A/N: Yes, I'm not dead. I am still working on Fate's Debt. To prove it, here is a portion of what was supposed to be Chapter 27 (unnamed). As I started editing, I quickly realized that I needed to readjust where the story was going. I've now reached the point in the editing (OotP) where these changes are going to happen and will impact the summer of fifth year and beyond. That said - it is all mapped out. However, I thought some might like to see where what I had. This has not been edited or even reread... so what you see is what you get. I'm going to apologize now for the wait... I'm going to devote more time to the story, but I had enormous amounts of free time when I started and it is a hobby, something to do to relieve stress and the such. As I said when I started, I fully intend to finish it. I think everyone will greatly enjoy much of what is planned, but it will take me awhile to get there. Sorry.
A/N: Yes, I'm not dead. I am still working on Fate's Debt. To prove it, here is a portion of what was supposed to be Chapter 27 (unnamed). As I started editing, I quickly realized that I needed to readjust where the story was going. I've now reached the point in the editing (OotP) where these changes are going to happen and will impact the summer of fifth year and beyond. That said - it is all mapped out. However, I thought some might like to see where what I had. This has not been edited or even reread... so what you see is what you get.
I'm going to apologize now for the wait... I'm going to devote more time to the story, but I had enormous amounts of free time when I started and it is a hobby, something to do to relieve stress and the such. As I said when I started, I fully intend to finish it. I think everyone will greatly enjoy much of what is planned, but it will take me awhile to get there. Sorry.
The newspaper skidded off the stones of the fire place before falling into the fire. The paper quickly blackened and disappeared in the flames. The Daily Prophet was almost as frustrating as it had been the previous year when it had been reporting that he was nutters.
Harry sighed and ran his fingers through his already messy hair. Voldemort was becoming more powerful. It seemed that every morning the paper brought more news of Death Eater or Dementor attacks. The only bright spot over the summer had been Sirius' full pardon. Since then it had only been bad news.
First, news came of a large Dementor attack upon a small village. Almost thirty people now had the soulless eyes that resulted from a Dementor's Kiss. Harry shuddered as he thought about those people. Unfortunately, it had not stopped there. Just last week Death Eaters had attacked a bridge, bringing the structure down. Harry did not know the final death tally from that attack, but knew it had to be large.
A special election followed the Dementor attack. Cornelius Fudge was replaced and relegated to Muggle Relations. From what Sirius told Harry, the Order of the Phoenix was wary of Fudge's replacement Rufus Scrimgeour, the former head of the Auror Division and a former Auror himself. Despite his background, Scrimgeour was known for his bullheadedness, ruthlessness, and political astuteness. Harry wanted to learn more about the new Minister of Magic, but Sirius, Lupin, and even the elder Weasleys were mostly gone on Order business.
He had learned that under Fudge the Auror Division and Magic Law Enforcement Department as a whole suffered large budget constraints and had atrophied. One of Scrimgeour's first actions was to call for a new budget, one that emphasized security. Unfortunately, the Ministry remained largely reactionary to Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Additional security was in place around Diagon Alley, St. Mungo's, and the Ministry, but the Order reported that the Ministry was not trying to find the Death Eaters. Even with Scrimgeour's budget, it would take time for new Aurors to be trained. The most it had done was issue security pamphlets.
Harry sighed and closed his eyes. The fire crackled, providing the only light in the study. He could faintly hear crickets chirping, trying to lull him to sleep. Potter Manor was a sanctuary, a shelter in the growing storm. But even surrounded by the Manor's tranquil atmosphere, a great weight was building on his shoulders. No matter how he thought about it, he came to the same conclusion. Voldemort was his responsibility. The prophecy said as much.
A more tangible weight pressed down on both his shoulders. Ginny's hands tightened and massaged, forcing the tension to leave. "Enough, Harry."
"I can't stop thinking about all those people that he's killing," Harry confessed. "The prophecy said—"
Ginny walked around the chair Harry was sitting in, and she lowered herself onto Harry's lap. She placed her hands and his chest and pushed him deeper into the chair. "Listen to me. I don't care what some stupid prophecy says. Voldemort is not your responsibility."
