Hellos all, I'm going to try and update/continue this as often as possible, but I can't give y'all any fixed weekly/monthly schedule for that. However, being as how Fanfiction has taken over my social & school life, this should be updated fairly regularly. Lemon drops for anyone with reviews! Lemon drops & chocolate frogs for anyone with negative reviews!
(As awesome sauce fun as it is to get positive feedback, the negative "um...that just doesn't work..at all" comments that rip out little bits of soul and feed them to the thestrals are hot 'cause they help me make my story better. Do both! I'm a stranger, I'll give you candy!) :]
He who fights with monsters
should be careful,
least he thereby becomes a monster.
When you stare at the abyss,
the abyss stares back at you."
"So," said Harry, dredging up the words from what felt like a deep well of despair inside him, "so does that mean that. . .that one of us has got to kill the other one . . .in the end?"
"Yes," said Dumbledore.
For a long time, neither of them spoke. Somewhere far beyond the office walls, Harry could hear the sound of voices, students heading down to the Great Hall for an early breakfast, perhaps. It seemed impossible that there could be people in the world who still desired food, who laughed, who neither knew nor cared that Sirius Black was gone forever. Sirius seemed a million miles away already, even if a part of Harry still believed that if he had only pulled back that veil, he would have found Sirius looking back at him, greeting him, perhaps, with his laugh like a bark. . .
"You're right; You should have told me that ages ago." Harry's voice sounded dead even to his own ears. He couldn't remember how it usually sounded, could barely remember how it felt to roam around the castle making noise and talking. Harry shook his head, trying to clear away the thoughts so he could think, he felt like there was something important to be thinking about. The headmaster still hadn't answered him, he realized. Harry looked up at him and saw a tear trickling down Dumbledore's face into his long silver beard. He gazed around at the broken instruments he'd strewn across the room. He'd been such a child for so long! Now that his rage had passed, Harry felt a new emotion brewing beneath the grief that pounded through every thought. Shame. He'd been such a child! Rushing into the Ministry like he could face Voldemort's army with his band of teenagers…refusing to learn Occlumency…never listening to anyone, not Dumbledore or Hermione or Snape…and Snape had warned him!
…Then you will find yourself easy prey for the Dark Lord! Fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions, who wallow in sad memories and allow themselves to be provoked this easily-weak people, in other words-they stand no chance against his powers! He will penetrate your mind with absurd ease, Potter!
Snape's words returned to him with disturbing clarity. The mantra came to him perfectly now, despite the fact that he'd barely been listening to the man back then. But why the hell hadn't he been listening? What could be more important than that warning? He'd been angry, Harry remembered, too angry to do anything. Too angry to listen and too angry to learn. Snape had seen it the entire time.
Harry gazed at Dumbledore as his thoughts circled. He'd never listened to Snape, but Dumbledore should have guessed that. He didn't even tell me why I had to learn Occlumency, left that to Snape. Merlin knows I've been calling the man a spy for five years, of course I wouldn't take Snape's word on anything about Voldemort. Harry remembered using Fred and George's Extendable Ears to eavesdrop on the Order; why had he had to find out that way? Of course it never felt real to me, Mad-Eye mentioned Voldemort possessing me but that felt like rumors, Moody's own guesswork, Dumbledore never told me anything about it. Harry knew he would have studied if Dumbledore had told him to, had told him why, but Dumbledore never told him anything.
I've always had to think for myself, find out for myself, and that saved the Philosopher's Stone! Saved Ginny's life second year.
No. A tougher part of his brain clamped down on his running excuses. No, I was just always lucky before. 11 years old and running after a mountain troll? Getting past Fluffy, planning to face off with a fully trained wizard teacher? The wrong teacher no less? Running down into the depths of the castle to fight a fully grown basilisk? As a 12 year old? Without word to anyone but Lockhart as to where I was going? Foolhardy! Hair-brained! Harry remembered Hermione mentioning his 'saving people thing' and felt the well of shame in his stomach grow deeper. And Dumbledore awarded points? Harry searched Dumbledore's regret-lined face, wishing he could ask the questions that leaped to his mind and get a better answer for them. He hated the answer Dumbledore had given him.
