Note: I know that I shouldn't be starting another story whilst in the middle of writing Harry Potter and the Chance for a New Life, but this plot bunny's been picking on me for quite a while. Updates for this fic will be less frequent but longer than those for HP and the CFaNL.
I'm taking votes on whether this should be a H/Hr pairing, H/G, or something else. I'm leaning toward Harry/Hermione, but I can be convinced otherwise.
It would seem that I have a thing for writing seventh year Harry Potter fics without writing sixth year fics. I suppose the reason why is because I feel like Harry's shown as a bit of an idiot in the books up through book 5, so I think of year 6 as being his chance to do all the studying, etc. that he neglected to do the years before. Therefore, if you really want to read my version of year 6, here it is:
"Harry studied. A lot. So did Hermione. She got better grades than he did, but that's because he was studying to save the world and she was studying to get good grades. Both of them got better grades than Ron. Ron played a lot of chess and Quidditch. Harry did not. Snape hated Harry. He was an awful git and terribly unfair to him. Dumbledore twinkled. The wizarding world behaved as if under a shadow as Voldemort continued causing mayhem and terror. Harry fought Voldemort and barely escaped with his life."
Voila! Now on to the actual story...
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.
Chapter 1: In Which the Characters and the Setting are Introduced
Harry Potter was not Head Boy. He had been denied that position in his fifth year when his Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, had mistakenly thought that the responsibility of prefect would be too much a burden for him to handle, considering he was already expected to save the world. Without having been a prefect, and without amazing grades, it was impossible for even the Boy-Who-Lived to attain the lofty position of Head Boy.
Ernie Macmillan was Head Boy. He was pompous and most students didn't much like him, but he was a good person at heart.
Harry Potter was not a Quidditch Captain. He had been banned from Quidditch for life in his fifth year by the psychotic Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Dolores Umbrige.
Draco Malfoy was a Quidditch Captain. He had won the Quidditch Cup once already and was expected to do so again this year, and if most of the players on the opposing team ended up in the Hospital Wing under suspicious circumstances in the week before each and every match, well, they ought to be more careful.
Harry Potter was not the best student at Hogwarts. Being able to kill a man twenty ways (and counting) with a wand and two without had not helped his Charms grade much.
Hermione Granger was the best student at Hogwarts. This had been the case for six years and a week now. Some people thought she had a photographic memory, but the truth was that she took energy potions every morning to make up for the sleep she lost by reading all night every night.
Harry Potter was not much of a dancer. The grace he had painstakingly taught himself in martial arts never seemed to apply to the dance floor. Or maybe he was just so awkward when around those members of the fairer sex that he tripped over his own feet.
Terry Boot was an impressive dancer. One wouldn't expect it, since it was well-known that most Ravenclaws had their heads in books all day long, but he was just proof that one doesn't have to be able to see more than two feet in front of one's face to dance properly.
Harry Potter had not yet killed another human being. He considered this a pity, because everyone was expecting him to do so, and he hated to let people down. On the other hand, most people only liked him because they thought that he had saved the world and would do it again, so maybe defeating Voldemort wouldn't be such a good thing, since they would probably forget about him afterwards. Harry Potter had not yet died, either. In general, he thought that this was a good thing, since he still had several things he hoped to do before departing from the world, such as graduating from Hogwarts, defeating Voldemort, and finding a Hulga the Unwise Chocolate Frog card.
Hannah Abbott had killed someone called by some a human being, but thought of by others as only slightly more mentally developed than the homo habilis. It had been a great scandal when she had been found in the Potions classroom with Gregory Goyle dead at her feet, a look of stupid surprise on his face and the Dark Mark on his left forearm clearly exposed. She had not been punished, but she had never been quite the same afterwards.
Harry Potter was not a good chess player. He could strategize with better-than-amateur skill a battle in which thousands of lives were on the line (or so he believed, having read numerous books about historic battles), but he had little patience for strategizing how to make his semi-animate pieces destroy his best friend's semi-animate pieces with the ultimate goal of killing his best friend's semi-animate king.
