Author's Note: well, here it is, folks. This is a story that I already know will be controversial for some and problematic for others. I've tried very hard to ensure that characterization is realistic in terms of human beings - who, as we all might now, are faillable and imperfect. We make assumptions and mistakes, we don't anticipate every possibility - and as much as we try to ignore the consequences, we can never quite forget them. As such, this story is intended for mature audiences for disturbing content, violence, occasional bad language, sexual scenes, and some scenes that are not appropriate for some readers. Viewer discretion is strongly advised.
This story begins just after the Dementor attack at the beginning of 'Order of the Phoenix', and from there... well, get ready for one hell of a ride.
The Ministry will be calling at your place to destroy your wand…
Harry swallowed hard. This was it. He should have seen this coming. He knew what he did would bring the Ministry down on him – hard.
He turned towards the stairs, his mind a blur. He was leaving Privet Drive, he knew that, but he only knew one thing: he needed his wand.
"Damn it, come back here, boy!" Uncle Vernon roared, trying to put himself in front of Harry, but with a flick, the beefy man was thrown aside.
"Stay out of my way," Harry said coldly, moving towards the stairs, even as Uncle Vernon was scrabbling to his feet, his eyes blazing with rage. "The school's thrown me out, and I can do whatever the hell I want. So I'm leaving. Now." And with that, completely ignoring Uncle Vernon's bellowed protests, he went straight upstairs and slammed the door to his room shut.
His nerves were on the edge of panic, but he didn't have time for panic. If the Ministry was coming to destroy his wand, he guessed they would be coming soon. He couldn't afford to wait. Even if Dumbledore could sort something out – and given no more letters had arrived, that probably wouldn't happen – he still didn't like to think of the prospect of dueling with Ministry officials.
He was loading his trunk faster than any other time in his life. Clothes, homework, everything landed in a tumbled mess inside, but Harry didn't care. I need to be moving, they're coming!
Cramming Hedwig's cage inside and wrenching his trunk shut, he turned towards the door and shoved it open. Awkwardly dragging the trunk, he could still hear yelling in the kitchen, probably between Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. She must be trying to convince him not to get in my way, Harry thought with a disgusted snort. Smart move for once, Petunia.
Then he heard the doorbell ring.
Oh no, they're here! "Don't answer it!" Harry yelled as Uncle Vernon entered the hall. "I'm warning you, don't answer –"
He opened the door, and even from Harry's vantage point at the top of the stairs, he could see two grim-faced men in crisp black robes.
"Where's the Potter boy?"
"There's no Potter living at this residence," Uncle Vernon growled. "Now get off my property, you, you freaks!"
But the Ministry officials had already seen Harry at the foot of the stairs and raised his wand. "We need to take that young man into custody for the illegal usage of the Patronus Charm in plain sight of a Muggle. If you'd step aside, sir…"
Harry's spell did exactly what he wanted, and the hallway mirror split apart with explosive force. He could hear the Ministry officials swearing as they were engulfed in the cloud of glass…
But Harry wasn't stopping for anything, not now. Two Stunning Spells dropped the Ministry officials and quickly bewitching his trunk to feather lightness, Harry hurtled down the stairs, clenching his eyes shut. He felt his trunk hurtle by him and clip one of the falling Ministry officials on the way out the door, from the sounds of it, but he felt a hand seize his shoulder.
"You aren't leaving yet, boy –"
"Confundo!" Harry yelled, blindly pointing his wand back at Uncle Vernon, at the same time kicking backwards with his foot. From the startled groan, Harry knew he hit something valuable, and the instant the grip slackened, he was free.
He knew any second that Ministry officials would come to investigate. Got to act fast, he thought wildly, pulling his trunk behind him as he ran. Need to find some place to run or hide to…
It came to him, as he remembered the last time he had run away from the Dursleys. He darted into a rubbish-strewn back alley between two of the smaller houses and ripped open his trunk. Yanking his Firebolt free, he muttered a quick Shrinking Charm on the trunk until it was the size of his wallet. Then, swallowing hard, he shoved his trunk into his pocket, mounted his broom, and shot off into the sky.
"You're meaning to tell me that Harry is gone?" Sirius Black said in a low, rage-filled voice. "Gone, Arthur? Where the hell did he go?"
