Chapter 7

The Memory Charm

It was a beautiful, warm spring day, as it always was at the phoenix place in the middle of the night. Seeing Dumbledore standing a few feet away, Harry walked over and embraced him. "It's days like the one I just had that make me especially glad that I can see you like this," he said, then let go of Dumbledore.

"It has been a very trying day, a very trying week, for that matter," agreed Dumbledore. They sat down on the grass.

"Do you know who killed Skeeter?" asked Harry.

"Yes, I do, but it should not surprise you to learn that that is something I cannot tell you," said Dumbledore, in a tone suggesting he understood that Harry would not be happy with his answer. "You would like to know why. The short answer, to borrow a phrase, is 'that would be cheating.' The longer answer is that it would be a misuse of the connection we have. There are many things about the current physical situation that I could tell you which you would find useful and interesting, but to do so would be to deprive you of part of the normal experience of physical existence–to not know things, to have to find out for oneself. I tell you things here, but they are spiritual and philosophical ideas, not facts about physical existence. If I told you such things as you asked, it would change the experience of your life in a way that would make it less spiritually fulfilling. I understand that that is difficult for you to see at the moment, but I assure you that it is true. It is irregular enough that I do what I do. As it is, I have changed your experience in one significant way: it will no longer be necessary for you to wonder about spirituality or post-death existence; those answers have already been given to you by me. I accept that because it, and talking to you, are decisions I made when I was physical. I should not go beyond what I planned to do when I went through the Veil."

Harry knew his disappointment would be clear to Dumbledore, even though he said nothing about it. "Well, like a lot of things you say about this sort of thing, I don't totally understand it, but I sort of do. I think the part I understood best was when you said, 'that would be cheating.' You've said before that life is kind of a big game, right?"

"That is a broad oversimplification, of course, but correct in concept," acknowledged Dumbledore. "It is a very important game, if you will, and one so absorbing and distracting that one is unaware of the fact that it is a game. It is not a game in the sense of a game being frivolous, or in the sense of being strictly for enjoyment. As I have said, our true nature is spiritual, and the most 'real' reality is the one I will reach when I move on from here, the spiritual realm. Consider the experience of reading a book, a particularly absorbing piece of fiction. There are times during which you become so absorbed that you temporarily forget it is a book; you imagine that it is real, a reality you are observing and perhaps feeling a part of. This is very roughly analogous to your whole physical existence as compared to your spiritual existence; your physical existence is like a very absorbing book in which from the first page to the last you do not recall that you are reading a book. For me to tell you things such as you asked would be like telling you how a book will end, or revealing major aspects of the plot in advance. The experience would be diminished."

"And so," said Harry, struggling to follow Dumbledore's point, "as it is, by talking to me like this, you're reminding me that I'm just reading a book, which I wouldn't have recognized otherwise."

"Yes, quite so, though I would not use the word 'just.' Physical existence is very important; without it, we would have no way of recognizing the true grandeur of our spiritual selves. One must 'not have' something before one can truly appreciate having it. Also, as I have said, we learn in physical existence things we could not learn in the spiritual realm."

Harry attempted to piece the idea together with things Dumbledore had said in previous nights. "So, is that the reason that when we're... physical, that we don't see the spiritual realm? It would be cheating?"

Dumbledore shrugged lightly. "Not cheating, exactly, but the experience would not be the same if we knew. You are familiar with the phrase 'the stakes are life and death.' The stakes of existence, as it were, would not be so high if it was commonly known and accepted that the spirit is eternal; it is part of what makes life interesting and challenging. The fact is that spiritual information is available in the physical realm, however; it is simply difficult to access, and very few do. The mystics with whom I consulted before I passed through the Veil understand such things; to them it is as clear as is physical reality. But they have devoted significant portions of their lives to understanding such things; most people do not. There will come a time–perhaps in the near future, perhaps in the distant future–when people know this as a matter of course, when children are raised to intuitively understand the spiritual realm and taught how to connect with it in their conscious awareness. That is part of the overall challenge for the human species, part of our society's evolution. I understand that this does not concern you right now, but it is part of the 'big picture' that may help you understand my answer to your question."

Harry chuckled. "I've almost forgotten my question now, but I think I understand your point. I guess we're learning things, and that's one of the things we learn, we just haven't gotten to it yet."

"I see you are thinking of it as if it were part of a school curriculum," remarked Dumbledore, amused. "It is much less structured, of course, though the analogy is roughly correct. But let us return to the day's events, as I know you still have questions, and there is only so much time we should take each night."

Harry reluctantly nodded. "As you probably know, we were having a hard time last night because I think there's a part of each of us that was happy that Skeeter died. Or, happy for the result, I guess. If the result could have been gotten without her dying, I'm sure we'd all have preferred that. But I don't want to feel this way, I don't want to be even a little happy that she died. Is there some way that I, or we, can not feel this way?"

"Pansy was right, Harry. We feel what we feel. We can change how we feel about things, but it usually takes time, and understanding. To change how you feel about Rita's death, you must understand why you felt that way. For the most part, you do; you are happy not to have to face the trials you would have faced, and her death was the only way for those trials not to occur. But you already understand that it is not the fact of her death per se that pleases you; in your guilt, you fail to differentiate between being pleased at her death, and pleased at the result of her death. You feel guilty because you find any satisfaction at all with the results of her death, even though it is very understandable that you do so. Had she been killed along with Cornelius, as was intended, you would not have felt happy in the least. You know what kind of person you are, and that you take no satisfaction from another's death."

"I suppose that makes sense," Harry agreed. "I do understand that I'm happy with the result, not her death exactly. But when I say 'us,' I suppose I'm mainly thinking of Hermione. I'm concerned about her. I remember what you said about Ron wishing Umbridge was dead, but... in this case, Hermione wished Skeeter was dead, and she actually died. I'm worried that Hermione might feel responsible somehow."

"It is understandable that she would," said Dumbledore. "In the strictest sense, she is not, as she did not kill Rita herself, or commission her killing. She is responsible only for her own thoughts and actions. She avidly wished Rita dead, and for that, she does bear responsibility."

"Maybe, but she was pushed so hard emotionally that you could say that she was barely in her right mind," Harry argued. "That's not the way she usually is, and I would never blame her for that."

"It is not a question of blame, or of fault. My intent is not to judge Hermione's actions or thoughts; my saying that she bears responsibility for her thoughts and actions was a statement of fact. No one else can judge us; it is only we who can truly judge ourselves."

"I remember when this topic came up, about Ron and Umbridge, you said..." Harry paused, trying to remember Dumbledore's exact words, "'The line between wishing someone dead and actually killing them is far thinner than most people would like to believe.' Can you explain what you meant by that, how that works?"

"Our thoughts are highly creative, far more so than is commonly understood in the physical realm," said Dumbledore. "In the spiritual realm, our thoughts are instantly creative: if you think of something, it appears. In this in-between realm which I inhabit, it is a similar situation: this place seems real to you, and in a way it is–you can pick flowers, you can feel the sunlight–but we are creating it, you and I, with our thoughts. Our dreams are no less valid or real than our waking existence, and they are created totally from thoughts. Even in the physical realm, there is magic, which is simply a way of making our thoughts physically manifest. You may recall that in the first lecture I gave to your class last year, I emphasized the primacy of thoughts over words in performing magic; these are all variations on a theme.

"The 'bottom line,' if you will, is that in the physical realm, our thoughts are essentially creating our reality; this is a collective endeavor. This is not something I can explain fully right now, as it would take quite a long time, and is not truly necessary. For now, you may take my word for it if you wish. This does not happen at a conscious level, in the sense that things do not appear or occur instantly just because we think them. At the physical level, it takes some time, if one is not using magic."

Harry took a minute to digest what Dumbledore had said. It didn't sound right, but as usual, he was inclined to take it seriously if only because Dumbledore said it. He decided to operate on the assumption that what Dumbledore said was true. "So, if Hermione hadn't wanted Skeeter dead, would Skeeter not have died?"

"We cannot say for certain, since in this case that is not what happened, though I do believe that it is almost certain that she would have died anyway. Each situation is different. Ron at one point wished Dolores Umbridge dead, but she is still alive. Wishing for it does not make it directly happen, but it contributes to the environment, in a sense. As greater numbers of people desire and focus on an event, the chances of it happening increase. With her actions, Rita herself contributed greatly to the atmosphere in which her death took place. She deliberately inflicted emotional wounds on all of you, especially Hermione and Neville, and she threatened actions which could have contributed to the destruction of the wizarding community. She has substantial culpability in the events that occurred, far more than does Hermione."

"Yes, but Hermione might say, 'But she only did that because I made her stop writing. If I hadn't done that, none of this would have happened,'" pointed out Harry.

Dumbledore shook his head. "Hermione did not make Rita do what she did. We may feel that we are provoked into actions, but we choose them. We cannot blame anyone else for our thoughts or actions. Of course, what Hermione did affected Rita's life substantially, but Rita could have done a number of things, all far more constructive than what she did. We may understand the reasons she sought revenge, but she is still ultimately responsible for her actions. One of the great Muggle prophets advocated 'turning the other cheek,' and this is why. If we do not, we may be drawn into cycles of harm, pain, and retaliation. Hermione already realizes that she stopped Rita from writing out of revenge, to harm her as Hermione herself felt harmed. She is in the process of recognizing the full consequences of wishing Rita's death as she did, and entertaining the notion of causing it directly. As she indicated at one point, there were times at which if she had seen a beetle, she might well have stepped on it, not knowing for certain whether it was Rita. She could not seriously entertain killing Rita as a human, but killing a 'bug' was sufficiently different to her that she could perhaps have done it. Obviously she was under enormous emotional stress, which is important for her to keep in mind as she considers the situation. Hermione is suffering greatly now because she intuitively understands that though she did not kill Rita, what she desired is morally the same thing. It is simply being brought home to her in a much stronger fashion, since Rita did die soon after Hermione wished it, and since she and the rest of you avoid harm as a result of her death.

"Consider the end of your third year at Hogwarts, your first meeting with Sirius. You thought at that time that he had killed your parents, and your rage was sufficient that you seriously considered killing him. Now, the fact is that you could not have, as you did not know the Killing Curse; you thought you could simply point your wand at him, wish him dead, and it would happen. You did not in fact do so, but if you had, you would have been morally culpable of murder despite not actually having killed. The intent is more important than the action, since random events can change the outcome of the action. You understand this; you discussed with Ginny and Severus the question of whether in preventing Rita from writing Hermione was motivated by revenge or protectiveness. You felt that her intent was important, and it is."

Harry looked down sadly as it started to sink in just how difficult this would be for Hermione, hard enough as the past few days had been already. "Is there anything I can say to her that will help, make her feel less responsible?"

