Disclaimer:Not mine. No profit being made. All of this, the characters, belong to people a lot wealthier than I. But I reckon I have a lot more fun! Not mine. No profit being made. All of this, the characters, belong to people a lot wealthier than I. But I reckon I have a lot more fun!
A/N: IMPORTANT READ FIRST!!
Okay, so here we are - third time counts for all in the Hero Trilogy. Welcome, dear reader. This is the third story in my series of Harry Potter fanfiction stories - The Hero Trilogy. If you haven't read the first two parts - Sword of the Hero and Defiance of the Hero respectively - then this ain't gonna make much sense. The story is complete and I'll be posting it up as I edit it - thirty chapters in total. I'll stop now - read on, enjoy, review please.
Harry Potter and the Soul of the Hero
There are many things across Existence that are beyond explanation. There are many things in our own world that refuse explanation. Some, mankind think they have explained, but more often than not we are wrong...
Take war, for example.
The wiser we get the greater the chance that our weapons, made for defence, will completely and utterly annihilate us from the face of this world. And yet we build bigger weapons, leave the old tools of mass destruction rotting in underground storage houses for the rust, and form more final battle plans.
Where is the explanation in that? Where is the right in keeping enough weapons technology on the surface of this world, and above it, that at any moment we could simply all be destroyed? One button pressed, and there will be nothing but a barren, lifeless world, smouldering with smoking craters and whispered thoughts of good intentions.
And yet, those in power think this can be explained or justified! But that is when it comes back to the true nature of war.
Remember this, and remember it well:
Nothing is ever resolved without war. It is the way of the universe.
And we are not alone on our small planet in this universe.
Imagine, for a moment, that our world was under threat from an extraterrestrial force. Imagine that we were invaded by aliens, hell bent on wiping us off this world and making it their own.
Would our ticking time bomb of weapons be justified then? Perhaps...
But go further and realise the final implications of this. An intelligent, sentient life – something equal to or greater than our own, and they have come to destroy us – to take our home by force.
It would be one of the greatest days in human history, and for one reason...
It would be on this day, as we faced a threat out of this world, that we would finally realise, without a doubt and any preamble, that we are all one species on this planet. We are all human, and our petty differences over race… religion… or perspective were pointless.
Mankind would know world peace on the day their greatest threat descended from the heavens. It would be extraordinary. All our weapons of mass destruction, aimed at the heart of foreign nations, would no longer be needed to protect our borders – but our entire world as one.
We would be one species on this planet. Humanity as a whole, and if it was our fate to go down to this alien aggressor, then we would go down as one, and we would go down with our guns blazing.
Nothing is ever resolved without war. It is the way of the universe.
But, thankfully, there is no alien threat... yet... but who knows what the future holds.
There is a war coming to humanity though, a war for the ages that will finally reveal our destiny to us. In the beginning, the Universe was created... then what happened?
Good and Evil have been fighting an eternal struggle and it has come to a head in the form of young human boy, Harry Potter, who has the strength to set it all to rights. But first he must fight his own war – against the Dark Lord – and humanity must unite if he is to win.
Humanity must unite, and not just those of magic.
So much now rests on the blade of a razor, with the favour tilting in the balance of wrong, that before this is done everything will know, and remember, that we are here upon this world. And we will not be moved without a fight.
Time to be moving on then... we will return now, to the end of the beginning.
Chapter 1 – To Tread Once More Familiar Paths
The most powerful weapon on earth
is the human soul on fire.
-- Ferdinand Foch
Matthew Jordan threw the tennis ball out into the swash of the sea and watched as his Labrador puppy, golden fur shining in the sun, hesitated just a moment before jumping into the wave after it. With her tail wagging, the dog ran back up the beach and dropped the ball obediently at his feet. Matt smiled and picked it up, looking to throw it again.
"Go get it, girl," he said, and tossed it down the beach this time, down over the sand rise onto the lower shore.
The dog barked and Matt followed her after the ball. Looking around, Matt could see the damage that a freak storm had caused to the sand dunes last night. The vegetation was torn apart and the sand hard and compact. It was weird, that storm had come out of nowhere.
Matt shook his head, thinking of all the work he now had to do back on the farm. That storm had destroyed all the hay bales he had left out in yesterday evening's sunshine, and scattered it all across the property. Several cows were dead and some of the sheep had jumped the paddock. Yep, a lot of work – he might have to hire one or two of the lads from town to help. He was certain he would.
Lost in his thoughts, it took Matt five minutes to reach the lower shore and it was then that he realised his dog, Lucy, hadn't come back with the ball. He frowned worriedly and stepped up his pace down the hill, looking for her amongst the piles of washed up seaweed and sand holes.
"LUCY!" Matt whistled. "HERE, GIRL!"
A bark, quick and urgent.
Matt whistled again and pushed his hat back on his head, giving his clear blue eyes a better look out at the empty beach. He sighed with relief when the young Labrador came bounding around a pile of drift wood, tail down and ball hanging almost limply in her jaws.
"What's the matter, girl?" he asked her, kneeling down on his heels. Lucy barked once and then shot off again around the wood and seaweed. Matt frowned and followed her.
He rounded the pile of wet drift wood and gasped, running forward as he saw Lucy licking the face of a bedraggled and pale figure lying on his back in the sand. Even from a distance Matt could see the blood on the... on the boy's jeans and his arms were bruised and bleeding as well.
