Dumbledore sat behind his desk in his office at Hogwarts. Across the desk were his closest and most trusted confidants, those to whom he would unburden himself of his worries to the extent he considered them capable of bearing. On occasion, when he was less than totally sure of his course of action (or of their loyalty), he might ask their advice. That always flattered them so.
Not that they might not occasionally come up with ideas that he might have missed of course. He was the greatest living wizard but contrary to his reputation, he couldn't really think of everything. Why it was much less than two decades since he had felt at such a loss for inspiration as to where to turn. Fortunately, Voldemort had had his fateful first encounter with Harry Potter before he had had to embarass himself though.
This time, he did not believe it would be wise to rely on such a happenstance. After all, this time it was young Harry who was at the root of the problem.
"I have spoken to Mr. Potter," he said quietly. "It seems only so short a time since he first came to Hogwarts..."
After a moment of silence as the Headmaster mused dreamily about the Boy-Who-Lived, it was Severus Snape who broke the silence. "And what did the Brat-Who-Lives have to demand this time?" he asked. "Help with his homework? Even with Granger's help he's not going to pass Potions this year. We'll be lucky if he and Longbottom don't put half their class in Pomfrey's care."
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. Severus always felt the need to hide his concern for students behind such a mask of scorn, he knew and so he did not hold the outburst against him. "Oh, nothing of the kind, Severus. And I'm sure that he does very well under your tuition, as do all our students. No, Mr. Potter had another request, and one that I think needs the most careful of handling."
"What does he want then?" Alastor Moody demanded bluntly.
"It would appear," the Headmaster explained, "that he wishes training so that he will not be at such a disadvantage should he, heaven forbid, have to confront Voldemort once more."
Professor McGonagall made a distressed sound. Despite her mask of sternness, Dumbledore knew that his deputy cared deeply for all her students. "But surely that isn't necessary, Headmaster. You can't expect that Mr. Potter will be exposed to that villain again!"
Dumbledore nodded sagely. "Every precaution will be taken," he assured her, although he knew that there would most certainly be another such encounter. But no training would affect the outcome of that meeting he knew. Only love would help Harry then, and stripping him of what remained of his childhood would not help in that.
"I can scarcely conceive," Snape sneered, "That any amount of training could reduce the mountainous disadvantage that Potter faces against the Dark Lord. It's an utter waste of time even to consider it."
"I disagree with neither of you," Dumbledre agreed swiftly. "Regrettably, if understandably, Mr. Potter is bound and determined to seek some form of improvement and if we, his elders and teachers, cannot provide it I must presume that he shall seek it elsewhere, from less reliable and dare I say, more hazardous sources. This then is our dilemma. How may we persuade him to put aside this goal of his?"
Moody scratched his chin. "I can't say that I know the boy as well as the rest of you, but I may have a notion," he said thoughtfully, his magical eye rolling in it's socket. "Rather than refusing him training, why not set him some training... something hard enough that he'll give up."
McGonagall shook her head. "I'm afraid that you underestimate Harry's stubbornness, Alastor," she said. "If he believes that training will help him then nothing short of a miracle will deter him."
"Even better," Moody said. "Tell him that once he goes in, we will insist that he finish the training. Then give him ridiculously hard training and don't let up until he quits anyway. That gives us the moral high ground to prevent him from going off on his own. After all, if he can't deal with the carefully monitored training that we offer, how can he attempt the far more stringent training of someone else."
"But where do you propose to get training hard enough to get through his thick skull?" Snape asked, looking honestly curious.
"Wouldn't you like to know, Snape?" Moody snapped. "Suffice it to say I happened across a training manual someone wrote for an eastern martial art. The Saotome fellow who wrote it was obviously an imbecile and no one but a total masochist would attempt even some of the more moderate exercises." He paused and smiled, an ugly expression on his face. "I used one or two for... interrogation on a time, Snape. More than happy to show you those ones..."
"Well now," Dumbledore said brightly, happy that his brilliant notion for diverting Harry had met with such approval from his inner circle. "That all sounds splendid Alastor. Could I impose upon you to supervise the training?"
