With Malice Aforethought

S. P. Smith

Chapter One: Letters and Spells

The kitchen table at Number Four Privet Drive was a clean, white-painted pine, matching nicely the cabinetry. The linoleum shined under the fluorescents, and the crisp place mats were a deep blue against the white and blue dishes. Vernon, Petunia, and Dudley Dursley sat at three of the chairs around the table, eating breakfast in awkward silence. The fourth chair was conspicuously empty, no setting awaiting it. Dudley hunched over his plate and eyed the living room door, trying to decide if he could make good his getaway.

Every meal at Number Four Privet Drive was a strained affair this summer. It didn't matter if Harry Potter was eating with them, or not. The Dursley's had descended to the kitchen to find the toast made, the bacon and eggs warming in the oven, and the table set. The only trace of their nephew, Harry, were the soft creaks drifting down the stairs. This had been happening for several days a week for a month, and wasn't sitting well with Vernon.

"Exercise!" Vernon spat the word as though it were profane. "What kind of freak comes to a loving home for the summer, and locks himself in his room to exercise?"

Dudley looked up at his father, and thought of his own heavy bag hanging in the basement, a remnant of his aborted interest in boxing. He quickly looked back down at his plate of eggs, and ate faster.

With each creak from upstairs, Vernon's bristling grey mustache twitched. He scooped up his eggs with his toast. Creak. His face flushed further, and he twitched. He chewed his bite and - Creak. Vernon's eyes narrowed, and he glanced from his son Dudley to Petunia. Neither met his gaze. Creak. Vernon tossed down his fork with a clatter. "That's it! The ruddy boy is spoiling my digestion!"

With a rumble, Vernon Dursley thundered up the stairs, his wide frame easily filling the stairwell. He hardly paused at the door to his nephew's room, but flung it open with enough force to slam it into the wall. Dislodged dust rained onto his sweater-vest and tie, flecking his salt-and-pepper hair. With his splotchy red face covered in plaster dust, and shining eyes, he looked every inch the maniac. The sight that greeted him did little to slow him down.

The small cot was overturned, the steel fame propped on end against the right-hand wall. The thin mattress and bedsheets were wedged into a corner next to the desk, which was covered in parchments, feather quills, and a concerned-looking owl. Harry himself was stripped to the waist, hanging by his hands from the bed frame, determinedly working through pull-up after pull-up. He was short enough at sixteen years to dangle from the bed legs yet he kept his pyjama clad legs bent at the knees and crossed at the ankles as he went through his pull-ups, as though worried he might touch the floor. His sweat sheened back was to his uncle and despite the slamming door, he neither turned nor paused in his workout.

"Boy!" Vernon roared and shook a meaty fist at his nephew's thin frame. "You've been making a great bloody racket every bloody morning for bloody weeks!"

Harry dangled from the frame, and slowly lowered himself to the bare floor of his empty room with one hand. He turned to regard his florid uncle, no expression visible in his shadowed green eyes. "Sorry about the bloody noise, then."

Vernon's upper lip disappeared as his mustache bristled. "Don't you curse in my house, boy. This isn't some abnormal outhouse like your kind have."

Harry blew his bangs out of his eyes, and tuned away. Padding on bare feet across the dusty floorboards, he whipped his pyjama top off his desk chair and dried himself off. Tossing the top back onto the chair, Harry went to his school trunk, and began pulling his clothes out and setting them on the desktop.

"Did you hear me, boy?"

Harry turned back to his uncle. He spoke tonelessly, obviously bored. "I'm not cursing now, Uncle Vernon. I'm not making noise anymore. Did you want something else, then?"

"Don't get insolent with me!" Vernon took what he thought was a threatening step forward. "I put up with your useless presence every ruddy summer! I'll not take any cheek from the likes of you."

Harry held his flat stare for a few moments, then quietly turned his back on his uncle and pulled on an over sized shirt.

Vernon grabbed his shoulder and spun him around furiously. "Don't turn your back on me, boy! I'll have some respect around here!"

Harry looked up to meet his flushed Uncle's furious stare, a ghost of a smile on his face. "I doubt that."

Without thinking, Vernon slapped him across the cheek. Harry's head rocked, and he blinked. Red fingerprints appeared across his jaw, but his expression was unchanged. Vernon's brow beetled up over his small eyes as he realized that his nephew didn't even look angry. Irrationally, the idea that he was being ignored was all Vernon could think about. He raised his hand to strike him again when Harry abruptly spoke.

