A/N (Aug. 2016): This story was first posted long ago (in 2006-07), between the publications of Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows, so you should completely disregard the latter. This is now an alternate 7th year story based on the state of affairs as of HBP. Over the past few months, I have gone through the story one last time to make several changes to a number of scenes that I had wanted to do for some time. If you read this story previously, you will notice several significant changes, but nothing that changes the overall plot. I have also corrected a few spelling and grammatical errors that somehow snuck through last time, and any mistakes that may have survived are going to stay. This is now the final, permanent version of A Serpent's Sacrifice, and for better or worse, this is how it is going to stay. I hope you enjoy it, and I would love to read any of your reviews. Gabilian.
A SERPENT'S SACRIFICE
Let Them Come
Harry Potter thought that he would like being a nobody again. In the wizarding world, he was special, and although he hated to admit it, he had become used to it. During his sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry had in fact become a celebrity. Now as he anonymously sat on a park bench one warm July afternoon, not far from his home in the colorless town of Little Whinging, Harry realized that he could not easily adjust to being a nobody again.
Just a few weeks earlier, Harry attended the funeral of his mentor, Professor Albus Dumbledore, former Headmaster of Hogwarts. As so often occurred to Harry, he ended up at the center of attention at the ceremony attended by the most important members of the wizarding world. Mourners glanced at him when they thought he was not looking, whispered about him when he could not hear them. Harry had become accustomed to it by now. After ten years of treatment as a nobody by his muggle relatives, now he had become "somebody" - a person who mattered. Mostly he hated all the attention, but yes, he had to admit that a small part of him liked it. Here in LIttle Whinging with the Dursleys, he involuntarily returned to his nobody status. Back at the house he hated, living with people he detested, he wondered why he simply did not leave
After arriving back at 4 Privet Drive, Harry mostly holed up in his room for a couple of days, only coming out briefly. Soon he could not bear the four walls of his room, and he began roaming the neighborhoods of Little Whinging as he had done so often in his younger days. A few people recognized his face from his childhood, saying hello and striking up small talk. But in this world, he would always be a nobody, not the least bit special. Being a nobody, however, could no longer be an option. Like it or not, the magical world depended on Harry Potter, who truly had become "The Chosen One."
Harry's brief conversations with Vernon and Petunia Dursley, his uncle and aunt, had been thankfully mundane. They did not inquire about the recent events at Hogwarts, and Harry felt no inclination to bring up the subject. All three of them knew that this summer would be his last at 4 Privet Drive, and an unspoken understanding arose to avoid confrontation. Harry's cousin, Dudley, did not join in this pact, however, and when Dudley on rare occasions appeared in the house, he glared at Harry with hatred in his eyes. Harry returned the glare with intense green eyes, and his cousin ultimately would look away. Dudley and his gang all had run-ins with the local police and had to be a bit more careful in their delinquency, but they still craved a good beating when they could find it.
On his long walks, Harry half-heartedly avoided Dudley's gang, but deep down he sensed the inevitability of a confrontation. From his park bench, Harry could see them coming, five of them this time, with the robust (to be kind) Dudley at the lead. The alpha male, Harry thought with a chuckle, for he hardly presented a noble appearance. The prudent idea of leaving his bench occurred to Harry, who quickly put it out of his head. He felt in no mood to act prudently. Let them come. Dudley noticed Harry but pretended that he did not. However, another member of the gang pointed at his green-eyed cousin, leaving Dudley no choice but to follow them towards the park bench. The five-man gang in fact presented a menacing sight, but Harry realized that he did not fear them. He had far more serious problems than a few brain-dead thugs in a muggle park. As Dudley arrived, Harry and his eyes locked in the stare-down, and after several seconds, Dudley looked away.
"What are you doing here, freak?" Dudley bellowed more loudly than necessary. He often called Harry "freak" in front of his friends but never explained why.
"I'm sitting on a park bench." Harry replied calmly and quietly.
"I don't think we like you 'round here. Better clear out if you don't want us to rearrange your face," Dudley threatened, his mates sneering by his side.
Harry's lips formed a thin smile as he replied, "I'm comfortable here. Don't feel like moving just yet." He readjusted himself on the bench, indicating his intention to remain.
Dudley hoped for a different response, but regardless of the consequences with the law and his parents, he could not back down in front of his friends.
"Don't say I didn't give you a chance, freak," Dudley snarled, stepping forward menacingly until Harry turned slightly, revealing his right hand grasping his wand. Dudley froze.
