|I Am Also Thy Brother
Author: Lightning on the Wave PM
AU, part 7 of Sacrifices. In the wake of death and disaster, Harry struggles to be everything he is: leader, lover, son, and brother. Yet what will survive the War diminishes every day he does not find and destroy a Horcrux.Rated: Fiction M - English - Tragedy/Horror - Draco M. & Harry P. - Chapters: 107 - Words: 543,467 - Reviews: 1,141 - Favs: 744 - Follows: 157 - Updated: 01-05-07 - Published: 10-08-06 - Status: Complete - id: 3189131
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
TitleI Am Also Thy Brother
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters, settings, objects, and spells in this story belong to J. K. Rowling. I am making no money off this story, and am doing it solely for fun.
Summary: AU, part 7 of Sacrifices. In the wake of death and disaster, Harry struggles to be everything he is: leader, lover, son, brother. Yet what will survive the war diminishes every day he does not find and destroy a Horcrux.
Warnings: Character deaths (multiple, and most of them major characters), gore, violence, torture, rape, slash and het and saffic (femmeslash) in varying degrees of explicitness, language, references to past child abuse, emotional trauma.
Notes: Welcome to the seventh, and last, story in the Sacrifices Arc, the sequel to A Song In Time of Revolution. This is by far the darkest, and there are long stretches absent of any sort of fluff, with lots of scenes that may be triggering for people. And lots and lots of characters don't survive this one. Feel free to stop reading at any time.
The titles of this story and a good many of its chapters come from Swinburne's poem "Hymn to Proserpine," one of the most glorious and tragic poems ever written (in my opinion, of course).
And yes, I'm starting this a few days early. Couldn't be helped. If you're interested in babble as to why, the link to my LJ is in my profile.
First chapter warning: Cliffhanger
I Am Also Thy Brother
Chapter One: Last and Darkest
Harry woke in the night to the sound of sobbing.
He sat up slowly, fumbling at his glasses, his sleep-fogged mind trying to understand how someone else had arrived in his and Draco's bedroom. The tug of a heavy arm around his midriff proved that Draco was still asleep, and shouldn't have been standing in the darkness beside his bed and crying. Neither did he stir when Harry moved, though, which he thought unusual, until he remembered that Draco had gone to sleep wearing the Dreamer's Crown. He would be caught up in his lucid dreams and the choices he made in them until morning.
"Lumos," Harry whispered, holding up his left hand. Pale yellow light sparked through the darkness, revealing one of the last faces he would ever have expected.
"Professor Trelawney?" he asked, staring.
She stared back at him, with the expression of a wrecked woman. Her hair hung loose in frizzing curls around her face, and her eyes showed the effects of too many sleepless nights and too many cups of sherry. Remembering what had happened last night—in fact, he believed he'd be thinking of it on his deathbed—Harry shifted cautiously backwards. He had reason to fear people not sleeping well as he thought few other wizards in the world did.
"I tried to resist it," Professor Trelawney whispered, and her head shook as though it were a balloon tied to the end of a stick. "I tried. But it brought me here. It won't let me leave the room until I do what it wants." She folded her arms around her torso and bowed her head, while Harry looked in several different directions, trying to see the magic she meant. "It wants to be said," Trelawney whispered.
The splinters of ice that Harry had felt lodged in his heart for a day now seemed to extend outward.
"A prophecy," he said, and his own voice sounded hollow. Well. I knew there was one coming. I just didn't know it was now.
"Yes." Trelawney stared at him with wrecked eyes again, glittering behind her glasses. "I have to be a Seer and know what I said now, for only the second time in my life. Will you listen?"
The pain in her face testified to how long she'd tried to resist this. Harry didn't want to know the prophecy, but there was too much pain in the world that he could not ease right now, and this suffering, he could. Besides, he had to know it. It might, if he could figure it out, provide valuable clues to how the future war with Voldemort went.
It was strange, when he thought back on it later, that he hadn't ever dreamed the prophecy wouldn't concern the war with Voldemort. Of course it had to. That was the central reality of his life right now.
He gripped Trelawney's hand and nodded to her, once.
She gave a little whimper of relief and spoke quietly, shakily. Harry heard the words anyway. He thought she could have whispered them in a catacomb and he would have heard them. The prophecy wanted to be said, but even more than that, Harry thought, it wanted to be heard. And the thunder that filled the room as the professor spoke proved that this was a true prophecy, the fourth she'd made in her life, the last and the darkest.
"At the end of all things,
Prophecies run out.
It is on humans to take wings
And makes themselves human past the doubt.
"The first thing is the smallest thing,
But the center of many hearts still.
But, oh, savior, watch for the sting,
For the smallest things may kill.
"The second, no one can afford
To ignore the curse that seems a wall.
But that curse is true, and from the Lord,
And its only destruction is a fall.
"The third, amid the shining roses,
Waits for hearts to inevitably harden.
