A (hopefully brief) note.
For starters, I'm not dead. Thank you for everyone who has written a review or a message of encouragement, I honestly do read them all and, if I had the time I would reply to them all as well. Unfortunately, this is the real world and life has to take priority, not least looking for a job and a house.
Secondly, thank you very much for everyone who has pointed out that I've fixed Harry's eyes and then gave him glasses again. That's my bad, sorry! I intend to go back and fix as many of these mistakes as possible just as soon as I can, though I'm rather assuming everyone would prefer I finish the story first! I'm also working beta free at present, so all problems/mistakes fall squarely on my head. This is also true for the idea of a magic google, despite google not being invented till 1998. Let's blame time travel for that one.
This brings me on to my last point - I had an idea which I have included in this chapter regarding Dumbledore. Please read the chapter, then the note I'm going to leave about this at the end before leaving any comments, but it will require quite a re-write, which, again, I'm going to leave until I've finished. Sorry for any confusion.
Harry sat in the welcoming feast, thinking hard. Every now and again he'd grunt in response to a question from Neville or the twins or Lee, perhaps twist his lips into an attempt at a smile when one of them tried particularly hard to make a joke. He did his best at ignoring the stares from the rest of the student body and the faculty, tuning in to the Sorting Hat's song with half an ear in the hope that there might be another hidden message only to be disappointed when it seemed perfectly normal.
When the food arrived he chewed mechanically, staring off into the distance, grateful for the pause in the questions being thrown in his direction that allowed him to focus on his plan, breathing a sigh of relief when the headmaster finally dismissed everyone for dinner. For the first time, he actually listened to what one of the twins was saying.
"... so unfair! Why can't we compete as well?"
"What?" Asked Harry, earning himself some more concerned looks. "Why aren't you allowed to play Quidditch?" Their coterie of friends turned to look at him as if he had just sprouted a second head.
"There's no Quidditch this year Harry." One of the twins explained slowly.
"It's going to be the Tri-Wizard Tournament instead." Filled in the other.
"Did you not listen at all at the welcoming speech?"
"Did you even notice that Neville's dad isn't teaching DADA again this year?" Asked Lee. Harry cast a confused look at his friend, who shrugged.
"Alastor Moody's doing it instead - ex-Auror, worked with my mum and dad when they were on the force."
"He's got this magical eye -" Began Hermione enthusiastically.
"I know." Harry cut her off, "met him before, odd chap and I didn't realise he'd retired from the Auror department. As to listening at the feast, no, I wasn't. Last year it was massively dull, so I just tuned everything out." Harry replied.
"That's fair enough," conceded Neville "normally it is, but this year Hogwarts is hosting the Tournament and it's the first time in like, a hundred years -"
"Two hundred and two years!" Hermione helpfully supplied from where she had been tagging along on the fringes of their group.
"- yeah, anyway, it's only open to those who are over 17." Finished Neville.
"So?" Asked Harry, "Last time it ran was the Tournament Nobody Won, where all the competitors died, so that's kinda understandable." Everyone stared at him. "What? There was a Potter in that tournament."
Hermione stared in horror at the revelation of this tit-bit of knowledge that Harry casually dropped into the conversation.
"But aren't you annoyed that we can't enter?" Asked Fred incredulously.
"Not really - I've got one or two other things on my mind right now."
They fell into an awkward silence at his response, spending the rest of the walk to the Gryffindor tower in an awkward silence.
Harry turned to see his head of house waiting for him as he arrived in the common room, motioning for him to join her. He stepped into McGonagall's private office, accepting the seat she offered as she took the one across from him. She took a moment, awkwardly picking at the shawl draped on the arm of the chair, opening and closing her mouth twice as she tried to find the words to address the young man before her.
"I wanted you to know," she began eventually, "just how sorry I am for your loss." He stared back at her, noting the watery eyes that spoke of her own hurt, recalling seeing her sobbing quietly at the funeral, though she had left quickly afterwards, speaking only briefly to Remus and not at all to Harry. "Your grandfather… Arcturus was a great man, and I am aware just how tough these last two years have been for you." McGonagall paused, hoping Harry would take the opportunity to open up to her, only to be met with a blank, emotionless gaze that made her feel even more uncomfortable. She sniffled, reigning in her emotions as best she could.
"Yes, well I just wanted to say that if you ever wanted to talk about it, my door is always open to you."
"Thank you professor." There was another long, awkward pause. "Was that all?"
