Okay, I know I made you wait so long, I'm REALLY SORRY, so I'll put my notes at the end.

Happy reading :)


The heated argument between Sirius and Snape was disappointingly anti-climactic. It was abruptly ended with two quick, silent stunners from Albus, both of which, neither man saw coming. There was a moment of silence, before Remus stood up, and flicked his wand, levitating his friend's unconscious form several feet in the air.

"I believe you're correct Albus. We should continue this at a later time." He stated evenly, hiding his true feelings on the situation "Harry." he added, in a voice that every child knows

Without a word, Harry stood, and quickly followed his uncle and floating godfather. They walked in silence until they were several halls away.

Remus turned around. His breaths were shallow, and rapid. His emotions were mixed, battling between frustration, anger, and a sense of relief. Harry wasn't sure what to say, so he did the first thing he thought of. With two strides, he closed the gap, wrapping his arms around his uncle's waist. For a moment, Remus didn't react, then slowly, he returned the embrace. A minute later, he pulled away. Harry spoke first.

"Would it help if I said I was sorry?" he asked softly

Remus appeared to be regaining control, or at least attempting to "I'm…not sure that's going to cut it this time, Harry." He stated slowly

Harry sighed heavily. Honestly, he'd expected this. If Sirius had needed proof, Remus most certainly would.

"Alright, come on."

Remus appeared confused "What?"

"You need to see for yourself." Harry replied calmly "Sirius did too. I understand."

Remus' face contorted "Harry I…wait, I thought Sirius found you?"

Harry grimaced, realizing his slip up. 'Oh, well.' He thought. Remus deserved the truth anyways.

"Uh, Sirius was gonna tell you later."

"Tell me what?" Remus questioned sharply

Harry shook his head "Not here. Are you going to wake…"

Remus' scowl answered Harry's question "Never mind. Come on. This way."

Harry turned, heading towards the opposite wall; drawing his wand, he muttered a phrase, opening a panel to one of the secret passageways. He walked a few steps, before he realized that Remus wasn't following. He went back to the entrance.

"Uncle Moony?"

Remus hesitated only a moment longer, before quickly following without a sound, still levitating Sirius' unconscious form. Harry took note of his uncle's facial expression, as well as the emotions he was emitting. There was still a sense of relief, but confusion, frustration, and even a hint of 'distrust' now dominated.

It was that last one that Harry was worried about. 'Distrust'. He'd just admitted to flat out lying to three authority figures, and he'd done it with a straight…well, a semi-straight face. This was going to take some fast talking and true sincerity to mend even some of the damage.

They walked in silence, as they moved through the passageway between floors. As they reemerged into the halls on the seventh floor, Harry could tell that Remus was deep in thought, barely paying attention to where they were or where they were going. Several times, Harry had to silently reinforce the levitation spell on Sirius, due to Remus' lack of concentration, though Remus didn't seem to notice. They finally emerged from the passageway, and stopped in front of the blank wall, where Harry had been with Sirius less than an hour ago.

Coming out of his thoughts, Remus realized that they'd stopped. His eyes shifted, taking in the surroundings.

"Where are we?" he questioned bluntly amazing

Harry looked up "You don't recognize it?" he asked softly, although, in all honesty, he hadn't expected him to, considering his current lack of concentration

"Hold on." He added before Remus' had a chance to answer

He walked quickly in front of the wall three times, before the door appeared. He opened it to reveal the same room he'd shown to Sirius. It held a homey feeling, with the only source of light coming from a warm fire blazing away in the fireplace

Harry stepped to the side "You, uh, want to come in?"

But Remus didn't seem to hear him "This is where you were?" he asked instead, his eyes roaming around the room

Harry nodded, then realized Remus wasn't looking at him "Yes." He answered verbally

"How did you find this place?"

"Sirius asked the same thing. Come on in, and I'll tell you."

Remus slowly entered the room, almost forgetting that Sirius was behind him. Harry quickly remedied that by pulling his own wand, and verbally casted a 'locomotor' charm, levitating Sirius over to the couch.

"I guess I'm going to have to get used to that, huh?"

Harry was confused "What?"

Remus just pointed to the wand

"Oh…uh" Harry didn't trust himself not to say something that would be less then self incriminating. He resigned to remaining silent, while sitting down in the armchair next to the couch.

"Does it…bother you?" Harry finally asked, after a moment of silence

Remus pursed his lips, as he took a seat in another chair, opposite Harry, but didn't say anything, appearing to be lost in thought.

Remus' lack of answer seemed to be Harry's.

"I'm sorry." He said quietly "If you don't like it, I can limit…"

"No." Remus interrupted, cutting him off "I…" he sighed heavily, running his hands over his face. It was obvious that he was out of his element

"It just…surprises me. I'd rather you be honest about your abilities then try to suppress them. You're…no longer in the muggle world."

Harry internally grimaced at the honesty bit, but he understood the message, although that disturbed him more than the honesty issue.

"I…would never mistake you for Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia." He replied softly

He met Remus' eyes, now horror stricken, but also telling him that he had hit the nail right on the head. He sighed heavily, before standing up, and crawling into the large armchair next to his uncle. He wrapped himself around his uncle's left arm, and laid his head on his shoulder. Remus was slightly taken aback, but didn't push him away

"I know you would never hurt me." He added quietly "I trust you."

"But how can you, Harry?" Remus asked bluntly, a slight quaver in his voice

Harry was taken off guard by the question, but it seemed that Remus' true feelings and concerns were surfacing.

In Harry's opinion and the first thought that came to his mind is that the better question should have been 'How could he not trust Remus?' The only time in his life he had ever questioned Remus' loyalty had been those few minutes in the Shrieking Shack after Hermione had revealed him as a werewolf, and he believed him to have been in cahoots with Sirius, whom he had still been under the delusion, was out to kill him.

Past that, Remus had never given him any reason to doubt. He'd been with Harry, almost till the end, and suffered his own share of tragedies over the years.

Harry mentally groaned. He knew that Remus had been talking to Mrs. Willis, that child psychologist that had originally interviewed him for the trial. He knew, in general, what types of questions he'd been asking, most of which consisted of what he should expect from an abused child.

The problem was that he hadn't been an abused 'child' in years. An abused or tortured adult as a result of the war, yes, and perhaps some of his reactions resembled those of someone who'd suffered the agony of child abuse, but…well, it was different.

The problem Harry had identified a moment ago had to do with 'trust'. He knew that quite often, an abused child, or even adult, will lose their capacity to trust people. They'll be withdrawn, loners, and resist any type of caring or affection they receive.

While Harry would have undoubtedly been like this, had he time traveled back even a few years prior to the end of the war, but he, well, he had learned to 'trust' again, after…after his 'captivity'.

He held tears back at that thought, knowing he couldn't even bring himself to think about that at the moment. It was too painful. For the most part, he'd forced himself to avoid the situation, knowing there was nothing he could do for the time being. He'd only allowed himself to truly dwell on it twice, yet dismissed it just as quickly. Though that didn't stop it from plaguing his dreams.

He had to deal with the situation in front of him.

"What do you mean, Uncle Moony?" he asked softly

Remus ran his fingers through his hair, obviously confused and somewhat frustrated "I mean…you. I haven't done…and I'm a…From day one you just…and you've never…" he let out a soft growl of frustration

Harry sighed, knowing his uncle needed a rational explanation for everything "I trust you Uncle Moony. I've known I could from the first time I met you. I sensed it."

Remus looked up, surprise on his face, but Harry went on.

"I already knew who you were, through some of dad's memories that he left. I saw how you were with them, and how, uh, how much they trusted you. How much they loved you." Harry fidgeted "The first time I met you, I" he bit his lip "I spent about 5 minutes just w…watching you"

Now Remus did appear taken aback, but didn't interrupt

"I…I don't trust people easily, but it helps that I can sense their emotions. I sensed yours, and they" he pursed his lips as if searching for the right word "they were 'pure'. You didn't want anything from me, or for me to do anything. You didn't have a…an ultimate agenda. You just wanted to meet me, and you…you 'cared' for me. Not many people in my life have ever…"

He paused, before adding "I knew mum and dad were right about you. You and Sirius." He stated, inclining his head towards his godfather "I knew they wouldn't have named him my godfather if they hadn't trusted him completely. You know, Dad never believed you were the spy. He told me so in a memory he left."

At this comment, he saw Remus' eyes brighten, if only in the slightest, but still it signaled to him that this was what Remus needed to hear

"He told me that despite your 'furry little problem' you were a good man, and that your, uh, 'struggles' had only made you stronger, is how he phrased it. He said that if you were" He bit his lip "if you were still alive that you would help me in any way within your power. He told me the same thing about Sirius. I realize I haven't technically known you for very long, or Sirius for even shorter than that,but in my mind I've known you both for – a long time." He stated, choosing his words carefully

"I consider you my family. My real family. Not like the Dursleys. Nothing like the Dursley's. Noth…" His voice had grown hard, and he was suddenly having a hard time controlling his emotions. It was only a quiet voice that seemed to reach out and calm him

"You're our family too, Harry. That will never change."

Harry who had momentarily averted his gaze from Remus, staring into the fire, now shifted to look towards the voice. His godfather was now sitting up on the couch, looking a bit disheveled, though no worse for the wear.

Without really thinking, he let go of Remus, slid out of the chair, and crawled into his godfather's waiting arms. He relaxed a little, as Sirius' arms wrapped around him. He closed his eyes, and attempted to clear his mind, leaning against Sirius' chest.

He missed a questioning and concerned look that passed between his two guardians.

He knew he had to calm down. He hadn't said too much yet, but if he wasn't careful, his emotions would get the better of him, and he'd be spilling his guts long before he needed to. These two men had always been a weakness of his; even thought Sirius had died so early on, his memory had been a constant presence. And Remus-well, Remus had always stood by him, up until the day he was struck down, murdered in the heat of battle, just four years before the war ended.

Nothing was said for a minute, and Harry knew the tension had to be cut-someway. Now that he was thinking clearly, he couldn't think of any better way of accomplishing this then…

"OUCH! HEY, what was that for?!"

Without warning, Harry had wacked Sirius on the back of his head. He shook his head at Sirius' outrage; it hadn't been that hard, though Sirius had shifted him out of his lap, and to the seat on the couch next to him.

"That's for being a hot-headed idiot." Harry huffed indigently, in a childlike manor

Harry noted that Remus couldn't keep a smirk off his face and an amused gleam from his eyes, which he was grateful for.

"Oh, and this from the kid that disappeared for 8 hours. That really hurt." Sirius wined, reverting to his own childlike manor, and rubbing the back of his head dramatically

"Oh stop being such a baby, Sirius. It wasn't that hard."

Sirius scowled "You weren't the one that got hit." Sirius huffed

Remus snickered "Oh, you deserved it and you know it. Harry's right. You were a hot headed idiot. What in the world possessed you to pick a fight with Snape?"

"Hey, he started it." Sirius griped, folding his arms across his chest

Remsu shook his head "That's not what I saw. You were the initiator from where I stood. It was you who…"

"Yeah, Yeah, Yeah." Sirius interjected "Can we stop focusing on me for a moment. Why don't you tell me exactly why we're" he looked around the room "uh, here?"

Remus shrugged "This is supposedly where Harry was. He led me…"

"Oh, I know that much." Sirius interjected "But why are we here again?"

"Again?" Remus questioned suspiciously "What do you know about this?"

"I, uh, already showed Sirius." Harry interjected slowly "When he found me…or should I say, I found him." He added, deliberately adding a hint of guilt to his voice

Now he definitely had Remus' attention, and Sirius appeared slightly confused as well

"What do you mean 'you found him'?" Remus questioned, his eyes narrowing

"Yeah, Harry, I mean, I suppose you could say we just kind of found each other, but…"

Harry shook his head "No, I mean-I found you, deliberately. I knew where you were. I knew you were in that hallway." Harry's voice was soft, and slightly fearful. He was playing his role as a child exceptionally well; at least he hoped he was.

Now both men appeared thoroughly confused

"How could you – know something like that?" Remus asked

Harry just started down at his hands, a 'deer in the headlights' expression on his face. He didn't respond.

After a moment, Remus spoke again "Harry, I do…" He paused pursing his lips; then he sighed and leaned back, rubbing his hands over his face

"Alright" he sighed "Look Harry. I…we're not angry." He said, after shooting a glance at Sirius "We merely want to know what really happened."

"Harry, I know what you, uh, told me, but if you weren't here…"

"I was!" Harry interjected quickly, and he had been – for about 5 minutes "I was." He repeated, this time in a gently tone "And I really did fall asleep. I didn't mean to stay out past curfew."

