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Free Life Posted on 5/21/2012 4:49:38 AM
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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 24: The Stakes
You know the words.

Indeed he did. Tapping the parchment, he uttered, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” He had received the letter with that simple sentence on it that morning. Remus had warned him that his correspondence would be charmed. He wished the man would have come up with a less-known password, but there was no harm done. The single sentence dissolved into the parchment, and the real letter slowly formed before his eyes.

Harry,

They accepted the offer. As we discussed, you won’t be able to purchase the house in your name due to your status as a minor, never mind the fact that it would point out your location to anyone who took the time to look. I made a trip to Gringotts on your behalf and learned that they have private solicitors who should be able to assist in the process. You will need to meet with the goblins to approve everything in person.

I have arranged an appointment for you. I opted for a late-night meeting so that your prolonged absence will not be noticed. Meet me in the lobby on May 6th at 1:00am. Make sure to hide your identity – but don’t come as Jim! We don’t want to draw any attention to him either. I’ll give you the rest of the details then.

RJL


Harry smiled widely. He was so close now. He committed the letter to memory and, not taking any chances, tossed the parchment into the fire. He watched as the flames consumed it, blackening the paper until nothing was left but ash. He walked over to the painting hanging on the wall of his office and repeated the Marauder password. The Gryffindor common room faded from view to be replaced by the map of Hogwarts. Touching his finger to the map, he stated, “Find Ginny Weasley.”

His eyes immediately locked on the now bright red words proclaiming a particular pair of footsteps as belonging to his girlfriend. He smiled, pleased. He had added that feature to the map just yesterday. It made searching for her much easier, even if he did not typically have any difficulty finding her. Ginny was in the library surrounded by many of her year mates presumably studying. He would wait to tell her the news later. There was just about a week before the meeting, so there was no rush.

He cleared the map and walked around his desk. Sitting down, he surveyed the parchment in front of him. Learning how to cast the wards was the easy part – not that the spellwork was altogether simple. The truly difficult part was determining how to tie all the necessary wards together. For every ward added to the mix, the configuration became increasingly complex. It was possible to cast each of the wards individually, but doing so severely weakened them.

To guarantee a strong set of wards, each one had to be tied into a central Control Ward. The wards were tied into that Control using runes. Depending on the complexity of the ward, it could take one, two, or even three runes to tie that ward into the Control, and each rune tied into the control had to then be connected to every other rune tied to that Control. Harry wished he had studied Ancient Runes rather than Divination. He knew nothing about runes, so his progress was slow. He had to look everything up and was unable to do even the most basic rune combinations without walking through the books he had collected from the library.

Harry was intent on using the Control Ward. All his reading on the subject had insisted that the benefits were monumental. Any time you were casting permanent wards, you should be using a Control Ward. The only time it specifically recommended against it was for temporary wards, like the kind Harry used whenever he trained in the Room or Requirement. Using a Control greatly decreased the upkeep of the wards. Rather than having to reinforce each ward individually, you need only reinforce the Control Ward, and in order to break through the wards, you had to first break the Control, which was much more difficult than breaking any of the wards individually. Only after that Control Ward was broken could you attack the rest of the wards.

The only exception – and the only one not being tied into the Control Ward – was the Fidelius Charm. It was fundamentally different from the other wards as it was tied directly into the magic of the Secret-Keeper. The charm reinforced itself through its link to the Secret-Keeper, making any additional upkeep unnecessary. Fortunately, it took small amounts of magic over a long period of time, so there was no noticeable strain on the Secret-Keeper.

Short of convincing the Secret-Keeper to reveal the secret, there was only one confirmed method of breaking the charm. Since the Fidelius Charm gained its power from the Secret-Keeper, killing the Secret-Keeper would, over time, cause the charm to weaken and eventually break, but it was not a quick process. Since only the Secret-Keeper could reveal the location, killing him was essentially dooming yourself to wait for the charm to break on its own, and depending on varying circumstances, that could take months or years.

The author went on to state that it had been hypothesized that there might be another way to break the Fidelius Charm without killing the Secret-Keeper. The book mentioned that it might be possible to sever the link between the charm and the Secret-Keeper, but this possibility was unconfirmed. Further, it was unknown what would happen in that scenario. The author postulated what he felt were the two most likely outcomes. One was that, after severing the link, it might be possible to reestablish the link in another person, essentially transferring the Secret-Keeper responsibilities to another individual. If the link was unable to be transferred, or if the transfer simply was not performed, the charm would most likely deteriorate over time, much like in the case of the death of the Secret-Keeper.

Harry intended to be his own Secret-Keeper. He trusted both Ginny and Remus, but he had no intention of placing such a burden on either of them. He would tell both of them the secret, of course, but he alone would be able to divulge it. He could not help but wonder why one of his parents had not chosen to be their Secret-Keeper after going into hiding. There was no sense in dwelling on it, however, so Harry did his best to put the matter out of his mind.

Harry jumped as a loud knock echoed in the office. He quickly shuffled the parchment and books on his desk together and stuffed them into a desk drawer, then pulled out and opened Keeping the Beast at Bay: A Guide to the Wolfsbane Potion. Using his wand, he popped the door open and called, “Come in.”

Hermione’s head poked through the doorway, followed shortly by the rest of her body. “Hi Harry,” she greeted.

“Hey,” he replied. “What’s up?”

“Oh, not too much,” she replied somewhat distractedly. “I was just doing research and decided to take a break and stretch my legs a bit, so I thought I’d see if you were around.”

Harry barely resisted the urge to smirk. Hermione taking a break from studying was akin to Voldemort taking a break from being an evil dark lord.

“What are you reading?” Hermione asked after a moment.

Harry held up the book for her to read the cover. “Doing research for Potions,” he told her. “Did you ever decide which one you were going to study?”

“No,” she stated. “I narrowed it down to two but couldn’t decide, so I’ve been researching them both.”

Now that sounded more like the Hermione he knew. “You do realise that Snape won’t accept two different reports from you, right?”

“Of course I do,” she replied. “I’ll make my decision after I’ve done a bit more research.”

“So which two is it?” Harry asked conversationally.

“Skele-Gro and Mandrake Draught,” she answered.

“Why those two?”

Shrugging, she replied, “I’ve been curious about them both ever since second year.”

He should have known. He was about to ask about the research, but Hermione beat him to the punch.

“I noticed you received a letter at breakfast this morning,” she mentioned, her voice sounding casual.

Harry did not reply verbally, only raised an eyebrow at her.

After a moment, she continued. “Who was it from?”

“Remus,” he replied.

“Oh? How is Professor Lupin? What was he writing about?” she asked him.

Harry was ready for that one. Part of him wanted to tell her to bugger off and mind her own business, but he realised that he would only be antagonising her. It was much easier to simply give her an answer she could readily swallow. “He’s doing well. I asked him about the Wolfsbane Potion, but he couldn’t really tell me much. He doesn’t know much about the potion itself, only the effects it has on his transformation, and I highly doubt Snape cares much about that.”

“Oh,” she sounded disappointed. “That’s too bad.”

“Yeah, I figured it was worth a shot,” Harry responded with a shrug. “Well, I should probably get back to my research.”

“Right. Sorry for interrupting,” Hermione said.

“It’s no problem,” Harry replied. “I’ll see you at lunch?”

“Yes, see you then,” Hermione called as she walked out the door.

As the door swung shut behind her, Harry reached out with his senses past the slight buzz of the walls to feel Hermione’s magic. He traced her progress as she walked down the hall to make sure she was not about to attempt anything duplicitous. For the past week she had been busy in the library and had not, to his knowledge, resumed her stalking. After pocketing his post without opening it at breakfast that morning, Harry had noticed her giving him some not-so-surreptitious glances; he was fairly surprised that she chose to hold her tongue. He should have known better than to think she might let his unexplained correspondence slide.

Satisfied that she was not coming back, he closed the potions book and dug out his notes and books on wards. He had another hour or so to devote to the project before lunch, and he intended to make good use of that time. When the time came for lunch, Harry was disappointed when Ginny did not make an appearance. He knew she was busy, so he tried to put it out of mind and enjoy the meal with his friends.

Following lunch, Harry retreated to the Room of Requirement. Usually Ginny would accompany him, but she skived off, claiming that she had too much coursework to do. Remembering his O.W.L. classes last year, Harry could certainly understand how she was feeling overworked. It was bad enough without all the extra training. Once Harry entered the room, he cast the usual series of wards over the door and then turned to find three training dummies waiting for him.

