Choices and Consequences


Story Summary:
Harry's heading back to Privet Drive for the summer after his fifth year. He's tired of being angry with the world, and now it's time for him to change his attitude. He might have lost Sirius, and have had the prophecy thrust upon him, but there are still people who want to help him, and who understand the burden he carries. He has to take responsibility for his life and find a way to defeat Voldemort. (Mild H/G)

Chapter 07

Chapter Summary:
Harry finds out that the prophecy might not be as clear as he'd originally thought, and learns what he might face instead of a duel to the death. Meanwhile, Dumbledore's arranged for a novel way for him to spend the summer out from under the supposed care of his relatives whilst still being able to rely on the blood protection.

Harry stumbled as the Portkey deposited him and his two companions in a sparsely decorated room somewhere that appeared to be above ground level, judging by the view through the window. The room contained the basic essentials of a Muggle living room, a sofa, chairs and a small writing table, though without the electrical equipment, and the furnishings were understated but functional.

He wondered for a moment whether this was where the man who'd introduced himself as John Christopher lived.

"Where are we?" Harry asked as Moody once again removed his invisibility cloak, apparently satisfied that it was a safe enough environment in which to be seen in person.

"We're actually in Hogsmeade, Harry," John Christopher advised him, adding a chuckle as Harry turned to look more closely out of the window.

Sure enough, some way down the street to his left Harry could see the Three Broomsticks pub and a few of the other prominent Hogsmeade shops, and realised that he had probably walked past this house at least half a dozen times on his visits to the village over the past three years.

"Come through here," the man suggested, and beckoned for Harry to follow him through a door in the far wall

The room that they walked into was even sparser than the living room they had left, and was about three times the length. John Christopher conjured a chair for each of them and indicated that Harry and Moody should sit down.

"I can't keep you away from Little Whinging long today Harry, because I know that Professor Dumbledore is planning on visiting you later this afternoon," he said, to Harry's surprise. "I just wanted to show you where I would be taking you to work on some of your skills."

"I'm still under age, sir," Harry apologised. "I'm not allowed to use magic away from school yet."

Moody laughed at this, so Harry figured there was something that John wasn't telling him.

"First of all, call me John, none of this 'sir' business," he instructed, "but more importantly, Alastor is laughing because he knows that the building is basically unplotable. Even if you knew exactly where it was you wouldn't be able to find it. That also means that the Ministry aren't able to track use of your wand while you are here either."

Harry's lips formed themselves into an 'O' shape as the penny dropped.

"I can't keep you here for very long at a time though. Dumbledore tells me that if we are to maintain the strength of the magic that protects you when you live at your Aunt and Uncle's house, you need to spend most of the summer there, so I'll only be bringing you here when I have to."

"You mean we'll be doing Occlumency in Privet Drive?" Harry asked.

John nodded. "Exactly."

"I can't wait to see what Uncle Vernon says about that," Harry worried to himself.

"Don't worry about your relatives, Harry," Moody interjected. "I'll be dealing with them before you go back there today. They won't cause you any further trouble, I can promise."

Harry looked at the retired Auror and nodded his thanks. "Don't do anything permanent to them. You don't want to get hauled over the coals for Muggle-baiting," he added, remembering Tonks's conversation with him a couple of days before.

Moody laughed and shook his head. "That wasn't what I had in mind, don't worry."

"Anyhow," John continued, "I know why old Mad-eye is so paranoid, but you act like his disciple - how come he's got you with all his 'Constant Vigilance' stuff? I mean, I know all about what happened with your parents, and how you ended up with that scar, but something tells me that you and Dumbledore are hiding something from me."

"Not hiding from you, sir-, I mean, John. I assumed Dumbledore would have told you."

"Well that's okay. Why don't you let me in on the secret now, then" he asked with a grin.

Harry spent the next three-quarters of an hour outlining the events of his five years at Hogwarts, and all the situations he'd found himself in, culminating in revealing the prophecy. Harry had thought about leaving that part out, but Dumbledore had told him that he didn't have to keep it a secret, so he felt reasonably comfortable telling John and Moody about it.

John asked a few questions about things that Harry had done or felt in some of the situations, and skilfully drew more details about Harry's exploits out of the stories.

