Disclaimer: Characters and material featured in this story are the property of author J.K. Rowling and her publishers. This story is written largely for the private amusement of myself, and any who care to read it, for no financial or other payment. No infringement of the author's rights is intended.
Author's Note: This story began as an idea shortly after I finished reading "The Order of the Phoenix". I decided then and there that I wanted to try writing a long fic, and that the chances were that it wouldn't be finished by the time the canon sixth book hit the shelves- and so, therefore, I was going to write my own version of Harry Potter's sixth year. Thus, this story follows on from "The Order of the Phoenix", and accepts as canon history all the events related in J.K. Rowling's first five books. However, from that point on, the story diverges from the official series, following its own sequence of events and revelations. Some may parallel canon- some things have been foreshadowed for a long time in either universe, but some may markedly differ. Cast your minds back to the (fictional) late summer of 1996, and begin...
Chapter One: Your Shadow will catch You
The wood was nicer than the stone. Not just because it was smooth and shapely, whereas the stone was hard and rough, and certainly not because the wood had been finely carved, while the stone merely rough hewn. Not even so much because the wood had once been alive, whilst the stone was in no great measure changed since ancient hands had quarried it from the ground a millennium ago. No, Harry Potter decided, sitting on his own in the quiet church, his back against a tall octagonal stone pillar and absently contemplating the polished, almost oily finish of the pew in front of him, the reason that he preferred wood was that it did not hide its true nature. Wood which was weak almost always looked weak, either to ordinary eyes or to other, more advanced talents with which he had been more than modestly blessed- or cursed. Likewise, wood which appeared strong was strong, strong and trustworthy, while faults in stone might lie hidden for a long time, not seen by naive eyes until they gave out under weight.
He sighed, and tilted his head back, peering through his round-lensed spectacles up at the crudely carved crucifix on the screen between nave and chancel. Given the events of the past year and a half of Harry's life, certain of his acquaintances might have wondered if Harry were seeking to find a parallel between himself and the figure depicted thereon. They would have been wrong. Harry Potter was not a Christian- his aunt and uncle, although themselves seasonal Christians because it was the socially done thing to do, would certainly have never considered Harry's spiritual well-being worthy of attention, even if they believed in such things. In later years, as he grew out from under their shadow, and encountered far greater shadows beyond, the sixteen-year old might well have found the idea of a faith attractive, if it were not for certain historic... disagreements between his new peer group and the church.
Harry Potter was a wizard. Not just any wizard either, but the wizard who had (albeit unwittingly and at no real credit to his skill or learning in the magical arts, since he had it on good authority- well, that of Remus Lupin, who was the next best thing in a shabby suit- that the only word he could say at the time of the incident was 'Gu-ga') once vanquished the most dreadful and terrible dark wizard of recent times, destroying his body and sending his soul fleeing into ghoulish exile for thirteen years.
Many things had changed now. The dark wizard, Voldemort, was back, as deadly as before, perhaps more so, since now his thirst for power and conquest was piqued by his long exile and humiliation. Harry Potter too, was no longer a baby. All that was left of the infant who had conquered the dark lord was a pair of wide and sad sea green eyes, and a jagged scar- the only hurt he had taken from the encounter- across his right temple. The scar was currently hidden by his perpetually untidy dark hair, and the eyes somewhat muted behind his glasses, and his childhood innocence too had fled him.
Some one and a half months ago Harry had seen his godfather, Sirius Black, a man who had languished for twelve years in the wizard prison of Azkaban for no greater crime than his love for Harry's family and his misguided trust in someone he had thought also to be their friend, murdered by one of Voldemort's Death Eater servants. A year before, one of the boys at Harry's school, the world renowned (in a very select circle) Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a place Harry had once adored and felt to be his true home, but a place which had now turned dark in his memories, Cedric Diggory, had been killed by another Death Eater because he had stood side by side with Harry. Behind both these hurts, Harry knew that, fifteen years ago, Voldemort had murdered both his parents.
He had known fear. He had been sick with terror for months when he had first known of the Dark Lord's return. Terrified and numb, for he felt in some manner responsible- he had been a, however unwilling, part of the ritual which had restored Voldemort to true and physical life, after all. That had changed. It had changed after Sirius' death, when Professor Dumbledore, the Hogwarts Headmaster, had told him of the nature of the prophecy which had, all those years ago, led to Voldemort's first attempt to slay Harry. What the prophecy boiled down to was really quite simple.
