So, here's 13. Please R/R, more A/N at the bottom. I have reworked and hopefully improved chapter one, so if you have forgotten what happens in the beginning, I urge you to read chapter one again, but the plot is the same, it is only a bit more fleshed out.
Chapter 13: Faces of the Hero
He was sitting idly on the sofa when Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville returned.
"Well, I think we should check back, just to make sure — Huh? Harry!" Hermione exclaimed.
"You're awake?" Ron said, demonstrating his powers of observation, which drew a snort from Harry, which he disguised as a nod. He had become good at that sort of thing.
"Yeah, I'm feeling fine, so I thought I would head back here. Why don't you three sit down?"
Ginny sat next to him, putting her arm around him, as if to reassure herself that a real, solid boy was there, not some fake image. "Are you sure you're perfectly okay? Pomfrey doesn't know you're here, does she?"
"Nope. So how have you been?" Harry asked promptly, before any further comments could be made.
"Fine, what about you?" Hermione said quickly, struggling to keep the curiosity out of her voice, but failing.
"Not so good, Voldemort was up to the usual; pointless killing of innocents and rubbing my inability to do anything in my face. Dreamless Sleep Potions are the best thing since sliced bread…"
Only Hermione recognized the Muggle saying, but she didn't laugh.
"Do you want to tell us what happened?" Ginny said, looking at those hardened green eyes. Though his face may have remained the same, his eyes couldn't hide anything, especially the pain he was feeling right now.
Harry nodded, having already decided that he would tell them the majority of what had happened. "Well, Snape and I were dueling, right? So Snape was clearly better than me, but I felt something weird. He was anticipating my moves too well. I concentrated and realized he was using really soft Legilimency, just enough to know perhaps what area I was aiming for with a spell. I… I should have just shoved him out and left it like that, but instead, I rammed into his head… which started a mental battle. I could have just eradicated him, and turned my attention back to the physical aspect of the duel, but I was so angry with him; I really wanted to break into his mind. I think I put up a good fight, but I obviously lost. Then, at that precise moment, Voldemort decided to crawl out his hole and take control of my mind, forcing me to see what was going on in his world. So, I had to see the bloody bastard unearthing my relatives. It was so wrong… just perverted on so many levels. I don't know… I didn't cry when I heard they had died; I was a bit sad, but there was so much going on, I just… didn't care. I had saved Lupin and Tonks, and I couldn't care less about Vernon. But then… everyone in my neighborhood… thirty people… were killed, and I know it was because Voldemort wants to make me feel guilty. He wants me to feel that it is my fault they died, simply because I exist. Then… if you really want to know, he went to an orphanage and burned it down, killing the kids inside. Don't ask me why, and don't ask me how he could have done such a thing; he's just not human. I… let's just not mention this again. I mean, we've always known Voldemort was fucked up… we've known things like this have been happening."
"But you haven't seen slaughter on this scale firsthand, have you," Ginny said, holding on to him tight.
"No. But I knew it was happening… it was just a matter of time until it happened in my area. All around the Muggle World, there has been 'disasters' and 'fires'. It was just a matter of time… The thing is, at Hogwarts, it's easy to feel distant from it all- like the war is some far away anathema that won't directly affect our nice, school lives."
"But you didn't do that, you've understood how imminent the danger was, and you have been preparing for it," Luna said. "You never tried to distance yourself from outside events, you did the opposite."
Harry opened his mouth to respond, but then exhaled in thought. "You're right. I was just shocked to see how much of a factor time is… I paid attention to the large attacks and battles, but I forgot that every single day, Death Eaters kill more people. I did have a sense of… urgency, but it wasn't enough."
No one could say anything. What was there to say? They just instinctively knew that they had to keep moving. Harry knew that the sooner he faced Voldemort, the sooner this bloodshed could stop… or the sooner he would be free, and not have to worry about the woes of the world. He closed his eyes; that would not happen! He could not think along that destructive train of thought.
"So what do we do now?" Ron asked. "What can we do?"
"What we do is get back to what we have been doing, except this time, take it seriously. I'm talking to myself here, as well. We stop thinking about Voldemort's goddamned shenanigans, and we concentrate on improving ourselves, so that we can fight his forces eventually. We ruthlessly and analytically find out where we need work, be it in dueling or… management of anger and emotions."
Ron looked at his feet when Harry said the last part of the statement.
"He's right," Neville said. "We can't get down and mope about the tragedies. We have to… just stuff it away for now, clear it from our minds. I had always thought that we would, I don't know, be able to wait until after our Hogwarts graduation to get involved in the war, but I'm guessing that isn't even an option anymore."
Harry nodded. "I know I've been wearing you down by making you lot train so much, and I know I have frustrated you sometimes by spending more time training than with you, but… it's only going to get worse. That was what I realized this Halloween, playtime is over. I… don't know if it's fair to ask more of you… but I have to train harder, I just know that."
"We'll help you. We may not like it, but I for one will be damned if I go back on my promise to see this through with you," Ron said staunchly.
"You never made any such promise," Harry pointed out.
"I never said it out loud."
Harry looked around at his friends. "Well… thank you, Ron. That means a lot to me. I may not say this enough, but as long as we're a group, I think we'll win in the end, no matter how difficult and unlikely it may seem now. Anyway, enough touchy-feely stuff — we have work to do."
Ginny nodded. "Harry, will you be okay? Will you have nightmares?"
Harry hated being reminded of his occasional mental troubles, but he kept a calm face, knowing that Ginny was just concerned, and responded, "I'll be fine, Ginny. For tonight, we will practice Occlumency; we all know how important that is. Then, I want each of you to do Snape's homework; find out what you did wrong in the dueling tournament, and what needs work. Ron, look at me. Mate, you're not a bad duelist," Harry said firmly.
