Author's note, September 2009: This story was written in late 2003, soon after Order of the Phoenix was published. It follows the same general format and style of the canon stories: beginning in the summer at Privet Drive, it follows Harry to Hogwarts and through the school year, from his point of view.

Chapter 1

An Owl Gathering

On a mild day in late July, a teenager was walking home from the downtown area, such as it was, of Little Whinging. The city did not have a train station, a department store, or even a large supermarket; just a few dozen shops, a bank, a police station, and a library. It was the library from which soon-to-be-sixteen-year-old Harry Potter was returning, with an old bookbag over his shoulder. He looked around from time to time as he walked. It looked as though he were admiring the trees and bushes, which had recovered nicely from last year's drought, but he actually was wondering whether there was anyone following him. Or, more precisely, whether he could catch a glimpse of the person he knew must be following him. All he could see, however, were the normal sights of a suburban neighborhood, and a few people looking at him rather oddly as they passed him. Harry briefly wondered why–after all, he was not exactly famous in this area, nor was his scar–until he realized that looking around to see if you were being followed was not exactly usual behavior.

Harry did not particularly care what constituted usual behavior, probably because his Aunt Petunia constantly badgered him whenever he did anything outside of her strict notions of it, even when it was harmless. He was also used to people staring at him with a kind of sad look on their faces. In the wizarding world, the one in which he spent most of his time and considered his true home, it was because of the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead and what it represented. In this, the Muggle, or non-wizarding world, it was because of his normally shabby and ill-fitting clothes. Petunia and her husband Vernon usually refused to buy him any new clothes, always giving him clothes that his cousin Dudley was finished with, regardless of the fact that the two boys' builds were very different.

Harry knew that his clothes could not be the reason for any stares today, though. His clothes, for the first time he could remember outside the wizarding world, fit properly and made him look perfectly ordinary. In early July, a few days after he'd returned home for the summer from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Petunia had abruptly told him to get in the car, and without a word had taken him to the next town's second-hand clothing store, and picked him out a pair of jeans and a couple of shirts, all the while looking at him as though a great honor was being done him which he absolutely did not deserve. Harry knew that it was not spending the money that bothered her–the Dursleys had more than enough money, which they spent lavishly on Dudley–but rather the fact that she felt obliged to do it at all. Harry said little throughout the whole excursion, with a simple "thanks" to Petunia after she paid for the clothes. She ignored the gesture as she headed out to the car, leaving him to follow.

It was clear to Harry, though he wisely did not venture this opinion to his aunt, that she was buying him clothes because of what some of his friends in the wizarding world had said to the Dursleys when they had come to pick Harry up at King's Cross at the end of the most recent term. Remus Lupin, Arthur Weasley, Nymphadora Tonks, and, most threateningly, Mad-Eye Moody had told the Dursleys in no uncertain terms that if Harry were "mistreated" in any way, the Dursleys would have to answer to them. The Dursleys seemed to have taken this warning to heart, especially as they were unsure that they would have the same notion of what constituted "mistreatment" as did the wizards who gave them the warning. As a result, Harry was having the best, or rather, least unpleasant summer he'd ever had at the Dursleys. He was allowed to watch TV if someone else was watching it first, though his aunt and uncle had a tendency to leave a room soon after Harry entered it intending to stay for a while. He was not asked to do any chores, though he learned not to be around while Petunia was doing them, as she tended to throw him very nasty looks while she worked, no doubt resentful that she couldn't make him do the work that she had in summers past. She had even grudgingly acquiesced when he asked her to sign the form so that he could get a library card, which he was sure she never would have done before. The sole price he had to pay for this was a steely silence from all three Dursleys, and even that was better than the irritated bluntness with which he'd always been addressed by them.

Thinking of this caused him to feel a surge of gratitude toward Moody and the rest as he walked home, and he even forgot about trying to spot who was following him. It was for his own protection, he knew, though that did not make it any less irritating at times. Professor Dumbledore had increased Harry's protection a little over a year ago when Lord Voldemort had returned from near-death. Harry knew that Voldemort considered Harry's death a high priority, now that he would no longer be able to deceive Harry with false visions as he had a month ago, leading Harry to a confrontation at the Ministry of Magic, in the Department of Mysteries. That confrontation had one very positive effect–the wizarding world knew without any doubt that Voldemort had in fact returned, and was now mobilizing against him. It had also, however, led to the death of Harry's godfather Sirius Black, the adult to whom he'd felt closest in the world. Harry knew that there were many who would have felt that it was worth one life to vastly strengthen the opposition to Voldemort, but he personally would have given anything to somehow reverse what had happened.

Almost a month after Sirius's death, Harry still felt the loss keenly, even though he was over the worst of his mourning. For the first three weeks after returning to the Dursleys', he was completely withdrawn. He stayed in his room almost all the time when not eating, and spoke only when he had to. Last July, after Voldemort came back, he had felt restless, like a caged animal, desperate to know what was happening in the outside world; this July, he didn't care. Owls from Hermione and Ron didn't cheer him up, and he wrote only brief, desultory responses.