"You only can if she blames herself for things that were not her responsibility," advised Dumbledore. "You can remind her of your unconditional love and support, as can the others. Beyond that, this is a process that she must go through. She will want to change this about herself, and you can encourage her. There are similarities to what you went through after Hogsmeade, though in that case you bore no moral responsibility. You had to go through your grief, and there was little your friends could do for you, much as they wanted to. That will be the case with Hermione as well. There are also similarities to what you and Neville have been through, when you used the Cruciatus Curse. She did have more opportunity for reflection than did you or Neville, but she too was under nearly unbearable stress, and she must consider this as she evaluates her actions and thoughts. You can remind her of this.

"There is one other thing you can do: you may show her your memories of this conversation. It will be painful for her, but it is pain that she will go through sooner or later, and the sooner she goes through it, the less she will suffer. It is her choice, of course; she must deal with this in her own time and fashion.

"We should finish here for the night, as we are approaching the point beyond which I do not wish to deprive you of sleep. We will talk again tomorrow night." Harry nodded, and was asleep again.

He woke up and looked around to see that Ron and Neville had already awoken and left the room. A look at the clock showed that the time was seven-ten, which meant that he had gotten enough sleep, despite the conversation with Dumbledore. He got up and closed the door so he could change into his day clothes.

A half a minute later, there was a knock on the door. "Just a minute," he said, as he finished putting on a shirt. "Okay, come in."

Hermione opened the door and entered the room, looking haggard and sleep-deprived. "Did you get much sleep?" asked Harry.

"About four hours, I think," she replied. "I'm very sure I wouldn't have gotten any at all if it hadn't been for Fawkes. I wanted to thank him, and to thank you."

He shrugged lightly to indicate that Fawkes had been the one to actually do what she was thanking him for. "You know I would do anything I could for you."

She nodded. "I know. Did you talk to Albus last night?" At his nod, she continued, "Did he say anything about my situation?"

He nodded again. "It was the main topic. He said I could show you, if you wanted to see it. It doesn't have to be now, of course, it could be anytime you're ready."

"No, I'd rather do it now, or else I'm just going to spend all my time wondering what he said." Harry pulled out the Pensieve and put in his memories as they sat on his bed. He decided to join her in watching it in case she had any comments or questions. She didn't, and they watched in silence. She was expressionless throughout the viewing.

They exited the Pensieve, and her face still showed no emotion for a few seconds. Then she suddenly started crying, and buried her head in Harry's shoulder. He held her as she cried harder; he was reminded of how he felt after Hogsmeade, how he had cried longer and harder than he ever had before. Reaching for his wand, he soundproofed the door to remove the chance she would be heard downstairs, then put down his wand and held her tightly again. He said nothing, trying to convey his support through how he held her.

She cried for a long time; maybe five minutes, he thought. She finally stopped, and stayed in his embrace as she recovered. As she disengaged from him, he looked around for a box of tissues, but couldn't see any. She pulled a package from a pants pocket. "I always carry one of these. I have to, you know how often I cry." He smiled sadly.

Recovering her composure, she said, "He was right, of course, about pretty much everything. I'd never heard the part about how thoughts are so important, but I understood what he meant. I felt like I was in denial last night about her death, which I guess is why I didn't react more then. I think I knew I had to face this kind of thing, and I didn't want to."

She gave him a very serious look, one that communicated just how much she trusted him. "What made it worse, and what he either didn't know or didn't say, is that when Kingsley said she was dead, my first reaction was one of triumph, of satisfaction. I mean, I was stunned, like we all were, but I know some part of me felt that way. It didn't take me long to feel ashamed of that, of course, but I knew I still felt that way. I just tried not to think about it. Then I got into bed and started thinking about it. I think I was about to start crying when Fawkes appeared and started singing. Then I cried a little, just because it was such a nice thing for you to have done, and it reminded me that I have friends who love me. Then I felt undeserving of that, because of what I had done, I must be an awful person, the rest of you wouldn't have suffered like you did if not for me... it was so hard not to think things like that. I tried really hard to concentrate on the song, it helped a lot."

"I'm really glad." Remembering what Dumbledore had said near the end of the talk about supporting her, he said, "I'll always love you, Hermione, we all will. That wouldn't change even if you had actually killed her."

He could see her appreciation in her eyes. "I'm glad you say that, because it really is as if I did. He was right, it is morally equivalent. I know, I know what you're going to say, I was under terrible pressure, and it's not that different from what you and Neville did. In a way it's not as bad, because unlike you and Neville, what I did had no direct result. But in a way it's worse, because I had an opportunity for reflection that you and Neville didn't, and I reacted with violent thoughts and desires anyway. I really think I would have done it, Harry. If I'd seen a beetle, I would have stepped on it. I was that far gone."

"It's still not that different from Neville or I," he argued. "I'm not sure I wouldn't have killed Lestrange if I thought I could've, and Neville's intent was to make her go mad, which is a lot like murder. And I'm not sure I'd say you had much opportunity for reflection. It was like you were being, I don't know, mentally tortured. How much rational reflection can you do, with what was being done to you? You can't excuse Neville and I for what we did without excusing yourself too."

She smiled a little. "Albus said you should remind me of that, and you did." She sighed, then continued, "I know that's true, at least part of me does. He was also right that in some ways this would be for me like what Hogsmeade was for you, something I have to get through, and something that no amount of rational thinking is going to help. I'm pretty sure I'll never wish anyone dead again. At least I hope so, but I suppose I can't know for certain until something like this happens again, which I really hope it doesn't."

"You won't," he said, feeling sure it was true. "You'll remember how this felt, and you'll react differently."

She gave him a look that told him that she appreciated his support and hoped it was true, but still wasn't convinced. "Come on, let's go get some breakfast," she suggested. He agreed, and they headed downstairs. He hoped she would feel better soon, but he knew it could take some time.

* * * * *

Later that afternoon, Harry walked into Snape's office and sat down. Saying nothing, he looked up at Snape, his expression conveying to Snape that he could begin any time he wanted. Snape raised an eyebrow. "Not even a comment about the weather?"

Despite not being sure whether he was being teased, mocked, or something in between, Harry found that he couldn't help but smile at Snape's remark. He wondered if Snape's sense of humor was growing on him. At the same time, it occurred to him that Snape's more usual sense of humor included far more cutting remarks, and Harry understood that Snape was on his best behavior for him, so any joke Snape made was bound to be a mild one. Part of his adjustment to this, thought Harry. He's treating me in some ways as he would have treated Albus; even though I'm not Albus, I'm doing what he did.

"I guess I'm kind of preoccupied today," said Harry. "A lot's been happening recently. I assume you heard about what happened to Skeeter."

"Of course," Snape replied, and offered no further comment. He took out his wand and started viewing memories. To Harry's mild surprise, he again viewed recent events, starting with Hugo's visit on Thursday morning, continuing with Hermione's account of her and Neville's meeting with Kingsley on Friday, her and Harry's meeting with Dentus, Harry's dinner with Ginny and the rest of the evening, his conversation with Dumbledore while he slept, and finally, his conversation with Hermione in the morning. The session took an hour and a half, a little longer than usual.

"Let me ask you something," said Snape upon finishing. "For the sake of discussion, let us suppose that last night when Mr. Shacklebolt visited you, he had informed you that it was he who had killed Skeeter, and given as reasons the same ones he enumerated when explaining that he was a logical suspect. What would your reaction have been?"

Harry raised his eyebrows; it would never have occurred to him to wonder such a thing. "I don't know... I guess I would have been upset. I wouldn't have wanted him to do that. I don't think there are any circumstances where I could approve of cold-blooded murder. There would have to be other possibilities, like Memory Charms, other ways to deal with her knowing things she wasn't supposed to know."

Snape looked at Harry disdainfully, as if he had expected better from him. "Memory Charms can be broken, as you know perfectly well, and there is no one as skilled at breaking them as the Dark Lord. You might argue that the chances that the Dark Lord would ever discover that she had such information are quite small, and it is possible that that is true. But when even such small chances are weighed against the consequences of their occurrence, they must be taken very seriously.

"In addition, Skeeter was obviously a substantial risk for other reasons. Mr. Brantell's assurances that she was bluffing notwithstanding, her hatred of Miss Granger could very well have driven her to change her mind about revealing such information. Skeeter also threatened to reveal our relationship, and since Miss Granger was forced to edit the memory from what Mr. Brantell saw, he was unable to offer an opinion as to her veracity. She may well have been serious. This is something that Mr. Shacklebolt of course could not know and take into consideration in his decision, but you should, in your evaluation of such a hypothetical action on Mr. Shacklebolt's part."

"And revealing that would cost us you as a spy," Harry acknowledged. "I do understand that... it's just a moral thing, I guess. I just don't think I could accept it, no matter what the circumstances. I mean, I stopped Remus and Sirius from killing Pettigrew, and he was responsible for my parents being killed."

"Yes, and look at the result of that action," said Snape, still polite but becoming somewhat emotional in making his argument. "He escaped, and helped the Dark Lord rise again. Many have died at his hands already, and more certainly will. Was the cost of saving that one life, the man who betrayed your parents, really worth that?"

Harry felt anger rise up, as it seemed to him that Snape was blaming him for all the deaths caused by Voldemort since that time. He understood the causal connection, but had thought about morality and blame enough over the past year to know that he was to blame only for his own actions, not those of anyone else. "I did the right thing," he replied, trying to keep his anger under control. "He was supposed to be taken into custody, to go to Azkaban. It wasn't my fault he escaped."

Snape relentlessly pressed his argument; Harry wondered if Snape was ignoring Harry's clear though subdued emotional reaction. "It must always be assumed that any prisoner could escape at any time. You were thirteen, and this clearly did not occur to you. What concerns me is that you would probably make the same decision today, even knowing the potential consequences."

"Yes, I would," agreed Harry. "And Albus would agree. He approved of what I did with Pettigrew."

Snape sighed. "The headmaster was not perfect, as he himself said many times. This attitude, this moral absolutism, was the trait of his which I most feared would cost our cause dearly, and it almost did. You no doubt recall that had I not searched Malfoy's belongings in January in violation of the headmaster's wishes, you would be dead, and our cause gravely wounded. I strongly feel this attitude was an indulgence on his part, and now on yours. Is it really a greater good to take the chance of hundreds or thousands dying, so that you do not have one death on your conscience? Is your conscience sufficiently salved by the knowledge that you did not personally inflict those thousands of deaths, even though your actions foreseeably allowed them to occur?"

Harry was silent. He could see Snape's point, but he didn't think he could bring himself to approve of killing anyone. As he thought, Snape spoke again. "I do not hope to persuade you, Professor, of the correctness of my position. Your attitude is based in part on notions of conscience and morality, neither of which I can competently address. But I would strongly urge you to discuss this matter with both the headmistress and Mr. Shacklebolt. Both have actual experience in dealing with this kind of situation, and clearly understand the stakes involved." Snape paused. Harry saw on Snape's face a rare expression: Snape looked serious and earnest, and was doing his best to control whatever emotion he felt. "I brought up this topic not to anger or provoke you, Professor. I brought it up because I am deeply concerned. I can easily imagine a situation in which you may make a decision which you feel is morally correct, but ends up costing us our chance to defeat the Dark Lord. You understand, as well as is possible for you, what I endure to contribute to this cause. You may then understand why I am very disturbed at the possibility that such a chance could be squandered. I do not want what I have done to be for nothing."