"I have no idea where he went, Sirius!" Mr. Weasley replied furiously, raking a hand over his scalp as paced. "Dumbledore was just making it to the Ministry when Fudge dispatched the people. While Dumbledore was arguing with Fudge, two reports came in that the Ministry officials had been Stunned, his Muggle uncle was Confunded and that Harry was gone!"
"Doesn't Dumbledore have a Tracking Charm permanently placed on the boy for these kinds of problems?" Kingsley Shacklebolt asked heatedly. "Considering what the boy's been through, it only makes sense!"
"It might make sense, but it doesn't mean it's been done," Severus Snape replied, a hint of a sneer on his face. "What the hell was the idiotic boy thinking, using a Patronus Charm in plain sight of a Muggle?"
"He wouldn't have done it without a reason," Remus Lupin said, a worried note in his voice. "And that means the worst – the Ministry doesn't control the Dementors anymore."
"An issue for another time, Lupin," Mr. Weasley said, breathing fast. "We need to find Harry. Does anyone have ideas where he might be?"
Suddenly, they heard a wild scuffling outside, and a second later, there was the sound of fists banging rapidly on the wood.
"We know where Harry's going, let us in!" George shouted, his voice muffled.
Kingsley, closest to the door, pulled the door open a crack, mission integrity set aside for the moment. "What do you want?" he asked, his eyes slightly widening. "And how on earth were you listening at the door?"
"Boys," Mr. Weasley said in a frustrated voice as the twins shoved past a shocked Kingsley. "Now's not the time –"
"We know where Harry's going!" they shouted at the same time.
"And how on earth would you know that?" Snape asked caustically.
"Simple. He's going to the Burrow," Fred said, crossing his arms over his chest. "It's the logical explanation. Why on earth wouldn't he – he thinks we're all there, and that since Dad works at the Ministry…"
"I'm going," Sirius said, getting to his feet, but with two loud cracks, the twins had already Disapparated.
Mr. Weasley was on his feet. "Where do they think –"
"Isn't it obvious?" Snape retorted with a scowl, every syllable dripping with contempt. "They probably went to the Burrow to rescue Potter – and share his sentence."
"I'll go after them," Kingsley said coolly, ignoring the angry look that Mr. Weasley was giving Snape. "Besides, I have an idea how we might be able to get Harry out of this."
"I'm coming too, then," Sirius said firmly, pulling on his cloak.
"No, you're not," Kingsley replied, his voice filled with authority. "You know what Dumbledore said, and just because Harry hasn't listened to your letters telling him not to act rashly does not mean you should instead."
"Please, Sirius," Remus said quietly. "Let Kingsley handle it."
Sirius seemed to slump with defeat, while Kingsley gave the smugly smiling Snape a disgusted look and Disapparated with a loud crack.
Harry clenched his teeth against the icy wind, wishing that he had grabbed a coat before leaving the house. He was flying high – higher than he had ever flown before – and was pushing his Firebolt to the limit.
But a quick glance behind him told him everything he needed to know. Between the clouds and the biting wind forcing even him to squint, he could spot them.
Three fliers, all on slower brooms, all brandishing wands.
Swallowing hard, Harry threw his broom into a sharp dive. The frigid air tore against his glasses as he accelerated, the wind tousling his hair and tugging at his cloak. He knew the Firebolt was the fastest broom in the world, but no matter the lead he could get on his chasers, he knew that lead would be lost as soon as he tried to land. I need to get rid of at least one of them, he thought, a chill running down his spine as he easily pulled out of the dive a hundred meters down. And fast – the more time I'm up here, the more time they have to call for more people…
He heard a shrill whistle behind him, closer this time. Looking back quickly, he saw to his dismay that yet another flier had joined his pursuer. From the look of things, he's riding one of the better Nimbuses too…
Harry started to sweat as he flew faster and faster, pushing the Firebolt to accelerate. I need to get rid of this guy somehow before the rest of these idiots get the right idea and get on Nimbuses too!
Suddenly, he heard a low drone erupt through the air. His broom began to shake strangely, and Harry gripped the fragile wood even tighter. He had never really felt anything like this before, although he had a very shrewd – and very terrifying – idea about what it could be…
It erupted through the low clouds like a monolithic heavenly stalagmite, soaring upwards on a long flat arc towards the night sky. Harry's eyes widened as he heard the roar grow louder and louder. He could feel the air rushing around it, the slipstream ripping through the sky like the fabric of reality being torn with a long, flat knife.