Harry stopped and looked around the street, then up at the partly cloudy sky, and wondered where Sirius was, if he could be considered to be anywhere. It was not something he had thought that much about before, even though both his parents were dead; that had happened so long ago that he was more or less used to it. He was not at all used to Sirius being dead, and it was rare that an hour went by that he did not think of Sirius. This was what had prompted his interest in the library; he had walked up to the counter and said to the librarian, "I'm looking for books about what happens to people after they die." The librarian gave him a sad little smile–was it that obvious that he'd lost someone?–and led him to the books on religion and spirituality. Harry had spent some time glancing through them, and picked out three that seemed to speak to what he was looking for. He knew there were no solid answers, of course, but he wanted to get a sense of what the possibilities were. He looked up at the sky, wondering if there was such a thing as heaven, and if there was, would Sirius like it there? It sounded very pleasant, but a little boring, and he knew Sirius would want to be someplace where there was action, something interesting happening. Harry knew that he would probably never know for sure, but as he looked at the sky, he hoped Sirius was happy, wherever he was. He had gotten a bad deal in this life; he deserved better in the next one, if there was one.

Such thoughts still consumed Harry's attention as he entered the Dursley residence, which was officially his home but did not feel like one to him. It was a little past three o'clock, and Petunia was walking through the house putting away laundry. Harry glanced into the living room to see Dudley playing video games. He smiled and gave Dudley a cheerful wave, to which Dudley responded by flinching and returning to his video game with increased focus. Harry knew that he'd been a bit malicious, in that Dudley had been terrified of him since last summer, when a dementor attack meant for Harry had almost killed Dudley. Harry knew that Dudley had ample reason to know that Harry had not been responsible for the attack, and even that Harry had saved Dudley's life. Harry also understood, however, that Dudley knew that the most traumatic event in his life would never have happened had Harry not been around, and that was enough for Dudley to not want to ever be around Harry, even at the dinner table. Given his past experiences with Dudley, this suited Harry fine.

Harry walked up the stairs to his bedroom and put his bag down onto the bed. He looked up at the owl cage to say hello to Hedwig, but it was empty. He wondered why she was gone; since it was daylight, she couldn't be hunting. He found himself hoping he might be getting mail; he had discovered that Hedwig had a way of anticipating when one of his friends wanted to write to him but had no access to an owl. Since Ron had his own owl, Pigwidgeon, Harry suspected that he might get mail from Hermione, who did not live in the wizarding world during the summer and so could not always find an owl. Harry found himself wondering how Hedwig could possibly know enough to go out and seek mail for him, and then he thought, probably the same way that owls know how to find the recipient of any letter. He then idly wondered what would happen if he wrote Sirius a letter and told Hedwig to deliver it. Would she refuse to even try? Would she go straight to twelve Grimmauld Place, Sirius's last residence? Or would she search the earth forever, always looking but never finding? It was this last possibility that stopped Harry from considering the idea further.

His reverie was interrupted by a flash of light, followed by the sudden appearance of Fawkes, Professor Dumbledore's phoenix. Harry had seen Fawkes disappear in a similar fashion, but never appear; he sat up in bed, curious. Fawkes glided over to him and dropped a letter into his lap. Harry opened it; it read, 'Would you mind a short visit? You can give your answer to Fawkes, he will understand it.'

Harry wasn't sure he was in the mood for a visit, but he felt he should say yes. He nodded, even though he assumed Fawkes wouldn't understand the gesture. "Tell him I said yes," he said to Fawkes, who disappeared a second later. He didn't know what he would say to Dumbledore, but he assumed that Dumbledore had something to say to him, or else he wouldn't be coming.

He barely had time to think any more than that, as a few seconds later, Dumbledore appeared in the middle of the bedroom, accompanied by the popping noise of an Apparation. "Hello, Harry. May I?" he asked, gesturing to the bottom of the bed. Harry gestured for him to go ahead, and Dumbledore sat. Regarding Harry with compassion, Dumbledore asked, "How are you doing?"

"All right, I guess," replied Harry, not in the mood to go into detail about how he had felt since returning from Hogwarts. More because he felt as though it was expected than because he really wanted to know, he added, "How about you?"

"Reasonably well, thank you," said Dumbledore politely. "I have been very busy, of course. Now that the Ministry has accepted the fact of Voldemort's return, there has been much for me to do, for the Order to do in assisting the Ministry. The Order will continue operating independently; it is more that we are bringing the Ministry up to date. But it has not been a good time, of course. Sirius's death has weighed heavily on me."

Harry felt by looking at Dumbledore's face that this was true, but he still said, "You fought Voldemort before. You must have lost lots of people."

Dumbledore nodded gravely. "Yes, I have. But it never becomes any less painful. Especially when, in such a case as this, there was so much I could have done to prevent it."

