A/N: Has it been two years since I've updated this story? Jeez, I'm sorry. I've had this chapter written down for months but I have no excuse for why I never typed it up besides the most obvious one: I'm lazy.
I'm dedicating this to my sister: you know exactly who you are, and it was because of your endless nagging and inquiries about this story that has allowed me to keep going with it. I hope this makes a great (and very very late) Christmas gift for you.
The spider-like droid was looked over at the Jedi Temple, secreted away from Alliance guards in one of the lower levels so that the Masters could study it in private. Jacen, headed to his quarters, turned and laid a friendly hand on Harry's shoulder. "You did well, kid. Master Skywalker will be receiving a good report."
"When are we going to talk to them about— you know?"
Harry and Jacen had discussed the several possibilities of this potential 'gamemaster' while en-route to Coruscant after the latter had finished meditating away any last vestiges of anger from his mind. The last thing he needed, Jacen thought wryly, was to manipulated by his own emotions. Vergere had frequently taught him that emotion could be used but wisely, never to be the ultimate leading factor. 'Emotion is useful,' she'd said after a particularly harsh day in Vong-occupied Coruscant, 'until you're led directly into a trap with a cloth over your eyes.' He wondered sometimes whether there was a balancing act between the Light and the Dark sides; it seemed that one felt too much and the other felt too little.
While discussing possibilities, Harry had wondered if maybe no one would listen to them ("after all, neither of us are Masters, and I'm not even a Jedi"); but Jacen had assured them that they would. They had decided to wait to tell anybody about their own ideas until hearing the council's reactions to the weapons discovered.
Before letting go of the boy, Jacen squeezed Harry's shoulder. "Meet me by the Temple doors around seven, all right? I want to show you something."
Saba Sebatyne approached them, her long tail swaying back and forth. "This one greets you," she hissed. "She is pleased you made it back safely. How did the hunting go?"
"Satisfactory, Master Sebatyne," Jacen answered, bowing slightly. "I believe we found what we were looking for." He shared a quick glance with Harry. "By your leave, Master."
"This one will you to the Council," Saba hissed to Harry. When he hesitated she missed a low laugh. "Do not worry. This one will not bite you."
Harry walked a step behind her. He had grown several inches already in the time he had been here but she still towered over him. One glistening eye swiveled to look at him. "This one sensez you have a question for her."
Harry swallowed. "Why do you do that? Address yourself in the third person? Is it something common to your people?"
She nodded. "It is native to this onez people. Her nest mates know no other."
"What species are you? I'm sorry, I ever asked you." How had he never managed not to? Saba had taught him just as the others had but he had never inquired about it nor had anyone told him.
"This one'z people are called Barabels."
They didn't sound familiar. "Are there more of you here? At the Temple?"
"This one'z son."
"Is there anyone else?"
She hesitated. For a moment he thought there was something pained to her eye before she pushed it away. "Once. The Yuuzhan Vong hunters killed this one'z Force mates."
Again with the Yuuzhan Vong. From what he had gathered the war between them and the Alliance had ended more than fifteen years ago but the invaders had left deep scars. Saba's story was one of many such things he had heard.
She looked at him again. "This one thanks you. She gathers you have lost loved ones as well."
"My parents. They were killed by Voldemort when I was one."
Saba hissed angrily. They were near the doors of the council rooms. "This one thinkz it would be good to hunt your 'Voldemort'."
He was pretty sure that if this creature showed up wherever Voldemort was then the latter would run away screaming like a little girl. The mental image was amusing enough that he couldn't help but grin. Luckily Saba didn't notice; he didn't know if she would understand the humor in Voldemort lifting up the hems of his robes and fleeing. "This one will think about it," he said softly to her as he entered the room. She sissed a laugh.
"You are funny, Harry Potter," she said amusedly and left his side to take her seat with the rest of the Masters. Everyone was there today, clearly discussing the implications of what Jacen and Harry had found.
He was going to have to learn their poker faces, because none of them gave any hint of what they were thinking.
Luke motioned him forward. "Jacen told us you acted 'brilliantly'," he began quietly. A wry smile twitched at his mouth at the use of the last word. "And all things considered, we all agree."
"Thank you, Master."
"Our best technicians are going to find out about the droid's origins. Is there anything else about it— or what happened— that you want to add?"
