Harry arose early after a restless night. Slytherin's magic roiled and bubbled inside him. Thoughts of his friends' enigmatic behaviors pried at his mind. He dressed quickly and went to the common room. He watched the misty-green line of morning give way to a glorious golden sunrise. The sunlight seemed to quiet Slytherin's insistent magic, allowing Harry to sit in an armchair and ponder his day.

Suddenly a pair of hands covered his eyes from behind. He started at the touch.

The hands slipped away and Ginny came around to face Harry. He was relieved to see that she was smiling.

"Thanks for the lesson on closing my mind," she said. "After my Astronomy test I didn't get a full night's sleep, but it was a vast improvement over the last week." She sat on the arm of his chair.

The scent of her flowery perfume filled his senses. "Do you have any idea how much I love you?" he asked.

"No. Tell me," she said, almost too quickly.

His answer was cut off by a crowd of boisterous Gryffindor students coming from the dormitories. "There's Harry!" shouted a seventh year girl. "He can take us down to the Great Hall for breakfast. We won't have to wait for a teacher!"

Harry was about to protest when Ginny pulled him to his feet. "Let's go," she said. "We can talk later."

Harry led them down to the Great Hall and the Gryffindors melted away to surrounding tables. Conversation started between Ginny and Harry several times, but was constantly interrupted by people coming over to tell Harry how much they had learned in the D.A.

He took the compliments politely and assured each that they were exceeding all expectations.

"The mood seems cheerier of late," noted Ginny, as a pair of third year Hufflepuff girls flounced off.

"I see that too," marveled Harry. "I wonder what's gotten into people?"

"Honestly Harry, sometimes I just don't know about you," said Ginny, putting on a teachers face. "For the first time in months, people see something beyond today. They have been reluctant to make plans because they didn't know how long they would be alive. The news has all been bad lately. Dumbledore's death capped it. Most people felt that if Dumbledore could be killed, especially here at Hogwarts, they didn't stand a chance out in the real world. They now see a glimmer of hope... hope you have given them. Don't you see? You have ignited a fire of possibility."

"I... What... I don't see... It can't have changed so quickly," he spluttered.

"I see the explanation is going to take a while to sink in. Look around. See what's happening. Open your eyes," she encouraged.

Harry took her at her word. He leaned back from his seat and looked around. There were smiles. People sat in groups and talked animatedly. He saw a Hufflepuff boy and a Ravenclaw girl holding hands across the table. Teachers at the high table looked less grim. Compared with a scant week earlier, the mood was much more upbeat. He marveled that he had missed the obvious.

Ginny watched his eyes. Her smile returned as she saw his understanding blossom. "You see what I mean!" she exclaimed.

He looked at Ginny anew. "It's the future. They can see a future again."

"It's about time you got it," said Ron as he and Hermione ambled up behind. I was afraid it was going to take a nancy-boy talk with you."

Hermione ignored Ron and looked at Ginny. Ginny shook her head. Harry felt like he was in a foreign country, unable to speak the language, and had missed something important again.

"What?" he asked.

"Nothing," the girls said in unison, as they looked away.

At that moment, Headmistress McGonagall came into the Great Hall and bee-lined straight for Harry. "Potter, I thought you might like to know that we found Professor Flitwick right where you said he would be. He's in hospital as we speak. Madam Pomfrey says it was touch-and-go for a while. He had been hit with a tremendous stunning spell." She absent-mindedly rubbed the centre of her chest. "It can take some time to recover from such an immense encounter. Professor Flitwick's classes have been canceled for the remaining two days of term. Accordingly, I would like you to meet me in my office during the time you would normally have been in Charms. The rest of the class will have a free hour." Without waiting for a reply, she turned and headed for the high table.

"Great!" said Harry sarcastically, "One more thing to do before we leave. I've got my final Occlumency lesson with Lupin this morning and I was thinking we could use the two free hours this afternoon to attack the mystery of the ax."

"I can skive off my classes," said Ginny. "I want to help."

"We'll all help," said Hermione in a controlled voice. "The teachers aren't too fussed about the last two days of term. All the tests are over. Everyone has home and holiday on their minds."

