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Harry ran around in the forest with the other marauders until ten o’clock. They came out of the woods and rushed up to the school to find Dumbledore ascending the castle’s steps. James, Remus, and Sirius all transformed before following Harry up the stairs. Dumbledore turned and smiled.

“Did you have a good time?”

“We sure did,” said James before Harry could answer. He raced up the stairs to lean against Harry’s side. “And we have some great news, Albus!”

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled as he smiled. “Do you?” he asked, amused.

Sirius cleared his throat. “Introducing the newest Marauder!”

Harry felt a little embarrassed, like he was on display. Dumbledore eyed him, interpreting his feelings perfectly. The two stared at each other for a moment before Harry realized that Dumbledore was waiting for him to speak.

Shuffling back and forth on his hooves, Harry finally said, “I need to discuss something with you, sir.”

Dumbledore nodded. “I know, Harry.”

“You do?” Harry asked with surprise.

Dumbledore’s smile deepened. “I have watched you more than anyone alive, my boy. I can tell when there is something you wish to discuss with me. Luckily for you, the rest of my evening is free. Shall we take a walk?”

The marauders looked at Harry rather surprised and a little hurt.

“There’s something on your mind, Harry? Why didn’t you tell us?” asked his father.

Harry sighed. “In the past I’ve had a tendency to follow my first instincts instead of thinking rationally. It’s cost me dearly in the past.” He couldn’t look at Sirius as he said this. Because Harry rushed off to the ministry in his fifth year, Sirius had died trying to protect him.

Sirius placed a hand on Harry’s neck. “Harry,” he said consolingly, “I don’t blame you for that in the slightest.”

“It still doesn’t change the fact that you died because I panicked,” Harry retorted, stepping away to break contact with his godfather. He didn’t want to be consoled right now. He still blamed himself for losing Sirius. It was entirely his fault.

Sirius caught James’s eye and the two moved forward to comfort Harry but Dumbledore intervened.

“Harry, if you have something to discuss, let us discuss it. Do you want James, Sirius, and Remus to accompany us?”

Harry looked at the marauders. Would they hate him for saying no? Pained, he shook his head. “I’d rather just talk to you, Professor.”

They were obviously hurt but James was the first to recover. “We’ll be in your room when you get back,” he said, unable to fully look Harry in the eye. “Come on Sirius and Remus.”

The two looked at Harry and then at James before following him inside. Harry felt bad for hurting their feelings. He was sure he’d hurt James the most, choosing to tell Dumbledore his problems rather than his own father. Harry bit his lip as he followed the old professor down the Hogwarts steps and out onto the grounds.

“Marvelous night,” Dumbledore commented as they rounded the outside of the first tower, referring to the vast display of the heavens, their stars twinkling brightly.

Harry agreed. “Yes, sir.”

Dumbledore sighed. “They won’t hate you for not letting them come along, you know.”

Harry glanced at his headmaster, unsurprised that once again, he’d interpreted his distress. “I just don’t want them to – ”

“Worry?” Dumbledore finished. Harry nodded. Dumbledore lightly chuckled. “Harry, it is their right as your guardians to fret. It is only natural for a parent and guardian to dot on their child.”

“I guess but I still think they’ll be upset about it.”

“I am sure they will be,” said Dumbledore, “until you explain to them that you were unsure if what you are about to tell me was serious enough to cause them to be concerned.”

Seeing that Dumbledore was inviting him to tell his tale, Harry immediately went into detail about what happened in the woods. Dumbledore halted in his steps as Harry gave the account, his expression becoming more calculating by the second.

“I didn’t want to say anything at first because I didn’t think Alex would immediately go off and bring this Sacrifice to the person she kept addressing as Great One.”

“Indeed,” Dumbledore muttered.

His voice was right beside Harry but his thoughts were elsewhere. Harry had seen the headmaster display this expression before – calculating eyes, furrowed brow, slight frown, and frequent pacing. Sure enough, Dumbledore began pacing in the snow. After moving back and forth silently for a good minute, he realized that Harry was watching him.