"Okay." Remus stated, slowly "So you're saying you didn't do anything intentionally wrong, except – perhaps, coming here?"

Harry shook his head "No, I told you the truth. This place isn't out of bounds."

Remus looked around "What is this place?"

Harry sighed "Well, you may remember it better like this." He closed his eyes, and focused on a memory he'd seen.

A moment later, the room began to change. Instead of a warm, cozy sitting room, it transformed into a Prankster's paradise. A Gryffindor's prankster's paradise to be precise. Red and gold draperies accented the walls. A large window on the North wall gave a 'simulated' view of the quidditch pitch, and a large banner of the Gryffindor crest with an animated Lion in the middle giving silent roars and prowling around the banner. The floors and walls were a light wood, and the room was naturally bright, though no source of light could be seen, except the 'sun' gently shining through the simulated windows, as if at sunset. In one corner of the room, a mountain of plush comfy pillows lay, whether to sit on or use for practicing spells or jinxes. In the other corner there was a book shelf, filled with books completely on pranks, including spells, jinxes, counter jinxes, and potions. Next to the book shelf was a large couch, and several matching armchairs, as well as a large coffee table. The other side of the room was filled with two large 'laboratory' like tables. Potion ingredients and potion equipment adorned the first table. Other prank items and prank 'ingredients' adorned the second. Behind the tables, stood long legged stools, just beckoning the next prankster to begin plotting their next scheme.

Harry watched as both Remus and Sirius took in the surroundings. He felt the change in their emotions. He imagined their memories of this place were coming back.

Remus let out a breath "Merlin." Remus breathed "I forgot about this place."

"I didn't recognize it either. Remember how much time we spent in this place?"

"Actually, I think you and James spent more time in here then I did."

"Well, we didn't find it 'till the middle of our 4th year. At first, we mostly used it for practicing our animagus forms. It wasn't until later that we figured out it could change, and started using it for planning our pranks. Remember that time we almost got caught by that nosy prefect?"

"Remember the time we did get caught by that nosy prefect?"

Sirius chuckled "Lily always was too smart for her own good. Remember 7th year; she and James used it as their own private mak…"

"SIRIUS!" Remus snapped, warningly, shooting a pointed glance towards Harry

Harry did his best to keep a smile off his face. He knew what Sirius had been about to say.

"Well, it's true." Sirius argued "And anyway, he probably already knows if James showed him."

"What?" Remus questioned, confused "How could James…" He looked at Sirius, then towards Harry

"Through memories." Harry answered quickly "Some pensive memories, and some mentions of it in his journals. He called it the MD or the Marauder's Den."

Remus slumped back in one of the newly formed armchairs "So that's how you found this place?" Harry couldn't decide if it was a statement or a question, but he remembered what he had told Sirius and decided to go into detail

"Well, kind of. Dad never gave specific details on how to get to it, just details about the room itself. Once I got here, I asked one of the house elves if they knew where such a room was in the castle. They did, and showed me how to get here and access the room. It's a quiet place to just get away to. It's on the 9th floor, which isn't out of bounds, and there's no rule saying a student can't be here."

Remus held up a hand "Okay, Harry. You've established that you're not out of bounds or breaking any specific school rules. You still haven't explained how you knew where Sirius would be."

Harry bit his lip, then turned his back on them for a moment. When he turned back around, he was met with looks of confusion.

His eyes were slightly downcast, and held something of a guilty appearance "I knew where you went also." He said, almost in a whisper

Now Remus appeared slightly shocked, and greatly concerned "Harry"

Harry looked up "I'm sorry you thought I would go there. I'm sorry I made you go." Harry's eyes seemed to boar into his uncles, as if pleading for forgiveness

For a second, Remus just stared at him, then beckoned Harry towards him. The next moment, Harry found himself in his uncle's embrace.

"I would go to the ends of the earth for you, Harry." Remus whispered gently

For the second time, Harry felt some of the tension leave his body. He hadn't been subject to this level of caring in over a year, and no matter how much he tried to resist at times, he was hungry for it. Desperately hungry.

"I love you, Uncle Moony."

Remus gave him a tight squeeze "I love you too, cub." There was a short pause, before he spoke again "But Harry, you need to tell us how you knew where we were. Did the room – do something, or…"

Harry sighed quietly "No, nothing like that." He stared down at his hands, fidgeting with his fingernails "Did you, um, did you ever wonder why Fred and George idolized you the way they did, er, do?"

Remus shared a glance at Sirius. Sirius just shrugged, having only met the twins once.

"I suppose it crossed my mind." Began Remus "But I can't say I gave it much thought. What do they have to do with it?"

Harry pursed his lips "At the beginning of the year; on the train actually, the two of them heard me use your, uh, nickname 'Moony'. They asked me some questions. I told them that that was your nickname at school and that you were part of the Marauders. They got really excited. I wanted to know why."

Harry reached into his robes "They pulled out – this. They asked me if I knew what it was. I did from dad's journals." He pulled his wand, and tapped the map "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." The ink lines began to slowly appear

He looked up, watching the surprise appear on both men's faces, and with Sirius, there was a mix of pride in there as well. This was only confirmed by the smile that slowly crept across his face.

Being the closest, Remus was the first to finger the parchment, as it slipped from Harry's grasp to his. He ran his thumb over the names, his eyes hardening as they passed over Wormtail, but softening just as quickly as they passed over the others. After a moment, he handed it over to Sirius. Sirius stared at it for a moment, before turning it over in his hands, thumbing the sets of initials on the back; JP, SB, RL, and PP.

Sirius shook his head "I never thought I'd see this again."

Remus looked from the map back to Harry "Harry, are you saying that the Weasley twins had this?"

Harry bit his lip but nodded "They, er, found it in Filches office their first year. Said it took them a while to figure it out. Actually, they never told me how they figured out the pass code."

"Probably used the back-up system." Sirius interjected, idly, as he spread the map out onto the coffee table

"The what?" Harry questioned, though he knew what it was

"Oh, we put in a backup system. Don't really remember why."

"To 'see if our kids were true pranksters' if I remember correctly." Stated Remus

Sirius nodded, still examining the map "That's right. We designed the map to 'talk' to anyone who tried to figure out what it was. If they remained interested after a few pointed 'comments', they were subjected to a series of questions. If they answered satisfactorily, and proved that they were sincere pranksters, they would be given the passphrase. James' original idea was to use it as a test for our future kids."

Sirius' eyes became slightly cloudy and hardened as he said this; probably contemplating the past, and the difference of what could have been from the tragic events that actually took place. Harry wasn't exactly sure what to do next, so he placed the tip of his wand on the map again, and stated "Exsto Sirius Black."

With those words, the map flipped open to the 9th floor, and to the area, where all three of their names appeared, along with the room entitled as 'Marauders Den'. Harry thought back to his 6th year when Draco Malfoy had used this room and it hadn't appeared on the map at all. Hermione had been the smart one, and figured out that if you needed the room unplottable, it would be, but right now, Harry needed it to be plottable.

Remus seemed to stare at the names for a moment, before looking up "I suppose James taught you that as well?"

Harry nodded

"And this is how you knew where we were?"

Harry nodded again

Remus leaned back "Why didn't you tell us about this, Harry?"

Harry bit his lip "I, uh, I don't know."

Remus' eyes narrowed "Harry."

Harry looked up, a slight hint of guilt in his eyes "I just – didn't want to get in trouble." He sighed "And I didn't want Fred or George to get into trouble either. I guess I was also afraid that you might take it away." Harry shifted uncomfortably, his hands behind his back.

Once again, Remus' eyes glanced down at the map, then back at Harry, but before he could say anything, Sirius spoke up

"Of course we wouldn't take it away, Harry."

Remus shot Sirius a warning glare.

Sirius' eyes narrowed "Oh, and you would?"

Remus appeared uncertain, before sighing heavily "I just, I don't want you to get in trouble, or worse, hurt; or anyone else hurt. This map, it…" Remus shook his head "You're using it to pull off pranks." It was a statement, not a question "And Arthur mentioned that Fred and George were pranksters."

Harry's eyes shifted, but he didn't say anything. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, before Sirius spoke.

"Well, I for one am extremely proud of him."

Harry beamed slightly at these words, but still said nothing.

Remus rubbed his forehead slightly before speaking "Harry, it's not that I'm not proud of you. You've done very well for your first term. Extremely well from what Minerva tells me; academically, socially, you made the quidditch team."

"Oh yeah, I'm defiantly seeing a problem here, Moony." Came Sirius' voice, heavy with sarcasm "Just pin the title 'Juvenile Delinquent' on him now."

Remus groaned "You know that's not what I mean. It's just" He turned towards Harry "Har, first it was your dad's cloak, and now I know you have this; not to mention this whole thing with Al…Professor Dumbledore and then Snape, I…" He shook his head, a sign that he was out of his element once again

"You're afraid I'll go overboard."

"I know how easy it is to get caught up in the excitement, and I guarantee that you're going to be watched very closely for the rest of this year."

"Oh, stop worrying so much Moony. We were constantly watched as well, and suspected and questioned on everything."

"And we were behind most of it." Remus huffed, indigently

"Not everything." Sirius argued "Just the good stuff."

Harry couldn't hide a slight snort "Come on, Uncle Moony. I haven't even gotten a detention yet."

"Yeah, it's the yet that worries me."

Harry chuckled "Well, as I understand it, all Potters leave a legacy at this school, whether they try to or not. I don't really think it's going to matter what I do or don't have. And besides, didn't you say it was Professor Dumbledore that sent me the cloak. He's going to know I have it and you know; and now you know about the map and the, uh, group projects. I mean, it's just for fun. We're not trying to hurt anyone."

Remus gazed into his nephews face, then shook his head amusedly "Well, I can see you inherited your mother's practical manner, yet your father's silver tongue. Not to mention his gift for mischief making."

Harry bit back a smile, and put on a look of innocence "I don't go looking for mischief, Uncle Moony. It just seems to find me."

"That was always my argument." Sirius agreed

Remus sighed "I'm not going to win this, am I?"

Harry held back a sigh. He would be able to keep the map, at least for now "I'll do my best not to get into too much trouble." He promised

Remus ruffled his hair good-naturedly "What about the trouble you're already in?"

Harry bit his lip, but shrugged "I guess whatever happens will happen."

Remus raised a curious eyebrow "You're not worried."

Harry shrugged again "Not really. After the, uh, Dursleys I think I can handle just about anything. It can't be any worse. Well, Snape might be, but everyone says that Professor McGonagall is fair, and she's my head of house. And I'll accept whatever the two of you decide."

He averted his gaze, in an attempt to appear humble or sorrowful. He was sorrowful in a way, though not sad. More like, apologetic. He hated that he had caused his guardians so much trouble in such a short amount of time.

Remus and Sirius exchanged a look before Remus spoke "I think, this time, there will be no consequences from us. It seemed to be an accident, and it happened at school. But, if something like this should happen again…"

Harry quickly nodded in understanding, the statement left hanging in the air.

"Soo" Sirius began "What do we do now."

Harry pursed his lips. Time to attempt to win one more battle.

Harry slipped quietly into the Common Room. It was about five-thirty, and, thankfully, the minuscule population of Gryffindors had yet to stir. Harry was far from tired. Surprisingly, being knocked out was very refreshing, physically anyway. Actually, it was probably the most sleep he'd gotten in one go since…er, well, most certainly since he'd come back, but the more he thought about it, it was probably the most he'd had in several years. Most of the war had consisted of simply surviving day to day, and for him, that meant extremely early mornings, and very late nights, and even now, with little immediate danger, his body still didn't allow him to break the cycle, though there had been very little effort on his part towards the change. He simply didn't want it.

He sighed. His head was hurting again; thought this time, he thought it had more to do with the conversations he had just had, and the quick thinking he had had to do; but in the end, it had payed off. He had convinced Remus and Sirius to go on home, and let Minerva go with him to, well, whatever this meeting was about for whatever Albus had on his mind. He shook his head. This was going to be a long day.

He slipped up the stairs, and into the 1st year's bedchamber.

The sole sound from the room was Neville's even breathing. As Harry moved closer, it was evident that sleep had eluded his friend for a time. He was sprawled out on the bed, surrounded by several books that appeared to have been looked at, then quickly tossed aside. Harry sighed. He'd have to apologize to him later.

He moved toward his trunk, grabbing a pair of sweatpants and a clean t-shirt, before slipping into the bathroom.