Ronald Weasley was an amazing chess player. He had been playing chess since he was a wee lad, and, since it was the only thing that he actually excelled in, he made sure to play at least two hours every day. He hadn't actually improved since he was eleven years old, however, as he had yet to find anyone who was decent enough competition to challenge him to do better.
Harry Potter was not considered by most teachers to be a good role model for younger students. He got into entirely too much trouble, and in his younger years had often been found associating with those terrible troublemakers, the Weasley twins. He was also expected to die at a very young age, and losing someone important to one when one is just a child can be a traumatizingly harsh blow to one's psyche, one which most teachers would rather not subject their eleven- and twelve- and thirteen-year-old students to.
Padma Patil was considered a good role model for younger students. She had never had detention, she got excellent grades (not nearly as excellent as Hermione Granger's, but then, whose were?), and she was beautiful. Most importantly of all, she had never had her life threatened, and never took the foolish risk of placing her own life in danger for the sake of others'.
On the other hand, Harry Potter was the leader of the DA, a secret defense organization of students from all seven years and the three not-evil Houses of Hogwarts. He was a parselmouth, but refused to speak to snakes except in life-or-death situations because he was afraid of becoming like Voldemort. He was also a wizard with hidden talents, most of which were known only to him. He was prophesized to either save the world or die trying, but most people didn't know that, either.
Everyone knew for a fact, though, that there was a lot that they didn't know when it came to Harry Potter. The history books would later postulate that this knowledge of their own ignorance may have been what caused many of Hogwart's inhabitants to turn to him as a leader when the great catastrophe of 1997 struck.
According to such notable scholars, it may have been for the aforementioned reason that Harry Potter was looked to for guidance when Albus Dumbledore suddenly keeled over halfway through dinner a week into the school year, immediately followed by the similar collapse of Minerva McGonagall, Severus Snape, Filius Flitwick, Rolanda Hooch, Ardelia Sinistra, Pomona Sprout, and Theresa Vector. Only Nymphadora Tonks, the DADA teacher (who had spilled her poisoned pumpkin soup onto Snape's lap at the very beginning of the meal), Rubeus Hagrid, the Care of Magical Creatures professor (who was so large and whose digestive system so slow that it would take an entire pot of poisoned pumpkin juice to put him out of commission), and Sybill Trelawney, the Divination teacher (who had happily drunk her entire bowl of pumpkin soup without showing ill effects, since no one would bother poisoning her anyway) were left conscious at the Head Table.
In reality, Harry Potter's leadership at that very moment had very little to do with his history of being a good leader and remarkably lucky wizard or the fact that everybody knew he had hidden depths, and very much to do with the simple fact that he could keep his head in a crisis.
Indeed, the real reason for his ascension to the top of the Hogwarts hierarchy was probably because when everybody (including but not limited to the three conscious professors) simultaneously began screaming in surprise and fear, faces contorted in terror at the sudden, inexplicable collapse of the most powerful wizard in the world and every responsible adult, Harry Potter alone stood tall, his emerald green eyes glinting, handsome face set in determined lines that belied his own horror at what was happening, cast sonorus on himself, and yelled, "Everybody be quiet!"
Furthermore, after everybody shut up, shocked at having been yelled at in this time of great disaster, Harry Potter, followed by the inhabitants of Hogwarts, stormed through the doors of the Great Hall, down the Entrance Hall, threw open the front doors, and found, to no surprise of his at all, that Voldemort and his entire force of Death Eaters was approximately thirty meters away and still closing.
Twenty five meters.
The spectators watched in very real rear as Harry spread his arms wide and shouted, "I, Harry James Potter, request of thee, Hogwarts Castle, control of thine wards, for the purpose of the protection of our students and the defeat of true evil!"
For a moment, it looked as though nothing would happen.
