This book's been giving me trouble, lots and lots of trouble. I've had more pain from this one than from the other four put together and it's not even finished yet! Grumble... grumble...
Anyway as a result I may be slower to post than usual as I try to beat this twisty, hellish yarn I choose to call a story into submission.
Sorry, hopefully the story will be better for it.
In other news: OVER 200,000 WORDS! HORAY!
“Hello?” The shopkeeper peered, bleary eyed, at the figure standing on the other side of the glass door. “Sorry we‘re closed now.”
“Good.” The hooded man pushed the door open roughly. “Then there will be no one to hear us.”
“What do you want.” The shopkeeper edged his hand towards the wand in his pocket. “If it‘s money you‘re after-”
“I require a service of you.” The man said, clearly and arrogantly. “Or rather my master does.”
“If your master wants any of my service.” The shopkeeper grunted a laugh. “He‘d better come himself. I don‘t do house calls and even if I did some of my equipment‘s too heavy to move.”
“You mistake me.” The man sounded like he was smiling. “My master want‘s you to give me something. A Shén de shǒu.”
“A Sh-” The shopkeeper held his hands up, backing away. “No no no no! Why would I-”
“I heard you were the man to go to for one.”
“Yeah, years ago. When they were legal.” The shopkeeper took his wand from his pocket and held it firmly towards the intruder. “I think you‘d better leave.”
“My master…” The man began, rolling up his sleeve. “Is not a man you want to displease.”
The shopkeeper jumped back as he saw the dark mark emerge from under the dark robes. Even this far from Britain everyone in the business knew what it meant.
“Are you a… a dead eater?”
“Death eater.” The man corrected pleasantly. “Now about the Shen?”
“I… I‘ll have to make some calls.” The shopkeeper shuddered, he just wanted this man gone. “I don‘t have all the stuff here.”
“I‘ll wait.” The man pulled up an old wooden chair. “While we wait we can discuss some other things you may be able to help me with. I‘m sure they will not be beyond your… skill.”
The shopkeeper gulped as the man began listing what he wanted. His hands shook so much his wand fell on the floor and rolled away unnoticed.
“I‘ll…” He cleared his throat, his mouth raw. “I‘ll see what I can do.”
Harry’s boots hit fireplace and he drew his wand out and scanned the room before lowering it and depositing the required galleons in a jar by the barman.
“Thank you young master.” The man simpered.
“He’s probably telling someone I was there right now.” Harry thought as he left the grubby pub. “And that someone will tell a death eater.”
Harry broke into a run as old buildings flashed past him. He hadn’t made for London, too obvious. The bold silhouette of Edinburgh castle was outlined against the stars for a moment between two buildings as Harry dashed along and he darted down an alley towards it. He slowed as he passed a group of guys obviously out for the night, singing in the street, then sped up as the path began to climb towards the high castle.
He came up a side road and turned away from the historic building. Fitting himself into the crowds of Friday night revelers like a shadow. He flitted across the royal mile as fast as he thought safe, clutching his long coat tight about him. At fifteen years old people wouldn’t think it weird for him to be out this late but they might remember that he was alone. Any memory of his passing was a liability and Harry flicked his collar up and kept into the shadow of a house.
There were a few wizard pubs in Edinburgh, Harry had mapped them out. But thanks to his stupidity of not disguising himself as he flued into the last one he could not now risk any of them. Harry cursed, he was still an idiot. Still making stupid mistakes, Harry shook his head and pinched himself hard. He had to be better.
The rail station appeared beneath him and Harry swiftly crossed the bridge and slinked in a side entrance. He bought a ticket from an automated machine (no memories) to the first location on the departures board. Then tore it up, cursing himself again, and bought one for the second one down.
It was only three minutes till it left. Harry stood in a corner, hopefully just looking like any other traveler. They wouldn’t check the station would they? They thought like wizards, not like muggles. Maybe he was being paranoid… the bartender didn’t have to tell anyone…
No! Careless! Better safe. We want to fight them, but on our terms.
Harry nodded, it was the safe thing to do. He gritted his teeth as the seconds ticked by. He just needed to be gone. Wherever the train went he could find wizards and flue to… to somewhere. Somewhere better, Hogwarts possibly? It was still weeks till he had to go back to school and Harry wasn’t eager to slip back under Dumbledore’s restrictive wing. He’d go somewhere anyway.
Damn it! Harry went stock still as two oddly dressed individuals walked into the train station. One looked like his outfit was a Halloween costume of a pirate, the other was wearing lederhosen. They were the stupidest sight Harry had ever seen.
They were also here to kill him.
Harry could feel the essence of barely contained violence coming off both of them and the pirate had a wand concealed up his sleeve. Harry stepped sideways, making his movement seem inconsequential, uninteresting, and pushed open a staff door. He stepped in calmly and confidently, not giving any trace that he didn’t belong.
“’Ere? Who are y-”
The cleaner in overalls got no further as Harry whipped his wand out and Confunded him.
“You‘re done for the night.” Harry whispered and jerked a thumb back the way he‘d come. “You need to lock that door.”
“R… right.” The man mumbled and Harry left swiftly, passing out a side door and feeling the cold night air. Harry crossed the road and passed to the next street over and breathed a sigh of relief. It was busy, full of revelers. He could be invisible here.
The good kind of invisible, the kind that didn’t need cloaks.
Harry kept to the side as he ducked down the long stretch and ducked into a pub. A few minutes later he emerged, unrecognizable. Wrinkled skin and grey hair, Shakey Jack walked again. Harry walked like an old man up the road, watching both ways.
Damn it! There was one, walking down the street towards him. He was surreptitiously pointing his wand at every person he passed, like he was dowsing. He was detecting magic. Harry winced, there was his friend coming from the other direction, doing the same. Harry was cornered.
Harry began walking slowly towards the pirate death eater, making his steps slow and measured like the old man he was supposed to be. He hid his wand in his sleeve, he needed to come up with a plan. There was no way he could fight them here, too many bystanders, so that left taking them out instantly (which would be almost impossible) and running away.
Of course if one of them had been Crouch it would be different. But they weren’t, they were just incidental.
“Silencio.” Harry murmured it so quietly he could almost have been silenced himself, aiming at the death eater’s wand. No way to know whether he had hit… The wand came up, aimed at Harry…
The wand passed on over to the next bystander and Harry breathed a mental sigh of relief. He began walking away, they didn’t follow. He kept walking, passing out of areas he could recognize from maps and found an alley.
Harry pushed a wheelie bin aside and slouched down against the wall. He’d wait for morning here and try to leave the city then. Harry drew into his bag and pulled out the wrapped up remains of a sandwich.
Full circle, eventually we all come back home.
Harry sneered as his eyelids began to droop, alleys used be home, now they weren’t. That didn’t mean that anywhere else in particular was home, but it was an improvement. Harry dropped off to sleep, too tired to dream.
“He‘s here somewhere.”
Harry’s eyes flicked open, the wan light of daybreak filtering into the alleyway. Footsteps came slowly up the alleyway. Harry slid behind the bin that hid him and crawled to the other side. The two figures came cl… Hang on!
“Are you certain?” A deep familiar voice said as the two men passed the bin Harry was behind. “It might not even be him.”
“Underage magic and marauding death eaters, it‘s him.” Moody grumbled as he stumped along. “He‘s back.”
Harry waited until they had passed then grinned. He stepped out from behind the bin and slowly walked up behind the two aurors. You know what would be funny? Harry took a deep breath…
Harry lifted his head off the grass (grass?) and looked around him. Moody was gone, but the tall black auror was still there, his arms crossed, calmly looking down at Harry. Harry glanced at the person who had brought him back.
“Wotcher Harry.” Tonks held out an arm to help him up. “Want to explain why my bosses brought you here comatose?”
“They didn‘t tell you?”
“Well Moody was too angry to talk and Kingsley kept laughing.”
On cue a deep chuckle escaped from the tall aurors mouth, swiftly covered with a hand.
“I‘ll let Moody tell the story when he calms down.” Harry dusted himself off and surveyed the empty field. It seemed vaguely familiar. “Where are we?”
“Oh! Right.” Tonks dipped into her pocket and drew out a small piece of paper. “Just read it, don’t say it out loud.”
Harry took the paper and unfolded it. On it was written, in loopy, hard to read handwriting…
The headquarters of the order of the phoenix is the manor on the grim moors.
“So what does it- WHOA!” Harry tripped backwards as the mansion exploded out of the ground around him. Even the grass curled into the floor and became gravel and a fountain appeared like it had been pushed up from some tunnel underground. After everything settled Harry looked around,
“Hey, isn‘t this-”
“Home.” Came a voice out of the air. “My home.” Harry spun, wand out. Then relaxed.
“Knew I recognized this place.” Harry smiled. “Good to see you Draco.”
“Good to see you too.” The blond boy detached himself from the shadow of a doorway. “Good too see you‘re still alive since we didn‘t have a clue.”
“Once. From cairo.” Draco said sarcastically. “Then you drop totally off the map.”
“I was vacationing.” Harry shrugged. “Like I always do.”
“Yeah right.” Draco pushed the door open for Harry to step inside. “Well in the mean time your friends and fan club have invaded my home.”
“The order of the phoenix?” Harry looked around the cavernous entrance hall. “Never heard of them.”
“It is Dumbledore‘s organization.” Kingsley said from behind Harry. “To counter the death eaters.”
“Why are you here? Don‘t you have your own headquarters?”
“This is better apparently.” Draco rolled his eyes.
“Didn‘t Voldemort live here?”
“The wards respond to the current heir.” Draco looked over at the sprawling tapestry of the Malfoy family tree. “Voldemort was forced to leave the moment…”
“The moment ownership transferred?”
“Well at least we're all safe here. Constant vigilance." At Harry's words Shacklebolt clapped a hand to his mouth but couldn't stop a snigger. Harry grinned and took another look at the tapestry. “Aren‘t you supposed to be on here?”
“I‘m there.” Draco pointed at a ragged burnt spot at the bottom. “It seems my mother reverted to her own family traditions.”
“Why don‘t you fix it?”
“Because I don‘t feel like it Potter.” Draco snapped acidly. “Besides? Who would I fix it for? I‘m the last Malfoy.”
“Unless you have children.” Harry pointed out. Draco just shook his head.
“No… no I‘m the last Malfoy.” Draco seemed to nod to himself, his voice full of some cold resolve. “Anyway, as I was saying. With the family enchantments and the extra wards Dumbledore put up this place is totally impregnable.”
“No such thing.” Harry looked back at the aurors. “Or as Moody would say, constant vigilance.”
“Stop saying that.” Kingsley had to cover his mouth again.
“What is this?” Tonks looked between them, confused. “It‘d have to be something good to make you laugh.”
“He snuck up behind Alastor Moody and yelled ‘Constant Vigilance‘ in his ear.” At Tonks’ shocked expression he added. “I‘m not joking.”
“Harry you‘re insane!” Tonks doubled over, holding her stomach. “He could have killed you!”
“You‘re certifiable Potter you really are.” Draco shook his head, then stopped suddenly. “How did you sneak up on Moody?”
“Yes.” Kingsley stepped closer. “I‘ve been wondering that.”
In answer Harry just smiled and rolled up his left sleeve. Around his wrist was a brass bracer engraved with tracing vines. Right in the center, on the inside arm, was a hieroglyphic of a great black eye.
“Picked this up in Egypt.” Harry said, running a linger along the edge.
“That’s the evil eye.” Tonks stepped closer to look at it. “It wards off magical monitoring.”
“It‘s also all sorts of illegal.”
“Yep.” Harry shrugged. “Somehow I doubt the ministry would care considering what‘s being kept at bay under the eye.”
“Under… oh…” Tonks nodded faintly and stepped back. “Right.”
“Does it stop him calling you?” Draco asked quietly.
“It makes it manageable.” Harry pulled his sleeve down and put on a cheery smile. “Too bad it only hides me, not my magic. Else I could do spells whenever I wanted without the ministry seeing.”
“And you‘d be even more of a menace.” Tonks smiled and winked at Harry. “Come on, the others are waiting.”
Harry grinned and turned to follow the auror.
“We‘re mostly living in the east wing.” Tonks called back over her shoulder. “This place is massive. It took us a week to find where you‘d left Macnair. He smelled awful.”
“Sorry,” Harry shrugged theatrically. “Next time I‘ll try to kill in a sterile environment.”
They walked down a long dark hallway, made more spooky by the fact that every picture was empty. Draco said nothing but Harry imagined they had left about the same time his father had. The door at the end had a steady glow coming from under it. Harry hurried forward and flung the door open theatrically.
“Harry!” Harry was knocked back as marauders piled towards him, and on him. Harry laughed and extricated himself from under the pile.
“Hi guys.” Harry walked past the scrum into the cavernous room, which turned out to be a kitchen. “Miss me?”
“Where the hell were you?” Padma hadn’t joined the charge and was sitting with her arms crossed and an angry expression. “Why did you leave?”
“I never left.” Harry held his hand to his heart. “I was always with you, in here.”
“Cynic.” Harry shrugged and slid onto the long bench across from her and Hermione. “Have you no-”
“Voldemort is back.” Hermione interrupted him.
“Really?” Harry opened his eyes wide in shock. “Is he really? No… no, I had no idea… How could that happen? I would remember a thing like that? Oh… oh wait? Tall guy with red eyes? You know I think I do remember a guy like that… TORTURING ME!”
“Alright Harry. Alright.” Hermione held her hands up. “I didn‘t mean it like that. I just meant that Voldemort‘s after you, he want‘s to kill you.”
“Is this a meeting of the obvious society?” Harry said as the rest of the marauders crowded around.
“What she means is that this isn‘t a time to go sunbathing in Majorca.” Padma said in exasperation. “Or skiing or hang-gliding or whatever it is you did.”
“Well I didn‘t bloody hang-glide.” Harry grimaced. “At least brooms have some means of propulsion. And I didn‘t ski or sunbathe. I‘ve been working.”
“Working on what?”
“Working on not getting tortured again, working on being… better.”
“You‘ve been training?” Fred asked. “You found some Tibetan temple or something?”
“No, no temple.” Harry shrugged. “But I have been training. I‘m not ending up half dead again. Next time he comes after me I‘ll not be helpless.”
“Well the point is that it shouldn‘t happen again.” Tonks came up behind him and clapped him on the shoulders. “You‘re staying safe here till you can go to Hogwarts.”
“Safe here?” Harry froze. “Safe here?” He pushed himself off the bench. “I have to go out there!”
“I have to go out there and fight them. You know that right?” Harry looked Tonks in the eye, the marauders looked on confused. “You know that.”
Tonks glanced back at Draco, who just frowned and looked at the floor.
“Dumbledore…” Tonks licked her lips. “Dumbledore, who also knows that, says you‘re to be kept safe.”
“For how long?”
“I don‘t know. However long it takes.”
“You are aware that without me it will take precisely forever.” Harry said through gritted teeth.
“I‘m sure Dumbledore has considered that.”
“Dumbledore. Is. Senile.” Harry looked over at Kingsley, who had thus far kept silent. “How bout you? You got a take on this?”
“I trust Dumbledore.” Kingsley said confidently.
“Everyone always does.” Harry snorted. “And as yet I‘ve seen no reason why.”
“You haven‘t seen him angry.” Kingsley turned towards the door. “Come on Tonks, we need to get back on duty before we‘re missed.”
Harry didn’t speak as the two aurors left. When the door slammed shut he threw his hands up and shook his head.
“I have seen him angry. I‘ve seen him angry at me, it‘s not so bad.”
“What was that Harry?” Ginny asked.
“All that ‘you know that’ and ‘he knows this’ stuff. What‘s the secret?”
“You didn‘t tell them?” Harry turned to Neville.
“I thought it was a secret.” Neville shrugged.
Harry turned to Draco, who rolled his eyes.
“Don‘t look at me I don‘t even like them.”
“Right,” Harry turned towards the door. “It‘s not a secret, at least not amongst us. Could you tell them for me Nev? I‘m going to get some fresh air.”
“You can’t.” Ron called after him. “We have to stay inside the building.”
“The wards extend to the property line but it‘s stronger in here.” Hermione explained apologetically. “They told us to stay-”
“By they you mean Dumbledore.”
“Then I‘m finding an open window.” Harry looked over his shoulder back at the marauders. “I can do that can‘t I?”
“Your room‘s down the corridor, the door with the scorpion lock.” Draco said.
“Is there a window in my cell?”
“Yes, it‘s not barred either. Not un-metaphorically anyway.”
Harry, didn’t respond. He just pushed the door open and left.
Draco woke the next morning as a retching sound came through the wall. He shook the covers off and pushed the curtains around his bed open before hurrying to the adjacent room.
“Harry is that you?” Draco was about to try the door before he thought better of it and ran a detection charm. A couple of nasty curses lifted out of the woodwork. Draco backed a few steps away. “Harry open up!” Draco heard footsteps then the door scraped open.
“What?” Harry growled sleepily.
