I'm Still Here
~Some Things Never Change~
Fleur's voice became even more emotional and she seemed on the very verge of breaking down into sobs. "Because I was weak, my sister who is not even ten has seen, first hand, ze Cruciatus. I do not want to feel like zat again. I can't. Please… 'elp me."
Harry was taken aback by the naked pleading in her voice as she stared into his eyes. For just a moment he wondered if Perenelle had planned all this. But even he was vividly reminded of her words about letting them make their own choices and not being able to fight everyone's battles for them.
He took a breath before he nodded a bit. "Alright. I'll do what I can to help teach you. I received some instruction, though only in short intense spurts. But a lot of what I do, I sort of came up with on my own, and it's as much by trial and error as it is anything else."
Fleur was ready to thank him profusely for the chance, but whatever she was going to say was cut off by another voice.
"That answers some of my questions regarding your particular style, but opens up a whole vault full of other questions," a voice intruded on them.
There was no hesitation as Harry flung himself away from the spot he stood, his wand arm extended and his wand snapped into his outstretched hand. His arm tracked the voice to its source, while he angled his body to place it between Fleur and whoever was there. The entire movement was instinctive and done as one fluid movement.
The only thing that stopped him from firing a spell had been the fact that, deep within Harry's mind, the voice that had spoken was quite distinctive and had never caused harm to Harry in the past.
"There's no need for that, Mr. Flamel," Filius Flitwick said, his tone was pleasant though had a firm undertone. He also had his wand in his hands, pointed downward and in front of him. The position was deceptively at ease, but Harry knew it would allow him to flick it up and create a shield with barely a thought.
"What are you doing in here?" Harry blurted, even as he lowered the wand self-consciously, aware that he was pointing it at a teacher. At least one whom had never tortured, attacked, or attempted to kill him.
He had only glanced around the room, but hadn't seen anyone, and had checked for listening charms. Given the fact that the room was only dimly lit by the candles that the house elves maintained all over Hogwarts, he had made the stupid assumption no one was around.
He berated himself mentally for the assumption that no one was hiding.
"This is my classroom, Mr. Flamel," the diminutive professor replied dryly. "I hardly think it a surprise that I occasionally can be found here. I was grading papers when two students decided to pay me a visit."
Harry bit his tongue, nearly hard enough to draw blood and restrained his urge to curse. Of course, given the professor's height he needed to stand on a pile of books to see over his desk. And given the professor's acknowledged goblin heritage, Harry was skeptical that any memory charm would work to erase the conversation he had no doubt overheard.
They didn't on normal goblins. All they did was piss goblins off something fierce.
The things you learn while on the run.
The Goblins also… generally did not take that sort of thing philosophically. Usually their response involved sharp weapons, evisceration, and what he assumed was a lot of cursing in gobbledygook.
Flitwick looked back and forth between Fleur and Harry and then let his gaze drop meaningfully to Harry's wand, still held in his hand, though not pointed at the professor any longer. Harry took a second to start and with a flick of his fingers slid the wand back into its holster.
Flitwick nodded approvingly, before he waved his own wand away from the pair and several chairs moved around until they arranged themselves in a triangle. "Please, have a seat. Like I said, your conversation has answered a question or two I had, but opened up a whole vault of new ones."
Flitwick glanced over at the Beauxbatons student and beckoned her over, "You're welcome to join us as well, Miss Delacour."
Fleur didn't hesitate for more than a moment as she moved to take a seat. "Thank you Professor Flitwick." she thought that she might at least find out a bit more about Ares Flamel. Perhaps he would be more open around one of the professors.
Harry glanced over at Fleur who had already moved to take a seat. He inwardly sighed, and slumped slightly before he acquiesced and took the other seat that Flitwick provided.
Flitwick took the slightly lower seat with a hop, one that belied his short stature. He turned to regard the two students in front of him, his gaze was mostly for Harry though. He expected Harry to say something, but he just met Flitwick's eyes, without reaction.
When it became clear he wasn't going to speak Flitwick had no problem starting the conversation. "I was planning on approaching you myself in the near future, you know?"
That caught Harry off guard, but only gave it away by the way his head tilted, "Why is that?"
"Mr. Flamel, I was a dueling champion. I am not trying to bolster my ego when I say that I would like to think I was a fairly good one," Flitwick stated.
Fleur snorted at that, at Flitwick's appraising look, she chuckled. "Nine-time champion, seven-year undefeated streak. By far the longest streak in organized competition history. You were considered ze best in ze world, Professor."
"You know your dueling facts, Miss Delacour," Flitwick stated sounding a little impressed.
"Madame Maxime told us before we left France, while we were not to approach professors to ask for lessons, to take to heart any advice or impromptu tutoring you offered if the opportunity presented itself," Fleur responded.
An amused smile crossed Flitwick's face as he chuckled a little bit. "I had wondered at times if your school had an obsession with dueling. It seemed whenever I passed your peers, they were always discussing dueling, in rather loud voices, and in English no less."
"They were just hoping for any insight you may have had. Dueling is a major interest in our school, and in France in general. We pride ourselves on our skills with the art." Fleur then blushed a little bit and ducked her head, "They may 'ave been... less than subtle in 'oping to get advice."
"Especially as I am fluent in French!" Flitwick said as laughed softly. "What about you? Where do your skills stand?"
"I am my school's dueling champion, for two years now," the veela stated proudly and then wilted somewhat, "But like I told 'im. I was still nothing against zose Death Eaters zat had me at their mercy at the World Cup."
"Dueling is not the same as really fighting," Flitwick explained softly, knowingly echoing thoughts Harry himself had clearly expressed to Viktor Krum earlier in the day before a crowd of witnesses. "In dueling there are rules, as well as regulations. There are specific starts and stops, as well as actions you are prohibited from performing. Protocol. Etiquette. Expectations of behavior. When you are fighting for your life there are no such restrictions."
He turned to regard Harry, who had been silent and simply observing the conversation, "Be that as it may, one thing you learn on the dueling circuit is that while there are different dueling styles and skills, every witch or wizard has their own different quirks and habits that tend to be relatively unique to that person. You also learn to watch the way a person moves, looking for tendencies, weaknesses, anything that might provide the slightest advantage in the dueling platform."
Harry quirked an eyebrow at that, but refused to give more information until he had heard everything Flitwick was going to say.
An amused smile crossed Flitwick's face as if he knew exactly what Harry was doing and didn't much care. "I have been privileged enough to see the memory of someone present at both the World Cup and during your fight with the Death Eater who was impersonating our current defense teacher."
"I noticed some similarities between yourself in the fight at the school, and the 'unknown' person at the World Cup," Flitwick explained.
"Such as?" Harry asked curiously.
"Spell selection and style mostly," Flitwick responded. "The memory at the World Cup was too far away to see specific hand movements that would be far more telling and let me know for certain. There are other factors as well. The battles were simply different in scope and goal. One was a one on one battle at close range, in the classroom and then a running battle where you chased your opponent. The other was more stationary defense of multiple targets, where the individual approached but then remained in place."
"Most people were hung up on the spells used at the end of the World Cup battle. Specifically that whirlwind and the subsequent flashy disappearing in flames. I however, found myself paying far more attention to the spells fired prior to that," Flitwick explained levelly.
"Although there was one physical thing, I've noticed. During the World Cup, the defender's leg was clearly injured, and I've noticed at times you seem to ever so slightly favor it. Granted, that habit has been decreasing over the past week, so I have to assume the injury is improving or nearly gone."
Flitwick stroked his beard as he looked at Harry with a speculative expression. "It's curious that an injury lingered that long with your mother as a healer unless it was dark magic, then I would say that it's just surprising your leg is intact at all."
"It still occasionally bothers me but less and less as time goes on." Harry responded, mostly deflecting the question. He was hardly going to tell the diminutive professor that the injury from the World Cup was long since healed, but that two years walking around with a limp was much harder to train his mind out of even if his body was perfectly fine now.
"However," said Flitwick, interrupting his thoughts, and now no longer even bothering to hide that he had come to believe that both fighters had been the same people long before Harry and Fleur had ventured into his classroom today, "In both fights, it was quite clear that you approached the fights much like an Auror would."
Flitwick refrained from mentioning just how much the style and movement was reminiscent of Alastor Moody's style when it came to spell selection. The auror was well known to not be gentle in any hunt with dark wizards.
At Harry's inquisitive look, the tiny professor leaned back, "For example, while faster, your hands move the same as I've often seen… competent Ministry personnel do with their spell casting, although I'll admit that, purely from second hand observation, it seems that you can throw a lot more power behind your spells than most Aurors are capable of."
"The primary tell you have though, is your almost religious adherence to advanced Auror engagement tactics. Standard procedure for Aurors is to move in pairs while engaging a threat, with one shielding and conjuring obstacles, while the other unloads offensive bombardment down upon a target. If they're facing a group then they both work defenses, taking offensive shots when they can," Flitwick explained.
Then the part-goblin teacher grinned and his eyes practically twinkled in amusement, "That is where you seem to be quite unique. An almost joy to watch for an experienced eye. You seem to be relatively comfortable performing both the role of defender and attacker, with remarkable success when you do both simultaneously. The Ministry on the other hand is usually lucky to get two mouth-breathers to work together somewhat coherently enough to work together in the individual roles," Flitwick explained.
For his part, Harry knew exactly what Flitwick was talking about. When facing an enemy the strategy worked well. It was either a show of brute force to take down a target if lucky, or a carefully waged war of attrition to wear them down. It also tended to give the enemy one target to focus on.
It was, after all, the way the Alastor Moody of his old world had taught him how to fight before he was killed.
"But," said Flitwick, attracting Harry's attention once again, "The… defense you utilized at the World Cup, while protecting Miss Delacour here, was most assuredly not part of the standard Auror Field Manual. Not even a spell I've seen before, in fact."
"Those observations lead me to my questions. Most people seem to want to track you down and know who you were. I on the other hand, had a different set of conundrums before me."
"Most prominent among them is why you acquired the skills you did? The training for that couldn't have been easy or simple. I'm also curious who taught you such a marvelous defense as the one you used at the World Cup, although that ties back into why it was felt necessary to clearly have you trained so aggressively," Flitwick said as he leaned back in his chair, seemingly completely relaxed as he watched the young man's expression.
Harry honestly didn't know how to respond to the rather genial but incredibly direct way Flitwick was pumping him for information. He had never had deep conversations with Flitwick in his previous world. This was definitely different than talking with Dumbledore. There was no guessing at the intent behind his questions or what he wanted to know. While there were similarities in their demeanor, the approach was completely different.
Harry knew he could shrug and not answer, admit he actually created the wind barrier spell himself, or lie and say that one of his tutors taught him. He knew evil was out there, and admission of such a thing along with a few vague explanation of his training may be what was needed to convince someone of Flitwick's caliber to teach him any skills that might help him.
Flitwick, watched the young man grapple with how much information to reveal. While he had been impressed at both memories he had seen, and had been more than delighted to have his suspicions confirmed, he inwardly shook his head at the hellish training and conditioning the Flamels had to have put the boy through to get him to such a point.
Incredible speed and reaction time, casting abilities, and power, then coupled with an obvious hesitation and paranoia that absolutely reeked of experience that was hard-earned, or possibly more appropriately, hard-inflicted. The more he observed the boy the more his concern for him rose.
Ultimately, he wondered what the goal was in creating such a lightning rod, as Flitwick couldn't imagine the Flamels needing their heir to be this paranoid. And he wondered what lengths they were willing to go and indeed had gone, to ensure he not only possessed the skills, but was magically powerful enough to use them especially at such a young age. There wasn't a single possible answer to that set of questions he could come up with that he felt comfortable with, much less liked.
'Or do they know something the rest of us don't?' he thought as he took it to the obvious alternative conclusion, frowning the more considered.
If that was the case, he wondered at the breadth of what the Flamel's goals truly were. Flitwick was well aware of the fact that dark forces were stirring in their world, and the Headmaster had told anyone who would listen for the last decade that Voldemort wasn't as dead as everyone hoped he was. The Flamels and Dumbledore were very close, perhaps they were preparing.
Could that be the reason for the near-weaponization of their heir?
For a moment Flitwick wondered if Voldemort's attempts on the Philosopher's stone three years earlier led to the creation of the powerful wizard before him now. But he didn't think three years of conditioning and training would have been enough to result in the display they had seen from the boy.
The only thing that bothered him was, why this boy? Why was Ares Flamel training for such an eventuality? Why weren't adults, likely mercenaries, since the Flamels could certainly afford them, tasked with whatever security or operations required to combat the obvious coming storm?
"Where I learned the spell from is rather piecemeal from discussions with different people on theory. It's not without its weaknesses, as I was still tagged twice. But given the circumstances it was a good choice," Harry finally responded after some consideration. "As for why I have 'acquired' these skills, you're an intelligent person professor. You've seen what's been happening in our world. You have to know what's coming."
Flitwick met the student's eyes evenly, "You and your parents believe the Headmaster then, I take it?"
"It's not simply a matter of believing Dumbledore. Although, in this case, he's right," Harry responded, before he took a deep breath. "Putting aside the rising number of incidents from his followers, as well as putting aside the British government's complete and utter failure to address its own problems after the last war, and putting aside the events that have occurred right here within this very school… Everyone is ignoring one glaringly large fact."
"What is that?' Flitwick asked, finding himself curiously moved by the intensity in the young man's words.
"Voldemort," Harry said slowly, ignoring the start of Fleur beside him at the mention of the name, and the surprised look that crossed Flitwick's face, "was by all accounts the worst Dark Lord in recent history. Brilliant, powerful, and skilled enough that Albus bloody Dumbledore was unable to defeat him in battle. Arrogant and persuasive enough to convince his pureblood followers to let him brand them with his mark as if they were cattle. Twisted and steeped in enough Dark Arts that people didn't even think he was human in the end."
"Everyone was so happy with the freak magical accident that stopped him. No one paused to think that maybe, just maybe, he had taken steps to prevent his own demise? That he would somehow manage to cling to life in some manner even in the unlikely event that his body was destroyed?" Harry shook his head, "No, Professor. I know that he's coming back. Sooner rather than later if the events of the past few weeks are any indication."
"He...He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is still alive?" Fleur breathed in disbelief. She looked back and forth between Ares and Flitwick several times hoping one of them would dismiss the notion as nothing but a bad nightmare.
"Two of his followers here polyjuiced for reasons unknown indicate that you are probably far more right than I am comfortable with, Mr. Flamel," Flitwick responded slowly, ignoring Fleur's reaction. "That doesn't explain why you are so intent on fighting when that sort of thing should fall on the shoulders of those older than yourself."
"Really? Leave it to those older than me? Why? Because they did such a bang up job of it the first time? Or any time since?" Harry's voice rose as he became more impassioned, "Nothing has changed. Nothing. So many were able to escape punishment for their crimes by crying out that they weren't in control of their actions. Free to continue causing their problems in society."
"A public that is led by whatever a single-news outlet tells them. A monopolized media that is used for spreading fear, disinformation, and whatever else an ineffective Ministry demands." Disgust filled his voice, as he ticked off his fingers, "The same bias toward muggleborn, with a new set of purebloods in power who hold the same beliefs as their predecessors."
Harry waved an arm gesturing around him, "A school where an entire house is ostracized and at the same time filled, with students who afraid of doing anything out of fear of reprisals, where 'Might Makes Right'. The majority of wizarding wealth concentrated in those same hands. There is still the same overt discrimination toward anyone considered non-human. An entire apparatus of circumstances is sitting there just... simmering. All of it. It's all there just waiting for one thing. One element to be added to make it all explode again."
"The Dark Lord," Flitwick said slowly, his tone relatively even, not betraying his true thoughts one way or the other.
"Voldemort," Harry nodded in the affirmative, "Returned to full power, ready and willing to resume his war. Only this time it will be worse. His followers won't mostly be impetuous youths, prone to mistakes of stupidity, but adults with political power, experience, and connections. He won't have to convince most of them, he already has. While he'll also have a young generation, the offspring of the previous one, steeped in their beliefs, expendable to the Dark Lord's aims."
"Last time it took a toddler and a mysterious magical event no one seems to be able to explain to halt things… Do you think they'll get that lucky when he comes back?" Harry asked, his voice intense with repressed anger and incredulity.
Flitwick's brows furrowed at the statement, even as he absently noted young Fleur's face had lost all trace of color as she stared at the young man. He couldn't help agree with Ares' rather pessimistic view of the last Wizard War, and how the fuel had been set to begin it anew, needing only the spark to ignite the inferno.
He regarded Ares thoughtfully, all trace of humor gone from his expression. He was well-aware the Goblins had been somewhat angered by the boy's family of late. Losing in a treaty negotiation was a rare thing for his people. Usually when confronted with wizards they tended to be frustrated by the different treaties signed by both sides. But usually those instances were more along the lines of straightforward concessions in the treaties themselves.
Nicholas Flamel had gone a different route. He had dealt with the goblins using the contracts the family and the man had signed long ago, pre-dating the treaties. His goblin kin had apparently been played like amateurs while a smiling Nicholas Flamel trotted out sub-clause after exception to treaty after treaty, throwing them into a circular argument that lead to nowhere but the Flamel's eventual win.
Then in a move worthy of any goblin, he had made it clear that the Flamel family didn't need all those loopholes and contracts. In a show of force, albeit an economic one, Nicholas had shown that he clearly had the advantage over his people. While no goblin enjoyed clearly losing in a negotiation, they could still respect an opponent for a well-played move. All of it done in order to secure one simple item from a vault controlled by someone who was supposed to be in Azkaban. An item that curiously was reported missing to the Ministry by the Smith family, some decades earlier. Though the family could provide no documentation, nor point the finger at anyone that might have it.
However, Flamel's maneuvering had an impact Flitwick was nearly certain the alchemist was unaware of.
Unknown to the Flamel's, whatever item had been confiscated had been examined for only a few brief moments in transport, but that small moment of exposure to some of their most sensitive enchanted equipment had left not just a palpable unease amongst the leadership of the goblin nation, but outright worry.
Flitwick was as of yet uncertain what exactly what the Flamel's had sought. Thus far he had only discovered that the goblin King had decided that the political defeat at the hands of the Flamels had now been deemed justified, and his own people's war machine had been, albeit extremely quietly but efficiently, begun to churn again.
Their army was mobilizing, weapons were being forged, and it wasn't just the bank guards. Nearly all goblins fit enough to hold a weapon were training again. Their entire underground living area was being fortified. Filius had been passed a message from one of his family members, apparently directly from the King himself, to dust off his skills and do it quickly, as well as to provide aid to the Flamel heir if it could be done so without drawing suspicion. Keeping an eye on him went without saying.
The Goblins wouldn't spy… but they did... observe closely.
The Goblins were preparing for war. And, while the Goblins were not directing their preparations toward the Flamels, the family was still at the very center of events.
He just didn't know how.
That more than anything pushed Flitwick to ask his next question, "So what are you hoping to do about it?" He met the eyes of the young man in front of him as the youth stared back for a few moments before he spoke.
"Anything I can to prevent it, or make it the shortest return in history," Harry replied, his eyes not looking away from Flitwick. "To be as perilous and fatal a foe to he and his as I can be."
Flitwick stared into the oddly familiar eyes in front of him. He could read the sincerity and conviction in the young man's statement. This was not some grandiose claim. This was not something he was going to be able to dissuade the youth from, with an attempt to convince him to let the adults handle things. Nor was Flitwick foolish enough to argue that he shouldn't worry about it. If a war was coming, the young were always involved.
He read the intensity in the young man's expression and he came to a decision. One that he didn't believe he would ever say again after having fully taken on the life of an educator.
"I believe I know a thing or two which may help you with that," Flitwick replied slowly.
"Did you know?" demanded James Potter, rage easily discernable as his primary emotion as he slammed his hand down upon Dumbledore's desk.
The owner of said desk, was sitting placidly across from the very angry and worked up James Potter. The Auror, and father of the Girl-Who-Lived, had demanded a meeting with the Headmaster, and wouldn't take no for an answer. The man had literally walked into the office, and without any sort of warning, James Potter had slammed his hand down on the six century old desk utilized by the school's headmasters.
Slightly behind the Potter Head of Family, and more than slightly worrisome to the aged wizard, was James' best friend Sirius, who had not said a word yet in the few moments the duo had been in the Headmaster's office, he was only glaring with cold grey eyes.
Dumbledore knew the man well enough that things were really bad if Sirius Black was angry enough that he wasn't speaking. When he was loud and yelling he was generally just being dramatic. When the man was quiet, Dumbledore had learned the results could be far worse than someone working themselves up in a rage.
The Headmaster was looking back and forth between the two men, wondering what had them so angered. They had already chewed him out over the Death Eaters in his school. So that couldn't be the cause.
"I'm afraid you have caught me at a disadvantage. Did I know what?" he asked carefully, his tone mild.
James' jaw clenched and unclenched several times before he managed to reply. "Did you know what it is that is in my daughter's head?"
Dumbledore went very still for a moment as he looked first at James and then at Sirius, "Before we continue this conversation, would you mind if I cast some privacy spells?"
Normally he wouldn't have even asked, but he could tell by the moods of both men that provoking either of them would not be one of his better ideas. Waving a wand without warning probably wouldn't be his best idea ever.
James looked at Dumbledore and nodded slowly but remained tense. Wands emerged from both men's hands, letting Dumbledore know that this was likely to be conversation that could result in a paradigm shift of all involved.
Many people were openly hostile towards him, it was a guarantee when one ran in political circles as long as he had. But to stand inside Albus' own seat of power, and draw their wands in order to potentially protect themselves let Albus know that something beyond the norm had occurred and he was being blamed for it.
Which was saying something, if one considered they hadn't been this mad even after the revelation of the teaching imposters.
Dumbledore gestured smoothly with his wand casting several privacy charms of his own, while at the same time activating the ones that the office could generate naturally. Once he was finished he set the wand on his desk, in front of him, and looked back and forth between both men.
"Now, can you tell me what has happened, what is it you've discovered?" Dumbledore asked carefully.
James started to move, clearly preparing to shout but, in the same instant, Sirius' hand shot out and stilled whatever outburst James was going to make.
Inwardly Dumbledore marveled at the way the two knew each other and were able to communicate with only a gesture. However, it was even more worrisome that it was Sirius keeping James from exploding, rather than the other way around.
James took several deep breaths. It was obvious that he was angry but after a few moments, it was obvious, that he had just enough respect for Dumbledore to talk to the man somewhat civilly. "We've told you about the dreams Iris has been having,"
At Dumbledore's nod he continued, "After the last one she had we went to Madame Flamel and asked if she would be willing to check Iris over. We thought given her vast experience she might be able to help."
Dumbledore nodded, hiding a wince. He didn't mind them going to her for help, but he also remembered the woman still hadn't given him her earful regarding recent events. It was like seeing a bad storm on the horizon that seemed to take its damned sweet time to arrive. And the longer it took the worse it was going to be.
And if this just added fuel to that fire... Dumbledore shook off those thoughts and focused on more important things.
