Title: The Staff of Merlin
Disclaimer: J.K. not me!
Author Note: Last chapter, guys! Enjoy!
36. A Shadow of a Doubt
The next few weeks passed in a blur, it seemed to Harry. Exams were just around the corner and not only did he have to study, but he had to create an exam for his own Defense Against the Dark Arts class. Hermione helped him out quite a bit because Harry truly couldn't think strait. Memories of the night down in the Chamber of Secrets haunted him night and day and he constantly had dreams of Merlin vanishing into the mist.
"Is this question alright, Harry?" Hermione asked, scribbling one down and pressing it under Harry's nose so he could read it.
"Yeah. It's fine." said Harry, not really looking at it.
"Now you should probably come up with some questions yourself so I can be surprised too. I mean… I have to take the exam as well."
"What's the point?" Ron asked from his spot on the couch, the book Potions for Potions resting open on his knees. "You'd pass it anyway, even if Harry did the whole thing himself."
Hermione chose to ignore Ron's comment.
"Did Dumbledore say how many questions it had to be?" Hermione asked. Harry knew she was referring to the meeting he and Dumbledore had had previously that day. Dumbledore called Harry in, wondering why he had missed all of his classes on the night Merlin died. Harry, too weary to lie, told Dumbledore everything. He even showed the ancient headmaster the small chip of wood from Merlin's staff that had exploded into a thousand pieces. And Dumbledore had been most interested in the form of Harry's shadow.
Grinning a little, Harry remembered his discussion with the headmaster.
"He said I would be greater than even him."
"And so he was probably right. You were destined for great things, Harry." said Dumbledore. He gave a small smile. "I can see it too. And to have the word of the most powerful wizard of time on your side is not something that should be easily ignored."
"But he died, Professor."
"A victorious death. Much unlike the ones that every book, wizarding or Muggle had printed about him. You gave him a chance to redeem himself. You should be proud."
Proud? How could Harry possibly be proud when he allowed his old friend to die right there, without so much as a word of comfort. All the comforting had been done by the ancient wizard himself, not the other way around.
But deep down, Harry could not ignore the sense of pride that nagged at him.
Merlin would not lie about something as big as being a greater wizard than himself, said his shadow, reading Harry's thoughts. I would know., said his shadow, reading Harry's thoughts. .
"Are you always going to be able to hear me thinking?" said Harry exasperatedly.
"What?" Ron and Hermione both said together.
"Wha-- oh! No, I was talking to my shadow." Harry explained.
"That's going to be hard to get used to." said Ron, turning back to his Potions for Potions book, trying to memorize the ingredients to the Demolishing Draught.
Merlin's shadow laughed.
Ron's right. You're going to have to get used to it as well. We're bonded already. I'll always be able to hear your thoughts.
"Wonderful." said Harry, slumping back, but Merlin's shadow decided not to move with him. Instead, it moved closer to the fire in the common room. The fire in the fire place made the shadow waver, but he continued to move without help of Harry. Smiling to himself despite his sorrow, Harry turned back to the paper where he was making notes to the answers for the exam.
"C'mon, Hermione," Ron said, looking around again and asking Hermione for the fourth time that night, "can't I just see one of the questions? You know…"
"Absolutely not, Ron," said Hermione indignantly, sitting up straighter. "I don't want you cheating on Harry's exam. Dumbledore would have him for sure for showing favoritism."
"I'm Harry's best friend!" said Ron angrily. "How much more favorite can you get than that?"
"Shut up, you two," said Harry, running a hand through his hair, "I'm not in the mood."
Ron slumped back in his chair and Hermione brought the piece of parchment she was holding closer to her face, so only her blushing forehead could be seen.
"So what're you going to do next year for the N.E.W.T.s, Harry?" Ron said, looking over at Harry and closing his book. "I mean, it'll have to be really hard."
Harry paused. He wondered when he would have to bring this up. He took a deep breath and gulped, preserving the time until he would have to answer.
"I'm not." he said shortly.
"Not what?" Ron and Hermione asked together.
"When I talked to Dumbledore… he… he asked if I wanted to continue being a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and… I turned it down."
Ron's jaw dropped.
"Why?" he breathed.
"Well…" said Harry, feeling his face turn to a red that matched Hermione's. "It was just a lot of work to keep up with… and I wasn't there half the time."
Hermione nodded understandingly.
"So after the exams," continued Harry, "I'm officially not a teacher anymore."