Meanwhile, Moody had remained quiet throughout, processing the information, until Harry and John had finally finished talking. Then he let out a string of expletives, cursing Dumbledore for keeping the information from him, but also from Harry. It seemed that even the core members of the Order of the Phoenix hadn't been told about the prophecy, or even why it was so important that Harry was kept safe. They had trusted Dumbledore's bland assurances without really questioning the reasoning behind it.

John looked closely at Harry as Moody continued to mutter under his breath at Dumbledore's idiocy.

"You look fairly calm about all this," he stated. "You do realise the implications, I trust?"

"Yeah, calm like a swan," Harry offered.

"Well, if you're paddling like crazy under the surface, I guess that's one of the reasons that Dumbledore asked me to come back from Australia to teach you," John said with a glint in his eye. "At least I now know why Dumbledore brought me all this way to teach a sixteen year old. What has he told you about his interpretation of the prophecy, Harry?"

This was one of the things that Harry still felt uncomfortable with. "He said it basically means 'kill or be killed'."

John sat still for a moment, while he considered this, and Harry moved forwards to the edge of his seat, wondering if there really was another possibility.

"I think he's mistaken," he said, surprising Harry so much that the young Gryffindor fell out of his chair. He picked himself up and sat down again.

"What do you mean?" he asked, not quite sure if he could believe what he was hearing.

"I don't think it's a clear cut as one of you deliberately murdering the other, Harry. From what you've already told me about your previous confrontations with the Dark Lord, it's clear that you are a focal point for resistance. The number of times that fate, or chance if you will, has thrown you together, suggests something different to me."

Harry looked across at Mad-eye Moody and was a little relieved to see that Moody didn't understand what John was talking about either.

"Get to the point, Christopher," Moody said bluntly.

"What I mean is that you will still have to kill V-Voldemort," he said with a shudder, "but it's unlikely that you will have to murder him. His death, or yours, if it comes to that, will be the consequence of your choices and your power."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked, still considerably confused.

"You're an agent of Choice, Harry, or an agent of Consequence, if you prefer. If I understand the prophecy correctly, when you ultimately meet Voldemort for the final time, you will be presented with a choice of futures, as will the Dark Lord. The mental struggle between you will determine which of those two futures becomes reality."

"Well, that sounds straightforward," Harry said with a grin, "I choose to have the world live in peace and harmony then, I assume?"

Moody burst out with a loud guffaw at this, and John shared Harry's grin, before explaining further.

"It's not quite that simple, I'm afraid. Your choices won't be presented as clearly as that, but as concepts that could be interpreted in a number of different ways."

"Then how do we know whose choice it was that prevailed?" Harry asked.

"Very good question, Harry. The only real way of knowing is by surviving the event, since it will only be you who knows what the choices were. There's supposed to be some sort of symbolic event afterwards that demonstrates who the victor was. I suspect that in your case, given the specific nature of the prophecy, the loser will die somehow, fulfilling the literal meaning of the prophecy that you'd already deciphered."

"How do you know all this?" Moody asked in a gruff voice. "Is this all just your speculation?"

John looked at Moody with a wry smile on his face.

"I had hoped that I wouldn't have to explain that, Alastor, at least not just yet."

"How do you expect Harry to understand it, if you don't tell him?" Moody asked. "I get tetchy at Dumbledore for hiding stuff unnecessarily, so don't you go holding out on us as well."

Harry looked at Moody with a new respect. The aged, battered ex-Auror had realised that Dumbledore had known about the prophecy for years and hadn't told anyone, even Harry, and no doubt understood Harry's frustration about being kept in the dark for the past sixteen years.

Harry nodded at his new tutor. "I'd like to know, if you don't mind, John. It's not that I don't trust you, but I'm sick and tired of being told that I don't need to know because I'm 'too young' or I 'wouldn't understand'."

John looked back across at Moody, who shrugged his shoulders.

"The lad wants to know, son. I say tell him." He broke out into a wide grin, exposing a number of broken teeth that made his look even more ferocious. "Besides, I'm curious myself. It's not often I hear someone come straight out and say that Dumbledore's wrong about something."

