A/N: Aside from my muse being on vacation, I have two words to explain my long term absence: Assassin's Creed
Chapter 17: Boundaries
The war hardened Auror was limping up the path to Hogwarts; said limp not due to his peg leg but a new gash on the remaining good one. Several dark boils adorned exposed skin and he winced as one of them popped, spraying blood. If things weren't looking so bad, Moody would have consider getting his picture taken. It had been a while since he'd been beaten to such a bloody pulp, even with his capture by Barty Jr, but now wasn't the time for such things.
Behind him floated the unconscious and quickly fading lives of Amelia Bones and Nymphadora Tonks.
"How the - bloody hell did it - go all pear shaped so - bloody fast?" he panted, his body screaming to stop but his mind unwilling.
Before Albus left, Moody had been instructed to act as temporary lead of the Order and the 'retired' Auror took to the opportunity like a wolf on a lamb. He had watched as Voldemort steadily gained his power once before and he'd be damned if the madman was allowed to do it again so easily.
Thanks to several contacts in the DoM, Moody was able to keep track of the Ministry's activities to some degree. That was how he fashioned together the information on a strike planned for last night in Diagon. It was supposed to be a simple demonstration, the Death Eaters hitting all the still functioning businesses in the Alley. A scare tactic, Moody knew this, to garner the attention of the masses and strike fear into their hearts after the botched attempt of whatever Voldemort had been trying at Hogwarts.
He growled, feeling the gash in his leg worsen but also from his anger at the Ministry.
'Those damned fools!' he seethed.
They had all been more interested in the depths of their pockets then the number of deaths piling up on the MLE's doorstep. Cost reductions, the slashing of department funds, all of it was done in the name of Greed and their lust for Goblin made gold. Moody shook his head to rid himself of the rage; he had to focus and if Lady Luck was even squinting in his direction, the Headmaster should have already been alerted to his presence.
Fatigue bore down heavily and only by sheer force of will did he push it to the edges of his consciousness. 'I must be getting sloppy,' he mused without mirth. It had been a long time since his mind was in such an uproar and longer still since he had let anyone down on protecting their backs. His magical eye spun around in its socket and looked through his own skull to the fading souls behind him.
Hours of the night had been spent forcing the Death Eaters back and just around daybreak was when the tide had turned. Moody and the others were winning, steadily eroding the numbers of the enemy when something changed. The attackers dug in, finding new determination and strength. Whatever had caused their shift in mentality also affected their fighting style, turning them into the more calculating, deadly Death Eaters he remembered from the First War.
In a matter of seconds, he, Amelia and Tonks went from pushing the lines to being back to back, fighting for their lives. It was awe inspiring, Moody realized, wheezing as a time delayed cutting curse on his side opened another deep wound. Spells had flown at the Trio in such a number, to Moody, it felt like the Battle of Three Rivers all over again. It was years since fear had crept into his mind while in a fight and he remembered it back then, just as he felt it in the streets of Diagon not an hour before. Moody had been so surprised by it that his spell work slipped and that had been enough for a stray to get past. Fortunately, Tonks caught it but the damage was done and their teamwork spooked to a point where they portkeyed back to Order HQ for safety.
'Ah, right,' groaned Moody while thanking the gods as he noticed Harry and several others burst from the castle doors. 'That was when it all went to hell.'
Bella had escaped and was waiting for them, or so he thought at the time.
Tonks went down almost immediately, caught in the neck by a sickly purple spell that Moody prayed to Merlin wasn't what he thought it was. Amelia and he had quickly countered, tearing up boards and throwing furniture in an effort slow the cackling madwoman down. Their efforts appeared to bear fruit as they were able to divert Bella's rage while dragging the limp body of Tonks to the entrance of the manor. The process had taken a little over two minutes when they had just about crossed into the foyer and that was when Moody came face to face with the last wizard he ever expected to see in Grimmauld.
Voldemort looked almost bored when he disabled Amelia.
Harry and the others drew near and at the same time, Moody felt the last remnants of his strength slip away. The blackness that had been encroaching around his sight finally overcame him but as he fell to the ground, he smiled, rewarded by the last 'well-shit' measure he had invested his time and magic in.
By the fight's end, plenty of his blood had been spilled onto the surrounding floor.
Several black spells flew at him and by experience alone was he able to make it look like he'd been hit. The moment his body touched the ground, summoning spells cast silently brought the two women on top of him. Once their bodies made contact with his, the mother of all portkeys tucked inside his wooden leg activated.