“Were you just sick?”
“No… no.” Harry shook his head. “Why would you think that?”
“Because I just heard you Harry.” Draco folded his arms. “You also smell of vomit.”
“I… I do.” Harry sniffed. “Fine. You caught me.”
“I‘m pregnant.” Harry shrugged. “There was this dancer. I was a little drunk and, well… I was weak.”
“Right,” Draco snorted.
“You‘re the first one I‘ve told.”
“It‘ll be really tough raising it on my own.”
“I imagine labor won‘t be a picnic either.” Draco shook his head, if Harry didn‘t want to tell him then he didn‘t want to know. “Look, it smells like breakfast‘s ready.”
“Great,” Harry shrugged, then frowned. “Who‘s cooking?”
“Sit down Harry.” Molly Weasley pulled out a chair for him. “Have some eggs. There‘s toast too, and some sausages.”
Harry looked around in confusion at the various people that had appeared in the kitchen of Malfoy manor. There were more Weasley’s than there had been, the two parents and older brothers. An odd man in a green hat was there as well, smiling at Harry and waving, along with an older lady in an ratty robe. There was one very recognizable face though, one that went had gone from smiling to stone cold the moment he entered the room. Remus Lupin had stood the moment he came in and walked away, leaving by the back door.
“A couple of people live here now.” Ginny said to cover the silence. “A couple of the order members.”
“Because I haven‘t started charging rent yet.” Malfoy muttered darkly, leaning over a chessboard.
“It‘s because we‘re too visible.” Molly Weasley explained. “People know we support Dumbledore, they know we were in the order last time. We‘re targets for attack. It‘s safer here.”
“Right, safer.” Harry tucked into his breakfast in silence, the marauders chatting around him. Apart from him only Malfoy and Ron were silent, both intently staring at the chessboard. Occasionally, very occasionally, one of them would make a move.
"It would be nice if they'd find their own base though." Malfoy murmured, still staring at the board. "Or their own prison."
"Prison?" Harry dropped a piece of toast. "They're using this place as a prison?"
"Obviously." Malfoy said grimly. "Did you think Malfoy manor had no cells? And they can't use Azkaban anymore."
"Isn't that dangerous?"
"The whole manor is under the Fidelius charm." Hermione explained. Harry smiled in understanding, so that was what the little slip of paper had been about. "It means that a secret is-"
"I know what it is." Harry interrupted her calmly. "But isn't it dangerous to tell the prisoners the secret?"
"Yes. That's why they don't." Padma shrugged.
"The prisoners are inside the secret but they haven't been told it?" Harry's brow furrowed. "I wonder what that feels like for them."
"They tend to scream a lot."
Harry shrugged, unworried. At least there was a safe place for to house the death eaters. Of course Harry would prefer if they were all kept in nice safe coffins but this was the next best thing. While they had been talking Draco had turned back to the silent chess game.
“How long have they been at that?” Harry asked Hermione.
“Hours for this game.” Hermione answered dejectedly. “Weeks if you‘re mean playing in general.”
“I think Ron‘s ahead by two games.”
“Out of two hundred and twenty six.” Padma chimed in irritably. “Neither of them’s been up by more than four at any point. Next time they equalize I‘m stealing the bloody board.”
“I have over eight hundred chess boards in this house.” Malfoy said idly as he nudged a pawn forward. “You‘re welcome to try and find all of them. Maybe you‘ll get lost along the way.”
“But not today. Got you.” Ron said triumphantly as he slid his knight forward. Harry frowned, even he, with his loose undemanding of the game, could see that it wasn’t a checkmate. But apparently Malfoy could see something he couldn’t, the blond boy hunched over the board for a few moments then,
“Screw you Weasley.” Draco angrily slapped his king down and stood up. “It doesn‘t count. I was distracted, I was talking to Harry.”
“It counts.” Ron replied angrily. He began to reset the pieces but Draco grabbed a pawn out of his hand and slammed it back into it’s box.
“I don‘t want another game. I‘m bored of chess for today.” Draco sat back down at the breakfast table, pouting.
Harry grinned at the spectacle then pushed his empty plate away and stood to leave.
“Where are you going dear?” Molly Weasley called after him.
“Just back to my room.” Harry answered cheerily. “I didn‘t unpack last night.”
“There‘s no chance he‘s going to unpack.” Padma whispered across the marauders table.
Ginny shook her head. No one could tell when Harry was lying, not even the marauders. But since Harry hadn’t unpacked anything ever since he’d got that bottomless bag it was unlikely he was doing so now.
“Should one of us go check on him?” Neville suggested.
“Let him be.” Fred shrugged. “He‘s got a lot to think about.” His twin nodded.
“It‘d give us something to do.” Parvarti murmured quietly, voicing what they all felt. Boredom was constant here. The only interesting times were order meetings when the marauders would try to find ways to listen in. Ways that were continually blocked.
All their homework had been done. All the course books had been read and so many games of exploding snap had been played that they all had little tiny burns on the ends of their fingers. There was nothing else to do, literally nothing. They had looked, tried to come up with other things to do. They had failed.
“We could try gobstones again.” Fred suggested as their mother bustled around the room.
“Definitely not.” Hermione shook her head. “We could study?”
“We‘ve done all our homework.” Ron said irritably.
“We could swap and do each others.” Parvati pointed out. At the general shock she just shrugged. “I‘m that bored.”
“We could play quidditch!” Ron perked up instantly. “Why didn’t we think of this before! Yeah! We can have a-”
“How?” Ginny cut in. “We can‘t go outside.”
The marauders lapsed into silence. Defeated again.
“Mrs Weasley.” Malfoy suddenly said. “Harry was feeling ill earlier. Do you have anything that could help him?”
“Why didn‘t you tell me?” The Weasley Matriarch hurried off down the corridor towards Harry’s room. As soon as she disappeared Malfoy pushed himself away from the table.
“Let‘s go. Quickly.”
“Why?” Ginny crossed her arms. “Why should we go with you?”
“Because I know where we can play quidditch.” Draco glanced at the door. "Believe it or not I am as bored as you are Weasley. Now can we go? You're mother won't be distracted for long."
"Whoa!" Ginny gasped as they were led into a massive hall. On the floor there were plinths and cases holding strange sparkling items.
"What is this place?" Hemione asked.
"My fathers." Draco lugged the ball case over. "It's just junk." True to his word he shoved three vases off a display stand to put the case in their place. "Now... teams."
"I call captain!" Ginny yelled.
"Me too." Ron nodded.
"Right," Malfoy was still looking the other way. "Captains are Ginerva and myself."
"It's my house." Malfoy cut him off snidely. "I'll take the twins."
"The quidditch playing ones." Malfoy rolled his eyes. Fred and George reluctantly went over to stand by Malfoy.
"You can't pick both." Ginny argued.
"Would you split them up?" Malfoy said sarcastically. "Have a heart."
"Fine. You can have them." Ginny grinned. "I get everyone else."
"Well well Weasley." Malfoy said appraisingly. "Betting on quantity over quality?"
"Shut up and release the bludgers."
Ginny shot past a cabinet laughing, the crash from behind her told her George hadn't been so lucky. The quaffle flew up and bounced inside the chalk circle on the wall.
"Goal!" Ginny spun on the spot, pumping her fist in the air.
"You're still behind Weasley!" Malfoy yelled as he shot past.
Damn it he was right, Ginny shot forward after him. If only the snitch would appear! It shouldn't be so hard to catch it in this enclosed area. Unfortunately the charms on the snitch were never designed to deal with an irregular maze of cabinets and as a result it kept moving erratically. They had found and lost it three times already. Ginny saw Malfoy trying to score and being blocked by Ron. She took the opportunity to take another look for it.
"Over there!" Someone yelled, Ginny didn't hesitate. The flash of gold disappeared behind a urn and Ginny spun around it. Where was it? Another flash, there by the rack of swords. Ginny heard a crash from the side her, Malfoy was closing in. There, by the glass again? No! By the urns again! Damn it, there were reflections everywhere. It was like there were six snitches!
Ginny narrowly avoided colliding with the wall. A thump behind her told her Malfoy wasn’t so lucky. There it was! Right near the corner of the room. Ginny sped up, it was so close! Her fingers closed around it. And it felt... wrong.
Ginny drew to a halt, holding the thing in her hand. It was gold, but it wasn’t a snitch. It was a cup, a little gold plated teacup, still struggling to escape from her fingers. Draco hovered in next to her, looking perplexed.
“That didn‘t used to fly.” He grabbed it out her hand, holding it by it’s tiny handle and letting it try to pull away. “This isn‘t even stored in this room.”
“What is it?”
“It‘s a teacup Weasley how dense are you?” Draco insulted idily, still staring at the tiny thing. “Or did you always just drink out of a trough at your house?”
“No.” Ginny just gritted her teeth and swallowed the insult. They had to live in this house for weeks yet. “Where did it come from?”
The other marauders came in closer, staring at it.
“I saw it by the door.” Parvati said curiously. “I thought it was hovering there but maybe it came through.”
“We should look.” Malfoy began floating in that direction.
“What about the real snitch?” Fred asked, wrestling a bludger back into its case.
“It‘s just a training snitch. It comes when it‘s called.” Malfoy held out his hand. “Ollyollyoxen!” In a flash of gold the snitch darted down from the ceiling and settled in his hand.
“Lets go.” He said curtly, jerked his head and floated off towards the door.
“Guess we‘re not walking.” Hermione murmured as the marauders flew after him. The corridor was fairly narrow and the marauders had to fly in single file. The empty portraits were here as well, even the animals in the landscapes had left.
“Do you hear that?” Neville whispered and clumsily stopped.
“What Longbottom?” Malfoy turned in the air, impatience clear on his face. “I don‘t hear anything.”
“That would be because you‘re talking.” Padma snapped at him. “Shut up a minute.”
Silence filled the hallway for a moment, then... a distant noise. It sounded like an explosion underwater, muffled by the walls. The marauders looked at each other, they had all heard it.
“There it is again.” Ron said quietly as the sound echoed down the hall.
“Sounds...” Malfoy screwed up his face. “It‘s beneath us.”
“Are you sure?” Ginny floated forwards to where he was hovering. “It‘s echoing a lot, maybe-”
“My house Weasley.” Malfoy cut her off. “It‘s coming from beneath us. This way.” Malfoy shot forward and turned sharply into a side corridor. Ginny rushed to keep up with him and she could hear the marauders behind her doing the same. A door was flung open in front of them and Ginny spun into it, following the blond flash in front of her. Down some steps, along a long dark hall, next - STOP!
Ginny had to break harshly to avoid hitting Malfoy who was hopping off his broom in front of a large wooden door.
“What‘s the matter Weasley?” Malfoy shouldered his broom. “Had trouble keeping up?”
“I almost hit you!” Ginny dropped to the floor. “Why did you stop?”
“We‘re here.” As Malfoy said it a loud bang issued from the other side of the door. Ginny looked behind her to see the marauders just coming around the corner. Hermione looked terrified, Neville looked ill.
“Well lets see then.” Malfoy drew his wand and pushed at the heavy door. It slowly crept open. Inside was an empty hall, looked like it was usually used for storage or something. The only things left were a few odd tables and a few boxes. In the middle of the room stood Harry, bare chested with his scars pure white against his tanned and sweating skin. On a box next to him was a odd pile of junk. As they watched he took a plate and held his wand to it. At a whispered word there were two plates, then three, then four. Harry dropped the original back into the pile and tapped the fakes with his wand. They instantly flew off in all directions. Harry jabbed his wand and in a fraction of a second-
BANG! One shattered near the ceiling. Harry whirled. BANG! Shattering into shards. BANG! Smashing the side and sending the last plate spinning into the wall.
Harry caught sight of the marauders and grinned before waving them over.
“Thanks.” Harry said, plucking the cup out of Malfoy’s hand. “Must have missed that one.” He released it and it instantly whizzed into the air.
“You don‘t need to keep duplicating things you know.” Malfoy said dryly. “I‘ve got tons of this junk.”
“Right.” Harry shrugged. “Just didn‘t want to bother you.”
“Harry what are you doing with these?” Hermione asked, sounding almost scared.
Ginny looked where Hermione was pointing and swallowed fearfully. Arranged in a neat row along the table was a sharp and wickedly curved sword, a short spear with a lighting bolt carved into the haft, a round ball that had holes for fingers and seemed to be glowing from within and no less than three muggle firearms.
“Souvenirs.” Harry shrugged lightly. “From my travels.”
“Harry please tell us what you’re doing down here?” Hermione pleaded.
“Training.” Harry flicked his wand over his shoulder without looking and the cup, zipping past too fast to see, exploded in mid air. “I told you that didn‘t I?”
Ginny just stared, this was too much. All the marauders expected insanity from Harry but this...
Malfoy was the first to speak.
“You bought an impact sphere?” He was looking at the bowling ball like thing. “You shouldn‘t have, my father had two in his vault.”
“I may need spares.” Harry shrugged.
“Harry is this stuff dark magic?” Hermione was shying away from the table.
“Depends on your perception.” Harry replied airily. “It‘s certainly illegal magic. Whether it‘s dark is more about the use it‘s put to than the thing itself. These things are just tools.”
“And the guns?” Hermione pointed. “Did you buy those illegally too?”
“Strangely no, I bought them legally in Vegas.” Harry picked up the largest one. The marauders took a collective step back. “Bringing them back to the UK was the illegal bit.”
“No wait, I used fake i.d. to buy them... never mind.” Harry shrugged. “Yes I bought them illegally.”
"Harry, your wand..." Malfoy was staring at the bramble-wood wand in Harry's hand. "Are you still using the one you stole from Macnair?"
"Yes," Harry clanced down at the dark wand. "Why do you ask?"
"Harry, do you not think that using a wand you stole from a dead death eater is a bit..." Malfoy swallowed. "A bit... creepy?"
"Why? I was the one that killed him."
"You could buy a new one from Ollivander." Neville suggested.
"And risk it not working as well as this one does?" Harry balanced the thick, twisted wand on the edge of his hand before flicking it up into the air and catching it, all the while with the gun held nonchalantly in his other hand. "This one works for me, maybe as well as my old one did. Besides... it sort of fits doesn't it? This wand's done a lot of violence in it's lifetime. Lots of hurting, fighting, and that's exactly what I intend to use it for."
Hurting? Fighting?... Killing... Ginny swallowed. Harry hadn't said that last one but she could feel him thinking it.
“Harry why are you doing this?” Ron asked.
“What do you mean why?” Harry looked at Neville, then at Malfoy. “Didn‘t you tell them?”
“Yeah. I told them.” Neville said softly.
“Then what?” Harry dropped the gun back down to the table. It sounded heavy. “I need to fight Voldemort. I have to fight Voldemort.”
“Yeah but Harry-” Ginny started, but was cut off.
“I have to fight Voldemort and you know what? I‘ll lose!” Harry slashed the air angrily. “I‘ll lose, I mean what else would happen? I spotty, ignorant fifteen year old against the most dangerous wizard on the planet? I‘ll lose, he‘ll win, we‘ll all be screwed. Don‘t you see? I can‘t afford to be an ignorant teenager any more. I have to be better. I need to be better. Because I can‘t lose, can‘t afford to lose. None of us can afford for me to lose. Do you know what it feels like to know that the whole world is royally screwed if you fail? No? Then shut up! Don’t try to stop me and don‘t ask me why! I know why, and if you took a microsecond to think you‘d know why too!”
Harry’s angry tirade shocked the marauders into silence. Harry turned back to his pile of junk and began duplicating a heavy glass bowl.
“Harry... you don‘t know when the prophecy will happen.” Neville surprisingly spoke up. “Maybe you won‘t be fifteen. Maybe you‘ll be twenty, or thirty. Maybe you have time...”
“Do you want to risk everything on maybe?” Harry answered without looking up. “Well I‘m not. It could be any time so I have to be ready any time. It could be tomorrow too.”
“Do you want someone to duel against?” Malfoy said quietly.
“You...!” Hermione whirled on him. “You can‘t help him!”
“Why not? He‘s right.” Malfoy shrugged, apparently unimpressed by Hermione’s angry face.
“Dumbledore has been wrong before.” Malfoy cut her off. “It hurts nothing to be ready in case he‘s wrong this time.”
“But Harry could be killed!”
“Yes.” Malfoy nodded curtly. “He could. Did you not realize that? Did you perhaps think what happened last year was some sort of funny game?”
“Of course not, but-”
“Well then.” Malfoy sidestepped Hermione. “We duel. Besides... not like there‘s anything else to do around here.”
“Good point.” Ginny was surprised to hear her own voice. Oh no now everyone was looking at her, better say something. “And since we‘re all targets maybe we should try learning some stuff too.”
“At least we‘ll all get O‘s in defense.” Padma smiled wryly.
“So we‘re not going to talk about the prophecy?” Hermione turned to face Harry.
“What‘s there to say?” Harry shrugged. “It‘s fairly self explanatory. No one but me can kill Voldemort. Not much to discuss.”