"I have to fight him though. He's going to keep killing until I face him," protested Harry.
Ginny leaned her head against his shoulder and Harry's arms encircled her. What will happen if you face him now? Her thoughts trembled in his head, but she pressed on. If you try and face him now, you will die. Ginny paused a moment to allow her words to sink in. She cuddled closer to him before adding, I couldn't live without you.
Harry ran his left hand through her hair. Nor I without you. Several minutes passed and Ginny's breathing had become deep, she was asleep. He tightened his grip on her before allowing sleep to take him.
A loud thumping woke both Harry and Ginny. A very excited voice joined the thumping. "HARRY! GINNY! Wake up! Wake up!"
Harry blinked awake and began moving his stiff muscles. Ginny, however, buried her head deeper into the crook of his neck and mumbled, "I'm going to kill Ron."
"Open up!" Ron yelled again.
"This had better be good," muttered Ginny as she slid of Harry's lap and stretched.
Harry pushed himself off the chair and joined Ginny in stretching. The chair had seemed comfortable at the time, but now his muscles ached.
"Come on!" Ron yelled again. His voice changed in tone slightly, "What are you two doing anyway?"
Harry walked to the door and opened it to reveal Ron's smiling face. He pushed by Harry and moved to the middle of the den.
"I did it! I finally did it!" he crowed to the confusion of Ginny and Harry.
Ginny gave Harry an annoyed look laced with confusion. She really did like to sleep in.
"Just show them, Ron," commanded Hermione's voice from the doorway. She stepped across the threshold and closed the door. She gave the three of them a very self-satisfied smile and motioned to Ron to get on with it.
When Harry turned his gaze back to Ron, he did not see Ron but a lion. Its coat was golden, but creature's mane was the same shade of red as Ron's hair.
"Congratulations, mate," Harry said. Ron turned in a circle, proudly displaying his new form.
"Great job, Ron," added Ginny causing the lion to give a low roar of thanks.
Ron transformed back into himself and, after panting for a few seconds, said, "It's amazing! I can only hold it for a minute, but still. . ." Ron trailed off, clearly at a loss for words.
"I've never seen him try so hard at something," Hermione noted.
Ron blushed at the compliment. "I never could have done it without your help."
Harry looked between Ron and Hermione. Are they flirting?
Harry cocked eyebrow at Ginny. The only feeling he was receiving from her was astonishment. Ginny?
Sorry. . .it's just that they are flirting without bickering. I never thought I'd see the day.
Harry coughed. "How's your potion coming?"
"It's almost done. It just has to simmer for the next few months." Hermione's forehead scrunched. "I hope I have a form."
"You will," Ron reassured quickly. Harry and Ginny nodded their agreement.
Hermione did not look convinced. "Not everyone has an Animagus form."
Ron's stomach grumbled loudly causing both the girls to roll their eyes and Harry laugh. Hermione said, "We need to have breakfast soon anyway. The funeral is at ten."
Cold ice settled in Harry's stomach. How could I forget?
Ginny's hand began rubbing his back. Aunt Petunia had died a few days ago. Harry did not know who was in charge of the funeral arrangements, but he suspected Dumbledore's hand.
Loneliness settled onto Harry. Aunt Petunia may have been a bitter woman who harbored little, if any, love for him, but she was the last of his family. How could I forget?
Ginny's hand stopped moving and gripped his shoulder tightly. You're not alone.
Across from them, Hermione noticed Harry's discomfort. "I'm so sorry, Harry, that was callous."
Ron looked at Hermione confusedly, but Harry waved her off. "Don't worry about it. You're right, though. We need to eat now or we'll be late to a funeral."
Breakfast was a somber affair. No adults were in the house, and they ate quietly. Hermione was the first to break the silence.
"We should put on our clothes." No one argued with the statement until they were at the foot of the stairs.