Harry looked down uncomfortably. Part of him didn't want to talk about Sirius's death, but he didn't want Dumbledore feeling the way he clearly did. "It wasn't your fault, Professor. I don't blame you for what happened."

"Thank you, Harry, I appreciate that," said Dumbledore sincerely. "The fact is that on reflection, I accept that. What I said right after it happened was said in the emotion of the situation. I blamed myself, as I tend to do when someone for whom I have taken responsibility is killed. Now I understand, of course, that it was no one's fault. That is, no one but the one who performed the act itself. As for the rest of it..." Dumbledore paused to collect his thoughts, and turned his head to make eye contact with Harry. "We all do our best, and things happen that we do not expect and did not foresee, even if after the fact it seems obvious in retrospect. It is useless to spend time blaming ourselves. It is also unavoidable, and very... human. In time, we learn to accept the truth."

Harry looked down again, wondering whether Dumbledore was referring to himself or to Harry. Maybe both, he thought. Lost in thought for a minute, he looked up at Dumbledore, who seemed perfectly content to sit in silence. Finally feeling as though he should say something, he asked, "Was there a reason you came here, Professor?"

Dumbledore shook his head. "It has nothing to do with Hogwarts or the Order. I just wanted to visit you, to see how you were doing."

Harry thought to respond, 'You couldn't have done that last year at this time?' but it seemed too rude. Even so, he couldn't help but say, "So, you don't think it's dangerous to look at me anymore."

Even though the words themselves were neutral, Dumbledore looked down, as if chastised; Harry half-realized that his tone and expression had made the statement an accusation. "I am sorry about that. I know it must have seemed to you as though I were indifferent to your situation; I hope you will believe me when I say that I was deeply concerned. I placed a priority on your safety which came at the expense of your emotional well-being, and I now feel I may have taken things too far in that direction. I was... afraid for you. I can only say that I will try to make it up to you, if you will allow me to do so."

Harry found that he was embarrassed at Dumbledore seeming to find it necessary to ask for his forgiveness. "You don't have to make anything up to me, Professor. I just... hope you'll tell me things instead of not telling me things. I don't get scared that easily, and I'd rather know what he's trying to do to me, so I can fight him."

Dumbledore nodded. "That is one of the ways I plan to make it up to you. As for right now, there is simply not much to report. Voldemort is still keeping a low profile, but now that the Ministry is mobilizing against him, that will probably not continue for long. You have my word that you will be kept informed of any developments."

"Thank you, Professor," said Harry.

There was another silence, as Harry again felt he should say something, but couldn't think of anything. Seeming to sense this, Dumbledore stood. "Well, then, I believe I will be getting back. If there is anything I can do for you, please do not hesitate to send Hedwig along." Harry nodded, and Dumbledore Disapparated.

Harry lay back down on the bed, staring at the ceiling. He had spent much of the past three weeks doing that, but he now had something new to think about.

A week later, as Harry was returning from the bathroom to his bedroom, he heard the phone ringing downstairs. He would have ignored it, but had a strange feeling that he should see who it was. He headed downstairs as he heard Petunia say "Hello?" followed by "No, he isn't," in an irritated way that suggested that he was somehow involved. Harry looked up at her, expectantly. His aunt appeared to be struggling, weighing her natural desire not to want Harry to have any outside contact with what she considered "those freaks" against the possibility that one of those very people might be on the other end of the line, and unhappy that they were not allowed to talk to Harry. With a scowl, she handed the phone to Harry and walked away.

"Hello?" Harry said uncertainly. He had hardly ever spoken on the phone before.

"Hi, Harry!" a familiar female voice said excitedly. "It's me, Hermione!"

"Hermione! Wow, I'm really surprised. I never get any calls. I was wondering who could possibly be calling for me."

"Well, I was thinking of sending an owl, and Hedwig just showed up, but I thought that since we both have phones, I'd give this a try. Also, I wanted to say 'Happy Birthday!'"

"That's not until tomorrow," Harry pointed out, though no less pleased that she'd remembered. He wondered if the date was in one of her homework planners.

"Oh, I know, but we're talking now, and anyway, you might be busy tomorrow, who knows. I just wanted to make sure to say it before it was over."

"Busy?" Harry laughed. "I thought you said you knew what it was like here! I can't imagine any day here being busy."

"I know, but you just never know," said Hermione. "Better to do things sooner rather than later."

"Yeah, I think that homework planner you got me might have mentioned that once or twice," Harry said with a chuckle.

"Well, I'm just glad you're using it. That reminds me, that's another good reason for Hedwig to have shown up, I can send you your birthday present. I was going to send it by Muggle post–"

"No, not a good idea," Harry interrupted her. "Anything sent to me by Muggle post is going to be intercepted by my aunt and uncle, and probably thrown away, unless I happen to get to it first. Definitely use Hedwig. Anyway, at this point, she'll be annoyed with you if you don't."

"Yes, she seems to be looking at me suspiciously right now," agreed Hermione. "Unless it's my imagination."