She gave a jerky nod in response, watching as the son of some of her favourite students quietly stood and made his way back out to the common room. She coughed against the lump in her throat, brushing away the tears, wondering just how Harry was going to cope with yet another close loss. She let out a sigh, whispering a silent prayer to anyone who was listening that he would be ok.
The first night back in Hogwarts, Harry woke with a start, snatching his wand from the bedside table and casting a flame freezing charm against his bedspread. He cast a frantic look around the darkened dorm room, breathing a sigh of relief that his charms had held around his bed. It had taken what felt like hours to fall asleep, tears coursing down his cheeks as he tried to sob out his grief, the effort of willpower it had taken since his arrival back at school to keep his emotions in check and the lack of sleep since the Cup taken it's toll.
"Just a dream." He muttered to himself, slumping back into sweat-soaked pillows, replaying it in his mind as he tried to calm his breathing and slow his pulse.
They were running through the chaos of the World Cup Campground, Sirius, Remus and Arcturus close in a protective huddle around him. Two of the HSG wizards were running with them, eyes and wands scanning for threats as they made their way to the edge of the wards. Then the spells came thick and fast - they had stumbled straight into an ambush, masked assailants dodging in and out of the shadows.
The two mercenaries fought back, aided by Sirius and Remus as Arcturus threw up a hasty shield around himself and his grandson, pushing forwards and away from the firefight despite Harry's insistent demands to let him help. The had almost made it when Bellatrix's cackling form appeared from the smoke.
Harry had screamed with rage, tearing away from Arcturus and furiously casting spells that were dodged and shielded by the insane witch. His grandfather had joined him, shielding them both as Harry cast purely offensive spells, not caring for the danger he was in, forcing Bellatrix back through the chaos of the camp site.
He had seen the green spell streaking towards him, slowed in dream time, his movements sluggish as if he were fighting through thick treacle. It did not seem to affect Arcturus in the slightest as he moved in front of the spell, throwing himself between Bellatrix and Harry, falling to the ground in a lifeless heap to the sound of crackling flames and the hysterical laughter of his grand-daughter.
Harry screamed, then everything went black.
It came every night that first week. Every night, he woke sweating, his sheets smouldering and soon the flame freezing was cast by reflex whenever he awoke, the silencing and obscuring charm that had earned him an odd look the first few nights soon become accepted as normal.
On waking each day, he had carried out his exercises, Neville, Susan and Daphne joining in but ignored; he had eaten his meals, attended his classes and completed his homework. Even Mad-Eye Moody's demonstration of the Unforgivables in their first Defence lesson had barely spiked his interest. Each day, he had avoided his friends as much as possible. He knew they were getting worried, but quite frankly he didn't care. There were bigger things to think about now, and even if there weren't the events of the World Cup just made school seem… pointless.
In his office, Dumbledore was staring at the note he had charmed to appear before him at least once a day for nearly thirteen years:
Arcus Senilis - everything in balance. Now you are paying the price.
He thought back to the events of 1981 as he read through the letter from himself, breathing a heavy sigh as he read through it yet again...
Every time Dumbledore had fought against Voldemort, it had been harder and harder to drive the other wizard off, how it had slowly dawned on him that yes, he had once been the strongest wizard alive but that now… now Voldemort was rapidly catching up with him. Both men were of similar magical strength, the ruthlessness and energy the younger had was pitted against Albus' skill and experience and each time they faced each other, it was taking him longer to drive Voldemort away and longer still to recover afterwards.
He had searched high and low for a solution, fully aware that Voldemort was doing the same and also cognisant of the fact that the other would not shying away from the rituals that required the sacrifice of another to steal a portion of their strength - indeed Dumbledore suspected that with each horcrux Voldemort made, his magical core had increased in size, not by a great amount, but certainly by some. It came to a point where the Voldemort was winning more than he was losing and it was all the older wizard could manage to hold him off for long enough for everyone to make their escape.
Finally, he had found something. A grey ritual, certainly, but one that at least would not sacrifice another. Instead, he would trade: his future for his present. He doubted it would make enough of a difference for him to win, not now, but it might just be enough to weaken the other man to allow one of the others to finish the job. And so Albus resigned himself to his death; he would take the draft, trading against his future magic and ability for the present, fight as long as possible against Voldemort, hopefully ending the war and going out in a blaze of glory.
The potion was brewed and Dumbledore was ready. Then came the prophecy and he felt a ray of hope - there was another who would defeat Voldemort if only he could make sure they would survive long enough, train hard enough, to win. When he found out that Severus had passed this information straight on to Voldemort who went straight to Godric's Hollow thanks to Pettigrew, Dumbledore had cursed the two men again for their duplicity, for forcing his hand, cursed himself for thinking his plan would ever work out as he had hoped.