In the next instant, everyone gaped in dismay as Harry fell, writhing, to the ground, face contorted in agony. The torches lining the Main Hall flickered and almost went out. Abruptly, he stopped seizing, and the torches returned to their normal brightness - and then they began to burn even brighter and more steadily than they had been before.
Gasping and trembling, Harry painfully pushed himself to his feet, looking Voldemort (fifteen meters away, and aiming his wand) steadily in the eyes for the briefest of moments, then closed his eyes and begun rapidly muttering under his breath.
In most cases, this would not be an action which would inspire great confidence. Typically, when one turns to prayer in a time of danger, it means that the end is nigh. However, in this case, it was eminently encouraging for the entire populace of Hogwarts. Sometime during his prayer a great many loud creaking and rumbling noises could be heard throughout the castle, and the ground began to shake violently. A number of smaller students fell down, unable to keep their feet in the sudden tremors of the earth.
Voldemort's red eyes widened in angered realization, and he began mouthing the words of the killing curse, his wand pointed directly at Harry, who still had his eyes closed and was spellcasting with a flagrant disregard for his life.
The bright green spell left the Dark Wizard's wand, heading unerringly toward the powerful young wizard.
Ginny Weasley screamed, "Harry!" Harry didn't move, didn't react to her warning at all, except that his chanting might have oh-so-slightly increased in tempo.
The spell was about ten centimeters from the doorway, thirty centimeters from Harry's scarred forehead and unkempt hair, when, to everyone's great surprise, the doors suddenly slammed shut, pushed by an invisible force, and a large beam of wood fell to bar the main doors, a blockade not only of wood, but of magic as old as the school itself. The only sound made by the spell hitting the door was a muffled thump.
The shaking ceased.
Harry stopped chanting and opened his eyes. "Thank Merlin," he whispered. He reached out a tentative hand to feel the door, as if fearing that it wasn't truly there. He turned slowly, still trembling slightly, and looked at the mass of dazed and awed students and teachers. "Someone fetch Madam Pomfrey," he croaked. "She is needed in the Great Hall." Rooted to the ground in incomprehension as they were, no one moved. "Now!" he barked.
Five students dashed away to obey.
The rest followed Harry as he laboriously walked back to the Great Hall, seeming to regain his strength and speed with every step that he took. By the time he passed through the doors to the Hall, he was running. He came to a stop next to Dumbledore, dropping his knees next to the old wizard and frantically searching for a pulse. He breathed a sigh of relief when he found one, but his reassurance was short-lived. Despite the fact that he was still alive, Dumbledore was very pale, and his breathing so slight as to be almost non-existent. His skin was a strange pasty white, almost green in places. His eyes were open but unseeing, the blue orbs lacking the twinkle that was their trademark. His half-moon glasses had fallen from his face, and one of the lenses was cracked jaggedly down the middle, ironically in the shape of a lightning bolt.
Harry barely noticed that a number of other students had finally regained their wits and were also inspecting the fallen teachers.
The sound of hurried footsteps announced the arrival of Poppy Pomfrey. She fell to her knees besides Harry, gasping, "What do we have, Potter?"
"He's breathing faintly," Harry reported with all the alacrity of a professional healer. His secret medical classes with the nurse last year had paid off. "Skin is clammy, pupils dilated, pulse erratic."
She ran her wand over the old wizard, muttering diagnostic spells under her breath. She paused for a moment to turn to Harry and say, "Check on the others. There's nothing for you to do here right now."
Harry nodded curtly, turning to examine McGonagall, who had fallen close to Dumbledore. He was both surprised and pleased to find that her symptoms were quite different from the older wizard's. She was breathing slowly but steadily, and her pulse was beating a strong, reassuring tattoo against his inquiring fingers. Her skin was flushed red, as if from a slight fever, but there seemed to be no immediate danger to her life. He moved beyond her to check the others, and found that they exhibited the same symptoms.
"Comas," Hermione whispered. She looked up from her position resting on her heels next to Vector, her troubled brown eyes meeting Harry's as she voiced what he had been thinking. "They're all in comas."