Harry would kill Voldemort, or Voldemort would kill Harry. To survive, to save his wizarding world and all his friends, Harry would have to surrender to his own desire for revenge, and, however it might be deserved, kill the Dark Lord.
Understandably, he had spent much time recently in as much peace and quiet as possible, which had led him here. The church of St Margaret, Little Whinging, was a fairly small, modest building, and locked outside of the hours of service after a recent spate of vandalism (perpetrated, Harry strongly suspected, by his cousin Dudley Dursley and his neanderthal friends). That would not have been an overly great problem ordinarily- there was a small, high broken window which, while impassible to a great oaf like Dudley, was easily reachable by Harry- and had been no problem at all in the two weeks since his birthday.
Harry felt the crinkled, folded letter from the Ministry of Magic in his pocket. He'd kept it with him like a talisman since it had arrived on the night of his birthday. After all, what with all the trouble practising magic outside of school had got him into in the last few years, if it hadn't been for the other problems weighing on his mind, he would have been unable to restrain himself from dancing on the tables, whatever his uncle's reaction. Sixteen years old, and having achieved a satisfactory standard in a satisfactory number of OWLS (Ordinary Wizarding Levels), Harry was no longer regarded by the Ministry as an underage wizard, and such was, subject to the ordinary legal restrictions, fully permitted to use magic in the holidays.
It was a license. A boon. A gift. Unfortunately, as a way of confirming him as a fully-paid-up and equally responsible member of wizarding society at the moment, it was also a millstone. Harry not only had the right to use magic, he also had the responsibility to do so.
"Oh dear, I've forgotten the lock again..." muttered a voice behind him. He turned quickly, and his small bag fell to the floor, sending up a cloud of dust and a sharp report of sound. Framed by the light from the doorway, the vicar, a tall, reasonably hale and hearty man in his mid-sixties, paused. "Hello?" He peered into the church, almost nervously. Harry felt a surge of anger. That the man should be afraid to look into his own church...
"It's all right, Mr Wainwright," he called, standing up and moving into the light. "The door was open- I just needed a bit of quiet."
"Oh, not at all, not at all..." the vicar smiled, coming in, once he saw that the intruder was no threat. "Anyone is always welcome..." he glanced back at the padlock sadly. "Well, at least, that is to say... they would have been. Sad times, young sir, sad times." Revd. Wainwright looked at him curiously. "Forgive me... do I know you? I am sure I've seen you about here before, but..."
"I'm Harry Potter, sir." Harry held out a hand. "I live with the Dursleys." His lip curled as he said the name. He glanced at the padlock. "Sorry, is the church supposed to be locked? I didn't have any problem getting in, so I thought it was all right." He smiled inwardly, having confirmed the vicar's own belief that he had simply forgotten to set the padlock, without any outright lie. The truth, that Harry had simply opened the lock with one of the simplest spells he'd ever been taught, was probably not appropriate to the occasion.
"Oh no, no, that's quite all right, Harry. Yes, I do remember you, although it's been many years." Wainwright smiled, sitting down beside him. "And no, the church is not supposed to be locked, Mr Potter, although I'm very much afraid that it now usually is." Wainwright shook his head again.
"These days, I fear, even the house of God is not safe from acts of senseless destruction."
"Doesn't it make you angry?" Harry was puzzled by the man's quiet despondency. Puzzled, and aggrieved on his behalf. Wainwright smiled, the thin, wry smile of one who has an almost affectionate familiarity with a thorny problem, but no answer with which to resolve it.
"Christianity teaches us to turn the other cheek, to not heed such things. We should be better than matters of petty vengeance." He sighed.
It doesn't satisfy you though, does it?
Harry reflected inwardly. Outwardly, he looked sideways at the vicar.
"Isn't it a bit contradictory, though? I mean, you're talking about the same religion that said 'thou shalt not suffer a witch to live'?"
To his surprise, Wainwright gave the same smile- albeit now tinged with a more overly cynical edge.