"Not me," said Harry sourly. "Dumbledore's protective magic requires me to return to the Dursley's before I can come to the Burrow for Bill and Fleur's wedding. If I had my choice I'd never go back to Privet Drive."

"It's only for a week," observed Ron.

"Easy for you to say only a week," groused Harry. "You try living with the Dursley's and see how long a week can be."

Ginny squeezed Harry's hand hoping to forestall a bad mood from taking the moment.

Harry felt Ginny's warm hand. He looked at her delicate fingers intertwined with his bluish-tinged fingers and put away his self-pity. "I propose..."

Ginny drew a sharp breath and held it.

"...we drag as much fun out of these last two days as we can," finished Harry.

Ginny breathed again as Ron and Hermione voiced agreement.

Reluctantly, Harry said goodbye and left his friends to finish their meals. He headed for Lupin's classroom and was met in the hall by Alastor Moody.

"There you are Potter!" he growled. "I've come to take you to your lesson."

Harry fell in beside Moody. They walked in silence. Harry's mind wandered. He entertained thoughts about the ever-looming confrontation with Voldemort, about Baskin's words on the responsibility of leadership, about his friends. Suddenly he felt utter despair. The thought of giving it all up filled his mind.

"NO!" he said in his own head. "I've made that decision! I only have to make it once!"

A low chuckle sounded beside him. Moody was laughing a rumbling basso. "You pass another test, sonny-jim. Lupin wanted an unannounced test of your mental control. I inserted all those negative thoughts; thoughts of despair and giving up. But you fought me off. You registered and beat the malaise I pushed into your mind. Remember, mind attacks can be utterly silent."

He left Harry off and clumped away down the passageway.

Harry watched Moody's retreating back. "I have made up my mind!" he said firmly.

Peeves appeared and took the opportunity to pelt Harry with a handful of chalk. "Potty's not made up his mind he's losing it," taunted the poltergeist.

"Leave it Peeves," warned Harry. Peeves gave a loud cackle and zoomed away.

Harry knocked on Lupin's door. It swung silently inward. The room was a shambles. Harry walked cautiously into the wreckage. The door slammed shut behind him.

A huge werewolf blocked the only exit from the room. Saliva and blood dripped from sharp fangs. The werewolf dropped to all fours. Even off his hind legs, the animal was a head taller than Harry.

Calmly weighing his options and resources, a thought occurred. "It's two days to full moon," he said aloud. "Either Voldemort has another adamant crucible, or you're not real."

Ignoring his verbal ruminations, the werewolf paced back and forth, always keeping between Harry and the door.

With out drawing his wand, Harry silently focused his mind... "Riddikulus!" he shouted in his head. The werewolf disappeared in a puff of smoke.

"Well done said Lupin as he appeared from behind a dressing screen crumpled along one wall. "As you deduced, that was a boggart. Your skills have become prodigious. Would you mind terribly, cleaning up this mess?" asked Lupin. He crossed to a water pitcher and poured himself a drink as Harry righted the room.

When Harry had finished, he turned back to Lupin. He knew immediately that something was wrong. Lupin was hunched over, his back to Harry. The skin on the hand extending from his robe sleeve bubbled and roiled. Harry watched in horror as Lupin became Peter Pettigrew.

Pettigrew drew his wand and pointed it at Harry. "You were longer in arriving than I expected," he squeaked. "I have exceeded my hour on the Polyjuice Potion. No matter now. You are mine."

Harry raised his hands. "I have no wand," he said.

"All the better for me," said Pettigrew, "but you don't fool me. I saw you destroy the boggart without a wand. You'll not find me as easy to overcome. Voldemort has taught me immensely powerful spells. Shall I show you?"

Harry heard the gathering magic. He produced a counter for the spell and then hid a small magic in Wormtail's burgeoning swell. Wormtail's jet of fiery red light was deflected into the fireplace where it was consumed in a roar by the flames. Wormtail started to move forward, but his stride was impeded. He fell heavily to the floor.

Harry was on him in an instant. He kicked the wand from Wormtail's hand and hauled him to his feet.

"You can stop the charade Professor Lupin," said Harry calmly.

Wormtail went limp in Harry's hands. "How did you know?" questioned Pettigrew.