He smiled. “I’m sorry, Harry. I tend to become highly rude when my mind decides to wander. Forgive me.”

Harry smiled. “No need to apologize, professor. I’m used to seeing you like this.”

Dumbledore laughed. “I suppose so.” His twinkling eyes became serious as did his tone. “Harry, I appreciate you sharing this with me. However I do not think it is something that we need to concern ourselves with at this time.”

Harry tried to delay the annoyed expression he so desperately wanted to display. In the past, he’d had several disagreements with Dumbledore over similar circumstances; Malfoy in his sixth year, for instance.

Dumbledore sensed Harry’s anger anyway. “Harry,” he said calmly, “I didn’t say that I want you to not concern yourself over this.”

“Sir?”

“I implied that I don’t want Alexandria to be approached about this at this time.”

Harry blinked. What? No arguing? No protective speech telling him he was too young and that it was best to let the Order handle the situation?

“So I can keep an eye on her?”

Dumbledore sighed. “As much as I wish to say that I would prefer if you left this matter to those with more experience than yourself, I will override that protective desire I’ve always felt towards you and say yes. You are not a boy anymore, Harry. ” He looked over and smiled at the stag.

Harry smiled back. He’d wanted to hear those words from Dumbledore more than he realized. Finally he was recognized as a man by his headmaster. Harry knew some might find it childish to be overjoyed about this but it appeased him greatly. All his life, he was always angry with adults coddling over him, feeling that he couldn’t handle the horrors of Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Finally when there was the potential of a new threat, instead of being restricted, he was being invited to fight. He tried to hold back his true elation over this as he replied, “This means a lot to me, professor. Thank you.”

Dumbledore looked pained. “You have no idea how hard it is for me to admit this, Harry. I know you are overjoyed – don’t try hiding it, my boy – but I can’t help but wallow in an old man’s lamentation that his favorite student has finally graduated out of his care. It is, I’m afraid, a hard pill to swallow.”

Harry’s joy became subdued. He looked on Dumbledore who appeared to be harboring more sorrow than he was actually letting on. Harry should have been more grateful. The man before him had done more for him than any other person alive. Though his actions were often performed in ignorance to Harry, everything Dumbledore had done came from the goodness of his heart.

Harry realized that his headmaster’s original objective to keeping him alive was only so the Wizarding World could be rid of Voldemort. He’d said so himself. But sometime along the way, Dumbledore had come to care for Harry like a son. It would be entirely understandable if Harry hated Dumbledore for his original objective but he honestly didn’t feel that way. In perfect honesty, the old headmaster had become the closest thing Harry had to a parent (besides Sirius, of course) and he cherished this relationship greatly.

Harry stepped closer to Dumbledore and put his head on his shoulder. “I appreciate what you’ve done for me, professor.”

Dumbledore placed a hand on Harry’s face. “Thank you, Harry.”

*~*~*~*~

After Harry had returned from his walk with Dumbledore, he’d returned to his room to sort out the wounded feelings he had inflicted on the Marauders. Thankfully, Dumbledore had been right; they had immediately forgiven Harry for keeping them in the dark and had even called him a slight git for not wanting to worry them. Harry had almost smiled as they conveyed the desire for him to share anything with them that bothered him. Settling into his bed, Harry rested his head next to his side and yawned. The Marauders smiled, wishing him goodnight before they walked over to the Gate Frame and disappeared. 

*~*~*~*~

Harry was standing in a field. Healthy green grass danced in a cool breeze, the blades flashing lighter then darker as they were caught and then released from the rays of a brilliant sun shining above. A long fence separated the field from a forest that left Harry’s skin prickling. The contrast of atmosphere was astounding. While the meadow gave on the feeling of happiness and life, the forest represented sorrow and death. The branches belonging to the grey tinted trees curled menacingly like claws, vines hung down from the tops, dancing like wispy spider webs, waiting for prey to fall into their clutches. Though the treetops were full of leaves, the colors were brownish grey, holding no color of life. The forest floor held no signs of vegetation. It looked like a graveyard for the earth.