It was an aeroplane. And it was a big one.
In a second, Harry knew what he had to do and it terrified him. He struggled to keep control his breathing, already labored as he struggled to catch his breath in the tumult. If this doesn't kill me, it'll be a miracle…
Wrenching his broom downwards towards the brightly lit monstrosity, he dove directly into the slipstream by its left wing.
Harry had never played Quidditch in a hurricane (although the match in his third year might have come close), but as the roar tore through his eardrums and he could feel his very skull vibrating inside his head, he imagined that this would probably be close, if not worse. It was a challenge to even hold onto his broom as it quaked it his hand. The lights around the monstrosity blurred, and he felt tears come to his eyes despite the glasses pressed to his face. Just a few seconds longer…
The succession of three bangs nearly deafened him, and the white monstrosity jerked in the sky. Harry's eyes went wide as the slipstream shifted violently –
He felt the broom buck beneath him, and the numbness in his fingers prevented a stable grip… he struggled to keep control -
The Firebolt was ripped from his hands, and he could see it continue to arc, leaving him to plummet behind it…
Harry struggled for his wand even as he fell. Finally wrenching it free and keeping a hand tightly around his shirt (which, given its looseness, was violently fluttering around his thin body) he pointed at the thin silhouette of the broom and bellowed the words he had shouted not a year earlier.
The broom froze in midair as Harry struggled to concentrate. Come on, I'm only free-falling through the air, not facing a psychotic Hungarian Horntail!
He felt the slick wood of the Firebolt under his hand, and this time, he held on for his dear life. Stuffing his wand back into his pocket, he rocketed through the air, heading south-east towards Ottery St. Catchpole. He knew that Ron and Hermione were bound to be there, and surely someone would be able to help…
For a second, he wondered if Mr. Weasley would have him arrested for what he did, but he brushed it aside. He knows that what I did was right. He knows that the Ministry's got no right to destroy my wand…
He dove lower and lower darting towards the trees on the outskirts of the town. Chancing a glance behind him, Harry noticed for a moment of relief that his pursuers were finally gone. I must have lost them in that stunt earlier, unless…
He could suddenly feel the warm stickiness on the back of his t-shirt, nearly dried from the long flight.
Oh god… what have I done… oh god, it's probably… god, I'm going to be sick…
He decelerated quickly as he dove towards the garden, but not quickly enough to avoid kicking up a sizable heap of dirt and grass beneath his shoes as he hit the ground hard. Dropping into a roll, he came up quickly, wiping the dirt and mud from his face and Firebolt as he fought to control the rising bile in his stomach.
I've got to get to Ron, get to Dumbledore… they've got to have something… what the heck, none of the lights are on… Harry frowned and wiped a bead of sweat and grime from his forehead as he approached the front door of the Burrow. Where the hell did they all go… unless…
"All right, drop the broom and wand, Potter, the game's up."
He spun quickly, to see six grim-faced Ministry officials standing on the lawn, all with their wands pointing at Harry. He swallowed hard, despite himself.
"I've… I've done nothing wrong," he said, fighting back panic as he backed into the door. "I was attacked by a Dementor, my cousin and me, and I had to use the charm to escape –"
"Not to escape us, did you?" the lead officer growled. Harry was reminded strongly of an enraged tiger from his feline motions and feral gaze, not to mention his violently orange hair, just a few shades lighter than that of the Weasleys. "You left quite a body count tonight, Potter."
Harry ignored the man's words – he couldn't dwell on them now, not now – and inched back towards the door, praying that it was unlocked. If I can just get inside, they'll have to fight me coming in, and I'll have the advantage, at least until they bring reinforcements…
"So Harry James Potter, under Wizengamot statutes, you are under arrest for reckless endangerment, violations of the Statute of Secrecy, and manslaughter –"
Harry wasn't listening anymore. Spinning around, he wrenched open the door –
Only to see a big bald black man step out of the shadows and disarm Harry with a flick of his wand.
In an instant, he was weaponless, and the panic was back. He began to pull himself onto his broom… but that flew out of his hands a second later.