As the steaming water caressed his body, soothing the tension and aches in his joints and muscles, he took the time to muse over the events of the last 24 hours.

The meeting with Albus had begun this crazy chain of events. Well, that meeting was inevitable. It would have happened one way or another, and in truth, it could have gone much worse than it had. Harry knew, beyond a doubt, that there were several loopholes in the oath Albus had taken, and would exploit, if he felt the necessity, but in truth, Harry wasn't all that concerned. After all, he'd tried to dissuade Remus and Sirius from coming at all, and had a say as to the wording of the oath. In short, it covered Harry's major concerns, and held implications, even Albus wasn't fully aware of.

No, the real problems had started with his decision to enter the Chamber. And it wasn't even the fact that he'd been knocked out. That part, honestly, hadn't been that bad. In fact, it only reinforced the conclusion that he had come to years ago that some force in this universe had no desire for him to die. Half the time, he was certain it was a guardian angel. The other half, he was sure it was some demonic force that was determined to prolong his suffering on this mortal plane.

The true problem had been the amount of time he had remained incapacitated, and the fact that Minerva and Albus had 'panicked' in that amount of time, and in turn utterly terrified his uncle and godfather, not to mention Neville.

Then, of course, Albus had considered…only for a moment, but still. Harry had no one to blame but himself; for Albus' assumption as well as Snape's presence. Albus had jumped to the outrageous conclusion that his disappearance was a possible Death Eater plot, then used Snape in an attempt to confirm or deny his suspicions.

Okay, so maybe it wasn't a completely outrageous hypothesis, and if he was real honest with himself, which he wasn't sure he wanted to be at the moment, if he had been in Albus' position, he would have at least considered the possibility.

The more he thought about it, the less annoyed he became with the old man's assumptions. He hadn't planned on it, but he could see a way to use this to his advantage. An amused glint now shown in his eyes as he stepped out of the shower, and wrapped the towel around his waist. He knew what he had to face in a few hours, but if he played it right…the amusement in his eyes expanded as a small, mischievous smile twitched on the edge of his lips. Ohh, this was going to be so much fun! If it didn't backfire on him.

A drying charm on his hair and a few minutes later, he emerged from the steamy bathroom, feeling clean, refreshed, and calmer then he had in days. He knew that it would be short lived, but for the moment, he simply wanted to bask in the tranquility of the present.

Small beams of sunlight of the early morning were slowly filling the room. As his eyes adjusted, he noticed that Neville was no longer sprawled out on the bed, but awake and sitting Indian style on it, although his eyes still held a heaviness from the lack of sleep.

"You're here." He heard him mutter, as Harry moved towards his own bed, before mumbling something, although the only words Harry caught were 'knew it', 'hiding', and 'was right'

Harry shook his head, hiding his amusement "Hey Nev."

"I told them you were just hiding." He murmured softly

Harry couldn't repress a snicker "Well, I wasn't exactly hiding, but you weren't far off."

Neville reddened slightly, not having meant to be heard "I, uh, I said, but I…didn't mean" Neville moaned "Did I get you in trouble?"

Harry laughed at his friend's uneasiness, although he could tell that Neville found the situation anything but funny, so he calmed down

"I don't think I have any problem getting myself into trouble."

Neville still didn't appear convinced

Harry sighed, jumping up on his bed. He pulled a pillow towards him, lying on his stomach, and facing his friend. He took a good look at Neville for a moment, before continuing.

"Look Nev." He ran his fingers through his hair "Yeah, I'm in some trouble, okay, but it had nothing to do with anything you said or did. In fact, what you said only helped them find me faster."

Neville's face scrunched up "What do you mean?"

"Well, where I went was a place my dad and his friends used to go to…get away from everything."

Neville appeared thoughtful "Is, is that why you won't tell us where it is?" he asked after a moment "Because it's…special?"

Harry smiled a little "That's part of it. It makes me feel, um, closer to my dad, I guess."

"Oh." Neville replied softly, although it seemed like it was in a more understanding tone

Harry sighed again "Listen, it's not that I don't want you there, you, and Ron, and Hermione. You're my best friends. I just, I think I need some time."

Neville nodded "I…I can understand that. I mean"

Harry smiled "How is that going? Your mum and dad, I mean?"

Neville shifted slightly "I, uh, I told them. Ya-you know, what you said I should."

Harry's expression softened "And?"

"Well, they, um, they" Neville shifted uncomfortably

"You did the right thing, Nev." Harry said gently "That took a great deal of courage."

Neville reddened, fidgeting slight and looked down at his hands "That's what they said, too. But, it's just…they're angry at Gran right now, and Uncle Algie. He came around once, two days after the announcement, but there was a big fight between him, my aunt, Gran, and mum and dad. He and my aunt, uh, haven't been back since. Gran's still around, but speaking terms aren't exactly the best and I…I think she blames you, uh, Gran that is." Neville had somehow managed to get that all out in one breath, and now was now gasping slightly

If Neville hadn't been so evidently shaken by the situation, Harry might have voiced his amusement over the fact that Augusta blamed him for the situation. But as it was, Neville currently needed reassurance now more than anything.

"Do you blame me?" Harry asked softly

Neville appeared so-'lost', but after a moment, he slowly shook his head

Harry ran his fingers through his hair thoughtfully "I'm sorry, Nev. I didn't mean to cause any animosity or additional stress for your family. I can imagine how difficult it is right now. And while I do apologize and accept some of the blame for bringing this…issue to your parent's attention with everything else they have to deal with. I admit, the timing probably couldn't have been worse, but" he pursed his lips before completing his thought "well, I don't apologize for the fact that it was brought to their attention."

Neville shot him a look that distinctly said he was confused over this declaration, and perhaps even a bit defensive, although uncertain as to the reason why.

"What, uh, I don't" Neville began, but didn't appear to know what to ask

Harry gazed at his friend, trying to figure out the best way to explain what he meant. He finally decided on a path.

"Look, Nev" he began "I'm not trying to down play or minimize your parent's situation. I'm also not saying what I did was right. I'm just saying that as far as the…outcome " he hesitated, trying to find the right words

In that moment, Neville blurted out a question that had obviously been festering for quite a while "Why did you do it?"

Harry looked up, slightly surprised. That hadn't been a question Neville had initially posed to him, nor asked him in any of their letters since that day. He wondered exactly how much he should reveal to his friend.

He pursed his lips, before sighing, and leaning into his pillows against the backboard "What do you know about that particular ritual, Nev?"

Neville shifted slightly "I've studied it." He muttered noncommittally

"You had a tutor before Hogwarts, right? Someone who taught you about everything pureblood; rights, rituals, customs, ect. Someone who taught you your supposed place in this society, and the role you're expected to play?"

Neville bit his lip, but slowly nodded

"Then what did they say about that particular ritual? Not so much 'how' it's performed, but 'why'."

"Um." Neville seemed to be thinking "I think it's, uh, associated with 'peace offerings' or something like that, with the 'life debt' and all."

Harry nodded in approval "Exactly. It's seen as a peace offering; as a peaceful way to resolve a conflict, should both parties desire it without a duel or, uh, bloodshed." Harry stated, rolling his eyes as he did. Really, some pureblood customs were completely unnecessary, and utterly outdated "Although, more importantly, it's seen as extending a hand of friendship. The life debt is seen as something of a 'gift', I suppose you could say.

"A gift?" Neville questioned

Harry's lips twitched "Okay, not exactly 'gift'. A 'choice' would probably be a better description. The Mercy Pardon is just what its name implies, a chance for the wronged party to offer 'mercy' to the guilty. The 'life debt' is a symbol of justice offered to the offended. The wronged party has to make a conscious decision as to whether they want to seek justice for the misdeed committed against them, or if they're willing to mercifully pardon it, thereby extending a hand of friendship in return."

Neville's face scrunched up "How do you know all that?"

Harry shrugged "I read a lot, and I was reading up on purebloods after I found out my dad was one. Then Uncle Moony and Ms. Karin told me some things afterwards."

Neville still appeared confused "I still don't understand why you did it." He questioned, almost hesitantly

Harry sighed "I could tell your grandmother was angry at Sirius, and I…"

"How?" Neville interjected

Harry mentally groaned, but remained calm "I could always tell when Uncle Vernon was upset at me."

At that, Harry saw some of the fire leave his friend's eyes, as they were instantly lowered, and he couldn't help but feel a bit guilty.

"So you…you did it for your godfather?" he asked, after a moment of uncomfortable silence

Harry couldn't help but let out a small laugh at this.

Neville appeared started, and slightly embarrassed, thinking he had said something stupid.

Harry covered his mouth, and took a moment to regain his composure.

"Neville." He started "If I had done it just for Sirius, I would have gone a lot further then I did."

Neville scrunched up his face, obviously confused at the statement "Huh?"

Harry sighed "I wouldn't have stopped where I had, and I would have never invoked the mercy pardon."

Neville's face was still scrunched "I…don't understand."

Harry ran his fingers through his hair "Nev, I didn't do it for Sirius. A lot of people are still skeptical about his innocence. People are going to believe what they want, no matter what I say or do, including your grandmother. I wasn't trying to change her opinions, merely trying to get her to consider a different train of thought."

"So you…did it for her?" Neville questioned, thoroughly confused

Harry fiercely shook his head "You're misunderstanding me, Nev. I didn't do it for her or for Sirius. I did it for you."

Neville appeared utterly shocked "What?" came the whispered question

"I did it for you." Harry stated again, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world "For you. For us. For our friendship, and the future of that friendship."

Neville still appeared shell-shocked, but he was slowly finding his voice "You…you would risk a life debt for…for…"

"For your friendship?" Harry smiled "That and more."

Neville had lapsed into silence again, and Harry could tell that he was trying to process everything, and his emotions were haywire

Harry allowed a lapse of silence. Neville couldn't understand how deep their friendship truly ran. It was a truly 'magical bond', and one he had no desire to jeopardize. Neville was truly his 'brother', whether he knew it or not.

After a long moment, Neville finally posed another question, seemingly trying to avoid his discomfort, and hide the redness on his face, a result from the obvious meaning of his friend's words

"You said you didn't re-regret the 'outcome'?" he stuttered out "What did you, uh, mean?"

Harry pursed his lips, before slowly going into his explanation "Nev, I already admitted I was wrong, and I was. This is not something I had the 'right' to bring up. It wasn't my business, and I said it in the heat of the moment. I didn't plan on it, and then I made a rash and…extreme parallel."

"Parallel?" Neville interjected

Harry nodded "I was comparing the way your grandmother was 'wrongly' accusing Sirius for the actions of his cousin to the way someone could accuse your grandmother for the actions of her brother, your great uncle, brought upon you; but it wasn't a completely accurate parallel."

Neville's face was once again scrunched "Why?"

Harry's lips twitched "Mainly this. Sirius had no control or responsibility for his cousin's actions. He was barely out of school, and not the Head of the Black Family at the time. Bellatrix was several years older than him, and a married woman, bound to the LeStrange Family through her marriage. Your grandmother, on the other hand, was not only the Acting Head of the Longbottom Family after your Grandfather died, but she was also your legal guardian, which meant she not only had a 'legal' obligation to protect you, but a moral one as well. The same thing could be said about your uncle, that he should have had a moral obligation to protect you, simply because you were a child and his family; but…as we both learned the hard way, our families don't always protect us." a slight bitterness had slowly crept into his voice, and he didn't bother to mask it

Neville appeared a bit uncomfortable at this assessment, but a hint of understanding or perhaps 'agreement' flitted across his face

He started to say something, but Harry wasn't finished

"He should have been more worried about whether or not you were growing up happy and healthy, not whether you were showing signs of magic. I mean after…" He stopped short, realizing he was about to reveal something there was no way he could have known

Harry shook his head, silently cursing his carelessness "Look, Nev. This is what I mean. I admit that the timing is horrible. This issue is not something that had to be dealt with immediately, especially so soon after your parent's recovery, well, continuing recovery; but" he paused, forming his words carefully "I don't believe it's a bad thing that they found out. I heard my uncle and godfather talking, and they said that your parents had told them that they saw and heard everything that's happened over the last 10 years. That means that for all those years, they saw you, they knew who you were, even if they weren't able to show or tell you…"

"Mum tried." Neville interjected, although his voice was barely a whisper, his eyes downcast as he twisted his hands

Harry paused, knowing where Neville was going with this

"She would always" Neville started, then fell silent

"Yes." Harry prodded after a moment

"She would, uh"

"You don't have to tell me, if you don't want to." Harry tried to assure him "It's you busi…"

"Gum Wrappers." Neville blurted out

Harry hid a smile. He knew this was something Neville had never shared with anyone, and something that was very close to his heart

"Okay." Harry said quietly "What about them?" his tone was completely neutral, holding no hint of sarcasm

"She would, uh, she would always givethemtome." He stated, running his words together "Ever since I was little, she…Gran would tell me to throw them away, but I-I"

"You couldn't." Harry finished gently

"It's stupid, I know." His voice was becoming hard "I know it, I…" it was almost as if he were steeling himself to get laughed at

"I didn't say that, Nev." Harry interjected "And I don't think that."

