This fanfic, as with all of the HP stories I've done, was written before OoTP was first published. It's the fourth part of the series of fanfics I wrote from my version of Harry's fifth year until the year after he graduated from Hogwarts. It's not a stand-alone type of fic, you will need to have read the other three to understand this one at all.
"Enough! Call them back now!" Snape's impatient voice rang out.
"Sorry…sorry…" Harry mumbled, feeling rather unintelligent at the moment. He glanced around at the haze of the fourteen psionic crystals surrounding him and called them back into gem form. Letting out a long breath, he directed the stones towards their large, oak trunk, which was laying open just a few feet to his right, and placed them gently inside.
"You have to listen less to them and more to me if you ever want to learn anything," Snape continued, clearly annoyed, as he stalked across the room and gazed out the window at the brilliant midday sunshine, his greasy hair partially hanging in his eyes. Harry nodded silently, remaining beside the trunk, and looking down upon the crystals that were the source of his grief on this particular day. As it was, the mere thought of the crystals was enough to cause Harry's head to ache, ever since he'd begun his lessons with Snape.
It was the middle of July, and Harry had been living with Sirius and Marzia, for one month now. Every week for that month, Snape would come by for several hours, to go over all of the training Harry had never been given for using the crystals. Sirius and Marzia would usually leave for the duration of the lesson, so as not to cause any distraction for either Harry or Snape.
"I can't understand it," Harry said at last with the faintest of shrugs, though Snape still refused to turn around and face him. "When I used all of the stones a few months ago, they did what I wanted…exactly what I wanted…"
"That is because your life was at stake," Snape spoke evenly, his tone very still. "The crystals are a part of you, and if you were to die, then they would as well. I can guarantee you they don't want that to happen."
"I thought they would just be passed on to the next Psion…when he's born, I mean…" Harry said quietly.
"They would indeed," Snape replied, spinning abruptly away from the window and crossing stiffly back to where Harry stood by the trunk. "That, however, has no bearing on you needing to learn to use them now" he spoke, icily.
"I…I know, I'm sor-" Harry stammered.
"Alright, enough," Snape interrupted curtly, "If you think you're ready to pay attention to what I have to say you can call them back. We're wasting time."
"Right…sorry," Harry mumbled, turning quickly and looking down at the crystals once more. Try as he might, he couldn't shake the nervous, school-boy feeling he'd always had around Professor Snape, despite the fact that he was no longer even a student of his anymore. What was making it worse now, was these lessons were one-on-one; there were no other students to distract Snape this time. Harry had finished his seven years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and while his time there had been the most wonderful of his entire life, it had not been without heartache…or tragedy.
His last year there had been the worst in that he'd lost two people that he'd loved dearly, and a fellow student whom he considered to be a very close friend. All three had died for him. While the easiest choice had been to let grief consume him and wallow away until he knew nothing more than self-pity and sorrow, Harry could never let that happen. With the help and support of his friends, who he considered his closest family, they'd all been able to make a start at continuing on with their lives. Not one of them wanted to forget the past, but they weren't going to take it with them into the future.
The year hadn't been entirely horrible, however, and perhaps the best thing that had happened to him, was meeting Mel Tristen. She was someone he'd barely known during all of his years at school, but at this very moment he couldn't so much as imagine his life without her.
"Mr. Potter," Snape's voice cut through his thoughts sharply, "do you think it would be possible to drag this out even longer than you already have?"
"Sorry," Harry muttered for what he was sure must be at least the hundredth time today, as the faint smile that had appeared on his face faltered, and he turned his attention back to the stones. Sighing inaudibly, he relaxed his stance as best he could, before opening his mind to the stones, and calling out to them.
A sense of warmth swept through his entire being, as the crystals' haze surrounded Harry immediately, filling him with their energy. For a brief moment, there was blissful silence, and he lifted his gaze to meet Snape's, awaiting his instructions, but before his former professor could even begin to speak, a torrent of voices filled Harry's head.
Why is he here still?
Yes, let's ask him to leave.
Ask him? This is our house! Let's just make him leave!
Stop, we need this!
No we don't, we can handle ourselves just fine.
That doesn't mean it will always be that way.
Don't make him leave then, let's just tell him we're feeling ill and need to rest.
He's not dumb, he won't fall for that!
Will all of you just shut up! Harry screamed at last, his hands pressed tightly to the sides of his head as the flood of voices finally calmed down a notch. Why are you all doing this? he asked quickly, before they could start up again.
We don't need him.
Harry recognized the voice instantly. The resolve crystal, never one to remain quiet when there was an opinion to be expressed. What bothered Harry most, however, was he knew the crystals could only express what he was feeling, no matter how deeply it may be buried inside of him, and he couldn't seem to control it when he had possession of the stones.
We do need him, he replied forcefully. How else will we learn how to work together? It's been a month and I've learned less with Snape than I did when I thought Cole was helping me…
Look at what happened the last time Snape helped us…Voldemort escaped.
That wasn't his fault! Harry replied curtly. And we don't even know that Voldemort got away…no one in the great hall saw him…alive or dead.
"Mr. Potter will you kindly answer me this instant!" Snape's voice screamed at him suddenly and Harry's attention was jolted away from the crystals.
"I'm sorry Professor Snape…I can barely hear you…" Harry shrugged helplessly, truly at a loss for why the crystals were behaving in such a way. It had been so easy to use them just a few short months ago, and now it was similar to what Harry imagined pulling teeth to be like.
"That's because you haven't listened to a word I've said," Snape snapped.
Harry set his jaw against the reply that was threatening to roll off his tongue. How could he be expected to listen if he couldn't bloody well hear anything? The crystals grew far too loud any time Snape tried to get a word in instruction-wise.
"I'm not trying to make this hard…" Harry began, evenly.
"Well you certainly could have fooled me," Snape hissed, crossing his long arms over his chest. Even outside of school the Hogwarts' potion master just loved to wear black, it seemed. Harry couldn't remember ever seeing him in another color, and today was no exception. His long, dark robes hung close to him, all the way down to the lowest part of his ankles. Harry, himself didn't wear robes unless the occasion called for it, preferring what most wizards would refer to as muggle clothes. Robes were, in his opinion, to be worn for formal occasions.
"Then maybe it would be best if you started wearing them at our little meetings," Snape said, a sneering grin touching the corners of his lips. "Perhaps then you'll pay attention if you think of yourself as somewhat more…professional." Harry looked up at the potions master awkwardly, hating the fact that Snape would keep catching one or two random stray thoughts. The powers they'd both been born with allowed them to communicate without speaking when Harry had some hold over the crystals, but he had yet to master control of that either. Something which, again, had seemed so easy only a few short months ago.
Harry opened his mouth, to apologize yet again, when suddenly there was a short knock on the front door, just before whoever was on the opposite side turned the handle and began to push it open.
"Ron," Harry smiled as he saw his friend come fully into the room, followed closely by someone else he was quite happy to see. "Hermione, is it after five already?" he asked, pulling his pocket watch out and glancing at the time.
Both Ron and Hermione smiled warmly at Harry, before catching the stern grimace on Snape's face, and becoming hesitant.
"If we're interrupting…" Hermione began.
"You don't have to leave, Miss Granger," Snape began speaking, his tone very stiff. "I've already been here longer than I intended to." He turned his gaze away then, and stalked across the room to where his coat lay across one of the soft chairs, before snatching it up roughly and heading for the door. Ron and Hermione stepped aside silently, allowing Snape to pass by, and he did so without so much as a nod to either of them.
"Can anyone tell me why that man is dressed in black and carrying a coat in the middle of July?" Ron asked the moment Snape was out of earshot. "It only adds to my point that he's a loony…"
Harry smiled widely at his friend; at least his night wouldn't have to be as gloomy as his day.
"Tough lesson?" Hermione asked as she gently shut the door, which Snape hadn't bothered to close on his way out.
"Oh…don't even ask," Harry groaned, as he narrowed his eyes at the haze of crystals around him, before shaking his head and calling them back once again into gem form. "I really don't want to talk about the crystals…or Snape," he added as he turned back to his friends.
"I'm definitely fine with not talking about Snape," Ron said quickly, as he and Hermione made their way fully into the house and over to the circle of chairs in the spacious den.
"So c'mon then," Harry started in immediately, a sly grin touching his lips, "out with it Ron…how'd the meeting go?"
Ron's eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas as he smiled widely back at Harry.
"Fantastic!" he exclaimed happily, truly beaming from ear to ear. "Mr. Fienman asked me if I'd be interested in coming back next week…so he can see what I can do."
"That's wonderful Ron!" Harry exclaimed, feeling excited for his friend.
"I wouldn't even have had this opportunity if it weren't for you, Harry," Ron said, turning suddenly serious. "Thank you."
"Don't even mention it," Harry said with a casual wave of his hand.
"No, I have to," Ron pressed on, smiling. "I mean, I knew you'd be getting offers from all different quidditch teams…they'd be blind not to have realized your talent…but you didn't have to tell them about me, and you did…it's because of you that Mr. Fienman let me speak with him in the first place." he finished, the large smile never leaving his face.
"It was your talent that got you that interview Ron," Harry said quickly. "I just happened to overhear that the keeper for the Montrose Magpies was not going to renew his contract…so I mentioned your name."
"Well I wanted to thank you for doing so," Ron said, making a funny face at Harry.
"And I," Hermione spoke up loudly, to assure she'd be heard, "want to thank you as well."
"For what?" Harry asked curiously, seeing the sly grin on her face.
"For not mentioning his name to anyone on the Chudley Cannons," she whispered, leaning towards Harry and cupping her hand around her mouth as she spoke.
"Hey!" Ron spoke up, feigning insult. "I'll have you know the Cannons are going to do spectacular this season…you should see their lineup!"
"Which thankfully you're not a part of," Hermione joked. "Besides, your hair would just clash horribly with those orange robes they wear…" she trailed off, smiling angelically.
"Uh-oh…what will you do when you have to go up against them Ron?" Harry asked, pretending to be on the edge of his seat in anticipation for the reply.
"Well," Ron began, looking quite serious. "The Cannons have gone this long without making it to the finals…I'm sure they'll be thrilled to have second place…" he trailed off, unable to keep his smile hidden.
Harry just shook his head, laughing quietly. Ron was so excited he could feel it just by being in the room with him, and while Hermione liked to give her boyfriend a hard time, Harry could tell she was just as happy for him as he was. This would be so much better for him than being forced to take a ministry position that he didn't want, and would be miserable in.
"Well alright then," Ron said suddenly, his bright eyes meeting Harry's gaze. "Your turn…how many offers have come in for you?"
"Ron," Harry laughed, "I haven't had many offers, the managers can't just drop their current seekers, whether they want to or not. They've all got contracts…"
"Yes but in professional quidditch there are always stand-ins," Ron replied quickly, "and if you prove yourself better than their current lead seeker they could still keep him or her on the team, and move you into the lead spot."
"No, I realize that," Harry said with a shrug. "And to be honest I have gotten letters asking that I come to at least show certain managers how I play…" he trailed off, hesitating for a brief moment before continuing, "and one offer to start off as lead seeker with no interview or anything."
"That's so wicked!" Ron exclaimed excitedly, smiling widely. "Who for?"
"Well, see…that's the thing," Harry replied. "It's for the Falmouth Falcons."
"Oh that's rotten luck," Ron replied, his expression falling.
"I don't see why they would've asked you, though," Hermione mused, "they have a reputation for being the dirtiest team in the league…and every game you've ever played shows just the opposite."
"Yes but look at Harry's record," Ron added. "The only game he's ever lost was due to interference on the part of the dementors…" he trailed off, as the mere mention of the word brought back thoughts of their confrontation several months ago. For a few moments, the room was blanketed in an awkward silence, no one sure what to say, until finally Hermione cleared her throat softly.
"Did you see the article…in the Daily Prophet?" she inquired, looking up at Harry.
"If you mean the one about Azkaban," Harry began darkly, narrowing his eyes, "and the rather unconvincing story about the prison being back under control, then yes I've seen it."
