Harry and Ginny walked hand in hand back toward the castle as other students who had been run inside by the storm began to filter back out onto the grounds. Harry noticed that Parvati was standing on the steps to the castle along with a group of girls acting very much like they were gossiping. What concerned Harry was that they seemed to be doing so while gesturing in his direction. As he got nearer to them he heard one of them say “but he does have his broom.”
“Is there a reason why I shouldn’t have my broom with me,” Harry asked Parvati as he passed.
“I know that you think Professor Trelawney is a fraud, Harry,” Parvati said, making Harry stop and turn to listen to what she had to say, “but I feel like I should tell you anyway.”
“Not another death omen I hope,” Harry said with a smile, his earlier depression forgotten.
“No,” Parvati said. “It was really weird. We went up to see Professor Trelawney to ask her a question, and in the middle of answering it…”
“What?” Harry asked.
“Well,” Parvati continued nervously, “her eyes seemed to roll back into her head a little and then she started speaking in a strange voice.”
Seeming all too familiar, Harry said seriously, “Tell me what she said exactly.”
“Well,” Parvati said a little taken aback that Harry seemed anxious to hear what she said, “she said ‘Though a heavy price he will pay, Harry Potter must have his broom, a life is in his hands this day’.
“You’re sure that’s exactly what she said?” Harry pressed.
“Yes,” Pavarti said quickly, “yes, exactly that. Then she went on with the answer to our question as if nothing had happened.
“Thank you,” Harry said to her. He turned to look at Ginny and said, “We had better change and then tell Dumbledore.”
With that Harry and Ginny turned to go inside and began the climb that would take them first to their dormitories to change out of their wet clothes, and then to see Dumbledore about the prophecy.
Meanwhile Hermione was heading back to the common room after a trip to the library when, after reaching the next to last landing before she would reach the right floor in Gryffindor tower, a prickling sensation ran up her back that made her instinctively reach for her wand and begin a shield charm. As she turned to look down the passage behind her a green shaft of light jumped out and hit her in the middle of her chest. Her shield charm had come up in time to deflect a good portion of the spell, but enough of it got through to cause Hermione to lose consciousness and propel her backwards over the railing. There was nothing below but open space until the ground floor as she plummeted downwards.
Harry and Ginny had climbed about halfway up Gryffindor tower when they heard several screams above them. They looked up just in time to see Hermione fall past their level. Ginny screamed and Harry knew what he had to do.
Harry jumped over the railing and mounted his broom in one swift motion, willing all the speed he could get out of it as he raced to reach Hermione. The gap closed quickly, but so did their distance from the ground. He reached Hermione and held her tight to him, but his vast experience with it told him that this was one dive even he couldn’t pull out of. So, making a quick decision, he pulled his broom up to a hover position even as his built up momentum carried him still downward. At the last moment, slowed but still carrying far too much speed, Harry twisted his body around so that he was effectively laying with his back on his broomstick and pulled Hermione on top of him. Seconds later they hit the ground with a great crash that echoed throughout the tower as the wood splintered, bones smashed, and blood began oozing out in sickening pools.
Screams rang out as a crowd of people rushed to encircle the gruesome scene. There was every possible reaction to what they saw. Some people cried, some fainted, and some became ill. Professor Flitwick pushed his way through the crowd, and upon seeing the situation immediately put his wand to his throat and said, “Medical emergency at the base of Gryffindor tower.”
Immediately, a dozen house elves seemed to apparate to the spot, see the situation, place their hands on Harry and Hermione and then they all disappeared leaving only the pools of blood and the remnants of what was once Harry’s broom.
Other teachers began to arrive on the scene and began to attend to those who had fainted and trying to calm and reassure those who were distraught. Everyone in the hall, even those sobbing uncontrollably, stopped what they were doing and looked to the stairs and prayed that someone would stop her before she saw it.
Ginny’s pained voice rang out through the halls at the base of the tower as she screamed, “Harry!” over and over as she descended, her voice growing more desperate for an answer. Those nearest to her when she reached the bottom of the stairs stood shocked by the near mad look in her eyes, and did nothing to impede her progress toward the horrific center. Those toward the inside finally snapped to realize what was about to happen and tried to stand in her way, but she knocked through them with the ferocity of someone twice her size. She burst through to the center as she was falling and came face to face with the broken twisted remains of Harry’s glasses. She raised her head just as Professor McGonagal reached her and wrapped her in her arms, but not before she saw the large pools of blood mixed with splinters of wood.
“HAAARRRRRYYYYY, NOOOOOO!” Ginny screamed just before she fell limp in McGonagal’s arms.
Ginny found herself standing in the all too familiar reception room of St. Mungo’s, having no clear memory of how she got there. Another thing that struck her as strange was the fact that she felt as if she were floating above the floor and looking at the reception area through someone else’s eyes. She found herself moving toward the fountain without any of her own will taking her in that direction. She came to a halt and looked down into the pool of water, and gasped silently at what she saw.
Instead of her own reflection, she was staring at a reflection of Harry’s face. Instantly, the memory of what she had seen at the bottom of Gryffindor tower flooded back to her. She cried out in her own mind, but no sound emitted from the reflection. There was something else about the reflection that disturbed her, as she noticed that she could also see the reflection of things behind him, as if he was there and yet not there at the same time.
“Don’t worry,” she heard herself say in Harry’s voice, “this is only temporary. I just wanted to tell you that I truly love you, and that I’ll need you as soon as they will allow you to come to me. Please don’t cry for me my love. The sacrifice was indeed great, but it was my choice. I will always be with you.”
The next thing Ginny was vaguely aware of was the muffled sound of voices somewhere nearby. After a few seconds, she became aware that she was in the hospital wing and Madame Pomfree was trying to quietly explain something to someone.
“…definantly the killing curse, Headmaster,” Pomfree said. “Lucky for her she managed to summon a shield charm to block most of the spells power, or it would have surely killed her on the spot. As it is, we should be able to have her up and about in a few days.”
“Was there no serious injury from the fall?” Dumbledore asked.
“Just a few severe scrapes and bruises,” she responded. “It would have been fatal though if it weren’t for Mr. Potter, to be sure.”
“What can you tell us about Harry’s condition before he was sent to St. Mungo’s?” Dumbledore asked.
“A natural born fighter I’ll give him that,” Pomfree responded. “At the time he was initially brought in by the house elves, I checked him myself and I swear as I’m standing here he died in that fall. His body was smashed and broken so badly I thought a troll had stepped him on. A lost cause if ever I had seen one. Then he suddenly took a small breath and whispered her name. Don’t ask me how he was able to do it, a miracle is all I can call it.”
“I never underestimate the power that love can have,” Dumbledore said with a grin.
“Poor child,” Professor McGonagall said. “She should never have seen what she did. It tore my heart out to hear the pain in her last scream before she passed out.”
It was at that moment that Ginny rolled over and looked at the group saying, “I’ll need to go to him as soon as possible, Professor Dumbledore.”
“I thought you would feel that way,” Dumbledore said, being the only one in the group not surprised to learn that she was awake, “but it will have to wait until the healers at St. Mungo’s clear him for visitors.”
“I understand,” Ginny said. “Harry said I would have to wait.”
“What do you mean?” McGonagall asked. “When would you have spoken to him?”
Ginny then related to them the experience she had just before waking up in every detail.
“Interesting,” Dumbledore said after hearing Ginny’s tale. “It would seem that Mr. Potter is still very much with us. Not that I would expect any less determination from a Gryffindor. I must say that I’m glad to see you taking all of this so much better than your brother.”
“Oh my goodness,” Ginny said, kicking herself for not thinking what recent events would mean to Ron, “he’ll hex first and ask questions later.”
“Fortunately,” Dumbledore said indicating the bed across from hers, “we were able to intercept Ron after he came up here to check on you and Hermione. We thought it would be best to keep him sedated until your parents arrive.”
“Do you know yet who it was that tried to kill Hermione?” Ginny asked.
“Not yet,” Dumbledore said. “Students are currently confined to their common rooms, and wands are being collected for testing to see if any of them dared to use that foul curse within these walls.”
“Yet anyone who would use it would also know that the wands would be tested,” Ginny said. “So, the person might have a second wand hidden or disposed of that will escape the testing.”
“There is that possibility,” Dumbledore confessed.
“I just hope Hermione got a look at whoever it was,” Ginny said. “That would be a bit harder to cover up.”
“Indeed,” Dumbledore agreed, “but for right now, just let us deal with that. You should get some rest.”
“Would you like a sedative to help you sleep, dear?” McGonagall asked.
“I think that would be helpful,” Ginny answered. “I think we should make it one that will inhibit dreams if possible as well.”
Ginny stayed in the hospital wing for several days. Not that her physical condition demanded it, but psychologically she wasn’t ready to face the attention she would get from the rest of the students. At least not by herself, so she remained there watching over Hermione as she recovered from her attack.
Hermione had woken up the next morning after the attack, still extremely weak, but conscious and thankful for it. Ginny sat by her side and spoke to her when she wanted, and took charge of dosing out her medicine when it was needed. Unfortunately, Hermione never got a glimpse of her attacker, just a brief memory of green light coming out of the shadows.
Ginny tried to avoid telling Hermione about what happened after she fell, but as she regained her strength, she became aware that something was being kept from her. Ginny could not control her own tears as she comforted Hermione about what had happened to Harry, which she took very hard. So hard in fact, that Ginny became worried that it may seriously delay her recovery.
Ron was eventually released from the hospital after his parents had arrived. He remained so distraught and angry that Professor Flitwick had to administer a mood altering charm to him twice a day to keep him from attacking the whole of Slytherin House, who he believed to be responsible for the attack.
The wand examination had the power of the entire Ministry of Magic behind it as high-ranking officials swept in to oversee the proceedings and search for what clues might be found. In the end, they left knowing no more than what they did when they arrived.
There was another problem the Ministry had to deal with among the wizarding public though. There was nothing that could have stopped the rumor from spreading at Hogwarts that Harry was dead. Dumbledore had moved quickly to dispel the rumor among the students, but not before it had leaked to the outside world. The Daily Prophet had run a story taking up the entire front page with a bold headline that read, ‘Harry Potter Dead After Heroic Rescue’. Even the retraction printed the next day did not immediately calm the panic that had insued. People feared that, with Harry gone, there was nothing to stand in the way of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
It was one week to the day that Hermione was finally released from the hospital wing. She was still so stricken with what had happened, she didn’t even complain when all of her teachers declared that she was exempt from the work she had missed. Instead she used all of her time, along with Ginny, pestering the healers at St. Mungo’s with owls asking for constant updates on Harry’s condition. The only reply they ever received though was a statement that they could not release information to them about a patient they were not directly related to.
Finally, more than three weeks after the incident, Professor Dumbledore shared with them a message that he had received stating that short term visitation of family and friends was finally being allowed. It cautioned though that Harry was still unconscious and they were still unsure of his prognosis for recovery.
Later that day, Ginny, Hermione, Ron and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley emerged from the fireplace into the reception area of St. Mungo’s. Directly ahead of them they watched as a witch at he information desk, looking terribly frustrated, cast a shrinking charm on an enormous pile of mail and gifts that covered the top of the desk. Then she carefully placed the shrunken mass into a small box, where she had apparently placed several piles previously. They were all amused to see ‘Potter, H.’ written on the side of the box.
The witch started to mumble a curse on The Daily Prophet for ever revealing that Harry was being treated there when she looked up and noticed the group moving toward her. After composing herself and taking her seat once again, she asked, “Patient or visitor.”
“Visitor,” Mr. Weasley said, “here to see Harry Potter.”
The witch rolled her eyes slightly before saying, “Name.”
“Arthur Weasley,” he responded.
The witch picked up the list and scanned it quickly before raising an eyebrow and saying, “Well, what do you know, someone who is actually on the list. Mr. Potter is in room 2 ground floor. While you’re going, would you mind taking some of these cards and gifts back with you?”
“Certainly,” Mr. Weasley answered as he reached for the box she had put the pile into. As he did, the witch turned in her chair and bent over to retrieve seven more boxes of the same size from behind her desk.
Everyone carried at least one box as they proceeded in the direction the witch indicated where they would find room two. They entered a hallway that would take them to Harry’s room. Along the way, they passed two different wards where multiple patients were being treated, wondering why Harry was placed in a private room. As they got to the place where the hallway turned right, they got their answer.
Sitting in chairs flanking a door with a 2 on it were Mad-eye Moody and Tonks. The Order wasn’t taking any chances it would seem. They had to admit that it would be a perfect time for Voldemort to try and get to Harry.
Tonks and Moody stood up to greet the visitors and Tonks said, “Healer Snagprat is in checking on Harry right now, but I don’t think he’ll mind if you go on in.”
“How is Harry doing?” Molly asked. “Has there been any change?”
“No,” Tonks responded. “He’s still in a coma and his life signs are just barely holding steady. The healer could tell you more in detail, but right now they seem to be in a wait and see mode.”
“He’ll pull through though,” Moody said. “I don’t think he would have fought this long if he ever planned to give up.”
“He won’t do that,” Ginny said. “I won’t let him do that.”
“No,” Moody said with a grin, “I suspect you won’t.”
“Well, you had better get inside,” Tonks said, “before I start getting emotional about it all again. You can set the boxes inside with the others.”
Upon entering the room, they could see why the witch at the reception desk had been so frustrated. One entire side of the room was stacked from floor to ceiling with boxes exactly like the ones they were carrying. Harry, unlike what they had imagined was laying on his front with his face pointed through a hole in the bed toward the floor. There was a wide bandage that ran all the way up the center of his back and up his neck.
Healer Snagprat turned and saw them bringing more boxes into the room and said, “We really are going to need another room to keep those in if we get anymore. There won’t be any room left for Mr. Potter before long.”
“We’re hoping Harry won’t be here for much longer, Healer,” Hermione said.
“Believe me,” Snagprat said, “everyone here is praying for that as well. Although there will be plenty of questions to be answered if he does make a full recovery.”
“You don’t sound very hopeful,” Mrs. Weasley said.
“On the contrary,” Snagprat said, “we are extremely hopeful, just at a bit of a loss to explain how he is managing to survive. We see broom crashes all the time, but never anything as bad as Mr. Potter’s. There have been patients with injuries not nearly as severe as his that didn’t make it this long.”
“Harry is a Gryffindor though,” Ron said.
“I think it has more to do with it than that,” Snagprat said with a grin. “Actually it’s quite exciting. We only received word back from the Ministry of Magic today about something that had us all stumped. Of course you are all familiar with the appendix that everyone is born with. Well, in Mr. Potter we found that his appendix had recently been transfigured into something else that we could not identify. Now, although we still don’t know exactly what the function of it is, it has been identified as an organ found in a phoenix.”
“A phoenix?” Hermione asked. “Are you saying that you think Harry had the forethought to transfigure an organ that even the Ministry of Magic doesn’t know the function of before he hit the ground?”
“I doubt it,” Snagprat answered. “Actually, we question whether Harry had anything to do with it at all.”
“Then who?” Ron asked.
“What, actually,” Snagprat said getting excited. “I don’t want to disturb you all too much with the details of his condition when he arrived, but when he fell his broom shattered beneath him. Several wood splinters had to be removed, but that was not the only wood he had on him. He was also carrying his wand at the time of the accident. We found it broken among his robes when we were treating him. The parts of it that we removed from his robe were put aside on a tray, but the sections did not match up exactly. That told us that part of the wand had either dropped out at Hogwarts, or part of it had become lodged in Mr. Potter. During the hours of operation that followed a small sliver of wood was pulled from his side and identified as the missing piece. When that missing piece was placed on the tray with the other pieces something astounding happened. Well, let me show you."
With that he opened a drawer in the stand next to Harry’s bed and removed a wand that looked very much like Harry’s. The shocking thing was that it was in one piece.
“This wand contained a phoenix feather if I’m not mistaken,” Snagprat said.
“Are you telling me that Harry’s wand repaired itself after it was broken?” Ron asked.
“I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t been there to see it firsthand,” Snagprat said.
“What I wouldn’t have done for a wand like that,” Ron said shaking his head.
“So we suspect that the sliver of his wand that we took out of him somehow performed the transfiguration on its own,” Snagprat said.
“Amazing,” Mr. Weasley said.
“Absolutely unheard of as far as we know,” Snagprat beamed. “As we speak everything about this case is being carefully recorded and documented for future publication. This machine you see beside Harry’s bed is monitoring almost everything that can be monitored for any change in his condition. The one that really means the most is the green vile of fluid. The better his overall health, the higher the liquid in the vile will rise. The vile next to that one is monitoring for any physical movement, of which as you can see there has been none so far. If there is any it should show in red. The rest are for breathing and circulation which surprisingly, Mr. Potter has been able to do on his own since he arrived here, though at a level just adequate to keep him alive.”
Ginny walked over to Harry’s bedside and paused before sitting down and asked, “It won’t affect the monitors if I sit next to him, will it?”
“Not at all,” Snagprat said. “The monitor checks for muscle movement he initiates.”
With that, Ginny sat down next to Harry and gently took his hand in hers. Everyone was silent as they watched Ginny fighting to hold back tears. They were stunned into a longer silence when they saw the green fluid move upwards in the vile slightly.
“Oh, please tell me that everyone else just saw that,” Hermione said, close to tears herself.
“Harry?” Ginny said softly, her tears coming freely. “I’m here.”
They all watched the monitor and nearly yelled with joy as the red vile filled with a few drops of liquid. Looking down they could tell that Harry’s hand had closed around Ginny’s.
“Young lady,” Snagprat began, with excitement building up inside him, “I think we had better make arrangements for you to stay here for a while.”
Ginny had gotten special permission from Professor Dumbledore to remain at Harry’s side for as long as the healers at St. Mungo’s felt that her presence was beneficial. She had insisted that her class work be sent to her, not wanting to be given any break over what was expected of other students.
So, she sat there, at his side day after day. One hand writing scroll after scroll of school work, and the other holding tightly to Harry. The healers were in a frenzy trying to explain how Ginny was affecting Harry’s recovery, but none of them could come up with any logical reason why it should. What they did know, was that the fluid levels in the viles never rose at any time other than when she was touching him.
Harry had several visitors who came to check on him. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley came by on a daily basis to check on Ginny and bring her clean clothes and remind her that she would be of no use to Harry if she didn’t get more rest. Hagrid, Professor Dumbledore, and several of the other teachers came to visit occasionally, and Hermione and Ron spent the weekends there when there were no classes.
On the first weekend in December, Ron and Hermione were there as usual and Ron was pacing the floor as he vented a problem that he was facing. What none of them were aware of, was that someone else was listening to the conversation as well.
‘I tell you it’s going to be a disaster!” Ron exclaimed as he paced. “We get lucky enough to not have our first quidditch match until the last game before Christmas, and we still can’t field a decent team. None of the alternates has been able to catch the snitch even once. One of them could sort of fill in at your chaser position, but without a seeker we don’t have a chance of winning against Ravenclaw.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Ron,” Ginny said. “There isn’t anything I can do about it.”
“I know,” Ron said kicking his foot and leaving a black mark on the floor. “I just don’t see any way that we can actually win.”
“Ginny can be your seeker,” came a voice none of them had been expecting.
“Harry?” they all gasped at once.
“She did a great job as the seeker when she first started playing,” Harry said as he looked at the floor below him. “She’ll catch the snitch and have the game over before the alternate chaser can do too much damage.”
“I can’t leave you, Harry,” Ginny said.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Harry said with as much humor as he could muster. “You took care of me when I needed you, but there are other people who need you as well.”
“Harry…” Ginny began.
“When was the last time you got out of here to get some fresh air?” Harry asked. “I’m not asking you to leave for good. I desperately want you to come back when its over, but now that I’m back I can handle some of the healing myself.”
“So what took you so long to come back anyway?” Ron asked.
“It’s hard to explain, Ron,” Harry answered. “I was in kind of a limbo, neither alive or dead, but separated from my body. The longer you’re there, the more comfortable you get, and the less of an urge you feel to return to life. Death is on the other end trying to pull you in that direction, and the more comfortable you get the stronger the pull toward death.”
“It sounds awful,” Hermione said.
“It was really difficult,” Harry said, “trying to hold out until Ginny got here.”
“What did I have to do with it?” Ginny asked.
“You were the anchor that made me want to return,” Harry said. “The grip of death lost ground with every day that passed thanks to you.”
“Oh, Harry,” Harry heard Ginny say just before her tear streaked face appeared below him. "Any time you want to ask me, the answer will be yes.”
Ginny then raised up and planted a tender welcome kiss on Harry’s lips.
Several seconds later they both heard Ron clear his throat a bit too loudly as he asked, “Just what question would that be that you’re saying yes to?”
“Oh, Ron,” Hermione said through her own tears.
“Is there anything you need?” Ginny asked Harry as they finally parted.
“Actually there is,” Harry responded. “Could you ask the healers just how long I have to stare at the floor. I think the ceiling would be much more interesting.”
“Sure,” Ginny said with a smile. “I’ll go and do that right now.”
As she turned to walk out, Hermione said, “Ron, why don’t you go with her?”
Ron was just about to ask why when his new scense of ‘I don’t have to understand her reasons, I just have to do it’ kicked in and he silently turned and followed his sister.
“Harry, I…” Hermione began.
“You don’t have to, Hermione.” Harry interrupted.
“Yes I do, Harry,” Hermione said. “I can never repay you for what you did. I can’t help but think that things would have been better if you had just let me fall.”
“I hope you don’t really think that,” Harry said. “I certainly don’t.”
“But how are you supposed to fight Voldemort,” Hermione agrued, “and be the savior of the wizarding world if you’re dead. Just look at what happened after those articles in The Daily Prophet.”
“First of all I have no idea what they wrote in The Daily Prophet,” Harry said. “Second, I think we have established that I’m not dead. Third, the whole reason I’m preparing to fight Voldemort is so my friends can live long and happy lives. I’m not about to stand by and let one of those friends go so easily. If I had it to do over again, I would do exactly the same thing. I don’t want to hear any more talk about letting you fall. Besides, you would have done the same thing if I had been the one falling and you know it.”
Hermione thought about what Harry said for a while before saying, “Then I guess there is only one thing left for me to say. Thank you, Harry.”
Harry felt Hermione’s hand close around his as he said, “Any time.”
Ginny arrived back at Hogwarts along with Ron and Hermione late enough to miss dinner, and all of the crowds that would have swarmed around them. Harry had insisted that Ginny return at the end of the weekend instead of just on the day of the quidditch match. She had argued against leaving him, but he had gotten the healers on his side saying there was no longer a pressing need for her to stay.
Ginny knew that it may have been late enough for the halls to be clear, but it wasn’t too late for the common rooms to still be crowded with those trying to cram in all of the work they had put off for the past two days. So, it was no surprise to her when she entered the common room to find that all of those present wouldn’t let her go to bed until they had personally welcomed her back and heard all about Harry’s recovery. The common room became nearly overfilled as word spread to those who were already in their rooms and the dormitories emptied.
Finally, having had her hand nearly shook off, Ginny was relieved when someone realized how late it was and they still hadn’t gotten their work done. Half of the common room was in a sudden panic. The rest started to thin out shortly after and Ginny was looking forward to finally going to bed, at least, that is, until Ron had to make the announcement to a group that Ginny had come back to be the Gryffindor seeker at Harry’s request.