"But I-it's" his voice was quickly breaking, losing its composure

"It's not stupid, and it's not babyish, or anything else 'negative'. If my mum could give me anything, I certainly wouldn't throw it away."

Neville looked up, his face beat red, partially for not considering Harry's situation, but more for the fact that he was an 11-year-old dealing with an emotional situation that would be more then taxing on a full grown adult

"See Nev, this is why I don't think it's a bad thing they found out. They're your parents, but for the last 10 years they haven't been able to be there for you in that capacity. They need that chance, and after visiting them, I'd say they want that chance to be just that-your parents. They want to protect you, and this 'situation' is giving them the opportunity. It may not be, well, 'ideal', but it is giving them the chance to take an active role in your life."

Neville hesitated, before speaking "And if I don't wa-want them too?" the statement was a question in more ways than one, but Harry understood completely

Harry sighed "Nev, you and I are more alike than " He shook his head "I understand where you're coming from. Believe me, I do. The both of us have had very similar lives, yet in different ways. Do you understand 'why' you don't want your parents to interfere?"

Neville bit his lip "I, uh. It's hard to explain. It" he was struggling to find the words, but Harry just waited patiently, knowing they would come

"I-I guess it…it's just…it's not their problem!" He finally managed, somewhat forcefully

Harry sighed heavily, but nodded "That's one of the big ways we're alike; we're both incredibly independent. Perhaps in different ways, but, for both of us, we've come to heavily rely on ourselves. I had to take care of myself. I didn't have anyone. You had your Gran, but…it's not the same thing as having parents, or even someone who's constantly watching you or looking out for you. The both of us are used to dealing with our problems on our own, with little or no assistant from anyone, much less the adults around us. Most of my problems were at home, but when I had a problem at school or something, I obviously couldn't go run to my aunt or uncle with it. They weren't going to scoop me up, and tell me that everything was going to be alright, and to let them handle it. And while I don't think your grandmother was unkind, unless I'm very much mistaken, your grandmother was similar in her response and demeanor, where emotion was concerned."

Neville bit his lip harder, almost to the point of drawing blood, but very slowly, very hesitantly, nodded

"That's why you don't want your parents to interfere, isn't it?"

Neville's eyes shifted "I guess. I never, uh, knew how to say it before. How did "

Harry shrugged "I guess I've been thinking about it for a 'while'. Uncle Moony's trying to take on a parental role, and it's, uh, honestly it's more than a little strange. I'm not used to having someone, I don't know, offer to help me with my homework or take an interest in my social life. It's just-strange, and going to take some getting used to. I'm guessing it'll be the same thing for you?"

Neville shrugged "Yeah, probably."

"Remember what I said about a neutral third party, someone you can just rant to? I'll never judge you, Nev."

Neville reddened again, obviously not sure how to respond

"Oh, I almost forgot." Harry exclaimed, rolling off his bed, and moving towards his trunk "I've got your Christmas present."

Neville appeared confused "But - you already gave me those books on Herbology."

"Yeah, but I didn't want to send this one by owl." He opened his trunk, pulled out a small package, drew his wand, and muttered an enlarging charm

Neville's eyes grew slightly as the package did

"The store put a shrinking charm on it, and I looked up how to reverse it." He said in way of explanation

He placed the long package on his friend's bed. Neville looked from Harry to the package. "Uh, Thanks." He said softly

"Go on and open it." Harry prodded

Slowly, Neville ripped the wrapping from the package, finally revealing a brand new Lightning Bolt 7Z

Neville's eyes widened in surprise.

"It's the latest model in the Lightning Bolt line. It came out just in time for the Christmas season."

Neville seemed too stunned to speak

"I know flying isn't your favorite thing to do, but I thought you might like a better broom than the ones here at school. If you don't like it, you can take it back and get one you do." Harry assured him

Neville still appeared conflicted in his emotions, but slowly shook his head "No I" he ran his fingers over the smooth wood "It's really nice. It's…I didn't think 1st years were allowed to have brooms?" he asked slowly

Harry smiled, and reached into his trunk again, this time pulling out large, heavy tome, and held it up for Neville to see. It was entitled 'Hogwarts Laws, Rules, and Regulations-Interpretations, Specifics, & Loop Holes Every Student Should Know'

"A gift from my dear godfather. Said it helped him and my dad out of trouble more than once. It was written back in 1732 by a former student and apparently prankster who claims in the book that trouble seemed to follow him, of course, through no fault of his own. It's been updated since then, to incorporate new laws as they've come along. It's really fascinating."

Neville hesitated, but asked "And the rule about brooms?"

"Well, the rule does state that 1st years can't have brooms, but only until they pass their flying test, which was held right before the Christmas holidays. We only have flying lessons the first half of the year, and we all passed our flying test. As I understand it, flying lessons used to be held all year for the first years, and they didn't take their test till the end of the year. Therefore a student wasn't allowed to have their own broom till second year. That's the way it's always been, so no one ever questioned it. Hooch, however, has a different way of doing it."

"So-this isn't breaking any rules?" Neville asked quietly

Harry smiled shaking his head "Not a one; and as I remember it, you passed your flying test spectacularly."

"Only cause you let me practice on yours." Neville muttered

"Hey, don't sell yourself short, Nev. You're a good flyer. You just need more, uh, 'air time'. You've got the talent; you just need to discover it for yourself."

"You think?" Neville asked softly, fingering his broom again

"I'm positive." Harry stated, reassuringly "In fact, why don't we go flying this afternoon before everyone gets back. I think I may need a, uh, stress reliever after my meeting this morning anyway."

Neville looked at him curiously "What do you mean?"

Harry sighed "I'm fairly certain I have a meeting with the Headmaster and Professor McGonagall this morning over last night's events." the last word greatly stressed

"Oh, you're still in trouble? What, I mean, what happened last night."

Harry ran his fingers through his hair and across his face "I really don't want to talk about it right now, Nev. It's still too…Well, let me just see what happens at this meeting, and how much trouble I manage to get myself into by the end of it."

Neville chuckled a little at that "You think you're going to get in more trouble?"

Harry shrugged, wearing a mischievous look "Ya never know. I seem to have a knack for it. Now come on, let's go get breakfast. I'm starving."

Neville glanced at the clock "But breakfast won't be served for another hour

Harry shrugged again "Then we'll go straight to the kitchens. The house elves will give us anything we want."

"You know how to get in the kitchens?" Neville asked surprised

"Where do you think Fred and George get all the food for our parties after we've won at Quidditch?"

At those words Neville got a look on his face as if he remembered something "Are you, uh, are you"

"What?" Harry questioned curiously

Neville hesitated "Are you part of the Golden Vipers?" he blurted out

Harry lips twitched "What would make you think that?" he questioned, amusement dancing in his eyes

"You, uh, at St. Mungos…when your godfather and uncle mentioned the silencing charm and your dad…"

Harry couldn't hold back a chuckle; thinking quickly, he thought up an excuse "How do you know I wasn't just thinking of recruiting them to get a little revenge?"

Neville's face contorted "Well…you'd have to know who they are…" He paused, thinking for a moment "And if you didn't, you'd have to spend time figuring out who they were…but even then, you'd have to try and convince them to help you…but why go to all that trouble when the Weasley twins are known pranksters, not to mention the best in school, and you're friends with them, and it wouldn't make sense unless they were the Golden Vipers, but you hang out with them a lot, and you…"

Neville was rambling and quickly becoming flustered from lack of oxygen. Harry was trying hard to hold back his laughter, but was far from succeeding. It was obvious that Neville had put some thought into this. He'd definitely been hanging around Hermione too much.

"Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Nev. Slow down." He laughed, waving his hands in front of him "You're going a mile a minute and I really don't want to face Aunt Alice's wrath when I have to explain just why you keeled over from lack of oxygen."

Neville blushed slightly, Harry suspected not only as a result of his long-winded rationalization, but also at the reminder that someone other than his Gran would care if something were to happen to him.

Harry suddenly felt a new presence outside the door. He internally smiled, and added

"Besides, then I might have to spill my secret." He said innocently

Neville looked up, a hint of triumph and knowing in his eyes "You mean…"

"I didn't say anything." He smirked "Now come on. I'll teach you how to break into the kitchen."

The door suddenly opened "Break into the kitchens, Mr. Potter?"

Harry shrugged innocently at his Head of House "As I understand it, my dad didn't have a rap of vandalism on his Hogwarts resume 'till Second year. I thought I'd go ahead and beat that particular record."

Harry could tell that she was trying to suppress her amusement at the comment through the display of her famous class-silencing scowl. She interjected her own comment

"Actually, Mr. Potter, I don't believe he committed that particular crime until his third year, and was severely punished for his actions." She said, as if she was trying to deter him

Harry smirked "You mean the time he vandalized Professor Nicon's classroom by bringing in muggle fireworks, and charming them to go off every time he said the word 'detention', which he did quite often, consequently destroying his favorite chair, broom, ect, although as I understand, he deserved it, being a complete git, and later being revealed as a marked Death Eater."

All amusement had now left Minerva's eyes, her lips tight and eyes hard "Mr. Potter, that is not an appropriate topic of conversation and for your guardians to…"

"Professor McGonagall" Harry cut in "It's a matter of public record, and I'm fascinated with the history of the school, particularly the years of my parent's attendance. Frankly, it's the only way I'll ever get to know them." Knowing that last comment would at least soften her demeanor towards his supposed 'curiosity'

As predicted, he felt her emotions shift, and her aura soften, although she maintained her stern outward expression. Harry internally smirked. He wouldn't expect any less from her.

"But" he continued, switching back to the original point of the conversation "As you said, that was in his third year. I'm referring to the time in his second year when the Transfiguration classroom was turned into a giant litter box then made it change different colors. I don't think you ever pinned that particular, er, mischief on them."

McGonagall was now glaring, although not specifically at him "Red, Purple, Silver and Green." She murmured "Never considered second years…at the time"

Harry chuckled "Actually it was supposed to be Red, Purple, Silver, and Jade, not simply green."

Minerva's face contorted "And why would that make a difference, Mr. Potter?" she questioned, after a moment of contemplation

Harry smirked. It amused him that his Head of House was stumped. After a moment, it was obvious he wasn't going to reveal anything.

"It would still implement Slytherin, or at least appear to, despite the shade intended."

Harry smirked again "Implementing Slytherin was merely an added bonus. It was hardly their initial intention, and it made sense in the mind of four twelve-year-olds."

Minerva still appeared confused, and didn't respond.

Harry looked over at Neville "Nev, do you see the connection?"

Neville appeared confused as well, not to mention extremely hesitant to enter into a casual conversation with a teacher, much less his incredibly stern Head of House.

"Uh, I, not really." He answered hesitantly "I mean there's four colors and four-uh-in the group, but…" his voice trailed off

"Four" McGonagall mused, Harry suspected, louder then she meant to "Jade? Jad…James." She closed her eyes, shaking her head "So simple." She stated, as if chiding herself "They left a calling card, and no one…"

Harry chuckled "It wasn't the smartest thing to do, but they were excited that they got away with it."

"And you're planning on following in their footsteps?"

Harry smirked "Well…perhaps not quite in the same way, but I do plan on leaving a legacy." He answered cryptically

Then he shook his head "But I'm sorry professor. You came up here for a reason and, as I understand, I've already deprived you of enough of your time today."

McGonagall's eyes fell, calculating on her young charge "Your guardians paid me a visit before they left. They said that you requested only my presence today." While she phrased it as a statement, Harry heard the question behind it

Harry shifted, but spoke in a rational manner "After the…confrontation, I didn't think it was the best idea to risk another one. They've already addressed my living situation. You're my head of house, and I broke a school rule. Unless it's extreme, it's not their responsibility to interfere in inter-school discipline."

Minerva's eyebrows were now raised. She was amazed at what she was hearing out of the mouth of an 11-year-old. He sounded so much like an adult. Perhaps he was only repeating what his guardians had said, er, guardian. She couldn't imagine something like that coming out of Sirius' mouth.

