you were already downstairs. When I heard you throw open the back door, I thought you had made a run for it, so I Apparated to the backyard." Remus shook his head in self-disgust. "I should have stayed put and let the rest of the team who were already outside handle it. By the time I realized what had happened and got back around to the front of the house, you were hanging from the roof. Thank God Minerva was there."
"You mean Professor McGonagall?"
Remus smiled. "Yes, she and Arabella Figg's cat, Mr. Tibbles, kept Voldemort busy long enough for us to get you out of there. I bet she left some deep claw marks too."
Harry was stunned to think that the furious spitting ball of fur that had attacked Voldemort was actually his aloof Head of House, but pushed that thought aside.
"How did you know they were coming tonight?" Harry asked, suspecting that he already knew.
"I'm sure you know where we get our information on Voldemort and the Death Eaters, Harry."
"Snape," Harry said in contempt. "Well, then I'm not surprised I almost got killed. I'm amazed he bothered to warn you at all!"
"Harry!" Remus was clearly shocked, but Harry didn't care.
"He hates me, Remus and he never misses an opportunity to show it! It's his fault that Sirius died and I'm sure he wasn't broken up over that! Believe me, given a choice, he'd rather see me dead, too!"
Remus had gone white, but before he could speak a familiar languid drawl interrupted.
"Your gratitude is overwhelming, Potter," Snape said from the doorway, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "Given that I risked my life to save yours, I can't tell you how much that means."
Harry turned slowly to face the Potions Master. "Whatever risk you took, it wasn't for me, so don't pretend you're doing me any favors," he said. "I know better."
"You know nothing! You're just too arrogant to realize it."
"I was nearly killed tonight in a house where your Dark Lord wasn't supposed to be able to touch me. If you know so much, tell me how he managed it."
"Your blood, Potter," Snape said. "It was the basis of the magic that protected you at your mother's sister's home. No one who did not share that blood could enter there to harm you. But the Dark Lord does share your blood, as surely you must remember."
Harry flashed back to the memory of the graveyard where he'd been bound to a gravestone to be used in Voldemort's resurrection. Wormtail had taken a dagger and cut his arm.
"That happened over a year ago," Harry said. "Why did it take him this long to come after me?"
"You left your aunt and uncle's last August, barely two months after he had returned. He was still weak, still building his power and he knew you were being watched by the Order. He needed to wait until he thought that victory would be assured."
"And you didn't bother to tell me this?" Harry said through clenched teeth.
Snape hesitated briefly then said. "It did not become apparent until very recently that he had determined how to circumvent the protection at your home."
"Really? Are you sure you just didn't want me to know?"
"If I wanted you dead, Potter, you wouldn't be standing here now."
"That's enough, both of you," Remus interrupted, stepping between them. "Harry, it's late. Get upstairs to bed. You're obviously not thinking clearly after what you've been through tonight."
Harry started to object, but the look in Remus' eyes stopped him.
"I said go," Remus said in a low voice, and Harry realized it would be a mistake to argue with him.
"Fine," Harry said and stalked out of the kitchen and up the stairs. He found the room he'd stayed in the previous year and threw himself on the bed. It wasn't long before he heard soft voices in the downstairs hall and the front door open and close. A few moments later there was a knock at his door.
Harry momentarily considered pretending he was asleep, but decided that would be cowardly. "Come in," he called.
Remus entered the room looking for all the world like a father getting ready to reprimand a wayward child. But it wasn't the anger in his eyes that made Harry's throat tighten. It was the disappointment.
"Well," Remus asked. "Would you like to explain yourself?"
"What is there to explain?"
Remus sighed and sat down on the other bed.
"Harry, I know Severus Snape isn't your favorite person. He isn't mine, either. But do you have to provoke him? Would it have killed you to be polite? He really did risk a great deal to save your life tonight."
"He did that for Dumbledore and the Order, not for me."
"What difference does that make? You're still alive and he doesn't deserve to be insulted by you."
"He never worries about insulting anyone. He enjoys it."
"So you're going to lower yourself to his level?"
"It's his fault Sirius died."
"We're at war, Harry. People die. It's no one's fault."
"Maybe you can forgive him, but I won't!"
There was a long pause as Remus regarded Harry sadly.
"I know I can't change your mind, Harry," Remus said. "I never managed to change Sirius' and God knows I tried. But I had hoped that his death might have taught you something. You need to think long and hard about how many more lives you're willing to sacrifice to this hatred."