"Probably not," Harry answered. "She's given me dirty looks plenty of times when she thought I wasn't treating her with the proper respect. Anyway, thanks for the gift, whatever it is. I'll be looking forward to it."

"Oh, it was nothing. So," and here her voice changed, as though they were now getting to the important part of the call, "have you gotten your O.W.L. results?"

Harry suddenly realized that, important as that was to most students, he hadn't given it a thought all summer. "No, I haven't. Are they late getting them out? I did think we'd have them by now."

"You really don't have yours? Strange, I'd have thought they would send them all out at once, but I got mine two days ago."

"Yes, that is strange," Harry agreed, but he wasn't bothered. He was curious to know how he did, but was not burning with the need and desire to know, as he assumed Hermione would be. "So yours are all Outstanding, I expect?"

"No, they aren't," replied Hermione, sounding wounded. Harry's eyebrows shot straight up. "Nine Outstandings and one Exceeds Expectations."

Harry thought to make a comment regarding the fact that most students would be thrilled with such a result, but he knew Hermione better than that, not to mention that he could tell that she was deeply upset. He felt that he had better tread carefully. "Which one is the Exceeds Expectations?"

"Astronomy," she said. "During which, you'll recall, there was a huge ruckus going on right in our field of vision, not to mention that a good friend of ours was being attacked. Really, we lost a good twenty minutes of that exam."

Harry understood that she was right, but he honestly couldn't get that worked up about it. He was not going to need an Astronomy O.W.L., so for himself he didn't care. "Yes, we did. I wouldn't be at all surprised if I failed. It really isn't fair. But what can we do? The test is done, we have our results. Well, you do, anyway."

"What we can do, Harry, is file a complaint with the O.W.L. testing board, and apply for a retest for anyone who took the test that night and wants it. I've already filed the initial complaint, and now I have to get a petition together, signed by all the students who want to take the test again. As I understand it, it doesn't exactly matter how many students sign; the decision will be made on the merits. Still, I'm really hoping that if most or all of us sign who were there that night, they'll be more likely to give us a retest. So, I know you don't have your results yet, but I was really hoping..."

"So, if you sign the petition, you commit to taking the test again, and if you do worse the second time..."

"...that's the result you're stuck with." With more than a hint of a plea in her voice, Hermione said, "If you want to wait to get your scores, I'll understand, but–"

Harry interrupted her. "No, it's okay. I'll sign it, no matter what my score is." He knew it was possible that his gesture could cost him an O.W.L., and would probably cost him some extra hours of study, but he'd come to realize that sometimes you did things for friends that you wouldn't normally do. He also knew that even if he ended up managing a pass, he couldn't look Hermione in the eye and protect his score by refusing to help her. It also helped that getting that O.W.L. wasn't important to him.

"Oh, thank you, Harry! Thank you so much!" she squealed from the other end of the phone. "This means a lot to me, and especially since you don't know your scores yet, it's really great of you to do this."

"I assume that you're going to be sending owls to everyone else who took the test when we did, and asking them to sign as well?"

"Yes, I've already exchanged owls with Professor McGonagall, and she's agreed to let me come in to Hogwarts tomorrow to use the library to research precedent for my, for our complaint." Harry could tell how happy she was to have had someone join her cause. "I'm also going to use the Hogwarts owls to send letters to people who might be interested in signing. Of course, I'm afraid that the only people I'm going to get are those who have already failed the test and have nothing to lose. People who passed may not want to risk taking it again. Still, I'm hoping for the best."

Harry hesitated, then decided to say what was on his mind, what seemed obvious. "That's a good idea, but you know, Hermione, you know what some people are going to say... not that I would, of course... but–"

"Yes, I know. They're going to say that Hermione Granger, Little Miss Has To Get the Best Score on Everything, couldn't stand the tiniest blemish on her school record, and had to resort to any devious means to get the score she wanted, even though most everyone would be delighted with her results, it wasn't enough for her. You know what, Harry? I don't care! I'm right. This complaint is perfectly legitimate. The test wasn't fair. And it's not just ego–when you look for jobs, people are pretty impressed with ten Outstanding O.W.L.s, but they're less impressed with nine Outstandings and one Exceeds Expectations. What if I'm competing for a job with someone who had perfect scores?"

Hermione continued for a few more minutes, explaining the possible consequences in great detail, and commenting a few more times about the unfairness of the situation. She's really got a thing about this, Harry thought. She's even more worked up about this than she was about the house-elves. Finally she finished.

"I'm sorry, Harry, I know you don't care so much about this, it's just that it's so unfair, and I haven't had anyone to talk to about it, well, maybe my parents, but they don't understand exactly, they weren't there. Thanks a lot for listening."

"It's no problem, really. If I wasn't talking to you, I'd just be up in my room, killing time. I just hope everything works out okay."