That did it. Pandemonium erupted in the common room as those who were working decided that a celebration was more important than their grades. The party went so late, that it was still going on when Dobby the house-elf came in to clean. He started to make apologies and leave but someone explained what had happened and Dobby, overflowing with joy at Harry’s improved condition, danced along with them.
Fortunately for everyone in Gryffindor house, Hermione knew a handy little spell that would fool their body into thinking they had gotten a full nights sleep in the space of just a few hours. So, the next morning the Gryffindors awoke feeling quite refreshed, and walked a little taller with the knowledge that Harry was getting better and they suddenly had hope for their next quidditch match.
Ginny left the Common room to go down for breakfast along with a large group of Gryffindors that included most of the quidditch team. Just outside the Great Hall, the group, led by a smiling Ron, came into contact with a group of Slytherin headed by a smug looking Malfoy.
“What are you smiling about, Weasley?” Malfoy asked. “Did one of your alternates finally catch the snitch?”
“I admit we had to move a few people around,” Ron said not losing his grin, “but we have a seeker that will catch the snitch this weekend.”
“With those losers, you really think you can actually win?” Malfoy sneered.
“I do,” said a voice from the back of the group, causing the group to part down the middle until Ginny was visible to the Slytherins. “I’ll be the seeker this weekend, Malfoy. I’ve beaten a Ravenclaw seeker to the snitch before, and I can do it again.”
“Well, well,” Malfoy said mockingly, “the lost Weasley returns. Does this mean that Potter finally died.”
“Mr. Malfoy,” Professor McGonagall said having just emerged from the Great Hall. “We will not tolerate comments like that about another student. Fifty points from Slytherin House.”
Malfoy waited until she passed to walk up to Ginny and say, “Just watch your back Weasley. Potter won’t be here to save anyone this time.”
The words were barely out of his mouth before Ron’s fist connected with Malfoys face. Ron then stood looking at where Malfoy laid sprawled out on the floor with blood beginning to trickle out the corner of his mouth and said, “Don’t you worry, Malfoy. Her back is being watched.”
The Gryffindors then continued into the Great Hall feeling very satisfied with themselves.
Most of Ginny’s classes that day were pretty much the same. The professors found it difficult to keep the classes on task with their lessons because of the interest those from other houses showed in the same things she had to explain to the Gryffindors the previous evening about Harry’s recovery.
As the week wore on though, normalcy once again descended upon her life at Hogwarts as she trained daily with the team, catching the snitch over and over. She found that some habits were hard to break as she seemed to pick up as a seeker where she had left off two years earlier.
Other than filling the seeker position, Ginny also worked with Jason Law, the third year Gryffindor who had the task of trying to fill Ginny’s shoes as a chaser. By that Friday, surprising everyone, she had turned him into a passable chaser after all.
So, on a brisk December day, the Gryffindor team took to the skies over the frost covered quidditch pitch. They didn’t have to stay there long though. It was only four minutes into the game, with Gryffindor up two goals to none, when Ginny caught the snitch hiding behind the center Ravenclaw goal post.
Everyone quickly thawed out after the game in front of the fire in the Gryffindor common room. Ginny was anxious to get changed and get back to St. Mungo’s. She had been away from Harry for an entire week, and it was almost more than she could take. All week she had reminded herself about the game and what she needed to do, and it had worked as long as she had a goal to shoot for. The game was over now though, and nothing was going to keep her from seeing Harry. That is, if she could find a way to sneak away from all of the ecstatic Gryffindors who kept wanting to congratulate her.
Ginny returned to St. Mungo’s only a few hours after the quidditch match with Ravenclaw. As she walked down the hall toward Harry’s room she greeted several healers on the way. During the time she had spent there, she had come to know many of them quite well.
Ginny rounded the corner that would take her to room two, and found Remus Lupin sitting outside the door along with Tonks.
“Welcome back, Ginny,” Tonks said as she stood to greet her.
“Thanks,” Ginny said. “It’s good to see you again, Professor Lupin. What did you do to dislodge Moody from his chair out here?”
“Oh, he just had to take a letter over to the Ministry to be checked out,” Lupin said.
“Checked out?” Ginny asked. “Was there a problem with it?”
“Well…” Lupin said. “It’s nothing you need to worry about for now. There is someone who is very anxious to see you right now.”
“Funny thing,” Ginny said. “I happen to be anxious to see someone myself.”
“Ah, to be young and in love,” Tonks said with a glance at Lupin.
“Healer Snagprat is in with Harry now, but I think you can go on in,” Lupin said not daring to look at Tonks.
Ginny walked into the room just as Snagprat was saying, “…let you know if there is any further progress.”
“Ginny,” Harry said with a smile spreading across his face.
Ginny was almost at a loss for words as she looked at Harry. When she had left him he was still laying face down on the bed unable to move anything but his hands, and not being very happy about it. Now he was sitting up in the bed reaching his arms out to her for their first real hug in months. She quickly ran to him and wrapped her arms around him, feeling his arms envelope her gently as the feeling of joy washed through her.
“Oh, I missed you so much, Harry,” Ginny said.
“I missed you too, Gin,” Harry whispered in her ear.
“Well I’ll leave you two to catch up for now,” Snagprat said. “I’ll check in on you again later.”
When he had gone, Ginny asked, “Was that your progress he was talking about when I came in?”
“Oh, no,” Harry said. “Just something else we’ve been talking about.”
“Well, anyway,” Ginny said smiling, “your progress seems to be going quite well. Just look at you sitting up in bed, and looking as handsome as ever.”
“I was right you know,” Harry said. “I do like this view better than the one of the floor.”
Ginny smiled as she asked, “So how are you doing? You look like you could walk out of here today.”
“That’s still the problem, I’m afraid,” Harry said. “I still don’t have any felling in my legs. The healers say it could take quite a while before I’m able to walk again.”
“But they do think you’ll make a full recovery though?” Ginny asked, hopeful.
“I don’t want to keep anything from you, Ginny,” Harry said, deflating some of her hopes. “They actually say that there may have been too much spinal damage that they weren’t able to repair properly. There is always the chance that I won’t ever walk again.”
“Oh, Harry,” Ginny said. “I am so sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Harry said. “After what I’ve been through, I’m happy just to be alive.”
Ginny was silent for a few seconds while she thought about how to say, “Harry. I want you to promise me that you won’t over do it on my account. I mean, I just don’t want you to push yourself to hard too fast just because you think I need you to be walking again. I’m going to love you no matter what, Harry.”
“I know, Gin,” Harry said lifting her chin so she was looking into his eyes. “I do have a confession to make to you before you say anything else though. I should have told you right after it happened, but I was so angry that I let it happen in the first place that I wasn’t thinking straight.”
“What is it, Harry?” Ginny asked, concerned.
“The day of the accident,” Harry began, “when you found me flying in the rainstorm, I was trying to fly out my guilt over something that happened when I was in the room of requirement with Cassidy.”
“Harry,” Ginny said cutting him off before he said any more. “You don’t have to tell me.”
“But I do,” Harry said. “I swear I didn’t want it to happen.”
“It’s all right, Harry,” Ginny said with a smile. “I already know everything that happened in that room.”
“But how?” Harry said just as a sudden memory came to him. “Wait a minute. I was in there giving Cassidy a lesson when I suddenly had a feeling like you were somewhere near. I was so sure of it that I even turned around to look and see if you were there, but I didn’t see anybody.”
Ginny couldn’t keep the knowing grin from spreading across her face as Harry suddenly realized what had happened.
“I guess I should have expected it,” Harry said. “You don’t grow up being the youngest in your family and not know how to sneak around when you want to. You were wearing my invisibility cloak weren’t you?”
“Please don’t be mad at me, Harry?” Ginny said. “I know I should have trusted you, but I was just so jealous of you spending time with Cassidy. I knew she would try to steal you away from me.”
“How long had you known that?” Harry asked.
“Since the first time she introduced herself to you,” Ginny answered.
“I wish I had noticed it before I did,” Harry said. “I guess I didn’t quite know it until a second after she started kissing me. Looking back on it I guess I should have picked up on it sooner. Maybe I could have avoided it if I had known.”
“Are you telling me that you didn’t enjoy it even a little?” Ginny asked.
“Of course not,” Harry said surprised. “It made me feel disgusting. Dirty somehow. I don’t want any lips touching mine other than yours.”
“I’m so glad to hear it,” Ginny said with a smile as she moved in and kissed him tenderly.
“Should I wait outside until you two are finished,” Moody said from the doorway, making Harry and Ginny separate to look at him.
“Come on in, Mr. Moody,” Harry said. “What can we do for you?”
“I just came from the Ministry of Magic,” Moody said, his magical eye focused on Harry. “They’ve cleared me to give you a letter that came for you this morning.”
“Why did the ministry have to clear it?” Ginny asked as Moody handed the letter to Harry. “Who is it from?”
Harry turned the envelope over and said, “Voldemort,” as he examined the wax stamp of the dark mark that had sealed the letter.”
“What?” Ginny asked quickly.
“Sorry we had to open it, Harry,” Moody said. “We had to make sure it wasn’t poisoned or have some spell attached to it.”
“I understand,” Harry said flatly, still staring at the wax mark. “Not exactly the person I expected to get a get well card from.”
Harry took the letter out of the envelope and read out loud:
I’m glad to hear that you have not expired early. I am so looking forward to bringing your life to an end myself. But don’t let that worry you right now. Your constant door guards can go home. I have no intention of killing you until you are fully recovered. It would do me no good to defeat you while you are unable to defend yourself. I want you to be at your full strength for our battle. Then the world will know that there is no one who can stand against Lord Voldemort. Make your recovery a speedy one though. My patience will grow thin quickly. Before you leave Hogwarts, you and I will meet one last time. Until then, your friends will not enjoy my benevolence. The attack on the Grainger girl may not have been successful, but perhaps you will not be there to help the next one. I wouldn’t let little Ginny out of my sight if I were you, Harry. A nice girl isn’t an easy thing to replace.
Harry laid the letter down in his lap and looked at Ginny as he said, “I don’t think it will be you that makes me speed my recovery, Ginny.”
“Don’t worry about any of us, Harry,” Ginny said. “He won’t be able to touch any of us at Hogwarts.”
“He almost managed to get to Hermione,” Harry said. “Tell everyone in the D.A. to watch their backs. Everyone needs to keep a shield charm up at all times.”
“Well,” Ginny said, “I’ll see what I can do. The D.A. as we knew it is almost gone. After your accident, Cassidy tried to take over teaching the classes. The only thing she succeeded in doing was to increase the numbers of Slytherin in the class. Most everyone else just stopped going. It just wasn’t the same as having you teach it apparently. Hermione tells me that the stuff she was trying to pass off as advanced magic to the sixth and seventh year classes was barely even up to the level that you started with when we started the D.A.”
“I’m not really surprised,” Harry said. “To tell you the truth, I don’t even know how she managed to defeat Hornquist in the first place. Her knowledge of magic seemed a bit average in the little time I actually spent with her in the classes.”
“I think you should know something then,” Ginny said. “After you left the Room of Requirement I heard her say something I didn’t expect. Harry, I think she came to Hogwarts to try and defeat Voldemort herself.”
“I hope you’re wrong about that, Ginny,” Harry said seriously. “She won’t stand a chance. Other than me, and perhaps Dumbledore, no one realizes just how powerful Voldemort really is. Ginny, I realize that you probably don’t like Cassidy very much, but as a favor to me, please try to stop her. She’ll never survive.”
“I’ll do what I can, Harry,” Ginny said. “I may not like her very much, but I don’t think anyone should go into a battle not knowing what they really face.”
“So,” Moody said, reminding them that he was still in the room, “you should know that the ministry is increasing security here at the hospital and sending as many guards as Dumbledore will allow to Hogwarts. Dumbledore has put the order on alert. Everything that can be done is being done to make sure no one is attacked.”
“What in the world would make Voldemort send you a letter like that now anyway?” Ginny asked.
“Maybe this had something to do with it,” Moody said as he pulled a newspaper from his pocket and handed it to Ginny.
Ginny opened the copy of The Daily Prophet and read the headline and the first part of the story that said, ‘THE BOY WHO LIVED, LIVES AGAIN. Once again the wizarding world learned never to count out Harry Potter. Mr. Potter is reported to have regained consciousness and be making a full recovery after a horrific fall months ago at Hogwarts. Oh, we of little faith. No fall could ever kill the person who even He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named failed to destroy.’
“It must have driven Voldemort crazy to read that,” Moody said with a wide grin of satisfaction..
“I think I should send an answer to him then,” Harry said, looking as mischievous as any Weasley ever had. “First, I need to write a note to Fred and George.”
Ginny looked at Harry questioningly until it dawned on her what he was planning, and she said, “You aren’t going to do what I think you are, are you?”
“Very likely,” Harry said with a grin as Moody handed him a piece of parchment and a quill. “I just need to have Fred and George set it to run automatically when he opens it and remove the password to turn it off.”
“Are you planning to send him one of those little models of the ministry of magic?” Moody asked.
“Yep, “ Harry said with a smile.
“Blasted fine idea,” Moody said. “I have two of the little gadgets myself.”
Ginny had returned to Hogwarts, though reluctantly, the next evening. She wanted more than anything to stay with Harry, and monitor his recovery herself. Harry had insisted though, reminding her that it would be her last week to study before the end of term exams that began later in the week. Furthermore, he had absolutely forbid her to come and see him the next weekend. He wanted her to study over that weekend as much as possible since her potions exam would be on the following Monday, and he was sure that Snape would do what he could to make her exam more difficult than everyone else’s.
Ginny planned on spending her entire Christmas Holiday at Harry’s side, and the last few days before the students were officially released were some of the longest of her life. It didn’t make her time there any shorter when she had followed Harry’s wishes and tried to talk to Cassidy about not going after Voldemort. She had been a bit surprised that Ginny even knew about it, but was too concerned with finding out how Harry was doing to pay any attention to what Ginny was trying to tell her. When Ginny had explained his condition to her, she had just broken down in tears and run off back toward her common room. Since then, she had found out from Moaning Myrtle that Cassidy had spent several days crying in her bathroom, and Myrtle was none too happy about sharing the space.
Ginny didn’t have time to worry about any of that though. She had done what Harry had asked her to do, and if Cassidy didn’t want to hear it then it wasn’t her fault. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she felt a bit sorry for her though. She had spent years trying to get Harry’s attention, and knew how it felt to think he didn’t care. But it was at the back of her mind, and that was where she intended to keep it.
Finally, the evening of December 22nd came, and Ginny knew that the next morning she would be able to go to Harry once again. Ginny assembled, along with everyone else, in the Great Hall for the final feast of the term, and listened as Professor Dumbledore rose to give a final speech before he would make the food appear on the house tables.
“I know that you are all anxious to begin your holiday vacations,” Dumbledore said. “I would just like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your hard work during the entire first term. By my calculations, fewer house points had to be taken away during this term than during any term in a number of years. I can only hope that you will take that same behavior home with you and share it with your families, who I am sure that you have all remembered to buy presents for.”
There were mental notes made all over the Great Hall, as indeed many of those there had neglected to remember after all.
“So in this time as chocolate frogs dance in your heads,” Dumbledore began, “don’t forget that it is the season for sharing cheer and kindness with your fellow witches and wizards. Just as long as you don’t do so, too late. Remember that the Hogwarts express will leave promptly at ten o’clock tomorrow morning. So, now I believe it is time…”
Dumbledore never finished his sentence as the door to the Great Hall opened, causing everyone’s head to turn and see why. What they saw stunned them all into silence, and placed a wide grin on Dumbledore’s face.
Everyone strained for a better view as they saw Harry standing in the doorway. He began to walk forward slowly into the hall. They could see that it was a considerable effort for him as he leaned heavily on the cane in his left hand. Ginny wanted to run to help him, but, knowing that it was something he likely wanted to do on his own, she sat there and tried to stem the flow of the tears that began to roll down her face.
Harry stopped when he made it three quarters of the way up the center isle, which just happened to be right next to Ginny, and said, “I hope I’m not too late.”
“You’re just in time, Harry,” Dumbledore said with a smile. “You’re lucky enough to have missed my speech. Welcome back.”
“Thanks,” Harry responded with a smile.
Seamus, who was sitting next to Ginny at the time, turned to the people on the other side of him and motioned for them to move down. One quarter of the people on that side stood almost at once and moved down one seat, leaving the seat next to Ginny free for Harry to sit in.
“Thanks everybody,” Harry said as he moved closer to the bench. “Uh, could a couple of you help me out? I don’t know if I can support myself on this cane long enough to get my legs over the bench."
Seamus and Ron jumped up and moved to either side of Harry, practically picking him up and hoisting him over the bench, and supporting him until he was fully seated.
“Thanks guys,” Harry said.
“No problem,” Ron and Seamus said in unison.
“Now that we’re all here,” Dumbledore said, “let the feast begin.”
A plethora of food suddenly appeared on the tables, but Harry and Ginny never noticed as Ginny wrapped him in a hug she never wanted to release and asked, “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”
“I didn’t know until a few hours ago,” Harry responded. “Besides, I wanted to surprise you.”
“You did that,” Ginny said gripping him tighter. “You did that.”
Harry and Ginny stayed in their hug until Colin Creevey stood up at the end of the Gryffindor table and hit his mug with is knife to get everyone’s attention.
Colin raised his mug and said, “A toast, to Harry Potter, a true Gryffindor.”
To Harry’s surprise, the majority of the people in the Great Hall raised their own mugs and said in unison, “To Harry.”
After dinner, Harry left the Great Hall with a formidable entourage on his way to the Gryffindor common room. He made it as far as the bottom step before he stopped and looked up, and saw the full magnitude of the task before him. He needn’t have worried though. Hermione saw his dilemma right away and pulled out her wand, performed the correct charm, and began to levitate him up the stairs.
“I think this is the least I owe you,” Hermione said as Harry looked back at her.
If Harry had any illusions that he would be able to go straight to bed, he quickly found out that they would have been far from reality. For half of the night, he sat and talked with a large group of Gryffindors. They asked him every question they could think of, and told him almost every detail of what he had missed. By the time everyone was finally winding down, it had gotten so late that Hermione had to perform her charm on everyone once again so that they would be able to wake up feeling rested and refreshed.
The next morning, students were sure to wake up in plenty of time, to catch their train back to London. Thanks to Dumbledore’s warning, most of those who were leaving made sure that the first person to wake up would go around and make sure everyone else was awake as well. That held true everywhere except in one of the Gryffindor dorms. Ginny had given orders that no one in Harry’s room was to wake him, since he was staying at Hogwarts over the holidays anyway. Not wanting to incur her wrath, everyone in that dorm tread very lightly that morning.
By the time Harry finally rolled over and opened his eyes, he saw Ginny sitting at the foot of his bed watching him.
“Morning sleepyhead,” Ginny said as he reached for his glasses.
“Careful, Ginny,” Harry said with a smile spreading over his face. “A guy might just get used to waking up and seeing you looking at him.”
“Why, Harry Potter,” Ginny said as she blushed. “You shouldn’t tease a girl like that.”
“But you turn such lovely colors when I do,” Harry said with a chuckle.
“Would you like me to stay here while you change?” Ginny asked playfully. “Then we can see what color you might change.”
Harry thought about how to counter her, and finally said, “I can take it if you can.” Harry threw off the blanket that was covering him and began to unbutton his pajama top as seductively as he could.
“Ha,” Ginny laughed as she got up and started for the door. “You got me this time, Harry. I wouldn’t want to get too excited until you’re fully recovered. You might not survive it.”
Harry’s jaw dropped in disbelief as he said, “Why Ginerva Weasley!”
Ginny just smiled from the doorway and said, “Look who’s turning colors now.”
After he had dressed, Harry went down to the common room to find Ginny waiting there along with Hermione and Ron. Since they had all made plans to stay at St. Mungo’s with Harry, they were staying at Hogwarts for the holidays now that he was back. Hermione insisted once again on levitating him down the stairs. He tried to tell her that he was going to have to climb the stairs someday without her help, but she just told him that the day had not yet arrived.
As Harry walked up to the doors of the Great hall, being flanked by Ron and Ginny with Hermione guarding the rear, Cassidy walked out of the Great Hall and stopped dead in her tracks when she spotted Harry.
“Hi, Cassidy,” Harry said.
Harry watched as Cassidy’s face contorted as if trying to hold back tears. He thought she was about to say something when she placed her hand over her mouth and ran past him with tears beginning to flow from her eyes.
Malfoy walked out of the Great Hall and saw all of them standing there, and looked to see Cassidy running away from them as he said, “What did you say to her, Potter.”
“I just said hi,” Harry answered, still baffled by Cassidy’s reaction. “Then she just burst into tears and ran off.”
“I might have known you did that to her,” Malfoy said frowning.
“Did what?” Harry asked confused.
“That, Potter,” Malfoy said. “She’s been acting just like that ever since you got hurt. She used to sit in the common room and write letters to her friends every night just gushing about Harry Potter this and Harry Potter that. I don’t know if she’s finished even one letter that she’s started since then. She just bursts out in tears and runs back up to her dorm room.”
“I still don’t exactly see why all of it has to be my fault,” Harry said.
“Just stay away from her, Potter,” Malfoy said.
“What are you still doing here anyway, Malfoy?” Ron asked. “Why didn’t you get on the train?”
“I’m staying here for Christmas, Weasley,” Malfoy responded. “As if that’s any of your business.”
“I think it is my business if you’re going to be in the castle,” Ron said suppressing his flaring anger.
“I know you think I was the one who attacked Granger, Weasley,” Malfoy said.
“Didn’t you?” Ron asked.
“I must say that it didn’t distress me that much,” Malfoy said with a sneer, “but I wasn’t the one who did it. I was in the library at the time. Ginny can tell you that she saw me in there, and after she left I sat down with a book doing some research. I didn’t even find out about the attack until half an hour after it happened. I can come up with several people who can tell you I was in the library, and no, they aren’t all from Slytherin.”
Malfoy walked past them as he headed back to his common room. Ron and the rest of the group just stood there stunned. Malfoy had always been their most likely suspect, and now they were left wondering if he really could prove that he wasn’t there when it happened. If Malfoy didn’t do it, then there was someone who had been able to go unnoticed, and that prospect was more terrifying. An unknown enemy was always the most dangerous.
“You were coming back from the library when you were attacked, weren’t you Hermione?” Ron asked. “Did you see Malfoy in there?”
“I only went to the library to return a book,” Hermione said. “I was in and out so quick that I never really paid attention to who else might have been there.”
“He was there,” Harry said. “If he wasn’t, he never would have mentioned that he could produce witnesses from houses other than Slytherin. He knows that of all people, we are the ones that are likely to check on that as soon as possible. For once, I think he was actually telling the truth.”
After they had eaten breakfast, Harry surprised them all by telling them that he wanted to go into Hogsmeade to do some Christmas shopping. They had tried to argue that he wasn’t ready for a tip like that yet, but he told them that he had spent the last few months sitting in a hospital bed and thought some fresh air was just what he needed. So, not being able to change his mind, they informed Professor Dumbledore of what they had planned and set off for Hogsmeade.