Remus got up and left, closing the door softly behind him.
Harry lay back down, but couldn't relax. He tossed and turned until he finally fell into a fitful sleep filled with dreams of masked figures and a cruel high-pitched laugh.
The sun was high in a clear sky by the time Harry awoke the next day. He lay in bed thinking about everything that had happened the previous night. He wondered if Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had made it home and whether or not he'd ever see them again. He'd be perfectly content not to and in any case he couldn't see how he'd ever be able to stay at Privet Drive again.
Harry's reverie was interrupted by a loud growl from his stomach, so he got up and went downstairs in search of breakfast. The house was very quiet. No one else seemed to be awake. Harry realized that he didn't even know if anyone else was in the house besides himself and Remus.
When he got to the kitchen, Harry discovered Remus hovering over a pot of something on the stove. The aroma made Harry's stomach growl even more insistently.
"Ah, Harry, I was wondering if you were going to sleep through lunch too."
"What time is it?"
"Nearly noon. Did you sleep all right?"
"Fine," Harry answered honestly. He suspected Remus hadn't, though. The man looked haggard, but at least Harry's row with Snape the night before seemed to have been forgiven.
"Sit down, you must be famished," Remus said.
He brought Harry a big bowl of what was obviously homemade soup along with a plate of sandwiches.
"This is delicious!" Harry said, tucking into the food. "I didn't know you could cook."
"It's amazing what years of living alone will teach you," Remus said joining him at the table. "Sirius said it was my greatest contribution to the Order." He grinned then froze and shot Harry a worried glance.
"It's all right," Harry said. "I don't mind you talking about him. It helps, actually."
"Anything at all I can do to help, Harry, you know you only have to ask."
"I know," Harry said. He swallowed the lump in his throat and changed the subject. "Is anyone else here?"
"Not at the moment. Dung was by earlier and brought all of your things. The Department of Magical Catastrophes did a brilliant job, by the way, fixed up the house, replaced the front door and obliviated the memories of all the neighbors. Your aunt and uncle will never know anything was amiss. We left them a note saying you were gone for the year, but would be in touch."
"They'd just as soon I wasn't," Harry said. "Are Ron and Hermione going to be coming to stay?
"Later, as we get closer to the start of school. Everyone will be in and out though, so don't worry; you won't be stuck with just my company."
"Your company's a lot better than the Dursleys'," Harry said. "Though I suppose that's not saying much."
Remus laughed. "Tonks will be here for dinner, by the way. She's going to be spending the night, so if you need anything just ask her. She isn't as good a cook as I am, but between you I'm sure you'll manage all right."
"You're not going to be here?" Harry asked.
Remus hesitated fractionally, then smiled.
"It's a full moon tonight, Harry."
Harry blushed in embarrassment. "I'm sorry Remus. I didn't realize."
"There's no reason you should," Remus replied smiling slightly. "Most people don't follow the phases of the moon quite as closely as I do. I'll be in my study over night."
"You're taking the Wolfsbane Potion then?"
"Yes. With all the increased Death Eater activity in the last couple of months, Dumbledore thought it would be too inconvenient for me to be incapacitated for days at a time."
"Who's making it?"
"Your favorite Potions Master, of course," Remus said, grinning wickedly.
"You needn't sound quite so horrified, Harry. He is one of the best potion-makers around. Besides, he's a member of the Order which avoids a great many awkward questions."
"You trust him?"
"Of course I do. Why shouldn't I?" Remus said dismissively. He rose from the table. "Now listen. Don't worry about doing anything today, just relax and get settled in. I've got some work to do for a few hours, but if you need anything just call me."
Harry wasn't happy about Remus having to rely on Snape for the Wolfsbane Potion, but it was clear that Remus wasn't going to discuss it further. He watched his former teacher head for the library then went to retrieve his belongings from the front hall.
Harry was happy to discover that Mundungus Fletcher had brought everything, including his birthday presents that had been hidden under the floorboards in his room at the Dursleys'. He dragged everything up to his room and spent the next hour unpacking. He spent the rest of the afternoon studying until Remus came knocking at his door.
"Harry, I'll be in my study the rest of the night."
"Is there anything you need?" Harry asked.
"No, I'll be fine. I'll see you in the morning."
Harry studied a while longer until he heard noises from downstairs. He followed the sounds of banging pots and pans to find Tonks on her hands and knees with her head buried in a kitchen cupboard.
"Hi Tonks," Harry said.