James spoke slowly, watching Dumbledore carefully. "Using some diagnostic spells that I've never seen before, she found something in Iris' scar. A piece of a soul that did not belong. Something she called a Horcrux."
Dumbledore paled and his voice came out somewhat strained, "She is certain?"
James nodded slowly, still watching Dumbledore like a hawk, "She is very certain."
Albus slumped in his chair, his head falling to his hand, "It's as I feared then,"
"So you knew?" James demanded, his voice rising with accusation. "You knew she had a piece of the Dark Lord lodged in her forehead?!"
Albus held his hands up and shook his head quickly, his tone coming out defensive "I didn't. Not for certain. I only suspected!"
"All these years, you've suspected and didn't tell us?" Sirius demanded softly, but it was a voice filled with anger and menace as he moved forward, stalking like a predator. Though the fury and menace in that intense voice was calmed somewhat as James rested a restraining hand on his arm.
"Merlin no!" Dumbledore said defensively, "I've only suspected for little over a year."
That generated some genuine confusion, and drained some of the anger from James and Sirius who exchanged looks, "A year?"
Dumbledore nodded slowly and looked back and forth between the two tense men facing him. He reached forward and opened the top drawer on his desk and a moment later he removed a battered leather bound book and set it on the desk.
The cover was blackened and stained by ink and it had a hole right through the center of it.
It took a James' a second to recognize the leather bound book. "That's the journal that possessed Ginny Weasley during Iris' second year."
Albus nodded grimly, "Correct. I had no idea what it really was at first. I thought it was merely an object meant to curse and beguile. Dark in the extreme, absolutely, but the specifics eluded me… which, in of itself, was even more troubling."
Albus shook his head, and a tired expression crossed his face. "Alas, as I examined it more closely, and added in the accounts of young Miss Weasley, Miss Granger, and your daughter, I realized it was nothing so tame."
"You found out it was a Horcrux." Sirius stated rather than questioned.
"Not at first." Albus looked up at him, a look of horror on his face. "But as I researched, I came to that conclusion. I hadn't wanted to believe… that anyone would sink to that, but… alas. The foolish hope of an old man."
James' brow furrowed and he exchanged a glance with Sirius, they were still angry, but they had rarely seen this tired Albus before.
"As you know, the dark mark has not disappeared from those Voldemort marked. It didn't after he was destroyed over a dozen years ago," Albus explained, "After realizing what the diary was, I thought destroying it might have destroyed his tether to life."
"When I confirmed the dark mark remained even after the destruction of this item, I knew it wasn't his only tether to life. I knew he had created more." Dumbledore couldn't hide the disgust that filled his voice.
He looked up from staring at the book, "Soul magic has never been an in-depth study of mine. It always made me uncomfortable to pry too deeply into matters of the soul. The subject itself having been heavily restricted for over a hundred years before I was even born."
"There is almost no source material which is easily available for reference, nor people who would admit to having it in the first place." Albus shook his head slightly, "The idea of meddling with one's soul is not a matter that should be done lightly… if ever."
"Discovering what this diary was... also caused me to suspect exactly what was in Iris' scar. Although I had no way to prove it. I had no idea there were spells that could differentiate between two different souls, especially in a single living vessel." Dumbledore shook his head, regret clear on his face.
"You should have told us," James stated firmly.
Albus looked up at James his expression openly curious, though his tone was tired. "To what end?"
"We could have been looking for ways to get it out of her!" Sirius said, his voice rising as his body tensed, his magic boiling just under the surface.
Albus looked up and met Sirius' eyes, for the first time anger crossing his own face, "What exactly do you think I've been doing for the past year?"
At the incredulous looks he received from both men, Dumbledore seemed to slump surprisingly even further into his chair. He took a breath and calmed himself, "Forgive me that was out of line. You are of course correct, you have every right to be upset, but please hear me out."
James and Sirius exchanged a look and both nodded simultaneously, their tension relaxing somewhat as they faced the older wizard.
"Once I knew what I was dealing with I began researching anywhere and everywhere I could." Dumbledore looked around his office briefly, before focusing once more on the men. "I spent time looking in several private family libraries."
Sirius cocked his head to the side as he a memory occurred to him, and he realized something, "That's why you wanted permission to look through the library in Grimmauld place last year during the Yule hols?"
Albus nodded, "Yes, one of the darkest libraries I was allowed to search. Although it was also a most unpleasant house, the atmosphere was one easily endured if it meant finding an answer."
Sirius shrugged, "I've only been there twice since the old bat died. Once to make sure she was actually dead, and then a few days ago just to check and make sure my brother wasn't hiding there. Kinda was worried she infested it with crazy or something."
"Well her portrait is there and was quite unpleasant to me," Albus responded with an amused twinkle in his eye before his expression turned grim once more. "And unfortunately, your library did have references to it. Several in fact."
"And? Did you discover anything?" James demanded.
"Far more than I ever wanted to know about the subject." Albus sighed and nodded his head, "I found that Voldemort really must have pushed the boundaries of magic, as all the theories around soul magic say it's impossible to have two souls in an unwilling vessel without clear symptoms of possession."
"Unfortunately, everything I've found at this point has been adamant in the fact that the only way to get rid of a Horcrux is to destroy the vessel." Dumbledore held up both hands to forestall the impending outburst from both men. Though Sirius looked like he was ready to snap at any moment.
"Nor do I think for one second that is an acceptable answer," Dumbledore said, his voice once more clear and strong before he wilted slightly once more. "I admit I'm close to exhausting my avenues of research though."
"You should have told us. We could have helped." James said firmly.
"How?" Dumbledore asked, his tone sharp, "I have already been asking friends and allies abroad for a chance to search their libraries. I've spoken to individuals in at least thirty separate countries after I received oaths to keep my inquires quiet. Although I admit, I had not considered asking the Flamels, because they are certainly not a dark family. I should have and that was my oversight."
"I did know, within one hundred percent certainty, Nicholas and Perenelle would never dabble in such a thing as horcruxes. I dismissed the idea they might have knowledge of the topic among their archives." He looked up sharply as a thought occurred to him, "I don't suppose Madame Flamel knew of a way to remove the soul fragment from your daughter?"
James slumped a little bit, the anger draining out of him, "No, although she said she had one friend, who she refused to name who she was going to ask who might be able to help us."
Dumbledore grimaced, "I do hope the friend is circumspect and she is not forced to share why she is looking."
"Why?" Sirius demanded, "Who cares if it stays a secret? My goddaughter has a bloody piece of Voldemort in her damn head." Sirius finally seemed to lost control of his temper as he practically hissed at Dumbledore.
Albus met his expression calmly, but his tone was grave, "The same reason I didn't spread this knowledge, for risk of others finding out. Because if word gets back to Voldemort that we're looking for them, it would be a disaster.
"Why?" Sirius asked.
"He may collect the others he's created and hide them where they may never be found." Albus said gravely.
"Others?" James echoed, his voice a whisper showing the dawning comprehension of the fight that may lay before them.
Albus nodded, "All the texts I have found only theorize at the possibility of splitting one's soul more than a single time. None were known to have actually attempted it, let alone accomplish it."
"Of course there were many theories about the effect of creating even one on a person, much less multiple. But I am now certain that is what he has done." Dumbledore said slowly, his words carrying great weight. "Your daughter is not the only vessel of his soul pieces out there."
"How many?" Sirius breathed.
"I have no idea." Dumbledore sighed, running his fingers through his beard.
"I do know where one of them is." Dumbledore stated after a moment.
"You do?" James demanded in disbelief.
"Where?" Sirius responded.
"A cave, a place I didn't really believe that he'd ever want to return to. Given some of the defenses around it though I'm fairly certain it's there," Dumbledore explained carefully.
"And you just left it there?" Sirius demanded incredulously.
"No, I have not figured out the protections on the cave yet. I must proceed carefully so that he is not alerted, should I set off a trap or protection. And as long as he thinks that it is safe he won't move it." Albus said quietly but firmly. "Another place occurred to me this summer, but I investigated and came up with nothing."
Sirius finally slumped down into a chair with a sigh. "How do you know he even has any more?"
"I don't, not for certain. However, the willingness of the Dark Lord to trust the diary to Lucius Malfoy indicates he may have entrusted other objects to other followers." Dumbledore shook his head, "There's also the matter of Iris harboring a piece of his soul, when I'm sure we can all agree that he never intended to deposit one inside her."
"That leads me to believe that his soul was so shattered that, when the killing curse rebounded, it caused the inadvertent soul shard to be created, then latch onto anything magically powerful nearby that it could use to sustain itself," Albus explained gravely.
James was silent at this, wondering if it was possible to see a bright side to things, even if it was only the fact Iris hadn't been deliberately inflicted with this burden
However, it was Sirius that surprised them all with his insight, "It's possible, in fact likely even, that he entrusted one or more into the care of his most devoted followers," the seemingly more impulsive member of the two explained.
"What if he gave it to one of the followers who didn't manage to buy their way to freedom?" Sirius added after several more moments of consideration.
"The possibility had occurred to me." Albus admitted, "But if that's the case then the item is probably still in the hands of family members."
James had put aside his anger for the moment as he considered the problem. "If it's in the hands of one of the darker houses we may never get our hands on it."
"Or…" Sirius said slowly as he considered that statement, drawing out the word slowly, "Or, it's been placed someplace for safe keeping."
Albus didn't say anything, just regarded Sirius curiously, letting him think it through.
"If you were given something valuable from the Dark Lord... you wouldn't want to risk a family member stealing it, or doing something stupid with it," Sirius said slowly, running a hand over his face. "No, because Voldemort would hold them and you responsible for anything that happened to it. So they almost certainly would have tried to safeguard it themselves."
Albus steepled his fingers, listening. These were two brilliant aurors and wizards, now that they knew what was going on, there was no harm in utilizing their brilliance to come up with things he hadn't managed to consider.
After several seconds, Sirius looked up sharply, "What if they didn't risk the Ministry seizing it from the family's estates? What if one or more of the death eaters stored pieces in their personal or family vaults?"
James glanced at Sirius in surprise, as he picked up the thread of the idea, "There's no place safer for something you want guarded than Gringotts."
Albus nodded slowly in agreement, "I admit my own thinking paralleled that. However making discreet inquiries has done me no good. Especially since the list of possible supporters is long and it could be any of them."
"Yeah," said James as he brushed a hand angrily through his hair. "I don't see any way to limit our search to any specific family's vaults. And the political nightmare of even suggesting it, both to the Wizengamot and the Goblins would be something none of us would survive with much of anything intact. To say nothing of Voldemort or his followers realizing what it was we were looking for."
"So what do we do?" asked Sirius after a few moments.
Albus was the one who spoke, "We do what we can. I will continue to inquire discreetly, and hope there is something I missed, or perhaps Perenelle's friend may have some insight… although I pray he or she is discreet."
Albus looked up at the two men in front of him, "The goal obviously is to safely remove the piece of Soul from Iris, as any other alternative is not acceptable."
That seemed to set both men at ease more than anything else he said.
James, given a goal beyond finding nebulous objects, seemed to gain determination at his words. "What can we do to help?"
Dumbledore looked thoughtful as he considered that. He stroked his beard slowly as he thought.
"Perhaps," Dumbledore began carefully, "You might care to continue to make overtures to the Flamels."
Sirius and James gave the Head equally confused looks, "But they are your friends aren't they? Why do you need us to approach them?" The Black Family head inquired.
Dumbledore sighed mournfully, "I am afraid due to some unfortunate choices on my part-"
He paused a moment as Sirius snorted harshly, only subsiding at another gesture from James. After he gave them a moment to settle, the Headmaster continued, "-that they are rather… perturbed with me to say the least, and so I do not wish to strain our relationship any further by pressing them for details."
"Well, there is the matter of familial debt that I have to discuss with them sooner rather than later," said James. After thinking about a few moments shook his head with a rueful half-smile that spoke of just how tired he was, "Besides I seriously doubt you could stop my wife from continuing to make 'overtures' as you say it to either Nicholas or Perenelle at this point. It's like watching kindred spirits at this point, and Perenelle seems fond of my wife at least."
Dumbledore nodded then ran his hand down his beard in thought, "In the meantime, the three of us must consider what resources we haven't yet tapped to find a solution to young Iris' problem."
Harry entered the infirmary after he had received a note sent by Perenelle through Hedwig to come speak with her. He glanced around the room that had finally begun to see as something other than a place to drink foul concoctions now that Perenelle had made it her home away from home. He absently noted it had only one patient currently, and that while Harry could not recognize the patient, it didn't matter as the person seemed unconscious at the moment.
Perenelle came out and looked somewhat relieved to see him. She didn't say anything, simply waving him back to her office and shutting the door behind him. A quick wave of her wand sealed and silences the door with a powerful silencing charm along with several privacy charms.
"You were right." she started without preamble.
Harry simply tilted his head curiously for a moment before she realized he had no idea what she was talking about.
"About Iris Potter," she clarified for him.
"Which part?" Harry asked, certain he knew the answer but hoping she could tell him he was wrong.
"They brought her in for me to examine. Her blood, has basilisk venom and phoenix tears. And in that scar is definitely a Horcrux," Perenelle admitted, sitting down in her office chair while Harry leaned on the desk.
Harry slumped a little bit and closed his eyes, but nodded. "Did you tell her?"
"Not about the significance of what's in her blood," said, before she nodded, "I told them about the Horcrux in her head."
"Them?" Harry lifted his head sharply to look at her.
"Her parents, she also had her godfather and best friend there." Perenelle answered with a puzzled lilt in her voice.
"Oh," Harry replied, surprised. He hadn't really thought about her parents being there. Or what their reaction might be. He'd never experienced that sort of thing, so it never really entered his mental processes that it might be something she had to deal with.
Perenelle was watching him, with a mix of knowing and sadness but didn't say anything.
"Why tell them about one and not the other?" Harry inquired curiously.
Perenelle brushed a few strands of hair out of her eyes, "Given how rare the circumstances are, Iris is the first person in history we've met before she used the flame ability. We don't know what we're getting into before she's flamed. Also… she and her parents had enough shocks with the Horcrux that I didn't think telling them about soul magic, immortality and how their daughter's soul has been irrevocably changed by the events of her life, was prudent at the time."
"Hrm," Harry considered, before nodding and shrugging it off, "What were their reactions to what you did tell them then?"
Perenelle sighed, "About what you'd expect, they were upset and wanted to know how to get it out of her."
"And her reaction?" Harry asked curiously after a few moment's pause.
Perenelle folded her arms as she considered the question, "Not the upset panic I expected. Resignation, maybe?"
Harry frowned and looked thoughtful at that. He wondered what she was thinking, though given how he reacted in a similar fashion he wasn't overly surprised.
"Which brings me to my question for you," Perenelle said, jolting him out of his consideration. Harry just looked at her expectantly,
"Harry, how do I get that soul shard out of her head?" she asked bluntly.
Harry sighed and slumped putting a hand to his face and rubbing his eyes, "I'd honestly wondered if you might know a way. Actually I always hoped you knew something."
Perenelle shook her head, "To the best of my knowledge any item properly enchanted so it contains a soul shard must be destroyed to get rid of the foul things."
"Then, you don't know any way," Harry repeated for clarity with no small amount of frustration leaking through in his voice. He knew he was being repetitive but that made things infinitely more frustrating.
"I don't know of any way to destroy the soul shard without destroying container," Perenelle reiterated. "It's the nature of the soul fragments. Harvested and split off from someone for the singular purpose of survival. They latch on to the items they are placed in and require the item's destruction to sever its ties to the mortal realm. At least in every case I've seen, heard or read about."
Harry leaned back against the wall with a palm over his eyes as he rubbed his temples.
"Do you have one inside of you?" Perenelle asked slowly, her eyes flicking up to where his hair hid his own scar much the way Iris' hair generally hid hers.
"No," Harry said flatly, which flicked her eyes from his forehead to his own eyes.
"But you did have one at one point?" Perenelle pressed. She was watching his expression closely and could tell he was closing off, but wasn't going to retreat on such an important topic.
"Yes," Harry responded simply, his eyes on her watching her warily now, his expression unreadable.
"How did you get rid of yours without destroying yourself?" Her brown eyes intent on Harry's face, able to read the rising tension in his body. "We could do the same thing for Iris-"
"No!" Harry interrupted in a harsh and nearly panicked tone.
"Why not?" Perenelle regarded him carefully, slightly caught off guard by the strength of his reaction, especially if it was going to save her life. "Please, tell me what am I missing?"
Harry met her eyes for over a minute, clearly a debate going on in his mind before he turned his head and looked out at the infirmary. He knew the question was coming. But wasn't sure how much he was going to actually tell her. Although Perenelle could tell by his expression that whatever he was seeing was not in his line of sight. The silence lingered for several minutes. But Perenelle had long ago learned that patience and silence were sometimes necessary and that people would talk in their own time.
Harry recalled vividly her total evisceration of his stubbornness shortly after he woke in the infirmary. He sighed in resignation and cast another powerful silencing charm of his own on top of the one she had cast moments earlier. A spell swept the area with a pulse of magic, ensuring there were no other humans or animals within hearing distance as well. He had made enough mistakes with people managing to overhear him lately, he just wanted all his bases covered.
When he finally started to speak, his voice was very quiet and his cadence slow. Harry was clearly speaking with reluctance.
"My best friend, was the smartest person I ever met, by far. I'd have died a hundred times without her." Harry started to say, his voice soft. "I would call her the closest thing I ever had to a sister, but that doesn't even feel like it even begins to cover the depth of our connection. She's one of two people I ever truly felt were what I thought family might feel like."
Perenelle was quiet, this was the first time he ever seemed to open up about something personal.
"Once we realized what exactly it was that was imbedded in me, she alternated between research and studying the thing in my head every spare chance she could get. She was trying to figure out a way to get rid of it," Harry said, "And you know what she theorized after nearly three years?"
Perenelle shook her head, but realized that Harry wasn't even going to look at her.
He continued after a long pause. "That the bloody thing wasn't just in my scar. It wasn't attached to my body at all. It was attached to my soul. The scar was just the outward physical manifestation of it."
"I suggested that if it was attached to my soul, that clearly meant that I needed to die," Harry said, his voice without inflection, he turned his head to look at Perenelle briefly, "Like you, we couldn't find any way to destroy the horcruxes without destroying the vessel, and I was ready to give up."
"My remaining friends strenuously disagreed with my idea, and used the prophecy that said only I could beat him, to back their argument up. If I died, there was no way he could die at my hand, negating the prophecy completely."
Perenelle started to speak but Harry shook his head, cutting her off. "After she died… I was the last one. A group that had originally numbered over a dozen at its height was down to just me. She was the last of our group to die. She was the very last one with me. The last one I failed and the last person I'll ever allow to die for me. And when she was gone, I was left alone."
"A year and a half where it was just the two of us, and then suddenly I was fighting a one man war against Voldemort's minions…" Harry managed a weak approximation of a smirk. "Albeit they were vastly depleted from the height of his power. Summoning demons tends to be hard on your human followers, fatalities are high."
"You could say… that without her acting as my moral compass, I went down the road less traveled." Harry looked up, once more, not at her, his eyes focused in the distance, "If you want to get philosophical about it, I'm pretty sure I stared into the Abyss just a bit too long. Walked where I knew Monsters dwelled."
Harry closed his eyes and slowly his hand traced the wood pattern in the desk under his fingers almost idly, but there was a building tension. "When I considered the facts she was able to prove, I went the one route she would've never considered. Nor was it one she would have even let me contemplate had she been around. Nor would any of my other friends."
"What's that?" Perenelle asked after Harry had fallen silent.
"The Dark Arts books we had collected from the various vaults and homes we had attacked. We had looked into them to develop a large range of counter curses. I was very familiar with them," Harry crossed his arms and exhaled slowly, "When she was gone, I delved into them, looking more deeply into how a Horcrux was made."
"I was never as smart as Hermione was, nor am I the researcher she was," Harry's voice grew adamant for a moment before becoming soft once more. "But I developed a theory that if I couldn't destroy the Horcrux in me without destroying myself… then I needed to separate it from myself."
He finally looked at Perenelle, meeting her eyes, "Given that it was attached to my soul, and that I was finally in-tune enough with my magic to tell at least vaguely the difference from where it ended and where I started, I only had one option…"
Perenelle's expression was confused as she tried to puzzle out what he was saying. Harry waited patiently to see if she would figure it out, but she shook her head slightly, "What did you do?"
"I split my soul," Harry said flatly watching her reaction.
Perenelle had a quick intake of breath as she stared at him, her hand going to her mouth.
"I didn't need to make the actual Horcrux to store it in, since I intended to destroy a piece of my soul rather than put it in something. So I didn't need to do a lot of the disgusting rituals the book 'Secrets of the Darkest Art' explained were required to prepare a freshly broken soul to latch onto something else. Of course none of those really explored the idea of someone splitting their soul multiple times, or how fragile it would make the soul. Which explains why Voldemort's soul broke and latched onto me without preparing me as a vessel." Harry shook his head, his tone emotionless and even, "I didn't need to do any of that. I just needed the final step."
"The final step?" Perenelle asked, her voice steady and flat. Her own thoughts were carefully controlled while she spoke. She knew about Horcruxes, their history and changes over time, but wanted to be sure about what he was talking about.
"Yeah. All it took was a Death Eater I captured," Harry replied in an equally flat tone. He stared out at the infirmary beyond him once more, not seeing a single thing that was truly in front of him.
"In Secrets of the Darkest Art it tells you that the final step in creating a Horcrux requires killing someone. But, from other tomes we managed to acquire, we learned that there's a bit more to it." Harry shook his head, and briefly his tone turned wry, "If it was as simple as killing someone, anyone who killed someone might be able to split their soul pretty easily by accident."
Harry's voice had gone soft, and Perenelle could almost feel darkness creeping into his voice.
"The biggest point is that before you kill someone you have to have them where they are mentally and emotionally to the point that they actually prefer to be dead than the alternative, of continuing to live." Harry looked up at her as his mind flashed to the people used to create the Horcruxes he was aware of.
A very upset and embarrassed Myrtle Warren. So young that simply being utterly humiliated, and then having to face her peers afterward was so terrifying a prospect she'd rather die even if she didn't understand the concept of what that really meant. Enough so that when the immature and uncomprehending girl had died to the basilisk stare, it had been enough to split Tom's soul the first time.
Tom Riddle Senior. Whose parents had just been killed by his very own son. Or at least offspring, and one born of love potions, or what was essentially rape.
Hepzibah Smith. Betrayed by a charismatic teenager she had befriended in her old age, and then who had stolen her life's treasures.
Harry's own mother, with the instincts of a parent. Willing to lay down her life for her child. One of Harry's only memories of the woman. The memory that used to emerge around dementors. Her voice vivid in his mind, as she tried desperately to be the one that Voldemort would kill, rather than her own son dying.
Harry knew there were others, though he was less familiar with the details... but the thread was all the same.
In every case… dying was the option they preferred.
"So I captured one of Voldemort's minions. I couldn't use the cruciatus curse without breaking his mind, to the point he wouldn't know what death was." Harry's voice finally continued, cutting off the silence his eyes blank and completely lost in a memory. "Nor could I really expect that him being captured and away from the Dark Lord enough to wish for death."