It wasn’t easy for Harry to get his Christmas shopping done. It wasn’t so much his legs that bothered him, as his loyal friends. They all hung very close to him worrying that he would slip and fall on some ice, or just get overly tired and not be able to remain standing. The fact that they never wanted to leave his side made it a bit difficult to buy anything for them without their knowing it. Finally he explained his difficulties to them and made them resort to watching after him in shifts. That way, he could send one person away from the group while the other two helped him pick out their gift. Then he would take that person back and send another away. It was a time consuming process, but eventually Harry was able to proclaim an end to it.
The group finally made it back to the castle, and Ginny waited outside the Great Hall with Harry while Hermione took their gifts up to Harry’s dorm, and Ron loaded down several owls with Harry’s gifts to the people he wasn’t going to be seeing for Christmas. When they were done, they all walked into the Great Hall extremely ready for dinner.
As usual during the holidays, Professor Dumbledore had removed the house tables from the room and had them replaced with a single round table. There were usually very few people who remained behind over the holidays, and this year was no exception. There were only eleven students altogether, made up of four Gryffindors, two Hufflepuffs, three Ravenclaws, and two Slytherin. As dinner got started, Harry couldn’t help but notice that one of the eleven was absent.
“Professor Dumbledore,” Malfoy asked as he gave up on pushing the food around his plate that he had barely touched, “would it be alright if I took a plate of food back to my common room for Cassidy.”
“Of course, Draco,” Dumbledore responded. “I imagine she must be quite hungry by now, since she didn’t come for lunch either.”
“She didn’t come to lunch?” Harry asked.
“No, Harry,” Dumbledore said.
“Is she sick?” Harry asked Malfoy.
“I wouldn’t know, Potter,” Malfoy answered. “I’ve been in the common room all day, and she never came out of her dorm. I’m just going to leave this food in the common room for her in case she decides to come down sometime tonight.”
“Let me know if she doesn’t,” Dumbledore said. “If not, then I’ll send Professor McGonagall to check on her.”
Harry watched Malfoy leave the Great Hall, wondering what it could be that Cassidy was hiding from. He also wondered why it was that Malfoy was so thoughtful all of a sudden.
The next day was the same thing. Cassidy still hadn’t come to the Great Hall, but Malfoy took plates back to the common room after every meal. Harry was relieved at least to find out that she was coming out of her dorm to eat the food, although she still had never come down during a time when Malfoy was waiting for her. Obviously she didn’t want to talk to anyone, but Harry couldn’t figure out why.
On Christmas morning, Ginny woke up to find Hermione already halfway dressed, and said, “You’re getting an early start today. You wouldn’t be anxious to see if my big brother managed to pick out something decent for you this year would you?”
“The thought had crossed my mind,” Hermione said with a smile of excitement. “Don’t tell me that you aren’t dying to see what Harry got for you.”
“Oh, Hermione,” Ginny said smiling as she sat up, “Harry has been giving me little gifts all year long. Just having him back is gift enough for me.”
“Be that as it may,” Hermione said, “I bet he got you something you’ll really love.”
“Oh, you’re awful,” Ginny said letting some of her suppressed excitement show through. “You know what it is don’t you?”
“Actually,” Hermione answered, “I don’t. I thought I was going to have to help Harry pick something out in Hogsmeade, but I was wrong.”
“What do you mean?” Ginny asked intrigued.
“He apparently had to order your gift before he got out of the hospital,” Hermione said softly as if revealing a secret. “He said it was something that he wouldn’t have been able to find in Hogsmeade.”
Ginny’s eyes went wide as she was no longer able to contain her excitement, “What in the world couldn’t he find in Hogsmeade?”
“I don’t know,” Hermione said, “but it must be something really special. He wouldn’t tell Ron or me what it was. So get yourself up and get ready so we can go down and see what it is.”
Ginny got up and dressed quickly, taking an extra second to look in the mirror and make sure that she looked all right. Hermione impatiently told her that she looked fine, and physically dragged her out the door. When they got to the bottom of the stairs, they noticed Harry and Ron sitting, with Santa hats on, in the chairs by the Christmas tree, waiting on them.
“Happy Christmas,” Ron and Harry said simultaneously as they stood to greet the new arrivals.
“Who would have thought that the two of you would beat us down here,” Hermione said as she closed in and hugged Ron.
“What do you mean?” Harry asked as he hugged Ginny. “We’ve been waiting on you two for hours.”
“Really?” Ginny asked suspiciously. “Hours?”
“Well, it seemed like hours anyway,” Harry said as he kissed Ginny.
Ron took charge of passing out the gifts to everyone. He made sure to pass out the ones that weren’t from him or Harry first, which he could tell nearly drove Hermione mad. There were all of the usual gifts from his mom. Each of them got a new jumper with their first initial on the front of it; the only bright spot was that for once, Mrs Weasley had apparently gotten the message and made Ron’s dark blue instead of maroon. The twins had sent them all enough candy to give the whole of Gryffindor House a sugar high. Other gifts were there from other friends and relatives, as well as members of the Order, but it was the last few gifts under the tree that Hermione and Ginny were the most interested in.
Harry had to laugh when he opened Hermione’s gift. They had all assumed that it would be a book, as it usually was, but instead it was an entire set of men’s grooming supplies. Hermione pointed out that it contained a hair potion that was guaranteed to make even the most unruly of hair lay down.
Ron opened Hermione’s gift to find a new set of dress robes, and asked, “When am I supposed to wear these?”
“Don’t you worry, Ron,” Hermione said, “I’ll take care of that.”
“Well,” Ron said as he blushed a deeper red than any of them had ever seen, “Maybe I will have somewhere to wear them after all.”
Ron handed Hermione a small package that was neatly wrapped in a shimmering silver paper with a white ribbon laced with gold. Hermione trembled a bit now that the moment she had been so excited about was in front of her. It could have been a chocolate frog for all she cared. It was the first Christmas present he had given her while they were a couple, and that was enough to make her treasure it forever.
She gently slipped off the bow and made sure not to rip the paper as she carefully unwrapped the box that was inside. She was laying the paper aside to save for later scrapbooking, when she felt Ron take the box from her hands. She looked around for an explanation to see Ron on his knees in front of her chair.
“Hermione,” Ron said, his voice trembling slightly, “there was a time when I thought I would never be able to stand being around you. Over the years, as I’ve gotten to know you, I’ve found out just how wrong I was. For some time now I’ve held a special place in my heart for you. It wasn’t until recently that I worked up the nerve to tell you just how much you mean to me. Recently, I’ve been wishing that I could go back and relive some of those past years over again just so I could have more time with you. But instead I find myself stuck here in our last year at Hogwarts together, and not knowing in what directions the future may pull us. The one thing that I know is that I never want it to pull us apart. So, Hermione…”
Ron then held up the box he had given to Hermione and opened it so she could see the diamond ring that was inside it.
“… would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?” Ron finished.
Hermione opened her mouth as if to say something, but no words would come out as tears rolled down her cheeks. She finally managed, unable to voice a response, to nod her head to say yes. Ron took the ring out of the box and tried to steady his hand as he slipped the ring onto Hermione’s trembling finger.
Once it was on, Hermione wrapped her arms around Ron and pulled him into a hug that reminded him of one of his mothers, as she whispered, “I love you, Ron.”
“I love you too,” Ron responded, losing himself in her arms.
The next thing Ron and Hermione were aware of was Ginny, crying and not able to control herself any longer as she wrapped them both in a tight hug. Harry himself was overcome with happiness as well, and wrapped his own arms around the rest of the group.
When they finally separated, Hermione and Ginny were both crying and Ron had the widest grin any of them had ever seen.
“I can’t believe you never told me you were going to do that,” Harry said to Ron.
“I could barely believe I was going to do it, mate,” Ron said still smiling. “I nearly chickened out a hundred times, but once she had the paper off of the box I knew it was too late to back out.”
“Ron,” Ginny, still crying, began, “how in the world did you ever afford that ring?”
“Well,” Ron said as if he didn’t want to admit something, “I actually ordered it a while back, and I’ve been making small payments on it ever since.”
“How far back?” Hermione asked as she wiped her cheeks.
“Uh, about three years,” Ron admitted.
“What?” Harry asked amazed. “Are you saying that you’ve been planning this for three years and you never told me.”
“Forget you, Harry,” Hermione said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I wanted to,” Ron pleaded. “I really did. But you have no idea how close I came to not telling you I liked you at all. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I thought you would laugh in my face.”
“You are such a git, Ron,” Hermione said with a smile. “I would have said yes long before that. A big, lovely git.”
Hermione wrapped her arms around Ron once again and planted a passionate kiss on his lips. They kissed for so long, in fact, that Harry had to clear his throat just to remind them that he and Ginny were still there.
“Sorry mate,” Ron said blushing once again. “I know that it may still be a bit early to ask you, Harry, but would you be my best man?”
“Of course I will,” Harry said shaking Ron’s hand.
“Then I guess I need to go ahead and ask you if you’ll be my maid of honor, Ginny,” Hermione said.
“I would love to,” Ginny said. “It’ll be nice to know that there’s another girl in the family.”
“Speaking of adding another member to the family…” Hermione said looking at Harry.
It was Harry’s turn to blush as he swallowed hard before he said, “I’m afraid I didn’t get Ginny an engagement ring this Christmas. I was thinking her parents would prefer that I wait until she’s out of school first.”
“That’s all right, Harry,” Ginny said taking his arm. “I can wait. For a while anyway. For now, I guess I should give you my gift.”
Ginny went to the tree and retrieved a medium sized crimson wrapped box with a crimson and gold ribbon and bow.
As Ginny handed Harry the present she said, “Now you have to understand that I got you this present when I thought you were going to be stuck in St. Mungo’s for a while.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Harry said as he took the present. He carefully unwrapped the box, and when he opened it he saw something that looked very familiar.
“It’s a quick notes quill,” Ginny said. “I thought you might need it if you wanted to answer some of those get well cards that are stacked up in the hospital.”
“I think it’s perfect,” Harry said smiling at Ginny. “I still plan to write some thank you notes, so this will go a long way toward saving my hand and wrist from constant cramping.”
“Oh, good,” Ginny said relieved. “I thought you would think it was totally useless.”
“It looks like there’s only one present left,” Hermione said. “I wonder who it could be for.”
“I guess it is almost time,” Harry said looking at his watch. Harry walked over to the tree and removed a small cube shaped box wrapped in crisp paper with a moving scene of falling snow and a sprig of mistletoe adorning the top instead of a bow.
“Are you sure you aren’t proposing, Harry?” Hermione asked when she looked at the shape of the box.
“Right shape,” Harry said, “but wrong contents.”
Harry handed the present to Ginny and she eyed it adoringly and said, “It’s too beautiful to open.”
“Well, you had better go ahead and do it,” Harry said. “The charm should wear off in a few minutes anyway. Besides, if you don’t open it the whole schedule will be thrown off.”
Ginny looked at Harry, wondering what schedule he was talking about, and saw a gleam in his eye that made her wonder even more what he might be up to. Resigning herself to the fact that she would likely have to open the gift to find out anyway, Ginny tore through the paper to get to the box underneath.
Ginny slipped the lid off of the box and was surprised by its contents as she said, “A golden snitch. Where in the world did you get it, Harry?”
“It was my dad’s,” Harry said. “Well, not technically his, since he nicked it from here in the first place. Professor Lupin found it among his things and gave it to me, and now I want you to have it.”
“Oh, Harry,” Ginny began, “I can’t take this. You don’t have that many things that belonged to your parents. You should keep this for yourself.”
“Just read the note under the snitch,” Harry said smiling.
Ginny pulled the snitch out of the box, found the note Harry had mentioned, and read, “Dearest Ginny, I have been looking for a way to tell you what your love does for me. Finally I’ve found it. When I’m with you, I feel the wings of my heart unfurl and carry my heart to places it has never been before. Like the snitch you hold in your hand, I was flying free and without purpose until the day that you captured my heart. I pray every day, that you will never release me, as my father never released this snitch. There is no one I would trust more with this piece of my life. Let it be a symbol of my love, and never let it go.”
Ginny stopped reading to look at Harry and let him know that she would always hold it tight, when Harry said, “Well, read the rest of it. I’m on a schedule here.”
Ginny looked back down at the letter and saw that below Harry’s signature was a P.S., and she read, “Put the snitch back in the box for a while. You need to open the window.”
She looked questioningly at Harry, but he just pointed to his watch to let her know that she was running out of time. She decided to play along, so she put the snitch in the box as instructed and walked over to the window and opened it. She stood back and looked at Harry to see if he was going to explain what was about to happen, but her attention was drawn back to the window as she heard something that sounded suspiciously like the flapping of owl wings. She barely had time to react as Hedwig flew in the window and dropped a long package into her hands.
“What have you done, Harry?” Ginny said wide-eyed as she took in the wrapped, yet unmistakable shape of a broom.
“Just open it and find out,” Harry said with a knowing smile.
They all moved over to her, and Harry thanked Hedwig before sending her back out the window and closing it. Ron and Hermione helped Ginny tear at the brown wrapping, and quickly revealed what was under it.
“Harry,” Ron said not able to take his eyes off of the broom, “how in the world did you get one of these? There’s a waiting list a mile long for a second generation Firebolt.”
“Not just any Firebolt,” Harry said. “Look at the handle.”
There before them, on the end of the handle, inscribed in crimson letters with a gold outline were the words ‘Ginny’s Firebolt II Special Edition’.
“Whoa,” Ron gasped.
“Harry…” Ginny started to say as she struggled to comprehend what she was holding while tears began to blur her vision.
Harry walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her from behind as he said, “It’s a one of a kind. There will never be another one like it. Just like there will never be anyone like you, Gin.”
Ginny turned and, still not able to speak through her sobbing, pressed her head into Harry’s chest and held him as tightly as she could. Ron and Hermione admired them silently for a while as they came together in their own hug.
Several minutes passed before Harry pulled back slightly to look down at Ginny and said, “Why don’t we go down and get some breakfast. Then you can go outside and give your new broom a test flight if you want.”
“If I want?” Ginny asked. “I’m dying to give it a try.”
The four of them went down to the Great Hall, and once again found everyone except Cassidy already there. After they had all seated themselves, it only took about a minute for one of the Ravenclaw fifth years to notice the ring Hermione was wearing. Ron and Hermione confirmed the significance of the ring, and congratulations rang around the table from everyone except a very depressed looking Malfoy.
“Didn’t Potter get you a ring too, Ginny?” Malfoy asked.
“Actually, no,” Ginny said almost unable to hide her excitement over her broom. “Would you like to see what he gave me?” Ginny didn’t even wait for an answer before she turned and said, “Accio broom.”
They only had to wait a few seconds before a broom sped into the Great Hall and came to rest in Ginny’s hand. With quidditch being such a popular sport, everyone at the table was instantly aware that there was something special about the broom.
“Is that what I think it is?” Malfoy asked too amazed to remember to be nasty. “Is that a second generation Firebolt?”
“Sort of,” Ginny said happily, as she rolled the handle over so they could all read it.
“But how?” Malfoy asked.
“I asked the same question myself,” Ron said looking to Harry to see if he wanted to explain further.
“I sent a message to Quality Quidditch Supplies in Diagon Alley and told them that I was trying to find a good broom to give to Ginny for Christmas,” Harry explained. “I was just expecting them to send me a list of the brooms they had available, but apparently they forwarded my request to the people who make the Firebolt. The next day I got an owl from them offering to sell me a special edition Firebolt and wanting to know the name of the person I was giving it to. I sent a reply that day and told them that the price was acceptable and that I wanted to give it to Ginny. I got a confirmation two days before I came back here confirming delivery time, but when I got out of the Hospital early I sent them a message letting them know that I would send Hedwig to pick it up.”
“I bet they gave you a big discount just for being the famous Harry Potter,” Malfoy said with some of his nastiness coming back to him.
“Actually, it cost considerably more than my first Firebolt did when it first came out,” Harry responded. “I don’t know if that’s what you would call a discount, but I thought Ginny was worth it whatever the cost. Someday, even you’ll find someone that you feel the same way about.”
Harry had made the last statement to see what kind of a reaction he would get out of Malfoy. He watched, and thought Malfoy was about to make a comment, but at the last moment he seemed to think better of saying whatever he had thought.
“Hopefully we will all be lucky enough to find a love like that at least once in our lifetimes,” Dumbledore said, filling the tense silence that had overtaken the group.
“I think I’ll take a plate of food to Cassidy now, Professor,” Malfoy said as he got up to leave.
“Certainly,” Dumbledore said as he waved his hand, making another plate of food appear on the table next to Malfoy.
As Harry watched Malfoy begin to walk toward the doors of the Great Hall, he stood up and asked everyone to excuse him for a moment as he followed Malfoy as quickly as he was able with his cane.
Once they were well outside the Great Hall, Harry saw Malfoy ahead of him and said, “Draco, wait up.”
Malfoy stopped and turned to see Harry walking toward him and asked, “What do you want, Potter?”
“I take it that you still haven’t seen her yet,” Harry said.
“That’s right, Potter,” Malfoy said. “Why should you care?”
“Believe it or not, Draco,” Harry said, “I would like to know that she’s all right. Since her whole reason for hiding out like this seems to be linked with me somehow, I’d like to have a chance to talk to her and work it out. Today is Christmas after all.”
“What do you expect me to do about it?” Malfoy asked. “I haven’t gotten to see her either. At least you have your friends to keep you company. I might as well be living in Slytherin House by myself.”
“If I can get in to talk to her, then maybe I can change that,” Harry said.
“Get in?” Malfoy asked. “I hope you don’t seriously think I’m going to get you into the Slytherin common room. For one thing it’s against the rules. For another, if she comes down and finds you there she might stop coming down to get her food.”
Harry took a long look at Malfoy before saying, “You care about her don’t you?”
“Care about her, Potter?” Malfoy asked.
“You certainly are going out of your way to make sure she gets fed,” Harry said.
“I do that just because she’s a Slytherin, Potter,” Malfoy sneered.
“There have been other people in Slytherin house you would have let starve,” Harry said pointedly. “Don’t get me wrong, Draco. I think the two of you would be great together as long as you can come to an understanding over Voldemort. I could be wrong, and you may not have any real feelings for her at all. But if I’m right, and you do, then please do everything you can to keep her from going after Voldemort.”
“How I do or don’t feel about her is none of your business, Potter,” Malfoy said through gritted teeth. “When it comes to the Dark Lord, I thought you would be more worried about yourself.”
“I’m not afraid of Voldemort any more,” Harry said. “I’ll be ready to fight him when the time comes. I just don’t want any innocent people to get in the way when it happens.”
“Then you should keep an eye on all of your D.A. buddies,” Malfoy said. “I’m sure they’ll stick their noses in.”
“It’s too bad really,” Harry said. “You know, for years now I’ve hoped that we would be able to find a way to put our differences aside. Maybe it was just wishful thinking.”
“I would say so, Potter,” Malfoy laughed. “You and I will never be friends.”
“Enemies it is then,” Harry said seriously. “Just make sure you don’t end up on the wrong side at the wrong time.”
Harry didn’t give Malfoy a chance to respond as he turned around and began walking back to the Great Hall. He had learned all he needed to, and planted a few seeds along the way. All he had to do was to wait and see if any seeds began to grow. Already though, a plan was forming in his mind.
Later that day, Ginny entered the Great Hall for lunch along with Ron and Hermione. She told Dumbledore that Harry had overexerted himself during the morning and had decided to rest instead of coming to lunch. She told him that she would like to take a plate of food up to Harry so he could eat after he got up. Dumbledore said that would be fine, and lunch proceeded normally.
Malfoy walked back to his common room with another plate of food for Cassidy and stopped at the painting outside his common room and said, “Datura.”
The portrait swung open and Malfoy stepped inside. He walked over and set the plate of food down in its usual spot. Then he walked over to the Christmas tree to see that there was one gift that still remained under the tree. He shook his head as he headed for the stairs that would take him to his dorm room. What he did not know, was that a few minutes later, the portrait swung open again to admit someone else.
Cassidy stood at the top of the stairs that would take her down to the Slytherin common room and listened for any indication that there would be anyone there. Hearing nothing, she carefully walked down the stairs until she got to a point where she could check to make sure no one was sitting in a chair waiting on her. Luckily, no one was there, so she walked the last few steps down into the common room and over to the table where her food was.
Cassidy sat down and ate all of her food, thankful that Dumbledore had been kind enough to send it up to her as he had for the past couple of days. She stood up to head back to her dorm room, and when she turned around, she froze in place as she saw the person blocking the stairs she was heading for.
Cassidy looked in stunned silence at Harry, who was standing there with his cane in one hand and a cloak in the other as she finally managed to say, “Harry. What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” Harry said.
“This is my common room, Harry” Cassidy said.
“That’s no reason to lock yourself in it,” Harry said making Cassidy look at her feet. “Everyone is worried about you, Cassidy. I don’t know what it is that’s made you shut yourself away from everyone, but you can’t go on like this. What have I done?”
Cassidy looked up at Harry with tears forming in her eyes and said, “I am so sorry, Harry. I just can’t face you after what I did.”
“I hope this isn’t all just over that kiss in the room of requirement,” Harry said.
“Of course it is,” Cassidy said, the tears bursting from her eyes. “I never should have done it. If I hadn’t kissed you it never would have happened.”
“What wouldn’t have happened?” Harry asked a bit confused.
“Your accident, Harry,” Cassidy managed to get out through her sobs. “If I hadn’t kissed you, you would have still been in the room of requirement with me. If I hadn’t driven you out of there you never would have had to suffer those months in the hospital.”
“But, Cassidy,” Harry said softly, “don’t you see. I should be thanking you for kissing me. You’re right that I would have been safe in the room of requirement, but how do you think I would have felt if I had come out of that room only to find that Hermione had died in that fall. I feel so blessed that I was there, and actually able to save her. I knew as soon as I jumped over that railing what I was facing. I would have done the same thing even if it hadn’t been Hermione.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed it yet, but I didn’t die. I should be as good as new in a few more weeks, but there is still a part of me that’s still hurting. It’s the part that got hurt when I ran into a friend outside the Great Hall the morning after I got back, and I couldn’t even get her to say hi to me. It was the part of me that got twisted in knots when I found that my mere presence caused her pain. Then she hid herself away so that I couldn’t even tell her how sorry I was for anything that I had done to hurt her.”
“I never meant to hurt you, Harry,” Cassidy said. “I just felt so guilty…”
“But you don’t need to,” Harry said taking a few steps closer to her. “I jumped over that railing, because I wanted to. No one made me do it. I could have just stood there and let her fall, but I made the choice not to. I made the choice. The only person who should feel guilty for what I had to do is the person who attacked Hermione in the first place, and I don’t think it was you.”
“No,” Cassidy said. “I was still in the room of requirement at the time of the attack. Just after you left, I saw a flash of light, and the next thing I knew I was waking up on the floor.”
“Ah,” Harry said grimacing a little. “I didn’t know about that part. Never underestimate the temper of a woman under an invisibility cloak.”
A sudden realization hit Cassidy as she asked, “Ginny?”
“I’m afraid so,” Harry said.
“I guess after what she saw,” Cassidy said, “I was lucky that she only stunned me.”
“I don’t think she’d do it again if you were to just come to dinner with everyone else,” Harry said. “It is Christmas you know.”
“I guess I haven’t exactly spread cheer and kindness like Dumbledore told us to,” Cassidy said wiping her cheeks dry.