But there will be others' important choices
Within night's poisoned garden.
"The fourth, in the old hatred curled
Has found its way to move and end.
Beware, for when you most wish to hide from the world,
You'll be taken by one who's a friend.
"So much pain running without a halter,
More than is traded every day in gold.
Yet remember that even prophecies falter,
And it is up to human hands to hold
"And cling together at the end of all things.
Prophecies will, inevitably, run out.
It is on humans to take up wings,
And makes themselves human past the doubt."
Trelawney's head sagged back, and her mouth fell open and slack, as though she had sung something wonderful. Harry swallowed, and his skin prickled as he felt eyes on him. He glanced to the side.
A sleek black dog sat in the corner of the room, wreathed with what looked like a golden-green bridle. Harry had seen a similar vision once before: in the Department of Mysteries, when the Stone tried to turn time against him. The dog's eyes were rich, deep, expectant—the eyes of Lady Death, the eyes of the Grim that waited on Regulus Black's arm in place of the Dark Mark and had enabled him to resist the call from Voldemort.
The dog tilted back her head and gave voice to a soundless howl. At the same instant, the thunder stopped rolling around them, and Trelawney vanished from the room. The dog watched Harry a moment more, then collapsed into shadow and faded, too. Harry was left alone in the company of his own rushing breath and a deeply sleeping Draco.
No. Not just those. I still have my mind.
And Harry knew that he had to make a decision. Now, when he would be almost alone except for the sworn companion he had to take with him, was the best time to make it.
He scribbled a note for Draco and left it on the table beside the bed. Then he slipped out into the Slytherin common room. He'd intended to cross to the seventh-year boys' room and wake Owen Rosier-Henlin up, but he paused when he saw Owen sitting in the middle of the common room. He rose to his feet when he saw Harry and gave him a soft smile.
"Couldn't sleep," he said, by way of explanation. "And knew you would want company." He touched his left arm, which bore the lightning bolt shape of his swearing to Harry. "Upwards?"
Harry nodded. "The Astronomy Tower."
Owen looked startled for a moment. "I thought the Headmistress had sealed that off."
She very well might have, Harry thought distractedly. He knew McGonagall had been awake since early that morning, firmly telling the other professors that Hogwarts would stay open until at least the end of the term, and that she trusted Severus Snape to behave himself until she was up and walking around the hospital wing. But Harry hadn't been aware of whatever other decrees she might have made. The day had been—long, telling the Bulstrodes, Narcissa, Draco, and the Weasleys of what he had seen, and doing what he could to comfort them against their losses to death or Voldemort, and also doing what he could to comfort Snape.
"As close as we can get, then," he said, and set off towards the common room door. "I need to feel fresh air on my face, and I don't think that I dare go outside the wards right now."
He could feel Owen's startled, thoughtful glance on his shoulder blades. It wasn't long before that Harry would have resented having a guardian, resented the idea that he shouldn't leave the wards, and sneaked off on his own just to prove that he could. Owen would be wondering what had changed him.
Last night did, Harry answered, though not aloud. Voldemort can reach most anywhere, and not many other people than me have a hope of standing up to him. I have to think of my own safety more than I have. I can't go flying on my broom to think, and the Astronomy Tower is still well within the wards.
There are decisions I need to make.
It had begun with a flare in the Floo connection, which he kept open night and day now, and someone he hadn't recognized at first shouting, "Sir! Sir! Elder Juniper! Minister Scrimgeour is dead!"
It had turned out to be one of the Aurors who had started moving closer to him after Scrimgeour's mindless debacle with Cupressus Apollonis. Accusing a prominent Light wizard of child abuse when nothing of the sort had been happening would, of course, lose the Minister followers. He hadn't seemed to care about that before he made his move, though.
Struggling into his dressing gown, Erasmus Juniper demanded the story over again, and received it. The Minister's still body. The death of Percy Weasley, his closest companion. How the Aurors standing outside the door had heard nothing, but had gone in to find three bodies, including that of the young woman who had helped the Minister against the Dark Lord Falco Parkinson, sprawled on the floor. The broken wall, and the hovering Dark Mark.
The Thorn Bitch's work. You-Know-Who's work.
But Erasmus knew a different name for it, and when he'd snapped an order to the Auror to back out of the Floo connection so he could come through, it was humming in his head.
The Dark's work.
Times had changed. This was the full-blown beginning of the Second War, not that pitiful contest between Lords two years ago. The magical world needed to remember the lessons of the First War, and it needed a strong leader who would work for the Light, which was the Dark's opponent.
Erasmus Juniper knew he was that leader.
He moved fast, because it was necessary. He listened to the Aurors' stories. He viewed the bodies for himself, wincing at the destruction of Percy Weasley's, and ordered the victims' families to be notified. He stooped over Rufus, who had died looking oddly peaceful, and made a private vow that none of the others heard.
