After classes had ended for lunch, and Ron had made a quick trip to grab food from the Great Hall, he, Hermione and Ginny walked into the hospital wing to find Harry sitting up on his bed eating from a half empty plate of food. Seeing Harry turn his head to look at them, and the smile that followed was enough to make them wonder.
“Harry, are you…” Ron began.
“I’m still blind if that’s what you’re asking,” Harry interrupted as he noticed yet another new connection he had not been able to see previously.
“This is the first time you’ve sat up since the accident,” Hermione pointed out. “Is your head feeling better?”
“I still have a persistent headache,” Harry replied as he continued to look from Hermione to Ron quizzically, “but everything else seems to have healed nicely.”
Noticing the look of concentration on Harry’s face as he looked from Ron to Hermione, Ginny asked, “Is there something wrong, Harry? Looking at Hermione and Ron that way is only going to make them paranoid. They were already rattled enough by that stunt you pulled earlier while they were in Potions class.”
“I’m seeing something I haven’t seen before,” Harry replied.
“It figures,” Ron said with a grin. “We found out the hard way that you can do things you didn’t used to be able to do until today.”
“So what is it now, Harry?” Hermione asked. “Have the colors of our lines changed or something.”
“Not exactly,” Harry replied carefully. “The ones to me haven’t changed at all, but for some reason I can see the one connecting the two of you now.”
“There’s a connection between us?” Ron asked with a proud grin on his face. “Wicked.”
“Yet another color I suppose,” Hermione commented looking equally pleased.
“No,” Harry said. “Actually it’s the same color as the one I have with Ginny.”
Ron and Hermione looked at one another and smiled as the significance of their connection became apparent, and Ginny said, “So white must be the color of the love bond between two people.”
“So far that seems to be holding true anyway,” Harry said. “Firenze should be happy to hear that I’ve been able to distinguish some kind of reason for at least one of the colors I see. He’s been here all morning working with me. He only left because he got a message that the Centaurs wanted to talk with him.”
“I wonder what they want,” Ron questioned. “I don’t think we should be so tolerant and trusting of them being on the grounds.”
“That’s what you said about the Slytherin,” Harry reminded him.
“Exactly,” Ron replied, “and look where that got you.”
“I’m here because of a death eater, mate,” Harry pointed out. “The Slytherins didn’t have anything to do with it.”
“Theodore Nott did,” Ron said as he readied himself for another round of angry pacing. “He’s the one who got you mixed up with this in the first place.”
“I think we can all agree that I got myself mixed up into the situation where I currently find myself,” Harry commented with conviction in his words. “Besides, Theodore Nott is visiting his dad in the dungeon. What I felt from him earlier makes it all worth it.”
“You have got to be joking, mate,” Ron accused. “We were there when Nott woke up this morning. He’s a nasty piece of work. Trust me; you don’t want to have anything to do with him.”
In the dungeon, Theodore Nott called out to McGonagall and waited as she walked into view before he said, “Professor, I’d like to stay here for the rest of the day with my dad.”
“I had a feeling you would end up asking for that,” McGonagall said as she studied the cell where they both stood. “Though it is against my better judgment I shall allow it. I need not remind you that such visitation would not be allowed were you being held by the Ministry. I am placing a great deal of trust into you both. I hope you will do nothing to betray that trust.”
“Though it may mean nothing to you,” Nott said as he stepped up beside his son and placed a hand on his shoulder, “I give you my word that I will do nothing to attempt an escape.”
“Very well,” McGonagall said. “I shall place an order for meals to be brought to you both. I will send Professor Lupin back tonight after dinner begins. It will be easier to move you through the castle without being observed by the other students at that time.”
“Can I come back tomorrow?” Theodore asked hopefully. “I don’t know how much more time I’ll have with my dad.”
McGonagall considered the request, but as she studied the yearning in Theodore’s eyes she said, “I will not deny you that time. I will send someone for you again tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Professor,” Theodore said happily.
“Yes,” Nott said in echo, “thank you, Professor McGonagall. It means a great deal to me as well. I have only one other request.”
McGonagall looked back at him briefly as she asked, “What is it?”
“Since I’m locked in this cell and not free to do so on my own,” Nott began, “please convey my appreciation to Mr. Potter for all that he has done for my son, and for me. Had I only known… well… I would have reacted very differently. Then he wouldn’t be…”
“I spoke with Mr. Potter extensively early this morning,” McGonagall commented. “As unimaginable as it may seem, he does not bear any ill will toward you for what you did to him.”
“How is that possible?” Nott asked. “I nearly killed him.”
“I think you will find, as I have, that Mr. Potter’s capacity for love and forgiveness runs very deep,” McGonagall stated. “He understands that he was not attacked by a death eater. He was attacked by a parent concerned for the well being of his child. Growing up the way he did… It is enough to say that he sympathizes with your feelings.”
Nott considered her words for several seconds before he nodded and said, “I understand.”
Without another word, McGonagall turned and walked out of the dungeons on her way to the kitchen to place an order for the food she had promised. After emerging from the kitchen, she walked toward the Great Hall. Before she made it there, she met a worried looking Lupin.
“What is it, Remus?” McGonagall asked. “What’s happened?”
“Firenze went out to speak to the Centaurs again,” Lupin explained. “There are more of them this time. There are a lot more.”
McGonagall wasted no time in turning for the castle doors. Upon stepping outside she could plainly see why Lupin had thought it necessary to warn her. Hagrid stood along with Tonks, Flitwick, and Slughorn well behind where Firenze stood facing what appeared to be around a hundred Centaurs.
“That was enough at the earlier meeting when our numbers were fewer,” Magorian said strongly with his voice raised slightly with a warning tone. “For those present now these demands must be met.”
“I will speak to Professor McGonagall if I can be assured that all of you are at least willing to offer what I have already indicated,” Firenze said as he remained acutely aware of the centaurs arrayed in an arc around him.
“There is no reason to wait,” Orlef said as he spotted McGonagall walking past where her teachers stood and proceeding toward them. “You can ask her now.”
“Nothing has changed, Magorian” McGonagall said harshly as she stopped beside Firenze. “Your increased number here only serves to heighten my suspicions about your intent.”
A dark haired Centaur McGonagall didn’t recognize stepped closer as he warned, “Watch your tone, human. Your suspicion is of no importance to us.”
“But her cooperation is,” Firenze pointed out as McGonagall looked over at him questioningly.
“Some among us have claimed it is so,” a female centaur. “Others among us see no need for the cooperation of any human.”
“Exactly what kind of cooperation on my part has been proposed?” McGonagall asked.
“We wish to speak in person with Harry Potter,” Magorian supplied.
“I can tell you with all assurance that will never happen until I know your true intent,” McGonagall countered.
“They are interested in the connections Mr. Potter sees and shares with others,” Firenze commented. “I can not tell you why.”
“Can’t, or won’t?” McGonagall asked.
Firenze considered carefully before he said, “You are well aware that there are some things I am forbidden to discuss with humans. I can not tell you more about their intentions as I understand them without speaking of things of which I can not.”
“Be that as it may,” McGonagall began, “you are all well aware that as Headmistress I am responsible for the safety and welfare of all of my students.”
“We don’t care about all of your students,” the dark haired Centaur said as he began advancing threateningly with a group of thirty six centaurs advancing behind him. “We want to see Potter.”
Quickly, McGonagall drew her wand even as her teachers behind her did the same. The advancing Centaurs stopped, but it was not from the threat of the wands. Instead, McGonagall could see that their attention was focused back toward the castle. Looking behind her, she saw Ginny step onto the grass and begin walking toward them calmly. Turning back she watched as the Centaurs stepped back respectfully even as the ones in the back maneuvered for a better view. McGonagall backed away as she kept her wand trained on the Centaurs.
“Miss Weasley, what are you…” McGonagall began as Ginny neared her position.
“Harry asked me to come,” Ginny explained preemptively as she stopped beside McGonagall. “He sensed things could get out of hand. He asked me to try to stop it.”
“Students are not permitted on the grounds for a reason, Miss Weasley,” McGonagall pointed out as Tonks and Lupin walked closer to them. “This is not a safe place for you to be right now even if Mr. Potter wishes it were.”
“She’s right, Ginny,” Tonks agreed. “I’ll take you back inside.”
“Wait a minute,” Lupin said as he studied the calmness on Ginny’s face. “Harry knows something. He never would have sent Ginny here if he didn’t believe it was safe.”
“Need you be reminded of the chances he takes?” McGonagall asked.
“With himself, yes,” Lupin said. “Not with her though.”
“Firenze did spend the entire morning with Harry,” Tonks commented. “Maybe he does know something we don’t.”
“If he does it isn’t something he’s shared with me,” Ginny informed them. “He knows that the Centaurs are interested in him. They’ve been watching him from the forest for some time now. He’s confident that they intend no harm to anyone else though.”
“That is a belief I am not as confident in,” McGonagall said.
“It may not be a bad idea to let her talk to them,” Lupin said surprising McGonagall and Tonks. “Look at the reaction they had as soon as she walked outside. A few of them looked to be on the verge of storming the castle before. Look at them. Even the ones who were so brazenly hostile before are staring at her even now. They don’t seem the least bit hostile any more.”
McGonagall studied the posture and expressions of the Centaurs carefully as Tonks said, “I suppose there really would be very little danger to her. We would all be able to protect her if they did turn hostile. A simple shield charm should work.”
McGonagall delayed several seconds before she turned back to Ginny and said, “You must be very careful in the words you choose to use when addressing the Centaurs. Even an unintended insult could be disastrous.”
“I’ll be careful,” Ginny assured her.
McGonagall motioned for the other teachers to join them, and once they had they walked alertly toward where the Centaurs stood waiting. As the group stopped, Magorian stepped forward and bowed his head to Ginny.
“I know that you’ve requested a meeting with Harry,” Ginny said addressing Magorian. “He wanted to come here to meet with you himself, but his current condition made that impossible.”
“It is truly an honor to have you before us, Miss Weasley,” Magorian said as several of his Centaur brethren nodded agreement. “We have… many questions.”
“As do I,” Ginny responded. “First and foremost I must know if you have any intention of trying to harm Harry.”
“Harm him?” Magorian asked in surprise. “I can assure you that we have no intention of causing harm to any humans in the castle, yourself and Mr. Potter least of all.”
“Me?” Ginny asked as the dark haired Centaur stepped close to her and passed his hand through the air just in front of her chest.
“You can see it can’t you?” Firenze asked. “All of you can see it.”
“I always believed it to be an impossibility,” the dark haired Centaur said as he looked at his own hand in wonder. “If this is a trick it is a very realistic one.”
“You mean the connection I have with Harry?” Ginny asked as the Centaur nodded his head. “I can’t deny you your disbelief. I live with it every day and it somehow seems impossible to me as well. I know it’s real though. I can see it with my own eyes now, though not nearly as well as Harry can see it. Is it important to you?”
“So important that it could change the relationship between humans and Centaurs forever,” Magorian said.
“For the better I hope,” Ginny said with a smile.
“Indeed, Miss Weasley,” the dark haired Centaur said as he stuck his hand out to Ginny. “I am called Lisian. I pledge to help Harry Potter in any way I can.”
Ginny took Lisian’s hand in a gentle handshake as she said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you Lisian. I don’t know what you can do to help Harry, but thank you for offering.”
“There is potentially a great deal we can do,” Magorian said. “It is one of the reasons we are all gathered here today.”
“Are you saying you have a way to cure Mr. Potter?” McGonagall asked.
“There is no way to be sure,” Magorian replied. “There is a slight chance, but even the cooperation of the entire herd is not a guarantee of success.”
“I would like to hear what you have in mind,” McGonagall said.
“I am just as unable to tell you at this point as Firenze,” Magorian replied. “The decision within the herd must be unanimous before the attempt can be made at all.”
“How soon will you know?” McGonagall asked.
“It is difficult to say,” Magorian said. “Most of us will now go to attempt to convince the others. Some may wish to remain either close inside the forest or on the grounds.”
“Now that I understand your intentions not to be malicious you may use the grounds at your leisure,” McGonagall offered.
“Thank you, Headmistress,” Magorian said with much more sincerity than he had done previously.
Magorian turned and began walking back toward the forest and a few of the Centaurs followed. However, the majority of them took the opportunity to walk to Ginny individually as they respectfully shook hands and introduced themselves.
As the last of the Centaurs walked away, Firenze turned to Ginny and said, “Thank you, Miss Weasley. I can not adequately explain to you the profound difference you made with your presence.”
“I was terrified,” Ginny admitted with a small grin.
“You hid it well,” Slughorn said with a twinkle in his eye. “There may be a future for you in diplomacy, Miss Weasley.”
“Well, the only thing in my near future is Transfiguration,” Ginny said. “May I be excused? If I don’t hurry I’ll be late to class.”
“Something tells me the teacher will excuse you if you are,” Tonks said with a smile as she placed her hand on Ginny’s shoulder. “I’ll walk there with you if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” Ginny responded as she and Tonks began walking back to the castle.
McGonagall watched them go as she said, “None of us ever asked them what their intentions were. Miss Weasley opened with the question we should have been asking from the very beginning. Have we really become so jaded?”
At number twelve, Draco sat silently at the table as he continued to pick distractedly at his food. All morning Theodore Nott’s words were stinging in his ears. How could it be possible that Theodore was able to find out what had happened to his mum before he did? Had she taken him into her confidence even as she shut out her own son? None of it made any sense.
Narcissa reached for her empty plate and started to stand when Draco reached out quickly and stopped her by touching one of her hands gently. She looked at him and was surprised to see wetness forming in his eyes.
“Please, mum,” Draco said softly, “leave that. I’ll clean up as soon as I finish.”
“Are you sure, Draco?” Narcissa asked, surprised that he had even offered. “It isn’t much. I could…”
“No,” Draco replied. “I want to do it for you. It’ll give you a chance to rest.”
“Thank you, Draco,” Narcissa said with a kind smile. “That would be nice.”
After Narcissa had left the room, Draco said to himself, “You aren’t the only one who can be helpful Nott. I won’t let you steal my mum away from me.”
A short time later, Draco finished his food and set about clearing away the lunch dishes. It was no trouble for him. The months of living with Snape had made him very familiar with being the low rung on the ladder.
As soon as that thought passed through his mind he stopped what he was doing as his brow wrinkled in question. Was that really the way he thought of his mum? In his heart he knew he felt so much more for her, but Nott had questioned that as well. Did he treat his mum as no more than a servant?
Later that day, after classes at Hogwarts had ended, Lupin retrieved Theodore from the Dungeons to return him to number twelve. By then, dinner was well underway in the Great Hall, but not everyone chose to satisfy their need for food.
Zacharias Smith stepped into view of the cell to see Nott lying on his bed as if he was extremely relaxed. Seeing him that way only served to make Zacharias angrier.
“I’m not finished with you death eater,” Zacharias said as he drew his wand and Nott sat up to look at him.
“I was actually hoping you would come back, Mr. Smith,” Nott said as he stood and walked closer to the bars.
“You won’t be saying that when I get through with you,” Zacharias said as he readied his wand for the spell he had planned on the way down to the dungeon.
“I didn’t kill your father, Mr. Smith,” Nott said calmly.
Zacharias’ mouth dropped open as his wand dipped slightly before he was able to refocus his thoughts and say, “How do I know you aren’t lying? It isn’t like I can trust the word of a death eater anyway.”
“I understand,” Nott said. “I felt the same way about all of you when I first woke up here. I didn’t trust you because I thought you had kidnapped my son. You don’t trust me because you think I may have been involved in the death of your father. Since this morning my views on the matter have changed considerably. They let me visit with Theodore for most of the day.”
“How nice for you,” Zacharias said bitterly. “A visit like that is something the death eaters took away from me. It’s the one thing I can never have.”
“I know,” Nott said. “That is the same thing they took from me when they killed my wife.”
“What are you talking about?” Zacharias asked with a harsh tone.
“Not every death eater chose to follow the Dark Lord of their own volition,” Nott explained sadly. “I didn’t agree to become one until the Dark Lord threatened to kill my wife if I didn’t. After Theodore was born my wife and I tried to run. We didn’t want our son growing up in that kind of world. We didn’t make it far before he found us. As a punishment for my disloyalty I was forced to watch as he tortured my wife before killing her. Had I not gone back to serve him he threatened to do the same to my infant son. There is nothing I wouldn’t have done to keep that from happening.”
“You could have gone to the Ministry and turned yourself in,” Zacharias suggested.
“We were under Ministry protection at the time when the Dark Lord found us,” Nott explained. “I wasn’t about to make that mistake again. I thought it was finally over when I was captured during the battle in the Department of Mysteries. I was sent to Azkaban, and never has a prisoner gone there so happily. There, I thought, I was finally out of his reach. The attack there a few months ago proved just how wrong I was. That’s why even here in this dungeon, inside the protective walls of this castle, I know it is only a matter of time before he comes for me once again.”
Zacharias was silent as he stared at Nott intently for several seconds before he finally said, “Even if you didn’t kill my dad I’m betting you know something about it.”
“I’ll tell you all that I know,” Nott offered. “I wasn’t there when your father was killed. I didn’t even know about it until the day after it happened when I read it in the Prophet. I didn’t know your father, and the Prophet was not very detailed about the events leading up to his murder. It wasn’t until later that night that I overheard a group of death eaters talking about killing a wizard in London and realized they were talking about the man I had read about. You were right, Mr. Smith. Your father never did anything to make him the target of a death eater attack. The death eater who killed him hadn’t been seeking him out at all. His real target was a prominent muggle official who was in London for the day with his wife and children. Your father became a target when he stepped in front of that muggle family to defend them against the attack. He fought long enough to allow the muggles to escape, but the death eater killed him with the killing curse.”
By the time Nott finished his tale, Zacharias’ wand hung loosely at his side, and his eyes were full of tears as he asked, “Do you know which death eater killed him?”
“Yes,” Nott replied. “It was one of the most dangerous death eaters of them all. I strongly advise against going after him.”
“If I do it won’t be alone,” Zacharias said. “For now though, I just want to be able to tell my mother, the woman that death eater widowed, who killed her husband and why.”
Nott sighed heavily and said, “Very well. The death eater you seek is Rodolphus Lestrange.”
In the hospital wing, Ginny walked in to find Harry dressed and sitting up on the side of his bed as if he had just sat down there. Madam Pomfrey was talking to him, and as she got closer she heard what they were talking about.
“You were right, Mr. Potter” Madam Pomfrey said as she looked up at Ginny. “I should have known.”
“What was Harry right about this time?” Ginny asked as she reached the end of the bed.
“I was ready to send for one of the teachers,” Pomfrey explained, “but Mr. Potter said you were on your way here and could escort him downstairs.”
“Downstairs?” Ginny asked surprised. “You’re releasing him?”
“At this point I have no reason not to,” Pomfrey answered. “Aside from his blindness he’s in perfect health.”
“My headache is even gone,” Harry added happily as he stood and turned toward Ginny. “I’m fine.”
At that moment, Harry started walking to the end of the bed where Ginny was standing. Believing he had walked far enough, Harry turned ninety degrees and tripped over the end of the bed. Ginny moved quickly to catch him.
“Easy there, Harry,” Ginny said as she helped to right him once again. “Even you can’t walk through solid objects.”
“It’s a good thing for me you were here to catch me,” Harry said with a sly grin.
Spotting the look on his face Ginny said, “I could almost believe from that look that you tripped on purpose.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Harry replied while not losing the smile. “I’m just happy you’re here.”
“Sure,” Ginny said not believing it for a moment.
“Shall I escort you to dinner?” Harry asked as he held out his arm for Ginny.
Ginny laughed as she took Harry’s arm and said, “I think it would be safer if you let me escort you this time.”
“How very modern of you,” Harry said as they began walking out of he hospital wing together.
Silence fell over the Great Hall as soon as Harry and Ginny walked in. Harry too was taken a bit by surprise when hundreds of colored threads of light sprang to his chest. He had expected as much, but the reality of it was still a bit overwhelming. All of the varied colors of blue lines in the room led only toward the Slytherin table, while nearly all of Gryffindor house was some shade of gold or another. Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff also had their share of gold lines, and Harry noticed that nearly all of them connected to D.A. members. The remaining lines ranged from dark red to a light pink.
Hermione and Ron were easy for him to spot with the line connecting them glowing brightly among all of the gold. The connection that soon held his attention though was one not from the house tables, but from the teachers table. He could see Tonks sitting there with a gold line connecting her to him, but another white line emerged from her chest and angled off to the side before disappearing through the castle wall. Harry smiled since he had a good idea of where the other end of that line connected.
Ginny helped Harry to sit down next to Ron, and she sat down beside him. Over the next several minutes Harry answered question after question from his housemates as he ate the food Ginny put on his plate for him. It was when Harry was half way through his meal that Zacharias entered the Great Hall with red puffy eyes and headed straight for Harry.
As Harry turned to look at him, Zacharias said, “I went to the hospital wing to see you, Harry, but you had already left. I hope you’re feeling better.”
“Much better,” Harry assured him. “Did you walk all the way up there just to see how I was doing?”
“Well… not exactly,” Zacharias admitted. “I need to talk to you about something as soon as you have time.”
“Is it important?” Harry asked.
“It is to me,” Zacharias replied. “I want to talk to you alone. It doesn’t have to be tonight.”
“Would tomorrow after classes be too late?” Harry asked.
“That would be perfect,” Zacharias said happily.
“Then I’ll meet you here in the Great Hall before dinner tomorrow night,” Harry offered.
“Great,” Zacharias said. “I’ll see you then.”
“I wonder what that was all about,” Ron said.
“It looked as if he had been crying,” Hermione added.
“Did you feel anything from him, Harry?” Ginny asked as she studied his face for a clue.
“Happiness,” Harry replied with a smile. “More happiness than he’s felt in a while I think.”
“Speaking of happiness,” Ron said, “you missed it, mate. McGonagall made the announcement tonight. She’s lifted the ban on going outside. She warned us that Centaurs are roaming the grounds, but no one seems to care. Everyone seems ready to get back outside.”
“Well then,” Harry said with a grin as he reached for Ginny’s hand, “Ginny, would you do me the honor of escorting me on a walk down by the lake after dinner?”
“Harry,” Hermione began, “I don’t know if that would be a good idea. The Centaurs…”
“The D.A. will look after you, Harry,” Neville said as he leaned in closer to them. “The Centaurs will never get close to you.”
“Thanks, Neville,” Harry said. “Don’t get too close though. I meant this to be a private walk with Ginny.”
Later that evening, with the majority of the D.A. formed behind Harry and Ginny, Harry stepped off of the stone step and his foot came into contact with the ground. As soon as he did an explosion of green light erupted from the partially snow covered ground to connect with his chest.
Seeing his reaction, Ginny asked, “What is it, Harry?”
“There’s a lot of organic material out here,” Harry replied as the green lights from the trees of the forbidden forest made their connection. “Wow.”
“Do you want to go back inside?” Ginny asked, concerned.
‘No,” Harry replied as he looked around and breathed in the cold night air. “Let’s walk down to the lake.”
As they moved closer to the lake, more and more connections sprang up to greet Harry. Even from the lake itself there were a multitude of green lines along with several purple and orange ones. Harry was still trying to sort those new ones out when several silver lines appeared to him. Looking to his left, he could see several Centaurs walking out of the forest toward where they stood. On and on they came as more followed behind. The D.A. members with Harry realized that protecting Harry from such a large number of Centaurs was going to be beyond their ability. They need not have worried though as a large contingent of teachers walked to an area that put them between Harry and the Centaurs. Of course, soon after this the Great Hall nearly emptied its contents onto the grounds as the curious students came out to see what was happening.
“I was told the Centaurs were free to wonder the grounds,” Bane said with a bite in his voice.
“I was told that not all of the Centaurs had made their intentions known,” McGonagall said just as sternly.
Bane and McGonagall stood facing off against one another until Harry walked over with Ginny and said, “I don’t want there to be any trouble here tonight because of me. I’ll go back inside if I need to, but let everyone else enjoy their time outside.”
“The other humans are of no interest to me,” Bane said as he eyed Harry warily. “You are the one I was told was of some significance.”
“Can you not see it?” Magorian asked as he stepped beside Bane.
“If that is all the proof you asked for then you disgrace the intelligence of our entire herd,” Bane charged. “The human wizards can not be trusted. They are devious creatures who are capable of elaborate deceptions. The line is likely an illusion. His knowledge of the lines is obviously a sign of treachery from Firenze. Beyond that you have nothing of consequence.”
“I urge you to reconsider your…” Magorian began.
“The Centaurs have more than just the silver lines,” Harry interrupted.
“Be careful what you insinuate, human,” Bane warned. “Don’t spout lies that will only insult those you have to convince.”
“Centaurs choose a mate for life,” Harry continued.
“That is also information Firenze could have given you,” Bane insisted as he stamped his front hoof in the snow.
”Perhaps,” Harry admitted. “He wouldn’t have been able to tell me which of you is mated to the others since I don’t know most of you, yet I can tell you that each mated pair among you is connected with the same type of line you see connecting me to Ginny.”
“You presume too much, human,” Bane seethed angrily. “There is no such connection. If there were then we would have seen it before a lowly human.”
“I can’t explain to you why I see them,” Harry said calmly. “I don’t even know why I can see anything at all in my current condition. Up until recently the only connection I saw was the one to Ginny. Now I seem to be seeing more and more as time goes by. I don’t know if it has something to do with the blindness or if it was caused by something they did to me in the hospital wing.”
“Or perhaps you are simply making it all up,” Bane accused.
Harry smiled gently as he slowly raised his arm until it was pointing directly at a female Centaur and he said, “Yours is standing right there.”
Bane turned his head to look at where Harry was pointing before quickly turning back to Harry with a surprised look as he said, “Who told you that? It could not have been Firenze. We did not become mates until recently. Tell me, human. Who is your source?”
“I only have the line I see to tell me,” Harry said. “I can tell you every connection like it I see, or I can show you what I see.”
“You want me to give you another chance to deceive me,” Bane accused.
“I’ll just show you honestly what I see,” Harry assured him. “After that you can make your own decision about the validity of it.”
“Just how would you propose to do that?” Bane asked.
Instead of a verbal answer, Harry intensified his connection with Bane similarly to the way he had done with Ginny. Bane gasped and stepped backwards as thousands of light strings branched off from Harry’s chest to connect to every organic thing in the area. Turning to look at his fellow centaurs he could see the white lines Harry spoke of connecting all of the correct Centaurs.
Bane turned back to look at Harry as Harry said, “This is what I see. There is no trick involved unless someone is playing a cruel joke on me as well.”
Bane’s eyes narrowed as he said, “To see it is one thing, but to feel the connection is quite another.”
“You don’t trust humans in general,” Harry said. “You’re debating within yourself whether you can trust what your own eyes are showing you right now. You’re trying to hide from me the deepness of your feelings for… Aelzea. You want to empty your mind. I don’t read your thoughts. I read the information given off by your feelings. You want the connection to end. It is too similar to the circle…”
At that moment Harry pulled the connection down to its regular level. Bane stood with a worried look on his face.
“What do you know of the circle?” Bane asked quickly.
“Only that you desperately wanted me to end the connection before I learned too much about it,” Harry said. “I give you my word that I severed the sensitivity of our connection as soon as I detected your feelings about it. I don’t know what the circle is that you were worried about.”
“Harry,” Ron said as he came to Harry’s side and placed a hand on his upper arm, “I think we should go back into the castle now.”
“Do that, human,” Bane said as he backed away a few steps. “We will now return to the forest.”
As the Centaurs were turning to go, McGonagall asked, “Have you made your decision?”
Bane stopped and turned his head to glare at McGonagall and say, “You will be informed.”
With that, the Centaurs turned and followed Bane back into the forest. The majority of the humans left behind let out a collective breath they had been holding. The teachers set about trying to make the students disperse with little success.
“There is no way to tell what the reaction of the Centaurs will be from this point,” McGonagall said as she turned her attention to Harry. “It would be best if you went back inside.”
“Actually there is very little reason for that,” Harry said with a smile. “Whatever the decision it is that the Centaurs are making, Bane is leaning in my favor.”
“Can you really be sure of that?” McGonagall asked.
“As sure as I can be of anything concerning the Centaurs,” Harry said with a smile. “If anyone is looking for me we’ll be down by the lake.”
Harry turned in the direction of the lake and Ginny led him away in that direction. Everyone else watched him go for several seconds before they began to disperse. Some went inside due to the fact that they had not dressed properly to be outside in the first place. Others walked about the grounds happy to be free of the castle walls, and determined to enjoy it before McGonagall changed her mind. The teachers that did not go back inside huddled around McGonagall as they watched Harry walk away as if he had not a care in the world.
McGonagall noticed the teacher beside her and said, “I didn’t expect to see you here tonight, Cybil.”
“I was sitting in my tower tonight and felt it urgent that I come down here,” Trelawney said as she watched Harry more intently than the others. “There is a great deal of energy in the air tonight. It is difficult to explain.”
“There is no need,” McGonagall said. “Even those of us not blessed with the use of our inner eye can feel it tonight.”
At number twelve, dinner was being finished as a cheerful Theodore Nott told them all about his meeting with his father. Conspicuous in its absence from the tale of the death eaters’ most recent activities that brought him to be incarcerated at Hogwarts was any mention of Lucius Malfoy. Intended or not, it grated on Draco’s already raw nerves.
Again, as he had done earlier, Draco offered to clean up after dinner. To his annoyance, Theodore offered his help as well. After Narcissa left the room, there was a stifling silence that filled the room though Draco knew he was the only one it bothered.
“What news of my dad?” Draco asked unable to contain the question any longer. “You had to have heard something.”
“Nothing much,” Theodore replied as he took the dinner plates to the sink. “He’s apparently spending much more time at the side of the Dark Lord lately. Other than that my dad didn’t have much contact with him that was out of the ordinary.”
“Why didn’t you say that earlier?” Draco asked. “Why did you make me ask about it now? You had to know that I was just as anxious for news of my dad as you were of yours.”
“I knew,” Theodore admitted. “I didn’t say anything because of your mum. I thought you would have understood that. I guess I was wrong.”
“I am really tired of you saying I don’t understand my own mother,” Draco yelled as he clenched his fists.
“Then prove me wrong,” Theodore charged calmly.
Draco looked back at Theodore as the color drained from his face and he asked, “Well… how am I supposed to do that?”
“The same way we all do, Draco,” Theodore replied, “one step at a time. I can finish cleaning up. Go talk to your mum. Don’t think about what you’re going to say. Just talk to her.”
“But… about what?” Draco asked as he momentarily forgot he was talking to someone he had been angry at for most of the day.
“Try talking about yourself,” Theodore said with a straight face. “You like that subject well enough. You have to know yourself before you can really know someone else.”
Draco looked at Theodore quizzically as he turned and walked out the door into the hallway beyond. With no clear idea of what he was going to say in his mind, Draco stated walking toward the library where he suspected his mum was sitting in an attempt to relax. As he reached the door, a topic of conversation sprang into his mind about his recent life that he really wanted to talk to someone about. Before he turned the knob, Draco seriously questioned if it was really something he should talk about with his mother.
On the grounds at Hogwarts, McGonagall was ready to end the students’ time outside before the curfew. She was about to have Tonks and some of the other teachers begin rounding up the students, when she saw Bane step back out of the forest and stand looking at where Harry stood with Ginny.
Made aware of Bane’s presence by Hermione, Harry turned to see McGonagall walking across the grounds ahead of five teachers. They were heading straight for Bane, and Harry could see that Bane wasn’t intimidated in the least by the uneven odds.
“Do you have news?” McGonagall asked as she stopped in front of Bane and finally took his attention away from Harry.
“You will have Harry Potter here on the grounds in one half hours time,” Bane instructed giving no room for deviation. “The Centaurs will arrive here at that time. You will also provide as many of your teachers and students as possible to assist.”
Before McGonagall could object, Bane turned and walked back into the forest. McGonagall turned to seek the opinions of her teachers. As she did she saw Harry being led in her direction being followed by his many friends. Looking at him, and knowing his importance, she knew that she would not be sending students to bed quite as early that night.
At the exact time Bane had specified, the Centaurs walked out of the forbidden forest led by Bane and Magorian. Their numbers had swelled even more over previous numbers as Centaur children accompanied their parents onto the Hogwarts grounds. For all of the students present it was an awe inspiring sight as well as one that made them wonder if they shouldn’t run back in to the safety of the castle walls. Their excitement kept them rooted to their spots.
Within the next few minutes the Centaurs arranged themselves in a wide circle around Harry. Each gap between the Centaurs was filled with two students or teachers. When everyone was in place, Magorian walked to Harry.
“Are you ready to begin, Mr. Potter?” Magorian asked.
“What do I have to do?” Harry asked in response.
“You must open yourself, Mr. Potter” Magorian said. “As you felt the feelings from Bane earlier, you must now feel the feelings of healing from all of those around you. You must let them fill you.”
“All at the same time?” Harry asked as Magorian nodded in response. “Well that should be a new experience. I’ll do my best.”
“There is no guarantee this will work at all,” Magorian informed him. “This has never been attempted with assistance from anyone outside of the Centaur herd. We can not see the connections between the other humans to yourself at all, but you have claimed they are there, so it will have to do.”