"And who's taking up after you? Hicks?"
"No, I think she resigned, too." said Harry. "Dumbledore told me… she didn't like the students much and none of them were too interested in her theories of the beginning existence of the Fwooper Bird, so she left to start a club in Africa where they're most common."
Ron snorted into his lap. Hearing this, Crookshanks looked up from his spot curled up by the fire, next to Merlin's shadow.
"So we're going to have a completely different teacher next year?" Hermione asked.
"I guess so."
"The rumors are true, then." said Ron. "The Defense Against the Dark Arts job is cursed. I mean, if Harry's leaving, who would stay?"
The next day, a Wednesday, was the first day of Harry's exam. Hufflepuffs and Slytherins were the first to take the test. For the time that Harry had them, it was dead silent. Even Malfoy seemed paler than usual, hunched over his own test. Harry felt, with satisfaction, that he had scared Malfoy into thinking he could fail him. Goyle completely panicked and snapped his quill at the first question and had to ask for a new one. As Harry leaned on his desk, watching the Hufflepuffs in the front of the room scribbling away, he felt saddened that this would be the last day he would have any effect on what Malfoy said and did.
Finally, the bell rang and Harry collected the tests, feeling that Hermione had done a good job on the questions, for several of the answers on the papers he picked up had been scratched out and hastily rewritten. Stacking all the parchments rolls on his desk, he waited until the room was nearly unoccupied before sighed and reached for his bag. This would be the last time he would have to travel with the Slytherins to Care of Magical Creatures class.
Pulling the strap of his bag onto his shoulder, he began walking, but stopped dead when he saw three pairs of feet standing before him. He looked up with dread, knowing full well who the expensive shoes in front belonged to.
"Some test, eh, boys?" Malfoy smirked to Crabbe and Goyle and they laughed stupidly. "Did you make the questions yourself, or did you have to have Granger to them for you like a good little Mudblood?"
Harry's stomach boiled in anger at the taunt.
"Yeah," he replied coolly, readjusting the strap on his shoulder, "she helped and I'll have to tell her how you kept squirming and biting your quill tip when you came to a question that you didn't know. So how many points d'you think I should take off Slytherin for you insulting the teacher and his friend before I go?"
The smirk was wiped from Malfoy's face for a split second in which he advance on Harry, grabbing the front of his robes, pulling him closer so their faces were only inches away from each other.
"Listen and listen well, Potter," Malfoy breathed angrily, "I know you had to do with the disappearance of my father. When we find him, you'll wish you'd never been born."
"I'm thinking… fifty points from Slytherin, but that's just me." retaliated Harry with triumph.
"Why you little--" but Malfoy never finished his sentence, for he gave a huge yell of surprise and jumped a foot into the air, letting go of the front of Harry's robes. Landing back on the ground, he looked wildly around, hands over his backside, his greasy hair coming undone.
"Something kicked me!" he said to Crabbe and Goyle, who looked around stupidly for an answer as to who kicked their leader. For a wild moment, Harry thought it was Peeves and Malfoy seemed to think that too, for his face looked up at the ceiling where the Poltergeist always liked to dwell. However, no nasty cackle came and no continuing attacks on Malfoy or the three other boys occurred. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw something lurking in the corner. Snapping his head to stare at it, he saw Merlin's shadow, bent double, hand on his stomach and laughing silently with glee. It looked over at Harry and waved.
Watch this, Harry! His shadow said with excitement. He floated up the ceiling. Then, he dove down at Malfoy and yanked his ears.
"OW!" Malfoy yelled, his hands clamping to his ears. But he finally saw Merlin's shadow and pointed to it worriedly. Harry could barely keep from laughing. "What is that thing?" Malfoy asked. In answer, Merlin's shadow floated down to Harry's feet and reattached himself to Harry. Malfoy's eyes widened as Harry's shadow waved cheerily at him before assuming Harry's position.
"Shadow," said Harry, trying to keep the humor from his voice. "He likes to do that kind of stuff, so I'd watch out in the future. Fifty points okay with you, then? Great."
With that, he picked up his bag that rested at his feet, strung it over his shoulder and walked out of the classroom, leaving a thunderstruck Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle behind. When he was out of earshot from the classroom door, he burst out laughing and looked down at his shadow, which strutted proudly next to him.
"Thanks." he laughed.
