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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Twenty

ON THE BEACH

August 19, 1:00 am

Harry ran faster and faster until his lungs seared and the salt air scorched his throat. He slowed to a walk, hands on hips and head hanging low, and took notice of the burning in his legs. He didn’t know why he kept pushing; he simply pushed. He had run as far as the beach would take him – to the property that Diggle had apparently sold to Keith MacLeish, property that was covered by massive tents and large construction vehicles the likes of which Harry had never seen before – and then back and forth, over and over, a mile at a time. Time and distance didn’t matter to him; it was all about the effort, the release of energy. Running drained him, but it brought no relief. The roadways of his mind still ran freely from one association to the next, and all dark roads led back to Voldemort. He wondered what the healers at St. Mungo’s would say about the sanity of wizards who ran in the night.

He sat on the sand, and slipped off his trainers. Sand spilled from them, and he removed and vigorously shook his socks. An insistent breeze blew in from the sea, cool but comfortable. The retreating waters had revealed a rocky outcropping, and the stones glittered here and there in the pale moonlight. Leaving his trainers and sandy socks behind, Harry walked through ankle-deep water across mucky sand and onto the rocks.

The outcropping stretched for a good fifty feet before it faded into a jumble of jagged boulders and smooth stones awash in the surf. Harry watched the collision of earth and water, and was bewitched by it. He had dim memories of a day at the seaside cut short, typical of his few experiences in public with the Dursleys. In a mad fit, Uncle Vernon had packed all of them off in a questionable boat to a remote island upon the arrival of Harry’s Hogwarts letter. That was the sum total of his exposure to the sea, prior to St. Ebb. The sight and the sound of it, the salty tang of the air, the cawing of the birds – it called him for some reason that he didn’t need to understand. The night sky had been his friend for a long time, but when combined with the siren call of the water… he began to understand his nighttime forays.

There was a light splash behind him, and then another, and then another – footsteps, he concluded. His wand was instantly in hand, and he was Disillusioned in the next instant. He turned to face the beach and nearly fell into the surf out of sheer surprise.

Albus Dumbledore wore a loose white cotton shirt that rippled in the breeze, tan pants rolled up to mid-calf, and a wide leather belt from which a leather pouch hung, with his hair pulled into a ponytail, and a shorter beard than Harry remembered. His bare feet splashed in the water and slurped in the sand. He looked directly at Harry, and smiled broadly. With a wave of Dumbledore’s hand, the illusion that concealed Harry was lifted.

“I was beginning to wonder whether you would voluntarily end your run, or would continue until such time as you fell unconscious,” Dumbledore said.

Harry pointed his wand and summoned a menacing look – it was difficult, as he was more inclined to gape at Dumbledore’s clothing. “Tell me something that only the two of us would know,” he demanded.

“At the Department of Mysteries, Voldemort possessed you, in the hopes that I would sacrifice you in order to destroy him,” Dumbledore said calmly. “Of course, Voldemort would also be aware of that. Perhaps… ah, of course. You offered me Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans shortly after the recovery of the Philosopher’s Stone. I rarely indulge, as I have a rather unfortunate history with them. On that particular occasion, alas, I selected earwax.”

Harry lowered his wand. “I knew there were minders about, but I didn’t expect to see you here,” he grumbled.

Dumbledore walked to the edge of the outcropping. Surf collapsed against the rocks, and a fountain of spray and foam shot upward. He laughed as the spray splattered him. “Did you hear what the surf said, Harry?”

Harry’s brow furrowed, and he wondered if the healers at St. Mungo’s might advance Dumbledore ahead of him in the queue. “I… er… wasn’t aware that surf had anything to say,” he managed.

“The surf said, ‘I await your return’. It calls us home. When you reach a certain stage of life, the surf is quite easy to hear,” Dumbledore explained. “That is one of the reasons why I spent many of my summer holidays at the seaside.”

Harry was left even more confused by the explanation. “You’re here on holiday, then?” he asked.

“I am many years removed from the luxury of extended holidays,” Dumbledore answered. “When your destination became apparent, I personally took charge of your watch.”

Harry stammered in surprise, “You… you’ve been my… my minder?”

Dumbledore chuckled. “I would point out that it is you, and not I, who has chosen to characterise the members of your protection detail as ‘minders’. I have personally provided protection for a portion of each day since your arrival here. You keep rather difficult hours, even by the usual standards of young men, and you have been more mobile than I would have anticipated. I have deployed several others, in addition to myself.”

“I’m sorry to have been a burden,” Harry said with a tinge of bitterness.

“It has been a challenge, but not a burden,” Dumbledore assured him. “Your excellent taste in dining has been a welcome surprise.” He patted his stomach. “I shall have to expand the house-elves’ repertoire. If I do not soon return to dining at Hogwarts, I shall have to expand my robes as well.”

Harry felt a blush creeping into his cheeks. “You’ve been taking meals at L’Oiseau Chanteur?”

Dumbledore nodded. “I have been present for all but two of your meals there. The name of the restaurant is quite appropriate, is it not?”

Harry asked apprehensively, “What do you mean?” He had guessed that ‘chanteur’ had something to do with music, but hadn’t bothered to enquire after the meaning of the name.

“Loosely translated to English, ‘l’oiseau chanteur’ is ‘the songbird’,” Dumbledore explained. “As I said, the name is quite appropriate.”

Harry’s cheeks grew still warmer. “Then you’re aware of… erm… that is, you know who… erm…”

Dumbledore’s eyes gave off their familiar twinkle. “I have been fully briefed by Tonks, who has conducted research on my behalf,” he said. “I trust you understand that it was necessary for us to ascertain the young lady’s identity, as well as that of other persons with whom you have associated.”

Harry’s focus remained fixed. “How much did you… that is to say, erm… what was heard, exactly?”

“Were things said of which I should be aware?” Dumbledore asked gravely.

“Look, I don’t think that a small bit of privacy is out of bounds…” Harry began to bluster. He stopped when Dumbledore snorted.

Harry glared at him. “Are you enjoying this?”

Dumbledore thoughtfully stroked his beard. “I do believe that I am enjoying your consternation, Harry… quite so, in fact.”

“I should toss you in the surf,” Harry growled.

“You could certainly try to do so,” offered Dumbledore; when Harry stood his ground, he added, “No? Perhaps I shall allow you the opportunity at another time.”

“Are you going to tell me what you heard, then?” Harry asked with some anxiety.

Dumbledore smiled. “I overheard several days’ worth of delightful flirtation, Harry. It was rather unexpected on your part, at least to me. Were you concerned that I might disapprove of your behaviour?”

Harry shuffled his feet. “I… erm… well, I expected a lecture of some sort,” he muttered.

“I see. Very well… a lecture, you say? I shall give one to you, then,” promised Dumbledore. “In future, I would appreciate personal notification should you decide to decline my advice. This is particularly important when your whereabouts are at issue. It was terribly inconvenient to redeploy so many Order members. I have had to rely on Hogwarts faculty from time to time, a choice that you shall surely hear about. As for your new residence and current social life, I would ordinarily frown upon such close relations with unrelated Muggles on the part of a Hogwarts student. However, you are no longer a Hogwarts student. As an adult, you may keep your own counsel on matters of fraternization. I ask that you remain mindful of the secrecy rules and regulations. Juggling two divergent lives has vexed not a few wizards over the years; Sirius was one of them for a time. You should also remember that many other wizards and witches will not share my open-mindedness. Have I satisfied your requirements?”

