"The Ministry is one hundred percent secure. I don't know where you've gotten such ridiculous information, but if the walls of this establishment are ever fully breached I'll eat my own hat." -Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic, to a group reporters. Fall, 1993.
Lucius Malfoy was currently having a really bad day.
It had started out well enough. Work at the Ministry, out with the Minister for a nice lunch, and then a tour of a new wing of the DMLE that was being constructed.
Then he'd felt the burn on his arm. Not a 'come when you get a second' burn, but a 'get here in the next five minutes or die' burn. He'd obeyed, as did the remainder of the Dark Lord's inner circle, with the exception of Snape. Then he'd been told he was leading a two part mission into the place that they had been so carefully trying to learn about since the previous summer.
Part one, obtain the prophecy from Potter, who would be getting it himself to deliver to them. Part two, kill the kid.
It seemed easy enough. In fact, he'd complained about the unnecessarily large force that the Dark Lord wanted him to take. But his Lord wanted it done properly and there was no arguing with him on the matter. Besides, they might meet resistance, however unlikely.
Well they found it. Or more specifically, it ambushed them.
"Avada Kedavra!" he snapped, loosing another Killing Curse as he dodged back behind their makeshift cover. A number of conjured and transfigured stone walls were really all that stood between the Death Eaters and the Order, of which there were nearly twice as many as them. Of course this didn't mean that they were in as much trouble as it looked. After all, they had her.
"Where are you, Potter?" sang Bellatrix as she moved through the hail of spellfire, using transfigured cover and her own reflexes to keep her safe. "You have something that I want. Don't make me hurt you too much!"
"Back off, Lestrange!" Sirius appeared from the shadows, his wand swinging sharply as he loosed a bone breaker at the woman, though it was deflected. The man ducked two curses from different Death Eaters before advancing once more, determined to face off with the sole female Death Eater.
"No, you back off Sirius!" snapped Tonks, eyes fixed on Bellatrix. She had torn through her own opponent with purpose, her true target just ahead. "This bitch is mine."
"Ah a family reunion..." Bellatrix's expression was actually almost affectionate. "And they're fighting over me. Look at how you've both grown."
"Shut up!" shouted Tonks. "Cannoventus!"
"Declino," answered the Death Eater, her wand flicking upwards. The powerful gust of wind suddenly changed directions, cracking against the ceiling above them with significant force. "It will take more than that, Niece."
"Tonks, relax!" said Sirius quickly, grabbing the metamorph's arm before she could rush forwards. "She's riling you up on purpose so you make mistakes!"
"The only mistake here is not trying to end her life," Tonks said in anger, wrenching her arm out of his grasp. "Either help me or get out of my way!"
"Please, help her," came the infuriatingly pleasant voice across from them. Bellatrix was still keeping an eye out for Potter, who must be dueling in the thick of the other Order members. She'd seen him enter the room earlier. Well, if he was going to hide like that then he'd just need proper motivation. "I haven't had a challenge in years!"
Immediately she arced her wand in a swift X motion, sending out two powerful cutting curses that left deep gouges in the stone steps where they impacted. Tonks and Sirius had both broken away in different directions hoping to flank the woman and end it quickly.
"An excellent tactic," said the Death Eater, choosing to ignore the girl, "but not good enough." She sent spells at her cousin both high and low, forcing him to shield. The moment she saw him going through the movements for it she turned and rolled to the right in a smooth motion, bringing her out of the path of Tonk's attack and up on her feet to face the now temporarily isolated girl.
Tonks barely dropped to the ground in time to let the spell dart over her head by a hair. In the moment she took to regain her footing the Death Eater had turned, now facing Sirius as they traded sparking blows. Deflected spells were splashing about on the nearby wall and ground surrounding them, sometimes fizzing out and other times leaving deep scorch marks. Bellatrix suddenly feinted to the side, smoothly dodging another bone breaker, before managing to clip the man with a yellow spell in his leg. At once Sirius went down to one knee, gnashing his teeth against the pain.
"No, Sirius! Ruo Flagrum!"
Brandished from the tip of her wand, a nearly glowing black whip was sent at Bellatrix who's eyes went wide in alarm as she lunged to the side to avoid the attack, unable to finish off the animagus before her. The whip neatly cut into the floor like a hot knife through butter. The Death Eater kept moving, now sending spells back as she continued to escape from the death wielding metamorph who danced out of the way, nimble like a gymnist. However, just when it seemed like Bellatrix could avoid the whip no more, it flickered out of existence, its caster unable to maintain the output it required. Tonks cursed bitterly at the turn of events.
"I must say," Bellatrix grinned, feeling quite exhilarated. "I had no idea you knew such dark magic, Niece. I'm actually impressed."
"Only the best for you," Tonks scowled, her wand up defensively though she wasn't casting anything. She'd held the whip for far too long. It was only meant for lashing strikes, not prolonged use of any kind.
"Don't forget about me!" shouted Sirius. "Nice knowing you, Bells! Deflagratio!"
Tonks shielded her eyes as best she could as the literal bomb of a spell lit up the entire area that Bellatrix had been standing in, sending out a wave of heat and flaring light. It was not a spell for group fighting, but the woman had been separated from the others so he'd taken the chance with a big finisher. He couldn't cast one of those again without exhausting himself.
"Is she dead?" asked Tonks as the smoke lingered, still watching the area with apprehension. At the same time she moved to position herself so that she was now fully facing the battle from afar. They were fortunate that there were so many Order members keeping the other Death Eaters occupied, else the duel would have likely been invaded with them being overtaken. Even in short amounts Bellatrix Lestrange had a terrifying presence. She'd barely done much to hurt them either.
"Hang on," said Sirius, moving to Tonks' side, though clearly with a limp. He'd need to get taken care of as soon as possible. A wave of his wand provided a gust to clear the area, revealing burning ground. There was no sign of the woman.
"Where did she go?!" Tonks immediately jumped to place her back to Sirius'. Together they had full circle view, but neither could see her. That is, until Sirius spotted something that made his stomach drop.
"She played us."
Harry was, all in all, having the time of his life. True he was in the middle of a huge battle surrounded by Order members and Death Eaters, but he was holding his own pretty well and giving as good as he got. The dueling with Stella was saving his life over and over and over. His body reacted almost before his mind did. Then there was the fact that he was getting the opportunity to take down Lucius Malfoy. Possibly permanently. The thought of that man in Azkaban was simply too good, and he was so close to helping it happen.
Suddenly he flinched backwards, dodging a curse and something that had practically appeared right in front of him. For a moment he'd thought there had been a large ripple in the air, but now it was back to normal. Of course that wasn't what his magic was telling him.
Acting on reflex, Harry let his arm swing out as he dodged again, striking at the magical presence so close to him, now on his left. Impressively he managed to strike the thing, receiving the loud sound of flesh on flesh. The distortion stumbled but regained its footing almost immediately, darting in and tackling him to the floor, forcing his wand up and away from them both. He winced in pain as the back of his head smacked against the stone step, causing his vision to swim slightly.
"There you are. Is that a prophecy in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" came a soft voice into his ear, making him freeze. Bellatrix Leastrange. A disillusioned Bellatrix Lestrange. "Thanks, love."
And she was off of him, likely dashing for an exit. The only reason Harry wasn't sprinting after her was that she'd slammed his head into the stone step again, making it spin. It didn't help that he'd amassed a number of other injuries as well in the chaos. After all it was his first large scale battle and he wasn't getting away unscathed.
"Crazy bitch..." He rolled over, both annoyed and amazed at her daring move. The Disillusionment Charm was a double edged sword. It was excellent for stealth, as it obviously made a skilled user practically indistinguishable with whatever was behind him or her. The down side was that it was extremely easily broken by magic, both internal and external. Cast a spell or be hit with one and the Charm would easily fail. Bellatrix had literally gambled that she wouldn't be caught and instantly taken down. And the worst part was that it had worked flawlessly.
"Not bloody likely," Harry growled, now back on his feet and sprinting away from the fight at a door that had just creaked open and shut.
"Don't worry, I'll stop her!" he shouted back, not looking at his Godfather as he ran after the woman. He doubted he'd see any form of support in the man's eyes. This was reflected in the repeated shouts for him to stop, which were eventually cut off when he left the room. Hopefully they would catch up with him quickly. It was unlikely he'd be able to hold the woman off for long. As long as he got the prophecy back.
Fortunately, after their initial meeting in the Hall of Prophesy and her being directly on top of him for a few moments, Harry got a good enough reading of her magic that he could follow her at short ranges, and she was not too far ahead. She'd also be thinking that she got away clean, so with luck she wasn't running full tilt for the exit.
The elevator ride up to the Atrium was probably the most anxiety ridden fifteen seconds of his life. He knew that the moment the doors opened he'd be discovered, and he needed to get the prophecy back. Why hadn't he just destroyed the real thing? Wait... the real thing?
"That was pretty crazy, you know that?" he said loudly once the doors fully opened to the main floor. Bellatrix had been about to make a break for it, but after seeing who it was she paused.
"How kind of you to deliver yourself to me, Potter," said the woman with a smile, bowing her head slightly in thanks. "I felt uncomfortable not being able to fully carry out my Lord's will."
"Fully?" Harry paused for a moment in face confusion. "Oh wait you think that's the real prophecy. Sorry, it's a fake."
"You lie," said Bellatrix at once. "You never had the chance to swap it for another, and no one had the opportunity to take it from you so-"
Bellatrix felt the glass orb in her fingers suddenly slip away from her grasp. Like he figured, she'd never bothered to try and hold it back as she believed it was real, and all real prophecies are immune to being manipulated such by magic. It simply didn't work.
Immediately Bellatrix's wand was up, ready to strike the boy down who'd somehow tricked her. Yet she held back, as she now didn't know where the real prophecy was. Harry on the other hand was apparently unconcerned with his mortal danger, considering the false prophecy he'd conjured so long ago before tossing it over his shoulder where it shattered on the floor.
"Where is it?" said Bellatrix slowly. It took everything he had not to react to her words. They were damn terrifying the way she was regarding him. It was incredible how she could be so playful and so deadly, like a switch had been flipped.
"Right here of course," he said, pulling out an identical orb to the one he'd just been holding from behind his back. He knelt and placed it on the floor. "Go ahead and check for yourself."
Bellatrix gave him a searching look before aiming her wand at the orb. "Accio." True to Harry's word, the thing made no effort to move in the slightest. "Excellent," she said with a pleased smile. "Now, roll it-"
She was cut short as Harry's wand reduced the orb to fine rubble, a gust of wind scattering the fragments all over the place.
"Not a chance," he said coldly, wand now pointing right at the woman's heart. "Voldemort gets nothing. Fuck him."
Bellatrix said nothing, her eyes slowly raising from the now obliterated prophecy to his own... and then there was a spell aiming for his chest. Harry deflected it without hesitation, expecting the attack, and retaliated before moving further into the Atrium. That was the only attack he was able to easily deal with. He was suddenly taken back to his duels with Stella, the way that her eyes stayed focused on him, where she made barely a whisper of sound. It was unnerving after the chaos downstairs. Spells of a dark and unnerving light flowed towards him, and he focused completely on deflecting and returning. Twenty seconds later Bellatrix suddenly stopped, simply letting Harry's curses pass her by like idle leaves on a breeze as she considered him.
"I'll admit, I never thought things would actually get this far," she finally murmured, though her voice carried to him easily. "You keep surprising me, Potter. Maybe all of those ridiculous rumors actually have some base in fact after all. I heard them even in a damp cell surrounded by Dementors."
"Stop I'm blushing," Harry voiced back, his eyes moving between her own and the tip of her wand. It was still aimed at the floor between them like his own was, but he knew that could change in an instant. "You're actually not what I expected either."
"Oh?" she said in curiosity.
"Honestly I was expecting someone a bit more out of touch with reality," he explained. Indeed, Bellatrix Lestrange was nothing like he'd been told. Incredibly devout to Voldemort, yes, but the woman before him was calm and collected, not giggling madly and losing hold of her sanity. Particularly compared to how Tonks described her.
"Well, we live in Britain after all," she responded, unable to keep an amused smile off of her face. "I doubt the people have lost their love of wild tales and believing things without a shred of proof."
"I'm sorry, are you saying you're innocent?"
Bellatrix actually paused for a moment before throwing her head back and laughing. Acting on impulse Harry sent a Bone Breaker and Cutter at the Death Eater, hoping to end it quickly, but from a seemingly impossible angle Bellatrix's wand arched up and deflected both spells in a single swipe, curving down sharply with a counter attack. Vines burst from the tip of her wand, snaking their way directly at him with terrifying speed, sharp tips gleaming in the light of the hall. Immediately Harry responded, incinerating them with a powerful blast of fire that actually reached all the way back to where Bellatrix had been standing. Yet his attack was once again blocked, this time with a shimmering shield that shortly revealed a perfectly unharmed woman albeit slightly warmer than before.
"Very good, Potter," she said, white teeth flashing as she threw him a pleased grin. "I never thought I'd have to use that shield twice tonight, let alone once. My dear cousin can sometimes be a little overzealous in his casting. Always going for the big and flashy. But you... attacking when I let my guard down and an excellent counter attack as well. You've been completely silent this whole time as well. You duel well beyond your age. Do you train often?"