“There is one person I can think of who deserves some of that from you more than any of us though,” Harry said.
“Who is that?” Cassidy asked, curious.
“Draco,” Harry said.
“Malfoy?” Cassidy asked, surprised.
“After all,” Harry said, “he was the one who kept bringing food up to you.”
“He did that?” Cassidy asked. “I thought Dumbledore was just sending it here magically.”
“No,” Harry said. “It was Draco every time. I think he’s been genuinely concerned about you. He hasn’t been able to eat a decent meal yet I don’t think. He just sits there and picks at his food. He denies it of course, but I think he has some real feelings for you.”
“Malfoy?” Cassidy asked a bit surprised. “He asked me out when I first got here and I turned him down. Since then he hasn’t done anything but make fun of my letter writing and sneer at me the way he does at you.”
“I don’t think he really knows how to show you he cares,” Harry said. “I think he is trying though. He’s been bringing you food and not even asking anything in return for it. That’s something one doesn’t usually associate with Draco Malfoy.”
“But that doesn’t mean…” Cassidy began to say.
“I also see that there’s a gift left under the tree,” Harry said cutting her off. “I wonder who it could be for. Draco just walked through here a few minutes ago and didn’t claim it, so I would say it must be for you.”
“But I had the house elves bring all of the gifts from my family up to my room,” Cassidy said.
“Maybe it isn’t from your family,” Harry said lifting an eyebrow at her.
Cassidy walked over to the tree and retrieved the package. She flipped the tag over and read it before looking to the base of the stairs that led to Draco’s room, and then looked back over to Harry with a questioning look on her face.
“Well, open it,” Harry said.
Cassidy carefully removed the wrapping paper from the box, and opened it to find a beautiful necklace inside. Harry walked over and looked at the silver chain with a silver pendant that held a stone that seemed to have a mist inside that swirled in slow fingers of varying shades of red, pink and white.
“Hmmm,” Harry said as he studied her present. “That doesn’t look like a present you give to someone you hate. Trust me. Malfoy hates me, and he’s never given me a Christmas present.”
“I can’t believe he would do this,” Cassidy said stunned. “I didn’t get him anything in return.”
“Well, if you want to give him something,” Harry said, “I may be able to help you with that.”
“Why would you do that for him if you hate him?” Cassidy asked.
“Because I understand the position he’s in,” Harry said. “Ginny had feelings for me years before I realized that I felt the same way about her. I look back on it now and wish I could go back and make every gift I ever gave her something special.”
“But a relationship with Malfoy is out of the question,” Cassidy said. “He’s the son of a death eater. He may even become one himself.”
“Maybe he just needs someone to give him a reason to rethink that option,” Harry suggested.
“You don’t understand, Harry,” Cassidy said seriously. “You know the way he feels about being a pure blood. What would he think if he found out that my dad’s a muggle.”
Hearing that was one thing that Harry had not counted on, but he eventually said, “Never underestimate how much a man might be willing to change for someone he loves.”
“I don’t know if I would go that far,” Cassidy said, “but the least I owe him is a thank you for the gift.”
“If you wait here for a few minutes,” Harry said with a smile, “I’ll just go and get something you can give to him and bring it back to you.”
Harry turned and walked toward the portrait hole and had almost reached it when Cassidy said, “Harry?”
Harry stopped and turned to look back at where she stood. He was happy to see that she finally had a small smile on her face.
“Thank you,” Cassidy said.
“Anything for a friend, Cassidy,” Harry said with a smile of his own.
Draco Malfoy looked at his watch as he lay on his bed. It was time for dinner. If he didn’t know that it was up to him to bring food to Cassidy, he would just as soon remain where he was. But he raised himself off of the bed where he had spent the last few hours staring at the ceiling, and headed for the door.
Malfoy emerged into the common room, and took a look around wishing that someone would be there, but to his disappointment, there wasn’t. He was about to walk out of the common room, but, as he passed the Christmas tree, he noticed something that stopped him in his tracks. The present that he had placed there for Cassidy was gone, and in its place was one wrapped in green paper with a white bow. He bent down to pick it up and noticed that it was to him. The thing that really surprised him, was that it was from Cassidy.
As he stood up, Draco turned around and saw Cassidy standing at the base of the stairs leading to the girls dorms. She was wearing a beautiful black dress that stunned him into silence, but a feeling he had not felt in days coursed through him as he noticed that she was wearing the necklace he had given her.
“I just wanted to say thank you for the necklace,” Cassidy said stepping into the room. “It’s beautiful.”
Malfoy tried to gather his wits back about him as he looked at her and said, “I… I… I’m glad you like it.”
“I hope yours is okay,” Cassidy said. “A friend told me you might like it.”
Malfoy felt as though his body was slow in accepting commands of movement as he finally was able to tear his eyes from Cassidy to notice that he was still holing her gift for him. He tore through the paper with a sudden thought that perhaps this is one gift that he should treat more gently than usual. He carefully slipped the box out of the open end of the wrapping and knew instantly that her friend must know him fairly well.
“This is exactly what I would have wanted,” Malfoy said. “I’ve needed a broom care kit for quite a while, but never got around to getting one.”
“I’m glad,” Cassidy said. “I guess I should also thank you for bringing me all of those plates of food. I didn’t know until today that you were the one doing it.”
“It was nothing,” Malfoy said, blushing as if he were a Weasley.
“It was nice,” Cassidy responded. “I won’t forget it.”
“Does this mean that I won’t have to bring you a plate tonight?” Malfoy asked hopefully.
“I think I’ll be going to dinner with everyone else tonight,” Cassidy said. “At least I will if I have a friend to sit next to.”
Malfoy just stared at her numbly as he said, “I… could sit with you if you like.”
“I think I’d like that,” Cassidy said. “I think it would be a good time to get to know you a little.”
Everyone was pleasantly surprised to see Cassidy walk into the Great Hall for dinner. Everyone except for Harry that is. His friends knew that he had gone to the Slytherin common room and talked to Cassidy, but he wouldn’t tell them exactly what was said.
During the dinner, Harry noticed that Draco Malfoy smiled more and looked happier than he had ever been since coming to Hogwarts. He was pleased to see that his archenemy had a heart after all.
The next morning, Harry awoke early, and decided to go on down to the common room to wait for everyone else to wake up. To his surprise, Professor Dumbledore was warming his hands by the fire when he got there.
“Ah, good morning, Harry,” Dumbledore said with a smile as he looked over his glasses at the new arrival.
“Morning, Professor,” Harry said still a bit shocked to see him there. “I didn’t expect to find you down here.”
“I needed to speak with you,” Dumbledore explained, “and I thought I would save you the walk up the stairs to my office. By the way, how are you feeling?”
“Better every day, Professor,” Harry said. “I’m not leaning on my cane nearly as much as I was just a few days ago.”
“Excellent,” Dumbledore said with a smile.
“So what is it that you needed to see me about, Professor?”
“Have a seat here by the fire with me, and I’ll explain it to you,” Dumbledore said as they both moved to sit. “As you may know, due to your stay at St. Mungo’s, you have missed a considerable amount of work in your classes. I have discussed the situation with your teachers, and there are two courses we could follow. First, you could leave Hogwarts before the beginning of the next term, return to live with the Dursleys, and come back to finish your last year at the beginning of the next school year.”
“I can already tell you that I choose the second option, Professor,” Harry said. “Anything would be better than going back to live with the Dursleys.”
“I had a feeling you would feel that way. Harry,” Dumbledore said with a smile. “However, you should know that the second option will be much more difficult for you. All of your professors have agreed to offer weekend classes to catch you up on what you have missed. In essence, you will have to pack a weeks worth of study into just two days, and that will be on top of all of your other work during the week.”
“I’m ready to give it a try, Professor,” Harry said.
“Yes,” Dumbledore said as he hesitated to deliver the final bit of news. “I have to tell you though, that what I said was not quite accurate. I did talk to all of your teachers about this option, and all agreed, save one."
“Professor Snape?” Harry asked already knowing the answer.
“Yes, Harry,” Dumbledore said watching for his reaction. “Professor Snape has said that he stated quite clearly in your first potions class of the year, that once the doors to the classroom were locked at the beginning of class, anyone not inside would lose points for the day. I have asked him to make an exception considering the circumstances, but he has refused, as is his right. Professor Snape, I am sorry to inform you, has failed you for the year in Potions.”
“But without his potions class he won’t be allowed to take his N.E.W.T. for potions,” Ginny said as she and Hermione stepped forward to acknowledge that they had been listening to the conversation. “He has to have one in Potions to go on to be trained as an auror."
“I’m afraid you’re right, Ginny,” Dumbledore said as he turned to see them.
“There must be something that Harry can do,” Hermione said thinking hard. “I remember reading something… Oh, what was it? In Hogwarts a History. A test. Some kind of comprehensive test that can be taken to replace the students grades in a class."
“Very good, Miss Granger,” Dumbledore said. “Ten points for Gryffindor.”
“So Harry can take a test to replace his grades for the entire year of potions?” Ginny asked.
“Actually,” Dumbledore said, “it is far more comprehensive than that I’m afraid. The test would be designed by the instructor to include, but not be limited to, everything the student should have learned during their time in the class from the first year on. The test would replace every grade Harry has ever gotten in Potions. I should warn you that this option has only been exercised three times since the school was founded, and that none that have attempted it have even come close to passing.”
“I can only imagine what kind of test Professor Snape would design for you if he wasn’t limited to what he had taught in class, Harry,” Hermione said concerned. “Maybe it wouldn’t be such a good idea after all.”
“I’m so sorry, Harry,” Ginny said as she put her hand on Harry’s shoulder.
“I’ll do it,” Harry said looking seriously at Dumbledore.
“Harry, what…” Hermione began
“I’m going to try it,” Harry said so that they all knew he wasn’t going to change his mind.
“Very well, Harry,” Dumbledore said calmly. “I will inform Professor Snape of your decision as soon as he returns from his holiday break. I should also tell you that it is up to the professor to set a date when the test will be given, and also to determine the length of the exam.”
“Tell him to give it his best shot,” Harry said confidently. “It should be like Christmas all over again for him.”
“Unfortunately,” Dumbledore said, “I think you might be right, Harry.”
The winter holidays at Hogwarts were coming to an end. The rest of the students who had gone home for Christmas were returning that night. Harry awoke as the first rays of sunlight crept in through the window of his dormitory. Harry knew that it would be a momentous day for him. He looked at his cane resting against the wall next to his bed and a smile crept to his face as he thought about the fact that, from that day forward, it would be no more than a decoration. He wasn’t going to be running any marathons, but he had improved enough that he no longer had to rely on the cane for support.
Harry couldn’t have been happier about how things had turned out over the holidays. His two best friends in the world had gotten engaged, he and Ginny were as happy as they had ever been, and Cassidy had come out of hiding to resume her friendship with Harry, as well as begin to explore her own feelings about Draco Malfoy. Harry had to be impressed with the effect she was having on Malfoy. After Christmas day, it was a rare thing to see them apart, and when they were together, the smile never left Malfoy’s face.
Harry had even noticed a difference in Malfoy’s attitude toward him. He spent so much of his time thinking about Cassidy that he almost forgot to be nasty to Harry at all. Harry knew that Malfoy’s attitude was something that was likely to change quickly if he ever found out about Cassidy’s father though. Harry was hoping that, by the time that happened, Malfoy’s feelings for Cassidy would have grown strong enough for him to let go of his hatred of those who weren’t pure bloods. He had an uneasy feeling that it wouldn’t be as simple as that though.
As for Hermione, Ron and Ginny, they were in a constant twitch over the Potions test Harry was going to have to take, as well as making up all of the other classes on the weekends. It unnerved Hermione to the point of madness that the only notes of hers that Harry wanted to look at were History of Magic. Even those, he looked at quickly, leaving Hermione to wonder if he was taking it seriously at all. Harry had finally managed to calm her fears about History of Magic by allowing her to quiz him over anything in any of the notes he had looked at to that point. She had been shocked to find that he had absorbed it all so quickly, especially since it was a subject he had never taken an interest in.
So, after breakfast, Harry walked into the room of requirement to find exactly what he needed. Of course, he had looked through all of the books several times, but he was hoping that one more search would somehow reveal something he had missed in his research over the summer.
Harry was about two hours into his search when the door to the room of requirement opened, and Ginny walked in and asked, “This isn’t a bad time is it?”
“No time is a bad one when you’re around, Gin,” Harry said as he dropped the book he had been reading onto a table so he could hug Ginny.
“What are you working on?” Ginny asked. “Are you studying for your test?”
“No,” Harry said. “I was just working on a way to make my patronus powerful enough to kill a dementor.”
“Find anything yet?” Ginny asked.
“Nothing that I didn’t already know before,” Harry said a bit disappointed.
“Maybe it isn’t possible after all,” Ginny said.
“I still think it is,” Harry responded. “I couldn’t explain why unless I wrote you an essay about little things I’ve read in these books, but I just know that there is a way. There’s something I’m missing somewhere.”
“Well, if it can be done,” Ginny began, standing back to look at him, “I’m sure you’ll be the one to find it. You really are amazing, you know. Not long ago, there was a question of whether you would ever walk again. Now you’re walking without the help of your cane, and Hermione hasn’t had to levitate you up or down the stairs in a week.”
“Well, it wasn’t for lack of her wanting to,” Harry said. “For a while there I was wondering if she’d ever let me do it on my own again. Speaking of walking down the stairs, is it time for lunch already?”
“No,” Ginny said. “Not yet. I know I said I would come and get you for lunch, but there was something else I needed to talk to you about.”
“Sure,” Harry said motioning her to a chair. “What’s on your mind?”
“Well, Harry,” Ginny said, “now that you’re getting better, you’ll be able to take over as the seeker again. I just wanted to tell you that, since you don’t have your firebolt to ride any more, you can use mine if you want. I can just use my old broom.”
“I bought that broom for you to ride,” Harry said.
“But we can’t have our seeker trying to catch the snitch with one of the house brooms,” Ginny said as Harry held up a hand to stop her.
“I’ve already worked it all out with Ron,” Harry said. “I won’t be returning to the team right away, so you’ll still need to be the seeker. I’ll just be an alternate in case something happens and I have to step in.”
“But Harry,” Ginny pleaded, “you’re the best seeker Gryffindor has had for as long as anyone can remember.”
“And I have more work facing me in a single term than any student ever has before as well,” Harry said. “Something tells me that there isn’t going to be much time for quidditch practice with my new schedule. Besides, I want to try to get the D.A. running again.”
“No one expects you to do that, Harry,” Ginny said showing her surprise that he would even think of it.
“But it needs to be done,” Harry said firmly. “There is a war raging outside the walls of Hogwarts. I know better than anyone the kinds of tactics Voldemort and his death eaters like to use. I have to prepare as many of the students here to defend themselves against those tactics as I can. You heard what Voldemort wrote in that letter he sent to me. I think it’s only a matter of time before he brings that battle here to Hogwarts.”
“But Professor Dumbledore…” Ginny started to say.
“He can’t stand alone against two hundred death eaters,” Harry said cutting her off. “Remember what the D.A. stands for. Dumbledore’s Army. He shouldn’t have to stand alone, and if I have anything to say about it, he won’t.”
“Do you think Voldemort has that many death eaters?” Ginny asked.
“I think it might be close to that at any rate,” Harry said. “Remember that he got back all of the ones that were allowed to escape from Azkaban. He’s also been recruiting more in the last couple of years. Add into that the fact that he has control of the dementors, and you can see why I’m so interested in finding a way to kill them.”
“I’m sorry, Harry,” Ginny said. “I guess I didn’t understand just how much pressure you were under. I promise you that I’ll do everything I can to help you.”
“I know you will,” Harry said with a gentle smile. “I would be proud to have you at my side. Just understand, when it comes down to the battle with Voldemort himself, I don’t want you to get between us under any circumstances.”
Ginny looked Harry in the eyes and saw the clear determination in them before saying, “I understand.”
“I mean it, Ginny,” Harry said. “I’ll stun you myself to keep you out of it if that red headed stubbornness of yours makes you forget what you just agreed to. I’ll hate myself for it, but I’ll do it if I have to.”
“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Ginny said as she took Harry’s hand into hers.
Unfortunately, Harry knew that, if Voldemort was able to get him on the defensive, it was very likely that he would have to follow through with his threat. He knew that no matter what she said, what he had told Cassidy was true. She would step in front of him and act as a shield to save him if she could. He just prayed that he was fast enough to stop her before she could do it.
It didn’t take long after the students had returned to Hogwarts for the rumor of Harry’s impending Potions test to circulate. Harry suspected Snape himself had probably leaked out the information. Harry thought that he had never seen Snape so happy. The look in Snape’s eyes told Harry that he believed that his opportunity for revenge against James Potter was at hand.
Before the first seventh year Potions class of the second term began, Snape was sitting in his office consulting the most obscure book of potions he could find as he planned the test that he believed would finally take the swagger out of Harry. He was so involved with and excited by what he was doing, that it took him a moment to recognize the sound he heard as someone knocking on his office door. Snape put his quill down on his desk and went to open the door only to find Harry standing on the other side.
“What are you doing here, Potter?” Snape asked as he stepped out of his office and closed the door behind him as if to shield the information inside from Harry.
“Professor Dumbledore told me that you would have something for me that would spell out exactly how the test would be structured,” Harry said.
“As if it would do you any good, Potter,” Snape said as he reached into his robes and pulled out a scroll of parchment that he handed to Harry. “You really are a fool aren’t you. Do you really believe that you can do something that no other student in the history of the school has been able to do?”
Harry knew that Snape was only asking him because most of the students had already arrived and were listening closely to every word. He wanted to shake Harry’s confidence and belittle him in front of those who thought him brave for even attempting the test in the first place.
“I will pass the test, Professor,” Harry said looking straight into Snape’s eyes. “If you grade it fairly that is.”
“I suspect there won’t be much to grade, Potter,” Snape said. “The test I’m preparing for you will be impossible for you to comprehend in difficulty. You made the choice to take this test in order to mock the art of Potions and to mock me as your instructor. I can assure you that you will make a mockery of yourself if you even attempt it. Do yourself a favor, run back to Professor Dumbledore and tell him you made a mistake.”
“Needless to say,” Harry said calmly, “I won’t be attending this potions class any more. I could use the time to study Transfiguration I guess.”
“You had better study your Potions if you still think you have a prayer,” Snape said, trying to mask his anger at Harry’s insult.
“I’m ready to take the test today,” Harry said. “We could move up the date if you’re ready.”
Snape wanted to reach out and strangle Harry, but controlled himself as he said, “Very well then. If you are so anxious to fail then lets change the date of the exam. What about one week from today?”
“So long?” Harry asked. “You must not be done writing the test yet. Take as long as you like, Professor. I’ll be ready when you are.”
“We’ll see, Potter,” Snape said with an evil grin. “We’ll see.”
Professor McGonagall sat in the staff room looking over some scrolls of work students had turned in during the week. It was the first Saturday of the second term of the school year at Hogwarts. Later that day, it would be her turn to try and catch Harry up on what he had missed during the first term. She wondered if there would be anything left of his brain by the time he got to her. Professor Bane got him first for Defense Against the Dark Arts, and then Hagrid would get him for Care of Magical Creatures. When she thought about that, she wondered if there would be anything left of him at all considering the creatures Hagrid was likely to pull out of the forbidden forest to study.
Professor Bane walked into the staff room, and as soon as he saw Professor McGonagall, he said excitedly, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Like what?” McGonagall asked.
“Harry,” Bane responded. “I just came from my tutoring session with him to get him caught up.”
“Didn’t it go well?” McGonagall asked.
“It went beautifully,” Bane said taking a seat near her. “I must say that he is far more advanced in his studies of Defense Against the Dark Arts than I ever would have dreamed possible considering that he missed an entire term of class.”
“Mr. Potter has always had a knack for it from what I hear,” McGonagall said.
“He has more than a knack for it,” Bane said immediately. “There were times when I wondered exactly who was tutoring who. I planned on moving through the book quickly because of the short time we had to cover everything he missed, but I had no idea just how fast Harry was prepared to move.”
“I take it you’re pleased with his progress then,” McGonagall said.
“Astounded by it more like it,” Bane said. “He knows everything in the book.”
“What do you mean?” McGonagall asked.
“He can literally quote the entire Defense Against the Dark Arts book,” Bane said. “I started with chapter one. There wasn’t a topic in it he couldn’t fully explain. I moved on to the next one, and he knew that as well. Before I knew it we had reached the end of the book. I’ve only gone halfway through the book with the students that were actually in the class.”
“Maybe he studied it while he was in the hospital,” McGonagall suggested.
“Maybe,” Bane responded, “but that wouldn’t account for the fact that he was able to expand on each of the topics beyond the information contained in the book. That boy has studied some pretty advanced magic in some place other than his classes. Even Miss Granger wouldn’t have been able to do what he just did, and I happen to know that she’s read the book through at least three times.”
“So, are you saying you don’t have anything else to teach him?” McGonagall asked.
“Not very much if I stick to the topics I was going to cover in class,” Bane said. “I still have to test his dueling skills, but if they’re anything like his book knowledge I think I could graduate him out of the seventh year Defense Against the Dark Arts class today.”
“Amazing,” McGonagall said as she silently wondered just how much knowledge Harry had actually gotten from Voldemort.
“Out of fairness to Mr. Potter,” Bane said, “I’ve decided to hold off on the dueling until he feels that he’s recovered from his accident sufficiently. I must say that I’m anxious to see just what he can do though.”
“I think we all are,” McGonagall said, hoping that Harry’s skills would be enough to get him through what they all knew was coming.
After Lunch, Harry walked into the Transfiguration classroom to find Professor McGonagall sitting at her desk correcting scrolls from the week’s classes. He walked up to the front of the class, but when she didn’t look up at him, Harry took a seat in the first desk and waited.
“How do you feel, Mr. Potter?” McGonagall asked not looking up from her grading.
“Fine, Professor,” Harry answered. “I’m really sorry I have to take up your weekend to tutor me.”
McGonagall looked up from her scrolls with a surprised look on her face and said, “I am your teacher Mr. Potter. Anything I can do to further the education of a student is never an imposition.”
“Still,” Harry said, “I appreciate it.”
“You are quite welcome,” McGonagall said. “From what I hear, you seem to be doing quite well with your studies so far. Hagrid says that you really impressed him with your ability to work with the black winged tree serpent he had in class today.”
“That was easy for me,” Harry said. “It’s a distant relative of the snakes, so I was able to talk to it. Once I got it started talking, I almost couldn’t get it to stop. It had more questions about me than I had about it.”
“A useful gift to be sure,” McGonagall said. “You seem to have made quite a good impression on Professor Bane as well.”
“Well, he’s made a good impression on me too,” Harry said in response.
“I’m glad to hear it,” McGonagall said. “The character of our Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers has been a bit inconsistent in recent years. It’s good to know that you have a good one for your final year.”
“Believe me,” Harry said, “no one appreciates that more than I do.”
“I can quite understand your point, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall said. “Do you feel up to some Transfiguration now.”
“Ready to get started whenever you are, Professor,” Harry said.
“Very well,” McGonagall said. “The first task you will need to perform, is to transfigure one of the desks into a pony and then back into a desk again. Would you like me to explain the procedure to you, or are you prepared to perform the spell on your own.”
