Chapter 4: A Stranger Walks Among Them

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The photograph takes up the entire front page of the Daily Prophet. Printed in full-color, a rarity for the publication, it not only jumps from the paper, but commands the reader's attention and keeps their eyes glued to the horrific scene.

It appears to be early morning, judging by the soft quality of the light. Three crimson-robed Aurors, their backs to the photographer, grapple with what appears to be a giant wooden cross perhaps eight feet tall, titled slightly to the left. The base of the cross, roughly six inches in thickness, showing gouges in the wood, is surrounded by chips of shattered stone, almost as it the cross had recently been uprooted from the flagstones.

An emaciated figure clothed in dirty rags is hangs from the cross by one arm. A thick iron spike has been driven through the wrist, pinning it to the wood. The other arm is being supported by one of the Aurors. Clasped within both of the Aurors hands, the arm looks like little more than skin and bones. Bright scarlet blood seeps from the ragged hole in the figure's wrist.

Though the starved figure's eyes are closed, the dark hair matted with blood, the outline of a lightning-bolt is still visible upon the grimy forehead.

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In a private waiting room at St. Mungo's paced Albus Dumbledore, hands clasped behind his back, mind heavy. From time to time he'd glance at the latest issue of the Daily Prophet lying on the table in the center of the room. The horrific picture of Harry Potter being taken down from the giant crucifix was an indictment, a summation of all his failures regarding the Chosen One.

A large door opened at the other end of the room, admitting a Healer. His traditional lime-green robe, with a bone and wand crossed over one another emblazoned upon his chest, were stained with bright blood.

"Healer Spleen," greeted Dumbledore, dispensing with the pleasantries. "What is Harry's condition?"

The tall, stooped Healer let out a deep sigh, running a hand over his bald, spotted pate.

"The most grievous physical wound was from a sharp object, most likely a knife, accounting for the hole in the patient's abdomen. A poorly cast Flesh-Knitting Spell tore the wound open further, dislodging the small intestine. At least half of it will have to be re-grown."

Dumbledore's mouth tightened at the mention of the injury, but other than that his face was impassive. Later there would be a time to grieve for the torture inflicted upon young Harry, but that time was not now.

"Please, continue."

"We are treating his abdomen right now, but soon we will have to deal with the numerous wounds on his legs, wrists and face. Every wound inflicted upon him was allowed to fester, to the point where gangrene has set in. The affected areas will have to be excised, before the flesh is re-grown."

Dumbledore's mind seized upon a distinction the Healer had made in his first diagnosis.

"You made a point to mention his 'physical' wounds. Why was it important to specify their nature?"

Spleen let out a deep breath.

"When the patient arrived at St. Mungo's, his eyes were shut. When we manually opened them to check for any damage to the eyes, we discovered that every single blood vessel had burst. Do…do you know what that means, Albus?"

The Healer's voice broke slightly at the end, his professional veneer cracking for a moment. Dumbledore's shoulders slumped, well aware of the implications.

Frank and Alice Longbottom were tortured by the Cruciatus Curse for hours on end, and when taken to St. Mungo's, showed similar symptoms. The vessels in their eyes healed, but their minds were beyond all help.

For the third time, one of his allies had been condemned to a fate crueler than death.

"The patient's physical wounds will heal, but as for the mental scarring…I just don't know. Damage of this magnitude is unexplored territory in the Healing field. Torture of this sort is so rare that we don't have enough data to form a reliable diagnosis."

Despite the catatonic states of the Longbottoms, Albus allowed himself a brief moment of hope. Perhaps things could be different for Harry. He seemed to be the exception to the rule in many instances; why couldn't this be any different?

A door flying open stole his attention. He glances to his right to see Rufus Scrimegeor enter the waiting room for the Spell Damage ward, lame leg dragging behind him. Two crimson-robed Aurors followed in his wake, their faces blank masks.

"Healer Spleen. These men will see personally to Harry's protection."

The healer wore a heavy frown, but chose not to challenge the new Minister.

"Potter is being held within room four-o-seven, the last on the left. You may post your Aurors outside the door, but under no situation are they to enter the room. Is that clear?"

"Perfectly," Scrimegeor replied, nodding his head a single time at the door leading to the ward. At once the two Aurors left the room, to begin their watch. "Now, what is Potter's condition?" he asked, turning to the Healer.

"Healer Spleen just informed me," said Dumbledore, cutting into the dialogue. "Perhaps I could relate it to you so that our esteemed healer can get back to his work?"

The Healer seized at the exit Dumbledore had provided.

"Indeed I do, my assistants have most likely finished their prep. If anything should change, I will let you know, Minister."

Scrimegeor didn't look pleased by the Healer's words, but offered no objection.

"Very well then. Remember, Healer Spleen: Britain is depending on you."

Without further words, the Healer left, leaving Scrimegeor and Dumbledore alone. As soon as the door had closed, the Minister rounded on Dumbledore.

"Tell me everything," he ordered, his voice brooking no argument. The Headmaster complied, relaying all the information given unto him. At additional each injury, the Minister cursed more loudly, souring his mood.

"So what you mean to tell me, Dumbledore," said the Minister, through gritted teeth, "Is that Harry Potter, the boy Wizarding Britain is now referring to as 'The Chosen One', may never wake up? Is that what you're telling me?"

"Your concern for Harry is touching, Minister. It saddens me to say as much, but yes, that is a very real possibility."

"Dammit, Dumbledore, I'm trying to fight a bloody war here!" yelled Scrimegeor, his face reddening. "It's not enough that I have to worry about giant attacks, or the murder of the head of the DMLE, or trying to make some sort of progress in tracking down the at large Death Eaters?! No, of course not! I have to worry about the fact that you left Harry Potter at a Muggle residence for the summer! What, did you think that Voldemort would get tired of trying to kill Potter?! That perhaps he'd get bored with it, and move onto something else?!"

Dumbledore closed his eyes for a moment. As much as he disagreed with Scrimegeor's tactics, the man had brought up many valid points. Harry's abduction had been a perfect storm of missed details, incompetence and pure bad luck, though indeed it had been his call to send Harry back to Privet Drive.

The brief silence gave Scrimegeor a chance to calm down slightly. Taking a deep breath, he re-adjusted his wire-framed glasses.

"For years, we've left the security of Potter in your hands, but no longer. When Potter is in stable condition, he will be transferred to a secure Ministry safe house, guarded by the best Aurors the DMLE has to offer."

"That would be unwise," cautioned Dumbledore, prompting a bark of humorless laughter from the Minister. Undaunted, the Headmaster pushed on.

"Ask yourself what happened during the first Wizarding War, Rufus. With how vast the Ministry is, how certain are you that the entire DMLE is free from Voldemort's influence?"

"Perhaps as certain as you that they're no leaks within your own little vigilante group. Tell me, how did Potter get captured again?"

Bile rise in the back of Dumbledore's throat, the magnitude of his mistakes with Harry making him physically ill.

"A grievous oversight, but not one born from a question of loyalty. Every member of the Order has a personal stake in this war. Beyond that, though, you heard Spleen's words: His mental wounds are the most troubling aspect of this situation. I, for one, am confident that familiar faces in a familiar location, one that is dear to his heart, with aid in the process."

"I will not have Potter be sent back to live with bloody Muggles!" hissed Scrimegeor, yellowing eyes filled with anger.

"Nor would I. I am thinking of a Wizarding household, where most of his closest friends reside."

Scrimegeor appeared to mull over the idea.

"And how secure is this location? We cannot afford any more mistakes where Harry is concerned."

"No, absolutely not," agreed Dumbledore. "I understand that you would want Aurors on patrol, and we could upgrade the ward configurations until they met your specifications. With the resources at your disposal, we could make it very nearly impossible to break through the protections, all while providing Harry a warm, caring atmosphere to recover within."

Scrimegeor ran a hand through his thick whiskers.

"And this family you speak of, they will consent to my demands? Because, mark my words, Dumbledore, I am not taking any chances this time around."

"Oh, I assure you, Rufus, you will find them to be most accommodating hosts."

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White, blinding light filled the world, pushing away the faintest suggestion of dark. He felt nothing, as if he was floating in a cloud. No pain accompanied the brightness, only a vague notion that perhaps he should close his eyes. Upon doing so, the light dimmed, leaving a spectrum of colored spots to dance in front of his vision.

"Oh, Harry!" wept an unfamiliar female voice.

At the screech, his last memory came flooding back. Of Voldemort and Bellatrix perched above him, the Cruciatus Curse upon both their tongues. He thrashed against the bonds as hard as he could, but he felt no give in his restraints, as if every inch of his body was locked in place.

"Harry, you're safe here!" the same voice insisted in soothing tones, closer this time. It possessed nothing of the malice he had known from Bellatrix, but he was on guard nonetheless. His vision had not yet returned to normal, leaving him blind.

"I…I can't see," he croaked across numb lips. Getting a better handle on his surroundings was priority number one. Until then, he was helpless.

"Here, drink this," the woman urged. "It will make everything better."

"What is it?" Harry asked suspiciously.

There was a brief moment of silence, before the woman resumed with an air of hesitation.

"Your eyes have been closed…a long time, so your pupils are almost completely dilated. This will fix them."

He still didn't trust the woman, but offered no rebuttal. It appeared he had been out of commission for a while. If she hadn't killed him already, it was foolish to assume she would do so now. Resigned, he stayed still, waiting for the cool vial upon his lips.

Nothing happened.

"Harry, you've got to swallow," she urged. He still felt nothing, but went through the motion anyway. "There you are, dear. This will help."

True to her word, the blinding light faded at once, revealing a small, cozy bedroom. Above a writing desk on the left-hand wall, a double-window was wide open, letting lazy streams of sunlight into the room.

Beside him, in a plush blue armchair, sat Mrs. Weasley. Moisture glistened in her eyes as she clasped his right hand tightly within her own.