"How could they bring the dementors back there?" Ron asked aloud, to no one in particular.
"Because they don't know what else to do," Hermione replied with a worried sigh. "The ministry has been in shambles ever since they've started trying to get things back in order…and we still don't have a Minister of Magic heading things up again."
"I wonder what's taking so long for that," Harry spoke up. "I mean, it's not that I want them to rush it or anything, but with all the time they've had since Fudge…left…I would think they'd at least have had a possible candidate or two."
"Just as long as it's not that horrid Mr. Thurston," Ron said in disgust. "Even Percy doesn't like him anymore."
"Oh…how is Percy, by the way?" Harry asked, not having heard much about him for a while.
"He's getting on alright," Ron replied with a small grin. "It was very hard for him to understand exactly what happened to him…and what he did…" he trailed off, instinctively rubbing at his neck. Harry cringed inwardly, knowing that Ron was remembering back to Halloween the year before, the night Percy had nearly killed him.
"He doesn't have any recollection of what happened?" Harry asked, gently.
"None at all," Ron replied flatly, dropping his hand down to his knee and straightening in his seat. "Which is probably best…I know he never would've done that if he'd had any control over himself…" he trailed off again, seeming a bit distant. Hermione reached over gently and took one of his hands in hers, a reassuring smile on her face, which he returned gratefully. Harry couldn't help but think of Mel as he watched his two friends, clearly in love with one another, as they sat side by side in his living room. He'd be going to see her in just a few days time, and finally he'd be able to meet Jack, the thought of which always made him feel somewhat nervous. He knew how close Mel was to her brother, and Harry could only hope he didn't make a fool of himself during his visit. He was drawn out of these thoughts however, when Ron sighed loudly.
"Anyway, mum is back to her usual self around Percy now…stopped pampering him, waiting on him hand and foot…" he trailed off, laughing faintly at the thought.
"Is he going back to the ministry?" Harry asked, curiously.
"Yes," Ron nodded, "But not back to his old position…he's going to work in dad's division now, for the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts."
"Good," Harry replied, relieved to hear Percy would be alright. Standing up slowly, he began walking towards the kitchen, while looking over his shoulder and calling to his friends. "Did either of you want a drink or something?"
"I'm fine, thank you," Hermione replied.
"Same here," Ron added. "Thanks."
Harry nodded, moving easily through the kitchen and fixing himself a glass of ice water, before heading back into the living room and returning to his seat.
"So, Hermione," he began after a moment, "Have you decided what it is you're going to study?"
"Not yet, no," Hermione replied with a small grin. "But when I spoke to the headmaster there, Professor Oakland, he said that the first year attending it's very common to see many students try out several different courses…and make their decisions that way.
"Which means for Hermione she'll be in about her third year before she's close to making a decision," Ron spoke up, a wry smile on his face. Hermione narrowed her eyes at him warningly, but he continued anyway. "You should've seen it Harry…she was looking at the course selection and circling the ones she was interested in…the only one she left out was divination…ow!" he stopped suddenly as Hermione punched him in the arm. "See what I have to put up with? The abuse, I tell you…" he trailed off, feigning injury as he rubbed the spot where she'd hit him.
"Oh stop being such a baby," she admonished him with a large grin on her face. Harry simply sat back and laughed silently at the two of them. "I can't help it if a lot of the courses interest me…"
"All of them," Ron cut in quickly, but shutting his mouth again as she gave him a pointed stare.
"Most all of them," she continued, "but I'm sure I'll be able to make a decision by the end of the first year."
"I'm sure you will be," Harry agreed, nodding. "Will you be staying with your parents while you attend? I know they don't live nearby…but now that you can apparate and all…"
"Well it seems that it's very common for schools to have a protection against apparating," Hermione explained, "so no I wouldn't be able to get there that way."
"Do they have dorms, then?"
"Yes," Hermione replied, "but they prefer to leave those open for students that have to come here from overseas…so we'll probably be getting an apartment nearby…"
Harry started to nod and say how great that sounded, when her exact words replayed through his head, and his eyes widened.
"We?" he asked, an excited grin starting to spread across his face.
Hermione and Ron looked into each other's eyes, before turning back to face Harry.
"We," Ron repeated, happily. "If I do end up getting this quidditch position, that is…"
"That's fantastic!" Harry cried, truly beaming at his friends.
"And you're the first person we're having over when we move in," Hermione said, smiling broadly.
"You bet I am," Harry demanded playfully and the three friends laughed cheerfully. It was in the middle of this moment, that the fireplace suddenly burst forth in a flourish of green flames.
Harry looked up and smiled as Sirius and Marzia stepped through the small blaze, and into the living room.
"Hello Harry," Sirius said immediately, seeing his godson seated comfortably in front of him. "Ron, Hermione," he continued, nodding his greeting to them both. "I see the greasy one has left…thankfully."
"Sirius," Marzia began in a warning tone, "Do you think maybe you could at least try to act like you're not in school with Severus any longer?"
"Where's the fun in that?" Sirius remarked playfully, before turning away and winking at the others.
"I'm glad you're back," Harry said happily as both Sirius and Marzia lowered themselves into the couch across from Ron and Hermione.
"So am I," Sirius commented, "and guess who we ran into while we were out…again."
"Not Mr. Rankaph again?" Harry asked, shaking his head in disbelief.
"I swear that man is staking out our house," Marzia said with a laugh. "He seems to run into one of us each time we're out."
"What did he say this time?" Harry asked, already knowing the answer.
"The usual," Sirius replied, "he wanted to know if you were considering his offer…they are apparently in dire need of a seeker for the upcoming season…"
"I gathered as much," Harry said with a small grin. "If only it weren't for the Falcons…"
"Don't let him push you into it Harry," Marzia said softly. "If you tell Mr. Rankaph no, then you tell him no. Don't be afraid to do it if it's what you want."
"Oh I know," Harry nodded quickly, thinking of the very tall, bald manager of the Falcons. He was a very intimidating man with dark brown eyes and a firm jaw. Every time Harry saw him, he was reminded of movies he used to see, where there was always some military general that despised everyone else, and wanted things his way. "I have some time still," he continued with a grin, "and I don't want to ignore the other managers' requests to see me play either."
"Good idea," Sirius commented happily before lifting his arms over his head and giving a great stretch, and turning his head towards his fiancé. "What's for dinner?" he asked, giving Marzia a lopsided grin.
"I swear Sirius Darian Black," she began, trying to look angry but her eyes were smiling, "if you start treating me like your maid…"
"No, no that's not it at all," Sirius stated quickly, slipping one of his arms around her back and pulling her towards him. "I only mean…you cook such wonderful meals, nothing could possibly compare to the luscious, juicy, delectable, mouth-watering…"
"Oh enough already," Marzia laughed, rolling her eyes and starting to stand. "Just believe me when I say you're getting cooking lessons right soon…"
"I'll be glad to help you," Hermione said, jumping up from her seat beside Ron. Marzia smiled at her warmly, and the two made their way out to the kitchen while Sirius, Harry and Ron remained in the living room, and Ron began to tell his story once more, of his chance to play for the Magpies.
The five of them shared a pleasant dinner together, chatting and laughing happily throughout. But as the hour grew late, the evening grew to a close. Ron and Hermione thanked everyone for having them over, promising to visit again soon, before apparating away to their homes. Harry was feeling quite tired from the long day as it was, and decided to turn in early. Saying goodnight to both Sirius and Marzia, he drew out his wand and lifted the trunk of crystals, which was still in the living room, before directing them upstairs, and heading for his bedroom.
Several days passed by, and Harry had made no final decision regarding his future in quidditch. He'd sent owls back to the managers that had written to him, expressing his interest in meeting with them, and was awaiting the replies.
Soon enough, however, the day that Harry was invited to Mel's house came, and he woke early, to get ready for the visit. He dressed quietly, taking care to make sure his clothes weren't wrinkled. He was glad to not have to worry about wearing robes, as Jack would not be one to wear them either. Checking his hair in the mirror just next to his closet, he tried to flatten it down, but as always, it very much refused to do anything other than stick out at awkward angles. His eyes held for a brief moment as he glimpsed the scar that had been on his reflection for as long as he could remember, before turning and leaving the room.
Creeping silently through the upstairs corridor, Harry tip-toed past Sirius and Marzia's bedroom, where he could hear his godfather's soft snoring, before descending the stairs. He started immediately for the kitchen, but stopped as he heard voices.
Moving a bit slower, Harry crept forward, peeking around the corner just enough to glance into the room.
"It's alright, Mr. Potter," a very familiar voice floated out to him. "Please, come join us."
Harry smiled as he recognized Dumbledore's kind voice, and stepped fully into the kitchen to see he and Marzia sitting across from one another at the table.
"Professor Dumbledore," Harry smiled as he walked up to the Hogwarts headmaster. "I didn't know you were coming here today…"
"I hadn't planned on it originally," Dumbledore replied lightly, "but things don't always happen as we plan them to…"
Harry nodded, not sure exactly what the professor meant by that, but didn't make any reply.
"Well, I'll just head back upstairs," Marzia said, excusing herself from the table. "It was good to see you again Albus,"
"Likewise," Dumbledore nodded pleasantly, "Give Sirius my regards…judging by the sound of his snoring, I very much doubt I will get a chance to see him this visit."
"I'd say that's a very good assumption," Marzia laughed quietly, before turning to look at Harry. "Have fun at Mel's today, Harry, and make sure to lock up when you leave."
"I will," Harry nodded absently, now very curious as to why Dumbledore had paid them such an early visit, and why Marzia and Sirius were not going to be included in the discussion.
Harry waited until he heard the door upstairs close behind Marzia, before looking towards Dumbledore.
"Was there something you wanted to tell me professor?" he inquired.
"Yes, several things, actually," Dumbledore replied, nodding. "To start, however, you there's no need for you to call me professor any longer, Harry. You can call me Albus."
Harry let out a small laugh, thinking he'd never be able to get used to calling Dumbledore by his first name, but nodded faintly, and waited for him to continue.
"Now," Dumbledore went on, "tell me…how much do you know about the current state of the Ministry of Magic?"
"Just what I read in the Daily Prophet," Harry replied. "Though it doesn't seem that they're accomplishing as much as they could if they'd just get themselves in order."
Dumbledore smirked slightly, before continuing.
"And Azkaban? What have you heard?"
"Again," Harry replied, "Just what I've read. I know the dementors are back, but I can't understand why. I can just guess who authorized that to happen though…" he trailed off.
"Yes, it doesn't seem the best decision, I agree," Dumbledore stated evenly. "However, the ministry is under a great deal of pressure. Azkaban was all but emptied of the criminals it held, and the general public has been clamoring for their recapture. The dementors were reinstated several months ago under Mr. Thurston's authorization."
"But we know they can't be trusted!" Harry said, earnestly. "They'll go back to Voldemort if there's the slightest chance he can gain back any of his power…if he even needs to…we have no idea what happened to him!"
"I'm in complete agreement with you, Harry," Dumbledore stated firmly. "Though it was not my decision to make."
Harry sighed inaudibly, and nodded faintly. He knew Dumbledore was on his side, but he couldn't help but feel a bit upset over the ministry attempting to put things back exactly the way they were…instead of trying to fix the problems that came from the original state of things.
"Do you think Voldemort is still alive, professor…A-Albus?" Harry asked, hesitantly.
"I do," Dumbledore replied, gravely. "From what you have told me, I can't see any reason that he would be dead…unless you can remember more about your experience…within his mind."
"No, I've told you all I can remember," Harry shook his head slowly. "And I think you're right…there's no way he could have been killed. Though he must be weak, right? Otherwise the dementors never would have returned to Azkaban…"
"I think our safest bet, at this point," Dumbledore began, "is to make no exceptions whatsoever when it comes to Voldemort. He may be weak…or he may not be. But until we have solid proof of one or the other, make sure to stay on your guard, at all times."
