A/n:Well everyone, this is the end of this part of the saga. Yes, there will be a sequel. Please see the author's note at the end for more information.
Chava, you've been a life saver as well as a fantastic beta reader! Thanks for putting up with me and my quirks!
Harry Potter and the Prophecy of the Phoenix – Chapter 23
Harry was finally released from the hospital wing just in time for him to take the written portion of his Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L. Even though the queasy rolling of nervousness in his stomach was questioning his decision to beg Dumbledore not to give him an extension, a larger part of him was relieved that he was there with his classmates instead of locked away in the hospital wing.
He was certain that Sirius and Madam Pomfrey had engaged in a silent competition of who could smother him the quickest. At first he did not mind their obsessive attention, after all it was his fault that they had been mourning his death, but as his time in the hospital wing began to stretch, the more he felt that they were stretching the limits of his temper.
Having been raised by the Dursleys, Harry was used to being independent, and the constant coddling he had received from the pair had almost driven him mad.
His friends had been little better.
Harry was certain that Hermione had been taking lessons from Molly Weasley to the point that she of all people was strictly regulating the time he spent studying so that he did not overdo it, and Ron, who Harry usually depended upon to keep Hermione's obsessions in check, was also treating him with kid gloves. The slightest little thing had him asking Harry if he needed to get Madam Pomfrey, who very quickly became the last person Harry wanted to see.
Dumbledore, who visited often, was absolutely no help, his blue eyes shining with humor at everyone's antics and Harry's obvious frustration though Harry was very aware that there was still something off with his mentor.
Remus, however, had been a lifesaver. With his experiences involving coddling due to his full moon episodes, Remus's empathy had moved him to act on Harry's behalf, interceding with some sort of distraction whenever he saw that Harry's patience was wearing too thin.
In fact, if it had not been for Remus, Harry was sure that his godfather would have been following him around until the end of the school year. Somehow, Remus had convinced Sirius that they should return to their new house after Madam Pomfrey had declared Harry fit. When Sirius had opened his mouth to protest, the other Marauder had decided to play dirty and point out that Harry's room was still unfinished, and certainly as Harry's godfather, he could not allow Harry to come home to an unfinished room, could he?
Harry visibly started out of his ruminations at the sight of Dumbledore entering the classroom.
He had known for some time now that Professor Fletcher had been killed in the battle at Hogsmeade, but Dumbledore's presence in the classroom instead of Fletcher's somehow made it more real, more concrete.
The squeezing of his hand turned Harry's attention to Hermione's worried gaze.
"It's okay, Hermione. I just forgot for a minute." Harry whispered, rushing to assuage any agitation that his reaction had caused her. If the dark bags under her eyes were any indication, Harry figured that the O.W.L.s had her stressed enough.
When he moved his gaze back to his headmaster, he found that Dumbledore's eyes seemed to be boring straight through him, an indication that the elder wizard had also seen Harry's discomfiture.
Harry managed a nervous half-smile and nodded subtly, communicating that he was okay.
Dumbledore held his gaze a moment longer before expanding his attention to the rest of the class.
"Welcome to your first O.W.L. I'm sure that the older students have shared with you embellished horror stories and that your teachers have stressed the importance of these exams all year, but the truth is that this is only one test. In the grand scheme of things, this test is not as important as the work that all of you have put into your studies, so simply do your best. That is all anyone can ask of you and all that you can ask of yourselves. Does anyone have any questions?"
The silence in the room was broken only by the sounds of nervous fidgeting.
Dumbledore pointed his wand at the stack of exams in his other hand, and immediately they scattered to distribute themselves to the class.
"You may begin."
Harry quickly scratched his name on the top of his exam, and as he read the first question on the test, he found himself genuinely smiling.
Describe the differences between a werewolf and a normal wolf.
Harry's quill moved frantically across the page in an effort to keep up with the tidal wave of information that was flooding out of his brain.
