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Chapter 1 - How Can You Do It Alone?

Do it alone, how can you do it alone,
I need your help, so I can do it by myself.
Do it alone, don't have to breathe down a phone
I ain't got a clue, 'bout the things that you do
But how...can you do it alone.

How can you do it.
How can you do it without any help
How can you do it all by yourself.

- How Can You Do It Alone, The Who




The Dursleys were strangely quiet on the ride home from King’s Cross Station. Uncle Vernon seemed to focus on his driving, not even glancing once at Harry in the mirror, though Harry noticed his face was still quite red and the vein in his temple still pulsed. Dudley had developed an interest in the scenery passing by his window. For once, he was keeping to his half of the back seat and not crowding Harry, even with Hedwig’s cage between them. Aunt Petunia glanced at Harry several times, and once or twice she looked like she was about to say something but obviously thought better of it and returned her attention to the road ahead. It was the least stressful car trip Harry could remember taking with the Dursleys.

Upon arriving back at Number Four Privet Drive, Dudley muttered something and headed quickly down Privet Drive and Aunt Petunia immediately disappeared inside the house. Vernon wordlessly opened the boot, carefully avoided looking at Harry, and then followed Petunia inside, leaving Harry to move his belongings to his room by himself. Harry first carried Hedwig and her cage up to his room and then returned to the car to collect his trunk. He carefully maneuvered the heavy trunk through the door, up the stairs, and into the room just far enough to allow the door to close. He dropped onto his bed, tired, but still feeling a warm glow from the unexpected concern his friends had shown for him at King’s Cross station. A short time later, Harry was sleeping soundly, a smile occasionally flickering across his face. The ethereal, trilling notes of Phoenix song echoed through his dreams.

The next morning, Harry woke to an insistent tapping on his window. He fumbled briefly for his glasses, sat up, and spotted a large owl outside the window. Quickly getting up before anyone else could become aware of the owl’s presence, Harry opened the window. The owl flew in, perched regally on the footboard of the bed and stiffly presented a leg with a message attached. Harry was about to untie the message when he paused, recognizing the expensive parchment and wax seal of the Ministry for Magic. He stared at it for several moments, thinking that nothing good had ever come for him from the Ministry, and it was a bit early for OWL results. The owl, growing impatient, flapped its wings; Harry muttered an apology, removed the parchment, and the owl immediately spread its wings and departed through the window, not even pausing for a sip from Hedwig’s dish.

With a sigh, Harry sat on the bed and opened the letter, which was written in the perfect script of an Official Pronouncements Quill:


MINISTRY FOR MAGIC
Department for Magical Law Enforcement
Improper Use of Magic Office




Dear Mr. Potter:

Given the special circumstances of your history with You-Know-Who and based on the recommendation of Professor Albus Dumbledore, you are hereby granted a waiver of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery.

You should understand this unusual action has been taken both in the interests of your safety and to allow your education, under the supervision of the Hogwarts Faculty, to continue over the summer months. Please note that all provisions of the International Confederation of Wizards' Statute of Secrecy remain in full effect and that any abuse of this highly unusual privilege will result in its immediate revocation.

Professor Dumbledore will contact you shortly regarding the details of your summer tuition.

Hoping you are well,
Yours sincerely,

Mafalda Hopkirk
Improper Use of Magic Office
Ministry for Magic

Below, a short note was scrawled:

PS - That was an impressive bit you did at the Ministry. I got a glimpse of You-Know-Who himself and now have no doubt you’ve been telling the truth all along.

Harry read the note through once, shook his head as if to make sure he wasn’t dreaming, and read it again, unable to believe his good fortune. He could use magic! And even better, it looked as if this summer he’d at least have some contact with the magical world. Even lessons with Severus Snape, Harry grudgingly admitted to himself, would be better than sitting here, isolated, alone, and with no idea of what was happening in his world.

After re-reading the letter again, Harry noticed the clock, which read 9:08. He had fallen asleep not long after arriving back at Privet Drive and had actually slept through the night. He felt rested and strangely, his aunt or uncle had not woken him up to prepare breakfast or some other menial chore. Somewhat puzzled, Harry took a change of clothes from his trunk and took a long, hot shower. Again, to his surprise, there were no shouted demands that he stop wasting hot water. After drying off and dressing, Harry strolled back to his room to find another letter waiting. There wasn’t much doubt about whom this one was from, this time without even so much as a glance at the parchment. Fawkes, Dumbledore’s phoenix, was perched on the back of the uncomfortable straight chair in front of Harry’s desk.

