Author name: Ruskbyte
Summary: Harry has been captured by Voldemort for a month during his fifth year. But now he's back and everyone is worried, because whatever it is that came back - it's not Harry.
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: Slightly darker and entirely from Hermione's POV. Not entirely sure how it will turn out, so any suggestions would be appreciated. Whatever happens; I'm not planning for more than four parts.
It was the first Saturday of February, just over a month since Harry had disappeared without a trace on New Years Eve of their fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. To say his disappearance had been a surprise was the greatest understatement anybody in the history of Hogwarts had ever spoken.
There had been no warnings, no premonitions, no hints, not even the usual morbid predictions of Professor Trelawney.
Harry had simply vanished.
The Weasleys, Ron, Fred, George and Ginny, had unanimously decided to remain at the school over the Christmas holidays that year, along with Hermione, Neville, Dean, Seamus, Lavender, Parvati, Colin and Dennis Creevey and a good portion of the rest of the Gryffindor students. Everyone was on edge over Voldemort's return and all were firm believers that Hogwarts was the safest place that the magical world had to offer against the Dark Lord and his minions.
Little did they know.
There had been the customary New Years Feast, which lasted throughout the night, cumulating in the enchanted ceiling of the hall lighting up and counting down, with massive numbers, the time until the changeover from one year to the next. The celebration had continued for an hour after that, until Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall had called an end to the festivities and sent the students back to their dormitories.
It was a little before two o'clock that morning when those in Gryffindor Tower had finally made their ways to bed, smiles on their lips and good cheer bubbling inside them. It had been a great day and night, in which everyone had slept deeply and undisturbed.
That morning, when the fifth year boys awoke, Harry was gone.
Ron and Hermione quickly became hysterical. Or rather, Hermione quickly became hysterical, which quickly dragged Ron down the same path. Indeed, this proved to be highly contagious and within a matter of minutes every person within the walls of Gryffindor Tower was on the verge of nervous collapse or breakdown.
The teachers set about searching for Harry with a grim determination, helped and hindered along their way by the Gryffindors, who insubordinately refused to remain confined inside the tower if Harry was not in there with them. It was a measure of the seriousness of the situation that both Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall relented to allow them aid in the search. Even the usually antagonistic Professor Snape put up only a token resistance to the Gryffindor movement.
The castle was searched from top to bottom several times over, being turned practically as well as literally inside out in the process. The search was comprehensive to a degree that made their hunts for Sirius Black two years prior look like an amateurish game of hide and seek. Yet by the end of the day, it proved to be a time wasting exercise in futility.
The search had moved outside the castle, to the grounds, the Forbidden Forest, Hogsmeade and out into the countryside. It did not take long for those continuing and taking up the search to come to the realization that the British Isles contained a lot of ground to cover.
During the first week the flurry of activity involved in the search had transformed Hogwarts in more ways than one. As the days, then weeks passed by, the search remained unbelievably intense and determined, continuing even after a good deal of the hope that Harry would be found began to wane and diminish.
By the end of the month, grim determination had given way to grim resolution. Very few retained hope that Harry would be recovered alive and were now simply focusing on the task of finding his remains, if any. The energetic, in some cases frantic, atmosphere had passed and was replaced by a shroud of gloom and depression that was keenly felt during meal in the Great Hall.
Everyone had been affected by the loss of Harry, particularly the Gryffindors. The mood at their table was sombre and oppressive, as the diminished house sat and ate under a pall of silence not even the Slytherins could escape from. The depression that stifled conversation in the Great Hall fell heavily on Harry's closest friends, particularly Hermione, who were alternating between the frantic anxiety of the first few days and a zombie-like automation that caused grave concern to both fellow students and teachers alike.
The pair was currently in between swings of their emotional pendulum, which meant that they were as close to normal as they could get during the crisis. Breakfast that morning was as sombre an affair as ever, only the occasional whisper or murmur to break the silence, when all hell broke loose and engulfed the Great Hall in an uproar.
