DUEL FOR THE ELDER WAND
"So the oldest brother, who was a combative man, asked for a wand more powerful than any in existence: a wand that must always win duels for its owner, a wand worthy of a wizard who has conquered Death! So Death crossed to an elder tree on the banks of the river, fashioned a wand from a branch that hung there, and gave it to the oldest brother..."
-Tale of the Three Brothers-
Breathing heavily, Harry slowly stood up, with the pain in his lungs pounding against his chest. The distance he just ran without rest, or the number of wizards he had slain with dark magic mattered little to him, now. All he could focus on was getting Hermione and Ron away from the dreadful danger they faced here, and to safety before they were all destroyed.
The heavy winds and rain relentlessly beat against his brow. His invisibility cloak soaked up the countless drops as it hung loosely around his neck, flowing in the wind behind him, as if a continuation of his body. The Elder Wand was gripped tightly in his fist by his side, his knuckles white from the intense pressure.
With hardened, emerald green eyes, Harry stared across the field at his enemy. The tall wizard stood with his powerful arms crossed, glaring back at him with unhidden rage and hate. His eyes were dark, black sockets, with signature white orbs floating in them like pupils. An incredible magical aura surrounded the wizard, pulsing with waves of raw power. The ground began to tremble harder with each step Harry took towards him. Hermione was screaming now, behind him, begging him to come back – but Harry knew there was no escaping this as long as the dark mage was left unoccupied.
There was no hope for defeating his enemy as he was now, Harry realized. If he was to save the love of his life and restore hope to the thousands watching, he would have to take his own path to darkness. He had do something he only recently promised he wouldn't. A small lump of true fear formed in the pit of his stomach. What if with all his effort his final drastic plan failed? Harry pushed the dangerous thought out of his mind, and found the faith and courage he needed to move forward, no matter the outcome.
He slowly put his hand into his pocket and removed the Resurrection Stone. Gripping it in his left hand, he now stood with all three Deathly Hallows, facing the darkest foe anyone had seen in years. Only one of them would walk away from this battle alive as the true master of the Elder Wand...
"Harry, no! Don't do this! Come back!" Hermione screamed out in tears.
SIX MONTHS EARLIER…
A Letter from a Friend
Rain and wind lashed against their tired wings as they traveled through the countryside and into the city. Arriving from different locations, the two owls had been flying for miles through a dreadful storm. The owls carried messages for the resident of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. As they neared their final destination, they landed under the cover of a bus stop and shook the water off from their drenched feathers.
Once the rain died down, they flew directly into an unseen window of the home and landed next to the sleeping boy. Disturbed by the distinct sound of flapping wings in his sleep, Harry slowly opened his eyes, only to be greeted by two wet owls in his room. He sighed, realizing that he must have left the window open again. Sleep had become harder than ever before after the life changing events of the past few months. Since then, the soft pitter-patter of rain helped him fall asleep and soothed his mind. It was now late in the summer, and Harry had decided to once again reside in the home that he acquired through his godfather's will.
"You couldn't have used the letter slot in the door, huh?" Harry asked in an annoyed tone as he wiped droplets of rain off his face and grabbed his glasses from his nightstand.
Despite the annoyance of the rude awakening, Harry could not help but feel curious to know the reason behind this late night disturbance. He quickly untied the letters from each owl's foot and set them next to him on the bed.
"There you are. Now go bother someone else." Harry tossed a few treats to the messengers and picked up his two letters after they flew away into the night.
The largest envelope caught his attention first so he examined it carefully. He recognized the seal of Hogwarts right away and began tearing open the letter with a smile.
Dear Mr. Potter,
It is with our great delight to inform you that you have been invited back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for your seventh and final year of instruction. Due to your absence last semester you are understandably behind. However, given your unique circumstances, we have forgiven the offense. Enclosed is a list of books and supplies needed for your final year. We look forward to your arrival. Good Luck!
Harry grinned to himself as he read the letter. It had been months since he was last at the school, and it wasn't to attend classes either. The dark, painful memory of Voldemort's final battle was something he tried not to remember often. However, he had to admit it would be nice to return to Hogwarts as a normal student after a year off. Furthermore, his dreams of becoming an Auror depended on him getting N.E.W.T.S – which he could finally get if he returned to Hogwarts for his final year.
He looked over the books and supplies he would need, and calculated the money he would have to withdraw for his trip to Diagon Alley. He had plenty of gold stored in Gringotts. Combined with the small fortune Sirius had left him, he wouldn't have to worry about finances for quite some time. As he thought over this fortunate circumstance he noticed his second message was a letter from Australia.
"Hermione," he said in a whisper as he read the return address.
Harry opened his best friend's letter with care and scanned over it. She had traveled to find her parents and remove their memory charms (she had placed it on them to keep them safe during the war with Voldemort the previous year). She talked of how excited she was to see them and how great her summer was going. And of course, she lectured Harry to make sure he wasn't wasting his summer, sitting around and wasting time instead of studying for his subjects – typical Hermione. She also added that she would be back to see him and Ron in a few days time.
Harry and Hermione had written back and forth all summer. He found he missed her company more often than he thought possible. Ron frequently visited him weekly, so there was no need for letters between them.
He thought of Ron who had been over last night for dinner and a drink... Where had he disappeared to now? He looked around his room searching for the familiar sleeping form of his best mate. They had stayed up late drinking firewhiskey, talking about Quidditch, and all the fond memories of the house cups they won during their time at Hogwarts.
Harry didn't bring up Hermione often with Ron around. They had been experiencing relationship problems for quite some time. Harry wasn't sure what had happened between them, but he didn't ask. The time would come eventually when one of them would bring it up on their own.