On the edge of his mind Matt glanced around at the surrounding sand and registered that it looked scorched in parts, and some of it had solidified as if... as if it had been stuck by lightning. Had this kid been struck by lightning?
"Get away, Lucy," he said quickly, reaching down to the boy's neck for a pulse. Briefly, his eyes fell on the golden earring of a... lion... hanging from the boy's ear and glinting in the sun. "AWAY, I said."
He was pale, too pale. But he had a pulse... yes, he did – and it wasn't that faint. He was... was he sleeping?
Matt, still frowning, gently slapped his face back and forth. "Oy, mate," he said. "You want to wake up?"
The boy groaned and his eyes flickered open just for an instant before closing again. He coughed and tried to sit up. Matt helped him, blood already on his hands.
"Easy," he said. "Easy, easy. I think you've been hit by lightning, son."
The boy coughed again and this time when he looked up his eyes were open and clear, shining dazzlingly emerald green. For a moment Matt imagined he saw crackles of blue in those eyes, but that was impossible.
"What's... going on...?" the boy croaked and sat up now in the sand, holding his head. Matt got a closer look at him and saw that bruises crisscrossed his body, and that he had one or two cuts that lightning couldn't cause. Had he been attacked by something?
"You're okay," Matt said, kneeling next to him. "My name's Matt and I think we should get you up to Doctor Jackson. You... you think you can walk?"
The boy groaned. "Matt...?" he managed. "Where... am I?"
"You're down on the beach," Matt replied, rubbing his stubble covered cheeks. "Can you remember what happened?"
The boy met eyes with him and Matt felt a feeling of... of what? Power, and of great distance. For a moment, he felt that he knew infinity. But that was odd – and gone a moment later.
The boy frowned. "I..." he began. "I don't know."
His black fringe fell back, it was matted with water and what could be blood, and Matt saw the strangest scar upon his forehead. It was shaped like, well like a bolt of lightning. Odd, who was this bloke?
"Okay," Matt said. "Let's get you up then. My truck's just a few hundred metres back up the beach. I'll take you to Doc. Jackson's. Can you tell me your name?"
The boy stood with a frown, swayed on the spot for a moment and rubbed his arms. They were numb, and sand had worked its way into his wounds. They were dirty and would probably become infected. One or two looked like they would need stitches.
"My name...?" he mumbled. "Ha..." he began, but then sighed and swayed again, waving his hand before his face as if to swat away a fly. "Ha..."
His mind was a flicker of empty thoughts and odd images of lightning and storms. He didn't know who he was, where he was, but it felt good to be here. He ached, his arms were sore and he had a hell of a headache. He couldn't remember his name.
"My name is..." It was on the tip of his tongue. "I'm... I don't know? Bugger..."
Matt watched the emotions pass over his face and nodded. "Okay," he said reassuringly. "We'll head up the beach. Come on, mate. Come on, Lucy."
It was slow going and the boy stumbled more than once. Matt had parked up in the car park at the end of the sand path down onto the beach. It was a five minute walk if you were fit, fifteen if you were lost and had been struck by lightning. The boy mumbled without realising as they moved up the beach, and Matt caught words like Guardian... and storm. It was odd.
Once they reached the truck, a white Holden Ute, Matt whistled Lucy up into the back and tied her lead against the bars next to a few bales of hay that had escaped the rain. He led the boy, who still looked deeply confused, around to the passenger door and seat-belted him in. He seemed to have trouble focusing on anything.
"It's just a ten minute drive back to Wallingup," Matt told him, keying the ignition. The truck roared to life and Matt geared into reverse. "I'm sure your mum's probably worried about you."
The boy just stared at him with that expression of confusion, and Matt began to wonder if everything was all there upstairs. Matt drove quickly, not speeding, but faster than he normally would. He wondered briefly about the work that needed doing back on the farm, but thought that Jason, Jack and Ben would manage all right on their own for the morning. Melissa and Katherine would make the boys some lunch. Yeah, it would be right.
As they drove, Matt watched the boy stare out of the window at the passing countryside and bush, until it became homes and the town. If he had to put an age on the kid it would probably be about sixteen, although there were things that suggested he was older. His eyes, for one. Although they appeared confused, it was as if they had seen... well, everything. But he didn't know it.
Matt parked in the empty bays out front of Marvin Jackson's surgery and glanced at his wristwatch. Quarter to eight. Marv should be in by now, Julie as well. Matt thought it was a good sign when the kid unlocked his own seatbelt and got out of the Ute.
"Stay, Lucy," Matt called to his dog before leading the boy up the wooden ramp and through the mesh flyscreen. As he had expected, the place was empty of other patients. He lived in a small town after all, with only three hundred and fifty people. Most of them went to the hospital up in Karratha anyway.
"Follow me, son," he told the boy, and walked passed the waiting chairs and over to the reception counter. "Julie!? Julie, are you there? It's Matt Jordan."
There was shuffling from somewhere out of sight, and a woman came strolling through the door at the back, smiling in welcome until her eyes fell on the boy standing with a vague expression on Matt's left.
"Good morning, Matt," Julie said, straightening her name tag. "You get any damage from the storm last night?"