That thought brought the tiniest smile to her lips, though she quickly hid it

She reverted back to her professional demeanor "While that is a very astute assessment, Mr. Potter, after last night, the Headmaster may have a bit more then…discipline in mind for the topic of this meeting. It would be perfectly acceptable to request some-um-level headed moral support." She ended neutrally

Harry bit back a smile at her choice of words, but knowing full well what she was referring to "I appreciate the offer, Professor, but I'll be fine. Besides, you'll be there. I don't think the situation will escalate to the point of spiraling into a soul-sucking 'vortex of doom'." Harry ended enthusiastically

Minerva's lips twitched with amusement, and Harry swore he heard Neville stifle a chuckle.

"Quite, Mr. Potter. Very well; if you're sure, meet me in front of the gargoyle in front of the Headmaster's office at 10 a.m sharp."

Harry nodded "Yes Ma'am."

She turned to leave, then added "Oh, and about the kitchens, should there be any sort of 'upset' there is a limited pool as to find the party responsible. I would hate to find out a Gryffindor brought that kind of attention and disgrace to their noble house."

Her voice was stern, but Harry detected the lack of conviction behind her words

"Of course, Professor." He answered simply, giving her a small smile

"And, Mr. Longbottom, you may meet me tomorrow in my office at 5 after classes."

Neville looked up "Thank you, Professor."

With a final nod, she turned and left the room.

As the door shut, Harry let out a heavy sigh, and collapsed on the bed.

"Well, that was interesting."

"Yeah. Uh, she didn't say anything about my broom."

Harry shrugged "It probably didn't register seeing as how brooms are common enough here. But if she or any other teacher does say anything, you can just say you're following rule 162.87 Fl of the rules concerning Student Possessions. But hey, what did she mean about meeting her tomorrow?" he asked, rolling over to face his friend

Neville bit his lip "Uh, I'll be going to spend time with my p-parents in the evenings and on the weekends."

A genuine smile crossed Harry's face "That's great, Nev."

Neville appeared hesitant "I'll be gone a lot." He muttered, almost incoherently, but Harry heard him anyway

"Does that bother you?" Harry questioned

Neville shrugged "I don't know. Its - different. It'll make me di-different. I mean, no one else…"

Harry sighed, giving him a look of understanding "Are you worried about what people will think or say? Are you worried about what we'll say, your friends? Or are you worried about spending so much time with your parents, people you barely know?"

The only answer he received was a noncommittal shrug, but the emotions his friend was emitting told Harry everything he needed to know.

"Nev, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. This is your life, and you have to do what's right for you. Who cares if some people think it's strange that you leave, or whatever. Your real friends will stick beside you, no matter what. If they don't, then they're not a real friend, and as far as your parents are concerned-" Harry paused, before continuing "I think time is the only answer there. You're practically strangers, just with a blood connection. Your relationship is going to have to be built from the ground up, and it's not going to happen overnight. Didn't you say, at Christmas, that people were telling you to take it one day at a time?"

Neville slowly nodded

"Well, that's probably the best advice. Use this time to just get to know one another. Tell them about yourself; about your childhood, how you grew up, what you like or don't like. I guarantee that your mum, especially, will want to know every aspect of your life. Get to know them as well. Ask them about when they were in school, what their favorite classes were, about their teachers, friends. Ask them about Quidditch. If I remember correctly, they both played on the school teams at one point or another."

Neville looked up surprised "Really?"

"I think so." Harry clarified "You can tell them how much Quidditch has changed over the years, the different types of brooms. Tell them about school; how good you are at Herbology, about the teachers, or whatever…although I might not mention the incident at Halloween."

Neville reddened a little at the reminder "Yeah, probably not." He muttered

Harry chuckled "We'll tell them one day, once we're grown and have kids of our own; once we can't get in trouble for it. Or better yet, we'll tell our kids, and let them tell the story. I guarantee, our families will never believe them – but if they did, I'm not sure that your mother or my uncle wouldn't hesitate to reprimand us anyway."

"Oh." Neville interjected hesitantly, bridging a question, Harry could tell he really wanted to ask, but wasn't sure how to

"Mum said you could, that is, if you wanted to, you wouldn't have to if you didn't, but…"

Harry chuckled "Slow down, Nev. You're forgetting that whole breathing thing again. Now what did your mum say?"

"She said you could come, uh, with me on a weekend sometime, if you wanted to." He ended, a hint of nervousness in his voice

Harry smiled "I'd love to. I'd have to ask Uncle Moony, but I doubt he'd have a problem with it. I'd love to get to know your parents better."

A look of, almost, relief flitted across Neville's face, another expression Harry understood, but in all good consciousness, couldn't allow

"But, uh, probably not right away."

Neville's face fell a-bit "Why?"

Harry shook his head "Nev, I know this is unnerving, to say the least, maybe even the tiniest bit scary…"

"I'm not scared!" Neville exclaimed, in a voice that said he was trying to convince himself more than anything

Harry shook his head "Well, I am." he replied quietly

Neville looked up, surprise on his face, but didn't interrupt

"Life is hard, Nev, and the unknown can be scary, especially when it concerns the ones we love. Being afraid doesn't mean you're not brave. Like Halloween, you were scared when the troll attacked, right?"

Neville fidgeted, but nodded

"But you stayed; you had the chance to run, but you chose to stay and fight. That's true bravery, Nev; doing what you know to be right, despite personal fear or insecurity. It's okay to be afraid, as long as you don't let the fear rule you or your life."

Neville's eyes were downcast. His demeanor was one of discomfort at the topic of conversation, but his emotions told Harry that he was hitting close to home.

"Look Nev, I will go with you." Neville looked up at this "It just won't be immediately."

Neville's face fell into a mixture of confusion and slight disappointment, but didn't acknowledge other then nodding.

Harry sighed, knowing his friend felt hurt by his declaration so Harry began slowly "I would love nothing more than to spend time with you and your parents, getting to know you all better. You're my friend, your mother is my godmother, and our parents were good friends. I would love to come, but – I won't. It's not my right or my place."

Now Neville appeared confused "What do you mean?" he asked, without really thinking

"It's not my place." Harry repeated gently "Your lives were stolen from you, Neville. Ten years were stolen from all of you; ten years worth of love, togetherness, memories, even fights and arguments; simply being together and unconditionally caring about one another. The true definition of family. You can't get that back. You can't replace those years. All you can do is live in the 'now'."

Harry paused before continuing "You have this chance, Nev; this time. Time to learn how to become a family, and build those relationships. You're their son; you'll always be their son, and they'll always be your parents, no matter what happens in the future. You deserve this chance without interference from anyone."

There was a long moment of silence before Neville spoke "I still don't think I understand."

Harry chuckled lightly "I'd be surprised if you did. Just know this; you'll never lose my friendship, no matter what. Should you need anything, I'll do whatever I can to help, starting with everyone coming back this evening, but – some of it, you're going to have to face alone. Just know that you'll never be alone." Then suddenly changing the topic "Now come on, I'm starving, and I still have to teach you how to break into the kitchens."

Neville gave him an incredulous look "Are you serious?"

"Well, I think we'll forgo the actually vandalism today. The house elves will have enough to deal with today with everyone coming back without dealing with the remnants of a prank as well."

Neville's mouth twitched with amusement "You're a bit mental sometimes, ya know."

Harry chuckled and gave a slight bow "Why thank you." He drawled "I work at it."

Neville snickered a little, the tension of the moment clearly broken.

Three hours later Harry found himself, once again, being led up the very office he'd desperately been trying to avoid, although now, he couldn't deny that he was a bit excited. If everything went as planned… Er, never mind. Everything never went as planned, not for him. Well, he'd stick as close to the plan as possible.

He mentally steeled himself, erecting his shields along with several other mental defenses, assuring that even if his mind was effectively attacked, the attacker wouldn't have access to any of his future memories.

Figuratively speaking, his memories were 'boxed' up; the 'box' consisting of multiple layers of the creator's own magic. The first measure of protection being the practical aspect of burying the 'box' in the deepest recesses of the subconscious, forcing the attacker to not only be exceptionally skilled at the arts of mind magic, but have to hold the ability and power to maintain a prolonged attack in order to even reach that particular depth of the mind.

On the off chance that the 'unfortunate' invading individual successfully breached that level, and still held enough power to engage in an attempt to extract the contents of the 'box', they would still face the nearly impossible challenge of penetrating the actually 'layers'. While each 'box' was constructed differently, according to the constructor's design, generally the first layer was a mild but powerful pain curse, given as a mere warning to stay away. If that didn't work, and the first layer was infiltrated, the second layer would prove much more powerful and more importantly, painful. It would send a series of fierce shocks throughout the body, along with pulsating angry red boils all over the skin. Then, if you were still glutton for puish…er, determined, the third layer sent a spell paralyzing the body, and…well, you get the idea, and there were a total of 7 layers, that only increased in severity.

This particular defense was a variation of an Angel technique used not only to protect their very identities and the fact that they belonged to the organization, but also used in protecting the contents of Angel meetings and their secrets. And the simple beauty of the ritual was that a memory charm was held within the seventh layer, targeting and completely destroying any and all memories of the attacker had of the attackee, including all of their suspicions of him or her.

Of course, with Harry, no one had ever gotten past the third layer, and Tom had been the only one to succeed in that. Of course, it had only been after two months of continuous torture during his three month captivity that Tom had even discovered the 'box'. By that point, Harry had been so magically exhausted and on the brink of breaking, only then had Tom had been able to delve into the deepest layers of his mind. He then proceeded to use the next month, before Harry was rescued, attempting to break in, yet even with Harry's weakened state, Tom had only managed as far as the third layer.

But enough of that. It all came down to 'no one' was getting through, and he, Harry, was even stronger now than he had been at 24. Immensely more powerful, as a matter of fact.

He fell in behind his Head of House as they entered the office. He wasn't surprised to find that Albus wasn't the only one in the room. In fact, he was counting on this. He needed both of them to be here for his plan to work at all, and so far it was looking good. Of course, no one had opened their mouth yet. There was always that inconvenient little detail when it came to a conversation.

Harry idly wondered what would happen if he tried to conduct this conversation telepathically. The problem with that, that while it involved no verbal communication, it still consisted of thoughts and ideas being sent to another person, which consisted of words. Oh well, so much for that idea.

He found it curious that none of the past Headmasters and Headmistresses were in their portraits. Now that he thought about it, none of them had been there during his earlier conversations either. He knew from experience that the Headmaster had the authority to request that they leave their portraits for a set amount of time, 'within reason', were the rules, as set in the Hogwarts rules. He knew the reason behind this rule had to do with privacy issues, and Harry guessed that was why Albus had invoked it. Of course, it begged to question just 'what' Albus had been up to since, well, if he had to guess, the day after Christmas.

Harry wore a mask of calm and composure as he took a seat next to his Head of House, only briefly meeting Albus' grandfatherly mask, and Snape's darkened scowl, his black eyes filled with loathing and resentment, though, Harry was certain, not entirely at him.

The emotions being emitted from all three teachers was piercing, almost to the point of being painful, but not overwhelming. Harry had become accustomed to dealing with high levels of emotion, since he had come into this power approximately 5 years before he 'died'. Actually, he was surprised he still had this power. Most of the other powers he had acquired at the same time had disappeared when he had 'changed' bodies. It wasn't something he had figured out yet, but had had little time to research or study on. And right now he had bigger problems.

It didn't take more than 30 seconds for the silence to be broken.

"Well, can we get on with this?" huffed Snape "My last few hours of freedom from insolent brats are currently being wasted!"

Minerva merely rolled her eyes at her colleague "Then why are you here, Severus? There's no reason."

Snape scowled "Certainly not by choice." He stated bluntly

Minerva sighed resignedly, the lack of sleep catching up to her, now that the shot of adrenalin as a result of her concern and anger had receded, leaving only exhaustion and weariness

"Alright, Albus. Why exactly are we here? I know we all have obligations to fulfill before tonight. As Head of Gryffindor, it's my responsibility to determine an appropriate penalty, seeing as the crime is less then severe."

Snape snorted at these words, but Minerva ignored him.

Albus adjusted his spectacles, a similar weariness showing on his own face, regarded both of his teachers for a moment, before nodding tiredly "Very well, Minerva. I'll leave Mr. Potter's punishment to your discretion."

"Then we're done here." She tried, though she knew they weren't

Albus paused "Of course, you won't be keep from your responsibilities. Please feel free to go about your duties."

Harry mentally shook his head. He had to give the man his props. He could take anything and twist it.