Tying a blindfold over his eyes, Harry activated the dummies. The more he exercised this new ability, the more strength and control he gained over it. His sense of magic was beginning to become more sensitive. Whereas for the first couple weeks of training he had been blindly stumbling around waiting for a spell to be cast, now, when he concentrated hard enough, he could actually sense the location of his opponents. There was only a faint trace of magic present in the dummies, though, so it was not always easy to get a lock on them. It was nothing compared to the magic projected by a real person.

Ever since the discovery, he had improved leaps and bounds. The advantage was most profound when the fighting moved into close quarters. The dummies were almost silent in their movements, so, any time they drew close to Harry, it was as if the spells had been materialising out of thin air from just a couple metres away. Now, when the dummies were near, he could sense them easily and, more often than not, attacked before they did. Even when the dummies attacked from a distance, once he ascertained their general location, it was much easier to then pinpoint the dummy and launch a counterattack.

Whereas a little over a week ago he had been using two relatively inept dummies, Harry now faced off against three competent opponents. They were nowhere near the level he used in his normal training, but he was thrilled with the improvement nonetheless. If only he could get that same level of improvement out of his students. Harry was still at a loss to how to proceed with his IHA class. They duelled relatively well given the lack of real-life experience, but that was not enough. He tried to drill into them the seriousness of these exercises and that they should treat this as a battle for their lives against Death Eaters, but nothing seemed to get through.

It was not that they did not take the battles seriously. They fought hard. It was more the style of fighting. There was no patience. They wanted to fight each other out in the open in a fair fight. There was never much of any strategy employed, and it more often than not made no difference to the outcome. If that was how they intended to fight against Death Eaters, they stood little chance of surviving the encounter.

Surprisingly, the same problem seemed not to affect the seven advanced students in his BHA class. He made it a point to pay a little more attention to their duels from now on, and it was clear that they took an entirely different attitude. No matter the teams, they would always put their heads together, come up with a plan, and they would work together towards their goals. Their duels very rarely deteriorated to the free-for-alls that plagued his IHA’s mock battles. Try as he might, Harry could not figure out what he had done differently with these seven students to explain the disparity.

He shoved the matter out of his mind for the time being. No new ideas were forthcoming, and it was useless wasting his time when it could be better spent training. By the time he found himself under the hot spray of his shower, Harry was utterly exhausted. There was no question about it, Voldemort was back to taking an active role in the war. Harry had no idea what had made the difference. Did he think he found the spy? Or was he just no longer allowing it to distract him? It was anybody’s guess. Though Harry had visions nearly every night, none of them provided him any meaningful information. Voldemort’s thoughts never even strayed to the spy, and Harry was never given any clues as to where or when the next attack would take place.

All Harry ever witnessed was torture – both for him and the victims of the attacks. The articles in the Daily Prophet the next morning always provided details of the attacks, but nothing in the articles could describe the absolute horror and brutality of them. As he watched his classmates cringe or blanch at what they read, he felt a bitter envy. How nice it would be to be in their shoes. Harry felt absolutely no emotion when reading the articles. His emotions were all spent in the middle of the night, fighting waves of nausea as the images assaulted his mind.

It was all beginning to weigh on him - both the trauma of the things he witnessed and the lack of sleep. He had been debating with himself all week. He still remembered McGonagall’s offer made months ago, before Voldemort had become distracted with the spy, to come to her if he continued to have difficulties with the visions. Part of him rebelled at the idea of seeking her help. He was more than capable of looking after himself; he had proved that well enough since the summer. He had looked into some of his options already. Dreamless Sleep Potion would probably help him loads, but taking the potion with any regularity carried some dangerous side-effects. If he chose to go that route, he would need to be careful not to overdo it.

There were other sleeping potions, but none of them offered the same guarantees as the Dreamless Sleep Potion, and Harry feared what would happen if he was stuck in a dream state during the throws of a vision. Every time he had escaped a vision, he had awoken immediately. Would he be locked in the vision until the potion wore off? Or would he have to relive the images he had just witnessed over and over again in his dreams? Neither option was an attractive one, so he quickly vetoed the other sleeping potions.

Then there was the Invigoration Draught he had used the last time he had this problem, but he was already familiar with the dangers there. Even laying aside the addictive qualities, as soon as the potion wore off, he would be even more exhausted than he had been before taking the potion. His body needed sleep, and no amount of the potion could make up for that.

Finishing his shower, Harry dressed and made his way to the portrait of the Fat Lady. He gave her a distracted greeting as she opened for him sans password. He spotted Ron sitting in one of the armchairs in front of the fire and made his way over. Ron quickly enticed Harry into a game of chess before supper, and Harry spent the next twenty minutes arguing with his chess pieces over his moves while Ron systematically destroyed his arsenal and trapped his king. They did not have time for another game, so they spent the next few minutes chatting about Quidditch before the time came to head down to the Great Hall.

Harry was disappointed that Ginny had not yet returned from the library. He had not seen her since their morning workout, and he was rather hoping to at least see her at supper. Unfortunately, it was not to be. They made it down to the Great Hall, and Ginny was nowhere to be seen, nor did she appear at any time during the meal. When he was satisfyingly full, Harry decided to go make sure she at least at something. Bidding his friends goodbye, he headed up to the library.

He had no trouble spotting her; there were definite advantages to dating a redhead. She was seated at a table in a far corner of the room with several other fifth years. He briskly walked over to the table and approached directly behind Ginny. He gently laid his hands on her shoulders, squeezing slightly and bending down to kiss the top of her head. She tilted her head back to look up at him.

“Hey you,” she greeted warmly.

Harry smirked. “Hey.”

“Hi Harry,” another voice greeted, and Harry looked up to see the rest of the table staring at the two of them, wide grins on all their faces.

Harry felt a rush of heat flood his cheeks as he realised they had an audience. “Hello,” he replied, giving them a little wave. Two of the girls giggled lightly, and Harry rolled his eyes - both at himself and at the giggling girls. He was being silly and had practically asked for that response by acting all nervous.

Turning back down to Ginny, who was smiling at him with both her lips and eyes, he said, “You missed supper.” Her lips formed the shape of an ‘oh,’ though she made no sound. “And lunch,” Harry added.

“I guess I just lost track of the time,” she admitted sheepishly.

Harry looked at her patronisingly for a moment before surveying the others at her table. “Have any of you lot eaten since breakfast?” They all looked at each other and shrugged or shook their heads. Harry frowned. “All right. All of you up, now.” Glancing at the time, he saw that supper would be ending soon. “We’re taking a field trip to the kitchens.”

There was some grumbling of dissent, but when Jack Sloper’s stomach loudly growled, everyone laughed and followed Harry without complaint. Since he had just eaten, Harry spent most of the meal simply enjoying the company, particularly the beautiful girl at his side. He participated in some of the conversation but was content to just listen most of the time while rubbing circles with his thumb on Ginny’s back.

Harry did partake in dessert at the insistence of Dobby, who had made a treacle tart just for him. He did not have the heart to turn the excitable house-elf down, and, truth be told, it was absolutely delicious. He thanked Dobby and the rest of the house-elves, prompting a chorus of thanks from the entire table, before they began rising and walking out the door. Ginny grabbed his hand and hung back a bit, allowing her year-mates to walk ahead of them and sidled up to Harry, sliding her arm around his waist as she said, “You look exhausted.”

“Thanks,” he replied dryly. “You look rather ravishing yourself.”

She laughed lightly as he stopped her in the hallway and leaned down to nuzzle her neck, playfully nipping at her flesh. She swatted him on the arm and said, “Seriously Harry. You should take a nap or something. You can’t just pretend like nothing’s the matter.”

Harry sighed, lifting his head and looking her straight in the eye. “I know. I was thinking about that earlier actually – not the nap, but about what I was going to do about all of this. I might talk to McGonagall. She said she would talk to Madam Pomfrey with me if I had more problems with visions.”

“I think you should,” Ginny stated, reaching up and cupping his cheek. “I know you think you can take care of yourself, and, while I’m sure you can, sometimes you have to let go of your stubborn pride and allow someone to help.”

He nodded. She made a good point. “Maybe you’re right. If I don’t come up with a better idea, I’ll talk to her Monday morning after class.”

“Good,” she stated, rising onto her toes and giving him a light, fleeting kiss. “Now, about that nap…”

“Yes, about that nap,” Harry interjected with a coy smirk. “I might be willing to let go of my stubborn pride and allow someone to help with that.” She rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Gin,” he stated, letting the smile slide off his face. “I haven’t slept so well as I did that morning, even if it was only for a couple hours.”

Her face softened, and he saw something in her eyes – affection, he thought – shining brightly. “How about you lie down with your head in my lap? I still have some studying I need to do that somebody interrupted.”