The landscape held Harry’s gaze until he discovered a magnificent animal standing close to the fence. It was brilliantly bright, the color resembling paprika, with a mane and tail of slightly deeper shade, and brown eyes that swirled like melted chocolate. Harry was captivated by its beauty but also couldn’t ignore that it was breathing rather irregularly. Becoming concerned, Harry took a step towards it.

The horse lifted its head, which had been near the ground, locking in on Harry’s sudden movement. Harry hesitated but then relaxed as the horse whinnied, appearing rather joyful to see him. Harry took a few more steps, drawing closer to the magnificent creature, when suddenly a fierce wind attacked him from behind. It seemed to blow right through him but as it landed on the horse, the animal began to cry out in pain. The gust was trying to push the horse right into the forest; the animal had begun to move backward against its will.

Harry looked on in horror as he watched the horse’s struggle with the wind - which had backed it up to the fence. Suddenly the vines from the nearest trees rose up like arms. Being unaffected by the ferocious winds, they rapped themselves first around the horse’s neck, then its torso, and finally all four legs. As the creature fell to the ground, Harry’s feet broke from his shocked state and began to run towards the fence to fight against the menacing vines. He felt a desperate need to free this creature but he failed to reach it in time. The vines pulled the horse towards the forest, breaking the fence, causing splintered wood to scrape into the animal’s flesh. The horse cried out in agony, its pain somehow stabbing into Harry’s heart. It was pulled into the shadow of the trees as Harry screamed.

“NO!!!!!!!”

*~*~*~*~

Harry’s eyes flew open. Panicked, he sat up, searching for his glasses. Finding them near his pillow, he pulled them on and looked around. He was in his private room, the sun was streaming through his window, and the clock read eight in the morning. Harry slumped back into his pillow, his heart rate still beating wildly within his chest.

The dream had seemed so real. And the horse…there was something about it… Harry couldn’t understand why its fate had disturbed him so much. Sweat fell down the side of his face. He wiped it off. A loud banging on his door caused him to leap out of his skin.

“Potter!” shouted the voice of Draco on the other side of his door. “What’s all the shouting for? Are you getting killed or something?”

Harry leapt out of bed and thrust on his robe before coming to the door. Before pulling it open, he made sure to remove any hint of sweat on his face. The last thing he needed was to have Draco taunt him for expressing concern over the fate of an imaginary horse. He opened the door. Draco eyed him with slight annoyance. He appeared to have been in the middle of getting ready for the day because he didn’t have his shirt on and a toothbrush was in his hand.

Giving Harry a look over, Draco scowled. “Nightmare, huh?”

Harry grimaced defiantly. “And what if it was?”

Malfoy shrugged. “None of my business, really. I just remember that from what I’ve heard in the past, your nightmares have all had something to do with Voldemort.”

“Well, you can rest your anxiety,” Harry managed to joke, “since Voldemort wasn’t the star.”

Malfoy scoffed. “Thank you for reassuring me,” he said sarcastically. “I was so concerned.” He eyed Harry carefully. “Seriously though… are you alright?”

Harry blinked. Malfoy showing actual concern? This was…awkward. Swallowing, Harry shrugged. “I’m fine.”

Malfoy cleared his throat. “Good,” he said, trying to keep his usual sneering tone, “because the last thing I need is to worry about you first thing in the morning.”

The door to their private chambers burst open, giving the two boys an excellent excuse to step away from the awkward situation they had both found themselves in. Ron and Hermione came in after Ginny, all three fully dressed.

Draco slinked back to his room and shut the door before anyone could say anything. Harry turned his head to the side, inviting his three friends into his room.

