Harry scanned the crowd for Sirius for the umpteenth time. He met with no success. This is easier on a broomstick he thought sourly. When playing Quidditch, Harry was always able to pick out the individual forms of his friends and classmates and professors. Now, though, he was lost in the massive throng.
He had played more Quidditch games on this pitch than he had observed; and he had been accompanied by Ron and Hermione to those matches at which he had been a spectator. He had not tried to find a place in the packed stands just before the match started.
Despite his temporary annoyance, he did not regret arriving late to the match. Anything that would prove to Sirius that Harry did respect his advice and did intend to do as he was told (except perhaps in extreme circumstances) was well worth any amount of inconvenience.
Harry's face lit up at the shout. "Hermione!" He attempted to force his way through the throng of wizards and witches in the direction of his friend's voice. This was a difficult task, but at last Hermione was able to grasp his hand with hers. She dragged him in the direction of a prime section of the stands. "Sirius got good seats for us. I think he threatened to hex someone," she explained.
"I did not!" Sirius protested as they arrived. "I gave everyone in my way my most charming smile and they couldn't wait to do anything that might make me happy. So because I could see that making me happy would make them happy, I graciously allowed them to give me these seats. Don't you believe me, Harry?" he asked with an innocent look.
"Yes, Sirius," Harry said dutifully.
"Did you talk to him?" Sirius asked in a lower voice as Hermione clambered up a few rows to whisper something to a giggling Parvati.
"Yes," said Harry.
"Feel any better?"
"No. I feel bad about different things," Harry admitted. "But I understand more."
Sirius had, in the weeks immediately following the Dark Lord's demise, withdrawn his comment that Harry's interests might be better served by a different guardian. However, Harry had been anxious to assuage whatever doubts Sirius might have about his respect for his godfather's authority and had told Sirius that he wanted to speak with Dumbledore. Speaking to Dumbledore would be, in a way, representative of Harry's learning to trust the adults in his life once more.
Harry had avoided Dumbledore as much as possible after discovering that Dumbledore had been pleased to learn that Voldemort had bled Harry, and that in fact Dumbledore had aided Voldemort in his quest to obtain Harry's blood. Now that he wanted to speak to Dumbledore again, though, Dumbledore was very difficult to find. He was traveling the country, explaining to crowds of witches and wizards that they were indeed safe and encouraging them to continue on with their lives and give their support to the Ministry. At last, Harry had gone to Professor McGonagall and requested her help in finding a time to meet with Dumbledore. The very next day, Harry had received an owl with his breakfast that suggested that Harry be at Dumbledore's office on the morning of the first Quidditch match to take place at Hogwarts since the fall of Voldemort.
Harry had rather nervously obliged.
As soon as he arrived, the doorway to Dumbledore's office opened without Harry's needing any passwords or spells.
"Right on time, Mr. Potter," said Dumbledore pleasantly as Harry approached him. "Do sit down."
"Thank you, Sir."
"I trust you've had a pleasant morning?"
"Yes, Sir. Have you?"
Dumbledore smiled. "It has been a busy few weeks, as I'm sure you'll agree. I just returned to Hogwarts this morning. I would sincerely hate to miss this Quidditch match." Harry forced a grin, and Dumbledore continued. "I'm sorry I missed the end of the year feast last night. And I must congratulate you on your performance on the OWL exams as well."
"You saw my marks?" asked Harry, surprised.
"I see the marks of every student who passes through this school, Mr. Potter."
"No, no, I know that. It's just that we only got the scores yesterday."
"I was anxious to see them. Your class has been put at a disadvantage because of recent events, and I was delighted to see how well you rose to the occasion. I was especially pleased by your scores, and the youngest Mr. Weasley's and Miss Granger's."
"I don't think anyone was shocked when Hermione got twelve. We all expected her to set some kind of record."
"No one was shocked to see you or Ron get ten, either."
"We were," Harry admitted.
"Did you find the tests that difficult?"
"I had no idea how I'd done when I took them. They weren't practical at all. When Professor McGonagall gives us an exam, she makes us change a guinea pig into a guinea hen with our wands. Professor Flitwick makes us demonstrate charms. But this was almost all written-- how you would do things. A Muggle who had a good textbook could pass the OWLs."
"You're not the first person to argue that. But it is easier to ensure fairness in testing throughout different schools of magic and over a period of years if the tests are written and standardized. You'll get the opportunity to display your talent in a hands-on examination when you take the NEWTs."