John chuckled a little at Moody's curiosity, but then sighed and straightened his shoulders.

"I know this, because I've been an agent of Choice, myself."

Moody looked up in surprise at this.

"What? When?"

"It's a story for another day, Alastor. For now, Harry just needs to know what happens."

Moody looked as though he wanted to argue further, but subsided for the time being, knowing that their time with Harry was limited that afternoon.

"So what does happen, John? How do I make this choice?" Harry asked.

"When the time comes, and you are in the situation that the Choice has decided meets it's criteria for the decision to be made, you'll probably find yourself face to face with Voldemort. You'll go into a trance for a very short time - no more than a few seconds, though it will probably feel like quite a lot longer to you - and the concepts that represent the choices will float through your mind. When you've both selected your choices, consciously or not, you'll return to your previous state, and the battle will commence."

"What sort of battle, John?" Harry enquired, somewhat in awe of what he seemed destined to be involved in.

"I have no way of knowing, other than it will involve some form of battle of wills."

"You're well prepared for that though, Potter, " Moody added. "You've already thrown off the Imperious curse on two occasions at least. That shows some really strong willpower."

Harry flushed at the praise, but wanted to know more about the concepts that John was referring to.

"What were these concepts like when you have to make your choice?"

John thought back to his choice, many years ago.

"There was 'stone', which to me represented strength, continuity, and steadfastness. 'Speech', which I saw as uncertain, hidden meaning, but could also have been harmony or compromise. 'Purity', representing innocence and truth, and 'Pride', which I took to include arrogance, narrow-mindedness, ignorance and weakness."

"That sounds quite complicated," Harry noted. "How did you know what they all meant?"

"I didn't know, Harry, it was just how I felt about the way that the concepts were presented, Harry. I couldn't tell you what made me apply those particular tags to the concepts at that time, and for all I know, my opponent may well have felt differently about them. When the battle was finally over, I was bloody, battered, but alive, and my foe stood petrified like a marble column for about five seconds, then crumbled to dust."

"I'm guessing that your choice was 'stone', then?" Moody questioned with grunt.

"I think so," John agreed with a grin, "but since I hadn't made a conscious choice by the time the sequence ended, I can't say for sure."

Moody snorted at that, and stood.

"Whilst this has been a really informative session, I need to contact Dumbledore then get back to Surrey to sort out those Dursleys. Are you going to be working here with Potter tomorrow?"

"Probably in the afternoon. If not here, then at Privet Drive, anyway," John replied, as Moody made his way across the room and lifted a trapdoor that had been hitherto hidden to Harry's eyes.

"Right then. You can fill me in on anything important tomorrow then," he said as he lowered himself through the opening and casually dropped down to the round floor, despite his wooden leg.

John closed the trap door behind him and they could hear the clump of Moody's foot as he made his way to the front door and out onto the main street of Hogsmeade.

John turned back to Harry.

"Right, we've got about half an hour before I have to get you back to your relatives' house. Let's see what sort of stuff you've got in your locker already, and I'll work on a plan to add some useful tricks to your repertoire that'll keep you alive until the 'big one' arrives."

He waved his wand and the chairs they had been sitting on disappeared, then indicated that Harry should stand opposite him, some ten feet away.

"We'll start off with some practice duelling. Use whatever spells come to mind - nothing's off limits except 'unforgivables'," John said, settling into what Harry recognised as a standard duelling stance, though with far less flourish than Lockhart had displayed in his short-lived club back in Harry's second year.

Harry didn't try to imitate the posture but just nodded and drew his wand, quickly sending a stunner at his new tutor, hoping to try and get a jump on him. He dodged it easily though, and Harry had to deal with one sent right back at him. He blocked it with a shield charm and circled round to his left, casting a tickling charm as he did so.

John laughed out loud, but not because the spell had hit him - he had blocked it easily. "That's kid stuff, Harry. A tickling charm? Come on, you can do better than that."

Harry sent two quick stunners in response, hoping that John would dodge the first and leave himself in the path of the second, but was disappointed when he simply blocked them both.

"Fracto," shouted John, as a particularly nasty bone-breaking curse hurtled across the short distance between them leaving Harry no time to block it. Instead he dropped to the floor instinctively, and the spell flared safely over his head, then leapt to his feet ready once again to face his opponent.

