Harry Potter and the Power of Time
Chapter 29 – Let's Dance!
"My Lord," Lucius said bowing on the cold stone floor, "thank you for granting me an audience."
"You wished to see me, Lucius. For both our sakes, I hope it proves not a waste of time."
"Yes my Lord. My son has written me of an event to take place soon at Hogwarts. A school dance, and a muggle-themed one at that. A disgrace! I thought you would like to know, as well as of the Hogsmeade trip which will occur the weekend before. Since the dance was not announced previously, and dress robes were not among the items on the school's summer list, I suspect Potter as well as his friends will all be in town purchasing robes. I thought we might strike, if you so fancy the idea."
"Attack Hogsmeade," Voldemort considered. "No. It is too obvious, and too wide a target. No doubt Dumbledore will suspect such a thing, and be well prepared for it. Not to mention my forces are not yet large enough for such an attack. Still, I am pleased with this news Lucius. You have done well, as has your son. He has long been without useful information, and I believe he just proved his worth. And while we will not attack Hogsmeade, I do have an idea that may indeed work."
"I'm sure whatever you plan will be flawless, my Lord," Lucius groveled.
Voldemort just sneered and ignored him. Turning to the only other person in the room, he instructed, "Wormtail, leave us, and send for Bella. I have a special assignment for her."
"Y-Yes master," Wormtail bowed, and quickly left the room for once without a dose of the Cruciatus.
"Lucius," Voldemort turned his attention back to his prone servant. "I think I'd rather like to attend this muggle dance Dumbledore's holding. A shame I've not been invited. Still, I see no reason not to…crash the party; I think is the proper term."
Voldemort thought a moment, and then continued, "Contact our newest initiates, and have them ready the weekend of the dance. Contact Mulciber, Nott, and Warrington Sr. as well. You four shall lead my troops against the castle the night of the dance. Keep that information to yourself for now though. As loath as I am to admit it, I suspect we have a traitor in our ranks. Our missing men have caused me great concern, and although their status is irrelevant, I'd hate to foil our plans prematurely. You alone Lucius will know of our goal. Instruct the men to meet you someplace neutral the night of the dance. From there, you will inform them of the mission, and immediately apparate to Hogsmeade and march on Hogwarts. I will inform you later of just what your goal is."
"March on Hogwarts?" Lucius asked unbelievably. But as soon as the words passed his mouth, he wished he had held his tongue.
"You dare question my leadership Lucius? No matter, as your opinion is of no concern to me. I do not expect you and a handful of new recruits to be able to breach the wards. You are merely a diversion; canon fodder if you will. The real attack will happen elsewhere, and only key players will be involved. Speaking of which, has your son found a date to this dance yet?"
"No, my Lord," Lucius answered, glad that he'd gotten off without being cursed. "That is one of the reasons he wrote home. Apparently one of the disgusting rules of this muggle tradition is that females must ask the males to accompany them. Draco inquired if I had any contacts still on the school's Board of Governors that might be persuaded to intervene. I have not made any inquiries yet."
"Do not," Voldemort ordered. "You position in society is perilous as it is Lucius, and I'd rather you reserve your few markers for more important matters."
A pause again.
"Inform your son he is to be asked to the dance by a pureblood witch as soon as possible. Who she is need not matter, as long as she is not a Slytherin."
Confused, and not looking forward to giving his son such an order, Lucius asked, "My Lord?"
"Was I incoherent, Lucius? A pureblood witch not a member of our illustrious house, is to ask Draco to accompany her to the dance, by whatever means necessary. Inform your son to secure her invite within two weeks, and you are to inform me the moment he accepts."
"Yes my Lord." Lucius thought it best not to question his instructions further. Draco would just have to make due. 'No doubt the Parkinson chit will be upset,' he inwardly smiled, 'but she's had too close an eye on Draco and our family fortune for far too long,'
"Is there anything else you require of me, my Lord?"
Voldemort shook his head. "No Lucius, just make sure your son understands his orders, and the men you contact are ready. You are responsible alone for this Lucius, and if things do not proceed smoothly, there will be trouble. Do I make myself clear?"
Lucius shuddered as he nodded. Only two people in his life made him feel like that. The other had been his father, who he had killed himself using a rare poison years ago. As far as Lucius was concerned, his father had deserved it after all the years of stern upbringing and abusive punishments. And while he had learned a great deal from his father, he knew at the time he couldn't advance without talking over as the Malfoy patriarch.
Wormtail entered a moment later, having completed his task. Briefly Lucius wondered what it would be like to be demoted to that of a personal servant; running errands that a house-elf or owl could perform. For that was what Wormtail's position was since being broken out of Azkaban. Although not surprisingly, he'd been absent from all Death Eater meetings his first weeks back; no doubt recuperating from whatever horrible pain Voldemort had inflicted on him for being caught and successfully interrogated.
But he had been dismissed, and as Wormtail began his report to their mutual master, Lucius excused himself from the room, and apparated away. He had a letter to write to his son.
With February just around the corner, and soon after that the announced Hogsmeade trip (and then after that the school dance), Harry was very concerned with his most recent vision. If Voldemort was planning something (and it was just like him to do it when Harry was finally becoming content), he knew there was no real reason not to go straight to Dumbledore with what he had witnessed.
Yet, Harry had no real proof besides his vision, which Dumbledore was sure to take note of, but to trust completely? No. After the ruse with Sirius, he and the Order would be much too cautious to put all their eggs in one basket again. Besides, if Harry went to Dumbledore, then he wouldn't be able to participate in whatever preparations would be made. And Harry wanted to do more than participate; he wanted to lead them. With another idea already forming in his mind, Harry dismissed the notion of telling Dumbledore anything. Instead he had other, admittedly less life-threatening things to worry about. The next Hogsmeade weekend, the next Quiddicth match, his upcoming date with Ginny, and the still strained relationship with this former (how it pained him to say that) best friend.
Indeed, things with Ron hadn't gotten any better in the near month since their fight. And what made it even worse, was that Harry couldn't detect any progress towards things being patched up either. They could be in the same room and not fight, and sometimes even acknowledge each other with a head nod or a small "hello," but anything beyond that seemed to ask way too much. In fact, the last bit of progress Harry had made with Ron was their much heated argument, which many still wanted to know intimate details about. They had been near each other's throats until then, but afterwards, it's as if the two had always turned a shoulder towards each other when speaking. Harry had relived the conversation more than once in his penseive just to see if things could have gone better, and for the life of him, he didn't think they could have.
FLASHBACK: Argument three weeks previous
After asking Neville, Seamus, and Dean for a few private moments, Harry followed Ron up the stairs to the sixth year boy's dormitory dreading the confrontation he was about to have. Ron had made none too clear his feeling towards Harry just a few moments before, and in more than five years of such a strong friendship, harsher words had never been spoken between them.
Approaching the door, Harry didn't bother to knock, and let himself in quietly while closing the door behind him. A spoken silencing charm after that prevented the no doubt heated argument that was sure to come from leaving the confines of the room. Harry had made the mistake of fighting in public in the common room down below, and that had proved disastrous. There wasn't any need for Gryffindor to know more of their personal dirty laundry.
Looking around, Ron was nowhere in sight, but the sounds of running water coming from the attached loo hinted to his whereabouts. Not wanting to intrude on what Ron might childishly call his privacy, Harry decided to wait for him sitting on his bed, rather than enter the bathroom himself.
It only took a few moments before Ron appeared, with what Harry thought might have been tears on his cheeks. Either that, or he had just washed his face; Harry wasn't sure.
Spying Harry from across the room, Ron at first tried to ignore him, but that proved difficult when Harry stood and placed himself in Ron's way. Curling his hands into fists, Harry was surprised that Ron didn't blow up at him right then, and instead took a large detour around him. Figuring it couldn't last, and wanting to provoke something out of the other boy, Harry again moved to block Ron's path, and placed his arms across his chest in a gesture of body language even Ron wasn't about to miss.
"Move," was all Ron said, this time not stepping around his former friend.
"No," Harry replied back curtly. "We need to talk. I'm sorry about not approaching you on the train, but the girls thought I should give you some time to cool down. Well, the whole common room now knows that didn't work, so we need to have this out now. I've no idea what's gotten into you Ron, but this has got to stop now."
"Why?" Ron voiced, not quite yelling. "Why does this, whatever this is, have to be solved, or fixed, or settled? Can't I just be mad at you? Can't the bloody Boy-Who-Lived exist without things going his way for once?"
That hurt Harry badly. Mostly because Harry knew that Ron knew that wasn't true. Things hardly ever went his way. But it also hurt because Harry knew when Ron referred to him not by name, but by titles like "Boy-Who-Lived," he was mighty brassed off.
"Of course I can, you great berk! Be mad all you want, but you can't honestly say I'm so used to having things go the way I want them. Hello! You do remember the Dursleys, right? And the way Snape and Malfoy have constantly been a thorn in my side. This isn't about me, because the way I see it, nothing's changed with me except I've matured some this past summer, and I'm not letting people walk all over me anymore. I'm not the one acting like a drama queen, and throwing tantrums just because once again I'm suffering from a fit of jealousy. This is about you Ron. And I'd like to talk about it, but you only seem to want to point at me and label me the bad guy. Well, I'm not, and I'm sick of you treating me this way. This is what, the second or third time now you've turned on me?"
"All about me, huh?" Ron almost didn't let Harry finish before he started in. "I'm not the one who decided to start keeping secrets, went and found new friends, and dish pity money out like candy. I'm not the one who's laughing behind your back, and rubbing in just how rich I am by giving away presents that nobody else could match. I'm not the one throwing away five years of friendship by going off and doing everything on my own. That's all you, Harry! We used to do everything together; me, you, and Hermione. Now, it's you, and Hermione, and even Ginny, Luna, and Neville, but not me. Besides Quidditch, where I have to take orders from you, we hardly talk anymore. Instead, you'd rather pal around with Neville."
"This isn't about Neville, Ron," Harry yelled back, as frustrated as he'd ever been about anything before. "Nothing's changed except I'm spending more time with him, as we've gotten to know each other more. Just because he's around, doesn't mean you can't be around too. It's not like it used to be. He's not so shy anymore. He's part of the Quidditch team now, he's part of the D.A., and instead of leaving him at Hogwarts all alone over the holidays, I invited him home with me. Is that so wrong? Can't I have more than one friend at a time, Ron? Or are you too jealous for even that?"
Harry knew he crossed a line when he saw red in Ron's eyes, and the next thing he knew he was staggering back from the blow Ron landed across Harry's check. It was a sloppy and poorly executed punch, and though it didn't leave a physical mark, it left a deep emotional one.
The hit did have one positive result though. As Harry rubbed his check after realizing what had happened, he noticed that Ron had at least calmed some, and almost looked sorry for his actions. After awhile, Ron sat at the edge of his bed. Not meeting Harry's gaze, he finally broke the silence.
"This isn't about my jealousy Harry," Ron said, and then quickly added, "and yes, I know it's there. But I've always been jealous of you, just as I'm jealous of Bill, and Charlie, and all my other brothers. I can deal with that, because I know most of the time I'm being unreasonable about it all. But it's not just me this time, like it was in our fourth year. You've changed Harry."
Ron took a pause to gather his thoughts, and just as Harry was about to refute his claims, he continued, "You're so much different this year. So much more serious, and rational. You hardly spend any time with the rest of us, just doing nothing. You've always either got your head in a book, are spending time planning Quidditch or D.A. meetings, or are locked in that stupid trunk of yours doing who knows what."
