A/N: Thanks zillions as always for the wonderful reviews!
Chapter Fourteen: The Pillar of Storgé
Harry couldn't remember a time when Snape had seemed more furious with him—and that, naturally, was saying something. The fact that he didn't dare lose his temper in front of the Americans seemed to make him even angrier, so with a tightly-clenched jaw and white face, he growled at Harry, "Do not mention the dream to anyone, do you understand?"
"But shouldn't we warn—"
"Potter!" Snape hissed, grabbing his arm. "You will not speak of it!"
"Yes, sir," Harry muttered.
"We'll deal with this tonight."
The rest of the day was a dismal affair. As much as Katherine Leland, her staff, and the other Wizarding Representatives and Senators tried to make Harry feel welcome, it was obvious that they were all badly rattled by the appearance of the demonic cat. They questioned Harry for hours about Voldemort's methods, about (to Harry's astonishment) whether there was any chance of negotiating a truce with Voldemort—at which Harry's open mouth and Snape's bark of laughter told them more than the actual words.
Harry obeyed Snape's order about not mentioning seeing the Pillar of Storgé in his dream, though he chafed at it. Obviously Voldemort was interested in it for some reason—although Harry this time had no intention of charging into the American Magical Research and Development Department looking for it. Voldemort's false visions had already cost three lives—four, he corrected himself bitterly, thinking of Sirius—and Harry was not going to let himself be fooled again. If Voldemort wanted that Pillar, he'd have to come and get it himself.
By far the worst part of the day came as they were leaving dinner with the Magical Defense Committee. Snape had (to Harry's intense relief) finally managed to garner the interest of a few people in his work as a spy in Voldemort's ranks, and was talking to Congresswoman Leland and several of the other members while two of their staffers gave Harry an animated description of Quodpot, the American variation of Quidditch.
Hisses from the doorway caught their attention, and Harry turned to see Congressmembers and staffers alike making way for a young woman with pale blonde hair and a very drawn face. Harry's heart lurched; she looked very different from the picture he had seen where she was smiling and laughing, but even without the diamond ring hanging from a chain around her neck, he recognized her. It was Anita Green, Alex Marshall's fiancée.
She distractedly scanned the room, and inevitably, her eyes fell on Harry. Everyone was very quiet as she came toward him, mustering a smile. "Hi…I'm Anita. I was engaged to Alex Marshall."
"I know," Harry murmured, unable to meet her red-rimmed eyes.
Wringing her hands a bit, she said, "I just…wanted to thank you. For telling us about Alex. They said…if you hadn't warned us, they might never've found him."
"You're…I'm sorry…for," Harry couldn't bring himself to say "for your loss," or anything. It seemed so cold.
Fortunately she understood, or perhaps she was still too distracted to really hear him. "Thanks," she said. "For everything." And with one more weak smile, she slipped back out.
With that encounter to cap an utterly miserable day, Harry wanted nothing more than to collapse once they returned to the hotel.
Driving back out of the city, the white buildings and Capitol dome glowed against the night sky, but now the aura of power exuded by the place had an ominous feel. Not from the city itself, but rather as though something terrible and deadly was about to lay siege to it. Tonight, its light and strange beauty had the fateful feel of a city doomed. Harry couldn't be sure if it was merely his own mood, or if the enchantments of the American Founders were giving a warning of their own along with the unearthly cat.
And then, of course, Harry had to face the music when they finally arrived at the hotel. Percy looked as tired as Harry felt, but Snape muttered at him, "Before you retire, Weasley, you and I must have a little chat with Mr. Potter."
So Harry walked slowly ahead of them into his room like one walking to his own execution, only to be seized painfully by the arm and yanked into the center of the sitting area as Snape let out the temper he'd been visibly holding in check all day. "Why in God's name didn't you mention that dream?"
"Dream?" Percy exclaimed behind Snape. "What dream!"
Snape gestured imperiously at Harry to speak, so he stammered, "I saw the Pillar of Storgé in a dream last night. And the tunnels under the buildings like when V—when he was attacking Alex Marshall. I think that could be what he wants."
"Rubbish," said Percy. "The secret Magical Research departments of wizarding governments are teeming with artifacts far more powerful and valuable."
"But you said no one really knows what the Pillar is or what it could do," Harry protested. "Maybe Voldemort's found out how to harness it!"
Snape winced at hearing Harry say the name and grabbed his arm again, "Which brings us again to the question of why you said nothing!"
In a small voice, Harry replied, "I forgot."
Spitting in disgust, Snape let go of Harry and went to French doors opening onto a screened balcony. He stood there silently for several minutes, and Harry was wondering what he was thinking when there was a flash of fire, and Fawkes appeared. Percy and Harry both jumped. Snape pulled out a parchment and wrote on it for several moments, then handed it to the phoenix. Fawkes took it and vanished in another burst of flame.
"I've reported this to the Headmaster," Snape informed Harry coldly. "And if you have any more dreams or visions, kindly do not forget to report them, unless keeping such secrets makes you feel so important you cannot bear to part with them."
Harry gritted his teeth and turned away. Then something occurred to him, and he sighed. "There is something else. It may be nothing. When we were leaving tonight, the city felt different. It felt…afraid."
Snape dropped his sour expression and looked hard at Harry, questions visibly running across his eyes. "The city felt afraid?"
Harry shrugged. "Like I said, it might be nothing. It was just a sense I had as we were driving away."
Percy was frowning too. "Do the Americans place much stock in that demon cat of theirs?"
Turning away back toward the window with his hands behind his back, Snape said, "I vaguely recalled a few references to the cat before today, but yes, from what they told me, it appears to be a reliable warning of national catastrophe, Muggle or magical."
"So V—so he could be after something in the MR and D Department?" Harry asked.
"It appears likely, though it would have helped if we had known about your vision before coming here," Snape growled. Harry scowled sullenly at the floor. "Because generally speaking, the event occurs within twenty-four hours of the cat's appearance."
"So is the city reacting to the cat's warning, or is it giving a warning of its own?" Percy mused.
"A warning?" Harry asked.
"The wards and spells permeating Washington, DC include a variety of ways to detect approaching danger," said Percy. "American wizards tend toward overkill."
"And yet wizarding America has never been invaded—and even Muggle America has remained relatively secure," said Snape, giving Percy a patronizing look over his shoulder.
