Prologue

A/N: Hi, this is my first fic and I hope that you all like it. It's pretty long, and I'm posting it as it is beta read. I think the rest is self-explanatory. Thanks for reading :) And thanks to Lupin, Sonja, and Flourish for either beta reading or trying to beta read, your efforts are much appreciated.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Else

Prologue

A storm was coming. Black clouds had formed overhead, a cold wind was blowing, and thunder sounded across the grounds at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Before long, lighting would be flashing and rain would be pouring down. Anyone with any sense had long since gone inside; however, the storm brewing on the ground was far worse than the one threatening to attack overhead.

Despite the cold, beads of sweat had formed and were dripping down the face of one Harry Potter, who wished that they would disappear; they were distracting him from the task at hand. He tried to ignore the fact that failure at this task would most likely result in his prompt and green-lit demise; he also tried to ignore the fact that his "task" was now laughing at him, quite loudly in fact.

"So, Potter…All alone now, aren't you? Where are your friends?" the ominously thin figure asked as he gestured toward Ron and Hermione, who were turning cartwheels and singing an old Muggle song behind him, their faces sometimes twisting in an effort to repel the curse. "Where are your teachers?" he questioned, motioning toward the ground where Professor Sprout lay face down in the blowing grass. "And where, most importantly," he added, almost as an afterthought, "is your precious Dumbledore?" He laughed again, causing Harry to shiver involuntarily.

Harry wanted to yell at him; in fact, he wanted to go straight up to him and scream in his face. He wanted to watch the small flecks of spit fly from his mouth and rest on his foe's nose, and witness the look of surprised horror that would reside in his eyes as he realized the certainty of his coming doom by way of...Avada Kedavra? He didn't know if he was powerful enough; no one was actually taught that curse at Hogwarts. He quickly struck thoughts of immediate retaliation from his mind; that's what he wanted, Harry knew, and if he obliged him it would be a fatal mistake. He also knew that he should be using this as time to anticipate and think rather than wallow in fear and self-pity.

"Well, boy," Voldemort hissed, "do you know where your headmaster is?"

Harry racked his brain for something he could possibly do to come out of this situation with a beating heart. He knew it was a long shot, but it was also his only chance...

"Perhaps I should show you," Voldemort sneered, waving his hand and creating a misty view of Dumbledore, in his nightclothes, lying on his bed with open, empty eyes. Harry continued to try to think, and hope. The sweat on his face increased enough that his glasses began to slide down his nose, and Voldemort regarded this with a sinister smirk. Harry tried to focus beyond Voldemort, but when he did he only saw Ron and Hermione cartwheeling in and out of his view, singing "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

"You, my boy," Voldemort chuckled, then suddenly becoming serious continued, "are out of time!"

Harry knew what was coming; he blindly aimed his wand at Voldemort, shouted, "Defixus Retexo!" and rolled out of the way, the death curse missing his head by millimeters. Praying his friends knew what to do, he stood up, pointed his wand, and heard his voice along with two others (to his immense relief) scream "AVADA KEDAVRA!" After that, the only things Harry remembered were feeling a cold jolt fly into his body, feeling it leave as soon as it had come, and watching his world turn black.

Chapter 1

Harry woke hours later with a scream, which he followed closely with a yelp due to the fact that he had no idea where he was. The room he was in was pitch black, his pulse was racing, he had the strange and terrible feeling that he was going to die… Suddenly, a candle illuminated in what the light quickly revealed to be a doorway, and he was greeted by the welcome sight of Madam Pomfrey shushing him and hurrying toward his bed.

"Get back to sleep," she whispered soothingly as she attempted to make him put his head back to his pillow.

"No! I need—I..." Harry trailed off as he realized that he didn't know exactly what he needed to do. He knew something urgent had been pressing on his mind when he had last been conscious, but what... and then it all came flooding back to him. He jumped out of bed, disregarding the fact that his robes had been removed (for medical reasons, of course) and Madam Pomfrey's look of panic, and raced out into the waiting room where he encountered the Weasleys, minus Ron and Bill (and Charlie, of course), who were sitting nervously and waiting for some word on the recovery of Ron and his friends. Harry paused at the sight of them and with great relief noted that none of them were crying. In fact, they didn't look distressed at all.

