Lessons

Harry Potter Fan Fiction by Kendra

Chapter 41: The Plan is the Thing


A chilly nightfall had settled over the city of Varna.

Along the coast, bright lights from the many homes and large resorts nestled in the hills of the bay lit the dark waters of the Black Sea in warm shades. The shore's pristine sand gleamed in the light as the waxing moon sat in a sky filled with thousands of stars; gray clouds moved dreamlike over its surface every now and again. There was a fine, damp mist moving along the land and the water slowly.

While the muggles living or vacationing in Varna Bay settled themselves inside for the night's chill, far out in the sea where the warm lights of the city were but specs in the distance, a large black ship sat swaying heavily in the wind that rippled the waters.

This ship cannot be seen from any point on the shore, nor can it be seen by any other vessel sailing the Black Sea at any time. This wasn't simply because of the overcast night, but because it is an enchanted ship that at the time of its creation had powerful spells placed on it to hide it from the naked eye. None but the mer-people living beneath the sea's black surface can spot it passing them by, and that is for a very specific reason. It is UnPlottable, and it has been for nigh a hundred years as ordained by the Bulgarian Minister for Magic back then.

The very first crewmen to step foot on her had christened her the Anka, after the wife of the Minister, who sailed on her maiden voyage to King Iordan's territory and offered her husband's words of truce to the violent Mer-King. The Minster's wife was tall and stunningly beautiful with blonde hair that looked like spun silk; many suspected she had Veela in her family's bloodline. It was told and retold over the years that the Mer-King had been uncharacteristically charmed by her. She had gone down into the depths, allowing his people to carry her into the sea to meet with him. She did him a courtesy by speaking mermish and offered him gifts as they talked at length about the truce her husband offered.

The mer-people of the Black Sea had been known then as brutally territorial and often unpredictably hostile towards both wizards and muggles. Unwarranted attacks were not uncommon. The pervasive grapple for control of the waters (chiefly the safe passage of muggle and wizard ships without fear of attack) had been going on for years up until this point. Many praised Minister Radomir for his wisdom in sending the beautiful Anka to negotiate the truce, while others criticized him for risking her life.

She stayed below the surface for hours, worrying her husband and the Ministry officials who accompanied her on the voyage. When she finally emerged, she was standing on the Mer-King's shoulders, and he made sure she set foot aboard the ship safely before nodding his solemn agreement with Minister Radomir's terms to the officials standing dumbfounded on deck. Whenever she was asked how her time had been below the sea with the mer-people and powerful, intimidating King Iordan, Anka would always say the same thing: "I was happy to serve my husband, and I never once feared for my life."

Now the Anka is considerably older and worn from generations of use patrolling the King's territory night and day for a century. Tonight a crewman of the ship for nearly ten of those hundred, now First Mate, stood smoking his pipe and squinting at the dark waters deep in thought. Luka Varga was a wizard of average talent who found that the best life for someone like him was a simple one. He loved being out at sea, and he didn't need to have wealth or extraordinary power to live comfortably. At a muscular six feet, seven inches with jet black hair and handsome, chiseled features, he had known his own limits and strengths at an early age. He liked muggles—his Uncle Ivan had married one—he liked women, fire whiskey, and smoking his pipe on a night like tonight. He liked books, and he liked to take a nap after a large meal. He'd been born in Zagreb, Croatia just before the war to a middle class witch and wizard who struggled to put him through school at Dumstrang. He didn't like school much, but he finished and left home as soon as possible to make his own way in the world. He had done just that and, most importantly, on his own terms.

He sighed idly as the smoke from his pipe came through his nostrils in wispy coils and was swept away by the icy breeze.

Sometimes, when he was out here on watch, one or two mermaids would surface and stare at him. Since mermish sounds like a thousand nails on a very large chalkboard above water, none of them would ever speak, but he had been treated on several occasions over the years to some very nice little shows. Mermaids in this region had smooth, very dark blue skin and long black hair. Their eyes reflected the moonlight even when there was no moon, and their lips were full and succulent. Sometimes he had fantasies about them, but they always frustrated him because he could never get past the whole 'over-sized fin where legs should be' thing. But those bosoms…those shining, slippery-wet bosoms always got him…

It was unusually quiet tonight, though. So far, an hour and a half into his shift, none of them had popped up to say hello. He thought he knew why, and he grunted to himself wisely as he took another drag off his pipe. They had a guest aboard the Anka tonight. A famous one—one that Luka had recognized instantly when he was approached while they were loading up previsions at the hidden dock. Luka smiled at the moon's reflection on the swaying surface of the water. Both he and Aleksander Borev, the ship's captain, had been thrilled beyond belief to finally meet such a prominent and respected wizard. Thrilled, but also puzzled. Albus Dumbledore had told them a remarkable story about his intention to speak with the Mer-King.

It was highly unusual…but he was Albus Dumbledore! Who wouldn't jump at the chance to be of some assistance to him? It was pretty important, Luka understood; especially if what the elder wizard told them was true.

Anyway, Luka suspected the mer-people sensed Dumbledore's presence aboard the ship. The Anka crew had been accepted by the mer-people; they were all very used to each other and one might even say they were on friendly terms by now since the truce had been put into effect. But King Iordan was wary of others encroaching upon their arrangement, and Luka guessed that below the surface his people were probably keeping watch. No doubt the king knew who Albus Dumbledore was…no doubt he was suspicious of just what the elderly wizard wanted.

Luka heard noise from behind him just as a cluster of inky clouds passed over the moon, and he turned to squint into the darkness. There was some shuffling and what sounded like the dragging of rope across the wooden deck surface. He clamped his pipe between his teeth in the corner of his mouth and stood upright from his leaning position against the capstan. Frowning, Luka pulled his wand out of its beaten up holster and illuminated it. Shining the pale light off his wand tip over in the corner where he heard the noise, he watched as a jumble of extra rope someone had stored there came to life and rose up, uncoiling itself slowly.

Luka was the sort of wizard who remained calm in the face of danger; he liked to make absolutely certain what his options were in such situations--if one panics it's hard to do that. So he simply stood and watched as the rope gradually worked itself into several knots and coils until it resembled a human figure of sorts. He blew smoke out through his nostrils again and kept his wand raised as the human shape became still more defined within the mass of tangled rope. A few moments later a likeness of Albus Dumbledore was standing in front of him where a bundle of rope used to be, complete with pointed hat and half-moon spectacles all made out of knots of various size.

The eyes; tiny knots within the spectacle coils; moved uncertainly in his direction and then the Dumbledore figure smiled, bowing a little stiffly. "Ah…" said the wizard's voice to Luka quite clearly, as though the real Dumbledore were standing there instead. "I've finally managed it. Good evening to you, Mr. Varga. I hope I didn't startle you."

Luka puffed on his pipe, raising a thick black eyebrow at the rope-wizard. "No…" he said in his raspy Croatian accent, "but eh…why would you fashion yourself out of rope when you could just come up from below deck and talk to me in person?"

"Oh!" the Dumbledore copy chuckled softly. He raised a knotted finger and the smile grew wider. Even the eyebrows were present, and he raised them now at Luka apologetically. "Let me explain: my traveling companion suggested I try something I've been neglecting for a long time. I'm a bit rusty, I'm afraid. We've only been at it for a couple of hours, but I think I've got it. How do you find it?"

Luka shrugged, giving the figure a once-over with his wand tip. "It looks fine. Very sturdy…impressive."

"Thank you," said 'Dumbledore' trying out a few motor functions experimentally. "It will take some getting used to, but it is a preferred method of communication while I'm away from home. Letters can be intercepted, you see; floo networks are being watched, and the like."

Luka nodded and made a noise of agreement, smoking his pipe and studying the rope configuration walk stiffly to and fro across the deck. He had never had much use for such complex magic. It looked foreign, and he wasn't surprised to hear it was that exotic witch's idea. She and another one had boarded the ship with Dumbledore the day before, but she was the only one left with him now. The other one (who hadn't spoken a word the entire time he was there) had suddenly Disapparated several hours ago. It was fine by Luka; he didn't much like the man anyway. A person who never spoke probably had something to hide, and secrets almost always meant trouble. Though…Luka scoffed quietly as 'Dumbledore' continued moving about in front of him; they were in some trouble now, weren't they? The Ministry from Dumbledore's neck of the woods was looking for them.

His pipe was done. Replacing it with his wand between his teeth, he fished in his coat for more to fill it with as he watched the ropes practice walking and gesturing. Aleksander stumbled above deck just then, shoving his hat over his balding head and coughing tiredly. He glanced over at the jumble of ropes and yawned. "What the hell is that, eh?" he grunted.

Luka shrugged. "It's Dumbledore."

"No, you idiot, Dumbledore is below deck with that witch…probably having a private time with her, you know. Even he couldn't resist such a woman, as old as he is!" He laughed heartily and it melted into a coughing fit. Luka clapped him on the back. 'Dumbledore' turned and smiled at the men.

"…'private time'? Interesting way of complimenting Miss Kasamatsu's beauty, Captain."

Captain Borev, or Alek as most of his crewmen got away with calling him, did a double take and lost his smile. He shuffled on his feet, taking his hat off and scratching at the bald spot on his head. "Uh…my apologies, Dumbledore. I didn't realize…" Alek nudged Luka in his ribs hard as though it was the first mate's fault he'd put his foot in his mouth.

"Not at all," replied 'Dumbledore'. He stood stone still for a moment, and then the bundle of ropes dropped suddenly into a lifeless heap on the deck. The men exchanged looks and shrugged. Alek walked over to the massive knot, kicked at it, and prodded it with his shabby wand.

"What the hell is happening on my ship lately?" he grumbled, though he was smiling. "I haven't seen such strange magic since I was a boy…I've been out at sea too long…"

Luka shook his head, knowing that Alek didn't mean that. He loved the sea more than he loved his own wife, whom he hadn't seen in six years. Doubtful she was still his wife, but even more doubtful he would make port where she lived long enough to find out. Alek re-coiled the rope with a flick of his wand and pushed it back into the corner where it had been originally. Spitting overboard into the water, he replaced his captain's hat and grinned at Luka.

