Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or anything related to him and his franchise.
Chapter One: Noxium
The light of the crackling flames reflected in Ginny Weasley's sparkling blue eyes as she snuggled up against her boyfriend's muscular chest, her hands idle in her lap as she quietly gazed into the fireplace. Harry Potter, arm wrapped around his girlfriend's slender waist, tightened his hold as the petite redhead shifted closer to him, yawning softly. 'If this is heaven,' Harry thought contentedly, 'then kill me now.'
His emerald eyes rose from the girl in his arms to scan the room for the other two most important people on his life. He quickly located them; Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley occupied the other two scarlet armchairs across from him, and were engaged in a silent game of Wizard Chess. Harry suppressed a grin as Hermione's face lit up each time Ron decimated one of her pieces. It was a long-standing tradition between the two that the winner got to do anything they pleased with the loser, and to Hermione's delight that almost always involved some sort of close bodily contact. Once Ron had attempted to break tradition and made Hermione write a Potions paper for him. After a month of the brunette fastidiously ignoring him, Ron had gotten down on his hands and knees and sworn to never pull such a stunt again.
As if picking up on Harry's thoughts, Ron nudged his genius girlfriend and whispered, "What say we agree I win and move on to the… er… victory celebration?"
Hermione laughed and slapped his hand away. "Think again, Ronald. You've got to earn your rewards."
"Fair enough," Ron agreed, not in the least perturbed, and then with a flourish used his knight to knock over the white queen. "Checkmate, 'Mione."
She gaped at the ivory board. "How did you do that? My defense was impenetrable!"
Ron merely shrugged arrogantly, before grabbing his girlfriend, pulling her over to him, and crushing his lips to hers. Harry rolled his eyes as his friends had their little "celebration", turning his attention instead to the now-sleeping girl in his arms. She'd spent almost the entire evening up to her elbows in essays and reports waiting to be written, and Harry couldn't for the life of him figure out how she, a sixth year, had more homework than he, a seventh year with the NEWTS only a few months away, did.
The celebration soon ended as Hermione decided to take the initiative and break the kiss before they died of suffocation. Reluctantly moving back to her chair, she conjured a hairbrush from thin air and attempted to sort out her tangled locks as she studied the chessboard intently. Ron simply lounged across from her, watching as she tried to decipher his strategy for victory.
Finally, she looked up and met Ron's gaze accusingly. "How long ago could you have won?"
Ron smirked. "Twenty minutes, give or take." Hermione's gaze narrowed as she glared furiously at the redheaded prat before her. "I couldn't help myself," he hastily defended. "You look so incredibly attractive when you are concentrating so hard…"
A smile blossomed on Hermione's face, as it always did when confronted with Ron's declarations of affection. Harry couldn't help but shake his head in disbelief as Hermione grabbed the startled redhead and dragged him off to a more private area. It had happened sometime at the end of sixth year, a few weeks after he and Ginny had gotten together. The duo had been bickering continuously for almost an hour straight when Ron had finally shouted, "Why do you always think you're right about everything! When are you going to figure out that nobody likes you and finally shut up for good!"
Harry remembered the shocked, hurt look on Hermione's face as Ron's harsh words sank in. All three knew Ron hadn't meant it – hell, the boy had been in love with Hermione since practically forever – but it had hit too close to home for Hermione, and she had fled the hall in tears, much to Malfoy and the Slytherins' delight.
Ron had turned to Harry and Ginny with a stricken expression. "Why did I do that? God, I'm such an incredible prat!"
"I'll say," Ginny agreed, not in the least sympathetic towards her idiot brother.
"What do I do?" he muttered brokenly.
"Go after her and tell her how you feel," Harry suggested firmly.
"I can't do that!" Ron said in horror. "She'll hate me! It'll completely ruin our friendship! She'll never talk to me again!"
"If you don't go say something now, then I doubt you'll have a friendship to worry about ruining," Ginny responded pointedly.
Ron's eyes darted frantically from Harry to Ginny, but there was no mercy in their gazes, and he finally pounded his fist on the table, leapt to his feet with sudden resolve, and dashed out of the hall to make amends with his love.
They'd been together ever since, and Harry couldn't have imagined a more perfect ending for them. His and Ginny's hook up, however, hadn't been nearly so traumatic, something for which he was eternally grateful.
After Ron's not-so-subtle hint that Harry should go after Ginny on the train home at the end of fifth year, Harry had begun to spend more and more time with the spunky redhead, although his thoughts had been purely platonic at the time. Ginny, however, had had other things in mind, and needless to say that when a girl as beautiful, charming, and intelligent as Ginny Weasley turned her attentions on you, you were pretty much sunk. Thus Harry had fallen head over heels for the Weasley's only daughter, and by the middle of his sixth year was proud to call her his first "true" girlfriend, and later, his first (and hopefully only) true love.