He cares too much. Harry repeated to himself silently. Suddenly he understood why that had created such a great flaw in Dumbledore's plan. He wants me happy more than anything. More than scolding me, more than teaching me to grow up, more than teaching me how to not be an idiot, how to close my mind, how to not get my friends' killed.
Of course Dumbledore never told me anything, he knew the truth would hurt me. I am marked to be a great weapon against Voldemort, and weapons are made for killing people. Dumbledore should have been training me since first year, and he knows it, but that would have stolen even more of my childhood from me. The world needs a soldier, and he knows that child soldiers aren't children for very long. And he cared more about that than the lives of people I could save. He was supposed to make me into a soldier and he made me into a liability. I got Sirius killed. I got Cedric killed. Who's next? Harry couldn't stop repeating it. His thoughts were spinning around him, stabbing him at every picture of Sirius's face as he died flashed into his head. Cedric's. Who's next?
Harry looked around Dumbledore's office, beginning to feel nauseated. He was always angry, but he'd never done anything about it. He'd never pushed himself, never studied, never trained, he'd been so weak for so long… He'd barely been able to fight the Death Eaters, he'd hidden behind a statue and let Dumbledore fight Voldemort! He'd had no choice, because he wasn't a soldier like Dumbledore, he was a child. Children were allowed to hide. Could he have prevented it? If he'd been able to fight? If he'd studied and listened and trained to be a weapon in the fight, rather than a child for Sirius and Dumbledore and the Order to protect? If he'd been in training as a soldier for years, would Sirius be here, ready to talk to him about the next Dark Art he needed to learn?
Weapon… The word sparked a memory, of Sirius talking about Voldemort, and saying the Dark Lord was going after a weapon, something worse than Avada Kedavra. Of course...the prophesy…he doesn't understand why he wasn't able to kill me.. He's trying to figure it out now, figure out what is stronger than Avada Kedavra. Harry knew, without a doubt, that given time Voldemort would find a way to kill him. Voldemort would never stop searching until he'd killed The Boy Who Lived, and everyone he loved. The prophesy had ensured that. The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies ... What power?, Harry thought. He hadn't killed Voldemort as a baby, his mother's Blood Bond wasn't enough, and Voldemort could touch him now. But if the Blood Bond wasn't the "power the Dark Lord knows not", what was his power? How was he was supposed to vanquish the Dark Lord?
Suddenly Harry knew the true nature of the War that had started the night Wormtail threw his stolen blood into Voldemort's cauldron. The War was to be a race for knowledge. Voldemort was looking for a way to kill him, for a weapon against him. That's why Sirius called the prophesy a weapon, it's a weapon against me. And I have to do the same...to find the power that can vanquish him forever.. I have to be the weapon against him.
Harry felt lost, sitting in Dumbledore's peaceful office, thinking about a war he was supposed to join. He was just a fifteen year old fool that had gotten his godfather killed, he knew nothing about magic. And even when he was angry enough to torture Lestrange he hadn't wanted it enough. What did he know about war? He couldn't use a unforgivable when he wanted nothing more in the world, how was he supposed to kill anyone? Harry wondered how he'd spent so much time lazing about the castle, when every day he hadn't studied had risked someone's life, Sirius's life.
He felt like he'd known it was up to him to kill Voldemort from the first time that Hagrid had told him that "You Know Who" might not be gone forever. But he'd never connected it all together, and Dumbledore had tried so hard to hide the truth from him. But the truth was plain, even if Dumbledore had sprung it on him at the worst possible moment, hours too late and while his heart was still trying to rip itself out of his chest from adrenaline and fury. But he knew the truth now, and he couldn't hide from it: A man far more powerful than any fifteen year old slacker was working to kill him, and if he was lucky enough to survive at all, he would have to kill someone. And Harry had never before realized how very unprepared he was for that.
"You should have told me this so long ago." Harry repeated, meeting Dumbledore's milky, regretful eyes. That gaze was too much for him. Harry felt his emotions bubbling up from his stomach, and he knew it was time to leave. Harry stood up, gathered the shards of the first glass globe he'd smashed to the floor, fixed them together with a careful 'reparo', and gently returned the instrument to the Headmaster's desk.