"You do realize I can use magic to defend myself, right Uncle Vernon?"

Vernon looked at the hand print at his nephew's jaw, and saw a spot of red well up at his lip. One drop of blood from his split lip, shining there. He looked at Harry, then looked at his own, thick-fingered hand. It was shaking ever so slightly. Vernon blinked repeatedly, then turned and left Harry's bedroom. At the landing, he called back to his nephew. "Well then. You better... get to the yard today. Yes, yes, the yard." Vernon's heavy footfalls faded down the stairs, and then away.

Harry finished getting dressed, and slipped on his trainers. He sat down at his desk, and rolled up the letter to Ginny Weasley into a small scroll. It was added to a small pile at the right of his desk. There were scrolls there labeled 'Neville Longbottom', 'Remus Lupin', 'Albus Dumbledore', 'Rubeus Hagrid', and 'Luna Lovegood'.

He pulled another piece of parchment toward himself, and dipped a turkey feather quill into his inkpot.

He ran a quick hand through his unruly black hair, briefly exposing his lighting bolt scar. With his artless and cramped penmanship, Harry printed the heading onto the page. Ron and Hermione. He paused, his quill dripping once onto the page, and turned to pet his owl, Hedwig. He smiled wanly. "You'd better rest girl. I'll have a lot of letters for you tonight."

The sun was high overhead, and Harry paused to lean on the end of his shovel. He tugged off a dirt smeared work glove, pulled his kerchief out of his pocket, and mopped his forehead. He looked around the small front yard, and up and down the empty street. Few neighbors parked on the street in Little Whinging, and few painted their houses anything but putty colours. If he hadn't been trapped in Number Four all his life, Harry might have had a hard time puzzling out which was his house. As was, the hedgerow he was planting would match the next six houses in line with the Dursley's.

"Wotcher! That's quite the ditch you got there!" Harry spun sharply, his wand out of his pocket before he spotted the speaker. Nymphadora Tonks was leaning her long, thin frame against the edge of the garage, arms crossed before her small chest a look of surprise on her slender face. The shovel hit the dirt with a dull ringing as Harry lifted his shirt hem and stuffed his wand into his back pocket.

"Sorry. Didn't see you." Harry looked her over and tried to figure out how he could have missed her. Black leather jacket, shining chrome decorations, a Union Jack pullover, and tight pants that matched her unnaturally red hair. Although she had managed to look like a muggle, she failed utterly to look like she belonged to the rabid normalcy of Privet Drive. He bent down, retrieved his dropped shovel, and returned to digging.

"Portkey." Tonks swung a rusted spatula in front her her by way of explanation. "Bit jumpy there, eh Harry?"

"It's been a bit of a year." He shrugged eloquently. "You can tell the Order I'm still alive."

Tonks sauntered across the brilliantly verdant lawn toward the teenager. Drawing near, she tipped her head appraisingly. "Alive, jumpy, and getting kind of muscle-y, eh?" This time, the shrug was his only response. "Mostly I thought I'd toss you a spot of the old career advise. You know, Auror-to-future-Auror?"

Harry matched the angle of her head, and looked at her with a pale sidelong grin. "I got an E in Potions. Needed an O. Being an Auror's right out, I guess."

Tonks grinned widely. "Well, there's where your a bit off. It just so happens that the Order, being an utterly brill group of folks, managed to swing for you and yer mates to get into NEWT level potions, OWL or no. Not surprising, given that the head of the Order also runs yer school, but still. Another couple 'a years, and I could be yer boss at the Ministry."

A breeze stirred Harry's perpetually messy hair, and he looked away from Tonks as he answered. "I'm not going to be an Auror, Tonks. I don't expect I'll work for the Ministry, anyways."

"Okay." Tonks frowned, an expression that looked seriously out of place on her young and open face. It took her a while to find a response. When she spoke, it was soft, breathy even, and very little like her usually brassy voice. "I thought you'd wanted to join us Aurors for years, Harry. Right? Isn't that what you wanted to do with the rest of your life?"

She couldn't explain why the wry, sad smile Harry gave her at this chilled her, despite the heat of the day. He changed subjects abruptly. "I'm glad to see you're out of hospital."

Her voice was a little stronger again. "Couple weeks now."