The one-time use artifact tore through the wards of the house like paper and Moody, along with the women, vanished. He had been lucky though; had the Black wards been tuned to keep them in as opposed to out, the scenario would have been very different, powerhouse of a portkey or not. Fortunately, such a thing could only have been commanded by the Head of House: Sirius.
The moment their bodies were gone, magic embedded into Moody's spilled blood came alive. The old codger always thought he'd go out in the throes of battle and with this belief, he created one last surprise for those who managed to do him in. However, with two of his most beloved students' lives hanging in the balance, he couldn't go just yet so instead settled for a slightly less explosive departure.
The others reached him just as Moody hit the ground.
"Filius, Pomona, get them to the infirmary!" growled Harry, his eyes scanning the distant gates. "Minerva, get Poppy and tell her she'll need her most trusted from St. Mungo's. I've lifted the apparition restrictions for you three; move it!"
Experience from wars prior was the only inhibitor to the shock crawling its way into their systems. Sadly, the Professors were no strangers to this and further tamed their reactions, wordlessly doing as they were commanded. Hermione however, did not have such experience thus when the wounded were finally taken away, the calm she displayed quickly evaporated.
She whimpered while reaching for him and his gaze softened, seeing the newly spent tears and quickly gathered her in his arms. Harry had forgotten that Hermione, like the others students, had not been privy to a life of broken bones, deep cuts and scattered blood. By this point he was immune to their presence, but others had yet to lose that innocence.
"It's alright, Hermione. They'll be okay." He didn't feel it necessary to mention that had Poppy not come back when she did while they were still down in the village, this could have ended far differently. He almost missed the slight twinge in his magic when the mediwitch crossed the boundaries, having been focused on exploring the hidden town. 'Come to think of it, it's a miracle we even ran into the others on our way out.'
Hermione's soft cries into his chest brought him back to the present and he followed her gaze to the blood spot that marked where Moody had fallen. Similar spots stained the grass that outlined the bodies of Tonks and Amelia although there's was less so; all the more reason to worry for them.
He tightened his hold on her as she mumbled incoherently, letting her cry while words like 'Moody' and 'impossible' flew from her lips. It was the only thing he could do while her mumblings echoed loudly in his mind. What had happened? Moody was rarely so blindsided and to see Tonks and Amelia as they were pointed to a handful of possibilities.
Hermione's tears soaked his shirt and seeped into his being, chilling him. A deep rooted fear that had bubbled up over the course of the last few weeks was suddenly realized and Harry knew he could wait no longer. The war was upon them and to delay further would only make matters worse.
"Hermione, I want you to stay here."
His words helped her out of the shock and she looked at him.
"It's not safe outside the castle anymore. Seeing the state those three were in, I can only guess Grimmauld was found out." Her lack of response confirmed she had come to the same conclusion. "Come on, we have things to do."
He led her gently up the path, back to the main entrance. Before they stepped inside, she stopped them and shimmied close before leaning up and forward ever so slightly to kiss him.
"Thank you," she whispered. "I wasn't prepared. I've never seen anything like that up close before."
After her words, she gave him a look, one which clearly stated she knew there was more to his past then he had currently shared. Harry shrugged, acknowledging her to be right and that one day, he'd tell her everything. Hermione pouted for a moment, making Harry think she looked cute like that before her eyes shimmered and she accepted his wordless agreement.
Neither of them noticed how their conversation passed by wordlessly.
From there, the hours started to blur in a whirlwind of activity. They visited the Hospital Wing several times, getting updates from Poppy when she could spare the time as she worked tirelessly to stabilize the three fighters. After lunch, Hermione spent time in the library, beginning her research into the Founders and their lives while Harry sent word to all the Professors and called them back to the castle.
At one point, Hermione came to Harry and the couple travelled to her parents. They took turns explaining what had happened and managed to convince them that it would be best to take an extended holiday. The Grangers resisted at first but Marcus, being the military man that he was, understood what they were trying to do and that he and Olivia would only get in the way. It was around 4:30 when they agreed: a long vacation in the Western Hemisphere was top priority and two emergency portkey necklaces would be their latest fashion.
A quick jaunt to Gringotts secured all the necessary funds which included the safety portkeys. Harry insisted on covering this himself and after a somewhat heated snog, Hermione was too dazed to disagree. A quick set of apparitions later and the small party was at the local airport. With Hermione saying goodbye to her mother, Marcus pulled Harry off to the side.