“Hi, Fawkes,” Harry greeted the phoenix, who answered with a single trilling note. Harry took the letter from the magical bird and opened it to find Dumbledore’s narrow handwriting:


HOGWARTS SCHOOL
of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY
***
Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock,
Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)



Dear Harry,

By now you should have had a letter from Mafalda Hopkirk at the Ministry telling you that you have been granted permission to use magic this summer. Mr. Ronald Weasley, Miss Granger and Miss Weasley have been granted permission as well, and Remus Lupin will be contacting all of you about some special tuition I have arranged for all of you this summer. Miss Lovegood and Mr. Longbottom were invited as well, but as you may know, both already had plans for travel outside the country this summer.

I should stress that while your permission to use magic is not restricted to your training and practice, I would encourage you to be cautious and careful in using it. You will undoubtedly be watched and held to a higher standard than an adult wizard. In particular, please be careful that you do not allow your relatives to goad you into doing something foolish. I have full faith that you will not abuse this privilege and have assured the Ministry of my confidence that there will not be any problems. Cornelius Fudge in particular required a certain amount of arm-twisting, but in the end, he felt it was better to resolve my concerns than to have them explored in detail with Rita Skeeter, whom you remember from your fourth year and recent interview.

Speaking of the Ministry, I am also pleased to tell you that Sirius Black has been officially cleared of all charges and will be awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class. Numerous witnesses, including captured Death Eaters under Veritaserum, have confirmed that Peter Pettigrew is alive and framed Sirius. As with your use of magic, the Minister felt that it was better he address my concerns in this matter rather than involve other parties. While you might well feel this is too little, too late at this point, Sirius was a brave and fearless soul who deserves to be remembered as the hero he is, not as a fugitive and felon.

While it is important that you stay with your aunt and uncle for at least the first part of the summer, there is not a sufficiently good reason for you to have to be alone during this time. Thus, if you will indulge me an old Arabian proverb: “If Mohammad cannot go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammad.” While there are perhaps some disadvantages to having regular travel to and from your location, I see now that there are far, far greater disadvantages in isolating you from your friends. Perhaps you can find it in your heart to forgive an old man - for whom months seem to pass in the blink of an eye - who had forgotten how long they could drag on at your age, particularly in the absence of other distractions.

I have made arrangements with Mrs. Figg so that your initial training will take place at her house and have set up arrangements for your friends to be able to travel there as well. If your Aunt and Uncle do not object, there is no reason they may not visit you at Number Four, Privet Drive as well, as long as all of you stay within the bounds of the wards. Remus Lupin will explain this in more detail.

I realize that our parting at the close of term did not end on the most positive of notes; however, I hope you can find it in yourself to forgive the mistakes of an old man and will meet me part way in rebuilding a working relationship. If you are willing, I would like to meet with you several times over the summer months. I expect you still have many unanswered questions, and I shall endeavor to answer these and make amends for my previous errors. Please be careful this summer, and do not hesitate to owl me if you have any questions or concerns.

Yours,
Albus Dumbledore


Harry began to smile as he started Dumbledore’s letter, and his smile continued to widen as he read Dumbledore’s description of his dealings with the Minister for Magic. Harry suspected that the arm-twisting Dumbledore described with Fudge had come quite close to leaving the Minister’s arm fractured in several places; he would certainly be exceedingly careful not to do anything that would embarrass Dumbledore - or result in the loss of his new privileges.

Harry’s smile faded as he read what Dumbledore had written about Sirius. He felt pangs of guilt welling up, remembering the unused mirror and thinking of how differently things might have been if the pardon had come earlier, or he’d worked harder at Occlumency, or had checked before storming off to the Ministry, or if... Still, Harry was pleased that the Ministry had finally accepted that Wormtail was alive and that Sirius was innocent. He whispered softly, “Sirius, I’m sorry it took so long, but at least now your name is clear.”

As he read the last paragraph, memories of the meeting in Dumbledore’s office came flooding back into Harry’s thoughts. After all that, Dumbledore was apologizing to him? More than that, apologizing twice in one letter? Harry rather guiltily remembered Dumbledore’s broken possessions strewn across the floor of his office and realized that, in all fairness, some mending of fences was necessary from his side as well.

Harry’s reflections were interrupted by the arrival of yet another letter, this time delivered by a friendly brown post owl. Unlike the Ministry bird, this owl cheerfully accepted an owl treat and a drink from Hedwig’s dish before flying away.

This message was a quick note from Remus Lupin:

Dear Harry,

Please meet me at Mrs. Figg’s house this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. Mrs. Figg will have already spoken to your aunt.

Looking forward to seeing you,

Remus Lupin


“Well, I certainly don’t feel very isolated this morning,” Harry said to himself as he collected his wand, cast a quick spell to make his bed, levitated his trunk to the far side of the room to its usual summer place, then headed down the stairs, hoping to obtain a bit of breakfast without too much of a fight.