Ron tried to interject something, but Harry plowed on. "As I've said before, your problem is nerves. I don't mean getting nervous, like last year with Quidditch, I mean allowing people to get on your nerve. Remember, whoever gets angry first, loses. Whether in arguments or fights, if you get angry, you're fighting with your nerves, when you need to fight with the right combination of mind, body, and heart. I know this will be hard, and you may hate me for saying this, but it is high time that you seriously get this problem worked out. I had a similar problem; I was impulsive, rash, emotional, and short-sighted. Then, I changed, simple as that, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Do you understand what I'm saying? You have a few flaws… just calmly and methodically eradicate them. If you need help, I'll help you in any way I can."
Ron looked at Harry, stunned. "Harry… I can't. I can't. It's just a part of who I am. I'll always be Ron. Ron the hothead. The dolt who is a friend of Harry. The tactless one who Hermione must have sustained brain damage to date."
"See, that type of statement is exactly what I'm talking about. That was probably the most tactless sentence I had ever heard from you."
Hermione sighed and glared at Ron. "You think I sustained brain damage?"
"Merlin, no!" Ron said quickly. "But… Harry, don't bother. Just let me be; I can't be like you… smart and coolheaded."
"We're all different, Ron. Harry isn't trying to turn you into him. If you would just take in his message, you would realize that what he is saying is that everyone has certain areas in which they need improvement, and for you it is keeping a cool head," Ginny told her brother. "If you learn how to stay calm and think clearly, next year, when you are in the dueling tournament, you will certainly beat Blaise."
"Precisely," Harry replied. "I can teach you powerful spells, but only you can develop your own mind. I can give you advice, but… it won't be fun. No one likes getting lectured."
Ron sighed and looked at Hermione. She nodded at him, indicating she clearly agreed with Harry. "We're training for a reason Ron. We're training because Harry thinks we need certain skills to survive and be successful in the wizarding world. Why don't you just try?"
"Fine. What do I do?"
"You accept that nothing will happen overnight," Harry said.
"Okay, got it. Then what?"
"No, you really need to think about it. Think about what you can do each day to literally change your mind for the better. Identify what needs to be changed, and construct plans accordingly."
"Ron, don't feel down. I… for fifteen years of my life, I was… I was invisible; a nobody. I… didn't talk to anyone or make any friends. I just spent my years crying about my parents, isolating myself from everyone, and… having dreams in my mind, but never taking a chance to play them out. Think about that. I was, in every sense of the word, pathetic. I wasn't brave; I desperately wanted the friendship that you three had, but I was way too shy to try to connect with anyone."
"That's not true, Neville. You never were pathetic," Hermione said gently, seeing the momentary lack of self-esteem in Neville's eyes.
"I don't think you were either, but the important part is that you became brave and made friends, Neville. Look how different you are? See, Ron, what Neville is saying is exactly right, even though he deserves a lot more credit than he gives himself. He is living proof; if you just will yourself to change, it can happen over time," Harry said sincerely. "See, we can tell you are changing already. The old Ron would have been royally angered by my lectures and would have stomped off. Think about it." With that, Harry decided there wasn't much else to say. An insidious voice in his head questioned the need to 'change' Ron. Ron, who didn't know how to rein in his anger or hold his tongue, was his best friend, and a good person, despite his minor flaws. Ron annoyed him, but Ron was in more ways than not, his best mate. What was the need to tamper with his character, to mold him into a figure that would suit Harry's needs? Harry utterly despised it when people tried to mold him, so shouldn't he lay off Ron and let any change in Ron come from within?
Harry blinked, ostracizing those thoughts from his mind. The fact of the matter was that the situation called for certain people, and if Ron wanted to be in the thick of the situation, he would have to change. It was the same with Hermione; this year, everyone had different roles, and the only option was to fit the roles. If Ron truly wanted to stand next to him in the war — and Harry didn't doubt Ron's promise and will — then he would have to change as quickly as possible, and Harry, the one in the position to best mold Ron, was obligated to ignore his nagging doubts and contribute his best effort to the task at hand. He only hoped that in the end, all of this 'training' and 'helping Ron deal with his temper' would truly help his friend and make him happier and healthier. He hoped that someday he would receive confirmation that he had truly improved his friends, not simply turned them into adept, formidable champions for his cause. Until that day, he had to believe that helping Ron deal with his anger, helping Hermione lose her illusions about authority and books, would yield only positive results.
Harry and his friends continued their training by the Quidditch field in the morning, but Harry was unable to find a place for them to regularly practice magic. They did go to Grimmauld Place twice a week, where Lupin and Tonks practiced dueling and Apparition with them, but Harry kept the days that they met each week different, because if he started to meet them regularly or too often, people would catch on. Dumbledore had probably already figured it out, but as long as he didn't figure out about how exactly they traveled, Harry wasn't too concerned.
Harry had begun to drive his friends harder in the mornings, saying that the only way to continually make progress was to continually increase the intensity and level of the workouts. He knew he was a bit harsh, but he knew that as he was here at Hogwarts, Voldemort was out there recruiting and making diabolical plans. Despite all of his work so far, Harry still felt as if he wasn't doing enough to fight Voldemort. There wasn't much he could do, other than start up the DA, which he didn't really believe would be a good use of his time. First of all, he would have to allow it to be supervised, and on top of that, he would have to deal with the many people who would come just to see the Chosen One. He would have to start where he left off last year, giving himself less time to study advanced magic. While this could be seen as selfish, Harry thought that if the world needed him to take out Voldemort, then he would spend his time transforming himself into a person that could destroy the Dark Lord.
And so, as November began, Harry threw himself fully into his training, determined to improve himself in every area that needed improving. He soon learned that he would have help in this area, but not just from the Half-Blood Prince.
"Mr. Potter, please see me after class," McGonagall said the day after Halloween.
Harry nodded; he had forgotten about McGonagall's offer. His head had been filled with other recent events. Luckily, he had everything prepared.
"Harry, have you had time to thoroughly come to a decision concerning potential Animagus training?" she asked.