"I used a confundus charm on one of the Pureblood Supremacists in Voldemort's public cabinet." Harry snorted, "Cabinet. What a joke. The entire magical world was in ruins. His cabinet was just a bunch of sycophants who deluded themselves that, by worshipping his greatness, it meant they were part of some new world order."
He ran a hand over his face, "This was a man who had lived his entire life without ever once pondering what it would be like to not have wand in his hand. A man who had never once visited a non-magical area if it didn't mean tormenting and culling the mindless unwashed muggle beasts or finding some poor girl to rape and kill. If there was ever anyone deserving of death then it was that man for what he'd done to all of those children."
"While questioning him, just to prove to my own mind that he deserved what I was going to do, he could not remember a single name of any of the children under the age of five he'd murdered. But he proudly announced that it was 'dozens.'"
There was disgust in Harry's voice as he spoke. He glanced at Perenelle, "It's surprising how little it took to utterly shatter the world of someone like that. Or maybe it's not that surprising in the end." He closed his eyes, unwilling to delve into that thought.
"I made him think that I had taken his magic completely, with the confundus and a numbing charm. It wasn't even that hard, but I convinced him that he couldn't feel his magic. That he was a muggle." A smile utterly without humor crossed Harry's face, "Even handed him a stick transfigured to look like his wand. His expression just... broke when he waved it and nothing came out."
"The coward begged and pleaded for death, simply because I'd taken his precious magic from him," Harry looked up at Perenelle, disgust obvious in his voice, "He would've laughed and bragged to the heaven's in triumph over his crimes against non-magicals, but take away his magic, and the man turned into a blubbering toddler who had his shiny new toy taken from him. He was as helpless as one as well."
"It was enough that he wanted death with every fiber of his being." Harry's voice turned hoarse with a shudder, "And I gave it to him. And in doing so I split my soul."
Perenelle swallowed a little bit, it was obviously affecting Harry a great deal, and she wondered if he had shared this with anyone else before.
"I could actually feel it, the sudden vacuum of a part of me, it was like colors of the world faded out somewhat. Everything became just a bit duller. The texts never mentioned that." Harry's mouth twisted in a grimace, as revulsion filled his voice, "Nor did they mention that I would feel the terror and horror from the soul I killed to wedge my own apart."
"I have to assume the authors didn't feel empathy, so that sensation didn't bother them," he looked down at his hands, his voice dropping to barely a whisper, "That you continue to feel what they felt and it never goes away."
Perenelle studied Harry, her heart going out to the boy. But as she started to talk, to reassure him, to something, he took a deep breath and continued. "I gambled that because of the prophecy that I couldn't kill myself. That the only one who could do that was Voldemort. Then… I cast the killing curse at myself."
He looked up briefly, "I had to, and otherwise the broken piece of soul would have latched back onto my own leaving me precisely where I started. That's why creating horcruxes take so much preparation, you must use or create an item and imbue it with enough magic that the broken off piece of soul latches onto it rather than right back on the person, since witches or wizards are generally more powerful than most magical artifacts." He trailed off slowly.
"Avada Kedavra." Harry whispered softly, his hand held up in front of his face as if he were pointing the wand at his scar once more. "After what I did, it was easy… so easy… to muster the hate for myself and cast it."
Harry lapsed into silence for over a minute, and Perenelle didn't say anything, letting him sit there. Finally he spoke again, "I was right about the prophecy, it didn't kill me. And I was right that my killing curse destroyed the piece of my soul attached to it..."
"I was right… but so so wrong," Harry's voice filled with a dull horror as he actually shuddered for a moment.
"Not only did I split my soul… and destroy that part of it," Harry gave a bitter mirthless laugh and looked back at her. "The piece of his soul didn't go cleanly. When it died… I got… fragments, pieces of him inside me in the backlash. It almost felt like the taint of his soul infected me. It felt like something oily… something..."
His lips twitched as he struggled to find words, "Sinister … something utterly… wrong… crawled into me, while another part was torn away. There were flashes of memories, and I struggle to control them to this day. Not to mention that I'm still a parselmouth and I still have a sense of when he is close by."
Harry looked down and clenched his hands, "In the end I succeeded in destroying the piece of him inside my soul. Whatever use it had as an anchor was gone..."
Harry looked up and met her eyes, "But in doing so I betrayed everything anyone who ever cared for me might have stood for."
Harry let silence fill the room briefly before his voice came across so quietly it was practically a whisper. "When I faced Tom Riddle's Horcrux in my second year of school, he told me that we weren't so different. In the end, he was right. I did the same thing Voldemort did, killed someone, split my soul in order to reach my own goals."
Perenelle was so caught off guard by the revelation and his admittance, that she didn't say anything for several moments. That hesitation cost her.
He merely nodded as if he expected the horrified reaction still on her face. And he was out of her office before she could pull her thoughts together.
Harry moved through the castle intently, a scowl on his face. He barely noticed how several students took one look at him, and any approach they might have made to speak with him was halted as they suddenly remembered pressing matters elsewhere.
He was upset and tense. Not so much because of Perenelle's reaction, but from just thinking about it. Reliving what he had done made that sick feeling return as he remembered just how far he'd fallen in his own mind. Especially as he had left out one damning fact from the story he related.
A part of him enjoyed what he had done. Enjoyed reducing the death eater to nothing but a mewling child and destroying his world and then ultimately taking his life. No matter what he did, he couldn't escape that one fact.
If he could repeat the experience, there was some tiny part of him which would jump at the opportunity.
Lost in his thoughts, he eventually found himself making his way to a familiar place in Hogwarts, a location he usually went to be alone. The clock tower overlooking the courtyard. It was a spot that he could often go to be by himself, few people went there, and he entered behind the trapdoor.
He walked stepped inside to the dark and quiet area. He closed his eyes and put a hand to his head, running it through his hair. He did his best to calm the magic inside him that seemed to be surging in response to his emotions. But doing so seemed more difficult than normal. He moved on autopilot toward the window overlooking the courtyard.
However he found himself once again caught off guard as there was someone already in his spot. A dark haired girl sitting on the ledge of the window he usually used to look out over the courtyard or surrounding countryside.
Harry sighed and decided to leave, only as he began to turn away he heard a soft sniffle from the figure, a sniffle that was quickly followed by another. Harry closed his eyes, and tried to will himself to leave the situation. But when a third sniffle reached his ears. He sighed and slumped. He couldn't just leave a crying girl there.
"Are you alright?" he spoke up quietly.
Despite his best attempt not to startle the girl she let out a surprised gasp, whirling around to look at him.
Harry found himself almost completely unsurprised as he found himself once more face to face with Iris Potter. She on the other hand seemed completely caught off guard to have been found by someone.
Harry held up his hands in the universal sign for meaning no harm, though he did take a step closer. "I'm sorry, I hadn't realized anyone was here and then I heard…" he trailed off gesturing obliquely with his hands.
Iris blinked and quickly wiped her eyes with her hands. "No, I'm… it's nothing… I'm fine," she offered with her best attempt at a smile.
Harry winced slightly, he was very familiar with that tone, while he thought he was better at hiding things in his expression, he recognized that tone as code for being 'anything but fine.' Once more he was tempted to take her up on it, take her at her word and find somewhere else. But his own experiences using that phrase wouldn't let him.
So instead he snorted in disbelief. "Right, I'm sure you always hole up somewhere alone and cry when you're 'fine'."
She lifted her head to meet his eyes as her own eyes flashed with… something. Irritation? Anger? He wasn't certain.
"What business is it of yours?" she snapped at him, her fist clenching in response.
Harry winced and once more held up his hands, able to clearly recognize when he wasn't wanted, "You're right, of course. I can see when you prefer time alone. My apologies. I'll leave you to your business." He took several steps backward and turned. He'd managed only two steps before her voice called back out to him.
"No, wait," Iris' voice called out, which for some reason halted him in his tracks.
He turned his head, quirking an eyebrow at the desperation that was held in the shout, but did not inquire further as to what was bothering her. He had a vague idea considering the topic he and Perenelle had just discussed, and it was likely an earth-shattering experience to learn about, especially at her current age.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you," Iris said in a contrite tone.
"It's all right. Sometimes you don't want to be around people. That's why you came to an out of the way place like this. I get it," Harry said earnestly, if somewhat awkwardly. To cover his awkwardness, he stepped up to the small window that overlooked the courtyard.
Below he could see there were students gathered in different groups. The warmth he felt while standing here made him realize that the area in the courtyard must be sufficiently surrounded by the castle and its protections and far enough away from the influence of the dementors. His eyes drifted over the groups of students congregating down.
"Is that why you came up here?" Iris asked suddenly, hesitantly stepping up beside him.
Harry hesitated for a moment himself, before realizing she was deflecting, hoping to get her mind on something else rather than her own troubles. Familiar behavior. Or he wondered if he was reading too much into it. He found himself nodding his head very slightly, "Yeah. Sometimes I need to be alone. Clear my thoughts."
His eyes had focused down on a group of Gryffindors below, with two familiar red heads, and playing some sort of game with a magic ball that trailed sparks as it bounced between people in a circle.
"Why?" Iris asked, only to stutter slightly and follow up realizing how the question sound, "Not why you sometimes need to be alone and clear your thoughts. I mean, I get that I... but, I mean…. why did you this time? I mean, if it's not private. I mean I'm not trying to pry!" she broke off clearly feeling as awkward as she did.
Harry glanced over at her and then his expression twisted for a moment before smoothing out, "Just had a conversation that brought up some, unpleasant memories and thoughts." He said obliquely before turning it around "What about you?"
Iris hesitated and seemed to shrink a bit in on herself, remembering that she had just been speaking to this boy's mother, even if she doubted Madame Flamel was going to say anything to him. "I got some bad news… and after a few hours needed some space to breath. I couldn't stand to be around my family any longer."
"Why not?" Harry couldn't help but ask.
Iris glanced over at the boy. There was something in his tone that made her think he truly didn't understand. "I got some… scary news. And they looked at me with… pity? Fear? I don't know how to describe it exactly. They all looked at me like I was going to break at any moment. That if they looked away, I was just going to fall apart. They kept talking to me trying to reassure me that it would be fine, when I know they don't have a bloody clue whether it will or not."
She struggled to put it into words without sharing what the scary news was and it had been stressed to her just how important it was to tell no one of it. She also was trying to figure out a way to deflect or make something reasonable sounding up for when Ares inevitably asked what it was she was talking about.
Harry hummed thoughtfully as he considered her statement and to figure out a way to respond. When he finally did speak, his chose his words carefully, "You know, it might not be pity or that they were expecting you to break. Maybe they were waiting to see how you were dealing with whatever news you got? Once they figured out what you need, they might know how to offer it. As for the rest, you know it might not be about you."
She looked over at him sharply, but he didn't look her way, choosing to look out on the courtyard instead. "Whatever news you got that has you scared so much, they also react to either on their own behalf or on yours. They may be trying to reassure themselves just as much as they're trying to reassure you."
He had given that advice based on a conversation he and Ron had once had. How his friends sometimes weren't sure how to react or how to best support him because he bottled so much up inside. He had just applied that same perspective to her family.
Iris finally turned her head back toward the window. She let his words rattle around in her head as she stared out. She also appreciated that Ares didn't try to press her for details. Didn't try and reassure her or talk to her anything but plainly. She crossed her arms and rested them on the ledge of the window, looking out at the school children below.
Several minutes passed as both stood there, the only sound the soft sounding of the gears of the clock turning by magic, keeping time. The rhythmic sound of a clock tower filling the air with its steady reassuring presence.
"Ares, do you ever feel like you're different?" Iris finally asked softly, without looking over at the boy beside her, her gaze on the students below. "Like, despite whatever you might do, there is something beyond your control that sets you apart?"
Harry inhaled sharply, the only sign that he had heard her question, as he didn't answer immediately, his lips twisting briefly as he considered her question. His eyes watched as a third year student he vaguely recognized get hit in the head by the ball trailing sparkles, which left a bright purple spot on the boy's head; to much laughter and amusement from everyone around, including the affected student himself.
"For a long time, I wished I was like everyone else. I tried to pretend to be even. To blend in. To be Normal. Average. Claimed I was just me," Harry said slowly, choosing his words carefully. "But no matter what I did, what I tried, it kept getting pounded into my head that I wasn't. In the end, I had spent so much time trying to prove I was like everyone else, that people I cared about paid the price for a painful lesson."
"What lesson?" Iris asked, her attention completely on him now. She could hear the truth in his voice, idly she found could practically feel the truth and the pain in him, even if she didn't understand the circumstances.
"I am not like everyone else." Harry answered. "I am different, and pretending otherwise is just an attempt to deceive myself. And in the end… that hurt… could end up hurting people I care for if I don't grasp that difference with two hands."
Iris felt the gravity of his words, and she realized, that in some way, Ares Flamel understood her. She wasn't sure how, and she wasn't sure what it meant, but she knew with absolute certainty that he understood.
She didn't say anything further, resting her head on her arms as she looked out at the people below. The two didn't need any further conversations between them. They let the air fill with the reassuring and steady sounds of the clock.
Perenelle sat staring at nothing. She had opened her mouth to say something as Harry departed, but couldn't figure out what to say before he was out of earshot. She lapsed back into shock and silence after Harry had left.
Of course she had no idea what she might have said, but she knew how he likely had read her silent response. It was something she was certain she'd have to talk to him about later, but as she hadn't figured out her own thoughts on the matter, talking immediately wouldn't have done any good.
After a few moments she moved over to the fireplace, glad for an open floo connection in the infirmary. She tossed a handful of floo powder in the fireplace.
"Nicky Flamel's pied-à-terre," she intoned.
The fire flared up and down for a few moments as it made a connection before Nicholas' Flamel's head appeared in the flame.
"Perenelle? Everything okay?" he inquired immediately as his face appeared a few moments later.
She hesitated a moment before shaking her head, "No, not really. Come through?"
"Of course." He replied and the floo shut down. Then a moment later the fire flared and he stepped through the fire place, glancing around. "What happened? I could feel your… concern?"
He trailed off seeing her expression. "What is it?"
Perenelle hesitated, taking a moment to recast the silencing spell just to be safe. Then she reached in the desk for the one thing that medi-witches everywhere stocked.
That hadn't changed in a long time.
She pulled out a bottle of firewhiskey and two glasses. She wasn't the biggest fan of firewhiskey, as it was hardly a drink that could be savored by someone who had tasted and enjoyed spirits that had cost tens of thousands of galleons for just a tumbler's worth, but it would do in a pinch. She took a drink and then related everything that Harry had just told her.
Nicholas sat back in a chair and listened without asking questions. He knew his wife would answer most of his questions in her retelling, while she related everything from the soul shard in Iris' head to Harry's revelation.
When she finished, Perenelle sat back in her chair and looked at her husband who was also holding his firewhiskey, though his remained untouched.
Nicholas was sitting back and had a pensive expression on his face. "And you're sure he destroyed the piece of his soul he broke off?" he asked quietly.
"Positive," She replied. "It's obvious he's carrying guilt. It's clear to me he was telling the truth. Although… I'll probably ask to check just to be sure."
Nicholas nodded slowly, his expression pensive as he considered. Silence filled the infirmary office before he began to speak, his tone quiet and careful, "You realize… this explains so much, right?"
Perenelle narrowed her eyes at that comment.
Nicholas scoffed at her reaction, "You know the signs as well as I do."
He began to tick off his fingers. "The changes in emotions. We've long suspected it deadens some of the emotions one experiences."
She nodded, "He mentioned that, as well as it seemed like the colors were leached from the world."
Nicholas nodded thoughtfully, before ticked a second finger, "Rational thought is inhibited, and there's periods of sometimes extreme irrationality."
Perenelle's mind flicked back to several of Harry's behaviors, the idea of fighting fiendfyre with legilimency chief among them. She was forced to nod slowly, her throat dry as she added. "Periods that get worse the more time goes on."
The famous alchemist nodded his head in wordless agreement, before he ticked off another finger, "Then there's obsessive behavior."
Her eyes flickered, as she disagreed quickly, "But that's always an obsession with staying alive. Going to extreme and ridiculous lengths to do so. You remember how much a recluse Herpo became! He was convinced anyone and everyone wanted to kill him. This Voldemort splitting his soul multiple times simply to have a backup."
She waved her hand in frustration, "But Harry doesn't exhibit that at all. That same kind of obsession has not manifested with him. In fact, given his tendency to throw himself face first into any danger out there, I'd say the opposite was true."
"Right," Nicholas conceded, "But that's because our only experiences with those who have split their soul have been with people obsessed with living forever. Herpo and the others were determined to stay alive, which is why they split their soul in the first place. This is the first time we've encountered someone who has split their soul for other reasons."
Perenelle nodded slowly at her husband's logic, "So the fact that Harry did it for reasons other than ensuring he remains alive and anchored to the world… means he isn't obsessed with avoiding death?"
"No, we both know what he's obsessed with," Nicholas rubbed his temples slowly, his tone exasperated.
"Destroying Voldemort," Perenelle nodded, "And… apparently trying to save the people around him too."
Nick nodded, "Even if he destroys himself in the process. Making him, at times, a risk of being more than a little irrational in pursuit of that goal. All other concerns become secondary."
"Including his own health and safety," Perenelle muttered as she considered her husband's words. "We've certainly seen that. Although, we cannot rule out that some of his behaviors could just as well be environmental due to what we suspect of his upbringing. But that just leads us into guesswork and conjecture. His motivations could also just as easily be due to what he felt was necessary to rid himself of his unwanted passenger."
"It amounts to the same thing though," Nicholas said unhappily as he nodded in agreement and let silence fill the room as he pondered over what they'd learned. "The question becomes, what do we do now?"
"What do you mean?" Perenelle asked, her eyes narrowing at her husband.
"Well, what are we going to do to help him?" Nicholas asked.
Perenelle looked up at him sharply. His tone wasn't anything teasing, and didn't seem like he was treating it like a joke.
"What? I daresay I know you well enough to know you've become attached to the boy," his smile was genuine before turning serious. "Not sure he's had much of that before."
Perenelle relaxed slightly and smiled, pleased that once more they were on the same wavelength and that he wasn't treating this revelation with anything but the utmost seriousness. "I don't know. We know a soul shard can be reabsorbed if the person feels genuine guilt and remorse," she said slowly.
"Yes, but from what you said he almost certainly felt that from the start. But he already destroyed the foreign shard as well as some of his own soul along with it." Nicholas stated, his tone thoughtful.
Perenelle frowned, "There's also something else I hadn't considered."
"What's that?" Nicholas asked, his own eyes narrowing.
"His soul, already unstable from the poison, phoenix tears, and exposure to other soul magic. How does splitting his soul impact that?" She said quietly.
Nicholas frowned, "We saw what happened to Herpo. He went down a spiral of insanity in a matter of a few years."
"Nick, that little shite was insane to start with," Perenelle argued. "He just hid it well when we first met him. I would say that anyone willing to do that to their soul… isn't the most stable anyway."
"Fair enough," Nicholas conceded. "Though Herpo also lost control of his magic more and more during that time."
Perenelle nodded silently in agreement.
"And Herpo had nowhere near the amount of power that boy displays," Nicholas' voice turned grim as he looked down, "If he loses it… really loses it. I'm not sure what, short of outright killing him will manage to bring him down. And I can only think of two who may have the power to do so."
"You think it will come to that?" Perenelle's voice was filled with worry and concern.
"Unlikely," Nicholas admitted slowly as he considered that question. "I think his obsession leaves him too fixated on ending this Dark Lord. He's all but admitted that he doesn't think he'll survive the task. If he does… I doubt he will continue to be a danger,"
"His obsession," Perenelle said slowly as she nodded, the same thought had occurred to her which was why she wasn't stunned by that pronouncement.
After letting the silence hang for several minutes as they both pondered things, Nicholas spoke up once more, "So what do we do?"
"We continue with what we were doing," Perenelle responded instantly, "Supporting the boy as best we can. Try to surround him with others who can do the same. Help him do his best to destroy this Dark Lord. Pray he finds some sort of balance sooner rather than later. Because he'll likely get himself killed otherwise..."
"You realize… that may be inevitable." Nicholas said quietly, watching his lifemate and partner's face.
"We'll just have to hope he doesn't do anything particularly over the top." Perenelle responded faintly.
Nicholas' only response to that statement was to take a large gulp of firewhiskey.
Harry couldn't keep the scowl off his face as he walked beside Snape through the castle. Once again, Harry found himself on his way to the headmaster's office. The Potion professor's expression was fixed in a mask, but the stiff way he moved and occasional sideways glares let Harry, very familiar with the man's counterpart in his world, know that the man was furious.
The fact that they were on the way to the headmaster's office wasn't by any means a surprise, in fact he had expected to be summoned three weeks earlier, but that never came. He wasn't certain if the lack of invitation was because he was a Slytherin, he wasn't being groomed by the old wizard as a weapon, or if it was due to the fact that Perenelle was still in Hogwarts Castle with frequent visits from Nicholas.
It had been less than three weeks since his conversation with Flitwick and Harry, and to say he had underestimated the part-goblin professor was probably one of the biggest understatements of his life. The professor had promised him he would help, and help was exactly what Flitwick had provided. The past three weeks had been a crash course in things he hadn't ever pondered relating to magical combat. While Moody had taught him about moving, shielding, and attacking, as well as general combat awareness, Flitwick went so much deeper.
He talked about strategies and different types of ways to fight. Instead of just firing spells and curses with as much power behind them as possible, Flitwick had explained to Harry how different skillsets would apply in different situations. The idea of fighting a battle using transfiguration, changing the battlefield to make it perilous to fight on changing rock to water or swamp, or vice versa, and then back again to a combination of transfiguration and animation. Concepts like making all the debris on a battlefield come alive that Harry had only heard of in the Wizard's equivalent to Fairy Tales, but never with any of the true background and knowledge of how to actually do it strategically.
Flitwick also showed his own particular style augmenting his speed and agility with his magic to jump around and keep moving, making him a nearly impossible to hit moving target who could chain quick and irritating spells off until one got through.
The diminutive charms professor talked about sensing magic use, about learning to feel magic enough not only to know when it was being used around him, but talked about being able to get a feel for exactly what the magic would do.
The former dueling champion started by explaining and then doing his best to show how each worked and then began to push Harry directing him to learn about each style they discussed and each point of magic use, saying not only could it help him, but it would also teach him how to help defend against it.
Flitwick also warned that above all, if fighting an opponent who was stronger magically than him, many times they could batter through different styles with sheer brute force. Harry knew the truth of that, as he was able to see strategies he had seen others use from time to time, but never took the time to understand, given he could usually smash through them.
He couldn't help wondering if any of it would be helpful against Voldemort, given how they were on fairly even footing but at least he was learning. Flitwick was taking Harry point by point to make sure he understood in ways he never did before. They hadn't delved deeply into practical work yet as Flitwick wanted Harry to understand each style and how it worked before going deeper.
