Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, nor do I own anything associated with the Harry Potter/Warner Bros. franchise. I only own this particular dementia, and therefore am making no profit, do not sue.
Author's Notes: Having read some of the absolute best novel-length fanfiction out there I must admit that mine is not particularly novel, nor is it comparable to those masterpieces (go read Transfigurations by Resonant, you'll understand what I mean), but for what it's worth and the energy that went into it – it's not bad. Once you get through the first chapter or so it should get a lot better (less purple, I was cranky when I wrote it, cranky generally results in excessive adjective use) so just bear with me here.
Also, it's obviously not going to fit in with book 6, but there are no spoilers – I tried to stick to my original plan as much as possible. Funny how new canon screws everything up. So thanks very much for reading, and enjoy. (I promise, not all of my Author's Notes will be this long)
TWASITS: Fragments in retrograde of sensibility. The reasonable assumption that everything in life is wrong, backwards, or upside down; and therefore imagining life otherwise would be impossible. The feeling one gets when one is listening to Jefferson Airplane.
CHAPTER 1: Where Everything Started
There was a ship in the sky. Or at least that's what the tiny thin spot in the cloud cover looked like to Harry Potter as he searched for shapes in the grey mud. The intense August heat wave had finally broken with a magnificent storm that had thunderclouds rolling across miles of open air, lightning shocked the trees of the Forbidden Forest an electric blue before the rain put out the flames and broke lightning's hold, and the lake had over flowed with the torrential rain.
Classes had started for Harry exactly five days ago and there was a stack of homework two feet high already waiting for him on his trunk, but Harry wasn't bothered by these facts. He'd taken the night off to enjoy the wet grass and the fresh air after a long summer of being cooped up in his bedroom at Privet drive. Over the holiday he'd barely had the opportunity to stretch his too-long legs, but the boredom and loneliness of summer in no way compared to the hollow ache in his chest. Sirius was dead. He was dead at the beginning of the summer, he was dead after it, and he would be dead for all the summers to come.
Harry was trying, he was trying so very hard to bounce back from this, to be the boy that everyone was expecting him, and needing him, to be; but he hadn't been the same since Cedric Diggory's death, and he probably wouldn't recover at all from Sirius's. The funny thing was he had really begun to like Cedric.
None of that mattered now of course. In the larger scheme of things Cedric Diggory and Sirius Black would just be names in the large book of war casualties, in 100 years time they wouldn't mean a thing to anyone. Harry's would of course, he would be one of those shining names in Wizarding history, a war general and a hero, or a martyr for a lost cause, an embodiment of the ultimate act of lunacy, sacrificing his self on freedom's blood-stained altar. But that was neither here nor there; not that Harry felt he knew what was here, there, or anywhere anymore.
He hadn't been speaking lately. Vernon was amused by his silence, mocking his voiceless acquiescence and taking advantage of his stark white life. "Have you gone dumb boy? Has that… school finally driven you mad?" Harry hadn't broken the silence all summer long, and even Dudley had forgotten him. True to their word, various members from the Order had popped by the suburban imprisonment to check on his health and progress; they had stopped coming eventually, he was fed, he was cared for, he was mute. He had said hello on the train, his throat rough and thick with disuse, then he'd stared out the window and fallen asleep. He knew he would have to start talking eventually, magic was a sound-based form of communication, and mute wizards were extremely unsuccessful ones, lucky if they could cast a cheering charm.
The grass rustled behind him and a pair of flat-toed, stern shoes came into view when he rolled over. "Harry," Professor McGonagall said softly, disturbing the serenity was difficult for her too. "It's late and you'll catch your death out here. Follow me inside please, the Headmaster wishes to speak with you. You can have a cup of chocolate in his office."
Harry pushed himself to his feet and hoped the disgust didn't show on his face: not everything could be solved with chocolate, in any shape or form. "Am I in trouble Professor?"
"Not as far as I know Mister Potter." She looped an arm around him and steered him towards the castle, walking heavily. Harry suddenly realized that war was hard on the old, just as it was hard on the young, the middle aged, and every conceivable age in between. But despite the efforts and intentions of all the factions within the ministry, the entire wizarding community, and Voldemort's army they were not at war yet. Subtle, incalculable guerilla strikes and not-so-covert military actions did not a war, in name, make, but not for lack of trying.