The cut on his leg throbbed beneath his pants. Quickly he shook his head. "No, Master Skywalker. Nothing. Although—" But he stopped himself then, wondering if he was out of place.
Luke's brow rose. "Yes?"
He hesitated but his curiosity got the better of him. "What will be done when the Alliance finds out about this? This could be a cause for war, couldn't it?"
A wave of uncomfortable shifting passed through the silent room. Several of the Jedi were looking down at their feet or out the windows, Harry noticed with a shiver of foreboding. Luke, however, answered as calmly as he ever did.
"We have chosen to keep this secret from Chief Omas for the moment." No, Harry realized; not so calmly. There was an uncharacteristic seriousness to Luke's expression as he leaned forward. "As of now the Jedi are acting upon our own judgment. You are correct, by showing this to the government officials the evidence could very well call upon an act of war. No one can be told of this outside of those who are in this room."
Not even Leia. Or Han. For a moment Harry wondered whether Luke's sister and brother-in-law would count this secret as a betrayal but very quickly decided that it didn't ear worrying about. "And you want my word that I'll keep silent about it as well."
"Oh very smart," Jaina smirked, but it was without malice.
Luke fought another grin. "Yes."
It seemed funny that they would bother asking him at all. After all, Harry held no loyalty to the Galactic Alliance. He assured them that he would keep the findings to himself and went on his way. Idly he wondered how Luke would feel when he found out that he and Jacen were keeping their own council.
Sirius was in dog form resting on the Skywalkers' couch when Harry let himself in. 'More comfortable that way,' Sirius had explained one evening when Harry asked him why he slept in dog form. The younger wizard had only given him a funny look and moved onto other things, but it amused him when Sirius went around as Snuffles. Mara hated it. It drove her around the bend when she found shaggy black dog hair everywhere and like his typical self Harry's godfather went around as a dog even more just to hear her rant.
"Thanks for the dungbombs, Sirius," he smirked, petting the dog on the head as he passed.
Snuffles yipped excitedly and suddenly Sirius was sitting there with a wide smile. "How did they do?"
"Brilliantly. What did you use for the stench?"
Sirius shrugged. "A mix of things. Stuff on the street, something called banta poo. I think I used someone's sock…" he trailed off. "I dunno, it was just really smelly."
Harry sat beside him. "It was more than 'smelly', trust me."
"Marauder worthy?" his godfather asked with a smirk.
"Fred and George Weasley worthy," Harry corrected him. "I'm saving one for them so they can see a Marauder's handiwork personally. Well, excepting the Map, of course."
Sirius's smile was proud. "I'm very glad that those two found it. They deserved it."
"Wonder if Filch ever realized the map disappeared," Harry mused.
"We can ask him later, I'm sure. After we find that dirty rat and clear my name." Sirius was silent for a long moment, then he admitted quietly, "I forgot how it feels to be able to walk down the street without worrying. I'm kind of tempted to stay here instead of going back."
Harry stared at him, taken aback. "Really?"
His godfather nodded. "Quite." Then Sirius frowned, picking up on his godson's side disquiet. "Hey, what's wrong? Did I say something?"
"No— I… well," Harry's voice grew soft, "I was thinking the same thing."
Sirius smiled bright and wide. "Brilliant."
Harry laughed. "Is that irresponsible of us or what? Our world is being terrorized by Voldemort and all we want to do is sit here and talk about staying." There was nothing but humor in his tone, however, absent of the cool distance that had been his norm since his coming here, and it made Sirius happy.
"Very selfish," Sirius said mock-gravely. "I'm glad you've got yourself back on you feet, Harry. Lily was the same way, she couldn't stay down for long." He bumped Harry's leg with his own and accidentally hit the wrapped cut on his godson's leg. "Hey, what's wrong?" Without waiting for an answer he reached and drew up Harry's pant leg, spying the bandage immediately. "What caused this? Trip over your own feet?"
"Piece of metal," the half-truth came easily. "Wasn't looking."
"Huh." Sirius looked at the bandage for a moment more. "Think you'll need a tetanus shot?"
Neither Luke nor the other Masters were back from the Temple by the time Harry left to meet with Jacen. He told Sirius he was going out ("and no, you can't follow me as Snuffles") and went on his way. Jacen was standing patiently by the doors of the Jedi Temple, dressed in inconspicuous dark robes.
"I'm glad you decided to come."
"I'm too curious for my own good sometimes," Harry admitted with a shamefaced grin. "Drives Hermione spare."
