A/N: Combining chapters 6 and 7 together to make a super-chappie. Rejoice. I am posting this now instead of on Monday.
Anti-Litigation Charm: I do not own.
Harry spent the next day anxiously waiting for classes to end. He had whispered as much as he could to Ron in-between bites of breakfast, describing the Department of Mysteries in as much detail as he dared, and talking about the dusty-looking Prophecy they had retrieved. He had stuffed it in a pair of Uncle Vernon's old, mustard-yellow socks that he had received as a Christmas present earlier that year, rolled it up, and put it in the pocket of his robes. He wasn't letting it leave his person until he got to hear what it said.
The day, however, could not have passed any slower. History of Magic dragged on as usual. Potions was a disaster, with Snape snapping and tearing off points at every opportunity for a slightly sub-standard brewing of a Babbling Beverage. Defense Against the Dark Arts was, at least, entertaining—half the class walked in, only to start fainting or vomiting within minutes of sitting down. Seamus managed to pass Harry the battered box of Puking Pastilles the students had been distributing under their desks, and he and Ron were among the many students who were dismissed early from class.
This made Harry half-wish he had not given his Godmother the Marauders' Map. He would have liked to spend the time skiving off Defence checking it to see what she was up to—and then remembered that he would have needed her name to do that. But he was sure he could have figured it out. Once or twice, he thought he saw a shimmer in the halls, but he wasn't about to start blindly wandering through the corridors with his hands outstretched—there were enough rumors about his mental stability going around as it was. He continuously checked his pocket for the Prophecy, and was relieved each time to feel it secure on his person.
He was on his way toward Transfiguration when he felt his scar prickling. He stopped in the hall and closed his eyes, forcing himself to block it out. He could feel Voldemort's rage leaking through their link, and realized that he must have just now found out about the missing Prophecy.
Close your mind… he recited to himself, mentally building up his walls. Ron bent down to tie his shoelace, pretending that they had stopped for him. Think of nothing… let it go blank…
He felt the pain receding, and then forced up a mental block to lock out the rest of Voldemort's thoughts, like someone closing the door in a murdering ax-wielder's face, bolting it shut, and pushing a heavy bookshelf across it. He opened his eyes again, inhaled deeply, and nudged Ron to let him know that they should hurry when a shadow loomed over them, causing them both to turn around.
"…Potter. Weasley," Snape sneered. "Ten points each for being late to your next class."
Ron opened his mouth to protest, but Harry stepped on his shoe, indicating he should keep quiet.
"Yes, sir," Harry muttered. "Sorry."
He knew there was no point in trying to explain himself to Snape. He would just get penalized for not being good enough to block out Voldemort without stopping to make a big production of it. Twenty points was nothing, compared to the potential loss of learning what the Prophecy said if Snape suggested to the Professor that he, Harry, was not ready to hear it.
They turned to leave, and Harry thought he heard a familiar female voice murmur, "Really, Severus, was that necessary?"
Transfiguration was concluded with little fanfare, though several students did use it as an opportunity to mix up and replenish the contents of their Skiving Snackboxes so that they wouldn't have to do it in the halls where Umbridge might catch them. McGonagall pretended not to notice, and as soon as the last bell rang, he and Ron stood up and prepared to leave.
"Potter," she said, halting them in their tracks. "Weasley. Would you mind carrying some of these books to my office?"
The two of them exchanged glances, and then took an armful each of the Seventh-Year Transfiguration texts McGonagall had stacked on her desk. They waited a moment for her to collect the papers she needed to grade, and then silently followed her back to her office.
"Ten points each to Gryffindor, for your assistance," she told them, as they set them down on her office desk. The sound of a lock sliding closed caused both boys to wheel around, and Harry let a grin spread across his face as he realized his godmother had been hiding behind the door, waiting for them. "And Professor, do keep Severus's temper in check next time. I'm tired of having to restore all the points he keeps taking off."