"Yes Professor," Harry replied. "I have thoroughly researched the training, and I have taken the Animagus Revealing Potion."
"You what?" McGonagall shrieked. "Harry, you didn't go into the trance unsupervised…?"
"Harry that was extremely foolish! You were lucky that no problems arose while you were in the trance. Do you know that the slightest mistake in making the potion can cause the body to enter a seizure or worse?"
"I double checked everything, Professor. Don't you know that I'm a star Potion's student?" Harry's grin dissolved when McGonagall's face didn't lighten.
"Never have I seen such foolishness. Even your father had the sense to have someone nearby, even if that someone was Sirius Black," McGonagall plowed on. She took a deep breath. "Well, did you see anything?"
Harry wiped the ashamed look off of his face and replied, "Yes, Professor. I am a Black Hippogriff."
McGonagall looked at him strangely. "A hippogriff? That is… well, I hesitate to say impossible, but there are no records of hippogriff Animagi, most likely due to the complicated bone structure and anatomy of such a beast. Are you absolutely sure, Harry? You saw a hippogriff? Perhaps it was really a large bird or… obscure land creature?"
"I'm absolutely sure, Professor. It looks a lot like Hagrid's new Hippogriff, although a bit smaller, and black with green eyes," Harry said firmly.
"And the potion, you are sure, was…"
"Correct," Harry stated. Of course, she didn't need to know that he used an illegal potion that cost him more Galleons than it would take to supply the Gryffindor Quidditch Team with brand new Firebolts.
"Have you studied the hippogriff in detail yet?" McGonagall asked. She was still shocked by the fact that eventually the boy in front of her would be able to turn into a massive winged beast, with a wingspan of twenty-four feet. Merlin… she had taught Transfiguration for a very long time, and in that time she had taught many talented Animagi, but she had never had to deal with a transformation that involved the head and wings of a giant eagle, the enormous claws of a lion, and the sleek legs of a horse. It was a nightmare, but at the same time, she was intrigued and even a bit excited.
"Yes, I have. I've spent a lot of time with Thunderwing."
"And you can close your eyes and produce an exact replica of the animal you saw in your trance?"
"I think so." Harry closed his eyes. "Yeah."
"Well you certainly have prepared admirably. I must say I am impressed. I trust that you are being truthful down to the last degree in answering my questions?"
"Yes, professor," Harry said.
"Good. Even the slightest misunderstanding can cause problems. Now, I was expecting to have to work with you on the potion, but you are a few lessons ahead of me, it would seem. I think that we should meet twice a week for an hour each, and it would be prudent of you to practice for at least one hour a day in between lessons. I am not sure, but I believe that should allow you to fully complete your form by the end of your Hogwarts career."
Harry refrained from doing anything besides nodding. He really didn't plan on taking over say, six months.
"For now, you should start by attempting to get a degree of control over your body without using a wand. Try to change the length of your fingernails. This will be a good exercise to improve your focus and concentration as well."
Harry nodded. He could already do that, but he decided he had given her enough surprises for the day. This way, he could pretend to practice, and use the time to work out the issue he was having with Snape…
Harry shut the door behind him and looked at his Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, bringing back memories of unpleasant lessons that happened a year ago.
"Well… we might as well get to the point. You broke into my mind, and know I have been learning from the Half-Blood Prince. And… you are saying that you are the Prince?"
"How do I know you aren't lying?" Harry said, eyeing his professor closely.
"Do you need me a cast some choice spells on you to prove it?" Snape sneered. "Potter, use your brain, why else would I have been suspicious of you when you not-so-subtly began to know spells that I created?"
"There's some pretty dark stuff in there," Harry prompted.
Snape smirked. "I wouldn't expect you to be able to stomach it, boy."
Harry's eyes narrowed. "What do you want from me? Why did you call me here? Do you want the Tome back? Or do you want to sneer for an hour about how you are better than me at dueling?"
"This isn't about what I want," Snape said. "Keep the book."
"Then what? If you're looking to make me swear not to tell Dumbledore you're one of the darkest wizards alive, other than Voldemort and perhaps one or two of his inner Death Eaters, you will need to give me proof that you aren't one of Voldemort's inner Death Eaters," Harry said threateningly.
Snape rolled his eyes at Harry. "And Dumbledore would believe you over me? No, you will not approach him. And… Potter, you do realize that you have been learning illegal arts. Why is it that you say 'Dark wizard' with such venom?"
Harry was about to blurt out something along the lines of 'because a Dark wizard murdered my parents', but then he stopped himself. "I'm not concerned about whether or not you are a dark wizard or not, I need to know if you're in Voldemort's league!"
Snape nodded. "You crave the knowledge and the power, and that is a good thing. Can you blame me for being the same way? For attempting to become as powerful as I could?"
"I suppose I can't. I suppose that you have managed to teach me more than any other professor at Hogwarts…" Harry said uneasily. Harry's face hardened abruptly. "But you're avoiding my question."
"Have you not learned that nothing at all in this world comes in the form of a direct answer?" Snape asked, smirking victoriously.
"What. Do. You. Want," Harry growled, his mind bubbling to know what Snape was angling for in this conversation. "It's high time for a direct answer."
"I am an opportunist, Potter. I never would have expected my knowledge to enter your mind, but it has. We are in an unexpected situation, and all we can do is make the best of it. You need to learn how to fight Voldemort, and I need someone to kill the bastard, so I can finally be free," Snape said. "I want him dead as much as you do, do not doubt that."
"You weren't inclined to teach me last year," Harry pointed out.
"You weren't inclined to teach yourself last year. You never put extra time into preparing for battle, you never excelled at your studies… you were weak, in just about every way imaginable. This year, you have changed, and I, an opportunist, am aware that teaching you the arts you will need to fight the war would benefit the both of us."