"Well now," Mad-Eye said with a horrible cheerfulness, watching Harry drag himself out of the lake. The sun was barely above the horizon, but it had been nothing more than a glimmer when Moody had stolen into the dorms, dragged aside the drapes of Harry's bed and used some sort of charm to hurl the startled boy out of his bed, through a window (open, thank Merlin - Harry wasn't sure that Moody wouldn't have just have flung him through the glass with equal cheer) and into the lake.
"What the hell was that about!" Harry shouted and then had to abandon what little of his dignity remained to scramble aside as the Squid stretched out it's tentacles to try to drag him back into the water. He'd had to wrestle himself away from that as well before he reached the shore.
"It's the first part of your training, lad," Moody leered, eye rolling madly. "I told you we'd be starting first thing, didn't I?"
"You couldn't have waited until I was awake?" Harry asked, incredulously.
"CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" Moody shouted. "Now, where's your wand!"
Harry blinked. "Up by my bed?" he asked.
Moody shook his head disapprovingly. "So if I was to curse you now," he said, raising his wand, "What can you do?"
Without hesitation, Harry jumped back into the water, taking cover beneath the surface as Mad-Eye sent several brightly coloured jinxes flying at him. A moment later and the squid was upon him.
"When you get done playing around," Moody shouted to the panicking Boy-Who-Lived, "Go get your wand and meet me in the Great Hall for breakfast!"
He walked away, unobtrusively tapping at the holster where he'd stored Harry's wand after taking it from beside the boy's bed. Not being able to find that should be a good start to racking up the pressure on the boy. Plus, there was a good chance he'd miss breakfast in order to look for it.
It was possible to be miserable without being wet and hungry, but Mad-Eye Moody didn't see any reason to make this any harder than necessary... for himself.
"The next part of your training will be speed training, boy," Moody said. He'd noticed that Potter didn't react well to being called that - another thing to be trained out of him. Otherwise one syllable from Voldemort would put him off his game.
Honestly, he didn't know who Dumbledore thought he was fooling, trying to give Potter a 'normal' childhood. It was a bit too late for that, but at least by bringing him up to speed against Voldemort a bunch of other kids might live to have whatever passed for normal lives these days. That was why he'd volunteered to take over the training. He knew damn well that Potter, when it came to it, wouldn't quit.
"What's that going to involve?" Harry asked bitterly. He hadn't enjoyed his early morning swim in the lake (and although he didn't know it yet, he wouldn't like it tomorrow either. The day after wasn't looking good for that matter). "Chasing Peeves around the dungeons with a toothbrush?"
"No," Moddy said. "But that's not a bad idea, Potter." He pulled out a notebook and scribbled down the idea, much to Harry's dismay. "Actually, your speed training will take place over breakfast."
That didn't sound too bad, Harry thought. Not until he found that a little table had been set up just for him in the Great Hall. Oh that was just great. Now he'd be the centre of attention! Probably be articles in the Daily Prophet about how he was 'too good to eat with the other students'.
He blinked as Ron took the seat opposite him. "Ron? What's going on?"
"I'm not sure, mate," the redhead replied. "McGonagall asked me to help with your training. Said I should sit here with you every meal from now on."
Exactly on time, the breakfast arrived. Ron, as usual, had his plate heaped high with bacon, sausages, fried tomatoes, mushrooms, eggs, toast... The House Elves had started pre-serving him to protect the other platters at the Gryffindor table from him. After all, the other students had to eat too. Harry... well, the table wasn't large enough for anything to appear for him once Ron's breakfast was crammed onto it.
"Well, lad?" Moody asked. "Tuck in."
Harry blinked at him. "But... that's Ron's breakfast."
Moody nodded, smugly.
Ron snarled at Harry. Best mates or no best mates, no one got between him and his food. Harry, for his part paled. He'd seen forks after someone used them to try to steal food off Ron's plate. It had taken McGonagall and Dumbledore combined to transfigure them back into functional cutlery.
"You'd better hurry, boy," Moody added. "Or there'll be nothing left for you."