Harry nodded, feeling the slightest twinge of worry in his stomach, which he hadn't felt in a long while when it came to Voldemort. But Dumbledore's words ran through him like ice, and he knew they were true. Voldemort could simply be biding his time…
"Please, forgive me," Dumbledore's voice spoke up suddenly and Harry looked up to see an apologetic smile on his former headmaster's face. "I've led this discussion astray, and I'm sure you want to get on with your plans."
"No, it's alright," Harry said quickly, smiling warmly. "I have a while before I have to leave yet."
Dumbledore simply nodded in reply, before speaking again, in a serious tone.
"The reason I came here today, was to request a favor of you."
"A favor?" Harry repeated, curiously. "What is it?"
"There are going to be changes at Hogwarts this year…"
"What do you mean changes?" Harry interrupted suddenly, not liking the idea of Hogwarts being any different than he would remember it.
"Changes in the staff, Harry," Dumbledore replied simply.
"Is…is someone leaving?" Harry asked, thinking it would be just his luck for Snape to quit when he no longer attended school.
"Someone is indeed," Dumbledore spoke softly. "Me."
Harry felt his jaw begin to drop and his eyes widen at hearing the reply.
"Why?" he barely whispered.
"It has been requested of me by the majority of the head ministers, to swear in as the official Minister of Magic."
"But…Hogwarts…you're the headmaster!" Harry sputtered. "I thought you wouldn't leave the school for the ministry!"
"Minerva McGonagall would take my place, becoming headmistress of Hogwarts. And you are correct, I had at one time said I would not leave Hogwarts for the ministry, but now, it seems, the need for change is much greater, and if I can help it happen in any way, I need to do it. The reason for my remaining at Hogwarts was to keep the students in as safe an environment as I could possibly provide for them, but if the ministry can no longer guarantee safety in the streets, it makes my job as headmaster much harder. And the students end up paying the price as curfews and added restrictions become absolutely necessary. I want to try and put an end to that once more, to make it as it was."
Harry nodded slowly, knowing what Dumbledore said made sense, but still feeling a sense of sadness that the headmaster would no longer be watching over Hogwarts as closely as he always had.
"I understand," he said quietly, looking into Dumbledore's eyes as he spoke. "So, Professor McGonagall would take your place…who would take hers? She could no longer be the head of Gryffindor house, right? And what about Transfiguration, would she still instruct that?"
"Her duties as headmistress would definitely be too much to add with instructing a class, and as headmistress she could not be the head of any house, no. But I have left it up to her to decide her successors, I have confidence that she will choose the most fit person for the job, for each opening."
"She's already agreed to this then?" Harry asked.
"Grudgingly, yes," Dumbledore replied with a grin. "I convinced Minerva that I was, in fact, truly leaving, and that I would hate to have to choose someone else to take my place. So she accepted."
Harry nodded again, before asking the question that had been on his mind since the former headmaster had first mentioned it.
"What, exactly, does all of this have to do with me?"
Dumbledore met Harry's gaze for a long moment, silence ringing in the air for what felt like an eternity, before he opened his mouth to reply.
"There is, one other position I need to fill, before I leave entirely," Dumbledore began, his tone one of utter seriousness. "The Defense Against the Dark Arts position."
Harry could feel his stomach twist as he realized what the former headmaster was saying.
"You…you can't…I …couldn't…" Harry stammered.
"I am asking you, Harry, if you would be interested in filling that position…even if it's just for one year."
"Albus…Professor Dumbledore…I don't know how to teach! I've never taken any classes for how to…to…instruct anyone…"
"I realize that," Dumbledore nodded faintly. "Though I must say, you are perhaps more qualified than any other witch or wizard I have ever considered for this position."
Harry sat back in his chair…not sure how to reply, when a sudden thought occurred to him.
"What about…Professor Snape? I'm sure he'd love to…"
"I'm quite aware," Dumbledore interrupted gently, "of Severus' interest in this position. He's made it quite clear himself, on several occasions. But Severus does not have the temperament required to instruct this class…he is far too eager to delve into the more dangerous end of things, and for students who are only just beginning, and even for some of the more experienced ones, that is not how it should be done."
"How do you know that I'd be any better?" Harry asked, worriedly.
"The safety of those around you has always been one of your highest priorities, Harry," Dumbledore began, gently, "I have no doubt you would take great care in whatever you introduced your students to."
Harry was at a loss for words. He hadn't been prepared for this, and truly had no reply. As if reading his mind, Dumbledore spoke up again.
"I don't expect you to have an answer for me right now," he said softly. "I know this request is coming as a shock, and I'm aware you had other plans for a career. I'm not asking that you give those up, but merely postpone them, just for one school year. This particular position is one that has been quite difficult to fill in the past, and I hesitate to simply fill it with someone I do not know very well. Though I will understand completely if your answer is no. All I ask is that you think about it for a week or so, before making your decision."
Harry nodded stiffly, still unsure of how to feel. He had a hundred questions running through his mind, but could not find the voice to ask even a single one, and simply sat and watched as Dumbledore slowly raised himself up from his seat.
"I will leave you now, to give you the time you need. Please, if it's not too much to ask, have an answer for me by the end of this month, so I will know if I have to find someone else with enough time before classes begin."
Harry felt himself nodding absently, as the headmaster said his goodbyes, and apparated swiftly, leaving Harry alone with his thoughts…and concerns.
Several hours later, Harry found himself on Jack Tristen's doorstep, and was preparing himself to ring the bell. He'd spent much of the morning mulling over Dumbledore's request, but had gotten no closer to making a decision. There were too many things that worried him if he should accept the offer, and he wasn't sure he would do a very good job as an instructor, anyway. However, he decided to push the thoughts from his head for the time being, and focus again on his plans for the day. He was truly excited about seeing Mel again, and hoped that everything would go perfectly.
Now standing at the entrance to her quaint, light blue house, hearing the sounds of small muggle children playing a game of kickball only a few houses down on this beautiful summer day, Harry took a deep breath, paying little attention to the haze of the crystals around him, and pressed his finger to the doorbell.
Breathing slowly, Harry listened as very light footsteps neared the opposite side of the door, before it was pulled open softly. A tall man with brilliant blonde hair and pale blue eyes stood before him. Harry knew immediately that this was Jack, but he felt a pang of sadness at the sight of Mel's brother. Though he had never seen him before, Harry could tell how ill Jack was just by the sight of him. His skin was very pale, seeming to hang under his eyes and neck. He was terribly thin, and the outline of his bones could be seen clearly through his wrists and knuckles. It seemed he was using a great deal of energy just to remain standing, as his left arm was raised and leaning against the doorjamb to keep him upright.
"Harry, I reckon?" Jack asked with a knowing smirk.
"Yes," Harry nodded, smiling as well. "You must be Jack."
"I must be," Jack nodded in reply, before gesturing with a curt nod for Harry to enter. "Well, come in then, mate. Mel will be back right soon I'd expect."
"Oh," Harry said quickly. "I'm sorry, am I early? I thought she said…"
"No, no, no," Jack laughed as he shut the door and began hobbling down the bright cream-colored hallway, his right hand pressing against the wall for support as he moved. "Mel is perpetually late for anything and everything, she went to pick up her paycheck this morning, she'll be back any minute."
"Oh," Harry said again as he followed Jack through a very old-fashioned looking kitchen, complete with wooden cupboards lining the walls and an old gas stove shoved right in between them. The pristine-white sink was dripping slowly and Jack sighed softly as he stopped in his tracks, and started heading towards it.
"Blasted thing won't ever shut off properly," he muttered, grabbing hold of the left knob and giving it a twist. Harry watched in silence, as Jack turned on the knob fully, slowing the drip down, but not cutting it off entirely. He could see the knuckles on Jack's hand go white from the pressure of squeezing the knob, and instinctively stepped forward, unable to stop himself before the words left his mouth.
"Would you like me to get it?" he asked, stopping suddenly, cringing inwardly and shutting his eyes. How could he be so dumb? Jack was going through enough already, he didn't need Harry, a complete stranger, to come into his house and treat him like a helpless child, but when he opened his eyes again, he was surprised to see Jack smirking at him.
"Be my guest," he said sliding to the right and gesturing for Harry to come closer.
"I'm sorry," Harry said quietly. "I didn't mean to…"
"Oh, don't go backing out now," Jack cut him off, grinning wryly.
"Pardon?" Harry asked, puzzled.
"You just offered to help me and now you're backing out…tsk, tsk, tsk…" he said, shaking his head disapprovingly.
Harry smiled uncertainly, not quite sure what to make of Jack, but stepped forward and gripped the left knob of the sink. He gave it one good, hard twist, and the dripping cut off instantly.
"Thanks," Jack nodded, still leaning against the counter. "Now that we have that settled, why don't you…" he cut off suddenly as his voice choked up and he began to cough violently. Harry didn't know what to do, standing there helplessly as Jack doubled over from the force of the spasm running through him.
"Are you alright?" Harry asked loudly, hearing the nervousness in his own voice. He reached out hesitantly, placing a hand on Jack's shoulder in an effort to steady him, when he heard the front door open gently.
"Jack?" Mel's alarmed voice floated up the hall, and he heard her quick footsteps as she ran into the kitchen. "C'mon," she said, taking him by his shaky arm, beginning to lead him to the opposite side of the kitchen. Harry followed them, tentatively, as they stepped through into a very quaint den area, and Mel helped her brother lower himself onto the soft, beige couch. His coughing fit had calmed down quite a bit, but Harry could see it had pained Jack just the same. His eyes were damp, and faint tear streaks lined the sides of his face, which he wiped at with the back of his sleeve.
"I'm sorry Jack," Mel whispered, kneeling down beside him. "I should never have left when I did…you never should have been on your feet like that."
"Melanie, stop," Jack said, his voice strained from trying to hold back the small sputtering of coughing still making its way through. "I can walk around my own house without you by my side if I want to."
Mel stood up slowly, shaking her head at her brother's stubborn gaze, before sighing exasperatedly, turning away, and looking towards Harry.
"I'm sorry," Harry began quietly, "If I hadn't gotten here when I did…he wouldn't have…"
"Harry don't," Mel said evenly, shaking her head faintly, a small grin on her lips. "I was the one who was late…"
"She's always late," Jack cut in sarcastically from behind her.
"And," Mel continued, rolling her eyes but ignoring the comment, "I should have waited to leave here…or gone much earlier."
Harry nodded, smiling at Mel, but not sure what to say.
"Sorry," Mel said suddenly laughing, "I'm not even thinking…come in and sit down Harry. I'm so glad you came…" she trailed off, throwing her arms around him tightly. He hugged her back, very aware of Jack staring up at them from the corner of his eye until the two separated.
"Yes, sit down Harry," Jack spoke up then, pleasantly, his voice sounding much better than it had only a few moments ago. "After all Mel's told me…I'm glad I'll finally be able to talk with you."
For about an hour, Jack asked Harry all about himself. Where he lived, what his interests were, who his friends are, and so on. Mel simply sat in the chair she and Harry were sharing, leaning against him as he spoke. If Jack asked something she felt was too personal she would begin to admonish him for it, but Harry didn't mind at all. He could understand why Jack was asking the things he was. He knew he wouldn't be around much longer to look after his little sister…and wanted to make sure someone else would be doing it.
When lunchtime finally rolled around, Mel stood up slowly, looking from Jack to Harry.
"Now I want you two to behave," she said jokingly, before giving Jack a pointed look.
"Damn," her brother spoke, feigning dejection. "There go all my plans for mass destruction…"
Harry couldn't stop from laughing as Mel gave Jack a withering look, despite the fact that she was trying to hide a grin from his broad, smiling face, before shaking her head and turning to leave the room.
"Keep it up, Jack," she called out warningly, a mischievous hint to her tone, as she strode through the doorway into the kitchen.
Harry smiled after her, before turning to look at Jack once more, and for a brief moment, neither of them spoke. Jack had pulled his feet up onto the long couch and was leaning his back against the plush arm, while Harry sat across from him in a matching armchair. He glanced around the very bright den area, smiling at the family photos on the walls, when Jack's voice spoke up, quietly.
