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Free Life Posted on 5/21/2012 4:49:38 AM
Chapter 7: 2000 words and counting
Hero Posted on 3/25/2012 7:32:33 PM
Chapter 6 Chance and Choice: 3,600 words and counting
Long Lost Brother Posted on 4/21/2010 2:57:30 PM
Chapter 5: 0 words and counting.

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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: Thanks as always to Maggie and Christine for their work on the chapter. Also, thank you to everyone who has left me a review.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The rating on the story is being bumped up to R with this chapter, so if you are under-age or wary of reading anything with such a rating, be warned. There is nothing overly explicit in the chapter, but the themes are maturing, and I felt the change in rating was appropriate. On a related note, if there are those who do not wish to continue on due to this change, please let me know either through email or the forums. If there are people interested, I'll consider posting an edited version so that they can continue reading.

Chapter 4: Losing Touch
Harry winged his way to the castle, infinitely relieved that his owl senses were telling him Minerva was there. He came upon her office window and was frustrated to find it closed. Flapping his wings hard to stop his momentum from crashing into the window, he alighted on the stone ledge and spied her at her desk as he leaned forward to peck his beak on the glass.

She looked up and slowly rose from her seat and walked to the window. Harry wanted to shout at her to hurry it up but a screech was all he could manage. As she unlatched and pushed open the window, Harry quickly dove into the room and transformed.

“The incoming –“

Minerva let out a startled shout as she turned and trained a wand on him.

“For Merlin’s sake, it’s me, Harry,” he explained. He held up the fringe covering his scar for emphasis. “I’ve got two animagus forms, but we don’t have time for that now. The incoming Muggle-borns are being attacked. Right now.”

Her eyes widened as he spoke, and she held a hand to her chest.

“You need to get the Order moving, but first, I need you to give me their locations.”

“I have a list of their addresses, but I don’t see how that’s going to help,” she replied.

“I presume you’re familiar with Legilimency?” Harry queried anxiously.

“I know of the skill,” she responded guardedly.

“If you think of their locations, specifically where you Apparated and the areas around the homes, I can pull them from your mind quickly,” Harry hastily explained. “I know having someone in your mind isn’t a pleasant thought, but those families are defenceless, and I can get there long before the Order is ready to go.”

She nodded her head shakily, and Harry took a moment to take in a deep breath. “I need you to bring forward a visit in your mind. The memories should all be connected, so it should be easy to cycle through them quickly. Ready?”

At her hesitant nod, Harry looked into her eyes and whispered the word, “Legilimens.”

Scene after scene of meetings with scared and confused and curious Muggles and Muggle-borns played swiftly before him. He barely spent more than a few moments in each memory before moving on to the next, just enough time to be comfortable that he could find the location.

When the last memory faded, he pulled out of her mind and took a moment to steady himself from the influx of information. Minerva still looked slightly dazed, so he stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder. Her eyes focused on him. “I’ll go in the order you showed me, so have the Order to go in reverse if you can.”

She nodded shakily and finally found her voice, “Be careful, Harry.”

Harry nodded back at her. “Thanks.” With that simple sentiment, he strode back to the window and jumped up to sit on the ledge. He looked back and met Minerva’s gaze for a moment as his body transformed back into an owl, and he dove out the window. As quickly as he could, he flew to the gates of the school. He landed just outside the castle grounds and Apparated to the first location.

As soon as he reappeared, he could tell there were no magical presences in the area. Hoping that the family was simply not home and that he was not too late, Harry immediately Disapparated and reappeared at the next house. He sensed one magical presence and was fairly certain it belonged to the future Hogwarts student and not to any Death Eater.

As soon as he Apparated to the next house, however, he knew there was trouble. He could feel five magical people in the home in addition to spellfire. Sprinting to the house, he Disillusioned himself as he entered through the ruined front door.

He crept through the foyer, careful to avoid stepping on the broken glass or shattered remnants of what was likely once a vase. He rushed into the room with spells flying towards the black-robed figures. Distracted as they were in their torture, none of them even noticed his spells before they hit their mark. They fell in pairs, Stunned, and Harry removed his Disillusionment Charm as he surveyed the scene.

The two adults stood over their sobbing child with dazed expressions. Harry gasped when he took in the sight of the kid. He was covered in blood, and, from their unnatural angles, Harry presumed that both his arms were broken. When he saw the blood staining the parents’ hands, Harry had a pretty good idea of just what had occurred here.

Stepping forward, Harry stated, “We need to get him to the hospital.”

The two adults startled and looked at Harry. Slowly their gazes shifted to their son. Harry could see the moment realization dawned. First the father and then the mother blanched at the state of their child, and Harry could see in their eyes that they remembered exactly how he had been maimed.

“I’m going to transport you to St. Mungo’s, a wizarding hospital,” Harry informed them, grabbing a blood-stained pillow and whispering, “Portus.” It glowed blue for a moment before returning to normal. “What happened here was not your fault,” he told the parents, knowing his words must sound even hollower to their ears than they did to his. “Grab hold of this, and crouch down to press it to your son’s chest.”

The parents dazedly obeyed, and, as soon as they were in position, Harry waved a hand and said, “Activate.” The three disappeared in a swirl of colour, and Harry glanced briefly at the downed Death Eaters, summoning their wands and snapping all four with a quick Cutting Curse. He threw down the remnants in disgust and bound the cloaked wizards in ropes before Disapparating for the next home.

******

“Out of the ten Muggle families, five were attacked. Two of the families were deceased before any help could arrive. Two families are currently in St. Mungo’s: one with severe injuries to the incoming child, who is expected to make a full recovery and one with two adults and three children recovering from exposure to the Cruciatus Curse. The father of the final family was killed during the attack, but the rest of the family was mostly unharmed.”

Minerva kept a tight rein on her emotions as Kingsley delivered the report. She felt responsible for the casualties as she had personally visited all of these families. Regardless of the attacks against current students, she had not considered the danger facing the incoming first years, particularly the Muggle-borns. She should have seen it coming; after all, she was forced to submit a list of all new Muggle families introduced to the Wizarding World to the Ministry. It was necessary so that the Ministry had a record of every magical person in the country. No doubt some agent of You-Know-Who’s had just waltzed in and made a copy of the list.

Her complacency had cost nine people their lives today, and many others were currently recovering from the injuries sustained in the attacks.

After Kingsley returned to his seat, she swept her severe gaze across the table. “What measures are being taken to prevent any future attacks on these families?” she asked the now silent Order.

Nymphadora openly scowled while Kingsley shifted in his chair and cleared his throat, saying, “The Ministry has provided the families with pamphlets…”

“What are we doing,” Minerva interrupted, “to prevent future attacks?” She directed a hard stare at Albus as she finished her query.

“We lack the manpower to adequately monitor their homes,” Albus stated wearily. “You’ll recall how much difficulty we faced arranging guards for just Harry’s home in years past. However,” he added as Minerva opened her mouth to retort, “Bill, Alastor, and I will be paying visits to each property to add some minor wards to alert us to any future attacks.”

She nodded her head in approval and turned as Nymphadora spoke up. “Maybe we should take a page from Harry’s book as well and provide them with Portkeys.”

“Portkeys are strictly regulated by the Ministry,” Albus cautioned. “I am not aware how Mr. Potter learned the skill, but should the Ministry ever learn of his involvement in their creation, he will likely face serious charges.”