Harry wasn't the only one who was learning, Fleur had been there since they started as well. Flitwick had deemed her skills above average and was working with her at the same time.
Harry wondered where this option had been in his own world. He had never approached the professor about anything, and he wondered if he had simply missed this opportunity in his world. He had, after all, been a mediocre student whose only public display of dueling had been against Voldemort in the Ministry at the end of the next school year.
On top of that, when Flitwick had found, after an offhand mention that Harry was working with Draco to teach him the same topic and that Daphne who basically invited herself and refused to take no for an answer on the same. After observing them for a bit, Flitwick had said they were not at the level where he would work with them, but he could offer them tips from time to time if they wanted to work while he was doing the same with Harry and Fleur both.
Draco had basic understandings and his actual experience in their world, allowed him to be better than anyone his age was likely to be. But he really wasn't that skilled in the grander scheme of things with either aim or shielding, or reaction, something Harry had been working on with him. Daphne was even farther behind, something that frustrated her even after Harry reminded her that Draco had several years of school on her. She was determined to not to let Draco Malfoy of all people be better than her.
In exchange Flitwick had demanded only two things from the people he worked with. First that they give it their all, and in response he pushed them. Secondly, he demanded they help him grade papers of the younger years.
After the first time grading the papers of a first year class, Harry suddenly felt he understood a lot more about why McGonagall was so severe all the time and rarely smiled, and also a small part of why Snape was always a grumpy arse. Flitwick's ability to stay upbeat spoke more to his patience than anything Harry could imagine.
Harry stepped to the side as they came to the stairs up to the headmaster's office. He waited for Snape to proceed in front of him. After a brief staring contest with the man, Snape surprisingly acquiesced and headed up the stairs first, followed by Harry.
Harry was also busier than he expected, beyond working with Flitwick. His classwork was mostly busywork that annoyed him more than it did anything else. But it did take up a chunk of his time, at least it did if he was completing it to a level that would display that he was clearly competent with the magic. Thankfully there was nothing in the fourth year course material that was difficult.
The only class that he was forced to pay attention was Moody's class. While the auror was the genuine article, and was teaching shield charms, he was also prone to firing stinging hexes at people without warning while shouting about Constant Vigilance.
He had yet to catch Harry off guard, but the man seemed to take that as a challenge, and kept trying. Harry also suspected he was planning something for the class. Harry was familiar enough with the older man from when the grizzled auror had taught him after the fall of Hogwarts to know it was coming. Every day he stepped into the class he expected an ambush.
Moody wasn't the only person that had Harry on his guard. Tonks had been appearing around them with startling frequency. Far more than Harry could chalk up to coincidence in a school she was assigned to guard. Especially as her duties mostly involved patrolling outside the school and making sure no dementors wandered in too close to the school, something that happened on a semi-regular basis.
She hadn't shown up when he was working under Flitwick's supervision so Harry assumed she wasn't going to interfere there, but she kept popping up when he was in the halls or library. Tonks regularly struck up conversation with him, and rather blatantly flirted with him, something that irritated Daphne to no end. He was relatively sure she was trying to figure him out. He just wasn't sure why. Whether out of her own personal curiosity or for someone else. Although she seemed equally curious about Malfoy and spent time talking with him as well.
Time with Regulus had been mostly curtailed given the busyness of Harry's schedule. But now the man seemed to be pleased to be out of Azkaban and understood how safe he was. It was remarkable how easy it was to make the man content. Enough food to keep him fed, the ability to bathe, enough books that even Hermione would be satisfied for a few weeks, and the man had relaxed considerably.
Harry had asked Regulus to see if he could put as many of his experiences and knowledge as possible to give Harry something to work with in taking the initiative to the families. The information was only a little helpful as much of it was a decade and a half out of date, and even then Regulus wasn't exactly inner circle level in terms of knowledge.
Regulus also seemed to be trying to teach the Basilisk how to speak English in his spare time.
Craziness definitely ran in the family.
However, Regulus did offer two pieces of information that Harry didn't have before. He knew the location of the Avery ancestral home and was able to confirm that both Avery Senior, and his son were Death Eaters. Given that the locations of manors were a closely guarded secret, protected with everything short of the Fidelius, it was incredibly helpful.
Harry had flamed out of his room that very night to near the location provided. It had taken him only an hour to find the house, and he had begun to dissect the wards. He knew he could flame through the wards, but he would be going in blind and it only took Harry five minutes of checking to confirm the Avery's would have known he was there. And if they escaped rather than confront him, he might not have been able to pull the same trick twice.
Unlike the goblins, family manors were so prized because the generations after generations of magic users that had passively and actively added to the protections surrounding them. So figuring out a way to slip through them without being detected. He had spent several nights on it and it was still a work in progress. But the minute he could get through, Harry was going to do his best to strip them of every bit of knowledge they had before removing them as possible allies for Voldemort.
None of those was the reason that he was being summoned to the headmaster's office. And, he was certain no one had yet tried the wards in the Slytherin dorms yet for a third time, so that hadn't come up yet either.
No, Harry was relatively certain that the reason he was stepping once more into head master's office had nothing to do with any of that. A quick glance around the room showed that aside from Snape, who had taken up residence at the wall, glaring into the room. McGonagall stood not far from the desk, staring down in disapproval.
"Ah, young Ares, now that you are here, we can get to the bottom of this," Dumbledore stated, though there was little of his usual joviality.
"Sure, Ol' Albus. I'm happy to help you however I can," Harry said, his tone pitched to be more helpfully polite and earnest than Dumbledore's.
"Young man, you will address the headmaster with his appropriate title." Mcgonagall spoke up her tone icy.
Harry turned to her with a puzzled expression, "Why? Based on how he greeted me, I assumed we were on a first-name basis."
Mcgonagall went white at that comment and pursed her lips into a thin line, all signs Harry had long learned to recognize as ones that she was very displeased.
"Enough," Dumbledore cut across the burgeoning confrontation with a sharp voice, "Mr. Flamel, I assume you know why you're here."
"I have a fairly good idea, Headmaster," Harry responded, turning his focus, back on to Dumbledore, "It's okay though, you don't have to apologize."
"Apologize?" Dumbledore sat back in his chair and was regarding Harry without a trace of amusement.
"Why yes, for me having to defend myself from potentially deadly curses yet again, inside of your school," Harry answered promptly, keeping satisfaction off his face at the confusion that flashed briefly on Dumbledore's expression before being hidden.
Nicholas Flamel was right. Deliberately misinterpreting topics of conversation and discussion with Dumbledore could frustrate the man, especially as it turned some of the man's favorite tactics against him.
"You are here because of the eleven Slytherin students that are in the infirmary at the moment," Dumbledore stated, his expression grim, "I cannot begin to express to you just how serious a situation this is."
Harry just stared at the headmaster, without visible reaction. Another bit of the alchemist's advice coming to him. Never react the way he expects, it makes it so much harder for him to spell you into a corner.
"You have nothing to say for yourself?" Dumbledore asked, leaning forward, steepling his fingers.
"You haven't asked me any questions yet," Harry responded, lifting one shoulder in a half shrug.
"Why are there eleven of my students in the infirmary?" Dumbledore demanded, a trace of frustration entering his voice.
"I already said, for attempting to curse, maim, and possibly kill me," Harry answered, remembering how he would have acted in the headmaster's office in this situation when he was fourteen or fifteen. He would have been nervous and stuttering, and trying to defend himself from the very start. His reactions clearly were not what Dumbledore was expecting.
"Mr. Flamel," Snape's voice spoke up from the wall, his voice smooth and calm with his eyes intent on Harry, "Would you please share the pertinent events, from your perspective, that lead to eleven of my students laid up in the infirmary."
Mcgonagall and Dumbledore both looked over at Snape who surprised them with the reasonableness in his tone. He had also cut short further frustration in the Headmaster, and outrage in the Deputy.
Harry also turned to look at Snape, failing to hide the look of surprise at Snape was acting as the voice of reason. When he responded, it was a second's too late to hide the trace of disbelief. "Yes, Professor. It began this afternoon, after class but before dinner."
"I was making my way back to the Slytherin common room, when I came upon a group of students. Three of them were members of my house, including our seventh year male prefect, Lucian Bole." He shifted slightly so he was addressing Snape as much as Dumbledore, "They were picking on a group of first year Gryffindors, though they were focused on tormenting one of them specifically."
Mcgonagall stiffened and her lips thinned into a tight line once more. Harry ignored it, he wasn't sure she was going to do anything about it anyway. He hadn't ever seen evidence of her willing to go to bat to defend her house back on his home world.
"They had already caused her bag to rip, were holding her wand, threatening to snap it and telling her she did not belong here, and called her a mudblood," Harry's voice was even as he retold the events, "I... did not appreciate that."
"I summoned her wand from Bole's hand, helped levitate the books and guided the first year students away from the situation." Harry explained.
"Which of my first years was it?" Mcgonagall inquired tightly.
"I only got the name of one of them, the girl they were focused on, a Natalie McDonald," Harry responded, he hadn't remembered the girl from his world but that wouldn't have been surprising if she hadn't crossed his radar for one reason or another.
Mcgonagall just nodded in response, her bearing stiff and not pleased.
"That still does not explain how eleven Slytherins ended up in the infirmary," Dumbledore stated, bringing the focus back.
"Well, my… fellow Slytherin's did not appreciate my actions," Harry explained with a deprecating smile. "They were upset with me, but because we were out in public, they did not do anything at the time."
Snape resisted the urge to snort at the extreme understatement the youth had just made. But he managed to keep a straight face.
"I returned to the common room this evening, shortly before curfew, to find the entire house assembled. I'll admit, I was slightly confused, as I did not recall anyone calling for a house meeting," Harry smiled, an expression once more completely without humor. "Apparently that sort of thing happens when one violates the primary unwritten rule of Slytherin."
"Which is what?" Mcgonagall asked, focusing on him.
"Present a united front at all times. Never show division to the other houses. Agree in public, disagree in private. However you chose to phrase it," Harry answered, not missing the significant glance Dumbledore and Snape shared. Clearly the Deputy Headmistress was the only one who didn't seem to be aware of that.
"I do not enjoy letting others do my thinking for me," said Harry politely with a calm faint smile. "They had cleared out the center of the room as a dueling pit. Something that seemed surprisingly practiced and organized. They wanted to teach me a lesson, and teach it to the entire house at the same time."
"Ten house members, all seventh and sixth years decided they were going to teach that lesson," that smile on Harry's face grew slightly. "They arrayed themselves in a semicircle, wands drawn, and demanded that I apologize. Mr. Bole said that if I submitted myself and accepted my punishment, they would go far easier on me."
Harry paused, which caused Dumbledore to lean forward intently. "And what happened?"
"Well, they discovered that they had… grossly miscalculated in where they stood in terms of both skill and power," Harry's expression was practically predatory.
"You said there were ten, and yet eleven students were in the hospital," Mcgonagall said leadingly.
"Yes, well Draco Malfoy determined that he wasn't going to allow me to face it alone," Harry's voice shifted to a mixture of frustration and exasperation. "The cutting curse he took in the side was because I took my attention off of him, and he got distracted. But it also told me just how serious the Slytherin's were and how dangerous the situation was."
"So I decided to teach a lesson of my own." this time Harry's expression was almost beatific as he focused on Dumbledore. Of course he missed the way Snape's eyes narrowed as the potions professor stared at him.
"And what lesson is that Mister Flamel?" Dumbledore asked gravely.
"You want to play with the big boys then don't expect to be treated with kid gloves," Harry said shortly.
"You could have just stunned them," Dumbledore half asked, half stated.
"I certainly could have," Harry agreed amiably.
"Then why didn't you?" Dumbledore asked.
"Why would I?" Harry asked, affecting genuine puzzlement.
"So you could bring it to a professor and let us deal with it." The headmaster replied, his eyes narrowing.
"Why? So you could scold them and show them just how disappointed you were? So you could smack them on the wrist? Assign them detention where after two hours they are free with no lesson learned?" Harry challenged. "Sorry, things like that don't happen in the real world."
"So you appointed yourself judge and jury?" Dumbledore asked, his voice flat and grim.
"I responded to being attacked," Harry countered, his voice heating up. This was always his frustration with his own Dumbledore, and clearly the two men shared some of the same foibles. "Your way has no teeth, and has resulted a whole house feeling like they have to act like prats because a dozen or so of their members have the rest living in fear."
"People sleep in the same rooms for fear of being attacked and harassed or worse, taking shifts at night so they can make sure the other people in the room aren't harassed. Well, at least that happened until apparently, someone took steps this year," he smiled faintly but admitted to nothing. "However it doesn't stop the casual bullying that happens all the time within the house."
"However, this time they attempted to bully the wrong person," Harry smirked, despite himself. "And it backfired quite badly."
"You felt it was necessary to put them in the infirmary?" Snape asked, his eyes focused on Harry's expression. Dumbledore had interlaced his fingers in front of him and was watching, easily letting Snape take over the interrogation, while Mcgonagall just watched with still pursed lips.
"That's what one of their spells did to Malfoy first. And as irritating as he can be, Draco is..." Harry swallowed, unable to believe he was actually saying the next words, so they came out somewhat strained, "my friend. And was hurt because of trying to help me."
Snape regarded the boy in front of him closely for several long seconds, before he shook his head slightly, and leaned back against the wall, turning his focus back to Dumbledore.
"While I understand circumstances may have been beyond your control," Dumbledore spoke slowly, if he had caught off guard by Snape's sudden acquiescence, he didn't let on, picking up the attention of the room with only the slightest hesitation.
"Whatever your reasonings are, we do not allow fighting in Hogwarts. Thus I am assigning you a month of detentions wi-" the headmaster's statement was cut off when the stairs to the entrance of the headmaster's office moved drawing everyone's attention.
In stormed Perenelle Flamel, ignoring the presence of everyone else in the room, clearly on a mission as she target locked on Harry, storming forward. "Why exactly do you think you're doing?" The woman demanded as she got out her wand, though made no move to cast anything at him yet.
"Um. Talking to the professors and the headmaster?" Harry ventured, trying not to show it but obviously caught off guard with her behavior.
"And why didn't you come to the infirmary so I could check you out?" Perenelle demanded.
"Because… I wasn't hurt?" Harry responded his voice filled with confusion, And because I've been avoiding you since our last talk. He added mentally. He had been surprised the woman hadn't outed him after his confession on splitting his soul but certainly wasn't going to press his luck with her.
"Well, will you let me be the judge of that?" Perenelle questioned in a not-quite-demand while brandishing her wand, though not quite pointing it at him.
Harry opened his mouth to refuse before realizing where he was and equally as importantly who was here with them. So he relented by nodding his head slightly. She immediately began to check him over for spells, completely ignoring that they were in the headmaster's office.
"Well, you do seem to be okay this time." It was several minutes later when she lowered her wand looking satisfied, "Now, you're going to walk me back to the infirmary and tell me exactly what happened."
"Ahem," Dumbledore interrupted drawing the attention of all in the room back to him, "I apologize Madame Flamel; I need to finish my discussion with young Ares."
"Oh. All right then." Perenelle said agreeably, stepping back and crossing her arms.
Dumbledore looked at her for a moment before realizing that she had absolutely no intention of leaving. She met his gaze evenly, and just raised an eyebrow, waiting patiently.
Dumbledore turned his attention back to Harry with a stern look once more, "As I was saying, I am assigning you a month of detentions to be served with each of the head-"
"No." Perenelle cut in calmly.
Harry glanced over at her, looking more than a bit surprised. Her gaze was focused on Dumbledore so Harry as unfamiliar as it was to have someone else standing up for him, he knew she was far more accustomed to dealing with Dumbledore than he was. Or at least she had far more experience.
"Madame Flamel, young Ares put ten other students in the infirmary. Students you tended to. You should understand that a month of detentions is more than lenient." Dumbledore stated in a reasonable tone, before his voice hardened, "Especially when the alternative could be expulsion."
"All right," Perenelle nodded agreeably, with a pleasant smile on her face.
Harry looked over at her and scowled, that was a feeling he was much more used to. His elders never spoke up for him, unless it was to screw him. Her next words caused his brain to temporarily stop.
"Get the papers for expulsion please," Perenelle said evenly.
His reaction was much more muted than the professors. McGonagall's jaw dropped and she put a hand to her chest in astonishment. Snape's renowned control wasn't enough to stop his eyes from widening in disbelief.
"I beg your pardon?" Dumbledore asked, his hands dropping to the desk as he stared at Perenelle in astonishment.
"Is your hearing going Albus?" Perenelle asked curiously, affecting a concerned expression. "You should come to the infirmary to have that checked. I said to get the expulsion papers so you can fill them out in order to properly expel him."
"Perenelle, I'm afraid this is not a joke," Albus said seriously as her stared at her.
"I'm well aware of that Albus," Perenelle met his gaze without flinching, "After you give me the papers, I think it'll take about five minutes for Madame Maxime to accept him as a student of Beauxbatons. And that's only if it takes that long to find her."
"Perene-" Albus started to say, only to be cut off again.
"And I'm certain that your Daily Herald will be more than happy to do an interview on Beauxbatons' newest student, and of course the circumstances behind why alternative education was necessary." Perenelle continued.
"It is beneath you to threaten, Perenelle," Dumbledore responded coldly.
"I'll remind you Albus, that you began with the threats first," Perenelle countered in a tone equally as cold.
"I did no such thing," Albus argued, irritation clearly on his face.
"Accept the detentions or face expulsion, sounds a lot like a threat to me," Perenelle responded with narrowed eyes, "Especially when the only thing I can determine he is guilty of is once more defending himself against an attack on his life in your castle."
"I hardly think his life was actually in danger," Dumbledore responded defensively. "No matter how foolishly the students were acting."
"Well, once again you'd be wrong. Go down and check Mister Malfoy. If that cutting curse had been any farther to his right, he might have lost his arm. To say nothing if it had been a bit higher and hit his neck." Perenelle answered.
"And the others that ended up in the infirmary?" Dumbledore challenged, "The ones he is responsible for putting there?"
"Which is once again, self-defense. I realize it's a concept in law books you tend to ignore," Perenelle countered, unwilling to let him gain traction there. "They did come in with an assortment of broken bones. Nothing life threatening if left untreated."
"Why could they not respond to us then? They couldn't see or hear anything we said." Albus questioned.
"Sensory deprivation spell," Harry spoke in an absent sort of way, his eyes focused on the various trinkets that lined Dumbledore's shelves. "After I had them down I applied it to all of them."
"If you had them down why did you do it?" Dumbledore demanded with a scowl.
"I doubted any of them would be able to shake it off or knew the right counter spell, and the sensory deprivation spell is one taught to most healers. The same couldn't be said of a stunning spell." Harry shrugged. "I wasn't willing to let a friend ennervate them and take a spell in the back."
Dumbledore stroked his beard before meeting Perenelle's eyes. When he realized there was going to be no give he focused on Harry once more. "Very well, but young man I cannot impress upon you enough to think about your actions and the consequences they have."
Harry just nodded, but Perenelle wasn't going to let the Headmaster get that much in. "Perhaps if that lesson had been imparted to others earlier. We wouldn't have had this issue in the first place." Perenelle put her hand on Harry's shoulder gently guiding him towards the door, before Dumbledore spoke up one more time.
"I trust we will not have a repeat of this incident. I will not be so lenient next time no matter what an old friend may threaten." Albus said coldly.
"We won't have this issue again," Perenelle agreed, squeezing Harry's shoulder to keep him from replying. "Next time he is attacked, in your castle, Ares will be under instructions to remove limbs rather than breaking them. He is our heir, after all."
There was silence as she followed Harry out the door before her voice drifted back up and into the office, "That is if he's kind enough to let the attackers survive at all."
There was silence in the headmaster's office as Perenelle's parting comment hung in the air. The aged wizard didn't move as he stared out the door they departed through, letting the silence hang.
Finally McGonagall spoke up, "I believe I'm going to go check on my students in my house, make sure they're okay." Left unsaid, as she departed, was her intention to confirm the story she had just heard.
When she had departed the silence fell once more until Snape broke it, "Headmaster, what are you doing?"
Dumbledore reached up and pulled the glasses off his face, tossing them onto the desk as he leaned back into his chair, still staring where Harry had departed, "I'm trying to keep from repeating terrible mistakes."
"What mistakes?" Snape asked, his tone curious as he moved to sit in a chair across from the headmaster.
Dumbledore stroked his beard slowly as he regarded Snape thoughtfully determining how much to say. Finally, he appeared to come to a decision, "Did it strike you as odd that the Flamels, after all their long years of life suddenly decided to produce an heir?"
Snape leaned back in his own chair, interlacing his fingers as he regarded the headmaster, "Yes, of course it did. I think everyone was caught off guard, the Herald certainly had a field day with it."
"Yes, they certainly did," Dumbledore stroked his beard thoughtfully, "However, from the very beginning I have had my suspicions that he was not their child."
Snape's brows lifted as he looked at Dumbledore, "But he does bear the ring of the house, and you have seen yourself, the Flamels are clearly claiming him,"
"I know, and though he wears the ring of the heir apparent for the Flamels, I became more and more certain that he was not," Dumbledore said, stroking his beard, "Until I had a conversation with the boy, and he confirmed my suspicions."
"He would not tell me his heritage, nor am I certain he is even aware of it," Dumbledore stated, looking at his potion's master gravely, "But I have come to suspect I know who at least one of his parents was, although such a thing I would never have conceived possible."
Snape froze as he looked at the headmaster. He wondered if the aged wizard had come to the same impossible conclusion he himself had.
"That young man, reminds me very much of another young man who walked these halls a little over fifty years ago." Dumbledore said gravely, seeing the briefly bewildered look on his potion master's face, "He is so very much like a young Tom Riddle."
Snape blinked as he stared at the headmaster, "Tom Riddle? You think… Ares Flamel is related to the Dark Lord?"
"Yes, I believe so. I also believe it is lucky that the boy himself is unaware of the connection," Dumbledore said with a sigh, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose.
"What… makes you believe such a thing?" Snape asked quietly, for a moment wondering if it was possible.
"Many things, first is that the boy resembles a young Tom Riddle a great deal," Dumbledore stated. He saw Snape shifting to protest and raised his hand, cutting him off. "I know, a resemblance isn't everything, it's just a piece of the puzzle."
"There are his skills in magic. The reports I'm getting back from the professors are all eerily identical to what I recall young Tom's being at that age. 'Displays incredible skills,' 'immense talent,' 'prodigy,' are all phrases bandied about." Dumbledore stroked his beard slowly as he spoke, "Even your own assessment of 'adequately competent' is high praise."
"That's not really surprising if the boy has been raised by the Flamels," Snape offered, "I have to believe that even someone like Longbottom could become adequate if they were raised by one of the most skilled potioneers in the world."
"No," Dumbledore disagreed, "Even if the Flamels have had him receiving private tutoring for years, the professors know the difference between someone who is merely advanced or working ahead like Miss Granger tends to do, and someone who is a prodigy like Mr. Diggory is in transfiguration and charms."