It was now near the end April of Harry's seventh year at Hogwarts, and he could safely say that life had never looked better. He had amazing friends, fantastic grades, a devoted and loving girlfriend, and the wonderful prospect of finally graduating from Hogwarts in only two months and finally joining the wizarding world as a fully trained wizard. There was only one thing that could spoil his mood, and unfortunately for Harry, that thing was growing incredibly powerful, causing so much havoc and destruction that the Ministry of Magic had declared the wizarding world officially at war against Lord Voldemort and his dark forces.
After breaking out Lucius Malfoy and his Death Eaters from Azkaban, where Harry had helped put them at the end of his fifth year, Voldemort set his sights on recruiting, and by the end of Harry's sixth year had a massive army of dark creatures that he set loose upon Britain. Vampires, giants, even werewolves swept across the countryside, snatching children from their beds, burning down villages, and killing every person that got in their way. Despite Headmaster Dumbledore's efforts to keep Harry as far from the fighting as possible, Harry still ended up dueling for his life by the end of the year against overwhelming numbers of Death Eaters, with only his unconquerable luck allowing him to survive.
Following Harry's near death experience, Dumbledore had finally cracked down on Harry and forbid him to leave school grounds, on pain of expulsion of both he and his friends. For Dumbledore was well aware that if someone outside Hogwarts were in trouble, Harry would risk his own expulsion to help them, but he would never do that to his friends as well. An underhanded trick, perhaps, but it succeeded in keeping Harry away from the battlefront for most of his seventh year, something which infuriated Harry to no end.
The way Harry saw it, the Ministry and the Order of the Phoenix were powerful, but horribly understaffed, and with more people joining Voldemort every day, they needed all the help they could get. What was more, Dumbledore had added an extra course to the Hogwarts syllabus at the start of Harry's sixth year called Magical and Muggle Offensive Techniques (MAMOT) that taught students not to defend themselves, like in DADA, but how to actually attack their opponents, and even kill them should the situation call for it.
Needless to say, as Harry became more and more powerful, his need to do something to help the war effort grew as well, but Dumbledore managed to prevent Harry from leaving the school by explaining that should Death Eaters attack, the teachers themselves could not hope to defend the entire school. Dumbledore needed Harry around to help out if and when Voldemort finally decided to burn Hogwarts to the ground, and Harry couldn't refuse his mentor; the fact that this kept Harry out of harm's way was just a convenient coincidence.
Harry was jolted out of his memories at the sound of Ginny's sleepy voice. "What is it?" he asked quietly, gently brushing her auburn locks off of her face.
"You looked awfully deep in thought," she replied, using his chest as an aid in pushing herself upright. Leaning forward and staring curiously into his eyes, she asked impishly, "You weren't thinking about me, were you?"
"Course not," Harry said with a grin. "Why would I think about you? It's not like you're important or anything."
Ginny pouted. "Is that so?"
"Yes, it's so," Harry laughed, and she looked so cute in her mock-anger that he couldn't help but kiss her on the cheek. "What would I do without you?"
"You'd probably keel over and die," Ginny said matter-of-factly. "You'd be so busy moping over me that you'd forget to eat and die of starvation."
"I'm not nearly as helpless as you think," Harry warned her. "Be careful, or I might break up with you just to prove I'm self sufficient."
"You wouldn't dare," Ginny countered. "You couldn't."
"Sure I could," Harry disagreed.
Ginny raised an eyebrow, giving him a confident look. "Then prove it. Dump me."
Harry opened his mouth to do exactly that, but as always when it came to Ginny, he found himself unable to do anything that might hurt her, even if it was all just make believe.
Ginny smirked triumphantly. "Told you so. You are my unwitting slave, and you couldn't change it even if you wanted to."
"I'm no one's property," Harry argued, more out of principle than actually meaning it.
"Shut up and kiss me."
Harry shut up and kissed her.
Ginny woke around midnight to the sound of hysterical screaming coming from the Gryffindor Boy's Dormitories. Leaping out of bed and pulling on her nightdress, Ginny grabbed her wand and sprinted towards the Boy's Dorm, heart pounding as she prayed fervently that the screaming was not coming from Harry's room.