"I can hardly wait," Harry half-groaned.
Dumbledore fixed him with a piercing gaze. "I don't believe that you asked to see me because you wanted to talk about OWLs, however."
"I further believe that you would like to discuss some of your meetings with Lord Voldemort."
Dumbledore waited for a moment before breaking the silence that stretched across the office. "I cannot read minds, Harry. You will have to ask me questions before I give you answers."
With an internal burst of annoyance, Harry found himself stumbling over his words. "What made you decide to set me up?" seemed badly phrased, so he decided on "Why didn't you tell me sooner that I could defeat Voldemort?"
"I had no way of knowing whether or not you could defeat Voldemort."
"Then why didn't you tell me sooner that his having my blood made him mortal to me?" Harry rephrased.
"I was concerned that you would do exactly what you did do. I never wanted to see you hurt. You have a long life ahead of you. I wanted you to be old enough to be beyond making impulsive decisions and educated enough to hold your own in a duel before you attacked the most powerful Dark wizard of recent times."
"Then why let me fight him when I was eleven? Or when I was fourteen?"
"He was very weak when you were eleven. You were in no real danger."
"I was unconscious for… for I don't even know how long!"
"But you regained consciousness."
"You told me then that you just got there in time to save me. Was that your plan?"
"There was no chance that you wouldn't have gotten there just in time to save me?"
"There is always a chance. The chance was infinitesimal in this case."
"And last year?"
Dumbledore sighed wearily. "Last year, many things went wrong."
"Did you know that the tournament was fixed?"
"No. I knew that surely someone or several someones was attempting to stack the odds in your favor, or they would never have placed your name in the Goblet of Fire."
"Did you know that Mad-Eye Moody wasn't Mad-Eye Moody?"
"I began to suspect as much partway through the year, yes. And I decided to allow events to play themselves out."
"And I ruined the plan by asking Cedric to take the Cup with me."
"You had no idea. Cedric had no idea. I had very little idea."
"Why did you decide not to tell me some of what you did know? It was my life. And Cedric's." Harry was finally getting into the territory that contained the answers he desperately wanted.
"If you had known, you would have attempted to prevent Lord Voldemort from taking your blood."
"He wouldn't have gotten his strength back."
"Not from you, and not just then. But another wizard's blood could have made him strong and would not have carried with it your mother's mark."
"Why didn't you say that to me?"
"Your behavior would have been different. You might not have agreed with me. Surely your godfather would have done anything in his power to save you from harm, at any cost to any number of others." Dumbledore sighed once more, and looked very old. "It is one of the things I regret most in my life, but I did not feel that I had another option. I could not afford to view you as…" He stopped to search for a word.
"A person?" Harry supplied, hoping that he did not sound too confrontational or sarcastic. Dumbledore would not continue this conversation if Harry did not carefully calculate his words and control his emotions.
"I suppose that is fair." Suddenly, Dumbledore stood up and crossed the office to open a large cabinet. He removed a bowl which Harry had seen just once before. It was his pensieve. "Would you like to see some of what I saw during that year, Harry?"
Harry was taken aback. The pensieve was a very personal object; he could hardly believe that he had peeked inside of it once. He looked at Dumbledore, and at the bowl, and back at Dumbledore. He could see the regret and concern in Dumbledore's eyes, and decided that that was enough. "No, Sir," he said aloud.
"Are you certain?"
"I'm certain. May I ask one more question?"
"There is evidence to suggest that you are capable of it."
"Why did you try to be friendly to me? Why did you go out of your way to talk to me and make me trust you? I can see that you needed me to have my father's cloak, and you needed me to know certain things about Voldemort and my parents, but why act like you liked me?"
Dumbledore chuckled. "I do like you. You are intelligent, and you are loyal to your friends, and you put the needs of others above your own, and you do the thing that you think is right even when you're frightened. You have a sense of humor and a capacity to love despite a less than ideal childhood. I hated the idea of manipulating you. I detested it." Dumbledore's voice grew furious, and Harry had to remind himself not to flinch. "But I thought that the loss of some of my pride and some of your idealism were not an unrealistic price to pay for peace."
Harry gulped. "I suppose not," he said in a voice barely above a whisper.
"I especially believed that my controlling your role in this war was justified because, assuming you survived, no irreparable harm would be done. You'll go home with Sirius this summer. I'm sure you'll help each other heal and make each other very happy. You'll have many years for whatever bitter memories these past few years have given you to fade in comparison with the sweet memories."
