Chapter 41 – Defying a Dark Lord

Harry started for an instant at seeing the unexpected movement. In the blink of an eye, however, he was on the move, stepping swiftly back through the still-open door of the phone booth and out into the London street where he would have more room to maneuver. He pivoted once he had left the restricting confines of the phone booth and brought his wand to bear against the shadowy outline that now appeared before him.

And stared into the familiar blue eyes of the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. The curse died on his lips as he peered into the face of his betrothed, who stood regarding him without any expression, while to her side his other female friend watched him in exactly the same manner.

Later, Harry would reflect on the mysteries and inconsistencies of the human mind. Fleur and Hermione's sudden appearance should have been a reason for consternation, for Harry had thought that they were safe, if not in their beds, then at least back at Hogwarts. He had known they likely would not sleep due to worry over him, but at least they would not be in danger themselves. His thoughts at that moment were anything but these, however, and once he had time to reflect, he could only think back on it ruefully, wondering at the thought processes which had led him to his realization. Because, it was at that moment that several things clicked in the confines of Harry's mind. His thoughts and feelings, remembrances of events, both significant, and seemingly inconsequential; all of these things in that moment came together and led him to one inescapable truth—he was in love with Fleur, and his feelings were fierce and without hesitation. And at the same moment, he also understood that the feelings he had always held for Hermione, which he had perhaps suppressed in the past, matched what he felt for Fleur in every way. How he had come to such a conclusion in such a situation he could not say—perhaps it was the sudden and unexpected shock of seeing them here, or maybe he was just admitting it now, of all times, when they could both come under fire.

Of course, such recollections also brought the situation to the forefront of his mind and snapped the bemused disposition which had settled over him. They were both dressed in tight fitting pants, sweaters and jackets, dark colored and comfortable much the same as the items he wore himself. It was clear that however they had come to be here, it had not been the decision of a moment. Anger bloomed to the surface of his thoughts.

"What are you doing here?" he hissed, capturing them both squarely within the radius of his fury filled gaze.

"We're here to support and help you," was Fleur's simple reply.

Harry glared at her. "I thought we had agreed that I would do this by myself."

"You agreed," Hermione replied. "We did not."

Shaking his head with some exasperation, Harry glanced around noting their exposed position. Spying a narrow alley some short distance from them, Harry took both of their hands and marched them into the dubious safety of its confines.

"This is dangerous!" he spat, turning and focusing on them once they had entered the alley.

"You don't say?" was Hermione's somewhat sarcastic reply.

"Harry, Hermione," Fleur said in a chiding tone to both of them. Harry took a step back, attempting to find his composure. "Harry, we are not going away. You will have to accept our help."

Watching Fleur's expression as she spoke, Harry felt certain that her determination was equal to his own, and he knew that she was as stubborn in her own way as he was himself. Hermione was, of course, no less obstinate, as she had proved many times during the course of their acquaintance. It appeared like he had no choice, though he was well aware of the fact that his conscience would torture him with guilt should anything happen to either one, especially in light of his newly discovered feelings for them both.

Still, now was not the time to consider that or to indulge in fears of what might happen. Harry saw clearly that there was no way to avoid their participation, apart from trussing them up and sending them back to Hogwarts by portkey. And if anyone was watching them, sending the girls away now would look suspicious. However, their timely arrival would only further the ruse they were trying to create—it would appear as though they found out about his departure and, given their public argument from earlier in the day, assume he was attempting to reach the orb, and had followed him here. Knowing their general personalities, it should be very believable that they would not allow him to send them away.

"All right," Harry replied grudgingly. "Be careful. I don't want anything to happen to either of you.

"We could say the same about you," Hermione murmured.

Harry smiled at her, before turning a serious eye on them both. "But don't think that this discussion is at an end," he stated determinedly. "I'm really not happy that you followed me here, and this isn't the first time you have both gone behind my back and ignored my wishes."

"We didn't expect you would be," Fleur replied calmly. "And we knew you would be unhappy with us. But we both decided that this was far too important." Hermione merely nodded to indicate that she had heard and accepted that they would need to speak about it again later.

Harry peered at them for several more moments before he motioned back toward the phone booth. "Then I suggest we get moving."

They stepped from the alley back into the street, which appeared as empty as it had earlier. But Harry was certain that they were being watched. Hopefully the subterfuge would hold.

They moved back to the phone booth and Harry opened the door, moving to step inside. Before he did so, a thought crossed his mind and he turned and looked at Fleur. "How did you get here anyway?"

Hermione and Fleur exchanged a look and a ghost of a smile appeared on both of their faces. "We apparated. We followed you through the tunnel and waited until you had been gone for a while, then we apparated here. We had only been here for about ten minutes before you showed up."

Shaking his head—and trying not to think about how he could have avoided a long and uncomfortable ride on the Knight Bus—he stepped into the phone booth, motioning Fleur and Hermione to follow him in. "It's a bit of a tight fit, but the whole booth goes down to the Atrium."

From behind him, Harry felt a pair of very feminine bodies press up against him, while one set of arms hugged him around the waist and another hugged him around the shoulders. "I believe we can handle being close to you," Hermione's voice whispered in his ear, as she kissed him lightly on the cheek.

Astonished, Harry glanced back to see both girls regarding him with amused grins. "I am so getting you for that," he growled as he turned and took the dialing the number six two four four two on the ancient rotary phone and trying to ignore their tinkling laughter.

"Welcome to the Ministry of Magic," a female voice said as the dialer stopped moving. "Please state your name and business."

Though he would rather not have given their names, he now knew there was no choice in the matter. With a certain determination to ignore exactly what he was getting them into, Harry spoke confidently into the phone, "Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Fleur Delacour. We're here to find something valuable to me."

Three silver badges appeared from the chute and dropped into Harry's outstretched hand. Turning the topmost over, Harry laughed as he showed it to the girls. On the front was engraved the words, Harry Potter, Treasure Hunter.

"Visitors to the Ministry," the voice once again spoke, "you are required to submit to a search and present your wands for registration at the security desk, which is located at the far end of the Atrium."

With that, the phone booth lowered into the pavement, leaving the street and everything in it behind. It was only a few moments before they came to a rest against the cold stone of the Atrium floor.