The next day, the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws took Harry's exam and at the end when he collected their parchment, they were all red in the face from pressure and were commenting Harry on it.
"Good job," Harry muttered to Hermione as he passed her, "everyone liked your exam."
"Your exam," Hermione whispered back as she handed Harry her test sheet. In the last few minutes of the class, they all sat and spoke about what they were going to do over the summer. Finally, the dinner bell rang and there was a mad stampede to the door where people pushed their way through to get to the Great Hall first. Harry, Ron and Hermione were the last ones out the door and they strolled down the hallway.
"Well, only Transfiguration, Care of Magical Creatures and Herbology exams left." said Ron. "I never thought I'd get past History of Magic. How'd'you think you did, Harry?"
"I dunno," said Harry. "But I have to grade all the tests tonight and give them to Dumbledore before we get onto the train."
"I'll help you," offered Hermione as they rounded the corner and walked into the Great Hall.
"This year's seemed so long, though," said Ron as they sat down on the bench and helped themselves to the first course of the feast. "I mean… everything's that happened. Fleur… Dad… Krum."
"Oh, I do hope they find him," sighed Hermione. "I mean, he's been missing for so long, I'm wondering if he's alright."
"'Course he will," supported Harry, "He's lived through countless Quidditch games and the Triwizard Tournament."
Dinner didn't last very long and Harry stood up after about ten minutes of gulping down food, he stood up and walked slowly back to the Gryffindor Common Room; his shadow walked steadily behind him, only breaking away from Harry a few times to explore the corridors.
"You know, you can go look around a bit without me if you want." suggested Harry as his shadow slid inside a suit of armor.
Really? You mean it?
"Sure," said Harry
Okay. I'll see you later, yes?
Without another word, the shadow crept off behind a tapestry and from there, Harry would never know. Sighing, he continued his walk to the Gryffindor Common Room, feeling rather awkward at not having a shadow, not even a small vapor of a shadow.
The rest of the night was spent in front of the fire, correcting exams. Hermione, of course, got full marks and Ron was just over a passing grade. After sifting through the Gryffindor pile, he found the Slytherin and Hufflepuff pile and looked for Malfoy's. Looking up and down at the parchment with Malfoy's handwriting scribbled on it, he marked each question wrong, hoping that Malfoy would have not passed. Unfortunately, he did, by just a little bit over Ron. Crabbe and Goyle both failed miserably and Harry began to wonder if the teachers had been bribed into passing them. Hermione joined him halfway through and began correcting the questions as well and together, the time went a little faster. Near midnight, Harry set down the last piece of parchment onto the neat pile that Hermione had created and picked them up.
"I'd better get these to Dumbledore before I forget," he said to Hermione, glancing at the clock apprehensively.
"You won't get in trouble for being out late at night?"
"I shouldn't, but I'll take my invisibility cloak in case. Then I'll have to come back and begin packing."
He stood up and passed Ron, who was lying on the couch, snoring, one arm dangling to the floor where Crookshanks batted it playfully.
"I'll probably be in bed when you come back…" said Hermione, eyeing Ron who snorted in his sleep. "And so will Ron."
"Goodnight, then," said Harry, walking upstairs to grab his invisibility cloak. Covering himself in the dorm where the three other boys were soundly sleeping, Harry rushed out, the papers tucked under the crook of his arm.
The next morning, after the papers were delivered and most of Harry's things were packed away, he woke up to find the dormitory completely empty. Ron left a note on his bedside, saying that he and Hermione had gone down to an early breakfast and they would meet him in the Great Hall.
Getting dressed, Harry packed the last of his things up for the next day's trip back to King's Cross Station. He then headed down to breakfast where there was muttering at every table. Issue upon issue of the Daily Prophet were resting on tables, propped up by milk jugs, goblets, bowls and anything else anyone could get their hands on. As Harry passed several people, he peeked over their shoulders to see a picture of an apprehensive Fudge, waving slightly and fidgeting with his lime-green bowler hat. Above the picture, the headline read out in huge curly print;
MINISTER OF MAGIC, MURDERED.
Drawing in a quick breath of surprise, Harry's pace quickened as he looked around the Gryffindor table for Ron and Hermione. Spotting them not too far away, he rushed over and sat down next to Hermione, who was reading the entire article. Waiting for her to finish, Harry didn't even touch the food that sat in plates before them, wondering what was going on. Finally, Hermione looked up, shocked.
"What?" Harry asked. "How did Fudge die?"