"Some, Julie," Matt smiled. "Is Marv in? There's someone I think may need to see him." Matt tilted his head towards the boy, who was frowning at the blood and dirt on the back of his hands.
Julie glanced at the boy and nodded. He was battered and bruised but did not seem to notice. "He's out back in the storeroom. Come on through and I'll tell him you're here."
Matt nodded and turned to the boy. "You remembered your name yet?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. The boy just shook his head. "Well let's go then."
Matt led the boy down a corridor and into the examination room. There was a desk littered with papers and a computer in one corner, with a hospital bed lining the wall, and two chairs sitting next to a larger leather one. On the walls were posted a lot of medical posters. Without being told to, the boy sat down in one of the smaller chairs, folding his hands into his lap.
"D'you remember anything at all, son?" Matt asked.
The boy looked up and again his eyes seemed to drill through Matt's. He shivered. "I... don't," he said, and Matt could not place his accent. It seemed to be a bit of everything, but possibly British. "I don't," he said finally.
They waited in silence for a few minutes, and Matt watched the boy read every chart in the room. That was something, at least, if he could read. Eventually a rather large man with a thick moustache and chubby cheeks, with thinning grey hair and a mischievous glint in his eye entered the room, white doctor's coat just reaching around his waist and stethoscope hanging around his neck.
"Matt Jordan, my good man," Doctor Marvin Jackson exclaimed, shaking Matt's hand. "Young Julie tells me you've had an accident."
"Good morning, Marv," Matt said, smiling. "Not me, mate," he finished and motioned towards the boy still just sitting quietly in the chair.
"Well now," Marv said, spotting the lad. "What have we here?"
"I'm not sure," Matt said, as the doctor sat down in the chair opposite the boy and met his gaze. Strangely, Matt thought Marv flinched under that gaze, but he couldn't be sure. "I found him down on the beach about half an hour ago, looking like that. He can't tell me who he is and I think he may have been struck by lightning."
Marv nodded, glancing at the boy's bruises and cuts, at his tattered clothes and odd boots. The looked to be made of some sort of leather, like a crocodile or something. "No electrical burn marks..." he muttered. "But memory loss, you say, and it looks as though he's been put through the washer. Tell me, young man, how do you feel?"
The boy shrugged. "Fine," he said, and even though he looked anything but, Matt thought that he was telling the truth.
"Well," Marv said. "I'm the doctor so I'll give you a look at. Hop up on the table there and slips off your shirt."
The boy hesitated for a moment, but then did as he was told. He probably didn't know what else to do. As he removed his shirt though, the tattered black cotton rags, Matt and Marv both gasped at the bruises and bleeding gashes. There were also one or two scars that looked as though they would have been painful at the time. Especially on his shoulder, it was knotted lump of scar tissue, long since healed, but brutal nonetheless.
"You have been through the wars, son," Marv said, placing his hand on the boy's chest gently. "Can you take a deep breath for me... that's good. Now let it out. Right. A cracked rib or two I think. Doesn't it hurt?"
The boy shrugged in response.
Marv Jackson sighed. "Right then. You're going to need those cuts cleaned and stitches, as well as some bandages for that chest. Lie down."
The boy did so, and Matt took a seat as Marvin went about his job. Some of the gashes had sand and debris in them and Matt couldn't help but cringe and wince when Marv pulled out the splinters that were embedded deeply. Something that scared him though, and he saw that Marv was concerned too, was that the boy didn't once wince or cry out.
It was the oddest thing about him so far, and Matt wondered not for the first time just who this kid was.
Forty five minutes later and they were done. The boy sat up with bandages strapped across his chest and stitches in his arms and some on his cheek. He still carried that dazed, confused look but he looked more... normal now, if that made any sense. Marv told him that he would have to have those stiches removed in a fortnight, and then asked him who his family doctor was.
The boy shook his head, black dirty hair falling over the scar on his forehead. "I just... don't know," he said, and his voice wavered. It was the first emotion Matt had seen him show, and even then it wasn't much.
"Right..." Marv said, "sorry, mate, I forgot. I'm gonna assume you don't have a Medicare card so we'll just call it even on the stitches and bandages, alright?"
The boy was frowning and holding his head. He nodded though, and Marv helped him down off the table.
"Maybe you should take him on over to the police station, Matt," Marv offered. The boy visibly tensed and was on his guard. Marv continued. "To see if they've got him on file there, you know, or if anyone has reported him missing. I'm sure your family is worried about you, son."
The boy paused for a moment longer but then nodded. "Okay..." he mumbled.
Matt shook Marv's hand again. "I'll do just that. Who's on duty this morning?"
"Mike Caut's son, Harry—"
The boy stumbled and held his head again as if it pained him. He was looking down and when he looked up again his eyes were watering. "What... what did you say?" he asked Marv.
"Em... Mike Caut's son, Harry," the doctor replied.
"Harry..." the boy mumbled. "Harry, Harry, Harry. I think, I think m'name's Harry."
The two men looked at each other for a moment and then Marv patted the boy on the shoulder. "Ah, you see," he began. "You've taken a knock to the head. Don't worry, it'll all come back again."
Matt nodded to Marv and then led Harry, yes Harry, back out onto the street. It was near ten o'clock now and he knew that Katharine would probably be wondering where he had got to. He just had to swing by the police station now, he'd give her a call from there. Lucy was lying asleep in a pile of hay on the back of the Ute and the boy, Harry, was glaring up at the sun with his hand shielding his eyes. He turned to Matt.