They stepped out and took stock of their surroundings. Contrary to the message, there was no security in evidence anywhere—the Atrium appeared to be deserted. Sharing a significant glance with the girls, Harry began walking toward the lifts, past the golden fountain and the low murmur of its softly flowing water from various points on the five statues. Nothing moved and no one came forward to challenge their progress. It seemed like the message had been received—Voldemort had made certain that there was no one to prevent Harry from reaching the Hall.

Putting thoughts of Voldemort and what he might be planning from his mind, Harry led the way to the lift and stepped in, pressing the button for the ninth floor after the girls entered behind him. Then, when the lift stopped, the same voice from the telephone booth announced the level and he stepped through the open door, taking stock of his surroundings.

Outside the lift was a corridor with a single black door at its end. The corridor was bare and devoid of any life. Harry glanced at the two girls who both shrugged at his unspoken question. Steeling himself for the upcoming conflict, Harry braced himself, walked to the black door and opened it.

He found himself in a circular room, black as pitch, with a number—perhaps as many as a dozen—identical black doors. Each was unmarked, and gave no indication whatsoever as to what lay behind them.

"Wait a minute, Harry," Hermione exclaimed as she stepped in behind him. Harry stopped, and peered back at Hermione, thinking that as long as the girls showed up, they should play up the fact that this had been an impulsive decision and he should not know anything about what was ahead.

Hermione stood there watching him, as though deep in thought. "If we close this door, it would be very easy to lose track of which door we came through. And since this department is supposed to be secure, I wouldn't put it past the Unspeakables to have some sort of security here to prevent people from continuing on."

"What do you suggest?" asked Harry, playing along. In reality, he knew which door they should be going through.

"I think we should keep the door open while we try the other doors. The book I read said that the entrance to the Hall of Prophecy is through something called the 'Time Room.' We should know it when we see it."

"I'll open the doors, you cover me," Fleur said, moving to the door directly to the left of the one through which they had entered.

"Why?" Harry asked, trying to appear perplexed at Fleur's suggestion.

"Just in case," was Fleur's airy reply. "We might still run into someone, and we don't want to be caught by them. Besides, Dumbledore said that Voldemort is trying to get his hands on the prophecy—they might be here now."

"All right," Harry agreed, taking up a position to Fleur's right, want pointed at the first door.

"First, let me mark this door," Hermione said, as she held the door open with one hand, while with the other she hit the door with a coloring charm, leaving a large yellow blob in the center at eye height. She turned back to Harry and Fleur and smiled. "This way it will be easier to find our way out."

Harry nodded and smiled at her ingenuity before turning to the other doors. The first two doors, in fact, would not budge, and a simple Alohamora would not open them. "I think we can discount both of these," Fleur suggested after trying the second. "I don't know what kind of research goes on here, but I would think that the Hall is accessible to people who want to look up their prophecies, so they wouldn't keep it locked."

Harry thought that was reasonable, so he nodded and moved on to the third door. This one did in fact open, but it opened into a dark room, with a number of planets floating in mid air. "That's a bit of an odd room, isn't it?" Harry muttered.

Fleur merely smiled and moved on to the next door, which also did not open. When she pushed on the fifth door, it swung inward and revealed a long rectangular room brilliantly lit. It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the sudden light, but when they did, a curious sight met their eyes. The room was filled with tables and shelves, some large and some small, and every surface was filled with all manner of items related to time. There were clocks, from watches—a large table was devoted to pocket and wrist watches of all sizes and shapes—carriage clocks, wall clocks, grandfather clocks, and even a few cuckoo clocks hanging on the walls, leading Harry to speculate that when the top of the hour came around, the level of noise in the room would likely be deafening with all the bells, cuckoos, chimes, and everything else which would ring simultaneously. In another part of the room, several shelves and nearby tables were filled with hourglasses, ancient and new, ornate and simple, large and small. Then Harry looked to another part of the room and saw the light shining off a shelf containing a large number of time turners, from the simple small hourglasses on a chain, like the one Hermione had used during her third year, to much larger and more unwieldy devices which could only sit upon a desk when used. Of course, that begged the question of how they would move one back into time, considering how the time turner Hermione would only turn someone who had the chain around their neck at the time. Harry glanced at Hermione, noticing her peering at the time turners with some interest.

Finally, toward the far side of the room against the left wall there stood a large crystal bell jar. The dazzling light which filled the room emanated from the bell jar, and became brighter and more intense the closer they moved toward it. From within its depths, something moved, but Harry decided against investigating—they were here for a purpose, after all, and regardless of his curiosity, he would not allow himself to become sidetracked.

They passed quickly and silently through the Time Room, intent upon the door which stood at the far end. To either side there were several other doors, but where they led Harry could not say. Upon attaining the far end of the room, Harry opened the door, and stepped into the room beyond.

The room into which they stepped was as different from the Time Room as night was to day. The room was large and spacious, the ceiling towering high over their heads, and extending out into the distance. It was gloomy and dark, containing rows upon rows of shelves, and upon each shelf sat rows of dusty orbs, some dull and grey, while others contained a swirling mist, which glowed with an eldritch light. They had arrived.

"Do you have any idea where to find it?" Fleur asked.

Harry, who had moved closer to the shelves to inspect the orbs more closely, shook his head. "I hadn't thought that far in advance, to be honest."

"Honestly!" Hermione said with a huff. "You could have spent hours and days in here looking for a prophecy which might be on highest shelf of the last structure in the room."

Harry almost grinned at the way Hermione was playing it up. Though they were not completely certain, Dumbledore speculated that in addition to the enchantments which physically prevented someone from removing a prophecy which was not their own, there were also likely protections on the orbs against any spell damage. Considering the vindictive retaliation against the removal of an orb, it was likely that hitting them with a spell would also provoke some retaliation. Therefore, they expected that the Death Eaters would not move against them until they left the Hall of Prophecy. That did not necessarily mean that no one was watching them now—on the contrary, they probably had at least one person whose task it was to make certain that Harry took the prophecy before he left the room. And then there was the likelihood that they were being observed by someone from the Order. No doubt Hermione and Fleur's presence had come as a surprise and an unwelcome one at that. No matter though—what was done was done.