Harry simply nodded, because it was all true so far. But that wasn't anything new to Ron, and Harry had explained months ago to him and the rest why he was so much busier this year.
"And then when I see you finally make the effort to relax and enjoy yourself a little, who do you do it with? Ginny and Neville, that's who. Ginny, who you couldn't stand to be in the same room with alone not a couple years ago, is suddenly your new favorite Weasley. And Neville, who's always been a nice guy yeah, but he's Neville, and now he's your best mate all of a sudden. It's like Hermione and me have been replaced or something. Of course Hermione doesn't see it like that, but she's off in the library half the time anyway, and even she's spending more time with you then I do. It's not my fault I'm not in your classes this year Harry. But it's like you don't even make the effort to spend time with me anymore. Only when it's convenient for you, like when we practice Quidditch, or go to visit Hagrid. Then it's like, 'I gotta go do this, let's see if Ron'll come with me so I can kill two birds with one stone.' Since when did I become a second priority, Harry?"
Harry shook his head strongly. "You're not a second priority Ron, and I'm sorry if you feel that way. I've just got so much stuff to do this year, you wouldn't believe me if I told you. It's not that I try to lump you together with other things. It's just that I've only got so much time in the day, so I guess I try to get as much done as I can at once. Think about it, Ron. When was the last time you saw me just hanging around the common room, killing time? Or spending a weekend sleeping in and putting off homework. I'd love to, but that's not me anymore. Believe it or not, I really do want to spend time with you, Hermione, and the others, but I have to practically schedule you in now so I don't forget."
"That's just my point," Ron interrupted. "That's not something you should be able to forget, or simply schedule! It used to be it just was! You'd get up in the morning, and we'd end up at breakfast together. We'd get out of Potions, and we'd be cursing Snape together. Now I don't even know what you're talking about half the time, and you're so secretive. And then you go and try to be normal like on Christmas and get everyone gifts, and it's like you're completely ignoring how strange things have been the past couple months. And why the money's nice sure, I've never felt like more of a charity case before in my life. It was like getting money from a total stranger, and I'm supposed to be OK with it because Sirius said so? And about the money my parents got, again I'm the last to know. If I'm your best mate, shouldn't I have been the first to know?"
Harry didn't know what to say, so he just shrugged. Harry clearly remembered he had reasons for not telling Ron at the time, and for the life of him couldn't remember what they were past he was scared of how Ron's jealous streak would react.
After a long time, with neither boy saying anything, Harry saw the hour was getting late and knew his roommates would be up soon. Wanting to try and solve things as best he could, Harry swallowed some of his pride and asked, "So, what do we do about this?"
Ron nodded, but didn't say anything right away.
"Can we just forget it ever happened?" Harry asked hopefully.
"I don't think so," replied Ron. "Not unless you can go back to how you were acting last year, and stop being so solitary all the time."
Harry knew he couldn't, so said nothing. This infuriated Ron even more, and he yelled out, "What the hell are you doing that's so important, anyway? Why can't I know about it? You used to trust me with everything."
And Harry knew he was right. Harry did used to trust Ron with everything, but those were the simple thoughts and actions of boys. Over the summer things had changed, and Harry's role in taking charge of his own life had crossed a line and made him a man. That's where the trouble lay, Harry suddenly realized. Harry was no longer a boy, but Ron had yet to take that step. Ron's world was of secret passages and exciting adventures, where everything would turn out all right in the end. Harry's new world was of clandestine nocturnal meetings where blood and gore were spilt, and if extreme caution wasn't taken, he might not come back alive. The two worlds were very different, and until Ron realized the risks associated with Harry's new life, he could never be as much a part of it as he had Harry's old one. Neville, Ginny, and even Luna, Harry realized, had all seen more darkness that Ron had, no matter he was the oldest. That's why Harry found them more suited to talk about certain topics. Harry wasn't willing to go back to the way things were, and unless he pretended, which he knew he wouldn't, he'd just have to wait until Ron matured some before the two could be better friends again.
"I'm sorry Ron," Harry said, knowing he was effectively ending his boyhood friendship, "I just can't tell you everything; at least not yet. It's not that I don't trust you, but there's too much at risk for me to trust anyone. Yeah, some people know some stuff, but nobody except me knows everything, and I don't think you'd settle for just a larger piece of the puzzle. What I'm dealing with is life or death type stuff, dealing with Voldemort. And I'm sorry, but that's too important to risk just to smooth over our problems. This is bigger than you, and bigger than me. Maybe one day I can tell you, but not now."
Ron's lips were pressed into a line thin enough to shame McGonagall, but surprising Harry he didn't snap and remained silent.
Seeing not a perfect solution, but at least a chance to end hostilities, Harry continued.
"But I don't see why we have to be so nasty to each other," Harry said, "and I think even you'll agree things were spoken today that were uncalled for, by both of us. We've been mates for a long time, Ron. I may have gotten closer with some of the others like Neville, and I know I've been more private this year, but I still think of you as my best mate. I don't see why we can't still do all the things together we've always done. Visit Hagrid, go on Hogsmeade trips together, needle Hermione."
Harry thought he saw the shadow of a laugh on Ron's face.
"How about we just agree that things are far from perfect, and try to work on it in the future?" Harry proposed. "But in the meantime, we can at least be civil to each other, and not take things out on innocent bystanders like your sister and Neville. I don't want to face down Ginny's bat boogey hex, and in case you haven't noticed, Neville's been pressing almost 150 lbs. in the weight room. I'd like to avoid angering those two if at all possible, please."
Harry was hoping for another smile, but instead he got a solemn nod from Ron, and his hand extended out in peace. Willing to take whatever he could, Harry reached out to shake it, and was surprised at the strength of Ron's grip.
"This doesn't mean we're alright Harry," Ron maturely said. "But this does mean we've both been idiots, and I'm at least willing to put an end to that. But I really don't understand where you're at this past year. And until I do, I can't pretend that things are different. I need some time to think. So we can be civil, and friendly, and maybe I'll even trounce you in chess if we've got time. But now I'm letting you know, I need some time alone too. To sort this all out. I hope you can respect that. So if I'm spending more time with Dean and Seamus from now on, well, then that's just the way things got to be. Like you said, maybe things will change in the future. But for now, that's the best I can offer."
And without another word, Ron retreated to his bed and pulled the curtains closed. The next morning he was sitting as far away from Harry as possible at the breakfast table, next to his new best mates Dean and Seamus. He passed the salt when Harry asked him to, and thanked Harry when he accidentally dropped a quill in the hallway after lunch, but otherwise the two didn't have anything to say to each other the whole day. And that was that.
The weeks since Harry's conversation with Ron passed quickly; far quicker than Harry would have expected; and before anyone realized it, early February was upon them and the scheduled Hogsmeade trip only days away.
The second Quidditch match for both Ravenclaw and Slytherin was also scheduled for that Saturday, and even though those houses had no great quarrel between them like Slytherin and Gryffindor, it was speculated to be a most exciting match.
"Well Ravenclaw pretty much trounced Hufflepuff, so I'd say if Cho's in top form, there's no way Slytherin could get the edge in over them," Ginny argued over breakfast one day.
"That's assuming that Slytherin plays fair, and we all know how likely that is," Harry countered. Things hadn't gotten back to normal between he and Cho the few times they encountered each other in the hallways since she broke down crying, and Harry didn't want news that he was supporting her to get back to her, and be taken the wrong way.
"Yeah," Ron added, "but Ravenclaw's gotta be counting on that. It's not as if them cheating or playing dirty will be anything new." Quidditch was one of the few topics that Ron didn't mind conversing with Harry about, even if it was from three seats further down the table than in the past.
The conversation probably would have continued if a swarm of owls didn't invade the Great Hall just then, bringing their daily post to eager staff and students alike. Ron was the first to reach up and grab his hyperactive owl Pig, and Harry noticed Ginny too had a similar delivery from Raul, in a matching envelope. Letters from home, no doubt. Rowan delivered Hermione her daily copy of The Daily Prophet, and Harry was about to ask to borrow it, when two unfamiliar owls each dropped a parcel on his plate, making a bit of a mess. Although having never seen them before, Harry knew one owl was from the Weasley twins, because no one else would dare to dye their animal such a horrid shade of purple. Expecting a bit of good news, or at least a laugh, Harry decided to open their letter first.
"What do the twins have to say, Harry?" Hermione asked. Apparently Harry wasn't the only one practicing inductive reasoning that morning.
Harry didn't say anything as he read the short missive, and then a smile spread across his face as he shared the good news with his friends.
"It's just news on how their new shop is doing," Harry said happily. "Now that they've got plenty of products, and don't have to worry about a high rent, it says they're doing splendidly, and making tons of Galleons. They're still working on what they want the final layout of their store to look like, but since they opened, they've had a lot of interest from Diagon Alley, and are even thinking of taking out an ad in The Daily Prophet next week."
"Why are you finding out about this before we are?" Ron asked grumpily, motioning to himself and his sister.
"Ron," Ginny said patronizingly, "have you opened your letter from Mum yet?"
"No," Ron replied, looking confused.
"Maybe you should," she said, looking mischievous.
His eyebrows raised, Ron cautiously opened his mail, and besides the cream colored parchment his mother always used, a vivid electric blue letter fell out of the envelope as well. Not needing to read it to know it contained the same news Harry just received, Ron looked up embarrassed to see Ginny waiving her own letter (in a hot pink color) with a smirk on her face.
"Sorry Harry," Ron muttered. It was a small consolation after Ron again attacked Harry without cause, but at least he apologized without having to be prompted to.
"No problem," Harry replied back. No more about the matter was said.
"What's your other letter about, Harry?" Neville soon asked after the silence grew too lengthy to be considered comfortable any longer.
"Don't know," Harry answered as he opened it up. Inside he found a short but very professional letter, and smiled once more as he could finally cross another item off his lists of things to do.
"Grimmauld Place has finally sold!" The group knew of his plans, and had been updated regularly on its progress, so it wasn't a big surprise to them. But they all knew how much Harry wanted to wash his hands of that property, so were all happy for him.
"How much did it go for, Harry?" Ginny asked.
Harry knew better than to answer that question in mixed company, but informed everybody that it sold for more than he, or even his real estate agent had expected. In fact, on the first inspection she had made, Shelly Autumn had estimated the large home to be sold for between one and one and a half million pounds. Harry was pleased to note, although he would have settled for half of that, that the actual selling price had been just under two million pounds, and that was after being billed by Shelly's wizard subcontractors to install muggle utilities and appliances.
In the short note, the real estate agent mentioned that because Grimmauld Place was in an area currently being renovated and restored, the land value was more than she expected. And although it would have been nice to maintain the property in its entirety as is, it was more profitable to split the brownstone up into smaller flats which could be sold or rented separately, like the neighboring homes. Knowing that the "Noble and Most Ancient House of Black" was about to be split up into muggle flats, Harry was even happier with the outcome than he thought he'd be. Not only had he made a tidy profit, but he had spat on pureblood tradition and belief in a move Sirius would have been most happy about.
Harry couldn't help but mention the fact that Grimmauld Place had sold to Dumbledore that night at dinner, but other than the forced smile on the Headmaster's face, nothing else of interest happened that week until the Quidditch match arrived.
