Title: When Mars Is Near

Author: Katie

Author E-mail: AmethystJackson@hotmail.com

Category: Drama

Sub-Category: Romance

Keywords: Harry Hermione Ginny Draco Voldemort Ron Luna

Rating: PG-13

Spoilers: PS/SS, CoS, PoA, GoF, OotP

Summary: When Mars is near to earth, human beings are prone to aggression - and given power.

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's Note: Welcome to the Witch Weekly Post-OotP Challenge. The requirements -

Use four out of the following six quotes.

1. Ignoring the burning in his lungs, Draco fled into the Forest.
2. When the smoke cleared, the degree to which things had changed was clear.
3. There was something sinister in Filch's eye that day.
4. He closed his eyes and braced himself for the pain he knew was coming.
5. They entered the room together.
6. "I'm lookin' fer Chaz," Hagrid said, standing in the smoky, dingy light of Hog's Head.

~

Witch Weekly

Volume 789, No. 1

Week of August 31, 2003

Welcome to Witch Weekly's Post-OotP Challenge! Katie the Editor from Hell decided it was time to have another challenge, just after we all read Order of the Phoenix, so Aileen went and gathered up some quotes. Obviously, this will contain spoilers for Order of the Phoenix, so if you haven't read it yet, you probably shouldn't read this. If you have read Order of the Phoenix…well, read this at your own mental and emotional risk.

When Mars Is Near

By Amethyst Jackson

~

At the moment, Harry Potter wanted two things: solitude and a bit of fresh air. He quickly realized that he would find neither of these things in the crowded Gryffindor common room. He had to get out of there, that was for certain.

Harry headed up the stairs to get his Invisibility Cloak. He didn't really care how many first years he frightened when he went out the portrait hole. It was better than being questioned about where he was going, and much better than facing Filch. There was something sinister in Filch's eye that day, and Harry really didn't fancy a trip to his office.

Once out of the Tower, Harry found that he didn't know where he wanted to go. The like might have been nice, but it had become a hotspot for snogging couples. It didn't make for a very serene atmosphere with girls giggling every few seconds - not to mention the other sounds they sometimes made. After a few moments of consideration, Harry decided upon the Astronomy Tower, hoping no lessons were going on.

He climbed the stairs to the Tower quickly, though his mind had wandered to other places - such as the Department of Mysteries. While it had once been a recurring dream that left him with only curiosity, it had become a nightmare that left him with all kinds of pain. Between dreams of graveyards and red, serpentine eyes, his subconscious was filled with sudden curses and black veils. What he wanted most in the world was a Memory Charm - the ability to forget Sirius's death, perhaps even his entire existence. It would have been so much simpler to forget everything he had lost, to go back to not knowing.

He found himself at the door to the Astronomy Tower, and his thoughts returned to the task at hand. Quietly, he pushed open the door, hoping to find the Tower deserted. Harry saw no one and opened the door all the way, only to receive a startled gasp in return.

Harry looked around. He wasn't alone after all. Through the darkness, he could just make out Hermione, standing beside her telescope. She was staring intently at the doorway - at him - looking quite tense. "Harry?" he heard her ask nervously as she took out her wand.

He considered leaving, letting her believe it had been nothing more than a draft of wind, but she looked so anxious that Harry couldn't bear to leave her that way.

"It's just me," he told her, pulling off the Cloak. She looked distinctly relieved.

"Oh, good…I was worried…you never know who might have an Invisibility Cloak."

Harry nodded and went to stand beside her. There were a few sheets of parchment, a quill, and a bottle of ink on the ledge near Hermione's telescope. "Are you doing extra credit?" he asked curiously. If it was an assignment, it had completely passed Harry's notice.

"Yes. I'm a bit behind in Astronomy," she answered, peering up at the sky.

"You? Behind? How can you be behind when you're ahead of everyone else in the class?" Harry asked, vaguely amused by how far Hermione took her studies. Hermione responded by glaring at him. Harry smiled as she returned to her work. Hermione's presence was comforting; she was solid, constant. Even if the world was falling to bits around them, Hermione would be there, possibly still worrying about the N.E.W.T.s. She would always be around to nag him under her breath in class if he was about to do something she didn't approve of, and she would always be the voice of reason in all of Harry's troubles, even if he refused to listen to her more often than not. Through it all, he suddenly realized, Hermione was the only one that was always on his side. Even in the fourth year, when Ron had given him the silent treatment, Hermione had been there… How blind he had been, not to appreciate how wonderful she was.

