Content Harry Potter
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Standard Disclaimer:
Harry: "B-B-But look what you’ve done to me! I’m supposed to be in the Half Blood Prince now!"
Bob: "Listen, JK Rowling says she doesn’t mind if I decide to roast you over a slow fire. Now shut up and keep cooking!"

Sunset over Britain
Chapter 4

Padfoot Manor…

Hermione was taking a walk on the grounds of the Manor. Harry had left the dinner table as he usually did, leaving the adults and Hermione to sit and talk. She enjoyed the conversations with her parents. Tonks and Remus rarely stayed long after Harry left. But tonight her parents were flirting a bit too much with each other and she decided to discreetly slip away.

She walked the same path that she and Harry had taken many times and thinking about him. She knew their relationship was changing slowly, becoming deeper and more meaningful. It surprised her that it seemed to happen all by it self. There had been no grand plan, no master book outlining the process. She had always thought that when she got involved with someone, it would be something she’d plan out carefully in advance.

She stopped walking and tilted her head slightly, listening. From somewhere nearby she heard music, sweet and pure music. Quickening her pace, she followed the sound. Coming out into a clearing, she saw Harry sitting on the ground with his back against a tree. He was playing the tin whistle that Hagrid had given him.

Taken aback by the sight, she stood still and listened. She hadn’t heard him play since the morning he’d woken her up. She’d figured he’d either taken her advice about the silencing charm, or had given up playing altogether. If his current skill was an indication, he’d obviously used the charm.

Slipping a little closer, she smiled when she saw Harry wasn’t alone. He had an audience. She wasn’t certain, but the squirrel watching him seemed most appreciative of his music. Gathering her courage, she moved up to a nearby tree and sat down to listen. Harry seemed oblivious to everything as he played the small instrument.

When he finally stopped playing, he opened his eyes and looked down at his furry friend. "Well Nutters? What do you think?" he asked softly. The squirrel tilted its head and looked at him sideways, but didn’t reply.

"I think you play wonderfully," Hermione replied softly for Nutters.

Nutters jumped and whirled to face her, tail twitching madly. Harry looked over at her in astonishment.

"Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend, Harry?" she asked, laughter in her eyes.

"Um… well… Nutters, meet Hermione. Hermione, this is Nutters," Harry said, a little sheepishly. "I named him that because it’s what he likes."

Hermione smiled at the both of them, then she drew her wand, conjured a small bag of peanuts and offered one to Nutters.

"Play something for us, Harry?" she asked in a voice Harry could never refuse.

He nodded and lifted his tin whistle to his lips to play an old Irish ballad, his eyes closing as he slipped into his music. Hermione offered some peanuts to Nutters, and then leaned back to watch and listen to Harry. She marveled at this wonderful new discovery about her friend.

Ministry of Magic…

"Albus Dumbledore is here to see you, Director."

"Please send him in."

The door opened to admit the Headmaster of Hogwarts. Amelia sat behind her desk wondering what brought the great wizard down from his lair.

"Albus! So nice to see you again. Please, take a seat," offered Amelia.

"Thank you, Amelia," replied Dumbledore, lowering himself into a chair before her desk.

"So what brings the illustrious Headmaster of Hogwarts to my little corner of the Ministry today?" asked Amelia in a light tone.

"Amelia, I am concerned about a student of mine. He has been missing for some time. I would like to file a missing persons report on him," Dumbledore said in a grave voice.

"Missing? You’ve not heard from him at all?"

"Well to be honest, we did receive a letter a week back or so in which he gave us his course selections for the coming year. But other than that, no. No one has seen him all summer."

"What is this student’s name, Albus?"

"Potter, Harry James Potter."

Amelia frowned, then signaled for an aide. When the aide poked his head in through the open door, she said, "Jeffery, would you be so kind as to bring me the Potter file please?"

A moment later she was pouring over a specially prepared file she had created for exactly this purpose. Finally, she closed the file and turned to the patiently waiting Dumbledore.

"I’m sorry Albus, but I’m quite afraid there is nothing we can do."

"But Amelia, this is a student…"

"Who happens to be legally classed as an adult in both the muggle and wizarding worlds, Albus. He may merely be on vacation. Besides, we have record of him appearing here in the Ministry in early August, where he took his Arithmancy and Ancient Rune OWL tests. We also have him qualifying for his apparation license only a few days ago. No, I’m sorry Albus, but as far as the Ministry is concerned, he simply isn’t missing. Even if he were, you know as well as I do that only a family member can report a missing person."

Dumbledore looked irritated. This was not an answer he had expected! Time to try a different tack.

"Amelia, I believe the boy should be taken into custody. According to his dorm mate, Ronald Weasley, he has been experimenting in dark arts."

Amelia rocked back in her chair in shock. Her Aurors had kept a very close watch on Harry and there was no hint of the dark arts in anything he did. It’s time to nip this one in the bud, she thought.

"Albus, that is quite a serious accusation. I will assign some Aurors to investigate it, but until they have reported, I will not issue a bench warrant for Harry Potter. In the meantime, you will have to file a formal statement, attesting your claims," she said firmly, producing a form for him to fill out.

Dumbledore nodded in defeat for Amelia’s benefit, but he already had an alternate plan. He’d simply go over her head. After filling out Amelia’s forms, he thanked her for her time. When he left, he headed straight for the Minister’s office.

A few minutes later, he was seated before Minister Fudge.

"Now Albus, what can I help you with today?" asked Fudge politely.

"Minister, I am hoping that you can help me with a problem I am having with your Magical Law Enforcement department. I wanted to file a missing persons report, but Director Bones refused me."

Fudge shot him an oily smile before replying. "I’m sorry Headmaster, but I’m sure Director Bones had perfectly legal reasons for doing what she did. No, I have every confidence in her. I’m sure you see my position. I cannot simply run roughshod over my department heads, and it would destroy their confidence. Now, if you will excuse me, I’m meeting with an American delegation this morning."

Dumbledore blinked as he found himself being ushered out of the Minister’s office, his grand plan of gaining Ministry aid in finding Harry having been shot down.

Perhaps there is another way of doing this, he mused.

Padfoot Manor…

Harry, Hermione, Dan, Emma and Remus were just sitting down to dinner when Tonks joined them, looking serious.

Turning to Harry, she said, "I have something I need to tell you and I want you to hold on to your temper. We’ve actually got some ideas of how to turn this to our advantage…"

Harry looked at her worriedly, but nodded for her to continue.

"Today, Dumbledore came into the office and tried to get the MLE to issue a missing persons report on you. When Amelia refused, he tossed an accusation against you of using dark arts and pressed for your being taken into protective custody."

Harry’s green eyes glowed eerily and he gripped the table edge so hard his arms were trembling. Tonks knelt down and wrapped her arms around him.

"Harry, relax… we’re taking care of it. Amelia has reports from every Auror who’s watched you this summer, plus the reports from Miles. We know you’re not using dark arts."

Taking deep, slow breaths, he managed to squash the urge to turn the table into paste, and let his body relax.

"Now, by law, Amelia is forced to investigate Dumbledore’s claims, but everyone is sure you will be cleared without any difficulties. So what we intend to do is…ahem… a little unethical… but it’s going to be arranged to release the report of the accusations to the press. We’ve managed to obtain the cooperation of the Managing Editor of the Daily Prophet on this. He’ll not print the article about the accusations against you until such time as we’ve cleared your name.

"Amelia wants you to understand that, we, that is, the Ministry, don’t believe these accusations, but she has to investigate them. By having an article about the accusations appear in the same edition as an article about your name being cleared will discredit Dumbledore," finished Tonks with a feral grin.

Harry looked around at the encouraging faces and nodded to Tonks. "Alright then," he said. Silently he wondered if he’d come to regret the decision.

"Cheer up, Harry. At least you don’t need to hear the howlers that Molly’s been sending you. COR! That woman has a set of lungs on her. Nearly every morning there’s a Howler from her demanding that you come to the Burrow."

Dan leaned across the dinner table and stared at Tonks intently. "What are you going to do about that?" he asked.

Tonks shrugged and her hair spilled down her back, then changed back to a bob cut. "We’ve been ignoring them so far. Why? Do you think we should do something?" she asked.

"Well, check my thinking on this. We find ourselves suddenly maintaining the fiction of the ‘Brotherhood’, correct?"

When everyone had nodded in agreement, he continued. "Well then it would strike me as odd that the ‘Brotherhood’ would ignore the howlers she’s sending. Oh sure, they might ignore a few of them, but not if they became a nuisance."

Tonks looked at the ceiling for a moment. "So you’re suggesting that the ‘Brotherhood’ should tell Molly to knock it off or else?" she said with a grin.

 "I think if you want to keep the pretense up, yes, there should be a measured response to this."

"I’ll talk to Amelia about it tomorrow, Dan. I think you’re on to something and we should start replying to some of the more annoying pieces of mail we’re getting."

The Burrow…

Preston Davidson apparated to the edge of the wards and walked up the path to the Burrow. Knocking on the door, he looked around curiously. When the door opened, he turned and looked down at the short, matronly woman.

"May I help you?" she asked.

"Mrs. Weasley?" asked Davidson politely.

"Yes, that’s correct."

"My name is Preston Davidson. I’m an Auror for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. We’re currently holding an investigation and I’d like the chance to talk to you, your son Ronald and your daughter Ginevra, if I may."