"I-- I don't know. I just can't-- can't believe it." she breathed. "It says that he was found by his Junior Assistant, Percy Weasley, in Fudge's home last night when Percy stopped by to drop off some papers. 'Weasley called in the Emergency Healers at St. Mungo's and some of Fudge's close-working employees to sort it out.'"
"Bet it scared Percy to death to know that another one of his bosses was killed." sniggered Ron. This triggered something in Harry's memory.
"I'll bet it was the Death Eaters that killed him." he said, pounding his fist on the table.
"But they were sent away by Merlin."
"They must not all have been there. I mean, remember what Malfoy said? That he had Fudge under the Imperious Curse for nearly two years? And they killed off Crouch when he began fighting the Imperious Curse that his son had on him. Fudge must have learned how to fight it and they needed to get rid of him before he snapped out of it."
"That's a little curious." said Hermione, opening to the next page of the article and scanning the lines. "It says that the Healers found a knife wound, penetrating several non-vital organs, but also found that Fudge's brain had been completely addled and were not sure whether he died of severe bleeding or brain damage."
"See?" Harry said. "Brain damage. It might have been the same thing that happened to Crouch."
"Curious," said Hermione again, rereading the article.
The entire day (which consisted of no classes and only strolling around the lake and watching the giant squid) the topic of Fudge's mysterious death seemed to be the favorite of odd occurrences to have happened. Harry, Ron and Hermione chose to go visit Hagrid before they had to leave the next day.
"Molly wrote me this mornin'," said Hagrid, forking lunch onto four separate plates. "Said Beaky's been missin' from Sirius's mum's bedroom for three weeks."
Harry and the others stared at each other before Harry sighed and decided to explain to Hagrid.
"Well, Hagrid," he began, trying to decide how to put the situation, "you see… a few weeks ago, we found the Staff of Merlin and…" he looked at Ron and Hermione for help.
"Buckbeak showed up and turned into Merlin," said Ron flatly.
"Wha'?" Hagrid said, eyeing them as if asking if they were telling the truth.
"It's true, Hagrid," said Hermione. "Merlin's been hiding as Buckbeak for a long time. And his… friend, the Lady of the Lake was hiding in the body of Sarff."
"So tha's what happened ter her!" said Hagrid, clapping a giant hand to his forehead. Then he looked back at Harry. "So wha's the story?"
Harry smiled slightly and started from the beginning-- getting the old coin from Fred and George for Christmas and Hermione translating it to find out it was a poem leading to the Chamber of Secrets. As the story wore on, so did the time, but Hagrid remained as fascinated as ever, hearing about how Ron had died and come back to life (Ron blushed furiously as Hagrid complimented him on his heroics) and soon, the sun set and Harry and the others had to make their way back to Hogwarts.
Packing up the last of their things, Harry and Ron talked the entire time about Quidditch the next year and what they were going to do for a beater as Jack Sloper was leaving. They went to bed a bit later and all too soon, it was morning. After a quick breakfast, Harry and the others hauled their belongings into the thestral-drawn carriages, then to where the train was waiting for them to board.
Quickly, the three of them pulled their luggage onto the train and found an empty compartment before it could be taken. They helped each other stow their trunks away and Hermione let Crookshanks out. Immediately, he curled up into her lap where she scratched his ears and he purred loudly.
Harry's shadow, which had returned to him the night before while he was sleeping, stretched out and put his hands behind his head, lying on the floor, and relaxed, much unlike what the old man who's form the shadow held might have done. However, it made Harry feel a little bit better that he would be returning to Privet Drive with someone to talk to. As if she could tell what he was thinking, Hedwig hooted in a dignified manner.
Turning in his seat, Harry watched Hogwarts until the trees around it obscured it. The train ride was mostly uneventful, save for when Cho showed up to talk a bit with Harry, then said good-bye for the summer.
"I'll write you," she said, kissing his cheek, then walking off after saying good-bye to Ron and Hermione.
Finally, the train stopped at the station and students poured out of the doors with their luggage. Some students met with their parents who were waiting just out of the way of the bombardment of the eager children. Some waited in a long line that formed where a watch guard wizard let them exit the platform entrance in small numbers to avoid Muggle stares.
He let Harry, Ron and Hermione leave together and the three of them pulled their trunks through quickly and walked off towards the exit. Already in the distance, Harry could see, with a quickly deflating heart, Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and Dudley, all looking less than happy to see him. They also began acting as if they were looking past him to avoid letting others know that their nephew hung out with weirdos.