Hermione was staring unseeingly at her eggs and toast, mindlessly tapping her fork against the rim of the plate. Her mind was awhirl with thoughts, none of which made any amount of sense that she could determine. It had been a month since Harry had vanished, a month of such an emotional roller coaster, that she was simply exhausted.
She looked up at Ron, who was leaning back and staring at the ceiling, his brows furrowed as he contemplated the scene above. "What?" she asked, wondering what could stir her best friend from the stupor that had engulfed the pair of them.
"The weather," he replied, motioning at the roof, "It was clear blue skies as far as the eye can see when we got in here five minutes ago. Now it looks like the grandmother and grandfather of all storms is brewing."
Hermione looked up and was startled to see that Ron was right; the weather was indeed foreboding, with dark blue/grey clouds rolling low across the sky. Now that she thought about it, Hermione saw that the torches along the sides of the hall had been lit and the enchanted candles were now floating above them. She hadn't realized how dark it had suddenly become in the past few minutes while she moped about her darkest thoughts.
"Must be a front coming over," she muttered, watching as the dark clouds billowed in ominous turmoil. As she watched she noticed that she was feeling chilled through her robes and was not the only one. Most of those inside the Great Hall were shifting about, rubbing their hands over their arms and legs to warm them up. As she wondered at this the fireplaces burst to life and a warm glow spread over the hall, accompanied by relieved sighs from the students.
"Weird," commented Ginny, sitting beside her, "I've never see the weather change so dramatically in such a short time."
"Yeah," agreed Fred, who was across from her, flanking Ron, "Looks like we will be spending the day indoors."
"Ah, so much the better," chirped George, from Ron's other side, "Nothing quite like spending a few hours with prospective clients for our latest confectionary delights."
Fred nodded enthusiastically, "Quite so, dear brother. But who would be a suitable unsuspecting taste tester for Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes?"
None of those who were listening ever found out who the twins intended victim was, for at that moment the massive doors leading into the hall burst inwards as though struck by a giant hand. The doors swung fully open with a resounding crash as they rebounded off the walls. There was a clamour of noise from everyone, a good number of whom had leapt to their feet in surprise, when the doors hung listlessly on their hinges. But the mutterings and exclamations died down almost immediately as they spotted the solitary figure standing just outside the hall.
For a single moment Hermione thought it was Snape, a tall, thin man, cloaked in black robes with a pale white face and black hair above. But a glance at the teachers' table confirmed that Snape was there, standing ramrod straight beside Professor McGonagall. Turning her attention back to the intruder, Hermione watched as he silently drifted into the hall, seeming to glide across the floor rather than walk, a frigid chill sweeping out before him as the candles, torches and fires were suddenly extinguished.
It was Harry.
Sweet God, she wondered as the thought occurred to her. It's Harry. He's back. He's... my God.
As other students began to recognise him as well, Hermione stared in horror at his appearance as he slowly made his way towards the staff table. He looked a good deal taller than when she had last seen him, but his face was gaunt and unhealthily thin. His skin was white as bone and drawn painfully tight over his cheekbones. His eyes, robbed of their glasses, were rimmed with shadows of exhaustion so dark, as to be almost black against his pale skin, his face resembling a skull. With the cowl of his robe up and hanging low over his brow, Harry seemed a spectre in the very image of death itself.
"All he needs is a scythe and hourglass," muttered Dean Thomas, echoing her thoughts, as they tracked Harry's slow progress into the hall.
Everyone watched in morbid fascination as Harry glided down the path to the stage, flanked by the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables. Hermione, her gaze riveted on Harry's face and his sunken eyes, noticed that his robes hung motionless and undisturbed from his shoulders. His body was hidden completely from view under the inky black garment and even though he was moving at a reasonable pace, the robes remained tightly fastened and unyielding.