"Isn't this something, Luka?" he boasted loudly. "Albus Dumbledore aboard the Anka! Wait until we make port in the South again, those idiots at the Rotting Fish will shit themselves!"

The Rotting Fish was a shady dive where most of the wizards sailing on the Black Sea for one reason or another went to drink and find easy women when they made port. They were always swapping stories; bragging about what exotic magical creature they were transporting this month or some other fantastical story to impress the other sailors and the women. Luka and Alek had been patrolling King Iordan's territory for years, so they hardly ever had anything new to tell. A few times they tried making things up, but they were always ridiculed for it until finally they just stopped and concentrated on getting laid on their looks alone. Luka was more successful in this department, of course. He was tall, strong, and handsome where Alek was shorter, brawnier, and older. He looked like he could be a girl's father rather than her lover. He managed, however, to secure a couple of witches that he saw steadily every time they stopped in, though one of them was now rumored to have been carried off by a vampire…Merlin only knew where she ended up…

"No one is supposed to know he's here, Alek…" explained Luka patiently, re-lighting his pipe. Sometimes he wondered why their places weren't swapped…it was true most of the crew members agreed that he should be captain and Alek First Mate. But, Alek had been aboard the Anka longer, and the former captain liked him a great deal; almost like a son. Besides that, Luka counted Alek as a very good friend. He knew that in time the captaincy could be his, the moment Alek decided to give it up. Retirement for that chap was a long way off, however, and for now Luka was content where he was.

As Luka was taking a drag from his pipe, the real Dumbledore appeared above deck, nodding again in greeting to the men. He moved much easier in his own skin, and looked every bit as legendary and revered as Luka had always heard him to be growing up. He fought the urge to whistle in awe. It was almost like passing by a stunningly beautiful woman. One simply did not want to turn his eyes away from the sight of such a man—he was a wizard of renown and importance. Here he was, though, rubbing elbows with poor, simple sailors like Luka and Alek.

"Indeed you are right, Mr. Varga. No one is supposed to know I'm here. Though, it seems…" he sighed tiredly and offered a faint smile, "Cornelius has thought much farther ahead than I anticipated. Clever of him to enlist your Ministry's help in capturing me--and quite troubling. His paranoia about my intentions has reached an alarming level."

Luka blinked thoughtfully and Alek nodded, though he probably didn't really know what Dumbledore was talking about. "Don't worry, sir," the First Mate offered, folding his arms and hunkering down into his coat. "This ship is UnPlottable and we're our own bosses."

"That's right," Alek added firmly, cottoning on. "We don't answer to anyone. We decide who boards the Anka and who doesn't. What do they know, these Ministry slums, eh? To us, you're good, Dumbledore. Like family. Like my own papa, okay?"

"Most obliged, gentlemen. So!" Dumbledore clapped his hands once cheerfully and peered out at the sea over his half moon spectacles. "Any sign of the good king?"

"None," Luka answered. "I've been on watch for almost two hours now and nothing. It's a little too quiet out there."

"Ah, you're right. King Iordan, as I suspected, is loath to meet me again. But it is important that I speak with him…how can we tempt him I wonder?"

"Don't worry, Dumbledore," Alek spoke up, coughing a little. "We'll find him. I mean, he hasn't surfaced in nearly sixty years, but nothing's impossible, you know? If he knows you're the one looking for him, maybe he'll think 'Hey, why not? Dumbledore's a good guy!'"

Amused, the elder wizard nodded. "I trust you, Captain. Please remember, however, that I am rather short of time. Minerva's letter said forty-eight hours, and I intend to be gone in exactly that. I had rather hoped to make my appeal to the king in person, but if I must speak with him as a bundle of rope, or a tangle of seaweed, then so be it."


Harry must've been exhausted.

Almost childlike, he curled up next to Angelina and wrapped his arms around her as though he was clutching his favorite pillow. He fell asleep almost instantly. She watched his face relax into soft obliviousness as his breathing melted into a faint, steady rhythm. A twitch of his eyelids was all she would get for a while as they lay there. She had no problem with that…she watched him sleeping…wondering…what was going on in that troubled mind of his? Was he dreaming of the Department of Mysteries again…of Voldemort…of death and danger…?

Finally she turned to stare up at the ceiling of his canopy; tired but not sleepy. Angelina could hear the laughter and talk from the common room below. She was torn between the happiness she felt at finally having the Quidditch season over and the worry she was experiencing for Harry. She had thought this to herself a few times already but repeating it in her mind now didn't make it any less true: he was transforming. Sometimes the differences were subtle and sometimes they were not; there was a storm of some kind brewing inside of him…one of magnitude, one of reflection and turmoil…one of significance.

After a long while of contemplating the shifting, changing winds of fate Angelina turned to discover that Harry's eyes were open.

He breathed in deep…let it out slowly. She watched him, briefly feeling a delicate thread connecting their thoughts, their concerns, their fears and their anticipations. When his breath touched her face and faded away, he got up abruptly, dressed, and ran both hands through his jet black hair. "Are you ready?"

"Uh-huh. You…?"

Harry nodded. "Let's go."


The Room of Requirement was warm, crowded, and…smoky? Yes, Angelina saw as she and Harry stepped inside--someone was actually smoking.

The somewhat sweet, clove-like smell of the cigarette one usually found adult wizards puffing on in dodgy pubs wafted over to her and she inhaled. She vaguely remembered her grandfather smoking those. They were bewitched to last; you could go on smoking a single cigarette for days and days. The smoking kid was lanky and dark-haired; she'd never seen him at their meetings before, but his face did look familiar. She frowned at him and nudged Harry with an elbow as they stood in the back. Harry had been gazing around the room with a slightly astonished expression on his young face. He hadn't yet noticed the kid in the corner smoking nonchalantly.

Upon studying him, Angelina's boyfriend made a faint noise of interest and then turned to finish his observation of the room.

It was full of students; there were loads more of them in here tonight than at any other DA meeting ever. Angelina was impressed. The large space they used to practice dueling was now occupied by kids sitting cross-legged talking amongst themselves with a mixture of anticipation and uncertainty. This was no assembly in the Great Hall, after all. This was a secret meeting—secret meetings were exciting, weren't they? Most of them probably figured that if it involved Harry Potter it was not to be missed. It was worth the risk being here tonight, they all seemed to be whispering to themselves as Angelina and Harry stood there watching them, if Harry Potter had something to say.

There were a dozen or more kids standing against the walls as well. Only the very front of the room had space—it seemed they'd all kept clear of that area to allow their speaker (Harry) to address them.

Cho Chang and her friends sat up front (minus Marietta of course—she was still in the hospital wing). Cho kept turning her head every now and then to check to see who was coming in next. Upon sight of Angelina and Harry she gave a tight little smile and turned around quickly. Neville was hanging against a wall with Seamus and Lee Jordan. He looked both solemn and keyed up somehow, if that were possible to discern—he just looked different, in other words. Angelina watched him, remembering what Harry told her about t Mad Eye Moody recruiting the stuttering boy to train with him. It was puzzling to her, but looking at him now…it made her extremely curious about what might've brought Moody to make such a decision. Also…she felt a small pang of jealousy. She would've given her left arm to train with such a legendary dark wizard catcher…

Katie and Alicia waved to her from their sitting position in a small circle made up of themselves, Lavender Brown, Susan Bones, and Pavarti and Padma Patil. Zacharias Smith and Roger Davies were getting chummy in a corner--Zach was explaining to Roger (a newcomer tonight) how the DA worked and what it was about. Roger looked dubious. Luna Lovegood took a seat next to Cho and began speaking breezily, not noticing that Cho was looking in another direction and scarcely paying attention.

Sitting almost in the center of the crowd were Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Dean. Ron was talking with Dean excitedly, presumably still soaring from his spectacular show at the Quidditch match. His face was flushed from the slight heat in the room, but his grin was wide and his eyes were shining. The same kind of expressions were echoed all around them; the same kind of eager chatter—it became hushed and sent chills down Angelina's back when all eyes suddenly noticed her and Harry standing there.

Seamus grinned at them. "The man himself! Hey Harry, how d'ya like the turnout?"

Harry's eyes swept the entire room once more and he offered a faint frown. He was nervous—Angelina could tell. "How did so many people find out?"

"They all volunteered mate," shrugged Ron. "We hardly had to lift a finger. Apparently our little operation is pretty popular, eh? 'Least it is among your adoring fans."

"Don't worry," Hermione offered quickly, seeing the look on Harry's face. "We all swore them to secrecy and they all signed our 'special' parchment when they came in." She offered him an earnest smile. It seemed she was attempting to make amends for dragging her feet earlier. It was working…a little.

Harry sighed and turned away from the crowd to look at Angelina. She smiled encouragingly at him. "Go on…"

With the slightest squeeze of his fingers she reconfirmed her promise to stand by him. Without another word Harry turned and snaked his way through clumps of sitting students, nodding in greeting to those who called out to him as he went by. Angelina backed up and found herself a spot against the wall next to an unfamiliar-looking girl wearing Gryffindor robes. The girl was tall and thin, with straight brown hair that stopped at her shoulders. She looked no more than Angelina's age in the face, but her eyes held a much more adult expression in them. Angelina glanced at her again as she settled herself against the wall. The girl returned her look, smiling a little and inclining her head in greeting. "Hello, Angelina…" she whispered.

"Do I know you?" Angelina whispered back uncertainly. Maybe she did look a little familiar…

"Yes, you do. But now isn't the time to explain it…Harry's on." Her hair did a funny thing under the light just then—it flickered almost crimson for a split second, but Angelina thought maybe it was just her eyes still being tired.

When he reached the front of the room, Harry took his wand out of his back pocket and began tapping it slowly against his thigh. The lingering conversations died away finally as he stood there, and when it was completely silent in the room the leader of Dumbledore's Army cleared his throat.