“I can do it, Professor,” Harry said.
Harry pulled out his wand and uttered the correct spell as he waved his wand, and the desk before him transformed into a small pony like one might see at a children’s pony ride. Harry let the pony walk a few steps before waving his wand again, causing the pony to turn back into a desk again. Harry levitated the desk back over to its original spot and set it down gently.
“Very good, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall said. “Your next task will be to transfigure the paperweight on my desk into a goblet.”
“Ah, easy one,” Harry said as he began to raise his wand.
“With water in it,” McGonagall said watching his reaction carefully.
“Oh, that one will be a bit more difficult,” Harry said. “Transfiguring one object into two that have a totally different chemical composition is fairly tricky as I recall.”
“Would you like me to guide you through it?” McGonagall asked.
“No,” Harry responded. “I think I can do it.”
Professor McGonagall watched as Harry pointed his wand at the paperweight. An instant later, the paperweight transfigured into a silver goblet with her Initials etched into the side in deep relief. She could easily see that the water in the goblet was as clear as any she had ever seen. Once she shook her head at Harry to let him know that he could proceed, the goblet and the water turned back into the paperweight it had been before.
“Your third task is to transfigure yourself into any animal you choose,” McGonagall said. “Don’t worry if you are only able to do a partial transfiguration. I am perfectly capable of changing you back to your original form. I must caution you that it is very dangerous to attempt a transfiguration of this type without the help of someone who knows how to reverse it. Unlike transforming into an animagus, once you transfigure yourself into the animal, you will not be able to transfigure yourself back of your own free will. You should never do this transfiguration without someone knowing exactly what you transfigured into. There would be no way to communicate your wish to be changed back otherwise.”
“I understand,” Harry said as he launched himself into deep thought.
McGonagall watched Harry for several seconds before asking, “Would you like me to instruct you?”
“Oh, no thanks, Professor,” Harry answered. “I was just trying to think of what animal I wanted to transfigure into. I think I have it now.”
“Proceed then, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall said.
Seconds later, Harry uttered the correct spell and pointed his wand at himself. McGonagall watch in amazement as Harry began to quickly transform. Harry shrank down out of her vision as he transformed into the much smaller creature. McGonagall began to rise out of her seat to look over the edge of her desk to see what Harry had changed into, when she heard a familiar song, and a brilliant red phoenix launched into the air and circled the Transfiguration classroom.
Professor McGonagall sat back in her seat and watched in wonder as Harry, the phoenix, soared happily around the room. It was such a beautiful thing that she couldn’t bring herself to stop him. Finally, several minutes after his flight had begun; Harry landed on the edge of one of the desks, and sang a few more notes of phoenix song as he looked at Professor McGonagall.
It took another few seconds for her to realize what the phoenix was asking her to do. She raised her wand, said the reversing spell, and the phoenix began to change until Harry sat on the edge of the desk.
“Mr. Potter,” McGonagall said, her eyes wide, “that was…”
“Amazing!” Harry exclaimed. “I can’t believe how wonderful that was! I’ve never felt so… free.”
“Mr. Potter…” McGonagall began without being able to find words to say what she wanted to.
“Did I do something wrong, Professor?” Harry asked, mistaking her reaction.
“Wrong?” McGonagall asked. “My dear boy, it was brilliant. Never in all my years of teaching have I seen a student successfully transfigure into even the most simple of animals on their first try. To transfigure yourself into something so complicated as a phoenix is… well… just unheard of. What on earth made you pick that particular animal?”
“I don’t know,” Harry responded. “You said to choose any animal I wanted, and when I thought about it, it just seemed the most logical one to start with. It has played a significant part in my life so far after all.”
“I can see now that Professor Bane wasn’t exaggerating your ability,” McGonagall said. “Do you realize the magnitude of what you’ve done here today, Mr. Potter? By all rights you shouldn’t have been able to do any of the three tasks I set before you. All three of them represent the most advanced and complicated transfigurations that can be done. Transfiguring an inanimate object into a complicated animal form, changing a single object into two dissimilar objects, and transfiguring yourself in to an animal are things that few seventh years are able to do even one of at the time of graduation.”
“Then why did you ask me to do them in the first place?” Harry asked. “I thought we were only reviewing the things that I missed during the first term.”
“Professor Bane says that you memorized the book in Defense Against the Dark Arts,” McGonagall said. “Is that true?”
“Yes,” Harry admitted.
“Am I right in assuming that you have also memorized your Transfiguration book as well?” McGonagall asked.
“Yes,” Harry responded.
“I figured as much,” McGonagall said. “I designed this test to see if I should waste my time trying to teach you the things I taught during the first term. It would appear that I needn’t bother. Quite frankly, I really didn’t believe that you could pass this test. I was hoping that you would fail it in fact. I was really hoping that there was something left that I could teach you, but what you have shown me here today is all the proof I need to tell me that you have exceeded the expectations of this class. I think you will do quite well on your Newt for Transfiguration. It should serve you well in your auror training as well.”
“Thank you, Professor,” Harry said, not quite sure what he was hearing.
“There is only one final thing I would like to ask you to try,” McGonagall said. “If you don’t already know that you can do it that is. Have you ever tried to find out if you are an animagus?”
“No,” Harry said, showing a bit of excitement.
“You know of course that your father was one,” McGonagall said, “so there is a good chance that you will be as well.”
“I didn’t know that it was something that could be passed along,” Harry said. “Does that mean that I’ll transform into a stag like my dad?”
“Not necessarily,” McGonagall explained. “Occasionally the ability is passed on, but the animal is always unique to the individual. The animal is like a projection of the person’s own personality into animal form. We wouldn’t know what you might transform into until you try it.”
“I’m ready to try then,” Harry said, taking a deep breath.
“Do you already know how to do it?” McGonagall asked.
“I think so,” Harry said, not sure of where he might have read about the process. “I just concentrate on focusing everything that I believe myself to be into my chest and think the words “animagia transforma”. Then I just have to think “animagia reverto” to change back.”
“That’s right,” McGonagall confirmed. “The key is in being able to calm your mind and focus your thoughts properly. You may find that easier than some do since you’ve had occlumency training. The concentration process is similar. This time, instead of trying to empty your head of all thoughts, try to empty out everything except the one thought of who you truly are.”
Harry closed his eyes and set about his task. Professor McGonagall had been right. It only took a few seconds for Harry to clear his mind, before concentrating on who he thought himself to be. When he visualized his whole being to be centered on his chest, he thought about the two words that would begin the transformation.
Something was happening. He could feel his body changing. He was doing it. He was an animagus. Then, he felt something that disturbed him terribly. He was growing larger. He was growing stronger. He felt something forming where his own skin had been only seconds before. He had scales. A sudden memory flooded into his mind, and he knew that he had to stop the transformation right away. He thought about the words to reverse the process, but a terrible pain shot through him instantly. There were a few seconds of intense pain, and then he felt nothing. He knew nothing. He was nothing.
Harry felt himself lying on a comfortable bed, and had a brief thought that perhaps he was still in St. Mungo’s, and he had somehow dreamed the last few weeks. He opened his eyes slightly to see a dim blurred ceiling that he knew right away to not be the one at St. Mungo’s. He looked over to his side and could make out Ginny’s unmistakable form sitting next to him.
“We really have to stop meeting like this, Harry,” Ginny said. “I don’t know if my nerves can take it.”
“Oh no,” Harry said as he reached for his glasses. “Don’t tell me I’ve missed another term.”
“Not this time, Harry,” Dumbledore said as he walked over to Harry’s bed with Professor McGonagall at his side, and Madame Pomfrey following behind. “You have only been unconscious for a few hours this time.”
“A good thing it was for you too, that Professor McGonagall was with you,” Pomfrey said in her usual agitated tone. “You would have been back in St. Mungo’s for sure if she hadn’t known how to stabilize you long enough to get you here.”
“Thanks, Professor McGonagall,” Harry said.
“You’re welcome,” McGonagall responded. “It was my fault anyway. I should have warned you not to attempt to reverse the transformation until you had completed it first. As you now know, doing so is a very dangerous thing.”
“Why was it that you tried to reverse it so soon, Harry?” Dumbledore asked. “Professor McGonagall says that your transformation seemed to be taking place smoothly.”
“Because, after I began to transform,” Harry answered, “I realized why it was that I already knew how to do the transformation in the first place. I thought at first that I had read about it over the summer, but then I realized that it wasn’t my memory. It was Voldemort’s. Voldemort is an animagus. He transforms into a basilisk. He can’t kill someone just by looking at them, but the poison in his bite is just as deadly as the real thing. When I started to transform, I felt myself changing into something large, powerful, and serpent like. I think I’m only an animagus because Voldemort is. If my animal is a basilisk, then I don’t ever want to try to transform again. I can’t help but remember what happened the last time I ran into one.”
Harry gripped Ginny’s hand, knowing that she remembered as well, and that the memories were not pleasant for her to think about. In that moment, he knew that he would gladly give back anything that he had gotten from Voldemort then to ever become a creature that she had such negative feelings about.
“Quite understandable,” Dumbledore said as he looked at Harry over his glasses. “You are of course under no obligation to attempt such a transformation as a requirement for your classes here. And speaking of transformations, Professor McGonagall has told me of some remarkable transfigurations you were able to accomplish before this incident. I must say that I would be very interested to see your transfiguration into a phoenix for myself, when you’re feeling up to it.”
“Actually,” Harry said, “I think I feel better now than I did before all of this happened. How long will I have to stay here in the Hospital Wing?”
“I would like you to stay here overnight,” Pomfrey told him, “but you should be able to leave tomorrow morning.”
“Great,” Harry said. “I have three more classes tomorrow, and I start the day with Professor Bins in History of Magic.”
“Well, if you do as well in those classes as you did in the ones today,” McGonagall said, “then you should do fine. I would still like for you to come to your normal Transfiguration classes during the week, Mr. Potter, but after what I saw today, I don’t believe any more weekend classes will be in order.”
“Which reminds me,” Dumbledore said, “I have informed Professor Snape that his request for your Potions test to take place on Monday will not be possible due to the fact that a panel of teachers is required to oversee the administration of the test. Since all of the teachers will be teaching their own classes on Monday, I have designated the Saturday one-week from today as the test day. You will have to miss your Saturday tutoring, but from what I have heard, Hagrid is the only one still requiring you to come to class, and he has agreed to suspend class so the test could take place.”
“Great,” Harry said with a smile.
“There is still time for you to back out of the test, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “The other option is still open to you.”
“I don’t plan on backing out,” Harry said. “I hadn’t realized that there would be a panel of teachers observing the test. I would say that works in my favor, all things considered.”
“Do not underestimate the difficulty of the test Professor Snape is preparing for you, Harry,” Dumbledore warned. “We both know the motivations he has behind him as he designs the tasks for you. I suspect that not one of us who will be sitting on the panel would be able to accomplish all of the tasks he will set before you.”
“I spent the entire summer working very hard on my study of potions,” Harry said. “If Professor Snape designs a fair test that I can’t pass, I’ll be the first one to congratulate him.”
“I guess that would depend on your definition of fair,” Dumbledore said as he raised a brow.
The next morning, Harry awoke at sunrise, and was unable to get back to sleep. He sat up and put his glasses on as Madame Pomfrey spotted him and began to walk in his direction.
“How are you feeling this morning, Mr. Potter?” Pomfrey asked.
“Great,” Harry said. “Surprisingly so as a matter of fact.”
“How so?” Pomfrey asked.
“Well, “Harry began, “I’ve either had a bit of pain or numbness in my legs and back since I came back from St. Mungo’s, but I don’t feel anything like that now. Did you give me some potion that would mask a sensation like that?”
“No,” Pomfrey said, thinking about something. “Nothing I gave you should have had any effect like that. I wonder…”
“What?” Harry asked.
“Well,” Pomfrey responded, “I’ve been in communication, of course, with Healer Snagprat at St. Mungo’s since you came back. He wanted to make sure I was familiar with everything that had happened to you at St. Mungo’s, just in case you should have any related problems come up. I was just thinking about what he said about the piece of your wand that they suspect transfigured your appendix into a phoenix organ. Perhaps your lack of pain and numbness is related to the fact that you transfigured yourself into a phoenix yesterday afternoon.”
“I hadn’t really thought of that, but you might be right,” Harry said. “You had better send an owl to Healer Snagprat to let him know. I’ll wager it’ll make a good final chapter for the book he seems to be writing on my stay there.”
“Careful, Mr. Potter,” Pomfrey warned with a rare smile, “you may be sucked into a career in the medical profession. They’ll have you over at St. Mungo’s working day and night transfiguring people into phoenix birds to heal them.”
Hermione, Ginny, and Ron stepped thought the portrait opening intending to set out for the hospital wing. They were going to see if Madame Pomfrey would release Harry in time for him to go down to Breakfast with them. They had only taken a few steps when they heard Harry’s voice calling to them from below them. Surprised, they all looked down to see that Harry was two flights down, but getting nearer quickly as he took the steps two at a time.
“I was just coming up to see if you all were ready for breakfast yet,” Harry said as he regained his breath. “I’m starved.”
“Harry…” Hermione began. “What… how…”
“What are you doing out of the hospital wing?” Ginny asked.
“Is there some reason why I should still be there?” Harry asked in return.
“You know what I mean,” Ginny said. “We were just on our way to see if you could be released in time for breakfast.”
“Madame Pomfrey released me a couple of hours ago,” Harry said. “I’ve just been walking the grounds for a while. I visited with Hagrid for a while and helped him gather some firewood, but I figured you lot would be waking up so I was on my way back to the common room.”
“How in the world did you manage to run up the stairs like that?” Ron asked. “I thought you were still recovering.”
“I got better,” Harry flippantly answered.
“Obviously,” Ron said. “But how?”
“Does this have anything to do with your transfiguration into a phoenix yesterday?” Hermione asked.
“They don’t say you’re the brightest witch of our age for nothing,” Harry said with a smile. “Madame Pomfrey thinks it’s the most likely explanation.”
“Brilliant,” Ron said.
“I just wish I had realized it sooner,” Harry said. “I would have transfigured myself into a phoenix ages ago if I had known it would have an effect like that.”
“Speaking of that,” Hermione began, “Ginny told us all about those three transfigurations you did yesterday. You realize that we haven’t attempted even one of those transfigurations in class yet.”
“I didn’t until I had done all three of them,” Harry said. “I thought she was having me go over things I missed.”
“Instead she gave you the most difficult transfigurations possible,” Hermione said, “and you breezed right through them like you’ve been doing them all your life. I’m surprised McGonagall still wants you to come to class.”
“To tell you the truth,” Harry said as if he were divulging a secret, “I think she just wants to keep an eye on me, and keep me out of trouble.”
“If she wants to keep you out of trouble,” Ginny began, “maybe she should try to talk Snape into taking it easy on you this Saturday.”
“Oh, honestly,” Harry said with a smile. “I think you lot are more worried about it than I am.”
“Well, someone has to be,” Hermione said.
Early on Saturday morning, Harry heard faint whisperings beyond the drawn curtains around his bed. He was wishing that they could have waited a little while longer before waking him up. He had been right at the best part of his recurring dream about Ginny when their voices filtered in and disrupted the whole thing.
“Is there a particular reason why all of you are up so early this morning?” Harry asked as he tried to hang on to the memory of his dream.
“How can you sleep at a time like this?” Hermione said, unable to contain her frustration any more.
“Well, I was managing it very nicely until I was woken up by some very loud whispering,” Harry said as he opened the drapes and reached for his glasses.
“Sorry, mate,” Ron said.
“Look, Harry,” Hermione began as she set down a heavy book next to him, “you have got to study something before you go into the test. If you won’t do it for yourself, then do it for my sanity.”
Harry was just about to tell her, once again, not to worry, but he stopped himself when he looked over her shoulder and noticed Ginny giving him a look that told him to be nice.
“I’ll look at it while we’re eating breakfast,” Harry said submitting to Ginny’s unspoken request.
“Great,” Hermione said, feeling as if a weight had been lifted from her conscience. “I don’t know if it’ll do much good at his point, but it couldn’t hurt.”
“Why don’t we go down to the common room and let Harry get dressed,” Ron suggested.
They all agreed, and left Harry with the book Hermione had brought. Harry glanced down at it and smiled to himself. He hadn’t had the heart to tell Hermione that he had studied the same book from cover to cover over the summer. Besides, if he knew Snape, nothing on the test he had prepared would have come from a book that Hermione would have had access to without the use of an invisibility cloak. He would at least make it seem as if he was studying though. If he didn’t, he thought Hermione would likely have to be sedated before he even went into the test. The more he thought about it, the more he thought that it might not be a bad idea anyway. At least she could be relaxed until it was over.
If anything, breakfast only served to frustrate Hermione even more. Harry tried to keep up his end of the agreement. He sat there with the book open in front of him as he ate, and made a great show of being deeply into reading it. The problem was, that every couple of minutes someone would interrupt him to wish him luck and let him know that they were pulling for him.
“Oh I wish you had started trying to study sooner, Harry,” Hermione said looking as if she was ready to pull her hair out. “You’ll never be able to concentrate if people don’t just leave you alone.”
Harry looked up at her and saw the frantic look forming in her eyes as he said, “I think a walk by the lake would be in order.” Harry looked over at Ron and motioned for him to do something about his fiancé.
“A walk?” Hermione asked not believing she had heard him correctly. “You can’t seriously mean that you want to…”
“I don’t think he was talking about himself, love,” Ron said as he stood and stuck his hand out for Hermione to take.
Hermione looked at Ron and then turned to Harry to see if that was really what he had meant as Harry said, “I’m not going to be able to concentrate during my test if I think you’re waiting out here ready to explode, Hermione. Either take a walk with Ron and calm down or I’ll have Madame Pomfrey sedate you until it’s over.”
“You wouldn’t!” Hermione exclaimed.
“Try me,” Harry responded seriously. “You go snuggle with Ron for a while, and don’t come back until you can think of something other than my test. Talk over the wedding details if you have to, but you have got to find a way to relax.”
Hermione started to open her mouth in protest, but thought better of it as she stood and took Ron’s hand. They walked out of the Great Hall, and Harry couldn’t help but feel sorry for Ron and the job that was ahead of him.
“She really was just trying to help you know,” Ginny said.
“I know,” Harry said. “I meant what I said though. I’d never be able to concentrate on the test knowing she was climbing the walls out here.”
“I can’t say that I blame her,” Ginny said. “I feel like climbing a few walls myself sometimes.”
“Don’t worry,” Harry said taking hold of her hand. “I’ve told you that I’ll be fine.”
“How can you say that?” Ginny asked. “Professor Dumbledore himself told you how difficult this test was going to be. How many times has he told you now that you can still back out of the test? Do you think he would do that if he wasn’t worried? If he’s worried then you should be.”
“Let me tell you, Ginny,” Harry said with gentle smile, “I’ll either pass this test or I won’t. To tell you the truth, it doesn’t really matter to me any more. If this is what it takes to get Snape off my back, then so be it. I’ll let you in on a little secret though. As well as I did on the tests I went through last weekend, they weren’t my best subjects. The subject I feel most confident about is Potions. A good portion of my summer was spent filling in gaps of things I didn’t know about Potions. I’m fairly confident that I’ll know a fair number of the things he puts on the test. What remains to be seen, is if I know enough.”
“It’s an awfully big risk to take,” Ginny said.
“Getting in some last minute studying, Potter?” Snape said as he stopped just behind Harry and looked over his shoulder.
“Every little bit helps, Professor,” Harry said with a mocking smile.
Snape gave a small chuckle followed by an evil grin, and said, “We shall see about that, Potter.”
“Yes, sir,” Harry said continuing to smile. “I have no doubt that we will.”
Twenty minutes later, Harry walked toward a classroom on the first floor in a wing of the castle he had found rare occasion to visit during his years there. Ginny, Ron, and an apparently calmer Hermione walked with Harry, and as they began hearing voices behind them, they saw that a large group of students wanted to go with them to the testing room.
As Harry turned a corner he realized that his entourage had reached the end of their journey. There ahead of them in the corridor, a group of students were standing around listening to Professor McGonagall explain to them why they couldn’t proceed any further.
“Ah, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall said as Harry drew near to the group. “You may proceed on past this point. Walk straight ahead and take the third corridor to your right. Follow that corridor to the classroom at its far end. That is where your test will take place. You will find that Professor Snape and all of the teachers who will be observing the test are already waiting for you there.”
“Can Ginny walk with me?” Harry asked, already suspecting what the answer would be.
“No one will be allowed past this point other than yourself and the observers,” McGonagall answered.
“Aren’t you going to be one of the observers, Professor?” Harry asked.
“No, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall answered. “Professor Snape has requested that I, as your Head of House, not be present as an observer. He feels that my desire to see you do well would put me in a compromising position, since I would not be allowed to help you in any way.”
“That snake,” Harry said angrily. “How dare he not trust you. As if your integrity could be called into question.”
“He is quite right not to have me there,” McGonagall said. “It is the custom in cases like this. And remember Harry, you should refer to him as Professor Snape.”
“So you get to stay here and handle crowd control?” Harry asked.
“There won’t be any need for that, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall said. “There are charms and spells guarding this end of the corridor, that will not only insure that none of your classmates are able to move more than ten more steps past this point without getting the hexing of their life, but will guard against attempts to cheat in any way as well.”
“Seems foolproof to me,” Harry said. “Ginny, don’t you dare wait out here for me until this is over. I suspect it’ll be rather lengthy. Enjoy the day, and try to keep Ron and Hermione out of trouble.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Ginny said trying to stay positive even though she was more nervous about the test than Harry.
Harry gave Ginny a kiss before he turned and walked off down the corridor. She stood and watched until he reached the correct corridor and turned out of sight before she let the mask that she had been wearing fall. She looked at the ground and could no longer hold back her tears.
“There, there, Miss Weasley,” McGonagall said as she placed a hand on Ginny’s shoulder. “Somehow, if anyone could ever pull this off, I have to believe that Mr. Potter has the best chance.”
“I know, Professor,” Ginny said as she tried to dry her tears. “Harry is just so loaded with confidence that someone has to carry the doubt.”
“I quite understand,” McGonagall said. “Does that mean that you will not be leaving as Mr. Potter requested?”
“Not a chance, Professor,” Ginny said.
“I rather thought not,” McGonagall said as she waved her wand and caused chairs to appear lining both sides of the hallway for everyone to sit in. “No reason we should stand while we wait.”
Snape saw Harry walk through the door of the classroom and said, “It’s about time, Potter.”
Harry looked down at his watch and then to Snape as he said, “Actually, the test isn’t supposed to start for another five minutes. If you’re that anxious though, I wouldn’t mind starting a bit early.”
“Very well,” Snape said as if he were just waiting to spring a trap. “Have a seat then, Potter.”
Harry walked to the lone chair in the center of the room and sat down, taking in the panel of teachers assembled to watch the proceedings. Professor Dumbledore sat behind the center of a long table at the front of the classroom. To either side of him were Professor Bane, Professor Sinistra, Professor Flitwick, Professor Vector, Professor Sprout, Madam Pince, Professor Trelawney and Madam Hooch. Harry had to admit that they certainly took the test seriously to have so many people observing it.
“Harry,” Dumbledore said as he looked over his glasses at him, “I must ask you once more if you wish to change your mind and cancel this test.”
