A slip of the tongue reveals to Harry an alternative path, one much more demanding than he experienced before, where the rewards he asks for are denied him...
All chapters of this entire story are covered by this disclaimer: if you recognize it, it's not mine – probably owned by Rowling, when you get right down to it. Although I doubt that copyright law revolves on the mental capacity of individual readers.
This story begins at the start of Harry's fifth year. Unlike in canon, Harry's emotions are not reset at the beginning of a book, and so he is still dealing with the aftermath of the Tri-Wizard Tournament when the Dementors attack. And then there's a trial in which he feels abused and abandoned …
Blackstorm of Thunderclan served as a beta reader for the first half of this story, and I'm quite grateful for his assistance in tying down plot threads. If there are any grammatical twists that disturb you, or typos that grate, please PM me, as they are my fault, not his. And the plot is all mine, too, so don't bother him about issues with that, either.
These are the questions/musings that led to the writing of this fic:
We all look at the cumulative actions of Albus Dumbledore and know that he is not Good. So what would a true Leader of the Light look like?
If there are dementors … why aren't there creatures on the other side of the continuum? What would that creature look like?
If we accept that there is a God in the HP universe, what is the relationship between God and magic? Why doesn't the Wizarding world have a recognized religion? They swear by Merlin rather than Deity – why?
There are so many curses; what does the use of magic used to bless look like?
And not quite related: why can't Rowling use a calendar when plotting her stories?
I tried to create a mythology and creation story for the Wizarding world that melds what we see in canon with what our intuitions tell us about righteousness and goodness. Well, my intuition at any rate. I am not endorsing or proselyting for any theology – this is strictly made up. Well, I actually stole a lot, filed off the serial numbers, mashed it together, slapped a new coat of paint on it, and presented the hodge-podge as something strictly for story utility.
I hope that it's also entertaining.
Chapter 1: Missteps
Friday, September 1, 1995 – The Hogwarts Express
The warning whistle sounded from the engine of the Hogwarts Express, and the train pulled away from the odd fractionally-named platform. Students were renewing friendships, pursuing their objects of romance, or frantically addressing themselves to the summer homework they had successfully ignored for the past ten weeks. Mostly the latter.
Harry Potter was doing none of those things.
Cedric Diggory had been dead for … 75 days and about 18 hours. Almost 76 days. Harry could still see Cedric's sightless gaze in the graveyard. Eyes open, eyes closed, Harry could see little else that summer.
The dementors Harry encountered that summer wouldn't have stood a chance if they were vulnerable to morose fatalism. Harry had been generating that in abundance. The show trial that Harry had been subjected to had changed his emotional state in a hurry, however; between that power-mad pink fatso trying to get Harry expelled and Dumbledore's complete lack of support, Harry had switched from depressed apathy to roiling rage.
Albus Bloody Dumbledore … at the end of each year he had sat with Harry, explained what he could, gentled Harry's frustration and impatience and fear by offering himself as the wise director of Harry's life, only to abandon Harry at the time when he was most needed. Sod that. If the bloomin' Headmaster wants to play games this year, he can bloody do it himself. He can get what he deserves.
And now, Harry was unable to get a decent night's sleep. At least every third night was interrupted with Snake-face's presence in his head, Harry's scar radiating pain, while Harry got to see through that bastard's eyes and hear through that bastard's ears. The lack of rest was contributing towards Harry's mood, and not in any way that was positive.
Ron and Ginny entered the compartment. "Hey, Harry, finally found ya. I gotta go to the prefect's meeting with Hermione. Later!" Ron had lofted his trunk into the overhead racks during his brief speech, and was out the door before the trunk was fully settled. Ginny followed suit (with a bit more effort), but dropped into the seat across from Harry when she was finished.
"What's going on?" Ginny asked. She seemed to be assuming that Harry was willing to talk. They had talked – or rather, Ginny had refused to shut up – while Harry was at the Burrow after that farce of a trial they put him through.
Harry responded as he had the week before; shortly, with minimal words. "Nothing," he said, flatly. He turned his head to the window and closed his eyes. Ginny seemed to respect his desire for silence – she didn't attempt to make small talk, at least – but that went by the wayside when Ron and Hermione returned from their meeting.
Ron loudly had Ginny switch over and sit by Harry, so he and Hermione could sit together on the seats opposite. He loudly voiced his opinion of the prefects (mostly negative), his hopes for the coming Hogwarts quidditch season (an undefeated sweep), and his hopes for the Cannons this coming season (even though the last several decades were unalloyed failure.) Harry could also tell, without opening his eyes, that Ron had hopes for romance with Hermione – his voice went from brash, loud optimism to tentative questioning whenever he directed a question to the girl. Harry wanted to shake his head in disgust, but didn't want to reveal that he was awake.
Hermione did her best to add to the noise pollution, too. Inquiring / ordering both Ron and Ginny to produce their homework, fretting over study schedules for O.W.L.s, arguing with Ron over prefect duties, and just, well, arguing with Ron. She did that a lot. Harry had a sneaking suspicion that she had a sneaking suspicion that he was awake – she didn't hit the top of her range during the continuous argument, but she came close. Hermione was usually more considerate than that. Or Ron was being more irritating than before; it really was a tossup.