“With all due respect, Albus,” Remus interrupted, “we are hardly a Ministry-sanctioned group. The whole reason the Order exists is because the Ministry has been both unable and unwilling to take the necessary steps to both protect its citizens and combat You-Know-Who’s forces.”

“The lad’s right,” Alastor gruffly agreed. “War’s no time for half-measures. Give them Portkeys, and it’s one less thing for us to worry about. I’d like to know what else Potter has cooked up.” He turned his attention to her and asked, “Any idea how he learned about the attacks in the first place?”

Minerva slowly shook her head as she replayed their brief encounter in her mind. “No, I was rather shocked at his appearance and the news he brought. I never thought to question how he became aware of the attacks in the first place.”

“If I may,” Albus inserted as she wound down, “I think it likely that this is another case where Harry might have experienced what he calls a vision of Voldemort’s doings.” That matched her own thoughts, so she, along with many others, nodded her head in silent agreement. “While we’re on the subject of young Harry, I believe some of those sent out to protect the homes of the Muggle-born students came into contact with him.”

The phrasing and tone made it clear this was a request for a report on their dealings with Harry, and Minerva had to stifle a groan at Albus’s unwillingness to let this particular matter rest.

Hestia Jones spoke up first. “He Apparated outside the house I was guarding,” she said. “He spotted me right away and nodded at me before Disapparating.”

Albus nodded and turned to survey the rest of the Order. Kingsley added, “Potter arrived while Tonks, Remus, and I were engaged with the Death Eaters. He joined the fighting and Disapparated as soon as the Death Eaters Portkeyed away. I don’t believe he said a word short of a shout of warning during the fighting.” Both Tonks and Remus confirmed his report.

Dedalus Diggle added his own sighting of Harry, giving an account almost identical to Hestia’s. Bill Weasley then cleared his throat and said, “As you know, the house I approached had already been attacked and the Death Eaters already incapacitated. My sister was with the family when I arrived, and she Disapparated after a short exchange.” His voice was pained as he relayed this information, but he regained control over his emotions as he continued. “Harry appeared later and seemed surprised to see me there. We had a short talk mainly about Ginny before he left.”

Minerva was glad that Molly was absent for this particular report as she knew the news about her daughter would have left the mother in quite a state. She immediately felt guilty but could not deny her relief. She did not envy Bill his role in breaking this news to her.

A silence descended over the group following Bill’s account. Finally, Albus addressed Bill, asking, “Might I inquire as to how your underage sister was able to Disapparate undetected by the Ministry?”

“Er,” the eldest Weasley boy stuttered. His face took on a momentarily vacant expression, and Minerva received the impression that he had not considered this previously. She had little doubt as to the forthcoming answer and was not disappointed when he answered, “She did it wandlessly.”

“You are certain?” Albus clarified.

“Yes,” he said, nodding his head absently. “She hexed me before she left. I hadn’t thought about it, but she never drew her wand.”

“Ginny hexed you?” Tonks asked, leaning forward to get a better look at Bill. “What did you do?”

Bill looked distinctly uncomfortable, and Albus cleared his throat before any response could be given. “While I have no doubt the circumstances behind Miss Weasley’s actions would make an excellent story, perhaps it would be better served to be told at another more appropriate time. Now, back to the matter at hand…”

******

“Harry Potter lives at 165 Magpie Lane.” He waited a moment before seeing their eyes widen. Smiling broadly, he waved the pair towards the house, saying, “Welcome to my home.”

“How the bloody hell did you manage to put your house under the Fidelius?” It was a testament to their shock that his twin had no remark to add.

“I’d been planning this since last summer,” Harry answered as he led them into the house. “And there happened to be a couple of books in my family’s vault on the subject. I’ll give you the proper tour later, but right now Gin’s waiting on us.” He led them into his bedroom-turned-duelling-room.

One twin let out a low whistle as the other commented, “You really pulled out all the stops, didn’t you?”

“Yes, he did,” Ginny input with a wry grin. The smile fell off her face quickly, though, as she added, “Our brother is an unmitigated arse.”

“Bill?”

“Or Charlie?”

“Bill,” Ginny spat.

Harry shrugged when the twins looked at him questioningly. “We each had a bit of a run-in with him yesterday,” he explained. “He was not very pleased with our current situation.”

“He was channelling his inner-Percy is what he was doing,” Ginny scorned. “You can’t live with your boyfriend, Ginny; it’s inappropriate,” she mocked. “What are you thinking involving yourself like this? You’re too young! Bloody wanker!”

“Needless to say, she wasn’t impressed with anything he had to say,” Harry added helpfully with a roll of his eyes at the twins.

They smirked at him before turning to Ginny, “Gave us that same speech just last week.”

“That he did. Came around asking for any insights we might have into what the two of you are up to.”

“Seemed rather concerned about your current living conditions.”

“And the possibility that you might find yourself in battle alongside young Harry, here.”

“Seemed to think that we…”

“…as your ever-caring brothers…”

“…would go out of our way to assist him in his big-brotherly posturing.”

“He and Charles were quite flummoxed when all was said and done.”

“Even ickle-Ronnikins joined in the fun.”

“Ron did?” Harry queried.

“Oh yes,” they replied in stereo.

“I believe his exact words were…”

“‘There’s not a bloke in the world I’d trust with Ginny more than I do Harry.’”

“Too right, my dashing twin.”

Harry raised his eyebrows in surprise. To be entirely honest, he had not given a great deal of thought as to what Ron’s reaction would be to all that had occurred since the end of term. Their friendship had been on the mend after the rather disastrous first term, but he had not had much time to stop and think at all this summer. The attacks occurred with such frequency, and his days were crammed with exercising and training and studying. That Ron seemed to approve of the situation rather surprised him and gave him hope that perhaps things with his first ever friend would work out.

“At least that makes one brother who’s managed to pull his head out of his arse,” Ginny muttered bitterly.

Harry did not know whether to be amused or concerned with how severely Bill’s words had affected her. He had expected her mood to have improved by now. Some of his thoughts must have shown on his face, for Fred took him aside while George distracted Ginny. “Ginny and Bill were very close before he left for Egypt. She’s always idolized him. Coming from any of the rest of us, she’d have hexed us and immediately moved on. From Bill, though, the betrayal will run deeper.”

Harry nodded thoughtfully. That made sense, he supposed. It was not as if he had much experience with the whole family dynamic, but he considered it comparable to the way his feelings towards the headmaster had been turned completely on their head last summer. While he did not doubt that Dumbledore cared for him, just as he knew Bill cared deeply for Ginny, his lack of faith and trust in him had disturbed Harry. He imagined it was even worse for Ginny since Bill was family and because she was still recovering from what her parents had allowed a few weeks prior.

“Let’s get to work, shall we?” Harry finally called.

Harry put the twins and Ginny through their paces, taking them all on and pitting them against each other in turns. A few duels in, Harry had just incapacitated Fred and George and was turning his full attention onto Ginny when he felt two new presences pop into existence in his front yard. His moment of distraction nearly cost him as he hastily dropped out of the way of a Stunner and quickly raised a shield to deflect an onslaught of curses from his grinning girlfriend.