"Excuse me, Professor. I have some business to attend to." Harry excused himself, knowing that he sounded like a Malfoy but unable to care about that just then. He already knew he was going to explode, and wanted to do it in private this time. He felt something building in his chest, a kind of desperation that made him want to run and scream and punch something into the ground. He ran, and made it all the way up into Gryffindor Tower before tears started pouring down his face. He layered silencing spells around the room, and locked the door with every spell he knew. He'd felt the grief and shame in the Headmaster's office, but now he was drowning in it.
The grief that had him panicked and furious less than an hour before now sat as a churning pain in his chest that threatened to choke him. Harry pounded his hand against a bedpost as he cried, but there was no anger in it. His anger was gone, he'd screamed it out in Dumbledore's office, and now there was nothing but tears left
He spent the night crying. It came in waves. The worst hit him when he found Sirius's mirror and felt his guilt roar up inside him again. Somehow the dorm stayed empty for him, no one even tried to enter the door he'd locked, and in some remote, thinking part of his brain he realized that Ron must have pulled in a few favors for him from the dorm-mates. He unlocked the door after the first wave of tears, but he'd fallen asleep still blessedly alone.
"Harry, you've got to eat something." Hermione sounded worried. Harry looked down at his plate. He'd taken a bite out of his sausage and left it; an uncommon occurrence. He never wasted food, but it was different this morning; Breakfast tasted like corpses. Most of the students chattered noisily around them. They didn't know what had happened, Harry remembered, but their laughter still sounded obscene. He ignored them.
"Harry, are you going to get through this summer all right?" He looked up, realizing that he'd never answered Hermione's question, and that she was holding his hand from across the table. She knows about the Dursleys. Some alive part of his mind realized. Harry looked up, and saw it in her eyes.
"I will survive the summer with them." He responded, a few seconds late. She looked startled about something, then hurt, then worried, then determined. Are we all so easy to read? He wondered dully.
"I'll miss you Harry." She said it like it was exceedingly important information to impart to him. "We all will. We love you." She tightened her hold on his hand and managed to elbow Ron with the other arm.
"Yeah, Harry." Ron added awkwardly. Hermione glared at him. "Hey man, are you alright?" He managed to say it sincerely, despite getting elbowed in the ribs for it. Harry looked at him, and saw that same concern there. He smothered his reaction to tell the truth that he just wanted to be left alone.
"Alright? No." Harry tried not to get angry about how obviously not alright he was, and tell the truth to his friend. It was surprisingly easy not to react; he didn't have the energy to get angry. "I feel. . .hollow."
It was true. He'd gotten out all of his rage and tears the night before, and now he found there was nothing left to him. He felt as if, were Hermione to press his hand any harder, his skin would crack and crumble into itself, revealing nothing more inside him than a little bit of dust, maybe. As soon as he'd thought it, Hermione tightened her hold for a second, as if testing him. Harry wondered if the only thing that kept it from happening was the mantra that kept repeating in his head. He'd woken up to it. No more deaths, not if I can save them. No more deaths, I will save them.
"Hey guys, I've gotta go." Harry pulled his hand from Hermione's soft grip and stood up.
"Where do you have to go? There's nothing left to do but eat and leave." Ron asked him.
"I'll see you guys in the train, okay?" Harry left.
"Excuse me, Ma'am?"
Madam Pince emerged calmly from the back of her office carrying a pile of mangled library cards.
"I know this is last minute, but Professor Dumbledore gave me permission to get some books out for the summer." Harry lifted his empty schoolbag up onto his shoulder as if it were heavy. He'd already spelled it to look full, but he didn't want to leave any doubt. Madam Pince placed her cards on a cluttered desk, shaking her head.
"Library texts can not be taken from Hogwarts grounds, Mr. Potter."
"But Dumbledore said I coul-" Harry cut himself off and sighed. "He said I should, actually. Honestly I don't think books are going to help keep my mind off anything." Harry looked up at her, hoping she'd heard something about the Ministry attack. Sympathy shined clearly through her usually strict countenance. Looks like she's an Order member, then, she certainly wouldn't have heard anything from Fudge about it yet.
"Books are fragile, Mr. Potter. I can not-"
"Oh I know!" He rushed to explain. "Nothing from the restricted section, and Dumbledore said nothing over-" Harry hesitated, thinking quickly. "two or three hundred years old."
The old woman sighed, and looked him over.
