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Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling and Warner Bros. I in no way claim ownership of any rights to the Harry Potter Universe.

Author's Note:

Chapter 22: Driven to Distraction
It was a dangerous game, playing double agent between two of the most powerful wizards in the world. Severus took great pride in his ability to hold the confidences of both the Dark Lord and Albus Dumbledore. Dumbledore was, by nature, a trusting person. He wanted to believe in people, but, make no mistake, he was not a man easily fooled. He could sense deception in even the most skilled Occlumens, of which Snape could count himself. For Severus, who had taken the Dark Mark, Dumbledore’s trust was not easily earned, but once he had garnered the man’s trust, he had little fear of losing it.

The Dark Lord, on the other hand, was another matter entirely. Every encounter with the shade of a man was a test of his cunning. All it would take was one false move, one seed of doubt to be implanted in the Dark Lord’s mind, and all would be lost. Severus knew the stakes of the game: one false move and his life would be forfeit – if he was lucky, immediately.

Severus was fairly certain he had just lost this game.

With both Dumbledore and the Dark Lord thinking him their own double agent, he was naturally expected to provide certain details to each side. He would not hold the confidence of either if he was not forthcoming with at least some helpful news. It was always a dangerous proposition, however, choosing which details to disclose and which to keep to himself. It was here, he now knew, that he had made the critical mistake.

The Dark Lord was always wary of risking his presence in any of the Death Eater raids. If Severus was to keep up appearances as the double agent, it would not do for anyone to recognise him – especially one in the Ministry. Imagine Severus’ surprise when the Dark Lord insisted on his presence this night, when they were to raid the home of the Head of the Auror Office, Rufus Scrimgeour.

He had spent the last month slaving in his Potions laboratory, creating a type of poison that attacked the mind of the drinker, weakening its natural defences. In particular, the potion made the drinker much more susceptible to the Imperius Curse. Snape had deduced, based upon his need to create the potion, that the Dark Lord had no intention of participating in this particular operation. If there was one weakness to be found in the Dark Lord, it was arrogance. He often overlooked possible obstacles, thinking himself far too powerful to be affected by such trivialities. So the fact that the Dark Lord had ordered Severus to prepare this potion told him that he expected one of his Death Eaters to cast the Imperius Curse on Scrimgeour.

It would appear, at least by his own logic, that he had been set up. Dumbledore had been wary of acting on any new information right now due to Potter’s warning, but Severus had been unconcerned. He refused to believe that Potter was somehow able to glean some insight from the Dark Lord that Severus had missed. If the Dark Lord suspected him of treachery, Severus was certain he would know it. Scrimgeour was too important to risk on the unfounded fears of a spoiled brat. It would appear that Potter’s luck was limitless.

As they approached Scrimgeour’s dwelling, Voldemort hardly needed to pause as he deconstructed the wards. It was pathetic to think that this was the best the Ministry could offer. They moved quickly, though one could sense no hurry in the Dark Lord’s movements. He all but glided as Snape took long strides at his side.

Under different circumstances, it would have been considered a great honour to have been hand selected by the Dark Lord to accompany him – especially being the only one. Instead, Severus was ready and waiting to fend for his life from his Master. He did not imagine himself skilled enough to escape the Dark Lord’s grasp, but if he was able to put up enough of a fight, perhaps his death would be swift on the field of battle rather than drawn out through endless torture.

He held no fear of death. He had danced around the spectre long enough that it held no sway over his emotions. In fact, if there was any emotion he could be said to be feeling right now, it would be relief. As much as he prided himself on the way he played this game, he was tired of playing. He supposed that was one way he could be considered the Dark Lord’s superior, for death was the only fear the Dark Lord knew.

As they approached the front entrance, the Dark Lord lifted a hand, and the doors crashed open. A patter of footsteps provided a precursor to Scrimgeour’s arrival, his wand already drawn as he rounded a corner and looked to their position. His eyes widened as he realised who was intruding upon his home, but, to the man’s credit, he did not flee. Instead, he assumed a duelling stance and prepared to fend off their attacks.

The Dark Lord laughed, and, as Severus drew his wand, he wondered what the hell had happened to the Order.

“Mr. Potter,” Professor McGonagall’s voice rang out above the bustle as the students all packed up at the end of class. “Might I have a quick word with you?”

Harry smiled at his friends. “I’ll see you guys later.” He stepped to the side as they all passed by, rolling his eyes at Ron’s sympathetic glance and Hermione’s inquisitive one. He remained behind his desk until the rows in front of him had all cleared out. When the door closed behind the last of his classmates, Harry approached the professor’s desk.

“How are you feeling, Harry?” she asked warmly.

“Fine, thanks,” Harry responded automatically. A moment later he realised the reason for her question and added, “I haven’t had many visions lately, so I’ve been sleeping fairly well.”

“That’s good,” she said with a smile. “I must confess that it concerned me when you stumbled into Headquarters in the middle of our Order meeting a couple nights back. I feared you might still be experiencing your visions on a frequent basis.”

“I tend to get them whenever Voldemort is feeling any strong emotions. It happens a lot when he’s involved in an attack,” Harry explained. “He enjoys them a lot.” After a momentary pause, he continued, “But ever since he began worrying about a possible spy, he’s been participating less.”

“That must come as a relief to you,” she commented.

“Yes, very much so,” Harry replied. A short silence followed his statement prompting Harry to ask, “Is that all you wanted to talk to me about?”

She shook her head. “No, I wished to inform you of my intent to visit your classes this Sunday and wondered if you might have time for a short meeting after the latter lesson.”

“Ah, yes, that would be fine,” Harry stated. “Actually, that might work out well.” At her curious glance, Harry explained, “I’ve been making plans to restructure my Intermediate class to focus more heavily on combat situations. I was a little worried about how it would work, but if you’ll be there I think that will help things run more smoothly.”

“What are your plans?” Minerva asked curiously.

“Well, here’s what I was thinking…”

His discussion with Minerva ended up lasting all the way to the beginning of lunch. By the time he arrived, the meal was already being served. Ron, even, was finishing off his first plate and reaching for seconds.

Harry gave a tiny wave to Ginny who was sitting with her friends before settling in beside Neville and across from Hermione. “Hey guys,” he greeted warmly as he began reaching for a plate of sandwiches.

“Hey Harry,” Neville returned.

Ron gave an indecipherable, food-muffled reply, earning himself a short, reproachful stare from Hermione, who then turned to Harry and said, “Hello Harry. What did Professor McGonagall want to see you about?”

Harry stopped himself from rolling his eyes at his friend’s predictable inquisitiveness. “My HA classes. She’ll be observing again this weekend.”

“What does she think of the classes?” Hermione asked. She watched Harry intently having seemingly forgotten about the food still lingering on her plate.

“I dunno. I think she’s pretty pleased overall,” Harry answered with a shrug. “She hasn’t told me to change anything at least. She’s offered suggestions and the like, and today she helped me with some plans I’ve been making.”

“What plans?” Neville piped in.

“You’ll see soon enough,” Harry smilingly evaded the inquiry, digging into his lunch.

As he chewed on his food, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end and the strange feeling that he was being watched. He glanced up at the Head Table and confirmed that Snape seemed to be doing his best to bore two holes into him with his eyes. It had been like this ever since the night Harry had interrupted the Order meeting. Harry shook his head and resumed eating. Whatever was wrong with Snape, the man did not look at all pleased, but as there was nothing Harry could do about it, he just did his best to put it out of his mind.

When the time came, Harry, Ron, and Neville all left the Great Hall together, heading out through the entrance hall and into the grounds down to Hagrid’s hut. Harry did not know whether to dread the class or look forward to it. The griffin was nothing if not interesting, but Harry did not know how to continue his attempts to make peace with the beast. Any advances he made were met with aggression, so how could he convince the creature that he meant well?

The answer was not easily forthcoming. He resolved to do a little research on the subject. There were records of wizards who had managed to befriend griffins, so it had to be possible. Perhaps their records would lend him some insight into how to win over the creature. In any case, he gave the griffin a perfunctory mental greeting, which again met with hostility. Deciding to wait until he had done some research, he refrained from further, attempts.

After the class, Ron and Neville both left for their next classes leaving Harry the opportunity to head to the Room of Requirement unhindered. He spent a good amount of his time duelling training dummies in a hallway, testing out different strategies for the enclosed battlefield. He realised that his oil trick from St. Mungo’s would have worked much better had he sent an Incendio directly after, but he doubted he would be able to stomach the effects. It was one thing to watch several lifeless dummies burn to ashes; it would be another thing to inflict the same fate upon a living human – even a Death Eater.

He knew he would eventually need to take at least one life in the war, but he was leery of turning to outright lethal warfare. Naïve as it may be, Harry had no desire to take even the life of a Death Eater. Abstractly, he recognised that it was likely that, in the course of the war, he would probably claim more than one life, but even with that knowledge, he was in no hurry to land that first killing blow. There was also a difference between killing someone and torturing them. Attempting to burn someone alive seemed a bit extreme. Nevertheless, he could not deny the effectiveness of such an approach.

Beyond that, he found Blasting Curses aimed at the walls or ceiling proved to be quite effective in doing some decent damage while also distracting his opponents. He also began to play with different transfigurations and animations – inspiration coming to him from the duel he witnessed between Dumbledore and Voldemort in the Ministry of Magic. He lacked the control of Dumbledore who had managed to animate several statues at once, and they all seemed to do his will without taking any concentration on his part. Harry, using all of his focus, struggled to maintain just a couple at one time. It was something he intended to practice.

Harry was spared another vision that night, though his scar was prickling slightly that morning. He sensed that Voldemort was frustrated. Harry thought it might have something to do with the spy, but that was based solely on his own speculation. After all, Snape was still very much alive, for whatever that was worth. Harry had Potions that day just before lunch, and he was not looking forward to the class. Whatever Snape wanted with Harry, it was obviously not of good intent. The class was likely to be torture.

He had no idea how right he was. Snape forgot even to insult the rest of the non-Slytherins in the class. Instead, all of his loathing was focused squarely on Harry. It was unnerving, working through the class with Snape’s malevolent gaze fixed firmly on him. The other students seemed to notice this as well, and several gave him either questioning or sympathetic looks. Hermione was one of the former, though she did not dare ask him about it with Snape’s attention so firmly fixed in his direction.