Several hours later, Davidson left with three interviews. Each person had been interviewed privately. He was inclined to believe the young girl, Ginevra, who told him that any idea of Harry Potter turning to the dark arts was absolute rubbish.

The Burrow, several days later…

A lone figure walked slowly up the road from Ottery St. Catchpole. His cloak concealed his face, but the hand gripping the tall staff was clearly that of an old man. At a fork in the road, he turned unerringly and headed for the ramshackle house.

Stopping at the door, the old man used his staff to knock loudly. It opened and Ginny Weasley blinked in surprise at the sight of the hooded figure.

"Sir? May I help you?" she asked.

"Yes child, may I speak with your mother?" asked the old man in a kindly voice.

"I’ll get her, please wait a moment," replied Ginny. She couldn’t see the old man’s face, but something about his manner put her at ease.

A moment later Molly, Ginny and Ron appeared at the door.

"Molly Weasley?" asked the old man, his tone taking a cold tone.

"Yes, how can I be of service to you?" asked Molly. She recognized the cloak and wondered why they were contacting her. Perhaps Harry wants to get in touch with us, she thought.

"You will cease sending howlers to Harry Potter, or you will earn the enmity of the Brotherhood. Not your family, not your friends, not your little ‘Order’, only you. As foolish as Albus Dumbledore is, we are sure that he has explained to you that it is dangerous to cross the Brotherhood," the old man said coldly.

"You can’t threaten me!" sputtered Molly.

"The Brotherhood does not make threats, Molly Weasley. We merely state our intentions. This is your only warning.   Heed it, or pay the price for your actions," the old man replied.   With one last, long look, he turned and walked from the house.

As the old man walked away, Ron, enraged by what he had just witnessed, lunged at his back. In an uncharacteristically spry movement for one so old, the man side stepped Ron and used his staff to trip him. Ron sprawled to the ground and skidded for a few feet until his head smacked into a garden fence post.

The old man paused for the moment and looked at Ron. Molly and Ginny, still in the doorway heard the old man chuckle and say, "Foolish child." before continuing his trek off their property.

Molly rushed forward to help her son. Ginny stood, her fist planted firmly in her mouth, trying very hard stifle the sound of her laughter.

Hogwarts, Headmaster’s office…

Dumbledore welcomed Rita Skeeter into his office with a twinkle in his eyes and motioned her to a chair. Next to her sat two young men, both clearly students.

"So nice to see you again, Headmaster," Rita said.

"Rita, it’s always a pleasure to talk to the press. I’m glad you got my message. I’ve invited two of my students here who are also willing to talk to you about some of the things I have to tell you," Dumbledore replied with a smile.

Skeeter pulled out several pieces of parchment and her Ever Quote Quill. "Please begin, Headmaster. I’m sure I’ll find this fascinating!"

Padfoot Returns…

With just over a week to go before Harry and Hermione returned to Hogwarts, it was decided that they would go to Diagon Alley and then, instead of returning to Padfoot Manor, they would go on to Grimmauld Place. The house elves would move their belongings while they were gone.

Dobby and Winky had been spending a good deal of each day redecorating Grimmauld Place, with the help of Emma and Hermione. They’d started by removing all of the dark arts material and cleaning the place from top to bottom. Harry had tried to inquire about Keacher, but all Dobby would say was that the bad elf had died.

Once Dobby had announced that Grimmauld was safe and redecorated, there was no reason not to move in for the remaining days of summer.   Harry asked the little elf to assign rooms for everyone, making sure that Dobby knew to put Emma and Dan in one room, and Remus and Tonks in another.

Remus insisted that, since Harry was legally emancipated, he would wear his Black family robe on their trip to Diagon Alley. Hermione would also go without her cloak, since the Order was not looking for her. The Granger’s, Remus, Tonks and the two Aurors dressed in the concealment cloaks would be enough deterrent for any Order members they happened upon.

Harry and the others assembled in the main foyer. They were supposed to meet up with their Auror escort outside, then portkey to the Leaky Cauldron.

The group exited the building with Tonks in the lead, scanning the grounds for their escort. As Harry pass from the darkness of the manor’s interior to the sun-drenched light of the terrace, he suddenly hissed in pain and pitched to his knees, clutching his left arm. Hermione and Remus rushed to his side.

Harry leaned against Hermione, clutching his arm and breathing raggedly. Remus carefully opened the young man’s robe and pulled the cloth down his left arm. Surprised, he sat back on his heels and blinked.

"Harry, are you alright?" asked Hermione, her voice full of worry.

He nodded at her, his breathing evening out. "I think so. As soon as I stepped out the door, I felt this burning pain in my arm. I’ve never felt anything like it before."

"Take a look at your arm, cub, and you’ll see why. I guess this explains why Sirius had the wards over his properties reworked during his stay at Grimmauld," said Remus with a soft chuckle. "The modifications he had Gringotts make were quite extensive."

"I think he wanted you to have something to remember him by, Harry," added Tonks, leaning over Remus’ shoulder and staring at Harry’s arm.

Harry looked at his arm and his eyes widened when he saw a tattoo of the Grim on his bicep. Hermione gasped in shock and reached out to gently touch the tattoo. As she did, the Grim turned its head and looked at her, then walked down his arm.

Harry smiled fondly at the tattoo. "I would have been happier if he warned me, but I think I like it. This way he’s not completely gone," he said softly.

"It’s nice Harry, but don’t you get the idea that I approve of tattoos. You might not have had a choice about this one," Hermione said firmly. Emma shot Dan a knowing look and grinned at her daughter.

Harry looked embarrassed, "Um…actually I was thinking about getting a magical tattoo, something to annoy Dumbledore. You know magical tattoos can be removed, don’t you?"

Hermione looked sternly at him, her arms folded across his chest. "Where and what kind of tattoo, Harry?"

"I was thinking a Celtic Knot. It would cover the scar on my hand…" came the hesitant reply.

"Are you sure it’s removable?" she asked.

"Cor Hermione! All magical tats are removable. Besides, a Celtic Knot would drive Dumbledore barmy," Tonks said, grinning. "Harry’s been talking to me for couple days about it. We just want to give Dumbledore something else to worry about. And I know just the bloke to take him to. Right good artist, he is."

"Hermione, I understand what your trying to say I think. But how is it different than you wearing makeup?" asked Harry.

"Makeup isn’t permanent," replied Hermione, shocked that Harry had really noticed that she occasionally did wear makeup.

"Neither is this, Hermione," came his reply.

Stumped, Hermione reluctantly nodded in agreement. She could see the logic, even if she didn’t particularly like the idea of Harry marking up his body like that. As far as she was concerned, it was fine without any markings, but she’d not admit that to Harry. The quick kiss they’d shared a few nights back had opened a door for both of them. But it had closed just as quickly, almost as if they were both afraid to see what might lie beyond it. While their feelings for each other were obvious to the adults, they weren’t quite ready to admit to themselves or each other that there was something more than friendship between them.

Harry stood up and started to straighten out his robe when Remus stopped him and pulled his robe open far enough to read the t-shirt he wore beneath.

"‘Who peed in Voldemort’s gene pool?’ Oh, Harry," he said, laughing.

Harry grinned sheepishly.

Still chuckling, Remus helped Harry with his robe, while Tonks, Dan, Emma and Hermione laughed. The two Aurors, being full bloods, had no clue what it meant.

Malfoy Manor…

The tall blond man hurried into the room. He wore a black robe, but had not donned his mask as yet. Kneeling before the seated figure, he bowed low enough to touch his forehead to the floor.

"Ah, welcome my servant. I trust your stay in Azkaban was comfortable?" asked Voldemort.

"Your servant is grateful to be back in your presence again, my Lord," said Lucius Malfoy.

"Lucius, I would talk to you about your wife and son. I ordered him to take the mark this summer and he refused me. I am most disappointed in that," said Voldemort in a terrible whisper.

"I’m sorry, my Lord. My wife and son have vanished and I do not know where they are."

"You are to find them and bring your son to me.   He will take the mark, or die by my hand.   Your wife is of little use to me.   She is to be given to your brothers to play with.   When they are done, you will…dispose of her.   Do you understand?"

"It will be as you command, my Lord," replied Lucius, bowing low once more.

As he left his master’s presence, he made his plans.   My dear Narcissa, you will regret making a fool of me.   You will watch our son take the Mark or die, before being given to my brothers. Then you will beg for death before I am through with you…

Diagon Alley…

Harry waved to Tom, the innkeeper of the Leaky Cauldron, as he passed through on his way to Diagon Alley. Tonks was going to take him to a shop she knew in Knockturn Alley after they had picked up their books.

He felt silly wearing his formal robes, but he understood that it was time for him to be seen again. Hermione, much to his chagrin, was wearing muggle clothes. Walking into Flourishes and Blott’s, they quickly selected all of their sixth-year books. To Hermione’s surprise, Harry followed her around, pulling out copies of the seventh-year books just as she was doing. She smiled, knowing he really intended to read them.

At Madam Malkin’s, Harry picked up new school robes, then waited patiently while Hermione did the same, although she included two dress robes. Harry wasn’t getting dress robes this year as Remus had already procured self fitting family robes for him. It had taken a fair amount of convincing to get Harry to agree with it. He didn’t mind the Potter family robes so much, although they were more ornate than the Black family robes. Even though he had legal claim to the head of household for both lines, he felt it was absurd to consider a single person as the head of a family that no longer existed.