To Harry’s surprise, there was no sign of his relatives on the lower floor of the house, and an even stranger sight awaited him in the kitchen. A plate had been set on the table; it was laden with several rolls and two strips of bacon, along with a note written in Aunt Petunia’s crooked hand:


Harry,

Dudley and I will be out today. Your breakfast is on the table and there are makings for sandwiches for lunch in the refrigerator. Mrs. Figg has asked for your help moving some boxes this afternoon; you should be at her house at 2:00 p.m. Stay out of trouble.

P. D.


Harry began to wonder if he was dreaming or had perhaps crossed into another universe, like people sometimes did on that old American TV program The Twilight Zone. Breakfast made and out and waiting for him; food left for him for lunch... this was unprecedented. Maybe the Dursleys had taken Moody, Tonks and the Weasleys much more seriously that he had thought. Perhaps the prospect of Mad-Eye Moody clanking down their street and standing at the door, in broad daylight, in full view of the neighbors, was as unsettling to the Dursleys as the old Auror’s approach had been years before to Death Eaters fleeing justice.

Harry ate a leisurely breakfast, supplemented by several glasses of milk, drunk more to test the limits of his refrigerator privileges than to satisfy thirst. Then, with a flick of his wand, the dishes rose from the table and made their way to the sink, where a few other plates and glasses were stacked from his relatives’ earlier breakfast. Harry looked thoughtful for a second and then swished his wand, and the dishes began to wash and dry themselves and float to their accustomed places. With a few more flicks and swishes of the wand, the appliances gleamed, and the floor appeared freshly waxed. One good turn deserves another, Harry thought, even if it was the Dursleys. Besides, he’d rarely had an excuse to use the practical household charms he had been taught over the past few years.

Returning to his room, Harry started to unpack his trunk, moving clothes to his wardrobe and drawers, his school supplies to his desk, and other items to his hiding place under the loose floorboard. Making frequent use of his wand, Harry began arranging his things and found his attention drawn to one of the few items remaining from those Dudley had dumped in the room when it was his second bedroom. His trunk still only partially unpacked, Harry pointed his wand at the broken TV and said, “Reparo,” and watched as the cracks vanished from the broken picture tube. Smiling, Harry levitated it atop his dresser, plugged it in, and turned it on. It had been far too quiet all morning.

Harry spent the rest of the morning alternating between reading various books as he unpacked them and finding excuses to use his wand. He left the bathroom gleaming like the kitchen. His room was the neatest it had ever been, and several broken items had been repaired. A little after one p.m., Harry went downstairs, made sandwiches, then returned upstairs to eat and continue reading until it was time to leave for Mrs. Figg’s. As two o’clock approached, Harry set his book aside, slipped his feet into his trainers, and walked briskly to Wisteria Walk.

Harry walked to the door and rang the bell; moments later the door was opened by Remus Lupin. “Hello, Harry,” he said.

“Hi, Professor,” Harry replied. “It’s good to see you again. Are you here about the lessons?”

“It’s good to see you, too, Harry” Lupin answered. “And, yes, the lessons are one of the things we need to talk about. I knew that Professor Dumbledore was working to set them up, but not all of the details had been worked out when I saw you yesterday.”

“Professor Dumbledore did say in his letter,” Harry remarked, “that he did have to twist Fudge’s arm.”

Lupin grinned. “Professor Dumbledore can be quite persuasive, of course; however, he was not the only one twisting the Minister’s arm in this particular case.” Harry looked puzzled, but Lupin continued, “My guess is that Cornelius Fudge decided that he’d rather remain in office with Dumbledore pulling the strings than to have the Professor lead a public push to oust him. Fudge certainly caved in fast enough when they mentioned their next meeting was with Rita Skeeter and that they needed certain issues resolved so the public could be reassured that things were now proceeding in a positive direction.”

“I’d have loved to have seen that.”

“Perhaps you will yet,” Lupin replied. “I expect you will at least hear about it in some detail from someone who did.” Lupin then looked concerned. “Harry, did Professor Dumbledore mention Sirius in his letter?”

“He said that he had been cleared,” Harry answered bitterly, forgetting the question of who had taken on the Minister for Magic with Professor Dumbledore, the smile vanishing from his face. “Not that it does much good now.”

“Not entirely,” Lupin said. “I understand there are some issues with the Black family estate where this was rather important. Among other things, it ensures that the will Sirius left will be followed; if that had not have happened, Twelve Grimmauld Place might have ended up going to the Malfoys, which would not have been a good thing for the Order.”

“A will?” Harry asked.

“Yes, a will. Sirius spent quite a bit of time on the details the last few months; I don’t know a lot of the details, but I do know that you figured in it a great deal. There will be a formal reading of the will in a few days, quite possibly at Gringotts. You and I will both need to attend, but I don’t know any more details than that yet.”