Harry quickly nodded his head. “That sounds great. My office?”

“Sure,” she agreed.

As they walked, Harry’s mind drifted back to the last time she had insisted he take a nap. He had wanted to tell her about the change in his Patronus form, but she had stopped him, insisting that he go to sleep right away. Since then, the opportunity just had not ever presented itself. They quickly arrived, and, with some minor transfiguration, Harry converted one arm of the sofa into a small desktop that extended partially over Ginny’s lap. She smirked in approval and seated herself at that end of the sofa, pulling out a couple books and laying them on the wooden surface. Harry kicked off his shoes and sat down beside her.

She turned her head and gave him an inquisitive look. “Aren’t you going to lie down?”

“In a minute. First, I have something I want to tell you,” he said softly.

She frowned. “What is it?”

“It’s nothing bad,” he explained, not wanting to worry her. “It’s just – oh, I don’t know – embarrassing is not the right word.”

“Whatever it is, you can tell me,” Ginny interjected, her voice calm and patient.

“I know. I’m being stupid. Honestly, it’s a good thing.” He smiled, remembering the first time he had seen her successfully cast her Patronus. He was shocked when he made the connection and realised that it was his Animagus form - that somewhere in her thoughts as she cast the charm, she was thinking of him. It took powerful emotion to create a corporeal Patronus. It was hard to believe that he would be even a part of what triggered such a strong emotion within her.

Shaking his head at his thoughts, he continued, “There were dementors in the attack on Diagon Alley.”

“And that’s a good thing?” she interrupted, frowning in confusion.

“No,” Harry stated, shaking his head. “No, but I had to cast my Patronus.” Her brow furrowed, showing that she was as confused as ever, and he realised he was bollixing the whole thing up. “My Patronus changed. I was worried at first that someone would recognise it and make the connection to me, but I didn’t have much of a choice. Only, when I cast the Patronus, it wasn’t a stag any more.” He paused, taking her hand into his and brushing his thumb over her knuckles. “It was a lioness,” he revealed softly.

His gaze was locked on her hand in his. Slowly, he looked up. Her mouth was hanging open. “How…?” she asked, drawing the word out slightly and trailing off.

“The form isn’t set,” Harry explained. “It can change in relation to your life.”

“Like what you think about to power the spell?” she asked.

“That can have an effect,” Harry agreed. “It’s more of a subconscious thing, though.”

“Oh,” she replied, dropping her head down.

“I do though,” Harry continued softly. She looked up at him sharply, and Harry fidgeted slightly under her scrutiny as he continued, “Think of you, now.”

The smile that lit up her face was more than worth the small moment of embarrassment in telling her. She lifted her hand to his cheek and leaned in. He immediately felt her lips on his and eagerly returned the kiss. Her hand moved from his chin to his cheek as her tongue brushed against his lips. Moaning deeply in the back of his throat, he opened his mouth to her and met her tongue with his. Suddenly, she pushed him down on the sofa, trailing after him. Turning onto his back, he kicked his feet up and banged his toes on the wooden desktop. He barely had time to gasp in pain before her lips were back on his. Within moments, the pain was forgotten.

They kissed for a long time, her body pressing down on his. He attempted to shift his hips to try to avoid a growing problem, but she trapped his body against hers and refused to budge. When she finally pulled away, they were both panting heavily. She raised her head just slightly, her hair falling around their faces in a curtain, casting a fiery glow to her face. He had never seen anything sexier in his life, and her body pressed so tightly to his only accentuated that fact. As they lay there, breathing deeply to regain their wind, their eyes never left each other. Harry felt like he should say something, yet nothing needed to be said. There was nothing to say. He just wrapped his arms more tightly around her, and she slowly lowered her lips back to his for a slow, sweet kiss.

When she pulled away a moment later, she laid her head in the crook of his neck. Harry squeezed her gently and pressed his lips to the top of her head. As they lay there, his body began to relax. Her head was just under his nose, and with every breath he could smell her hair. He allowed his eyes to drift closed, and his arms began to relax their hold on her.

“Harry?” she said.

“Mmm,” he murmured.

“You’re supposed to be napping,” she stated.

“Mmhmm.”

“And I really do need to study,” she continued, but Harry did not reply. When Ginny lifted her head and turned to look at him, she found him fast asleep.

******

Harry was startled awake by a loud thumping noise reverberating through his office. The sudden motion threatened his balance, and he was still too disoriented to correct himself in time to stop from falling off the sofa. He hit the ground, eliciting an “Oof,” of both surprise and pain.

He heard Ginny’s voice mumble something incoherently on the sofa as the pounding continued. He rose from the ground and glanced at the sofa to find that Ginny had burrowed her way into the cushions to try to hide from the noise. He smiled and chuckled lightly to himself as he moved over to the door and tore it open. “What?” he demanded as his eyes took in the slightly dishevelled appearance of Hermione.

“Don’t take that attitude with me, Harry Potter,” Hermione scolded. “What are you doing with Ginny in your office well after curfew?”

Harry’s eyebrows shot up in surprise at her words. After curfew? His memory caught up with him, and he realised that they both must have drifted off to sleep. Shaking his head at himself, he replied, “Sleeping.” Hermione looked sceptical and opened her mouth to say something, but Harry beat her to the punch. “If you don’t believe me, see for yourself,” he said, stepping back and sweeping his hand towards the sofa where Ginny’s form was still sprawled out.

Ignoring Hermione for the time being, he walked over to Ginny and knelt at her side. He gently brushed her hair behind her ear and leaned in to whisper, “Wake up, Gin. It’s time to head back up to the common room.” She fidgeted a bit and mumbled something, but her words were muffled by the cushions in the sofa. Smirking to himself, Harry let his hand drift down her arm to her side and tickled her lightly. She jerked up immediately, slapping his hand away.

“What’s the big idea?” she demanded fiercely, though the effect was mostly lost in her grogginess.

“We fell asleep, and Hermione was kind enough to come down and collect us,” he explained. “It’s after curfew.”

She leaned to the side to look past Harry and said, “Hi Hermione.”

“Hello Ginny,” came the reply.

Harry watched as Ginny smiled somewhat sheepishly at the girl before turning back to him. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to fall asleep. When you drifted off, I just thought I’d lie with you a bit; I was afraid I’d wake you if I tried to move.”

Harry smiled softly and reached out to brush a stray lock of hair from her face. “It’s all right. I feel better than I have all week.”

“What time is it, anyway?” Ginny asked him.

Hermione’s voice immediately called out, “Ten o’clock; an hour after curfew.”

Harry took Ginny’s hand, and together they stood. While Ginny gathered her books together, Harry turned to Hermione. “Thanks for coming down to wake us. We might very well have slept through to morning if you hadn’t.” He sincerely doubted that as he would most likely have been awoken sometime in the night from a vision, but he felt it unnecessary to draw attention to that fact. When Ginny sidled up to him a moment later, he turned and asked, “Ready?”

The three walked back to Gryffindor Tower together. After a couple minutes of indecision, Ginny chose to resume her studying before going to bed. Harry shared a brief kiss good night before heading up the stairs. He had a bit of trouble falling asleep, missing Ginny’s warmth and comfort, but he eventually managed the feat.

The next morning he remembered to tell Ginny about the letter from Remus. When she asked if he wanted her to go with him, Harry reluctantly told her that he did not think it was a good idea. He would be going out in public, and it would be easier to manage the trip on his own. Since the plan was to get in and out of Gringotts unnoticed, travelling alone was the best option.

After lunch that day, while watching two groups in his IHA class waging battle in a forest, Harry had a sudden epiphany. It was clear that the seven students in his BHA class had a certain fire to their duels that was lacking in his IHA class. Try as he might, Harry had been unable to duplicate that same spark in his more advanced class. Well, if he could not duplicate it, then why not bring that fire to his advanced class? If Harry was a betting man, he would put money on his seven students from the BHA cleaning up in a duel against seven members of the IHA, and if being beaten by a group of younger students did not light a fire in their bellies, nothing would.

Harry spent the rest of the class thinking over the details of such an arrangement as he watched the mock-battles. It would take a certain bit of finesse on his part to get the right message across, but he thought he could manage it. There was also the matter of talking to his seven students in the BHA. It would not be an easy feat for them to walk in and defeat the older students. The disparity in spell knowledge alone gave the members of the IHA a significant advantage. He would have to make sure they went into the fight with confidence – and a healthy thirst to prove themselves.