Deciding to try a new tactic, he pushed his shield out towards Ginny and saw her eyes widen as her spells began deflecting rapidly closer to her outstretched hand. She jumped to the side and turned her attention away from him for a moment to watch as the slight shimmer of his shield passed the space she just recently vacated and impacted the wall to no visible effect. She was unable to recover from her own moment of distraction, and his Incarcerous spell had her wrapped up for him as he strode towards her.

“Got you right where I want you,” Harry teased even as he shielded against the Stunner she managed to cast with a flick of her wrist. “Ah ah, none of that, my dear,” he said with a smile as he dipped down to plant a quick kiss to her lips. “We have company,” he commented as he released her from her binds. Two Rennervates brought her brothers back to consciousness, and Harry strode out to meet his visitors.

“Remus, Tonks,” he greeted as he walked into the lounge.

“Hello, Harry,” Remus replied at the same time as Tonks’ “Wotcher.”

Ginny entered, followed shortly after by Fred and George, and greetings were exchanged all around.

“So what brings you two here?” Harry asked when they had all settled.

“Well, for starters, I believe you wanted to see how Ginny fared in a duel against Tonks,” Remus answered, while Tonks pretended to buff her nails on her shirt beside him.

“Oh, this we have to see,” the twins chorused in stereo.

Harry rolled his eyes and turned to Ginny with a smile. “I must admit I’m looking forward to it as well, though likely for entirely different reasons.”

“I’m ready whenever you are,” Ginny casually commented to Tonks.

“Why do I get the feeling that this is a setup?” Tonks queried the room at large.

Remus burst out laughing in response and stood up, tugging Tonks to her feet as well. “You’re a trained Auror; you should have no problem against a Hogwarts student.”

“Pretty funny thing to say when there’s a Hogwarts student in the room who could probably kick all our arses at the same time,” she dryly responded.

Remus shrugged his shoulders and led Tonks into the duelling room. Harry and the Weasleys followed behind as Remus turned back to him, “You really went all out on this, Harry.”

“No kidding,” Tonks muttered. “I don’t understand where you find the time or the ability to do things like this.”

“Nothing motivates you like a ridiculously powerful Dark Lord meticulously planning your murder,” Harry drolly drawled.

“No kidding,” Tonks repeated as she shrugged out of her robe and handed it to Remus. Harry snorted when he caught sight of her t-shirt. A wolf was howling at a full moon over the caption, ‘I prefer wolfy-style’.

“I’ll bet you do,” Harry uttered when she sent him a smirk.

Tonks winked at him before turning to Ginny and saying, “Show me what you got, Firecracker.”

“Oh, you’re in for it now,” Fred warned.

“Ickle Gin-Gin has never liked nicknames.”

“Have you Ginnikins?”

“Especially ones with fire.”

“Firecracker.”

“Firefly.”

“Fire crab.”

“Fire slug.”

“Fire crotch.”

“Fred!” Ginny scolded, her mouth hanging open.

“See what we mean?” George pointed out to Tonks in a stage whisper as Harry barely reined in his laughter. Ginny’s face, meanwhile, had heated up to a fiery red.

“Anyway,” Harry interrupted, trying valiantly to keep a straight face – and to keep his thoughts from wandering further south – “What say we get this show on the road?”

The twins continued snickering to themselves but obediently followed Harry and Remus to an out of the way corner as the girls faced off.

The pair started slowly, testing the others defences as they circled each other like two predators fighting for dominance. It was as if a switch suddenly flipped as both girls sprang into action. The spells flashed at a furious pace, and while Harry could not help but notice how advanced Ginny had become over the last several weeks, he found Tonks’ performance the more surprising. He had seen her in battle before, but he had never actually had an opportunity to stop and watch her duel. Whatever awkward-in-her-own-body clumsiness normally affected her vanished completely as she moved with a fluid grace that few could hope to match. Ginny, fortunately, was one of those few, and the performance that followed was nothing short of breathtaking – and, Harry admitted to himself, somewhat arousing.

He forced such thoughts from his head, though, and concentrated on the fight and on Ginny’s performance. As the battle wore on he could see the balance slowly tipping Ginny’s way. Tonks began to tire, while Ginny tirelessly continued to duck, dodge, roll, and assault her Auror opponent. While Ginny still struggled to cast two different spells at the same time, she had mastered dual-casting of the same spell and used it to her advantage to wear Tonks down until finally her shield failed. She managed to stagger out of the way of one barrage, but, her fatigue slowing her down too much, she fell to a Stunner.

Ginny ceased her casting and bent over her knees, huffing and puffing as she attempted to catch her breath. Harry turned and saw three faces staring out in disbelief at the sight before them. Finally, Remus seemed to break himself out of his stupor and met Harry’s eye for a moment before giving him a small smile and a nod. The two stepped out together, Remus walking quickly to Tonks as Harry made his way to Ginny.

“You were brilliant,” Harry commented.

Ginny raised herself up and met his eyes, and he watched as the smile stretched across her lips. “I did it,” she whispered. Harry smiled and opened his arms as she launched herself at him, repeating, “I did it.”

“Yes, you did,” Harry murmured into her hair. He was immensely proud of her but worried. He did his best to subdue the pang of fear in his gut as he squeezed her tighter. “I knew you could.”

“I’d ask you where you learned to fight like that,” Tonks interrupted as she walked over to them with Remus at her side, “but I have a feeling I already know the answer to that one.”

Harry rolled his eyes at Tonks as Ginny extricated herself from his arms to turn and face her. “Harry’s a very good teacher,” she praised and gave his hand a quick squeeze.

“No doubt,” Tonks agreed with a wink. “I might just have to steal him away to the Ministry to give the Aurors some tips.”

“Nah,” Harry refuted with a shake of his head. “Wouldn’t want to give away any of my secrets. Never know when I might need to use them against the Aurors.”

“Too true,” Tonks agreed with a frown.

“Where did Fred and George get to?” Ginny queried, and Harry glanced around the room to find that they were no longer there.

He met Ginny’s eyes for a moment before they both strode towards the door. He heard chuckling behind him but paid it no mind. He loved Fred and George, but he did not necessarily trust them to be in his house unsupervised. They found the duo standing before his map talking quietly to each other. When they noticed they were no longer alone, the pair turned towards them.

“Nice map you have here,” one commented idly.

“Now where have I seen something like it before, I wonder,” the other wondered aloud.

Harry shook his head. “Might it be that map you gave to me in my third year?” Harry asked, deciding to play along.

“Ah yes!”

“That’s the one!”

“Rather limited number of people being tracked.”

“Yes, well, the Marauders managed to find a way to tie their map into the wards at Hogwarts. It would be nearly impossible to duplicate anywhere else – at least, not without first setting up some rather elaborate warding schemes.”

“No kidding.”

“Always wondered how it worked, we did.”

“Never managed to make anything like it.”

“Guess that helps explain why.”

“Go ask Remus if you want the details,” Harry reminded them.

“Later, but we’re more interested in this map right now.”

“Indeed. How’d you get it to target specific people?”

“Signed contract?”

“Close,” Harry replied. “It’s actually tied into Portkeys. I gave them to all my students at the end of the term. As soon as they touched the Portkey, they became tied to it which allows me to view them on my map and alerts me if any of their Portkeys are used. Technically they could give the Portkey to someone else, but it would always show up as the original person to touch it. It’d be too confusing if the name on the map changed every time someone new touched one.”

“Ever think about taking it the other direction?” Fred queried.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked.

“Well, does it require skin contact?”