"We're so glad to have you back, dear," the Weasley matriarch whispered, before leaning forward and enveloping Harry in a hug. He saw her lean in, saw the wrinkled flower-print housedress she wore, the frizzed state of her red hair, streaked with trails of white, but he couldn't feel her embrace. No more than he felt the bed beneath him.

"I can't feel you."

"You…what?" asked Mrs. Weasley with surprise, drawing back from him. Not answering, Harry kicked off the patched quilt covering his lower body, revealing pajama-clad legs as thin as rails. He succeeded in partially kicking the cover off, but did not feel the fabric upon his legs. With a shaky hand he could not feel, he reached out and poked the upper part of his leg.

"I can't feel this," said Harry as he lowered his hand and tried to dig against the mattress, to push himself into a sitting position. Without touch to guide his actions, he slid ineffectually against the sheet.

"Oh, Harry…" gasped Mrs. Weasley, placing her hands over her gaping mouth. "I…this isn't right."

Turning his head to the right, Harry spied an end table. A half-full glass of water stood upon, next to the empty vial which had most likely contained the potion she administered.

"No, let me-" objected Mrs. Weasley, but he pressed on. Numb fingers jostled the cup, sending it tumbling. Water sloshed out of the glass, soaking the white doily covering the wood.

"Fuck," he swore under his breath, watching his hand. The fingers moved, following the commands of his brain, he just couldn't feel them. A second later the glass tumbled off the side of the table. It exploded against the floor in a discordant crash, drawing a small yelp from Mrs. Weasley.

"Oh Harry, it's okay," she assured, freely crying now, but Harry ignored her. Keeping a careful eye on his hand, he wrapped his fingers around the vial. It was difficult, maintaining a grip without sensation in his appendages, but he lifted up the vial a foot, before smashing back against the table.

Mrs. Weasley let out a small scream, jumping back a foot. With clinical interest, Harry held his hand out in front of his face. Several large slivers of glass were embedded in his palm. Small rivulets of blood ran down his hand, dripping onto the bedding.

Yet it was all painless.

"Harry dear, what are you doing?!" she cried with a panicked edge. Harry let out a casual shrug in response. If they had managed to sew his stomach back together and heal his legs, a few cuts to his hands weren't going to be a big deal.

"Testing a theory."

Her eyes widening, the Weasley matriarch took a step backwards. "I…I'll go g-get a Healer," she stuttered, before practically fleeing from the small bedroom.

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The Weasley matriarch was inconsolable. On a threadbare brown couch she sat, bent at the waist, tear tracks winding their way down her cheeks. What had been full-out sobs had tapered to the occasional sniffle

"He isn't himself," she declared, her red, puffy eyes still shining with moisture.

"Harry will be fine, Molly," assured Arthur Weasley, seated next to his wife. One of his hands rubbed small, reassuring circles on her back, while the other squeezed her knee through her flower-print housedress.

The words were spoken with optimistic conviction, but the haunted look in the thin man's pinched face spoke a different truth; one which Healer Spleen was inclinded to agree with.

He took his leave from the living room in silence, ducking into the cluttered kitchen. He leaned up against a counter cluttered high with cookware and pottery, crossing his thin arms. It was hard to form much of a diagnosis from the words of a hysterical witch, but nonetheless...

The very idea that Potter was capable of coherent speech and thought outshined the optimistic of his projections.

Spleen looked to his right as the kitchen door opened, admitting Albus Dumbledore and his garish robes. The Healer didn't bother to conceal his disdain for the Headmaster of Hogwarts.

He was a Healer by trade, one of the finest currently employed by St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. Day in, day out the lives of countless witches and wizards depended on his skills. As had Potter the day he had been cut down the crucifix planted at Diagon Alley. The damage had been extensive to the teenager's body, but Darion Spleen had never been one to back away from a challenge. It had taken the entire day, eighteen straight hours, but Potter had finally made it back from death's precipice.

At that point, Spleen's role should have been complete. Potter was in stable condition, and the tender attentions of even an apprentice Healer would have sufficed to guide him down the road to physical recovery.

However, it was just beginning. By order of the Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimegeor, he had been stationed at the Weasley family pigsty, 'The Burrow', and forced to attend to a comatose patient, letting his skills go to waste.

"Healer Spleen," greeted Dumbledore, with a slight inclination of his head, as if they had not just both born witness to Molly Weasley's tearful account of Potter's awakening.

"I assume you want me to go up and examine Potter," Spleen stated with blunt efficiency, dispensing with the pleasantries. If Dumbledore was offended by the frank statement, he gave no indication.

"I would be most appreciative if you would do so. It is a miracle that Mister Potter has awakened in the first place, but fear for the scars that his ordeal may have left behind."

"You heard Mrs. Weasley. 'May' does not enter into the equation. The only question is how deep the scars extend."

"And that, Healer Spleen, is exactly what I need you to assess."

"My skills as a Healer are inadequate to gauge that," Spleen replied slowly. "After what Potter has been through, you would be better served with someone well-versed in the mental arts."

Dumbledore shook his head a single time. "Eventually, yes, but his lack of touch must be addressed first. It is the first sense that we truly understand, even as a newborn, when our cries summon forth the warm, nurturing embrace of our mother. A pat on the back or a rough hug from a parent says more than a thousands words of praise. Touch is the foundation to our emotional cores. Without it…I fear young Harry will be unable to ground himself."

The Healer understood the logic of the Headmaster's argument, but wasn't yet ready to yield. "And this would be more useful than having a familiar face around to greet him? He is up there right now, all alone in that room. Do you think he's wondering why no one else has gone to see him?"

"After hearing the story that Mrs. Weasley, who by all accounts is like a mother to him, told us…it would appear that his physical aliments weight far more heavily in his mind. Perhaps once you've formed the basis of a diagnosis, we can explore that avenue."

Spleen dropped his gaze to the faded, brown tiles beneath his feet, trying to compose his thoughts. The argument the wizened Headmaster was trying to make was feeble at best, based upon conjecture rather than actual fact. What was Dumbledore's ultimate goal here?

"He may have questions," Spleen said eventually, looking up from the floor. "Questions that I don't have the answer to."

"And I would encourage you to answer them to the best of your ability."

"But I don't know anything!" Spleen snapped, unable to hide his agitation any longer. "If I had just spent a month being tortured, there would be some very specific questions on my mind."

"And what would those questions happen to be?" prodded the Headmaster. His tone was light, his bearing benevolent, but behind the bright blue eyes Spleen received the distinct impression that Dumbledore was displeased with the current direction of their conversation. And despite the lack of malice, the Healer felt gooseflesh break out over his arms and legs, the tiny hairs standing on end.

For a brief moment he saw Dumbledore, not for the benevolent Headmaster loved by the generations of witches and wizards that had passed through Hogwarts, but for the most powerful wizard in Britain, the man who had defeated Grindelwald on the battlefield, the one who was said to be the only man that Voldemort had ever feared.

And he, a skilled Healer, but just a Healer, nonetheless, was going to challenge Albus Dumbledore on the matter?

Not fucking likely.

"You know, it doesn't matter," said Spleen quickly, standing up straight. "Though perhaps Potter would like to see some of his friends after I'm finished with my examination?"

"I believe that may do young Harry some good," stated Dumbledore magnanimously, as if nothing had even been amiss.

"I…I'll let you know what I find," Spleen said, making to leave the kitchen behind. His racing heart was beginning to slow, but he still wanted to put as much distance between the two of them as possible.

His gaolers may have changed identity, but it appeared that Potter may still have been a prisoner.

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Harry remembered how easy movement used to be. Walking, sitting, standing; everyday activities that were never spared a single moment's thought.

Now they required the entirety of his concentration.

What was the source of his apparent lack of feeling? The Longbottoms were the only other case he had ever heard of with long-term exposure to the Cruciatus Curse, and their physiological reaction to the torture couldn't have been different. Had his nerves shut burnt out before his mind shut itself down?

With a shrug, he left behind any attempts at contemplation. He was no Healer, and in no shape to make an accurate diagnosis. Thinking about his situation was a waste of time; understanding his new reality, however, might actually yield a return.

Keeping a careful eye upon his legs, he had swung them over the side of the bed. There was no sensation of movement, no buffer to inform him that his feet had touched down on the floor. Out of his line of sight, if he got up without the proper foot support, he'd probably fall off the bed.

Inch by inch Harry lifted his upper body off the bed, putting his weight upon his rump. Halfway to a sitting position, he began to slide off of the bed. Reflexively, he reached out with his arms, trying to break his fall. Fabric whispered as numb hands raked at the sheets without finding purchase, leaving thin trails of blood on them.

Unable to stop his slide, he tumbled to the floor in a messy tangle of flailing limbs.

"Bloody fucking hell!" yelled Harry, pounding his hand down on the ground. He heard it thump into the carpet, yet his fist felt nothing. Even child-like tantrums had lost their appeal.

Wondering if it was even worth the trouble to climb back into the bed, the bedroom door opened. Harry turned his head to see a tall man with a stooped back enter, dressed in lime-green robes.

"Mister Potter, are you alright?" he asked, crouching down so that he was at eye level with Harry.

"I'm fine, I just fell off the bed," answered Harry. At his words, the healer glanced towards the streaks of blood marring the white sheets.

"A test," he explained, "to see if I could feel anything."

"That seems…extreme," the healer observed, before drawing his wand and vanishing the bloodstains. "Can I see your right hand?"

With a shrug, Harry turned the offending palm up. "I guess Mrs. Weasley already told you everything."

"Well, she certainly said a few things," conceded the healer. He pointed his wand at Harry's hand, and a bright yellow flash enveloped it for a brief moment, before fading from view. Seemingly satisfied, he took Harry's hand in his own, casting a speculative eye over it.

"For someone who was just patched up, you seem to be in a hurry to undo my work. I'm frankly surprised that there's no ligament damage."