"I- when I can," he managed, trying not to look surprised at what had happened. Her reaction had been so fast. So fast! Was it even normal to be able to move at those kinds of speeds? It was way faster than what she'd just been moving at. She'd demonstrated skill closer to what he'd seen Stella use than anyone else he'd ever me. Hell it wasn't even the first time he'd found himself comparing her to the castle spirit. Originally he'd thought he could last a minute or two, maybe three if he pulled out the really dangerous stuff he'd been working on. All until help arrived. But now? After that?
There was just no denying it. He was horribly outclassed here. She actually seemed to be humoring the duel more than trying to win it at times.
Oh he had a chance. Everyone had a chance to beat anyone, it was just a matter of how big that chance was. And in all honesty, his wasn't looking so great at the moment. He was already injured from earlier and the rapid movement from all the dueling would eventually cause him to crash.
"That's good," Bellatrix continued, unaware of Harry's inner dilemma. "It wouldn't be fun if this ended too quickly. You've destroyed My Lord's prophecy, and I know he will be angered to not have it, but your corpse would more than make up for it."
"You sure he won't take flowers instead?" he quipped.
Harry was saved from getting an answer by having to respond to a flurry of curses sent at him with pinpoint precision, no longer dueling for enjoyment, but for the end result. He was forced to throw up a wide shield as he dodged to the side, making a blitz for the only piece of cover he could use, the fountain. He barely made it behind the thigh high wall before a chunk of it was destroyed, causing water to spill out endlessly onto the floor. A number of seconds later the rush ebbed to just the small amount that was being magically produced by the statues themselves and the water on the floor slowed its spread. Still, everywhere in a twenty meter radius had the weird effect of having a perfect reflection of everything above it on the floor. It was highly disorienting.
"Come out, Potter," Bellatrix taunted, moving closer to the fountain with her wand lazily in her hand. The fact that Harry could attack her suddenly from a number of places spoke to her confidence as she didn't hesitate in the slightest. "Hiding is for the weak and talentless, not people like us. Crucio!"
Harry quickly ducked out of sight as the House Elf's head went spinning off down the hall, the spell having just missed him. He moved to the opposite side, conjuring a palm sized object as he was struck with a risky idea.
"Above you!" he shouted, his voice echoing in the large room. "Catch!"
Harry let the glass orb he'd just conjured fly in a large arc over his shoulder as he spun out from behind cover, sending a piercing curse at the woman's chest. For a moment, he'd thought he won. The shot was a quick spell, his aim was true, and just like every other human caught momentarily off guard, Bellatrix was unable to resist sparing a second long look at the soaring prophecy, before her face registered the fact that she'd been tricked. Yet it wasn't to be. To Harry's utter astonishment Bellatrix shifted to the side almost automatically, causing the curse to hit her in her non wand arm instead of her chest. Just like he'd expected, the spell punched an inch wide hole straight through to the other side, causing her to scream in pain and stumble back from the force of the hit, blood immediately spattering around her.
However this still didn't prevent her from retaliating with superb aim, catching the momentarily stunned Harry in the left shoulder with an equally pain inducing spell. The force spun him to the wet ground with a crash, a yelp of pain escaping his lips before he forced himself to scramble back to the safety of cover. His action saved him from another two spells which left deep gouges in the floor from their impacts.
"Damn trick..." Harry heard the Death Eater mutter, followed by a spell he recognized as one that Poppy used on injuries. A careful glance at the woman from behind his cover told him that she was indeed closing up her wound so that she could deal with it later.
"Healing? No fair at all, you know how difficult that is?" he said roughly, trying to keep his voice from sounding any weaker than it did. For all he knew his shoulder was broken. Sure felt like it. A temporary numbing spell let him breathe a sigh of relief, though it. He'd need to get it checked out later... if there was a later.
"You're quite the tricky little bastard," Bellatrix growled, pulling herself to her feet and brandishing her wand at the statues. Harry could hear her feet splashing in the water as she moved closer. "I'm honestly disappointed in myself for that one. But I won't be falling for something like that again!"
She began blasting pieces of the fountain away in earnest, turning swaths of marble into rubble as she swung her arm side to side.
"Don't die on me yet, Potter! We've only just gotten started!"
At once the bombardment ceased. Harry froze, still hiding behind the remaining figures as the water lazily washed particles of dust away from the floor. He knew that voice.
If Harry had been looking beyond his cover, he'd have seen Bellatrix immediately dropping to one knee, back to her enemy, her head bowed in submission. Approaching the two combatants from further down the hall was none other than the Dark Lord himself, Lord Voldemort.
All at once Harry was aware of the new magical presence that was approaching them. He must have mixed it up with the other unfamiliar signatures around them, but now that he could feel it there was something almost familiar about it that he felt know he should know. But there was no time to think about it. Voldemort's magic was oppressive, and he wore it like a cloak. It felt dangerous. It was astounding he'd spent even a moment in his presence before and not been aware of it. Regardless, there was no way he'd forget that feeling anytime soon.
For a few moments there was silence. Harry was now peeking out to see the dark lord stop in front of Bellatrix, not even looking over at the fountain where he hid. He knew that he hadn't been forgotten, he just wasn't important at the moment. The woman lifted her head after a number of seconds, looking up into the face of her master.
Bellatrix's face jerked to the side as the back of Voldemort's hand connected with her cheek. Harry could easily make out her shocked expression, though she said nothing, keeping her head bowed again as she resumed her steady gaze at the man's feet.
"I expected better from you, Bellatrix." Voldemort's voice was soft and cold, like a mist in the dead of winter. "He is not even half your age and you struggle against him. Clearly Azkaban has had far more reaching effects on you than we initially believed. You will erase them."
"Yes, Master," she murmured, not looking up.
"And the prophecy?"
Harry swore he could see the woman shudder slightly as she knelt there. "The prophecy was destroyed by Potter. I take full responsibility."
Harry watched, unable to tear his eyes away from the woman as she screamed in agony. For a moment she was replaced by an equally young looking woman with flaming red hair, her fingernails scraping at the floor as her back arched uncontrollably... and it was gone, Bellatrix lying on her side with her eyes shut tight in pain, whimpering slightly as the aftershock of the spell hung over her. Harry could only shudder as he watched, knowing exactly what she was just put through.
"I'll be sure to give Lucius the same when I next see him, but this will do for now."
Voldemort stepped over her body and moved forwards, causing Harry to begin to draw back behind his cover once more.
"Now, now, let's have none of that, shall we?" said Voldemort with a smile, flicking his wand at the boy. Harry was caught by an unseen hand and tossed unceremoniously onto the wet floor in the middle of the atrium where he rolled a few times before getting back to his feet, wand ready. From second or third in command to leader... this day was really not going his way. Who's stupid idea was this whole thing, anyway?
Oh wait, it was his.
"There we are, much better don't you think?"
"Not really," Harry answered, eyes darting around. Bellatrix was slowly pushing herself into a sitting position and he himself had nothing to hide behind any longer. If he'd felt outclassed by Bellatrix, was there even a word to describe this gap? Finally his eyes returned to the man before him and he froze. "Wha-? But you-"
"Looked different?" finished Voldemort, a hand stroking his face briefly. Gone was the snake like visage he'd sported for so many months. Now he looked much more like the adult Tom Riddle Jr might have grown into: pale but not deathly looking skin, a full head of well kept and styled hair, even a small amount of perfectly groomed facial hair. The only remnant of his old look was his red tinted eyes, a sharp contrast against everything else. "Indeed I did, Harry. That was all in the mind, I appeared to you as I wanted to. I wanted to surprise you. Do you like it?"
"What did you do?" Harry found himself asking, mind still racing for a way to get himself to safety while he bought as much time as possible. What was taking the Order so long? He'd initially assumed someone would follow him right off the bat!
"Rituals, of course," explained Voldemort. "I returned to a body when I was less than a spirit, so you shouldn't find it so hard to believe such a thing within my power. A few meticulously created potions and other easily acquired components can do a lot in the magical world. So much more than the other half of the coin ever could, don't you think?"
"Muggles?" said Harry in surprise, feeling a bit thrown off. "What does that have to do with them?"
"Nothing, of course," said Voldemort with a small shrug. His expression suddenly shifted into something much more dangerous. "You made a mistake, Harry. A lot of people are going to die due to your actions. I warned you what would happen if you ran to the Order."
"As if you'd have kept your word," Harry shot, shifting back a few steps into a more defensive stance. His eyes flickered to Bellatrix, who was now back on her feet. "I won't let myself be controlled by fear. Not anymore."
Voldemort's expression flickered to amusement. "It is amazing how much a child can change in a year. So much growth and yet still so far to go. Unfortunately this marks the end." He raised his wand, causing Harry to mimic him, though Voldemort clearly felt no danger from the boy before him. "This goes no further. Give my best to your parents. Avada-"
A crack and flash of lightning filled the area, causing both Voldemort and Bellatrix to cry out in shock at the sudden attack. The untamed lightning left scorch marks all across the floor where it had branched out, even electrifying the waterlogged floor, though the water was too spread out to actually affect either adult. Unfortunately for Harry, neither Voldemort nor Bellatrix were badly harmed by the quick attack, the former shielding the latter. In the mean time, Harry was running full tilt in the opposite direction, aiming to put as much distance between himself and the two incredibly dangerous adversaries he was faced with.
"Potter!" Voldemort roared, tearing off the burning sleeve of his wand arm which he'd thrown up in defense. His shield had protected them, but Harry's lightning attack was extremely wild which had prevented him from blocking all of it completely. "You dare attempt to use magic which you cannot fully understand! Allow me to show you what it means to master the elements! Fulmine Caeruleum!"
Harry looked back over his shoulder in time to see what could only be described as a perfect blue bolt of lightning arcing straight for him. He'd been spending months on the most basic version of a spell like that and Voldemort could do it cold. Totally unbelievable.
The light was burned into his eyes as the zigzagging electrical energy connected him and Voldemort by what looked like a jagged, neon blue rope... wait, that didn't sound right. How was he able to see it coming? Lightning wasn't slow.
"However much I would like to say something about heroes and arriving at the last possible moment, I believe that such a thing would be rather inappropriate, given the circumstances."
"You have no idea how glad I am you're here, Professor," said Harry weakly, backpedaling slightly away from the pole of metal that had seemingly sprung up out of the floor in front of him. It had taken the lightning strike instead of him.
"Considering exactly what was happening right before I did so, I actually might," said Dumbledore, placing a hand on Harry's shoulder to help steady him. Through the blue streak in his vision, Harry could see that Voldemort was looking quite unhappy about the situation, Bellatrix at his side. "Thank you for sending the letter, by the way," the man continued. "Your owl truly is a marvelous bird."
"But how did you get here?" the teen asked, glancing at the Headmaster. He looked exactly as he'd last seen the man at Hogwarts, like he'd been reading a good long book in the library this whole time. "The entrances are all behind those two and there's an anti-apparition ward around this whole place a foot thick. Even Voldemort came in the regular way it looks like."
"Oh I have my ways..." said the wizard mysteriously, giving his signature eye sparkle. However the sparkle quickly dissipated, leaving a serious expression. More serious than Harry had ever seen. "Now, Harry, I need you to stand back and out of the way."
"Yes, Harry," said Voldemort, his voice cutting across them both. "Stand back and let the fossil fight your battles."
"Tom, I would say it is good to see you again, but I would be most dishonest if I did so," sighed Dumbledore, his wand out and ready, though not pointing at anyone. "Is there anything I can say to end this without us fighting?"
"Trying to run from me, Dumbledore?" spat Voldemort, his wand sparking as it picked up on its master's emotions. "Every time we meet you become more and more of a disappointment."
"And yet, every time we meet, I beat you in a duel," Dumbledore countered easily, his voice light. "Hardly something for me to be ashamed of. You're quite talented after all."
"I think you'll find me a bit too much to handle this time around!" Voldemort's words were followed by a sharp spell that Dumbledore parried, causing the wall to crack deeply where it landed. Dumbledore's counter was equally parried to the floor, spraying water everywhere as it hit.
"Why are you here, Tom?" said Dumbledore, deflecting another two spells without breaking eye contact with the man. "Surely even the prophecy hasn't deluded your reasoning that much. What do you aim to gain?"
For the first time since Dumbledore arrived, Voldemort smiled. It made Harry grip his wand even tighter.
"Britain has been without its Lord for far too long," he said finally, settling himself into a more solid stance. "What better way to celebrate his return than with the death of her heroes? You think you've got the upper hand here, Dumbledore, but you're playing right into my own. Now, die!"
Voldemort recommenced his attack with gusto, bypassing dangerous and going straight for Killing Curses. Harry barely had a moment to watch as Dumbledore dodged them fluidly with minimal movement before he realized that he was in just as much danger from spellfire. He did his best to stay out of the way as Dumbledore retaliated with a great flaming whip, lashing out at Voldemort and forcing the man to move to his right. A flick of his wrist had the whip suddenly transfigured into an enormous snake.