Finally, unable to focus, Harry looked up and squarely met the man’s gaze. A split second later, he felt something crash against his mind. Harry staggered backwards a step. While he kept his mind defended constantly, the attack came unexpectedly, and his barriers barely held. He quickly reinforced his defences, pouring all his concentration and will into the process.

“Harry, are you all right?” Hermione whispered at his side.

“Fine,” he managed to respond even as Snape launched another attack, but, prepared as he was, Harry’s barriers held strong against the onslaught. Inside, Harry’s mind was spinning, wondering what had caused the man to lose it like this. The answer was obvious, but it still made little sense.

Whatever it was that happened with Voldemort and Snape over the weekend, it must have shaken the Potions master. Harry had no idea what it was that Voldemort was after or what happened after his vision that night, but clearly Snape was unhappy with Harry for something. Was he wrong about Voldemort? Was Snape angry that Harry had warned the Order against interfering when he was actually in no danger at all? Harry intended to find out.

He needed only wait another second before Snape once again threw himself against Harry’s mental shields. As he withdrew for another assault, however, Harry struck. He had learned in his studies that a person’s Occlumency defences were weakened while performing Legilimency. Based on the force with which Snape was attempting to break into his mind, Harry suspected he might just be able to break through his defences.

He was right.

Snape’s shields were still strong, but thanks to all the practice he had put in with Ginny, Harry broke through before Snape managed to recover. Unfortunately, that was only the easy part. Not wanting to intrude upon Ginny’s privacy, Harry had no experience searching for memories inside a person’s mind. He was bombarded by numerous flashes of seemingly random memories. They were flying by so quickly that Harry could hardly comprehend any of it, but when he noticed Voldemort in one of them, he latched onto it and followed it.

Before he could get far, he felt Snape’s mind fight against him. Harry knew that it was a losing battle. His Legilimency skills were young and undeveloped while Snape had been practicing Occlumency for longer than Harry had been alive. Harry retreated back into his own mind, hastily reinforcing his mental barriers in case Snape tried to counter. Harry focused his eyes on the man and found him, unsurprisingly, steaming with rage.

“Out!” Snape bellowed, his voice shocking the rest of the students who were all unaware of the battle that had just been waged. Harry did not need to be told that Snape was referring to him. He quickly packed up his things and left the room, avoiding all the eyes staring at him in confusion, particularly Hermione’s.

As he exited the classroom, Harry wondered if the man intended to follow him out. His answer came in the form of a slamming door. Relishing his luck at having avoided another confrontation with Snape, Harry slowly trudged his way up to his office. He was supposed to meet Ginny there after class for Occlumency lessons and thought it best to use the extra time he had to calm his roiling emotions.

It took a while for his racing mind to calm down; he still could not believe that Snape had attacked him outright like that. He wanted more than anything to know what happened that night. The fact that he was so intimately involved yet still kept out of the loop did nothing to ease Harry’s frustration with his headmaster. The least Dumbledore could have done would have been to let Harry know what was going on. Instead, Harry could only hope that Remus would be able to fill in the gaps for him as Harry did not see how he would get answers any other way. The full moon was approaching, luckily, but, for Harry, it could not come soon enough.

When Ginny entered the room, she seemed to immediately notice his preoccupation. “What’s wrong?” she asked, frowning as she seated herself in the armchair opposite him.

”Where do I begin?” Harry asked and then launched into an explanation of the course of events that had led to his early dismissal from Potions.

Ginny was appropriately outraged to hear that Snape had attempted to break into his mind. It was only after Harry assured her that he would take the matter up with Dumbledore that Ginny finally let the matter drop. With that out of the way, they turned to the business at hand.

Ginny had come a long way in her Occlumency skills. As it was, Harry had been unable to break into her mind over their last few lessons. He was not sure if his own Legilimency skills were deficient or if her Occlumency skills had just become that good. If nothing else, his success in breaking into Snape’s mind made him suspect it was the latter. In the beginning they had been progressing at a more or less even pace, but after a certain point, Ginny began to outstrip him.

If all went according to plan, that was about to change. Thus far their lessons had been strictly about Occlumency without any distractions, but Harry had something else in mind that day. As he worked around her barriers looking for a weak point, Harry momentarily flicked his gaze down to Ginny’s lips. “You know you have a freckle right above your upper lip,” he commented. “It’s sitting there all alone, and every time I see it, I can hardly resist the urge to kiss it.”

That did it. He felt as her concentration lapsed, and he took advantage by breaking through her practically non-existent shields. When, a moment later, he extricated himself from her mind, he found Ginny’s irritated face staring back at him. “That was some dirty trick,” she declared righteously. “What was that about?”

“You need to learn to maintain your concentration in the face of distractions. Do you expect Voldemort or any other Death Eater to allow you to just sit back and relax while you attempt to reinforce your mental barriers?” Harry asked.

“No, but I don’t expect them to be talking about kissing me either,” Ginny grumbled, though her anger had deflated. After a moment she sighed and met his eyes. “I hadn’t really thought about that,” she admitted softly.

Harry smiled in comfort. “Neither had I until Dumbledore used the same dirty trick on me.”

“He told you he wanted to kiss one of your freckles?” Ginny asked, laughing at her own joke.

“Har har,” Harry replied. “Very funny.” He rolled his eyes dramatically but smiled at her all the same. “Since you seem to be getting along just fine without any distractions, I thought it was time to shake things up a bit.”

“And you never saw fit to tell me this beforehand?” she challenged.

“What would be the fun in that?” Harry asked. When she stuck her tongue out at him in reply, he continued, “Now that – there’s a lot of fun to be had with that.”

She blushed slightly as her tongue retreated back into her mouth, and Harry chuckled lightly. “You’re cute when you blush,” he told her. “When we first started dating you used to blush more, but you don’t very much any more.”

Ginny shrugged. “I’m more comfortable with you – with us – now. There’s not as much to blush about.”

Harry nodded. “I know. I guess it just means I’ll have to get more creative.”

She smiled widely in reply. “I guess so.”

When they eventually got back to work, Harry was able to distract Ginny several more times through various means. Harry could tell Ginny was slightly frustrated about it, but she took it with grace – or perhaps she was just enjoying some of those distractions too much to be upset about them. It was difficult to tell.

During Wednesday’s IHA meeting, Harry surreptitiously asked four of his students to remain behind after class. Each gave him an inquisitive glance but nodded in acquiescence when Harry was not forthcoming with any details. At the end of class, his four handpicked students remained behind, but Harry held his tongue until the door shut behind the last of his students.

Focusing his gaze on the four students, Harry could see the curiosity blazing in all of their eyes. “By now I’m sure you’re all wondering why I asked you to meet with me.” It was not a question, but four heads nodded in answer. “Well, I need your help.”

“What kind of help?” Blaise asked as Cho responded, “Whatever you need, Harry.”

“I appreciate that, Cho, but you may want to take a page from Blaise and hear what I’m asking first,” Harry smilingly replied. “The short explanation is that I would like your help teaching the class.”

“Why would you need our help?” Neville asked in bewilderment.

“Yeah, Harry, you do an amazing job already,” Susan added. “I don’t see why you would need us.”

Harry did his best to force back the heat that seemed determined to rush into his cheeks as he responded, “Thank you. But the reason I am asking for your help is because I plan on focusing a lot more heavily on life-like duelling situations. To do this, I’m going to split the class into groups. While two groups are fighting each other, the rest of the class will still be doing spellwork. So while I supervise the duels, I would like you to be in charge of the rest of the class.”

There was a short pause following Harry’s explanation, but the silence was only short-lived as Blaise burst out, “You mean we don’t get to fight in the duels?”

“Huh?” Harry asked in confusion before he realised what he had left out. “No. I mean, yes, you will still be involved in the duels. I will just arrange the groups so that at least two of you are always free to take over the teaching responsibilities at any given time.”

“Oh, well that’s all right then,” Blaise replied.

Harry smiled and glanced from one student to the next. “So what do you all think? Do you have any questions?”

Neville opened and closed his mouth once before giving voice to his question. “Why pick us?”

Harry furrowed his brow as he replied, “I thought that would be obvious. Professor McGonagall thought it would be best to pick one member from each house so that no one would feel I was playing favourites, so I chose who I thought would be best suited for the job from each house.”

Harry could tell from the look on Neville’s face that he had not managed to answer his friend’s question. “But…why…?” Neville drifted off, seemingly unsure of how to put his query into words.

“I think what he’s trying to ask is why you didn’t pick Granger,” Blaise inserted, turning to Neville for confirmation. Harry did likewise, and Neville nodded.

“Oh,” Harry said, a bit flustered. “Well, Hermione is bright, of course. There’s no disputing that, but I’ve seen the both of you working with other struggling students. People respond much better to you than Hermione.”

Neville’s eyebrows rose high on his forehead. “Oh,” he stated a bit uncomfortably, and Harry could just see the start of a blush to form on his cheeks. “All right then.”

“Any other questions?” Harry asked.

Cho took a slight step forward as she asked, “Will we be learning the lessons early so that we can teach them properly?”

“Good question,” Harry stated. “We’ll be doing this every Sunday, and the first half hour of class will be spent as normal. After that we’ll begin splitting up, and each pair of groups will have about half an hour for the mock battles.” Harry’s eyes briefly flicked across each of their faces to make sure they were all following. “This upcoming Sunday will just be review to give everyone a chance to get settled into the new routine. After that, if you guys want to come in early, you’re more than welcome. I’m always in here well before the start of class. But I think the initial half hour will most likely be enough for you all to get a decent grasp of the material.”

“Anything else?” he asked. The four all looked at each other for a long moment before they each turned and shook their heads. “So, what do you say? Are you willing to help?”

All four gave their agreement. “Great,” Harry replied with some relief. “And thank you. It would probably be best if you all came in a little early on Sunday, just to go over any last minute details or any questions that might arise.” With that settled, Harry sent them all on their way, walking with Neville back to Gryffindor Tower where he spent his evening reading.

The following evening held another of his Occlumency lessons with Dumbledore. Harry had become rather adept at splitting his concentration to stop the man’s dual attacks. Occasionally, Dumbledore was still able to slip through Harry’s defences, but it was a rare occurrence and usually coincided with a lapse in concentration on Harry’s part. They had begun doing different things while waging their internal battles. They usually chatted, though they rarely hit on any topics of import to Harry. Harry was able to maintain his concentration through most of their talks, but every so often the headmaster was able to distract Harry enough to take advantage.