"What did you come up here for?" Hermione asked, interrupting his thoughts.

"Just…wanted to get away from everyone," he replied.

"Oh," was her response as she scribbled something down on her parchment. She turned to look at him, "Well, I can only get this done tonight, so…"

He could read her thoughts. "Everyone doesn't include you. You're one of the only people I still enjoy being around."

She didn't respond, but the faint blush on her cheeks as she turned back to her work told Harry that his words had pleased her. He didn't know why he was enjoying that blush so much.

He moved closer in curiosity, peering over her shoulder. "Patterns of Mars's Influence Upon Magic" was the title of her lengthy but unfinished essay, and Harry didn't even bother trying to understand it.

He smiled at Hermione, who didn't notice, too busy murmuring spells, her wand flicking through the air. Harry had never really taken the time to notice before how incredible Hermione's intelligence was. It was more than memorizing textbooks and reciting them. Hermione really understood it all, even concepts that the smartest wizards struggled with. And then…she used it all for him. While she could be learning everything about…well, everything, she was wasting her brains on saving his behind.

And did he deserve it? Was it really fair that she devoted so much of her time and energy to him? And was it fair that she had nearly been killed last year, all because of him and his ill-conceived rescue mission? No, his life was certainly not worth more than hers. It would never be.

"Why do you still hang around me?" he found himself asking.

Hermione turned to look at him with a scowl. "Is there any reason why I shouldn't, Harry? Because if you're implying that you don't want me around -"

Harry mentally slapped himself. "That's not what I mean. It's just…you're so…smart. And you should…you know, have the chance to learn instead of worrying about what I'm getting myself into all the time…"

Hermione shook her head at him, a faint smile forming on her lips. "I've learned more useful things in helping you than I have in my classes, Harry. And moreover, I care about you, and that means you're more important than my studies."

"But…I shouldn't be," Harry protested, looking across the grounds.

Hermione laid down her quill. "But you are, Harry. Don't you remember? There are more important things than books and cleverness - like friendship and bravery. I'd rather fail all of my classes than lose your friendship, Harry, so you wouldn't be doing me any favors by cutting me out of your life and leaving me to my books."

How had a quest for solitude turned into such an emotional moment? And why was his heart nearly bursting with her words?

"I don't deserve you," he said quietly, happy that he had her, nonetheless.

Hermione was extremely prone to sudden, bowling-over, oxygen-depriving hugs, and this was no exception. "Oh, Harry…. You'll never understand how wonderful you are."

Harry hugged her back. It was strange that she seemed smaller now than she had the last time they had hugged. He must have grown more than he thought.

"I'm not as wonderful as you are," he said.

Hermione looked up at him. "I love you, Harry."

His heart was beating painfully against his chest. He had never heard those words before. Perhaps his parents had said them, but that was beyond his memory. Dumbledore had said it in a roundabout way. It had been implied many times. But Hermione was the first to say it - and it seemed completely fitting that she should be the first.

"I love you, too," he said, and he was now acutely aware that he didn't just love her. He had fallen in love with her, sometime that year or perhaps that very night. It was like something straight out of a romance novel - a bit melodramatic, very sudden, and almost laughable. And he really, really wanted to kiss her.

So he did. And to his complete surprise, she kissed him back.

"I never imagined it would be that perfect," she said as they broke apart.

Harry smiled. "I didn't, either."

Hermione suddenly frowned thoughtfully. "Do you smell something…burning?"

Harry sniffed at the air. "Yes…it smells almost like…someone's burning the forest." They both turned to look out toward the Forbidden Forest. Sure enough, smoke was billowing up from the trees. Harry looked across the grounds. Illuminated by torchlight, he spotted a few men, dressed entirely black…with masks over their faces.

"Come on, Hermione," he said urgently. "Voldemort's attacking."

~

Ron was a bit lonely.