When he discovered what had transpired, Dumbledore had had no choice at all. The instant the first drop had reached his lips, he had noticed a change. He had taken half the draft before he had realised the stupidity of his action, flinging the flask away from him only to have it smash against the edge of his bowl of lemon drops. He cursed loudly, watching the rest of the liquid and shards of glass settle into the sweets even as he felt the potion take effect.
He had arrived at the back of Godric's Hollow ready to fight, the tang of dark magic a brutal scream against his potion enhanced senses. Half the side of the house was now missing, the room that had been Harry's now completely open to the elements. With a sinking feeling in his gut, the now spry Dumbledore levitated himself into the bedroom.
There was nothing but the motionless and cooling body of Lily Potter. As Albus strode through the house and down the stairs, he began to do something he had not done in years - he prayed. He prayed that he could intercept Voldemort before he could conduct whatever vile ritual he was planning with the Potter heir, he prayed that he could get to the Longbottoms in time now it was too late for the Potters. As he stepped over the corpse of James, he heard a crack of magical transportation from the front garden and his pace increased.
By the time he got there, whoever had left was long gone. A tracing spell revealed a port key and an apparition, each twisting the other to make them nigh on untraceable. He apparated to the outskirts of the Longbottom Manor just in time to see Hagrid head back inside, eavesdropping on the conversation that went on, a feeling of despair welling up inside him. It wasn't that Voldemort was defeated, no - that was undoubtedly cause for celebration, it was that he knew what would come for him now.
He gave a sob of realisation - there would be no flash of glory, no great final battle where he would sacrifice himself for the greater good, no inspiration for others to take up arms against the spreading darkness. Instead, it would be his worst nightmare. His mind would begin to fade with his body, an inexorable failure that would see not only the decay of his mind and body, but also his legacy.
With gut-wrenching realisation, Dumbledore apparated back to Hogwarts and instead of using the temporarily advanced reflexes and dexterity to fight Voldemort as he had planned, he began picking slivers of glass from his bowl of favourite sweets, casting a spell that would prevent anyone but him taking a potion affected sweet from the bowl. What a horrible waste.
Back in the present, Dumbledore sighed. The fog of age now thicker than ever, he slumped back in his chair, cursing himself for his actions in 1981. A tired hand, covered in liver spots and gnarled by arthritis, rubbed against eyes behind half moon glasses. He knew it was only the high regard that the majority of the wizarding world held him in and a century of experience that kept him in his position of authority, just as he knew it was only a matter of time before he was forced, either of his own volition or another's, to step back from the limelight for the last stages of his decline towards death.
The chime that signified someone was approaching his office called his attention to the small portrait that normally showed his sister, yet another regret he had from his past, now revealing Minerva making her way up the stairs. With a heavy sigh and a swipe to remove the tears of self-pity, a wave of his hand disappeared the note. He waited a moment or two, calling out before his Deputy Head could knock on the door.
"Come in Minerva!"
She entered, a slight purse of her lips the only sign that she still hadn't worked out how he always knew who it was at his door.
"Good evening headmaster, I just came to speak to you about young Harry." He gave her a benign smile and an encouraging nod to continue. "To cut to the point I'm worried - in the past year alone, he has lost two friends and now Arcturus and Sirius as well, and since he's come back, he just seems so distant. I don't think he realises just how much he's ostracising himself from his friends - or worse, he does and he's doing it on purpose!"
Dumbledore sighed, unwrapping a sweet and sucking away, pondering the matter as he waited for the ever-weakening effects of the potion to take hold. He knew now that he was just making a bad situation worse, but each time he felt a semblance of his old intellect, he felt himself that much closer to a solution, a cure, even having recognised the signs of addiction long ago.
"I think," he began, forcing himself to focus on the matter at hand "we must try to use this opportunity to have Mr Potter more involved with the magical world." He paused to think, sucking furiously at the lemon sweet. "We should approach the Longbottoms - no, not them, Frank had a hard enough time teaching last year, we cannot ask them to adopt Harry, though I'm sure they would… perhaps the Weasleys… no, again they would be willing but Arthur and Molly are already stretched with their brood as it is."
"Can Remus not continue to look after him? He clearly loves the boy deeply and Harry loves him too - he's another father figure and I know that's what Harry would want."