As he reached the middle of the hall Harry came to a halt, his face and eyes remaining fixed on the staff table, but somehow his attention seemed to be directed elsewhere. A soft whisper could be heard from the direction of the Slytherin table, and when she craned her neck, Hermione could see Draco Malfoy making a hushed comment to Pansy Parkinson. Apparently Harry had noticed and, impossibly, overheard whatever was being said.
With a startled yelp Draco leapt into the air and, spinning and careening wildly, he rocketed straight to where Harry was standing and waiting, face expressionless. Just when it seemed that Draco would crash into him, he jerked to a violent halt, hovering in midair before a motionless Harry that continued to lock gazes with something only he could see. Without turning or moving to acknowledge Draco's presence he spoke.
"If you ever speak in my presence again," he said, his voice a deep, yet soft rasp, as though raw from countless hours of screaming and begging, "I will do things to you that will make your darkest nightmares pale in comparison."
The words hung in the air for a moment, much like Draco, and nobody that heard them could doubt Harry's sincerity. Not a warning, not a threat, merely a statement of fact, like saying that the sky was blue and that grass was green. As though declaring it so made it a law of nature, a law that not even magic could circumvent or bend to its will.
"Now be quiet," finished Harry dismissively, his eyes never once focusing on the boy hanging in the air beside him. And, apparently done, Draco once again launched into motion, hurtling across the hall to collapse in a heap with several of his fellow Slytherins. Seeming finished with his pronouncement, Harry continued towards the front of the hall, the rim of his cloak just brushing against the floor as he glided silently forward, ignoring how those Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws along his path leaned back and pressed away as he passed them by.
Finally he stood before the staff table, completely ignoring the assembled students behind him and the waiting teachers in front of him, and continued to gaze unseeing into space. He remained where he was, perfectly still in a way no human could achieve, even his robe remaining unruffled by the soft draft that was sweeping though the hall from the open entrance.
After what seemed an age, Harry began to focus on the world surrounding him, his eyes locking upon the headmaster with a singular intensity that caused the teachers to involuntarily shrink back several steps. Harry and Dumbledore held each other's gaze for a long minute, before he gave a short nod of greeting. "Albus," he acknowledged, his voice sounding more like the Harry of old.
"Harry," Dumbledore greeted cautiously, "I'm very pleased to see you. It's a relief to have you back with us."
This was too much for Hermione and she, along with Ron, the rest of the Weasleys and a good few of the other Gryffindors that knew him, rushed toward where Harry and Dumbledore were speaking. Drawing to a stop half a dozen or so feet away, she gave a gasp as she got her first clear look at Harry, her heart skipping several beats.
"And I'm sure," Dumbledore continued, a faint smile on his lips, "that your friends are equally, if indeed not more, relieved at your return."
Harry turned his head a fraction and his eyes swept dismissively over his waiting classmates, a cursory examination that was chilling in its apathetic indifference. Harry returned his gaze to Dumbledore and spoke, "I am not here to deal with trivialities," his voice colder than the chill engulfing the hall, "I only returned here to inform you that it is over and get the formalities out of the way."
"Over?" queried Dumbledore, his voice laced with a concern, "What do you mean, Harry?"
"It's finished," Harry said, a faint scowl forming on his brow, "Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters are no longer a threat worthy of consideration."
Ron voiced a strangled question, "You, you defeated You-Know-Who? Again?"
"You mean he's gone?" asked Ginny immediately after, "For good?"
Harry did not move to acknowledge them, save for a brief nod, "Yes. Lord Voldemort is finished, as are all the Death Eaters. I brought them with me, so that you can handle their disposition."
Dumbledore exchanged a quick glance with Snape, who was looking rather ill, "All of them?"
"Yes," confirmed Harry, "After I escaped confinement Lord Voldemort called them all, every single one of them, except for Severus. I prevented the call from reaching his Dark Mark."