He would also have to be careful in whom he selected to represent the IHA. He could not pick the seven best students, nor could he pick the seven worst. He needed to maintain a certain balance to lend credibility to the duel while not stacking the odds clearly in their favour. He had to make sure to select students that the others all respected – at least one student from each house would be necessary to reach the most number of people. By the time the lesson ended, Harry was greatly looking forward to the next week. Regardless of the outcome, it should prove to be quite entertaining.

******

Harry was unable to come up with any solutions to his sleeping problems, so, as promised, he stayed after class Monday morning to talk to Professor McGonagall. Once the door closed after the last student had left, his head of house rose from her chair and walked to the front of her desk before asking, “What can I do for you, Harry?”

Harry distractedly ran a hand through his hair, his hand lingering on the back of his neck for a moment. “Well, I’ve been having a lot of visions again lately,” he explained hesitantly. He was not very comfortable talking about the visions – except with Ginny.

“I had wondered,” his professor quietly mused to herself, though the words travelled to his ears. She looked up at him and in a normal voice asked, “Am I to assume that they have been disrupting your sleep again?”

Harry nodded. “Yes.”

“You have looked a bit more worn-out than usual, though not quite as bad as when we last had this discussion,” she stated.

“I was rather hoping to get some help before it got that bad,” Harry admitted. “I’ve done some research on my own into different options but was unable to find anything that looked promising as a permanent fix.”

“Yes, sleeping potions can be quite dangerous if not handled with caution,” Professor McGonagall said. “But, we may yet find a suitable solution for you. Would you like me to accompany you to visit Madam Pomfrey?”

“Yes, I’d appreciate that,” Harry replied.

“Very well; let us be off then.”

Harry followed her out the door and strode silently beside her on the way to the hospital wing. When they entered the facility, Madam Pomfrey was attending to one of her patients, so they waited quietly until she had finished.

The matron eyed them, Harry in particular, warily as she approached. “Tell me you have not managed to nearly get yourself killed yet again, Mr. Potter. I was rather hoping to break tradition this year.”

“Ah, no,” Harry replied. “I was rather hoping we could discuss a bit of a problem I’m having.” Glancing around the room at the few occupied beds, he added, “In private, preferably.”

She gave him a scrutinising look before turning her gaze to Professor McGonagall who nodded curtly. “Very well,” Madam Pomfrey acquiesced. “We can speak in my office.”

When they walked in, Madam Pomfrey sat behind her desk. In front were two relatively comfortable looking chairs. Harry pulled out his wand and turned to his Head of House, “Allow me.” With that, he transfigured one of the chairs into a straight-backed wooden chair.

Harry just caught the corner of her lip twitching into a smile. “Thank you, Harry.”

“You’re welcome,” he replied, taking the other seat and turning his attention to the matron.

Madam Pomfrey was looking back and forth between the two of them as if trying to solve some puzzle. After a moment of silence, she shook her head and asked, “So what is it that you wished to speak to me about?”

“Well,” Harry started, suddenly feeling a little apprehensive. “I’ve been having some trouble sleeping lately.”

“And do you know the cause of these troubles?” Madam Pomfrey prodded.

“Yes,” Harry answered succinctly. He looked over to Professor McGonagall, unsure how much he could disclose to the matron. She nodded her head almost imperceptibly, and Harry took that as his cue to continue. “I’ve been having a lot of visions, you see,” he explained. “They wake me up in the middle of the night, and I find it nearly impossible to sleep after one.”

“And these visions are of…”

“Voldemort,” Harry quickly inserted, nodding his head sharply.

“I see,” she replied, leaning back in her chair. “The headmaster had you learning Occlumency in the hopes of blocking out these visions, correct?” Harry nodded. “And has that helped in any way?”

“In blocking the visions, no,” Harry responded. “It has helped a little in dealing with the visions after the fact. I am able to sort my memories in such a way that I don’t have to constantly relive what I’ve seen, but it seems to take a bit of time before I can completely get to that point.”

The room was silent for a long moment before Professor McGonagall spoke up. “You said you found it nearly impossible to sleep after a vision,” she stated contemplatively. “That would imply that you have not found it wholly impossible. Am I to assume that you have, in fact, managed to fall back to sleep after one?”

Harry nodded. “Once,” was all he said.

“And was there anything different about this one time that set it apart from all the other times?” his Head of House continued.

He reluctantly nodded again but said nothing.

“Well, what is it?” Madam Pomfrey demanded when he was not immediately forthcoming. “You’ve asked for our help, Mr. Potter. We can only give that to you if you cooperate.”

Sighing, Harry ran a weary hand down his face as he looked back and forth between the two. “I can’t believe I’m talking about this with you two,” he muttered under his breath. “It was Ginny,” he stated out loud. “Ginny helped me get back to sleep.”

Harry swore he saw Minerva’s lip twitch again before her features settled. “And how did Miss Weasley help exactly?” she asked.

“It was a little over a week ago,” Harry answered awkwardly, folding his hands together in his lap and staring down at them. “It had been a bad week as far as visions go, and she found me early in the morning and insisted that I return to sleep. I fought with her on it until she offered to lie down with me. We didn’t want to be seen, so we went to my office. She lay down with me, and before I knew it, I had drifted off to a peaceful sleep. I didn’t really think it would work, but there you have it.”

“I see,” Madam Pomfrey commented, leaning forward on her chair with her elbows on her desk. “You are seeing Miss Weasley, are you not?”

“Yes,” Harry replied, feeling his cheeks flood with the heat that he had been desperately trying to hold back since the start of this line of inquiry.

“There’s no need to be embarrassed, Harry,” Minerva chastised with a hint of amusement in her voice.

Harry looked over and glared at her for a moment before relaxing his features. “And how would you have felt at sixteen in my situation, calmly discussing how you slept with your boyfriend to your Head of House and healer?”

“Oh, I would have been mortified, I’m sure,” she replied, not bothering to hide her smile this time. Madam Pomfrey unsuccessfully tried to choke back a laugh. “But I was not an Assistant Professor on a first name basis with my Head of House, nor did I have much experience with Hogwarts’ healer back then – not nearly as much as you’ve had with Madam Pomfrey.”

“Back to the point,” Harry stated forcefully. “I somehow doubt setting up permanent sleeping arrangements with Ginny is one of my Hogwarts-sanctioned options.”

Once she had regained her composure, Madam Pomfrey responded, “You would be correct. Now, how frequent is your sleep being interrupted?”

“Almost every night,” Harry answered. He noticed her eyebrows rise at his admission, and he snuck a glance out of the corner of his eye to see a frown form on his usually stoic Head of House’s face.

“How many hours of sleep do you typically get before the visions start?” she prodded.

“It varies,” Harry stated. “I tend to go to bed a little earlier than my dorm-mates, but I would say I tend to get around an average of around three hours of sleep when I get a vision.”

Madam Pomfrey made a clicking sort of noise with her tongue. “There’s no spell or potion that can substitute for a good night’s sleep over an extended period of time. An Invigoration Draught can keep you going through the day, but it will only end up wearing your body down more quickly.” Harry squirmed a bit in his chair but bit his tongue as she continued. “Most sleeping potions have hazardous risks if used on a consistent basis. You’ve had experience with the Dreamless Sleep Potion, but that is perhaps the worst of them all. It is highly addictive and will eventually rob you of your ability to sleep altogether, along with your sanity.”

“Since your problem seems only to occur in the middle of the night, you would need only enough potion to give you a few hours of sleep,” she continued, as much to herself as to him. “There’s no combination of potions that would allow us to give you the sleep you need every night of the week, but I think we can work out a schedule of sleeping potions that should give you the extra sleep you need three or four nights out of the week.”

“Madam Pomfrey,” Harry interrupted. “Is it safe to assume that none of these potions will do anything for dreams?”

“Yes, Mr. Potter, that would be a safe assumption,” she replied crisply. “As I stated, the Dreamless Sleep Potion is not one I would have you take with any regularity.”

Harry nodded. “Yes, Ma’am, but I don’t think the other potions will do.”

“And why is that, Mr. Potter?” she asked shrewdly, clearly unimpressed with his doubts.

“As I said, my Occlumency helps to shield me from the images after the fact, but I need a bit of time and distraction before I can shut my eyes without reliving the whole thing,” Harry explained matter-of-factly. “I’ve done my research, and the only potion I’ve found that will guarantee me a restful night is the Dreamless Sleep Potion.”

After a short moment of silence, Madam Pomfrey stated, “There is a weak sleeping potion we can try. I’ll be able to wake you from it if your sleep is restless. I’d like to try this avenue before we completely discount it. The mind is a tricky thing, Mr. Potter. You may not be able to escape those images while awake, but you never can tell what you’ll see in your dreams.”

Harry sighed, knowing what the outcome would be, but he reluctantly nodded his head. “Okay. Will I have to sleep here, then?”