As Mrs. Weasley stared at him with tears of joy appearing in her eyes, he deduced that Ron, at least, had survived.

"What... what happened?" he managed to stammer.

Mrs. Weasley was clearly taken aback and began to sob, squeezing out, "Harry darling, it's all over!" before she took the plunge into unintelligibility. Mr. Weasley immediately began to comfort his wife, and an exasperated Fred took over.

"Well, Harry old boy," he began wryly, but was obviously very pleased just the same. "You seem to have done it. Voldemort," he said, clearly emphasizing the last word and surprising Harry, "is gone."

"We did it?" Harry asked, astounded and almost speechless. "We're all alive?"

"Yes. Somehow Hermione and Ron were injured just the same as you were, but Professor Sprout..." George said, finishing for his brother and looking suddenly put out at the mention of the death.

No one said anything for an uneasy moment.

"Anyway, they found you three passed out near the Forbidden Forest," Fred finally spoke up, "and they brought you in here. They called us and Hermione's parents, who should be here very short-"

"WHERE IS SHE?!" a frantic looking man yelled as he bolted into the waiting room, followed closely by a woman in a similar state.

"-ly," Fred said, looking upon the scene with surprise as Percy waltzed over to explain the situation to Hermione's parents.

"And?" Harry asked, thinking that there should somehow be more to the story than what he had just heard.

"And now you're standing in front of us putting on a show in your boxers, which I'm sure Ginny finds very entertaining," George finished with a smirk on his face. Ginny turned the color of her hair and looked away very quickly with a smile on her face, but thankfully (for her) Harry didn't notice this due to the fact that he had looked down and realized that George was indeed telling the truth. Embarrassed, he excused himself from the amusement of the Weasley clan (the Grangers were far too concerned with the welfare of their daughter to know of anything but their desire to see her) and went back to face the wrath of Madame Pomfrey in order to retrieve his robes.

She was surprisingly agreeable, even giving him a hug and thanking him before she gave him his clothing. As he pulled the robes over his head, he had a shocking thought: Dumbledore. What had happened to Dumbledore? He went cold when he remembered how he had last seen him, with his eyes open in wordless horror—

"Harry?" Madam Pomfrey called to him, noticing that he had had his robes halfway over his head for over half a minute. Harry quickly clothed himself.

"Is Professor Dumbledore—" He was interrupted by the opening of the door from the waiting area.

"Did I hear my name?" Professor Dumbledore asked, sticking his head into the room. Harry sighed in relief. "Surprised to see me, Harry?" Dumbledore asked, looking a little more weary and apprehensive than usual, but still retaining an air of cheerfulness.

Harry was stunned and didn't answer; too much was happening at once.

"I do hope you're able to talk. I am anxious to hear what has happened... I hope you don't mind, Poppy?" Madame Pomfrey grumbled something about not being allowed to give students proper care, but allowed him to go with Dumbledore into the waiting room. The Grangers and the Weasleys were absent, as they had finally been allowed to sit by their respective children while they slept.

"Well Harry, if you don't mind," said Dumbledore, "Begin from the beginning."

Dumbledore sat down; Harry watched, took a deep breath, and obeyed his headmaster.

"Professor Sprout was talking to Professor Sinistra," Harry began. "We were in the Great Hall eating lunch when Professor Sprout called me over. She told me that since I did poorly on the last herbology test I could get extra credit if I helped her with finding some plants in the Forbidden Forest. I kind of needed the points so I agreed, and when the time came to leave, Ron and Hermione offered to go as well, and I figured that it would help her since there would be more of us, so we went."

Harry paused, still trying to absorb everything that was happening and had happened earlier that evening. Dumbledore nodded him on.

"Wh-when Ron and Hermione and I got there, we were just in time to see Professor Sprout fall... Hermione screamed and Ron grabbed her and began to run; it was obvious something was wrong... I heard 'Imperio' from somewhere, and Ron and Hermione suddenly began to turn cartwheels and sing. I tried to help Professor Sprout, but it was obviously too late. He began to laugh when he saw me trying to revive her, trying to make her live... he showed himself soon after, and then he waited until I stood up, then he began to taunt me..."