Dumbledore sighed and turned his head to look out the window, "I even understand that Filius has taken Mr. Flamel under his wing for extra tutelage, so perhaps a budding charms master? I haven't had the chance to inquire into the specifics while I've been dealing with the messes of the past few weeks. That's without even counting the continuing disaster here and at the ICW that Cornelius is creating by the presence of these Merlin-forsaken dementors."
"No chance of ridding ourselves of them anytime soon?" Snape asked, changing the topic briefly.
"No, Cornelius has dug in his heels, and is refusing to hear anything that disagrees with his stance." Dumbledore sighed, closing his eyes to ease the mounting frustration he felt. After several seconds of silence he returned to the topic at hand. "Then there is the company young Mr. Flamel keeps."
"Draco Malfoy has practically been attached at his hip by all accounts," Dumbledore said, "And I barely have to point out the similarities that bears to his father and grandfather and their belief and support of Tom Riddle."
Dumbledore ran a hand over his face before turning back to Snape, "I let Tom Riddle get by with far too much while he was here. I saw him gaining a following, and knew there was something… not right inside of him. I won't make those same mistakes a second time, no matter how talented a student is. I will not let them leave here unchallenged. I made the mistake with the father, I shall not do the same with the son."
Snape wasn't sure what to say to that, as he regarded him, Albus sounded so sure about it. He gripped the arms of his chair as he considered what Albus was saying. When he spoke it was slow and deliberate.
"Albus, I think… I think you're going about all this the wrong way."
Dumbledore looked across the table at the black-haired man, his expression one of open curiosity.
"I hadn't had the chance to tell you this, but Mr. Flamel is aware of Tom Riddle and his history. More importantly he is also aware of who the man eventually became," Snape said quietly.
"How?" Albus asked after a sharp indrawn breath, his eyes narrowing as he stared at his potion's master.
"I don't know," Snape answered, "He brought it up when he told me he was electing to skip the history class, and rubbish that it has become these past few decades. I don't blame him."
"I wasn't… aware that any but myself and a very few of his followers knew Tom's history," Dumbledore said slowly, as he absorbed this new information. "If Nicholas and Perenelle know…" he trailed off, not sure what the implications from that were.
"The way Ares talked about You-Know-Who, did not indicate that he bore any sympathy or reverence for him. He certainly gave no indication that they were any sort of family." Snape continued, "And his actions are not what you'd expect if they were following similar paths."
Dumbledore looked up at Snape with interest in his expression, "Please Severus, share your perspective."
Very briefly Snape considered sharing his belief that somehow Ares Flamel was related to James and Lily. But he hadn't figured out a way for it to be possible, and did not want the headmaster distracted with something fanciful. Especially when Snape only had the resemblance that jumped out to him and the eyes he was so familiar with. So instead he went with other facts, facts he could prove.
"First, he would not likely have fought the death eater the way he did, if their goals were the same. He certainly wouldn't have faced off against fiendfyre. The Dark Lord was many things, but putting his life on the line for others with long odds and no discernable gain was not his modus operandi." Snape explained with a measured and thoughtful tone. "Next, I would direct you to his behavior in Slytherin house."
"The same house he just sent ten members of to the infirmary?" Dumbledore asked dryly.
"To an extent, yes," Snape answered, seeing brief surprise reflected in the man's eyes. "He has done something neither of us has been in a position to do since you gave me the position of head of house."
"How so?" Dumbledore questioned as he tilted his head with honest curiosity.
"Given my rather delicate position and line you have asked me to walk, coupled with the fact many of the families that inhabit the house resent and resist even the barest hint of your own interference within the house," Snape phrased delicately, "Because of this, we have changed almost nothing of the house politics and structures You-Know-Who took advantage of and practically shaped in his own image."
Dumbledore nodded, absolutely aware of that point, "Under my very nose no less. Headmaster Dippet was blind to what he was doing, and I… while I had my suspicions and kept a close eye on him when I could… I was too distracted during the time he was here to prevent it, and only realized years later when I became headmaster. By then it had propagated itself."
"That is precisely my point," Snape responded, "Because of our positions there was very little to do. The same is not true with Ares Flamel."
Dumbledore's expression turned thoughtful as he once more began to stroke his beard, gesturing for Snape to continue.
"May I assume you are of the opinion that the wards in the dorms put up are his doing?" Snape inquired bluntly.
"Yes, they almost have to be. My only hesitation is the level of skill required should be beyond any student his age could possibly achieve. I could only think that somehow, he either came in with the spells prepared and ready to go, or he somehow smuggled someone in to do them for him." Dumbledore's features furrowed into a frown as he talked out one of many thoughts that had spun in his head without resolution, considering the young man in question, "I could understand if he were a few years older and it had been his exclusive area of study. But you've seen yourself he's clearly not focused just in wards."
"No, I daresay not. Considering I owe my life to him for stopping the fiendfyre, I'm rather glad of that as well," Snape commented, before shaking his head, "Given all his actions, I might even be inclined to call his actions those of a Gryffindor, if they weren't so… cunningly done."
Dumbledore inclined his head, waiting for the man to explain.
"Perhaps it is because while Mr. Flamel is hardly subtle, from our perspective in these confrontations, we do in fact miss the subtleties he has demonstrated. He has not been brash about seeking out conflict or provoking it, at least not obviously," the potions' Master responded, "He is still exhibiting the guile expected, and yet, so often lacking in my house. For all his...aggressive style and unwillingness to back down, there is an underlying cunning present."
"He is no fool. He is intelligent and aware." Snape finally said, his voice becoming more certain, "Aware enough even to manipulate you, Headmaster."
Dumbledore didn't respond beyond simply raising an eyebrow and awaiting his potion Master's explanation.
"Ares Flamel knew the consequences of stepping in against his fellow Slytherins publically. I have to believe that protecting first years from another house who were in no serious danger, was calculated. He knew the older Slytherins would react to his 'defiance' strongly. He was confident enough in his skills that he was not worried they'd succeed." Snape explained, a trace of respect in his tone as he worked it out. "And this entire situation was engineered in such a way that he had a built in defense with dozens of witnesses who can truthfully testify to him being attacked first."
"I admit, I can see that in retrospect," Dumbledore allowed slowly, his brow furrowing as he conceded the point reluctantly with a nod of his head, "Though a part of me wonders if he's not just setting himself up as a new enforcer for the House to fear."
"Headmaster, from my perspective, he is fixing Slytherin house," Snape said, letting some of his exasperation finally show. "He's just not doing it in the way you might like… or approve of."
"But the results do speak for themselves. People can sleep securely in their beds for the first time in years. That was the first step." Snape leaned forward in his chair, "Now, it's quite possible he's changed the entire power structure in one night. He effectively neutered the upper years in a confrontation they arranged. In a setting where they seemed to have all the advantages."
"Any social standing, any fear they held over the younger years is gone." Snape murmured, "The method utilized to enforce that change could… no, will... follow them even after they leave Hogwarts."
"And how is that not putting himself in the same place as Tom Riddle?" Dumbledore demanded. "Having the entire house fear him?"
"Well, with the wards, he claimed no credit. Merlin, my house thinks its Slytherin's ghost that's done it." Snape rolled his eyes in annoyance at the stupidity some of his Slytherins. "And he didn't seek this conflict, those dunderheads tried to put Ares Flamel in his place after they knew he dueled a dangerous death eater and took his arm off."
"There's just one piece I haven't been able to figure out yet," Snape admitted wryly, "Draco Malfoy's involvement in the entire affair, and what consequences that might bring."
Dumbledore looked thoughtful, taking a moment to reach forward and take a candy from the dish on his desk. He unwrapped it slowly as he considered that statement. "Draco's father is likely to be unhappy his son was hurt."
"Yes," Snape agreed, "But more importantly who his son was hurt by. Several of those responsible were the children of other 'former' Death Eaters. Draco's presence complicates matters."
"I… had not considered that," Dumbledore confessed as he popped the candy into his mouth, and began to suck slowly on it.
"That is the part of this affair I don't understand," Snape nodded, "Draco has very publicly befriended Ares Flamel, and yet the house still attacks him."
"Perhaps they did not expect Draco to get involved in the affair at all," Dumbledore offered.
"Maybe, but Draco stood up against the others. Why?" Snape countered, "I cannot see Lucius instructing his son to prioritize a connection with Flamel to the point he's willing to provoke conflict with the children of other Death Eaters."
"So what are you thinking?" Dumbledore inquired, staring at Snape over the top of his glasses.
"Draco has changed this year, a great deal. I do not know why. Nor do I believe it is because of his father's influence." Snape answered slowly, "But there's another fact I cannot reconcile."
"What's that?" Dumbledore inquired.
"You did not know the Flamels had an heir before they contacted you this summer, correct?" Severus asked, sitting back in the chair once more."
"That is correct, I was quite caught off guard by the sudden floo call," Albus answered, wondering where the younger man was going with his point.
"I have observed Ares and Draco, since they arrived." Severus said slowly, "Draco claimed to his housemates to have known Ares before he arrived here."
Dumbledore looked doubtful at that thought, looking speculatively at Snape over the top of his glasses. "It could be the normal boasting done by children, Draco in particular, in the past has been known to… embellish."
"That's true," Snape conceded, "But I've watched them interact. The way they talk to one another, while not indicative a close friendship, it does indicate that they have known each other. And seems that he may have had something to do with the changes in the boy."
Dumbledore once more lapsed into silence at that comment, a troubled look on his face. Each thing he found out seemed to provide another piece to the puzzle that was Flamel, but some of the pieces just didn't seem to mesh together. It was an intensely frustrating puzzle.
"So… either you're right, and there's something we're not seeing with Ares. Whether it be his parentage or something else. Or…" He trailed off slowly and uncertainly.
"Or…?" Dumbledore prodded gently, "Or what, Severus?"
Snape slumped a little bit, his tone resigned, "Or… I do not know… Perhaps Draco magically came to an epiphany this summer and is acting on his own, independent of his Father's wishes."
Dumbledore went still at that comment, Snape had phrased it in such a way that it was clear the younger man didn't really believe he was suggesting it. But it did bring up a thought. "I had a conversation with Nymphadora Tonks a little over two weeks ago."
Snape looked up at the apparent non-sequitur, an eyebrow rising in accompaniment.
"Alastor Moody has taken her under his wing," Albus commented.
"Poor girl," Snape murmured, thinking about training under the notorious retired auror. It was likely to be even more extreme given the already paranoid man's recent experience ending up locked in his own trunk.
"Quite," agreed Dumbledore, his thoughts paralleling Snape's "However she is doing some work for Madame Bones, which she tried not to talk about, though I managed to get the impression she is supposed to keep an eye on Ares Flamel as well."
"She was forthcoming about an interesting conversation she had with Draco Malfoy where he apologized for an incident during his first year. He called her his cousin, and implied he didn't necessarily agree with his father's actions in certain areas. Though she didn't elaborate further," Dumbledore sighed regretfully.
"Draco, apologized? And recognized Andromeda's brat as a relative?" Snape couldn't keep the disbelief out of his voice, "I'm afraid there is too much that we are missing here still, Headmaster. Yes, there is something going on, but unless we gain proper context, our speculations will remain as good as randomly guessing."
"Yes, you are correct," Albus replied. "And, my friends the Flamels are deeply involved."
There was a long pause before the headmaster spoke again.
"Ares Flamel may not be Riddle's offspring, and may not be following in Riddle's footsteps," Dumbledore allowed, "But too much is happening too quickly for this all to be a coincidence."
"I agree," Snape nodded as he regarded the headmaster. It was times like this he was reminded why the man was in the positions he was. Dumbledore was a master of figuring things out from the most obscure facts and information
Whether Snape believed the notion Flamel was secretly a dark lord's spawn was quite another thing.
"We must keep an eye on Ares Flamel and Draco Malfoy," Albus said slowly, "And if you hear anything, let me know."
"Of course, Headmaster." Snape responded. "Though I would be remiss if I didn't point out that with Draco's appearance in the infirmary, you should probably expect a visit from Lucius sooner, rather than later."
"Yes, because I haven't had enough unhappy parents to deal with lately," Dumbledore said with a sigh as he slumped in his seat.
"Ow! Bloody Hell! Cut that out!" Draco cried out loudly, twisting as best he could on the infirmary bed to curl away from the assault of stinging spells while holding his hands up to cover his face. It wasn't truly painful just irritating.
Harry stood there holding his wand up as he glared at Draco.
"I would prefer you not curse my patient while he is still recovering," Perenelle commented mildly, though there was amusement on her face. Daphne had been sitting next to Draco waiting patiently for Perenelle to return. She looked caught off guard by Harry's pseudo-assault on Draco, but made no move to stop things.
No one else in the infirmary was aware of what was happening behind the screen after Harry had cast a privacy and muffling spell.
"Maybe I'll stop when he answers the question!" Harry responded, his wand still out and pointed toward Draco, who in lieu of having his wand brandished the pitcher off the dresser beside him as significant protection.
"What do you mean what was I thinking?" Draco demanded, still holding up the pitcher protectively.
"What in Merlin's name possessed you to get involved in that mess?" Harry demanded gritting his teeth as he slowly, and reluctantly lowered his wand.
"What? You think I was just going to let you stand there and hang?" Draco demanded, slowly lowering the pitcher, though still holding it on his lap on the infirmary bed.
"Draco, did you think they could have beaten me?" Harry demanded, in exasperation.
"There were more than a dozen of them waiting to teach you a lesson," Draco replied.
"There were only ten." Daphne corrected primly. "All of them inhabiting beds in the infirmary."
"Oh. Right. Only ten, I totally should have stayed out of it then," said Draco as rolled his eyes.
"Draco…" Harry's jaw clenched as he counted to ten.
"With everything happening would you have seen Charles Warrington creeping up behind you?" Draco demanded.
"You mean the one that you decided to stop a dark curse with your body rather than a shield?" Harry asked dryly.
"I did shield," Draco scowled, "But it cut through the shield and still hit me!"
"Ah, probably used a darker version. Weaker but not completely stopped by a protego either. Try adding a twist to your wand when you cast a shield, it will probably stop those types of spells." Harry commented almost absently,
"Yeah, and headed right for you," Draco picked up the thread of his argument.
"I somehow think I would have managed." Harry commented with a sigh.
"Yeah well, I'd rather not just assume that," Draco disagreed and then lifted his chin, "And I wasn't going to let you stand alone on principle either."
Harry blinked as he stared at Draco.
"You know, that's politically going to send some waves through the house." Daphne commented, speaking up for the first time as she watched the two. She wasn't overly worried at the moment, she had been around them for several weeks now and was well used to their antagonistic dynamic.
"I am by no means an expert but I generally assume putting them all in the infirmary will do that," Harry said dryly.
Daphne rolled her eyes, "Well yes, but with Malfoy choosing your side? It's gonna have heads turning. They're all going to be wondering about things now. Although I'm sure part of it will be whether Draco is really a Gryffindor in disguise."
"Maybe," Draco said dismissively, "But they also saw that I was willing to stand by him. A Malfoy with conviction. Besides, I took an oath, would be kind of stupid of me to go back on it now, especially when, as you said it's just school students."
"I'm sure hitting Warrington back for that spell he used on you first year had nothing to do with it," Daphne said with a roll of her eyes.
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," Draco said airily before smirking, "Happy coincidence there."
"Happy coincidence that could have ended up with you killed," Daphne answered coldly.
"Maybe," Draco said, his expression turning serious, as he met Daphne's eyes defiantly, "But if I'm going to die… well… let's just say that it's going to be on my terms."
Harry pinched the bridge of his nose in irritation, "You know Malfoy, I really can't decide if I liked you more before all of this."
"As entertaining as this is," Perenelle cut in, her expression firm, "I would like to drag Harry away and speak with him for a few moments."
Harry stiffened and turned toward her, his face was blank but the nod was clearly hesitant as she guided him away and into her office.
A few quick silencing spells and she rounded on him, with narrowed eyes, "You've been avoiding me."
Harry flinched slightly before nodding, a trace of resignation in his voice, "I appreciate what you and Nicholas have done for me, and thank you for not blowing my cover or going to Dumbledore."
Perenelle stared at him for several moments before realization dawned briefly, and her expression shifted to a scowl, "You think we're going to just abandon you? You stupid, brave, foolish, stubborn boy!" Her expression clearly telling Harry that if Perenelle were less controlled...he'd be soundly buffeted around the shoulders by now.
Harry was more than a little taken aback by her rising voice.
"You are not in this alone, and we're not going to just cast you aside!" Perenelle said hotly, clenching her fists, "What would give you that idea?"
"I… figured after what I told you… what I did you wouldn't want anything to do with…" Harry trailed off uncertainly.
"With what?" demanded Perenelle fiercely, eyes narrowing, "From preventing the destruction of society? As blasé as Nicholas and I might be about the rise and fall of empires given what we have seen in our long lives, we are hardly advocating for the utter destruction you've seen."
"Or… with you?" she asked, the slight way Harry avoided her knowing gaze told her all that she needed to know.
She reached out and made to lift his chin but he shifted back out of her arms reach, though he did lift his chin slightly to look her in the eyes. She belatedly realized that he never seemed to allow anyone to touch him at least not intentionally or for long. A brief search of her memory told her the same, and she sighed.
She debated reaching out again and trying again, but decided against it. She would keep trying, but if anyone managed it, she doubted she would be the one to break through.
Her eyes fixed on his, "We're not going to just abandon you because you made what you felt was the only choice you could. Hell, with all of our knowledge neither Nicholas nor myself know, or have found, a better way to excise the soul fragment from Iris. So the fact that you did, shows remarkable determination and will."
She could easily tell from his expression that he didn't share her opinion of his actions and she let out another sigh. "Can you trust that at least we have no interest in the wizarding world being destroyed and we'll continue to help you? Eagerly… without reservation?"
Harry regarded her expression intensely for only a moment before he nodded. Perenelle and Nicholas had been nothing but helpful. Even if they did hate him after his revelation at the very least they weren't cutting him loose, so he hadn't lost his allies.
"Good," Perenelle nodded, it would have to do for now, "That being said, there are some things we should discuss."
Fleur walked slowly through the Ravenclaw common room, toward the sections of rooms that had been given over to the Beauxbatons delegation after the idiot minister had assigned Dementors to guard the school. She was so lost in her thoughts that she wasn't at all paying attention to her surroundings as she stalked to her familiar room, tossed her bag next to the bed and then fell face forward onto the bed with a groan.
"Long day, Fleur?" a familiar masculine and amused voice came from behind her.
Fleur jolted up in surprise, whirling on her bed to see her father standing in the open doorway of the room. "Papa! I didn't know you were 'ere!"
"Well, you might have, if you had not marched right by your mother and me talking in the common room area," Claude Delacour replied in an amused tone, this time speaking French.
"I'm sorry, Papa," Fleur replied in French, hanging her head slightly in guilt before looking back up, "What are you doing here?"
Her mother had insisted on staying, and had simply joined the Beauxbatons delegation, but her father had been needed back in France and had said nothing about coming back.
"May I come in?" her father asked, still at her doorway.
Fleur smiled a little bit and nodded, "Oui, Papa."
Growing up, once she was old enough to understand her father had always insisted on getting permission before entering her room. Just one of a myriad ways he had taught her independence and that she had a right and expectation to be in control of her own space.
He stepped inside, looking around the room. It was a bit smaller than the room she was used to at Beauxbatons, but not by much, and it had everything she needed. Bed, desk, a comfortable chair, area to study and work. Truthfully she had a much better view than in Beauxbatons. There she had a nice view of the garden. At Hogwarts she had a spectacular view over the lake, forest, and grounds. Though that also meant she saw those dark shapes hovering distantly in the sky ominously at all times, so perhaps the view was a mixed bag.
He closed the door behind him, garnering a briefly surprised look from Fleur but no objection. "You didn't answer my question."
She ran a hand through her hair, pulling out the tie holding it in a ponytail and freeing her long hair. "Yes, it was a very long day."
"Your mother tells me that you have been working incredibly hard with one of the professors here," Claude stated as he gestured toward the chair in the room with an inquiring lift of his brow. Getting a nod from her, he sat down, and then relaxed back into the cushioned piece furniture.
"She was telling the truth," Fleur said wryly, scooting up on her bed to face her father in the chair. "I have been working with Hogwarts Professor Filius Flitwick."
"Flitwick, the former dueling champion?" her father clarified.
Fleur didn't respond verbally, she affirmed his question with a simple nod.
"That is impressive," Claude said with a proud smile, "I didn't know he was willing to take on any students to tutor directly. I know he's been quite in demand and that many people and aspiring duelists have been trying to secure his tutoring services for years. The prices they're willing to pay are rather obscene, but with the money he made off the circuit I doubt money is a significant draw."
"That's very true. I offered to pay him after the first lesson, and he refused any galleons. He simply required that we help him grade papers to make up for the time he spends helping us, and that I give nothing less than my best effort." Fleur answered with a trace of pride. "We have not disappointed him yet and he has been working with us for almost a month."
"We?" Claude lifted an eyebrow, his interest piqued at the mention of 'us' and 'we'.
Fleur hesitated ever so briefly before nodding, "He is working with myself and Ares Flamel."
Claude's expression became more interested, "Really?"
"Yes, he instructs both of us." Fleur explained, watching her father with a trace of caution on her face. "There are other students that join us, but their spell work isn't up to the level, so he just offers tips to them from time to time."
Claude sat in his chair and regarded his eldest daughter under an evaluating gaze and narrowed eyes. She met his gaze but began to fidget a little bit.
"You know, you have never been good at hiding something from me. Or even hiding the fact that you are hiding something," Claude commented slowly.
"What could I be hiding, Father?" Fleur asked defensively, sitting up straight on the bed.
"Well, that proves it." Claude chuckled softly, "Usually you do one of two things when confronted with hiding something, you deflect in the form of a question, or you call me 'Father'. You just did both."
Fleur flinched and looked down. Her father had been an auror who was rather skilled and well known in France, and then he had become a politician. Now he was the Deputy Minister for the country. So he had spent most of his adult life dealing with criminals and politicians, or both. Lying to him was hard to do. He didn't ask anything further, just looked at her patiently.
Finally she slumped a little bit, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. "I found the person who saved Gabrielle and I at the World Cup."
"It is Ares Flamel, I take it?" Claude spoke, with almost no trace of surprise in his voice.
She looked up sharply at her father. She knew he had his suspicions that she had found something, given the rather pointed questions in their mail exchanges every two or three days. But it did leave her wondering just how he had come to the conclusion so easily.
"Please, Fleur. I am not a fool. It wasn't an entirely difficult leap of logic. If your mother wasn't so focused on Gabi and the nightmares she is still getting on occasion, I'm sure she would have drawn the same conclusion," Claude chided lightly. "You know, I have suspected you found something out for weeks."
"Yes, but how…" Fleur trailed off not sure how to phrase the question.
"Fleur, the event with the Death Eaters and escaped Azkaban prisoners certainly drew enough attention that, even without your letters, I would have been discreetly inquiring into Ares Flamel," Claude responded. "When you stopped asking about the search for the one who saved you, I asked you directly if you found something, and you didn't answer."