Harry shrugged, not really caring one way or the other.

"The work you put in wasn't really at the forefront of my mind."

"Understandable, considering the circumstances," allowed the healer, as he waved his wand over Harry's hand. As if pulled by a magnet the slivers of glass flew outward, the tiny wounds sealing as the flying shards flew neatly into a glass vial, which the healer promptly corked and placed into a pocket within his robes.

"I would like to move you back onto the bed, if that's okay with you."

At Harry's nod, he began to floats upwards. As gently as a mother putting a newborn into a crib, the healer set Harry down upon crisp, white sheets.

"Now that you're in a more civilized position, allow me to introduce myself as Dario Spleen, Senior Healer at St. Mungo's."

Harry couldn't help but notice how fucking stupid of a last name the Healer possessed, but met his outstretched hand anyway, fumbling slightly as he pumped it a single time.

"You already know my name."

"I do," Spleen admitted. "The Minister of Magic himself asked me to personally oversee your recovery."

Harry let out a snort of laughter. From doting, indulgent uncle to ruthless inquisitor, there were few extremes Fudge hadn't broached during their limited interactions.

"Have I said something amusing?" Spleen asked with a slight frown.

"Fudge's attitude towards me changes more frequently than the wind. Maybe next week he'll have St. Mungo's worst Healer here to take your place."

"Well…I can't speak to what your relationship is to Cornelius Fudge," said Spleen after a moment of awkward silence. "But good, bad, or indifferent, there is now a new Minister of Magic. The former Head of the Auror Office, Rufus Scrimgeour, has been appointed in his place."

"Well…that's good, I guess?" ventured Harry, not really sure. Sure, Fudge was incompetence personified, but there was no guarantee that the new Minister would be any better.

"That is a subject of much debate, but right now I am more concerned about your hand."

Harry raised it, holding it up in front of his face. All the tiny perforations from vial were gone, along with the bloodstains.

"It seems to have healed well," said the Healer, after examining it for a moment.

Harry, grinning humorlessly, make a fist with the hand and smashed it against the bedside table. To his credit, the Healer did not flinch.

"Yeah, it really feels great, doc," he said with a sarcastic sneer. Harry supposed that he should be feeling scared, but all he felt was a logical annoyance. How the fuck was he supposed to function if he couldn't feel anything?

"Do you know what condition we found you in, Mister Potter?" asked Spleen, not bothering to hide his annoyance. "The very fact that you're capable of any movement at all, let along coherent and intelligent thought, is a miracle unto itself."

"No, I don't," replied Harry, ignoring the second part of the statement and crossing his arms. "I know that both Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange had their wands pointed at me, and were handing out Cruciatus Curses like they were party favors. I know…or, I think I'm at the Burrow. And apparently Fudge is no longer the Minister, and some other bloke I've never heard of has taken his place. And that about fucking sums up what I know."

All the frustration leaked out of the Healer at Harry's words, to be replaced by weariness. He put his head down for a minute, rubbing his temples, before lifting his gaze back up to him.

"Please excuse my behavior, Mister Potter. I am renowned for my skill in the art of Healing, but my bedside manner…leaves much to be desired. I know I cannot know the horrors you faced while in captivity…"

Impatience seized at Harry. He wasn't looking for an apology, only for answers. He started to say as much, before reconsidering.

"No, I'm sorry," Harry said instead, in flat tones. "I guess you're probably the one who patched me up, so…thanks. Thanks for that."

If the hollowness of his words was evident, the Healer gave no indication. With all the wounds that he gained at Bellatrix's less than tender care, he didn't imagine that stitching him back together had been an easy task. A little gratitude, even forced, was the least that he could do.

"You are welcome, Mister Potter," he replied, inclining his head slightly.

"Were you able to fix everything?"

"On the surface, yes," Spleen answered. "The damage to your abdomen would have been fatal if untreated for another few hours. As it was, we had to regrow half of your small intestine. Your stomach, your Achilles' tendon, your mouth…we were able to repair all of the damage, but with your apparent long-term exposure to the Cruciatus, we feared you may never awaken. If you don't mind me asking…"

Harry waved a careless hand in the air. Whatever happened to him, it was in the past. He had vague memories of it, of intense anguish and torment, but they seemed faraway, unimportant, as if they happened to another person.

"Do…do you know how long your exposure to the…Cruciatus Curse lasted?"

"The last time? I don't know," answered Harry with a shrug. "I think I passed out at some point."

"So there were multiple instances of the curse being applied?"

"More than I could ever count."

For a moment Spleen's cool, clinical mask broke, revealing a sliver of pity, before the Healer banished it away.

"Over short time periods, exposure to Cruciatus Curse is cumulative. Did the agony seem to be worse, more intense at time passed? Did the pain seem to recede more slowly the longer you were there?"

"It's all the same," Harry replied slowly, after a moment of thought. "Even when Bellatrix lifted the curse, I was still suspended by my wrists for most of time. The cold, the festering wounds, just trying to stay upright…it was just a constant onslaught of misery. It was hard to tell where one ended and another began."

"I can't imagine the nightmare that you went through, Mister Potter, but I do want you to know that I will do everything in my power to help you."

Harry nodded, satisfied. Spleen's motivations, at least from what Harry had seen. He was a Healer, and this was his job. The thought was oddly comforting, as his motivations seemed not only clear, but impersonal.

"Very well then. With your permission, I'd like to run some diagnostics, to try to isolate the cause of your current problem."

"Go ahead," said Harry, as soon as the Healer finished talking. The sooner this problem was dealt with, the better.

With a nod, Healer Spleen went to work. He cast a bevy of different spells in a wide spectrum of colors, the likes of which he'd never seen before, but assumed to be advanced Healing spells of some sort.

Several times he thought to ask about the particulars, before reconsidering. Some professionals worked better when left to their own devices, unburdened by questions or interruptions. Judging by Spleen's maintained silence while working, it seemed safe to assume that this also applied to the Healer. Which was perfectly fine with Harry. He didn't need someone with a jovial bedside manner, nor someone who explained every step of the examination.

He needed someone who would give him his fucking life back. Sooner, rather than later.

After a few minutes, Spleen withdrew a vial filled with a bright, emerald-green liquid.

"Would you mind taking this?"

At Harry's nod, he brought the vial to his lips. Though he felt nothing, Harry went through the motion of swallowing, which seemed to be good enough to ingest the potion.

Spleen pocketed the empty vial, before raising his wand. A focused beam of light stream from his wand, which he began to sweep across Harry's body. Wherever it touched, a tangled lattice of green lines were revealed, running all down his arms and into his chest, disappearing beneath his chest.

"Do you need me to take off my shirt?" asked Harry, to which Spleen shook his head.

"I have all the information I need for now. I need to go back to my office and do some cross referencing with some of my medical journals."

Harry wanted answers right-fucking-now, but expecting it would have been optimistic to the point of foolishness.

"Any ideas on what might be going on?"

"It…it would be less than prudent to draw any conclusions at this point," answered the Healer after a moment of contemplation.

It was clear that Spleen wasn't letting on to all that he knew, but he clearly had his reasons. For a moment, Harry considered demanding to know what Spleen was hiding, before reconsidering. As much as he wanted to know what was going on, knowing brought him to closer to a solution. The Healer leaving and doing the proper research did.

"Very well then," concluded Spleen, rising from the bedside chair. "I shall see you tomorrow, hopefully with answers in tow. Until then, keep your movements to a minimum."

"Why?" asked Harry. "I think I've slept enough for now. I want to go outside."

His wants were at odds with his words, but the thought of spending another day indoors held no appeal. He was sick of four walls; he wanted to go outside, to see the sunshine, the sky.

"I suppose there would be little enough harm in that. Perhaps you'd like to see your friends again?"

Ron, Hermione. It wasn't much a surprise that they were at the Burrow, but he hadn't spared them a single thought in what seemed like forever. Did he really want to see them at this point?

"Sure," said Harry with a shrug, moving to the side of the bed slowly, letting his legs dangle over the side. Though the prospect of a reunion held no joy, perhaps they might be willing to reveal the truths Spleen seemed reluctant to part with.

X-X-X-X-X-X -|- X-X-X-X-X-X -|- X-X-X-X-X-X

Was this what an infant learning to walk felt like? Each lumbering, tottering step equally balanced between success and catastrophe.

If so, Harry had a renewed appreciation for the accomplishment of his one year-old self.

His head was down as he walked, each step a study in deliberation. While his muscles still responded promptly to all commands, unless he watched them occur, he was lost, as there was no functional feedback system on his limbs. Spleen had wanted someone to escort him across the warped, smooth floorboards and down the stairs, but Harry had waved the Healer off.

If he couldn't at least walk by himself, his long term prospects for independence weren't promising.

He wobbled as he reached out for banister up ahead, nearly falling as his useless fingers ineffectually pawed as the handhold, before grasping it at the last moment.

"This is bloody fucking ridiculous," Harry swore to himself, getting more frustrated by the minute. Sure, it was obvious he was going to have problems upon waking, but he hadn't realized how truly and deeply flummoxed his sense of equilibrium would be. Everything felt wrong, out of sorts, and his mind hadn't yet coped with the drastic change.

Putting his back to the banister, he began a sort of sidestep down the distorted, Geiger-esque stairs, taking them one at a time. Each rickety step creaked alarmingly, as if ready to give way and pitch him arse over teakettle down the remaining flights. It also didn't help that each step was constructed on a different grade, throwing off his balance further.