Magorian walked back to his place in the circle as Bane stepped forward to address the group and said, “You are here to attempt to heal the blindness of Harry Potter. For those not experienced in this ritual, you must attempt to concentrate on your warmest most nurturing feelings as you pass them through the connection from you to Mr. Potter. For the Centaurs this will come easily. For the humans among us, there is little more we can tell you to make it easier. Close your eyes and feel the connection.”
As Bane walked around the circle, the large contingent of Slytherin students standing away from the circle watched curiously. After only a moment’s hesitation, Pritchard turned his head and nodded for his friends to follow him. As they broke away from the main group, more and more Slytherin followed them toward where the circle was formed. As they did, more students from other houses who had not joined the circle before also walked to take their place. In only a couple of minutes, the number of people in the circle swelled as the spaces between the Centaurs grew to contain three humans in each.
The Centaurs reached out on either side of them to join hands with their human neighbors. When everyone’s hands were joined, Harry closed his eyes even as the members of the circle did the same. Even the most cynical of the humans were surprised when they felt a strangely pleasant felling coursing through their hands and bodies as if hope itself were being sent around the circle from one person to the next. The Centaurs began chanting in unison very softly though none of the humans understood what they were saying. Slowly, they could feel the energy passing around the circle building in intensity.
Harry, feeling as calm and open as he could get, opened his eyes to see a circular wall of light spinning around the circle with a multitude of blending colors. Harry concentrated on opening connections to the people around him. Soon after, a brightening surge left Harry and flowed out each of the individual connections. As soon as it reached its recipients, everyone, including the Centaurs, opened their eyes in surprise as they too felt and saw everything that Harry felt. As they did, the swirling wall of color siphoned into the individual connections and rushed into Harry. To those watching from the circle, Harry disappeared from view in a blinding light.
The blinding light persisted for several seconds as those in the circle looked on. Even the Centaurs had not seen such a dazzling display during the ritual before. When the last of the energy from the circle had siphoned to Harry, the connections Harry had established with all of them cut off and receded back into the ball of light in the center of the circle. Ginny’s was the only connection that never wavered.
When the light finally diminished, Harry was kneeling on one knee with both of his hands on the ground in front of him. Most of the light had dissipated, but enough remained for Harry to be silhouetted in a white glow that didn’t seem to be going away. Bane, Magorian, and McGonagall began walking toward Harry at the same time Ginny, Hermione, and Ron did the same. Just before they reached him, Harry stood up and looked down at his arm.
Looking up at Magorian, Harry said, “That was… wicked.
“I admit that it was… unique,” Magorian said. “Never before have those in the circle experienced the healing in quite such a personal way.”
“Did it work though?” Bane asked without the usual bitterness in his voice. “Was this all pointless?”
“Only Mr. Potter can answer that,” McGonagall aid as they all looked at Harry examining his own hands.
Seconds later Harry looked up while still holding his hands out and asked, “Am I…”
“Glowing?” Ron asked with a grin. “You look like a human lantern.”
“But can you see?” Hermione asked what everyone had been aching to know.
“A bit,” Harry said in response.
“A bit?” McGonagall asked. “What exactly does that mean?”
“I can see shapes,” Harry said, “but everything is blurry.”
Ginny laughed as she stepped closer to Harry and said, “Maybe it would be better if you were wearing your glasses.”
Ginny put Harry’s glasses on him as be blinked a couple of times and said, “You’re right. That’s much better.”
At number twelve, Draco didn’t know how long he had been standing with his hand clasped around the knob to the library door, but he felt his stomach drop as his hand seemed to turn the knob of its own will. As the door opened, he could see that his mother was indeed sitting by the fire reading.
Narcissa looked around at Draco and asked, “Is something wrong, Draco? You have a strange look on your face.”
“I… I was just wondering if we could talk,” Draco uttered with unexpected nerves using his voice to waver.
“Of course,” Narcissa replied with a tense smile as she prepared herself for yet another round of questioning about his father. “Come and sit down.”
Draco’s legs felt like stone as he tried to pick up his feet to walk into the room. Eventually he took the seat across from his mother. He sat quietly for several long seconds as he looked into the fire to keep from meeting her eye.
Seeing that something was truly troubling her son, Narcissa asked, “What did you want to talk to me about, Draco?”
“I…” Draco stuttered as he continued to look into the fire. “On Christmas night, when we were leaving Harry’s house after dinner, I saw someone I didn’t expect to see.”
“Someone who arrived after I left?” Narcissa asked.
“Yes,” Draco replied. “It was Pansy Parkinson. She flooed in just as I was leaving.”
“Did Harry tell her you would be there?” Narcissa asked as Draco continued to look away from her. “Did she come to see you?”
“No,” Draco said. “She was as surprised to see me as I was her.”
“Well that must have been nice,” Narcissa said with a gentle smile. “The last I heard you two were dating.”
“It wasn’t nice,” Draco admitted. “It was extremely uncomfortable. We aren’t dating any longer.”
“I see,” Narcissa said with sympathy. “Still, after being gone for so long I would have thought the two of you could still take pleasure in seeing a friend.”
“It seemed like she had been making new friends,” Draco said dryly. “She was with Neville Longbottom. Besides, if you could have seen the look in her eyes you would know that she doesn’t think of me as a friend.”
“Oh,” Narcissa said. “So, your relationship didn’t end well.”
“I guess not,” Draco admitted. “It could have been better if she hadn’t overreacted the way she did.”
“So the reason the two of you broke up was because of something she did?” Narcissa asked.
“Well… She was the one who wanted to break up,” Draco replied. “I told her she was making a mistake, but she wouldn’t listen. To see her with Longbottom…”
“So you still have feelings for her?” Narcissa asked consolingly.
“I hadn’t actually thought about her the entire time I was gone,” Draco said. “I know she doesn’t belong with Longbottom though. She belongs to me.”
“Belongs to you?” Narcissa asked in surprise.
“More to me than to anyone else,” Draco said taking no notice of the look on Narcissa’s face. “I invested a lot of time and effort into her.”
“So why did she want to end your relationship?” Narcissa asked.
“Well someone told her I had kissed another girl in the common room,” Draco said. “She got mad and started yelling at me in front of everyone. She was hysterical. She should be grateful I stopped her before she made more of a fool of herself.”
‘Did you?” Narcissa asked. “Did you kiss another girl?”
“It was a dare,” Draco said dismissing the incident as inconsequential. “I tried to tell her that I didn’t do it out of some desire to cheat on her, but she just wouldn’t listen. She went raving mad.”
“You said you stopped her,” Narcissa said beginning to fear what she would hear. “What did you do?”
“I slapped her,” Draco said with no indication he felt it to be wrong. “She went dead silent for several seconds as she looked at me with wide eyes. Then she actually yelled again as she attacked me. I didn’t have any choice. I had to knock her out.”
Draco looked over at his mother and noticed the way she was looking at the fire as he rubbed her hands anxiously. Then he saw the tears begin to slip from her eyes. Suddenly he wasn’t so interested in himself anymore. He was only interested in making his mum feel better. What he told her had made her sad. He desperately wanted to say something to make her smile again.
“I was there by her side when she woke up,” Draco explained. “She wouldn’t even talk to me as she stood up and walked away. I followed her to the bottom of the stairs trying to explain myself. I told her I was sorry, but she wouldn’t listen.”
Narcissa placed her hand over her mouth as her tears of disappointment exploded from her and she said, “Sometimes saying you’re sorry just isn’t enough.”
Looking at his mother and seeing that he had only upset her more, a thought entered Draco’s mind. Looking at her reaction to his words he knew there was more upsetting her than what he had told her. As he watched her cry, Draco began to realize why it had affected her the way it had. Then he understood it. The reason Harry had told him to treat his mother with tenderness, the reason she refused to tell him what happened between her and his father, the thing that Theodore Nott had guessed so much more easily than Draco had, it was a part of the man Draco had always tried to model himself after.
As he realized it, a rage began to build within Draco. It was a rage at himself for succeeding in becoming more like his father than he had imagined. It was a rage against his father as he pictured his mother being subjected to the same treatment he had just described to her. As much as he had idolized his father, he treasured his mother more. Watching her cry he knew he had injured her more deeply than he could imagine. Tears fell from his own eyes as he stood and walked close enough to place a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” Draco said softly. “I don’t want to be that kind of man. I just don’t know how to be anything else. I don’t know if I even really know what it means to care for someone. I haven’t even treated you well lately, and I love you more than anyone.”
Narcissa took Draco’s hand and placed it against her cheek as she said, “You know how to love, Draco. I’ll help you discover that if I can.”
“I’d like that,” Draco said as he felt his heart warm. “I promise I’ll be a better son. After that I need to learn to be a better friend.”
“It won’t always be easy,” Narcissa said, “but it will be a good lesson to learn.”
“I know,” Draco said with a gentle smile. “I’ve created a lot of wounds that need healing.”
The Glow, The Confessions, The Rage
Early in the morning after Harry regained his sight, Ron rolled over and opened his eyes slightly after hearing a strange sound just on the other side of his bed hangings. Groggily, he reached out and pulled the drapes back to see Harry standing looking out the window with a giddy smile on his face.
“What are you doing, Harry?” Ron asked sleepily. “It’s still too early.”
“You have to see this, Ron,” Harry responded not taking his eyes off of the view out the window. “The sunrise is so beautiful.”
“I guess it hasn’t worn off yet,” Neville said as he walked over rubbing his eyes.
“No,” Ron agreed. “He hasn’t stopped glowing yet. Hermione thinks he’ll stay like this until the glow goes away.”
“Have I told you guys how happy I am to have you as dorm mates?” Harry asked as the smile on his face persisted.
“You actually told us several times last night,” Ron groaned, “but this is the first time today.”
“Wow,” Harry said as he looked back out the window. “Have you ever seen a more beautiful sunrise?”
“I usually try not to wake up in time to see them,” Ron said as he realized he wasn’t going to be able to go back to sleep.
“I guess it could be worse,” Neville offered. “He could have come out of that healing as angry Harry.”
“I’m not sure that would have been any worse than giddy happy Harry,” Ron said as he sat up and put his feet on the floor. “He would have hugged half of Gryffindor house last night with that goofy grin on his face if Hermione and Ginny hadn’t seen that something was wrong with him and brought him up here.”
“Did Hermione have any theories about exactly why he’s glowing?” Neville asked as Ron stood up and stretched.
“Of course,” Ron said with a yawn. “You’ll have to ask her about it though. I was so tired last night by the time she started telling me about it I couldn’t seem to pay attention. It was something to do with the power of love or something.”
Ron turned to stand next to Harry as he looked out the window and Harry put an arm around Ron’s shoulder and said, “I told you it was beautiful. It’s almost as beautiful as Ginny. I miss Ginny. I wonder if she’s watching this sunrise from her room. I’m going to go and watch it with her.”
With that Harry turned and began walking for the door. Seeing that he really meant to leave, Neville stepped in front of him and stopped him.
“Don’t you think you should get dressed before you go, Harry?” Neville asked.
Harry looked down and realized what Neville meant as he looked up and said, “Thanks, mate. You’re such a good friend. Have I told you that lately?”
Harry reached out and pulled Neville into a hug as Neville said, “Actually, you have.”
When the hug finally ended, Harry began to happily get himself dressed for the day. As he did, Ron and Neville did the same as Dean began to stir. Dean opened his drapes to see his dorm mates pulling on their school robes.
“You lot are up early,” Dean said as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
“Good morning, Dean,” Harry said brightly. “You missed a great sunrise this morning, but I’m sure the one tomorrow will be just as lovely if you want to catch that one. Do you want to go down and get some breakfast with us? We’ll wait for you.”
“I’ll catch up,” Dean said trying to stifle a laugh.
“I’ll see you there,” Harry said as he waved to all of them and left the room.
“So has he really gone nutters, or is this going to wear off eventually?” Dean asked. “I don’t know if I can stand being woken up every morning to look at the sunrise.”
“I’m going to see if I can get him to go to the hospital wing this morning,” Ron said. “If I didn’t know better I would think someone slipped him a cheering potion.”
“Who knows what happened in that ritual last night,” Dean said. “I know I felt something moving through me as it moved around that circle. I don’t know what it was, but it made me feel pretty good. Then that connection to Harry… well… that was just amazing.”
“It was pretty intense,” Neville commented. “Now take that feeling you experienced and multiply it a few hundred times and you can start to get some idea of what Harry must have experienced.”
“But he’s glowing,” Dean said with a grin. “What’s up with that?”
“He’s the boy who lived, Dean,” Seamus said from behind his drapes. “After knowing him for so long, does anything concerning Harry really surprise you?”
“Now that you mention it, no,” Dean answered.
“Then be quiet,” Seamus ordered groggily as he turned over. “Some of us are still trying to sleep until that proverbial last minute.”
Ginny awoke suddenly as she heard Harry whispering something about a sunrise to her. Looking around she could see that Harry was nowhere near. She sat up as she realized she was hearing his babbling in her head. From the sound of it, his mysterious glow and the strange effects it seemed to produce hadn’t gone away yet.
Ginny assured Harry she was awake and would be down soon. Ginny dressed quickly knowing she would need to wake Hermione before she went down to meet Harry. As soon as Ginny and Hermione stepped off the last stair into the common room they saw Ron and Neville standing behind Harry as he stared in open fascination at the flames in the fireplace and raved about how peaceful the dance of the flames seemed to be.
“You lot are certainly up early,” Hermione said as she walked over and gave Ron a peck on the cheek.
“Harry was awake in time to see the sunrise this morning,” Ron informed her. “He seemed to think the rest of us needed to see it as well.”
“I would ask you how you’re feeling, Harry, but…” Hermione began.
“I feel really great,” Harry said as he moved to hug her tightly. “You’re a real friend for caring how I feel. Do you know that?”
“I think we all do, Harry,” Ginny said as she placed a hand on his shoulder and he released Hermione.
“Ginny,” Harry said with a wide smile before enveloping her in a hug as well. “You look beautiful this morning. I watched the sunrise and it reminded me of you.”
“Thank you, Harry,” Ginny replied as she took Harry by the hand. “It was a good thing you woke me up so early. I’ll go with you to see Madam Pomfrey.”
“Was I supposed to go to see her?” Harry asked.
“I think it would be a good idea for her to check you over now that you have your sight back,” Ginny explained.
“It couldn’t hurt,” Harry agreed happily as he let Ginny lead him away from the fire toward the portrait hole.
Twenty minutes later, Madam Pomfrey pried Harry’s arms from around her as she said, “I already told you there is no need to thank me further. The first time was quite enough.”
“I just want you to know how much I appreciate you looking after me,” Harry said. “Not everyone would have stuck with me for so long.”
“On the contrary, Mr. Potter,” Madam Pomfrey replied. “I think you will find that any dedicated healer…”
“Don’t try to reason with him right now,” Ginny interrupted. “It won’t do you any good.”
“I suspect you’re right,” Pomfrey conceded.
“She’s right loads of times,” Harry said as he continued to grin happily. “Ginny is really smart.”
“So, what do you think is wrong with him?” Ginny asked.
“The Headmistress described the ritual that took place last night to me,” Pomfrey said. “By her deion I would have to guess that Mr. Potter simply got an overdose of the power that healed him. His body processed all that it was capable of, and the remainder is causing Mr. Potter’s current… radiance.”
“And the apparent side effects?” Ginny asked.
“I would have to consult with Professor Firenze to make a more accurate diagnosis,” Madam Pomfrey admitted.
“I need to thank him as well,” Harry said with a smile. “He spent a great deal of time with me while I was blind.”
“Can you still see the lines of connection now that you have regained your sight, Mr. Potter?” Madam Pomfrey asked.
“Oh yes,” Harry confirmed happily. “The lines are pretty. They aren’t as pretty as Ginny though. I could stand and look at her all day long.”
Ginny hesitated as she stifled a giggle at the dreamy expression that Harry wore on his face, and she said, “Well he obviously can’t go to his classes like this.”
“I don’t know that his current condition warrants keeping him here for observation,” Pomfrey said as she thought out loud. “I’ll speak to the Headmistress about it and let her make a decision about what is to be done with Mr. Potter.”
“Tell her I said good morning,” Harry said with a grin.
“I’ll take Harry down for breakfast,” Ginny said as she took Harry’s arm. “She can find us in the Great Hall.”
“I love breakfast,” Harry said happily as Ginny led him out of the hospital wing. “The food is always so good here at Hogwarts. I should go to the kitchens and thank the house elves.”
Several long minutes later, Ginny was able to get Harry to the bottom step of the staircase despite his seeming intention to greet and have a discussion with every portrait along the way. Hermione and Ron walked over to them along with Neville and Luna.
“I see Madam Pomfrey didn’t cure him,” Hermione said as she examined Harry’s glow carefully while trying to remain out of hug range.
“If anything I would say he’s getting progressively worse,” Ginny admitted. “Madam Pomfrey said he got an overdose of healing power last night, and she doesn’t have a clue how long it’ll last.”
“There has to be something we can do,” Ron said looking worried. “I think Fred and George were working on a depression tart at one time. Maybe they can give one to Harry.”
“Not a chance,” Ginny stated emphatically. “I’m not going to let them experiment with Harry like that. Besides, something like that could do more harm than good.”
“Why doesn’t he just give it back?” Luna asked dreamily from beside Neville.
“Give what back?” Neville asked as they all looked at her curiously.
“The excess healing power that is causing him to glow, of course,” Luna replied.
“That’s brilliant, Luna,” Hermione said as she wondered why she hadn’t thought of it. “Harry just has to open a connection to everyone in the Great Hall and siphon off the excess in small amounts to everyone. Then the glow will disappear and Harry can return to normal.”
“I like the glow,” Harry said with a chuckle. “I don’t want to get rid of it.”
“But, Harry,” Hermione said almost as if she were speaking to a child, “don’t you want to share the happiness you feel with everyone else? Wouldn’t that make you happy?”
“You’re right, Hermione,” Harry said as he moved quickly to hug Hermione. “You’re so kind and sweet to think of it that way. I want everyone to be happy.”
Harry’s friends quickly escorted him into the Great Hall. As they did, conversations stopped and heads turned as they all watched in wonder as Harry’s glowing form stepped further into the room.
Harry looked over to the Slytherin table and the lines connecting them to him and said, “Wicked.”
“I would have thought you would have been used to that by now, Harry,” Ron commented.
“I can see different colors,” Harry said with a bit too much giddiness.
“We know, Harry,” Neville said with a grin at Harry’s silliness.
“Go on, Harry,” Ginny said. “Share your glow with them.”
With a smile, Harry closed his eyes and felt his connection to everyone in the room. Slowly, he began filtering happiness through all of the connections. Everyone watched as the glow around Harry grew more and more dim even as they felt warm feelings coursing through their bodies. When Harry finally opened his eyes the glow around him had completely disappeared.
Ginny watched carefully as Harry blinked a couple of times before she said, “Harry…”
Harry turned to look at Ginny as a wide smile spread over his face, causing Ron to say, “It didn’t work. I’ll be looking at sunrises forever.”
“You really are beautiful to me, Ginny,” Harry said ignoring Ron. “It wasn’t just the glow talking.”
A smile appeared on Ginny’s face even as she rushed to Harry and wrapped her arms around him tightly. They hugged for several seconds before anyone thought to interrupt them.
“It’s good to have you back, Harry,” Neville said.
“I never went anywhere, mate,” Harry replied. “I was still here. I just had my emotions magnified for a while. The glow made it impossible for me to hold back anything I was feeling. They were my feelings though. All of them.”
“Even the sunrises?” Ron asked with a grin.
“It was nice to see one,” Harry replied with a grin of his own, “but I think I’ll stick with the sunsets.”
“So, what can we expect from you next, Harry?” Hermione asked.
“I’m thinking breakfast,” Harry said. “I’m starved.”
Later that morning, Theodore Nott sat in the cell with his dad talking quietly until he stopped as he heard footsteps getting closer to the cell. Looking around, he saw McGonagall walk into view followed closely by Kingsley Shacklebolt and Fiona Moss. The aurors were surprised to learn that the elder Nott was not alone in his cell.
“You’ve allowed him to have visitors?” Kingsley asked with serious concern.
“Obviously,” McGonagall replied calmly.
“The Minister wouldn’t like this,” Kingsley said. “He wouldn’t like it at all.”
“Be that as it may,” McGonagall began, “Mr. Nott is not being held by the Minister. He asked me to keep him imprisoned here at Hogwarts, and as long as he is it will be my decision, and not the Minister’s, as to who is allowed to see the prisoner.”
“I came here to question Nott,” Kingsley stated. “I can’t do that with the boy present.”
“I understand,” McGonagall conceded. “Had I been informed of your arrival before you arrived I would have sent word to Theodore to stay at home today.”
“Are you going to move him to Azkaban?” Theodore asked with concern as he stood and walked to the bars.
Kingsley hesitated before he said, “There are no immediate plans for that transfer.”
“Just promise to let me see him one last time before you do move him,” Theodore said.
“I can’t promise anything,” Kingsley admitted, “but I will try to honor that request.”
Minutes later, the goodbyes having been concluded, Theodore walked with McGonagall away from the cell and back toward her office. Kingsley waited until their footsteps had faded well into the distance before he turned back to the cell and said, “As you might imagine I am here to ask you a great many questions.”
“I know,” Nott said as he pulled several sheets of parchment from under his pillow. “I knew you would sooner or later. I’m a bit surprised it wasn’t sooner.”
“We’ve been… busy,” Kinsley said as he watched Nott walk close to the bars.
“I wrote this out for you last night,” Nott said as he held out the parchment for Kingsley to take. “I thought it would save you some time when you finally did come around.”
“What is it?” Kingsley asked not making any move to take the offered documents.
“It’s a signed statement documenting all of the attacks I’ve been involved with,” Nott said making the aurors eyes widen slightly in disbelief. “All of my crimes are documented in as much detail as I could recall.”
Kingsley took the parchment and scanned it briefly before handing it to Fiona and asking, “Why would you give up this information so freely? This has to be a trick.”
“No more tricks,” Nott said. “Not from me. I want it to be over. I want my punishment to be severe. Maybe then my conscience can finally find some measure of peace.”
Kingsley considered his words for several seconds before he said, “I still have more questions.”
“That’s good,” Nott said as he pulled over a chair and sat down. “I have a great deal more to say. Shall we get started?”
Severus Snape sat in a comfortable chair in the sitting room of Harry’s house as was becoming his custom on most mornings after he had eaten his breakfast. The book he was reading was one Harry had left behind for fear it would be confiscated if McGonagall learned of it’s presence in the hands of a Hogwarts student. Having read only the first few pages he had to agree with Harry’s recognition of the inevitable.
He had just turned a page when his attention was dawn to the eruption of green flame from the fireplace. Immediately, the book fell to the floor as Snape stood and drew his wand in one fluid motion. The point of his wand came level with the center of the fireplace just as Draco stepped out to find a wand tip in his chest.
“You should have sent a message prior to your arrival,” Snape said as he lowered his wand from a wide eyed Draco. “You’re lucky I am not as hasty as some others might have been faced with the same situation.”
“I’ll try to remember that next time,” Draco said as he straightened and brushed himself off.
“I’m sure you will,” Snape remarked as he noticed the determined look on Draco’s face. “To what do I owe the honor of your presence here?”
“I want you to train me,” Draco replied. “I want you to teach me the things I wasn’t willing to learn before.”
“Why should I believe that you are any more willing to learn them now?” Snape asked as he marked the distinct difference in Draco from their time in Seattle.
“Because I now have a better understanding of the kind of person I need that training against,” Draco said seriously.
Snape hesitated as he studied Draco for several long seconds before he asked, “What made you change your attitude about it so suddenly?”
“Nothing you need to concern yourself with,” Draco replied dryly. “Will you teach me, or do I need to find someone else to do it?”
“Considering that your presence is supposed to remain a secret,” Snape countered, “your choice of instructors is somewhat limited. We will soon see if your new found resolve is well rooted or not though. There is much you still have to learn.”
“I know,” Draco said. “That’s why I’m here.”
“Then lets get started,” Snape said as he pointed his wand at Draco and quickly uttered a spell.
Late that evening, Harry and Ginny walked down the stairs on the way to the Great Hall for dinner only to see Kingsley and Fiona Moss walk out of a side corridor.
“It is good to see you again, Harry,” Kingsley said when they all came together. “More importantly, it is good that you can see me again. The Minister was very relieved to get the message that you had regained your sight.”
“Well,” Harry said, “anything I can do to make the minister sleep better at night…”
“I see you didn’t loose any of your wit with your injury,” Kingsley said with a smile.
“So you’ve spoken to Nott?” Harry asked.
“Perhaps,” Kingsley said cautiously. “Technically he’s in Azkaban, so my presence here is no indication of who I may have questioned.”
“Right,” Harry said. “How silly of me.”
“Still,” Kingsley replied with a smile, “If I had spoken to him then I’m sure the map would soon be getting a great deal of use.”
“I would also remind you that, technically, the map doesn’t exist either.” Harry said as he returned Kingsley’s smile.
“Point taken,” Kingsley said.
“So,” Ginny said trying to change the subject of conversation, “Fiona, how are things with Professor Snape.”
Fiona reddened slightly as she said, “I don’t have any idea. I haven’t spoken to him.”
“Of course not,” Harry said with a knowing grin. “Technically, no one even knows where he’s hiding. Of course, I would appreciate it if you would floo over to my house sometime tomorrow to make sure he still isn’t there, and lonely.”
“Fiona doesn’t work for you, Harry,” Kingsley pointed out.
“I could do it tomorrow after work,” Fiona said with a bit of suppressed excitement.
“I would be in your debt,” Harry said.
“I believe we should go now, Fiona,” Kingsley said. “If we stay any longer there is no telling what Harry will have us doing for him.”
“It was nice to see you both again,” Fiona said as she turned to follow Kingsley up the stairs to McGonagall’s office.
Harry and Ginny walked closer to the Great Hall when Harry spotted Zacharias Smith walk out and look directly at him. He seemed to pull back a bit when he noticed Ginny walking next to Harry.
“I forgot, Ginny,” Harry said. “I promised Zach that I would meet with him before dinner tonight.”
“Just promise me you won’t go off on another crazy mission tonight,” Ginny said.
Harry hesitated before saying, “I’ll do my best. I’ll at least tell you about it before hand.”
“I guess that’s the best a girl can hope for,” Ginny said with a sigh. “I’ll save you a spot at the table.”
“Evening, Ginny,” Zacharias said as she got near him.
“Good evening, Zach,” Ginny replied. “Don’t keep him out too late.”
“I’ll try not to,” Zacharias said as she passed him on her way to the Great Hall.
Harry came to a stop in front of Zacharias and waited. He watched carefully as Zacharias opened his mouth to speak twice, and each time closing it again and looking around to see if anyone was near to them.
“Let’s take a walk,” Harry offered as he gestured toward the doors.
Zacharias nodded and fell into step with Harry until they both stepped out into the frigid night air. They were halfway to the lake and Zacharias still hadn’t spoken a word.
“So, what did you want to talk to me about?” Harry prompted as he wrapped his cloak tighter to him.
Zacharias remained silent for several more seconds before he finally asked, “Did you want to kill Voldemort yourself after you found out he had killed your parents?”
“I guess,” Harry replied. “I suspect anyone would feel that way at first. After a while I just wished Dumbledore or the Ministry would catch him so I wouldn’t have to.”
“I know what you mean,” Zacharias admitted. “I wanted to kill the death eater who killed my dad. Since the summer I haven’t thought of much else. Yesterday, I found out which death eater killed my dad.”
Harry let that hang in the silence for a moment before he said, “You don’t have to do it. The Ministry is using the map I gave them to catch more death eaters every day. They’ll get him sooner or later.”
“I don’t know if I want them to,” Zacharias said. “They’ll just send him to prison. He deserves so much worse than that, but I don’t think I’m up to doing it myself.”
“Are you asking me to…” Harry began.
“No,” Zacharias interrupted. “I wouldn’t ask you to fight that battle for me. You have enough on your mind already.”
“Then what is it you need?” Harry asked.
“I just need you to help me come up with some kind of plan to make sure Rodolphus Lestrange gets what he has coming to him,” Zacharias answered.
“Do you plan on fighting him?” Harry asked. “I wouldn’t advise it. If he’s anything like Bellatrix… I wouldn’t advise it.”
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since I found out yesterday,” Zacharias said as he looked out over the lake. “Part of me wants nothing more than to run head first into a fight with him. Even if I don’t win it would seem worth it to try. Since yesterday, a bigger part of me realizes what it would mean if I died in that battle. My mum already lost her husband to the death eaters. I’m all she has left. It isn’t worth risking the pain she would feel if I didn’t survive.”
“I understand,” Harry said. “It isn’t an easy thing to cause someone that kind of pain.”
“You’re willing to,” Zacharias charged.
“My parents are already dead,” Harry replied. “I can’t cause them any more pain.”
“What about Ginny and her family?” Zacharias asked. “What about Hermione and the D.A.? What about all of those people who stood around that circle last night? Won’t they be hurt if you die?”
“Yes,” Harry replied softly.
“Yet you’re still ready to fight,” Zacharias pointed out.
“I have to,” Harry said. “The prophecy already said I would. I’m just not fighting that fate any more. When I step into that battle though, it won’t be because of my need for revenge. Revenge is a cancer that will rot you from the inside out.”
“When did you decide that?” Zacharias asked.
“Last night,” Harry replied, “while I was standing in the middle of that circle. After experiencing that, how could I not come to clearly understand what I’m fighting for?”
“If you’re willing to sacrifice so much,” Zacharias began, “doesn’t that make me a coward for not wanting to fight my own personal battle?”
“No, Zach,” Harry said as he put his hand on Zacharias’ shoulder. “It makes you human. We all weigh the risks and the rewards and make decisions based on that. Let the aurors catch Rodolphus Lestrange. Letting him rot away the final years of his life in Azkaban will be more satisfying than it seems to you right now.”
“I guess you’re right, Harry,” Zacharias said. “I don’t know what I expected you to do anyway. I didn’t want you to fight him for me, and I didn’t want to fight him. I guess I hadn’t really thought things through. I’m glad you were here to talk to me about it.”
“It was my pleasure,” Harry said with a shiver. “Can we go back inside now? I’m freezing out here.”
Two hours later, Ron stood in his dorm with wide eyes and asked, “You’re going to do what? Have you gone nutters, mate? Ginny will lose her mind when she finds out.”
“She already knows,” Harry informed him. “I told her about it earlier today. I don’t keep any secrets from her.”
“What about Hermione?” Ron asked.
“She’s your problem,” Harry said with a grin. “I never promised not to keep secrets from her. It’s up to you to tell her if you want.”
“What if McGonagall comes looking for you?” Ron asked. “What am I supposed to tell her?”
“That’s not likely to happen,” Harry explained. “If it does, you’ll think of something. Besides, she has the map. She knows to look for the dot with no name on it. Tell her you couldn’t stop me.”
With that, Harry disapparated before Ron had another chance to argue with his going. When he reappeared, Snape was already waiting for him.
“Did I keep you waiting long?” Harry asked.
“You’re quite punctual in this instance,” Snape replied. “What training would you like tonight?”
“We can start with occlumency,” Harry said. “After that, maybe a bit of dueling practice.”
“I’m surprised you feel up to training so soon after your recovery,” Snape said as he led the way to the top of the stairs.
“I’m surprised you even knew about it,” Harry said as he followed.
“Professor McGonagall consulted with me after you lost your sight,” Snape said as he opened the door at the top of the stairs and let Harry pass inside first. “She was hoping I may know of a potion capable of helping you. She sent a message last night that your vision had returned.”
“I wasn’t aware she was going to those lengths to try to help me,” Harry said as Snape closed the door.
“Her feelings for you are every bit as strong as Dumbledore’s,” Snape informed him.
“Not strong enough to make her give my time turner back to me,” Harry said. “It would certainly make my training easier.”
Snape stood and studied Harry quizzically for a moment, and then asked, “When did you have a time turner?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Harry answered. “I don’t have it now. I’ll have to train the old fashioned way from now on.”
“This is the second training session I’ve taught today,” Snape commented.
“Someone else was here?” Harry asked.
“Mr. Malfoy popped in early this morning,” Snape explained.
“Really?” Harry asked amazed. “He came to see you on his own? I was under the impression he didn’t exactly enjoy the time he spent hiding out with you.”
“Something in him has changed,” Snape said. “He isn’t the same boy I knew in Seattle.”
“He must have realized what happened,” Harry said thinking to himself.
“I am guessing there is an explanation behind that statement,” Snape said, “but it has no bearing on the task at hand. There is too little time to spend it chatting about the motivations of Mr. Malfoy. Prepare yourself.”
“I’m ready,” Harry said as Snape immediately raised his wand.
When Harry was an hour into his occlumency training, Voldemort found himself pacing anxiously in the main chamber of Castle Lestrange. He expected his death eaters to have reported their findings already, but still he awaited their return.
Voldemort turned as Rodolphus walked in and knelt before his master as he said, “It is just as you said, my master. The aurors were able to follow us within seconds after each time we apparated to a new location.”
“Always the same aurors?” Voldemort asked as he noticed that Rodolphus was making the report alone.
“No, my Lord,” Rodolphus responded. “Each time we apparated a new set of aurors arrived. There seemed to be four sets of them. After the fourth time, the first group reappeared in the fifth location.”
