Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Author Notes: Apologies for the delay, but I'll cut out the explanation for I've been giving a lot of it lately. Thanks a lot for all the encouragement you reviewers have been giving me.

This story has recently won the Best Harry Potter Year 6 Fic award at the Summer 2003 Harry Potter Fanfiction.net Fan Fiction Awards. You'll find a link to the winners' list in my Bio. Thanks to all who voted in particular, and to all readers in general!!

Harry Potter and The Sacred Alliance

Chapter 13

The breakfast was special; it seemed that the elfish chefs were out to prove a point or two to the newcomers on their first weekend at Hogwarts. Unfortunately their cooking hardly had any effect on the long-lost appetite of Kevin Burke, the new Sixth Year transfer student.

The queasy feeling that he was experiencing, was not rooted in the strange dream -- or was it a vision -- that he had had last night, although it was constantly present at the back of his mind. Nor did the following awkward encounter with Dobby and Hermione, which he had somehow managed to end quickly, have anything to do with Harry's queasiness.

And likely though it might seem, neither was Harry's restlessness a by-product of the shell-shocking news that the brown-paper covered copies of the Daily Prophet had brought on that otherwise lovely Saturday morning. On the brighter side, for the editors of wizarding Britain's most read newspaper, the guilty article did succeed in drawing the attention of most of the students -- irrespective of age -- away from the mouth-watering dishes laid on the tables.

Murmurs filled the Great Hall, as people debated amongst themselves the consequences of the new developments at the Ministry. To be truthful, the news had an almost unanimous approval among the Hogwarts student body, except for a few at the Slytherin table. In fact, even some of the teachers seemed to be in a better mood than usual.

"... but will Fudge go down that easily?"

"... father works in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, you know? So they have my family's full support..."

"Nineteen Aurors! Can't just vanish..."

"... Hufflepuff fourth year's got his brother among them, I heard..."

"... Bones? Is that woman related to Susan?"

"Their names are the same..."

"... hear most of the Ministry is siding with the DMLE..."

"... can't believe that the Daily Prophet is reporting this..."

"Fudge deserves it, doesn't he?"

"Of course he does. Mum says that bastard framed Harry Potter... even killed him..."

"... can she hold off You-Know-Who? Locate the missing Aurors? I'm sure Fudge can't!"

However, despite the renewed belief in the governing establishment of the United Kingdom, that this unexpected rift in the Ministry had rekindled in its wake, not even the elated feeling that accompanied this belief could drive away Harry's uneasiness -- the source of which was pinned on the notice board back in the Gryffindor Common Room.

And the crystal clear sky outside, showing through the enchanted ceiling of the hall, only succeeded in adding to his disquiet. Perfect Quidditch conditions.

Swallowing his only sausage, Harry stood up, determinedly walking in the direction opposite to Ginny's chair. She was currently taking down names of Gryffindors who wanted to try out for the Quidditch team.

Playing Quidditch had always been topmost among the things that Harry looked forward to, every year at Hogwarts. Indeed, Quidditch had been Harry's lifeline last year, before Umbridge had banned him from the game. And thanks to this cursed plan that he had agreed to be a part of, he wouldn't be catching a Snitch again anytime soon.

But not trying out at all might seem suspicious too, at least to someone with a mentality similar to that of Snape. So here he was standing at the base of the stairs to the Gryffindor tower, deciding whether or not to turn back and head towards Ginny. Not to try out as a Seeker of course -- his only options were Chasing and Beating. In other words, making a fool of himself at the Quidditch field.

Harry would have successfully executed his decision to walk upstairs to his dormitory and grab a textbook, had it not been for Dean.

"Kevin! Hey, Kevin... Are you good at Quidditch? We're having try-outs for the team and are really short of contenders!"

"No... I mean I don't think I am..."

"C'mon, give it a try, will you? Seamus and me are trying out too. And you know so much about those maneuvers!"

Gulp. He should have thought twice before entering into those Quidditch discussions. "But... I don't even have a broom!" Wait a minute... "A flying broom, I mean!" Good point.

"That shouldn't be a problem," Seamus, who was standing behind Dean, cut in. "You could use one of the school brooms, or one of our brooms."

"OK, here's a deal, Kevin," said Dean, momentarily eyeing Ginny at the table, "You try out for a Beater or Chaser's position, and I'll lend you my Comet 250 for practice."