Harry started to say something, but his voice broke, and he was forced to blink back tears. Lupin awkwardly wrapped an arm around his shoulder and said, “I miss him, too. In some ways, I feel as if I’m all alone in the world now.”

Harry pulled back a bit, looked at Lupin and softly said, “Yeah, I suppose I know how that feels.”

“I do have something for you from him,” Lupin said, looking appraisingly at Harry. “I debated about giving this to you now instead of in a few more days, but I think it’s time.” Lupin pulled a letter from his robes and handed it to Harry. Nodding at one of Mrs. Figg’s sofas, Lupin said, “Go ahead and read it if you want. There are several more things we need to talk about, but I’m in no hurry,” which was not quite true, but he had no intention of letting Harry out of his sight until he knew how Harry would handle this letter.

Dear Harry,

If you’re reading this, my number finally came up, and I’m dead. Not that I haven’t been living on borrowed time for years now; though after spending the last several months locked inside this wretched house, shuffling off this mortal coil doesn’t seem like such a bad a thing after all. I’d like to think that I went out in a blaze of glory, saving a lot of lives and taking dozens of Death Eaters with me - starting with Peter. There’s also a very good chance that I’ll have bought it because I finally ignored Dumbledore and took “foolish chances” or did something stupid, but it’s not easy sitting here watching everyone else come and go as they please and even harder when there are important things that they are doing while I sit here pretending to be useful with whatever make-work Dumbledore sends my way. I don’t think he has a clue how much fun sitting around being useless isn’t. I was never a good wallflower, Harry; my first choice has always been to try and be the life of the party, but I’d rather make a fool of myself (and I did, once or twice) than to miss out on the action. I’ve had more than enough of being on the sidelines.

I don’t have a lot of regrets that aren’t old news; the biggest one is thinking you might actually read this instead of me throwing it on the fire in after I write the next one in the series. Yes, I did say series. So far, three of these letters have made their way to the fire, which most likely says more about just how much time I have on my hands right now that I’m trying to fill as opposed to having anything important to say. Still, I want to keep something of my promise to James that I’d look after you should something happen; so far that promise hasn’t been kept very well, though we’ve managed to have a few good moments. If I end up where James is - and I very much hope that I do - I am not looking forward to explaining how you ended up with the Dursleys.

One thing you should be sure of - James and Lily must be incredibly proud of you: I see so much of them in you. You’ve got the best qualities of both. You have James’s strength, Lily’s compassion, and their combined courage and heart. Did I mention how proud I am of you? And that James picked me to be your godfather?

Now, since I’m gone, there are some things I want you to do. These are important and, of course, the Very Last Things I’ll ever ask of you (ok, that’s a cheap shot to play the guilt card, but I think it’s important enough that I’ll use whatever means I can, foul or fair), and I expect you to do them no matter what. You’ve kicked Voldemort’s arse three times now; these should be easy compared to that.

1. I can only hope that I’ll go out in style after saving the world and taking as many Death Eaters as possible with me, but no matter what happened, even if I tripped over my shoelace and fell, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. You are NOT to say it, think it, or in any other way consider it YOUR FAULT. Even if I died protecting you, this was MY choice, and in fact, I can’t think of anything that would give my death more meaning. Maybe then, at least, I could look James in the eye. Everything I’ve done and I’m doing is by choice (other than hiding here at Dumbledore’s insistence); I could just as easily have left for America or Australia, but this is where I wanted to be, and this is where I choose to be, and this - trying to look out for you - is what I wanted to do. One of the Muggle musical groups I listen to have a song that goes “I want to die before I get old”… well, that’s me. I’d rather go doing something important than growing old and feeble. Have the decency to honor that, and instead of moping about wringing your hands, get your act together. Don’t say it, don’t think it, and especially don’t believe ANY of this is your fault for even one second EVER again. It's just like saying “You-Know-Who” instead of “Voldemort.” Every time you do, you give him a better chance of winning. Blaming yourself for something that is NOT your fault is the ONE and ONLY thing you could do that would disappoint me. Are we clear on this point?

1. While we’re on the subject of Fault, NONE of what Riddle has done is your fault. Get over it. Wallowing in self-pity won’t solve anything; it won’t bring back James and Lily; it won’t bring back Cedric, and it won’t even make you feel better. It will, however, distract you from what’s important and what needs to be done. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And you’re tough, Harry; you’re the toughest kid I’ve ever known, and I’ve run with some pretty distinguished company. Remember what I said above…when you give in to guilt and let that distract you and overwhelm you, it helps Voldemort.