Percy made a dismissive noise. "Only because no one competent has ever tried to invade them. I would wager their protection comes from oceans rather than any really powerful magic."
"Do not underestimate the value of 'overkill,' Weasley," Snape growled, but then he began pacing. Harry stepped quickly out of his way, not wanting Snape to remember he was there and stop being informative. "My concern is that the Dark Lord will not underestimate the value of their overconfidence. They are very well protected, yes, but pride cometh before the fall—and the Dark Lord will most likely prove a competent invader."
Harry forgot about being inconspicuous in his shock. "You think he'll invade the United States?"
Snape scowled at Harry. "When last I heard," he said in a tone that reminded Harry he was the reason Snape no longer knew what Voldemort was up to, "the Dark Lord was amassing followers all across wizarding Europe. The American Wizarding government is small, Potter, you met them all tonight. But they are powerful and possess great resources. That is the reason they would make so formidable an ally for us. If the Dark Lord struck them first and overthrew them…"
"He could use their power against us," Harry finished, and groaned. "Could that be why he's been so quiet in Britain?"
"Possibly," Snape paced some more. "Though he'll have a devil of a time getting Washington itself under his control—unless he already has found some way to subdue it."
Baffled, Harry said, "You make it sound like the city's alive!"
"I marvel at your stupidity sometimes, Potter. You may have been raised by idiot Muggles, but have you learned nothing about enchanted objects in over five years?"
"Apparently not, so perhaps you'll enlighten me to your wisdom," Harry shot back.
Snape gave him a ferocious glare, then leaned close to him and drawled out, "If you had been paying attention during our arrival, you would have heard Mr. Spalding explaining that the American capital is the most warded and enchanted city in the world. Objects and places enchanted with great amounts of magical power—particularly protective power—do, in fact, develop a semi-awareness, like the primitive instincts of a magical plant. If an extremely powerful, hostile force is targeting Washington, DC with unfriendly attentions, there can be no doubt that the city itself will display some reaction."
Then there was a flash of fire, and a parchment fell to the floor. Snape snatched it up. "The Headmaster does not believe it is advisable to depart precipitously just yet. But he cautions us to be on our guard."
"And Minister Fudge?" Percy asked pointedly.
Snape crumpled the parchment in his hand. "The Minister concurs," he said in a way that made Harry suspect there had been nothing about Fudge written in Dumbledore's note.
Evidently, it was good enough for Percy, and he turned a hard gaze toward Harry. "I wonder…is it possible You-Know-Who's attention has been drawn to America by his presence?"
The words struck Harry like a Winding Hex, but Snape looked calculatingly at him too. "It is possible, although the kidnapping of Marshall occurred before Potter had any interest in Wizarding America."
"But the city's aura didn't change until after we arrived," Percy pressed.
The implication was all too clear, and Harry turned away. "It's not my fault," he muttered, not referring to Voldemort's interest in America.
Percy dropped his formal pretensions. "Of course, it's your fault!" he snapped, advancing on Harry. Even Snape looked startled. "How dare you put them at risk with your antics?"
"I didn't choose for any of this to happen!" Harry yelled, spinning around. "No one told me what Voldemort wanted with me!" That remark he directed at Snape. "If I'd known he wasn't going to leave me alone I would've kept them away from me! But no one thought I ought to know! Don't you bloody blame me for being kept in the dark—your precious Ministry did it just as often as Dumbledore! Your family wouldn't be in the thick of this if anyone had warned me!"
"But you still drag them along with you!" Percy shot back.
Harry couldn't seem to get his breathing under control. Knowing how much danger Ron and Ginny and their family were in was bad enough without Percy implying Harry didn't care. Shaking with anger, he hissed, "It's too late now. If I never spoke to them again from right now, it'd still be too late. And at least I've never turned my back on them!"
The words came out before he could check them, and Percy recoiled. Harry was shaken just as badly, so before Percy could recover, he threw open the French doors, stalked out onto the balcony, and slammed them shut behind him.
He sat out there in a wicker rocking chair (rocking rather vigorously) for a long time with the heavy, humid air and distant thunder matching his mood. How could anyone clear their head in this sweltering climate? It wasn't helping his agitation, but he had no intention of enduring one more second of Percy or Snape's company voluntarily. He wiped sweat off his face, short of breath and frustrated, and hating himself for the partial truth of Percy's words. Harry was the reason the Weasleys were in danger. But if someone had bothered to tell him from the beginning, he'd never have let them get so close.
Or so he tried to convince himself, even though, try as he might, he could not seem to imagine himself existing without Ron. Or Ginny. Or the twins and their jokes and the Marauders' Map, or Mrs. Weasley and her hugs.
Eventually, a breeze picked up as the storm drew nearer, pushing away the worst of the sticky heat, and Harry slowed down his rocking. He was tired and he didn't want to think anymore.
He had just started to drift into a drowsy stupor when the French doors slammed open. "Inside, Potter."
"Why?" he grumped.
His belligerence must have startled Snape, because it was a moment before he answered. "Occlumency."
God, not that, not here, not now! "No."
Snape materialized in front of him, blocking his view of the swaying trees. "What did you say, Potter?"
Harry glowered up at him. "I said no. Being stuck here with you is bad enough without your rubbing my nose in nightmares. Besides, I'm not supposed to use magic while we're here." He sneered insolently at Snape. "What are you going to do, take House points?"
Snape drew himself up, practically shaking with fury at Harry's defiance. "Do you think I won't, Mr. Potter?" he hissed.
Harry leapt to his feet heatedly. "Do you think I care? Between all this half-baked diplomacy, demon cats, and Voldemort," he enjoyed seeing Snape flinch, "do you think House points matter a jot to me anymore?"
"No, Potter, I suppose your massive ego spares very little consideration for the desires of your Housemates, but after that display to Weasley, I would have thought you at least cared somewhat for your friends' safety."
Leave it to Snape. Before Harry could pull together a retort, Snape had grabbed him by the arm and was yanking him bodily back into the room. "Get off!" he raged. "Get your hands off me! Let go!"
Snape did. Hard. Harry stumbled away, seething, and Snape pointed at the rug directly in front of him. "Clear your mind—now. And give me your wand," he growled.
Harry froze. "What?"