Hermione kept her dress robe selection a secret from Harry, which was driving him to distraction. The few robes she had tried on were enough to make him drool, much to Remus and Dan’s amusement. Emma and Tonks just laughed and dragged Hermione into a back room for more fittings. Harry was having a hard time concentrating on anything around him as he tried to imagine which robes Hermione would choose and what she’d look like wearing them.

After Madam Malkin’s, Tonks and an Auror split off to take Harry to the tattoo shop, while Hermione went and got quills, ink and more parchment. They agreed to meet at the ice cream parlor.

Entering Knockturn Alley, Harry remembered his first trip there and being surrounded by strange looking people. He fidgeted nervously.

"Remember who you are supposed to be, Harry, and no on will touch you," hissed Tonks.

Straightening up and walking with an air of importance, Harry followed Tonks, ignoring the looks people were shooting him. Tonks led him unerringly to a small shop near the end of Knockturn Alley that specialized in tattoos and jewelry.

Inside the dingy shop, Harry looked around curiously. A wall was covered with sample tattoo designs. The counters displayed jewelry under charmed, anti-theft glass. His eye was immediately drawn to one item.

A small, wizened old man stepped out from behind a curtain and took in Harry’s attire and rank markings. He scuttled forward and gave a bob of his head.

"Do you see something that interests you, my Lord?" he asked in a gravely voice.

"Yes," Harry replied. "I would like to cover a scar with a tattoo of a Celtic knot. I assume you can handle that?"

"Of course, my Lord. May I see the scarred area?"

Harry held out his hand where ‘I will not tell lies’ had been engraved into his flesh and allowed the older man to examine it.

"Hmmm, Blood quills. They’re a nasty bit of business, they are. Now sir," he said, pulling out a big book, "I have a variety of Celtic symbols we can use, but I believe your selection is the correct one. I have one which represents long life, love and virility and is charmed with a minor shield that might suit you."

Harry shot Tonks a warning glare as she snickered, hearing the description.

"Will it completely cover the scar?"

"Yes, my lord, it will."

"Very well, let’s use that one then."

The man thumbed through his book looking for the exact design, and then showed it to Harry, who nodded in approval.

Twenty painful minutes later, the old man finished engraving the blue and silver Celtic knot over the scar on his hand. Pleased with the results, Harry walked out of the backroom and over to the counter, where he made two more purchases, one of which including a piercing.

Tonks looked him over and nodded in approval before letting him exit the shop. The trio made their way out of Knockturn Alley and back into Diagon Alley proper, heading for Florean’s Ice Cream shop. Tonks had a broad smile on her face. She’d made a bet with herself that Hermione would notice Harry’s additional purchase in less than a minute.

Harry smiled and slid into a seat across from Hermione, while Tonks mentally counted the seconds. She wasn’t the only one who centered their attention on his new tattoo. The Grim had wandered over from his left arm and was prodding it as well, which Harry thought was rather funny. Hermione looked at Harry’s tattoo carefully, her brow furrowing as she recognized the pattern.

She arched an eyebrow at him. "Long life, love and VIRILITY, Harry?"

He immediately turned red and started to stammer a reply, but Hermione wasn’t listening. She was staring at the Celtic cross earring he had just gotten. Dan took one look and started to laugh at Hermione and her expression.

"Sweetie, don’t be upset with Harry. He’s trying to portray a bad boy image…" he stated with a chuckle.

"I only got the one earring Hermione. You got both," he said, sliding a small box across to her with two Celtic cross earrings. "I want to make it clear that, while I might be under the protection of the Brotherhood, you are too. Oh, it’s too subtle for Ron to pick up. But I can promise you, Dumbledore will spot them quickly enough."

Ordering an ice cream for himself and Tonks, he sat back to enjoy it while Hermione admired her new earrings. She wasn’t a fashion hound like a Lavender Brown or Parvati, but she could admire the quality workmanship that had gone in to making the small adornments.

A scream from outside the shop pierced the happy chatter of the group and the two Aurors dropped into a crouching position. Harry looked out the window in time to see a young woman, running down the street, falter and scream as her robes burst into flames. With a twitch of his wrist, his wand was out and he was walking quickly towards the door, ignoring the pleas from the adults for him to stay put.

Tonks placed a shield over the door and locked it, but he dispelled the shield with a small motion of his wand.

Stepping out of the shop, Harry could see a dozen Death Eaters walking up the Alley, shooting at anyone and anything that moved. Harry cast a rebounding shield on himself and stepped into the center of the street to face them.

"So, wittle Potter has decided he wants to pway," said one figure in a recognizable and hated voice.

"Why Bellatrix, I would have thought your little fiasco at the Department of Mysteries would have taught you that I don’t play well with Death Eaters. But then, from what Sirius told me, you never were very smart," Harry said coldly as his magic roared within him.

Bellatrix raised her wand to aim. Harry crouched down and fired off a Reducto curse. Bellatrix cursed and cast a shield. Harry’s Reductor hit her shield and blew right through it. Bella barely had enough time to throw herself to one side.

Harry didn’t miss, but he didn’t get a clean shot either. Bella rolled on the ground in agony, her arm blasted from her shoulder in a gory spray and her wand shattered by the impacting spell. With her other hand, she reached into a pocket and vanished as she portkeyed away.

Harry swore and started firing curses at the remaining Death Eaters. Three managed to portkey away in time, the others were stupid enough to remain and try to fight it out. One Reductor curse, deliberately aimed a few feet in front of them at the street itself, sent sheets of razor sharp rock fragments slicing through them.

The only curse to make it through his shield came at the end of the fight, as the shield had weakened enough to allow it through. The cutting curse sliced a deep gouge in his left shoulder.

There was a moment of silence in the street as people were in shock. Then, slowly, came the sounds of the wounded and those crying over lost loved ones. Harry stood a bit dazed for a moment, as he surveyed the carnage he had created. He had severely wounded Bellatrix LeStrange, and wounded or killed eight others.

Harry shook off the shock as he realized he was surrounded by Hermione, her parents, Remus and Tonks. The two Aurors had immediately gone to disarm the wounded Death Eaters. Tonks reached into her bag and pulled out a field bandage, which she used to bind Harry’s shoulder.

"HARRY!" Remus shouted trying to get his attention. "Come on Harry, snap out of it. We have to get you and Hermione out of here before the Order shows up."

The six of them left the Auror’s behind and made their way towards the Leaky Cauldron and it’s the apparation point. They’d just reached the exit when Moody, Arthur Weasley and Kingsley Shacklebolt apparated in.

The two groups stared at each other for a moment, in shock. Then Hermione glanced at Harry. He seemed to know exactly what she was thinking. The two of them vanished, him silently, her with a sharp pop.

Tonks breathed a sigh of relief and pulled out a portkey for the others. Before Moody or any of the other Order members could respond, they, too, had vanished.

Harry sat on a chair in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place. The bandage Tonks had applied was already sodden with blood. Emma and Dan took one look at it and decided that it needed to be taken care of immediately.

Hermione, Remus and Tonks were of an entirely different mind. Remus stormed into the kitchen and glared at Harry.

"What the bloody hell were you trying to do out there, Harry? Do you know what kind of risks you were taking? You could have been killed, for Merlin’s sake!" he shouted while he paced in front of Harry.

As he paced, his hands flew in wild gestures. He blamed Sirius for being a bad influence, he blamed himself, he blamed Harry’s father and he even placed blame on Godric Gryffindor for making his house rely on bravery as a prime quality!

Emma and Dan removed the bandage and helped Harry peel down to his waist so they could work on the wound in his shoulder. He watched Remus with a blank expression on his face. As Remus wore himself out, Tonks stepped up to take over the lecturing.

"Damnit Harry, it’s my job to fight Death Eaters, not yours! You endangered yourself, Hermione, all of us with your foolhardy stunt today!" she ranted.

Harry watched Tonks for a moment, and then he glanced at Hermione, who stood near him. Her arms were folded across her chest and she was glaring at him. He knew if he didn’t do something soon, Hermione would pick up where Tonks left off. Nodding in thanks to Dan and Emma, who had cleaned his wound, he stood.

Tonks stopped in her tracks and looked at him. Harry’s eyes blazed with power as he stared her down, then he turned his gaze to Remus, then finally Hermione. The amount of magic radiating off him was so intense, all three staggered back a bit.

"Can any of you kill Voldemort?" he asked in a cold, steely voice. "You can not have it both ways. This is either my fight, or it isn’t. And if it isn’t my fight, then I’m out of here. I’ll leave England in a flash, because I’m not so sure this society is worth saving.

"What do you expect of me? Am I to sit quietly in a corner and wait until you place me before Voldemort and order me to kill him? I am no more your puppet than I am Dumbledore’s! No, this is my fight and I’m going to fight it my way. If you believe I can’t handle it, then perhaps you should be supporting Dumbledore. Get this through your heads, all of you. I will not sit idly by and watch innocents killed when I can do something about it."

Harry laid a hand on his open wound and his hand flared briefly as he wandlessly healed it. Then he left the kitchen without a saying another word.

Into the shocked silence, came Emma’s voice.