1. It’s important that you get your act together, and soon, because in the end, it looks as if you’ll be stuck with dealing with Voldemort. If Dumbledore hasn’t explained this yet, keep after him until he does. It’s important. Yes, I know the whole story, most of it directly from James, and so far, I’ve let Dumbledore convince me that it was better to wait. From what’s happened this year, I’m growing increasingly convinced this was a mistake and had decided that if necessary I’d lay the whole thing out for you as soon as this term ended, with or without Dumbledore’s approval. Do not let him put you off or make excuses. Enlist Remus Lupin or Molly Weasley to help if you need to.

1. Listen to Dumbledore, but don’t follow him on blind faith. He has grand plans and has wheels turning within wheels, but sometimes he forgets that he’s dealing with people who have lives and needs of their own... and feelings too. I think he has your best interests at heart, but it’s been a very long time since he was your age, and he sometimes doesn’t realize how these things seem when you’re dealing with it every day. Follow your head and your heart, and if that means telling Dumbledore to sod off, do it. And in particular, tell him to sod off - loudly and clearly - if he doesn’t lay his cards on the table. Remind him you’re not a mushroom. He’ll understand exactly what you mean, and if you don’t, tell him I told you to ask him to explain it to you in the exact same words as I did to him. In fact, ask him anyway, even if you do know what it means, and cross your fingers that we are able to watch in the Great Beyond.

1. Don’t hesitate to ask for advice. If you’re not sure about something, seek out Lupin. Of all the Marauders, he was the most levelheaded, and he has your interests at heart. Molly Weasley also cares for and is concerned about you and will stand up to anyone and anything to defend her cubs - and bless her, that includes you - even to Albus Dumbledore. Hermione also has a very good head on her shoulders, and Ron, while headstrong and stubborn, may not always get it right the first time around, but he usually gets to the right answer in the end. Ginny Weasley also cares for you a great deal, and you could do far worse then to open up a bit more with her. And just between you and me, (this part is enchanted for your eyes only) if you feel even the slightest thing for her, say something, Harry. If you wait too long, you may have the rest of your life - and I hope it’s longer than Dumbledore’s - to regret it. Take it from someone who knows first hand: it is much better to make a fool of yourself than to mark time the rest of your life, wondering what would have happened if you had taken a chance. Sometimes it turns out what you’ve been looking for everywhere has actually been right there at hand all along. Anyway, enough of that. If you’re not sure about something or anything, talk to one, or even better, several of these people. All of them care about you deeply and will give you their best.

1. Stop pushing your friends away. You may think you’re protecting them, but you’re not. You’re doing the worst thing possible for them - and for you. You’re putting them in harm’s way - because they are loyal and will follow anyway – all you accomplish is getting everything disorganized. Ever hear of “Divide and Conquer?” Well, Voldemort wrote that book, and when you try to go it alone, you play right into his hand. But more importantly - your friends are your strength - Dumbledore can explain this in more detail; make sure that he does – you cannot possibly do what has to be done all alone. We’re at war. Your friends are not weak, helpless, innocent bystanders who need to be protected. Like you, they are warriors in their own right, and this is their fight, too. Not all of them can contribute the same things, nor can anyone take your place; however, they all have their roles. You cannot and should not try to deny them the chance to defend all that is important to them and to protect the things that they love. This is war; in war, people get hurt and die. The survivors keep slogging on until the end. The important thing is to win, and cash in Voldemort’s chips for good. As in KILL that lousy Son of a Bitch DEAD. Not Murder, Harry. Kill. Or to use a word the American cinema is fond of, Terminate. Even a wizard lawyer will tell you that murder is the unlawful taking of a life. And this isn’t murder, Harry, it’s not unlawful, you’re enforcing the law. Killing Voldemort is removing a rabid, drooling mad dog to protect society. It’s not a pleasant job, but somebody’s got to take out the rubbish. In this fight, different people will have different roles depending on their strengths and abilities, including you. You can’t possibly do the whole thing alone. Some will go wand to wand with Death Eaters; some will make the wands, tend the wounded, prepare the food… and some will help take care of you, act as your seconds and lieutenants and helpers, and make sure that you can focus on the things you can uniquely do. Reach out to Ron, Hermione and Ginny and for Merlin’s sake, don’t push them away; you cannot succeed alone and isolated. If you do manage to push them away, Voldemort has already won.

2. Have some fun. Live a little; hell, live a lot. Pull some pranks, visit the Astronomy Tower (and I’m not talking about for class or for the view), and live in a world that’s worth saving.

I mean every one of those things, Harry. I expect you to do them, every last one. Yeah, it’s all on your shoulders; it’s not fair; it sucks, and you’re stuck with it - so keep your chin up, let your friends help, and make this the kind of world you want to live in. James and Lily love you; I love you. You will not let us down. The time for worry is over; the time for doubt is over; put your doubts and the guilt aside, and start preparing.