"I hope so too," she agreed. "Can I ask you about something else? I wanted–"

"Are you still on that telephone?" Aunt Petunia was back in the room, looking at Harry angrily. "I've been waiting for two calls! I should have known you wouldn't have the common decency to–"

"All right, all right, just a minute," Harry said sullenly. He seriously doubted that she was waiting for any calls, but was surprised that he'd even been allowed to stay on this long. He said to Hermione, "I'm sorry, Hermione, but–"

"I know, I could hear her clearly at my end. That's not very nice. You know, I could send an owl to Professors Moody or Lupin."

"No, not for this. I'll let them know if I want them for anything." Petunia blanched, which had been Harry's intention. If she wasn't going to be nice, then he didn't have to be nice. "Thanks for calling, Hermione. See you soon, I hope." She said good-bye and they hung up.

Harry glanced at Petunia as if to ask her if she had more to say. He could tell she was furious at his implied threat, but she refused to look at him. She walked out of the room without a word.

The phone did not ring again all evening.

Harry was lying on his bed later that evening, a few hours after dinner, relaxing and thinking about the call with Hermione. It had been really good to talk to her; it made him remember all the more how much he missed the wizarding world when he wasn't there. Just a year and a day, he thought. In a year and a day I'll be seventeen and considered an adult in the wizarding world, and I can leave this place and never return. He knew, however, that living at the Dursleys', and at Hogwarts, ensured his safety, and he wondered how he would stay safe after that. He knew he was good at Defense Against the Dark Arts, but not nearly as good as Voldemort's Death Eaters, never mind Voldemort himself. Would the ability to Apparate keep him safe? He wished, for perhaps the hundredth time this summer, that Sirius were still around. He resolved to talk to Professors Lupin and Dumbledore about it.

Hedwig fluttered in through the window, carrying a package. Harry took it, thanked her, and opened it up. There was a book-shaped package and a card. He opened the card first, and recognized Hermione's handwriting.

"Happy Birthday, Harry! I know this might get to you the night before, and it's up to you whether you want to open it now or tomorrow. Partly I wanted to free up Hedwig in case she had other deliveries for you, and also to give you some new reading material. I really enjoyed the phone call. Thanks so much for your support. Love, Hermione."

Harry opened the package immediately. It was indeed a book. It was large, black, and very professional-looking. The plain cover read: "A Comprehensive Guide to Strategies for Teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts." Harry was puzzled; this was the kind of book used by Hogwarts teachers. It also looked like it had to have been fairly expensive. Why would Hermione send him a book like this? He opened it and another, smaller card fell out.

"I know you're probably wondering why I'd send you this book. After all, you did very well teaching us last year without it." Harry had to smile; she was right about his wondering, but wrong about the reason. "But I'm really hoping we can do the D.A. again this year, or something like it. I know, we should have a proper Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher this year, but the D.A. gives lots of chances for practice and study that we wouldn't get in class, and also flexibility–we can study what we want. If we do it again, the book could come in very handy. I hope you'll think about it, and think of the book as my way of saying thanks for all you did for us last year."

Harry hadn't given much thought to whether the D.A. would continue in their sixth year. He had assumed there wouldn't be that much of a need for it, but what if Professor Dumbledore again couldn't find anyone willing to take the job, and had to give it to some incompetent? Harry realized that he might be able to make good use of the book after all.

He spent the next two hours looking through it, both reading and skimming. Now that he had some experience teaching, he could appreciate the value of the ideas in the book. He couldn't help thinking that if he'd had the book last year with the D.A., he could've done a really good job. He finally put it down, having already planned the better part of six lessons for the D.A., if it was to be revived.

His thoughts drifted to how pleased Sirius had been about the D.A., and then to the books he'd borrowed from the library. He got one of them out and started reading. He read about ten pages before he fell asleep.

The next thing Harry knew, it was daylight and a small, brown owl was hopping up and down on him, hooting with pleasure and jostling the package attached to its leg. Harry knew it had to be from Ron, as Pigwidgeon was Ron's owl. It was a small package, and after Harry untied it from Pig's leg and thanked him, the owl flew up to get a drink and a snack from Hedwig's cage, as Hedwig eyed him warily.

Harry opened the package to find a blue, rubbery... thing, he couldn't even vaguely tell what it was supposed to be, or do. He looked at the note that had been attached.

"Harry–in case you don't know what this is, it's an Omni-view. It goes with omnioculars, the ones we got at the Quidditch World Cup. You fold it in a certain way around the omnioculars–there's directions on the other side of this note–and when you look into the omnioculars, you see images that have been magically put into the Omni-view. This one is titled, 'Ten Years of Quidditch Highlights,' and it has the most exciting events in recent Quidditch. There are some goalkeeping moves I want to try out with you this year. Happy Birthday!–Ron."

Harry dug out his omnioculars from his trunk and tried to follow the directions to wrap the Omni-view around the omnioculars, but it wasn't easy. Five minutes later, he was beginning to think it required more dexterity than it was worth, but he finally got it on. He looked into the viewer and saw a menu, and basic instructions on how to get to each year and event by using the omnioculars' controls. He had just watched a few seconds of action when he heard more wings fluttering.

