Chapter 24

Back to the Burrow

Harry awoke at his usual time of six forty-five, and as soon as he realized that he was awake, he opened his eyes wide. Memories flooded him, and he felt a huge surge of joy and adrenaline. He's alive! Well, not really, but close enough!, he thought. He felt like dancing with joy, running through the halls of Hogwarts. He suddenly realized that that might not be such a good idea for one who was supposed to be grieving, and he couldn't exactly tell everyone what had happened. He knew he would be believed by many students, but he also knew that to tell enough people would mean it would become public knowledge, and this was not something he wanted to explain in the Prophet. But none of this took away from his happiness. He had to tell the others, right away. He got out his Hogwarts map. Ginny, Hermione, and Neville were in the common room, no doubt waiting for him and Ron; Pansy was in the Slytherin common room. Harry immediately conjured his dog and sent it to request Pansy's presence. He quickly changed into his day clothes and pulled back the curtains on his bed.

"Morning, Harry," said Ron, who had just pulled his curtains back as well. "Get a good night's sleep?"

Harry smiled, a brilliant smile that he knew would confuse Ron, but he didn't care. "What?" asked Ron. "What are you so happy about?"

"We need to go to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom," said Harry. "C'mon."

"Before breakfast? You know I'm no good until I've had my three cups of coffee," joked Ron.

"You don't drink coffee," said Harry, going along with the joke, as he put an arm around Ron's shoulder and guided him toward the dormitory door.

"Yeah, but I'm thinking of taking it up," replied Ron. "I'm seventeen, an adult, so I should have a vice. Don't think I want drinking, look what happened to Mundungus." They stepped into the common room to see the other three looking at them.

"The dog was for Pansy, I assume," said Hermione. "What's going on?"

"Harry's very happy about something, and it's something he can't tell us at the breakfast table," explained Ron. They headed out of Gryffindor Tower.

They had been waiting for less than a minute when Pansy walked in. "You know, the Slytherin firsts are all hoping they'll get summoned by the dog at some point. They really like it, they were all petting it. So, what's up?"

Smiling broadly, Harry told them. He got the reaction he expected: utter astonishment. Like him, none had contemplated such a possibility. "Can you show it to us in the Pensieve?" asked Ron.

"I have very specific instructions about that," Harry said apologetically. "He doesn't want me showing it to everybody. Apparently, there is sometimes communication between people who have died and those still living, either by mystics or in people's sleep, but one sort of rule is that people on the other side aren't supposed to let there be solid proof of any afterlife. I'm not sure why; he said something about people having to find out for themselves. In general, I'm only allowed to show Ginny, since she's my life partner. I'd like to show all of you, of course, but I don't want to violate his wishes. I am sorry about that."

"I guess he has his reasons," said an obviously disappointed Ron. "But, wow, it's so fantastic. Are you going to tell everybody?"

"I don't think that's a good idea," said Hermione. "A lot of people would think he was crazy, and he doesn't need that."

"That's pretty much what I think," Harry agreed. "I'm going to be very careful who I tell." He went on to relate most of the conversation that didn't involve Snape; they listened avidly. "Incredible, that he managed all that," said Pansy when he finished. "But he was such an amazing person when he was alive, I guess we shouldn't be surprised."

"There was one other thing that was talked about that I haven't mentioned yet," Harry continued. "You know how Dumbledore's always trusted Snape, had this relationship with him, that there was more to than we knew? Well, now I know, and you probably won't be surprised to hear that I'm not allowed to tell you what it is."

"Figures," said Ron.

"I can tell you this much: as I said, Dumbledore had a certain relationship with Snape, and it was important to the success of the Order, important to the fight against Voldemort. Somebody has to replace Dumbledore in that relationship."

"And it's going to be you?" asked Pansy incredulously.

Harry nodded. "Dumbledore thought it was best that it was me. I think I'm allowed to tell you, and I think you won't be surprised, that it's going to be difficult for me. Of course, I can't tell you exactly how.

"Dumbledore told me that McGonagall knew about his relationship with Snape, that he could talk about it with her. He told me that I'm allowed to pick one person to talk about it with. I can choose who it is, but he had a recommendation."

"Hermione," guessed Neville. Harry nodded, and turned to Ginny. "In a way, I'd rather pick you; I don't like the idea that there's something like this going on in my life that you don't get to know about. I don't like it a lot. But there are excellent reasons for it being Hermione. Unfortunately,–"

"You can't tell us what they are," Ginny finished, then sighed. "I can't say I'm happy, either. But I shouldn't be selfish. It sounds like this is going to be hard for you, and I want you to have the best help you can–"

"This has nothing to do with Hermione being 'better' than you in any way," Harry interrupted. "It just has to do with the facts of the situation. It's more as if I needed someone with brown hair rather than red hair. But I appreciate your being understanding about it. It wasn't my idea, and I don't know how well I'm going to do, but it has to be done."

"You'll do well, Harry," said Pansy. "You do well at everything you try."

"Thank you," he said. He was grateful for her support, though he wondered if she would be so sure if she knew what it was. "Hermione, there's a section of what happened last night that has to do with this; Dumbledore said I could show it to you. I think it'll take about five minutes. Do the rest of you mind if I show her now?" They said it was all right, and he did. Several minutes later, they took their fingers out of the Pensieve, and Harry put his memories back.

Hermione still looked astonished. "That was... extraordinary," she said. "But I agree, it needs to be done, it makes sense that Harry do it, and that I be the one he talks to about it." Harry looked at Ginny, trying to gauge her reaction. She saw this and said, "I'm all right, Harry, really. Don't worry about it. I can tell you feel bad, and that makes me feel better."

Somewhat relieved, Harry continued, "The rest of it is stuff only Ginny gets to see, except for one thing. There's a two or three-minute section that's for Neville."

Neville looked startled, as did the others. "Why me?" he asked.

"You'll know when you see it," Harry assured him as he put the memories into the Pensieve. Neville joined him, and they put their fingers in.

They were back in the phoenix place, which was how Harry was coming to think of it; Neville, Hermione, and Ginny would see it, but just think of it as an idyllic setting, not connecting it to phoenixes in any way. The 'good' Snape had vanished a few seconds before this scene started. Neville looked around, and at Dumbledore, in astonishment. Then two figures slowly came into focus, and when they did, Neville's expression suggested to Harry that he literally did not believe what he was seeing.

"Hello, Harry," said a young man, dark-haired and handsome, in his mid-twenties. "I'm Frank Longbottom, and this is my wife Alice. We want to use this opportunity to say a few things to Neville, but first we want to thank you for all you've done for him. We know that you love him and care about him, and we couldn't be more pleased that he has friends like you and the others. Now we're going to speak directly to Neville." They turned a bit, looking at a spot close to where they were standing. Both Harry and Neville moved so it appeared the Longbottoms were looking straight at them.

"Neville," said Alice, "We're so glad Albus has formed this link with Harry so we have the opportunity to do this. You may wonder why we're here, since this seems to be where dead people go, and we're not dead. The fact is, our spirits can't stay in our bodies, really... well, we can for short times, but there's not much we can do there. Our minds were too damaged by what happened, it's as though our minds and bodies are equipment we can't use anymore. We can't move on, to the spiritual realm where most people go from here, because our bodies are still alive, and we're sort of tethered to them. We don't mind, we're happy here, and we can follow what happens in the physical world, including your life.

"First of all, we want you to know that we love you, and we always will. We wish we could have been there for you. When I got pregnant, Cassandra was happy for me, but really worried; she had asked me before more than once whether I thought it was a good idea, since that was the most dangerous time ever to be an Auror. We knew that, but we wanted a child, and did what our hearts told us to do anyway. We're sorry that we had to leave you, but we're still very glad we had you. Your grandmother may be a bit strict, but she loves you, and has done the best she can. We're very grateful to her for what she's done."

Neville still looked agog, which Harry could completely understand. "We also want you to know that we're very proud of you," said Frank. "Not only for what you've done in the past year, which has been wonderful, but just for the person you are. You've always been kind and loving, and that's what's truly important.

"There's something you've wanted to know for most of the past year, so I feel that we should tell you. This did happen to us while the Lestranges were trying to find out your location. But you should never feel badly about that, as if you were responsible somehow. It's not as though they needed a reason to do what they did; that's what they do. They would have just killed us anyway, even if we had told them. But it was never really an option. You understand that, Neville; last year in the Department of Mysteries, you insisted that Harry not hand over the prophecy no matter what they did to you, and you didn't even know how important it was. This year, you risked your life to save his, and you would have run into certain death to help Hermione. You can imagine how it is with a parent and a child; there was nothing we wouldn't have done for you. We know how proud of us you are, and we're glad."

"What we really want you to know," said Alice, "is that we're here, we're all right, and we're happy. Frank and I still get to be together, just in a different way. You shouldn't feel bad for us. We'll be watching your life, but we promise not to look too closely, at certain times." She and Frank exchanged smiles. "Again, remember... we love you, and we're always with you. Oh, and tell Cassandra to give you the five Galleons she owes me. And tell her I appreciate how she's looked after you, and that I love her. We'll be around, and we'll keep you in our hearts, as you keep us in yours. Goodbye, for now." The memory stopped.

Harry looked at Neville; he could only imagine what was going on in Neville's head. Neville looked at Harry, and Harry could hardly remember seeing a face with more emotion in it. Neville left the Pensieve, and Harry followed.

Hermione got up and walked to Neville. She looked concerned; it looked as though she couldn't tell from Neville's face what kind of experience it had been. He started to cry, and she held him. He tried to speak through his tears but couldn't; he finally managed, "Harry..." with a gesture to indicate that he should explain it. He did, and again, the others were amazed. "So it's not only dead people who go there," marveled Pansy. "Incredible."

"I wonder why this kind of thing isn't more commonly known," wondered Ron. "Then again, most people don't manage what Dumbledore did, or use the Veil for this kind of purpose."

"He told us at one of the dinners, the mystics know, and they tell people. Most people just aren't that interested, or don't take it seriously," said Ginny. "I mean, I never thought about it much. I will from now on, though. We're pretty lucky that we got to experience this."

"I guess it's one of the compensations for the dangers of being a friend of Harry Potter," said Harry wryly.

Pansy looked at him sternly. "There are lots of compensations, and if you keep making comments like that, I'll list them in great detail."

Harry gave her a small smile. "Maybe later."

"We're all really happy for you, Neville," said Ginny. "You deserve to have had that happen."

"Thank you, Ginny," said Neville. "I'll tell you some of what they said, but later... I feel like I need to take some time to digest it. It was..." He trailed off and shrugged, making it obvious that he couldn't think of words for what he wanted to say. Harry could understand that feeling, as he had felt it a lot recently.

They went to the Great Hall for breakfast, and while Harry was hungry, he couldn't eat until he told McGonagall. She was at the teachers' table, at the end near the Gryffindor table. As his friends sat, he headed over to her. "Professor, I have to talk to you, privately," he said with some urgency.