"Kill them!" ordered Voldemort to the thing as he fired off another couple of Killing Curses. Forced to deal with the greater threat, Dumbledore conjured a number of metal shields, all of which blocked one of the incoming curses. Unfortunately that left him with a very aggressive snake at close range, or so he'd thought.
"Stop!" commanded Harry, putting as much weight into the word as he could. The effect was that the massive snake ended up freezing in its tracks, a second later in which it was cut cleanly in two by a spell from Dumbledore.
"Don't be so eager, Potter, I'll kill you soon enough!" shot Voldemort, aiming a Killing Curse at him.
Harry was about to defend himself when one of the statues from the fountain jumped in front of it, taking the hit and exploding in a shower of stone. Dumbledore had animated what remained from Bellatrix's onslaught and they were currently advancing on both the woman and her master.
"A feeble attempt, Headmaster," came the mocking voice of Voldemort as the statues became dust before his powerful spells.
"Yet effective. Harry, shield!" Dumbledore barked, making Harry practically jump. Casting the strongest shield he knew in front of them, he watched as Dumbledore sent a small orange orb bulleting into the lingering dust cloud which promptly exploded with the force of a small bomb. The force pushed both Harry and Dumbledore back several meters but thanks to Harry's shield that was all they felt.
"What the hell was that!" shouted Harry in alarm as the two retreated, unable to see with all the smoke.
"An impromptu dust explosion," said Dumbledore, his voice as level as ever. "I transfigured the material of the statues before I animated them and ignited it. I'm sure Miss Granger would be happy to explain it to you when you next see her. Keep your wand at the ready, Harry, that will not be enough to stop either of them."
"But that was right in their faces!"
As if determined to prove Harry wrong, multicolored spellfire began shooting out of the smoke, forcing the two to go on the defensive, deflecting the spells they could and avoiding the Unforgivables. Dumbledore watched Harry out of the corner of his eye before returning to his own share of the attacks. The smoke suddenly shifted from displacement as two bears came charging through.
"Try again!" snapped Harry, sending one crashing back with an overpowered banisher. Dumbledore simply turned his into a teacup after which he sent a burst of wind to get rid of the lingering smoke.
"Harry, if you would be so kind as to occupy Ms. Lestrange," said Dumbledore, pressing forwards against Voldemort and causing the man to falter slightly at the sudden increase in ferocity. Perhaps Dumbledore had always been more of a passive duelist?
Harry was about to say something, but he quickly leaped to the task to prevent the woman from cursing Dumbledore from the side, forcing her to shield against his spell instead.
"Come on, we never finished our fight, remember?" he shouted, his voice sounding much more confident than he actually was. He doubted he'd be able to hold out against her for very long, but if he held back even a little it could cost more than just his life.
Miles away, Cornelius Fudge was rubbing his eyes in annoyance as a loud noise reverberated throughout his home. Someone clearly wanted to talk to him, and no doubt it was important, but that still didn't stop him from wanting to maim whoever it might be. Even if it were Lucius.
The moment Fudge walked into the sitting room he saw the floating head of Rufus Scrimgeour looking as mission critical as ever.
"You see what I'm wearing, Scrimgeour, this better be important-"
"Death Eaters have broken into the Ministry," the man said quickly. This was no time to beat around the bush. "The Department of Mysteries specifically. Madame Bones has organized a response but we've been unable to make it past the entrance due to... unexpected difficulties."
"What!?" yelped Fudge, having frozen in shock at the news. "What's the hold up then?"
"I- you'll have to see for yourself, Sir." With that Scrimgeour vanished from the fireplace, leaving Fudge alone in the now darkened room.
Without a second of hesitation the grabbed a pinch of floo powder and tossed it into the fireplace, not caring about his state of attire, which was nothing more than a bathrobe and slippers, his wand sticking out of one of the pockets.
"Ministry of Magic!"
Green flames dominated his vision for a moment before he found himself in the atrium of the ministry in a growing crowd of people. Fireplaces were bursting into green flame to his left and right admitting more and more people.
"Minister, quickly you have to see-"
"Now what's this all about?" snapped Fudge, pushing through to the front of the group, none of which were making it easy as they all were fixated on something in front of them. "If we've been invaded then you all need to... Merlin's beard..."
Before them all a ferocious duel was taking place between probably the most sensational people in the country. Not that they were close enough to put anyone in significant danger, but Fudge suddenly understood why absolutely no one would take a step forwards.
On the right was none other than Albus Dumbledore and a boy he recognized immediately as Harry Potter. Across from them... Bellatrix Lestrange and a man whose eyes flashed red in the light of the hall. A man he hadn't seen in decades...
"He Who Must Not Be Named!" breathed one of the Hit Wizards close by, clearly terrified. "He looks like he did over twenty-five years ago! He hasn't aged a day!"
"We- shouldn't we help?" said another, though it was clear from his voice he wanted nothing but the opposite.
"Everyone stay where you are," came a commanding voice above them all. Amelia Bones stepped out to the front so that she could easily be seen, fully dressed and ready for action. "We will maintain our distance so we don't endanger Dumbledore or Potter. A distraction could kill both of them. Still," she added, turning back to face the duel. They were moving closer. "Be ready to move. I don't think I need to remind you of your duty."
"Yes Ma'am," chorused her subordinates, expressions hardening as they steeled themselves.
Amelia moved back into the group to where the Minister was standing. "Normally I'd be more than happy to say I told you so, but in all honesty I'd give anything to not have the opportunity now."
Fudge just grimaced. Already he knew he was seeing was was likely the last number of days as his time as Minister. But presently he could barely focus on anything but what was happening before him.
"You and me both, Amelia."
Harry dodged to the side, planting his feet and sending a wave of fire once more at the witch. Bellatrix turned the blaze aside, controlling it with her wand, only to send it straight back at Harry. Only a quick Flame-Freezing charm saved him from being roasted, though it was certainly hot as the fire washed over his body. It was a stroke of luck that the flames obscured him enough to prevent the woman from accurately downing him with a final spell.
The duel had been going on for the better part of three minutes now. It was a miracle that he'd been able to stay alive this long. The occasional save from Dumbledore might have helped as well.
"Don't lose focus, Potter, I've never felt so alive in years!" Bellatrix shouted in glee, sidestepping another of Harry's curses now that the fire had gone and retaliating with one of her own. The Death Eater honestly couldn't be more pleased with what was happening. There was truly nothing like a life and death duel, and Harry Potter was actually using an assortment of very dangerous curses against her and her master, whenever the two duels crossed over. Deadly curses, if they hit the right spots. Her arm throbbed at the thought of the piercing curse that had nearly put a hole in her chest.
The other incredible thing was that despite having a number of injuries, far more than one she had received from him, the boy was actually getting better. His movements were sharper, his spells more accurate, the collateral damage much higher when they missed. She found herself shielding more than before, still deflecting and dodging most, but those were only by a hair's breadth.
A blast of bright light caused the woman to spare a glance at her Master who was dueling to her left. The Hogwarts Headmaster was pushing him back with a display of fierce and inventive spellwork. For an instant she wished it was her that was battling Dumbledore. There was no one stronger, save her Master. But she discarded the thought just as quickly. She knew that her Master would push back even harder, show them all that he was the strongest. Dumbledore's last breaths were being drawn before her eyes. And that went for Potter as well.
"I see that we are no longer alone," said Dumbledore, killing another of Voldemort's conjured snakes with his fire whip before sending golden spell that was deflected by a conjured shield. The impact rang out like a gong. They were nearly back at the fountain again. "Your plan has failed, Tom, and you cannot escape. Cease this pointless struggle."
"Lord Voldemort does not escape," replied the man, putting an emphasis on the name. "And you know nothing of my plan, Dumbledore."
Voldemort suddenly vanished with a harsh crack, followed almost immediately by a much smaller one when he reappeared almost directly on top of the large group of people who had been gathering at the head of the Atrium. Harry nearly gasped in shock as the very solid feeling of the anti-apparation ward around them was shattered, making him feel lighter, as if he'd been under a thin blanket the entire time. Within two seconds another two people vanished on the spot, though Harry was unable to pick up any sound from it, as Bellatrix and Dumbledore both relocated as well through apparation; Bellatrix at her Master's side, Dumbledore standing between them and the Ministry employees. Of course, this was all in addition to the wild shouting and wand drawing that occurred not moments later by practically everyone there. Many scrambled back as much as possible. Some even made a break for the outgoing fireplaces, not looking back once.
"What the hell, he tore through that ward like it was paper," muttered Harry, unable to keep the awe out of his voice. And he had to face that? Was there any hope at all?
"Wonderful, I was hoping for a good audience," said Voldemort, watching the terrified witches and wizards before him. "What of Potter?" he asked the woman at his side.
"Frozen in his tracks," she replied, grinning. "Your display of power seems to have been a bit much for him." And nearly her as well. She knew her Lord was unmatched, but to be able to cut through the wards on the Ministry just through sheer force... she would need to work even harder to be worthy of him. "I will continue to duel him, Master. There's no way he can stand against me with apparation."
"Leave it. He is not worth the effort and we have more important matters, Bellatrix," Voldemort returned, giving her a level look. "Do not overstep yourself."
"Forgive me, My Lord," she said quickly, bowing her head. She moved back slightly so as not to be in his way and kept her eyes focused on the lone Gryffindor. Why was the Dark Lord so willing to keep the boy alive? She could end his life in but moments...
"Enough of this." Dumbledore's voice swept over the area, bringing a swift calm to the fearful people behind him. Silence fell as wands steadied, all pointed at Voldemort, though none attacked. Dumbledore's presence certainly had the effect of a leader. "Even you are not foolish enough to attack such a large group with myself present. What is your aim?"
"Do not be so arrogant, Dumbledore," Voldemort retorted. "Your presence is no more than an irritant to me." He was still sweeping his eyes over the group of people, making sure to momentarily lock gazes with as many as possible. They wouldn't attack him. He could practically smell the fright in them all. "I only wanted to greet my fellow witches and wizards who are observing my return. It isn't often I get the opportunity to speak at such ease."
"N-no one wants to hear what you have to say!" came the unsteady voice of, surprisingly, the Minister. Fudge stepped forwards so that he was ahead of the rest of the group but still easily safe behind Dumbledore. "You are a curse on this country. B-begone with you..." His voice faded out as Voldemort turned his attention to the short man in his night clothing.
"Minister, the Britain you have been watching over is no more. Wizarding kind is weakening, and will continue to do so, until someone who is willing to take necessary action steps up to the task."
"And you believe that person is you?" interjected Dumbledore, watching the man impassively. "To lead us into the future with our hands stained in blood?"
"It's not about what I believe, Dumbledore, it is about what needs to be done. No longer will the pure to be overtaken by those who are nothing but imitators and thieves; by those creatures who have been and will always be beneath us. You know what I say is true, but you will not admit it. I will bring wizarding kind into a golden age, and woe be it to anyone who tries to stop me."
And with that Voldemort was gone. Harry quickly looked over at where Bellatrix had been standing, but she too had apparated away, now that Voldemort had torn the ward to shreds. Nearly thirty seconds passed before anyone dared to move or speak. However once the first person did it was like a damn burst and the Atrium was filled with sound. It truly was over.
"I can't believe that whole thing just happened," Harry muttered, running to where Dumbledore was standing amongst the group of people, bending slightly to brush dust off of his robe. It still amazed Harry how the two powerhouses of the battle he'd just been a part of had both been in formal wear. He'd have tripped over himself within seconds trying to duel in something like that. Bellatrix had shed her Death Eater wear the moment the battle stated in the Department of Mysteries.
"I must say, that was indeed a heated duel," commented Dumbledore, still staring at the spot that Voldemort had been standing. He shook his head minutely before turning to the teen and beaming at him. "Well done, Harry. Well done indeed. Considering that I did not expect you to be so skilled, I highly doubt either Bellatrix nor Voldemort expected it either. While certainly not impossible, the battle would have been immensely harder without your help."
"I, uh, I was alright," he said Harry, feeling a bit embarrassed at his sudden showcasing of his skills. "I didn't hold a candle to any of you though."
"While you lack the experience that can only come from living a great number of years, you made up for it with more than enough raw ability and tenacity. There aren't many who can get Bellatrix Lestrange so enthused about a duel. Admittedly there aren't many who'd want to either."
"She was so good..." Harry shook his head in disbelief. "We were all fighting down in the Department of Mysteries before we came up here. Voldemort hit her with a Crucio before you showed up, and I'd managed to put a hole in her arm by tricking her, but she still got me so many times. I barely made it." It was the truth. Now that the adrenaline was fading from his body he was beginning to feel all of the wounds he'd accumulated over the course of the evening and it did not feel pleasant.
"Yet you did make it," said Dumbledore, smiling at the two healers that had finally rushed over to them and giving a suggestive look at Harry. They immediately began working on patching him up. "I think that is what matters most."
"Yeah, I guess so," he replied tiredly.
"Mr. Potter, please take a seat," said one of the Healers, conjuring a chair for him which he sunk into gratefully.
"That was one hell of a duel, kid," said the other, running his wand along his lower half with a diagnostic spell. "And against those two? I thought you were going to end up as paste."