The questions, answers, and hours flew by as Harry delved deeper into the exam, and even though there were some questions that Harry felt more comfortable with than others, at the end of the exam, he was feeling both generally fatigued and satisfied.
He glanced around the room and saw that Ron and several other of his classmates had very round, widened eyes that clearly communicated the thought, what in the bloody hell was that thing!
Hermione, however, looked strangely disappointed, and Harry could only assume that the test had not lived up to her expectations of difficulty.
Dumbledore summoned their exams and dismissed them, wishing them luck on their afternoon practical.
Harry stood, probably a little too quickly, and found himself a little more unsteady on his feet than he would have thought.
Ron gripped his friend's arm immediately even though Harry had managed to steady himself on the desk in front of him with the light support of his hand.
"Harry?" Hermione asked softly, looking concerned.
"I'm fine, just got up too fast." When Hermione did not look convinced and Ron's grip did not get and looser, Harry added, "Besides, I can nap this afternoon while you're taking your practicals."
Sensing the tease, Ron released Harry's arm and fake punched him where he had been previously gripping him, effectively stopping Dumbledore in his tracks as he halted his advancement towards the unmoving trio to watch them curiously.
"Don't rub it in." Ron grumbled as his vocal response to the banter.
"Come on," Hermione broke in bossily, "let's get lunch, and then it's off to bed for you.' She made an indication towards Harry as she spoke, "You don't want to be exhausted for your next exam."
"She's one to talk." Ron whispered conspiratorially in Harry's ear, apparently not auite soft enough to escape Hermione's earshot even though she had taken a few steps towards the door.
Hermione spun around instantly with her hands at her hips. "What was that?"
"Nothing, let's go get lunch. I'm starved." Ron managed to stammer out as the tips of his ears began to turn scarlet.
Harry lagged behind his two friends just long enough to signal to Dumbledore that he was all right, mentally acknowledging the still-disbelieving smile he received in response before easily catching up with his friends.
The O.W.L.s flew by, tests and days blurring together until Harry found himself in his Potions practical, the last test he would be allowed to take until Madam Pomfrey gave her consent.
He caught Neville's eye and smiled encouragingly at his study partner, despite the fact that his stomach seemed to have twisted itself into a series of knots.
After learning that Harry was alive and was still planning on taking his Potions O.W.L. on time, Neville had begun to visit Harry in the hospital wing as well with his Potions notes and book in hand. Although Neville seemed a little nervous at first, the two had quickly fallen back into their routine.
Neville did not quite manage to respond with a nervous smile, despite the fact that he had confided in Harry that he thought the written part had gone fairly well.
Snape silenced any quiet murmurings of anxiety as he whisked to the front of the room.
"Unlike most of your classes, I am not interested in seeing how well you can memorize. The purpose of this practical is for you to demonstrate the skills that you have developed through the years. Each of you will receive instructions on how to brew potion that you have not seen before but is at an O.W.L. level of difficulty, and please note that it will do you no good to look over at your neighbor's station as each of you will receive a different potion."
"I thought Fred and George were kidding!" Ron hissed under his breath, loudly enough only for his immediate neighbors to hear.
Snape smirked at the students' looks of astonishment.
"When you receive your instructions, you may begin."
Blocking out the sounds of his classmates diving into their potions, Harry decided to take the time to read his instructions carefully.
It did not take long for a rush of anger to wash over him as he mentally came up with creative and foul vituperations to describe his Potions Master.
Snape had not provided the name of the potion that he had assigned Harry, but whatever it was, it was definitely not an O.W.L. level potion.
Biting back his fury, he was only able to half pay attention to the instructions in front of him until he got about half-way through the instructions and his mind rebelled.
According to his instructions, he was supposed to add essence of lavender immediately after adding the monkshood, but that just could not be right. Essence of lavender and monkshood would cancel each other out without some sort of buffer to stabilize the monkshood. In order to do that, he would need to added equal quantities of ground juniper roots, which meant that Snape had either made a mistake or had found yet another way to insure that Harry failed.
