Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, and I claim no rights to the characters, settings, and situations contained herein. No money is being made from this work of fanfiction, and no copyright infringement is intended. Recognizable characters and settings are the exclusive property of J.K. Rowling and her associated publishers and agents. I'm just thankful she's willing to let me play and learn in her universe!
The first day of the last week of summer was brilliantly bright and hot, not that Harry really noticed - he had not been outside of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place since his arrival a month before. Up until that day, he had not really minded. He had Ron, Hermione, and Ginny to keep him occupied, Moony to talk to, his Occlumency lessons, and the interest of trying to listen in on several Order meetings.
Eavesdropping on the Order had become even more difficult because Fred and George were now full members. With their newfound sense of responsibility, they had refused to lend the others a set of Extendable Ears and would not tell them what happened in the meetings. Surprisingly, the business-savvy twins had even declined Harry's offer to buy sets of them for himself, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny. "Sorry, mate," George had insisted. "Order rules, you know. We're not even selling them in the shop. Imagine if Draco Malfoy got hold of a set."
Harry was in a rather bad mood that morning. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Molly were all going to Diagon Alley to buy their new school things. Despite his persistent nagging and offers to go under his Invisibility Cloak, Remus and Dumbledore had denied Harry's request that he be allowed to go with the others. All of his friends had offered to stay, but he told them that there was no reason they should be cooped up just because he had to be. Strangely, Ginny had seemed almost disappointed.
"Harry, hold still, dear," Molly said distractedly as she supervised a tape measure that was taking Harry's measurements for some new school robes.
"It would be much easier if you would just let me go -" Harry began.
Remus broke in, "Harry, I'm sorry, but we've been through this and the answer is final. It is just not safe for you at the moment, and it would be less safe for everyone if you went." He felt bad about appealing to Harry's need to protect his friends, but he was afraid that Harry would do something rash. As Harry's guardian, he felt the weight of his responsibility and was rather apt to be stricter regarding safety than Sirius had been wont to be. "Besides, you won't be alone. I'll be staying here, and we can have a nice time on our own for a change. I've wanted to show you some of the defense books in the library here and to talk with you about your plans for the D.A. this year."
Lupin had said the magic words when he had mentioned Harry's friends, and although Harry was not happy about it, he stood still while Mrs. Weasley finished measuring him, only muttering a bit under his breath, words that sounded remarkably like "unfair" and "not a child."
Molly and Remus exchanged amused smiles behind Harry's back. Even though they felt bad that he could not go with the rest of the teenagers, his stubborn arguments and mutterings were just more proof that Harry was indeed returning to normal, or as normal as he ever was in any case.
Just as Molly put away her tape measure, Hermione came rushing into the room followed closely by Ron and Ginny. "Harry, they're here! The O.W.L. results are finally here!" She handed Harry a large parchment envelope addressed in Professor McGonagall's distinctively spiky handwriting and signature green ink.
"It's about time, too," Molly commented, smiling at the looks of nervous anticipation on Ron, Hermione, and Harry's faces as they held their letters, hardly daring to open them. "Minerva promised me they would be here this morning before we left for Diagon Alley. They've taken longer this year because so many of the professors are working for the Order, I suppose."
Ron and Hermione cast sympathetic looks at Harry at the mention of the day's outing, but Ginny did not even seem to notice her mother's words. She was examining her envelope. Even though hers would not contain O.W.L. results, of course, she felt a strange sense of anticipation, and she couldn't put her finger on why the letter was making her so nervous.
"All right, you three, what are you waiting for? Ronald, I certainly hope you have done better than your brothers!" Mrs. Weasley was almost as nervous as the sixth years. She always wanted her children to do well, and she also hoped that this would be one more accomplishment that Harry could be proud of.
Ron, Harry, and Hermione ripped open their envelopes in unison, and for a few moments, there was silence but for the crinkling of parchment as they read their results.
"Well?" Molly prompted. Slowly, Harry, Ron, and Hermione looked up. She looked into their faces. Hermione, of course, looked ecstatic. They had all expected her to do very well, of course. Ron had a smile on his face, too, but Harry looked befuddled.