"Hi Harry! Do you have any idea where Remus keeps the big pots?"
"Er, not really."
"I was going to make spaghetti but all I can find are saucepans."
At that moment, the front doorbell rang. "Are we expecting someone else?" Harry asked.
Tonks shrugged. "Maybe. You never know who's going to turn up around here." She went back to rummaging through the cupboard while Harry went upstairs to answer the door. To his surprise and delight it was Mrs. Weasley.
"Harry dear, how are you?" she said giving him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
"I'm okay," said Harry. "We weren't expecting you, though. Is everything all right?"
"Oh yes, everything's fine. I won't be staying long. What with the full moon and the horrible fright you had last night, I just wanted to stop by and make sure there wasn't anything you needed."
"Do you happen to know where Remus keeps the large pots?"
Harry explained that Tonks was trying to make dinner as Mrs. Weasley followed him back to the kitchen. She took one look at the disarray and promptly volunteered to cook. Harry and Tonks set the table and chatted while Mrs. Weasley prepared dinner. The Wizarding Wireless Network was on and Harry's attention was suddenly caught by the mention of his own name.
"So, Mr. Pembroke," the WWN announcer was saying, "you don't believe that Harry Potter is the answer to the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?"
"Of course not," said Pembroke, sounding as arrogant as Harry had always imagined him to be. "The greatest wizards of our age have been unable to defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. It's ridiculous to think that a boy could do so."
"But Harry Potter isn't just any boy. He's the Boy-Who-Lived and he's escaped You-Know-Who several times over the last few years."
"He's been lucky and he's no doubt had help. But now that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has returned to power, it will only be a matter of time before –"
Mrs. Weasley turned off the wireless. "What rubbish! They have nothing better to do than sit around debating something they know nothing about! Pay no attention to them, Harry, dear."
Harry nodded, but managed only a weak smile and the mood in the kitchen was much more subdued. Soon, however, dinner was ready. Harry and Tonks sat down to eat, but Mrs. Weasley didn't join them.
"I've baked some biscuits for later," she told them, gathering up her things. "They're just next to the stove,"
"You're not leaving already?" Harry asked.
"I'm afraid I have to get home to Arthur and the children. We'll all be seeing you very soon, I'm sure. For now, get some rest, Harry. You're safe here." With one last smile and a hug, Mrs. Weasley was gone and Harry felt unaccountably lonely.
He shrugged off the feeling as he and Tonks tucked into dinner. While they ate, Tonks filled him in on the latest exploits of the Order, or at least those that weren't confidential. They weren't nearly as impressive as Harry would have hoped. Most involved identifying Death Eaters and their sympathizers. It was necessary work, but not the sort that was going to save lives anytime soon.
Harry listened politely, but whereas last summer he would have soaked up every detail and wanted to be involved in any way he could, now he found that he really didn't care. He went to bed early, not so much physically tired as emotionally exhausted.
Harry awoke to another beautiful day with sunshine streaming in through his window. It did nothing to cheer him up. Lying in bed he could hear Averill Pembroke's voice in his head. "The greatest wizards of our age have been unable to defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. It's ridiculous to think that a boy could do so."
Pembroke was obnoxious, but he was also right. It was ridiculous. If the likes of Dumbledore couldn't defeat Voldemort, what chance did he, Harry, have? Unbidden, memories of the attack on Privet Drive came vividly to mind along with the hopeless certainty that he was going to die at Voldemort's hands and there was nothing he could do to stop it.
Harry rolled out of bed and went downstairs, hoping that movement would keep his thoughts at bay. He found Remus in the kitchen nursing a cup of tea. The man looked pale and tired, but otherwise unharmed.
"Good morning, Harry. Happy birthday."
Harry started. He'd forgotten it was his birthday.
"Thanks, Remus. How are you feeling?"
"Better than I look. Sit down; I'll get you some breakfast."
"I can do it."
"Nonsense! It's your birthday."
Remus set about making breakfast while Harry set the table. Although he was obviously stiff, Remus did seem well enough, Harry noted.
"Eat up and then get dressed, Harry," Remus said as they sat down to eat. "We're going to Diagon Alley, today. Your booklist for this year arrived with the post this morning." Remus handed Harry a sheet of paper. There were only two new textbooks: Sixth year charms, of course and an advanced Transfigurations text.
"Something else arrived for you as well," Remus said holding out an official looking letter from the Ministry of Education.
Harry's heart skipped a beat. It had to be his OWL results. He reached for the letter, took a deep breath and opened it.