"What's your plan?" he whispered.
Harry glanced around, "Safety first. Get all the students into Hogwarts. I can protect them from there. Once Moody recovers, I figure he'll offer a suggestion or two on what to do next."
Marcus agreed, "The best offense is oftentimes the greatest defense." The older man placed a firm hand on Harry's shoulder, "I can't pretend to know what it is you are up against but Hermione believes in you so resolutely, it gives me great pride and a terrible heartache to see it." The young Headmaster was surprised by Marcus' quick step forward and the tight hug that followed, "Keep her safe son and you do the same."
Harry fought the tears in his eyes as they separated after which Hermione came over to hug her father. Not five minutes later, the Grangers were on their way while the two young adults watched the plane detach from the loading ramp and crawl to the runway.
Little was said between them on their way back to the castle, each keeping to their own thoughts about the coming days. Before long, they were climbing the staircase to the third floor.
'I have some things I need to take care of.'
'I figure as much and I would like to further my research on the Founders and the village. Haven't found much of anything yet, but I'm hopeful there will be something to discover.'
Harry nodded and gave her a gentle kiss on her cheek, 'Call Mai when you get there, she might be able to point you in a direction.'
Hermione smiled to him, 'I will, see you soon,' and they parted ways. Harry moved quickly then to his office where he stayed for the rest of the afternoon. He had been pleasantly surprised at how quickly the professors returned after his summons. All of them were back before he and Hermione returned from seeing her parents off and this provided an opportunity Harry wasn't going to miss. He penned notes to all the professors, alerting them of a staff meeting to be held tonight and Dobby was nice enough to deliver them.
Shortly after the notes were away, the frantic nature of the day began to slow down. Despite this, several hours passed quickly and the only inclination besides the Hogwarts clock chiming the hour was the mess of notes lying in front of Harry on his desk. One in particular he received from Albus not five minutes ago and it let him breathe a little easier.
Thank you for the warning. We're fine and will be in touch. Stay safe.
Harry had called for Fawkes, deeming it worth the risk it would pose to the group and fortunately, no harm appeared to come of it. He couldn't have them coming back to Grimmauld only to be ambushed or killed. Sighing to himself and placing the message aside, Harry gathered his writings and glanced over everything once more before readying himself for the meeting.
A knock came at his door, "Come in," he replied and Hermione stepped inside with a piece of parchment.
"Hello, Harry. Can you sign this for me before you go to your meeting?"
"Sure, what is it?"
"Oh, nothing much," and she sauntered over to him, smirking as he froze in place. "Won't take long, just a little signature," she cooed while licking her lips and rubbing his side in a tantalizing manner. Hermione leaned up and gave him a long, slow kiss before moving to nibble his left ear while discretely placing a quill in his hand. "Quickly now," she sang, "don't want to be late for your staff meeting do you?"
Harry, while somewhat dazed, started signing his name while glancing over the writing. It was a permission slip for access to the Restricted Section and by the time he finished, the haze left just enough for him to catch the last line on the form but Hermione kissed him heatedly again.
"Thanks Harry!" she smiled brightly and took off.
He stood there dumbfounded for a moment before laughing, realizing she had pulled the same trick on him that he did to her regarding the portkeys and money for her parents' trip.
'Little minx,' he thought playfully. 'I still would have given you a year long admittance, but I'll admit this was more fun than simply asking.'
As he headed towards the Great Hall, Harry thought more on the task that lay before Hermione. He could tell that her hope burned strong in learning something about the extended parts of the castle, especially of the mysterious village within. The tapestries they found depicting the building of Hogsmeade, along with the similarities between them was too much of a coincidence to ignore.
One thing they had established almost immediately, with the agreement of Minerva, Fillius and Pomona, was that until everyone could be granted passage to see these things, any secretes discovered would remain secret.
'Wait,' and he stopped just outside the entrance to the Great Hall. 'How did Hermione know I organized a staff meeting? I don't recalling saying anything; maybe Mai let her know? Oh and that reminds me, I need to ask her why the merging was harder on me the last time then Hermione. Gah! I need to ask Hermione to look into the courses taught in the past as well.' He sighed, pushing the doors open.
So much stuff to do!
The chatter that greeted him died instantly as all the professors in the Hall stood to greet him. A large round table sat in the middle of the hall, in place of where the student tables would usually be.