“Yes,” Madam Pomfrey stated. “I’ll need to be able to monitor you after you’ve ingested the potion. If you appear troubled, I’ll wake you immediately.”

“Very well,” Harry agreed. “What if this doesn’t work?”

Her eyes flicked to Professor McGonagall’s for a brief second before settling back on Harry. “We’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.”

Harry nodded his acceptance. “Thank you Madam, Professor,” he said, nodding to each of them. “I guess I’ll see you tonight then, Madam Pomfrey?”

“9:00 sharp,” she replied.

Nodding, Harry exited the room. There was just a little bit of time left before lunch. Knowing Ron also had the period off, Harry decided to head up to the common room to try to catch a quick game of exploding snap. Over lunch, he hesitantly told his friends about his sleeping problems and the fact that he would be sleeping in the Hospital Wing that night. Ron, Hermione, and Neville were all rather shocked by the whole thing. Harry had not let on that he was having regular troubles sleeping, and he had managed not to wake up his dorm-mates in the middle of the night with the visions, so they were none the wiser. Only Ginny knew, and it was readily apparent to the others that she was well aware of the situation.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Hermione had asked.

Harry could only shrug. “There wasn’t anything you could have done. I really prefer not to think about it too much.”

Thankfully, she had let it drop soon after that. After the meal, he gave Ginny a more detailed summary, including his revelation that they had slept together in his office following one of his visions. He gave her the exact details he had provided the two women, just in case the topic ever came up again. He wanted them to be on the same page. That evening, his friends all wished him luck as he departed for the Hospital Wing. Ginny offered to accompany him, but he shook his head. By the time he arrived it would be after curfew, and he did not want to be responsible for her ending up in detention. They said good night just outside the portrait hole, and Harry made the trek through the dim halls on his own. Seconds after pushing open the infirmary doors, a clock on the wall chimed the hour.

Madam Pomfrey strode out of her office and nodded briskly at him. “Good, you’re here.” She gestured to a bed near her office. “You’ll be sleeping here. I’ve set out some pyjamas for you.”

“I’ve brought my own, if that’s all right,” Harry interjected.

She nodded. “Certainly. You can use the privacy screen as you see fit. Assuming you experience a vision, ring the bell on the bedside table; it is charmed to ring another bell in my private quarters. I will then give you the sleeping draught and monitor you until such a time as I am satisfied your sleep will not be unduly troubled.”

“Thank you,” Harry responded, walking over to the indicated bed.

“You’re welcome,” she replied. “Good night, Mr. Potter.”

“Good night, Madam Pomfrey.”

After drawing the screen around his bed, Harry changed into his night clothes and crawled into bed. He pulled out his book on the Wolfsbane Potion and began reading. After about a half hour, he felt his eyelids begin to droop. He set the book on the table and placed his glasses on top of it before drawing the covers up to his chest and shutting his eyes.

Hours later, he awoke panting and clutching at his scar. The vision had been especially horrible that night. He had seen many things and had learned to stomach many things, but the visions with children in them always left him shaken and unsettled. Voldemort had personally visited an orphanage that night.

An image flashed through his mind, and Harry quickly stumbled out of bed and into the loo. Crouching before the toilet, Harry heaved until his stomach was empty of everything but acid. Rising shakily, he walked to the sink and studied his pallid reflection in the mirror. Turning on the tap, he splashed water in his face, then cupped his hand and brought the water to his mouth. He swirled it and gurgled it before spitting it out into the sink. Repeating this process a couple times, he turned off the tap and took one last look into the mirror before walking back to his bed and ringing the bell on the bedside table.

Madam Pomfrey rushed into the infirmary a moment later, looking sleep-ruffled. Harry felt the slightest bit guilty at disrupting her sleep but knew there was nothing for it. “Hello Madam Pomfrey,” he greeted. “Sorry for waking you.”

“Nonsense,” she dismissed. “You had a vision, I assume?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve got your potion right here,” she said, holding out a goblet.

Harry took it from her and inspected its contents. It was only about half full. In the dim light, he was unable to make out the colour, though it seemed dark. He held the goblet to his lips and quickly downed the contents. Madam Pomfrey took the goblet from him, and Harry settled himself under the blankets. When his head hit the pillow, he turned to wish the matron another good night. Before he could utter the words, the potion took effect, and sleep claimed him.

The nightmare began immediately, or so it seemed to Harry. He was at the orphanage, reliving the horrors that took place there not long ago. His unconscious mind did nothing to soften the terror and brutality; if anything, Harry thought his mind may have added to it. It was difficult to tell, though, and he really did not want to dwell on it. He had no idea how long he was trapped in the nightmare. It was long enough to feel as though he had relived the entire vision at least once over. As abruptly as the nightmares had claimed him, so too did they let him go. Harry sat bolt upright in his bed, gasping as he tried to erase the vision from his consciousness.

“Are you all right, Mr. Potter?” Madam Pomfrey asked, her voice much softer than usual.

Harry nodded sharply, not trusting his voice at the moment.

Sighing, she asked, “Would you like a bit of Dreamless Sleep Potion to get you through the rest of the night?”

Harry considered the question for a moment with his knees drawn up to his chest and his arms locked around them. He would love the opportunity to sleep peacefully to morning, but he knew that he should save the potion only for emergencies. Turning to face the matron, he shook his head and said, “I think I should wait until I absolutely need it.”

She studied him shrewdly for a long moment before nodding her head. “Very well. Is there anything I can do for you?”

Again, Harry shook his head. “If it’s all right, I think I’ll just head back to Gryffindor Tower. I can get a bit of revising done before everyone wakes.”

She did not seem particularly pleased - whether at his intended course of action or just the failure of her sleeping potion, he did not know. Nevertheless, she said, “Of course, if that’s what you wish.”

Harry collected the few belongings he had brought down with him. “I think I’ll change before heading back,” he informed her. “I hope you have a good night, Madam.”

“Thank you,” she replied. She seemed to want to say something else; her mouth opened, but she quickly closed it. Finally, she added, “Take care, Harry.”

Harry spent the rest of the early hours in the common room. As the sun began peeking over the horizon, the sound of Ginny’s footsteps preceded her entrance. As she stepped into the room, her eyes met his, and he noticed her slight disappointment at seeing him there. She was no doubt hoping he would still be sleeping in the Hospital Wing. Her question was written on her face as she approached, and Harry shook his head.

She continued walking determinedly towards him and walked around his chair to lean down and wrap her arms around him. “I’m sorry, Harry,” she whispered, kissing the top of his head.

Harry said nothing. He held one of her hands in his and simply revelled in the comfort and warmth she provided.

Ginny relaxed her embrace and slipped into the chair beside him, never taking her hand from his. “What now?” she asked. “Does Madam Pomfrey have another plan?”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t know; the middle of the night didn’t seem like the right time to discuss it. I doubt it though. She didn’t seem too keen on discussing alternative options earlier.” Ginny squeezed his hand but said nothing. After a minute, Harry sighed and stood, tugging Ginny’s arm lightly. “Well, let’s get to it.”

Harry put the matter out of his mind. There was no sense worrying about it more than necessary. If all else failed, he would start taking naps during the day. It was not an ideal solution, but he knew he was not likely to find a better one. He had another brief meeting with Madam Pomfrey and Professor McGonagall that evening, but they seemed inclined to agree that, for the time being, taking naps during the day was his best option. Harry was unsurprised at the verdict, but he could not help but feel the slightest bit put out at the lack of other options.

On the bright side, Ginny offered her lap to him any time he needed it – never mind the fact that the last time he had intended to use her lap as his pillow, they had never quite made it to that position. Unfortunately, their schedules seldom coincided. Ginny was almost always busy with her classes nowadays, and he wanted to keep up on her training, which left very little extra time for other activities. More often than not, when they found such a moment, napping was not on his mind.

Tuesday evening, Harry asked his seven advanced BHA members to stick around after class. As the door closed behind the last of the students, Harry turned to survey them. They stood surprisingly straight, their attentions fixed solely on him. The curiosity was shining in their eyes, but none of them made a move to ask what was up. They would wait for him to start.

“Since the start of your duels, the seven of you have done nothing but impress me,” Harry began, meeting each of their eyes in succession as he spoke. “I don’t get to watch you nearly as much as I’d like, and the only reason our arrangement even works is because of the way you’ve all handled yourselves. You haven’t needed much instruction. I set you a task, and you’ve done all that I’ve asked and more.”