"Matt," he said, and his voice was firm now. "Where am I?"
"This is Wallingup, Harry," he said, but Harry's face remained blank. "Up on the north-west coast of Western Australia. Ringing any bells?"
It meant nothing to Harry.
"Well... doc said it would come back, so let's get over to the cop shop and see if the Harry over there can help us. Something might snap and you'll remember..."
Harry nodded slowly. "Thank you," he said, as he climbed back into the car and replaced his seatbelt. It was tight against his chest but only because of the bandages. He couldn't draw in a deep breath. "Thank you for helping me."
Matt smiled. "Ah, think nothing of it. I try and do at least one good deed a day."
In a town this size, that relied on the local farms and ranches to keep it alive, the police station was in fact, just a small building that held four officers and two police cruisers. Matt explained that there was a bigger town, but by no means a city, about fifty kilometres along the northern highway. Someone would know him somewhere.
"G'day, Harry," Matt said as they entered the small building, once again opening the flyscreen. Harry found that odd, but could not say why.
"Matt Jordan, no trouble I hope?" a tall man with sparkling eyes said. He had a buzz cut and a straight, no nonsense moustache. He was also called Harry, Harry Caut.
"No, no trouble, Harry," Matt said, taking off his rimmed hat and placing it on the desk before him. Harry was the only officer on duty at the moment. In the small towns there was never much crime. The trouble usually came when the miners came in from the mines, but then it was never really bad then either. "I want you meet someone. He's also called Harry."
Harry stood next to Matt and took the offered hand of the policeman before him. He was dressed in a uniform with a shining badge and a gun on his hip. Modified? Harry wondered, and then shook his head. What did that mean? For a moment he was a bit concerned that he was wearing only a pair of dirty jeans. The bandages crisscrossed his chest, but he still felt exposed.
"Harry," the police officer Harry said, eyeing him warily. "You've got a good strong name, mate. You... you in some sort of trouble?"
Harry blinked. "I have no idea."
The older Harry's eyes flickered to Matt's, who said, "Found him down on the beach this morning and took him to see Doc. Jackson. Doesn't remember anything about who he is or even where he is. He only remembered his name because we mentioned you."
Older Harry nodded, and looked at Harry again. "True? Well isn't that something. You want me to see if I've got him on the computer?"
"If you could please, Harry," Matt replied. "Do you mind if I use the phone?"
"Go for it, mate. Few minutes then. Help yourself to some coffee, fellas."
Older Harry disappeared into the backroom, beyond a set of three cells with bars, and soon the tip-tap of a keyboard could be heard above the sound of Matt pouring coffee. Harry thanked him for his polystyrene cup and sipped at it without much strength. He decided that he didn't like coffee, and that was one more thing he knew about himself.
He was Harry and he did not like coffee.
"You know, I don't think you've got a place to stay" Matt said and Harry looked up at him from staring despondently at the floor. "If Harry doesn't find anything, son, well it's coming up mustering time, and I'll need a few extra hands around the property. It is a bit early, but what do you say, Harry? You can have one of the spare rooms, five hundred dollars a week – in advance, I suppose, so you can buy some clothes – and three meals a day."
Harry shrugged. He was beyond confused now. He felt new to this world, to everything. Something told him he had been through it all before, but he had no memories whatsoever. Not a one. For all he knew, he simply existed somewhere completely different to what he knew. It was strange. He could do anything because he couldn't remember having any other duty.
And this offer did sound good, when compared to his current circumstances.
"I'll think about it," he said, and then smiled. It was the first time he had done so, and it made him look younger – like he should.
Matt nodded, looking a bit nervous. "Well... can't have you going off and getting hurt again, can I? I'll just give Katharine, that's the wife, a call. Sit tight, mate."
Harry zoned out as Matt, the Australian farmer with the deep tanned skin and square jaw, began talking to someone on the other end of the phone. Katharine, presumably. He looked at the dregs in his coffee cup and swirled them around absently. For a moment he thought that he would have preferred tea, and that was something also.
He was Harry, who did not like coffee and preferred tea.
Harry knew he was getting nowhere fast, and began to hope that this policeman would come back with some news about him, whether it be good or bad. Five minutes later the older Harry did come back, empty handed and frowning.
"Nothing I'm afraid," he said, glancing from Matt to Harry. "No one matching your description, mate, has been reported missing. I can follow this further, if you like, make some calls and have a notice put out for you. It'll take time though, possibly a week or two with the resources here, have you got somewhere to stay?"
Harry opened his mouth to reply but then stopped, glancing sideways at Matt, who nodded. "I do," he eventually said. "I'll be working for Matt, and staying in his spare room."
Older Harry smiled. "Good show. And if the old drongo gives you any trouble," the officer went on, smiling and nudging his head towards Matt, "you come and see me and I'll sort him out."
Matt laughed. "Come on then, Harry," he said. "We'll go buy you a shirt and jeans – some work boots as well. The wife won't let you anywhere near her house looking as you do now!"
Old Transylvanian Underworld
The Carpathian Mountains
Buried and furrowed deep in the high mountains in the forgotten, most desolate part of the world, a community of dark creatures met for the first time in over five hundred years. Their homes were systems of caves and deep underground caverns that stretched for hundred of miles across the face of the world, and deep down into it.
