Kings Cross was always crowded on the first of September but this year there were a few extra bodies crowding the back to school rush. Constables and Inspectors from Scotland Yard were outside the station and placed along the walk between Platforms Nine and Ten scanning the crowds for the face of a missing girl. Inside Platform Nine and Three Quarters, Order Members and Aurors were also on the look out for several wayward students. As it happened, Harry and Hermione stepped out of a taxi right in front of one of the Inspectors but a wordless glare from Hermione froze him in his tracks. She assumed he was about to confront Harry and was having none of that. Like Harry's magic voice, she'd learned to freeze people in their tracks with just a look, the fire in her eyes warning them not to tempt fate.
The crowds parted before the two teens like butter before a hot knife. No one jostled them, nor did anyone even look directly at them or pass within five feet. They both had a presence that simply demanded respect and recognition, causing people to hurry out of their way. Near the entrance to the Wizarding platform, Hermione spotted her parents and gave them a cheerful wave before passing through the enchanted arch. Her parents nearly cried in relief but the constables and inspectors were near tears for other reasons entirely. Everyone of them had seen the pair but none could get near enough to stop them for questioning and now they were beyond reach.
Once through the barrier, the waiting Order members had their chance. Between Harry's persuasive voice and Hermione's very real death glare they all decided it was best to let Dumbledore question them about their whereabouts and activities. Though several of the members like Moody were able to brush off the compulsion elements the pair were throwing off with no trouble, they wisely decided it was best not to force the issue with anyone who could generate them so easily.
There were only fifteen minutes left before the train was scheduled to leave by the time Harry shook off the last of the overly inquisitive adults who all wanted to trap him for his own good. As he and Hermione were boarding the train, a bell rang to indicate an incoming portkey and Harry saw Padma Patil land in the designated square. Noticing the Aurors trying to discretely surround her Harry gave his trunk to Hermione and moved to assist.
"Something the matter Gentlemen?" Harry asked the Aurors as he grabbed Padma's trunk.
"Nothing to worry about Mister Potter," one of the Aurors, Dawlish if Harry remembered correctly, assured him, "We just need to ask Miss Patil a few questions about the act of arson that occurred at the Daily Prophet while she was an intern there."
"You'd be wasting your time," Harry promised. "I can personally assure you that she wasn't even there that night. She and I were together at the time. I suggest you look elsewhere."
"And just what were the two of you doing?" Dawlish pressed, "Can anyone reliable vouch for your whereabouts?"
Padma came up from behind and stroked Harry's chest seductively. With a rich throaty voice she addressed the Aurors, "Let me see, what could two hormonal teenagers possibly be doing all alone in the middle of the night?"
With a cocky grin Harry added his own response, "If you ask her I'm sure Hermione Granger could tell you everything you want to know about that day. It's not often she gets so riled up so I'm sure she remembers it quite clearly."
The Aurors faces showed either amusement or scandalous shock when Harry easily swung the heavy trunk up onto his shoulder. Extending his other hand to Padma, Harry gave the assembled Aurors a nod, "If there are no more questions we'll be headed off now. Busy term ahead of us and all that, we mustn't miss the train."
Once they had joined Hermione in a compartment Padma thanked Harry, "I appreciate you getting rid of the Aurors for me. It might have been tricky otherwise."
"No trouble, just protecting my investment after all," Harry waved her off. "So long as no one suspects me, I'll make sure no one bothers you either. My fame and reputation do have some perks. Now for the hard question, are you living or just surviving?"
"Living well," she answered with conviction. "I've been writing a book detailing the history of sex magic around the world. You'll never believe how much research I've been doing. There was a lot more to the subject than I thought."
"That's an... odd choice," Hermione remarked.
"Once I was free to explore what I wanted instead of what my family or friends expected of me I followed Harry's instructions and tried to make sure I wouldn't die with any regrets," Padma shrugged. "Somewhere along the way I just sort of decided it was an interesting field and something I wanted to study more in depth. In South America practitioners can stay youthful until the day they die, which helped spawn the myth of the fountain of youth. Buddhist sex magics focus on necromancy and the soul, while Hindu magics have powerful divinatory uses. Almost every culture has different ideas about sex and consequently different magics."
"Well you'll definitely move out of Pavarti's shadow," Harry commented. "According to locker room gossip she may have enthusiasm but she lacks skill."
Padma sniffed dismissively, "I am a serious researcher, not some garden variety slut. When I am done with my book, it will be a critical and realistic comparison of world culture, not a how-to guide for young witches. Besides no matter what those boys say I know for a fact she was still a virgin at the end of last year so she can't have done more than suck them off."