As expected, the match was more or less evenly matched, with Ravenclaw's superior experience pitted against tried-and-true Slytherin tactics. Crabbe and Goyle in their beater positions were as ruthless as ever in picking their targets, but fortunately didn't make any injuring contact with the opposing team. Ravenclaw was being cautious. In the end, perhaps it was too cautious, as once the snitch showed, Cho couldn't keep pace with Draco while dodging bludgers, players, and even a few quaffles thrown in her path. The Slytherins knew in an even match Malfoy could only reach the snitch with a lot of luck on his side, and weren't willing to take that chance. The final score was 80-190 in favor of Slytherin. Hardly a commanding victory, but a win nonetheless.
Ravenclaw grumbled about dirty tactics while the snakes went off to celebrate, but no one could say they really expected a different outcome, so by early the next morning, the whole castle had forgotten the game instead excited about the day's trip to Hogsmeade.
The original reason for the unscheduled trip was to allow students the chance to buy dress robes for the upcoming dance, but as many students (Harry included) already had robes, it was also a chance to just relax and enjoy a day with their friends. Hermione and Ginny went off together to find something to wear, and Ron took off with Neville off all people to find robes as well. So for the first few hours Harry just meandered around town with various people from the D.A. looking in windows and enjoying the break from routine. He had plans to meet his Quidditch team at The Three Broomsticks at one. In one of their earlier practices Harry had promised to buy the team a round of butterbeer if they could pull off a difficult maneuver three times in a row. That seemed to be all the incentive the team needed, and Harry had his money ready to buy the promised round of drinks.
A short while later found Harry sitting comfortably around a large round table in the cozy pub, surrounded with his friends and fellow students. Hermione, some of the other D.A. members, and most of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team had joined them at one point or another, and they were currently talking about who was going to the dance with whom, and trading other random rumors. It had pretty much all been said already, and even Harry was shocked he was so well informed about school gossip until Terry Boot from Ravenclaw mentioned some startling news.
"Have you heard who Morag McDougal's going to the dance with?" Terry asked, as he reached for the pitcher of butterbeer to refill his empty mug. "Draco Malfoy."
Remembering his vision from weeks ago and Voldemort's command to Lucius that Draco find a date that wasn't from Slytherin, Harry set aside his own drink and sat up straighter in his chair, not wanting to miss whatever was said.
"Yeah right," Ron scoffed, "like Malfoy would ever be caught dead dating a Ravenclaw." Seeing the angry looks around him, he added meekly, "No offence."
"No, it's true," Ernie McMillian added in. "Nobody knows why because she'd never hinted that she liked Draco before now, but I was there when Morag was talking about it to Su Li and Padma. She said it happened after a Charms class two weeks ago. They were the last ones to leave the class, and were talking in the hallway on the way to lunch. Morag was saying it was probably the only civil conversation she'd ever had with him, and for some reason she just up and asked him to the dance. Later when she was talking to Su Li and Padma, she couldn't remember why she did it, but since she wasn't planning on asking anyone else, she figured it didn't matter. She said, the worst that could happen was that he ended up being an ass, and then she'd just hang out with her friends like she would have anyway."
"I bet he cursed her and made her ask him," Ron speculated. Knowing of Voldemort's order, Harry wasn't sure Ron was too far off.
"That's ridiculous Ron," Hermione piped in. "If Draco was going to risk something as severe as casting the Imperious Curse on another student, I doubt he'd do it on something as mundane as finding a date to a school dance."
The others agreed, and suddenly people were asking Hermione who she was going to the dance with. She refused to say, instead keeping it a surprise like she did previously in their fourth year Yule Ball, and soon the discussion moved on. But Harry was still thinking about Malfoy and his sudden interest in Morag McDougal. He'd be keeping an eye on those two.
Before too long, it was mid-afternoon, and the students still left in town paid their bills and started to gather their things for the long walk back to Hogwarts. Having to settle not only his own bill, but for the round of drinks he'd bought his Quidditch team earlier, Harry was one of the last ones to exit the pub, but found Neville, Frank, Natalie, and Ginny waiting for him, not willing to let anyone, not even Harry Potter, walk back to school alone. Yes things had been relatively quite the past few months, but Voldemort was still on the loose, and still had many Death Eaters at his disposal.
"All ready there, Harry?" Neville asked, nodding up the path towards the castle.
"Yeah, let's just wait for Ron and Hermione." He knew most of the trip would probably be made in silence if he traveled with Ron, but like his friends, he didn't want to leave anyone behind on their own, or even in a small group of two.
"No need to wait," a voice called out, having just exited the pub himself. Terry Boot approached the group, motioning over his shoulder. "Hermione said she wanted to talk to Ron about something, and said for us to go on ahead. She said Flictwick will be following right behind her, so there's no need to wait up."
Wondering what they had to talk about, but not finding the request strange, Harry shrugged his shoulders and started up the path. Quidditch had been talked to death already that day, but he and Terry had a fascinating conversation about an advanced Arithmancy principle. Ginny listened quietly being slightly interested, but soon the level of theories made her eyes glaze over, and she moved up to the front of the group to talk with Natalie about something. For his part, Harry was proud he could hold his own in the conversation, although he couldn't recall nearly as much off the top of his head like Terry could. Still, he followed it enough, and by the time they crossed Hogwart's gates, Harry had a new idea he wanted to incorporate in his break down and attempted reversal of the Dementor spell he'd been working on.
Dinner was a quite affair, as most of the students were very hungry, yet very tired. So everyone ate quickly, wanting to get to bed and rest before another full week of classes. But something odd did happen…something that shocked Harry to his very core and threatened his sanity. Ron missed the meal.
"Hermione," Harry asked after the first plate of food appeared, but the redhead was still absent, "er…where's Ron?"
Hermione shifted uncomfortably as she filled her tureen with soup and grabbed a diner roll to dip in it. Then she said something that suspiciously sound like, "He said he wasn't hungry."
Not believing he heard that right, but noticing his friends around him dropping their forks and becoming shocked with silence, Harry asked Hermione to repeat what she said, and she did with a bit of edge in her voice.
"Not hungry?" Ginny wondered. "We're talking about my brother Ron, right? The boy who had third helpings even when he got sick and turned green after the first time he rode a portkey. My brother who made my Mum return a purchase of Tupperware three years ago because he ate so much she never had any leftovers to put in it. He's never not hungry!"
Cursing under her breath, Hermione flung her spoon down on her plate and shot out of her seat, just pausing long enough to catch Harry around his wrist. Before he knew it, he was halfway out of the Great Hall, with a chicken drumstick still in his greasy hand. Another moment later, Hermione was pacing the empty Entrance Hall while Harry was searching his pockets for something to clean himself with. His napkin had been left tableside. Only finding his wand, he quickly conjured a towel, and turned his full attention to Hermione who was looking very flustered.
"What happened between you and Ron?" Harry asked, knowing there weren't too many possibilities that would have made Ron avoid a meal.
Hermione looked up in a panic, her hands nervously fiddling with the edges of her robes. Still she said nothing.
"Hermione," Harry tried again. "Terry said you stayed behind to talk with Ron about something on the walk back from Hogsmeade. What happened to Ron?"
This time he got more of a response than he planned on. Nearly at the end of her rope, Hermione threw her hands in the air and nearly shouted, "He did it again!"
Being so close to the school dance, and knowing his friends the way he did, Harry surmised what had happened and groaned in disbelief. He'd never hear the end of it.
"Everything was going fine Harry, everything," Hermione started her diatribe. "You and Ron aren't back to normal yet, but at least you're being polite once more. Classes are going well. There's not even been much bad news in the papers lately. A lot of people were expecting some sort of attack during the trip today, but it was perfectly lovely. And then Ron had to go and ruin everything by making the most asinine statement I've ever heard pass his lips."
Harry almost didn't ask, but knew he had to. Bracing himself, he worded to his friend, "What did he say?"
Stopping her pacing and looking Harry straight in the eyes, Hermione answered with exactly the answer he'd been dreading. But not even Harry would have thought Ron could be so blunt and callow about it.
"He asked," and Hermione stopped to shove her hands in her robes and do a fair impersonation of Ron, "So when you gonna ask me to this stupid dance, Hermione?"
Harry felt like banging his head against the wall. If he thought it would've done any good, he probably would have.
"Honestly Harry," Hermione continued, back to her pacing, "it's like all the progress towards maturity I thought he's made over the years just all disappeared. Does he just think I'm so bookish and boring that nobody might accept an invitation from me other than him? Does he think he's entitled to be my date, or something? And if he wanted to go with me, why did he wait so long to even hint at it? Harry, nobody waits until just a week before a dance to ask a partner out, not even you! Hell, what did he think I was buying dress robes for earlier today, if I hadn't already planned on attending?"
Harry was still considering bashing his head against the wall as he listened with growing horror, and made agreeing sounds in all the appropriate places. Hermione continued to rant for another few minutes until she calmed enough to at least listen to Harry.
"So…er, what did you tell him?" Harry didn't know what else to ask.
As it turned out, Ron got more or less the same response from Hermione that Harry suffered through, but he didn't take it lying down. Instead, he argued that it was Hermione's fault for waiting so long until she asked him, and he didn't believe her at first when she said she already had a date to the dance. Then Ron had stupidly brought up Krum; asking if he was portkeying into town for the occasion; and then Hermione had gotten really pissed and said no, she didn't need for her date to be Victor, as most third years and above had more class and tact than Ron did. More insults were made. Ron called Hermione a tease, she called him immature. Finally, Ron escaped to the dorms (after a stop by the kitchens Harry was sure), and now Harry knew he was expected to clean up this mess no matter his precarious position with Ron these days.
After delaying returning to his dorm room as long as possible, Harry wasn't surprised to find the room empty of Neville, Dean, and Seamus. Ron may have been spending less time with Harry that past year, but when it came to matters concerning Hermione, everything defaulted to him. They had history.
So finding himself sitting on the end of his bed once again, he knew he couldn't put it off much longer. "Want to tell me about it?" Harry asked as delicately as he could put it.
Ron's curtains were completely closed up around his bed, but Harry knew he wasn't asleep yet. For one, if he was, Ron's snoring would have been shaking the bedpost as it normally did. For another reason, Harry knew if he had had such a lousy day, he wouldn't be able to fall asleep so early.
After a moment of silence, Ron spoke up from behind the still-closed off curtains.
"She's not going to the dance with me," he simply said. "I figured she was just waiting to tease me, and to get back at me for waiting too long back in forth year. But it's like she didn't even consider asking me. I thought things were better between us. But I guess I was wrong."
'You damn well sure were,' Harry felt like replying. But he knew that wouldn't accomplish anything, so instead he said, "Can I ask you a question without you blowing up in my face about it?"
Ron made a non-committed sound that Harry decided to take as an affirmation.
"Ron, how exactly have things gotten better between the two of you, which led you to believe Hermione would ask you to the dance?"
For all his blustering, Ron had no definite answer. He pointed out the fact that they had traded gifts for Christmas, but then Harry pointed out the fact that he'd even given Luna a gift that year. Ron made mention of the way they were constantly bickering with each other, and Harry showed him that they'd always done that, and loads of other people did as well. Finally Ron just admitted that he liked Hermione…had for a long time. And he just assumed that she reciprocated those same feelings. He thought that back during the Yule Ball she got so angry with him because she did like him, but he had been stupid and waited too long to ask her to the dance. This time around, he said he had been ready to ask her right away, except the rules had changed and he couldn't ask her, she had to ask him. It had thrown him for a loop, but he was sure she would. She hadn't, and Ron hadn't responded well to that. Harry decided not to bring up the muggle saying of "when you assume."