"As you so aptly noted, you are not permitted to use it here," Snape snatched it from him. "You will defend yourself without it, as you showed you are at least somewhat capable of doing."
In a surge of panic, Harry knew he would never be able to shield himself without a wand while in this state of mind. "No," he whispered.
Snape ignored him. "One—two—three—Legilimens!"
Sirius was falling through the veil, his face mingling surprise and fear…Uncle Vernon lay lifeless on the floor of Number Four, Privet Drive, his face a mask of terror…Cedric's face, his open gray eyes, blank and expressionless as the windows of a deserted house, his half-open mouth, which looked slightly surprised…Harry couldn't stop it, he couldn't even begin to stop it!
CRASH! A window-rattling crack of thunder had broken Snape's concentration. Harry fell to his knees, doubled over and shaking, his breath hitching badly. "I can't do it," he choked out. "Just stop, I can't do it!"
"Then you will merely be an easy victim for the Dark Lord, Potter, so why should that concern me? Legili—"
"—No!" Harry looked up desperately. Snape sneered down at him, but paused. Harry couldn't stand it anymore. He drew a shaky breath. "Please, just stop."
The sneer grew. Harry dropped his head, his eyes burning. "You're pathetic, Potter," he heard Snape say, then his wand was dropped carelessly to the floor in front of him, and footsteps crossed the room and went out.
Snape was almost cheerful the next day when Spalding arrived to drive them back to the Capitol. Obviously, reducing Harry practically to the point of begging was a memory the Potions Master would cherish for a long time.
Spalding noticed Harry's long face, but Harry dismissed it as being tired. "You'll perk up after breakfast," Spalding told him.
The weather had cleared again overnight, and the sky was sparkling blue once again. But Harry noticed coming back into Washington that something still felt wrong. The sensation of dread he had felt last night had given way to an eerie silence that had nothing to do with the fact that it was Sunday—it felt as if the entire city was holding its breath.
He caught Spalding watching him in the rear-view mirror again, so he said what he was thinking: "Something's going to happen."
"Bet on it, kid," said Spalding grimly. "Any ideas as to what?" he asked the three of them.
"Yes. We will discuss it at the breakfast meeting," said Snape shortly. Harry refused to look at him, but wondered if Dumbledore wanted them to mention the Pillar of Storgé. The only time he'd spoken to Snape this morning was to say that he'd seen the Pillar in his dreams again last night. Snape had just smirked. As usual.
He got his answer while they were eating breakfast with nearly the entire American Wizarding Congress. Word of the cat and the mood of the city had brought them all swarming to the Capitol to figure out what was going on, and so the schedule had been revised a bit. Harry was listening to them debating over whether he himself was the cause or just another warning of impending disaster when Snape suggested to them, "Ask Mr. Potter to tell you about his most recent dream."
One hundred fifty faces turned to stare at Harry. He gulped. "A new dream?" asked Gabe Maury, the Wizarding Senator whom Alex Marshall had worked for.
Putting down his fork, Harry nodded nervously. He didn't speak very loudly, but the room was so silent that everyone heard him. "I saw the underground corridors again in the dream, and went down them. There was a dark room with an old, stone pillar in it. I think it's the Pillar of Storgé."
Incredulous murmurs rippled up and down the long tables. "He's after the Pillar of Storgé?" exclaimed someone. "We've got better stuff than that!"
"Doesn't matter why, but if he wants it, we'd better make sure he doesn't get it!"
"Should we move it?"
"Hell, let's just destroy it!"
"Or maybe that's what he wants."
"Young man," said a dumpy little bug-eyed witch who was as short as Congresswoman Leland—but with none of her charisma. "Haven't some of these visions of yours been false?"
Harry winced, and a few of the others shot the witch annoyed glances, but many reluctantly nodded. "Yes," he told them. "Sometimes they have been. That's why you probably shouldn't try anything just yet if we're not sure why V—why he's interested in it."
"You're not a strategist, Potter," Snape muttered at him. "Confine yourself to answering their questions."
"Don't say that, Professor Snape, I for one think Harry's got more experience with that dirtbag than any of us. If he's got suggestions, good or bad, I wanna hear 'em," said Congresswoman Leland.
"Unless he's the reason Lord…Thingy is coming here," said the bug-eyed witch in a quarrelsome tone.
"Impossible, Alex got kidnapped before Harry had the vision," said Senator Maury.
"Maybe he wanted to lure the kid here," the bug-eyed witch persisted.
"Seems a long way to lure him," snorted Darren Hoynes.
"Pipe down, would ya, this isn't the time for sound bytes!" snapped Congresswoman Leland, and the bug-eyed witch subsided with a scowl. "What's your impression, Harry? Do you think this vision is probably real or fake?"
Harry contemplated the tablecloth, thinking hard. "I…the times I've had fake visions, it was to get me—us—to do something. But there've been real ones that seem a lot like this, where I kept dreaming of something because V—because You-Know-Who was obsessed with it. This dream's a lot like that—but it could still be fake!" he added hastily.
"Could he be any less specific," grumbled the bug-eyed witch.
"I'm about thirty seconds away from turning her into a tree frog," muttered Congresswoman Leland, but she patted Harry's hand. "Disclaimer noted. And we should count ourselves lucky," she said to the room, raising her voice. "This is more warning than most people get from You-Know-Who."
There were mutters of agreement, and the faces watching Harry began to look a little less accusing. "Maybe we should take the kid to see the Pillar," someone suggested. "Might give him a hint."
"No!" Harry exclaimed, so sharply that people jumped. "I mean…once one of the fake visions got me to go somewhere, and Death Eaters were waiting."
"Well, we can't just do nothing!" protested Anita Green.
"Maybe that's exactly what we should do," said Senator Maury. "Until we know more about what he wants with us, we should leave it and concentrate on aiding the Ministry against whatever the bastard gets up to over there."
"But if we jump into it with the Ministry, we'll be inviting him to come after us sooner," said the bug-eyed witch. "Why get ourselves involved if we want him to leave us alone—"
"—He won't leave you alone!" Harry chorused with Snape. They glanced at each other, and Harry fell silent.
"The Dark Lord does not believe in 'live and let live,'" said Snape. "Every second you fail to oppose him is borrowed time; he will set his sights upon America. You already know of one object in your possession he may desire, and you have admitted yourselves that there are more. Your wizarding society is too powerful for him to leave alone."