Harry told the rest of his story without the nervous stammer he had begun with.

"...It was probably a lucky break that it worked, and that our spells missed each other, though I think Voldemort accounted for this as well."

"Well, Harry, what did you do?" Dumbledore asked, anxious to learn how a 17-year-old underage wizard had defeated the most evil and potentially powerful wizard in the world.

"Defixus Retexo," Harry said. "I remembered hearing the spell sometime in 5th year. We never learned it here, I don't think."

"No, only ministry wizards are specifically taught it. It is extremely difficult, especially to actually cause the intended spell to be fully reversed. Despite the complication this is possible in most cases, excluding, of course, the death curse."

Harry nodded.

"Well, what happened from there?" Dumbledore asked again.

"It worked, probably because there wasn't any other option, and Ron and Hermione were released from the curse and thankfully knew what to do. We all said the death curse and threw ourselves into it at the same time. All I remember is feeling like something jolted me back, and then a sudden pain."

"You say you felt something enter your body?"

"Something like that, yes," Harry said, confused. Dumbledore's weary and apprehensive look suddenly became more final. "What's wrong, sir?" Harry asked.

"I suspected this. He's not gone, Harry." He stood and began to pace

Harry felt a look of fear form on his face.

"His soul is still alive...I'll have to inform the ministry, of course... hopefully they'll do something about it this time."

"But..." Harry was stunned. He had just failed at killing his arch nemesis a second time. Dumbledore immediately sensed his disappointment and laid a hand on Harry's shoulder.

"There's nothing to be ashamed of, Harry," Dumbledore consoled. "You could not possibly have killed him. You have saved Hogwarts and the lives of your friends and probably many students, and once again shown courage and responsibility beyond your years. Voldemort is not gone, but he is powerless, and I'm sure that this time the ministry will take the appropriate actions to find him."

"Professor Sprout died, sir... I couldn't stop it, I tried-"

"Mr. Potter, no one blames you for that." Professor Dumbledore looked kindly upon Harry, who had buried his head in his hands. "Voldemort, as you know very well, takes killing people as a sport. He uses it to lure, to frighten, and show his power. You have done nothing wrong, Harry." Harry still kept his head down, but he took the comments to heart.

"Sir, why did you say it was impossible, killing Voldemort?"

"Harry," said Dumbledore sternly but with eyes like stars, "that is a question for another time."

"Everything is!" Harry suddenly exclaimed, frustrated. "My parents, my childhood, my everything! I'm 17 years old! When am I going to know, when I'm 30? What is-"

"Well," interjected Dumbledore, obviously amused, "I was thinking tomorrow, since you are obviously very tired, despite your bravado."

"Oh," Harry squeaked, embarrassed.

"If you would kindly go to bed and get some rest now, I will see you in my office at 10:00 tomorrow morning. The password is 'chocolate orange.'"

"Okay."

"Now, goodnight Mr. Potter."

"Goodnight, sir."

Harry watched as his headmaster left the waiting room, then he put himself back into the custody of Madame Pomfrey and went to sleep.

***

Harry woke at 8:30 the next morning, checked to see that his robes had not been forcibly removed again (they hadn't), put his glasses on, and went to try and find Ron and Hermione. He found Hermione first; she was in the room next to his (Madame Pomfrey had given them the three private rooms, thinking that they deserved it). Her parents had fallen asleep in chairs next to her bed, and she was quietly studying for finals. Harry stood silently in the doorway, watching her, until she looked up and noticed him.

"Harry!" she whispered happily, jumping out of bed and giving him a hug that he gratefully returned.

"Do you know if Ron's awake yet?" Harry asked quietly.

"He's not, I just went next door and checked," Hermione said. "That was brilliant yesterday, Harry, I'm so proud of you that I could kiss you! But if I did I'm afraid that would betray some more-than-platonic feelings that I just do not have for you, so I won't. You do understand?"

"Sure," Harry grinned, and hugged her again. "I'm glad you and Ron reacted the way I prayed you two would yesterday."

"Yes, that was a big risk. But it's over now," Hermione and Harry broke their embrace, left the door open and sat on a nearby bed in the main infirmary.