Harry had disappeared awhile ago, and Ron knew better than to follow him. Hermione was off doing extra credit or something like that, though why she needed it was beyond Ron's comprehension. While Ron would not normally be bothered by an evening alone in Gryffindor Tower, those nights were occurring more and more frequently. Harry was always off on his own, and Ron never received a welcome if he followed. As for Hermione…well, she was either buried in her studies, researching defensive magic for Harry, or she was with Harry.

Ron was greatly unsettled by this. It wasn't jealousy, exactly - at least not over Hermione. His best friends were becoming much closer, and he was happy about that. He only wished that it didn't mean they distanced themselves from him. Very few could see it, but the Trio was rapidly becoming a couple. Ron could be kind and selfless at times (though Hermione would disagree), but he could not bear to watch the friendships he cherished fade away.

It was this considerable amount of angst that led Ron out to the lake in the middle of the night, Filch be damned. His mood called for quiet and redundant reflection in the dark near the inky black water of the lake, and no one was about to deny him that.

With the exception of Luna Lovegood, of course.

"You look lonely, Ronald," she said, standing beside him. "It's because of Harry and Hermione, isn't it?"

Ron refused to look at her. Her words were too blunt and too completely correct, and he didn't like that. Besides, he wasn't about to take advice from someone who believed in Crumple-Horned Snorkacks.

"Harry needs her right now, you know. She understands him, and that's what Harry has to have to work through his problems. You aren't understanding like she is. You don't belong in that. But they still love you, and they'll still be your friends."

He continued to look the other way, though he couldn't help but take in her words. They were the exact ones he needed to here, and moreover, they made perfect sense - surprising, considering the source. Then again, she was a Ravenclaw.

Luna was staring absently across the lake. "I'm lonely, too," she said. Ron felt a sudden stab of pity for her. All the poor girl wanted was a friend, and she had no clue how to make one.

And all he had ever done was call her names…

"Something's going to happen tonight…something big," Luna murmured. Ron finally gave in and stared at her in puzzlement. She went on, "Mars is very bright…it must be close…"

Astrology. He really should have known. "You sound like a centaur," he commented, glancing at the speck in the sky that was Mars. He was surprised he could find it so easily. He frowned. It didn't look all that bright to him.

"The centaurs know the stars very well," she said. "More people should learn proper astrology."

"What does Mars mean?" Ron asked. He wasn't sure why. He didn't really believe in astrology, superstitious though he was. Still, if Mars meant something bad, there was a good chance that the bad something connected to Harry…and that meant it would be really bad.

"Mars was the Roman God of War… Mars brings power, aggression…sometimes violence."

"Oh," Ron said. "Cheerful."

Luna smiled. "It's not always a bad thing. It can give you the drive to start something new…."

Well, if she said so, he'd believe it. He wasn't sure why he was being insane like that, but maybe she was onto something. Maybe there were Crumple-Horned Snorkacks. It would be great if there were; Hermione would be wrong for once.

"I really like you, Ronald," Luna said, with the same randomness and dreamy tone with which she said everything else.

"You…what?" Ron said, too shocked to do much of anything but blush.

"I like you," she repeated.

"…I like you, too," he was surprised to hear himself say, and he was even more surprised to find that it was the truth. He did like her. She was everything he should have wanted and never realized he did.

Luna shocked him again by standing up on tiptoes and kissing him.

He grinned at her. "Is this Mars's doing?"

She nodded seriously. "Yes, it probably is. Venus could be acting up, too."

Ron's attention was stolen by great clouds of smoke coming from the forest. "Luna…" he said, "why would there be smoke coming from the forest?"

Luna's eyes sharpened in a way that he had only seen once before, when they were fighting in the Department of Mysteries. "The forest is burning," she said. "Look, you can see the flames."

"Do you think it's…Death Eaters?"

Luna nodded. "Nobody else would burn the forest. It must be. It's not a normal occurrence, certainly, or we would have seen it happen before. We should get back to the castle."

Ron nodded, and they took off running.

~

Harry and Hermione rushed down to the 7th floor, hand-in-hand, and stopped in front of the spot where the Room of Requirement used to be. "We need the old D.A. room again!" they both thought urgently, not realizing that their thoughts were exactly the same. The door not only appeared but flew open for them. They entered the room together.

"I suppose you don't have your coin? Oh, you don't, do you…blast, I need your coin for this!" A golden coin, resembling a galleon, appeared in her hand at her words.