"Er…what clothes?" asked Ron. "All I've got are robes."
"Are you saying that you don't have anything suitable for a Muggle funeral?" snapped Hermione.
"Why the bloody hell would I?" argued Ron.
Hermione huffed and was about to retort when Bonny appeared. "There is no need to argue. Appropriate attire for you both can be found. Come, I just need your measurements."
"I've have a black dress," Hermione said, she was still uncomfortable with having the house elves serve her.
"I know, but you will be wanting something else," Bonny informed her. The diminutive elf wasted no more time and gently put a hand on their backs. "Come, come. No time for fussing."
After Ron and Hermione were out of earshot, Harry raised an eyebrow. "Sometimes I wonder who the master and the servant really are."
Ginny gave a small laugh. The house elves, with the exception of Ding, did treat them like children. They continued their journey to the master suite. They were met be Corfy.
"I have prepared your clothes," Corfy waved a hand toward the bedroom. "You do not have much time. Master Dumbledore left word that you are to be ready by ten thirty."
"You talked to Dumbledore?" Harry asked. He had a lot of questions for Dumbledore, but he was around even less than Sirius.
Corfy nodded. "Yes, he wanted you to be ready by ten, but I assured him that ten thirty was a more reasonable time. He will arrive then to transport you to the funeral."
"What about my parents?"
"Mistress' parents are helping organize security," Corfy answered as he led them into the bedroom. "Your older brothers are also providing assistance, I believe." He spotted a piece of lint on Harry's jacket and picked it off.
However, Ginny's eyes were wide with fright. "My brothers?" she said stiltedly. "What are Fred and George doing?"
Corfy's eyes held amusement. "It is my understanding that your mother was stopping by their shop before continuing on." Ginny sighed in relief. "If you have need of me, just call." Corfy snapped his fingers and disappeared.
Harry pulled at his collar. It was the first time he had ever worn a tie and he found the sensation constricting. He paced in front of the fireplace. Dumbledore would be there any minute to take them to the funeral. The more he thought about it, the more nervous he became. What if Aunt Marge was there? There certainly wasn't a reason for her not to be there and Dumbledore would have notified her Harry sighed and fiddled with his tie.
A hand sharply slapped his. "Stop messing with your," Ginny took a moment to find the word, "… tie. Everything will be fine. You don't have to say a word and all of us will be there. Sirius will be on your right and I'll be on your left."
The door to the Welcoming Den opened. ". . . see why I should have to wear this!" Ron protested as he loosened his tie.
"It makes you look dignified," replied a perturbed looking Hermione. She was red in the face and Ron's ears were flaming. They must have been arguing all the way to the den. She grabbed Ron by the shoulders and roughly tightened his tie. "And don't you dare unbutton the top button." Ron gave Harry and Ginny a despairing look.
Shifting from foot to foot and giving Hermione worried glances, Ron finally said, "I'm hungry. I'll just nip over to the kitchen . . ."
"No! You're not eating. You'll get food on your clothes." Hermione said as she sat in the nearest chair.
"I don't see why we should have to go. It's not like we liked the bat," he mumbled.
Hermione did not even turn her head. "We've already been over this."
Ron frowned in defeat. "Err . . . Hermione." Ron leaned in toward her.
Hermione looked up sharply. "What is it now?"
"You've got a piece of something on your dress." Hermione's eyes widened and she opened her mouth to apologize. "I'll get it," Ron quickly said as he lifted a white thread from her shoulder.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to snap."
"It's my fault," Ron assured her.
"No, it's not," Hermione insisted.
"Yes, it is. If I hadn't . . ."
"I shouldn't have snapped though," interrupted Hermione. Ron opened his mouth to retort and Harry tuned them out.
Are they actually arguing about arguing? Harry asked perplexed as they continued to banter back and forth. Ginny shrugged.
The fire glowed green and Professor Dumbledore stepped from the fire. He was in his usual purple robes. Ron and Hermione stopped arguing at his arrival. Dumbledore surveyed each of them. "Good. You are all ready then?" No one responded, but Dumbledore assumed the affirmative and pulled a decrepit boot from his robe. "Take a hold on this. Sirius will have the portkey for your return."