He could see the effects his words had on them. It was clear that Minerva was quite correct in her observations. They did look up to him. “Over the past month, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for you and the hard working attitudes you have all displayed in your exercises,” Harry continued. “About a month ago, I shifted the focus of my second class to mock-battle scenarios. They are a little different from your own – the groups are larger, and they are battling in more lifelike settings – but they are based on the same principle.”

“Unfortunately, the students have not taken to the new exercises with the same fervour that you did. From nearly day one, you were applying strategy to your duels, treating them as life-or-death encounters, doing your absolute best not just to win but to avoid any casualties to your own side. Their duels employ hardly any strategy and typically end in a free-for-all of sorts. They treat the battles as a game with no consequences.”

Steeling his eyes, Harry swept his gaze across all seven students. “I’d like to ask for your help. Nothing I’ve said has made much difference, but I think you might have better luck. If you’ll agree, I’d like the seven of you to team up against a group of seven students from the Intermediate class this Sunday.”

Seven mouths dropped open. It was Ryan, the fourth-year Slytherin, who recovered first. “You want us to fight them?”

“Yes,” Harry replied, nodding his head.

“But they’re older and know a lot more spells,” Nicholas protested.

Harry waved a hand absently at their concerns. “Don’t worry about it. I have faith in you guys. If you go into this with the same attitude you always do, you’ll be just fine.” Smirking, he added, “Besides, just think of the bragging you can do when you wipe the floor with them.”

He could see a few eyes light up at that prospect. Ryan and Nicholas shared a wicked grin – it still surprised him to see a Gryffindor and Slytherin get along so well. Mary-Jo looked from one to the other before rolling her eyes, though her wide smile was genuine as her gaze lingered on Nicholas.

“So what do you say?” Harry prompted after a minute.

The seven students all looked to each other for confirmation before turning back to him. It was Ryan who spoke for the group. “We’re in.”

“Excellent,” Harry replied with a smile. “I knew I could count on you guys.”

That was one problem taken care of. He debated whether to tell his IHA class about the arrangements for the following Sunday or just wait until the class. He suspected that it would not make much difference, and, as he did enjoy surprises, he held that information to himself. He had not selected the seven students to represent the IHA yet, and, even if he had, he doubted they would take the time to plan any sort of strategy. After all, if they did not put much planning and strategy into duels against each other, why would they bother to do so for a duel against a group of younger, less-advanced students?

Before Harry knew it, the end of the week had arrived. He had a sudden inspiration during lunch on Friday. Though he was constantly improving in his new ability, he could not help but worry that the next time he was in a battle, he would quickly find the sheer amount of people and magic around overwhelming and disorienting. He wanted to get to a point where it was no longer something he turned on and off. After all, he would not always know ahead of time when he would need it.

He took advantage of the crowded Great Hall. His friends were all distracted with the meal, and he was sitting, slowly helping himself to his food, when he the thought occurred to him. He concentrated for a moment and winced as the sudden influx of sensations flooded his consciousness. He dropped his fork onto his plate and pinched the bridge of his nose but stubbornly refused to back down.

“Are you all right, Harry?” Neville asked from his side.

Harry swept his gaze over each of his friends, noting that they were all looking at him in concern, before finally settling on Neville. “Yeah, just a headache.” He adopted a small smile and picked the fork back up. “I’ll be fine,” he assured them, taking a bite of his potatoes.

He continued eating mechanically and did his best to follow the conversation, but most of his attention was focused on sorting out all the different inputs he was receiving. At first, it all seemed to blend together, but, as he focused on it, he could begin to separate each of the sources. He even began to notice a distinct difference between each one, which made sense. No two people were the same, so it was only natural that the cores of their magic would all feel different as well.

He began concentrating on his friends, trying to associate the feel of their magic with each of them. In doing this, he noticed Ron turn to him and say something, but, so focused was he on what he was doing, the words did not register. Shaking his head, Harry said, “Sorry, my mind was wandering. What was that?”

“I asked what you thought about adding in an extra Quidditch practice to our week,” Ron stated.

Harry frowned. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” Shooting a quick glance at Hermione, he elaborated. “Exams are coming up, and, while we don’t have to worry about O.W.L.s or N.E.W.T.s this year, there are a few people on the team who do. I don’t want to interfere with their studies.”

“Blimey, you’re starting to sound like Hermione,” Ron responded in his shock.

“And what is wrong with that?” Hermione demanded, levelling Ron with a deadly glare.

“Nothing,” Ron hastily assured her. “I just mean I didn’t expect it from him, is all.”

Hermione seemed mollified at that and turned her gaze to Harry. She seemed to consider him silently for a moment before saying, “I guess I didn’t expect it either, but I happen to agree. I’m glad you’ve finally begun to realise the importance of your education.”

Harry barely resisted the urge to roll his eyes. The statement was just so typically Hermione. Ron tried to protest that there was still plenty of time before exams and that they could back off when they got closer, but Harry did not budge. He did not place much stock in the exams, but he knew they were important to others. Ginny was bogged down enough as it was, and she had held out the longest of all her friends. He did not want to imagine what it was like for Katie and the other seventh years. He would not do anything to add to their burdens. Besides, the team was looking pretty good, and they could always cram a few extra practices in after exams if need be.

By the time that was settled, it was time to leave for their DADA class. Harry coasted through the class as had become habit for him; they rarely ever touched on anything he had not already covered in his own studies. After class, he took an extra long nap in preparation for his planned excursion that evening – or early the next morning, rather. The only drawback came when he tried to go to sleep at his regular time that evening. It took a while for him to finally drop off, and it seemed like just moments later that he was caught up in a vision.

When he woke, Harry lay in bed panting. He was startled a short minute later as his alarm charm went off. Well, at least Voldemort had good timing. He took another moment to calm his racing heart and listened intently to the sounds in the room, taking in the deep breathing and snores of his dorm-mates in sleep. He covered himself first in a plain black robe, then in his Invisibility Cloak, both of which he had hidden in his bed, before quietly sliding open his curtains and exiting the room. He made his exit swiftly, climbing to the Owlery and transforming into an owl before taking flight and exiting the castle.

Landing in the outskirts of Hogsmeade, Harry reverted back to human form before Apparating to Diagon Alley. He walked up the stairs to the imposing white structure. He ignored the goblin standing sentry beside the large bronze doors, taking note that the goblin eyes momentarily flicked to his invisible body as he passed, and pushed through into the lobby of the Wizarding bank. He scanned the large room, taking stock of its inhabitants. Most of the counters sat empty, but there were still several goblins manning their stations. Only a handful of wizards littered the lobby, and Harry quickly spotted Remus loitering in a corner of the room.

Walking over, he stopped shortly before Remus and softly said, “Remus, I’m here.” Remus nodded almost imperceptibly and, without a word spoken, led Harry into a corridor and through a wooden door. The relatively small room was furnished with a small rectangular table with three chairs on each of the long sides. As soon as the door shut behind him, Harry removed the Invisibility Cloak. Remus took a seat on the near side of the table and motioned for Harry to take the chair next to his.

“I suppose that works better than any disguise,” he stated, nodding his head at the silky garment Harry was holding. Harry just smiled his reply, and Remus continued, “I asked the goblins to give us some privacy before the meeting begins,” Remus stated. “They have assured me that the room is completely secure.”

Harry nodded his head. “Thanks for setting all of this up – and for being here.”

“You’re welcome,” Remus responded. “Now, I thought I’d go over the basics of what you can expect here. The house will be purchased by a solicitor hired by a company of which you will be the sole owner. So, by extension, you will own the house through that company. It’s a bit more complicated than that as there will be measures put in place to make it more difficult to trace ownership of the house or the company to you, but, to be honest, even I don’t fully understand all the details.”

“Okay,” Harry said, then paused a long moment as he processed everything that was just said. “That makes sense. I had never really thought about any of that.”

“Well, I wouldn’t expect Voldemort to ever bother looking into Muggle records,” Remus stated. “But Dumbledore has many contacts familiar with the Muggle world. I wouldn’t put it past him to have those people checking records after you pull your disappearing act.”

Harry nodded his head thoughtfully. “Is there anything else I need to know?”

“Well, the closing on the house is scheduled for May 22nd,” Remus told him. “You won’t actually be present for that since your solicitor will be taking care of it, but any time after that you should be able to start setting things up. How is your work on the wards coming along?”

“Good,” Harry answered. “I’ve been practicing them individually. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve managed to cast each one. The only one I haven’t attempted is the Fidelius, but I’ll try it out soon. The real trick is going to be tying all the wards together, but I’m already working on it. I should have everything ready in a few weeks – maybe even by the 22nd if I’m lucky.”