"Uh…okay then. I trust all of you pretty much know why you're here," he began earnestly, gesticulating with his wand and free hand. "Hopefully, you're here not only because you want to be, but because you understand exactly what you're getting into."

He paused, searching among their faces for agreement or puzzlement or regret. Angelina did the same, looking around her at the sides of people's heads to read their expressions. She felt satisfied with what she saw—Harry had their complete attention.

He continued after a moment.

"I tried, uh…thinking up a way to spin this; a way to tell you what's happening without shocking you." He paused; looking within himself for the words. "But I realized…the best way is to just say it. I want you to get upset. I want you angry and rowed up—I want you shocked. I know a lot of you hear all sorts of rumors about me; I know you've probably read the stories in the Prophet calling me a liar, calling me an opportunist or an egomaniac or whatever…"

He found her eyes and she nodded firmly for him to keep it up. Swallowing, he did go on; some of his hair fell into his face and it made him look quite boyish for a second before he got it out of the way with a shake of his head.

"…and if you think any of that is true; if you're only here to have a laugh at Harry Potter the nutter, then you may as well just leave right now."

No one budged. That wasn't going to be enough to get them to abandon this—whatever it was that was happening. Harry seemed to understand that, but he looked satisfied all the same.

"All right I've asked you here for two reasons. One…" he took a breath; steeling himself, "…Voldemort has returned to his physical body and is organizing a bunch of his Death Eaters as we speak for an attack--" a collective gasp steamrolled its way around the room. Harry had to raise his voice as he continued: "--and two: the place he's going to attack first is Hogwarts."

He let them all get there various reactions out of their systems for a minute; Angelina watched him stand there defiantly waiting for someone to call him a liar. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, Seamus and Dean all exchanged looks. They hadn't heard a word about Harry's experience in the showers that morning yet. Hermione and Ginny looked behind them at Angelina as well, but she merely nodded her head slightly to indicate that it was indeed the truth. Finally, as the talk was dying down again and people had recovered from hearing Voldemort's name aloud, someone raised his hand. It was another kid Angelina had never seen at a single other meeting. That wouldn't have bothered her, either, but that she saw his robes were Slytherin. He was very tall; leaning against the wall across the room from the smoking boy, and he wore glasses. His expression wasn't skeptical per se, but definitely inquisitive. Harry took in his Slytherin robes and instinctive distrust flashed across his face for an instant. He recovered and indicated with a short nod for the other boy to ask his question.

"How do you know all of this, Potter?" Angelina could tell by his manner that he was a little older than a lot of them. Probably a seventh year. His tone was just as solid and straight-forward as his features. It was neither accusatory nor derogatory; it was as frank as frank could be, but his robes made Harry's brow furrow again visibly.

"That's a little harder to explain."

"Well why don't you try us?" the Slytherin boy with glasses and blondish-brown hair asked without hesitation. Harry stared at him. The entire room seemed to be thinking the same exact thing. Ron and the others were paying close attention too.

Harry leveled with them. "Okay…there are kids in this school whose families are working for Voldemort. Death Eaters, basically. I overhead a parent talking to his son, who's training to become a Death Eater right now." It wasn't exactly a lie—but then it wasn't exactly the truth either. Angelina understood his decision to say it that way, though. "Voldemort's looking to take advantage of the fact that Dumbledore is on the run."

There were quite a few exchanged looks, and Harry made a noise of frustration. He knew if they could barely grasp this theory, telling them exactly why Voldemort wanted to get into Hogwarts (to lay a trap for Harry) would do little to improve their mindset.

"Look—how many of you saw in the papers about that mass breakout at Azkaban? Those were all Death Eaters. The Ministry still can't find them."

"That doesn't prove You-Know-Who is back," someone said. It was Demelza Robbins, a fifth year in Gryffindor. "It was that Sirius Black that helped them, I heard. The Ministry can't find him, either."

Angelina, along with Ron, Ginny, and Hermione, immediately checked Harry's expression. His jaw was clenched very tightly, and he looked at Demelza Robbins as though he would love nothing more than to shout at her: "Sirius Black is not a murderer—he's innocent and he'd die before he'd join with Voldemort!" Instead, he swallowed calmly and nodded at her, as though he understood where she was coming from.

"I know why you would think that. But…regardless if…if Sirius Black helped them break out or not--" his jaw clenched again, but he kept his cool, "--the fact still remains that a dozen of them broke out of there for a reason. They aren't sunning themselves on a beach somewhere—they've regrouped. Hogwarts is vulnerable. Dumbledore's been driven off. People have died, disappeared, and..."

Angelina winced a bit when he began to pace. He couldn't help himself. Several of his audience began to squirm from hearing Voldemort's name repeated so heedlessly, but Harry ignored their reactions and continued.

"Last year…" he stopped pacing and looked at something in the floor; something only he could see, "…Cedric Diggory was murdered. The man we all thought was Professor Moody turned out to be one of Voldemort's most loyal Death Eaters. The only reason this isn't common knowledge is because Fudge let him get sucked dry by a Dementor. Cedric was just…in the wrong place at the wrong time…and it was because of me. It was…" he swallowed thickly. "…it was my fault."

Angelina's mouth fell open slightly; she couldn't help it. The room was so silent and still one could hear a pin drop. Harry stood there and didn't take back what he said or look to see how his friends reacted to it. She wondered why he had admitted such a thing—when those close to him all knew it couldn't possibly be true. Does he feel he needs to give these kids something in return for their support for the D.A.? she thought to herself. Does he feel by admitting something like that he can earn their trust more successfully? There wasn't a way to tell right then—she would make sure to ask him point blank later. And probably admonish him for it.

Someone sniffed; it was Cho. Luna put an arm around her shoulders. Cho looked surprised, but she accepted the gesture.

"I read that…in the interview you gave to that Skeeter woman. It's all true then?" Hannah Abbot asked quietly.

Harry nodded, still staring at the floor. "Yeah, it's true. But I won't let it happen again. Vold--" Hannah winced. "…You-Know-Who…is out there, waiting." He looked up at the sea of staring faces again. "If we're going to keep him out of here, we'll have to do it together. I can't do it by myself. I need your help."

"Okay—say we take your word that You-Know-Who is really back and getting ready to strike; what about the school staff? Don't they know this? Isn't Hogwarts supposed to be warded up the arse in case something happens?" Another D.A. newcomer asked; she was also a Slytherin. Daphne Greengrass; she could've been Harry's twin. She had pale skin, long jet black hair, and vibrant green eyes. Her expression was somewhat more skeptical than her tall housemate's but she merely waited for Harry to answer her. Angelina didn't fancy her much, but her presence in this room tonight would give her brownie points if she turned out to be serious about getting involved.

"If I know McGonagall, most of them are aware there's a threat by now," answered Harry.

"Potter's right…" said the girl standing next to Angelina. She was frowning now; she stood with her arms crossed.

"Is that…?" Ron muttered, squinting at the girl with a baffled expression. Hermione gave him a sharp jab in the ribs with her elbow as suddenly all eyes were on the girl who'd spoken. She merely settled herself comfortably under the curious gaze of every single other person in the room. Harry looked pleased. Seeing his face made Angelina remember what he'd mentioned to her earlier about Professor Tonks asking to join the D.A. that afternoon. She remembered finding out in her Defense Against the Dark Arts class that Tonks was a Metamorphamagus. So this must've been one of her disguises.

"Professor Tonks?" whispered Angelina, now instantly recognizing the professor's cool features underneath the girlish hair. They were smoother and younger-looking, but they did belong to the usually suit-clad D.A.D.A. teacher.

"Shh…it's Tulip in here, Angelina, all right?" she whispered back. Tonks (a.k.a. "Tulip") stood upright from her leaning position, ignoring the whispering that broke out. Angelina thought she heard a Hufflepuff boy ask his friend 'who the bloody hell is that?'

"I heard some of them talking before I came up here. McGonagall called a staff meeting tonight. They have good reason to believe an attack is possible." Questions flew at her at once, but she didn't open her mouth until everyone settled down again. "Hey, lookit, I'm just telling you what I heard. There is definitely something funny going on around here—I just think we should hear Potter out, is all…"

She gave Harry a look that told him to just go with it.

He began to speak, but was interrupted by Zach Smith. "Wait--so if they do know what's going on, why wasn't there an assembly or something? Why didn't McGonagall make an announcement?"

Scattered murmuring of agreement broke out.

Tonks smiled. "Well, all right, I did hear that Professor Tonks woman say something else: 'it's a delicate situation' or such like that. The Ministry and the administration here at Hogwarts are in the middle of a cold war, she said. Fudge just sticks his thumbs in his ears whenever anyone mentions You-Know-Who. You all heard what happened to Dumbledore; and I'll bet my last Knut McGonagall isn't gonna let that happen to her. Professor Sprout said McGonagall's maybe the last person Fudge still trusts enough to make Headmistress who still has us kids' best interests in mind."

"So those of us who aren't in this room will go on ignorant of what's really happening until it's too late, is that it?" Daphne said flatly.

Tonks looked at her intensely for a moment before answering. "Most of 'us' who aren't in this room would do the same as Fudge and turn a blind eye any way, Greenie."

The Slytherin girl narrowed her eyes at Tonks. "What did you just call me? Who are you anyway? I don't remember ever speaking to you before..."

"It's Tulip." Tonks responded simply. "And you wouldn't have talked to me before because I'm a Gryffindor and I wasn't exactly born with a silver spoon, was I?" Daphne's cheeks went as red as Tonks' usual hair color and she crossed her arms huffily. "Right," Tonks went on, "so I'm guessing to avoid news of the administration's position on this getting back to the Ministry, the staff is gonna prepare the castle in secret-like. That's how I'd do it, anyway…wait and watch."