As he slowly descended, he looked at the pictures hung at crooked angles, from twisted lengths of steel wire hanging by nails. He saw a younger version of what he thought was Bill, with his long hair, standing next to a large, barrel-chested teenage Charlie, with a younger, red-hair preteen in horn-rimmed glasses standing between them, all of them holding garish sweaters and wide grins. Another had Ginny at perhaps five years old, all flying red hair, freckles, knees and elbows, sitting atop her father's shoulders, placing a gleaming gold star atop a towering Christmas tree. One saw a younger Ron, perhaps around eleven-years old, wearing a mix of exasperation and begrudging laughter as he was literally crushed between Fred and George, both of the twins whistling with mock innocence as they strained to squish their brother out of existence. He saw Arthur escorting a much younger, and thinner, Molly Weasley down a pathway lined with beds of white flowers.

Reaching the next landing, Harry stopped, leaning heavily against a plaster wall, which had several hairline cracks running through it. As he stared at the two doors leading off to Ginny and Bill's respective rooms, both closed, he wondered what it'd be like to live around people who actually cared for him. The closest thing he had ever known to family had been murdered before his eyes…but he wasn't even sure if they counted. You were supposed to mourn family members when they passed.

All he felt at Vernon, Petunia and Dudley's deaths was a vague sense of satisfaction. They hadn't even been served a fraction of the mental torment they put him through, but the look on his uncle's face when he saw the severed heads of his wife and son…maybe in that instant he began to understand.

With a sigh, he started down the last flight of stairs. The look of joy, of happiness upon the faces of the Weasleys struck a tinder of thought.

Joy…joy had been in short supply as of late. Ever since Sirius' death everything in his life had been on a steady downward trajectory. Down in the darkened depths of Malfoy Manor, chained to the ceiling, every festering wound screaming, he had thought a soft, white bed would be heaven…but nothing could be further than the truth. There had been no moment of triumph when he had awoken within Percy's old room, no satisfaction of escaping with his sanity mostly intact, just a hollow void of humanity. Even the first steps outside the bedroom, which should have been a shining victory after the damage his legs had sustained, might have changed his outlook, but it had not. Nothing had changed.

As much as he would have liked to think otherwise, that seeing both of the sun and his friends again, he thought that the upcoming event would be similarly disappointing. That perhaps triumph had departed forever.

The ground floor was deserted, as Harry had expected it would be. He knew the true reasoning behind it, to give his two closest friends the opportunity to greet him first, but it seemed odd to have silence in what was normally the chaotic epicenter of the Weasley household.

As he stepped into the empty kitchen, he glanced around. On a normal day he supposed Mrs. Weasley would have been putting about, levitating pots and pans into the air, while Weasleys and Order members milled around the table. Harry could still recall the memories of his time during the summers of his second and fourth year, and how he looked forward to every trip, but the memories of seasons past had none of the warmth that would normally be associated with them.

It was all just space occupying his mind.

He went out the back door, squinting against the bright glare as he raised an arm over his eyes. After a few moments he let it fall away, to reveal an endless blue sea above, with a flat yellow disk at its center. The sun, which he hadn't seen in a month, and truthfully, had never expected to see again.

And he felt nothing. No release, no catharsis, no liberation, no triumph. Nothing.

Shrugging, he climbed carefully down the steps, into the garden. Unlike its normal state, it had seen careful tending as of late. Closest to the home, a circular plinth of close-cropped grass sat, with several tables pushed together lying at its center. The hedges ringing the garden were neatly trimmed, coming to Harry's shoulder.

He went with the gentle slope of the lawn, down to where two figures stood next to the green pond, their back to him, talking quietly. The taller of the two, with short-cropped, red hair, wore a blinding orange shirt over loose fitting jeans. To his left stood a girl with brown, bushy tangles of hair hanging one-third of the way down her back, over a light purple sweatshirt. In the scant space between the two, he observed that their hands were clasped.

Ron and Hermione, the two closest friends he had ever met, who had repeatedly put their lives at risk for him, who were his two constants in the chaotic existence he had lived since arriving at Hogwarts…and he couldn't care less if he ever saw them again. A small part of him even wondered if he should just turn back and go back up to Percy's old room. What was the point?

On the brink of turning, Hermione seemed to notice that she was being watched. She turned her head around, quickly letting go of Ron's hand as her brown eyes widened. She nudged Ron as she spun and ran towards Harry, arms and legs pumping as she closed the distance, her eyes glistening.

Although starting off with every intention of throwing herself at him, she slowed as she approach him, wrapping her arms gently around him, as if he were made of glass.

"Harry," she sobbed into his ear, as it to make sure he was really there. The sunlight caught the tear-tracks on her cheeks, setting them alight.

"Am I going to get a turn?" Ron asked from behind her. Hermione let out a shaky laugh and stepped aside, wiping the sleeve of her thin sweatshirt across her eyes.

Ron, his face red, filled her vacated space, enveloping Harry in a huge hug.

"Welcome back, Harry. We – we missed you," he said, his hitching slightly. "It's great to have you back, mate."

Here he stood, his two supposedly best friends hanging off them, shedding tears like they were confetti, and he didn't feel a fucking thing. What would the prior version of his self say?

"It's, er, good to be back," he stated lamely after a few moments. Apparently satisfied, Ron stepped back. Hermione hooked her arm under his and guided him to the bench beside the pond, seating him in the center. His friends sat to either side.

He imagined at any other time, they would have fallen back to the easy camaraderie that once came at naturally as breathing, but he saw them exchange nervous glances, in between the worried ones. As lost as he was, his two friends weren't doing a whole lot better.

"How have things been around here?" asked Harry, breaking the awkward silence.

"Well…the Burrow's been rather busy as of late," answered Hermione. "The Order, the Healers, the Aurors…even Dumbledore himself has been in and out since…" she hesitated a moment, sending a pleading look to Ron.

"Since you came back," he finished. "There's daily patrols by the Aurors, and I bet we don't even see half of them."

"Better late than never," spat Harry with a bitter shrug, annoyed. He knew that the new Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimegeor, had forced the extra security upon Dumbledore, but why did it take an act of a legislative body to get him some fucking protection? "Has Dumbledore been around her much?"

"Almost every day," Hermione answered. "It seems like there's an Order meeting almost every night."

"Do they ever include you?"

Ron shook his head. "Mum still won't allow it. I mean, we don't even know…"

"Know what?" prodded Harry, after a few moments of silence. Hermione looked downward, as if afraid to speak, but Ron's face grew a shade redder. He took in a deep, frustrated breath, kicking at the dirt.

"You-Kn – V-Voldemort lured you to the Ministry of Magic just two months ago, Harry. He was after you, and he tried to kill you. Why…why in the bloody hell would you be safe with the Muggles?! At least put a few bloody members of the Order over there in case something goes wrong!"

"We haven't seen Lupin since King Crossing," Hermione interjected. "Maybe he…"

Harry thought back to that night, which seemed almost like a thousand years ago, another lifetime. Arabella Figg would have been on hand to alert the Order if something went wrong, but judging by how empty her house had been…it seemed like she had been eliminated to prevent any warning from getting out. Had Lupin been watching Harry for the Order, and been captured?

"Dumbledore had a Squib next door, Mrs. Figg, watch over me, but she couldn't have actually defended me. There had to have been someone else there, someone who could defend me if needed. Someone with a wand."

"It must have been Lupin!" concluded Ron.

"Then why haven't we heard anything about him?" Hermione challenged, crossing her arms over her chest. "If Lupin was truly gone, we would have been told."

Harry wasn't so certain. Upon awakening he expected Dumbledore to be one of his first visitors, much like after his encounter with Quirrell at the end of his first year at Hogwarts. However, it seemed like Dumbledore was intentionally going out of his way to not be around him. What was the Headmaster's motivation?

"Unless he doesn't want the truth to get out," stated Harry. For fifteen years Dumbledore had kept the prophecy a secret. If the Headmaster wanted to keep a secret, he'd have no compunction against playing it close to the vest. "Have you asked around about Lupin?"

"No one knows anything," remarked Ron, blowing out a breath of frustrated air. "We haven't even really seen any members of the Order since you arrived."

"Isn't that unusual?"

"Definitely," Ron agreed. "At least once a week you could usually count on Tonks, Kingsley or even Mad-Eye to at least poke their head through the fireplace, but as of late we haven't even seen Bill."

"But that might just be a coincidence," Hermione pointed out, ignoring Ron's cynical scoff. "If Dumbledore and the Minister aren't getting along, he might be keeping them away from the Aurors patrolling the Burrow, to keep their members identities' secret."

"What have you heard?"

"I guess Scrimgeor wanted to move you someplace else," said Ron, taking the question over from Hermione. "The only reason they let you come here was if the Aurors were on regular patrols."

"That would have been nice six weeks ago," spat Harry, causing his friends to flinch. If Lupin had been the only one watching Number Four Privet Drive, it was an unforgivable oversight.

"We're so sorry," sniffed Hermione, her red-rimmed eyes beginning to leak again.

"At least you're back now," said Ron, throwing an arm over Harry's shoulder. For a minute, Harry was tempted set the limb on fire. So what if he endured weeks of torture, had to watch every one of his escape attempts fail, and lost his sense of touch? He was back! That made up for the endless torment of the Cruciatus Curse, for the total breakdown which had led to his capture?

No fucking way it did.

"Yeah," said Harry, forcing a fake smile onto his face. If he followed up on the idea of cursing Ron, he wasn't likely to gain anything except for some fleeting sense of justice. However, it he used them…

"Don't worry, we'll keep an eye out for Lupin, and ask around," promised Hermione, reaching down and squeezing his numb hand. Harry thought he squeezed back, but couldn't be certain. "I know you're worried about him."

Harry suppressed the urge to laugh. Up until Hermione had mentioned it, he hadn't had a solitary concerned thought about his former Defense instructor. All of his thoughts concerned how Lupin's disappearance could be used to further illuminate his own situation.

And if indeed he had been standing watch and had been killed by Voldemort, why hadn't Lupin sent out a final warning message before being cut down? If his entire job was to watch for any suspicious activity, surely he would have noticed something was amiss before Voldemort descended upon Privet Drive?