"I'm glad it wasn't-" He cleared his throat. "I wanted to tell you I was sorry. For leading everyone to the Ministry. For getting you hurt."

Tonks gave Harry a playful shove, but her voice was still worried. "C'mon Harry. That's what we Aurors do. Fight the bad guys, get fixed up, and in the morning have another go."

"You shouldn't have to chase runaway school kids into a trap, outnumbered three-to-one." Tonks started to speak, but Harry shook his head. "You did good though."

"So did your lot."

"No, we were pretty much a disaster." Harry grimaced, and seemed to change subjects again. "But I do have some Hogwarts questions for you."

"Ah!" Tonks rocked back on one heel, her hip jutting cockily to one side as her familiar grin reestablished itself. "Back to my old stomping ground. Bet you got yourself some questions about which NEWT classes to take, eh? Well shoot; I got the skinny on all the good classes there."

"All the members of the Order... when I saw you all at the Ministry... you were all fighting so fast." Harry's eyes were a bright green as he peered at her thoughtfully. "I had a hard time following what spells you were using, it was so fast. Are there any classes I could take to help me get to be like that? Fast."

"Cor, Harry! That's what Auror training is for. Sure you don't wanna..." Tonks trailed off suggestively.

Harry focused intently on the young woman. "Remus, Bellatrix... Sirius. I'm pretty sure none of them were Aurors. Honestly, Tonks, you must have some idea. What could I study, at Hogwarts, to get better?"

Ron and Hermione -

I'm sending you both just this one letter. Hopefully, you'll have found some way of spending at least some of your summer hols together, and I don't think I could write this more than once. So, Ron, push over, and let Hermione read this, too. I got all your letters, and no the Dursleys aren't treating me any worse than usual. Don't panic. I would have written earlier, but I needed to think about this before I tried writing it down. I've about a dozen parchments crumpled on the floor as I write this.

I've been giving a lot of thought to our friendship over the last month. You two have been the only friends I've ever known. Ron; between your family and Sirius, you've been the only family I've had, too. I can't think of a single good memory of Hogwarts that isn't tied up in the two of you. My first Christmas, my first birthday. Hermione; I don't know if you remember at the end of our first year, but you're the first person to ever hug me. I was embarrassed, but it meant a lot to me. I've also been thinking about what kind of a friend I've been to the two of you.

First off, I want to apologize for all the times I was impossible to deal with last year. We've been through so much together (three hours of it twice, Hermione.) And after all that, I let you both down as a friend. I'm sorry. It says something very nice about both of you that neither of you hexed me into next week; it would have been earned. You were both very nearly killed last year, and I'm still shaking, thinking about it. And it's not the first time, either. I suppose once would be bad enough, but I've led you two through three-headed dogs, cave trolls, murderous chessboards, giant spiders, a basilisk, several evil Dark Arts professors, giants, centaurs, dragons, merpeople, two dozen Death Eaters on three occasions, and Voldemort himself. Between the two of you, I'm responsible for several concussions, broken legs, petrification, near drownings, multiple cursings, and one brain attack. I'm sorry for putting you two through all of this.

I really don't know how to say this, so I'm just going to say it. I found out what the prophecy was last month. Either Voldemort is going to kill me, or I'm going to kill him. It doesn't matter how many Aurors the Ministry surrounds him with; only I can kill him. And it doesn't matter how many Death Eaters come after me; they can hurt everyone I care about, but only Voldemort could actually murder me. Sooner or later, I'm going to have to go and kill him, and the sooner I get ready, the safer everyone will be. Here's the hard part though.

I'm going to do it alone.

I'm not dragging you two into this again. I hope you can see why I can't visit the Burrow anymore Ron. I'd be hanging the target 'round the only family that's ever welcomed me in. Every minute you two are around is another minute you could die, just because some Death Eater decides to have a go at me. Of course, I'd survive. I have to fulfill this prophesy, after all. But I could get one or both of you killed. And that's not going to happen. I want to see you both alive and happy.

Which brings me to the last bit of this letter. It's been kind of painful to be your friend over the last two years, with the arguments that get started over the word 'Krum,' and the way you've been needling each other. Sometimes it seems like each of you wants the other one's attention, and neither of you care if it's in a good way or a massive fight in the middle of the common room. I'm probably the last person to make any kind of suggestions here; my only date involved more tears than anything else, and Lloyd's isn't giving me odds on living long enough to try again. But I have to admit, even I think maybe you two are dancing around the fact you fancy each other. So as partial penance for several years of being a lousy friend to you both, here's my two pence. Talk to each other and see how you feel about this bit of my letter. You are two excellent friends; maybe you could be happier together like that.