Harry looked at the surf, the rocks, and the sky – anywhere but at Dumbledore. “Why you? You could have ordered someone else to spy on me.”

Dumbledore turned away from Harry and began to walk back toward the beach. As he picked his way across the rocks, he called out, “You made an assertion when we last met, Harry… an assertion that has remained in my mind since that time. You said that I did not know you. That statement, in part, led me to assume direct responsibility for your protection. Your assertion has proven true, to a point. You have grown up, in ways that I have not had occasion to appreciate. You are noble, charitable, trusting, quick-witted, and a host of other things that serve you well. Do not misunderstand me and thereby presume that I consider you fully mature – you are too quick to anger, quite rash at times, and you lack the experience required as a foundation for good judgment. We must address the last part in earnest.”

Harry slowly walked along the edge of the outcropping, paying as much mind to the surf as to Dumbledore. The old wizard slowly eased himself down to the sand, and extended his feet toward the water.

“I have endeavoured to leave you to your time away, but there is news that should be shared – disturbing news, Harry. The first concerns Grimmauld Place. Have you shared the secret with anyone outside of the Order?” Dumbledore asked.

“No,” Harry said immediately. “I haven't even thought of it recently.”

“Our mutual friend Tom paid an unexpected visit, you see?” said Dumbledore.

Harry's eyes bugged. “Voldemort was at Grimmauld Place?”

“He left a message for you, two messages actually. One was written in ink, the other in blood. Your owl was gravely injured -”

“Hedwig!” Harry gasped. “Oh, no! Is she -?”

“She is in the excellent care of Madam Eeylops, and I am told that she will recover fully. No one else was present in the house at the time Tom made himself known, thankfully,” Dumbledore said.

“The dream...” Harry realised. “He got the location in the dream.”

“The dream? What sort of dream was this? I understood you to say that you had not felt any intrusions,” Dumbledore said with not a little alarm. Harry explained the circumstances of the dream with 'Sirius'; he went into more detail than was comfortable, but wanted Dumbledore to understand that he hadn't been the only one present.

The Headmaster stroked his beard in thought for a long minute. “I do not believe that Miss Weasley was the conduit, but I shall meet with her – if nothing else, to allay her fears,” he said. “This was a most unusual visit, indeed. I must discuss this with a colleague, someone whom you have not yet met. Is this acceptable to you?”

“Yes,” Harry said, then added, “I'm not used to being asked.”

“Let us see if we cannot change that,” said Dumbledore. “I will return Hedwig to you for convalescence as soon as Madam Eeylops allows... and now I must convey the other news, and I ask that you keep your calm. There is a reason that I delayed in sharing this with you. Miss Granger took a disturbing turn for the worse not long after you left for Scotland.”

“WHAT?” Harry shouted. “WHY WASN'T I TOLD?”

“She is under excellent care, Harry, under the same colleague whom I mentioned previously,” insisted Dumbledore. “There were certain risks required for her benefit, and I felt it best to wait until there was positive news to share. Miss Granger is recovering nicely, and I have every reason to believe that she will be in attendance on the first of September.”

“I want to see her,” Harry said immediately.

“She needs time to heal,” Dumbledore said. “I am confident in speaking for Dr. Covelli when I say that it would be best for you to wait. In any case, the permission of Mr. and Mrs. Granger would be needed for you to visit, or in fact for me to provide any more information at all.”

“But she's going to be all right?” Harry asked nervously.

“What happened to Miss Granger was a horrible thing,” said Dumbledore. “Are you the same person that you were before witnessing Mr. Diggory's death and Voldemort's rebirth?”

“No... I wish I'd not seen any of it, that none of it would ever have happened,” Harry said.

“So it will be with Miss Granger, I am certain,” explained Dumbledore. “She will eventually be well, but most likely changed in some ways. I say this not to frighten you, but to prepare you for the likelihood.”

Harry didn't want to talk about what had happened at the Grangers' home; he didn't even want to think on it. “I guess there are no worries about going back to Grimmauld Place, then. What's the Order going to do – meet at Hogwarts?”

“Given the climate within the Board and the Ministry, that would not be a wise course of action,” said Dumbledore. “We fear that one or more of the safe houses has been compromised, as well, by a different channel. Alastor has recommended that we adopt the cell structure that was used during the First War, and I agree. The larger meetings will be limited to those who coordinate cells and the general leadership.”

“Are there that many people in the Order?” Harry asked.

“We have engaged in careful growth,” Dumbledore said. “Though you will not be returning to Grimmauld Place, I do however ask that you resume training with Kingsley whilst you remain here. I have asked Tonks to provide some additional training, and she will be taking charge of your protection detail as well. I find myself drawn into an ever increasing number of meetings, which I consider to be bad for both body and mind. Alas, it is a consequence of the life I have chosen.”

“Kingsley and Tonks are fine with me,” Harry said.

“Excellent,” said Dumbledore. “Tonks?”

Tonks called out, “Wotcher, Harry!” inches from Harry’s ear; he failed to hear so much as a pop! in advance. He shrieked, tottered to one side, and fell awkwardly from the rocks into the water. Pushing off against the bottom, he staggered to his feet just as a wave caught him from behind. He came up a second time, coughed and spluttered, and shouted, “TONKS!”

Tonks winced. “I know, I know… I’m a menace,” she pouted. “Make your way over, and I’ll help you back onto the rocks.”

“I’ll just head for the beach, thank you!” Harry snapped, just before another wave caused him to lose his footing. He spit salty water, and reconsidered; instead he swam toward the rocks. The current was stronger than he expected, and the water was bracing.

He stood chest-deep next to the rocks, and Tonks offered her hand. “I’ll give a tug while you walk up the side,” she said.

Harry took her hand, and a wicked impulse came upon him. He grinned at her, and pulled as hard as he could. He found her shrill shriek and thunderous splash most satisfying. She came up cursing coarsely and thrashing madly. From the beach, Dumbledore’s laughter rang out in waves.

Tonks glared at Harry murderously. “I can’t believe you… look at me!” Her hair had turned three different colours, and her face was a different skin tone and shape than when she first appeared on the rocks. “I suppose you think morphing is simple, then? Just a walk in the park, is it? Urgh!” She launched into another round of cursing, and Harry began edging toward the rocks.

Her expression grew feral, and she bellowed, “Do you have any idea how much effort it takes to set and hold a new face? What were you thinking? I am a high-maintenance woman!” She erupted into a splashing fit, arms swinging and feet kicking. Harry turned to avoid the flood of water flung toward him, and considered the potential cost of impulsiveness.

A second laugh echoed from the rocks; its tone suggested polite amusement. Kingsley Shacklebolt called out, “High maintenance, Tonks? This comes from a woman who considers Weird Sisters tee-shirts to be the height of fashion?”

“Don’t interrupt, Kingsley; I’ve yet to reach a boil!” Tonks declared, before she resumed loudly cursing and splashing at Harry with all the strength she could muster.

Shacklebolt began to laugh again, and Harry protested, “This isn’t… glub… funny, Shacklebolt… grgl…she’s trying to… glrb… drown me!”

Shacklebolt looked back at Harry smugly. “From where I stand, it’s rather amusing.”