"Hermione," Harry said seriously, "There's something you should know. Voldemort—"

"Isn't dead?" Hermione finished for him.

"Wait, how did you know?"

"He must have used some spell to prevent his soul from being killed. I'm sure you noticed the cold feeling after his body was destroyed?" Harry nodded. "That is what happens when someone performs the extremely complicated immortality incantation… only one known wizard accomplished this, back in the 7th century, known only as Nabiha. She was Middle Eastern, very remote and private, and very powerful. When the body dies it disappears, and the soul is set free in a burst of energy with only one purpose, which is to find a way to live again. There is only one way that the person can truly be killed, and that's if they kill themselves. Which, let's face it, won't happen to Voldemort anytime soon."

Harry whistled as he looked at her with frightened bewilderment. "Someone's been making use of that unlimited pass to use the restricted section, eh?"

"Well, N.E.W.Ts are this week, and I want to be prepared." Harry just shook his head. So much for Dumbledore's upcoming description of events.

Hermione suddenly became quite serious. "So," she continued, "Professor Sprout is…" Harry nodded. "And," her voice began to waver and her gaze trailed to the floor, "Dumbledore?"

"No," Harry shook his head, and Hermione closed her eyes in relief.

"Then Voldemort was lying?" she asked, opening her eyes and looking at Harry. "Not his usual style, if I may say so."

"Well, Dumbledore was going to talk to me in about," Harry looked at his watch, "an hour and 15 minutes. Maybe you can come up too, I bet he would let you in as well. You have just as much of a right to know about everything that happened as I do, though you seem to have a pretty good handle on it. Maybe you could ask him that question"

Hermione smugly agreed with him, and put her studying aside (gasp!) so they could discuss things.

"I got my letter this morning, Harry," Hermione said nervously.

"Well?!" Harry asked with a smile.

"I didn't open it yet, I'm too nervous."

Harry glared in exasperation. "Hermione, if you don't get into Wizard University then no living wizard could. Ron and I both got in, and you're smarter than the two of us put together. Now open the damn envelope before I do it for you."

Hermione made a face and pulled it out of her robes, her hands shaking slightly, and delicately began to tear the seal on the envelope. Harry grabbed the letter from her and, ignoring her protests, ripped the envelope open and began to read. As she saw a look of severe disappointment cross his face, Hermione's eyes opened wide along with her mouth, and her lip began to shake.

"Harry?" He put on a tight smile, leaving his eyes with their sorrowful expression.

"I'm sorry, Hermione…" She let out a gasp and snatched the letter from him, immediately devouring it with her eyes. "You only got a full merit scholarship and are only the most qualified wizard who applied this year—"

"YOU PRAT!" she yelled, giving him a powerful smack on the side and waking her parents up with her yell. After he sat back up, she hugged him, then ran over to where her parents were still sitting, told them the news, and did the same to them. Ron chose this moment to appear at his door, and was also promptly assaulted by Hermione.

"Wha—"

"I GOT INTO WIZARD UNIVERSITY!"

"Yeah? I did too, can't be that hard," he muttered, tentatively returning the hug, as though if he touched her the wrong way she would break. She chose to ignore his comment.

"I GOT A FULL SCHOLARSHIP!"

"Wow!" Ron exclaimed, serious this time. She released him, and he continued to smile.

"Ron, you're awake," said Harry, relieved that his best friend was unhurt.

"Harry!" Ron exclaimed. The two ran over to each other with big and relieved smiles on their faces, shook hands earnestly, and pulled into a quick, appropriate, manly hug.

"Glad you're all right," Ron grinned.

"Likewise," Harry noted.

They both stood staring at each other grinning like idiots and shaking their heads occasionally for about a minute.

"Oh, I'm so glad we're all going to school together," Hermione finally put in, placing her hands on each of their shoulders.

"Oh, I can't resist, Group Hug!" Ron cried mockingly, pulling both Hermione and Harry into his arms. "Mr. and Mrs. Granger, you're welcome to join in if you want," he called. They politely declined.

"Geroff," Harry finally declared, even though he still had a big gaping grin on his face. "Hermione," he muttered as he saw the Grangers giving their little group rather interestingly contorted looks, "You want some time with your parents?"