"I hate to say this, but Harry was absolutely correct. All three of you were ready to rip into him for getting involved, but none of you got involved. He saved lives, got hurt in the process and not a single one of you thought to heal his wound. You yell at him because he does exactly what the Boy-Who-Lived is expected to do. Which is it? Is he Harry, or the Boy-Who-Lived? Is he the hero of legend and prophecy, or is he just a young, powerful wizard. He doesn’t know and your reactions are confusing him!

"He wants nothing more than to be plain old Harry, a young man who’s falling in love with my daughter. But you people won’t let him do that! He’s got a reputation he feels necessary to live up to, and when he tries to, what do you do? YOU YELL AT HIM!

"I can assure you he’s upstairs now questioning your loyalty because of your actions today. He needs your support, not your lectures or your anger. That young man has the weight of the world resting on his shoulders. He feels every death, every injury. And what do you three do? Scold him and tell he how foolish he is," she ended in a scathing tone.

Dan stared down at his daughter. "I’m disappointed, pumpkin…"

"But Daddy… I didn’t say anything," she protested.

"Hermione Jane Granger, I know you. If Harry hadn’t started talking, you would have jumped in right behind Tonks. And what’s worse, Harry knew it as well, which is exactly why he cut Tonks off so abruptly. Coming from you, it would have hurt him all the more," Dan said sadly.

Tonks and Hermione looked down, ashamed of what they had done.

Remus sighed. "I think we’d better go have a talk with Harry," he said softly.

When Remus turned and left the kitchen, Tonks and Hermione followed.

The found Harry laying on the bed in what used to be Sirius’ room. He hadn’t bothered to change. When they filed into the room he looked to be almost dozing.

Remus looked at him for a moment. He noticed Harry crack an eye open to look at them.

"Harry… I… we’re sorry. We shouldn’t have gone off on you like that. It’s just that you scared the hell out of us when you stepped into that fight. You’re too important to us. Not because you’re the one to kill Voldemort, but because of who you are…"

"I know Moony…I can’t help it if it hurts though. I’m sorry I yelled," Harry said quietly.

After the two adults filed out of the room, Hermione sat down on the bed next to him. He had healed the wound in his shoulder leaving yet another scar.

"Alright there, Harry?" she asked softly, eyeing him in his still bloody clothes.

He smiled weakly up at her. "I’m just tired and lightheaded, Hermione. It’ll pass."

She sat up straight and smacked herself in the head. "Of course! What fools we are! DOBBY!"

There was a popping sound and Dobby appeared. "Yous call me, Miss?"

"Dobby, Harry needs a blood replenishing potion. Are there any left over from when the Order was using the building?" she asked.

Dobby nodded, snapped his fingers and a potion appeared in his hands. He handed it to Hermione and she smiled, thanking him. As she turned to give Harry the potion, she asked him to prepare Harry some soup and a sandwich. The little elf nodded eagerly and vanished with a pop.

Helping Harry sit up, she said, "You’re lightheaded because you lost a lot of blood. This should take care of it for you. The exhaustion you feel is probably just left over from the fight itself."

Harry drank a quarter of the potion before he felt the strange, gagging sensation, which indicated he didn’t need any more. He ate most of what Dobby brought him, then laid back down on the bed. He was almost asleep when he noticed Hermione still sitting on the bed staring at him.


She reached out a trembling hand to him. "Harry… when you ran out into that fight… I was so scared I was going to lose you. I know you’re not used to people caring what happens to you, but I was terrified…"

Harry took her hand and gently pulled her down beside him where he could wrap his arms around her. She lay next to him with her head on his shoulder. He ran his fingers through her hair until she relaxed into his embrace.

"Harry, are we becoming a couple?" she asked shyly.

He blinked in surprise, and then decided to ask the question he’d been wanting to ask since he woke from his illness. "Would you like to?" he whispered back.

"I think I’d like that, but what about school?" she asked.

"I’d like it too, Hermione. As far as school is concerned, I have no intention of hiding how I feel about you from anyone. I’m going to need your help this year, now more than ever. Every time I think about returning there, my blood boils with a rage I can barely control. I’m not sure who I can trust or how to act around those I can’t. Suddenly things like house points and Quidditch don’t seem important anymore. And with Ron turning my own house against me? How am I supposed to react to that?"

It was a question neither of them had an answer to.

 Malfoy Manor…

The three escaped Death Eater trainees from the attack on Diagon Alley found Bellatrix at the portkey point, just outside the Malfoy Manor wards. She had collapsed there and bled out. Shuddering at the sight of the body, two of them picked up her corpse and the three proceeded to the manor.

Lucius stopped in the foyer when he noticed the three Death Eaters enter and frowned. There were supposed to be a dozen Death Eaters involved in the attack. If only three came back, then something had gone terribly wrong. He hadn’t yet noticed the identity of the body they carried.

Hurrying down to the special chamber he had constructed for his Lord, he arrived in time to beat the others to the room.

Bowing low, he took his place among the other inner circle members. A moment later, the three Death Eaters walked slowly into the room carrying their gruesome burden. They placed the body on the floor and one bent down to remove the cloak that concealed the identity of the body.

Voldemort hissed in anger. "Bellatrix! What is the meaning of this?" he snarled.

One of the men dropped to his knees, bowed until his forehead touched the ground and started to stammer out the story about being attacked in Diagon Alley. After listening to the tale, Voldemort had but one question for the Death Eater.

"Who was the man who killed my Bellatrix and disrupted your attack?" he growled.

"I think it was Harry Potter, my Lord…"

"POTTER!!!!! I WILL KILL YOU YET," shouted Voldemort, suddenly standing. He turned to his inner circle and hissed, "Eliminate these failures…"

With multiple death curses flying, the three new Death Eaters became three dead Death Eaters.

"Rudolphus," hissed Voldemort.

One inner circle member rushed forward and knelt down. "Yes, my Lord?"

"I want you to avenge your wife, Rudolphus. Find a way to kill Harry Potter."

"With pleasure, my Lord."

Headmaster’s Office, Hogwarts…

Dumbledore was startled when his floo flared to life and the face of Mad-Eye Moody appeared in the fireplace.

"Ah, Alastor. How did we do in the attack?" Dumbledore asked cordially.

"It was over before we arrived, Albus. Arthur, Kingsley and myself arrived in time to see Harry Potter and that Granger girl! They were both surrounded by Brotherhood members. Before we could do anything, Harry and the girl apparated away," he exclaimed.

"Yes, I had heard that Harry had received his apparation license, but Miss Granger as well? Now that is puzzling," replied Dumbledore. "Tell me about the attack itself. How did that fare?"

"According to Aurors on the scene, Albus, the attack started and was almost immediately put down by Potter. He blew the wand arm right off one Death Eater and incapacitated eight others. The Death Eater whose arm he blew off probably didn’t survive, but did manage to portkey away. Three others escaped entirely."

Dumbledore leaned back and considered the odds. Twelve against one? How is this possible? He thought. Harry wasn’t that strong when he left school at the end of term.

"Alastor, did the Aurors say anything about the spells Harry used?"

"Multiple Reductor spells and a shielding charm. Low level stuff if you ask me, but I have to admit to being impressed."

"Thank you for the information. I will consider it carefully," replied Dumbledore, dismissing him.

Ritual of Amplification…

Two days after the attack on Diagon Alley, Remus approached Harry and Hermione.

"Hermione, I’ve read the book about the ritual you inquired about. I’d say it’s a low risk ritual and it does offer you the best chance to increase your power. If you’re willing, we can get Tonks’ help and perform it this evening," Remus said in his usual soft voice.

Hermione looked at Harry and chewed on her lower lip. It was a characteristic gesture of hers when she was unsure of something. Harry stepped closer to her and took her hand in his.

"Remus wouldn’t offer to do it if he thought it was unsafe, and I’ll be there to help, Hermione," he said softly.

Reluctantly, she nodded.

Later that evening, Harry and Remus were preparing an empty room to use as the ritual chamber. Remus was directing Harry in the drawing of the necessary runes around the room, while Remus drew the white pentagram needed for the ritual and conjured the proper candles.

Tonks was helping Hermione with the pre-ritual purification. Once done, she’d bring the young woman back to the ritual chamber. Her parents could not participate, although they would watch from a shielded corner.

Half an hour before midnight, Tonks led a trembling Hermione into the chamber. She was dressed in a simple white gown tied at the waist with a cord. Harry was struck by her simple beauty. He went over to her to offer some comfort, she was scared.

She stood outside the pentagram and watched Harry approach her. She gave him a weak smile.

"It will be alright, Hermione," he said softly, wrapping one arm around her waist.

Remus looked at his watch. "Alright, we’re just about ready to begin. When I call for you, come forward."

Remus led Hermione into the center of the pentagram and decided to cheer her up a bit. "You know Hermione, two hundred years ago, you’d be naked in the center of the pentagram for this ritual. Aren’t you glad we’re more civilized now? Although I suspect Harry wouldn’t have minded one bit," he said, smiling.

She grinned weakly at him while he pulled out a small ritual blade. Its ornate ivory handle was finely carved with runes. Slicing his thumb, he drew a line in blood on her right cheek.

"Blood of the Mentor," he intoned and one set of runes on the walls started to glow brightly.