"Do you love her?"
Harry turned back to him immediately, replying without any hesitation.
A faint grin crossed Jack's lips and he pushed himself up in his seat before speaking again.
"Do you mean that, Harry? I don't want you to lie to me…it's not my acceptance you need to gain right now. In about a month, according to the genius doctors, I'm not going to be around for Mel anymore, and it won't make even the slightest difference at that time if I like you or not. Mel is my little sister, but she's not a child, and I know that if I wanted to try to make her leave you, she wouldn't. It's going to be her decision, not mine. Just from talking to you today…I believe you're a good man Harry, and that you wouldn't try to hurt her…I just want you to be honest with me, because I won't be around to find out." As he finished speaking, Jack fixed Harry with an even stare, waiting for his response.
Harry had listened carefully to every word Jack spoke, taking a long, deep breath before replying in a very serious tone.
"You're right, I would never try to hurt Mel…and I swear I was telling the truth. I do love her…more than I can say."
Jack's expression remained as it was, and he nodded faintly at Harry, before lowering himself back against the arm of the couch once more.
"Then I believe you," he said quietly. Harry watched as Jack turned his head towards the large window behind the sofa, and smiled at the children playing in the street.
"Can…can I ask you something?" Harry spoke up, hesitantly.
"Sure," Jack replied pleasantly, looking back around to meet Harry's gaze.
Harry cleared his throat uncomfortably, before beginning to speak.
"Why is it…that you don't want to…" he paused, thinking of how he wanted to word the question. "That you won't accept help…from the wizarding world?"
"You mean why won't I let them cure me, right?" Jack asked, knowingly, an unreadable expression on his face.
Harry nodded softly.
"I don't mean to pry or anything," he said hurriedly. "I just…I don't understand…"
"The wizarding world is one I don't belong in, Harry," Jack stated firmly. "My parents raised me as best they could, but it was clear they never really cared for me. I'm sure a part of them loves me, but the disappointment in their eyes every time I see them is just too much. When Mel came along…well…let's just say in all my years of living I'd never seen them so happy as they were when they found out she wasn't the same as me. I was seven years old when my parents stopped caring. Mel is their daughter…I'm just…Jack…" he trailed off with an indifferent shrug.
"I'm sorry," Harry whispered.
"Don't be," Jack replied instantly, looking directly into Harry's eyes. "I don't want anyone's pity. I'm quite accustomed to being thought of as an inferior by my parents…" he trailed off.
"Did they say anything about your decision?" Harry asked.
"Yes," Jack nodded stiffly. "They said I should stop behaving like a stubborn child and let them help me. They were angry, not upset. Not at any point since I've told them about my illness have they shown even the smallest inkling of grief or sadness."
"What about Mel?" Harry asked quietly. "I know for a fact that this is making her sad…more than sad."
"I can't let her help me, Harry," Jack said firmly, but his eyes betrayed him, misting over faintly. "Mel is my family, she's the only one I've cared about of the whole lot of them, but I can't just turn around and let them fix this for me."
"Why not?" Harry asked.
"I'm not meant to be a part of that world, Harry. I will love my sister for the rest of my life and after…but I can't let the wizarding world be my miraculous cure, not even for her. This is my fate and they will have no say in it." Jack turned away then, looking pointedly out the window, and Harry knew it was to hide the tears in his eyes. He could understand, in a way, why Jack was doing this. But if only he could really see how badly he was hurting his sister. Harry could remember the look of complete anguish on Mel's face, the pain in her eyes as she told him of Jack's illness for the first time. This was tearing her apart inside. Alas, Mel would no sooner show Jack how hard she was taking this than he would show her. Harry shook his head sadly and sat back against his chair with a weak sigh, wishing there were something he could do to help, to make everything better, when a faint voice floated through his head.
We can make this better right now…we can cure him.
What do you mean? Harry asked back, vaguely recognizing the caring crystal's voice. How?
Wait, came the psychological crystal's voice. Is that really the best idea? Clearly he wants no help…
Think of how glad Mel will be to find out her brother will live! the caring crystal cut in.
We don't even have to tell Jack, the liar crystal spoke mischievously, he never has to know…
Yes but he would know something had been done to him, the psychological crystal spoke again. He would figure it out soon enough.
Well if we're going to do it, it must be now, the resolve crystal's voice broke through suddenly.
Harry nodded, leaning forward in his chair slightly. All he could see in his head was Mel's overjoyed reaction at finding out her brother would live. He could give that to her…
Tell me what to do, he thought hastily as he began to stand.
If we do this, Jack will hate us for it.
Harry faltered at hearing his own voice speaking to him through the courage crystal.
But he said he doesn't want help from his parents, Harry thought back quickly.
He said the wizarding world, of which we are most certainly a part of, the memory crystal spoke up curtly.
He might be upset, but he wouldn't hate us forever, the caring crystal said softly.
We don't know what he'd feel, the psychological crystal spoke firmly. That's why this is not a good idea.
You're right, Harry thought dejectedly, sitting back down in the soft chair. It's not my decision to make for him…
Sighing inaudibly, Harry closed his eyes and leant his head back for a brief moment. The crystals remained silent, knowing his decision was made, and Harry thought it was funny how easy it seemed to be to get along with them when Snape wasn't around, when suddenly he heard quick footsteps coming from behind him, and opened his eyes as Mel walked back into the room.
"It's awful quiet in here," she spoke up hesitantly, obviously not sure if this were a good sign or a bad one.
Jack smiled up at her as she set a tray of food down on the table in the center of the room.
"Sorry there Mel, I'm afraid I wasn't great entertainment for our guest…I nearly dozed off…" he lied, giving Harry a quick pointed glance.
"It was fine though," Harry jumped in, quickly, "I was just…admiring all the photographs."
"Oh no," Mel laughed as she came and sat down beside Harry again. "Some of those are just too embarrassing…"
"Trust me," Jack cut in with a wry smile, "there's nothing showing in this room quite as embarrassing as the one's I've got upstairs."
"Really?" Harry said, sitting forward in interest. "I'd very much like to have a look at…"
"No he wouldn't," Mel said warningly, but laughing as she pulled Harry back beside her.
Jack leant forward a bit and cupped his hand around his mouth before whispering to Harry.
"We'll talk later," he winked.
"No you will not," Mel said, sticking her tongue out at her brother.
"Alright, alright," Harry laughed. "Calm down. I promise I won't look at any photos of you that you don't want me to see…" he trailed off, pulling Mel closer to him while giving Jack the O.K. sign.
"Oooh, I give up," Mel grumbled good-naturedly as she pulled away from Harry, who along with Jack, was laughing at her. "Let's just eat, shall we? Unless you fancy cold soup…"
The three of them sat in the den, chatting about nothing in particular, and having a very pleasant time of it. Harry laughed with the others, enjoying a wonderful afternoon, all thoughts of the crystals gone for the time being.
When lunch was finished, Jack excused himself, saying he was sure Harry and Mel would want some time to themselves for this visit. Mel stood up as her brother did, but he shooed her away, saying he was entirely capable of making it up the stairs on his own, before slowly shuffling out of the room. The two of them listened as he ascended the steps one at a time, and heard the faint sounds of his footsteps moving down the hall. When at last his door was shut, Harry could feel the tension in Mel's shoulders release in the slightest as she sat back against him once more.
"He's gonna give me a heart attack, I know it…" she muttered, her eyes fixed on the doorway her brother had just gone through.
"Don't think on it," Harry spoke soothingly, feeling her wrap her arms around his waist as she nuzzled her head against his neck. "I think he just wants to do some things on his own…without feeling like he needs someone taking care of him around the clock."
"Well…unfortunately it's at the point where that's what he does need," Mel replied quietly. "His behavior just now was a show for you, Harry. He shouldn't be walking around so much, and especially going up the stairs…I always help him with that…" she trailed off.
"Maybe I shouldn't have come then," Harry began.
"Oh no, no, no!" Mel spoke hurriedly, sitting up to meet Harry's gaze. "No I didn't mean that at all! I'm so glad you two finally got to meet each other…" she trailed off, pausing for a moment and smiling softly. "He really likes you Harry…I could tell…"
"I like him too," Harry replied softly, returning the smile. "He seems like such a fun person."
"You should have seen him before," Mel began, almost excitedly. "He did everything…anything, actually. He was so full of life, always racing around, biking, snowboarding, hockey…" she trailed off, the smile on her face faltering. "He really misses it…"
"I'm sure he does," Harry said gently, pulling Mel to him once again. He could feel her heartbeat against his chest and listened to the sound of her soft breathing, as she let out a shaky sigh.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I didn't meant to get all…depressing…"
"You're not depressing me," Harry replied, comfortingly.
"Really? Well that's good to hear…because I'm sure depressing myself right now," she laughed faintly. "Let's just…talk about something else…please?"
"Alright," Harry nodded with a grin. "Something else it is."
"Good," Mel replied, smiling up at him. "So…tell me what's new with you? How is everyone?"
Harry started re-telling all that had been happening over the summer for him. How the lessons with Snape were not working out as well as he'd hoped, but how much he loved living in his new home. He briefly told her of what was happening for Ron and Hermione, and that he'd not seen Ginny much but would be seeing them all again at the end of the month.
"That's wonderful," Mel said happily. "I bet Ron can hardly contain his excitement."
"That's pretty much accurate," Harry laughed. "You should see him talk about it."
"I hope I get to," Mel replied with a grin, before continuing, "And what about yourself? I've heard all about your friend's plans…are you still trying to do something for professional quidditch?"
Harry sat back in the chair, his conversation with Dumbledore that morning rushing back to him. He needed to think about the favor that had been asked of him, but at the same time, he didn't want to. Shaking his head of the thought, he looked down to meet Mel's eyes.
"Ask me again in a week," he replied with a smirk.
"In…in a week?" she asked quizzically. "Why a week? You'll have it all figured out by then?"
"Er…yes," Harry replied with a nod. "I will…I have to."
"I get this strange feeling you're not telling me something," Mel said, smiling knowingly.
"I promise you," Harry began, seriously, "I will tell you…I just need some time to think first."
"Fair enough," Mel nodded, sensing he wanted to drop the subject.
"What about you?" Harry asked. "How is your new job working out?"
"Well, it's only my job while I'm taking care of Jack," Mel replied slowly. "I needed something that didn't have a set schedule…so if I needed time off it would be easy to take. I'm doing alright, really. Madam Malkin's certainly isn't the worst place to work for, and now that I can apparate I don't have to worry about how long it would normally take to get there, unless Jack needs me to stop on the way home of course," she stated, a wry grin on her lips. "Apparating into a muggle grocery store is just a tad bit unacceptable…but I don't mind driving, when I have to."
"You can drive?" Harry asked, incredulously.
"Sure I can," Mel nodded, "Jack started giving me lessons two summers ago."
"Lucky you," Harry commented.
"Yeah…maybe I'll show you sometime," Mel said, smirking up at him.
"You would, ey?" Harry asked, gazing back at her, staring into her clear blue eyes. She didn't reply, however, but lifted her head towards his as he leant down as well. Their lips brushed softly and Harry felt the same thrill run through him that did every time he kissed Mel. Her scent filled him entirely and he barely felt her reach up around his neck as he deepened the kiss, his hands pressed firmly against her back, pulling her closer to him.
He pulled back reluctantly as he felt her draw away from him in the slightest, the sound of their breathing ringing in his ears. For several long moments, they sat in each other's arms, and Harry wished they could just remain as they were forever. But as the sun dropped lower in the sky, he heaved a gentle sigh and sat up slowly.
"I'm sorry to have to cut this short…" he began, looking towards Mel apologetically.
"Don't be sorry, Harry," Mel spoke softly. "I understand the reason…" she trailed off, looking out the window before speaking again. "And you better get going too…" she said, suddenly sounding worried.