Harry stared straight ahead, deeply conflicted. He was very affected by what Snape had said; it had seemed, in its own way, to be as much a personal plea as a reasoned argument. Harry realized that Snape was essentially asking him to look at the situation from Snape's point of view. Doing so, Harry found he could easily understand why it was so important to Snape, and why he found Harry's attitude so frustrating, even though it was much the same as Dumbledore's had been.

"I understand," said Harry. "I'll think about it."

Snape nodded, clearly having expected nothing more. "The headmistress wished me to ask you to see her after you were finished here." Harry nodded and left, more preoccupied than when he came in.

Sitting with his five friends in the Burrow living room shortly after returning from Hogwarts, Harry finished his account of his conversation with Snape. He had considered talking about it only with Ginny and Hermione, but decided that he could tell the rest provided that he made no references to the nature of his relationship with Snape. The others knew he spent time with Snape anyway, so it would not be a surprise that he had conversations with him.

"So, I feel like I have to take what he said very seriously," said Harry. "Of course I can't tell you three exactly what it is that makes what he does to help the Order so difficult. I will say that while I said that what I do to help him isn't easy, it's a lot less difficult than what he does. He has a good reason not to want what he does to go to waste."

"But you were right, it wasn't your fault that Pettigrew escaped," argued Ron, "and I don't think it was exactly foreseeable that he would help Voldemort come back. After all, plenty of Death Eaters were free all along, and they hadn't found him or brought him back."

"Well, yes and no," said Harry. "Remember, earlier that day in Divination, I'd gotten that prophecy about the Dark Lord's servant returning to him. If I'd thought about that, which at the time I didn't, I could have foreseen that it referred to Pettigrew. Anyway, though, I think he was talking more about some future situation when he used the word 'foreseeable.' And I think he knows that I'm not really capable of killing, so it would have to be a situation like Pettigrew, where I stopped someone from being killed. It could be the case that they had information that could really hurt the Order, and because of me they were captured instead of killed, and later escaped. Something like that, I guess."

"It's hard to imagine a specific situation," said Pansy, "but I kind of see his point. It's hard to imagine you approving of murder. But what if by killing, or allowing the killing of, one Death Eater, you save twenty innocent people?"

Harry nodded. "Albus's attitude about that was, you're responsible for what you do, not for what others do. You have to do what you think is right, and killing is wrong, period. Snape's attitude is that if you reasonably knew or could guess that this person would kill, and you fail to stop it, then you have some responsibility. I can see both points, and I'm just not sure where I would stand. I feel like the threat to those twenty people would have to be really clear before I could seriously consider approving someone being killed."

"I'm sorry to ask this," said Ron, "but keeping in mind that Death Eaters have escaped before and might again, what if it was some powerful Death Eater who had vowed to kill Ginny as soon as he got the chance?

Harry looked down, then at Ginny. Her face told him that she wouldn't want him to do something that would cause him to suffer, for her sake. He found, however, that that didn't affect his answer. "It's a good question. I guess from a strict moral point of view, it shouldn't matter whether it's Ginny or not, but of course it does. I can't say for sure, but I know I would very seriously consider it. I might do it. And I know that if I do it for her, I should do it for others, because those people who might get killed have loved ones like I have Ginny." He paused, thinking. "Albus was an absolutist, and I think he would have accepted that kind of risk to his wife, even, rather than kill or approve of killing. I know I feel a lot like he did, but I don't think I can be an absolutist about it. Not considering how scared I already am of something happening to Ginny, or the rest of you, for that matter."

Ginny pulled Harry closer to her, hugging him around his shoulders from behind. "I would want you to do what you thought was right, but I do understand how you feel. I know there's nothing I wouldn't do to make sure you were safe, whether it was moral or not."

"Did you talk to McGonagall about this?" asked Neville. "What did she say?"

Harry's small shrug indicated that it hadn't been that helpful. "She said basically the same thing as Albus did when I was trying to decide whether or not to support the ARA, that it's a matter of judgment and we have to do what we think is right, that there are no right-or-wrong, black-or-white answers. I asked her if she could condone killing Skeeter, and she said she thought it was a difficult choice; she agreed with Kingsley that you could make a good case for it, but she would want more information and to talk to her personally before making that kind of decision. She said that if she had known the situation, she would have visited Skeeter at her home with someone like Hugo, or a very skilled Legilimens, or made her drink Veritaserum. Then she would have asked questions about what Skeeter intended to reveal, or under what circumstances she would reveal anything. What McGonagall would do next would depend on the answers she got. That way, if she did agree to have Skeeter killed, at least she would be personally certain that it was absolutely necessary. Even then, she said, she knew her conscience would disturb her quite a lot. But she said that she's willing to have that on her conscience if necessary, considering what's at stake."

Everyone was silent, taking in what Harry had said. Finally Ron said, "It's funny, halfway through that I was thinking, 'wow, what she's talking about is really illegal,' but then it occurred to me that that kind of thing isn't so important compared to defeating or losing to Voldemort."

Hermione spoke, Harry noticed, for the first time in the conversation. Usually she would be an active participant, but Harry guessed that as the topic was whether murder was justified in any circumstances, she may have felt it was too close emotionally to what she was going through. "Governments do that all the time, both wizard and Muggle, when their security interests are at stake. And McGonagall has lives in her hands now, the same way Albus did. Do you know, Harry, if she's now the leader of the Order?"

"From the way she talked, I think it's not just her, but her and Kingsley. Officially, of course, it's the Ministry and the Aurors who are supposed to be making decisions like that, but the Order has been leading the fight for so long now that they have a much better organization. Also, Snape's intelligence goes to the Order, not to the Ministry."

"From her saying that, I would think it was possible that Skeeter was killed by someone in the Order," said Ron, "but the problem is that they didn't know that Skeeter knew what she knew. Unless they did know, but somehow in a way different than we did."

"I suppose we can't know that," agreed Harry, "but right now I'm inclined to think what Kingsley said that night is true, that it was just Death Eaters finishing the job they started, and it's just coincidence that they..." He shrugged lightly, embarrassed. "I was going to say 'did us a favor,' which sounds terrible, but you know what I mean."

"It also occurred to me," added Neville, "that they might have killed her for a similar reason that they killed Fudge. I guess they killed Fudge just to scare the Ministry, to tell them that none of them are safe, and they shouldn't do things like the ARA if they don't want to get killed. Remember, when Skeeter was killed, she had just recently written that article about Harry's childhood. Even though we know Harry didn't like it and didn't want it to be written, it made Harry look good. Maybe they killed her to let people know that 'if we try to kill you once and fail, we'll try again,' and as a message to journalists not to write nice things about Harry, and to make them nervous about writing anti-Voldemort stuff."

Harry nodded. "It makes sense. Anybody who does anything they don't like is going to be a possible target. We've always heard about what it was like sixteen years ago, the atmosphere of fear, of terror. It seems like they're trying to do that again."

There was another silence at that thought. Then Ginny asked, "Did you talk to her about anything else?"

"Well, it was more like she talked to me, but yes. She gave me a lecture, reprimanding me for not telling her about Skeeter's threats right away–"

"I told her that was my fault," interjected Hermione. "When I told her the story last night, she said that, and I told her that that was what I wanted, that it wasn't your idea."

"She did say that you told her that, but she said that I should have insisted that we tell her. The lecture was about how important it is for the Order leadership to have all necessary information as soon as possible, and we need to tell her right away if we find out something that we know would interest them, or could be a security issue. I can see that she's right, I guess we all thought of it more as a personal thing. She also said I still need to decide on the fifth-year prefects, the Quidditch brooms thing, and how or if I'm going to teach the energy of love."

Ron and Ginny started speaking at exactly the same time, stopped, and gestured for each other to proceed. Ron persisted, and Ginny asked her question first. "Are you going to? Have you decided what you're going to do about that?"

"No, I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet. I'm kind of leaning toward not doing it yet, maybe starting it in classes next year, not this year. I mean, we do know that it can be taught, but we know so little about it. Considering how difficult it is to do, and how... unusual the way of doing it is, I don't know if I want to try to teach it to three hundred people right away. Some people may not even want to do it when they find out what it involves."

"They'll want to, Harry," said Neville. "For a shield against the Killing Curse?"

"I think parents will want their children to do it," suggested Hermione, "but as we know, the students themselves will have to want it pretty badly. I'm not sure how badly they'll feel they need that shield, especially at age eleven. But let me ask you something. When we had that conversation with McGonagall the night Albus died, you said you would probably teach it in your classes this year, that you couldn't think of any reason not to. What made you change your mind?"

Harry looked at Ron and said, "A few things... one was your experience. I mean, you're seventeen, close friends with all of us, highly motivated, and in love, but you still might not have been able to get it if I hadn't gone poking around in your mind. Most students will be younger, and most won't be in love, even if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Yes, most will have friends and be motivated, but probably not as much as you were. I just feel like it's going to be a huge challenge for them, and I can't do Legilimens on them like I did with you, since I think a lot of parents wouldn't approve even if the kids said it was okay. I just think what happened with you made me realize that there's a lot we don't know about it. People are going to be disappointed if they try all year and don't have it by the end of the year. You all got it, but maybe the next step is to try it with adults, people who I don't know quite so well. Doing it with the Aurors, like Kingsley asked, will be a good next step."

"Couldn't you do it with, say, just one class as a test, and see how that goes?" suggested Ginny.

Hermione responded, "The problem with that is, how does he pick the class? I mean, if he picked his Slytherin and Gryffindor firsts, I guess they'll be second years soon, people would think it was favoritism, like he liked them better. It could be seen that way with whatever class he did it with. The other classes would say, 'why not us?'" But one thing you could do, Harry, is think about trying it with the seventh years as an experiment. If anyone said it was favoritism, you could say that this is their last chance to learn it before they graduate, which would be true. You would also have Neville, Ron, Pansy, and I to help you, if you wanted."

"That's an interesting thought," said Harry. "I'll think about that. Of course, everyone would have to agree. If even one person didn't want to, I'm not sure I'd be comfortable doing it."

"Why?" asked Ron. "People might not necessarily like any particular thing in a class, and teachers teach it anyway. You're the teacher, you decide what the curriculum is. You can't make them want to, and I know it won't work for them if they don't want to, but is it fair to the ninety percent who want to do it, if you don't do it because of the other ten percent?"

Harry could see Ron's point, but he didn't like the idea of spending a lot of class time on something that some people would definitely not use. "Well, like I said, I'll think about it. I'll probably talk about it in the first class, see what people say, how strongly they feel. So, what were you going to ask, Ron?"

"I wanted to know what you were going to do about the Quidditch brooms thing," said Ron, his expression suggesting that he was hoping for a particular answer.

"I think I'm going to say yes, I'll agree with Flitwick and Sprout. I know it wouldn't exactly benefit us this year, but I have to think about the future. Besides, Snape will never agree anyway, so it won't matter. But even if he did, well, I still think we could win the Cup with brooms that were no better than anyone else's."