Realizing Harry hadn't even bothered to ask Hermione who she was attending the dance with, he asked Ron.
"Terry Boot," he spat. "Since when does Hermione even spend any time with him."
"A lot lately, Ron," Harry replied, not really surprised. "We've been at each other's throats for weeks, and instead of choosing between us like she has in the past, Hermione's been spending a lot of time in the library. And I think even you know who else spends a lot of time in the library. Ravenclaws."
Outraged, and surprised that it hadn't come to Harry as of big as a shock as it seemed to him, Ron threw open his curtains horrified.
"Ron," Harry explained painfully, "With the exception of the two of us, who else do you think Hermione spends her time with? Yeah, Ginny and this year Luna some, but usually only when we're around too. But when we're all off playing Quidditch, you don't think she sits alone in the common room waiting for us, do you? And that's a lot of time Ron, with all the practice we get in. Plus Hermione's got loads of advanced classes that we're not in, but other people are. I can't say I knew who Hermione asked to the Valentine's dance, but Terry doesn't surprise me. He's been her partner in Arithmancy class for three years now, and he usually studies with her in the library too. Haven't you noticed?"
By Ron's expression, Harry knew he had, but didn't want to admit to it.
"I don't want it to seem like we're ganging up on you or anything Ron," Harry continued, wading into dangerous territory, "but you've got to realize this is about both you and Hermione, not just you. And as much as you two have danced around each other and flirted the past few years, neither of you has made any move to claim the other. Maybe it's not too late, but maybe it is. The point is, you and Hermione don't have anything going on besides a normal friendship, and you can't be angry at her for asking another bloke to the dance. Disappointed yes, but not angry. Just like I need more personal space this year than before, it seems Hermione's needs are changing too. We're growing up, Ron. We're not kids anymore. And don't take this the wrong way, but it seems like you're just taking a little longer to mature than the rest of us. I want us to be good friends again, I really do. And I'm sure Hermione, once she calms down and you apologize, does too. But you've got to let go of us as you knew us as children, and learn to appreciate us as adults."
After that, Harry figured Ron would probably slug him again. Imagine his surprise when Ron simply nodded and remained silent.
Needing to say something after too long a silence between two males in the same room, Harry asked, "Is there anyone else who might ask you to the dance?"
Ron shrugged. "I got asked by a few girls, but I told them all no, waiting on Hermione. The last one was Sally-Anne Perks, and that was over a week ago. I hear she asked someone else the next day."
"What about one of Ginny's dorm mates," Harry wondered, thinking he was being helpful.
"Nah," Ron returned, "I don't like any of them much anyway, and I'm sure everybody worth going with already has a date. Maybe someone really shy, like a Hufflepuff? Does Hannah Abbot or Megan Jones have a date yet?"
Harry sadly told him yes, they both did.
"What about that curvy fifth year you patrol with? She can't have found a date yet."
Harry bristled on behalf of Cami for being called "curvy," and privately thought Ron would be all wrong for her anyways, but it didn't mater. "She's going with Neville."
"Neville!" Ron gaped. "How's she even know him?"
Harry shrugged. "We were patrolling one night after the dance was announced, and Cami asked me to describe some blokes from the D.A. She didn't want to ask anyone from Hufflepuff, so I just named some names, and she asked questions. She likes Herbology too, so I guess he sounded nice to her."
Harry just glared at Ron, making his point.
"Sorry," Ron apologized.
"Maybe Pansy needs a date, since she's not going with Malfoy?" Harry tried after another long pause.
"Shut it," Ron growled, with a hint of a smile on his face.
"There's also Millicent?"
"It's got to be a girl Harry, remember?" Ron quipped.
"Oh yeah," Harry wondered, "maybe someone should tell her."
And just like that, Harry and Ron were back to being better friends. Not as good as they used to be, but much closer than just an hour before. They both knew, no matter if Ron found a date or not, it was all going to be alright.
With his personal problems on the mend, and the school dance fast approaching, Harry soon found it was high time to get his plan in motion for how to deal with Voledemort's planned "party crashing." Watching the vision over and over again in his penseive, Harry came to some basic conclusions. First off, Lucius Malfoy, along with the help from Mulciber, Nott, and Warrington, would lead an undetermined number of new recruited Death Eaters in a frontal attack on Hogwarts, as a diversion. As that happened, Voldemort himself would likely show at Hogwarts as well, but unattached to the others. Possibly trying to sneak past the wards. And as for Bellatrix, Harry had no clue. Maybe she'd attack another target, to further detract aurors and the Order away from Hogwarts, or maybe she'd show in a frilly pink taffeta gown, wanting to attend the dance herself. Harry figured she was crazy enough.
If it was only the Death Eaters by themselves, Harry was pretty certain he could handle them alone. Not in a group of course; he had no delusions he was that skilled; but so far his method of picking off the enemy one by one seemed to be working just fine. As far as Lestrange went, Harry figured there was nothing much he could do, seeing as he had no idea what task Voldemort had assigned her. It was Voldemort himself however, that posed to be the big problem. Harry knew in no way was he ready to face the dark wizard. That confrontation was his final goal, and although he'd come far in such a short time in increasing his skills as a fighter and repertoire of spells, he still had a long way to go. Harry wasn't about to commit suicide.
Because of Voldemort alone, Harry knew he had to tell Dumbledore. Only he could really deal with him, and if Voldemort was planning on breaching the wards around Hogwarts, Harry knew it was his responsibility to tell the Headmaster with so many students at risk.
But Harry didn't want to be taken out of the action. He could still be of help he knew. More help than many of the Order members in fact. He had a trunk full of criminals to prove it. Prisoners he'd captured using skill, luck, cunning, and stealth. More of Harry's Slytherin qualities to be sure, than the bold and straightforward traits of his own house. Slytherins could be dead useful he knew…
And just like that, Harry had an idea! Running back to his trunk after class Wednesday afternoon, Harry threw open his trunk, grabbed a vial of Veritaserum, and entered his trunk's final compartment. The one full of Death Eaters.
He had only one question, but taking the time to truss up each of them, stun them, administer the truth serum, enervate them, and ask it was lengthy. So starting with the most likely candidates; those who knew Lucius Malfoy the least, but were still considered important in the Death Eater ranks; Harry asked his question.
"Would Lucius Malfoy be able to recognize your handwriting?"
After three tries, he finally got the answer he wanted.
"No," replied Jugson.
To be sure Harry asked a few more questions, and found it to be true. Jugson was much older than the senior Malfoy, and therefore they had not attended Hogwarts together. Spending twelve years in Azkaban further distanced Jugson. And while the two men knew much about each other through associates, they'd rarely had dealings themselves.
With that bit of good news, Harry exited his trunk and sat down to write a letter.
I can only imaging how desperate you are to find me and the others. How has our Lord taken our absence? Not too well, I imagine. It is not desertion as you might think, as there is much we have discovered that you should know. If you want to find out more, meet me Thursday night at the Hog's Head pub at eleven, and come alone. You will have the chance to ask your questions, and maybe become enlightened as well.
P.S. It wouldn't surprise me if you wanted to flee with us after learning what we know. Just to be safe, I suggest you put your affairs in order before we meet. Crabbe and Goyle say hello.
Harry hadn't a clue how Death Eaters may write to one another, but he ran the note past the real Jugson, and found it was acceptable. It didn't matter. No matter how suspicious it was, Harry knew Lucius was too desperate to find answers to pass on the chance. Voldemort was getting impatient with no news, and the letter had hinted at too much for Malfoy to ignore. Harry also thought the personal touch mentioning Crabbe and Goyle was very funny.
Using a portkey to escape Hogwarts, and then apparating to the Diagon Alley post office, Harry rented a fast owl and sent it off before he could change his mind. Using Hedwig was out of the question, and the school owls were too recognizable. But considering the meeting would be in town, Harry didn't think he risked anything even if the owl could be traced. Malfoy would still show.
The next night after curfew, Harry quietly got dressed in his full Dragon hide outfit, minus the cloak, and wore a plain black robe over it all. Securing his bed curtains closed while his roommates were in the bathroom or already in bed themselves, he knew he wouldn't be discovered till morning. He didn't expect to encounter any trouble that night, but had learned to be cautious just in case. If things went smoothly, he wouldn't even break a sweat, and would be back in bed in a few short hours. If not, well, than at least Harry knew he'd be prepared. With a final check to make sure he had both wands on him, his dagger, a small flask in his hip pocket, and an emergency portkey, Harry made his way out of the castle and towards the sleepy town of Hogsmeade. It was just after ten, and he had almost an hour to reach the bar and look around.
Being late, but not that late, there were a few other places still open and occupied. The Three Broomsticks looked to be as busy as ever, and Harry noticed through the window that Madame Rosmerta's shirt was cut much lower than the ones she wore on Hogsmeade weekends. The post office still had its lights on and a few people in the lobby, as did Gladrag's for some strange reason. Trying to not be too conspicuous, Harry made his way casually over to the Hog's Head Pub. After another twenty minutes, Harry was finally satisfied he wasn't being followed, and there weren't any sentry posts around the bar. Taking a swig of the polyjuice from his flask, under the hooded cloak he wore his features slowly shifted to those of another. With so much recent practice imbibing the foul potion, Harry hardly shuttered.
Walking into the bar was a different experience than Harry's single other time there. Then, it had been a Hogsmeade weekend, and the bunch of schoolchildren had stuck out like a sore thumb. Now however, Harry was just one more darkly dressed stranger in a room full of them. In fact, except for the occasional hag and goblin in the corner, the room was packed with black cloaked witches and wizards. Harry chose eleven at night because he didn't want the place to be empty, but ideally he would have liked a little more privacy.
Finding a small table barely large enough for him to sit at, Harry considered himself lucky he found one at all. When the wench came up to ask him his drink, he ordered a Firewhiskey, even though he had no intention of drinking it. Being pissed wouldn't help the situation any. As soon as she delivered it (leaning over much too far to be a coincidence), Harry paid for the drink with a hefty tip. The moment she turned her back, he spilt half the drink on the mucky floor. At least now it would look like he had drank some of the amber liquid.
With his hood up and his hands cradling the partially filled glass, Harry's intentions were quite clear that he wanted to be left alone, and was not interrupted. And before he knew it, it was five minutes until eleven, and using his special lens, Harry could see through the walls of the dingy pub that Lucius Malfoy had arrived, and was circling the building much as Harry himself had. Surprisingly though, he was by himself, and hadn't told anyone of the letter and brought support. Not only could Harry not see anyone else outside besides Malfoy, but his multifunction watch wasn't picking up the magical signature from any Dark Marks inside the bar either. Harry was almost positive Lucius would have attempted to grab Jugson, rather than meet with him as proposed. Apparently not.
At the exact moment the crooked clock on the wall struck the hour, the pub's door slammed open and in walked Malfoy. He, like most everyone else, wore a black cloak with the hood raised, but Harry thought it must have been the shiniest, most pristine black he'd ever seen. With a sneer on his face Malfoy searched the room, and Harry raised his glass and made a shuffling sound with his feet to get his attention. The barest raise of his head displayed his face under the hood, and without preamble Malfoy headed his way.
On the surface, Harry was calm and collected, reclined back slightly in the chair and with the whiskey tumbler in his right hand. Underneath though, he was taunt and ready with his watch's shield engaged, his wand in his left hand beneath the table, and an emergency portkey worn around his neck, ready to be activated with a spoken word.
