OK, so this started out as my story My Life, My Choice, and then I started rethinking, and decided to turn it into a full story, rather than the three chapters I had planned. I have officially abandoned that story, in favor of this one. Never fear, those who were patiently waiting for a bit of Dumbledore bashing will get it! Not that I hate him, but I do think he's a bit of a manipulative old man who needs to wake up and smell the potion. Most of this story came from my belief that someone should have slapped Dumbledore a long time ago. I've definitely been waiting for it since the fifth book. And so, I deliver. I really hope this turns out well; it's the first story I've ever written that I actually have an outline for, so that I know what I'm going to write, and so I don't leave anything out. Or at least, I've tried not to leave anything out.

This story is pretty AU from the end of the third book, and I took a few liberties beforehand, mostly in the abuse Harry suffered at the Dursleys. In addition to the emotional abuse and occasional periods of starvation he suffered, they were also physically abusive, but smart enough to not leave marks where anyone would see them. Harry has gone to teachers before Hogwarts, only to be accused of lying, due to the reputation the Dursleys spread about him. By the time he got to Hogwarts, he decided that it wasn't worth it anymore. His trust in adults is badly shaken. He has been forced to hide his own prowess at school, to avoid being punished for doing better than Dudley, but he is very observant, and hides his intelligence out of self-preservation. He has been remarkably average during his first three years at Hogwarts, partially because he has had it beaten into him to not perform well, but also because in letting his inner Slytherin out to play, he does not want any attention to be brought on him by outperforming his classmates. And also, Hermione seems to really enjoy being the smartest of their trio, and Harry doesn't want to begrudge her that. I suppose I'm also trying to make Ron mature quicker than he did, so I'm giving him some observation skills too. He's Harry's best friend, and I want him to really act like it. I've also changed minor details, mostly about family histories, jobs the younger generation's parents held (like James and Lily), and the like. Nothing too big, but it definitely diverges from canon.

Oh, and a note about pairings, while I'm thinking about it. I haven't quite decided if there will be any, but if there are, it will most likely be H/G and R/Hr. Probably also some RemusTonks, and I'll see if I can find someone for Sirius too – I am open to suggestions, if someone wants to see him with an already established character.

I'm also not sure what to do with Snape. Do people want him to change and be better, or should I find some way to get rid of him? No matter what, this will not be a Snape saves Harry, becomes his surrogate father story. That role is reserved for Sirius, aided by my denial that he ever dies. I listen to suggestions, and what my readers want is usually what shapes my stories.

Ok, now that the incredibly long authors note is done, on with the story! I promise, no other AN's will be this long!

Disclaimer: everything belongs to JK Rowling, I only own my own thoughts.

Harry let out a long sigh as he stared out the window of the third year boy's dormitory. For one hour, one amazing hour, he had believed that he wouldn't have to return to the Dursleys. Sirius had done more than his aunt and uncle ever had: he had offered the young orphan a home. And even though it hadn't worked out, the fact that at least someone wanted him lit a fire inside his chest. That fire was now warring with the dread that was bubbling up from his stomach at the thought of returning to his 'loving' relatives for yet another summer. Given how they had left things the previous year, he did not hope for a warm welcome.

While it was true that Vernon hadn't broken any bones since he had started Hogwarts, that didn't mean he hadn't been very unpleasant. And he had had ten months to let his anger stew.

No, Harry was not expecting a warm welcome at all.

The door slammed open, and Harry jumped slightly, turning around and trying to control his reaction as he observed his best friend entering their dormitory.

Ron, for his part, tried to ignore the slight flash of fear that crossed his mate's face at his entrance. While many would call Ron Weasley a bit thick headed – and they would be right, most of the time – when the need called for it, he could be observant. And over the last three years, he had observed quite a bit about his best friend. Like the way he avoided any mention of his family. The way he flinched slightly whenever he saw sudden movement out of the corner of his eye, or if someone touched him when he wasn't expecting it. He remembered having to pull the bars off of Harry's window to rescue him two years previously, and the way that whale of an uncle tried to stop them. Harry always seemed to be skinnier at the end of summer than he was when they left school.

