|More Equal Than You Know
Author: The Obsidian Warlock PM
AU. OVERHAUL IN PROGRESS: Read Ch.1 AN. On October 31st, 1981, Voldemort left behind a piece of his power and insanity. A Harry Potter with the abilities of a young Tom Riddle, and a hidden war between the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix. HHrRated: Fiction M - English - Adventure/Romance - Harry P. & Hermione G. - Chapters: 11 - Words: 144,955 - Reviews: 367 - Favs: 587 - Follows: 662 - Updated: 01-08-08 - Published: 09-16-07 - id: 3787073
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all related terms and characters are the property of JK Rowling. The use of copyrighted material is for non-profit entertainment purposes only, and in no way constitutes a challenge to the existing copyright.
A/N: There's a reason behind the sluggishness of the recent updates to MEtyK, and now I will unveil it.
This story's been a learning process for me as far as writing goes. I certainly won't call myself a pro, but I do take pride in what I've accomplished. With that said, I want to update MEtyK to remove some old mistakes and polish the story a bit, before I get too close to the ending. I'm not re-writing the story, but I'm making enough changes that you'll probably want to go through and read it again.
Mathiasgranger has been my shoulder to lean on throughout my creation of MEtyK, so thanks to him for his past, present and future help. This is the last old-style chapter.
Starting now, and every couple days, I will be updating the older chapters of MEtyK, from one through to 11. After all 11 chapters have been overhauled, I'll post chapter 12 in its new format.
Chapter 11 here takes me where I want to go, but it also highlights things that I view as mistakes. I present this chapter to you with the full understanding that by the time I finish overhauling MEtyK, things might look a little different. You've all waited patiently for me, though, and I promised to deliver.
Aside from the overhaul, next up:
The Meaning of Father, Ch. 4
The Sir Harry & Princess Hermione challenge from Artemis Day (long one-shot)
The Pale, Ch. 2
YEAR 3: Year of the Serpent – Spring
I spent the bulk of Christmas morning at the kitchen table, retelling last night's tale to the rest of the house and packing away more food than I thought possible for a human being. The conversation was a good distraction: As long as everyone else was worried about Bellatrix popping in, I really didn't have to.
I didn't tell the complete story, of course; that would have been damning to Hermione. As far as anyone other than her, Dumbledore, and me knew, Bellatrix had broken in, scuffled with me, dueled with Dumbledore, and narrowly escaped a lethal parting shot from Hermione. I hope everyone will forgive me for not repeating the hysterics that Pansy flew into when I explained what happened. It was something along the lines of "Oh, my God! You could have died! I'm never leaving you alone again, except when you have sex!"
I love Pansy; I really do.
Dumbledore drummed Marius and Bill out of bed, and the two of them spent all morning adjusting the house wards and layering new ones in the hopes of preventing another break-in. Happy Christmas, boys, and thanks for the free work.
I, on the other hand, ate all morning, and watched my hands with interest. After a couple of hours --and about four meals worth of food-- the tiny white flames on my hands died out, and color began to return to my skin. By the end of the morning, my hands were the same as they used to be: Only my palms and wrists blackened. There, too, however, I saw a hint of color returning.
By the afternoon, my palms looked nothing more than heavily tanned, and I was developing a headache serious enough to blur my vision. I removed my glasses to rub my eyes, and was in too much pain to notice that my vision hadn't improved or worsened for the removal. Grabbing a headache potion from the cabinet and begging off for a nap, I was unconscious as soon as I hit the pillow.
When I woke, my eyesight was damned good. Not 20/20, mind you, I'll never have perfect vision. Nevertheless, other than the mildest bit of fuzziness, and the inability to read text at a distance, I was good.
It was at this point I decided that something wasn't right, and asked Sirius to track down Dumbledore.
"I think that you've mixed your ancient and experimental magics again," Albus chuckled as he waved his wand around me. I groaned at his attempt to be funny.
"Can you tell me what's happened?" I asked, my concern cutting my patience short. Where was the General or Headmaster when you needed him?
"As far as I can tell, the Mirror of Erised is still housed in your glasses," he replied. "It failed to move along, because the Philosopher's Stone no longer needed its protection."
A half-answer. Thank you oh, so fucking much. "...And why would that be?" I prompted impatiently.
"The Stone is now housed inside you," Dumbledore answered. "It shouldn't be possible, but it is: You have absorbed the Philosopher's Stone."
Oh. Oh. That wasn't a good thing. "What? But... is that why my eyes and hands have healed?"
"That seems to be the case," Dumbledore conceded. "You're about as good as you'll get, mind you. The rejuvenating powers of the Stone only apply to things that muggles would define as 'degenerative,' not 'genetic.' Your eyes, for instance, are as good as they could naturally be. Your palms should return to normal, but you may still wish to visit a healer now and again to check for more disturbing things life brings us, such as cancer. Other than major issues such as that, you'll have a healthy --and very, very long-- life."
"And the Flamels?"
"Will need to figure out how to remove the Stone, or how to use your blood as the active reagent in the Elixir," Dumbledore finished.
I sighed heavily, dropping my head in my hands. "Great," I muttered. "Just what I always wanted to be: a full-time blood donor. So, what made this happen? I thought that the Stone was only usable by its creator?"
"As best I can guess," said Dumbledore, still speaking with Albus' lighthearted voice, "the Mirror, powered by the vision of your parents, pushed the Stone into your body through the reflection of your eyes to continue the protection and to protect you at the same time. Without that Stone, it is possible that Hermione's curse would have killed you."
"Okay... that doesn't explain the blackened hands and the fire."
"The Avada Kedavra was what Voldemort used against you in the first place," Albus said. "It stands to reason that you would have some direct resistance to it. Hermione, however, was neither Voldemort nor a Death Eater; in fact, she cares greatly for you, so her magic would be the least affected by your mother's sacrifice. Naturally, however, her Killing Curse would have been the least effective against you, due to her love for you, which we should also consider. It is quite possible that Hermione could not have killed you, the same way that you were unable to kill Ginny."
"So, if it had been Bellatrix..."
"Do not think on it," Dumbledore said with a wave of his hand. "It isn't wise to consider 'blocking' the Killing Curse, regardless of your potential immunities. At best, you could hope to survive as you just did, courtesy of the Stone and your protection. At worse, it could be the only manner of permanently killing you now, as lesser forms of injury will hold little purchase against you."
"Right then: No more Avada Kedavras."
"It's best to treat this as though nothing's changed," Dumbledore agreed. "It might be worth your time to get your eye prescription re-evaluated, however."
"I suppose," I sighed. "It'd be nice to avoid wearing glasses completely, though."
"But it would raise questions," Dumbledore cautioned, "and your eyesight isn't perfect without them. You may as well maintain all the advantages you can."
"As for your other concern, I have absolutely no answers as to why you would benefit from the Stone. Perhaps there is a hidden test to prove one's worth, and you have passed it. Your self-sacrifice might have been a factor, as you were protecting Bellatrix at the time. Perhaps your parents came into play through the Mirror. I truly don't know. I will contact Nicholas, and together, we'll discover exactly what this means for you."
I nodded, and our short meeting ended with me hauling myself to Diagon Alley with Pansy to get the lenses of my glasses swapped out and the charms checked. I considered frames other than my circular glasses, but most other frames were quite heavy-set, so I stayed with what I had. As the charms were more or less intact, it was by far the cheaper option, too. After another hour of window-shopping and picking up supplies and a few trinkets for our rooms, we headed home.
"So you're immortal," Pansy panned, after I had explained my conversation with Dumbledore to her and Hermione. We sat in my bedroom, with several spells to seal it off from the rest of the world. Only Pansy (who was stuck to my arm again) and Hermione (who could ably defend the information) would know my secret.
"Dumbledore implied it," I allowed, resting on my bed with my arms tucked behind my head, one leg dangling off the side. Pansy sat at the side of the bed, playing idly with my hanging leg, while Hermione lay beside me, resting comfortably on my shoulder and playing with one of my un-blackened hands.
"You don't sound happy," Hermione said, her voice muffled by my shoulder.
I shook my head, banishing several negative emotions that arose to the abyss in my mind. "I'm not. I always thought of the Stone as a tool, or a treasure I was guarding from Voldemort. I never thought of it as mine. I feel like I did back in first year: Like I just condemned two 700-year-old people to death. As for the 'immortal' bit, that doesn't mean anything; we could all die within the year if things go badly. I'm not supposed to even be able to use the Stone, so I feel a bit like a thief."
Hermione hummed thoughtfully, playing at the ends of her hair with one hand. "I agree with Dumbledore, it'll take some experimenting to use your blood or remove the Stone. Still, if it works, they'll be okay. You're not a thief, either. The Stone protected you before, against the Basilisk, remember?"
"I don't know why you're depressed about it," Pansy said. "You're immortal now, right? Shouldn't that make you happy?"