He had spoken about both of his best friends to Jacen on their way to and from their mission, and hinted about some of his journeys at Hogwarts as well, and the young Jedi had listened interestedly. He was curious about this world of wizards and magic and he was pleased that Harry had some friends; his childhood, the boy had explained, had been a rather lonely one. (Something Jacen had readily understood and sympathized with.) Jacen himself wanted to meet Hermione and Ron but doubted that he ever would.
"How the outlook on our droid?" he asked.
Harry shrugged. "I've just been trying to figure out who it could be manipulating all of this. I dunno… someone's probably laughing at us right now."
Jacen made a face. "Probably." They started down the steps and towards the Jedi's speeder.
Luke's quiet voice caused them both to turn, Jacen surprised at his uncle's silent approach and Harry automatically thinking about a certain white-haired wizard and the ability to sneak. The Jedi Master approached them with a mild expression.
"Master Skywalker." Jacen bowed respectfully, in full Jedi Knight mode— he couldn't afford to be the beloved nephew right now, not when he was about to show his greatest secret from the Yuuzhan Vong war. "Was there something you needed to speak to us about?"
"Not at the moment." Luke spared a small smile in Harry's direction, stopping by Jacen's side. "Perhaps in a day or so, when the results of that droid comes back. Be home before it turns into tomorrow, Harry."
Both young men watched the Grand Master leave in silence for a long moment. Then Harry shook his head. "And I was always afraid that Snape could read minds."
"I think you're paranoid. Do you feel guilty about keeping this from him?"
There was half a challenge hidden in the lilt of Jacen's question, something that the young wizard picked up on immediately; he was checking to see that he hadn't made a mistake trusting in Harry's silence.
There was guilt, yes; Luke and Mara had taken him in, after all, and had done so much for him. But he had spent his entire life fending for himself and without the help of adults; he didn't feel like starting now. He shook his head.
Jacen smiled thinly. "Let's go."
They headed down into the lower levels of Coruscant, flying in the speeder part of the way and then walking on foot. Harry looked around at his surroundings curiously, having not been around in the substructure since coming through the veil; he remembered crumbling walls covered by yellowed ivy and dying lichen that crunched underfoot. It fairly screamed aliens and he wondered again at the war that had changed so much.
Jacen sensed the drift of his thoughts. "We thought the Yuuzhan Vong were monsters. And maybe they were, but only because they were led by evil."
"Seems like they did a lot of damage," Harry commented quietly.
Jacen grinned again but it was edged with an old impatience, almost patronizing in its implication. "How many times have you read about the Vong and the war now, Harry?"
"Three times." He really didn't feel too odd admitting that but he did wonder how Jacen would react to it; he knew from reading the chronicles what part the latter had played ending the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, and what that meant to him. For him. "Didn't you hate them Jacen? For what they did?"
"Do you hate Voldemort?" The quiet counter was unassuming but it made Harry pause for a moment. "For killing your parents? For torturing you?"
The last question was a kick in the gut, leaving him floundering for a moment. Since coming to Coruscant none of the Jedi had ever asked about or mentioned Harry's time spent in the Dark Lord's hands— few of them truly knew about it in the first place. It was time that added more fuel to the fires of his nightmares.
"I… don't want to kill anyone," Harry finally said slowly. And abruptly he felt something deep in his gut uncoil, something that had been stirring uneasily for the past few months, which had finally been assuaged.
"Even though he hurt you? Or killed your loved ones?" There was a definite probing edge to Jacen's tone now, the challenge more prominent. It reminded Harry of Luke's lesson of rash anger and its controlling you; but he had begun to grow beyond that stage and when he replied it was said with a calmer tone than he would have had a few months ago.
"I don't want to," he repeated. "If it comes down to it, maybe. But I don't want to."
They were heading even farther down, deep below the sub levels and along a lichen-encrusted tunnel that echoed with every step. Harry watched Jacen walking sedately down the way and abruptly felt a sense of wariness shiver down his back. The warning of Jacen's presence took him aback, but the wary fear was too strong to ignore. His hand automatically tightened around the handle of his wand before he could stop himself, a moment that shook him before he could fully understand it, and suddenly he felt guilty.
Jacen nodded. If he felt the young wizard's sudden surge of emotion he didn't say anything about it. "Good," he said. "The urge to kill is a highly manipulative emotion. It can easily lead you astray. The urge to hurt can be used against you."