"Thank you everyone, please take your seats," he urged as he walked towards his own. The scraping of wood on stone echoed as Harry sat down, quickly pulling out his notes and glancing around to see everyone. While doing so, he kept looking back to his list to make sure everyone was present.
Burbage, Charity **** Muggle Studies
Filch, Argus ******** Caretaker
Flitwick, Filius ******* Charms, Head of Ravenclaw
Hagrid, Rubeus ***** Care of Magical Creatures, Keeper of Keys and Grounds
Hooch, Rolanda ***** Flying Instructor
McGonagall, Minerva * Transfiguration, Head of Gryffindor
Pince, Irma ******** Librarian
Pomfrey, Poppy **** Matron, Head Medical
Sinistra, Aurora ***** Astronomy
Babbling, Bathsheda * Ancient Runes
Sprout, Pomona **** Herbology, Head of Hufflepuff
Trelawney, Sybill **** Divination
Vector, Septima ***** Arithmancy
Wainscott, Serenity ** Nurse, Secondary Medical
Missing positions: History, Potions, DADA, Head of Slytherin
"Thank you all for coming on such an unexpected notice."
His words drew their attention and halted the remaining conversations.
"Earlier today, Alastor Moody, Amelia Bones and Nymphadora Tonks were brought to the grounds by Alastor's superior will alone; all three of them were knocking on Death's door."
Some of the gasps surprised him. Harry was sure the news would have made its rounds before the meeting took place.
"Fortunately, Alastor is no longer dueling with a Grim however Amelia and Tonks are. Poppy will give us a briefing shortly." He rubbed his temples, feeling a headache already coming. "The ruthless attack by the Ministry on Albus and Amelia, coupled together with the destruction of Hogsmeade and the attack on Diagon earlier today all paint a very different picture from where we stood just one year ago. I believe I am stating the obvious when I say that Voldemort has very quickly and efficiently, taken control of this country. We must keep that in mind during our discussions this evening."
Harry couldn't help but feel his chest swell with pride. With the exception of two members (Argus and Sybill which he had expected), all the others had not flinched nor turned their gaze from him at the mention of the Dark Lord and the reality of their situation.
He diverted to Poppy for several minutes and she gave a brief synopsis of her three patients along with a suggestion of bringing on more medical staff to help with the coming struggles. Harry noted the request, intending to approach it again later and instead launched into a briefing of the changes he was hoping to bring to the new term at Hogwarts. All the Professors reacted favorably to his words and as he had hoped, they also expressed their concerns; Harry's todo list was quite long and rather broad. The most prominent on said list, simply due to the lack of control the Professors had, was the eradication of House rivalries.
"Do you have any suggestions," asked Rolanda, "for achieving a better environment? As I am sure my colleagues know through their classes, I know best from my experiences on the Pitch; House rivalries are very strong here."
There were several nods of agreement.
"That is part of the reason for this gathering," Harry replied. "I do have some ideas, but I would first like the staff to brainstorm on their own and see if we can come up with similar thoughts or if there is something I may have overlooked. You have all been teaching here for longer than I've been attending and thus have a far better understanding to the House workings then I do."
"Is this is a solo or collective effort on our part, Headmaster?" queried Filius.
"I leave that up to you. Feel free to bring your thoughts together or work out the problem as you see fit. We will meet like this again in another week's time to discuss the ideas."
There was a general murmur of agreement before Filius brought up the next topic.
"What is being done about the three vacant teaching positions and the remaining Head of House?"
Harry shuffled the papers nervously and gave a small nod to the Charms Professor. This conversation would lead into the main topic he wanted to cover. Harry briefly went over the missing positions, explained among gasps and muffled shrieks the reasons behind the newly opened History position and the need for a new DADA instructor. He also stated that efforts made by the Deputy and himself were met with failure as the pool of instructing resources had dwindled away in the Isle of Britain.
"As a result, I wish to ask all of you to consider volunteering your time to fill either the History or Potions positions. I'm far more concerned with Potions then I am History and with my mentions of restructuring on the 'to-do' list, not teaching History for a semester doesn't seem to me as being the worst outcome."
There was a bit more silence with this declaration and Harry couldn't help but groan silently. He didn't blame them for not wanting to take on more duties than currently required but someone had to teach Potions and be Head of Slytherin at a bare minimum.
"Like I said, please consider the possibility and we shall discuss this next week." He mentally prepared himself, "Before we break for dinner, there is one last matter I wish to convey and this is not up for discussion or alteration."