Either that, or Lupin had been a terrible watchman.

"Yeah, I am," Harry answered. If his apathy on the subject was obvious, his friends gave no sign they noticed. And maybe that was just as well. Did he really even care about them any more?

Or were they just tools in his hand?

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The long, sleepless night stretched time into infinity. By the time Spleen did return, it was surprising that the sun had not yet burnt out.

Yet return he did, just as the first rays of sunshine began to stream through the open window. He gave a gentle, yet firm knock on the bedroom door, and entered at Harry's insistence.

"Good morning, Mr. Potter," greeted Spleen, closing the door behind him and setting the leather satchel down on the dresser.

"Yeah, good morning," Harry said distractedly, paying little attention to the niceties that were probably expected of him. "Did you find anything out?"

If the Healer was offended by his directness, he gave no indication. He sighed slightly, taking the chair beside Harry's bed.

"Before we start, Mr. Potter, I need to emphasize that my theories are mere hypothesis at this point. Your condition sees us treading uncharted waters, and all of the conclusions I have drawn may be terribly wrong. Before we proceed, you need to understand this."

Harry nodded. And truly, he did understand, but the alternative was doing nothing, which was unacceptable.

"Yeah, I get it."

"Good," stated the Healer, apparently satisfied. "Now, the theory that I'm operating under is that, most likely in an unconscious effort, your brain detached itself from your nerve endings, in an effort to save itself, as the torment associated with long-term Cruciatus Curse exposure…is just too much for the mind to handle."

"Then why didn't the Longbottoms do the same thing?"

"I…I don't know," admitted the Healer, running a hand back against his head. "The best I can offer is guesswork. There's been recorded cases of children healing serious, sometimes even fatal wounds via accidental magic, a skill which fades the further from adolescence they grow. Perhaps you were young enough that you were able to unconsciously wield the last strands of your accidental magic. But…like I said, I cannot be sure on any of this."

Harry nodded. The lack of concrete answers was slightly disappointing, but not unexpected. "Can the damage be reversed?"

Healer Spleen contemplated the question for a moment before carefully answering.

"Perhaps, but I must admit…I'm even more concerned about what would happen once the nerves were reconnected."


"Again, I can't be sure, but I believe that your nerve endings may have been burnt out. If we were to re-activate them…I fear they would frozen in their last state."

Harry didn't need the Healer to lay it out any further. Even if the first step worked, he was potentially facing the prospect of being constantly under the Cruciatus Curse. Not much of an alternative to his current physical state, but what other option was there? He had to try.

"Do it."

"Are you certain, Mr. Potter? Even if we took the necessary precautions, there is the very real possibility that-"

"I cannot live like this," Harry said firmly, cutting across the warning as he slammed his numb hand down upon the bed. "If there's any chance of gaining my sense of touch back, I have to take it."

"Fine," agreed Spleen through tight lips, after a moment's hesitation. Satisfied, Harry leaned backwards. He was probably propped up against the headboard, but couldn't tell without looking.

"So what now?"

"Our nerves are like owls, carrying messages between nerve endings and our brains," explained Spleen, rising from the chair.

Harry thought of the basic biology he had learned while attending the Muggle school, which seemed like it had happened a million years ago.

"The Muggle explanation makes more sense."

"Perhaps, but is it truly correct? I have my doubts. If this 'electricity' were the firing force between our movements, wouldn't they burn out on their own? Aren't hundreds of Muggles killed by electricity every year?"

With an annoyed sigh, Harry resolved not to pursue the line of questioning. Trying to explain the concepts of electricity to a wizard, even an obviously intelligent one…would be far more trouble than it was worth.

At Harry's obvious impatience, the Healer let out a small chuckle. "Just kidding…though I do often wonder about the difference between wizards and Muggles. What makes us fundamentally different? If we were examined by their equipment, would the result be the same?"

"It's…uh, a good question..." Harry half-heartedly offered, struggling to keep his tone polite. Maybe on another day he would be intrigued, but right now, he didn't have much patience for fucking hypotheticals.

Rather than being put out, Spleen wore a wry smile. "I understand it's not the most intriguing thing in the world right now, so please forgive my digression. Back to the matter at hand, if we simply rather think of nerves as a connection between two points, to sever communications, you'd probably just snap it, right?"

As Harry nodded along, Spleen reached into his satchel, withdrawing a large glass vial stopped with a cork. A bright, electric-blue potion sloshed within as he raised it for Harry's inspection.

"Is that…?"

"It is," confirmed the Healer. "Nerve Repair Potion. In the best case scenario, this should be enough to restored the damage to your nerves, through rapid regeneration."

"And if it isn't?" asked Harry with a healthy amount of skepticism. After all the damage that had been inflicted upon him, it just seemed too easy that a single potion would be enough to restore him to normal.

"Then things become more complicated," admitted Spleen. "I'd have to manually splice your nerve connections together, a process that would prove difficult for both of us."

"So let's find out," he replied, reaching out for the vial. To his annoyance, Spleen instead laid the vial out on the table, before withdrawing another, filled with a fluorescent yellow potion.

"Not yet, I'm afraid," apologized the Healer. "Before we proceed, there are certain precautions that we must put in place. I don't want to sound too pessimistic, but if my fears come to pass, we will need this to render your nerves inert."

"So we'll fix them, then break them? What would be the point?"

"It is merely a precaution, and as I said, it will not sever the nerves, only render them inoperable for a while. Rest assured, it is not a permanent state."

"Why don't we just repair the nerve endings then, if you're so afraid that they've been burnt out?"

"The same reason we don't have potions that can heal wounds from Dark Magic or grant eternal life. Being able to manipulate and regenerated nerve strands is a recent, and it must be said, a remarkable breakthrough in the field of Healing. Any other questions?"

Harry shook his head. "Let's do it."

Uncorking the vial, Spleen brought it to his lips, delicately tipping it. "Just one swallow will suffice."

One or a hundred, he couldn't tell the fucking difference. He took the Healer at his word, going through the motion of swallowing, despite feeling none of it.

"How long is it supposed to take?" wondered Harry, after a few moments of silence passed, during which he felt no miraculous stirring of the senses. Just the same numb ocean he awoke in.

"Not much longer," Spleen answered slowly, without the surefire confidence accompanying most of his statements. "It should absorb into the bloodstream quickly, then using the blood as a carrier, rebuilding the nerves as it travels."

Without warning, it began.

One moment there was nothing, the next there was agony, radiating out from his chest as if a burning brand had been pressed against it. For a brief moment he welcomed the pain home like a lover, a needed respite from his sensory depravation, but the partial second passed quickly, ending in torment. He bucked on the bed, grasping at the sheets, eyes clenched tight.

"Are you okay?"

"No," spat Harry, his eyes flying open as the pain spread outwards in all direction. Spleen was in motion before the words were spoken, picking up the yellow vial and uncorking it. In the small slice of time, the knives and hooks had spread their play out to his arms and stomach, hacking with reckless abandon.

Through the soul-wrenching torture, Harry let out a bitter cackle. Had he really thought agony preferable to oblivion? How could he have forgotten so fucking easily? He had endured an eternity of torment down in the dark dungeon, and now was looking for a doorway back into it?

How much of Harry Potter had been left down in the darkened depths? Who had emerged?

"Harry, open your mouth!" yelled a faraway voice as Harry sunk into darkness. The fire was burning through him, consuming him, and it was dark, and his arms were chained to the ceiling, forcing him to his tiptoes. In the darkness, a pale, glowing face appeared, with deep purple eyes that danced with equal parts humor and psychosis. The gaze fell upon him, and so did her wand, and a pink tongue flicked out from between pearly-white, perfect teeth and ran along luscious red lips and she was raising the wand and he was so fucking hard and as the fire burned him to cinder she drew closer and her lithe form was pressed up against him and she was forcing his mouth open and her tongue forcing its way into his mouth and he was surrendering because he was hers to fuck to maim to sever to kill but it all felt so good-

Darkness and memory parted slowly, the light streaming back, and he was back in Percy's old bedroom, at the Burrow. Like a spigot turned off, the pain fled, leaving Harry shaking and sweating, but once again mercifully numb.

"Harry, I'm so sorry," apologized the Healer, placing a comforting hand on his arm. A gesture he only perceived due to seeing it actually occur.

"Lot of fucking good that did!" he snapped, ripping his arm away from the Healer. Maybe he had escaped Malfoy Manor, but he was still imprisoned. "Either agony or nothing!"


"Through here!" interrupted Harry, his mood black. "Get out!"

Spleen got up wordlessly, sending an unreadable look in his direction, before exiting the room. Two nearly full vials, one containing the Nerve Repair Potion, the other a yellow liquid, were left behind on the dresser.

Now he resided in a different type of hell, his own body the jailer.

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He was suspended in the familiar dark. The rusting manacles bit into the tender flesh of his wrists, keeping his arms suspended. Cramps pulled at his muscles, unable to fully stretch out. His bare feet stung from the bare contact with the cold, damp concrete floor, aching like a rotted tooth.

And Harry couldn't be happier about any of the torment.

It had all been a dream. His awakening at the Burrow, where he was alone, surrounded by strangers had just been a delusion. A cruel hallucination where his life had been reduced to a hollow shell of humanity, unable to feel, with no hope of restoration.

"Of course it was," declared a sultry, mocking voice from the shadows. "Did you really think I'd let them take my favorite plaything, Baby Potter?"

A faint light bereft of source began to fill the room, banishing the deepest pools of darkness. As they departed, she came into view.

Like a cruel, avenging angel she stood before him, flawless, alabaster skin shining. Red lips stretched out into a predatory, hungry smile. Violet eyes drank in his body, moving up and down. She wore a thin silk robe, displaying the proud outlines of luscious curves and the twin hardened ridges of her nipples.