“I... guess so...” Hermione bit her lip. “There‘s an order meeting tonight. Maybe we can ask Dumbledore...”
“Good.” Harry hoisted a glass bowl onto his shoulder and flung it out into the room. He aimed his wand and muttered under his breath. The bowl melted and splattered into a steaming heap on the floor. “There are some things I want to ask him too.”
“Where have you lot been!” Molly Weasley drew herself up. “You disappeared hours ago! All of you, gone all day! Now you‘re back and you look like you‘ve been fighting! Now you... Where do you think you‘re going!”
“Hu?” Draco turned from his progress towards the door. “What do you mean ‘Where am I going’? I‘m going to the kitchen.”
“You come back here young man!”
“Why? I‘m not your family. Nor am I one of these other waifs you seem to have adopted. I don‘t care for your opinion, nor for your misplaced and overworked maternal instinct. I‘m certainly not going to let you yell at me while you live under my roof.” Draco turned back to the door...
“Get back here!”
....and walked happily through it, with enraged silence left behind him.
“You do know that means you‘ll have to make you‘re own breakfast from now on.”
“Tonks.” Draco smiled and walked through the now crowded kitchen to where his cousin was sitting. Next to the werewolf. Draco shuddered inwardly and sat on her other side. “I couldn‘t eat another fried breakfast anyway. Any more and my broom won‘t be able to hold me.”
“I doubt that little cousin.” Tonks prodded him playfully before growing serious. “How‘s Harry doing?”
“He‘s...” Draco licked his lips and gestured for her to lean closer. “He‘s accepted the prophecy. He‘s accepted that he will fight Voldemort. He‘s preparing for it.”
“That sounds ominous.” Tonks shook her head. “Dumbledore‘s not going to like it.”
“Don‘t tell him.”
“I won‘t, but he‘ll find out anyway.”
“Will he?” A new voice came in. Draco looked up to see Harry slide in across from them. The werewolf grunted and got up, not looking at Harry. Tonks glanced after him, confused. Harry ignored it.
“How‘d you get away?” Draco asked.
“Disillusion.” Harry shrugged. “That deep into a tirade I doubt she‘ll count how many people she‘s yelling at. So... when‘s Dumbledore getting here?”
“Now.” Tonks stood as the ancient man walked into the kitchen. Harry was instantly on the other side of the bench and stepping up beside the Headmaster and tugging on his robe.
“Professor, can I talk to you ab-”
“After the meeting Harry.” Dumbledore brushed him off. “You have my word. But right now some of the order members have important missions they must get back to quickly.”
“Of course.” Harry stepped back, nodding amicably. “I understand.”
What? Draco crossed his arms and frowned. Why was Harry being so calm? What was going on? As the order members filed out he sidled up to Harry’s side?
“What was that?”
“You being calm and nice towards Dumbledore. What are you up to?”
“I‘m always nice.”
“You‘re always up to something.”
“Are you suggesting?” Harry drew himself up haughtily. “That I am only nice when I have an agenda? That I am manipulative and self serving that way? That I would only be calm if I, oh say... wanted to slip a listening device into the pocket of someone‘s robes before they went into an order meeting... or something like that?”
Snape stepped into the manor and strode towards the main dining room. He wasn’t late precisely, just... no longer appropriately prompt. He pushed the door open and walked to the open seat next to Natalie.
“Have I missed anything important?”
“Attacks.” The unspeakable was idly scraping her finger along the edge of a copy of the daily prophet. “Dark marks. Wizards and witches we suspect have been turned, or put under the imperious curse.
"Nothing important then."
"Nothing new at least." Natalie tuned to him. "Did you hear they found Harry?"
"I heard Harry found them." Snape cracked a smile. "Or Moody at least."
"Severus," A soft voice called. Snape looked over to Dumbledore, who was looking at him expectantly. "Is there any news?"
"Yes." Snape brought himself back to the task at hand. "The dark lord is moving."
"Well duh." The voice near the end of the table was swiftly silenced by a flat stare.
"The dark lord is moving more specifically. Now that Greyback is dead all but a few of the werewolves have deserted him. He seeks new troops to sew panic, he has chosen to acquire by solid wealth this time rather than empty promises. He is arranging purchase of large numbers of various exotic species, lethifolds primarily. Chimaeras if it can find a willing seller."
"Why?" Lupin asked from down the table. "Why mindless beasts?"
"Precisely because they are mindless." Snape explained. "His criminal army from Azkaban has not been as effective as he hoped."
"They've torn the country apart!" Someone yelled.
"But only in their own capacity. They have not followed orders well, they are distracted. The dark lord has killed a lot of them, he seems tired of human failings. In a way he doesn't want an army, he wants a weapon. Something he can unleash at will. Doubtless he will be employing the imperious curse to see that his will is done."
"It doesn't work on lethifolds." Lupin said with certainty. A little sniff of relief slid through Snape's mind, swiftly swallowed up with darkness.
"But it does work on chimeras. And on manticores."
"Manticores?" The former defense teachers eyes grew wide.
"Well, manticore at present. But he is looking for others."
"Why not simply use it on the criminals?" Someone asked.
"Both because that would make them less effective fighters and because long exposure to the Dementors seems to have made them surprisingly resistant to mental attacks." Snape leant closer over the table to speak to the order as a whole. "I have the dates he plans to meet with creature traders. If we arrange a trap we can get ahead of him and-"
"No." Dumbledore spoke with quiet authority.
"We cannot allow this to happen."
"If we act he will assuredly guess the source of our information." Dumbledore shook his bearded head. "You are too valuable at present to risk. You are our only source of information."
"Information we never act on." Snape clenched his fists on the cold mahogany table. "What use is my spying... what use is this order if we are too scared to ever act."
"We cannot act rashly."
I do not act rashly. You simply do not act. Snape bit back the words we wanted to fling at the old man. It would be pointless.
"We could instead liaise with the foreign auror departments." Snape tried to trick himself into thinking this was anything other than a damage limiting attempt. "They could arrest some of the traders before the dark lord can meet with them."
"Perhaps," Dumbledore nodded. "There are very few people we can trust. I will try to get in contact with some old friends that may be able to help."
Old friends? Of yours? Won't they be dust or lingeringly senile ghosts by now?
Natalie gave no outward sign that she had heard Snape's projected though, but she reached over and laid her hand on his arm.
“Is there anything else?”
“Barty Crouch still has not returned.” Snape shook his head, Barty Crouch had become Voldemort’s favorite, surpassing even Belatrix. Snape had hoped at one time that Barty’s failure to gain the ministry would count against him, and it had, but apparently throwing it into turmoil had been enough. That and successfully bringing Harry Potter directly to the dark lord. All that made it even more suspicious that Barty was absent from death eater gatherings. The dark lord kept his servants close, if he was letting one off their tether then it had to be for something important.
“Do you think he has left the country?” Someone down the table asked.
“It is possible.” Snape nodded. “But whatever he is doing it has it‘s root here. The dark lord has always intended to take this country before moving on to the rest of the world. That has not changed. It may also involve espionage.”
“Why do you say that?”
“It is Barty Crouch‘s specialty is it not?” Snape shrugged. “But the dark lord has ordered me to begin researching polyjuice potion in an attempt to make it work for any humanoid species.”
“You think it is connected?”
“I do not know.” Snape answered honestly. “It could just as easily be involved in his attempts to gain the support of the giants.”
“The dark lords plans are like spiderwebs.” Natalie said softly. “We can assume everything is connected.” If anyone other than Snape heard her they said nothing.
“Is that all?”
“Other than hours of listening to the dark lords dark pontificating on the subject of the death or subjugation of all muggles?” Snake crooked an eyebrow. “No.”
"Good. What news from the ministry?" Dumbledore had turned to Shacklebolt, who sighed and shook his head.
"It has become official. Fudge is still minister for magic."
A general groan went up from around the room. Snape just closed his eyes and took a calming breath. After the events of last year the ministry had been fractured to its very core. The near-election of a death eater had made them fearful as rabbits. Fudge had, the moment Dumbledore left the building, ran back to his office and virtually barricaded himself inside. All summer he had been wrangling the ministry around to the idea that his expulsion was not valid because of the deceptions of Barty Crouch Jr.
That was, Snape had to admit, technically true. Although the vote to remove Fudge had been won by a comfortable margin the original motion to remove a minister for magic could only be tabled by a member of the Wizengamot. Crouch Jr was not a member, only impersonating one, therefore the motion and, by extension, the vote was void. A piece of bureaucratic foolishness that meant they were stuck with that ridiculous man until someone else drummed up enough support to oust him.
"We could replace him." Natalie said, seeming to read his thoughts like she often did (even when not actually doing so). "Everyone in my department thinks he's a joke."
"Ours too." Shacklebolt rumbled.
"The whole ministry does." Arthur Weasley added. "The whole wizarding population. The problem is that no one wants to put in a nomination for fear of looking like they're following Crouch's example."
"So we put someone forward." Snape said definitely. "We field a candidate no one can argue is a death eater."
"And they will be shot down by those who resent Dumbledore interfering in the ministry. Fudge was not the only one." Shacklebolt shook his head. "I realize this opinion may not be the most easy to hear, but perhaps we should allow him to stay for now."
"What?" Snape asked acidically. His anger was echoed down the table as others voiced their complaint.
"I realize the situation is not ideal." Shacklebolt held his hands up. "But Fudge is scared to touch any known order members or anyone else who waves Dumbledore's standard. As a result he is leaving the aurors office and the rest of the department relatively untouched. We can carry out our work without any overbearing oversight for now. And besides, with all the ex-Azkaban residents running around causing trouble we do not have time for a political battle on top of that. If we can not have a sympathetic minister of magic, one that stays out of our way is a good second choice."
"So it is agreed." Dumbledore looked up solemnly. "We allow him to remain while he remains un-troublesome."
Snape grimaced but didn't comment. Once more nothing would be done.
"Is guard duty for the next week set up?" Dumbledore asked the assembled order. There was a general nodding. It had not been hard to organize, not with a member inside the department of mysteries.
"Then we should all get back to work." Dumbledore stood. "And we should all prepare for attacks by magical beings. Lupin can, I'm sure, remind you of the best methods to repel them."
Snape stood quickly, he couldn't be missed for long. The dark lord was as watchful of his servants as he was of his of his enemies. Snape turned to Natalie,
"My guard duty is scheduled for Tuesday, at eleven."
"I'll be sure to be in the office then." Natalie nodded. Snape knew that he would be living for Tuesday at eleven. He reluctantly turned and made for the door. Unfortunately there was a blockage, the whole order was bunched up at the wide double doors. Snape quickly pushed to the front and was almost forced to laugh.
Harry had built a barricade.
The fifth year was sitting casually on an overturned desk, resting his feet on a drawer. The rest of the arching wall was mostly chairs and tables, and one suit of armor.
"Harry this was not necessary." Dumbledore stepped forward, his hands stretched peacefully. "I promised we would talk."
"I wanted your full attention." Harry replied wryly. "I want to fight."
"Harry you are not old enough to join the order."
"You think Voldemort will care?"
"We will keep you safe from Voldemort."
"Right." Harry dropped off his perch and landed, cat like, on the floor. "'Cos that tactic's worked wizard so far. You know I have to fight. I have to fight him."
"Harry I have made my decision."
"I contest the sanity of your decision." Harry grated. "You just going to let Voldemort walk all over this country?"
"Harry Potter I have had enough of this." Dumbledore waved his wand angrily. The barricade disappeared with a deafening crack. "You will stay where I put you until it is safe for you to do otherwise. If you will spare no thought for your own safety others must do it for you. You will stay here. You will be safe here."
"Unless a lethifold creeps in through the window." Harry said flatly. Dumbledore went cold, then glanced at Snape. Harry chuckled and continued. "Don't look at him. This is you're fault. You let me hear everything."
"How Harry?" Dumbledore crooked an eyebrow, but his usual good humor was gone.
"I'll let you stew over it." Harry folded his arms. "I want to fight. I want to sit in order meetings. I want a tutor to teach me to duel."
"You may have none of those things." Dumbledore wasn't moving, just standing like a statue. Radiating menace. "As for defense training you will find it at Hogarts, in your regular defense class."
"Well I hope at least you've got someone good." Harry sneered, then, glancing at McGonagall, let out a little choked laugh. "You haven't found anyone have you?"
"I will not discus this with you Harry." Dumbledore drew his wand. "I have more important things to do." And with that he turned and apparated away with an angry crack.
The order members began to shuffle out, giving Harry a wide berth. Lupin in particular was staring at him with what could only be described as loathing. Snape walked up to the solitary student.
"Perhaps you should not antagonize him."
"He antagonizes me." Harry answered, sounding a little defeated. "I don't understand him."
"Few people do."
"Great." Harry shrugged, then looked up to meet Snape's eyes. "Would... you teach me to fight?"
I should have expected that question. Snape took a breath to give himself time to consider his response.
"Why?" Harry asked, sounding somewhere between anger and helplessness. "You know what's at stake!"
"If I teach you then you will fall into the trap of thinking you are ready." Snape shook his head. "I could pass on everything I know to you and you would still lose to the dark lord because I would lose to the dark lord."
"I'm not just gonna rush in half cocked."
"You will, inevitably." Snape said, hoping bluntness could get through to him. You will inevitably seek him out because, despite everything you have gone through, you are still a teenage boy."
"I'm not an idiot."
"Yes you are." Snape corrected. "You are young, by definition you are an idiot."
"Haven't been young for weeks." Harry drew up his sleeve and unclipped an unexpected bracer. "Not since I got this."
Snape momentarily thought of asking where he had got the evil eye bracer but thought better of it. The answer was of no particular use. He almost wanted to ask if Harry had a spare.
"Harry..." Snape glanced around to see if anyone was listening. Natalie was but that was beyond the point. "If you want my advice you will continue as you have no doubt been doing. Train, learn everything you can. When the time comes, I promise I will teach you."
"Fine." Harry seemed defeated, distant. "Will you at least teach me occlumency? I can't use that to fight."
"I will think on it. Now I must go." Snape turned and walked away. It was surprisingly difficult.
"Fine." Harry muttered to himself. "I'll try Moody."
The marauders had to hunt Harry again that evening. He had disappeared before dinner and was nowhere to be seen. The border wards hadn't been tripped but with Harry that meant next to nothing. They found him in a disused stairway, sitting in the rainbow blur of a stained glass window. With the light mottling his skin like some jungle cat the marauders hesitated to approach him.
"You missed dinner." Ron eventually began.
"What were you doing?"
"Begging. Again." Harry let out a rough, sick, laugh. "Full circle."
"What do you mean begging?" Fred frowned. "You've got money don't you?"
"Not money." Harry was still looking up into the light. "I've spent the evening begging order members, aurors... everyone really, to teach me to fight. Waste of my time..." Harry trailed off shaking his head.
"They said no?" Malfoy was leaning against a banister. "Who did you ask?"
"Snape, Moody, Tonks, Shacklebolt, McGonagall..." Harry sighed. "Flitwick, he was a dueling champion. I even asked Lupin, or tried to before he slammed the door on me. Why would he do that? Why would any of them... they know what I have to do. They have to know..."
"We'll help you Harry." Ginny stepped forward. "We said we would."
"It's not the same. I need a teacher." Harry shook his head. "There's only so much I can get from books and... peer learning."
"Well... maybe you could ask whoever they get to teach defense this year." Hermione suggested. "Or maybe they'll be really good any you won't have to."
"You don't get it!" Harry covered his face with his hands. "It's not just chucking around a couple of stunners. None of you have seen a real wizards duel, not proper dueling. Not like what Voldermort's capable of. Not like what I'll have to be capable of if I want to stand a chance at winning. None of you have seen it."
"Really, have you seen it?" Padma asked, eyebrows raised.
"Of course, I saw... him... duel with..." Harry paused for a moment, then a fraction of a sparkle lit the corner of his eye. "With him. Maybe..."
"Harry?" Hermione reached out but Harry had shot to his feet like a jack in a box.
"Has Digger found your owlery?" He was looking at Malfoy.
"Yes your poor over-traveled and long-suffering bird has found my owlery." Malfoy rolled his eyes. "If you're going to globetrot you should really tell your owl to stay home."
"I would." Harry disappeared up the stairs. "But I don't have a home."
The next day, at breakfast, Harry seemed strangely chipper.
"We should go back to the cellar, maybe duel some, hang out. Bring the chess set if you want." Harry was idly juggling three oranges in his right hand while gesturing with the other. "After toast obviously."
"Sure... sure Harry." Hermione was nodding a little carefully, like someone talking to a man with a hand grenade. Which, given Harry's current track record, might have been the case. "We'll do that."
"Should practice shields too." Harry switched the oranges to both hands then quickly back to his right.
"Great... good... wonderful."
"Let's go then." Harry pocketed the fruit and led the confused marauders, and Malfoy, from the room. As Harry pushed the door open he pulled up short. Lupin was frozen in front of him, his hand raised to reach for the door. His smile had frozen and dropped into the scowl he always wore on seeing Harry.