Harry hoped that his progress in splitting his concentration in two to stop the mental assault would lend itself into Legilimency as well. It was only a matter of time before Ginny reached a point where she would be able to block out distractions in order to repel his advances. If he was not mistaken, she was advancing even more quickly than he had, which, according to Dumbledore, was rather remarkable in and of itself.

Keeping his promise to Ginny, Harry steered their conversation onto more serious matters. “Did Professor Snape speak to you about our Potions lesson on Tuesday?” he asked. In truth, he was rather curious to hear the answer to this question. He had been shocked that Snape had not cornered him later that day in an attempt to get him expelled. In fact, Snape seemed to be ignoring Harry entirely at the moment, which suited Harry just fine.

“No, I’m afraid he did not,” the headmaster replied with just the slightest hint of unease. “Did something happen that you wish to tell me about?”

Harry hesitated, surprised that the man did not know. Then again, Snape would not have wanted to admit to his own crime, let alone the fact that Harry had got through his mental barriers. “You might say that, I guess,” he replied. He ran a hand through his hair as he considered his words. “He tried to break into my mind during class,” Harry stated, meeting the man’s gaze.

Dumbledore steepled his hands under his chin. “Indeed?” he asked as if Harry had just told him the most innocuous news.

“Yes,” Harry replied, annoyed with the man’s nonchalant response. “Luckily, my Occlumency shields were more than up to the task.”

“I have no doubt that they were,” Dumbledore responded, nodding at Harry as if offering him praise.

“It doesn’t bother you that one of your professors attempted to violate my mind?” Harry asked, attempting to match the headmaster’s unflappable tone and expression.

“It certainly does,” Dumbledore admitted.

“And what do you intend to do about it?” Harry prodded.

“Rest assured, I will have a conversation with Severus on the matter,” Dumbledore stated.

Harry had to resist the urge to roll his eyes. He could just imagine the fat lot of good that would do, but, knowing it would no doubt come up in that conversation, Harry felt it would be best if he divulged the other major detail of their encounter. “I broke into Snape’s mind,” he stated in a deadpan.

Dumbledore’s eyebrows momentarily shot up into his hairline before he managed to control his reaction, resuming his look of only mild curiosity. “Oh?”

“Ever since the night I walked in on that Order meeting, he’s been staring at me at meals,” Harry explained. “I can tell he’s not happy with me – not that he ever is. When he tried to break into my mind in class, I guess I let my curiosity get the better of me.”

“I guess that would make two of you,” Dumbledore interjected.

“Yes,” Harry responded. “I guess it would. I wanted to know what happened that night.”

“I once told you, Harry, that your father saved Severus’ life,” Dumbledore stated. “And that was something Severus never forgave him for.” Harry nodded, remembering that conversation. “The other night, you succeeded in doing the same, and I’m afraid Severus was none-too-pleased to learn that he owed another Potter a life-debt.”

Harry shook his head in disgust. There was no love lost between him and Snape, but of all the things to hate him for, the fact that he saved Snape’s life was – well it was just as ridiculous as all Snape’s other reasons. There was no sense dwelling on it as it was never going to make any sense to him. “So what happened then? I take it the Order decided to take my advice?”

“It was far from a unanimous decision,” Dumbledore explained. “Some of the Order was sceptical given past circumstances surrounding your visions.”

Harry nodded his head; he had surmised as much from the reactions to his statements during the Order meeting. “I guess that’s unavoidable.”

“Yes; I’m sure you understand. It was not anything against you. They were merely wary of allowing history to repeat itself.”

“Right,” Harry said, again resisting the urge to roll his eyes. He was not all that concerned with the Order’s opinion of him. As long as they still refused to see him as anything but a child, Harry had no interest in them apart from their involvement with Jim. He felt Dumbledore stab at his mind suddenly and tried to reinforce the area, but his concentration had lapsed too much, and he felt something break through his barrier at another point in his mind. A moment later Harry silently cursed himself. He had forgotten all about the purpose of their meeting.

“Sorry,” he said to Dumbledore after a moment. “I got distracted.”

The wizened wizard smiled warmly in reply. “No need to apologize, Harry. That is, after all, why we are here.”

Harry nodded. He thought about dropping the subject of Snape and the Order, figuring that Dumbledore would just shut him out as he always did, but something spurred him on regardless. Perhaps he just wanted to give the man another chance. “So did Professor Snape say anything about that night?”

“He made some comments corroborating your suspicions,” Dumbledore answered vaguely.

“What was the trap?” Harry asked. “Was there an attack?”

Dumbledore smiled genially down at Harry as he responded, “I am sorry Harry, but that is burrowing into Order business. Perhaps after you have left Hogwarts we shall talk about inducting you into the Order, but until then, I’m afraid Order business is strictly off limits.”

Harry forced down his irritation knowing it would get him nowhere. He should not have pushed the subject in the first place as he knew exactly where it would lead. He felt the headmaster strike his mental barriers in two places, but this time Harry was prepared for it. His barriers held strong, and he smiled as the headmaster withdrew – only his smile had nothing to do with Occlumency. Harry had other sources now, and he was due to meet with Remus the following evening.

“Excellent,” Dumbledore praised. “You continue to surprise me with your abilities. I suppose that concludes our session for the evening. Keep up with your nightly exercises, and I shall see you in here again next week.”

“Thank you, Headmaster,” Harry replied as humbly as he could manage. “Good evening.” Before leaving, he made a brief stop at Fawkes’ perch to wish the phoenix a good night as well. Fawkes leaned into his touch and sang a soft trill. As Harry met the gaze of the phoenix, he almost turned away, but he could not deny the phoenix. There were times when he just got so frustrated with the headmaster that he just wanted forget the man and give him up as a lost cause. But no matter how frustrating it got, he would not give up on Dumbledore. With a sad smile on his face, Harry held Fawkes’ gaze and mentally whispered, “I promise.” As he gave Fawkes one last scratch, Harry looked up at the Headmaster to see if he had noticed their exchange, but he appeared unconcerned. With that, Harry left the office and retired back to Gryffindor Tower for the evening.

As Harry lay in bed that night, he pondered the promise he had made. He was surprised that Fawkes had asked it of him, but he did not doubt the phoenix’s intentions. It was clear that Fawkes wanted what was best for him, and Harry was fairly certain that Fawkes had a much better understanding of what he needed than Harry did himself. It was clear that the phoenix felt Dumbledore would come around eventually. As he drifted off to sleep, Harry could only hope that time would arrive sooner rather than later.

The next day was a rather hectic one for Harry. Not only was he planning on visiting the Shrieking Shack that night, he also had an especially long Quidditch practice that afternoon as their next match was rapidly approaching. The team had really been coming together over the past few weeks, working cohesively and playing better than they ever had prior to the holidays.

Harry had renewed his old routine, lingering in the changing rooms after nearly every practice to talk with Ron. Not only did he feel it was his duty as co-captain, he also enjoyed the chance to spend some time with his long-time friend. With their match just over a week away, Harry could see his friend growing more nervous with each passing day. As soon as their last teammate had left, Ron immediately began talking about different game strategies, tactics and who they needed to look out for on the Ravenclaw team.

After listening to his friend rattle on for a few minutes, Harry finally cut in. “You need to calm down, mate. You’ll drive yourself spare at this rate.”

Ron looked at him incredulously. “How can you be so calm? The match is a week away. A week away, Harry! We only have a couple more practices to cram everything in. There’s not enough time.”

“About that,” Harry interjected. “I was thinking we should take it easy this week to loosen everyone up for the game.”

“Take it easy?” Ron stared at Harry as if seeing him for the very first time. “Take it easy? How can we take it easy for our last week of practices? We’ll be totally unprepared come game day.”

“We’ve been preparing for the last couple months,” Harry calmly stated. “Exhausting the team now is not going to help matters. It will only wear them out for the game. The best thing we can do now is have some fun, build up their confidence, and make sure the team is well rested for the match.”

“You’re barmy,” Ron muttered barely loudly enough for Harry to hear.

Harry had to hold back his laughter. “Perhaps I am, but trust me on this.”

Ron seemed to struggle with the concept for a long minute before regaining some of his senses. “So what do you think we should do this week?”

“Run through some light drills. Go through our formations and strategies. Just keep the practices light so as not to wear anyone out, and don’t try to push anything new at them. This is the time to perfect what we’re already doing. We’ve already devised our strategies, and we need to stick to them so as not to confuse anybody.”

“Right,” Ron replied. “We can do that.” He hesitated a second. “You’re sure this is a good idea? Light practices and all?”

Harry chuckled. “Trust me.”

“All right, mate.”

It was already rather late by the time he made it back to the common room, so it was not long before it was time to leave. He met Ginny in the tunnel underneath the Whomping Willow where they began their cramped trek to the shack. The walk was made in silence, giving Harry time to think. He had something he needed to talk to Remus about, but he was nervous it might be too soon.

Harry had been thinking a lot lately about his plans for the summer. It was still a few months off, but he knew he had a lot of plans to make if he intended to fulfill the promise he had made to himself. It would be difficult to find a good place to live while he was stuck at Hogwarts. He had become rather adept at sneaking off, but he needed to be careful about it. Sneaking out during the middle of the day was always a much more difficult prospect than leaving late at night.

He had debated with himself throughout the week whether or not to ask Remus for his help. On the one hand, it would make Harry’s life much easier, but Remus had only just learned Harry’s secret and may not be all that receptive to the idea. Plus, it would be asking a lot of the man, but Harry knew he would have to tell Remus about his plans sooner or later. It would be rude not to inform him of his plans now that the man was keeping his secrets, and he knew Remus could always say no if it was too much work for him.

He had decided to ask Remus for his help, but that did not make the prospect any less daunting. The walk ended not long later, and, as usual, Remus was waiting for them by the time they arrived.

“Evening Remus,” Harry greeted as he climbed out of the trap door. After nodding at his friend, Harry turned to give Ginny a hand up.

“Hello, Harry,” Remus replied while Harry was turned around. “Ginny,” he added, as she appeared into the room.

“Hi, Remus,” Ginny greeted in return.

Harry looked around the room and noticed that Remus had already conjured a loveseat and an armchair. He led Ginny over to the former as Remus seated himself in the latter. After talking briefly about their day to day lives, Harry turned their conversation onto more serious matters. Before he brought up his summer plans, there was one thing he wanted to know. “Remus, what happened with Snape last weekend? I got Dumbledore to admit that the Order followed my advice, but he wouldn’t tell me any more than that.”