I will see you again on the other side. But I want that to be a long, long, long time from now. Know that I am with you always.

Sirius


Lupin carefully watched Harry’s face as he opened the letter and began to read. Tears began to pool in Harry’s eyes as he scanned the parchment, but he seemed almost unaware of them, other than the need to blink frequently to be able to keep reading. As Harry read, Lupin noticed subtle changes in Harry’s posture; his shoulders squared, and something seemed to be forming in Harry’s eyes.

Harry finished the letter and wordlessly handed it to Lupin. Though no tears had fallen, they no longer pooled in Harry’s eyes; instead, there was a set and gleam there that startled Lupin. I know that look well, Remus Lupin thought to himself, remembering the handful of times he saw the same look of absolute determination and will etched into James’ face. There was no doubt, no hesitation, no obstacle too large, no punishment too severe, no risk too great, or anything else Lupin had found that would turn James from his goal when whatever was running through his mind painted that particular look on his features.

Lupin turned to the letter and read quickly. By the time he was finished, he was forced to blink back tears as well. He raised his eyes to Harry’s; Harry’s expression was unchanged. Lupin slowly nodded. “I’ve never, ever understood it. Not for one second. Sirius was perhaps the biggest troublemaker Hogwarts has ever known and he always lived for the moment. He lived fast, played hard, would rather pull off a good prank than eat when he was hungry or sleep when he was dead on his feet, but when it mattered, when it really, really mattered, he always managed to find exactly the right words.” Harry nodded, not quite trusting himself to speak. Lupin continued, “Sirius, wherever you are, you old cur, bless you. I don’t know how you did it, but you found the right words again. What you wrote was exactly what Harry needed. Bless you, Sirius.”

They sat in a companionable silence for several minutes, and then Harry asked, “You did say there were several other things we needed to talk about?”

Lupin replied, “That’s true. I believe Professor Dumbledore mentioned that he would be arranging some lessons for both you and some of your friends?”

“Yes, though he didn’t go into any details,” Harry answered.

“If you and the others are agreeable, Professor Dumbledore felt it would be useful for you and those who accompanied you to the Ministry to keep up your Defense against the Dark Arts practice over the summer. You will be training with the new Dark Arts teacher and perhaps with others as well, as the summer goes along. You will have some one-on-one instruction, but all of you will train at least three days a week.”

Harry asked, “Are you the new Dark Arts professor?”

Lupin shook his head, and replied, “No, though you might say I’m the assistant. I’ll be conducting the classes for the first to fourth years. But I’ll be working with you this summer.”

“That’s great,” Harry said. “I just wish you were doing our classes. You were the best Defense professor we’ve had.”

“I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed after you meet the professor, Harry. He’s quite a bit more qualified than I am.”

“After Umbridge, having Lockhart back would be an improvement. Can you tell me who the new professor is?”

Lupin shook his head and said, “You’ll meet him tomorrow; I’d rather not take a chance of jogging anything he might have planned, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Is there any reason you couldn’t meet at ten tomorrow morning?”

“Ten? I’d have to check my calendar first. You know how busy I am in the holidays,” Harry replied, laughing. “No, ten’s fine.”

“Excellent. When you come over, just open the door and come in. It’s been charmed to open for you. Mrs. Figg will be away for the next several weeks but has very kindly made her house available to the Order.” Harry had wondered about that; he had not seen or heard Mrs. Figg or any of her many cats since entering the house.

Lupin continued, “There will be other members of the Order about from time to time. Bill and Charlie Weasley and Tonks will be staying here most nights; others may as well. The house is on the Floo network and is enchanted so that only a very few people can access this fireplace, including Ron, Hermione and Ginny.”

“Will they all be coming tomorrow?” Harry asked eagerly.

“No, tomorrow you’ll meet the new Professor, and if you have no objections, Professor Dumbledore would like to see you for a few minutes as well.”

Harry swallowed guiltily, and said, “I…I… well, I er… I don’t really have any objections.”

Lupin asked, “You look uncomfortable, Harry?”

“My last meeting with Professor Dumbledore wasn’t, er, well, a very good one.” Harry sighed while Lupin smiled knowingly. “I owe him a pretty big apology, and I may need to replace some of his stuff.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much, Harry; Professor Dumbledore has shown nothing but concern for you, but clearing the air certainly wouldn’t hurt.” Clearing the air would be good for both of them, Lupin thought. Strange as it seemed, Dumbledore was as worried about this meeting as Harry, though he concealed it better - but not to the point where Lupin’s enhanced senses couldn’t detect his nervousness. “Two more things, and I must be off. First, I mentioned there would be a reading of Sirius’ will in the next few days; I’ll have details in a day or two, but on that day, you should reckon on traveling with me and several Order members, most likely to Gringotts, for the reading and paper work.” Seeing Harry’s face fall, Lupin continued, “Harry, keep in mind this is what Sirius wanted, and if you refuse to be his heir, the Malfoys are next in line, and they are among the last people Sirius would want to have anything of his.”