Ron gave his mother his results, and it seemed for a moment as if she were going to jump up and down in delight. "Oh, Ronnie! How wonderful! Eight O.W.L.s! Oh, I'm so proud of you!" It was immediately evident that Mrs. Weasley had been rather worried that Ron would not perform well on his O.W.L.s.
Harry looked down at his parchment again, convinced that something would have changed since a moment before.
Dear Mr. Potter,
We are pleased to inform you of the results of your O.W.L. examinations taken in June at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please remember the scoring standard as you read your results:
O - Outstanding
E - Exceeds Expectations
A - Acceptable
P - Poor
D - Dreadful
Scores of O, E, and A constitute a pass on each exam.
Scores for Harry James Potter, Number 4, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey, are as follows:
Defense Against the Dark Arts: O
Care of Magical Creatures: O
History of Magic: A
Congratulations on your achievement of eight O.W.L.s, Mr. Potter, with an overall score of Exceeds Expectations.
Also enclosed was Harry's annual school letter and booklist. Surprisingly enough, however, the book list was completely blank. The reason for this was revealed as he read his letter from Professor McGonagall.
Dear Mr. Potter,
Enclosed please find the results of your O.W.L examinations. Please select which six N.E.W.T.-level classes you wish to take in your sixth term at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and indicate them on the checklist of classes available to you below.
As always, the Hogwarts Express will be leaving Kings Cross Station, Platform 9 ¾, at precisely 11 a.m. on the first of September. I trust the remainder of your holiday has gone well, and look forward to seeing you at the start of term feast.
Professor M. McGonagall
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
"Which classes are you going to take, mate?" asked Ron. "I can only drop one - I scored an 'E' on Potions, so that class isn't listed on my checklist. Did you make it?"
Harry nodded, not quite sure how he had achieved an "O" on his Potions exam. Had Dumbledore had anything to do with these scores? He checked the list again, sure he had read it incorrectly. Harry remembered how much easier it had been to perform well on his Potions exam without Snape hovering over him, insulting him, criticizing his every move, and he reckoned that must have made the difference.
"What are you going to drop, then?" he asked Ron.
"Well, I didn't pass Divination -"
"Me either," Harry interrupted, the smallest trace of a grin on his face. "So that's out."
"So I reckon I'll drop History of Magic. Pretty useless class, anyway," Ron finished, and Harry nodded his agreement.
"I'll drop Binns as well," he decided. "Only, I have to drop one more. What do you think, Hermione?"
Hermione was staring at her checklist. "Six?" she exclaimed incredulously. "Only six?" I got twelve O.W.L.s! How in the world am I supposed to choose only six? I'll need to talk to Professor McGonagall, of course, she couldn't possibly expect -"
"Hermione," Ron protested, "You're barking mad if you're going to take more than six! N.E.W.T.-level classes are really difficult and they are all double periods. Remember what happened third year."
Hermione glared at him and did not answer.
Just as Harry had decided that he was going to drop Astronomy to make sure that he took all of the courses required to become an Auror, he heard another squeal from Mrs. Weasley. He quickly looked up from his booklist, which had magically listed the required texts for his chosen classes as he had checked them off the list.
Ginny, in addition to holding her school letter, was holding a red and gold prefect's badge in her right hand. She was smiling but looked flabbergasted all the same. She had forgotten about the prefect's badge in the face of the difficulties Harry had been having, but she supposed that was why she had felt nervous when she had gotten her letter. Being the youngest of seven children, four of whom had already been made prefects, she felt a considerable amount of pressure to live up to her older brothers' examples. She knew Fred and George would tease her mercilessly, but she was happy with her achievement all the same.
Mrs. Weasley beamed so brightly that Harry thought she could possibly have lit the entire room. "Look at all of you! Ron and Harry with eight O.W.L.s apiece, Hermione with twelve, and Ginny a prefect! Oh, this is such wonderful news! We will have a celebration tonight after we get back."
Remus grinned as he shook Ron's hand, congratulated Hermione and Ginny, and clapped Harry proudly on the shoulder. "That's excellent, you four."
"Oh, we have to get going!" Mrs. Weasley exclaimed suddenly. "Ron, Hermione, Ginny...if we're going to do all of our shopping and get back in time to plan a celebratory dinner, we need to leave now! I must send Errol with a message for Arthur!"
