Categories > Books > Harry Potter > The Darkest Hour

An Unexpected Visitor

by Ham 1 Reviews

Sixth Year!PostOOtp Its Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts and he has to make some hard decisions in order to survive. But will these decisions help him or make him weaker? Martial arts, dueling, anima...

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Romance - Characters: Dumbledore, Ginny, Harry, Hermione, Neville, Ron, Voldemort - Warnings: [!] [V] - Published: 2007/04/12 - Updated: 2007/04/12 - 9362 words

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Title: The Darkest Hour (02)

Author name: Ham

Summary: Harry is back in Privet Drive just a few days after the happenings in the Department of Mysteries. He is struggling to cope with his loss and the immense burden placed on him. He suddenly finds it very hard to go on - To find a reason to live. Will his task break his spirit? After all he is just a sixteen year old...

He knows that he must fight. Knows that he has to win at all costs. But he knows that if he even is to have a slim chance of defeating Voldemort he will need to make some hard decisions. Decisions that would hurt him and those close to him.

But will Harry be able to take the hard road back when he finally realizes that his decisions only made him weaker? That they took away his only reason to live. His only reason to fight.

DISCLAIMER: If you truly believe that I own Harry Potter and that I'm making money out of this, just imagine in what other ways I can con you. (Rubs hands in glee)

Sharon thank you yet again for the wonderful job you are doing.

Tricia you are a great beta. If this chapter is any good it's due to you.




~~~*~

Chapter 02 - An Unexpected Visitor

~~~*~


Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Arthur, Molly, Fred and George all sat around the dining table eating lunch. Hermione had just popped over, her fireplace having been added to the Floo Network yesterday.

"So, how's your shop going?" Hermione asked the twins.

Fred and George glanced at each other for a second, sharing a worried look. "Actually, it's not going as well as we had hoped," Fred replied quietly.

Hermione noticed that a pleased look flashed on Mrs. Weasley's face as Fred said this. Obviously, she was still hoping that her two wayward sons would settle down and take a job at the Ministry.

George had noticed the look on her face as well, because a moment later he scowled and said confidently. "Yeah, but it's a new business. And with school out right now the customers are a little thin. We expect that it will pick up when the students come in for their shopping."

Hermione had learnt that Molly had finally found out how the twins had got the money to start the shop. When she had heard she hadn't said a word except "That boy is too generous, bless his soul. Imagine giving his entire winnings to those two. They'll probably blow themselves up inventing their pranks."

Ginny had reckoned that had it been anyone else but Harry giving the money to the twins they would have felt the full wrath of an enraged Molly Weasley. But in her eyes Harry could do no wrong.

As Hermione thought about Harry her heart sank. What must be he going through right now? All alone with those horrible relatives of his.

"What's the matter, Hermione?" Ginny asked, seeing that her friend was troubled.

Hermione sighed. "I was just thinking about Harry. I wonder how he's doing."

Her words made everybody wince.

"Was it really necessary to send him back there? I mean, he just lost his Godfather," Fred said indignantly.

"I agree," his twin chimed in. "His relatives hate him. They are hardly the people he should be around right now."

Molly sighed. "Look, I don't like it any more than you do. I have tried talking to Dumbledore, but he says it's just for a few days. He says Harry's safety comes first."

"Yeah, we saw how safe Harry was there," Ron snorted. "He was attacked by Dementors there last summer. Is that Dumbledore's idea of safe?"

"At times like these I begin to wonder whether Dumbledore really knows what he is doing," Ginny said angrily. "Harry would have been as safe at Headquarters as he would be at his relatives. You know this as well as I do."

"Enough!" Molly said angrily. "I might not always agree with Dumbledore, but I have seen enough over the years to know that he always has a reason for everything he does. He doesn't need you lot to tell him what to do."

Arthur shook his head slowly and looked at Ginny. "The fact is that we didn't know that, Ginny. We were still trying to find out how much damage was done by Kreacher. It seems that he didn't or couldn't give away the location because Dumbledore was the secret-keeper for the Order, but we only discovered that yesterday and so we hardly could have had Harry stay there."

Ron turned red with anger. "That damned house-elf is the caused all of this. I swear I'm going to..."

"Ron," Hermione exclaimed, cutting off his tirade. "You can't blame him. You heard what Dumbledore said."

Ron looked at her, his eyes popping. His face went even redder in anger and it seemed he was going to blow up any minute. "I don't care what Dumbledore said," Ron snapped. "That house-elf was to blame, and you know it."

Hermione sighed. She knew better than to say anything more to Ron in this mood.

"Anyway, how is he doing? I assume that the Order is still keeping an eye on him?" Ginny inquired anxiously.

Molly shook her head sadly. "Yes, Tonks was there yesterday. The first three days, he didn't come out of his room at all. Mad-Eye reckons that he didn't even go down to eat any food. But he suddenly went out yesterday in the afternoon."

Ginny had a horrified look on her face which was mirrored by Ron and Hermione.

"That's it!" Fred ground out through gritted teeth.

"Yeah, if Harry isn't here within three days were going to break him out. I don't give a damn what anyone thinks," George joined in.

"You are to do nothing of the sort," Molly yelled.

"Well, try and stop us," George yelled back. "Safe? Dumbledore wants him to be safe? If it keeps going on like this he'll starve to death. You-Know-Who won't have to do anything at all."

"Too right! We don't know about any of you, but we're not going to sit back and let Harry suffer like this. He wanted Harry to be safe last year too, and look what happened," Fred said angrily.

"I'm with the two of you," Ginny said quietly. "You better tell Dumbledore that he has three days starting today. After that we are getting him out of there. Enough is enough!"