Harry nodded his acceptance, and Lupin continued, “And finally, Molly Weasley said to tell you that she hoped their little talk with the Dursleys did some good….”

Harry interrupted, “This morning, breakfast was laid out for me, and Aunt Petunia left a note saying there were sandwich makings in the refrigerator; I even got to have a lie-in; that’s a pretty big change.”

Lupin smiled. “Anyway, Molly said she was going to make certain you got some decent meals this summer, and was going to send Ginny over with a picnic basket for the two of you at about six.” Lupin’s smile grew wicked. “But if you’d rather have me tell Molly that everything is fine and the Dursleys are feeding you properly….” Not that Lupin had any intention of doing that; he’d worked too hard to set this up. In fulfilling one of the requests in the letter Sirius had left for him, Lupin had dropped a subtle hint here, made a suggestion there, and made certain Ron would be safely occupied this evening. Frankly, Lupin didn’t see it – but as Sirius had rather pointedly reminded him, he had been wrong about James and Lily, too. Besides, a visit from a friend would still be good for Harry; a new paradigm was now in place, and there was no better way to reinforce that.

“No! Don’t do that. I’d much rather have Mrs. Weasley’s cooking,” Harry insisted.

“Not to mention some more agreeable company, eh?” Lupin asked innocently as Harry blushed; maybe Sirius had known what he was talking about after all. “Very well; I must be off. Ginny will meet you here around six. See you tomorrow, Harry.”

“Thanks, Professor,” Harry replied as Lupin Disapparated.

Harry started to pick up Sirius’ letter again, then hesitated. It might be better to go and leave a note for the Dursleys now, while they were all hopefully still out. He didn’t want to risk running into them or worse, have them come looking for him and find him here alone or with Ginny - and Mrs. Figg nowhere to be found.

Harry walked quickly back to Privet Drive, scribbled out a quick note, and left it on the table before quickly trotting back to Mrs. Figg’s house. It wouldn’t do to get spotted and questioned by his aunt as she drove home, either. Harry reached the house on Wisteria Walk without seeing any sign of his relatives; as Lupin had said, the door opened for him. He entered and closed it firmly. He settled on the sofa and picked up the letter.

Harry read through the parchment several times, but kept returning to what Sirius had written about Ginny. He thought back over the last year: how she had stepped up to the seeker position after Umbridge sacked him and had been a big part of Gryffindor winning the house cup. How she had unquestioningly supported his efforts, like the time he had used the fireplace in Umbridge’s office. How she had insisted on going with them to the Ministry, and how bravely she had handled herself there. As one of the twins had said, size certainly was no indication of power. Or courage. Or determination. Or spirit.

Their relationship had changed, particularly over the last year. There was little evidence of the crush that used to send Ginny running away or that made her blush when he looked in her direction as it had during his second year. Now she seemed comfortable and confident - perhaps even relaxed - in his company. And of all his friends, she was the only one who had experienced anything remotely close to what he had; she alone had any idea what it was like to face or to have been possessed by Voldemort. And, because of this, if he were honest with himself, she probably understood him better than any of his other friends, even Ron and Hermione. She was the only one who could break him out of the worst of his moods or halt an angry rant with a few well-chosen words.

Then there was the Chamber. As he recalled the events of that day, it was almost as if he could still hear Fawkes’ quavering cry. They had never really talked about it, not really, but it had made a pretty big impact on both of them. And what was it that Dumbledore had said his third year? Though he had not been talking about Ginny or what had happened deep beneath Hogwarts, he had said something about when one wizard saves another’s life that it creates a deep magical bond between them.

Did Ginny still feel anything for him, he wondered. She had dated other guys, most recently Michael Comer, and on the train she had said she “had chosen” Dean Thomas, whatever that meant. Harry had a pretty good idea she had been more interested in pulling Ron’s chain – or getting him to back off – than dating Dean; she had certainly succeeded in changing the subject. And then there had been the time this spring when Madam Pince had chased them from the library, when Ginny had given him the chocolate Easter egg Molly had sent. She had said that he really seemed to be down and had asked if he were okay, and suggested he talk to Cho. He remembered how she had watched him carefully as he had made it clear he had no interest in doing that. And when he’d told her he wanted to talk to Sirius, she had encouraged him, and said that they, the two of them, could find a way to do it, that anything was possible if you had enough nerve.