"Not Dumbledore," Madam Pomfrey barked. "Harry, I need you."
Harry rushed to her side, pushing Ernie Macmillan out of the way. "What can I do?" he asked earnestly.
The mediwitch's lips were pursed as she shook her head. "We're going to have to put him into a stasis," she said. "The poison in his system is working quickly, so we don't have much time. You know the spell?"
"Yes," he said. "Do you want to be the primary caster, or shall I?"
"You," she ordered. "This is no time for modesty; you're much stronger than I am." She pushed a strand of grey hair behind one ear.
He inclined his head in agreement. Then, he turned so that he was kneeling directly next to the old wizard. Dumbledore had begun to gasp as his lungs threatened to give out. Quickly, Harry held his hands over his Headmaster's chest, muttering in complicated Latin. Pomfrey took a mirroring position, channeling her own magic into the spell.
"How does he know that spell?" Hermione murmured, careful to keep her voice down so that she did not disturb the spellcasters. "That's very advanced magic."
"Sh!" Malfoy hissed at her. He was watching avidly, a look of sincere interest and concern on his face for one of the first times in his life.
She glared at him, but didn't comment, sensing that he had rebuked her not out of malice, but out of genuine worry that she might disturb the spell or its casters.
The gathered students watched silently as Harry continued. Beads of sweat had formed on his face, and his hands were shaking. Pomfrey, too, was trembling in exhaustion.
A single drop of sweat fell from Harry's forehead to Dumbledore's chest.
A golden glow began to cover the Headmaster, beginning at his feet and slowly working its way up his body as Harry continued to chant.
Time seemed to pass agonizingly slowly as the entire student body watched with bated breath, wondering whether these were to be the last moments in their Headmaster's life.
Three minutes later, it was done. The glow covered his entire body, from head to toe. Dumbledore's mouth was still open mid-breath, and though he still looked terrible, and though he was still dying, he was in no immediate danger. A bit of spittle that had dribbled from his mouth glistened on his beard. The stasis spell had worked perfectly: Albus Dumbledore was now frozen in time.
Harry collapsed to the floor, panting as if he had just run a race.
Pomfrey sat back, exhausted, allowing herself respite for a short moment before she slowly turned to McGonagall. Once again, she ran her diagnostic spells, the furrows in her brow becoming more and more pronounced with each result. She broke away and turned to Hermione. "You say that the others are all like this?"
"Yes," the bushy-haired Head Girl replied.
"Then there's nothing we can do for them here. They've been given the somnus aeternus potion. They'll need to be sent to St. Mungo's for help."
"They're not going anywhere," Harry said hoarsely. He coughed a bit.
"Excuse me, Mr. Potter?" Pomfrey asked, affronted at being challenged on her specialty.
"They're not going anywhere," he repeated. "They can't."
"And why not?" she demanded.
"The school has been locked down, Madam," Harry informed her. "It's a total lockdown. Not even the floos are operating."
She gaped. "But why?"
"Because what we feared would come to pass, has," he said. "Dumbledore and I discussed the possibility of needing this spell, and although I regret that I was forced to perform it, there was nothing else I could do."
"A lockdown," she said heavily. "This must be the first since..."
"It's the first in over five hundred years," Hermione said authoritatively.
"Can you not treat the professors in the Hospital Wing?" Harry asked. "Will they...die...if they can't go to St. Mungos?"
"No," Pomfrey replied. "They won't die if they don't go to St. Mungos, but they won't wake up here, either. The antidote to the somnus aeternus potion is one that can only be brewed by a Potions Master, and which requires ingredients so rare that I doubt we have any here. Even if we did have the appropriate ingredients, our only Potions Master is currently under the effect of the potion." She jerked her head toward Professor Snape, whose comatose body was at this point surrounded by concerned Slytherins.