"That's okay, Kemester," the man said in a slow voice, seizing Harry's arm in a painful grip. Harry began to thrash, but with quick efficient motions, his arms were pinned behind his back. "The Aurors will take it from here. This is out of Hit Wizard hands now."
The lead officer purpled with fury. "This brat was responsible for murder, Shacklebolt, and you expect us to just let him go?"
"Take it up with Scrimgeour if you want to press charges, but the Auror department has a vested interest in making sure this boy is disciplined, so we'll handle it from here," Shacklebolt replied, his deep slow voice almost behaving as a reassurance for his every word. "It might interest you to know, that –"
The loud, multi-coloured explosion from behind the hedges, one that made a dozen gnomes erupt from the hedge, caught nearly everyone by surprise. The Ministry officers dove for cover. A thick plume of orange fire erupted into the air, and Harry could only watch in shock as the nearby stump exploded as well, peppering the yard with flaming shards… except for the man behind him. But a second later, the Auror spun on his heel.
All around him, he felt as if everything was being pushed in and compressed. His ears, his chest, even his eyes felt like they were going to painfully implode as he was squeezed…
There was a loud pop, and Harry reappeared on a dirty London street, gasping and choking, the black man still with a firm grip on his arm.
"Come on," the man said calmly, shoving a small scrap of paper under his nose. "Read and memorize – now."
Harry was about to protest, but at the look of sheer emotionless implacability on the man's face, he turned towards the paper and read quickly.
"'The headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix can be found at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, London,'" Harry read aloud, turning up to the stern Auror. "What is this? What is –"
But before Harry's astonished eyes, a doorway, followed by an entire grimy house erupted from between the two nearest houses on the block. Harry was about to ask how this had happened, but Shacklebolt was already moving, dragging Harry up the path and through the door before he could even speak.
The door clicked shut behind them, and Harry could barely see as Shacklebolt continued to pull him down a flight of stairs and…
"Harry! By Merlin, it's him!"
Harry couldn't even respond as a man with long black hair flung his arms around him, shaking with relief. Harry could see a dozen other people in the room, all with very grim expressions on their faces. Fred and George, though, seemed to be grinning rather widely at the sight of Harry, and gave him a thumbs-up the second that he caught their eyes.
"I'm okay, Sirius, it's all right," Harry muttered, stepping away and leaning against a chair in exhaustion. He felt like he had been flying all night, and he could barely stand.
"You're not all right, you're covered in blood!" Lupin said, his eyes widening at the sight of the back of Harry's shirt.
"So that's what it was," Harry remarked, smiling weakly and desperately ignoring the fact that Lupin had just confirmed his fear. I need to keep control, can't break now… His grin vanished instantly at the sight of the grim looks on the faces of Mr. Weasley, Shacklebolt, and McGonagall, not to mention the furious look on Snape's pallid visage.
"Sit down, Harry," Mr. Weasley said quietly. "We have a lot to talk about… and you have an explanation to give us. Dumbledore's on his way – he just finished speaking with the Minister."
Harry uncertainly sat down in the empty seat, trying to ignore how all of the people in the room were watching him, trying to replace the anxious feeling in the pit of his gut with whatever righteous anger he could muster. I did what I thought was right, he thought to himself sternly. They've got no right to be angry with me – sure, what I did was dangerous, but the Ministry was going to take my wand! It was… heck, call it survival instinct!
There was a loud slam, and Harry turned to see Dumbledore walking down the stairs, a steely look in his eyes. Harry swallowed hard. He had rarely seen Dumbledore look so relieved – and frustrated – before.
There was a long silence where Sirius approached a side counter – apparently, they were all sitting in the kitchen of wherever the hell he was – and pulled out a few bottles. "Can I get anyone anything?" he asked awkwardly into the silence.
"No thank you, Sirius," Dumbledore replied quietly, his eyes only on Harry. "I must applaud you, though – you exercised considerable restraint tonight, and I am quite proud."
Sirius grinned, despite himself. "As long as… as long as Harry's okay, I'm… I'm fine." There was a slightly strained quality to the man's voice, but Harry ignored it, even as the sick feeling of fear flooded through his nerves at the sight of Dumbledore's grim expression. I was justified in what I did, he thought to himself. I was justified…
"I am very relieved, Harry, that you are here safely," Dumbledore said finally. "Kingsley and the twins did a fine job of convincing the Ministry that you are in the hands of the Auror Department, and of that I am proud."