“After talking it over for a long time, Dumbledore was able to convince the Order to give you a chance. Or rather, Dumbledore quelled the nay-sayers, insisting that Snape’s life was too important to gamble so carelessly,” Remus explained. “He felt that as long as there was a reasonable chance your information was correct, we must act in the interest of preserving our only reliable source amongst Voldemort’s forces.”

“Your only reliable source?” Harry questioned. “But what about now? After my information proved to be correct yet again?”

Remus sighed as he ran a hand down his tired face. “He still feels we must take great caution when dealing with your visions. He worries that it is only a matter of time before Voldemort realises what is going on and turns it against you.”

He felt Ginny take his hand in hers at Remus’ words and could hear the irritation in his own voice as he replied, “I see.”

“He does not mean any insult to you, Harry,” Remus stated sympathetically. “He’s been through more than one war. It has taught him to be cautious – even suspicious.”

“I know,” Harry stated, deflating slightly. “I can’t entirely blame him. But still, is a little bit of loyalty too much to ask?” Ginny squeezed his hand, rubbing her thumb over his knuckles.

“No, it’s not,” Remus responded softly, yet with conviction.

A short silence followed the words, before Harry finally asked, “What was Voldemort after?”

“Rufus Scrimgeour.”

Harry furrowed his brow. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but he had no idea where he had heard it before. He heard Ginny whisper, “Rufus Scrimgeour,” to herself before she asked, “Isn’t he an Auror or something?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Remus replied. “He’s the Head of the Auror office at the ministry.”

“What happened?” Harry asked. “What was the potion for?”

“It weakens the mind of the drinker; it makes it easier for a Legilimens to break into his mind, making it easier to put him under the Imperius Curse – which is exactly what Voldemort had in mind.”

Ginny gasped as Harry demanded, “The head of the Aurors is under the Imperius?”

“Unfortuantely, yes,” Remus stated, dragging a weary hand down his face. “On the bright side, we’re very much aware of the fact and have Tonks and Kingsley in the office. As soon as they get an opportunity, they’ll take care of it.” Remus paused for a moment before adding, “We just have to hope that no serious damage is done before that.”

Harry could only nod his head in reply. Ginny squeezed his hand gently, and Harry turned to smile at her.

She returned his smile before turning to Remus and asking, “Do you have any leads on any future attacks or anything?”

Harry turned back to find Remus shaking his head. “I’m afraid not. We rarely hear anything very far in advance. When we do get a lead, it’s usually no more than a day before the attack.”

“Has there been any more discussion about Jim?” Ginny’s voice again queried.

“Not anything new,” he said. “He’s been brought up a few times, but nobody has had any new thoughts.”

A short silence descended following that statement. Realising his opportunity had arrived, Harry squelched his nerves and cleared his throat. “I was wondering if I could ask a favour of you.”

“Of course,” Remus replied. “What is it?”

Swallowing thickly, Harry ploughed on, “Well, I’ve kind of been planning to get my own place this summer. I’m sick of spending my summers at the Dursleys’ and really want to get off on my own, only I don’t really have the time or opportunity to actually look for a place.” He trailed off for a second, studying Remus’ face to determine how he was taking it. “I was wondering if you might help me find a house.” Ginny squeezed his hand again, then let go, gliding her hand over his arm and around to his back where she began to rub circles. Harry turned and smiled at her, moving his hand over to squeeze her knee in thanks.

“I’m not sure if that’s such a good idea,” Remus stated uneasily, drawing Harry’s attention back to him. “I know you can take care of yourself, but it’s not safe for you to be out in the open like that. And Dumbledore is not likely to just let you go off on your own. He will track you down.”

Harry waved the concerns away. “I’ve been studying up on the Fidelius Charm. With a little practice, I think I’ll be able to cast it over the property.”

Remus gaped at him for a moment before asking, “How did you – Where did you find a book on the Fidelius Charm? It’s not exactly a common spell.”

“My vault,” Harry responded. Seeing a look of confusion spread across Remus’ face, he clarified, “The Potter vault. I took control of it over the summer and spent some time going through some of it. I’ve barely scratched the surface, but I made sure to go through the bookshelves first. There were several obscure books that caught my eye.”

“And you think you can actually cast it?” Remus queried, not sounding entirely convinced.

“Like I said, it may take some practice runs, but I think I should be able to manage it,” Harry stated.

“Well, have you thought about other protections? The Fidelius Charm is great, but without making the place Unplottable, people could still locate the general location of the house, even if they could not gain entry to it,” Remus continued.

“Yes, I’ve read about it and several other protective wards as well,” Harry said.

“You’ve really given this a lot of thought then,” Remus stated with an almost questioning lilt to his voice. “Are you sure you want to go through with this? Have you thought through all the ramifications? Dumbledore will have the Order searching for you all summer long. Hell, he’ll be searching as well.”

“I know, Remus,” Harry replied seriously. “I know it will cause a lot of problems for a lot of people, but I’m sick of having my life dictated for me. I appreciate that the Order looks after me; I really do. But the time when I needed that has passed. If there was a way to do this without causing them trouble, I’d gladly do it. But there’s not.” He paused for a brief moment, considering a new thought. He had never considered it before, but it should make it easier for the Order to accept his independence.

Making his decision, Harry squared his shoulders and said, “When the summer comes, I’ll reveal myself to the Order as Jim. At least then they should know that I can take care of myself. I know it won’t stop them from trying to hunt me down, but hopefully it will ease some of their worries.”

Remus was silent for a long time. Harry remained stationary, his eyes never straying from the man. He could feel Ginny at his side, her presence comforting and reassuring. At long last, Remus sighed heavily and met Harry’s stare. “All right. I’ll help you find a home.” Harry released a heavy breath he had not realised he was holding. “But if any of those wards go wrong, then the deal is off and you either go back to your relatives’ house or you work out something else with Dumbledore. Deal?”

“Deal,” Harry stated without any hesitation, making a silent vow to dedicate himself to those wards from then on. By the time the term ended, he intended to have his new house already warded and ready for him to move in.

It was only a few minutes later when Remus warned them to transform. After wrestling around for a bit in animal form, Harry curled up beside a feline Ginny and drifted off to sleep. It was just a few short hours later that Remus was waking them up and sending them back to the castle.

They managed to get in a couple more hours of sleep before having to get up. They had another Quidditch practice that afternoon. As they had discussed, Ron took it easy on the team. He still pushed them but not as hard as the past couple weeks. Harry felt it was a really good practice overall, and he told Ron as much afterwards.

Harry passed the rest of his day reading about all the wards he intended to put around his home. He intended to dedicate himself to the task until he was sure of his ability to cast all the necessary wards so that they would not become concerns as summer approached. The next day brought with it Harry’s pair of double HA classes – both of which would be visited by Professor McGonagall. The BHA class passed without much fanfare. His seven advanced students were once again duelling each other rather than Harry.

After the lesson, Harry walked down to the Great Hall with Professor McGonagall, chatting over the details of the coming lesson. Harry ate a hurried lunch and retreated back to the Room of Requirement only minutes later. He wanted the extra time to ensure that the room was set up as he wanted it.

Professor McGonagall arrived while he was still checking through things. She left him be until he was finally satisfied that all was as it should be and walked over to her. “All set?” she queried.

“I think so,” he answered. The door opened just then, and four students walked in together. A year ago, to see these four students together would have been quite a strange sight, yet here they were now, comfortable with each other if not overtly friendly. “Hey, thanks for coming early.”

Answers of “You’re welcome,” and “No problem,” were called back in answer.

“You already know what I want you to do. I assume no one has had a change of heart.” He paused, and four heads shook from side to side. “Excellent. Does anybody have any last minute questions?”

“Yeah,” Blaise spoke up. “What’s Professor McGonagall doing here?” His voice was soft enough that the professor missed mention of her name – either that or she just chose not to react to it.

“It’s a coincidence that she’s here today of all days,” Harry replied. “She monitors my classes once a month. She’ll be moving back and forth between the duels and the spellwork, but she’ll only intervene if she feels it necessary. While I’m occupied, you guys are in charge, and she won’t do anything to undermine your authority.”

That seemed to satisfy Blaise, who nodded his head in acceptance. “I thought of a question,” Susan stated a moment later.

Harry turned to her and offered a smile as he asked, “What is it?”

“What kind of authority do we have? I mean, if any of the students act up, how should we handle that?”

“That’s a good question,” Harry replied. “I hadn’t thought about that. I guess I’ll leave that up to your discretion. You can assign detentions or take house points if you feel it necessary. If anyone gives you trouble about it, have them take it up with me at the end of class. Also, keep in mind that there will always be two of you in command at once. I want you to back each other up should any problems arise. If something comes up and you absolutely need me, I’ll only be in the next room.”

The door to the room opened then, and more students began pouring in. When the door shut behind the last of the students, Harry quieted the class. “We’re going to be starting something a little different today,” he announced. He went on to explain what they were to be doing, and he introduced Neville, Susan, Cho, and Blaise as his assistants. He did not miss the look of hurt in Hermione’s eyes, but there was nothing he could do for it now. After fielding a couple questions, Harry went on to announce the groups.

To say the class was interesting would be quite an understatement. Harry still found himself amazed at the full capabilities of the Room. He had never thought to actually make the duelling locations lifelike, but that was exactly what Professor McGonagall had suggested, and it worked to a charm. The class was split into six teams. And, two at a time, the teams found themselves walking into what appeared to be Diagon Alley. The only easily notable difference from the real thing was that this place was deserted – and the windows in the shops were mostly all empty.

The door to this side-room within the Room of Requirement placed them on one of the rooftops of the buildings, which is where Harry had decided to take his vantage point. The teams each climbed down and retreated to their starting locations. Harry decided to keep the rules simple for this first day. Each team had only one goal: incapacitate the other team. Harry warned them all not to use any potentially lethal curses, but he was ready to cast a shield should anyone get any funny ideas. There were a few curses that he had taught them that they were forbidden from using, so he knew all of them were capable of it.

Harry had mixed reactions to the results of the exercises. Things had been rather hectic, and no team really seemed to have spent much time on strategy. It was only their first day, however, and there was still time for them to improve. After the last of the students had left, he turned to Professor McGonagall and raised an eyebrow in question.

“What did you think?” she asked.

“Please, sit down,” he said as two armchairs materialised in the room. “No reason to do this standing.” As Harry moved to one of the chairs, the other disappeared and was replaced with a wooden, straight-backed chair. “You must really hate Professor Dumbledore’s office,” he commented lightly.