Ron looked unhappy, though not upset. "I guess I understand, though it'd be sad to have two Firebolts and not use them. But you're right, Snape won't agree, so I shouldn't worry about it."

"I have a question, Harry," said Pansy. "Well, for you and Ginny, really. We never did get to hear what happened at the Golden Dragon last night."

Harry and Ginny started to tell the story together. It occurred to Harry that so much had happened since then, it seemed as though the dinner had been longer ago than it really was.

After dinner that night, Harry met with Kingsley and two other Aurors, and they Apparated to Privet Drive to fulfill their promise to the Dursleys to protect their house from Apparation. Harry wondered whether the Dursleys would say anything to him about the article, but fortunately, it wasn't necessary for him to go into the house, and they didn't come out. It took him a little under two hours. Ginny had offered to come with him and keep him company, but he had declined; towards the end of the two hours, he found himself wishing he had taken her up on it.

The next morning, soon after breakfast, Molly announced that she wanted the house cleared. She wouldn't say what she was doing, just that she needed for nobody else to be in the house for a few hours. Harry and Ginny exchanged a smile, knowing where they would go to spend the time. He wondered what Molly was doing, but he found that he didn't wonder for long.

Three hours later, at eleven o'clock, Fawkes deposited them in the Burrow living room. They sat down on the sofa, and a minute later, Hermione came through the fireplace, followed by Neville. To Harry's surprise, and obviously Neville's, Hermione asked Neville to sit on the sofa. He did so, then she asked Harry and Neville to close their eyes for a few seconds.

"That seems like a very odd thing to want us to do," said Harry. "Why in the world–"

"There's a spell I've been learning, it'll make the room look different," explained Hermione impatiently. "I don't want you to see it while it's happening, I just want you to see what it looks like afterwards. Just humor me, okay?"

Harry and Neville exchanged a glance and a shrug, and closed their eyes. Harry wondered why Hermione hadn't asked Ginny to close her eyes too; as he was about to open his mouth to ask, Hermione spoke again. "Okay, you can open your eyes now."

Harry did, and gave a sudden start as he saw about fifteen or twenty people who hadn't been there a few seconds ago. "Happy Birthday!" they shouted, as his face registered his astonishment. Hermione sat down next to an equally surprised Neville, and Ginny did next to Harry.

"You didn't think we were going to let your seventeenth birthdays go by without any celebration, did you?" asked a smiling Hermione. She kissed Neville as Ginny kissed Harry, and the guests clapped and cheered.

Harry and Neville still hadn't quite recovered from their shock. "How did..." Neville began, then trailed off.

"You remember I was gone for a few hours yesterday," Hermione said. "Kingsley was nice enough to take some time to teach me how to Disillusion people and make them reappear again. Thank you, everyone, for standing so still. See, you might have seen them if they'd moved. Anyway, this is a birthday party for the both of you. I'd hoped to have one closer to your birthdays, but the Apparation crisis kind of put that on hold. Today seemed like a good day. So, happy birthday."

Harry finally smiled. "That's really nice, Hermione, thank you. And thank you, everyone, for coming."

"Well, Ginny helped," pointed out Hermione.

"Just inviting people, it was your idea," responded Ginny.

"Well, you two can go off and argue about it," joked Pansy. "We'll just go ahead and have the party."

Harry stood and started walking among the people, thanking them individually for coming. He saw most of the people from Hogwarts he liked and was friendly with. He greeted Dean, Seamus, Parvati, and Lavender, then moved on to a group of Hufflepuffs: Justin, Ernie, Hannah, and Susan Bones. He noted that most of the people present had been in the D.A. He also saw Cho, Luna, and Justin's brother, David. Moving on, he saw all three Creeveys, and greeted them warmly. "Hi, Colin, Dennis, Andrea, thanks for coming."

"Well, it was nice of Ginny to invite us," responded Colin. "Not much chance we'd turn it down."

"Happy birthday, Professor," chirped Andrea excitedly.

"Thanks, Andrea, but you can call me Harry here," replied Harry, as Colin and Dennis exchanged amused smiles.

She looked doubtful. "It just seems strange, because I've always called you 'Professor.' They knew you before you were a professor, so it's not so strange for them."

"I don't feel so much like a professor right now," said Harry. "Just a normal seventeen-year-old, I suppose." Looking around, he added, "It's nice, really, this is the first birthday party I've ever had."

The Creeveys' expressions became somber. "We read the article, of course," said Dennis. "We really felt bad for you. We know you told Colin and I a bit about it, of course, but..."

"It wasn't as bad as she made it sound," said Harry, definitely feeling as though he didn't want to be pitied. "Okay, it wasn't good, but she just played up all the bad stuff."

"Well, there was plenty to play up," pointed out Colin. "But you know, what surprised me was that I recognized a few of the quotes, from that conversation we had when Dennis made the team. Did you say that to her?"

Annoyed, Harry shook his head. "That's what I hate about the article, everyone will think I did. No, she got all the quotes in the article by hiding nearby as a beetle. She knew I would never have talked to her, and that I wouldn't have wanted the article written."

"Why not?" wondered Colin. "From what I know, it's basically true, and it makes you look good, unlike her other articles about you."

"It makes me look like some tragic victim, and... I don't know, even if she had just written the truth with no exaggeration, I feel like it's personal, that I don't need everyone to know everything bad that happened to me. I mean, Dennis, imagine that she had written an article about you, about how Hogsmeade affected you. How you struggled with what happened, how it was hard for you to go back there, but you did it anyway. Maybe it would be true, but it's personal, it's not the kind of thing you want everyone knowing, and reading about."

Dennis nodded somberly. "I guess I can see it when you put it that way. I wouldn't want to be written about like that. Of course, nobody would write an article about me like that. I guess that's a problem with being Harry Potter."

"There's some good things about it too, so I guess I can deal with it," he said.
He talked with them a little longer, then moved on; the next person he saw was Luna Lovegood. "Hi, Luna," he said. "Thanks for coming."

"Oh, it's no problem, Professor, I wasn't busy," she said causally.

Harry raised his eyebrows. "You really don't have to call me 'Professor,' you know."

"Oh, I know," she agreed. "I just like to say it sometimes. It has a nice sound. 'Professor Potter.' It kind of rolls off the tongue." Harry nodded politely, as he had dealt with Luna enough to not be surprised when she said things that sounded odd. "So, are you going to teach us how to do those spells of yours?"

Harry shifted uncomfortably. "I haven't decided yet. I want to, but there's still a lot I don't know about how it works. Also, it asks a lot of the students, they might have to do things they aren't comfortable with."

"Like what?" inquired Luna.

"Like thinking about love, not being embarrassed by it, maybe even talking about it around other people they might not be close to," Harry explained.

Luna shrugged. "I can do that. I love my father, and my mother, even though she's gone. And my grandmother. There's really no one my age who I could say I love, but if there was, I wouldn't be embarrassed to say so."

"That's good," said Harry, impressed. "I have no trouble believing that."

"I'm glad," she said. Then, as if a thought had suddenly occurred to her, she added, "But I do like you a lot."

To Harry's surprise, he found that he wasn't embarrassed by what she'd said, probably because her manner was so casual and straightforward. He smiled and said, "Thank you, Luna. I like you a lot, too."

Smiling a little, she nodded. "I know, I can tell. It's in your eyes. You don't get embarrassed like you used to."

He shrugged. "After talking about love in front of the whole school, and in the newspapers, there's not that much left to be embarrassed about."

With obvious amusement, she replied, "I bet I could ask you things about you and Ginny that would embarrass you." He said nothing, but smiled in mild embarrassment at the thought. Nodding as though his reaction was what she had expected, she said, "But I don't really want to embarrass you, so I won't. Anyway, just keep in mind, if you do have a class on that, I want to be in it."

"I'll keep it in mind," he assured her.

"Good. Well, I hope I can talk to you some more later, but I should let some other people have a chance at you. Happy birthday." She reached up to kiss him on the cheek, then turned and walked away. Harry was reminded of when she had done something similar the year before, and smiled. She really would be good for a class on that, he thought.

Six hours later, after the last of the guests had left, Harry and his friends sat in the living room. "So, it seemed like you both had a good time," observed Hermione.

Neville nodded. "It was great. Thanks for doing it."

"Me too, of course," agreed Harry. "It was nice to see everyone again. Although I started getting tired of being asked if I was going to teach the new spells. I think almost everybody asked at some point."

"Well, it's easy to see why there's a lot of interest in it," said Neville. "But yes, for me too, there was one thing almost everyone mentioned. Bet you can't guess what it is," he added with mild sarcasm.

"Does it begin with the letter 'A'?" asked Ron in the same vein.

"I guess people can't put themselves in that position very well," said Neville. "I tell everyone that it's not really that brave, since there was no hope anyway, but they act like I'm just being modest."

"Welcome to my world," said Harry humorously. "But I guess it's not so surprising that people can't identify with it. Most of us have been in that kind of situation, and we know that you may as well be defiant if you think you're finished anyway... Hermione taunting Voldemort last month, Ginny not saying anything to Malfoy in the Chamber, Pansy more or less taunting Malfoy by talking about me."

"Hmmm, hadn't thought of it this way," said Ron. "I guess the only time I faced what looked like certain death was when we were surrounded by those spiders, and they probably wouldn't have understood defiance all that well. I did, however, acquit myself with extraordinary bravery, in that I did not wet my pants."

The others laughed heartily at Ron's unusual venture into self-deprecating humor. Pansy ran a hand through Ron's hair. "I'd say that's pretty brave," she agreed.

"That was very good, Ron," said Hermione as she finished laughing. "Well, I'm really glad it worked out so well. I just felt bad that so much was happening on your birthdays that we didn't really get to do much of anything. Not that we always have such a big deal about birthdays, since most people's happen during the school year, but this was the seventeenth for both of you, which is a little more important."

"Oh, I just remembered," said Ron, as he waved his wand, and a few seconds later an envelope came floating in. "It's nice to be able to do the spells silently, it's just kind of cool. Anyway, I know we did the cards and gifts while everyone was here, but I wanted to save mine for when everyone had left. It's the kind of thing I didn't want Harry reading out loud, people might not have really understood."

Harry blinked in surprise. Had Ron written something heartfelt? It seemed out of character, but he supposed that after their Legilimency session, anything was possible. He was then surprised that Ron would worry that Harry would read such a card out loud.

Smiling, Ron handed Harry the card. As he opened it to read it, Harry wondered whether Ron could tell what he had been thinking. "You can read it out loud if you want," said Ron.

With another surprised expression, Harry did so. "'Dear Harry: On this, your seventeenth birthday, I wanted to take the opportunity to say a few things. These would ordinarily be difficult for me to say, but I'll do my best.

"We've known each other for six years now, and I can't imagine having a more...' there's a blank space, like nothing was written there." He looked at Ron in confusion.

Ron shrugged. "You know how I get embarrassed at things like that."