"Your not coming, Professor?" Harry asked.
Dumbledore put his left hand on Harry's shoulder, forcing Harry to look into his eyes. "I'm afraid I have other obligations."
Dumbledore's eyes did not twinkle, and for the first time since Harry had known the man, dark circles lined his eyes. He's not sleeping, Harry realized he was not the only one feeling the impact of the news the Daily Prophet brought every morning.
"In five seconds," Dumbledore announced as they all grabbed the boot.
Or not sleeping well, added Ginny as she too examined the Headmaster's lined face. He's not looking well.
Everyone depends on him. Harry again thought of the paper and what it must be like to be looked upon not as the savior of the wizarding world, but as its champion. He was glad it was Dumbledore they turned to and not him.
Both he and Ginny shivered as they considered what would happen if the Prophet ever found out about the prophecy.
It was destroyed. No one can find out. Harry reassured himself.
And we're not going to tell anyone, Ginny said emphatically.
The portkey activated.
Harry turned to Ginny. "Am I wrong to feel relieved?"
They were sitting alone in the master bedroom, the door ajar. The rest of the Weasley family had given them space. Even Mrs. Weasley had only asked Harry three times if he wanted anything to eat before going quiet. The funeral had been a quick affair. Not one Muggle attended. He knew at least Marge Dursley, Harry refused to call her aunt, had been contacted, but she had stayed away.
Ginny's arm wrapped around Harry's shoulder. Her hand began softly massaging. "No."
The firm, simple word did more for Harry than any explanation could have. The self-loathing caused by his relief faded. It was replaced with a sense of calmness. For the first time, Harry felt like he saw what lay before him, the dangers and the opportunities. He took a deep breath. "It's all coming to a head."
Ginny raised her head and her eyes met his. She offered no argument. She felt Harry's words were true and it made her shiver. "We have to prepare."
Harry nodded. "Sirius and Remus are dueling with us already." This was only partially true. Sirius and Remus did duel with all four of them when they had the time; unfortunately, the two old marauders had little time.
"But how do we kill him?" Ginny asked.
"How do I kill him?" Harry corrected her.
"We." Ginny's nails dug into his shoulder, daring him to contradict her. "We can't be sure the Avada Kedavra curse will work or that we could cast it."
"We should ask Hermione. She'll research it to death."
Ginny shook her head. "There's nothing to research! No one has ever survived the curse except you and Voldemort. No one knows what kind of effect the curse would have when it rebounded."
Harry's mind mulled Ginny's words. Moody had told them the Avada Kedavra killed without leaving a mark on the body. It sounded like it destroyed the soul. The soul. The soul had to be the key.
"Maybe the rebounded curse only destroyed the body," Ginny said, voicing Harry's thoughts.
"Shouldn't he be a ghost then?"
"Maybe we should ask Headless Nick, he might know." Ginny leaned her head against his shoulder. "I guess we do have something for Hermione to research."
Dumbledore's knuckles hung just off the door, prepared to knock. He had come to check on Harry. Instead, he had inadvertently overheard the last bit of their conversation. The two were very close to the truth. He made his decision and knocked.
"Harry, Ginny." He gave them a few moments. "Excuse, me, but I wanted to talk with you."
"Do you want me to leave, Professor?" Ginny asked
Dumbledore mad a dismissive gesture with his hand. "No, that would be unnecessary. May I?" He gestured to an empty chair.
Dumbledore sat. "This has not been the easiest of summers for you, Harry."
Harry and Ginny exchanged a quick look before Harry grunted.
Dumbledore restrained a smile at their mental communication. Their relationship buoyed his hopes. He highly doubted Harry would look as good as he did now without Ginny's influence and constant presence. Still, he needed to make sure Harry was talking about the events of this very traumatic summer.
"How are you coping?"