"Let's talk about this for a minute, Dudders," Harry suggested quietly as he stood up and walked out of earshot of the others. Dudley reluctantly followed.
"You can't use that thing when you're out of school, I know that," Dudley sputtered, "Don't think you can scare me with it." Harry smiled for a moment, but his eyes retained their intensity.
"There are a couple of things you should know, cousin. First, I have the right to use this thing, it's called a wand by the way, to defend myself, and if you and your aardvarks come after me, I swear Dudley, I'll turn you into a ferret. I've seen it done before, and it's quite amusing. Then I'll take this wand and bounce you up and down like a basketball." Harry managed to sneer and smile at the same time, fondly remembering Mad Eye Moody (actually the imposter Moody) doing the same to Draco Malfoy in his fourth year at Hogwarts. Inwardly Harry felt pleased that he now possessed the capability to perform the same act. Dudley's expression remained impassive, but his face paled.
Harry continued, "Another thing you should know is that I will be of age on my birthday in two weeks, which means that I can do any magic I want without getting in trouble. So if you or your buddies so much as lay a finger on me, I promise you that I will use some spells on you that you don't even want me to describe. It's up to you, cousin." Dudley refused to look into Harry's intense green eyes, instead backing away from his cousin and turning towards his friends.
"Look, as much as I'd like to pound on this freak, can't risk it. Couldn't hide his mashed face from my mum, and we're all in enough hot water as it is. Let's go." Dudley's friends displayed shock at this new-found responsibility in their leader, but they had to admit that he made sense, so they strutted away from Harry in an attempt to prove that they really could have pounded on him if not for the minor inconvenience of parents and the law.
Returning to his bench, Harry repositioned himself to resume his thoughts, only to feel someone sit down on the bench. He could see noone.
"Who are you?" Harry whispered, barely moving his lips.
"Tonks," came a voice from nowhere.
"So you're my minder today, eh?" Harry muttered, aware that someone under an invisibility cloak always followed him, a constant irritation.
"Why do you have to be wandering all over all the time?" Tonks whined, "I get more exercise following you than I did at the auror academy." Harry could not prevent a smirk as he craned his head left and right to be sure that nobody could overhear them.
"Well, I'm not going to sit in that house all day. I'm thinking of leaving anyway. Not much reason for me to stick around here. My birthday is just a couple of weeks away." Harry spoke as quietly as he could with minimal lip movement so as not to attract attention. Harry felt Tonks move closer to him.
"That's OK by me, Harry, but make sure you let someone know when and where you're going," Tonks replied softly. "That was a close call with that whale you call a cousin. I was just about to stupefy him when he walked away. Glad he did, otherwise I would have had to stupefy all five of them, modify their memories, the works. Would have been a real pain in the you-know-what. What did you say to make him leave like that?"
"Just provided him some important information," Harry explained ambiguously, "I'm thinking about leaving in a few days. Maybe to my house, maybe to the Burrow. Bill and Fleur's wedding will be there a couple of days after my birthday, so I'll end up there sooner or later. By then I'll be of age, and you can leave me alone."
"We'll see about that; not my decision to make."
"Whose decision is it then?" asked Harry, again looking left and right. Since Professor Dumbledore's death, he wondered who would take over as head of the Order of the Phoenix.
"No decisions have been made yet. There's a big meeting of the Order in a couple of days. I really don't know what's going to happen, Harry. Everything is up in the air." Tonks paused for a second, and by now Harry knew that her mouth was only inches away from his right ear. "Fortunately You Know Who has been laying low, though I can't think why. At the moment, there's not much we can do to fight him. I don't mean to depress you, Harry, but things are going to get worse before they get better."
"Yeah, I know," Harry murmured, checking the park again to make sure that nobody watched him talk to thin air. The park seemed quite peaceful with a warm breeze softly moving the leaves of the trees. He continued whispering, "Thanks for talking to me, Tonks. It's nice to know a little bit about what's going on. What's the word on Hogwarts? Is it going to reopen?"
"Not decided yet, but it looks pretty iffy," the auror explained in a whisper, "For some reason, most of Dumbledore's wards are still in place, so the castle is still safe, but nobody knows for how long. McGonagall will be the headmistress, at least for one year. After that, who knows?"
"Hmm," responded Harry. He had no intention of returning to Hogwarts but knew that he should not mention it. "Well, I better be heading home. I'm sure Aunt Petunia is worried about me." Harry laughed briefly at the absurdity of that thought and stood up. "Thanks again, Tonks. I'll let you know when I want to leave this hole."
"OK Harry. Just be careful. You don't need any more trouble, so stay away from your idiot cousin."