"Sorry, Minerva," his godmother said, folding her arms.
Harry was shocked to see McGonagall offering the Professor one of her rare, wry smiles. Ron was gaping at his Godmother, and it wasn't until she raised an eyebrow at him that he finally realized how foolish he looked, and managed to compose himself.
"Hi," he said, staring at his shoes. "It's nice to meet you."
His godmother laughed. It wasn't a cruel one, or at Ron's expense—it was a musical, delighted sort of laughter, the kind that people made when they were genuinely pleased. "Ron Weasley. I know it's a bit belated, but congratulations on making Prefect." She offered out her hand. "And, of course, on your new Cleansweep."
Ron's face turned red as he shook her hand. "Thanks," he mumbled. "Although I'm not… I mean—"
"Ron's the best Keeper we've ever had, besides Oliver," Harry said stoutly.
"I'm the only Keeper we've had, besides Oliver," Ron said.
"And you're a fine one," the Professor said, without reservation. "When you believe in yourself, of course. Now," she said, clasping both hands together. "Harry, the Prophecy?"
Harry pulled out the ugly mustard-yellow socks, and began worming the glass ball out of it. As soon as he had it free, he held it up for them to see.
"That's it?" Ron said, eyeing the dusty, spun-glass sphere. "How do we get it?"
Hermione indicated the section of floor that wasn't covered by carpet, just in front of the fireplace. "Go ahead and drop it, Harry."
Harry took in a deep breath, and then let go.
There was a loud breaking sound, as the glass orb shattered apart, smashing into a million tiny, crushed pieces. And then something wispy and white rose from the orb, taking on a vaguely familiar shape, even as words floated hollowly from it.
"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives… the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…"
The misshapen form of Professor Trelawney faded away, leaving behind the broken shards of what had been the Prophecy Record containing his and Voldemort's fate. Harry stared at it, not quite sure of what to make of it. Part of him felt blank, as though he couldn't believe that this was all there was to it—the other part was furiously committing each word to memory while trying to make sense of it.
"That," his Godmother said quietly into the silence that followed, "was the Prophecy made by Professor Trelawney to Professor Dumbledore, sixteen years ago."
"Blimey…" Ron said weakly.
"So that's it," Harry whispered. "That's how it's all going to go down…"
"The Prophecy," his Godmother said, bending down and sweeping up the shards into a small pouch she had conjured, "is only relevant because the Dark Lord made it so." The pieces squirreled themselves away into the bag, and she tied it shut and handed it to him. "If he had never heard of the Prophecy in the first place, he never would have sought you out. But because he not only heard the prophecy, but chose to fulfill it, he gave it meaning."
Harry held out his hands, and she dropped the pouch into his palms. He closed his fingers around it, feeling the fragile remains of the record that finally explained what he himself had wondered for so many years.
"Don't set too much store by it, Harry," she told him warmly. "That was the Dark Lord's mistake. It led to his first downfall, and it will inevitably lead to his second, in all his vainglorious arrogance. Don't make the same mistake he did."
"I think I understand," he said quietly. He looked up at her, and for the first time, despite the hardness lurking in her eyes, he saw it—the warmth and care hidden in those murky brown depths. "Thank you, Godmother."
Over the next several weeks, Harry joined the other students in their continued mission to subvert Umbridge in all of her classes during the day, while privately battling out Voldemort at night. The Dark Lord was enraged beyond comprehension, and it took all of Harry's willpower both to keep him out and stop himself from giving into curiosity. He was starting to feel the danger behind the link that Snape and his godmother had spoken of, and was doing everything within his power to keep it firmly locked away.
A week after the Prophecy had been removed, the gossip and mutterings circulating the Ministry finally leaked, and the Prophet reported that the record had gone missing. There was an uproar, and two editions later, they finally seemed to realize that it had something to do with Harry, and all bets were off—they ran anything and everything they could think of about how Harry Potter might be involved in the break-in and theft of property from the fabled Hall of Prophecy. It was maddening.