Remus motioned to Tonks, who stepped forward. Remus stepped back into his position as Tonks took the knife and sliced across her thumb, and then drew a line across Hermione’s left cheek.

"Blood of the Protector," Remus intoned, igniting another set of runes on the walls as Tonks stepped out of the pentagram.

Remus motioned to Harry, who blushed furiously but stepped forward anyway. Taking the knife from Tonks, he stepped into the pentagram and sliced across his thumb, then drew a line across her forehead.

"Blood of a Beloved one," Remus intoned and the unlit runes flared with light as Harry stepped out of the pentagram.

Hermione’s eyes widened for a moment, then they softened as she looked at Harry. He smiled back, shyly. She had read the ritual, but no one had told her who would fill each role. She had assumed one of her parents would take the Beloved role, which meant for a slightly weaker ritual. That Harry assumed the role would make for a stronger result, but it risked the entire ritual on feelings neither of them had the courage to express as yet.

Remus cast a spell igniting all of the candles positioned about the pentagram.

"By the blood of the Mentor, Postulatio amplio!" he said and his wand flared with magic. A bright beam hit Hermione in the chest and she seemed enveloped in a soft glow.

Remus nodded to Tonks.

"By the blood of the Protector, Postulatio amplio!" she said. Her wand flared and a second beam hit Hermione, causing her to glow brightly.

Remus nodded to Harry.

"By the blood of the Beloved, Postulatio amplio!" he said. When the third beam struck Hermione, it was like looking into the heart of the sun.   Those in the room flinched away from the blinding light, blinking rapidly.

Every candle erupted in a pillar of flame. The pillars flared for over a minute. Then all of the wands stopped glowing and the light died. The candles were puddles of wax on the floor and the pentagram had turned a dull, dingy brown.

Hermione stood swaying in the center of the pentagram. Remus collapsed the shield protecting Dan and Emma, while Harry rushed into the center of the pentagram and grabbed Hermione about her waist. She smiled weakly at him.

"Are you alright, Hermione?" he asked breathlessly, clearly worried about her. She nodded weakly at him. Remus joined them both and returned Hermione’s wand.

Hermione smiled her thanks and tried a simple Lumos with her wand. The normally bright tip now sent out a strong beam of light. Canceling the spell, she swayed again. Harry didn’t think, he simply scooped her up in his arms and motioned for Tonks to open the door. Hermione protested softly, but her heart wasn’t in it. With everyone following, he carried her to her bedroom and placed her on her bed.

Remus turned to her concerned parents. "She’s tired, but she’ll be fine. She needs to sleep tonight, but by morning she’ll be fully recovered."

Harry, ignoring the knowing smiles from the adults, smoothed the duvet he had used to cover Hermione. Once she’d drifted off to sleep, he returned to his room to practice playing his tin whistle.   Precautions at Grimmauld Place…

Over the next few days, Harry prepared for his return to Hogwarts. He enchanted both of their trunks to be feather light, then added security enchantments on them to prevent anyone from accessing their contents. Hermione could open Harry’s trunk and he could open hers, anyone else would receive a nasty surprise if they tried.

Tonks supplied both Hermione and Harry with a generous supply of the Ministry controlled Neutralizing Potion. Then she taught them both the standard detection spell, used by Aurors to check food and drink for foreign substances. With Hermione’s power boost she had managed, with Harry’s help, to pick up a little bit of wandless magic. It wasn’t powerful enough to stun, but she could cast the detection spell and other simple charms with it.

Tonks informed Harry that the Ministry investigation into Dumbledore’s accusations had ended with his name cleared of any possible charges. She told him that the Ministry was holding the Prophet off from publishing the stories until September first, the day they were due to leave on the Express.

Harry’s proclamation of his feelings for Hermione had throw confusion into their budding relationship. It was further compounded by the simple fact that, had the two not loved each other, the ritual would have failed. Harry was unsure how to react to the knowledge. There were times he wanted to kiss her until her toes snapped from curling. The problem for Harry was a simple one. He didn’t know what to do or what she’d allow him to do, so he did nothing. It wasn’t an optimal solution, but it was the best he could come up with. The one thing he didn’t want to do was mess up their friendship. It was too important to him to endanger it with some stupid hormone driven mistake.

Hermione’s reaction was subtler and more devastating to Harry. She wanted desperately to keep their friendship, but now she wanted more from him. His lack of action frustrated her, so she had taken to occasionally teasing him. It was a first for the young woman, to know that the most powerful wizard in the world was smitten with her, yet afraid of her. It gave her a sense power. The problem was his reaction to flirtatious teasing left her even more frustrated. Unlike normal boys, he usually ended up very shy and bolting for the nearest exit.

Finally, the day before they were due to return to Hogwarts, Hermione sought out her mother for a little advice. She found her in the first floor study reading a potions book. Emma was fascinated by some of the potions, which she felt might be applicable in her field.

Closing the door quietly behind her, Hermione walked to the couch were her mother was reading and sat down. Emma looked up and recognized the look on her daughter’s face. Sighing, she marked her place in the book and smiled at Hermione.

"What’s bothering you, dear? Is it the fact that your father and I won’t be accompanying you to the station tomorrow?" she asked.

"Oh no, Mum. I realize you need to get back to your surgery, that’s not what bothering me."

"Then what is it?"

"Harry," came the flat reply.

"Oh… I thought that might be the case."

Hermione looked at her mother, then blushed and looked down at her feet.

"Let me guess, despite admitting how you both feel about each other, he still does nothing about it?"

Hermione nodded and refused to meet her mother’s eyes.

"Hermione, look at me."

Hermione looked up, her anguish plainly visible on her face.

"Love, your young man is a fine individual, but look at it from his point of view for a moment."

"What do you mean, Mum?"

"From what I understand of his past, he’s never had a real relationship. And now he’s found himself not just liking someone, but loving someone. Remus told me your ritual would not have worked if you both didn’t feel that way about each other. Now put yourself in his shoes. Growing up, no one ever showed him love. A large group of people, who he thought loved him, has betrayed him. He has so little experience with the emotion that he’s lost. He just doesn’t know what to do and, if I know him and I think I do, he’s decided to do nothing because he’s afraid of stepping over some line he doesn’t know about."

"So you’re saying he’s doing nothing because he’s afraid of offending me or making me angry?" she asked incredulously.

"I think that’s the case, honey. He doesn’t know what he can and can’t do, so he does nothing. It’s going to be up to you to gently guide him through this. That young man wants so badly to be loved, and to love, but he doesn’t know how or even why. In a way, I envy you. You are probably at the beginning of the relationship that will last your lifetime and you’ll have to be the one who shows him how to give and, more importantly, receive love."

"So you’re saying I should forget the usual boy/girl protocol and make the first moves?"

"Well dear, I’m not suggesting you strip starkers and offer to shag him. I daresay if you did, he’d probably run in fright from you. All I’m suggesting is that a few opening moves on your part will help break through to him. There is an awful lot of fun to be had at the beginning stages of a relationship. But you need to go slow with him."

Hermione thought about it for a moment, and then smiled her thanks.

"I think I’ll go see if I can find Harry," she said firmly, her Gryffindor courage running high.

Emma smiled. "I do believe I saw in him in the library earlier. Don’t scare him too badly, dear" she called as her daughter quickly left the room.

Hermione was a witch on a mission as she checked all the first floor rooms before heading upstairs to the second floor and the library. There, she found Harry sitting on a comfortable loveseat with a book. He looked up and smiled as she approached. His smile faded to puzzlement as she gently pulled the book from his hands and placed it on the table next to the loveseat. Then she carefully sat down in his lap.

She felt Harry freeze in surprise and she chuckled to herself. "Harry, we need to talk. After the ritual, we now both know how we feel about each other and we can’t hide that fact. Yet you seem paralyzed by fear of what I might think," she said, and then she frowned in thought.

"Harry, when I sit in your lap, it’s alright for you to put your arms around my waist," she said softly. He slowly wrapped his arms around her.

"There, that’s more comfortable, isn’t it? Right then, I’ve been thinking, Harry, and I realize you don’t know much about relationships or what you can and can’t do. Well, there are places on me you can touch and places you’re not allowed to touch without permission. Though I daresay someday you might have that permission…"

She paused as he made a choking sound and turned redder than all of the Weasleys combined, then she could have sworn she heard a popping sound as his blush bulb exploded and his face drained of all color.

She sighed and suppressed a giggle. "Harry, that’s a necessary culmination to a successful relationship, but let’s worry about that later. For now, I want you to know it’s all right for us to sit like this. That’s one of the advantages of having a relationship. It’s also alright for you to kiss me. Try it, Harry. I think we’ll both find it enjoyable."

Harry shook himself out of the daze he was in and tried to go for a peck on the cheek but she turned her face full on to his. Lips met lips. And even though the kiss was very short both pulled back from the other with a glassy look.

"I’m not going to push you on this sort of stuff, Harry, but it’s ok. I’m not going to get mad at you if you kiss me, or hold me. In fact, I find this very comfortable. Consider this your first lesson in relationships. They can be a lot of fun. Don’t you agree?" she asked softly.

Harry, having lost his ability to speak several minutes earlier, could only nod and grin goofily at the question.