Centuries of terrible deeds and wrong doings had twisted this place into the second most feared location on the planet. The first being the lost fortress of Salazar Slytherin, which rumour said had recently been rediscovered by Slytherin's descendant – the greatest Dark Lord to have ever lived. That was one of the reasons the creatures gathered around a table of skulls were meeting this evening.
All fourteen of the Fourteen Vampire Clans had not met in five hundred and thirty seven years – not since the humans had banded together and managed to decimate seven clan leaders who had lived for millennia. That was an embarrassment that would not be forgotten, and the thirst for revenge in these horrible and dark creatures was as great now as it had been the day it had happened.
Fourteen old vampires, both male and female, stinking of decay and murder, were arranged around the table so that not one of them had a higher sitting than Masorn, their overlord. His flesh was rotted and his thirst for blood unquenchable, but he was the eldest and the strongest of the Vampires. He cradled a goblet of fresh human blood as he sat in his throne, surveying the leaders of his clans.
"He has come," Masorn whispered, yellow fangs dripping with blood and pain. His eyes were yellow, surrounded by red streaks that almost completely blotted out the white. "You all feel his pull. Sometime within the last day, our doom has entered the world."
The fourteen vampires shrieked and hissed, some lashing out at the skull table and crushing the bone of the humans. But none of them could deny, would dare deny it. They had all felt the pull of the Darkslayer as strongly as he.
Masorn tapped his long claws on the steel arm of his cold throne, thinking and calculating, trying to make sense of what had happened the previous evening. Not many in any world knew it, but vampires were sensitive to life of other worlds, to changes in the fabric of existence, and last night something tremendous and unprecedented had happened.
Someone, or something, had changed the fabric – rewritten the thread of Existence.
"Darkslayer," Masorn growled, and crushed the goblet in his hand, his hole-filled and rotting body tensed as he did. Blood flowed down through his hands and arm. "Hero of the Light, Lord of Salvation, Bane of Darkness... call him what you will, he is here – upon this very world. We must destroy him."
The fourteen clan leaders, eight female and six male, shrieked their approval, and many screamed for the honour of killing the Darkslayer.
"How, my lord?" Unor, of the Fourteenth Clan asked. He was a tall creature, with long folded black wings and a muscular chest. Burnt upon it was the Dark Mark – glowing green skull with wrapped around serpent – a sign that Unor had sworn his clan to fight alongside the Dark Lord Voldemort. A few other clans had done the same, five of the fourteen, and Masorn encouraged it. Lord Voldemort was a great ally.
"With patience, Unor," Masorn spat. "And well laid plans. Despite our fears, the Darkslayer is but one man – a mortal human. We will test him first, against a handful of our brothers and sisters. One will watch from the shadows, and report back on this man."
"What of the Dark Lord's defeat in Scotland, my lord?" Sruvia hissed between perfectly shaped white fangs. She was a short woman, but that in no way reduced her stature or power. She was considered beautiful amongst the clans, and ruthless. She had slept and murdered her way to the leadership of her clan over two hundred years ago.
"That was not a defeat!" Grolm said, the Dark Mark blazing on his grey chest. "The Dark Lord defeated his mortal enemy, Harry Potter – the Boy Who Lived – and reduced Hogsmeade to ash, destroying hundreds of Aurors. He was weakened by his duel with the Potter boy, that is true, but his power has grown since. He will return, and destroy his enemies."
"You devotion to this Dark Lord is questionable, Grolm," Sruvia replied, and many other leaders not sworn to Voldemort murmured their agreement.
"My devotion is first and foremost to Lord Masorn," Grolm shot back.
"Silence..." Masorn himself whispered. "In time, my sons and daughters, we will place our full strength behind the Dark Lord Voldemort, but for now we have a more pressing problem. The Darkslayer, you bickering fools. The man prophesized to destroy us. He is thousands of miles away south... you can all feel that. We must work our plans this evening to ensure his destruction."
Three Weeks Later
April 11th, 1997
"Another bleeding owl!" Ron Weasley spat and tore up the letter before finishing the first line. Harry had been gone for three weeks now, and still he was showered with dozens of letters a day from people all over the world asking him about his friendship with the Boy Who Lived. "I'm gonna make myself unowlable," he grumbled.
"They are getting a bit much," Hermione Granger agreed, staring at the unopened pile before her. "Just eat your bacon, Ron, and ignore it."
It was Friday morning at Hogwarts, and the entire school was gathered around their house tables for breakfast. The staff were up on their table as well, and Hermione stared thoughtfully at Professor Dumbledore whilst swirling her spoon in her cereal.
Harry had been gone three weeks – three weeks and two days – and even now the strain could be felt in the castle and outside of it. A worldwide search had been in progress for two weeks, but so far it had turned up nothing. Hermione had spoken to Ginny about it, about how he had disappeared, and had since spent almost every spare moment she had researching this time and space magic in the library.
She had found nothing – absolutely nothing. Nothing about what it was, what it did, why it did it, where it could possibly have taken Harry. Hermione realised she had tears in her eyes again, and sniffed whilst swatting them away.
"You wanna talk about it?" Ron asked sadly, poking at his bacon. His appetite had been dampened by Harry's disappearance.