Harry splashed Tonks into temporary submission, turned back to face the rocks, pointed, and said, “Accio Shacklebolt!” The tall Auror stumbled, scrambled for balance, and then slid slowly and inexorably to the edge and into the water.

Harry turned back to Tonks. “Now that’s amusing,” he said, rather self-satisfied. She started to chuckle.

Shacklebolt broke the surface with clenched teeth. “Potter, you’ll pay for this. In a thousand small ways, you’ll pay,” he promised in a dead even tone.

Dumbledore strode back to the rocks. He flicked his wand, and Shacklebolt rose from the water. “Your deep sense of calm has long been a source of strength, Kingsley,” he said quietly. “You would do well to remember that.”

Shacklebolt bowed his head slightly, and muttered, “Of course, Albus.”

Dumbledore turned to Tonks and Harry with twinkling eyes. “Are you ready to come out now?” he asked.

Tonks nodded fervently. “The water’s on the brisk side,” she said. “Just one last thing…” Before Harry could fully react, Tonks closed the distance between them, planted her hand atop his head, and pushed. By the time he shot to the surface, she was standing on the rocks. She laughed so hard that tears streamed down her face.

Dumbledore lifted Harry from the water and cast a drying spell, smiling broadly all the while. “It does my heart good to see you acting your age – you have had precious few opportunities for that,” he said.

Shacklebolt also smiled, though faintly – a rare sight that summer, Harry thought. “It is too easy to forget that you’re sixteen,” he said. “I trust you’re prepared to resume our training?”

Harry felt the weight of obligation slip back onto his shoulders, and didn’t entirely care for it. “That's right,” he responded.

Shacklebolt was impassive. “There must be sufficient space in the tower for practice,” he said.

Harry shrugged, “I have no idea. I haven’t been inside.”

Shacklebolt looked at Harry as if he were mad. “What are you on about? We know you’ve been staying here. Would you have us believe that you’re sleeping on the beach?”

Dumbledore asked, “Why haven’t you entered the tower, Harry?”

Harry hesitated before he answered, “It didn’t feel right.”

Dumbledore appeared to weigh the answer. Harry concentrated on building a mental wall around his own thoughts, but felt no intrusions. Eventually, Dumbledore said, “We will enter the tower together, tomorrow.”

Harry heard a voice from the darkness that he would as soon have forgotten. “Potter, it goes without saying that you lack any respect for your protectors. If you possessed the barest scintilla of respect, good sense or even common decency, then you would sleep from time to time,” sneered Severus Snape. Harry summoned cauldrons of boiling oil to the ramparts of his mental walls and silently dared Snape to advance.

“Severus, I have taken all the evenings with Harry thus far,” Dumbledore said. “Your complaint would seem to lack merit.”

Harry gasped when Snape came into view. The relative cleanliness of his hair was shocking enough; its sandy brown colour was nearly incomprehensible. He simply couldn’t process the sight of Severus Snape in casual Muggle clothing. Harry had never seen Snape wear garments of any colour other than black. The combined effect of hair and clothing took decades from Snape’s face; for the first time, Harry could imagine Snape as his parents’ peer.

“Of course, Potter’s new pet Muggle would have to be pathologically incapable of sleep as well,” Snape grumbled. “Why would the world visit upon me another chronic rule-breaker who, in abject violation of reason, beguiles all comers and who is profoundly ungrateful for the gift of raw talent? The two of you are unpalatable peas in a pod, boy.”

Pet Muggle?” Harry asked dangerously, his fists balling.

“You will refrain from derogatory comments, Severus – is that understood?” commanded Dumbledore. “If you are here, then who is maintaining watch on the young lady’s residence?”

“There was hardly a point, given that she is no longer within her residence,” said Snape. “She is coming up the lane toward the tower as we speak. I suggest that we disperse.”

Harry quickly shed his thoughts of Snape. “Up the lane… what would she be doing here at this time of night?” he wondered aloud.

“The same as you, Potter – destroying the lives of those around her via sleep deprivation,” spat Snape.

“Your point has been amply made,” Dumbledore said with pronounced impatience. “You may return to Hogwarts; thank you for your assistance.” Snape glared at Harry. When Harry slowly started toward him, Snape stalked off into the darkness and disappeared.

Dumbledore turned to Tonks and Shacklebolt. “Eleven o’clock should be a sufficiently late start, wouldn't you say, Kingsley? Tonks, if you would be so kind as to check the perimeters?” Tonks playfully swatted at Harry’s arm and disapparated in silence. Shacklebolt nodded respectfully and also disapparated.

Harry flexed his hands. “You can take the grease from the git…” he began to mutter.

“You shall have to overcome your enmity,” Dumbledore gently chided him.

“Tell him that,” Harry grumbled.

Dumbledore said calmly, “I have, and I shall do so again.”

They walked across the beach in silence. Harry walked up the switchback to the top of the cliff. Dumbledore disappeared with a faint pop! and awaited Harry at the top.

“I suppose I’ll see you in the morning,” Harry said evenly.

Dumbledore nodded, and conjured an armchair and a light blanket.

“What are you doing?” Harry asked.

“I am making my arrangements for the remainder of the night,” answered Dumbledore.

Harry hadn’t contemplated the living conditions of his minders. “I’d invite you in, of course,” he said hesitantly. “It’s just… the place where I’m staying is warded against wizards. I could grant you permission, of course…”

“…But you would prefer to hold onto something that is truly your own,” Dumbledore finished for him. “The bothy appears to have remained in excellent condition. I can certainly understand –”

Harry cut him off in a flash. “Appears to be… you can see it?”

Dumbledore lowered his eyes. “There is nothing to be gained by misleading you. Yes, I can see through the wards that Sirius placed on the bothy. In fact, I could see through them twenty years ago, when I followed Sirius and Remus and your father here. They are well placed; it was truly extraordinary work on the part of a sixth-year student. There are no more than a handful of wizards or witches who could visually penetrate such a ward. It is a unique ability that I have developed over time.”

Harry asked, “You followed them here, when they slipped out of Hogwarts? Sirius didn’t mention that in his letter.”

“He would not have known, for I took no action,” returned Dumbledore. “Sirius desperately required an outlet, and there was little that could be done within the confines of Hogwarts.” Seemingly sensing what Harry was thinking, he added, “You have similar needs, Harry. I will not come to the bothy without your knowledge, and I will never knowingly disclose its location. You have my word.” Harry satisfied himself with that, in part because he had no alternative. He led Dumbledore toward his home.

When Harry put his wand in the lead box, Dumbledore remarked, “How quaint,” before following suit. Dumbledore was particularly interested in Sirius’ record collection, and Harry’s new collection of compact discs. He confessed to having charmed a Muggle phonograph so that it would function within his chambers at Hogwarts.

Harry showed him Sirius’ stacks of photographs. Dumbledore identified a number of people in the magical photographs. Others were familiar, mostly members of the original Order. Dumbledore was at a loss with most of the Muggle photographs. Many had been taken in and around the bothy, or on the beach. Half were pictures of Sirius alone with women, sometimes one and sometimes more. A few faces recurred, but most did not. The rest were various combinations of Sirius and others – Harry’s parents, Remus, and many who Harry didn’t know; he thought that one face might have belonged to Devlin Whitehorn.

Harry felt compelled to guide Dumbledore on a tour of sorts – it felt like he was showing off his first flat. Dumbledore seemed to sense this and he bubbled on in a very positive vein. In the bedroom, his gaze paused on Hermione’s picture.