"You just don't want to do the paperwork," joked Harry as he slowly ambled back to the house.
After quietly eating dinner by himself, Harry climbed the steps back to his room. Perhaps he did not consider himself an ordinary teenager, but one would not have known from the state of his room, clothes strewn about randomly, bed unmade, papers and letters piled on his small desk. A typical teenage mess. The room contained nothing on which to sit other than an uncomfortable metal folding chair by a small, chipped oak desk, so Harry threw himself onto his bed, knocking a shirt to the worn beige carpet. When outside the house, Harry managed to distract his mind from the task ahead of him, but as soon as he returned, the impossibility of it all overwhelmed him.
How could he expect me to do this? Harry complained, as he had more times than he could count. Questions flooded his mind. Where are the other horcruxes? How do I destroy one if I'm lucky enough to find one? Who is R.A.B.? Was he able to destroy the locket?
Where should I start?
Over and over again, Harry reviewed and considered everything he learned from Professor Dumbledore. Yes, he now knew a lot more than before his sixth year, but not nearly enough. He felt like a blind man searching for the needle in the haystack, except even that would be easier than what he faced. Returning to Hogwarts would surely be a waste of his time, but what should he do instead? Wild ideas bounced around his brain, each one more unreasonable than the last. Ultimately, he always came back to the same question:
Where should I start?
As the first half of July passed, Harry could not prevent falling into a deep depression. Though he felt it happening, he could do nothing to cushion the fall. The outcome of his mission became plain to see: Failure. He could not possibly locate all of the remaining horcruxes, destroy them, find Lord Voldemort without being killed by his death eaters, and then the final little matter of killing the dark lord once and for all. He witnessed the duel between Voldemort and Dumbledore at the Ministry, where they performed feats of magic that he could not even explain much less perform.
If only I could be the wizard that Dumbledore was! Harry pleaded, a notion he could only describe as laughable. Dumbledore had been one of greatest wizards in history, and certainly the greatest that Harry would ever know.
Some people thought of Harry as a "great wizard" too, but Harry knew the truth. I'm about the most mediocre wizard there is, he concluded, after taking stock of his strengths and weaknesses. True, he excelled at some areas of magic, but scores of students at Hogwarts could out-magic Harry seven days a week. He could perform defensive spells with the best of them, but performed average at best at charms and transfiguration. Mainly he had luck on his side. How else could he explain how he survived his encounters with Lord Voldemort? Sooner or later his luck would run out, and when it did, that would be the end. Yes, the end of this great adventure would without doubt be Harry's death. Surprisingly, this did not particularly bother Harry, not nearly as much as the failure to complete his mission.
"I just hope Voldemort doesn't fool around this time and kills me quickly," Harry mused.
Yet he never considered surrender, despite the inevitability of his fate. He would do his best, wreak as much havoc as he could to Voldemort and his horcruxes, and hopefully accomplish something before his time on this earth ended. These thoughts served to calm Harry's nerves to an extent, and by the time of his enjoyable confrontation with Dudley's gang and his conversation with Tonks, he more or less had returned to his normal self. A knock on his window shook Harry from his trance, and he turned on his bed to see an owl requesting entry.
After reaching up to push the window open, the large mottled barn own hopped through, landing softly on Harry's bed. After the wizard removed the letter attached to its right leg, the owl hooted a greeting to Hedwig, Harry's snow white owl, and flew away before Harry could offer it an owl treat. Hedwig barely moved its head to acknowledge the presence of the messenger. Examining the envelope, Harry noticed the Hogwarts crest and presumed that the letter would inform him and all other Hogwarts students of the status of the school. Would it or would it not open following the death of Headmaster Dumbledore? Harry tore open the envelope only to find a small sheet of parchment inside.
Dear Mr. Potter:
I hope you are enjoying your summer, though I know that we all carry heavy hearts. This letter will serve to inform you that I shall be arriving at your home tonight at 9:00 pm sharp. Please alert your aunt and uncle to my arrival.
With kindest regards,
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
"What is she coming here for?" Harry exclaimed as he jumped from his bed and began to pace the floor of the small room, stepping over shirts, socks and other dirty clothes. Both irritated and intrigued by the impending visit, he tried to divine the purpose of her visit.
"What if she wants to come into my room?" he worried, and Harry immediately began to pick up the clothes from his floor, stuffing them haphazardly into drawers or his closet. After five minutes his room appeared presentable on the surface, and he hoped that Professor McGonagall would not pry any further.