"You left them in my care. I'm going to take care of them, I promise. As one Light-sworn wizard to another, I promise." And if I take better care of them than you did, well, that is only to be expected. The world has just become simpler than it was when you were Minister. Whilst you had to move cautiously, I may move openly, and I will not use or bargain with the Dark as you did.
He had ordered the Wizengamot to be gathered. Technically, he didn't have the authority to do so, but the people around him cried out for some kind of authority, perfectly legitimate or not. They hurried to do as he had commanded, and the news of the Minister's death spread throughout the Ministry. Erasmus passed many people crying as he made his way to Courtroom Ten. And why not? Rufus had been disliked, but almost always for political reasons. As a person, people had liked him.
Erasmus shook his head. It was that likeability that had killed him. Despite the third body on the floor in his office and its lack of a Dark Mark, he was sure that the young woman who called herself the Liberator had provided the key to Rufus's destruction. Perhaps she had been a witting pawn, perhaps not, but somehow she had let Indigena Yaxley into the Ministry. What Britain needed now was a Minister who would never allow such a thing.
There were other things he would never allow, either. During the First War, the Aurors had been briefly granted permission to use the Unforgivables legally, which had led to endless torture of innocents when the Aurors had a grudge against them or were drunk on power. Erasmus would not order such measures, ever. He would do what was right, not what was expedient.
Courtroom Ten slowly filled. Most of the eyes Erasmus looked into shimmered with tears, or terror, or both. There were a few exceptions, like Griselda Marchbanks, but not many. They had all heard the news now; those who might not have heard it before they arrived knew it the moment they stepped into the courtroom. Their world was leaderless, sent reeling. Something had to be done.
Erasmus would be the man to do it—not because he was politically ambitious, but because he was the best wizard for the position, and he knew it.
"Wizards and witches of the Wizengamot," he said, drawing their attention immediately, "what you have heard is true. Minister Rufus Scrimgeour has been assassinated, killed by the hand of Indigena Yaxley, the Thorn Bitch working in You-Know-Who's service. She entered the Ministry, by means as yet unknown, and slew everyone in his office, then broke free again."
Loud murmurs and complaints made it impossible to continue for a moment. Erasmus waited, one arm curled around his hip. He was wearing, under his formal cloak, the robe with the depiction of the firebird on it, the oldest symbol of organized Light. The stitched talon curved around his hip. He thought he could feel gathering warmth from it, as though the old Light approved of his measures.
"I grieve for the death of Rufus, as all of you do," he went on, lifting his voice. "But there is no time to spare. We must act, to prevent panic and its attendant plagues from sweeping the whole of Britain. This is a war against the Dark, and the Light must rise."
"I suppose you have a plan for that?" Griselda asked, her voice creaky and soft but able to make itself heard nonetheless, her eyes on him.
Erasmus nodded to her. She was one of the few opponents who might be able to convince the others to elect her Acting Minister, if he allowed her time. He did not intend to allow her that time. Griselda would be a disaster, through no fault of her own. She had obligations to the goblins that would make her hesitant to do some of what must be done for fear she would be held personally accountable for any injuries to them. And she was too close to the vates.
Erasmus's mouth tightened as he thought of the vates. More news was coming in, though he had not heard all of it before he summoned the Wizengamot, talking about an attack at Hogwarts. Nothing was said of the vates being dead, but Erasmus was sure that he and his Death Eaters were tied to this somehow.
Well, no matter. He will yield, or he will be counted as a tool of Voldemort. This is no time for personal disputes. He must work with the Ministry. We cannot afford a civil war, or a war on two fronts.
"I do," said Erasmus. "I have built an alliance with several prominent Light wizards, and where they go, their families and allies will follow. Their members include Aurora Whitestag—whom I think most of you might have some reason to remember—Cupressus Apollonis, Terin Griffinsnest, and others." He took the prepared scroll out of his robe pocket. "Here is the list of names. I will pass it around the courtroom so that others can see it."
"And what is your proposal, Juniper?" Griselda asked, with that relentless, tiresome patience.
"That the Wizengamot appoint me Acting Minister, for now," said Erasmus calmly. "That the alliance of Light wizards be allowed some power in the Ministry, enough to organize the Aurors and other Departments against this threat. That we examine the recent decrees and promises that Rufus made and see how many of them are necessary now, and how much it will cost us to keep them if they are determined to be so. That the Ministry shift to a war footing immediately. That some of those we know to be high risks be brought in for questioning." He stood, eyes locked on Griselda's, waiting for her to challenge some part of a proposal built all on calm reasoning.
Griselda opened her mouth, but another Wizengamot member, Linda Hooplan, overwhelmed her. "I agree," she said, fear falling from her mouth, her eyes. "We must do something to counteract the Dark, and I agree."