He and Ron often discussed the Prophecy when they were certain they would not be overheard. Ron remarked that Hermione would be furious that she missed such an interesting piece of information, but Harry rather thought she would be more proud of the fact that he was now successfully keeping Voldemort at bay.
The subject of exams and careers had come up, but at this point, Harry was no longer certain about what he wanted to do. He had always fancied being an Auror, but now he was questioning his motivations.
Am I doing it for myself, or because I feel it's my destiny?
He eventually settled on being an Auror anyway, deciding that Voldemort or no, he rather liked the idea of bringing dark wizards to justice. Of making the world a safer place, so that the people he loved wouldn't have to. The meeting with his Head of House, however, was rather disastrous. Umbridge's presence and insistence on his incompetence in her class had caused the meeting to devolve into a shouting match. Harry left, feeling extremely uneasy, and hoping that McGonagall wouldn't suffer for going head-on with Umbridge.
He was starting to get better at catching his Godmother in the corridors, in-between classes or during breaks. At lunch, she could often be found browsing the library. During double Potions, he often saw her sitting at Snape's desk—this was further supported by the fact that he would occasionally see Snape turn to scowl in her direction, and suspected the Professor was partaking in some recreational Snape-baiting.
During the final week before exams, when they were freed from class to do some studying, his Godmother would often join them out by the lake to help them. Voldemort had turned oddly quiescent, and Harry had been able to relax his defenses just a fraction.
"I remember my own OWLs," his Godmother reminisced fondly, as she quizzed the two of them on Switching Charms. "Weeks of nonstop studying, mental breakdowns, and then I had to chase after the idiot who decided to see if the rumors about Remus being a werewolf were true. That was a fun way to end the school year."
Ron laughed, and Harry bit his tongue to refrain from asking if that idiot had been Snape. He didn't need to. He'd already seen the memory in the pensieve.
Still, he trying to figure out clues that might help him piece his Godmother's identity together.
"You used to teach here, didn't you?" he asked one evening, as they walked back up to the castle. She had brought a cup of tea from the kitchens with them, and was refilling it with a tap of her wand as they their way to the stone circle.
"Used to," she replied evasively, taking a sip. "That was a long time ago."
"What made you quit?" Harry asked off-handedly.
"A lot of things," she dodged, as they passed Hagrid's hut.
"Was it because you had a kid?" Harry asked, thinking of the toddler he'd seen her holding.
She nearly choked on her next sip, and the cup hit the ground and smashed. Harry had to thump her on the back, and when she finally straightened, he suddenly got the sense that he had asked something very wrong.
"How did—you know—did Sirius—"
"Sirius didn't tell me anything," Harry said defensively. "I saw you in my first year—it was after a Quidditch match, I saw Snape and Quirrel in the Forbidden Forest—"
He heard her mutter, "Oh gods…"
"Look, I—I'm sorry for asking," Harry said frankly. "Is he supposed to be a secret or something?"
Invisible hands grabbed the front of his robes, and he was hauled forward until he was face-to-face with her.
"No one—no one—is supposed to know about him," she said fiercely. There was an edge of desperation to her voice, and, Harry thought, it reminded him of the same way the Dementors had made him hear his mother's pleads for his life. The kind of desperation of a mother protecting her child; there was no way he could mistake it. "If the Dark Lord were to find out about him—if someone in the Order were to find out and accidentally let slip—"
"I won't tell anyone," Harry whispered, clutching her hands away from his chest so he could breathe. "I won't say a word—hell, I'll hide it under everything else—I didn't know!"
He felt her trembling and shaking in place, and then she let go. He watched her form shimmer and disappear in the growing darkness of the grounds, and exhaled sharply in relief even as he began pulling apart his fuzzy memories of her in his first-year, and burying them under so many other mundane thoughts.