I didn't have the right words to express my disgust at the situation, so I simply shook my head and stared up at the ceiling. "I don't like not having control," I said eventually, "and the Stone being inside me is definitely out of my control."
"Shh, we're here," said Hermione, pulling me to her. Pansy climbed onto the bed and snuggled up against my other side. I dozed lightly, my darker thoughts slowly banished by the presence of my sister and my love.
On Boxing Day, the Ministry responded with vitriol about the escape and the destroyed Guardian. The Prophet had some juicy highlights:
"Bellatrix Lestrange is a deranged woman," DMLE Representative Ignatius Prewitt stated at today's press conference. "Her years under the influence of Dementors have trapped her in the days of V-------, when the man has been dead for over a decade. We will step up our security measures, and ensure that further assaults from the former agents of V------- no longer trouble our citizens.
"Let this also be a warning to the other escaped criminals: These blatant attacks will not be tolerated."
Minister Fudge was confident at the conference. "We are considering several security measures, including the recalling of our Hit Wizards," he stated. Despite several requests, however, the Aurors will not receive authorization for the Unforgivables. "It sends the wrong message to our community," the Minister said, "that force is the only possible answer. The Ministry is secure, and the actions of one woman, no matter how infamous, do not make us fragile or breakable in any way. She will be found, and she will be executed for her crimes."
The next day, Aurors found Ignatius Prewitt's body in pieces, his entrails and body parts decorating the Fountain of Magical Brethren, when the Ministry opened. An Auror dispatched to investigate found the rest of his family killed in their home, ending the Prewitt line, with the Weasleys as their only surviving branch. The DMLE called Arthur in to identify the bodies, and to attend to estate matters.
"Oops," Snape drawled as he tossed some rather graphic Auror photos of the murder scenes to the kitchen table. "It looks as though the lessons of the last war have been forgotten. Pity."
Ginny nearly overturned her cereal bowl as she jumped to her feet. "Shut up!" she screamed. "Those were my grandparents, you bastard!" Hermione and I were quickly up as well, but the twins beat us to Ginny.
"Easy, Gin," Fred said calmly, putting a hand on her shoulder, while George mirrored his twin on her other side.
"Don't hex him," George cautioned, "you'd never clean the grease out of your hair."
"I really need to see the Minister," I said, abruptly changing the subject. "The sooner we can get the Ministry under control, the better."
Snape looked at me thoughtfully. "Interesting choice of words. You and the Dark Lord sound completely alike."
"Son of a bitch!" Ginny screeched, tearing away from her brothers and launching a potent Reductor at Snape. The Potions Master was already fading into the shadows, however, and the curse tore a chunk out of the wall as Snape reappeared behind Ginny. A casual wave of his wand sent Fred and George to the floor, and he rested his wand against Ginny's neck, the harsh violet light at its tip beginning to draw blood.
"Temper, temper," Snape chided maliciously. "Hasn't Potter taught you not to pick a fight you can't win?" Ginny's face contorted with fury, but she remained completely still.
"Another time, perhaps. Potter, I'll want to speak with you at the start of term!" Snape called, giving me half a wave, before falling back into the shadows completely. I quietly helped Fred and George to their feet, and healed the small incision along Ginny's neck.
"There's a lot of people that I haven't seen in action," I said, drawing everyone's attention, "but from those I have seen, the top five most powerful and skilled people are Dumbledore, Voldemort, Bellatrix, Snape, and Moody, in that order. For God's sake, don't piss any of them off."
Two days later, Hermione and I made love again, and despite our best efforts, our magic surged up and mingled. While it was an amazing feeling, I was spooked and Hermione was quite apologetic. I'm sure I'd have been upset about it as usual, except for what happened afterwards.
The next morning, I awoke to a bouncing bundle of energy that had replaced my girlfriend. "I'm just happy," she chirped when I questioned her on her rambunctiousness. It was only by the afternoon, after careful observation, that I was certain about what had just happened.
Small scars from schoolyard injuries had disappeared. Stress lines that I knew and recognized on sight were gone. Her hair was a half-shade darker, and her eyes no longer squinted when she looked at text from more than a foot away. She was also doing a great job in keeping up with me at meal times, despite having never finished a full plate of food in my presence, ever.
"Come on," I said, pulling her off to my room after dinner, sealing the door and window, and firing off a perimeter silencing charm. Hermione simply waited for me, her face showing a long-suffering patience at my need for security.
"Sorry," I said once I had finished. "I don't want people to hear this, not even Pansy unless it affects her, too."
"Affects her?" she echoed, her eyebrows raising a bit. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," I assured her quickly. "I've never felt so good, in fact, and you know why. I'm willing to bet that you've never felt this good, either."
Hermione's wide eyes and open mouth told me that she had caught my implication.
"Yeah, that," I confirmed. "Sex apparently transfers this, or maybe that thing we did with our magic does."
"And you're worried that Pansy has your blood, and that it'll have transferred to her?"
I nodded, glancing at the door. "If Pansy has it, and she can pass it on sexually, then the twins-"
"They're not together!" Hermione blurted, surging forward and placing her hands on my chest. "I know they're close, but-"
"Hey, hey, hold up!" I said, cutting her off. Confused wasn't a strong enough description of my state of mind. Pansy had given off all the right signals, hadn't she?
I was silent for a moment, and Hermione hastened to explain. "Pansy told me that she wasn't with Fred or George," she said. "She thought you might be mad, but there's no way to tell, because you bury your emotions. So, she wanted me to make sure that if you ever talked to me about it, I could answer for her."
"I'm not mad, I'm surprised. Pansy's very close to the twins; I expected that they were at least close to a relationship, if not in one."
"I... don't know what's going on there," Hermione said eventually. "In our first year, she barely talked to me. In our second year, she absorbed herself into being your 'sister,' whatever that means to her. This year, she's been so taken with the twins that even I thought they were involved, but..."
"Never mind," I said quickly, wanting to get off the topic of Pansy's love life. "I just want you to pay attention. If she shows the same symptoms, we'll pull her aside and tell her. Otherwise, it's not important."
"What... about us?" she asked cautiously.
"You mean mingling magics?"
She nodded, and I frowned a bit. "I'm not sure," I said after a moment. "I really, really don't like it. If it passes this on to you, though, then it's a positive thing and I can live with it. It's easier to accept in my mind if there's some sort of direct benefit. It's sort of like healing charms, you know. It's doing a service, so it's a good thing."
"It does a service, anyways," she mumbled, shocking me into laughter.
"I can't believe you just said that," I said when I'd recovered. "Feeling adventurous? Shall I conjure a few 'accessories' for you, then?"
"No!" she squeaked, going beet red. "You most certainly will not!"
"Okay, okay, no toys. In any case, I'm happy that you're getting something out of all this. It makes Bellatrix's little visit worthwhile."
"No, it doesn't!" she hissed, losing her blush immediately. "I can't believe that woman can find us here! She almost took you!" Oops.
"I was fine," I said soothingly. "You and Dumbledore came to my rescue, and Fawkes would have been able to find me anywhere. It was a losing battle for her."
"Can we not talk about it?" Hermione asked, looking slightly ill. "I relive those moments constantly. She nearly took you, and I nearly killed you."
"Didn't I ask you to bury that?"
She shook her head despondently. "I can't. It hurts too much."
I reached for her, and she fell into my arms, burying her head in my chest. "I've tried so hard," she mumbled, "but it keeps coming back. I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry," I said gently. "I'm past it, and I think you were right to take a shot at her. I was deranged enough to get in the way, so it's my fault more than anyone else's."
Hermione just moaned and shook her head, and I tightened my embrace, rocking her gently. Any chance of meaningful conversation was gone, so I walked her over to the bed and laid her down, stroking her hair until she relaxed into a fitful sleep. I didn't particularly envy her situation; I certainly wouldn't want to remember myself nearly killing Hermione, so I imagined that she loathed her memory of nearly killing me. There was nothing more to do except offer support, though, and I made sure to do that early and often.
The next day, I sat in Dumbledore's office, exchanging polite talk with a 700-year-old brown haired man who looked in his thirties. He held the Philosopher's Stone in his hand, rubbing it with his thumb. All it had taken for Nicholas to remove it was to shake my hand.
"I've got a keen sense when it comes to the magics that comprise the Stone," he said in reply to my questions, scratching his short beard. "You're absolutely saturated with it."
"But how did I absorb it?"
"I'd imagine that Albus has the right of it. You needed protection, so it gave you protection. The Stone requires purity to use, but will obey its creator."
"That's… vague," I said, trying to be diplomatic.
"I know… 'I'm only a kid, Mr. Flamel. Please explain the Meaning of Life in less than five sentences, using only one-syllable words.'" Albus and I laughed, while Nicholas grinned.