Ron, Hermione, and Ginny all looked sadly at Harry, whose smile faded as quickly as it had come.
"Listen, mate," Ron began. "Mum can do our shopping - she has before. How about we all just stay here and have some chess?" Harry could tell Ron was trying to help, but he could see that the prospect of staying at headquarters for the day was not one that Ron enjoyed.
"No, it's all right," he muttered, looking up and trying to smile at them. "But I fully expect you to tell me all about Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes and bring me back some ice cream from Florean Fortescue's, and tell me if there's a new broomstick out at Quality Quidditch Supplies..." he trailed off. He wanted to make his friends feel better about going so he had made his voice as casual as possible, but listing all of the things he would miss made him wish all the more that he could go.
"Harry," Ginny started.
"No, really," he said, smiling a smile he didn't feel. "Go on. You've been cooped up here with me long enough. I think I can manage for one day, and besides, Moony will be here with me." Because of course I can't ever be alone, he thought bitterly. His bad mood, which had lifted when he got the O.W.L. results, had quite returned.
Ron, Hermione, and Ginny all followed Mrs. Weasley out the door and down to the kitchen to head to Diagon Alley. After the sound of their footsteps on the stairs had died down, he left the drawing room to return to his bedroom. Suddenly he didn't feel like doing anything but lying in bed and staring at the ceiling.
After waiting a few more moments Moony quietly followed him down the hall, but he did not go into Harry's bedroom. Sensing correctly that Harry would resent his presence right then but unwilling to leave him completely alone, Remus sat on the floor outside the bedroom door, pulled a small leather-bound book from his pocket and began to read, keeping his ears open for anything amiss in the room behind him.
Harry closed the bedroom door, hoping that Moony would take the hint and not follow him in, and flopped onto his back on the bed. It felt very strange to be alone; he'd had constant company since his arrival at Headquarters. Strange as it was, though, Harry was glad to have some time to think. Part of him wished he had held the others to their offers to stay here with him, but he didn't want to spoil everyone's fun; besides, they were safer without him. For the first time in awhile, Harry found himself going over the Prophecy once again.
"For neither can live while the other survives..."
Harry knew that it was highly unlikely that he would survive a real battle with Voldemort, a duel that was prophesied to end in one of their deaths. Voldemort was so much more powerful than he, Harry, could ever be. He had been a wizard for more than half a century, and Harry had only five short years of training. Harry chuckled, but it was not a mirthful sound. It was hard and bitter, and very unlike him. How could anyone think that he would be able to take down the Dark Lord?
All I'm good for, Harry thought, is putting the people I care for in danger. That's it. There's just nothing else for it.
Thoughts of Sirius filled his head as he looked at the ceiling of his godfather's old bedroom. This is where Sirius grew up, he thought. He knew that Sirius's childhood had been, in its own way, as miserable as his own. And because of Harry, Sirius had lost his best friend, the only family he had, and then had lost his own life.
Harry blinked furiously. After the attack on his sixteenth birthday, he had shown very little real emotion. He was just too drained to feel, sometimes. Keeping himself distracted had been fairly easy, but alone for the first time in weeks, the despair that he had felt while on Privet Drive returned to him.
"It's you, Harry. It's always been you. I died because of it. I died because of you."
No matter what Moony and Mrs. Weasley said, Harry still felt crushing guilt when he thought of his godfather. Now that he knew about the prophecy, he knew that the people around him would constantly be in danger. They always had been, but now, knowing that he was a marked man, Harry finally understood the reality of the situation. This was war, and he was right in the center of it.
"Your godfather won't be the last to die..."
Visions of Sirius falling through the veil and flashes of the dead faces of his friends overwhelmed him once again. Voldemort was not doing this to him. This was Harry's mind, Harry's fear, Harry's guilt - not all negative emotions came from He Who Must Not Be Named. Harry and the others had been concentrating so hard on keeping Voldemort out of his mind that they had all but forgotten that Harry had issues of his own to deal with as well.
How am I going to do it? Harry thought desperately. I couldn't even perform the Cruciatus Curse on Bellatrix Lestrange right after Sirius died. How am I going to perform a killing curse? He felt as though the weight of the entire world was on his shoulders.