Knowing that Snape could fault him for not following the instructions just as easily as faulting him for not catching the mistake, Harry made the decision immediately to add the juniper roots.
If Snape was so determined to fail him, Harry was going to make it as hard as possible for him.
With that resolution, Harry found himself once more enmeshed in the instructions for his potion, righteous anger banished to the back of his mind for the moment because if he was going to have a shot of pulling this potion off, he was going to need his full attention on the potion preparation.
He was not even a quarter of the way through his instructions an hour later when Neville, looking relieved and somewhat triumphant, stood to turn in his potion and was quickly followed by Crabbe and Goyle.
Thus began the steady migration of students from the dungeons, and Ron was the first of the trio to leave a mere ninety minutes into the examination.
Harry was barely aware of just how bare the dungeons were becoming because he was so focused the intricacies of his potion until about three hours after the start of the exam when he happened to look up to find that only he, Hermione, and Draco Malfoy were left. It was only a few minutes later that Malfoy turned in his potion, sneering at the remaining pair of Gryffindors as he left.
Harry had finally reached what he had estimated to be his half-way point about thirty minutes later when he heard Hermione sigh with relief and bottle her potion.
Hermione turned in her potion, looking just as bit as tired as Harry felt, and shot him a questioning gaze.
"That will be all, Miss Granger." Snape spoke sharply, and Hermione exited, albeit with reluctance, as instructed, leaving Harry alone with Snape.
After that, Harry completely lost track of time, finally slumping back into his chair in relief when he hit a ten minute respite where the potion simply had to simmer.
He did not see that Snape had risen from his desk until a goblet suddenly appeared on his workbench.
As Harry looked up at Snape in confusion, Snape answered his question before it could be asked aloud.
"It's just water, Potter. You looked like you could use some, and if I'm not mistaken, you have a ten minute break."
Harry nodded, completely dumbfounded, and Snape's lips twisted into a smirk.
"Don't worry. It's not spiked with anything."
After somehow muttering out his thanks, Harry drank slowly from the goblet. Yard work at the Dursleys' had taught him that gulping the water would only make him sick.
"Are you all right to continue, Potter? I may have overestimated your recovery. I can arrange a make-up test if you need to stop."
Harry simply could not tell if he was being genuine or sarcastic, and so his answer was made based on the fact that he definitely did not want to do this again.
"No, I'm almost done."
"Then I believe that your ten minutes has almost passed."
Harry's eyes followed the man for only a moment before returning to his potion, knowing that he had no time at the moment to try and decipher the riddle of what had just happened.
Finally, after finishing one last series of complicated steps, Harry moved to bottle his potion when Snape stopped him.
"Leave it. It has to stay on the heat for another twelve hours, and then it has to cool for another two before it can be bottled. I'll take care of that."
Harry stood, thinking that at last he was done and feeling exhausted and irritated.
"Potter, before you go, why did you add the juniper root?"
"Because the essence of lavender would have canceled out the monkshood."
Harry spoke the words tersely, wanting only to leave and thinking that Snape was purposefully goading him. Without another word and without looking back Harry escaped the dungeons, not seeing the rare genuine smile that crossed Snape's face.
He had just barely made it up the stairs when he heard his name being called and found himself face to face with his headmaster.
"Harry, are you all right? Your friends came to see me when you hadn't returned to Gryffindor Tower."
"I'm fine. I just finished my Potions O.W.L."
Dumbledore's right eyebrow reached toward his hairline.
Harry nodded as Dumbledore frowned.
"What potion did Professor Snape give you?"
"I don't know- a long one." Harry snapped bitterly, regretting his tone as soon as the words left his mouth. "I'm sorry, sir. I'm just a little tired."
"It's all right, Harry. Your reaction is quite understandable." Dumbledore smiled kindly at the teen. "If I'm not mistaken, the celebration marking the end of the O.W.L.s and the N.E.W.T.s is still going strong in the Gryffindor Tower. Go enjoy yourself."