Dear Mr. Potter,
We are pleased to inform you that you have received passing marks on the following OWLs:
Care of Magical CreaturesAcceptable
Defense Against the Dark ArtsOutstanding
History of MagicAcceptable
Department of Education
Harry sighed in relief. The last two were the only ones he had really been worried about. He needed to take Transfigurations and Potions if he was to have any hope of becoming an Auror, and both McGonagall and Snape required high marks on the OWLs. He'd been particularly worried about Potions, but without Snape around to distract him, he'd obviously managed quite well.
"Good news?" Remus asked.
Harry grinned and showed him the letter.
"Wonderful, Harry! Well done! I'd say this calls for a double celebration. After we pick up your school supplies, what do you say we stop by Florean Fortescue's for the biggest ice cream they have?"
"That'd be great," Harry said enthusiastically. Getting out of the house was exactly what he needed. He wolfed down the last of his breakfast, dressed, then accompanied Remus to a nearby teashop where they took the Floo to Diagon Alley.
It didn't take long for Harry to purchase all of his supplies. He'd been doing this for years and knew just what he wanted and where it could be found. He smiled at the younger children, first years no doubt, who were obviously on their first shopping trip to Diagon Alley. They stopped at every shop window, gazing wide-eyed at the wonders within while their parents tried vainly to hurry them on their way.
Of course, Harry thought wryly, Remus was almost as bad. He had wondered at first whether his former teacher would be up to the trip so soon after the full moon. He also worried that Remus might get bored shopping for such mundane supplies as quills and parchment, but Remus seemed delighted to follow Harry from shop to shop examining every curiosity and chatting about Quidditch and the upcoming school year.
He must be lonely too, Harry realized. He probably misses Sirius even more than I do.
"I think that's everything," Harry told Remus as they exited Flourish and Blotts.
"What about your Potions ingredients?"
"I didn't get a list for any."
Remus frowned momentarily. "Well, I suppose you can pick up whatever you need in Hogsmeade. Right now I think it's time to go see the newest proprietors in Diagon Alley."
Harry grinned. He knew exactly whom Remus meant.
Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes at Number Ninety-Three Diagon Alley was a sight to behold. The building itself kept changing colors, from orange to purple to a truly hideous shade of green to virtually every other color Harry could name and some that he couldn't. There was a giant tongue lolling out of an upstairs window that occasionally drooled on passers-by. And there were clangs, bangs and random explosions coming from within. Harry and Remus exchanged grins and went in.
Fred and George Weasley were standing in the midst of half a dozen enraptured children whom Harry vaguely recognized as Hogwarts students, though they were younger than himself and not in Gryffindor.
"Now, this here is what you want for unauthorized meanderings about the castle," Fred was saying as he gestured to what looked like a chocolate bar that George was holding. "The 'Chameleon Crunch', one of our latest inventions. George, if you'd be so good as to demonstrate?"
George grinned and took a small bite out of the bar. He immediately seemed to fade out of sight, blending into the shelves behind him.
"As you can see, this works like a Disillusionment Charm. One bar guarantees you twenty minutes of near-invisibility. Of course you don't have to eat it all at once. A mere nibble will be enough for you to give someone the slip in the halls."
"Two boys at the back of the group exchanged a quick glance. "We'll take a dozen of them," one boy said as they both began rummaging through their pockets for money.
"And a box of those 'Absent Teas'," added his obvious partner in crime.
"Excellent choices, gentlemen! Step this way," said George who was once again visible. "Anyone who would like to make a purchase, please come up to the front counter. And, don't forget that we also have catalogues available for your convenience."
The entire group of students followed George up to the counter.
"Harry!" Fred called, spotting Harry and Remus. "Welcome to Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes! We were wondering when you were going to grace us with your presence. Remus, how are you?"
"I'm fine," Remus said shaking Fred's hand. "Harry's just come to stay for the rest of the summer, so I thought I'd bring him by."
"Fred, this is brilliant!" Harry said.
"Well, we owe it all to you, mate."
"No you don't!"
"We couldn't have done it without you. You were our financier."
"That's right," Remus said with a glint of amusement in his eyes. "I do recall hearing something about that. I must say you know a good investment when you see one, Harry.
"I just provided the money," Harry said feeling slightly embarrassed. "Fred and George here are the geniuses who come up with all the good ideas!"