Minerva recognized the technique as well "And Harry?" she questioned pointedly

Harry raised an eyebrow. Her use of his first name was forgoing her professionalism for the moment, and sent a message to all present, specifically Albus. At this moment she was acting as more than simply his Head, but as a friend, a protector, whether it be in lieu of Remus and Sirius, or for own reasons. It reminded him just how many people he had on his side, that cared about him, and ironically, most either hadn't seen him since he was a baby or very little since then.

"I would like to speak to Mr. Potter for a few minutes. It seems that I have been less than attentive to his – well being." He appeared to be choosing his words carefully, slowly, but Harry could tell that he had already planned this out in his mind

Harry internally smirked, before making a comment of his own. Time to mix it up

"Please sir, I don't fully understand why you believe you need to take such an active role in my personal life?" Harry interjected, before anything else could be said

The adults looked directly at him, surprise etched on all their faces. Well, Snape's still held a scowl, as if questioning him having the audacity to speak up. Perhaps they hadn't expected him to say anything, believing him to be scared or intimidated over the fact that he was in trouble for his little disappearing act last night. Well, he would happily change that line of thinking.

Albus appeared not only surprised, but the slightest bit confused at the question, although Harry knew Albus well enough to understand why. It wasn't even entirely his fault-entirely. Albus' name and reputation were so widely known and 'supposedly' respected throughout the Wizarding World within Great Britain, and certainly throughout much of Europe for his part in WW2 and the defeat of Grindelwald, it was almost expected that he would 'intervene' in one way or another in any major event, and that his 'assistance' would be welcomed and praised.

For Harry, he considered Albus' actions 'negatively interfering' rather than 'positively intervening', and the way he had chosen to 'interfere' in Harry's life, the information Albus had chosen to divulge, or lack there-of, had come very close to being the biggest mistake of the man's career.

Harry remembered Albus telling him in his original 1st year that knowledge or truth was both a wonderful and terrible thing. While Harry had come to find this statement true, he also found that having availability to the truth, the whole truth or at least as much as was available could mean the difference between life and death.

"What do you mean, my boy?" Albus questioned, serenely

Harry restrained himself from growling, and managed to keep his features calm. He hated the term 'my boy'. The phrase had become second nature to the man, though Harry knew his reasons behind using it, most of which had to do with indirectly reminding people of his as well as their status, and putting them 'in their place', whatever that might be. It was also part of his grandfatherly façade, but, in truth, it was more demeaning then anything.

He calmed himself before continuing, remembering his plan "Forgive me." He began, though this was one person he was not seeking forgiveness from "But I don't understand why you've taken such a personal interest in me. I mean, I'm just another student, but even before that…" he paused, before going on "I've read over my parent's will, and not to be rude sir, but your name's not mentioned anywhere within it. You had no right nor authority to place me with my relatives. In fact, the will specified that that was the one place that I was not supposed to go."

Albus showed no surprise to this, merely a bit of concern at someone questioning him so pointedly

Answering uniformly, though adding a slight hint of a serious note to his tone, he responded "You must understand, my boy that I had to make a difficult decision. They were your only living relatives. It was the safest place for you."

"Why?" Harry questioned bluntly

Albus appeared confused, and the other teachers seemed too taken aback by the impending byplay to contribute their own thoughts

"Why 'what', my boy?" Albus question after a moment of rare perplexity

"Why did you have to make that decision? Why did you think it was the safest place? You had no right and there was no need. My parent's wishes were clearly stated. Sirius should have taken me in immediately."

Albus stroked his beard "I'm afraid that, at the time, Mr. Black was believed to have…"

"But it wasn't proven." Harry interjected, cutting him off "Neither you nor anyone else had any proof other then word of mouth, that he was guilty of anything. Propaganda and misdirection are key components in any war, both – muggle and magical alike. Surely, having lived through more than three wars yourself, sir, you understand this."

Harry hoped that by throwing in the muggle comment, they would overlook his use of the more advanced terminology, and just believe that it was something he had heard or read. Unfortunately, this wasn't to be.

"That's quite a – vocabulary, Mr. Potter. May I ask where you inquired such an insight?" Albus' voice was steady, but laced with concern

Harry shrugged, portraying an innocent air "I like to read, sir, and history fascinates me. But I'm still unclear. I should have immediately gone to Sirius the night Hagrid came to fetch me."

Albus appeared thoughtful, hiding the anxiety his aura was emitting "As I said, Mr. Black…"

"Wasn't even accused of anything until three days later." Harry said, cutting him off again "When he cornered Pettigrew on the street." He wanted to smile. This was fun. But he restrained himself "Then Pettigrew framed him for his own crime."

Albus stroked his beard again, always a sign of his anxiety, and was silent for a moment. Harry took this brief second to indirectly glance at the other individuals in the room. McGonagall was watching all of this, stern faced, but with a hint of longing, as if her desire for knowledge outweighed the idea that she was supposed to intervene, and attempt to diffuse a potentially explosive situation.

Snape, on the other hand, was scowling. He appeared, almost, unsure of what to say, yet a bit perturbed at being left out of the conversation. There was a yearning for knowledge there as well, though unlike Minerva, his interests were more self-serving. Knowledge was power, and power over Albus was something the man desperately lacked and desired.

"If you've heard the stories, Mr. Potter, then you must understand how it appeared…"

"Once again, Professor, 'misdirection'." Successfully cutting off the man again, for the third time. He idly wondered if that was some sort of a record, but chose not to dwell on it "For whatever reason, no one even considered that Peter Pettigrew could have been guilty and trying to save his own skin. Sirius didn't even carry the Dark Mark! But, even at that, after Sirius was arrested, and even if he wasn't given a trial, five minutes of yours or the Ministries time, and three drops of Vertiserum would have proven him innocent of all charges, instead of being locked up in a hellhole for 10 years!" The bitterness slowly creeping back into Harry's voice

Albus now appeared gravely concerned, and Severus didn't appear much better. At Harry's mention of the word 'Dark Mark' Severus' hand had subconsciously touched his own.

"Mr. Potter, the circumstances back then. You can't understand how…

"No, you don't understand!" Harry interjected forcefully, startling the other occupants with his tone "While Sirius was living in a hellhole, I was too! You placed me there. You just left me there, against my parent's wishes, then you didn't even bother to check up on me, just like you didn't bother to make sure Sirius was actually guilty!" Harry voice was angry, even though he wasn't quite as furious as he was acting. He was upset, the injustice of it all coming back in a fresh wave, but he'd come to terms with much of the hardships of his early life. The birth of his children had helped immensely, though their deaths had nearly destroyed him. It was only in the last five years that…His thought were interrupted by

"Mr. Potter!" McGonagall reprimanded sharply "That's quite enough!" her tone was biting, but her expression told another story. Her face was pale, and guilt lines crossed her features.

He guessed this was hitting a bit too close to home, just like the articles at Christmas. He hated making her feel guilty. She hadn't checked on him either, but she had been following Albus' orders, as well as trusting his judgment. His plan wasn't to make her guilt-ridden. He knew everything wouldn't go as planned, but it hadn't gone completely array. He still had a point to make, mostly for Albus, though not fully exclusive.

Harry maintained his hardened expression "I'm sorry, Professor, but it's not. I wasn't truly an orphan, 'till Professor Dumbledore made me that way." He snapped, ignoring the noises of disbelief coming from the other two teacher, and glaring at Albus " by deliberating ignoring my parents wishes. I had people that loved me here. I was never loved at the Dursley's. They hated me! It was only the knowledge that I knew I could escape into the Wizarding world one day that often kept me going!"

There was an outcry from both Minerva and Severus, the transfiguration teacher attempting to lecture him again on his outburst, and Snape indigently shaking a finger towards Harry, and half yelling at Albus 'told you so' 'rude' 'impudent' and 'audacious behavior'

Albus allowed it to continue for a moment, before holding a hand up for silence, which came reluctantly after a few more gestures from him. Albus appeared grave, and allowed the silence to penetrate the room before speaking.

"I'm truly sorry, Harry." He said gravely, though interestingly reverting back to first names "I take it your aunt told you the truth, then?" Albus questioned softly, his true age beginning to show

Harry wanted to smirk. This was exactly the lead-in he needed, but he continued to appear angry.

"Of course not!" Harry spat "They lied to me my whole life! Told me my dad was a drunk and my mum was a whore! Said they died in a car crash cause of my dad's drinking! Told me I got this blasted scar in that crash! Said I should have died with them! Most of those times I wish I had! It wasn't till I was six that I knew it was all a lie!"

He folded his arms across his chest, and slumped back in the plush arm chair, still scowling. The silence was ringing. No one seemed to know how to respond. He found Snape's sudden onslaught of emotions the most interesting. He went from being annoyed to viscously furious! He knew it had to be the way Lily had been referred to.

Harry maintained eye contact, hoping Albus would take the bait. Within the ticking silence, he didn't have long to wait. Albus' eyes were weary, but the current dull blue suddenly seemed to bore into Harry's flashing emeralds. Harry never faltered as he felt the first push of Legilemetry. It was stronger than the last time he had been in Albus' presence. He counted 25 seconds, before he THREW up his shields, violently throwing Albus out. It had been so harsh, Albus actually appeared slightly dazed. He shook his head, before looking at Harry, eyes wide, and slightly fearful.

"Stay OUT of my head, Professor!" Harry snapped "I don't like people in my head!"

There was a stunned moment again, before McGonagall finally found her voice

"What are you talking about, Mr. Potter?" McGonagall thoroughly distraught by this point

Harry could have smirked "Professor Dumbledore" he indicated "He tried to get into my head! Professor Snape tries too." Sending an accusing glare towards the Potions master, while using his best 'accusing child's voice' "I don't like it! It hurts! It always hurts!" he deliberately brought two tears to his eyes, before turning his head away, dramatically using his sleeve to wipe them away. Hey, Albus wasn't the only one who could use emotions to turn the situation to his favor.

He swore he saw Snape roll his eyes at his antics, but was quickly cut off at Minerva's loud screech of outrage, obviously realizing the meaning behind Harry's words. She was still in her lecture mode, only now she turned it furiously on the two 'adults' in the room. He sat back, maintaining his hurt expression, and just listened to her rant. He heard phrases like 'ALBUS, How could you!' 'innocent student' 'Severus, you should know better!' and 'Should report this to the board of governors!'

It seemed she would never run out of breath, and the two men appeared cowed by her words, or perhaps it was just the fact that they had been found out. It seemed evident to Harry that Snape hadn't informed Albus of his attempts to break into his mind, nor the fact that he had stronger shields then the man, himself. Of course, being outdone by and 11-year-old wasn't really something to brag about. But not to inform his 'master'; Harry was shocked!…okay, not really, but he knew Snape would get an ear full of calm, manipulative reprimanding and instruction of how he was supposed to inform Albus of anything and everything significant that he found out about the 'Boy-Who-Lived', all the while reminding him just why he wasn't in Azkaban at the moment, and the only way he could stay out of it.

That was one reason he hadn't tried to plant evidence with Albus or sought his assistance in freeing Sirius. No matter how innocent he was, he would have tried to hold it over Sirius' head that he played a part in freeing him, especially if Sirius had still gotten custody of Harry. More likely, he would have attempted to keep Harry at the Dursley's, and kept Sirius, not to mention Remus, at a minimum in his life, just like he had done the first time around.

Minerva's gumption had yet to abate as she started to repeat her outrage, as if still trying to wrap her mind around the idea.

"What in Merlin's name were the two of you thinking?! Using Legilementry on a student! Have you gone completely mental?! I should report this to the board of governors immediately!"

Minerva continued ranting for a minute, before she demanded "Well, do either of you have anything in the way of an explanation, or Merlin forbid, an apology."

"I am sorry, Minerva…" Albus began

"Not to ME!" Minerva snapped, crossing her arms across her chest

Albus sighed heavily "I…do apologize, Mr. Potter, for my rash action. I assure I meant you no harm."

"What did you mean, Albus?"

Albus fingered his half-moon spectacles "I was merely trying to further understand the events Mr. Potter was describing."

"Then ask me, Professor." Harry interjected "Don't hurt me." Harry turned on his wide-eyed innocent look, mixed with a hint of fear, though he couldn't completely hide his strength. It was too much a part of him.

Albus looked on with great concern "My intentions were far from malicious, Mr. Potter. Perhaps you could…elaborate as to the source of your anguish."

Harry wanted to roll his eyes at Albus' terminology "It hurts, Professor. It just hurts." He said, only a slight moan to his words

"Your head?"