There was deathly silence around the table as this last statement sunk in.

"I'll talk to him," Molly acquiesced. She realized that nothing she would say would do any good, and besides, there was the problem that she actually agreed with them. At this moment she was really proud of her children.

The mood was ruined and Hermione desperately tried to change the topic.

"So, Ginny, how is it going between you and Dean?"

Fred and George's bad mood quickly evaporated and they started sniggering. Though Ron looked in an even worse mood as he heard this latest comment.

"Well, we talk everyday through the Floo and I'm going to meet him tomorrow," Ginny said, shooting an annoyed look at the twins, who were making loud kissing noises.

Lunch was soon over, and Hermione stayed behind to help with the cleaning up. Molly would have none of it though, and she shooed her out. The twins and Mr. Weasley had left soon after lunch and Ginny had gone up to her room to write Harry a letter, but Ron was standing by the door, and he gestured to her to join him for a walk outside.

They walked towards the orchard. She could feel that Ron was uneasy about something, and she wondered whether he was still angry at her for taking Kreacher's side. Ron suddenly looked at her. "Hermione, you and I have been friends for a long time now. You have always been after me to study more and been nagging me to do this and not to do that..." Ron broke off, and Hermione wondered where he was going with this.

"Well, I... I just wanted you to know that all those years, and especially last year with the O.W.L.'s, I think... no... I know that I would have never have made it without your help. Hell, I'd never have been made a prefect without you. I just wanted you to know that I really appreciate it," Ron said, gazing over at her awkwardly.

Hermione's eyes misted over. "Thank you, Ron. That really means a lot to me."

Ron shrugged. "Well, it's the truth."

Hermione was quiet as she observed him, wondering why he was saying all of this so suddenly.

They continued walking while talking about random, meaningless things. Just as she was reaching the end of her patience with him, he casually asked, "So, have you been in touch with Viktor lately?"

Hermione was stunned for a moment and was going to angrily ask him what business it was of his, and then she suddenly realized where it was all going. Ron's strange behavior... him asking her to go for a walk...

"Actually, I haven't heard from him in over six months," Hermione said offhandedly. She looked up to see a huge grin breaking on Ron's face and quickly hid her smile at how completely transparent he was.

"Well, I am very glad that you came to your senses at last," Ron said finally. "Yes, he's a famous Quidditch player, but that's not everything."

Hermione sighed in annoyance.

"I mean he comes across as a real grouch off the field," Ron continued, oblivious to the look on Hermione's face.

"Ron, first off, I never cared that he was a famous Quidditch player," Hermione snapped. "And secondly, he's a really nice person."

Ron's face fell at her comment.

"And besides," Hermione continued, now thoroughly irritated, "At least he knows that I'm a girl and appreciates me."

"I appreciate you," Ron said in an injured tone.

"Really?" Hermione asked with an arched eyebrow.

"Yeah, I think you are smart... a-a-and talented...and... and b-b-beautif ...I mean brave," Ron stammered.

Hermione looked at him encouragingly, waiting for him to go on. Had he just almost said that he considered her beautiful? But Ron had lost all the courage that he had tried to gather over the past hour.