"I am in the middle of breakfast, Harry," she said, gesturing to her plate. "This really cannot wait for that?"

Now Harry's brilliant smile from the morning returned. "That depends... does the phrase 'kitty-cat' mean anything to you?"

Her eyes went wide, and she immediately put down her fork and headed out of the Hall, Harry following. They walked to the Transfiguration classroom, the one nearest the Hall, and she closed the door. "He talked to you?" Still smiling, Harry nodded. "I knew he hoped to do it, but... frankly, I never thought such a thing would be possible. I may have to give serious consideration to having Mysticism as a subject at the school." Harry wasn't sure whether she was joking or not. He spent several minutes telling her about what Dumbledore had said; she shook her head in amazement every minute or so. "I am overjoyed that he is... alive, I want to say, but you know what I mean."

"Me, too," enthused Harry. "When I woke up, I wanted to go running through the halls, shouting about it."

She chuckled. "I understand the feeling. By the way, did he discuss Professor Snape?" Looking more somber, he nodded. "I take it, by your expression, that you are going to assume Albus's role." He nodded again, and she took his hand. "It is very good of you, Harry. I wish I could help you, as I helped Albus, but you will probably want to choose someone else... Hermione, I would guess."

"Yes," he said. "Also, he said to be sure to convey his love to you." Harry saw her love for Dumbledore in her eyes. "And he said you talked to him before you went to sleep last night, said something you were concerned about. He says all you have to do is be yourself."

She fought back tears, then gave Harry an affectionate look. "Thank you for the messages, Harry. We should go back now, you should get some breakfast." As they did, he thought that the next person he visited with this news might not be quite so happy about it.

After breakfast, Harry asked Hermione to join him in his office. They walked in, sat down, and he locked and soundproofed the doors. "I'm going to go talk to him after I talk to you," said Harry. "I just wanted to talk to you first. Since you're going to be my advisor," he continued with a small smile. "I want to know what you think."

She looked overwhelmed, which he could understand, as he felt that way himself. "It's hard to say," she said after a pause. "I doubt this has ever been done like this, until Dumbledore did it. It's an amazing thing he did for Snape, what you're going to do. I'm not surprised you agreed, though," she said admiringly. "I don't think you'd ever back down from a challenge, and as he said, there doesn't seem to be much choice. But it's going to be really hard."

Harry chuckled. "If Ron were here, he'd say, 'Way to buck him up, Hermione.'"

She gave him a half-fond, half-annoyed look. "I was going to say that my job here is to give you advice, but I guess bucking you up is really a part of that, too," she admitted. "I do think you can do it, Harry. I just meant that it would be hard in an emotional way–"

"I was just kidding," Harry said. "But go ahead, what were you going to say?"

"Well, I mean, you already knew it was going to be hard, for example, to accept the idea that this is Snape you'll be letting look at your memories. Even though you know he won't be like he used to be, it's the emotional association you have to get past, which isn't easy. I gather from what I heard in the Pensieve that you're going to think of the Snape where Dumbledore is as being as much the real Snape as the physical one, and that'll help you get past most of your emotional reactions. I do think that's something you can do, with time. But I was referring to other difficulties, things you might not have thought of."

He gestured for her to continue. "One thing that'll be really hard is that you'll have to always be in control of your emotions," she explained. "Dumbledore would never have gotten emotional, gotten angry at Snape, never shown impatience. He would have been a rock, emotionally, for Snape. You'll have to do your very best to do something similar. Now, if this had happened last year, I would never have thought you could do it, no offense. You know how you were emotionally, then. Now, I think you can, you're so used to focusing on love, you can do that when you're with him. But you'll have to try hard to stay in that state whenever you're with him, whenever you deal with him.

"Just for an example, let's say he agrees, and you start doing this with him. Now imagine a day a few weeks from now. You're at the Burrow, Mrs. Weasley's off doing something. You and Ginny are sitting around, enjoying being with each other. It occurs to both of you that you can go up to her room and really be alone." Hermione didn't elaborate, but Harry understood what she meant. "You head upstairs, you're really looking forward to it... and Snape signals you, he needs to see you as soon as possible. Your reaction is going to be one of frustration, annoyance. That's human, it's very understandable... but you have to not do it, or do your very best not to. Even if you compose yourself by the time you get there, he'll still know, and your being there isn't going to do him any good, I'd guess. Part of the point of this is that you're doing this to support him, that it's important to you to make sure he can get by from day to day. That's how it was with Dumbledore, and you have to do your best to be that way. It's not just a matter of controlling your feelings, or hiding them, but of having different feelings in this situation that you normally would. That's what'll be hard."

Harry slowly nodded. "I hadn't thought of it that way," he admitted. "But you're right. I mean, I really do want to help him, and I don't mind whatever time I have to put into it... but I can really see that situation happening, and you're right, that would be my natural reaction. I suppose it would be anybody's." He paused. "How do you think I can change that?"

She thought for a moment. "Here's an idea... let's suppose that I had some chronic illness, and I needed to be treated with a certain kind of magic, one that only you could do. I had to call you every time my symptoms got bad, and I interrupted you in the same kind of situation. Do you think your reaction would be different?"

He nodded. "Yes, I'm sure it would. I really care about you, and I'd hate to think of you being in pain, I'd want to come help. And of course, I see your point, that's how I should think of it with Snape."

"That's right," she confirmed. "Also, especially at first, he's probably going to be a bit reluctant to call you, more than he would have been with Dumbledore. It's going to be hard for him to get used to it being you, so his symptoms, if you want to call it that, may be more acute by the time he calls you. So the analogy may not be such a stretch. So for the time being, you might want to imagine that the Snape up with Dumbledore is the one suffering, and you want to help him. Even if the physical Snape looked into your mind and saw that, I don't think he'd mind; he'll have to know that this'll be hard for you too, and that you're doing your best."

Harry paused again, then decided to say what was on his mind, though he was reluctant. "You know, what you said about going upstairs with Ginny reminded me, there's something else I'm worried about. The first time I get together like that, with Ginny..." He trailed off as she nodded sympathetically, obviously understanding what he meant.

"You're afraid you're not going to be able to..." She searched for a delicate phrase. "...respond like she'll expect. It'll seem like there's someone in the room. I'm sorry, Harry. I can really understand that. Well, maybe not exactly," she said wryly.

Harry nodded. "She's going to think there's something wrong with me, she won't know the reason, and I won't be able to tell her."

She looked concerned. "I'm sorry, Harry, but... there's a decent chance that she won't think there's something wrong with you. She may think there's something wrong with her... that she's not attractive enough for you, that she doesn't excite you. I know that's worse, and I hate to tell you, but it's true."

"Great," said Harry, frustrated. He put his head in his hands. He looked up, and could see that Hermione's heart went out to him. He felt a bit better. "Boy, I never imagined I'd be talking to you about this."

"Me neither," she agreed. "But, since I'm the only one you can... I know you'd rather talk about it with Ron if you could."

He gave her a quizzical look for a second before realizing she was joking. Then he laughed, releasing the tension he felt. She did as well. "His head would explode," said Harry, still laughing.

As their laughter died down, Hermione said, "It may not be so bad, really. You just won't know until you're in the situation. I think it's far more likely that, especially if you try not to think about it, your body will do what it wants to do. You shouldn't assume there'll be a problem; probably worrying about it a lot would make it worse. The best thing to do is assume it won't be a problem, have confidence in that."

"I'll try," he said, wondering if he could manage. "It seems like this whole thing is such a huge challenge, but it's all a challenge mentally. It's almost like I have to become a different person or something."

"Not exactly... I think it's more like you have to become the person you would have become in the future, just faster. Like with the Voldemort dreams, you're being tested in ways that make you have to try as hard as you can. And like at that time, you'll be supported. Not only by me," she added, seeing his expression, "but Ginny and the others will too, even if they don't know exactly what's going on."

He knew it was true, and it bolstered his mood. "I appreciate that," he said sincerely. "It always helps." They were silent for a minute, then he said, "Well, I'll stay here for a bit and get mentally prepared, then go see him. Any other advice?"

She thought for a minute. "Probably you understand this already, but he may be reluctant, he may question your ability to do it. He may even, intentionally or not, say things that'll upset you. He might try to see if you're going to get angry easily, because he knows that it won't work if you do. This is a big thing for him, and he may want to kind of test you before putting that much trust in you. So, and you would have done this anyway, but the thing is to keep calm no matter what he says or does, come from a place of love. Remember the other Snape, remember how wounded this one is. I think you can do it, Harry, I really do."

"Yeah, I guess I can see why he would do that," agreed Harry. "It's such a standard reaction, to get angry at him if he's being insulting, but I know I have to change a lot of reactions. I'll keep it in mind."

She got up. "I guess that's all I can think of." He nodded and got up as well, and she headed to the door, stopping to give him a last supportive look. "You can do it," she said firmly, and left the room. He sat down again, and focused on love.

Harry knocked on the door of Snape's office. The door opened, and he took a step in. Harry had never been there before; it was very neat and spartan. Snape silently motioned Harry to a chair, and closed and locked the door with his wand. He sat down and stared at Harry, expressionless. Harry tried to keep his expression neutral; he had spent the last ten minutes trying to develop a state of calm and love. Dumbledore had told him to have no expectations or needs from Snape's behavior, that if he helped Snape, it had to be unconditional. It was counter to Harry's experience, but he had resolved to try.

Finally, Snape spoke, his tone even. "The headmaster talked to you."

"Yes," Harry said.

"Was it a one-way conversation, or two-way?"


"He told you about my situation."


"I assume from your presence here that if I agree to it, you will do as he asked."

"Yes. Well, he didn't exactly ask it, more like, raised it as a possibility."

Snape smirked a little, and looked at Harry as if he were slow. "It is the same thing. If he but 'raised the possibility' that you run through fire, you would do it. He was making a request, just very politely. You know, very clearly, what this would involve?"

Harry nodded. "He was very clear about that."

Snape looked at Harry with a penetrating gaze. "When the headmaster suggested this arrangement sixteen years ago, I was astonished that he would agree to such a thing. I felt that it must take supreme self-confidence, total comfort in one's own skin, and a lack of embarrassment, and in fact, I came to understand that he possessed all these qualities. I am sure that you would agree that you possess none." Harry nodded. "Why, then, would you agree to this? And I do not mean for you to answer, because he asked me to. I mean, what makes you think you can do it?"

Harry felt it was a good question. "I guess I don't know for sure that I can. But I think it's worth doing, and if he asked me, he must think I can do it, or at least that I have a better chance than anyone else. When he asked me to become a professor, I was sure I couldn't do it, but he was right. I believe I can do this." This was true, but Harry particularly wanted to come across as confident. He knew Snape would have to place a great deal of faith in him, and he didn't want Snape to think he was anything but determined.