Others began to voice their agreement. Erasmus smiled slightly. He had known it would be simple, though he had anticipated more of a battle. In times of fear, groups of people would let their instincts guide them, and follow the one who seemed most prepared. Since he was the one who was most prepared, he had not had to work very hard for the appearance of it, either. There would be a few who opposed him; besides Griselda, Elizabeth Dawnborn also looked doubtful. But the rest of the Wizengamot was shouting for him, clamoring for him, more enthusiastically than they had ever done in the last days for poor Rufus.
Erasmus accepted it. He had not wanted the position thrust upon him like this; he would have preferred to come to power as Minister through a legitimate election, and to have some idea of how to deal with the vates beforehand. But no one had expected Rufus to be assassinated, and no one had expected the war to come upon them so suddenly. Erasmus had laid contingency plans for such a measure, and they were in effect now. As the only one with a set of plans, he rose easily to power.
There were no Dark wizards on the Wizengamot, or at least none stupid enough to say so in public. There were only Light and undeclared wizards, and they knew where the power flowed now.
So that was how he came, a day later, to be sitting behind the Minister's desk, and to be writing out his second order. The first, which was not, in some ways, as urgent, and would go out in tomorrow's Daily Prophet, was an edict outlawing use of the absorbere gift. It was the most powerful and dangerous Dark magic in Britain at the moment, and had no legitimate effects to outweigh its bad ones. Also, though, it was a test for Harry Potter. If he obeyed the edict, he would probably fall in line with the Ministry; if not, then Erasmus would know him for an enemy.
The second was more a precaution than anything else, but Erasmus knew that these people had valuable information, and also that the vates would try to keep them away from the Ministry if he could. Seizing them this way couldn't be helped.
Somehow, even after his mother's description, Draco hadn't imagined the Dreamer's Crown would bring him to a place that looked like this.
He stood on a high hill, covered with misty grass, stalks of light that swayed slowly back and forth. The fog that crept in and out between the blades was the color of milk lit from within, and twined cold fingers around his legs. To the left one path stretched away, and to the right another one. In front of him was what Draco supposed counted as the situation he put on the Crown to lucidly dream about.
He walked slowly towards it. It showed him and Harry, facing each other, still replicas that made his skin prickle slightly with how identical they were to the real thing. His own expression was angry. Harry's was simply closed.
From the tales, he knew what he had to do. It just wasn't that easy to do, in the end. But, needs must.
He took a deep breath and stepped into the replica of himself.
Sound and motion absorbed him at once, and he found himself standing in a corridor of Hogwarts, not the misty meadows the Crown had brought him to. Part of his mind remained hovering behind the rest, though, able to see and judge. So when the words emerged from his mouth, he didn't have to own up to them as being completely his. Which was rather a comfort, given what those words were.
"I don't care!" he was shouting. "You shouldn't have done it! You didn't know what was out there!"
Harry simply watched him, face colder than Draco had ever seen it before. Harry usually wore a mulish expression when he'd been caught doing something wrong and didn't want to admit to it, or an emotionless one when he'd fastened on a course of action he thought was right. This look, though, was one of exquisite, cold anger. This was a Harry who was keeping his word about not suppressing his emotions. He did hold his tongue, though, apparently waiting for the end of Draco's tirade.
"And don't tell me that you knew what was out there, thanks to your visions," Draco was raging on. "You know how dangerous those sendings from Voldemort are. Any one of them could be false. Why in the name of Merlin didn't you come and get me, Harry?"
Harry's head lifted. The motion exposed his throat, but Draco didn't think he had ever seen his partner look less vulnerable than he did right now. Steady rage burned in his green eyes.
"I did fetch other people," Harry said quietly, in a voice that made the stones of the corridor frost over. "Just not you."
The scene froze. Draco could feel the words leaping to his tongue in response, accusing Harry of not valuing him enough. This was the point where the argument turned. Either he spoke those words, or he choked them back and admitted that, yes, he'd been rather impossible to fetch at the moment Harry needed him. The right-hand road led to what would happen if he said those words, the left-hand one to what would happen if he admitted he was wrong.
Draco watched as the two figures of himself and Harry dissolved and spun away into the reaching mist. Down the right-hand road the vision sped, and he saw Harry drawing away from him, keeping more secrets, leaving Draco behind more and more often, because all he did when fetched was complain about the problems of his own life. The ending of that road was uncertain, since it reached into war, but Draco was sure it ended either with Harry dying in battle, alone, or surviving but leaving him completely, hardening himself against needing Draco when Draco served mostly as a source of stress.
Down the left-hand road the vision spread, and he saw things changing between them during the war, and not always for the better. But he could be a support at Harry's back when Harry needed one, and a Dark wizard who could make decisions and urge tactics that a Light wizard wouldn't, and the counterbalance—
Draco jerked his head and made a disgusted noise in his throat. Must he serve as a counterbalance to Harry's brother?