"Yes Professor?" Harry asked pointedly. "Something the matter?"
Lupin seemed to almost growl but cut himself off and pushed past Harry into the kitchen.
"What is his problem?" Harry muttered.
"He was sort of alright before." Ron scratched his head.
"Before well... you. Before you got here." Ron shrugged. "He was even kind of funny."
"Whatever." Harry shook his head. "I can't be bothered worrying about it. Lets go."
This wasn't the last Harry heard about it though. Lupin lived in the house, they bumped into each other all the time. Each time Harry was met by the same festering hatred. It was kind of disconcerting. Eventually Harry learned Lupin's routine and managed to mostly stay out of his way. Of course it helped that he spent at least ten hours a day in the empty cellar, sometimes with the marauders, sometimes with Draco, sometimes alone. Each day when Harry finally dropped himself into an icy bath to soothe his bruised frame he felt a kind of fiery satisfaction.
He was getting better!
He could beat any of the marauders one on one, even the twins. Draco was better, at the start he had beaten Harry a lot. Well, no... at the very start Harry had won. Then Harry had raged at the blond and forced him to really cut loose and use some of the nastier dark magic his father had taught him. With those spells in his arsenal Draco had been winning, but Harry was clawing back. He was getting better, there was no denying that. Every throbbing bruise, every morning waking up aching was a triumph because he was getting better. And that wasn't even considering his other toys.
Harry shifted his feet to rest on the top of a mahogany desk in the mansion library (there was some good stuff here, more spells to play with) when the door creaked open.
"Hello Tonks." Harry said, without looking up.
"Wotcher Harry." He was doing that more and more. He was like Dumbledore crossed with Moody crossed with Snape. Tonks winced inwardly, it wasn't the kids fault. He had been forced to become like this, canny and brutal as a feral fox. "What'ya reading?"
"The gentleman's guide to effective and efficient application of pain." Harry read calmly off the cover of the book.
"Oh..." There was no real response to that. "Any good?"
"Never knew there were so many uses for a riding crop." Harry folded the page down and looked up at her. "How are you doing? Order keeping you busy?"
"Oh definitely." Tonks ran a hand through her (currently blue) hair. "Between them and the aurors I'm run pretty thin."
"So I couldn't convince you to teach me to duel?" Harry asked cheekily.
"Sorry Harry, answer's still no." Tonks smiled, at least he wasn't holding it against her. "You seem to be doing ok on your own though."
"I try." Harry brightened up. "Want to duel sometime? You don't have to teach or talk or anything just a friendly duel?"
"I don't think Dumbledore would like that."
"Dumbledore doesn't have to know." Harry urged weedlingly.
"Damn." Harry sighed and looked like he was going to say something else but just shook his head. "Never mind. Was there something you wanted or did you just come to chat?"
"I was going to ask about Remus."
"Eh?" Harry's brow furrowed. "Who?"
"Oh him." Harry rolled his eyes. "What about him?"
"Do you know what's wrong with him?" Tonks pulled a stool and sat on the other side of the desk. From this angle Harry resembled a very appraising interviewer. His beaten and frayed steel-capped boots up on one side of the desk and a huge pile of suspicious books on the other. In between he was regarding her piercingly over his wire glasses.
"What's wrong with him." Harry repeated levelly. "Apart from the whole fur and fangs thing?"
"Yes apart from that." Tonks nodded. "I meant-"
"Big thing to dismiss." Harry interrupted her. "The fact that he's a werewolf."
"They're not as bad as everyone says."
"They are in my experience."
"You clearly haven't met many."
"Met loads. Killed some." Harry said coldly.
"How can you just say that!" Maybe he had changed more than I thought. "They're people inside! They have souls! They're human!"
"I'm sorry Tonks," Harry held up his hands. "I know what you're trying to say. But I've only ever met one werewolf who hasn't tried to kill me and even he sometimes acts like he wants to. Pardon me for not having a great opinion of the species. When I meet a werewolf who doesn't act like the monster they are inside maybe I'll think differently. Until then I think my hatred is justified." Harry voice was flinty and sharp, and more than a little scary.
"I'm sorry Harry." Tonks repeated. "They're not all bad, I wish I could make you see that. You just... I guess I can't. You seem to have been forced to see the worst of everything."
"Occupational hazard." Harry smiled sadly, then shook it off and grinned. "Sorry, we seem to have gotten sidetracked into a character moment. What was the original question?"
"Remus... or Professor Lupin. Before you came here he was... different."
"He was really funny."
"I'll believe it when I see it."
"He had lots of these stories about what he did when he was young."
"No Harry." Tonks tried not to react. "Did you know he knew your father?"
"I was aware." Harry sighed heavily. "Sorry Tonks, I don't think I can help you much. He's always been like this around me. The others tell me he was different around me. Ginny's in a different year and according to her he was a great teacher to them. It's just around me Tonks. It's just me."
"I dunno!" Harry threw up his hands. "Ask him!"
"He... he won't tell me." Tonks looked at the floor. When she had asked him he had just turned and left the room in the middle of her question. He hadn't spoken to her for days. "I thought you might know, or at least have a guess."
"Best I can come up with is I remind him too much of what he lost." Harry shrugged. Tonks considered this. Harry's guesswork was probably worth an essay from anyone else, the kid could read people scarily well. Harry continued, "I mean I get the impression he didn't talk to much of anyone after my parents died. He may blame me come to think of it. You know... for their deaths."
"That doesn't sound like Lupin."
"Not the Lupin you know." Harry shrugged. "If nothing else I'll be gone in another week. He should be back to normal after that. You should have your big fluffy, funny Lupin back."
"I guess so." Tonks stood. "Thanks Harry."
"Stay safe Tonks." Harry flicked his book back open.
"You too Harry."
The marauders didn't take the train to Hogwarts that year. They were flued into Hogsmeade under an order guard. As they walked up the long road to the castle Ginny fell back to where Harry was walking.
"Why aren't you angry?"
"Why would I be angry Ginsters?" Harry smiled a little smugly.
"We're going back to Hogwarts, under Dumbledore's thumb." Ginny shrugged. "I dunno I just sort of expected you to try and escape or something."
"Don't encourage him." Malfoy murmured dryly from behind her.
"I'm not running off." Harry said with a twinkle in his eye. "I'm right where I want to be."
When they walked in the feast had already started. The marauders were forced to find a clear section of table with the whole hall murmuring and pointing.
"Is it me or are the tables a bit emptier than usual?" George said, scanning over the hall.
"Lots of parents decided to keep their kids home this year." Parvati said sadly. "Our parents almost did but well..."
"We convinced them Hogwarts was safer than home." Her sister ended for her.
"Wonder who the new defense teacher is?" Ron gestured with a chicken leg at the empty space on the teacher's table. Ron looked down the table. "Oy! Dean! Did they announce anything about the new teacher?"
"Nothing!" Came the shouted response. The marauders collectively shrugged, except for Harry who just smiled faintly.
He knows. Ginny realized but stopped herself from asking. Harry wouldn't tell and they'd know soon enough.
"Students!" Dumbledore stood. The hall quieted down. "I have a few announcements to make. Firstly, as you may have realized, some of your classmates have decided not to join us. This is of course their choice, or that of their parents, and I hope that you treat then no differently if they decide to rejoin us. Secondly as you know, if you do not live on the moon, the dark lord has returned. I wish to make both that and this next fact perfectly clear. He cannot hurt you here. Behind the walls of Hogwarts you are safe. Thirdly, and most happily, we have a new defense teacher. One that, I am sure you will all enjoy learning from. So I would invite you to join me in saying welcome, or more correctly welcome back, to Professor M-"
"Yes! Your prayers have been answered!" The huge doors to the great hall boomed open. "I am, thanks to massive public demand, BACK!"
"Yes, yes thank you!" The muscled figure lapped up the praise, grinning from one side of his face to the other. He was the same as ever, maybe his hair was a little shorter, his tan a little deeper, his arms more scarred, his legs clad in denim instead of leather and his fedora replaced with a folded handkerchief. But it was him, unmistakable and in the flesh.
"I'm back in the country! Back in action! Back in print! The one, the only MARKUS TRIPPLE M MICHELSON!" The blond colossus punched the air and the hall jumped to their feet in cheers. "But please... call me Maximus. No no wait... call me Professor Maximus."
Harry dropped out of his window that night after everyone had eventually gone to sleep and made his way down to the rooftops. Finding Michelson's office was easy, the light was still guttering from the crack under the door. Harry knocked calmly, a moment later the door opened.
"Was wondering if I'd see you tonight Pipsqueak."
"Well I had to greet the new professor." Harry stepped into the office, it was already all set out. It looked almost exactly the same as it had three years ago, with one or two additions. Harry leant to look at a shifting wizard picture. It showed a huge crowd of people, all but one of them looking African, standing in rows like a school photo. Sticking out like a sore thumb was Markus Michelson in the third row, grinning and jerking his thumb at the thing behind them. Even lying on it's side it towered over even Markus, spotted and studded with spears and burn scars it looked like a...
"You did it!" Harry turned grinning to his teacher. "Nundu hunt!"
"Took it down with only eighty six people." Michelson nodded smugly. "New world record. I got the tail."
"Nice." Harry grinned. "Have you been in Africa the whole time?"
"Nah," Markus snorted. "I was in Norway when your owl reached me. Relatively close."
"And you came back." Harry grew serious. "Thank you. I know I asked a lot."
"You saved my life once." Markus clapped Harry on the shoulder, severely buffeting him. "Brothers at arms remember. And besides, I like Hogwarts."
"Did you tell Dumbledore why you were asking for your job back?"
"Didn't come up." Markus grinned slyly. "I get the impression he'd rather I didn't teach you?"
"No." Harry rolled his eyes. "He wants to cover me up in bubble wrap. Want's to keep me safe and out of danger."
"Big men like us attract danger." Markus said definitely. "Only way to be safe is to know how to look after yourself, and you're hardly a child. Not after what you've been through."
"My thoughts exactly."
"Well in that train of thought." Markus drew his long wand. "When do you want to start? How's now?"
"Now?" Harry flicked his wand out of his sleeve. "Now's good."
If you don't leave a review YOU WILL DIE! Really.... you will... eventually...
I don't own Harry Potter. No one owns Harry Potter! He does not have a number! He is a free man!
“Professor Dumbledore.” Harry looked up from the breakfast table. “Hi, how are you? Would you like a pop tart?”
“No Mr Potter, I would not.”
“Are you sure? There‘s strawberry, chocolate, cherry-”
“Mr Potter where were you last night?”
“I assume in bed.” Harry replied calmly.
“Have you forgotten Harry?” Dumbledore’s voice was flat and a touch threatening. “I have ways of telling where you are in Hogwarts. You were not in Hogwarts for much of last night, you were only in your bed from around one in the morning.”
Damn it. Harry tried not to scratch the bracer on his wrist. He had been so hoping the evil eye could protect him from Dumbledore’s map.
“Your map must be faulty.” Harry grinned.
“My map is not faulty!” Dumbledore snapped. “Tell me how you left Hogwarts!”
“I didn‘t leave.”
“Do not lie to me Harry Potter!” The whole school was watching now in rapt attention.
“Getting a little angry Professor?” Harry asked. “Maybe your map... no, maybe your knowledge isn‘t as complete as you think.”
“I dislike being kept in the dark.”
“Then prepare to suffer.” Harry said darkly. “I‘ve been kept dark for years by you. It‘s time you reaped what you arrogantly and unthinkingly sowed. Prepare to live in the dark Professor. I hope you brought lanterns.” With that Harry stood and walked from the hall, with every eye following.
“Harry? Harry! Ha... oh he is here.” Parvati pointed into the disused attic the marauders had used the previous year. Ginny looked in and saw him calmly chalking something on the floor. The marauders wandered in slowly, with Malfoy close behind.
“Hi guys.” Harry got to his feet and threw a piece of chalk he had been using away. “Just getting this place ready, we can use it to train after lessons.”
“Harry where were you last night?” Hermione asked the question none of them wanted to voice.
“What you guys too?” Harry laughed and summoned a mug of coffee off a pile of books. “Relax, I didn‘t leave Hogwarts. I was just training in a place the map can‘t see, that‘s all.”
“Where?” Ginny asked at the same time as Malfoy said,
“The room of requirements?”
“The what of what?” Harry shook his head. “Nah, just... somewhere. Anyway look at this.” Harry pointed down at the floor. On it there were a number of rectangles, some long, some short, some thin. It looked kind of familiar.
“It‘s the bookcases.” Harry said proudly. “In the room beneath us.”
“Wh... why?” Ron asked.
“Don‘t ya see?” Harry grinned. “It‘s Dumbledore‘s map. It‘s 2D you see, birds eye view, he can‘t tell what floor we‘re on. So long as we don‘t cross the bookcases he‘ll think we‘re just in the library. So long as we‘re in curfew we can train in here without him knowing. Anyway, lets go to potions. Don‘t want Snape angry at us.”
“Harry,” Padma stopped him with an outstretched hand. “Did you have to be so... adversarial... with Dumbledore?”
Harry paused for a moment before answering...
... and walking on out of the attic. The marauders shared a long look and followed him.
Potions passed uneventfully. Harry split his time between the book on his knees and the cauldron in front of him meaning that his potion wasn’t even near finished. but at least it didn’t explode. Charms was next and Harry didn’t bother paying attention there either, though in this case it was because he already knew how to give objects wings. He could give them swan wings if he wanted, or giant black leathery ones. When the lesson was over Harry didn’t even bother to speak, he just gathered his stuff and rushed back to the attic. Ginny met them on the way.
“We‘re not going to lunch?” Ron asked as they reached the musty room.
“But I‘m hungry!”
“Call Dobby.” Harry shed his robe and stepped into the center of the largest empty space. “Malfoy, you first.”
“If you‘re sure.” Malfoy drew his wand. “You injured your hand last time.”
“Did I?” Harry froze.
“Well you‘re not using it.”
“It‘s fine, It‘s my left anyway.” Harry shrugged and wiggled his fingers as proof.. “Must have fallen on it or something.”
“If you‘re sure.” Malfoy said dubiously. “Well then... Expelliarmus!”
“Ferio! Stupefy!” Harry shot Malfoy’s spell out of the air and threw his own a moment after. The blond boy shielded and Harry was forced to duck under his own stunner. “Fulgar Fletch!” Harry flicked his wand and sent a swarm of sparkling blades flickering through the air towards the momentarily shocked Malfoy.
“Protego!” Draco shielded desperately but was forced backwards as the flencers hit it.
“Mobilisolum!” Harry jerked the floor towards him and saw Malfoy topple onto his back. “Stupefy!”
“Volucers!” Malfoy’s wand jabbed into the air and Harry the stunner was absorbed by a black cloud. The cloud expanded and rushed towards the shocked Harry.
“Bloody hell!” Harry heard Fred yell at the same time as his twin yelled, “Hornets!”
“Arg! Ouch!” Harry felt stings on every piece of open flesh. Burning all across his skin like a chemical fire. Another wizard would have been overpowered by the pain, but Harry had felt far far worse. “Take this! Tempesto!”
Wind sprung from the dead air and rushed over Harry, carrying the Hornets away in a furiously buzzing tornado.
“Eat it Blondie.” Harry grinned and flicked his wand towards his opponent. The Slytherin’s triumphant grin suddenly turned to fear and pain as the swarm engulfed him.
“Fin-ow! Fi- bloody things! Finite Crabro!” The hornets disappeared and Draco was left disheveled and snarling in the middle of the whirlwind. Harry let it rage for another second before canceling it too. The two combatants stared each other down for a few moments, both pockmarked with stings and sweating.
“Maybe you two should stop.” Hermione suggested hesitantly from the sidelines. “Before you hurt yourselves. More I mean.”
“Maybe we should.” Malfoy said, lowering his wand.
“I guess.” Harry smiled, knowing this game. He kept a close grip on his wand. Wait for it...
“Protego!” Harry’s shield was up in plenty of time to block the curse. “Ha! Nice-” Harry’s shield shattered and he was lifted off his feet as his chest exploded in pain. He was thrown backwards and rolled across the pitted and scarred floor. He jerked before he hit the slanted wall and managed to push himself to his feet. His wand was gone, rolled across the floor away from him.
“Damn it! Damn it! Stupid bloody shield!”
“Are you injured Harry?” Malfoy called out.
“I‘m fine.” Harry pushed himself off the floor. “Bloody shield broke like a pastry shell! Keeps doing that...”
“It‘s the wand movement Harry.” Hermione called out. “If you look at the theory-”
“I‘ve read the theory. I‘ve read the original paper. I‘ve read the whole book.” Harry grabbed his wand off the floor. “I don‘t get it. It‘s a charm, it‘s a basic bloody charm and I can‘t do it right.”
“You can.” Neville said encouragingly. “It can stop basic spells.”