So, she had a son. He was a secret. And, it seemed, a very sensitive subject. He made a mental note to tell Ron to never bring it up with her. He rather liked Ron, and wasn't keen to see him end up as a stain on the wall.
And he found himself wondering, for the thousandth time, where Hermione was and what she was doing.
Harry couldn't tell if his godmother was avoiding him, or if he was just genuinely too busy for her to interrupt him. He hadn't seen her since he had mentioned her son, and was too wrapped-up preparing for his Potions practical to go search for her. The week started to blur, with written and practical exams falling in line one after another, and his scar was starting to act up again, forcing him to use his mental faculties to shut it down.
He was sure he saw her during his Astronomy exam. Umbridge and several Aurors had tried to sneak up on Hagrid and evict him during the night, and he had seen a tall, female shadow cast in the doorway when the half-giant answered the door. She whipped out her wand at one point, and the Aurors did the same, but no spells flew. Eventually, Umbridge let out a shriek that was audible half-way across the grounds, causing several of the students to look up from their exam and see what the commotion was about.
"I don't care if she tells the Prophet! Get him!"
He saw his godmother snap back a retort at them, and one of the Aurors—Dawlish, by the looks of it—reluctantly backed away and said something to Umbridge. He saw her shaking in fury, but whatever his godmother had said or done, it worked—she was forced to withdraw back to the castle, and the Professor snapped Hagrid's door shut behind her.
Harry had returned to his exam then, but every so often, he saw shadows through the lit window of Hagrid's hut that suggested they might actually be celebrating. He grinned, and finished up his exam in good time. He considered sneaking down to visit Hagrid, but stopped when he remembered how close he was to being expelled as it was. He couldn't risk it. His godmother would be furious if he did.
He found time after his Care of Magical Creatures practical to talk to Hagrid.
"Don' know why yeh're surprised, yer godmother's an old friend o' mine," Hagrid told him, as he watched his celebratory rock-cakes cool. "Course, she hasn't had much time ter come down lately, but I'm glad she was here las' night." Hagrid let out a chuckle. "Threatened to tell the Prophet about Hermione disappearing, she did. Said it would be the end o' Umbrige's career, instead o' mine. On'y Dawlish had the good sense ter tell her that Hermi—" he suddenly broke off, looking as guilty as Harry had ever seen him.
"What?" Harry asked. When Hagrid didn't answer, he pressed, "tell her what, Hagrid?"
"Well, ter tell tha' old toad that the Professor was right, didn't he?" Hagrid said, not quite meeting Harry's eyes. "Tha' if Hermione's disappearance hit the papers, it'd be all over fer her."
"Hagrid," Harry said. "Where is Hermione?"
In response, Hagrid offered him a rock-cake. Harry politely declined, but got nothing more out of the half-giant, who seemed determined to keep his mouth shut with the mortar-like consistency of his cooking.
Harry was starting to wonder if perhaps Hermione was hiding out with Dumbledore. Maybe he had decided to take the most brilliant student of the school with him. Maybe Hermione had insisted on going with him—that sounded like something she would do, he decided. Maybe her disappearance was all part of a plan by the Order to destabilize Umbridge's reign so that when the year ended, Dumbledore might be able to clear his name and come back.
Friday finally arrived, and he was relieved to get his last exam—History of Magic—out of the way. He wasn't sure if he got the details on which Goblin Wars had occurred when and for what reasons, but he was relatively satisfied, and extraordinarily pleased that the freedom of summer was just barely within his grasp.
"Thank merlin," Ron moaned, flexing his fingers. "I thought it would never end!"
"So much for Ordinary Wizarding Levels," Harry had muttered darkly. "Next year is going to be a nightmare."
"No wonder Fred and George bailed out," Ron grumbled. "Lucky gits."
"And Hermione didn't have to take this year's exams," Harry said, rubbing his temples. "Lucky her."
"She's probably disappointed," Ron said, now smiling slightly to himself. "What would I give to switch places with her—she would have taken on the exam, no problem."