Snape smirked again, and it occurred to Harry that it was probably his equivalent of a chuckle, as close as he could come. "Fate can be quite cruel; it has been to me, many times in my life. The only time it was not was when it steered me in the headmaster's direction. Now it asks me to entrust my... continued ability to function to a sixteen-year-old boy, the son of my hated enemy." He looked at Harry again, and said, "In a way, though, it has been cruel to both of us, in this instance."

Harry gave a small smile. "It did occur to me that there's a lot of irony in it, at least. But I'm not my father, you know that."

"No, you are not," agreed Snape. "I see in your eyes your shame at what your father did. But you have been him, in my mind, for most of your time at Hogwarts. It was too good an opportunity to exact revenge on him to pass by, and it did not help you that you resemble him so strongly. It is simply not easy for me to change an... emotional perspective that I have held for so long."

Harry felt he understood, even if he couldn't empathize. "Maybe if we do this, you'll understand my life enough that I'll seem more like who I am, and less who he was."

Snape shook his head. "You do not understand. Intellectually, I know exactly who you are, and who he was. I know you are very much like him in some ways, and very different in others. The adjustment is an emotional one, and not as easy as simply realizing something, or accepting a fact."

"Sort of like my adjusting to the idea that anything that happens in my life from now on, no matter how intimate, is something you could see," suggested Harry.

Snape nodded. "You seem to be understanding a little better. Yes, it is much like that. You cannot simply decide not to feel a certain way. There must be a process of adjustment, if it is to happen at all."

Harry nodded. "That's up to you, I guess. I still don't know what you want to do."

"What I want to do, and what I end up doing, may be two very different things. I will ask you some questions, and in your answers I expect the unvarnished truth. No softening, no equivocation."

"You'll get it. Go ahead."

Snape eyed him carefully. "How do you feel about me?"

Harry raised his eyebrows a little at the question, then thought for a few seconds. "Right now, it's hard to put into one or two words. I found out so much last night, it's like I'm still getting used to it. I guess the best word right now is 'sympathetic.' I had this image of you, based on six years of experience, and now that has suddenly been overturned. It's confusing. But I feel extremely sympathetic when I think about what your life is like, how difficult it is. People said that what I suffered when Voldemort attacked me in those dreams inspired them to overcome their fears and say his name. When I think about what you do every day, how hard it must be, it inspires me to be willing to do this, to give up my privacy like this. I think that's the best answer I can give you."

Snape seemed to be trying to keep any emotion out of his voice and off his face; Harry assumed it was because any emotions Snape had would be bound to be negative ones, and Snape must have decided to avoid being that way with him. The thought rekindled Harry's sympathy for Snape; he realized that for Snape, any genuine display of emotion when dealing with others would be something bound to evoke a negative reaction.

"And how I treated you for five years does not figure into this?" asked Snape.

Harry thought again. "Like I said, it all seems different now. It's like a kind of emotional adjustment like you talked about is going on, but fairly quickly. I feel like I'm able to separate how I felt at the time from dealing with you now, knowing what I now know. You may be the same person, but if I'd known then... and if I'd been mature enough to understand it, I would have seen it much differently, like I'm starting to now."

"Is there anything," asked Snape, "for which you hold a grudge against me, or did until very recently?"

Harry realized that Snape was trying to determine what hostility Harry still harbored toward him; he guessed that even though there seemed to be no one else but Harry who could do this for Snape, Snape still felt it was important that he had confidence that it would work. "Not a strong one, but your letting it be known that Remus was a werewolf, that stuck with me. The main one, I guess, would be the fact that I held you partly responsible for Sirius's death."

Snape raised his eyebrows. "In what way did you feel me responsible?"

"More emotionally than rationally," Harry answered. "Partly because you taunted him about staying in Grimmauld Place all the time, and I wondered if that made him want all the more to get out, and come to the Department of Mysteries. Partly because you didn't teach me Occlumency properly, and I might have stopped having the dreams if you had, if I had learned it. But I know there are flaws in both of those thoughts. Sirius was itching to get out of Grimmauld Place, and I know you asked him to stay behind; even if you hadn't taunted him, he would've come anyway. And while it's true that you used the Occlumency classes as more of a weapon against me than anything else, the fact was that I wanted the dreams to continue. I wanted to know what was behind that door, and I might not have practiced before bedtime anyway. But I think the bottom line was, I wanted someone to blame, and you were a good candidate."

Snape nodded. "Having blamed you for your father's sins, I do not find that difficult to understand. It may interest you to know, by the way, that a few weeks after the Dark Lord's return, Black attempted to... reach a sort of peace with me. He was doing it more for the headmaster's sake than for his own, or mine, but he was genuine nonetheless. I harshly rebuffed him, with as much abuse as I could muster." Snape gave Harry a look that suggested he wanted to know what Harry thought of what he'd said.

Harry continued to focus on love. His emotions were aroused when anything had to do with Sirius, but he reminded himself to be compassionate. Still, it was difficult. "Before yesterday, if you'd said that, I would've been angry. Now, I completely understand why you did. You'd always hated him anyway, and even someone... not in your condition would have had to make some effort to... make the emotional adjustment, I guess you would say. You couldn't afford to spare the effort to make that kind of adjustment, and from your perspective, there was no reason to. It made much more sense to keep hating him, since he gave you a legitimate excuse for hostility."

Snape looked mildly impressed, as if he hadn't thought that Harry would work that out. "Why did you look at the memory I had placed in the Pensieve?"

Again, Harry thought before answering. "I was very curious to know what could be so important that you would go so far out of your way to hide it. At the time, I justified it to myself with the idea that you were rummaging around all my worst memories at will, so I should be able to look at one of yours if I could."

Snape looked a bit angry; Harry wondered if it was real anger, or anger serving as a kind of default emotion. "The headmaster had much the same thought," he said. "He was unsympathetic when I told him what you had done; he said that if you do not treat a person with respect, you should not be surprised when they do not do so for you. He was correct, of course." He paused. "Is this something you wish to do, or something you do because you feel it must be done?"

"I'm not sure I can say," Harry answered. "Maybe some of both. I know it has to be done, and I don't think Albus would have suggested I do it if he didn't think I was the best person for it. Or, at least, the only person for it. Obviously it's not going to be easy, or enjoyable. But I had a strong feeling of wanting to after talking to your... other half, I guess you could say. I assume that you knew who I'd seen in the dream yesterday, even if I didn't. Hearing him talk reminded me that you're not just who you seem to be. I can't begin to imagine what you've been through, what you go through every day. Whatever I go through to do this won't be a tenth of what you do."

Snape was silent for another minute; Harry focused on love while he waited. He thought about the Snape who had been banished, how he appreciated Harry's willingness to do what he was doing. He thought about all that this Snape had been through; he found that if he felt his determination waver, a look at the emotional desert he had visualized strengthened it again. He realized how lucky he was, not only compared to Snape, but compared to most people; not because he was Harry Potter, but because of those who loved him, and because he loved them. He thought about Dudley. Dudley had friends, but Harry was sure it was nobody who he shared any emotional closeness with. He knew that most people didn't have what he had.

Snape took out his wand and quietly said, "Legilimens." Harry looked straight ahead and continued to focus on love, not resisting the intrusion. Memories began to appear in his head, and he soon discovered the common theme: mistrust or hatred of Snape. He saw himself agreeing with Ron, in his first year, that Snape must be trying to steal the Sorcerer's Stone. He felt himself burn with anger as Snape read the Rita Skeeter article about him aloud to the class in his fourth year. In his third year, he saw Snape give Ron detention for defending Hermione. He saw himself shouting at Dumbledore that Snape was responsible for Sirius's death. Some memories were only a flash of a few seconds, others showed a scene that played out for as long as a minute or more. Some were simply feelings, not associated with a particular memory; he remembered his frequent feelings of hurt, anger, and confusion at how Snape treated him, especially in his first year. Finally, the images and feelings stopped, and Snape was looking at him again.

Snape cast the spell again, and Harry saw Snape's other half talking to him, and smiling when Harry assured him that he would help the damaged half of Snape. He saw himself and Snape in Dumbledore's office, trying to talk Dumbledore out of performing the Cruciatus Curse on Harry. He saw himself, that morning, telling his friends that he would assume Dumbledore's role with Snape; he felt his determination, his sympathy for Snape. He saw himself and Hermione in the Pensieve, the horrified look on her face as she learned the truth about Snape, a horror he shared. He felt his own discomfort as he weighed this new responsibility against his responsibilities as Ginny's life partner, hoping what happened would not affect his relationship with her negatively. Harry realized that Snape was trying to gauge Harry's past feelings about Snape against his present ones. Is he trying to figure out how hard this is for me, Harry wondered, or is he trying to decide if he can trust me or not?

Snape finally spoke again. "Why is it so important to you that Miss Weasley know every last detail of your life?"

"It's not exactly that, of course, but I want her to know the important things. What her parents said, and it makes sense to me, is that the more of each other you share, the closer you'll be. I want her to know what's going on with me. If we start keeping things from each other, we could start drifting apart. That's part of what having a partner is all about."

"Yet you value Miss Granger's advice, and the continued ability to practice Legilimency with her, above this consideration?"

Harry nodded. "It wasn't an easy decision, and it was mainly the Legilimency that made me decide that. I think it'll be much better if I can do that with two people, and considering how skilled Voldemort is at Occlumency and Legilimency, I think I need to get as good at those as I can; it could be important. Also, Hermione can give me advice and feedback that would be... more objective, I guess, since she isn't my life partner."

Snape thought, then cast Legilimens again. Harry saw himself in the infirmary, telling Ginny he was in love with her. He saw her kiss him while they told her parents. He saw them looking into their hands just after having been Joined. He saw her that morning, saying she shouldn't be selfish and that he should do what he thought was best. He saw himself talking to Hermione a short time ago, worried about how this could affect his sexual relationship with Ginny.

"If you were authorized to tell Miss Weasley of this, would you, in spite of the fact that she would then suffer some of the same discomfort you will?"

"Yes," said Harry without hesitation. "She would want to know, and want to experience what I was, even if it was difficult. I would want to with her as well."

After another silence, Snape said, "I have decided to accept the headmaster's suggestion that you assume his role. I feel I must further recognize that you are not he, and that this will be difficult for you in a way that it was not for him. I am prepared to make certain concessions to this, and one will be my approval for you to inform Miss Weasley as well as Miss Granger of the situation. I understand that you will require more support than did the headmaster."

Harry felt a surge of relief. "Thank you," he said.

Snape raised an eyebrow. "That is hardly necessary; you should know that I am incapable of an act of kindness, which your response seems to suggest you believe this to be. This is simply an action taken to ensure the best possible chance of success of this effort."

"I know that, and I didn't think it was an act of kindness," said Harry. "It's just that the custom is to thank someone in that situation. I have a feeling Albus thanked you for things like that." He took Snape's silence as agreement. "How often should we do this?"