"Thanks," Harry murmured, feeling incredibly guilty before hurrying away.
Instead of turning around, Dumbledore continued his trek into the dungeons.
"Severus." Dumbledore intoned with a little bit of edge to alert the other man to his presence.
"Good evening, headmaster. What can I do for you?" Snape questioned a bit too formally as if he already knew the answer.
"I came looking for Harry. His friends grew concerned when he did not return from his Potions O.W.L."
"Mr. Potter is no longer here." Snape replied with his usual coldness.
"I know. I just ran into him. What potion did you have him brew that kept him down here so late? He's still recovering."
"I gave Potter the option of stopping and returning for a retest if he was feeling poorly. He declined."
Dumbledore's eyes narrowed astutely and repeated the question, "What potion did you give him?"
Dumbledore simply stared at the man in disbelief as if waiting for him to claim that his answer was some sort of joke.
The Moonshine potion was the precursor to the Wolfsbane potion, and while the latter was by far the more difficult of the pair, the Moonshine potion definitely required more advanced skills than those needed for the O.W.L.s.
When it was obvious that the statement was not going to be dismissed, he found his voice and somehow managed to keep it calm.
"I assume that you will adjust his grade accordingly."
"Absolutely not. I will not insult him like that. He will receive the grade that he had earned just like the rest of his classmates."
Dumbledore sighed tiredly, "Severus, Harry is not James."
Snape's eyes and voice were sharp. "This had nothing to do with that."
"Because he'll be living with a werewolf!"
Dumbledore was just as shocked by the intensity of the statement as the words of explanation, and before he could string even a couple words together in response, Snape continued his speech.
"Despite all your protests to the contrary, you're sending an under-aged wizard into a potentially dangerous situation without the protection of his wand. I wasn't about to let him go there unprotected. Not again." Irritation hit him immediately as the last two words slipped out before he could stop them, and the immediate sparkling that erupted in Dumbledore's eyes only added fuel to the fire. "And stop looking at me like that!"
Ignoring Snape's agitation, Dumbledore's eyes continued to dance, "I was under the impression that you would continue to brew Wolfsbane for Remus."
"If you hadn't noticed, headmaster, my cover was blown, meaning that I'm almost as high on the hit-list as Potter. If something were to happen to me, it would be unlikely that Lupin would be able to procure the potion from another credible source on short notice. Moonshine isn't nearly as effective, but it should serve its purpose well enough, and Potter is the only semi-competent brewer in the bunch."
Dumbledore's eyes dimmed noticeably, "Severus-"
Snape interrupted the inevitable platitude, "It's not over, Albus." To make his point, he pulled up his sleeve, "I thought I was imagining things, but it's been growing darker. It's still fainter than it ever was when he was banished from his body, but it's darker nonetheless."
For a long silent moment, Dumbledore's gaze was fixed on the mark maligning the otherwise pale skin, and then his eyes lowered in obvious acknowledgement and contemplation, and the moment was broken only when Snape allowed his sleeve to fall.
Knowing that something was needed to dispel the dreary intensity that was now hovering around them in the room, Dumbledore picked up the previous conversation before it had taken such a disastrous detour.
"You know, you could have just taught Harry the potion if you were so concerned."
The final part of the sentence drew Snape's glare as Dumbledore intended, and the tension in the atmosphere seemed to wane a bit.
"Potter needed practice brewing the potion under pressure. Besides, I very much doubt that he'd voluntarily give up any of his precious free to practice brewing with his greasy git of a Potions Master."
Dumbledore's lips quirked up in a manner that seemed to imply some sort of secret knowledge.
"I think that you might be surprised."
Snape made some sort of noncommittal noise that only deepened the grin that was settling onto Dumbledore's face.
"Well, then, I'll just leave you to finish up what you were doing. Good night, Severus."
Snape stiffly nodded his valediction, and just before Dumbledore was out of ear-shot, he called out, "If you wouldn't mind, headmaster, could you tell Professor McGonagall that she owes me five galleons?"