“This is a fine photograph of Miss Granger,” said Dumbledore. “From whom did you receive this?”

“Her father gave it to me… you know… afterward,” Harry returned. Even thinking about that day made his blood rise; it was still easy to summon images of Hermione’s pain and of bloody Death Eaters strewn across the dining room.

“It is the only item you have placed on the walls,” Dumbledore observed.

Harry was inclined to blurt out that he had no other frames, and no other pictures of his own. Something stopped him. He simply said, “It’s a smashing picture of her, isn’t it?”

“It captures her essence in that moment,” Dumbledore allowed. “I am aware that you have owled Mr. Weasley. Have you been in contact with any of your other friends?”

“No,” said Harry.

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. “May I ask, why not?”

“This has been my time,” Harry answered quickly. “I don’t have to be the Boy-Who-Lived here.”

“Do you believe that your friends see you solely through that lens?” asked Dumbledore.

Harry sighed and said, “It’s what they know.” He rooted through the wardrobe and pulled out a spare blanket, took a pillow from the bed, and trudged toward the living area.

“Thank you,” said Dumbledore. “I may indulge in a short rest. I am certain that Alastor would not approve, of course.”

“These are for me,” Harry explained. “I’m not very tired. You can have the bedroom, if you like.”

“Ah, of course. You might like to invite the young lady in,” Dumbledore said. “I shall accept your kind offer. I have confidence that you will behave appropriately.”

“I can’t imagine why she would be out at this hour,” Harry fumed. “She’s trying to avoid the press, I think, and I’d think Shona would explode if…” He stopped. “Wait… if she was already on the lane… that’s been quite some time…” He snatched his wand from the box and said absently, “Excuse me,” as he rushed out the door.

With a pang of dread in his stomach, Harry started up the worn path of grass toward the tower, wand extended. There was a bicycle laid down on its side Where the path veered near the cliff’s edge. He heard something, and stood as quietly as he could. It was the faint echo of a voice, coming from the beach. As soon as he reached the top of the switchback that led down to the sand, he smiled.

Heather was standing at the centre of the beach, singing toward the sheer cliff. Harry knew very little about music – he wasn’t certain of exactly what he was hearing, in fact – but Sirius’ record collection had greatly increased his appreciation. He knew with absolute certainty that he had never in his life heard a voice like the one that filled his beach with song.

He strained to understand the words, until it dawned on him that they were in a language other than English. Her voice soared and fell, from impossibly high down to mellow and throaty, from gentle trill to powerful roar. He Disillusioned himself and quietly slipped down the path. He didn’t stop until he was close enough to see her clearly in the moonlight.

She sang with her eyes closed, swaying from time to time, then wringing her hands, even twirling around once. Her face shone with emotion – no careful control, no hint of frustration, just unabashed joy. It must be like flying, he thought.

The song came to an end. She stood there with her eyes closed, and a satisfied smile spread across her face. I could cancel the spell, he thought. She wouldn’t see, if I did it right now. He wanted to tell her that she was brilliant, that he was terribly impressed… and then it hit him. She doesn’t want to be the Girl-Who-Sings. That’s why she came home; that’s why she’s dodging the press and those two director-types. He wondered what she would think, if she understood how much they had in common – but there was no way she could ever know that. He understood that this was her time, free of pressure and free of her sort of minders, and he remained hidden.

She began to sing again, this time in English. Harry recognised the tune; he even knew that it was called the Coventry Carol. Church at Christmastime had been one of the few destinations where the Dursleys had gladly taken Harry; it had been an opportunity for them to appear charitable. He didn’t recall the song having been sung, though – only played by the organist – so the words were unfamiliar. Heather sang the carol slowly, almost mournfully, and Harry felt the power of the words and the emotions surge through him. His urges were pitted against one another – on the one hand, he desperately wanted to reveal himself; on the other, he felt almost guilty for watching her – for intruding on something very personal. Now I understand why sirens are so dangerous, he thought.

After another song, again in a different language, she stopped and opened her eyes. She looked directly at him, but showed no sign of recognition. He realised that she was done, and dashed up the switchback ahead of her. She stopped at the top of the path, and stared at the bothy for nearly a minute before she picked up the bicycle. I could come out of the bothy, he thought; I could say that I heard something and came out for a look. He settled on following her home, to be sure that she arrived safely. He dashed to retrieve the Bonnie.

“Aaaahhh!” Heather shrieked, and then gasped, “Harry! Where in the bloody hell did you come from?”

Harry cursed himself for being completely thick – the moment he’d crossed the wards, the Disillusionment had been dampened. “Erm… I heard something and… I, uh… well, you certainly don’t expect to hear anything out here in the night,” he stammered. “I thought I should have a look.”

She crossed her arms, and asked with a smirk, “What did you plan to do if you happened on an intruder – poke him to death?”

“Funny,” he said, before he realised that his wand was in his hand. His mouth went instantly dry, but he managed to say, “Er… forgot to set down my drumstick… that’s it, erm, my drumstick… anyway, I’m tougher than you might think.” He reached behind his back and awkwardly jammed the wand into his back pocket.

“You’re a drummer? Full of surprises, aren’t you?” Heather stopped, and relaxed her tone. “I didn’t mean to suggest that you couldn’t look after yourself. That’s not what I… I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I’m sorry. I should have asked you first, you know, before I came out here.” She worried her lower lip, and watched him expectantly.

“You were on the beach, then? Is that what I heard?” Harry asked, hoping that nothing in his voice betrayed him.

She looked away from him; he thought she seemed embarrassed. “I was right,” she said, “it’s a fantastic place to sing.”

“It’s yours,” Harry said impulsively, “anytime you like. Just tell me some time – I’d… erm, I’d like to really hear you.”

“I’d like that,” Heather said softly, and a smile crept onto her face.

Harry swallowed back growing nervousness. “It’s a long ride back,” he said. “If you like, you could leave the bicycle here and I’d give you a lift. I can get the bicycle back to you tomorrow.”

“I wouldn’t want to be a bother,” Heather said. “It looks as if you have a guest.” Harry turned. Dumbledore was standing next to the door of the bothy. Harry couldn’t make out his expression in the darkness.

Harry motioned to her. “Come on. I’ll just tell him I’m stepping out for a bit. It’s no bother at all – really.”

As Harry and Heather drew closer, Dumbledore appeared surprised for a moment, but quickly composed himself. He extended a hand to Heather. “I certainly did not anticipate visitors at this late hour,” he said. “I am Harry’s professor. My name is Albus, but I am typically called Al… for obvious reasons, I should think.” Harry averted his eyes from Dumbledore and turned away from Heather.

“You’re a professor? What do you teach?” Heather asked brightly.

Dumbledore smiled. “My chief interest is history,” he said. “I direct my focus toward the Victorian era. I’m intimately familiar with that period. It almost seems as though I lived it.” Harry broke into a mild coughing fit. Dumbledore looked at him with concern. “Are you all right, Harry? A sherbet lemon, perhaps?” Harry’s coughing increased.

“I didn’t realise that Harry was at the uni,” Heather said. “Where are my manners? I’m sorry – I’m Heather Magruder.”

Dumbledore slowly raised an eyebrow. “Would you be the same Heather Magruder who performed at the Prince’s Trust concert last year?”