"Let's get the teachers to the Hospital Wing, then," Harry decided, seeing that no one else was about to take control of the situation. "Two students to levitate each teacher; the rest of you stay here for now and don't panic. We'll figure everything out when we're all back here."
Harry and Pomfrey wordlessly claimed Dumbledore as theirs to carry, while Draco Malfoy and Hermione reluctantly cooperated to bring Snape. More students paired off for the other teachers, with Tonks and Ron bringing McGonagall, and they marched to the Hospital Wing in a strange mockery of a parade.
As they walked, Harry asked Pomfrey under his breath, "What's wrong with Dumbledore?"
She shook her head. "It's a poison unlike any I've seen before. I believe that it was specifically designed to kill him, based on his age, his magical ability, perhaps even his height and weight. It's amazing that he was still alive when I got to him."
Harry blinked in realization. "I took the wards," he murmured. "I needed them to perform the lockdown, so I claimed them. That must have changed his magical levels..."
"You're right," she said thoughtfully. "If the poison was as carefully calibrated as I think, then such a change could have confused it." She paused. "If that's true, then you saved his life."
He smiled slightly, sadly. "He's not alive at the moment. We can talk about who saved whose life when everyone is back up and running."
"And how do you intend for that to happen?" she asked him.
"Me?" he asked. "I'm sure someone else will take over once we get back. People just need a little time to get their heads back on straight, that's all."
She smirked a bit, turning her face away so that he wouldn't see. "If you say so," she replied doubtfully.
He was spared a reply when they reached the Hospital Wing.
"Lay them each down on a bed," Pomfrey ordered, and the paired students complied. She wiped her hands briskly as she surveyed her patients, gaining a bit more confidence now that she was back in her domain. "Right, I'll take care of it from here. You lot go back to the Great Hall before they start a civil war."
Again, the students obeyed. Harry was the last out the door, and was just exiting when Pomfrey grabbed him by the sleeve. "You tell whoever they choose to be in charge down there that I'll need at least two assistants at all time to help me," she said. "The teachers will need quite a bit of taking care of just to make sure that they're in good shape whenever we manage to wake them up."
"All right," Harry agreed. With that, he took his leave.
When he arrived back at the Great Hall, he was disappointed but unsurprised to find that the students and teachers were milling about restlessly.
He clapped his hands once, using the magic of Hogwarts to amplify the sound. They immediately turned to him.
"Er," he said, uncomfortable at being the center of attention of so many people now that the immediate crisis had passed. Where to begin...
"It was me!" a young voice bawled from the crowd.
Harry blinked. "What?"
A small girl with the Hufflepuff crest on her robes stepped forward through the crowd. She couldn't be older than a second year. "I'm the one who poisoned them!" she wailed. "I didn't know! The man said that it was a cheering potion! He said that -said that it would make everybody happier!" She sniffled, wiping her nose on her robes. "He told me what to put where, and I thought it'd make everything better!"
Harry sighed and rubbed his forehead. He felt a headache coming on. "Can you tell us what the man looked like?"
She wiped her eyes. "He was tall. He was handsome, and had long, white-blonde hair. He had a cane with a snake on top."
"Malfoy," Ron Weasley muttered.
"You don't know that, weasel!" Draco Malfoy exclaimed. "It could have been someone under polyjuice!"
"Yeah, right," Ron said. "Like we believe those pathetic excuses. Your dad's a Death Eater, everyone knows that. Heck, he went to Azkaban a year ago!"
"And was released by Fudge himself," Draco said through gritted teeth.
"Yeah, well we all know that Fudge is crooked as a - "
"Enough!" Harry shouted. When both boys turned to glare at him, he said, "Now is not the time for this kind of argument."
"Who voted you leader, Potty?" Draco demanded. "You're not even a prefect!"
Myriad voices from the crowd shouted in outrage at Malfoy challenging their hero.
Harry silenced them with a sharp gesture, staring hard at his school nemesis. "You think I want to be - No, you'll never believe me. Come up here, Malfoy," he said.
