Disclaimer: Don't own them, JK does, and boy, isn't that great?
Summary: Harry now knows that is kill or be killed. Is he ready for it, or will he be ready for it?
Timeline: Year six
Author Notes: I've started this before HBP was even launched, so it'll be an AU from start to end. And many thanks to a ton of people: Jeconais, Ruskbyte, Bobmin356, Abraxan, Ed Becerra and a few other for the inspiration, Vicki, Brian, CJ, CanadianSatan and Len for being my sounding boards and betas plus friends. Reviews are Welcome.
And I'll always post first at my group in tv. groups. yahoo. com / group / bigheadfics / Remove the spaces, and there you go.
Chapter 1 – Surprises
The Great Hall did not look anything like he had seen before. The usually bright and cheerful place now looked like the interior of a dark, dank and foreboding cavern, the candles which brought light to it were nowhere to be seen, the only light in the environment came from a few torches placed at even distances on the pillars of the hall, plus the sick green glow coming from the ceiling, now enchanted to show the Dark Mark, instead of the sky outside.
The house tables were filled to capacity, but instead of the bright and cheerful students, in their place stood silent and serious-looking children, all dressed from head to toe in black Death Eater regalia, sans masks, faces obscured by hoods.
Worse of it all was the staff table. Instead of McGonagall, Flitwick, Hooch and the others, there were faces that Harry wanted to see either dead, or in jail.
And worst of all, sitting on the chair that belonged to the Headmaster of Hogwarts was the leader of them all. Tom Marvolo Riddle.
The place was silent, but it looked like the beginning of another year, even the Sorting Hat was on display in front of the staff table.
The main doors opened with a bang, but instead of the group of new students, the silence was broken by the magical song of a phoenix, which flown through the open door, followed by a huge black grim, the animagus form of Sirius Black.
The phoenix soared high through the ceiling, her song unfortunately falling on deaf ears. There was no hope in the room, only pain, fear and obedience.
The huge dog stopped right in front of Voldemort, and it transformed back into human, Fawkes calmly landing on his shoulder. Sirius pointed his finger in the direction of the Dark Lord.
'Power the Dark Lord knows not,' he said, in an eerie voice.
Voldemort stood, removing his wand from his robe's pocket.
Harry woke up screaming from the nightmare, the greenish hue of the Unforgivable still very much present on his mind's eye. He managed to control himself, the scream dying and leaving a rough and dry throat behind. He looked around in panic for a second, one hand flying to his wand resting below his pillow the other for his glasses on the chair he had placed right beside the bed, until his mind recognized where he was.
Privet Drive. The Dursleys.
"Ah, bugger," he cursed almost silently, which gained him the owl equivalent of a glare from Hedwig. "Sorry," he said, finally calming down enough to lower his wand.
The door to his room was opened with a loud bang, the large form of his uncle clad in flannel pajamas filling up the opening. Harry pointed the wand to him more to scare him than anything else, he knew that he was coming as soon as he was cognitive enough.
"What happened, boy?" he asked in a rage, turning purple at the sight of the raised wand. "And lower that thing, you can't use magic outside of school."
"Nothing," he replied in a hard tone. "Just some bad dreams."
Harry could almost hear the blood pressure rising on his uncle and the sound of the gears spinning on his brain. The man would pop a gasket any second now, but at the same time, the threats issued at the station a few days ago were still clear in his mind.
"Keep it down, there are people who work in this house," he said finally, after a few moments. He closed the door almost gently, but with enough force to rattle a few walls, locking it behind him.
Harry sighed and lowered his wand, guarding it again behind his pillow.
"So much for sleep," he muttered.
Standing up, he started walking from one side of the room to another, mind deep in thought.
That's how the sun found him the next morning, still pacing.
-oOo-The breakfast was another event all unto itself. Aunt Petunia hadn't ordered him to cook since he arrived, but she found him out at the kitchen, with all the meal ready and waiting at the dishes. Vernon hadn't complained, and Dudley had kept his mouth shut, shooting strange glances to him once in a while.
Harry himself had just eaten a toast covered with jam and took a few sips of tea, gaining enough courage to speak what he needed. In his mind, this was hilarious, he could face Voldemort without trembling, but the simple act of speaking with his relatives made him shiver slightly. Finally, after a few moments, he spoke.
"We need to talk."
Vernon just folded his newspaper and looked at him, while Petunia and Dudley simply stopped the feeding motions. He took a deep breath and began.
"There's a war happening in the . . . my world," he said, trying to avoid anything that had to do with the word 'wizard'.