“Um… yes, I would,” she said shyly.

“I was not in attendance, of course,” Dumbledore said. “A… friend… who is more familiar with these sorts of things described to me the event and its aftermath.”

“I… neglected to curtsey,” Heather said, rather cautiously. “You’d think the world ended.”

“I suspect that your unexpected decision to sing in Gaelic at the height of the Scottish referendum effort played a greater role in the public reaction,” Dumbledore laughed. “I am most curious – was it your intention to send a message?”

“We’ve been made to neglect our heritage and asked to forget who we are for centuries,” Heather said stridently. Harry noticed that the burr in her voice was suddenly more pronounced; she sounded rather like Shona, he thought. “It shouldn’t require a wee song in our own tongue to make that point, sir.”

Dumbledore held up his hands. “I have no position on the matter one way or the other,” he offered. “I have dealt with sufficient politics for two lifetimes. It is simply fortunate that you were able to continue performing.”

Heather snorted. “After that concert, my gates doubled and record sales quadrupled. Scandal sells.”

Dumbledore turned to Harry. “Harry, I trust you did not suggest to Miss Magruder that you were studying at university?”

Harry snapped back to attention; his main hope to that point had been that he wouldn’t pass out. “Uh… no, I didn’t. The subject hadn’t come up.”

“I see. Harry has been educated in a small boarding school for the last several years, where I am a professor and the Headmaster. We are assembling a private tutorial for him for his remaining two years,” Dumbledore explained.

“Two years…” Heather stopped, and she looked at Harry curiously. “Wait a minute – you’re sixteen? You can’t be sixteen! I mean, you’re living on your own, and… and the motorbike… and… you’re sixteen?”

Harry nodded mutely. So ends my summer holiday, he thought.

Dumbledore made a show of frowning, at first. “Harry has always been something of a rule breaker. I choose to tolerate the motorbike, as it was part of his recent inheritance and has considerable sentimental value. We all give him latitude, perhaps more than we should at times. However, he is an adult insofar as Scottish law is concerned. He has overcome a very difficult life, to become a gifted student and a good man.”

“Why a tutorial? What are you studying?” Heather asked Harry.

Before Harry could begin to stutter his way through some kind of explanation, Dumbledore answered for him. “His tutorial is in a branch of physics, relating to the manipulation and quantum transfer of energy. It is quite obscure, but terribly important.”

“Rich and brilliant – that’s not really fair, is it?” Heather said. “Thank God you don’t act the part. I’ll have to get used to the idea that you’re a year younger than me, though.”

“You’re… not angry with me?” Harry ventured.

“For being younger than I am?” Heather asked. “We weren’t exactly trading information, you know? Makes me rethink the lift home a bit, though.” Harry thought that she was serious until she rolled her eyes.

“Professor… erm… I thought that I would give Heather a lift back to the village,” Harry explained. “It’s rather late to be riding a bicycle.”

Dumbledore stroked his beard, and Harry’s mouth went dry. At length, he said, “Indeed it is, Harry. I suggest that you make haste. There are preparations to be made in the morning. It would be advisable that you get some sleep, however little that may be.”

Harry added in a mutter for Heather's ears, “Remember the, uh, problem that I’m to resolve for Shona? The people that I need to help me are coming.”

Heather whispered in return, “I suppose she can set aside her cleavers, then.”

Dumbledore stepped inside the bothy for a moment, and then returned. “Perhaps we should keep the bicycle inside,” he said to Heather. “If you bring it to me, I shall set it aside for you. Harry can go around the back and fetch his motorbike.” He reached out to shake Harry’s hand, and said, “You will ride with care, I trust?” Harry felt the shrunken Bonnie slip into his hand.

“Absolutely, sir,” Harry promised. He dashed around the side of the bothy, and then ran to the edge of the wards before enlarging the motorbike. He rode it around to the head of the path, and waited there. He tried to imagine Heather’s reaction if he accidentally passed the wards and the Bonnie turned to wood; it was too horrible to contemplate.

Harry waited, and waited some more. After quite a while, Heather strolled toward him with two helmets in hand. He wondered how Dumbledore had pulled that off; they had been reduced inside his saddlebags, which were safely inside the lead box.

Heather smoothly slid onto the seat behind him, and clasped his sides with her hands. He struggled to put on his helmet - catching his glasses twice in the process - and she laughed. That was enough to settle him. He left the Bonnie in riding mode, and purposely made the trip across the grassy field as rough as possible. She had surely seen and heard enough to justify some difficult questions, and he had no interest in adding to her prospective list.

“Your professor seems like a fine fellow,” she said as they pulled onto the lane leading to the roadway. She seemed to have accepted that the helmets had radios in them, which was a relief to Harry.

“He has his moments,” Harry said. His stomach fluttered, and his hands and arms tingled – likely from fatigue, he reckoned. As he turned onto the roadway and accelerated, Heather wrapped her arms around him and pulled close. It left him a bit short of breath, and he was certain that he needed sleep. Thankfully, she had nothing else to say; he doubted that he could readily speak.

As they rode through the quiet and empty village, Harry silently regretted the authenticity of the Bonnie in riding mode; the faux engine sounded like a jackhammer. Heather directed him to a ramshackle cottage on the edge of the village proper. She released him, and his breath returned somewhat.

Heather took off her helmet, and handed it to him. “Thanks for the ride,” she said loudly enough to be heard over the idling Bonnie. “You’ll get my bicycle to me, then?”

Harry nodded. “Tomorrow,” he said.

Heather pointed at her ears. When Harry didn’t respond, she reached out and took off his helmet. “I said, tomorrow,” he repeated.

“Are you warm?” she asked. “Your face is red.” Is she mocking me? he wondered.

“I’m fine,” he answered.

Heather said, “Get some sleep.” She leant in and casually kissed his cheek, to the accompaniment of the cottage’s front door slamming open.

Shona pounced. “Where the hell have yeh been? It’s past three o’clock in the morning!” she roared.

“Hello… I, uh… that is, she… erm…” stammered Harry.

Heather scowled. “I rode out of the village a fair distance. Harry found me and gave me a lift back.”

“An' then yer arse fell off,” Shona snapped. “Try another?”

“Heather found a spot on my land this afternoon where she thought she might like to sing. I didn’t know she was coming back tonight. All she did was sing,” Harry insisted.

“I told yeh not ta get caught with yer breeks down,” Shona growled. “Get yerself inside - now. I set aside some stovies for yeh… suppose yeh worked up an appetite!”

Heather protested, but Shona roared and growled and frothed until Heather complied. She told Harry, “I’ll see you soon,” before a last snarl from Shona drove her through the door.

“Little chance of that,” Shona muttered as she turned on Harry. “Found a spot on your land, did she? I’ve a good idea where yer land lies, yeh thievin’ English bastard,” she spat.

Harry reached his limit. He shouted, “Look, I don’t know what you think you know, but you’ve no right to accuse Heather of doing anything other than sneaking out! I didn’t know she was going to do it, and nothing happened between us! Do you think she’d have kissed me on the cheek otherwise?” Lights turned on in several neighbouring cottages, and someone shouted at them from a window. Shona responded to the shouting with a crude gesture.

“I needed her ta go inside. Now talk, if yeh know what’s good for yeh,” Shona demanded. “Where’d – yeh – get – this – BIKE?

“It was a gift,” Harry snarled back.