But the left-hand road seemed to be saying he would whether he wanted it or not. Draco put his hands over his face, and let out a loud and lofty sigh.
When he peeked between his fingers, the vision was still there.
All right, then. I'm wise enough to know which I prefer. I thought I was done becoming an adult, but obviously not.
A voice answered him, low and amused. Draco wondered if it was his own voice, from the future, or the voice of the crown itself, or perhaps even the voice of a more adult Harry. It does not end until you are dead.
And the vision dissolved in turn, and Draco, his decision made, woke up.
It was gone.
He had been right. Pulling free of Voldemort's hold the way he had had substantially damaged his mind.
Snape leaned his head against his hands and fought down the urge to scream, to rage, to lash out. It was not easy. His concentration was truly in tatters. The art of focusing intently on one thing that he'd developed for so long—to brew potions, to come up with revenge against his enemies, to catch a student making subtle mistakes in class—was slipping from him.
He was an Occlumens. He knew his own mind. He had patrolled it the moment the initial excitement had died, with Harry back on the Tower, having told them the news of the visions he had witnessed, and all of them making their way back down to the hospital wing and Minerva.
Large parts of his memories, especially his younger ones, were missing. Wounds in his Occlumency pools meant he would have a harder time suppressing his emotions than usual, for now and a long time to come. But the biggest casualty was his concentration. That was not a surprise. Voldemort had used Snape's intensity to his advantage when he had planted those dreams. And Snape had shredded that part of his mind in getting away.
Though he also felt lighter for the first time in years, no longer carrying some of his hatreds, he was not entirely sure if this was worth the trade. Harry needed him as a father, as a skilled Potions brewer, as a man who would not go mad if something emotionally draining happened, but could handle it calmly and efficiently. Was Snape going to be able to do that, with his mind damaged the way it was?
He stood over his cauldron of purple poison, which he would turn against Voldemort and his Death Eaters now, and let himself taste weariness. A horrid childhood, loathsome school years, an equally horrible—at least now—service of three years to Voldemort, eleven years of unshaken allegiance to Albus Dumbledore, a change to Harry's side, and now, another change. He was continually being required to rise from his bed and rebuild his life, or endure some new and innovative torture over part of it. Could he do it again?
Yes. Again and again.
He had made a choice that was really a myriad of choices on the night Harry had rebuilt his mind and magic after the Chamber of Secrets. He had said he would choose from day to day, recast his allegiance again and again. He had made that choice, of course, much less weary of body and mind, certain he could do things that now seemed impossible or beyond him.
Yes. You can do this. You must. Again and again.
He forced himself to his feet and towards the Potions books on the far shelf of his office. He had thought he brewed a potion to cure Occlumency wounds, when in fact he had brewed a version of liquid Imperius under Voldemort's direction. The Imperius potion could still be useful, but now he needed to trace the steps of research he had never actually performed, and create the potion that would heal his own wounds.
He would become what he had to, to survive and to aid his son.
I belong to myself. And I choose this. Again and again.
Narcissa defied embraces.
Her son had hugged her that day. Harry had hugged her, after he had explained, as gently as he could, that Lucius was gone back to the Dark Lord. Even Regulus had hugged her, as awkwardly as possible, before stepping back and giving her a thoughtful look.
"You didn't like that, did you?" he asked.
"No." Narcissa didn't bother glancing away from the fire. She sat near one of the hearths in Silver-Mirror, one that didn't have a Floo connection, so that no one could possibly come through and disturb her on accident. "Now leave me."
And Regulus had nodded and climbed to his own bed, leaving Narcissa, the night after the night it happened, to stare at the flames. Anyone who was in the same room with her, and not privy to her thoughts, would probably have imagined she was brooding.
She was not brooding. She would have a right to, given the family she was born into and the family she'd married into, but she was not.
She was murderously angry.
When Harry had explained the basis of the hatred Voldemort had used to snare his Death Eaters back again, Narcissa had nodded, and said she understood. But she had looked at Severus, still standing at Harry's side, and Peter Pettigrew, pale but there. Regulus might be said to have an unfair advantage, with the mark of Lady Death on his arm in place of the Dark Mark. But the others had resisted and fought back of their own free wills, and managed to remain.
Lucius's love for her was not strong enough for that, and the knowledge curdled like sour milk in Narcissa's stomach.
Narcissa did not have to brood. She felt anger striking through her, keen and clear and white as the trunk of a young birch. She was not required to think of other things in order to keep from thinking of Lucius and going mad. She would think of him without going mad. She would think of him with disgust shining in her like a star.
She would face him again, of that she had no doubt. Lord Voldemort wanted to kill those Harry loved, and torment those he had taken. Of course she and Lucius would have to duel with such a dark mind behind the scenes.
She would do it gladly, and bring Lucius back or kill him.
She lifted her head, knowing her teeth flashed like a wolf's in the firelight, and glad of it.
I do not want a husband whose love is not as strong as mine. I will not be the dependent one.