“Well Voldemort won‘t use basic spells!” Harry punched the floor violently. “He‘ll use nasty, evil, powerful spells.”
“You‘re right.” Malfoy said flatly. “He‘ll be using the killing curse and it won‘t matter if you have the best shield in the world. If you don‘t dodge you‘re dead.”
“Simplification.” Harry waved the comment away. “Come on, we‘ve got time for another duel before creatures. Unless we skip it...”
“We can‘t.” Hermione said automatically.
“Especially since we know Voldemort‘s boosting his army with dark creatures.” Padma agreed.
“Fine fine.” Harry shook his head. “Ron and Hermione, duel me.”
“Both of us?”
“Like, at the same time?”
“Yes.” Harry shucked off his sweat soaked t-shirt. “Get on with it.”
“But that‘s not fair.” Ron pointed out.
“Neither‘s this.” Harry blasted the floorboards by Ron’s feet causing him to yelp like a puppy. “Draw your bloody wands.”
In the end they were glad for the outdoor setting of creatures, although they were the only ones not wearing coats. Harry eased his aching left hand in a slow circle, it was worth it. It would be worth it. Harry listened with half an ear to the lesson, it was about unicorns. The chances of Voldemort sending an army on unicorns was low to laughable so Harry lidded his eyes and dozed.
As the lesson ended Parvati turned towards Harry to wake him and found that someone had beaten her to it. Someone unexpected.
“Oh no.” She whispered under her breath.
“What is... oh.” Her sister stood beside her. “This isn‘t going to end well.”
“It could.” Parvati said shakily. “He could apologize.”
“Have you met Harry?”
Parvati’s heart dropped and they watched mute as the figure tapped Harry on the shoulder.
“Hello Susan.” Harry said calmly, then opened his eyes. “Is the lesson over?”
“Yes Harry, it is.” Susan Bones folded her arms and seemed to be waiting.
“Great,” Harry stood and stretched. “Thanks for waking me.” Harry turned to leave.
“’Thanks for waking me‘?” Susan said incredulously. “That‘s it?!”
“What do you want Susan?” Harry asked flatly.
“You didn‘t write. The whole summer! You didn‘t say goodbye before you left. You just... disappeared.”
“I was busy.” Harry said sharply. “I still am. Anything else?”
“Wh... what is this Harry?” Susan swallowed. “Am I still your girlfriend? Are we arguing? Are we breaking up or did you break up with me at the end of last year and just forget to tell me?”
“Susan...” Harry glanced down, for the first time in the conversation his stony mask slipped a beat. But when he looked back up it was harder than ever. “I don‘t have time for a girlfriend now, and I won‘t for a long time. So yes, we‘re broken up.” Harry turned and began to walk back up towards the castle.
Susan just stood there, her hands lightly clenching the fabric of her robes. Staring into space. As the twins watched she sobbed wetly and drew a hand across her eyes before running off towards the greenhouses, one arm shielding her face from any passers by.
“That was... I mean that was...” Parvati began bet trailed off. “What he did, it was just...”
“Cruel. Harsh. Cold. Evil.” Padma finished for her.
“Yeah, that.” Parvati nodded. “I‘m going after her.”
“Good. You do that. I‘m going after Harry.”
“I know what you‘re going to say.” Harry said when Padma finally caught up to him in the hall.
“Well you‘re going to bloody listen anyway-”
“No I‘m not.” Harry interrupted, and disappeared. Padma saw the shadow of a disillusionment move off down a passage but lost it a moment later.
Harry wasn’t in history of magic. No one expected him to be.
“Is this it now?” Padma asked her sister as they got ready for bed. “Fight all day? Let Harry bruise us up, ignore his new attitude and get ready for tomorrow so he can do it all over again?”
“He‘s going through some stuff.” Parvati sighed. “He needs our help. He needs us.”
“He has a funny way of showing it.”
“He thinks this is what he has to do.” Hermione voluntered. “He thinks he has to be like this to beat Voldemort. This hard, this cold.”
“He‘s wrong!” Parvati insisted emotionally.
“That‘s the sad thing sister.” Padma shook her head sadly. “He may not be.”
Snape was awakened in the middle of the night by glowing silver light. One of the benefits of being an occlumens was total mental control and Snape was awake in an instant. As his eyes flickered open he groaned inwardly, then thought better of it and groaned outwardly.
“What is it you old fool?” Snape said angrily. The phoenix patronus couldn’t hear him and wouldn’t report back so it was a perfect target to vent at.
“Come to my office immediately Severus. It is about Harry.”
Snape was already out the door before the silver bird disappeared. He shucked his robe on as he hurried down the corridor. Wait, why was he walking? Was Harry’s safety less important than not looking stupid. Snape broke into a run. The sound of his flapping feet filled the corridor as he hammered towards the Headmaster’s office.
“Slug ice-cream.” The gargoyle slid aside and Snape threw himself into the stairwell. The stairs began to rise, painfully slowly. Snape gasped his breath back as he silently urged them to go faster. Eventually the Headmaster’s door came into view and Snape pushed it open quickly and said, “Albus! I‘m here.”
“Severus welcome.” The Headmaster was sitting calmly at his desk. “Read this if you would.”
Snape blinked in confusion for a moment, then noticed the paper on Dumbledore’s desk. He stepped closer and saw that it was an early copy of the Prophet. This was the emergency? Perhaps he was missing something?
Dannion LeSang was found dead in his home this morning. A window of his penthouse apartment had been shattered, possibly so that the killer could gain entrance. Once inside poor Mr LeSang was beaten horribly, with a blunt instrument, possibly a table leg. The aurors have cordoned off the area and refused to release any detals but this reporter has discovered that his injuries were not what killed him. Oh no he was poisoned! Poisoned by a toxin that the ministry
HAS NEVER SEEN BEFORE!
Is there a psychotic killer at loose? The aurors gave no comment, perhaps because they as yet, know nothing! Why anyone would want to kill Mr LeSang is unknown, perhaps an old rival from his long and distinguished quidditch career...
Snape dropped the paper in disgust.
“Is this your emergency? Is this what you dragged me from my bed for?”
“Dannion LeSang was a known death eater.”
“I am aware that Dannion LeSang was a death eater. Do you perhaps remember who informed you that Dannion LeSang was a death eater? Who gave you the shocking news that the daring, smiling, star chaser for the Wigtown Wanderers loved to torture muggles? Do you?”
“It was you.”
“It was me.”
“You do not think his death is important?”
“I do not think his death involved Harry.”
“No order member was involved.”
“Albus there are people other than the order who despise death eaters.” Snape felt like laughing, and did. “People other than Harry as well. Perhaps-” Snape was cut off as the door to the office was flung open again.
“Why did you know the password you arrogant little toerag!” Filch dragged Harry in by the ear and pushed him onto the floor.
“Fairly obvious choice.” Harry chuckled and pushed himself up from the floor. He was fully clothed, at two o clock in the morning. “I mean surely by now you‘ve used all the non-disgusting sweets.”
“Hello Harry. Thank you Mr Filch, you may go.” Dumbledore gestured and the ancient stinking squib of a caretaker bowed out. As soon as he was gone Dumbledore handed the newspaper to Harry. “What do you know of this?”
Harry reached out slowly and took the paper, his eyes scanning from one side to the other. After a moment he looked up.
“I know nothing about this.” Harry held out the paper. “May I go now?”
“You were not in history of magic yesterday.” Dumbledore said pointedly. “Did you leave the castle?”
“I‘m never in history of magic.” Harry barked a laugh. “But no, I didn‘t leave the castle.”
“You understand I have trouble trusting you Harry.” Dumbledore said levelly. “It is very easy to see you turning vigilante. That would be a mistake.”
“We‘ve had this conversation before.” Harry said abruptly. “Didn‘t end well for you I recall. But come on, poison? A toxin the ministry can‘t identify? Honestly, do you think that‘s me? You‘ve seen my potions marks.”
“I did not think you had the skills to brew it Harry. But I know you have the resources to buy it.”
“Well I didn‘t.” Harry threw the paper on the floor. "Can I go?"
Dumbledore leant back, meeting Harry's eyes with his own flinty stare. For a long moment the old wizard and the young stared each other down across the silent office. Snape could almost feel the sparking magic as the headmaster tried to force Harry's mind open. After a moment Harry snorted and said,
"Whatever." Harry turned and pushed the door open. "Wake me if you have any other unsolved murders you want to pin on a scapegoat."
The two teachers stood without speaking as they heard Harry's footsteps echoing away from the stairwell. Even after they had faded to nothing it was a long time before either of them spoke.
"Do you believe him Severus?"
"Why pray tell?"
"Because I trust him." That was a lie, it was because Harry wouldn't have broken a window.
"Harry Potter why is it always my class you choose to sleep in?"
Dumbledore's fault. Blame Dumbledore. Wanted to sleep...
"Alright fine Mr Potter. You have driven me to this." There was silence for a few moments, then... "Sonorus. HARRY POTTER GET UP!"
Harry was buffeted by sound and slowly, blearily, rubbed his eyes. In front of him was a broken glassy stump. Harry reached forward and picked it up.
"You broke my glass." Harry reached up to his face to make sure his own glasses weren't broken then drew his wand and repaired the champaign glass. He didn't even know what he was supposed to be turning it into, possibly some sort of squid.
Why a squid?
We were dreaming about a squid.
That makes no sense.
I can't shut up I'm part of your brain.
I'll lobotomize you.
No you won't, go back to thinking about squid. Or wait, maybe we should pay attention to McGonagall.
She is looking kind of angry.
"I can turn it into a squid. I swear, just watch." Harry held the glass up sleepily and tapped it with his wand. "Kalamaraki Krasi."
The glass split along its top, flipped upside down and scuttled along the desk blowing gassy bubbles out of a fleshy protrusion. Harry smiled,
"See! I did Ok."
"Harry..." McGonagall was staring at the glass squid, which was currently hiding behind a chair leg. "We were turning them into tulips."
"Wha...? We were?"
"How in the h... How did you do that?"
"I... don't know."
"Would you hazard a guess?"
"Well..." Harry tried to gum together an explanation from his shaky knowledge of Greek. "Well Kalamaraki means squid... and I think Krasi is some sort of vegetable..."
"Go back to sleep."
Harry gave a rough double thumbs up as he sank back down to the table.
Harry slipped into bed that night confident in the knowledge that he had got at least two hours sleep over the course of the day. He dozed with an alarm clock under pillow until it sounded and prompted him to shuck his blankets off and leant out of the window. He looked over towards the Headmaster's tower, the light was still on. Harry flicked a pair of binoculars out of his bag and focused in on the faraway window. Dumbledore was staring into a pensive, the silver light playing on his lined face. He looked tired, very tired.
But at least he wasn't looking at the map.
Harry slid out onto the wall and confidently let himself fall. The wind whistled thrillingly in his ears as the tiles rose up to meet him. A moment before he hit Harry felt a rough tugging around his chest and his terminal drop slowed to a crawl. His feet touched ground and he flitted off across the tiles. Harry reached the window that was his destination and flicked it open with his wand. He dropped through again, trusting his bought magic, and landed lightly in front of a sink.
"Sissasc." Harry hissed. The sink stayed exactly where it was. "Bugger, er... Zissasc? Sizzak? Sizzasc? Ci..." Harry broke off as the sink began moving.
"Damn! Silencio." Harry caught it before it made too much noise and watched as the entrance to the chamber of secrets was slowly revealed. Harry lowered himself into the tube and said, "Cissycis." This time he got it first time and the entrance began closing up as Harry slid off down the chute.
Harry landed feet first, expecting to hit mucky water, and instead felt dry rock. This place had been cleaned up a bit since last time he was here. Harry continued through the cave, passing the giant snake-door. The chamber was dark, maybe Markus wasn't here yet... Damn it!
Harry dove to the side as the stunner flashed through the air. He threw a bludgeoning hex towards where it had come from but heard nothing. A moment later Michelson appeared, totally unruffled, out of the shadows.
"Nicely done Pipsqueak." The Professor clapped his huge hands. "But you should have aimed more, that hex didn't have a chance of hitting me."
"I couldn't see you." Harry pointed out.
"You saw my spell." Markus folded his arms. "You saw where it was coming from. You also know the layout of this room and could use that cunning brain of yours to guess where I was hiding."
"There wasn't much time."
"Make time by moving faster." Michelson drew his wand and squared up in the middle of the room. "Come on lad, time to duel."
"Duel? Seriously?" Harry shed his robe. "I thought you were gonna teach me some more useful spells first. Right now I won't last ten seconds in a duel with you."
"Well who would?" Michelson laughed, then grew serious again. "You know enough spells to get started, we'll fill in the blanks on the way. Anyhow I've seen that you know spells. I want to see whether you know how to use them."
"Any rules?" Harry asked, knowing the answer.
"That could be troublesome to apply to both of us."
"Not for me. Ewwyiky!"
Harry had no idea what the hell that was so dived for cover, rolling and coming up with his wand trained on his teacher. Somewhere behind Harry there was a loud squelching sound but Harry was already fighting back.
"Ferio!" Harry threw, not expecting it to go through. Instead it was just a distraction for, "Cronos spear!"
“Protego.” Markus wasn’t fooled. Harry watched, awed, as Michelson angled his shield to reflect the bludgeoning hex right into the path of the frozen bolt following it, reducing them both to a shower of noisy sparks. “You‘ll have to do better than that!” The massive man called out calmly. Harry answered with violence.
“Incendio! Reducto!” Harry aimed the first at Markus and the second at the ceiling far above him. “Stupefy!” Harry blasted the spell into Makrus’ face and didn’t wait to see if it hit. Instead he aimed at a chunk of falling ceiling. “Confringo!” And flung himself away as it detonated like a bombshell. He rolled on the floor and came to his feet in time to fling the first three spells he could think off at the figure in the center of the expanding cloud of dust and fire.
The only warning Harry got was a flash of red before the spell flashed from the cloud and hit him in the stomach, throwing him to the floor.
“Better even than that.” Michelson stepped out of the dust, not a hair out of place. “That was good though, imaginative. Good trick with the rock, might have caught a lesser wizard. Again.”
Harry forced himself to his feet and raised his wand. This time he lasted just a few seconds before a stunner blasted through his hastily raised shield and knocked his lights out. Familiar unconscious blackness held him in it’s comforting embrace for a few moments before Markus brought him back.
“That was not as good.”
“I know, I know.” Harry shook his head. “Bloody shield. I can‘t do it, it‘s useless.”
“Don‘t use it then.” Markus shrugged, as if they were discussing the weather.
“Don‘t shield?” Harry laughed humorlessly. “Just let stuff hit me?”
“Look kid, you first learnt this spell three years ago.” Markus explained. “You‘ve had to use it lots of times since then. You‘ve practiced. You‘ve practiced a lot and it hasn‘t got any better. It‘s fair to assume you and the shield charm just don‘t go well together. It happens.”
“No. But to other people.”
“So that‘s it?” Harry sighed. “No way around it?”
“Yes. Use other things.” Markus turned and walked back to his starting mark. “You know plenty of other ways to block spells. Play to your strengths and use your prodigious imagination.”
“Use your imagination.” Harry rolled his eyes and wearily stood. “Right... Incendio!”
Harry lasted almost a minute of furious dodging and franticly blowing spells out of the air before he was disarmed and slapped himself hard. He had to be better.
... Harry was clipped by a curse and went down...
... Mown down by a bar of iron that came from nowhere...
... Floored with a punch...
“This is hopeless.” Harry didn’t bother to get up from the floor. “I‘m not getting any better. We should just face it, I can‘t duel.”
“Not with that attitude.”
“I‘m sorry I brought you here.”
“I‘m not.” Markus folded his arms. “At least I wasn‘t until now.”
“I thought I could get better.”
“I think you can get better.”
“Whole world should just give up.” Harry held his head in his hands. “I can‘t beat him.”
“Who? Voldemort?” Markus Michelson threw up his hands. “Well no! I don‘t think I could beat him. I don‘t think Dumbledore could beat him. He‘s one of the most powerful living wizards and has access to powers decent people don‘t touch. But if what you‘ve told me is true then you‘ve got... what was it?”
“’A power he knows not‘” Harry quoted sarcastically.
“Right. But it doesn‘t matter.” Markus walked around so he was standing in front of Harry. “I‘d bet money on you even if there wasn‘t a prophecy.”
“I‘d get good odds.” Markus smiled and winked. Harry didn’t laugh. “But seriously, you can learn to duel. You already know enough to beat any regular wizard hands down.”
“Voldemort isn‘t a regular wi-”
“I know!” Markus interrupted him angrily. “Which is why you need to learn to duel like a master. Which is why you called me. Which is why you should listen to me! Now... you need to play to your strengths. Tell me what you‘re good at.”
“Oh come on.” Harry snorted. “Don‘t give me this psyco-crap.”
“What. Are. You. Good. At?” Michelson punctuated each word by poking Harry’s sitting form.
“I... I don‘t know.”
“Yes you do!”