"You said "Voldemort" had taught you the spells. I've heard only one Death Eater say Voldemort's name. He said "Lord Voldemort", and he had the evil git growing out of the back of his head. I also recognized your wand and the pitch of the magic you use. And only a handful of wizards are intrepid enough to use that name. Professor R.J. Lupin is one of those intrepid individuals."

Harry pulled a chair under the shaking man. He bent over and untied Lupin's shoelaces, which were knotted together between his ankles.

"Ingenious!" commended Lupin in Pettigrew's voice. "Unfortunately, I must now wait an hour to regain my normal appearance."

Harry went to the water pitcher. As he suspected, it contained Polyjuice Potion.

"How did you ever come up with a hair from Peter Pettigrew?" marveled Harry.

"I went back to the Shrieking Shack. When Peter was making his mad dash to escape Sirius and me, he shed a few hairs. I collected them and orchestrated this test."

"What about the Polyjuice Potion? It takes a month to brew. You haven't had time to make a batch since you agreed to help finish out the term here. Do you always keep some on hand?"

"Your quick compilation of minutiae astounds me Harry," said Lupin with a smile. "You wove that attention to detail into action. I am impressed. To answer your question, I found that Severus Snape (the name was pronounced with loathing) had a half-batch brewing in his classroom."

Even though his mind told him this was Lupin, Harry found it disconcerting to be talking to the image of Peter Pettigrew. He mastered the urge to look away as they discussed a multitude of ways that dark wizards used to confuse or frighten. At the end of an hour, Lupin's face rippled and shifted. He was once again the pale, drawn teacher Harry admired.

"Harry," said Lupin at the close of their time, "I know that you came here to learn Occlumency. I have taught you everything I can in that area. You have great mental control. When you face Voldemort, find things he fears in his mind... darkness, death, decay... allow those thoughts to eat away at his mind and he will fall to his own fears. Observe what tools he uses and you'll find what he fears. We always perfect the use of the weapon we fear the most."

"Thank you Professor," said Harry sincerely.

"We have learned much together," mused Lupin. "It is sad that we will never again come together as teacher and pupil. Our courses will take separate paths now."

"You sound as if you are leaving," observed Harry.

"Indeed I am," said Lupin. "I will stay through tomorrow's classes and then Nymphadora will help me sequester until the full moon passes. I'll most likely see you next at Bill Weasley's wedding." He shook Harry's hand.

"Professor," said Harry, "I'm still working out a couple of details. I should know more by this evening. I'll let you know how I fared."

"Very well Harry, but under no circumstances should you try and contact me after tomorrow's dusk," admonished Lupin, gathering papers as Harry let himself from the room.

Harry went back to his empty dormitory room and considered the things he had to finish before he left the castle. The list was still long. Harry put his face in his hands and sighed. As lunchtime approached, he roused himself and went to the Great Hall. He joined Ron and Hermione, who were sitting together eating. Shortly Ginny arrived and sat by his side.

After a meal of baked squash, lamb, and jam tarts, Ginny spoke quietly, "So what are we going to do now?"

Hermione raised an eyebrow.

"If you are game," said Harry, "I could use some help, some extra eyes in the Room of Requirement."

"Let's get it over with," said Ron.

Harry led them from the hall and toward classes, but veered off to the seventh floor. He called the Room of Requirement into service and the four stepped inside.

Cast-offs, derelicts, and anachronisms littered the room. While Ron searched the room for danger, Harry produced a table and four sturdy chairs. He placed the bottles of powder on the table, and when Ron returned, he outlined his plan.

"I removed this blood from an ancient parchment that spelled out the process to create a Horcrux. The blood was on top of Riddle's handwritten notes. I want to find out where it came from."

He sprinkled the dried flecks of blood on the clean table top, followed by a pinch of revealor powder. They waited expectantly. The pink powder vibrated weakly above the blood, but did not rise to spiral.

"That's what I was afraid of," said Harry. "The blood is not intrinsically magical. Dumbledore's Forensic Magic delineates how to match blood from a sample to an individual, but to do so; you have to have two samples to compare. I have nothing with which to compare this sample."

"Harry?" queried Ron, "What size was the parchment?"

"What?" asked Harry, unsure if he had heard correctly.