"So what do you do with that then? That urge to kill and hurt, I mean?" It was not a challenge; just simple curiosity.
Jacen wished again for Vergere's comforting presence. He missed her. And she would be able to answer Harry's question much better than he. "You embrace them and understand them so that when the time comes for killing and hurting you aren't hindered by your conscience."
Harry was silent for a long moment, so long that Jacen wondered if he was even going to bother with an answer. But then the boy spoke up, soft and low. "That's not what the Masters teach. They say to embrace peace."
"Because anger and darkness leads to the dark side." Jacen's paraphrasing was not quite snide; he still respected his uncle too much for that. "The war with the Yuzzhan Vong taught us a lot, Harry. One such thing is the fact that the Force encompasses both light and dark— and so do we. We can— and I think we must— embrace both in order to reach our full potential." They were nearing the end of the passage, and Jacen stopped and turned, sensing the wizard's growing disquiet. "You have something dark inside you, Harry. I've felt it. What dd you do?"
Harry was used to the Jedi reading him but he had not expected that this man would sense that. "I saw Sirius fall through the veil," he said quietly. "And I thought it had killed him. I went after the one who had pushed him through and I hurt her. I wanted to hurt her."
"Bloodthirst," Jacen nodded, understanding. Anakin's death was still painful to recall, as was his intense hatred of the Vong afterwards.
"There are spells in my world that are called 'Unforgivables'. I used the Cruciatus spell. Didn't even think about it."
"And then you were captured by your 'Dark Lord'."
"He's insane," Harry stated flatly. "Everything he does, he does for pain."
"If pain doesn't destroy you it makes you stronger," Jacen said quietly. "That's what I learned at the hands of the Vong while I was imprisoned here. I learned to respect the dark just as much as I respect the light. Clearly Voldemort's attempts to break you didn't work. You're still here. You're still fighting." He grinned sadly. "I wanted you to meet my ally in the entire Vong race. It's an old dear friend."
They had reached a large pool dug into the cavern floor, so vast and deep Harry almost couldn't fathom it, filled with frothing yellow liquid. Despite its apparent stillness there were still undercurrents beneath that showed something was swimming beneath the surface. And then something rose into sight and Harry couldn't help but gasp.
It was a giant eye staring back at them. Large thick coils appeared dripping above it as if in greeting and he heard a low keening moan rise up from the creature's water.
Jacen smiled. "Harry, this is the World Brain."
"Jacen and Harry are hiding something."
Luke was just finishing up cleaning the dishes from dinner when he spoke aloud his suspicion. He placed his drying towel on the counter and heard his wife snort amusedly.
"You're only now drawing that conclusion, Skywalker? I knew it from the moment they came back with that thing." Mara was seated at the couch overlooking some information about the latest law Chief Omas had passed in the Senate.
Luke took a seat beside her. "They certainly know more than what they're willing to tell us right now. The two of them were headed off somewhere tonight. They seemed rather like they dreaded my presence when I saw them."
"Can you blame them? You're not the sort of person they would hang out with on a night out."
"Thanks," he said dryly.
She looked up at him with a coy smile. "It's alright, sweetheart," she assured him. "That just means I get to spend more time with you."
"The last time you said that, you got pregnant."
She cocked her head, shifting so she look at him fully. "And what do you mean by that, Skywalker?"
"I mean we're both too old to be parents again." He ran his hand up and down her thigh for a moment, still lost in thought. "They're secretive. Harry's still not adept enough at hiding his emotions that he can hide guilt."
Mara frowned. It was by her own admission that Luke had the better sense of emotion between the two of them, and she knew he was rarely wrong in hunches such as this. "Should we watch them, then? See what they're up to?"
Luke opened his mouth to reply—
And there was a knock on the door. For a moment the two Jedi sat in surprised silence, realizing that neither of them had sensed an approach, and then Luke stood when a second police knock sounded. There was a tranquil presence on the other side of the door, a half-familiar sense he thought he should recognize, and he almost hesitated before opening the door.
It was a young girl standing there looking at him with wide grey eyes. With long dirty blonde hair, long black robes, and a large snowy white bird perched on her shoulder she made a peculiar sight and he couldn't help but stare for a moment, taken aback. She smiled.
"I'm Luna Lovegood," she said in a light, musical voice. "Is Harry Potter in?"