Snape looked at Harry in disbelief, "How the devil could you do that, Potter?" he asked, without his usual sneer, "The Mark is one of the most powerful forms of Dark Magic in existence."
Harry's eyes slid over to look at the Potions Master, "I am more powerful," he said flatly.
Ron and Hermione exchanged an amazed look, the way Harry had stated that, it was clear he was not kidding around. Ron shook his head in disbelief and whispered to her, "I hope Azkaban has a lot of empty cells waiting."
By now Harry had returned his gaze to Dumbledore again, but he obviously heard Ron's comment as he replied, "Azkaban will not be receiving any new Death Eater inmates."
"Why not?" asked Fred, standing right behind his younger brother.
"Because, there are no Death Eaters left to be sent there," answered Harry, his voice flat as a series of gasps and stifled cries came from the back of the hall. Everyone, save Harry, turned and gaped in amazement and horror as dozens of black robed forms floated through the open doors.
Hermione's hands covered her mouth as she took in the sight of the Death Eaters. They hung limp in the air as they drifted towards the front of the Great Hall.
"You killed them?" she whispered in horror.
"They killed themselves," he corrected, not bothering to turn around and survey the bodies hovering throughout the room, "I gave them all a choice, surrender or else. Unfortunately for them, they chose the former."
His gaze shifted to rest on his fellow Gryffindors, "I believe they were under the mistaken impression that I would be stupid enough to show them mercy. I didn't."
"Merlin's ghost, you killed them all?" Professor McGonagall sank into her chair in shock.
"No, not all," replied Harry, once again looking at Dumbledore, who appeared very disturbed by the multitude of limp bodies drifting about the hall, "I did restrain myself from ending the miserable existence of one particular rat."
Soft whimpers became audible as another body floated through the doors, his body curled into a tight ball. He was a short, somewhat chubby man, with thinning, almost colourless hair, bulging watery eyes and dirty black robes. His right arm was tucked into his left armpit, but blood was dripping steadily down.
"He should live, but you'll have to hurry if you don't want him to die from blood loss. I was forced to remove the new hand Lord Voldemort had given him," declared Harry, a thin smile on his lips as Dumbledore motioned Madam Pomfrey forward.
"No need to hurry that much," he protested as the bustling matron ran to where Pettigrew hung motionless in the air, still save for his soft moans. "I don't really need him alive. His body will do just fine as far as providing evidence of Sirius Black's innocence."
Hermione, and everyone else, was shocked at how callous and cold Harry was being about how the man was suffering. Admittedly Pettigrew had betrayed his parents, not to mention Sirius and many more besides, but was this the same Harry Potter that had convinced Sirius and Professor Lupin to spare Wormtail's life at the end of their third year? How could he be so... cruel?
With a shake of his head, Harry released Wormtail from whatever magic was holding him up, and the tiny man fell to the ground with a loud thump and several sharp cracks. Wormtail cried out as he landed, obviously breaking several bones in the process, before curling into an even tighter ball as his blood-soaked form collapsed in a heap.
"I shall send word to the Ministry at once," said Dumbledore, watching as Madam Pomfrey conjured a stretcher and levitated the shivering form of Wormtail onto it. He turned to fix Harry with a penetrating stare, "But in the meantime, Harry, I think that perhaps you should accompany Madam Pomfrey to the hospital wing. You do seem rather pale."
"Don't try to be a hero, Potter," snapped Snape, seeming to have recovered his usual dislike of The Boy Who Lived. "You look about as healthy as a man on his death bed."
"It has nothing to do with heroics," Harry said, "My business here is not yet complete."
Ginny stepped forward, accompanied by Hermione, "Harry, you need to go with her. You don't look all that good. You need her to help you get better."
Harry sighed and shook his head tiredly, "There's nothing she or anyone else can do for me," he explained to them all.
"Come on, Harry," argued Hermione, "It can't be that bad. You managed to walk in here alright!"