Somehow—she was not sure how, because, really, since she was the baby of the family, she would have expected it the opposite way around—she was the one moving quietly, competently, in the background, doing what needed to be done, while everyone else raged and cried and vowed vengeance.
And she was the one who noticed, and worried about, Ron.
Ginny wiped her hands on a towel and put the last plate down. She was good at the cleaning charms for the dishes, but not the drying charm. She turned, slowly, to stare at Ron, the only one remaining at the table in the Burrow's kitchen. Everyone else had retreated to the drawing room, where they could talk to each other about Percy, and continue crying and raging and vowing vengeance, without being separated by the width of the table.
Her mother had not stopped crying since Ginny and Ron, returning home by Floo from Hogwarts, told her what Harry had told them. Her father had been pale and mumbling since official confirmation and condolences had come from the Ministry, via an owl with a black envelope. Bill and Charlie had arrived in the middle of the afternoon, and appeared inclined to comfort their parents half the time and half the time reminisce about Percy and his life. The twins were talking intently to each other about what they'd do to the person who'd killed him.
Ron was silent.
Am I really the only one who noticed? Ginny thought, studying Ron, whose face was so pale it made his freckles stand out like spots of blood on snow. He'd clutched his wand the entire time, too, and refused to meet anyone else's eyes. Every hour that passed just saw him become stiffer and stiffer, his jaw clamped so tightly shut it had to hurt, his nostrils flaring like a wild horse's.
Ginny knew he couldn't be blaming himself for Percy's death. He wasn't that stupid, to think he could have prevented it. And he didn't blame Harry, either, or else he would have punched Harry in the jaw the moment he told them about Percy. Ron wasn't one to suppress his feelings.
But she didn't know what else this was.
"Ron," she said quietly, and sat down next to him.
He didn't respond. It was Ginny's belief that he honestly didn't hear her. She reached out and threaded her fingers with his, forcing him to let go of his wand. When it rolled down the table, he startled and scrambled after it, knocking the chair down. He'd got quite big the previous summer, and even though he'd hit his seventeenth birthday and received his full complement of magic, Ginny didn't think he'd stopped growing yet.
When he had his wand in his grip, he went right back to being a statue. Ginny, though, was tired of that. She didn't even care about the magic that hung around him and muttered like a thunderstorm. She had lost one member of her family tonight. She wasn't going to lose another because Ron went dashing away in some mad quest for revenge, or—or did something else. Ginny couldn't imagine what else he might do, but she knew it would be bad.
"Ron," she said.
He at least looked at her this time, but only to shake his head and whisper, "Go away, Ginny."
"No." At least he blinked at her, then, as if he couldn't imagine that she wouldn't obey him. Ginny stared straight back. Ron had obviously forgotten whom he was talking to. They'd been quite close as children, as the two siblings closest in age, and because the twins had each other and Percy fussed so. But they'd also fought most often. Ron had a terrible temper, one that Bill and Charlie rarely roused, Percy was afraid of, and the twins laughed off. But Ginny wasn't afraid of Ron. She never had been.
"Ginny," he said, and his voice was so polite and calm that she might have been fooled if she hadn't seen the expression on his face beforehand. "Bugger. Off."
Now he was shaking, his magic swirling around him, dancing up and down restlessly. Ginny let out a careful breath. Fred and George were the strongest wizards in the Weasley family, and geniuses with modifying and creating spells. But Ron had a reserve of power that none of the rest of them did, connected to his temper, and since the first of March, he'd been managing curses and hexes and jinxes that had been beyond him a week before that. Fred and George could badly hurt an enemy. Ron would go on hitting back long after he should have fallen.
"Ron, listen. To. Me," she said. "I know that you're upset about Percy—"
Ron gave a jagged laugh and ripped his hands away. At least, he tried. Ginny braced herself on the chair, and retained a grip on one wrist. She wasn't as strong as he was, but she was just as stubborn.
"You don't know the half of it," he whispered. "You don't, so don't dare pretend you do! Selfish git, why did he have to go and die like that?"
And suddenly, Ginny did know what this was about. The last time Ron had seen Percy, over Easter holidays, they had argued terribly, mostly because Ron's ultimate loyalty was to his best friend Connor—and, through him, to Harry—while Percy had made a point of standing with Minister Scrimgeour even when he'd moved openly against Harry. Percy had ended up leaving the Burrow early. Ron hadn't apologized to him.
And now Percy was dead, and there would be no chance of an apology, and it was obvious that Ron blamed himself and his temper.
"Merlin, Ron," said Ginny, and leaned forward and hugged her brother despite his struggles. "He didn't die blaming you. You have to believe that. He knew it was just politics. He argued with other people, and he didn't so much make up with them as mumble something at them later and then talk like everything was normal again. You know that. Percy's temper embarrassed him. He was your brother, and you were his, and he loved you, and he died defending the wizard he was loyal to. I promise, it's all right. You didn't make his last moments any more miserable."