“Did we interrupt something?” Hermione asked as Harry went over to his closet to pull out his school uniform.

“Not really,” he said, shrugging out of his night shirt. “I just woke up from a weird dream and apparently I yelled. Draco just came over to find out if I was being attacked by anyone.”

Ron blinked. “Wait, so…Malfoy was expressing concern?”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Ron, Draco’s a friend now, remember?”

“Right, but still…” Ron muttered.

“I’ll admit it’s weird,” said Hermione, “but we need to not make a big deal out of it, Ron. Draco’s our friend now.”

Ron shook his head. “I know it’s been more than a month since he started this new relationship with us but I’m still finding it difficult to grasp that he actually just displayed concern for Harry.”

Harry had to agree. “It was definitely awkward. But I have to agree with Hermione. If we treat it like it’s a big deal then things will remain really uncomfortable. Why are you three here this early anyway?”

Ginny grinned. “We were actually wondering if we could issue congratulations.”

“Huh?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Come on, Harry, like you don’t know.”

“It was bloody brilliant,” sighed Ron. “Couldn’t believe it when we first saw it; it was so –”

“Would you mind explaining what you’re talking about?” Harry asked.

Hermione blinked. “You mean, you really don’t know?”

Harry tried to keep his voice even as he replied, “Hermione, if I knew, would I be acting completely clueless?”

Hermione tapped her chin. “I suppose not. But we thought –”

“–since they hang out with you every night –” said Ginny.

“–that they would have said something,” finished Ron.

Harry suddenly began to understand why the marauders had asked him to let them out earlier than sunset. He began to grin. “Don’t tell me they pulled another prank?”

All three nodded, grinning too.

“It’s completely brilliant,” exclaimed Ron.

“What did they do?” Harry asked with intense interest.

Ginny smirked. “Remember Fred and George’s swamp?”

Harry nodded, “How could I forget?”

“Well,” elaborated Hermione, “they decided to turn the entire third floor into a winter wonderland with pine trees that attack you with snowballs while Father Christmas flies overhead with his reindeer pelting people with candy canes.”

“Brilliant!” Harry exclaimed with a large smile. 

“Oh, that’s not all,” added Ron, “the only way to cross is by sled.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because everyone who’s tried to cross on their own feet freezes instantly,” said Hermione. “The teachers had a rather hard time unfreezing over ten students already.”

Harry furrowed his brow. “Can’t they just get rid of it like they did the swamp?”

Ginny shook her head. “Nope. They’ve tried everything. Even Dumbledore couldn’t figure out the right spell to make it vanish. In fact, every spell they tried seemed to egg-on the trees; they threw double the amount of snowballs at the spell castor threatening to destroy them.”

Harry laughed so hard he couldn’t breathe; imagining Dumbledore fighting with a bunch of magical trees broke the seal keeping it in his chest. He couldn’t believe his dad hadn’t said anything to him! Then again, they probably wanted to keep him surprised like everyone else. Desperately wanting to see something so hilarious, Harry excused himself to get changed before following the others out of the room. Draco decided to go with them; he’d apparently been eavesdropping.

There was a large crowd of students gathered around the edges of the third floor corridor, all watching Professors Flitwick and McGonagall trying desperately to dispel the frosted landscape. Dumbledore had given up; he was resting against one of the walls, his robes completely soaked from melted snowballs. The second he caught Harry’s eye, he winked and displayed a small smile, almost to say he was highly enjoying this. Harry grinned too.

Professor McGonagall sent a fire charm at the nearest tree. It burst into flames, searing off all the pine needles and charring the wood. Just as Professor Flitwick began to congratulate Professor McGonagall for her good work, the burned tree melted into a puddle of water and a new pine sprung up from the snow, sucking up the water around it.

Professor McGonagall, staring in disbelief, wasn’t prepared for the ten snowballs that pelted her from the apparently very angry pine. Stunned and dripping wet, she turned to Dumbledore who was displaying over bright eyes and a twitching mouth.