Harry was again surprised, as he thought Ron was past that. He continued reading: "'...having a more _____ friend,'" he continued, having decided to pause for a second for every blank space he saw. "'When we first met, I knew immediately that I would never encounter a more _____ person, and that it was _____ that we would become friends. Ever since you showed such amazing _____ when you insisted that we save Hermione from the troll, our lives have never been anything but _____, and I'm _____ about it. Now, you get praised all the time, and it's very _____, since we all know how _____ you are. And I know how embarrassed it makes you, which is very _____. But I wanted to say that you've had a _____ influence on my life, and I feel very _____. Even now, learning about the energy of love has been incredibly _____, and you are totally responsible for that. I think it is safe to say that you are a truly _____ person. I _____ you. Happy Birthday, Ron. P.S. It's really very _____ that you _____ me so much, so _____.'"

He looked at the still smiling Ron, very puzzled. "Am I supposed to guess what the blank words are, or..."

Ron shook his head. "You can use your wand over the blank spots, and the words will appear."

Harry took out his wand, held it over the card sentence by sentence, and read it again. Coming to the first blank, he read, "I can't imagine having a more adequate friend." He smiled at Ron, then continued, emphasizing slightly for the others' benefit the words in the formerly blank spaces. "When we first met, I knew immediately that I would never encounter a more unremarkable person, and that it was pure chance that we would become friends. Ever since you showed such amazing recklessness when you insisted that we save Hermione from the troll, our lives have never been anything but dull, and I'm apathetic about it."

Harry was now laughing as he read. "Now, you get praised all the time, and it's very strange, since we all know how average you are. And I know how embarrassed it makes you, which is very entertaining. But I wanted to say that you've had a minor influence on my life, and I feel very indifferent. Even now, learning about the energy of love has been incredibly embarrassing, and you are totally responsible for that. I think it is safe to say that you are a truly unexceptional person. I kind of like you. Happy Birthday, Ron. P.S. It's really very disturbing that you hug me so much, so cut it out."

Still laughing, he said, "Well, you definitely get one for that," and moved over on the sofa and hugged Ron. "I meant every word of it," said Ron as he hugged Harry back, which made Harry laugh again.

"Thank you, Ron. I really appreciate the effort you put into that. It must have taken a while to write, not to mention the invisible ink."

"Yeah, it did take a while," Ron agreed casually. "Ten minutes at least."

"Don't let him fool you," said Pansy, looking at Ron proudly. "That took him quite a while, I saw him working on it."

"He wasn't fooling me," Harry assured her. "Ah, it's been a while since I've laughed that much." There was a silence, then he said, "It feels strange... the Skeeter thing is over, the Apparation crisis is over... I'm just trying to think, is there anything I have to be really thinking about? Can I just enjoy the rest of my summer? I mean, I'm going to be doing the energy-of-love sessions with the Aurors, but that's only a few hours a week."

"Because today is the day we're celebrating your birthday, Harry, I'm not going to answer that question," said Hermione humorously.

"Oh, yeah, the rulebook," he sighed. "That'll be fun. I'll be reading it, saying, 'oh, yeah, I broke this one, and that one..."

"It'll help you remember them," said Ginny. "Well, apart from that, I think it's all right if you enjoy the rest of your summer. In fact, I'll do my best to help."

"I have a feeling you will," he chuckled. He hoped the rest of the summer would be as peaceful as the first two weeks had been.

* * * * *

The next week was, at least. Harry had his sessions with Snape, energy-of-love sessions with the Aurors, Legilimency practice with Hermione almost every day, and reading the rule book to occupy him, but he still found plenty of time for leisure. He read Dumbledore's book, spent time with his friends, and luxuriated in his freedom. He spent the better part of one day with Remus, who assured him that he shouldn't feel bad about not being able to go to an amusement park on the day before his birthday, as they'd planned. "That was during the Apparation crisis, but you can't really be going to places where there are lots of Muggles anyway," Remus had pointed out. Harry knew it was true; he could imagine the potential for innocent Muggles to get caught in the crossfire.

Before his first energy-of-love session with the Aurors, Harry had the idea to include Remus in the sessions. Kingsley hadn't objected, which Harry assumed was partly because all the Aurors in the group knew Remus, as all were in the Order. Harry knew also that Kingsley wasn't likely to object to anything Harry suggested, as he had made clear that everything about the sessions was at Harry's discretion. Kingsley had decided not to participate in the sessions rather than forswear the use of the Killing Curse, but he did agree to allow Tonks, Cassandra, Jack, and Winston to do so, and they had. Kingsley had also pointed out that he wouldn't have been an ideal member of the first test group because his non-vocalized-spell score was already 100, so unlike others, there would be no easy way to tell if he had reached the point where he could do the spells.

"How are the sessions with the Aurors going?" asked Hermione as they sat down to dinner on Friday.

Harry exchanged shrugs with Neville before answering. "Okay, I suppose. You know how it is, it's not the kind of thing where you can really tell anything. There are no obvious problems, anyway. Everyone's pretty serious about it, no one's reluctant or embarrassed or anything."

"I was wondering, Harry," asked Ron, "who's Remus going to focus on? It doesn't seem like he really has anybody. I mean, we all had each other."

"I don't know," said Harry. "I wondered about that myself, really. I'm not sure if I should ask him or not. With us, we all kind of knew already. Here, it's only been three sessions, so I didn't think it was necessary to just jump right into really personal stuff. I know we'll get there at some point soon, though."

"I'm just curious," said Arthur, "not knowing much about this... why is it necessary to talk about who you're thinking about when you're focusing on love? And is it necessary to focus on a particular person? Couldn't it be just on love as a concept, or could you even make up some idealized fantasy person and focus on that?"

"Those are all good questions, and I don't know the answer to any of them," acknowledged Harry. "But to try to answer the first one, part of the point is to overcome whatever embarrassment people may feel. Just saying out loud that you love this person, whether it's romantic love or friendship love, helps you... I don't know, embrace it, I guess. It makes it stronger, at least I think it does. The first time I ever said it was after Hermione said it to me that day before the Voldemort dreams started, and I sometimes wonder if I would have managed what I did if that hadn't happened. I was less embarrassed to think about the fact that I loved her after I had said it. And, we did discover from our own sessions that if someone was embarrassed about it–"

"Though Harry isn't referring to anyone in particular, of course," said Ron with a straight face.

Harry smiled, then continued, "Saying it out loud helped. Again, part of the whole point of this is to not be embarrassed about it. You can't start out not being embarrassed, of course, you just have to work up to it. This is where it's a lot easier if you have someone you're in love with, you can focus particularly on them. With us, there was a point where–does anyone mind if I tell Arthur and Molly about this?" he asked his friends, who all gave their assent. "I thought it would be a good idea if we named a specific person we loved, but so it wouldn't be harder for Ron and Pansy, I asked us all to pick people other than the ones we were in relationships with. And so nobody would feel obligated to name someone who had named them, I asked everyone to write down the person's name first."

"And what happened was so strange," continued Hermione, "because it worked that way anyway: we all picked the person who had picked us. Harry and Pansy picked each other, Neville and Ginny did, and Ron and I did. We were pretty amazed, and we were all wondering if fate had gone a little differently, those could have been the relationships that ended up happening. And I could tell that Ron was dying to make some comment about how lucky he was to avoid ending up with me, but he was nice, and didn't."

"I was not," protested Ron, as the others chuckled. "Well, I wasn't dying to, anyway. The thought occurred to me, and I decided not to, is all. Boy, you're really going to be annoying once you start using Legilimency to tell if we're lying or not."

"I suppose so," agreed Hermione, wearing a greatly amused expression. "Good thing you didn't end up with me, huh?"

Everyone laughed, including Ron. "Well, I didn't say it, anyway. Let's just say I'm happy with how it ended up, I think we all are."

"That does seem safe to say," agreed Harry, as he looked across the table at Ginny.

There was silence for a minute as everyone devoted their attention to their food. Then Molly casually asked, "Harry, did you ever hear anything more from your cousin about the article, and your aunt and uncle's reaction to it?"

Harry hadn't thought about the topic at all since he had put down the anti-Disapparation plot at 4 Privet Drive. "No, nothing. I haven't heard from Dudley, and it's pretty unlikely I'd hear from Vernon or Petunia."

"I actually thought about inviting Dudley to your party," said Ginny. "I ended up not doing it mostly for the same reason you didn't take him to Diagon Alley, everyone would have been asking him about the article."

"Well, it's very nice that you're friends with him now," said Molly. Harry thought that 'friends' wasn't quite the right word–he felt that 'on good terms' might be better–but didn't bother to argue the point. "It's just too bad that that article had to come out, just when your aunt and uncle might have been realizing the kind of person you really are."

Harry shrugged. "They're never going to see me any differently than they always have," he said dismissively. "I was with them long enough to know that. All I can say is, thank goodness I'm here now instead of there."

"Well, of course we're very happy about that too, dear," said Molly. "But it isn't impossible, you know. You never know what could happen. Maybe if you wrote her a letter, explain what happened and that you had nothing to do with it–"

"No way," interrupted Harry firmly. "I don't need to explain myself to her."

"I'm not saying you did anything wrong, of course," said Molly soothingly, though Harry didn't feel soothed. "I just meant that she was probably coming around on you, because of those articles she was sent, and–"

"I don't need her to come around on me," snapped Harry, then tried to control his temper as his friends glanced at him with concern. "Seriously, she can think whatever she wants. She's felt that way for so long, I could save the world and cure cancer, and it wouldn't change the way she felt."

"I have a feeling he's right," chimed in Ron, earning an unhappy glance from Molly. "I mean, look at what those articles said about him, and she still jumped to the conclusion that he was responsible for this one. She didn't even ask him if he did anything for it or not."

"And this was even after Dudley told her that Harry had nothing to do with it," added Ginny. "Mum, I was wondering, who do you think would have bothered to cut out and send all those articles? Seems like a lot of trouble to go to."

Molly shrugged as she took a bite of food, but didn't answer. Harry thought her reaction seemed strange for her, and then to his surprise, he got a flash of an image of the type he saw in Legilimency practice: he saw Molly using her wand and doing a Severing Charm to a newspaper. He gaped at her. "You? You sent her those articles?"

Molly looked up as if ready to deny what Harry had said, but obviously a look at Harry's face told her that it would be no use. "I see the Legilimency practice is really kicking in," commented Ron.

"I didn't see what harm it could do," said Molly defensively, as Harry again tried to keep his feelings under control. "I just wanted her to be able to see what a wonderful person she had there all this time, and didn't even know."

"And didn't even care," shot back Harry. "Her mind is made up about me."

"But it was working, it was changing, until that article last week," argued Molly. "They're your closest living relatives, you can't avoid dealing with them."

"I'll do my very best," said Harry fervently. "And I'm sure they will too, her and Vernon. Somehow I think with all of us trying, we'll manage."

Molly looked disappointed. "Harry, this isn't like you. And it wouldn't hurt to write them a letter, you wouldn't have to deal with them directly. Even if–"

"Mum, look,–" interrupted Ginny, who was in turn interrupted by Harry. "I'm not going to write her a letter!" he shouted. "I can't..." Emotion rising up, he impulsively stood. "Excuse me," he said, and walked away from the table quickly and headed up the stairs.