"Ah yes, Mr Potter. You know, it's usually about your age that people ask me about that. That, or the crusades. Or Northern Ireland. Or whatever monstrous feat of unchristian murder or prejudice is being perpetrated or supported by the American alleged religious right." Wainwright turned forward in his pew to face the crucifix, and mulled over it, his chin resting on the tips of his steepled fingers, long tweed-wrapped legs half crouched on the low bench, his elbows resting on his knees. "Religion is a powerful force, Harry. So is any belief, but religions- the successful ones, anyway, whether right or wrong, tend to be so pervasive that much is done in their name, much that a more fair and true interpretation of the faith's creed, taken after the fact, would not condone." He shook his head gently, his thinning white hair drifting slightly out of place. "Then, too, remember that there is a world of difference- maybe not in some of the tragic... misjudgements made by local people, by whose hands many innocents did indeed die, but a world of difference between what I'm sure the Bible really meant by witchcraft, and the local wise women, the harmless ceremonies of older religions, or even-" he chuckled softly, "The mind-readers and telekinetic mutants of science fiction which have probably made you think about such things."
You think that if you like, Reverend, Harry thought, but I'm still curious as to what makes you tick.
"Alliances with Satan, Harry." Wainwright said, startling him slightly.
"Whether that is a real person, or just a metaphor- whether you believe in God or not, it makes no difference. The real forces of evil do not ride on broomsticks, they do not wear pointed hats, and they do not keep company with ill-favoured tabby cats."
Oh, gods, to have Professor McGonagall here now.
"Sweep away the trappings of the age, and you will see them more clearly. They are those who cast away conscience for the sake of power. People who will make deals with forces or principles that are an abomination to all that we should cherish- simply to be able to do something that others cannot. That is what we should not suffer to live."
"So you're saying there's nothing wrong with magic?"
"Ah, now that is a slightly... different question. Of course, much of what we take for granted nowadays would then have been dismissed as magic. If magic existed... then, well, in those days it was felt that anyone who seemed to be using such powers- in reality, yes, I admit, probably just because they had some skill that was beyond the understanding of their more ignorant brethren- must have got them from the Devil, and so must be his ally. Now, perhaps, we are more open-minded... but I do believe that there is a natural order to things, Harry, and that we should not interfere with it."
Harry leant forward, fascinated. He was aware that he had, perhaps, an unfair advantage in the conversation- Reverend Wainwright simply assumed they were discussing theory, moral politics. Harry, on the other hand, could have levitated the vicar a few feet into the air, or transfigured the hard pew into a comfortable chaise longue. Still, it was rare to get the opportunity to see magic- 'from the outside' as it were.
"Surely though, Mr Wainwright," he began, aware that he was speaking in what Ron had called his 'Hermione impression' during OWLS, "If there's a natural order, that's the order of the natural world, then if magic existed, it would be a part of that, just a part that hadn't been, well, discovered or documented yet?"
"A fair point." The vicar mused, adjusting his dog collar. "I concede on that. If magic were indeed a natural skill, then its existence could not in any way be evil itself. Which only leaves, of course, as I anticipate you, Mr Potter, the use to which it is put- and to use a rare gift and advantage to evil purpose, especially against others who lacked that power, would be evil indeed."
"What about good, though?" Harry asked. It touched rather upon his own particular dilemma, after all. "You talk about turning the other cheek- but what if someone with that sort of power- magical, political, whatever, was going to do- was already doing- terrible things, and only you had the power to stop him. Should you do it?"
"Well, of course, Harry." The vicar looked slightly surprised, but not for the reasons Harry had expected. "The nature of power- whether it is 'normal' or fanciful, does not change the moral obligations which go with it. Power breeds responsibility. The ability to help others and the moral obligation to do so- especially where fewer or no other people can, which is where we come back to your idea about a rare 'magical' gift, go hand in hand."