For the first time since his birthday, Harry felt his emotions well to the surface. He wished they would all just leave him alone, stay out of his life, because to be near him was to be marked for death, or worse.
Remus sat outside the room, his reading forgotten, wondering what Harry was thinking about or if he had simply gone to sleep. Remus knew that the day without the other teenagers would to be hard for Harry. They had been the only ones who could distract him from his troubles and make him smile. Harry and Moony had become closer in the past few weeks than they had ever been, but Remus was not a teenager and he knew that Harry needed their jokes, their teasing, and their antics to make him feel normal, even happy.
Remus sat for a few more minutes, and had just decided to run downstairs to get a cup of tea and the chess set for himself and for Harry when he heard the quiet sobs coming from inside the bedroom. He knew Harry was not being attacked - these were not the violent sounds that accompanied that. Should he go to him or let him have this time to himself, which was clearly what he wanted?
No, Remus thought decisively. Harry may think he wants to be alone, but he should not be alone right now. He needs to talk this out, or it is going to eat away at him until there is nothing left. He stood up, brushed the dust off his robes, and quietly knocked on the door.
"Harry?" he called. "It's me, it's Moony. May I come in?"
"Just leave me alone, Moony," Harry answered roughly, his voice broken by sobs.
Of course, asking permission to come in had only been a formality, and Remus opened the door softly. "Sorry, Harry, I won't do that."
Harry sat up on the bed and glared at Moony through the tears that were still streaming down his face. "Lupin," he said, his voice hoarse but fierce. "I don't want you here. I want to be left alone. Can't you people give me five minutes of peace?"
The older man noticed that Harry had called him "Lupin" and not "Moony" as he had become accustomed to, and he was slightly stung, but he understood immediately what Harry was trying to do. "Is this peace, Harry?" he asked. "Are you really feeling peaceful right now?" He moved towards the bed and made to touch Harry's shoulder, but Harry jerked away, refusing to look at his guardian.
"Harry," Remus sighed, sitting down in the familiar armchair next to the bed. "I think you need to -"
"To talk?" Harry interrupted rudely. "You always think I need to talk."
"Harry, this is going to eat away at you if you don't talk about it."
"And what, exactly, do you think you know about it?" Harry's response was hard and unfeeling, and his tears had quite stopped as his desperation had turned to anger.
Remus closed his eyes for a moment, unable to look at the unmasked pain on Harry's face. He had hoped that Harry would tell him about the prophecy, and that he would not have to reveal that he already knew. He hadn't wanted Harry to feel that Dumbledore had betrayed his trust, but now, clearly, Harry needed to know that there was someone he could talk to about it, that there was someone else who knew.
"Harry, I know," Remus said softly, his voice full of implied meaning.
Harry's eyes widened slightly behind his glasses, which had fogged slightly from his tears. "You...know?" Surely, Moony was not referring to the prophecy. He probably meant that he knew what Harry was feeling about Sirius.
As if reading his mind, Lupin placed his hand on Harry's forearm; this time, Harry did not pull away. "Yes, Harry, I know about the prophecy. Dumbledore told me after I was made your guardian and you were brought back here to stay with us." His words were gentle, almost whispered, as he searched Harry's face for his reaction.
Instead of the anger he had expected, Harry's eyes became sad once again. "Then you know why it is so dangerous to be my friend, Moony. You know what I have to do."
"Yes, Harry, I know what you have to do."
"Then why are you still here? You should be as far away from me as you can be, Moony. I won't let anything happen to you; I won't lose anyone else! It's me, it's always been me, and there is nothing you can do about it, so stop putting yourself in danger trying to protect me! Voldemort is going to kill me; it's the only way this can end. Can't you see that?" Harry's voice rose in pitch as he finally put words to the thoughts that had been in the back of his mind since the beginning of summer.
"Harry," Remus spoke urgently, very alarmed at the thoughts that had been running through Harry's head all this time. He had suspected that this was how Harry had been feeling, but to hear Harry, himself, say that he was going to die at Voldemort's hand was more than Remus could bear. "You say you can't lose anyone else, Harry? Well, neither can I. You are all I have left, and you can be damn sure that I am going to do everything in my power to protect you. You are not alone. I will be there with you every step of the way." Moony's words came out in a torrent as he tried desperately to make Harry realize that he would not be pushed away.