“To get the name to appear, yes,” Harry answered.

“Well, let’s not worry about the name for now.”

“When you’re off fighting Death Eaters…”

“Rescuing damsels…”

“Saving the day…”

“You might slap a couple trackers on some Death Eaters.”

“They go wherever it is Death Eaters go…”

“And all of a sudden, you know where Death Eaters go.”

Harry was stunned to silence as he stared at the twins.

“That’s brilliant!” Tonks exclaimed. “We could finally start taking the fight to the Death Eaters, rather than just reacting to each new attack.”

Harry shook his head. “How did I not think of this?” he muttered to himself.

“You can’t think of everything,” Ginny whispered back just as quietly, snaking her arm around his waist and giving him a squeeze.

Harry cleared his throat to get the others’ attention. “They don’t work through anti-tracking wards, so we probably won’t find any big Death Eater headquarters or anything like that, but even if we can take them in one at a time, it could go a long way towards crippling their forces.”

“We might just get lucky,” Remus added. “Pure-bloods can be remarkably arrogant. Sometimes they can overlook the most obvious forms of protection because it won’t occur to them that they’ll need it.”

Harry shrugged his shoulders and gave a non-committal, “Maybe.” Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Harry turned to the twins. “As long as we’re on the subject, hang on,” Harry said, quickly running out of the room and into his own. He came back carrying two necklaces and handed one to each twin. “Here you go. Just say Sanctuary to activate them, and you and anyone else you’re touching or who’s touching the Portkey will get whisked away to Hogwarts’ gates.”

Two new labels appeared on the map as the pair donned their Portkeys. “Er – I don’t suppose you have a stockpile of these?” George inquired.

“I have some extras,” Harry stated. “Why?”

The twins shared a look before nodding to each other and turning back to Harry. “Well, we were just thinking…”

“As long as you’ve got them lying around…”

“Might as well put them to use…”

“Ah,” Harry said. “Of course. How many did you need?”

“One for Angie…”

“And Katie…”

“And ’Licia…”

“And Lee…”

“At the very least.”

Harry nodded and walked back out and grabbed his whole stash. “This is all I have,” he told them as he conjured a box around them. “If you want them to work properly, don’t touch the pendants yourselves. You can touch the cords without activating everything.”

“Thanks, Harry,” they chorused.

“Let me know if you need more,” he answered.

After the others had all left, Harry took Ginny out to dinner and a film, ostensibly to celebrate her victory over Tonks. Ginny was not quite as gushing after her second experience in a cinema, but she was still all smiles following the flick. After arriving back at home, the couple decided to retire early, though sleep was not on the immediate agenda. As was quickly becoming routine, Harry and Ginny were already engaged in a fiery kiss before they even made it into the bedroom. Harry eventually backed Ginny up into the bed, and she crawled back into the middle as Harry followed suit. He ended up lying half on top of her as they resumed their kissing with one hand wandering up and down her side while the other became quickly tangled in her hair. It was becoming more and more difficult to put a halt to their increasingly passionate bedtime activities, but Harry’s cooler head always prevailed. This night was no different. Finally, thoroughly and frustratingly pleased, Harry wrapped his arm around Ginny and held her loosely against his body as the couple drifted off to sleep.

******

“Rise, Severus,” he hissed to the figure kneeling before him.

“My Lord,” his Death Eater responded, rising to his feet but keeping his head tilted slightly down. He always respected that about Severus; he knew his place well.

“You know why I have called you here, do you not?” he queried. He waved his hand dismissively before his servant could even contemplate his reply. “There is a spy among us, and you are in a position better than most to…”

“My Lord, I would never…”

“Do not interrupt me, Severus,” the Dark Lord spat. “I do not suspect you of this betrayal, but your position amongst our adversaries lends you a unique perspective. Tell me your thoughts.”

He studied his servant intently as the man slowly lifted his gaze. “I am unaware of any spies among your Death Eaters, my Lord. I do know, though, that no other spies report to Dumbledore.”

“You are certain of this?” Voldemort demanded.

Severus nodded. “Positive, my Lord. As you know Dumbledore and Potter had a falling out. We do not know who Potter is working with; however, I’m sure he must be receiving help. He could not have accomplished half of what he has on his own. Previously, Dumbledore had suspected that two people were working together, but as soon as one was revealed to be Potter, any further investigation was dropped. I believe if we can find the second person, it may well lead us back to the traitor.”

“What of the girl?” he asked. “Could she have been the second?”

Severus shook his head. “Only males were ever seen. I think it likely Potter and the other wizard were using the same disguise to cultivate confusion. I would guess the Weasley girl’s involvement is a recent development.”

“Yes,” Voldemort nodded his agreement. “She would not likely be advanced enough to have been much help. Potter would have needed someone older and well connected to have learned and accomplished so much, but who would have been in such a position to help? Was Potter friends with any students who graduated prior to last summer?”

“I admittedly have not paid much attention to Potter’s social network,” his servant hedged. “The only people that come to mind are those he played Quidditch with: Wood, Johnson, Spinnet, and the Weasley twins. The Weasleys are the most obvious choice given his association with their family.”

Voldemort considered this information carefully. “And do they have the capability to have helped him achieve so much?”

Snape shook his head. “Two sorry excuses for wizards if I’ve ever seen them. They cared more for pranks than anything. I cannot fathom them being much help to anyone.”

“Still,” Voldemort mused, “it bears looking into. And the others as well. Is there anyone else who could have aided him?”

“The werewolf, Lupin, is a possibility,” Snape offered. “It would not be the first time he gave the boy private lessons. However, he has also been accounted for during the boy’s appearances. And as he is staying at the headquarters, he would have been missed if absent too often.”

“Are there any others?” he demanded of his servant one last time.

“Not to my knowledge, my Lord.”

Voldemort eyed Snape severely for a long moment before dismissing the man from his sight.

******

Harry nearly groaned as he woke from a particularly pleasant and vivid dream. He inhaled the scent of Ginny’s hair and pulled her body tightly against his when he came to several sudden realizations. It came as no surprise that he woke up rather happy this morning, but he was shocked to stillness as Ginny’s bum wiggled against him in an equally painful and pleasurable way. Further, when he pulled Ginny against him he realized his hand was cupping something soft and warm and supple yet with a hard point pressing into his palm, and Ginny’s own hand was atop his and did not appear in any hurry to let go.

He found himself mortified, embarrassed and incredibly aroused all at once, the latter of which was becoming an increasingly common occurrence over the course of the summer. Somehow when Ginny had first come to live with him he had never imagined how much of an effect it would have on him to have her in such close proximity all the time, particularly as they lay in bed. They had shared a bed several times at Hogwarts, but the occurrences were so few and far between and there were always so many other things going on that he had never really stopped to consider how wonderful and frustrating it could be to share a bed with such a beautiful witch.

As much as he was enjoying the current situation, and he was, he also felt guilty at taking advantage of Ginny as she slept. It was not the first time he had awoken to find himself pressed against her in a compromising position with nothing but very thin pyjamas separating them. Like all the other times, he tried scooting his waist back slightly, but she followed his movement and stayed pressed firmly against him. Next he tried to inch his hand out from underneath hers but found that she had a pretty solid hold of him. Seeing little other alternative, he tried to wake her saying, “Ginny?”