Harry looked him straight in the eye with just a hint of a smile and said, “I haven’t changed my mind, Professor.”
“I must also make sure that you understand the consequences of what will happen if you fail the test,” Dumbledore said. “If you fail, all of your past potions grades will be replaced with the test grade. In addition, the OWL level you attained in potions will be stripped. In order to graduate, you will have to come back next year and take potions class every day with every year of Gryffindor’s. You will then have to take your Owls over again in Potions and then take your NEWTs. Do you still want to go ahead with this test?”
“Yes,” Harry said.
Dumbledore sat back in his chair and took a deep breath as Snape turned to Harry and said, “Then by all means, let’s begin. The first part of the test, as you know, is an oral question and answer section.”
“Yes, Professor,” Harry said calmly.
“Then tell me, Mr. Potter,” Snape said as he looked down at him, “how would you brew the Draught of the Living Death?”
Harry smiled at Snape for a second before saying, “Of all questions, I should know the answer to that one. After all, you asked me the same thing during my first Potions class. The Draught of the Living Death is made, by adding asphodel to an infusion of wormwood. The resulting Potion causes the unfortunate person who takes it to fall into a deep sleep that simulates death.”
“Yes,” Snape said, “I thought I would start you out with an easy one, Potter. I can assure you they get harder from this point on.”
“Then we had better get to them,” Harry said brightly.
“Name all of the ingredients in Veritaserum,” Snape said smoothly.
“Leech juice,” Harry began quickly, “broth of alihotsy, powdered dragon horn, eppich, devil’s herb, tubeworms, jabberknoll feather, centaurion, erumpent fluid, and dragon blood.”
Snape eyed Harry suspiciously before he asked, “What is the purpose of the dragon’s blood in that potion?”
“To keep the volatile erumpent fluid from exploding,” Harry said.
Harry could see the frustration building already in Snape as he eyed Harry dubiously. Harry had just thrown Snape the first indication that trying to use a Potion that could only be found in the restricted section of the library was not a sure way to stump him. He wondered how much it would take to break Snape’s confidence completely.
“Polyjuice potion,” Snape said. “Name all of the ingredients, and explain exactly how it is brewed.”
Harry smiled. The day was about to get very long for someone if the current level of difficulty didn’t raise considerably.
Four hours later, Harry sat calmly in his chair as a near mad Snape asked, “And just why do you say that the potion can no longer be brewed, Potter?”
“Because the main ingredient was a rare plant that was impossible to grow outside of its native region,” Harry said. “A Goblin rebellion several hundred years ago saw that region’s local ecology nearly destroyed. When it was over, there were no more fazlam thorns left to harvest. Since then, several attempts have been made to brew the potion using substitute materials, but the effort was given up as impossible nearly two hundred years ago.”
Snape looked at Harry as if he wanted to strangle him slowly as a silence descended for several seconds on the room.
“I believe that covers everything that you had originally listed on your draft of questions, Severus,” Dumbledore said. “Are their any follow up questions you would like to ask Harry before we move on?”
“No,” Snape growled slowly and softly.
“Then I would recommend that we take a short break for refreshments,” Dumbledore said. “Some of us are not as young as we used to be.”
Harry remained in his seat as all of the teachers stood and stretched their numb muscled and worked the stiffness out of joints that had remained unused for too long. As they started to walk out, Harry watched Snape run to Dumbledore to plead his case.
“Headmaster,” Snape said trying to keep his voice low, “Potter is cheating. There is no way he could have answered every one of those questions correctly without a great deal of help.”
“I would remind you, Severus,” Dumbledore began, “that there are powerfull spells surrounding this entire wing of the castle to protect against that very thing. Many of them, I placed there myself.”
“But it is impossible I tell you,” Snape pleaded.
“I admit that even I would not have been able to give such complete answers to your questions, Severus,” Dumbledore said. “In fact, I am quite sure that I would have been flat wrong on several of them. However, to suggest that Harry has found a way to counter privacy spells that have been used for centuries without fail, is high praise indeed. Unless I can be shown some evidence that such a thing has occurred, I’m afraid that I have to conclude that Harry did in fact answer everything correctly. As miraculous as that is to us, he seems to have done it.”
“He won’t do as well on the next part of the test, I can assure you,” Snape said as he looked back at Harry still sitting in his chair looking away from them.
Thirty minutes later, Dumbledore and the rest of the teachers walked back into the classroom to find Harry still sitting in the same chair where he had been when they left. Giving that they had been in another classroom down the hall where the food had been served, and considering that none of them ever saw Harry come to eat or go into the hall, they all had to assume that Harry had remained in the room, if not in the chair, where he sat.
“How are you feeling, Harry?” Dumbledore asked.
“Fine, sir,” Harry responded cheerily. “I’m ready to get started with the next part of the test.”
“Very well,” Dumbledore said. “Professor Snape?”
“Thank you, Headmaster,” Snape said, obviously still steaming over the oral part of the test. “Your next task, Potter, will be a practical potion making one.”
Snape pulled out his wand, and Harry saw the gleam in his eye as he briefly thought about how nice it would be to hex Harry right then. After the moment had passed, Snape waved his wand, and a long table appeared in front of Harry. The table had a cauldron on one end, and jars full of ingredients on the other. Harry looked at the jars and noticed that Snape conveniently left the labels off of all of them.
Snape pulled a piece of parchment from his robes and laid it on the table before Harry as he said, “You’ll have three hours to complete brewing all of these potions, Potter. I would advise that you get started.”
Harry stood and walked to the table to look at the list before saying, “I won’t be able to brew these potions, Professor.”
Snape’s eyes gleamed with joy as he said, “Don’t tell me you aren’t even going to try, Potter.”
“I’m perfectly willing to try,” Harry said, “but it’s impossible to brew these fifteen potions in three hours. Many of them will take nearly that long to brew just by themselves. Not even the greatest potions master could brew all of them in that time with a single cauldron to brew them in.”
Dumbledore waved his hand, and fourteen more cauldrons appeared before he said, “I trust that will be enough for you to work with.”
“More than enough, Professor,” Harry said with a smile.
Harry worked steadily as he measured out ingredients and began working on several potions at once. Within thirty minutes, Harry began putting samples of some of the potions into small vials that he carefully labeled before turning them in to Snape. Harry then went back to his remaining potions to stir some, and to add more ingredients to others. At the end of one hour, Harry had turned in all but five of the original fifteen potions. By the end of the next hour, he had turned in all but one potion. He measured out precise amounts of two potions he had already turned in and added those to the remaining potion. With just fifteen minutes to spare, Harry labeled his last sample and handed it to a furious Snape.
Dumbledore called for another break, and the last Harry saw of Snape was him following Dumbledore out closely, again protesting that Harry had indeed found a way to cheat. The thing that amused Harry the most was that, Dumbledore just continued walking and began humming to himself in an effort to tune Snape’s protests out.
By the time the break was over, all of the teachers came back to the classroom to find Harry seated in his chair once again. Once they were all seated, Snape walked toward Harry. Harry didn’t know what Dumbledore might have said to Snape during the break, but Harry could see the suppressed anger in his eyes.
“You final task, Potter,” Snape said, not attempting to hide his contempt any longer, “will count as fifty percent of your grade.”
Harry sat in the chair and stayed as emotionless as he could, but out of the corner of his eye he could see several of the observers shift uncomfortably in their seats.
“You have forty five minutes,” Snape said, “to formulate an original potion that was not covered in class, has not been part of the test to this point, and has never been used in the wizarding world before. After that, you will have two hours to brew the potion and identify what effect the potion is supposed to have. In order to receive any points at all for this task, the potion will have to be tested and actually work. If it fails, you fail.”
Snape waved his wand and parchment and a quill appeared on the table for Harry to use. Harry walked right up to the table, and instead of taking time to think about what he might want to do, bent down and began writing a list of ingredients immediately. Less than five minutes later, Harry handed the long list of ingredients to Snape, who looked it over carefully trying to figure out what Harry could be planning.
Harry ignored Snape, and went back to the table, where, for the next fifteen minutes, he wrote down the exact brewing procedure. Once Harry signaled that he was done, Snape waved his wand causing all of the cauldrons from the last part of the test to vanish and be replaced with a single one.
“I trust that one will be sufficient this time,” Snape growled.
“Quite sufficient,” Harry responded. “Now, I just need the ingredients that I asked for and then I’ll be ready to begin.”
Snape gave a wave of his wand, and most of the ingredients that were left from the last task vanished just as the cauldrons had. With another wave of Snape’s wand, several new ingredients were added to the remaining ones.
Harry immediately went to work brewing his potion, continually stirring, adding new ingredients or adjusting the brewing temperature. After a solid hour of continual activity, Harry removed a portion of the steaming potion and placed it into a vial. He then labeled the potion as ‘Final Victory’, and handed it to Snape.
“I trust that one sample will be sufficient,” Harry said.
“That all depends, Potter,” Snape said.
“I must say that I am not familiar with the ingredient combinations or brewing procedure of the potion that you have just brewed, Harry,” Dumbledore said leaning forward as if to get a closer look at the sample vial. “Is it familiar to you, Professor Snape?”
“It is not,” Snape said bitterly. “Don’t forget, Potter, that you were to brew a potion that would actually work. What you have brewed may do no more than to give someone who drinks it a sour stomach. If that is the case, then no points will be awarded for this portion of the test.”
“I’m aware of that, Professor,” Harry said. “The reason you are not familiar with the potion, is because it is one that I created, and I assure you that it will work. I’ve already tested it as far as it was safe to do so.”
“What exactly is it that the potion is supposed to do, Mr. Potter?” Professor Bane asked.
Harry looked back at Bane seriously and said, “It’s designed to turn a wizard into a muggle.”
A stir of murmurs rippled through the room as the observers shifted in their seats, Snape stared with suspicion, and Dumbledore asked, “Do you mean that it is supposed to temporarily suppress a wizard’s magical ability?”
“No, Professor,” Harry said looking deadly serious. “It will remove all magical ability, permanently.”
A stunned silence filled the room as everyone’s mouth opened as if to speak, but no words would come, until Snape said, “That is quite a boast, Potter, but I don’t see how you could have tested it.”
“I tested it on a wizard conjured in the room of requirement,” Harry explained.
The teachers remained silent for several more seconds. They all looked at the vial Snape was holding, and thought about the power and the danger that such a potion could have.
“I believe that we may have done all that we can in this classroom,” Dumbledore said as he tried to bring the others out of their thoughts. “If this potion must be tested, then it would seem obvious that we can not do so here. I would suggest that we move this test to the room of requirement.”
“But, Headmaster,” Snape protested, “the room of requirement is not within the area protected by the spells to prevent cheating.”
“The potion has already been completed, Severus,” Dumbledore said. “I seriously doubt that any students are waiting outside for us to move the test just so they can attempt to change the potion somehow on the way. I shall carry the potion to the room personally. On the way there, you must not speak to any students that you may encounter, Harry.”
“I understand, Professor,” Harry said.
Dumbledore led the way out of the room. All of the other observers followed in two rows behind, with Harry between them. Snape followed last so as to guard the rear and make sure Harry didn’t try to communicate with anyone in any way. He half hoped that he would try though. He would take joy in failing him instantly.
As the group reached the end of the hallway, and took a left into the main corridor, they looked ahead of them to see what looked like half of the school waiting for them to emerge. As they got nearer, Harry could see that Ginny, Hermione and Ron hadn’t done what he had asked them to after all.
“Professor McGonagall,” Dumbledore said as he reached the line where the anti-cheating charms ended, “I might have expected to find you here.”
“I wanted to be the first to learn how Mr. Potter faired on his exam, Headmaster,” McGonagall said.
“It would appear that you have had a fair bit of company,” Dumbledore said gesturing to the students that trailed off as far as could be seen down the corridor. “I am sorry to say that I can not tell you how Mr. Potter is doing yet. We have found it necessary to move the test to a different location for the final part of the exam. Mr. Potter is not allowed to communicate with anyone on the way there, so I will have to ask you all to refrain from speaking to him”
Ginny looked at Harry as he passed, and a warm feeling washed over her. He certainly didn’t look like someone who had gone through an entire day of testing by Snape. It was so hard to read Harry though. With the carefree way he had approached the test, she thought that he may have missed every question and still smiled about it. Something deep inside of her told her otherwise though.
As Harry, his escorts, and a few hundred students got to the level of the room of requirement, Dumbledore performed the ritual to make the door appear. Dumbledore drew his wand as he opened the door and went inside, and Harry made his way inside, before Snape slammed the door in the face of McGonagall and everyone else who had made the trip with them, Harry saw a wizard he didn’t recognize glaring at Dumbledore.
“So, we meet again, Albus” the wizard said with a look that sent a shiver up Harry’s spine. “I see you’ve brought some friends to help you in your attempt to defeat me.”
“I am not here to defeat you, Grindelwald,” Dumbledore said. “I have done that once already. We are here because young Harry here is in the middle of a potions test, and we are in need of your assistance.”
“There is no way I’m going to take a potion willingly without knowing what it does, Albus,” Grindelwald said with an eerie chuckle.
With a sudden swift movement, Grindelwald reached inside his robes to retrieve his wand. All of the teachers present drew their wands immediately, while Harry, who had surrendered his wand to Snape before they began the trip to the room of requirement, wondered which way he should jump.
Grindelwald, not having located what he was after on his first try, groped franticly at his robes as Dumbledore said, “Don’t bother looking for your wand. It isn’t there. We are in the room of requirement at Hogwarts. I summoned you here specifically without your wand, since I know perfectly well what you are capable of with one.”
‘Of course,’ Harry thought. ‘I knew I had heard that name before. Dumbledore defeated the dark wizard, Grindelwald, when he was younger.’
“You are simply the conjured image of a wizard who lived many years ago,” Dumbledore explained. “You no longer have a life outside of this room. Whether you take the potion or not, you will cease to exist as soon as we leave this room.”
“Assuming that you’re right,” Grindelwald asked suspiciously, “what is there in this deal for me?”
“If you take the potion,” Dumbledore said, “you will be given your wand. Then you are free you wreak what havoc you can before my associates and I are able to subdue you.”
Grindlewald got a nasty grin on his face, and said, “Well, it would seem that taking your mystery potion would offer the most promising outcome for me. Unless it kills me.”
“It wasn’t designed to anyway,” Dumbledore said.
Grindelwald leveled his gaze on Harry and said, “I hope you’re good at your potions work, boy. Give it to me then, Albus.”
Dumbledore took the potion out of his robes and levitated it over to Grindelwald. Grindelwald eyed the vial for a few seconds before he turned it up and drank all of the contents. Several second passed, and there was no change in anyone except Harry, who was finally able to relax a bit.
Grindelwald laughed and looked at Harry as he said, “It would appear that you have failed your test, boy. We may be enemies, Albus, but I have never known you to go back on your word once you gave it. I’ll be expecting my wand back now.”
“Look in your robes,” Dumbledore said as he lowered his own wand, “and you will find your wand as promised.”
Grindelwald drew his wand and uttered a stunning spell before anyone had a chance to react. All of the teachers were about to cast their own spells in answer, but something occurred to them just before they did. Nothing had happened. Grindlewald began to shout out spell after spell, but to no avail.
As Grindlewald finally stopped and looked at them with horror on his face, Dumbledore said, “We thank you for your assistance, but your assistance is no longer needed.”
An instant later, Grindelwald disappeared from the room. All of the teachers took a breath and put away their wands.
“If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I never would have believed it possible,” Professor Flitwick said in amazement.
“Harry’s potion seems to work just as he said it would,” Dumbledore said.
“It would appear so,” Snape said grudgingly, “but there is no way to know if it would be as effective against a live wizard.”
“Unless you know of a live wizard who would be willing to test it, Severus,” Dumbledore said as he looked over his glasses at him, “I think we may just have to give Harry the benefit of the doubt.”
Snape does not take up the challenge, but instead turns to Harry and asks, “What wizard have you been conjuring into this room to test your potion on? You weren’t summoning the Dark Lord himself were you?”
Harry’s eyes went wide as a smile spread across his face and he said, “Of course not. There would be too much danger of him getting out.”
“A wise thing to realize, Harry,” Dumbledore said smiling. “Conjured people can leave the room of requirement just as conjured objects can. If you had summoned Voldemort, and he had gotten out of the room, there would be two Voldemorts to deal with.”
“Do you mean that the wizard you just conjured in here could have just walked out the door and been alive again if the potion hadn’t worked?” Bane asked.
“Yes,” Dumbledore confirmed, “but I had enough faith in Harry to think it was a reasonable risk. He had tested the potion already after all.”
“That may be,” Snape said, “but we still don’t know who he used as his test subject.”
“I picked another student here at Hogwarts as my conjured test subject,” Harry said. “No harm ever came to the real student.”
“And what is the student’s name, Potter?” Snape asked.
“Can’t you think of a student at the beginning of the year that I would want to see lose his powers, and also one who’s powers were no match for my own?” Harry asked.
Snape’s eyes went wide as it came to him suddenly and he exclaimed, “Malfoy! Fifty points from Gryffindor for injuring another student, even if it was only a conjured copy of one.”
“Quite right,” Dumbledore said. “Quite right. What exactly made you create such a devastating potion in the first place, Harry?”
“It was the inability of the Ministry of Magic to effectively hold the death eaters they captured in Azkaban after the dementors left,” Harry said. “Other death eaters would go there and bust them out. Then they were back on the streets fighting against the Ministry again. I thought that there must be a way to make the captured death eaters useless to Voldemort. If they were to use this potion on them, and Voldemort broke them out, even he wouldn’t be able to restore their powers.”
“Would you mind then,” Dumbledore began, “if I sent a sample of your potion to the Ministry for further testing?”
“Not at all,” Harry answered. “I just have one condition. Don’t tell them that I invented it. I’ve had enough fame for a lifetime.”
“As you wish, Harry,” Dumbledore said with a smile. “You’ve made what is likely one of the biggest contributions to the wizarding world in a century, and you don’t want to take any credit for it. I think we can reward it internally however. Sixty points will be awarded to Gryffindor. Are you ready, Severus, to officially end the test and confer a grade, or do you have further tasks you wish for Harry to perform?”
Snape looked angrily at Harry as he grudgingly said, “Perfect marks.”
“Do the observers concur?” Dumbledore asked as he watched them all nod their agreement. “As the result of your most wonderful test, you are exempt from Potions classes for the remainder of the year. You’re free to go, Harry. I believe there are a few hundred people outside this room who are very anxious to find out how you did.”
Harry got his wand back from Snape and stuck his hand out and said, “I know that you don’t like me, Professor Snape, but I just wanted to thank you. You’ve been hard on me from the minute I arrived here, but you taught me quite a bit during that time as well. I wouldn’t be the person I am today partially without your influence. Not to mention all the times you saved my life. I won’t forget it. I’ll be proud to fight by your side, and if there is ever anything you need from me, you just have to ask. I would understand if you didn’t want to shake my hand, but I would like to at least make an effort to put our differences aside. My name is Harry Potter, and I am not my father.”
Snape was shocked into silence. Could he have been so wrong about Harry? He had always believed him to be just as boastful and glory seeking as his father, but he had just witnessed Harry give away a potion that would have assured his name would appear in every book written about potions from then on. Could it be that he really didn’t like all of the fame and attention that came with being ‘the famous Harry Potter’? Harry had just gone out of his way to make a fool out of him by getting perfect marks on the most difficult Potions test that had ever been given, yet he had also just thanked him humbly and offered his friendship. Perhaps, he wasn’t his father after all.
Snape looked down at Harry’s out stretched hand, and reached his own out to meet it, as he looked into Harry’s eyes and said softly, “Thank you, Harry.”
Dumbledore stood and watched the two one time bitter enemies shake hands. He knew that between them, a new understanding had been formed. It was at that moment that he realized that Harry was indeed shedding the skin of the boy to become a man. He had just taken his first steps, and they were huge.
Harry opened the door to the room of requirement, and stepped out to find the huge throng of people who had made the trip before had grown in numbers.
Harry walked over to Ginny and took her in his arms and whispered, “I hope I never have to go that long without you again.”
Ginny clutched Harry tighter to her as she said, “That’s a hope we both share. I think everyone wants to know how you did on your test though.”
Harry smiled as he placed his mouth very close to Ginny’s ear and whispered so softly that only she would be able to hear him as he said, “I passed.”
Ginny’s tears exploded from her in rivers as she held on to him. Everyone watching mistook her reaction for bad news, and they all began to think of what consoling words they could say to let him know how sorry they were. It wasn’t until Harry and Ginny separated that they caught sight of the smile on her face.
Harry turned and looked at a very concerned McGonagall and said, “I passed.”
Cheers erupted in a wave as word of what Harry had said was passed down to those not close enough to have heard it. For several minutes, the noise of the celebration was deafening. Eventually, it had died down to a low rumble, and everyone tried to get to Harry to congratulate him.
“So what do you plan on doing now?” Neville asked.
“Actually, isn’t it almost dinner time?” Harry asked. “I’m starving.”
The next morning after his big Potions test, Harry was still being congratulated by nearly everyone in the school. Several of those who had congratulated him also let him know that they may be calling on him for some potions help as the time for the O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s grew closer. Harry got the feeling that at least part of his time with the D.A., after he got it started again, would be spent on Potions as well as Defense Against the Dark Arts.
“Good morning everyone,” Cassidy said as she stopped where Harry, Ginny, Hermione, and Ron sat eating breakfast.
“Morning, Cassidy,” Harry responded first, as he noticed that she was hand in hand with Malfoy. “Morning, Draco.”
“I just wanted to come over and congratulate you on your test yesterday,” Cassidy said. “I’m sure you must be tired of hearing it by now though.”
“He’s used to it,” Malfoy said with only a slight bit of his usual attitude toward Harry. “It’s what comes from being ‘the famous Harry Potter’.”
“Thanks, Cassidy,” Harry said, not looking at Malfoy. “As much as it may surprise some people, I really didn’t go into it so I could get my name written into some book or another though.”
“Too late for that I’m afraid,” Hermione said.
“What do you mean?” Harry asked as he looked at Hermione.
“Hogwarts, A History, Harry,” Hermione said.
“I’m not mentioned in it, am I?” Harry asked.
“I’m afraid so, Harry,” Hermione said. “I checked it this morning, and there is an entire section about you being the first person to pass that kind of test in the school’s history.”
“He only took the test yesterday,” Ron said. “How in the world could he be in it already?”
“Honestly,” Hermione said exasperated at their lack of knowledge about the book. “If you had ever read the book you would know that it is a self editing one. Any time someone does anything of any significance to the history of the school, the book just adds it into whatever section it belongs.”
“Are you saying that what Harry did is in every copy of that book that has ever been published?” Ron asked amazed.
“Of course,” Hermione said as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
“Great,” Harry said with a frown. “As if I didn’t have enough trouble without that.”
“I bet Professor Snape will really have it in for you when he hears about that one,” Malfoy said.
“Actually,” Harry said with a grin, “Snape and I have begun to come to an understanding I think.”
“Ha!” Malfoy laughed. “Wishful thinking I think, Potter.”
“Be nice, Draco,” Cassidy said, making Draco look almost ashamed of what he had said. “Anyway, we’ll miss you in Potions class. We’ll leave you all alone now, but we’ll see you later.”