"If not for your reaction, I might have chalked it up to coincidence. Although I'm surprised I haven't heard anyone asking questions about any possible connection." Claude shook his head at the stupidity of wizards before focusing on his daughter once more. "So, you are certain it was Ares Flamel?"
"Of course I'm certain Papa," Fleur responded, resting her chin on her knees, somewhat sullenly at how easily her father had read her.
Claude Delacour leaned forward in his chair and stared into her eyes. "Fleur, I need you to tell me… everything."
Fleur closed her eyes but then began to speak in halting tones, telling her father everything. Starting with her walk in the woods when she saw Ares Flamel appear in flames near the gates of Hogwarts, continuing through the Death Eater debacle, of which she only observed a little, a few spells tossed in their direction. She spoke of the confrontation in which she talked to him, in which he acknowledged the debt and she felt her magic respond. Then the surprise discussion with Flitwick afterward.
"And we've been working with him ever since," Fleur said, before a scowl crossed her face. "He's probably still working with him right this moment."
"What do you mean?" Claude regarded his daughter at the odd comment.
"I mean, Professor Flitwick will work us until we're exhausted," Fleur commented, then seeing her father's startled and concerned look she quickly shook her head, "Nothing that a night's sleep won't fix, just… enough to really tire us out."
Claude relaxed at the clarification, although Fleur continued, "But Ares does not get tired!"
"He has not had the same dueling training you arranged for us," Fleur commented seeing her father's questioning look. "Some of the basic strategies and behaviors, but he picks them up so fast… and when we work, he keeps working and working while trying to accomplish it."
"Today, we were working with charms to animate items and block spells." Fleur stated with a wry smile.
"Animation in dueling? You became proficient at that style when you were fourteen Fleur," Claude commented.
"Oui, but Professor Flitwick requires us to only block with what we animate, with them moving on their own, and have to keep a dozen of three different colors moving at the same time, or it does not count, and the one blocking the spell has to be whatever color light charm Professor Flitwick has hovering in the room," Fleur said with a wry smile.
"I withdraw my statement," Claude coughed, unable to keep from sounding impressed.
"Oui, but Ares he keeps pushing, and pushing, and never seems to get tired. Even Professor Flitwick tires out before him, and he's not casting spells like we are." Fleur sighed in frustration before laying back on her bed and throwing an arm over her eyes.
Claude sat there in silence as he watched his daughter. He had gotten the information he requested, and now would be trying to find any hint of Ares Flamel, any instructors, anything. He would also be at least subtly trying to get the chance to speak with the Flamels. If he was lucky he would have a chance to speak to Ares Flamel. But though he had the information he had wanted and suspected, he did not leave.
Claude knew his eldest daughter, and they were relatively close. His wife was the one who was able to help her with all things Veela for obvious reasons. But he tended to be the voice of reason whenever the two of them clashed. His level demeanor allowed him to connect well with his daughter during her tempestuous teenage years, something he knew he would see again and soon via his youngest. So, while his daughter was being dramatic, Claude waited in the chair patiently, and it was several minutes later when she turned to look at him with a look of expectation.
"What?" Fleur demanded as she looked at her father, her arm still resting on her forehead.
"Fleur, you cannot be that surprised that he is magically stronger than you, after the displays he has put on." Claude chided, those his tone was gentle. "Do you want to tell me why you're really upset?"
"I do not understand him!" That was all it took to open the floodgates, as she banged her head back on the mattress in frustration, "He does not seem to notice me at all!"
Claude blinked at that statement, frowning slightly. "Pardon?"
"He keeps his distance from me at all times!" Fleur said in clear irritation, "Weeks spending evenings together, with his friends and, other than exchanging pleasantries, he doesn't talk to me at all."
Claude's face darkened slightly, "We are in England. Could it be because-?"
"No." Fleur cut him off, sitting back up, "Sometimes he looks at me sadly… but he has been nothing but polite and I don't ever get the impression of bias from him or his… friends."
"Looks at you sadly?" Claude questioned, trusting his daughter's read of the situation. She was very perceptive and had long learned to detect when someone was discriminating against her because of her heritage. They had similar bigots in France. Not quite to the extent England did, but they still existed.
"I don't know," Fleur sighed, "Like he sees me and feels sad, or guilty."
"Maybe from the events at the World Cup. He regrets not being able to save you sooner?" Claude ventured after a few moments of consideration, "It can happen to people, wishing they were there sooner, could have done something more. Things like that can drive those individuals, such as he appears to be doing from your description of him."
"Maybe," Fleur conceded, though there was more than a little doubt in her voice. She lapsed into silence once more before she spoke up once more, "He is immune to the allure."
Claude couldn't keep his eyes from widening when she said that and he actually coughed, "You… you are certain?" He couldn't keep the disbelief out of his voice.
"Yes, Papa, I'm certain," Fleur stated adamantly. "Before I found out who he was, one of his friends said something rude, albeit justified, when we almost hit him with a spell, and I hit them with my allure. The friend succumbed, but Ares didn't, at all, he broke his friend out and dragged him away.
Claude sat back as he considered that little fact. It was an incredibly rare quality to have in someone, and a very highly sought after quality in partners for Veela. He himself was immune to the allure now, but it had taken a bit of time to work up to that point. He thankfully had started out with a fairly high resistance when he began dating his wife. Still, at the start of the relationship he had been embarrassed more than once by members of her family when they focused and concentrated their allure. "Perhaps he is… not interested in women?"
"No," Fleur shook her head chuckling a little bit, "While he never stares, I can tell that he is still attracted to women. I have been able to flirt to draw his attention and I have seen at least two others flirt with him, and while he never responds, he keeps everyone, even his peers at arm's length, but his eyes cannot hide everything."
"Perhaps he has a partner?" Claude ventured, though even as he said it there was doubt in his voice.
"No, it's not that either." Fleur shook her head a smirk crossing her face, "I managed to catch him off guard by bluntly asking while he was distracted last week. He does not have another. Not that it would discourage me."
"Fleur!" Claude gasped, looking taken aback. When she went to reply he held up his hand, "No, no. There are certain things as your father that I do not want to know…"
He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead in exasperation, "You must get that from your mother's side of the family."
"According to Mama, that is not true. She told me stories about the two of you when you were younger," Fleur said with a mischievous smirk on her face, reveling in her father's discomfort.
"And… that's my cue to leave," Claude said, standing up and heading to the door.
"Wait!" Fleur said suddenly, just as her father's hand reach the door. She sat up, all trace of humor leaving her expression, as a thought occurred to her, one she hadn't wanted to share with her father via owl post.
The urgency in her voice caused Claude to turn back around and regard his daughter thoughtfully.
"Ares, and his family… they think Britain's Dark Lord is coming back," Fleur said without preamble, causing all color to drain from her father's face.
Claude looked at his daughter for a long moment before he moved back over to the chair once more, and regarded his daughter with a grim look on his face, not a hint of humor that had been there before.
"Tell me everything, Fleur."
The conversation with Perenelle still ran through his mind occasionally even two weeks later. He had tried to think through what she had told him, and his own behavior and decisions, and whether he had acted erratically. He knew he had, multiple times, in fact. The world cup, the fight with Barty. The disturbing thing about it to him was that it had made sense to him at the time and that it was only in retrospect that he could see better options, and that worried him.
If he made another critical mistake, what would happen? Someone could die. Unfortunately it wasn't like he could find someone he could trust to make all decisions especially in the heat of the moment. Harry knew he could tie himself up in knots thinking about it, and tried not to linger on it, but his mind kept revisiting it like a missing tooth.
However over the past two weeks there had been other things to distract him.
Since the night he had put the Slytherin 'elders' in the infirmary, there had been a marked change. Harry briefly wondered if he had overdone it with the confundus charm on top of the sensory deprivation charm. Not being able to hear, or see and losing all sense of time apparently did quite a number on them. One of the students apparently had gone home and hadn't been back yet. The rest of the students in the infirmary had been jumpy and practically fled from him whenever they saw him. Lucian Bole had especially looked like he wanted to run away screaming whenever he saw Harry's expression.
The atmosphere in Slytherin had changed, subtly but it was there. For the first few days, all the students seemed to either regard him with fear or expect him to start telling them what to do. Harry was fairly certain if he told the house to skip to class, the majority of them would have done it and made those who were reluctant fall in line.
When they realized he didn't seem to care, the house slowly relaxed. The other Slytherin students didn't really stop staring at him with fear, but at least the house as a whole seemed to relax a little bit. They started to go about their lives and tensions in the house seemed to decrease dramatically.
Harry was certain the students who had been humiliated were going to take another shot at him, but he was done giving the idiots warnings. Anyone who hadn't learned the lesson yet was not going to be getting off lightly.
The decreased tensions in the house weren't the only thing going well. Harry's work with Flitwick had plateaued at certain areas as they were working on something specific. Flitwick had shown the skill that had made him a feared duelist and combatant. He had challenged them to hit him with a stinging spell. Then proceeded to avoid every single spell they had shot at him.
Harry was amazed at the way Flitwick was able to leap and bound over the room, somersaulting doing flips and twists in midair. He would cling to the wall and then leap on the ceiling, almost seeming to walk on it, before bounding away from another spell.
Harry had never seen anything like it before.
Unfortunately the explanation for it was not entirely helpful.
"There is no spell to do what I just did. Which is why it is not a style that just anyone has been able to replicate it." Flitwick explained. "I literally take my magic and infuse it in my body, allowing me to actually jump higher, faster or even turn in midair because I use magic to actually force my body to turn."
"Part of my heritage as a goblin makes this far easier as I'm magical in nature." He had looked and said very bluntly to them all, "But it is incredibly hard to master and took me years."
"Miss Delacour may find it slightly easier because of her Veela heritage. Mr. Flamel, you may not be able to actually do it. I'm, on the whole, uncertain how attainable it is for a baseline wizard," he hadn't pulled any punches as he focused on the two he was really instructing, "I've never been able to successfully instruct anyone in the style."
"It's why I actually stopped trying to tutor anyone in dueling," Flitwick said quietly. "The few students I did take assumed I was holding out on them, that there existed some sort of spell that could make them do it. They would get frustrated and quit when they couldn't do it."
"What about sticking to ze walls?" Fleur had questioned intently.
Flitwick had looked a little guilty at that. "I've got enchanted magic-activated sticking charms boots and gloves. Obviously not legal in dueling, but they can be incredibly useful and as you saw, a bit awe inspiring when shown off properly. Simply pushing it out in small amounts activates or deactivates them."
He had then had them begin to learn by attempting to have them jump over a bar set ten feet in the air. Despite several days of practice where that was all they did, neither Harry nor Fleur had made anything resembling progress on the style.
Flitwick had moved on to begin to teach them work in basic illusions. Though Harry had continued to work on the jumps on his own too. He just couldn't seem to get his magic to do it. He could feel easily feel it inside him but couldn't seem to actually manage to do what he wanted with it.
On top of his worries about his own stability, and on the frustration of finding an area he had absolutely no skill in, Harry's worries about the Goblet of Fire and what might happen were ever present.
The Goblet choosing was only two nights away, and Harry hadn't been able to ensure that it wasn't tampered with before Crouch had disappeared. He had even asked Perenelle to see if she could check. She said she would have to go through Dumbledore as she wasn't going to just walk up and start casting spells on it.
She had later told him that Dumbledore had listened, and that he had been caught off guard, that he hadn't even thought of it. Unfortunately after they had immediately gone to check it, there was so many spells on it that unraveling them in any timely fashion was nigh on impossible. They could however add spells to it, and after long consideration Dumbledore had apparently done so to prevent any changes being made to the cup.
Somehow none of that made Harry feel better, at all.
It was nearly Halloween, and his normal sense of impending doom was fully present and lead to a high level of frustration. One that he had been doing his best to remain in control of but wasn't sure he had been completely successful at.
Of course his present situation had given him something else to think about but certainly wasn't helping his paranoia or level of frustration.
Alastor Moody was stalking the front of the defense class. That was normal, the man spent most of his time stalking in front of the room.
Everything else was abnormal about the day. All classes had been canceled for the day for the fourth and fifth years for a special Defense against the Dark Arts class. The same thing had apparently been announced for the following day for the sixth and seventh years.
The class was once more a joint class with all the students in the year present. When they had arrived, it was to a vastly expanded room. It was also noted that the only adult present wasn't just Alastor Moody. Also present were Minerva Mcgonagall, Pomona Sprout, Severus Snape, and Filius Flitwick, along with Amelia Bones, James Potter, and Albus Dumbledore.
Their presence set the hairs on the back of Harry's neck prickling.
Once all the students got in and settled, Moody stomped to the front of the room. "You were all there at the beginning of the year, when the ba- imposter... started to teach you about the Unforgivables. Although, I understand his lesson with some of you was interrupted for some reason." Moody grinned at the group, an expression on his face that looked far more fearsome than amused. There were already nervous whispers moving through the room.
"It is my understanding that he covered the cruciatus curse, and the imperius curse which we will come back to in a minute." Moody as he stomped back and forth. "Before we do, just so we know, can anyone name the third?"
There was a pause before a voice spoke up, directly from Harry's right hand side.
"The Killing Curse," Draco spoke up, his voice brittle and resentful. Harry glanced over at him, but the blonde boy didn't turn and look at him.
Moody's eyes spun and focused on Draco before he nodded, "Correct. I don't think I need to mention what it does, do I?"
He looked around to the dead silent audience. "No shield stops it. If it touches you, you're dead. If you don't put something between it and you, you die. Full stop."
"That's not entirely true." an Irish voice spoke up.
Moody turned to stare at him with both eyes, his voice had a curious tone that Harry recognized as deceptively calm, "Oh?"
"Iris Potter, The Girl-Who-Lived was hit with it, and she survived," Seamus Finnegan continued, even pointing at the section where the Ravenclaws were sitting, after taking a moment to bolster himself, under the piercing stare.
Harry saw out of the corner of his eyes, Iris shrinking back slightly, her hair covering her face as she looked down. He hadn't had any further conversations with the girl since he had run into her a few weeks ago. Beyond occasional polite greetings in the halls. But clearly she was still very sensitive about her scar, or more specifically what was in the scar.
"Wonder if James Potter is going to use Finnegan as a spell dummy," Daphne murmured quietly from Harry's other side a subtle pointing with a finger on her lap pointed his attention in the man's direction. James had tensed and stepped forward, only for a hand on his arm by Amelia Bones stopped him from doing anything.
"Oh, you were there lad, to be so sure about what happened, eh?" Moody's eyes hadn't left the Gryffindor, who even at fifteen, seemed to have two obsessions, alcohol and explosions. The intensity of that stare clearly disturbed Finnegan, if his fresh coat of sweat that had already broken out on his forehead was anything to go by.
"Well, no bu-" Seamus started to say, only to be cut off.
"Anyone who wants to follow Finnegan's plan of using a fluke that's happened all of once in recorded history. A fluke that no one has been able to explain, much less repeat, all while counting on it to protect them from the killing curse?"
Moody glared patronizingly towards Seamus, "Well… I'd personally keep my will updated if I was as dumb as that, but you're a snot-nosed little shite. I doubt you would have more to leave to your acquaintances than a bunch of stuck-together Playwizards I bet you stole from your father." Moody grinned in a clearly unpleasant expression, although his eyes clearly had not left a Seamus that was bright red and now slouched in his seat.
A throat cleared behind them, and the class turned to see Albus Dumbledore glaring somewhat towards Moody, who blithely ignored the Headmaster entirely. "Anyone with any sense in them, I wouldn't recommend followin' that course of action. Not getting hit or putting something between you and the spell are your best bets."
He finally looked away from Finnegan, and turned back to regard the rest of the group. "I am not going to demonstrate the killing curse to you all. I think you all can imagine what it does just fine."
Harry's eyes narrowed, he knew that the man had no problem or hesitance about casting the killing curse. His eyes flicked to Dumbledore's hard expression and wondered if the headmaster had put the kibosh on the idea.
"However, that brings me back to the Imperius curse," Moody stomped back and forth in front of them once more. "Now, you saw how the curse worked on a little spider."
"Now, today. You're all going to see how it looks like when used on you," Moody stated ominously stepping forward to glare at them once more time. Whispers and murmurs broke out throughout the room as they looked at one another.
Harry's eyes narrowed as he stared suspiciously at the man.
"But that's illegal!" Hermione's voice rose shrilly, her protest easily reaching the ears of the professors.
"Well then you're welcome to leave," Moody pointed toward the exit of the room, "Door's right there lass. You don't lose points if you leave."
That seemed to catch Hermione off guard.
"What Professor Moody has said is true," Dumbledore stepped forward, raising his arms and instantly garnering the attention of everyone here. "This lesson will be held here, in front of your head of house to ensure no liberties are being taken or private matters are aired in public. We have the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement here to supervise the application in a controlled environment. However, the lesson is entirely optional. You are free to leave if you feel uncomfortable or prefer not to participate."
There was complete silence as the entire group processed that statement.
"You, Finnegan! You're the one who fancies himself an expert on the Unforgivables. You're up first!" Moody called out.
The boy slowly stood up, looking around at the people surrounding him, for any support. But all those Gryffindor's sitting around them, tried to subtly, and not so subtly, lean back away from Seamus as if he had suddenly contracted dragonpox and they were nervous of being exposed.
He nervously walked to the front of the classroom, well aware of all eyes on him.
"Alright lad," Moody said, his voice still gruff as both eyes fixed on him. "I'm going to cast the imperius curse on you. The moment I do, I want you to treat this like you're dealing with a real dark wizard. You need to do your best to resist what I tell you to do."
Harry's eyes narrowed slightly at the way the retired auror said that, but then allowed his expression to go blank.
Seamus barely nodded as he stood there looking scared stiff.
Moody lifted his wand and incanted, "Imperio."
Seamus didn't so much as change expression or position, though Harry's expert eyes noticed that his eyes were slightly glazed.
"Alright Finnegan, I want you to run around the room clucking like a chicken, until I tell you to stop." Moody said, still pointing his wand at the boy.
Finnegan immediately began to do so, going around the room clucking like a chicken with little "bawk"-ing sounds to go with him flapping his arms rapidly. Moody forced him to do so for nearly an entire minute.
Dumbledore had shifted to step forward, just as Moody lowered his wand and released the spell.
Seamus stopped mid-caw and mid flap, and looked around. He turned a bright red and practically scrambled back toward his seat.
"That's what it's like," Moody said, "Someone else completely in control of your actions. Finnegan resisted about as good as your average wizard. So keep that in mind."
"Alright, Weasley, get up here. You're next!" Moody called out, pointing at Ron who had been sitting right next to Finnegan.
Ron stood up on weak knees and made his way to the front of the room, much like Seamus had before him. Harry couldn't stop his jaw from clenching as he watched Ron get controlled by the curse.
And so it went.
People were called one at a time to the front where Alastor Moody would give them the same instructions and then put the curse on them, and then subject them to about a minute of doing something foolish before releasing them. Some danced a little jig, some sang a song, and some performed silly or inane tasks. He did it under the watchful eyes of all of the other adults there.
Harry was curious enough to count the seconds each person managed to resist, as it gave him something to do while he watched closely.
Ron seemed to hesitate a second longer than Seamus did, but only barely. Moody worked his way through the Gryffindor fourth years, and the only one that resisted instruction longer than five seconds was Neville, who lasted almost eight seconds before giving into the instruction.
He worked his way through the Hufflepuff fourth years. There was only one in the entire group, Susan Bones, who resisted longer than four seconds. She made it to seven seconds before capitulating to Moody's orders.
Moody moved onto the Ravenclaws, working his way through them, giving the same instructions and then putting them under the curse. Harry's jaw clenched slightly as he watched Hermione get put under. She resisted for three seconds before succumbing and following the orders given to her to sing a song.
The first one that drew the attention of everyone was Iris Potter.
When he put her under and ordered her to dance like a ballerina. She hesitated for almost eight seconds before she began to move, standing up on her tiptoes and starting to spin only to seem to change her mind mid spin, causing her to twitch and move in stuttering stops and starts.
Moody relented and grinned at her before looking at the rest of the class, "Did you see that? She was resisting!"
Moody glanced back at James Potter with a questioning look on his face. The bespectacled auror nodded his head after a moment's consideration.
Iris had turned to go back to her seat when Moody's voice stopped her, "Miss Potter, I want to cast it on you again, and I want you to really concentrate on resisting it."
Iris hesitate a moment, squaring her shoulders before nodding.
Moody raised his wand and cast it on her again, giving her the same orders, telling her to dance like a ballerina. This time Iris stood frozen for almost a full fifteen seconds.
Moody repeated the order, his voice a bit more firm, "Dance like a ballerina!"
Iris seemed to shiver and then started to move to begin to spin, before with a shuddered cry she shouted, "Nooo!" and stumbled backward falling off her feet to the floor and looking up a Moody.
"Good job, girl!" Moody grinned, "You'll manage to give anyone a nasty shock if they try and use that on you!"
Iris shook her head, gathering herself and turned practically scrambling back to her seats, amid whispers from all over the room. She sat next to Hermione and seemed to be avoiding looking at anyone, though everyone was looking at her.
Harry idly noted that James Potter was looking at her with a grin of pure pride and that when she eventually looked up to meet his eyes, he gave her a less than discreet thumbs up.
Moody returned to his work, working through the remaining Ravenclaws, before venturing onto the Slytherins. Harry was less than surprised that the man didn't seem to treat the Slytherins any different than he had the other three houses. The man was a Slytherin alumni. Or maybe it was because of all the other adults that he didn't seem to change the way he had gone over all of them.
Most of the Slytherin's put up very little resistance. Harry hadn't even counted off a second before Crabbe and Goyle had both done exactly what they had been instructed to do. Theodore Nott had a very similar resistance time.
Daphne managed to resist for a shade over five seconds before she gave a beautiful rendition of "I'm a little teapot." She came back over to her seat looking more than a little irritated, which was saying something considering how calm she tried to continue to appear.
Things again got interesting when Draco was called up. He went to the front of the class, with a bit less nervousness than the others, more like a sense of resignation than anything else.
When Moody gave him the same instruction he had given Seamus, to run around the room clucking like a chicken, Harry's eyes narrowed as he felt a prickle at his own magic. He had never felt it before but it was like a tickle at the back of his senses.
Draco stood stiffly for over ten seconds not doing anything. Not moving one way or the other.
Moody glanced at Amelia before attempting to cast the curse again and gave the same instructions. Only for Draco to remain standing immobile.
Moody finally lowered his wand and Draco seemed to shake his head, clearing of whatever was affecting him. He looked down at his hands and then back up at Moody before turning and returning to his seat all without a word.
Moody glanced over at Albus with a raised eyebrow. An expression that Albus matched as he met Moody's eyes. Moody shook his head and turned back to the class who was once more whispering about Draco's performance, as well as Moody's reaction.
"Flamel, you're up." Moody called out.
Harry was tempted to tell him to piss off or leave the room. But in the end, given how calm Slytherin had been since he had destroyed the upper years' power, he wasn't going to weaken himself in front of everyone. Besides, given everything else he had shown in front of the school it wouldn't make any difference.