"I told you before, Potter; you're mine," Bellatrix Lestrange whispered, moving closer to him. He moaned as the tips of her cleavage pressed against his chest, the material of her robe so thin it was almost non-existent. Her soft breath against his neck, she reached up and caressed the side of his face. He shivered as Lestrange ran her nails lightly down his cheek. His hardening length strained from his tattered breeches, pushing against the soft juncture between her thighs. She was so warm down there, radiating heat through the negligee.

"Mind," she whispered, before pulling open his shirt and placing a palm upon his bare chest. "Heart."

The organ in question thrummed violently beneath her touch, as if it might explode. Her mouth left his ear, trailing kisses along the path to his mouth. Her hand drifted downward, trailing down the taut muscles of his abdomen and into his trousers. He gasped as she gave his cock a healthy squeeze.

"Body," she whispered, capturing his gaze with hers. Violet eyes burned with lust as she pressed her forehead against his. "Mind, heart and body, Baby Potter, I own you. Say it."

"Mind, heart and body," Harry gasped as she made a fist around him and began to slowly move it back and forth. Surrender came as easily as breathing. "I am yours."

At his oath, she pressed her soft lips to his. Harry leaned into it greedily, deepening the kiss as her tongue sought entrance, dancing and entwining with his own. She tasted like midnight and saffron, a dark intoxication.

As he strained against his bonds, her hands were in motion. Without breaking the kiss, she withdrew from his trousers and pulled them down. Harry let out a piteous whine at the loss of contact, before she hiked up her robes with one hand, the other guiding him towards her sexual core. In moments he was within her, letting out a shuddering gasp as he penetrated her warm, sopping wet walls. Her moans joined his, echoing off the narrow walls, filling the space with a symphony of their ecstasy.

At last, he was back where he belonged.

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"Bloody hell!" swore Harry, trapped within the shirt he was trying to wrestle onto his body. His right arm had slipped through the hole without much fanfare, but his left arm had proven far more stubborn.

Getting dressed was now on the quickly growing list of tasks made really fucking difficult without touch.

With a grunt of effort and a final curse, he slipped his arm through and pulled it completely onto his chest.

"This is fucking ridiculous," he whispered under his breath, before making his way unsteadily towards the bedroom door. On his way out, he sent a dark glare towards the twin vials lying on the dresser. Their presence was a mockery; a constant reminder of how truly awful his situation was.

Sure, Spleen had mentioned that there were alternatives, but the Healer probably didn't have much faith in them if he chose to use a borderline experimental potion as the first option. At least in his dreams he still felt something.

Harry tried to banish the traitorous thought, but it was like trying to hold back the tide. It was infuriating; while during the day he held only hatred towards Bellatrix for all that she had done to him, his nocturnal, dreaming self felt otherwise. Like he was a stranger in his dreams, with no thought in his head for recent history, only the all-encompassing hunger for…her. If these were the desires his unconscious mind conjured then how truly mentally fucked-up had he become?

Shaking his head Harry began to descend the twisting staircase with the care of a centurion performing the same exact task. He held no fear of falling; there was only the pragmatic truth that even the slightest misstep would be difficult to correct.

He stopped at the first-floor landing, holding onto the bannister tightly. Practice might make improve his movements down the stairs, but if the first two descents were any indication, it was always going to be a pain in the arse.

Hearing a door opening off to his left, Harry glanced to see Ginny from her bedroom, red hair tousled by sleep, clad in green pajamas and fluffy pink slippers in the shape of dragons. The youngest Weasley froze for a moment, before regaining her composure. He caught a quick glimpse of a small room with a writing desk placed at the window overlooking the orchard, before she closed the door behind her.

"Good morning," she said, before moving towards him. Harry grunted a noncommittal reply before turning back towards the stairs and continuing his descent. At once Ginny was beside him.

"Let me help," she urged, slipping an arm around his waist.

"No, I'm fine," Harry said firmly. "Let go of me."

He supposed it was nice she wanted to help, but he had no patience to be treated as an infirm. It made him feel too helpless, worthless even.

She removed her arm and took a step back, putting her hands on her small waist as she cocked her head slightly.

"Hermione and Ron told me what happened," she said after a moment's deliberation. "I know we can't understand what you're going through…but we do want to help, Harry."

"Then let me learn how to do this," Harry shot back. Contrary to popular belief, he was not a china doll. "You know the Levitation Charm, right?"

With an un-ladylike snort, Ginny withdrew her wand. "Please, give me some credit."

"Then use it if I fall down the stairs," said Harry, before resuming the twisting path downward. As he moved he heard Ginny follow behind him, like a ginger shadow. He feared that she would maintain a steady stream of chatter, but Ginny was mercifully silent as he made his way downwards into the smell of frying bacon.

Only Mr. and Mrs. Weasley appeared to be awake. The former sat at the small, scrubbed table with the Daily Prophet and a steaming mug of coffee, while the latter stood in front of the stove, her back to the stairs. At the approaching footsteps, she turned away from the wide iron frying pan, a wooden spatula held in her right hand.

"It's about time someone finally-"

Her words turned into a gasp of mingled surprise and fear at the sight of Harry. Mrs. Weasley let go of the spatula and clutched at her chest. The wooden instrument clattered to the floor, drops of bacon fat still clinging to it.

Mr. Weasley looked up at the commotion and rose from his seat, leaving the paper spread upon the table. "Good morning Harry, Ginny," he greeted, before motioning to the table. "Please, have a seat."

As he spoke he moved over to the cramped cooking area, deftly picking up the spatula and giving his wife a quick peck on the cheek. "We were just saying that we should up a plate for Harry, weren't we Molly?"

At her husband's words the wide-eyed, shocked look slowly drained away. "Why…why yes, we were. You should have stayed upstairs, dear…you could have hurt yourself on those stairs."

Resisting the urge to snort at Mrs. Weasley's poor recovery attempt he took a seat at the table.

"Percy's old room is fine, but I've spent too much time up there. Besides, I had Ginny there in case I fell."

"Well…I suppose that's fine then," the Weasley family matriarch finished lamely, turning back to the stove. Mr. Weasley made his way back to the table, neatly folding the paper as he joined Harry and Ginny.

"We're pleased to have you back with us, Harry," said the middle-aged father, before taking a small sip of coffee. "It doesn't feel like a proper summer without you here with us."

Harry shrugged. "I wish I could have been here sooner."

"Us too," replied Mr. Weasley with a pensive note to his voice. Harry had no doubt that the Weasleys would have accepted him into their home straight from King Crossing at the conclusion of his fifth year at Hogwarts, but instead Dumbledore had sent him back to Privet Drive. So far, four people had died from the spiraling effects of that one bad decision, and as for himself…well, the jury was still out.

After a few moments of awkward silence, Mrs. Weasley carefully set a plate before him, stacked high with bacon and kippers. She moved slowly, as if feeding a dog that could snap at any moment.

"Enjoy, dear," she said quickly, before retreating to the sanctuary the other side of the kitchen provided. Ginny and her father exchanged a wary glance, but Harry ignored them, digging into his breakfast. He had been looking forward to his first meal since escaping captivity.

As with almost everything else as of late, it proved a disappointment.

Harry still smelled the crisp bacon and fried potatoes that he ate, but received no sensory input from his taste buds. Along with not being able to feel the food being chewed within his mouth, it all began to meld into a boring mechanical process, where each piece was chewed past the point of reason to prevent choking.

The table in front of him steadily grew morsels of food, combined between food falling from his open mouth and the pieces that just plain missed his maw. He was trying to keep his mouth closed as he chewed, but his attempts were clearly not one-hundred percent successful.

"Sorry" Harry sullenly apologized to the other two people seated at the table. They seemed more than understanding of his plight, but the indignity of it all stung at Harry. More and more he felt like a helpless toddler. Perhaps during the next meal they could fit him with a fucking bib?

As his plate emptied out equally between the table, his mouth and his shirt, Mr. Weasley rose from the table and went over to his wife. She bid him farewell with a tight embrace and long kiss, before sending him on his way. Leaving Mrs. Weasley, he stopped back at the table.

"Harry, I'm sorry to bother you in the middle of breakfast, but would you mind walking me out?"

He shook his head in response, rising from the table. He had no idea whether he was full enough, but had received his fill of embarrassment for the morning. Mr. Weasley bent down and hugged his daughter, planting a kiss on the crown of her frizzed red hair, before following Harry out into the bright early morning sunshine. Wordlessly he drew his wand and cast a Cleansing Charm over the accumulated bits of food and grease congealing on the front of Harry's shirt.

"Thanks," he said. It wasn't as thorough as a full wash, but a vast improvement.

"You are very welcome," replied the Weasley patriarch, before running a hand through his thinning red hair, a familiar nervous gesture. "Harry, I-"

"Look, whatever it is, just ask it," urged Harry, his patience short. He had an inkling that Mr. Weasley was uncomfortable with the question he needed to ask, but was pushing ahead despite his reservations. Why delay the inevitable?

"A meeting of the Order of the Phoenix is happening here, tonight. Dumbledore…he wishes for you to be present during it."

Harry stood in silence at Mr. Weasley's words. Was that the way of things? Dumbledore would intentionally leave him in the dark, but open up in front of the full contingent of the Order?

"If he needs me to sing and dance he's going to be really disappointed," he sourly answered, drawing a wince from Mr. Weasley.

"Please, don't think that you're obligated to do this. We would all understand if you were uncomfortable with the situation, and would not blame you if-"

"I'll do it," pledged Harry, cutting him off.

"Are you sure?" asked Mr. Weasley, his eyes filled with concern. "Several of the topics might be upsetting-"

"I said I'd to it," he snapped. "You can tell Dumbledore that I'll be a good little boy, that I'll smile and sit there like he wants, but afterwards we are going to have a discussion."

His miniature diatribe left Mr. Weasley at a temporary loss for words.