Remus was silent for a long moment following Harry’s response. Finally, he let out a sigh. “To be honest, I’m not sure whether or not to take relief at that. Part of me is happy to help you in this, but another part is terrified for all that could go wrong. I guess that part of me was almost hoping you would find the wards too difficult and that you’d give up on this plan for now.”

Harry was not quite sure how to take that statement. He had never really stopped to think how hard it might be for Remus to just step aside and allow Harry to make his own decisions. While Harry had proven that he could take care of himself, he knew that if something went wrong this summer while he was on his own, Remus would likely feel guilty about it. Remus knew what Harry was planning and, far from trying to stop him, actually went out of his way to help him. While the decision was Harry’s, Remus had it within his power to stop him and chose not to. Harry just had to make sure not to do anything to make Remus regret his decision.

“I know you have your doubts about whether or not this is the right thing to be doing, but thank you for trusting me to make my own decision,” Harry said earnestly. “I promise that I’ll do everything in my power to make sure I am safe at home.”

“Safe at home, perhaps,” Remus responded. “But what happens when you have another vision? Will you contact the Order? Will you wait for our help? Once your cover is blown, the other members of the Order won’t hesitate to bring you in by force. Have you thought about that?”

“I have,” Harry replied cautiously. “I don’t know what will happen. At some point, the Order will have to learn to trust me to make my own decisions and trust that I can take care of myself. Once I turn seventeen I’ll legally be of age and then they cannot legally force me to do anything. I’m not even sure it’s legal for them to force me now – probably only so because they’re forcing me onto my relatives who are still my legal guardians.”

“True,” Remus relented. “But don’t expect that argument to actually work against most of the Order. Most of us have already been through one war. The Order as a whole may not know the entire contents of the prophecy, but we all know that you are the key to defeating Voldemort. For most, that’s enough to keep you under lock and key until they see fit.”

Harry let out a humourless chuckle. “That makes it sound like I just have to show up at the right time, and Voldemort will just roll over and die. Don’t they realise that I need to train? That I need actual battle experience before I can face Voldemort?”

“To be honest, we’re all just placing our faith in Dumbledore,” Remus said with a sigh. “He’s our leader. He knows the whole prophecy. Everyone just assumes that he knows what he’s doing - that he has a plan. If he tells them you need to stay out of the fighting, that you’re too young or too important, they’ll believe him. I would have believed him if I hadn’t realised you were already taking part in the battles.”

Harry contemplated that for a long moment. Before he could formulate his reply, however, the door opened, and two goblins entered, followed by a man in gray robes. “Mr. Lupin. Mr. Potter,” the leading goblin addressed them. “Are you ready to proceed?”

Harry turned to Remus briefly before replying, “Yes.”

The meeting that followed left Harry’s head spinning. When Remus said that things were a bit more complicated than his simple explanation, he had not been kidding. Harry tried to follow everything, but more often than not ended up just nodding his head and grunting his agreement at what seemed to be the appropriate intervals. There were various documents requiring his signature and even one requiring a drop of his blood. Harry made the mistake of trying to read through the first of these. He quickly realised they were not meant to be read by your average folk. The legalese was impossible to follow and only ended up giving him a headache. The fact that his scar was irritating him did not help matters.

The whole thing took nearly two hours. Harry thanked the two goblins and the solicitor for all their time and assistance and flipped his hood back up over his face before exiting the meeting room with Remus. By that time he was exhausted. All he could think of was his four-poster bed in Gryffindor Tower. He thanked Remus again before parting ways outside the bank. Harry quickly Apparated to Hogsmeade and made his way back into the castle. He used his Cloak and map to traverse the halls and enter the dormitory without anyone taking notice. He cancelled the illusion placed over his bed and eagerly climbed under the warm blankets. Seconds after his head hit the pillow, he was asleep.

Harry was exhausted the next day, and, after lunch, decided to take a nap. As he lay on his sofa trying to get to sleep, he could not help thinking back over his conversation with Remus. He had given some thought to how the Order would react when they learned that he was Jim, but with everything else on his mind, he had not given it much consideration. Remus had made an excellent point, though. Harry wanted to be able to work with the Order in battle in an effort to prevent more near misses like in St Mungo’s. That had never been a part of his plans when he had come up with the disguise and alternate identity, but, now that he had taken part in several battles, he recognised the necessity of it.

He knew, however, that he could not keep up his charade as Jim forever, even if he wanted to. The truth would eventually come out, and better it be from his lips than from the next Order member to put together all the pieces of the puzzle. In any case, he did not even want to continue masquerading as Jim. He was sick of the secrecy – sick of the strain it put on his relationships. He was actually looking forward to coming clean with Dumbledore, the Order, and his friends. It would be freeing to not have to constantly worry about it, wondering when it would all come crashing down around him.

Hermione alone was enough to make him want to get it over with. Not only was it downright annoying to have her actively spying on him, it was clear that their friendship would remain on hold until his secrets came out. As much as she got on his nerves, Harry could not quite deny that he missed her friendship – and Ron’s as well. For the past five years, they had been his best friends – his family, and he hated the distance that had grown between them. It would be nice to be able to finally clear the air with them. He knew things would probably never be quite the same as they once were, but he was looking forward to at least getting back on the right track.

Finally, his mind began to relax, and he drifted off to sleep.

******

Ron stormed down the hall angrily, not sparing a thought for the other students in his path. Grumbles and complaints were uttered as he shouldered his way past the slow obstacles. This was getting ridiculous. This was twice now in as many weeks that Hermione had stood him up. Twice! He was not going to stand for it.

He knew Hermione’s study habits as well as anyone. He had endured years of her badgering to get him to work harder – to do his homework and study for exams. Ron was also aware that, in large part, he needed those not-so-gentle prods to get to work. Hermione was good for him in that way – even if she could get rather annoying about it. He was willing to overlook that.

But this? This was beyond the pale. And he did not even have any clue what the pale was exactly; he just knew this was beyond it. He threw open the doors to the library, heedless to the studying students or irritable librarian inside. There was only one person on his mind right now, and she seemed to be the only person in the entire library who had not been disrupted by his entrance.

Ron stalked towards her, ignoring the stares from all the other inhabitants of the room. He walked right up behind her, reached over, and slammed the book shut right in front of her face. He stepped back, a feral but satisfied smile on his face. For a long second, Hermione did not move. She was rigidly still. Then, slowly, she put her hands out on the table in front of her, and, in carefully measured movements, pushed her chair back and rose to her feet, turning around to face him. She was livid.

“What – do – you – think – you – are – doing?” she demanded in a cold tone, each word precisely punctuated.

“Taking you away from the library,” Ron stated matter-of-factly.

“And why, pray tell, are you taking my out of the library?” Hermione asked in a deceptively calm voice.

“Because I haven’t seen you outside of classes in a week,” Ron answered. “You were supposed to meet me half an hour ago.”

Hermione glanced at her watch briefly and seemed surprised at the time. “I was busy,” she responded distractedly. “Lost track of the time.” She turned back towards him, and a fire seemed to light beyond her eyes. “But that does not give you the right to come storming in here slamming books in my face.”

Ron met her glare and refused to back down. “And I didn’t the last time,” he fired back. “But…”

“Out!” the voice of Madame Pince screeched, interrupting his tirade. “The both of you. Now!”

Ron spun around to find the librarian directly behind him. He opened his mouth but shut it abruptly. He turned back around to face Hermione; she looked stunned more than anything else, as if she could not believe she was actually being tossed out of the library. With a smug smirk, Ron strode out of the library and back into the corridor without glancing back to see if Hermione was following. Before he even came to the first corner, he heard Hermione scream after him. “Don’t you walk away from me, Ron Weasley!” He turned on his heel as she stormed down the hallway after him. “I cannot believe you just got me kicked out of the library!” She paused a second, and her eyes narrowed. “Are you smiling?” she demanded. “You’ve got some nerve!”

“I’ve got some nerve?” Ron retorted. “You’re supposed to be my girlfriend! You asked me out, remember? Then you have the nerve to stand me up. Twice! What the bloody hell are you studying that could be so important as to stand me up two times?”

“You want to know what I’m studying?” she fumed. “You really want to know?” Ron just glared at her, silently challenging her to continue. “Harry! All right? I’m researching things to figure out just what the bloody hell is going on with Harry!”

Ron was so shocked by that response that he forgot to glare. He stared at her, wide-eyed, trying to comprehend what she had just said. Harry? “Huh?”

“He’s hiding something,” she stated, her voice returning to its normal volume, though it was still harsh. “Something big. And I won’t just sit around waiting for him to tell us what it is – or to do something stupid like running off into a trap to save someone who wasn’t even in any danger to begin with!”