Harry tried a cutting hex in reply, but again it was easily deflected without causing John any particular difficulty.

"Be a bit more creative, Harry," John instructed, as he slipped to one side. "Furnunculus'", he pronounced carefully, and watched Harry block the curse easily.

"Boils?" Harry replied. " I though we weren't doing kid stuff? Fracto."

'Two can play at that game,' Harry thought to himself. 'Let's get serious now.'

"Serpensortia," Harry said, choosing a spell that was suited to one of his other talents, but while he was directing the snake to wind his surprised opponent in it's coils, he missed another stunner that came his way.

When John brought him round a few moments later, there was no sign of the snake that Harry had conjured. John had obviously disposed of it with relative ease.

"You okay?" he asked kindly.

Harry nodded.

"Good. You need to work on your concentration if you're going to do something as complex as summoning a snake during a duel. It's all well and good playing to your strengths as a parselmouth, but you need to be able to focus on everything else that's happening as well as controlling a creature."

Harry realised that he was right, but then that was the purpose of being trained, he supposed, to learn how to fight within your limits and be able to control things.

"Wouldn't do me much good with Voldemort anyway," Harry muttered. "He's a parselmouth, too."

"Don't necessarily throw that thought away," John replied. "Think about what I told you earlier - when it comes down to you against Voldemort, it's going to be a battle of willpower. It could easily be for control of a snake that one of you had summoned."

Harry thought about that for a moment, but decided that unless he was able to control the snake and duel at the same time, it still probably wasn't a good idea to summon it in the first place.

John went through the duel with him again, pointing out strengths and weaknesses that Harry had displayed, and they duelled twice more. Each time, Harry ended up on the receiving end of a stunning spell, but the third duel lasted almost twice as long (at about eight minutes) as the first had, and Harry at least felt some sense of accomplishment at that.

He was also beginning to use a wider range of spells. As he practiced, spells he'd used in the past came back to him, and he found it easier to call on them, rather than relying on stunners, disarming, shield charms and what John called 'kid stuff'. By the end of the third duel Harry had also managed to incorporate some more complex cutting and bone-breaking hexes, and had even created a sizeable hole in the back wall with a misdirected Reductor Curse.

"Well, you've certainly got good instincts and your curses are pretty darn powerful," John complimented him, "but we'll need to work on some of your spells to get a little more focus into them. On top of that, I think we'll get you used to using a wider variety of spells, so that you have a wider range to select from. Once I feel you're ready to move on, we'll work at incorporating them into some routines and combinations to maximise the effect that you have when you're in battle."

That sounds like a lot of stuff," Harry worried, partly to himself, but also partly to see what John thought.

"I don't think you'll have too much trouble, Harry. From what you've displayed so far, you have plenty of potential, it's just a case of getting used to using the spells in pressure situations," John explained. "From what you said earlier, you've done pretty well in a defensive context, where your priority has been to try and escape. What we need to develop are your skills with attacking spells so that, when it comes down to it, you're not just limited to defending yourself."

"Someone once told me that 'the best line of defence is attack'. Is that what you mean?" Harry asked

"Exactly. You've got to be prepared to attack. Sometimes it's the best option. Sometimes it's your only option.

"Okay, enough for today. I need to get you back to Privet Drive." He handed Harry a Muggle credit card, which Harry assumed was another Portkey, to take him back to the Dursleys. "If everything has gone well in your absence, this should be the last time we have to use a Portkey to do this."

Harry looked confused again at John's words.

"What? Why?"

John grinned. "You'll see. I suspect that Alastor has convinced Dumbledore to set up some ... other ... arrangements ... that should make the travelling a little less complicated. Getting Portkeys to and from Hogsmeade arranged is bound to be noticed and someone will probably make a fuss. Anyway, you'll find out more when you get home."

'Home,' Harry thought. Privet Drive hadn't really been home for him since he'd first gone to Hogwarts. Even that sanctuary had seemed destroyed the past year though, with the way that Umbridge had taken away all that made Hogwarts his real home. He only hoped that the coming year provided a return to happier times, a distinct possibility if Umbridge had been removed from the staff.