"Uh, very well then," finally decided upon, his expression almost pained. He clearly liked the set of circumstances no better than Harry, but nonetheless carried out the task Dumbledore had no doubt set before him. He said his final farewells to Harry, before apparating away with a loud crack.

Alone again, Harry turned back towards the Burrow. There was no fucking way that he wanted to sit down for the Order meeting and have its members gawk at him like some strange, exotic animal, but he thought that Dumbledore might be more forthcoming with answers if he did as the Headmaster wished. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but the most effective medicine usually was.

Poison thoughts swirling in his head, Harry went back into the kitchen. Ron and Hermione had joined Ginny at the table, and the youngest Weasley brother was enthusiastically attacking a serving platter of food. He greeted Harry through a mouthful of food, drawing a hard elbow from Hermione.

"Good morning Harry," said his Muggleborn friend, after sending a scathing look in Ron's direction. The recipient of the glare swallowed heavily.

"Yeah, g' morning," Ron said, his mouth still partially full, which he cleared with his second swallow. "Sorry about that."

Harry made an inarticulate, carless wave. As scandalized as Hermione seemed to be, Harry couldn't care less about Ron's matters. So he took big bites? Who fucking cared?

The other three teenagers seated at his table began to talk, sometimes making attempts to include him, but he could barely follow their conversation. His thoughts were still occupied with the Order meeting tonight. Had it been a mistake to agree to it? Was he yielding too much to Dumbledore?

The Headmaster has been fucking him over from day one, when he arrived at Number Four Privet Drive, and had continued that grand tradition all the way up to his marvelous decision to send Harry back to his aunt and uncle's following his fifth year. And now he was going along with Dumbledore's plans, in the hopes that maybe the Headmaster just might part with some information that was his by right?

Unfelt, his hands clenched into fists. Fuck that. As soon as he woke up, he should have demanded to see Dumbledore, to demand an answer to every one of the Headmaster's numerous failures. It should have been-

Without warning, the familiar agony began to radiate outwards. With a gasp he tumbled from the chair, landing heavily upon the floor. Liquid fire coursed through his veins, setting his flesh and organs alight.

"Harry, are you okay?!" yelled Ginny, reacting the quickest as she dropped to her knees beside him.

"Y-yell-low p-p-potion, d-dresssssser," gasped Harry, before letting out a tormented groan and flopping on the ground like a fish dropped upon the deck of a ship. What the fuck was going?

Rational thought fled as Harry thrashed on the ground. His vision faded to crimson as torment became his world, all he knew.

"Here, Harry!" yelled a voice, from far away. A dim part of himself swallowed, using the last remnants of his conscious thought. At once the tide of torture receded, leaving him gasping on the floor. Ron stood over him, vial in hand, flanked by Hermione and Ginny.

"Blimey, Harry! What the bloody hell was all that?"

"I don't know," Harry wearily answered, rising to a sitting position. Why had the pain returned? Was there a limited time cycle to the nerve-blocking potion?

Or worse yet, was it losing its effectiveness?

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The kitchen filled slowly, each guest staggering their appearance.

Mrs. Weasley bustled about, busying herself with brewing tea and baking. The smell of fresh-baked biscuits drifted through the room, filling the cozy space with its homely aroma. She hummed beneath her breath, but her movements possessed a jerking, stuttering quality to them, and seemed to flinch whenever Harry turned his gaze over in her direction.

He sat at the end of the small table, his back to the wall. Ron and Hermione flanked him on either side, offering moral support. Not that he needed it, but they had been insistent upon attending, despite not truly being members of the Order of the Phoenix.

Emmeline Vance and Elphias Doge were the first to arrive, taking seats at the small table. She inclined her stately head, wrapped in an emerald-green shawl, towards him, but offered no other comment. Elphias was far more forthright, shaking Harry's hand a single time, before offering Harry his congratulations in between hacking coughs. Harry didn't know what he had done to deserve any praise, but accepted it nonetheless.

Dedalus Diggle and Hestia Jones were next. Diggle let out an excited squeak at seeing Harry, rushing up to him and pumping his hand enthusiastically, sending his violet top-hat tottering perilously. Hesita was far more reserved, and settled for wishing him a speedy recovery.

Mad-Eye came by himself. He sent noncommittal grunts towards the greetings sent his way, before making his way over to Harry.

"I'm proud of you, Potter," rasped the former Auror, his electric-blue eye spinning in its socket. "It's not many people that could endure what you did, and live to tell the tale."

He clapped Harry on the shoulder once, before making his way to the corner of the kitchen. He took up real-estate against the wall, leaning against it as the fake eye whirred and spun.

An unknown, yet slightly familiar witch with ashen features and mousy, listless brown hair walked in next. She glanced at Harry once, before quickly retreating away and hiding in another corner, as if she wished to stay unseen. Oddly, Moody's real eye narrowed at her appearance, tracking the witch as she walked. She seemed to be aware of it, swallowing nervously as she looked at the floor, playing with her hands.

"Who's that?" Harry whispered to Hermione, leaning back so that the sound wouldn't travel.

"I don't know," the Muggleborn witch answered. "I think I know her though – but from where?"

Harry shook his head, understanding Hermione's frustration. He felt like he should know, like a word on the tip of his tongue, but just couldn't place her. Was she a new member of the Order? And if so, why did she look like she wanted to disappear?

Kingsley Shacklebolt and Arthur Weasley arrived next, the former still dressed in his crimson Auror robes. Mr. Weasley greeted Harry warmly, before going over to give his wife a quick peck on the lips. Shacklebolt shook Harry's hand, saying it was good to have him back, before taking another of the dwindling seats at the table.

Dumbledore was the last to arrive.

The quiet conversation and conspiratorial whispers faded away as the Headmaster of Hogwarts swept into the room, dressed in midnight-blue robes adorned with yellow stars and moons. He took the last remaining seat at the scrubbed wooden table, directly across from Harry.

Anger flared within him at the sight of the calm, blue eyes hiding behind half-moon spectacles. He had so many questions, and ever since Harry's arrival at the Burrow, he had seen nothing of the Headmaster? Why was he avoiding him?

"Friends and allies, thank you for coming here on such short notice," began Dumbledore, his tired gaze moving about the room. "And thank you to the Weasleys for accommodating us as well."

Looking around the room, he saw movement in the far corner, near the ceiling. Through a small, almost invisible hole in the ceiling, from the direction of Ginny's room, an Extendable Ear was being fed. As soon as Harry saw it, Dumbledore raised his wand into the air, waving it over his head. If he were capable of touch, Harry assumed that he would have felt dense waves of magic wash through the room as the Privacy Charm cloaked their conversation from the Aurors patrolling the perimeter of the Burrow.

As it were, he felt nothing.

"Now that we are freed from any unwanted eavesdropping, please join me in welcoming Harry Potter back."

The wizened wizard began to clap his large, gnarled hands together, the movements being quickly picked up by the rest of the room. He saw Ron slap him on the back, grinning wide, before resuming clapping. Mrs. Weasley openly wept but still managed to put her hands together, leaning against her husband.

As the crescendo of striking flesh faded away Dumbledore began to speak again.

"Great odds faced our champion, but yet again Harry has proven equal to the best of Voldemort's efforts. His miraculous return has given rise to an entirely unforeseen set of circumstances. An opportunity, if you will; one that we cannot afford to throw away."

All around the room people leaned forward, like flowers towards the sun.

"Since the Department of Mysteries, Voldemort has been met with a multitude of failures, starting with revealing himself to Cornelius Fudge, shredding the shroud of secrecy and doubt that accompanied his resurrection. And your escape, Harry," said the Headmaster, turning his blue-eyed gaze towards his student, "has given the Death-Eaters reason to doubt their master. That is now three times that he has had the opportunity to strike you down, once and for all, and each time he has not. His power is being devalued as we speak. Now is the time for action."

Silence accompanied Dumbledore's words, allowing for their magnitude to fully register. As far as Harry had known, the Order of the Phoenix had always been a defensive organization, concerned with thwarting Voldemort's plans rather than a direct offensive against him and his followers. Had Dumbledore decided to change tactics?

"We must being to recruit from their ranks, now that the seed of doubt has begun to flower. Any Death-Eater that wishes to defect from Voldemort's ranks must be offered protection and sanctuary."

"That's an offer that could create severe security risks," Mad-Eye pointed out.

"We do not require their service – only their inaction. Every servant that Voldemort loses from his ranks is one less enemy to contend with. You may seem that at the Ministry, at Diagon Alley, perhaps even at the Three Broomsticks. They are weary, they are scared, and they are wondering if perhaps there is an alternative to the life of servitude that is required by the Dark Lord. Show them that there is another way; that things can be different. I urge it of each and every one of you."

His bright gaze swept around the room, as if judging each member in turn. They shuffled uncomfortably under the gaze, as if students asked a difficult question during class, but once the gaze moved on, determination filled the brief relief.

Albus Dumbledore would never hand out to punishments for failures within the Order, as Voldemort took no exception to doing so with his Death Eaters, but there was no question the Headmaster held the same sway over his followers. Disappointment and expectation was his primary arsenal among his followers, just as effective as a Cruciatus in the proper hands. After all, who would want to let down the great Dumbledore, the so-called Champion of the Light'?

His agenda set, Dumbledore dismissed the Order. They shuffled out of the kitchen, nodding to Harry and sending him their fondest wishes, but he couldn't help but feel that something was off. In the wake of the Headmaster's rousing words, he would have expected optimism from the assembled witches and wizards, but a shadow hid behind their eyes. A heavy dread hung heavy in the air, like an early morning fog. Whatever unseen menace lurked just out of sight, beneath every smile and laugh that lasted just a little too long, its time was near.

"Do you want us to stay?" whispered Hermione, leaning towards him.

"What? Why would we leave?" Ron asked, completely flummoxed by the question.