Harry mooched along Privet Drive. There was no other word for it, really. His chin was sunk into his throat, his eyes downcast, his hands in his jeans' pockets, and kicking small pebbles with his trainers. Probably the only significant difference in his posture to that of teenagers up and down the land was that, in his pocket, his right hand was curled round, fingering the tip of the wand hidden up his sleeve. None of what Wainwright had 'preached'- the word was, he supposed, double appropriate, had exactly been new to him, but it had clarified things somewhat to hear it from another person. Yes, he had a duty to stop Voldemort, both for himself, and for everyone else. He exchanged a companionable nod with a disgusting and piscine odorous down-and-out who was rummaging in a litter bin. Mundungus Fletcher returned the nod, and moved along. Harry turned up the drive to Number Four. Good, Uncle Vernon wasn't back yet. Grunnings Drills was in some financial trouble, it appeared, and Vernon's work days were getting longer. It was now around seven-fifteen- Harry had left the church when Mr Wainwright had wanted to start preparing for the evening service, and he hadn't walked at all quickly- and Aunt Petunia had been told that morning that Vernon couldn't guarantee being back before eight pm. He'd seen his cousin Dudley and his alleged friends, Piers Polkiss and Sammy Bushell- who was, Harry gathered, more Dudley's friendly neighbourhood drug dealer than his actual friend, busily and industriously employed in vandalising a set of traffic lights- their latest hobby, it seemed, to judge from the local papers. Harry had steered clear of them, despite a great temptation to petrify them and stand them in the road, so they might learn to appreciate the value of pedestrian crossings.
If Dudley was running true to form, he'd probably arrive home at around eleven-fifteen and stomp straight up to bed, so as to give his Aunt and Uncle as little time as possible to smell the cigarette smoke and alcohol on his clothes. That, Harry realised with some resignation, left the house to himself and his Aunt.
"Oh well," Harry sighed. "She can only get me to scrub the floors once."
He pushed open the front door, and stepped in, taking care to make the squeaky floorboard creak. Petunia Dursley would object to something about him anyway, so he might as well give her an obvious target. It would make the rant quicker.
There was a muffled intake of breath from the living room, and a rustling of papers.
"Vernon... is that you?" Aunt Petunia sounded- alarmed? Embarrassed? For just a moment, it flashed through Harry's horrified brain that he might have caught his horse-faced aunt in flagrante delicto with a blind idiot. He resisted the temptation to run away screaming. "Who is it?" Petunia demanded, angrily. Harry answered her by opening the door and going in.
His Aunt was sitting, quite respectably, on the settee, reading a newspaper. Harry shrugged to himself, and was about to turn away, when several things struck him. The first was a large, flat book, hurled by his Aunt, and it struck him on the forehead, before angling away to bounce off the open door and hit the floor.
"Ow- what did I do?" Harry spluttered, trying to check his glasses were unbroken and glare at Petunia at the same time, before the second two things struck him. The first- his Aunt's face looked both tear-stained, guilty, and plain terrified. The second, that the newspaper had moving pictures, and was emblazoned with the masthead of "The Daily Prophet". The final two things which struck him were that a)there were several more past editions of the wizarding newspaper, still tied up with string on the settee beside his Aunt, and b) that they were his, which had been, that morning, hidden under a floorboard in his room.
"Have you been going through my things?" he began, angrily, before his Aunt cut him off, rising to her feet and waving the newspaper at him.
"How dare you?" She stared, almost madly, he thought. "How dare you have this... this confession of your freakishness delivered to my house?"
"My owl delivers it, Aunt. No one's going to see..." he trailed off, looking down at the book she had thrown at him.
"I can see, boy! Anyone who came into this house might see! Anyone might..." Harry wasn't listening. The book she had been reading alongside the newspaper was an atlas of Great Britain. Several towns in the nearby area had been circled in pencil on the page at which it had fallen open- probably the page Aunt Petunia had creased it open at, while it lay on her knee. His gaze moved to the newspaper in her hand. It was the most recent edition, whose lead article described the locations and casualties of several recent Death Eater attacks. Harry locked his Aunt with his gaze and moved forward suddenly, taking the newspaper from her hand before she had a chance to protest, and sitting down, pushing her down into the seat next to him as he did so. It was, he thought, probably one of the few times they had actually touched one another. He looked at the paper again, then back at her.
"I can see too."
Petunia started, flinching back, her pale eyes swivelling cow-like between her nephew and the newspaper. Then, as if on defence, her expression shifted, growing even more closed and haughty than ever, and she sneered at him.
"See, how can you? You're nothing more than a silly little child, whatever that fool Dumbledore's been telling you!"