“Mmm,” she responded, and Harry found himself uncertain if she simply groaned in her sleep or if she was in fact awake.

“Ginny?” he tried again.

Her hand closed tighter against his, pressing his palm firmly into her breast as she continued to grind back against him, and Harry found desire beginning to overtake what little restraint he had left. “Love you, Harry,” she whispered, and Harry buried his face against her neck pressing kisses against her skin.

“I love you, Ginny.” As he continued to rain kisses upon her neck and shoulder, he felt the pressure and pleasure building into a crescendo and began to warn, “Gin…”

“It’s okay,” Ginny immediately reassured as she continued to rub herself against him.

Harry groaned as he felt the blissful release and pulled Ginny tightly against him. She seemed to realize what had happened for she stilled her movements and relaxed back into his embrace. As he began to come down from his high, Harry felt embarrassment and guilt creeping back in. As much as he absolutely loved what had just occurred, he also felt a surge of panic. He had always been careful to be respectful and not to push Ginny, and he feared what she would think of him now after what he had just done. “Ginny…” he began but faltered at how to voice his doubts.

Ginny finally released his hand and turned in his embrace to face him. Wrapping her arms around him, Ginny pressed a short but passionate kiss to his lips and then met his eyes. “It’s okay, Harry,” she softly assured him.

“Are you sure?” he inquired, feeling like his mind was working rather sluggishly this morning.

She smiled a little shyly at him and nodded her head. “It’s only natural. I mean, we love each other, right?” Harry nodded his head, but she went on even before receiving his signal of assent. “So it’s only natural to want to show that.”

“I know you love me,” Harry interjected. “You don’t need to do that to prove it to me.”

“I know I don’t need to, Harry,” she corrected. “I want to.”

“You do?” Harry asked, his mind going blank.

“Harry, guys aren’t the only ones who get horny,” she said and giggled as his eyebrows rose. “Honestly,” she said, leaning forward to nip at his lower lip.

“Err – do you want me to…uh…” he stammered.

Ginny reached out and brushed his cheek with her hand. “Honestly, just the thought of that is giving me an absolute thrill.” Harry positively beamed at that. “But, uh –“ Ginny began to blush and stammer before finally collecting herself and saying, “Maybe we can work up to that?”

Harry smiled widely at her in return. “Brilliant,” he assured her and was rewarded with another kiss.

Finally, Ginny broke away and admonished, “Now up with you. Just ‘cause you got your rocks off doesn’t mean you can slack off your training.”

Harry felt heat rise into his face as he struggled to meet Ginny’s mischievous gaze. “Er – uh…” Harry swallowed heavily and took a moment to wrench his emotions under control. “Aren’t I usually the one dragging you out of bed for training?”

Ginny just sent him an impish smirk and a wink as she hopped out of bed and strode into the loo. Harry watched, a wide smile stretching across his lips as his eyes traced up her shapely legs and settled on her swaying hips until the door shut behind her. He let out a long, slow breath before throwing off the covers and standing up. Looking down he had to stifle a grimace and waved his hand over himself, casting a very careful scourgify on his shorts.

Before long the pair were running side by side through the park, and Harry found his eyes constantly drawn to the beautiful redhead at his side – even more than usual. What made it worse was that Ginny seemed every bit as aware of it as he was. She kept giving him knowing grins, and Harry felt his face heating up in a manner that had nothing to do with his current physical exertion. Tired of being embarrassed, Harry met her knowing smirk challengingly and flicked his gaze down and back up her body, pausing on her chest and enjoying the bounce with every stride she made. He lifted his eyes back up to hers and met her gaze, allowing his eyes one last quick flick down her body as he raised his eyebrow suggestively.

Her face glowed pink, and he smiled to himself at his success in turning her own game back on her. When they started their cool-down walk back to the house, Harry slipped his arm around Ginny’s back, his hand loosely gripping her side as his fingers splayed across her stomach. Harry revelled in the softness of her body with the hint of the hard muscles below. “Somebody’s feeling affectionate today,” Ginny commented as she slipped her own arm around his back.

Harry glanced at her with a smile and a slight shrug of his shoulders. “Can’t a guy just want to be close to his amazingly beautiful girlfriend?”

Ginny glowed at the compliment and responded, “Of course he can. Only, if I didn’t know any better, I’d wonder what brought this on.”

“It’s not that out of the ordinary, is it?” Harry queried with a frown.

“No, actually,” Ginny admitted. “To be entirely honest, it took me by surprise at just how affectionate you can be.”

“So in other words, you’re just looking for an excuse to tease me,” Harry determined.

Ginny gave him a playful hip check in response. “Can’t help it. Besides, you keep staring at me.” Her playful tone slipped a bit, and Harry detected a hint of embarrassment or perhaps insecurity as her cheeks stained pink yet again.

He was not quite sure what one had to do with the other but decided to let it go. “Can’t help it,” he mimicked before dipping down to catch her bottom lip in a quick nip. He gave her a light squeeze as they continued their walk.

When they made it back home, the pair did their stretches and immediately set into their typical workout routine. Harry interrupted that routine, though, when he could not help tickling Ginny’s side which turned into an impromptu wrestling match. When Harry ended up on his back with Ginny straddling his hips, the fight in him suddenly disappeared, and, rather than try to throw her off, he pulled her down into a rather exuberant kiss. It was some time before they finally resumed their workout.

Harry took the first shower following their workout as had become habit since he was much quicker than Ginny. He shared a quick kiss with Ginny while wearing only a towel as she passed by him into the door of the loo carrying a change of clothes inside with her. While she showered, Harry quickly dressed and got started on breakfast.

As the day progressed, they began to settle back into their normal routine, though if pressed Harry would be forced to admit to being a bit more distracted than usual. His glances were becoming less obvious, though, so Ginny at least seemed much more able to concentrate on her own readings. The twins were due to meet them shortly after lunch, so they sat down side by side on the sofa to wait for their arrival.

Whatever strides Harry had made throughout the day to regain his focus quickly evaporated as he noticed Ginny frequently shifting at his side as if unable to settle. Whenever he snuck a peek at her, she appeared deep in thoughts that had nothing to do with the all-but forgotten book in her hands. Harry feared he knew exactly what it was on her mind and felt the playful and altogether contented feelings that had been radiating throughout his entire being fade in the face of her apparent doubts.

All thoughts of the twins and their increasing tardiness had completely fled his mind by the time Ginny cleared her throat. “Harry?”

He braced himself for what was to come and did all he could to keep his voice steady as he asked, “What is it?”

She opened her mouth but then hesitated, and Harry tried to project a visage of perfect patience while inside his nerves were absolutely shot. “You aren’t planning to go back to Hogwarts, are you?”

Harry opened his mouth and froze, completely taken aback at her statement. It took a moment for him to even fully wrap his mind around the fact that her thoughts had nothing whatsoever to do with their activities that morning. He closed his mouth and frowned momentarily as his brain finally caught up and automatically answered, “I don’t know.” In all his plans for breaking out on his own this summer, he had not given much consideration to life after the summer. If he did not mend his broken relationship with the headmaster, there was no way he could go back to Hogwarts. “I guess that depends on what happens between now and September first.”