"Chronologically speaking, Mr. Potter, the Stone initially went to you because you chose to sacrifice yourself to prevent its theft, and showed no personal lust for it. Both the Stone and the Mirror then transferred to your glasses. When you faced the Basilisk, the Stone was in your glasses, and intercepted the Basilisk's gaze, acting as a natural defense. This Christmas, you were once again sacrificing yourself, in this case for Mrs. Lestrange, and still didn't care one whit about the Stone. The Mirror, being what it is, couldn't rightly transfer itself into you. The Stone, however, could."
"Okay," I said, nodding. "So what, exactly, does that mean for me?"
"I've never tried to absorb the Stone so I wouldn't know," Nicholas replied with a shrug. "Looking at you, I'd say that it's the equivalent of dropping you into a vat of Elixir as a baby and letting you grow up in it. I seriously doubt you'll ever need another dose, no matter how long you live."
I fidgeted for a moment, before asking the more serious question, then. "Mr. Flamel, about your wife…" I hesitantly explained what had happened with Hermione, only to stop, embarrassed, as Nicholas exploded into laughter.
"Oh, Potter, that's marvelous! You're beet red, you should see yourself!" He wiped the tears from his eyes, and continued, still chuckling at my expense. "That surge that you're feeling is entirely the Stone's fault. It drew Miss Granger's magic was drawn to yours to test her. Since she passed, the Stone drew upon your magic and passed its effects on to her.
"That's how it worked with Perenelle when I first drank the Elixir. The very next time we were intimate, her magic washed over me, and then I felt the urge to bring my own magic to bear. Quite a pleasurable experience, I must say. The next day, Perenelle showed all the signs of youth that I did, courtesy of the Elixir."
"But the first time-"
"Was still the Stone's doing," asserted Nicholas, "Though it wouldn't have done anything for her, you were more than close enough to the Stone for the effect to have transferred. Now, though, that surge is what will keep Miss Granger as immortal as you."
"But why does it work?" I pressed, not understanding. "What is this 'test' you're referring to?"
"Love, Harry," he said, his eyes bright with emotion. "The Stone will only pass its power along to the woman who loves you." His expression tinged with sadness, and he put his hand on my shoulder. "I know that it's a few years to early to consider this, but the answer to the question you haven't asked is no, you can't pass it on to anyone else. Only to the woman you're intimate with, in this case Miss Granger, for as long as you two stay together."
New Year's came and passed, and school quickly resumed. While the Stone didn't affect my lessons with Hermione and Dumbledore, my practical sessions with the man began to shift slightly. While the stone hadn't made me any better than I was, I could last a seemingly indefinite amount of time. Dumbledore could still defeat me soundly in direct combat, but he needed to delve into his greater abilities to do that now, either casting spells well beyond my ability to defend against, or casting too fast for me to keep up. If we ended up in hand-to-hand situations, he would surge his magic and overpower me immediately.
I naturally asked about his abrupt change to forceful tactics while walking back to his office after a particularly draining sparring match. "You're fighting an old man," he chuckled in reply.
I snorted, waving my wand idly and cleaning myself. "Yeah, right."
"I grant you that I am several times your superior at the moment," Dumbledore allowed, "but the purpose of my training you is to learn how to battle successfully with a superior opponent. I never want you to underestimate how well you're doing."
"So, is the hypothetical situation back to 'how to escape an overwhelming opponent,' then?"
"Partly," he replied. "The other is to add some more pressure and see how far you can push yourself."
At my look of dissatisfaction, Dumbledore elaborated. "I've placed your overall potential at approximately 45 years of age, correct? Perhaps closer to 50 now, given your recent performance. That places you within the same potential as the likes of Severus or Bellatrix. While they hold far more experience than you, I want it firmly in your mind that whatever magics those two are capable of, you are as well."
"Long way off of that," I muttered, and Dumbledore nodded.
"Regardless, I commend you on your continued improvements," Dumbledore said. "You've shown a remarkable survivor's instinct. This makes five times in a row that you've managed to escape me in a duel and leave Hogwarts, despite my very best efforts to prevent it. Were it not for Fawkes, I daresay I'd never see you again."
Fawkes squawked importantly as we entered the office, and we both laughed.
"This time was insane," I said, sitting back against my conjured plush chair. "Maneuvering around the school while fighting under stealth spells is unbelievable."
"It takes skill and patience," Albus agreed, conjuring his own chair in the now clean and empty castle room. "It was very difficult to conduct such a duel here, of course, as magic is quite visible to wizards. That's why a stealth duel in Hogwarts or the Ministry is all but impossible. Your Disillusionment is one detection spell away from uselessness, and one Finite away from removal.
"In the muggle world, however, magic is invisible. Covered as we were by Disillusionment Charms, targeted Silencing Charms, and physical impact barriers, no muggle would ever suspect something was amiss unless we were terribly clumsy or needlessly destructive."
"That... actually explains a lot," I said, my mind whirling in new directions. "I wondered how some of Voldemort's more brazen raids could have been done without attracting military and police interference. If his Death Eaters were using stealth spells..."
"Now you see the real danger," said Dumbledore, his face impassive. "Now you understand why I take security precautions as seriously as I do. In the muggle world, we are truly invisible if we wish to be. Even here, your stealth skills are commendable. Some work on your human Transfiguration, and you would be a truly dangerous person right now."
"Polyjuice works," I said with a shrug. I was no artist, and human transfiguration, like healing, conjuring, and any other magic that required patience, was not on my short list to master.
"Yes, but it wears off every hour and limits you to select identities. It is far easier to be able to change yourself as you choose.
"In any case," he said, seeing the reluctant look on my face, "I think we've established something that I wanted in place as quickly as possible. It is the last thing, truly, that you need from me. The rest is simply experience."
"The last thing?" I echoed uncomprehendingly. Since when had Dumbledore run out of material to teach?
"Your mind is as impenetrable as you can make it," he said, ticking off a finger. "You are as well-versed in dueling and hand-to-hand forms as you can be without a lifetime's worth of fights behind you." Another finger. "You have an excellent grasp of escape and evasion tactics, and the measures to deal with those tactics being used against you," A third finger. "Finally, you have displayed an excellent ability to apply all of the above against myself in some very creative situations." He held those four fingers up for me to see.
"Being able to escape me makes you more than capable enough to escape Voldemort," he continued. "His offensive capabilities are perhaps beyond mine, at least in viciousness, but he has no more ability to restrain you than I do."
"Is that what this is all about, then?" I asked, curious. "The ability to escape Voldemort? And Bellatrix, I guess, and any other impossible fight?"
"In a war, you only lose when you're dead," Dumbledore said simply. "Given that mindset, anything you can do to stay alive, including escape, forwards your cause. If you can pass this training and mindset along to your friends, then so much the better for us all."
"So, that's where we stand," I said as the group came out of the memory. Hermione and Pansy wore proud looks on their faces, smiling at me. The twins looked impressed as well. Luna's face was as passive and curious as ever. Ginny, however, wore a scowl.
"You're going to teach us to avoid people we're supposed to kill," she said darkly. "Tell me why this is a good thing."
"You've got it wrong," I said, cutting off everyone else's retorts. "If you have a clean shot, and you know without any doubt you're dealing with Inner Circle members or that people's lives hang directly in the balance, then by all means, take it."
Everyone stared at me in shock, though Ginny was slowly cracking a smile.
"What?" I asked, irritated. "Do you think that Hermione was wrong to take a shot at Bellatrix last month? Please, by all means, kill Death Eaters. Just make sure that you're doing it for a good reason, and make sure your allies are out of the way. Any chance at all that they could be hit, and the words 'Avada Kedavra' don't leave your lips. Any questions?"
"Lots," Fred said, looking back at the Pensieve.
"Specifically about when to avoid and when to fight," George clarified.
"Do we run all the time, then?" asked Luna, her eyes flicking between the Pensieve and me.
Pansy looked around, and frowned with thought. "I think that the answer's pretty obvious," she said. "Except for Harry, we'd all be overmatched by an adult in a duel, especially one that included Unforgivables."
"I disagree," Hermione said. "Remember our fight against Quirrel and Bellatrix. Our spells held; it's just a matter of training and application."
"To a point," I allowed. "That's especially true with stealth magics. Ignoring that second buffer charm I use, which you all probably can't cast, you all could escape detection just as easily as I can with a little practice. Disillusionment is the next thing we work on, and you all figure out exactly how many times you have to layer it for invisibility -- it takes four for me right now, so I'm imagining it'll be eight to ten for you guys -- and how long it lasts. Cleaning charms for your scent, silencing charms around your hands and feet, and a good solid mastery of silent casting and Occlumency.
"The cool thing is that all the spells involved are simple castings; no transfigurations or other annoyances to worry about. What I want all of you to be able to do by the end of the term is get yourselves undetectable in less fifteen seconds, as well as cast the basic revealing charm for Disillusionment. Once you can do that, I'll sleep a lot easier at night when you're all out and about."
"I think fifteen seconds is too slow," Luna said, worrying her wand. "You're a very fast caster, isn't there a way for us to train our speed?"