Harry almost laughed at that, remembering his fearful row with Dumbledore a month or so ago, and the man's subsequent humbling apology for treating him like a child. He kept his face straight though, distracted by the strange behaviour of his aunt, and the unprecedented feeling of sympathy he suddenly felt for her.
"Lord Voldemort," he began. "He's back. You were terrified when you heard me tell Uncle Vernon last summer... you're still terrified of him."
"No!" She snarled, angrily. "I'm not interested in any of you or your unnatural ways!"
"He killed my mother, Aunt!" Harry shouted it at her. "Your sister! Did she tell you what Voldemort was like, to make you so scared of him coming back? I know you hated her, for being unnatural, for being a freak, but..." he got no further. The blow knocked him sideways, almost out of the settee and on to the floor, one hand rubbing his stinging cheek, feeling the five bleeding welts there. Petunia stood up, eyes flashing, a drop of blood on each of five immaculately manicured fingernails.
"HOW DARE YOU? I loved my sister!" She was trembling with anger, and fresh tears were rising in her eyes. "I loved her... loved my little Lily from the moment she was born till the day she died. My beautiful baby sister. So clever, so innocent, so talented. Then, yes, when her real talent surfaced, I disapproved, I was scared- yes, I was scared! Scared because I could see even then how terrible someone like that would be if they wanted to use their power to hurt people. Scared that the world she was opening up, taking us all into, was a world with people like- people like..."
"Most of the people I know call him 'You-know-who'," Harry supplied, quietly, never taking his eyes off his aunt.
"People like him." She stepped away from the table and began to pace back and forth, shaking slightly, arms wrapped around her waist. "But I never stopped loving her!" One hand went to her mouth and fidgeted at her lips. "If you could believe that then you're no better than the monster who took her from us, Potter. David and I loved her like our own daughter." She stopped, and heaved a deep sigh, turning away from him and facing the fireplace.
"Who's David?" Harry frowned.
"We were engaged to be married." Petunia's tone had taken on a dull, tragic tone. "We were only seventeen, when we all saw what Lily was... who she was. We loved her the more for it. We were fascinated- especially David. I even came to think sometimes that he preferred her to me- but I still adored her. How could I not love someone so lovely?" Mrs Dursley began to sob. Even in spite of who she was, Harry felt some urge to go to her, to comfort her- but he knew that he, being who he was, never could.
"Then... then, it was when Lily was about the age you are now. No younger. The summer holidays. David was picking her up in his car, bringing her back from the pictures, when they... came for her." She paused. "Death Eaters." Harry froze. "Two of them... I never saw them, but the man... the Marauder, he called himself,who came to the house, who told us that David was dead, and that he and his friends had taken Lily away with them for protection, he told me the names of the two who had killed my David. Just once. Malfoy and Lestrange." Harry's spine prickled.
"They... the two of themset the car on fire with their magic, left David inside, trapped. They pulled Lily out, and were going to torment her when four of her friends arrived. They... they drove off the Death Eaters somehow- saved her. I never found out their names. The stupid little man who came to the house only ever told me some idiotic school nicknames, and I can't even remember them now!" Petunia snapped, angrily, turning round once. Her face was ravaged with tears. When she saw Harry's reaction, she swiftly turned again.
Harry spoke slowly, and quietly.
"Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs. Those were the names, weren't they?"
Petunia breathed in harshly.
"How could you...?"
"Prongs was the nickname of James Potter," Harry remarked, coldly. "My 'good-for-nothing' father saved your sister's life." He hesitated a moment, and then, in an entirely different tone of voice, said, "I never knew that."
"Well, why couldn't he have saved my David too?" Aunt Petunia spun round, and all her rage seemed to wither. "And... and how many more people is... the other one...going to kill?" Slowly, almost drunkenly, she collapsed to her knees, shaking, and sobbing great wracking sobs.
"Not too many, Aunt." Harry started to walk slowly towards her. "I'm going to get rid of him, if it's the last thing I do."
As Harry stepped over the piles of editions of the "Daily Prophet" on the living room floor, and gently rested one hand on her shoulder, they both heard the small, unmistakeable sound of a key in the front door lock.
Uncle Vernon was coming home from work.