“What should we do, Albus?” Professor McGonagall asked desperately.

Dumbledore shrugged. “Apparently this vicious forest will not be tamed, Minerva. We’ll have to leave it for now.”

Professor McGonagall protested, “But what about classes?”

“I’ll assign Mr. Filch to be in charge of directing sleds to each of the classrooms,” said Dumbledore. “Leave the problem of dispelling this winter wonderland to me. In the meantime, enjoy the spirit it brings to the holiday season.” He smiled as Father Christmas flew over the scene, aiming a few candy canes at Professor Flitwick’s unsuspecting head.

While the charms professor rubbed the back of his skull, picked up his hat, and cursed, Dumbledore ordered for the students to head down to breakfast. He caught Harry’s eye again and silently gestured to the nearest empty classroom before disappearing inside.

“I’ll catch up with you,” Harry muttered to the others before fighting the crowd to get to the empty room. After shutting the door behind him, Harry turned to the headmaster. “Something you needed, sir?”

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled. “I think you are aware, Harry, that there is a perfect example of a Christmas card occupying the third floor.”

“I’m aware of it, sir.”

“I should think we may need to ask the enchanters when this lovely prank will dissipate.”

Harry pulled out the Gate Frame but glanced at Dumbledore and grinned. “You’re not going to chastise them, are you?”

Dumbledore’s expression turned mischievous. Shrugging and looking oddly casual, he replied, “I might consider it.” He couldn’t hide his grin for long.

“Sirius, James, and Remus,” Harry said, speaking into the Gate Frame. It glowed brightly before all three men shimmered into view. Each of them was displaying a grin as wide as an owl’s wingspan.

“Harry, fancy seeing you this morning,” said Sirius, trying to be casual.

“Is there something bothering you?” James asked, also playing ignorant.

Dumbledore cleared his throat, alerting them to his presence. All three kept their smiles but their eyes grew a little apprehensive.

Remus shuffled his feet. “Sorry about the third floor, Albus,” he said, cracking under the pressure of the headmaster’s gaze.

Dumbledore chuckled. “Remus, I found it highly entertaining and rather appropriate for Christmas.”

Sirius punched the air. “Yes! I told you Albus wouldn’t mind, Remus!”

Remus shrugged. “What’s wrong with being concerned that he might transfigure us as punishment?”

James snorted. “Yeah right; Dumbledore wouldn’t do something like that.”

“Wouldn’t I, James?”

James stiffened. Dumbledore’s question had been completely serious, his expression devoid of the smile that had previously been present. A sudden chill had descended upon the room, making the marauders and Harry shiver. Dumbledore stepped forward, pulling out his wand.

“I gave permission to prank but I did not say that you could transform an entire corridor and place a spell upon it that not even I can remove. Quite embarrassing in front of my students; getting pelted with countless snowballs from pine trees of all things.”

James, Sirius, and Remus backed away a few paces. Harry immediately moved out of the line of fire, taking refuge near the door. The power emanating from the Headmaster had only been witnessed by Harry once before and that was when he fought against Voldemort at the Ministry. The atmosphere of the air felt like small sparks of electricity, leaving the hair on the back of Harry’s neck standing up uncomfortably.

The marauders had backed into the wall, all three looking on Dumbledore’s wand with trepidation. James managed a glance at Sirius and Remus. The two men looked to their leader, whose eyes had suddenly dispelled all fear. This gave Remus and Sirius the courage to stand tall as well. James nodded in approval once noting the change in their expressions before turning back to Dumbledore.

“Albus,” he said, all anxiety gone from his tone, “we admit to having done the prank and we are willing to accept any consequence that you have in mind. After all, the motto of a marauder is if one gets caught, deal with the punishment and honor the prank.”