Shona winced with impatience, and then tried again with mock-sweetness that didn’t become her. “It’s a classic, yeh know? Who gave it to yeh, then?”

“I inherited it,” Harry answered, an edge still in his voice.

Shona’s eyes slowly widened, and the colour drained from her. “Inherited… like from a will? Like… when yer… dead?” she asked quietly. Harry nodded.

She squeezed her eyes closed, and breathed hard for a solid minute. She rubbed at her eyes, and it seemed to Harry like she was on the edge of sobbing. Her breathing steadied, and she clenched and unclenched her fists, over and over again. Harry had absolutely no idea what she was thinking, or what he should do; he settled on standing still. When she opened them again, her eyes were cold and empty.

She moved in on him until her face was inches from his. Her throat twitched and her chin quivered, and she wailed, “I know where yeh live, and I know what yeh are. Stay away from her, or so help me, I’ll send yeh ta meet him. Go.

Harry started, “Who do you think I am? You don’t know me…”

Shona erupted, “Are yeh tellin’ me I won’t find yeh in that little bothy down from the tower? Tell me she dinnae fall in love with the beach… that’s the spot, innit? Yer just like him, yeh little bastard… yeh Blacks are all alike!”

Harry gripped the handles of the motorbike hard, and fixed Shona with a withering glare. “My name isn’t Black,” he said in a low, even voice.

Shona flopped to a seat on the kerb, and whispered anxiously to herself; Harry made out the word ‘dead’ several times. At length, she looked up at him – at first surprised and then angry.

Why are yeh still here?” she screamed. “GO! Go as far as that effin’ bike will take yeh!” The neighbour again broke into angry shouts, and Shona stood and returned verbal fire curse-for-curse.

Harry slammed on his helmet, and streaked down the lane. When the lane unexpectedly turned into a darkened cul-de-sac, he quickly rendered himself and the Bonnie invisible and took to the skies. He shot out to sea, throttle wide open and low to the water, and waited for the act of flying to transport him somewhere else – somewhere without a past. The moment never came, and he turned west to race the lightening sky back to the bothy.

He thrust open the door, tossed the reduced Bonnie and his wand into the lead box, and unceremoniously dumped out Sirius’ box on the counter – all before he spotted Dumbledore seated on the small couch with a serene expression, and before it dawned on him that Heather’s voice was coming from the speakers.

“Would you please turn that off?” Harry grumbled.

Dumbledore looked at Harry curiously. “She possesses a remarkable talent,” he said as he stood and lowered the volume to zero. “Your trip into the village took considerably longer than I would have anticipated. Is there anything that you would care to tell me?”

Harry glared at Dumbledore, red-faced. “I’m sure the minders have already reported back,” he snapped, and then began to sift through Sirius’ Muggle photographs. She must be in here somewhere, he thought.

“Even members of the Order must sleep from time to time,” Dumbledore told him impassively. “I will ask again – is there anything that you would care to tell me?”

Harry flipped through the photographs quickly, looking for long dark hair and bright eyes. “She knew him,” Harry growled. “She knew Sirius…” He stopped cold. “Merlin… she must have known my dad, and maybe my mum…” he whispered, and tore through the photographs with a new urgency.

He scarcely noticed that Dumbledore moved to peer over his shoulder. “Who knew Sirius?” Dumbledore asked.

“Shona, Heather’s… well, whatever she is to Heather,” Harry answered impatiently. He flipped past a photograph, and then abruptly returned to it.

Sirius was on the beach, laughing – he was often laughing in the Muggle photographs, Harry had noticed. Harry’s father was furiously brushing sand out of his hair, his mouth contorted into a snarl; his mother appeared to be sneaking up behind Sirius, with a small bucket in her hands. Remus was sitting off to one side – of course Remus was there, Harry thought. He was rolling his eyes at Sirius; Harry suspected he’d done quite a lot of that in those days. A dark-haired woman sat next to Remus, wide-eyed and pointing toward Lily. Harry peered closely at the image. It was slightly fuzzy, but he had no doubts – the woman was a thinner, sharper-faced version of Heather. He handed the photograph off to Dumbledore, and started through the stack again with a particular face in mind.

She was in several of the Muggle photographs, but never appearing with anyone consistently – here her arm was around Remus; there she and Lily wrangled an enormous umbrella; in one image she was with Sirius, James, the man who appeared to be Devlin Whitehorn, and another woman; in another she was free-climbing one of the stacks that bounded the beach, while Sirius, Remus and two other women cringed below.

More surprising to Harry, she was in the background of two of the magical photographs. In the first, Lily and Remus were playing what looked to be Muggle chess in the foreground, seated at a table in a kitchen that Harry didn’t recognise. Shona was cooking; Sirius reached for something from a bowl on the counter, and she slapped his hand hard with a spatula. James was behind Sirius, and he laughed heartily each time that the spatula struck and Sirius scrambled backward. In the second, Sirius was mugging for the camera from a dizzying angle. He had a pack on his back, and a rugged Highlands vista behind him. Remus was on a path behind and below, clearly labouring; he gestured upward in a manner that could not be described as friendly. Shona was behind Remus; she glared up at Sirius, and held a hand on the side of Remus’ pack. It looked as though she was trying to prevent Remus from lurching over the side in exhaustion. The fourth face in the picture stopped Harry cold – it was Wormtail.

Dumbledore placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Harry, this woman obviously knew Sirius. Did she know that he was a wizard?”

“I don’t know,” returned Harry. “She told me that she knew where I lived and that she knew what I am. She thinks I’m a Black… Sirius’ son, I suppose.”

“By saying that she knew what you are, could she have been referring to membership in the Black family?” Dumbledore speculated aloud. “The Blacks had a prominent reputation amongst Muggles in this area for centuries.”

“They have a reputation, all right!” Harry fumed. “Now I’m not to see Heather, and when Shona’s through with me I probably won’t be able to even walk down the High Street… and it’s all thanks to Diggle!

Dumbledore said, “Thus we return to your impending guests. Remus has expressed concern regarding Dedalus’ handling of your funds and the Black trust.” He sadly shook his head, and sighed. “What has Dedalus done now?”

“He’s been collecting money all over the village, apparently,” Harry told him. “Heather called the payments… what was it?… assessments. She said that the Blacks did this for years, and that it only stopped when they disappeared.”

Dumbledore closed his eyes and frowned. “The Blacks were collecting relief. I am quite surprised that they were not subjected to legal proceedings. In feudal times, landowners paid relief to their lords in exchange for property inheritance rights. The right to collect relief still exists in a few places, but the right is a technicality that is almost never exercised. Dedalus reinstituted this?”

Harry nodded. “I don’t know who he charged, or how much. Heather made it sound as though the restaurant could close over it.”

“I understand why you are so displeased, Harry,” said Dumbledore. “Unless this situation is resolved, it will become virtually impossible for you to remain here. Take heart in the fact that Remus has secured assistance befitting the circumstances. Mister Tonks and I have had a challenging relationship over the years, but I have always held his skills in the highest esteem. He will help you to identify the best possible solution.”

Harry resisted the urge to crumple the magical photograph in his hand. He was tired, frustrated and angry, and it seemed reasonable to him that crumpling Wormtail would somehow help matters.