"Professor Dumbledore, Mr. Potter, and get them quickly. You're not leaving with more than five books, so chose carefully." She warned as she crossed around the counter with a stack of returned books to be shelved. Harry felt his body relax at his success, and noted her maneuvering to watch him. She'd taught them all the spell to carefully reshelf books in their first year. He watched her carry around the books by hand, and decided to wander around the library where she could see him for awhile. He pretended to ponder over volumes in front of her, before returning them carefully to their shelves, only to chose another at random to examine. In his head he was trying to create a list of the kinds of books he would focus his search on. Evidently the stern librarian ascertained that Harry wasn't going to cart off her whole library or damage anything, for she soon disappeared back into the office.
Harry started in the Magical Theory section, and worked his way around the library by subject matter. He shrank entire volumes of books at a time. He knew how small they could go before being damaged, and he filled his bag with the tiny books on magical theory, methodology, spell creation, transfigurations, potion making, charms and the few dark magic guides that had survived outside the Restricted Section. Sneaking into the Restricted Section was easier than ever during the day. It wasn't even locked, but he still didn't dare linger. Nor could he open or shrink these books; he'd learned the hard way that they would scream if disturbed at all, and shrinking books protected against it (which these almost certainly were) could damage them terribly. Unable to open the books nor linger over each volume, Harry picked up the largest books he could find on highly powerful and offensive magics, and fit them in his bag, packed around the miniatures. He snuck out of the Restricted Section with his bag legitimately heavy, though it didn't look any more stuffed than when he'd entered. He picked out four obviously innocuous textbooks to carry in his arms past the front desk.
Madam Pince nodded at him as he left, clearly unaware that he was walking out with over forty of her books.
He had to run up to the Tower to have time to pack. He had to return all the books to their exact natural size, else the text would be unreadable, and the gentlest spells took time. He would have preferred to spend more time on the difficult project, but he didn't have the time. He'd be restricted from using any magic as soon as he left Hogwarts, and most of his dorm-mates would be long out of breakfast and ready for the train by now. For the first time Harry was grateful that he'd never had enough possessions to even properly line the bottom of his trunk, for now he found himself struggling to fit the books and his spare clothing in at the same time. By the time he'd managed, his wingardium leviosa barely lifted the trunk above the ground, and it shook terribly, but that would have to do.
He finished just in time; the minute he snapped the final latch on his trunk closed, a popping sound heralded the arrival of a house-elf coming to bring the student's possessions down to the train.
"Young Master better hurry, sir, the rest of students are all gathering to be going now." The house-elf warned between bows.
"Thank you." Harry responded, sparking another set of low bows. Harry was glad it wasn't Dobby, he didn't think he could handle the elf's gratitude right then, or noise in general really. He'd have given up his fortune for the chance to lock himself away and ignore the world for a little longer before the train ride 'home'. His nerves were so on-end he was almost vibrating with the need for a good fist fight with someone, and he felt far from able to control his temper, a skill he'd need to be able to handle the Dursleys without killing any of them.
Harry walked down to the Great Hall, not caring if he was a few minutes late. Someone would almost certainly be later than he anyway. He was right; three girls came careening down the hall to the Main Entrance right after he'd arrived. They were first years, and had come dragging their trunks the entire way. Harry got out of their way, and looked around for Ron or Hermione.
"Potter." A smooth voice called to him before he'd found his friends. Harry pulled his wand into his hand before he looked over to see Malfoy leaning casually against the front door. The blond pushed himself off from the door and stalked toward Harry, followed quickly by Crabbe and Goyle. Maybe I'll get my fight in after all.
"Don't mess with me Malfoy." Harry was surprised at how angry his voice sounded. He didn't think he was angry…Still, he had to work on that. Fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions… Suddenly Harry found himself respecting Draco's blank face and casual slouch; he had no idea if the boy was about to hex him or not. Not that Harry doubted Malfoy's aggressive motives for a minute, but he was impressed that Malfoy looked as though he'd just called out to ask what the Potions' homework was.
"You're dead, Potter." Malfoy pronounced in a low voice.
Harry raised his eyebrows, but didn't bother responding. Hermione usually waited beside the entrance doors, but Harry couldn't see her anywhere over there.
"You're going to pay," said Malfoy in a voice barely louder than a whisper. "I'm going to make you pay for what you've done to my fahter. . ."