Ginny, too, got into the whine-fest. Her contribution was a monologue about her hopes for Hogsmeade weekends, where Harry would take her (and apparently only Harry caught that she meant it in both fashions), and Harry might have caught her musing about the names for their children under her breath. Daft bint. As if Harry would spend time or money or attention on romancing his … mother. Inwardly he shook his head. Everyone was forever telling him that Ginny was the spitting image of his mother – and for some reason, she seemed to take that as a sign that they should be together. Harry rather felt the opposite.
The monologues disguised as arguments raged on as the Express raced toward Hogsmeade. Ron hoped; Hermione fretted; Ginny dreamed.
And in the corner, faced pressed outwards to the windows glass, Harry seethed.
At the Welcoming feast, there was a … rude disappointment. That squat little old biddy from the trial is here at Hogwarts. Harry just knew that this was not good, and he wondered just how bad this year was going to be. That condescending, self-righteous, political toad was going to be in charge of DADA this year, and it was fairly self-evident that there was going to be some seriously heavy political firepower aiming for Harry this year. After all, she wanted to expel me and snap my wand for no reason before; I can't see her letting that go, or thinking I'm all sweetness and light all of a sudden.
Harry let Hermione and Ron go do their prefect thing, still keeping his thoughts to himself. The dorms were just as he had left them in June, so Harry climbed into his bed, drew the curtains, and tried to sleep. He hadn't spoken at all to any of his year mates, and he fully intended to keep the status quo as long as possible. He drifted off to an unrestful slumber, and just before he lost consciousness, Harry realized, Hey, I can write to Sirius now! There were a scant few days spent at the house on Grimmauld Place, but Harry hadn't been able to truly talk with his Godfather – and there was nothing stopping him now.
It was before the classes had even started, so Harry was flush with parchment. He jumped out of bed and began, Hey, Sirius, and then poured all his frustrations into the letter: Durselys, hunger, abandonment, dementors, betrayal, abandonment again, and the constant terror of watching the evil of Voldemort claim more and more innocent lives. It wasn't pretty, and it wasn't lyrical, but … it felt good to know that help was, finally, on its way. Harry had a Godfather now, and he wasn't alone against the world. He had Marauder backup!
Slipping on his robe and shoes, Harry ran out of the dorms, headed to the Owlry. As he entered the cavernous space, Hedwig was already taking wing to meet him, greeting Harry with a soft bark. Harry allowed Hedwig to perch on his arm, and brought her up so that he could rest his head against hers. "This is for Sirius, and he should be at …" The words caught in his throat. Oh right – Fidelious. "You know where he is. You can find anyone, can't you girl?"
Hedwig barked again, this time more stridently, and Harry gave her a fond look. One fastened letter later, and Hedwig was flying free, looking very regal as she flew into the evening shadows.
Hedwig's on it. I'll be okay.
Sunday, September 3, 1995
Harry was through. No more. The letter from Sirius had been a masterpiece of weaselly evasions of responsibility.
Harry had asked questions about what he had witnessed during his brief stay at Grimmauld Place: why do you let Molly Weasley give you orders in your own home? What authority does she have? Do you have to have Peter Pettigrew in hand before clearing your name with the Ministry? Why do I have to stay with the Dursley's?
Sirius's return letter expressed childlike confusion about most questions, and then offered the justification that Harry was least inclined to accept: Dumbledore says that …
Harry immediately wadded up the parchment, tossed it in the air, and vaporized it with a nicely-aimed "Incendio!"
I wanted someone that I know would care for me and look out for me. You are too damaged – probably by Azkaban, but your basic personality hasn't helped – to be that person I need. I need you to stay as my guardian, because I don't trust Dumbledore and I can't let him have more power over me …
Hedwig had arrived and was looking curiously at Harry as he sighed, waded up his letter, and sent it to join the parchment that Sirius had sent.
I don't trust them. Any of them. So telling them that would be tipping my hand in a fight that I can't afford to lose. Harry sighed again. They control my life and none of them care about my happiness. I'm the only one that does.
Hedwig nipped Harry's ear and departed with a mournful bark. Harry's dark mood blackened further.
Screw him. Then Harry reconsidered. Screw them. Screw them all.
That night, Harry's dreams returned to the summer pattern of a nightly movie starring the atrocities that Voldemort might be up to. While it took Harry many hours to calm down after waking, he was able to dismiss them during the day.
And it wasn't as if Harry was used to doing without sleep.