"So basically, last year, you were sure Voldemort was going to come out on top, so you didn't want to risk your neck by appearing to help me. You're on Voldemort's side when the murdering and torturing is going swimmingly; you're ready to wear a mask and hide your true beliefs when it looks like Voldemort will come out on top…. And now, now that I have a chance, you're changing sides."
"Can you blame me?" Snape asked. "Last year, did you believe you had the slightest chance of winning?"
Harry froze for a moment. Then, he exhaled and said, "No, I was sure I wouldn't live to see twenty. Still, you… if you hate Voldemort as much as you claim to, why would you have not, at the very least, taught me Occlumency properly? If you hate him, then you should be willing to risk your life to defeat him."
"It would not just be a risk of my life had you learned Occlumency, Potter. I was specifically instructed to make sure you made no progress. If you had stopped dreaming of the Department of Mysteries, I would have been killed. Listen, don't interrupt…. You showed no special ability then, so I believed that even if I had risked my life, I would have risked it for nothing. I thought it out and came to the conclusion that even if I defied Voldemort and taught you Occlumency, you would still be mincemeat. The issue of whether or not I am willing to risk my life to defeat Voldemort is not in the least pertinent to this issue."
"Fine, that I can understand. I wouldn't have betted on myself either last year. Why have you changed you mind? Because you're an opportunist, and you think that now I will be the victor? I'm still leagues behind him, Professor. He can still make mincemeat out of me, not that much has changed," Harry said.
"Do you truly believe that? Do you still believe you have no chance?" Snape asked.
"No, but I would expect you to think that," Harry retorted.
"I think you have no chance unless you seriously bear down and start to learn," Snape said condescendingly.
"I have been! You have no idea how hard I have been working."
"No, I don't. What I do know is that whatever you have been doing, it isn't enough," Snape retorted. "I think Halloween clearly delineated your many shortcomings."
"I'm doing as much as I can."
"Well the fact of the matter is that more needs to be done. To defeat Voldemort, you need his knowledge," Snape said grimly.
"Where are you going with this?" Harry asked wearily. Snape was just repeating facts that Harry knew. He knew that however much he was preparing, he needed to do more. He knew that he had to learn the types of spells that Voldemort had mastered.
"Perhaps Dumbledore can teach you… perhaps you can gain a repertoire of spells fit to combat Voldemort from him."
"You know that won't happen," Harry said irritably. "Dumbledore is only interested in preaching. I don't doubt that he would be an extremely effective in teaching me how to wield magic if he dedicated all of his considerable power to the task of solely preparing me for the final battle. I just know that he won't do so — I'm not interested in his agenda, whatever it may be, and he's not interested in mine."
Snape nodded. "Luckily for you, there is another option. There is a man who has, from the age of eleven, pursued knowledge with determination and fervor, and I do not mean the type of knowledge that a Ravenclaw would pursue. That man was blessed with extremely sharp powers of the mind and unbarred ambition. Why do you think I joined Voldemort? Because I was eager to learn all I could. Unfortunately, he sensed that I was becoming a threat to him, and he destroyed a portion of my magical core. My mind is as sharp as ever, and I am his equal when it comes to Legilimency, but he crippled me, Potter. Oh, he was very clever about it. He Obliviated me afterwards, and for some reason, I believed that Dumbledore was the one who blocked me from reaching my full potential. The obliviation didn't work though; I was aware that Voldemort had done something to make me believe that Dumbledore had destroyed a portion of my magic, and eventually I managed to regain my full memories. To this day, he doesn't know that I am aware of his meddling. I was furious, but I kept up appearances, pretending to hate Dumbledore with all my heart. I was so close to giving up… but I forced myself to accept that I would only be average when it came to power. With a vengeance, I perfected my Occlumency and Legilimency, and while keeping up appearances, I learned as many spells as I could. The Lestranges and Malfoys… I found out their secrets, spells passed down from father to son…"
"That's why you're the perfect spy, isn't it? Voldemort thinks you have an ironclad reason for hating every fiber of Dumbledore's body, and Dumbledore thinks the same thing in regards to your hatred of Voldemort."
"Why did you join the bastard in the first place?" Harry asked, ignoring Snape's question.
"I told you; I craved power and he offered it to me. A… friend brought me to him, and I was enthralled by his displays of power. I am not proud of my actions, but the past is the past."
"Did you hate Muggleborns? In your fifth year you called my mother a Mudblood, even when she was defending you."
Snape didn't answer at first. "I didn't like Muggleborns, Potter. I didn't like Muggles. That is neither here nor there."
Harry knew from the finality in Snape's voice that he would receive no further information. "So you joined Voldemort, and then started to hate him when he weakened you? That is the great reason that Dumbledore has for trusting you?"
"Were you expecting something different, Potter? Perhaps you were under the illusion that I was searching for some idealistic notion of redemption? Ridiculous!" Snape said curtly. "I hate him because I could have been great… and he limited my potential. I want to spit on his dead body; I want this mark off of my arm. I know that whatever chance I had of killing him is gone, so the only way to get my wish is through you."
"You know, Snape, you weren't kidding when you said you weren't a good guy. But… you are right about one thing; good and evil doesn't matter here if you can honestly teach me how to fight Voldemort. I suppose it doesn't matter that the Ministry would put you in Azkaban if they were aware of half of the things you have told me," Harry replied. "For what it is worth, you didn't deserve to be picked on by my father, especially if that was a major factor in your decision to join Voldemort. I think that if you can promise to teach me seriously, without deriding me, then I'll promise to do my best to learn."
Snape nodded. "Then you will continue whatever exercises you have been doing, and on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, you will report to my office at 8 p.m. You will not mention what I have told you to anyone. I will not be Professor Snape to you; I am the Half-Blood Prince, Master of Dark Arts, and all that we will discuss is training. We will not waste time on the topics of our pasts again. I do not know who you are, and you do not know me; the only thing of importance will be transforming you into someone who can kill Voldemort and his Death Eaters. You will come ready to learn and you will follow my instructions precisely, down to every last detail."