"No..." Hermione sighed. "No. I'm just being stupid. He'll be back soon and that'll be that."
Ron nodded. "Yeah, he'll be back."
"He will be, Ron," Hermione said fiercely.
Ron sighed and dropped his fork, pushing his plate away. "I believe you, I do," he said. "It just seems so hopeless."
A small voice on Hermione's right spoke up. "Not hopeless, just tiring," Ginny Weasley said, resting her head on her palm and playing with her own food. No one seemed to want to eat much these days. Not knowing what had happened to Harry was the worst part, and it kept them all in a constant state of despair and hope.
"Ginny's right," Hermione nodded, not certain if she was telling herself or Ron. Ron, it was Ron. "We're all tired and," she put her hand over Ron's, "and we have to keep things together here for when he does get back."
Ron nodded. "You make it sound so easy... don't suppose Dumbledore told you anything new lately?"
"If he did, you'd be the first to know," Hermione replied. "And you, Ginny."
Animated chatter around the Great Hall was all that Ron heard as another, less painful, topic of conversation was searched for. He thought about Quidditch practice for tomorrow but knew that it would be hard to replace Harry as Seeker – especially because it was so soon after he left... but Dumbledore had decided it would be safe and good for morale if a match were held.
"We still have to start organising the DA properly," Ron said after the silence had stretched on uncomfortable. "You know, like Dumbledore said."
And Harry wanted. It always came back to Harry. Ron thought that his best friend did not know half of the things that he affected. Not even half.
"Meeting Monday night," Hermione said. "That'll give us a chance to plan over the weekend. It won't be easy, especially without... well, without Harry, but we can do it. Neville and Luna will help."
"I don't know if I want to help anymore..." Ginny mumbled, rolling Harry's ring, a silver one, around in her palm. She wasn't looking up, but Hermione judged from the way she was shaking slightly that she was trying very hard not to cry again. "It's just so hard..." she moaned. "I don't know... I don't know how Harry managed to last all these years."
"It'll help if you're there, Gin," Ron said, running a hand back through his hair. "People look up to you like they did Harry... like they do Harry, because you and him... well, you know."
"Because he loved me..." Ginny finished, squeezing her hand around the ring. "But I was useless when he disappeared, Ron," she continued hotly, attracting one or two looks from those seated around her. "Harry did it all, and I could do nothing to help. He sacrificed himself and..."
Ginny got up and ran from the Hall. Hermione sighed and went after her, leaving Ron alone with his mail. Cursing deeply, he stood up and removed his wand from up his sleeve.
"Incendio," he growled, and the envelopes burst into flames. Ron swore again and then stormed out of the Hall with hundreds of pairs of eyes upon him. No one said anything, most felt the same way. Angry, with the war... that was coming.
Ron was also still smarting over the escape of Draco Malfoy, and it was thoughts of revenge on the blonde Slytherin that kept him going up to his first lesson of the day, Transfiguration. Malfoy would pay for portkeying them to Voldemort, forcing Harry out into a duel with the Dark Lord. It wasn't fair, and Malfoy would pay.
"He will..." Ron whispered, staring at the wall with his wand clenched tightly in his hand. "I'll kill him... I will."
"It's okay to be afraid, Ginny," Hermione said, wiping away the tears on her best friend's face. "We're all afraid, and there is nothing wrong with that."
Sitting on the sinks in the girl's bathroom on the second floor, Ginny sniffed and tried to smile. "Harry was never afraid, Hermione. Not once. You should have seen him... he just took whatever V-Voldemort threw at him, and gave as good as he got."
Hermione put an arm around her shoulders, sighing. "I think Harry might have been afraid, but he just did what had to be done despite that. Anyway... you still haven't told me how you managed to corner him after five years. What was it? Did you confess feelings for one another whilst he was healing in the hospital wing? Or perhaps you both just came to love each other slowly? What about a stolen kiss atop of the Astronomy Tower?"
Ginny did smile then. "The last one," she said, and Hermione's eyes widened and she grinned. "Harry...," she began to laugh, "Harry was so confused he didn't know what to do... he... he... jumped off the tower and turned into a griffin. Couldn't get away fast enough!"
"You see," Hermione said, glad Ginny was smiling and laughing again. "He does get scared."
"I miss him so much, Hermione."
Hermione didn't think she would cry again so soon. "Me too, Ginny... me too."
The Room of Requirement
"Well that's the plan," Ron said, fitting into this public speaking position better than he thought he would. "The DA isn't just going to be a duelling club – not anymore. Harry had a plan, a vision, for this place. A student guard, the warriors of Hogwarts, and we intend to do just that. A network throughout the castle to root out traitors and spies, nightly patrols until dawn. The whole deal. Anyone that wants to leave may – please do not let the door hit you on the way out."
None of the one hundred students seated in wooden chairs around the rather large Room of Requirement did so. A mixture of fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-years – there were even fifteen Slytherins in the group. All of them had signed a contract, put their name on the Parchment of Intentions, and all of them had been found loyal to the DA and its aims.
"That's what I like to see," Ron nodded, proud to be a member of the DA. He took his position a lot more seriously since Harry couldn't be here to do his part. It was his responsibility, as Harry's second – duel partners – to ensure everything continued to run smoothly. With Harry gone the DA had had its head cut off, but Ron would make sure the body would still function until that blasted head could be found.