Even the Muggles had noticed strange appearances and goings on in specific communities scattered throughout their little consciousnesses. All but the most oblivious, including his esteemed relations, had noticed something odd about the world at large. They were beginning to ask questions, and the Ministry was in great fear of discovery, not to mention the answers. What was going on? The Muggles asked, and the wizards were equally ignorant.
The presses were not being used appropriately, as Hermione often complained in her extensive letters to him. Only the top ministry officials had been informed of Voldemort's rise to power. Those in the Order of the Phoenix knew of course, but they were few in number, too few to make a difference against a force as powerful as the Death Eaters.
In their own circles, the Death Eaters were spreading propaganda and hype, fleshing out their ranks with children as young as twelve, impressionable young sprouts with all the potential in the world and absolutely no limitations. Hermione stridently argued that 'the forces of light' should be doing the same, recruiting an army, training more proficient warriors that were all capable of making decisions. Harry got bogged down in the semantics, 'light' was such a malleable term.
"Sakuma Drops" his musing was interrupted by some form of candy he was sure as the inanimate Gargoyle named Frank slid out of the way with a distant rumbling that always reminded Harry of 'The Mummy' and 'Count Dracula.' "Ah young Harry, do come in." It was probably for the better that he was distracted now, because semantics always turned fatalist somehow.
Harry stepped into the familiar quarters, stopping to nod at some of the former Headmasters on the wall; Phinieus Nigellus Black squirmed under his gaze. "You wanted to see me Headmaster?" It wasn't a question, not really. Dumbledore always wanted to see Harry, and Harry never liked what he had to say; there was an ironic curse of association in that Harry was sure.
"Yes, yes of course my dear boy. Do have a seat, would you like a lemon drop?"
Dumbledore always offered lemon drops and Harry always thought of Ray Charles singing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' on Uncle Dursley's old tape-deck when he'd been very young. "No, thank you."
Harry hadn't bothered to ask why he was seated in front of the Headmaster at ten o'clock on a Friday night, but then, he'd never really had the chance. "I'm sure you're wondering why you're here." Harry shrugged noncommittally. "I'll be perfectly honest with you when I say that I'm not sure I should be telling you this. In fact, I'm very nearly certain I shouldn't tell you at all, but as it concerns you I should hate for the nasty shock to catch you unawares." So it was a nasty shock then, Harry wasn't surprised in the least by this.
He was, however, surprised by Dumbledore's appearance; the man was old, he was ancient, wrinkled, his eyes had sunken in and the bags under them had increased three fold, he had always been old, over one hundred and twenty at least, but tonight he looked it. He looked distinctly tired, like he could lay down and sleep for five hundred years just to put the sparkle back in his eyes, he looked like some monstrous, invisible weight was bowing him forward into his tea, making his eyelids sag and his shoulders droop; Harry feared he would drop over dead at any moment.
"I'm afraid, Harry, that Cho Chang and her family have been killed."
Harry blinked once. Twice. What was that? Had he said Cho Chang was dead? "What's it got to do with me?" For the first five years of his career here at Hogwarts, Harry had been madly, deeply, passionately, blindly in love with Cho; he saw now of course that he'd been a fickle and soppy idiot. At the end of the last year, he'd completely forgotten any romantic or even friendly feelings toward her, and for a whole week he hadn't even noticed she wasn't in Hogwarts for her final year, giggling madly with that atrocious friend of hers.
The news of her death came as a bit of a shock of course, but somehow he was emotionally unaffected, he neither felt something like the wrenching in his gut upon seeing Cedric's corpse, nor anything similar to the vast empty hole in his heart when Sirius had fallen through the veil. He felt nothing, nothing at all but a mild disgust at his lack of reaction. "Shouldn't you have told Roger Davies instead?"