Hermione chuckled to herself, as she was sure she’d made her point, even if she had shocked him to his very core. Then he surprised her by pulling her even closer so he could bury his face in her hair. Smugly, she wrapped an arm around his neck and held him. Maybe he isn’t all that dense after all, she thought


She was leaning against his chest, enjoying the hard feel of his muscles against her. "Hmmmm?"

"W-W-Would you like… to be my g-g-girlfriend?" he asked, then turned away afraid to see her face.

She leaned closer to him and whispered in his ear, "I’d thought you’d never ask, Harry. Yes, I would."

He tilted her head up and brushed his lips across hers, kissing her gently.   She deepened the kiss and, when he didn’t flinch or pull away, she did a mental victory dance that would have put Lavender to shame.

Grimmauld and Newspaper articles…

Harry got up early on September 1st. He quickly showered and got dressed, then shrunk his trunk down to pocket size and slipped it into his robes. Today he was wearing the royal blue robes of the Potter family. It was a first for him and, like the Black family, the robes signified the same rank and title. With his trunk in a pocket, and Hedwig sent off to Hogwarts, he left his room and went down to the kitchen for breakfast.

He entered the kitchen and was surprised to note he was the last one down. Pausing in the doorway, he took in the tense atmosphere and his stomach twisted. Hermione tried to smile up at him, but her smile was weak at best. Something had disturbed them all and Harry was afraid he wasn’t going to like it.

"Harry," Tonks said, "do you remember that I told you that the Prophet would publish those articles today?"

Harry nodded. The twisting sensation in his gut turned to lead.

"Well, it turns out there’s a third article. Rita Skeeter did an interview with Dumbledore and a few of your classmates in a bid to bolster his case in the public’s eye. While our article is on page one, Dumbledore’s interview is bound to attract a few supporters. I’m sorry Harry, we didn’t know he gave the interview until today’s Prophet came out."

Harry sat at the table next to Hermione and picked up the Prophet, quickly scanning the headlines.

Albus Dumbledore Falsely accuses Boy-Who-Lived of Practicing Dark Arts.
Ministry of Magic clears Boy-Who-Lived of Dark Art allegations.
Dumbledore grants exclusive interview, reveals intimate details.

Harry made a growling sound in the back of throat and quickly flipped to page three which contained Dumbledore’s interview.

Dumbledore Grants Exclusive Interview,
Reveals Intimate Details.
By Rita Skeeter

In a surprise interview, Albus Dumbledore explained to this reported why he believed the Boy-Who-Lived is currently at risk of turning to the dark arts. "Harry Potter’s life has been one of hardship and privation. He is an intensely private individual who refuses to let people know how badly he’s hurting. He was raised in an environment where he was abused by muggles, starved, beaten and even occasionally raped by them. It is nearly identical to the upbringing of … (You-Know-Who)," said Dumbledore.

Harry gasped. He was awash with emotions; embarrassment warred with anger and shame. His hands trembled slightly and he blinked back tears. He could feel Hermione gently rubbing his back, trying to soothe him. Angrily, he wiped his eyes and returned to reading the paper.

"Over the years I have watched this boy personally break more school rules than any other student. He lacks any respect for authority or for others," Dumbledore said.

A dorm mate of his is quoted as saying, "Harry Potter caring about others? Nonsense! The last two years in the dorms with him he’d routinely disrupt our sleep, he’s terribly moody and his temper is unbelievable," said Seamus Finnigan.

Dumbledore went on to state that he was left wondering if Mr. Potter survived his attack by You-Know-Who as an infant because his parents might have used some dark protective spell. "I know nearly every light spell there is and I can’t survive a killing curse. What could they have possibly used? I don’t know, but it probably isn’t a light art," Dumbledore theorized.

A cold calm descended on him as he read Dumbledore’s allegations against his parents. It was almost as if his emotions were shutting down, one by one, leaving only a pure, white hot flame of anger burning. But it was controlled, tightly bound. He felt no need to rage like he had during the summer when Hermione questioned him about his life with the Dursley’s. No, this anger fed a steely determination.

One of Mr. Potter’s closest friends had this to say about him. "He’s totally arrogant! He’s more concerned about being at the forefront of the news than he is about his friends. Last year his actions directly led to the death of his own Godfather, and he got the rest of us injured! He flaunts his wealth and his fame all the time," said Ron Weasley, Harry Potters oldest and best friend..

He laid the paper carefully aside and started to eat his breakfast without any further comment. The others watched him worriedly.

"Alright there, Harry?" Remus asked, concerned.

"I’m fine," came Harry’s emotionless reply.

Hermione bit her lip when she saw his eyes. In the past, she could see how he was feeling by looking in his eyes. His pain, grief, happiness and joy were always plain to see for anyone who bothered to look. But now, there was nothing. He was pulling away from them and suppressing his emotions. She knew she’d have to do something drastic, otherwise she’d lose him.

She waited until he’d finished eating and got up to leave the table. They still had two hours before they had to leave for the station, so she followed him out of the kitchen. The adults, unsure how to break through to him, watched as he left the room, then looked at each other, concerned.

As he started to pass the study, she pushed him through the doors and closed them loudly behind her. He spun to look at her. The only emotion showing through is emerald gaze was mild curiosity, but his body language was stiff with tension.  

She turned to him and poked him hard in the chest. "Don’t you dare shut me out, Harry Potter! That article hurt you terribly and you’re pretending it didn’t."

"What do you want me to say, Hermione?" he asked coldly.

"I want you," she said, punctuating every word with another poke to his chest, "to stop being a bloody arse! Every time you bottle up these emotions, a little piece of you dies!"

Harry blinked in surprise at her. Did Hermione just curse?

Suddenly she threw herself at him, wrapping her arms about him tightly. "Oh Harry, it’s alright for you to hurt, but if you can’t share your feelings with someone it’s going to eat you alive. I don’t want to lose you, but I can’t bear to see you like this. Be angry, be hurt, be something! But don’t suppress and smother your feelings."

Slowly his arms went around her and he held her tightly to him. Silently, she thanked every god she could think of as she felt the tension drain from him. Then his shoulders hitched a few times and she felt the wetness as a few tears rolling off his cheek to fall on the top of her head.

"How could he say that, Hermione?" he whispered in anguish. "About the… Dursley’s… my parents."

She stepped away from him and led him to a couch. Sitting him down, she sat on his lap and looked deeply into his eyes. All she could see was a deep pain that would take a lifetime to recover from.

"It’s true then, what he said about the rape?" she asked him gently.

"NO! Never Hermione, I swear! The Dursley’s were a nightmare, but they never did that!"

She pulled his face back so he was looking at her. "Shhh… relax Harry. I know he’s hurt you and he’s lied about you, but you’re better than he is. You’ll get through this. If you want to hide your feelings, fine. But don’t hide them from those that care for you. I… we… love you and don’t like to see you hurting." she said quietly.

He blinked rapidly, trying to force the tears away, but they were too strong.   He wrapped both arms around her, buried his head in her shoulders and gave up fighting. She held him tightly while he cried. She could only marvel at how anyone could have survived those experiences.

Ten minutes later, he managed to gain control of his emotions.   He lifted his head and smiled weakly at her and she kissed his forehead. He let one arm slip off her waist and slid it up her arm. His touch left a trail of fire up her bare arm and she shivered slightly as his hand came to rest, cupping the back of her neck. Gently, he pulled her head closer to his and kissed her. It was a gentle kiss, soft and, in a way, healing for both of them. She ran a hand through his hair and their kiss deepened. Breaking away, his lips drifted, trailing soft kisses across her cheek and down the side of her neck. Her mind spun wildly and she gasped as his hot breath on her neck and the feel of his lips made her whole body tingle delightfully.

Stopping at the base of her neck, he looked up at her and smiled. This time, his smile reached his eyes. She knew he was still incredibly angry about what had been said about him, but at least he wasn’t hiding it from her any longer.

"I’d say you’re picking up my lessons very well, Mr. Potter," she said, playfully roughing up his hair. Then she reached into a pocket and pulled out a tissue to wipe away the tear streaks on his cheek, while he chuckled and hugged her again.

Transfiguration Office, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry…

Minerva McGonagall threw the newspaper away in disgust.

How dare he say that about James and Lily! She couldn’t believe it! First he made very serious accusations, then, to back them up, he offered a damaging interview in which he laid bare Harry’s most personal secrets? He even got her Gryffindors to publicly turn against him!

In a burst of anger, she hurled her teacup against the wall, where it shattered into hundreds of pieces.

"Minerva…" came a small, squeaky voice.

McGonagall looked away from the tea running down her wall as Professor Flitwick came into view. She blinked as he cast several privacy charms.

"I take it you’ve read today’s Prophet," Flitwick commented dryly.

"Aye, I dinna know what he’s up to, but he’s made himself an enemy today in young Harry," she snarled.

Filius blinked. Minerva’s accent rarely came through so strongly unless she was very upset. He nodded and tried to smile. "Yes, I daresay Mr. Potter may be quite angry with us all because of this article. I don’t know what Albus could have possibly be thinking of, but this is not going to be an easy year for us, I fear."

The color drained from McGonagall’s face. "Filius," she said, barely above a whisper. "What have I done? I went along with this; even helping him set my own house against the boy. I know Harry Potter. James, Lily and I were quite close and he’s inherited his parent’s stubborn streak. He is going to be so hurt by this and it’s partly my fault."