With trepidation, Harry descended the stairs to inform his aunt and uncle. Vernon Dursley muttered to himself while reading the afternoon daily and did not notice Harry's presence.
Harry cleared his throat and finally managed to verbalize, "Ah, Uncle Vernon?" Vernon looked up from his newspaper and slightly jumped at the unexpected presence of his least favorite relative. Harry continued, "I just wanted to let you know that a professor from my school is coming to see me tonight. She said she'll come at 9:00 sharp. I just found out a minute ago, so I couldn't tell you before. . . Just wanted to let you know."
Predictably, Vernon did not accept this news graciously.
"WHAT! ONE OF YOUR KIND HERE! I WILL NOT HAVE IT! NO, NO, NO! YOU WRITE THIS PROFESSOR OF YOURS RIGHT NOW AND TELL HER SHE SHALL NOT BE PERMITTED IN THIS HOUSE."
Vernon continued ranting, but by that time, Harry tuned him out. Once his Uncle quieted down enough for Harry to squeeze in a word, he could not restrain himself.
"LISTEN Uncle," Harry hissed, and Vernon's eyes widened in shock at Harry's tone. "I didn't ask for Professor McGonagall to come, but she's coming whether you like it or not. If you don't like it, that's just too bad. It just so happens that I live here, though not for much longer, and if someone needs to see me, then they have to come here, don't they? Now if I were you, I would treat Professor McGonagall very nicely, because she has quite a temper herself, and she also happens to be one of the most talented witches anywhere. She could turn you into a turtle faster than you could say it. For once, PLEASE, for once just don't make a scene. She'll tell me whatever she has to say and then she'll leave. McGonagall is not the type of person to chit chat. I'll be out of here this week anyway."
Vernon's mouth gradually opened wider and wider during his nephew's tirade, but by the time Harry finished, Vernon temporarily found himself unable to speak. Seizing the opportunity, Harry headed back upstairs to his room, closing the door just as his uncle recovered his voice and commenced complaining loudly to Petunia.
An hour and a half remained until the appointed time, which allowed Harry plenty of time to invent reasons for this unexpected visit. Upon reflection, he realized that Professor McGonagall most likely would not wish to come up to his room and that the frantic clean-up would probably prove unnecessary. More than anything, he hoped that Vernon would not make a scene.
Finally, at about ten to nine, Harry nervously exited his room to await his guest, whom he knew would arrive punctually at 9 pm. With a great deal of relief, he discovered that his aunt and uncle already hid upstairs, apparently (and hopefully) planning to remain there during the visit. Harry needlessly straightened up the sitting room, always kept compulsively clean by his aunt. Finally, at exactly 9:00, the doorbell rang.
"Hello, Professor. Thank you for coming. Please come in." Harry greeted her, trying his best to be polite.
"Thank you, Mr. Potter. I am sorry to come on such short notice, but we have learned in these times that it is best to accomplish tasks quickly and with a minimum of anticipation." Professor McGonagall handed Harry the light black sweater she had been wearing, despite the warmth of the evening. Harry did not know what to do with the garment, but eventually took it into the kitchen and hung it over a chair. He led the elderly but energetic woman into the spotless sitting room and motioned for her to take a seat.
"I hope that your summer has been pleasant, Mr. Potter. How have you been faring?"
The small talk surprised Harry, but he supposed it was all a matter of formality.
"I've been OK," responded Harry, "but it's pretty boring around here. Actually Professor, I have been thinking that I can leave here pretty soon, maybe in a couple of days. My birthday is only a couple of weeks away and the protection I have will end, so it seems like it doesn't make much difference if I leave a week early." Harry stopped talking before he rambled any longer.
"Yes, I understand your point, Harry. Indeed, I think it would be a good idea for you to leave this house soon." Professor McGonagall paused for a moment to think. "Are you planning to move to your house at Grimmauld Place? We cannot be sure of its safety now, as you can understand, due to Professor Snape . . ."
She said the magic words, and a scowl immediately formed on Harry's face. All summer, Harry forced himself not to think about Professor Severus Snape, the man who killed Professor Dumbledore. The man that Dumbledore trusted, but Harry never trusted. The man who Harry wanted to kill with his bare hands. McGonagall realized what had just occurred and immediately pressed on, well aware of Mr. Potter's explosive temper.
"Of course there is no place that is entirely safe, and we can place new protections on the house. I can assist you with the procedures necessary to name a new secret keeper, and of course we have already replaced the anti-apparation wards and closed floo access until it can be secured."
Harry gathered himself and realized that throwing a tantrum about Snape would be inappropriate.