Harry was already getting tired of this training regieme and it was only the second time that Moody had thrown him into the lake. And meals weren't worth mentioning - honestly, if he wanted to be starved half to death then all he had to do was go back to the Dursleys.
He had heard Dean Thomas mention something about army boot camp - new soldiers being treated like boots to toughen them up. Perhaps this was something like that. Adversity to make him stronger.
Well he'd show them. He'd faced Voldemort down, he could handle anything that Dumbledore and Moody threw at him.
"Are you sure about this?" Dumbledore asked Moody, a trifle uneasily. "This seems a bit extreme for Harry's first real training."
"The boy can handle it," Moody said and winked broadly where Harry couldn't see it. "Here, take a look at the instructions for yourself." He held out the slim book, finger indicating the passage that said outright: 'only an idiot would do this'.
"Oh!" Dumbledore said brightly. "Excellent." 'Harry will refuse and we can all be done with this training business. He'll defeat Voldemort and I can have some lemon drops... and perhaps some tea.'
"Right them, boy," Moody said. "Hagrid's been working flat out to help us set this up for you. All the training so far is just basic stuff, this is where we get you started on the advanced skills. You may not get it right first time, but we'll just keep at it, alright."
"Yes!" Harry said firmly. 'If this lets me kill Voldemort then it'll all be worth it,' he promised himself.
"Um, Alastor?" Dumbledore interjected. "Are you sure that this is right?"
"What are you talking about, Albus. Of course I am."
"Well if you'll look here, it says..."
Moody glanced at the page. "Well, there's not much that we can do about that, Albus. He is sixteen and there's not much we can do about that. We just scaled it up a bit."
Dumbledore shook his head. "I think sometimes you forget about being a wizard, Alastor." He waved his wand and Harry blinked as everything appeared to grow larger... no, it was him growing smaller. Smaller? No... younger, he realised. He was six years old again!
"Now then, Harry," Hagrid rumbled, pulling out a long chain of sausages. Harry eyed them hungrily, but instead of feeding him, the half-giant groundskeeper used the sausages to tie him up, wrapping them around him repeatedly. "You just do what Mr. Moody says and it'll all be right. They're just harmless kitties, not even magical at all so there's nothing to be worried about."
Then he lifted up a wooden lid from what Harry realised was a quite deep hole dug into the ground, scooped up Harry and dropped him into it.
"They are just harmless kitties, aren't they Alastor?" Dumbledore asked. "Hagrid..." he dropped his voice to a whisper "can get a little enthusiastic sometimes."
"Not to worry, Albus," Moody said. "I made sure that Filch's moggy and Minerva weren't in there. They wouldn't have been large enough, anyway."
"Oh?" Dumbledore asked and then broke off as a Ministry Owl fluttered down on him. Taking the letter, he perused it quickly and then frowned slightly. "Alastor... do you know anything about a wizard stealing away every lion, tiger and leopard in London Zoo?"
"They'll be returned as soon as we're done with them, Albus."
Harry turned his head ever so slightly and tried to glare at Moody. This was difficult as the wartorn Auror and Headmaster Dumbledore were sitting on a sofa that Harry was strapped underneath. It was a tribute to Harry's conditioning over the previous days that he could even stand under the burden of two fully grown men and a sizeable piece of furniture.
"Right, lad," Moody said, thumbing through his manual. "The next stage is for you to run as fast as you can. See if you can get us to Hogsmeade before they stop serving dinner at the Hogshead."
"You've got to be kidding!" Harry snapped. "Dinner tomorrow, perhaps. I can barely move under this thing."
"Oh?" Dumbledore said, and looked over at the book himself. "Ah, that's what we were forgetting, Alastor. We're missing a stage."
Harry's hopes were raised by that statement, only to be brutally crushed as Dumbledore waved someone behind them. "Hagrid, you can let go of Fluffy's lead now."
"Right you are, Headmaster," boomed the giant and Harry's blood chilled as he head the familiar barks of the three-headed dog. They were getting closer.
Harry was making a considerable speed by the time he reached the Shrieking Shack.