She nodded her head absently, and Harry realized she was probably considering her own situation. He wondered what had brought on this line of questioning but then had a much more disturbing question entered his mind. Would she follow his lead? Or was it possible they may have to part ways at the end of summer? Deciding not to pursue that matter until he had heard her thoughts, he pondered deeper into his own situation. “Regular classes don’t have much to offer me anymore,” he thought aloud. “I want to continue teaching, though.” He was surprised by the conviction he heard in his own voice. He felt almost like it was his responsibility to help prepare the students for the war, but, even more than that, he had to admit that he genuinely enjoyed the teaching itself. “What about you?” he casually questioned, not wanting to let onto how much he worried over her answer.

“I don’t know,” she replied with a shrug of her shoulders. “If you return, I will as well, but if you don’t…” she trailed off, and Harry sensed that she needed time to sort out her own mind, so he kept his silence. “I’m not as far along as you in most subjects, but I could get by studying on my own. Plus I’d have you to help me out if I struggle with anything, and Merlin knows I’ll learn more about Defence studying with you than at Hogwarts.”

“Caldwell wasn’t bad,” Harry defended mildly.

“True,” she agreed. “But I think most of your students would agree that you’re better.”

Harry felt a swell of pride at her words. “Are you sure you’re not biased?” he teased, though there was a hint of honesty in the question that Ginny seemed to pick up on.

“Harry,” she said, reaching up and stroking his cheek. “You can be so thick about yourself sometimes.”

Harry grabbed her hand and pressed a kiss to the back of her knuckles. “I love you too.”

She swatted his arm and murmured, “Prat.”

He grabbed her arm and tugged her towards him, causing her to stumble into his lap as he protested, “But you love this prat.”

“I do,” she whispered, leaning up to give him a brief kiss before settling into his embrace and resting her cheek on his shoulder. They remained that way in silence for some time before she spoke up again. “Things are never going to be the same again, are they?”

Harry had to stop his initial reply to really examine the loaded question. “Once you grow up, there’s no going back,” he finally replied.

“I looked forward to going to Hogwarts for so many years,” she said softly, her voice distant. “In so many ways it has failed to live up to what I had hoped so long for, and yet the thought of not going back there…”

“I know what you mean,” Harry whispered when it was clear she was not going to complete the thought. “Hogwarts was a dream come true for me. Even with the Boy-Who-Lived stuff and run-ins with Voldemort, it’s the only place I ever truly belonged – save for the Burrow.” Harry could almost feel her smile at his statement, but he definitely felt the kiss she pressed to his neck. “But it’s only a school,” he continued after a long moment of silence. “We have to move on eventually. Whether that’s now or after we graduate,” he paused a short moment. “I guess it doesn’t make all that much of a difference.”

Ginny nodded absently, and they sat in silence until he remembered how late the twins were for their training. “Your brothers are over an hour late.”

She leaned back from him and checked the time. “You don’t think…”

“I’m sure they’re just stuck in the store,” he replied. “But maybe we should go check up on them and drag them away if necessary.”

“All right,” she replied, leaning in to give him a chaste kiss. “Up you get now,” she said as she stood and tugged him upright as well.

Harry stumbled into her and wrapped his arms around her. “Guess you don’t know your own strength,” he whispered into her ear.

“Think I don’t know a pratfall when I see one?”

Harry planted a kiss on her neck and righted himself. “You can do your usual disguise?” he queried as he waved his hand in front of his face, applying his own glamours.

“Yeah, I can manage,” she answered. It took her a moment to get all the charms applied, and Harry nodded when she looked at him for confirmation. He gave her a quick wink before Disapparating. He materialized right outside the Leaky Cauldron followed immediately by Ginny. He grabbed her hand and intertwined their fingers as they began their short trek through the Alley.

As they approached the shop, Harry waved Ginny in front of him and followed her inside. The store was relatively empty, just one customer at the register with the only worker and no signs of Fred or George. He waited until the customer had made his purchases before approaching. “Are Fred and George in today?”

“Oh, it’s you,” Cameron replied. “They were in earlier but…”

“But what?” Ginny asked, worry creeping into her tone.

“A friend of theirs was killed last night,” Cameron answered with a grimace. “I only met her once, but she seemed nice.”

“Who?” Harry inquired, already dreading the answer.

“Alicia,” she responded with a frown. “I can’t recall her last name.”

“Spinnet,” Harry breathed out absently.

“Yes, that’s it,” Cameron agreed. “Oh, were you friends with her too?”

“Acquaintances,” Harry answered uneasily as he felt a stab of guilt. Only yesterday he had given the twins the Portkeys to hand out to their friends. Had he offered them earlier, Alicia would probably still be alive. He met Ginny’s gaze for a moment and saw his own pain reflected in her eyes. Turning back to Cameron, he said, “Can you tell Fred and George we stopped by?”

Cameron agreed with a nod as Harry led Ginny out. “Are you okay?” she softly asked him as the door shut behind them.

Harry froze for a second and shook his head roughly. “I don’t know,” he answered honestly. He felt numb. He had played Quidditch with her for four years, been in the same house as her for five, and yet he realized that he had hardly known her at all. He had never taken the time to talk to her outside of Quidditch. He had no idea what she had even been doing with her life since graduating. Not that it mattered anymore. Whatever plans or dreams she had were gone now.

“Let’s go home,” Ginny prodded, pulling him to the narrow alley beside the twins’ shop.

Harry nodded, shaking himself from his thoughts. “All right,” he agreed. Ginny Disapparated first, and he followed immediately after, appearing beside her in the lounge.

They sank onto the sofa side by side, and when Ginny slipped her hand into his, he absently entwined his fingers with hers. For a long time they just sat there lost in their thoughts. Harry pictured Alicia with Angelina and Katie in the sky practicing their formations, tossing banter back and forth along with the Quaffle.

“After I took over for you as Seeker I was so nervous and scared that I’d never be able to fill your shoes,” Ginny spoke, breaking the seemingly interminable silence. “Angelina was a bit stressed out at the time which didn’t help matters any, but it was Alicia who took me aside and helped calm me down and really made me feel like a real part of the team and not just a replacement. When I told her that I really wanted to be a Chaser, she insisted I get some practice in with her, and the girls even talked Angelina into letting me take her place at times in practice so that she could oversee things.”

Harry could not help but smile at her story and kissed the top of Ginny’s head in lieu of giving a response. He may not have any grand tales of how Alicia had gone out of her way to help him, but all three girls had really helped him to fit in on the team in his first year, particularly Angelina and Alicia as they already had a year under their belts at that point. With how intense Oliver was and the twins’ rather boisterous attitudes, the girls had all taken it upon themselves to take him under their wings and really made him feel like a part of something special, something more than just a sports team.

At some point he must have dozed off on the sofa because he was awoken suddenly at the cracking sound of an Apparation. Moments later there was a knock on the door. “Come in,” Harry called as an awakening Ginny began to disentangle herself from him.

In the door walked two people who were nearly unrecognizable in their demeanour. Ginny ran to give her brothers hugs, embracing one briefly before turning and giving the same treatment to the other. Harry followed behind at a more sedate pace unsure what to do or say. “I’m sorry,” seemed wholly inadequate but was the best he could come up with.

“Nothing for you to be sorry for, mate,” Fred replied, clapping a hand on Harry’s shoulder as he met his gaze with red-rimmed eyes. Harry could smell a hint of firewhisky on his breath.

“Angie, Katie, and Lee are at our flat above the shop,” George supplied.

“How are they taking it?” Ginny asked in a tightly controlled voice.