Harry suddenly realised that he'd drifted off into his own thoughts and hadn't been paying attention to what John was saying.

"Sorry, John, I missed that," he said, somewhat shamefaced. "What were you saying?"

"Pay attention, Harry. It won't do any good if you suddenly go off into dreamworld when you're faced with a dangerous situation," he admonished.

Harry felt the colour rise in his cheeks at the reprimand. His first day with his new tutor and he was already woolgathering when he should have been paying attention.

"What I said, was that I would see you tomorrow afternoon. I'll be there at two in the afternoon, and I want to start work on the Occlumency lessons you've been promised. Since the result of the battle of wills you'll face will very much depend on your mental strength, it's vital that you master Occlumency as soon as possible. It's not just to protect your mind, it also helps to develop your focus and concentration, and should provide you with even more tools to aid in the longer term."

Harry was pleased that he would finally be getting a proper Occlumency teacher. He told John about the books that Dumbledore had lent him to be getting on with, and what he had done so far.

"Whoa! Hold it there, Harry," John cautioned. "We can talk about that tomorrow. I'll see you then. Activate," and before Harry had time to say goodbye or thank John for his time, he felt the nasty sensation of a tug behind his navel, as the Portkey deposited him back in the garden of Number Four Privet Drive.

Harry felt horribly sick, not just at the sensation that the Portkey had caused but also at the reminder of how he and Cedric had been whisked away from Hogwarts by the Tri-Wizard Cup/Portkey and taken to the graveyard where Voldemort had been resurrected. He sat down on the grass for a moment and calmed himself down, willing away the wave of nausea that had washed over him.

Gradually the sensation ebbed away and he got back to his feet, though somewhat unsteadily. Now that he was once more fully aware of his surroundings, he was surprised that there hadn't been a huge scream from Aunt Petunia when he had appeared out of nowhere into the garden.

Either she hadn't been looking out of the window when he had popped into existence in this part of Surrey, or she was out of the house entirely. The latter appeared much more likely, since Aunt Petunia's nosiness was inclined to see her peering out of whatever windows were near enough to be in her line of vision. Even if she hadn't caught sight of him suddenly appearing, it was likely that Uncle Vernon or Dudley would have done, since Harry's luck always seemed to run to being discovered at the most inopportune moments.

He wandered up to the back door, bracing himself for the expected verbal onslaught from his Aunt and Uncle after their cowing by John and Moody earlier that afternoon, but as he opened the door a calm and serene atmosphere greeted him.

Even more surprising that the lack of reaction from the Dursleys at his sudden re-appearance in the garden was the fact that Mad-eye Moody was seated at the kitchen table, apparently enjoying a cup of tea and a chat with Professor Dumbledore.

"Um ... hello, Professor," Harry ventured, still confused. "Where has Aunt Petunia gone?" he asked, with more than a little trepidation.

Dumbledore's trademark twinkle appeared in his eye as he glanced at Harry.

"Ah, good to see you again, Harry," he began. "I understand from Alastor here that you've been getting acquainted with Mr Christopher this afternoon."

"Well, sort of," Harry replied. "He arrived here just in time to stop Uncle Vernon heading off on another of his rampages," he admitted.

Dumbledore's expression took on an uncharacteristically sour twist at the reminder of Harry's perpetual mis-treatment at the hands of the Dursleys and the Headmaster's previous lack of awareness of it.

"Yes, well I understand much more clearly now why you have always been reluctant to return here," Dumbledore said.

"My faith in human nature was such that I believed that your Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia would do their very best to look after you, but it seems that the milk of human kindness did not, in this case, extend to taking in their orphan nephew who had done nothing to hurt them in the past."

Dumbledore looked down at his hands, somewhat sadly recalling the mistake he had made in placing Harry with the Dursleys, despite Professor McGonagall's warnings about their typical behaviour.

"However, whilst the actions of your relatives in their neglect of you was reprehensible at the very least - and I can assure you that I made my disappointment in them very clear when I arrived here this afternoon - ultimately, the fault lies with me: for leaving you here with them, for not checking on your welfare as you grew up, and for not taking your complaints about them seriously. That you have grown up to be a responsible and talented wizard bears testimony to your mental strength and perseverance in spite of their actions."