The two didn't say anything as Lucius seated himself in the already crowded space, but he did waive the wench away as she began to head over to take his order. Harry didn't know if he refused a drink because he was here on business, or he couldn't lower his standards enough to drink from a dirty glass. Judging from the sneer on his face, probably a bit of both.
"Jugson," Malfoy greeted him, "you've been most difficult to find."
"Lucius," Harry drawled back, shaking with anticipation, "soon you will be as well."
Malfoy barely had a moment to realize what was said before Harry quietly whispered the incantation to his personal stunning spell. "Stubefy."
Under the table the spell didn't have far to travel, but unlike what he'd been expecting, Malfoy didn't collapse onto the table. Instead his eyes shot open in surprise as a shimmering blue shield flared up around him to intercept the spell.
'Damn,' Harry realized, 'Malfoy must have a shield up.' It was similar to his watch's.
The look in Malfoy's eyes turned from surprise to anger and rage in a fraction of a second, and quicker than Harry would have suspected, his hand shot to his cane, about to draw the wand Harry knew resided inside. Luckily however, Harry already had his wand drawn and pointed, and the cluttered area slowed Malfoy down enough where he never had a chance.
"Stubefy!" This time, there wasn't a shield to impede his spell, and Lucius Malfoy slumped down headfirst on the worn wooden table with a small thunk. Harry figured he'd have to grab onto the Death Eater and use his portkey to escape, but amazingly enough, the noise and general atmosphere of the seedy pub hadn't noticed a man being stunned. Hadn't noticed, or hadn't cared. Either way, Harry counted his blessings, and quickly made to leave. Dumping the rest of his drink on top of Malfoy's head, he walked the taller man towards the door. It was difficult to carry the dead weight, but to the rest of the room it looked and smelled like just another drunk being escorted home. Same as any other night.
The next morning, it was hard for Harry to sit through Arithmancy after such as successful capture. But as it was his only class, and he had the rest of the day to interrogate Malfoy, somehow he managed. Getting back into the castle and securing Malfoy in his trunk had been easy enough the night before, and Harry had managed that, plus stripping Malfoy of two wands, three portkeys, and a vial of poison all before the polyjuice had worn off.
Once lunch was over, where Harry had barely managed to eat a thing, he practically ran back upstairs to his dorm, not wanting to wait another moment. The brief moment during lunch when he hadn't been thinking about Lucius, was when Draco received a letter, and bragged to everyone within hearing distance that his father had just purchased a controlling interest in the Kenmare Kestrels, a fairly decent professional Quidditch team. With an evil thought, Harry silently wished Draco congratulations on his good fortune. It would probably be the last letter from his father he'd ever receive.
Not being able to help himself, Harry couldn't just jump straight to the interrogation with Lucius Malfoy like he had already with so many others of his captured Death Eaters. Much like he had months ago with Sean Hazelton, Harry toyed with him a little. It was just too good a chance to pass up.
And the look on Malfoy's face was priceless after he'd been chained to a wall by an unseen force, and the thick oak door that symbolized his imprisonment opened up to admit of all people, Harry Potter, who admitted to abducting him outside any lawful authority, and without any aide whatsoever. For a brief moment Malfoy forgot all pretence of good breeding and civility, and struggled against his chains, kicking and screaming while spouting obscenities from his mouth. Only moments passed before Lucius realized he wasn't accomplishing anything, other than to entertain Harry, who was smiling and laughing from his safe position near the door. After that he stopped his futile efforts…but if looks could kill. Harry doubted anyone in all of England had more hate than the man before him at that moment.
Malfoy refused to eat the drugged food, obviously having more sense than Hazelton the previous time Harry had tried it. Shrugging, and not really caring, Harry just stunned him, and signaled Dobby to open the door. Not wanting to take any chances, Harry had lately had Dobby standing guard outside the cells whenever he was talking to one of his prisoners. After deeming the situation safe, Dobby let Harry exit, and Malfoy got fed three drops of Veritaserum in the usual manner. When he was awakened, it looked like he might briefly throw off the potion's effects, but that only lasted a moment before he succumbed to the inevitable.
Hours later, and Harry had only scratched the surface. Malfoy was the proverbial jackpot! Not only had he numerous crimes, plans, and secrets to admit to on his own behalf, but as one of Voldemort's most trusted and capable Death Eaters, he was well aware of hordes of other valuable information. Locations of the houses of other known and suspected Death Eaters, the state of their finances, past plans that had failed over the years, as well as future ones that hadn't been tried yet. He knew of some of Voldemort's immediate goals, as well as of his long term ones. In fact, with the exception of perhaps Bellatrix Lestrange, Malfoy was confident that he knew more than anyone except Voldemort himself.
But most of that information could wait for another time. That night, Harry was most concerned with the state of Lucius's own finances (to rid him of them), and whatever firm plans had been laid for the day after; the night of the dance. Harry was happy to learn that Malfoy had taken his advice to consolidate most of his assets, and a short trip to Gringotts would be all it would take to gain control of most of the Malfoy fortune. As for the next night, Malfoy had been told little else since the night Harry had had his vision, and the only new information he learned were the identities of the new recruits who'd accompany Malfoy, Nott, Warrington, and Mulciber, and the time and location of their meeting. It would be at the abandoned World Cup Stadium; left standing but not used in two years; at four in the afternoon, three hours before the dance would start. Knowing he had to continue another day after processing what he'd already heard, Harry left Malfoy late that night, anxious for the next day. He'd have to get a good night's rest, for he'd possibly soon be facing Voldemort.
The hectic nature of the following day more or less meant that besides last minute preparations for the dance, nobody did much of anything else. The staff were all tasked with decorating the Great Hall and arranging activities for the younger students who wouldn't be attending, the female population of the castle started to do each other's hair and make-up the second lunch ended, and as for the males, well, they just tried to stay out of the way and not get into any trouble.
Originally planning on just showing up at the arranged meeting place with his dragon armor, a wand, and a lot of bravado, Harry thought he could take out the Death Eaters planning on attacking Hogwarts one by one as they showed up individually. But when he'd been planning that, Harry assumed that he'd only be dealing with a handful of people. After all, if they were only a distraction from whatever Voldemort really had in mind, Harry didn't think he would allocate so many of his troops. His conversation with Lucius Malfoy the previous day had enlightened him about the falsehood of that assumption. Besides Malfoy who was officially in charge, and Warrington, Mulciber, and Nott who were to assist him, Harry had discovered a full dozen newly recruited Death Eaters were assigned to the task, instead of the three or four that Harry had speculated on. There was no way Harry could take on so many by himself. Even if he were to enlist Remus's help, he doubted they'd be much of a match. Since Neville knew the most of Harry's extracurricular activities, he'd possibly choose to help if asked, but Harry didn't want that. He'd be putting himself at great risk in a few hours, and no matter the amounts of improvements Neville had shown in his abilities the past year, Harry couldn't ask him to take such a huge chance.
Fortunately, having limited time before he had to act, Harry was forced to think outside the box, and he came up with a viable alternative to picking the Death Eaters off one by one as he preferred. There was a certain artifact Harry had in his possession that could greatly aide him in taking out so many enemies at once, and Harry mentally smacked himself in the head that he hadn't thought of using it before.
However, it would take time to retrieve, and with only two hours until the planned meeting time of four o'clock, Harry knew he had to hurry. But first, there was something he had to do.
"Ice Mice," Harry spoke, and the stone gargoyle moved aside. Clearing his mind of anything that could tip his hand, Harry proceeded up the steps to the Headmaster's office.
"Come in, Harry," he heard after only knocking once.
Entering the circular office, Harry wasn't surprised to find Snape there too, being informed of his presence by the tingling his watch gave off. Usually Harry distanced himself from Snape enough so that he hardly felt the thing, but anywhere within a twenty foot circumference was sure to alert him of any Dark Mark presence. Not expected however, were Professors McGonagall, Flitwick, and Sprout. It seemed Harry had walked in on a meeting of all the house heads.
"Er, sorry sir," Harry apologized, "I didn't mean to interrupt anything."
Dumbledore just smiled. "That's quite alright Harry. I daresay these weekly meetings of ours aren't the most exciting of events, and could use the occasional interruption once in awhile. What do we owe the pleasure of your company?"
Snape huffed in his corner, and Harry was pleased to see McGonagall cast him a disapproving look, so didn't feel the need to respond himself. For a moment he wondered if he should ask to speak with Dumbledore in private. Snape and his own head of house would probably be kept informed of his news, but Harry really never considered before just how much information Dumbledore shared with Flitwick and Sprout. They'd never been part of the Order of the Phoenix as much as Harry knew, and while the news he wanted to share wasn't so secret to take drastic precautions, it definitely pertained outside of normal school matters.
Deciding to just state his business; if only to see Professor Flitwick and Sprout's reactions; Harry simply told them.
"Not much, Professor. I've just been feeling a little anxious today, and thought you'd like to know."
"There's a school dance beginning in a few hours, Potter," Snape sneered. This was the first time the two had talked since Harry had broken his wand, and it was obvious the older man hadn't forgotten it. "I hardly think a little trepidation on your part warrants a personal report to the Headmaster."
Not taking the time to think, Harry snapped back, "Well, I also wanted to find some hair gel, Professor. Think I could borrow some?"
Snape's eyes got wide with the insult, but before he could take all of Gryffindor's points away, Professor McGonagall piped in.
"Mr. Potter," she exclaimed, "that will be ten points from Gryffindor, and you owe Professor Snape an apology."
Not wanting to give the man anything, but knowing he couldn't get away without it, Harry mumbled his apology after a moment of tension. Snape looked like he was about to assign a detention for being insincere, so Harry turned to face Dumbledore and continued to share what he had come to.
"What I meant to say Professor," Harry looked at Snape, "was that I've been feeling anxious all day, but the feeling's not my own."
That had the desired effect on the room, and by the way Dumbledore's eyebrows shot up under his wizard hat, Harry knew he had made himself clear this time. It was the truth too, as Harry really was feeling the overflow of Voldemort's emotions, no matter how much he tried to ignore them.
"It's just like this past Christmas, sir. Voldemort's feeling very excited about something, and with a school dance about to happen, based on muggle traditions, I thought you ought to know. In fact, I'd say the emotions are the strongest I've felt since I began using Occlumency. If I had to guess, Voldemort's planning to take part personally in whatever's going to take place." Given the circumstances, Harry didn't think he could give them any better a warning than that.
Flitwick squeaked with worry in his large chair, and Harry overheard Sprout say "Oh my" in hushed undertones. Snape and McGonagall however took the news with a grain of salt, and turned to gauge Dumbledore's reaction, to see how much of a threat they should take the news.
As for Dumbledore himself, he just steepled his fingers for a long moment before turning his attention to some of the silver instruments he had about the room. Harry still had no idea what any of them were, or what they did, and vowed one day to find out.
"Is there anything else you feel is pertinent, Harry?" He asked after a time. "Any rumors around the school perhaps, or unusual activities that have slipped the staff's notice?"
Besides what he was hiding himself, no, Harry hadn't noticed anything strange, and said as much.
"What about you, Serverus? I know you're not as trusted by certain parents as you once were, but have you heard any news about a possible action that might soon be taking place?"
Snape looked extremely uncomfortable reporting on his spying activities with Harry present, but no one could fault his dedication to Dumbledore, and the potion master swallowed his pride.