"Aside from hours of practice, not really," I said with a shrug. "I suppose you could push for speed with your magic -- I certainly do against Dumbledore, but that's very draining, so I wouldn't recommend it unless your life was in danger."
The twins and Pansy looked mischievously at each other; stealth training would certainly agree with playing pranks and sneaking out of school. There was an evil look on Ginny's face as I talked, however, one that worried me immensely, but also reminded me of the last topic of discussion.
"Okay, last bit of talking before practice," I said. "Today, we're discussing the Dark Arts. Specifically, I'm going to address when and how to use the Unforgivables."
Ah, merciful silence. The twins and Luna were gob smacked, Pansy was slightly surprised, Hermione occluded her expression, and Ginny looked like Christmas had come twice over.
"I can see that this is going to be fun," I muttered. "Okay, I talk, you listen. Save any questions for when I finish ranting.
"The Dark Arts is a really vague expression, and there really isn't a set definition of a Dark spell. Going for the trivial definition, a spell is Dark if using it would get you arrested. Attacking someone with magic, even normal everyday spells, will get you arrested on charges of using Dark Arts. For the muggle-savvy like us, Hermione, it means that the term 'Dark Arts' covers all charges from Assault through to First Degree Murder, regardless of the weapons used.
"About 60 of all Dark Arts are just everyday spells adjusted to be lethal, or the perversion of healing spells. A particular healing charm regenerates muscle tissue, so that means there's going to be one that causes it to degenerate, right?
"Another 30 is the use of perfectly normal magic in offensive or abusive ways; basically, whatever gets the Aurors attention, like I said before. The last 10 is the sadistic, evil stuff that you won't find mention of in the Hogwarts library. It's that 10 that make Voldemort and the Death Eaters truly dangerous."
"So where do the Unforgivables fit in?" Pansy asked, twirling her wand idly.
"They're in that top 10," I answered, "but they have a near-mythical status, so it's pretty much impossible to keep them a secret. They aren't taught, obviously, and there's at least some effort towards keeping the knowledge from spreading, but they're so ingrained in the shadier parts of wizarding society that it's almost safer to have everyone know the spells, if only to better defend themselves. They're the Quintessential Dark Arts. If you're looking to do something evil to someone, then you're looking to control them, hurt them, or kill them. Almost every other Dark spell is a spinoff of those spells, designed for a more specific situation. Now, we get to the hard part…
"The Imperius takes years to master, so it's useless except for simple commands. The other two, though... you all to have at least basic control of Crucio and Avada Kedavra," I said heavily. "They are the best shield-breaker and mid-range assault-spell out there, and in a real fight, we're going to need to use them. That's what we're going to be working on today. No one is to know about this, and you're to cast no spells without aiming at the wall. Let's start with Crucio, it's easier."
"Ginny," I called as everyone was leaving. I waved her back toward me, and she walked back, confused.
"I'll see you in the common room," Hermione mumbled, following Pansy as she dashed to the girl's washroom.
I sat Ginny down on a chair, and sat in front of her, holding her cheeks in my hands. "Do I need to worry about you?" I asked.
"I don't need taking care of," she said quietly, her eyes burning into mine with more than a slight red glow.
"You don't," I agreed. "None of us here do, I think." Ginny nodded, and the crimson in her eyes faded somewhat. "I just care about you; I want you to take care of yourself. I want you grow up, finish school, get married, and have kids I can spoil. Please, whatever you're planning to do, make sure you stay alive."
Ginny hadn't expected that answer; her eyebrows shot up, and the glow faded completely. Her eyes began water, and a single tear fell.
"Thank you," she whispered. "I know you care. I knew that from so long ago. I... I need... I can't just sit here. I..." She struggled so hard to say something that I could see written in her eyes just a moment ago. I need to kill. I can't let them escape.
"Do you care for us?" I asked, searching her eyes.
"Yes," she whispered, another tear falling. "Oh, yes, Harry. You, Hermione, Pansy, my family, you all mean so much to me. Luna... I... she's very, very important to me."
Interesting choice of wording there. I filed that tidbit away to discuss with Hermione later.
"Then I'll forgive you, whatever you do," I whispered, pulling her close. "We all will. Every time, no matter what, as long as you come home alive, we'll forgive you. But please, please, please don't go and do anything before you're ready."
"What's ready, Harry?" she asked numbly. "People are being controlled, and muggles are dying somewhere. They're killing off my family, and I know that more of us will be dead before this is over. How long should I wait, then?"
"Until you can completely stealth yourself within 5 seconds, and then strike with the Avada Kedavra at least three times without tiring yourself," I answered firmly. "If you can do that, and still be in fighting form, then I can't complain about your abilities."
Ginny looked shocked that I actually gave guidelines. "I-I guess... thanks," she stammered.
"You're welcome," I said, kissing her forehead. "I'm not exactly saying that the Order needs an assassin, but I understand where you're coming from. I just want you to fight as if you're coming home; don't ever sacrifice yourself just to hurt someone. They're not that important."
"I-I'll try," she said. I hugged her close, before shooing her to the door. As the classroom door clicked shut, I put my head in my hands, sighing, filtering and adjusting my thoughts and memories before forcing myself up. There was other business to attend to.
The meeting started with Moody dropping a huge stack of folders on Dumbledore's desk.
"That's the entire stack of records on known and suspected Death Eaters," he said. "Took a few favors to get a hold of those, but they'll help when it comes to looking for methods and patterns."
Dumbledore inclined his head, and motioned for Moody to continue.
"S'only fair to warn you that they've called back the Hit Wizards, so the Ministry's crawling with wands right now. Not a good time to make sudden moves." Having nothing more to say, Moody plopped himself down in his seat, bending to adjust his false leg.
"Noted." Dumbledore turned to Sirius and Remus. "How go your plans?"
"We're finished," Remus said, his overly large canines glinting in the light.
"It just so happens that we're working on an upgrade to the plan," Sirius said, his smile every bit as large as Remus'. "It's only in its beginning stages, but we'll use it if you can't secure access to the Ministry. Remus and I have figured out a potential method to bring the network down from outside."
Murmurings of approval filtered through the room, and Dumbledore allowed himself to smile. "This is excellent news," he said. "Please, continue your work, then. If there's any chance we can finish this without wasting political favors, so much the better for us."
"Just to add to the good news pile," Arthur said, "I have cleared the sweep of the Administration level, and haven't been found out. We have no Death Eater plants on the first floor as of yet." The room erupted in sighs of relief and praise for Arthur for a moment, before Dumbledore called for silence.
Livia stood, then, and smiled at Arthur. "I have similar news concerning the third floor. DMAC and the Obliviators are clear, though I did find and remove two plants."
Dumbledore leaned forward. "Were these people under the Imperius, or were they active agents?"
"Imperius," she confirmed. "They were passive plants, so they had no idea what they were doing. I removed the curse and the subliminal instructions, and we should have a little while before they realize that their plants are ineffective."
"I'd love to say that the rest of the Ministry's clean," Moody said, "but I've got at least 15 suspects for the Imperius on the other floors, and 5 I'm sure of." The buoyant mood of the meeting shattered into a stream of curses at that declaration. "It's the Floo Network," he confirmed. "The curse is always fresh, so they're casting the Imperius multiple times on the same people, reinforcing their control. These blokes get up, Floo to work, and end up wherever the Death Eaters are sending them. They hit them with the Imperius every morning and send them off to their shifts. We don't have a lot more time to get the Network down."
"Is there a serious reason that we don't just storm the DT and wreck the Network?" I asked. "We're delaying at every setback, and it seems to me like it's not going to help much if we don't do it soon."
"Agreed," rumbled Moody. "The longer we wait the more damage control we need to do."
"Such an assault carries risks," Dumbledore said, looking at me directly. "More than anything, it will expose the Order if even the slightest thing goes wrong."
"I will not allow my operatives to be captured," he said. "Fawkes and I will retrieve anyone that the Ministry detains, but such a rescue, if detected, will come at the cost of my political career, and will prompt the Ministry to attempt my removal from Hogwarts."
Several people, myself included, snorted at this. Removing Dumbledore from Hogwarts would be impossible.
"I think it's worth the risk," I said when the mumbling died down. "I don't know about Sirius and Remus, but I know I can get myself to the Floo Network without being detected. That means that I could do this myself if it's possible. If not, I can be on-hand to act as a beacon for Fawkes, so that he can just swoop in and remove us."
"This is a good time to mention that Bill and I have completed the warding of three new safe-houses," Marius said. "If we suddenly have the need to hide people, we're well-positioned to do it. In addition, between the Parkinson, Potter, Black, and Malfoy estates, I can happily report a net 30 gain in wealth, and more than a 150 gain in the acquisition of muggle wealth as well. Despite our recent costs, we've recuperated nicely, and we'll actually cut a profit overall in just a couple more months."