The Headmaster sighed. "I can only offer my apologies for leaving you with your relatives when they treated you so shabbily. I hope that you can forgive me."

Harry was gobsmacked. Was Dumbledore really apologising for leaving him with his Aunt and Uncle?

"It wasn't your fault, sir. You did what you thought best."

Moody snorted heavily at this, either in disagreement at Harry's words or in disbelief at his easy forgiveness.

"Nonetheless, Harry, I still bear some responsibility for not ensuring your welfare; particularly that you grew up in a caring environment, where you would have been able to love and be loved," Dumbledore responded with a half-glance at Moody to prevent him interrupting.

"Had you grown up a bitter and vengeful young man, angry at your relatives' treatment, it would not have been a surprise, though it may well have made you even more angry at me that you have had cause to be in the recent past. My mistakes might well have been fatal to our hopeful resolution of the prophecy than we currently find ourselves - you would have been loathe to accept the kind of guidance that would help you develop, and I would have feared that you might take the path that Tom Riddle did before you."

Moody looked even more annoyed at Dumbledore at these words.

"It's not all about your thrice-be-damned prophecy, Albus," he growled menacingly, his magical eye whirring dangerously in its socket as he appraised the old wizard. "There's more to life than fulfilling destiny!"

Dumbledore sighed, but continued talking to Harry almost as though Moody hadn't spoken.

"I'm most glad therefore that you have shown yourself to be above such negative emotions. Your early adoption of the Weasleys and Miss Granger as a sort of surrogate family has no doubt helped as well, and I'm sure that they too would feel that you are a worthy addition. Their love for you and yours for them may well be what finally sees us through these darkest of days."

Harry squirmed uncomfortably in his seat at the direction the conversation was heading.

"Anyhow," the Headmaster continued, blowing his cheeks out as though the matter had been fully resolved to his satisfaction, "I believe that we have at least found a mutually acceptable solution to your accommodation for the remainder of the summer."

Harry looked up in interest.

"I'm afraid Harry, you will have to remain here, under the safety of the blood protection created by your mother's sacrifice."

Now the smile dropped off Harry's face and he felt his stomach turn over at the thought of two full months with the Dursleys despite his implied agreement to such a situation in his letter to the Headmaster, but Dumbledore hadn't finished his explanation.

"While I'm sure you'll be disappointed that I can't let you spend the holidays with the Weasleys, much though they'd love to have you, I've made arrangements for you to have a much more conducive atmosphere than has been the case recently."

Harry looked sceptically at Dumbledore, not convinced that anything he proposed to Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia would force them to treat him much better than normal, at least once any sign of an adult wizard in the vicinity had evaporated. Dumbledore continued though.

"To that end, your relatives have agreed to take an extended vacation this summer, to the South of France, and they will remain there until September 2nd, when you will have returned to Hogwarts."

In contrast to his emotions just a few moments earlier, Harry now felt like he could run around the room punching the air in celebration: almost the whole summer without the Dursleys. There was only one question that remained.

"Sir? When do they leave?"

Harry could barely keep the excitement out of his voice, as he asked the question that was at the forefront of his mind.

"Why, Harry, they've already gone," Dumbledore replied, the twinkle in his eyes seeming to get even brighter as he allowed the corners of his mouth to edge upwards just barely in the faintest of smiles. "I thought it best that we not delay their departure given your most recent ... encounter ... and indeed they seemed most keen to depart."

The twinkling in the Headmaster's eyes must now have been at record proportions, by Harry's estimation, and he could tell that Dumbledore was highly amused at the Dursleys intransigence and their sudden desire to get as far away from Harry and any sign of magic as possible. He wondered whether the old wizard had needed to resort to some sort of 'demonstration' to convince them.

"I must say though," Dumbledore continued once again, "that your Aunt seemed rather concerned about leaving in the house by yourself. For some reason she seemed to think that you would end up destroying the place with your 'unnaturalness', as she put it."

Moody barked with laughter at this description, and muttered something about the Dursleys being the unnatural ones, but subsided quickly for Dumbledore to finish his explanation.

"For both your Aunt's and my own peace of mind, there are a few conditions that you will have to adhere to though, if we are to allow you to live here largely unsupervised."