He went to stand in front of Moody, his entire body tense.
"Alright Flamel," Moody said, beginning to repeat instructions he had given every other student, "You know the drill. I'm going to cast the imperius curse on you. Treat this like you're dealing with a real dark wizard. Try and resist."
He raised his wand, "Imper-ooof!" he was cut off as he was sent tumbling backward against the wall.
The moment Moody had begun to cast, Harry had snapped his wand into his hand and hit him in the chest with a light banishing charm.
The entire class began to duck back, remembering the last time there was a fight in class, as wands from Dumbledore along with Amelia, Tonks, James Potter as well as Mcgonagall and Sprout all came out, some faster than others, pointing at Harry, who had his wand up in a defensive stance.
Curiously, neither Flitwick nor Snape had their wands out.
Harry stared up at them and couldn't stop the smirk that crossed his face, "What? I did exactly what he asked us to."
"Mr. Flamel, p-" Dumbledore started to say before he was cut off.
"Hahah! I knew I liked you boy!" a laughing Moody pushed himself awkwardly up onto his feet. He stomped forward, moving back to his place, though is attention was on the rest of the class.
"Every last one of you just stood there and let me cast an Unforgivable on you!" Moody stomped for emphasis as he raised his voice, his expression glaring at the rest of the class.
"None of you tried to stop me! That was the exact reaction I expect!" He pointed at Harry while glaring at the rest of the room, "You don't just let someone cast something like that on you! Fifty points to Slytherin!"
Harry nodded slightly as he relaxed as he saw all of the professors and aurors lower their wands.
Moody's eye spun around to focus on him once more. "Now this time, I would prefer you not react like I'm a dark wizard but just trying to teach you something. So I would ask you not curse me, Mr. Flamel."
"Alright," Harry agreed after a moment's thought, flicking his wand back up into his wand holster. A movement he saw that most of the adults took note of.
"Imperio!" Moody cast without preamble. "Jump up and down ten times."
Harry didn't so much as flinch or blink. "Er, no thanks."
Moody blinked, and jabbed his one forward once more. "Imperio! High kick across the front of the class for us!"
Harry blinked at the ludicrousness of the command, and wondered if he was even flexible enough to perform a high kick. Then his eyes narrowed slightly at the glee Moody seemed to be taking in the command, "How about I kick that leg out from under you… or kick you in the balls instead if you really want me to aim high?"
Moody stared at him for a moment before he lowered his wand. "That... won't be necessary. Return to your seat."
"That was an interesting class," James Potter commented after the students, along with the heads of three of the houses had left. Only Snape had stayed behind.
"A gift for understatement as always Potter," Amelia bones muttered. "Three students resisting the imperius and one sending Moody arse over teakettle into the wall. That last part alone almost made this worth the favor all by itself."
"It isn't often you get to see that," James agreed with a smirk.
"Your daughter did a good job throwing off the curse," Amelia commented with an approving nod.
"Pretty sure she gets that from the missus," Moody said as he smirked in James direction.
James shrugged, running a hand through his hair somewhat sheepishly, "As much as I hate to admit it, I have to agree. That willpower she has is certainly more from Lils than it is from me."
"It's the other two that concern me," Moody said gruffly, as he leaned on his staff turning to look at Dumbledore. "Someone's cast the imperius on Flamel before."
"How do you know, Alastor?" Albus asked quietly.
"He didn't even flinch when I cast it," Moody responded, "All the rest of them, scared as can be. Him? Didn't so much as blink."
"Was that before or after he put you on your arse?" Amelia asked, a brief smirk gracing her face.
"That… was unexpected, but whoever trained him is damn good. That's exactly how I'd teach him to react. Hit first, ask questions later," Moody responded, fixing both of his eyes on Amelia briefly. "But he didn't even feel the effects of the spell. You saw it, no hesitation, and no glazed look. Nothing. He's been trained to ignore it. Someone's cast it on him before. Repeatedly if I had to wager to get to the point he's at."
Albus stroked his beard slowly, "Well he has already shown great proficiency in defense. Perhaps that was part of it. I doubt the Flamels would tell me at the moment. I seem to have developed a habit of putting my foot into it in regards to them."
"What about Draco's reaction?" Snape spoke up for the first time.
"I've never seen a reaction like that before," Moody admitted, "It was like… the spell couldn't quite find purchase, or was being canceled out by a stronger spell."
His tone was puzzled and his gaze went over first to Amelia and then Dumbledore, both of which looked equally as mystified. "Can you tell us anything else?" Amelia asked.
"I don't know how else to describe it. It was like he was waiting for something." Moody said as he shrugged his shoulders and his eye spun.
Dumbledore stroked his beard slowly and sighed audibly, "And the mystery surrounding both Mr. Flamel and Mr. Malfoy continues to deepen."
"At least I'm not the only one who thinks there is something going on there," Amelia commented. "I'm not really any closer to finding out what either."
"I would be interested in hearing anything you have discovered, Madame Bones," Albus focused his piercing eyes on her as he spoke.
She met his gaze without hesitation, "I'm willing to share my intelligence if you're willing to do the same." Amelia offered with a challenging lilt to her tone.
Dumbledore looked reluctant as he considered the offer, something Amelia did not fail to acknowledge as expected with a smirk.
"Perhaps, it might help give both sides some context," Snape offered quietly, emphasizing the context to remind the Headmaster of the conversation they'd had a few weeks earlier after the events in the Slytherin dorm.
Albus winced slightly glancing at Snape, "Perhaps you are correct, Severus. Perhaps it would be best to get another perspective. Although I would prefer we adjourn to my office where it is far more private."
Amelia looked very surprised at the old man's capitulation, but quickly agreed to the proposal, and followed the group as they moved off to the Headmaster's tower to compare notes on the mystery that was growing in their midst.
Harry resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. There wasn't a single part of him that expected the evening to go off without a hitch. He had debated not showing up at all but considering the last time the overgrown magical beer stein had been lit it had sucked him unwillingly into a tournament to fight for his life and set up a return of his mortal enemy. Harry figured he should at least be here to see it.
The Great Hall was quiet, especially odd considering that it currently held far more people than it normally contained. Despite this quiet there was a nervous energy permeating the hall. There were murmurs from students as they were taking their seats. Headmaster Dumbledore stood in front of the students from three different schools with a placid smile on his face. To the sides of the room stood his own Faculty, along with the headmasters of each school present.
He waited until everyone had seated and the silence seemed to grow more powerful in the room, though it was also the feeling of magic permeating the air. A glance at the Goblet of fire through his glasses told him that the magical energy wasn't just in the air, it was increasing in the Goblet, a clear sign it was about to make its decision.
Gathering the attention from all the students present, the headmaster of Hogwarts raised his arms in the air to gather attention, which it did. Instantly getting the focus of everyone in the hall, "Now, the moment, you've all been waiting for! The Champions Selection!" Dumbledore exclaimed.
Then with a gesture around the hall, he wandlessly dimmed the flames in the braziers one by one around the hallway. The display of control didn't escape anyone there. Dumbledore was not ashamed to admit he indulged in a bit of showmanship from time to time.
He turned and approached the Goblet, holding his hands up near the goblet before backing away slowly. Dumbledore's attention, like everyone else's attention was fixed firmly on the Goblet as the flames begin to rise and swirl inside of it.
A few seconds later the blue flames of the Goblet contracted and turned red before swelling once more and spitting out a piece of paper.
Dumbledore caught the slip of paper in his hand as it fell to the floor. After a moment's hesitation to read what was scrawled there, he called out loudly. "The Durmstrang Champion is Viktor Krum!"
The Dumstrang contingent reacted almost immediately, clapping vigorously, as the newly named champion pumped his fist in exaltation before being congratulated by his peers. Dumbledore noticed there were only a few looks of brief disappointment, but no looks of surprise among their student body. He also noticed out of the corner of his eye that Igor Karkaroff looked incredibly smug. Given that he had boasted repeatedly of his certainty that Viktor would be the one chosen, Dumbledore had to give the other headmaster a little credit. It seemed that he certainly knew his students.
The young man stepped out of his group of students and reached forward, taking a moment to shake Dumbledore's hand before he proceeded as he was directed toward the back of the room. His headmaster clapped him on the shoulder, loudly telling him 'well done' before ushering him toward the antechamber in the back. The Headmaster himself stayed back to watch the Goblet's other choices.
Dumbledore's attention was pulled once more as the flames of the goblet turned red again a few moments later and then surged upward before spitting out another piece of paper. This one was a paper in the shape of a circle with a hole through the center.
Dumbledore snagged it with his hands and tilted his head to read the flowery script before calling out. "The Beauxbatons' champion is… Fleur Delacour!"
The Beauxbatons delegation was far more restrained in their clapping, with a few girls turning tearful. The beautiful blonde breathed and then grinned, glancing at her friends before getting up to shake Dumbledore's hand. As she made her way up she glanced over at Harry to see his reaction and then frowned when she realized he was scowling at the Goblet like it had offended him in some way. Her gaze lingered a second or two too long before she shook out of it, somewhat put out, before heading to her own Headmistress who smiled at her proudly before guiding her to the back toward the same antechamber Viktor had exited through.
Only a moment later, the Goblet flared a final time and Dumbledore's hand shot up to catch the final square piece of paper. "The Hogwarts champion, Cedric Diggory!" He called out in his deep voice.
The 6th year Hufflepuff bowed his head as a wide grin spread across his face. His house went absolutely wild, as the rest of the houses clapped as well, differing set of expressions on each. Dumbledore noted that there were supportive as well as jealous or upset expressions in each of the houses, though he noted some houses had more upset than others.
Harry noticed his own house, while let down and clearly looking disappointed didn't seem like many were actually angry with the Hufflepuff boy. It seemed the boy hadn't really made enemies in the Slytherin house. Although Harry also noted that more than one comment seemed to fall along the lines of, 'At least it's not a Gryffindor.'
Cedric stood up and moved to the front of the room. He stopped to kiss Cho's cheek as he passed her toward the back of the room, stopping again and shaking Dumbledore's hand before the headmaster clapped him on the shoulder guiding him toward the back of the room where he exited toward the same room that held the other chamber.
Dumbledore spun around to address the room as a whole, his tone practically jubilant "Excellent! We now have our three champions!"
His excited voice turned more solemn, "But in the end, only one will go down in history."
Ludo Bagman gathered attention as he walked forward. Bagman carried a large object covered in fabric to set it on the head table with great solemnity, or as great as he could muster in his round frame.
Dumbledore once more drew the attention of all around as his voice raised, "Only one will hoist this Chalice of Champions… this Vessel of Victory!"
Dumbledore spun around and pointed at the table and the cloth whipped off the object, "The Tri-Wizard Cup!"
With that movement the cover was pulled back to reveal a large cup, expertly worked in metal, and crystal, ornately inscribed and enchanted so that it glowed with its own magic. There was an intake of breath all around as nearly every person in the hall was amazed by the work in the cup.
He opened his mouth to say something else but saw several of his professors move forward slowly, surrounding the Triwizard cup with joint looks of disbelief on their faces.
Confusion spread on Dumbledore's face as he saw their expressions, for a second he thought they were staring at him, before he realized they were looking directly past him. He turned around to see what they were looking at.
The Goblet of Fire was once more burning with sapphire blue flames.
Dumbledore didn't understand. It shouldn't have done that after the names had been picked. It shouldn't have been doing anything.
Dumbledore watched as the blue flames surged red once more and then spat out another bit of paper.
Dumbledore reached out his hand instinctively, snagging the paper as it slowly floated toward the floor. His movements were automatic and almost mechanical.
He looked down on the paper in his hands and for a moment his eyes widened in disbelief as he read the name on the paper, his eyes tracing the ink in disbelief. As the reality of the situation settled in his shoulders sagged as he spoke in a whisper that even those closest to him struggled to hear despite the silence of the Great Hall.
He repeated the name, lifting his head to look around.
Harry hated it when he was right.
"I did not put my name in the Goblet!" Iris protested as she stared up at the adults surrounding her.
They had adjourned from the ante-room behind the Great Hall, where the professors had bickered and squabbled, over the fairness of Hogwarts having two champions. Her mother had asked her if she had done it, when she had said she didn't, Igor Karkaroff had rather rudely begun to call her 'an attention seeking liar' only to find himself on the wrong end of Lily Potter's sparking wand.
Strangely enough, the man's comments stopped immediately.
Iris had been confused as she looked around at the other champions. Viktor Krum's face was blank though his dark eyes hinted at the fact that he was missing nothing. Fleur Delacour looked torn between indignant and concerned at she stared at Iris. Cedric's brow was furrowed as if he was trying to figure something out, though he clearly did not appear to be angry with her.
Ludo had clearly missed the tension in the room and had been exuberant about the news. He had cheerfully told them that it would be a test of their bravery before he practically skipped off eager to share the news with the world.
Dumbledore had dismissed everyone but Iris, as that group left the antechamber to the Headmaster's office, where they currently found themselves.
"How do we get my daughter out of this?" James demanded, not even questioning his daughter, instead his arms were at his sides and his fists were clenched as he stared down the headmaster.
Iris looked up at her mother who had her arm around her shoulders, her father was confronting the headmaster. Moody, Snape, and Flitwick were also present. None of them looked happy.
"I… don't know that there is a way. The cup enforces a binding magical contract." Dumbledore sat in his chair rubbing his forehead in exasperation.
"She can't enter a magical contract, she is not of age," James protested quickly.
"The Goblet doesn't care about that. And anyone capable, it can compel to compete." Dumbledore responded.
"Another mess at your school Dumbledore, and my daughter seems to be in the thick of it through no fault of her own!" James sneered angrily.
Dumbledore looked up sharply, his own eyes narrowed in anger, "Do not blame me for this. I have made mistakes, but you will recall that while I may have encouraged the tournament, I was very vocal about not using the Goblet of Fire to choose champions!"
That seemed to put James back on his heels slightly, as Dumbledore continued. "You'll also recall that from the moment we realized that there had been intruders in the school, we had the cup guarded at all times. You yourself have taken part in the watch, as have your friends."
James seemed to deflate slightly, "Yeah, Sirius needed something to do while suspended and Moony always does. They said that neither of them, nor Shack, ever missed a shift."
Dumbledore nodded slowly, "So do not blame me for something that I did not want and was forced upon me by the Ministry."
"So what do we do?" James asked, frustration and helplessness obvious in his voice.
"Unless we find an alternative or a way out of it… Iris will have to compete." Dumbledore answered in an equally helpless voice.
"Unacceptable." Lily spoke up, her arm tightening around her daughter's shoulders.
"Lily, if you have any alternative at all that might work better, I'm certainly willing to listen to it. But as it stands, if she doesn't compete, then she loses her magic." Dumbledore explained slowly.
Lily slumped and looked over at James and then down at her daughter with pained eyes. Iris was surprised to see her mother honestly look at a loss. She looked uncertain without a sure way forward. "I… I don't know…"
"James, would…" She trailed off briefly, but didn't look away from her daughter, "Is her magic worth risking her life for?"
Iris looked at her mother with wide eyes, though her reaction wasn't the only one, as everyone else in the room jumped and sputtered at that idea.
"Mom!" Iris protested loudly.
It was Iris' protest that got the attention from her mother. Lily turned to face her daughter, "I'm sorry, but as her parents we at least have to consider it. People die in this tournament. Regularly. It was canceled when the last one had no survivors after a second task. Blood fucking hell… half the damn spectators died during the last tournaments task."
"No." Iris said, lifting her chin defiantly. "I'm not giving up my magic. Not because of something someone else did. I don't want to, but if we can't find a way out of it, I'll just have to compete!"
"It's largely academic anyway," Flitwick spoke up his voice grim and without any of his usual humor. "Few witches or wizards survive stripping them of their magic after they reach a certain age."
Iris scowled, although there was more than a trace of fear in her anger. "That settles it then, if we can't find a way to get me out of it, then I'll have to compete in this damn thing."
Lily flinched, slumping a little bit, before pulling her daughter into a hug. She turned to look at Dumbledore. "I want that Goblet. I want to analyze every charm on it one by one if I have to."
"Of course." Dumbledore nodded, "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
Lily just shook her head and looked down at her daughter who clearly wasn't going to change her mind on this, and Lily had to admit to herself she wouldn't make a different decision either.
"I will help you with the analysis," Flitwick spoke up, his voice firm and unyielding. "If we can, we will untangle the Merlin-forsaken thing."
"I am forbidden by the magics of the schools to interfere with the champions. I will do all I can to help with the charms as well," Dumbledore offered. "Although I daresay I'm going to have to deal with the fallout in the Ministry over this. So my time might be limited in the short term."
"Honey, we'll get Sirius and Remus and the three of us will help Iris, while we try and untangle this," James said before his voice turned hard. "If we ever find the person who did it, I'm not sure there are enough curses in the world to describe what I'll do."
The conversation of the adults sort of faded into white noise for Iris. She heard them all talking about what they would be doing or how they could help. But she found herself with two conflicting emotions.
One was resignation that once more she was caught up in events she had no control over and would be risking her life because of someone else. Resignation that she was going to be once more in the spotlight in the school. She knew there would be whispers and pointed fingers. She could almost guarantee that her social life was once more likely to tank as she became an outcast or a pariah.
There was also a part of her, one that felt oddly separated, that was angry. An anger that made her feel glad for what she believed was her distancing herself from her emotions or it might be taken out on the first person that crossed her path. She had never felt anything like it. She wanted to lash out at something, but at the same time it was strangely muted.
She had no idea what to think about it, but it was soon put from her mind as her parents took her back to their quarters.
Harry sat at the Slytherin table for breakfast, the morning after the choosing. He hadn't slept at all. He had paced half the night in his room, then left the castle to try and work at busting through the wards guarding Avery household. It was only the lack of any serviceable knowledge about defenses in the house, or how many people were there that kept him from tossing away all caution and simply flaming in and leveling the entire place and killing everything that moved.
Still, Harry was struggling to keep from lashing out. He could actually feel his magic inside him wanting to respond, but he managed to keep a lid on it…
… but only just.
He couldn't escape this feeling of futility. Nothing he had done had changed anything it seemed, and Harry wondered if this world was destined to be another Hell for him. Knowing what was going to happen, but being powerless to do anything about it was starting to weigh more and more heavily upon his mind. The concept that everything he had done would just lead back to watching everything burn was becoming a focus point in his mind he couldn't shift his focus from.
Harry was vaguely aware of the goings on at the moment. Draco was sitting next to him, and Daphne was sitting across from him. Harry knew they had tried to talk to him twice, and his lack of significant response had both of them watching him cautiously. Draco more than Daphne who was more curious than cautious.
The choosing was, unsurprisingly, all the castle was talking about, and he was able to see the dynamics of what was happening in the hall. His eyes flickered over to the subdued looking girl who was sitting amongst the Ravenclaw contingent. Well it was more like she was sitting at the end of the table, with the distinctive bushy hair of Hermione sitting across from her. The rest of the house looked like it was keeping its distance.
"Not only are they hypocrites, but they're stupid ones," Daphne commented lowly, following the direction of Harry's gaze. "All of them are just pissed that they think that she managed to cheat her way in. But probably would have done the same if they could have thought of how to make the Goblet chose their name."
"Well, at least they don't look like they're ready to draw wands," Draco commented in response with a small wave of his fork toward the Hufflepuff table.
Hufflepuffs seemed truly enraged, as they seemed to be giving the Ravenclaw house as a whole a mass version of the silent treatment. There were whispers and obvious gestures toward Iris, and occasional conversation that just 'happened' to be loud enough to be overheard by other tables about Iris Potter being a cheater.
Daphne nodded and then an ever so smug look crossed her face, "And it looks like a certain French blond is none too happy with something either."
The Beauxbatons contingent which had developed the tendency to sit at the Ravenclaw table, was now sitting at the Gryffindor table and directing their glares toward the direction of Iris Potter. Whether those glares were because they believed she had cheated, or because they were forced to sit among the far more boisterous Gryffindor table, was up for debate. Harry idly noted that Fleur seemed to be as irritated as the rest of her schoolmates, but she was glaring in his direction.
"And the Gryffindors seem to be jumping on the bandwagon." Draco added with a faintly amused smirk of his own.
The Gryffindors seemed more than happy to commiserate with the all-female Beauxbatons students. So they were quite vocally supporting their stance about the cheating travesty, and how it was hardly a surprise.
The Slytherins were whispering and shooting glares in the direction of Ravenclaw, but that was hardly anything new. Slytherins tended to glare at everything. The contingent from Durmstrang was sitting at the end of their table and they seemed curiously to be the only ones that didn't seem upset. In fact, they were acting like this was just another day.
"It could be a lot worse," Harry finally commented, though his voice was still stilted. "They could all be wearing buttons with stupid sayings like 'Potter Stinks' written by five year olds."
He wondered if that was because Draco wasn't getting involved or if someone else had yet to come up, or bankroll, the idea for the stupid little trinkets Harry vividly remembered from his fourth year.
Draco coughed slightly and looked away, taking a moment to get a drink as his cheeks flushed in embarrassment. "Yes, well I won't have anything to do with that if it happens," he finally said.
"I don't think I've heard this story," Daphne commented with an interested expression looking back and forth between Draco and Harry.
"Probably best not to revisit it, suffice it to say the whole thing was a stupid idea the first…" Harry trailed off with a furrowed brow.
Draco looked over at him confused as to why he had stopped mid-sentence. But before he could ask, there was an avian cry in the air.
Harry had looked up as his white owl dived down, letting out a loud shrill cry the entire way. She banked and proceeded to flap rapidly in the air barking quickly.
Harry's reaction took only seconds as he pushed up from his seat, "Where?" he demanded as he didn't pause before vaulting the table.
The instant Harry stood up, the owl turned and flew straight down the aisle between the tables toward the door, still crying loudly. Harry took off in a sprint after his owl. He didn't know what was happening but he knew something bad was happening.
The owl swerved around a student as she flew out of the open doors, with Harry hot on her heels, heedless of the scene they had left behind.
Draco and Daphne were left back at the table speechless, before Draco pushed off and sprinted down the side of the room, pushing past several students on his way to the exit.
Hedwig had pulled up at the doors to the castle which were currently shut, but she was flapping rapidly, and Harry needed no other hint than to push the door open. The instant the door was open she flew out and down the courtyard. Harry was already looking for whatever had his oldest friend so upset but couldn't see anyone until Hedwig veered up away and headed toward the wall and then beyond that to the tower with the owlery.
A tower that currently had nearly a dozen dementors swarming around it. They were diving and banking right near the entrance. Briefly Harry wondered if they had actually caught a death eater but quickly erased that thought when he saw Hedwig head directly toward the dementors.
Harry's wand was in his hand and he barely had to take a moment, bringing to mind the idea of being with his family again, he conjured his patronus, and the ghostly thestral burst from his wand. He didn't stop running as his patronus charged the dementors swarming, arriving in seconds in their midst and causing loud shrieks of frustration and the dementors to flee.
Harry's journey to the owlery took almost half a minute to clear the ground and the stairs.