Hermione watched him sweat as he struggled against his fear and embarrassment. Finally, she lost her temper. Just how difficult was it to tell her that he fancied her? It wasn't like she was a dragon that would eat him up. "Ronald Weasley, you are such a git," she snapped, and turned around, angrily walking back to the Burrow and leaving behind a very confused and uncomfortable Ron.


~~~*~


Harry woke up early the next morning and quickly went to get a shower. Roger had told him that there were two classes held everyday and he could attend either the morning batch or the evening batch.

He'd decided to go for the morning ones because he always got up early anyway. The nightmares never let him sleep for more than a few hours, even after doing the exercises that Roger had given him.

He made his way down, and to his great pleasure saw that the Dursleys were not yet up. He quickly put a few slices of bread in the toaster and proceeded to scramble himself some eggs. Then pouring himself a glass of orange juice from the fridge he sat down to a quick breakfast. He kept glancing at the watch as he ate and as soon as he was done he stowed his dirty plate in the sink and rushed out of the door, determined not to be late on his first day.

Five minutes later, he found himself outside Roger's office and he knocked on the door.

"Come in," Roger's deep voice drifted out.

Harry quickly opened the door and entered.

"Good morning, Mr. Greene," Harry said flashing a small smile.

"Harry, I'm sorry, I forgot to tell you yesterday. Now that I will be your teacher, you are to address me as 'Sensei.'"

Harry nodded. "Of course... Sensei," he said slowly, trying out the unfamiliar word.

"Ok, Harry, take this," Roger said, handing over a small black gym bag which was emblazoned with 'Green Martial Arts Training Centre.'

"In this you will find your training uniforms, belt and rule book. I expect you to read the rulebook as soon as possible," said Roger, motioning to the bag.

"Yes, Sensei."

"Oh, and by the way..." Roger said, pausing as he thought furiously. "Your weapons training can be started soon. I advice you start next week. It will take you that much time to get used to things."

Harry nodded. "Isn't it a bit soon for that, Sensei?"

Roger smiled. "I forget that you do not yet know too much about Aikido. No, Harry, You can start as soon as you want. You will start learning with the 'Jo staff'. You see, you will be using the staff to execute some of the exercises you learn in the next week. Once you are familiar with the exercises you can start using the staff. You won't start learning the dangerous weapons like the 'bokken' sword until much later though."

Harry shrugged. "I guess that makes sense."

"Oh, and if it is possible, get contact lenses, Harry. You will be practicing a lot of rolling and throws, and your glasses would surely break. If you don't want that, then there are special glasses you can buy to wear while you train. While you are at it also get a haircut. The hair falling into your eyes will only cause distraction."

Harry nodded again. He wondered how many changes he was going to go through by the end of summer. It was possible that many people would have trouble recognizing him.

"That's all then, Harry. Go change in the dressing room and join the others. Don't be late."

"Yes, Sensei, and thank you," Harry said politely, before he exited the room, hefting the bag in one hand.

Harry entered the changing room to find it full of people of different ages in various stages of undress. His appearance went completely unnoticed at first. He quickly opened the gym bag and took out the white top and trousers. The top was like a waist length dressing gown, and the trousers were loose fitting for complete maneuverability. He awkwardly tried to put the uniform on and seeing his difficulty, a tall, fair-haired boy of around his age came to his rescue.

"Having trouble with that?" the boy asked sympathetically.

"Um... kind of, yeah," Harry said, looking at his untidy uniform in embarrassment.

"Here, let me help you," the boy said, quickly showing Harry how to wear the uniform and adjusting it until it hung perfectly on Harry's frame.

"Well, there you go," the boy said, stepping back to have a look at his handiwork.

"Thanks," Harry said gratefully. Then, realizing that he hadn't introduced himself, he extended his hand. "My name is Harry, Harry Potter."

"Sean Hazelton," the boy said, firmly gripping his hand.

"Hello, Sean, it's a pleasure to meet you," Harry said with a grin.

"Likewise, Harry," said Sean, returning the grin.

Harry looked closely at Sean. He was tall, about Ron's height and had the same lanky build. His hair was a sandy brown and his face was open and good natured.

Meanwhile, Sean had been observing Harry. His eyes lingered briefly on his scar. "Say, Harry, how did you get that nasty scar?" Sean asked, pointing at Harry's forehead.

Hesitation flickered in Harry's eyes for a moment and then he replied, "I got it from the car crash that killed both my parents. I was a year old at the time."

Harry had figured that he couldn't very well tell him that he was part of a hidden magical community and that the darkest wizard of all time had killed his parents. So he had decided to go along with the lie his aunt had told him.

Sean gasped. "I'm sorry, Harry. I didn't know..."

"Don't worry about it," Harry said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "It doesn't matter. It was a long time ago." As he saw the astonishment in Sean's eyes, he wondered what his reaction would have been if he had told him the truth.

Harry followed Sean to the large room where training was held. Sean explained that it was known as the 'dojo'. It was a large room which was bare except for the large thick mat that covered the floor. The walls were unadorned besides a few small Muggle portraits displaying martial arts masters. Sean whispered to Harry that this was to make sure that the attention of the students didn't wander as in Aikido that could prove to be fatal.

Roger came in soon after them and the session started. He saw Harry and made his way over to them. Sean saw him and quickly bowed.

"Good morning, Sean," Roger said with a smile.

"Good morning, Sensei," Sean replied respectfully.

"I see you have met Harry," Roger said, nodding at a bemused Harry.

"Yes, Sensei, I just met him."

"Good. I want you to partner him from now onwards, Sean. You are a good teacher and I know that you will train him well."

"Thank you, Sensei. You honor me with your words," Sean said, bowing to Roger again.

Roger smiled and walked away.

"Well, I guess you're stuck with me, Harry," Sean said with a grin.

"Go easy on me, wont you?" Harry said, grinning back.

"Not a chance," Sean returned. "You are going to be black and blue and every joint will ache before I'm through with you."

"Well, that's reassuring," Harry joked.

"Listen, Harry, jokes apart, you will have to really pay attention. If you mess around for even a second we both could get badly hurt, not to mention you won't learn anything. While in here we don't joke or fool around. In here it's only Aikido," Sean said seriously.

Harry nodded. "Don't worry, I understand."

"Ok, then, let's get started."

Sean quickly put Harry through his paces and showed him the basic throws and rolling techniques, and the two boys practiced hard for over an hour. Sean had to stop constantly to point out where Harry was going wrong and correct him in his breathing and posture. He quickly found out that Harry's balance, which was one of the most important things, was very good.

Sean was a good and patient teacher. He explained to Harry the need for absolute concentration and the dangers of not properly executing a throw or roll. Harry found it very difficult at first, but Sean was surprised by his determination, and he made progress by the end of the second hour. Sean was quick to praise Harry, telling him that he was a fast learner and would only improve with practice.

After their practice in the dojo, Sean took him over to another room where he showed Harry some basic exercises to strengthen his wrists, followed by light weight lifting. "Your wrists need to be very strong, Harry. You need to put time into strengthening them," Sean said seriously. "At first it will be painful and your wrists will be sore and might burn. But it will get better with time."

After finishing the simple exercises and light weights, Sean and Harry did pushups. Sean explained to Harry that they were an excellent all-round exercise. They helped strengthen the arms, triceps, and wrists.

Harry could only manage ten pushups before he collapsed, and he watched with fascination as Sean worked his way up to one hundred in sets of twenty. He changed the position of his hands subtly with every set in a way that didn't mean much to Harry, but as Sean explained later, made a lot of difference as it changed the area of the body that was affected by the pushups.

By the end of the class, Harry was worn out and his wrists were throbbing and sore. He followed Sean into the showers and let the cool water soothe his tired and sweaty body. He realized that he had a lot to learn. It was going to be hard, but he resolved to give it his best.



~~~*~


Ginny stumbled unsteadily out of the fireplace, landing awkwardly. She would have fallen, but her natural grace took over and she steadied herself in time. Hastily wiping the tears in her eyes, she hurried to her room.