Dumbledore waved a dismissive hand. "Can you imagine the pureblood contingent - even the moderates - allowing the heir to two noble houses being raised by a werewolf without raising hell in the Wizengamot? No, they'd merely use it as an argument for why Harry should be placed under their control. What about Lily's family? She had a sister didn't she?"
McGonagall scowled "Over my dead body! I went to see them just after Lily died, do you know her sister seemed glad to hear of her death? Horrible people and time hasn't improved them - Arcturus told me their son was one of the students Harry played rugby against, a vicious thug by all accounts and his father's no better. They'd probably try and lock him in a cupboard under the stairs or something."
"I highly doubt they are quite that bad Minerva," Dumbledore eyed her over the top of his glasses. "Though perhaps you are right… we shall think on this and see how things go with Sirius' trial - this may all be a moot point if his lawyers are able to keep him out of Azkaban. In the meantime, I shall continue my petition to the Wizengamot for temporary guardianship of the boy."
McGonagall pursed her lips, dissatisfied with the solution but unable to think of a better one at present. She gave a brief nod of agreement.
The next day, Dumbledore was waiting on another visitor when the notification charm went off and this time he didn't need the portrait to confirm who it was.
"Ah, Mr Potter, do come in." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled as Harry made his way into the headmaster's office just after breakfast on the second day of school. He shook his head in response to the proffered bowl of lemon drops before taking a seat. "I wanted to take this opportunity to express my sympathy, for everything that has befallen you over the past two weeks, and indeed over the past year and a half." There was a long pause as Harry stared blankly at a point three inches behind and to the left of the headmaster's head. He was fairly confident in his Occlumency skills but there was no point in tempting fate.
"Hm, yes, anyway... Arcturus Black was an impressive man." There was another pause as Dumbledore slowly unwrapped another sweet and popped it into his mouth, lips pursing against the sour taste. "I understand" he picked his words with care, very aware that this would be an incredibly sensitive matter, "that you wish to attend Sirius' trial."
Harry's expression barely flickered as he nodded. "They want my witness statement from the World Cup." He stated, voice flat and calm.
"Yes, well I'm sorry to inform you that this cannot happen." Despite his best efforts, Harry couldn't hide the shock from his face. The headmaster gave his best reassuring smile. "Never fear, your statement will still be taken, and I'm sure your godfather's lawyers will do their best for him. However these things can be very distressing for those involved and -"
"But I want to see him!" Harry protested. In truth, the prospect of seeing his godfather and Remus, even if it was at a trial that could well see his godfather imprisoned, was one of the few things that was keeping him semi-sane.
"Of course you do my dear boy! But this trial will be seen as an opportunity for… certain elements of our society to consolidate their position in the aftermath of the attack at the World Cup, and they will most certainly attempt to use you against your godfather." He gave a sympathetic look to Harry, who shuffled uncomfortably under it. "This really is for the best." He added gently. "And if you wish to give me a letter for him, I will of course pass it on."
"Thank you sir." Harry whispered quietly, staring now at the floor, slumped forwards.
Dumbledore sighed heavily, cursing himself silently for what he knew he had to shape the boy into, for what Harry had to be willing to do for the wizarding world. "For what it is worth, Harry, you do have my sympathy… and I wanted to assure you that if Sirius is found guilty, the matter of your guardianship would be discussed with you going forwards - for now I have taken temporary guardianship -"
"No!" Snapped Harry, glaring at the old wizard opposite him. "Remus is my guardian if Sirius - "
"Harry please," Dumbledore began, his voice soothing, hands raised in an attempt to calm the distressed young boy in front of him. "I know what you, and indeed Remus and Sirius would want from this, but you have to see that the heir to a noble house - to two houses, in fact - could not be raised by a werewolf."
"Why not?" Demanded Harry bluntly, now standing and glaring at the Headmaster, who sighed, popping another lemon drop into his mouth as he worded his response. After a moment, he gave a heavy sigh.
"This is not a short explanation, so please bear with me." Harry examined him, eyes narrowed in consideration before finally giving a nod of acceptance. "When you disappeared from the wizarding world with Sirius and Remus in 1981, there was a significant amount of concern voiced by members of the public and political bodies of the time about who was raising you." He raised a wrinkled hand to hold of Harry's protests.
"Despite fighting against Voldemort, both men were remembered as pranksters at school by their contemporaries - while good men, perhaps not the responsible role models that one would want for the saviour of the wizarding world." Dumbledore gave a small smile as he remembered some of the Marauder's pranks. "As to those who didn't know them personally, Sirius was a member of the Black family, whose reputation you cannot be unaware of concerning the dark arts, while Remus is a registered werewolf."