Harry tried to look interested, but didn't really care too much what the conditions were. They were bound to be trivial in comparison with being able to spend the entire summer out from under the gaze of Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, even if it meant he didn't get to go to The Burrow at all.

"Firstly, you're not to allow anyone into this house whose identity you are unable to verify. Alastor tells me you did an excellent job frustrating Mr Christopher when he arrived - I expect that level of security to be maintained.

"Second, you're not to leave this street without a trustworthy escort. For now, that means one of: myself, Alastor, Miss Tonks, Mr Christopher, Remus Lupin, Professor McGonagall, and Arthur Weasley. I'll add at least one more person to that at a later date if things go according to plan.

"Thirdly, you're to treat the house with respect, which I'm sure you do anyhow despite your Aunt's insinuations, and you're to make sure that you feed yourself properly and look after yourself."

Harry nodded at each of these conditions. They were common sense and were things he would have done anyway, so he was more than happy to agree with the conditions that Dumbledore laid down.

"Good. I know you'll have plenty to keep occupied with, having both Miss Tonks and Mr Christopher working with you this summer, but I hope you'll feel more comfortable without the Dursleys interfering with you at every turn.

"Now, for additional security reasons, I've ensured that your fireplace has certain connections to the Floo Network."

Harry grinned at the memory of Mr Weasley trying to use the Floo to collect him from the Dursleys a couple of years previously, and the mess he had mad of their living room. Dumbledore continued talking, however.

"You now have a secure connection to Mr Christopher's house in Hogsmeade, which I trust you will use only for the purpose intended," he stated, good-humouredly. "You can also use it to call my office or Professor McGonagall's office at Hogwarts, should an emergency occur and you need to contact us. For security reasons, these are the only connections you may have, but they should prove sufficient, especially considering that you will be seeing one or another member of the Order almost every day."

Harry had grinned at the thought of nipping to Hogsmeade by Floo to do some shopping, as Dumbledore was obviously cautioning him against, though it did remind him of another question that he had for the Headmaster.

"Sir? Would it be possible for me to go to Diagon Alley some time before I go to Hermione's on Friday?"

Dumbledore agreed with only a momentary hesitation, and advised that he would ask Tonks to accompany him the following morning instead of continuing his training, but insisted that he be back in time for John to meet him at two o'clock.

"Before I leave you to your well-earned peace and quiet, Harry," Dumbledore continued, "how are you coping with Sirius's death? I know these things can take a while to get over."

Harry's face clouded over at the reminder of his godfather.

"I really miss him, sir, even though I didn't get much chance to know him all that well. Maybe it's because I didn't get chance to know him that I feel so bad, like he's been taken away from me. I ... I..." Harry paused a moment to collect his thoughts and push back the tears that he could feel welling up inside of him once more.

I remember how happy I was when I found out that he was my godfather, and he offered to take me in, to live with him instead of the Dursleys," Harry recalled sadly. "The Snape got involved..."

"Professor Snape, Harry,"

"... and I lost him again, even after Hermione and I had used the time-turner to save him from the Dementor's kiss."

Moody's good eye opened wide at this last comment as he pieced together the details of Harry's earlier tales and comprehension of the risks that Harry had taken using the time turner dawned on him. He didn't interrupt though, merely seemed to add the information to his memory to be processed at a later date as Harry continued to talk about Sirius.

"Now I have nightmares about the room with the veil. I'm stood there and I see Sirius falling back through the veil and his expression changing from satisfaction and gloating at his cousin, Bellatrix, to shock that a spell had gotten through his defences, and I'm just stood there and can't do anything to stop him.

"Even though I know he chose to come after us of his own free will, I still feel responsible for his death, that if I hadn't been so stupid, he would never have needed to have been anywhere near that damn veil.

"In some ways I'm still angry at Snape for all his taunting of Sirius. It was just another reason for him to break out of his prison at Grimmauld Place.

"As you so clearly put it, Harry," Dumbledore said kindly, though ignoring Harry's comments about Professor Snape, "it was Sirius's own free will to go to the Ministry. As I mentioned in my letter to you, you don't have to take responsibility for the actions of others. You have enough on your shoulders." He laid a hand gently on Harry's shoulder in comfort.