Sirius had said that Ginny cared for him a great deal and her actions certainly showed that, but was there more? The whole thing with Cho had been a fiasco from their first date; the smart thing to do would be to forget about the whole dating thing altogether… but to do so would be to leave yet another hole in his life. He already knew, just from the furtive looks he occasionally saw Ron and Hermione exchange that there was something that missing… that he wanted. But being with him might not be the safest thing either. But wouldn’t that also apply to his friends? And Sirius said trying to keep his friends at a safe distance – whatever that was – was the worst thing he could do for both. Wouldn’t that imply… if there were someone he cared about… even more so?

Sirius had written, “…if you feel even the slightest thing for her, say something.” Did he? She was certainly a friend, after the last year, a very good friend. Of course, he regarded the entire Weasley family that way, though Percy was certainly being a major git at the moment. Ginny was the little sister of one of his best friends – Harry hoped Ron still felt that way – but would that really be so bad? The Weasleys already treated him like family… but how would they feel about them being together? Had Ron actually encouraged Ginny to see him in that light on the train home? Had Sirius been encouraging him in this letter?

Harry read what Sirius had written again, then settled back and closed his eyes to think. Cho was pretty, but things would have never worked between them; they were just too… different. Cho had been “safe” in a way – with her in Ravenclaw, the amount of time they could spend together had been limited – it then occurred to Harry that considering this a plus didn’t say very much for them as a couple. Besides the initial attraction, there hadn’t been anything else; everything had gone downhill from there. Something he had heard somewhere ran through his mind: that wanting is often better than having.

There was supposedly an old saying that differences attract, but similarities endure. Certainly there were things he and Ginny had in common that he had with no one else. She could get through to him when even Ron and Hermione couldn’t. She was brave, daring, kind, fiercely independent, had a sense of humor – and she didn’t humor or coddle or patronize him, but played it straight. She could be a lot of fun, more than a little of the twins had rubbed off on her. And she was attractive, not just pretty like Cho, but on a deeper level that surpassed just physical looks. “Sometimes it turns out what you’ve been looking for everywhere has actually been right there at hand all along,” Sirius had said in his letter. Sirius was right; Ginny had been there since the very first day he had truly entered the wizarding world. Yes, if he were honest with himself, in his heart of hearts, he did feel… something for Ginny.

But why had it taken him so long to realize it? No, dammit… he could at least be honest with himself. Why had it taken so long to admit it?

The past few months certainly hadn’t been a very good time, but that wasn’t really a good excuse. The crush? Not really. He hadn’t known how to handle it at the time; thanks to the Dursleys, he was still playing catch-up in a lot of social situations. Ron? Harry considered Ron to be his first and one of his two best friends, in some ways he was worried how Ron would react if he knew Harry had feelings for Ginny; his remark and glance on the Hogwarts Express notwithstanding. Harry knew how protective Ron was of Ginny; he had listened to Ron fuss, fume and threaten the untimely end of every boy she’d dated; at least the ones that he’d known about. For that matter, all of Ginny’s brothers were very protective of her, even the twins. If he were to make his feelings known, how would that change his relationship with the Weasleys? Was it even seemly for a Gryffindor to be thinking along these lines?

But was that really it? Harry sighed heavily; his conscience had learned way too much from Hermione of late. But Sirius had seen it too. “If you wait too long, you may have the rest of your life… to regret it.” And that’s what he had been doing. Waiting. Waiting until Voldemort was dealt with, which had the added advantage of possibly rendering the whole messy dating question moot. No more Harry, no more problem… but not a very Gryffindor solution. And then, again, if a question was never asked, then a positive answer was always a possibility. A “No” removed all doubt. As long as it wasn’t no, there was still hope… or was there? Ginny wasn’t waiting, not any more. She was getting on with her life. Was it already too late? Would it be worth risking their friendship, and Ron’s friendship and all the Weasleys’ to take a chance that there might be something more? But Sirius had pointed out the risks of not taking that chance, too - the picture he had painted didn’t seem very attractive. And Sirius said he was talking from first hand knowledge - Harry wondered what it was his godfather had waited too long to do.

Sirius had said over and over he couldn’t do it alone. And that he needed his friends. Would saying something put their friendship at risk if she no longer felt anything for him? Or, was the risk really in not saying anything, as Sirius had said. Another thought occurred to him. Sirius had made it clear his last request to Harry was to do the things he’d listed in the letter. What he had said about Ginny was conditional - that if he felt something for her, to say something. He had already admitted to himself that he did feel something… the condition had been met. Why did everything always have to be so complicated?

Harry glanced at the clock on the mantel. He had more than an hour to go before Ginny’s arrival. He settled back to read the letter again, still pondering what he should say or do.

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