White Lies (And Other Misdemeanors)

Disclaimer: All of this is based upon the lovely J.K. Rowling's work.

Warnings: Language, Ignores the last two books but possibly incorporates elements if one squints

AN: A sixth year story on what should've happened but didn't.


The Dursleys are idiots. That's a fact Harry comes to accept as he grows from the scrawny boy locked in a cupboard to a man who'll one day face off against the evilest and vilest wizard in the last century. And then over the span of several years, stomp up and down repeatedly on said wizard's plans and pride – and later on said wizard himself.

But that's a story for a later. Back to the Dursleys.

They aren't just idiots either. They are fucking idiots. Completely and utterly moronic. Dumber than dirt. Less processing power than a retarded goldfish. Any slower and they'd be going backwards. The Gregory Goyle of idiots.

And yes, Goyle might've turned out to be a fairly decent bloke, but he failed remedial Charms three times, and Flitwick never fails anybody as long as they show up and are breathing. And since Goyle's still walking around and Malfoy spelled him a watch to make sure he always knows where to go and when, he has to be truly terrible.

But even he doesn't compare to the idiocy of Vernon and Petunia Dursley. Dudley has an excuse. He was a kid, and nobody's particularly smart before the age of seventeen. The few who are tend to be socially awkward to make up for it or strange in other ways. Cases in point, Hermione, Luna, and Albus Dumbledore.

But again, he digresses.

The Dursley adults are idiots for three main reasons. First off, despite Petunia's words to the contrary, she knew for a fact that her sister had married an extremely wealthy man and that her nephew is the sole heir. Second, she knew that her nephew was responsible for defeating the man who'd just murdered his parents – and bunch of other people besides – before the tender age of two. And third, both of the Dursleys knew that they'd be raising this boy during his formative years, the time when he was most easily persuaded and impressionable.

If they'd shown their nephew even one iota of concern. If they'd treated him better than a Malfoy house-elf. If they'd even given him a proper room and clothing without coercion, Vernon and Petunia could've spent the last few decades of their lives in the lap of luxury and been lauded as the guardians of the most famous wizard in modern times. They would've been heroes. They would've been – almost – universally loved. They would've had it made.

But they're morons, so that naturally didn't happen.

And yet, something else did.

Harry, raised as a slave and punching bag, survives. Not only that, he eventually flourishes. It takes him some time. Nearly five years of schooling and the normal – and not-so-normal – growing pains of adolescence, but Harry wakes one day to realize that he isn't anybody's whipping boy or servant or even fall guy. He isn't just the hero or the destined savior. He's his own man. For good or ill, no one is the boss of him but him.

And that's where this story really gets started.

-O.o.O-

Harry Potter has never really been a child. Just a very short and occasionally confused adult. Only right now, he's slightly taller and perhaps a twinge more annoyed than usual. Sure, he knows the Dursleys are idiots; it doesn't take Hermione to figure out that one. But he'd thought they were a bit smarter than this.

Insulting Albus Dumbledore to his face usually got a twinkling smile and self-effacing shrugs. Insulting him and then turning to yell at one's nephew got a pointed frown. Insulting him, yelling at one's nephew, and then proceeding to make a grab for him, which he thankfully sidesteps, gets something very unfortunate.

Naturally, things only go downhill from there. Shouts. Insults. Attempted violence. Everyday stuff really.

That isn't to say Harry takes it lying down either. He's not a punching bag anymore, but he's also more than an angry boy who's mad at the world. He just lifts his chin and fixes his relatives with a green-eyed stare that makes Petunia turn a sickly shade of white as Vernon splutters incoherently.

As for Dumbledore, he looks absolutely, unmistakably furious. More so than even the night Voldemort rose again and the man he thought was Alastor Moody turned out to be an imposter. He radiates magic for an instant before he can rein himself in, and the look he fixes Vernon and Petunia is enough to make most men run for cover.

The old professor ushers Harry outside to wait for him on the stoop a few heartbeats later, and his silencing wards are too strong for Harry to overhear the following discussion. As such, Harry doesn't know what Dumbledore says to them or even what he does. He won't for decades, and by then, Dumbledore will be dead and beyond the reach of law enforcement. But he can tell by the very peculiar gleam in the headmaster's eye as he appears ten minutes later that sweet, sweet revenge has been visited and that he can spend the rest of his life not thinking and not caring about the Dursleys at all.

Something he subsequently does.