Filius nodded. "I think it’s going to be up to us to show Harry that not everyone supports the Headmaster’s viewpoints."

Minerva sighed. "That, I’m afraid, will depend on how difficult the Headmaster decides to make his year."

Filius nodded sadly in agreement before dispelling the privacy charms and heading for the door.

 The Leaky Cauldron…

Draco Malfoy looked across the room to the bed where his mother lay. She had been like this all summer. He and his mother had fled the Manor house during the early part of the summer when they heard Voldemort was moving into their home.

Arriving in Diagon Alley, Draco had removed all the money from his allowance account. By his standards, three thousand galleons wasn’t much, but it kept them fed and a roof over their head for the summer.   Now he had little more than two thousand galleons and he was starting to get very worried. His mother was ill. After years of being abused by his father, Narcissa was a wreck, and the Malfoy family arrogance had earned them few friends he could turn to.

He had arranged with Tom, the innkeeper at the Leaky Cauldron, to take care of his mother and make sure she was fed and got her medicines, but that had taken nearly one third of his available money. He was due to return to Hogwarts today and he didn’t know who he could turn to. Fortunately, his education was paid for the next year. If that hadn’t been the case, he would have been completely broke. He didn’t want to think as far ahead as his seventh year. He’d cross that bridge when he came to it.

Packing his trunk, he wondered about his options and considered how few he had available to him. He couldn’t turn to Dumbledore for aid. That idiot had already suggested to him once, at the end of last year, that he accept the dark mark and become a spy for him. That was out of the question.

He also considered some of the rumors he had heard about Potter over the summer and wondered if he could approach him. Not for himself, but for his mother. He had prepared a note that he hoped to slip to Potter, if the Gryffindor didn’t hex him into oblivion first.

The thought of his mother made him frown and glance over at her again. Lucius was never a kindly husband to her. She had made the classic mistake that so many Slytherin women made, marry into a powerful family and end up miserable. In Narcissa’s case, it went far deeper than being miserable. From her brief, lucid moments, Draco learned her father had controlled her, using a mix of addictive potions, the Imperious curse and, on a few occasions, physical beatings or the Cruciatus curse.

He had strong memories of a loving mother who enjoyed her son and played often with him. But as he got older, Lucius became more demanding and more controlling. He’d often embarrass her by bringing home his current mistress and making her watch. It wasn’t until he entered Hogwarts that the real damage was done. She’d been making noises about leaving Lucius and taking Draco with her. When he returned from school over that first year Christmas holiday, he’d found his mother little more than a drugged zombie.

With Voldemort’s return, this past year had been especially bad. When Nott had informed him that Voldemort would be moving into their home, he’d taken his mother and fled.

Draco pulled his trunk to the door and looked with regret at his sleeping mother. He’d have to trust Tom to hold to his word in caring for her.

"I’ll find us help somehow, Mother," Draco vowed to the sleeping figure. With one last look, he turned and dragged his trunk from the room.

The Hogwarts Express…

Harry shrunk down Hermione’s trunk so the only thing she had to carry was Crookshanks in his carrier. He then purposely checked to make sure she was wearing the charm bracelet he gave her. She grinned at him and shook her head.

From Grimmauld Place Harry, Hermione, Remus and Tonks, plus the two Aurors of the security detail, apparated to the railway station. Tonks was feeling melodramatic today so she had every one wearing their concealment cloaks. She had coached all of them carefully on what she wanted them to do.

The Aurors entered platform 9 ¾ first. There, they took up station in front of the entrance. No one really paid any attention to them until Remus and Tonks went next. Hermione followed a moment later, having removed her concealment cloak and handing it to Harry. Harry shrunk Hermione’s cloak and placed it in a pocket, then he followed the others onto the platform.

The five, cloaked figures formed a ring around Hermione as they moved towards the Hogwarts Express. The students and their families gave the cloaked figure a wide berth as they walked slowly, almost ritualistically, up the platform towards the forward carriages.

As they passed a column, a hand snapped out and grabbed Hermione. She gave a frightened yelp of pain as she was pulled out of the group. The four whirled to see Severus Snape. He had an arm around Hermione’s neck and a wand at her throat.

"Move, and she dies," he snarled. "Now, where is Harry Potter?"

Snape blinked as one of the figures vanished only to reappear a second later, snatch his wand out of his hand, then vanish again. Hermione, taking advantage of Snape’s inattention, leaned backwards hard, slamming him against the wall.

Stunned, Snape staggered and releasing her. Free, she darted behind the protection of the others. Snape slumped against the wall and looked up as a crowd formed to watch the spectacle. The figure with Snape’s wand snapped it and tossed it at his feet. Four of the cloaked figures raised their wands and pointed them at the greasy man’s chest.

"No… let it live… for now," said a very familiar voice.

Then the crowd gasped in shock as the figure that had broken the Professor’s wand pushed back his hood and removed his cloak. Harry Potter stood in the royal blue house robes of the Potter family. He draped his cloak over his arm, turned to his fellows and bowed low with a hand over his heart. The changes in Harry’s physical appearance caused a number of the Hogwarts girls to start whispering.

"For a spy, Snape, Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix must be quite disappointed with your performance. This is the second time you have interfered with our business. You will not survive a third," said another cloaked figure in a voice that carried throughout the platform. A murmur ran through the crowd as what the figure said sunk in. Nearby, a small beetle sat unnoticed in a pile of trash.

Harry started to turn towards the train when Hermione stopped him, smiling sweetly.

She turned to Professor Snape, who was still sitting on the ground looking around in shock and said, "I’m so sorry, Professor Snape. I didn’t realize it was you who was assaulting me so rudely. Please, forgive me," she said, smiling innocently, but her voice mocking him.

Harry quickly surveyed the crowd between him and the train. He spotted the Weasley’s, and, in particular Molly Weasley, bearing down on him like an avalanche.

Molly bounced to a halt about ten feet away when she encountered his unseen shield. Harry could see Ginny not far behind her mother looking at him with a predatory hunger in her eyes. His eyes crinkled as he tried not to grin. He wrapped an arm around Hermione, pulling her close to him.

Smiling down at her upturned face, he gave her a quick kiss on the forehead and helped her up the high step onto the train. Harry was grateful that there had been no sign of Ron. He wasn’t sure if he could have maintained his temper after dealing with Snape.

Making his way up the carriage, Harry soon noticed two distinct things. Very few students were willing to look him in the eye, and most seemed to be afraid of him. Scowling, he led Hermione to an empty compartment. He sighed as he sat down and shook his head.

"What’s wrong?" Hermione asked, sitting next to him.

"Did you see? Most of the students are afraid of me now," he replied heavily.

"It will be alright, Harry. Not everyone is going to believe Dumbledore," she replied softly.

"No, you’re probably right, but a majority of them will, Hermione…"

As the train pulled out of the station, they talked of lighter things, the enjoyable summer they’d spent together, and their plans for the Christmas holiday.   Half an hour later, the door to the compartment opened and Ginny walked in, followed by Neville. Ginny clutched a copy of the Prophet in one hand and, although she smiled in greeting, her anger was obvious.

‘All right there, Harry?" asked Neville.

"Fine, Nev. How come you’re so late?

"I was waiting for Ginny to finish with the prefect meeting."

"Oh, I’d forgotten about that," Harry said with a frown.

"Where were you, Hermione?" Ginny asked, puzzled.

"I think I’m going to give up my prefect badge, Ginny," she said.

"What?" Neville and Ginny asked, together.

Harry turned in his seat, placed a hand on Hermione’s chin and gently turned her to face him.   "Are you sure?" he asked quietly, staring into her eyes.

"Yes, I’m sure.   There was a time when being a prefect and Head Girl meant everything to me.   But it all seems rather pointless now, you know?   There are more important things to spend my time on…and more important people to spend it with," she said, smiling.

"That means Ginny has to deal with Draco and Ron by herself," Neville said with a frown.

"I’m not so sure about that," Ginny said, still eyeing Hermione carefully, as if attempting to wrap her mind around her friend’s sudden decision.

"What do you mean?" Harry asked.

"Well," Ginny said, turning to look at him, "I don’t think Draco’s a prefect any longer. He wasn’t at the prefect meeting. A Slytherin I’ve never met seems to have taken his place."

"So that just leaves that prat of a brother of yours," Neville said with a growl.

Ginny laughed.   "Oh, didn’t I tell you? The bloody git’s not a prefect anymore either.   His grades were so bad that they took his badge from him.   Mum was so mad, she threatened to take his broom away from him.   She didn’t of course, but you should have seen his face when she said it."

So how was your summer, Nev?" Harry asked as the laughter ebbed away.

Neville looked around nervously for a moment. "It was fine until Ron asked me to turn rat on my friend," he said in an even tone that belied his anger.

Harry reached over and clapped Neville on the shoulder, "You’re a good man, Nev. I don’t think I ever told you or Ginny how much your support means to me."

As Neville started to stammer, Ginny grinned and looked at Harry, who was holding Hermione’s hand. "Harry, if I didn’t think of Hermione as a sister, she and I would be pulling each other’s eyes out right about now. But because it’s Hermione, I suppose I’m happy for you both," she said with a wink.

Harry blushed to his roots, while Hermione laughed throatily and snuggled a little closer to him.