"I hadn't made up my mind yet, but I think it would be a good idea to go to my house first so that we can take care of those security measures. Probably I'll stay there for a few days and then go to the Burrow, if it is alright with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. I'd like to be at the Burrow for my birthday, and then the wedding is just a couple of days later."
"Very well, Potter. That all makes good sense. We will be in touch with you to arrange for your move to Grimmauld." The small talk phase of the conversation had clearly ended, and an uncomfortable pause ensued. Finally the elderly witch broke the silence.
"I know you are wondering why I have come to visit you, Mr. Potter. Unfortunately, it has to do with the death of Professor Dumbledore." She paused momentarily. Harry sat expressionless, but his stomach growled from the turmoil of his emotions. "As you know, Professor Dumbledore was an extraordinary wizard and an exceptional man. Among his many qualities was an ability to foresee the possibility of future events and to prepare for such eventualities. He was one of those few individuals who combined a creative spirit with attention to detail. In short, Mr. Potter, Professor Dumbledore foresaw the possibility of his own death, and he made a number of preparations if this should unfortunately come to pass."
Harry felt the tension in his muscles, and he forced himself to breathe deeply in order to relax. His teacher appeared to be waiting for him to speak, even though he had nothing to say.
Finally he managed to utter, "I understand, Professor. Please go on."
"Professor Dumbledore left a number of instructions for me, naturally, as he knew that I at least temporarily would succeed him as headmistress of Hogwarts. Most of these instructions are of no concern to you, but he did instruct me to give you certain items." She reached into her handbag and pulled out a large envelope and a package roughly the size of a shoe box. Placing them on the table, she proceeded. "The envelope presumably contains a letter to you and is charmed so that only you can open it. The package contains several items from his office which he specifically indicated that I should give you. I am afraid that I do not have any further explanation to give you. Surely the headmaster's letter will provide you with all the explanation you require."
Harry could not help but notice that Professor McGonagall did not appear pleased by this transaction in the least, and the normally sour look on her face turned especially bitter. She appeared to have said all that she intended to say, so Harry leaned towards the coffee table to take the envelope and package. Examining the envelope, he verified that indeed it remained sealed. Of course, he knew that in the magical world envelopes could be opened and magically resealed, but in this case he felt quite certain that the envelope had not been altered. He gently held the letter in his hands. Professor McGonagall gazed severely at Harry, perhaps with the hope that Harry might open the letter in her presence and inform her of its contents, but naturally the young wizard had no intention of doing so. He carefully placed the letter on top of the package, and glanced at Hogwarts' new headmistress.
"Thank you, Professor. I'm sure these things must be important for Professor Dumbledore to have gone to so much trouble. I'll look at them carefully in my room, where my aunt and uncle won't be able to see them." Thus Harry foreclosed the chance that McGonagall would be able to learn the contents of the letter. She demonstrated no surprise by this turn of events.
"Very well, Mr. Potter. Unless you have any questions for me, I will take my leave." Harry felt reluctant to continue the conversation, but he remained hungry for information.
"Well, Professor, can you tell me anything about what is going on now? What is happening to the Order of the Phoenix? What is Voldemort up to? Is Hogwarts going to open next term?"
"There is little I can tell you at this time, Mr. Potter. Now is not the time or place. I can inform you that it remains quite uncertain whether Hogwarts will open on September first as is the custom, though I am determined that it will. Many issues remain to be resolved; nevertheless, you should plan on boarding the Hogwarts Express for one last journey to your school. With regard to your other questions, perhaps I will be able to provide you with more information once you have left this house."
Once again, Harry felt he was being brushed off, but he refused to beg.
"Very well, Professor. Thank you for coming." He stood up, indicating that the time for her to leave had arrived.
Professor McGonagall lifted her handbag over her shoulder and proceeded towards the door to leave when Harry stopped her.
"Wait a minute, Professor, I almost forgot." He rushed to the kitchen, snatched the sweater off of the chair and handed it to her.
"Thank you, Harry." She smiled slightly, which was as much as she ever smiled. "I hope to see you shortly. Please let us know when you intend to leave. Send a letter to Remus Lupin, and he will make the arrangements."
"OK, I will. Thanks again, Professor." Harry gave a quick wave as she hurried away from the front door. Returning to the sitting room, Harry's heart began to race as he wondered what Dumbledore had written him and what the package contained. Maybe, just maybe, it would be information that could assist him with his task. He snatched the items and rushed up the stairs, feeling a drop of hope in his heart for the first time in weeks.