Dumbledore's hand is warm on his shoulder as they walk down the street to the Apparition point, and Harry's very final sight of Privet Drive is with the thought that it he's glad to be rid of this place. He watches it disappear from view without a smidgeon of regret in his heart before putting it – and its inhabitants – from his mind entirely.

Dumbledore just squeezes his shoulder all the more tightly.

-O.o.O-

At the best of times, Grimmauld Place is dark, dank, and disturbing. Molly Weasley's fighting a losing battle to add color and brightness, and she hasn't even managed to remove the portrait of Mrs. Black. Who naturally screeches like a demented Banshee anytime someone even thinks about walking through the front hallway. As an alarm system, she's at least very effective and at best potentially damaging to the eardrums. Of course, she also quickly becomes cowed when Harry goes up to her several mornings later with can of heavy duty paint remover, a set of colorful markers, and a very wicked smirk stretching across his face. He just gives the can a nice little slosh right in front of her and holds the markers up for inspection, and suddenly, Mrs. Black is much more cooperative.

Harry quickly becomes the most popular person in the house after that and doubly so when he manages to sweet-talk Kreacher into helping them clean. An easy enough task really. He just asks about Regulus Black and listens to the house-elf wax on about his greatness for a few hours.

Within days, Grimmauld Place looks less like the site of a grisly murder mystery and more like an abandoned building undergoing renovation. It's actually an improvement. No more shrieking portraits. Fewer decapitated heads. There aren't even anymore spider webs with their gargantuan inhabitants as Ron tells it. In fact, with a few coats of paint and a bit more dusting, the house is almost livable.

For his efforts, Harry earns a standing ovation from both Bill Weasley and Kingsley Shacklebolt, a hug from Tonks, and a kiss on the cheek from Fleur. Mrs. Weasley is a tad bit more circumspect with her crushing hugs, but she's sure to serve him extra helpings of pudding at dinner.

Dumbledore makes a reappearance a week after Harry arrives and does a visible double-take at his surroundings. He doesn't question the smile Harry wears as he comes over to greet him, but his eyes are perhaps a bit too twinkly. He makes all the appropriate greetings and noises, but Harry can tell that he's holding the proverbial bombshell. Something that Dumbledore seems to delight in dropping right on Harry's head.

Occulmency.

Harry sighs and fights down the urge to throw things. Or perhaps bite them. Or maybe just give them a stern talking to. And yes, Hermione, he's been working on his temper problem. See how reasonable he can be?

He rationally – and rather calmly, if he does say so himself – outlines the reasons why it's a very bad, no good, horrible idea that Snape teach him. Which only earns Harry a nod, a grin, and a very queasy sense of foreboding. Especially when his headmaster gives him that particular look over his glasses.

"Well said, my boy," Dumbledore acknowledges brightly. "But I do think I should be the one to teach you this time. I'm told that I'm quite good at Legilimency."

Harry makes a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat that might be a wibble. Saying Albus is good at mind-reading is like saying the sun is good at being hot. Rather a given.

Still, it beats the alternative, and Harry agrees for that alone. Dumbledore can't be worse than Snape.

Right?

-O.o.O-

Harry and the wrong side of the law have a passing acquaintance; he's much better friends with trouble and rule-breaking in general. Detention though he could do without knowing, particularly after his time with Umbridge last year. However, being on this side of the action is decidedly different for him.

Hermione's testimony is worthless as a Muggleborn against purebloods. The brains made Ron's memory of the entire night hazy at best. Mrs. Weasley wouldn't even let Ginny come. The less members of the Order say, the better. It's only Harry, Neville, and Luna sitting in the witness section.

All the Death Eaters captured during their Ministry raid are under armed guard across from them. Some look nervous. Others, like Lucius Malfoy, are resigned. His robes are shabby with white and grey prison stripes. His hair is combed but not slick and shiny as usual. His face is an unreadable mask. But it's his eyes that give him away. That show a flicker of true fear underneath that's so painful Harry has to physically look away.

He hasn't even given his testimony, but Harry already knows what will happen here today. Even with three feet of stone and Merlin knows how many wards between them, he can still feel the Dementors in the next room.

The Ministry wants to crucify anyone they can. Malfoy Senior will get the Kiss for sure. So will everyone else they caught. The fathers of Crabbe and Goyle. A man he thinks is the uncle of a Slytherin in his year. Several others he doesn't know.

All of them Death Eaters. All of them men who avoided Azkaban the first time. All of them guilty of crimes he shudders to think of. All of them parents with their spouses and kids in the stands.