Dumbledore shook his head slowly, "No Harry. I'm afraid this concerns you rather directly." Gently, the wizened old Headmaster slid an envelope with a broken wax-seal across his cherry wood desk, indicating that Harry take it, but unable to look his student in the eye as he did so.
The seal had once been a large and scrolling 'V' but had since become something more like an upside down 'A,' broken straight through the center of the deep red wax. The envelope itself was thick and creamy, unaddressed and unmarred but for the wax, the parchment inside was of equal quality and sat with the importance of a legal document in Harry's hand, far more important than a birth certificate: a writ of death. The stationary would be stunning to one with an eye for such things, the water mark extremely tasteful and subtle, the handwriting beautifully precise and elegant: the message was appalling.
Happy Birthday Harry.
With regards from your dear Uncle Voldemort.
It wasn't written in any sort of ink Harry could identify, but it didn't need to be, because Harry knew that it wasn't written in any ink at all. "Oh. I suppose it does concern me rather directly."
Surely he would be angrier in the morning; he would react with something more than such casual indifference. He would storm up to Dumbledore's office and demand an explanation, why had no one discovered this when the owl had failed to receive conformation of Cho's acceptance of her School Letter? Why did it take you over a month to tell me about this? Why Cho, why not some nameless, faceless student? But his mind was already supplying the answers to his imagined indignation.
The owl had probably been intercepted by the death eaters, it was possible she'd never gotten it at all, or the acceptance letter had been forged; it was even possible, given the number of students to sort through each year and the encroaching war, Hogwarts had simply allowed Cho to slip through the cracks of the system.
If the Ministry had been the organization to have found Cho's family they would've hesitated a long time in asking Dumbledore for assistance, ever since the Tri-Wizard Tournament fiasco he'd not been in their good standing. It was also entirely probable that Cho's family hadn't meant to be found until now, so Cho's house was potentially covered in 'Notice-me-not's and activity spells, not to mention a few extremely powerful preservation spells. Harry winced, with a heatwave like that, a preservation spell would've been necessary just to knock out the smell. Besides, it wasn't Harry's right to know about this letter, it was a merciful precaution taken by Dumbledore to be sure it wouldn't be flung at him as new ammunition in the shit war he constantly found himself in.
The Death Eaters had chosen Cho not because she was a brilliant student, nor because her father was a squib, they hadn't even chosen her because she won an award in Muggle Studies, the plaque was still in the trophy room. They'd chosen her because in the February 15th back order of the Daily Prophet was a picture of Cho and Harry having coffee together in Madame Puddifoots, the headline reading 'Most Eligible Bachelor?" Two days later Cho had begun dating Roger Davies, and there was a small follow up to the story on the eighth page of the February 17th issue. Harry wanted to whine and cry because this was his fault, he wanted to kick and scream and do a lot of things, but he felt no urge to do anything but sit in silence for a bit.
Voldemort really was a bastard.
"Thank you for letting me know about this Professor Dumbledore." Harry said evenly while standing, "May I be excused? I think I'd like to go to bed now."
"Certainly Harry." Dumbledore said kindly, gazing up with a certain sad fondness at the young man before him. "But Harry… that letter…"
"I think I'd like to keep it if you don't mind. It was addressed to me."
Dumbledore looked blank for a moment, the closest thing to shock Harry had ever seen on his craggy face. "I suppose that would be alright." He said finally, "sleep well Harry. And please be discreet about to whom you give this information."
"Of course Professor."
"Until tomorrow then."
Harry wandered through the halls of Hogwarts. Everything was blue and grey, the gilded frames of the portraits appeared black in the stale light, the torches had been blown out. His feet led him to the Gryffindor common where his friends had been waiting for him, they looked anxious, staring at him like he'd explode into a million pieces at any moment and they would receive detentions for the rest of their lives. Hermione's hair, which had been frizzy and standoffish nearly all summer long, had amassed into and exceptionally large afro in the humidity; despite his best efforts not to, Harry found this amusing. "I've just been to see the Headmaster." He said softly, startling them.
"Is… everything all right?" It was just like Hermione to put X and Y together without actually knowing the values of either, Ron simply looked grim.