"Well, hopefully, she'll get a chance to take it next year," Harry said, as he staggered up the stairs to the boys' dormitory. He yawned. "At least I won't have to take History of Magic. I'll be happy if I never hear the words 'Goblin' and 'rebellion' in the same sentence ever again."
Harry's dreams that night were filled with the surreal absurdity that dreams often provided, when one was relaxing after a stressful day, and too mentally exhausted to try and wrestle a dream this way or that.
He found himself following Hedwig to the Forbidden Forest on a sun-drowned afternoon, whereupon she morphed into Buckbeak, and landed at the edge of the lake. Harry found himself feeling shorter than usaul, as Buckbeak was once again a size much too large for a third-year, but he climbed aboard anyway, reveling in the rush of flight.
He could see his reflection in the water, as they skimmed over the lake; and then the world seemed to morph into the odd, sea-blue pattern of the circular room in the Department of Mysteries. His vision floated through the door that led into the bright and glittery room of Time. Hermione was there, eyes alight with the joy of discovery as she fiddled with the Time-Turners. Harry watched her for a moment, sleepily content with the comforting familiarity of this odd dream, and then came to stand beside her as she watched the hummingbird in the glass bell-jar.
It was pushing its way out of the egg, and it slowly rose into the air, shedding its downy feathers and gaining the shiny, opalescent colors of its prime. It glittered for a moment, and the scene changed before it could begin to lose its splendor. Before Harry knew it, he was walking down a cobbled courtyard in front of a beautiful mansion, far grander and better-kept than the place Harry had seen that night in the Graveyard.
Faces were beginning to emerge, and dark shapes were beginning to take on familiar forms. And then the people solidified, and Harry realized he was watching Snape and his Godmother. Her arms were bound behind her back, and at her feet, Harry watched Nagini slowly slither out from the hedges on either side, and realized that he was watching this from the ground-up. This was through the snake's eyes. A feeling of cold dread trickled through him. Snape's face was expressionless as he flicked his wand at the iron-wrought gates, and they creaked open.
This no longer felt like a dream.
Harry felt a sickening feeling settle in his stomach, followed by inconsolable, boiling rage as he watched Snape lead the Professor into the courtyard and up the steps to the front hall. The scene blurred a bit, but resettled as his godmother was led into a large dining room. A long, wooden table was set out on one side, barren of silverware; the room was strangely spartan for such a fine mansion, except for a single, wooden chair in the center of the room. Lucius Malfoy was eyeing the two of them coldly from the balcony above, his gaze narrowed at the Professor in contempt.
Harry watched his godmother stiffen at the sight of the chair, but then her eyes hardened, her face set. There was a shadow of movement out of the corner of his eye, and he wheeled around to see Voldemort, scaly and gray, as serpentine and inhuman as ever.
"Severus," Voldemort hissed, his voice high, cold, and full of dark amusement. "So good of you to come."
"I've brought her, my lord," Snape said, inclining his head. "As you requested."
Harry's scar was starting to pain him, more than ever now, and at once he began trying to shut it out. This was a dream—yet it was more than a dream—Snape was pushing her into the chair now, binding her to it with thin, silvery cords—this felt like when he had seen Mr. Weasley attacked, it was too real—Voldemort was laughing, threatening to kill her if Harry didn't bring him the Prophecy—
He was trying to pull away, but it was as though Voldemort had not only lured him into this nightmare, but meant to trap him, too—
Desperate and near-panicking, Harry imagined constructing a giant cleaver over the strand of connection between himself and the Dark Lord, and brought it down with as much force as he could muster—
Harry shot up, cold sweat running down his face, breathing hard. Ron was looking at him with an expression that fell somewhere between terror and curiosity, and Harry knew there was no use in lying to Ron: it was plain as day that he had failed. Voldemort had broken through the link, and deliberately shown him what had happened to his Godmother, and what he would do if Harry didn't give him what he wanted.