"It varies, depending on my need," answered Snape. "It could be as seldom as once a week at some times, as much as every day at others. Before you leave for the summer, I will arrange a way for me to signal you that I wish to meet. You will be able to signal me back, informing me of the earliest time you can meet. Is that acceptable?"

Snape's tone was much like that of a person concluding a business arrangement, but Harry reminded himself that that was as friendly or polite as Snape could be. "Yes, that's fine," Harry said. "What about for the next few days? You could always go to Albus's office, but you can't go into Gryffindor Tower. Too bad you don't have a dog spell."

"That is just as well," replied Snape, "as my dog would probably bite the leg of the person it was seeking."

Harry chuckled, then looked at Snape quizzically. "That was a deliberate joke, wasn't it?"

"I am capable of humor, as you should know. It is simply not a sense of humor that would be to most people's taste. In any case, if I require you while you are in Gryffindor Tower, I shall speak to the headmistress." He paused, then said, "Was there anything else?"

Ah, so we're done for now, Harry thought. "One thing, I wanted to make sure you knew... Albus doesn't want me showing my memories from meeting him to people in the Pensieve, for the most part, but he said I could show you the section that had to do with you if you wanted."

Snape shook his head. "That is unnecessary, though I suspect I may be seeing some of it soon enough."

Harry thought to say something like 'see you later,' but realized that it didn't seem appropriate with Snape, so he just nodded and left. That could have been worse, he thought.

Harry walked down the corridor leading away from Snape's office. After turning the corner, he looked at his left hand, and saw Ginny smile. "If you can, I need to talk to you and Hermione, in my office," he said.

"That's convenient, I'm talking to her now," Ginny replied. "We're on our way."

When Harry walked into his office, they were already there. Harry conjured a third chair, and they all sat down. "I just finished talking to Snape, and he's going to accept me as the person to do it."

"Harry... I thought this wasn't supposed to be discussed around Ginny," said Hermione, with an apologetic glance at Ginny.

"That's part of what I wanted to talk to you about. I think at first he didn't understand that it would be difficult for me not to talk to Ginny about this, but he realized it at some point. He gave me permission to tell Ginny as well."

Hermione raised her eyebrows; Ginny said, "Well, I am Harry's partner, that's not so strange, is it?"

"It's a pretty big concession on his part, which you'll understand after you hear what the situation is," said Hermione.

"I'm going to show her what I showed you in the Pensieve," said Harry. "I know Dumbledore said only to show you, but he didn't know Snape was going to let me tell her as well. I can't explain it nearly as well as they did." He started putting his memories into the Pensieve, which he now kept in a desk drawer.

"What do you mean, 'they?'" asked Ginny. "I thought it was just Dumbledore. Were there more people, like Neville's parents?"

Hermione shook her head, still amazed at what she had seen before. "That sounds like an easy question to answer, Ginny, but it's really not." They entered the Pensieve, and when they came out, Ginny was as obviously astonished as Hermione had been. But, Harry knew, she was also disturbed. They sat back down in their chairs.

"I don't know what to say," she said, "either about the thing with Snape, or what you'll be doing because of it. You were really going to not tell me about this?"

Harry found himself hoping that this would be as angry as she would get. "Like I said earlier, I wasn't happy about the idea of not telling you. I just didn't see that I had much choice. I need to practice Legilimency, and I need to do it with Hermione."

"So, from now on, everything we do... I mean, this conversation, right now, he could be watching this! He might as well be in the room right now. How in the world are we going to..." She didn't finish, but her meaning was clear to Harry.

Harry took a deep breath. He barely managed not to say, 'how do you think I feel about it?' Instead, he said, "Right now, I'm glad we had the Joining done, for some of the same reasons you were, when we had it done."

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Don't be ridiculous, Harry, I wouldn't leave you, even if I could. I'm just upset right now, I don't think you can blame me for that."

"No, I don't," he said, and couldn't think of anything to say after that. Hermione looked awkward, as if she didn't belong there, but Harry was glad she was. Ginny put her head in her hands.

After a minute of silence, in a resigned tone, Ginny said, "So, what do we do now?"

"What I would say," said Harry, "what I tried to do when I thought about this, is put yourself in his shoes, I mean, really try to imagine it. Yes, he didn't have to choose to be a Death Eater, he made a mistake. A really big one. But imagine this has been done to you, and you realize that it was a mistake. In a way, your life is over, you can't live like people are supposed to live. The best you can do is imagine that you could live another way. Try to imagine what that would be like."

She thought for a minute. "I don't know if anybody could, really imagine that. I'm not saying it's not horrible, and I'm not saying I don't feel bad for him. I do. But..." She sighed. "I just can't get used to the idea in five minutes, Harry. I know all the facts now, and it's true, I don't know who would do this if not you. I can't imagine anyone else doing it, it's such a huge thing." She chuckled humorlessly. "I knew when I got you for a partner that I was getting myself into a lot. I just never imagined that it would be anything like this."

"Neither did I," he agreed.

"You saw his face when Dumbledore said this," said Hermione quietly to Ginny. "He felt a lot like you do now, he's just had time to get used to the idea. I'm not saying it'll be easy, but–"

"Yeah, but you don't know what it's like, to have to imagine someone seeing you, in a really private moment," Ginny responded.

Hermione raised her eyebrows at Harry. "You never told her?"

"It never came up," he replied.

"Ginny, you know that a few weeks ago, Harry started practicing Legilimency with me," said Hermione. "The first time we did it, he stumbled across an image... remember that day you arranged for Neville and I at the Burrow?"

Ginny's eyes went wide. "What did you see?" she asked him.

Hermione answered. "Neville and I, kissing, with our shirts off." Ginny looked even more surprised. "He didn't mean to, of course, he felt terrible," continued Hermione. "It took me ten minutes to convince him he shouldn't feel bad. I knew it was important for him to learn it, so I took the risk of what he might see. But you see my point; I do know what it's like, to imagine that. I would do it again. In fact, I will do it again. I'm still going to practice with him, he needs to practice. I'm going to do more than that with Neville over the summer, but I don't care."

Harry looked confused. "But we can put your memories into the Pensieve, we already talked about that."

"No," she said. "I'm not going to do that. I'll take my chances."

"What?" Harry blurted out. "What's the point of that? How's it going to help me if you do that?"

Ginny looked at Hermione, obviously touched. "She's not doing it for you, Harry, she's doing it for me," said Ginny. "She's saying, she'll take the same chance voluntarily that you and I have no choice but to take."

Harry should have recognized that sooner, he thought, but in his emotional reaction he missed it. "Hermione, that's sweet, but you don't have to," he said. "It's not like that's something I really want to see."

"Of course not, Harry, that's part of the point," said Hermione. "I think that you and Ginny, doing stuff like that, isn't something he really wants to see, either. But it's part of your life, or it's going to be, and what he needs is to see your life, all of it. I think the other Snape is right, thinking of him like a doctor isn't a bad idea. When we practice, you could stumble across something else, I know it isn't something you want to do. You heard Dumbledore, he didn't look at it any more than anything else. I know the hard part is the idea of someone looking at all. But at least I'll be with you."

Harry had not expected the conversation to go this way, to put it mildly. "So, you'll give us moral support by doing something that could completely embarrass me?"

Ginny smiled a bit, and so did Hermione. "Ironic, isn't it?" said Hermione.

"It does make me feel a bit better, to tell you the truth," said Ginny to Harry. "Now I feel like, she knows what it feels like. I won't be alone. I mean, I'm still not happy, but…" She trailed off.

Well, at least it makes her feel better, Harry thought. He didn't fancy the idea of seeing any more of Hermione and Neville than he already had, but he couldn't deny that it was a kind gesture on Hermione's part. He also knew that despite what had happened with Hermione before, the chances of actually seeing that kind of memory weren't high. "This kind of reminds me," he said to Ginny, "of when I was telling the first years how I used thoughts of love to drive Voldemort out of my mind, you just came up and told me you loved me, so I wouldn't be so embarrassed."

"Well, I would've done that anyway, but I can't deny that I was happy for an excuse to tell you I loved you."

"I guess that makes sense now, but I wouldn't have imagined it then. I guess it's safe to say that Hermione isn't looking for an excuse to show me what she and Neville are going to get up to."

"Yes, that's safe to say," agreed Ginny, "which makes it more impressive. You're such a wonderful friend, Hermione. We couldn't want a better friend than you."

"Or imagine one, I'd say," agreed Harry.

"Thank you, both of you," said an obviously touched Hermione. Harry went on to tell them the rest of what had happened in the meeting with Snape, and they talked about it for a while. Harry felt that Ginny was slowly starting to get used to the idea, or at least wasn't as acutely uncomfortable with it as she had been at first. I hope we can both get to where it doesn't bother us, he thought. He knew it wouldn't be easy.

Harry looked around and saw Dumbledore standing by the stream he had first noticed when Fawkes had taken him there. He walked up to Dumbledore and hugged him; he knew that he would be wishing he could if Dumbledore was beyond contact. "I felt like I wanted to ask you how you were doing, but it occurred to me that the answer would be the same every time, wouldn't it?"

"Yes, it would," answered Dumbledore. "Even in the physical realm I was fairly even-tempered, but here, there is no such thing as pain or discomfort, and one is constantly reminded that one's spirit is eternal. It would be impossible not to relax here, to not feel rejuvenated."

"And it's the same for the other... realm? The one you go to after this?"

"Indeed, even more so," replied Dumbledore. "This place has qualities which are a mix of the physical and the spiritual realms. In the spiritual realm, one is constantly in an atmosphere of love. People in physical form talk about the physical world being 'real' and imply that anything else is not, but the fact is that the spiritual realm is what is truly 'real.' The physical world, the physical universe for that matter, is but a construction for our experience and edification. It is real in its own way, but the spiritual realm is our true home. The physical realm is simply a place we go once in a while, much as we go to our jobs while in physical form."

Harry tried to wrap his mind around the idea, and couldn't quite do it, but he knew he would have many more visits to work on it. "If there's no pain, or anything but love, in the spiritual realm, why do we even go to the physical world? Why not just stay in the spiritual realm?"

"Some beings do," said Dumbledore. "But part of why we are here is to learn, to experience. You know very well from your experience that we learn more when we have challenge, when we are pushed. We can learn much faster in physical form than we can as our true spiritual selves."

"In that case, I must be setting some kind of record for learning," Harry joked.

Dumbledore laughed. "It does seem that way, yes. I take it you have more questions about the situation with Severus."

Harry had noticed that from this place, Dumbledore had totally dispensed with the using of titles; he imagined that such things weren't important in this realm. "Yes, could we call..." He trailed off as the smiling Snape shimmered into view.

"Hello, Harry," said Snape, walking forward to embrace Harry. Harry hugged him back happily, though feeling a bit odd in hugging someone who looked exactly like Snape, and he wondered what the physical Snape would think if he saw this image in his mind.