"I can do that," Harry replied. "Professor."
Harry didn't tell anyone about Snape's offer. He thoroughly read over the Tome of Shadows, and realized that he was able to successfully cast only one third of the spells in the book. Once again, wondered if he was doing the right thing by foraying into Dark magic. He couldn't help but wonder how marvelous it would be to be able to stand up to Voldemort and match the man's power, but he also knew that he was becoming something that his parents and friends would… have been ashamed of?
Harry shook his head; he would worry about what they thought when it was their judgment that would keep evil from overtaking his world. He had to stay firm to this path that lay before him; the path into the shadows; a path that he didn't know if he would ever emerge from. He had to sully his soul with the darkest arts that would allow him to fight Voldemort on even ground. Someone had to do it.
He sighed. Dumbledore didn't want to work with him. Snape, on the other hand, appeared to have some reason to work with him. One told Harry to embrace his ability to love, and the other told Harry to embrace his power and fight. Harry knew who he agreed with; he wanted to save lives, and to do that, he needed to take lives. Love… love wouldn't help him here, just as it hadn't helped him when Sirius died. Perhaps there was honestly some way that love would kill Voldemort and save him, but Harry had no proof that such a blessing existed. War fed the cold and strong, while it buried the weak and caring. Being weak and caring had a nasty way of leaving him writhing on the ground pitifully, screaming in pain from a Cruciatus Curse… or staring at a veil, tears in his eyes, a hole in his heart.
And so, Harry forced himself to learn all that he could from his new teacher. Instead of holding a candle against the shadows that had surrounded his life, he embraced them, hoping desperately that power would bring him what love would not: victory. Heaven be damned, Harry had to journey to hell to slay the monster.
Harry didn't tell anyone about the new developments. His friends thought he just went off to train on those evenings. It was better that way; he knew his friends would stand by his side, but he also knew that there were places to where they could not journey. Harry was content to keep them unaware of this recent development.
In the flurry of events that came after Halloween, Harry had forgotten about the interview he had given. Of course, when he had walked down to breakfast, a bit late, to find everyone holding a copy of the Daily Prophet and staring at him, his memory was jogged. It was a nasty shock really, remembering that on top of his rigorous schedule, he would have to deal with publicity, even though he asked for it in this case. Biting his lip in anticipation, he sat down and read his Daily Prophet.
HARRY POTTER SPEAKS OUT AGAIN:
Ladies and Gentlemen, when one Harry Potter, also known as the Boy-Who-Lived and the Chosen One, gave an interview last year in which he named a number of individuals as Death Eaters and told the truth about You-Know-Who's reincarnation, he was ridiculed by many. Luckily, this reporter, the faithful Rita Skeeter, believed our hero. I was not surprised when the truth came out; that the members of society that Harry Potter had named as Death Eaters were indeed Death Eaters, and You-Know-Who was indeed alive.
Minister Fudge has often been berated for his lack of foresight in dealing with You-Know-Who, but an interview with Harry Potter put the situation in a different light. As Potter put it, "the Minister and I do have a plan to defeat You-Know-Who. I cannot reveal it, and I cannot promise it will be quick and easy, but we have been working together to develop a series of actions that will eventually defeat You-Know-Who." Parts of Minister Fudge's contributions to the plan include revolutionizing the Auror Department. Harry Potter praises Fudge for expanding the Auror Department and it is known that Harry Potter is personally working with the Aurors to prepare them to fight Death Eaters.
But that is not all, not by a long shot. Potter has revealed that he is indeed the Chosen One. As Fudge put it, "Potter does indeed have the You-Know-Who situation under control. He has beat him once and can beat him again." When this reporter asked why our savior cannot save us at the moment, he replied, "It is not a matter of simply assassinating You-Know-Who. It boils down to a war in between Death Eaters and the Ministry. We are building up our army at the moment. I have gotten past my differences with Minister Fudge and he cannot express the remorse he feels for his lack of judgment last year. We are working together now to build an army that can ensure the world will be safe. In time; that is the key. It will take time, but if we unite; if you, the person reading this paper, does his part against You-Know-Who, we can eventually have victory."
The results of Potter and Fudge's alliance can be seen in the recent foiled attacks on Longbottom Manor and Bones Manor. Both prominent families were attacked by Death Eaters, many of which had escaped from Azkaban. Potter single handedly defeated multiple high-ranking Death Eaters at Longbottom Manor, while the Ministry foiled the attempted assassination of Amelia Bones. Harry Potter, weakened by his great feat, was assisted by the Ministry, who quickly took the criminals to Azkaban.
That leads to the next of Fudge's wise reforms. Fudge and Potter have gathered a team of the best of the best in fields such as ward construction, prison management, and defense to create a completely impenetrable Azkaban. Potter says, "I was inclined to blame Fudge for not realizing Dementors would side with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, but I must say, I believe his plans for a new Azkaban will surely fix the mess the Dementors created. Soon, we will be able to cut deeply into You-Know-Who's forces and keep him from bolstering his ranks."
This reporter, perhaps the only one who believed in Potter last year, urges readers to not act rashly and remove Fudge from his office. If we derail the plans our Minister has set in motion, we will lose the war. Harry Potter asked me to end this report with this message: "Everyone has a part to play. If you know someone who has been dealing with You-Know-Who or has a Dark Mark on their forearm, do not hesitate to inform the Auror Department or the Minister himself. We will give you protection and ensure that whoever fell in with You-Know-Who cannot hurt any innocents. Everyone needs to contribute something; whether it be with your wand, or simply keeping your eyes open and steering friends and family away from You-Know-Who. If you are a merchant who sells his goods to Death Eaters, then stop, because you are fueling the murderer. If you find yourself in a situation where you are in contact with someone you suspect is in league with You-Know-Who, then do not panic; just use your brain, get to safety, and contact me or the Ministry as soon as possible. I have found that using my brain is what allows me to defeat Death Eaters. What I am asking of you is this; if you can find a way to help, do not hesitate. You too can be a part of the new world the Minister and I are creating. I may be the Chosen One, but I am only one man. The Minister and I, with you, the Wizarding World of Great Britain, behind us, will once and for all destroy all that plagues our society."