"Well, I'm terrified now," said Harry sarcastically. "I suppose Lord Voldemort's really just a warm-up compared to you--what's the matter?" He said, for Malfoy looked stricken at the name. "He's your dad's mate, isn't he? Not scared of him are you?" Harry pulled his eyes off the blond to scan the crowd again.
"You think you're such a big man, Potter." Malfoy sneered as he advanced with Crabbe and Goyle flanking him. "You wait, I'll have you. You can't land my father in prison-"
"I thought I just had" Said Harry idly, still not bothering to look at his so-called 'rival'. The whole idea of a Hogwarts rivalry seemed childish now, and he certainly wasn't scared by the blond, especially when Draco wouldn't dare hex him with so many teachers nearby. The boy was still a coward, hadn't changed at all. It was odd to think as anything being the same as before the Ministry.. Harry felt the thought punch him in the stomach and cut off the thought before it started haunting him further.
"The Dementors have left Azkaban, my Dad and the others'll be out in no time. . ."
"Yeah, I expect they will," said Harry truthfully, finally spotting Ron and Hermione running towards the crowd together. "Enjoy your summer, Malfoy." Harry replied, glancing at the boy.
Malfoy's hand flew toward his wand, but Harry was too quick for him. He had drawn his own wand before Malfoy's fingers had even entered the pocket of his robes. Crabbe and Goyle hadn't even thought to move yet.
"Potter!" Snape's voice rang across the entrance hall; the man had emerged from a staircase leading up from the dungeons, and at the sight of him Harry felt a rush of anger beyond anything he felt towards Malfoy...So the man was truly loyal to Dumbledore; that was almost worse. It meant he'd failed at teaching Occlumency not due to malicious motives, but because he was too childish to get past his own Hogwarts rivalry that should have died so many years before. Fool Harry wanted to snarl, but held his tongue. It was his own idiocy that had led to Sirius's death, Harry reminded himself. He had to study, had to improve, had to get a handle on his damn temper. Snape had told him to practice, and he hadn't. Snape had warned him. It was his own fault.
"What are you doing, Potter?" said Snape coldly as ever, as he strode over to the four of them.
"I was defending myself, Professor, now I am walking away." Harry answered, before turning to where Ron and Hermione were approaching. He heard Snape's voice call something after him, and Profesor McGonagall interupt him, but Harry was soon too far into the crowd to hear the teacher's exchange. It didn't matter to him.
"This sucks, mate." Ron stood, looking at Harry, though it didn't seem like he expected a response. They were saying goodbye before they crossed over Platform 9 ¾ to the Muggle world. It was always far too loud to say goodbye in the Muggle train station; they'd learned that second year. They stood in silence for a moment as swarms of students rushed ignorantly by them. Hermione looked ready to cry. Harry nodded when the silence bean to feel forced, and braced himself as Hermione rushed forward for another hug. He hugged her quickly and passed her to Ron, who grinned at him shyly. The two said goodbye again, and left together. Harry turned away to levitate his heavy trunk onto a waiting pushcart.
The trunk seemed to lift itself easily onto the cart. Harry blinked, then saw Fred and George approaching him, and knew they'd cast the spell with him.
"Heavy trunk, Harry?" Fred or George asked him, though for once there wasn't a hint of humor in the normally-light voice. Harry found himself mourning that too, before he even realized what they'd said. They spelled it to look inside, he realized, and raised wary eyes to them, cursing himself for being so constantly vulnerable. A liability. A cruelly incessant bit of thought reminded him. Harry focused his wary gaze on the twins, quietly imparting the message that he knew what they'd done and that he didn't like it.
"Don't worry Harry, no one will see through it now." The other added confidently. Harry was about to hush them until he realized that they were the last students to leave the platform. Harry shook his head. Trust Fred and George to know how to hide things. Stolen books especially, I guess. He tried to smile at them, though he feared the expression had failed terribly. One of them sighed slowly, and for once the somber sound didn't seem sarcastic at all.
"Harry, we were having a thought about your home situation." Harry wondered why they looked as grim as he about mentioning the Dursleys, then remembered his second year summer. They'd seen the bars on his windows, Vernon's rage, the locked door, the cat-flap. Harry rolled his head back to stare at the train station ceiling. Damn, does everybody know? He thought he'd hidden the truth so well, but apparently it had slipped out over the years. Damn.