Harry was about to refuse, but a sudden commotion from the Gryffindor table caught the three boys' attention.

"GINNY! Why is my name on your list?" Neville shouted in a high-pitched voice.

"Because I put it there," Ginny replied. "None of the Seventh Years are volunteering -- they reckon it'll interfere with their N.E.W.T. preparations. The other Fifth Years aren't trying out either. So I've decided that all Sixth Years must give it a try."

A loud crash followed Ginny's pronouncement -- Lavender had inadvertently dropped a jug of pumpkin juice, splattering it all over the table. Hermione, who was sitting beside Lavender, busied herself in casting cleaning spells. Neville and Parvati were too shocked to respond. Ron, meanwhile, seemed to have been caught unawares by a sudden coughing fit.

"And what exactly are you implying by that?" Hermione asked, once she had removed the juice-stains from the tablecloth. The group had captured the attention of the rest of the table by then.

"I'm saying that you, Parvati and Lavender should..."

"But honestly, Ginny, I can't fly! You have Second, Third and Fourth Years to choose from!" Hermione's retort was met with immediate groans of disapproval from the named classes.

"I'm in", Harry interrupted quickly. He was quite certain he would do much better than Neville or any of the girls in his year.

* * * * *

"Welcome, Gryffindor Quidditch hopefuls to this year's try-outs!" Dean's amplified voice echoed through scarcely populated stadium.

The sun's heat was on, Gryffindor being the last house to conduct their try-outs before lunch. Which meant that the three-member selection committee had a little more than two hours to choose three Chasers and two Beaters -- Andrew Kirke and Jack Sloper, in spite of the improvements in their gameplay, had been asked to try-out again this year. The team captain would be chosen later, though Harry had a pretty good idea who it would be.

The irony , Harry thought. To think that two players with only a single year of Quidditch playing experience under their belt, along with the head-of-House, were going to select the rest of the team members. What was the legendary Gryffindor House Team coming to?

Shutting out his pessimistic thoughts, Harry surveyed the grand total of nine students besides himself, Seamus and Dean, who had come for the try-outs. Needless to say, Neville and the girls weren't present in this group, each of whom Harry scrutinized minutely from his vantage point with Dean, sizing up capabilities just from their appearance.

A school broom was clutched in his right hand; flying on Dean's had the danger of revealing his flying techniques.

"So first... the aspirants for the coveted Beater's positions in the Gryffindor Quidditch team!" A few spectators from the stands took this opportunity to initiate a mocking applause, only to be silenced by a stern glare from Professor McGonagall, who was watching from beside Madam Hooch in the stands.

"Andrew Kirke and Jack Sloper, the former Beaters... People whom I name would please down to the pitch... Colin and Dennis Creevy..." He broke off as the trunk of Quidditch equipments that Ron was levitating to the field crashed open into a few empty seats in the stands, sparking off a rush by contenders and spectators alike to catch the freed Quaffles, Bludgers and Snitch.

But that was hardly necessary, as Madam Hooch whipped out her wand, bellowing "ACCIO!" In an instant, the various-sized balls zipped back to their respectful places in the trunk, which had been repaired by McGonagall a split-second before.

Clearing his throat, once everyone had settled back, Dean continued, "And the last two contenders are Seamus Finnegan, and me, Dean Thomas!"

And so the competition began, in which the six contenders had to hit a translucent orange-colored orb with one of the six Bludgers. What made this task quite difficult, was the fact that this orb -- conjured up by Madam Hooch -- was constantly moving in random directions, mimicking the movements of an extremely fast and agile Chaser. Moreover, the Beaters had the option of aiming at each other to distort their opponent's concentration.

Ginny and Hermione busied themselves in keeping track of the number of hits scored by each of the players. Harry, meanwhile, was entrusted with the task of picking up stray Bludgers that escaped to the stands. Not that there were any. Neither did any of the Bludgers hit the orb in the beginning, except for what seemed like a fluke shot from Jack Sloper.

Kirke and Sloper were quick to take position behind the Bludgers, but generally wasted too much time at aiming. Consequently, by the time they actually hit the Bludger, the orb was well clear of their line of fire. The Creevy brothers, on the other hand, had excellent aim. Flying speed was their downfall, resulting in very few Bludgers being actually accessible for them to take a shot at. Dean and Seamus had neither... It would suffice to say that they took more shots at the other Beaters than at the orb, only succeeding in passing the Bludger to their target.