"What size was it...the parchment you're talking about?" asked Ron again.

"Standard width, about sixteen inches long I'd say at a guess," answered Harry. "I don't have it anymore. I destroyed it."

"Take a look at this," said Ron pointing at the blood spatters on the floor.

Careful of the ax, the four crowded around the spot Ron had indicated. A patch of floor near the ax was devoid of splatters.

"No way," said Hermione. She drew a sample of the spatters from the floor and re-deposited them on the table.

The spatters slid over the pink powder and aligned themselves with the dried droplets on the table. Where the drops lined up, the pink powder swirled and miniscule figures appeared.

Ginny gasped. "Wolves," she said in awe.

"The blood matches," said Harry in amazement. He examined the tiny figures. "They're pups not full-grown wolves," he exclaimed.

Owing to the multiplicity of droplets, many images appeared, but Harry was sure. He was looking at the Greyback pups.

"Blimey Harry!" said Ron. "What's this all about?"

"I read in Riddle's diary that he killed the Greyback pups in one of his initial attempts to split his soul," responded Harry in an attempt to clarify what they had discovered. "We have just confirmed that this blood belonged to those werewolf pups. If I can connect this blood with Riddle, Lupin may be able to use the information to bring the werewolves back from Voldemort's camp."

"How about a place memory?" asked Hermione.

"A what?" asked Ron, his brows wrinkled.

"I read about those in True Witch," said Ginny brightening. "Sometimes they're called time-slips." She turned to Hermione, "There was the most fascinating story about a witch who lost her true love to a cauldron explosion, and years later..."

"Ahem," Ron cleared his throat and cast an incredulous look at the girls. Their animation died off.

"Whatever it's called," said Harry, "can it help here?"

"Possibly," said Hermione as she settled back to task. "Some locations hold a memory or imprint of past events. They can be very vivid. It may only take a small spell to bring them out."

"Can you show us?" asked Ron.

"Sorry, I don't know the enchantment," said Hermione dejectedly.

"I do," said Ginny, blushing furiously.

As she took out her wand, Harry cautioned her to avoid Riddle's magic on the ax. She nodded understanding.

Deftly flipping her wand in a complicated series of counter-clockwise arcs, she said "Arresto tempus-locus."

The room responded immediately. Hazy vignettes erupted all around in flurries of ghostly re-enactments. Harry found it difficult to concentrate on the scene in front of him with so many distractions, but he held his course.

He immediately recognized the young Tom Riddle leading four boys into the room. The boys struggled with a large wooden crate. They deposited the crate, and Riddle dismissed them to wait in the hall.

Without hesitation, Riddle opened the container, revealing five wolf pups. Four were growling and snarling, the fifth was, remarkably, asleep. Riddle opened a compartment in the lid of the crate and withdrew a piece of parchment and an ax; the same derelict ax standing on the blood spattered floor. Harry turned from the scene as he saw what Riddle was about to do. Four times the ax hit the floor. When Harry turned back to the carnage, Riddle had placed a book on the crate and was reading from the parchment he had placed on the floor.

Riddle's image contorted. He writhed in pain, as his head seemed to split apart. The leather-bound book rose in the air, its pages stiff in the magic spell.

Something blindingly bright left Riddle and slammed into the book. For a moment the two were joined by a blaze of empyreal light. When the connection was broken, the book, Riddle's diary Harry realized, dropped to the crate.

Riddle put his hands on the sides of his head and pushed. His head seemed to meld together, but his fine features had altered perceptibly, becoming slightly muted and blurred. As he looked past Harry, Riddle's eyes flashed momentarily scarlet and he smiled a death's-head smile.

Riddle picked up the diary and caressed it almost lovingly. "That's two," he said with quiet savor.

Harry heard a spattering sound behind him but kept his attention on the apparition that was a fifty-year younger Voldemort.

Riddle slipped the diary and blood-spattered parchment into his robes, covered the murdered wolves with a cloth, and conjured a table directly over their bodies. He closed the crate on the remaining pup, who had slept through the entire ordeal. When he had finished, he opened the door and summoned the boys back inside the Room of Requirement. They returned reluctantly. Riddle ordered them to sit at the table as a meal appeared.