Ron's magic was a stone weight on her shoulders. Ginny wondered, for a long moment, if what she said would be enough.
Then Ron uttered one great, crackling sob, and with that the dam broke.
Ginny held him as he cried, and after a time bowed her head and joined in. She felt his arms come around her in turn, and hold her close. It had been the longest day of her life. She had turned out, unexpectedly, to be the strong one who thought of food and other basic necessities when no one else did.
But even the strong ones needed to collapse sometimes. And even Ginny had done her share of arguing with Percy, and was perfectly capable of feeling that she hadn't appreciated him enough when he was alive, and now he was gone and she would never have the chance to tell him.
So she cried, and Ron stroked her hair and whispered to her, and so they mourned their brother together.
Millicent did not cry. It was not allowed.
She went home to her mother at once when the Headmistress gave her permission, and she told her about what Harry had seen in the vision, and Elfrida nodded and put her arms around Marian and rocked her, and there were a few tears, with Marian crying because her mother was crying.
There were no tears for Millicent. She was her father's magical heir, and she might soon have to fight him. Besides, she knew what all the oldest codes of behavior for Dark families said, and the Bulstrodes followed the oldest ones. When a family member turned traitor to a cause the family had sworn to—as Adalrico had; the formal family oath would not let him fight Harry or Connor, but it would let him fight Harry's other allies—the head of the family was supposed to execute that person.
Millicent was the head of the Bulstrode family in the wake of her father's defection.
She stood with her hand on her mother's shoulder, and stared into the fire, and gave commands in a low voice. The house elves took care of things, including setting up wards of their own strong magic around a sheltered room that would be Marian's and Elfrida's last retreat in times of trouble.
Millicent intended to find a stronger, more secure sanctuary. She had no doubt that Voldemort would send her father against his family, too, and Adalrico knew all the secrets of the Blackstone estate, including some that wouldn't be revealed to Millicent until his death.
She did not cry. She told her mother and her little sister and the house elves what to do, and then went to the Floo to contact her family's solicitor. If her death occurred, in battle or otherwise, it was necessary to designate Marian her heir, so the family properties could pass on smoothly. The family was always more important than the individual.
Duramus, her family's motto was. We endure.
We endure anything, Millicent thought, as she waited for the solicitor to speak to her. Anything. Even this.
The Headmistress had indeed sealed off the Astronomy Tower, with a series of wards. They weren't linked to the school, however—Harry thought McGonagall was probably too weak from Snape's attack, still, to call upon the might of Hogwarts for a temporary measure—but were spellwork, which all the professors had worked together to build. Harry simply took them down, waited until Owen was past them, and then put them back.
Together, they climbed the stairs Harry had pounded up in frantic concern last night, and descended again early this morning. Or was it this morning? Harry cast a Tempus charm, and shook his head. Not technically. It was one-o'clock in the morning on the eighth of June.
He wondered if he needed to be so precise, but he thought it would help him achieve the mindset he needed. He began to pace, back and forth, on top of the Tower, while Owen guarded the stairs and watched him, the sky, the staircase, and the other Towers more or less simultaneously.
What do I need to do in this war?
The answers tried to come clustering in as one great wave and overwhelm him, but Harry refused to allow them. He streamlined his mind into cool quietude, instead, glancing at the stars when he needed to see what that looked like. He had promised Henrietta he would not suppress his emotions again, but he had said nothing about suppressing thoughts. He knocked out the cold chains of logic in his mind, until he could hold them up and twist them around and admire what he saw.
Destroy the Horcruxes. Those are the key to destroying Voldemort. I don't yet know a way around the Unassailable Curses, which makes it hard to set up a timetable for that. Nevertheless, I need to get rid of them to have any chance at getting rid of the Dark Lord.
Make sure he doesn't take me through the hatred, the way he almost did last night—the night before last. Occlumency would be the simplest way, but I made that vow to Henrietta, and I won't go back on it. Besides, suppressing my emotions only leads to all sorts of other problems, and we cannot afford that now, for me to collapse and build myself back up. So—
What is it to be, then?
Harry paced back and forth in the light of the stars to which he'd sent the phoenix song as a cry of defiance. The moon was visible this time, a faint, slowly waxing sliver.
It will have to be pushing straight through, Harry thought at last, reluctantly letting the realizations trickle through his head. Not suppressing my emotions. Not hiding from whatever visions he sends me of attacks and cruelty. Not giving in to the hatred. Living with it, no matter what happens.
I know what kind of war it will be. Voldemort has his Death Eaters, and none of them are vulnerable, not in the way that the people I want to protect are. I have innocents, Muggles as well as wizards, and I'll be fighting a defensive war almost exclusively. With long lines. Harry grimaced. Voldemort could strike anywhere in Britain or Ireland, and he won't always send me a vision when he does. Even if he does send visions, to try to wear down my resistance and make me hate him, some of them will be false, or will be after the fact, so I can't do anything to prevent the attacks.