"There are things that Dumbledore and myself need to talk about alone," Harry answered after a moment of thought. The Headmaster might be tempted to guard his answers slightly if his friends were around, which was not what Harry had in mind.

"We understand," the young witch said, before placing a hand he couldn't feel on his shoulder. She sent an encouraging smile towards him, before leading Ron out of the kitchen and up the stairs. At their departure, only four people remained in the small space.

Harry stared at Dumbledore, before moving his gaze to Mad-Eye, who had made no attempt to get up. Beyond the scarred former Auror, in the far corner, the mysterious witch remained. Why was she still here?

"I'm telling you, I don't like this," said Moody, shaking his head. "Voldemort will anticipate this move. He knows that he's losing cache, and he must have something huge planned to save face. We do not have the resources we once had, Albus. Can we prevent his next attack if we have to worry about babysitting Death Eaters and their families?"

"We must," Dumbledore replied, "because it is the only option which remains to us."

"If you say so," the grizzled Auror relented, before rising ponderously to his feet. "Albus, Harry."

He inclined his head towards both of them, ignoring the witch in the corner before taking his leave through the back door. An uncomfortable, brief silence settled over the kitchen as the three remaining participants in the Order meeting were left to their privacy. Or, veneer of privacy.

His glance moved to the Extendable Ear, still hanging down from the ceiling. He considered destroying the Extendable Ear, before discarding the notion. Whatever Dumbledore had to say, he wanted privacy for it. Adding an unforeseen variable into the Headmaster's plan gave Harry a sort of perverse, petty pleasure.

At the other side of the table, Dumbledore lightly took of his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose with his other hand.

"I fear that as of late our relationship has comprised solely of pleads for forgiveness and apologies on my end, and rage and disappointment on yours."

"Well how I am supposed to feel?" asked Harry with an angry, dismissive shrug.

"I did not say your responses were unjustified, only that it is unfortunate that I have failed you so often as to create animosity between us."

Harry did not go out of his way to deny Dumbledore's claim.

"Sometimes, down in the darkness of Malfoy Manor, I hated you just as much as Bellatrix, or any other of the Death Eaters. Voldemort's been trying to kill me since I was an infant; I understand why he keeps trying. But you…"

In the corner, Harry saw the unfamiliar young woman bury her head in her hands, sobbing quietly. Almost satisfied with the reaction, he continued on.

"But what's your excuse, Dumbledore? The Dursleys, the Defense instructors who usually try to kill me before end of term, the lies, the half-truths, the information you hide from me…if I am what you think I am, why are you trying to do Voldemort's work for him?"

"I deserve every ounce of your skepticism," the Headmaster conceded with a deep sigh, his blue eyes dim with sorrow, "and am grateful that you even consented to sit down for the Order meeting. You have my deepest thanks."

Harry shrugged. "If I didn't, you might not have answered any of my questions."

"Yet again, my good intentions go awry. I am sorry, Harry, but after undergoing such an ordeal, I thought that perhaps a quiet, unburdened recovery period surrounded by friends would do you well. It was never my intention to make you feel as if I was ignoring the many questions you doubtless had."

"Well, you can start now," said Harry, pointing his index finger at the woman standing in the corner. "Who the bloody hell is she, and why is she still here?"

At his words she froze, like a rabbit cornered by a predator.

"Please, join us," urged Dumbldore, extending a hand to one of the many empty seats at the table. The woman in question swallowed heavily, before approaching the table slowly, as if she was a criminal facing the hangman's noose. Head down, she took a seat as far as she could from Harry, while still leaving a seat between her and the Headmaster.

As Harry inspected her, he looked past the short, mousy brown hair and the deep frown, to the dark eyes that were not just filled with pain and sadness, but something else above them all, something he couldn't place. He saw the pale pallor of her skin, the delicate curve of her cheekbones – and all at once the pieces fell into place.


"Hi Harry," she whispered, her lips barely moving. All of the abundant life that had once flowed from her like a cloud, infecting all she came into contact with, was gone. She wouldn't even look at him.

Had he had it wrong the entire time? Was it Tonks, not Lupin, who had been assigned to watch over him at Privet Drive?

"Well, that answers half of my question," stated Harry, keeping his eyes locked on Tonks. "What about the other half; why is she here?"

Tonks seemed to deflate at his question, sinking deeper into the chair, as if hoping to disappear into it.

"Please excuse Miss Tonks, Harry," said Dumbledore. "Her mother, Andromeda, has been missing these past few weeks, and we fear that worst for her. Nymphodra has been…understandably distraught as of late."

He processed the Headmaster's statement in silence. There was truth to it, certainly; he knew for a fact that Andromeda was dead, having seen her dissolve into dust as Bellatrix's hands, but there was far more to the story than Dumbledore was letting on; Andromeda has even said as much. Her capture had been a calculated, intentional process to get her closer to Harry – but why? Andromeda had always been forthcoming on most matters, but when pressed about her motivation for infiltrating Malfoy Manor, she had always played coy.

"But you already know where she went," pointed out Harry, his voice cool. "She spent the night at Vance's place, for a 'witch's night', on the very same night an attack was planned."

Tonks' gaze shot upward at Harry's claim. Her mouth dropped open, and she shot a shocked look towards the Headmaster.

"It – it was all planned?!"

"It was," admitted a remorseful Dumbledore. "She only wished to atone for wrongs done. Your mother believed that if she could free Harry from captivity-"

"And you let her do it!" Tonks spat, her features contorted in anguish. "How could you?! She didn't have a chance!"

Harry supposed he should have been more accommodating to Tonks' emotional torment, but found he couldn't care less. He was sick of dancing around the core of the issue, and wanted answers.

"She sacrificed herself to get me out of there, but Bellatrix got in the way. Why? She never told me why it was so important to for her. Why was she willing to risk everything?"

At the confirmation that her mother was dead, Tonks buried her face in her hands and began to sob quietly. Dumbledore looked at her with pity, before moving his attention back to Harry.

"I have failed you many times, Harry, but each time you have found it in your heart to forgive me…however, I fear that this time may prove to be different. As always, I would urge you-"

Harry rose up from his seat, slamming his fists down on the table. "Quit stalling, Professor! Just say it! You bollocked it all up! There should have been Order members watching my aunt and uncle's house!"

"There were," stated Dumbledore, his tone as solemn as a funeral.

"Then where were they?" Harry demanded, throwing up his arms. "I didn't see anyone, and even Mrs. Figg was gone. She's just a squib; she wouldn't have been able to do anything if a Death Eater attacked her."

"Arabella Figg, along with all of her cats, has not been seen since the night of your abduction. We fear the worst. She was not the lone line of defense, however. I had rotating shifts of Order members watching the home, day and night, two sets of eyes. On that night, Miss Tonks and Remus Lupin were assigned to watch over you."

At the Headmaster's explanation, Harry shot his gaze over to Tonks, who looked like the perfect picture of misery, from the shame in her eyes to the tear tracks upon her cheeks and ashen color.

"So…what?" demanded Harry, still not seeing the whole picture. "Were you in the loo when Voldemort showed up on my doorstep, carrying the severed heads of my Aunt and Cousin? Were you sleeping when Voldemort shattered by broom in the air, and sent me falling to the street? What happened?!"

She cowered before each accusation, her sobs intensifying.

"I-I-I'm s-s-s s-sorry," she choked out.

"When I assigned them their duty for the night, I was unaware that there were tensions between the two parties," admitted Dumbledore, his tone sorrowful. "An argument turned into a spat, which led to Mr. Lupin storming off. Miss Tonks…regrettably chased after him."

Harry stood uncomprehending for a moment, his gaze moving between the Headmaster and Tonks. Was he saying…?

As the truth sunk in, Harry's mouth dropped open. All the torment, the torture, his unfixable physical handicap – it was all because of a lover's spat? Because Dumbledore failed to pay any iota of attention to not only the Order members assigned to guard duty, but how they worked together?

Carelessness, stupidity and incompetence. All from the one man that was supposed to be deliver Wizarding Britain from Voldemort. And he couldn't even fucking manage his small inner circle of followers?

An ocean of hate bloomed in Harry's heart, his veins carrying it to every part of his body. His blood boiled with it, his vision turning crimson. No more. No fucking more.

He kicked back against the chair behind him, sending it clattering to the floor. As Dumbledore sat, his heavily lined face a mask of misery, Harry made his drunken way to the fireplace, stumbling and using the wall for support. He couldn't think; the red was consuming him, obliterating all thought.

From the mantle of the fireplace he drew a handful of Floo powder, sending the pewter box containing it tumbling to the floor. As it clattered against the warped floor, scattering green dust across the hearth, Harry flung his own handful into the fireplace.

"Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place!"

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Author Notes:

Yes, the prison arc is finally complete, and now the person that Harry has become since the ordeal is starting to become more clear. I know it's a far cry from the canonical personality, but with the trauma he experienced, a new person was going to emerge on the other side.

My fourth update on this story is four years. Even by my standards that is terrible. All I can say is that my real-life situation is very much improving, and the next chapter will certainly not take two years to write, despite most likely being a 20k word behemoth.

Dumbledore's original plan was to have Harry acclimate to the world at the Burrow, but that's obviously all gone to hell. The next chapter will follow Harry and his development when left to his own devices, which is not to say the next chapter will be a solitary experience for our jaded protagonist.

I didn't have a beta work with me on this chapter, so it's probably loaded with mistakes. Each and every one is my fault.

As always, I vastly appreciate feedback. I may not always reply in a timely fashion, but I eventually catch up to each and every signed review I receive.

DLP Thanks:

T3t, Ando, psihary, Celestin, cerasuna, bombdiggity92, Pirazy, w1lliam, balin, trollolol, Swimdraconian, Mordart, Drisful, Tesla, AlbusPHomles, Deadros, 0jordinio0, Scott, Odram, jjack1003, Nargles