Through the window flew two brown owls Harry had never seen before, carrying between them a medium-sized white box. Quickly untying the burden from the owls, Harry opened the box to find a delicious-looking pumpkin cake on which was written in white frosting: Happy Birthday, the Weasleys. He knew it had to be from Mrs. Weasley, and he appreciated her thoughtfulness. She knew he wasn't fed so well at the Dursleys', and while this summer had been better than most, a cake like this was quite a luxury. Harry took a piece and started in. I won't have to go down and try to scrounge some breakfast now, he thought.

Halfway through the piece of cake, Harry's attention went back to the Omni-view. As he was thinking about picking it up, another owl came through the window, bearing just a letter. Harry glanced up at Hedwig's cage; including Hedwig, there would soon be five owls there if one of the recent arrivals did not leave soon, and Harry wondered how Hedwig would react to this mass intrusion.

The letter was from Hagrid, wishing Harry a happy birthday and suggesting that Harry should drop by Hagrid's place soon. Harry was very confused; how was he going to get the chance to see Hagrid anytime soon? Did Hagrid mean soon after he got back to Hogwarts? He always visited Hagrid as soon as he could, Hagrid knew that.

Harry hardly had time to puzzle over this further, as within seconds of one another, two more owls came zooming in. One carried a letter, the other, a small box. No sooner had Harry untied the owls' burdens than Hedwig, apparently having had enough, started screeching very loudly and flying around the room. This caused all the other owls to take flight, and for a second, seven owls were flying inside Harry's room. Just at that moment, alerted by the screeching, Petunia came rushing into the room.

"WHAT IS GOING ON IN HERE??" Petunia screamed. "Get those... things out of here this instant! Do you think this is a farm?"

As Petunia continued her rant, the owls made their way to the window one by one, and finally only Hedwig remained. Petunia was saying, "We've been very, very tolerant of you this summer, and you decide to have an owl party in here? This is totally unacceptable behavior, and it will not be tolerated! Our patience with you is over! You will stay in this room for the next two weeks, coming out only to use the bathroom, and your window will be nailed shut when your uncle gets home! That's it! That's enough!" With that, she left the room, slamming the door after her.

There had not been any chance for Harry to explain, or say anything, but he reflected that it was just as well. Petunia would no doubt have not been interested in hearing anything he had to say, and talking back would just have made her madder. While he was angry about being shouted at, he was actually not that bothered by the punishment, since the Dursleys' home felt like a prison to him even when he had freedom of movement; being confined to his room just made it a smaller prison. He wondered why Petunia had lost her temper so badly; he thought maybe she'd been looking for an excuse to scream at him ever since that day at the train station. She hated to be told what to do by anyone, much less a group of what she considered freaks.

Harry turned his attention to the two latest arrivals. First the box, which contained a pair of what Harry recognized to be Extendable Ears, an invention of Fred and George's, which allowed the user to listen in on nearby conversations. Included were three earpieces and a note: "Dear Harry, Please use them well. You probably won't care to listen in on the Muggles, but you never know. We're sure you can figure out why we sent extra earpieces. If you can, come by the shop before the term starts–Fred and George."

Of course, Harry knew the reason for the extras; so Ron and Hermione could listen as well, since the three of them were so often together. "Not going to be seeing you anytime soon, anyway," he said to himself. He wondered if the Ears would come in handy much at Hogwarts. They certainly wouldn't here, not unless he wanted to listen to Uncle Vernon boast about his latest business triumphs or complain about the rising number of immigrants.

The newest letter was very short; it said simply, "Harry–be ready to leave at 1:00. Not your trunk or your things, just you. See you soon. Remus." Harry excitedly looked at his clock; the time was 12:15. What was going to happen when Lupin showed up and Petunia refused to let him leave? Would she dare? And why was Lupin picking Harry up? Where were they going? Harry ran through a dozen possible scenarios, but none made sense. The only times anyone had come to see him at Privet Drive had been when they came to take him away for the summer, but that was clearly not going to happen today. Well, Harry thought, at least I won't have to wait long to find out.

At 12:30, the phone rang. Harry grabbed the Extendable Ears and slipped them under the door, in the direction of the stairs. He put in the earpiece just as Petunia was answering the phone.

"Hello? No, he isn't. No, I don't know when he'll be back. Goodbye."

It was easy for Harry to tell from her abrupt manner that the call had been for him. He cursed silently; he very much wanted to talk to whoever it was, even if he had to leave in less than half an hour.

The minutes ticked away slowly as Harry occupied himself with looking at his presents some more and having another piece of cake. Finally, it was 1:00, and right on time, the doorbell rang. Harry already had the Extendable Ears deployed; he could hear clearly but see nothing.

Petunia answered the door. "Hello, can I help you?" she asked politely.

"Yes, thank you, my name is Remus Lupin. I need to talk to Harry Potter, please."