He entered the bedroom, closing the door behind him. Fawkes was on his perch, and as Harry lay on the bed he wondered whether Fawkes had been there for a while, or had appeared in the last minute, knowing Harry was coming. Harry silently asked Fawkes to stand on his chest, and Harry petted him as he did. He tried to calm his anger for Fawkes' sake, though a part of him wanted to feel angry. Partly at Molly for interfering, and partly at the situation, his whole childhood. He wondered if this was part of the effect phoenixes normally had on their companions, that they inspired their companions to manage their emotions better for the sake of the phoenix.

He spent the next twenty minutes thinking, going over what had happened, and trading impressions with Fawkes. He felt that Fawkes sympathized with what he had suffered, though he knew Fawkes couldn't have the proper perspective to really understand what Harry had been through, so Harry assumed it was a general sympathy because of his emotional state.

Harry heard a knock on the door, followed by Molly's voice. "Can I come in?" He hesitated for a second, then waved his wand, and the door opened. Molly closed the door behind her and sat down on his bed. Harry felt as though he should apologize for leaving the table, but he wanted her to be the one to speak first. Molly reached over to pet Fawkes. "It must be nice to have a phoenix," she said, her expression serious. "They don't fail you, like people will."

Harry was puzzled, wondering for a second who she was suggesting had failed whom. "I'm sorry, Harry," she said, to his surprise. "I suppose I just got too... invested in what I was doing. I just thought, 'wouldn't it be nice if I could make her see what she's missing, it would be so good for both of them.' Then the Skeeter article came along and messed up my little plan. It never occurred to me that it would be hard for you, even if I tried to do most of the work myself."

She paused; Harry didn't speak partly because he didn't have anything to say, and partly because he could tell she wasn't finished. "The others jumped all over me after you left," she said ruefully. "Mostly Ron and Ginny. The others aren't comfortable with me enough yet to really criticize me, but they clearly agreed with Ron and Ginny. Even Arthur reminded me of how they acted when he came to get you for the Quidditch World Cup, they weren't even going to say goodbye to you. They all were more or less saying, you can't know what it was like for him, and if he's most comfortable putting it behind him and trying not to think about it, then you should let him. Ron said I was 'butting in,' which I suppose I was. I just want you to know that it's because I care, because I love you." With a very small smile, she added, "I do that with all my children, you just hadn't gotten to experience it yet."

"I know," said Harry. "And I know why you do it, I know you're trying to help. I just felt like you were asking something of me that I couldn't do. I can't look for her approval, and writing a letter would be doing that. I actually talked about this when Dudley was over last week."

"Yes, Ginny told me. Just now, she related most of that conversation to the rest of us. I know it's true, but it's just amazing to me that she could manage to not say one nice thing about you all your life. Sometimes it makes me want to cry, and sometimes it makes me angry. Maybe I've done this because I want to make it all better somehow, and I just have to accept the fact that it's in the past, there's not much I can do about it. Ginny said she wanted to hug you as who you were then, and I think that's how I feel too." She extended a hand toward Harry, who was still lying on the bed. "But I would like to hug you as who you are now."

Fawkes lifted off of Harry's chest and landed on his perch as Harry reached for Molly's hand and let himself be pulled into a hug. "I'm sorry," she said again.

He squeezed her harder. "It's all right. At least I have someone who cares enough to want to butt in, I never had that before."

Molly laughed. "I'll always care enough to want to butt in; the question is, will I manage to not do it."

"Another thing I've never had before," said Harry as if just realizing it, "is someone who I think of as a parent apologizing to me."

She disengaged from the hug, keeping her hands on his shoulders. "I think it's not just your aunt and uncle; most parents don't do that. Arthur's joke about that is that most people feel that being a parent means never having to say you're sorry. But everyone makes mistakes, including parents. It's a good thing to do for other reasons too, it teaches the kids that it's all right to apologize, and then they'll probably do it with their kids when they grow up. I think if each generation can raise their children a little better than they were raised, we'll be doing all right."

He looked at her with admiration. "I don't know if I can do that."

She smiled. "Thank you. But you will, I'm pretty sure about that." She kissed him on the cheek, and got up and left.

Less than a minute later, Ginny burst into the room, ran to the bed, and hugged him tightly as she sat next to him. "I wanted to come running right up behind you after you left," she said, "but Dad asked me not to. He said it would be better for you to have some time to sort out your thoughts by yourself, and I think he wanted Mum to be the first one to talk to you, so she could apologize without my having spent all that time telling you how right you were. Which you were, of course, she shouldn't have done that. It was funny, something about the way she looked made me ask her that question about who would have sent your aunt the articles; I just had this sudden feeling it was her, so I asked to see how she would react. Was it Legilimency that told you it was her?"

He nodded. "I didn't even mean to do it. I just got this image of her with a newspaper. When he was teaching me, Albus did say that you're more likely to do it unconsciously in emotionally charged situations, but that was the first time it ever happened like that."

"I guess I'll have to remember not to lie to you in emotionally charged situations in the future," she joked. Turning more serious, she added, "We all felt really bad for you," and he understood that she was referring to the other four of their group. "Mum gets kind of pushy sometimes and she can't see it, like how she was at first with the twins and their shop. She was stepping on a sensitive spot for you, and she didn't realize it."

"I wish it wasn't a sensitive spot," he said, sounding unhappy with himself. "I wish I could just not let it bother me. It usually doesn't unless someone brings it up, but I wish it didn't at all."

She took both his hands in hers. "That's way too much to expect of yourself. I know you've heard this before, but it really is true: it's amazing that you came out of that childhood as well as you did. Most people would be permanently damaged, have huge self-esteem problems, be bitter or withdrawn. You have your problems, but they're close to the kind of problems most people have. Considering what you went through, it speaks well of you that you don't hate your aunt and uncle with a fiery passion. None of us would blame you if you did."

"There were times when I did," he admitted, and she gripped his hands harder. "I guess you just get used to some things. Like Voldemort trying to kill me all the time."

She let go of his hands and hugged him again. "My poor Harry, you've had such a hard life..."

"Well, it got a lot better about four months ago," he said. "And after he's gone, it'll be much, much better. I do think that'll happen, and then we can have normal lives."

She looked at him proudly. "I think so too. You'll find a way to beat him."

He smiled at her confidence. "And then, my biggest problem will be trying to deal with my childhood," he said, half-joking. "Or, ignore it. And trying to teach the energy of love. But those sound like pretty good problems right now."

* * * * *

The next day, a Saturday, was another quiet one for Harry; he had a fly with Ron, practiced dueling with Neville, and sat around doing nothing with Ginny in the morning. After lunch, he spent some time sitting in a conjured chair outside and reading the Hogwarts rule book, and found that his eyes started to close occasionally as he did so. When he finished, he was halfway through the book, but he wasn't sure how much he would remember. He hoped McGonagall wouldn't quiz him on it, but he had a feeling she would.

His hand tingled, and he held it up. He remembered with a little sadness that he used to smile every time it did, and he still did sometimes, but it had happened enough that by now his usual reaction was to be curious as to why Ginny was calling him. "Could you come in for a minute?" she asked. He nodded, and headed to the front door.

Stepping inside, he was very surprised to see a familiar sight: all ten of his Slytherin first-year students, soon to be second years. "Hello, Professor," they greeted him, almost in chorus.

He grinned broadly, very pleased to see them. "Wow, what a surprise," he said, as he sat on the sofa to be closer to their eye level. "What are you doing here?"

"We're visiting Pansy," said a smiling Helen, glancing up at Pansy, who was standing behind the sofa. "Of course, this way we get to visit you too, but she explained to us that we can't come over here to visit you, because it wouldn't look good to the other first years, and they would ask you why you had us over but not them. But Pansy's a student, not a teacher, so we can visit her if we want."

"And it just so happens that you live here too," added a girl named Sylvia.

"Very convenient," said Harry, still smiling.

"We thought so," agreed Augustina. "And besides, David and Andrea started telling the other first years as soon as they got back from your birthday party. We were jealous, we wanted to come too."

"Sorry, that was Hermione and me," said Ginny. "Harry didn't know about it, of course, and we had to decide who to invite. We knew Harry would want to see all of you, but there was the problem of it looking like you were his favorites, and we couldn't have forty people over. We invited David and Andrea because their brothers were invited, and it seemed wrong not to invite them too. But we wanted to invite you."

"We know," said Hedrick. "They knew that, they told us that was why they were invited. But we get to be here now, anyway. Visiting Pansy," he added with a smile. Looking up at her, he quickly added, "We would want to do that, anyway, of course."

Everyone laughed, especially Pansy. "Nice of you to add that, Hedrick. I mean, I don't mind being an excuse to visit Harry, but I hope you want to see me, too."

"We do, obviously," Augustina assured her. "He's just being kind of dumb. One of those things boys do sometimes, we think."

Harry saw Pansy form a new smile, and start to speak. "Don't say it," he said quickly, pointing a finger at her. The Slytherins laughed again as Pansy feigned wounded innocence. "I wasn't going to say anything."

"Yeah, right," said Harry. "I'm not dumb. At least not right this second."

"Oh, Professor," said Augustina earnestly, "are you going to teach us how to use the energy of love this year?"

Harry sighed. "Well," he said wearily, "everyone else I've met this summer has asked, so I suppose I shouldn't–" He cut himself off as Slytherins started laughing and looking at Pansy, who was laughing as well.

"We know," said Augustina, smiling. "Pansy told us to ask you."

Trying not to smile, he looked back at Pansy, who leaned forward against the back of the sofa and playfully ran a hand through his hair to mess it up. "Fortunately, you like it that I tease you. You have said that before, haven't you?"

Now he couldn't help but smile. "Unfortunately, yes. I assume you already told them that I haven't decided?"

"Yes, I did. But I talked to them for a while before you came in, they've been here for a half hour. I explained that you can't teach just them, for the same reason you can't have them over. But I can, so I'm going to try to teach them. It's not favoritism, since I'm a student and they're students."

Harry raised his eyebrows, impressed. "That's a good idea, I hadn't thought of that. No, there's no reason you can't, you could certainly teach it as well as I could."

She looked taken aback at his expression of confidence. "I don't know about that, but I'll do my best. And even if you can't officially teach it, you can visit from time to time and give us advice."

"I suppose there wouldn't be anything wrong with that," he agreed. "Have you given them all the warnings?"

"I think so... that it's hard, it might take a long time, it could get embarrassing, that we don't know everything about it. That's pretty much it, right?"

"That's about it," he said, looking the Slytherins over. "All that doesn't bother you?"

Helen shook her head. "We're really happy that she's willing to try, we know it might not work, or might take a long time. I think the boys are kind of scared of the whole embarrassment thing, though."

"We are not!" protested David Septus, a little too vehemently, Harry thought. He looked at David seriously and said, "You know, David, I've told Ron that I love him, directly to his face." He paused, watching David's eyes go wide. "Still not scared?"