He turned to look at her, for the first time actually look at her, and it chilled her with its cold intensity. Another sigh escaped his lips and the hood of his robes fell back. Hermione felt the blood drain from her face when she saw his hair. Beside her, Ginny and Rob clasped her arms for support as they too paled at the sight. Behind them, and all round the hall, people gasped as they saw the change in Harry's hair.
At his temples it was snow white, a gleaming silver similar to Dumbledore's, so very pale it was difficult to see against his chalk white skin. Thin streaks of silver ran through the rest of the tussled raven mop, accompanied by thicker streaks of a reddish brown, where the hair had not yet completely lost its colour.
Dumbledore, who was supposedly as unshakeable as the earth itself, seemed rocked to his very core as he leaned back against the table behind him for support. "My God," he whispered, the famous sparkle completely absent from his blue eyes.
Harry cocked a wry eyebrow and curled his lips into a thin smile, "Believe me, Albus, God had nothing to do with it. Unless you've decided to deify Lord Voldemort at the last minute and neglected to tell me."
"Harry..." Hermione whispered, tears pooling in her eyes, "What did they do to you?"
He turned to look at her again, his eyes blazing with cold scorn, "They made me stronger than I was before. Truth be told, I'm rather pleased with the end result."
"Stronger?" asked George, slowly beginning to regain his composure after the shock of seeing Harry's appearance.
"End result?" asked Fred, standing beside his sister, his one arm wrapped around her trembling shoulders as she leaned against his chest for support.
Dumbledore stood straight, his eyes grave over his half-moon spectacles, "Harry, you have to tell us what happened. How did you escape? And what has become of Voldemort?"
"How did I escape?" Harry asked, apparently finding the question amusing, "I didn't escape, Albus. I was set free."
"Set free?" repeated Ron, hand clasped firmly on Hermione's shoulder as they stared at Harry in disbelief, awe and good deal of worry.
Harry nodded, "Yes. Perhaps I should show you," he said, his thin skeletal right hand emerging from within his robes, wand held loosely in its grasp.
As the wand came clearly into view, Hermione gasped and dropped back a step, fumbling about her robes for her own wand. A surge of panic had blossomed within her the instant she got a clear look at the revealed wand, its long and dark length gleaming in the subdued light of the Great Hall. It was made from yew, she knew, and just over a foot long, thirteen and a half inches to be precise, with a core made of phoenix feather.
The other phoenix feather.
That's not Harry, that's not Harry, she thought desperately as her fingers closed upon her own wand, pulling it out and aiming it straight ahead of her, at the person whose disguise she was first to penetrate. That's not Harry, that's not Harry!
The cry boomed throughout the Hall as a wave of green energy swept out from Harry, knocking all those near him off their feet as the Dark Mark bloomed to life over the staff table. Harry was pointing his wand at Dumbledore, who had stumbled back against the table under the onslaught of raw energy, and a multitude of thin, glowing green, tendrils exploded forth.
"Nox Mortis Bindus!"
The glowing ropes wrapped themselves around Dumbledore before he had a chance to move or duck out of the way. With his arms bound tightly to his sides and his legs stuck firmly together, he fell to the floor. Harry stood over him, his face twisted in a mocking smile as shrieks and yells of disbelief filled the air as the once limp Death Eaters suddenly sprang to life, dropping lightly to the floor all round the Great Hall, their wands out and firing Cruciatus at any student that tried to resist. Within moments the entire school, every student and teacher, were subdued under the watchful gazes of Voldemort's followers.
"Potter, what are you playing at!?"
"Harry, are you out of your mind!?"
Shouts and cries came from the teachers and Harry's friends that were on the stage near him, all unable to comprehend what was transpiring before them. How could Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived, do something like this? How could he consort with Death Eaters, bring them inside the school and attack Dumbledore?
It was Hermione that answered all their questions with a single word, a name, spat out with the vehemence of the curse which it was.
I love cliffhangers. Don't you? Next chapter up in a couple of days or three.