"We have here," Hermione took over from Ron. She, like most in the room, was dressed in the dragon armour Harry had bought them all with his money two months ago – and the white battle robes she had since ordered from the duellist's shop in Diagon Alley. The DA had a budget, laid out by Harry, of five million galleons. A very large fortune and more than they could ever spend.
It was Sirius's money, of course, that he had left to Harry on the event of his death. Hermione knew Harry had plenty more, and would still when he came back. When he came back.
Hermione continued, "We have here a ring," she said. "White gold with a glowing green emerald set in the metal. They have been enchanted to fit your fingers, and only a registered member of the DA is able to wear one. Other enhancements include the stone – the emerald – it'll shine green when there is a meeting, and there are one or two other charms in there, that we'll cover later."
"The rings are important," Ron said, standing straight in the front of the group. He looked impressive in his full battle wear, tall as he was, his eyes straight and serious. "Not only are they Portkeys back on to Hogwarts ground, but just wearing them will be enough to make sure that those in the younger years – the kids – know that something is being done, by people they know and trust, to protect them here. Take care of them and the trust that will bring. If anyone abuses that position, it will mean expulsion from the DA and possibly Hogwarts."
"T-Things are going to be a bit hectic o-over the next couple of weeks," Neville Longbottom began with just the smallest hint of nerves. He stood in between Ron and Hermione up the front of the room on the elongated stage before the sea of faces. "It will take a few meetings and a lot of hard work to get us up and running the way Harry wanted, and I, for one, intend to put in that hard work. Nothing like what happened with Draco Malfoy will ever happen again with the DA at Hogwarts."
Surprisingly, and much to Neville's embarrassment, this was met with cheers and claps, and one or two wolf whistles. Luna Lovegood stood behind him and she stroked his shoulder with a smile. He muttered something to her and stepped back as Ron took the initiative again.
"Nev's right," he said, making sure to stare into each and every face. "It is going to be hard, but that means we're doing the right thing. Nothing that is truly good is ever easy – Harry told me that – and we're going to have a force here to make him proud when he gets back." This was met with silence, contemplative and respectful. Ron sighed and shook his head, glancing sideways at his sister standing next to Hermione. "Form a line from left to right, and we'll hand out the rings."
Across the castle, within Albus Dumbledore's study, another meeting was taking place – one of another group of defenders, from all walks of life. The Order of the Phoenix. Fawkes, the red and golden phoenix sat on his shining perch and sung softly, almost sadly, as the member's of the Order made and discussed their plans.
Headmaster Dumbledore, eyes twinkling and beard hanging to his waist, smiled warmly at his phoenix and noted that his feathers were slightly rumpled around his wings – he was approaching a burning day – which was good, because a phoenix burning always brought change, or so the legend went.
"So that's the latest," Minister for Magic Arthur Weasley sighed, rubbing his tired eyes and looking wistfully at the fireplace, wishing to get home to bed. He had been awake for the past forty hours. "Hogsmeade is still under construction, as are the Auror Headquarters outside of the castle, and the search for Harry continues."
Seated around the room were many familiar and friendly faces – some not so friendly and others frowning and brooding. Severus Snape wasn't a friendly face, but those of Fred and George Weasley were, along with Molly, Bill and Charlie. Nymphadora Tonks alongside Kingsley Shacklebolt – who owed his life to Harry – stood by Amos Diggory and Mundungus Fletcher. Remus Lupin leant against the wall looking haggard, nearby sat Minerva McGonagall and Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody.
Further around them, stationed around Dumbledore's tables of fancy instruments and glowing apparatus', were Dedalus Diggle and Elphias Doge, and seated in a large chair of his own was Rubeus Hagrid. Hestia Jones was to his right, as was Emmeline Vance – and she completed the main members of the Order.
"There have been reports of increased vampire activity in old Transylvania – I think we all know where I'm talking about – over the last few weeks," Kingsley Shacklebolt gave his report. "Rumour has it all fourteen clans met to discuss something of great importance to the vampires, though Merlin knows what it was. Can't be good for us, at least."
"The vampires are half a world away and not our problem," Snape spat, hands folded deeply into his dark robes. "Our problem is that the Dark Lord is recovering more swiftly everyday, and soon he will become a threat once more."
"Then we have to find Potter soon," Moody growled. "Have you talked to the Americans about putting out a search, Albus?"
Dumbledore nodded, all twinkle lost from his eye at the mention of Harry. "Indeed I have, and they said they will do what they can... Harry is a high profile wizard, and if he is in America he is there illegally – without documentation – so time will tell."
"You don't sound overly hopeful," Molly Weasley grumbled. Losing Harry had been like losing one of her own.
"To be honest, Molly, I am not. Harry will not be found by us – the magic that took him... it is greater than we can imagine. When he comes back, I fear he will be different."
"We cannot abandon the search," Arthur Weasley objected. "We will not abandon the search. No one knows what that magic did – he could be a mile away for all we know."
Dumbledore inclined his head slightly, but it was clear he did not share Arthur's faith.
"There is also the International Confederation to consider, and the International Alliance," Arthur switched topics, though eventually everything always came back to Harry. It was as if that boy pulled strings in every aspect of their lives – even when he was missing.
"It will be difficult to sway the majority of votes in the Confederation to have this war – the Second Dark War – classified as a World War. Only then will the other countries honour their position within the International Alliance. As it stands, we have perhaps twelve nations behind us."