Ron saw the look on his friend's face, and the way he immediately schooled it back into what he had silently termed Harry's 'emotionless mask'. It was a look he put on when he didn't want to talk about whatever it was. So Ron just smiled, and asked Harry if he was ready for breakfast.

Harry didn't speak, not quite trusting his voice just yet, and followed the redhead down to the Great Hall.

Surrounded by excited and talkative students, he was able to push the emotions to the back of his mind, where they usually stayed, and managed to make conversation with Hermione, though he wasn't sure how believable he was, or how much she bought his 'I'm fine' attitude. The dread was climbing further and further north, until it was lodged somewhere in his throat, and he wasn't sure he could force himself to take another bite. He wasn't even sure he could swallow anymore.


Harry jerked and looked up from his plate, which he had been staring at intently, as if it had done him a personal offense, and took in the worried bushy-haired witch. "Sorry, Hermione, what'd you say?"

Hermione bit her lip nervously. She could see how withdrawn her friend was, and she could guess as to what was causing it. She knew how much Harry wanted his family back, and she knew how disappointed he had been to lose the chance to prove his godfather's innocence. She was a very smart young woman, and had made the same observations over the years as Ron. Perhaps maybe even a few more than her sometimes emotionally absent redheaded friend. She remembered their walk from the Hogwarts Express down to the boats their first year. At the time, it hadn't meant much, but Harry had stumbled over a tree root, and his clothes had shifted slightly, enough for her to see a rather oddly shaped bruise on the back of his neck. It looked slightly like a handprint, but she hadn't said anything about it, even after they had become friends. She had been so happy to be included, that she hadn't wanted to pry. So she just watched, and waited. It killed her to see him return to those people each summer, and she hated how emotionally detached he became after spending just a minimal amount of time in their presence. Even the short letters he had sent her just seemed so… impassive. Like he had withdrawn into himself, and it usually took several weeks back at school before he became somewhat the same boy he had been the previous term. Though as brilliant as she was, she could see that with each holiday away from Hogwarts, another small piece of the brave, courageous, bright young boy had died.

Oh yes, she knew that Harry held himself back, though she couldn't understand why someone would deliberately do worse in school. She supposed it might have something to do with his relatives, or not wanting the attention; at one point, she had wondered if he didn't want to do better than her – she had seen a slight flash of guilt in his eyes when he had done better on their Defense final than she had. She felt horrible that her attitude towards knowledge, and needing to be the best at everything may have driven him to deliberately sabotage his own future. She couldn't change the past, but she could change her attitude in the future. She truly wanted the best for her friend.

She noticed both Ron and Harry watching her, slightly confused. A light blush spread across her face, but she repeated herself, knowing that Harry had been too caught up in his own thoughts to hear her the first time. "Are you certain you don't want to eat more, Harry? You need a proper breakfast."

Harry shrugged and looked back at his plate. He really didn't think he could force anything down his throat. "I'm fine, Hermione," he assured his friend, though they all could see through the thinly veiled lie.

He wasn't fine. He wouldn't be fine until he could get away from the Dursleys. Hermione and Ron could only hope it would happen before they ended up killing him – both in mind and in body.

Hermione opened her mouth to speak again, but was cut off by a rather unlikely source. Ginny Weasley, seated on the other side of the bushy-haired witch, piped in, "Leave him be, Hermione. If he's not hungry, he's not hungry. Maybe you could pack something up to take on the train, for later."

All three turned to face the younger girl, who promptly turned red, both at the attention, and with embarrassment that she had actually interrupted their conversation. She hadn't meant to, but hearing the older girl adopt that bossy tone, she had just spoken without thinking.

Harry was the first to recover, and he nodded and forced out a smile. "Thanks, Ginny," he replied, causing her to look up, startled. "That's a good idea," he continued, before beginning to wrap up a few pieces of toast, and some bacon. That act complete, he stood up and stepped away from the table. "I've still got some packing to do. I'll see you in a bit."