"But Moony," Harry said, his voice growing quieter once again, "it's me. You heard the prophecy. I have to do it alone. It's always been me. Sirius said..." his voice trailed off.
"Sirius said what, Harry?"
"He said that he died because of it, that my parents died because of it. They all died because of me. I won't let that happen to you, Moony. Or to Ron, or Hermione, or Ginny, or anyone else!"
Remus knew, of course, that Harry could not have talked to Sirius since he had died. He must be referring to the nightmares he had been having all summer. "Harry, Sirius didn't say that. That was your mind putting words into Sirius's mouth. It's how dreams work. You know that."
Harry nodded. I must sound so stupid, he thought, talking about a dream as if it were real.
"Harry, listen to me, please," Remus began, searching desperately for the right words. "It may well be your destiny to be the one who defeats Voldemort, but that doesn't mean that we won't be right next to you, fighting with you. You don't have to bear this alone. You can't bear it alone. No one could, not even Dumbledore."
Harry didn't say anything. He wanted to believe Moony. He wanted to know that he wasn't alone in this, but his need to protect the people he loved was too strong for him to allow himself to hope for help from his friends.
"I know what you are thinking, Harry," Remus said softly. "And, as I have told you before, you are not going to be able to stop us fighting for you, and fighting with you. We will succeed, Harry. You will succeed. You are one of the most powerful wizards I have ever known."
Harry laughed hoarsely. "Me?" he asked incredulously. "Voldemort would have killed me in the Department of Mysteries if Dumbledore hadn't gotten involved. I'm no match for him."
"That's what you don't understand," Remus replied. "If you are going to accept the part of the prophecy that says that either you or Voldemort will have to die at the hands of the other, then you have to accept the rest of it, the part that says you do have the power to vanquish him."
Harry had never considered it from this angle before. He had to admit that it made some sense, but he still could not think of what power he had that made him the one who could kill Voldemort. "But I don't know how," he whispered.
"That is what we are here for, Harry. Not only will we fight alongside you, but we are going to prepare you for your fight as well. The power within you, once harnessed, will be more than enough to do what you have to do. I've seen your power, Harry, and even before I knew the prophecy, I knew just how strong a wizard you were. And we will not let you fight that fight until you are ready."
"I don't want anyone else to die," Harry said brokenly, voicing his final and most important concern.
"Harry, I can't promise you that no one else is going to die. This is a war, and in a war there are casualties. But none of us will go quietly. All of us will fight. That is the best that I can say, and for all of us, it has to be enough."
Despite himself, Harry was starting to feel, if not better, then at least calmer about his fate. He searched his guardian's eyes, and saw in them only love, and concern, and pride. No pity showed itself on Lupin's face, and it was that, if nothing else, that convinced Harry to try his hardest to learn what he needed to know. He started to feel some of the crushing weight come off his shoulders.
Lupin smiled at the determination that came over Harry's face. The boy sat up a bit straighter, and even managed a small smile. "Thank you, Moony," Harry said.
"Don't thank me, Harry. Just know that if you need me for anything, all you have to do is ask," Remus replied, hoping upon hope that this charge would finally allow himself to trust him, to rely on him. Harry needed someone, an adult, who he could confide in and who he could trust. Sirius had been that for him, and Moony thought that Harry might finally be ready to let someone else come in, not to take Sirius's place, but to pick up where he had left off.
Harry surprised Moony greatly by doing something he had never done before, not even with Sirius. He turned and opened his arms to his guardian, hugging the man the way he imagined that he would have hugged his father, the way he had seen the Weasley boys hug theirs.
Moony's eyes misted a bit as he returned the hug, but he allowed them to dry before he broke away and looked at Harry. "Now, what do you say we go on downstairs and have lunch? I'm not much on cooking, but maybe some sandwiches and butterbeer would suffice."
Harry grinned; for the first time in a long time, he felt hungry. He got out of bed and followed Moony out of the room, but he could not possibly have prepared himself for what his guardian would say as they were tromping down the stairs.
"So, Harry," Moony said with the faintest trace of amusement in his voice. "About Ginny..."
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