Molly saw her running and, noticing her red eyes, tried to stop her. "Ginny! Ginny, dear, what's the matter?" she anxiously asked.

Ginny ignored her and ran up the stairs without looking back. A few seconds later, there was a slamming of her bedroom door. Molly sighed and walked up to see what was wrong with her only daughter. She hesitantly knocked on her door, and when there was no answer, opened the door and entered. She had not taken more than a step inside when she was halted by Ginny's voice.

"Go away, Mum," Ginny said, not looking up from her perch by the window. She was staring outside and she was turned away so Molly could not see the expression on her face.

"Ginny, will you please tell me what's wrong?" Molly pleaded. "You were supposed to be spending the day with Dean. What happened?"

"Nothing, Mum. Dean and I had an argument. I...I decided to leave," Ginny choked.

"Oh, my poor baby! I'm so sorry," Molly said, walking forward and hugging her small daughter tightly. 'Not so small,' Molly realized suddenly. Ginny was growing up fast and was now as tall as she was. She remembered Ginny as a child - small, shy, clumsy and skinny and prone to blushing and running away when a boy with messy dark hair and emerald-green eyes visited.

She was no longer that Ginny. She had grown up. Her skinny frame was fast filling up and developing soft, womanly curves. She had lost a lot of her shyness, and the bright and mischievous side of her was slowly coming out. Her skin was also fast acquiring the pale, flawless complexion of a true redhead. She was still freckled, but instead of the liberal distribution of them that she had grown up with, her face only registered the smallest scattering across her nose.

Her daughter was becoming beautiful, Molly realized proudly.

"I'm going over to Hermione's house for a little while," Ginny mumbled softly into Molly's shoulder.

Molly released her and nodded. "I'm here if you want to talk about it, Ok dear?"

"Sure, Mum, I just don't want to talk about it now."

"Ok then, just make sure you come back in time for dinner."

Ginny nodded and quickly ran down the stairs and over to the fireplace, glad that Hermione's house had been added to the Floo Network two days ago. Ginny took a pinch of floo powder from the pot on the mantelpiece and threw it into the fire. "The Grangers," she said clearly when she had stepped into the roaring green flames.

She whirled around, and a few seconds later emerged from the fireplace at the Grangers' house. Hermione was sitting at the dining table and sipping on a mug of tea as she chatted with her mother.

"Hello, Ginny," Hermione said brightly as she hugged her. "I didn't expect to see you here today. What happened to your date?"

Ginny smiled awkwardly at Hermione.

"Hello, Hermione. Hello, Mrs. Granger," she said, putting on a bright smile. "Yes, I did have a date. I just came over because I needed to talk to you."

"Hello, Ginny dear," Mrs. Granger said, smiling at her. "Why don't you take Ginny up to your room to have your chat, Hermione?" The older woman had instinctively sensed Ginny's anxiety and knew that she wanted to have a private girl chat with Hermione.

Hermione nodded. "Come on, Ginny," she said, leading the way to her room.

Once they were inside, Hermione quickly closed the door and whirled around. "Let me guess, you broke up with Dean, right?"

"Is it that obvious?" Ginny muttered irately.

"Well, yes, first of all because I know that you were spending the day with him, and secondly because you have obviously being crying. Now if you were Cho Chang, I would have thought that you had just kissed someone, but since you are not Cho, I made my own conclusions," Hermione smirked.

Ginny grinned at the mention of Cho.

"What's so funny?" Hermione asked.

"Cho kissing Harry. The first kiss Harry Potter gets from a girl and she starts crying. I bet he's scarred for life," Ginny said with a giggle.

Hermione joined in the laughter. "Yes, you should have seen the look on his face as he tried to work it out. He had no idea what had happened, and Ron confused him even more making him think Cho was crying because he was a terrible kisser."

"Both those gits are so clueless about girls and dating. Harry in particular looks like he would rather face a Basilisk then ask a girl out," Ginny said wryly.

"Ok, so what happened between you and Dean?" Hermione asked, bringing the topic back to the original discussion.

"Well, I told him that I would be going elsewhere for the rest of my summer and that I probably would not be able to meet him again until we go to buy our books," Ginny said softly.

"Go on," Hermione said.

"He was disappointed and asked where I was going. I obviously told him that I couldn't tell him. It's not like I can tell him about Headquarters," Ginny said, shaking her head in irritation.

Hermione nodded. She could almost predict what had happened next.

"Well, he got a bit miffed about that and when he heard that you, Harry and Ron were going to be there too, he got even angrier. He started asking me why Harry was coming over to stay. I tried to explain to him that Harry needed to get away from his relatives and after all that happened last year he needed to be around a few of his friends. He completely lost it at this point and accused me of still having a crush on him," Ginny said huffily.

"And?" Hermione prodded.

"...and I stuck around long enough to tell him that he was a jealous prick, that Harry was nothing but my friend and that I didn't ever want to see him again. Then I flooed back home."

Hermione patted her arm sympathetically.

"Why do boys have to be such jerks? And why do I get such gits to be in relationships with? What's wrong with me, Hermione?" Ginny asked in exasperation.

"Ginny, Dean is a stupid prat, and he is obviously insecure that you will leave him for Harry. You deserve far better. And there is nothing wrong with you," Hermione said gently.

Ginny ran a pale hand through her hair and slowly nodded.

"Now...and this is just a friendly question... Do you still have feelings for Harry?"

Ginny looked up as if she had been given an electric shock. "NO! How could you ask me that, Hermione? You of all people. You know I got over him long ago."