Ron took it hard when Hermione didn't invite him along with her to Australia – not that she needed him to find her parents, anyways. It was a 'family thing', Harry had tried to explain to him, but Ron didn't want to hear any of it. So he and Harry spent most of the summer drinking and talking about their various problems and hopes for the upcoming school year. Harry broke up with Ginny over a year earlier, and they hadn't spoken for some time. It wasn't that Harry didn't like her anymore – he just didn't feel ready for a relationship so soon after the intense year he just had. Anyways, after all that had happened, he felt that he just didn't have much in common with her anymore.
Many wizard news agencies and authors wanted to ask about it, and he lost count of the letters requesting quotes for books and interviews in magazines and papers. Eventually, he locked himself up in his house talking to no one except Ron, Hermione, and a few other friends. The attention received was something he wanted to put off for now. A relaxing summer was what he needed to get his mind right.
Harry found Ron sleeping by the fireplace and kicked his foot roughly, trying to wake him up.
"Get up, Ron, you're drooling all over the carpet again!" Harry said loud enough to wake the redhead.
Ron slowly sat up and looked around confused.
"Hey, Harry... ten more minutes, please... my head is killing me," Ron mumbled.
Harry shook his head in amusement.
"If only I knew a spell for hangovers, then you would be set!" Harry joked.
Ron sat up yawning while rubbing his eyes. He glanced at Harry's hand and saw Hermione's letter. He bolted to his feet and tried to grab it.
"Did she mention me?" he shouted as Harry pulled the letter back.
"Of course she did," Harry lied. He hated to have to tell Ron she hardly mentioned him at all. But he didn't have the heart to tell his friend the truth, and usually made up messages for Ron from Hermione to keep the peace.
"She sends her greetings and says she can't wait to see you, okay? But I hate to be the bearer of bad news... There aren't any love notes for you, 'Won Won', and you were talking in your sleep again last night," Harry said. Ron looked confused at his last comment.
"Was I...? Well, I must have been kidding around, I….you just forget you heard that. What else did she say? Can't I just read it, mate?" Ron pleaded.
Harry pocketed the letter and shook his head, annoyed.
"You're too clingy and anxious with her. You know, that's probably why you spent your summer with me instead of Hermione. Just give her space, and things will work themselves out with you two," Harry suggested.
Harry hardly showed Hermione's letters to Ron, so as to not give him any ideas. Ever since Harry and Hermione spent time alone after Ron had abandoned them after the Horcrux hunt, Ron had become even more insecure. He always asked questions about anything that may have happened between them, and Harry wasn't about to give him reasons to ask for more.
Harry had grown much closer to her over the summer, and didn't want Ron taking it wrong. He felt guilty, but didn't know why – after all, he and Hermione were best friends, and always had been since the beginning. 'There's no reason to feel bad about this,' he reminded himself.
He told Ron about getting invited back to Hogwarts and that they would have to go out to Diagon Alley later to get their things. Ron and Hermione had been invited back weeks before being they even applied. Harry wasn't completely sure when he would go back, but McGonagall's letter decided it for him. He couldn't be apart from Ron and Hermione that long, anyway.
"Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you – Hermione will be back in a few days, so you better get a hold of yourself before then. She is bound to be pissed when she smells all that whiskey on your breath," Harry warned.
"You're joking! For sure? She'll be here that soon?" Ron said worried, frantically looking at his dirty shirt and sloppy hair.
"Forget the books, mate. I've enough money saved up to buy a whole new wardrobe," Ron said, while rubbing a stain out his shirt.
Ron had been working at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes with George ever since Fred died, and hardly spent his money. He never spoke of Fred's death unless they were sharing a drink or deep in conversation. Ron had turned to alcohol after the tragedy, and nobody liked it, but no one had the heart to tell him – except Hermione. Ron's drinking problem didn't help their rows much, either. Everyone missed Fred, but Ron seemed to be handling it the wrong way, drowning his despair in alcohol.
"Alright then, let's get out of this hole and get a bit of fresh air. I need to get some new things myself," Harry said.
He had grown a lot over the summer months. While Ron drowned in his sorrows, Harry took to physical training to work out his stress. The harder his day was, the harder he worked out, and his body showed his efforts. The scrawny and slim boy everyone grew up knowing was gone- he looked quite the dashing young man now.
After a quick breakfast of eggs and toast, that Ron managed to get all over his shirt again, the two set out to Diagon Alley. Harry and Ron emerged from 12 Grimmauld Place, throwing their dark jackets on while cursing the rain. They apparated to the Leaky Cauldron and entered. The pub was fairly packed, given the bad weather, so Harry and Ron continued on toward the back alley to begin their shopping.
They didn't pay any mind to the patrons, not even noticing as one in particular paid them extra attention. It was an older witch, who must have been around fourty years old, with very blonde hair held up in a tight bun. Her cold blue eyes watched Harry walk by without ever blinking.
The strange witch silently observed them, unseen and hidden under her dark hooded robes. She smacked her teeth in disgust as soon as they were out of sight. Turning back to her companion she spoke quietly so none could hear.
"Harry Potter... the 'savior'... ha! Look at him prancing around, as if he has no one to fear anymore. That will be remedied quickly enough. I will have back what is rightfully mine, and not even the 'boy who lived' will get in my way!" she hissed.
Her companion, a tan Asian wizard, tossed his long black hair over his shoulder and smiled at his leader. "Patience, my lady... The time will come. Our champion is more than ready and heading this way as we speak. The days of hiding in the shadows are over. The movements for the greater good will continue. This I promise you."
Her black gloved hand gripped her wand tightly as she apparated out of the pub with her companion in tow. The patrons in the Leaky Cauldron glanced back at the now empty table where the strangers sat and shrugged off the odd behavior. Glasses clanked together, and all seemed normal in the wizarding world... for now...
So our tale begins...