"Do you have any idea how to find it?" Harry snapped back at Hermione, feigning annoyance.

"As a matter of fact, I do," replied Hermione a trifle smugly. "The prophecies are catalogued in the order of their occurrence. Each prophecy orb appears next to the one which was created previously, and each orb is tagged with the date, the initials of the person who made it, and the initials of the person or persons who heard it, if any, and the subject of the prophecy, if known."

"Wait a second," Harry interrupted. "Does the magic automatically know who the prophecy is about? How can it know?"

Hermione shrugged. "Sometimes the name of the person is mentioned in the prophecy. Sometimes not. In any case, the Keeper of the Hall of Prophecy reviews each new prophecy and makes any notes necessary to the identification tag."

"Hold on a moment!" Harry said, surprised. This was something he had not known before and it did not make a lot of sense. "If the Keeper knows what the prophecy says, then couldn't he just tell anyone about it?"

"The Keeper is protected by enchantments and oaths which keep him from compromising the prophecies," Hermione explained. "He is also unknown to all but a few Unspeakables. Besides," Hermione continued with a grin, "I'm certain he could not remember all the prophecies he would have read—there are thousands upon thousands here, and each Keeper must have had to review several hundred at least."

Harry was still a little skeptical about the whole arrangement, but he merely nodded absently. "Well, we'd better get on with this."

The nearest shelves contained prophecies which were ancient—some reaching back centuries before Christ. The prophecies there were mostly dull and lifeless, leading Harry to speculate that those prophecies were ones which had already been fulfilled. Here and there was an empty spot on a shelf—likely orbs which had been removed by their owners—though most still stood in their original locations. As they progressed down the hall, not only did the dates progress, but the number of "live" prophecies also increased.

"You know, I have trouble believing that all these prophecies were made," said Harry as they moved deeper into the room.

"Why is that?" Fleur asked.

"Well, look at all these," Harry replied with a wave of his hand. "There must be thousands of them."

"There are thousands of years of history here," Hermione replied. "But I think you're mistaking true, world altering prophecy with someone simply making a prediction."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked curiously.

"Not all prophecy predicts some earth-shattering event. While some obviously do, and can be a form of guidance, assuming you can interpret them properly, not all prophecy is that important or predicts events of such magnitude. In fact, the vast majority of these spheres likely would only have been of interest to a specific person. For example, there may be one which simply talks about what a friend will have for breakfast tomorrow."

Harry frowned. "It doesn't seem that useful to me."

"And it likely isn't," Hermione agreed. "Of course I'm being a little simplistic and silly. But take for example, the possibility that a person wondering openly if they would ever have children. Say then that their brother was a seer, and gave a prediction that that person would have two children. Then, he also predicted the person his brother would need to marry to have those two children. Again, I'm being a little simplistic and silly, but I think you get the point. It's not useful to anyone other than the subject of the prediction, is it?"

"I see your point. But it does seem to kind of devalue the talent in general."

"Perhaps," said Hermione. "But remember that not everything is so earth-shaking. There are likely only a few events per century which have the potential to radically alter the lives of a large part of the population. If a seer has the talent, but not the opportunity to make a major prediction, then their talent will manifest in other ways."

Harry grunted but did not respond. The topic was interesting, he supposed, but at that moment he was more concerned about finding the prophecy and goading the Death Eaters into the waiting trap.

They continued walking for some moments when they stopped to inspect the shelves more closely. The shelves still went on much deeper into the room, but after few rows, the shelves were bare of any prophecies. They had come to the mid 1970's, and knew they were drawing closer.

"Do you know exactly when this prophecy was made?" Fleur asked, looking at one of the nearby shelves.

Harry considered the question. "I'm not sure, but it would have had to have been some time before I was born. Likely some time in late spring 1980, I would think."

As Hermione had stated, each prophecy had a tag attached, containing a date, and two or more sets of initials. They started several rows from the empty shelves, hoping that that would give them the general location of the prophecy—how many prophecies could have been made in the past fifteen years, after all? If Harry's luck held, then it could be a great many!

They had searched the shelves for about fifteen minutes when Fleur said, "Harry, I think I've found it."

Hermione and Harry crowded around Fleur, looking over her shoulders. She was standing in front of an orb, one of those which glowed with a swirling murky light. On the tag which was attached to the orb was written the year 1980, and the words:

S.P.T. to A.P.W.B.D
Dark Lord and (?)Harry Potter

"This would seem to be the one," Harry said in an awed tone of voice. It was one thing to know that a prophecy had been made about you, and a completely different thing to be confronted with the evidence.

"You had better take it so we can go," Hermione whispered when Harry hesitated. Her voice contained a nervous quality which Harry could well understand. He stood upon the brink—the point of no return. Though to be honest, the point of no return had likely been achieved upon arriving at the Ministry. The Death Eaters were not about to allow them to leave without his retrieving the prophecy, and even the knowledge of the upcoming confrontation did not dispel the nervousness.

Resolutely, Harry controlled his emotions and reached out to grasp the sphere in his hand, lifting it from its place of rest. The sphere was not cool as he would have expected; rather it was warm to the touch—the soothing warmth of hot chocolate on a cold day. It may have simply been Harry's eyes playing tricks on him, but for an instant after he grasped the orb, he fancied that the cloudy light within flared slightly, before it settled back into its calm swirling motion.

"So what do I do with it now?" Harry asked.

"I think it would be better if you worried about that back at Hogwarts," Fleur said with a slight scolding shade in her voice.

"You're probably right," Harry acknowledged. "Let's get out of here."

They retraced their steps back down the long aisle to the door, and though Harry at times fancied he could see motion to either side of them, nothing stepped forward to challenge them. Dumbledore had been correct—the Death Eaters would wait until they had cleared the Hall of Prophecy before they made their move. The question remained as to whether they would wait until they arrived back at the Atrium, or if it would come in the next chamber.

They stepped from the Hall and back into the bright light of the Time Room, which was, of course, where the Death Eaters struck. Facing them, arranged in a semi-circle stood a dozen Death Eaters, curiously, none of them wearing their disgusting costumes. All the usual suspects were there—Malfoy, with his aristocratic air and sneering expression; Macnair, who he remembered from third year and the incident with Buckbeak; a couple of hulking men who bore resemblance to the local Hogwarts gorillas Crabbe and Goyle; and a witch who cackled and smirked, and appeared to have only the most tenuous grip on sanity—undoubtedly, the infamous Bellatrix Lestrange.