“Why have you come to me alone?” Voldemort asked.
“The last time we apparated,” Rodolphus replied lowering his head before Voldemort, “two of the auror groups tracking us appeared at the same time and surrounded us. They cast an anti-disapparation spell before we could disapparate. We fought them, but they got Hogbauer and Sunderland. I barely made it past them myself. I got out of range of their disapparation spell and came here to report to you, master.”
“You seem uninjured,” Voldemort observed.
“I was lucky,” Rodolphus admitted. “There was a thick fog and I was able to use it to slip away from the aurors.”
Voldemort studied the death eater closely for several seconds before he said, “Very well. Leave me now and get some rest. I will be calling on you again soon.”
“I am at your eternal service, my master,” Rodolphus said with a bow of his head before he stood and backed out of the room.
“So it is true, Harry,” Voldemort said to the air in front of him. “You did have a way of tracking the location of my death eaters. Now you’ve shared that with the aurors. Soon you will have shared it with me as well.”
Voldemort retired to his bed chamber where he sat down in a chair at the end of the bed. Closing his eyes, he calmed his mind and dropped all attempts to shut his mind off from Harry. In fact, he concentrated very strongly on the mental connection they shared. He knew it was late. He knew Harry was likely asleep, and therefore weakened to a subtle mental attack. In that state, he knew he could glean any information he wished from Harry’s mind.
In seconds, he felt himself flow through the connection and emerge into a hazy nonde area on the fringes of Harry’s mind. As he moved slowly through the haze, he recognized clearly that he had entered into Harry’s dream. As he moved out of the haze he looked up to see a fantastically large bird with flaming blue feathers, the feet and legs of a lion, and a curving horn protruding from its head circle lazily as it descended closer and closer to the ground. When it was ten meters from the ground it rolled upside down and dove toward the ground at an alarming speed. At the instant of impact the strange bird transformed into a young girl who seemed to land softly before beginning to skip across the grass toward a river flowing in the distance. Soon the skip became a full sprint as the girl transformed every few seconds into a young boy and back again. Near the river the boy jumped further into the air than a normal human would have been capable of and tumbled over in mid air only to transform back into the girl for the descent. The girl landed solidly on the edge of the riverbank. Seconds after landing her toes elongated and began sinking into the earth under them. The toes became roots and her legs became the trunk of a small tree. The transformation was complete in seconds as the girl became the tree. The tree grew quickly as the deep running roots drank water from the river.
Voldemort shook his head to draw his attention away from the scene of the growing tree. It was not Harry’s dream he was there to see. Onwards he pressed until he came to the edge of a forest. He stopped to look at the forest momentarily as he realized that was where Harry’s dream ended and his mental defenses began. He smiled to himself knowing it would take much more than a forest of trees to keep him from the information he was seeking. Onwards he pressed.
Snape sat back with a start as he looked wide eyed at Harry. He had been wearing Harry down with training for an hour. He felt Voldemort enter Harry’s mind. He knew Harry knew it as well. Harry had just pushed him out so Voldemort wouldn’t find him there. Harry had said he had a plan. Snape just hoped that what he had taught Harry would be enough.
Voldemort began moving through the forest only to have ghosts appear in the forest all around him. As he studied them he realized they were the everyday memories of unimportant things still taking up space in Harry’s mind. He disregarded them, and moved on.
As he moved, the forest became denser and denser. The frequency of memories began to drop off at this point as they receded further off into the trees. He knew he couldn’t be there yet. He thought surely Harry had learned to guard his secrets more closely. As he squeezed through the trees a few meters later he learned how well Harry had learned that lesson.
Voldemort emerged from the forest only to come face to face with a solid sheer wall of rock. Looking to each side he could see that it stretched off into the distance further than he was able to perceive. He stepped back until his back was against a thick tree trunk and scanned the rock above him. He spotted a dark opening fifteen meters above his position. Voldemort concentrated on levitating himself upwards until he was level with the opening to a dark tunnel barely large enough for him to stand upright in. Stepping inside he had to bend his head down to avoid hitting it on the ceiling. The tunnel beyond was dark, but he knew better than to produce a light to see by. Even such a small act could alert Harry to his presence.
As he slowly felt his way through the passageway he heard the faint indistinct whispers of conversations coming from deep inside the rock walls. Though he could not make out what was being said, he knew he likely would like to know the content of such well hidden memories. Still, the memories he was after he suspected were guarded better still somewhere at the end of the dark tunnel.
Several minutes later, and having been forced to crawl on his hands and knees as the passage narrowed, Voldemort emerged into light to find himself standing on a ledge high on the side of a mountain. No trail led down from the mountain, but from where he stood he could see what he knew to be his ultimate destination.
The valley floor at the base of the mountain was churning with smoldering red lava as it pushed up from somewhere deep below and covered the entire area. The only area not covered in lava sat in the very center as a base of craggy rock stood up to provide a solid platform for the castle that sat upon it. Standing watch on the many towers around the castle were no fewer than twelve fierce looking dragons.
It was a sight that would have given any normal wizard pause. Though, at no time had Voldemort thought himself a normal wizard. Still, he looked at the castle with admiration. Harry had constructed a defense far more elaborate than Voldemort would have given him credit for if he had not seen it for himself. Voldemort knew he had to be careful. He was facing a defense on a scale that he would have constructed for himself. He thought the problem out carefully.
Finally, after several minutes, he decided upon a simple solution that he knew Harry would not have foreseen. Voldemort stepped to the edge of the cliff before performing a full body concealment charm and floating his concealed form off of the cliff and toward the castle.
Even from high above the valley floor Voldemort could feel the intense heat rising from below him. As he neared the castle he watched the dragon guards carefully for any sign that they detected his presence, but no sign was given that they would impede his progress. With ease he floated over the castle wall and down into the courtyard below. Even before he landed he knew he wanted to get close to the conversation protected within the walls. In the center of the courtyard, Harry stood talking to Severus Snape while Draco Malfoy stood nearby.
“Everything is proceeding just as I’ve planned it,” Voldemort heard Harry say.
“Can you be so sure?” Snape asked. “The Minister still doesn’t realize Mr. Malfoy and I are back and working with you. If he learned that it would certainly mean that your plans would fail.”
“You obviously underestimate how much power I’ve already gained,” Harry said with a sneer. “McGonagall and the Order will rush to my aid any time I call them. For that matter, so will the majority of the aurors. In their eyes I’m The Boy Who Lived. They don’t even suspect this thirst for power Voldemort left in me, the night he tried to kill me. It’s at least as strong as his own. He was stupid in the implementation of his quest for power though. If he hadn’t taken the route he did he could have been Minister of Magic by now. He could have placed his death eaters in prime positions and ruled the wizarding world any way he saw fit.”
“How do we know you’ll be any different?” Draco asked as he stepped closer.
“I haven’t killed you yet,” Harry replied. “Do you really think Voldemort would have shown that control?”
“You will still have the formidable task of defeating the Dark Lord to accomplish before you can become the new Minister,” Snape pointed out.
Harry smiled as he said, “That will be much easier thanks to my spies. From what they tell me, Voldemort is already getting paranoid about which death eaters he can really trust. In addition to that he seems to think I have some kind of magic amulet or something that tells me where his death eaters are. If he only knew his own death eaters are supplying me with that information.”
“Are you sure you can trust them?” Snape asked.
“As sure as anyone can be of the loyalty of a death eater,” Harry replied. “Still, I know that one is solidly with me now.”
“I can’t believe you turned him,” Draco stated. “How did you do it?”
“I had to promise him a great deal,” Harry replied. “I had to promise him the power and prestige that Voldemort has kept from him all these years. Rodolphus won’t let me down.”
Fury burned inside Voldemort even as he watched the figures before him quickly disappear. He was almost too late to realize what was happening as jets of dragon flame erupted in his direction narrowly missing him. Somehow he had been discovered, and the dragons were launching themselves off the towers toward where he stood. With all of the speed he could muster he flew away from the castle as the dragons gave chase. After several narrow misses, Voldemort finally crawled back into the safety of the tunnel on the mountain. He quickly began to crawl toward the other exit as he heard the passage behind him collapsing. He tumbled out of the crack he had first entered just before the rock snapped shut behind him like a great set of jaws. He hit the ground below with a dull thud.
Voldemort’s run back through the forest was comparatively uneventful as he dodged the occasional swipe of a branch or roots that seemed to jump out of the ground to trip him. Clearing the forest, he ran through the open space beyond where the tree had stood by the river. The tree was gone, but the haze he had originally encountered was still present as he ran into it and suddenly found himself back in his own body having severed the connection to Harry.
Voldemort stood, still full of fury, and drew his wand as he reached for the door to his bed chamber. He would not be made a fool of by his own servants. He knew his anger was too great for a measured response. His punishment would be swift and final. Then he would question the others until they were all rooted out.
Harry opened his eyes to see a worried Snape ask, “Are you…”
“I’m fine,” Harry said as he stood up. “Gather up your things. It isn’t going to be safe for you to stay here now.”
“Voldemort knows I’m here?” Snape asked knowing the answer. “He saw your thoughts?”
“He only saw what I wanted him to see,” Harry replied. “Your training worked better than expected. Still, he does know that you and Draco are back. I had to put it in the story I fed to him to make it believable.”
“I see,” Snape said. “I will pack quickly. Then I would like to hear exactly what happened in that head of yours.”
“Let’s just say that Voldemort is probably not in a very good mood right now,” Harry said with a grin.
Desperate Time for Magic
Hearing a commotion in the corridor outside her room, Bellatrix reached for the handle on her door to investigate. As soon as she had opened the door and stepped into the hallway she was nearly run down by another death eater as he ran with wild abandon at her. She grabbed him by his robes to stop him.
“What’s happening?” Bellatrix asked as she heard screams of pain and the sounds of a battle from the direction the death eater had been running from. “What is it, Alden? Have the aurors found a way in?”
“He’s gone mad!” Alden replied with wide terrified eyes as he struggled to get away from Bellatrix. “He’s killing them all!”
“Who?” Bellatrix asked as she held him in place with a great deal of effort.
“The Dark Lord!” Alden screamed. “He’s killing his own death eaters!”
Bellatrix pulled his face close to hers as she said, “If the Dark Lord wishes for his death eaters to die for him then so be it.”
Bellatrix let her captive go free, and as he ran down the hall away from her she leveled her wand in his direction. A quick killing curse later the death eater lay lifelessly on the floor. Bellatrix lowered her wand as she turned toward the direction the battle sounds were emanating from and sprinted toward the end of the hallway.
Before Bellatrix rounded the last corner she stopped suddenly as the broken bodies of two death eaters flew past ahead of her to collide with the stone walls and fall lifelessly to the floor. Bellatrix looked cautiously around the corner and saw Voldemort standing with Dolohov and Malfoy at his side as they presided over the carnage at their feet. Without delay she stepped out into their field of vision as their wands sprang up in her direction. Knowing better than to raise her own she kept it hanging at her side as she stepped forward and knelt at Voldemort’s feet.
“Tell me why I should not kill you as well, Bellatrix,” Voldemort said as his wand remained ready to carry out the act.
“If it is your will,” Bellatrix said, “then I gladly surrender myself to you, my master.”
Voldemort entered her mind and saw her recent memories. He saw her question the running cowardly Alden. He watched as she killed him and then turned to run to her master’s side. He knew that her only thoughts were of doing his will.
“Stand, Bella,” Voldemort said. “Were that all of my death eaters were as loyal as you. Now stand at my side as we continue to seek out those who may have conspired against me.”
“I don’t understand, master,” Bellatrix admitted as she stood. “What could have made so many turn against you so suddenly?”
“After what I have learned tonight,” Voldemort said seriously, “I can afford to trust none but my most faithful servants. Anyone who does not surrender themselves the way you did, or the way Lucius and Antonin did is not worthy of my favor. Now come. There is a great deal more to do before this night is over.”
Harry and Snape appeared out of the kitchen fireplace at number 12 to find it empty of occupants. Harry, carrying some of Snape’s bags for him, nodded for Snape to follow him as he began walking for the door.
“I certainly never thought I would see this place again,” Snape commented as he walked behind Harry.
“I think you’ll be pleased with some of the changes Mrs. Malfoy has made,” Harry said as he pushed the door open. “I know I am.”
Snape exited the kitchen and stood fixed with astonishment as he looked at the new entryway. All of the drab décor present at the time when it had been used as the headquarters for the Order were gone. In their place everything looked new and surprisingly inviting and cheerful.
“We’ll set your things here at the bottom of the stairs,” Harry said as he carefully set down Snape’s belongings. “I need to let Mrs. Malfoy know we’re here.”
Narcissa and Draco both looked around as they heard the knock on the sitting room door. They relaxed when they saw Harry’s head pop through the gap as the door opened.
“I’m sorry to drop in on you like this…” Harry began.
“Don’t be silly, Harry,” Narcissa said as she waved for him to come in. “You’re always welcome here. It is your house after all.”
“I wish I could have given you more notice,” Harry said as he walked in with Snape following behind. “Something has happened. It may not be safe for Professor Snape to stay at my house now.”
“Something that serious?” Draco asked. “What was it?”
“It doesn’t matter, Draco,” Narcissa corrected him.
“Actually, it does,” Harry admitted. “It’s something all of you need to know about.”
After Harry finished telling them about his encounter with Voldemort, Draco sat back and said, “So now he knows we’re back.”
“We’re perfectly safe as long as we stay here,” Snape pointed out. “Harry is the one who has placed himself in danger.”
“Do you understand that, Harry?” Narcissa asked with concern. “Do you really know the danger you’re in? Voldemort will be more dangerous than ever now. He’s going to try to kill you.”
“He’ll make sure his own house is in order first,” Harry said. “After that, I know, he’ll come after me directly.”
“Then run,” Draco suggested. “Go into hiding.”
“Where exactly does ‘The Chosen One’ go to hide?” Harry asked.
“He’s right,” Snape conceded. “He can’t go anywhere where someone wouldn’t recognize him.”
“Then stay here,” Narcissa suggested.
“If I hide,” Harry said, “how long will Voldemort look for me before he starts attacking my friends to draw me out?”
“A matter of only a few weeks at most I would guess,” Snape provided.
“Exactly,” Harry agreed as Narcissa opened her mouth to argue, but fell silent. “I won’t let it come to that.”
“What are you going to do?” Draco asked as he found himself in both admiration of Harry’s bravery, and confused about his seeming lack of interest in self preservation.
“I’m going to prepare the best I can,” Harry replied. “It’s the only thing any of us can do.”
As Harry walked back to the kitchen to floo back to his house, he stopped when Draco called to him. Draco stepped into the kitchen with Harry and closed the door behind him as he turned to Harry and tried to think of what he wanted to say.
“Listen…” Draco said. “I… I don’t know exactly what it was you did… to help my mum, but it meant a lot to her. It means a lot to me, Harry. I’d like to think I would return the favor when you need help…”
“I’m sure everyone will do everything they’re capable of doing,” Harry said. “I don’t expect anything more than that. Besides, what I did to help your mum I did to save my own soul.”
“I still don’t understand you, Harry,” Draco said. “Maybe I never will.”
“I used to think the same thing about you, Draco,” Harry said with a grin. “Keep trying. You’ll get it.”
McGonagall deactivated the map on her desk after the knock on her office door. Of course, she already knew who it was waiting to see her.
“Come in,” McGonagall called as she shoved the parchment aside.
Harry opened the door and said, “There’s something you need to know.”
Minutes later, having risen from her seat finding herself unable to sit still during Harry’s tale, McGonagall took a deep breath before she said, “I suppose, under the circumstances, it was the best outcome we could have hoped for. At least you were able to shield information about the map or the shield charm from him. As Headmistress I have to tell you that it frightens me just how quickly you were able to develop such an elaborate lie to feed to Voldemort.”
“At least I only lied to him,’ Harry said. “I came here to tell you all about it after I relocated Professor Snape.”
“I appreciate that,” McGonagall admitted. “Of course, I should punish you for breaking curfew in the first place.”
“I could also point out that my encounter with Voldemort could have gone very differently tonight if I had been asleep in my bed when I was supposed to have been,” Harry offered.
“An excellent point,” McGonagall admitted. “I am greatly relieved that you were not. However, perhaps it is time for you to return to your bed now. You’ll be in no shape to deal with an attack, should it come tomorrow, without a good night’s rest.”
“Thanks, Professor,” Harry said. “I am feeling a bit tired now. Good night, Professor.”
“Good night, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall said as Harry turned to leave. “Harry, wait.”
Harry turned to look at McGonagall and could see that she was having an internal debate about something. After several seconds of hesitation she walked away from her desk to a cabinet along the far wall of the office. With a wave of her wand, the cabinet unlocked. She reached inside and closed her hand around an object before pulling it out and continuing to consider it in her hand.
McGonagall turned and walked closer to Harry as she held her hand out to him. He placed his hand under hers, and there was only a slight moment of hesitation before she opened her hand and let the time turner fall into Harry’s hand.
“I hope I do not need to explain to you the dangers associated with a time turner if you use it to change past events,” McGonagall said without the usual edge in her tone. “Use it wisely, Harry. I give it to you now in hopes you will use it for the training you may need in the near future.”
“Thank you, Professor,” Harry said as he resisted the urge to hug McGonagall tightly. “This will help a great deal.”
Harry turned and walked out the door before his emotions got the better of him. He didn’t want to let McGonagall or any of the past Headmasters see just how scared he was of what they all knew was coming. Of course, he already knew that Ginny could feel it as his emotions spilled through their connection unchecked.
McGonagall sat down at her desk and buried her face in her hands as long restrained tears fell from her cheeks. Try as she might, she was unable to compose herself as her concern for Harry surged upon hearing what he had just been through.
“There, there, Minerva,” Dumbledore said soothingly. “Perhaps you could use a good nights rest as well.”
“Giving back his time turner was an unexpected move,” Phineas said.
“Indeed,” Professor Dippet agreed. “We had never discussed that option.”
“Still,” Phineas continued, “I suspect that even I may have been tempted to follow the same course of action.”
“You?” Professor Fortescue asked in surprise. “Now that is what I call an unexpected move. Are you beginning to warm to Mr. Potter, Phineas?”
“I was a headmaster here just as all of you were,” Phineas responded. “Is there one of us who didn’t always wish there were more we could do for the students? We all understand what Minerva is feeling right now.”
“We understand it in general,” Dippet corrected. “None of us have experienced it in such a personal way as Minerva does right now.”
McGonagall wiped her eyes as she finally regained her composure and said, “Forgive me, everyone. I don’t know what came over me.”
“I should think it was love, Minerva,” Phineas said, being uncommonly kind. “Your love for Harry was already strong, but after your experience in that healing circle I suspect your feelings have only intensified.”
“I wish I could have experienced it,” Dylis Derwent said from her portrait. “It must have been extraordinary.”
“It was,” McGonagall assured her. “For a few brief seconds I could feel everything Harry does. I could feel the intensity of his feelings both good and bad. That is how I know that even now Harry hides how truly terrified he must feel.”
“I suspect you’re right, Minerva,” Dumbledore said softly. “I don’t know if there is anything any of us can do to lessen that feeling for him.”
“Hopefully the time turner will help in that regard,” Dippet said.
“Somehow I think it will be young Miss Weasley who helps him more with that problem,” Derwent said with a smile.
Harry walked through the portrait hole into the Gryffindor common room and saw Ginny standing by the fire in her night clothes waiting for him. Even before he made it to her the pent up emotion he had been holding back spilled out as he began to sob. She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him as he laid his head on her shoulder and cried uncontrollably.
She knew why he was so emotional. Even before he had returned to Hogwarts she felt his controlled emotions with a clarity she had never experienced before. It was then that she got out of bed and went to wait for him by the fire. She felt his control slipping from the time he left McGonagall’s office. By the time he entered the common room his emotions were spilling out like water rushing through a collapsing dam.
Nearly an hour later, after moving Harry to sit on a sofa, and with Harry much calmer but still clinging to her, Ginny said, “I don’t want to wait either, Harry. If we can find a way, I think we should do it.”
“I don’t want you to agree to it just because I’m afraid of not getting the chance to,” Harry said.
“I’m not,” Ginny replied with a gentle smile. “I want to do it because I’m afraid of that too.”
“That’s it then,” Harry said with a smile. “We’ll do it as soon as we can arrange everything.”
Ginny moved to hug Harry, and as she did she felt a lump inside the pocket of his robe. When she questioned him about it he pulled the time turner out and dropped it in her hand.
“Harry,” Ginny said sounding disappointed. “You didn’t sneak this out of McGonagall’s office did you? You know she’ll notice it missing.”
“Actually, she gave it to me,” Harry explained.
“Gave it to you?” Ginny questioned. “Why would she do a thing like that? She practically tore the castle apart trying to get it away from you to begin with.”
“You should have seen the look on her face, Ginny,” Harry said seriously. “She looked so worried. If she had been your mum she would have wrapped her arms around me and never let me go. If I had stayed there any longer I may have let her.”
“Well, I’m glad you came here to me,” Ginny said. “I know how you are about letting your guard down around other people.”
“Thanks for sitting with me while I came unraveled, Ginny,” Harry said with a grin.
“I’m sure you’ll return the favor for me some day,” Ginny replied as she looked over Harry’s shoulder to see the portrait hole open again and another Harry smile and wink at her as he crossed to the stairs as silently as possible before disappearing up them. “So, Harry, how soon were you planning to use that time turner?”
Harry looked away from the fire to see the knowing look in Ginny’s eyes as he said, “I hadn’t actually given it much thought yet. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason,” Ginny said with a smile as she snuggled close to Harry. “Something tells me it’ll be sooner rather than later.”
The next morning, Ron woke up when he heard Harry stirring beside the bed. He looked out as Harry was pulling on his robes.
“Morning, Ron,” Harry said with smile as Ron yawned.
“So, you made it back last night after all,” Ron commented. “I tried to wait for you, but I just couldn’t stay awake. Did I miss anything?”
“Quite a bit, actually,” Harry said with grin. “I’ll tell you and Hermione all about it at lunch.”
“Why can’t you tell us at breakfast?” Ron asked.
“I have things to do this morning,” Harry replied with a grin. “I’m not going to make it to breakfast. By the way, when Ginny and I get married will you be my best man?”
“Of course I will, mate,” Ron said.
“Great,” Harry said as he turned to go. “I’ll see you later.”
After Harry left, Ron laid back down and waited for Hermione to come and wake him. He had grown quite fond of her method of doing that. Hearing the door open, Ron thought Hermione was already on her way. As he pretended to be asleep, he noticed that the footsteps stopped short of his bed and there was a rustling of some kind at the end of Harry’s bed. Thinking Harry had forgotten something, Ron stuck his head out once again to see what was wrong. Ron was surprised to see an exhausted looking Harry removing his clothes and putting on his pajamas.
“What are you doing, Harry?” Ron asked. “I thought you said you had things to do.”
“It can wait until later,” Harry replied as he climbed into his bed and closed the drapes. “I just need a little sleep.”
Ron laid back down and puzzled over Harry’s sudden change. Several minutes later, still without a clue what was going on with Harry, Ron got out of bed and dressed to wait in the common room for Hermione. If anyone would know what was going on she would.
“I don’t have a clue,” Hermione said after she met Ron in the common room. “Something is going on though. Ginny came and told me she wasn’t going to be at breakfast this morning too. She also asked me if I would be her maid of honor.”
“Do you think they’re going to elope?” Ron asked.
“Why would they need a best man and a maid of honor to do that?” Hermione asked in response.
“Good point,” Ron said.
“Still, I don’t understand how Harry could be wide awake one minute and exhausted the next,” Hermione said just before a familiar idea popped into her head. “Unless of course, he somehow found another time turner.”
“Or nicked the one McGonagall took from him,” Ron suggested. “Either way it presents a problem. I don’t even know if the Harry sleeping upstairs is the present Harry or the future Harry come back to take a nap.”
“One thing is for certain,” Hermione stated. “I’m not waiting for lunchtime to find out what’s really going on.”
Voldemort stifled a sigh as he looked out over his remaining death eaters who had been in the castle. Many of those not stationed in the castle had been recalled during the course of the night, but few of them were found to be acceptable by Voldemort’s standards. Looking at the forty seven death eaters before him, he came to realize how many among those already captured by the Ministry would likely swell the ranks of his army. He believed they were among his most loyal, and had specifically been targeted by Harry’s spies to remove them from their master’s service.
“What are your orders, my Lord?” Bellatrix asked.
“Rest, Bellatrix,” Voldemort responded. “All of you have proven your loyalty to me through your actions during the night. Rest now so that we may begin devising our plans for the future.”
“Shall we attack Azkaban once again and rescue the others?” Dolohov asked hopefully.
“At our reduced numbers the risk of failure is too great against a fully manned defense,” Voldemort responded. “In time that will be possible again, but for now we will develop new alliances to insure our continued success. Go now, we shall discuss more of this in the near future.”
Once the death eaters were gone, Voldemort proceeded to the large chamber where he had the bodies of his former death eaters laid out. Upon entering the room he stood and surveyed the great number of those on the floor and smiled. He walked over to where Rodolphus laid next to his brother who had tried to save him. Kneeling down, he turned Rodolphus’ head to face him.
“What help will you be to your precious Harry now, Rodolphus?” Voldemort asked with venom still present in his voice. “Did you really think you could betray me and not be caught? Apparently you did. You seemed surprised when I confronted you with it just before I killed you. You should have chosen your allegiances more carefully. This is not the end for you though. No, even in death I won’t allow you to abandon the oath of service you swore to me. You, along with all of those here with you, will perform one final service for your real master.”
Arthur Weasley walked into the Ministry with Harry and Ginny at his side, and as they walked Arthur turned to Harry and said, “Now understand that the Minister may not be able to see you. At least, not soon enough for you to make it back to Hogwarts in time for classes to begin.”
“Somehow I think we’ll be in class on time anyway,” Harry said with a knowing smile that Ginny shared.
“I won’t even ask what those smiles mean,” Arthur said. “I get the feeling I might not like it.”
“We’re just too happy not to smile I guess,” Ginny offered.
“May I remind you that your mum and I survived Fred and George?” Arthur asked. “It isn’t that easy to get something past us. Still, I suspect the two of you are a bit giddy right now. I can’t say that I blame you.”
Stepping up to the desk in the lobby, they listened as the woman on duty asked, “What can I help you with, Arthur?”
“Harry Potter wishes to see the Minister,” Arthur explained. “He doesn’t have an appointment, so if the Minister can’t…”
“Actually, we’re under orders to send Mr. Potter straight up any time he comes by,” the woman said. “You can escort him up, Arthur. I’ll let them know you’re on your way.”
By the time the elevator door opened, Percy was already standing there waiting for them.
“Good morning, Percy,” Arthur said as he shook hands with his son.
“Good morning, dad,” Percy replied before he turned his attention to Harry and Ginny. “I didn’t expect to see the two of you here today. Are you playing hooky, or did McGonagall suddenly grant the students a holiday?”
“It’s good to see you too, Percy,” Ginny said as she gave him a kiss on his cheek.
“The Minister is waiting for you,” Percy said with a smile as he motioned for them to follow him to the Minister’s office.
Percy announced them, and they were ushered into the office. They entered to find Scrimgeour standing behind his desk waiting for them. Kingsley was standing nearby.
“If you’ve come to tell me about the events of the last evening,” Scrimgeour announced, “I’ve already received a detailed account from Professor McGonagall.”
“I’m glad to see that information is shared between you so easily and quickly,” Harry commented. “Actually though, that isn’t what we came here about at all.”
“Harry and Ginny wish to be married, Minister,” Arthur supplied.
“I’m aware of that,” Scrimgeour said. “I was there the night they got engaged.”
“No, Minister,” Arthur clarified. “They want to be married today.”
“What?” Percy asked before he could stop himself. “I mean… Ginny isn’t of age yet.”
“The Minister of Magic has the power to wave that restriction as long as she is within eight months of her seventeenth birthday, and her parents agree to allow the marriage,” Arthur explained.
“Do you really agree to it though?” Scrimgeour asked. “Have you really thought of the… complications?”
“Complications?” Arthur asked. “What complications?”
“I think the Minister might be referring to the sleeping arrangements,” Percy said as he struggled with his instinct to protect his baby sister. “Is she to move into Harry’s dorm with him until the end of the school year?”
“Stop being silly,” Ginny said. “We’ll both stay in our own dorms. Nothing at school will change.”
“Then why must it be done so immediately?” Scrimgeour asked.
“You heard from Professor McGonagall about last night,” Harry said. “At this point I don’t even know if I’ll be alive in eight weeks, much less eight months.”
“Still…” Scrimgeour began.
“I want her to have my name,” Harry interrupted. “Even if for only a while longer, I want the Potter name to live on after me. I want her to legally have rights to everything that is currently mine. Most of all, I don’t want to have any regrets.”
“Have you considered that your marriage may make it more difficult to leave her behind and enter into a battle with the Dark Lord?” Kingsley asked.
“I won’t leave her behind,” Harry said. “I’m not going to seek that battle out. Voldemort will bring that battle to me. Married or not, my first concern will be keeping Ginny safe.”
“Harry,” Kingsley said, “if it becomes public knowledge that you were married, then the Dark Lord would try even harder to use Ginny against you.”
“He can’t do much worse to me than he already did just before Christmas,” Ginny said.
“Don’t be too sure of that,” Scrimgeour warned seriously. “He’s capable of doing far worse than you imagine. After what happened last night, he’ll be in a mood to do worse still.”
“She can be kept safe at Hogwarts,” Harry said. “After that she can be kept safe in my house.”
“Minister,” Ginny said softly, “we don’t want you to allow us to be married because of what might happen in the future. We want it because of something important, and special, to us. We want it because of something we have a chance to share together, whether for days or decades. I wish you could feel how desperately we want this.”
Scrimgeour looked from Ginny to Harry to Arthur and back again as he considered, then finally said, “I may not be able to feel it, but I can at least understand it. I’ll have the necessary documents drawn up and signed. Shall I send them to Hogwarts, or is there some other place the ceremony is to take place?”
“Hogwarts will be fine,” Harry said with a smile as he and Ginny’s hands tightened around one another. “Could you make it to a ceremony tonight, Minister?”
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Scrimgeour replied. “It isn’t every day “The Chosen One” gets married. Would you mind if I brought along an auror escort?”
“Not at all,” Harry said. “That is, as long as Professor McGonagall doesn’t mind.”
“Has she agreed to let you go through with this?” Kingsley asked.
“Actually she doesn’t know about it yet,” Harry replied.
“She doesn’t know about it?” Scrimgeour asked. “How many of the arrangements have you made?”
“We haven’t actually started yet,” Harry responded cheerfully. “We didn’t decide to do this until last night.”
“I think you may be underestimating how much there is to do,” Scrimgeour said with a chuckle.
“How in the world do you plan to arrange an entire wedding in less than a day, Harry?” Percy asked.
“Magic, gentlemen,” Harry replied with a smile. “Magic.”
And the Greatest of These…
“You want to what?” McGonagall asked as she stood quickly from her desk chair unable to remain seated.
“I was afraid that would be your reaction,” Harry commented.
“Mr. Potter, this is not something a person should rush into,” McGonagall stated seriously. “It is ridiculous to even consider it at this point. Ginny is still underage. It is simply impossible unless…”
Harry held up the official papers Scrimgeour had signed and asked, “Unless I have these?”
“What are…” McGonagall began as she took the offered papers and scanned them with surprise. “Where did you get these? Surely the minister wouldn’t have agreed to such a thing.”
“Well I didn’t forge his signature if that’s what you’re asking,” Harry replied with a grin. “Ginny and I went to see him this morning.”
“It is bad enough that you leave the grounds without me being able to stop you, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall said seriously, “but to willingly keep Miss Weasley from attending class is inexcusable.”
“I agree,” Harry said. “It would have been inexcusable if I had kept her from her classes. She didn’t though. She attended every one of her classes this morning. So did I.”
“Yet you are missing your class right now,” McGonagall pointed out.
“If you check with Professor Slughorn you’ll find that to be untrue,” Harry said mischievously.
Catching Harry’s meaning, McGonagall said, “I did not give you the time turner for it to be used for this purpose.”
“I know,” Harry conceded. “I’m putting it to a great deal of use for my own purposes though. As you might imagine there are a thousand details to be taken care of for a wedding like this.”
“Certainly more than can be arranged in less than a day,” McGonagall stated. “You must realize that I’m not inclined to allow you to have the wedding here at Hogwarts.”
“I have other locations in mind just in case that was your answer,” Harry said. “I would like to have the wedding here though. More than any other, Hogwarts is a sacred place to me. It’s the place where I first learned to love and treasure my friends. It’s a place where I feel safe.”
McGonagall studied the papers Scrimgeour had signed and saw Arthur Weasley’s signature along with it while she considered Harry’s words and asked, “Are you so determined that you would find a place where you didn’t feel as safe?”
“I am,” Harry replied. “This wedding is the first step in getting my affairs in order before… well… before things get out of hand. I don’t want to delay it any longer than I have to.”
“I’m sorry, Harry,” McGonagall said softly. “Your papers seem to be in order, but there will not be a wedding at Hogwarts today.”