“I don‘t.” Harry shook his head. “I guess I‘m not really good at anything useful.”
“Oh for Merlin‘s sake! Who are you?” Markus leant down, his angrily pointing finger barely an inch from Harry’s face. “Where‘s the Harry I met three years ago? I don‘t see him. Where the hell has he gone? Where‘s the kid who walked this school like he owned the place and obeyed teachers on sufferance? Where is that arrogant bastard because he‘s the one who can beat Voldemort! Not the whiney brat he apparently became! Well I need him here now! WHAT ARE YOU GOOD AT!”
“I... Charms?” Harry said, staring up at Michelson.
“Right.” Michelson nodded. “You‘re good at charms. You‘re excellent at charms. You‘re a bloody savant at charms. If I heard the rumors in the staff room right you built a professional quality broom at thirteen years old. Out flew a Firebolt.”
“That was mostly Ginny doing the flying.” Harry shook his head again. “And anyway I don’t see how that’ll help me in a duel.”
“Harry you...” Markus Michelson held his hand to his head and breathed out a long, tired breath. “Let me try this a different way. You‘ve seen a lot of duels right?”
“You‘ve seen a lot of people duel.”
“What do you...?” Harry bit his lip. He didn‘t want to get yelled at again. “Yeah, there are differences.”
“What differences? Specifically?”
“Well... It’s like... you kind of have.... This is hard. Can I explain it how I see in in my own head?”
“You have kind of three types.” Harry gestured vaguely. “There are the standard duelers, they throw stunners and hexes, lots of shield charms too, and they seem to mostly come out of the Hogwarts defense classes. Not that that makes them bad. Some are really good, but they all seem to use this one style. This one set of spells.”
“Hmm... and the next type?”
“Death eaters. They aren‘t all even very good at fighting. But they use curses. Unforgivables and stuff. And that makes up for the lack of skill.”
“And the last type?”
“The masters.” Harry shook his head. “I watched some duels on video while I was traveling. Thought I could pick up some tips. Most of the duelists were group-ones, but some of them... the best ones... they‘re not even in the same league. They move like they‘re weapons. They don‘t chuck stunners around, most of the time I couldn‘t even recognize the spells they were using. It wasn‘t dueling like I‘d ever seen. Except maybe when I saw you fight Tom Riddle, right here. That‘s the difference I guess. That‘s the difference between duelists.”
“Harry, you are absolutely right.” Michelson was smiling broadly. “What you just said is exactly right.”
“Um... so? I‘m still not seeing how that‘s connected to anything.”
“You‘ve grasped one of the central concepts of dueling. One of the things that make people group threes. The learning curve is huge, there‘s a point when you just become beyond everyone else. When you stop dueling with dueling spells and start dueling with everything. Do you know what the other difference is?”
“It’s that we all have tricks.” Michelson winked. “All the group threes. Some trick that makes us better, something that separates us from each other and from the ones and twos.”
“Look at Dumbledore, he uses transfiguration. By the end of a fight with Dumbledore you‘re not just fighting him, you‘re fighting the walls, doors, ceiling and floor. Plus anything else he can twist into a moving, thinking weapon against you. Voldemort? Well he uses dark magic, plain and simple. You‘ve already realized that that gives a person power beyond your skill. And he already has plenty of skill. Me? I use foreign spells, spells my enemies have never heard of. The last words of a surprising number of my opponents was ‘What the hell is that?'”
Harry chuckled, but Markus wasn’t finished.
“Dee Finsbury, the current world champion duelist is also a champion illusionist. Your own Professor Flitwick dueled for England, you think he threw around stunners? And you? Well you can do charms. Right?”
“Yeah.” Harry nodded. “Yes.”
“Yes I can do charms.”
“Good. Then use them.” Markus turned to go back to his mark. “And get up off the floor.”
I’m on the floor? Harry looked around. Oh yeah, he was. Harry pushed himself to his feet with renewed vigor. He gripped his wand and turned towards his teacher. Use charms? Well he would give it a shot. What should he use? Michelson appeared to be just waiting to see what he would do. Well, he’d have to do something...
“Engorgio!” Harry aimed, not at Markus, but at the flagstones and saw his teacher stumble as the rock puffed up like a muffin. “Reducto!” Harry blew the stone to smithereens.
Markus righted himself easily and flicked his wand. Harry blanched as a gigantic fireball was sent rocketing towards him. Harry swallowed, time for risks.
“Ardor-Algidus!” Harry yelled and stood his ground as the inferno passed over him. He caught a glimpse of Markus’ shocked face as he emerged unscathed on the other side before he aimed and fired. “Confringo! Ferio! Stubefy!” The surprise attack forced the teacher onto the defensive, shielding desperately. A moment later he brought up a shining silver sphere. Harry’s spells bounded off like pins off a frying pan, sending echoes all over the vast chamber. Michelson looked out appreciatively from the safety of the sphere.
“What was that Pipsqueak?”
“Flame freezing charm.” Harry smiled proudly. “Nullified your fireball.”
“Nicely done.” Michelson nodded. “Try... this!”
“Bugger!” Harry dived for cover as the shadows erupted with movement. Giant leathery movement. Harry dashed behind a pillar as the bats flung themselves through the air towards him. They were huge, wings at least a meter wide, with huge fangs. “Incendio!” Harry waved a fiery swath through the bats but more just materialized to replace them.
Harry dived out of the way as a spinning orb of plasma burnt through the air where he’d been. Michelson wasn’t going easy on him just because he was busy with the bats. He couldn’t dodge forever, if he didn’t clear the air he was dead.
“Depulso!” Harry yelled desperately, but the bat's were too strong and Harry had to throw himself against the wall to avoid another thrown spell from his opponent. He needed a charm... what charm? Wait! Bats were like, sort of giant hornets... really. “Tempesto!”
Harry called a wall of wind and threw it against the leathery creatures, swatting them out of the sky and crashing them into the far wall of the chamber. Michelson didn’t give him any respite though and responded with a punishing waterfall that appeared out of nowhere above Harry. Harry felt a stab of old terror, but the fear only made him think faster.
“Arefacio!” The drought charm banished the waterfall before it even touched him. “Accio!” Michelson was forced to bring his silver shield back up as a hundred bat corpses funneled past him.
“Depulso!” Harry flicked his wand, spinning the ball of bodies back away from him and bowled it back to break against the Professors shield sphere. Harry wasn’t going to let up now. “Diffindo!” The spell scratched against the shield to no effect, screeching like a violin. “Reducto!” Michelson wasn’t even knocked backwards as shield once again absorbed the spell with a brassy note. Harry gripped his wand angrily, nothing he had could break this sodding silver shield.
Wait... maybe he didn’t have to!
“Motus!” Harry aimed squarely at the center of the silver ball and twisted. It vibrated like a bell and filled the chamber with ringing. Harry twisted further and the sound intensified. Inside his bubble Michelson clutched his ears. Harry found the resonance and twisted harder, the sound outside the shield was deafening, inside it must have been excruciating. Markus threw his arm out violently and Harry had to fling himself sideways as the screaming shield cannonballed past him. “Ferio!” Harry threw a hex at the staggering Michelson that he just caught with a counter. Harry kept up the onslaught in a rush of glee! He was winning!
The bolt came from nowhere. Slicing out of the dark too fast for him to react. Harry was thrown to the ground, electric sparks raging down every artery and turning him into a screaming battery of pain. Harry felt his wand torn from his unresisting hand and at last managed to blank is mind to the pain. He waited in the dark for it to recede. When he at last opened his eyes Michelson was staring down at him. The huge wizard put his wand to first one ear then the other, muttering something, then whipped away the blood that had ran from both of them with a sleeve.
“Good.” He said, unusually loudly. “Again.”
Review now or you will struck blind and be let loose into a field full of giant purple bear traps. Also full of bears. The bears will be able to avoid the bear traps, you will not.
I don't own Harry Potter. Neither have I seen him recently. If you have any information as to his whereabouts please phone. He is out in the cold without any food and we think his collar may have come off. He's black and white with black paws and he's missing a little bit of his ear. He also answers to the name of Scraps. He likes tuna.
Severus Snape landed lightly on the scrubland and looked about him. This would have been a monumentally desolate place if not for the distant lights of a muggle road in the valley far below. Snape walked over to the gathering of black cloaked figures standing near the edge of the cliff. Snape counted faces, Barty Crouch was still absent. What was the task that man had been set? It disturbed Snape greatly that he did not know. It made him wonder if perhaps others of the dark figures did, if perhaps he was missing something.
One figure was apart from the others, right at the edge. The figure stood with his back to them, his long robes streaming out to the side in the harsh night wind. He seemed to be looking down at the road, and at the further lights of a town.
Like a falcon, Snape realized, or a waiting hawk. Sitting and surveying it's prey before swooping down and clutching one up in its talons. The wand in the watcher's hand twitched as if thinking of raining fire and pain down on those beneath him. The twitch subsided. Thank god.
"Severus." The dark lord turned at last from the cliff. "You have come at last. I was forced to wait. I dislike waiting."
"My apologies Lord." Snape bowed deeply. "I could not arouse suspicion about why I was going. I was forced to sacrifice speed for safety. I am sorry."
"And where were you." Voldemort continued, his voice terrifyingly light. "Were you at Hogwarts?"
"No my Lord." The very fact that he asked the question meant he knew that Snape had left. Which was very, very bad. What lie could pass? "There was an order meeting."
"Was anything discussed? Anything I should be made aware of?"
"No my lord. They continue to guard the department of mysteries, Dumbledore still fears to move. Nothing has changed."
"Well," The dark lord smiled thinly. "That at least is good news."
He does not know where I was. Snape kept his face perfectly unemotional. He suspects... he strongly suspects but he does not know. He values me, he values me as a spy in the order. That is why I am still alive, because on the of-chance that I have not betrayed him I am valuable. He will kill me. He will kill me soon but until then I must remain a spy. I am valuable.
“I notice Mr Crouch is still absent.” Snape tried to sound uninterested. “Perhaps he has been captured. We may have to rescue him. Again.”
He expected a chuckle from the death eaters. None of them liked Crouch. Instead there was silence.
“Dear Barty is none of your concern.” The dark lord replied, in the conversational tone that was so much worse than anger. “His task is going well. Is yours Severus?”
“Alas no master. I apologize.” Snape hung his head. “I am afraid there is simply no way to adapt polyjuice potion to allow a human to become non-human.”
“I dislike failure Severus.”
“Master if you asked me to jump off this cliff and try to fly I would do so.” Snape tried to sound contrite. “But I doubt I would be successful. Some things are not possible.”
“For you perhaps.” The dark lord was smiling slyly. “But no matter. You may cease your experimentation. The potion is not necessary any more.”
“Yes master.” Is it not necessary or do you just not trust me to brew it any more?
"On to the meeting, we began without you Severus. I hope you don‘t mind." The dark lord turned back towards the cliff and Snape had to strain to hear him over the wind. "We were discussing an assassination."
"Who is the target? Perhaps I could brew a poison or some form of-"
"No." The dark lord cut him off. "Not poison. I intend her death to be more graphic than that. An example."
"She?" Swirling horror rose in Snape's stomach.
"A prominent figure in the department of mysteries." Voldemort half turned back towards Snape. "A Miss Natalie Zhao. Do you know her?"
"Yes." No god no. "She is an order member."
"I know. You informed me of that yourself."
"I did my lord." I begged her not to make me tell him. She said it wouldn't matter. Nothing connected them. "If I may ask, why have you decided she must die."
"She is the daughter of a squib, in a prominent position in the ministry. A travesty."
"I agree my lord. But, why her?" Snape momentarily considered just attacking Voldemort, but it would do no good. He'd die and Natalie would die anyway. "There are many other people equally worthy of death."
"Your lord has decided she should die is that not enough for you Severus?" The dark lord smiled from the depths of his soulless, piercing eyes. "Does her death... trouble you?"
"Of course not my lord. She is the child of bad blood, of course she must be killed." Snape bowed and stepped backward. "I will make certain that Dumbledore and the other order members at Hogwarts are distracted."
"That will not be necessary Severus. We have already cut all communication to Mrs Zhao's residence. I have also deployed dementors to intercept any messages sent by patronus. No messages can reach her. From anyone."
"Most prudent my lord." Snape nodded, furiously trying to churn his brain and find some solution to the problem. He could not think, it was as if gruesome tendrils and fibrous black vines were choking his usually perfect mental machinery. There must be some way to get a message to her, there had to be!
"Severus?" Voldemort questioned lightly. "Will you be at Hogwarts this evening?"
"Yes my lord."
"All night? No errands to run?" The dark lord's mouth quirked. "No midnight strolls?"
"No my lord."
"Good." Voldemort's eyes narrowed. "Because I shall know Severus. I shall know."
Snape walked calmly along the long path to the great doors of Hogwarts using all the force of will he had not to break into a run. The watchers were no doubt already in place, at the edge of the forest beyond the wards. As were the attackers probably, in his mind he could already see them apparating into the dark streets around Natalie's flat. He ached to run but couldn't. It was agony, caught in chains that didn't even exist. An anchor in his mind.
He reached the doorway and stepped through it. He pushed it closed calmly, then turned and ran.
He reached Dumbledore's staircase and yelled the password. He sure as hell wasn't waiting for the staircase this time.
"Acellelero!" Snape clung to the central pillar as the staircase rocketed upwards and came to a screeching halt at the top. Snape threw the door open, startling the Headmaster.
"Severus? What is the meaning of this-"
"I need the order!" Snape snapped. "We need to mobilize now!"
"Severus calm down. You will need to explain."
Snape growled and choked out a curt explanation of what had happened. At the end Dumbledore dropped down into his seat and shook his head.
"We cannot, help her. He has outmaneuvered us again I fear."
"Not if we move now!"
"To move confirms his suspicions of you. And it would do no good. The people watching you no doubt have orders to kill you if you try to leave. No message can reach her. Yes, yes he had truly outmaneuvered us."
"I can take Fawkes." Snape argued. "I can leave without a trace. Warn her, then-"
"You cannot take Fawkes. The methods phoenix's use to travel can be detected by those who know how. Voldemort knows how."
"I cannot just sit idly by while she is killed!"
"Which is exactly what Voldemort expects." Dumbledore said angrily. "Surely you see that this was directed at you! Bait to force you to reveal your true allegiance. It is a test, if you fail we lose our spy. If you pass however you will be his most trusted servant."
"Passing means the death of Natalie!"
"Not necessarily." Dumbledore was obviously trying to be soothing. "She is an accomplished fighter. She could escape or-"
"She will be outnumbered ten to one."
"Think of how many people your information saved in the last war. Countless lives."
"Some lives are worth more to me than others."
"Well not to me." Dumbledore stood and stared down the potions master. "The best you can do for her is to make sure you are seen here. Go and pick herbs from one of the outside plots, go and get some unicorn hair from Hagrid. Anything that lets them see you here. That is all you can do. If you try to leave they will kill you. Then they will kill her. You can do nothing."
Snape scrunched up his eyes. The old man was right.
Natalie Zhao turned the page idly on the report she was reading and yawned. There was too much to do. She flicked it closed and clicked the lights out before rolling over and dropping the folder onto her bedside table. Perhaps all the problems would just magically have gone away when she got up tomorrow. It was unlikely though.
Natalie burrowed deeper into her pillow and closed her eyes. The world was falling apart, not even dreams could provide respite for long.
A floorboard creaking.
Natalie's eyes flickered open in a moment. Was it just her neighbor downstairs? She reached for her wand and silently checked her wards. She hissed as she realized they were in tatters and rolled off the bed. Her hand moved towards the light switch then thought better of it, it might let them know they had seen her. She slid towards her bedroom door and looked out through the keyhole just as the door at the other end of the corridor was pushed open slowly. Revealing a robed figure.
Natalie slid back silently. She tried to apparate away, not really expecting it to work. No, they had a ward up. They would have blocked the flue as well. The only way she was getting out was through the front door, which meant through them.
They would check the rooms along the hall first, she perhaps had a minute.
Drum Lemon had never pretended to be an intelligent man, just a useful one. He was useful say, when someone hadn't paid their debts in time and action needed to be taken. He had been locked up for being useful in the wrong place at the wrong time, set free eventually, become useful again and caught again. This time for being so useful towards a ministry hit-wizard that the man was no use to anyone anymore.
He had been locked up for good. Until the dark lord had given him a second chance. A chance to rejoin society again, to be useful again. He was only half blood but he had just enough brains to never mention that to anyone. When the dark lord had explained what needed to be done to this bint he had stepped forward instantly. It was right up his alley, he might even earn the mark if he succeeded. Then he'd really be set.
He touched the door lock with his thumb. Warded, what else? He turned and pointed into the rabble behind him at a hunched figure, then pointed back at the door. The man shuffled forward, he had been a damn good curse breaker until he was caught skimming a cut off the top. He was just lucky the ministry caught him before the goblins did.