They had spoken for only a few more moments before hastening to the Quidditch pitch.
Harry managed to explain all of this to an intently listening Sirius before the magically amplified announcer's voice interrupted them and Hermione jumped into the seat on Harry's other side.
The commentator was a wizard who often announced Quidditch games on wizarding radio, but Lee Jordan was seated beside him to provide extra information. Lee began the introductions.
"INTRODUCING TEAM WEASLEY," he shouted to the delighted cheers of much of the crowd. "AT KEEPER, NEXT YEAR'S GRYFFINDOR CAPTAIN, RON WEASLEY! AT BEATER, SIX-YEAR GRYFFINDOR STARTERS AND PROPRIETORS OF WEASLEYS' WIZARD WHEEZES, FRED AND GEORGE WEASLEY! AT SEEKER, THE LEGENDARY FORMER GRYFFINDOR CAPTAIN, CHARLIE WEASLEY! AT CHASER, FORMER HEAD BOYS BILL AND PERCY WEASLEY, AND THE CUNNING MIND BEHIND THIS MATCH, GINNY WEASLEY! FAR AND AWAY THE MOST ATTRACTIVE MEMBER OF HER FAMILY, BUT DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND DON'T SAY SO IN FRONT OF HER BROTHERS!"
Harry watched as Fred and George shouted what he strongly suspected were obscenities in Lee's direction. The rest of the crowd screamed wildly until the commentator interrupted to introduce the team of Ravenclaw graduates.
"Ron is the Quidditch captain next year?" Sirius asked, turning to Harry.
Harry nodded. "I didn't tell you that?"
"No, or I probably wouldn't be asking."
"Yes, he is. He's the only returning player besides me, and I don't think I'm properly obsessed with Quidditch to handle the job."
Sirius raised an eyebrow. "You aren't?"
"I'm much more comfortable being the one who gets kicked out of bed for practice at the crack of dawn on a Saturday than being the one who does the kicking."
"That I can understand."
"Ron and I talked about doing it together, and I'm obviously going to have to have loads to do with choosing new players, but I think it's better if we only have one captain. And he's a better choice. I just play for fun, mostly. I didn't grow up obsessing about it."
Sirius nodded, and pointed skyward. "I can tell you who one of your new players should be."
"Ginny?" Harry guessed.
"She's a marvelous flyer."
"She knows Quidditch inside out, too. She'd have to, living with Ron and the twins and Charlie. The only problem is that Ron won't think it's safe for her to play. None of them would have let her play today if this whole thing hadn't been her idea."
The day that Harry, Ron, and Hermione had left on the Easter adventure that had culminated with the battle that had ended the reign of Lord Voldemort, Ginny had had an argument with a Ravenclaw chaser and had sworn that she and her brothers would be able to beat a team made up of the best Ravenclaw had ever graduated. She had not planned on having the opportunity to prove her point.
Then the fateful battle with Voldemort had occurred. Naturally, Ron's hand on the Weasley family clock had crept to "mortal peril" (as it had all too often since Ron had befriended Harry). Ron's parents had rushed to Hogwarts as quickly as they could, and had stormed the hospital wing soon after Professor Dumbledore had told Harry, Ron, and Hermione why they had been able to defeat the Dark Lord.
The three reluctant practitioners of the killing curse were roused from near-sleeping states by Molly's cry of "Ron!" and Arthur's quieter but no less frantic "Are you all right?"
"Fine," Ron mumbled as he jerked himself out of his sleepy state. His mother nearly smothered him with a hug, and then gave Harry and Hermione the same treatment.
When she had assured herself that her son and his friends were in roughly the same number of pieces as they had been when she had last seen them, she said in calm but edged voice "Will you three ever manage to make it through a school year without ending up here?"
"We're planning on doing that next year, Mum," Ron said with an unconcerned jauntiness reminiscent of the twins when they were trying to worm their ways out of trouble.
She shook her head, obviously not in the mood to reprimand Ron but still passionately intense. "I shouldn't have given you permission to leave the castle."
Ron, who had been lazing against his pillows, sat bolt upright. "That's got nothing to do with it! We came back to the castle just fine. We went out again."
Presently, Ginny, Fred, and George flew into the room and provided a distraction by describing the celebration in the Great Hall. In the face of their glee and relief, even Mrs. Weasley could not remain angry.
Then Ron made the mistake of telling Fred that the only reason he was so tired was that he had, by means of a magical connection to Harry, cast Dark magic that was beyond his capabilities.