In any event, I'll see you both in September. And stay safe.

Harry

The bed frame was still tilted up against the wall, the thin mattress and sheets still jammed into a corner. But the room was darkened in the early evening. One bulb from the worn desk lamp illuminated the open books, and cast reflections off Harry's glasses as he flipped through his various textbooks. Hedwig sat at the edge of the desk, having returned from her previous night's deliveries. She hooted softly, the pages of the book ruffled. Every now and again, Harry's quill scratched out a note about a charm or hex he was reading about. Downstairs, soft clinks and scrapes reminded him that the Dursley's were still in the midst of dinner. Occasionally, the small wooden chair would creak under Harry as he shifted his books around.

A knock at the front door downstairs disrupted his concentration. A grinding scrape, followed by heavy footfalls echoed from below. A soft conversation at the door. Vernon Dursley's voice rose to a near roar before abruptly returning to a low murmur. Then soft footfalls sounded up the stairs, punctuated with a creak on the fifth tread. Harry quickly marked his place in his book, capped his inkwell, and picked up his wand from the desktop before him. He slipped out of the chair, and turned to face the door just as the first knock sounded.

Harry held his wand pointed at the door, but low at his side. "Come in," he called out softly.

The door swung open to reveal he drawn, middle aged form of Remus Lupin at the threshold. In his worn corduroy trousers and threadbare oxford he looked like neither a wizard, nor a werewolf. "Hello, Harry."

Harry's smile was genuine, and he tossed his wand back onto the desk. "Professor."

Remus smiled thinly, and gestured around the spartan room. "May I...?"

Harry blinked, and jumped slightly. He muttered a few polite apologies as he tipped the bed back onto its' legs and threw the mattress over it. A few tugs later, and it was marginally straightened out. Harry gestured to the sole chair, and settled onto the edge of the cot with a squeak of the springs. Remus crossed the room with an economy of movement, and eased himself into Harry's dilapidated desk chair. He crossed his legs, and tugged on his pants' cuff before speaking again.

"Sixteen already, Harry. Seems like yesterday you were thirteen. Of course, it seems like yesterday James and Lily were bringing you home. I'm getting to that middling age where everything seems like yesterday. I suppose all too soon I'll reach the next period in my life, when everything seems so very long ago.

Harry seemed content to wait for Remus to continue. With a weary smile, Lupin plunged onward. "I imagine you know I'm here about your choices for your next year's classes. The Headmaster and Professor McGonagall were both disturbed to see your letter regarding your classes. Those two seemed surprised you'd dug that deeply into the course listing to find such... unexpected choices."

Harry peered at the Remus' worn smile, and looked started. "Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall were surprised? That means you weren't? Aren't?"

Lupin rubbed his chin thoughtfully, looking as though he was giving the answer serious thought. "Your choices were a little surprising, I suppose. But only because they weren't what most sixth year Hogwart's students would have picked. Once I read between the lines, no, it wasn't really very surprising at all. Actually, it had your name all over it, and not just on the line for your signature at the bottom."

"Really?" Harry grinned again, but looked puzzled. "How so?"

"Well, I seem to recall you pushing yourself to collapse over and over again, learning how to fight off Dementors a few years ago. And judging by the way Professor Dumbledore isn't twinkling so very much these days, I'd wager you've just been handed more to fight off. So seeing that you've dropped Potions, Divination, Magical Creatures, and Astronomy makes sense. It clears the board for you to try to become an Auror before you even graduate."

"What?" Harry looked nervously from side to side, and licked his lips. "Um, I can't become an Auror. I'd need a lot of NEWTs, and years after I graduate, and-"

Remus laughed softly, and waved the young wizard to silence. "Harry! Please, do your old teacher and father's friend the courtesy of being open with your sneaky plan. I grew up with Sirius and James for roommates; you might get Flitwick or Tonks to believe it, but I've got the mark of you. No, you don't plan on being an Auror. But you do plan to be trained as good as by next summer. Or am I wrong?"