Apparently, not even Madame Pomfrey's guardianship was enough to deter Moody from his dawn raids upon Harry. On the plus side, the window of the Hospital Wing was lower than that of the Gryffindor Tower so Harry didn't actually fall as far. On the down side, the Lake was further away from the Hospital Wing so he got a lot more lateral movement out of being launched from the window.
He came out of the water fighting however, wand in hand. It didn't help him against Moody's decades of experience, and a moment later he was petrified and flat on the floor, but he did try very hard.
"Not bad, boy," Moody said grudgingly. "At this rate you might take a few seconds for someone like Bellatrix to kill. But that's not good enough!" He brandished a bag of small, kicking creatures towards Harry. "Here's today's training." His lips curled into a sadistic leer. "Cornish Pixies!"
Harry shook his head. "I managed to beat off those in my second year, sir."
Moody chuckled. "Oh, you won't be fighting them, boy. Not exactly. Now stand very, very still."
"And what of Potter," hissed Voldemort. "Lucius, has your son finally remembered his duties and submitted a report to me over the Brat-Who-Shall-Die?"
Lucius hastened to produce a folded sheet of parchment. "Indeed, my lord. This letter reached me only moments before I received your summons." He cracked the seal on the letter and scanned it hastily. Then he paused and blinked, his almost legendary composure looking unusually shaken. "I hope that this report's detail meets with your expectations," he said and handed the letter to Bellatrix, who carried it to their master.
"It had better," Voldemort hissed. He looked at the letter and the gathered Death Eaters suspected that if Voldemort had really had eyebrows then they would have been raised. "Wrestling with the squid. Eating contests with Weasley. Being fed to ravenous tigers..." He frowned. "Lucius..."
"Next thing you know the brat will be ferretlegging," Bellatrix said with a high giggle.
Voldemort glared at her until the giggle cut off, then folded the parchment over and passed it wordlessly to her, finger indicating a specific passage. The witches eyes went wide, shocked almost back to sanity. "Pixies! Merlin, that's fucked up!" she exclaimed.
"Bellatrix," Voldemort sighed, "Crucio." He ignored the writhing body of his most twisted follower with practised ease and returned his attention to Lucius. "If your son's information on Potter's training is true then I shall remember it, Lucius. And should it prove false then I will remember that also."
"If this involves animals again, then I'll be dusting off the old Marauder tradition," Harry muttered as Dumbledore waved him into the shadow of the greenhouses.
"That would certainly add a degree of colour to Hogwarts that may have been a little lacking without the presence of the brothers Weasley," the headmaster replied airily. "You did agree to go through this training, Harry, and I distinctly recall advising you that once you volunteered for it, there would be no turning back."
"I didn't say I'd quit," Harry said quickly, to the aged wizard's carefully concealed disappointment. "I just said that I'd take my revenge. Something slow and painful involving Cornish Pixies, your armchair and a large amount of syrup, for example."
"Intriguing," Albus admitted. "Much as I would like to explore your inventiveness, however, I do not believe that any animal will be part of the next training exercise. Alastor has arranged a couple of assistants for the heavy lifting, if that makes a difference."
"Heavy lifting?" Harry asked. "What heavy lif-waagh!" he finished as he was cut off by several lengths of rope binding themselves around him, including several strands across his mouth, essentially gagging him.
"Dear me," Draco said as he casually walked out of the shadows. "I would have thought that all this training would have made you more of a challenge Potter. Just goes to show that blood will always tell, I suppose." He nodded, almost politely to the Headmaster and flicked his wand again, sending Harry flying towards the large wooden frame that had been erected. "Will that be all, Professor Moody?"
"I'm not your professor," Moody said, appearing out of nowhere behind him, causing Draco to jump and Harry to move suddenly with the result that his head struck against a beam. "Constant vigilance! Does no one listen any more?" he muttered. "That'll do very nicely, young Malfoy," he added. "You can run along now. And make sure that your father knows that I'm always interested in finding out about his business, private or otherwise."
"Uh... right," Draco said, backing away. After the whole ferret mess, he wasn't going to take any chances around Mad-Eye Moody. "I'll send Crabbe and Goyle over, shall I?"