McGonagall watched the sadness spread over Harry’s face even as the paintings around her murmured in quiet disappointment.
“However,” McGonagall said as Harry looked up straining to see a glimmer of hope remaining, “tomorrow is Saturday, and a much more suitable day for such an event. I have no doubt that you will want to invite some of the other students to the ceremony. Tomorrow they will be free from their classes and able to attend without the questionable use of your time turner.”
“So,” Professor Fortescue began, “does that mean the wedding will be here at Hogwarts after all?”
McGonagall smiled as she noticed the sudden burst of joy in Harry’s eyes as she said, “Yes. There are still many details that need to be worked out, but the wedding will take place at Hogwarts.”
“Splendid,” Professor Derwent said happily from her portrait. “It’s been many a year since Hogwarts played host to a wedding ceremony.”
“If memory serves me correctly,” Phineas said as he looked down at Harry with an amused grin, “Hogwarts has never held a ceremony to join two current students before.”
“Another first attributed to you, Mr. Potter,” Professor Dippet said with a smile.
“Congratulations, Harry,” Dumbledore beamed. “I think you know that all of us here wish you and Ginny only the best.”
“I hope there is some way all of you can be there,” Harry said. “Somehow it wouldn’t seem right if you weren’t.”
“That may be dependant upon the specific details of the wedding,” McGonagall informed him. “We’ll need to work out some of the arrangements right now if there is any chance of finishing in time.”
Harry hesitated as he looked at his watch and said, “Um… could you give me a few minutes. I have an appointment I have to keep. I could come back here in… say, twenty minutes.”
“Could your appointment really be that important?” Fortescue asked.
“Actually, it is,” Harry replied as he pulled the time turner from his robes. “I only have a few minutes left to leave myself a note about what’s happened.”
“Leave yourself a note?” Dippet asked with interest. “Just how extensively are you using the time turner right now?”
“Enough that I have to keep it all documented in a journal beside my bed to keep it straight,” Harry replied with a grin. “It’s pretty hectic already trying to keep information current for all of us.”
“All of you?” McGonagall asked. “How many of you are there in this current time?”
“Right now there are three,” Harry responded. “Sorry, I mean four. I forgot about the one asleep in my bed.”
McGonagall sighed as she said, “Very well then, Mr. Potter. See to your business. I shall await your return.”
“Thanks, Professor,” Harry said with a wide smile. “I really appreciate this. I’ll be back as soon as possible.”
They all watched as Harry turned and walked out of the office. When he was gone, McGonagall looked up at all of the former headmasters around her.
“I wish one of you had gained some experience with similar situations in the past,” McGonagall said as she walked back to her desk. “I could use your council in the matters I find before me now.”
“Harry is not the only one having firsts attributed to them today,” Dumbledore said sympathetically. “Events of such a personal nature are far more difficult to navigate than items of a disciplinary or administrative sort.”
Professor Dippet looked down from his portrait and said, “The decision you made here today would not have been an easy one for any of us to come to in our days as Headmasters.”
“There wasn’t much I could have done to stop it anyway,” McGonagall pointed out. “These papers he got the Minister of Magic to sign are official. The Ministry has given them the right to be married. It is not within my power, regardless of my own concerns, to overrule that decree.”
“Still,” Fortescue said, “it was a brave decision to make. Also, getting Mr. Potter to agree to delay the wedding for one more day when he was so determined that it take place shows that you still have a good deal of influence with him.”
“Of course she does,” Phineas confirmed. “We’re all aware of how he feels about her.”
“What do you mean by that?” McGonagall asked as she sensed the portraits knew more than they were telling.
“I’m afraid Phineas is speaking out of turn, Minerva,” Dumbledore said with a light grin.
“Do you think the wedding should be revealed to the students before the end of the day?” Professor Dippet asked to change the subject and deflect McGonagall’s curiosity. “There is likely to be a serious drop in attention levels in classes if it is revealed too soon.”
“I have to say that I agree,” Fortescue commented.
“I think we will have to count ourselves lucky if it has not spread throughout the school by lunchtime,” McGonagall said. “I will speak to Mr. Potter about it as soon as he returns. Still, the Professors should be warned just in case.”
As if on cue, there was a knock at McGonagall’s office door, and Harry stuck his head in to ask, “Are you ready for me, Professor?”
“Of course, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall replied as she motioned for him to enter. “I didn’t expect for you to return so soon.”
“I gave the time turner a little extra half spin,” Harry said with a grin as he pulled a piece of parchment from his pocket and started unfolding it.
“We were under the impression you were going to write a note and then return,” Dumbledore revealed. “Was the time turner necessary for accomplishing that task?”
“It wouldn’t have been if that was all I had been doing,” Harry replied. “I’ve been trying to coordinate the efforts of all of the other Harrys, as well as compiling a list of things that need to be worked out in this meeting for most of the other details to move forward.”
“If only you had taken your school lessons this seriously over the years,” McGonagall commented with a sigh. “Very well. What do we need to discuss first?”
“Ironically,” Harry replied, “the time. I know the wedding will be tomorrow, but what time should it be?”
“I should imagine an evening wedding would be best,” McGonagall advised. “It would give the most time for arrangements to be made.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” Harry said. “So, do you think seven would be too late?”
“Not at all,” McGonagall replied. “Of course, it will have to be a quick changeover from dinner if you want to hold the ceremony in the Great Hall.”
“Actually, I wanted to have the wedding outside on the grounds,” Harry informed her.
“You are aware that it is winter aren’t you, Mr. Potter?” Professor Dippet asked.
“Oh yes,” Harry replied with a grin. “I’m fairly sure there’s a way to deal with that problem. I know I read something about it recently.”
Before McGonagall could comment, Harry closed his eyes and appeared to concentrate on something. Seconds later, he opened his eyes again as he looked down at his notes for the next issue to be discussed.
“Are you all right, Mr. Potter?” McGonagall asked.
“I’m fine,” Harry replied as he looked up to see worry in her eyes.
“When you closed your eyes I thought perhaps your trips through time were beginning to have an effect on you,” McGonagall stated.
“Oh, no,” Harry said. “I was just sending the message about the time of the wedding through the connections to myself.”
“To yourself?” Fortescue asked. “Are you saying you have a connection to each copy of yourself currently in this time?”
“Of course,” Harry confirmed. “Why wouldn’t I?”
While Harry continued with his meeting with McGonagall, Hermione walked into Harry and Ron’s dorm as her friends followed her until she turned and said seriously, “You two have a lot of explaining to do. What is going on? You’ve gotten your hands on another time turner haven’t you? Don’t try to deny it. I looked out the window on the way here and saw you walking around outside, Harry.”
“I’m not going to deny it,” Harry replied calmly.
When he didn’t explain further, Hermione asked, “Is that all you have to say for yourself? Ginny, you know this is only going to lead to…”
“We’re getting married, Hermione,” Ginny said as she reached for Hermione’s hand to stop her. “Harry is using the time turner to plan the wedding.”
“Wedding?” Ron asked. “When?”
“Tomorrow night around seven,” Harry said.
“What?” Hermione and Ron asked in unison.
“You saw me walking the grounds because that’s where the wedding is going to be,” Harry continued.
“Tomorrow?” Hermione asked. “That can’t be possible.”
“Before you say it, Hermione,” Harry preempted, “we’ve already gotten permission from Ginny’s parents, the Minister of Magic, and Professor McGonagall. This wedding is going to happen whether you’re shocked by it or not. In fact, I would very much like it if you would help us get ready for it.”
“Wait a minute,” Ron said as he held up his hand. “Tomorrow? Couldn’t you have given us a little more warning? I haven’t worn dress robes since Bill and Fleur’s wedding. They barely fit me then. I’m fairly sure they won’t fit me now.”
“Calm down, mate,” Harry’s voice said groggily from behind the bed hangings, and causing Ron to look from the bed to Harry and back again. “You have an appointment with Madam Malkin tonight just before dinner. Now, I would appreciate it if you would all keep it down.”
In the forbidden forest, Magorian and Bane entered the clearing they had been summoned to, and found a dozen of their fellow centaurs standing in a defensive arc around two black robed wizards. The Centaurs were not surprised by the presence of the wizards. Their coming had been foretold.
Bane came to a stop in front of the wizards and said, “You requested this meeting. Now, speak your words if it will hasten your departure from this forest.”
“We bring words of greeting and friendship from our master, Lord Voldemort,” Lucius said calmly as he waited for the Centaurs to respond, but they remained silent. “We have been instructed to come here and negotiate a treaty of cooperation between our master and the Centaurs of the Forbidden Forest.”
“There is no purpose to any such treaty,” Magorian said. “Your master has nothing that we need.”
“Don’t be too sure of that,” Bellatrix warned. “Very soon our master will seize control away from the Ministry of Magic. When that happens, those allied with him will be rewarded handsomely. Those not with him will not be so lucky.”
“We do not recognize any authority the Ministry whishes itself to have over the Centaurs,” Bane said irritably. “That recognition will never be given to your master. Never to a human. Save your threats. Return to your master and tell him of your failure.”
“Please,” Lucius said as he placed a hand on Bellatrix’s shoulder to warn her to calm herself, “Allow me to clarify. Our master seeks no control over the Centaurs. All he asks is for safe passage through the Forbidden Forest if it should ever be needed. That is all.”
“Allow me to clarify, death eater,” Magorian said seriously. “The Centaur are not fools. We are well aware of why you would want to get through the forest. There is only one destination you would have. Your trespass in this forest would never be tolerated under normal circumstances. If you plan to target Mr. Potter you will find this forest impenetrable.”
“We’ll see,” Bellatrix muttered with a twisted grin.
“So,” Lucius said resignedly, “you’ve already chosen a side.”
“As it is written,” Bane said with a gesture toward the sky, “so let it be.”
“So let it be,” all of the gathered Centaurs repeated.
“Come, Bellatrix,” Lucius said as he took a step backwards cautiously. “Our mission here is finished.”
The two death eaters inched backwards thankful they were so near the southern edge of the forest from where they could disapparate. They both recognized the growth in hostility in the Centaurs around them, and knew that any further negotiation had the potential to bring that hostility out in the open.
Still, Bellatrix awaited her chance with each step she took. She intended to leave the Centaurs with a taste of what they would soon be facing. As soon as she had gone far enough, she made a quick hand movement to draw her wand. As she did, the bows of the Centaurs began to rise. Before she could clasp her wand though, a spell hit her and knocked her back to fall unconscious at Lucius’ feet. He quickly knelt down and grasped Bellatrix’s arm. Just before he disapparated, he looked up to see Harry standing just behind the Centaurs with his wand pointed straight at him. Just after he disapparated, a dozen arrows embedded themselves in the ground he had occupied.
Seconds after Lucius disappeared, the Centaurs turned to see Harry putting away his wand as he bowed deeply and said, “Please forgive my intrusion. I mean no insult with my uninvited presence.”
“So let it be,” Magorian said as the rest of the Centaurs repeated his words and observed Harry in awe of the accuracy of their star readings.
“You are welcome here, Mr. Potter,” Bane said kindly. “We have been expecting you.”
“Really?” Harry asked. “I didn’t know you were waiting for me.”
“There is much that we are aware of,” Bane said as he looked upwards again. “Your presence here today was foreseen.”
“Wicked,” Harry said with a smile. “Do you know why I’ve come to find you as well?”
“Not in detail,” Magorian replied as he and Bane stepped closer to Harry. “We only know its importance.”
“Well,” Harry said, “I came here to invite all of you to my wedding. Ginny and I are getting married tomorrow night at seven. We would really like for all of you to be there.”
“We are deeply honored by your invitation, Mr. Potter,” Bane said as whispered conversation broke out among the Centaurs behind them. “I think I can speak for the entire herd when I say that you may count on our presence.”
“Great,” Harry said as his smile widened. “I’ll see you there.”
With a wave, Harry disapparated. Bane looked over at Magorian to see a nod of understanding and approval.
Bane turned to the Centaurs gathered behind him and said, “Go now and spread word throughout the herd about the wedding. Make sure every last Centaur understands the importance of their attendance.”
Without question, the Centaurs darted off through the trees toward all of the different sectors of the forest. Bane and Magorian watched them go until they could no longer hear the sound of hooves on the forest floor.
“A wedding,” Magorian observed. “Could it be?”
“It must be,” Bane responded. “The stars do not lie.”
“But they do not reveal the whole truth either,” Magorian reminded him. “They do not make us all knowing.”
“We have enough information to interpret,” Bane countered. “We knew that servants of the snake would come in a pair to the southern wood. It was not a great leap of logic to interpret what that meant.”
“And the light shall come to return the one to darkness,” Magorian continued the prophecy. “And given account, those of the herd shall gather to the light for sanctuary, lest they be overrun with shadows.”
“You know it well,” Bane consented.
“Are we to take sanctuary at a wedding?” Magorian asked. “Was his invitation the ‘account’ the prophecy indicated?”
“Perhaps not,” Bane admitted. “The time for that part of the prophecy may not occur so soon, but it is surely prudent for us to gather to Mr. Potter if he has gone to the trouble of requesting our presence.”
“I agree,” Magorian said. “With that in mind, we should remind everyone that this is meant to be a joyous occasion. Besides, very few of us even considered that Mr. Potter could be the ‘light’ described in the prophecy until recently.”
“Myself among them,” Bane acknowledged. “Given recent events, a great many more believe it now could be no other.”
“I wonder what a human wedding ceremony is like,” Magorian mused.
“Difficult to imagine,” Bane said. “It could be as somber as the funeral for Albus Dumbledore. Then again it may be as raucous as the quidditch matches the humans seem to enjoy so much. It wouldn’t surprise me if the entire ceremony took place on broomsticks.”
“So, you think the wedding will be outdoors?” Magorian asked. “Understanding the human dislike of cold weather I find it more likely that the ceremony take place inside the castle.”
“It shall be uncomfortable for us to be so enclosed and cut off from the open air,” Bane said as he considered the possibility. “We will have to endure it. We have already given assurances of our attendance.”
At Voldemort’s lair, the Dark Lord stood and walked closer to where Lucius knelt beside the unconscious Bellatrix. Lucius bowed lower with every step his master took closer to him.
“I take it that all did not go as planned,” Voldemort stated. “Speak, Lucius.”
“The Centaurs were… unreceptive to our offer,” Lucius reported.
“As I expected,” Voldemort said. “The Centaurs are fiercely independent. They will not willingly follow a human.”
“Not so independent it would seem,” Lucius commented. “They warned us against attacking a certain Hogwarts student. They seemed ready enough to defend him.”
“Are you certain of that?” Voldemort asked as the skin on his neck began to prickle.
“They mentioned him by name,” Lucius confirmed.
Voldemort’s knuckles cracked loudly as his fist clenched and he asked, “And Bellatrix?”
“I tried to warn her to keep her calm,” Lucius said. “As we were leaving she apparently decided to take the chance to strike against the Centaurs. Before she was able to draw her wand she was knocked unconscious by a spell.”
“An auror?’ Voldemort asked.
“No, my Lord,” Lucius replied. “It was the boy himself. Before I disapparated I looked up to see him standing where he had not been only moments before.”
Voldemort seethed for several seconds before he said, “So, Harry has recruited the Centaurs to his side. An admirable achievement. It is of no consequence though. I don’t need to go through the Centaurs to get to Harry. There are… other ways.”
As if on cue, Dolohov apparated into the chamber holding a struggling woman, her dress covered in blood. Dolohov pushed the frantic woman to the floor in front of Voldemort even as he knelt in reverence to his master.
The woman flailed as she struggled to right herself in hopes of finding an avenue of escape. Instead, she froze in abject horror as she looked up to see Voldemort staring back down at her. Unable to make her body move, she was equally powerless to prevent the shaking that permeated her body from the fear she felt envelop her.
“Interesting,” Voldemort mused as he felt the fear radiating from her. “Even as a muggle you recognize me so easily. Of course, our paths were destined to cross eventually. Even you had to realize that.”
Even if the woman had been able to speak she wouldn’t have had the chance. Voldemort’s wand flashed before her an instant before a blinding pain consumer her. After that, her only thought was a prayer for death.
“So, where are you two going to live, Harry?” Ron asked as they walked down the stairs toward the Great Hall for lunch.
“At my house I would assume,” Harry replied not understanding why Ron wouldn’t have realized that.
“That isn’t what I mean,” Ron corrected. “I mean while you’re still at Hogwarts.”
“Has Professor McGonagall given you a special room?” Hermione asked.
“It isn’t like that,” Ginny said. “Harry and I have decided that our living arrangements won’t change until summer. I won’t officially move in with Harry until after I turn seventeen. I may stay at his house, but until my birthday I won’t share a room with him.”
“Your parents were quite keen on the idea, mate,” Harry commented with a grin. “Percy was a bit leery of the idea when we explained it to him.”
“Percy knew about this before me?” Ron asked as if he had just been slapped in the face.
“Well, he does work in the Ministers office,” Harry pointed out. “He was there when we spoke to Scrimgeour. I didn’t seek him out to tell him.”
“Why didn’t you just tell us all of this first thing this morning?” Ron asked.
“We didn’t want to tell anyone until we were sure it was actually going to happen,” Ginny explained. “For all we knew Scrimgeour might not have signed the order allowing us to get married in the first place. McGonagall might not have allowed us to have the ceremony at Hogwarts.”
“I’m actually amazed that she did,” Hermione said.
“Well we only have until tomorrow night to pull this thing off before she changes her mind,” Harry said with a smile.
“Is there anything we can do to help?” Hermione asked excitedly, sensing that her research abilities may be needed.
“Ginny and I could both use help picking out bible passages to be read at the wedding,” Harry said, seeing Hermione’s eyes light with anticipation.
“That should be easy for Hermione,” Ron said. “What should I do?”
“I think it’s customary for the best man to give a toast at the reception,” Harry said as he watched the color drain from Ron’s face. “You should probably work on that.”
“I have to… well… How many people are you two inviting?” Ron asked as he began having second thoughts.
“Enough that you’ll probably need to get Slughorn to brew a calming draft for you,” Harry said with a grin as Ron grew paler. “Steady there Ron. You have until tomorrow night. No sense worrying about it too much right away.”
“So, when are you planning on sending out invitations?” Hermione asked. “I could help with that if you need.”
“Mind you that no one else in the school can know about the wedding until after classes are over today,” Harry warned. “I promised McGonagall we would wait until then. The rest of the invitations are already being delivered.”
At the Ministry of Magic, the elevator opened and Harry stepped out to meet Percy once again. Without delay, Harry was escorted into Scrimgeour’s office.
“Thank you for seeing me again, Minister,” Harry said. “I won’t take up too much of your time.”
“Two visits in one day would seem to indicate that the second must be of some importance,” Scrimgeour commented.
“Things I thought you needed to know anyway,” Harry said. “First of all I wanted to let you know that the wedding will be at Hogwarts tomorrow night at seven instead of tonight.”
“Thank you,” Scrimgeour said. “I’ll be there for sure.”
“How many aurors are you planning to bring with you?” Harry asked leaving Scrimgeour to think there was a specific reason for the question.
“I was originally planning to bring six,” Scrimgeour said. “Is there a reason that number might not be sufficient?”
“Perhaps,” Harry replied. “Lucius Malfoy and Bellartix Lestrange had a meeting with the Centaurs a little while ago.”
“What?” Scrimgeour asked as he stood quickly from his seat.
“The Centaurs were less than receptive to their offer,” Harry assured him. “Voldemort is looking for new allies. I don’t know if that means he’s ready to attack, or if he’s still months away from it. Still, I would feel better if you brought as many aurors to the wedding as possible.”
“You can rest assured of that,” Scrimgeour assured him.
“Also,” Harry said, “I’ve invited the Centaurs to the wedding. Given the tension between the Ministry and the Centaurs, I would ask that you brief the aurors on the sensitivity of the situation. The Centaurs are my invited guests just as much as you are.”
“I understand,” Scrimgeour said. “You have my word that your wedding will not be a place for attempts at further negotiation with the Centaurs.”
“Good,” Harry said with a small smile. “I would appreciate it if you didn’t tell Professor McGonagall about the death eaters meeting with the Centaurs. She would never allow the wedding if she knew.”
“That shouldn’t be too hard,” Scrimgeour said. “I’m sure there are a great many things she hasn’t shared with me as well.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Harry said as his smile widened.
“So, will Snape and Draco Malfoy also be attending your wedding?” Scrimgeour asked.
“Not if you have your aurors waiting to arrest them,” Harry replied without losing his smile.
Scrimgeour reached down and picked up the newspaper from his desk as he said, “I was going to give this to you tonight at the wedding, but you may as well have it now since the wedding has been moved. This is the story that will run on the front page of the Daily Prophet tomorrow.”
Harry took the paper and unfolded it to read the headline, “Ministry clears Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy in killing of Albus Dumbledore.”
“The papers have already been signed,” Scrimgeour said. “Snape and Malfoy are free of Ministry pursuit. That newspaper will make it public first thing tomorrow morning.”
“Thank you, Minister,” Harry said seriously. “I know this wasn’t an easy thing for you to do. After the wedding I’ll see that a new map is made for you.”
“Don’t bother, Mr. Potter,” Scrimgeour said, surprising Harry. “The offer was tempting when you made it, I admit. Having had time to think about it, I think there would be public outrage if it ever became known that a map existed within the Ministry that could locate every wizard in the country. Death eaters are one thing, the general wizarding public is quite another.”
“I’m… proud to hear you say that, Minister,” Harry said. “I quite agree. When things have settled down a bit I plan to propose to Professor McGonagall that she destroy her map.”
“She won’t be too receptive to that idea,” Scrimgeour pointed out.
“Not at first, I suspect,” Harry said. “She’ll eventually see the logic in it anyway. Besides, the only non-death eater she uses it to keep track of is me.”
Scrimgeour smiled as he asked, “How is that working for her?”
“If she’s trying to use it right now,” Harry said with a smile of his own, “probably not so well.”
Bellatrix, having awoken only to have Lucius explain what had happened to her, was in a fuming temper. To be taken by surprise by Harry Potter was bad enough, but to learn that she had lain at her master’s feet while another related the events of her failure was intolerable to her. She stalked the corridors of the castle looking for anyone she could strike out against to vent her frustration. Seeing no one, she headed for the room where the bodies of the disloyal death eaters had been taken. She thought that kicking Rodolphus in the head a few times would help to relieve her tension.
Upon reaching the room she released some of her anger at the door as she kicked it open. Without losing her stride, Bellatrix stepped into the room and froze in shock at the scene revealed by the light spilling in from the corridor. Her wand was drawn in an instant. She pointed the wand directly ahead of her and began to utter the curse she planned to use, but a cold powerful hand closed on her forearm to stop her. With a look to her right, she let the tension drain from her arm.
“Do not react too quickly, Bellatrix,” Voldemort said as he held her arm while she lowered it. “It would be a shame to waste my work before it bears fruit.”
“Forgive me, master,” Bellatrix said as she bowed. “I am not worthy to be in your presence. I sought to punish someone else when I am the one who deserves the true punishment. I gladly accept what punishment you choose, my master.”
“Rise, Bella,” Voldemort said using the familiar form of her name. “My memory is not as short as you imagine. There is no punishment awaiting you other than the one you inflict upon yourself.”
“But, master,” Bellatrix pleaded, “I failed you.”
“On the contrary, Bella,” Voldemort said, “it is only because of you that I am here today. I remember well the dedication you showed to me when you carefully administered the potion I needed to recover from an encounter with Harry.”
“Any other death eater would have done the same, my lord,” Bellatrix said.
“I think not,” Voldemort said as he gestured to the dead in the room with them. “We are all learning just what a cunning adversary Harry has become. Lucius related what happened in your most recent encounter. Even he did not see Harry until after you were hit. It is reasonable to believe that he was concealed in some way prior to his attack on you.”
“Still,” Bellatrix said with her eyes downcast, “there must have been something I could have done to better serve you, master.”
Voldemort stared at her. She had always been thrilling to him. He had always been invigorated as he watched such a strong willed woman become utterly submissive before him. He knew she could be more submissive still.
“Let us leave the presence of your dead husband, Bella,” Voldemort said as he stuck his hand out for Bellatrix to take.
“As you wish, master,” Bellatrix said as she took his hand and bent over to kiss it.
“I wish a good deal more, Bella,” Voldemort said as he clasped her hand in his before she could kiss it.
Voldemort turned immediately and led Bellatrix down the passage toward his chambers. She was so thrown by his actions that she didn’t realize what was happening until they were within the bedchamber and he had shut the door behind them.
As dinner was about to begin, with the visit to Madam Malkin’s behind them, Ron said, “Surely you don’t plan to invite all of them. What about the Slytherin?”
“Well, it would be rude to invite everyone else and ignore them,” Harry replied with a chuckle. “Besides, remember how many of them joined in that healing circle to help me regain my vision.”
“That still doesn’t mean you can trust them,” Ron warned. “Any of them. You should know that better than any of us. You can see all of their blue lines. So far you haven’t seen a blue line on anyone who wasn’t a death eater or in Slytherin.”
“I know,” Harry said, “but most of them don’t have blue lines anymore.”
“What?” Ron, Hermione and Ginny asked together.
“When did that change?” Ginny asked.
“The day after the healing,” Harry replied. “I told all of you about it.”
“You most certainly did not,” Hermione charged.
“Of course I did,” Harry said. “We walked into the Great Hall and I looked over at them and said that I saw different colors.”
“Wait,” Ron said holding up his hand. “I thought you were making a general comment about all of the lines you see. You were still glowing. You were babbling all sorts of things.”
“So, how have their lines changed?” Hermione asked.
“They’re more like the other tables,” Harry explained. “Mostly different shades of red ranging from a dark red to a light pink.”
“How is that possible?” Ron asked. “How can a line just change color?”
“I have no idea,” Harry admitted. “I don’t have time to worry about it. I have a wedding to plan.”
“A wedding?” Neville asked as he sat down beside Ron. “Is someone getting married?”
“I’m actually going to announce it tonight, Neville,” Harry replied. “Ginny and I are getting married.”
“Everyone already knows that, Harry,” Neville said with a smile. “Even I haven’t forgotten that yet.”
“We’re getting married tomorrow night, Neville,” Ginny said as Neville’s smile evaporated into a stunned expression.
“I understand how you feel, Neville,” Ron said. “I felt the same way when I found out.”
“But…” Neville stammered.
“I felt like that too,” Ron said with a grin. “I think I still feel that way. I guess I never thought my little sister would be married before I was.”
“We could make it a double wedding if you want, mate,” Harry said with an enormous grin as he watched a suddenly pale Ron look over at an equally stunned Hermione.
“Or maybe we could just try to get through this wedding first before we start planning any others,” Ginny said, coming to Ron and Hermione’s rescue.
“You’re right, Ginny,” Harry said with a grin. “Maybe that would be best.”
“Well…” Neville began, “am I invited?”
“Of course you are, Neville,” Ginny assured him. “We haven’t formally invited any of the other students yet. McGonagall wanted Harry to wait until after classes were over.”
“Invited the students to what?” Lavender brown asked as she was passing by and heard part of their conversation.
In explaining what they were talking about to Lavender, Harry and Ginny were overheard by a group seated behind them at the Hufflepuff table. They proceeded to spread what they had overheard to their other friends at the table and the famous Hogwarts rumor mill was underway. By the time McGonagall arrived to start the dinner and called Harry and Ginny up to make their announcement, the entire room already had a fairly good idea of what he was going to say. Returning to their seats, they were congratulated by almost everyone they passed. As they sat down, Dean stood up and proposed a toast to Harry and Ginny.
Later that night, as the level of celebration died down in the Gryffindor common room, Hermione asked, “So what do you still need to do for the wedding? Did you send out all of your invitations?”
“I think so,” Ginny said with a glance toward Harry for confirmation.
“We invited everyone at Hogwarts,” Harry said as he listed it with a raising of one finger. “The Minister of Magic, the Centaurs, the Merpeople, the shopkeepers in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, the D.A. members outside of Hogwarts, the Order, Hermione’s parents and Stan Shunpike have all been invited. Ginny’s parents are taking care of the invitations for the Weasley family. I think that’s just about everyone. I was going to deliver invitations to number 12 tonight.”
“You’re inviting them too?” Ron asked with a soured look.
“Of course,” Harry replied. “I have some news I wanted to share with them as well.”
“What about your Aunt and Uncle, Harry?” Hermione asked as Harry replied with a surprised look. “This is a big event in your life. Surely they would at least want to know about it.”
“Don’t be too sure of that,” Harry said. “The last thing they want is for me or the magical world to darken their doorstep again. The kindest thing I could do for them is to never ask them to have any involvement in my life. So, no, I will not be sending them an invitation.”
“You invited everyone in Slytherin, Harry,” Hermione reasoned as Harry sighed knowing Hermione wasn’t going to concede her position easily. “If you can do that so easily, it would seem possible for you to extend that courtesy to your own family.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Hermione,” Harry said trying not to sound too angry and realizing he wasn’t succeeding. “I don’t have a family. The only family I ever knew died. You three are the closest thing to family I have left.”
“Well, we will be family after tomorrow, mate,” Ron said in an attempt to diffuse the serious tone the conversation had turned to. “Can you believe it? I’m going to have another brother.”
“I’ve never had a brother before,” Harry said as his smile returned. “I’ve never had a sister either. I guess I’ll have to wait for that until after you and Hermione get married.”
“Easy there, Harry,” Hermione said as she shook her finger from side to side. “One wedding at a time. Remember?”
“Right,” Harry said with a smile. “How could I forget? Only a few more things to work out before tomorrow night.”
“Really?” Ron asked in surprise. “You’re that close?”
“You can’t imagine how hard Harry has been working on this wedding,” Ginny informed him. “He’s done everything from finding someone to marry us to ordering the flower arrangements.”
“Well…” Harry began, “I had quite a bit of help really. Professor Lupin put me in contact with the woman who performed my parents wedding ceremony. She agreed to perform this one as well. Professor McGonagall and Tonks are going to take care of conjuring the chairs. Flitwick and Slughorn are going to make sure the grounds are as warm as a spring day. The catering is coming from the kitchens here at Hogwarts. Dobby insisted on that. The flowers will be delivered tomorrow around noon. The dress robes and dresses are taken care of, even though Ginny wouldn’t let me see her wedding dress.”
“Of course not, Harry,” Ginny said. “You know it’s bad luck for you to see it before the wedding.”
“Well I certainly don’t want to invite any bad luck,” Harry said. “I wish I could see you tomorrow though.”
“How have you solved that problem?” Ron asked. “You’re bound to run into her somewhere in the castle.”
“Ginny and Hermione are going to the Burrow early tomorrow morning,” Harry replied. “I’ll likely be sleeping late.”
“If you can get to your bed,” Ron joked. “You may have to kick Harry out before you can get in.”
“Oh, no,” Harry assured him with a grin. “He left at two o’clock today.”
At number 12, Harry apprarated into the kitchen to find Narcissa putting away the washed dinner dishes. She jumped slightly as she turned and caught sight of Harry standing there.
“Oh, Harry,” Narcissa said as a friendly smile appeared on her face. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” Harry said. “I didn’t expect anyone to still be in here this late.”
“Dinner was a bit late tonight,” Narcissa said with a chuckle. “Draco volunteered to cook. Needless to say, it isn’t his strong suit. I volunteered to clean up, but I don’t think I understood what I was getting myself into. What brings you by at this hour? Has something happened?”
Harry saw the concern suddenly appear on Narcissa’s face, and he said, “Nothing terrible anyway. I thought you would be interested to see this.”
Harry pulled the folded copy of the Prophet from under his arm and handed it to Narcissa. Upon unfolding it, her breath caught as she caught sight of the headline.
“Is this…” Narcissa began.
“That’s the headline to tomorrows paper,” Harry told her as her hand covered her mouth and wetness formed in her eyes. “By this time tomorrow, everyone in England will know.”
Narcissa moved forward and wrapped her arms around Harry in a tight hug as she said, “Thank you, Harry. I can never repay you for this.”
Draco walked into the kitchen with Theodore behind him, and they both froze as they took in the scene in front of them. Narcissa turned to them with a smile on her face that evaporated their concern instantly.
“What’s happened?” Draco asked.
“You’re free, Draco,” Narcissa replied as she moved to hug him as well. “The Ministry has cleared you.”
Draco hugged his mother, unable to think of how he should respond. He wasn’t sure how this new revelation would change his day to day existence. Surely he couldn’t walk the streets as he once had. Voldemort was still looking for him. He was sure of that. It brought happiness to his mother though, and that he would always treasure.
“Mr. Potter,” Snape said in greeting as he walked by the door and stopped at the entrance. “I did not realize you were here.”
“He came to show us this, Severus,” Narcissa said as she handed the copy of the Prophet to Snape.
Snape surveyed the article carefully before he said, “I’m surprised. I expected it to take the Minister longer to accomplish all that he said he would.”
“I’m glad it came when it did,” Harry said. “That makes it possible for me to invite all of you to my wedding.”
Narcissa let go of Draco and turned to look at Harry even as everyone else in the room did the same. Several seconds passed before anyone was able to ask the question that was on everyone’s mind.
“What wedding?” Draco asked.
“Ginny and I are getting married,” Harry replied with a smile
“Congratulations, Harry,” Theodore said. “I guess I just took it for granted that you would someday.”