"We thought of something, you know, if things get…fired up out there, and you needed a bit of..umm…what's the word, Fred?" George started, the humorous glint in his eyes returning slowly.
Fred looked around, held out a fist, and opened his hand. Harry flinched as a cylinder of fire rushed out of Fred's palm for a second with a heavy whoosh. The flames died instantly as he closed his hand.
"Persuasion." Fred supplied.
For the first time in what felt like months, Harry grinned. The expression looked malicious beneath his grim eyes. He saw Fred catch George's eyes, and George blinked once, as if in answer.
"Show me." Harry ordered, hoping they were not rethinking their offer of "persuasion". Fred opened his hand again, and revealed a handful of gray stone-like chips that looked like broken slate. He carefully dropped the remains and kicked them down into the Hogwarts Express tracks. George pulled a small jar out of nowhere and opened it for Harry. Inside were what looked like red pebbles. George selected three and handed the jar to Harry.
"Prototypes, you see." George explained.
"Fred's Fabulous Firestones" George supplied, holding the three out on his palm for Harry to examine. "They are supposed to disintegrate into a powder, and we're hoping to work on the flame's shape, and the sound effect, but for now they're all we've got."
"And right now you've got to us three to get any impressive reaction at all. That'll probably change too." Fred added. "So, for now at least, take at least three."
"Then, just crush them in a closed fist, and open." George closed his fist quickly, and opened his hand sideways. The flame burst onto the stationary train as the chips fell from his palm.
"The flame will stop after three seconds, so if you count right, you can close your fist and make it look like you're controlling it." Fred explained. "The fire won't burn anything, of course, but I'm sure you're muggles will be..thrilled." Suddenly his light voice went serious, and the humor in his eyes died out.
"Thank you." Harry supplied, trying to get his dead voice to express sincerity. "I've been planning to do something similar. This will help if the Dursleys need…convincing." Fred and George grinned back at him, though there was something intensely serious about their expressions.
"Take care of yourself, Harry." George advised as they turned their carts toward the brick wall separating Platform 9 ¾ from the muggle world.
"I will." Harry returned, his voice carrying a thousand angry words. Fred looked back and searched Harry's face with his eyes, before nodding once, and following his brother across the wall.
Harry found his trolley deceptively light when he went to push it. He wished he'd thanked the twins for their help, especially upon learning that they'd used some kind of permanent lightening charm. Harry hadn't even known that such a thing existed. He'd have to learn that one, he noted.
As Harry crossed into the muggle world, he looked warily for his uncle, always half-expecting to find the platform empty. Instead he found a grouping he'd never have expected. Mr. Weasley, Lupin, and Mad-Eye of all people were gathered in front of his now clearly enraged uncle and ridiculously cowed-looking cousin. Harry approached, wondering what on earth the group would have to talk about.
"Are you threatening me, Sir?" Vernon was saying so loudly that a passerby actually turned to stare.
"Yes, I am." Said Mad-Eye, who seemed rather pleased that Vernon had grasped this fact so quickly.
"And do I look like the kind of man who can be intimidated?" Barked Vernon.
"Well.." Said Moody, pushing back his bowler hat to reveal his sinisterly revolving magical eye. Vernon leapt backwards in horror and collided painfully with a luggage trolley. "Yes, I have to say you do, Dursley." Mad-Eye turned away from Vernon to survey Harry. "So Potter…give us a shout if you need us. If we don't hear from you for three days in a row, we'll send someone along…"
Aunt Petunia whimpered piteously. It could not have been plainer that she was thinking of what the neighbors would say if they caught sight of these people marching up the garden path.
"Oh, I'm sure there'll be no need of that." Harry remarked, carefully keeping his hand away from the jar in his pocket. Moody turned both eyes on him, a silent 'you're sure?'.
"The muggles will not make trouble for me, I have no fear of that." Harry left that hanging, and turned to say goodbye to his clearly worried friends. He somehow could not find words to tell them how much it meant to him, to see them all ranged there, on his side. Instead he forced a smile, raised a hand in farewell, turned his trolley, and led the way out of the station toward the sunlit street, with Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and Dudley hurrying along in his wake.