"When you returned last year, fully adopted into the Black family, there was still criticism, but with no actual grounds for complaint against their parenting and the respect and strength Arcturus held within the Wizengamot, no one could petition for your removal from their care." Dumbledore gave a heavy sigh. "With his death, that support is seriously undermined. Some will support you for the sake of his memory, others will do as they always have and act in their own best interests, or in the interests of whoever pays them most. Additionally, with Sirius' self-confessed use of Fiendfyre, regardless of whether it was in self defence, there is now a compelling argument to have you removed from their care."
Harry was silent for a long while.
"So what happens now?"
"Sirius will be tried for his use of a restricted spell and will at the very least be fined heavily - had he not confessed immediately, I have no doubt that he would be free already but as he did, Miss O'Driscoll will have a hard time keeping him from behind bars. If he is sent to Azkaban…" old eyes met young and Dumbledore felt another twinge of compassion for the boy sat opposite him. "We will address that when the time comes - as I said, for now I have applied for temporary custody and you will be able to stay here until the start of the summer holidays, by which time we should have found a more permanent solution."
"Oi, Potter." He looked up from his paper - two and a half feet on Runic Interference and Interaction. "Starting without me?"
"Greengrass." He acknowledged, turning his attention back to the parchment in front of him. He scratched another few words before glancing back up at her. "Did you want something?"
She dumped a small stack of books on the table next to his much larger heap. "We're supposed to be working on that project remember? The magical goggly-thing."
"Google." He corrected absent mindedly.
"Yeah, aren't we working on that?"
"No, I need to finish this." There was a long silence.
"Oh. Well, do you mind if I work here too?" Harry shrugged without looking up.
They worked on in silence for nearly an hour before Harry suddenly blinked, staring at the passage in the book in front of him. His heart hammering with excitement, he made a note of the page and title of the book, a glance flicked up and assured him the Daphne hadn't noticed anything. With an extreme effort of will power, he was able to finish the essay without making it seem like he was rushing, and then he stood, cracking his back and sending the books he'd been using flitting back to the shelves.
"Hey!" In his distracted state, Harry hadn't noticed that Daphne had also been using one of the books he had just sent back.
"What? Oh, sorry." He continued to pack his things away.
"Look Potter… Harry," she began, standing as well and trying to keep the glare from her expression. "I wanted to say I'm sorry about what happened to Lord Black, and to Sirius. They both seemed like really nice people."
"They were." Muttered Harry, pulling his bag onto his shoulder. He glanced out at the hand that had reached across the table to grab the sleeve of his robe.
"What I also wanted to say was that if you wanted to speak to someone, I'm always here." He stared at her for an uncomfortably long time, expression blank. Behind the stony gaze, Harry had a hundred things going through his mind, but right now, he couldn't say any of them. Especially not now.
He grunted a response, pulling his sleeve from her grasp and moving towards the exit. It might have been his imagination, but he was certain he could feel her scowl burning into his back as he left.
He gave a heavy sigh as he left the library, part wishing he hadn't come up with this particular scheme. He had contemplated sending a letter to Remus or one of the HSG teams, but he knew full well that they'd just try and talk him out of it. He thought through all the adults he knew, wondering if any of them would have supported his actions. There was perhaps one, but Sirius was locked away until the trial, and there was no way in hell Harry trusted the Ministry not to read through the mail before it reached an inmate.
There was, however, one letter he did need to write. He strode purposefully to the owlery, pulling parchment and quill from his satchel. He thought for a moment, mulling over exactly what he needed to say, what he needed the other person to do and what to do when it was done. Thirty minutes later, an owl flapped from the top of Hogwarts, Harry's letter securely tied to its leg as the boy himself slowly descended the tower.
Lost in thought, Harry didn't realise that one of the staircases was changing direction until it was too late. He scowled to himself, stepping off at the top and resigning himself to a longer walk back to the dormitory. Then he heard it.
A whisper. Then another. He looked around. It was a rarely used corridor on the fifth floor and this late at night it should have been completely deserted and wouldn't even be on the route for prefect's rounds. There was a third whisper, and Harry was almost certain he could recognise the voice. He slipped his wand into his hand, his left hand sneaking into the moke-skin pouch at his waist, hunting through the magically expanded bag until his hand closed around the smooth cylinder.