"What does it have to do with us, boy? We are not part of you freaks," Vernon said, and as an afterthought, he continued. "Matter of fact, if all of you died, I wouldn't shed a tear of pity for any of you."
Harry almost jumped on the table and onto his uncle's throat, but two things stopped him. One, if he let the anger took the best of him now he would lost any chance of asking anything, and two, he saw with the corner of his eyes that Dudley actually flinched when his father had spoken.
"That's the biggest problem," he continued, forcing his voice to remain even. "The man who's waging this war is not fond of Mu… humans, as well. If he wins, probably next year, or the year after, you would all be living in something that makes Nazi Camps look like a walk in the park on a sunny day."
Vernon snorted. "Do you think that the Crown would let this freak go anywhere? He would be captured or killed in a matter of days."
Harry sighed. "Uncle Vernon, you know nothing about our world. If I didn't have restrictions placed on me, or if I didn't choose to follow them, I could level this entire home with a single spell, disappear in a mere moment, and kill the queen the next. So, it won't be as easy as you think. Voldemort is dangerous, and he has no mercy." This was actually a bit far fetched, but not much so.
The reaction from the Dursleys was what he had expected, surprised looks and panic from both Petunia and Dudley, and hatred from Vernon.
"So, what does it have to do with us, boy?" he asked again, under gritted teeth.
"I'm . . . special, in this war. I have a sort of . . . connection with Voldemort, and he fears that, so I'm being hunted by him and his followers. I've fought them to a standstill a few days ago, and for now they must be laying low for a bit. A group of friends is planning and fighting him even as we speak, and I need to know what's going on, so I can prepare and help them, if needed."
Vernon thought it over for a few seconds. "So, tell me why I just don't simply throw you out that door and leave you to be found by this Varicort fellow?"
Harry took a deep breath. Time to see if his thinking paid off or no.
"My mother left me a protection when she died, that's why I have to stay with my aunt for a time every year. This protection ensues that Voldemort doesn't find me or mine for the entire year. So, keeping me here will probably let you live for the entire year, even after I'm gone to my school."
The burly man digested this for a moment. "And why are you telling us this?"
"I need a few . . . concessions. I need to send and receive owls, but I'll do it at night when they won't be seen by the neighbors. I need to receive a few friends, but they will arrive at the front door, we'll talk at my room, and they won't do any magic at the house. That's it."
Vernon stood up from his chair after a few moments. "I have to leave for work. I'll give you an answer when I get back."
Harry thanked the gods mentally, at least it wasn't a straight 'no'.
A few hours later, Harry was sitting on his bed, pouring his other ideas on a piece of parchment when a soft knock was heard at the door. That was another surprise, no one knocked on his door, they preferred to barge in unannounced.
"Come in," he spoke, louder.
The door opened and Dudley walked in with unsure steps. "H-hi. Can I come in?" he asked. Harry almost gaped at the sight, but instead only nodded a small affirmative.
Dudley looked around the room nervously, trying to find something. Harry decided to help him.
"Why don't you sit down?" he said, pointing to the chair. Dudley did as told, pushing the chair nearer the bed.
"Now, Dudders, what do you want?" he asked, seriously.
The huge boy shuddered slightly, and after taking a deep breath, finally looked at him. "A-are we in danger?" he asked in a small, scared voice.
That made Harry gape. He would have expected this maybe from his aunt, never from his cousin, from what he knew was a younger version of Vernon. Shaking the weird feeling from his mind, he tried to focus on an answer that would make sense.
"Maybe. Right now, directly from Voldemort I wouldn't think so, otherwise he would have attacked us last year."
"And t-those things that attacked u-us?" he asked, shivering from the memories.
"The dementors? They were sent by a madwoman from the Ministry of Magic just to discredit me, and that's what I fear the most now. But I do have a few 'bodyguards' around now, and I guess they will do a better job than last year, or so I hope."
"What's so different now?"
Harry looked to his cousin, this dialog really wasn't what he expected.
"Voldemort has finally reappeared to the public eye. Last year, only I and his followers had witnessed his resurrection, but a few days ago he had to appear to try to solve a mess that his followers had created."
Then suddenly, the memory of Sirius falling through the veil returned with a vengeance, and he halted, going pasty white.
"Harry, what's wrong?"
The young wizard looked at the worried face of his cousin, and tried to shake off the memory, failing miserably. "Bad memory," he said with a strained voice.
"Care to speak about it? It helps," Dudley said.
"Why do you care?" he said between gritted teeth, tears threatening to fall.