Dumbledore studied the three men as they stood their ground. He glanced at Harry who finally couldn’t control himself any longer. He burst out laughing. The marauders blinked, their expressions frozen, their thoughts completely numb. What had just happened? The question was written all over their faces. Dumbledore allowed a few good laughs to escape him before taking his hat off to Harry.

“Thank you for playing along so well, Harry,” he said.

“It really wasn’t any trouble, sir,” Harry obliged.

Remus was the first to stir. He coughed, slightly embarrassed. He smiled sheepishly towards James and Sirius and finally managed to laugh. “We’ve been had,” he replied.

James and Sirius blinked a few more times before allowing their mouths to drop open. James’s hand slapped to his forehead while Sirius placed an elbow on his shoulder for support.

“I don’t believe it,” muttered Sirius. “Upstaged again! And Harry included Dumbledore this time!”

Harry smirked. “Actually, the professor came up with this one. I just went along with it.”

This caused a reaction from the marauders. They looked at Dumbledore who was stowing his wand and looking immensely smug for an old man.

“I’m in shock,” James murmured. “I can’t believe…Albus played a prank on us! This is fantastic!” he exclaimed in a louder tone, his hazel eyes sparkling with excitement.

Sirius’s cockiness had returned as if someone flipped a switch. Marching right up to Dumbledore, he drew himself to his full height and put his hands on his hips. “You’ve declared war, you know.”

Dumbledore, not the least bit intimidated, merely shrugged. “Sirius, by all means, I invite you to challenge me. Though I give these words of caution: keep in mind who it is that you are willing to wage war with.”

“What are you trying to say?” Sirius asked competitively.

Dumbledore’s eyes began to regain their twinkle as he smiled deeply. “My dear man, if I was seriously going to pull pranks of magic, you may want to stay clear of where I point my wand. Your fate would be…how shall I say this…ahhh, yes…most severe.”

James looked wary. “Sirius, I suggest that we reconsider waging a war.”

Sirius looked put out. “But it would be so much fun,” he argued.

Harry scoffed. “Fun? You do realize it’s Dumbledore you want to fight against, right?”

Sirius looked as if he was about to shrug but Remus put a hand on his shoulder. “Harry is right, Sirius. Waging a prank war with Albus wouldn’t be in our best interests. Besides, he seems perfectly fine with us playing jokes on the students and staff so let’s be grateful and wave the white flag in this battle.”

Sirius’s competitive spirit finally broke. He shrugged and grinned, brushing off the conversation as if it never took place. “So, I assume what you really want, Albus, is to figure out how to destroy the forest?”

“Destroy?” repeated Dumbledore in false alarm. “Why on earth would I want to destroy such advanced magic?”

“Because it’s hindering classes?” Remus suggested.

Dumbledore shook his head. “On the contrary, I find the entire ordeal quite amusing. However, I would very much like to know how long the spell will last.”

James scrunched up his forehead. “Well, we set the spell to last until the beginning of the Christmas holiday.”

“It’s that powerful?” Dumbledore asked, clearly impressed.

Sirius nodded. “We worked really hard to make it so. We wanted Harry’s last year to be memorable.”

All four men stared at the teenager who grinned widely. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget this one. Great job; can I just make one suggestion?”

“Anything, Harry,” James invited.

Harry looked slightly uncomfortable. He didn’t want his request to sound like he was whining. But he couldn’t deny that being a marauder himself now, he felt really left out since the others had done this prank without him. From the questioning looks of his dad, Sirius, and Remus, Harry sighed, deciding to voice his thought.

“Next time the marauders decide to prank someone, can I help out?”

Sirius raised his eyebrows. “Is that why you look upset; because we didn’t include you this time?”

Harry tried to remain nonchalant about it. “Not really.”

James caught Remus’s eye. Stepping forward, he laid a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Harry, we didn’t invite you to do this one with us because you weren’t an official marauder yet. But now that you are, of course you’ll be in on all our other pranks.”