Those words put everyone on alert and Minerva gave him a rather pointed look as she hadn't been consulted. He tried to send her a reassuring look for the simple fact was, no one had.
"In about three weeks time, the students will begin making their journey to this castle for a new school year. Given my opening comments and the current state of affairs, I believe waiting for them to come to Hogwarts is perhaps the worst decision we can make on their behalf."
He paused, allowing the weight of his words to sink in. "Therefore, we are going to spend all of tomorrow preparing for their early arrival. On the following day, we will dedicate our efforts into personally escorting all the students to the castle. They will remain here on an extended before-school holiday, which will give us what is likely to be a onetime occurrence where their protection while traveling is impenetrable."
He was bolstered at seeing many stunned but agreeing looks. "Seeing that Hogwarts truly is the safest place now, it should also lay to rest the many worries of the parents. This will put a strenuous demand on all of us as we will need to set up supply lines for books and other materials but I believe this is something Voldemort will not expect. To me, that alone is worth it."
There was a moment of silence before Filius chortled. "That is probably the best idea I've heard all night, Headmaster. I put my full support behind this."
"And so do I," replied Minerva along with everyone else (save Argus and Sybill) who smiled and voiced similar agreements.
Harry breathed a sigh of relief. He knew they wouldn't counter him on such a proposal but he was also aware that the 'strenuous demand' would in fact be 'hellish demand' given all the supplies they'd need to somehow reroute to the school. Not to mention the logistics of personally escorting everyone.
"Thank you Filius, Minerva and all of you for your support in this. There are still some difficult issues to resolve, such as how to handle the students of suspected Death Eaters but I believe we can come up with solutions in the allotted time."
He took a quick sip of water to help sooth his dry throat before running through the end of the meeting.
"Last on my to mentions list; Filius, Septima please see me at some point tomorrow to discuss a ward project I have in mind. If feasible, I'd greatly appreciate setting most of it up before the students begin to arrive." He paused and glanced at some of his notes, "Given how late it is and how hungry I'm sure you all are, votes on expanding the staff in the Medical Ward will be collected until 9:00 A.M. tomorrow. At lunch, I shall announce the faculty's stance on the matter and my final decision." He let out a sigh of relief and smiled to the table, "Does anyone have any further questions or items of interest before we close?"
Pomona went over her meeting notes and blinked twice when she realized a topic was ignored. She smirked though, anticipating his response.
"Headmaster, I have a question." He motioned to her and she continued, "By my count, it seems we skipped over the resolution strategy for a new DADA instructor. Similar to Potions and History, will you be taking volunteers?"
Confirming her suspicions, Harry gave them all a sly smile, "Has anyone heard over the last year about an organization that goes by the letters, D.A.?"
Harry trudge slowly up the stairs to the seventh floor. What remained of the meeting had gone well, eliciting smiles and few laughs as the elves served a late dinner. Shortly after, he met with Hermione and they conversed briefly over her work of the last few hours. She didn't find anything worth noting as of yet, something they both expected but she had shown him the Library's 'hidden' nature.
He smiled at the memory, his steps echoing loudly on the stone stairs. Hegla had gone to great lengths to imbue that part of Hogwarts with something more and it made them both realize that maybe the other Founders had done something similar. Salazar left his Chamber, Hegla the Library which meant Godric and Rowena might have put their personal touch on some other aspect of the castle, yet to be found.
It had made Hermione giddy and Harry used that energy to coax her out of the warm padded chair she was burrowed in and towards the dorm. 'Plenty of time tomorrow for you to continue,' he had argued and she grudgingly agreed. Harry escorted her to the Gryffindor portrait and at her inquiring look, shook his head.
'I have some things to do tonight but won't be long to bed.'
'Well... alright then but don't stay up too late.' She kissed him, 'Goodnight, Harry' and went inside.
As Harry reached the seventh floor landing, Mai appeared and continued in step with him.
"Tad late for a training session, don't you think?"
"There's little time left," he countered. "You saw Moody and the others? If three of what I consider the best are overrun so suddenly, then there is little out there to provide resistance."
Mai frowned, "You think it won't be long before Voldemort turns his attention back on us?"
Harry sighed, "That's to say if he hasn't done so already. We're on our own now, Mai. Albus is out of the country and thus unable to help. Grimmauld is taken by our enemy, Hogsmede reduced to nothing and the Ministry is all but consumed. Where else would he turn his attention?"