"Harry," Ron breathed. Behind him, Harry saw Neville was up, and peering down at him worriedly. "What did you see?
"It's my Godmother," Harry choked, struggling to get out of bed. Ron moved aside, and Harry nearly tripped over himself as he scrambled to find the mirror he had used to communicate with Sirius. "Voldemort's got her—he's taken her somewhere, Malfoy Manor, I think—"
"He's what?" Ron yelped, getting to his feet, as Harry held up the mirror.
"Malfoy Manor—but I've got to check—Sirius!"
For a moment, Harry feared there would be no answer from the other end. But then Sirius's tired, if surprised, face came into view. Neville let out a squeak of surprise at seeing the face of a wanted mass-murderer, but didn't interrupt as Harry quickly recounted his dream.
"They've got her, Sirius—a manor, or someplace like it, probably owned by the Malfoys—"
Sirius's eyes crinkled in concern, but he didn't dismiss Harry, nor chastise him for not blocking Voldemort as he should have been.
"We've got to be careful, Harry… it could be a trick—she might very well still be at Hogwarts—"
"How do I check?" Harry demanded. "I don't have the Map!"
"Just hold on," Sirius ordered. His face disappeared, and Harry heard him shout, "Remus!" There was a moment of silence, followed by scuffling, and then the fwumph of flames stirring suddenly to life. There was a pause, and then Sirius returned, pale and shaking.
"She's not there. Neither of them are."
Harry knew exactly what he meant, and set the mirror down. "We've got to get the Order—"
"Harry, don't do anything rash!" Sirius said, perilously close to shouting. "Remus has already got Mad-Eye up, he's going to alert the rest—"
Harry dropped the mirror and dismissed the connection, cutting off the rest of Sirius's words. There was no point in arguing. The longer they talked, the longer they waited, and the greater the likelihood that Voldemort would just kill the Professor—
"Harry," Neville said, trying to keep his voice even. "What's happened?"
"Voldemort's got my godmother," Harry said, getting to his feet, pacing. "My broomstick's still in the dungeons—how—?"
Ron didn't even attempt to dissuade him. "Let's go," he said, quickly pulling on his robes. "We'll just have to break into Umbridge's office."
"I'll come with you," Neville said determinedly.
"I want to help," the normally timid Gryffindor said, standing his ground. "Vol—You-Know-Who's got someone who's important to you, and you're not going alone."
Harry hesitated for all of one moment, so desperate was he for help that for one wild moment, he was actually torn.
And then Neville held up his D.A galleon.
"I'm not alone," he said. "Ginny and Luna are coming, too."
"Look," Harry hissed at them, as they crept down the corridor, "You're not coming with us—you're just helping us break in, keeping a look-out while we get to the Floo—"
"The hell I'm not coming!" Ginny whispered, as they approached the locked office. Luna tapped it once with a murmured 'Alohamora', but the door refused the budge. Glad he had thought of this possibility, Harry pulled out the knife Sirius had given him for Christmas, and fitted one of the attachments to the keyhole. "You didn't even tell us you had a godmother, and now she's been kidnapped—do you really think we're just going to let you go tearing off on your own?"
There was a click, and the door swung open.
"I didn't think," Harry snapped, pushing the door open. "I know."
"Look," Ginny said, stepping in front of him, "either you stop arguing, and we go now, or you keep arguing until we get caught or you give up. Which is it going to be?"
The door suddenly flew open, and all five of them wheeled around, wands raised. Several jets of light flew, and there was a loud scream as the members of the Inquisitorial Squad were thrown back, disarmed and covered in boils. Harry and Ginny looked at each other, and then they quickly dashed for the jar of Floo powder by the mantle.
Harry's hands were closing around it when it flew out from beneath his fingers, and he, Ginny, Ron, Neville, and Luna turned around to face the one person they had most hoped to avoid.
May the cliffhanger inspire a mob of indignant reviews.