Feigning innocence at knowing that McGonagall had bet that Hermione would be the first in years to figure out that Snape had left an ingredient out of the potion on her O.W.L. and that Snape had bet that if anyone were to figure it out, it would be Harry, Dumbledore responded simply with the words, "I'll be sure to pass that along."
Eyes betraying him as they flashed with mirth and pride, Dumbledore made his retreat from the dungeons.
It had taken Madam Pomfrey until the last week of classes to declare Harry fit enough to complete the rest of his practical examinations. Despite the fact that Harry had complained that she was being entirely too overprotective, Dumbledore had adhered to the mediwitch's recommendations stringently, feeling a bit overprotective himself.
Thus after a long week of ignoring his classmates basking in the fact that they were practically done for the year and had almost no new assignments, Harry had finally reached the final portion of his final O.W.L.: crystal ball gazing.
Ever since his return to her classroom, Trelawney had been visibly uneasy around him and thus far had not reinstated her predictions of Harry's death.
Now Harry was doing his best to ignore the bug-eyed and cautious stare as he gazed into the mist inhabiting his crystal ball.
He felt suddenly heavy and tired, the pungent vapors sinking into his skull and clouding his brain.
Completely unaware, Harry did not notice the rim of fire that suddenly surrounded his body, nor did he hear the gasp of terror that squeezed its way out of Professor Trelawney as his eyes first turned white and then morphed into orbs of fire.
In a voice that was not his own, Harry spoke words that had been destroyed long ago.
"Young Phoenix shall rise from the ashes,
Awakening the serpent's greatest triumph and greatest mistake,
Marking the third reign of darkness.
The serpent's spawn will poison the phoenix,
And Young Phoenix will fall to the darkness.
Unless he can reclaim his wings
The darkness will encroach upon the light
Until there exists nothing but the darkness."
Blinking, Harry cleared his vision, embarrassed that he had actually dozed off amidst his final O.W.L.
Not seeing that Trelawney's caution had deepened into a much more potent fear, Harry spoke quickly, ready for the exam to just be over.
"I'm sorry, Professor, but I don't see anything."
By the time Trelawney's throat finally released her squeak of protest, Harry had already descended from the Divination Tower, ready to join his classmates in their end of the year celebration.
"Shouldn't you be doing some last minute packing, Harry?" Dumbledore asked lightly without looking up from a stack of paperwork as Harry entered his office.
"I finished last night."
Hearing that something was deliberately off in Harry's voice, Dumbledore's eyes immediately left his papers to search for any visual clue that they could discern the source of whatever was bothering the teen.
"Is there something wrong?"
"No. I-" Harry was fumbling over the words that he had practiced repeatedly, his lips finding difficulty in coordinating themselves to make coherent speech.
Dumbledore was at Harry's side before the latter had even realized that he had risen from his chair.
"Are you nervous about spending the summer with Sirius and Remus?"
"No… well, maybe a little… but that's not… there's something that I need to do- want to do before I leave. I've been wanting to do it for a while now but-" Harry took a breath, realizing that he was rambling as Dumbledore simply watched him with a patient concern. "But I need you to trust me."
Harry's eyes were shining earnestly, and Dumbledore knew that whatever it was that Harry wanted to do, it was desperately important to him.
"Of course, Harry."
Without another word, Harry reached out and took the other wizard's hand in his own, knowing that though the physical contact was not necessary, it would make what he was going to attempt easier.
Dumbledore had to work to keep his surprise from showing as Harry took his hand. Though Harry had yearned for a family, yearned for love, it was much more likely for Harry to accept some form of intimate contact that initiate it on his own, and Dumbledore had still not shed his guilt over forcing Harry to be so alone.
Yet he was repeating his mistakes, and even though he tried to reassure himself that it would be different this time, that he would only wait a little while before divulging the rediscovered end to the prophecy, he feared that this time Harry would never forgive him.