"It's okay," Harry replied with a grin. "I've got at least an hour before it'll happen, though I do have to go now, because Professor Snape will be waiting with the potion."
"Have either of you started looking for…well…another way around this?" Mel asked, hopefully.
"Afraid not," Harry shook his head slowly. "The crystals barely respond during our lessons as it is…once we get passed that maybe we can work on this. Until then, I'm stuck with the wolfsbane potion."
"Sorry," Mel said softly, looking up at him with sad eyes.
"Don't be," Harry replied evenly, smiling reassuringly at her. "Just next time let's make our plans for a night that isn't going to fall on a full moon."
"Deal," Mel nodded with a grin as the two of them stood slowly. He reached out to her, pulling her near for one more kiss, before stepping back slowly, waving his good-bye, and disapparating.
"Cutting it a bit close are we, Potter?" a sneering voice spoke up the moment Harry appeared into his living room.
"There's still an hour left, Professor Snape," Harry replied as he turned to face the stern looking potions master who was standing in the center of the room, his arms crossed over his chest and his eyes narrowed.
"I don't care if there's five hours left!" Snape spat, fiercely, "The point is this is very serious. Do you realize what could happen if you didn't take this potion in time?"
"I know exactly what would happen," Harry said darkly, his voice remaining steady as he glared back at Snape. "I've seen it first-hand, remember?"
"Well I certainly wouldn't be able to tell by your attitude," Snape said crisply. "Maybe if you even pretended to care…"
Harry felt a surge of fresh anger run through him, and opened his mouth, ready to give a nasty reply, when another voice called out, loudly.
"What do you think you're doing, Snape?" Sirius said heatedly as he descended the stairs into the living room.
"What do you think, Black?" Snape hissed, his eyes flashing angrily at the sight of Sirius. "Giving your godson his potion…"
"Really?" Sirius asked, stepping close to the other two, glaring at Snape and crossing his arms over his chest. "Because to me, it sounded very much like you were yelling at him…"
"He needs to learn not to take this situation lightly," Snape said darkly.
"I'm not taking anything lightly," Harry spoke up then, his eyes fixed on Snape. "And I don't appreciate you accusing me of such."
Snape whirled on him then, and he looked positively furious as he took a menacing step towards Harry.
"You also need to learn to have a bit more respect," he hissed, "for someone who is trying to help you."
"You're not his professor any longer, Snape," Sirius spoke up then, "he doesn't need to learn anything from you. Now you've given me the potion, and I thanked you for it. If there's nothing else…"
"Don't worry," Snape interrupted sneeringly. "I don't want to stay here any longer than I have to…I'm going."
Neither Sirius nor Harry spoke as Snape turned on the spot, stalking angrily towards the door. He pulled it open roughly, went through and slammed it with such force the wall shook.
Harry just looked after him, shaking his head in anger and disgust, before turning to look at his godfather.
"What happened with him?" he asked. "I mean…I know he doesn't like me very much…but it's been a long while since he…well…it seemed like he was just looking for a reason to go off on me."
"It doesn't take much when it comes to Snape, Harry," Sirius said as he slowly turned and started for the kitchen. "Here, take your potion first, I don't want either of us forgetting."
Harry nodded and followed his godfather out into the kitchen, the soft sunlight shining through the window, splaying across the floor.
"Here you go," Sirius said, grabbing up a bottle of the freshly brewed green concoction and handing it to his godson.
Harry didn't hesitate as he pried the cork out of the bottle, and downed every last drop of its contents, before placing it back down on the counter, and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
"You would think," Harry began, disgustedly, "that with all the magic we can do…we'd find a way to make our potions…taste better…blech…" he muttered, smacking his tongue against the roof of his mouth to try and get rid of the nasty aftertaste.
Sirius laughed at him as the two made their way back into the living room, and sat down across from one another in the fading light of day. Harry glanced again towards the window, knowing he still had a bit of time left before he'd have to excuse himself, before turning again to face his godfather.
"So, what do you think is making him so upset this time?" Harry asked curiously.
"Snape?" Sirius asked quickly, rolling his eyes as he continued. "I'm pretty sure I know exactly why he's such a pleasure to be around right now. He's going to lose out on the Defense Against the Dark Arts position yet again…" he trailed off, unable to hide the small grin on his face.
Harry's expression, however, was anything but pleased. He hadn't made a decision yet, had barely had time to consider what he wanted to do. Dumbledore surely wouldn't tell Snape he'd asked Harry to fill the opening instead of him, would he? Even if he decided not to take the offer, Snape would still hate him more than ever, knowing the possibility existed that he would have lost what he wanted so badly, to Harry.
"Do we know who Dumbledore asked instead?" Harry asked anxiously, staring intently at his godfather.
"No," Sirius shook his head and shrugged. "He won't tell anyone…said he's not going to until a final decision is made."
Harry could feel the relief set in upon hearing this. If Snape was going to know he was offered the position, he only wanted it to be if he accepted it. His expression must have given him away, however, for now Sirius was looking at him curiously.
"Marzia told me Dumbledore stopped by early this morning…wanting to talk to you," Sirius began, smirking lightly.
Harry nodded, trying to seem casual.
"He did, yes. Hey, where is Marzia, anyway?" he asked offhandedly, trying to change the subject.
"Shopping, what did he want to talk to you about?" Sirius replied in one breath, refusing to be swayed.
"I'm sure…well…you must've heard already," Harry stammered, "Dumbledore is leaving Hogwarts…"
"Yes, that I do know," Sirius nodded. "Which I'm actually glad for, because even though he is the best headmaster Hogwarts has ever seen, I know Minerva will do well in his place. And it's about time we had a decent Minister of Magic in office."
Harry nodded slowly.
"Though, I do find it a bit…odd," Sirius continued, looking pointedly at Harry, "He would stop by so early and ask to speak to you alone…just to tell you something the rest of us already knew?"
Harry opened his mouth to reply…but couldn't think of anything that would sound believable without telling Sirius the truth in the seconds he had to think about it, and finally just let out a long breath before speaking quietly.
"Yeah…I'd find that odd too."
"Then, that wasn't all he wanted to talk to you about?" Sirius pressed, gently.
"No," Harry shook his head, sighing inaudibly before looking up to meet his godfather's eyes. "He asked me if I would teach Defense Against the Dark Arts this year…"
Sirius remained silent for a long moment as Harry sat entirely still in his chair, replaying his conversation with Dumbledore over in his head for the third time that day.
"Do you think that you're going to take it?" Sirius asked at last.
"I don't…I don't know…" Harry whispered, shaking his head, seemingly at a loss. "There's so many things that I'm worried about…if I take this offer…" he cut off suddenly as he felt the first twinge of pain in his stomach, and clutched it tightly. "It's starting," he grimaced, seeing his godfather's expression become concerned. "I should go upstairs now…"
"Do you want me to help…?"
"No…thank you," Harry replied, the pain coming more fiercely now. The sick feeling that always accompanied these long nights was creeping its way into his gut, and he could taste it in his throat as he started towards the stairs, as quickly as possible.
"Alright," Sirius replied in a concerned voice, looking helplessly at his godson as he made his way up to his room.
He reached the top landing as sweat broke out along his forehead and, using the banister beside him for support, started immediately for his room. He heard Sirius call out to him once more, unable to make out what was said, and barely raised a hand in reply as he entered his bedroom, shutting the door firmly behind him. Staggering forward, Harry made his way towards his bed, and let himself fall limply onto the soft, downy comforter, before curling up into a tight ball, and preparing for the long wait.
For the next two nights, Harry went through the same grueling process, feeling tired and weak for hours on the following days. Sirius and Marzia would check in on him regularly during the day, making sure he was eating, and to see if there was anything he needed. He wondered how Remus had rarely ever shown how horribly he must have been feeling whenever this was happening for him. Harry could hardly think of more than two or three instances when his friend had seemed as if he truly needed to rest during the time of the full moon each month, in all the years he'd been a professor at Hogwarts.
Sirius didn't bring up the Defense Against the Dark Arts position during the three days, for which Harry was grateful; he knew he'd never be able to concentrate on it if he'd been asked. But just as Harry had suspected, as soon as he was feeling better, Sirius had asked to have a talk.
"I know what you want to talk about," Harry said quietly as they left the kitchen after breakfast. Marzia was busying herself with cleaning up, but by the expression on her face when she smiled reassuringly at him, Harry knew Sirius had told her about Dumbledore's request.
Sirius nodded as he lowered himself down on the couch, and Harry took a seat just across from him.
"I don't want you to feel like I'm trying to put any pressure on you," his godfather began, seriously. "Dumbledore has asked this favor of you, and therefore I have no say in the matter. But I would like to know how you feel about it. Are you even considering it as an option?"
"Yes," Harry nodded slowly, "I am considering it…I'm just not sure…"
"What is it that you're worried about if you take this position?" Sirius asked gently.
"Well," Harry began, "I've never taught before…I don't know that I'd be any good at it. And it would be awkward to have to teach people that I was in school with as a student only a few months ago."
"You don't think they'll see you as their instructor?" Sirius asked. "That they won't listen to you?"
"That's part of it, yes," Harry nodded. "Some of the students I don't think will be a problem…but I'm not sure about…well…"
"The Slytherins?" Sirius asked knowingly.
"Yes," Harry replied. "At least I wouldn't have to put up with Draco, Crabbe and Goyle…but most all of them will know who I am. Not to mention if Snape was so angry a few days ago just knowing someone else was going to get this position, imagine what will happen when he finds out it's me…" Harry trailed off, letting out a hollow laugh before continuing. "He'll probably encourage his students to make it harder for me…"
"I won't argue with you on that," Sirius said, no trace of humor in his voice. "I believe that's exactly what he'd do. The only good thing is at least this way if you see any of them step out of line, you can take points away from their house."
"That's another thing," Harry said upon hearing Sirius' comment, "about taking points away…what if I don't do it right?"
"Right?" Sirius asked with a small laugh, "How do you mean?"
"Well I don't want to take too many away…or too little…and I don't want to turn into Snape, only taking it away from people he doesn't like and not those who deserve it…"
"You'd never do that," Sirius said confidently, "I know you wouldn't. You have a good heart, Harry…I know you'd be fair if the situation arose where the punishment of one of the students fell to you."
Harry nodded faintly, sitting back in his chair and letting out a quiet sigh.
"There's more, isn't there?" Sirius asked, concerned. "What else is bothering you?"
"Voldemort," Harry said quietly. "If he's still alive somewhere, and tries to come after me…I'll be endangering everyone at the school again."
Sirius looked carefully at his godson for a long moment, before replying.
"I think, because we are not sure what exactly happened to Voldemort, that he will always be a worry in the back of your mind, whether you decide to go back to Hogwarts, or play quidditch, or something entirely different. Unless we find some ultimate proof one way or another, there's no way to be certain. The only good thing I can say is at least Hogwarts is protected. After last year, we went through and closed off the outer entryway that the death eaters had been using to get in for so long. All of the defense spells have been reinforced as well."
"And many of Voldemort's followers are in Azkaban now…" Marzia's voice spoke up as she came in from the kitchen to join them, "where they belong. Including Lucius Malfoy."
"Yes but we didn't get all of the death eaters last year…" Harry pointed out quickly.
"And the cold, hard truth is, we probably never will," Sirius replied solemnly. "There will always be those that can evade capture, in any number of ways."
Harry nodded again, knowing they were right, but still he didn't feel confident enough to do what was being asked of him…there was one thing that worried him above all of his other concerns.
"You wouldn't disappoint him, you know that, right?" Sirius spoke up gently, reading the expression on Harry's face like a book.
"What do you mean?" Harry asked, barely above a whisper.
"Remus," Sirius replied simply. "I can see it in your eyes, Harry. You don't think you can live up to his…his standards, as you see them."
"And what if I can't?" Harry asked, feeling a twinge of sadness. "What if I do so terribly that McGonagall asks me to leave and they let Snape or somebody take over? Remus was the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher that I've ever known at Hogwarts…how can I possibly compare with that?"