"Actually, I don't know that. I just know what you told me. OK, can I ask you just one more question?" Hermione asked.

"Go ahead, ask," Ginny said slyly. "I bet you'll die of curiosity if you don't ask, and my brother won't be very pleased with me then, will he?"

Hermione blushed a deep pink.

"Aha!" Ginny pounced. "I knew that something was up, what with Ron mooning around all the time. He has this utterly ridiculous goofy grin on his face whenever your name comes up in a conversation. It sticks out by a mile. I just wanted to know whether it was mutual."

Hermione sighed. "Well firstly nothing is up - yet. Last year, I thought that something might happen. We were alone quite a lot, but what with Umbridge, and all the constant tension and Harry's unpredictable temper, nothing happened. But I did get the feeling that he was beginning to like me... as a little more than a friend."

Ginny grinned. "What about you? How do you feel?"

Hermione blushed. "Well, I like him too," she muttered embarrassedly.

Ginny's grin widened.

"But the prat won't say anything," Hermione exclaimed frustratedly. "The other day, when I came over for lunch, he asked me to take a walk with him. Well, I went thinking that maybe he was going to... you know... tell me how he felt. We walked around for nearly an hour and he talked about everything from Quidditch to garden gnomes. I was finally giving up hope when he asks me about whether I was in contact with Viktor."

Ginny groaned, "He's my brother and I love him, but I swear the boy can be soooo thick at times."

Hermione nodded vigorously, agreeing totally. "Well, I thought that maybe he was jealous and wanted to know where I stood before he said anything else. So I told him that I haven't heard from him in over six months. I could see that he was really pleased with that. He had this big stupid grin on his face."

"So, what happened then?" Ginny asked.

Hermione quickly told her about the rest of the conversation and Ginny shook her head in annoyance. "He can be such an ass sometimes."

"Huh! You won't hear me arguing with you," Hermione sniffed in irritation. "Well, anyway, now that I have answered you, it's my turn to ask the questions."

Ginny nodded and sat back to hear what Hermione had to ask.

"Ok, I have always wanted to know why you had a crush on Harry. I mean why particularly him? Was it the Boy-Who-Lived thing?"

"Hmm...well no, not exactly, but it started out that way. I grew up with tales of the first war. I remember pestering Bill to hear about You-Know-Who's defeat so many times. Harry was this big hero to me back then. I always wanted to see the face of the person who I had heard so much about. Of course, I didn't catch more than a glimpse of him that first time," Ginny said thoughtfully.

Hermione grabbed a pillow and lay down on the bed, propped on her elbows.

"When Ron came back that year and told us about Harry, I was really surprised. I mean, he was a hero to the wizarding world but he was also this very nice person who had no airs about him. Of course, hearing about how he rescued the Philosophers' Stone and became the youngest Seeker in a century didn't lessen my admiration of him," Ginny said, scrunching up her nose as she remembered her reactions then.

"Well, after that when Harry visited the Burrow for the first time, I got to know him a bit better. Honestly, he was just so sweet and humble, hardly what you expect someone of his fame to be. He never made fun of my antics and even when he got that singing Valentine he never mentioned it, though I knew that he was very embarrassed about receiving it in front of half of Hogwarts," Ginny said, smiling softly.

"That was you?" Hermione said in a stunned voice. "I always thought that it was Fred and George."

"Nah! That was me all right. Me being humungously stupid," Ginny said with a frown. "And what's more, Harry knew it was me and yet he never said anything."

Ginny sighed and covered her face in her hands, shaking it softly as if trying to erase the humiliating memory.

"After that, he went and rescued me from a fifty-foot Basilisk and You-Know-Who at the same time. I always wondered why he did it. I mean, he knew that there was a Basilisk inside. He also knew that he would most probably die in there if he attempted to rescue me. I was just this annoying sister to his best mate. I don't think any other person at Hogwarts would have done it in his place. Yet he came. You know I never really thanked him for that, and I never even apologized to him for putting him through all of it because of my stupidity, but he never blamed me. In fact, he told me over and over again that it wasn't my fault."

Hermione looked at Ginny and noticed the tears in her eyes.

"You know, after it all happened, and we were in Dumbledore's office, I was sure that I was going to be expelled. Harry saw my fear and he never mentioned my part in it at all. Of course, Dumbledore knew at once, he always knows, but it meant so much to me that even after all of it he wanted to protect me," Ginny said wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.

Hermione looked like she was having trouble controlling a few tears, too.

"Well, after that he continued to earn my respect year after year. What can you even begin to say about the things Harry has done? And yet you couldn't find a more down to earth or caring person. I used to just feel lost looking into his eyes. He has got such beautiful eyes," Ginny whispered breathlessly, speaking almost like she was in a trance.

She suddenly broke off and realized what she had been saying. She hesitantly raised her eyes to look at Hermione and saw a look of shock which was quickly being replaced by a shrewd knowing look.

"You still love him, don't you," Hermione said. It was not a question but a statement.

Ginny knew that it was no point lying, and she simply nodded.

"Oh, Hermione! It's just hopeless, isn't it? What chance do I possibly have? I could never have him," Ginny moaned unhappily.

"All this time you've just been pretending?" Hermione asked slowly, sounding stunned.

"What good would it have done, Hermione? I knew I never had a chance. I thought it was better if I started to get over him. But it's s-s-so h-h-hard. And I...I love him s-s-so much," Ginny gasped as she sobbed bitterly into her hands.

Hermione pulled Ginny into a fierce hug and soothed the troubled girl.