They walked in silence, Mai's lack of rebuttal a quiet acknowledgement that Harry's concerns were well placed. After passing Barnabas and three quick paces later, a door appeared.
"What's your plan?"
They stepped into a completely empty room. It was massive and circular with a padded cushion on the floor in the center.
"Tom won't take well to us getting the students here safely without issue. Even though it doesn't really concern him, it'll be unexpected and he'll take it as a victory on our part against him."
She watched as he sat down and got comfortable, "That is likely, as much as I hate to admit it. He can be a selfish prat when he wants to be."
Harry snorted, "I don't know what's left of the Ministry but he'll likely mop it up before coming here." He leaned back and stared at the ceiling. "With the little time left, I need to get stronger, add to Hogwart's already formidable defenses and prep the castle for going 'off the grid' so to speak all the while teaching the students about magic. A short order, no worries right?"
Mai quirked an eyebrow, "Off the grid?"
Harry leveled his gaze, "Hogwarts is the last thing that stands which offers hope and protection to those who may need it. If Tom, Merlin forbid, takes this place then there will be little left to stop him. We need to ensure self sufficiency on top of keeping the students safe and anyone else that may seek shelter."
"Oh... The village, of course!"
"Yeah," he chuckled. "I think I'm beginning to understand what Hogwarts meant by 'All those who dwell.' His smile faded a little, "There's going to be a lot going on in the days ahead; we must be prepared."
"I'll continue helping Hermione as best I can. Hopefully it won't be long before we find something." She paused and glanced around, "What do you want to do tonight?"
"Yesterday I practiced utilizing her magic, so I want to work on opening the connection further."
She said nothing in response and held up her hands, the result creating a soft glowing dome around the two of them. The lights in the room dimmed and eventually, all the light that existed came from the shield around them. Harry sat perfectly still, his breathing and heartbeat steady. Upon opening his eyes, he could see nothing beyond the dim blue light of Mai's small shield. The blackness was all encompassing and looked like he was sitting in another world, a vacuum maybe, where nothing existed.
"Ready?" she asked, her voice loud. He gave a small nod and she lowered her hands, "Be safe, Harry. Know your limit."
This was the second time she was leaving him alone and even though he came through alright before, it still worried her.
"I will," he responded as the shield began to fade. "Watch after Hermione; I don't want her to be caught in the middle."
Mai bit her lip. Harry discovered last time that he couldn't stop all of Hogwart's magic from leaking through the bond. Mai intercepted it and rerouted the magic away from Hermione through herself and back towards Harry. It was easy to do, but it gave her an unrestricted view into some of the things he was experiencing. This method of learning Hogwarts and her magic was very effective, but it came at a price.
"I'll do what I can," came the reply just as she and the shield vanished.
The only thing he perceived was himself, the slow rhythmic beating of his heart followed by the soft exhale of breath. This continued on for many minutes, stretching to what felt like hours and after an amount of time Harry didn't know, he felt it. A pin prick on his palm, painless, like someone took the point of a quill and pushed gently onto his skin before quickly removing it. Then another on his right arm, then his left, two on his leg, followed by several more down his back.
Harry shut his eyes and held firm. They were numerous now, the prodding; covering parts of his body until eventually the uncomfortable sensation became a constant over every inch of him. The pressure slowly increased but he showed no weakness, focusing as best he could on keeping his breathing steady. A warmth started to move through his limbs and although he couldn't see it, he felt every hair on his head stand up on end.
"He's back!" whispered a voice but the silence made it sound like a shout.
"Play with me!" this one said, that of a girl. The one before was a boy, both of them young.
'First Years,' he thought and several more voices joined the two.
"Good to see you, Headmaster."
"Just in time, Headmaster. Now, let us pick up where left off on runic suppressors, hm?"
'Third year, fifth and a Professor or maybe a tutor.'
The pain grew as did the number of voices and suddenly, a stab in his leg caught him off guard. Harry hissed and opened his eyes in surprise. Like the last time he did this, the blackness had been replaced with light. Streams of it, flying past him as if he was on his broom and moving so fast everything turned to blurs. The voices cheered while at the same time, Harry's breathing became labored.
He struggled, blinking the white and black dots out of his vision as several more voices bounced around in his head; one of them a first year, recounting her experiences in her very first class. The next was a sixth year bemoaning how much he missed his girlfriend over winter break and the third loudest went to a seventh year, highly skilled in Charms and going over his notes.