"I'm sorry, but Harry's not home right now." Petunia's voice was still polite, so Harry guessed that Lupin must have been dressed as a Muggle; Petunia probably didn't recognize him from King's Cross, and still didn't know who she was dealing with. Harry was prepared to yell out the window if he had to, but he wanted to know what would happen first. He continued to listen.

"I'm sorry, but I happen to know that he is home. He's in his bedroom. I need to talk to him, please." Lupin kept his pleasant tone, but Petunia was quickly losing hers.

"I don't care to be contradicted by strangers who show up at my front door. Now, please go." From Petunia's tone and Remus's specific knowledge of where he was, Harry gathered that Petunia now understood that she was talking to a wizard.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Dursley, but not without Harry."

"The fact is, he's not going anywhere. He is confined to his room, and he will not leave for two weeks. You can come back then."

"This can't wait, Mrs. Dursley. For what reason is he confined?"

"Not that it's any of your business, but I came up to his room and there were a dozen... owls flying around screeching their heads off. I won't have that in this house."

"Ah, yes. Are you aware, Mrs. Dursley, that today is Harry's birthday?"

"What of it?" Petunia shot back. "Do you think we're not going to punish him for misbehavior just because it's his birthday?"

"No, but there was no misbehavior. You see, because it was his birthday, he received many owls from friends with birthday wishes and gifts. People being creatures of habit, they tend to send their owls in the morning, so if you receive a lot of mail, chances are it will come at the same time, leading to there being a number of owls in the same place at the same time. Now, owls are very territorial, and they will tolerate only so many intruders before they shriek, make a racket, and try to make the others go away."

"I'm sure this is fascinating, but if I want information about the territoriality of owls, I'll turn on the BBC and watch a nature show."

"My point is," Lupin continued patiently, "that Harry was not responsible for what happened, and there was nothing he could have done to prevent it. Understanding this will, I imagine, cause you to choose to rescind your punishment."

"You imagine wrong. He should not be receiving post from owls at all. If they want to keep him out of trouble, his friends can send him things by normal post. Now, please leave before I call the police."

"You can do that, Mrs. Dursley, but we have Memory Charms for a reason. Now, I am asking politely and for the last time. Please call Harry to the door."

"For the last time? And what do you plan to do? You can't hurt me, I know, there are rules about that sort of thing."

"Yes, indeed, I cannot hurt you, or use magic on you, nor do I have any intention of doing so. There are things I can do, however, that are within the rules."

A second later, Harry heard a strangled cry from Petunia, followed by her screaming, "Harry! Get down here, this instant!"

Harry quickly gathered up the Extendable Ears, threw them in the trunk (having already stowed his birthday items) and locked it, and ran down the stairs, double-checking for his wand in his back pocket. He saw a shaking Petunia and a pleasant-looking Remus Lupin, so Muggle-like in a business suit that Harry would have had a hard time recognizing him. But what got his attention the same instant was the lawn, which could be seen through the open front door.

The lawn was red, but changing color before Harry's eyes. It was orange, then yellow, then green, then blue... Harry realized it was cycling through the colors of the rainbow. He couldn't help but smile as he realized that Lupin, who must have known how inordinately proud the Dursleys were of their immaculately kept lawn, had chosen a harmless yet exquisitely painful way to remind Petunia that cooperation was her best course. Harry also knew that she would be terrified that the neighbors would see, and ask awkward questions.

"All right, here he is, now stop it!" yelled Petunia; Harry blinked, and the lawn was its normal hue of green again, as if nothing had happened.

Remus looked at Petunia seriously but politely. "Mrs. Dursley, I feel I need to emphasize, if I haven't already, that what we said at the train station was not a joke. If you don't like Harry, if you don't want to treat him as you would a family member, we can't stop you. But you will not treat him badly on purpose, and you will not punish him for things he can't control. Most of us fight against anti-Muggle prejudice, but we don't respond well to anti-wizard prejudice, either. If you don't like wizards, don't take it out on Harry. He can't help what he is. Finally, please take this seriously. It was fortunate for you that it was I, and not Mad-Eye," and Harry could tell from Petunia's expression that she knew who he meant, "who came here to get Harry. I don't know what he would have done, but I'm sure it would have been less... subtle. Good day, Mrs. Dursley. Please come with me, Harry."

As they walked away, Harry didn't know quite what to say; he kept looking up at Lupin and looking back over his shoulder at the lawn. Finally, he said, "I'm sorry you had to deal with that. I should have just run downstairs when I heard it was you."

Lupin answered, "No, it's better that you didn't, you'd just have been in more trouble when you got back." He paused. "I had some idea of what your home life was like, but experiencing it is different. I understand why you're so keen to get out of there every summer. You have quite a cross to bear."

"You have one too," Harry replied, referring to the fact that Lupin involuntarily became a werewolf on the night of the full moon every month. "At least I get to leave mine behind when I reach seventeen. You're stuck with yours."

"True. We all have them to some extent or another. So, I gather you welcome the opportunity to get out for part of a day?