Harry looks at Malfoy Senior looking at his wife and son, and they look back. Harry sucks in a breath as he witnesses something he never thought he'd ever see.

Love. Longing. Regret.

Harry's heart clenches in his chest, and it squeezes so tight that he can't even breathe as he glances at Malfoy the younger and his mother. He can tell they know exactly what'll happen. That this is likely the last time they'll ever see Malfoy Senior. That their last memory of him will be as the Aurors drag him away to the Dementors.

Harry doesn't wish that fate on anyone. Not after Sirius. Not after nearly losing his own soul before his fifth year.

He looks at them one more time, heart a quivering wreck inside of him, and makes his decision. He reaches down to squeeze Luna's hand, and she picks up on his subliminal message instantly. Her face is a tad too calculating as she glances out over the court. A tad too knowing. Neville takes a minute on his other side, but he doesn't seem the least bit comfortable to be here and even less so as his gaze locks on their schoolmates scattered throughout the rest of the room.

Mrs. Goyle has already started weeping into her hands, and not even her son's arm around her shoulders can make her stop. Her little girl beside her is glassy-eyed as she stares at her father and he stares back.

Neville sighs then and gives Harry a look that clearly asks him if he's sure he knows what he's doing. Harry just nods once. His gaze locks with Dumbledore's then, and the old man doesn't even need to use Legilimency. He just offers a sage nod, and the gleam in his eyes says he's proud even if he can never say it.

There's more than one way to save a man. Just as there's more than one way to destroy him. It's obvious that Voldemort's abandoned his followers. Perhaps they failed him one too many times. Maybe he's too busy to care. Either way, even though these are bad men – the worst – Harry doesn't have it within him to see them dead. And if it happens to put them in his debt in the process and bring more people to his side, so much the better.

Wizards are almost as stupid as the Dursleys. So he isn't sworn-in. He doesn't have to take an oath. They don't even give him a truth potion. The prosecutor is a pureblood idiot who only got the job because of his blood status and family connections. Harry might not be the swiftest unicorn in the herd or the fastest broomstick, but he's miles above this guy.

Harry talks circles around him. He doesn't lie. Not quite. But he mutilates the truth six ways from Sunday until it seems the sky is pink and made of butterscotch and marmalade. He can practically feel Malfoy Senior goggling at him, but Harry sticks with his story. Neville and Luna do the same, and soon the whole room is so confused at what actually happened, that even the Aurors are scratching their heads.

They're still found guilty, but even the judge seems skeptical about that part, and several years home arrest with a few more on probation is a much better fate than they probably deserve.

But at least, Harry will be able to sleep tonight. And he does so with no regrets.

-O.o.O-

Hogwarts Express is the same as always if one ignores the Aurors patrolling both the platform and the train. The only thing they're really good for is crowd control and keeping the reporters away. If Harry thought he was popular before, he doesn't even know what to call it now. People gape at him as he walks by, conversations stop, everyone holds their breath.

They whisper his name like he's some type of savior. Like he's a messiah descended down to save them personally. Like he's Merlin reborn to fight their battles for them with a smile on his face and a song in his heart.

The only way he avoids their looks is to stare straight ahead, Ron at his left elbow and Hermione at his right. Neville in front of them and to the side with Ginny mirroring him. Luna is right at Harry's back, slightly off center to be closer to his heart. To protect him where he's most vulnerable. Most defenseless.

Somehow, they make it onto the train, but only because Tonks forces back the crowd of stupefied parents, family members, and onlookers.

It's better once inside. Harry can actually breathe. Almost relax as they start to disperse. Ginny, Ron, and Hermione to the other prefects. Luna and Neville taking him to find more members of the DA. They step inside first. Their backs are only turned for a second, but that's all it takes, and Harry knows that he's been shadowed for nearly twenty minutes now.

It isn't a spell to the back he gets, however. Merely the feel of another person as they step too close and brush by. The corridor is busy, but the hustle and bustle hides the movement. Hides the exchange as Draco Malfoy moves by him, and Harry glances up. Their eyes lock for a second, just an instant, and Harry glimpses a flash of something that might be gratitude.

He doesn't see Malfoy for the rest of the ride. Not until they're all seated and waiting for the Sorting Hat. Malfoy looks at him from across the room, and when he's certain that Harry's looking back, that all the Slytherins and Gryffindors around them both are looking too, he slowly gives a nod.

It isn't much, but it's a beginning.

-O.o.O-

Harry prepares himself for it. For the anniversary. Something happens every year without fail. Trolls. Heirs. Mass murderers. Tournaments. The list goes on.