He checked around himself quickly, discarding his book bag and taking a quick breath before casting several quick spells. The first was Mr Smith's Chinese duplication spell. Harry sent his double to continue walking down the corridor flinching at the feeling of disorientation as he saw things from two perspectives at the same time. Wand at the ready even as he cast his second - an obscuring charm that elicited a shiver as the feeling of raw egg dripped down his neck. With a few more flicks of holly and phoenix feather, Harry was padding softly along the ceiling, having the perfect vantage point for when a dozen students in Slytherin robes appeared from various hiding spots along the corridor.
His double did admirably, felling three students before being hit by multiple spells, and Harry let the duplicator slide, his doppleganger disappearing to the surprise of those who had been assaulting it moments before.
"Where'd he go!" Screeched Draco indignantly. "We got him!" There was a clatter as a slim grey canister landed on the floor in their midst. "What the hell is that?"
"It says flash -" began one of the other students, before a deafening bang! echoed down the corridor, a blinding flash of light making them all see stars as Harry began casting stupefies from the ceiling at their defenceless forms.
Until with a final "Stupify-Incarcerous-Expeliarmus!" Harry dropped to the floor.
The spell chain was executed perfectly. The downwards slash at the end of the Stupify leading into the low twist at the start of Incarcerous, the final jab of which led smoothly into the twirl at the start of the Expelliarmus which in turn finished low, ready for the upstroke at the start of the Stupify. Not that he had any need for it as he caught the wand of his final target as he landed lightly on his feet.
I really wish that Mr Smith could have seen that - a perfectly executed three-spell chain, three different targets while falling from a height of… he looked up to judge the top of the arched window. Twenty feet? The miserable bastard would still find something to criticise, no doubt.
He turned to face his now wandless opponent, shaking his head in disappointment before casting an idle Stupefy at one of the bound but still marginally conscious figures on the floor, glancing around and stupefying two more of the twelve students that had accosted him and weren't already out for the count before facing the now very worried looking Draco who was trying to blink the stars away. Harry really wished they had put up a bit more of a fight, he could have used a target for some of the pent up anger and frustration from the last two weeks.
Draco cupped a hand against his ear, trying to get rid of the ringing.
"Mah… mah..." He glared at Harry "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW PAINFUL THAT IS? Mah..." He shouted, unable to judge the volume of his own voice, before tapping again at his ears. Harry rolled his eyes and flicked his wand, and Draco staggered slightly as his his ears stopped ringing and the stars cleared from his eyes.
"We got here as quick as we…" came the breathless statement from behind Draco. Harry leant to one side so he could see around the only other person still standing. "What the hell?!"
"I knew it!" Draco shouted triumphantly as Fred, George and Lee arrived behind Neville, slightly more out of breath than the younger Gryffindor at the far end of the corridor, all of them staring incredulously at the carnage before them.
"What?" Harry was confused.
"I knew you couldn't have beaten us on your own!" Draco waved towards the newly arrived quartet "You had your friends waiting for us and then they shot us in the back while you distracted us!" Harry looked on in stunned disbelief at the other boy's power of self-delusion, Draco folding his arms and beaming in pride as if he hadn't just lost a fight.
"Were you dropped on your head as a child, or do you have to work at being this stupid?" Asked Fred, leaning against the wall and trying to get his breath back.
"We only just got here." Panted George. "Besides, even if we'd been here all along, there are still twelve of you so you'd have outnumbered us by three to one!" He added, pointing towards the motionless shapes littering the corridor. Draco waved him off.
"A ruse! To try and shake us off, make us all think that Potter's more powerful than he really is!" He insisted "And besides, it wasn't really three to one, more like two and a bit."
"One" said Harry, raising his middle finger to swear at Malfoy much as Isaac had a over a year and a lifetime ago. "Did you really just use the word 'ruse'? What is this the nineteen-thirties?!" He raised his index finger to continue swearing "Two, learn to count, there are eleven on the floor, plus you. Even someone as dense as you are should be able to manage that maths." Draco huffed with offence at the insult and then waved towards two of the larger comatosed figures littering the hallway.
"You can't really claim that Crabbe and Goyle count for one each. Maybe one together, but that's still being pretty generous." The Gryffindors all shrugged and nodded in agreement despite finding themselves in the unfamiliar position of agreeing with a Malfoy.
"Whatever." Harry put in before Draco could take them down a rabbit warren. "This is going to get really boring if this continues. You'll attack, you'll lose and then eventually you're going to do something that winds me up enough to the point that I lose my temper, say something nasty and you run crying like a bitch to your mummy or end up with an extended stay in the infirmary." He held up a hand to stall Draco's complaints "So I'm going to teach you how to fight when you lose your wand."