"What's the matter, Potter?" Bellatrix cooed at him, as though she was speaking to a little child. "You didn't expect to see us? Poor wittow Potter wants his mommy?"

Harry refused to rise to her bait—instead, he simply rolled his eyes and looked expectantly at Malfoy.

"You have reacted exactly as our master said you would," the blond Death Eater said with a smug smile. "Now, hand over that sphere and we will allow you to leave."

"Oh you will, will you?" Harry drawled.

Malfoy merely smiled at him. "Surely you realize you are outnumbered and outclassed? You should give up the orb before one of your pretty little friends gets hurt."

"There is no point in speaking with trained animals," Bellatrix said. As she spoke, her giggling suddenly ceased and she stared at them with an almost rabid intensity. "Take the orb from him and torture his little friends if he refuses."

"You see?" Malfoy said with a smirk. "I shall just have to allow Bellatrix to hurt you if you do not turn it over. Now give me the orb."

He reached out with his hand as he spoke his last words, but Harry was not about to be intimidated. He put the orb in his pocket and assumed a defensive stance, ready to defend the girls if one of the Death Eaters suddenly developed an itchy trigger finger.

"Why does Voldemort want this anyway?"

"You dare to speak the name of the Dark Lord?" Bellatrix demanded, a feral light almost glowing in her eyes.

"You mean Voldemort?" Harry asked deliberately, watching with satisfaction as she became almost apoplectic with rage. "Of course I do. Like Dumbledore always said, fear to speak a name is merely giving that person a sort of power, and it's not like it's anything but a silly made-up name created by a Halfblood with an inferiority complex. Incidentally, he couldn't even run from his true name—I am Lord Voldemort is just an anagram of the name he was born with. "

His words had the intended effect, as Bellatrix shot off a curse, while screaming at him. "Defiler! Foul-mouthed little scum!"

Harry was ready and his quickly cast shield deflected the curse into their air where it struck the ceiling. At the same time, Malfoy's arm came up and he pushed Bellatrix's wand down. "Foolish woman!" he snarled. "We need the orb—if you smash it, the Dark Lord will be most displeased."

"I shall take it from his cold and lifeless fingers!" the witch screeched.

"Not until we have the prophecy!" Stepping slightly in front of the mad witch, Malfoy turned a scathing glare back at Harry. "You either possess true Gryffindor bravery, or you are nothing more than a stupid little boy. One does not make an enemy of Bellatrix Lestrange lightly."

"What, was she about to invite me to tea before I insulted her precious Dork Lord?" Harry asked sardonically.

Bellatrix screamed yet again, but Lucius merely glared at him with contempt. "I grow tired of this, Potter, so it will be the last time I ask. Give me the orb!"

At that moment, several members of the Order materialized behind and to the sides of the Death Eaters, all with wands at the ready and expressions of deadly intent upon their faces. Sirius stepped to Harry's side and gazed at Malfoy coldly, while the rest of the Order members ensured that each Death Eater was covered.

Harry feigned a relief, which was not in truth much of an act, before he turned to the Death Eater. "No, Mr. Malfoy, I don't think I will be handing anything over to the likes of you today."

Sirius Black could not be prouder of his godson. To be certain he had opposed Harry's plan to retrieve the sphere—in good conscience, he could not imagine acting in any other manner as, just having gained the freedom to be a part of Harry's life, he could not imagine losing him to some harebrained scheme. He would do so again, should the situation present itself, regardless of the fact that he had ultimately given his blessing for Harry to proceed.

Still, he had to admire the lad. He was tough and resourceful, not to mention as brave as any Gryffindor Sirius had ever had the fortune to meet. But he had also added a modicum of slyness and a dram of sense to his character over the previous months—gone was the formerly impetuous and sometimes reckless youth, replaced with someone who would prove to be a formidable force in whatever future endeavor he chose to pursue. The way he toyed with Malfoy and baited Bellatrix had been classic. Sirius could only wish that he had one of those video recording thingies the Muggles invented. Of course, a Pensieve memory of Bellatrix's face would be much better, as he would be able to live the moment again as the Pensieve put one directly into the memory. He could not imagine ever tiring of it.

The plan thus far had been executed flawlessly. Sirius had made certain he had been seen at Hogwarts earlier that evening, even patrolling the hallways near the Slytherin common room just before curfew and making certain that some of the Death Eater children had seen him so that they could report as to his whereabouts. He had then retired to his chambers before sneaking out under a disillusionment charm and making his way to the location the Order had designated as their staging area.

From there it had been a simple matter to wait until they learned, via the judicious tracking spell Sirius had placed on Harry earlier that evening, to wait until the trio entered the Hall of Prophecy before making their way into the building and surrounding the Death Eaters. Their timing had been perfect.

The fact that the two girls had accompanied Harry did not come as a surprise in the slightest to Sirius. Dumbledore and Jean-Sebastian had both assumed that Hermione and Fleur would allow Harry to go off on his own without a second thought, but Sirius had seen something in their eyes, especially the night when Harry had first made his plan known. Still, though perhaps he should have spoken up, Sirius had remained quiet, knowing that if anyone was to protect Harry's back, the two girls were the ones he would have chosen. Now they were all here.

And now came the hard part.

As he and his comrades stepped forward, Sirius waved jauntily at the assembled Death Eaters. "Bellatrix," he greeted her with a grin. "So nice of you to drop by. My how the time flies—it seems like just yesterday when I was exchanging war stories between the bars of our prison cells."

Bellatrix was not amused. "Blood traitor! Insolent whelp! How your mother would be disappointed in you!"

"The last time mother was happy with me was when I was five years old," Sirius jibed. "Perhaps you didn't notice, but she was rather put out that I did not swallow that tripe she spewed like the rest of you did. She was just as foul as you and your compatriots are, and likely less sane. Though come to think about it, I think you'd give her a run for her money in the madness department now."

Bellatrix screamed again, but Malfoy knocked her wand arm down when she would have attempted to curse him. Sirius smiled and nodded at the Malfoy patriarch.