"This was definitely the right place to come to," Harry muttered as Hermione sat down on the floor.

"I'm going to contact everyone telepathically through the Protean Charm on this coin. Anyone that had one should hear it…."

She tapped the coin urgently with her wand, and a metallic bubble formed around her. Harry watched silently; he didn't know what else he could do.

Hermione's voice suddenly filled his head.

All D.A. members, this is Hermione Granger! Voldemort is attacking the school! Please, come to the old meeting room. If we don't help defend the school, Voldemort will take it over because I don't think the teachers will be able to fight the Death Eaters off on their own. Bring anyone that can fight with you…be sure you have your wands…and hurry, please.

The bubble popped, and Hermione stood, brushing off her robes. "Now it's just a matter of waiting," she said, giving Harry a very weak smile. He reached out for her hand, needing the small comfort it afforded.

A few minutes later, Ginny, Neville, Dean, Seamus, Parvati, and Lavender came rushing in. Other Gryffindors, mostly fourth year and up, followed after them. They stood around nervously, some asking questions, others simply fidgeting.

Soon, Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs started filtering in. A surprising amount of people came - more than there were the year before. Ron and Luna were two of the last to arrive. They hurried to Harry's side.

"We were outside when we saw the smoke," Ron told them. "And then we heard the message and came up here."

Harry nodded. He looked around. All of last year's members that hadn't left the school were there. It was time.

"You've got to lead them, Harry," Hermione said, giving his hand an encouraging squeeze. He nodded. His throat felt extremely dry.

"Excuse me, everybody," he yelled, and they went silent immediately. "You all know that Voldemort is attacking. He's got…hundreds of Death Eaters now. If you want to live, pay attention. Stun them if you can, as quickly as possible. If you don't know how, Petrificus totalus works well, too. Don't make the mistake of using a Silencing Charm. They can still do damage. If you come across a Dementor and you can't create a patronus, or there's something you don't know how to fight, just run." He paused. They looked terrified. He wondered why he didn't feel as scared as he should have. "All right. It's now or never."

Harry, Hermione, Ron, Luna, Ginny, and Neville led the way out, the veterans of the army. Harry glanced sideways at Hermione. She had gone very pale. He wanted to tell her to go back to Gryffindor Tower and stay safe, but he also knew she wouldn't.

"Be careful," he told her, terrified at the thought of losing her now.

She nodded. There were tears in her eyes. "You, too."

They reached the Entrance Hall and charged out the front doors, wands raised.

~

Ignoring the burning in his lungs, Draco fled into the forest. It was smoky, and he could hardly breathe, but what choice did he have? Ginny Weasley had seen him Stun Neville Longbottom. If he didn't leave, he would surely be in big trouble and unable to aid the cause. It wouldn't take them long to figure out that he had helped to start the fire.

He heard running footsteps behind him and glanced back. It was Weasley, following him. He knew she was one of the students trained by Potter the year before. She would have no difficulty incapacitating him. After all, she had fought a pack of Death Eaters and left with no more than a broken ankle.

He quickly formed a plan and darted around a tree. Just as he had hoped, she followed, not realizing that he had stopped. Before she could notice her error, he grabbed her and yanked the wand out of her hand, tossing it into the smoke.

"Sorry, Gin. Not going to catch me. In fact," he added in amusement as she struggled against him, "it looks like I've caught you."

It seemed like a shame to just let go of her and run, especially since she was rather cute for a Weasley. Grinning as obnoxiously and evilly as possible, he dipped his head and pressed his mouth against hers. He kissed her so quickly and forcefully that she was too shocked to fight him off.

He pulled away, and an instant later, Ginny's hand raised to smack him soundly across the face. Draco's cheek was stinging considerably when he spoke again. "That wasn't very nice, Weasley." He then shoved her away forcefully. Ginny stumbled backward as he sprinted through the forest, headed for an illegal emergency Portkey just outside the grounds.

~

Harry watched in horror as none other than Lucius Malfoy took Hermione's wand from her. He took off in a sprint. Lucius was about to curse her. Would it be the Killing Curse? Cruciatus? It didn't matter. He was going to take it.