"You can't," Marzia said curtly.
Harry looked up sharply, but she continued quickly.
"You can't compare yourself to Remus, you've got to find your own way of doing things. Dumbledore asked this of you because he believes you are the right person for the task, Harry…if nothing else convinces you to take this position, that should. If you truly don't want to do it, then don't…but don't let your doubts be what stops you."
Harry stared back at Marzia for a long moment, during which no one made a sound, before he slowly began to sit up and nodded faintly.
"You're right," he said quietly, "it's just that it's hard not to…worry…"
"How do you think Remus felt?" Sirius asked gently. "Especially when he came back for your fifth year, his secret known by all the students and having no idea how they would now react to him?"
"And now it's my secret as well," Harry said evenly.
"Which I think you'll be able to handle just as well as he did," Sirius said confidently.
"Oh sure, until Snape lets it slip for me as well…" Harry said, hollowly.
"Parents knew what Remus was when he was teaching there the last three years," Marzia said, "they didn't pull their kids out then…I doubt they will for you either."
"The point is," Sirius said quickly, "Remus was just as worried, just as critical towards himself as you are being right now, when Dumbledore asked him to return for your fifth year, he believed he was not the right man for the job. It was only because of the confidence that Dumbledore had in him, how certain he was that Remus was the only person he wanted teaching about the dark arts in that school, that made him feel he could do it."
Harry nodded faintly, looking back and forth from Sirius to Marzia, before slowly raising himself up to a standing position.
"Thank you," he said quietly, grinning lightly. "I'd…I'd like to go upstairs now…if that's alright…"
"Of course it's alright," Marzia replied, smiling softly.
Harry nodded once more before turning quickly and heading for the stairs. When at last he made it to his bedroom, he shut the door gently behind him, and headed straight to the desk just beside a large window, overlooking the expansive backyard. A cool summer breeze was ruffling his hair as he stood there, staring out at the miniature quidditch setup he and Sirius had put up a month before. Shaking his head softly, he turned away from the window and lowered himself into the comfortable chair near the desk, picking up a stack of letters lying atop it as he did so.
One by one, he read through each of them for the second time, placing them in a neat pile as he finished. Then, reaching into his top drawer, he drew out several blank sheets of parchment, and a quill. Uncapping the bottle of ink that was always on the desk's surface, he dipped the tip in, and began to write. For a full hour he remained where he was, composing nine nearly identical letters, that explained to the manager of each quidditch team that he would not be looking to interview this year, but thanked them sincerely for their consideration.
When he'd completed those, he pushed the stack aside, making a mental note to go to the owlery the following day so he could send them out, before working on one final letter.
Dear Professor Dumbledore,
I have given a lot of thought to our discussion, and if the offer is still open, I would very much like to take the position. Please let me know what I will need to do in order to prepare for classes.
I look forward to receiving your reply.
Once he was finished, he read and re-read the letter several times, before folding it into a neat rectangle and slipping it into an envelope. He addressed it to Albus Dumbledore and sealed it quickly, before standing slowly from the desk and turning to where Hedwig was sitting comfortably on the perch he'd set up for her.
"I have something here for you, girl," he said as he stepped up in front of his beloved owl. She gazed back at him gently as he lifted his hand and stroked the side of her head. He tied the letter securely to her right leg, before looking back into Hedwig's eyes.
"See that Dumbledore gets this, alright?" he asked, stroking the soft feathers under her beak. She nipped his fingers affectionately, before letting out a soft squawk and spreading her wings. She leapt into the air in a flurry of feathers and glided through the open window with ease. Harry stood by, watching after her until she was out of sight, before turning around with a low sigh.
This was it, he'd done it. There was no turning back now.
The next few days passed by quickly for Harry, and during that time, he received exactly ten owls. Nine of them were replies from the many quidditch teams he'd written to, expressing their regrets that Harry would not be going out for their team this year, and requested that he please contact them should he ever change his mind. Harry put them aside, glad that the offers were all going to remain open, but it was the tenth letter he received that he was most anxious to read.
I wish to thank you for your acceptance of my offer. I believe you will do this job well. I have already informed Minerva of your reply and she will be waiting for you on the twenty-sixth of August. It is preferable that all professors arrive a week prior to the start of classes, however, if you cannot make it on this day please send an owl immediately.
I have enclosed a list of books that are accepted material to be used in instructing this course, as well as a copy of the last course schedule. You do not have to use the latter of the two; I only sent it as an example.
Minerva will inform you of everything else you may need to know when you arrive. Thank you again, Harry.
"Are you glad you said yes?" Sirius asked when Harry showed him the letter when they were sitting in the living room sometime later.
"Yes," Harry nodded slowly. "Yes I am."
"Good," Sirius replied with a grin. "Then so am I."
"There's just so much I need to do…" Harry said off-handedly as he once again looked over the list of books, comparing them to Remus' old schedule. "I'll have to look through each and every one of these to decide which ones I want…"
"We can go together, if you like," Sirius commented, handing the actual letter back to his godson. "First thing next week, you and I can go to Diagon Alley."
"You don't mind?" Harry asked, grateful for his godfather's offer.
"Not at all," Sirius replied with a wink.
"Thanks," Harry said, smiling. He looked up abruptly, however, when the clock on the wall began to chime. "Oh great…now I'm late…" he said stuffing the papers hurriedly back into the envelope and standing. "Sorry," he said quickly, "I told Mel I would meet her…"
"Don't worry about it," Sirius laughed as he watched his godson rush towards the stairs. "Just go, I'll see you later tonight."
Harry nodded faintly as he raced up the stairs. He tossed the letter on his desk and quickly crossed the room towards the chest containing the crystals. He opened it quickly and called them all to him, before closing it once more and standing. Taking one last glance around the room, he closed his eyes, and disapparated.
He reappeared instantly in Mel's front hallway, to find it empty. But no sooner had he begun to move forward, then he heard footsteps moving quickly down the stairs, and he walked towards them, just as Mel reached the bottom landing.
"Sorry I'm late," she said, out of breath as she saw him standing before her.
"It's alright," Harry laughed, "I only just arrived less than a minute ago."
"You don't have to come, you know," Mel said as they both turned towards the door. "I told you I'm only running a few errands, things that Jack needs…"
"Yes, because my life is far too busy for such things," Harry joked as they stepped outside.
"Shut up and get in," Mel replied, sticking her tongue out at him as they walked to opposite sides of the small hatchback sitting in the driveway.
Harry just laughed at her lightly as they both slid into their seats, and were soon on their way.
They chatted for the short drive to the pharmacy, which took less than a minute to pick up the prescriptions, before heading off again. They got out of the car at small, outdoor mini-mall, with several small shops all lined up in a row.
"Jack's clothes are a bit big for him once again," Mel explained quickly. "I just need to pick up a couple pairs of pants and a shirt or two…just to hold him over until I have time to mend the clothes he has now."
"Let's go then," Harry nodded, as they started across the parking lot towards the shops. Harry looked around at all the muggles going about their business. There were a few eateries, a bakery, a fabric store and several different kinds of clothing stores. The coffee shop seemed to be the most popular by far, as the chairs out front were all taken and he could see a great deal of them inside were as well. He smiled as he watched several parents looking after their kids, who were playing in the dirt nearby, when something caught his eye and he stopped in his tracks.
"Do you see that?" he asked Mel quickly.
"See what?" she asked, looking up from her bag which she'd been rummaging through, before turning her attention back to it.
"Right there," Harry said, careful not to lift his hand to point. "In front of the bakery…it…it looks like a shadow."
"Where?" Mel asked, only half paying attention as she looked up again. But it was gone. Harry couldn't see it anymore.
"Nevermind," he said quietly.
"I'm sorry, Harry," Mel said, her tone distracted. "I just need to find where I put the muggle money…I know I just had it at the pharmacy…"
"No, it's alright," Harry said. "Must've been my eyes playing tricks on me." But he wasn't so sure. He had seen a shadow in front of the bakery, he knew he had. The strange thing being, there were no people nearby, and no trees. There was nothing that the sun could be hitting that could have caused the shadow to appear, and yet he was positive he'd seen it.
Shaking his head of the thought, however, Harry followed Mel into a small clothing store that had mostly a variety of sportswear, exactly what Jack loved, according to Mel. They spent the better part of an hour going through the store, until Mel finally settled on two outfits she was sure would fit Jack. They brought everything up to the counter, paid for the merchandise and left. Harry carried the large bag, while Mel began rummaging in her bag once again, this time to find where the keys had wandered off to.
"Want to grab a bite?" Mel asked, glancing up at him for a moment. On the other side there's a nice Italian restaurant…"
"Sure, why not," Harry replied with a grin. They passed by the large group of people in front of the coffee shop and turned the corner away from the crowd. Harry was surprised how deserted it seemed over here, and for some unexplainable reason, began to feel uneasy.
"Where is this place?" he asked quickly.
"Just at the end there," Mel said pointing to the last shop in line.
Harry nodded stiffly, looking around cautiously as he quickened his pace.
"Something wrong?" Mel asked, noticing his change in behavior.
"I don't know," Harry said, honestly. "Let's just get inside."
They both sped up, reaching the last doorway seconds later and halting just in front of it. Sighing lightly, Harry shook his head faintly, feeling a bit silly at his moment of panic and reached out to open the door for Mel, when suddenly a rough hand clamped down on his wrist. Harry instinctively started to pull back, dropping the bag in his hand and barely registering the fact that he could almost see through the hand holding him, when several more grabbed him from behind.
Harry turned to see Mel struggling in the grasp of several large figures, all of which seemed to be made of shadows.
"What do you want?" he asked, trying to free himself from their grasp as both he and Mel were forced around the side of the shops and into the wooded area behind. When they were well hidden by the trees, the shadowy figures brought them to a halt, holding them in place, as several more of them seemed to appear out of thin air, and moved slowly forward.
"Let us go," Harry said evenly as the figure in the center stepped up in front of him. "We've done nothing to you."
Suddenly, a raspy laugh filled his ears and the figure before him seemed to take on a human shape, but not entirely. He could see what looked like a young man, with light brown hair and light brown eyes, flickering in and out of view in the midst of the shadow surrounding him. But what Harry saw in the man's eyes was what made him feel a twist of panic, which he forced down. He was glaring hatefully at Harry, but smiling all the while.
"Thought you could escape us, did you?" the brown-haired shadow figure spoke in a dark, raspy voice.
"What are you talking about?" Harry asked, bewildered. He'd never even seen these things before.
"I knew you couldn't hide forever," the figure continued, ignoring Harry's question. "And now we're going to make you pay."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Harry said, evenly, glaring back at the shadowy figure before him. "I've never seen you before…what could I possibly have done to you?"
"It's not what you did to me," the raspy voice spoke darkly, "but to all of us…you're a traitor."
Harry couldn't even find words to express the confusion he was feeling at that moment, and stood their, staring at the strange figure.
"That one can go," the shadow said again, nodding towards the ones holding Mel. They released her instantly, backing away several paces as she immediately thrust her hand into her pocket, drawing out her wand and looking around wildly, as if ready to attack the first figure that moved.
"Let him go too," Mel demanded, her voice wavering slightly as she glared at the lead shadow and nodded towards Harry.
"Do not push your luck, witch," the figure spat in reply. "Go now, for we have no use for you…"
Mel opened her mouth to speak again but Harry was quicker.
"Mel please just go," he spoke fiercely, praying she would just do it. He couldn't let these things do anything to her, "you can tell the others…"
"Tell whomever you please," the lead figure spoke wickedly, turning his attention back to Harry and moving towards him. "It will do no good. No one is going to see you ever again…" he hissed, gleefully, his face only inches from Harry's now. For a moment, the image of the brown-haired man came through clearly, and Harry swore it looked as if he were sniffing the air, before the figure drew back again. "So…you're a werewolf now as well?" he asked, cruelly. "This will be more fun than I'd thought…"
"Look," Harry began apprehensively, trying in vain to free himself from their grasp, "if you could just explain…tell me what it is you think I've done…"
"Come," the figure interrupted in a menacing tone, motioning towards the shadows holding tightly to Harry, "we're wasting time."