“Well, starting this early will give you several months to plan the ceremony,” Narcissa said.
“Actually, it won’t,” Harry said as his smile widened. “I have until seven o’clock tomorrow night.”
“Are you saying you’re getting married tomorrow night?” Snape asked seeming genuinely surprised.
“Surely not,” Draco said.
“Actually, I am,” Harry confirmed.
“But…” Narcissa began.
“I’ve heard all of those over the day today,” Harry interrupted holding up his hand. “The Minister of Magic approved it. The wedding will be at Hogwarts, so all of you should be quite safe there. The aurors and the Order will be securing the area.”
“Given recent events,” Snape said, “I would think other things would be on your mind right now.”
“They will be,” Harry replied. “After tomorrow I’ll give them my fullest attention.”
“Well, congratulations, Harry,” Narcissa said with an attempt at a smile. “You’ll have to forgive me. I’m just a bit stunned.”
“I know how you feel,” Harry replied as his smile continued. “I’m beginning to feel a bit numb about it myself. It’s a bit overwhelming. I’m sure a good night’s sleep will cure some of that though. So, can I count on all of you being there?”
“I don’t think it would be a good idea,” Draco said as Narcissa looked at him in surprise. “Not for Professor Snape and myself at least. The Prophet may tell people that we’ve been cleared, but I think the ill feelings of some of the people at the wedding toward us won’t go away just because of that article.”
“Mr. Malfoy makes an excellent point,” Snape said as he took a step forward. “Our presence will only serve to dampen what should be a festive evening.”
“Fiona Moss is going to be there,” Harry said in an attempt to tempt Snape to be there.
Snape’s facial expression broke ever so slightly before he caught control of it and said, “I don’t know what difference that should make in the matter.”
“You could use your time at Hogwarts to recover anything you might want from your old office,” Harry suggested. “I warn you though, Professor McGonagall sealed that office up tight. You might want to let it air out a bit before you go in there.”
“That can be done at a time when the school is not so populated with people who don’t want to see me walk its halls again,” Snape countered.
“Ginny and I really want you to be there,” Harry said seriously. “If it hadn’t been for you, this wedding wouldn’t even be possible. We don’t care what anyone else’s feelings are about you, we want you there because we know what ours are.”
Snape considered Harry thoughtfully for several seconds before he said, “Very well. If you really want me there, then I shall attend the ceremony.”
“Great,” Harry said as his smile returned before he turned to look at Draco. “What about you, Draco? Are you going to allow your mum to attend the wedding unescorted?”
“Well…” Draco replied in surprise as he looked at his mum knowing he was trapped. “Of course not. If she wants me to escort her then I will.”
“I do,” Narcissa said as she held on to Draco’s arm.
“It looks as though all of us will be there, Harry,” Theodore said.
“Terrific,” Harry said as he readied himself. “The wedding will start at seven, so be sure to get there in plenty of time to get a good seat. There will be a reception afterword, and I have no idea how long that might last. Guests are arriving in Hogsmeade and then being transported to Hogwarts. Now, if you will all excuse me. I have a few more errands to run tonight before I can get any sleep. I’ll see you all tomorrow night.”
With a wave, Harry disapparated leaving a still stunned group of people behind in the kitchen. Without a word, Theodore slipped silently out of the room on his way upstairs.
“I still don’t get, Harry,” Draco said shaking his head. “Why would he invite me to his wedding? I’ve never given him any reason to think we’re friends.”
“Keep your friends close, Mr. Malfoy,” Snape said as he turned to go, “and your enemies closer.”
When Snape was gone, Narcissa said, “Don’t listen to him, Draco. It has nothing to do with that.”
“You don’t think so?” Draco questioned. “There may be some truth in it.”
“Nonsense,” Narcissa replied. “Harry no longer considers you an enemy. He may not consider you a friend, but you are not an enemy in his eyes.”
“How can you be sure of that?” Draco asked.
“Because he took the time to help you, Draco,” Narcissa explained. “Don’t you understand? After he helps you he can never bring himself to look at you as an enemy again. I know exactly the moment his thoughts about me changed. I had gone to his house to ask for his help. Being disguised as someone else, his house defenses recognized it and pinned me to the entry floor. He looked down on me as an enemy at the time. After I explained why I was there it changed. He put his hand out and offered to help me up off of the floor. I could see it in his eyes, Draco. It wasn’t the same look he had worn when I first entered his house. That was the first time he helped me, and he’s been trying to help me ever since. He isn’t doing that because he wants to keep his enemies closer. He’s doing it because he believes in me. He believes with every fiber of his being that I can be a better person. That’s why he invited you to his wedding, Draco. He believes in you too.”
True to his word, Harry did sleep late into the morning of his wedding day. So much so that even Ron was anxious for him to wake up. Of course, Ron had been woken up especially early by Hermione before she and Ginny left for the Burrow. Since then, unable to fall back to sleep, Ron had alternated between sitting on his bed and pacing anxiously trying to will Harry to wake up. Everyone else in the dorm had already gone down for breakfast.
Finally, Harry rubbed his left eye as he reached for his glasses, and Ron said, “Good morning, mate. I was beginning to think you weren’t going to wake up at all.”
“Morning, Ron,” Harry said as he sat up and stretched. “How late is it?”
“Late enough that we’ll have to hurry if we want to eat breakfast without taking a trip to the kitchens,” Ron answered with a grin.
“I’ll hurry and get ready,” Harry said as he swung his legs off of the bed and put his feet on the cool floor. “Today is not a day for missing meals.”
Ron started to walk back toward his bed to wait when a thought occurred to him, and he turned back to Harry and asked, “It is you isn’t it?”
“What?” Harry asked with an amused grin.
“I mean… I know you’re you,” Ron said, “but are you the original you? You used your time turner so much yesterday that I don’t know how to be sure anymore.”
“I can assure you that I am in fact the original me,” Harry replied. “There won’t be any time turner usage today. I’m getting married, and I want to remember every moment of this day.”
“Good,” Ron said happily. “Then let’s hurry and make your first memory of breakfast. I’m starving.”
Ron and Harry arrived just in time to load their plates with food before the breakfast dishes began disappearing from the tables. After breakfast, Harry discussed wedding plans with McGonagall in her office. After he left, she cried openly as the portraits of the past headmasters congratulated her on the role Harry had asked her to play at the wedding.
Before lunch, Harry stepped out of the castle into a warm Spring day. Harry might have believed it really was Spring if he had not been able to see the snow falling in Hogsmeade. He congratulated Professors Slughorn and Flitwick on their brilliant uses of the spells and charms that went into the unseasonably warm weather.
While he was outside, Harry met with Tonks to make sure she understood exactly the seating arrangements Harry and Ginny had discussed. While he was speaking with her, the flowers for the wedding arrived. After he had signed for them, Harry started arranging them in the places indicated on the chart he had been carrying in his pocket. He was still arranging flowers when Ron came to tell him it was time for lunch.
After lunch, Ron wanted nothing more than to go outside and help Harry, but Harry refused his help. Instead, he told him to go back and finish writing his best man speech. Reluctantly, Ron agreed and went back to the common room.
Harry had no shortage of helpers though. Other students, having discovered the pocket of warm weather, were offering more help than Harry knew what to do with. Tonks saw his problem and recruited several of the students to help her conjure chairs. It slowed her progress as she trained many of the students on the job.
At two o’clock, two large crates were dropped off at Hogwarts. McGonagall walked out of the castle and contained a proud smile as she looked and noticed Pritchard and several of the other Slytherin boys helping Harry to open the enormous crates. She wondered at what could possibly be in them.
“Ah, Professor,” Harry said as he saw McGonagall walking toward him, “you’re just in time.”
“I can see that, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall said still looking at the crates. “What have you had delivered?”
“It’s a gift,” Harry said. “For you.”
“Me?” McGonagall asked.
“Well not personally for you,” Harry clarified. “I’m giving these to Hogwarts.”
Pritchard and the others finally removed the front panel of the crate and revealed an object covered in brown paper. The object was two meters tall and five meters long. Luna stepped forward and waved her wand, and the paper tore across the top and slowly peeled down to reveal an enormous picture frame full of empty chairs.
“Now that this belong to the school,” Harry explained, “I thought the former headmasters and the other portraits in the school would be able to leave their portraits and enter this one and the other one like it. That way, they’ll be able to come to the wedding even though it’s outside.”
“I can tell you with some certainty that the former headmasters will be elated to hear about this, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall said with a small smile. “They have been worried that they would miss this grand event you’ve planned. Thank you. On behalf of Hogwarts, I accept your gift.”
Around four thirty, aurors and Order members began to arrive as they performed thorough security inspections of the castle grounds. By five thirty they had established their positions for a formidable security perimeter around the area. So formidable in fact that Harry had to tell them to alter it to allow clear avenues from the forbidden forest and the lake so his guests invited from both would not be blocked in any way.
With the security matters handled, Harry apparated to Hogsmeade to speak with Madam Rosmertta, and to see that the carriage he had ordered was ready to carry his guests to Hogwarts. Seeing that everything was in order, Harry apparated back to Hogwarts to find Ron waiting for him.
After a light dinner, Harry and Ron went back to their dorm room to dress for the wedding. As they were dressing, Ron looked over and saw a smile spread across Harry’s face.
“What’s the smile for, mate?” Ron asked. “I thought you would be getting nervous about now.”
“Ginny is back in the castle,” Harry replied. “She just arrived with Hermione and your parents.”
“You aren’t going to get nervous, are you?” Ron asked already knowing the answer. “There’s something unnatural about the best man being more nervous than the groom.”
Narcissa, Snape, Draco and Theodore apparated onto the street in Hogsmeade and immediately pulled their cloaks around them to shut out the biting cold wind and the heavily falling snow. Looking ahead of them they read the sign telling all wedding guests to wait inside The Three Broomsticks. They made their way to the door and quickly hurried inside.
“Wedding guests?” Madam Rosemerta asked as the four new guests began trying to shake off the cold chill that had followed them in.
“Yes,” Snape said as he lowered the hood that had been covering his head.
“Well, Merlin’s beard,” Madam Rosemerta exclaimed with a friendly grin. “It’s been a long time, Severus. Quite the unexpected group you have with you. How are you, Narcissa?”
“Very well,” Narcissa replied. “Thank you for asking.”
“Please come in and warm yourselves,” Madam Rosemerta said with a gesture of her hand. “I’ll let you know as soon as the carriage arrives to take you to the wedding.”
Ahead of them was a fairly crowded room of people dressed in their finest dress robes. Draco wondered just how long they would have to wait before they were able to get a seat on the carriage to Hogwarts. He guessed it would be seated per the order of arrival. He prepared himself for a long wait.
As they settled into an out of the way corner to wait, having noticed that the attention of many of the other guests was drawn to their group, Snape heard his name and turned to see a tall young man looking at him and walking toward him.
“You probably don’t remember me, Professor,” Oliver said. “I’m Oliver Wood. I was one of your students.”
“I remember you,” Snape said. “You were in Gryffindor. You went on to play quidditch professionally after Hogwarts. I read about some of your games in the Daily Prophet.”
“You can read a lot of things in the Prophet,” Bill Weasley said as he walked up next to Oliver Wood with Fleur holding on to his arm and urging him to calm himself. “For instance, I just read that the Ministry says you weren’t to blame for Dumbledore’s death. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t put much faith in what they say, but Harry says it’s true. On his word I’m willing to believe it. Besides, what you did to help my sister more than makes up for these scars on my face. For that, I’ll always be in your debt. Thanks.”
“Thank you, Mr. Weasley,” Snape said seeming on the verge of a true emotion. “It means more than you might think for me to hear that.”
Bill turned his attention to Draco and said, “Harry says I should forgive you as well. I’m not sure I can do that so easily.”
Draco looked back at Bill for several seconds knowing that his first instinct was to draw his wand and hex him before he had a chance to attack first. That impulse froze in his mind though. He knew that was a reaction his father had trained him for. He knew that his mother expected more of him.
Taking a deep breath, Draco stepped closer to Bill and said, “I don’t fault you for your hatred of me. Other than the person who actually gave you those scars, I’m the one most responsible for them. If I could go back and change what happened, I would. That isn’t possible though. I have to live with all of my mistakes. All I can tell you is that I’m truly sorry for what I did to you.”
Bill regarded him thoughtfully for several seconds as he felt Fleur’s hand tighten slightly on his arm, and he finally said, “Apology accepted. Harry said you had potential. I’m glad to see he isn’t wasting his time.”
“Attention everyone,” Madam Rosemerta announced from atop a chair. “The carriage has arrived to take all of you to Hogwarts. I remind you that the short walk to the carriage will still be a cold one. Stay bundled up, and move to the carriage as quickly and as safely as possible.”
Everyone pulled their cloaks tighter about them as they moved closer to the door. Snape’s group held back to let everyone else go ahead, but Madam Rosemerta waved for them to join the group ready to bolt from the door as soon as she opened it. Once the door was open she urged the guests out quickly.
When Draco emerged from the doorway, he looked up at the single carriage waiting for them and wondered how it could possibly hold everyone who had been inside. Once he had ducked through the entry door, his feet kept moving automatically, but his mind wondered as he took in the warm room he had just entered. The interior of the carriage was at least as large at the interior of The Three Broomsticks if not larger. Plush seating areas were scattered around the entire room and many were already being claimed. Draco followed his party to one such seating area as he noticed house elves beginning to approach each of the individual seats.
“Dobby, is that you?” Narcissa asked as a house elf walked to their area.
“Yes, Mrs. Malfoy,” Dobby replied. “Dobby is here to take your orders for refreshment. You have a choice of warm butterbeer or hot chocolate.”
All four of them ordered, and Dobby snapped his fingers. Immediately, a small low table appeared in front of their seat with the drinks each had ordered.
“Just call Dobby if more is needed,” Dobby said cheerfully. “It is doubtful though. The trip to Hogwarts is not a long one.”
A short time later, and having no sensation of moving at all, the door to the carriage was opened, and a cold chill filtered in. Everyone looked up as Dean Thomas stepped into the carriage.
“Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen,” Dean said. “Welcome to Hogwarts. If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you where you can hang your cloaks.”
As the guests exited the carriage they were stunned to see towering white arches stretching up and arching in to cover them. The arches were covered in a thick growth of green vines with an amazing number of small bright yellow flowers sprouting from them. Individual flower petals continually fell from the top of the arches in a light shower, but they slowly disappeared before they ever got close to the ground or the guests. As they were being led under the arches to the castle entrance, some of the more curious guests made their way closer to the arches lower reaches only to discover that their hands passed cleanly through them meeting no resistance.
After the guests had been shown to the first floor classrooms converted for cloak storage, they were surprised to find that, instead of being led to the Great Hall as they expected, they were led to the door leading out onto the grounds. The guests confusion turned to astonishment when they stepped out the door and into an area that seemed to have been ripped from another season.
“Astonishing,” Snape uttered as his party stood and surveyed the grounds around them. “There is powerful magic at work to produce this kind of environment over such a large area. I doubt a single wizard could have done it alone.”
“Stop trying to analyze it, Severus,” Narcissa suggested. “Appreciate it for the beauty it contains. To think that Harry was able to arrange a wedding of this magnitude and beauty in only two days is simply spectacular.”
“I never would have thought there would be so many people,” Draco commented as he looked at the crowd from his own carriage added to the ones that had arrived previously.
“Not just people,” Theodore observed. “Look down by the lake. There are Centaurs talking to Merpeople.”
“A very diverse selection of guests to be sure,” Snape said as he looked around and noticed no small number of people looking in their direction. “It would appear that other guests are considering the same reaction as they observe us. Perhaps it would better if we split up and mingled individually.”
They split into three groups as Draco stayed at his mother’s side. He stood by her when she greeted one of the shop owners from Diagon Alley. As they conversed though, Draco looked around at the other guests and spotted Pansy and her mother standing with Neville. Excusing himself from his mother, he walked directly toward Pansy.
“Hello, Pansy,” Draco said as she turned and a sour look spread across her face. “Good evening, Mrs. Parkinson. Neville.”
“What do you want, Draco?” Pansy asked irritably.
“I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry for the things I did to you,” Draco said so sincerely that even Pansy was tempted to believe he meant it. “It wasn’t until recently that I began to understand that what I did was wrong. I never want to be the person I was then again. I’m trying to learn how to change, and I know I can’t do that until I try to atone for the things I’ve done wrong. I just needed to tell you that I’m sorry. Take good care of her, Neville. She deserves to have someone care for her in a way I never could.”
“I’ll do my best,” Neville said.
“I’m sorry to have disturbed you,” Draco said as he backed away. “I just wanted you to know.”
Draco tuned to see his mum watching him with a proud smile on her face. Seeing that smile, Draco knew he would try even harder to remake himself in the image of someone she could truly be proud of.
Two more carriage trips delivered even more guests to the wedding. In the last carriage, Madam Rosemerta arrived and informed Dean that the last of the expected guests had arrived. Dean spread the word to the other Gryffindors who were helping, and they spread among the guests advising them to begin finding their seats.
The moment they had all been waiting for was almost at hand. As the majority of the guests took their seats, they looked around to see the level of organization that had gone into the seating arrangements.
Humans made up a sizeable portion of the seated guests, but beside them on the left side was a section devoid of chairs reserved for the Centaurs. The adults stood, but the Centaur children lowered themselves onto the grass in the front of their section. On the right side of the humans there remained an open avenue giving the Merpeople at the lake edge a clear view of the proceedings. The two enormous frames had been set in the front facing one another on opposite sides of the area in which Harry and Ginny would stand. The former Headmasters were seated in one of the paintings, while the other was overfilled with the other portraits from the castle who wanted to attend. Seated at the base of the two frames, the Hogwarts house elves sat on the grass. The house ghosts floated above the assembled guests as they pleased. The hovering torches Fred and George provided floated higher still and illuminated the entire area in a soft amber glow. Piano music played softly from some unseen place.
After one tune on the piano ended, there was a pause before another tune began noticeably louder than the one before it. A murmur began at the rear of the seating area, and caused everyone to look back up the center isle to see Bill Weasley escorting Fleur toward the front where they took their seats starting with the third seat in on the front row of Ginny’s side. The guests looked around again to see a beaming Molly Weasley being escorted by Charlie and Percy. The brothers took their seats next in the line after seating their mum. Next came Lupin escorting Tonks. They were the first to sit on Harry’s side leaving the first seat empty. Hagrid followed, being escorted by Fleur’s sister Gabrielle. Sitting on Harry’s side, everyone soon understood the reason for the oversized chair in the middle of that row.
The former Headmasters murmured excitedly to see Professor McGonagall escorted to the first seat on Harry’s side by Fred. Everyone among the guests realized the significance of the seat Harry had asked McGonagall to fill. Fred took his seat on the other side next to Percy.
The guests looked back to see who would come next only to look back to the front where more muttering began. Harry and Ron walked from behind the frame of the Headmasters led by a slender woman with grey hair wearing black robes with bronze and blue accents harkening back to her days in Ravenclaw. Once they were in place, Ron’s jaw dropped when he saw Hermione being escorted to the font by George. She was wearing a long flowing crimson chiffon dress with spaghetti straps, and Ron couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of her.
“Getting any ideas?” Harry asked with an amused grin, shaking Ron out of the daze he was in.
“One wedding at a time, mate,” Ron said as he closed his mouth but wasn’t able to erase his smile.
Once Hermione was in place, she looked over and winked at Ron, causing his smile to widen even more. George took his seat beside Fred, and the music stopped.
Soon after, a new song began, and everyone stood as they turned and craned for a view. Harry smiled as Ginny walked to the rear of the aisle on her father’s arm. To Harry, everything else faded into the background. Only Ginny existed for his senses to pick up on. She stood before him with a white vale partially obscuring her smiling face. He recognized Ginny’s dress. He had seen it while Ron was being fitted for his robes at Madam Malkin’s shop. Ginny had gone to pick out her dress after Harry and Ron had gotten back to Hogwarts, and Harry wondered if she had known it was the one he had liked at the time when she chose it. The dress was a white strapless jacquard gown with beaded embroidery on the bodice and the hem of the skirt. Harry didn’t really know what any of that meant. It was what he read on the deion that had been attached to it in the shop. All he knew for sure was that she looked incredible in it.
Harry blinked, and the look and sound of the wedding came back to him as he watched Mr. Weasley kiss his daughter’s hand just in front of him. Arthur took Ginny’s hand and placed it into Harry’s. Arthur took his place next to Molly as Harry and Ginny looked at one another smiling.
Clarissa Merrythought waited for the bride and groom to face her for several seconds before she smiled and said, “Just let me know when you’re ready to proceed.”
“Sorry,” Harry said as he and Ginny turned to face Clarissa, and Ron sniggered. “I was just trying to preserve the moment.”
“Take my word for it,” Clarissa advised, “the moment you want to preserve is a few minutes away. Don’t worry though. Your father was the same way. I’ll let you know when we get there.”
“Thanks,” Harry said forcing himself not to look at Ginny.
“Beloved guests,” Clarissa said addressing everyone present, “we gather together here tonight to perform one of the most sacred of all ceremonies in wizarding society. Anyone challenging the right of Harry and Ginny to be married, come forth now to present your argument. There being no challenge, you may all be seated. Let us begin with a prayer. Our Father, love has been your richest and greatest gift to the world. Love between a man and woman which matures into marriage is one of your most beautiful types of loves. Today we celebrate that love. May your blessing be on this wedding service. Protect, guide, and bless Harry and Ginny in their marriage. Surround them and us with your love now and always. Amen. Harry and Ginny, the covenant which you are about to make with each other is meant to be a beautiful and sacred expression of your love for each other. As you pledge your vows to each other, and as you commit your lives to each other, we ask that you do so in all seriousness, and yet with a deep sense of joy; with the deep conviction that you are committing yourselves to a dynamic growing relationship of trust, mutual support, and caring love. Harry, Ginny, having received this charge, are you both willing to enter into this covenant?”
“Yes,” Harry and Ginny replied together.
“Harry and Ginny have preselected bible readings to be presented,” Clarissa announced. “I shall begin with Ginny’s. Her selection, from Ecclesiastes says, ‘Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, they are warm; but how can one be warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him.’ Words for us all to consider, to be sure. Harry’s reading comes from the first Corinthians. It says, ‘If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.’ Well chosen, Harry. I know your parents would be proud of you.”
Harry’s hand clasped a little tighter to Ginny’s as she and everyone in the audience felt a sudden pleasantly warm feeling spread through their chests. Clarissa paused in wonder to the feeling in her own chest as Harry turned his head and looked at Ginny once more.
Something had obviously passed between the two in the silence before Ginny turned back to Clarissa and said, “We may need to get on with this. I don’t know how long he’s going to be willing to wait.”
“Easy there, Harry,” Clarissa said as she smiled at how very like his father Harry really was. “We’re almost there. Do you have the rings?”
“We do,” Ron and Hermione said as they both placed rings in Clarissa’s hand.
Clarissa drew her wand and pointed it at the rings. A quick spell later, they were floating in the air between Harry and Ginny.
“Please turn to face one another,” Clarissa instructed and waited while they did so. “The rings you see before you are a symbol of eternity. It is the journey without end. As you wear them, remember the promises made to one another here tonight. Let them serve as the physical representation of the spiritual bond you are entering into. Harry, do you promise to love Ginny? To hold yourself only for her? To protect and support Ginny in times of plenty as well as times of struggle? In health, and in sickness? To accept her as a partner and shelter her as a wife for so long as you both may live?”
“I do,” Harry said as the ring in front of him flashed momentarily.
“You may now place the ring on Ginny’s finger,” Clarissa said.
Harry took the ring floating before him and slipped it gently onto Ginny’s finger. As he did, Mr. Weasley patted Molly’s hand in hopes she would allow some of the blood to rush back into the one she was holding.
“Ginny,” Clarissa continued, “do you promise to love Harry? To hold yourself only for him? To protect and support Harry in times of plenty as well as times of struggle? In health, and in sickness? To accept him as a partner and shelter him as a husband for so long as you both may live?”
“I do,” Ginny said as the ring before her flashed the same way Harry’s had.
“You may now place the ring on Harry’s finger,” Clarissa said.
Ginny took the ring in front of her and slid it easily onto Harry’s finger. After she had, Harry took a small step toward Ginny as he looked over to Clarissa to see her hold up a hand to warn him to hold back a little longer.
Once Harry had stopped, Clarissa said, “This is that moment, Harry. With the intent of the bride and groom having been assured, and the rings having been exchanged, Harry, you may kiss your bride.”
Harry finished the step he had wanted to take before as he moved closer to Ginny. Taking her vail in hand, Harry lifted it carefully as he folded it back over her head. Before he could get his hands back down though, Ginny couldn’t wait any longer as she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Harry as she pressed her lips to his. There were giggles from the guests, but Harry and Ginny took no notice of them. So little notice in fact that Clarissa had to clear her throat several seconds later to remind them they were not quite finished yet.
“You may now turn and face your guests,” Clarissa said as she waited for Harry and Ginny to do so. “Who stands for the bride?”
All of the Weasleys on the front row stood up as Arthur said, “We stand for the bride.”
“And who stands for the groom?” Clarissa asked as she looked over to McGonagall.
All of those seated in the front on Harry’s side stood as a clearly emotional McGonagall said, “We stand for the groom.”
“The bride and groom may now present themselves to those who stand for them,” Clarissa instructed.
Hermione handed two red roses to Ginny, and Harry and Ginny walked toward Arthur and Molly. Harry took the first rose and handed it to Molly just before she enveloped him in a tight hug. When she released him she took Ginny in her arms as Harry took the other rose and walked to the end of the row. Working his way down the row, Harry shook hands with his new brothers-in-law. When he came to Fleur, he handed her the second rose and kissed her on the cheek.
After Harry had made it back to the end and shaken hands with Arthur, he and Ginny took three more roses from Hermione and walked toward McGonagall. Ginny presented McGonagall with the first rose, and then hugged her. Ginny them moved and worked from the end of the line back just as Harry had done, and gave the two remaining roses to Gabrielle and Tonks. McGonagall wept openly as Harry and Ginny walked back to Clarissa, and Hermione returned the bridal bouquet to Ginny that she had held for her during the wedding.
“Ladies and gentlemen, honored guests,” Clarissa proclaimed, “it is my distinct honor to present to you Mr. and Mrs. Harry Potter.”
Everyone in the audience not already standing stood up and applauded the couple’s marriage. Music began playing once again, and Harry and Ginny walked up the aisle hand in hand. Ron and Hermione followed behind as Ron stuck his arm out and Hermione slipped hers through it. The family on Ginny’s side walked up the aisle side by side with McGonagall and the others from Harry’s side. As soon as they were gone, the house elves disapparated.
By the time the guests started to file out of their seats, they discovered that a series of long tables had appeared behind where they had been seated. The tables were arranged in a series of squares within squares leaving a large open area in the middle. In that opening, Harry held Ginny close to him as they kissed once again, and this time no one made any move to stop them.
Minutes later, Harry and Ginny stood behind the largest wedding cake either of them had ever seen. As they gripped the knife together, they paused with the knife touching the cake while the photographer from the Daily Prophet prepared to take the only photograph that was being allowed for public presentation. The camera flashed just as they cut down through the cake.
Harry cut pieces of cake for he and Ginny. After they were seated at a table, Dobby took over portioning out the cake and causing the pieces to appear on the plates of the guests seated at the tables. Other house elves hand delivered pieces to the Centaurs. The Merpeople declined any cake. Harry and Ginny walked to the waters edge to speak with the Merpeople at their request. It was then that Ginny learned just how much Mermish Harry actually knew. They wished the couple a long and happy life together, and then they excused themselves before they sank back into the water.
After Harry and Ginny danced, other couples began to join them. Hermione led Ron, somewhat against his will to the dance floor to join Neville and Pansy, Lupin and Tonks, and several other couples. Perhaps the most surprising addition to the dancers was Snape. Fiona Moss had asked him to dance, and he had been so stunned that he let her pull him onto the dance floor.
Harry and Ginny spent a great deal of time greeting all of their guests, and as the party wore on, many of them started to say their goodbyes. Hermione’s parents left fairly early since they had to work the next day. The carriage waited to return them to Hogsmeade in comfort. Harry began to worry that no one would
be left to hear Ron’s speech if he didn’t make it soon. He was already wondering just how late McGonagall was willing to let the party go on.
Finally, after Hermione had slipped a little liquid courage into Ron’s drink, Ron stood beside where Harry and Ginny were seated and tapped his glass to get everyone’s attention. Slowly, the conversations died away as everyone turned to listen to Ron.
“When Harry first asked me to be his best man,” Ron said not seeming at all nervous and leaving Harry to wonder just how strong the potion Hermione had given him was, “he informed me that my main obligation would be to give this speech. It wasn’t until I started trying to write it that I realized what a difficult task he had put before me. How was I supposed to express to you all in such a short time everything that Harry has meant to me and to my family? Then I realized that there isn’t much I could tell you about Harry’s character that you don’t already know. I have seen him day in and day out work and give so much of himself to those around him. I’ve seen him put himself in dangerous situations without a second thought to help someone who needed it. I’ve seen him persevere through times of great personal loss and sadness. I’ve seen him comfort others when they’ve experienced the same. Since that first day I met Harry on the Hogwarts Express, I’ve been learning just what a truly special person he is. I couldn’t be happier to accept him into my family. There is no one I would trust more to take care of my little sist…”
Ron stopped suddenly as Harry stood quickly beside him with a terrified expression on his face.
“What is it, Harry?” Hermione asked as she and Ginny stood as well.
“I don’t…” Harry said as he began to feel something very intensely. “Get into the castle! Everyone get to the castle now! Go!”
Aurors and Order members snapped their senses to attention surveying the surrounding area for any danger that Harry might have sensed. There was a moment when everyone was still, but after Harry took hold of Ginny and disapparated, chaos broke out as guests jumped over tables and fought through the other guests to run for the castle. Only seconds after he had left, Harry reappeared and then disapparated again with Hermione and Ron. Harry returned several times to pick up what stragglers he could, and on his last trip he spotted the Centaurs gathered together with many of them running in confusion toward the tree line of the Forbidden Forest. As they did, more followed. Nearly all of the guests were in the castle by the time Harry went to try to convince McGonagall to go inside as well. Just as he appeared beside her, the aurors near the lake yelled and retreated slightly as multiple heads began to rise from the water. Somehow the death eaters had managed to enter Hogwarts through the lake.
On and on they came despite the spells the aurors were hitting them with. Fifty death eaters walked out of the water and stayed clumped together. The aurors retreated as the spells they were using seemed to have no affect on the advancing death eaters. Battering spells knocked them down, but the ones behind them advanced forward as the fallen ones behind them stood back up and began advancing again.
“Look at their faces, Professor,” Harry explained to McGonagall. “They don’t have any expression at all. Spells aren’t working on them. They’re infiri. Voldemort turned his own death eaters into infiri.”
Just then the death eaters raised their wands in front of them and sent a deadly barrage of killing curses directly at the aurors in their path. The aim was poor, but the effects were devastating enough. Five aurors fell lifeless to the ground. The death eaters continued to advance taking no notice of the order members flanking to attack from the rear. A second barrage of killing curses were fired, and Harry grabbed McGonagall’s arm just before a green jet of light would have hit her.
McGonagall found herself standing inside the castle with all of the terrified guests and students. Harry disapparated almost immediately and reappeared seconds later with the Minister of Magic in tow. Before anyone could speak to him, Harry was gone once again.
Harry reappeared outside to see a wall of fire spring up from the ground and encircle the death eaters. The heat was so intense that Harry could feel the heat from fifteen meters away. The aurors near the fire backed away a safe distance to escape the heat. Momentarily, Harry held on to the hope that the fire would contain the infiri the way it had in the cave where he and Dumbledore had found the fake locket. Infiri were supposed to shrink back from fire.
Harry’s hopes were shattered as the watched smoldering wand tips emerge from the flames. Two more aurors died instantly as walking fireballs emerged from the wall of flame. The robes of the death eaters flamed mightily, yet onwards they came without a hint of feeling.
Again and again the aurors and Order blasted the infiri with spells that knocked them back into one another, but again and again the infiri righted themselves to continue their march toward the castle. As they advanced, their tight clumped formation began to spread out, leaving fewer safe avenues for the aurors.
The air was becoming thick with the stench of burning flesh by the time Lupin backed into Harry and turned in surprise to say, “Oh my god! Harry, what are you doing out here?”
“People are dying out here because of me, Professor,” Harry said as he whipped his wand forward and sent a battering blow to the head of one of the death eaters. “I have to do something.”
“Keep yourself safe, Harry,” Lupin ordered. “Otherwise all of this will have been for nothing.”
“No, Professor,” Harry replied. “If we can protect the people inside the castle it won’t be for nothing.”
“Stubborn,” Lupin said as he punched a hole in the chest of a death eater that continued to advance as if nothing had happened, “just like your father.”
“I get that a lot,” Harry commented as the line retreated still closer to the castle.
Disarming spells had no effect. A spell to freeze the wand hand of one death eater met with disastrous results as the death eater’s next spell blasted through the ice that had formed on the tip of his wand and sent sharp icy projectiles straight back to stab at the face of the Order member who originated the freeze spell. Harry ran to the injured Order member and disapparated into the castle with him. Harry returned almost instantly to see Kingsley slice upwards with his wand as a powerful cutting spell cut a death eater in half vertically. The two halves fell away to opposite sides, but even as it lay on the ground, the half still holding the wand continued to fire spells at them. Again, the line of defenders moved back.