"Oh!" she gasped, just remembering them, "Yes, if you two could just…"

"Okay. We'll fetch you in an hour to go to Dumbledore's," Harry finished, pushing Ron further into the main infirmary. Ron just looked at Harry with a strange expression on his face.

"What is it?" Harry finally asked, slightly irritated.

"You're alive, I'm alive, Hermione's—"

"Dead?" Harry interrupted.

"No, just weird," Ron finished, smiling. "I just can't believe we came out of that, that we killed Volde…Harry?" Harry had suddenly started to look uneasy.

"Voldemort didn't die, Ron."

"Oh… but… he…"

"What do you remember right after we defeated him?"

"I felt almost like something flew inside me, I was jolted back and… oh."

"Yeah."

There was a small pause.

"DAMMIT!" Ron yelled as he suddenly punched the stone wall. "He—he—augh!" He began to rub his now injured and slightly bleeding fist and sat on a bed. "I thought I… we…"

Harry sat next to his grieving friend, who was now holding his face in his hands.

"Ron, you did more than Charlie ever could have wanted you to do," Harry said softly, not expecting a response and not getting one.

He recalled the day less than a year earlier, when Hermione had turned white while reading The Daily Prophet. Ron had asked what was wrong and looked over her shoulder to read the headline "DRAGON BREEDERS ATTACKED BY DEATH EATERS." He had gasped and read over the article to learn that Voldemort's supporters had attempted to apprehend some dragons from a dragon breeding center in Romania; some wizards tried to resist, and they were promptly made an example of and killed. Charlie Weasley had been among the "examples." Ron had put the paper down and stared blankly at his food, not even noticing that Malfoy had strolled over. He'd had intentions to taunt Ron about how the size of his family had decreased and therefore the world was a better place, but he had gone no further than to say, "So, Weasel, another one bites the dust, eh?" when Ron launched himself clear over the breakfast table and upon Draco. Neither Harry nor Hermione tried to stop the brawl that ensued and by the time a teacher (Snape, as luck would have it) separated them, Malfoy had been issued a black eye, a broken nose, a split lip, and a missing tooth. Ron had stood silently as Snape issued him two weeks of detention to be served digging out fly eyes for potions classes and 50 points from Gryffindor (Malfoy received 5 points from Slytherin and a warning), and ran up to his dorm immediately after Snape had finished.

Hermione had then done something that had given Harry a new sense of admiration for her: she grabbed the newspaper and ran after Snape. From where Harry was sitting he saw her stop him, hand him the paper, converse with him for a moment (she said something that left a look of shock on his face), and walk out of the Great Hall leaving Harry alone. The detention and lost points were all revoked later that day.

Neither Ron nor Hermione had gone to any classes that morning, and during lunch when Harry went to check on Ron, he saw him through the crack in the curtains on Ron's four-poster bawling silently into the arms of Hermione. Harry hadn't interrupted them. He waited until Hermione left the boys' dorm in the early evening, to retrieve both his and her missed homework, before trying to console his friend. He had stopped crying by that time, and was sitting wordlessly on the edge of his bed holding a letter. After some sparse conversation, Harry learned that Ron was to be excused from school for the next week so he could be home with his family. He hadn't known what to do, so he just sat there with him until everyone else came up to go to bed. Anything to do with Charlie had received little to no discussion since then.

Ron did not say anything until Harry nudged him to tell him that they were going to have to go talk to Dumbledore.

"What?" Ron's face fell even further as he made a connection. "Isn't he dead?"

"Nope, not since last night, or very early this morning I mean," Harry answered, trying to remember what time he and Dumbledore had last talked.

"But…"

"He's probably going to explain all of that when we talk to him. It was originally only supposed to be me, but he'll probably let you and Hermione in as well."

"Okay, I'll go get Hermione and you can get a head start to Dumbledore's office."

"Good idea, you know where it is?"

"Yes, I've been there a few times, you know," he said, managing to crack a small smile as he went into the room adjacent to where they were sitting.

Harry pulled himself up and began the walk to the office of his headmaster, gratefully noting that he could see no one in the hallway.

If you want to make my day, please review :)