Remus could see the muscles working under Harry's thin jaw as he thought, staring at the floor. Finally, he nodded to himself as though confirming something, and looked up to meet his old Defense teacher with shockingly clear green eyes and a rueful smile. "Alright, you spotted it. What gave me away? Artifaction?"

Remus leaned forward. "Not really. Oh, wanting to learn how to create enchanted objects is less than common, and certainly didn't fit your other choices at all. No, it was the Pre-Mediwizard Seminar that was the kicker. You couldn't be a Mediwizard, Healer, or even a Nurse at St. Mungo's without taking Potions. It only makes sense, really, if you want to learn how to treat injuries whilst outside of hospital."

"Ah. Um, yeah, that was pretty much what I was thinking. I figure I'll need Advanced Transfigurations, Charms and Defense. I'm pants at Potions, but I'm good at Charms, so maybe I could make enchanted items to help me out. You figured out the reasons for the Seminar."

Remus steepled his hands, and his tired voice grew more pensive. "I confess, I'm at a loss on your choosing Vocational and Domestic Sorcery, though. It's a non-NEWT class for the seventh years who haven't the academic background for other classes and need to learn more... practical skills. Seems an odd choice."

"All those 'practical' spells could come in really useful." Harry grinned. "Besides, as a remedial Seventh year class, they teach Apparation. And you get a learners' waiver if you're under aged."

Remus shook his head, laughing silently. "So you couldn't legally Apparate outside of class. But you still found a loophole to learn a year early. Oh Merlin, you are a Marauder"

"You didn't figure that out when you found me Ron, and Hermione out of bounds after hours in a shack in Hogsmeade with Sirius Black?" Harry's eyes were over bright, and his smile suddenly forced.

"I did. I just needed reminding." Remus's eyes tightened. "You want to talk about it."

His answer was too fast. "Not really, no."

"When you're ready." Harry only nodded in return. Remus continued. "Personally, I want to know why you've decided to be in such a rush to pick a fight?"

"I'm not picking a fight." Harry spoke whilst worrying the threads dangling from one of the holes in his blanket. "I just want to finish one up."

Remus winced. "Please, please listen to me. Your parents and Sirius loved you very much. Your friends love you a great deal more than you're willing to accept. None of them would want to see you haring off after Bellatrix Lestrange, looking for vengeance. Or absolution. You don't have to prove anything. Please promise me you won't try to take this on yourself."

Harry's expressive eyes betrayed a silent battle, as his lips tightened thoughtfully. Remus assumed the young man was debating whether or not to agree. As such, when Harry nodded to himself and spoke with a force beyond his years, it utterly floored the old werewolf. "Okay. So the prophecy in the Department of Mysteries? It said that I'm the one to kill Voldemort. So I need to learn how to get him. Kill him, and for good this time. I'm not going after Bellatrix. I'm going after Tom Riddle."

Remus stared at Harry in horror, his mouth open in shock. Harry blinked, and looked away, his voice dropping to a more normal waver than the hard clarity of before. "I'm sorry to drop this on you, Professor. I know it's a lot to... to have to hear. And I can't imagine what you must be thinking about me, but you should know why I'm... doing this."

At last, Remus found his voice. "You've got to be mistaken about this, Harry. You're not a killer, you don't need to become one. If you don't believe me, talk to Dumbledore, he-"

"He's the one who told me," Harry interrupted, sounding only faintly bitter. "And I am a killer. I killed Professor Quirrell when I was eleven. I murdered the sixteen year old shadow of Tom Riddle. It's the one thing I'm good at, apparently."

Remus leaned forward, and shook Harry's knee. "You are not a killer, Harry. You aren't; you care far too much, feel far too much to end a life like that. I talked with Dumbledore about what happened to you. You were only acting in self defense. Or in defense of another. That isn't murder, it's heroism."

"That isn't a distinction, that's semantics." Harry smirked at the surprised look on his old professor's face. "What, you're surprised that after five years of Hermione's nudging, I learned a few definitions?"

"No, I'm surprised that Lily's son is a cynic."

Harry exhaled sharply at this, and for a moment looked utterly devastated. "I told you about this, Professor, because you fought in the last war. I want your help preparing. I don't need it; I just want it."

Remus stood, and walked wearily to the door. There, he turned and faced Harry from the shadows outside the circle of the bare lamp bulb. "No Harry. You need to grieve, and you need to grow up, and you need to live. I don't know what Dumbledore said to lead you to believe... Harry, I promised Sirius I wouldn't let anything happen to you. I won't."