Harry shrugged and handed her the envelope, 'no, rather, as Cho Chang is dead,' didn't seem appropriate, but he said it anyway. Hermione gasped, then screamed as she opened the letter. Ron gaped like a fish out of water for a long moment, he then looked livid until his features settled into something resembling sympathy, "We'll get the bastards back for this." He said gravely, hands clenched into fists and voice very carefully controlled, as if he were going to bellow in outrage.
Harry marveled at this, how could Ron and Hermione be so deeply upset when he felt no worse than when he saw a dead bird in the back yard when he was seven? He had knelt down to dig and place the wretched thing in a grave, just as he was leaning now to retrieve the letter Hermione had dropped, then he shrugged and went back to pulling dandelions. "I think I'll go for a walk."
Harry found himself standing in the boys bathroom without quite knowing how he'd got there, the white tile floor was cool against his bare feet, the toilets and shower stalls freshly cleaned. Harry couldn't decide if he was so confused in such a jumble of different emotions that he felt blank, or if he was sincerely blank and his confusion stemmed from his non-sequitur attitude about all of this.
The toilets in the stalls were bleached porcelain, cold, sterile and impersonal – he found himself throwing up into the third one on the right. In the back of his head, a voice that sounded remarkably like Draco Malfoy's said in a mock barter "Here we have a toilet in which the Boy-Who-Should-Have-Died threw up, with the vomit still inside. We'll start the bidding at five galleons, yes you heard me it's a bargain. Five galleons from the lady on the right, SIX from the Weasleys down the first row, your entire life savings isn't it? Seven from the lady on the right. New bidder ladies and gentlemen Eight from the Minister of Magic himself, Nine from the… Your Majesty! … final bid, Twenty-two galleons to My Lord Voldemort himself, enjoy your purchase." Harry flushed to spite the bastard. Prat.
Later that night, while Harry's dorm mates snored all around him, Harry found himself wondering precisely how Ron intended to 'get' the Death Eaters that had killed Cho Chang and her family when he couldn't look Snape straight in the eye. Well, he didn't suppose it mattered so long as it made him feel better about himself. But then, nothing mattered, because he was asleep too.
Harry dreamt that he was the only human on the Quidditch pitch and the entire field had been over run by snowmen. All of them were staring at Harry with their multicolored coal black eyes, all of them were somehow different, people Harry knew, but whenever he approached one its features became obscured, gently melting in the hot sun. There were puddles all around him, with coal, carrots, and cloves floating in them, and he knew they had once been snowmen, but he didn't know who they were. "Hello?" Harry called, and got silence in response, "is there anybody out there?"
The student body had been informed just that morning, ten minutes before classes began. There would be a wizarding-world-wide moment of silence held at precisely 1:47 that afternoon, Harry didn't know why; Cho Chang's family had been tortured then killed at precisely midnight – Voldemort wouldn't have bothered to set up a ritual slaughter complete with messages written in blood to have done it at 1:47am, that wouldn't have made the least bit of sense. The 'moment of silence' should've been held at Greenwich meantime midnight, but one couldn't have everything and the Ministry wanted to move past this tragedy. They had, after all, used it as an excuse to officially declare war.
Harry hadn't gone to breakfast that morning, it taken a great deal of difficulty to peel himself out of bed because his sheets were unusually soft and comfortable and the air around him bone chilling. He woke with a weight in his heart that was threatening to crush his spine but he forced himself to roll out of bed anyway, he didn't remember any of the things he dreamt, but he knew they were sad.
The rain had let up, and it was startlingly inappropriate. Roger Davies had red eyes, all of Hufflepuff was wearing black and yellow arm bands for Cedric, and the Ravenclaws' were blue and black. The whole school would be wearing their individual shades of mourning, they just didn't know it yet, Harry knew it of course, he knew it like an ant knows the beam from the magnifying glass is mere millimeters from burning it to a cinder. He wore all sorts of black everyday, black that was orange, red, blue, green, gray, purple, gold, black in every available color.
TBC of course.
If you find you've already read this - I'm sorry. I had to fix a few things, and insert some page breaks that I didn't realize wouldn't show up. If you HAVE already read this - this time, review.