"Eat!" commanded Riddle. "Today you eat and drink to death's defeat. You are now bound by blood's oath to Lord Voldemort as Death Eaters!"

The spectacle, as well as the others playing out in the room, faded under the command of Ginny's considerable magic. She was whey-faced and shaken.

"I'm sorry I made you endure that," said Harry in apology. "I had a good idea of what had transpired. You helped me prove it."

"What now?" asked Ron weakly. "How does this help?"

"That's a good question," said Harry. "The werewolves don't trust the Ministry and they hate even the memory of Dumbledore. We can't very well bring them up to the castle and show them this proof."

"What about using the ax?" asked Hermione as she shakily cleaned the front of her robes where she had been sick. Ron stooped to help her clean up.

"That's right," said Ginny. "The werewolves might not come here, but the ax will contain evidence of the execution... and the executioner. Lupin could present that proof directly to them."

"Just so you'll know, the werewolves don't exactly trust Lupin," explained Harry. "They feel he has tried too hard to coexist with wizards. He's an outsider to their pack. Despite that, he did take on the responsibility to convince the werewolves to leave Voldemort's camp. He is our best possibility."

The full moon rises tomorrow night. We'd better get this to him today," reasoned Ron as he pointed to the ax.

"Let's do it right now," offered Ginny. "No need to put it off. If Lupin is going to act the agent-provocateur, he'll need as much preparation time as possible."

"He not really a provocateur," said Hermione defensively, "More of a spy or courier."

"Whatever you care to call it, he'll be in danger and deserves the right to be prepared. He needs the warning and the time," said Ginny sharply.

"We're on the same side here, aren't we Harry?" encouraged Ron as he stepped between the girls.

They turned as one to Harry, but he didn't seem to have heard Ron's question. He was staring at the wall as if it held the secret of ages.

"Harry?" asked Ginny as she touched his sleeve.

Harry jerked. His attention seemed to return to the here-and-now.

"Agent provocateur, spy, courier...what?" he asked distractedly.

Harry's languid response diffusing the situation, Ron said, "Never mind."

"Sorry. Lost in thought," said Harry. "We need to do a couple of important things before we give the ax over to Lupin. Let's get started."

Harry rummaged through his backpack and came up with the heavy lump of gold he had extracted from the cave in Grawp's valley. He split it into four pieces. Taking one of the chunks, Harry encased the ax in a sheath of gold. He handed the protected ax to Ron.

Ron whistled. "Crikey mate, that's a lot of gold!"

"If anything happens to me," said Harry almost as an aside, "I'd like you three to divide up my stuff between you. I don't have any other friends."

"Where did that come from?" asked Ginny plaintively.

"We're entering dangerous times," said Harry, "I have some important preparations to make... we all do."

Harry sat down at the table and scribbled a list on a scrap of parchment. "This is a list of ingredients I need from Snape's private stores. He won't be needing them anymore. Can you three slip down to the dungeon and bring them back here?"

Ron, Hermione and Ginny exchanged concerned glances.

"You're not going to do anything dangerous are you?" asked Ginny.

"Me? Perish the thought," said Harry, a measure of his old self returning. "Procure these items and meet me back here. Then we go to McGonagall's office."

"It seems to me that you are trying to get rid of us. We're not leaving without you!" said Ginny. She had placed her fists on her hips and planted both feet as if to make a blockade. Ron and Hermione stood to her sides.

"Very well," said Harry. "I know when I'm beaten. We'll go to the store cupboard together."

Ginny's defiant attitude softened at Harry's acceptance of her ultimatum. "Let's get going then," she said in a small voice.

They gathered things and were just outside the Room of Requirement when Harry whirled. "I left my samples of blood on the table. Lupin may be able to use those to bolster his case. I'll only be a mo'," and he rushed back into the room.

Seconds later he emerged, clutching the bottle of dried blood, but immensely pale and drawn. He staggered into Ron who dropped the ax in order to arrest Harry's fall.

"We'll have to take it easy," said Harry. "I seem to be feeling a bit off colour right now."

Ron handed the ax over to Hermione, took Harry's pack, and put his arm around Harry to support him.

"Thanks," said Harry. "I don't know what's gotten into me."