"Good on you, Malfoy. Seems like someone at least has the sense to try to rein in my crazy cousin. Next time, though, I suggest you use a leash and a muzzle—a mad dog should not be allowed to run free, you know."

Malfoy held Bellatrix back again as by this time she was almost frothing at the mouth. "Sirius Black," Lucius said, spitting out the words as though they were foul to the taste. "It is a surprise seeing you here."

"Well, my godson does have a tendency to be somewhat impetuous." Sirius glared down at Harry, as though scolding him for putting them in this situation. "Luckily I checked on him tonight after noticing he's not been himself lately."

"Yes, fortunate for you indeed." Lucius's glare slipped to Harry and he stretched out his hand again. "Give the orb to me, Potter, and we can avoid this bit of unpleasantness."

Harry shook his head and stepped back, even as Sirius laughed in Malfoy's face. Malfoy's answer, however was provided by Mad-Eye who stood to one side. He said, in his usual blunt manner, "You don't really think we'll allow you to leave with it, do you Malfoy? Look around—we have you surrounded. I suggest if you don't want to be cut down like the dogs you are that you leave while you still can."

Lucius glanced at Moody with seeming disdain, but Sirius could see his hesitation—only a fool disregarded an Auror with Mad-Eye's reputation. Sirius looked around and caught the eyes of some of his companions—Hestia, Kingsley, Dedalus, and the rest all looked ready for action. Sirius could only wish that Tonks and Remus were here—both were powerful casters and Remus also had the strength and quickness of a werewolf to aid him in battle.

"Of course," Sirius continued with deliberate nonchalance, "you could always simply give yourselves up and turn in that Halfblood bastard who branded you. Of course, I doubt that you are intelligent enough to do that—inbreeding plays havoc with the better traits of a person after all, such as intelligence and prudence."

As intended, several of the Death Eaters growled at Sirius and flashed angry glares at the assembled Order members. Sirius ignored them in favor of watching Malfoy—his insults were deliberately calculated to rile the man up and induce him to attack where he might otherwise have backed down. He watched as Malfoy sized the Order up and compared them with his compatriots. Sirius could almost see the wheels turning in his mind as he considered the odds.

Ultimately it appeared that the fear of returning to Voldemort empty-handed, coupled with the insults, were enough to goad him into the desired response. He hefted his wand and pointed it at Harry, a signal which caused his fellow Death Eaters to raise theirs as well.

"I will give you one last opportunity to walk from this room unscathed. Give me the orb."

"Screw you, Malfoy," was Harry's only response.

Malfoy's reply was a curse emerging from the end of his wand, which Harry nonchalantly batted away with his own shielding charm as the room erupted in chaos.

Caught as they were in a circle of Order members, the Death Eaters tried to seize the initiative and break out, but the Order members met them spell for spell. On the far side of the room he saw one of the Death Eaters—Jugson he thought—rush against Hestia while a stream of curses spewed from his wand, but the petite woman merely sidestepped and counter-attacked, catching him with a glancing blow on his non-wand arm with a cutting hex. Elsewhere, Kingsley had engaged the team of Crabbe and Goyle while several other Order members were trying to set up a crossfire and catch the Death Eaters in the middle of a deadly killing ground. Indeed, two of Malfoy's companions went down to their fire in the opening moments of the fight.

"Get behind me!" he yelled urgently at the three teens as the curses started flying. They ignored him, as he might have expected, all three of them throwing hexes and curses from their wands as though they had been battling for years.

"Bombarda!" Bellatrix cried, and Sirius was forced to turn his attention away from even the teens.

Blocking her attack, Sirius immediately spun on his heel and sent a combination of cutting and bludgeoning curses and stunning hexes back at the madly cackling witch. Bellatrix merely continued her insane laughter and blocked his curses, while firing several back on her own.

"Poor wittow Siwius," she taunted childishly. Her next words, however, were deadly serious and only confirmed her madness. "You should have stayed in Azkaban—the Dark Lord will feast upon your soul."

"Only if he can catch me," Sirius jibed, blocking her attacks and responding with his own.

To his side, Sirius could see the teenagers out of the corner of his eye, where they were taking on a combination of Malfoy and Dolohov, and if the sweat pouring down Malfoy's face was any indication, were doing quite well against them.

"You never did know when to quit," Bellatrix snarled at Sirius as she brought his attention back to her with a snap. He had to dodge quickly to avoid her blood boiling curse, and he responded with a leg locker. "I shall enjoy flaying the flesh from your bones." She cackled madly and switched once again to her childish voice. "I may even keep you awive wong enough to see what I wiw do wif your fwee wittow fwiends."

Sirius only replied with a bone breaker curse, which she narrowly avoided.

A stray curse from the side broke Bellatrix's concentration, and she dodged to one side, allowing Sirius a moment's respite in which to check on the teens. Harry and his friends were still holding their own, though a third Death Eater—one Sirius did not know—had joined the confrontation. He was fighting with Fleur, while Harry matched up against Dolohov, and Hermione faced off with the elder Malfoy. Using his moment of precious time, Sirius directed a wide angled sleeping charm toward the three men which shifted their focus away from the teens. Dolohov and the unnamed Death Eater managed to evade his attack easily, but while Malfoy was distracted, Hermione managed to slip a bludgeoning curse past his defenses, and the man was knocked of his feet and went down in a heap and did not rise again.

Taking stock of his situation, Sirius saw that the room was taking heavy damage from the raging battle. Several nearby tables had been smashed, depositing their contents on the floor, while one of the shelves containing time turners had been hit by a stray spell, obliterating them beyond repair. Bellatrix had been engaged by Dedalus Diggle, and though he doubted Diggle's ability to hold her back for long, she was occupied for the moment. He turned and saw Kingsley put down the last of the Crabbe/Goyle duo he was fighting with and catch his eye. Nodding to each other, the two entered the fray against the two remaining Death Eaters who were still fighting the three teens, willing them to remember the plan and take the opportunity to flee.

Some sixth sense must have alerted Dolohov to his presence, because the man quickly shifted his stance and fired off several curses at Sirius, leaving Harry be for the moment. As he moved to fully engage the Death Eater, Sirius saw the three teens slip away and move toward the exit to the Time Room. Concentrating fully on Dolohov, he pressed the man furiously, ensuring that he could not go after the teens and stop them from escaping.