"Which is exactly what we're going to do," Harry spoke up, causing the sea of heads to turn again towards him again. "Only they don't really want us to because they're too afraid of the consequences. McGonagall thinks we're too young to deal with this. I say Voldemort and his followers couldn't care less how old any of us are. If we're in their way, they'll kill us. We're getting organized—we're going to train, and we're going to be ready to fight. Every single one of you will have a role to play."

"Well…what about our exams?" someone, Hufflepuff Ernie MacMillan, asked quietly. He had a look on his round face that suggested he'd rather be off in his room buried under a mountain of homework than here talking about possible wand-to-wand combat with a bunch of crazed escaped prisoners. Harry shrugged at him.

"If you'd rather be studying, you should go ahead. Just don't say anything about what we're doing to anyone; otherwise you'll end yourself up with a giant zit for a face like Marietta Edgecombe." Several people winced. Ernie lowered his hand and clamped his mouth shut. Harry added: "Anyway—we'll make time while we're training to study for stuff. Right, Hermione?"

Eyeballs became glued to Hermione. Ron suppressed a snort. After a beat in which the gears in the young woman's head turned quickly, she nodded somewhat begrudgingly. "Er--sure we can arrange that…" She fixed Harry with an 'I'm going to kill you…' look. He shrugged at her as if to say 'you asked for it.'

Ernie smiled now, seeming to decide this was a good idea—an eager look flickered across his face. "Oh, well in that case I think we should organize a tutoring corner, yes? I've studied for nearly five hours every night on every subject, and I can--"

"All right, all right; we get the point, ya tosspot…" Ron muttered, glancing apprehensively at Hermione, who had a competitive gleam in her eyes.

Harry took over again.

"We can go over all that later, MacMillan. First thing we're going to do is assign everybody a job. This is going to make our work much better; you know, more efficient. If everybody knows exactly what their role is once the time comes, we'll be more effective. Does everybody agree with that?"

The lanky kid who'd been smoking the sweet-smelling cigarette raised his hand. The cigarette was unfinished, tucked behind his ear, holding his shoulder-length black hair in place. "'When the time comes,' Potter. What does that mean exactly?" Though he asked the question, Angelina could see he knew exactly what that meant. There was something shining in his eyes…he looked excited. Wickedly so. Harry observed him for a long moment, taking him in more thoroughly than he had when Angelina first pointed him out. There was something in his face that was strongly reminiscent of Fred and George, on a darker scale.

"It means…I'm going to teach you all how to fight. And when they come…you'll either defend yourself…or you could die."

Silence. Angelina let it wash over her. She had goose bumps, despite the slight warmth in the room.

"Merlin…" someone whispered. "Are we really talking about fighting off Death Eaters…and p-possibly You-Know-Who? This lot?"

"Yeah that's right, this lot," said Harry purposefully. "That's exactly what we're talking about. If you need to take a minute and let that sink in, go ahead."

Harry stood before them exuding an indescribably powerful determination…it seemed to reach out to everyone in the room…seemed to creep to the very back and around again. It wasn't just because she loved him. She wasn't so blindly enamored. No…Harry Potter had a way with people.

Here, in this room, he had an affect on them all. He was a born leader; this was as obvious as the scar on his forehead. His peers—some already having been members of the D.A. since the beginning, and the rest all newcomers—now looked on him with the most extraordinary something in their faces. Angelina tried different words in her head to find ones that sounded right—trust. Respect. Willingness. No doubt some of them were scared. No doubt even more had no idea what they were really getting into. And no doubt…the full weight of what he'd told them hadn't hit them yet. But the seed had been planted. And excitement was brewing. What a strange thing; that mingled in with all the palpable fear and doubt in this room, exhilaration was filling the warm air as well. Most looked as if they had visions swimming behind their eyes of gruesome face-to-face battles with anonymous Death Eaters…those that inspired terror and brought chaos and death wherever they went were now being thought of by a group of teenagers as targets. It was because of Harry…she knew it.

"Before I go on any further…does anyone have any more questions about why we're here? Anybody still think I'm a liar? If you do…" he pointed his wand towards the back of the room, where Angelina and Tonks were standing near the door. "The exit is right back there."

He watched the room for a moment as though expecting several of them to get up and leave, but no one did.

"…like I said, everyone's going to have a job to do. Dean?" He gestured for Dean to take over. The other boy stood up from the floor next to Ginny and walked forward to the front. He addressed their audience, clearing his throat and scratching his head absently.

"Right—okay so basically it's like this…"

Dean's idea had been as such: they would impose what he called a "Strike System". It would consist of three levels of defense—utilizing all the manpower they would have in order to keep fighting for as long as they could until reinforcements arrived. This would be tricky; not all of them were on the same level magically, but Harry was confident that with each other's support they could achieve the basic objective of keeping the enemy out.

"First Strike," Dean told them, getting comfortable at the front, "will be a flying squad led by Harry. Now, this is operating on the assumption that they won't expect us to fly in first—they'll be looking at the ground and figure if we come we'll be charging straight at them or else off hiding somewhere 'cause we're dumb kids, right?"

Next there was Second Strike, which would be lead by Neville. Upon hearing this—and then hearing what Second Strike was—a lot of people reacted with skepticism. Neville was quiet while Dean explained. Second Strike would be the ground attack. They would 'charge' from all sides and do combat with Voldemort's Death Eaters face-to-face. Harry had explained the night before that Neville had way more tricks up his sleeve than people were willing to believe. He did the same now. He would have gone on, but Neville spoke up.

"Look I know what you're all thinking." He sighed, closing his eyes to gather a bit of nerve before continuing. "But the truth is I don't really care what any of you think you know about me. Anyone who's brave enough to go in with me is welcome on my team."

There were a number of people who still looked skeptical, but no one spoke. They moved on. Colin Creevey's hand shot up like a rocket before Dean could open his mouth. He was grinning broadly, sitting next to his brother Dennis. Unfortunately they were right in front of the smoking boy, and looked rather pale, but still it seemed they were about to burst with excitement. Harry sighed. "Colin—what is it?"

"I know what's next! Dennis and I can do that—and we've got friends who can help!"

"How do you know what's next" Ron asked, turning to stare at the hyper pair of them. "Were you little scamps eavesdropping last night? I guess now we know how the word about tonight got spread so fast, Harry…"

Colin turned red but his resolve did not falter. "Harry, we can do it. Right, Dennis?"

Dennis nodded enthusiastically. Even though Colin was a Fourth Year and Dennis a Second, they were both so small they looked like they'd just stepped off the scarlet steam engine for the first time that year. Harry frowned at them. It was true they had puzzled last night over who might be best for this next role—they knew they would probably need every capable older student to fight with them. Who, then, would be in charge of sounding the alarm, getting the smaller kids out of harm's way, and running messages back and forth should things get crazy? He thought…if Ron's hunch was correct, then Colin and Dennis were responsible for tonight's overwhelming attendance. This meant that, essentially, they had told a lot of people in a short amount of time and they did it under everyone's noses. There was something to be said for that.

Colin and Dennis sat there looking at Harry beseechingly, and though his first instinct was to say no (a very McGonagall-like instinct, but it was there), he slowly gave in.

"All right…we'll give you a shot."

"Yes!" shouted the boys, giving each other high fives. Ron shook his head at them. Dean went over the Strike System again, adding that Hermione would be in charge of getting everyone organized and that she would need help if anyone wanted to volunteer. Ernie MacMillan was the first to raise his hand for that one. Hermione squinted at him forbiddingly but said nothing.

"All right, everyone—first order of business is figuring out who's going to do what." Hermione announced. "We'll call for each team separately, and if you want on that team, you'll simply raise your hand."

"But--" Harry added, "--you need to think long and hard before you put your hand up. If we can get everyone sorted just once without a bunch of swapping around, it'll make things a lot easier. You volunteer for a job, that's your job—you're doing it; no excuses."

Hermione frowned at him with a shadow of disapproval at his tough stance, but didn't attempt to contradict him. "First Strike team volunteers? You'll need to be able to maneuver pretty well on a broom, and decent coordination for spell-casting while you're airborne is also a plus. Quidditch players would be good here, obviously."

Harry watched. Ron raised his hand first, followed by Angelina and Dean; then came Katie Bell and Alicia Spinnet. Hermione wrote these names down quickly--Cho's hand rose. Next Andrew Kirk, Jack Sloper…all the obvious people, really.

Then something really good happened—Demelza Robbins raised her hand, a brave frown settled across her face. Hermione wrote her name down. Demelza was followed by Roger Davies and that tall Slytherin boy with the glasses. He told Hermione his name was Noah Clarke. Zacharias Smith put his hand up as well. As did several other people, all of them were newcomers that Harry barely spoke to on a regular basis. Hermione wrote all of these names down and gave Harry a satisfied smile.

"All right—next is Neville's Second Strike team. Here I would suggest you be quick on your feet with really strong defensive instincts—you know, can you counteract a jinx easily, or will you end up cursed before you even know what happened? Also, you ought to understand you'll likely be fighting face-to-face with real Death Eaters…and…well you may be seriously injured."

Here Ginny and Parvarti were the first to raise their hands. Harry felt impressed by Parvarti. She didn't look hesitant about this decision at all; her expression was as resolute as Ginny's. Lee Jordan and Luna Lovegood had their hands up. Tonks raised hers and smirked when Daphne Greengrass' palm shot into the air, followed by Michael Corner, Susan Bones, Hannah Abbot (to Harry's surprise), and Hermione raised her own hand as well. In addition, a few more newcomers raised their hands for Neville's team. The boy looked pleased, and also a little apprehensive. Harry knew he was nervous about being a leader. He can handle it…he thought to himself; or rather prayed…

There were still quite a few people who hadn't volunteered for anything; they all looked like they had taken Harry's command to think long and hard very seriously. Harry could count the number of them who looked like they were holding out for the job of assisting Hermione with the organizational duties on one hand—that still left about a dozen people unassigned. The lanky, long-haired, smoking boy cleared his throat just as Dean was about to call for volunteers for Colin and Dennis' little squad.

"You're missing somethin', aren't ya?" he drawled, still grinning that wicked grin Harry had glimpsed earlier.