"We'll definitely have you come sooner!" said Ron as Mrs. Weasley found them and hugged each of them in turn.
"Oh yes, of course." said Hermione happily as her parents approached, smiling at the lot of people coming to greet her and her friends.
"Harry," Harry heard a voice behind them and he turned to see Mark beaming up at him. "I hope you have a good summer." He held out his hand and Harry shook it.
"Thanks, Mark," said Harry.
"And you can come and have tea at my house sometime during the summer. Maybe it can get you away from your cousin a bit."
"Thanks," said Harry again.
"Well… bye!" said Mark, grabbing his trunk and running off to where he saw his parents waiting. Waving after him, Harry turned back to his friends.
"We'll write soon," said Hermione, giving Harry a large hug and kissing his cheek. Then she did the same to Ron. "And often."
"Yeah." Ron agreed, shaking Harry's hand. "And don't you forget to write us."
"What else am I supposed to do all summer?" laughed Harry. "I'd better go before the Dursleys get impatient."
"Bye," said Ron and Hermione and Mrs. Weasley came up to him and squeezed him tightly.
"Good-bye, Harry, dear. We'll be seeing you soon."
"Bye, Mrs. Weasley," said Harry, picking up his trunk and rolling it towards where the Dursleys were standing, still pretending not to know him. However, when he was nearly two feet away, Uncle Vernon turned disgustedly toward him.
"What is that?" he asked, pointing to the ground. Harry stared down to see his shadow wave slightly to his uncle before assuming Harry's position again in the crowded Muggle area.
"It's my shadow," said Harry simply as if it were any old thing. Uncle Vernon stared at it before huffing grumpily and turning with Aunt Petunia at his tail, Dudley waddling right behind them.
"Come on, then, boy," called Uncle Vernon. Harry walked a few paces in the direction of the car before stopping and turning around to where his friends still watched him leave. Freeing one hand from his trunk, he waved at them. They all waved back and Harry grinned, following the Dursleys out of King's Cross, waiting for the time when he would be able to rejoin his friends in the wizarding world.
That's the spirit, said his shadow. Then, unable to contain himself anymore, the shadow began skipping along beside Harry, who laughed, and they walked toward Uncle Vernon's fancy car which sat not too far away in the early evening sun., said his shadow. Then, unable to contain himself anymore, the shadow began skipping along beside Harry, who laughed, and they walked toward Uncle Vernon's fancy car which sat not too far away in the early evening sun.
Merlin's beard… I can't believe it's over! Honestly, I never thought I would finish! When I got closer and closer to finishing, I got really numb and sad. I'm in denial right now… I can't be done! I mean, I've been working on this story for nearly thirteen months! I still can't believe it's over! Need I repeat myself more? But this story, without all the review responses and authors notes was three hundred and ninety-seven pages long and… 140,438 words. How's that?
You guys… right now, I would like to thank each and every one of you for your support through the time I spent writing this story! When I began writing, I NEVER thought I would get this many reviews! Never! And I am so happy, because I achieved one of my dreams for my writing and you helped me with that, whether you were nice or not (mostly nice)! It was because of you guys that I really, truly enjoyed writing and I'll never forget it, throughout my life! I love you guys so much! You were the fun of even writing the story and I'm so happy I could make it worthwhile for you. Once again, thank you for your support and I'll miss reading your wonderful reviews!
I would like to give a special thanks to these people; Trinityelf, my long-time friend for letting me talk her ear off about this story, mistopurr, for giving me honest feedback and being just a wonderful friend to talk to, Ophidia-black, for letting me borrow her name for Voldemort's snake and also for making me laugh, Pipaluga, who has been a faithful reader and reviewer for the entire length of this story… beginning to end, Lady Mearie and Mei1105 for making my days better and drgn prncss for being extremely fun to talk to. If I didn't say your name, it doesn't mean I didn't enjoy your reviews! I loved all of them (except flames, of course!) and don't ever think I didn't enjoy reading them! I love you ALL!
Hang in there, guys, in about ten days, you'll get to read the real thing! Enjoy 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'! I know I will! And then maybe I'll come back and do a sequel!
Please don't be afraid to review! It's the last time ever that I'll be able to get reviews for this story and that just chokes me up!
I love you all!
May broomsticks be in your dreams!