"Geniuses?" asked George joining them after having ushered all the students and their considerable purchases out of the shop. "Did I just hear someone refer to us as geniuses, Fred?"
"You did indeed, George! Of course, Harry here always was exceptionally perceptive, unlike our professors at Hogwarts. No offense, Remus!"
"None taken," Remus replied with a chuckle.
The shop door opened and a man about Remus' age entered wiping a large patch of drool off the shoulder of his expensive robes.
"May I help you, sir?" George asked.
"No, no thank you," the man said hardly glancing at George. Instead, he approached Harry and Remus.
"Mr. Potter isn't it? Harry Potter? Averill Pembroke from the Daily Prophet."
Harry frowned. The last thing he wanted to do was to talk to a reporter, particularly Pembroke.
"Since your participation in the dramatic events that heralded the return of You-Know-Who, everyone's been talking about you, Mr. Potter," Pembroke continued. "Yet you've been utterly incommunicado. I was hoping to get your reaction to the fact that the whole wizarding world seems to be looking to you for guidance."
"I think everyone's just frightened, that's all. If anyone wants guidance, they should look to Professor Dumbledore at Hogwarts. I don't have any to offer."
"Then the rumors that you are personally opposing You-Know-Who are unfounded?"
"Almost everyone is opposed to Voldemort," Harry said. He felt a glow of satisfaction as he saw Pembroke pale at the sound of Voldemort's name. Still the reporter wouldn't be deterred.
"So you're not afraid of him?"
"No, I'm not afraid of him."
"That makes you either very brave or very foolish, Mr. Potter, particularly after recent events."
Pembroke's polite smile didn't reach his eyes and looking into them, Harry felt a chill. He couldn't have said how he knew, but he was certain of it. Pembroke was a Death Eater.
"I'm still alive," Harry said carefully. "And, you can tell those…" Harry hesitated fractionally as he glanced at Pembroke's left arm. "…you report to, that I intend to stay that way."
Pembroke's expression didn't change, but he stiffened just enough for Harry to know his message had been understood.
Remus stepped forward, "That's enough questions for now, I think."
"And you are?" Pembroke asked, not bothering to hide his disdain.
"A friend," Harry said before Remus could answer.
"So are we," George added, slinging an arm over Pembroke's shoulder amiably.
"And this happens to be our shop," Fred said copying his brother's move on the opposite side.
"And, as much as we believe that the customer is always right…" George said as they ushered the reporter away from Harry and towards the door.
"…You haven't bought anything, and we really think it's time for you to be moving along." Fred finished. They reached the door and gave Pembroke a huge shove so that he only barely managed not to go sprawling onto the street outside.
"And don't come back," George said pleasantly, shutting the door on the furious man.
"What a git!" Fred said.
"Dad told us what happened at your aunt and uncle's place, Harry," George said with uncharacteristic seriousness. "We know you'll be all right with Remus."
"But if you need anything –" Fred said in the same tone.
"Anything at all –" George said.
"You let us know. We mean that." Fred finished.
Harry smiled at the twins. "Just take care of yourselves."
Fred and George grinned. "Don't worry about us, Harry," Fred said.
"Yeah. We're experts at looking after ourselves," George agreed.
Harry and Remus returned to Grimmauld Place in the early afternoon. True to his word, after leaving Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes, Remus had bought them the biggest ice cream sundaes at Florean Fortescue's and Harry was feeling vaguely nauseous even though he'd only managed to eat half of his. He went upstairs and had just finished depositing his school supplies in his trunk when Remus called him.
"Harry, will you give me a hand in the library for a minute?"
"Coming!" Harry called back. He went downstairs and pushed open the library door. "What can I do, Remus?"
Harry nearly jumped out of his skin. The room was full of people, all applauding and smiling at him. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were there along with Ron and Ginny. He saw Fred and George standing next to Hermione. Then there were Moody and Tonks as well as a number of Order members, some of whom he barely knew. Hermione and Ron detached themselves from the crowd and came over to him.
"Happy birthday, Harry!" Hermione said, hugging him fiercely.
"What's all this?" Harry asked, at last managing to find his voice.
"It's a surprise party, you prat! What do you think?" Ron said clapping him on the shoulder. "Come on, we've got presents and cake and all sorts of food."
Harry let himself be dragged into the room. Ron was right. There was a mountain of food and a lovely cake, made by Mrs. Weasley. And there were more presents than Harry had ever received at one time in his life. But best of all, he was surrounded by his friends. It was without a doubt, the best birthday Harry had ever had.