"How did you like the explosions, Harry?" Fred asked eagerly.
"Nice ones, Fred. Quite impressive," Harry replied, giving Fred a hint of a smile. "Your… your own fireworks?"
George shrugged. "A few, here and there."
"But that is not the point, Harry," Dumbledore said calmly, sitting himself at the end of the table, opposite Harry. Harry winced, very much aware that the old man at the end of the table was staring straight at him, his twinkling eyes very serious. "Why did you leave your aunt and uncle's house, after you were expressly told not to?"
"Nobody ever told me that," Harry said quickly, his gut feeling like ice.
"Didn't Mrs. Arabella Figg tell you to stay indoors?" Dumbledore said quietly. "Did she not say she had instructions from me?"
"She might have… look, the Ministry was already there before you could do anything!" Harry replied angrily, glaring at Dumbledore. Suddenly, he felt the anger from the past few months rushing up inside him, even stronger when he saw the disappointment on the old man's face. "They were going to snap my wand in half! And I was innocent!"
"Harry, it wasn't safe, your flight," Dumbledore said quietly, his voice abruptly shutting Harry up with its concern – and deep disappointment, a disappointment that made Harry feel even worse. "You could have been killed, and none of us could have saved you."
"I wasn't killed, though," Harry said quickly, struggling to rein in his temper as he looked wildly. "I'm right here, wherever here is – I'm safe."
"You may have confidence in your reckless behavior and ability on a broomstick, but that does not mean you should not have contacted us," Dumbledore said, a restrained note of worry in his voice.
"And how… how was I supposed to do that?" Harry asked angrily, looking away from Dumbledore as he got to his feet – he couldn't meet those eyes, not now. "Hedwig was gone, and I don't know how to send messages with Patronuses, so… so how was I supposed to contact you?"
"Please sit down, Harry," Dumbledore said firmly, "and we can openly discuss how we can salvage this situation and avoid the legal consequences –"
He nearly lost his temper at that second, his frustration that had been building since the beginning of the summer nearly exploding, but the last words out of Dumbledore's mouth punctured his fury, and he froze in midstride.
"Sit down, Harry," Dumbledore said again, his tone very grim. "Please. We don't have much time."
"Harry, please," Sirius said, putting his hand on Harry's shoulder. "I know you're upset, but the Ministry's going to move fast, and we need every break we've got to be able to respond."
If it weren't for the Dementors, Sirius, I wouldn't have even been able to leave Privet Drive, Harry thought morosely, moving back to his seat. Even though you're probably proud – I did exactly what you would have done…
"Professor Dumbledore, Potter's ego has gotten the better of him, once again," Snape said coolly, crossing his arms over his chest, "and I fear that his most recent actions may prompt the Dark Lord himself to act –"
"And you'd know that how, Snape?" Harry snapped, unable to bite back the comment. "Gone back to your roots, have you?"
"Harry, enough," Dumbledore said firmly. "You are in a great deal of danger right now, and it would be in your best interest to be aware of it. Now please apologize to Professor Snape."
Harry clenched his fist as he tried to rein in his anger. "I want my wand. Tell that Auror Shacklebolt to give my wand back to me and I'll cooperate."
"Kingsley, give him back his wand," Dumbledore said quietly, sitting back down. With a deeply mistrustful and disappointed look, Shacklebolt slid Harry's wand towards him.
"Now please apologize to Professor Snape," Dumbledore said firmly.
Harry snorted. "When that man deserves my apology, he can get it."
Snape nearly rose his feet, indignity and disgust on his face, but Shacklebolt shoved him sharply back down. The sallow-faced professor threw a disgusted glare at Harry, which he returned in full force.
"Now Harry, two of those officers received crippling injuries from your attack, Harry at Privet Drive," Dumbledore said, steel in his voice now. "They're currently in St. Mungo's as healers try to remove shards of glass from their eyes. And from Kingsley's reporting, the four Hit Wizards that were pursuing you did not survive."
"The bloodstains on your shirt testify to that," Shacklebolt muttered. "We'll have to make sure that doesn't get into evidence…"
"This is going to look very bad, especially with the way the Daily Prophet's been portraying you," Mr. Weasley said quietly, leaning forward from his seat on the side of the table. "Four people died chasing you tonight Harry – four people with families and lives apart from yours. How do you think those people are going to feel towards you?"