"You bet," said Harry emphatically. He also thought, but did not say, that he was very happy to see Lupin in particular, who had always been very kind to him. "But why did you come? What's going on? I have a feeling you're not just taking me out to the carnival for the day."

Lupin smiled. "No, but that sounds like fun. We should do that sometime. But you're right, this has to do with Hogwarts. That's where we're going."

"Really?" Harry asked. He had never been to Hogwarts in the summer; the idea seemed strange. "How? Why?"

"Two very reasonable questions. To answer the first, we'll be taking a Portkey. As for the second, there are things that Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall want to talk to you about. I know your next question will be 'what things are those?' but you'll have to wait to talk to them to find out. I'll just say that it's nothing bad, you're not in any trouble."

"How did you know that I was thinking that?"

Lupin gave Harry a small, affectionate grin. "I believe that any youngster, no matter how well-behaved, being taken to see an authority figure will at least entertain the notion that he or she may be in trouble. We start thinking of things we might have done. You may be able to imagine how it was for me as a child; I was not always completely aware of what I had done, so I could entertain any fear, no matter how outlandish."

"I guess I can see what you mean," Harry agreed. Suddenly curious, he asked, "So, what have you been doing?"

The look that flashed across Lupin's face made Harry wish he hadn't asked; Harry realized that he hadn't given much thought to the fact that Sirius's death would have been at least as hard for Lupin as it had been for him. Lupin's expression quickly returned to normal, and he answered with a casual tone. "Not that much, for most of the time. But the past few days have been busy. I discovered that Sirius… left me his estate, everything he owned."

Lupin eyed Harry as he spoke; Harry had no obvious reaction other than a nod. "That makes sense."

"I'd, um, I'd have thought he'd leave it to you, to be honest," said Lupin.

"It's better that it's you, he knows what my dad left me, that I don't need it. The only thing I'd want…" Harry trailed off as he realized that he didn't want to say the words 'is for him to say that it wasn't my fault' out loud.

Lupin nodded gravely. "Is to talk to him again, or get a letter from him, I'd imagine. I've had the same thought. You know…" He paused, then continued. "Knowing him as I did, there's one thing I'm very sure of: if someone had told him that he'd go out the way he did, fighting Death Eaters, he'd have said that was all right, that it was a good way to go. And the strange thing is… when I think about him, I find that a somewhat comforting thought. But when I think about me, it doesn't help at all."

Harry looked down occasionally as the walked, not knowing what to say. After a pause, Lupin spoke again. "Anyway, I've been busy with paperwork, that sort of thing. It's more complicated legally when the beneficiary isn't a family member. And then there's Kreacher, of whom I'm now in charge. I don't know what to do with him."

Put his head on one of those posts, Harry angrily thought but didn't say. Harry had spent some time over the past few weeks thinking about Kreacher's role in what had happened, and what Dumbledore had said about him, that 'he is what wizards have made him.' He could see Dumbledore's point, but then there was Dobby, who was good despite having served evil wizards. Dobby had done what he could within the confines of his servitude, and looked for ways to help good wizards. Kreacher had looked for ways to help evil wizards, when he needn't have done so. Harry remembered what Dumbledore had said after the Chamber of Secrets: 'We are defined by our choices.' Dobby, Harry felt, had shown that despite their enslavement, house-elves had free will. Kreacher had made choices, and deserved to pay for them. Harry wasn't really sure he wanted to see Kreacher's head on a pike, but there were definitely times when the thought had great appeal. "I know what I'd like to do with him," Harry muttered.

Lupin nodded. "I've had that thought as well, of course. Professor Dumbledore suggests that I treat him with as much kindness and tolerance as I can manage. I find myself wondering if I have that in me; he seems to think I do. Ah, here we are."

Harry looked up–he had not been paying much attention to where they were going–and saw the familiar home of Arabella Figg. As they walked up the path to the door, cats scattered, except for one who followed them and meowed as if in welcome.

Mrs. Figg was waiting at the door. "Why, hello, Remus, good to see you again. And you, Harry." They said hello, and walked in; Harry started looking around to see if he could tell what the Portkey would be. "Would you like a nice cup of tea before you're off?"

"Thank you, Arabella, but no, they're expecting Harry any time now. We really should be going."

"All right, then," she said agreeably. "Have a lovely time."

Lupin walked over to the coffee table in the living room. As Harry followed, Lupin gestured to a half-scale wooden sculpture of a cat. "Ready?" he asked. Harry nodded. Lupin took Harry's hand to make sure they touched it at the same time, and they did.

* * * * *

Next: Chapter 2, A Summer's Day At Hogwarts: In addition to his O.W.L. results, Harry gets an offer from Dumbledore that he finds difficult to refuse.

From Chapter 2: Snape was so astounded he wasn't even looking nastily at Harry. "Headmaster... surely, this is... unprecedented..." His expression left little doubt but that he thought this was a very bad idea, but with Dumbledore, he would only go so far.