All at once, he could feel what they felt all as the magic coursed through him and touched his core.
Harry let out a cry as another voice slammed into him with a laugh. The others all sounded at once, yelling at the troublemaker and Harry felt more then heard an apology. Sweat dripped down his face as the pain worsened and he risked a glance at his body, seeing faint lines appear on his arms.
"Not yet," he growled out, "We're not done yet." Everyone cheered, but Harry moaned, the pain causing his thoughts to muddle and his focus slip. He started to feel the 'pull' of others, that of Mai and her connection to him as well as Hermione. "No!" he cried, feeling the weight of Hogwart's magic propel itself towards Hermione by his thoughts. A moment later, Harry felt a punch to his stomach; Mai was able to intervene.
Tears leaked down his eyes as the voices all shouted in his ears, each vying for attention and the pain was nearing unbearable. The faint lines had grown darker and were crisscrossing over both his arms and likely the rest of his body. He cried out when his arms started burning, like a flame was searing them.
"Enough!" he screamed and fell back. In doing so, he found himself staring back at the ceiling in the Room of Requirement. He groaned, his body aching and acting like molasses as Mai waited patiently in front of him.
"How long?" he gasped and struggled to stand, noticing a faint burning smell and smoke rising off his form.
She smiled sadly, "Three hours; exactly fifteen minutes more then the last attempt."
"Good," he mumbled, "very good."
"Considering the first time you lasted all of seven minutes, yes, I'd say that's a massive improvement. Being a little over a month ago, it's even more impressive."
He smiled and she relaxed somewhat, "How's Hermione?"
"Still asleep although I... I couldn't stop all of it this time."
Harry immediately tensed, "What? Why?"
Mai shrugged, "Some of the magic just went right through me like I wasn't even there."
He stood and started limping towards the door, "Is she alright?"
"She is, still asleep in fact. Only a small amount got through thankfully."
"Maybe, but we both know even a flicker is more than enough. Any idea what this means?"
"No clue. Well, it does mean I'm less connected to Hogwarts then I thought or maybe she wanted Hermione to have it. It's hard to say."
Harry sighed and by the time he reached the door he wasn't limping quite as bad. "If she's still sleeping and alright, then I'll talk to her about it in the morning. I'd be surprised if she didn't at least feel something but regardless, I won't try widening the connection again until we figure out more of what's happened."
"Harry, you know that"
"I know," he said, cutting her off. "What I meant was, unless harm will come to the school and her students, I won't be trying it for awhile."
As he opened the door and stepped out, Mai was about to follow when she felt something tug at her center. She blinked before waving Harry on, "Think you can make it to your bed on your own? I'm feeling a little drained myself."
"No problem," he said, his voice heavy with exhaustion. "Have a goodnight, Mai."
"You too, Harry," and the door closed in front of her.
The room faded away, replaced by a white background. In what would have been the center where Harry sat moments ago, laid a figure sprawled out on the floor. Mai frowned, noticing the black scorch marks around him as she walked over.
"How are you feeling?"
The young man coughed, "Like I got run over by the Knight Bus, repeatedly, just for Stan's bloody amusement."
Her lips quirked, "If it hurts that much, you should say something."
Magic Harry rolled his eyes, "Right, like I could stop myself from hurting myself... That doesn't even make sense!"
Mai laughed a little but her mood changed as she took in Harry's appearance. His entire body was severely burned and his clothes looked more like tattered rags. There were open cuts in his arms and a deep gash on his leg as well.
"Merlin, why don't you tell him to ease off?"
Harry smiled faintly, gazing at something behind her. "We do it in part for Hermione and if Hogwart's magic hadn't been an issue, we would have been at this again in a few days." He turned his head to look at her, "What's up with that by the way? Apart from beating me senseless, it's starting to seek out the connection to get to her."
Mai shook her head, "Just like I told him, I don't know. Maybe it's because of the merging and that Hogwarts is starting to not differentiate between you and Hermione. Bloody hell, what a mess that would be to have so soon."
Harry chortled, "You don't say?" then coughed. "It does make some sense though."
It was subtle, but Mai saw the look he gave to something that lie behind her. She turned around and nearly stumbled, gasping in awe. Not far from where they were was a hazy cloud that cut through the white realm like a divider. On the other side, Mai could make out what looked like a library.
"Holy Merlin of"
"Yeah, it's happening fast."