He stays awake all night. Neville and Ron distract him with exploding snap and chess. Seamus and Dean have thankfully gone elsewhere for the night, but Ginny lies on Dean's bed and reads aloud silly articles from her stack of newspapers and magazines. Hermione attempts to do her homework for the first few hours, but she eventually gives up and settles for an impromptu gobstones match with Luna, who's raiding through everyone's chocolate frog cards before that point.

They try; they really do. But they aren't like Harry. Aren't used to a few scattered hours of sleep.

Hermione is first. She always overworks herself anyway, and it's no surprise that she barely makes it past midnight. Ginny is next, and Harry knows that she's fading when she stops reading and just lies there, staring at the ceiling. Less than an hour passes before Harry glances over to see that Luna's now settled in next to her. Both of them have fallen asleep without him noticing. Ron goes sometime around three or four. He just props himself up on his elbow and drifts off in the midst of a chess match that he somehow still wins.

Then, it's just Harry and Neville.

They don't talk. The only sounds are the tick of Seamus' wind-up clock and the soft noises of sleep. Neville's face is a blank mask, and he gazes out the window at the darkness. Harry just takes off his glasses and rubs his forehead nearly raw.

Finally, it's just before dawn, and he's the only one left awake.

Harry lets the owl in before she can even tap on the window, but the Daily Prophet stays rolled up in his hand for a full ten minutes as he unsuccessfully tries to calm his racing heart. He's still attempting that when the bed unexpectedly dips beside him, and Harry nearly jumps out of his skin and hexes the headmaster a good half-dozen ways both.

The old man just holds up his hands innocently. "Excellent reflexes, Harry," he states as he glances at the wand pointed directly between his eyes. "I dare say you would've gotten me had I been a Death Eater."

Harry lowers his hand and mumbles an apology that's waved away. The newspaper is still in his hand, still rolled up as Dumbledore gently takes it from him.

"Is it bad?" Harry asks, and it's little more than a whisper.

But Dumbledore actually smiles. He slowly unrolls the paper, but instead of horror, it's a story of triumph. Or Aurors driving Death Eaters away and saving the day.

Harry stares at first the headline and then his headmaster.

"No, it's not bad at all," the old man says with pride and affection both. "We got to them in time, my boy. We got everyone out safely."

Harry lets out his breath in a rush. He feels dizzy. Giddy. He hadn't expected it to work. He'd thought it another of Voldemort's traps. But they succeeded. They'd won. This round at least.

Dumbledore keeps smiling, but his voice goes even softer then. "Your visions are still troublesome, but on this occasion, they worked in our favor. But that's the point of practicing, I suppose. So that you see what Tom is doing, but he doesn't know what he has given away."

Harry gives another breath, this one somehow shakier. His eyes burn, and he swallows. Once. Twice.

Dumbledore's fingers are warm on his shoulder, and the old man directs him to lie down before Harry even realizes what he's done. It isn't a potion bottle pressed to his lips but rather a whispered spell he doesn't recognize that lets him take a deep breath and sink into the covers. His vision is blurry – he doesn't have his glasses – but he can see Dumbledore moving to shut the curtains and darken the room.

Then, there's sweet oblivion.

-O.o.O-

It's one thing to have Snape, mostly and only sort of an enemy, rifle through his mind and his memories. It's quite another to have Dumbledore do it. A man he not only respects but quite possibly, sort of, maybe, if he tilts his head to the side and squints, sometimes, all of the time loves. In a strictly professional, mentor-like, beloved grandfatherly sort of way.

Particularly when those memories are embarrassing. Particularly when they're about his formative years.

"I went too easy on them," Dumbledore muses to himself as he plays over what he just learned about the Dursley family as a whole. Only his voice is cold and not at all pleasant.

Harry, eyes still all but spinning, can't help but shift uneasily. He tries not to gulp at the expression on the old man's face, but there's a reason Voldemort is afraid of this man, and it isn't because his taste in clothes or candy.

Harry hears Dumbledore mutter several things to himself then, but he tries very hard to forget the words llama, zoo, and neutering. Especially when used in conjunction. Especially in this context.

Instead, he casts his mind about for a different topic entirely.

"Who was that girl I saw?" he questions just as Dumbledore starts to make travel plans.

That brings the headmaster up short.

"Ah… So you did see her. Very good, Harry," he praises, rather distracted by his student's own use of Legilimency.