For the next several moments, Sirius worked as a team with Kingsley, admiring the fluidity and grace which the big man employed. Although this was the first time Sirius had seen him in action, it was clear why Kingsley was so well regarded, not only in the Auror force, but also in the Order—he was a powerful and graceful fighter, his spells were cast effortlessly, and he fought with a flair rarely to be seen.

The battle ebbed and flowed over the confines of the room, short and vicious, with no quarter given or received. The Death Eaters had clearly suffered some losses—Malfoy Crabbe, Goyle, and another Death Eater not familiar to Sirius had all been taken out of the fight. But the Order had suffered losses as well, with Emmeline Vance and Bill Weasley nursing injuries and out of the fight.

Sirius had just put Macnair down with a well-aimed Reductor curse, when he heard the insane laughter of his cousin very close behind him. He spun around to see her eyeing him with her wand pointed at him, when the fateful words emerged from her lips. "Avada Kedavra!"

Twisting on his heel, Sirius contorted his body desperately to avoid the speeding curse. He managed to twist himself around and, losing his balance, hit the floor as the curse sped past his chin. He could almost fancy he felt a blazing hot furnace of heat emanating from the spell as it passed him by. With grunt Sirius hit the floor, immediately scrambling to move once again as he knew Bellatrix would not allow him a respite in which to recover himself.

It was only when he was crouching that he noticed that someone else had not been nearly as lucky as he had been in avoiding the curse. There was body lying on the floor in front of him, eyes open wide, staring sightlessly up at the ceiling. It was Dedalus Diggle.

Snarling, Sirius pushed himself to his feet and engaged Bellatrix, spells issuing furiously from his wand, wanting to make her pay for all the suffering and misery she had caused over the course of her life. He attacked her with an entrail-expelling curse, followed it up with several stunners, a blasting curse and a blood boiling curse, steadily forcing her back, not caring that the curses he were using could be considered borderline dark at the very least. The gloves had come off.

For an instant, the insanity seemed to retreat as she furiously fought back, and a hint of fear appeared on her face. But then out of the corner of his eye, Sirius saw a curse heading his way, and he ducked to the side and responded by attacking Thaddeus Nott, who had been trying to sneak up on him, completely losing track of Bellatrix in the process. The mad witch immediately spun on her heel and sprinted from the room, laughing all the time.

Sirius fought furiously, trying to turn back Nott's attack so that he could pursue Bellatrix and protect Harry, but the man stubbornly fought back, delaying Sirius for a few more precious moments. By the time he was able to subdue him, more time had been lost, and Bellatrix was long gone from the room.

A quick glance around showed that the fight had largely gone their way—most of the Death Eaters were now either incapacitated or strung up, with only Dolohov and Rookwood still trying to fight their way from the room against Hestia, Mad-Eye and Kingsley. Aside from the unfortunate Dedalus, and Bill and Emmeline, Minerva and Arthur Weasley were also nursing injuries.

"Go after Potter!" Moody yelled as he attacked Dolohov with a stream of curses issuing from his wand. "Voldemort must be somewhere near and we don't want Potter running into him alone."

Nodding, Sirius sprinted toward the door. Of course, he also knew that Dumbledore was nearby, as was Jean-Sebastian, but Bellatrix escaping the room had not been part of the plan. Knowing her she would end up messing everything up!

The moment Sirius distracted the Death Eaters they were fighting, Harry grabbed Fleur's hand and, dragging her along behind, propelled Hermione away from the struggling combatants. The battle still raged on behind them with curses flying everywhere, and the sounds of shouted spells screams of pain, and the debris from ruined clocks and smashed time turners filled the air.

Risking a quick glance behind as he neared the door, Harry could see that no one was pursuing them—if any of the enemy had noticed their retreat, they were too busy with the Order members to chase after them. So far, everything was going to plan.

They rushed through the door and closed it behind them, realizing their mistake in an instant when the doors started spinning around them. Harry had to grasp onto his two companions to keep his balance, as the rotating room was very disorienting and threatened to upset his balance. The girls appeared to have the same problem.

When finally the room stopped spinning, Harry led the girls to the door with the yellow stain on it, incidentally noting that it was in the approximate position as the door they had entered through had been—though to be honest he could not be certain given the dizziness the room had caused—and stepped through it into the short black corridor. They rushed to the panel and pressed the button, summoning the lift. It was a tense few moments waiting for the lift to respond, as they watchfully covered the door, half afraid that a Death Eater would burst through and try to prevent their escape.

At length the lift arrived and they stepped in and pressed the button for the atrium. Before the doors could close, however, the door at the far end of the hall opened, and in stepped a cackling Bellatrix. Seeing them, she began sprinting toward them as the doors began to close, seeming to Harry to be agonizingly slow.

As she was running, Harry saw her lift her wand as though to cast, and without thought, Harry raised his own and through the still open door, Harry cried, "Reducto!" The spell sped out through the doorway and struck the tiles in front of Bellatrix's feet, sending a spray of jagged tiles and stone into the air. A particularly large piece flew up and hit Bellatrix on the leg, causing her to stumble and go down in a heap.

Finally the door closed with a soft thud, but not before Harry saw Bellatrix scrambling to her feet, expression of poisonous hatred etched upon her face. Her countenance in that instant was indelibly imprinted in Harry's memory, and he was hit by the idle thought that if she had not been mad and completely evil, and had she not suffered the ravages of more than ten years in Azkaban, Bellatrix Lestrange would be an uncommonly beautiful woman.

A sudden blast and a thunderclap interrupted Harry's sudden introspection and he glanced around wildly for the source of the disturbance.

"I… I think Bellatrix just hit the doors with a Reductor Curse," Hermione said shakily.

"Get up against the wall," Harry commanded immediately, moving out until he was hugging the wall himself. "I wouldn't put it past her to Reducto the bottom of the lift."

Hermione and Fleur complied with his directive, though Fleur said, "Surely she wouldn't. If she managed to destroy the lift, she would destroy the orb too."

"Yeah, well she's not exactly the sanest person we've ever met, is she?" Hermione replied, looking down at the floor warily.

"Exactly," Harry said.