"Excellent news!" exclaimed Dumbledore. "Perhaps you're right, Harry, it's time to act. You, Remus and Sirius are most suited to carry out this assault. There is a potential complication, however, and it has to do with Marius' news.
"Sirius is a wanted criminal, and Remus has no ties to our other resources, so they are 'safe' to use, if you understand my meaning." I nodded, and Dumbledore continued. "You, however, are tied directly to a significant percentage of our financial wealth, so to have your name muddied in this operation would damage us greatly."
Before I could answer, Bill spoke up. "We might have a slight problem," he said nervously. "Someone's been threatening and injuring the Goblins off of Gringotts property. They're getting pretty riled up, and there are rumblings about retaliation." That got everyone's attention.
There were several murmurings equating to 'holy shit' before Dumbledore motioned for silence.
"How serious is this?" Dumbledore said, standing up.
"Quite; it's not just the floor clerks that are complaining; some pretty senior goblins are talking, so we could have a problem."
"Monitor the situation," commanded Dumbledore. "If you can suggest any form of pacification within our means, please do so. If things threaten to become irreconcilable, inform me so that we can remove our holdings from the bank. They may resist this action, but they will not cross me." Hearing Bill's affirmation, Dumbledore dropped back to his seat, massaging his temples.
"One problem after another... You all have your assignments. Are there any further reports, good or bad?" Silence. "Good. For most of you, I will contact you all individually if I require more from any of you. For now, carry on as you were. Arthur, Livia, Alastor, continue to monitor. If the three of you can work together to free up any other areas, please do so. Don't put yourselves at risk, however; I understand that the first three floors of the Ministry are somewhat restricted from the others.
"Marius, find a way to invest heavily over the next while; focus on emptying our vaults to minimize the risk of the goblins' potential interference. I will set up something in the mean time to provide a safe location for quantities of gold.
"Remus, Sirius, Harry, I'll be talking to you over the next couple of days. Dismissed."
Term progressed, and with it, my progress on my signature spells. I had my head wrapped around the concept of wandless casting. It was frustrating that I couldn't do more than levitate some plates around the table. My focus on the topic, as well as Hermione's insight into Arithmancy, led to a startling discovery, and a solid month of work engineering a couple of charms.
"Professor, we did it!" Dumbledore looked up, startled by my sudden entrance. A long line of ink trailed across the parchment he had been writing on; I hoped that it was a correctable mistake. Hermione entered quietly behind me, giggling at my exuberance.
"What did you do?" he asked, slightly concerned.
I threw myself into the seat in front of his desk, nearly bouncing in the seat. "I was working on my signature spell, and I was thinking about why we needed wands, and why I can cast some spells without one."
"Well –and this is a guess, mind you—I've noticed that I didn't get exact wandless results until after I'd been using a wand for awhile. There could be a ton of reasons, but the one that made the most sense to me is that all the spells we learn require a wand-matrix to cast properly.
"That means that whenever we try to cast them without a wand, our magic has to re-create the wand matrix in order to do anything!"
Dumbledore smiled at my excitement, and put his papers aside, leaning towards me. "That makes sense, my boy. What have you found?"
"Well, I figured that's what's happening, and then I thought 'what if I could design a spell that simulates our wand matrix using our magic?' It would take all the strain off of casting, and give me a backup if we're disarmed. Hermione and I crunched Arithmancy for ages, but we finally have some results!
"Potentia!" I said firmly, brandishing my wand in front of me. The wand glowed with an ethereal blue color for a moment, before returning to normal, and my forearm tingled with power. I threw the wand to Dumbledore, who caught it and gave me a confused look.
"POTENTIS!" A thin, well-defined shaft of blue energy grew from my right palm, exactly eleven inches long – the length of my wand. Small runic shapes appeared around the shaft, orbiting tightly and cycling through different runes as they moved. Sweat dripped down my brow as I trembled with the effort the spell required, but its form stabilized, and I took several deep breaths to steady myself. With a flick of this energy wand, my Patronus galloped around the room several times before I dismissed it. It was my fervent hope that Albus wouldn't ask for more of a demonstration.
"That's amazing!" Albus whispered, his eyes never leaving the shaft of energy. "It's not exactly what either you or I were looking for, but it answers so many questions..."
"I know that this isn't actually that big a deal," Hermione said, as I cancelled my energy wand and sighed audibly in relief. "Still, I like the idea that it takes more than just a Disarming Charm to take us out of a duel. This is still a wand, really, but it's a wand that you can re-create over and over again."
"This gives me an entirely different method of focusing to explore." Albus said. "It's more of a 'big deal' than you think. It means that wands are providing nothing a wizard's magic cannot already produce. I need some time to work with this. Will you show me what you've done?"
Hermione, Albus and I spent the rest of the week working on my wand emulation charm. Naturally, Albus could correct and refine the spell leagues beyond anything either Hermione or I were capable of. My version taxed me to death, just to get the wand to appear. The initial imprinting charm also needed to be repeated every day or so. By the time we had finished with the spell, I was confident that Hermione and the others would have no problems learning both spells, and the emulation charm now created a seemingly permanent copy of the wand matrix, removing the need for a wand entirely.
"It's a small step," said Albus as we retired for dinner that Friday, satisfied with our work. "A small step in the necessary overhaul of magic. However, it's a very important step; one that I think would be a wonderful joint thesis for your Spell Creation NEWTs. I imagine that the world will be in awe of this newfound independence from wands, even if it initially requires a wand to do so."
"And it helps with your personal research," I added with a wry grin on my face.
"And it helps with my personal research," he agreed, chuckling. "I was quite stuck on where to go with it; this gives me several new options to explore."
"Well, wish us luck," Hermione sighed, as we entered the Great Hall. "After dinner, we'll start to teach the others."
Albus laughed, drawing other students' attention. "Good luck then, both of you, but I doubt you'll need it."
Bellatrix's invitation was eating at me; she had something to say, and she passed my mother's protection. Every day that passed since Christmas Eve heightened my curiosity. When Easter Break hit, I gave in, and made plans to pop down to Diagon Alley. As far as the Order was concerned, I was simply topping up on school supplies and using it as an excuse to eat out.
"See you when you get back!" Sirius called, before going back to a rousing story of his Marauder days with Remus and Tonks, oblivious to my plans. The only person that understood why I was going was Hermione, who clung to my arm like a second skin, refusing to let go.
"It's time," I said firmly. "She said you can come if you want; if not, please let go."
Hermione shook her head and kept a firm grip on my arm; I sighed and called for Fawkes. This was going to be a long trip.
"Oh God, oh God, oh God..." Hermione kept up a monologue of worrying the entire way down the street. Diagon Alley hadn't changed much, and the holiday crowd meant the street was packed and noisy, with temporary stalls everywhere, and merchants hawking their wares loudly. I forged a trail through the medieval chaos to the dark sloping entrance down to Knockturn Alley.
"We shouldn't do this," Hermione said suddenly, pulling at my arm. "If we're caught-"
"Then Fawkes will come for us," I answered smoothly. "I'm not worried; Dumbledore stated in no uncertain terms that since I've proven capable of eluding him, I can elude anyone. That, my mother's protection, and the fact that Fawkes can find and retrieve us anywhere is more than enough. Stop your muttering already."
"She's dangerous!" Hermione insisted. "She could kill us in an instant, just like before!"
"We're both loads better than that now," I said with as much confidence as I could muster. "Not even Dumbledore can upstage me like that anymore, and you're pretty good, too."
"Not like her!" Hermione said fearfully, shaking her head. "I don't want to fight her again," her voice diminished and tightened until it was barely a whisper, "I'm scared."
"I can go alone if you want," I offered, but Hermione immediately shook her head, clutching me tighter. With a sigh, I urged her forward again, slowly descending into the dark alleyway.
The lane was filthy with mud and grime, and the buildings were old and decrepit. Tall grey-stoned buildings stood out in the gloom with hanging signs advertising food, lodging, second-hand books, and other wares. Those not fortunate enough to have stone buildings made their livelihood from rotting wooden storefronts and shanties. The occasional patched tent crowded the sides of the alley, lit and heated from the inside by a contained bluebell fire.
I've said it before, but this experience truly brought it home for me at the time: Wealth is optional in wizarding society; any one of those tents could sport a luxury flat from a muggle's perspective. If the occupant were any good at conjury at all, they'd never want for anything. Not many wizards are, though. Conjury, Healing, Transfiguration, the Cruciatus and Imperius, Legilimency and Occlumency... Between all those magics, we're talking about two dozen spells, tops.
But mastering the nuances of each of those spells, the dozens, hundreds or thousands of ways that they might be used and the complex variables that needed to be considered, was a task that few were suited for. By virtue of my advanced power, I could do basic conjury and healing, and my Transfigurations were consistent, though quite Spartan. My unpracticed Cruciatus was the bluntest of sledgehammers, not the fine scalpel of torture the veteran Death Eaters used, and I'd never even consider attempting Legilimency or the Imperius, in case I hurt myself. My Occlumency was crude, but effective thanks to my boost from Voldemort. A lesser wizard wouldn't even have that level of mastery.