Hogwarts was in for a shock, or several actually, once term started up again. Harry and Hermione not only showed unprecedented power and control in their classes but their unquestionable presence made them natural leaders. When Harry spoke students of all houses scurried to obey, much to the annoyance of the older Slytherins. Hermione's unblinking stare also gained prompt obedience of an unthinking and unquestioning nature whenever she deigned to use it. There was fire in their eyes and their footsteps caused the earth to shake. Their power did not manifest like Dumbledore's and Riddle's as a blaze of light or unquenchable fear, it was evidenced in every step and word of a force of nature.
Naturally, given their statements at the station, the rumor mill started churning with stories of Harry and Padma. Not one to be left out of the fun, she did something that shrouded her in an aura of seduction like that of a veela. Pavarti tried to imitate her sister but despite being identical in appearance she failed miserably. No matter how she or other girls sashayed their hips just so, Padma was the instant goddess of boy's dreams. Untouchable and never showing anyone favor, Padma's aloofness only added to her desirability, much to her amusement.
When the galleons grew warm at the end of September, every member of the DA ran for the Room of Requirement eager to learn the secret of such power. When they arrived, they found Harry staring at a roaring fire in an otherwise bare room. He did not acknowledge anyone and didn't move until the last member had entered the room.
When he turned around everyone sucked in a breath of surprise. Harry was even less like what they remembered and oh so much more of the powerful dynamo they'd seen the last few weeks. He didn't bother with introductions or small talk, he just jumped right in, "I'm going to make you all a unique offer unlike anything that has ever been offered before. I look around this room and I see the best and brightest minds of our generation, some of the finest examples of witches and wizards ever born but as you are you cannot reach that potential. You do not know it but you are all slaves, blundering about half asleep. I can wake you up and set you free but you must trust me."
"I'm no one's slave," Zacharias Smith protested. "I don't care that you think you're some kind of hot shot now, you can't just tell us to trust you if you won't tell us why."
"Then leave, I won't tell you anything you don't want to know," Harry flicked his wand and a red beam thick as a tea saucer blasted him into unconsciousness. Another spell levitated the disagreeable Hufflepuff into the hallway and away from the meeting. "Each and every one of you have the power to change the world if you'll only reach out and take it. I can show you how to wield the power of the gods, but you must want it. I can show you the strength to make the Dark Lord back down and Dumbledore sheath his wand, but you have to trust me implicitly. If you have even the slightest doubt about whether or not you want that power, leave now. If you think I am not the one to lead you, leave now."
The DA squirmed uncomfortably for several minutes while they tried to decide if they wanted to be like Harry. There was something intoxicating about his presence that drew them in, but also something that scared them to their cores. Cho Chang was the first to leave, and she started a flood. Soon nearly three quarters of the original DA had left. The revelation of those who stayed surprised Harry somewhat. Padma and Hermione were still there of course but Pavarti and Lavender had been among the first out the door. Ron was looking uncomfortable but he stayed, Harry didn't know how long he would last but promised himself he'd try to help his friend. Neville stared back at him with a fierce determination and Harry knew who would become his Right Hand. Luna didn't seem to be paying attention but there was something in her eyes that showed she too was half way down his path without his help. Anthony Goldstein and Colin Creevy rounded out the new group.
"Before we get started, there are just a few simple rules. No questions, no excuses, no lies, and you have to trust me. You question my methods, you're gone. Make excuses instead of actually trying your hardest, you're gone. Lie to me, you're gone. I'm going to ask you to do some really hard things and you're not going to like them. In fact you're going to hate it. You're going to hate me and everything I stand for, but if you can trust me, trust that I know what I'm doing, then I can promise you'll see results." Harry pointed to Ron, "Who do you serve?"
"I serve Dumbledore and the side of Light!" Ron told him proudly.
"Then you will fail. You," Harry pointed to Creevy before anyone could protest, "who do you serve?"
"I'll follow you to hell and back Harry, just tell me what to do."
"Then you will die. Luna, who do you serve?"
The blonde girl cocked her head to the side and thought about it for a moment. "I'm not sure I serve anyone. I don't want Voldemort to kill me but I don't really think the Ministry or Dumbledore have all the answers."
Harry nodded and turned back to the others. "Blindly following anyone, whether it's Dumbledore, the Ministry, Voldemort, or even me, will get you killed. If you want to follow them I won't stop you but if you do not think for yourself you will die without ever achieving your full potential. I have not reached my full potential yet but I'm growing more powerful with every day that goes by."