"What?" Came Draco's incredulous question. Whatever he had expected the outcome of his carefully planned ambush to be, this wasn't it.
"What?!" Chorused the twins, Neville and Lee. They hadn't run all the way to the far end of the fifth floor from the Gryffindor common room to rescue Harry from an ambush, only to watch him teach one of his attackers how to fight him more effectively next time.
"Right, step forwards, just there, good." Harry pointed Draco to a point about arms length in front of him, gently positioning the other boy into a boxer's stance. Draco, now completely at a loss, let himself be shifted into position. "Now, you're right handed, aren't you" he got a confused nod of confirmation "ok, so left foot a little in front of the right, that's it. Hands up." Draco's hands shot into the air above his head as if he were being held at gunpoint.
"No, idiot, this isn't a highway robbery, this is a boxing lesson. Like this." He demonstrated himself and then positioned Draco's fists by his face in a crude semblance of a guard. "Are you ready? You look ready." Draco gave a nervous and completely inappropriate nod to the affirmative.
"OK then, we're going to start with a jab, it's going to be coming from this hand." He waved his right hand slightly and Draco's eyes widened. He opened his mouth and started to protest lowering his fists slightly as he did so.
"I don't think - " Harry's left hand shot out over the lowered guard, smashing into Draco's cheek. With a shriek of pain he took a step back, rubbing his rapidly bruising face. Harry sighed, straightening from his stance and shaking his head disappointedly.
"No. No, no, no, NO!" He got back into the boxers stance "Your hands are there to protect your head, never let your guard down!"
"You said you were going to strike with your other hand!" Draco protested with an outraged glare.
"First rule of fighting," Harry said with a malicious grin, "believe your eyes, not your opponent's mouth. Come on, lesson isn't over yet." He waved Draco forwards to resume his place in front of Harry and the other boy begrudgingly obliged, raising his hands back up as Harry had shown him and doing his best to ignore the dull pain in his cheek. The confused observers watched on as they regained their breath, not bothering to wonder what Harry was doing, just enjoying the spectacle of Draco's first boxing lesson.
"Next is the right cross." Said Harry.
"Wait, I haven't got the jab yet!" Draco protested quickly.
"You want to see it again?" Asked Harry. "Fine." Just as Draco realised what he had said, Harry's left fist snapped out again, hitting almost the exact same spot and sending the Slytherin stumbling backwards with another cry of pain.
With an angry snarl, he charged forwards, swinging his arms wildly. Harry raised his fists, protecting his head with his hands and his body with his arms and elbows against the mostly ineffectual blows that were grossly over-telegraphed and under-powered. Eventually Draco stepped back, breathing heavily.
"And there you see the importance of a good guard," commented Harry in his best instructors voice "the hands protect the face, the elbows and arms the body." He took a small step forwards "Now, the right cross." His right hand flashed out and Draco staggered back with a split lip and a wail. "Both together, try to guard this time Draco." He cut the boy a break and slowed down his punches, allowing him to mostly block them. "Good work!" He praised. Draco smiled nervously and began to straighten up.
"Now, the punches you were trying to use early were a mix of haymakers and sloppy roundhouses." He explained and Draco nodded, looking as if he wanted to be taking notes "You want to avoid using haymakers because they're pretty easy to see coming, but a good roundhouse is always a useful punch to know. Just be careful throwing them at someone's body because you can put your shoulder out. Guard up!" He called. Draco's fists came up too slowly, and the blow sent him to one knee.
"I don't want to learn any more today." The Slytherin moaned miserably from his place on the floor, spitting out a small trickle of blood from his split lip and trying to shake out the ringing from his head.
"Just one more lesson for today." Harry said cheerfully, pulling the Slytherin to his feet. He'd feel sympathy for the pathetic figure before him if he hadn't been terrorising the entire school for the first two years of his academic life. And the fact that he was a monumental twat. "You're going to try and hit me. I'm not going to put my guard up, I'm just going to move. But" he cautioned with a raised finger "if you don't hit me after two punches I'm going to start fighting back, got it?"
At the far end of the corridor, their audience shifted uncomfortably, all of them noting the slightly too-eagre gleam in Harry's eyes. Oblivious to their concern, Draco raised his hands as he had been shown, narrowing his eyes at his tormentor. Harry smiled encouragingly back at him and gave him a nod to begin when ready.