The old man pauses for a second and glances over his glasses at Harry before summoning something from his desk drawer with a flick of his fingers. It's almost too small to be a proper portrait, and the clarity is nearly that of a modern photograph, but Harry's sure it's not that at all. There's the feel of age to it as Dumbledore turns it over in his hands with great care and holds her out for Harry to see.

"My sister," the old man says softly. "Ariana."

The girl in the picture offers him a curtsy accompanied by a giggle. Her eyes are a weird shade that isn't quite blue but not grey either. Her hair is long and has a bit of curl at the end. Her smile is radiant as she looks at him. Beautiful in a way that brightens her whole face and brings a very familiar twinkle to her eyes.

She looks like a happy little girl. She looks like Luna.

"Is Lu…" Harry starts to ask but hesitates.

Dumbledore offers him a look that is both benevolent and deeply sad.

"Ah… Miss Lovegood. She's a favorite niece. Currently my only one," the old man admits. His smile is wide and beaming, but there's a flicker of grief that quickly disappears.

He doesn't say it. He doesn't have to explain. Harry can read between the lines. He knows far too much about families and frustration.

He simply tips his head, offers an equally pained smile, and quickly changes the subject. He doesn't see Dumbledore's gratitude, but Harry feels it nonetheless.

-O.o.O-

She finds him out by the far edge of the lake where it meets the border of the Forbidden Forest. Not many students dare come this close, but Luna just offers a small wave to the centaurs she sees hiding – unsuccessfully – in the bushes. One of the younger ones actually waves back before Bane can stop him, but Luna has already turned away by that point.

Harry's eyes are red as he watches her, and when she finally sits beside him, he offers a quiet greeting that has an echo of pain and forced cheer. He knows Luna isn't fooled for a minute as he asks after her day and tries so desperately to sound interested, but the paper lying out before him says all that Harry hasn't. Strange happenings. Entire families vanishing in the night. Villages that stand cold and empty. Whispers of terrible times ahead.

But they aren't just whispers. Harry's seen it. Seen them. Sometimes without Tom knowing. Sometimes with his red eyes full of mocking laughter.

Harry feels something in his bones tremble, even as her hand reaches out to rest on his elbow. She shouldn't be surprised to find him trembling oh-so-faintly.

"It isn't your fault," she murmurs.

Harry lets out a breath that fogs in the winter air and works his jaw. "I know."

"Do you?" she questions, chill wind tugging at her hair. "I honestly wonder."

He tenses next to her, but Luna just rubs her fingers along the sleeve of his robe. He swallows hard, and she can see his neck and shoulders straining with the weight of the world. If she could share it, she would. If he'd let her.

"I don't know what to do," Harry says very quietly. He stares at the surface of the water like it holds all the answers and will show him if he only looks long enough. "People are going to die. I can't save them all. I know it isn't my job, but-"

"But it doesn't mean you want them dead," Luna finishes for him. Her hand slides down his arm to rest on his wrist, and her fingers ghost over the scars still embedded in his skin.

I must not tell lies.

Ironic because Luna once told him that he's the most honest person she knows. And if not that, certainly the kindest. The most caring.

He'd flushed then. Embarrassed by her assessment of his character. Uncomfortable with her praise.

But he isn't flushing now. Instead, he's just cold. Just frozen inside and waiting for the dam to burst. For the agony both inside and out to reach up and finally crush him.

"I'm scared," he admits then and squeezes her hand.

Her face and eyes are full of sorrow. "It isn't weakness to be afraid. Just a different kind of strength."

Harry looks at the lake for a long moment. The squid is idly stirring the water about thirty feet in, and Harry almost swears that he sees the tail of a merperson splashing along the surface not too far away. The sun is almost warm as it shines down on them, but the breeze is chilly and carries with it the faint fragrance of dead leaves and snow soon to come. Luna's quiet beside him, not demanding answers or giving false assurance.

Just compassion. Just comfort.

And in the end, that's what he really needs.

"I'm scared," Harry finally repeats, "and that's okay."

-O.o.O-

Christmas that year isn't one of Harry's best. Which is to say that it's probably very far down there on the list. Only beaten out of the bottom slot by when he was five and finally understood that no matter how hard he wished and tried to be good, Santa would never bring him a family who loved him.

It involves being kidnapped off of Hogwarts' grounds completely by accident. The actual target is Luna, who turns out to be Dumbledore's great-niece and quite possibly his favorite blood relation. But Harry knocks the Portkey away from her a second before it hits and is subsequently sucked along for the ride.