His fierce announcement cowed the bug-eyed witch somewhat, but she still mumbled, "He left us alone last time."
"That's because he got himself un-bodied by trying to kill Harry Potter," said Congresswoman Leland. "You remember the trials—there were Death Eaters all across Eurasia. He'd have come for us eventually."
"Why not put it to a damn vote?" someone exclaimed.
"What exactly are we voting on?" demanded Senator Maury.
Congresswoman Leland leaned her head against her hand with her elbow on the table, rubbing her chin. "Whether or not to mess with the Pillar based on the information we've got, and whether or not to send general war aid to the British Ministry."
"Hell, sounds good to me."
"Are we in session today?"
"We've got nearly the whole Congress, let's call it an emergency measure and move on!"
"All righty," Congresswoman Leland cut off the conversations and turned to Harry, Snape, and Percy. "Gentlemen, we're going to take a few preliminary votes on this. While you're waiting, Harry, would you like a quick tour?"
"I…all right," said Harry, glancing at Snape.
"Pat, give our guests a walk around the Capitol. Be sure and take Don Spalding's people with you."
So Harry, Snape, and Percy were chased out the door, and Pat and Spalding led them back through the basement tunnels, this time under the sign that read, To U.S. Capitol.
They came up from the basement into one of the most beautiful buildings Harry had ever seen—and almost all Muggle-built, according to Pat and Spalding.
"The designer was a wizard, though," Pat told Harry. "And still sore about his bill not getting paid; we might run into his ghost at some point." She told Harry stories about the origins of some of the more spectacular murals and carvings on the walls, led them past an old-fashioned bathroom that still smelled of soap, and introduced Harry to the statues, who sometimes bowed or waved as they passed. "Each time a new President is inaugurated, they throw themselves their own Ball," she said. "I've never seen it, but only six of the statues are women, so their dance cards are full all night. They say it's marvelous!"
In the rotunda itself, while Harry was staring at a massive mural of the American Founding Fathers, sounds of arguing floated in. He turned to see two ghosts dressed not unlike the men in the painting, debating vigorously. Pat hissed, and even Spalding looked impressed. "Who're they?" Harry whispered.
"Two former Presidents," Pat murmured.
The ghosts spotted them and glided over. "Good gracious, is that Harry Potter?" asked the man on the left.
"Yes, Mr. President," said Pat in a reverent voice. "Harry, may I present President John Quincy Adams and President James Garfield."
"A pleasure, young man," said Adams, inclining his head. "We've all heard of you here, of course."
Harry was startled. "Wizards were elected President?" he asked before he could stop himself.
Garfield winked. "Our generation believed in a closer coexistence with our Muggle brethren, if still keeping magic itself a secret. American wizards weren't banned from seeking Muggle office until 1882—and I opposed that law," he added haughtily.
"I did not," said Adams. "Muggles had a right to elect their own leaders—and you of all people ought to have known the drawbacks!"
"It was a wizard who assassinated me, you imbecile! And we had a right to full participation…" they glided off. Pat watched them go in awe. Snape and Percy looked scornful.
Visibly pulling herself together, Pat said, "Let's move on; there's a nice view from that—"
Harry's scar suddenly flared with fiery pain, and he gasped, doubling over. "Potter!" Snape grabbed his shoulders.
"Something—think—he's here—" Harry choked out. His head felt ready to explode.
"You-Know-Who!" cried Pat.
"Is this real?" Spalding demanded to Snape.
"You'd best assume so," Snape growled.
"Sound general alarm! Evacuate the Muggles, lock down the conference room!" Spalding grabbed one of Harry's arms, and he and Snape pulled Harry upright. "Let's go!"
Blinking back tears of pain, Harry forced himself into a jog along with the guards, pulling out his wand. "Where will we go?"
"Security room—we've got 'em all over the building in case of magical intruders. Come on, come on, Pat, keep up!" Spalding barked, leading them down a magnificent staircase.
They came into another hallway full of statues, but one of them—the statues, that is—shouted, "Watch out! Hostiles ahead of you!"
Spalding spat an obscenity and yanked Harry back. "Other way!"
"Better get off this floor, Donald!" another statue of a man with a rifle warned.
"Are the elevators secured?" Spalding demanded.
"Take the freight elevator!" the statue with the rifle pointed, and Snape and Spalding lunged for the lift doors with Harry between them.
"Here they come!" shouted another, and Harry peered past the guards to see Death Eaters charging down the hall.
"There they are!" screamed a woman's voice. Harry felt a surge of hatred that was entirely his own—it was Bellatrix Lestrange.
"Stall them!" Spalding yelled, and the statues all leapt from their pedestals, some waving swords and rifles as they charged the Death Eaters. Spalding and the others piled into the lift with Harry and slammed the doors. Harry felt it descending.
Spalding tapped his badge with his wand, and his identification picture—Harry noticed close-up that it was actually a tiny portrait—looked up. "Problem?"
"Donny, hit the control room and find us a way out of here, fast!"
"Gotcha!" the picture Spalding vanished. The lift kept dropping. A moment later, the picture returned. "They're on all levels, we're at Condition Red." The guards and Pat began swearing under their breath. "Get off at the bottom level and head for the old Metro connection. No hostile entry at Eastern Market yet, you can get out there."
"Right, get me updates," said Spalding, and punched a button.
"What's your plan?" asked Snape.
"We're going out via a closed-off Muggle tunnel off MR and D, it connects to the regular Metro, if we can just get there before our masked friends. How's your head, Harry? Can you run?"
"I'll manage," Harry muttered.
"Get ready to haul ass," Spalding warned as the lift ground to a halt. The doors rolled open. "Go!"
They charged out of the lift and tore into a dimly-lit corridor that reminded Harry far too much of the Department of Mysteries. Moreover, his scar was getting worse. A portrait on the wall shouted at them, "Watch out, people, there's a seriously nasty character up ahead, heading straight for you!"
"Donny!" Spalding yelled at his own portrait.
"Monitors aren't showing anything!" the portrait protested.
Harry's scar was on fire. "It's Voldemort!" he gasped.
"Okay, now we're in trouble," Spalding growled, wheeling around and yanking Harry the other way. "Donny, ideas?"