Harry nodded, his eyes squintched slightly "Whenever someone tries to get in it. My scar, too."

"This has happened before?" Albus asked, the concern growing in his eyes

Harry pointed an accusing finger at Snape, who simply scowled in return.

"Ah, aside from Professor Snape; have there been any other…incidents, instances when this has happened?"

Harry deliberately bit his lip and averted his eyes. It worked.

"Wh…when I was little." He said quietly "It always hurt. He would always hurt me."

Albus' eyes narrowed "'He', Harry? Who are you referring to?"

"Tom Riddle." He said calmly, with only the slightest bite to his words, though he deliberately hardened his gaze

He'd never seen Albus pale as quickly as he did at those two little words

"What?" came Albus' voice, though it was barely above a whisper

The other two teachers just seemed to be staring, not quite sure what was going on

Albus shook his head as if trying to clear it "Mr. Potter, what name did you say?"

Harry gave him a look of wide-eyed innocence "Tom Riddle."

If possible, Albus paled even further "You've…met Tom Riddle?"

Harry scrunched up his face "Of course not." Harry bit out, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world "Just talked to him, you know, in my head."

At this, a scoff came from Snape "Obviously, the boy is delusional, Headmaster. Having an imaginary friend at his age."

Harry wanted to smirk. Obviously, Snape didn't have the first clue as to his other Master's actual identity. He maintained his wide-eyed innocence. He turned on the man, his eyes only slightly hardened.

"I am not delusional." He snapped, as if he were an upset child "And he's not an imaginary anything. He's real. He's horrible, but he's real. And besides, I don't talk to him anymore. Well, I guess I don't let him talk to me anymore. I hate him!"

A smirk seemed to cross Severus' face "So Potter, even your imaginary friends can't stand you; Is that it?"

"Severus!" Minerva reprimanded "That was completely uncalled for."

"He's not imaginary!" Harry retorted "And he'd talk to me if I'd let him. I just don't let him."

Severus scoffed "Headmaster, clearly…"

"Not now, Severus." Albus interjected cutting him off, a deep fear etched on his face "Mr. Potter, exactly how long have you been talking to, uh, Tom?" his voice was uncharacteristically shaky, and seemed to dread the answer

Harry shrugged "I don't know. Since I was little. At first I thought they were just nightmares. Then I thought I was going crazy." He heard a cough towards Severus' direction, but ignored it "But then the dreams became clearer, more – real, and then he started talking to me. He tried to be my friend…at first." Harry added a bitter emphasis on the last two words, cutting into his calm manner

Albus' voice still shook slightly, though he seemed to have regained at least a bit of his composure. The normally bright twinkle in his eyes had yet to make an appearance this conversation, and if Harry had his way, it wouldn't rear it's annoying, er, never mind.

"And what did – Tom tell you?" Albus asked, once again, as if afraid of the answer

Harry pretended to appear confused "About what, sir?"

Albus shifted uncomfortably, something exceedingly out of character for the normally in-control Headmaster "He's the one that told you about the Wizarding world." It was more of a statement, Albus coming to his own conclusions, though Harry treated it as a question

He nodded "Yes sir. He first told me I was a wizard. I didn't believe him, so he told me some of the things I could do with magic, like levitate stuff, and summon things. It was cool, but I didn't like it when he came."

"Why was that?" Albus asked

"Albus?" Minerva tried to interject, a confused look on her face

Albus held up a hand to silence her "Mr. Potter." He prodded

A pained expression crossed Harry's features "I told you, Professor; it hurt. My head would ache; my scar would burn. Though I think it hurt him also."

The tiniest flicker of hope flashed across Albus' face as he asked "What would make you say that?"

Harry shrugged "I guess I know it did. He could never stay very long, but he would come a lot. At first, he tried being my friend. He wanted me to do something for him. He always talked about coming back, regaining power. But, I mean, he was a ghost. I never really understood what he wanted me to do. I was just a kid but he would get angry when I would tell him that I didn't want him to come anymore, and he would only hurt me worse." Harry had allowed his voice to show a hint of fear, and had issued a slight shudder when he had mentioned the pain. He needed this to be believable, at least to Albus.

He noted that the other teachers still held looks of confusion, but also perhaps the beginning of an inkling of subconscious understanding.

"And what would you do to make it stop?" Albus 'appeared' in control again, but Harry knew better

Harry shook his head "I couldn't at first; but then I…" his voice faltered

"Please continue, Mr. Potter." The urgency could be heard in Albus' voice

Harry shifted nervously, playing up the drama "Then I, uh. Well, one day, I was 6 at the time. I remember, 'cause I'd just started Mrs. William's class. She was my Second Year teacher." Albus appeared slightly irate at this sidebar of information, but maintained his cool expression, so Harry continued

"Anyway, I was 6. He came to me one night. He was angrier than usual. I don't know why. He never told me, but it…it hurt so much that, that…" his voice was shaky now, and he turned his face away

"Albus, obviously this is upsetting the boy. I don't understand what's going on, but surely it's not important enough to become distressed over."

Albus appeared weary "I'm afraid, Minerva, that I need to hear Mr. Potter out on this one. Mr. Potter, can you tell us what happened next?"

Harry bit his lip, but looked up "I, uh, it hurt so much that I, I didn't mean to, but I tried to push him away, push him out. It didn't work very well, so I told him I wanted him to go away, and never come back. That made him e…even madder." His voice was deliberately shaky now, but he didn't have to fake tears as he said the next part "He told me I was w-weak, and that he would kill me, ju-just like he killed my-my parents." He didn't hold back the two tears that slid down his cheeks as he said this, allowing the memory of his parent's murder to come to the forefront of his mind

At these words, the other two teachers paled, nearly as much as Albus had minutes ago. Harry ignored the gasp from Minerva, and continued

"I…I told him he was a liar, and that my parents had died in a car crash. He just l…laughed. It was so cold." He shivered slightly at these words "He said that I was the one that had been lied to, and he – he proved it. He showed me the night of my p-parents murder. He said it had been easy, and that if I didn't help him now, that he would kill me later." The tears were flowing freely now, and he had no problem playing this up

His face and voice became hard, though the tears still flowed "But I didn't care. I hated him! I hated him after that, and I wanted him to leave me alone! I told him to leave again, but he wouldn't. I knew then that I had to make him. It took me a long time. I was almost 8 before I could do it the right way; before I could keep him out completely. He came back during that time, but I would just tell him to leave me alone, and try to block him. I was finally able to keep him out. After that, anytime he would try to come, I would just block him. I hate him!" he ended forcefully

With that, he fell silent, and just stared at Albus, his arms folded across his chest, and not bothering to wipe away his tears, leaving his cheeks streaked and red.

The teachers seemed stunned into silence. Minerva still appeared slightly confused, but more horror stricken then anything. Severus appeared dazed, as if unsure of what to make of the words he was hearing. It was if he was hearing them, but not comprehending.

Albus, on the other hand, didn't have this problem. He was hearing and comprehending just fine, though he still appeared disbelieving. Not skeptical, per say; his emotions told Harry that he had swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. It was more like he couldn't believe that it had happened under his very nose, or happened with the protections on the house

Albus was the first one to speak "Mr." His voice significantly wavered; he took a deep breath "Mr. Potter, did you ever tell anyone about this?"

Harry felt like groaning and calling the man an imbecile. Who the hell was he supposed to have told? His younger self had had no one in his life 'till 5 months ago, and if in his original timeline, still wouldn't have had anyone at this point.

"I, uh, I tried telling my aunt once, but as soon as she heard it had to do with my mother, she told me to 'shut up' and never mention her 'blasted sister' again." A few fresh tears came to his eyes as he said these words, and he added "I never understood why she hated my mum or me so much."

Albus ignored the comment, more concerned with the bigger 'issue' "Mr. Potter, have you, that is, how often do you talk to Tom?"

Harry rolled his eyes "I told you, Professor. I block him out. I don't talk to him."

Albus appeared to concentrate for a moment "But you said that he 'would talk to you if you let him'. That would indicated contact in some capacity."

Harry internally smirked. He had hoped Albus would catch that.

"Well yeah." Harry admitted, cocking his head "He does try from time to time, but now that I can block him, I just ignore him."

Albus appeared slightly flabbergasted at how easily Harry was talking about 'ignoring' the Dark Lord, spirit or not.

"How often does he 'try'?" Albus posed

Harry shook his head "Hardly at all. He knows he can't get in."

"This year?" Albus pressed

"Uh, just twice. Once right after I started school, then again at the Christmas Holidays."

This made Severus' ears perk up and a look of fear cross his face. Not surprisingly a look of fear crossed Albus' own face. Minerva, obviously out of the loop still appeared perplexed at everything she was hearing.

"And what did he tell you?" Albus asked, attempting to remain calm

Harry wanted to bury his head in his hands in frustration. Was this man completely dense? Had he been listening to anything he had been saying for the last 20 minutes?

Harry sighed "I told you professor, I don't talk to him. I mean, sometimes I hear bits and pieces of things he's saying, and a lot of times I feel his emotions, even if he's not trying to contact me, but that's it. I block him out before he can try to do, well, whatever he'd like to do."

A new spark of interest was now on the old man's face, though it still held a definite fear "You – feel his emotions?" Albus questioned

Harry simply nodded

"Without him contacting you?"

Harry nodded again "Yeah, but usually only with really strong emotions. You know, really happy, or excited, or angry; even with my 'blocking powers' it doesn't completely keep his emotions out."

Despite himself and his awareness of the gravity of the situation, or at least what he believed it to be, he raised something of an amused eyebrow "Blocking Powers, Mr. Potter."

Harry shrugged, indifferently "I didn't really know what to call what I did. It sounded good when I was 7."

Albus paused, before returning to the situation at hand "Quite" he said simply "And what – type of emotions did you feel at Christmas?"

Harry contorted his face "Why?" he asked, pretending to appear confused

"Please, Mr. Potter. This is very important." The signs of desperation were beginning to show in his voice

"Albus, what in Merlin's name…" Minerva begin

Albus held up a hand "Minerva, not…" he shook his head slowly "Mr. Potter, please. I must know."

"Why?" Harry questioned again, irritatingly. Hey, being a kid did have its advantages

He felt more then saw the feelings of frustration his Headmaster was portraying, and decided to stop evading

"I mean, he was happy, but why would you need to know that?"

Albus paled again "Happy?"

"Yeah, I guess. He was really excited about something, though I don't know what, and frankly I'm okay with that. He can go f-- himself for all I care." He huffed

"Mr. Potter!" McGonagall cried "That is far from appropriate language!" she reprimanded sharply "5 points from Gryffindor, and much more if I hear any more of that."

Harry didn't respond, but merely slumped back in his seat, internally smirking. It would have been worth a lot more then that just for the look he saw on Albus' face.

Albus appeared as if he'd just swallowed one of those blasted lemon drops. He seemed as 'lost' and confused as his other two teachers, yet it was evident that his mind was working a mile a minute

"Mr. Potter" he finally began "In the future, it would be wise to consider alternative terminology in the expression of your opinions; particularly when the grasp of whom you're dealing with is not quite within your reach."

It was phrased cryptically, perhaps even as a test, perhaps not, but Harry knew he had to bite.

Harry scoffed, his eyes becoming cold again "How could I not be aware of who I'm dealing with Professor?! Do you really believe that after he became angry with me, after he stopped pretending to be my friend that he would still tell me his name was Tom Riddle, want me to call him that freely?! No, Professor. I know exactly whomI'm dealing with!"

Albus had shrunk back again "Mr. Potter, I don't think yo…"

"I do, Professor!" Harry snapped "I know who I'm dealing with! He only told me who and what he was for two years! He only tried to convince me to worship him, to fear his name! He said that those who didn't already fear his name, soon would! He said that those who still openly spoke his name would soon pay for it with their lives! So don't tell me I don't know who I'm dealing with! I know I'm dealing with the Dark Lord! I know I'm dealing with VOLDEMORT! I know I'm dealing with the man who murdered my parents! I KNOW!"

"I know what he wants with me, Professor! At first, he wanted me to help him, join him! But ever since I refused, and made it clear that I wanted nothing to do with him, he's made it perfectly clear that he wants me dead! FINE! Let him try! I'll NEVER help or worship him! I'll never bow down to him!"

"He showed me how he murdered my parents! I can still hear my father's voice as he yells at my mother to take me and run while he tries to hold them off! I hear his final cry as he dies from a cutting spell that slashed across his throat! I see my mother as he cornered her; the fear in her eyes; the terror in her voice as she pleads for my life – not her life, but mine! I see her as she writhes under the cruciatus, still pleading for my life! Then the flash of green light as she falls! It's my fault they're dead! It's my fault he came after us! But he's their murderer!