Dumbledore set the first Muggle photograph atop the counter. “We will discuss this particular situation with Remus as well,” he said. “He will mostly likely know what, if anything, Sirius may have revealed. Bellatrix Lestrange has been an obvious security concern, given her familiarity with the area and the property. If we must also give consideration to Pettigrew, then we shall have to reconsider whether or not this location can be reasonably secured.”

Harry closed his eyes tightly – he was trapped between fatigue and anger and frustration and couldn't move toward or away from any of them. “Wards? Charms? Another go at the Fidelius, maybe?”

“With the Burrow and Grimmauld Place out of order, those may represent the best of a less-than-ideal set of alternatives,” admitted Dumbledore. “Are you hungry?”

“Hungry?”

“Yes, hungry – in need of food,” repeated Dumbledore. “You have not eaten since the midday meal. Fellowe?”

A house-elf appeared abruptly in their midst, clad in a Hogwarts towel. Something about the elf suggested fastidiousness, though Harry was hard-pressed to put words to it. “May I help you, Headmaster?” Fellowe asked.

“Would you be so kind as to bring my young friend and I something light to eat – perhaps fruit, some breads and a spot of hot chocolate?” Dumbledore asked.

“Of course, Headmaster,” said Fellowe. “Will you be wanting the letter set aside for Mr. Potter?”

“An excellent thought – always a good Fellowe, aren't you?” said Dumbledore. “Please bring the letter as well.”

“As you wish, Headmaster,” the house-elf said. Within moments, he returned with the desired items, placed them at Harry's counter and left wordlessly.

Dumbledore picked up the letter, adjusted his pince-nez glasses and read, “To Harry James Potter, in care of Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry: from Griselda Marchbanks, Wizardry Examination Authority, Ministry of Magic, in regard to Ordinary Wizarding Level examination results.”

Harry instantly trained his eyes onto the plate of fruit. There was no reason to be nervous, he knew; now that he was dismissed from his formal studies, the results probably weren’t as important.  He hadn’t felt the need to ask after his results, but couldn’t completely push back his excitement at knowing.  

He caught a quick look at Dumbledore, who peered through his small silver spectacles at the parchment in his hand.  “Astronomy… Acceptable on the theoretical examination and Poor on the practical examination, but there is a notation… yes, of course – your practical examination was rather disrupted.  All practical results were increased by one mark, which left you with an overall mark of Acceptable.”

Harry continued to look away because he was afraid that Dumbledore might see his shocked expression.  Didn’t see that one coming, he admitted to himself; I thought that I had failed theory as well. 

“Care of Magical Creatures… Outstanding on the practical, with an overall mark of Exceeds Expectations,” Dumbledore said.  “Charms… Outstanding on the practical portion, and… Acceptable on the theoretical portion, for an overall mark of Exceeds Expectations.” 

Harry turned his focus to the breads as Dumbledore continued, “Defence Against the Dark Arts… Outstanding overall, with a Commendation awarded for performance on the practical.  Well done, very well done.”  If there had been any of the examinations he was dead sure about, it had been the Defence practical.

Dumbledore cleared his throat.  “Now, then… Divination… is best left unmentioned.  Herbology… Acceptable on the theoretical examination, and Exceeds Expectations on the practical, for a mark of Exceeds Expectations.  History of Magic… good heavens… it has been many years since I have seen an overall mark of Troll.” 

Troll?” Harry groaned.

Dumbledore laughed loudly.  “I see that students still believe such a mark actually exists!  No, you were merely Dreadful.  Moving on… ah, here it is – Potions… Acceptable on the theoretical examination, and Outstanding on the practical, for a mark of Exceeds Expectations.”

“No wonder Snape was in a snit!” Harry smirked.

“Harry…” Dumbledore tut-tutted.  “That leaves Transfiguration… Exceeds Expectations on the theoretical examination, and Outstanding on the practical, for a mark of Outstanding.”  He lowered the parchment and smiled.  “Under any circumstance, this would have been a commendable result.  Given last year’s tribulations, it is remarkable.  I offer my congratulations.”

Harry quickly and efficiently ate; he could feel Dumbledore watching him, waiting for him to speak. When the last strawberry was gone, he mused, “I wonder how Ron did?  I suppose he might be afraid to say; he'll probably figure I’ll be upset, being dismissed and all.  I’d guess that we scored about the same.  As for Hermione, I’m sure she had the top marks… she always has… the top marks, you know…”

“Harry…” Dumbledore began.

“She’s gone ‘round the bend, hasn't she? That's what happened,” Harry said flatly.

“That is a rather crude way to put it,” said Dumbledore, “and she is well on the way to being recovered. Few people are as adept at handling trauma as you, Harry.”

“Adept? I don't know what I'm doing; I just keep going on,” Harry said.

Dumbledore sighed.  “We appear to be locked into a circle, and there are some very difficult truths with which you must come to terms.  I believe it is time for us to take a brief journey, one that I had planned for the first week of the term.”  He retrieved his wand from the lead box and transfigured his casual clothing into a dark raincoat over slacks and a formal shirt. 

With a flick of the wrist, Dumbledore turned the letter into a second dark raincoat for Harry.  “Coats may not be needed,” he said, “but it is always best to anticipate the rain.”  He picked up a biro from the counter and waved his wand in a complex fashion.  “Come – place your hand upon the portkey.”

The navel-tugging sensation began at the instant that Harry placed a finger on the biro.  When he regained his footing, he and Dumbledore were standing beside a stone colonnade that opened to a reflecting pool.  Under a three-quarter moon and slowly lightening skies, Harry looked beyond the pool toward a wide, grassy mall. It was covered with row after row of white markers.  There were a handful of Muggles wandering about in the pre-dawn mist, but none paid them any mind.  It was breezy, but reasonably warm; Harry draped the raincoat over his arm.

“Where are we?” Harry asked.

“We are in France,” Dumbledore said quietly.  He walked slowly and reverently along the end of the reflecting pool, turned, and headed down a long path that ran toward the sea.  At the end of the path was an overlook, perched on a jut of land atop a cliff.  Below was a narrow and wide beach that divided the cliff and the sea.  Dumbledore stared down at the sand with watery eyes.

Harry waited until a group of elderly Muggles passed, and then asked, “What’s important about this beach?”

Dumbledore gestured at the beach below.  “One year before Grindewald was defeated, thousands of men died here.  Many of them are buried on the plains behind us.”

“This is Normandy, isn’t it?  You’re talking about D-Day,” Harry said.  “Last summer, I would sit in the corner of the television room beneath the Invisibility Cloak; there was nothing better to do.  I found out that Uncle Vernon’s dotty about the Second World War – if there was a programme on it, he was watching.”

Dumbledore nodded sadly.  “Tell me, do you feel it?” he asked.

“Feel what?”  Harry wasn’t sure what Dumbledore was talking about, but thought he should make an effort.  He closed his eyes, and concentrated on the breeze blowing off the water, and then he felt it.  “Pain… sadness… and something else.  I don’t understand – these were Muggles, right?”

“Powerful events leave powerful imprints – even Muggle events,” Dumbledore said.  “Sensible wizards avoid certain places in Germany and Japan entirely – it is simply too much to bear.”

Harry tried to sort out the ‘something else’ that he felt.  It seemed like a combination of things: fear, courage, resolve and death.  He shuddered.  “Why did we come here?” he asked in a whisper.