It was a tense few moments as they rose higher in the Ministry building, but though Harry almost expected the floor to explode in a mass of wood and metal, nothing happened, and after a few moments they were able to relax in the knowledge that Bellatrix had not completely lost control of her faculties.

"She'll be chasing us," Hermione said unnecessarily.

"I seriously doubt that Bellatrix will be the worst of our worries," Harry replied.

After a few moments the lift stopped at the atrium and the three teens exited, sprinting past the still flowing fountain and towards the exit. They had almost arrived at the position where the phone booth may be summoned when Voldemort arrived in a swirl of shadow and smoke.

"Harry Potter," he greeted, almost as though they were meeting for tea. "I must commend you on your resourcefulness. I would not have expected you to be able to escape from a full dozen of my most powerful servants."

Harry snorted with disdain. "If those are your most powerful servants, I would hate to think what the bottom feeders are like."

Voldemort merely smiled. "Spoken like a true Gryffindor. I must admit that I am surprised that Dumbledore kept you in the dark all these years. I would have expected that he would want his attack dog trained and pointed at his mortal foe. How you must now despise him for it."

"I may not agree with Dumbledore's reasons," Harry responded evenly, "but I understand them."

"Perhaps you should have been in Hufflepuff then," Voldemort observed pleasantly. "Your blind devotion to that old relic of a man would almost be sad if it was not so pathetic."

"And loyalty is a trait that you have no comprehension of, isn't it Tommy boy?" Harry asked. "At the end of the day, you are out for yourself and nothing more."

"Where did you hear that name?" Voldemort demanded. Then his face smoothed and he smiled yet again. "Ah, Dumbledore told you. I suppose I shouldn't wonder at it—he does need to toss you a bone here and there."

"You told me that little tidbit yourself," Harry replied with a laugh. "Or at least, a shade, or an echo, as you termed it, did. It was just after I killed the basilisk, and just before I destroyed you for the third time."

If Harry had not been looking for it, he might have missed the sudden shade in Voldemort's eyes at the mention of the destruction of the diary. It appeared only for an instant before the man was his affable self again, apparently dismissing any suggestion that Harry might know of his great secret.

"Indeed." Voldemort nodded sagely. "Your intrepid adventures of your second year. A word of advice, Potter—you may wish to curb your predilection for throwing yourself into the fray. You will eventually bite off more than you can chew. In fact," he said with a chuckle, "I believe you may find yourself in exactly that situation right now.

"But enough of this," he said with a congenial smile, as though they were best of friends, "I will now relieve you of that little bauble you carry."

A flick of his wrist and he attempted to summon the orb. But Harry was ready for him. He blocked the spell with his wand, which he still held in his hand. But though he would have expected Voldemort to be angry at being thwarted, he just smiled at Harry yet again.

"You are not going to make this difficult now, are you Harry?"

"When have I ever made anything easy for you?"

"I suppose not." Voldemort eyed Harry and then his eyes flickered to Fleur and Hermione in succession. "You really should consider giving me that prophecy, Harry. Miss Delacour is so beautiful—it would be a shame to mar her ethereal looks. And with her intelligence, you would not wish Miss Granger to end up the same as Mr. Longbottom's unfortunate parents now, would you?"

Though Harry was curious about the reference to Neville's parents, he acted like he considered the matter for a moment, before he pulled the orb from his pocket and gestured with it. "What's so important about this prophecy? For all you know it might merely predict what I am going to eat for breakfast tomorrow."

"Oh, I assure you, it's much more valuable than that," Voldemort said with a predatory smile, no doubt assured that he would soon have the orb in his possession. "Prophecy guides us and directs us. Nations and kingdoms can be built with the use of such knowledge. That particular prophecy provides the means by which I can sweep all opposition away and plan properly for my future and the future of the world."

Harry thought he was being more than a little melodramatic, particularly when he did not actually know what the prophecy said.

"My, aren't we ambitious," Harry drawled, scorn literally dripping from his voice.

"Ah, but weren't you aware?" Voldemort asked with a smirk. "I was sorted into Slytherin when I attended Hogwarts. Ambition comes with the territory.

"Now, give me the orb!"

From the corner of his eye, Harry saw another lift door open and watched as Bellatrix entered the atrium. Her expression of murderous fury was instantly replaced by one of smug satisfaction as she moved to take her place like a dog at her master's heels.

"Welcome, Bellatrix," Voldemort said as his eyes darted to her. He turned his attention back to Harry and said in a pleasant tone, "Now what will it be, Harry? Will you give me the orb willingly, or must I… persuade you?"

Harry paused as if thinking about it, before he smirked at Voldemort. "No, Tommy, I don't think I will give this to you."

With a quick motion, Harry turned his hand over and hurled the orb at the floor, watching in satisfaction as the orb smashed into tiny pieces of glass. The swirling mist which had been contained within eddied for a few moments in the stillness of the atrium air and then evaporated like mist on a bright and sunny morning.

A shocked Voldemort wrenched his gaze from the shattered pieces of glass and he peered at Harry with equal parts shock and anger. "I thought you wished to know the contents of the prophecy, Harry."

"Better that I remain ignorant than to allow you learn of it," Harry spat. "And besides, if I ask really nicely, maybe I can get Dumbledore to tell me what it said. I doubt he'll ever extend such a courtesy to you."

"If you think that, you are more foolish than I had imagined," Voldemort replied. "But though I would have expected you to fight to the last to retain possession of it, you have proved to be harder to predict than I had imagined. You will now have to pay the price for your thoughtlessness."

With a feral smile, Voldemort gestured toward the girls on either side of Harry and said, "Which one of your little friends will pay the price for your failure first, Harry? The Mudblood or the beast?"

"Do your worst, Tommy," Harry spat as he assumed a fighting stance.

"You always were too hasty, Tom," a voice rang out over the atrium.

Voldemort turned his head toward this new intrusion. Dumbledore and Jean-Sebastian were approaching them from the opposite direction of the lifts.

"You didn't think I would allow you harm Mr. Potter and his friends, did you?"

"Dumbledore," Voldemort growled. "How like you to always turn up at the most inopportune times."

"And how like you to overreach yourself," Dumbledore responded.

Voldemort snarled and raised his wand. "We shall see who has overreached."