Harry lowered his head for several seconds and he saw Ginny give him a nudge. "I'm fine." Another nudge. "I don't like small spaces," he admitted.
Dumbledore tired to keep his face clear of emotions, to hide the anger that threatened to show. "They kept you in a small cell?"
Harry nodded. "Mostly chained to a rack."
His teeth grinded, but he forced himself to take a breath. "You were drugged as well?"
Harry nodded again. "Did it interfere with your link to Ginny?" Another nod. "How did you manage?"
"I listened to the phoenix."
"The phoenix?" Dumbledore tried to form his thoughts into a coherent whole. He had not been expecting an answer. Most Animagus acquired traits of their animal forms even when not transformed, some even felt traces of their animal instincts, but this seemed different. "You can hear your Animagus form?"
Harry 's eyes rose from the floor. "I could here the phoenix song. It gave me something to focus on when I couldn't feel Ginny."
"Have you ever felt the phoenix before then?" Dumbledore leaned forward. This had not been the topic he had planned on discussing, but it now seemed vitally important.
"Yeah, during the second task." Harry smiled at the memory. "It didn't like the idea of submerging in water."
Not able to resist, Dumbledore chuckled. "I would imagine that a phoenix wouldn't like being submerged in water. What about the panther?"
Harry did a double take. "How did you -- "
"I try to be aware of most things. Now, about the panther?"
Harry considered the question. "I didn't feel anything from the panther. I mean, I don't think I've ever felt the panther like the phoenix."
"What about you, Mrs. Potter?" Ginny colored a little at the address and Dumbledore smirked beneath his beard. "Have you felt either the phoenix or the panther like Harry has?"
"Not the phoenix, but I occasionally feel the panther - especially when I'm angry."
"That does settle that matter then."
"What matter?" Ginny asked.
"Your two forms. Yours is the panther, while Harry's is the phoenix. Your bond allows you to share forms, but you still have a stronger link to your . . . your native form." Dumbledore allowed them a few moments before continuing. "Your forms suit you."
"Is this the power he knows not?" Harry asked.
Dumbledore sighed at the hope in Harry's eyes. "No, Voldemort knows about you being an Animagus and he is intimately familiar with the powers of an Animagus. But your form, Harry, does give you advantages against him. Indeed, it already has."
"What?" they said together.
"Your blood, Harry. Do you remember telling me that Voldemort believed your blood was poisonous to him." Harry nodded. "It was not because of the bond. At least, I do not think so, although I did entertain the thought at the time. Your connection to the phoenix would have been just as intolerable as Ginny's love, and even more apparent to Voldemort."
"Why would that make Harry's blood poisonous?"
"Very good," Dumbledore said automatically reverting to his professor mode. "The phoenix is enemies with few creatures." He paused a moment, deciding on the best approach. "You can speak with Fawkes, Harry?"
"Even when you are not transformed?"
"Well . . . I don't know. I don't think I've ever tried."
Dumbledore chuckled. "You should. I think you will find that you can understand Fawkes. But back to the original point. What animals can Lord Voldemort speak to?"
Harry's eyes widened. "Snakes."
"Yes, he is not a parselmouth simply because he is Slytherin's heir. It matches his form well." He watched Harry and Ginny's faces paled and answered the unasked question, "Basilisk."
Harry put his arm around Ginny, whose freckles now stood out livid against her pale skin. "A basilisk?"
"Yes, Tom Riddle mastered the Animagus transformation shortly after left Hogwarts. He used it several times while in Albania to terrorize several villages," Dumbledore said sadly. "He has not used it since, thankfully."
"Just when I thought Voldemort couldn't get any worse. Now he can kill people with a look!" Harry said, despair and morbid humor laced in his voice.
"Does this mean we can kill him with a rooster?" Ginny asked and then giggled. "Could you imagine it? The Dark Lord killed by a chicken!"
Harry and Professor Dumbledore joined her laughter. "Would that work?" Harry asked
Dumbledore sobered immediately. "At least not in his human form." His lips pursed causing his beard to waggle. "I've tried it twice." The usual twinkle returned to the headmaster's eyes. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a rooster to crow in the middle of the night while surrounded by Death Eaters?" Harry and Ginny immediately began laughing. "Not a task for the faint of heart."