Harry brightened over this though he tried to mask it in his reply, “When is the next one?”

“Now, now, Harry,” said Dumbledore, stepping forward, “You’ll have to plan another time. You have classes, remember?”

Harry sighed. “Oh, right.”

“Best get a move on,” urged James. “We don’t want you failing your last year either.”

“What about you guys?” Harry asked as he picked up his schoolbag.

“We’ll catch up with Albus on some things,” answered Remus. “We’ll come find you when we’re done.”

Harry nodded. “Alright; see you.”

He slipped out of the room, rushing down to the Great Hall where he prayed there were still some leftovers from breakfast.

*~*~*~*~

The first day of the holidays, Harry woke to someone banging on his door. Rubbing his eyes and finding his glasses, Harry got up, and threw the door open.

“What’s going on?” he asked with surprise. Ginny, Ron, and Hermione were standing in the doorway all looked rather peeved as well as ready to travel. Draco was smirking over on the couch, fully dressed in a black turtleneck and jeans, apparently enjoying the scene before him.

Ginny looked exasperated as she tried to keep her voice level. “Harry, we were supposed to floo to the Burrow at eight. Why aren’t you ready?”

Harry grimaced, realizing it was ten past. “I completely forgot! I was out really late last night.”

“Running around on the grounds?” Ron guessed, smirking.

Harry shrugged. “And if I was?”

Hermione rolled her eyes at this irresponsibility and turned on Draco. “Why didn’t you wake him up?”

Draco returned a sour expression. “I’m not Harry’s babysitter, Hermione. The man is perfectly capable of getting up himself.”

Before a snide comment could escape from Ron’s mouth, Harry said, “Just give me a few minutes, alright?” before slamming the door in their faces.

Grabbing the muggle clothes he had set out the day before from his closet, he hastily headed into the bathroom. After taking the shortest shower of his life, Harry attempted and failed to comb his hair. Giving it up as a bad job, he set to work shaving, brushing his teeth, and dressing in top speed. He emerged from the bathroom fifteen minutes later, completely ready to depart.

He found that Ron, Hermione, and Ginny had joined Draco on the couch, the latter reading a potions book he’d gotten from the book shelf out of boredom. 

“Bout time,” Draco muttered, putting the book away. “We were tossing around the idea of leaving you behind.”

“Too bad I was thinking the same thing,” said Harry smugly.

Draco rolled his eyes. “Let’s just go before Ron and Ginny’s parents send out a search warrant.”

The five seventh years left the room without any luggage; their trunks would be magicked to the Burrow after their departure from the castle. Skipping breakfast, they made their way up the staircase to Professor McGonagall’s office where they’d be flooing to the Burrow. Hermione pestered Harry once more about telling McGonagall the truth behind his animagus form. Ignoring her, Harry knocked on the door.

“Come in,” Professor McGonagall invited.

Harry opened the door. Professor Merrylow sat near Professor McGonagall enjoying some tea. She’d ditched her robes for muggle clothes; a soft green turtleneck under a pink pea coat and deep blue jeans with winter boots. She carried nothing but a satchel and waved merrily at the teenagers as they entered the room. Harry was surprised to see that Professor Dumbledore had personally decided to see them off. He smiled as he met Harry’s gaze while the others filtered into the office.

Merrylow stood up from the chair she was sitting in, placing her cup of tea back on McGonagall’s desk. “Thanks for the tea, Minerva. Shall we get going then?”

She went over to the fireplace and held out a box full of floo powder to Ron who accepted it at once. Grabbing a pinch from the box before handing it to Ginny, Ron stepped up to the flames, threw in the powder, shouted, “The Burrow!”, and vanished. Ginny stepped forward and repeated the actions before disappearing.

While the others gathered around the fire, Dumbledore pulled Harry aside. “I’d like a quick word, Harry, if that’s alright?”

“Sure,” said Harry as Draco disappeared.