"Okay, maybe a little," admitted David as the girls giggled. "But we still want to do it."

"That's very brave of you," said Harry, half-seriously. "Just don't get discouraged, and don't expect it to happen by any particular time." Turning to Pansy, he asked, "Is this going to be secret, or open?"

"Secret is probably best, I think," she said. "Even though there's nothing wrong with it, I'd rather everyone didn't know, because then they'll be asking questions, maybe being jealous, that kind of thing. I was thinking we'd have the sessions in the boys' dormitory, though I'm not sure how we'd get the girls in there without anyone noticing. Maybe I could get Hermione to teach me that Disillusionment spell that Kingsley taught her. I'm sure we can work something out."

"I would think they could just go in there openly, nobody would think it was so strange," suggested Harry, as some Slytherins nodded in agreement. "Everyone knows they're close. Anyway, were you going to start today?"

Pansy nodded, but Helen spoke first. "And we already know what to do a little, since you're teaching my Dad, and he's told me about it."

Hedrick looked at Helen in obvious mock surprise. "Professor Potter is teaching your father? Really? When did that happen?" As Helen gave him a dirty look, Hedrick said to Harry, "She's only mentioned it about twenty times."

Harry smiled. To Helen, he said, "Well, I'm glad you're excited about it." Helen turned to Hedrick with a superior 'so there' look. Harry stayed with them for another hour, talking and then helping Pansy start them on their first session. Finally he left, going up to the girls' bedroom to meet Hermione for their Legilimency practice.

"Sorry I'm late," he said.

She shook her head, dismissing his apology. "Pansy told me she was going to surprise you with the first years, so I wasn't expecting you. I've been keeping busy."

"Yes, I see that," he agreed, taking in the three open Transfiguration texts on the bed. "Ready to get started?"

"Okay, just a minute," she said. She cleared the books off the bed, and they sat on beds opposite each other. They had recently been spending half of the sessions working on Hermione's Legilimency skills so that she could eventually test Harry's Occlumency skills, but she had not yet managed to get into Harry's mind, even though he was putting up no barriers. After ten minutes of trying, however, Hermione managed it for the first time. Harry saw various images of love flash through his mind, most involving Ginny.

He smiled as she withdrew from his mind. "Congratulations," he said.

"Thanks," she said, smiling as well. "Boy, that's not easy."

"I know, I remember how hard it was the first time," he agreed. "You should keep doing it, for as long as you can before you get too tired. The more you do it now, the easier it'll be to remember how it felt the next time we do it." She agreed, and she kept it up, looking first for images of love, then ten minutes later, focusing on the idea of friendship, as Harry explained how to search for specific types of emotions associated with particular memories. He saw mostly memories of his friendship with her and Ron, and a few later ones involving Ginny, Pansy, and Neville.

She switched focus again, now looking for memories associated with feelings of pride. Harry saw himself snatching the golden egg from under the Hungarian Horntail and seeing the crowd applaud wildly. He saw himself watch Ginny successfully use his Cruciatus Curse shield for the first time. He saw himself being awarded sixty points at the end of his first year, helping Gryffindor win the House Cup. He saw Dumbledore single out Pansy for praise before the final Quidditch match a few months ago. He saw Ginny, standing before him in his Hogwarts quarters, let her robes drop at her feet, himself gaping in shock, then getting up and covering her with his robe. Hermione gave a start when she saw it, but didn't recoil or do anything unusual, letting the memory play out naturally as she did the others. She withdrew from his mind, and smiled ruefully. "One of the reasons I chose pride was that I thought it would be safe, like friendship, that I wouldn't see anything like that. Of course, now that I've seen it, it makes perfect sense; she was doing something dramatic to get you both past your inhibitions, and you were proud of her for being brave enough to do it. You don't have to answer this if you don't want to, but... I assume that was just before your first time?"

He nodded, surprised that he wasn't more embarrassed than he was. "After she did that, it just didn't seem so difficult, all of a sudden. I'm sure I couldn't have done it."

"I think I understand a little how you felt when you saw that thing with Neville and me," she said. "I'm not that embarrassed, but a little. Partly for the obvious reason, but also because it was an important and really personal moment for both of you, something that really, no one else should see. But I have to say, it was a really nice moment. You said just the right thing."

He shrugged. "I just said what I thought. About the other thing, I suppose in a way you're right, but it doesn't bother me, probably because it's you, and I think it won't bother Ginny either. I guess we're so used to the idea that anything could be seen by Snape that you seeing it doesn't seem like such a big deal."

"Has he seen it?" she asked. "This particular one?"

"No, he hasn't seen anything like that."

"Really? I would have thought he was bound to, by now."

"He's very skilled with this, he can pretty much see exactly what he wants; nothing he sees is by accident, like with us," explained Harry. "I think it's partly because he's been going through my childhood, and as he gets closer to the present, he's been slowing down, looking in more detail. But he has covered recent days where Ginny and I have done stuff, and he knows we're doing it, but he skips it. It could be because he's more interested in knowing what's happening and he can find out from me, but I also think he's deliberately waiting to look at anything like that. I think he wants to give us as much time as possible to get used to... doing sexual things before he views them. What?" he asked as she broke into a smile.

"Sorry, it's just that Ginny's told Pansy and I that you get embarrassed at the mention of that word, and you did just then. I don't mean to tease you about it, I just couldn't help smiling, it was cute."

He shook his head. "It's a good thing that I've already gotten used to the idea that I'm not going to have the kind of privacy about this kind of thing that most people have."

He meant the comment to be humorous, but Hermione looked concerned. "Does it bother you that Ginny told us that?"

"No, not really," he said. "Maybe I shouldn't have said that, that way. I mean, I don't talk about that kind of thing with Ron and Neville, but I know that girls talk about stuff like that that guys don't. Really, it doesn't bother me, I guess it's the whole situation, how strange it is. I mean, usually nobody else would see what you just saw, but besides you, Snape will probably see it eventually, and Skeeter saw it, too. It's just strange."

Hermione's mouth opened in realization. "That was what she meant... I didn't get it, what she said, about she didn't want to see that..." Hermione alternated between expressions of disgust and sympathy for Harry. "No wonder you were so mad... what a despicable thing to say. Well..." She trailed off again, now looking sad. "And now, the thought that goes through my head is, well, at least she's dead now, and some part of me still feels that she deserved it, and then I get back to that whole thing. I'm still wrestling with this, as you can tell. Even a week later, it's still hard not to be satisfied that she's dead. She was so awful."

"I'm sorry," he said. "I wish there was something I could do."

"I know. But all you can do is be supportive, which you have done, and I appreciate it. I just have to fight with this. Anyway, let's get back to it. I assume it's still safe to go with pride, nothing else like that is going to come up?"

"No, I don't think so, I think that was kind of an exception. It should be all right. But even if you did stumble across something, I'd deal with it." He paused, thinking. "I wonder if this is why Legilimency isn't exactly a common skill, because teaching and practicing requires such a... giving up your privacy, most people aren't going to want to do it."

"That, and it's pretty hard," Hermione agreed. "From what I read, most people can't do it, it requires a certain amount of magical power. I probably couldn't do it if I weren't using the energy of love. Oh, I was wondering... can you look for memories associated with a certain person? I was thinking that if I looked for things just about me, I wouldn't find anything sexual."

"I've never tried that, but you should be able to do it. But really, you shouldn't worry about seeing sexual stuff. I think the one time it's happened with each of us has been a real fluke, and that most of the time that's not going to come up unless you're trying to see it. I mean, I've done this with you plenty over the past month, and nothing has come up. I just don't think it's going to."

She nodded and resumed practicing. After five minutes, she paused. "There's something in there that... feels strange, is the best way I can put it. It feels like there's a barrier there, even though I know you're not putting up one. Maybe it's my imagination, since this is the first time I've gotten this far, but somehow I don't think so. Hold on, let me check something."

Hermione reached into her trunk and pulled out a book, obviously a Hogwarts library book, on Legilimency. She spent a minute flipping through it, then a few minutes reading. She looked up at Harry with surprise and concern. "Harry... I can't be certain, but the book describes what I encountered almost exactly. I think someone's done a Memory Charm on you."

Harry stared at her, stunned. "Are you... I was going to say 'are you sure,' but you just said you're not." He started wondering who would have done it, and he found that Hermione was wondering too.

"If this is what it is, it was probably a Dark wizard, maybe Voldemort. Maybe even Malfoy, if he was able to take you by surprise."

"I have to find out what it is," said Harry firmly. "How do you break a Memory Charm?"

"I'm not sure, this book doesn't cover that. We'd have to go to the Hogwarts library, the books in the Restricted section must have information on that. But something else just occurred to me... I almost hate to suggest this, but what if this was done by someone friendly, for your own good, or protection? What if you saw something awful or disturbing, and, let's say, an Auror or Dumbledore did this to help you? You could have even agreed to it, for all we know."

Harry found the thought itself disturbing. "I don't think of myself as the type to agree to having a Memory Charm, but I understand that there could be circumstances I couldn't imagine. Still, I have to know. If it was you, you'd want to know, you couldn't rest until you knew."

"I suppose so," she reluctantly agreed. "The bright side is that if we break it, and it turns out it was there for a good reason, we can just have it put back and I would know not to mention it in the future. I guess it's off to the library." Fawkes appeared, and they held onto each other and grasped his tail.

Hermione quickly found the relevant books, and they sat down and each looked through one. After twenty minutes, Hermione said, "Okay, this one has it, and it's good news; we should be able to do it. Breaking a Memory Charm yourself is easier than someone else trying to do it, and completely safe. There's only one catch: you have to be stronger than whoever did it to you. Fortunately, in your case, that's not a problem."

"What do I have to do?" he asked.

"'We,'" she corrected him. "Someone has to help, and it has to be a Legilimens. Even though I'm just a beginner, I can do what needs to be done. Here, read this section, it explains what you have to do."

He read, and found that he had to focus a certain kind of mental energy in a certain direction. Hermione would be focusing on the area of his mind where the Memory Charm was, in a sense guiding him to the proper spot. The book said that it could take anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour, so Harry was prepared to be patient. He found that he was tense, wondering what he might find. He reconsidered whether to do it, but only for a moment. He knew himself well enough to know that he had to know, he couldn't accept not knowing. "Okay, I'm ready," he said.

She cast Legilimens on him, and looked around again. "I have it, you can go ahead," she said. Harry focused the mental energy as directed by the book, trying to shut out all other thoughts. To his surprise, in less than a minute he could start to feel the memory awaken, and he wondered if it was faster than expected because he was using the energy of love. The memory started to come into focus.