“Thanks, Cassidy,” Harry said.
“See ya,” they all said as Cassidy and Malfoy walked off toward the Slytherin table.
“Well, it looks like she has Malfoy wrapped around her little finger,” Ginny said with a smile.
“Probably the best thing that could have happened for him,” Harry said.
“He seems almost like a changed person,” Ron said. “He stood there all that time and never even made a snide remark to Hermione.”
“I think he has more important things on his mind right now,” Ginny said as she noticed the look that suddenly appeared on Harry’s face. “What’s the matter, Harry?”
“Well,” Harry said, “please don’t let it get around to anyone else, but there is something about Cassidy that Malfoy doesn’t know. If he ever found it out it would almost certainly be the end of their relationship.”
“Well, he already knows that she plans on going after Voldemort,” Hermione said as she tried to reason out what Harry meant, “so that can’t be it.”
“Come on, Harry,” Ron said. “What is it? We aren’t going to tell anyone.”
Harry hesitated and took a look around to make sure no one was near enough to hear him as he said, “Cassidy’s dad is a muggle.”
“What?” Ginny, Ron and Hermione exclaimed together.
“You heard me,” Harry said. “Now keep your mouths shut about it.”
“I can’t believe it,” Ron said. “I finally have something really good to throw into Malfoy’s face and I don’t even want to do it.”
“I know what you mean,” Hermione said. “I like him much better now that he’s under her influence.”
“I want that to continue for as long as it can,” Harry said. “I know he’ll find out at some point, and he’ll have to make a big decision about where his loyalties belong. The longer he’s with her, the more likely he’ll come out on our side.”
“Are you sure?” Ginny asked. “I’m still not sure she’s on our side.”
“Trust me,” Harry said. “If he loves her, he’ll do everything he can to keep her away from Voldemort and the death eaters.”
“I hope you’re right, Harry,” Ginny said.
Professor Bane walked into the Great Hall and headed for the teachers’ table, and as he passed where Harry sat he stopped and said, “I just wanted to tell you that it was a pleasure to observe your test yesterday, Mr. Potter. You were truly amazing.”
“Maybe you could tell us about it, Professor,” Ron said. “Harry won’t tell us a thing about it. All he’ll say is that he passed.”
“I see,” Bane said as he caught the look from Harry. “Well, that really is something that he would have to tell you himself. I’m afraid that I have to keep everything that happened in the test confidential.”
“Great,” Ron said, putting his hands up in defeat.
“Professor,” Harry said, “I still have the dueling portion of my make-up classes to take. Would you like to meet at our normal time on Saturdays for that?”
“Actually, Harry,” Bane said, “Professor Dumbledore has been telling me more about the room of requirement. It really is a fascinating room. I wish we had one like it at my school back in America. Anyway, I thought perhaps I could bring the seventh year students to the room on Monday and I could have them help in your dueling test.”
“That would be fine with me,” Harry said. “I’ve done quite a bit of dueling in that room lately.”
“Really?” Bane asked. “Perhaps you will be kind enough to show us all the level of dueling you have been working on while you were there.”
“If you’d like,” Harry said.
“Its set then,” Bane said with a smile. “I look forward to seeing what you can do. I’ll bring the rest of the class on Monday and meet you there.”
“That will be fine,” Harry said.
Bane smiled and walked on to the teachers’ table as Ron said, “You never told us anything about dueling in that room over the summer.”
“Didn’t I?” Harry asked.
“No,” Ron said.
“You told us you spent the entire summer studying,” Hermione said.
“Exactly,” Harry said. “Among other things, I studied dueling.”
“With no one else around?” Ginny asked already knowing the answer. “What if you had been hurt?”
“I didn’t do anything I couldn’t handle,” Harry said with a smile.
“I get a funny feeling that there’s a lot we don’t know when you say things like that, Harry,” Ron said.
Just then, a loud screech made them all look up to see Hedwig flying in their direction with a letter grasped in her claws. Harry quickly moved his mug of juice to give her a place to land, and she glided to a gentle touchdown. Harry removed the letter from under her foot and thanked her for the delivery. She spread her wings and flew back into the air and out of the Great Hall once again.
“What is it, Harry?” Ron asked. “There shouldn’t be any mail today.”
“This isn’t normal mail, Ron,” Harry replied as he opened the letter. “I sent a message to Healer Snagprat early this morning. This is just his reply.”
“Healer Snagprat?” Hermione said. “I thought you had made a full recovery.”
“It isn’t about that,” Harry said as he read. “It’s just something I wanted to check on.”
“Wait a minute,” Ginny said. “That time when I came back to see you, after the quidditch match, I walked in when he was talking to you about something. When he left, he said he would let you know if there was any progress. When I asked about it you said it wasn’t you he had been talking about, but something else. Is that what the letter is about?”
“Yes, actually,” Harry said, impressed that she remembered it so quickly. Harry smiled as he finished reading it, and folded it up before shoving it into his pocket.
“Well?” Ginny asked.
“Sorry, Gin,” Harry said. “This is something that I’d like to keep to myself for now. I’m hoping it could turn into a big surprise for someone, and I wouldn’t want to ruin it.”
“It isn’t good to keep all of these secrets from your friends, Harry,” Hermione said.
“Well, maybe I’ll let you all in on it soon,” Harry began with a grin, “but I had better be getting on to my History of Magic tutorial. I wouldn’t want Professor Binns to get started without me.”
“Since when has that ever bothered him before?” Ron asked as Harry kissed Ginny and got up to leave.
Harry was just about to walk off to his class when he turned and said, “Oh, by the way, Hermione, could you send out a notice to all of the D.A. members with the signal coins that there will be a meeting Monday night after dinner?”
“Are you really going to try to start it up again, Harry?” Ginny asked.
“Of course,” Harry responded. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“I just thought you may want to wait on that,” Ginny said. “You do still have the weekend classes to worry about you know. I don’t want you to overextend yourself.”
“So I’ll do the D.A. meetings during the week,” Harry said with a smile as he turned once again to walk away.
On Monday morning, Ginny woke up early and found herself unable to go back to sleep. She was going to just go ahead and get dressed so she could get some last minute studying for Potions done, but, as she sat up, she saw something sitting on her bedside table that she knew had not been there the night before. There was a note with her name on it standing tented and facing toward her. She unfolded it and read:
Good morning my love. I hope your night was a restful one. You look so peaceful when you sleep. I wish I could be there when you wake up, but I have gotten an early start this morning in preparation for my dueling test. Don’t worry; I’m not going to duel with no one around today. There is just something else that I want to research in the room of requirement before the test starts.
Well, I should be getting down to the Great Hall to get some breakfast before I start my day. I likely won’t get to see you until lunch time, so I wanted to write you this note to tell you how much I truly love you. . When we’re together I feel like there isn’t anything I can’t do. I know that you are the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. I can wait until you finish your final year, but I will be having a serious talk with your mum and dad this summer. That is something to discuss another day though.
Ginny was nearly in tears by the time she finished reading. He had said he could wait, but she wasn’t so sure about herself. She just stared down at the letter for several seconds before a big question formed itself in her mind. Harry had somehow gotten the note onto her nightstand despite the charms that made it impossible for him to climb the stairs to the girls’ dormitory. She thought briefly that Hermione must have brought it up for him, but as she looked over at Hermione’s bed, she saw that she was still sound asleep. Looking back to the note, she noticed for the first time that it had been written on her own stationary that she kept by her bed. There was no doubt about it; Harry had somehow been within inches of her that very morning. She had to admit that Harry was nothing if not full of surprises.
Professor Bane was as excited as he had been since the day Harry had produced the magic circle with a wand spell. He had witnessed Harry perform an impossible task in passing his Potions test, and he knew of what Harry had accomplished in transfiguration. He was anxious to see just what Harry was capable of in dueling. If his past achievements were any indication, Bane suspected he was in for a real treat.
Bane led the seventh year Gryffindor and Ravenclaw students to the room of requirement, and when they walked in, they found Harry sitting at a lone table reading something from a large book.
“Good morning, Harry,” Bane said as Harry looked up and noticed them. “You did remember that we were to test your dueling skills today, didn’t you?”
“Of course, Professor,” Harry said as he closed the book and it disappeared. “I was just researching something else.”
“Something for one of your classes?” Bane asked.
“No,” Harry responded, “just something for my personal use.”
“I always like to see students researching for personal growth,” Bane said. “Let that be my lesson to you for the day class. You never know what piece of information might come in handy for you. It would serve you all well to learn as many different things as you can. Are you ready to begin, Harry?”
“Yes,” Harry answered. “Is there any certain way you want me to do it?”
“I’ll let you decide that,” Bane said watching Harry carefully. “No use wasting time though. Lets not spend time fooling around with the basics. I’ve already been told that you have had some practical dueling experience. I would like to see you challenge yourself.”
“Alright,” Harry said.
“Will you need any assistance from me or the class?” Bane asked.
“No,” Harry answered. “The room of requirement will provide everything I need. You should all stand close to the door though. That area should be safe as long as you all keep a shield charm up.”
“Good luck, Harry,” Ron said as everyone moved closer to the door.
“Thanks,” Harry said with a smile. “First, I think we need a change of location.”
Everyone watched as Harry walked to the center of the room, and everything began to change. The simple room they had walked into disappeared, and was replaced with a heavily wooded poorly lit forest. They found themselves on a small hill looking down onto a small clearing in the center where Harry stood with his wand drawn.
“Hmm,” Bane began, “an interesting choice. This is a difficult dueling location he has chosen class. The thick growth of trees will make it difficult for him to get a clear shot at any attacker. He himself is standing in a clearing without the protection of the trees. The poor lighting may play a factor as well. Its interesting that he has chosen to start by putting himself at a disadvantage.”
“Harry has been at a disadvantage most of his life, Professor,” Hermione said. “I think he feels more comfortable there somehow.”
“Do you see that?” Ron asked as he pointed off to their left. “He’s crazy. There must be ten death eaters closing in on him. He can’t stand against them alone.”
“It gets worse,” Seamus said looking to his right. “There are at least that many coming form the other direction.”
“We have to help him,” Ron said frantically reaching for his wand.
“Easy, Mr. Weasley,” Bane said as he stopped Ron from drawing his wand. “No one is to interfere.”
“But, Professor,” Ron pleaded, “he doesn’t stand a chance.”
“Doesn’t he?” Bane asked. “Remember that it was Mr. Potter who conjured this situation. I told him to challenge himself, not to kill himself. We are in the room of requirement anyway, and I can stop this all before he gets to terribly hurt.”
Just then, a red shaft of light lanced out from the opposite side of the forest where they had not seen any attackers approaching. Harry quickly put up a shield that reflected the power of the spell at an angle into the forest. A split second later there was a yell of pain from the direction the spell had deflected to. Harry immediately rolled into a crouch as seven more colors of light streaked over his head. Harry pointed his wand at the direction the attack had come from and the trees in that area exploded under the assault. Several more cries of pain let them know that more death eaters had been incapacitated.
“Bloody hell!” Ron exclaimed as his eyes went as wide as they had ever been.
Harry rolled to his right and lay out flat as a deadly barrage of spells seemed to jump out of the trees from all around him. For a few seconds, everything was still and quiet as Harry stayed motionless and several faces appeared from behind the trees to see if they had hit their target. A few silent signals later, several robed figures sprang from behind the tees and began to rush in toward Harry’s position. They had only taken a few steps before Harry suddenly sprang up with his wand outstretched before him, and the resulting spell tore up the ground in a twenty-five meter wide swatch between himself and the approaching attackers. Those in its path never had time to react as the spell ripped through their bodies as easily as it did the earth before them. Those lucky enough to jump clear of the devastation were still trying to comprehend what had just happened as Harry again dived to the ground as he shot a spell at the nearest death eater. Again spells rang out from the trees, but Harry was already beneath their path. The remaining exposed death eaters were not as lucky, as the spells that had missed Harry hit them instead.
The students all had to admit that the odds were getting better for Harry, but they stared in wonder at both the incredible numbers who had already been neutralized and the large numbers Harry still faced. Harry lay still once again, but this time there was no hurried rush from the trees.
“Give it up, Potter,” Lucius Malfoy yelled from behind a tree. “You can’t win against all of us.”
“And what happens to me if I surrender?” Harry asked.
“You will be taken to the Dark Lord,” Malfoy responded, “and he will decide what is to be done with you.”
“Oh,” Harry said sarcastically, “that makes me feels loads better. I’ll make a deal with you though. You step out from behind that tree and duel me alone. If you win then you can take me to wherever you want.”
“I think not, Potter,” Malfoy said.
“Why not?” Harry asked. “You don’t really think you’re any safer behind that tree do you?”
Harry suddenly stood up in clear view of all of the death eaters that surrounded him. Once again, light lanced out toward him, but before it reached him he suddenly vanished. Death eaters and students alike were wondering what had just happened, and all of a sudden, silver bolts of light erupted from behind the death eaters to the students left. They could see that the death eaters were dropping fast as deadly accurate spells were cast at their backs. The remaining death eaters tore out across the clearing in a dead run in an attempt to reach the safety of the trees on the other side.
Harry appeared out of thin air just behind the running death eaters in the clearing with a look of seriousness on his face that none of them had ever seen before. He spread his arms out to the side and mumbled a spell as he put his hands above his head and grasped his wand tightly. He finished the spell and brought his wand down clasped between his hands and pointed it directly in front of him.
The students watched as the death eaters and the very forest in front of Harry seemed to waver as if they were looking at the scene through water. There were screams of pain from the running death eaters, who seemed to freeze in mid-stride, as well as those who were still hiding behind the trees. Seconds later, the students all felt a blast of frigid air blow past them as they looked down to watch the stiff forms of the death eaters topple over and shatter on the frozen ground under them.
The next thing they knew, they were standing back in the room they had been before Harry had begun to duel. They were all too shocked by what they had just seen and suddenly being back in the room to say anything.
“Is that what you wanted, Professor?” Harry asked as he caught his breath.
“That was far more than I was expecting, Mr. Potter,” Bane said still trying to shake off the feeling that it had all been some kind of dream.
“It was bloody brilliant,” Ron said as he tried to come to grips with the power his best friend had inside of him.
“Harry, you were…” Hermione said, uncharacteristically unable to express how she felt.
“How did you learn to do that, Harry?” Seamus asked.
“Necessity is a powerful motivator, Seamus,” Harry answered.
“Could you teach us that one in the meeting tonight?” asked a Ravenclaw named Anne.
“We’ll see,” Harry said with a smile.
“I still don’t see why we need to go and see Dumbledore about it,” Ron pleaded as he followed Hermione to the gargoyle that guarded the entrance to Dumbledore’s office.
“Are you kidding?” Hermione asked, frustrated at having to explain every little thing. “You’re his best friend and you can’t see any reason why we should be concerned?”
“No,” Ron answered as the gargoyle opened before them and Professor Bane walked out.
“Well hello,” Bane said. “Is there something you need to see the headmaster about?”
“Yes,” Hermione said. “It’s rather urgent actually.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Ron said as he followed Hermione onto the stairs leaving Professor Bane to watch them go.
“Enter,” Dumbledore said in response to the knock on his door.
“Could we speak to you about something if you have time, Professor Dumbledore?” Hermione asked as she stuck her head through the door.
“Of course,” Dumbledore said. “Please come in.”
“I’m sorry, Professor,” Ron said as he shut the door behind him. “I tried to tell her it wasn’t worth bothering you over.”
“Oh, you can really be a git sometimes, Ron,” Hermione said, having heard enough of his protests.
“What is it that you need to discuss?” Dumbledore asked.
“It’s Harry,” Hermione said. “I wanted to talk to you about what he did in the room of requirement today.”
“Yes,” Dumbledore said as he looked over his glasses at them. “Professor Bane has related the details of what happened to me already.”
“Then you can see why we’re concerned,” Hermione said.
“Don’t lump me in with that,” Ron said. “I think it was the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen.”
“It scares me, Professor,” Hermione said, ignoring Ron. “What Harry did wasn’t like the Harry I know. He killed all of those death eaters. The Harry I know would never kill anyone, even if they weren’t real. Harry knows that just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should do a thing.”
“I have to say that I believe your argument to have some merit,” Dumbledore said.
“What?” Ron asked not believing that Dumbledore saw a problem with what Harry had done. “But fighting death eaters is what everyone is expecting Harry to do isn’t it? I mean, you don’t seriously expect him to show them any mercy do you? The entire wizarding world is just waiting for Harry to defeat Voldemort and take care of the death eaters single-handed. How is he supposed to do that if he doesn’t prepare himself to fight that kind of a battle?”
“I also see merit in your argument, Ron,” Dumbledore said. “It is unfortunate, but true, that most people are sitting back and waiting to find out if Harry can defeat Voldemort. He has told you about the discovery he made during the summer, I take it.”
“Which one?” Hermione said. “It seems like we find out something new every day.”
“Do you know what Harry is carrying around in his head right now?” Dumbledore asked.
“All of Voldemort’s memories,” Hermione said, a glimmer of thought sparking in her head.
“Yes,” Dumbledore confirmed. “It is partially due to those memories that Harry seems to have grown so talented and powerful. You are right, Hermione that the Harry we know would never hurt anyone if he didn’t have to. The thing that we have to realize is that Voldemort would. The more time passes, the more those memories that Harry received from Voldemort become a part of him. I feared that something like this would happen when he first told me about it over the summer.”
“Are you trying to say that Harry is going to become Voldemort?” Ron asked hoping Dumbledore would say he was wrong.
“In a manner of speaking,” Dumbledore said, “I believe there is a real danger that something like that could happen. You have to understand that Harry is now constantly engaged in a battle within himself to control the very fabric of who he is. It would be very easy for him to just give in to the power, the thoughts, and the personality that Voldemort placed in him. If he doesn’t master his own mind, he very well could end up craving power just as much as Voldemort ever did. You have no doubt noticed the new found confidence that Harry seems to be displaying. That is just one obvious change that could be attributed to Harry's incorporation of a piece of Voldemort’s personality into his own. The demonstration in the room of requirement today was another. There will come a time very soon when Harry will have to make perhaps a series of choices to decide just who he is destined to be.”
“I take it back,” Ron said, horrified. “I don’t think it was brilliant. “I’ll take it all back if it will keep that from happening to Harry.”
“But it was a brilliant feat,” Dumbledore said, surprising them. “Disturbing, yet brilliant at the same time.”
“Is there anything we can do to help him, Professor?” Hermione asked.
“Just be his friends,” Dumbledore responded. “He may seem very strong right now, but this is the time when he needs you more than ever. To tell you the truth, I think your sister may be doing more for him already than any of us can imagine, Ron.”
“Ginny?” Ron asked.
“I have suspected since I got the letter during the summer explaining the details of the light you saw between them when they kissed,” Dumbledore said, “that she would have the ability keep Harry from forgetting who he truly is. I think she could be the key to helping Harry keep his sanity.”
“Well he should be pretty sane then,” Ron said. “The two of them are hardly ever apart.”
“Exactly,” Dumbledore said. “That is why, even as disturbing as the display today was, I think all we can do is wait and see what happens next.”
Later that evening, Ron and Hermione sat in the Great Hall eating their dinner as they listened to some of their fellow seventh year Gryffindors recounting the tale of what Harry had done in the room of requirement to the younger students who had not already heard about it. Hermione just shook her head as she thought about how the old Harry would be furious about their apparent hero worship of his abilities.
“Uh oh,” Ron said as he looked toward the doors to the Great Hall. “It looks like someone is pretty upset about something.”
“Where is Potter?” Malfoy said nastily through clenched teeth as he stopped and glared at Ron.
“He hasn’t come to dinner yet,” Ron answered. “He and Ginny were taking a walk down by the lake.”
Without another word, Malfoy turned and stormed out of the Great Hall.
“What in the world was that all about?” Ron asked.
“I don’t know,” Hermione said looking worried, “but it can’t be good. We had better see if we can find Harry before Malfoy does.”
Harry and Ginny stood on the shore of the lake and looked out at the moonlit ripples on the water as Ginny said, “It’s getting a little colder, Harry. Maybe we should go on in to dinner now.”
“Sure,” Harry said with a smile.
Just as he turned, Harry didn’t have time to react as Malfoy’s fist connected with his mouth and sent him stumbling backwards. Harry’s foot caught on the slick bank and he fell backwards into the water. Being so close to the shore, Harry was quickly able to recover and stand back up in the waist deep water. He looked back up into the face of the furious Malfoy and something within him broke. He swiftly reached for his wand and had it halfway through a curse he had used earlier that day when Ginny jumped into the water and pulled his arm out of its motion.
“Harry, no!” Ginny exclaimed. “Don’t do it, Harry! Please!”
Harry felt two opposing forces battling for control within him at that moment. The feeling he always got when Ginny touched him tried to replace the blinding rage that consumed him. Something deep inside of Harry recognized what was happening and cried out in silence for calm. His rage felt that it was losing ground and caused Harry to pull his arm away from Ginny to stop the invading emotion. He was calmer, but the rage held on to him with a tight grip.
“That was the least of what I owe you, Potter,” Malfoy yelled. “This is all your fault.”
“What are you talking about, Slytherin?” Harry asked with a twisted snarl.
“You were the one who tried to get me together with Cassidy,” Malfoy said venting his own anger. “You did it just to embarrass me. You knew the whole time didn’t you?”
“Know what?” Harry yelled back.
“That her father was a stinking muggle,” Malfoy said, his voice rising even higher. “Did you think I wouldn’t find out? My mum sent owls to America to find out about her bloodline as soon as I wrote to her and told her that I had a girlfriend.”
“So what?” Harry asked. “It shouldn’t really matter to you should it? Maybe now you can see just what a joke your pure blood theory really is. Only this morning, you were walking hand in hand with her around the school. You can’t stand there and actually expect me to believe that your feelings for her have changed just because of her father.”
“They can and they have, Potter,” Malfoy said with a sneer. “I just can’t believe that even you would be so low as to pull something like this. So why would you do it? Did you think it would somehow add another chapter to the legend of The Famous Harry Potter?”
“I am so sick of hearing you say that,” Harry yelled as he walked out of the water. “Would you like to know what it is to be ‘The Famous Harry Potter’? Well let me enlighten you.”
Almost instantly, Malfoy began to struggle against the force that was brutally invading his mind. There was nothing he could do to defend himself though, as Harry began to flash quick pieces of his early life with the Dursleys. The feelings he had as he was continually locked in the cupboard under the stairs, and beating after beating from Dudley and his gang flowed into Malfoy’s head at a blinding speed.
Next were the memories of challenges Harry had dealt with during his time at Hogwarts. Malfoy was inundated with painful memories about taunting, being shunned by everyone, and the horrors he had faced in his battles.
Harry knew that he was causing Malfoy a great deal of pain as he forced his thoughts to rip through his mind. He knew it, and he liked the thought of it. He was causing someone pain, and he was happy about it. Nothing else existed but the pain. It was so intense that Harry began to feel a searing pain himself. He didn’t care though; he wanted his scar to burn.
Just when Harry thought the pain couldn’t possibly get worse, his body suddenly convulsed as agony exploded within his entire body. It took him a few seconds to notice that there were screams of pain somewhere near him, and they were not from Malfoy. Something about them was familiar.