Rookwood is mildly perturbed when Harry shows up instead of the blonde Ravenclaw girl he'd been expecting, but he quickly realizes the benefits of his mistake and drags his hostage before the Dark Lord with a happy smirk on his face. He still earns a good cursing for his efforts, and that's followed by a lot of posturing and threats and Harry fighting not to roll his eyes. Voldemort has his moments, but his Death Eaters really need to work on their material. Their lack of originality is utterly boring, and they can't even make being tortured interesting.

It's all Cruciatus this and "I'll make you suffer, Potter" that. Even Bellatrix isn't up to standard. She just cackles and makes her eyes look very big in her face, while her husband hovers in the background and their minions try not to drool from sheer stupidity.

Fortunately, the rest of the encounter is much more to Harry's liking, and it's actually a very entertaining tale. One that involves a daring rescue after a day and a half of torture and mistreatment. A wizarding duel. Quite a bit of taunting. A fair amount of yelling. Some unfortunate property damage. The not-so-unfortunate loss of some Death Eaters. And an enraged Dark Lord.

However, the only truly relevant part of that's the end. The part where they escape.

Voldemort is naturally fuming by this point. Which might have something to do with the fact that he's losing to a sixteen-year-old boy, a fifteen-year-old girl, and a man wearing purple polka dotted robes. Or that he's just lost McNair, Dolohov, and the youngest Lestrange brother. Or possibly because Nagini has been transfigured into a rubber duck, his throne is now a cake with strawberry icing, and half of his forces are unconscious or have bunny ears.

Dumbledore makes it all look so damn easy. Luna just dances through the battlefield like it's a ballet. Harry thinks he must be doing okay.

"How are you doing this?" Voldemort nearly screams at them as the fighting reaches a lull.

Harry, stumbling over to his group, thinks that the answer should be rather obvious.

"Magic," he calls back. "How else?"

He manages to hear Voldemort's furious shriek just as the Portkey whisks them away

-O.o.O-

He spends the next two months alternating between being lectured and coddled by his friends. Harry can hardly take a step down the hallways without one of them appearing in view as if by magic, and the only time he's really alone is when he's in the bathroom. Hermione gives him a disapproving sniff every time he isn't directly in sight, while Ron looks like a puppy abandoned by the side of the road. Ginny offers a glare not out of place on a saber-toothed tiger or possibly her mother, and Neville gets back at him in his typical passive aggressive way.

Luna is the only normal one, and isn't that a truly sad thing indeed? She's the only one who says nothing about being taken. The only one to let the silence linger. To not watch him out of the corner of her eye or act like he's broken in some way because he survived.

Even Malfoy's in on the act, shadowing Harry whenever he goes down to the dungeons for Potions. And if he stares any harder as Harry's walking to and from class, he'll get permanent eye-strain.

The professors aren't much better. McGonagall and Flitwick hover like they think he'll fall apart if they so much as whisper loudly. Madam Pomfrey has to be literally pried off him in the hospital wing, while Sprout acts like he's a delicate flower in need of much tender care. Snape even treats him with kid gloves. Though to be fair, for Snape, that means Harry only gets yelled at five minutes instead of ten at the start of every lesson, and he only takes twenty points in place of a fifty at the end.

And then, there's Dumbledore. Watching him. Always watching him. Eyes blue and not nearly as twinkling as they should be.

He speaks to Harry after every meal. Finds reasons to loiter in the corridors as classes are letting out. Excuses to take Harry to his office for a spot of tea and a chat.

But tea is less tea and more like what Harry imagines it'd be like to have an adult he trusts. To have a confidant. Someone on his side who won't necessarily fight his battles but will have his back. Be in his corner, cheering him on.

It's a strange feeling. A nice one.

And the returning twinkle and Dumbledore's smile make up for all the frustration.

-O.o.O-

By the end of January, things are really starting to get out of hand. Harry's removed so many tracking charms by that point he could do it in his sleep, and the monitoring spells are just as easy to dissolve. Mad-Eye would be proud of their paranoia, but Harry's gone far beyond grateful for their concern, right past tolerance, and into downright annoyed territory. It's the only thing he can do not to tear his hair out or start hexing things when he finds the alarm Ginny has put on their dorm, and he nearly removes it just to spite her.

It turns out to be quite fortunate that Harry doesn't, however, when he's jolted awake one night to the sound of hissing and their door creaking open. Harry is reaching for his wand in an instant. He hears Nagini more than sees her. The sole noise is her scales against the floor, but it's impossible to tell where she is. Any light would be useless and only give her the perfect time to strike as his eyes adjust.