"Just don't tell Poppy, she'd kill me," Harry said raggedly, gasping a bit as the first Healer removed the numbing charm on his shoulder. Yeah some form of broken. "Or McGonagall." He paused for a moment. "Or Hermione. Actually, you know what? Don't tell anyone."
"Sorry, no can do, Harry dear," came a female voice that Harry knew quite well. "Anything you'd like to say after that epic encounter?"
"Of course you'd be here, Rita," said Harry dryly, looking over the Healer's shoulder where none other than Rita Skeeter was standing in her prim green dress, looking like the cat that caught the canary. Hell of a canary if you asked him, too. "Couldn't you at least wait until I'm put back together?"
"Now, now, you know the world waits for no one," she admonished, conjuring a chair for herself and taking a seat. She crossed her legs and leaned forwards conspiratorially, a posture that suited the conniving gossip she was. At his raised eyebrows she continued, "Don't worry, I binned my old quill for regular ones. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices, you know?"
"Don't I ever..."
A number of feet away, Dumbledore was giving Minister Fudge a silent look that had the man fidgeting in his slippers.
"Don't say it, Dumbledore," he grumbled, looking around at the damage. "You were right after all. I suppose you're happy?"
"Not in the slightest, Minister, I couldn't disagree more," said Dumbledore gravely. Amelia had already organized and was leading the majority of the Aurors she'd brought with her to the Department of Mysteries. The Headmaster hadn't heard anything from the Order, but he trusted the group to take care of itself, else he'd have never left them like he did in the recent weeks. Harry's plan had apparently worked very well. A risky maneuver, but these days they couldn't afford to sit around and play it safe. Now that Voldemort was back in the public eye things would be different, and they'd need to act accordingly.
"Headmaster." Dumbledore turned to find the female Healer that had been working on Harry standing before him. "We've patched Mr. Potter up. He only needs some bed rest and maybe a potion to help with the pain. I don't remember seeing you get hurt but are you in need of us as well?"
"No, thank you," said Dumbledore with a twinkling smile. "I need to return Harry to school. If that is all?"
The Healer nodded and rejoined her partner, the two leaving Harry sitting next to the reporter.
"What was it like dueling Bellatrix Lestrange?" she was asking, already on her second page of notes. Harry couldn't help but be amused at the whole thing as he'd barely told her anything about the night including why and how he even got there in the first place. School was still in session after all.
"Really damn dangerous. I don't advise it to anyone who wants to live a long life," he answered, shaking his head. "Professor?"
"Take this, Harry," said the Headmaster, handing the boy a small piece of the fountain he'd summoned. "I've turned it into a portkey that will take you to the gates. With the wards still down here it shouldn't present a problem. Someone will also be there to let you into the grounds. Please meet me in my office I will be along shortly."
"Sounds good to me," Harry said quickly, getting to his feet at once. "Sorry Rita, love to chat but you know..." He shrugged as the portkey activated, vanishing him on the spot.
"I wasn't done with my interview, Dumbledore," said Rita with a frown, eyes still on the empty chair Harry had been occupying seconds before. "I guess I'll have to settle for-" But when she turned around, Dumbledore was gone as well. "Damn it."
It was an hour later that Dumbledore found himself back in his office at Hogwarts with Harry Potter taking the seat opposite the desk. He himself was currently giving Fawkes some much needed attention, though not unaware of the atmosphere that had settled over the room.
"If I had to take a guess I'd say that you are impatiently patiently waiting for me to say something," said Dumbledore after a second of consideration. He frowned for a moment, considering what he'd just said and nodded. "Yes, that's it exactly. Do you agree?"
"I'm giving you the chance to fully explain yourself, Headmaster," said Harry, arms still crossed expectantly. It wasn't lost on either of them that they'd just been in a deadly duel barely an hour past, but it couldn't compare to the importance of this conversation and that was something they both understood. "From beginning to end. I'll answer all of your questions, but you'll have to answer mine first. I think you owe me that at least."
"Indeed you are right, Harry," Dumbledore sighed. "Despite having my own questions, I owe you a great deal of explanations, and the beginning is where I shall start."
"The prophecy, I take it," said Harry, letting out a long exhale of his own.
The man nodded. "It was made to me, before your birth." Giving Fawkes one final stroke, he walked over to the cabinet that contained the pensive, only to be frozen as Harry began speaking again, his head turning sharply.
"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches. Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies... and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives. The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies... " Harry said the entire thing with a blank look, still looking across the desk at the shelves behind it. He blinked and shook his head, finally meeting the Headmaster's eyes. "Trelawney's always had a flair for dramatics, but this one really takes the cake, you know?"
Dumbledore's hand had stopped a centimeter from the latch. He was giving Harry a very surprised look.
"...I was under the impression that it was destroyed tonight by you," he said, fully turning to face the boy. "I imagine you didn't have the opportunity to listen to it either. Also how did you know who made it?"
"You're right about both," confirmed Harry, leaning back in his seat a bit. "And Trelawney's initials were on the shelf, along with yours. Anyway, I didn't learn about it today. I've known about it since Christmas."
"Christmas, you say..." Dumbledore was tugging at his beard. "There is no one but myself who could have told you the prophecy in full, and I most certainly didn't." He paused for a moment and looked at Harry again. "Though it seems silly to ask, did I happen to tell you the prophecy this past Christmas?"
"No, Headmaster, you weren't anywhere near me when it happened," replied Harry, unable to keep a small grin off his face.
"Well, I'm glad that my memory is still going strong at least," Dumbledore continued with a smile, making Harry chuckle. "In that case I can only conclude that you discovered it from the source. You were moving about independently for a couple of days before the twenty-fifth after all. Am I correct so far?"
"Yep," said Harry with a nod.
Dumbledore nodded as well, now pacing slightly. "Would I also be right in assuming that you were enraged beyond usual levels at the time you heard it?"
"That's putting it mildly." Harry's voice was rather tight though he kept it in check.
"But you are not unintelligent," Dumbledore continued. "No doubt you realized the prophecy was what Voldemort sought. You-" He looked up, eyes twinkling. "The prophecy that was so heatedly fought over tonight was a fake, wasn't it?"
"Right in one," said Harry. "Best thing I've ever conjured in my life."
"A marvelous accomplishment for a fifth year," said Dumbledore in approval. "May I ask what you did with the original?"
"I destroyed it."
"All the better," he said with a nod. "And most understandable as well. There is no chance now that Voldemort will hear it in full. That is, unless either of us tell him, though I don't believe that is something we need be concerned about."
"Wait, he didn't know the whole thing?" Suddenly, the almost stupid motive that Voldemort had been working under for nearly a year made so much more sense now.
"No, unfortunately for him, the Death Eater that was eavesdropping was discovered and expelled in the middle of the prophecy. Voldemort did not hear anything about a 'power the Dark Lord knows not' or beyond that."
"And the Death Eater who overheard the prophecy?" asked Harry, wondering what Dumbledore would say. "Is he still alive?"
"Yes, he is, and that is all I will say on the matter."
"...Alright, I won't press you for it," said Harry. "It's not like I'm consumed with the desire to avenge my parents. I've actually..." He paused, looking at the ceiling. "I've made my peace, I guess."
Dumbledore let out a small breath. "I'm... pleased to hear that, Harry," said Dumbledore after a few moments, his voice soft. "As you know the prophecy, will you permit me to begin my story?"
Harry sat up in his seat, leaning forwards slightly. "Yes, please."
"I know that you have been researching the first war against Voldemort and his Death Eaters," began the Headmaster, now taking the seat behind his desk. "But I will have you understand that even with the sources you've had access to, none of them had the full picture. We were losing, yes, but it was far, far worse than most believed. There were so many factors that aided in Britain's certain doom. To begin with, Britain's magical community has always been made up of mainly conservative witches and wizards. That isn't to say they were as radical as the Death Eaters, but the ideas of isolationism, pureblood superiority, and all together the dislike of anything non magical and non human were strong. Voldemort had a very firm grip over the country and its people. His incredible intellect, magical ability, unwavering drive, and most of all certain lack of morality were all great assets that took him above and beyond what the Ministry could reasonably handle, particularly with its decline in power from less than exemplary Ministers. With Grindlewald's end due to my own actions, I was immediately turned to and relied upon to help assist the anti-Voldemort movement." Dumbledore paused, waving his wand at a cabinet and causing a decanter and two glasses to float out of it and over to his desk where they were both filled with the the amber liquid within.
"Uh, Professor?" said Harry slowly, looking at the glass that was clearly for him with apprehension. He'd seen a lot of amber liquid in glass bottles before. It wasn't for people his age.
"Apologies, I always get thirsty for a cold glass of apple juice when I tell stories," said Dumbledore, taking a long drink from his own with a look of deep satisfaction. He refilled his glass before holding the bottle up and jiggling it a bit. "This wonderful gift was given to me by Filius. It keeps whatever liquid inside it cold and it connected to a larger container much in the same way a number of more expensive writing quills are to bottles of ink. A pseudo bottomless bottle of apple juice. Wonderful, isn't it?"
"Uh, yeah..." said Harry, deciding to just go with the flow and drink as well. The man would finish his story... eventually.
"As I was saying, I was swept up into opposing Voldemort. I will not lie to you, Harry, when it comes to magical strength and ability, Voldemort will always be my better."
"Wha- you can't be serious!" said Harry in shock. "You beat him tonight, didn't you? Besides if that were true than what's all this 'the only one he ever feared' business?"
"I assure you, Voldemort does not fear me," said Dumbledore lightly. "Nor does my besting him in a duel mean as much as you believe it to. It would be much more appropriate to say that he respects me, albeit grudgingly. The reason that I have been able to survive against him, both tonight and in the number of times we met in years before you were born, is because I have always been a more skilled duelist than him. Additionally I simply know a great deal more magic than he does, though of course we both have our areas of expertise. I'm sure you don't know specifics like birthdays, but I am nearly half a century older than he is. You, who have improved so much in a not even a full year, can only imagine what nearly fifty years of life would do to a person's ability and knowledge."
"I'll say," nodded Harry.
"That aside, I am... how should I say this... not in my prime any longer. I am not fully confident in my ability to defend myself perfectly if we were to duel again, and considering our positions, it is likely. Who is to say exactly how much longer I will be able to escape from our conflicts unscathed?"
"But I still don't understand how I fit into all of this," interjected Harry. "I get the prophesy and all that, but how-"
"Allow me to fast forward a bit," Dumbledore continued quickly, cutting Harry off. "October 31st , 1981, Voldemort attempted and failed to kill you, the one he believed foretold to be able to truly defeat him. Was the prophecy true? Who can really tell in the end, but Voldemort believed it was and that is all that really mattered."
"Wait a second," Harry was giving Dumbledore a confused look. "How can you question if the thing was true or not? I thought they all came true. That's what Sven said when I went there."
"Ah so you did meet Sven," said Dumbledore. "I was curious how you'd come across the prophecy itself. The place where they are kept is quite the large room, from what I've heard."
"Yes I- wait, you know Sven?" asked Harry in surprise.
"I think you'll find that I know quite a lot of people, Harry," said Dumbledore with a chuckle.
"He's not a part of the Order, is he?" Harry couldn't help but wonder how far Dumbledore's arm stretched.
"No, no, Sven is an Unspeakable and a researcher," explained the man. "Nothing more."
"Well Sven is the one who is in charge of the Hall of Prophesy," continued Harry, "and he told me that prophecies always come true."
"Well, yes, as far as he knows anyway," shrugged the Headmaster.
"Please, Harry, think for a moment. Is there any possible way for anyone to know for sure? Indeed prophecies have been true but the Hall of Prophesy only contains records of them all. Was there any record of ones that had been completed as to not?" he finished.
"Um, I couldn't tell you," said Harry, trying to think back to the Hall. Everything had looked the same. Suddenly he winced thinking about all the damage he'd caused. It was doubtful a simple Reparo would fix it all. Crap.
"Then you can't possibly know." Dumbledore held up his hand as Harry made to argue with him again. "Harry, listen to me. Everyone in the world has talents. There are many people who achieve beyond what most could ever begin to imagine and they are held above many for it. It is the same with those who accomplish seemingly impossible or important tasks. Would you say these people were destined to do such?"
"Not necessarily." Harry thought about what Dumbledore was saying before adding, "I mean, I'm a fair good flier, but I'm not interested in playing Quidditch as a career."
"An excellent example," agreed Dumbledore. "Nobody is born to do anything. It is our actions and what we decide that determine our course. I may have no way of proving this to you, and both ways of thinking may bring you to the same place, but you do have the choice about how to believe they happen, and I am much more willing to lean towards the idea that we control our lives than not. It's much more agreeable, don't you think?"
"Then why put so much store in the prophecy!" exclaimed Harry in frustration, unable to keep to his seat as he began moving about the room. "Why? What if I'd run away from it? I still have half a mind to do that you know."
"Ah, but Harry you are forgetting what I said earlier," countered Dumbledore, his expression still maintaining the calm and somewhat entertained look he had been wearing throughout. "Of course I had no idea what you would be like as you got older. I could certainly hope, but no one can be sure of such things. How was I able to rely so much on the prophecy? Because I know Voldemort almost as well as he does himself, and he would never leave such a loose end hanging over him and his agenda. If someone was predicted to stand against him, Voldemort would stop at nothing to kill him. You didn't die that night, and considering the circumstances I knew that Voldemort would be back because of it."