A reservoir forced itself open inside of him that seemed to instantly wash the majority of his rage away. As Harry’s mind struggled to make sense of what was happening, he felt a vast wave of guilt ripple through him. He knew that what he had done was wrong, but he had been unable to stop himself. He had been a monster.
Harry suddenly became aware of arms encircling him and voices very nearby. Something about it all was familiar, and somehow comforting.
“Harry!” Hermione and Ron screamed as they ran the final steps to where Ginny held tightly to Harry, and Malfoy was sprawled out weakly on the ground.
“Stop it, Harry!” Ron exclaimed. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Harry, please stop it!” Hermione echoed.
“Harry,” Ginny said weakly as she used the last of her strength to hang on to Harry, “you’ll be alright.”
“Ginny,” Hermione said as she stopped just short of the couple, “are you okay?”
“I have to help him,” Ginny said, not letting go of Harry.
“What…” Harry said as he began to find his voice again. “What happened?”
“You don’t know?” Ron asked. “I think you just went mental on Malfoy there, mate.”
“I couldn’t stop him,” Ginny said. “There was so much pain.”
Just then Harry’s mind caught up and realized that it had been Ginny’s scream he had heard. He had been filled with rage, and she had wrapped her arms around him. She had felt the pain caused by his rage and her love coming into contact with one another just as he had. She had felt the pain. He had caused her pain.
“Ginny,” Harry began as tears rolled down his cheeks, “I am so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. Please believe me.”
“I do,” Ginny said as she looked up at him with her own tear-stained face. “I do.”
“You were out of control weren’t you, Harry?” Ron asked already knowing the answer.
Harry just looked back at Ron for a few seconds and thought about what he had done before he said, “Ron, I want you and Hermione to take Ginny back to the castle, and get Malfoy to the Hospital wing.”
“What about you, Harry?” Ginny asked as she pulled back and looked at him.
“I can’t go,” Harry said.
“You should go to the hospital wing too, Harry,” Hermione said.
“I can’t go,” Harry repeated. “I can never go back there. Not now.”
“Harry, what are you saying?” Ginny asked confused.
“I can’t take the chance that I may hurt you or someone else again,” Harry said as he dropped Ginny’s hand. “This is goodbye.” Harry immediately turned and ran off toward the Forbidden Forest.
“Harry…” Ginny started to say as she tried to go after him, but was restrained by Hermione and Ron. “Let me go. I have to go after him.”
“He doesn’t want you to come after him,” Hermione said.
“But I have to,” Ginny said as her tears flowed faster.
“Harry is right,” Ron said. “After what he’s done, he can’t just walk back into the castle. We need to get back to the castle and tell Dumbledore about all of this. He’ll know what to do.”
Ron and Hermione sat in the Gryffindor common room trying desperately to keep Ginny as calm as possible. They had tried to get her to take a calming draught from Madam Pomfrey when they took Malfoy to the hospital wing, but she flatly refused. Professor Dumbledore had met them there and gotten the full story of what had happened. Even he seemed uneasy about the situation.
Professor McGonagall walked thought the portrait hole, and walked directly to the three of them and said, “I’ve just come from the Headmaster’s office. You should know that he has had to inform Mr. Malfoy’s mother of the incident, and she has filed a complaint with the Ministry of Magic. There will be representatives from the Ministry arriving soon to investigate the situation. They will of course want to speak with all of you to find out what you know."
“But what about Harry?” Ron asked. “Is anyone trying to find him?”
“Professor Dumbledore is handling that matter as we speak,” McGonagall said. “No doubt that it won’t take the Ministry long to decide to organize a search for him themselves. We’ll do everything we can to prevent them from finding him though.”
“Does Harry really have that much to fear from the Ministry?” Hermione asked.
“I’m afraid so,” McGonagall said. “Once they start talking to people and finding out how powerful he has become, the fact that he has already attacked another student will be all they need to deem him a threat and who knows what they would do with him after that.”
“You don’t think they would send him to Azkaban do you?” Ron asked.
“I would say that it all depends on how far Mr. Malfoy decides to push his complaint once he wakes up,” McGonagall said.
“Would you please ask Professor Dumbledore if I can go into the forest to look for Harry?” Ginny asked as she wiped more tears from her face. “I can’t leave him out there alone. I just can’t stand the thought of it.”
“Easy child,” McGonagall said as soothingly as she could. “As I said before, Professor Dumbledore is already sending someone to look for him that knows that forest much better than you do.”
Hagrid had been searching the forbidden forest for a full two days in search of Harry. He had to admit that no other creature he had ever tracked in the forest had ever given him so much trouble. If he hadn’t been assured otherwise, he would have sworn that Harry hadn’t ever come into the forest at all. He knew he had though. He was only more cunning and better at covering his tracks than most. He was one quarry that did not want to be found.
“You waste your time, Hagrid,” Magorian the centaur said, making Hagrid jump in surprise.
“Magorian,” Hagrid said.
“You were told to stay out of the forest the last time,” Magorian said.
“I be lookin for…” Hagrid began.
“I know what it is you are looking for, Hagrid,” Magorian said. “He was seen when he first entered the forest.”
“Ya knows where e is then?” Hagrid asked.
“Actually, no,” Magorian said as if not wanting to divulge a weakness. “He has proved almost as difficult for us to track as he has for you.”
“Thas ‘arry all righ’,” Hagrid said. “Got ter find im before them fellas from tha Ministry.”
“I’ll tell you what I know if it will get you out of the forest any faster,” Magorian said. “I don’t know if it will do you any good or not though. Even the centaurs haven’t been able to get close to him yet.”
“Jus tell me wha ya know,” Hagrid said.
“He was last seen about a kilometer due south of here two hours ago,” Magorian said. “Then he disappeared, and none of us has been able to pick up his trail. I was sent back this way to see if he had turned north, but there has been no sign of him. That would leave only one direction that was not already being watched. I believe he would have headed east.”
“I thank ya fur yur ‘elp,” Hagrid said with a slight bow.
“Don’t thank me too soon,” Magorian said. “You may yet encounter more of my kind who are not so inclined to tolerate you being here.”
Hagrid set off Southeast with the warning clear in his mind. There were many creatures that he would have shrugged off such a warning from, but the centaurs were not to be taken lightly even at the best of times.
The next afternoon, Hagrid was beginning to wonder if Magorian had possibly given him false information to throw him off track. He shook that thought away quickly though. There was no reason why the centaurs would want to keep Hagrid from finding Harry first. They didn’t want any humans in the forest, and he had no doubt that they would do anything they had to, if it would make them leave.
Hagrid stood on a small ridge and surveyed the land before him. The wind changed suddenly, and it was only a few seconds later that he smelled it. It was unmistakable. Hagrid proceeded slowly as he followed his nose in the direction of the smell. He found the source just over a hundred yards away.
Hagrid bent down and looked at the remains of what was undoubtedly an extinguished campfire. He knew that there was only one other creature in the forest other than himself that would have built it. Harry had been there. Hagrid put his hand down on the earth that has been thrown onto the fire and felt that it was still slightly warm. He couldn’t have been far away.
A few broken twigs was all Hagrid had to give him a clue as to which way Harry had gone after he left the campsite. So, Hagrid headed north. He moved slowly, as he watched for small occasional signs that he was still on the right track. The clues were few and far between, but Hagrid quickly became better at reading the few signs Harry left. Several times, Harry had changed directions for irregular lengths of time. It was almost as if he knew that he was being tracked, and was purposefully trying to shake his pursuer.
Hagrid didn’t give up though. If anything he became more determined to catch Harry. He searched for the remainder of that day and straight through the night, and in the afternoon of the next day, Hagrid finally stopped for a much-needed rest. Hagrid sat down on a large rock and leaned against the tree that was next to it. He had gone three days without sleep, and he was in desperate need of some rest. He closed his eyes as he tried to catch his breath and let his sore muscles relax.
Hagrid rested there for several minutes, and was just about to fall asleep when he heard a familiar voice say, “Go back, Hagrid.”
Hagrid’s eyes snapped open to see Harry standing close by and looking as if he too had gone without sleep for far too long. It took a moment for Hagrid’s head to clear and realize that he wasn’t dreaming.
“’arry!” Hagrid exclaimed.
“You have to go back to Hogwarts, Hagrid,” Harry said as he leaned on a nearby tree. “You have to stop following me.”
“Can’ do tha ‘arry,” Hagrid said. “Been sen’ ter bring ya ‘ome.”
“I can’t go home, Hagrid,” Harry said. “I can’t take the chance that I’ll hurt anyone else again.”
“’ave ya hurt somen’ since ya been ‘ere in the fores’, ‘arry?” Hagrid asked.
“No,” Harry answered.
“Then wha’ makes ya think yer gon’ ta ‘urt somen’ at Hogwarts?” Hagrid asked with a grin.
“I already did, Hagrid,” Harry said. “You weren’t there. You don’t know what it was like. I was out of control. I was a monster.”
“Humph,” Hagrid snorted. “Some ‘ave called me tha’ before, ‘arry.”
“This is different,” Harry said.
“Codswallow,” Hagrid said before Harry could say anything else. “Yer as good as the come, Harry. Yer me frien’, an I don’ think yer a monster. There’s still more believes tha’ back a’ Hogwarts. Poor Ginny’s beside ‘erself with worry ‘bout ya.”
“Do you think it doesn’t kill me to leave her like this?” Harry asked. “I can never forgive myself for hurting her the way I did.”
“Tha’ kind o’ pain she can take,” Hagrid said. “She won’ be able ter stan’ much more o’ wha’ yer puttin’ her through now though.”
“He’s right, Harry Potter,” Magorian said as he stepped into view. “You are causing a great deal of distress to those back at Hogwarts, as well as to those of us who live here in the forest.”
“I haven’t done anything to any creature here in the forest,” Harry said.
“Haven’t you?” Magorian asked. “Do you not know that there are officials from your Ministry of Magic that have begun to comb the forest in search of you? It is distressful enough to have the two of you in the forest, but fifty is totally unacceptable to us at any time.”
“I’m sorry,” Harry said. “I never meant to cause you or your people a problem. I didn’t think they would come here to look for me.”
“A large error on your part I think,” Magorian said. “You should know that the name of Harry Potter is well thought of here in the forest, even though you are a human. It is very disappointing to us to see you run away from your problems instead of facing them with the bravery that we have attributed to you in the past.”
“You don’t even know why I ran away,” Harry said.
“The reason is not important to us,” Magorian said. “It is the action that counts. It is very important for us all that you return to Hogwarts. We have foreseen it.”
Harry stood and looked at Magorian in silence for some time considering what he had said. Could it be that the centaurs had foreseen his battle with Voldemort? They usually took no interest in human affairs, so why was it so important to them that he return to Hogwarts? Deep down, he knew that it was important to his friends. He was the boy who lived. What would happen to them if he weren’t there to try to defend them against Voldemort? Could he ever forgive himself for that?
Two nights after Hagrid had encountered Harry in the forbidden forest, Ron and Hermione sat together in the Gryffindor common room trying to study for a big Charms test. Several times, Hermione nudged Ron to bring his attention back to his book, but Ron found it impossible to concentrate. He just had too much on his mind.
Ron slammed his Charms book and tossed it on to the table before he said, “It’s no use ‘mione. I just can’t stop worrying about Ginny. I feel like I should do something for her.”
“I think you’ve done enough already, Ron,” Hermione said a bit more accusingly then she had meant to.
“You’re not still on about that are you?” Ron asked. “I didn’t know what else to do. It was the only thing I could think of, aside from chaining her up down in the dungeons, to stop her from running into the forest to look for him herself.”
“Well, that it did,” Hermione admitted, “but since you gave her that map she hasn’t done a thing but sit in her room and stare at it in hopes that Harry is just going to walk out of the forest. She’ll go mad if she doesn’t find some way to get her mind off of it.”
“I know,” Ron said. “Harry could have made it to the other side of the forest and then taken off to anywhere in the world. He may never come back.”
“Don’t you dare say anything like that in front of Ginny,” Hermione said as she closed her own book with a bit of force and glared at him. “Hope is the only thing she has left right now. It won’t do anyone any good if you take that away from her.”
“I’m not going to say anything to her about it,” Ron said. “How long do you think it will take her to figure it out on her own though? She’s a smart girl, Hermione. Somewhere deep down, she already knows that he may not come back. It’s only a matter of time before she’ll have to admit it. If I ever get my hands on him for what he’s done to her…”
“You’ll wrap your arms around him and cry like a baby, Ron,” Hermione said. “I know that you miss him almost as much as she does. I feel the same way. We all love him, and we’re all worried about him.”
Ginny sat on her bed and wiped tear after tear from her face as she stared at the Marauder’s map that lay open in front of her. Little footprints scurried here and there within the castle, but she took no notice of them. Her concentration was locked on the part of the map that showed the edge of the Forbidden Forest. She had sat staring at it almost continually since the previous evening when Ron had given it to her. It had momentarily given her hope that she would see Harry’s name suddenly appear walking out of the forest, but a sleepless night and another day of watching had dulled that hope considerably.
Ginny took a moment to wipe away the wetness that had become a constant on her face of late, and was just about to give in to her need for food when she saw a single set of footprints suddenly emerge from the edge of the forest. Hagrid had returned. She watched intently for Harry to appear just behind him, but by the time Hagrid had made it half way to his cabin, she knew that he had returned alone.
Hagrid had either not found Harry, or he had found him only to have Harry refuse to come back. Ginny didn’t know which, but, her need for food forgotten, she decided to go and find out for herself. She was just about to draw her wand to deactivate the map, when she noticed that Hagrid stopped for several seconds at the door to his cabin. A few seconds later her heart nearly burst as she saw another set of footprints.
“Maybe you should see if she wants to go down and get something to eat,” Ron said.
“I guess I could try,” Hermione said. “She’ll probably just ask me to bring something up for her again though.”
Hermione didn’t even have a chance to stand up as she and Ron watched Ginny jump down the last few steps into the common room, and run straight trough the portrait hole holding the map in her hand.
“Oh no!” Ron exclaimed as he stood up. “She’s trying to make a break for it. We have to stop her before she can get to the forest.”
Ginny ran as fast as she could out of the castle and down to Hagrid’s cabin. She was out of breath as she climbed the steps to his front door and knocked loudly. She could hear movement inside, and she could tell that there was a delay before Hagrid opened the door.
“Ginny…” Hagrid said as she squeezed past him into his cabin.
Ginny looked around wildly as she asked, “Where is he, Hagrid? I know he’s here somewhere. I saw him on the map.”
“Don’ know wha yer talkin’…” Hagrid began to say.
“It’s alright Hagrid,” Harry said as he stepped into view.
Ginny caught sight of Harry and immediately ran to him and wrapped her arms around him tightly. They hugged in silence for several seconds, and were not even distracted by another knock on the door.
“Open the door, Hagrid,” Ron said. “We saw Ginny run in there. Let us in.”
“Keep it down,” Hagrid said as he opened the door and let Ron and Hermione in before he closed it and locked it once more.
“Harry…” Ron whispered in surprise as he and Hermione stood and watched as Harry and Ginny continued to hug one another.
“Are you alright?” Ginny asked softly.
“I’m much better now,” Harry answered just as softly. “Ginny, I’m…”
“It doesn’t matter now, Harry,” Ginny said, cutting him off. “Just please promise me that you’ll never leave again without taking me with you.”
“I promise,” Harry said. “I was such a fool for leaving you behind. I thought it was the best thing to do, and I ended up hurting both of us more than I ever imagined possible. I might as well have cut out my own heart.”
“I know what you mean,” Ginny whispered. “I’m so glad you’re back.”
Another knock at the door made them all jump. Hagrid unlocked the door and peaked out before opening it wider and saying, “Sorry ‘bout tha’ Professor Dumbledore.”
“No need to apologize, Hagrid,” Dumbledore said as he stepped inside. “A measure of caution is always a good idea. I see that you have quite a bit of company, Hagrid.”
“A fair bit,” Hagrid responded as he looked over his guests.
“I’m glad to see that you made it back without running into anyone from the ministry, Harry,” Dumbledore said.
“Actually, we did once, Professor,” Harry said keeping an arm around Ginny’s shoulder. “Salisis warned us that there was one of them ahead of us and I hid under the back of Hagrid’s coat until we were well past him.”
“Salisis?” Dumbledore asked.
“He’s the black winged tree serpent that I met in my tutoring session with Hagrid,” Harry said.
“I see,” Dumbledore said. “It would seem that it is good to have friends in the forest.”
“I would say so,” Harry said. “Including those that come into the forest to make you see just how stupid you’re being.”
“Now don’ say tha’, Harry,” Hagrid said. “Magorian ‘ad more ta do with makin’ ya come ‘ome than I did.”
“So, you ran into centaurs as well,” Dumbledore said. “They are not a race that is easy to get along with, much less make friends with.”
“I don’t know that we’re really what you would call friends,” Harry said. “He wanted me out of the forest as much or more than he did Hagrid. I would say that all of my best friends are here with me now though. I’m sorry for what I put all of you through.”
“We’re just glad to have you back, mate,” Ron said.
“Will the ministry let him stay once they find out he’s back, Professor?” Hermione asked.
“I don’t know that they have much choice,” Dumbledore said. “Draco has flatly refused to press any complaint against Harry. The most they can really do in this case is give him a verbal reprimand.”
“I can’t believe that Malfoy didn’t take his chance to get rid of Harry,” Ron said. “He’s hated him since our first year.”
“Hate is a powerful emotion,” Dumbledore said. “It is a very difficult thing to overcome it. Perhaps Mr. Malfoy isn’t your enemy after all.”
“I doubt that we’ll be having lunches together,” Harry said, “but I guess I should apologize for what I did to him.”
“I believe Mr. Malfoy is in the Great Hall eating dinner now,” Dumbledore said.
“Great,” Ginny said. “I’m starving. I’m not about to let Harry out of my sight for a while anyway, so I’ll make sure he gets there.”
“I’m sure you will,” Dumbledore said with a knowing grin.
When the four Gryffindors walked into the Great Hall, a glance down the Slytherin table told them that Malfoy was no longer among his house mates.
“I’m not surprised he’s not here really,” Hermione said.
“What do you mean?” Harry asked.
“Cassidy is here,” Hermione responded. “He’s been avoiding her all week long. He even made Madam Pomfrey keep her out of the hospital wing when she went there to see if he was alright.”
Harry walked over to Cassidy, and she looked up at him and said, “Welcome back, Harry. You had us all worried to death.”
“Sorry about that,” Harry responded. “I don’t expect to be taking any more trips anytime soon. Listen, I know it’s probably a bad thing to ask you, but do you know how long ago it was that Draco left?”
“Just a couple of minutes ago,” Cassidy responded. “At least it wasn’t me that made him run out of here this time anyway. He got a howler. I think he ran off to find somewhere to open it.”
“Thanks,” Harry said as he turned to leave the Great Hall.
“I told Professor Dumbledore I would be keeping an eye on you, Harry,” Ginny said. “I’ll just go along and help you find him.”
“I promise I’m not going to run off again,” Harry said. “I think it would be a better idea if you stayed here with Ron and Hermione.”
“But, Harry,” Ginny said, “you know what happened the last time you two talked to each other.”
“I’m going to apologize for that when I see him,” Harry said. “I’m not going to pick a fight with him. Now, run along. You said yourself that you were hungry. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Ginny didn’t like it, but she stood still while Harry turned and walked away from the Great Hall. She waited until he had turned a corner before she quickly began to follow him. With any luck, he would never know that she was spying on him. It was for his own good after all.
Harry didn’t have a clear destination in mind once he left the Great Hall. As he walked, he tried to reason out where Malfoy would have gone to open a howler. He would have gotten as far away from the Great Hall as possible. Harry briefly thought that he may have gone down to the dungeons, but realized he wouldn’t have wanted to take the chance of running into any of his fellow Slytherin on the way. It would have to be somewhere out of the way where few people would be likely to end up after classes had ended for the day.
Harry could think of only one place that was fresh in his mind for such a thing. He had been there recently for his Potions test. There was always the chance that he was mistaken, and that Malfoy had not put as much thought into his escape from prying ears. As he got nearer to the hallway he was looking for, Harry could make out the sounds of a very angry woman yelling something he couldn’t quite make out.
“…A DIGRACE TO THE FAMILY NAME!” the voice screamed. “I DON’T KNOW WHAT COULD HAVE POSSIBLY BEEN RUNNING THROUGH THAT LITTLE BRAIN OF YOURS! HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO TELL YOUR FATHER THAT YOU REFUSED TO DEAL A BLOW TO A SWORN ENEMY TO THIS FAMILY? FIRST THE MUDBLOOD GIRLFRIEND AND NOW THIS! YOU ARE THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT THIS FAMILY HAS EVER KNOWN NEXT TO THE BLOOD TRAITOR BLACK! JUST WAIT UNTIL I GET MY HANDS ON YOU, DRACO! YOU’LL WISH YOU HAD NEVER BEEN BORN!”
There was a short silence before Harry heard the unmistakable sound of paper ripping. He took another step and looked around the corner to find Draco standing there with is back partially to him. Harry walked closer, not sure if he was doing the right thing by invading Draco’s privacy at that moment.
Hearing the sound of footsteps, Malfoy turned quickly to see through his tears that Harry was walking toward him, and asked, “What are you doing here, Potter? Did you come to gloat over the trouble you’ve caused for me?”
“I’m sorry, Draco,” Harry said. “That isn’t why I came at all. I was looking for you for another reason, and I couldn’t help but overhear.”
“What?” Draco asked. “Did you want to invade my mind and cause me more pain?”
“Actually,” Harry said, “I came here to apologize for doing that the first time. I was so upset that I couldn’t control myself then, but that was no excuse for me to do that to you. I’m really sorry.”
“As well you should be,” Malfoy said. “I have bigger things to worry about than you right now though, so just leave me alone.”
“You could always make those problems disappear,” Harry said. “All you had to do was file a complaint against me. You didn’t though. I don’t know why. You can still get back into your mum’s good graces if you tell them you’ve had a change of heart.”
“Why would you want me to do that?” Draco asked, confused.
“Because it would be the easiest thing for you to do,” Harry said. “Besides, I would deserve whatever I got as a punishment. I wouldn’t hold it against you.”
“Forget it,” Draco said. “I’m not going to do anything to ease your conscience for you.”
“I thought it might ease yours,” Harry said.
“As touching as that is,” Draco said as he walked past Harry, “I have an essay to write for transfiguration.”
“Draco,” Harry said, making Malfoy stop at the corner. “Thanks.”
Malfoy stared ahead of him in silence for several seconds before he said in a more gentle tone, “I never knew, Harry. I never knew.”
“I know,” Harry responded softly. “I never intended to show it to you.”
“But you did,” Draco said.
“Yes,” Harry said.
Several more seconds passed, and as neither of them could think of anything else that needed to be said, Malfoy continued to walk away. As he rounded the corner, he caught sight of yet another person who was listening to his private business. He forced himself not to look at her as he continued on down the hallway and turned out of sight.
“Are you alright?” Ginny asked as she walked around the corner.
“I thought I told you to stay in the Great Hall,” Harry said with a grin.
“It must be the red hair,” Ginny said as she wrapped her arms around him. “It makes me very stubborn sometimes.”
“I’ll have the rest of my life to learn that lesson,” Harry said. “I feels so good to be back home.”
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