To his surprise, she laughed. “I find his chairs are horrible for posture,” she replied. “But then again, when I am his age, I wonder how much I’ll care for posture.”

Harry smiled. “Probably not much,” he replied. “So how did my four assistants do?”

“Very well,” she replied. “You made your choices wisely.” She hesitated a moment before adding, “I must admit, I questioned your judgment in choosing Mr. Longbottom over Miss Granger. I am aware that you have had your differences with Miss Granger this year, and I feared you had let them affect your judgment. Mr. Longbottom acquitted himself well; I should not have underestimated him.”

Harry smiled widely. “He’s come a long way. I don’t think you’ve seen it as much because he’s still intimidated by you.”

“I suppose there are some drawbacks to being the stern professor,” she admitted.

Harry nodded.

“You never answered my question, though,” McGonagall stated. “What did you think of the lesson?”

Harry took a moment to contemplate his response before answering. “I think it went pretty well, overall. There’s plenty of room for improvement, of course, but for the first lesson, I think they did as well as can be expected.”

McGonagall nodded. “I did not see as much of the battles as you, but I felt more or less the same way. There was not much strategy employed, but their spell-casting and basic duelling skills were beyond what I had expected to find. They have clearly been taught well.” A smile crossed her features as she said the last, and Harry had to resist the urge to duck his head down as he felt the warmth rush into his cheeks.

“Thank you.”

She met his gaze and inclined her head slightly in acknowledgment. “I heard a very interesting piece of information during the first lesson this morning.”

“Oh?” he asked, wondering what it was she could have heard.

“When your seven advanced students broke off from the rest of the class, I had a short chat with them,” she explained. “I wanted a chance to ask them about their –“ she paused as if searching for the right word – “extra-curricular activities. They were all very enthusiastic, especially when they talked about you, Harry. It is clear that they are quite taken with you; they look up to you.” Harry noticed a glisten form in her eyes as she continued. “Your parents would be so proud of you, Harry.”

Those words froze Harry’s internal processes. He had not thought of his parents very often lately. He supposed it was only natural that, as he continued to grow older, he would think of them less. The fact that he was keeping so busy only added to it. In that brief moment, he wondered what his parents would think of him right now with all his duplicity and his involvement in the war. Would they too be doing all they could to keep him in the dark? Or would they have allowed him to make his own decisions? He did not get much time to ponder those questions.

“The real interesting thing they told me, though,” McGonagall continued after a moment, “was about your mock-duel a couple weeks back.” She leaned forward in her chair. “It sounds like you put on quite the spectacle.”

Harry, still reeling from her comment about his parents, could only nod in reply.

“I was worried at first,” she commented almost off-handedly. “How you would cope with being both student and professor.” She rose from her chair and stood beside it with one hand on the back of it. “I cannot imagine anyone who could have handled it better than you have. Your very presence seems to command the respect of your students, and yet you are as approachable of any other student in the school. Your ability to effectively teach the material, at this point, goes without question. And your grades in your classes are better than they have ever been in years past.”

“You mentioned to me that you thought it was odd that none of the staff was ever sent to monitor your lessons, and I agreed with you at the time,” she continued. “After just a few visits to your classes, it’s clear that you need no monitor. You are more than capable of handling the responsibility on your own.”

Harry smiled, knowing that such a compliment and a show of trust was not easily given by his stern Head of House. “Thank you, Minerva.” For the first time, her name did not feel foreign on his tongue.

“You’re welcome, Harry,” she replied warmly. “Of course, if you should ever need my help or counsel, my door is always open.” Harry nodded, and she smiled at him as she added, “I have just one favour to ask of you.”

Harry furrowed his brow. “What is it?”

“If it’s all right with you, the next time you participate in a mock-duel, I’d very much like to watch.”

A wide smile stretched across Harry’s face. “I think I can arrange that.”

Their meeting did not last much longer, and Harry soon returned to Gryffindor Tower and his friends. Throughout the evening, whether Harry was reading, doing homework, or playing games, he could not help but notice as Hermione looked at him frequently, though she never met his eyes. Harry had little doubt of what was on Hermione’s mind, but he had no wish to confront her about it. He hoped that she would just get over it on her own. When Harry retired for the evening without Hermione bringing it up, he thought he might just get his wish.

The next day, however, Hermione continued to behave oddly around him, and Harry was sure it was only a matter of time before she confronted him. His Care of Magical Creatures lesson that afternoon brought with it the reminder that Harry was supposed to be studying up on griffins, but he decided to table that line of research for the time being. Until he was confident in his ability to cast all the wards he needed for his new home, he intended to dedicate all his spare time to the task. Hopefully he would still have time to make headway with the griffin before the end of term.

It was not until the next evening that Hermione finally pulled him aside and asked to talk with him. Harry reluctantly agreed. Her anxiety was rolling off of her in waves, yet she appeared almost reluctant to begin the conversation. Just as Harry was going to speak up, she began talking. “Look, I know it’s technically not my place to question what you do with your classes, but I was wondering why you chose Neville over me to lead the spellwork while you’re busy. It’s not that I think Neville is incapable,” she quickly amended. “It’s just that nobody understands the material better than I do. I know you were upset with me for a while because you think I’m always on your back about things, but I don’t think it’s wise to make decisions based on your personal life.”

Harry stared at Hermione as though she had a head growing out of her arse – which she might as well have after what she had just said. “And you didn’t think that because you were one of my best friends that you should have got the spot? Or that because the DA last year was your idea, that you were entitled to it?” Harry asked her heatedly.

“Of course not!” Hermione responded, outraged.

Harry had to take a couple deep breaths to calm himself down before he said anything else. He wanted to avoid another row with her, and he knew that if he let his emotions run away from him, that was exactly where they were headed. “There are two major reasons why I chose Neville over you,” he told her. “The first is, as you said, because you understand the material better than anyone.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense,” Hermione protested.

“Perhaps if you let me finish explaining,” Harry suggested. Hermione gave him a sour look, but she waved her hand for him to continue. “The problem is that you understand the material so well, that you don’t know how to explain it in terms that others will understand. You see, you understand everything you read in a textbook, so when someone asks you a question, you give a textbook-like answer. The problem is that a lot of people don’t understand the textbook, which is why they’re asking questions in the first place, so regurgitating the textbook at them doesn’t do any good. Right?”

“So you’re saying all I know how to do is repeat what the textbook says?” Hermione asked, clearly upset.

“Not exactly,” Harry stated. “I’m saying that because you understand the textbook, you never stop to find a simpler explanation.

“And Neville does?” she asked skeptically.

“Yes,” Harry stated. “Neville knows exactly what it’s like to be in that position where you just don’t understand, so he knows how to simplify his explanations so that others can follow along.”

“And what is the other reason?” Hermione demanded.

Harry cringed, wishing he had not enumerated his reasons. “Well, I wanted four people who would work well together without any one of them trying to…” he paused, searching for the right words. “Take control, I guess.”

“And you think that I would?”

“Well, you kind of have a tendency to want to take charge of things – especially anything academic,” Harry explained.

Hermione looked like she wanted to argue the point, but she stopped herself. Harry took advantage of the opportunity to add, “Look, it’s not that I don’t think you’re capable, and it’s not that I’m angry at you or anything. I just feel that Neville is a better fit for what I was looking for.”

“And this has absolutely nothing to do with whatever problems you’ve had with me this year?” she asked, her voice still sceptical.

“No, Hermione,” Harry responded in a somewhat frustrated tone. “This had nothing to do with that.”

“And it has nothing to do with whatever it is you’ve been hiding from both me and Ron this year?” she queried.

Harry had to catch himself from responding immediately in the negative. “What are you talking about?” he asked, doing his best to sound confused.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Don’t play that innocent routine on me. It would take an idiot not to notice you’re hiding something. After all the arguments we got into last term, I thought I’d give you some space and let you come to me, but it doesn’t appear you had any plans to do so. Seems to me that you’re trying to keep me at arm’s length.”

“Why would you think I was hiding something?” Harry asked both to stall and to try to figure out exactly what she was basing her suspicions on. He would need to know that if he wanted to come up with a plausible explanation.

“Besides the fact that you disappear practically every day for long periods of time with the excuse that you’re doing work in your office?” Hermione asked.

“I have a lot on my plate this year,” Harry stated defensively. “Between NEWT classes and coming up with lesson plans for the HA, not to mention grading essays for Professor Caldwell, I need all the spare time I can get.”

“Besides,” he added. “I like the privacy – and the quiet.”

“Right,” Hermione continued. “Never mind the fact that neither Ron nor I have ever been welcomed to join you in your office. We’ve barely even seen the door of it, let alone the inside. The only person who seems to be welcome is Ginny, and I know she’s been spending time in there with you for longer than you two have been using it for snogging.”

Harry was privately amazed that Hermione was able to make that last statement with a straight face. As it was, Harry was finding himself growing agitated with the third degree he was receiving. “It’s just like I’ve said,” he stated. “I use the office for homework and to read up and plan my HA lessons. It’s also a private place for Ginny and me to talk – among other things.” The last was a direct allusion to the snogging Hermione so callously referred to, but it also covered their Occlumency lessons and whatever else they might get into nicely.

“Whatever you say, Harry,” Hermione commented. “If you don’t want to share with me, that’s your prerogative. But don’t think I’m just going to stand here and let you lie to me.” With that, she turned on her heel and walked away, leaving Harry at quite a loss. He thought he had done a much better job of hiding, but he apparently had not given his long-time friend enough credit. He was going to need to be more careful.

Harry did his best to put his conversation with Hermione behind him, which did not prove as difficult as he expected as his anticipation for Saturday’s Quidditch match grew. Harry’s own excitement surprised even him, but then it had been well over a year since his last real match. As much as he loved the sport and flying in general, an actual match added a whole new level to the game. The nerves he felt in his stomach come Saturday morning were unlike those he felt during his first year; he felt more anxious than nervous. The feeling was there nonetheless, and, though he managed a healthy amount, he was unable to eat as fully as he would have otherwise.

Though it felt much longer, it was less than two hours later that Harry found himself in the Quidditch changing rooms standing before his team. Per his agreement with Professor McGonagall and Ron, Harry would take control of the team come game time, including any game day speeches. Harry was becoming accustomed to the situation after leading the DA and HA respectively for the past two years.