"I have to mention this to him. Their cores are starting to sync already and they haven't even been doing this that long!"
"It's merging, remember. Anything's possible, especially with my luck. Come here and help me up. There's something else I want to show you. I would have pulled him in here myself, but with all the training I've been doing, I'm a little tired lately. Plus it's much easier to yank you here then him."
Mai gingerly helped him to his feet and unlike the real version, Magic Harry continued to limp in the direction they were traveling which was away from the hazy divider. It didn't really matter where they went as all around them was a cloud that seemed to move with them. Mai couldn't see very far in front or behind and after they hobbled along for some time, she glanced back to see the obscured library was gone.
"Does it come and go in appearance like that or have we actually traveled a long way?"
"Long way," Harry replied and he brought them to a stop. "Hold on a moment," he panted, sinking to the ground. "I need a breather." Mai helped him down and then started checking his injuries. Harry smiled at the attention but waved her off. "No need," he said. "They'll heal in a few hours or so."
"I realize you're trying to channel a massive amount of power so some of these I understand," Mai replied, motioning towards the crisscrossing lines. "What I don't get is why the cuts and bruises? You look like you were in a fight."
"That's a surprisingly accurate statement, although you might gag if I tell you what exactly I was fighting."
She looked at him funny, "Try me."
"Alright, so what exactly did you feel when you directed the magic away from Hermione?"
"I assumed it was your pain and there were voices, which I know to be a part of Hogwarts."
Harry nodded, "The magics of this castle are in part, made up of all the wizards and witches who came before. A piece of them is left here after they've gone. These injuries are from, well, from me fighting with them."
"They all want to 'talk' to my other half at the same time and obviously, Harry can't handle all of them in one go. He does speak with many of them though and is learning a thing or two in the process. Remember that trick you played on him at the beginning? Subtly feeding him information without him realizing it?"
She nodded dumbly.
"Well, low and behold, apparently the castle can teach him some things. Has been, as I'm sure you've noticed but it's not all coming from Hermione which I think you didn't notice."
Mai couldn't believe it, "How though? I can't convey knowledge to him as easily as Hermione can or the castle, so it would seem. It took me hours just to get that one spell to him."
Harry chuckled, "You and I, we see and feel the castle's magic as this massive, singular entity but my brother can see it as a whole and as the parts. We know instinctively that her magic is the sum of many, but we can't see it per say. Harry however can and I'm actually surprised at just how well he does it."
"I suppose that makes sense... Wait, you're surprised? At Har-err, yourself?"
Harry grinned, "It happens. This all wouldn't be so bad if we were moving a little slower but given our predicament, slow isn't ideal." He stood up and stretched, wincing a little but doing better. "Alright then, on we go."
They walked a ways further in silence, Mai glancing this way and that to see if she could see anything. "Where are we going anyway?"
"I want you to see, ah, there it is."
The cloud in front of them quickly gave way to show a tar like puddle on the ground. It nearly startled her, being in such contrast to the world around them. They came to a stop several feet away, just in time to see an oily bubble form and float up a few feet before popping and giving off a blackish smoke.
Mai knew instantly what it was, "I'm immensely disappointed to see this thing is still here."
"You and me both. This has been troubling me for some time now as it use to be a mangled mess of something but has since been reduced to what you see. It doesn't grow, doesn't shrink; bubbles a bit but otherwise it just... exists."
She scowled, "Maybe it always will; Dark Magic created it and as much as I wish you didn't have to, you might be carrying it for the rest of your life."
Harry sighed, "I thought the same and was okay with it. Better to bear a small burden in the end that will do no harm than carry a curse which slowly destroys you." He glared at it, "Yes, I thought as much, that is until we started these little social gatherings with the castle's magic."
"What do you mean?"
"You know as well as I do, better in fact, how the castle's power is corrosive to something like this. Each time I connect, her magic fills this place so that thing should have been obliterated."
Mai looked on in dawning horror, "It's still here."
"Yes," growled Harry, "and I can't tell if she's purposely keeping it or the cursed thing is somehow immune. Either way, it doesn't bode well for anyone."
Magic Harry talking to/about Real Harry is an immensely fun exercise. You can run around yourself quite easily and it gives new meaning to 'talking with yourself'
Also, I specifically didn't go into details on Harry's 'to-do' list just to keep you guessing :D
Edit: (Angry note) Heaven forbid we want to do something unique, like making a list where the items are /somewhat/ in a line. FF_net I hate your text preprocessing!