"Since the Dark Lord's public return, my…former…associates have been much less willing to talk with me than in years past. They are still under the impression that I sympathize with their cause, but my history of turning spy for you has kept them suspect. Luckily I've not been totally ostracized, as many Death Eaters cut deals and named names to avoid Azkaban, and that has helped. Plus, arrogance is a major fault of most wizards," and Snape paused dramatically to look at Harry, "and occasionally I overhear bragging about news from a drunk or imbecile wizard that should know better and keep his mouth shut."
Harry always wondered how effective Snape's spying could be since it was obvious he turned sides over a decade ago. It wasn't like he donned a mask and attended regular meetings. Voldemort would have skinned him alive, and used him as a potion ingredient. But by associating with the parents of his Slytherin students, it seemed Snape still had a unique way to contribute to the cause.
"I've not heard any news about an attack if that's what you're implying Potter," he continued, "but then again I knew nothing about those that occurred over the holidays. The only news worthy of sharing I'm aware of, is that many known Death Eaters and a fair amount of recent Hogwarts graduates have not been seen in a number of weeks. Rumor has it they're either on the run, wanting to avoid both sides of the upcoming conflicts, or are in seclusion undergoing advanced training for a special mission that's been tasked to them. It we are to believe Potter's outburst, then it seems the latter to be more likely."
Well, now Harry knew not only Voldemort had been noticing the missing Death Eaters. With a good number of them being high profile citizens of Magical England, it wasn't a great surprise. But Harry congratulated himself on learning a little new info; Snape's report as well as of the fact that while not part of the Order, Flitwick and Sprout were at least trusted enough by Dumbledore to not be excluded from such news. Unlike the year before, now Harry knew if the Headmaster, Snape, and McGonagall were unreachable, he had other people with whom to trust.
Shortly after, Harry was dismissed, not having another reason to be there. On his way out however, he managed to overhear Dumbledore's final comment. "Well, it appears we have more matters to discuss before we adjourn. It seems we'll need a security detail for later tonight. Any ideas?"
As Harry made his way down the steps, he left the security of Hogwarts and Voldemort's intentions in the hands of his professors. Harry's mind was elsewhere, and now that he had informed Dumbledore of his vision (in a roundabout way), he rushed back to his room to get prepared much as he did the night before. Once again dressed in dragon hide, armed with portkeys, polyjuice potion, and his weapons, not fifteen minutes after leaving the Headmaster's office Harry found himself in his Hideaway, making towards the west wing of the flat. Other than his many guest rooms, the wing didn't contain much else; except for his motorcycle.
"Warrington," Nott asked, after arriving early and checking the surrounding area to make sure it was secure, "do you know what this meeting Lucius called for is about?"
"No," he replied seething. "I was only informed of it a short while ago, and Lucius would tell me nothing. But with this many of us," he continued excitedly, gesturing to the dozen new recruits, "I expect we'll be involved in a major confrontation."
Nearby the twelve younger Death Eaters whispered among themselves eagerly. The majority of them had just been initiated that past summer, and with the exception of that night, had only made one or two small attacks over the holidays. Voldemort was still content to let the Dementors under his control do the majority of his terrorizing, while his new troops trained and kept under the radar. And while the Ministry's emergency portkey program was a large irritant that allowed most attacked wizards to escape, the muggle casualties were still plentiful enough to keep both he and the Dementors satisfied. For the moment.
"What about you, Mulciber?" Of the senior Death Eaters, Mulciber was the most quite of them all, and therefore was often forgotten about or overlooked. Unlike the others, he didn't feel the need to brag and gloat about his wealth or family stock. That proved to be advantageous as he often blended in with the background, and overheard much he wasn't supposed to. As a former housemate and good friend to Mulciber, Nott knew all this and more, and was one of the few to take advantage of his friend's talents.
"Same as you three, I wasn't told anything except where and when to be here." Taking a small pause, he smiled when he added, "I did however notice, that our Lord had been fidgeting the past many days, and he is not one to normally fidget. Taking into account other hints I've picked up, I would hazard to guess that you are correct. Tonight we will not be terrorizing muggles or escorting the Dementors. There will be a mighty undertaking. I'd further guess that the Dark Lord himself will be present, so we all should be performing to our full potential."
Nott and Warrington didn't need to be told that. Although they too suspected that Voldemort himself would be involved somehow, the statement about performing was more for the benefit of the new recruits. Tonight was not a night to second guess yourselves and use school-taught and Ministry sanctioned spells. If there was ever a time to unleash the Unforgiveables, it was when their Master was present.
With that said, there was nothing more to do than stand around and wait for Malfoy to arrive. It was only moments until the meeting time, and as Lucius Malfoy was one of the most punctual people they knew of, their questions about the night's activities would soon be answered.
Meanwhile, from high in the sky under silencing and invisibilities spells, Harry observed all of this as he mentally steeled himself for action. He had had to fly his Indian Chief at near top speed to make the abandoned Quidditch Stadium in time, and his adrenaline was already pumping so high Harry wanted to make sure he wasn't forgetting something important before he launched off into his dubious plan.
Originally planned as he was flying, Harry figured he'd just hover over the group and stun them all either with his wand, or the built-in stunning switch that Sirius had incorporated with the bike. It was the one and only offensive spell powered by the small, yet very powerful dragon heart, and Harry was looking forward to not only capturing so many Death Eaters, but seeing how it handled in a real life situation. But that got ruled out almost immediately, as Harry spied the large group. There were way too many of them to stun individually. By the time Harry managed to get off a handful of spells, he'd have half a dozen others zeroing in on him. And as for the built in stunner, well, Harry had no idea just how powerful it was. Yes, it was certainly more powerful than any wizard could cast with a wand. But did that mean the spell's radius would be larger? Would the spell travel faster? And just how many people could it stun at once?
Not knowing the answer to any of those questions, Harry drank a dose from the polyjuice flask in his hip pocket. 'Ugh,' Harry shuttered to himself, 'Malfoy tastes horrible!' As it was taking effect, he maneuvered the motorcycle a good distance away from the group and left it under its invisibility spell. Then, taking note of its position by the prints left in the soft earth, Harry left the confines of the invisibility spell and approached the group. Because of his stealthy approach, none of the Death Eaters even noticed him until Harry walked upon them, only fifteen feet from the bulk of the group.
"Malfoy, that you?" Warrington called out.
Harry raised his head and gave his best Lucius sneer. Not wanting to say much to risk his discovery, he however knew what the real Malfoy's response would be.
"If you were doing your jobs," he yelled out, "you wouldn't have to ask that, now would you?"
The newer Death Eaters looked properly admonished, while Warrington and the others just waived the remark off and walked to meet the man. As planned, it was just four o'clock
'So Lucius," Nott asked once the group was together, "what do we have planned this evening." The others around him looked interested as well. Only Nott, Warrington, and Mulciber knew that a mission was planned that night (even if they didn't know what it was), but the others weren't stupid. With so many of them in one place, they knew something was going down.
Nervous as hell but doing his best not to show it, Harry turned his back on the group and called back over his shoulder, "Follow me." Neither of his wands nor his dagger was drawn, but Harry had his portkey once again around his neck, and with the simple spoken phrase "extract," he'd be safe back in the comforts of his Hideaway.
With the others behind him, Harry was the first to reach his bike, and approached the left side with caution. Before the others could walk into it, he flipped off the Invisibility spell and gripped the handle bars with nervous excitement, while the others gasped aloud at the sudden appearance of the obviously muggle machine.
"What the bloody hell is that?" one of the newbies exclaimed.
There was some grumbling agreement, as most of the purebloods had never seen a motorcycle before. One apparently had though, and his guard immediately went up.
"What are you playing at, Malfoy?" Mulciber's eyes were wide already, looking around suspiciously. His hand had too, Harry saw, crept beneath the sleeve of his cloak. While not yet pointing his wand, he was moments away from doing so. Not every Death Eater was as dim as he'd thought, Harry noted.
After a mental stumble of what to say, Harry decided to speak. Either this would work, and he'd be home in a matter of hours, or it wouldn't, and he'd be in the fight of his life. Either way, as Harry's borrowed features began to talk, he too was inching towards his wand, ready for anything.
"Relax Mulciber," the voice of Lucius Malfoy grated on his ears, "this is all part of our Master's plans." It was the first time Harry had ever referred to Voldemort as anything with the barest amount of respect, and it further made him sick.
"But that's a…"
"I know what it is, you fool. I was the one who procured it! For those of you not in the know, this is a mudblood motor vehicle, used for transportation and recreation. Serves muggles the same way broomsticks do for us. Albeit, this motorbike," Harry managed to say the word with a sneer, "is dramatically less efficient in both regards. We will infiltrate the grounds surrounding Hogwarts with this, as any unsuspecting watchers will think us a lost bunch of muggles. Not a great stretch of the imagination, that." Harry was taken aback when his slanderous comment garnered some laughter. Perhaps he had gotten a little too good at pretending to be dark.
"There's no way we'd all fit on that thing," someone from the back spoke up. Apparently, they had figured out what the seat was for. One, Harry was amused to see, was longingly stroking the leather of the padded seat as he compared it to the splintery wooden length most broomsticks relied on. Score one for the muggles, Harry mentally ticked off.
"How wise of you to notice," Harry managed to reply with a bored, condescending tone. "That's why this bike has been magically altered. Gather around and I'll show you."
As the men all encircled the bike, Harry knew the most critical part of his plan was about to occur. He had to convincingly mount the bike in the guise of Lucius Malfoy, and get everyone of the fifteen men as close to the bike as possible. He had no idea of the effective radius of the stunner he was about to use, but one thing was clear. Harry had to be sitting on the seat when he enacted it, or he too would be knocked out with the magical attack. And then, as the odds he'd wake up first of the more than a dozen men were slim, he'd be royally screwed.
But mount the bike he did with a small flourish to throw his black cloak over the leather saddlebags, and as hoped the gathered men all packed in as close as possible to see the magical alterations Harry, as Malfoy, had hinted at. They never got the chance though. For as soon as Harry had a comfortable seat, he fingered the red button, noticing more than a single pair of eyes carefully trained on him. However, they didn't know his bike was powered by an entire dragon's heart. They never stood a chance!
Hopping he'd still be alive in a moment, Harry pushed the red button that engaged the bike's stunner with his left hand, all while drawing his wand in case things went bad with his right. With his mind so occupied with all that could go wrong, it was a good thing instead of immediately releasing the button, he instead held it down. For three Death Eaters, Mulciber, Warrington, and surprisingly one of the new recruits, all had personal shielding devices much like he, and the real Lucius Malfoy owned. But by holding the button down, Harry had unknowingly sustained the stunning field powered by the Ironbelly's heart much longer than a spell even Dumbledore or Voldemort could have cast. So with a shocked expression, those three too fell unconscious after their shields had briefly flared to life, and then were overcome by the stronger magics of Harry's bike. They may have been the last to fall, but ultimately it didn't matter. All fifteen men lay helpless on the cold, hard ground.
"Well," Harry remarked in a characteristically un-Malfoy like squeak, "I guess that worked."
After that, it only took moments for Harry to additionally stun each man with his own personal stunner (can't be too safe,) enlarge his trunk from one of the bike's saddle bags, and load the men into the last compartment reserved especially for them. Not wanting to miss even the beginning of the school dance, Harry didn't take the time to relieve them of any belongings or further secure them in cells. That would take far too long, and he was confident his personal stunner, after so many successful trails, would hold until he returned. And in another moment, Harry was once again airborne, flying back to his flat in London. If he had bothered to look at his watch at all, even Harry would have been surprised to learn he'd been on the ground for less than ten minutes. Not bad for fifteen captured murderers.