When he turned to address the team, he met Ginny’s eyes for just a moment, and she winked at him conspiratorially. A smile stretched across his face as he widened his focus to the rest of the team. “There’s not much that needs to be said this morning. Ron’s done a great job coaching us and preparing us for today. I feel like we’ve really come together as a team over the past few weeks. The Ravenclaws have a solid team, but so do we. If we play as well as we did in practice this week, the game is as good as ours, so just play your best, stick to Ron’s strategies, and we’ll show the school exactly what Gryffindors are made of.”

His words were met with a small cry of approval from the team. Harry glanced at the time and realised there were only a couple minutes until they would be called onto the pitch. He had the team line up at the door to the stadium, and just a minute later the announcements began, and they were walking onto the pitch. Harry felt the roar of the crowd on his right hand side, and he turned to survey his red and gold adorned house mates standing and cheering. It took his eyes several seconds to find Neville and Hermione. Hermione was focused elsewhere, but he met Neville’s eye for a moment and gave his friend a nod. Turning, he met Ginny’s gaze, who then gave a pointed look to her brother who was smiling as he waved to Hermione.

Harry did his best to imitate Ron’s smile as he turned back to Ginny and gave an enthusiastic wave. Ginny held her hand up to her mouth as she laughed, then quickly stifled it into a cough as her brother turned to her. She then waved coyly at her brother, who turned confused eyes to Harry. Harry just shrugged at Ron as though he had no idea what Ginny was on about. Any further byplay was interrupted as Madame Hooch the teams to the centre of the pitch. When she asked for the captains to step forward, it took Harry a moment before he realised that meant him.

He walked into the centre of the pitch where Cho Chang was already standing beside Madame Hooch, both watching his approach. Harry returned Cho’s smile then turned to their referee as she began speaking. “I want a clean game between your two teams. You all know the rules, and I expect you to abide by them. Now shake hands, and we’ll get this started.”

Harry turned back to Cho and held out his hand. She took his hand in hers and, as they shook, said, “Good luck, Harry.”

“You too, Cho,” Harry returned with a smile. “I’ll see you up in the air.”

With one last smile, she released his hand, and Harry turned and walked back to his waiting team. The balls were released shortly, and the whistle signalling the start of the match resounded through the pitch. Harry vaulted into the skies high above the rest of his team and took a moment to survey them. He was interrupted a moment later when Cho flew up next to him. She said nothing but merely looked down at their teams below, so Harry returned his gaze to the match.

After a moment of watching, Ginny intercepted a pass between two Ravenclaw Chasers and began streaking towards the Ravenclaw goals. “The Weasley girl can really fly,” Cho commented.

Harry glanced up at Cho for just a second before returning his eyes to the game. “Ginny,” he stated her name rather forcefully, “is an excellent flyer.” Just then, the girl in question feinted at the goal and passed the Quaffle back to Katie who scored easily, putting Gryffindor up 10-0. “She’s a damn good Chaser too,” he added absently.

“Ginny, right,” Cho muttered.

Harry looked up at her then and seemed to come back to himself. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m off to find a Snitch.” With that he zoomed off without looking back to see if Cho was following. He began making a circuit of the pitch as he scanned every which way for a fleck of gold. The sun was hidden behind a group of clouds at the moment, making the process a little more difficult, but it looked as though it would be shining through soon.

As Harry continued to search for the Snitch, he paid a nominal amount of attention to the game. He kept track of the score through the announcer, and it was clear that neither team was going to pull away from the other. The score was back and forth, and neither team ever held a lead of more than thirty points. The score was now 90-80 in favour of Ravenclaw, and Harry had yet to even catch a glimpse of the Snitch. Neither had Cho by the looks of it.

As if she knew he was thinking of her, Cho sidled up to Harry. He slowed down but did not stop scanning the pitch. “Why didn’t you just tell me how you felt about her?”

“Huh?” Harry asked, removing his gaze from the pitch and looking into her face. “What do you mean?”

“Ginny,” Cho replied as if it were obvious. “Back before the Yule Ball. Why didn’t you just say that you liked her? It would have saved me the trouble of humiliating myself.”

“I didn’t like her then,” Harry stated. After a second’s thought, he amended, “Or at least, I hadn’t realised it yet.”

Cho look at him a bit sceptically, but Harry met her gaze unflinchingly. “I never meant to hurt you – or for you to feel humiliated.” Harry sighed. “Listen, this really isn’t the best time to be talking about this. If you want to talk, let’s do it after the match, all right?”

“Sure, Harry,” Cho responded.

As she flew off, Harry turned his gaze back down on the pitch as he pondered the behaviour of his one-time crush. He could not imagine why she was still thinking about their brief relationship, but she was clearly holding onto something and unwilling to let go. He wanted to help her, but he did not know how. There was hardly even a relationship to speak of, and she had been quick to move on afterwards. So why then was she still so attached? The answer was not forthcoming.

When he heard the announcer call out that Gryffindor had just tied the score at 150, Harry looked up into the clouds, wondering when the sun would move past its cover. As he was staring up, he heard a collective gasp in the crowd. He turned his gaze back down as he heard the crowd begin to yell and cheer, and he spotted Cho easily as she zoomed across the pitch. Harry shot after her putting all his effort into going as fast as possible, his owl instincts kicking in as he found a current of air to help him along.

Harry looked ahead of Cho but was unable to spot the Snitch. He was coming at a different angle, so he was unsure how far along exactly he needed to look for the ball of gold. As he was approaching Cho, she suddenly dropped into a dive. Harry followed without a thought, scanning the ground beneath them for the Snitch, but he still saw nothing. He glanced at Cho and could have sworn she was looking at him a moment before. If she had seen the Snitch, she would not have taken her eyes off of it. Harry pulled out of the dive and watched as Cho turned back to look at him and did the same. A groan spread through the crowd as they realised that it was just a feint – the Snitch had not been spotted.

Harry spun around and shot back into the air conscious of the fact that Cho was following. When he had risen above the normal playing height, he slowed down as he resumed his hunt for the Snitch. Cho pulled up alongside him.

“How’d you know I was feinting?” she asked.

Harry turned to face her. “I saw you looking at me. If you had seen the Snitch, you wouldn’t have been watching me.”

“Perhaps not, but it seems awfully risky to gamble on that chance,” Cho returned.

Harry smiled slyly. “It worked, didn’t it?”

“This time,” Cho replied. She smiled at him and, with a wink, sped off. Harry shook his head at her as he returned to his task. It was several minutes later that Harry felt the warmth on his back at the same moment he saw the field light up. It was in that moment that he saw the flash of gold near the Ravenclaw goal posts. He was on the other side of the pitch at the time, and Cho was much closer, though she did not appear to have spotted it yet.

Harry refrained from acting on his instinct to shoot straight towards the golden ball. Instead, he maintained his steady pace across the pitch, swivelling his head from side to side to keep up appearances but never taking his eyes from the elusive Snitch. When he was halfway across the pitch, Harry noticed, out of the corner of his eye, Cho turn abruptly on her broom. He did not hesitate a moment to begin his streak towards the Snitch.

He could just see Cho on the edge of his vision. She had a slight lead on him to the Snitch, but Harry had a faster broom – not to mention the help of his owl instincts. As they approached the golden, winged ball, Harry pulled even and began to push ahead of Cho. He poured all his concentration onto the Snitch as it darted away from the two approaching Seekers. Harry altered his course just slightly. As he closed the distance to the Snitch with Cho at his side, it almost seemed to him as if he could feel the Snitch as much as he could see it.

He could sense a hum of energy, magic. It was a surreal feeling. He was not quite sure what to make of it, but he knew in that brief moment that he need not watch the Snitch’s movements. He was certain that he would not lose the Snitch. He turned his head to the side and winked at Cho even as his hand reached out and closed around the evasive Snitch.

A roar from the crowd suddenly filled Harry’s ears, and he pumped his fist up into the air with his fingers still clutched around the fluttering Snitch. Cho gave him a pointed, questioning look, but he only smiled in return as he turned to join his celebrating teammates. He flew first to Ginny who, through her smile, gave Harry her own inquisitive glance, which he could not interpret. He pulled her into an embrace and kissed the top of her head while trying to decipher what exactly that look might have meant.

When he released Ginny, he was swept away by his teammates and did not get an opportunity to ask her about it. He noticed Ginny travelling with the team as they slowly made their way to the changing rooms, but she remained on the fringes, while he was trapped firmly in the centre of the group. He could not help but notice that her smile did not quite reach her eyes. She entered the girls’ changing room before he had a chance to say anything to her. Harry was directed into the boys’ room by Ron, who had an arm around Harry’s shoulder as he went on about the various points of interest during the game.

Harry barely heard a word of what was said. As if his chats with Cho and his odd discovery with the Snitch had not left him with enough to contemplate, Ginny’s odd behaviour had Harry reeling. In all the time that they had been together – in all the time they had been friends – he had never seen her look at him that way before. There was only one way Harry could think of to describe it; it was a look of doubt.

Harry lingered in the changing rooms, his whirling thoughts leaving him rather preoccupied and not much in the mood to celebrate. Ron was the last of his teammates to leave, and he only did so reluctantly, wanting to go over every little detail of the match with Harry. It was only a promise to do just that later in the evening that finally left Harry in privacy with his thoughts. His mind, however, seemed unable to concentrate on one thing long enough to make any headway.

First there was Cho, though she was the least of his concerns at the moment. Harry wanted her to be happy. He wanted to learn why it was that she was unable to move on, but he had other, more important things to worry about at the moment. The odd sensation he had felt when chasing the Golden Snitch gave Harry an eerie case of déjà vu, as if he had felt something like it before, but he was unable to place where. He did not even know what it was that he was feeling, but he was determined to find out.

Then there was Ginny.

Harry slumped down on the bench, holding his head in his hands. He had no idea what that look had been about, and as much as he could speculate on it, he knew he was getting ahead of himself. He did not really know what he had seen after all. He could be misinterpreting the whole thing. At any rate, there was no sense in sitting around dwelling on it, so Harry shut his locker and strode out the door. He was surprised when, after exiting the room, he came face to face with a familiar female face, but it was not the face he wanted to see.

“Hi Harry.”

“Hey Cho,” Harry replied.

“I hope you don’t mind that I waited for you,” Cho stated.

“Err – no, it’s all right I guess,” Harry responded. “You just caught me by surprise.”

She gave him an odd smirk as she said, “Congratulations on your catch, by the way.”