"I... oh." Harry was giving the man a mixed look. "That actually makes a lot of sense, in a way."
"Of course, once you started at Hogwarts I got all the proof I needed," continued Dumbledore. "My trap to lure Voldemort out of hiding, while garnering a certain amount of unwanted attention from a certain group of nosy first years with a penchant for trouble, was successful." Harry had the grace to look at least a little embarrassed but still defended himself stubbornly.
"At least I didn't just leave a potential way for Voldemort to return to a body just lying around in a school full of children," he grumbled. However instead of countering, Dumbledore actually gave a short chuckle.
"Harry, you don't really think that I'd do such a thing, did you?" he asked in amusement. At Harry's confused look he continued, "The stone was a fake, obviously. I don't doubt Voldemort suspected that there was the chance it was fake as well, but he would have taken the chance anyway, it was too good to pass up."
"You mean we went through all that life threatening rubbish for nothing?" said Harry indignantly.
"I wouldn't say for nothing," answered Dumbledore, though he wasn't quite meeting Harry's eyes, looking a little above his head and twiddling his thumbs. "I'm sure the experience was a maturing one in some shape or form. We had one of those 'I'll tell you when you're older' talks as well. Fond times, fond times."
"You're unbelievable..." groaned the boy. "So where was the real stone? Hidden at Gringotts in a better vault or something? You know now that I think on it that whole thing was just so obvious..."
"Nicholas still has it, of course," said Dumbledore. "Publicly he's put it out that he's making peace with his long life and letting it draw to a close, but in reality he's quite obsessed with life and the changing world. He'd never let it go, nor would his wife. No doubt he's still in the States. I believe he's been playing around with Muggle politics lately."
"You don't say..." said Harry blankly. Yep, it was official. Old wizards were absolutely barmy. Though, considering that Flamel was half a millennia older than Dumbledore, the headmaster would be a baby compared to the alchemist, and who knew how he would act. With any luck he'd never meet the guy.
"Voldemort's next issue was that he needed help to return to a body in a different way, help which he didn't end up finding until Sirius chased it to him. Of course," Dumbledore added quickly to stem Harry's objection, "Wormtail's return to Voldemort wasn't something that I would blame on Sirius, but the man wanted protection, and his old master was the best he could think of."
"But that was at the end of my third year," said Harry. "What about the Chamber of Secrets?"
"While the incident during your second year certainly involved Voldemort, it was not the one we are currently focused on and speaking of. Do not worry, Harry, I will come back to that event in time," promised the Headmaster. "Now, Voldemort shortly thereafter gained back a much more faith based follower, Crouch Junior. Barty was a very talented man in school and beyond, as we can tell from his capture and impersonation of Alastor Moody."
"Did you know?"
Dumbledore paused and met Harry's eyes which were narrowed.
"I never really considered it, but now that you've told me how you played the Sorcerer's Stone incident I can't help but wonder." The events of the fourth year hit much closer to home than those of his first. True, one was much more recent than the other, but 'Moody' had been a bit more of a mentor and a comfort to him than the other Professors at the time. Yes, this was all schemed, but it still didn't help the fact that Harry had put his trust in the man for the better part of a year only to find out he was someone else entirely. A man who wanted nothing less than his death.
"Honestly?" Dumbledore was giving him a serious look. One which eventually caved to a tired one, clearly apologetic. "I did not. Crouch Jr. did an excellent job of impersonating my friend. Admittedly I had not seen him as much as I used to since Voldemort's first rise to power, particularly after he retired. Still, I was surprised by the level to which he was able to pretend to be Alastor. He even knew many things from our past quite intimately, as if he'd been there himself. Alas, I was complacent."
"Legilimency," said Harry suddenly, making Dumbledore look up from his folded hands. "He must have been very good at Legilimency. Veritaserum and guesswork can only get you so far. Maybe even a few pensive memories to see how he moved?"
"An excellent theory, and likely correct," agreed Dumbledore, giving Harry an approving look. "Given that he didn't have a lot of time to work with, it would seem that Crouch Jr. had a talent for subterfuge. Much in the same way that young Nymphadora does, though obviously to a lesser degree."
"Wait a second, wasn't Tonks was trained by Moody?" said Harry in confusion.
"Indeed she was, though that was the years prior to the Tri-Wizard Tournament. It's too bad that she never visited during the event, no doubt she'd have noticed something was off." Dumbledore shook his head slightly. "Unfortunately that didn't happen and Voldemort was able to return. Now at this point, he was still quite weak, however, you escaped once again. Your uncanny ability to foil him thus far made Voldemort think that maybe he was missing something. So while he recovered his strength, built up his foundation and prepared to come out in the open, he also hunted the prophecy, which he knew absolutely nothing about beyond the words he'd been told. This, along with his dislike of doing anything that hasn't already been well planned out, was what took him so long to make his move."
"But now he has," said Harry, frowning, "and now it's real. Everything has changed."
"In a way yes and in a way no," said Dumbledore, holding out his arms. "Voldemort can now start openly recruiting to the masses and other groups that would never have joined him without his showing his strength to the public. His lack of interest in killing us over his short but still lasting speech tells us much about his priorities in itself. However, on the other hand his motives have never changed from the beginning, and through that we can easily plan for at least some of his coming acts. Specifically those regarding you."
"I've got one more question though," said Harry. "Why hold all this back? Considering how much I'm involved you could have said something," said Harry dryly.
"You are quite right, Harry, but you must understand that for a very long time I have been taking on the more complicated challenges of our society with a certain level of isolation from others, for whatever the reason. Keeping secrets from my allies and not telling the whole story are things I do without thought, simply for safety's sake. That isn't to say I feel I've done anything wrong, it is just that it has been a long time since I last worked with someone I could call a legitimate partner. I hope that you can find patience for an old man set in his ways."
"I-" For a little while Harry just didn't know what to say. The man sitting before him was certainly not the one he'd been annoyed with nearly a year ago. "I guess you don't have to be young to learn a lesson, do you?"
"No, you do not," agreed Dumbledore, a wide smile on his face once more.
"Alright then." Harry sat up in his seat, leaning forwards a bit. "What's the plan? How do we move forwards from here?"
Dumbledore gave him an appraising look before tilting his head slightly to the side. "Well, I believe it is about time I took a greater hand in your education. Yes, Harry, that means what you think it does."
"Wait, really?" he said in shock. "You'll train me? Personally?
"Unless you'd rather not-"
"Are you kidding? When do we start?" Harry said excitedly. Like he would ever pass up something like this.
"Don't get ahead of yourself," said Dumbledore, bringing Harry back to reality. "Yes we will have days for magic, but there is also a great deal about Voldemort I must teach you, both for your own benefit and in the event something happens to me as well. There is so much more to the entire situation that you simply do not know yet."
"Is that why you haven't done anything earlier?" Harry was unable to keep the accusation out of his voice.
Dumbledore gave him a sad look. "You believe I have left you alone for far too long?"
Harry let his eyes wander over to where Fawkes was, watching the conversation in silence. "It's not really that specifically. I just don't understand why you couldn't have told me something. That at least something was planned, instead of letting me sit and worry about everything as it got worse and worse."
"Would you have rather I took you under my wing the moment you got here?" asked the Headmaster. "To begin to prepare you for a battle even I was unsure about actually happening myself? Take you away from an entire world that you had just become aware of? And your friends?" He held up a hand to stop Harry from answering. "You are right, I should have mentioned something earlier, though I still stand by what I've done. As you've made apparent, the home you grew up in left much to be desired. Being at Hogwarts was, I believed, the thing that you needed most. A fresh chance at friends and experiences far away from your relatives. And I believe that in the end it was for the better, don't you agree?"
"You think that I wouldn't have made friends if you'd clued me in a little?" Harry asked, clearly not really believing him.
"No of course not, but it would have marred your thinking. I did not want you developing with that in the back of your mind. Also, it is sometimes better to come into something naturally over time than by being forced." Still getting a flat expression, Dumbledore sighed. "I wanted you to enjoy as much of your school years as possible before Voldemort returned. That is the truth."
As frustrated as he was, Harry couldn't help but smile a bit at the old man. His desire for people to be happy was overpowering to a fault. He eventually let out a sigh, letting his frustration go. The past was just that: the past. "So, when do we start? Sixth year?"
"No, we will begin over summer holidays," said the Headmaster. "We cannot afford to wait and you have more than proven yourself to have grown both as a wizard and a young man this year. You are ready to learn what you must. I only hope that I am equally ready to teach you."
"Don't worry, Professor," Harry assured him, giving the man a small grin. "I've got nothing but faith in you."
"As do I, Harry. As do I."
At long last the fifth years found themselves waking up on the first day of their OWLs. For some it was nerve wracking, for others it was somewhat exciting, for Hermione...
"Harry so help me if you waste even a second of my last few hours I will end your life! Twice!"
For Harry, it was a bit of a nice return to normality. For the first time in weeks there was something more important going on in everyone's minds than talking about the Ministry and Voldemort. Or at least for most of them. The students who didn't have OWLs and NEWTs were sitting their regular exams during the same week. It kept everyone focused on things that had nothing to do with him, and let him think about the coming summer in peace.
His summer living arrangement was already completed. As he and the Founders had planned, Harry had put in a special order at the trunk shop for a live-in trunk which he would pick up the day after returning to the Dursleys. Much like the tent that the Weasleys had used during the Quidditch World Cup, but considerably more sturdy and portable. It was nothing spectacular, however much the owner of the shop attempted to convince him to spend more money, but it was certainly leagues better than what he had been living in for the past number of years.
His own bathroom… Pure bliss.
Especially considering that he didn't need to see his relatives once the whole summer if things worked out well enough. So why improve his lodgings at the Dursleys when he could probably easily live anywhere else for the summer, no doubt in better company? Well, there was just something about the small cramped room that felt secure. He had his privacy whenever he wanted it and he didn't need to be constantly surrounded by Order members and the Weasleys. Not that he wasn't going to see any of them. He could apparate over whenever he wanted, and he'd be continuing his training throughout the summer as well, though not quite what he had been doing previously.
Besides, there were a number of things he wanted to research in the privacy of his home. One of which was...
Chapter 7: Animagus Transformations
So you've finally turned to the chapter on being an animagus, have you? I'm kidding, you and I both know you turned here the moment you opened this book. After all, being an animagus is one of the coolest things wizarding kind has going for it. Unless you end up a gold fish I suppose. Anyway, there's a lot to consider here when we think about it, but it's supposed to be an informative book so let's get down to it shall we?
An animagus is the term we use to describe a witch or wizard who has unlocked, and note I say the word unlocked, the ability to fully transform into a single, non magical animal. Sorry champ, you can't be a dragon. By full transformation, I mean both in body and mind. The witch or wizard essentially gains the instincts of that animal, while still retaining their own human mind in the process. You become that animal, and yet you don't. Of course you lose the ability to essentially be a magical human and all that comes with it, but then again I can't imagine why you'd turn into an animal when you'd want to be a human or vice versa.
An amusing statistic is that there have been only seven registered animagus in the past century. I say amusing, not because it is without a doubt one hundred percent accurate, but because ironically the day that the Ministry began requiring its citizens to register, the number of animagus in Britiain dropped by an absolutely staggering amount. Numbers vary from source to source, but I'll be conservative and just say it dropped by about fifty times. So I wouldn't be surprised if there were at least a few hundred animagus scattered throughout the country over the past century. I'll even bet there's an unregistered animagus working in the department that would handle doling out that ridiculously large fine for breaking that law. Moral of the story? Being an animagus isn't as obscure as people make it seem. It's just difficult and can take a really long time if you don't have help.
But how does it work? There are so many curious aspect about it; shall we start with the largest? What determines a person's animal? Is it fixed from birth or does it change multiple times over the course of a person's life and then lock into place the first time said person does the transformation? Why is it stuck to animals and even a number of insects, uncommon as they are? How does the magic even know what animals are or how many there are or even what they all are? Is it limited to just animals that exist now or can extinct ones come up too? Why is it only one animal, is it possible to have more than one? And continuing that thought, is it possible to change your animal after already transforming into one?
The answer to all of these? I've got no idea. No one does. A lot of people have made their life's work the study of animagus and we're no closer now than we were then. One of the main problems with magic in general, as I've come to understand. There are theories of course, plenty of those. And I think a lot of them are worth considering. It seems that animagus animals are somewhat related to the type of person who becomes one. The animal usually fits the personality fairly well. There are exceptions but this has almost always been the case and I'm more inclined to believe it than not. I'm a stag myself, and that's about as accurate as it gets. Joking aside, the most useful thing we know is that as a wandless magic, you can pretty easily determine if you can become an animagus simply by knowing if you can do even the faintest amount of wandless magic. Even then you still never know, but it also appears that those who are more adept at wandless magic have an easier time achieving the transformation. So all in all, if you went off of nothing else, training wandless magic would help the most. Of course, you aren't going it alone here. That's why I wrote the book after all.