Hermione and Ginny looked at him suspiciously but said nothing.

They made their way to Snape's office and secured the needed items. By the time they headed for McGonagall's office, Harry was able to walk without assistance.

As soon as they were inside McGonagall's office, Harry insisted they store the ingredients in DePais' cupboard.

"What are the ingredients for?" asked Hermione, her curiosity finally getting the better of her patience.

"For a potion that will aid Lupin in his dealings with the werewolves," said Harry cryptically. "Tomorrow though, not now. I need something to eat."

"Yes Harry, it is definitely time for a meal," said Dumbledore's Porcrux who had been watching the events unfold beneath him. "Go to the kitchens. I will inform the house elves of your need." He did not wait for assent, but simply turned and strode from his frame.

"Let's get you to the kitchens," said Ginny in a motherly air.

By the time the quartet reached the kitchen, a full table had been spread with mouth-watering delectables.

Harry paused for the briefest moment and then attacked the food with Ronesque abandon. After fifteen minutes of non-stop eating, he finally slowed. The house elves clapped at the demonstration of his approval of their efforts. Harry stood, bowed and thanked them.

"I'm much better now," he said to his astonished companions.

"Can we go see Lupin now?" asked Ron. "I'm tired of lugging this ax around."

Hermione, who had carried the ax the bulk of their time traipsing the castle, gave Ron a withering look.

"Well, and Hermione must be tired too," he added quickly.

"To Lupin's office then," said Harry with a bit of his old verve.

They made the trek back trough the castle and found Lupin lying down in his office, Nymphadora Tonks dabbing his brow with a wet cloth.

"Professor Lupin," said Harry, "we may have found a way to show the werewolves Voldemort's true character."

Lupin listened as Harry explained what they had found. He touched the ax handle lightly when Harry presented it to him.

Harry I'm afraid I'm in no shape to deliver this evidence to the pack. Possibly after the full-moon wanes, but certainly not before then."

"Professor I'm trying to work that out right now," said Harry. "By tomorrow I should have it sorted."

"That's cutting it mightily fine," said Lupin. "You must heed my warning to avoid any contact with me after sunset tomorrow. Promise me Harry."

"I promise," said Harry. "I'll know by tomorrow noon if I've been successful."

"Until then Harry," said Lupin weakly, "I need my rest."

As they left Lupin's office, Harry turned to the other three. "You've each missed a class for me. Thank you. But now would be our class with Professor Flitwick, I'm supposed to show up in McGonagall's office. I'm not sure what she wants but it has something to do with the Marauder's Map. It would probably be best if you let me deal with her on my own."

Arguments were raised, but in the end, Harry escorted Ron and Hermione to the common room and Ginny to her class. He then headed directly to McGonagall's office. He was surprised to find her waiting for him at the guardian gargoyle.

"Come with me Potter," she said tersely. She led him up the spiraling stairs and in to her office. "Sit," she commanded, and she indicated a chair in front of her massive oak desk.

Harry sat and stilled his sense of foreboding.

"Mr. Potter," she began, "I have given you an extreme amount of latitude. I base that decision on your past performance against Vol...(she stumbled over the name)...demort and his minions. You have proved yourself most capable. Your instruction of the D.A. adds credence to that decision. However, that latitude aside, there are things you simply cannot do..."

Harry began to explain, but McGonagall cut him off.

"... as I was saying... there are things you cannot do... without permission. I am fully aware of your history, having observed a great deal of it personally. The Order of the Phoenix knew of the prophecy connecting you and Voldemort (she shuddered again). Although Albus did not share the exact wording of the prophecy, the Order knew enough to guess that it contained a mortal connection between the two of you. That is why we were set to protect you. When I learned of the attack on your parents, I went immediately to your aunt's home. In the past, the Death Eater's had killed entire families, including all relatives, thus eliminating entire bloodlines. Their message was clear, capitulate or be entirely obliterated. I watched at your aunt's home, your only living relative, to make sure that did not happen."

Harry bristled initially at the memory of discovering he had been shadow-protected without his knowledge or consent, but then he felt memories stir; memories that were not his own, memories gained during Dumbledore's willy reading, and he calmed a measure.