"Hush, now, I won't have you thinking like that. You know Harry better than to think that you have no chance. You are very special, Ginny, and Harry sees that. You have no idea how much he respects you, but you have to give him time to get to know you and notice you. It is just a very bad time right now. Harry is in so much pain at the moment that it will be impossible for anyone to get through to him, but you should try, Ginny. Understand that he will not make the effort. He is too wounded, and he doesn't have the slightest clue about girls. I will try and get you some time alone with him this summer, and I want you to try and reach him."

"Its no use, Hermione," Ginny said sadly. "I know that Harry doesn't go for money or anything like that, but I don't have much in the looks department to attract him either."

"That's plain rubbish," Hermione said severely. "You are very pretty, Ginny. You are a fool to think otherwise, and if you love Harry that much and if you think he is so special, then you can't give him up without a fight."

Ginny hugged Hermione and nodded. "Thank you, Hermione. You are the best friend I could ever hope for."



~~~*~


Dawn was close and the night was rapidly dissipating. There was not a soul to be seen outside on the street, and there was perfect pin-drop silence. Privet Drive and its inhabitants were sound asleep. The night was suddenly disturbed by a soft popping sound as a tall thin man apparated into one of the bedrooms of No. 4 Privet drive. The man was dressed in plum colored robes displaying intricate patterns embroidered in silver.

He glanced at the inhabitant of the room from beneath his half-moon glasses. A look of love and tenderness crossed his face as he saw the messy-haired boy twitch and thrash under the covers as he was gripped under the spell of a nightmare.

He sat down on the boy's bed and gently caressed his messy hair until he stopped thrashing about and fell back asleep. It was unbelievable to Albus Dumbledore how much pleasure it gave him to soothe Harry, and how much pleasure it gave him to see Harry sleeping so peacefully when the nightmare had passed.

He wished that he had not allowed Harry to suffer so much pain. He also knew a fact, without Harry having told it to him that things had been much worse for him then he had let on. It was second-nature to Harry to underplay his suffering.

His glance fell on the back of the boy's right hand, and he was chilled to see the scar from the blood quill stand out in the dim light drifting in from the window.

How could Harry have been so noble, and at such a tender age? He had been kept uninformed all summer and had been very angry, but he had still seen fit to bear being abused rather than put his Head of House and Headmaster at risk. Dumbledore remembered how he had handled the news of the prophecy. Anybody else would have crumbled under the pressure, said that it was none of their concern, or screamed at the injustice of it at the very least. Harry had done none of that. He had just taken on the burden quietly, without complaint. The old Headmaster felt like he would burst with pride at Harry's behavior.

It was nothing short of a miracle that Harry had plodded on and turned out to be such a fine young man, even after all the hardships he had to suffer in his short life.

Dumbledore's heart sank at the prospect of Harry's immense burden. How could he have asked it of him? What did it say of him as a person that he had allowed this young boy to be so badly abused? Dumbledore swore an oath right then that he would stake his own life to protect Harry's. He would prepare Harry himself. He would make sure that he was ready.

He also swore that the boy would not be abused anymore. He would make sure that Harry found happiness. He knew that Harry did not want too much from life. He did not want wealth or fame or power. All he wanted was a little bit of love, and Dumbledore decided that he would make sure he got it.

He couldn't help smiling at Harry's choice in friends. Out of all of Hogwarts, he had immediately found the truest and most loyal and loving of friends. That itself said a lot about Harry.

He felt the boy stir, so he got up, conjured himself an armchair by the bed, and sank down to wait for Harry to get up and notice him.

Harry lazily reached for his glasses and put them on. His mind was still full of cobwebs and he gently shook his head to clear them. He instinctively felt that something was wrong. Something was /different/. He reached for his wand and took a quick glance around the room and groggily got out of bed, his mind not registering what he saw at first.

Suddenly he froze and whirled around again. "Professor Dumbledore?" he gasped, nearly jumping a foot into the air with shock.

"Good morning, Harry. I trust you had a pleasant nights sleep?" Dumbledore said with a twinkle in his eyes.

Harry goggled at him. Albus Dumbledore was here, sitting in his bedroom, at five in the morning and asking him how he had slept? Harry was convinced that he had finally gone over the edge and was hallucinating. He pinched himself and when Dumbledore didn't disappear, he pinched himself again.

Dumbledore calmly watched all of this with an amused smile.

"W-w-what do you want, Professor? " Harry finally stammered.

"Harry, I got your letter and I wanted to discuss it with you," Dumbledore said softly.

Harry looked away. He had so many things he wanted to say to Dumbledore... so many accusations he wanted to make. But now that he was here he found that he couldn't say a word. There was just something about Dumbledore that made it impossible for any decent person not to respect him.

"I'm sorry about some of the things I said in the letter, Professor Dumbledore," he mumbled.

"Harry, please look at me," Dumbledore said gently.

Harry slowly sat down and then raised his eyes to meet those of his Headmaster. Dumbledore just gazed at him thoughtfully for a minute. It was very awkward to sit still like this and Harry felt like Dumbledore was x-raying his very soul with his penetrating blue eyes.

"Harry, while you may be sorry for whatever you wrote in the letter I am not. I firmly believe that every single word that you wrote is true. I hope you believe me when I tell you that I am not saying this to make you feel better." Dumbledore looked at Harry and saw that he was averting his eyes again. "Harry, look at me," he said softly.

Harry didn't respond. "Please, Harry, look at me," Dumbledore repeated.

Harry slowly raised his head and his fearful eyes met those of the Headmaster. He saw only love and concern there.

"Harry, please do not blame yourself for Sirius' death. You do not know how much you are dishonoring him by saying that. After Sirius escaped from Azkaban, he had only one mission in life, to keep you safe and happy. Please understand that he wouldn't have wanted it to end any other way. You cannot imagine how unhappy he must be right now to see you like this."

Harry nodded and tears clouded his eyes.

"Harry, the only one's responsible for Sirius' death are Bellatrix Lestrange and Lord Voldemort. If you want to blame anyone, blame them."

Harry nodded again.

"I was also disturbed when you said that you were all alone. You are not alone. We are all there for you, and we all love you very, very much. Please don't ever say that you are alone. I didn't tell you the prophecy to make you feel that it is your burden and yours alone. We are there to help you and we will never let you face him until it is your choice and you are totally ready."

Harry looked at Dumbledore gratefully. "Thank you," he choked with emotion. "You...you don't know how much that means to me."