Dudley jumped backwards a bit, scared, but he had taken a decision before entering the room, and he would see to it.
"T-that's why I came here, Harry. To talk to you and to . . . to thank you."
The phrase was so surprising that it had the effect of breaking through Harry's reaction, and he sobered almost instantly.
"What?" he asked in a small voice, really not believing what he had heard.
"Thank you. I really didn't thank you last year after you saved me from those things, whatever they were."
Harry was so stunned that he remained mute, so Dudley continued.
"When I went back to Smeltings I was so scared of it that I couldn't sleep, couldn't study, couldn't do anything. I was scared of my own shadow. My so-called 'friends' took the opportunity to reverse the tables on me, and instead of the bully, I became the bullied."
"Serves you right," Harry mumbled, not really caring with his cousin's reaction.
"It did," came the surprisingly calm answer. Harry looked in awe at his cousin. "You see, after the first . . . rough housings, I became distant, from everyone. Then, I started thinking about you, and how would you feel when I did that to you. And that got me thinking. And those are the first 'I'm sorry' I'm going to say today. I'm sorry I bullied you, I'm sorry I hit you. I know it might not sound much, but after I've said everything I want to say, I think you'll understand."
Harry nodded, too surprised to say anything else.
"I was walking around corners all the time, until a girl approached me. Patricia Brooks. She isn't exactly beautiful, but she's cute, and she is very smart and friendly. She told me she found it 'really unfair' what people were doing with me. Really unfair. Can you believe it?"
Harry was intrigued at this point. What had happened to the huge burly?
"I got her into an empty classroom, and I simply . . . crumbled. Yeah, that's the best word, crumbled. I told her everything, Harry."
The wizard's eyes grew large, and Dudley noticed.
"No, not about magic. I'm not that stupid, and I don't want to spend the rest of my days in the hospice. But I told her about my life, what I did to you, how I treated you, and how you ended up saving me from a couple of really bad guys. Do you know what she did? She slapped me. She's like five foot six, must weight about seven stone wet, and she. Slapped. Me."
Harry actually laughed with the silly expression on his cousin's face.
"Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. Anyway, instead of running away and telling the headmaster what I did, she just asked me 'Why?'"
Dudley sighed, and put his ham-sized hands in Harry's knees, an action that garnered a flinch from the wizard and a small hand movement to the wand hidden at his back. The supposed ex-burly noticed, and removed the hands quickly and non-threateningly.
"Sorry for that, and another I'm sorry from my past. I'm sorry that I made you fear me, you are my cousin and one of the only relatives that I now can see that I like."
"W-why are you telling me all this, Dudley?" Harry finally regained enough of his composure to ask.
"Lemme continue, and I guess you'll understand. When she asked me why, I couldn't form an answer. That was what my father did, and I thought I was doing the right thing by following his footsteps, that's what I knew then. I told her this, and she looked mightily sad, and pissed as well. She told me my father should be arrested, that what he was doing should be considered slavery, that she was going to call Child Protection Services onto him and a ton of other things. For a calm and contained girl, she swears like a sailor."
Harry surprised them both by laughing slightly. Dudley smiled, and kept telling his tale.
"She does. I begged her to not do that, because . . . well, he is my father. So, she made me choose, either I would go and talk with the school's shrink about what happened, or she would go straight to the headmaster to tell what had happened."
Dudley stood up, and began pacing the room, much like Harry did the previous night.
"I went, and at the beginning it was extremely awkward. I mean, can you imagine me, talking about myself and my bloody parents and you, without sounding like a complete lunatic? Then, the doctor told me that all that I said to her would be kept under strict confidentiality, and after a couple sessions, I opened up. I mean, I really opened up. And don't worry, I haven't said anything about magic to her as well. She made me see what a complete idiot I have been all this time, and that all my previous view on life was completely distorted. And that brings me to my last I'm sorry of this story, I don't know how you'll see all of this, but I'm sorry for being a right bastard to you, in all aspects. I know that a simple I'm sorry isn't enough, and I haven't finished my tale yet, but I want you to know that I will never, ever treat you like that, ever again."
Dudley sat once again at the chair, looking to a dumbstruck Harry. The young wizard looked at him for a few moments, a series of different emotions playing on the green eyes. Finally, Harry huffed and lowered his head.
"Look," he started, voice low. "I don't know what you want, Dudley. My forgiveness, I don't know if I can give you that yet, if ever. I can try, no guarantees. But I won't forget what you or your dad did to me, ever. That's not something that you can just pass a layer of paint on top and forget about, you know?" Harry raised his head, and looked him straight in the eyes.