Dumbledore's eyes roamed to meet Harry's own as he immediately squelched the new monster that had taken up residence in his psyche, but he found that they were already closed in concentration.
A soothing warmth began to creep up his arm from his joined hand, and Dumbledore did not fight the sensation as his eyes floated shut as well.
An odd tickle broached the edge of his mind, asking a question that was more of a feeling than words.
Dumbledore hesitated. The last time they had forged such a connection, it had affected him more than he cared to admit, but the image of Harry pleading for his trust ultimately overruled his hesitation.
Allowing Harry access, he was swept away by another of Harry's memories.
Pushing away all of the voices, especially that whiny one nagging him about whether or not he would be able to resume his human form, he soared into the clouds, flight in this form coming as naturally to him as it had the first day he had climbed onto a broom.
If he had thought riding on his broom was exhilarating, then flying unfettered from any object was the closest to pure bliss than he had ever felt. He felt the burdens of his anxiety melt away as he simply let himself become swallowed by the blue-gray expanse of the September sky.
Dumbledore felt his sense of self return as Harry retreated from his mind and sensed the connection break completely as Harry released his hand.
He opened his eyes feeling overwhelmed, unable to fathom why Harry had felt the need to share something so personal with him and unable to find the words to express how much the gesture meant to him.
Anticipating the headmaster's question, Harry spoke softly, "That night when you thought I had failed in my efforts to become an animagus, you told me that being unable to take your form was one of your deepest regrets. I know that it's not the same, but I thought that maybe sharing that with you might help."
Unshed tears glittered brilliantly in Dumbledore's eyes, and his voice took on a strange timbre as he worked it around the huge lump in his throat.
"Harry, I don't know how to thank you."
Harry smiled genuinely, "You've done more than enough, sir, for everyone. I'll see you next term, Professor."
Dumbledore could do nothing but stare at the young man as he slipped out of the office.
Hogwarts 500 years earlier
Lenore Weasley rifled through her bag for the third time before releasing a sigh of defeat and exacerbation as she finally acknowledged that she had neglected to bring any parchment with her.
Mentally she bemoaned the fact that she had not quite mastered the Accio charm because now she was going to have to trudge all the way back to her dormitory to retrieve some, which meant that she was going to have to disassemble the stacks of books that she had finally organized to complete her assignment.
Madam Novelle, the head librarian, had absolutely no tolerance for any mess left behind, and since Lenore was in for a late night in the library, the last thing that she wanted was to get on Madam Novelle's bad side.
Just as she had resigned herself to the fact that she was going to have to pack everything up and return the books to the shelves, her eyes fell upon Ancient Prophesies and the Fate of the World by I. C. Thefuture.
She had been enthused at first when she had first retrieved it from one of the shelves in the Restricted Section, with permission from her Divination professor, but had soon realized that the book was completely useless as it was written in some strange foreign language.
Making a split-second decision and making sure that Madam Novelle could not see, Lenore used her wand to cut out a random page from the book and erased the original writing.
After all, no one would ever miss a page from a book they could not read
Unknown location, present time
The darkness had been the body's constant companion since it had been abandoned and forgotten for decades. Not alive and not dead the body had lain still, untouched by time or the elements- until Voldemort's defeat.
For several weeks the body had shown signs of revival as the heart began to beat and the lungs began to pull in short, shallow breaths, which slowly began to even out.
Finally, the first moment of awareness and a surge of raw magical power descended upon the body, and the darkness was disturbed by the sudden appearance of red, serpentine eyes.
A/n: Can you believe that this is over? Please look for Harry Potter and the Serpent's Spawn for Harry's sixth year. For those of you who are concerned, this will NOT be a Voldemort's son/daughter fic, nor will Voldemort simply be reborn. It's complicated… I guess that you'll just have to continue reading to find out. Once again, individual responses will be posted at the yahoogroup.
Thank you to everyone for all of your support and suggestions throughout this story. I couldn't have done it without you.