On the whole, the pitch was in total chaos. Knowing the havoc that four professional Beaters can create in a full-fledged Quidditch match, one has to only imagine what can be expected from six clueless ones, the whole pitch to themselves. Thirty painful minutes later, by which time Harry had started searching his mind for a name for this new ruthless game he was witnessing, a shrill whistle from Madam Hooch ended the contest.

The score-board, that Ginny and Hermione were maintaining, read 7 hits by Colin, 6 by Kirke, 4 each by Dennis and Sloper, 3 by Seamus, and nil by Dean, amidst loud clapping by the spectators -- who were ever-increasing in numbers.

"Now friends," Dean resumed his address, apparently unaffected by his performance, "it's time for selection of the three new Chasers! And the competitors are..."

* * *

The corridors had a deserted look about them, mostly due to the fact that majority of the students were still having their lunch. Moreover, hardly any of them would venture towards Snape's office in the Dungeons on this free Saturday afternoon.

Harry, on the other hand, had an Occlumency test with Snape, scheduled less than ten minutes later. Considering the disastrous consequences of Snape's previous attempt at teaching the art to Harry, it was quite surprising that Snape had even agreed with this particular request of Dumbledore. Not that Harry liked the idea himself. But the fact, that he had failed miserably in his last encounter, combined with his recent improvements at Occlumency, strengthened his determination to prove himself.

In fact, he was actually looking forward to the challenge. No doubt, Quidditch can do strange things to one's self-confidence. Especially after playing well enough to secure a place in the House Quidditch team. Of course, considering the truly smashing skills of most of the other contenders, even the shaky school broom couldn't completely nullify the advantage that Harry's flying skills gave him. Handling the Quaffle was what he would have to work on.

But now wasn't the time to dwell on Quidditch skills, or lack thereof, in the current Gryffindor team.

Footfalls echoing along the underground pathway, Harry had almost taken the turn for the Potion Master's office, before something -- something, that, for some vague reason, seemed to be a misfit in its surroundings -- came to his attention. It was a door -- a metallic one, if his eyes weren't fooling him -- and in the daylight filtering through an opening in the roof, making an odd angle with its surface, it seemed to have a distinct shimmer.

His uncontrollable curiosity making the decision between Snape's office and the door quite easy for his mind to make, Harry walked to the door, which, adding to its strangeness, was not locked. Apparently, the room that the door opened to was some new addition to the dungeons, since it was highly unlikely that he could have missed it all these years.

Images of Dementors lurking behind the door threatening to take over his senses, he warily pushed the door open. The room was mostly dark, and totally bare except for the one object that Harry had least expected to be placed at its center.

A mirror. The mirror.

Five years had passed since Harry had last seen it... And there it was, tall as the ceiling, unchanged in its magnificence, strangely alluring... What would it show now?

Whispering "Lumos", Harry positioned himself in front of the mirror, pausing to read the inscription carved near the top in glittering letters.

"Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi"

However, all that the mirror reflected was himself, silhouetted against the wand-light. A few puzzled moments passed before he realized what was wrong.

His own boring green eyes stared back at him, the color of his worse-than-usual hair in sparkling contrast. Only two things were wrong in the image. One, he wasn't wearing any glasses, and second, most strikingly, was the absence of the scar.

On the other hand, everything was wrong with the real Harry for a few breathless moments, as he frantically ran his hands over his face, examining its crevices. No, they were still alien... an alien face that he had been forced to live with for the past few weeks. A week and a half to be precise. And he was already yearning for his scar-ridden one.

The more time he passed staring at the scar-less and glass-less image of his original self, the more it made sense to him.

Harry's decision of going with Dumbledore's proposal was largely based on the fact that it was the safest way he could have kept studying at Hogwarts... safe for himself as well as his friends. But that reason hadn't been enough. It was the other subconscious appeal that the idea had to his longing for a life as a normal teenage wizard... the experience of an average boy's life, short though it would be, was something he had never imagined he would get to taste...

However, he had been wrong. Such a life was just as difficult, if not worse. During some moments in the past week, it had almost seemed that he was back to his elementary school days... no one he could call a true friend.

Nah! He just hadn't adjusted to this new way of life... Give it a few weeks, and he'd see the advantages, form new friends even...