Drum waited in silence as the tiny man clicked and hummed in front of the door. A few minutes later the curse breaker pushed the door open. Drum stepped into the flat and looked around professionally. It was set out fairly regular. Kitchen that way... empty. Drum waved two guys towards the back room and ignored it. This place was like a catalogue, everything was in its place except for the books and papers strewn across the coffee table. Well, that and the three aquariums near the back. Not full of water. Some sort of reptile. Some sort of incense in the air, some new age garbage.
Drum shrugged, not an issue. The bedroom would either be at the end of the second door down on the left. That was how these buildings were built. Drum stepped down the corridor and pushed the door on the left open. Boxes. Down the hall then. He looked behind him, the other criminals were hanging back. Pathetic. The dark lord had grabbed everyone who would stand up straight with no regard for experience. Not that he was criticizing, at least he would get full credit for the kill.
Drum breathed in deeply. Smelled like vanilla, it was very strong. Someone had once told him that smell was the strongest trigger for memory. He certainly remembered that muggle girl every time he smelled cut grass. Perhaps from now on vanilla would echo in his head, reminding him of Natalie Zhao. The woman who made him the favored assassin of the dark lord.
He made his way towards the last door. He raised his wand, fumbled it and caught it again. He shook his head. Had to stay focused. He reached the door and pushed it open. Darkness, he stepped up to the bed. He hadn't used the killing curse before, but he had no doubt he could make it work. He raised his wand, aiming at the lump in the covers. His wand was shaking, he grabbed it with both hands. What was wrong with him? Drum shook his head, the wand was still shaking.
Oh... no, no, no...
Drum stepped backwards and tripped over his own robes. He looked back towards the door. It was closed. Did he close it?
"You didn't close it." Drum looked up, his eyes already drooping. The girl was standing there, arms crossed.
"Doped us." Drum mumbled through numb lips. "Incense...Vanilla..."
"How many more of you are there?" The girl demanded.
Won't tell you you bitch.
"Where are there?"
Ice cold bitch queen.
"Five in the flat, five in the stairwell. The rest outside." She almost seemed to be talking to herself. "And dememtors flying everywhere."
"You won't get out?" Drum managed to get out. "We've surrounded you. Your fumes may have got me... the other five in here. Won't get the rest. You'll never get out." The girl raised her wand.
"I can try."
Natalie stunned the swarthy wizard and pushed his body in front of the door. How long before the others checked on him?
The door handle rattled. That long.
Natalie put herself right in front of the door. If she was lucky...
Confringo! She said the spell silently and angled her wand sharply down. The door exploded outwards, the force of the explosion channeled down the hallway. She saw three bodies flying away from her and dashed out after them.
Natalie whirled on the caster. No time for spells, she found his eyes, pushed in like a dagger and found the off switch in his brain. He folded like a puppet with the strings cut. She heard a shout behind her and protegoed so harshly that the round edges of her shield forced the walls out like crumpling paper. She turned and saw the hooded man dodging his own spell and threw her own, striking him in the chest.
That was the ones in the flat done.
She rushed to the door but it had been torn off its hinges. A dark figure reared from the stairwell. Natalie had her wand up in a moment but before she could cast the man grabbed his chest and fell to the floor. Natalie crept close, blood on his chest. Someone had hit him with a puncture curse.
She threw herself to the side. They must have been shooting from the other buildings outside. Aiming blind through the curtains. Aiming at her. Well that put climbing out the window out of the picture. She crouched and made her way towards the stairwell. She glanced between the slats and pulled her head back as a green flash obliterated the wooden banisters where she had been.
Time to start surprising them.
Natalie aimed at out into the middle of the stairway. A flicker of her wand and a ball of glowing light appeared. Another flick and a spiraling spear of sparks shot down the stairs like a rogue firework. She twisted and the ball dropped slowly, like a balloon, spitting exploding spears in every direction and shrinking as it fell.
That should keep them busy.
She dashed down the stairs and took out another thug as he desperately tried to dodge the multi-fire. Natalie had to jump over a man lying prone on the second floor, a victim of the fireworks. A spell shattered the tiles near her shoulder and she threw up a shield against the next one. Where were they coming from?
Damnit! Two above her, one below. They must have hid in the side corridors. She aimed her wand up at the two firers and vanished the floor under them. One of them dropped like a stone, the other was fast enough to grab the edge of the hole. But that just made him an easy target to get picked off. Natalie spun to take out the guy below her but he was already down. Blood on him, and pooling on the floor. Another victim of the cackshots outside.
There were still ten men outside. Natalie reached the ground floor and took a deep breath. They would be spread out all around her building to stop her escaping. What was her best bet to survive? The back entrance? It led onto an alley, easy for them to block or watch. The front was no doubt a deathtrap, she’d be hit from every side before she got two steps. There was a ground floor window out into the car park... wizards tended to ignore cars. She didn’t have one but surely some combination of spells could convince one to start. It was her best shot.
Natalie can down a side corridor and found the window, she peered out. No one visible, but they could be hidden among the cars. She slid the window open and climbed out uncomfortably, breathing hard. Strangely her paper pushing desk job didn’t keep her in very good shape. She fell down between two cars and turned towards one of them. She was about to charm the lock when she felt a shadow fall on her.
“Got you missy.” Natalie froze. The voice was twisted and slick, like oil. “Turn round so I can see your pretty face.”
Bad idea. Natalie turned and looked up into the pockmarked face above her. Into his eyes... He fell with a heavy, rag-doll thump and Natalie grabbed his wand.
“Ere what was that?”
Footsteps! Natalie crept back to the wall and got between it and the car just before the footsteps stopped.
“She‘s ‘ere! She got Poxx!”
Natalie heard more running feet and tried to slink away along the edge of the wall. She reached the corner, no where to go. If she tried to make for the exit they’d see her for sure. She pushed at the apparation ward again but it was no good. They had extended it beyond the building itself. How far would they have pulled it? To cover the whole block would have been impossible. Could she just run for the edge?
They were searching the lot. They were getting closer. Natalie looked up under the nearest car. At least five pairs of feet within easy sight. The entrance was close, she might make it. With a distraction.
She looked carefully out over the back of the car and aimed her wand at a blue car at the other end of the lot. It didn’t have to be much, just enough to get their attention. She said the spell silently. The car’s alarm sounded like a klaxon in the night air.
“What the bloody ‘ell is that!”
Natalie stood and ran. They were looking the other way, she could make it. She blazed out of the car park and made for the end of the street, all the while pushing against the apparation barrier. A spell pin-wheeled over her head and she sprinted harder. It had to end soon. She heard shouting and running behind her. Please let it end soon. A chunk of the road was blown away, throwing her to the floor. No... She desperately threw herself against the ward as footsteps surrounded her. It wouldn’t budge, she knew it wouldn’t.
“Now missy turn round nice and slow.” She rolled over and tried to meet the man standing in front of her’s eyes. “Nah, don‘t try any of that.” He broke eye contact and started openly staring at her chest.
“You‘ve led us lads a merry chase.” He continued, and there was a rising chuckle from the cluster of wizards surrounding her. “Me and the lads worked hard. I recon we deserve a reward.”
“I assume your lord will provide that.” Natalie said, her eyes desperately flicking around for a way out.
“I was thinking you might.” The front man sneered and the others drew in closer. Natalie could see the greed of years in prison flickering bright in their eyes. “Actually I was thinking you‘re gonna. Seeing as you don‘t have a ch... ch... aa...oh.” The man raised his hand to his mouth, there was a trickle of blood coming out of the corner. His eyebrows knitted in confusion as he fell to the floor. His fellows stared at him. After a silent moment one of them stepped forward and knelt down next to him. The man reached out and touched the fallen criminals back.
“It‘s blood. He‘s dead. He- Aaa!” The neck of the kneeling man exploded, showering them with blood. The criminals jumped back in shock. Natalie grabbed her wand and threw herself backwards, rolling as she hit the ground. She had stunned one of the wizards while they were still in shock and had turned her wand on another when her mystery savior revealed himself. She had to give it to him, he knew how to make an entrance.
He dropped from the top of another building, his robe billowing behind him as he fell straight into the middle of the wizards. He landed on one of them and rolled, a dark shape in his hand coming up. Another criminal was thrown back and landed wetly on the floor. The warrior looked up at her but she couldn’t catch his face in the dark. He nodded to her. She nodded back, and they turned on the rest of the bastards.
It was the strangest fight Natalie had ever been involved in. Strange for it’s silence. Whatever weapon the strange man was using it made no sound as it fired and she tended to cast non verbally. The criminals yelled their spells but they were in such disarray they were mostly throwing desperate stunners at each other. Other than those there was only the sound of footsteps, rapid-fire like a dance, and the occasional spray of blood. A silent battle at midnight, underneath stuttering streetlamps. Natalie’s breath was hot in her ears by the time it was over. She turned to her savior, he was dumping what was now obviously a silenciod handgun in his bag.
“Who are you?” Natalie demanded. “Did Dumbledore send you?”
“Most assuredly not.” The figure said cheerily and turned towards her. “Miss Zhao, I do believe we‘ve already been introduced.”
“Yep.” The young boy’s eyes wandered south and he glanced away. “Um you‘re going to have to have a change of wardrobe if you want to have any kind of intelligent conversation.”
“Well, long story short you‘re still wearing a nightgown and the ground you were just rolling around on is quite damp.”
“Oh.” Natalie felt the blush rising in her cheeks as she conjured a robe. “Better?”
“Worse.” Harry hung his head. “Now I can‘t see anything.”
Carting bodies up to her flat had been a surreal experience. She had healed the ones that could be healed before stunning them into a coma. In the end they had two piles, sixteen alive and four dead. She didn't doubt that without wizard medicine the count would have been a lot higher.
And here she was, sitting by her coffee table staring at lined up, stunned, criminals who ten minutes ago had been trying to kill her, drinking tea with the boy-who-lived.
“Do you have any biscuits?”
“I missed dinner.”
“Oh... yes. In that cupboard.” Natalie pointed and the black robed boy grabbed them before coming back and sitting beside her on the couch. She looked over at him. He looked older than when she had last seen him. Much older. “You saved my life.”
“Don‘t worry about it.” Harry shrugged. “The biscuits more than make up for it.”
“You shot them.” Natalie’s thought’s were still a little disjointed and she was trying to fill in the pieces. “With a gun.”
“Spells would have warned Voldemort I was there.” Harry shrugged. “By now I bet they have someone watching the underage magic detector. I tried to shoot their arms mostly.” He added almost to himself.
Natalie decided not to comment, instead she asked.
“How did you even know to come here?”
“Oh, that.” Harry turned to her. “I happened to overhear something while I was eavesdropping.”
Natalie listened in shock as Harry briefly explained a conversation that had apparently taken place between Severus and Dumbledore earlier that evening. Poor Severus, she could just see him now. Pacing his office, unable to do anything. Hating himself even though it wasn’t his fault. He always did.
“How did you even get out of the castle?” She asked.
“Easy, snuck into the forest.” Harry shrugged. “The people that got sent to watch Snape were all, big surprise, watching Snape. Meaning I could slip by undetected. After that I dashed for the wall, climbed it easy, the ward doesn‘t keep in humans. Legged it to Hogsmeade and broke into a cottage to use the flue. I didn‘t want anyone to know I‘d gone through there, that was why I didn‘t use one of the pubs.”
Natalie didn’t speak as Harry finished his story. She looked over at the pile of criminals, then back at Harry. Her brain, unencumbered by worry, was making the calculations that Snape hadn’t been able to.
“Dumbledore was right.”
“This was a test.” Natalie nodded slowly. “And Snape can still pass.”
“Are you thinking...” Harry glanced at the pile. “Are you thinking of taking a page out of my book?”
“Yes Harry. I‘m going to die.” Natalie smiled. “The assassination will be a success. Too bad the aurors came and arrested everyone afterwards, but Snape still passes the test.”
“Snape passes and you can hole up at chez Malfoy. One problem, They‘ll remember the truth.” Harry pointed out, jabbing a thumb towards the criminals. “Voldemort‘ll find a way to get it out of them. Even in custody.”
“I‘ll call an old friend.” Natalie stepped into her kitchen and picked the phone off the counter. “Goldie will be able to help with that.”
“Voldemort‘s good at Legillimancy.”
“I know that Harry.” Natalie pulled out her address book and started flicking through. “But my friend‘s good too. He‘s a ministry obliviator, the best.”
“Wait a minute...” Harry’s brow furrowed. “You‘re phone is working?”
“So why did I just break out of school and travel the length of the country to save you?” Harry threw his hands up. “Couldn‘t Snape have just called you?”
“Harry Snape may be using a pen now, but he‘s still a wizard to his toes.” Natalie smiled fondly. “I checked.”
“Eew!” Harry cringed back. “Mental image! All wrong!”
“Revenge.” Natalie grinned, then found the file card she was looking for and grew serious. “Listen Harry you should go back. I can handle things from here, and it‘ll be easier to explain to Goldie without you here.”
“Yes,” Natalie nodded and Harry turned to leave. “Harry!” She stopped him as he reached the door.
“Just doing my job.” Harry shrugged. “Apparently.”
“And Happy Halloween.”
“Halloween?” Harry glanced over at the clock, seeing that it was after twelve. “Oh yeah, Happy Halloween.”
Harry didn’t try to reenter Hogwarts that night. Too much risk of being seen by one of the watchers. Instead he dozed on a bench and slipped back in around sunrise. He attended breakfast purely to procure coffee in large amounts and managed to get through his first few lessons somehow. During lunch break he dragged his sleepy form down to the dungeons and found the right office. He pushed the door open without knocking.
“What is the meaning of thi... Potter.” Snape deflated, his face going soft. “Natalie told me. I cannot begin to thank you-”
“You‘re going to teach me occlumency.” Harry interrupted. “And Legillimancy.” There was a pause. Then,
“I suppose I am.”
“And you‘re going to tell me everything you know about Barty Crouch.”
As soon as Harry’s feet touched the floor he knew it was a dream. Before him the cottage at Godrics Hollow rose above his head. Looking so... normal. Nothing to speak to it’s momentous importance. It could have been any one of thousands of houses, there were others that could be its twin dotted down the street. Nothing special, and yet it repelled him.
Harry felt his skin crawl. The house was... wrong... somehow. Harry turned and dashed down the street, passing trees and hedges. He dashed with no care and caught his foot on a paving stone, sending him sprawling to the floor. As he got to his feet he felt grass under his feet. He was back on the front lawn. The cottage was right in front of him.
He could hear the river in his ears, raging in the distance. Harry scratched at his skin, it was all wrong. Harry felt nausea grow in the pit of his stomach. Oh wait... that wasn’t part of the dream.
Harry slammed his eyes open and dropped out of bed, rushing for the bathroom.
"Harry?" Ron knocked on the toilet door. "Harry are you ok?"
"I'm fine." Came the muffled reply.
"You don't sound fine. You sound-"
"I said I'm fine." Harry jerked the door open, the black bags under his eyes even more visible than usual against his green and sickly skin.
"You don't look fine."
"Probably something I ate." Harry shook his head and pushed past Ron.
"Harry everyone in Gryffindor eats the same stuff and no one else is-"
“I SAID I‘M FINE!” Harry whirled on his Ron. “I was sick. For some reason. Some unknown and unimportant reason. I threw up. I feel better. We should go to breakfast.”
“Breakfast is over.” Ron shrugged. “We let you sleep through it. The girls should be bringing some leftovers when we go to creatures.”
“Well then let‘s go to creatures. I‘m hungry.” Harry threw his bag over his shoulder and made for the door, his head drooping.
Ron followed slowly. Harry was slowly getting worse, sick. Was it just lack of sleep doing this to Harry? He hadn’t looked this bad even when he’d been time jumping. This time he seemed physically ill. Ron shucked his bag up further on his back. They all needed a little more sleep, Harry had been pushing them hard.
More sleep, and more bruise-remover.
Ginny looked up as Harry pushed the door to the attic open.
“Charms finished early?” Harry asked as the marauders trouped in behind him.
“I already knew the lesson.” Ginny flicked her book closed. “It was summoning charms.”
“You can already summon an elephant.” Harry dropped his bag on the table. “Skip the next few lessons.”
“The rest of us can‘t get away with skipping lessons Harry.” Hermione said from behind Harry. “Some of us aren‘t the boy-who-lived. Some of us-”
“Some of us realize the pointlessness of being taught what we already know.” Harry stepped into the middle of the attic. “Alright, this time everyone except Draco. All of the marauders.”
“Harry are you sure?” Fred asked. “You weren‘t feeling so hot this morning.”
“I’m sure, I‘m fine. Nothing a little exercise won‘t cure.” Harry shed his robe as the marauders drew into a circle around him. Ginny could see Malfoy settling down to watch, like it was a bloody show.
“Ready.” Padma called out.
“Don‘t ask me if I‘m ready. Never ask me if I‘m ready. Never warn me just bloody hit me.”
“Stubefy!” Ginny threw out her wand but Harry was already moving, sliding under her shot like a snake. His wand came up towards her. She shielded, Harry flicked to the side and Neville went down in a flash of red light.