But Harry isn't out of tricks yet. He casts a quick and silent charm towards the floor, and he can hear her suck in a breath at the sudden cold. Her movements slow but not enough to stop her completely. That wasn't Harry's goal though. He has something else in mind entirely, moving his wand in a swift jerking motion. Nagini's outline materializes out of the darkness like stars suddenly uncovered by a cloud, and his wand is already moving for the kill-stroke.

But someone beats him to it.

Before Harry can even start the spell, a burst of light hits Nagini right below her head. She's bisected in an instant, and her dying expression is one of puzzlement. Like she can't quite understand what just happened. Of course, that quickly disappears as a second spell hits her a few heartbeats later and she's reduced to nothing but ash.

Harry blinks. And blinks again as Ron and Neville move over to his bed from their own, while Seamus gradually brings on a few lights and Dean leaves to go get McGonagall. Ron lets out a low whistle as he shifts the ash with his slipper.

"Not as big as the basilisk but bigger than I'd thought she'd be," he observes as Harry moves to stand next to him.

"It did have a few centuries on her though," Harry comments and turns to the friend on his other side.

Neville has been quiet up until now, and he's still looking at Nagini's remains like he can't quite believe what just happened or what he just did. It isn't every day, after all, that one kills Voldemort's pet and preferred assassin.

Harry offers him a grin with a pat on the back. "Good man, Neville."

Neville just gazes down at the ashes with a determined glint and gives a vague nod.

-O.o.O-

Valentine's day is better than Christmas and certainly much better than waking up to a giant snake. The day in question, Luna pulls him into an abandoned class room, shoves him into a hastily conjured chair, and crawls into his lap. She kisses him before Harry can even think to ask what the hell she thinks she's doing, and afterwards, his brain is little more than mush about three seconds away from dribbling out his ears.

"You saved me," Luna whispers after she's kissed him so hard that her lips are swollen. "From Rookwood. From being captured. They would've gotten me if you hadn't acted so fast."

She's been quiet since Christmas. Normal in comparison to everyone else. Not nearly as paranoid. But still quiet.

And it's only now that Harry really understands why. Yes, he was captured. Yes, there was some torture. Yes, he could've died.

But it was Luna they wanted originally. Luna who keeps closer to their group more now than before. Luna who curls against his side at lunch and walks beside him and instead of at his back.

And she does it not to coddle but to cling. In her own way, she's been asking for reassurance. For comfort.

Harry wants to apologize. But he isn't sure what for.

"You rescued me," he murmurs back instead. "You came for me. I always have to get myself out of my messes, but you were there."

She smiles then. It's warm and glowing. Beautiful.

"How could I not be?" she asks and brushes his face. "Someone has to keep you out of trouble."

That earns her a laugh.

"Applying for that job then?" It's half-playful, half-serious. Perhaps a twinge cautious.

Luna smiles wider. It lights up her face and chases the shadows from her eyes.

"I think I already did," she returns, and her face is suddenly too close.

But Harry isn't complaining.

-O.o.O-

Easter is better still.

Dumbledore's house is neither small nor large. It's comfortable. Lived in for all his absences. The room Harry's given is warm and inviting and has enough personal touches that Harry is very suspicious about just how much time his professor worked on getting it ready. Not to mention the fact that he'll now be exceptionally paranoid in his dorm at school. And for reasons other than Nagini.

It's peaceful here though. Different than the hustle and bustle of the castle, but it has the same air to it. The same tingle of magic. The same calming effect.

The company is good, too. After years of Ron's pep talks on chess, Harry is a passable player, but Dumbledore much prefers gobstones or exploding snap. They even manage to talk Dobby into a game, and the house-elf cleans the floor with them both once he gets the hang of things.

Ariana's portrait is the first thing to greet him as he leaves his room every morning, and she follows Harry as he wanders the house. She doesn't speak, but her smile is almost painfully familiar when he enters the kitchen. She watches Harry with eyes a tad too knowing as he gets everything together for evening meal, and she actually gives a giggle at Dobby's dismay when Harry starts to cook.

Dinner is a chicken dish that Harry has seen the headmaster eat at Hogwarts several times, but he adds his own special touches that Dumbledore seems to appreciate if the way he cleans his plate is anything to go by. Pudding is the only thing Harry didn't make since Dobby was so insistent, but it's eaten just as quickly.

"I don't have children," Dumbledore tells him as they linger around the table afterwards.