"Bad news, MR and D's the only place still clear—the defenses took out two Death Eaters there."
Snape was muttering curses under his breath, looking back over his shoulder. "Given Potter's dreams, I question the wisdom of heading down that alley."
"Other exits are blocked," said Donny the portrait. "Unless you wanna take your chances with You-Know-Who."
"If he hasn't managed to get inside yet, we've got that much an advantage," said Spalding, not slowing at all. "Here, down here!" They came upon the two motionless, masked wizards on the floor. "If the defenses hold him out long enough, we might make it." He pressed his badge against a sign that read, Magical Research and Development, No Entry Without Authorization. The door swung open at once. "Come on, move, move!" they hustled through and pelted down the hall.
Harry's scar was throbbing so badly that he could barely stay upright. Snape had him by one arm, Spalding by the other as they ran. "He's coming," he gasped.
"Shut up and run, Potter," said Snape.
There was a thunderous crash behind them. "Uh-oh!" squeaked Pat.
"Quiet!" Spalding snapped, but then Donny came back.
"Gotta problem, Don, they're outside the south exit window!"
The Americans skidded to a halt. "Oh…crap!" Spalding growled as Harry and Snape hissed and looked behind them. Harry could feel Voldemort coming.
"What now?" Snape demanded.
"Please don't say we're trapped," Pat groaned.
"Then cover your ears, girl," Spalding retorted and rapped on a portrait. "HEY! Ben! Need help here!"
An immensely fat, balding man poked his head into view, peering at them over his bifocals. "Oh dear, Mr. Spalding, what are you doing down here?"
"We've got a Dark Lord behind us and Death Eaters blocking the exits. What's the most warded section in here?"
"Try the Muggle Methods laboratory—it is as well warded as any but less conspicuous. A dark wizard will likely seek you in the Defensive Development areas."
"Quick, let's go!" Spalding led them down the hall.
"What's this place you're taking us to?" demanded Percy.
"Muggle Methods—combining Muggle technology with magic—illegal in Britain. Franklin's got good instincts," Spalding said. "One corridor over—"
Donny appeared in the badge. "Don! Heads up!"
"Get down!" Spalding threw Harry into the wall as four Death Eaters came charging down the corridor in front of them. "Impedimenta!"
Harry couldn't see much past Snape's robes and the guard practically pinning him on the floor, but he felt as though there was a knife in his forehead. "He's coming!" he grunted.
Arms hauled him to his feet. "Petrificus Totalis! Move! Move!" Spalding yanked them down a side corridor as two of the other guards held the Death Eaters back. "How close is he?"
"Not a clue!" said Donny, and Harry just shook his head.
"What do we do?" came Percy's frightened voice.
"Keep running! Snape, get the kid ahead of us!"
Snape hauled Harry to the lead as curses rang out behind them. Suddenly, Harry blundered against another door, and came to a halt, looking back. His scar had stopped hurting! Yet something told him they were not out of danger. "Professor?"
"Potter, what are you doing! Run!"
"Wait! My scar—"
The noise was making it difficult to think, but Harry had both hands against the door. It was as though something inside was calling him, and blocking the pain from his scar. Snape fired off a few curses at the Death Eaters now gathering in force at the end of the hallway. Pat was stifling sobs of terror against the wall next to them, with Percy ashen-faced on her other side. "Potter!" Snape barked. "What about your scar!"
"I think…" Harry touched the door again. "I think we might be safe in here!"
Spalding looked over his shoulder at them. "The Pillar's down there!"
Harry and Snape stared at each other. "Perhaps that's why he wants it," Snape muttered. "Spalding! Open this door!"
Spalding ran over and tested it with his badge. "Damn! They must've sealed it off when the attack began!"
"Oh no," Harry groaned, putting his hand on the handle.
The door opened. "What the hell…" Spalding gaped at Harry, but Snape pushed it open and yanked him inside. They could hear Spalding shouting, "Come on, come on!" behind them as the rest dashed in. "Donny, we need reinforcements down here!"
"Wait! Slow down, Potter, until we know what this thing is," Snape said, pulling Harry back. They reached the end of the hall, and another door swung open on its own accord to reveal a dimly-lit room containing the stone Pillar Harry had seen in his dreams. There were no Death Eaters as far as Harry could see, but his scar was prickling, even though he felt something was blocking the pain.
"Voldemort's behind us."
"Then we'll take our chances," Snape grunted, and they ran into the Pillar room.
A curse was shrieked out in a hissing voice, and the wall just above and behind the Pillar exploded. Spalding was yelling at them to run, just run, and Snape threw Harry behind him and turned to face the Death Eaters and his former master. Harry stayed in back of Snape, but drew his wand. "Impedimenta!"
Several Death Eaters stumbled, and Pat ducked past Harry, gulping back her sobs, to hide behind the Pillar. "Careful!" Percy pointed. Harry looked.
The Pillar was glowing.
The reinforcements must have come; some of the Death Eaters had turned around and were shooting curses in the opposite direction. Voldemort was in there somewhere—Harry could feel him—but did not seem to be going after Harry or Snape themselves. Rather, he kept aiming curses at the Pillar!
One smashed into the wall close to Pat, and she yelped and lost her balance. "Watch out!" Harry cried in alarm as she stumbled against the Pillar and Percy tried to grab her.
Snape looked back. Pat gasped as her shoulder struck the stone, but then froze, staring at the Pillar with wide eyes. An instant later, Percy's hand brushed the stone, and he too went rigid. While Pat seemed to almost smile amidst the chaos of curses, crashes, and flashes of light, Percy's eyes filled with tears. "Pat? Percy?" Harry whispered in alarm.
Pat blinked and realized there was a battle going on. With obvious effort, she broke away from the Pillar, drew her wand, and began firing curses at the Death Eaters. She was not very good at fighting, but it was still one more person harrying them. Percy took a moment longer, but he too rejoined the fight.
"What is that thing?" Snape yelled at him. "Potter, stay back!" Percy didn't answer. There was a very strange look on his face, while Pat simply seemed galvanized—until a curse caught her in the shoulder.