Harry was sitting in his usual chair in Snape's office, later the same day of Skeeter's visit to the Burrow. Snape viewed memories of the events of the last twenty-four hours since the previous session. Snape glossed over Harry's shift with the Aurors, as there had been no Apparation attempts, and started viewing his and Hermione's meeting with Skeeter. He viewed all of it, then cast Legilimens on Harry again, and viewed it again. He sat silently for a minute, deep in thought. "What is it?" Harry saw himself ask Snape. Snape didn't answer. He waved his wand at Harry, whose eyes suddenly looked glazed. Feeling the memory, Harry realized that it was a Confundus Curse, to disorient him. Snape walked to a shelf, and produced a pair of scissors and a small jar. He approached Harry and cut off a small amount of hair from the left side of Harry's head, letting the hair fall into the jar. He performed another spell, and said to Harry, "The Apparation crisis will soon be over, and it would be nice for you and Ginny to celebrate. Perhaps at a restaurant such as the Golden Dragon in Diagon Alley. You deserve to enjoy yourselves, and you should not be cowed into never going out in public. Friday at seven-thirty would be a good time." He waved his wand again, first lifting the Confundus Charm, then applying the Memory Charm. He then resumed viewing memories of Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts.

In the Hogwarts library Harry sat silently, dumbfounded. He looked at an astonished Hermione. "You saw it?" he asked.

Eyes wide, she nodded. "You should call Ginny, have Fawkes bring her. She needs to know this."

He slowly nodded, still stunned by what he had seen. He lifted his hand and looked into his palm. She smiled, but he didn't return her smile. "Could you join us? Fawkes'll be there for you."

"Yeah, okay, he's here," she said. A few seconds later, she and Fawkes appeared. Taking in their expressions, she asked, "What happened?"

"We just found out," he said heavily, "that Snape killed Skeeter." She, too, was astonished. "He was never a suspect because I thought he didn't know about her blackmail threats, but I was wrong. I said he didn't view my memories of our meeting with Skeeter. He did view them, took a few hairs from me, then did a Memory Charm on me." To Hermione, he asked, "What was that other one he did, the one about the Golden Dragon?"

"I've heard of it, but never seen it done," she answered. "It's called a Suggestion Charm. It's not like the Imperius Curse, because you're not making them do something, you're just giving them the idea, and they don't remember that you've done it. It has to be something the person might have done anyway, if they had thought of it." To Ginny, she explained, "He did that to Harry, suggested that you and he go to the Golden Dragon, even suggested the day and time you ended up going."

"I don't believe it," said Ginny quietly.

"Obviously, he was setting it up so you wouldn't be implicated, which was one of the possibilities we talked about after it happened," said Hermione. "And he wouldn't be suspected, because only we would know there was even a chance of his finding out this way, and it didn't occur to any of us that he would do this."

Ginny looked at Harry with obvious concern. "How do you feel about this? What are you thinking?"

"I don't know what to think," he said slowly. "I guess I have this feeling of... being taken advantage of, somehow. I feel as though I should be morally outraged that he would kill someone like that, in cold blood... maybe I'm just too surprised right now, but I don't feel that. I know he has no conscience, so I'm not surprised that he could do it. I would feel guilty that what he did helped us, but I know he didn't do it to help us, that it was because of the information she had. It's like, I can play both sides of the conversation we'll have about this. He'll say it had to be done, and I'll say that killing is wrong. We already had a conversation a lot like it. He may even say that it was better that he did it because he spared McGonagall, who does have a conscience, the decision of whether to do it or not. And she would say that it was her decision to make, and that he shouldn't have done it without consulting her, which he obviously did."

"Very perceptive, Harry," said McGonagall, walking into the library. "That is indeed almost exactly the conversation we had. But as I'm sure you know, his main intent was not to spare me the decision, but to serve the Order by doing something that to him clearly needed to be done." She sat at the table with them, addressing Harry. "I have been eavesdropping for the past few minutes, for which I apologize, but I wanted to know how you felt before talking to you about this. It was not that helpful, as it seems you yourself do not know how you feel. I can certainly understand. Professor Snape will be unable to sympathize with how this must make you feel, but I do, for what little consolation that may be to you."

Harry was silent. "How did you know we were here?" asked Hermione.

"I placed a movement detection charm on the books which explain how Memory Charms are broken, knowing that if anyone tried to access them, it would be you. Professor Snape did as well, as he wanted to know when you broke through the Charm. He knew you would at some point."

"How long have you known?" asked Hermione.

"He told me soon after he did it; I believe it was a half hour after I finished talking to you that night."

"Why didn't you tell me?" asked Harry, a definite accusation in his tone and his eyes.

She looked uncomfortable. "I very seriously considered it. I obviously do not condone what he did, either Skeeter's murder or the Memory Charm, and you did deserve to know. But it was already done, and I could see no benefit in telling you immediately. You and your friends were recovering from a trying time, and it seemed better that you have time to recover, not to have one more thing over which to wrestle with the moral implications. In particular, I did not wish to tell you but ask you not to tell Hermione, and she had already had a difficult enough week. Like Professor Snape, I knew you would find the Memory Charm eventually."

Harry was inclined not to accept any explanation she gave, but what she said about Hermione made him think again. Had he been told the day after it happened, he knew he wouldn't have told Hermione, and he had been through a lot too; if he could justify not telling her, McGonagall could justify not telling him. Even so, part of him was angry with McGonagall anyway, while the rational part told him to think of events as a member of the Order, not as a teenager whose feelings had been hurt.

Confused and overwhelmed, he bowed his head, resting it in his hands. Ginny got up and moved her chair next to his, sat down, and put an arm around him, moving her hand across his back. He looked up to see McGonagall give Ginny a reproving look. Ginny glared back at McGonagall, her protective instincts obviously aroused; Harry knew that she was letting McGonagall know that she would comfort Harry regardless of what McGonagall thought of it. McGonagall sighed lightly and looked away, conceding the silent argument. He gratefully reached for Ginny's free hand, not caring what McGonagall thought either.

Hermione spoke again; Harry wondered whether she was asking questions so he could get more information, as he seemed to be in no frame of mind to ask questions. "Why was it necessary for him to assume Harry's appearance? Couldn't he have just made himself invisible and broken into her place?"

"He could have, but he judged that the best chance for there to be no mishaps was to assume the identity of someone she would not turn away from her door," McGonagall explained. "It would also have the advantage of making it appear that the attack was sponsored by Voldemort. It was crucial to him that he take her by surprise; had she managed to get off a scream or any sort of warning, he would have had to leave hastily, and there were things he wanted to accomplish before leaving. For example, he wanted to find out who, if anyone, she had told, and whether she had written down any highly sensitive information."

Hermione went pale. "He didn't... torture her?"

"No, fortunately," said McGonagall, looking relieved that she didn't have to give an affirmative answer. "He was able to retrieve the information using Legilimency. She had not told anyone. She had written things down, in the draft of the book she was working on. He was able to locate the materials and dispose of them."

"After disposing of her," said Harry sullenly.

She regarded him tolerantly. "I have already said that I do not approve of what he did. I feel that killing is a last resort, not a first resort. But it must not be overlooked that his actions may have saved our cause, saved thousands of lives. She was unbalanced, she could have said anything to anyone. It was not his decision to make, but it was a reasonable decision."

Harry's face was a mask, expressionless. "I'd rather that kind of decision was made by someone with a conscience. If we kill someone, we should at least suffer for it."

She met his gaze. "He suffered, Harry. Not from an attack of conscience, but he suffered. You can be sure of that."

"You mean, in kind of the same way he did by doing the Cruciatus Curse on me in the demonstration last year."

She nodded. "Yes, but worse. In any case, I do agree, Harry. I would rather have made the decision myself. I do not wish to abandon all morality because our enemies have done so. He simply felt that this unquestionably needed to be done."

Harry closed his eyes, then opened them again; his face now reflected his turmoil. "Part of the point of this is that I'm supposed to care about him, to want to help him. That was going all right, I felt like I was getting somewhere. But how am I supposed to feel that way now? He just..."

The rest looked at him sympathetically. "I cannot answer that, Harry," said McGonagall. "I understand how you feel, as well as I can without actually being in your position. I can only suggest that you try to look at this situation from his point of view as best you can."

She stood to leave. "He wished you to come see him after you found out. Not for a session; he understands that you will need to take some time to process this information. He wishes to discuss a few things with you." McGonagall turned and left.

Harry turned to Hermione and Ginny. "I'd really rather not see him just this moment."

"I can understand that," said Hermione quietly. "Are you not going to?"

Harry wondered if this was an indication of Hermione trying to change her character after the Skeeter trial; he would normally have expected her to tell him that he should do it. "No, I guess I should," he said reluctantly. "I was going to say, maybe he'll tell me something that'll change the way I see this, but I somehow doubt it. He killed a person, and maybe he didn't have to..."

"He had to," said Ginny, to Harry and Hermione's surprise. "I don't like it any more than you do, you know that. But if Skeeter released that information, we could have lost Snape and had Voldemort find out all kinds of stuff. Even if Skeeter had truthfully said that she wasn't going to tell anyone, she could have always changed her mind."

"She still could have been given a Memory Charm," argued Harry.

"And suppose Voldemort decided to grab her to grill her for information about you?" responded Ginny. "He could have read the article, figured out that it was at least possible that she'd spent time as a beetle around you and gathered some interesting information, and thought it was a good idea to grab her and see what she knew. If that happened, the Memory Charm wouldn't matter."

"McGonagall said last week that if she was convinced that Skeeter didn't plan on telling anyone, she would have let her live," pointed out Harry.

"And Albus would definitely have let her live, no matter what, he wouldn't have killed her or condoned it," said Hermione. "But Ginny's point is still valid, it's just a matter of how many chances you're willing to take for the sake of doing the moral thing. Look at the chances Albus was willing to take last year, chances we wouldn't have taken. One of them would've gotten you killed if not for Snape. One got Pansy tortured. I mean, murder is wrong, but in this kind of situation... I'm not saying I would've agreed with what Snape did... well, I would have, but for all the wrong reasons." She glanced down, obviously unhappy with herself. "But with so many lives at stake, it's not that simple. There's a lot to what Ginny's saying."

Harry briefly wondered whether they were making the arguments to help mitigate the discomfort he felt at what Snape had done, but he couldn't deny that they were valid points. He also knew that McGonagall and Kingsley, both of whom he considered to be moral people, would have killed her under certain circumstances.

"Well, I'd better get this over with," he said. "I don't know how long this will take, but would you both mind waiting for me, in my quarters? I have a feeling I'm going to need to talk about it afterwards, and I may not be able to at the Burrow."

"Of course," said Hermione, as Ginny nodded. They got up and left the library together.

* * * * *

Next: Chapter 8, Snape's Reward: Harry struggles to accept the idea that he's helping someone who kills in cold blood, but is soon reminded that there are worse things.

From Chapter 8: "It's like, the good thing about helping me is that when your loved ones die, you get a message from them after they're gone. The bad thing is, your loved ones die."

"A lot of people died sixteen years ago," said Arthur. "A lot were helping Dumbledore, but that doesn't make it his fault. I know you've heard this before, but we're going to keep telling you."

Harry nodded, wondering if they felt that he was wallowing in self-pity by making comments like the one he had just made; he then wondered if he actually was. All he knew was that it was how he felt.