Mrs. Weasley's lips set into a thin line.
"You cast Dark magic?" she asked in a hooded voice.
Ron's eyes strayed nervously across the room, and Harry suddenly felt like an intruder, even though he was the one who had done the actual casting of the killing curse.
"It was the only thing we could do," Ron protested.
"This is what your father and I have fought against all our lives."
"The Ministry lets its Aurors use the Unforgivable Curses," Ron argued. Harry sincerely hoped that this line of logic would work better on Mrs. Weasley than it had on Sirius.
"YOU are not an Auror."
Ron muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "not yet" under his breath. In a louder tone of voice, he said "Neither is Percy."
"Leave your brother out of this!" Mrs. Weasley snapped.
"Why?" asked Ron. "You've spent half your life telling me to be more like him."
"Percy had special permission to cast that spell! He was working on Ministry business, just like the Aurors."
"It wasn't Ministry business. It was Dumbledore's business!"
Mrs. Weasley began to swell, and Ron realized that he had pushed his mother too far. His complexion became tinged with green. Mr. Weasley, though, took pity on his youngest son. "The two have become rather interchangeable as of late," he admitted. "But nevertheless, Ron, you mustn't keep running off into dangerous situations like this. I didn't like it when Percy did it, either, but Percy is much closer to being an adult than you are. He has a career and he made a decision. You are still in school. Do you really expect not to learn anything during the next two years?"
"Yes. I mean, no."
"But it's truly over!" Ginny interrupted, doing her sisterly duty of distracting her parents from her brother. "And Percy can come home!" Her face shone brilliantly. "He's in Montreal and he was helping with awareness of You-Know-Who in Canada, but he's coming back now." The Secret-Keeper spilled the secret because she could.
This revelation made Mrs. Weasley's expression transform almost instantly from outrage to nearly tearful relief.
The Weasley siblings exchanged looks. None of them wanted to watch their mother cry; so George used a failsafe method for diffusing an emotional situation. He began to discuss Quidditch. "It's good that Percy is coming back," he announced, "because he promised that he'd play Quidditch with us if we all made it through the war. Didn't he, Fred?"
"I believe he did," Fred returned, falling easily into his twin's rhythm of speech. "Did you hear him say that, Ginny?"
"Yes, he said that." Ginny smiled. "So now we can all play against the Ravenclaws like I promised stupid Frances McCourt?"
"What did you promise stupid Frances McCourt?" asked George.
Ron answered for Ginny. "They had a . . . disagreement and Gin told Frances that we could beat a team made up of the best Quidditch players that ever graduated from Ravenclaw."
"We could, too," George agreed. He turned to Fred. "Couldn't we?"
"Of course!" Fred claimed forcefully. "And remember when we first made the team, in second year? Remember how the captain knew that wizard who calls Quidditch games on wizarding radio? You think he'd be able to help us track down our victims?"
Moments later, when Madam Pomfrey shoed the Weasleys (except for Ron) from the hospital wing, Fred and George were still talking animatedly about how best to back up Ginny's bragging.
"That's two down," said Ron with a sigh as his family left the room. "Bet you're looking forward to telling your parents, Hermione."
Hermione looked pensive. "I wasn't planning on telling them. At least not in detail."
"You can't not tell them," Ron protested.
"Why not?" she challenged. "They don't see the Daily Prophet or hear wizarding radio. They have some books, and they know who You-Know-Who was, and they know who Harry is, but they won't know details about this unless I tell them. It'll be better if I don't. Better if I just say that the wizarding world is out of danger, and don't explain how. They won't have to panic, like your parents just did, or like Sirius did."
"Sirius didn't panic," Ron scoffed. Sirius had become something of a hero to Ron.
"Yes, he did," Hermione corrected earnestly. "Before we woke up. I could see it on his face."
"You could not. He's never panicked before, and Harry's always getting in trouble."
Harry snorted. Ron and Hermione ignored him, and Hermione continued talking. "Sirius has seen Harry in trouble before, but this time he didn't have a chance to be prepared. And he told Harry not to go after You-Know-Who, and he didn't figure out that Harry meant to do it anyway. He was afraid Harry was going to die and he was mad that Harry wouldn't listen to him. Maybe he's afraid he can't take care of Harry if he can't make him listen. Plus, he just found out that You-Know-Who is dead, and that's a shock because except when he was in Azkaban he doesn't remember a time when You-Know-Who wasn't gaining power. And Azkaban's another thing. He was tortured for twelve years. Maybe he could push that to the back of his mind when he was worried about dementors and You-Know-Who, but it must be harder now. So I think he was really upset. And I don't want my parents to be really upset."