Hermione looked like she wanted to object, but once again, she was cut off by the red haired witch next to her. Ginny had also stood up, downing the last of her pumpkin juice in the process. "Me too," she commented, forcing her voice to remain steady. "Do you mind if I walk back to the common room with you?" she made herself look Harry in the eyes.

Harry, for his part, was slightly surprised at the forwardness of the younger witch he had never, as yet, had a full conversation with. He nodded his agreement, and the two of them made their way out of the Great Hall together, watched closely and worriedly by three separate pairs of eyes.

Minerva McGonagall, head of Gryffindor House, Deputy Headmistress, Transfiguration Professor, watched two of her students depart, keeping the turmoil she felt from showing in her stern expression. Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley were definitely the two she spent the most time worrying about; with Miss Weasley's disastrous first year, the young witch hadn't managed to really acclimate to Hogwarts. She hadn't made many friends, and Minerva, observing her over the year, wasn't sure she would ever really be able to become comfortable with her year mates. They had had that first year to get to know each other, and had already formed friendship bonds. She was glad, now, to see that the young girl had at least made an attempt to reach out to someone; watching them walk out together, she was reminded of another black and red haired couple, though these two seemed to get along much better than James and Lily had at that age.

Harry Potter. She remembered her reservations in placing the young child with the Dursleys all those years ago. Despite her discomfort, she had made no real attempt to reason with Albus, and once they had left, she hadn't really thought much about the young Harry for almost ten years. He had arrived at school, almost three years previously, looking slightly less than well fed, a little worse for the wear, but amazed at the world he had so recently discovered. The idea of Harry Potter not growing up knowing his heritage definitely rubbed her the wrong way, though not as much as James and Lily's son not knowing where he came from.

She had watched him over that first year, and had come to several conclusions. One: he was a bright boy, but seemed to hide that part of himself. As an educator, she wanted to confront him, but she had held back, unsure of her place in the child's life. She was his professor, and that was all. But she couldn't help but think about what might have happened, had James and Lily been alive. They had been two of her favorite students, and had kept in touch even after graduation. She had shared in so many family moments with them: their engagement, their wedding, their pregnancy. After James, Lily, Sirius, and Remus, she had been next in line to hold the baby Harry. One look, and she had fallen in love. He had awoken long dormant maternal instincts she had thought buried forever. Lily had taken her aside briefly to explain why they had chosen Alice over her for godmother, but just the thought that they had considered her was an honor she had cherished.

Her second observation was slightly harder to notice. His hero tendencies definitely grated on her nerves, and if she acted a bit snappish, it was only because his propensity for putting himself in harm's way terrified her. She was petrified that one of these times, he wouldn't be able to get himself back out of a dangerous situation. But that inclination to 'save the day', as it were, was all the more interesting – and heartbreaking – for the underlying causes. She felt it was less because of a desire to save the day, and more because he honestly believed his life was worth less than others. And she hated to think of why that may be.

His second year, she had watched from afar as he had managed to uncover a millennium year old secret, and saved a young girl's life. She had felt her heart stop upon realizing that he and Ron had disappeared from Gryffindor tower, and felt like she hadn't been able to breathe until they had returned, bringing with them a frightened Ginny Weasley, Fawkes, a rather bloody sword, and an almost incomprehensible story.

This past year, she had seen the effect the Dementors had on him, and had tried so hard to keep her distance, believing that by this point, he would be more adverse to someone he thought of only as a professor and head of house trying to force her way into his life. She had seen his struggle, and watched as Remus Lupin, someone else who should have been a staple in Harry's life from day one, battle with the same issues as herself, and ultimately come to the same conclusions, that he probably wouldn't want him. She had heard about what had happened in the Shrieking Shack from Dumbledore, and she couldn't believe the implications behind Sirius Black's lack of a trial. An innocent man, sentenced to Hell on Earth! And because an incompetent moron held the position of Minister of Magic, Sirius was more likely to be Kissed than pardoned. She hoped he had gotten away clean, though she felt for Harry. In one night, he had learned the truth about his parents' deaths, discovered a link to the life he had never known, and then lost it all.