“Oh, thanks.”

“Though I think I could have done without the taunting wink,” she continued good-naturedly.

Harry smiled sheepishly in reply. “Sorry about that. After what I had said earlier about not taking your eyes off the Snitch, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to eat my own words.”

Cho giggled and swatted at his arm. Harry was silent for a moment wondering why she had waited for him. When it did not appear as if Cho would be forthcoming with that little detail, he decided to just ask her.

“Is there a reason why you were waiting for me?”

“Oh, well during the match you said that if I wanted to talk later, just to say so,” she replied. “So I just thought I’d say so.”

“All right,” Harry responded. “Do you mind if we walk and talk at the same time?”


The two teens began slowly walking towards the castle in silence. After a minute, Harry finally asked, “What did you want to talk about?”

Cho gave him a long, pointed look before answering, “Us.”

“There is no ‘us,’ Cho,” Harry replied. “There barely ever was. You started dating Michael Corner before the end of the term last year. I thought you had moved on.”

Cho did not respond immediately. She kept her gaze forward as they continued to walk. Finally, she turned her head to Harry and said, “I was upset. Michael was there. He was comforting, but I never really cared for him the way I did you.”

Harry sighed. “We gave it a shot last year, and things didn’t exactly turn out very well. A lot has changed since then. I’ve changed since then. I didn’t plan on having anything to do with girls this year. But Ginny, she’s different. I think she’s the first person who has ever really understood me. Don’t get me wrong, I have some great friends, but Ginny has been amazing. I don’t know where I’d be right now if it wasn’t for her.”

They were both silent following his words as they continued their trek until they reached the steps to the castle. Harry stopped in the grass before them and turned to face Cho. “Listen, Cho, whatever there was between us, it’s gone.”

“I know,” Cho interrupted. “I mean, I know in my head that our ship sailed last year, and we missed it. But I just can’t seem to let it go, no matter how hard I try.” She paused and took a deep breath as she seemed to steel herself. “After Cedric, I just – I worried that I’d lost my chance. I was afraid that I had just lost the great love of my life. You were the only one who gave me hope. Part of me felt guilty, as if I was betraying Cedric.”

She sniffed loudly and wiped her hand across her eyes as she continued, “But another part of me was so thrilled that I was getting another chance, that I hadn’t lost my only opportunity. Now another ship has sailed, and I just don’t know how many more opportunities I’m going to get.”

Harry just stared at her for a moment. He was more than a little shocked at this latest revelation. Swallowing thickly, his mind churning a mile a minute, Harry reached out and gripped her shoulder comfortingly as he replied, “I’m sorry, Cho. I can’t imagine what you went through in losing Cedric.” Harry paused as another loud sniffle left Cho, and he reached into his pocket and conjured a handkerchief, which he handed to Cho.

She accepted the kerchief with a muttered, “Thanks.”

Harry gave her another moment before continuing, “We’re still so young though, Cho. You have your whole life ahead of you to find love. Why are you so worried?”

“That’s the thing,” Cho retorted. “We don’t know how long we have. If I learned one thing from Cedric, it’s that we’re not guaranteed anything in life. At any given moment, it can all be stripped away. With You-Know-Who back, that’s truer now than ever.”

Harry could hardly deny her logic, but he would not give up so easily. “All the more reason to move on and stop dwelling over what could have been between us. You’re a great girl Cho. Any guy would be lucky to be with you. It’s only a matter of time before you find the right one. Trust me.”

“Do you really think so?” Cho asked with a little sniffle.

“I do,” Harry replied. He tentatively reached his other arm around her and pulled her in for a hug. She did not hesitate to throw her arms around him and return the embrace. They just stood there for a moment, and when he pulled back, Harry gripped her shoulders in his hands as he stood face to face with Cho. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she replied, smiling shyly. “I think I will be.”

“Good,” Harry said, adopting a more jocular tone. “Because I’m pretty sure I have a Quidditch party to get to. I just won Gryffindor the match, you know.”

Cho slapped him on the arm, but her smile told Harry that she took his joke with good humour. They walked up the steps and into the castle together, parting ways inside as they each headed for their own common rooms. Harry was over halfway to Gryffindor Tower by the time his thoughts left his conversation with Cho and returned to Ginny. His talk with Cho, if anything, only made him appreciate Ginny’s role in his life all the more. If not for her, he may be wondering, just like Cho, if he would ever find somebody before his time ran out. Without Ginny he would have been very much alone over the past several months, but with Ginny, he felt like he might never feel alone again.

More than anything else, he did not want there to be anything that could get between him and Ginny. He resolved to just ask her about whatever it was that might be bothering her. He knew, however, that it worked both ways. He had been more open with Ginny than anyone else in his life, yet he still had his secrets that he kept even from her. It was one secret in particular that occupied Harry’s thoughts – the reason for all his training. He had kept the prophecy hidden from Ginny not due to a lack of trust, but because the information was too sensitive to share with someone who was unable to protect the secret. As long as Voldemort was unable to access that information, Harry had an edge – not because the prophecy gave Harry any great knowledge of how to defeat Voldemort but because Voldemort lacked the knowledge that the prophecy did not spell out anything useful.

Now that Ginny was making progress in her Occlumency lessons, perhaps it was time to open up to her – to let her know the real reason for practically everything that had happened in his life. His thoughts were interrupted as he rounded the last corner and came upon the entrance to Gryffindor Tower. As Harry spoke the password to the Fat Lady, her portrait swung open, and he climbed into the entrance. Once the portrait shut behind him, Harry heard a voice shout, “There he is!”

The occupants of the common room all turned as one to stare at Harry, and for one brief moment silence hung in the air. The spell then broke as the room erupted into a cheer. Harry smiled and accepted the back slaps and hand shakes all in good nature, but his mind was elsewhere. He turned his head all around searching for Ginny in the crowded room, but he could not spot her mane of red hair anywhere.

The crowds eventually began to lose interest in Harry’s presence, and he was free to wander the room unhindered. He found Ron and Hermione sitting together on a sofa near the fireplace.

“Hey Harry,” Hermione greeted. They had not spoken much since their confrontation earlier in the week, so Harry was somewhat surprised at the warm greeting. Then again, she did look rather comfortable with Ron’s arm around her shoulder.

“Hey,” Harry parroted back to her then nodded in greeting to Ron. “Have you guys seen Ginny around at all?”

“She went up to her dorm room,” Hermione said, frowning slightly. “She said she had a bit of a headache and wanted to get out of the crowd.”

“Oh,” Harry responded.

“I wouldn’t worry,” Hermione added, looking at him a bit funny. “I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

“Yeah,” Harry replied a bit distractedly.

“Yeah, Mate,” Ron interjected. “Did you see when Ginny pulled off that reverse Porskoff Ploy? Even I didn’t think it’d fake them out that much.”

“No,” Harry said, shaking his head. “I must have missed that one.” He paused for a moment and scratched his head. “So having her feint down and throw the ball up really worked that well?”

“Yeah,” Ron said excitedly. “You’d think someone else would have thought to just do the reverse already, but I’ve never heard of it being done before.”

“Well good on you then for coming up with it,” Harry replied. “Maybe they’ll name that the Weasley Ploy.”

Ron’s eyes went wide as he stared at Harry. Hermione looked from Ron to Harry and back to Ron again as she started laughing. Harry chuckled along with her at Ron’s expression.

“Really, Harry,” Hermione said after a moment. “They’d need to name it something a little catchier than that. The Weasley Wile has a much better ring to it, and it uses alliteration, which they seem to be fond of.”

Harry smiled even as he held up his hands in surrender. He was glad that Hermione was not allowing their issues to overshadow the good mood created by the Quidditch victory – particularly with Ron there. “All right, the Weasley Wile it is.”

Ron was looking back and forth between them as if trying to decipher whether or not they were being serious. Harry just smiled widely at his friend. “I’m going to wander around a bit. I’ll catch up with you guys later.”

Hermione bid him farewell, but Ron was still too preoccupied to do more than just nod at Harry. As Harry turned, he caught sight of the staircase up to the girls’ dorms. He knew he could never get up those stairs without setting off the alarm, but perhaps there was another way. Looking around to make sure no one was watching him, he darted up the boys’ stairs and into his dorm room. He threw open the window and transformed into his owl form. With several hard beats of his wings, he brought himself up to the windowsill and launched himself out into the open air.

For just a moment Harry worried that he might have some difficulty finding the right window, but, as his owl senses kicked in, he knew exactly where he needed to go. It took only a moment to reach her window, but it was a minute or so before he was able to draw Ginny to the pane of glass. He stared into her eyes silently pleading with her to let him in as he beat his wings to stay level with the window.

Her shoulders sagged just a little bit as a soft smile played at the corner of her lips. She undid the latch on the window and pushed it open, stepping back to allow Harry entrance. Rather than immediately change back into human form, Harry alighted on Ginny’s shoulder and nipped playfully at her ear, earning himself a stifled giggle as Ginny mock-scolded him, calling, “Harry.”

He left her shoulder and transformed back into his normal form before reaching the ground. “Hey,” he said. “Hermione said you weren’t feeling well.”

She looked away from him as she softly said, “Yeah, I have a bit of a headache.”

“Do you?” Harry questioned, his gaze never straying from her face. She turned completely away from him, and Harry stepped forward, laying a hand on her shoulder and letting it slide down her arm to her hand. He tugged gently, trying to coax her into facing him. When, after a moment, she relented, he brought his hand up to her face and rubbed his thumb across her cheek. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing,” she replied, trying to smile but not quite succeeding.

Harry eyed her sceptically. “If it’s nothing, why are you hiding up here in your room instead of celebrating with everyone else?”

“I felt like being alone,” she responded shortly. Before he could prod her any further, she asked, “What were you and Cho talking about?”

Harry furrowed his brow at her question but dutifully answered. “Not much really. You – relationships in general,” he explained succinctly. He did not feel comfortable divulging Cho’s personal business – even to Ginny.

“And the fact that she still likes you,” Ginny inserted. Harry was unable to pin the emotion underlying her tone.

“The fact that she is confused about her feelings,” Harry corrected. “Why are you so interested in Cho all of a sudden?”

“I’m only interested in finding out why she’s interested in you all of a sudden,” Ginny retorted.

“She was having trouble putting the past behind her,” Harry stated as calmly as he could. Truth be told, he was more than a little bothered by the way Ginny was acting.