"What are we forgetting?"

The smoking boy scratched his chin. "Well…I thought I heard y'say three strikes? I counted only two in all that." His cocksure attitude was laced with a strong undercurrent of mischievousness that Harry didn't quite know how to react to at first.

"What are you talking about, man?" Dean asked, sounding a bit annoyed. "I just went over everything, didn't I? Were you even paying attention--?"

"Sure I was. Sounded like these underclassmen are gonna be runnin' messages around and roundin' up the other kids for us; that's not what I'd call a strike." He grinned wider, scoffing in a politely amused way and shaking his head. "Tha's just busy work, innit? I mean, no offense to them or anythin'. Then Granger's got her organizin' and okay that's swell—we gotta have order, lest we all go mad with the excitement of knocking off a few Death Eaters." He had everyone's complete attention, now. He stood up from his leaning position against the wall and stepped forward a little, towering over Colin and Dennis. Angelina and Tonks observed him with matching looks—both had eyes fixed and focused with intrigue. Harry stared at him as well; he was having trouble figuring out if this guy was up to something or not. "You'll be flyin' in on your brooms…Longbottom's got his suicide squad…all swell, mate. But we need somethin' else; just a little somethin' extra."

"Something 'extra'--like what?" Angelina asked very quietly. He turned to catch her gaze. His eyes flashed—they were dark but for a split second they came alive with enthusiasm. It seemed he had been waiting for someone to ask him that question the whole time. She obliged him. "Go on…we're all listening."

"All right, if you want to know…while you lot have all been buyin' up that Weasley joke rubbish I've been developing some real sparks, yeah?"

"My brothers' products aren't rubbish--what are you, some sort of cracked up pyro or something?" Ron scoffed, frowning at the kid disdainfully.

The kid grinned yet again. "Maybe…doesn't matter. But those Death Eaters won't expect to be havin' their ears blown off by one of my beauties, I can assure you." He put his hands up in a false gesture of surrender when several people in the room started talking at him. He raised his voice over the din of the crowd. "That's all I'm sayin'. Anyone's got the right to disagree. I just think it's a shame to get all fussed up trying to protect this castle without some real ammunition, if you follow me."

Seamus raised his eyebrows. "That actually doesn't sound too bad a thing to me…"

"Yeah, right; you can't even get your wand off without setting something on fire, ya git." Ron joked.

"Belt up, Weasley." Seamus stood upright to address Harry—and the crowd. "I mean I think he's right. If you're serious about us defendin' ourselves Harry, maybe we should listen to what he has to say."

Harry eyed Seamus and folded his arms. He addressed the lanky kid again. "I am listening—what did you say your name was?"

"I didn't. Name's Eddie Carmichael; Sixth year Ravenclaw at your service, mate." Eddie gave an elaborate bow. "Ready to be the captain of any doom squad we can scrape together, but I'd choose a more colorful way of keepin' the Boogie Men out if I were you."

"Doom Squad…I like that…" Seamus muttered, apparently warming up to this guy more and more.

Harry thought for a second. Everyone was simultaneously watching him and Eddie with clipped breath. Seamus looked very attracted to the idea. Truthfully, so was Harry. Angelina shattered the tense silence, demanding: "Show us then."

Eddie turned his playfully wicked eyes on her once more, a dubious smile on his lips. "Come again, love?"

"You heard me, Carmichael." She returned the smile, gesturing to the others, who hung on their every word. "Show us these 'beauties' of yours, so we can judge for ourselves how much use they'll be before we go putting together a…Doom Squad, you called it?"

Harry stepped forward, hesitating between protesting such a display and the immense curiosity Angelina's demand had spurred in him. "Are you serious?" asked Eddie of Angelina.

She turned to Harry, who still stood with his arms crossed, eyeing the strange kid who seemed determined to cause controversy. "She's serious…" he answered after a beat, "so am I. What have you got?"

"Wait…maybe we should just…" Hermione spoke up, looking cautious. "…stick with Dean's idea?"

"Potter, you sure you want me to show you here…now…?" Eddie said, his voice taking on some kind of edge that made the hairs on the back of Angelina's neck stand up. He took another step forward.

"Why not?"

"A little crowded in here..." Eddie shrugged. "Might not be wise, is all."

"Is that because you don't really have anything to show for yourself?" Zacharias Smith piped up harshly. "You're a troublemaker, Carmichael. For all your talk, I'll bet you're only here to stir up a fuss, and it's not amusing anyone."

Eddie glared at him. "I don't need this lot around to cause trouble, Smith…" Harry caught the rather savage undertone in the boy's voice, but before he could comment on it, Eddie had reached into his pocket and retrieved three small objects. They were the size and shape of golf balls, though they were translucent—inside them Harry could make out what looked like black smoke pierced by tiny flickers of shining light. Eddie maneuvered them around in his palm, lacing them between his fingers as he leaned against the wall nonchalantly again, now smirking at Zacharias.

"What are they?" Angelina asked as every neck craned to see. There was near-complete silence. The things circling around Carmichael's palm gave Harry a dark wave of nostalgia. For a moment he could almost feel himself back in the so-called Hall of Prophecy; back in his dreams.

"They're my pride and joy…" Carmichael joked. He loosened his palm and the three objects rose silently into the air to hover above his head. Everyone held their breath. Harry stood stone still, watching; his hand gripping his wand warily. If he hadn't had his eyes trained on Eddie and those mysterious floating objects, he might've noticed that both Neville and Tonks had their wands at the ready as well.

"Step aside, Potter." Harry narrowed his eyes forbiddingly, but Eddie was only half-smiling, nodding his head that it was okay (translated: safe) for Harry to step back. Harry took two very slow, deliberate steps to the side, where Eddie had a clear path now to the opposite wall. He moved his fingers – the orbs began to spin around lazily, and then he snapped his fingers sharply. One of the translucent balls filled with black smoke went racing towards the wall Harry had been standing in front of. Harry raised his wand, but Eddie hastily said "No, it's all right, just watch…!" The ball hit the wall and shattered to dust. The wall caught fire.

A large, uneven pattern of white flame broke out right before their eyes and began to spread. There were a few startled cries from some of the girls and curses of awe from some of the boys. Seamus seemed speechless but heavily impressed. People were starting to shift around; moving away from the hot flames as they spread outward in all directions rapidly. "Harry, put it out!" Hermione shouted at him. He raised his wand and conjured a stream of water that smothered the licking fire.

He turned to glare at Eddie, who still had two more orbs hovering above him. "That's enough Carmichael."

"Are you sure, Potter? I was just gettin' started…" Eddie goaded, closing his 'beauties" in his palm again and tucking them away. "I've got plenty more where these came from. I've got one that melts, one that explodes, one that rips, one that gnaws…I've put all me best spell work into these."

Harry ignored his boasting. "Dark magic, you mean."

There was a considerate pause. These words sank into the silence like a heavy stone in water. "I don't look at it like that," Eddie replied. "It's just magic—it can be used to defend Hogwarts. You know it can."

"Why haven't I ever heard of you, Carmichael?" Harry demanded.

"He's a loner, that's why." Demelza Robbins quipped. "The creepy sort, if you a ask me. He keeps to himself and he hardly opens his trap, isn't that right Eddie?"

"Nobody asked you, Demelza…" he looked down at his abused trainers for a moment; suddenly he didn't seem so sure of himself. Demelza smiled to herself in a satisfied fashion. This didn't go unnoticed by Harry. Eddie ran a hand through his hair and shrugged. "If you don't like my ideas, suit yourself. I still want to be a part of Dumbledore's Army."

"And what next—if we let you in, you'll go 'round blowing off people's ears, will you?" asked Ron, apparently still stung by the 'rubbish' comment. "What if you really are cracked and you really are using dark magic and you accidentally kill one of us, huh?"

"I ain't a nutter, Weasley," retorted Eddie darkly. "I just know…" he paused.

Harry unfolded his arms, standing at attention. He couldn't wait for Carmichael to contemplate whether or not to finish his thought. "You just know what?" Eddie looked Harry right in the eyes.

"I just know what those bastards are capable of, that's all. They deserve what they've got commin' to 'em…"

Harry considered this statement for a small moment, and realized he felt exactly the same way. "Guys…come over here for a second." Already knowing what he wanted, Neville, Ron, Angelina, Ginny, Dean, and Hermione got to their feet and weaved through the crowd towards him. Tonks followed without being asked. She drew incredulous looks from quite a few people (including Seamus), but she ignored them.

"Hey, are you gonna vote on it without us?" Seamus asked heatedly, and Harry held up a hand in a 'just a moment' gesture. The room began to fill again with hushed conversation. Harry turned his back on it, facing a circle of his friends—and Tonks.

"Tonks, good to see you made it," he acknowledged her as Dean, Hermione, Angelina, Ron, Ginny and Neville closed the gaps between them and they all leaned in. "Why are you disguised? I think half the people in here will realize they've never seen you before tonight pretty soon. Daphne Greengrass already looks mutinous…"

"I know her sort," Tonks nodded appreciatively, "I had plenty of girls in my face like her back in my Hogwarts days. I disguised myself to keep us both out of trouble, Harry. McGonagall asked me to check here to see if you'd gone against her."

"Doesn't surprise me," said Harry.

"Are you going to turn us in to McGonagall, then?" Dean inquired.

Tonks paused. "Unfortunately for McGonagall I've already signed Hermione's parchment. I couldn't be a rat even if I had the slightest inclination, now could I?"

Everyone grinned and muttered their thanks to Tonks. Harry moved on. "All right, what do we make of this Carmichael bloke?"

"He's a wanker!" Ron spoke up at once. Hermione shushed him and peered over his shoulder to make sure no one was trying to listen in. Of course they all secretly were, but everyone pretended to be involved in debates of their own. She saw that Seamus had gone up to Carmichael and had begun a conversation with him.

"But those things of his…" Dean said, gesturing to the scorched wall near them. "They are pretty wicked, you gotta admit, Ron. They looked like…I dunno, curses contained in glass or something?"