“About as well as you’d expect,” Fred told her.

“They were practically sisters,” his twin added.

Harry nodded and said, “If there’s anything we can do… for you, the girls, her family – anything…”

“Thanks, Harry.”

“You should come by and see the girls,” George suggested.

“I’m sure they’d appreciate the friendly faces.”

“Even if one is your ugly mug.” Pained half-smiles flashed across the twins’ faces for a brief moment before fading.

He shared a glance with Ginny and silently agreed. In their haste, they nearly forgot their glamours before popping off to Diagon Alley. They skirted around the front entrance of the store and entered a door off the side-alley that led to a set of stairs. The girls and Lee frowned at them until Harry remembered he and Ginny were in disguise. Once they dropped the glamours, they exchanged subdued greetings, and Harry shook his head when Lee offered him a bottle of firewhisky.

Shrugging to himself he said, “More for me, then,” and took another swig.

“Us you mean, git,” Angelina corrected, snatching the bottle and taking her own pull before passing it to Katie. The twins got their own turns next as they all settled onto the worn but comfortable sofas. All the furniture in the room was mismatched in such a way that Harry had a feeling the twins had gone out of their way to achieve the seemingly haphazard effect.

George offered the bottle to Ginny, who took a small swig before offering it to him again. Harry did not miss her lack of reaction and determined that this must not be her first taste of the stuff. He took the bottle and passed it on to Lee. He had tried firewhisky in the past, his first time being after they took the Quidditch Cup in third year. He nearly spat the mouthful out that first time. He was able to better handle it the few other times he had tried it but had never taken more than a couple shots. He had seen what drinking too much could do to a person and was uncomfortable with putting himself in that situation. Perhaps it was the regular attempts on his life that cautioned him against taking anything that would impair his ability to defend himself and his friends. He would not say anything against the others’ drinking habits, but in the off chance that he was needed that night, whether for their sakes or one of his other students, Harry vowed to be ready.

When the bottle came back to her, Ginny just passed it on without comment, and Harry was glad for her restraint. He still was not entirely comfortable with her following him into battles against Death Eaters, but he knew that there was strength in numbers, and he also knew that intoxicated people rarely listened to reason. If she had continued to drink and there ended up being an attack, he likely would have had to Stun her to ensure she did not put herself in danger.

Angelina broke the silence over the room, sharing the story of how she and Alicia first met and bonded over Quidditch. When she finished Katie took up the torch and told of her tryouts second year. That was when she met both Angelina and Alicia, and the three of them bonded almost immediately.

Fred and George delivered their own story in tandem. They had targeted Angelina for one of their pranks early on during their first year, and Alicia was none too pleased about it. She held it against them for most of the term even though Angelina had forgiven them shortly after it happened. It was not until they used their pranking for good to stop a couple Slytherin second years from bugging the two girls that Alicia finally warmed to them.

It had been painful to listen to the girls’ halting attempts to get out their stories through the tears threatening to overtake them. Even Fred and George stumbled over their duologue in several places, but none of that compared to the pain evident in Lee’s voice as he began his own narrative. He followed up the story of how they first met with another on how the two came to start dating, which was news in itself for Harry. Watching the grief play across Lee’s face as he spoke brought the reality home for him in a an entirely new way as he imagined how painful it would be to lose Ginny. He had to forcefully stop himself from pondering the possibility before he ended up doing something he might regret.

A long silence descended over the group following Lee’s tales, punctuated by the twins rising when the bottle finally went empty. When they returned each was holding a new bottle, and the rounds continued.

After she had taken another drink, Katie turned to him and said, “Harry?”

He turned his head to Katie and nodded for her to go on. “I know you probably have a lot going on, but, well, after what happened to...” she choked on her words for a moment before continuing, “to ’Licia, it just brought everything home, you know? I don’t want to go off to war or anything, but we need to learn how to protect ourselves, right?” Harry nodded his head as Katie rolled her eyes. “Of course you know that, you’ve been preaching it for two years now.”

“Katie,” he interrupted. “I’m already helping train Fred and George this summer and Ginny of course. You’re more than welcome to join in – all of you. I can train you through the summer at the least and maybe beyond. To be honest, I’m not even sure I’ll be returning to Hogwarts.” His eyes flicked briefly to Ginny as he said this, and she squeezed his hand in response. “Even if we do go back, though, I’m sure we could arrange something.”

“You’re not going back to Hogwarts?” Lee questioned in surprise.

“We don’t know yet,” Harry hedged. “Dumbledore and I aren’t exactly getting on at the moment.”

“I always thought you had a good relationship with him,” Angelina commented.

“I used to, I guess,” Harry answered with a shrug. After a moment’s pause he decided to add, “I sort of learned how to do wandless magic last summer and have been doing a lot of stuff without his knowledge. He wasn’t too pleased when he found out. And then rather than go back to my relatives this summer, I got my own house and warded it so that he couldn’t find it or me.”

Nobody looked particularly surprised at his admission, so Harry assumed Fred and George must have at least hinted at some of the things he had been up to over the past year. “Are you guys going to be around here tomorrow?”

“Think I’m already too pissed to App’rate,” Lee volunteered.

The girls looked to Fred and George who both agreed that they should spend the night in their flat.

“I’ll stop by early tomorrow then,” Harry began, but at their glares changed his answer to, “- er – make that tomorrow afternoon, and I’ll get you all keyed into my wards.”

With that agreed upon the subject of dinner was raised, and Harry volunteered to pick something up from Tom at the Leaky Cauldron. He and Ginny left shortly after the meal and spent the rest of the evening cuddled together on the sofa in front of a heatless fire. When they finally settled into bed, Harry was reminded of exactly what it was they had gotten up to that morning. It was hard to believe it had happened in the same lifetime let alone the same day.

******

As promised, Harry returned to Fred and George’s flat and took Angelina, Katie, and Lee to his home in turns to key them into the wards and allow them to familiarize themselves with the layout for future Apparation. When they began their training a few days later, Harry found it surprisingly easy to adapt to the change in routine. Perhaps he had just become accustomed to teaching over the past couple years, but he enjoyed having the extra pupils. Alicia’s absence was felt heavily by all of them. Harry could imagine how much worse it must feel to the rest of them, but he thought they were honouring her memory just by being there.

Katie was noticeably ahead of the others, even the twins, and Harry wondered whether that was due to their year off of school or a direct result of Katie’s extra year under his tutelage. When he proposed the question to Ginny, she stared at him for a long minute before calling him the most self-unaware person she knew. Seeing the disparity between Katie and the others day after day only strengthened Harry’s resolve to make every effort to return to Hogwarts for the sake of his students. He could not help but wonder whether Alicia would have faired any better with an extra year of training and did not want to ever have to ask himself that same question for any more of his students. He owed it to them to come back. They put their trust in him, counted on him to teach them the skills they needed to survive, and he would not let them down without a fight.

The only problem was Dumbledore. While he had expected the headmaster to react poorly to his choices, he had not really expected the man to attack him, and he had certainly not anticipated the assault on Ginny’s mind. Harry bristled at just the thought of that particular betrayal but tightly reined in his anger. He needed to think rationally.