"It's a good question," said Snape. "But that is a part of what the whole process is about, for him; it's a different perspective. He cannot conceive of embracing you literally, but if he sees this, he will see that there is, or was, a part of him who can. That is something worth knowing."

"Yes, but that's part of something I was wondering when I was talking to Ginny and Hermione about it. He can see memories of my talking to people about his situation. Couldn't that affect the situation itself?"

"Only if you act differently than you otherwise would because you know he could eventually see it, which you will not," said Dumbledore. "Today, you did nothing differently because you knew he might see it, and I am sure you will continue to do that. One of the reasons you were appropriate to take over for me was that you have become so open a person; due to the Voldemort trial in September, you had no choice. It was an adjustment for you to know that anything you do could be seen, but it was an even bigger adjustment for that person to be Severus. If it had been me, I suspect that even the sexual aspect would not particularly disturb you."

"No, because I trust you completely," agreed Harry. "Like... like Hermione trusts me, that she's willing to do what she's going to do."

Dumbledore nodded. "I see you had not quite thought of it that way until now, but yes, it is very similar. It is an extraordinarily high compliment that she pays you, as well as a gesture of support to Ginny, that she will compromise her privacy even though she need not do so. Getting back to the issue of trust in your situation, you should understand that you can trust Severus, even if your experience tells you that you should not. Before, as he said, he thought of you as if you were your father; he knows that he cannot do that any longer. Nor, now that he has accepted you as the person to replace me, will he wish to. He will, as he said, have to make an emotional adjustment, and he is in the process of doing so."

"From a purely rational point of view," added Snape, "he won't want to do anything to cause you distress, as he will now depend on you, in a very important sense. You saw that today when he gave you permission to tell Ginny about the situation; he did so because he realized that not doing so could cause you a great deal of stress. It was not easy for him, because it meant having to trust one more person with such an intimate secret, but he did it anyway. He actually contemplated assuring you that he would not access sexual memories at all, but he realized that it is part of what is necessary for him, that it would not be the same if access to any particular thing were restricted. He is concerned that you and she will act differently than you otherwise would because of him, but he understands that there is nothing he can do about that, that you and Ginny must overcome this obstacle if it is to be overcome."

"I have a feeling you will," said Dumbledore with a smile. "The teenage sex drive is quite powerful. At some point, you will almost certainly decide that you do not care who sees what, that you will do what you want to do."

Harry hoped that Dumbledore was right. "Well, I am glad to hear that he at least considered not looking at sexual memories; it may make it easier for Ginny and I to just consider it another part of our lives, that to him is no more special than anything else. I was glad that she didn't have any worse a reaction than she had today."

"Indeed, many would have reacted very badly to such information," agreed Dumbledore. "She could not adjust instantly, as she pointed out, but she did quite well given the circumstances. She has been looking forward to this greatly, and to have it disturbed in such a way was a great disappointment. She will eventually realize that it need not affect her enjoyment of the experience at all; it will just take time."

Harry fervently hoped so. "You said yesterday that you looked into his mind too. Why did you do that? Is it something I should do?"

"He did not mind my doing so; I did it in order to check on his emotional state, out of concern. It was not strictly necessary, but he appreciated the thought behind it. I would not recommend that you even consider doing it until you are more used to each other in this situation. He gave me a certain deference that he will not give you, especially at first."

"You should know, though," said Snape, "that while he cannot like you, he has considerable respect for you, both who you are as a person and for the effort you make in doing this for him. He simply relied on Albus in a way that cannot be the same with you, due to your age and relative lack of maturity. Bear in mind, you are unusually mature for a sixteen-year-old; you are simply not as mature as Albus was, and that was what Severus was used to. He will adapt; what you are doing for him was by far the most important part of what Albus did for him."

Harry understood. "Obviously he wouldn't deal with me in just the same way he did with Albus." He thought about the physical Snape for a minute, then asked Dumbledore, "There was something I was wondering about yesterday. Last night you mentioned that how hard he argued against you doing the Curse on me for that demonstration was an indication of how he felt about you. But it seems like that requires him to have some qualities that should have been banished by the Cleansing. He was obviously concerned for you; it certainly seemed as though he cared about you and didn't want you to suffer. How could he do that?"

Snape answered. "When people lose limbs, or sight or hearing, they can often find ways to do what they used to do; this is very much like that. He knew that if he were not handicapped in this way, he would be concerned about Albus. He was able to know what to do if he could feel that way; it's very much like acting. If you had to act like you hated someone, you could probably do it if you really tried. He can use what emotions he does have, just in a different way. So, when he was arguing with Albus, he was angry with him–since he can be angry–for not doing things the most reasonable way. It wasn't such a stretch, since you may recall you too were angry with him at the time. He can choose any action he wants, and he can give any appearance he wants; it's just what he actually can feel that's restricted. It's rare for him to 'act' in that way, though, since most of the time it's not necessary, and it requires a certain effort. He did at times this year, after Albus insisted that he treat you with the respect your position merited. He was so used to hating you that at first it required an acting performance to give the impression that he did not. As time went by, it became less and less an act, so the adjustment he must make now to accept you in this role is not nearly as large as it might have been. Even now, it's a significant emotional adjustment; last September, it simply would not have been possible for him. It would have been too much."

"I guess I can understand that," said Harry. The more he heard about how it was for Snape, the more determined he was to do what was needed. Still, he knew it would be hard.

Harry and Neville walked out of the Aurors' fireplace at the usual time of nine o'clock the next day, and were greeted by Kingsley, Cassandra, and Tonks. "We were sorry we couldn't make it to the ceremony yesterday," said Kingsley. Cassandra and Tonks looked at Harry sadly, and kissed him on the cheek; Harry realized that he tended to forget that there was a purple dot on his forehead, which served as a vivid reminder to others of his loss.

"Thanks, I appreciate it," he said. "But something really good happened the night after he died." He told them about it, and like everyone else he had told, they gaped. "I wouldn't have believed it was possible," said Cassandra.

"He told me that he would try," said Kingsley, "and I thought, if anyone can, he can. But it's just amazing. What did he say?"

Harry gave them a recap of the parts not having to do with Snape, and finished by saying, "...and it turns out that there are other people there, and he can let me talk to them if I want." Harry had talked to Neville before they had left, so he knew that Neville intended to tell them what he had seen. "Who did you see?" asked Tonks eagerly.

"Well, I was surprised because they're not dead, but their spirits are where you first go after you die," Harry explained. "I saw Neville's parents. They left a message for Neville in my memory, he saw it in the Pensieve."

The Aurors were astonished. "How is that possible?" asked Tonks. Harry explained what he understood of it.

"What did they say, Neville?" asked Cassandra.

With a small smile, Neville said, "My mum said that you should give me the five Galleons you owed her."

Cassandra put her hand to her mouth and gasped. "I'd forgotten all about that," she said. She reached for her money pouch and looked for the Galleons as tears rolled down her cheeks.

"You shouldn't cry, Cassandra," said Tonks. "It's only five Galleons, after all."

Kingsley chuckled as Cassandra smiled through her tears and said, "Shut up, Tonks." She handed Neville five Galleons.

"I'm not going to spend them, of course," said Neville. "I'm just going to keep them, to remind me of her."

"I hope that wasn't all she said, Neville," said Kingsley humorously.

"No, Cassandra, she said to tell you that she appreciates how you've looked after me, and that she loves you." Obviously overwhelmed, Cassandra struggled to hold back more tears.

Near the end of the day, when their training was finished, Harry and Neville went back to the room with the fireplace in time to greet Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Pansy, who had just arrived. Kingsley walked in and said, "Thanks for coming. I assume Harry told you that we wanted to test you, to see if Hermione's theory about the energy of love is right. Certainly it's started to look that way; Neville is obviously stronger today than he was last week. It's not a huge jump in power like Harry's in April, but it's very noticeable. We'll be very interested to see what the tests show."

He cast the test spell on himself, and asked Harry to go first, as a test. Harry silently cast Blue on him, and saw a gold 100 appear in the air next to Kingsley. "Okay, Hermione, you next," said Kingsley. She pointed her wand at him, and another gold 100 appeared. Hermione smiled broadly as Kingsley said, "Looks like you're right. Neville, you now." Neville took his turn, and there was yet another 100. "Amazing," said Kingsley. "Do you know how few wizards ever get 100, and there are three right here? Harry is obviously very much on to something. Ron?" Ron fired the spell, and a gold 94 popped up. Ron looked disappointed, but Kingsley said, "That's still really good, Ron, we have some Aurors who don't get 94. Ginny?"

Ginny stepped forward, cast the spell, and saw yet another gold 100; Pansy tried and got 87, but was happy. "That's really good; when I did it in class at the beginning of the year, I only got 55. I've never been that good with a wand."

"Looks like you're getting better," said Kingsley. "Now the question is, could Neville and Ginny use Harry's new spells as well?"

"I want to try," said Neville.

Most people there looked surprised, but Harry wasn't; he had expected Neville to want to try, but he didn't know about Ginny. Kingsley said, "Are you sure, Neville? I tried it once, and I was wrong. It's pretty bad if you are."

"I think I can do it," said Neville determinedly.

Hermione took his hand, concerned. "You may be able to, but you have to remember that it doesn't completely work the first time; it didn't for Harry, or I. Even if it works, you're going to get a real blast of pain."

He nodded. "I know. But don't you think it's better to have that happen now, rather than in a real-life situation?"

"Yes, I see your point," she agreed reluctantly. "But it's still very brave."

He looked at Kingsley, who said, "All right, Neville. Let me know when you're ready."

Neville concentrated, then looked up. "Go ahead."

Kingsley counted down, and to Harry's relief, the shield came on just as Kingsley said the word 'Crucio.' As had happened with Harry and Hermione, some of the spell got through, and Neville screamed, but for less than a second, and fell to the ground. His shield faded, and Hermione helped him up and hugged him. "That's wonderful, Neville, I'm so glad you can do it."

He let her go after a few seconds and asked Kingsley to do it again. "I know it'll work, but it's just for my peace of mind, to have had one time where it worked completely." Kingsley did it again, and as expected, it worked perfectly. Very satisfied, Neville stepped back, and was rewarded with a kiss from Hermione.

"I want to do it, too," said Ginny, looking at Harry. He understood, but was still concerned for her. She gave him a reassuring smile, and faced Kingsley. It went exactly as Neville's had; the shield came on the first time but she suffered a short burst of intense pain, then it worked perfectly the second time. Harry proudly put an arm around her.

"That's pretty amazing," said Ron. "I'd like to try too, but I have a feeling it wouldn't be a good idea, not until I get to 100."

"That's okay, Ron, I would have refused to do it anyway," said Kingsley. "New rule, no one gets to try this until they're at 100. Funny, I've been at 100 for years now, but I failed when I tried."