McGonagall noted his initial reaction. "No need to become defensive. The Order felt it was in your, and our, best interest to keep you, and your relatives, alive. There are Death Eaters who revel in murder and mayhem; we did not want you to fall prey to their ministrations. Times have changed however. You have proved eminently capable of handling yourself magically. At the risk of giving you a big head, you are probably the most magically potent student Hogwarts has ever seen."

McGonagall's unexpected praise caused Harry to settle back from the edge of his chair.

"Therefore," McGonagall continued, "in light of your history, and in order to prevent the necessity of expelling you from Hogwarts, the following allowances will be made for the remaining two days of term..." She picked up a piece of parchment from her desk and read...

Harry James Potter is accorded the following latitude. 1) He will be allowed to leave the school grounds for "field trips", as long as the Headmistress is informed before the "outing", 2) He will be allowed to continue to escort students as a teacher, 3) His curfew is lifted, 4) He is allowed full access to the entire Hogwarts library without restriction, 5) He will be allowed the use floo powder, and 6) He may retain, for the time being, the map of Hogwarts he now has in his possession.

"These provisions fall within my purview as Headmistress. Once you step off the Hogwarts Express in London Saturday morning, you will be under full obligation of the Ministry of Magic rules. Do not expect any tolerance from them. Rufus Scrimgeour does not see either you, or the Order as friends. We have been at loggerheads on too many issues."

McGonagall placed the parchment on the desk. Dipping a pheasant-feather quill into the inkwell, she signed the charter in her precise script.

Harry was speechless when she handed him the parchment.

"Keep that on you at all times," she said with a nod to the parchment. "If anyone questions your actions you now have license to do some of the things I know you are doing anyway." The slightest hint of a smile curved the corners of her thin lips. "Is there anything you need to tell me?" she asked pointedly.

Harry hesitated, "What was it you did to your desk during my first Transfiguration class?"

McGonagall looked nonplussed. Her eyes narrowed. Finally she said, "I believe I turned my desk into a pig."

"Thank you Headmistress," said Harry. "I had to check. This..." he held up the parchment, "seemed singular in our experiences together."

"Indeed," she said with regal reserve.

"There are a few things I need you to know," he said, and then he glanced around the circular office. "Would you see me to the gargoyle?"

"You know the way out of the office Potter..." she began, then catching the look on Harry's face, changed course. "I'll see you just to the corridor. I'm very busy right now." She ushered him from the office.

As soon as the oak door was closed, McGonagall turned to him. "All right Potter, what couldn't you say in front of the portraits?"

"Don't get me wrong Headmistress," said Harry. "It's not a matter of trust in the past Headmasters and Headmistresses, I just remember Phineas Nigellus's portrait in Grimmauld Place. Most of the time he hovered just out of sight. Until I'm absolutely sure of what goes on in these portraits, I don't want to chance a spy being just out of sight."

McGonagall paused as if considering the thought for the first time. "Very well Potter. I see your reasoning. What did you want to say?"

Harry explained his plans for the remaining time at Hogwarts. By the time they stepped from the bottom of the spiraling stairs, it was McGonagall's turn to be speechless.

After a full minute she said, "I understand your desire and motivation, but remember Potter, my authority ends at the school's boundaries. Once outside those borders, you will be subject to Ministry of Magic authority. They could track your underage magic and hold you responsible. They wield the weight of the law."

"I understand," said Harry. "I'll even go one step further. If I am caught, I will make it plain that I was acting of my own accord with no assistance from anyone at Hogwarts."

"As noble as the sentiment may be Potter," sniffed McGonagall, "Rufus Scrimgeour will see to it that responsibility is traced back to the school. You may want to re-assess whether these things need to be done immediately. It may be more prudent to wait until you are of age... July thirty one, I believe?" McGonagall raised her eyebrows in coercion.

"I appreciate the advice," said Harry. "I truly do, but I feel compelled to get these things done immediately. Something inside me says don't wait."

"Very well Potter. You remind me of Albus when he was younger. Do what you must."

She turned back up the stairs, leaving Harry to contemplate the possible ramifications of his plans.

« Chapter 34 - Mind Games   Chapter 35 - Dark Deeds Discovered »


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