"I don't follow your orders, Potter," Draco snarled.
"Oh, just do it, won't you?" Ernie asked.
"Stop wasting time, Draco," Blaise Zabini chimed in, ignoring the betrayed glares of the other Slytherins.
Draco sneered, but complied, since he was so obviously outvoted. He walked to where Harry was standing. "Now what?" he said.
Harry just shrugged before walking toward the crowd, turning to face him only once he was standing just in front of the group. "Now you're in charge," Harry said simply.
Draco blinked. "I'm - what?" he gaped.
"In charge," Harry said. "So, lead us, oh wise one."
The students turned expectant eyes to the Slytherin, half of them understanding what Harry was doing and looking forward to Malfoy's downfall, and the other half genuinely wanting someone, anyone, to follow.
"Uh - um," the boy stammered. He swallowed, his adam's apple bobbing. He clenched his fists at his sides so tightly that his knuckles were white. He stood there for nearly half a minute, shifting uncomfortably from side to side, avoiding making eye contact with everyone, becoming increasingly unnerved by the silence, before snapping, "Get back up here, Potter." Harry raised an eyebrow. "It's not as if anybody'd listen to me anyway, when it's my dad's fault we're stuck here," Draco muttered. "Anyway, I suppose you're better than the other pathetic choices."
"Thank you for that vote of confidence," Harry said as he retook his position in front of the group. "Look, I'm not trying to be your leader," he said. "I'm just trying to make sure order is restored so we can make an informed choice. I guess for that to happen, you need to be informed about what's going on." He took a deep breath, then expelled it heavily as he looked at the eager faces around him, taking in the fact that the students were scrunched together with many of the smaller ones being crushed by the larger. "Why don't you all sit in your usual places?" he suggested. When they had all taken their seats, he walked to stand in front of the Head Table. "All right," he muttered to himself. Then, louder, "All right. I don't know how to put this gently, so I'll just say it: almost all of the professors are out of commission, and we may not be able to wake them up. In addition, Hogwarts has been locked down, with no access in or out, not even for owls, and I anticipate that Voldemort has set up his new headquarters directly outside."
"What does that mean, exactly?" Tonks asked from her position perched at the end of the Gryffindor table.
"It means," Harry replied slowly, "That Hogwarts is now completely isolated from the rest of the world. It also means that the students are going to have to mostly be in charge of themselves, since so few adults are left."
"Why don't you just get rid of the lockdown?" a voice from the Ravenclaw table shouted.
"Didn't you hear him?" Hermione asked. "Voldemort's right outside! Hogwarts is under siege! Getting rid of the lockdown could mean suicide!"
Pandemonium followed her words.
"We're going to starve to death!" someone shrieked.
"We're all going to die!"
"You-Know-Who's going to kill us all!"
"I want my mother!"
"Let's just give him the Mudbloods, and hope he leaves the rest of us alone!"
"Thank you, Hermione," Harry muttered under his breath. He took another deep breath, then bellowed, "Everybody calm down!" Not all of the frightened exclamations ceased, but enough so that Harry could be heard. "Look, we're not going to die, and we're not going to throw anyone to the wolves, either. We're responsible students; we're not going to reenact The Lord of the Flies."
Mostly blank stares met that pronouncement.
"Er, muggle reference, sorry. I'm just trying to say, we're not going to kill each other, and as long as Hogwarts is locked down, the bad guys can't get in. We're safe."
"What about food?" someone called out. "How're we going to keep from starving to death?"
Harry thought for a moment before breaking into a smile. "Dobby!" he shouted.
With a pop that surprised most of the confused students, Dobby the house-elf appeared in the middle of the Great Hall. "Yes, Harry Potter sir? Harry Potter sir is wanting Dobby?" he asked earnestly.
"Yes, Dobby," Harry said kindly. "Now, the house-elves have noticed the lockdown, right?"