But before we really get into it, I'll draw your attention back to something I said at the very beginning of this chapter. Why is it unlocked and not learned? Simply because you can't choose what you become. Of all the rules of animagus, this is the one thing that is iron clad. Basically there had to be something already there for you to have a set animal, so we must have the ability from birth or it develops at a certain point. Following this, I believe that every person has the potential to be an animagus. That would mean everyone has the ability to use wandless magic too. Still, it's just like everything else in the world where some people are really good at something and others are awful. A perfect example...
The Gryffindor lowered his father's book a few inches so that he could meet a pair of blue eyes with his green ones.
"Hey Luna, what's up?"
"Oh nothing much," she replied, regarding him with that small smile she always wore around him these days. "I just wanted to wish you good luck on your exam. I didn't see you with the others earlier."
Harry and Luna exchanged silent looks for a few seconds before Harry leapt to his feet and took off for the Great Hall where his first OWL had started... thirty minutes ago.
"Harry, are you trying to give me a heart attack?" moaned Hermione, leaning against a wall with a hand over her left breast. "I was freaking out when you didn't show up."
"I'm sorry, Hermione, it won't happen again," he said once more, the first time having been to a very agitated McGonagall after she found out he'd been late.
"You're right it won't happen again," assured the girl, fixing him with a glare. "I'm not letting you out of my sight until we're done."
"Have fun with that, mate," snickered Ron, walking off with his hands in his pockets.
Harry just shook his head. Ever since he'd somehow done the impossible and led the patchwork Gryffindor team to another Quidditch Cup, he'd been floating about in the best mood they'd seen him in all year. He'd even been spending a suspicious amount of time in the company of one Lavender Brown, a girl who'd just giggle and shake her head when questioned about it. The gossip could be quite clever when pressed but usually she just enjoyed her girly-girl life that she soaked in happily. That included a penchant for being neck deep in boy drama, though she was being surprisingly close lipped lately. Mysterious indeed.
Harry just shrugged and began walking off down the corridor, prompting Hermione to follow him at once.
"And where are you off to now?" she asked suspiciously, noting the small grin on his face. "I doubt it's to prepare for the practical."
"To the bathroom, if you must know," said Harry, making the girl stop dead in her tracks. "But you can come if you want I suppose." He turned around to see Hermione already heading back in the opposite direction, determinedly not looking back. Letting out a laugh when she finally disappeared, Harry conjured a lounge chair next to a suit of armor and plopped down, pulling out his father's book to continue where he'd left off. The Charms written test had been cake, half an hour penalty or not, and he knew the practical would be even easier, no doubt entertaining, but nothing to worry over.
"Give me a tap on the shoulder after an hour, would you?" he asked the metal warrior, regaining his place in the book and becoming absorbed once more. If he had been looking he'd have seen the helmet nod in assent once before returning to statue like stillness.
"I understand that we needed to relocate in order to have a private conversation," began Rowena, looking around with raised eyebrows, "but was it necessary to take us all the way out here? Even as a portrait I recognize the Enchanted Forest."
"Forbidden Forest, Rowena," corrected Godric. "We changed the name for a reason, remember? Though I do find myself wondering if our friend here knows..."
"Harry, are you sure you are safe here?" asked Salazar, speaking before Rowena could retort. Harry just nodded.
"Safer than you'd think. We're currently surrounded by no less than a dozen snakes of various sizes. There are probably more even further out. Anything that decides to visit will be driven off or killed," he explained. "I'm pretty well known by the snakes in the Forest."
Salazar gave him a very approving look. "An excellent use of your ability."
"Thanks," said Harry, appreciating the compliment. He looked around at the three Founders, all propped up on conjured surfaces so they could see one another. He himself was sitting in a comfy chair he'd made. "So, who wants to start?"
"I would appreciate a little background on this woman, if it wouldn't be too much trouble," said Salazar. "I understand she's been around for a number of months."
"Let me just start from the beginning so that we're all on the same page," said Harry, looking between them. Receiving no objection he took a breath and began. "I've been using the Room to train and relax for the entire school year. Then, on one particularly bad day I was having in December I walked the stretch of wall three times like usual, but this time I asked it or one thing: help."
"I'm surprised that something so abstract even worked," mused Rowena, looking over to Godric for his opinion.
"Indeed, it appears that the Room of Requirement has evolved to levels that we never even believed possible," he said, scratching his chin.
"Actually I think that you're both thinking about it the wrong way," interjected Harry, making them look at him. "Putting the mundane ones aside like using a toilet or needing to hide from someone, people's needs are complex. I couldn't possibly put what I needed into words because I didn't know how to express it and what I really needed to begin with. I only knew that I needed help; that I wanted help. And Stella has done that in more ways than I can imagine."
"Let us regain our focus, if you would," said Salazar, giving the three of them looks.
"Right, sorry." Harry paused for a moment before continuing, frowning in thought. "Stella is... odd. When I first met her she wasn't very human. Oh sure she looked like she does now but she acted, well, like a castle," he finished lamely. "Not to mention the fact that she said she was Hogwarts."
"I see..." said Godric, clearly wanting a better explanation.
"I mean she didn't have much of a personality," said Harry. "She just lacked humanity and gave the impression of being artificial... mostly. She was really interested in people. The way we interacted and grew, stuff like that."
"Since then I assume that has changed?
"Like you wouldn't believe," said Harry, shaking his head. "I mean forget about the fact that she's probably the most skilled duelist of all time. She's been soaked in magic and "watching" every single person to ever go through her walls for hundreds and hundreds of years. It's unreal to see her move. Yet as we've been interacting every day she's been getting more and more human. I've been wondering if it's just because she's been picking things up from being around me, but after a while I started to wonder something else." Harry paused for a moment before he continued, "What if she isn't learning, but she's remembering?"
"In other words, what if Stella isn't Hogwarts but an actual young woman?" said Godric. At Harry's nod he continued, "Well, Rowena and I are more inclined to agree with you than not, though as to how such a thing is possible is beyond us."
"I- you are?" Harry was surprised. He'd honestly thought the notion was a little more than farfetched.
"If there is one ultimate rule of magic it is that magic cannot create true life," said Salazar, getting nods from his fellow Founders. "Be it from nothing or something that had been previously living but is no more, magic will not work. There are many ways to give false life, conjured animals are a prime example, but they are mere shadows of the real thing and require magic to give the impression of life to begin with."
"So how do you know that Stella isn't a false life, however perfect she is?" asked Harry, looking between the three of them. "I mean if anything had the magic to make it possible then the Castle would, don't you think?"
"You've answered that question yourself, Harry," said Rowena. "Having been around her so much you can't help but feel she is real, and while Godric and I both believe that she is not, there is nothing suggesting otherwise. Of course any of us could be wrong, but without a doubt there is something more to the situation than we are aware of."
"Which leads us to our problem," continued Godric. "As portraits we still retain a handful of useful powers in the castle, however beyond that we are fairly stuck."
"So you want me to investigate something for you?" asked Harry, catching on quickly. Salazar however was giving the other two an apprehensive look.
"You wish him to go to the Keystone?" he said, clearly not approving.
"What better way to investigate the mystery than by looking at the source?" said Rowena, returning Salazar's look with one of her own. "If the girl claims to be our castle then I have no doubt that something would have changed at its heart."
"That isn't what I'm saying," argued Salazar, losing his patience for the first time. "You are talking about sending Harry to what would likely be his death."
"Alright, time out!" said Harry quickly, throwing out his hands in an effort to keep this from going any further. "What do you mean send me to my death?"
"If we want to find out exactly what is going on with Hogwarts, what better way than to look at its heart?" posed Rowena, still seemingly unconcerned at the prospect of the matter being life threatening.
"Your logic isn't lost on me, Rowena," said Harry dryly. "It's the part about me getting killed I'm trying to understand. Salazar?"
"The castle takes an immense amount of magic to maintain itself and the land willingly provides it. Still, we needed something to harness that magic. The result was the Keystone. It is in essence, the heart of Hogwarts. Or more appropriately, its magical heart."
"And it's dangerous?" asked Harry.
"Well, not inherently, but it is a mass of raw magic," said Salazar. "If you actually interacted with it you would probably be harmed in some way. Regardless, the danger comes from the amount of protections around it. It was never meant to be visited except in very extreme circumstances to begin with. As far as I remember it, we never went back there once after it was sealed away. Unless you did after I left..."
"No," said Godric, shaking his head. "Harry, it is a dangerous place to go, but with our guidance there won't be an issue."
"I'll be perfectly honest, I don't believe you at all when you say that," said Harry dryly. "How do I get there anyway?" At this the Founders actually looked a bit... resigned?
"Well," began Godric after a second, "as a safeguard, we made it practically impossible for anyone to access the Keystone without our knowledge. The only way to get there is to have the way unlocked by the four founders together. It's impossible otherwise."
"Oh," said Harry, understanding the problem. There were, after all, only three Founders there. "So I just need to find Hufflepuff then?"
"Unfortunately," said Rowena with a small sigh. "No doubt she's hidden herself somewhere in the vicinity of the kitchens. She always loved it down there."
"You make it sound like you don't want to see her," said Harry accusingly. "I mean it's literally been centuries."
"As much as I miss the woman I know exactly what will happen the moment I see her," said Rowena, shaking her head. "You'll see when it happens, put it out of your mind."
"Right..." muttered Harry, clearly suspicious of the woman. "I should be heading back now. I've got some review to do before tomorrow's exam and I shouldn't be out here too late anyway, regardless of how much protection I bring along."
"A wise decision," agreed Salazar. "What will you be doing with us in the mean time?"
"I'll drop you three in the Room. It'll be way more comfortable that my pocket at any rate," replied the teen. "That alright?"
"Yes that's acceptable," said Rowena. "Time away from the castle will be interesting, if anything."
Harry watched Godric mimic the woman in amusement before shrinking all three portraits and returning them to his pocket, vanishing the conjured furniture.
"No doubt about that, Rowena," he grinned, setting off for the castle at an easy pace, chatting with one of the many snakes that accompanied him for the trip.
"Parkinson, Patil Padma, Patil Parvati, Potter."
"Good luck," said Hermione with a smile. Being alphabetically higher than them, she'd finished her practical a while ago, however she'd stuck around to support her friends.
"We'll be fine, Hermione," said Harry.
"I wasn't talking to you, Mr. Duelist," she said in a mock annoyed voice.
"Yeah, yeah," he grumbled, rolling his eyes as he walked off. Padma and Parvati both followed him giggling. "Seriously though, you two, you'll do great."
"Learned from the best," they chorused, making him rub the back of his head in embarrassment.
"I don't know about the best..."
"Potter, stop dawdling and get to your examiner," came the impatient voice of Professor McGonagall. As Deputy Headmistress she had been overseeing the running of the OWLs and NEWTs. Dumbledore, being the ever responsible Headmaster, was probably reading a book and drinking apple juice somewhere. You know, lead by example and all that.
"Sorry, Professor," he apologized, getting a move on to where the ancient looking woman was patiently waiting for him. However, McGonagall stopped him with a hand as he was passing her.
"This is the moment of truth, Potter," she said softly, the thin line her mouth had set into curving slightly. "Show us you deserve that golden embroidered Outstanding you were bragging about before."
"Not a problem, Professor," he said easily, giving her a winning grin. "This will only take a little while."
That taken care of, Harry finished making his way over to the right most testing area for the Defense Against the Dark Arts practical. Unlike the other two wand practicals which were done while sitting at a table with the examiner in a sort of cubicle for privacy and to prevent cheating, the Defense one was set up more like an archery range with targets at the far end. It made sense as a number of the spells they had to preform were destructive in nature. Also it enabled them to be tested on performing basic shield spells as well, of which there was one in the curriculum. All together probably the most involved exam they'd ever had.
"Mr. Potter, it's a pleasure to meet you," said Madame Marchbanks with a smile, one that Harry returned with a polite nod of his head. Harry noticed that the moment he walked into his range the sound from elsewhere cut out sharply. The peace was actually quite relaxing.
"Likewise, I hope you're ready to be impressed," he replied, spinning his wand.
"Of course," she affirmed, though it was in a way that told Harry she was probably just humoring him. No doubt she'd heard it a thousand times and more. "I will list a number of spells for you to perform and you may cast them at the targets. Accuracy is not scored, but please do your best regardless."
"Alright." Harry took an easy stance, wand held loosely in his left hand. "Let's start."
Harry stretched as he walked out of the Great Hall twenty minutes later, a wide grin on his face. Professor McGonagall, who had given him a questioning look when he finished his test in nearly half the time as everyone else, was now watching Madame Marchbanks in amusement, the elderly woman herself still watching Harry leave with expression of pure shock.
Oh yeah, he nailed it.
"So soon?" asked Hermione, unable to keep a slight amount of worry out of her voice.
"Yeah, it's not like the curriculum is that large. I would have been done earlier if she hadn't asked me if there was anything else appropriate that I'd like to demonstrate," he shrugged. A flat look from Hermione had Harry sighing. "Alright fine, it was a lot. But you could have done it just as quick if you weren't being so meticulous about every spell."