Harry ran to pull her back. "Potter, I said stay behind me!" Snape shouted, running after Harry. He let Harry pull Pat behind the Pillar, and growled, "Stay behind this thing—" he pulled Harry to the ground as a curse impacted the wall right where their heads had been. As he steadied himself, one hand touched the Pillar, and he frowned.
"Professor?" Harry exclaimed.
"Nothing," said Snape, tapping it again. With a shrug, he went back to stand in front of Harry.
Harry peered out from behind him, and saw Voldemort appear through the chaos, aiming his wand at Snape. "Out of the way, Severus, and I may let you live."
"Go to hell," said Snape. He was just standing there!
Voldemort hissed an incantation. Snape blocked it, but staggered. Another followed, and another. Harry watched, frozen in shock. Snape was a good dueler, better than Harry would have ever imagined, but not good enough—a curse finally caught him in the arm, sending him tumbling to the ground and his wand flying from his hand.
Panic jerked Harry out of his paralysis; Snape was going to be killed! Nobody but Dumbledore had ever faced off with Voldemort in an outright duel—Snape wouldn't last thirty seconds! Frantically, as Voldemort raised his wand, Harry fired a Stunner past Snape at him. Voldemort dodged it easily. "Professor, go!"
"Shut up, Potter!"
Voldemort's red eyes fixed on Harry behind the Pillar, and with a snake-like hiss, he took aim. Snape staggered to his feet between the Dark Lord and Harry, trying to conjure a shield. "No!" Harry made to run out from behind the Pillar to help, stumbling over debris on the ground and inadvertently putting a hand on the Pillar to steady himself.
The Pillar of Storgé exploded into millions of fragments with a deafening boom, showering them in all directions with a force that threw Harry backward into the wall, sending his glasses flying off.
It should killed him. It should at least have blasted the skin right off his face or given him a few broken ribs.
But it did not. It didn't even hurt.
Sprawled on the floor where he'd fallen, Harry looked up, blinking and trying to see through the cloud of dust. He could not feel Voldemort anymore, but…something else was there. Something very different. Harry looked around, sensing a presence, very close, but not altogether unfamiliar. Then the strangest sensation took over, and he forgot all about Voldemort, about the battle, about being afraid of anything at all.
It will be all right…
No one had said it. He was sure of that. But he felt it as surely as if they had. He couldn't see anyone for the dust in the air, but he was certain that arms were holding him, sheltering him, keeping him protected in a fierce embrace.
Never in his life had he felt so safe. So loved. He closed his eyes and let the arms hold him. He had no idea how much time passed until the smoke and dust settled, but he was content to stay nestled in the sheltering arms forever.
Eventually, he heard voices calling him. "Harry? Harry, are you hurt? Harry!"
Harry blinked. The arms were gone, and he felt a little dazed, not sure what had happened. He was lying amid the rubble. Percy emerged out of the fog, holding Harry's glasses. Behind Percy hovered Snape, staring at Harry, his face mingling shock and even fear. American wizards were running toward them, all talking at once. "Son, are you okay?"
"What happened? Why'd they leave?"
"Damned if I know! He was winning!"
Snape pushed past the approaching Americans and asked in a low voice, "Potter, are you hurt?"
Harry looked himself over. "N-no. What—where's Voldemort?"
Snape didn't even flinch. "Gone. Do you feel him?"
Everyone was coughing from the dust except for Harry. He rubbed his scar experimentally, then shook his head. "Nothing." Snape took Harry's arms almost gently and helped him to his feet.
Coming through the entrance to the Pillar room were members of the Wizarding Congress with Kate Leland in the lead. She took in the pile of rubble that had been the Pillar, and the uninjured Harry, and shook her head. "Wow, kiddo. I guess the usual rules really don't apply to you."
"What happened?" he asked in confusion, looking at Snape, Percy, and Spalding's men. They were all wide-eyed, staring at him.
"Who were those—" Spalding began, but Snape made a sharp gesture at him, and he stopped.
"Potter, what did you see?"
"See?" Harry blinked, taking his glasses from Percy. "I didn't see anything—why?"
Snape shook his head. "Never mind. What do you remember?"
Someone hugging me. "I just felt like something was there," Harry said carefully. "It was…a presence. But it wasn't hostile. Felt like it was…protecting me." Heaven only knew what Snape would make of it next time he got into Harry's head. Or maybe…blimey, that feeling might just be enough to beat him at Occlumency! The others were exchanging incredulous glances. "Did you see something?"
Snape was glaring hard at Percy, who replied slowly, "I'm not sure…the dust was doing strange things. We couldn't reach you for several minutes."
"That was minutes?" Harry exclaimed. They nodded, leading him from the room. "Strange, it felt—" As they came out of the small hallway back into the main MR and D corridor, Harry broke off with a gasp as agony lanced into his scar.
Fury, white-hot fury ripped through him…such utter infuriated, frustrated rage that he threw back his head and screamed at the top of his lungs…roaring at the ceiling…his anger would make the very sky crash down…
His scar had burst open…it was the nightmare to end all nightmares, one that even Snape had never seen…only Dumbledore had seen Harry like this…locked in the coils of a creature with red eyes, fused together, bound by pain beyond imagining, pain beyond endurance…
"Severus…behold now your wasted efforts…"
Harry had no control over his body, if it even was his body, he couldn't even draw breath, he was suffocating…
"He is mine, Severus…you have no choice but to destroy him…"
In his agony, Harry felt someone seize him—or did they seize the creature—dragging him backwards…
"Fool! You cannot escape me forever…you will die in the end…"
Then it was as if something wedged itself between Harry's body and the creature's coils and forced them away; the pain vanished, and Harry dropped like a stone. Someone caught him and eased him, shivering, to the floor. "Send for Albus Dumbledore from Hogwarts. Now."
"God Almighty, what was that!"
"Quiet, y'all, quiet! Do not discuss this!"
Harry was so cold; he felt someone wrap something warm around him. "Potter, do you hear me?"
Forcing his eyes open, he made out a blurry image of Snape, holding him in a sitting position, staring intently at him. "I…yeah…" he drew his knees up to his chest, trying to stop shaking. "Where are—how did—"
"We are in the entrance to the Pillar chamber; it appears to be shielding you."
There was a woman kneeling next to him, rubbing his cold hands. "Oh, sweetie, what did that bastard do to you?" She urged him to sit back against the wall, and Snape pulled the blanket tighter around him. Blinking at her, Harry realized it was Congresswoman Leland. She smiled tentatively at his confused face. "You scared the bejeezus out of us."