Dumbledore looked down at him from his rather crooked nose. Frowning slightly through his beard, he said, “I’m regretful to say that since you are going to spend the holidays with the Weasleys, certain measures had to be made.”

Harry stared at him, bemused. “What kinds of measures, sir?”

Dumbledore sighed. “I know you may not like it, Harry, but there are Death Eaters still at large. They are sorely tempted to achieve revenge.”

“Why haven’t there been any attempts on my life then?”

Dumbledore shifted his gaze. “That mostly has to do with my presence, if you want the truth. My return from the beyond has rattled them more than Voldemort’s death.”

Harry smirked. “Afraid you’re going to act like a Reaper and drag them to the Underworld, are they?”

Dumbledore smiled faintly from his flippancy. “Perhaps, Harry. But I regret to say that while Hogwarts – and Hogsmeade for that matter – are completely safe for you, the Burrow is probably less intimidating to the Death Eaters. As a precaution I have already placed spells that will ensure your safety while there but it will give an old man a peace of mind if you would be so kind as to keep your invisibility cloak and wand with you at all times and that your parents or at least one of the marauders remain constantly by your side.”

Harry sighed in frustration but nodded. “Fine.” he paused while staring at the flames of the fireplace. “I’ll never get a break,” he murmured.

Dumbledore patted his shoulder. “You will, Harry, when they are captured.”

“Wish I could help catch them,” Harry muttered darkly.

“Revenge is not something to chase after, Harry,” Dumbledore muttered quietly. “It brings no relief to the pain of anger one experiences.”

“But it does bring justice,” Harry argued forcefully. Noticing his tone of voice, he immediately apologized. “Sorry, professor. That was out of line.”

Dumbledore scrutinized him with his x-ray stare. Harry swallowed, looking away. The old man sighed and placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder.

“Harry,” he said consolingly, “I know you want to avenge the death of Remus and Tonks but it isn’t kosher to chase after and kill to attain said revenge.”

“Professor, I understand what you’re trying to say,” said Harry a little coldly, “but I’m not going to change my mind about bringing all the Death Eaters down. To me they’re remains of Voldemort that I still need to destroy.”

Dumbledore looked as if he was about to argue but decided against it. Instead he placed a warning. “If any Death Eaters should attempt to attack you while you are at the Burrow, I don’t want you to go after them alone. Do you understand?”

Harry eyed Dumbledore silently. This wasn’t a terrible arrangement. It would ensure that he’d have backup should he fall into a trap but Harry really didn’t like the idea of needing supervision. Dumbledore had said he was a man after all. He was old enough to take care of himself. But the look in his headmaster’s eyes, a silent plea that Harry would accept the old man’s request, made him nod in consent.

“Good,” Dumbledore said, patting him on the back. Harry moved to step up to the fire to follow after the others when Dumbledore called him back. “Harry?”

“Yes, sir?”

Dumbledore considered him again. “Would it be acceptable to you if Aberforth and I happen to visit Christmas day?”

Harry, slightly taken aback about the idea of the Dumbledores spending Christmas with him, managed to overcome his shock enough to say, “Sure.”

Dumbledore looked incredibly grateful. “Until then,” he said, nodding, “have a good holiday, Harry.”

“You too, sir.”

“And Potter,” Professor McGonagall called as Harry stepped up to the hearth.

“Yes, professor?”

McGonagall scrutinized him with her piercing stare, a stare that only came when a student had done something against the rules. Harry swallowed. Could Hermione have said something while he was speaking with Dumbledore? One more glance at McGonagall and he knew the answer. Yes, she had. So it came as a great surprise when she sighed and then smiled.

“Have a good holiday.”

“You too, professor,” said Harry uncertainly. She was still staring at him, appearing to be waiting for him to say something. Glancing at Dumbledore, he held a similar expression. Wanting to disappear, Harry stepped up into the green flames and shouted his destination before vanishing from the office.

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