What he found chilled him to the bone. His thestral patronus and Hedwig were both present at the entrance to the owlery. Surrounding the entrance, and inside the owlery, lay over a dozen owls who weren't moving at all. A quick glance told him they had all been victims of the Dementors.
Harry looked around as Hedwig barked and flew into the owlery. He stepped inside to see his estimate of a dozen was easily doubled with the sight of more soulless owls inside. However that wasn't what caught his eye.
There on the ground in the corner of the owlery, surrounded by unmoving owls on the ground was the prone figure of a young girl.
Harry quickly moved forward, kneeling down beside her, he could tell she was still breathing, and idly noticing she looked familiar as he cast a warming charm. It took a moment for him to place her before he realized that it was the same Gryffindor first year he had helped a few weeks earlier that set off the confrontation with the Slytherin older years. It was another moment for him to recall her name from his adrenaline-amped mind; Natalie McDonald.
He leaned forward, examining her closely, when her eyelids fluttered and she coughed, letting out a little whimper of fear.
It was a horrible sound, but Harry closed his eyes let out a breath of relief at hearing it. It was proof that the dementors hadn't kissed the girl.
"What in Merlin's name happened?!" Draco demanded as he burst into the owlery, Daphne was only a few feet behind him. She gasped softly when she saw the girl on the floor along with all the dead owls.
"Dementors," Harry said in an icy cold voice, still crouched down by the girl. He looked back down to the girl who was shaking slightly as she stirred. Harry hit her with a light ennervate which caused her to gasp and jolt awake.
She looked around wildly and immediately tried to back up but as she was in the corner, she had no place to go. Harry saw the frantic expression on the girl's face, and hit her with a calming charm as he spoke quietly, "its okay, you're safe now."
The girl's eyes focused on him, less than a few feet from her, and between one moment and the next she threw herself at Harry who caught her very awkwardly. She was sobbing softly and squeezing him for all she could. "The monsters…"
"What was she doing out here?" Draco demanded looking down at Harry, resisting the urge to smirk as Harry looked completely at a loss as he stared up with the girl attached to him.
"I w...was trying… t… to send a letter home to my parents," The Natalie stuttered out between breaths as she continue crying. "They're muggles and… and I t...told them I would write and tell them about the tournament."
"The dementors must have sensed her alone up here and swarmed," Daphne commented as she looked around, rather relieved that her own family's owl wasn't present at the moment.
"I knew I should have let Hermes stay with me in the room, I was worried about him out here," the girl blubbered, finally turning her head away from Harry to look down at one of the owls that lay unmoving at her feet, "And now Hermes, he's... he's…".
"We should get her inside to Madame Flamel," Daphne said quietly, looking around nervously, reassured by the continued presence of Harry's patronus.
"The professors said the owlery was safe to w… walk to and use!" Natalie stuttered out.
"Yes, yes they did," Harry said, he attempted to keep his voice flat, but there was a tremor in it that betrayed his strong emotions. He looked up and caught Daphne's eyes, he gently pushed the still shivering and mostly un-resisting girl, toward the older Slytherin, "See if you can get her some chocolate, and then take her to the infirmary."
Daphne opened her mouth as if to argue, but then seemed to see something in Harry's eyes, because she closed her mouth and swallowed whatever she had been going to say. After another brief hesitation she nodded, with a wave of her wand levitated the girl up in the air. "I'll be back shortly. Should I tell any of the professors?" She asked, pausing at the entrance to the owlery.
"Go ahead and tell the Headmaster," Harry said, "He should probably at least be informed."
"I heard that Dumbledore's gone to the Ministry to deal with the fallout from last night," Draco said.
"Of course he has," Harry muttered, his jaw clenching. He could feel his magic surge inside him as his control was strained as his temper was tested further.
"Find one of the Heads of House and tell them," Draco told Daphne, his eyes on Harry once more, "Or the Aurors, since it's their bloody job."
Daphne nodded backing away, her own eyes on Harry as she could feel the rise in magic in the area. She levitated the Gryffindor who seemed to have passed out once more, down the stairs in front of her. She found herself surprised and somewhat comforted that Harry's patronus followed her.
It was also a vivid reminder to her of the command of magic Harry displayed almost casually. He hadn't appeared to even pay the spell any attention whatsoever while they were in the owlery and yet the patronus remained as solid and strong as ever.
Harry slowly stood up once more. He turned and walked past Draco out of the Owlery and back outside to stare at the sky. Dementors hung there in the cloudy sky, floating low and high surrounding Hogwarts in a perimeter. They looked just as they normally had for the past month and a half, not as if a dozen had just been chased from an innocent meal.
"Harry..." Draco said, trailing off, not sure what to actually say.
"I'm done Malfoy," Harry said quietly, in a voice that was actually shaking with emotion.
He had briefly thought the first year, Natalie, had been kissed. He hadn't spent long around her. Just enough to disentangle her from the situation and escort her up to near Gryffindor Tower, five, maybe ten minutes max. First year, muggleborn, and so very excited about the wonder of magic. There had even been a brief mention of her parents who were older, but so supportive, and that she exchanged letters with every three or four days.
He had stared into the owlery and seen all the dead avians laying on the ground. He wasn't sure the girl realized it but some of them, including her own, must have attempted to defend her, considering how closely they were bunched around her.
For just a brief moment, Harry had imagined being a first year, in that position, and that thought had shifted to the thought of Hedwig. If she hadn't come and retrieved him, things could have been much much worse. Then the thought of Hedwig lying on the ground, having tried to defend the girl. As much magical protection as he gave her, Harry knew she wasn't invincible.
The thought of losing his last true link to his former life caused Harry's fraying resistance to snap completely.
"I'm done waiting, and marking time, Malfoy," Harry repeated. His voice no longer shaking, instead it was calm as he walked down the stairs.
Malfoy rushed to catch up to him, "Wait, Harry… what the hell does that mean."
"I should have done this a month ago after I already started making waves anyway." Harry muttered as he walked toward the entrance to the castle grounds, "It means, Malfoy, those in control of the magical community, like your father or Cornelius Fudge, whether through ignorance or apathy, don't get to let children suffer so they can benefit."
He paused, staring out through the gates, thunder rumbling ominously in the distance to go with the chill in the air.
"You were right you know." Harry said quietly.
"Right about what?" Draco asked, now looking thoroughly befuddled.
"You commented about being lead around by Dumbledore again on the train," Harry said. "And while I haven't literally followed him, we've been doing things his way, in the shadows. Trying to counter moves before they happen. Look where it got us. The same damn place."
"That's not true-" Draco started to say only to be cut off.
"Yes, it is. November 1st, four champions," Harry interrupted. "Like I said, I'm done sitting back."
Draco reached out and grabbed Harry's arm, as the other teen had turned to push through the gate, "Hold on, damn it, wait! What are you doing?"
"It's nothing you need to concern yourself with Malfoy, go back inside," Harry said with grim resolve, though his tone was somewhat lighter than it had been up in the owlery. He pulled out of Draco's grip firmly and continued to walk.
"No way in hell am I just letting you just… out here to do whatever the hell you have in your fool head this time," Draco countered angrily. "At the very least I'm going with you."
Harry stopped and glanced back one more time, "No, you're not immune to their effects. And trust me when I say that anything you have felt before is about to get a hundred times worse," he said in a tone that caused Draco to shiver. Of course the thunder in the clouds that were moving closer and closer also added to the ominous tone in Harry's voice.
"You want to do something useful? Don't let anyone else out until I fall or until I'm done." Harry said.
"I'm not going to just stay behin-" Draco started to protest.
"Stay behind and try to keep people from interfering, that's an order, Malfoy," Harry snapped sharply.
Draco stiffened like a board briefly before nodding once, stopped completely from exiting the gate.
Harry blinked at the abrupt acceptance but wasn't going to argue now that the sometimes idiot was listening to him. He exited the gate completely, as Draco stood there and watched him take a few steps before he stopped and turned around.
Harry raised his wand, pointing it back toward the castle and held the position for a moment his emerald eyes, meeting Draco's grey ones. "Voldemort starts losing potential allies now."
Draco stared at Harry, first in concern, and then puzzlement. No spell seemed to come from his wand. He was just in the process of opening his mouth to ask Harry what he was doing when an object soared into Harry, who caught it with his free hand.
Harry looked down at the brown piece of fabric, which shook slightly and came alive.
"Mm. Well… that's certainly was an interesting trip. Can I help you with something?" the Sorting Hat's distinctive voice spoke up.
"Is there a way for me to get the Sword of Gryffindor from you?" Harry asked bluntly as he turned and began a walk from the castle.
Draco watched him go with a frustrated look on his face, "Damn it Potter, the one bloody time you actually listen to me…"
"What do you want that for?" the Hat asked Harry as they moved out of hearing range of Malfoy behind them, it's tone turning serious.
"Because Hogwarts is now under siege. Its students in peril, one nearly had her soul devoured a few minutes ago," Harry replied grimly. "Now I'm asking you to provide a defender of this castle the weapon you hold for this very purpose."
"I told Albus he needed to remove the Dementors from the school grounds, they were a danger to the students. They have no place here. The Headmaster said he was powerless to do so." The Hat said with equal parts anger and disgust, "Dementors are an abomination and the very essence of dark magic. Their very existence is a blight on nature and magic itself. I saw in your head when you put me on. Are you prepared to pay the price for what you're about to do?"
"No one else will," Harry replied grimly. "I'm not sure anyone else can."
"So be it," the Hat replied, its voice changing once more, to the odd mix of voices he had heard when it sat on his head. The voices spoke in unison. "We use our power to grant you a title given only twice in the history of the school. We charge you with protecting the ideals the school was founded on, and protecting all those residing within her grounds. We name you Hogwarts' Guardian."
Harry felt a surge of magic, move through him, from where his hands held the Hat. The magic surged, and it took him a moment to recognize the feeling, of being connected to a ward or ward scheme. Only in the sense of comparing a cup of water to the ocean by saying they were both wet. He could sense the castle and its ancient and powerful magic though he had never sensed something like he did at that moment, he could barely comprehend it.
"Protection of the castle is your charge, and the Sword of Gryffindor is your beck and call, Guardian Potter, or Flamel if you prefer," the Hat intoned as the magic moved through.
Harry closed his eyes a moment and wondered if he had somehow got saddled with something else. But rather than take time to question it, he reached inside the hat and immediately felt the weight fall into his hand, and he withdrew the weapon from its depths.
It was the exact same as he remembered it. The blade had the name Godric Gryffindor engraved running downward toward the point of the sword. The hilt was encrusted with rubies, along with a gryphon at the crosspiece.
Though Harry was now looking directly at the crosspiece, particularly the point that lead to the blade.
He couldn't help blurting out, "Is that a Unicorn?"
"Yes," the Sorting Hat said shortly, reverting back to its normal voice, "Gryffindor was rather obsessed with them. He collected all sorts of unicorn images, and artifacts."
"I…" Harry quickly shook his head breaking off any train of thought that was likely to lead to.
"You should take me with you," the Hat said. "I should be able to blunt some of the impact the Dementors can have."
"I'm fine," Harry replied putting the sword casually over his shoulder, "I've spent plenty of time around them and I'm still here."
"Maybe, but if I can offer any help, won't it be worth it?" the Hat questioned. "Why do you insist on doing this by yourself?"
Harry hesitated a moment before shrugging and putting the hat on his head. He was glad that it shifted and tightened to stop on his head rather than fall over his eyes. He held his wand in one hand and the Sword of Gryffindor in the other, and looked relaxed as he meandered toward the middle of the field.
He didn't have long to wait. The air around him, already had begun picking up, the sign of the incoming storm, began to gain an extra edge as it grew colder. Harry looked up, and an almost pleased smile crossed his face. A first dark shape flashed across the sky.
Harry didn't react, as the one shape became two, and then three and then the numbers seem to multiply as the dementors began to swarm. He felt the cold of their presence and the sound of screaming his memories he had long associated with dementors.
The dementors didn't seem to wonder why a soul was out there for them to attack, nor did they seem to wonder why their prey just stood there. The humanoid shapes swooped lower and lower, perhaps emboldened by the lack of response, or perhaps by their missed meal earlier.
"Any time now…" the Hat opined quietly.
Finally one seemed to take the initiative, swooping down to fly directly over Harry.
In that moment Harry struck. He swung the sword forward, lodging it into the chest of the dementor. The dementor, barely seemed to acknowledge the sword, beyond not being able to float away.
So close to the dementor, Harry heard a multitude of screams and death rattles. Friends and allies falling all around him, the deaths of so many he knew. However after a few seconds the dementor shuddered on the sword. It clawed at Harry's arms' weakly as it seemed to dissolve slowly, the bones turning black and then flaking away to ash from the epicenter of where the sword struck.
Harry flinched but he ignored the feeling of coldness that had surged up his arm and into his body as the dementor flailed at him while it slowly dissolved into nothing, leaving an empty scrap of black cloth behind.
All of the dementors in the air froze briefly, seeming to hesitate at the loss of one of their own, before they began to give off a keening wail, one that every single one of them echoed.
Harry looked up, the Sword of Gryffindor, held unblemished in his hand. "Now they'll come."
"How many of them?" The hat asked from atop his head.
"Can't you see my memory of that?" Harry asked, in an absent tone, focused on the now agitated dementors who were swooping and swirling around.
"I don't intrude unless sorting or invited," the Sorting Hat replied.
"All of them." Harry replied. "Everyone here, and the rest at Azkaban, and anywhere else they might be. They will come. I need them all close by."
He didn't wait for more conversation. The dementors seemed to be holding their distance agitated and angry, shrieking in the air as their numbers started to grow. He raised his wand and wordlessly summoned another one that was pulled through the air, as it didn't pause it's shrieking. He immediately jammed the sword into the dementor, and its fate was the same as the first, dissolving slowly into ash.
As it did, the sky seemed to decide on that exact moment to open up, as it began to rain down on them. Added to the cold feeling that ran up into Harry's body from the chill of that dementor dying into his chest.
"At this rate you'll be here until spring," the hat commented, ignoring the fact that it was now drenched in water from the rain that was rapidly becoming a downpour. The sky was now swarming with over a hundred dementors and still the numbers seemed to grow. They were quite literally sliding from the ground, and out of the shadows of the darkening day.
Harry didn't reply to that immediately, summoning another one and dispatching it the same way the first two had gone. "No, just long enough for the rest to get here."
As if hearing his words, the group of dementors seemed to double, then triple in size. Dementors poured out of the night sky as they all gathered forming essentially a dome around Harry. He felt the pressure of their effects on him, even with his tolerance causing him to grunt as images flashed in his vision, causing him to struggle to focus on the moment rather than the memories they were attempting to dredge up. "Feels like there are more this time…"
If the Sorting Hat replied, Harry didn't hear over the push of all his worst memories on his mind. His wand slid back into its holster he gripped the sword with both hands, his entire body trembling as he fought to keep standing.
Another dementor flew towards him, only when Harry swiped with the sword, he missed, causing him to stumble. He recovered and stood on weak legs as he could feel the oppressive hateful magic actively being forced down upon him.
Once more a dementor swooped directly at him, only this time Harry stabbed forward and managed to impale the skeletal beast.
Over the din in his mind, the memories of so many deaths that threatened to overwhelm him Harry focused once more on his thought, of being with his family once more. Away from all of it. Of being away from the trembling pain in his arms and legs, of the coldness in his body, of the feeling of Dementors trying to pull everything he was out of him.
Harry focused with every bit of his will and incanted loudly, "Expecto Patronum," Harry incanted focusing every bit of his raging and swelling magic on the sword in his hands. There was a brief hesitation and then the sword surged and warmed in his hands, the rubies coming alive as if on fire. But that was all secondary, as the blade of the sword lodged in the Dementor glowed a bright silver.
The screams in Harry's mind stopped and were replaced by a loud shrieking sound far worse than when he had killed the first dementor with the basilisk venom coated sword. The Dementor froze briefly before arching back as two places, where eyes and nose would have been but were hidden under dark scraps of fabric as well as the hole where it's horrid mouth was burst out in silver fire.
However, that wasn't the most dramatic, as the dementors in the sky all made the same shrieking sound, as a wave of magic burst from the epicenter of where Harry had stabbed the dementor. One by one the same thing that was happening to the dementor Harry stabbed, was happening to the dementors all around them.
One after another, dementors burst out into silver white fire, a stark contrast to the darkness that they represented. The cascading domino effect seemed to continue through the monsters at a faster and faster pace as it consumed one after another.
Harry's eyes were closed and he wasn't paying attention to it as he focused on his family, as he had for years now. Images of him being able to lay down his burden and join them, of them accepting his apologies for failing them and forgiving him. He focused on this and focused on powering his patronus despite the resistance from the dark magic.
A strange thing happened as he continued to do so. The images he had of his family shifted, for so long he had imagined been flashes of things he never imagined flicking through his mind.
The dream of sitting down for a Christmas and opening presents with his parents.
The dream of flying through the air on a broom and flying next to a smirking James Potter.
It was nothing concrete, or that he could latch onto, though they were incredibly vivid and detailed far more than he usually might have used. Those images rapidly flicked through his mind as he felt the magic pushing back from the dementors poured every bit of magic he could muster into the sword.
The image of seeing his mother grin at him with pride as she pulled him in for a hug.
The image of chasing after a laughing Sirius Black who shifted into his dog form to get away.
He felt the drain on his body as more and more of his magic was siphoned away, but still he continued until his entire body trembled with exertion. He finally felt the dark magic resistance crumble completely.
He saw an image of sitting down to a family dinner and laughing with his parents, Sirius, Remus and siblings.
Before he could focus on that alien thought, he felt the dark magic resistance crumble
He opened his eyes to see an explosion of silver magic from all around him. The magic shockwave was so bright he couldn't see anything else and it blew him completely off his feet, sending him tumbling along the ground.
He rolled to a stop, having no idea how far he had been blown. He drifted on the edge of unconsciousness. He felt too weak to move. He couldn't lift his head, or even look around to get his surroundings. Even breathing was an effort. He managed to open his eyes and see blurry figures moving toward him. He wasn't able to pick up details before black came up and swallowed his vision and he lost consciousness completely.
Why yes. I'm still here! Nor has this story been abandoned.
1) To those who will no doubt complain about length of time between updates. Save us the time and don't. Same to those who will passive aggressively leave a review along the lines of "Oh nice chapter, can't wait for the next one in a couple years." It's not cute, funny or clever.
I write what I want, and whatever my muse happens to linger on at any particular time. Until you're paying for my time, you don't get any say whatsoever about what story I write or what I do with my stories. I don't have any update schedule. I write when I can. Period.
Also. We've put out nearly 170k words in three weeks across our stories. That's hardly insignificant writing. I'm just saying.
2) Part of this chapter has been done for like… a year. But my muse has been on other things and I needed to get past certain blocks on this story. Also, i was determined to move time in the story. :P 200k words and we had only gotten into the first month. Hopefully I did that without sacrificing character development.
3) I liked what we did with this. I've been planning for Harry to have split his soul, and having to deal with that revelation since I started. Along with him having to deal with the idea of his actions being suspect even to himself. If you don't like it? Tough? Write your own.
I will admit one of the blocks on this story was what i wanted to do with the Tri-wizard entries. I couldn't decide on one of the entries until literally two days before posting. But i was fairly certain I didn't want Harry in it. So… yes. Iris gets to experience that fun.
At the same time, Harry's done screwing around. He doesn't know everything about everyone so he can't just go off on people. But his patience snapped when seeing things he had done hadn't changed anything.
4) No the owls did not get soul sucked. They were killed by the cold and the destructive presence of the Dementors.
5) Plums Pontificating:
Its rough looking at this and realizing "oh yeah, we're just posting this now" since I've seen versions of the first ½ of this chapter for well over a year. Its probably what Kat thinks when she looks at the 2.5 unposted chapters of LSS I have (Kat: YES IT IS) and the 1.5 worth of Runemaster that i have sitting in the wings. (Kat : Eh. That still needs work )
We're running an Razor's Edge here. Is dumbledore good? Is he bad? Is he Sirius Black, with a long grey beard and a tinfoil hat?
Yes, no, maybe so? We might or might not know, and its likely all of the above and not at the same time.
...and your mother too.
Tonks got lost in the shuffle this chapter, which is often a sad sad thing for us. It'll get better soon. I still laugh in malicious glee at the twist coming in ten or more chapters… its one of the few things Kat's given me long-term about her plot ideas, and I can't wait for the zinger to finally hit you all.
Alternative Chapter titles:
"Holy shit, the authors haven't abandoned this story." - Reviewers.
"Seriously. If that's your review, go jump off a pier." - Kat
"Draco is acting intelligently!" - Snape
"Check for polyjuice. Seriously." - Harry
"Harry is still Crazy Mcemopants." - Harry from 'I still haven't found what I'm looking for.'
"Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Damnit Potter! Stop with the stinging spells!" - Draco
"I dunno… this is kinda therapeutic. And you did have your dad sign that permission slip that I could…" - Harry
"Harry ignores a Veela."
"What the fuck is wrong with you boy!" - Plums
"Kat's writing me. What do you want me to do?" - Harry
"Oh. Right. I have to work on that." - Plums.
"You had one job."- disappointed Harry.
"It's not my fault. That's a personal problem. Kat even called you 'Crazy McEmoPants' in another story's author's note" - Plums
"Snape Defends a Potter"
"It was unintentional and unknowingly done, so it doesn't count" - Snape
"Ice cream, get your ice cream. Ice Skates are rented at the back!" - demon in hell.
"Harry blasts another teacher and is rewarded for it." - Moody
"This is happening with startling frequency." - Dumbledore
"Eh. Just a bit faster than my once a year approach." - Harry
"Well at least we can hope he doesn't do anything too impulsive," - Nicholas after hearing the news from Perenelle
"God damnit boy!"- After reading the rest of the chapter.
"I am smart. S M R T" - Albus
"You just take every clue and run in the complete opposite direction, don't you" - Snape
"But he looks like Riddle… he is strong magically" - Albus
"Does that mean Riddle's actually your kid?" - Harry
"Gryffindor was a Brony?" - Harry
"Oh dear god... kill it with fire!" - Everyone
"Yoohoo. Don't forget about me!" - Bellatrix
"... just what ARE you doing?" - plums
"I think Kat forgot about her." - Harry
"Did not. She is plotting at the moment. There is a plan for her."
"Oh hell." - Harry.
"The Superspies Converge!" - Dumbledore
"Your Mission, should you chose to accept it…" - Moody
"Are you all pretending to be bad James Bond villains with all this crap you're doing?" - Lily
"I must know what the young man is doing! I will not fail again!" - Albus
"I think it's more akin to Doctor Evil." - Harry
"Fawkes could use a pair of nice shiny new laaaaaasers on his head," Plums
"Dumbledore listens to someone else's opinion." - Snape
crickets as minds assplode everywhere
"And he shared information." - James, Amelia
"Is… that even allowed?" - Fanfiction writers everywhere.
"There are no tropes or cliches to account for this… we have entered unexplored territory" - fans