Besides the fact that he was still underage, Dumbledore wanted Harry safe because of the prophecy. That was his main driving force. He wanted to keep all his students safe, but he had proven he would do just about anything to keep Harry protected. It all came back to the prophecy. Harry needed to fulfil the prophecy, and so he needed to live long enough to see it to fruition. But there was more to it than that. If he was destined to defeat Voldemort, he should have been trained from a young age, prepared for the eventual confrontation.

Instead, it seemed Dumbledore aimed for the exact opposite. He deliberately placed Harry with his Muggle relatives, hidden away from the Wizarding World and kept ignorant of magic. Even after his arrival at Hogwarts, Dumbledore kept the prophecy secret and treated Harry as just another student. There was every opportunity to tell Harry even a portion of the truth or arrange for some sort of additional training. Nobody would have looked twice at the Boy-Who-Lived being trained beyond that of the average student. Even if Voldemort had been defeated, there were many others who would wish Harry harm. Even after the headmaster finally revealed the prophecy to him, Harry was forced to teach himself and hide his actions. Dumbledore seemed to deliberately leave him untrained, and Harry struggled to understand why.

He mulled over the words of the prophecy. He was supposed to hold a power the ‘Dark Lord knew not.’ Dumbledore said that power was love, and, if Harry was being perfectly honest with himself, he had not given it much if any thought over the past year. It made some sense in that love was something Voldemort knew nothing of; however, Harry had no idea how he was supposed to vanquish anyone with love. A possibility unfurled in Harry’s mind that perhaps Dumbledore did not believe Harry would need to fight Voldemort or his Death Eaters. If love was the power that would vanquish the Dark Lord, would he even need to fight?

Harry shook his head. Regardless of whether or not he needed to actually battle Voldemort, there were still Death Eaters to contend with both in the here and now and in any future confrontation with Voldemort. No matter how Voldemort was to be defeated, he needed to be able to survive until that point. And while fate may have dealt the hand that forced him into the war, Harry chose to join the fight willingly. He refused to be kept in hiding, waiting for whatever pivotal moment Dumbledore was saving him for. Now he only needed Dumbledore to acknowledge and accept that.

Therein lay the problem. He needed to talk to the headmaster, but doing so would be a great risk. It was not enough to just be optimistic about the future, as Remus called it. He needed to make things work. He needed to patch things up with Dumbledore and get on the same page. The attacks on the incoming Muggle-borns made that perfectly clear. Had Harry been involved at any stage of the process, he felt sure he would not have allowed them to leave those families defenceless even if he had to follow Minerva and hand out Portkeys himself. Before he could talk to Dumbledore, though, he needed to have an idea of what to say.

He moved to his desk and pulled out writing materials, intending to put his thoughts to paper. Instead, he found his hand writing the words Dear Professor Dumbledore. Well, if he could not risk talking to the headmaster, writing a letter was the next best thing.

******

Albus was surprised to see the common school owl descend from the enchanted ceiling towards him at the Head Table. Owls addressed to him typically delivered his mail directly to his office rather than during meal times. And most letters were not sent to him from a school owl. That meant either that a school owl was sent out, and the recipient chose to use it to return post to him, or the letter itself came from a source within the school. Given that he did not use any school owls to deliver post, the former seemed unlikely. The latter possibility, however, sounded even more absurd.

Using his dinner knife, which earned him a disapproving glance from his Deputy Headmistress, he slit open the envelope. As he unfolded the parchment, his eyes immediately flitted down to the signature, and he began to rise out of his chair as he read the name.

“What is it, Albus?” Minerva inquired with obvious concern.

“Nothing,” he commented, internally chiding himself and retaking his seat. Harry would be long gone by now, if he did indeed enter school grounds to send the letter. Settling back into the high-backed chair, he held the letter in two hands and began to read, ignoring his dinner cooling on his plate.

Dear Professor Dumbledore,

I was told recently by a good friend that I am an endless optimist. No matter our current state of affairs or your actions towards me or even your assault on Ginny’s mind, I’ve always held firm in the belief that sooner or later we would be able to set aside our differences and work together against Voldemort and his Death Eaters. It has occurred to me, following the most recent attacks on the families of the incoming Muggle-born students, that optimism is not enough.

It is not enough that we some day put aside our differences. Every day that we spend working against each other gives Voldemort an advantage over us. I have been busy this summer, as you are no doubt aware. Far busier than I ever anticipated. My efforts alone are not enough, nor are those of the Order.

I know that you wish to keep me out of the war, away from the fighting. I’ve done a lot of thinking lately over why you are so insistent on that fact. I know the prophecy factors heavily into your thoughts and actions, but I cannot believe that is all of it. I have also been left to wonder why you have never made any attempt to prepare me for my fate in this war. If I am the only one capable of defeating Voldemort, why did you keep me ignorant of the Wizarding World for the first eleven years of my life? Why did you never arrange for any special tutoring or training? Why, even after revealing the prophecy to me, do you neglect to prepare me for what is to come?

The most obvious answer is also laughably absurd and doesn’t even bear putting to paper. You’ve worked harder than anybody to counter Tom’s actions and influence. The only possibility I have been able to fathom is that you do not intend for me to fight. You told me the power I have that would allow me to defeat Voldemort was love. Obviously, love is not something meant to be used for battle, but I cannot read your mind. I don’t know what you have planned or how you envision this battle going. My whole life I have been involved in things that I have barely understood. I’ve stumbled around through mysteries and plots well above my head with little ground to walk upon. I’ve been kept in the dark my whole life. I will always strive to do the best I can with the resources I have available, but you’ve left me with precious few.

A wise man once said that in life you will encounter the choice between what is right and what is easy. It would have been easy to listen to Professor McGonagall’s assurances that the Philosopher’s Stone was well protected in first year. It would have been easy to sit huddled in the Gryffindor common room with everyone else to await word of Ginny’s fate when she was taken into the Chamber. It would have been easy to step back and allow Sirius and Remus to take their revenge on Pettigrew. It would have been easy to give up in the graveyard and join my parents. It was easy to stand still in the Ministry atrium as Voldemort’s curse approached, waiting to be reunited with Sirius. It would have been easy to trust that you knew what was best for me. It would have been easy to trust that you knew what would need to be done and would be there to tell me and guide me through every step of the way on the path to defeat Voldemort.

I am not perfect. I will not always choose what is right, but that does not mean I will not try. I wonder if you have ever asked yourself whether keeping me in the dark, hiding me away from the world and the war, is right, or is it simply easy? Was it right to drop me on the front step of the Dursleys? Was it right to hold back the prophecy year after year? Is it right that you left me with no training, no means of truly defending myself from those who would seek to harm me? Was it right to fire that spell at me in your office? Was it right to assault the mind of my girlfriend in the hopes of tracking me down? I do not expect you to be perfect. All I ask is that you try.

It is well past the time that we should be working together. Whether or not you believe my involvement in the war to be necessary towards the fulfilment of the prophecy is irrelevant. Fate may have forced me into the war, but I choose willingly to enter the battles. I think if you are honest with yourself, you know that it would only be right to work with me rather than against me. I may not be perfect, but I have proven myself capable, and we need every capable fighter we have.

I may be optimistic, but I am not stupid. I hope that you have changed your mind, whether by this letter or some other means, but I am not willing to take the chance on faith alone. Hedwig would have provided too great an opportunity for you to try to track me to my home. No other owl will be able to find me until I want to be found. However, I think you will find that Fawkes will be able to locate me should you wish to reply.

Sincerely,
Harry Potter

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