"What I'd assume," said Hermione, "is that you can get 100 without using the energy of love, though it's very rare, but that you will always get 100 if you're using it completely. Maybe Ron and Pansy are well along the way, just not quite there yet." Harry grinned to himself, knowing that there was a joke begging to be made about how if Ron and Pansy would just get together they would reach 100, but he knew no one would make it. Ron had a somewhat embarrassed look, as if he expected someone to do so.

"Looks that way," agreed Kingsley. "Also, it's hard not to notice that the four of you with 100 are the ones in relationships. Probably it helps a lot if you have a particular person to focus on. We Aurors may be disadvantaged in that area; the married ones may have to show us the way."

"But I had 100 long before I was in a relationship," pointed out Harry.

"Well, he said it helps, not that you had to be," said Hermione. "Besides, you had extreme motivation of another kind."

"That's true," Harry said. "But I was thinking about something else last night, since I thought something like this might happen. Aurors have to know Dark magic, and sometimes you use it, right? Even if not in real situations, like you just used the Cruciatus Curse there, and I think you have to be in a negative frame of mind, even if only unconsciously, to use it. I wondered, what if you can't use the energy of love for your spells if you sometimes use spells that require that kind of frame of mind?"

"But you used the Cruciatus Curse once, or at least, tried to," said Kingsley, somewhat apologetically, as if not wanting to remind Harry of the circumstances.

"Yes, and later swore to myself never to do it again," Harry answered. "It's just a thought, I could be totally wrong. I just wonder if we have to choose one or the other. I asked Albus about it last night, and he said he thought it was very likely. It was funny, because when I talk to him, it seems to me as though I'm speaking, but really I'm just thinking, so he hears me whether I speak or think. I was thinking that he should be able to know, and he said, 'Just because I am dead, it does not mean I have become omniscient.'" The others laughed. "I said, 'It would be nice, though.'"

"Nice to see that dying hasn't taken away his sense of humor," said Kingsley wryly. "It's an interesting thought, Harry. You could be right, it's just so hard to know at this stage. It's amazing, it's like you're founding a whole new branch of magic."

"It's pretty convenient that I'm the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, then," said Harry with mild embarrassment. "You almost have to wonder if Albus knew something when he asked me to take the job."

"I'd say that anyone who can talk from where he is could do anything, but then again, he did have a bit of a checkered history with that job," joked Kingsley.

"He couldn't help that no one good was available for the position most of the time," said Ginny. "He was just waiting until Harry got old enough."

"Yes, that must be it," said Harry, deadpan.

"Before you all head back to Hogwarts, there's something I need to give you and talk to you about," said Kingsley. He walked over to a chest in a corner and took out a box. "This came up because of how Malfoy threatened you," he said as he looked at Pansy. "Most of your protection is already taken care of, since you'll be staying at the Burrow, along with... well, if he's not the most powerful wizard in the world right now, I don't know who is." Harry tried not to look as embarrassed as he felt as Pansy grinned mischievously, knowing how he would feel. "Anyway, this was done with Pansy in mind, but we arranged it so that it works for all six of you, knowing how close you all are, and it wasn't that much extra effort."

He opened the box to reveal six pendants. Each was circular and was one solid color; they looked like stones, but the colors didn't seem to be the type that would come naturally to stones. They weren't very thick, and were about two centimeters in diameter.

"Sorry that we didn't know enough about all of you to make the colors specific to each person," said Kingsley, "but I bet you all can guess which one is Harry's."

"The green one, of course," said Pansy. Harry realized that the color of the green pendant was almost exactly that of his eyes.

Kingsley nodded. "It seemed appropriate. Gold is Ron, red is Ginny, pink is Pansy, blue is Neville, and orange is Hermione. Dumbledore told you that Pansy would be given something that would be an alarm if Malfoy got close enough to it. If he gets within a hundred yards of her, all your pendants will make a whistling noise; the closer he is, the louder it'll be. Another nice feature they have is a kind of a distress signal that you don't have to activate. This monitors your heart rate and adrenaline levels, and if they suddenly shoot up, or reach a certain level, the color of that person will blink rapidly on the other pendants. So, if Pansy were under threat, everyone else's pendants would blink with a pink color, and make a noise. I've had these linked in with the Security department of the Magic Detection Center, so if any of them goes off, we'll know immediately, and we'll know where the person is. We would Apparate there within seconds, by which time I suspect we'd find that Harry had already taken care of the situation." Kingsley gave an embarrassed Harry a small grin.

"What if one of us gets a jolt of adrenaline for some other reason?" asked Hermione. "Wouldn't it cause some false alarms?"

"No," answered Kingsley, "we've been using these long enough to have worked that out; having your life under threat causes a much stronger reaction than someone you didn't realize was behind you suddenly yelling. There's one more feature, and it's only partly security-related: these can also function as communication devices. If Harry wants to contact Pansy, he holds his pendant and says 'pink,' and her pendant will slowly blink with his color, letting her know he wants to talk to her. She says his color, and then they can hear each other. Any number can do it at once; one of you could speak to all the others at the same time if you wanted. We Aurors talk to each other using things like this. And if one of you sets off the adrenaline alarm, that one's pendant immediately becomes an open channel; all other pendants can hear what's going on at that one."

"Wow... this is terrific," said Pansy, as the others' faces showed that they shared the sentiment.

"Thanks, Kingsley, this is great," said Harry sincerely.

Kingsley shook his head. "Most of the work was done by others; like I've said, Aurors tend to get things they ask for. And we have a tradition of doing things Dumbledore asks us to do. We'll still do that, of course, but now Harry will have to relay his messages."

"You can be sure I will, if he has something to say," said Harry.

"I really like the ability to communicate," said Neville, still very impressed. "I'll be able to talk to Hermione without using the fireplace... and from bed, even if there's no picture."

Harry and the others put on their pendants. He felt very connected to the others, but not because of the pendants; he realized the pendants were a symbol of the connection they already felt.

The next day, Harry began both giving and taking examinations. His days this week would be longer, because giving each student ten minutes took over three hours instead of the normal two for each class; he was busy until six o'clock, which left him just the evenings to study for his own exams. He was busy each day until Friday, which was essentially a day off for him; Dumbledore's death meant that exams in his class for sixth years were cancelled, and Harry didn't have to give any exams for his fifth years, as they were taking their O.W.L.s. The Astronomy O.W.L. re-test scheduled for last Friday had of course been rescheduled after Dumbledore's death earlier that day, moving to Wednesday of the final week. Eight people ended up taking the test: the five who'd failed, Hermione, Ernie, and an obviously unhappy Sally-Anne.

In deference to Harry's schedule, Snape had waited until Friday to request his first meeting with Harry since finalizing their arrangement. The memories Snape accessed were mainly from Harry's childhood, before he had known he was a wizard. Some of them were similar to the ones he had seen during the previous year's Occlumency sessions; Snape told Harry that no attempt to do anything similar was intended, which Harry understood. "It's not your fault I have so few happy memories before I was eleven," he assured Snape. He knew Snape was simply starting at the beginning, so to speak, to understand Harry's life better. Snape actually found a few memories that Harry had forgotten, but they were no more pleasant than the ones he remembered.

Friday night saw the end-of-the-year feast, at which the House Cup was awarded to the House with the most points. Slytherin had won, in a close contest with Gryffindor. Harry was pleased; now that Malfoy's influence was gone from Slytherin, it would be able to cooperate better with the other houses, and Harry wanted to encourage that. He knew that there were still plenty of Slytherins who were prejudiced against non-pure-blood wizards—after all, Slytherin was where the Sorting Hat tended to put such people—but Dumbledore had pointed out to him earlier in the year that working with other Houses and being around different kinds of people would help change such attitudes. Harry asked the Gryffindors before the feast to give the Slytherins a healthy round of applause, and he asked the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff prefects to make the same request of their house's students. All did so, and when the award was announced by McGonagall, Harry could see that most Slytherins were very pleased at the loud support they got from the other houses.

After the feast, there was a social event for the staff, to allow them to say their goodbyes for the year. Harry talked to everyone at least once, even Professor Trelawney, whose attitude towards him seemed to have warmed a bit, though he had hardly seen her all year. At the end of the event, McGonagall led them in a moment of silence in Dumbledore's honor, and thanked them for all of their efforts for the year.

Harry took the opportunity to thank the teachers for their support throughout the year. "I was afraid that some teachers might not like the idea of a sixteen-year-old teacher, but you never made me feel as though I didn't belong here. You cared about me, you teased me... you made me look forward to coming to this room every day. Thank you for that."

Flitwick replied, "We're just happy to see a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher survive the year," to general laughter. As the party broke up, Harry got handshakes from his fellow teachers as they wished him a good summer.

Before he could leave, McGonagall found him and told him that she wanted to talk to him privately, and asked him to call Ginny to have her join them. He did, and soon Ginny was knocking at the door of the staff room. The three of them walked to Dumbledore's quarters, and sat down. "Are these going to become your quarters now?" asked Harry.

"No, and that is part of what I wanted to talk to you about," McGonagall replied. "The fact is, the quarters I now occupy are the ones designed to be the headmaster's; he was entitled to them when he became headmaster, but he felt these were more than adequate, and had me take the slightly larger ones instead. Harry, you were never assigned teachers' quarters, because it was understood that you would stay in Gryffindor Tower, and I assume you will next year as well. Nonetheless, I would like you to think of these as your quarters; they will remain yours should you decide to stay on past next year. This solves the immediate question of what to do with Albus's belongings; they will remain here, for you to deal with as you see fit. I think he knew as well that you would consider it a particular honor."

I sure do, Harry thought. He very much liked the idea that he would get to stay in these quarters, around Dumbledore's belongings, and be able to talk to Dumbledore about them if he wanted to. "Yes, thank you, Professor. I'm very happy to be able to have these quarters, even if I don't stay in them much for the next year."

McGonagall pursed her lips, seemingly unhappy at what she was going to say next. "He also made a particular request of me... one which I know amused him to do, because he knew how I would feel about it, and that I would grant it anyway, despite my feelings. He and I were aware that you occasionally used your office as a place for the two of you to have some privacy. I am not saying it was for the purpose you think I am referring to," she added quickly, forestalling his objection. "I know that couples need to be able to talk privately from time to time. In any case, he wanted the two of you to be able to come here to be alone if you wished."

Harry and Ginny looked at each other, eyes wide. He knew they were both thinking the same thing: that there was a bed in the next room. There would be nothing to stop them from doing anything they wanted—except, of course, for the situation with Snape—and unlike the Burrow, no need to fear being called or interrupted at any time.

"The looks on your faces could hardly be more transparent, you know." Dropping her austere manner, McGonagall looked at them fondly. "Harry, Ginny... it is difficult for me especially as the headmistress to approve of this, so let me just talk to you as a person for right now. Albus was always very relaxed about this kind of thing, much more so than I could be. About this particular situation, Harry, he felt that you may be only sixteen–though I know you will be seventeen soon–but that you deserved to be treated with the consideration and privileges of an adult, especially now that you bear such serious responsibilities."