They faced each other in silence for long moments. With a sad sigh, Remus eventually slipped out the door and into the night.

Harry pulled the loose front to his worn t-shirt away from the wet edge of the kitchen counter as he sprayed the ammonia onto the garden window. He'd already gotten it pretty wet cleaning the counters, but it was a bright blue summer sky outside. If he didn't get too much wetter he'd probably be able to dry out by the time he finished the lawns. Harry turned the towel about exposing a dry bit, and wiped the streaks away, leaving a clear view of the side garden, and Aunt Petunia listening to the neighbors' picnic. Just as he was finishing up the windows, there came a knock at the front door. Harry knew well by now that the Dursleys had no desire for any visitor to see him anywhere in their house, so he loitered in the kitchen, and let Aunt Petunia scuttle into the house and to the door. Aunt Petunia's loud gasp, however, drew Harry away from his cleaning. Pulling his wand from a back pocket, he peered around the doorway separating the kitchen from the front hallway.

For a moment, Harry thought he was being visited by a member of the Weasley family. With her red hair and eyebrows, she certainly would have been able to blend in at the Burrow. However, her finely chiseled face was unfamiliar, and she was far too comfortable with her red skirt suit and leather attaché to be anything but a muggle. Harry was about to slip back into the kitchen when he heard his own name mentioned. Squinting at the two women speaking heatedly at the door, Harry settled down to listen in.

"...and I have never been so insulted in my life," Aunt Petunia concluded.

The strange woman sketched what might have been a polite smile. "Well, I'm definitely not trying to insult you Mrs. Dursley. It's just part of what we do; we just check in from time to time. And since I have all these notes and no visits recorded, you can see my problem."

Aunt Petunia sniffed, and seemed unable to decide if she wanted to keep her hand at her throat, or perched on her hip. "Not actually, I'm afraid, no. I don't see a problem at all. If he's been fine for fifteen years, I don't see why you need to bother me now."

"I'm sorry, I thought I explained that." The strange woman gestured to her attaché case. "The notes do seem to suggest that not everything has been fine for fif-"

"Petrificus Totalus!"

Harry jerked out of his slouch as a quick blast of light and the words of a spell cut the stranger off. Frozen, she toppled in slow motion toward Aunt Petunia. As Petunia reflexively moved to catch her, a second flash caught Harry's aunt in the chest. Both women dropped heavily to the ground. Through the open doorway, Harry could see a figure in dark gray robes, standing bold as you please on the front lawn of Number Four Privet Drive. Wand held at his side, the wizard took a step toward the house.

Harry exploded forward from his hiding place behind the kitchen door. Taking quick aim down the hall and onto the lawn, he started snapping off spells as fast as he could. "Stupefy! Stupefy! Expelliarmus! Rictus Sempra!"

The figure on the lawn snapped backwards, tumbling across the lawn in a tangle of heavy robes. A second, deeper voice called out "Stupefy," and a bolt of red light struck the front door ahead of Harry. He slid to a stop in the hallway, dropping to the ground. Any ideas he had about heading for the door died swiftly. He saw a swirl of movement through the front picture window.

Casting around for a solution, Harry's bright green eyes were wide and panicky. He chewed his lip, and rapped himself sharply on the top of his own head. A cold, wet feeling cascaded down his body, and Harry hoped this meant he was successfully Disillusioned. He crawled over the stiff bodies of the stranger and his aunt, in time to see a second robed figure approach the crumpled body lying in the middle of the yard. A quick look around didn't show any other people visible up and down the street. The wizard still on his feet pointed a short, dark wand at the crumpled figure, and said 'Ennervate!" There was no sign of motion from the crumpled form.

That was enough distraction for Harry. "Stupefy," he cried out, leaning around the door jamb. The second wizard swept his stubby wand in a tight arc, and muttered "Protego." Harry's stunner glanced harmlessly off of a brief ripple before striking home. The wizard snapped off his own stunner in return, sizzling into the door several feet over Harry's head. Apparently, Harry's Disillusionment was working just fine; his adversary couldn't see him very well. Harry tried again, this time aiming to disarm his opponent. The return strike was a brilliantly accurate stunner, and Harry barely had a chance to utter Protego to shield himself.