Watching him that morning, she had seen an aura of depression surrounding him, though she also thought she sensed some fear as well, but she couldn't understand why. Harry Potter had a lot of mystery surrounding him, and now more than ever, she regretted not taking that extra step, and trying to get to know him better. Sure, she was his teacher, but she also felt like so much more. Maybe he would turn her away, but if she didn't at least try, she knew she would regret it.

Resolve came over her, and she vowed to try and speak with him before he left for the train. It was the least she could do. If nothing else, she did, after all, have quite a few stories of his parents he would probably be interested in knowing.


Harry and Ginny left the Great Hall and made their way up to their common room. The silence at first was slightly awkward, though for some reason, Harry couldn't help but feel comfortable in the presence of the younger girl. They hadn't really had any conversations, but strangely enough, he felt like, out of everyone, Ginny was the one who understood him the best. It was an unacknowledged thought in the back of his mind, that only surfaced now, in the presence of the witch herself, but he couldn't deny the truth when it was staring him in the face. Ginny was the only one who could relate to him; she too, had been touched by the evil of Voldemort. The two of them had lost their innocence, and were now faced with the unenviable prospect of being adults trapped in a child's body.

"So, are you looking forward to the holidays?" Ginny asked hesitantly, growing somewhat self-conscious with the prolonged silence.

Harry couldn't quite hide the flinch her question brought, and shook his head slightly. "Not really," he replied quietly, almost surprising himself with his honesty.

Ginny bit her lip, and they made it another half a corridor before she worked up the courage to ask the obvious follow up question. "Why not?"

Harry paused for all of half a moment, before he found himself answering. By the time they had reached the Fat Lady's portrait, he had shared with her the basics – from the periods of near-starvation, to the days and sometimes weeks he had been locked up in the cupboard under the stairs, to the rages Vernon would fly into whenever Harry did something 'freakish', or disobeyed an order, or if he just felt like it. Any time something went wrong, it was somehow always Harry's fault.

Walking into the common room, Harry explained why he was so reluctant to return to his relatives this summer. He feared retribution from his accidental magic the previous August, and he worried that Vernon's strange reluctance to do much physical harm recently may be overturned.

Ginny listened in silence, horror growing as she learned more about her childhood hero than she ever thought possible. When he stopped talking, he sunk into an armchair, his face growing hot as he realized just how much he had divulged, without even thinking about it. He would have time later to ponder just why it was so easy to talk to the youngest Weasley.

He was startled out of his thoughts when Ginny sat down on the chair's arm, and lightly grasped his shoulder. He looked up, and into her caring gaze; her warm brown eyes were filled with compassion, and try as he might, he could find no trace of pity, which truly lightened his mood. He didn't think he could handle it if he saw pity there. An apology was on the tip of his tongue, when she suddenly shook her head.

"I swear, if you apologize right now, I might have to do something drastic, Potter," she smiled, which took the bite out of the words. Harry's mouth opened slightly in shock. How had she known what he was thinking? Ginny's smile widened. "You're much easier to read than you think, Harry. And you have this bad habit of apologizing for everything, whether or not it's your fault." Harry looked down, embarrassed, but Ginny wouldn't let him stew. "You know none of that is, right?" Harry seemed confused as he continued to study his lap. She clarified, "your fault. It's not. Your uncle is to blame. And probably your aunt, and your cousin. And V – V – Voldemort." Harry looked up sharply as she stuttered out the name of the dark lord. Ginny took a deep breath. "Harry, will you promise me something?" Harry nodded, finding himself unable to tear his gaze away. "If things get bad, promise me you'll get out. Take the Knight Bus to The Burrow."

Harry nodded, reaching out and taking her hand in his, squeezing gently. "I promise, Gin," he replied quietly but firmly. Ginny started at the nickname, but didn't comment. Truth be told, she sort of liked it. But only when Harry used it.

The moment was over a second later, when several more Gryffindors entered the common room, and the two separated for their separate dormitories to retrieve their belongings.

So, as a first chapter goes, what do you think? Please review and let me know!