"Yeah," Harry agreed. "Like he trapped a curse inside them and when they make contact, the spell is released."

"I've seen something like that before," Tonks spoke up. "In my training."

"Aurors use that kind of stuff?" Neville asked with great interest.

Tonks nodded, frowning. "Sort of, yes. He's very clever to have come up with a version of that kind of thing on his own."

"Clever…" interjected Hermione, "but is he dangerous?"

"To us, or to them?" Angelina countered.

"I can't decide." Harry admitted. "Part of me doesn't trust him as far as I can throw him, but…a bigger part wants to see what else he's got under his sleeve. Those curse-ball things look really useful. I'll bet no Death Eater will expect us to have those, would they?"

"I'm with Harry," said Ginny. Ron made an annoyed face. "Really, Ron, you know you're just as curious as we are."

"He's probably still sore from what Carmichael said about Fred and George selling rubbish." Dean smirked.

"Your mum, Thomas. This isn't about my brothers; they're both gits." Ron grumbled. "I just don't trust him. He's trouble, you mark my words."

"Ron…" Harry whispered, a gleam developing in his emerald greens. Ron squinted at him, not liking his tone one bit. "If we voted on it and everyone's in favor of letting him head something up…would you feel more comfortable if you were on that team? You know—to keep an eye on him?"

"Wha--?!" Ron sputtered. He thought for a moment. Everyone in the circle looked at him expectantly. "Well…I guess so, yeah."

"Then it's settled."

A few seconds later, they broke up and returned their attention to the crowd. Harry cleared his throat and all talk ceased. "Okay. We'll vote on it. All those in favor of a…Doom Squad? Raise your hands."

They waited. Eddie looked around him. Nearly half the room raised their hands. Ron glared at Eddie for a beat, then begrudgingly (and at Seamus' egging) raised his as well. More hands popped up, including Angelina's and Tonks'. Zach Smith and Roger Davis looked sideways at Justin Flinch-Fletchley when he raised his; they shook their heads and their own hands remained resolutely at their sides.

Still, it was obvious that people's intrigue had won over their doubts; Harry's included. "It's settled, then. We now have a Doom Squad. Carmichael, are you volunteering to be leader?"

"'Course, yeah…" he looked surprised that the outcome had been in his favor, but he recovered quickly.

"Good. So, if anything goes wrong or anyone's hurt I'm holding you responsible. In fact, we'll chuck the whole idea all together if what you have to show me looks like it belongs on the other side, got it?"

"I don't deal in the Dark Arts, mate. It's one of my more impressive tricks; coming up with these without any of that." He looked impressed with himself again. He grinned that wicked grin. Harry didn't smile back, but he was satisfied that they understood each other.

"All right…pending evidence of these rather dodgy-sounding 'beauties' Carmichael's got stashed away…who's volunteering for the Doom Squad?" Hermione asked after a moment, looking slightly worried and more than a little skeptical. Seamus, Justin, and that Noah Clarke bloke raised their hands first. They were followed by Tonks and several Gryffindors, and also—to everyone's utter surprise—Padma Patil and Romilda Vane. After a minute of inner-debate, Ron shrugged and raised his hand too.

After a little while longer, everyone had volunteered to do something (duties ranged from the most dangerous in Neville's Second Strike and the most innocuous in Hermione's Administrative) and Harry was pleased. He was plenty nervous still, but now that they'd at least gotten started, he felt a little more confident.

Before they moved on, Angelina caught his eye. She smiled. He took a deep breath…


Minerva paced slowly in the Head's Office. Most of the staff had just left her, not more than ten minutes ago.

She had given them instructions. She had mentioned nothing of Voldemort and Harry, or Harry's power—she had simply passed on to them that a reliable source informed her of a Death Eater plot to try and infiltrate Hogwarts. Snape stared at her blankly the entire time, and he remained silent. When the meeting was over, she spoke to him before he could leave.

"Severus…if young Malfoy is involved in any way…I trust you will inform the Order…"

He understood her, though he did not answer. Without a word he nodded and walked smoothly through the doors behind Tonks. She hoped he would do his duty and not let their earlier standoff cause him to forget his loyalty to Dumbledore and the Order.

"Even if he has isolated himself from us, he can't possibly deny the severity of any threat to Hogwarts…" she whispered to herself thoughtfully. "He is loyal to Albus…and so he shall be loyal to this school…" If only saying it made it certain.

Minerva had paused her pacing, and was now standing with her back to the portraits surrounding her; her hands resting on her hips; lost in contemplation. Alastor was due back any minute. He needed to know what was happening. When she heard a faint noise from behind her, she did not immediately abandon her deep thought process. The portraits shifting in their frames, perhaps…the hour was not yet late, but most of them would be nodding off by now.

There was a flutter—as she stared at Fawkes' perch, thinking…thinking…the linens covering the tables that held some of Dumbledore's favored objects slid away on their own and rose to take shape. The spindly things now sitting on bare table surfaces stopped their motion and soon they too were floating mid-air. Minerva felt the tiny hairs at the base of her neck rise as the magic touched her—she turned around. Her eyes caught the last few seconds of the linen and silver bits and pieces coming together to form a rather alarming figure that remarkably resembled Albus Dumbledore, right down to the half-moon spectacles and pointy hat.

The headmasters and headmistresses of old sat forward in their frames and stared at the scene without attempting to disguise their intrigue a second longer. There was silence; only the clock on the wall ticked for them in unison with Minerva's pounding heart. She closed her eyes and opened them again while the Dumbledore figure stood quite still across from her, waiting patiently for her to decide that he was real. "Albus…?"

"I see you have taken up my old habit of pacing fretfully across this old floor in a matter of days…" The linen-made Dumbledore obliged her with something akin to a kind smile, nodding its head. "Minerva; good evening."

His voice came through the 'mouth' very clearly; he might as well have been standing right there next to the thing, pulling strings in its back in some bizarre display of puppetry. The tiny silver knobs that made up its pupils twinkled at her within the lens-less spectacles and she put a hand to her heart to steady it.

"I hope you don't mind me calling on you so late—I wanted to answer your letter in person…or…" the sliver knobs moved downward to look at the folds of table linen and 'Dumbledore' chuckled, "…rather as much in person as my current situation allows."

"You never cease to amaze me, Albus," was all she could say, looking him up and down and shaking her head. "I won't pretend to know your repertoire inside and out, but this isn't a method I've ever seen you use before. You've adapted it from your travels I take it?"

"Mmm…" the Dumbledore figure laid its head from side to side and shrugged, "more or less. I haven't done this in a very long time. I'm still a bit out of form, but as the Muggles say 'practice makes perfect'. Did I get everything right?" This 'Dumbledore' spread its arms and slowly turned around in a circle for her to see.

She stepped forward, examining the figure as it turned, and crossed her arms appreciatively. "It looks as if you've spared no detail."

"Good. I have one or two more visits to make tonight and I'm hoping each may count as an improvement on my technique. You're never too old to learn something, you know Minerva—or in my case, re-learn."

"Indeed not." They were standing there, smiling slightly in amusement, but very quickly both grew solemn again. "Cornelius is adamant, Albus. Things are very serious…"

'Dumbledore' nodded, sighing at length. "Yes I know. Fortunately I was able to finish what I started in Varna…tomorrow I move on."

"Are you sure it's safe to keep traveling? You run the risk of being spotted again if you aren't careful, Albus. I wouldn't put it past Voldemort or Cornelius to have spies watching everywhere."

"Thank you for your concern—I am being careful." He began to pace slowly; the linen from the tables dragged delicately on the hardwood surface of the floor. The portraits followed him back and forth with their eyes; all hushed and attentive. "Now about Harry…he is growing stronger, isn't he?"

"Yes, it would appear so." Minerva swallowed and nodded at him gravely. She clasped her hands together at her waist and watched the Dumbledore creation move about too. "He has even caused a disruption in the protective wards around the castle. I'm truly at a loss, Albus, to be honest."

He stopped pacing and cocked a threaded eyebrow at her. "You're in no better position than I was at the start of this, Minerva. But…!" He raised a spindly finger and smiled. "That does not mean that we are in dire straights just yet."

Minerva scoffed. "Optimism is beyond me at this point, I'm afraid."

"Because of what he told you…"

"I believe him. I can feel…they are coming. They are going to try."

"Hmmm…" he scratched his chin. "And the staff has been informed, I assume?"

"Yes, tonight. We've gone through the necessary procedures in case…" she sighed and rubbed her forehead—an ache was starting. "I've also told Nymphadora to keep an eye on Draco Malfoy."

"You believe him to possess inside knowledge of Voldemort's plan?"

"I won't take any chances."

"Good. Good…and Dumbledore's Army?" She hesitated. He walked forward, reaching out both 'hands' to grasp her gently by the elbows. She tried to imagine the real face of the man as she gazed up into the folds of fabric; into the shiny-metallic 'eyes'. If those beads imitating his real eyes could convey emotion properly, what would she see reflected in them?

"I told Potter to disband the D.A."

"Did you?" She recognized the trace of polite surprise now passing through the enchanted imitation of Dumbledore's wizened face. "Whatever for?"

"Isn't that what you would've done? There's no need for one with Umbridge due for a long stay at Azkaban."

"I'm not so sure." He let her go and turned his back on her, rubbing his chin yet again. Minerva walked around impatiently to face him.

"Not so sure about what?"

"I mean that I'm not sure if continuing down my original path of trying to shield Harry and his peers from dangers we believe beyond them is such a good idea anymore. Isn't that why you wrote to me in the first place? Wasn't that your stand on the matter when you dismissed Severus and decided what must be done with Harry? I agreed with you then, though it was hard to, and I agree with you now…but it sounds like you are in doubt of your own beliefs. That is no way to start, Minerva." She gaped at him, feeling her confidence lessen with each word. "When I say these things to you, I mean that you should not be asking me what I would have done. We agreed; that time is over. What you should be doing is going ahead with your plan…and the plan is the thing! The plan is to prepare Harry for what lies ahead, not blind him to it as I have done. And why should you not allow him to do what comes naturally to him? He will always need to look out for his fellow man, Minerva," Dumbledore said proudly. "It is one of his most inspiring traits…"

"But I cannot see what lies ahead! Everything's been tossed in the air and damned if I know where the chips will fall!"