Speed, that's the key. Draco thought to himself Left jab! Harry swayed to the right and the punch missed him. Damn! Roundhouse! Harry swayed again, to Draco's left this time. Shi-
Everything went black before Draco could finish the thought.
Harry scowled at how easily his opponent had gone down, grabbed the unconscious boy by the collar with one hand and pulled him up with one hand, slamming his fist into Draco's nose. The blond's nose crunched and his head lolled. It felt good. He raised his fist again.
"Harry!" The shout pulled his angry gaze to his mostly ignored audience.
"You've beaten him."
"So you don't need to hit him any more."
He looked at the bloodied features of Malfoy, the other boy limply sagging in his grasp. He thought for a moment before dropping Draco with a shrug, the painful crack his head made against the floor earning a grim smile that made his friend's shiver uncomfortably.
Harry picked up his book bag, picking his way through the other unmoving forms.
"How did you know I was here?"
Neville waved the Marauders Map at him by way of explanation. Harry took the map from unprotesting fingers, idly cancelling it with a wave of his wand before stuffing it into his bag.
"Wait!" Called Lee, "There are twelve of them and you look like you've barely broken a sweat!"
"Yeah, and?" Harry responded, still walking.
"How?" Asked the other boy.
Harry gave a grin that held far too many teeth and exactly no mirth, the kind of grin a shark gives a seal pup just before it strikes.
"Magic." He growled.
On a Friday night at the beginning of October, Harry was sat on one side of a conjured table at the bottom of the tunnel entrance to the chamber of secrets. Opposite him were the two men who had joined him at least two, and often more, nights a week since the second week of term, the elder languidly smoking a cigarette, blue smoke curling from his nostrils. The younger scowled slightly at the smell but said nothing.
Harry felt the familiar effects of the potion that had been administered.
"Right, let's start." The younger man said before addressing Harry directly. "What's your name."
"Harry James Black-Potter." He answered, voice a flat, dull monotone.
"Are you a unicorn?"
"It's working." The younger man announced.
"Of course." Agreed the elder, a slight tinge of amusement in his voice at the idea that it would not be working. He flicked his fingers, encouraging them to continue.
Harry, despite the feeling that his brain was moving at half speed, focused. There was a flash and the two men leant back away from the table as the figure of Harry was replaced by his animagus form.
The demonic head looked down at the globs of magma and spits of flame that dripped from his form.
"Bollocks." It announced, before turning back to Harry. "It's still not working." The younger of his companions frowned in sympathy, the elder stubbed out his cigarette before disappearing the ash and butt.
"Consider yourself lucky - one of the typical side effects of Veritaserum is that it prevents the subject from gaining the mental control normally required for an animagus transformation." He hummed. "You probably have the… peculiarities of your form to thank for the fact that you can even do this much."
Harry scowled, a flick of his wand removing the charred remain of the second chair he had burned through that evening and conjuring another. "Again."
Three more times they tried. Each time, Harry turned into his cherufe form, swearing ever more viciously as the evening progressed. After attempt number five, the bottle of potion was stoppered and pocketed by the smoker.
"Right." Said the old man. "Keep practicing the partial transformation. You need to have it at second nature."
Harry glared at him in response and his eyes suddenly burned the deep gold and red of a simmering volcano.
"Try different parts." The younger man, who up until now had contributed little other than asking the control questions, shrugged at the curious glances he received from the boy and the old man. "It's like a gym work out. Build all your muscles, not just arms or chest, and you'll get better results all round."
Harry thought about it and nodded. "Thanks." He glanced at them both. "Monday night?"
They nodded their agreement and Harry levitated himself up the pipe to the third floor girls bathroom. The other two followed, the elder carrying the younger, before disappearing under an invisibility cloak.
Harry waved a goodbye, closing the entrance to the chamber with a hiss before exiting and creeping back along the corridors to his dorm room.
A/N. Well. Big chapter, though rather "bitty" which I apologise for. I also apologise for any mistakes I've missed, but I've been delaying posting this for too long already.
Obviously the development I spoke of earlier is the cause for Dumbledore's decay. I always thought it was a little unfair that he is constantly labeled as either a great manipulator or old fool, and I know I've been guilty of falling into both tropes at times. This is my attempt at providing a reason for this - please let me know what you think!
Moving forwards, I'm going to be playing around with the timeline for Fourth Year a fair bit, so fair warning.
Please do read and review - it's why I write! Also any thoughts as to where you think I should take this are always welcome, even if I decide not to use them!
Hopefully I'll update soon, but I can't in good conscience make any promises.