As she hurtled up the spiral staircase, dodging curious half-asleep teens, her heart nearly stopped when she realized that the screaming was coming from Harry's room. The only good thing was that the screaming was distinctly feminine, which meant that it couldn't possibly be Harry… unless he was somehow unable to scream. If he was dead… Ginny forcibly pushed the thought from her mind. Harry wasn't dead; it was as simple as that. She rounded the corner and shot into the room.
Well, one thing was for certain; Harry certainly wasn't dead. His roommates, however, were another story.
Parvati Patil stood in the doorway screaming at the top of her lungs as she gazed in horror at the scene she'd stumbled upon not a minute ago. Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, the Savior of the Wizarding World, the Golden Boy of Gryffindor, stood stock-still in the center of the room, hand clenching and unclenching around the handle of a blood-slicked knife. The motionless, blood-soaked bodies of Neville Longbottom, Dean Thomas, and Seamus Finnigan lay in a crumpled heap at his feet.
"Harry…" Ginny gasped, unable to believe what she was seeing. How could he… why would he…
Harry looked up at her with pleading green eyes, as if he were lost in a world of madness and she were his only lifeline. "Ginny… please…"
Ginny paused at the raw emotion in her boyfriend's eyes, and she knew in that moment that no matter what Harry did, short of becoming the next Dark Lord, she would support him fully. Rushing forward, she enveloped the shaking young man in a fierce hug, and gave a sigh of relief when he immediately returned it.
"I'm so sorry… so sorry… I didn't mean to… it wasn't supposed to come to this…" Harry sobbed brokenly, clutching onto Ginny as if she were the only thing holding him back from oblivion.
By this time Parvati's terrified screams had woken the rest of the tower, and Ron and Hermione appeared at the door, their hair somewhat disheveled, and clearly neither had been doing anything that resembled sleeping.
Ron skidded to a halt with a gasp as he and Hermione took in the bloody scene. Neville Longbottom: dead. Seamus Finnigan: dead. Dean Thomas: dead. Harry Potter: standing in the middle of the room, a knife in his blood-soaked hand, crying horrified apologies into Ginny Weasley's shoulder.
"Somebody get Professor McGonagall," Hermione ordered softly, eyes never straying from Ginny and Harry. As Head Girl, it was her job to be firm in times of crisis. "Tell her there's been a murder in Gryffindor Tower, and the murderer appears to be…" She broke off into hysterical sobs and Ron immediately enveloped her in his arms.
"Harry Potter," Ron finished blankly, unable to believe what he was seeing. "Move!" The nearest students scrambled off to deliver the message.
Professor McGonagall and Headmaster Dumbledore burst into the room a minute later, and their eyes immediately fell to Harry and the knife he still carried. Professor McGonagall's eyes widened in horror, and Dumbledore strode forward so quickly Ginny squeaked and was jolted out of Harry arms.
"Mister Potter," Dumbledore began gravely, looking deeply into the teary eyes of his most promising and beloved student. "Please tell me exactly what happened."
"He killed them, that's what!" Parvati shrieked. "I came in to see Dean and I saw him standing there, covered in blood! Murderer!"
"That will be all, Miss Patil," Dumbledore said firmly, and Parvati fell silent. He turned back to Harry. "Harry," he said gently. "What happened? Who did this?"
"I did," Harry replied so softly Dumbledore swore he misheard.
"I killed them," Harry repeated more strongly, and every person in the room gaped incredulously. They had expected something along the lines of him being framed for their murder, or under the Imperious or being possessed… but this?
"Please be very sure of what you are telling me," Dumbledore said, as if wishing Harry would deny something he so firmly believed he did.
"I killed them," Harry repeated, staring at Ginny for some unknown reason. "I had to."
"You were forced to?" Dumbledore probed, leaning closer.
Harry eyes flicked very briefly to Ginny's, before responding clearly, "I was not forced to. It was of my own volition. Neville, Dean, and Seamus begged me to kill them, and so I did."
Silence blanketed the room as Harry's words sank in.
"I will ask you one more time," Dumbledore said finally, tiredly, and he looked older than Harry had ever seen him. "If you tell me you didn't do it, or that you were forced to, Harry, then you will walk free, and whoever orchestrated this will be caught. I swear it."
"I killed them, and I would do it again," Harry repeated with finality.
Professor McGonagall seemed speechless. "Mister Potter, you realize that you will be sent to Azkaban for life for this crime."
"I know," was the only reply she got.
Dumbledore, the sparkle gone in his aged eyes, spoke softly, in a voice full of disappointment. "Then by the authority vested in me as a leading member of the Wizengamot, I hereby place Harry James Potter under arrest, effective until such time as a permanent decision can be reached through a full trial. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."