"Nothing is certain until it is in the past, this is true. However…" Dumbledore smirked, if that was what one could call such a shape creasing the folds of linen that made up the face. "I don't know about you, but I would rather not delay. If we have a chance of drawing it out before Voldemort catches wind of it, I would rest easier. And he is close…very close…there is no time to lose. Until Harry's proper training can begin, this D.A. will provide a means for him to work through his confusion. I feel good about it."

"Do you think he can control it…?" whispered Minerva, referring to the power slumbering deep within Harry Potter. That nameless magic stirring like a cranky beast in a dark cave whilst the world moved noisily about outside; ignorant of the danger lying in wait there. "Do you really think we can use it against Voldemort?"

The make-shift Dumbledore paused. "Considering the alternative—I'd say it would be in our best interest to make sure that we can."


Harry lay in bed, unable to even consider going to sleep. He was wide awake and restless. He would toss and turn, but he didn't want to disturb the others, who were all sleeping soundly.

Angelina had denied him her company tonight. She said they both had things to think about, and that he didn't need any more distractions from practicing his Occlumency. She said that it would behoove him now, more than ever, to give it a good earnest try. Of course, Hermione had whole-heartedly agreed with her. He did not protest. Things had gone relatively successfully at the D.A. meeting tonight. Aside from the strangeness of Eddie Carmichael and his 'beauties'; aside from the mystification (and suspicion) he still felt about so many Slytherins showing up; he rather felt that it had gone much better than he originally thought it would. Angelina had muttered something on their way sneaking back up to the Tower that Harry couldn't forget very easily, no matter how embarrassed he was to have liked hearing it as much as he did. "You know…you really have a way with people, Harry."

You really have a way with people…

Did he? No, is mind retorted instantly. You're an awkward, specky git…she was just saying that because she's your girlfriend.

Harry chuckled silently at his own expense before he allowed himself to realize that Angelina didn't just say things. When she gave an opinion, she meant it. That was one of the things that he had always admired about her: her ability to remain resolutely honest and forthcoming when no one else dared to.

He had attempted to do as Hermione and Angelina suggested – he closed the curtains around his four-poster and tried to concentrate. He closed his mind to noise and sat still…he breathed in and out…he found a place of peace, and his Patronus erupted from the tip of his wand when he had come down from his meditation. Whether or not he could more easily occlude himself tonight still remained a mystery, though. He now found himself, though feeling very in tune with his own senses and body, encumbered with plans for the D.A., theories on what trap Voldemort might have his minions setting for him at that moment, and…

…the Department of Mysteries.

His name had been scrawled on an aged, dust-yellow label on the shelf where the prophecy sat waiting for him to simply pluck it down. What would he discover if ever he were to hear it? His curiosity had steadily been growing more and more intense as the hours passed, and now it was the fuel driving his restlessness as he lay there listening to Neville's snoring. Could he possibly waylay Voldemort enough to take the prophecy for himself? Could he survive this attack; this 'trap'; and later walk into the Ministry of Magic during the light of day? Could he ever have the opportunity to be escorted, perhaps, into the Department of Mysteries so that he could hear it with his own ears? It was his prophecy, wasn't it? If no one else could, surely he, Harry James Potter--the person whose name was on the thing--should be able to retrieve it…?

Harry was lost in his thoughts and didn't notice that Neville's snore-sounds had ceased. In fact, all movement came to a silent, seamless halt as he lay there staring up at the crimson fabric of the bed hangings. As his four roommates fell under the spell, a gust of wind blew the window next to Harry's bed open. He frowned and looked around to see if anyone had been jarred awake. All was quiet.

His brow furrowing more deeply, Harry swept his covers away from his legs and sat up, pulling back the bed hangings to look out the window. There was nothing outside but the grounds and the moon and the lake, all sitting there the way they always did. Another breeze blew in, rustling Harry's hair gently…almost beckoning to him. He reached under his pillow and retrieved his wand, his heartbeat climbing steadily as a tightly wound feeling of apprehension seized him. Everything was too quiet…the stillness too thick. The window frame that had been blown open began to shudder slightly, and Harry sat up on his haunches, staring intensely out into the night, waiting…his wand in a firm grip…

A cluster of leaves and fallen flower buds swept in after a moment, pouring over the ledge like they'd been tipped out of an invisible bucket in through the window. Harry pulled his glasses on and watched as more leaves and buds poured in over the sill, his small desk, his trunk, pooling on the floor. They did not simply fall there and lay like lifeless things were supposed to, however. They swirled upward as though caught in a whirlpool of wind, and began to take shape.

Harry's heart was thundering now; he raised his wand, his mind reeling with the notion that not one of his roommates had so much as twitched since this started. Alarmed, he watched as the pale, delicate buds and the paper-thin leaves took the form of a tall, slender wizard. Oh no, Harry's stomach filled with dread.

No one—not Neville, not Ron, not Seamus or Dean—would stir or open their eyes to see what Harry was seeing, and this drove the fifteen-year-old boy to act. He raised his wand and whipped a spell from its tip as hard as he could. The leaves and buds were blasted apart and Harry jumped up from his bed, dashing straight for Ron. "Ron! Ron—wake up! Now!" He shook the ginger-haired boy fiercely but to no avail. Ron lay as motionless and dense as a sack of flour.

Pushing down the pin-prick of panic that tried to force its way into his throat, Harry aimed his wand at Ron's face and produced a gush of cold water. Ron did not move an inch.

"Harry there is no need for that…" came a voice from behind him. It was not Voldemort's voice, nor the voice of some murderous Death Eater, he quickly realized. It was Dumbledore's voice. "To be honest, if I were Mister Weasley, I would be very cross with you when I woke and found myself soaking wet from the neck up." An amused chuckle.

Ceasing the icy bathing of Ron's face, Harry turned around and saw that the flowers and leaves he had blasted apart had reassembled themselves, and were now quite plainly taking the shape of Albus Dumbledore. He balked as he watched the shoestrings from his chucks snake their way out of their holes and go to join the wizard, forming spectacles on the face where two icy-blue buds settled as eyes.

Harry stood breathing hard, in his night clothes, bewildered and speechless. When his chest loosened up enough for him to speak, he muttered, "Dum…Dumbledore?"

The thing smiled kindly at him—it was insane to him that he could tell this—and inclined its…head. "Yes! I am sorry for startling you. I don't really have a say in things until I'm of a decent fashion, you know, so I'm afraid I had to wait until at least my eyes were on straight before I could announce myself." The eyes trembled a bit and Harry recognized their attempt to twinkle behind those half-moons made up of his dirty shoe strings—this was so bizarre!

Dumbledore was here. He had come to speak with Harry. He had done something…a spell of some kind…to Harry's roommates, and cast a spell on himself to appear to Harry in this strange form. "Professor McGonagall asked you to come?" Harry asked quietly. "She told you I needed to ask you some questions…"

"Yes, that she did," said Dumbledore. "But, I believe I would've come to you sooner or later even without her tenacity involved." Another 'twinkle'. Harry walked steadily towards the eerie figure fashioned out of swaying, fluttery leaves and petals…the window was still open and when a small gust of it would pass through, it made them sing softly. It was quite pleasant, almost like a faint wind chime.

"Well, what did you to do the others? Are they all right?" He knew he didn't really need to ask that question—Dumbledore would never hurt a hair on a student's head intentionally.

But, the elder wizard obliged the boy in a soft voice. "They are perfectly safe…just sleeping a great deal more soundly than normal. I think you'll find them full of incredibly amusing stories about their dreams in the morning."

Dumble-flora moved to sit down on the edge of Harry's bed, and reached out a hand (made of quills from a bunch that had been sitting in Harry's desk drawer) to indicate the space next to him. After only a second's hesitation, Harry sat down too. Now that the man was here, Harry was annoyed slightly to find he didn't know where to begin. There was just so much that had happened between now and when Dumbledore had been forced to leave the castle…

"May I tell you something, Harry?"

The boy looked up into the face and nodded, not minding at all that he didn't have to speak just yet. "Sure…"

There was a pause. "I'm very sorry."

"For what?"

"For treating you the way I have…for making things worse for you…when I should have--"

"Done me the courtesy of telling me the truth?" Harry's heart skipped a beat—he had never talked to Dumbledore like that. He felt a burning shame reach his cheeks and he looked away. Along with this, though, he could feel traces of his anger towards the old man stirring. He fixed his gaze on the furnace in front of them and sat silent.

"Yes," said Dumbledore after a little while. He didn't sound angry, but rather remorseful. It almost made Harry look at him again, but he kept his eyes where they were for now. "Yes I should have told you the truth. " Dumbledore sighed. "I should have told you…about the existence of a prophecy in which both you and Voldemort are linked, just as you are linked through your minds and emotions…just as, if we are terribly unlucky, you could be linked through your power…"

Harry was definitely looking at Dumbledore (or this…shifting pile of leaves posing as him, anyway) now. "Through my power?"

"Yours and his, Harry. Right now they are very close; much closer than before; entwined and co-dependent." Harry could see the grave expression clearly in the 'eyes' and 'mouth'. "They are almost one…that is why I asked Professor Snape to teach you to occlude yourself. That is why I tried to keep your thoughts away from your dreams as much as possible. Why I—foolishly—tried to force you to suppress your anger. I should have realized that in shielding you from what was rightfully yours (the truth), I only increased your feelings of anger and confusion…I only made the power inside you grow stronger and emerge much sooner than I would have liked."

Harry couldn't help muttering: "Sooner than you would've liked? If you ask me, it's coming out just in time, seeing as how he's aiming to lure to me to my death again."