Monday, September 4, 1995
It had not been a good night – and the day hadn't helped any. Ron was lazy, Ginny was stalking him worse than Colin ever had, Hermione somehow thought that she was empowered to direct his life for him, and then DADA … for some reason, Harry's schedule this year had classes piled up Monday through Wednesday, with a lone class of Potions on Thursday morning. His first day, he had to start off with a double History, then double Potions before lunch, then Divination, then double DADA. His brain was, frankly, fried, and after his reintroduction to Snape's abuse, his temper was shot, and that was before this insipid and condescending toad decided that she could treat them all like toddlers. The room was decorated in a bright pink that made him want to shudder; he saw the poorly illustrated plates hanging on the walls with pictures of cats, and gave in to the impulse. Several classmates followed suit.
"Good afternoon, class!" The false sweetness was cloying, and insulting. No, even toddlers had more self-respect than to fall for this.
"Tut, tut!" Did she really just say 'tut'? "Now, class, mind your manners. When greeted, you must respond pleasantly and promptly! Now, let's try again!" The glitter in Umbridge's eye was … rather nasty. "Good afternoon, class!"
Enough of the students murmured, "Good afternoon," that the patronizing speech was not repeated.
"Now, this is your OWL year, so it is very important that you …"
Harry had had enough and jumped in, "Yeah, about that."
"You are interrupting, student."
The momentary expression of murderous rage wasn't missed by very many students, and it changed what Harry was about to say; he stepped it up. "You may have been told; our previous instructors haven't done a very good job, so we're kind of wondering if you can actually, you know, teach. Some of us wouldn't be surprised if we had a squib teaching this class." Harry artfully paused and gave himself an expression of doubt. "You do have a wand, right?"
The rotund lady drew herself up, affronted. "I have been appointed by the Ministry of Magic to oversee your education! I am fully qualified, I assure you!"
Harry shook his head sorrowfully. "I'm afraid that just won't cut it – we've had teachers that lied to us before. Show us your wand, please." His eyes narrowed. "Or don't you have one?"
"Of course I have a wand!" she hissed.
Harry looked at her doubtfully, "And yet you can't show it to us when asked." His face cleared. "You have a wand, yet can't show it to us." Harry's tone lowered as if he was speaking confidentially. "You were going to teach a magical class on Defense – the most practically oriented of all the magical subjects – without actually carrying your wand?"
Umbridge's face went from red to purple. "It is at my DESK!" she roared.
Harry stood and stepped into the space between desks. "You are teaching a wand subject and leave your wand at your desk? That's … very convenient, isn't it? You can't show off your squibness that way, can you?"
"Still haven't seen any magic." Harry observed. Well, and challenged.
Umbridge's expression became even uglier – clearly desiring Harry's immediate death. The lack of humanity in her face gave Harry an idea.
He drew his wand and in the same motion softly incanted, "Expecto Patronum!" The ghostly form of a gigantic stag, fully seven feet tall at the head, flashed into existence in the classroom and charged the DADA teacher, antlers lowered. Her rage immediately was replaced by fear and terror as she clumsily dived to avoid the charge of the Patronus.
Harry spoke above the titters of the class, "And that, boys and girls, is how you drive off soul-sucking, depressing … creatures."
Class was a total loss, but even with detention that night, Harry felt like it was a win.
The first win he'd had in months. Even if that last word had cost him 100 house points. Still a win.
Harry picked the quill up; the iron tip made it much heavier than his regular school nibs and the balance was off. Umbridge's eyes lit up in anticipation as she waited for Harry to begin his lines. Harry paused, considered the quill, then put it to parchment.
The tip scratched and sputtered over the uneven surface, spreading a thin film of dark, red … ink? Harry looked to the back of his left hand, which was feeling scratched and irritated. His eyes widened.
"You can't do this! This is … making me write with my own blood … it's torture!"
Umbridge's eyes were alight with joy as well as something dark and malevolent. "I assure you, Mr. Potter. As the Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic, it is well within my power to do this – and more – to those that defy the Ministry," she said evenly. Her voice was still honeyed on the surface, but the undertone had notes of triumph and vengeance. Nothing sweet.
Harry stood. "I won't!"
"You will, boy! You will do as I say!" Umbridge couldn't have calculated a worse thing to say to Harry Potter.
Harry grew livid. For the first time, his rage poured through him, without any of the usual fear or subservience that Vernon had planted in him. He grabbed the quill off the desk, the feather between his thumb and forefinger. "Any more of this, and I swear by all that's holy that you will beg God above for death before I'm done with you!" And he threw the quill (completely missing her, but nicking a ceramic plate hung on the wall.)
Umbridge's normally florid face became pale, then stark white. Her eyes bulged, and her mouth moved silently – shock, apparently. With eyes that never left his face, she hastily backed out of the classroom, the door closing between them. Even after she left, the peculiar pressure that began with Harry's words did not dissipate.
Harry looked around the deserted office. There is way too much pink in here. He tentatively reached for his wand on the corner of her desk – he wouldn't put it past the vindictive professor to put some sort of spell on it – but nothing happened when he gingerly picked it up. Snagging his book bag on his way out the door, Harry made his way back to the Gryffindor common room. An unfamiliar magic pressure continued to follow him, swirling in his wake, slowly ebbing.
The portraits, unnoticed, fell silent at his passing, giving each other significant glances.