Harry felt the chill weight of guilt and panic squirm in his stomach, and he was painfully aware of the bloodstains on his shirt. "I… I was doing what I had to do," he finally spoke aloud after a few seconds of silence. "That was the only way I thought I could lose them, I didn't think they'd…"
His voice trailed off, as the feelings of guilt and unease warred in his stomach. He closed his eyes and fought to control himself – he needed to focus.
He turned to Lupin, composed once more – something Lupin had said didn't sound quite right. "Wait a second - what has the Prophet been saying about me?"
"Haven't you been reading it?" Lupin asked incredulously.
"Not cover-to-cover," Harry replied defensively. "I mean, if there was something about Voldemort, wouldn't they put that on the front page?"
"Normally they would, but they'll have a nice big cover tomorrow," Snape sneered. "'Four Ministry Officials Killed Pursuing Harry Potter.'"
"Shut… up… Snape," Sirius said through gritted teeth. "Harry doesn't need this."
"Harry, your name has been mentioned in the paper several times," Dumbledore said quietly, "and they have not been complimentary. Despite the fact that Miss Skeeter is no longer writing for the Prophet, they have been building upon the material, and her headline 'Harry Potter, Disturbed and Dangerous' becomes unfortunately applicable here."
"I'm not disturbed, but I can sure as hell be dangerous," Harry growled, his words carrying more of an edge than he felt. He visualized for a second the Daily Prophet printing shop in Diagon Alley next to Gringotts going up in flames, but he forced the thought back. He wasn't that crazy. "How can they get away with that?"
"Very easily when they can haul away four bodies and two injured," Shacklebolt said grimly, making Harry's stomach squirm again with anxiety. "Harry, they want you in for manslaughter now. These charges aren't just a breach of the Statute of Secrecy and having you expelled or face a hearing. They want you in Azkaban."
Harry felt a chill go down his spine, and before he could think, he started talking. "I'm not going to Azkaban. I had just cause for what I did, and they were going to -"
"Right now, the Ministry would be a lot more inclined to believe the words of Dmitri Kemester than you, Mr. Potter," Shacklebolt said slowly, deliberately pausing as he spoke, and Harry felt the chill in his gut get even stronger. "He's a Hit Wizard of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement – he was the orange-haired man you saw tonight – and his brother reportedly got decapitated following you in the little stunt you did. He was on the Nimbus. The other three just fell to their deaths."
Harry swallowed hard. Any trace of his anger was long gone now – replaced by fear. "I - I didn't mean for anyone to die. It's not my fault – they chose to chase me!"
"The Prophet will not paint it like that, though," Dumbledore replied heavily. "They will say that you were responsible for their deaths, and that you need to be brought to justice. This will discredit you even further, and there will be many a warrant calling for your arrest."
Harry's hands were shaking now. "Will I… will I be allowed to go back to Hogwarts?"
"Yes, you will," Dumbledore said, ignoring the astounded murmurs around the table and the furious look on Snape's face, "for I understand what you have done – despite my disagreement with it. Although I strongly disapprove of your method, the fact remains that you are now safe, and we must deal with this matter however we can. You saved your cousin by your Patronus Charm, and if Mundungus Fletcher had informed me of this more quickly, I could have intervened and you would never have had to flee and get involved in this affair."
"But won't the Ministry –"
"The Ministry has no legitimate authority over the way I run Hogwarts," Dumbledore replied, steel in his voice. "They may be angry, but your education is very important, and in this climate, Hogwarts offers some of the best protection we have against Lord Voldemort. However, you will not be leaving this house this summer, not until your name is cleared. We may have a way to get you off, but that involves a discussion with Rufus Scrimgeour, the Head of the Auror Department of the Ministry of Magic."
Harry rubbed his temple. "When's the Prophet going to hear about this?"
"They already know," Lupin said softly.
Harry swallowed hard as he tried to keep his voice even. "Damn it. What about Voldemort?"
Sirius quickly exchanged a look with Dumbledore, who quickly nodded. "This works to his advantage. Not many people believed you going the first time when you said Voldemort was back," Sirius said with disgust. "Skeeter did a good job blackening your reputation even then – hell, she convinced the Minister pretty damned well. Now, with this…"
"You'll be lucky if your fellow Gryffindors listen to a word you say, Potter," Snape spat.