They began to drag him forward and Harry dug his feet into the ground, barely hearing Mel cry out several curses, though he was quite aware that they had no effect on the shadow beings. It was useless, there were too many of them and he couldn't overpower them.
We have to get them off of us now, the courage crystals spoke up abruptly. Harry's heart leapt, having forgotten he'd even taken the crystals with him this morning. He'd grown so accustomed to seeing their mist in the air around him, and they'd remained utterly silent up until now.
How? he asked anxiously.
Stop struggling, came the reply.
Harry did exactly as he was told, forcing himself to stop fighting against the shadow figures, as they dragged him deeper into the wooded area to some unknown destination. For a brief moment, nothing happened, when suddenly Harry could feel his skin begin to tingle, and the crystals' mist began to swirl around him furiously.
A warm feeling had slowly begun to form in the pit of his stomach, and Harry could feel the shadowy figures hesitate as they became aware of it as well…they could sense it, somehow, and the ones holding him stopped in their tracks.
"We're almost there!" hissed the lead figure, "Just a few more…"
But he never finished his sentence, the energy Harry was feeling was transferred into the shadow beings holding him through his skin and he felt them release their grip as if he were poisonous. Several of the figures standing nearby immediately moved forward to take their place, but halted as they watched their allies seem to melt…forming a dark puddle on the hard ground, before seeping into it.
The lead shadow figure took a sharp step forward, the face underneath coming into full view for another brief moment, and Harry could see the utter fury in his eyes, before he motioned for the others to step back. They did as they were told and Harry watched as they slowly faded out of view, right before his eyes.
"See you next time, traitor," the lead one spat vehemently, before he too slowly disappeared into thin air.
"Harry! Are you alright?" Mel cried out, a mixture of fear and relief in her voice. "What were those things?" she breathed, finally coming to a halt as she ran up beside him.
"I'm fine," Harry nodded, putting an arm around her and pulling her towards him. He was just glad she was alright. "And I have no idea what they were…"
"Then why did they know who you were?" Mel asked, her eyes fixed on his own, searchingly.
"I don't know," Harry replied, mystified over everything that had just happened. "C'mon," he spoke up again quickly. "I want to get out of here before they decide to come back…"
Mel made no argument, undoubtedly feeling the same way, and the two of them set off as quickly as possible back towards the clearing.
Mel drove them straight back to her house, the other errands she needed to run completely gone from her thoughts at the moment. Harry walked her inside, shutting the door firmly behind him, before turning to face her.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly.
"Harry, don't even start," Mel said quickly, stepping forward and slipping her arms comfortingly around his waste, resting her head against his chest.
"I just keep getting you into these…these…dangerous situations," he said, regretfully.
"Situations which you have no control over," Mel said firmly. "And, which we've always gotten out of."
"So far," Harry added, pointedly.
"That's right," Mel nodded, looking up to meet his gaze. "So far. And I'd be willing to bet everything I own…that that'll never change. You don't lose easily Harry, you fight until there's nothing left in you, and then you continue to fight beyond that…in any way you can."
"You certainly sound confident," Harry said, grinning faintly at her.
"Well…one of us has to," Mel shrugged lightly, but returned the smile, before continuing. "You'd better get going…find out what those things were if you can…and why they were after you. I want to come, to help…but…"
"I understand," Harry nodded, reassuringly, seeing the torn look in her eyes. "Jack needs you right now…don't even think on it. I'll talk to Sirius and Marzia first…they may know more about these shadow things…"
"Good," Mel replied, nodding softly. She lifted her face as Harry leant down to kiss her gently, holding each other tightly for a brief moment, before separating slowly.
Harry lifted a hand as Mel took a step back, and waved good-bye, before disapparating into the familiar swirl of colors.
When he reappeared seconds later in his den, he was relieved to see Sirius sitting at the kitchen table in the next room, reading over that day's Daily Prophet. Marzia was across from him, a cup of tea in front of her, along with a letter, which she was reading.
"Harry," Sirius smiled as he spied his godson coming towards them. "You're back earlier than I'd expected. Mail's jus arrived; you have a letter from Ron…" he trailed off, his smile faltering as he realized by Harry's expression that something was wrong. "What is it? What's happened?" he asked immediately, beginning to stand.
"It's alright Sirius," Harry assured him, seeing his godfather about to go into one of his usual frenzies that would occur whenever his godson's well being was in question. "Something happened today," Harry continued evenly as he took a seat at the table between them, having their undivided attention. "Mel and I were attacked."
"Death eaters?" Sirius asked quickly, anger evident in his voice.
"I wish," Harry laughed, hollowly, drawing strange looks from both Sirius and Marzia. "I don't know what they were…"
"Why don't you just start at the beginning," Marzia said calmly. "Tell us what happened…"
Harry nodded grimly, and began to do exactly that. He started from seeing the strange shadow right out in the open when they'd first arrived at the mini-mall, before skipping to where both he and Mel were grabbed by the strange beings. He retold the conversation as best he could remember, and how he'd been able to use the crystals to escape just in time.
"So these things…they think you're a traitor to them?" Sirius asked, his voice mingled with anger and confusion.
"That's what the lead one said," Harry nodded dismally. "Though he wouldn't tell me why…" he trailed off as his gaze drifted over to where Marzia was sitting silently, her face looking much paler than it had only a few moments earlier.
"What is it?" Sirius asked her, noticing her expression just as Harry did. "Do you know something about these things?"
"Not enough…" Marzia barely whispered.
"Do you know what they are at least?" Harry asked, hopefully. Marzia nodded ever so slowly before speaking in a voice that was barely audible.
"They're Shadow Walkers, Harry. They belong to the Cult of Shadows…"
"The Cult of Shadows?" Harry repeated softly. "What is that…and what do you think they want with me?"
"I don't know," Marzia replied gravely, faintly shaking her head as she spoke. "But they are extremely reclusive…they outright refuse to show themselves unless it's something they consider to be of the utmost importance…and above all else…you never want to upset them…"
"Well it's a bit late for that!" Harry said, feeling a twinge of fear creeping up inside him. "They were upset with me before I'd even met them…and I don't think my escaping helped matters any…"
"Marzia what else do you know about these things?" Sirius asked, solemnly.
"Not nearly as much as we're going to need to know," Marzia said with a weak shrug. "And I don't know if my information is even accurate any longer…we need to find someone who knows more."
"Then that's what we're going to do," Sirius said, determinedly. He was obviously just as shaken as Harry was feeling over Marzia's reaction to the Shadow Walkers, and stood up abruptly. "I'm going to talk to Dumbledore…" he called out as he exited the kitchen and started immediately for the fireplace in the living room. "Both of you stay here…I promise I'll be back as soon as possible."
Harry and Marzia had both stood as well, and followed Sirius into the adjacent room near to the fireplace.
"Hurry," Marzia said, barely above a whisper, her arms crossed protectively over her chest, as Sirius threw a handful of floo powder into the flames he'd just ignited.
"I will," Sirius replied confidently. He nodded reassuringly at both of them, before stepping into the flames and being pulled off into a swirl of color. The fire died down only seconds later, leaving Harry and Marzia standing side by side, staring after him.
"Marzia," Harry began gently as she turned away from the blackened fireplace, "are you alright?"
"I'm fine," she replied quietly, sitting down stiffly on the long couch.
"You don't look fine," he said softly, crossing the room and lowering himself down beside her.
"I'm just glad you're alright," Marzia said again, looking up and meeting Harry's gaze. He could see the concern showing through clearly…and the fear. "It could have been much worse…"
"These things…the Shadow Walkers…they really scare you, don't then?" Harry asked. "I've never seen you act like this before…"
"They're not people you want to mess with Harry," Marzia replied, evenly, "no matter how much power you have."
"Are they from Faerun?" Harry asked. "Have you dealt with them before?"
"No…to both," Marzia replied. "During the time that I was traveling around for the ministry, I was never given an assignment that took me anywhere near the Shadow Walkers…but after hearing stories of other ministry workers, I certainly was in no hurry to request one."
"Why?" Harry asked, both intrigued and frightened to hear the answer.
"They aren't a very civilized group, to put it in the nicest way of speaking," Marzia replied quietly. "They don't have any qualms about hurting, torturing…or killing someone that angers them. Spells are useless against them, and they can blend into the shadows of any environment."
"So then there's no way at all to stop them?" Harry asked, incredulously. "How is it I've never heard of them before? Surely if they're so dangerous we'd have been taught about…"
"The ministry, in all their wisdom, don't consider the Shadow Walkers a threat to us," Marzia interrupted, darkly. "They only act out against those who've wronged them in some way…so the ministry simply stays quiet about them. Few witches and wizards are even aware of the Shadow Walkers' existence. The less people that know about them, the less that can do anything to anger them."
"Well that still doesn't explain why they came after me," Harry said, slowly, feeling his earlier confusion racing back to him. The lead Shadow Walker had seemed absolutely positive that Harry was the person they were looking for, it had been all too evident in his hateful glare.
"I can't even begin to guess why they might be after you," Marzia said, shaking her head slowly. "But we have to find out…soon."
"Can you remember anything else at all?" Harry asked, anxiously. "Anything you can tell me?"
"There's no reason to tell you anything else that I know, they're all just stories…" Marzia replied, quietly. "It won't help anything…"
Harry leant back against the couch as Marzia's eyes drifted down to her hands. He was somehow more worried by the statement she'd just made; than he felt he would have been had she told him what she knew.
Clearing his throat softly, Harry opened his mouth to ask another question, when the fireplace suddenly erupted in a flurry of green flames.
Dumbledore stepped out of the hearth as the flames died down around him, before they immediately flourished again, and Sirius appeared just behind him. The two men started to cross the room, as both Harry and Marzia stood to greet them.
"Sirius told me what happened," Dumbledore began immediately as they met each other in the center of the room. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," Harry nodded quickly, "and very much hoping that you can tell me more about what these things are…"
"Let's go into the kitchen," Sirius spoke up, gesturing for everyone to follow. The four of them made their way into the next room, taking seats around the breakfast nook, before Dumbledore began speaking again.
"Marzia has begun to tell you about the Cult of Shadows, yes?" he asked quietly, looking directly at Harry.
"Yes," Harry nodded quickly. "She said they were reclusive and that the ministry doesn't consider them a threat…" he trailed off, before continuing in a lower voice, "and that you…don't want to get on their bad side…"
"No, you definitely do not," Dumbledore nodded gravely.
"But I don't understand how I did!" Harry exclaimed, suddenly. "I've never even met them before…what could I have possibly done?"
"I don't know why it is they're angry with you," Dumbledore said quickly, "but I will do what I can to find out. For now, I will at least tell you what I know…so that you may be prepared in case this happens again…"
"Do you think it will?" Sirius asked, worriedly. "Will they be able to find Harry easily?"
"I think they will most certainly try, yes," Dumbledore nodded. "Though in the wizarding world, it will be more difficult for them to trace Harry. I suspect the reason they were able to get to him so easily today, was due to the fact that he was surrounded mostly by muggles."
"Why would that make a difference?" Harry asked, curiously.
"Because the Shadow Walkers can sense you, can sense anyone, if they've been near them even once. Their sense of smell runs so deep that it is all they use to distinguish one wizard from another…as they cannot see you."
"But he did see me professor," Harry said quickly. "The lead Shadow Walker…he looked right at me…"
"His eyes were focused on you but all he could see of you was your shadow," Dumbledore replied evenly. "As I said, their sense of smell runs deep…they know where your eyes are, your ears, your mouth…everything…even though they cannot see you clearly."
"So then…he has no idea what I look like?" Harry asked, slowly.
"No, when he looks at you, all he sees is shadow," Dumbledore replied.