It was Cruciatus. Harry jumped in front of Hermione, holding her behind him. He closed his eyes and braced himself for the pain he knew was coming. In an instant, he was on his knees, vaguely aware that he was screaming as pain seared through his nerves.

When it stopped, Hermione was on her knees before him, her face plastered with worry. She had stunned Lucius with his wand, it seemed, and gotten her own back.

"Don't scare me like that," he told her as she helped him up. He was shaking, but he couldn't say whether it was from the curse or the shock of the near-disaster.

"Practice what you preach," she replied. Her hands were shaking as well.

The battle had moved away from them. Ron, Luna, and Neville were in the middle of the action. Without needing to consult each other, Harry and Hermione went to help them.

"Where's Ginny?" Ron questioned when they had a free moment. "She found Neville after he had been Stunned and helped him out, and then she took off. Have you seen her?"

"I haven't seen her since we split up," Harry said, now as worried as Ron sounded. Where had she run off to?

"We have to find her," Ron said. He seemed to be on the verge of panic.

"Which way did she go?" Hermione asked, taking charge of the situation. She was the natural organizer.

"Toward the forest," Ron said, pointing at the exact direction.

"All right," Hermione said. "Let's go look for her, then." They set off toward the forest. Luckily, most of the action was ending. They Death Eaters weren't succeeding. Most were unconscious on the ground. There were a few students down as well. Harry prayed they were only unconscious, that he hadn't led anyone to their death.

They found Ginny on the edge of the forest, stumbling out with her wand clutched in her hand. It was extremely smoky, and Ginny looked like she'd been in there for awhile.

"Get her to the Hospital Wing, Ron," Hermione said. "She must have breathed in a lot of smoke."

Ron and Luna took her, leaving Harry, Hermione, and Neville to help finish the battle. McGonagall was binding Death Eaters a few yards away. Everyone else seemed to be doing well. Most of the battles had ended.

There was only one still going. Dumbledore was battling Voldemort himself beside the lake.

"It's him," Harry heard Hermione breathe beside him. Neville squeaked. "What do we do?" Hermione asked. She and Neville both looked to Harry. He had no idea what to tell them.

"I…don't know. What can we do? I can't fight him yet," Harry said. "Dumbledore would only have to worry about protecting us on top of fighting."

"Then we should go back to the castle," Hermione insisted, taking Harry by the arm. "There's no reason to stay in danger when they've got it under control."

"What if something happens to Dumbledore?" Harry protested. Perhaps it had been a mistake to tell her about the prophecy earlier in the year. It had made her worry more.

"What are you going to do about it?!" She was beginning to sound hysterical. "Harry, you're useless; if Dumbledore can't control things, you can't! Now come on."

Neville watched them silently. Harry wanted to pull out of Hermione's grasp, and at the same time, he wanted to be taken back to safety and put off his destiny for another day. "Harry, please," she said. "Now isn't the time."

Harry looked at her. Hermione had never been wrong. He gave up, nodded, and followed her back to the castle.

~

When the smoke cleared, the degree to which things had changed was clear.

Two students had died in the battle. One was from Hufflepuff, the other, Gryffindor. Neither had been in the D.A. the year before. Harry had never really known the two, but it ate at him, just the same.

Ginny had been treated for smoke inhalation. She still hadn't told them what had happened in the forest.

Half of the forest had been burned down. If you were on the grounds, it wasn't very noticeable, but from the higher towers, one could see where the Death Eaters had started from and how far it had burned. The grounds reeked of smoke for a long time.

Fifty-three Death Eaters had been captured and imprisoned. The others had escaped.

It was a major setback for Voldemort. Dumbledore had driven him off the grounds, and he wasn't foolish enough to think that he could take the castle when his army was crippled.

That night, Hermione sneaked into the boys' dormitory to crawl into bed with Harry. He had held her gladly. For that night, neither was alone with their nightmares.

~

Author's Note Number Two: You may or may not have noticed that the style of this fic is a bit different than my normal one. It's very random, very vague, and very…well, anti-climatic. Yes, I know, it's awful. But, sadly, this is a challenge, and therefore, has to be done on time. This was the best I could do. I'm sorry it's not up to my usual standard. Believe me, I'm probably sorrier than you are. Also, I didn't have time to really edit this, so if you've noticed a lot of typos, please comment on them.

Thank you, and have a nice day.