Ginny watched them for a moment before turning serious. "I’m terribly sorry about what’s going on, Harry. I wish I could say I understand it, but I don’t. As far as I’m concerned, Ron hurt us more than Percy…"

"Ginny," Harry interrupted, "I understand. Tonks has kept me informed about the situation and both Hermione and I really appreciate the warning you sent. I’m afraid there’s a lot more going on here than you know. And I should warn you both," he added, "being my friend this year is going to be hard on anyone. You might want to think about that before being seen with me too often."

"You’re not getting rid of me that easy, Harry. I know Ron’s turned most of our mates against you, but I’m still on your side," Neville said hotly.

"Same here, Harry," Ginny added, after flashing Neville a calculating look.

Harry smiled gratefully and Hermione squeezed his hand tighter. All four heads turned as the compartment opened again and Susan Bones walked in, followed by Luna Lovegood. Susan spotted Hermione holding Harry’s hand and her eyes lit up. Once they were seated. She leaned over and hugged Hermione briefly.

"Hermione, I hope you realize just how many girls are going to hate you this year," Susan said, grinning.

Hermione’s eyes narrowed and she looked at Susan questioningly. "What are you talking about?" she finally asked.

Susan and Ginny both laughed before Ginny replied. "Hermione, every girl above third year is going to be jealous of you being with Harry. Look at him! The dreamy eyes, the muscles, his tight butt…"

Neville snickered when Harry paled. Hermione shot a glance at the other girls, then looked at Harry for a moment, the wheels turning in her head.

"Do you mind not talking about me like I’m something on display? I am right here, you know," Harry said grumpily. "Besides," he added a moment later, "she doesn’t have me, we have each other."

Hermione beamed a smile at him while the Ginny and Susan sighed. Ginny changed the subject then, asking the one question that had been on her mind for the past three months.

"So Harry, where were you this summer?"

Harry was about to answer the question when the door to the compartment slid open again. Ron Weasley stood in the door with a goofy grin on his face. He spotted Hermione and smiled broadly. Then he spotted her holding Harry’s hand and his smiled slipped into a mask of rage.

"Hermione, get away from him!" he shouted.

Hermione glared at him, her face a mask of disgust. "No Ron, I’m not going anywhere," she said firmly.

"Hermione, sweetheart, you must come away from him. He’s dangerous. He’s going to get you killed," he whined.

As Ron spoke, a crowd was forming in the aisle, watching and cheering him on. He took courage from the number of people supporting him.

"I told you I’m not moving, Ron. Now go away. I have no wish to talk to you further."

"Hermione, I insist you come away from him right now!"

"You insist, do you?   By what right do you insist I do anything?" she stormed.   When Harry squeezed her hand, she calmed somewhat.   "I’ll tell you what, Ron," she said staring at him from her seat. "I’ll make room so you can sit if you want, alright?"

With that, she stood and reseated herself in Harry’s lap. His arms automatically wrapped around her, pulling her closer, then she leaned down and kissed him softly.

Ron’s face twisted in rage and he spat, "So Potter, you bought yourself a whore then? How typical. Snape was right about you. You’re nothing but a fucking arrogant glory seeker."

Hermione felt Harry stiffen in rage, but before he could respond, Ginny bounced out of her seat and kicked Ron in the balls.

He sucked in air and crumpled to his knees. Ginny kicked him once in the ribs before pushing him from the compartment and slamming the door shut. She then pulled the curtains closed, blocking the compartment from view.

"Merlin, I’ve been wanting to do that all summer!" Ginny exclaimed, baring her teeth in a mockery of a grin.

Both Harry and Neville winced and Neville eyed Ginny warily as she bounced back to her seat next to him.

Hermione locked the door wandlessly then turned her attention back to Harry. She whispered something in his ear and then wiggled a bit in his lap. Harry’s anger suddenly drained, only to be replaced by embarrassment. He looked at her and arched an eyebrow, then grinned wickedly.

"I know why you said that, Hermione, and it had the effect you wanted it to have. But I should warn you, say that again and I will take you up on the offer," he said quietly. She blushed and buried her head in his shoulder.

Ginny, Neville, Luna and Susan looked on with amusement. "Well Harry, are you going to tell us where you’ve been all this time?"

Harry looked up and frowned for a moment. "Well guys, I’ll give you a real brief outline, but I’ll hold the more detailed explanations for another time. The long and short of it is, at the beginning of the summer holiday I got sick, really sick. I was rescued by some people who love me and taken to a place of safety. There, I got better, stronger, had decent food and people around me who really cared about my welfare. Mind you guys, I’m not saying you don’t care, it’s just that you weren’t in a position to do what these people did for me."

Ginny smirked at him, "Why do I have the feeling that Hermione might have been one of those people, Harry?"

Neville snickered, then he leaned towards Ginny and muttered, "Either that or he’s learned to work really fast."

"I don’t think Harry’s all that fast, but with his green eyes he was obviously bitten by a three toed Knicker when he was younger. Knicker poison always has that effect on people," Luna said airily, before going back to reading her Quibbler.

Everyone in the compartment stared at Luna. She ignored them and hummed to herself while continuing to read. She was, after all, used to people staring at her.

Hermione turned to Ginny, asking, "So Ginny are you wearing your three toed knickers today?"

Neville blushed and Ginny giggled. "That’s a mighty personal question, Hermione," she said pertly.

Harry rolled his eyes and started to laugh. He felt better, lighter somehow, with his close friends near him.   Maybe this year wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Author Notes:

A Warning:   In our story, the plight of the wizarding world will get darker as time goes on.   This is not a light, fluffy, humorous fic, although there may be some of those elements in a few chapters.   The over-all tone of the story however, will get darker and darker.

We knew when we began this story that the HBP would be released while we were writing it.   As a lot of you know, our story is now even more AU than when we started it.   We won’t be using anything that happened in HBP in this story, so let’s all pretend that JKR’s latest book hasn’t been released yet, shall we?

We won’t be answering any specific questions about the Brotherhood.   All we’ll say is, read and you’ll find out!   Aren’t we annoying?

Percy will appear, never fear.   The breach between him and his family hasn’t been mended, though, so any Percy fans out there, sorry! Percy fans? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? That’s like those poor people that look at Snape and see Alan Rickman instead of the crusty thong wearing grease ball he really is.

Harry is the Head of House for both the Potter and Black families.   In our version of the wizarding world, the Head of any House is addressed as ‘My Lord’.   The class system in muggle Britain is different than in wizarding Britain (Harry’s not a Lord of some place, he’s the Lord of House Potter, and House Black).   Hope that helps!

Yep, we’re American’s.   No need to blush.   I doubt mail versus post will be our only mistakes, though we can hope.   We’re trying very hard not to Americanize the Harry Potter universe, but it can be difficult to wrap one’s mind around a culture one’s never experienced except in literature!   To our British readers, we humbly beg forgiveness for any mistakes we may make, and asked that you not pummel us too severely when you find them.

Yes, you can borrow our Pet Peeves section if you’d like.  

Yes, we know we’re not accepting anonymous reviews.   It was done purposely.  

Ridiculing people for their love of a particular ship (canon or not) is a waste of time.   People will believe what they wish and, in this case, there’s no harm in it.   We’re H/G shippers for the most part, but we read any good story out there, regardless of ship, although we stay away from slash stories.   While they may not be to our liking, we know that others enjoy them and that’s what fanfic’s about, isn’t it?

Mr. Granger’s comment on "the Brotherhood" was off-hand and meaningless, to him at least.   Dumbledore doesn’t know that though.   (Evil Cackle!)

Yes, Minerva has her doubts.   But will she turn on Dumbledore?   Read and see!

Yes, we switch from scene to scene quite often, which is why we use headers at the beginning of each scene, in the hope that our readers will be able to follow along easier.   Occasionally we’ll use arrows for the really confused readers.

We thought about having Harry play the bagpipes, but they’re a bit over the top. We needed something fairly small and simple, hence the Irish tin whistle. I considered also him playing kettle drums, but they didn’t seem all that musical if you ask me.

Harry’s mental health isn’t as bad as it was in our last two fics.   He’s spent the summer with a group of people who’ve put him as their first priority.   He’s loved and cared for, something he’s always wanted.   He may have some setbacks once he’s back at Hogwarts, but not many and they won’t last long. Hermione, however, may have some problems…

How do we come up with our ideas?   Brainstorming and having a twisted sense of humor helps. Sick? Twisted? Speak for yourself wife!   :D

Severus isn’t evil, he’s just misunderstood….just like Voldemort.   Yeah, right. Snape may not be as bad, but he’s not very good in this story.   I (Alyx) happen to like Snape, and we redeemed him in our last stories.   As for this one, you’ll just have to read and see.

That’s all for the A/N.   Thanks for the reviews, everyone.   We hope you enjoy the new chapter!

~Bob and Alyx~

Pet Peeves:

Plot Devices!!! Ok plot devices are really simple. Normally a plot device is designed to give you something to write about. So as an example, we created a rich Super Powered Harry. What we’re not going to do is load him up with more gear than Bobba Fet. I don’t mind Super Harry stories, but it’s not necessary to make him super powered AND geared to the hilt with all sorts of goodies he finds in his vaults. Normally you use very few plot devices with a story.

So having said that, this chapter’s pet peeve is awarded to all those authors that make a super powered Harry, then load him up with more gear than an M1A2 Abrams Battle Tank.

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