The Great Hall was splendidly decorated in clashing hues of pink and red hours later as Harry made his way to the punch bowl to quench his thirst. Only a few others had joined him so early, as most of the female students were taking every moment allotted them to prepare for the dance. He himself would have waited for his friends, not to mention his date, in the Gryffindor common room with the other boys, but had let Neville talk him into walking with him to meet Cami outside the Hufflepuff common room entrance. After sending an eager second year girl up the stairs to check if that was alright with Hermione and Ginny, and waiting the few moments it took her to fall back down the stairs with an affirmative answer, Harry had agreed. He realized that neither Cami nor Neville knew each other well, and neither of them was very outgoing either. But once they got over their initial shyness, they had adjourned to a quiet corner to talk about Herbology, and left Harry alone. Which is how he found himself in his charcoal grey dress robes, eying the bubbling punch bowl suspiciously, and settling for a cold goblet of water instead. Fred and George may no longer be around to worry about, but enough of their products were bought by others. Harry decided to play it safe.
Soon enough others started to enter the large room, and before he knew it, Harry was in the middle of a mob of people, all "oohing" and "ahhing" over the decorations. It did look nice, Harry supposed, if one were to look pass the clash of colors. The room was set up much like the Yule Ball had been his fourth year, with smaller round tables rather than the four long house ones. Harry had already claimed one for he and his friends, and the fact that it was near buffet tables (to appease Ron if he showed), near the dance floor (to please the girls), and near an exit (to satisfy him if the need should arise to escape quickly) had much to do with it.
Near the time Neville and Cami returned to the table to sit down, Harry could tell things were about to officially start. Most of the professors saddled with chaperoning duty were already present, and the room was near-filled with shiny dresses and sleek new robes. Harry hadn't spotted Ron yet, but had seen Hermione in a lovely looking shade of crimson heading over to a group of Ravenclaws, no doubt looking for her own date. Which reminded him…
"Looking for someone special?" A voice behind him asked. Harry didn't know if it was the sudden spin, or finding Ginny looking drop-dead gorgeous in a rich green strapless dress, but suddenly he was feeling a little light headed.
It took him a moment to clear the cotton out of his head, but Harry finally managed to respond. "Looking for you, actually. Neville and Cami seem to be hitting it off, and I've been waiting for some time now."
"Ahhh," Ginny pouted in exaggeration, which failed after about three seconds when she broke out with a radiant smile, "I hope you weren't waiting too long."
The smile caught him off guard, and Harry for the first time took in Ginny's whole appearance, giving her the up and down. He didn't linger like a pervert though, and further avoided a Weasley tirade when he blurted out, "Ginny, you look beautiful."
It was because it was so unplanned; so sincere; so utterly Harry, that Ginny had to choke back a gasp as she thanked him. She'd be waiting years for him to say that. And even if they were closer to friends now than anything else, she'd still take what she could get.
"Here," she said nervously as she brought out a small package from behind her back, "this is for you. I know it's kinda old fashioned, but Mum said it'd be proper for a dance like this." With that she opened the lid on the small carton, and lifted out a cream colored rose wrapped with baby's breath. Harry frowned for the briefest of moments when they were both interrupted by Hermione.
"It's very appropriate, Ginny. If men can give women corsages during a formal date or dance, then there's no reason we can't give men a boutonnière at a Sadie Hawkins dance." After her interruption, Harry immediately figured out what the rose was, and erased the confused expression on his face. Sometimes, Hermione's interruptions weren't all that unwelcome.
"Hello Hermione," Harry greeted her with a hug, "you look very pretty tonight."
Hermione looked shocked at how grown-up Harry was acting, but took the compliment to heart and replied with her own. She also added a small kiss to his cheek as had become customary between them at appropriate times.
"Hey Terry," Harry also greeted Hermione's date, who was standing shyly slightly behind her. With the exception of class discussions and the D.A., Harry had never really had a lengthy conversation with him. But he liked Terry just fine.
"Hey Harry. Nice robes, I've never seen that color before."
"Thanks," Harry replied awkwardly. "Oh," he added, turning to Ginny, "before I forget. This is for you."
Harry too made a motion like he was about to bring something from behind his back, but instead presented Ginny with an empty hand. She looked confused with a small hint of disappointment, until Harry brought up his other hand which already had his wand in it.
With a few mumbled words, Harry had managed to conjure an exotic orchid, colored a shade of green only slightly lighter than Ginny's dress. After stowing his wand, he managed to attach it to her wrist with the included band with only minimal help.
Ginny looked delighted at the gesture, while Hermione looked a bit envious. Terry suddenly felt an ass, and quickly conjured a rose for Hermione. It was nothing as unique, but he did get the color to match her dress. Hermione was thrilled with the corsage, even if it was an afterthought, and let Terry pin it to her dress with a blush.
"Thanks Terry, it's lovely." She gave him a quick peck on the cheek too, which surprised Harry most of all. He knew he, Ron, and occasionally Neville received such affection from Hermione, but he didn't think Hermione's relationship with Terry had progressed that far. Judging from the confidence in which she delivered the kiss, he was wrong. That wasn't Terry's first kiss from Hermione. Curious.
"Merlin Granger," Pansy Parkinson spoke as suddenly as she arrived on the scene, "couldn't you have done something with your hair for once?"
Hermione's hair looked fine in a delicate French twist, with no trace of the bushiness she'd displayed in her youth. But Pansy was only looking to insult, and knew right where to prod Hermione. Turning red from embarrassment, Hermione's hands came up to inspect her hair, but were gently forced back down by Terry, who had stepped in to defend her honor just a moment before Harry had planned to.
"Merlin Parkinson, couldn't you have done something with your nose for once?"
His insult, Harry admitted, was also better than anything he would have come up with.
This time it was Pansy's hands that came up to inspect her nose, and whose face flushed red from either embarrassment or anger. Turning to her date for support was a mistake as well. Because unlike Terry who actually cared for Hermione, the fourth year Slytherin Pansy had asked to the dance at the last minute after being turned down by Draco had no attachment at all to the pug-nosed girl. In fact, at the moment his gaze was firmly attached to Lavender Brown's rear as she walked by.
Seeing this, and sensing her odds at any further verbal sparring weren't getting any better, Pansy grabbed him by the sleeve. "Come Dexter, let's leave these creeps and go find some real wizards and withes to converse with." It was a parting blow of sorts, but lacked conviction.
"Nice comeback, Terry," Harry admitted with a whole new respect for the Ravenclaw. Anyone who defended his friends like that deserved praise, at the least. For all the trouble Pansy had given Hermione over the years, Harry felt more like handing over a fistful of galleons.
"Hopefully now she'll leave us alone for the rest of the night, and we can enjoy ourselves."
And enjoy themselves they did. For the next hour, Harry, his date, and his friends partook of all the excellent food and company the night had to offer. Harry even managed a few clumsy dances with Ginny, and one with Hermione, now that he was older and less embarrassed. A Fred Astaire he wasn't; not even close. But by not having to lead the very first dance, and not having every single eye in the house on him, Harry managed to sway back and forth to some of the slower songs without too much trouble.
Neville and Cami seemed to be hitting it off as well, as far as first dates went. Not that they were all over each other, but there were no awkward silences and Harry didn't have to rescue either of them with small talk as he feared he might. Terry fit in with the group easily enough, and ever so politely engaged everyone at the table for at least a few minutes conversation. He sat right next to Luna, with her date right besides her. How Luna managed to not only know Orion Flint, but know him well enough to ask him to the dance, was a large topic of conversation. His sister Cassie and her date, and Susan Bones with Wayne Hopkins filled out the remaining seats.
It was another hour later, about halfway through the dance, that Harry was shocked to see Ron, the one most missing from the night's events, approach him from the Great Hall doors. Unlike everyone else in the Room, Ron wasn't wearing dress robes. In fact, he wasn't even regular robes. Dressed in a simple pair of muggle jeans and a shirt, everyone had noticed his approach. All throughout the dance, even as far up as the staff table, hushed tones of conversation erupted.
"Er, Ron," Harry struggled briefly, "what's up?" Harry had hoped Ron would come to the dance, even if he came stag. But frankly, Harry hoped Ron might show at the beginning of the dance. To either show up like nothing had happened, or to not show up at all, were both expected behaviors from the youngest Weasley son. Drawing notice to himself by arriving at an odd time out of formal dress was so unlike his friend, Harry was immediately put on alert.
"Harry," Ron nodded to him in greeting. "I was wondering if I could have a private word with you?" Looking directly at Hermione, he added, "You too Hermione, if you please."
Perhaps shocked at his politeness, Hermione fidgeted with her napkin for the briefest of moments before pushing her chair back and standing. Taking Hermione's lead, Harry made to follow. The quick squeeze Ginny gave his hand meant a lot. Once standing, the three once-best-friends made their way over to a quiet corner, where they found a smidgeon of privacy.
"Ron…" Hermione started, but was cut off when the red head raised his hand in protest.
"Please, Hermione, let me say my piece." Waiting for her nod of consent, Ron took a deep breath and spoke.
"A few hours ago, I had planned on not showing to this dance at all. I was going to ignore it, and all our problems, and come Monday morning, would have continued on like normal. But with all the first and second years running around, I had to get out of the common room, and that forced me up to the dorms. The last time I'd been in there alone was the night we had our last talk Harry, and it got me thinking.
"You were right. Are right." He shrugged. "Whatever. Both you and Hermione have matured more than me, and me not realizing it has been causing problems. Most of them my fault, I know. I'm still not pleased that the whole family knew about the gold you gave us before me, but I've gotten past it. And I know I acted foolish when I found out about you and Terry," he said to Hermione, "but I was hurt I didn't hear it from you sooner. But I'm not here to place blame or win back face. I just wanted to apologize before things got worse. I know it's not the best time, but I was going stir crazy in my room all alone, and I couldn't wait any longer.
"Harry, I'm sorry I've been so touchy and jealous in the past, this year especially. I know it's a problem I have, and I know you don't purposely rub my face in anything, or flaunt yourself. I can't promise to get over it overnight. But I've done some hard thinking this week since we talked, and I'm going to try much harder to talk to you if I get upset, and not loose my temper so much. If it's alright with you, I'd like us to try and be best mates again. I know you've got a lot on your plate this year, and we can't spend all our time together like we used to. But I miss how things used to be, and honestly, "he added with a goofy grin, "I have no bloody clue what the hell football is about, no matter how many times Dean tries to explain it."
Harry just smiled in relief, and nodded. He too missed his close friendship with Ron, in the few hours he wasn't consumed with homework, training, and Quidditch. If he could have done anything to patch things up, he would have a long time ago. But what with Ron being Ron, Harry knew he had to come around on his own, and it was about damn time.
"Ron, you had me at hello."
Hermione laughed off to the side, and Harry noticed she was chocked up with tears at her two friends' reconciliation. Ron, on the other hand, who had never been to a muggle film, let alone had a working pop culture knowledge of them, was more than confused. The look on his face said it all.
"It means he forgives you, Ron," Hermione explained for him, elbowing Harry in the ribs for the joke.
"Oh," Ron's relief was palpable. "In that case, Hermione, I owe you an…"
She cut him off with a hug that was almost a tackle. "I forgive you too, you great big prat!"
Again, things weren't perfect, but they were well on their way to getting there.