Dudley lowered his head, looking defeated. "I know. And I'm sorry for my dad as well. I will try and speak to him, okay?"
"Don't do that, it will only make things worse. He'll think I made something to you. Let it go, I'll deal with him in my own time, okay?" Harry said.
"Just… don't kill him, okay? He's still my dad, with all his faults and shortcomings."
"I won't. I've seen enough death for a lifetime. I hate him, but I'm not sure that I want to see him dead by my hand," Harry said, and looked to his own hands. "Does aunt Petunia know? What you told me?"
"More or less. She knows that I went to see the shrink for some time, she even said that she would complain to the headmaster, but I ended up telling her that it was common to the sports team members to go, and she folded. But she doesn't know that I came to speak to you," he said.
Harry thought it over for a moment, and extended his hand. "Hi, I'm Harry Potter."
Dudley looked oddly to the hand for a second, until comprehension dawned and a large smile appeared on his face. "Hi, Dudley Dursley."
"Don't think that this puts a rock in our past, but I'd like to know this new cousin of mine," Harry said, with a slight smile.
"Don't worry, I understand. But for you to understand, I have to finish my story. So, I started to wait for our sessions together, where I could talk with her, and have no fear of being reprimanded, or judged. I started changing my outlook in life, and what I wanted of it. I started studying really hard, and Patricia helped me a lot. She brought another friend of hers, Julius, and soon we were the top three students of our respective classes. I've restarted boxing, but now more as a sport and a way of relieving tension than a way to learn how to hurt people. I think I'm gonna be champion again, but this time I haven't 'trained' outside a ring. When I wasn't practicing or studying, I was hanging out with Julius and Patricia, and suddenly, something changed. I started having feelings for one of them, and somehow it was reciprocated."
Harry looked at his cousin again and smiled slightly. "Is she happy?"
"I think she is, after all she covers for us most of the time," Dudley said, reddening slightly.
It took less than a second for the revelation to be understood and replied in kind. "I could never imagine, Dudley. How?" It didn't have any hint of a critic, only honest curiosity.
"I sincerely don't know. We were talking once, about relationships and the like, you know, and when I realized, we were kissing. I thought about clobbering him for a second, but in the next, I was reciprocating, you know?"
"I don't," Harry answered, seriously. "Not that I do or don't swing this way, but I've never been properly kissed before."
Dudley's mouth fell, but he regained his composure a second later. "You should try it, with someone worthy, Harry. Not that I'm offering or anything, cause I might like you as cousin and probably as a friend, but I honestly don't like you like that."
"Thank Merlin. But for what is worth, I'm . . . happy for you, Dudders."
"Thank you. It means more than you know," he said, standing up.
"Does uncle Vernon know?" Harry asked, before his cousin opened the door.
"No, no one outside the four of us do. Can you imagine what he would do to me if I said to him or my mum that I'm gay?"
"Yes, I can," Harry replied, a lot of sadness and anger on his voice.
"That's why I came to talk to you, because after that I put myself in your position, and for the first time ever in my entire life I cried for you, Harry."
Dudley walked out of the room, leaving the door semi-opened. Harry stood up after a few seconds of thinking, and ran to the door.
"Dudley . . . thank you," he said to the large back moving slowly down the corridor.
Dudley looked back to him, and smiled a sad smile for a moment, before walking to his room.
Harry sat back down on his bed, looking to the surprised Hedwig.
"Can you believe that, girl?" he said, returning to his quill and parchment. He didn't write a single letter on it for a couple of hours.
Night came, and with it came uncle Vernon and dinner. Harry ended up helping his aunt to do the chores, not because she demanded, but because the manual labor gave him time to think without interruptions, and it was almost relaxing in some weird way.
The family, plus Harry, was sitting at the table, finishing dinner, the wizard stealing looks once in a while to his cousin and uncle. After they finished dessert, Vernon placed his massive hands on the table and looked Harry straight in the eye.
"I will agree with your request, under a few conditions. One, you will still do you chores around the house, and two, if any of those freak friends of ours do an inch of magic inside the house, I'll kick you and them off, no second chances. Understood, boy?"
Harry almost made a 'whoop' of joy, but instead he looked to his uncle and said a sedated "yes, uncle Vernon."
He finished up cleaning the dishes and went to his room. Once arriving there, he smiled fully for a second, and then prepared the parchments that he had written during the day and sent it on their way, Hedwig with some strict orders on what to do.