"Merlin, she's good," Harry muttered. "That last statement… she really drew that one out. I don't think I said half of that… I sound a bit pretentious, don't I?"
Everyone was looking at him gob smacked. He could hear his name mentioned around the hall… he could see a few Slytherins staring at him angrily. Dumbledore had such an intense look of sadness, of solemn disappointment…
Harry shrugged it all off, telling himself that he had never cared what people thought, so why start now? He had acted how he saw fit and he wouldn't let anyone take that away from him. "Would have been nice if she had written down the truth though… and I don't remember saying 'You Know Who' either…" he mumbled. "Next time I'll make sure that she writes 'Voldemort'."
"Harry, I cannot believe you! You're letting Fudge take credit for everything you and the Order have accomplished. You're getting people to call you the Chosen One and… worship you," Hermione said in horror.
"I told you, Hermione, it wouldn't be pretty. Still, I would have expected you to be the one who wouldn't think about it emotionally," Harry said. He analyzed the look on Hermione's face and guessed that she was at an anger level where she could not control the level of her voice. A quick Muffliato ensured that no one outside of the group's edge of the table would overhear anything.
"But this is just wrong. Look… this 'Everything is under control'… 'Everyone needs to contribute'… what are you trying to accomplish? You're doing exactly what Fudge did last year! Lying to everyone! Are you trying to get people to follow the Chosen One's example and run and to die fighting Voldemort?" Hermione asked.
"Well, that is better than Voldemort suckering them in and sending them against us as fodder. Hermione, just think about it logically. For better or worse, the majority of the Wizarding World is like one big mob. If the leader charges and yells, they yell. If they view the Minister as the leader, and the Minister tells that Harry Potter is a hero, then they respect me. If they respect me, and I convince them to fight against Voldemort, then less people will join Voldemort. Sure, I could let Fudge destroy my reputation, and try to take him down with me, but then it is likely that Voldemort would be the one to profit."
"But it's all lies!" Hermione spat. "Voldemort isn't really weak at all, he's stronger than ever, and if you convince everyone to…"
"To what? Do what they should have been for years? Either I can rouse people against him with lies, or… they can listen to whoever the new Minister will be, who may very well be someone like Umbridge or Lucius Malfoy."
Hermione tried to argue more, but couldn't think of anything to say. "But, Harry… 'My brain has allowed me to defeat hordes of Death Eaters'… you're like Lockhart."
"And if Lockhart, back in his prime, told people to fight Voldemort, then people would have done so. I'd rather have their admiration than hatred… Look, I don't really care if you can't stomach this, all right. Sometimes you have to make decisions on a big scale, and when that happens, there is a mix of good and bad. Getting Fudge sacked would have done more harm than good."
"Because you want a puppet!" Hermione said, her voice getting higher-pitched as she got angrier.
"Yes, exactly. I want someone who will listen to me in office, not someone who may or may not do what is needed. You see, just like Lucius used his influence to get those anti-Muggle laws past, I need to use mine to do the opposite. The next time Dolores writes an anti-Werewolf law, I can just have Fudge veto it, you see?"
"But why can't you get Fudge sacked and work with the next Minister?" Ron asked, finally entering the conversation.
"Because Fudge and I have history. I know things that can put him in Azkaban."
"People are going to die! Why can't you realize it? You don't have a foolproof method of killing Voldemort! People are going to get themselves killed because their hero tells them to," Hermione said angrily.
"Good! If they can take a Death Eater with them, or allow us to capture one, than some good has come out of their existence!" Harry retorted. "Look around, Hermione, when students leave Hogwarts, they will either join the Ministry, the Order, or Voldemort. Anything - anything at all- that I can do to steer them away from Voldemort is a good thing. If I have to give them false hope that Voldemort is doomed, so they won't join him, so be it."
Hermione stalked off, her last sentence containing the words 'heartless' and 'cold' in them.
Harry shrugged and calmly ate his breakfast until someone tapped him on the shoulder.
"Hey Harry," a soft feminine voice said.
He turned around. "Hello Cho."
Neville and Ron turned to each other, instinctively realizing that there was a reason Cho had said hello to Harry and not Harry's friends.
"I just wanted to… I don't know, thank you I guess. This whole year, I haven't seen you around… a lot of people were thinking you were some sort of recluse or something. But now… now we know you're working hard to keep us safe… Merlin, I just feel so bad for all the trouble I put you through," Cho said, a single tear caressing her soft face.
Harry had a nasty feeling that she was expecting to be given some sort of hug. "Don't feel bad, Cho. I would like to think that we had some good times last year."
"I know Cedric would be proud of you."
"He would be proud of you, Cho, because you always held him in your heart. That's all one can ever do," Harry said kindly.
"Well, I decided what I'm going to do," she said, a new firmness in her voice. "I'm going to fight for him memory; I'm going to apply for Auror School."
"Oh…" Harry looked away for a moment. "If that's what you want to do. You have to be sure though; it has to be what you want."
"Well, I think it is. After last year, a lot of things became clear to me. Now I'm sure… you're right; people like me have to help."
Harry sighed. "Okay, Cho. I'm sure you'll have no problem getting in. You were really good last year and quick with the charms, if I remember right."
"Thanks, it was really nice catching up with you," she said, beaming at him.
Harry smiled back, Hermione's words ringing in his head. "Yeah, same here." But don't ask to-
"Would you like to catch up some more during this Hogsmeade weekend coming up? I mean, just a cup of coffee…"
"Hmm, I would really like to, but I'm booked this week, what with Quidditch, homework, umm… visiting the Minister."