"Harry?" said a voice from the entryway. It was Dumbledore, silhouetted against bright lights that were now burning in the outer corridor. Harry could hear many people hovering around outside. Dumbledore came swiftly into the narrow hallway and knelt in front of Harry, looking to Snape and Congresswoman Leland. "What happened?"
"Well, let's just say he's a lot cuter with green eyes," said the Congresswoman dryly.
"Voldemort," sighed Harry, wrapping the blanket tighter around himself and leaning back against the stone wall. "Again."
"Again—my God, that's happened before!"
"Alas, it has, Katherine," said Dumbledore. "But as you may well imagine, these incidents could well be used by others to harm Harry. I trust we may rely on your colleagues' discretion?"
She nodded gravely. "I'll handle it."
"Thank you," Dumbledore grasped her hand. "Severus?"
Snape was frowning at the doorway. "Whatever force was in the Pillar is still shielding him from the Dark Lord, but as soon as we came out…I don't know what will happen when he leaves it again."
Dumbledore rose and went to the doorway of the Pillar chamber, taking in the wreckage. "Am I to understand this room was home to the Pillar of Storgé?"
"That's right," said Congresswoman Leland. "I didn't see what happened. One of my staffers says she felt something that made her fear go away, and the Weasley boy reacted to it as well. And everyone says the thing exploded the minute Harry bumped into it."
Dumbledore turned back to them. "Severus? Did you happen to touch it?"
Snape nodded, frowning. "I felt nothing, though the stone was slightly warm."
"Did you…" Dumbledore glanced at Harry, "see anything?" Snape gave him an unreadable look, and Dumbledore did not press the issue. Harry felt too worn out to be curious. "And Lord Voldemort?"
"I have never seen him so enraged," said Snape. "But he watched the Pillar explode, then did not pursue his attack. Both Potter and I must have been vulnerable at that moment."
"I believe, Severus, there were forces at work in that room that even Voldemort could not contend with."
"What was it?" Harry asked wearily, closing his eyes. "I felt something…"
"Yes, I imagine you did. I also imagine you would like to go home now."
Harry opened his eyes a crack and saw that Dumbledore was smiling. He let himself smile back. "Yes. Please."
"Headmaster, what happens when he leaves this place again?"
Dumbledore knelt in front of Harry again, who was feeling a twinge of apprehension about leaving this odd sanctuary. "Harry, do you remember what you felt after the Pillar was destroyed?"
The recollection was overwhelming; Harry nodded. "What—" Congresswoman Leland began.
"Shh. Can you concentrate on that feeling, on that memory, for a little while? It should be more than enough to dissuade Lord Voldemort from attacking you again."
Harry sighed, fighting the desire to crawl back into that room and let the arms wrap around him again. He'd never imagined anything could feel better than Mrs. Weasley holding him, but what he had felt there...no, he would never forget. It would be hard to not concentrate on it. But he let Dumbledore and Leland help him to his feet and lead him back to the main corridor. "Professor?" he asked nervously.
"Don't be afraid, Harry. Remember what you felt."
So Harry closed his eyes for a moment, letting his mind sink into those blissful minutes, then let himself walk out into the light and the chattering witches and wizards. Their whispers and stares did not bother him as much as they normally would; thinking about those loving arms he couldn't see, he felt nothing would ever hurt him again. His scar returned to twinging and prickling dully, but it didn't burn or stab.
It was a bit of a shock when they came back into the upper levels to a scene of shattered statues, broken masonry, and frantically-working wizards. "How will they explain this to the Muggles?" Harry asked, grimacing at the long burn now running through one of the murals.
"We report a bomb threat, then let FMS take care of the Muggle details. They've got it down to a game, seeing how few Muggle cops they wind up having to Obliviate," said Congresswoman Leland.
Harry sighed at the devastation. Then an alarming thought struck him. "How many people were hurt?"
"Nobody dead," said Spalding from ahead of them. "A few bad injuries at the hospital, but most of the Death Eaters were concentrating their efforts on getting into MR and D with You-Know-Who."
"Let's head back to my office," Congresswoman Leland told them.
Once there, Professor Dumbledore suggested that it would be easier on Harry to arrange a small intercontinental Portkey for the return trip, and left Harry with Snape and Spalding in Congresswoman Leland's office. The Congresswoman and her Chief of Staff made Harry lie down on one of the sofas and fussed over him in a way that made Harry wonder if they each had seven redheaded children, while Spalding bustled around talking to other guards via their badges. Snape just stood in the corner and stared at Harry until he nodded off.
He woke up less than an hour later to Congresswoman Leland patting his cheek. "Harry, sweetheart, the Portkey's ready. Time for you to go." As he sat up, she said, "I'm sorry your first visit to the States was such a bust!"
Smiling sheepishly, Harry replied, "Nothing I haven't had to deal with back home." Aside from the Pillar of Storgé, that is. "Washington is an amazing place."
She beamed and tweaked his chin. Professor Dumbledore appeared in the office doorway, holding an oval-shaped brown ball with white stitching. "Let's be going, Harry."
"Where's that Weasley kid from the Ministry?" asked Congresswoman Leland as they went back into her office lobby.
The look of intense displeasure on Dumbledore's face startled Harry. "He returned to the Ministry immediately after Harry was attacked outside the Pillar chamber." Harry's heart sank. Percy had seen him possessed by Voldemort, and would undoubtedly tell Fudge—and Fudge would tell everyone.
Congresswoman Leland visibly reached the same conclusion. "Well. That's not good. You think he'll be in any danger?" she nodded to Harry.
"I cannot say as yet, but I am willing to hope for the best," said Dumbledore, but he seemed to question her with his eyes.
She nodded. "Well, if there's trouble…" They smiled at each other, reaching some understanding that completely escaped Harry. "Oh, and tell your friend Fudge that while we were locked up in the committee room watching your Dark Lord rampaging around our Capitol, the United States Wizarding Congress voted by a wide majority to give full support and aid to the Ministry of Magic. Auror teams, research, equipment, whatever you need. It'll be formally announced to the American wizarding public tomorrow."
Dumbledore bowed to her. "We are immensely grateful, Congresswoman Leland."