Ducking behind the doorway, Harry saw a series of hexes and charms hit the space he had just occupied. The second assailant seemed to be aiming for the space he'd last seen Harry's spells come from. Harry sat back, and pulled off his trainers. Although no one could see it he smiled; the worn shoes remained Disillusioned, even after he took them off. He flung one overhand toward the driveway. A series of hastily cast curses bounced up and down the driveway. Harry poked his head back around the edge of the door, and started rattling off stinging hexes.

Swearing, the assailant threw himself over the hedgerow Harry himself had planted weeks earlier. Smoking leaves and twigs flew from the sites where his hexes hit the shrubbery, but none got through. The wizard shoved his hand through the foliage, and fired stunners blindly at the door to the house. Now it was Harry's turn to duck back swearing. None of his spells would penetrate the hedgerow; he'd have to hit his attacker's wand dead on.

Harry slapped his forehead as a thought occurred to him, and he poked his head out into the line of fire. Grinning, he yelled as fast as he could. "Reducto! Reducto! Reducto!"

The hedge exploded, and the mystery assailant threw his hands over his head to avoid being cut by flying brambles. Harry's joy was short lived as the wizard scurried to find cover behind the long, grey auto parked at the curb. There was little chance he could blast a hole in a two-tonne motor carriage.

His assailant called out to Harry from behind the cover of the auto. "Give up. There's reinforcements coming, and no way to Apparate out of here."

"What a brilliant offer!" Harry called with bitter humor. "Fight and die, or surrender and die. What an amazing opportunity you've given me. Let me think a bit. Stupefy! Stupefy!"

Harry's charms bounced futilely off the gleaming grey curves of the auto. Harry pulled back behind the door too slowly, and the edge of a cutting charm caught him across his left shoulder. He hissed in pain as his attacker answered him. "I promise. You give us Harry Potter, you get to live. On my honor."

Harry's sharp laugh echoed down Privet Drive. "Hate to disappoint you, idiot. I'm Harry Potter!" With this, he leapt from cover, and crossed quickly to where the first wizard's wand lay discarded on the grass. Scooping it up, he tried gesturing with both hands in synchronization as he snapped charms off. His feral grin was rewarded as he managed to send pairs of stunners hurling toward the car. His adversary managed a shield charm against one, but the second caught him full in the face. He slumped over the hood with a gasp, the robes of his out flung arm caught upon the silver diver hood ornament.

Harry raised a hand to wipe the sweat out of his eyes, keeping his wand trained on the fallen wizard. A wide grin was just forming when a series of pops up and down the street drove a thrill of terror down his back. "He's Disillusioned," was the first cry he heard from over his left shoulder. Harry threw himself over the boot of the car as dozens of blue, red, and yellow hexes blasted the car and surrounding curb. Harry pushed himself up against the rear wheel of the car, feeling the tingling of hexes slapping the car behind him. Tucking under the rear end of the car, Harry loosed a volley of Stinging Hexes down the street, roughly aimed towards the spot some of the curses had come from.

Suddenly a gravelly, familiar voice called out. "Hold 'yer spells. That's Potter behind the Rolls." Mad-eye Moody.

"Oy, Harry!" Tonks called out from behind a sycamore. "That you?"

"Tonks? Is that really you?" Harry debated peering over the boot of the car. "Prove it."

"Um, I've got pink hair?" Tonks giggled. "No wait, I know! Last time I was here, you were planting those hedges."

Harry yelled over the car. "Last time you were here, I asked you how to throw curses faster."

"Cor, Harry!" Tonks stepped out from behind her tree, as other Order members stepped out from their hiding places. "Looks like you got that covered."

Harry Disillusioned himself, and stood up. He kept both wands out, pointed each way down the street. Alastor Moody, Remus Lupin, and Kingsley Shacklebolt all stepped out from behind cover or appeared from behind invisibility cloaks. Harry glared at the gathering group of wizards. "You know, you all could check where you're shooting before you go throwing curses at me!"

Both Moody's electric blue magical eye and his remaining normal eye fixed Harry with a furious stare. He waved tightly at the two wizards on the ground. "Us! What were you doing stunning two members of the Order? Wanted a little target practice?"

Harry jerked more upright at this, then pointed from his bleeding shoulder to the crumpled forms of the two muggles lying in the doorway. "They're not ours. They're Death Eaters."

Lupin pulled the robe away from the face of the wizard laying across the hood, revealing the face of Sturgis Podmore.