Kingsley yelled an order to the aurors and their attacks concentrated exclusively on cutting spells designed to dismember and demobilize the infiri. They fell quickly. Lacking legs to stand on, their advance finally ceased. Everyone was ordered to flank one side or another to avoid the aim of the death eaters spells in the direction of the castle walls. Again, fire sprang up all along the line where the dismembered infiri lay. Wand after wand spewed fire into the line until the blaze raged and the defenders were forced to step back away from the intense heat. The spells emanating from the fire died away quickly as the wooden wands burned along with their users.
Seconds later, fireballs streaked across the sky as those on the grounds looked up to see fire spells being shot out of nearly every window in Gryffindor tower. Following the path of the fireballs, Harry and the others watched as they began impacting on the grass ahead of where twenty-five more death eater infiri were climbing out of the water.
“Right then,” Kingsley said as he looked around at those still with him. “Anyone with an injury go inside the castle. I’m sure the Minister has sent for reinforcements by now. The rest of you, follow me. We have a bit more work to do. Harry, go inside. We can’t take the chance you’ll be hurt. Don’t make your wife worry any more than you have to.”
“She has a clear view of me already,” Harry commented as he pointed to one of the windows in Gryffindor tower.
“Please, Harry,” Molly said as she and Arthur walked closer to him, “do as Kingsley says. Stay with Ginny.”
“I’ll be back if it looks like you need help,” Harry said just before he disapparated.
Harry appeared suddenly in his dorm room. No one noticed that he had arrived. The windows were crammed with D. A. members. Ginny, being able to feel his presence, turned and ran to Harry. Hermione and Ron turned in time to see Ginny wrap her arms around Harry tightly.
“What on earth were you thinking, Harry?” Hermione asked as she came away from the window. “You could have been killed out there.”
“He knows that, Hermione,” Ginny said still not letting go of Harry.
“Well I’m here now,” Harry said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“None of us are, mate,” Ron commented. “McGonagall and the Minister were going to evacuate everyone.”
“Only, the floo network is down,” Hermione said quickly. “They think Voldemort may be behind it. In order to take down the entire network, he would have had to do that from inside the Ministry. They’re assuming the worst. They’re going to every fireplace in the castle and placing blocking spells on them to keep any death eaters from entering that way.”
“I’m sorry, Harry,” Ginny said with her head on his shoulder.
“For what?” Harry asked.
“I know you wanted us to have more time together before this battle happened,” Ginny explained. “I know you can feel how desperately I wanted that too.”
“There may still be time,” Harry said softly. “This may not be…”
“It’s alright, Harry,” Ginny said as she clutched him tighter. “I love you. It’s okay to be scared. We both know that Voldemort wouldn’t have gone to this trouble if he didn’t intend to come after you. Just hold me. Hold me for as long as you can.”
Harry was still holding her five minutes later when he felt it. Ginny took her head away from his chest for the first time to look into his eyes. She knew what he had felt. Clasping Harry’s hand in hers tightly, Ginny turned to look at Hermione and Ron.
“The Centaurs are under attack,” Ginny explained. “I’m going with Harry to help them.”
Before Hermione or Ron could express any argument, Harry and Ginny disapparated. Appearing in a clearing in the forest, Harry and Ginny could feel the chill immediately. Harry’s wand was out quickly as he pointed it to the area where the dementors were swirling above and around the already weakened Centaurs. The silvery light from Harry’s wand washed over the Centaurs like a wave and pushed the dementors away from them. Their path to the Centaurs blocked, the dementors continued to ram into Harry’s patronus only to be thrown back repeatedly.
Magorian looked up and shielded his eyes from the blinding light that had driven the dementors back even as many other Centaurs did the same. Seconds later, they detected two human forms through the light coming closer to them.
“Magorian,” Harry said as he and Ginny ran to the Centaurs, “are you alright? I don’t know how long I’ll be able to hold them off.”
“So let it be,” Magorian said in amazement. “You’ve saved us, Mr. Potter.”
“Not yet,” Harry pointed out as he kept his wand trained at the air above them. “Is the entire herd here?”
“Yes,” Magorian replied. “We were gathered here after the panic at the wedding.”
“Good,” Harry said. “Have everyone join hands. You take Ginny’s hand and make sure that all hands link through someone directly to you. Everyone has to be touching for me to get us all out at once.”
Precious seconds ticked by as Magorian spread the word throughout the herd. Finally, they were ready. Magorian took Ginny’s free hand as Harry gripped tighter to her other. Harry lowered his wand, and the Centaurs felt the slight invasion of a chill before the scene shifted and they found their hooves on stone instead of earth.
It was a surreal sight for those sequestered in the Great Hall as the entire Centaur herd appeared there suddenly with Harry and Ginny still in their wedding clothes.
“Harry,” Narcissa said in surprise. “Are you both okay?”
“We’re fine, Mrs. Malfoy,” Harry responded as he and Ginny walked toward their unfortunate guests. “I’m sorry that this night has been such a disaster for you all. Ginny and I had hoped it would be a much happier occasion for all of you.”
“There is no need to apologize for things obviously beyond your control, Mr. Potter,” Mr. Ollivander said as he stepped forward. “The death eaters can strike at any time. Fortescue and I certainly know that.”
“Still,” Harry persisted, “all of you were my guests. I bear some responsibility in assuring that you arrive home safely.”
“We’re all trapped here for now, dear,” Madam Malkin said. “The Floo network is down. The Minister of Magic is trying to find another way to evacuate us.”
“If I got you all to Diagon Alley, would you be able to get home from there?” Harry asked.
“How do you plan on doin’ somethin’ like that?” Stan Shunpike asked. “The Minister of Magic said we’d have to wait.”
“I believe you will find,” Bane said as he stepped forward from the group of Centaurs, “that Mr. Potter is capable of extraordinary achievements. He just exhibited a great deal of skill and bravery as he saved my entire herd from certain death. If he says he can get you home then you should believe that he is capable of doing just that.”
“Oh, sure,” Stan said seeming a bit intimidated. “I was just curious.”
“I’ll take you all there right away,” Harry said. “Mrs. Malfoy, I’ll come back for your group as soon as I know everyone else is safe.”
“I’ll try to have everyone ready,” Narcissa said. “Snape is helping to seal the fireplaces. I’m not sure exactly where Theodore went.”
“He won’t want to leave,” Draco supplied.
“I understand,” Harry said with a knowing look in his eye as he moved toward Mr. Ollivander.
Minutes later, Harry stood holding hands with Ollivander as the other guests chained together in the same manner the Centaurs had earlier. When he was sure they were all connected, he turned and held his free hand out to Ginny. She smiled as she stepped forward and took his offered hand. Soon after, the entire group disapparated en mass.
Draco and Narcissa were left alone in the Great Hall with the Centaurs. It didn’t seem to bother the Centaurs as they conversed in hushed voices with one another about the amazing events of the night. Less than a minute after the other guests had left, McGonagall and Scrimgeour entered the Great Hall with Snape following behind and stopped immediately in surprise.
“Mrs. Malfoy…” McGonagall began, unable to even form an adequate question for the situation.
“Harry brought the Centaurs here,” Narcissa explained.
“We were under attack from the dementors, Headmistress” Magorian said as he stepped toward McGonagall with Bane and Lisian along side him.
“Had the Potters not arrived when they did,” Lisian said, “our entire herd would have been lost.”
“The Potters?” McGonagall asked as her eyes opened wider in surprise.
“Indeed,” Bane said. “They are now as one. It is as it should be.”
“What of the other guests?” Scrimgeour asked.
“Harry took them all to Diagon Alley,” Narcissa replied.
“He should have consulted with us before evacuating them,” Scrimgeour said.
“Really?” Draco asked as he spoke up for the first time. “Did you find a way to evacuate everyone without using the Floo network?”
“Well, no,” Scrimgeour replied.
“Then there was no need to consult with you to find out what your plan might be,” Draco said. “Harry took responsibility for the safety of his guests. There wasn’t one of them who didn’t have complete faith that he would do as he promised. Someone who commands that kind of respect doesn’t need your permission.”
“Thank you, Draco,” Harry said as everyone looked around to see he and Ginny holding hands. “I think you’ll find that isn’t always the case though. Getting the guests to a safe location was a logical goal. If the Minister had been here I would have informed him of my plans. Since he wasn’t, and believing we were still operating in a crisis situation, I did what I thought was best at the time.”
“You usually do, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall pointed out. “You usually do it alone though.”
“I didn’t want him to leave me, Professor,” Ginny said. “If this battle proves to be what we suspect, then I want to spend all the time with Harry that I can. I don’t know if that makes sense to you.”
“It does,” McGonagall admitted with a sigh.
“After I take the Malfoys, Professor Snape and Theodore back home…” Harry said.
“I’m going to stay,” Draco interrupted surprising everyone.
“Draco…” Narcissa said.
“I have to do this, mum,” Draco said turning to Narcissa. “For once in my life I need to stand up for what I believe. I believe in this. I want to do my part to insure that no death eater ever enters this castle again.”
“Our latest report says that the situation outside is being managed effectively by the aurors,” McGonagall said in a soft tone. “There is no need for you to think of going out to battle the death eaters.”
“Then give me something to do inside the castle,” Draco said. “There must be some way for me to help.”
As McGonagall considered Draco for several seconds, Narcissa said, “I’ll stay with him.”
“As will I,” Snape said.
McGonagall hesitated still as she looked at Draco and finally said, “Very well. Then I will leave it to you to lead the Centaurs to Professor Firenze’s Divination classroom. I believe they will feel more comfortable there. Professor Snape can help you to expand the room to the necessary size.”
“What can I do to help, Professor?” Harry asked.
“You can take your wife back to your common room and stay there,” McGonagall replied. “As you might have guessed, all students have been confined to their common rooms for the time being.”
Without argument, Harry disapparated with Ginny to reappear in his dorm room. Hermione turned to them with a gasp.
“What’s the situation outside?” Harry asked before anyone could express their undoubted worry for he and Ginny. “McGonagall says the aurors and order have things under control.”
“They seem to have a system now anyway,” Ron said. “They’re still dealing with the third group of infiri that came out of the lake.”
The people looking out the window gasped and pointed at the grounds below. Harry ran to the window closely followed by Ginny. To their surprise, they watched as the carriage Harry had transported his guests in careened in flames across the grounds and toward the aurors by the lake.
Harry’s hand went to his chest by reflex as he said, “Death eaters. Live ones.”
Moments later, everyone saw the death eaters Harry had sensed running across the grounds toward the aurors. The aurors formation broke to clear a path for the burning carriage as it rolled past them and ran down two infiri on its way to the lake. The charging death eaters were presenting a very real danger to the aurors and Order as they found themselves caught in the open between two attacking forces. They immediately knew that their situation was desperate.
“Mum and dad are out there,” Ginny said in near panic. “Harry, can you…”
Looking over at Harry she could see that his eyes were already closed as he prepared himself. Hermione grabbed Harry and told him he couldn’t take the chance of being hit if he apparated onto the grounds.
Harry worked quickly as he calmed his mind. He channeled his energy into strengthening his connections to the defenders on the grounds that were in such need. He didn’t know if it would work. He had never tried anything like it before. Harry sent the mental command to his body to apparated to the spot he was already occupying while he pulled on the connections with all of his will.
The dorm room was suddenly filled to capacity as the surprised defenders from the grounds found themselves facing students instead of death eaters. A scream of concern filled their ears almost instantly.
“Harry!” Ginny screamed, trying to catch Harry as he collapsed.
“Oh my, God!” Arthur exclaimed. “Harry. What’s happened?”
Arthur and Molly moved close to Ginny where she sat holding Harry to her as everyone else moved in closer as well.
“I’m not sure what happened,” Hermione admitted as tears began to flow down her cheeks and Ginny placed her hand directly on Harry’s heart. “I thought Harry was going to apparated onto the grounds, but…”
“He touched all of you through his connections to you,” Ginny said as the information flowing from Harry came to her quickly. “He used the connection to apparate you all here. It was just too much of a strain on him. He needs time to rest and recover.”
“You can tell all of that just by touching his chest?” Tonks asked.
Ginny looked up smiling through her tears as she replied, “Yes.”
“Well, get him into his bed,” Lupin suggested. “I’ll take everyone to find Professor McGonagall and the Minister of Magic. Stay clear of those windows. The death eaters will take a shot at anyone sticking their head out one. Molly, Arthur, you stay with Harry. Take him straight to the hospital wing if he gets any worse.”
A little over an hour later, the situation seemed to settle into an uneasy stabilization. The death eaters outside established a perimeter a safe distance from the castle where they seemed content to hold position. To those inside the castle, it was obvious that they were waiting for something to happen. They were even content to allow the aurors to observe them from the high castle towers. Any time the aurors attempted to do more than observe, the dementors swarmed in quickly to force the aurors to divert their attentions. A short time later, the dementors would fly away leaving the aurors chilled and weakened.
McGonagall walked into Harry’s dorm room and stopped momentarily as she took in the sight of the students ringing the area of Harry’s bed with their hands on their wands. She watched as their hands relaxed and came away from their wands to fall back to their sides. They were protecting him while he rested. She knew that loyalty of that type was not won easily.
The students parted to allow her access to Harry’s bed. Most of the Weasley family sat or stood close to the bed. Only Charlie and Bill were absent as they stood on the astronomy tower with the aurors. Fleur stood beside Hermione, whose eyes showed a sense of foreboding that deepened with every step that McGonagall took. McGonagall held back a tear as she spotted Ginny sitting there dutifully watching over her new husband, still in the wedding dress that had been a part of such a happy occasion only hours before.
Ginny looked up at McGonagall and asked, “Is there news?”
“I…” McGonagall stumbled as she hesitated. “I just wanted to come to check on Mr. Potter. Kingsley and Professor Lupin explained to us what Mr. Potter did to save them. As usual, we find ourselves greatly in his debt.”
“Thank you, Professor,” Ginny said softly. “Harry would likely argue with you over who was in whose debt, but thank you all the same.”
“So, what is happening outside?” Hermione asked. “Is it all over?”
“No,” McGonagall answered. “I’m afraid not. The death eaters are holding a position outside on the grounds. They aren’t making any move to advance on the castle. We haven’t found any way to evacuate the castle yet. Attempts to call for help have met with less than desirable results. The castle has been sealed. The death eaters are unlikely to find a way inside the walls of the castle, but plans are in place to move students to more inner secure areas should they begin to try.”
“Surely they didn’t come this far to quit now,” Fred pointed out.
“They’re waiting for something,” George observed.
“Voldemort isn’t here yet,” Hermione said. “They’re waiting for him.”
“That is the most likely possibility,” McGonagall conceded. “I’ll send someone to tell you as soon as we know more.”
Hermione watched carefully as McGonagall turned to go. She couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something important the Headmistress wasn’t saying.
As soon as McGonagall closed the dorm room door behind her she leaned forward with one hand resting on the stone wall as her other hand came up to cover her mouth and her heart ached as pent up emotion spilled from her eyes. She was still crying when she entered her office.
Narcissa and Tonks walked to McGonagall and put their arms around her for support as she said, “I… I could… I couldn’t do it.”
“I was afraid of this,” Scrimgeour said sympathetically. “You’re emotional attachment to Harry is too strong. I’ll tell him.”
“No,” McGonagall said firmly. “We’ll find another way. We have to have a plan.”
“There already is a plan,” Scrimgeour pointed out. “The prophecy spelled it out clearly.”
“I don’t care,” McGonagall said strongly as she righted herself and stood to her full imposing posture. “I won’t send Harry out to be slaughtered.”
“There is a good chance that won’t happen,” Scrimgeour argued.
“There is a better chance that it will,” Snape pointed out. “We need to avoid falling into the trap of believing Mr. Potter to have more ability than he really does. We have all witnessed him perform miraculous feats, yet all of his ability pales in comparison to that which the Dark Lord will bring to bear on him.”
“I agree,” Lupin said. “Harry is on his way to becoming a great wizard, but he still has a great deal to learn before he could seriously think of trying to battle Voldemort.”
“So, what happens if Harry doesn’t go out there?” Draco asked as he stepped forward for the first time and picked up the letter from the desk with the seal of the dark mark on it. “What do we do then? The Dark Lord already told us what he would do in this letter. He’s going to take this castle down brick by brick to get to us all. Whether Harry goes out to meet him or not, we need to be finding a way to get everyone out of this castle to safety. Couldn’t Harry get us all out at once after he wakes up?”
“Harry will be willing to evacuate everyone else,” Dumbledore said from his portrait, “but he won’t leave this castle. He will enter into this battle regardless of attempts to keep him from it. After reading that letter you must all realize that Harry’s compassion and his love are at once his greatest strength, and his greatest weakness. His destiny is at hand, and I think he already knows it.”
In the dorm room, Harry opened his eyes to see Ginny smiling down at him even though she could feel that something was troubling him.
“How are you feeling, Harry dear?” Molly asked.
“Better,” Harry replied with a smile. “I’m really glad to see all of you here. I hate to ask this of you, but Ginny and I have some things to talk about, so we need some privacy.”
“Of course, Harry,” Arthur said as he stood and motioned for everyone to move further away. “It’s only right that you have time together on your wedding night.”
“I can assure you that I’ll stay mostly inside of our agreement,” Harry said.
“Well I should hope so, mate,” Ron said. “We will still be in the room after all.”
When everyone moved away, Harry pulled the drapes on his side closed. Ginny copied his actions on the other side. Within thirty seconds after the drapes had been closed everyone looked toward the bed with concern as they plainly heard Ginny begin crying. Ron’s arm tightened around Hermione when Ginny’s sobs became muffled as she buried her face on Harry’s shoulder.
An hour later, the drapes around the bed opened, and Harry and Ginny emerged to stand together holding hands. The sorrow they had shared over the past hour was evident in the red swollen eyes they both shared.
“Ginny and I need to change out of these clothes,” Harry said. “After that we’ll go to meet with Professor McGonagall.”
“You had better let her come to you, Harry,” Arthur said. “Students are confined to their houses.”
“Not for long,” Harry informed him. “I’m going to evacuate everyone to somewhere safe.”
Minutes later, everyone in McGonagall’s office looked up to see Harry walk into the office with Ginny and her parents. Something about the look in Harry’s eye made an uncomfortable shiver creep slowly up McGonagall’s back.
“How are you feeling, Mr. Potter?” McGonagall asked.
“As well as can be expected under the circumstances,” Harry replied. “Well enough to apparate everyone away from Hogwarts if we can gather everyone in the Great Hall.”
“Your help in that will be greatly appreciated,” Scrimgeour said. “I will be staying here with the aurors, but knowing that everyone else is safely away from here will make our jobs easier. I’ll assign two aurors to protect you Mr. Potter. We have to keep you safe.”
“I’ll get everyone out,” Harry said, “but I’m coming back afterwards.”
“No, Harry,” McGonagall said quickly as her heart began to quicken once again. “You don’t need to.”
“You know as well as I do that I have an appointment to keep,” Harry said calmly as McGonagall’s eyes widened in surprise.
“How did…” McGonagall began.
“Forgive me, Professor,” Harry said. “Your emotions have been running unchecked since you received that letter. I know exactly what it says.”
“What letter?” Arthur asked.
After hesitating, Lupin said, “Voldemort sent us his demands. He wants Harry to meet him on the grounds at sunrise.”
“You don’t have to fight him just because he challenged you, Harry,” Molly said with her voice full of worry. “Just run away.”
“He can’t,” Ginny said suddenly. “Voldemort is holding Harry’s aunt Petunia. He’s going to kill her if Harry doesn’t meet him in the morning.”
“I told them to move away,” Harry commented more to himself than anyone else. “Why couldn’t they have listened to me just once?”
“There must be something we can do,” Molly said as the words choked in her throat.
“Just send word for everyone to meet in the Great Hall as soon as possible,” Harry said. “I’ll meet everyone there.”
Harry and Ginny turned and walked toward the door. Molly moved to follow them, but Arthur put a hand on her arm to stop her. As she looked back at him, he shook his head to dissuade her from following Harry and Ginny. Turning back to look at her daughter she realized that her role as the primary comforter for Ginny had been assumed by another. Sadness washed over her as she realized how short Harry’s time in that position could be. She turned back to sob into Arthur’s shoulder as Harry closed the door behind him.
Half an hour later, most of the humans in the castle stood in the Great Hall, though most of them had only heard rumors of why they were there. The aurors were absent from the group, as were the Order members stationed with them. Heads turned as Harry and Ginny walked in arm in arm.
“Many of you are wondering why we’ve asked you to assemble here,” McGonagall announced when Harry and Ginny made it to the head of the room. “Death eaters are currently holding position on the grounds. At sunrise the Dark Lord will arrive to… to duel with Harry Potter.”
Chaotic chatter broke out immediately, and it took several seconds for McGonagall to quiet everyone.
“You aren’t going to fight him alone, Harry,” Ron said seriously as he stepped forward. “I’ll be right there with you.”
“No, Ron,” Harry said. “I have to fight him alone or the death eaters will attack. As long as I fight him alone, everyone else should be safe.”
“You trust Voldemort to stick to that deal?” Ron asked.
“No,” Harry replied. “If you’re going to stay then I need you to look after Ginny for me.”
“What do you mean, if he stays?” Pritchard asked as he stepped from the crowd.
“Mr. Potter has agreed to evacuate everyone right now,” McGonagall said. “That is why you have all been called here.”
“You have a way to get out, and you’re coming back?” Pritchard asked. “Why don’t we all leave? Then there won’t be anyone here for him to attack.”
“There are other circumstances you are not aware of,” McGonagall said. “Mr. Potter has made his choice. Now is the time for the rest of you to make yours. I am personally hoping all of you will choose to leave.”
“I’m staying,” Ron said.
“So am I,” Hermione said as she clasped Ron’s hand.
“Me too,” Neville said.
“Please everyone,” McGonagall said, “let’s expedite this process. No one below sixth year will be allowed to stay. The rest of you will have to make your own choice. Everyone leaving, step to the right. Everyone staying, step to the left.”
Many of those present made their choice quickly. Ron, Hermione, and Neville led the entire D.A. to the left as they were joined by a few others. The younger students made a mass migration to the right, though some made it known that it was not of their own choosing. The remainder of the group still occupying the middle filtered out more slowly to one side or the other.
Draco considered carefully before turning to his mum and giving her a kiss on the cheek and saying, “I love you, mum. I’m staying.”
“I thought you might feel that way,” Narcissa said proudly. “I won’t abandon you now. I’ll stay as well.”
Pritchard separated himself from the middle as he walked to the left side, and Ron said, “Are you kidding? You’re staying after that speech about everyone leaving?”
Pritchard stopped in front of Ron as he said, “Death eaters tried to get into my house a month after Harry put that shield on it. They didn’t get in. That shield saved my mum. I guess I owe him something now.”
“Don’t mind Ron,” Hermione said. “He’s the eternal pessimist.”
Three more Slytherin joined Pritchard on the left side, but the majority of the people who had remained in the middle moved to the right. When that process was complete, Harry and Ginny walked to the group on the right and they all joined hands.
Harry turned to the group on the other side and said, “This may be you last chance. If you question your reasons for staying at all then join this group now.”
Harry waited, but no one changed sides. He looked to McGonagall, and she nodded. An instant later, the largest group in the hall dissaparated.
Seconds ticked by. Then the seconds stretched into minutes, yet Harry and Ginny still did not return. Genuine concern had begun to grow in the Great Hall until after seven minutes when Harry returned with Ginny, Cho and nine other graduated D.A. members.
“Mr. Potter, the point was not to search for reinforcements,” McGonagall said.
“Don’t blame Harry,” Cho said. “We were all in the group Harry evacuated after he rescued the Centaurs. Things were happening so fast that we didn’t think about what was happening. If we had realized this battle was taking place we never would have left. So, we waited. When Harry apparated into the Leaky Cauldron we asked him to bring us back.”
McGonagall sighed as she surveyed those who had chosen to remain in the castle before she said, “There are still a few hours before sunrise. Use that time to rest if you can. Tomorrow will be… Just rest if you can.”
McGonagall walked out of the Great Hall followed by Scrimgeour, her teachers, Snape, the Order members who had been present, Narcissa and Draco.
“Rest,” Fred said after the adults had left. “As if anyone will be able to do that.”
“Let’s go back to the common room anyway,” Hermione suggested.
“Who’s common room?” Pritchard asked.
“I would think the Gryffindor common room,” Luna said.
“I’m not in Gryffindor though,” Pritchard said. “Neither are you.”
“I doubt that really makes any difference now,” Luna said as she began following the Gryffindors.
Hours later, Ron paced behind the sofa where Harry and Ginny sat sleeping in one another’s arms while everyone else either sat in other seats or stood around nervously. The Slytherin in the group, who had felt out of place since they entered the common room, stood in a darker corner and watched curiously wondering how Harry could manage to sleep with his battle with Voldemort looming so near.
“I don’t care what he says, Hermione,” Ron whispered as he paced. “I’m not going to let him fight Voldemort alone. I know we can do it together.”
“I think it’s only fair for me to tell you that I slipped you a potion after the wedding,” Hermione admitted. “You were so nervous about your speech that I gave you an especially large dose of a courage potion. It probably won’t wear off until tomorrow.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Ron said not really taking in what she was saying. “I’m going to help him whether he likes it or not.”
“Maybe we should look after Ginny for Harry,” Fred said to Hermione as he watched Ron pace.
“Ron’s attention might be on something else,” George said.
“We had better keep an eye on Ron too,” Percy said shaking his head.
Ron stopped pacing suddenly even as everyone else in the room stiffened slightly when they saw Harry stir. Harry raised his head slowly and looked at the fire as if seeing beyond it. Ginny awoke shortly after Harry as she looked up at him knowingly. Harry turned his head to look at Ginny as a loving smile spread across his face.
Harry’s hand softly caressed Ginny’s cheek as he said, “Good morning, Mrs. Potter.”
Ginny smiled back at Harry and said, “Good morning, Mr. Potter.”
Harry leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on Ginny’s lips. After they parted, Harry started to stand up. Immediately, Ginny’s hand grabbed for Harry’s as a fearful look washed over her face.
“I’m just going to the loo,” Harry said with a grin. “I’ll come back.”
“Promise?” Ginny asked.
“Count on it,” Harry said as Ginny loosened her grip and Harry stood up straight and turned to the rest of the people in the room. “Morning everyone.”
After Harry disappeared up the boys’ stairs, Ginny turned back to look blankly at the fire.
“He’s a cool customer,” Pritchard said to his fellow Slytherin. “We have to give him that.”
“Are you sure you didn’t slip him a calming draft, Hermione?” Fred asked. “Harry’s usually calm, but this is surreal.”
“It’s only a mask,” Ginny said. “He isn’t nearly as calm as he seems.”
Cho jumped down the last few steps from the girls dormitories and looked around as she asked, “Is Harry in here?”
“He’s gone upstairs,” Hermione replied quickly. “Has something happened?”
“Voldemort,” Cho said. “He’s here.”
“Harry already knows,” Ginny said as she continued to look at the fire.
“You don’t think he would…” Ron began to ask fearfully.
“He’s coming back,” Ginny interrupted with conviction as she stood and proceeded to walk to and up the stairs to the girls’ dorms.
“Harry isn’t the only cool customer,” one of the Slytherin boys whispered to Pritchard.
Minutes that seemed like hours to those still in the common room passed before Harry walked back down the stairs. He had taken the time upstairs to shower and change into clean clothes.
“Is there anything you needed us to do, Harry?” Hermione asked.
“Well I don’t know about you, but after Ginny comes down I plan to go down for breakfast,” Harry replied.
“Harry, this is no time to be thinking about food,” Hermione said.
“It isn’t about the food, Hermione,” Harry said. “I spent my honeymoon night sleeping on a couch with my wife in front of a warm fire while we were surrounded with some of the best friends either of us will ever have. This breakfast is the first one I get to share with my wife. This may be the last one I have with her. So you see, it isn’t about the food at all.”
Just as Ginny came down the stairs after showering and changing, the portrait hole opened and Lupin stepped through into the common room. As he looked up to see everyone looking his way, he noticed Harry taking Ginny’s hand with a smile on his face as if nothing were out of the ordinary.
“Morning, Professor,” Ron said as he looked at the bags under Lupin’s eyes. “It looks as though you didn’t sleep well.”
“About as well as most of you I would imagine,” Lupin replied.
“Have you come to escort us to breakfast, Professor?” Harry asked.
“I… suppose so,” Lupin replied noting how relaxed Harry seemed to be.
“Well then you’re just in time,” Harry said as he and Ginny walked toward the exit. “We were just headed that way.”
Walking next to Harry as they descended the stairs as everyone else followed behind, Lupin struggled to think of words he should be saying to the son of his best friend as he faced walking into the most perilous moment imaginable. No matter how much he tried, the words wouldn’t come. Instead, he was left to feel self conscious about his silence.
Harry walked into the Great Hall to see everyone, including the Centaurs, already assembled and waiting. The looks on their faces could have deflated a hot air balloon. Harry had to lighten the situation before he went mad. Seeing no tables in the room he knew how to begin.
“Am I too late for breakfast, Professor?” Harry asked as he looked at McGonagall.
“Breakfast?” McGonagall asked in surprise. “But… Voldemort…”
“Is going to have to wait,” Harry said seriously. “He’s early. The Sun isn’t up yet.”
“Of course,” McGonagall conceded. “Breakfast will be served momentarily. If everyone could just stand against the walls.”
People moved out of the center leaving it completely empty. McGonagall drew her wand and waved it toward the center as the two centermost house tables appeared in their usual place.
“Thanks, Professor,” Harry said with a smile. “I’m starving”
Harry began walking toward the tables followed by the D.A. Everyone else began to find their seats as they realized that it would likely make Harry uncomfortable for them to remain standing around him while he ate. Shortly after they sat down, food began appearing on the tables. Harry immediately began to fill his plate followed by Ron. Most everyone else simply filled their goblets with a bit of juice, not thinking they could stomach a slice of bacon or a pancake.
Harry looked at Fred and George seated just down from him and asked, “Does this bring back any memories? I’ll bet the two of you never thought you’d be eating another breakfast here”
“Right you are, Harry,” George said with a smile. “We abandoned our formal education in pursuit of our dreams.”
“Much to the disappointment of some,” Fred said with a grinning glance at his mum. “Too bad we’ve wasted our futures and become such failures.”
“Enough of that, Fred,” Molly said from her seat. “I’ve already taken back those words a thousand times since I said them.”
“We owe everything to that woman, Harry,” Fred said pointing at Molly.
“It’s true,” George said. “If she hadn’t said that to us we wouldn’t have tried nearly as hard to prove her wrong.”
Everyone around them laughed before Harry said, “I hope all of us can be as fortunate as you two once we leave here. What do you plan to do after Hogwarts, Neville?”
“I don’t really know if I’ll be leaving Hogwarts,” Neville said. “Professor Sprout talked to me a few days ago about coming back next year to be her assistant.”
“Really?” Harry asked.
“I haven’t decided if I’ll take it yet though,” Neville said.
“You should, Neville,” Ginny said. “It would be a great job for you.”
“What did Pansy have to say about it?” Ron asked with a suppressed giggle.
“She loved the idea,” Neville replied. “Only, she plans to apply to come back to Hogwarts next year to finish her seventh year.”
“Tough one, mate,” Fred said. “A staff member and a student? What a scandal.”
“Still,” Neville said with a smile, “I would be a fool not to take the chance to be close to her even if we can’t openly have a relationship.”
“Spoken like a Gryffindor,” Pritchard said with a grin from the table behind Neville. “You’re almost as willing to bend the rules as a Slytherin. Pansy is a Slytherin you know. She may be a bad influence on you.”
“I hope so,” Neville said with a smile as everyone burst out laughing.
When the laughter had died down a bit, Harry asked, “What about you, Hermione? What would your dream job be after Hogwarts? You can pretty much have your pick of them anyway being the brightest witch of our age and all.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” Hermione said with a blush. “My dream job I’ll never get.”
“What is it?” Ron asked.
“Promise you won’t laugh?” Hermione asked. “Well, I’d love to come back here to take over teaching History of Magic from Professor Binns.”
Everyone tried their best, but they couldn’t contain their laughter. Hermione’s face reddened, but eventually she began laughing along with everyone else.
“What about you, Ron?” Ginny asked. “Still planning to be an auror?”
“No way,” Ron said dismissing it with a wave of his hand. “In order to become an auror, even after I left Hogwarts, I would have to do the thing I hate more than anything else, study.”
“So what are you going to do with your miserable life?” Fred teased.
“I have it on good authority that the head keeper of the Chudley Cannons is retiring at the end of this season,” Ron said.
“You’re kidding,” George said. “You think you have a chance of becoming the new keeper?”
“Of course not,” Ron said. “The next keeper below him would be in line for that job, but it means there will be an opening for a new alternate.”
“Somehow I think Hermione has a better chance of taking over for Binns,” Fred pointed out with a wide smile.