"Harry, I am immensely proud of you and the man you are becoming. I know that my actions have made you feel otherwise, but I care for you deeply and I am so proud of what you have accomplished in your years at Hogwarts."

Harry smiled through his tears. "Thank you, sir, but you do not need to apologize to me. If you weren't there I would have surely died at the Ministry."

Dumbledore smiled at Harry.

"OK, Harry, I need to discuss some important matters with you now. First, let me give you this," Dumbledore said, removing an official piece of parchment from his robes. "It is a lift of the ban on underage magic, so you will be able to practice magic during the summer. Please do not abuse it. I hope you will resist the temptation to turn your relatives into beetles, however much they deserve it," Dumbledore said with a twinkle in his eyes.

Harry nodded as he took the document from Dumbledore, his own eyes shining with excitement.

"All right, Harry, about your other request. I have planned out roughly what I wish you to accomplish this summer. It will be a heavy workload, but I trust that you will manage."

Harry nodded. "I'll do my best, Sir."

"And that is all anyone can ask of you," said Dumbledore with a smile.

Harry again wondered whether he was truly awake or whether it was all a dream.

"Oh, and the most important thing!" Dumbledore exclaimed. "You will be leaving for Headquarters tomorrow. I no longer wish you to stay here. I believe that your friends will be joining you there.

To Dumbledore's surprise, Harry did not look very happy at this.

"What is the matter, Harry?" Dumbledore asked gently.

"Well, Professor, I kind of wanted to stay here this summer," Harry said hesitantly.

Dumbledore looked puzzled at Harry's request. "Why would you want to remain here?"

"Professor, I have joined classes to learn Martial Arts over the summer. I think it will help me a lot," Harry blurted out.

Dumbledore looked thoughtful for a second. "Very well, Harry, I believe that learning Martial Arts would be a very good thing for you to do. When do you attend these classes?"

"They are from six to ten in the morning, sir," Harry replied.

"Very well, I will fit it into the schedule."

Harry nodded his thanks.

"Ok, now for your transportation. Take this," said Dumbledore, handing Harry a thin gold ring.

Harry took it, looking at it curiously.

"Harry, this is a voice activated Portkey. You just need to say 'Activate' and it will transport you to Hogwarts. Part of your training will be conducted there. For the other part, Nymphadora Tonks will come to pick you up every other day."

"Pick me up to take me where?" Harry asked curiously.

"Ah! That is a surprise, Harry," Dumbledore said with a small chuckle. "But you will find out soon enough. I will send you your schedule with Fawkes later on in the day."

Harry was now very curious as to what the surprise was. He glanced over and saw Dumbledore looking around pensively.

"Is anything the matter, sir?" he asked anxiously.

Dumbledore looked up at him. "Well, Harry, your inability to move to Headquarters puts me in a bit of a spot. You see, I will have the unpleasant task of explaining to Molly Weasley why you have to stay here, but I was thinking that there might be a way to make my task easier."

"What's that, sir?" Harry asked.

"Hmm... if I were to convince her that you were being well looked after here..."Dumbledore mused.

"You're going to put the Dursleys under the Imperius Curse?" Harry asked in surprise, seeing no other way to manage this.

Dumbledore chuckled. "Not exactly, Harry, but let's call that Plan B, shall we?"

Harry grinned. "All right with me, sir."

Dumbledore got up quickly and waved his wand in a long banishing motion. To Harry's shock, the room started expanding. Dumbledore stopped when the room was roughly triple its size.

Harry then watched in amazement as Dumbledore went to work. It was a huge treat to see the old mage in action. He was one person who made the most difficult of things looks so incredibly easy. His body was one with his magic and moved gracefully, a strong and pure aura radiating from him.

Five minutes later, Dumbledore was done. Harry looked around in amazement. He could hardly recognize his bedroom.

His bed had been transfigured to a large four poster that was an exact copy of his bed at Hogwarts, and next to it stood a small night table complete with pitcher and glass. In the centre of the room, two comfortable black leather armchairs were gathered companionably around a low table. On the wall opposite the chairs were several shelves that would give him ample space for all the books he would ever need. On the opposite wall, a small dining table was set for two. The carpet that they stood on had been transfigured into a thick red and gold Persian rug that ran the entire length of the room.

Harry turned to Dumbledore and looked at him with his mouth hanging open. He was utterly speechless.

Dumbledore chuckled at the look on Harry's face. "Just a moment, Harry, I'm not quite done yet."

Not Done? Not Done! What else had Dumbledore got planned?

Dumbledore waved his wand in a complicated movement and snapped his fingers. There was a loud crack and suddenly Harry found himself nearly bowled off his feet by someone throwing themselves at Harry's legs and giving him a bone shattering hug.

"Harry Potter, sir! Dobby is so pleased to see you."

Harry valiantly tried to keep his balance and looked down to see a familiar house-elf wearing a dozen hats and nearly as many socks on his body.

"Hello, Dobby, how are you?" Harry asked bemusedly.

"Dobby is fine, sir. Dobby hears that you once more handed He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named defeat at the Ministry last month. Harry Potter is the bravest, bestest and most greatest wizard in the world," Dobby said looking up at Harry with shining eyes.

"Um, you are holding the wrong wizard's legs, Dobby," Harry said in an embarrassed tone. "Professor Dumbledore defeated Voldemort and he is the greatest wizard in the world."

Dumbledore looked amused at Harry's words.

"Harry Potter is not only great and brave, but he is also humble. He speaks not of his bravery in defeating the Dark Lord's followers," Dobby said, not looking as if he was inclined to let Harry change his opinion.

Harry sighed. "Dobby, really it was all luck. The only thing I'll say is that I'm unusually lucky, which I cannot say for anyone who chooses to be my friend." This last part was muttered under his breath but Dumbledore still heard them. The Headmaster frowned slightly.

He bent down to address Dobby. "Dobby, I need you to stay the summer here and take care of Harry. Our friend is known for not taking care of himself properly, but I know that you will take care of him. Will you agree to do this for me?"

Dobby's little body nearly burst with happiness and excitement, and he bowed repeatedly to Dumbledore, his many hats sweeping the floor. "It will be the greatest honor of Dobby's life to do so. Thank you, Professor Dumbledore, sir."

Dumbledore chuckled. "All right then, Harry, it's all settled."

Harry looked at Dumbledore happily. He remembered how he had behaved in Dumbledore's office barely more than a week ago. The thought that Dumbledore had still done all this for him after he had behaved so badly made Harry cringe in shame.

"Thank you, Professor Dumbledore."

"You are most welcome, Harry. Oh, and before I forget, Remus will be coming around day after tomorrow to take you to Diagon Alley for whatever shopping you might want to do."

"Thank you again, Professor. I promise you I won't let you down," Harry said eagerly.

"Harry, the only way you can ever disappoint me is by being unhappy," Dumbledore said patting Harry on the back before disapparating with a small pop.