“Walk with me,” Dumbledore commanded, and Harry followed him back along the path.  They walked into the grass and into the midst of the sea of white marble markers.  Most were crosses; a few were fashioned as six-pointed stars.  There are so many, Harry thought.  The raw feelings - the imprint of the place - grew stronger and stronger as they walked on.

“Once, I tried to count them all,” Dumbledore said, as though he had heard Harry’s thought.  “I felt quite foolish later, when I happened upon the actual number engraved on a plaque.”

Harry shuddered again.  “Please… why are we here?” he asked.

Dumbledore said nothing until they reached a circular stone structure amidst the markers.  It was a chapel.  Dumbledore paused at an inscription on the exterior:

These endured all and gave all that justice among nations might prevail and that mankind might enjoy freedom and inherit peace.

“We are here because this is where I come from time to time in order to contemplate war.  There is nothing remotely like this place in our world – in the wizarding world,” Dumbledore said.

“Where are my parents buried?” Harry asked abruptly.  His hands shook, and he wished that he could take back the question.

Dumbledore fixed upon him a look of regret so profound that Harry could scarcely bear it.  “Harry, we do not bury our dead – we can not.  I am sorry… it never occurred to me that you would not know this.  When we talk of wizarding things, I too often fail to consider your circumstances.”

“What… what do you mean, we ‘can not’?  I don’t…”  Harry stopped himself.  He thought of how Voldemort had used his own father’s bones.  “Of course - a dark wizard could use the remains,” he muttered.

Dumbledore nodded gravely.  “The most potent use of remains would be against the family of the deceased.  We were very fortunate that Voldemort did not spirit away the bodies of your parents.”

“Is there a stone…?  Is there anything?” Harry asked. 

Dumbledore shook his head.  “It is not our way.  There was a sending –  I insisted upon that.  Your mother would have agreed with me.”

“A sending…” Harry murmured.  He tried to remember where he’d heard that word before, and then it came to him.  “Sirius said he didn’t want a sending.”

Dumbledore smiled faintly.  “Your father would have agreed with Sirius, until your mother talked sense into him.  It is an old custom, sending… one that should not have fallen out of favour.  Very few remain who are trained in the art and practice of it.”  He disappeared into his thoughts for a few moments, and then added, “I believe it would be a useful discipline for you to learn, even if the intricacies remain beyond your grasp.  I shall think on that.”  He sat down heavily on a low stone bench that backed the chapel wall.

Harry took a deep breath, and allowed himself to feel the pain in the air.  “You haven’t really answered my question.  Why are we here?” he asked again.

Dumbledore stared straight ahead.  Harry thought that everything about the man seemed ancient at that moment.  “You will lose people close to you, Harry.  That is an inescapable part of war.”

“I know that,” Harry snapped.

“Do you?” Dumbledore asked.  “In a century and a half, I have seen four Dark Lords come and go and now contend with a fifth, and I have lost more friends and colleagues than you could imagine.  We may not have places like this, but the markers in my mind’s eye are as hard and as cold as marble.  You will lose people close to you, Harry, and you will have to carry on.  You will lose your resolve at some point, and you will have to carry on.”

“I get it – I’m the weapon.  I know what I have to do,” Harry said coldly.

Dumbledore looked up at Harry, and his eyes blazed.  “We know what must be done.  Neither of us knows what you must do,” he snarled.  “As for the rest, let me be clear: you are not a weapon.”

Harry was dismissive.  “I have to kill him.  That makes me a weapon.”

Dumbledore’s voice remained low and powerful.  He rumbled, “You have been marked by evil, and you are the one who can rid the world of that evil.  If you were a weapon, then I would wield you.  I would decide how to best put you to use, and train you for that and only that.  When a weapon has satisfied its purpose, it is made ready for future use or discarded.”  He closed his eyes, and added gently, “You are not a weapon, Harry, not to me.”  He moved to stand, and Harry quickly extended an arm to help.

Dumbledore grasped Harry’s arm and lurched to his feet.  “There are so many shadows here, so many unrequited hopes and dreams.  Voldemort would have found a bosom companion in Adolf Hitler; Grindewald and his followers were supportive of the Nazis, in fact.  The people buried in this place were determined to stop Hitler; they believed that they were saving the Muggle world, and they died to that end.  Tell me, Harry – do you think that the Muggle world was worth saving?”

“Of course it was!” Harry spluttered.

“Was it?  Did the defeat of the Nazis put an end to Muggle atrocities?” Dumbledore asked.

“Well… no, but they couldn’t very well surrender to Hitler.  Can you imagine what the world would be like?  I mean, it’s far from perfect now, but…” Harry trailed off.

“Do you understand?” Dumbledore asked.

“The wizarding world isn’t perfect, but the wizarding world under Voldemort would be a nightmare,” Harry answered.

“If you save the wizarding world, then you will have the opportunity to shape it.  Perhaps it will change, and perhaps it will not.  If Voldemort prevails, he will not stop with the wizarding world.  There would be no places like this, however – no one who cared would remain to commemorate the dead,” Dumbledore said.  “He will not prevail; you will defeat him.  There will be losses along the way, but you will learn to bear them.”

Harry began to protest.  “But –”

Dumbledore waved him off.  “You will learn to bear the losses, because there is no other choice.  For five years, you have felt responsible for any harm that befell those close to you.  Soon, it shall not matter whether wizards are close to you or far away.  All that shall matter is whether they stand for or against Voldemort.  Those that stand in opposition shall be in harm’s way.  If your friends choose to stand against Voldemort, then no one shall be able to completely assure their safety.  Hogwarts remains a very safe place, but not perfectly so.”

“What are you asking me to do?” Harry sighed.

Dumbledore’s voice rose.  “Stop pushing away those who care for you the most.  You succeed in isolating yourself, and you gain nothing – no comfort for yourself and no added safety for others.  Do not attempt to bear the burden of everyone’s safety.  You cannot offer such a guarantee, and the weight of this burden has left you sullen, angry and at times thoroughly unpleasant.  If you are unable to break this pattern on your own, then I will intervene.  Is that understood?”

“I know I can’t protect everyone,” Harry said, “but Ron… look, I’m worried that he’ll do something completely mad, and… Hermione… I… I just can’t stand not knowing, right?”  His stomach lurched, and he felt himself begin to come undone.

“Harry, Miss Granger is in a safe place.  She is surrounded by people who care for her,” Dumbledore offered.

“You’ve said that already,” Harry snapped.

“I do understand what you're feeling under these circumstances -” Dumbledore began.

“Hardly,” scoffed Harry.

“I said that you could not imagine my losses. I have not always been alone,” said Dumbledore. “One hundred and ten years has not been long enough to atone... or to forget.”

Harry was caught completely flat-footed. “You were married, sir?”

“Yes,” Dumbledore said.

Harry waited for more but it never came. Instead, they took the path back to the overlook and watched the beach in silence as the sun rose to their right. At long last, Dumbledore cleared his throat. “Severus was right in one respect,” he said; “You live a young man's schedule, Harry. I do hope I can have a kip on your sofa.” He moved stiffly and Harry helped the Headmaster steady himself.

For the first time he could recall, Harry landed on his feet at the end of a Portkey ride; it was Dumbledore who lurched to one side. As he had intended, Harry gave up his bed. He was so tired that he couldn't find rest, and settled for wandering until fatigue led him to sit down. Shacklebolt was shocked a few hours later to find that Harry was indeed sleeping on the beach.

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