The Congresswoman grinned wickedly, jerking her head at Harry. "What can I say, this one's just too cute to resist." Blood rushed to Harry's face as she turned and kissed him smackingly on the cheek. "Take care of yourself, honey—that's not my football you're using, is it?" she exclaimed, pointing at the ball in Dumbledore's hand.
"No, this was kindly lent me by one of the guards."
"That's not a football," Harry said in confusion.
"American football," she laughed, stepping back. Harry, Dumbledore, and Snape all put their hands on the ball. She raised her wand and muttered a spell. "Barrier's going down in three—two—one—"
And so Harry sped away from the American Wizarding Congress offices and Wizarding Representative Kate Leland in a whirl of wind and color.
They landed outside Hagrid's cabin. Harry stumbled and stifled a yawn. Dumbledore watched him closely. "How do you feel, Harry?"
"All right," he said. Snape was watching with the same intense expression he'd had since the Pillar Room, but when Harry looked at him, he turned and walked quickly toward the castle. Harry turned back to Dumbledore. "Professor…do you know what happened to me when the Pillar exploded?"
"I believe I do. Let us return to my office, and I will explain it all to you."
Harry couldn't walk fast enough. He saw the Gryffindors on the Quidditch pitch, but decided to go talk to Ron and Hermione about everything that had happened later. First, he wanted to know exactly what had happened. They arrived in Dumbledore's office to a greeting trill from Fawkes, and Harry sat stroking him as Dumbledore sat down behind his desk.
"Sir, when the Pillar exploded…I felt someone was there with me. They had their arms around me, and I felt safe. Whole minutes passed, and I didn't even notice."
Dumbledore nodded, "I am not at all surprised. The experience you had today must have seemed the briefest twinkle of a light you have been denied nearly all your life."
"What was the Pillar of Storgé?" Harry asked urgently. "And why did it…what did it do?"
Dumbledore's blue eyes glimmered at Harry behind his half-moon spectacles. "What had you heard of it from the Americans before you saw it today?"
"One of them, she said it brings good luck. That it was part of a building made of pillars that each contained powerful magical forces, and that some people could tap them. Is that what I did?" he asked in confusion. "Did I somehow…tap something?"
"I see the Americans are more knowledgable of the Pillar's history than our Unspeakables, in this rare case. They are correct, Harry: the Pillar of Storgé contains one of the most powerful magical forces in existence. In fact, it is one of the most powerful universal forces. There were once many of these Pillars, built to harness such powers and bestow them upon those in real need of them. But as you see, there was a slight design flaw: rather than bestowing the powers to all those in need, the Pillars merely reflected that power for persons in whom it already existed. And the reason nearly all of the Pillars are gone is that nearly all were encountered eventually by a person who possessed the matching power in such quantities that the Pillar destroyed itself."
Harry frowned, confused.
"Think on what you saw in the Pillar room today, Harry," Dumbledore went on. "Patricia Roarke, a perfectly ordinary young witch in every respect, touched the Pillar and found reassurance and strength. Percy Weasley, on the other hand, touched the Pillar and wept. And Professor Snape touched the Pillar…and felt nothing at all."
"And when I touched it," Harry murmured, "it exploded. And I felt…loved. I thought I heard someone telling me it would be all right." He gaped at Dumbledore. "The Pillar of Storgé was full of love?"
"Not just any love. There are many kinds of love, and all of them are immensely powerful magical forces. The Pillar of Storgé was in fact the last of the Love Pillars still in existence, but when you touched, it destroyed itself. The word, 'storgé,' means 'parental love.'"
Harry could not speak. He had wondered…he had hoped, but he'd thought he was mad…remembering the arms around him, how strange yet familiar they had felt, how sheltering…and those echoed words in the back of his mind… "It was my mother," he whispered. "She was holding me. Keeping me safe."
"Yes," said Dumbledore gently. "She was not a ghost, nor a spirit, nor the echo that appeared from Priori Incantatem, but rather the embodiment of the love that would not permit her to step aside when Voldemort came for you. Your mother's sacrifice was the most powerful, most complete act of parental love that can be—and that is why the Pillar of Storgé destroyed itself when you touched it. I told you long ago, the mark of her love lives on to this day in your very skin."
Harry had to turn away. He stroked Fawkes' feathers for a few moments until he felt able to talk again. Knowing now what had happened, he wondered aloud, "Then what would someone like Voldemort want with that Pillar?"
Dumbledore smiled. "He did not want the Pillar itself, Harry. He feared it. The power of one of the legendary Pillars of Magical Forces, could he risk your ever discovering it?"
Harry stared at his hands. "I don't understand…did the Pillar do something to me?"
"The power of your mother's sacrifice nearly destroyed Voldemort once. He overcame that protection by taking your blood—could he risk your finding the Pillar of Storgé, which might not only restore your protection but increase it tenfold?"
"So I'm protected again?" Harry asked. "He can't curse me? Is that why he left after the Pillar exploded?"
Dumbledore nodded. "I am not certain how powerful the Pillar is, Harry—but neither is Voldemort. But what we do know is that some measure of the power contained within it reverted to you. Voldemort will not wish to risk attacking you outright now. That was why he dreaded the possibility of your finding the Pillar."
"But…" Harry shook his head. "I didn't even know about it until he kidnapped that American wizard."
"There are many possibilities as to what happened Harry. One is that Voldemort was merely seeking information about the strength of wizarding America, saw the Pillar of Storgé in his prisoner's mind, and realized what it could mean for you. The other is that he knew of its existence from the beginning, and has been seeking it to prevent you from reaching it first. In any case, it was his own fear, his own obsession, that in the end led to his being thwarted. He is the one who drew you to the Pillar."
Harry smiled. "I don't imagine he's very pleased about that."
No," Dumbledore smiled too. "I don't imagine he is."
With a quiet sigh, Harry looked down at Fawkes. "I wanted to stay there forever. I wish I could have seen her."
"She was there, Harry. You felt her. And the power of that feeling will never leave you, because the Pillar of Storgé showed that it has been with you all along."
To be continued…
Next weekend: Harry waits for all hell to break loose when Percy spills the beans about his possession, and Snape starts acting REALLY weird in Chapter Fifteen: Round and Round and Round We Go!
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