The filth that the wizards and witches around me lived in was sickening. I understood the concept of a poor wizard and what they might have to do to survive, but this… this was hell. Any one of these people could have taken their wand, and with the shakiest, simplest Imperius or memory charms, lived the life of a king in Muggle society. Hermione stood beside me as living proof of the fact, having charmed a couple into being her parents, and hidden her real parents' death for so long. So why, then, was this squalor tolerated?
Simple pride in the fact that, to a wizard, even this mockery of life was a better fate than to live amongst muggles, forever condemned to hide your magic.
I told Hermione that, while we were walking. "This is what we have to change," I said. "This is the ultimate price that the wizarding world pays for its mindset; the suffering of these people, who think there's nothing better."
Hermione cried, then. She cried and fought against me when I pulled her away from the people, not allowing her to give charity of any kind, lest it draw attention to us. I offered what comfort I could, resolving to have Hermione work again on her Occlumency. Ever since Bellatrix's break-in, it took Hermione ages to bring her emotions under control. I appreciated her heart, and I reminded her of that as often as I could, but Hermione bawling down Knockturn Alley was making the trip far more dangerous that it otherwise might have been. Far too many dirty faces were leering at Hermione, and I was more than half-ready to start cursing, or call for Fawkes.
Fortune smiled darkly upon me, however, as Bellatrix emerged from the shadows between two buildings, walking over to me. She walked openly, her head held high, without any traces of fear. The alley cleared around us as residents recognized her and scattered, fearing her reputation. No one would call the Aurors, not in this alley. This deep, the only protection was a sort of thieves' honor, an 'I-don't-bother-you, you-don't-bother-me' attitude. Down here, Bellatrix was Queen, and her subjects cowered before her.
"Come on," she said quietly, "take my hands." I reached out to take her offered hand, my other arm wrapped securely around Hermione. Hermione shied away, but followed as Bellatrix led me back with her into the shadows. Pulling both of us against her, she faded into the shadows, and the world was lost to inky blackness.
A fire lit room greeted us as the shadows retreated. The walls were rows of horizontal logs; a cabin in the depths of an uncharted wilderness came to mind. There were no windows in the room, and the darkness emanating from the doors made me wonder if there were any windows at all. Hermione shivered next to me, pressing herself as close to me as possible, as though it would somehow make Bellatrix go away. Bellatrix still held us tightly as her magic receded, her long hair draped all over us both, like a veil. That same feeling of familiarity overwhelmed me, as though Bellatrix was the safest person I could be around. Like Tonks, like Sirius.
"Shush girl," she whispered to Hermione, slight humor apparent in her voice. "I'm not going to bite... today, at least." Hermione moaned fearfully, and tried to pull away; the older witch's much stronger grip held her in place. "Godforsaken blood," Bellatrix muttered, before releasing me and wrapping her free arm around Hermione's head.
"Make your self at home," Bellatrix said without looking at me. "There's a house elf here if you need anything; just call for an elf, I don't know its name."
"Are you going to hug Hermione into submission?" I asked, my amusement overriding my caution.
Bellatrix snorted, her sudden movement making Hermione squeak in her arms. "I'm sure that your lover will have nightmares of me for years to come." She looked down at Hermione. "Child," she said sternly, making Hermione whimper again, "by your chosen intimacy with a member of the Black family, you are considered Blood. I expect you to act according to your station, and leave this pathetic behavior to those beneath you."
That got my attention. It got Hermione's too, as she looked up, tears trailing from wide eyes. "W-what?" she stuttered, barely able to voice her question.
"I second that," I said, moving closer to Hermione. "Are you implying I'm from the Black family?"
"Your grandfather married a Black," Bellatrix said, pulling her hair behind her. "Sirius Black became your Godfather, reinforcing the claim; so yes, you are a Black, for all intents and purposes."
She sighed heavily at my look of confusion, cursing muggles, mudbloods, the Blacks and fate all in the same line; I was quite impressed. "You can get the long story from your Godfather another time," she said, her irritation coming through in her tone. "Becoming a Godfather means forging a direct familial connection, and so requires that you mingle your blood with the child; Sirius obviously did this with you."
"Okay, then... why is this all important?"
"The family is cursed," Bellatrix said, "and quite potently, too. No Black has ever died of natural causes in the last two hundred years."
Hermione rocked back, shocked. "And we're...?"
"Yes," said Bellatrix, looking at us both. "You're cursed, too."
Hermione's hysterics cut my response short, and it took both Bellatrix and me the better part of an hour to calm her down.
"She's sleeping, finally." I turned to see Bellatrix watching me as I stroked Hermione's face.
"She's been edgy since Christmas," I said, playing with one of her locks of hair. "She was certain we'd both be dead immediately today. All this 'curse' talk isn't helping."
"It's understandable; I didn't take my curse so well, either." I tilted my head, and Bellatrix sighed, looking down. "I'm barren," she said quietly. "Not only can I not have children, my inability transferred to Rod when we made love. After two years of trying, he convinced me to take Rabastan to bed. That failed, too. Later, we found out that I had caused their infertility, and doomed the Lestrange line to die out." She turned away, chuckling mirthlessly. "Just like every family that marries a Black, the Lestranges will be destroyed."
"Why did you come for me?"
Bellatrix looked up, surprised by the change of topic. "You ask hard questions," she answered. "Your blood is Black, which means we have a familial bond. I respect that. Then there's your tie to the Dark Lord."
"We're opposed," I said flatly.
"Yes, but you share his magic," Bellatrix said, leaning closer to me. "It's very difficult to act against the Dark Lord's wishes..."
"I don't understand."
"I suppose not," she sighed. "It's not important. What's important to me is keeping the Black family alive for another generation. That means helping you figure out your curse, which will affect your lover as well. It also means trying to keep Blacks from fighting each other."
I snorted, trying hard not to laugh. "Um, seeing as you and the Lestrange brothers are staple Death Eaters-"
"Shut up!" she snapped, her grey eyes glinting in a kaleidoscopic pattern for a moment, before settling again. "I know full well what's involved."
"Oh, come on," I prodded. "How are you going to justify to them to stay away from me, or Hermione, or Sirius, or Tonks. Hell, how are you going to justify to Voldemort-"
"DON'T SPEAK HIS NAME!" she roared. Hermione woke with a scream, and I moved between her and Bellatrix.
"I've fought him and lived," I snarled. "I've earned the right."
In less than the blink of an eye, her wand was out and a vicious curse arced towards me. I'd trained long and hard under Dumbledore, though; her curse deflected at the last instant and sizzled into the wood of the bed's footboard. Bellatrix eyed me carefully with her wand arced over her head like a scorpion's stinger. My eyes flickered between her and the damaged bed, my wand held towards her like a sword.
"Was that a Cruciatus?" I asked. "I thought it wasn't possible to put much power behind those silently."
"Shows how much you know," she growled. Her eyes were sparkling with a myriad of colors, the odd spark forming at the tip of her wand. Several moments passed while we stood locked in that face-off; Bellatrix was unable to bring herself back from the edge, and my fear for Hermione kept me high-strung.
"I think we've exhausted the purpose of this meeting," I said. "I can see we're going to have issues with this."
"No!" In less than an instant, her wand clattered at my feet, and she held her arms out to her sides. "You can't leave yet!" she cried. "You'll call that damned phoenix, and this place will no longer be safe!"
"Please," she begged. "Let's just pick something else to discuss. Let Granger get back to sleep." All traces of hostility had fled from her eyes; it was quite unnerving.
"Did you know that you swing moods a lot?" I asked, feeling the need to satisfy my curiosity and poke just a little more.
Her face tightened in frustration. "Don't mock me," she said, turning away. "Control is… difficult, but I am what I am."
"Control?" I echoed, hoping for an explanation.
"Study the Dark Arts for a lifetime and find out how much control you can keep," she said dangerously, stepping towards me. My instincts screamed at me to kick her wand out of reach, but she didn't move for it. Instead, she sat at the foot of Hermione's bed, and slowly took my left hand. Hermione curled up at the top of the bed, as far away from Bellatrix as she could manage to be. That movement brought Bellatrix to the brink of tears.
"I… I'm sorry that I'm not what you want me to be," she murmured. "I just want to hold onto what family I have left."
Family. That was a good way to describe the feeling. Around Bellatrix, and every other Black family member, I felt family.
"And we're family, then?"
"Seeing you go from homicidal to broken in two seconds scares me," I said bluntly.
"I'm trying," she moaned, covering her face with her hands, shaking with emotion. What emotion, I couldn't tell you.
"Maybe she's like me," Hermione said quietly from behind me. "Maybe she's been through too much to hide with Occlumency." Slowly, Hermione sat up in the bed, and moved forward. "Mrs. Lestrange? D-don't hurt me." As I looked on in surprise, tiny little Hermione crawled over to Bellatrix, and carefully put her arms around the black-haired witch. Bellatrix leaned into the embrace, tears beginning to leak from around her hands. Hermione, too, began to cry, a purging of her stress and emotions leading up to this meeting.