Harry cut in before she could continue, because he thought he knew what she was referring to. "Just so you know, Professor... Minerva," he amended, noticing her look reminding him that she was just a person right then, "Professor Snape has given me permission to discuss his situation with Ginny as well as Hermione."

She raised her eyebrows. "Yes, that was one of the responsibilities I was referring to. In addition, despite your ages, you have chosen to be in a committed relationship, which is another adult responsibility. He considered the situation much as though you were a married couple. It is difficult for me to see it that way, but I do see his point. You know that I am pleased for both of you, and wish you nothing but happiness." Harry was touched, and could see that Ginny was too.

"I ask only that you be discreet," she continued. "Not that you would not do this anyway, but I expect only your circle of friends to know about this, and Ginny not to be seen coming to or leaving this room. Fortunately, as you have Fawkes, you need not go skulking around the castle." She stood up. "You both should be getting back to Gryffindor Tower very soon."

They stood as well, and followed her out of the room. Harry wanted to stay just to look at everything, but he knew he would be able to soon enough.

"Wow, this is amazing," said Ginny, as soon as they were out of McGonagall's hearing range. "It was so good of him to do this for us. And since we have Fawkes, we can go there any time we want during the summer, and not have to worry about getting privacy at the Burrow. That is, as much privacy as we can ever get, now."

He nodded. "How are you doing with that? We haven't talked about it for a few days, we've both been so busy."

She shrugged. "I think I'm getting used to the idea, but I don't know if I'll know for sure until the time actually comes." Harry could understand that, as he felt more or less the same way himself.

As the Hogwarts Express started its journey to London the next day, Harry had the thought that it was a good thing that the compartments could fit six people. He and his friends had unconsciously taken the same positions they did at the table in the Great Hall; Hermione, Harry, and Ron on one side, with Neville, Ginny, and Pansy facing them. Hermione was holding Crookshanks, Fawkes was on Harry's shoulder, and Harry and Ron had Hedwig and Pigwidgeon in their cages. Harry realized that he had hardly used Hedwig at all this year; he wondered if Hedwig would feel displaced by Fawkes, though Harry thought of Fawkes as more of a person than a pet.

"Hermione, was that Susan you were talking with earlier?" asked Pansy.

Hermione nodded. "She wanted to… kind of apologize for the whole Sally-Anne business, it seemed like. Or at least, disassociate herself from it. She said that she supported her at first because she's her friend, but changed her mind, especially after last Friday. She said she realized how I, or all of us, are involved in fighting Voldemort, and compared to that, it seemed petty to worry about having to take an extra test."

"Or, to nurse a grudge about it so actively," put in Pansy.

"Something like that," agreed Hermione. "Of course, Sally-Anne apparently didn't think so, since she hasn't apologized. Not that I expected her to. At least she's gone back to ignoring me, which is fine."

"She probably realized that after what you did last week, she wasn't going to be able to drum up much support in her little campaign," suggested Pansy. "I wonder if she'll get over it, now that the test is over."

"Not that I care," muttered Hermione.

"So, Ginny, how do you think you did on your O.W.L.s?" asked Pansy.

She shrugged. "Okay, I guess. They're pretty tough, as you all know. The only one I felt really confident about was Defense Against the Dark Arts. I probably could have gotten an Outstanding even last year if I'd taken it then. How about you guys and your finals?"

"Pretty difficult, but they want them to be that way, to get us used to the idea of what the N.E.W.T.s will be like," answered Ron. "It's not like they're going to throw us out of the school if we don't do well enough. I remember when they wanted us to think they would. McGonagall seemed to like to give that impression."

Harry chuckled. "Some of them told me they do that on purpose, especially to first years, to try to scare them into better study habits. McGonagall said it actually has happened, but the other teachers asked her about it, and she admitted it was only twice in her time there, and it was basically students who refused to study at all."

"I assume you didn't," said Neville. "How did your students do, especially the first years?"

"Pretty well," said Harry. "It was hard for me to remember exactly what I knew when I finished my first year, but I'm pretty sure they're better than I was then. Some of the first years are better than some of the second years, because the second years were essentially first years in this subject, thanks to Umbridge. But no, I didn't threaten anyone, obviously. I really didn't care what they knew from books, just what they could do with their wands. If it was up to me, the O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s in this subject wouldn't have written parts at all."

"Well, by all means, start sending owls to the testing boards," joked Ron, "tell them that. They'll listen to Harry Potter."

"I have a feeling, Harry," said Hermione with a playful frown, "that when you're headmaster and I'm deputy headmistress, we'll have a few arguments on this subject."

Momentarily ignoring the surprised looks from Ron, Pansy, and Neville, Harry replied, "Yeah, but I'll be the headmaster, so I'll get my way."

"I wouldn't be so sure of that," said Hermione, looking like she knew something he didn't. Of course, that's usually the case, Harry thought.

He had already told Ginny; to the others, he explained what McGonagall had said to him and Hermione. They were surprised, but not astounded. "It seems reasonable, now that I think about it," said Pansy. "I know that being deputy headmaster at eighteen seems a bit much, but considering who you are, I think it'll make sense to a lot of people, since it'll be clear that it's so you can be headmaster after McGonagall retires."

"And you'll have Hermione there, to threaten the first years that they'll fail and be expelled if they don't study hard enough," said Ron with a smile.

Hermione gave him a mildly reproving look and said, "Yes, if it happens, I probably will. After all, it worked with me."

"Are you sure it isn't only going to work for people like you?" smirked Ron.

Hermione ignored his provocation and replied, "I seem to remember you being a bit worried, back when you were a naive first year," with a superior expression.

Ron ignored her comment altogether, leading Harry to think it was probably true. Then he said, "I just realized something, Harry... You'll be teaching us next year, won't you? I mean, with all the Auror stuff you did, you'll be totally qualified."

"I suppose so," Harry agreed, sad that Dumbledore would not be teaching him again next year. "Although I don't know how I'm going to have a study schedule, teaching all seven years of students. Then again, I don't have to take Defense Against the Dark Arts, because who would teach it to me? Wonder if they'll give me credit for it anyway. But, yeah, I'll be teaching it. Neville, you can be my assistant."

Neville saluted, making Harry laugh. They then had to explain the reference to Pansy, who hadn't been around the first time it had happened. She said, "I kind of wished they could have transferred me to Gryffindor after Malfoy left, I really wanted to be able to hang out with the rest of you, be around for everyday stuff like that. But at least I got to be a kind of heroine to the Slytherin first years after saving Harry's life, so that was nice. Harry's always so embarrassed when people praise him like that, but with my ego the way it was, I was really happy about it. I was like, yeah, tell me more!" The others laughed at her self-deprecating humor.

"Well, you'll get to do plenty of hanging out over the summer," said Ron. "With Ginny and Harry and me, and I have a feeling Hermione and Neville will be over every now and then."

"I'll be over more often than that, Ron," said Hermione. "I was going to surprise you, just to have some fun with you when we got back to the station... but I'm staying at the Burrow too." Enjoying Ron's startled expression, she continued, "Think about it. Voldemort had the Death Eaters grab me because I was involved in some plan to undermine him, that's all he was told. He probably doesn't even know now what that was. Even if he knows that stuff was rubbed into him, he still wouldn't know what it was for, unless he had another spy somewhere. The point is, we have to assume that he may still want to know whatever it is he thinks I know. My home is totally exposed, they could just go in there and grab me. The next time he saw Voldemort after last Friday, Snape told him that he had discovered that I would be staying at the Burrow. I talked to Snape about this earlier this week, and he said that he thought it was 'unlikely in the extreme' that my parents would be targeted if I wasn't there. He said that with the ban on Apparation, Voldemort's decided that operations have to have a strategic objective; in other words, they can't just be for the heck of it. Snape is sure that Voldemort thinks there would be zero strategic advantage in doing anything to my parents."

Ron looked puzzled. "But they could just take your parents, and say, tell us what we want to know, or..."

"I said that to Snape, and he said that Harry's refusal to give up his wand gave Voldemort a bit of a shock; he's not going to want to count on that sort of thing. Also, my parents have been outfitted with the same kind of thing that Harry's cousin Dudley got."

"Then they know what you're involved in? Aren't they worried?" asked Ron.

"They don't know. They were given protection shortly before Snape told Voldemort about my working on the project. A few months ago, Aurors visited my home and put a calming spell on my parents, took their wedding rings, and imbued them so they'd go off in the presence of anyone magical except Neville or me. If Death Eaters show up, the Aurors will be there before they can get away. So, I really could still live there, but I'm afraid my being there might tempt the Death Eaters into trying. Anyway, the Aurors put a Memory Charm on my parents after they were done. I was glad they could do it that way."

"Yeah, I remember the Aurors talking about that," said Neville. "They said it's much easier to protect Muggles than wizards, because you can't give a wizard something like that, it would always be going off."

Hermione agreed. "Voldemort knows about this kind of thing, of course, he'll assume it, and that's another reason not to go after my parents. No, all the stuff they want is going to be right there, at the Burrow. Your parents are really brave," she said to Ron and Ginny.

"You should include me in that, Hermione, now they're my parents too," joked Harry. "But, yeah, they really are. It's great of them to do this."

"Mum'll just say that it's a good excuse to have a lot of kids in the house," said Ginny. "But there's no way they'll attack that, it's too heavily defended, not to mention that their prime target is now someone they're terrified of."

"I doubt that they're 'terrified' of me," said Harry, "but I see what you mean. They're bound to be concerned. Also, Snape confirmed what Albus told me after he died... it still sounds strange to say that... but he said that Voldemort doesn't know what caused him to go unconscious, but thinks I did it. He's not going to come anywhere near me for a while."

"Why does he think you did it?" asked Pansy.

"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord..." quoted Harry. "He knows that I can beat him, or at least have the potential to. Also, twice this year I've come up with spells that were totally new, and effective against Dark magic. Who's to say I didn't come up with something else new, on the spur of the moment? Not to mention that it ties in perfectly with what Hermione said, when she was taunting him. I'm sure he remembered that."

Ron shook his head in amazement. "It's funny to think that... here all these years everyone's so deathly afraid of Voldemort, and now, here he is, afraid of you."

"Well, all I care about is that he'll stay away from me if he's afraid of me, so we can have a nice, quiet summer," said Harry.

"I bet the first thing you'll do when you get there," smiled Pansy, "is try to figure out when Mrs. Weasley will be gone, so you and Ginny can be in a room alone."

"No, we've actually got that worked out," Ginny said happily, and went on to tell them about Harry taking over Dumbledore's quarters. The others were impressed.

"It must've killed McGonagall to tell you that," said Hermione. "But that's really great for you, you can just go anytime you want."

"Wish we could do that," mused Neville.