Harry could see that some were able to understand but others, like Ron and Colin were having trouble with a concept that conflicted with everything they'd ever known. Padma and Hermione just nodded and Luna seemed to get it but decided to try again for the rest, "Question everything. Why should you listen to Dumbledore? He's a powerful wizard, he defeated Grindlewald many years ago, and he is the Headmaster, but just what has he ever done to earn your loyalty? What about the Ministry? Yes, they write the laws, but who gave them that power? Is it the Divine Right of Kings handed down from on high? Even if it is, why do you have to listen? I've already told you not to blindly follow me, but I've also told you that you had to trust me. Why should you? Because I am offering to give you something in return. I don't demand it, you're free to leave, free to learn some other way. That's the first thing I can give you, your freedom."
"But how do we know that you're right and they're wrong?" Ron asked.
"You don't. This is one of those time you have to trust me," Harry pulled out a stack of envelopes from inside his robes. "I have some homework for you all. Take one and I'll see you Sunday morning."
The next week was more interesting and chaotic than it had any reason to be. Harry's homework assignments had been very simple, provoke authority and then refuse to recognize its power. Everyone had handled it a bit differently however and Harry had to smirk as he saw what he'd unintentionally wrought. Ron chose to do his publicly and the results were astonishing.
In the middle of dinner on Wednesday, he'd marched up to the head table and thrown Snape's wine in his face. When the professor had jumped from his seat, Ron got him with a solid kick to the groin. All without saying a word and then he walked back to his seat and resumed his meal. Naturally the other Professors weren't taking this lying down and he was docked many points and assigned several detentions. He ignored their demands for an explanation and threats of expulsion with some difficulty but Harry had to admit he was trying.
Back in the Common Room, Ron cracked the largest smile anyone could remember seeing him use, "Harry that was awesome, I can't believe I got away with it. That was definitely worth the detention!"
"Are you actually planning on serving those?" Harry cocked his eyebrow at his friend.
"Well, yeah," Ron just shrugged, "I kind of have to don't I? At least it was worth it, unlike Hermione's forbidden library books."
"But what happens if you just don't show up?"
"For every one you miss you get two more." Ron reminded him as if he were a bit slow.
"And if you skip those too?" Harry pointed out. "Unless you don't mind eventually being expelled I wouldn't make a habit of nailing Snape in the goolies, but the point of this exercise was that authority figures only have as much power as you give them. Come to think of it, I wonder what would happen if they expelled you and you showed up for classes the next morning anyway. Could be interesting."
Light dawned in Ron's eyes when he finally saw what Harry was trying to show him, "We're free... That's what you meant isn't it? We thought we were free before but we still let everyone give us orders and we obeyed them without thinking."
"Exactly," Harry patted his friend on the shoulder, "You're free to do whatever you want. You have a choice, you can let other's run your life or you can do it yourself. Just be prepared to accept the consequences of your actions, whether it's dirty looks from your classmates or Aurors knocking on your door."
Dumbledore was not happy when Harry finally came to his office for their little "chat". He'd tried everything short of physically dragging the wayward Gryffindor in to get him to talk, and the dragging option was fast becoming more likely, when on the last day of September he heard a knock on his office door.
"Enter," he called, "Ah, Mister Potter how good of you to finally join me. I understand you've been busy lately."
"Is that a question about the happenings of the last week or a cleverly worded way of saying I've been avoiding you?" Harry smirked as he took an unoffered lemon drop. "I'll just say I haven't been sitting around with nothing to do."
"By all means, help yourself," Dumbledore smiled a little too brightly as he pushed the candy bowl across the desk. "Now I would like to hear about how you spent your summer. You gave us all a real scare when you disappeared like you did."
"The candy is laced with something isn't it?" Harry mused out loud. He tried a few obvious lies and only succeeded in making gurgling noises. "Hmm, a mild truth potion? Interesting. So what happens if I decide I don't want to answer all your questions?"
Dumbledore didn't miss a beat, "I'm sorry to say it isn't optional Harry."
"Everything's optional, I just want to know what horribly unspeakable things will happen if I don't do as you say."
Dumbledore sighed dramatically and tried to be patient, "I don't think you realize just how important you are to some people."
"Actually I think I do," Harry smirked again. "In fact to show how much I care about their hope I think I'll tell you some of it anyway."
The Headmaster perked up a bit, "Where would you like to start?"
"Well I assume the Aurors are still after you to let them speak to Padma?"
"Yes, it has been most problematic to keep putting them off, but I have no reason to believe she would actually involve herself with criminal activity like arson."
Harry smiled as he leaned back in the chair. "They're wasting their time. I burned down the Prophet. Padma was just another victim and I had to kidnap her to keep her from talking."
"What?" Dumbledore nearly shot out of his seat.
"You heard me, I did it," Harry got up and walked to the door. "It's just too bad that you all need me more than I need you isn't it? You won't be telling the Aurors. I can hardly defeat Voldemort from inside Azkaban after all. Have a nice day Headmaster..."