I breathed a sigh of relief, lowering my wand. The danger had passed, and I pulled both women to me, offering what comfort I could.
"Well, that was exciting," I said dryly as I collapsed on my bed in Grimmauld. "Voldemort's right hand is family, as well as a bona fide psycho."
"She's different than I thought she'd be," said Hermione as she closed and sealed the door. "I'm not saying I like her…"
"…But you like her," I finished, smiling.
"I respect her," she corrected. "I can see that she's struggled to get where she is. She's had to fight against other Death Eaters to gain status, fight against the Ministry, and fight to keep her family from destroying itself by choosing sides in the war. Then, she went to prison…"
"Decided on a new role-model, then?" Hermione rewarded my question with a pillow banished at my face.
"I just think she's strong for having done what she's done. That's all."
"What happened to her being the Devil incarnate, sent to destroy everyone?"
Hermione shrugged, frowning. "I can't really classify her anymore. She a murderer, she's tried to kill us, but she realized you were family when she injured you. She picked up on our relationship, so I'm family. She seems to be telling the truth about keeping the Black family together."
"I think it might also be that you subconsciously register Bellatrix as family, like I do." Hermione nodded thoughtfully, but remained silent.
I wide grin formed on my face as another part of the day's discussions with Bellatrix crossed my mind. "Wait until I tell Sirius that he was less than a minute from being rescued by Bellatrix," I cackled.
"Harry, that's mean!"
"But well-deserved," I asserted, my smile fading. "Sirius had to have known about this curse thing, as well as the family bond, and he's been nice and quiet about it. I fully intend to confront him before we leave for school."
"Hold off on that," Hermione said, jumping up. "I want to take a look at the Black family a little more closely, and see if there's any pattern to their deaths."
"Get in touch with Mad-Eye," I said, leaning back into my pillow. "He pulled all the Death Eater files from the Ministry recently. If there's anyone that would have kept detailed notes on the Blacks, it would be him."
Two days later, I sent Sirius a picture of me, Hermione and Bellatrix sitting together at a table, waving merrily. The owl arrived at breakfast, where only Sirius, Hermione and I were currently sitting. I was expecting Tonks shortly.
Sirius blanched as soon as he opened the envelope, staring at me with wide eyes. "Oh, shit."
"Yeah," I drawled. "Oh, shit. You have so much explaining to do, Sirius."
"Look Harry, I didn't know-"
"The family is cursed, Sirius! I've got a curse hanging over me because you decided to share your blood. My parents' deaths and my current hedge-dance with Voldemort are likely due to this curse!"
"I had to find out from Bellatrix, Sirius!" I shouted. "One of my enemies --now some kind of extended family, I find out-- had to sit me down and tell me that my life was fucked up since near birth, and because I've shared blood with Pansy and had sex with Hermione, they're fucked too!
"Don't you think I should have known that before I made those decisions? Maybe not for Pansy, but at least Hermione?"
"I didn't know how to begin to tell you-"
"Does Tonks know?" I asked mockingly. "How about her parents? I wonder if the Malfoys knew that they'd be dead one day. Was I just supposed to grow up and have kids blindly?"
"It won't affect you!" Sirius shouted desperately.
"It already has," Hermione whispered quietly from her chair. "By violence or disease, every Black dies."
"Not everyone is affected," he insisted, "There are people-"
"This is a list of every Black family member recently alive," Hermione continued, as if Sirius hadn't spoken. "This list is from Moody's notes in 1988, so the ages I'm quoting are four to five years off. I've updated these notes with what I've found as well.
"Arcturus Black, 87, Wizengamot member, died 1991, from his 51st heart attack. His wife, Melania, had already died from heart failure.
"Pollux Black, 76, Businessman. Confirmed Inner Circle, crippled by Alastor Moody in battle in 1986. His body was unable to heal any form of damage, even bruising, and he died in 1990 after four years of agony, all forms of treatment being unable to prevent Moody's spell damage from killing him. His wife, Irma Crabbe, died from splinching accident: A minor splinch of her finger threatened her life, as she suffered from similar frailty as her husband. Her attempt to Apparate to St. Mungo's scattered her body parts all over the hospital."
"Hermione," Sirius croaked, his voice breaking, "Harry, I-"
"Callidora Longbottom," Hermione continued, raising her voice. "73, slowly turning to stone. Attributed to a failed spell experiment, but she refuses to verify it or comment on the details. Currently petrified from the waist down, kept alive through specialized nutrient potions designed for people who no longer have working digestive systems. She'll be dead soon.
"Cassiopeia Black, 73. Confirmed Inner Circle, arrested in 1986 Black Raid, sentenced to Azkaban. Freed in Voldemort's breakout in 1992. Suffers from 'Faceless Hate,' a supernatural disease." Sirius shuddered at the name of the sickness; I made a mental note to ask Hermione or Bellatrix what, exactly, Faceless Hate was.
"Lucretia Prewitt, 63. Stay at home wife, silent pro-pureblood, unwilling to fight with her husband, Ignatius. Killed this Christmas by Voldemort, when Ignatius publicly declared Voldemort dead, citing him by name.
"Regulus Black, 27. Suspected Inner Circle; never apprehended. Assumed to have returned to active duty. Noted to be particularly proficient with Apparition, but known to have an unstable physical presence after several consecutive Apparitions.
"Sirius Black, 28. Suspected Inner Circle. Arrested in 1981 for the murder of Peter Pettigrew, sentenced to Azkaban. Freed in Voldemort's breakout in 1992. It's nice to know that Mad-Eye suspected you. He also suspects that you have issues with your Animagus transformation.
"Bellatrix Lestrange, 38. Confirmed Inner Circle. Arrested in 1986 Black Raid, along with her husband Rodolphus and brother-in-law, Rabastan. Sentenced to Azkaban. Freed in Voldemort's breakout in 1992. Considered by most to be Voldemort's apprentice, considered extremely dangerous. Bellatrix is unable to bear children, and passed that curse on to both Rodolphus and Rabastan.
"Narcissa Malfoy, 32. Wife of Lucius Malfoy and mother to Draco Malfoy. Killed along with her husband and son in 1992 in the failed kidnapping attempt on me, Harry, and Pansy.
"Andromeda Tonks, 36. Wife of Ted Tonks, mother to Nymphadora. Nothing much has happened to them... yet."
"That's impressive stuff," I said, smiling at Hermione. "Is there more?"
She nodded, flipping the scroll around. "There's a list here of families I could trace Black lineage to. The Prewitt and Malfoy lines are finished. The Potter, Lestrange, Crouch, Burke, and Longbottom lines are hanging on by one or two people each, so they're next to go. The Tonks' are healthy, for now. Only the Weasleys have any meaningful numbers to them, and Voldemort's torn a chunk out of that already."
"Sirius?" Tonks called tentatively from the kitchen entrance. "What's going on?" Her hair was once again pale.
"Well, that's our cue," I said, getting up. "We'll let you field this one, Sirius. I'm off to scare the shit out of Dumbledore." Hermione stood with me, and we walked past Tonks, and out to the living room, where I called for Fawkes.
"Hello Harry, Hermione," Dumbledore greeted as we appeared in his office. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"
"I have a report for you, sir," I said, holding up several sheets of parchment.
"A report? Whatever for?" His face wrinkled in confusion, he took the papers from me, and quickly glanced at the first page.
Dumbledore dropped the papers in his hand, his face white as a sheet. We stared at each other for several moments while Hermione fidgeted beside me.
"You met her," he whispered, not quite able to close his mouth after speaking.
"Yes," I said firmly, indicating the written report I had in front of him. "It's all in there. Practically every word spoken and all my reasoning."
Dumbledore forced himself to look at my writing again, and his color slowly returned as he read through the pages methodically. The man could read faster than both Hermione and I combined, flipping pages one after the other, and there was no faster way to get him to understand my point of view than to express it in writing. I needed Dumbledore to read about the Black family's ability to sense each other, and the implicit fact that Bellatrix passed my mother's protection before he exploded at me. For the sake of completeness, I included Hermione's research into the Black family, as well.
Dumbledore had noticeably shifted into his General persona as he read. His skin was full of life again, and his eyes danced, seeing the potential present. "This is entirely true, then?" he asked without looking up. "Including the curse?"
"All of it," I confirmed.
"I gather that you, Hermione, Sirius and Nymphadora will meet with her again, potentially with the other family members as well." Hermione and I nodded. "Are you including Pansy?"
"I'm not sure," I said, scratching my head. "I haven't felt the same pull to her as I have to the other Blacks, so I wanted to make sure it was there before I decided. If it's not there, there's a chance that the curse won't affect her. Besides, she's central to the security of Grimmauld Place."