Ron came by the table to say hi to the others, but it was clear he was uncomfortable at the dance now that he had done what he came to do. No matter how much the others tried to get him to stay the remainder of the night, he was adamant about returning to his room and leaving the others to enjoy their dates. He was even man enough to say a few words to Terry, something akin to "you're a lucky man…treat Hermione right."
Ron did make a quick trip to the buffet table, where he had a few unpleasant words with Malfoy about his wardrobe, but that was quickly averted by the women. Hermione was high as a kite after Ron's apologies, and not even Malfoy could have ruined her mood that night. Malfoy's date, Morag McDougal, also dragged him away by the arm, before things could come to blows. She did level a sneer at Harry though, which he thought was strange. He'd never been on speaking terms with the Ravenclaw, but he'd never been at odds with her either. Harry didn't get more of a chance to think about it though, because not a moment later, loud explosions from outside shook the crystal chandeliers. It didn't take long for the band to stop playing, and the room's eyes turned to Dumbledore in his grandiose chair for an explanation.
Once the music stopped, the explosions were much louder and more defined, and some of the students started to panic.
"Students," Dumbledore spoke up, his quiet voice caring over the large room with all the authority of a muggle megaphone, "please calmly remain in the Great Hall while the staff inquires to this fracas." Fracas? Harry had to give the headmaster credit for not only remaining so calm, but for his choice of vocabulary as well. He could always put his unique spin on any situation.
"While unfortunate, this disturbance is not wholly unexpected or unprepared for. Depending on what we discover, we may have to cut the evening off short. But for right now, be comforted to know all the younger students are safe in their common rooms, and do try to enjoy the remainder of the dance. Professors Snape and McGonagall, please join me in the Entry Hall directly."
With that, Dumbledore and the two others quickly left the room. Sprout signaled the band to start playing again, even over the loud noises, although none of the students were in the mood to dance. Still, once the dance resumed, most of the students took to the floor regardless. Not to dance, but to gossip.
"What do you think is happening?"
"Do you think there's an attack?"
"I bet one of the younger students is setting off fireworks in the castle."
Harry and his friends kept silent, but listened to the rumors as they spread and intensified. Within five minutes, the current belief was that Voldemort was knocking on the doors of Hogwarts himself, and Harry feared they were more right than they knew.
Sensing something was about to happen, regardless of how he thought he had foiled Voldemort's plans for the night, he gathered his friends close by and drew his wand. By that simple action, they knew something was up, and immediately quieted.
"Harry?" Ginny asked, and that was all anyone needed to say.
"It's Voldemort." Harry said, for the first time realizing the slight pain in his scar he'd felt all day was more noticeable than it'd been before. "I think he's here. If he is, I'm sure Dumbledore can handle him, and at least keep him out of the castle. But I want everyone to be on their guard, just in case. It isn't like Voldemort to try something so bold alone.
Indeed, it was very unlike him. For Voldemort never attacked without backup. Unbeknownst to Harry and his friends, there were already Death Eaters in the castle.
Voldemort was angry; angrier than he'd been in many, many years. The attack on the castle only had a slight chance of working he knew, and that was only if things went according to plan. And things were definitely not going to plan. And even then, if the attack failed, there were to be no casualties on his side. Already with the missing Death Eaters, his troops were in too short supply to risk more getting captured or killed. They were merely meant to cause a distraction, and draw the staff out to the castle grounds. Imagine his disappointment when Malfoy and the fourteen others were nowhere in sight. He'd deal with them later. With plans already committed to, Voldemort had no choice but to attack alone, or abandon the Death Eaters he had sent to the castle in disguise. They were few, yes, but more talented and resourceful than he could afford to loose. So putting it mildly, Voldemort was pissed.
It was fortunate that Dumbledore then, was the one to meet him as he exited the large entry doors on the chilly February night. With his anger intensifying his spells, most of the other staff would never had stood a chance against the most feared dark wizard in decades. Even from the distance that the wards held him back, Voldemort's spells had no trouble covering the large span between the two rivals and causing visible damage to the castle's outer structure and grounds.
"Dumbledore!" Voldemort yelled, taunting his enemy, "Relying on the founder's magics to protect you from me? Why don't you come out here and fight me like you claim to be able to! The only one I ever feared, ha! That may have been true at one point, but it's been a long time since you could threaten a mere schoolboy with detentions and house points. I'm now twice the wizard that you ever were, and you know it! So come out and face me, unless you're afraid."
'Well,' Dumbledore thought, 'that was a bit over the top.' Voldemort was clearly attempting to draw him away from the castle, but to what purpose? 'And what good would that do,' he wondered, 'if the rest of the staff remained? Flitwick and the others could surely handle any attacking Death Eaters, even if they could breach the castle's defenses. Not to mention the prefects and older students, and Harry himself. If this is Voldemort's plan, he would have been wiser to attack with a stronger force. Even I couldn't have defended from multiple positions. More staff would have had to join me, and that would have been far more effective.'
Dumbledore's thoughts mirrored Voldemort's original intentions exactly. A shame Harry Potter had to go and ruin it all.
"Tom," Dumbledore spoke calmly, not rising to the obvious bait. "I can't imagine what you're doing here, but surely it's not to challenge an old man to a duel. Speak your mind, and then leave this place. Your business with Hogwarts was concluded a long time ago."
"Don't call me that!" He screamed, continuing to fling curses. "And I will do with Hogwarts what I wish."
With so much space between the two, Dumbledore effortlessly blocked and countered every spell that approached him. The others splashed harmlessly against the castle's thick stone walls, strengthened by centuries of magical energy. Even the strongest Unforgiveables only caused pebble-sized debris to be chipped away slowly, as if by erosion.
"Any idea what he's up to, Severus?" Dumbledore asked softly to the man hidden in shadows behind him to his left. McGonagall was likewise behind him, but to his right. Her literal position mirrored what she felt her metaphoric one was.
"Headmaster," Snape admitted, confused, "I honestly have no idea. I would suspect this to be a diversion, but it seems to be ineffective. Perhaps the Dark Lord has finally lost it."
Snape said it without humor, and that's the way Dumbledore took it. He hoped his potion master was wrong. For as powerful and dangerous as Voldemort was, mentally unbalanced he'd be even worse.
"I hope not Severus," Dumbledore voiced his concerns. "Either way, I can handle this alone, as long as the wards hold, of which I have no doubt. Minerva, I'd like you to stay with me just in case his Death Eaters show. Severus, please return to the Great Hall and inform the others that unfortunately the dance must end early. With Voldemort so near, even though the children are in no immediate risk, it would do well to be cautious."
Snape bristled at the fact that McGonagall was asked to stay while he was demoted to the level of errand-boy, but nonetheless did as he was told. As he slipped from the shadows, Voldemort finally did catch a glimpse of him, and his spells increased in speed and severity beyond the abilities of anything most of magical Britain was capable of. Snape was the only man to ever turn against Voldemort and live to tell about it, and his continued existence was a festering sore in the Dark Lord's reputation.
None of that mattered though. For the longer Voldemort kept Dumbledore and his staff busy, the more time his agents inside had to accomplish their mission.
It'd been almost twenty minutes since Dumbledore and the two heads of house had left, and during that time the loud noises and explosions outside had only subsided for moments. Still, with the expression "out of sight, out of mind" in their thoughts, most of the students attending the dance got back to actual dancing. They'd left the wild rumors and speculations behind the moment they got too extravagant to believe.
Not Harry and his small dutiful group, though. He and his friends still either all had their wands drawn or their hands hovering over them, ready for anything. Half the other students hadn't even brought their wands to the dance. Not the D.A. though. If they had learned anything, it was that disaster never struck according to plan, and one had to be prepared anywhere at any time. Constant Vigilance!
"I can't stand this not knowing!" Hermione exclaimed yet again, for what was the once too many time.
Terry rubbed her back as Ron rolled his eyes at his friend's theatrics. That didn't stop he and Harry from scanning the crowd though, looking for possible trouble. Some of the other students remained disturbed and on high alert, and a suspicious number of them Slytherins it seemed. As long as more people remained on alert, Harry didn't care who they were. But his attention left the door in that small instant, and before he realized what was happening, the warning signal on his watch acted up. The warning signal that warned him of nearby Death Eaters.
"Hey!" Harry called out to his friends, quiet enough to not garner the attention of others, but with enough strain in his voice to let them know this was serious. "There are Death Eaters in the room; at least one. Everybody draw your wands and keep on the lookout." He fingered his watch as well, turning the modest but useful shield on.
Harry was starting to get a sense of the Death Eater's direction when Neville pointed out Snape. Neville, along with Ginny, Ron, and Hermione, was one of the few to know about his watch's alarm. Therefore when Snape came barreling through the doors and headed towards the staff table, he mistook him as the threat Harry's watch had identified. He wasn't the only one to make such a mistake.
"Oh, it's just Snape." The surly man passed within five feet of Harry, and his watch blazed with an indescribable and painless heat that only occurred when the Dark Mark got so close.
"He looks pretty upset," Harry noticed. "Even more than usual. I wonder what's really going on outside?"
It took a few moments for Snape to converse with Flitwick and the others, but they soon signaled the band to stop playing once again. Tiny little Flitwick used a Sonorus spell to amplify his squeaky voice, and made the unpopular announcement.
"Students! Students! May I have your attention please. Now, I don't want to alarm anyone, but we'll have to cancel the remainder of tonight's activities. Please wish your dates a pleasant evening, and make your way back to your common rooms. Curfew will be enforced starting in a half hour, and any students found out of bounds will serve a week's detention and will loose their house fifty points. No exceptions!"
For Flitwick to impose such harsh punishments, everyone knew something severe was going down. Suddenly taking the loud noises heard from outside more seriously, almost every student scrambled for the doors. If the first and second years had been allowed to attend the dance, they might have been trampled on.
It was in all the commotion that Voldemort's agents finally got their chance. All night long, too many professors had been present to risk their assignment. Not only did they have to strike, and strike quickly, but they needed the cover of confusion to escape the castle as well, and return to their master with news of success. Now was their chance.
Their mission; kill Harry Potter!
And in the mass pandemonium of terror-stricken students, Bellatrix Lestrange approached Harry Potter with her wand in hand, and a curse on her lips, as Wormtail watched from sidelines. Harry's back was turned, and he didn't stand a chance.
Hello Strangers! It's been so long, I hardly know where to begin. Let me start off by apologizing. Not only for making some of you wait so long (has it really two years!?!), but for also promising updates in the past when I didn't deliver. My life has become more hectic than I thought possible in the last few years (including three moves, two changes of occupations, a good amount of time out at sea, etc.), and I never expected to take this long to update PoT. But on day one I did promise I'd finish the story…no matter how long it took…and I'm still going to hold to that if nothing else.
My story has gone through lots of changes of course in the time I've been gone. Just because I haven't been posting doesn't mean I haven't been writing. I'm actually working on an original work now, and I admit I'm saving some of my best ideas for that. It would be nice to be paid for the trouble, no? But please, don't ask about it, I'm keeping that one under wraps for now.
But now with this new chapter of PoT, I'm confident I'm back with a vengeance. I can't make any promises to my posting schedule (depends on what the Navy has planned for me,) but I do believe it will be weeks or months between updates now; not years.
That's it for now, as most people probably haven't been with the story long enough to know what I'm talking about. But welcome to you newbies, and for all my old readers, thanks for sticking around. I made a promise to you that I intend to keep. So if you'd like to re-read the story to get reacquainted with it, than I'd be flattered. More coming soon.