"Oh, no problem, I get it," Cho said, giving him one last smile.
Harry nodded back and then exhaled. "Guys, let's go to Charms… Ginny, see you at lunch," he said, giving her a quick kiss. She didn't return it with much enthusiasm, a fact that Harry filed away for later pondering, but she did smile at him.
Harry took the time in Charms to calmly think. Damnit, he hadn't wanted Skeeter to take it this far! He didn't want her to go nuts with this Chosen One nonsense… he just wanted to give Fudge a little credit. Skeeter had taken it upon herself to portray him and Fudge as heroes. Oh well, he thought. Everyone needs a hero; someone has to do it. Hopefully some good will come out of this. What he had said to Hermione was true; every member of the Wizarding World did have a responsibility. If they wanted him to risk his life, then he wanted them to risk theirs. At the very least, some good would come out of the new Auror force and Azkaban. He wasn't arrogant enough to neglect the possibility of this whole operation to come back around and bite him, but he did think that the first part of his operation was a success.
Pretending to pay attention in class, he composed a note that he sincerely hoped would be received well.
You may be mad at me, but you are one of the best Aurors out there. The Minister has now sent you money. Please use it. Also, I would like you to oversee the building of a high-quality Azkaban. You know this will help fight Death Eaters. So for the moment, can you bury whatever anger you may have for me, and just do a good job with the construction? Please, spare no expense. If the Ministry stops funding you, tell me. Also, I know you are an ex-Auror, but we need you to teach the recruits how to fight. I believe it is a role in which you will excel. Once again, spare no expense. You know what is needed to fight Death Eaters; Constant Vigilance and a serious force of soldiers. Think of it this way; we are losing right now, but if we have two strong forces, the Ministry and the Order, against Voldemort, the table may be turned. You know wheat from chaff; make a team of the best Aurors who are prepared to kill and are dedicated to the destruction of Voldemort. Fudge will cooperate with you; if he doesn't please inform me. If in your work you find anyone who is a Voldemort supporter, do not hesitate to cart them off to Azkaban.
You may not like me, but we want the same thing. If you have any suggestions, I will be happy to hear them.
Harry pocketed it and decided to mail it later. He did believe that Moody would do a good job with the prison; Harry didn't know anyone more experienced. Harry, like many others he imagined, was extremely frustrated by the way Death Eaters routinely broke out of Azkaban. The Order didn't kill anyone, even Death Eaters, which was why Voldemort would always outnumber the Order. There were only two things to do: find a way to keep captured Death Eaters in jail, or kill them. The second option would most likely result in less innocent lives lost and take less money, but Harry knew the Wizarding World wasn't ready to be that ruthless. He didn't know if he was ready to be that ruthless… sometimes it was so clear to him, the options painted in black and white, but at other times, he couldn't help but feel revulsion towards the idea that killing was the answer. He wouldn't judge someone else for killing a Death Eater in combat, but the idea of routinely exterminating those who ended up in prison was one he could not bare, whether or not they had committed murder or torture.
He knew he could have pushed Fudge in a direction regarding the punishment of Death Eaters, but for whatever reason, he had refrained in that department. Thinking practically, it also made sense, since many people, like Dumbledore and his supporters, would be royally pissed if he had gone as far as to get Fudge to say that all found with a mark on their arm deserved the death penalty. Harry cleared his thoughts, he would cross that bridge when he came to it, right now he had to make sure his plans didn't backfire, and to do that, he had to tie up one loose end.
He hadn't asked for Rita to balloon his hero-status, but she had anyway, and it was too late to do anything. She had stuck to the plan for the most part, and Harry decided he wouldn't be carrying through with his threats. If he could get Rita over to his side, to the point where she wrote what he told her too, then it would benefit him, although turning her into a beetle and putting her in a bottle would be immensely satisfying. Hoping that a stern scolding would keep her from overdoing it in the future, he prepared his next letter, thanking the reporter for writing the article, but pointing out that he had a good mind to have someone else write it next time.
Harry took a break and started to pay attention in class, realizing he had been staring off into space. Hermione, still angry with him, was purposely not looking at him, while many other people in the class were sneaking glances at him.
For better or worse, he would once again be the center of attention, like he was last year, but hopefully cast in a different light. This meant that what he said would have impact; if he told people to do something, some people would do it, simply because it was the Chosen One that was saying it. The Ministry wanted him to be the hero for reasons that would serve themselves, but Harry meant to use his hero status to accomplish his goals first, and then throw Fudge little treats to keep him happy. So what did Harry want to accomplish?
Fame, glory, wealth, women… some people would think that, it was inevitable. What Harry really wanted was for everyone to realize that if they wanted a certain Voldemort-free future, then they would have to fight for it. They needed to understand that this was their war, not just Harry's. Why should he be the one sacrificing everything? Everyone needed to do something to help with the problem, whether it be simply joining the Auror force and participating in the fight, or helping some other way, like refusing to do business with the bastards. True, the average man couldn't do much against a Death Eater, but every act against them would hurt them, and every man whose head was filled with the idea that he owed it to Harry to risk his life to help resist Voldemort, was a man who wasn't hiding in a hole while others died. Hopefully this would also help steer away young people that Voldemort convinced to join his cause. If they knew that the world was against them; that Harry Potter and the Ministry were cracking down on them with a vengeance, then perhaps they wouldn't serve Voldemort. Of course, Voldemort had the recruitment tactic of fear; those who said no to Voldemort ended up fattening Nagini. Still, hopefully he would be able to, at the very least, change the minds of a few naïve men who were thinking of seeking Voldemort out.