"True," the General conceded. "I would prefer that Pansy remain safe." He sighed, letting the report fall to the desk again. "As much as I should be angry at this, I have asked you to perform tasks nearly as dangerous already, and you have one even worse coming up. Are you certain she's safe?"
"To us, yes."
"Then make your plans," he said, waving us away. "Please inform me if you intend to meet her, if only so I keep Fawkes' schedule free should you require him to intervene." Fawkes chirped at us, making us chuckle.
"Be ready for tomorrow," Dumbledore said as I reached the door. "There is an official Ministry function during Easter, and while the Minister and other employees attend it, we will strike."
The next day saw Remus, Sirius and I armed to the teeth with potions and other devices, getting ready for Fawkes' arrival. Hermione kissed me goodbye while Tonks fussed over the two Marauders.
"Be careful," Hermione whispered to me.
"I will," I promised. "Love you."
"Love you, too."
"Ready?" asked Sirius, his excitement showing. Remus' canines had protruded visibly, his other teeth slightly sharper than normal as well.
"You bet." I hugged Hermione one last time, and then stepped over to the other two, who were in the process of polyjuicing themselves into likenesses of the Charms Specialists of the Floo Network. "Let's go."
I disillusioned myself to invisibility, applied my silencing charms and buffers, and cast a detection spell for disillusionment and invisibility. Less than a minute later, Fawkes arrived, and we grabbed onto his feet and promptly vanished.
We reappeared in a men's washroom at the far end of the DT. Remus and Sirius registered as authorized to the Ministry sensors, and my cloak kept me hidden. The three of us made our way to the offices of the Floo Network. The closest office door – the one that used to be Langford's – opened, revealing a young man I assumed was Elphias Doge's son. "Good timing," he said, as we reached him. "Those sweets worked perfectly. The other two are at home, sick, just as planned. What do you need me to do?"
"Nothing much," Sirius said, waving back towards the massive control station. "Just try to keep people as far away from here as possible. We'll need at least twenty minutes or so, and then you want to clear out of here as fast as you can."
"Company," I whispered, startling Doge. My detection charm showed two wraith-like humanoid shadows moving in our direction My scar prickled slightly, but I didn't notice in the excitement. "Two invisibles, fifty feet away. They seem aware of each other, and are probably aware of me. You have a lot less than twenty minutes. Move!"
Without waiting for a response, I charged toward the two shadows, which gained a more distinct form the closer I got. They were likely under the same conditions I was – no magic – so I felt somewhat confident that I could hold them. Both shadows fell into a loose fighting position, one looking more comfortable than the other. I intentionally veered towards them, switching at the last moment to the stiffer combatant. I dropped to the floor, pivoting on my hands and swinging my legs hard, forcing my magic to the surface. My opponent flipped midair before crumbling to the ground without a whisper of sound. I fell into a back roll, and felt the impact of the other shadow's foot as it hit the ground that I had occupied.
Kipping to my feet, I called for both strength and speed, needing to draw out the time I had alone with this one. I snapped off a flurry of jabs, connecting with a couple. I pressed forward without letting up, and my opponent brought his hands up high to fend off the blows, and thrust forward with the front kick that I was expecting. Guessing my opponent was a male, I sidestepped the kick and fired a punch full-force into his groin, smiling grimly as I hit. Not only was my guess correct, but the man had not applied physical buffers. Eerily reminiscent of Quirrel, he flew back several feet before landing crumpled on the ground.
My other opponent was only halfway to their feet when I descended on them, a flurry of magic-enhanced punches and kicks. After a quick confirmation that both were out for the count, I dragged them over to where Doge was standing alone.
"Well, that wasn't fun," I commented idly as I dropped the bodies.
"Oh, I don't know, Potter," he growled in a high-pitched whisper, as my scar burst into pain.
"Perhaps, since you're intent on wrecking my operations, you're looking for a better challenge? Maybe, since I have nothing to lose for it and you do, we should go another round?"
No. Not here! Not now!
I fired my fist forwards, catching him on the chin. I saw the barest glimpse of red eyes before the man went flying into his office. I remembered my encounter with Ginny, and my decision. I knew what I had to do.
I flew sideways, slammed by one of the invisible men I thought were out. Tucking my legs, I rolled to my feet, my barrier charms absorbing the impact. My scar was still blazing, so I assumed that Voldemort switched bodies. In front of me, Doge was getting up. His eyes weren't crimson, but he was coming at me anyways, his face contorted in malice.
The man I had sacked was still down, but the other one was moving to strike me again. My scar's pain faded somewhat; Voldemort had fled his host. I ducked, increasing my strength and speed again, and kicked out, shattering the invisible man's knee. I had time to snap a punch forward into Doge's groin, and snapped a right cross into his face as he fell, knocking him out.
There was a sound of general commotion behind me. Some people were running away, and another few were running towards me. I moved away from Doge's body, but the people adjusted, coming for me instead. Shit.
I exploded into action as they neared me, their wands at the ready. Any thoughts of not using my wand to retaliate disappeared with the first curse. I ducked, weaved, deflected and shielded, dropping people one after the other with Stunners. After what seemed like forever and was only just under a minute, the last person fell to the ground. My scar still ached, though, which meant that more would be on their way.
A loud, groaning noise came from the Control Station, and I rushed over to its entry point, looking around. "Is everything alright?"
"Its fine!" shouted Remus. "Stay outside!"
"How long?" I asked. "I expect more company!"
"At least a couple of minutes, if it's going to work!" Sirius bellowed. "We won't get a second chance!"
"Hurry!" I cried, ducking a long-range curse. A dozen more people ran towards me, spells blazing from their wands. Thank God, he's not using real fighters, I thought as I launched myself at them, wading once again into rapid exchange, where I held the greatest advantage. I could only fell a handful more, though, before the nearby lift opened, and something like twenty people rushed out, heading for me.
"Shit!" I called back into the doorway. "You're out of time!"
"It still needs work!" Sirius insisted. "Can you stall them?"
"There's dozens!" I cried as I ducked and strafed elemental flame hexes to distract the mob and buy me breathing room, cutting the air above me.
Remus sighed in frustration. "Harry, get to one of the offices and call for Fawkes. We can take it from here!"
"GO!" he shouted, and the door to the control station slammed shut and locked. Cursing, I took one look at the oncoming mob and the Aurors who were emerging from the lifts behind them, and took off for the offices at top speed, weaving back and forth and holding a shield behind me. The Control Station was mostly metal, so between its resilience and Remus' ingenuity, it would hold – I hoped.
"Fawkes!" I whispered quickly as I dove into one of the offices. Not three seconds later, the office floor vanished in flames, only to reform into the floor Grimmauld's living room.
"Harry?" Hermione raced over, cancelling my charms with a wave of her wand and turning me over to look me over. "Are you alright?"
"No!" I hastily got to my feet, cursing as I fought the cloak off my shoulders. "I'm fine," I snapped, seeing Hermione's change in expression. "I fought a bunch of Voldemort-controlled people, they were no problem. Voldemort possessed Doge's son, too, so I left him unconscious." I growled in frustration, rubbing my face. "Sirius and Remus are locked in the Control Station, and the floor is crawling with Imperius drones. At least I think its Imperius; Voldemort seems to be able to leave commands in place when he jumps bodies. They don't have a lot of time. I had to retreat."
"Do they have-"
The fireplace roared to life, spewing a thick line of flame across the living room, igniting everything. I pulled Hermione to the side and turned my strongest freezing spell on the flames, joined quickly by Hermione, Pansy, and Tonks. Slowly, we forced the flames back towards the fireplace; halfway to the mantle, the flames winked out, and our charms hit the fireplace, coating it in ice.
"Well, that was fun!" Tonks said with false brightness as she proceeded to clear away the charred mess and repair what she could. I said nothing, waiting with growing concern.
"Where are they?"
"Do they have a way back?" Hermione asked, finishing her question. I frowned for a moment, before fear overtook me.
"Fawkes," I called, waiting for the phoenix to appear. "Can you find Sirius or Remus?" The bird shook its head, keening apologetically before disappearing again. I collapsed into the nearest intact chair, with Hermione running her hands through my hair, trying to offer some comfort.
"Oh God," I muttered. "Please, please be alive."
Dumbledore appeared with a flash, turning immediately to Harry. "I am going back to the Ministry. Nymphadora, come with me."
I jumped up immediately. "Do you know-?"
"The entire floor of the DT has collapsed," he said heavily. "There is extensive damage to the floors beneath it, as well. I, thankfully, was several floors above. Sirius and Remus have not returned?" I said nothing, but he nodded at the look on my face. "I see. I will look for them myself," he promised, placing his hand on my shoulders. "Trust in the abilities of the Marauders; they're the best." With a flash, Fawkes disappear again, Dumbledore and Tonks in tow.
"Yeah," I agreed, wiping away a tear as. "They're the best."
A/N: Hope you've enjoyed the trip! Review, please!