"Little snot," Moody muttered once the boy was out of sight. "Right then, Potter. Not going to let some little concussion get in your way, I hope?"
"I'm fine, Ron," Harry said brightly, looking at an innocuous patch of wall. "What do you say about those Cannons this year?"
"Right-o," agreed Moody and quickly set about securing Harry to the frame.
Dumbledore looked nervous. "Er, Alastor, are you sure about this?"
Moody looked puzzled and then sighed. "Look, Albus, you're not seeing the big picture here."
"Harry appears in need of medical attention before he even begins this, Alastor."
"So he'll be doubly motivated to quit once he wakes up in the Hospital Wing then," Moody insisted.
"Or quite severely injured," the older man worried. "Perhaps even dead. I really think..."
"This is for the greater good, Albus."
Dumbledore paused and then nodded resolutely. "You're right, of course. I'm sorry, Alastor. I let my soft heart get the better of me. I'm glad that you've always been here to remind me of the real issues."
"Let's not get emotional," Moody grumped. "Here come the boys," he added as Crabbe and Goyle arrived. "Right then lads, it's very simple. Just use your wands to move the boulders back a few yards and let them swing against Harry. Then do it again."
Crabbe nodded but Goyle looked puzzled. "You want us to throw huge stones at Potter?" he asked.
"That's right boys," Dumbledore said reassuringly. "He'd tell you himself, but he can't really talk too clearly while he's up there."
Goyle shrugged and moved to comply, suddenly glad that it was Gryffindor that received all the headmaster's favour and attention.
"Alastor?" Dumbledore asked innocently. "Are you sure that the boulders are heavy enough?"
Harry sighed in relief as he saw the Hogwarts Express sitting at the station. At last, after the hell of the last term, he could go back home to the Dursleys. All the 'training' that the staff had been putting him through had made 4 Privet Drive seem preferable, at least in some small ways, to Hogwarts. If nothing else, he couldn't be expected to do any training there. Uncle Vernon would consider such activites to be too freakish.
"Potter," growled a familiar voice from behind him and Harry all but levitated to the top of the carriage, turning, his wand in hand.
Where he had been standing, Alastor Moody shook his head sadly. "You've good reflexes, boy. But they're no substitute for CONSTANT VIGILANCE!"
Around the station, heads turned and other students began backing away. They'd seen what Moody had been doing to Harry lately, and that was to the precious Boy-Who-Lived. If he decided to target them, doubtless he'd be even less restrained. The one exception to this was Draco Malfoy who was trying to wrestle Colin Creevey's camera away from him to record whatever Moody was up to for posterity.
"I'm not doing it!" Harry cried out. "Whatever lunatic training idea you have, I'm not doing it!" His wand shook in his hand. "I'm going home, Moody!"
Suddenly a rope snapped into being around his waist, one that inconveniently lacked any actual knot that might be untied. "Now Harry," Dumbledore said admonishingly. "You must understand that this is for the greater good." Another flick of his wand and Harry was hurled off the end of the train. Harry was too busy cursing overly-imaginative senile old farts to notice Moody's smug expression at seeing him land easily on his feet.
"Now then, children," Dumbledore said cheerily to the other students. "Everyone aboard. The train's leaving in just a moment."
"What the hell is this!" Harry shouted desperately.
"Just run along behind the train, Potter," ordered Moody. "We'll meet you at Platform 9 3/4 to untie you."
Over the next week, as Dumbledore was bombarded with post from the parents of the younger students, concerned at the bad language that their children had picked up at Hogwarts, the elderly headmaster did not hesitate to put the blame upon Harry.
For the greater good, of course.
"Harry," Dumbledore said kindly. "I promise, if you kill Voldemort..."
"Hah!" Voldemort snorted. "Abandon that hope, old man. Your chosen one is already vanquished!"
"...you won't have to train any more."
Voldemort gulped as Harry's eyes all but glowed green and the Dark Lord was hurled backwards with a strength that seemed more than human. He barely had time for one scrambled scream before the Boy-Who-Lived was upon him.
He never stood a chance.