"Maybe Fawkes would take you if Harry asked him to," suggested Ron.

Harry shook his head. "I wish I could, but it couldn't happen anyway. Letting anyone else use it would be a sort of violation of her trust; I know full well that it's intended only for my use."

"I suppose so... but I'm still curious about what Fawkes would think," said Ron, reaching over to pet him. "Imagine this, then... you find out about some place that's totally isolated, like on some island somewhere, that's really nice and there's no people and nothing dangerous. Hermione and Neville could be alone, but since they can't Apparate now, they can't get there. Would Fawkes take them if you asked him?"

Hermione answered. "Well, from reading Reborn From the Ashes, I would think–"

Harry cut her off with a gesture. "Actually, I'd like to try something. I want to ask Fawkes that, and see if I can understand his answer, if he gives one."

Neville looked puzzled. "How can you do that?"

"Everyone be quiet for a few minutes, let me see what I can get," asked Harry. They were quiet, and after five minutes, Harry spoke again. "Okay, I think I have an answer. By the way, Neville, to answer your question... the more time a phoenix spends around his companion, the stronger their nonverbal communication becomes. Albus taught me that the way to communicate with Fawkes is that he'll kind of send me impressions and feelings. The only thing I have to do is to know which impressions and feelings are mine, and which came from him. With more time, it'll happen naturally; it was limited up until now because he was bonded to Albus also, and couldn't completely communicate with two people at the same time.

"The answer to Ron's question, I think, is that by choosing me, Fawkes has already said that he trusts my judgment. We all know how loyal phoenixes are, and Fawkes knows how close I am to all of you, so he would help you if he could, if you ever needed it, like he helped me in the Chamber of Secrets four years ago. If I asked him to do what Ron suggested, he would do it. What I have to think about before asking him is whether it's important enough. If it was just a matter of Neville and Hermione preferring the island, but had other chances to be alone, I shouldn't ask him. But if it was the only way, and if it was important to them, then I could ask him. Fawkes will just take it as a given that if I ask him for something, it's important enough for him to do it. So, it's not a matter of what Fawkes would do, it's a matter of what I would do, what judgment I would make. Part of my obligation is to not use him for unimportant things. So, Hermione, how close was that to what you were going to say?"

"Very close," she said. "I was just going to say that it all comes down to Fawkes trusting you."

"You know, if it was necessary in some situation, you could summon Fawkes if you needed to, he would appear," said Harry to the others. "You just swish your wand around like this, and say his name."

"But we should only do it if it's pretty important," clarified Pansy.

"Well, it doesn't have to be a life-threatening emergency," said Harry. "Just something that's necessary and can only be done with his help."

"That reminds me, I was wondering about something," said Hermione. "If you use Dumbledore's quarters, I should say, your new quarters, over the summer, you're going to have to tell Mrs. Weasley where you're going, she'd worry if you were just gone. Do you think she's going to approve of this? I mean, Ginny's still only fifteen, and you'll have the chance to do... well, anything you want," she finished, looking embarrassed and apologetic.

"I hadn't thought too much about that, this just happened last night. I can't deny that I'd like to do... anything I want," said Ginny, smiling at Harry. Catching her meaning, Harry smiled back, though a little embarrassed at that kind of thing being referred to in front of the others. "But Harry and I haven't even talked about that yet, so I'm sure we will before we talk to Mum. But yes, we do have to talk to her. That should be an interesting conversation."

There was silence for a few seconds, then Ron cleared his throat and said, "So, that was a great Quidditch season, wasn't it?" The others laughed at Ron's acknowledgment of his discomfort with the turn the conversation had taken. The conversation moved on to other topics as the train continued on its way to London.

As the Hogwarts Express pulled into King's Cross, Harry and the others stood and got their trunks from the luggage racks. Harry felt it was strange to think that he would only be doing this once more; even if he stayed at Hogwarts after he graduated, he would not be taking the Hogwarts Express again. He supposed he could if he really wanted to, remembering that Remus had done so when he had taught, but it would seem strange. It also wouldn't be the same if he couldn't do it with his friends.

He and Ron were the last of the group to approach the barrier leading to the main part of the station. Fawkes took flight and disappeared as he had let Harry know he would, as he couldn't be in an area where he could be seen by Muggles.

Harry and Ron walked through, pulling their carts, to see Molly standing next to Tonks and Cassandra. He said hello to the two Aurors and hugged Molly. Ron tapped him on the shoulder, gesturing to a spot down the platform. Harry did a double-take as he saw Dudley walking toward them

"Dammit," he heard Tonks say to Cassandra. "It's okay, I'll go tell them." She ran through the barrier. Harry realized that she was going to Apparate to wherever Dudley's magic-sensing device was monitored, to let them know that there was no emergency, and that she was annoyed that Dudley had deliberately gone where there would be wizards other than Harry, knowing it would set off his device.

"Hello, Harry," said Dudley, walking up and shaking his hand. "I would ask you if you had a good year, but I kind of know already." He turned his attention to Ginny. "You're Ginny, you're his girlfriend. I'm Dudley, nice to meet you," he said, shaking her hand. "And you must be Hermione, I talked to you on the phone. And Ron, and... Neville," he said, shaking hands with each. "You three saved him in... what's the name of that place..."

"Hogsmeade," automatically replied a surprised Neville. Harry's jaw dropped as he watched.

"Yes, that's it, those names are hard to remember," said Dudley. "And you're Pansy, the spy. Glad to hear you got Malfoy out of there." She shook his hand, giving Harry a look that said, 'what's going on?' Harry had no idea.

Dudley grinned at him. "Well, I'd say it was worth coming here just to see that look. I was in London anyway. Mum and Dad got your letter, so don't worry, they knew not to come. I doubt they'd be happy if they knew I was here."

Harry was still astonished, and he asked the only question he could think of. "How did you know all that?"

Dudley's smile grew wider. "Yeah, figured you'd be surprised. I was a bit too, when I got back from school a week ago. Mum said we weren't going to get you, that you were staying with them. The next day, when she wasn't home, I went looking around the house, just to see what had changed. I found a folder in the kitchen with all these articles cut out of a newspaper, that one for you lot. Apparently some witch has been cutting them out if they have to do with you and sending them to Mum, just so she can know what you've been up to. There was also the letter from you in there, saying you couldn't stop them from doing that, so I guess she complained to you about it. Took me the better part of an afternoon to read them. Seems like you're even more famous in that world than you told us."

As he spoke, Tonks had walked back to join them. Without interrupting Dudley, she took the pendant off his neck, and used the same spell Dumbledore had used so that she wouldn't activate its magic. She had Cassandra do the same, then started handing it to Harry's friends in turn.

"He's gotten a lot more famous just this year," Hermione said.

"Yeah, but what I have to wonder is..." Harry trailed off.

"...why she kept them, yeah, I wondered too," agreed Dudley. "I wondered if I shouldn't ask her, but I was too curious, so I did. She looked annoyed that I saw them, and said that she didn't want to throw them away in the normal trash, that because they were magic, they might blow something up, or something. Said she was waiting for you to give them to so you could get rid of them."

"You should have brought them, I could have started a scrapbook," said Ginny.

"You're going to start being in them more too, you know, you shouldn't say that," said Harry, teasing her back.

Dudley asked about the Joining of Hands, then about Fawkes, who he seemed surprised not to see with Harry. After Harry answered both questions, Dudley said, "Well, I could ask questions for an hour, but I don't want to keep you."

"You could send an owl," Harry suggested with a small smile, imagining how Petunia would feel about it.

"I could, if I had one," Dudley pointed out.

"If you write a letter and decide you want to send it, I think Hedwig will show up," said Harry. "The owls we use have a way of doing that."

Dudley looked impressed. "Maybe I will. Oh, and I'm sorry about Professor Dumbledore. He was really amazing."

Harry nodded. "Thanks. Believe me, you don't know the half of it."

"I believe it," Dudley agreed. "See you." He waved to everyone and walked off.

Harry was still a bit stunned. "That was... very strange," he said to no one in particular.

"You mean that Dudley is being friendly, or that your aunt kept those articles?" asked Ron, who also looked surprised.

"More the second one. She doesn't really think anything could happen by throwing them away, I have to imagine."

"Well, Harry," said Hermione, "if you've inspired the magical public to say Voldemort's name and respect and admire you, maybe it's not so hard to imagine you've inspired her to think maybe you're not so bad."

Harry looked doubtful. "Considering how my childhood was, I think that would be more amazing that inspiring the wizarding public."

Molly put an arm around Harry. "Anything's possible, Harry. Maybe you should visit over the summer, see how they react to you."

Harry was trying to be polite, but he wasn't sure he would care even if Petunia's attitude had in fact changed. "I think I've had enough of their reactions to me for now. I know what you mean, maybe it would be different. All I can say is, it wouldn't be up high on my list of things I'd like to do."

"People can change, Harry," said Molly. "Look at you, look at how much you've changed since last year."

"Also me, obviously," put in Pansy. "If someone had told me a year ago that I'd be where I am now, with the friends I have, I would have said they were crazy. I mean, I don't know if your aunt's going to be good to you or not, just that stranger things have happened."

"You're saying the words, but it's almost like I can hear Albus's voice," said Harry. "This is exactly the kind of thing he said to me more than once. Well, I promise I'll think of it as something that's not impossible. I think that's the most I can do right now."

"I'm sure he wouldn't ask more of you than that," said Molly fondly. "Hermione, you know we're very happy to have you with us as well. Neville, dear, do you want to come with us, then take a fireplace back to your home?"

"Yes, thanks," said Neville. "I'm not letting him out of my sight anyway, until he's someplace secure."

Harry looked around at his friends and the Aurors. "It feels pretty secure here."

Neville raised an eyebrow. "We'll be the judge of that, Harry. We know you have a lot of responsibilities and things to worry about, and we know one thing you've chosen not to worry about is your own safety. We do that for you; all you have to do is just do what we tell you, and not argue."

Harry glanced at the others, who gave him looks emphasizing what Neville had said. He felt a surge of emotion, thankful that he had friends like this. "Thank you, Neville," he said. "Let's go home." For the first time in his life, home would be a place where he wanted to go, and where he was wanted and loved. Hand in hand with Ginny, surrounded by his friends, Harry headed home.

* * * * *

This is the end of Harry Potter and the Veil of Mystery. The second story of this trilogy, Harry Potter and the Ring of Reduction, immediately follows.

Next: Harry Potter and the Ring of Reduction, Chapter 1: For the first time ever enjoying his summer, Harry meets with McGonagall and is stunned to receive another new, and serious, responsibility.

From Chapter 1: Harry suddenly realized what was happening. I don't believe this, he thought. He sighed, and thought for another minute; neither McGonagall nor Hermione spoke. Finally, he looked at McGonagall plaintively. "There's no other way?"

"If you can think of one, I am all ears," replied McGonagall.