Harry pauses and looks at him. Assessing. Weighing.

"I don't have parents," he allows, certain he knows where this is going.

He isn't disappointed.

"But I do have a family." Dumbledore's twinkle is bright, nearly blinding.

Harry's grin is the same. "So do I."

-O.o.O-

May rolls around with the threat of exams looming. Hermione makes a study schedule that no one but her actually follows, and that thankfully diverts most of her attention. Ginny alternates between complete and utter confidence and halfway to a nervous breakdown as her OWLs creep ever closer, while Luna studies by gazing out the window and watching the merpeople swim around the lake.

Ron and Neville, traitors that they both are, make themselves increasingly scarce. But Harry sticks around if only because Hermione doesn't notice when his study breaks with Luna are over an hour long and involve a broom closet.

Malfoy joins their library table a few times, and Harry is pleasantly surprised by his knowledge of Transfiguration. Ginny grills him on it one afternoon after she discovers he made an O in the subject, but that swiftly degenerates to a talk on Quidditch that drags Harry in, too. The other Slytherins are quick to join in once they sense wands won't be drawn, and the discussion becomes increasingly loud and full of descriptive gesturing until Madam Pince kicks the lot of them out.

They blink at each other for a few seconds afterwards before relocating in masse to the great hall. By the time dinner rolls around, the Gryffindor part of the room is still full of Quidditch fans, while everyone sane has relocated to sit at the Slytherin table.

The only way to tell either House apart is by their ties.

-O.o.O-

An attack in June isn't a surprise.

Voldemort, for all he's supposedly a mad and evil genius, is nothing if not predictable. Something major will happen at Halloween. Then, it'll be quiet for several weeks. Something else will occur around Christmas. Then, more quiet until late May or just before the start of summer. Then, BAM. Something major and earth-shattering and all sorts of other terrifying adjectives that don't truly describe just how well Harry foils whatever plot Voldemort's worked so hard on. And of course, all of this interspersed with an occasional raid or break-in or break-out. And so on.

Yawn.

The attack is ostensibly on Hogsmeade, but even a retarded goldfish wouldn't be fooled for a second. Harry knows that Hogwarts is the real target, and no one voices disagreement when he sends the DA to reinforce key parts of the castle. Harry himself seals the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets and tasks Myrtle with watching it just in case, a good thing since that's where the supposedly secret strike force decides to enter.

They don't even make it out of the bathroom.

The first gets transfigured into a stuffed unicorn before he even has time to poke his head all the way out. The second earns a spell from Hermione that makes him turn blue and swell up until his fingers grow so large they snap his wand. Luna takes out the third with a reversing spell that makes everything he does come out backwards, and the poor chap turns himself into fleshy colored goo after a misspoken spell. Ginny and Ron tag team several more Death Eaters and send them crying for their mothers with bat-bogies large enough to put Crabbe and Goyle to shame. Neville just magics the bathroom to attack people, and the look on his face is rather satisfied as he watches the toilets take turns flushing Rodolphus Lestrange.

Bellatrix, the apparent leader, fairs the worst of the lot. And by the time she finally falls to her own nephew, her hair is rainbow snakes that keep biting her ears, her limbs are flippers, and antlers have replaced both her eyes.

All of the Death Eaters are mopped up, wrangled, roped, or otherwise dealt with in short order.

Harry can't stop laughing the entire time.

-O.o.O-

Then, it's summer.

Harry hasn't even left the castle, and it already threatens to be a full one with constant visits from his friends, a little bit of training thrown in, and perhaps even some relaxation. Luna, he knows, will be by tomorrow, and he already knows they're planning something for his birthday. Harry has even considered inviting Malfoy since he was almost pleasant this past year. If Harry ignores his abysmal taste in Quidditch teams, that is.

He stands in the entrance hall by the doors. The other students are gone on the Hogwarts Express, but Harry isn't with them. His journey will be much shorter since they're Apparating anyway, and admittedly, it's probably safer for everyone all around if their biggest target isn't on the train.

That and the fact it'd be quite silly for Harry to go all the way to London when he's just going with Dumbledore anyway.

"Are you ready, my boy?" the old man asks, and he's not Harry's professor right now. Or even his headmaster.

But Harry isn't exactly in the role of student either as he takes his trunk in hand and offers a winning grin. Dumbledore's hand goes to his shoulder, and he gives a squeeze that says everything neither of them have ever been comfortable voicing.

"Yeah." Harry nods. "Let's go home."


Ever Hopeful,

Azar