Once the snowy owl had fled off the window, he hit the pillow and was asleep in seconds.
Dudley was sitting on his computer the next day, playing a game, when he noticed Harry standing right at the door. He paused the game, and looked to his cousin.
"Weren't you outside?" he asked, looking at the badly dressed boy.
"Finished already. I was wondering, everything you said to me yesterday was true?" Harry asked, eyes checking him from above his glasses.
Dudley shook his head. "Yeah, it was. Why?"
"You really want to be my friend?"
"Of course I am. I won't back out on that," he said, standing up.
"Then I would like to ask you something. Could you teach me how to use this?" Harry asked, pointing to the computer.
Dudley looked to Harry and to the computer and nodded. "Sure, but there are a lot of things to learn. Do you have anything in mind?"
Harry walked in. "I know that you can search for things and send messages over the Internet. Could you teach me that?"
"Sure," he said, and they sat on the computer. Harry was a fast learner, and he picked up things pretty fast. A couple of hours later, he and Dudley were over one of the search engines on the net, Harry checking links after links on several subjects. Dudley was surprised on most of the topics that Harry searched.
"There truly is a war going on in your world, isn't it?"
A small flare of anger appeared on his face, but it was soon subsided.
"Yes, there is," he answered, in a more normal voice.
"But why are you searching these subjects? Martial arts? Bombs? Guns? I suppose you guys used magic to fight."
"We do, but…" Harry took a deep breath. Time to take a small leap of faith. "This connection that Voldemort and I have runs deeper than I told you guys about. He and I have a destiny together. In the final fight, I have to face him alone, and he has like fifty years of experience over me, so I have to have some advantage."
Dudley was truly surprised with the revelation. "Okay, I can understand that. But don't you think that this guy will be ready for this?"
"He thinks that muggles are weak, so I'm thinking that anything muggle-related he'll promptly discard as useless."
"Then why don't you just pump him full of bullets and forget about it?"
"Because he's really powerful, Dudley, and he escaped death once. I have to think things pretty clearly before doing something stupid."
Dudley nodded. "That's a good idea. Hey, look, do you want to have an e-mail so you could trade messages with your friends?"
"We use owls, Dud. Not much use in one of those."
"But this Voldemort fellow can probably intercept an owl. Since you said that he thinks that muggles are useless, an e-mail will never enter his plans."
Harry mused it for a few moments. It was a good idea, and perhaps Hermione had one of those things.
"That's probably a good idea. What do I have to do?"
"Lemme handle it," Dudley said, and sat back down on the PC. After a few minutes, Harry was the proud owner of a brand new electronic mail address.
"And this way," Dudley said, finalizing his explanations, "you can come here and check your e-mail with privacy. I don't know your password, so all that you receive will be for your eyes only. Now, all you have to do is to have the e-mail addresses of your friends."
Harry smiled and stood up. "Thank you, Dudley. That means a lot to me."
His cousin smiled back, and replied. "Don't worry. If what you said is halfway true, helping the good guys win a war is what any sane person would do."
"True, my friend. Very true," Harry said, finally looking to a surprised Dudley. "What?"
"Y-you… you called me your friend."
Harry replayed the conversation on his mind, and smiled slightly. "I guess I did. But you are on probation."
"I know," Dudley said, smiling.
"I have to go. Thank you," Harry said, and walked down and out to the back garden, to think things through.
After a couple of hours, Harry heard the front door bell ringing, and someone went to open the door. After a few moments, Petunia appeared at the back garden, looking for him.
"There is a woman looking for you. Clean up and go talk with her. She doesn't look like one of those freak friends of yours, but remember what Vernon talked about with you," she said, turned on her heels and walked back in, without even waiting for an answer.
Harry cleaned up quickly and walked back to the living room. Standing near the door was a tall woman, with blonde hair and dressed in classy muggle fashion, holding a small briefcase in one hand. She was around forty, and as soon as she noticed him, she smiled slightly. Aunt Petunia was at her side, scowling.
"Harry Potter? Imogen Cheatam," she said, approaching him with her hand extended. Harry stretched his left hand, while his right approached the wand on his back. Imogen promptly stopped and removed the hand. "Look, I have something here that will prove in name of whom I came, and what I came to speak of, okay?"
Harry nodded, and Imogen picked her briefcase with both hands, opening it with expert movements, but slowly. Harry's hand didn't waver from his wand.
She removed a long gray feather from the briefcase, showing it to him from a distance.
Harry recognized the feather immediately. Buckbeak.
"Is there any place we can talk privately?"