Smiling and speaking without thinking, Hermione asked, “What about you Har…”
Harry saw the shame in her eyes immediately, so he picked up a piece of bacon and said, “I used to want to be an auror, but Ron’s right, too much studying. I thought I would aim a little higher. I thought maybe some day I could be the Minister of Magic.”
“I wonder what Scrimgeour would think of that,” Ron said as everyone around him giggled.
“Let’s find out,” Fred said as he stood up and looked down the table to where the McGonagall and Scrimgeour were sitting. “Minister Scrimgeour, Harry says he’s going to be the Minister of Magic someday. What do you think of that?”
“I just hope he’ll be kind enough to wait until I leave it,” Scrimgeour replied with a grin.
Laughter prevailed across the room for several seconds, but it died away quickly as the first rays of the morning sun began to filter through the lower panes of the window behind the platform where the teachers tables usually resided. The mood in the room soured quickly, and no one was more aware of it than Harry. He could feel it coming from all of them.
Harry put down the partially eaten bacon and stood as he grasped his goblet of juice. Every eye in the Great Hall was on him as he raised his goblet and looked around.
Harry hesitated several seconds before he said, “To friendship. To love. To smiles and laughter. To family. May they always dwell in our hearts, and sustain us through our burdens.”
“Here, here,” Arthur said raising his goblet as others followed.
Harry lowered his goblet and set it back on the table but did not retake his seat. Instead he put his hand out to Ginny to help her up. More than anything he wanted to run away with her somewhere where Voldemort wouldn’t find them. He knew he couldn’t though. He felt the blood curse Godric had mentioned burn stronger with every moment he delayed.
Harry and Ginny walked out of the Great Hall together to find the portraits hanging there devoid of their usual occupants. The frames had been willingly surrendered for use by the former headmasters. Directly ahead of him, Harry saw a frame containing Dumbledore, Godric, and Roweena Ravenclaw. They all looked worried, and Roweena held tightly to Godric’s right arm. Even Dumbledore failed to hold an optimistic expression. Harry stopped and turned away from them so they could continue to worry without him seeing it. It didn’t matter though. He could feel it just as well.
“So,” Harry asked as he looked at McGonagall, “how is this supposed to work? Do I just walk out when I’m ready?”
“You can tell us when you’re ready,” McGonagall replied. “Some of us will precede you outside.”
“I didn’t think anyone else was going with me,” Harry said. “I’m supposed to duel him alone.”
“So you shall,” McGonagall said, “but Voldemort is not the only enemy on the grounds. Should the death eaters attack you then you wouldn’t stand a chance against all of them. We will be there to assure that does not happen.”
“Do we all get to go out?” Ron asked seeming ready to lead everyone out the doors.
“No, Mr. Weasley,” McGonagall replied, deflating him somewhat. “The Minister and I will go accompanied by the Order and the aurors. Mrs. Malfoy has also requested to join us. Mr. Malfoy will accompany his mother.”
“Draco gets to go?” Ron asked seeming insulted at being left out. “Oh come on.”
“What do you want us to do, Harry?” Cho asked. “All of us are ready to walk out with you if you ask us to.”
“No,” Harry said. “Professor McGonagall is right. They have the death eaters covered. I want all of you to go to the astronomy tower. If trouble starts then the dementors might try to get involved. It will be up to you to keep them away from us using your patronus charms. If you leave now you might be able to get there before I go out.”
“Come on everyone,” Cho said motioning the others to follow her as she turned for the stairs. “The D.A. has a job to do.”
Most of the students began following Cho. A few delayed, wanting to say a last word to Harry.
“Be safe, Harry,” Neville said as he stuck out his hand and shook with Harry before turning to leave.
“Good luck, Harry,” Luna said as she followed Neville.
“We’ll see you soon, Harry,” Fred said as he and George stepped forward and hugged Harry.
Fred and George stood back and waited for the others as Hermione stepped forward and hugged Harry as she said, “We all love you, Harry. Always remember that.”
“I will,” Harry said as Hermione tearfully joined Fred and George.
Ron stepped forward and enveloped him in an enthusiastic hug as he said, “Kick his bum, mate.”
“I’ll try,” Harry responded with a chuckle despite the serious situation.
Then there was only Ginny left. The sadness emanating from her was almost palpable even to those who didn’t share Harry’s direct connection. She had tried to hold them back, but tears flowed uncontrolled down her cheeks.
Harry took her in his arms and held her tightly as he said, “I love you more than I could ever express to you in words. How blessed I am to have this connection to you that lets you feel it fully. Everything that I am is now a part of you. Everything that you are will always be a part of me. I will always be with you.”
“Promise?” Ginny asked through her sobs.
“Count on it,” Harry replied softly.
Ginny raised her head and pressed her lips to Harry’s desperately. Ginny’s sobs only intensified as they kissed. She was experiencing such pain that Harry’s heart nearly overruled his mind and disapparated both of them away. Before he could, Ginny broke away from him quickly as she cried and ran quickly for the stairs away from him. Fred, George, Hermione and Ron followed after her quickly.
Harry dropped to his knees with his head hanging low as his mind attempted to wrestle control away from his heart. Seconds ticked by as Harry tried to regain his composure, but he could still hear Ginny’s cries of sorrow as she rushed up the stairway.
Snape eventually separated himself from the adults to walk close to Harry and say, “Disapparate everyone away from all of this, Harry. That option is still open to you. There isn’t a single person here who wouldn’t choose that option if they were in your place.”
“No one is in my place,” Harry said calmly as he stood and raised his head. “I am The Chosen One. This battle is my responsibility.”
Magorian stepped forward and asked, “What do you ask of the Centaurs? We are at your service.”
“Stay here with Hagrid,” Harry said as his mind calmed further into the moment. “If anything happens, secure the doors. If they get past us, you’ll be the next line of defense.”
“I’d like ta go out with ya, Harry,” Hagrid said as he blew his nose mightily into his handkerchief.
“You aren’t allowed to do magic, Hagrid,” Harry said. “I’m depending on you to keep Ginny from changing her mind and trying to get out these doors.”
“I’ll do me best, Harry,” Hagrid said as he stepped forward and gave Harry a huge tear filled hug.
Harry felt a tug at his leg and looked down to see Dobby standing there. Harry knelt down to be closer to Dobby’s level.
“Dobby would also like to help Harry Potter,” Dobby said.
“You don’t believe in attacking wizards, Dobby,” Harry reminded him.
“Dobby will find a way to help that does not include hurting wizards,” Dobby said.
“Great,” Harry said with a smile. “We’re sure to win then.”
Dobby disapparated and Harry stood back up to turn and face those who were to walk outside with him. Harry surveyed them appreciatively.
“We’ll watch your back, Potter,” Moody said as his magic eye looked right at Harry. “You’ll have to watch everything else on your own.”
“I’m ready,” Harry said. “Let’s do this before I change my mind.”
With that, they all headed for the doors. McGonagall lead the way with Scrimgeour, Kingsley and Snape close behind her followed by all of the others. Harry watched as they all passed, and as they did, he took a deep breath and fell into step behind them.
On the grounds, Voldemort already had his wand raised and halfway through a spell meant to batter the castle wall when he noticed the door opening. He saw McGonagall step into the doorway and halt looking at where he stood backed by his loyal death eaters. He lowered his wand, and McGonagall responded by stepping down onto the grass. As the line of people followed her out of the castle, his gaze locked on Snape even as Snape’s locked on him.
Bellatrix was also fixated on Snape as she sensed that her chance to finally kill him was at hand. Her focus broke from him the instant a surprised gasp escaped from Lucius next to her. Following his gaze she saw Narcissa and Draco walking in the line among the aurors. Draco held a look she had never seen from him before as he stared intently at Lucius.
No matter who they had been watching before, all of the death eater attention riveted to one spot as Harry walked out of the castle and began walking straight toward where Voldemort stood waiting for him. His attention was not on Voldemort though. Instead, Harry’s attention was focused on the two dementors hovering far above where the death eaters stood.
Inside the castle, Fred, George, Hermione and Ron rounded a turn in the stairs and found Ginny sitting down crying with her hands covering her face. In a rare display of seriousness, Fred sat down beside her and pulled Ginny to him. She wrapped her arms around him tightly as she cried into his chest.
“Don’t cry, Ginny,” George said soothingly. “Harry isn’t alone out there. Mum and dad are there. Bill and Charlie are there. Even Percy is keeping an eye on Harry. They won’t let anything happen to him. Besides, Harry is a great wizard. He always manages to come out of this kind of thing.”
Ginny looked over at George even as she kept the side of her face tight against Fred, and she said, “He… doesn’t think… he can win. Don’t you see? He… isn’t planning on coming back.”
“Oh my God,” Hermione said as her hand came up to cover her mouth. “You can feel that from him. You already knew.”
Ginny nodded slightly in answer as she buried her face back in Fred’s chest. Hermione turned to look at Ron next to her and was shocked not to find him there. She knew that he had been only moments before. As she listened she heard the sound of someone descending the stairs below her.
“Ron!” Hermione exclaimed. “He’s concealed himself. He’s going to try to get outside.”
“Go after him,” George said. “We’ll take care of Ginny.”
Hermione ran down the stairs as fast as she could, but she knew Ron was faster. She reached the bottom stair and, beyond the defensive line of Centaurs, she saw the door leading outside swing open wider as something unseen brushed against it. She ran straight through the line of Centaurs without any of them trying to stop her. Hagrid wondered if Harry had intended for him to keep Hermione inside as well. In a few more steps she was on the grounds and looking around for Ron.
“I had thought you were not going to come out after all,” Voldemort said as Harry stepped forward between McGonagall and Scrimgeour as the line of defenders spread out to either side of them to face the death eaters. “You nearly had me fooled. In the end your compassion was your weakness once again.”
“Don’t act as if you know anything about compassion,” Harry said seriously as he looked Voldemort in the eye. “I doubt if you know anything about honor either, but we had a deal. I’m here. Now release my aunt.”
“I made no mention of when she would be released,” Voldemort said, “but I have no further need of her.”
“Put her down on the top of the astronomy tower,” Harry ordered. “Make sure they put her down gently. I don’t want her harmed more than she already has been.”
Voldemort lifted his arm and waved his hand slightly without taking his eyes off of Harry. Immediately, Lucius separated from the other death eaters and walked back toward the lake where a dementor was hovering. After he had delivered the instructions, the dementor flew upwards to where two other dementors held Petunia between them. Harry watched as they flew with her toward the astronomy tower and deposited his aunt there. He also saw the silvery light of the D.A. patronuses keeping them from advancing any further than the edge of the tower.
“Now I have fulfilled my obligation,” Voldemort said. “Do not expect any further concessions from me. I am here to kill you, Harry. Today I will finish a story that should have ended years ago.”
“If compassion is my weakness,” Harry said, “then arrogance is yours.”
“We shall soon see,” Voldemort said with a knowing grin.
“This battle is between us, Tom,” Harry said as Voldemort bristled at the mention of the name. “No one else needs to get involved today.”
“My death eaters have already been instructed,” Voldemort said. “It is the aurors who need to be warned to stay out of this fight. If anyone tries to help you in any way then my death eaters will… keep them occupied.”
“I suggest we move away from them so no one is hit unintentionally,” Harry suggested.
“You seem overly optimistic about how long you will actually survive in a duel against me,” Voldemort said with a sneer.
“Perhaps,” Harry said as he took a step to his left and Voldemort matched his movement as he continued to walk. “Then again, I’ve surprised you in the past.”
“Still, there is no way you can overcome me in a one on one duel,” Voldemort said. “You are simply overmatched.”
“Perhaps,” Harry said again. “You do have the advantage of many more years to gain the magical skill and knowledge that you have. I think I could have taken you in your seventh year here at Hogwarts.”
“Unlikely,” Voldemort said, “but even if that were true, you will not do so today.”
“You pursue this as if you will get a prize or something,” Harry commented. “You’ll get no more than a headline in the next Daily Prophet. Then life will go on without a blink.”
“You’re a fool, Harry,” Voldemort spat. “You have no idea how enormous the impact will be on the will of the wizarding community when they find out that I killed ‘The Chosen One’.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Harry said. “I think people will be devastated. They love me. There will be a certain period of mourning, but after that people are going to start to think. They’re going to realize that Voldemort, the most powerful dark wizard of all time, proved the extent of his power by slaying someone who hadn’t even competed his magical training yet. People won’t even think of ‘The Chosen One’ anymore. I have a name. That is what people will remember. You will only be remembered as Voldemort the Child Murderer.”
“Enough,” Voldemort spat as he stopped and faced Harry. “We have walked far enough, and you have spoken far more than you should have dared.”
“I guess there’s no chance of you changing your mind then,” Harry said.
“Draw your wand, Potter,” Voldemort ordered as he drew his own.
Harry drew his wand quickly and said, “Have it your way then. We bow to one another if memory serves me correctly.”
Harry bowed, but kept his wand ready and his eyes on Voldemort as Voldemort gave a small bow of his own before straightening quickly and yelling, “Avada kadavra.”
Harry raised his wand a moment after Voldemort, but his mouth never moved as a jet of green light sprang from Voldemort’s wand to meet the red jet that Harry’s produced. The two spells impacted together between them, and they once again held onto their vibrating wands as the spells struggled against one another.
Voldemort raised his empty hand toward Harry almost instantly, but Harry was ready as he raised his own hand and produced a shield spell to block the incoming attack. Voldemort immediately pulled his wand back breaking the connection with Harry’s as he sidestepped just before the stunning spell Harry had originally used impacted on the spot he had previously been occupying. Voldemort whipped his wand in a backhanded swiping motion as Harry easily conjured another shield that flared into brilliant color when Voldemort’s spell impacted on it.
Voldemort’s next spell was not so easy to defend as he brought his wand up and the ground between them began to split a channel straight toward Harry as great amounts of dirt flew into the air from the violent upheaval. Harry tried to produce a shield to stop the spell, but when it reached him he felt the impact on the bottom of his feet as it raised him into the air and tossed him backward to land hard on his back. Knowing better than to lay still and take stock of the damage that had been done, Harry rolled to his right side and narrowly missed another spell Voldemort had shot at him through all of the dirt still obscuring the path between them. Harry quickly scrambled to his feet and produced a shield just in time to avoid another hex from Voldemort.
“He’s doing better than expected,” Scrimgeour said as he watched along with everyone else while still trying to keep an eye on the death eaters.
“He has yet to find opportunity to mount a sustained attack though,” Snape pointed out. “The Dark Lord isn’t going to ease up the pressure to allow him that chance.”
“If you’re going to be on Harry’s side don’t be so negative,” Ron said as he walked up beside Snape.
“Ron,” Molly screeched. “What are you doing out here?”
“Harry is my best friend,” Ron said. “I owe it to him to be here.”
“You could have told me you were going to try to get out here,” Hermione said as she ran over to Ron.
“Miss Granger?” McGonagall asked as she turned to look at Hermione take hold of Ron’s arm. “Well I guess I should have expected it.”
McGonagall turned her attention back to the battle as everyone else winced. She turned in time to see Harry flying backwards once again. What worried her was the fact that she could see blood even from that distance.
Harry knew he was in trouble. Voldemort’s last spell had gotten through his shield to slice a deep cut across his chest and right cheek. He could feel the blood rushing to escape through the newly opened holes. He needed time to recover, but he knew he wasn’t likely to get it.
As he was willing himself to stand, Harry saw that he was close to one of the overturned wedding tables from the previous night. Seeing that Voldemort was ready to send another attack at him; Harry ducked and apparated to a spot behind the tables and temporarily out of sight.
Voldemort pulled his wand back in surprise as Harry suddenly disappeared. He knew full well that apparating on the Hogwarts grounds was impossible. He had tried it countless times as a student without success. Something devious was happening, and he looked around toward where McGonagall stood with the aurors to see if one of them had interfered in some way. They all still stood watching with their wands at their sides.
While Voldemort was distracted, Harry used the time to apply a few healing spells he had learned to stop the bleeding in his cuts and seal them to stop them from bursting open again. There was nothing he could do about the pain though. That he would have to try to forget about.
Harry popped up from behind the table with his wand ready only to see Voldemort walking away from him back toward the aurors. Harry readjusted his aim and sent a spell at Voldemort that hit him squarely in the back and knocked him down on his face. He recovered more quickly than Harry had expected and rolled over to send a spell back to Harry which he countered. Before Voldemort could stand, Harry sent another hex at him that he was forced to deal with from a crouching position.
Voldemort stood quickly and wasted no time before showering Harry in curses and hexes. His frustration grew though as Harry countered them all quickly.
“Avada kadavra,” Voldemort said as Harry’s wand spit out a purple light and again their wands connected.
“Two in one duel?” Harry asked as he kept a watch for any movement of Voldemort’s other hand. “You aren’t getting frustrated are you? Is this taking longer than you expected? We can take a break if you need to.”
All while Harry was talking, his own free hand was at work behind his back. Unseen by anyone, water from the lake slithered through the grass like great watery snakes as they made their way to where Harry and Voldemort were fighting.
Voldemort again broke the connection and sidestepped as the purple light sliced a deep gouge in the ground where he had just stood. He sent another hex at Harry, but again Harry countered him. He was setting up for another curse when Harry’s hand came out from behind his back and he noticed water swirling around his feet.
In an instant the water rose up around Voldemort and enveloped him as it lifted him off of the ground. Harry moved his hand around as he shifted the ball of water in different directions and created chaotic currents inside that kept Voldemort off balance. He had seen Professor Dumbledore use the same maneuver against Voldemort in the battle at the Ministry. Voldemort had eventually escaped from that though. Harry had no intention of letting him escape unharmed.
Harry pointed his wand at the ball of water and a cool blue stream of light shot out toward the ball of water. An instant later it was frozen solid and fell to the ground with a loud smack. Seconds later, Harry watched a red glow emanate from the end of Voldemort’s wand. It was heating the area around the wand, and soon it would melt enough to allow it to move freely inside the ball. Harry knew Voldemort would be able to escape soon after.
Harry whipped his wand forward as he yelled, “Reducto!”
Those watching gasped again as the giant ball of ice exploded into millions of tiny icy projectiles shooting out from a steam cloud caused by the flash boiling of ice due to the force of the explosion. Out of the back of the cloud flew Voldemort as he was ejected several meters back onto the grass. When he hit the ground he made no further movement.
Several seconds ticked by as they waited, but Voldemort did not move. Harry began walking closer slowly with his wand at the ready. Murmurs began to spread among the onlookers.
“Is it possible?” Scrimgeour asked.
“No,” Snape said. “The ice took most of the impact of the spell. Voldemort may be injured, but it is likely not so severe that Harry will be able to defeat him.”
“How can you say that?” Ron asked. “Harry has him down. He could easily finish him right now.”
“No,” Snape said. “Harry has a heart that is too kind. Otherwise he would have delivered the finishing blow already. He is giving the Dark Lord too much time to recover.”
Just then, Voldemort raised his wand quickly and blasted Harry with a spell that sent him flying backwards as well. Harry hit the ground hard as he began to gasp for the air that had been knocked out of him. Harry raised his head weakly to see Voldemort struggling to get to his feet. Harry knew he had to move, but he couldn’t make his body move as quickly as he wanted. As if it was in slow motion, Harry watched as Voldemort stood somewhat unsteadily as he pointed his wand at him and a green blast issued from the end of it. When the killing curse hit there was a massive explosion of grass and dirt thrown up into the air.
The jaws of Harry’s friends dropped in shock as a shriek of mocking victory issued from Bellatrix. Seconds ticked by as the cloud of dirt settled to reveal a deep crater in the ground where Harry had been.
On the astronomy tower, Fred and George moved to comfort Ginny, but she said, “Not yet. It isn’t over yet.”
Voldemort limped toward the scene of the devastation, but a spell hit him suddenly and knocked him back again.
“It won’t be that easy,” Harry said as he propped himself up with his left hand on the overturned table in front of him.
“You’re too soft, Harry,” Voldemort said as he righted himself once again with his wand pointed at Harry. “You should have gone for the quick kill when you had the chance.”
“Are you that ready to die?” Harry asked.
“Death will not be the end,” Voldemort said with a twisted grin.
“I suppose you’re referring to your horcruxes,” Harry commented with a grin as Voldemort’s wand dropped slightly in surprise. “I wouldn’t count on them if I were you.”
Voldemort studied Harry for several seconds wondering just how much he could have known about the horcruxes. He knew Harry had destroyed the diary, but he doubted he would realize what it was. Of course, Dumbledore might have. Suddenly, Voldemort knew he had to take the battle with Harry much more seriously.
“I am through toying with you, Harry,” Voldemort said as he began to advance. “I shall now unleash my full power on you.”
“For a dark wizard you’re a terrible liar,” Harry said. “The killing curse is at the top of your list of spells for ‘unleashing’ your power. You’ve tried it three times already in this duel. I’m obviously not dead yet.”
“You can barely stand,” Voldemort pointed out.
“I could say the same for you,” Harry commented.
Incensed, Voldemort shot off a spell at Harry that exploded the table he was standing behind. Harry managed to raise a shield, but the force of the blast was enough to make him stumble backwards over another table with his glowing shield still active. Harry righted himself and raised quickly to shoot a large numbers of arrows out of the end of his wand. As soon as the arrows were away, Harry had to dive flat behind the table as another spell from Voldemort blew a head sized chunk out of the top edge of the table. Harry heard a cry of anguish and looked over the edge of the table to see Voldemort reach down to pull an arrow from his leg as several others lay smoldering on the grass in front of him.
Harry used the opportunity to summon what strength he had left and jumped over the table as he ran for Voldemort. Voldemort tried to bring his wand up, but Harry reached him first as he drove his fist hard into Voldemort’s face. Voldemort stumbled back, but finished raising his wand as he muttered a hex. Harry countered it, but just barely. Fighting in such close quarters cut the time he had to react to a fraction of what he had before. He thought it better to be on the attack.
“Sectumsempra!” Harry yelled.
“Avada kadavra!” Voldemort yelled at the same instant.
The force of their wands connecting at such close range sent them both reeling backwards as the connection was broken and both spells impacted the ground with earsplitting explosions. Harry got off the next jinx, but Voldemort countered it easily and followed with a hex of his own that Harry dodged.
Bellatrix paced with nervous frustration for as long as she could, but, even though restraint had been called for, she couldn’t stand it any longer. In a quick fluid motion she raised her wand and muttered the killing curse. Before anyone knew what was happening, an auror fell to the ground lifelessly.
Instantly, the wands of death eaters and defenders alike were at the ready as the battle between them began. Hermione pulled Ron down and toward the tables for cover. McGonagall and Scrimgeour battled against Dolohov. Bellatrix centered her next attacks on Snape who countered her easily. Her annoyance level raised to a fever pitch when Tonks joined Snape in attacking her and put her on the defensive. Draco sent hex after hex straight at Lucius leaving no question that he intended a great deal of harm to him. Lucius countered the attacks and sent a blow toward Draco that knocked him back off of his feet. Before he could get another shot off he found himself on the defensive again as Narcissa defended Draco with a ferocious flurry of spells.
Those around her were horror stricken when McGonagall suddenly fell backwards after a slicing spell from Dolohov placed a deep cut up her right arm from wrist to shoulder. The wand dropped from her hand even before Dolohov followed up the attack with a stunning spell. Lupin tried to make his way to her, but he was deeply involved in his own battle. Seconds after she hit the ground, Dobby appeared suddenly and clasped a hand onto her shoulder. As suddenly as he had appeared, Dobby disapparated again with McGonagall. Seconds later he returned for an auror who had been knocked out of the fight.
“Let me go, Hermione,” Ron pleaded as Hermione held him down behind a table. “We’re missing the fight.”
“”You’ll get yourself killed, Ron,” Hermione said. “That potion I gave you will get you killed. I can’t live with that.”
A spell that had missed its intended mark passed just over where Hermione and Ron were. In response they both laid out flat just in case a later spell got a bit closer. Ron was on his stomach, and as he looked up he spotted the knife from Harry and Ginny’s wedding cake stabbing into the ground ahead of him. Hermione reached over to regain her grasp of Ron only to find her hand meeting only grass. Looking over, she nearly panicked when she noticed that Ron was gone. Chancing a glance around the table, she didn’t see Ron anywhere. There were battles going on all over the grounds, but the one directly in front of her caught her attention. Hermione ran from behind the table with her wand aiming at Lucius. Narcissa was on the ground with Dobby reaching for her while Draco was doing everything he could to counter his father’s attacks. Dobby disapparated with Narcissa just before Draco crumpled under the force of the spell he was hit with.
Lucius was ready to deliver the final blow to his son when he had to quickly summon a shield to block Hermione’s attack.
“You die next mudblood,” Lucius said with a sneer.
“I don’t think so,” Hermione said defiantly.
Hermione sent out a spell to negate Malfoy’s shield just before she muttered a spell under her breath and pulled her wand back slowly. Malfoy would have laughed at her if his skin hadn’t started to prickle painfully. The next seconds were surreal to him as he weakened quickly as he watched the water from his body seep out of his pores and converge into a stream being soaked up by Hermione’s wand. His legs buckled, and his vision got foggy just before he passed out. Dobby had already taken Draco to the hospital wing, but as he appeared next to Lucius he hesitated before he touched him and disapparated.
A thick swirling mass of silver light rushed over the heads of order members and death eaters alike as it slammed into the dementors near the lake as they rose into position to attack. Again and again they came, but the will behind the patronus charms was too strong for them to make any forward progress.
As he had done in the battle at the Ministry, Voldemort raised his hand and breathed a stream of flame out across it. The flame rose into the air, and formed into a dragon’s head as it sped toward Harry. Harry’s hands were busy as he quickly gathered water from the lake to defend himself. Meters before the fire dragon would have reached Harry a water dragon sprang from the grass and opened its mouth to swallow the advancing flame. A great cloud of steam obscured Harry’s view of Voldemort as more and more of the fire dragon was consumed.
Harry heard it before he saw it. A spell was whistling through the air ahead of him, and he worked quickly to raise a shield. He wasn’t quick enough though. The spell hit him squarely in the chest and snapped a rib before sending him flying backwards to land painfully on the ground. Harry tried to sit up and his broken rib seemed to jab him like a knife. He looked up to see Voldemort step through the remaining steam cloud and positing himself for another strike. Harry realized he had dropped his wand when he fell and he began feeling for it madly without success.
Harry had just grasped his wand when Voldemort stopped his wand movement as he screamed out in pain. Suddenly, Ron’s face appeared over Voldemort’s shoulder.
“Die you bastard,” Ron said as he twisted the knife from Harry’s wedding that he had just stabbed into Voldemort’s back. “This is for making my sister cry.”
A force erupted from Voldemort that threw Ron backwards at least ten meters. As he hit the ground, his head impacted first, and consciousness slipped from him. He never saw Voldemort fall to his knees and topple over.
Having seen what happened, Bellatrix cast a spell that flashed and temporarily blinded Snape so she could run away to her master’s side. As she ran to where he lay, other death eaters began to work their way in that direction as well. By the time she reached him, the other death eaters had formed a defensive arc around their position.
The dementors stopped ramming the wall of light in front of them as they noticed Voldemort lying motionless on the grass. Suddenly reexamining their allegiances, the dementors made a hasty retreat as they drifted away over the forbidden forest. As they left, the patronus charms that had kept them at bay melted away.
Harry used the time he was given to attempt to heal the wounds he had suffered. He was doing a poor job of it, and he knew Madam Pomfrey would scold him for even attempting to do it himself, but at least the pain eased off considerably. He looked up to see Bellatrix sink onto the grass and cradle her master in her arms.
“Listen to me, Bella,” Voldemort said weakly. “There is an object in my inner pocket. Remove it.”
Bellatrix did as she was told as she reached inside of Voldemort’s robes and found the object he had referred to.
As she removed it, Voldemort said, “You must live, Bella. You must hold to that object. Never let it go.”
“I will, master,” Bellatrix said, “but we must get you out of here.”
“No, Bella,” Voldemort said. “I will…”
Voldemort was wracked with a small spasm as his organs began shutting down. He looked up into Bellatrix’s eyes once more before he closed his eyes slowly. His breathing was shallow and slow. Bellatrix heard a long exhale followed by silence and she knew it was over. As she laid him down on the grass in front of her an intense rage began to flood through her. She looked up to see Harry sitting up and watching her.
Bellatrix stood quickly even as Harry did the same. She started to raise her wand, but she stopped when an intense pain throbbed in her left hand.
Harry saw it. He knew what was happening immediately as he watched the green mist erupt from the object in Bellatrix’s hand. The mist snaked up her arm quickly as it encircled her upper body and quickly absorbed into her.
Bellatrix screamed loudly as she began to shake violently. She fell down to the grass as she continued to scream in pain. Her body contorted rapidly as her skin seemed to boil and her hair began falling to the grass in great clumps.
When the transformation was over, Bellatrix stuck out her hand and Voldemort’s wand flew into it quickly. She stood and turned as she raised her head. Even the death eaters gasped in surprise. Harry was the only one who seemed to have expected it.
“We meet again, Harry Potter,” Voldemort said with a grin as he rubbed his hand over his smooth snakelike face.
“That was a cruel trick, Tom,” Harry said. “She was probably the death eater most loyal to you.”
“Sacrifices must be made, Harry,” Voldemort said. “Of course, you are too weak to realize that.”
“I’m strong enough to stand against you,” Harry said. “I didn’t believe that when I first came out of the castle. I believe it now.”
“On the contrary, Harry,” Voldemort laughed. “I just proved that I can not be defeated.”
“By using a horcrux?” Harry asked. “That only proves how weak you truly are.”
Voldemort grinned as he tossed the glasses from his hand down onto the ground between them and said, “That isn’t what your father said when I took those from his lifeless body.”
Harry’s wand was in motion quickly as it flashed at the same moment as Voldemort’s. Again, their wands connected.
“Feeling the effects of our battle, Harry?” Voldemort asked. “I’m not. Your strength will fail long before mine.”
“Not if you take another knife in the back,” Harry said with a grin. “You just played your last ace.”
“Have I really?” Voldemort said believing Harry was mistaken.
“You already know I destroyed the diary,” Harry said.
“That is of little consequence,” Voldemort replied confidently.
“Dumbledore destroyed the ring,” Harry said as Voldemort suddenly started paying attention. “The locket, well Dumbledore and I went to find the locket. The one we got was a fake. Regulus Black had already stolen the real one. Of course, you didn’t know that did you? I destroyed that one just by touching it. Then there was Nagini all turned to ash. I did that one too. Of course there was also the cup you hid in that room with all of the arrows and the poison gas. Professor McGonagall destroyed that one not too long ago. You just used another one. If I’m counting correctly, that makes six. Number seven is lying at your feet with a knife in his back. It’s going to end with you.”
Voldemort chanced a look around at his death eaters and saw that their numbers were dwindling quickly with many of them wrapped up in a binding on the ground. Looking back at Harry, Voldemort grinned just before he transformed himself into a column of black smoke and sailed quickly over the heads of the aurors on his way to the Hogwarts front gate. Harry knew he couldn’t let him get off of the grounds. If he did then he would be able to disapparate to anywhere.
Harry apparated to the gate to block Voldemort’s escape. Harry was just in time to shoot a paralyzing hex at Voldemort, but it was countered, and Harry could do nothing but turn and attempt another spell as Voldemort flew overhead and out of the gate. Refusing to give up, Harry ran out of the gate after him while shooting every spell he could think of to slow Voldemort down.
“Accio broom,” Ginny said as she held out her hand and waited.
“What are you doing?” Fred asked.
“I’m going after my husband,” Ginny said. “Don’t try to stop me.”
“Stop you?” George said. “We’re going with you.”
“Accio broom,” Fred and George said along with everyone else on the tower.
Ginny’s broom arrived first, and she wasted no time before she jumped over the rail and mounted her broom before speeding toward the gate.
“Fearless that one,” Fred observed as he watched Ginny fly away.
Seconds later the rest of the brooms arrived. Fred and George were off the tower first followed by Cho, Katie and Pritchard. Even Neville followed behind soon as he cursed Voldemort for making him get back on a broom again.
Harry ran into Hogsmeade to find Voldemort standing in the middle of the street waiting for him. Harry had to dive to his right to avoid a jinx that he didn’t have time to counter. The cold snow he landed in padded his fall somewhat, but it also reminded Harry that he was dressed for a warmer environment.
“Give up, Harry,” Voldemort said with a laugh.
“Never,” Harry said as he shot a spell at Voldemort from his position in the snow before he began to stand.
Voldemort deflected Harry’s attack and said, “Goodbye, Harry.”
In the next instant, their wands connected again and Voldemort groaned in frustration.
“This isn’t goodbye yet,” Harry said as he held tightly to his wand. “You have to kill me first, and so far you haven’t been very successful with that. Of course, all I have to do is touch you.”
“What?” Voldemort asked in surprise.
“You came from one of the horcruxes,” Harry explained. “Only the original Tom Riddle gained an immunity to the protective magic my mum placed in me. If I get a hold of you you’ll end up just like Nagini. Care to shake hands and call it a draw?”
Voldemort looked at his hand and realized that Bellatrix had been wearing gloves. Looking back at Harry, he spotted Ginny flying toward them with several reinforcements close behind. Instantly a plan occurred to him that would capitalize on Harry’s weakness.