My best hope is to give people in local areas the ability to defend themselves. Call on some of my allies to help in particular places—the werewolves in London to help with protecting London Muggles and wizards, for example. Give what training I can to those who will accept it, so that their curses and wards will grow stronger. Establish safehouses where the most vulnerable people can hide. Let at least some Muggles—those who already have contact with the wizarding world, like parents of Muggleborn students—know what's happening, so they can make their way to the safehouses, take precautions, or do whatever they think is appropriate.
He would have to be careful, he knew. If he was correct, Juniper had already taken the Ministry. He was the strongest politician in the Wizengamot after Scrimgeour, either because the people following him sincerely believed in him, or because they wanted to use him and saw him as accommodating their purposes, or because they wanted what he wanted. Harry was almost sure he and the man would clash over the defensive measures Harry wanted to employ. And talking to Muggles about the wizarding world at all risked treading on the International Statute of Secrecy meant to separate the wizarding world and the non-magical one.
Harry was a bit surprised to find a well of indifference where he once would have been fretting about that.
This is war, and lives are more important than laws. I'll do what I have to do. There are certain standards I'll never break—never using compulsion, for example. But I—I'm going to have to give up some pedestals I've placed myself on.
Was it compulsion to use his name and reputation as the Boy-Who-Lived, a power he had still barely tapped? No. Nor was it compulsion to keep secrets instead of being totally honest, or tell judicious lies to lure in allies who were purely political, or refuse to help those who wanted some insanely dangerous concession from him while they offered something temporary or slender in return. And if he believed that people like Juniper and Aurora Whitestag were hurting the wizarding world more than they were helping it, Harry would not hesitate to scorn them and strike out on his own.
What's changed me?
He knew the answer to that, of course.
The revelation of what Voldemort can do. I forgot you, you bastard. I underestimated you. I won't do it again. I will become what I have to, do what I must, to survive this war and win it for others and myself, without breaking those principles dearest to me.
He knew it would not be any easier than fighting through the hatred Voldemort intended to press into his mind. For one thing, these were surely the same kinds of promises Dumbledore had made himself during the First War, and that had eaten his morals until he agreed to anything, thought of anything, scrabbled after anything, to try and preserve a scrap of what he valued.
I must not become Voldemort. I must not become Dumbledore. I must not become Juniper. I must steer a path through all of them, and one mistake has the potential to lose me everything.
Harry snarled softly, and a wave of blue phoenix fire sprang up around his shoulders and raced down his arms, intensely bright in the darkness.
If that's what I have to do, that's what I have to do. And I have to take precautions with my own life, and not do stupid things, and trust others to make their own decisions about fighting, and rely on other people as well as having them rely on me.
I've never been good at any of those.
It didn't matter. The war demanded that he be good at them, and they were changes Harry was willing to make to accommodate the war. Those things he could not give up, he would protect and defend with all his might, but he would—not be as pleasant or as honest or as trusting as he had been. Those were virtues more appropriate to a time of peace than of war.
So I'll bring peace back again. And think of what lies beyond the end, not just in this war. Like Connor said, show Voldemort he's only a tiny cloud in the sky of my life. I won't use compulsion because that means the end of any chance of my becoming a vates. I won't sacrifice lives unless forced to make that choice or unless someone else willingly chooses to become a sacrifice, because I want as many people as possible to live and enjoy life beyond the end of the war. I won't destroy institutions just to destroy them, because we'll need them when he's dead.
Harry smiled faintly. He thought he had made the choices he could make, with the road he had in sight. If he had to make others as he went along, he would do so.
He spun and went back towards the stairs with Owen on his heels, opening and shutting the wards behind them. The moment they were back in the main school, Harry could hear a commotion, people bolting down the halls, someone shouting. He frowned and started towards the hospital wing.
Madam Pomfrey was there, of course, hovering with her wand out over McGonagall. The Headmistress was arguing with her about getting out of bed, but she turned around and changed her tone the moment she saw Harry.
"Harry," she said precisely. "I'm sorry. I couldn't stop them. I would have raised the school's wards against them, but—"
"You could have done that if you wanted a heart attack!" yelled Madam Pomfrey, looking more flustered than Harry had ever seen her. Harry supposed she might have finally found a patient who flustered her more than he did.
"Please explain what happened, Headmistress," Harry said calmly, his eyes fastened on hers.
"Ministry Aurors came through the Floo," McGonagall said, after studying him for a long moment. She was pale, but her voice was clear. "They took Poppy as a hostage, and by implication, me, I suppose. They had warrants for the arrest of Severus Snape, Peter Pettigrew, and Regulus Black. I'm sorry, Harry. They've taken them to Tullianum as suspected spies for Voldemort."