Harry took a few 'seething' breaths before continuing. No one else even attempted to speak. Harry suddenly realized that he was on his feet, though he couldn't quite remember when he had risen

"I know who he is Professor! I know how cruel Voldemort can be!" He wasn't shouting anymore, but his voice still held strong and hard "He showed me exactly what he did to those that crossed him! Not just my parents." Harry saw a new fear creep into Albus' eyes as he said this "He's sworn to come after me one day! He's sworn to kill me! All because I wouldn't follow him! Well, I never will! I'll be like my parents, Professor. I will fight against him, and if he ever comes after me, I won't just let him kill me! I won't just let him win!"

He still wasn't shouting or screaming, but his breathing was heavy, and in sharp intakes, and he was still on his feet. He wasn't sure what to do next. He hadn't meant to take it this far, but he knew that if he had been any vaguer, the repercussion would have possibly been worse than they already would be. He didn't know what to do, and it felt as if the walls were closing in.

It had been 15 seconds, and still no one spoke. He felt every eye in the room boring down upon him, but he was afraid of what might happen if he attempted to look any one of them in the eye. He felt as if the walls were starting to close in around him. He didn't know the right thing to do, so he did the only thing that came to mind. Without so much as a backwards glance, he turned on his heel, and fled out the door.

The room was deathly still for several minutes. No one even flinched as the door opened, then shut loudly. No one tried to stop the child as he ran from the room. The remnants of raw power lingered in the air, though not nearly as much if Harry had completely lost his temper. The two teachers seemed frozen in fear, and Albus appeared shaken to the core.

Surprisingly, it was McGonagall to find her voice first, or at least a sliver of it. It was shaky, and her words came out in quivering gasps "M-Mr. Pott…he…he didn…he doesn't mea… Albus?" the single word was filled with pleading, desperation; the hope of a verbal confirmation to tell her that this was all a big hoax

Albus closed his eyes as he put a hand over his face, his head hung slightly.

A sharp intake of breath came from McGonagall.

Severus seemed to have a hard time forming his own thoughts, though his voice was much steadier then the Transfiguration teachers'

"Headmaster, are" he swallowed, though it appeared reluctantly "You're saying that the 'boy' and the D-Dark Lord" he grimaced slightly as he tentatively said the name

Albus sighed heavily, the weariness of the last 24 hours finally being revealed "It would appear that Voldemort" Severus flinched at the name, but Albus continued "did indeed form a connection with Mr. Potter all those years ago. I was afraid…" he shook his head resignedly

"You knew something like this would happen?!" suddenly Minerva had found her voice again, complete with the stern and the sharpness

Albus sighed again "I assure you, I had no idea this was happening. I merely suspected that Mr. Potter's scar was more then it appeared. I can see now that it was great deal more than even I suspected."

Minerva's eyes narrowed "And what makes you believe this is more than just – well, nightmares. I mean, he was young, but trauma can…"

Albus shook his head "I'm afraid this is much more than merely trauma. I truly wish that's all it was."

"But what makes you certain it's not?" she demanded "I mean V-You-Know-Who is supposed to be dead."

Albus passed a disheartened gaze over his teachers. While Minerva's sharpness was back, she still appeared shaken, while Severus now wore an impassive look, successful only with his years of practice and powerful Occumency talents.

"I never held to that belief, Minerva. You know that."

"But you – you couldn't be certain." Her voice was becoming desperate again "He's been gone for…"

Albus ran his hands across his face in obvious conflict "I had hoped that this could wait." He muttered quietly

After a long moment he looked up, sorrow and regret filling his eyes, unknowing that he, the great Albus Dumbledore, had fallen perfectly into an elaborate scheme laid out by one masquerading as an 11-year-old.

"I'm afraid that it's time. Minerva, there's something…"

Harry didn't allow himself to stop. His breathing was heavy, but it was more out of panic rather than being out of breath. He couldn't believe he had lost it like that. Sure, he had sent the message he had intended, just not quite the way he'd intended. He hadn't meant to lose his temper. His plan had been to conduct the entire meeting in a calm, unconcerned manner, subtly dropping the name 'Tom Riddle', hinting at the 'scar connection', and somehow mentioning Christmas.

Well, he couldn't say he hadn't done that, he'd added just a little bit to the story. Now he'd just have to see if his plan went through. He knew that Albus had taken the initial bait – the man's emotions had told him that much. Now he'd just have to wait and see if Albus would do even half of what he predicted. If the lack of portraits on the walls were any indication, he knew he was already up to something.

Coming out of his thoughts, he finally observed his surroundings. He found himself on the 1st floor at the doors to the Great Hall. He sighed heavily, leaning against the stone wall.

He closed his eyes, sensing. Well, no one was coming after him – yet. Though he couldn't imagine how ackward it would be with Minerva. He hadn't meant to pull her into this, not yet, though he guessed she would have been in the thick of it soon enough anyway.

And Severus – the best he could hope for with him is that the man would be a bit fearful of him for a while. I mean, his old master, who he now 'knew' was very much alive, and trying to regain power, which he 'technically' was; had some sort of access to one of his students minds, and indirectly, to him.

Albus would be along the same lines. The best Harry could hope for there was that Albus would fear him, or at least fear what might happen. Honestly, he hoped it would be a repeat of his 5th year (minus Sirius dying of course and undoubtedly minus that horrid witch Umbridge), but the same in the respect that Albus would avoid him at all costs, in the fear of exposing his mind, memories, and secrets to Harry, well Tom.

He closed his eyes again. Still no one chasing him, but…

"Harry, there you are." Exclaimed a voice "Meeting over?"

Harry let out a small sigh "Hey Nev. Yeah it's over. What are you doing?"

Neville shrugged "Nothin' really. Just hanging out." Neville squinted his eyes "Merlin, you look awful."

Harry rolled his eyes "Thanks mate." He replied sarcastically

Neville bit his lip, slipping back into his role of the quiet, submissive child "I, uh, I just meant that you, uh, looked u-upset." He said, with only a slight stutter

Harry's face softened "I'm sorry, Nev. You're right, I probably do look awful. You could say that it wasn't the best meeting in the world." He sighed "Oh, and I think I think I broke my promise to Professor McGonagall about not having it turn into a soul sucking vortex of doom." He added as an afterthought

He emitted a small chuckle at this; the irony of the statement not lost on him

Neville's eyes widened slightly with curiosity "It went that bad?" he asked

Harry shook his head "Not necessarily bad, it just, well, let's just say that it may be awkward for a while."

Neville was still curious "With who?"

Harry smirked a little "You'll see. It won't be too hard to figure out."

It was obvious that Neville still had questions, but being a pureblood, raised in manners and protocol, he had enough tact to drop the subject for the time being.

He shuffeled his feat a bit "So, uh, what do you want to do now?" he asked tentatively

A bigger smirk crossed Harry's face though he quickly masked it. He knew what Neville wanted.

He now wore a neutral expression "Oh, I don't know. I thought I might go finish some homework, or something."

Neville's head jerked slightly, a startled look on his face "O-oh, oh. Ok. I guess I'll just…"

Harry chuckled "I'm just messing with you Nev. I am ready to fly more than anything."

This brought a smile to Neville's lips, and his eyes were alight with a joy, Harry might even go as far to say 'peace' that had never been present in him before. And it was certainly more than just the flying. It was, well, everything. There were some hardships mixed in, true, but that was just a part of life. His old friend had never had a lot in his life to be 'happy' about. He deserved this chance.

"Have you eaten lunch yet?" Harry found himself asking

"Uh, actually, I got these." He said, pulling several items wrapped in brown paper out of his robe pockets "After you left the kitchens, the house elves kept trying to feed me. I finally asked if I could have some sandwiches to take with me. They tried to give me a four course dinner."

Harry laughed "Yeah, they tend to do that. If you think that's going to be enough, we can skip the Great Hall, and go ahead and change and grab our brooms."

Neville pulled out two more packages and a piece of fruit "These pockets are magically expanded. They just kept giving and giving. I've got enough food to feed an army in here."

Harry's eyebrows quirked "Or at least Ron." He quipped

Neville snorted amusedly

Relaxed for the moment, Harry made a gesture towards the stairs, and the two friends began climbing, laughing and conversing about the simple topics of life, unconcerned with the conversation that was taking place just a few floors above their head.

"You can't be serious Albus?!" Minerva screeched, who was now frantically pacing the floor

"I truly wish this could be delayed, Minerva." Albus sighed heavily "However, I'm afraid the time has come. We must be prepared."

"But Albus the…the evidence is sketchy at best. Surely…" her voice was pleading, as she ran her finger through the edges of her hair.

"You saw the Mark, Minerva."

"So you think it's gotten a shade darker! There's no way that to know everything about that – that thing! There's no telling…"

"I knowabout this!" Severus snapped, a sharp scowl on his face "You believe I would make this up?!"

Minerva shrunk back slightly, clearly disturbed by this whole conversation "I don't think – that is, I wasn't implying" she growled in frustration "You can't be sure, Severus, and there's no need to create unnecessary fear and panic on a suspicion!"

"It's better to be prepared then to be caught off guard. I would rather have preparations in place then be caught unaware. We knew this day would come." Albus' voice was back to its calm diplomatic manner

"You believed, Albus!" Minerva retorted "We didn't know!"

Albus sighed heavily, hanging his head slightly "I wish that were true. However" he pursed his lips "I've spoken to Alastor. He agrees that we shouldn't wait."

"Of Course, he agrees!" Minerva bit out "The man's completely paranoid! He would agree to any plan of attack. There's still no evidence that…"

"What about the evidence Mr. Potter presented?" Albus asked calmly

Minerva's eyes flashed "What about it, Albus?" she snapped "He's just a child! He has nothing to do with this!"

"On the contrary, Minerva. I'm afraid Mr. Potter is very much involved. More so then I would have thought." There was a sadness in Albus' voice, though a knowing there as well

"Then you need to take it up with Remus and Sirius." Minerva retorted

At this, Albus appeared adamant "I'm not sure that's the best course of action at the present time."

Minerva's eyes flashed again "They're his guardians, Albus! They have a right to know – whether or not this is all true. There's obviously something disturbing the boy, and he needs help to deal with it. Personally, I think it's a result of the abuse he suffered at the hand of those horrid relatives you chose to place him with!" her breathing was heavy, and a scowl dominated her face, her arms folded tightly across her chest

Albus hung his head "I have apologized for that, Minerva. It truly was the safest place at the time."

"I'll say it again, Albus. You need to redefine your version of the word 'safe'!"

Albus' eyes showed the first hint of frustration though his speech remained calm and placid "I understand, Minerva, but I still believe that something's going to happen. We must prepare."

Minerva threw up her hands "Fine, Albus. Fine. But for the record, I am completely against this! And if you try to involve Harry in any way, you have to inform Remus and Sirius, because if you don't I will!"

With that, she turned on her heel, and stormed out of the room! As the door slammed shut, the echo reverberated throughout the room

There was a moment of silence before Severus spoke

"So what happens now?" he growled

Albus appeared weary, but there was determination in his face "So it begins. It's time to reform the Order of the Phoenix."

Okay guys, I can't apologize enough for the long wait. Believe me, I had no intention to wait this long, it just happened that way. This was a very difficult chapter for me to write, because it would determine where I would begin to take the rest of this story, going into Harry's Spring Semester of his First Year. This particular chapter is my longest one; over 21,000 words, but that's still no excuse.

I can't promise when the next chapter will come out, but I will say that I placed some subtle hints about some things to come in the next few chapters. If you want a hint on where to look for those, look at the dates, then go back and look at some of the other dates I've given you (ex. When people died, ect). Okay, vague, I know, but I don't want to give too much away.

I will give you a treat since you've been such faithful readers, and haven't killed me yet for making you wait so long. Wait for it…Wait for…OK, OK, here it is. I've decided to PAIR Harry with someone! SURPRISE! I know I said I hadn't decided on a pairing yet, but I had a stroke of inspiration one day, and decided I had to do this storyline. For those who are wondering, No, it's not Ginny. This isn't meant to be cruel, but there is a reason. Your other clue is 'No' you haven't seen her in this story yet, and you won't for a few more chapters. I think you'll like it, but I admit it's outside the box. But hey, I never said I was a traditional writer.

Anyway, I'll try to get the next chapter out as soon as I can. It won't be as hard or as long a wait as this one. I promise.

Happy trails,

Midnight Star 25