"Of course, Harry Potter sir," Dobby said, bobbing his head subserviently. "We is all connected to Hogwarts, we is feeling when she is being separated from everywhere else. What is the great Harry Potter wanting to know?"
"How are you going to keep feeding us for the duration of the lockdown?" he inquired. "Do you have enough food in storage?"
A number of students leaned forward in their chairs, eager to hear the answer to his question, and Harry realized with a wince that it might have been a bad idea to ask that question in front of every student in the hall, since it would probably cause a riot if Dobby's answer was "no."
Fortunately, Dobby broke into a wide grin. "Of course there is being enough food, Harry Potter sir! Hogwarts and her elves is always being ready for a lockdown. There is being a farm under the school that is always being tended just in case."
Harry blinked. "A farm? Under Hogwarts?"
"Oh, yes, Harry Potter sir," Dobby effused. "There is being cows and sheeps and pigs and - "
"Thank you, Dobby," Harry cut him off. "I'm glad to hear that. Would it be possible for the house-elves to arrange for some wizards to go down and see this farm sometime?"
"Of course," the house-elf said. "Is Harry Potter wanting to go now? Dobby can take him!"
"Not right now, thanks, Dobby," Harry said. "Later, though. I'd like you to stay for the rest of this...meeting...if you're not too busy, Dobby, since you and the other house-elves will need to know what's happening."
Dobby burst into tears. "Harry Potter is being such a great wizard! He is too kind to Dobby! Asking Dobby to watch an important meeting! Harry Potter sir is so kind and generous!" Still bawling, he allowed himself to be led to a bench by Hermione, who appeared to be on the verge of telling Harry off for treating the house-elves as slaves.
The amazed voice of Draco Malfoy could be heard over Dobby's crying, saying, "You know, I think he used to be my house-elf..."
Harry cleared his throat. "So, we've established that we're safe where we are, and there will be no starving to death. I think that before we go any further we should figure out who's going to be in charge for the duration of the siege. Now, naturally, I think Professor Tonks should be our leader - "
Smash! Bang! Crunch!
Tonks stared at him in utter terror from her position lying on a pile of silverware, which she had pushed over and then fallen upon upon hearing his pronouncement. Her hair was changing colors so quickly they could barely be differentiated. "No way!" she said, her voice panicked. "If it's a staff member you're looking for, I'm not it. I don't have a leadership bone in my body! I vote for Harry!"
Harry frowned at her in disappointment. "Right, then. I guess the next choice would be..." He reluctantly turned his eyes to Professor Trelawney.
When she realized that she was being considered as a candidate for leader, the Divination professor's eyes immediately rolled back into her head. "My inner eye tells me that we will all die," she intoned. Lavendar Brown gasped. "We will all die," the fraud continued, "We will all die, unless led by the one with the lightning upon his face..."
Tonks snorted. "Now, that was complete bollocks." A number of students looked at her incredulously, not believing that one teacher had actually just said that about another. "What?" Tonks asked.
"I guess that was a 'no,' then," Harry said. "Well, then"
"Don' even bother, Harry," Hagrid told him. "We both know I'm not cu' ou' ta be a leader."
"Fine," he growled, closing his eyes for a long moment. "And Madam Pomfrey's going to be too busy in the infirmary to be able to take much of a leadership position. I guess in that case one of us students will have to be in charge. Now, Hermione and Ernie are Head Girl and Boy, so maybe - "
"Don't even think about it, Harry," Ernie broke in. "I may be Head Boy, but everyone's following you. We voted you leader when this whole thing began, even if you didn't realize it."
"He's right," Hermione said. "While I'm flattered you would consider nominating me, it's clear that you've already taken control. You're the leader Harry; we trust you."
There were murmurs of agreement throughout the crowd.
Harry winced. "Are you all absolutely certain this is what you want?" he asked desperately. People began nodding with great vigor. Even the Slytherins reluctantly concurred, obviously pained at the thought of following the ultimate Gryffindor, but at the same time knowing that he was their best bet for survival. "Very well," he acquiesced unhappily. "But I'm not going to lead you all on my own. We need to come up with some sort of hierarchy or council or something. Any suggestions?"