He was giving Harry a way out. If Harry should choose to divulge the true reason behind his actions, he could do so during the trial, and everything would be set straight, unlike Sirius, who had never been allowed a trial. But Harry's mouth was firmly closed, unwilling to give his reasons for the murder anymore than he would deny committing the crime.
Dumbledore's mouth was set in a grim line. "So be it. Minerva, kindly strip Potter of his wand, murder tool, and any other incriminating objects, and transport him to the Ministry for his trial. As for the rest of you," he continued, gazing at the students assembled before him. "You will stay away from the scene of the crime, on penalty of expulsion. You will spread no rumors about the events occurring tonight, on the same penalty, and for those of you more… closely associated with Mister Potter… you will be extended the invitation to attend his trial two days hence. Good evening."
Dumbledore turned and moved slowly out of the room, looking wearier than anyone had ever seen him. McGonagall followed, Harry walking sedately behind, hands tied firmly in the small of his back, eyes steadily watching the floor.
Behind them, Ginny could no longer keep her silence. "What are you doing? This is Harry Potter! He would never do anything without good reason! You can't arrest him!"
"Silence, Miss Weasley," McGonagall snapped, nostrils flaring. It was the only sign that showed how truly disturbed she was by the evening's events. "I understand your feelings, but Potter himself agrees he is the murderer. I hardly think you can dispute that."
"He's just trying to protect you!" Ginny cried desperately as the boy she loved was slowly being taken away from her. "He would never hurt anyone without good cause! You know that!"
Everyone froze as they heard Harry's quiet yet commanding voice. There was something about Harry Potter that commanded attention and respect, even if he was covered in blood and being carted off to Azkaban as a murderer.
"Harry?" Ginny demanded hysterically. "Tell them it isn't true. If you love me, then tell them you didn't do it, damn it!"
"But I did," Harry replied gently, gazing into his love's eyes. "I'm sorry, but to say otherwise would be a lie."
Across the room, Ron gave a strangled gasp and then flew across the room to deliver a jarring blow to Harry's jaw. "Murderer!" he screamed, even as McGonagall pulled him off a passive Harry and shoved him away. "How could you? Dean, Neville, and Seamus, Harry!"
"I'm sorry," Harry repeated.
"Save it," Ron spat. "I don't want to hear apologies from filthy murderers. You're no better than the Death Eaters! You probably are one, for all I know! I thought you were my friend!"
"Leave him alone, Ron," Hermione said quietly, pulling the snarling redhead away from Harry.
"That is quite enough," McGonagall said firmly. "Come, Potter, or I shall stun you and levitate you. Either way, you are going to the Ministry."
Harry complied without hesitation, and McGonagall led him out of the room. Just like that. No screaming, no pleading, no evil "You'll be sorry when I have my revenge" speeches. It was as if the fire had gone out of the Boy-Who-Lived, and that thought scared Ginny more than him being a murderer did. Just as she lost all hope, Harry turned momentarily, and whispered soft enough so that only she could hear, "Everything is not as it seems."
Ginny could only stare blankly as his dark head disappeared out the door, contemplating what the words could possibly mean. One thing she knew for sure, though, was that there was something going on here beyond her understanding, and she would be dead before she deserted Harry in his hour of need, even if he seemed to want everyone to think he was a murderer. And even if he was, she would support him nonetheless, because she loved him, and that was the kind of fool thing people in love did.
"This court is now called to order. This case is concerning the alleged murder of Mister Dean Thomas, Mister Seamus Finnigan, and Mister Neville Longbottom. Interrogators: Minister of Magic Amelia Bones, John Lee Watson…"
Percy Weasley's voice droned on and on, meaningless drivel in Harry's mind as he inhaled sharply, his attention more focused on the four Dementors surrounding him than the actual trial. The one thing he did note was that Amelia Bones, the new Minister after Fudge was kicked out of office, was in charge of the trial. Perhaps with her he'd get a more lenient sentence. Glancing at the towering, hooded figures surrounding him, however, Harry didn't think having a fair trial would make much of a difference. Not that he deserved a fair trial anyway.
"As per Albus Dumbledore's request," Minister Bones announced. "We shall be administering Veritaserum to Potter. Moody, if you please."
Alastor Moody hobbled forward, clutching a vial of clear liquid in his gnarled hands. Tilting Harry's head back none-too-gently, he poured the searing liquid down his throat, and it was all Harry could do to swallow it without choking.
"Mister Potter," Madam Bones began serenely. "You are being charged with the murders of Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan, and Neville Longbottom, on the twenty fourth of April, 1997. I will cut straight to the chase. Did you or did you not murder these young men?"