"I don't think I want to try that approach," Harry said between bursts of laughter. "There's got to be a better way."
The laughter died in Dumbledore's eyes. "It is one of the subjects we must discuss soon." He raised a hand to forestall any questions . "There are still a few things to wrap up before I discuss them with you, but it will be soon. For now, there are a couple things to discuss. First, you should know that Tonks and Sirius will accompany you on the train. The Ministry will have several Aurors on the platform." Dumbledore sighed. He was worried the Minister might use the situation to try and approach Harry. "Many parents have expressed concern about security at the platform, and the Ministry needs to demonstrate it is taking security seriously. The Minister may also be present. He may try to talk to you." He paused to take a breath. "He has expressed a desire for you to express your support for the Ministry."
Harry pinched the bridge of his nose and frowned at Ginny, who looked directly into his eyes and scornfully said, "It's a media event then?"
"I'm afraid so. Attacking the platform is not Voldemort's style, but he may still try and harm you through other means. Which is why Sirius and Tonks will both be nearby. If you sense any danger, use your Animagus abilities to escape. Do not wait." Dumbledore sensed they were about to protest. "The others will be safe. Much of the Order is ready to respond, but we can protect everyone easier if you are not there."
"We can help." Determination showed in every line of Harry's face.
Dumbledore shifted his gaze so that he looked directly into Harry's eyes. "You could, but then you would be the Order's primary responsibility, not protecting the rest of the train."
Harry and Ginny deflated before his eyes, surrendering to the logic of the situation. He reached into his coat pocket and extracted two envelopes. "I have something that should distract you." He handed them the envelopes. "I understand you both did quite well. It will be a challenge picking only five."
"O.W.L.s?" Harry and Ginny had forgotten about them.
"Indeed." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "Miss Granger should be receiving hers shortly. Please inform her that five classes is the recommended class load and that seven is the maximum number."
"I'm not doing it," Ginny protested immediately.
Harry glared at Ginny and then looked down at the envelope in his hands. "Er . . . It does say that in the letter?"
Pausing a moment before answering, Dumbledore said, "Of course, but remind her nevertheless. When choosing your courses, remember to pick the classes best suited to your career goals." Harry and Ginny nodded. "Very good. Would you like a lemon drop?"
They shook their heads. Dumbledore sighed. No one ever took the lemon drops. He unwrapped one and popped it into his mouth.
"Ginny! Harry! The letters are here! The letters are here," Hermione screamed.
Ron's muffled voice followed, "Blimey, Hermione. That was my ear."
Harry and Ginny paused on the stairway and exchanged amused glances.
"Oh, hush, Ron." Hermione's voice increased in volume. "Harry! Ginny! Where are you?"
They walled the few more steps into view. Hermione grinned brilliantly and gently bobbed on heels. "Well?"
Ginny smiled wickedly. Time to have a little fun
You can be just a little evil, Harry intoned with a grin.
"Well? What are you talking about?" Ginny's face was a mask of innocence.
Hermione's jaw dropped. She closed her mouth and blinked several times and then said very slowly, "Our O.W.L.s just arrived. Do you have yours?"
"Oh." Ginny shrugged and took several strides toward the dining room. "How did you do?" she said uninterestedly. "Ron, are you hungry?"
Ron stared at Ginny. Then his eyes darted to Hermione. "Um . . . I want to see how I did first."
Ginny's mask fell. "Are you serious?"
Harry could not help it and let out a snicker. Did Ron really say that?
"Thank you, Ron." Hermione smiled at him. "But we can open our letters after supper."
"Really?" Ron asked hopefully.
"What?" Harry ejaculated.
"Are you serious?" Ginny repeated.
Hermione blushed and smiled softly, her eyes darting to Ron. "I'm sure we're all hungry and a few more minutes is not going to change our scores."