Voldemort sidestepped as he broke the connection. An instant later, Harry heard a small pop behind him as a hand closed on his shoulder. Before he could twist away, Harry felt himself being compressed uncomfortably as if he were being dragged through a small tube. He had forgotten just how much he disliked this form of apparating.
In a small coffee shop in the middle of London, a young muggle woman was sipping at her coffee as she tapped a pencil on the table next to the notes she had been attempting to take. As an aspiring writer, she knew she had to write down an idea no matter where it may hit her. She was frustrated though. The idea for a novel had occurred to her in the past, but it always seemed to exist just on the fringes of her mind like a ghost she couldn’t seem to grasp onto. She just couldn’t seem to organize it in her mind and pull all of the ideas together. She was just touching the point of the pencil back to the paper when screeching tires and car horns pulled her attention to the street as seen through the shop window.
As soon as Harry felt his feet hit he ground he twisted away from Voldemort and raised a shield. Voldemort’s spell impacted on the shield almost instantly as Harry suddenly heard the sound of cars coming to a halt too quickly. Taking in his new surroundings, Harry immediately started thinking of ways to get Voldemort to follow him somewhere else.
Another spell was shot at Harry that he had to counter as people started to scream insults at them from their cars. Apparently, Voldemort heard them as well as he pushed outwards with his hands and sent the cars on either side sliding back into the ones behind them leaving a larger open space in between.
Infuriated, two large men stepped out of a delivery truck and began advancing toward Voldemort as they rubbed their fists ready for a fight. Harry saw what was about to happen and apparated to a point in front of them and conjured a shield just in time. Voldemort’s battering spell impacted Harry’s shield with a ringing thud.
“What the…” one of the men began as they both stopped in surprise.
“You have to get away from him,” Harry yelled. “All of you need to get away. He’s an evil wizard.”
“A wizard?” one of the men asked seeming even more angry. “Bloody hell. Did you all hear that? We’ve got us a couple of role playing blokes holding up traffic this morning.”
“Game over, baldy,” the other man said as he passed Harry and stepped closer to Voldemort. “You better hope that wand can transport you away from here. I’m about to stomp some magic into your…”
Before he got out the next word, Voldemort flicked his wand and sent the man flying back to land on the hood of a nearby car.
“No one challenges Lord Voldemort,” Voldemort announced.
“Leave them out of this,” Harry said. “This fight is between us.”
“Not any more, boy,” the truck driver said behind him. “No one does… whatever it was he done to my mate and gets away with it. Not while I’m around.”
“Avada kadavra,” Voldemort yelled.
“Stupefy,” Harry said quickly as he was once again able to block a killing curse as their wands connected.
“Bloody hell,” the driver said in amazement as the streams from the wands fought for dominance.
“Get back,” Harry yelled. “Don’t you understand he’s trying to use you against me.”
While Harry’s focus was still on warning people to move away, Voldemort spun away from his previous spot as he broke the connection. As his spin came fully around, he whipped his wand outwards and a purple light lanced out and sliced Harry across his abdomen. Harry fell back from the force of the blow as blood began to rush for the opening Voldemort had created.
“Somebody call an ambulance,” the driver screamed. “The kid’s been shot.”
“You waste your time,” Voldemort told the man as Harry began to quickly seal the wound while he still had the chance. “Harry will be dead long before it arrives.”
Just as Harry sealed the wound, Voldemort performed a disarming spell, and Harry’s wand flew out of his hand and clattered off underneath one of the cars. As Harry made a move to retrieve it, he felt himself being picked up quickly as Voldemort flicked his wand and sent Harry flying hard into the brick wall of a shop beside the street. People standing nearby moved further back afraid they would be caught next.
None of the muggles left though. Their shock and fascination kept them rooted to their spots even though common sense told them to run away screaming.
“Leave the kid alone,” the man who had been thrown onto the car hood said as he walked back to his friend’s side. “What’s he done to you?”
“Lord Voldemort does not take orders from filthy muggles,” Voldemort said as he began to seethe with anger.
“If you ask me,” the truck driver said, “this ‘Lord Voldemort’ is a loony bugger who refers to himself in the first person too much.”
“Leave them alone,” Harry said as he pushed himself up weakly to a half kneeling position. “You haven’t gotten rid of me yet.”
Harry’s hand came up and a wandless spell nearly caught Voldemort off guard, but he was able to counter it in time. Almost immediately, Voldemort shot another spell that caught Harry in the chest and pounded him against the brick wall again with a loud crack as his shoulder separated. The muggles looked on in horror as Harry sank limply back down to a sitting position.
As Voldemort pulled his wand back to deliver the final blow, he heard several pops as the muggles gasped in surprise
Just as Voldemort turned, Ginny, as she stood in front of the D.A. from the tower said, “Get away from my husband. Reducto!”
The spell from Ginny’s wand was so powerful that it pushed Voldemort backwards even though his shield deflected the majority of the spell upwards to impact with the top edge of a building. The muggles on the sidewalk under the spot ran out into the street and away from the brinks that began raining down where they had once stood.
Voldemort steadied himself in time to begin defending against the spells of the D.A. as they fanned out to flank him on both sides. All of their spells stopped as one of the large men from the crowd stepped behind Voldemort and wrapped his arms around him tightly thinking it would prevent him from hurting anyone else. What it really served to do was to enrage Voldemort even more.
Suddenly, a force erupted from Voldemort that knocked the man holding him back into the crowd. Everyone nearby was knocked off of their feet, and the window to the coffee shop shattered. Before anyone could stand, Voldemort pushed them all to the sides again opening up the middle from one side of the street to another.
Ginny stood back up as soon as she could and tried to run back into position. As she did though, she hit a shield that repelled her back. Other D.A. members experienced the same problem. Voldemort had erected a shield they couldn’t penetrate around the area.
Inside the shield Voldemort laughed as he walked closer to Ginny and asked, “Husband? Could it be that you somehow married Harry Potter? Is that what my death eaters interrupted? Perfect. You shall bear witness to my inevitable victory over Harry Potter. I had thought to finish him quickly, but now that you’re here…”
“Ginny,” Harry said softly but loud enough for Voldemort to hear.
Voldemort whipped his wand around again and caught Harry on the chin with a spell that bent his head back into the brick wall.
“Did you have parting words for your little wife, Harry?” Voldemort asked. “By all means, come and say them.”
Voldemort magically pulled Harry face first across the pavement to the other side of the street where Ginny stood. He raised his wand and Harry rose from the ground as if he were a puppet lifted by strings.
“I love you, Harry,” Ginny said as her tears of helplessness rolled down her cheeks.
“That’s enough,” Voldemort said suddenly as he pulled his wand down and Harry was slammed down on his back as his head impacted the road.
“Harry!” Ginny exclaimed.
“Don’t scream yet,” Voldemort said. “I’ve only just begun. It will get far worse than that. When I’m through with Harry maybe I’ll have a go at you.”
“You won’t get anywhere near her,” Fred said as he and George stepped forward another step.
“We’ll see,” Voldemort said before whipping his wand so that Harry flew up and into the brick building next to the coffee shop.
More pops signified the arrival of Hermione, Ron, the rest of the Weasleys and what Order and aurors were fit for the trip. Seeing what was happening to Harry, Ron ran forward with his wand at the ready. George tried to warn him, but he ran straight into the shield and bounced off onto his back.
“I’ll wait if any more audience is expected,” Voldemort said with a twisted grin. “No?”
Another flick of the wand sent Harry crashing against the metal street light pole in front of the coffee shop. With the impact there was another loud cracking sound that stung like knives in the ears of Harry’s friends as well as the muggles who were all getting out of their cars and closing in to watch in disbelief. They cringed again as Voldemort pulled his wand down sharply and Harry was pulled down to the sidewalk. Harry hit awkwardly as another bone snapped and he lay still with his leg jutting out at an unnatural angle.
Voldemort turned to enjoy the expression on Ginny’s face and failed to notice the coffee shop door opening. The young muggle woman felt compelled to try to help. She ran out and kneeled down beside where Harry lay with no clear plan of anything she could do to help.
“They’ve called for an ambulance,” the woman said. “They’ll be here soon. The police will surely come with them.”
“Run,” Harry said very softly as one of his eyes fluttered open to look at the woman. “I can’t… protect you. Please. Run.”
The woman looked up to see Voldemort staring at her coldly. As he began raising his wand slowly, she scrambled to her feet and quickly retreated back into the coffee shop. Suddenly afraid for her own life, she kept running until she was out the back door of the shop and in the alley. Still she ran. She was several blocks away before she finally stopped to breathe. Then regret began to set in as she shuddered to think what Harry had suffered in the time she had been gone.
Harry had just fallen after another impact with the brick wall when another series of pops made Voldemort turn to look. Draco held Narcissa’s arm for support as they walked behind Lupin, a limping Tonks, and McGonagall with her arm in a sling. They walked up beside the two men from the truck as Voldemort left Harry momentarily and walked closer to talk to McGonagall.
“You nearly missed the show, Headmistress,” Voldemort said mockingly. “As you can see, Harry is completely under my power now.”
“We tried to help,” the truck driver said to McGonagall. “This guy is a wizard. He put up some kind of force field or something. We can’t get to him.”
“The fact that you tried proves your bravery,” McGonagall said.
“Thanks,” the man said before he turned to his friend. “I like this one.”
“Your army is defeated, Tom,” McGonagall said. “Your quest for power has come to an end.”
“You’re daft if you believe that,” Voldemort charged. “Killing Harry is the key to a new beginning.”
Standing a bit away from where McGonagall stood, Pritchard hammered against the shield with his fist only to have it repel off quickly.
“It won’t work,” Neville said from next to him. “If we could get through it the aurors would have done it by now.”
“There has to be a way, Longbottom,” Pritchard said as a radical idea occurred to him. “What about the healing circle?”
“What about it?” Neville asked.
“Could we use it to heal Harry so he could fight for himself?” Pritchard asked.
“Well I…” Neville began as he realized that the idea may have some merit. “I don’t know. Even if we get everyone to do it we still have to find a way to have Harry connect with us the way he did before.”
“I’ll bet Ginny could do it,” Zacharias Smith said from Neville’s side. “She has a direct connection to Harry.”
“It’s worth a try,” Neville agreed as he joined hands with those next to him.
“Hermione, look,” Ron said as he pointed across to the other side where D. A. members and muggles alike were holding hands.
“Why didn’t I think of that?” Hermione asked excitedly.
Within a minute the hand holding had spread throughout the crowds on both sides. Voldemort stopped talking when he saw Lupin join hands with McGonagall. Seconds later he watched as she joined hands with the muggle man next to her.
“What is this?” Voldemort asked as he noticed the entire crowd holding hands and bowing their heads with their eyes closed. “You may pray all you wish. Don’t expect your prayers to be answered though.”
The seconds passed as Voldemort looked around at Ginny and noticed that everyone on that side was also seemingly in prayer. His head whipped around quickly though as a bright explosion of light obscured the area where he had left Harry. It was so intense that he had to shield his eyes from the brightness. He stepped backwards and brought his wand to the ready even as he tried to make sense of what was happening.
Nearly thirty seconds passed before the light began to fade. When it did, everyone in the crowd looked to see Harry’s silhouette visible through the remaining light. They were surprised to find that he was laid out with his legs straight and his arms at his sides. They were stunned into silence when that same silhouette began to rise slowly as his heel seemed to act as the impossible pivot point against the ground. It looked to them as if he was strapped to a board as he remained stiff and straight until he was standing fully upright.
“Impossible,” Voldemort said in disbelief. “Avada kadavra.”
The green bolt shot from the end of Voldemort’s wand as a gasp resounded through the crowd. The spell entered the light Harry was glowing with and dissipated almost immediately. In a sudden panic, Voldemort let loose a flurry of dark spells and hexes that included three more killing curses, but nothing he tried made the slightest difference.
“This is impossible,” Voldemort screamed. “Have I already killed you? Are you a ghost already?”
At that moment everyone’s eyes widened as they saw Harry open his eyes at last and the green of his eyes was so intense that it showed through the surrounding white light. Voldemort unleashed another killing curse as Harry took a step toward him.
Harry walked more as he opened his mouth and said, “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches...Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies...and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not...and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.”
“No!” Voldemort said. “That can’t be the prophecy. I mark no one as my equal. I am Lord Voldemort! My power is eternal!”
Voldemort continued a steady stream of killing curses as he backed up and Harry continued to advance as he said, “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.”
Voldemort tried to disapparate, but he couldn’t. The aurors had cast an anti-disapparation spell over the area to prevent that from happening. Still Harry walked slowly toward him. Voldemort’s back contacted the brick of the wall he had backed into as he continued to fire off spells at Harry.
As Harry neared the edge of the sidewalk, he said, “This is for Frank and Alice Longbottom. This is for the aurors who died defending Azkaban. This is for my Aunt Petunia. This is for everyone who lost loved ones because you craved power. This is for Sirius. This is for Professor Dumbledore. This is for Godric Gryffindor and Roweena Ravenclaw. This is for Cedric Diggory. This is for your own muggle father.”
Harry stopped when he had closed to only inches of where Voldemort stood desperately against the wall still trying to use his magic to kill Harry.
Harry took a deep breath and said, “And this… this is for my mum and dad.”
Harry’s hands moved quickly as he reached up and clasped his hands onto either side of Voldemort’s face. Harry felt it happening immediately, but he continued to hold tightly just to make sure. Several seconds later he backed away to see Voldemort’s head already grey and beginning to crack as an equally affected hand came up to feel the face in panic. Seconds later, a gasp from the crowd followed Voldemort suddenly collapsing in a pile of ash.
Harry turned to face Ginny as she reached out experimentally in front of her. The barrier Voldemort had erected had apparently vanished with him. Ginny ran immediately and jumped into Harry’s arms as the entire crowd surged toward him. He continued to hold Ginny even as congratulations were rained down on him from all sides.
Several minutes into the celebration, the truck driver made his way through the crowd and held out a wand as he said, “Hey kid, I think this belongs to you.”
“Thanks,” Harry said as he took back his wand. “And thanks for trying to help earlier. Most people run from Voldemort as soon as they see him.”
“I’ve never been accused of being smart,” the man said with a smile. “Say, this glow you have, is it a trick?”
“Its love, mate,” Harry said. “Pure and simple.”
“All things considered, Mr. Potter,” Scrimgeour said, “it might be best if you leave here as soon as possible. The work to modify the memories of all of these muggles can’t begin until you’re gone. We’ve placed a spell on the area to prevent apparating, but I’m guessing you won’t have a problem getting everyone back to Hogwarts.”
“I think I can manage,” Harry said with a smile.
A little while later, the aurors held back the muggles forming a semi-circular clearing where all of the witches and wizards gathered with Harry. They were all in the process of joining hands when Ron looked at Harry and shook his head as he grinned.
“What?” Harry asked.
“You’re glowing again, mate,” Ron replied. “I just realized that I’ll probably be watching a sunrise tomorrow morning.”
“Should I wait until after we’re back at Hogwarts to give it away?” Harry asked.
“Oh, go on, Harry,” Hermione urged him. “Let these muggles feel a little happiness before Scrimgeour makes them forget everything that happened here.”
“Get it over with, Harry,” Ginny said as she squeezed his hand tighter. “I’d really like the rest of the day to be as plain and ordinary as possible.”
The muggles all looked to Harry as the glow around him evaporated even as a sudden feeling of happiness seemed to fill each of them. With a smile, Harry disapparated with his entire group. When they were gone, the aurors set about the task of erasing the memory of the morning events from everyone’s mind. While they were doing it, Scrimgeour walked back to the pile of ash that had once been the most powerful dark wizard history had ever known.
“It’s ironic isn’t it, Kingsley?” Scrimgeour asked of his ever present bodyguard.
“What is, Minister?” Kingsley asked.
“That all the power of the Ministry of Magic couldn’t bring Voldemort down,” Scrimgeour replied. “That in the end he was completely destroyed by a feeling most of us take for granted.”
“Perhaps there is a lesson there for all of us to learn,” Kingsley said.”
“Indeed there is,” Scrimgeour agreed. “I think Harry was right, Kingsley. I think he will become the Minister of Magic someday.”
“Only if he doesn’t become Headmaster of Hogwarts first,” Kingsley suggested.
Scrimgeour turned to look at Kinsley with a smile as he said, “God help us.”
Scrimgeour bent down and pulled Voldemort’s wand out of the ashes and held it in his hand as he stood up. Looking at it he knew that it would make a fitting addition to the vaults in The Department of Mysteries.
Having regained her breath, and giving in to her overriding curiosity, the young muggle woman walked back toward the area where she had left the young man she only knew as Harry. At the time when she left him he was being tortured unmercifully as if by magic by a man who looked to be more snake than human. Remembering the man’s face, she shuddered involuntarily as a cold feeling crept up her spine. The memory of him made her want to stop and turn away from the place where she was destined. Her feet kept moving though, as if they had a mind of their own.
Shaking her head to clear it, the woman concentrated on the memory of the young man’s face. Again a cold chill ran down her back, but it was for a very different reason. It was the reason why she knew she had to go back. Something familiar had struck her as soon as she had looked at the young man. She knew him. Of course she knew that was insane. She had never seen him before in her life, yet he was somehow strangely familiar. It wasn’t until after she had run away that she began to wonder where she might have come across him before. Then she realized it. His essence had existed for several months in that place in her own imagination that remained tantalizingly just out of reach as she tried to pen her ideas for her novel. After months of trying to will him to the foreground of her mind, he was there in front of her in the flesh, and she had run away.
Rounding the final corner and expecting to see a scene of destruction and carnage before her, she stopped in shock to see traffic flowing past the coffee shop she had occupied only a short time before. The shattered window of the shop was whole once again. If she didn’t know better she would think nothing at all out of the ordinary had happened there that morning.
Opening the door to the coffee shop, the woman walked in and surveyed the scene in wonder. Many of the customers who had been in the shop at the time of the battle were sitting at tables and conversing with their friends giving no indication they had witnessed the terrible battle at all.
“What can I do for you?” the man behind the counter asked.
“I… I was in here earlier this morning,” the woman said.
“Oh,” the man said. “I remember now. You must have left in a hurry. I never saw you go. You left your notebook. I kept it here just in case you came back for it.”
Accepting the notebook from the man, the woman asked, “”What happened here this morning? It’s as if no one remembers it at all. Even the window is fixed.”
“I’m sorry,” the man said. “I don’t know what you mean. Would you like a coffee?”
“No, thank you,” the woman replied. “I…”
Without saying another word, she backed out of the shop and walked away quickly before she turned and surveyed the scene once again. As she looked at the utter normalcy of the street she began to wonder if the entire thing had been in her imagination. She pushed that thought back as she turned to walk away. She was positive it had not been her imagination. Nothing in her imagination could have scared her so terribly. She was sure that the battle had taken place. She was sure that something had been done to prevent people from remembering it. She was sure that Harry really did exist somewhere. She prayed that he still did anyway.
It was perfect quidditch weather as a warm September Sun bathed the pitch in early morning light for the first match of the new school year at Hogwarts. After a year of absence, the entire school cheered as the players mounted their brooms and rose into the air. Seconds later, the volume of cheers increased again as the quaffle was tossed into play.
“Thanks for inviting me to this match, Professor,” Harry said as he watched Ginny grab the quaffle and begin making her way toward the Ravenclaw hoops.
“You are quite welcome, Harry,” McGonagall responded as she looked at the excitement in Harry’s eyes. “I’m sorry this couldn’t happen while you were still a student here. I know how much you loved playing.”
“I haven’t completely given it up yet,” Harry said as he continued to watch the match. “We had a pretty exciting match just before Ginny came back to school. We played in the Weasley’s paddock. Cho, Katie, and several others came over so we had enough for two full teams. We probably should have started playing earlier in the day. The snitch is wicked hard to catch after dark.”
“I actually heard about it,” McGonagall said. “Kingsley said they had to keep spectators from barging in on you.”
“It wasn’t too bad,” Harry said in an effort to downplay what had become a regular occurrence for him. “We agreed to let hem watch as long as they stayed off the field.”
“Still, you should be given a certain measure of privacy,” McGonagall said. “I know you wanted to avoid the kind of attention you’re getting.”
“I try not to pay any attention to it,” Harry said. “Eventually everyone will get tired of “The Chosen One” and life can get back to normal.”
“Still, should the need ever arise for you to get away from things for a while,” McGonagall said, “I think you know that you will always be welcome at Hogwarts.”
“I appreciate that, Professor,” Harry said as he turned to look at the two large frames hovering at the far end of the pitch. “I see the former headmasters are putting the frames from the wedding to good use.”
“Indeed they are,” McGonagall agreed. “I believe they may have been more excited about this match today than the students. Many of them haven’t actually witnessed at game of quidditch in hundreds of years.”
Before Harry could respond, the golden snitch suddenly flew to a hovering position just in front of the box where he sat. Harry smiled as he leaned forward.
“Hello old friend,” Harry said. “It’s good to see you again. Listen, take it easy on the new girl. Ginny says she could be good if she just had a little more confidence.”
The snitch seemed to shiver slightly just before it rocketed away. Almost immediately the Ravenclaw seeker sped past them in a blur in pursuit of the elusive little ball. A few seconds later was all it took for the seeker to slow to a hover as he looked around for where the snitch could have gone to get away from him.
“I should point out that it is probably cheating for you to make such a request of the golden snitch,” McGonagall said with a grin.
“You have to be joking,” Harry said with a grin as he turned to look at her. “It isn’t as if I have any real influence over it. It’s just a heavily charmed piece of metal. I doubt it even paid any attention to me at all.”
McGonagall smiled as she said, “No harm done then I suppose. After all, I may be the Headmistress, but I still haven’t forgotten that I was a Gryffindor once upon a time.”
“I haven’t forgotten either,” Harry said as he reached into his pocket. “That’s why I don’t have any reservations about returning this to you.”
Harry held out his hand toward McGonagall and opened it to reveal the time turner he had used so extensively the previous year. McGonagall looked into his eyes questioningly.
“I’m surprised, Harry,” McGonagall said. “I thought perhaps you would wish to keep it.”
“I’ve gotten my use out of it,” Harry said. “I think it would be put to better use the next time you have a student like Hermione capable of taking more than the normal load of classes. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that this one may be the only one still in existence. I know the others were destroyed in the battle at the Ministry in my fifth year.”
“If I take it then I’ll have to turn it over to the Ministry,” McGonagall said.
“I was hoping you would,” Harry replied. “I was the one who led everyone into that battle where the time turners were destroyed. It’s only right that I should try to replace what I had a hand in destroying.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t just return it directly,” McGonagall said as she took the time turner from Harry’s hand. “You are at the Ministry every day for work.”
“I try not to make visits to the Minister’s office though,” Harry said. “If I did the prophet would put it on the front page. I’m trying to attract as little attention as possible these days.”
“Is that why you decided not to become an auror?” McGonagall asked as they both took the chance to cheer as Ginny scored for Gryffindor.
After Harry had retaken his seat, he said, “I didn’t become an auror because I’ve already had enough fighting to last me a lifetime. I’m quite content to sit at my desk in the Department of Magical Games and Sports. Besides, I get to go to a ton of quidditch matches as part of my job. I see Ron loads more than I thought I would.”
“Did he get to play in any of the games last season?” McGonagall asked.
“No,” Harry said with a grin. “It doesn’t matter though. Even being an alternate keeper for the Cannons is enough to keep the smile on his face. He’s got his dream job.”
“What about you, Harry?” McGonagall asked. “Is working at the Ministry your dream job?”
“It’s… work,” Harry admitted. “There is a bit more paperwork involved than I would like. There’s always another report to be filed. Always another complaint to document. I can’t complain too much though. The job does have its perks. I’ve already said I get to go to watch quidditch matches. The pay isn’t bad. It’s a stable job. I have to think about that now. With Ginny officially moved into the house I have to remember that I’m going to work to support both of us.”
“Is the money your parents left you running that low?” McGonagall asked with concern.
“Not at all,” Harry replied. “I don’t want to rely on that money though. I want that money to be there for my own kids when they need it. I want to pass it on to them the way my parents did for me. If anything were to happen to me or Ginny I want to know that they’ll be taken care of.”
“I think you can be assured of that,” McGonagall said. “There would be no shortage of people willing to take them in. You have a great number of friends, Harry. Myself among them.”
“I do consider myself to be blessed to have so many I can call friends,” Harry said. “You’ve caused quite a stir at the Ministry by employing some of them here.”
“I don’t know why,” McGonagall said with a grin. “They can’t accuse me of stealing Professor Tonks away. She made the decision on her own.”
“Scrimgeour wasn’t happy to lose an auror though,” Harry said as Ginny narrowly missed another goal. “I told Kingsley she wasn’t likely to leave as long as Remus was still teaching here. Still, I think it was Snape that took them a bit by surprise.”
“Horace retired and left the position of Potions Master vacant,” McGonagall explained. “Severus was the most logical choice to fill the position. The Ministry cleared Severus of any crimes. That being done, there was no reason not to consider him. His qualifications are far in excess of anyone else who applied.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Harry said. “I personally would have made the same decision you did.”
“Your opinion of Severus has certainly changed over the years you’ve known him,” McGonagall observed. “I never thought you would support his becoming a teacher again. Your own time in his classes was less than ideal.”
“True,” Harry said. “Of course, I don’t have to sit in his class any more. He is a genius when it comes to potions though. That’s why his expectations are so high. Besides, Ginny says his teaching style has completely changed this year.”
“It would seem so,” McGonagall agreed. “I haven’t heard a single student complaint so far other than the length of the writing he assigns. If anything I would have to say that he seems happier this year both inside the classroom and out of it.”
“Well,” Harry said in a lowered voice as he leaned in closer to her, “don’t tell him that I told you, but he and Fiona Moss have been seeing each other on a regular basis since the end of the last school year. So I don’t doubt that he seems happier.”
“My goodness,” McGonagall said shaking her head with a grin. “Is everyone on my staff in love? First it was Tonks and Remus. Then there was Neville, doing an almost comical job of trying to hide his relationship with Miss Parkinson. Now Severus.”
“Something does seem to be in the air,” Harry said with a smile as Ginny flew by with the quaffle and winked at him.
“What about you, Harry?” McGonagall asked as Harry turned to look at her questioningly.
“What do you mean?” Harry asked.
“Have you ever given any thought to coming back to Hogwarts?” McGonagall asked.
“But… I already graduated,” Harry explained.
“I’m aware of that, Harry,” McGonagall said as a smile spread over her face. “I was asking if you had ever thought of coming back to teach at Hogwarts.”
“Teach?” Harry asked, sure that he had heard her wrong. “Me? I don’t think I’m really qualified to teach anything.”
“Don’t be silly, Harry,” McGonagall said. “You taught the D.A. while you were still a student.”
“That’s different,” Harry explained. “It wasn’t a real class”
“Neville has told me that he thought very highly of your teaching style,” McGonagall said.
“Anyone in that group would probably tell you the same thing,” Harry argued. “Compared to Umbridge I’m sure they thought I was fantastic.”
“You continued teaching that group even after Dolores Umbridge was gone,” McGonagall reminded him. “You were still teaching it at the end of the last school year to the students and to those who had already graduated. In fact, I happen to know that you’ve already had one night of training during this school year in the room of requirement.”
“How did…” Harry began as he turned in surprise.
“As Headmistress, there is very little that happens in this school without me hearing about it eventually,” McGonagall said.
“The paintings,” Harry said as he realized it at last. “They report back anything interesting that they hear.”
“Indeed they do,” McGonagall confirmed as the crowd cheered again as Ginny scored another goal. “So, would you be interested in making it official.”
Harry was about to respond when a thought struck him and he asked, “Is Remus leaving? Has there been some kind of trouble?”
“Goodness no,” McGonagall replied suppressing a laugh. “I’m hoping Remus will remain with us for many years. I’m not asking you to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. I’m simply inquiring about your interest should a position come open in the future.”
“Well, I don’t know,” Harry said. “I’m best at Defense Against the Dark Arts. You have teachers already for Potions, Transfiguration and Care for Magical Creatures. I wouldn’t even attempt Ancient Runes or Astronomy. Divination you can forget. Muggle studies would bore me. Considering that list I would say that there wouldn’t be a subject I could teach. I guess my answer would have to be no.”
“I see,” McGonagall said as she sat up a bit straighter. “This wasn’t as casual of an inquiry as I indicated, Harry. Madam Hooch has informed me that she intends to retire after this school year is over. It was my hope that you would consider assuming the position of the Flying instructor. You would also be in charge of officiating the quidditch matches.”
Harry stared at McGonagall for several seconds wondering if he may be imagining the entire conversation, and said, “You’re serious.”
“Of course I am,” McGonagall confirmed. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I could do that,” Harry said still in a bit of a daze.
“I should think so,” McGonagall said. “The question is, will you?”
“I… I would have to talk to Ginny about it first,” Harry replied as a smile spread across his face.
McGonagall glanced at Harry and noticed that his eyes were closed. As she watched him the smile on his face widened. When his eyes opened again, he looked back to her.
“I’ll do it,” Harry stated happily. “Ginny wants me to do it.”
“I would have thought you would have waited until after the match to ask her, Harry,” McGonagall said with a chuckle.
“She said the same thing,” Harry admitted. “I was too excited to wait though.”
“Good,” McGonagall said. “I like my teachers to be enthusiastic.”
“Would it be all right if I take Ginny out for dinner tonight to celebrate,” Harry asked.
“Away from Hogwarts?” McGonagall asked in surprise. “Students are not permitted to… Oh, very well. Just have her back before curfew, and don’t think this is going to be a regular occurrence.”
Just then the crowd erupted in enthusiastic cheering as the announcer said, “She’s done it! Natalie MacDonald has caught the snitch! Gryffindor wins!”
Two years after Harry’s battle with Voldemort, the young muggle woman who had witnessed all but the ending of it sat looking out the window of the train she was riding. She barely noticed as the train stopped at another station to pick up more passengers. Her mind was still centered on the young man that she only knew as Harry who had been in the battle. Since that day she had tried to find out more about him and the battle, but no amount of questioning or research ever indicated that anyone else remembered anything about the battle. No newspaper reports were written documenting the terrible events, and no pictures were ever taken of the destruction. Even the police records showed no indication that any calls for help had ever been issued.
Looking back to the scribbled notes before her, she took notice of how random her thoughts were concerning Harry and the life he must have experienced to end up in the battle where she had met him. For two years she had tried to reconstruct a plausible story that would weave the web of events that might have made up his life. No matter how hard she tried there was always something that struck her as unlikely to have really happened. Reason told her that her book was only to be a work of fiction, but she felt driven to seek out the truth of the matter. She was compelled to somehow honor the memory of the young man who inspired the book.
As she was scratching out some of her ideas, she became aware that other passengers were entering her car and beginning to find their seats. Not looking up to see them she heard a baby give a short cry. She was hoping the parents would keep the child entertained and quiet during the remainder of the trip so she could concentrate on her writing.
As the train began to pull away from the station, the initial lurch made the baby cry once again. The woman looked up to see a man stand up to retrieve something from the overhead luggage bin. As he turned, her mouth fell open and her mind froze in mid thought. As she stared in amazement, the man turned and looked directly at her as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. He bent down to say something to his wife and she stood along side him as she held the baby in her arms. They both walked straight toward her.
“May we sit with you?” Harry asked.
The muggle woman struggled to speak, but eventually said, “Sure.”
“Thank you,” Harry said as he and Ginny sat in the seats facing the one the woman was in. “This is my wife, Ginny, and our daughter Sophia. I’m…”
“Harry,” the woman blurted out.
“Yes,” Harry confirmed. “Harry Potter. I sensed that you wanted to speak with me about something.”
“I was there,” the woman said. “I was at the battle in London. My god! It was real, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” Harry replied. “It was real.”
“You were the woman from the coffee shop who tried to help Harry,” Ginny remembered.
“Yes,” the woman said. “To my shame I ran away from there after that. By the time I finally came back everything was back to normal and no one seemed to remember what had happened.”
“You weren’t supposed to remember either,” Harry said. “If you hadn’t run then the aurors would have modified your memory as well.”
“Aurors?” the woman asked.
“Um… The policemen of the wizarding world,” Harry explained.
“Wizarding…” the woman said in disbelief. “Amazing.”
“Now that you know who we are…” Ginny began.
“Oh,” The woman said as she realized she hadn’t introduced herself. “I’m Joanne.”
“I feel that you have questions for me, Joanne,” Harry said.
“Oh yes,” Joanne replied. “I’ve been trying to write a book about you.”
“A book about Harry?” Ginny asked.
“Yes,” Joanne confirmed. “I know this is going to sound odd, but I’ve been trying to write it since before I ever met him.”
“Well Professor Trelawney would be jealous,” Ginny said with a smile. “What did you want to know?”
“Everything,” Joanne replied with an excited smile.
“I hope you have plenty of ink in your pen,” Harry said with a smile. “I could fill volumes with what I could tell you about little Sophia. She was only born two weeks ago, but she’s already filled our lives with a happiness it would be hard to describe.”
“You’re starting with the end of the story, Harry,” Ginny said with a smile. “Maybe Joanne would like to hear it from the beginning.”
“Right,” Harry said with a grin. “I don’t know if muggles would really like to read about it, but it all started with my parents, and a prophecy…”
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