"How many nations are there?" Fred Weasley asked, sporting his dragon hide jacket.
"One hundred and twenty two magical governments worldwide," Dumbledore sighed. "Each with their own problems, with their own nest of dark wizards just waiting for Voldemort to call them to his legion. Auror recruitment must increase, Arthur. It must!"
"There have been over one hundred and fifty applicants within the last month!" Tonks exclaimed. "The highest in recorded history. When that writer released that book about Harry, recruitment skyrocketed and is expected to continue."
Dumbledore met her eyes and sighed again. "It will not be enough... this next time, when the war begins again... I fear Tom will settle for nothing less than total domination. Voldemort will either rule the world or raze it to the ground. We need more Aurors."
"We need Harry Potter," Moody whispered, his eye spinning fast. Every other eye in the room turned to look at him silently. He clicked his remaining teeth together and growled, "You know the Prophecy as well as I do. Without Harry none of this will mean anything."
There was silent, and to some, heartbreaking, agreement.
"Just because... just because things have taken a turn for the worse, Ronald," Hermione lectured at one of the many tables near the windows in the Gryffindor common room. "Doesn't mean you can slack off on your homework or study. We still have our exams in a month or so, you know."
Ron sighed and turned the pages of his Charms text absent-mindedly, head resting in his palm. "I really can't summon up the strength to care, Hermione," he stressed. "This last month, and every day that follows, just keeps... draining me."
Hermione nodded, staring without seeing at the table before her. She felt the same way. It was just... hard... to keep up a normal life, or something similar, when one of her best friends, whom she loved, was missing – wounded and presumed dead by many.
"Keep a strong face up for Ginny though, Ron," Hermione said. "It's hard enough for her without seeing it getting you down."
Ron nodded quickly, strongly. "Of course... you wanna work on the DA roster? Dumbledore wanted it within the week."
Hermione smiled sheepishly. "I finished it," she said. "Free period yesterday which I spent in the library, searching for anything that could help us find Harry, I got frustrated at my lack of progress, and drew up the roster then. Decided on only sixth- and seventh-years patrolling at night, in pairs."
Ron smiled, and leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. "I was hoping you'd say that."
Hermione blushed. "Thanks, Ron."
Ron nodded and turned back to his books, glaring at the pile of homework he had to do. Some Charms... DADA... and Transfiguration. Transfiguration, he thought. McGonagall mentioned Animagus training...
"Are you going to see if you can become an Animagus?" Ron asked Hermione, as she began scratching a few notes onto some parchment. Outside the nearby window an owl hooted, and something in the back of Ron's head clicked. He frowned.
"Of course," Hermione said with enthusiasm. "Think about it – I could be something that can fly, or swim. It would be amazing."
Ron nodded, having lost interest in the question. The owl, somewhere outside, hooted again. "Hermione..." he began slowly. "When was the last time you saw Hedwig?"
Hermione looked up at him and frowned, but then her eyes widened in realisation. "Ron!" she exclaimed. "You're a genius!"
Ron smiled. "I know, but when?"
Hermione thought back furiously over the last month, searching her mind for any sighting of Harry's snowy owl. She couldn't recall seeing her once. "At least... at least a month. Ron, do you think...?"
He nodded. "I do, but let's check the owlery first."
Excited, feeling a bloom of hope in their stomachs, Ron and Hermione abandoned their study and almost ran from the common room. A few people shouted after them, asking where they were going – it was after nine and everyone had to be in their house by then – but they didn't stop.
As expected, the castle was empty and now the two of them did run through it, hand in hand, along the winding corridors and through one or two secret passages, up moving stairs and through keystone arches.
The owlery was locked, but Hermione flicked her wand and the door flew open as they approached, revealing a tall room with a wide open roof and walls – dozens of nesting boxes and perches rising up the walls were mostly empty, as owls hunted at night, but Ron smiled.
"I haven't seen her – not once since Harry disappeared. She went after him," he said, unable to keep the smile off his face.
Hermione wanted to smile as well, but it wasn't much to go on. "She... Hedwig could be out hunting, Ron."
Ron just shook his head. "No, she went after him. Do you- do you know anyway to track a postowl?"
It was Hermione's turn to shake her head, as she gazed up through the open roof at the thousands of stars visible overhead. The universe, her universe, and light from distant long forgotten stars that other worlds circled. For a moment, she felt very small, and then answered Ron's question, linking her arm through his.
"No, it can't be done," she sighed. "Once they're gone they can't be tracked. You could follow one, or attach a tracking device to it... but once they're gone..." Ron was still smiling. "I don't think this is anything to smile over, Ron. We can't find Harry this way. Nothing has changed... it doesn't mean anything."
Ron put his arm across her shoulders and held her close, gazing up at the night sky himself. The stars really were amazing. "Yes it does," he told her. "It means everything. We know Harry is alive, which is a damn sight more than we knew five minutes ago."
Hermione's eyes suddenly lit up with more than starlight. "We can send him an owl," she said quickly. "An owl with a tracking device! I can make one; I'll just need a few books from the library. Come on."
Hermione nearly pulled Ron's arm out of his socket. "Yes now. We'll go and get the invisibility cloak and work through the night if we have to!"
A/N: And the fun begins...