But he didn't want new friends! He wanted Ron and Hermione back. He wanted Sirius back too, but that would be impossible. No, even a Sirius-deprived life would do. Yes, it was dangerous, but was this any better?

And then there was the other matter that had been bugging him ever since term-start... A matter that had become clearer and clearer with each passing hour after last night.

What he had felt with Cho was simply attraction... attraction to physical appearance. But this was much more complicated. And the fact, that he was currently deceiving her in a way nobody would ever forgive, did not help matters.

It was at this moment that a strange external feeling jerked him out of his thoughts. Tearing his eyes away from the ancient mirror, he turned towards the door. But he couldn't see it... not in the darkness. So how was he able to see the mirror?

"Lumos," Harry whispered to his already lighted wand, moving a step towards the direction from which he had entered. But his surroundings only seemed to be getting blacker. Slight but sufficiently visible traces of the afternoon daylight had been present in the chamber when he had entered it. And considering that he had been staring at the mirror for not more than ten minutes, this sinister darkness could not be explained away by the passage of time.

A stab of pain in his forehead brought Harry's attention back to the mirror. Something was changing in the image... a thin red line was gradually inscribing itself on the mirror-Harry's forehead. But Harry didn't have much time to examine it, for his own forehead was burning like a red hot furnace... The pain was unbearable... He could sense a few droplets trickling down from his forehead, the thickness of the liquid being much more than that of sweat.

And all he could do was scream in the agony...

By the time the pain had subsided enough for thinking, Harry found himself sprawled on all fours, his throat hoarse from yelling, and his lungs desperate for air. Settling himself on his knees, he groped about on the floor until his hands came in contact with his wand, which had fallen down unbeknownst to him, and extinguished itself.

Lighting his wand, Harry looked up at the mirror through his tear-filled eyes, missing the blood red drops that had fallen on the floor. And yelped in terror. For the reappearance of the red-hot lightning-shaped scar wasn't the only change in the image. The skin had turned much paler, while the green eyes had transformed into lifeless orbs of reddish black.

The lips had disappeared, the nose was different, and the hands had turned to long ghostly white fingers, pointed brown nails emerging from them. Glowing robes of green and black had replaced the Gryffindor uniform, the skull-and-snake symbol, stamped on the chest, glittering eerily in the wand-light.

But the biggest difference of all was the face, or more precisely, the expression splashed across it. It was smiling at Harry, in a way Harry had never seen or felt himself smile. A smile that was inherently evil.

If not for the scar, Harry would have almost mistaken this being as a younger version of Voldemort. This wasn't his desire... On the contrary, it was everything he believed against. Was it not?

But another thought gripped his racing mind. He had to get away from this mirror... Who knew what it was doing to his mind? Dumbledore had been right... It could make anybody go mad. It was making him insane already...

And Damn! Where the hell was the door?

All sense of direction leaving his throbbing head, Harry was about to dash towards a corner with his lighted wand in search of his door, before the sound of footsteps forced him otherwise. Examining himself as fast as he could, he was relieved to find that he was still Kevin. Until his hands landed on his forehead, where he could feel the distinct shape of the scar...

"Alohomora!" The door jerked open, flooding the room with mild daylight, while the last person Harry would have wanted to see stood at the entrance, his silvery blond hair gleaming in stark contrast to the general dimness.

* * *

Sirens disrupting the London afternoon calm, the two police vehicles dashed through the mild traffic, the source of the emanating smoke drawing closer by the minute. A fire-fighter van followed closely, its own siren adding to the alarm.

But the commotion above would hardly compare to the one taking place 8 levels below the ground. The sheer number of people apparating and disapparating at any instant would easily make any onlooker dizzy, if the magically amplified emergency alarms echoing throughout the facility hadn't already.

The cause for the emergency was largely unknown -- the very fact that the magical wards were malfunctioning was enough to warrant immediate evacuation, as was evident from the number of employees, in a myriad of uniforms, poring out of the overcrowded elevators.

Rumors, however, spread like wild-fire, but these only resulted in aggravating the rush, partly due to the fact that most of them, in one way or other, hinted at the involvement of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Four figures, all in blue DMLE robes, squeezed into an empty elevator headed upwards for the next batch of exiting Ministry workers.

Silence reigned between the level name announcements, as the elevator rattled on, though the telepathic conversation that these Phoenix members shared with their head wasn't being put to waste.