"I did," Harry replied emotionlessly.
"Because they asked me to."
Shocked murmurs broke through the silence as the members of the Wizengamot expressed their incredulity. Why would three young men beg a fourth to kill them? Did Potter torture them until they begged for release?
"Why did they ask you to?"
"Because they were dying, and wanted the pain to end."
Ginny squeezed her eyes shut as tears threatened to flow, Ron was clenching and unclenching his fists furiously, and Molly Weasley seemed about to faint. Hermione, interestingly enough, had a look on her face as if she'd just discovered something everyone else had missed.
"Hermione?" Ginny whispered.
"Harry…" Hermione whispered in awe. "He wants to go to Azkaban. He's purposely incriminating himself."
"Why would he do that?" Ginny demanded. "No one wants to go to Azkaban."
"True," Hermione agreed. "The only reason why he'd want to go to Azkaban is because he's being blackmailed or threatened in some way, or… he actually committed the murder and wants to atone for his sins."
"Harry didn't kill anyone," Ginny said stubbornly.
"Ginny," Hermione began wearily. "He confessed to exactly that under Veritaserum. Veritaserum doesn't lie. He may not have wanted to, or may have been forced into it, but the fact is that Harry did kill them."
"Then he was being forced into it," Ginny decided.
"They administered all the tests on him before the trial, Gin," Hermione told her sadly. "They checked for everything – Imperius curse, mind-controlling potions, suggestion potions… they all came out negative. Ginny, he chose to kill them, and now he's going to pay the price."
Hermione turned away with a pointed glance at Ginny.
"So be it," Madam Bones declared with finality. "Harry James Potter, you are hereby sentenced, for the murder of Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan, and Neville Longbottom, to a life sentence in Azkaban. Guards, take him away."
Ginny felt her heart slowly breaking as Harry slowly stood, gazing dispassionately around the silent chamber, before turning to stare directly at her. Ginny forced a reassuring smile, and Harry's demeanor softened somewhat as the Dementors herded him out the door.
"Well, that's that," Madam Bones announced. "Case closed. This court is adjourned."
Ginny sat there, shell shocked, as the court dissolved and the wizards and witches headed out of the room, muttering quietly among themselves about the tragedy of Harry's fall to darkness. Over by the south wall Ron stood consoling Hermione as she sobbed hysterically into his shoulder. It seemed only Ginny believed there was something deeper going on here than Harry admitted to. Maybe that was because she was in love with him.
Then she remembered the look Harry had given her, and she jumped from her seat and raced off down the corridor towards to catch up to Harry before they packed him off to Azkaban. She couldn't live without knowing whether or not he was truly a murderer. She finally caught up with them just as they were moving towards the black car that would take Harry to the coast, where he would then be shipped across to Azkaban.
"Harry!" Ginny yelled as Harry made to step into the car, face still painfully passive. "Wait!"
Harry paused, before straightening and turning to face his girlfriend. One of the Dementors hissed something Ginny couldn't hear, but Harry snapped something under his breath, and it surprisingly backed down.
"Tell me what happened," Ginny pleaded. "Please! I need to know who murdered Dean, Seamus and Neville!"
"I did," Harry said quietly, not meeting her eyes.
"Like hell you did," Ginny snapped.
"I did," Harry repeated. "I murdered them in cold blood, Gin, and that's never going to change."
"Then why?" Ginny demanded.
"I can't tell you," Harry said softly.
"I can't tell you," Harry repeated.
Ginny growled in frustration. "I don't know what you're trying to pull, Harry Potter, but you won't get away with it. Fine. You murdered Dean, Seamus, and Neville. Fine. You did it of your own volition, and they begged you to do it. Fine."
Harry said nothing.
"But I won't believe that you did it without a reason," Ginny continued. "And I will find out that reason, Harry, whether you like it or not. And when I do, I'm going to break you out of Azkaban and force you to tell the truth."
"Why can't you just believe I'm a murderer and hate me like everyone else?" Harry suddenly shouted, causing Ginny to jerk back in surprise.
"Because I love you," Ginny said firmly. "And I will never hate you, no matter what. Stop talking to you and curse you on sight, maybe, but never hate you."
"Forget about me, Gin," Harry begged. "Move on with your life."
"No chance in hell, Harry," Ginny informed him. "I'm going to wait for you, even if it takes a lifetime."
A smile threatened to surface on Harry's face, but Harry suppressed it immediately. "Goodbye."
"For now," Ginny said, kissing him on the cheek. "I love you."
"I…" Harry trailed off.
To be continued…