"I can't say that the pain ever disappears entirely," he continued, passing a weary hand across his brow. "It does fade to a certain extent in time though. Holding on to your belief that you are responsible for his death will make the pain last longer, Harry, and you need to put it behind you as soon as possible so that you are able to act appropriately should the need arise."

"Not wanting to spoil the moment, Dumbledore, but you were planning to tell us all about the prophecy, weren't you?" Moody chimed in, voicing his frustration at Dumbledore's obsessive secrecy.

Dumbledore looked up at Moody, a somewhat sheepish expression on his face.

"You should know better than to put the weight of the world on this one young lad's shoulders, Albus. He's got more than enough to cope with without having to worry about that. He needs to be able to talk to people about it, rather than having to keep it a secret," Moody continued. "Keeping him and his friends in the dark will only store up trouble for you later on because they'll stop trusting you."

Dumbledore removed his half-moon glasses, cleaned them on the edge of his robes and replaced them on the bridge of his nose.

"I gather that Harry has told you, and the estimable Mr Christopher, the prophecy's contents?" he asked.

Moody and Harry both nodded firmly.

"Then I'm sure you will both understand the necessity of keeping it reasonably quiet."

"There's a big difference between 'reasonably quiet' and 'totally secret', which is what it appears to have been until a few days ago, Albus. You could have disseminated the information years ago, and no one would have been any worse off."

"You're probably correct, Alastor," Dumbledore sighed, "but what's done is done. We need to look to the future, not dwell on mistakes we've made, as I'm attempting to explain to Harry."

Moody grunted at the latter, but didn't press the issue any further.

"It's just a shame that he didn't get the opportunity to clear his name in public before he died," Harry piped up. "I'm sure that he wanted to be able to enjoy the freedom that he'd won for himself by escaping Azkaban, but he always seemed to be locked up in Grimmauld Place."

Dumbledore looked back to Harry, a little surprised at the interruption.

"It doesn't matter now, Harry," he noted sadly. Those who cared know he was innocent: yourself, Remus Lupin, Miss Tonks. I'm not sure that clearing his name with the Ministry, or the general public would provide much in the way of reward, now."

Harry wasn't happy with this answer from the Headmaster. Didn't Dumbledore understand that Sirius had spent twelve years in Azkaban for crimes he hadn't committed? Couldn't he see how Sirius had ached to lead a normal life, to be able to go out in public? Much like Harry, he had been kept caged up in recent times, supposedly for his own safety. Harry wondered if Dumbledore had even made any efforts to have Sirius's name cleared, or if perhaps he felt it was more convenient to have him kept under control rather than looking out for Harry's interests.

Despite his dissatisfaction and annoyance at the Headmaster's blasé approach to his godfather, Harry resolved to press the matter at another time, perhaps with someone other than Dumbledore. Moody looked similarly inclined, so Harry guessed he might have an ally if he ever wanted to go public with what he knew about Sirius's innocence, assuming there was some way that he could get the public or the Ministry to believe him.

For now though, he simply sighed at Dumbledore's intransigence, musing how ironic it was that he was as stubborn as Minister Fudge was in believing what he felt to be right, regardless of the consequences to everyone else around him.

Dumbledore and Moody rose to leave, shortly after that, and apparated away to whatever other business they had that afternoon, Moody winking at Harry with his good eye before he departed.

'Well at least I was right about having an ally in Mad-eye,' Harry muttered to himself, 'even if it is only because I seem to be almost as paranoid as he is.' 'Still,' Harry reflected, 'I have the house to myself for two months, and no relatives to make a nightmare of my holiday, even if it does mean doing all my own cooking, laundry and housework.'

He took the cups and saucers that his visitors had been drinking from and washed them up, to get off to a proper start, then wondered if there was anything else around the house that needed his attention before he turned to activities that promised a little more fun. A quick look around proved that Aunt Petunia had seemingly done all the chores before she had left, so Harry spent the remainder of the day watching his choice of programmes on the television, something he'd never before had the opportunity to do for such a long period of time.

Author notes: Many thanks to those who reviewed last chapter, particularly argyle and deedubya.