"Mathews, Smith," Shacklebolt chose to speak up, "Check out the Maintenance. Get them to stop these damn alarms the moment you get my signal. And do something about the weather."

Indeed, it was hailing snow like mad outside the magical windows. In the month of September.

"Level 1, Office of the Minister of Magic," came the automated announcement, as the grills opened to a deserted corridor, the distant blare of Muggle police sirens reverberating through the emptiness.

Great, just great, thought Shacklebolt. As if they didn't have enough problems already, they would now have to wipe out the memories of half the Muggle police force.

But he would have to worry about that later. His immediate concern being describable in a single word. Fudge. That word would also pretty much sum up the state into which the man had succeeded in landing the nation that he led.

"Nympharoda..."

"That's Tonks to you, Shackey!"

Shacklebolt would have blinked, had it not been for the graveness of the situation. And anyway, his eyes were already half-closed to protect them from the snowstorm raging through the windows.

Madness.

"No sign of Fudge yet anywhere below this floor, if that's what you were asking," Tonks broke through his thoughts. "Of course, I wouldn't put my trust on Diggory."

"Dumbledore trusts him..."

"Oh? And who trusted Fletcher? And considering all the efforts he made to save Potter, I would be a fool to feel safe with Dumbledore's trust."

"You could be a little more careful with your words. The telepathic link might still be functioning."

"Wonderful!"

He wouldn't have been able to say more even if she had wanted to, for they had reached the doors to their destination.

Intricately carved designs stood out in the blue emergency lights, though repeated Alohomora spells had little effect on the doors. Eventually a Reducto blast from Tonks did the trick.

The doors blasted open, revealing the interiors of Fudge's private office. Three wizards -- unmoving bodies of them -- lay on the floor, a pool of blood gathered near one's waist, while another's skull was cracked open, oozing fluids.

Apparently, using the Killing Curse hadn't sufficed for their murderer. Heart thumping, Shacklebolt rushed past the corpses, lighting his wand.

"Shit... Wha... This is sick..." he could hear Tonks muttering behind him. Though the paralysing sight before him had rendered his mind incapable of interpreting her words.

Dead. Fudge was dead. The very form of the man that was slumped on the armchair behind his work-table, unbreathing, guaranteed it. And yet Shacklebolt, not believing his eyes, reached for the pulse. The missing pulse. Unlike the bodyguards, no sign of violence could be spotted here. Avada Kedavra. The simplest and surest form of assasination.

"He's dead," he said aloud, partly to himself, partly to the witch now bent double examining something at a corner.

"Kingsley, quick!" she exclaimed suddenly, forcing his feet to rush to her side.

A barely recognizable youth lay sprawled at the corner, breathing hard, as his deep blue eyes bored into Kingsley's. There was something strange about them, but Shacklebolt had no time for contemplating what.

"Percy! Oh god... Tonks, go get some mediwizards. I'll contact Dumbledore and Arthur."

Meeting his eyes for moment, she paced out of the room. Meanwhile, Kingsley turned his attention back to the injured form of Percy Weasly. Droplets of blood were trickling down a raw cut near an eyebrow, and the left elbow seemed to be sticking out at an odd angle. The boy was trembling in fright, shock written all over his face.

But Kingsley was short of time.

"Percy! Can you hear me? Who were they?"

Percy blinked, but no reply came.

"Listen to me, Percy! It's Shacklebolt, Kingsley Shacklebolt! You'll be all right, do you hear me? But please try, son... Who did this? Who was it?"

The footsteps of approaching mediwizards drew Kingsley's attention away from his nonresponsive subject. Questioning Percy would be impossible for the next few hours.

He was about to give it a last try, before Percy finally gave a shivering whisper.

"Aurors... Unforgivables..."

"Aurors? What did you say?"

"Kill them all, I will... Bones..." Percy replied, in words interspaced with irregular breaths.

"Calm down, Percy... They're gone now. Who were they, did you say again?"

"Bones! She sent... I know..."

The medical experts had arrived by then, and conjuring up a stretcher they levitated Percy onto it. Shacklebolt followed them as they carried him away, hoping to get some clarification on the baffling answer, but Percy seemed to have returned to his silent state.

A/N: That's all for now folks! Send in your reviews, comments and plot-guesses using the review button than you can see below... And if you want to be notified of the next chapter update by email, just mail me at arijit1985@yahoo.co.in.