~~~*~


Harry was sitting on one of the armchairs, reading the rulebook Roger had given him, when he was interrupted by a tentative tapping on his arm.

"You have received some letters, Harry Potter, sir," Dobby said, holding out three letters in his tiny fist.

"Thank you, Dobby," Harry said with a smile as he took the letters.

"You are welcome, Harry Potter, sir," Dobby said bowing low.

"Stop that, Dobby. You know that I don't like you doing that. I told you that you are my friend."

Dobby looked at Harry, his eyes going wide. "Dobby is sorry, Harry Potter, sir."

"How about dropping the 'sir' too, Dobby? Just call me Harry," Harry requested wryly.

"Dobby could never do that, sir," Dobby said in an astonished voice. "Calling a great wizard like sir by his name!"

Harry sighed. He felt that it was highly unlikely that Dobby would ever do that, but he knew that he had to try to make him at least. "Try it, Dobby. I want you to call me by my name," Harry said.

Dobby nodded and went off to do his work.

Harry looked at the letters and recognized Neville's handwriting on one of them. He opened it and began to read.



Hi Harry,

How are you doing? How is your summer going so far? My summer is going better than expected. I thought that Gran was going to really yell at me for having broken my wand, but she didn't. I was shocked when she told me that she was proud of me for what I did. She is going to take me to buy a new one soon.

So have you thought about whether you are going to continue the D.A this year? I think now that Dumbledore is back, the decrees will be scrapped. I guess we should be able to continue it. I never thanked you for helping me so much last year, Harry. You were unusually patient and encouraging with me and I want you to know how much I appreciate it.

Harry, I also wanted to say how sad I was about what happened to Sirius Black. It must be so terrible for you. If I can be of any help at this time please don't hesitate to ask.

Your friend,

Neville Longbottom.




Harry was touched by his letter. He decided that Neville was definitely one person he would make an effort to know better this year.

He looked at the second letter and couldn't recognize the handwriting. He opened it and saw the name at the end. It was from Luna Lovegood.

Her letter was very much like her, vague and mysterious. She had written something about going on a holiday to find out about Crumple Horned Snorkacks and how it was going to be difficult since they were invisible to the human eye, and went on about how the goblins were planning a new resistance with the view of overthrowing the Ministry and taking over England and how Fudge was dealing with it by capturing Goblins and making them into pies.

Harry shook his head, trying to make out head or tails of the letter, and failed. He sighed, put the letter aside and opened the last one. He had kept this for last as he had recognized Ginny's handwriting on it.



Hello Harry,

What are you up to? Hey, I'm really upset at you. I thought that as I wrote to you, you would write back. But it's been four days and there's no reply from you. I'm inclined to be generous and forgive you this time, but if you don't answer this one my next owl to you will hold a howler.

I just wanted to write to you to tell you that we were at the Ministry yesterday to give testimony in Umbridge's trial. The cow got sentenced to ten years in Azkaban. Too bad the Dementors aren't around any longer. Another piece of good news is that Fudge got sacked and Amelia Bones was made Minister of Magic. One of the first things she did was make Dad Head of Magical law Enforcement. It's really nice to see a competent person as minister for once.

Other news is that we are going to move to Headquarters tomorrow and Mum has it on good authority that you will be joining us there in a day or two. It will be nice to see you again.

Take care of yourself.

Love, Ginny.




Harry saw that Ginny had included two clippings from the Prophet with her letter. He quickly read the articles about Umbridge's trial and the sacking of Fudge and a huge grin broke out on his face.

The day couldn't get any better.



~~~*~
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