Hermione just put her hands on her hips. "They needed to be perfect, Harry, you know that."
"I know, I know." He looked around in search of his other close friend but to no avail. Ron hadn't been there earlier either. "Any idea where Ron is?"
"I think he's doing some last minute practice in a classroom on the third floor," she answered. "Do you think you can go find him? I'm worried that he'll be too caught up and overdo it, to be honest."
"Sure, good luck you lot," he added to the students around him, to which he got scattered thanks. Once he was up the stairs and out of sight he pulled out the Marauder's Map. No reason checking every room on the third floor for they guy when he could just find out exactly where he was. As it happened, Ron was pretty close to the Defense classroom. Harry could hear the sounds of spellwork as he got closer through the slightly open door.
"Can't sit still?" he asked, leaning on the door frame. Ron gave a small start and lowered his wand. The opposite side of the room was filled with fairly well demolished furniture.
"Hey, Harry," Ron said with a grin, sinking into a still intact chair. "Did you finish your practical?"
"Piece of cake, just do your best and it's an easy O," he replied with a nod. "Hermione sent me to collect you though, you're making her nervous not waiting with the others."
"Figured as much." Ron eyed his wand for a second before pointing it over his shoulder. "Reparo." Broken wood and glass rebuilt itself noisily at the debris clattered about. A few seconds later it stopped and Ron turned to look at his handiwork. "Damn, still not there yet. It's tough casting a spell effectively on something you aren't looking at."
"Sure, it makes it hard to properly conceptualize exactly what you want done," agreed Harry. "Of course, if you can manage it you end up looking really cool so..."
"My point exactly," grinned Ron, recasting the spell to properly fix everything. "Alright, I'm going to head down. Coming?"
"Nah, I'm keeping clear, it's all nerves down there. Even though the majority of everyone has gone it's a bit high strung."
"Right then, I'll see you later," said Ron, splitting with Harry at the entrance to the room and heading down the hall.
"Luck, mate," Harry called after him before turning around and making his way in the opposite direction.
Harry pulled to a halt as his name was called. Suddenly he was regretting not going back to the Entrance Hall with Ron.
Harry turned to face none other than Dolores Umbridge, a woman he had been steadily avoiding ever since the event at the ministry in May. Not that it had been especially difficult. The Defense professor barely came out of her office these days except to teach and have meals. Dumbledore's return was not something that she took well to, but there was nothing she could do about it, as her temporary spell as Headmistress came to a sudden halt. Also it seemed that Fudge no longer was in the mood to support her crazy agendas at the school. Admittedly the man had a lot more important things to deal with at the moment.
Umbridge was giving him a cold look, though her tone was level. "Come to my office, I have something to discuss with you pertaining to my class."
"Right..." Harry rolled his eyes as the woman disappeared back into her office, leaving the door ajar behind her. Honestly what was there to discuss. As a fifth year his final exams were the OWLs and there was nothing Umbridge could do about that, however much she disliked it. Still, she was a professor, and McGonagall had been warning him not to cause any more trouble than there was already. He entered the room and turned to close the door, only to suddenly be knocked aside as the door was flung wide, crashing into him.
Rolling slightly into an upright position, Harry's heart froze as his ears caught the tail end of the curse that had just nearly ended his life. Instead of hitting him in the back, the green spell impacted the thing that had thrown the door wide: a suit of armor. Instantly it was knocked back into the corridor, falling to pieces as the chest plate crumpled.
The bitch had seriously just tried to kill him!
"Reducto!" he shouted in rage, wand in his hand and pointed at the squat enemy before him. Umbridge ducked out of the way and behind her large ornate desk, though not before sealing the room with a flick of her wand. No way out now.
Their next spells actually collided with one another, causing a strong amount of concussive force to knock them both back and turning the air in front of them into a bright light show.
"I won't let you leave here alive!" snarled Umbridge, sending another two lethal spells at him which he deflected with difficulty. It wasn't that Umbridge was particularly skilled. Compared to Bellatrix her dueling was absolutely laughable and ugly. There was no discipline and even less form. However the office was not by any means large, and it was the closest dueling he'd ever had. Not even Stella had engaged him at this distance. Thank god she had been looking out for him like usual, else he'd be dead.
"Fuck you!" snapped Harry. "Excandesco!" His spell caused his wand tip to flare white, blinding Umbridge who hadn't managed to close her eyes in time. His next spell however was the real finish as he banished the woman's desk directly at her with brutal force, crushing her against the opposite wall. Her scream of anguish was short lived as she suddenly dropped forwards onto the desk, wand falling from her limp fingers, like a marionette with its strings cut.
There was no way she was conscious after that, but he hit her with a stunner, just to be sure.
Harry sank to the floor, breathing heavily. The sudden rush of adrenaline had left him as quickly as the fight had begun.
What felt like a moment later the door burst open, barely remaining on its hinges as Dumbledore swept in, wand held high. He immediately took in the state of the room and its occupants and lowered his wand with a small breath, moving over to the Gryffindor on the floor.
"Are you alright, Harry?" asked Dumbledore, looking at the teen in worry.
"Yeah..." Harry took a few seconds to try and slow his rather rapid breathing. "Yeah, I'm alright." He looked over where the unconscious woman lay, still in the exact position she'd been struck down in. "She actually tried to kill me. Just... damn."
Dumbledore frowned, walking over to check on the downed woman. After a moment he turned back to Harry. "If I had to guess, and you know how much I dislike doing so, I would hazard that she might have been put under the Imperious Curse."
"The Imperious?" Harry frowned heavily in though, considering how his interaction with the woman had been, followed by the attack. "I don't know, she didn't seem like she was being controlled. No blank expression, her eyes weren't empty, in all honesty she seemed perfectly normal... well apart from the trying to kill me part. Even that's a bit of a stretch considering how much she hated me."
"Then if someone indeed did place the Imperious Curse on her, the caster was very talented in its use," nodded Dumbledore, considering Harry's words. "Dolores has always been one to attempt to get the things she wants, but never at the price of outright murder. A number of werewolves have lost their lives directly due to her, but that was through law, as twisted as she tried to make it. However..." Dumbledore turned back to the Gryffindor. "You have continued to be a veritable thorn in her side for the entirety of the school year, and a good 'push' in the wrong direction might have tipped the scales. Additionally she frequented the Ministry often throughout the school year where there would have been innumerable opportunities for her to be cursed by a Death Eater."
Harry nodded, seeing the potential in his argument. Not two days after Voldemort's return there was a full scale Death Eater purge of the Ministry lead by Amelia Bones and her small army of Aurors. Over three dozen Ministry workers were found with the Dark Mark and immediately sent to Azkaban to await questioning and eventual trial. This wasn't the time to take chances with anything.
"Well, whatever happened it's over," he said, getting to his feet. "Though I guess I'm kind of glad that I was able to put her down. She seriously had it coming."
"She is rather difficult to get along with," noted Dumbledore, "but I would remind you that she is just as human as the rest of us are."
Harry blinked for a few seconds before lowering his head, feeling a bit ashamed of himself.
"I'm sorry, Professor, I don't mean to make you repeat yourself."
Hearing the genuinely confused tone in the old man's voice, Harry realized his error and quickly shook his head. "Never mind, I'm a little out of it. What are we going to do with her?"
"While I would normally like to keep such a thing quiet and just remove her from Hogwarts, she represents a certain agenda that would be better off losing support in the public eye." The man smiled pleasantly, tugging on his beard slightly. "Therefore, instead we will be making a very big deal out of it."
"We can dump her in the middle of the Forest without a wand," suggested Harry, clearly not liking the lack of torment the previous course of action had in it. At Dumbledore's raised eyebrows Harry looked away innocently. "Just a suggestion."
"Putting aside the fact that you've no doubt broken both of her legs... Azkaban not enough for her, you think?" said the Headmaster pointedly. Harry's shoulders slumped a bit.
"Sorry, never mind."
True to Dumbledore's word, the Ministry was contacted and a handful of DMLE officers came to arrest the woman. Having regained consciousness and given medical treatment, she made quite the spectacle out of leaving, screaming her head off at Harry and Dumbledore alike, who both saw her out of the castle with cheerful expressions. Dinner that night was one of the most energetic ones since Halloween. The OWLs and NEWTs were finally finished, and to top it all off was the wild rumors that had spread about Umbridge leaving though no one knew exactly what happened.
"If I may have your attention," called Dumbledore, not a few minutes after the plates had filled to the brim with food. At once the Hall fell silent. "Thank you. First I should congratulate those of you who have finished your O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s. The year has certainly been a long one, but you should all be proud of what you've accomplished."
There was a light applause from the the high table as all of the professors clapped. Many of the students took it up with much more enthusiasm, particularly those who had just been through the gauntlet of exams.
"The other piece of news I have for all of you regards our now ex Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. I am deeply saddened to say that the strains of her job caused her to attempt to kill a student who has been the cause of a good portion of that stress over the year."
Almost as one, the entire Hall turned to look at Harry who immediately put his hands up in mock innocence.
"Fortunately," Dumbledore continued, "she was unsuccessful and apprehended. I'm sure you'll all be pleased to know that she will never return to the school again, least of all as a professor."
At this there was a roar of approval from the students, one which was reflected on practically all of the professors' faces. Snape of course simply looked bored by the entire affair.
"That is all, please enjoy your dinner and the last few days before the holidays begin. Soon you will all be heading back home to your families with no doubt much to tell. Bon appetite!"
Dumbledore's words certainly kicked up the mood in the castle after that. In fact, not ten minutes after dinner had finished Fred and George unveiled their grand masterpiece of a prank, but more in the form of a celebratory lap than anything. They'd been planning on unleashing the fireworks on an unsuspecting temporary-headmistress Umbridge, but Dumbledore returning in May threw their plans off and they decided to wait for the right time. If that wasn't now then when else would it be?
Harry let out a happy sigh as he finally settled down to watch the show. There were still dozens of firework creatures flying around the skies above Hogwarts, not to mention the occasional one that zoomed in or out of the open doors of the Entrance Hall. It had taken him a while to figure out the best place to watch in peace, but in the end he couldn't think of a better spot than the Quidditch pitch. The view of the castle was grand, and against the night sky it was truly a sight to behold. No wonder the others didn't want to ruin the surprise for him. He was highly glad they hadn't.
Harry turned sharply to find himself looking at the silhouette of a student who was standing over by the stairs, a girl by her voice. Harry mentally kicked himself for not sensing the girl to begin with, he had been so out of it while watching the view. A moment later he realized that he knew exactly who it was too. There was no way he could ever mistake her magic at this point.
"I'm sorry," the girl continued, walking forward slightly. Clearly she couldn't see who he was or she'd have said something already. It was rather dark after all. "I didn't realize that someone was already up here."
"It's alright," said Harry with a grin. "I honestly couldn't think of anyone better to watch this with."
"I- Harry?" A sudden explosion of light illuminated the entire area, allowing him to see the blonde curls that seemed to contain just as much energy as their owner usually had.
"Hey, Tracey. Come sit with me."
The girl immediately walked over and whacked him over the head. "Prat, stop stalking me."
"Aren't you supposed to be in a place first for that to work?" he said in amusement.
"This isn't the first time I've ended up in decidedly romantic-like scenarios with you," she said, her voice accusing, though Harry could tell she was joking.
"You won't hear me complain," he responded. A loud blast above the castle gave way to a number of multicolored sparks, causing Harry to give an exuberant whoop. Tracey just laughed at his excitement.
"You like fireworks I take it?" she said with a grin.
"Like them? They're brilliant!" he exclaimed. "The only reason I'm not closer is because I've already caught fire trying to. Twice."
There was a stretch of silence before she spoke again.
"You've... never seen fireworks before, have you?"
For the first time since she'd shown up, Harry pulled his attention away from the display. Tracey was watching him with a small frown that was making his insides churn uncomfortably.
"Just once on a television," he admitted, turning back to the flashing lights. Suddenly he grinned, chuckling slightly. "But it was certainly worth the wait. I'll have to thank the twins later for this. No doubt they're being buried in orders for this stuff."
"Of course, it would be them," said Tracey in amusement, wondering how she hadn't thought of that already. "Where did they get the stuff?"
"They didn't get it anywhere," said Harry, making the girl look at him in confusion. "They made it."
"They made this?" Tracey repeated in shock, wide eyed. "That's incredible!"
"Fred and George are brilliant inventors. I haven't even seen a fraction of what they've put together and it's still wild," the boy nodded in agreement. "I can't wait to see their shop when it opens."
"They're opening a shop?"
Harry knocked his knuckles on his forehead lightly at his absentmindedness. "Yeah, just keep it to yourself until the place actually opens. A lot of people know the twins sell stuff they make but it's a secret that they're getting a shop. They'll let everyone know about it when they want to. I don't want to take that from them."
"Don't worry, I won't," she assured him.
"I know you won't," he replied with a grin.
She smiled back, but he could tell she wasn't really paying attention, her eyes unfocused. Or were they extra focused?
"What's on your mind? Everything okay?" he asked.
"Would you be disappointed if I said it wasn't you?" she responded, getting a wry look from the boy. "Sorry, it's just a bit weird, thinking about how this year played out. I never expected anything like this, you know?"