Ron shook his head. He felt disoriented at the sudden shift in the conversation. “What do you think he’s hiding?”

“I don’t know,” she stated, her frustration evident in her tone. “He’s been too careful. It’s all done either in his office or in the Room of Requirement, and he has wards put up to keep people out.”

“Wards?” he asked. Since when did Harry know how to cast wards?

“Yes!” Hermione responded. “What could be so important or secret that he needs to put wards up to keep people out?” Ron just shook his head, but Hermione continued. “If he was just studying or practicing spells for the HA, he wouldn’t need to be so secretive about it. We could even help him, but he’s keeping us both out of it. Whatever it is, he doesn’t want either one of us – or anyone else – to know about it. Except Ginny.”

“You think he told Ginny whatever it is?” Ron asked distractedly, trying to wrap his mind around this influx of information.

“I’m not sure, but I think so,” she replied. “They spend so much time together, and it started before they were seeing each other. I can’t be sure, but I think she at least knows what he’s doing, even if she’s not a part of it.”

His head was beginning to hurt. “So Harry is hiding something, and only Ginny seems to know what it is?” he asked for clarification.

Hermione nodded exasperatingly. “Yes!”

“Don’t you think that maybe they’re just…” He broke off as a shudder went down his spine. He could not bring himself to say it. “You know…” The thought was just sickening. “Snogging?” The word left a bad taste in his mouth. He knew that Harry and Ginny were together. Some part of him knew that they were going to snog in private, but Ron had never allowed himself to fully consider that fact – and he never wanted to ever again.

“Well of course they are,” Hermione replied. “But this goes back before that, and they don’t spend all their time snogging. I realise for someone like you it’s hard to imagine, but other people care about more than just snogging.”

“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?” Ron asked indignantly.

“Tell me, Ron,” Hermione replied sweetly. “What did you have in mind for our date today?”

Ron opened his mouth to retort but closed it immediately. A coy smile had worked its way onto Hermione’s lips. “Exactly,” Hermione stated. “Girls want romance, Ron, not just snogging.” And with that, she walked past him.

Ron stared after her, their conversation playing back in his mind. How the bloody hell had she turned everything around and walked out on top? She stood him up. There was no way in hell he was just going to forget about being stood up twice, and yet he could not muster the energy to get angry. There was too much to think about.

******

Sunday brought with it Harry’s surprise for his Intermediate HA class. Harry stood before his students, the seven advanced members of the BHA standing behind him on the raised dais. His students did not appear to know quite how to take the news that seven of them would soon be fighting seven younger, less-experienced students in battle. Harry could not entirely blame them as he was sure the announcement came as a bit of a shock. When he further explained to the class that this exercise was in the hopes that they, and not their seven opponents, would learn something, well, they did not look very impressed.

Harry ignored their reaction; instead, he called out the names of the seven pseudo-random fighters who would participate in the exhibition. “Katie Bell, Daphne Greengrass, Zacharias Smith, Terry Boot, Colin Creevey, Cho Chang, and Ernie Macmillan. The rest of you will watch with me.”

“Now, the rules are relatively simple,” Harry continued. “Subdue all your opponents using only strictly non-lethal spells. Beyond that, anything goes. The battle will take place on a street. Each team will begin at opposite ends of the street and will be given ten minutes to grow acquainted with the setting and to come up with any strategies. We will be watching from a rooftop. Are there any questions?”

Harry surveyed the crowd of IHA members before turning back to his seven BHA members.

“Are we allowed to revive fallen team members?” Ryan asked.

Harry smiled at the question. “Yes,” he answered. He turned back around to the IHA and repeated the question and answer to make sure everyone was aware of the rules. When no more questions were forthcoming, Harry directed each of the two teams to enter the battlefield using two separate doors in the wall behind him. Harry, along with the rest of the class, entered a third door in-between the other two.

When he walked through the door, he found himself standing on the flat rooftop of a two story building. Looking left and right, he could see each of the teams a few buildings down in each direction. Casting a Sonorous on his throat, he announced, “Your ten minutes begin now.”

As expected, he saw his BHA students immediately huddle up. His IHA members seemed to be talking amongst themselves, but none of them seemed concerned with the details. It was hard to tell from this distance, but Harry thought they were likely joking around rather than discussing strategies or preparing for the exhibition. The only one who appeared to be taking it seriously, so far as he could tell, was Cho. She walked around the immediate area for a few minutes before calling the others and giving directions – or so it seemed to him.

Harry glanced at the time, just another minute left. His IHA members were still standing out in the open talking, but his BHA members had all set into motion a minute ago. Harry was unable to even keep track of where all seven were as they moved into their positions. He suspected that one or two were even under the cover of Disillusionment Charms, which he had taught to them that last Thursday, hoping to see it employed today. It looked like he would not be disappointed.

When the final minute had passed, Harry cast Sonorous on his throat again and called, “Begin.”

The huddle of IHA members broke up at his words and spread into a V formation as they began a slow advance. Only two BHA members were even visible, and, as expected, the IHA moved steadily forward towards them. Harry was watching intently, waiting for the action to explode, and he was not disappointed. Much sooner than he expected, Harry saw just a flicker of movement from behind the IHA. If not for the red spell that burst from seemingly out of nowhere, Harry might have dismissed it as a trick of his eyes.

Three spells in all were fired almost simultaneously, making Harry wonder how they coordinated the strike. All three spells hit their marks, and Terry, Daphne, and Zacharias fell to the Stunners. As soon as the spells hit, the other four IHA members all turned around at the sound of their falling members. Nicholas and Mary-Jo, the two BHA members standing out in the open, immediately sent a series of spells.

Cho turned back around and noticed the spell-fire. She yelled at her comrades to duck and threw up a shield just in time to block a spell heading right for her. They were not all as lucky. Katie and Ernie managed to dive out of the way of a couple spells, but Colin fell to what looked like a Petrificus Totalus. Rather than retaliate, Cho turned and cast Ennervate on Daphne, who was closest to her.

Not a full second after she cast the spell, another Stunner knocked Daphne back out of the fight. Unfortunately, the action caused one of the Disillusioned BHA members to give away his position. It mattered little, though, as he was able to side-step the Stunner shot from Katie, and, at that moment, his six teammates all exploded into action. Nicholas and Mary-Jo both ran down the street to join up in the action as their five Disillusioned comrades all left secrecy behind and began firing at will.

As the seven members joined up, they formed a half-circle around the IHA members, trapping them out in the open while also eliminating the risk of friendly fire. Harry could not help but be impressed. He wondered whether or not they had planned it that way, but, regardless, it was an effective and brilliant tactic. Outnumbered and encumbered by the bodies of their fallen teammates, Katie and Cho did remarkably well to quell the onslaught, but their best efforts were not enough.

They did manage to stun Sarah before Cho went down. Alone, there was little Katie could do. She tried reviving Zacharias, who was lying at her feet, and stood in front of him with a shield to try to prevent him from being knocked back out right away. The BHA reacted to the tactic immediately and spread out more to get around the shield. Zacharias was Stunned first, and Katie followed a moment later.

Harry turned around to survey the rest of the IHA class and saw a lot of wide eyes. Harry smirked and spun back around. With just a thought, a ladder appeared at the edge of the rooftop, and Harry stepped up to it. Harry paused on the ladder and said, “You can all go back into the main room. I’ll meet you there in a minute.” With that, he quickly descended the rungs of the ladder until he was standing on the main street.

By the time he turned around, all fourteen participants of the exhibition were back on their feet and facing him. “Everyone all right?” he asked. His question met with many nods and a few verbal responses in the affirmative. “Excellent. The others are all waiting on us in the main room, so let’s go.”

Turning around, he opened the door on the building behind him and stepped aside, ushering his students through. Following after them, Harry stepped onto the raised dais to address the class. “Let me first say thank you to our seven visitors for agreeing to help me today. And another thank you to those of you who fought against them. For the past few weeks, I’ve spoken to you time and again on how I want you to treat these exhibitions, and now, with a little help, I’ve given you an example of exactly what I was talking about.”

Taking a deep breath, Harry plunged on. “There’s a war going on right now. I realise that inside these castle walls it’s hard to fully grasp that, but these lessons are meant to prepare you for the worst. Voldemort and his Death Eaters are terrorists. Many of you are Muggle-borns or half-bloods, and those pure-bloods among us, if for no other reason than the fact that you’re here right now learning from me, will be cast in the same lot. You’re all potential targets. I don’t know if Voldemort will target you, but he could. You need to be ready. From now on, I expect to see a whole different attitude in these battles. Each battle should be approached as if your lives are on the line because that’s exactly what’s at stake in this war.”

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