"Well then how can they be sure that I'm the one they're after?" Harry asked. "If they can't see me…"
"The loss of their sight is not a handicap by any means," Dumbledore replied firmly. "Sirius told me one of them recognized you to be a werewolf…does that show you how deeply their senses run? They can tell you apart from another wizard just as easily as I can by looking at you."
Harry nodded faintly, before realizing what Dumbledore had actually said and looking up sharply.
"The loss of their sight? You mean they used to be able to see?" he asked quickly.
"Yes, Harry," Dumbledore nodded. "Shadow Walkers are not born that way…they are human first."
"Do they choose to become part of this cult willingly?" Sirius asked. "Or are they forced?"
"Willingly, always," Dumbledore replied. "They will extend an offer to join them to anyone that they believe might accept, but they will never force it upon you. They treat each other with the greatest respect."
"Pity they can't treat the rest of us that way," Sirius said, angrily.
"They much prefer not to deal with the rest of us," Dumbledore said quietly. "It is the reason they become what they are…"
"What do you mean?" Harry asked, not quite understanding.
"I mean that the Shadow Walkers used to be people who feel they were unaccepted by those around them…when they change over, they become part of a family. They treat each other kindly, as they feel they were treated quite the opposite before."
"You mean…they were orphans?" Harry asked quietly. "Like me?"
"Some of them, yes," Dumbledore nodded gently.
"How is it that they change over then?" Sirius asked. "What does one have to do to become a Shadow Walker?"
"The details on that are very unclear," Dumbledore began slowly, "We know they possess an item…an orb…that holds tremendous power. Only the Shadow Walkers themselves can use it…to everyone else it is useless. It is believed that this is the source of their powers…and their existence."
"So then it must also be their weakness," Sirius said darkly. "If we can find it…"
"Sirius Black," Dumbledore spoke up suddenly, his voice very still and grave, "that is most certainly not an option. You cannot destroy the orb."
"If we can save Harry by…" Sirius began to argue, heatedly.
"We will find a way," Dumbledore insisted, firmly, his eyes boring into Sirius' own. "But we will do it without wiping out their entire race. We are not murderers."
"Oh I see," Sirius spoke harshly, "so it's alright that they murder Harry for something he didn't even do…"
"Sirius don't," Harry said faintly, shaking his head. "Professor Dumbledore is right…I don't want to kill anyone…"
"And if we did want to," Marzia spoke up at last, "it would be a nearly impossible task to try and get to the orb. You'd most likely die trying…"
"Alright so then what do we do?" Sirius asked, still angry. "Sit around and wait for them to attack again? How do we know that Harry is even safe anymore?"
"He is safe because they do not know where he is," Dumbledore replied. "The more witches and wizards that are around, the better hidden he becomes from them."
"That will only hold them off for so long…you know that, right?" Marzia asked softly. "It's only a matter of time…"
"I realize that, yes," Dumbledore nodded grimly, before looking up at Harry once more. "I think it is best that you make sure to keep the crystals close by as often as possible. I will be honest with you…there is little we can do to protect against them. They are essentially invincible against our magic, but it seems your magic has some effect on them. If you should run into one of them again, the only option we have is to try and get information from them…to find out why they are after you…"
"Oh that won't be too hard," Harry said weakly, his voice completely devoid of humor. "I'm sure they'll be much obliged to sit down and have a chat with me."
"Let us hope it does not come to that," Dumbledore spoke seriously. "As soon as I am in office at the ministry, I will be using any resources available to try and contact the Cult of Shadows…with any luck, I will find out what we need to know before another confrontation can take place.
"I hope so…" Harry said quietly, feeling only doubt in his gut.
The end of the month finally arrived, and Sirius had barely taken his eyes off of Harry over the few days that had passed since the attack. Harry was glad that his godfather cared for him, but at times the extra attention would border on sheer annoyance and he began to wonder if soon Sirius would insist on watching him dress, among other things.
"You do realize…if the Shadow Walkers did show, you wouldn't be able to do anything anyway," Harry had said to him one day. "So there's no need for you to follow me around…"
"I don't care," Sirius replied stubbornly, "It makes me feel better…"
Harry simply rolled his eyes, realizing he would have to just deal with it. He was sure that after a few more days…a week at the most, Sirius would begin to calm down again, and things would resume to normal. Harry was now quite glad he'd accepted the position at Hogwart's, as he'd be surrounded by hundreds of witches and wizards every day non-stop, which would certainly make him feel safer…more at ease. But until then he was comforted by the fact that the Shadow Walkers didn't know where he was, and for the time being at least, he was safe.
Harry's eighteenth birthday arrived at last, and he spent the earlier part of the day at home with Sirius and Marzia. Ron and Hermione had told him not to make any plans, for they wanted to take him out that night, and Harry was more than happy to see them, when they finally apparated into the living room in the late afternoon of July 31st. Sirius tried to convince him to stay…but Harry was having none of it. He assured Sirius he would be fine; he would still be surrounded by other wizards, after all, before the three friends set off for the evening.
They took the floo network, as Harry had no idea where they'd be apparating to, simply calling out 'Station 462,' before being whisked off into the swirling colors. When Harry's feet hit the ground again, he stepped out of the ashes into a large, cream colored room, with people crossing by back and forth, heading to and from various other floo grates, each of which had what at first glance appeared to be a clock just above the opening. There were a dozen of them all together that Harry could see, and as he stepped off, he was surprised to see Ron hand six knuts from his pocket to a small man in blue robes, before he beckoned for Harry and Hermione to follow him.
"What was that all about?" Harry asked curiously as the three friends stepped out onto a quaint little street in the middle of Wizarding London. There were children running about and couples out for a walk in the early summer evening, as Harry, Ron and Hermione strolled by.
"That was a Floo Station," Ron replied, pleasantly. "You can use them to get around…but you have to pay a toll."
"Are there many of them?" Harry asked.
"All over the world," Hermione nodded. "Though it would cost a great deal more if you were to travel across countries and such."
"And they'd be able to tell this, how?" Harry laughed.
"The grates have dials on them, didn't you notice?" Hermione asked. "It points to the correct toll amount depending on if you've come from a local station…or someplace farther away."
"Oh," Harry replied, grinning faintly. The three continued their walk up the cobblestone road, nodding and smiling at those who passed by, before coming to a stop in front of a small, cozy looking cottage. There was a sign out front that said 'Bembley's Brilliant Banquet.'
"Here we are," Ron said, cheerfully.
Harry glanced at the building, noticing nothing extraordinary about it. It looked like any other house along the street except for the sign at the front, but it didn't matter to him. He followed his friends up the walkway, happily and the three of them stepped through the door.
The inside of the restaurant was warm and friendly. It was far more spacious than it appeared to be from the outside, stretching back further than Harry could see, and filled with witches and wizards of all sorts. There were candles along the walls, which were old and rustic looking, the hard floor was the same color as the walls, a deep, dark brown, and nearly everything was made of wood. A bar sat in the center of the room, with many stools surrounding it, most all of them occupied, and tables were scattered about all around it. Along the sides, there were booths of various sizes, all set into the wall, for privacy, each one lit by a soft, golden lantern hanging from above.
Harry looked around, smiling, already loving the restaurant, as a rather tall, thin blonde-haired man in red robes came towards them.
"Can I help you?" he asked in a wispy voice, a permanent smile etched on his face.
"Oh, yes," Ron said, stepping forward. "Um…reservations under Weasley…for four."
"Ah yes," the man nodded, knowingly. "One in your party has already arrived…right this way please," he said briskly, gesturing for the three friends to follow.
"Four?" Harry asked, curiously, as they made their way through the maze of tables and chairs.
"Mm-hmm," Ron nodded, casually. "Four."
Harry raised an eyebrow at his friend, who merely grinned back, before turning his head away to keep track of their host once again.
Less than a minute later, they were brought to a stop at one of the booths Harry had been admiring when they'd entered, to find someone sitting inside already.
"Mel," Harry smiled, as she slid out of her seat to greet them. "I didn't think you'd be able to make it…"
"It's your birthday, Harry," Mel smiled back at him, taking his hands in hers. "Did you really think I wouldn't come?"
"But…Jack," Harry began. "I don't want him to…"
"Jack will be fine for a few hours, trust me," Mel said calmly, though Harry could see the strain in her eyes. "I'm sure he'll just sleep until I get back."
"Your waiter will be with you momentarily," the host spoke up again, softly, bowing his head faintly and heading off back towards the front.
The four friends nodded, then quickly took their seats in the booth, as they were blocking up the flow of traffic taking up the aisle. Mel and Hermione took the inside corners, with Harry and Ron on the outside.
"Were you waiting here long?" Ron asked Mel once they were all situated.
"Not at all," Mel replied, shaking her head. "I thought you'd said seven…not seven-thirty…so I would have been late," she grinned. "I guess it worked out better this way."
"Ah, so that's the secret," Harry said jokingly, grinning at Mel. "We just have to tell you the wrong time from now on…"
Mel simply rolled her eyes and sighed, dramatically.
"The abuse I put up with from you…"
Harry just laughed in reply; very glad Mel was here. He'd talked to her only briefly over the last few days, to make sure she was alright after what had happened, though he hadn't told her any of what he'd found out.
"So, Ron," Mel began pleasantly, "Harry tells me you may have a job as a professional quidditch player in your future…as keeper for the Magpies…"
"That's right," Ron nodded, beaming from ear to ear.
"You mean…you got it? You're in?" Harry asked, excitedly.
"Mr. Fienman asked me if I wanted the position last night," Ron told them, a broad smile on his face.
"That's wonderful!" Mel exclaimed.
"Congratulations Ron!" Harry said, truly happy for his friend. Hermione put her hand out to where Ron's lay on the edge of the table squeezing it gently and smiling up at him, it was obvious she'd already heard his news, but she was still excited for him.
"What about you, Harry?" Ron asked after a moment. "Have you finally decided which team you're going to go for? Or has the manager of the Falcons persuaded you at last?" he joked.
"Um…no, Ron, he didn't," Harry replied, realizing he'd never mentioned anything about Dumbledore's offer to them.
"Alright, then what have you decided on?" Mel asked, smiling. "You told me you'd know in a week…and it's been a week…"
Harry glanced briefly at the smiling, expectant faces of his friends, before speaking.
"Well…interesting story, that. Professor Dumbledore asked me if I would consider going back to Hogwarts for just a year…"
"Go back? For what?" Ron asked.
"Probably to work there, silly," Hermione said, playfully, "now hush and let him finish."
"Did he offer you a specific position?" Mel asked.
"Yes," Harry replied, smirking slightly. "He wants me to teach…Defense Against the Dark Arts."
"And your answer was?" Ron asked, eagerly.
"I told him yes," Harry replied lightly but continued on quickly, "Though I truly wasn't sure at first…actually I'm still not sure. I don't know if I'll be any good at teaching and…"
"Harry that's wonderful though!" Mel exclaimed, excitedly. "Don't even worry about it…I know you'll do great!"
"Oh you know, do you?" Harry asked, teasingly.
"Yes, we do," Hermione said, confidently. "And so does Dumbledore, obviously…or he wouldn't have asked you."
"That's what Sirius said too," Harry said with a grin.
"Harry that's so wicked!" Ron said, smiling widely, a mischievous glint in his eyes as he went on, "So what does Snape think of this?"
"I'm sure he's less than pleased," Harry said, shaking his head faintly. "The last time I saw him he knew only that Dumbledore had offered the position to someone…and that that someone wasn't him. I don't know if he's heard that it's me or not…"
He trailed off as the waiter finally approached their table, greeting them politely and naming off the specials for the evening. The four of them gave their orders in turn, and the waiter took their menus from them. He thanked them briskly, before turning swiftly and striding back up the aisle.
"Well what does it matter what Snape thinks?" Mel asked with a shrug, continuing the discussion. "He can't do anything more than grumble and complain…"
"And make my life much harder…" Harry added. "Even Sirius agreed with me on that…"
"And speaking of which," Hermione began quickly. "Why was he trying to talk you out of coming tonight? And what difference does it make that you're around other witches and wizards?"