Ron could not argue with Hermione's analysis of the situation.
For that matter, neither could Harry. He began to agree even more strongly when he accidentally caught a glimpse of Narcissa Malfoy, who had traveled to Hogwarts to collect her son's belongings. He had not liked the woman the only other time he had had the misfortune to meet her. This time, he had not seen the woman's face; but he imagined that she must feel utterly bereft. She had lost her husband and her only child in one swift blow.
Thus, Harry had been turning Draco's death over and over in his mind when the year-end feast rolled around.
Indirectly, he had been the cause of Draco's death. He had not suggested that Draco take a portkey and watched as he was murdered, but he had uttered the curse that had caused the explosion that had probably killed Draco.
They all chose to be there, he reminded himself. They knew what they were getting into. Voldemort didn't have to tie their lives to his, either.
Ron muttered many of these same things under his breath as Professor McGonagall, speaking for the absent Professor Dumbledore, gave a speech hauntingly similar to the one Dumbledore had given a year earlier and proposed a toast to Draco.
Harry unwillingly recalled watching Draco during the previous year's feast. Draco had refused to raise his goblet to Cedric as Cho and many of Cedric's friends had cried.
Am I less upset about him than about Cedric because we didn't get along? Harry wondered guiltily. I don't think so. I don't want to think so. Draco was almost as big a part of my life as my friends. He was my arch enemy, and they say that arch enemies always have some things in common. Merlin, that's true of Sirius and Snape. Of course, Remus was right when he told me that comparing Sirius and Snape is something that everyone does mentally and but that no one should do out loud for fear of getting hexed. But Draco and me: we looked like our fathers and had to answer to our fathers' legacies, we were the main candidates for Head Boy… Cedric would have been Head Boy…
This year, the Slytherins were the ones who looked somber and ill-- many were even crying-- as several Gryffindors refused to raise their glasses.
"Pick your drinks up!" Harry snapped quietly at the offending members of his house. He tried to make the light of the Great Hall glint off of his prefect's badge.
With slightly guilty expressions, Harry's housemates toasted Draco Malfoy. They remained subdued even as McGonagall announced that Gryffindor had won the inter-house championship.
Am I less upset about Draco because this is the second time? In a way, I'd actually like to talk to Dumbledore tomorrow morning before the match. And right after the match, I'll be going home. With Sirius. Is it all right for me to be happy?
"Harry? Are you even watching?" Sirius' voice jerked Harry back to the present.
"Er. Ginny just scored," Harry guessed. The Gryffindor section of the crowd was cheering wildly.
"It was Bill," Hermione corrected from Harry's other side and Remus corrected from Sirius' other side.
"Well, Ginny set up the play."
"So she did," agreed Sirius. "But I think you were right. I think you aren't so interested in Quidditch that you should be captain." He leaned in closer to Harry so that no one else could hear him. "What's wrong?"
"Are you going to meet me at King's Cross this evening?"
"Of course! Unless you don't want to ride the Express. I always thought it was a good way to end the year. I assumed you'd want to congratulate Ron on this game."
"They never delayed the Express for a Quidditch match when I was here," Sirius continued with playful resentment.
"Times change," said Harry with a smirk. Ron chose that moment to make a magnificent save, and Harry jumped to his feet to cheer, suddenly secure in the knowledge that times were changing for the better.
Note of Revision:Reposted, with much cringing, November 2007. Formatting has been improved and a few typos have been corrected, but the story has not been brought into compliance with canon (not that it could be).
Hopefully I will never again look at my "three-year summer" fics now that they have had their polish. This one wasn't quite as bad as I remembered it being—I was pleasantly surprised by my Snape and Pansy scene toward the end, which I'd forgotten about and which I like. It also amuses me that when I posted this before the publication of Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows, I received many, many reviews about how awful/wrong it was to imply that Dumbledore would ever manipulate or risk Harry to try to defeat Voldemort. Greater good, anyone?
Otherwise, the last three books brought this so far from canon that it's almost intolerable to read, especially considering the flaws it already had. (When I originally wrote this, I got bored partway through and cut large chunks of plot out, making the story about half the length I originally envisioned. I know it shows.) But I'll leave it and my other older fics up as a curiosity.
Thank you for all of the reviews over the years—read and appreciated!