She laughed bitterly in response. “Right, Harry. Something tells me she has no intention of putting the past behind her.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I heard her, Harry, last term. I listened outside the door as she tried to talk you into dumping me and taking her to the dance.” Harry could see a spark of irritation and anger in her eyes. “Don’t even try to tell me that she has no feelings for you.”

“What are you so upset about?” Harry asked. “It’s like I said, she’s confused about her feelings. She knows that there won’t ever be anything between us again, and, after Cedric, she’s scared she’ll never find anyone else. So she’s finding it difficult to move on.”

“Or she’s using her grief,” – it was clear from her tone exactly how she felt about the sincerity of Cho’s feelings – “to worm her way back into your arms.”

“I can’t believe you would think so little of me,” Harry said, his voice soft and unsure. Since he had realised his feelings for Ginny, he had never even once thought of another girl in a romantic sense. He had never been happier with anyone in his entire life. They had only really been friends for less than a year, yet now he could hardly imagine what life would be like without her. Throughout everything he had gone through since September, she had been the one constant in his life. She was his rock. He had never seen her trust or faith in him waver, and he had never realised how much comfort that simple fact had given him until now.

“Well, it already worked, didn’t it?” she asked.

“You were spying on me?” Harry asked in disbelief. The realisation that she could trust him so little shook him to his very core.

“You were in plain view,” she responded. “Anyone glancing out a window on that side of the castle would have seen you.”

“I don’t care what anyone else could have seen,” Harry bit out, anger building up inside of him. “You don’t trust me.”

“I don’t trust her!” Ginny all but screamed.

“And you think what – that I’d just toss you aside at the first opportunity?” Harry returned heatedly.

“No,” Ginny exclaimed. Pulling at her hair with both hands, she added, “I don’t know.” In the blink of an eye, she deflated before Harry’s eyes. She sagged onto her bed, and Harry noticed tears forming in her eyes. “I’m scared.” The words were said so softly that Harry was not sure he heard her correctly – or that she had even said anything at all.

Harry’s anger vanished as quickly as Ginny’s, and he approached her cautiously, kneeling down in front of her bed and taking one of her hands into his. “Ginny, talk to me. What’s wrong?”

“I’m scared,” she repeated loudly, swiping angrily at her eyes with her free hand.

“Scared of what?” Harry prodded in a soothing tone.

She was quiet for a short moment before pulling her hand from his and letting out a frustrated groan as she held her head in both hands. Harry wanted to comfort her, but he was not sure how. He did not even know what was wrong. There was nothing he could do but wait. It was a couple long minutes later before Ginny even looked at him again, and when she did it was with only one eye as she peered between her hands, still clutched to her face as if to hide herself. Harry met her cycloptic stare steadily, determined to get to the root of whatever it was that was troubling her.

Finally, she peeled her hands away from her face, but she averted her gaze, staring down at Harry’s chest rather than meeting him in the eye. “You’re going to think I’m stupid,” she said in a defeated voice.

“I won’t think you’re stupid,” Harry stated. “I promise.”

She sighed. Her eyes lifted up to meet his gaze for just a fraction of a second before they flicked up over his head. “You know how I used to have a crush on you back when I was little?”

Harry nodded, confused at where she was going. “Yes.”

“It took me a long time to get over that,” she continued. “It took me forever just to get to a point where I could talk to you.” From her voice it was clear that she was disgusted with how shy and insecure she had been. “But I finally – finally – moved past it. I never stopped caring for you, but I was sick of feeling paralyzed whenever you were around. I wanted to be your friend.”

Harry just sat back on his heels unsure how to take what she was saying. He wanted to comfort her, to take her hand, to hold her, but he was rooted to the spot and could only listen as she went on.

“After last year, I finally felt good about myself in regards to you. We weren’t best friends by any stretch of the imagination, but I felt like I had actually helped you – that I had made more of myself than just Ron’s stupid little sister. You have no idea how shocked I was when I heard from you over the summer. I realise now why you were able to say the things you did and why you chose to write me first. But that doesn’t matter. When school started and I learned your secret, I felt so empowered. To know that I gained your trust when no one else had – I was thrilled.”

Harry kept his silence even as she paused, sensing that she needed to get everything out of her system.

“As we got further into term, I realised I was starting to have feelings for you again, but I refused to let my feelings affect me. You needed me, and I was determined to be there for you – to help in any way I could. As time passed, my feelings for you only grew no matter how hard I fought against them. After the ball, when you had nearly kissed me, you seemed to pull away, and I was convinced that you had decided you’d made a mistake – that you didn’t really share my feelings and had only nearly kissed me because you were lost in the moment. Even then, I would not let myself get torn up. After all I had been through with my crush on you, I would never let my emotions rule me so completely again.” She again swiped the tears from her eyes and sniffled loudly before continuing. “Then you finally came around, and since then things have been so wonderful. I almost can’t believe it. Never, even in my wildest fantasies at ten years old, could I have imagined you could make me as happy as you do, Harry – that I could feel so strongly for you.”

Harry reached out and squeezed Ginny’s hand, his eyes shining with affection for her. He realised belatedly how difficult it must have been for her as a child and how determined she must have been to be able to put all of that beyond her and still want to be friends with him. She allowed him to squeeze her hand for just a short moment before she pulled away.

“But no matter how good – how right – this feels between us, I can’t shake my past self,” she explained, her voice laced with frustration. “After all I went through to get over you, part of me demands to know why now? Why did it take you so long to realise your feelings? And what are your feelings exactly?”

Ginny shook her head as she continued. “No matter how I try to move past it – no matter how ridiculous it sounds, even to my own ears – I can’t help but wonder if it’s not really me. This past year, you’ve been alienated from everyone in your life. You cut them all out of this driving force in your life, and I’ve been the only one there. I was the only one you could talk to – the only one you could be open with. So I wonder, is it me?” She paused, wiping the tears in her eyes. She shifted her gaze then, meeting his eyes for the first time in all her monologue. Her voice lost all its life as she resumed. “Had it been some other girl you saved in Diagon Alley – some other girl who discovered your secret – would you have fallen for her instead?”

And then she wept.

At her first sob, Harry immediately sat beside her on the bed and pulled her into his embrace. She fought him for just a moment before giving in and bawling into his robes. To say Harry was at a loss would be an understatement. Never once in his time with Ginny had he questioned it. Nothing had ever felt so right in all his life. A part of him was angry with her for her doubts, but he did his best to temper that emotion. Getting angry would solve nothing. All it took was one look at her shaking form for his anger to melt away, but no matter how much he wanted to comfort and reassure Ginny, he knew he needed to think over all that she had just revealed. After she had poured her heart out to him, it would be an insult to her to disregard her fears without first taking the time to process everything.

As Harry held Ginny in his arms, he thought over her questions. What would have happened had someone else discovered his secrets? No answers were forthcoming. At the time, he had been so dead set on hiding from absolutely everybody, Harry was not sure how he would have reacted. When Ginny had discovered his identity, he had received quite a scare. It was well after the fact that he actually considered the possibility of letting her in and confiding in her.

He had very briefly considered a memory charm, but Harry knew that he could never in good conscience cast such a spell on a friend – especially when he had not had any practice with it. He had then determined to use the life-debt she owed him as a means to ensure her silence – the fact that it was Ginny meant that she owed him doubly, and he was certain he could use that as leverage should she protest.

Instead, he had allowed himself to consider what would happen if he decided to be open with her. Harry had soon realised that he had absolutely no reason to mistrust her. Sure, it was taking a huge risk, but she deserved at least a chance to earn his trust. He decided to test the waters with her, and things just snowballed from there.

So what would he have done if it had not been Ginny? Well, Hermione, for one, was irrelevant to the situation as Harry was certain he would not have developed feelings for her regardless of the circumstances. But any other girl? Harry could say, with relative certainty, that had it been any other girl, he would have gone with his first plan to use the life-debt to ensure her silence. It was only the fact that it was Ginny that made him reconsider.

Even if, for the sake of argument, he did decide to confide in the other girl, he could not imagine falling for anyone else the way he did for Ginny. No other girl could understand him the way she did. No other girl would have given up all her free time and social life to train with him. Harry was the one with the prophecy hanging over his head; he had little choice but to prepare for what lay ahead. Ginny, however, had the choice, and she still chose to walk beside him on his path.

As Harry rubbed her back comfortingly, Ginny’s sobs slowly began to subside until the only sound heard in the empty dormitory was the occasional hitching of her breath. He brought his other hand up and tenderly brushed the stray tendrils of hair off her face, tucking them behind her ear. He then let his hand glide to her cheek and urged her to lift her face up to meet his. As his eyes met hers, Harry froze. The intense longing in her eyes made the words catch in his throat, and he suddenly forgot all that he wanted to say.

He knew, however, that she needed to hear it, so he shakily began, “Ginny, I – you’re not just some convenience. I mean, you – you mean everything to me. I can’t imagine ever feeling this way about another girl, and you have no idea how lucky I feel to be with you. It has nothing to do with the fact that you discovered my secret. It’s the fact that I finally got to know you – you, Ginny, not just Ron’s sister or the girl with the crush on me. I – I hadn’t planned on getting involved with anyone this year. After all the time I wasted last year worrying about things with Cho, I couldn’t afford another distraction like that. But then you came along, and you’ve been the exact opposite. You’ve kept me going through all the distractions and the problems. You understand me like no one else ever has, and yet you haven’t even really known me well for a year.”

He was stopped from saying anything further by Ginny’s hand covering his mouth. She appeared as though she wanted to say something, but instead she reached her hand around Harry’s neck and pulled his head in, crushing his lips to hers. Harry allowed himself to get lost in her kiss for just a moment before he pulled away. He sat there, panting slightly as he struggled to regain his breath, with just a few inches separating his face from hers. “Ginny, there’s – there’s something I need to tell you.”

He tilted his head slightly and rested his forehead against hers, closing his eyes as he tried to find some way to tell her. “Whatever it is, Harry, you can tell me,” Ginny’s whispered, though her voice belied her uncertainty.

Harry opened his eyes as he continued. “It’s – well, it’s something I’ve wanted to tell you for the longest time, but I couldn’t – not until you had the means to protect it.”

Ginny pulled back from him, her brow furrowing in concern. “What is it?”

“Do you remember the prophecy?” Harry asked, his eyes downcast.

“The one that was destroyed in the Department of Mysteries?” Ginny asked.

“Yes,” Harry replied, looking up and locking his eyes with hers. “I know what it says.”

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