"I don't need your opinion," Harry snarled through gritted teeth, wishing that he could just ignore him, but it felt like Snape's biting indictments and 'observations' were boring holes into his skull. At least it's getting me angry again… so I don't have to think about… "So, in other words, I'm in more danger than ever?"
"Most likely," Dumbledore said grimly.
"Wonderful," Harry muttered with disgust, consigning the scowling Potions professor and the Ministry of Magic to the deepest hell he could think of. It didn't help much, but the panic was finally starting to subside a bit. "So where am I, anyways? Can the Ministry get in here?"
"This is the Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix," Dumbledore said softly, "a resistance organization that I started in the last war against Voldemort and his Death Eaters."
"It's also my dad's old house," Sirius said, sliding into a chair and shoving his long hair out of his face. "It fell to me after my parents died, and I'm stuck here too, since Wormtail told Voldemort I'm an Animagus. Can't do much for the Order from here."
"Ron and Hermione are here?" Harry asked hopefully.
"Yes," Mr. Weasley replied.
"Why couldn't they tell me anything this summer? I mean, why hasn't Voldemort done anything?" Harry looked around the table in confusion. "I haven't seen anything in the Prophet all summer – not that I'd trust them to tell anything."
"That's because the Dark Lord hasn't done anything," Snape growled. "He's been lying low, working on his private plans, some that I'm not even privy to."
Harry couldn't help but roll his eyes. "I'm assuming one of those plans involves getting rid of me? I mean, I did humiliate him pretty badly a month or so back."
"Unfortunately, the Ministry will have the same idea, thanks to what happened last night," Shacklebolt said darkly. "You're in more danger now than you've ever been, Potter."
"Unfortunately, Kingsley is quite right – more even than he realizes," Dumbledore said quietly, getting to his feet. "Now, I'd ask that all of you leave the room with the exception of Harry. I need to tell him something very important."
Silently, they all got up and left. Both Sirius and Lupin patted Harry hesitantly on the shoulder as they left the room, closing the door tightly behind them. Dumbledore approached the counter and withdrew a basin from a cupboard.
"Professor," Harry began hastily, "I'm so sorry –"
"I know, Harry," Dumbledore replied simply, "but even with a Time-Turner, we could not change this."
"I… I didn't mean to… to kill –"
"I know, Harry," Dumbledore repeated, setting the basin on the table and staring into its empty depths. "But now we must deal with the other consequence of your flight tonight."
Harry was stunned – what else had he done wrong? "What?"
"I was hoping that I would not have to do this," Dumbledore said heavily, a hint of sadness in his voice, "but with both the Ministry and Voldemort actively set against you, we must accelerate our plans, and we cannot afford to wait."
Harry eyed the basin nervously – it seemed familiar, for some reason. "What – what are you talking about, Professor?"
"Have you ever wondered why I never told you why Voldemort wanted to kill you when you were a baby?" Dumbledore drew his wand and slowly put it to his temple. To Harry's astonishment, he withdrew a long silvery strand from his temple and directed it into the basin.
"Is that… a Pensieve?" Harry asked curiously.
"It was," Dumbledore replied, "one belonging to Orion Black, Sirius' father. It was emptied at some point, and assumed a cooking pot. Of course, the first time I saw Molly making stew in it, I knew what it really was."
Harry thought about Dumbledore's question. After a few seconds, he clenched his fist, trying to cover up the icy ball of fear in his gut. "Yeah, I've wondered why you've never told me."
"I was putting off telling you for as long as possible, Harry, because I did not want to lay this burden on you, especially at your stage of life," Dumbledore said, lightly stirring the thought in the basin. It looked rather pitiful, sitting at the bottom like a long strand of wet smoke, but Dumbledore stirred it just the same. "But given the events tonight, the blood on your hands –"
Harry felt sick. "Professor, I didn't mean for this to happen – I didn't want this."
"And yet it happened, and you survived," Dumbledore said as he haltingly prodded the thought in the basin, dragging it into a tiny silvery pool, as there was no longer any choices in what he had to do. "And that is why I believe you are ready to know the truth. And Harry… I'm so sorry."