"We could just use the prefects," Ernie suggested.
Surprisingly, it was Hermione who disagreed. "That wouldn't be a good idea in the long run," she argued. "The prefects were chosen by the teachers because they thought that we could keep everyone else under control, but the teachers aren't here any more. The people in charge need to be people who we, the students, will actually follow. I mean, Harry wasn't even a prefect, an we've chosen him to be in charge."
"After that speech, I'm nominating Hermione to be one of the Gryffindor lieutenants, that's for sure," Ginny Weasley said.
Murmurs of agreement could be heard.
"But how many lieutenants should there be per house?" a Hufflepuff asked.
"Three," Ron suggested. "Just enough to keep everyone in line."
"In that case, I think the other two for Gryffindor ought to be Ginny Weasley andColin Creevey," Seamus Finnigan suggested.
"Anyone disagree?" Harry asked. No one at the Gryffindor table objected.
The other three houses huddled around their tables, discussing their own choices. The Slytherins finished first. "We choose Draco Malfoy, Blaise Zabini, and Malcolm Baddock," they announced.
This assertion was soon followed by Ravenclaw's "Terry Boot, Padma Patil, and Stewart Ackerley," and Hufflepuff's "Hannah Abbott, Ernie Macmillan, and Justin Finch-Fletchley."
The discussion seemed to lull for a minute before Harry began nodding with a smile. "Good, good," he said. "This is a good start." He glanced up at the ceiling, which was charmed to reflect the sky, and started in surprise when he saw how dark it was. It had to have been nearly midnight. "Perhaps it would be best to save further planning until tomorrow," he said. "It's late, and we probably shouldn't try to make any important decisions when we're falling asleep. If captains and prefects would escort everyone to your House dormitories, we'll reconvene tomorrow at 8:00 to decide where to go from here."
The typical noisy sounds which come of a large group preparing to leave filled the hall before Harry remembered something else he was supposed to say. "Also," he raised his voice, "I'd like eight volunteers who're willing to work six-hour shifts in the Hospital Wing helping take care of the teachers until further notice." About fifteen hands were raised, and Harry chose the eight who seemed most responsible. "Thank you, and good night, everyone! Try not to worry too much."
He watched as the students and teachers filed from the hall. Hermione and Tonks were the only two to stay behind.
"What did you think you were doing, nominating me to be a leader?" Tonks demanded, slapping Harry upside the head. "Are you mad?"
"Really, Harry, you did a great job. I was very impressed," Hermione said encouragingly. Then she smirked wickedly. "I had no idea you had ever read a book as serious as Lord of the Flies."
"There's a lot you don't know about me," he said tiredly, too exhausted to respond to her banter as he would have liked.
"Are you all right?" she asked in concern.
"Oh, I'll be fine," he said. "It's just the strain of taking the wards on top of everything else that's happening that's wearing me down."
"I had forgotten," she said. She touched his arm lightly. "Are they a terrible drain?"
"Not a drain, really," he said, frowning as he tried to explain. "I can actually feel them making me stronger; they just also have the drawback of making me feel like I have a thirty pound load on my shoulders."
"I'm sure they'll get lighter with time," Tonks said optimistically.
"Hmmm," Harry murmured noncommittally. "Well, I'm for bed. I have to try to get some sleep before I fully register the fact that I've just been chosen to lead three hundred students, one wacky teacher, a fraud, and a dangerous-animal-loving Groundskeeper for an indeterminate length of time."
"You forgot Filch," Tonks put in helpfully.
"Thank you, Tonks," Harry replied sarcastically. "Now my day is complete."
The three of them trudged in companionable silence from the Great Hall, none feeling quite as bad about the situation as they could have had things gone differently.
After all, Harry Potter was not many things, but he was a great leader and, when it came to the important things, the most dependable wizard at Hogwarts.
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