"Harry."

Harry looked again into the replica of the wizened face, which now seemed very solemn. The pupil buds seemed narrowed and the way they were fixed on him made him sit up slightly. Wind and leaves, petals and dust this reproduction of Dumbledore may have been, but the old wizard's magnificent presence was nonetheless felt by Harry, as though he were yet again in the Head's office with him, appreciating the usually brilliant color of his robes under the candle light.

"Tell me what you have dreamt since you first told me about your visions of the Department of Mysteries," asked Dumbledore.

Harry took a small breath and began to speak. He relayed everything in his dreams and daylight visions to Dumbledore, leaving no detail out, and the elder wizard sat listening without a word. When he was finished, Dumbledore nodded grimly.

"I have avoided speaking with you about it in hopes that Voldemort would be less tempted to do you harm if he didn't suspect how close we are to each other…" Harry's mind whipped back to those moments in time when he felt the strangest, strongest urge to hurt Dumbledore badly upon eye contact with him, "but I can see now that it doesn't matter anymore…"

"Why not?" the boy could not help asking in a thin whisper.

"Because from what Minerva has explained to me; and what you have just reconfirmed; Voldemort's current target is you…and you alone Harry."

"The prophecy…" muttered Harry, Dumbledore's words ringing in his ears.

"Yes, the prophecy. It is a stepping stone to what he hopes shall be his first devastating blow to any resistance of his return to power—your death." Dumbledore sighed again and leaned closer, his voice dropping low. "You see Harry—he has been laying a trap for you this entire year. This latest plan of his has sprung up out of desperation; despite that every measure I've taken to protect you has gone awry, it seems you have still managed to evade his true intent…to lure you to the Department of Mysteries."

"So that I can take the prophecy for him…so he can find out how to kill me…" continued Harry mutedly.

"That is what he believes, yes."

"What do you mean?"

Those strange 'eyes' poured into him—Dumbledore stared at him so intensely and so long that Harry at first thought the spell had gone wonky and the old man was stuck like that; motionless and trapped in a cocoon of dead leaves. But, after a moment, he understood what Dumbledore was looking for in his, Harry's, green eyes. He was looking to see if Voldemort was prowling somewhere within, watching…waiting…soaking up all that they talked about. Harry knew this information was very important; he knew that in the wrong hands, it would be devastating. He was a dead man, probably, if Voldemort heard this stuff. After it seemed Dumbledore was satisfied that there was nothing lurking behind Harry's eyes but Harry's own intense need to find out the truth, he went on just as quietly as before.

"Harry…you must understand…I have dreaded this moment since before you were born…I…I did not even tell your parents Lily and James everything. It has occurred to me since I've been away that I care for you a great deal more than I allowed myself to believe…you are…very dear to me my boy…"

Harry was moved…he couldn't think what to say. He allowed his curiosity about the prophecy to overwhelm the awkwardness of Dumbledore's admission, but not before he managed to mumble: "I…I care about you, too, Professor."

He thought he saw an appreciative, even self-conscious smile there, but it was gone quickly and they moved on.

"The prophecy was made a month before you were born, at the Leaky Caldron," he began; Harry hung on his words. "It was made to me, and I was obliged to have it kept in the Hall of Prophecy. Only two people knew of its existence…the Seer who foretold it had not even been aware that she had done so…she was in a deep trance and had no memory of the occurrence." Here Dumbledore paused and stared away at the furnace, as Harry had done earlier.

"But that doesn't make sense. You said two people knew—if it wasn't the Seer then who else heard, professor?"

Dumbledore raised his eyebrows (or rather the thick, pale leaves that served as eyebrows), looking distracted. "One of Voldemort's Death Eaters, I'm afraid, was able to hear the first part of the prophecy before he was discovered eavesdropping and thrown out of the pub…"

"And that's…" Harry's heart went to work on him again…he swallowed hard, turning his wand around in his now clammy hands over and over again, quite forgetting about the four comatose boys serving as their silent audience. "…that's why Voldemort killed my parents. Because…"

"Because he heard that a child was to be born; a child with the power to 'vanquish the Dark Lord'. He murdered your parents, and tried to murder you, Harry…because he had been told that a boy born in July, whose parents had thrice defied him, would be the wizard who would one day put an end to him."

"That's what the prophecy says?"

"Yes…at least the part that was relayed to Voldemort."

"Well what does the other part say?"

"The other part…" Harry turned slightly in his sitting position, not wishing for Dumbledore to perform one of his meaningful pauses now, of all times to add one. "The other part, Harry, is the part that Voldemort wants to hear desperately, now. Because he is convinced that it will reveal something to him…something he missed before…something he can use…something that will tell him how to rid himself of you once and for all…" to Harry's chagrin, the elder wizard stood up. "…and thatis why I cannot go on…not just yet. You still have not mastered Occlumency--"

"Yeah, well, Snape was a lousy teacher!" snapped Harry before he could help it. He rose to his feet as well, his temper flaring unexpectedly and rather swiftly. Dumbledore's magicked self had its back to him. "Why did you come?" Harry breathed, his jaw going rigid with the resentment he was trying to hold at bay. It was as though a damn had broken loose suddenly, and at any moment a raging river of emotion would flood out of him if he didn't maintain some control over himself. "Why did you come here at all…? All you just did was dangle a little bit of the truth in front of my face like I'm sort of rat! Like I'll keep following you and doing what you say I should if you keep teasing me with it! IT'S NO DIFFERENT THAN WHAT VOLDEMORT IS DOING!"

Harry was aware that he had lost control…he was aware of it…and he didn't care. That feeling…that feeling of immense hatred began to churn deep within. As this Dumbledore imposter turned around to face him slowly, the leaves and petals began to flutter and shift even more…and the edges began to crisp and singe under the heat of Harry's rising anger. Dumbledore's eyes narrowed.

"Harry…it was not my intention to tease you with anything…" he said carefully; quietly. Harry was sick of that quiet, calm manner. He was sick of that politeness and he was sick of being patronized. Well, he could speak calmly and quietly too, couldn't he?

"Dumbledore," said Harry in a cold, high voice, feeling white-hot all over. "You're a fool to keep the boy in the dark."

"So I keep telling myself…" answered the professor.

"Tell me…what does the prophecy say in full?"

"I cannot tell you that, I'm afraid."

"Why do you have fear in your voice, old man? Do you think I would harm you now? Could I…could I use this boy as more than a vessel to speak if I wish? Could I do more than cause him pain? Could I…?"

"Tom—go back to your darkness now. Go back to your plots and schemes. Harry Potter is no more your plaything than I am."

Harry threw his head back and laughed. He laughed at the pitiful pile of ashen leaves posing as a great wizard and felt as though his brain might split in two. He was furious and frightened all at once. He was both confused and extremely clear about what was happening. He was both right there and far away…

"I could kill him now."

"You could try—and probably cause him quite a bit of pain—but you won't succeed. If you dare try to come any closer, you will suffer to your death, and I think you know that. Unless, of course," and the wretched old man actually smiled, "you've forgotten that his mother's blood protects him from you. You haven't forgotten that, have you Tom?"

Harry felt an indescribably strong urge to spit in Dumbledore's face. "There is something you don't want me to know…there is something you are trying desperately to hide…"

"Oh, everyone has their share of secrets. I only want you to leave Harry alone and pick on a wizard your own size for once, if you are capable." He was smiling again. Abhorrent old man.

Harry glared at Dumbledore…and then his mind actually did feel like it had been rent in two. He buckled over and fell to his knees…he tried to fight it…it was happening again…oh god it was terrible. He beat his fist against the hard wood floor, grunting and squirming on his knees at Dumbledore's feet…until…with a nasty, cold rush…the pain stopped.

"Harry."

Swallowing down the nausea that was fighting to rise, Harry looked up. "I'm sorry…I didn't mean to get so upset…I couldn't help myself." He rambled weakly. "He got in, didn't he? I tried…but I'm no good at Occlumency--!"

"Harry…it's all right." Dumbledore knelt. He reached out his quill-made hands and held Harry's shoulders firm. The blue buds in the shoe-string frames quivered slightly. "Right now, the only thing I ask of you is this: bear with me, a little while longer. This is not a demand…in fact if you wish me to tell you everything I know at this very moment, whatever the risk, I would because I owe you at least that much and more."

The boy wanted to speak, but Dumbledore went on.

"I am begging you now Harry…please…wait a little longer. Prepare yourself and your friends for battle; for a battle is approaching whether anyone likes it or not. Protect yourself and your loved ones…and when this storm is over…I will take you to the Department of Mysteries and we will open the prophecy side-by-side and you will hear every word of it. You will know the whole truth and I will not attempt to shield you from it any longer I promise!"

"But I've waited so long…" whispered the boy.

"I know." The voice issuing from the leaves quivered with remorse. "I know…"

Harry took a breath—the nausea was leaving him finally. "Will you be there when I start training?"

"I will be abroad for a very long time yet, but I promise I will stop in on you as frequently as I can." He paused. "I am ready now to let you to do what you must, Harry. You are young—but you are strong also, and special. I have seen you do extraordinary things from a very young age. Now is no different. I believe that you can shut Voldemort out, and keep him out. And you must try, Harry…you must…"

"I will."

"Good." They rose to their feet together and Harry could feel the breeze from outside the window picking up. His heart lurched—Dumbledore was about to leave. The wind howled faintly and blew in on them, cooling the warm air in the room. The figure of leaves shuddered. The shoe-strings began to twist loose. "I'm proud of you, Harry…" the voice blew across him and the figure burst apart, gliding on the breeze through the window.

He was gone.

Harry heard Neville's snores start up almost immediately. He stood in the middle of the room, his eyes roaming from bed to bed, an empty feeling coming over him. The only thing for him to do now, he decided, was to proceed as planned—and the plan was the thing.


I made a mixtape for you. Check out the "Lessons" playlist by clicking on the link in my profile. Enjoy some mood music while you read!