"Does it bother you?" Harry was frowning at her slightly. If he hadn't forced his company on her during that day in Hogsmeade then a lot of things would be different.
"No, of course not," she said quickly, shaking her head to emphasize the point. Her hair danced around behind her in the flickering light from the castle. "I just..." She gave Harry a hard look before finally taking a seat next to him. "Sometimes I feel like I don't know myself anymore. Everything used to be so straightforward. Now it's starting to be like a tangle of string and I'm afraid that I'll end up with an impossible knot I can't fix, if that made any sense to you."
"Actually it did," said Harry, scratching his chin as he watched another flashy explosion. "If I were wise, which I'm not, I'd probably say if that's the case then you should be patient and not pull too tightly on anything, as you'll probably end up worse than where you started. If I were Tonks I'd tell you to just chuck it and buy new string."
Tracey gave a small snort of laughter, remembering the pink haired Auror. It fit her, somehow.
"But I'm not her either so I'll just settle for saying that even knots are good for something."
"You are really one of a kind, Harry," said Tracey dryly.
"That didn't sound like a compliment."
Harry watched her for a moment before posing another question. "This doesn't have to do with me, does it?"
Tracey took a moment before rolling her eyes at him. "No, Potter, contrary to what you might think, you are actually not the center of the universe."
"Well then whatever it is, cheer up," said Harry, sliding over and giving her a nudge. "We're watching fireworks with minds of their own. Besides," he continued, leaning back to make himself more comfortable, "take that away and we are stargazing a bit, aren't we?"
"You're an idiot," she said, leaning back as well so that she was in a similar position.
Harry just laughed. "So I've been told."
You know how I've been complaining a lot lately about random things? And that weird craving for fried pickles with chocolate syrup? Well, turns out I'm pregnant. James was thrilled and terrified at the same time because we've wanted another child but I feel awful bringing another on into this cage we live in. I was thinking Zachary for a boy or Rosalin for a girl. Nice, right? James has a couple other names, but he came up with Harry so I get the final say over the next one. We've decided not to tell anyone until I'm nearly there, but this is a bit different after all...
"You wanted to see me, Professor?"
Snape looked up from the book to find none other than Harry Potter in his doorway. The boy was regarding him with a look of curiosity. It wasn't often that he was called to the Potion Master's office after all. Especially less than an hour before the carriages departed for the Hogsmeade train station.
"I did," he replied, closing the book for the final time and letting out a small breath. The final entry was short and had left him with a certain emptiness. Of course, it wasn't like Lily had know of her coming demise. Did he honestly expect some sort of final words at the end? "Come in and close the door, Potter."
Harry complied and took his usual seat in front of the man's desk.
"I'll be brief," Snape continued, not bothering to take his seat. "I've prepared a small number of potions for you to take over the summer. They should help counteract any lasting... damage that your relatives have left on you."
At this point Harry was giving Snape the most befuddled look he could muster.
"That is hardly relevant here, Potter," said Snape impatiently. "I merely wanted to impress upon you the importance of following the instructions I have provided with them. Also, you are to tell no one of these potions." This last bit had Harry give him an amused look.
"Highly. Mainly due to the fact that if abused they will kill you in a most unfortunate manner. I had been providing similar potions to the escaped Death Eaters to counteract the effect of Azkaban."
Harry blinked in surprise, looking back at the small case sitting on the desk with new respect. "Did Sirius take anything like this?"
"Initially, yes. I believe you agree that he has been improving, at least in his physical health. I cannot speak for the state of his mind."
Harry rolled his eyes at the jab at his Godfather. "Don't worry, I'll follow your directions to the letter."
"I did not expect otherwise," Snape replied. And it was true, as unlikely as something like that used to be. "That aside, you are to continue your Occlumency exercises throughout the summer."
"I wasn't planning on stopping," said Harry quickly. Occlumency had an incredible impact on him. There was no way he'd cut back on it now. "Actually I was wondering if we'd be continuing in the fall. I'd like to, if it's possible."
"At present I do not see any harm in it," said Snape with a nod. "You still have not reached a level that I am comfortable releasing you from my tutelage. Additionally, we still have yet to discuss your instance of passive Ligilemency. If you indeed do have the ability then we must at least hone it so that you can control it. Taking unwanted peeks into others' minds can be extremely disconcerting and is sloppy conduct in general. Eventually it will cause you problems if left alone."
"Great, I appreciate it," the teen thanked, letting them fall into silence. Neither of them spoke for a while, Snape clearly done and Harry not willing to leave just yet.
"Was there something else, Potter?"
"I know you told Voldemort the prophecy."
Dead silence followed this statement. For the first time in a very long time, Snape felt like he'd been frozen in his tracks.
"He told me, back in May."
"I just wanted to say that I don't blame you for what happened," continued the Gryffindor. "Well, not completely."
This only caused Snape to give him a look of contempt. "I informed the Dark Lord of what I heard, and he eventually acted on it. I cannot think of a more plain example of cause and effect. Do not make me rethink my opinion of your intelligence."
"I'm not- Look," Harry began again, his frustration ebbing through slightly. "I'm not saying I've forgiven what you've done. You purposely told Voldemort about a potential enemy of his so that he would eliminate him. You pretty much condemned someone right there, whoever it may have been." Harry took a breath and met Snape's eyes solidly. "But you didn't mean anything to happen to my mother and I don't blame you for her death."
"Not just hers." Snape looked down at the book of letters, a hand resting on it heavily. "In the final entry, your mother admitted to being pregnant once again. One more innocent soul that I condemned to death, and one that hadn't even seen the light of day yet." The man looked up, smirking without an ounce of humor. "Do you still not blame me? Despise me?"
Snape watched a whirl of emotions cross the boy's face, all in the span of a moment, yet he still kept his calm, speaking slowly and deliberately.
"When I first found out... I wanted to curse you into dust," he said, clenching his hand as it he were crushing something into powder. "Make you suffer like I did all those years. But instead of letting my emotions get the better of me I thought it out, and I've come to a conclusion. Whether you like it or not, whether I like it or not, it is what it is. If I try to live in the past I'll never move forwards to what I actually want in life." Harry let out a long sigh, running a hand through his hair. "Besides, I've said it before, I'm tired of hating people. Aren't you?"
Snape gave him a long, hard look before letting out a long breath, placing the heel of his palm to his forehead. His right eyelid twitched ever so slightly in agitation.
"Really, you are so much like your mother it is disturbing."
And he was rewarded with likely the first genuine smile he'd ever received from the boy.
"It wasn't a compliment…"
Harry let out a long sigh as he stepped off the train. While certainly pleasant, the ride back to Kings Cross was draining. He'd barely gotten a moment to himself, not to mention having to do a carriage patrol for a couple hours. Prefects were on duty from the very beginning to the very end. Still, it felt nice to be surrounded by the energetic families, all welcoming back their children from months of being separated.
"Harry, don't just stand there," said Hermione, giving him a nudge as she passed him with her trunk dragging behind her.
"Sometimes you just need to stop and take in the world around you, Hermione," the boy replied, falling into step beside her. "The platform has a good vibe."
"Yes, I know what you mean," she agreed. "But I don't think that gives you an excuse to space out where everyone is walking."
"Yes, Potter, do us all a favor and keep out of the way," came the haughty voice of Draco Malfoy. He'd lost a lot of his edge after the imprisonment of his father, but the underlying core of who he was certainly wasn't about to change any time soon.
"Piss off, Ferret," said Harry, making shooing motions at the Slytherin. "No doubt your mum is waiting for you somewhere to take you home. Make sure you hold her hand properly, I'd hate to hear you got lost or something."
Malfoy closed in and grabbed the front of Harry's shirt, bringing them close to one another. Harry didn't react, merely staring into Malfoy's spiteful eyes.
"I don't need anyone to baby me," he said in a low tone that only he could hear over the noise around them.
"Least of all her, right?" Harry finished in distaste. He'd more than heard enough to understand the blond's dislike of his own mother, god knew why. "She's only taken care of you your whole life right?"
"It's none of your business what I think about my own mother, Potter," Malfoy shot, letting go of his shirt forcefully. "Or anything to do with my family."
"You're right, I beg you to forgive my rudeness," replied Harry, clearly not caring.
Malfoy just sneered. "Try not to die this summer, Scarhead," he said, pushing past him and towards the exit. "I've still got a lot to pay you back for."
Harry didn't bother responding, simply watching him disappear into the crowd.
"Harry you need to be careful around him," said Hermione. She had backed away slightly when Malfoy first spoke as did many others, not wanting to get caught in the crossfire. "I don't doubt he's connected to unsavory individuals."
"I'll be fine, have you seen Ron?" Harry diverted, looking around for the ginger.
"The Weasleys are all over the place," said Hermione with a shrug. "Shall we head to the exit? We always all end up meeting in the same place anyway."
The two turned to find Su approaching them, waving to get their attention.
"Hey Su, what's up?" said Harry in curiosity.
"I, uh, I wanted to introduce you to my parents," she said, losing a little bit of her momentum.
"You do?" he said in surprise.
"They were hoping to thank you for all the help you've given me this year with Defense Against the Dark Arts and stuff," she explained.
"All right, I'm sure I can find something to say to them about you," he said with a nod, thinking of the handful of embarrassing things he'd seen here do throughout the year. Clearly Su was thinking along the same line, as she suddenly looked somewhat less eager than she had a few moments ago. "Anyway, I'll meet up with everyone in a bit, Hermione."
"Alright, don't be too long. You know how they get when you go off on your own," she replied, giving him a pointed look.
Harry just waved her off and followed Su to where her parents were waiting. As it happened, she hadn't been the only one who wanted to meet him. A number of parents who had children in the DA were more than happy to thank him for what he had done. Of course, this was after Harry less than subtly expressed his surprise that so many of them knew about the completely secret and easily expelled for group that he had run, making all of the students there give him sheepish looks. But there was no harm done in the end. Umbridge was likely never stepping foot in Hogwarts again, the Educational Decrees were being repealed, and Dumbledore had promised him that the next Defense professor would be well up to the task. This meant the DA was over, however disappointed that made him. Teaching them all was some of the most fun he'd ever had at school. Certainly the most rewarding.
Fifteen minutes later Harry pulled away from the group of people, wishing them all a good summer. Any longer and no doubt someone from the Order would be looking for him, if they already weren't. He'd barely made it half way when someone grabbed his arm and pulled him to the side, out of the way of traffic but still obscured by the throng of people that were milling about for one reason or another.
"Who-" Harry pulled up short as he found himself staring into the eyes of none other than Narcissa Malfoy, head somewhat covered by a hood. She looked... tired? Wary? Nervous?
"I need to talk to you," she said in a low voice.
"I- What?" he said quickly, ready to pull his wand in a heartbeat. "Why?"
"That isn't important, just know that I do, in private, and it cannot wait," she replied, her voice also quick, eyes darting around every now and then.
"Your son left a while ago, if that's what this is about," he continued, unable to think of any other reason the woman would be talking to him, however unlikely it might be. If that were the case why would she be hiding?
"This doesn't have anything to do with him," she snapped in impatience, but something flashed across her eyes and she let out a small breath. "Well, I suppose it does in a way."
They both looked up at the sound of someone calling Harry's name into the crowd. Harry instantly recognized Mr. Weasley's voice.
"Please, Potter," said the woman, her voice bordering on desperate.
"Why does this always happen to me?" he muttered, rubbing his forehead. "Fine. Meet me in the Three Broomsticks in two days at noon. I'll be in one of the rooms you can rent."
Narcissa nodded curtly and made to leave, but was stopped when Harry grabbed her arm, pulling her close.
"Don't even think of trying to set me up. You'll regret it more than you can imagine," he said in a low but dangerous voice.
The woman regarded him tightly and nodded, pulling herself from his grasp and vanishing into the throng.
"Over here, Mr. Weasley!" called Harry, waving to get the man's attention.
"There you are, Molly was getting worried," he said with look of relief.
"She's always worried," said Harry with a shrug.
"Very true," agreed the man. "In any case, everyone is waiting on the other side of the barrier. Your relatives are also here. I believe Tonks and Moody were talking to them when I left them."
Harry let out a small sigh. They meant well, but threatening the Dursleys would only serve to cause more problems in the long run. It always did. No matter though. For the first time ever, Harry was distinctly looking forward to the summer months. There was so much he wanted to do, and now he had every hour of the day for it.
Of course, nothing was ever so simple. Voldemort hadn't been sitting on his ass for the past month and neither had the Order. With the majority of Voldemort's inner circle in Azkaban, he and the Order were almost even, though it wouldn't stay that way for long. The Dark Lord still had an entire deck of cards to play, ones that Britain would be feeling for years to come. But Harry would weather it, as everyone else would be forced to do; and maybe, just maybe, he'd get to see the beaming sun and blue sky that was beyond that dark storm.
After all, what did he have to lose?
A/N: Chapter complete! I hope you're excited about where this might go. I've got a ton of stuff to get through and from here on it's full throttle. Please leave me a Review with what you think or with a question and I'll definitely answer it. Fave and Follow too! Take the fic to the stars!