And with that, the battle was joined. With Dumbledore taking up position between Harry and his friends on the one side, and Voldemort on the other, Harry was immediately cut off from the dark lord. And what he saw next was equal parts amazing and unbelievable as for the first time, the two titans squared off against one another.

Sheets of fire swept through the room, bolts of lightning struck down, waves of water splashed against unseen barriers and wild tornados and gusts of wind buffeted them, threatening to pitch them off their feet. The two combatants were almost a blur of motion as spells were cast back and forth, shields erected, dangerous beasts conjured and transfigured from the rubble which was rapidly accumulating from the ferocity of the battle. Harry saw at one point, a wall of water summoned forth by Dumbledore, its wave crested by what appeared to be a stampede of wild horses which galloped in the froth to consume the dark lord. Voldemort sidestepped and conjured a wall of rock which buckled and collapsed at the pressure of the water, but broke the momentum of the raging flood. At another point, Voldemort raised his wand to the ceiling and conjured a dizzying array of lightning bolts which struck with tremendous force. Dumbledore merely extended his wand above his head, and the lightning was diverted to strike with tremendous force all around the Headmaster.

Awed with what he was seeing, Harry could only stare in amazement at the spectacle. It was at that moment that the reality of the situation made itself known to him, though he had always understood that Voldemort held a sizeable edge against him in terms of knowledge, skill, and experience. For all his posturing when facing off with the dark lord, he was now well aware of the fact that Voldemort would literally have mopped the floor with him had Dumbledore not intervened. It was a humbling, and somewhat frightening realization, knowing as he did that it would ultimately come down to him and Voldemort. It also filled him with a fierce determination to even the odds—the next time he met Voldemort he would not be so seriously outclassed.

So fixed was he on the titanic struggle in front of him, that he almost missed the danger which was creeping around the side.

"Bombarda!" a shrill voice rang out from off to his left, and Harry instinctively shielded, noting as he did so that three other shields sprung into existence at the same time.

"You will pay for what you have done!" Bellatrix screamed as she cast curse after curse at him.

However, it wasn't truly a fair fight as, although Bellatrix was a skilled and ferocious fighter, even she was no match for four to one odds. Harry fought back at her, putting all of the hatred he felt for the misery she had caused in the service of her master, forcing her, with the help of the others, to the defensive. Soon, she was struggling just to keep their curses at bay, even as they came ever closer to putting her down. Then Sirius entered the room from one of the lifts and, seeing Bellatrix in front of him fighting against Harry and his companions, put her out of the fight with a bludgeoning curse, which Harry was certain broke some bones, if her screams of pain were any indication.

There was suddenly a commotion at the far end of the hall as Aurors began streaming into the room through the various entrances, and in their midst entered the flummoxed form of the ineffectual Minister Fudge. The foolish man gaped at the spectacle of Dumbledore's duel with Voldemort, and though Harry could not hear him over the din, he could clearly see the Minister mouthing the words, "I can't believe it—he is back!"

The movement from the end of the room drew the dark lord's attention, and he paled as he saw the mass of people flooding into the room which. Sudden understanding seemed to come to him—not only was his return, which had been denied by a stubborn Ministry, now beyond denial, but with the array of wands now facing him, he was seriously in danger of being captured, and his quest for power over before it had truly begun.

With a scream of primal rage, Voldemort broke off his duel with Dumbledore and peered wildly around the room. As he did, he appeared to lose control of himself, and he did what no one would have predicted or expected.

"Avada Kedavra!" he screamed.

The brilliant green light which emanated from his wand sped across the room and before anyone had a chance to move, struck the Minister in the middle of his forehead. The man was flung from his feet, and he crashed into the floor and lay unmoving, his open eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling.

Silence descended on the room, as the assembled wizards and witches watched in shock. It was of course then that Voldemort made his move.

He was near the Floo already, and with a few swiftly taken steps he was situated directly in front if them, Bellatrix having scrabbled to the safety of the Floo only moments before. Though everything around him felt like it was encased in thick molasses, Harry was the first to move in response to Voldemort's attempted escape, as he took a few steps himself, in an attempt to cut off his escape.

That was why he was completely unprepared when Voldemort, on the verge of his escape through the Floo, suddenly looked directly at him and stopped Harry dead in his tracks. He felt an immeasurable weight suddenly attempting to force its way into his mind and almost as though he were a marionette bereft of its strings he flopped to the floor, agony lancing through his mind, both from the physical reaction of his scar and the mental pain of a sudden intrusion into his mind.

What followed was perhaps the most painful experience of Harry's life and, though he was later told that Voldemort only held his gaze for a matter of seconds, it seemed like a lifetime. Nothing could have prepared him for the malevolent intrusion into his mind which the dark lord forced upon him—the tests Dumbledore had done on his mindscape had been gentle probes, not this harsh avalanche of thought pouring into his mind. Harry immediately and instinctively understood that Voldemort had no inkling of his knowing the text of the prophecy. Since he had failed in his attempt to gain the prophecy and had had no chance since to simply kill him in his clash with Dumbledore, he was now attempting to shred Harry's mind as a final attempt to do away with his foe.

Though he was writhing in agony—Harry could dimly sense the panic stricken attempts of his lady loves to comfort and help him—Harry pulled on the lessons which Fleur had so painstakingly taught him, and with one massive effort, pushed at Voldemort's presence, attempting desperately to evict him from his mind.

All at once, the pressure lessened and Harry opened his eyes. The vision which swam in his lidded eyes was one of Voldemort's shock as he staggered back, in a physical reaction to Harry's psychic defense. On either side, Hermione and Fleur were holding him and crying over him, while in the background Dumbledore hurried toward them and the rest of the room recovered and began to move.

An expression of pure loathing and rage appeared on Voldemort's face and he brought his wand forward. But in that instant the voices of those in the hall rose and a battery of spells jumped from wands, speeding toward the enraged man. Having no choice, Voldemort snarled and stepped back into the Floo, disappearing into the fire instants before the spells impacted against the wall behind the place he had been standing only moments before.

Thankfully, with the danger now passed, Harry allowed his control to wane and he mercifully slipped into the blessed oblivion of unconsciousness.

Updated 05/26/2014