The fact he hadn't been pleased when Cho told him she had decided to become an Auror, still nagged on his mind. Great! Wouldn't that help more than if she went into some sort of commercial business? Didn't he want people to put their lives on the line, just as he had been doing? Why did their little talk leave a bitter taste in his mouth? When he thought about it, the uneasy feeling came from the notion that it was possible that she wanted to become an Auror because she felt she had a responsibility to do so, not because she felt it was the best career for herself. Harry sighed; the fact of the matter was that he hoped Cho was successful in life, whereas he couldn't care less about the faceless, average person who would believe everything in the Daily Prophet.
He shook his head absently; he had no real idea that his interview had changed her mind about anything, perhaps she had been planning this since Cedric died. Even if his interview had compelled her to apply to Auror School, wasn't that the purpose of his interview, to get people to fight? He should be glad… Cho should be trying to fight Death Eaters, just like other Aurors he knew, like Tonks. Still, there was something about this that left a nasty feeling in his gut, and he couldn't quite put his finger on it. He just knew it had to do with Hermione's words, as much as he wanted to banish those words into oblivion.
"Harry, class is dismissed," Hermione repeated.
"Oh yeah, sorry, zoned out there for a bit," Harry said, shrugging it off and standing up.
As they walked down the hall, Harry wondered why his friends were all speaking… carefully, without much humor. Ron… Ron was doing a remarkable job of staying right in between Harry and Hermione, just nodding to the both of them. Neville… Harry had no idea what Neville thought, and he really couldn't guess. He shrugged mentally and reminded himself that his thoughts were never dependent on those of others, and now was not the time to start stressing over what people thought, even if those people were his best friends. He did what he thought was best, and that was all there was to it. If they didn't like it, just as they hadn't liked his actions over the summer, then they would just have to accept it. Honestly, if they wanted to talk to him about it in a calm fashion, he would do so, but he wasn't going to regret his actions now, and he hoped he wouldn't come to regret them in the future.
His friends continued their training outside by the Quidditch Pitch early in the morning, and this weekend, they planned to visit Lupin and to attempt to finish their Apparition training, now that they could use it without Mafalda Hopskirt sending them a warming.
On Friday, he was torn from his thoughts by a flash. Fawkes appeared, a letter clutched in its talons. As it hovered over Harry, it deposited the letter in front of him.
Thank you, Fawkes, Harry communicated mentally. I suppose this is from Dumbledore?
Fawkes dipped his head in nod. He only wishes to talk, young one. With that, Fawkes soared away majestically.
"Who is it from? Dumbledore?" Ginny asked.
"Yeah," Harry said. He suppressed a stab of annoyance as all of his friends came closer, craning their necks and waiting impatiently for him to open the letter.
Harry opened it and briefly scanned it. "I have to meet him tonight."
"Well, I was expecting that to happen," Hermione said.
"Right." Harry said absently. "All right, can you lot practice Occlumency without me, then? I don't know how long this will take."
"Are you sure you want to go?" Ron asked. "I mean, Dumbledore may want to, you know… he was probably royally ticked by your interview. I know he hides it, but… are you sure you want to go alone?"
"I have to. If I don't, I'll appear to be immature. I don't think Dumbledore will do anything really; he will just lecture me to death," Harry replied.
"Well, Harry, I know you don't want to hear this, but… I think you should at least take in what he has to say. Wait! Listen…" Hermione said when Harry tried to interrupt. "I'm not saying to listen to him, but just hear him out and try to understand his perspective. Just give his words a chance."
Harry shrugged. "I always give him chance, but we're different, Dumbledore and I. We think different ways. I don't understand him, and he doesn't understand me. If he wants to discuss strategy or tactics with me, then sure, but I don't need his good-always-wins-bullshit. If he wants to give me advice on how to maximize my ability to help our cause, then I will listen to him, I really will."
"Well, for what it is worth, I think… well, I think that what you're doing is right. The Order… my parents fought for them. Fought for Dumbledore with a religious dedication, as my grandmother often says. Now they're as good as dead, and the evil they fought is as strong as ever. Something new needs to be done, and I can't think of anyone better to lead the way, Harry," Neville said, his eyes blazing. "At first I was uneasy about the whole thing, but now… now I can see that it all comes down to what will bring victory. I think you're on the right track."
Harry nodded, staring at Neville, looking for words. "I think you just said what I have been trying to say. I only wish more people in the world shared your attitude." With that, Harry looked at his watch. "Well, we had best get to class. Ginny, Luna, I'll see you two later."
Soon they were headed in their different directions, Harry's mind temporarily put at ease by Neville's words.
Harry walked to Dumbledore's office, expecting a foreboding unease to riddle through his body, but instead, he felt a tiny streak of… nostalgia. He couldn't place it; couldn't understand why there was a strange yearning in him as he traveled the familiar route to Dumbledore's office. It was as if walking to Dumbledore's office was some sort of perennial ritual, but this time, the sanctity of the ritual was jaded, and he was torn; his conscious self steadfastly content with the state of affairs, but his subconscious self quietly yearning for a restoration of the past. As he arrived at Dumbledore's office, he understood clearly. He was feeling nostalgia for a time when the ultimate panacea to his problems was a trip to the esteemed Headmaster's office, a time when instead of facing his problems himself, he would race to his Headmaster's grand office with a seemingly enormous problem and have it resolved by reassuring, venerated words.
A/N: Sorry for the long wait on this chapter, I have been really busy. By the way, I reworked chapter one, there's about 2000 more words in it. No plot changes, but if you are so inclined, you can check it out. I will be reworking 2 as well, since I feel the first few chapters were written before I really knew what I was doing. Read it if you want, but you won't miss out on anything key if you don't.
Anyway, please tell me what you think of recent developments.
I guess the minor cliffhanger is what Dumbledore will say to Harry… What do you all think should happen? Are you starting to think that Harry does need someone's guidance? Just out of curiosity, who here agrees with Hermione over Harry? I think the majority will side with Harry judging from the number of people who have said Harry should turn his back on Hermione, but let's see if anyone can make a case for Hermione or even Dumbledore.
Anyway, until next time. Thanks for reading.