The twins jumped forward like mirrors of each other but a shining beam clicked between them and slammed them together like conkers. Harry whirled like a dancer and a veil of smoke surrounded him. The marauders began firing into the cloud, careful not to hit each other as the stunners flew out the other side. The marauders slowed and eventually stopped.
“Do you think we got him?” Ron asked shakily.
“Should have counted the stunners.” Padma muttered. “Did anyone see if one didn‘t come out?”
Padma’s question was answered as her wand was jerked out of her hand and flew into the blackness. An array of stunners followed it. All came back out.
“Screw this.” Ginny waved her wand. “Depulso smoke.” The black cloud flew away and dissipated into the dusty air. Revealing nothing. The floor was empty.
“Where the hell is-” Ginny felt a weight strike her shoulders and a stabbing pain. As she collapsed she saw boots flash in front of her face and red light flashing all around. Her shoulder was like a burning knife.
“HOLD!” Someone yelled. “I said hold!”
The flashing lights stopped and she felt strong hands rolling her over carefully. Malfoy’s face came into view, staring at her shoulder.
“It‘s dislocated.” He said softly. “I mean really dislocated, look at it.”
Ginny looked over at her shoulder and had to look away, her eyes squeezed shut. Her arm was hanging like a piece of meat, hanging off her shoulder. The marauders began crowding around. Ginny found Harry’s eyes, he was unreadable. As always. His eyes didn’t emote, didn’t give anything away. They just looked like... eyes.
“Let me.” Hermione pushed Draco aside and rolled up Ginny’s sleeve. She shook her head. “I can‘t fix this. We need to get you to Madam Pomfrey.” Hermione reached forward.
“No.” Draco shook his head. “Two marauders, one injured, leads back to Harry. I‘ll take her. We can pass it off as an inter-house thing.” Draco put his arm under her good shoulder and lifted her gently, carrying her away.
“What the hell was that?!” Padma whirled on Harry. “You broke her shoulder.”
“Yes.” Harry idly woke Neville from his spell induced stupor. “And if she was a death eater I‘d have broken his shoulder.”
“Ginny‘s not a death eater!” Ron yelled angrily.
“Really? You sure? We could check her wrist.” Harry rolled his eyes. “I don‘t know what your mother would be more angry about, the hate crimes or the tattoo!”
“This isn‘t funny Harry!” George growled.
“No it‘s not!” Harry yelled. “It‘s bloody serious! Bloody, raging, burning SERIOUS! I KNOW THAT! Do you? Do you know that?”
“You could have really hurt her.” Parvati said softly.
“I have really hurt her.” Harry said harshly. “I‘ve had broken bones. It hurts. It hurts a lot. It also hurts a lot less than what would happen if a death eater caught her.”
“So it was for her own good was it?” Ron raged. “You were, what? Helping her!”
“Yes! I was!” Harry kicked a chair against the wall angrily. “I‘m helping everyone! Why doesn‘t everyone get that! Why are the majority of the people I‘m trying to save doing their best to screw with me!”
The marauders jumped back. The shadows in the attic made Harry’s face a freakish mask. He was shaking like a leaf, breathing hard.
“Why are people doing this.” He shook his head, his hands going to his temples. “Even people who know what we have to do are trying to stop us. Even people who know. Why the hell would they do that?”
“Harry...” Hermione reached forward.
“It‘s fine.” Harry straightened like a rod. “I‘m fine. We can fit another duel in before the end of lunch.”
“You, you want to go right back into a fight?” Hermione asked, her voice incredulous. “No Harry. No, we‘re all tired. We can‘t.”
“I can. You can. Get over here.” Harry threw Padma’s wand to her. It bounced off her stomach. She made no effort to catch it.
“I‘m tired.” Padma said flatly. “I‘m going to lessons.”
“Come on!” Harry clapped like some insane sports coach. “We can do another round.”
“I don‘t wanna do this with you Harry.” Ron said angrily. “This isn‘t fun anymore.”
“THIS WAS NEVER FUN!”
“Harry what do you want!” Hermione yelled. “We don‘t have to do what you say! We don‘t have to obey orders like you seem to think! Make up your mind Harry, are we your friends or are we your... your army!”
“You giving me the choice.” Harry stepped up right into Hermione’s face. “You giving me that choice. I have a dark wizard after me that I‘m fated to fight. I have the greatest, no scratch that, the two greatest wizards in the world hating me. One trying to kill me. One trying to keep me a prisoner. I have everything against me. So I choose a bloody army. ’Cos I need a bloody army. And if you can‘t be that then to hell with you.”
Harry turned, and disappeared out the door.
The nexus of the marauders was gone. Without that, they were hollow.
They went to lessons, walked, went to meals. But Harry was never with them. He still attended lectures to keep the teachers off his back, but every other moment seemed to be spent in that attic. Plus wherever he snuck out to at night.
Draco was with him sometimes, walking silently behind him along the corridor. Visible bruising made it clear that he hadn’t stopped helping Harry. Ginny caught him alone one morning and confronted him.
“Why are you still helping Harry?” She asked bluntly.
“Because he‘s my friend.” Was the curt and dry response.
“He‘s killing himself with all this.” Ginny pleaded, looking into Draco’s eyes. At least there was some emotion there, even if it mostly seemed to be regret. “You realize that don‘t you? You‘re not helping him survive. You‘re helping him self destruct.”
“With anyone else I‘d agree with you.” Draco looked away. “But here we know what‘s coming. You know. There‘s no way we can keep him out of Voldemort‘s path. There’s no keeping him safe you understand, the prophecy ensures that. He will face Voldemort. He will fight him. So a little self destruction now is worth it if he survives that encounter. Wouldn’t you say Ginerva?”
“Don‘t turn this on me.” Ginny shook her head. “And don‘t try to make what you‘re doing any kind of noble. It‘s not.”
“Of course I‘m noble. I‘m a Malfoy.” Draco hung his head, then looked up to meet her eyes. Regret was back, regret was definitely back. “Look Ginerva I know everything you‘re saying is true. But I don‘t know how else to help him. I don‘t how to help him at all. Do you?”
“Too bad.” Draco shook his head. “I guess all we can hope for is that he kills Voldemort before he kills himself.”
And outside Hogwarts the wizarding world slowly fell to pieces. As Christmas crawled closer and the nights grew longer there was no joy among the magical peoples. It just meant there were more dark hours for the death eaters to hunt in. One night a dark mark was raised right in the middle of Manchester. The authorities passed it off as a hot air balloon. The ones in the country didn't have to be explained away, the ministry just had to clean up after. When they even bothered to do that.
Contrary to popular belief the darkest hour is not before dawn. It's in the middle of the bloody night.
Harry closed the prophet with a heavy sigh and dropped it on the ground beside him. Things were only getting worse out there. The order wasn't doing anything, big surprise there. Barty Crouch was still missing from death eater meetings, apparently with Voldemort’s full support. The dark creatures? No one knew a thing about them.
No one seemed to know anything.
Harry stretched his legs out and felt the ripples of the lake against his bare skin, sending back ripples of goosebumps to match. Not all to do with the cold. It was good though. He should make sure he could manage water if he had to. Might have to fight in it one day.
"A dark state of affairs."
Harry tensed as the voice came from behind him and spun, wand outstretched. There was a figure standing there, looking out over the water. He looked old, seventy maybe. Bald definitely, and not a hair in his little neat mustache was anything other than white. He looked like a retired teacher more than anything else, one of the old school ones. He even had the patched tweed jacket.
Oh god was that a pipe in his pocket?
This guy was a walking cliché? What was he going to do next? Offer me tea?
"Would you like a spot of tea?"
"Oh come on." Harry chuckled and shook his head. "Three things: One, I don't drink tea. I drink coffee, in large quantities. Two: You don't have any tea. Three: Even if you had a flask I wouldn't be able to drink it." Harry reached out and waved his hand directly through the old mans leg. It passed through without even a tingle.
"Very good Mr Potter." The old man sat down cross legged next to him. "How could you tell?"
"There are certain signs." And I'm certainly not telling him them. "Who the hell are you?"
"My name is James." Harry stiffened at those words. The old man laughed. "No not that James. Honestly Mr Potter there are more people called James in this world than your father."
"Probably not your real name anyway." Harry snorted.
"I've never seen a need to conceal my first name. One of the benefits of having a nice traditional name like James or John or Harry." James smiled and took a little puff on his pipe. "Of course if you wish to know my last name we shall have a problem."
"I don't give a crap what your last name is." Harry shrugged. "How are you doing this? Some sort of illusion?"
"Astral Projection." James said professionally. "It's really quite useful."
"I've read about it." Harry crossed his arms and stared calculatingly at the man next to him. "It requires extensive preparation and a circle of at least three wizards. What you came to tell me is worth all that?"
"Very good Mr Pott-"
"Stop saying that." Harry cut him off. "Just speak your piece."
"Very well." James reached into his jacket. Harry instinctively flinched despite the fact that any weapon this man pulled would go straight through him. "Do you know a man named Conterrando Baker?"
"Is he from the ministry of silly names?"
"How droll." James pulled a piece of paper from his jacket and held it out for Harry to see. Harry grabbed a piece of parchment out of his bag to jot down the address then took a little more time reading the rest of the profile.
"Half blood, respected member of the Wizengamot, respecter writer, married to a muggle, outspoken critic of the current minister. Two kids at Hogwarts. His last book was a love story, between a pure blood and a muggle." Harry laughed wryly. "Jesus, did someone just take a big piece of play-doh and mould it into a target for the death eaters?"
"It is a small miracle he has not been attacked yet."
"But you think he is being targeted now?"
"I know he is." James tapped a date on the paper. "Tomorrow night."
"Oh come on."
"He has been repeated warned but he refused to accept a protective detail. He says it would impinge on his privacy. Foolish And he will die for it. A beloved family man is going to die if you don't save him."
"Bull. You save him. You obviously have resources."
"I, or more accurately the group I represent. Do have the resources." James smiled. Harry didn't like that smile, it had weird depths. James continued, "Our organization also dislikes Voldemort. He is troublesome to our work. But unfortunately for Mr Baker, Voldemort is only an irritation to us therefore it is not worth enough to us to save him. We do not move in the same circles as Voldemort you see, so he does not give us too much trouble. We would prefer if he were gone though. It would make things easier."
"So help him."
"We cannot." James stood. "But you can. Go help him Harry Potter. If it turns out well, we may meet again." With that he disappeared into thin air.
"Show off." Harry murmured.
Of course he realized it could be a trap. In fact it almost certainly was a trap. Harry considered. Except that Conterrando Baker was a real person. The story, after a little checking of back prophet issues, checked out. Harry even found the kids in Ginny's year. Hufflepuffs, twins, nice in a kind of boring Hufflepuff kind of way. Both members of the gobstones club. Both with significantly less ridiculous names than their father.
Good kids. Good father too...
"Bugger." Harry dropped the prophet on the table. "I'm going to have to do something heroic aren't I."
Looks that way.
"Do I have to?"
Well... no, you could let him die while you sit back and eat popcorn.
"Don't like popcorn."
Well I guess that decides it then. Plus it would be rather a waste of all the training you've been doing.
"It could still be a trap you know."
I know that. Don't you think I know that? I'm your brain you moron.
"We're a bit crazy aren't we?"
Crazy like a fox.
"Like a fox."
So it came to pass that Harry slid down into the chamber of secrets that night wearing the most singularly un-heroic piece of clothing in history.
A pair of waders.
"Bloody winter." Harry shivered as he crawled through the tiny crack in the wall through which he had entered the chamber all those years ago. It was smaller than he remembered.
Harry dropped into the icy sewer and made his way quickly along the dark passageway. The water was bitingly cold on his hands whenever they got splashed but the thick waders kept his legs pleasantly warm. Thank merlin for dragon-skin fishing supplies.
Of course this would be easier if Dumbledore hadn't strengthened the Hogwarts wards to the point where not even insects could pass through. This was the only way out.
Harry's passage through the catacombs was unerring. Last time he'd been here he'd wandered aimlessly, lost. Little lost boy... But he wasn't the same person he'd been then. Harry sighed and walked on through the darkness to his destination.
Harry flicked his collar up and walked quickly down the street. This was London, but not a part that he had ever frequented. Big houses, big expensive houses. Places that didn't take kindly to vagrants. Probably still wouldn't take kindly to him if he was found here.
House twenty six. Harry slowed to a stop a block away from the tall white building. In the middle of the terraced-row of equally tall white buildings. Expensive they might be, individual they were not.
All the lights seemed to be off. Mr Baker was probably asleep. No one outside, no one obvious anyway.
Up on the roof. Darkness made into flatness made into nightmares. Someone was waiting up there, trying to stay invisible against the skyline.
Harry cursed then darted down an alley. Movement in the front yard, it might have been a discarded newspaper. Then again it might not.
Human shape! Second floor, standing near the bed! Harry's hands found a drainpipe and he catapulted himself up. There were two more on the bed, cowering in fear. The standing figure raised his wand. Harry swung with all his strength and crashed through the window.
"What the hell!"
Harry tackled the death eater to the floor and stunned him. He rushed to the door and bolted it, pushing a chair under the handle. The others would have heard the window break.
"Who are you!" A voice bellowed from the bed. "Are you with them?"
"Do you know Dumbledore?" Harry asked quickly, looking over at the two in the bed.
"Ye... yes. Everyone knows-"
"Good go to him. Get out through the back." Harry pointed at the broken window. The door thumped violently and Harry turned back towards it. Three others. Not good. "GO!"
"What about you?" Mrs Baker asked as her husband hurried her towards the window.
"Don't worry about me. Just go!" Harry flicked a ward onto the door, strengthened it. But it wouldn't hold long. These weren't criminals, these were actual death eaters. Duelist group twos. Bugger. Harry glanced back at the window to see Mr Baker just disappearing out of it. Well at least that was done. Harry turned back to the door and raised his wand.
The first real test. Lets see how I do.
I really hope one of them is Crouch... Harry grinned in violent glee.
The houses windows flashed from where he sat on the rooftops. Whoever that boy was he was fighting them. Fighting them everywhere. There were two people fleeing down the backstreet, visible in the gaps between houses. They didn't matter.
His knarrled fingers clenched. It looked like the boy had beat him to these ones. He wouldn't be able to kill tonight. Wouldn't be able to hurt them, make them pay. Make the other one, the snake one, the one who took everything pay.
He licked his lips. Another time, there would be other times. He was patient. Patient was good, so long as it got there in the end.
The end... the end...
Vengeance. That was a good word.
The watcher hunkered down on the rooftops. Before him the battle raged on and cries of pain filled the air.
He would wait, and if there were any stragglers? Maybe he would have some fun after all.
Urg... Ron turned over on instinct to get away from the noise.
"Get the hell up Weasley!"
"Ow!" Ron grabbed his side and spun, his eyes wide open. "Malfoy what the-"
"Have you seen Harry?" The Slytherin demanded.
"What? Of course not. He's your best friend now." Ron replied sneering.
"He didn't turn up for dueling this morning." Malfoy sounded like he was actually worried. The snake was obviously acting. "I thought maybe he would be here."
"Well he's not." Ron gestured around. "Look the bed's not even slept in. And how'd you get the password anyway?"
"Get lost Malfoy." Ron looked over at the clock. "It's six o clock in the morning!"
"Right. Two hours past when Harry said he'd meet me." Malfoy was gritting his teeth, breathing through them clenched.
"He's probably in the attic."
"That was where I was waiting you idiot!"
"Then he's eating breakfast!"
"Down by the lake?"
"The forest? Around the edge-"
"Oh." Ron bit his lip. "He's probably, I don't know. Probably training late and just passed out tired. Even you had to notice he was tired."
"Surprised you did." Malfoy turned for the door. "Get your friends and help look."
"We're not your frie-"
"But you were Harry’s!" Malfoy turned angrily. "And he could be in trouble, or pain, or dying, right now! I know you don't like him any more but unless you hate him enough to wish him dead get the hell up and help me look!"
Ron woke the marauders. The marauders roused the students. Myrtle called the ghosts. Hermione ran to McGonagall. McGonagall went to Dumbledore.
The entire castle like an anthill kicked into turmoil by the departure of the boy-who-lived.
It was Dumbledore who confirmed, by 'his own methods', that Harry was not in the castle. The great hall was filled with tangible tension as breakfast appeared as if it was any other day. Everyone was whispering.
Why bother, thought Ginny. It's not like you're trying to hide what you're talking about. But she found that when she talked it also came out as whispers. It was the tense atmosphere, it leeched sound out of you. Or maybe it was because saying it right out would make it real.
The marauders mostly picked at their food. No one felt like eating. Not even Ron. Suddenly the door burst open.
"It's him!" Hagrid boomed over the barking of his dog. "He's out there!"
The hall emptied like a fire had started. Every student of every house piled through the giant double doors. Jostling and pushing against each other, and against teachers, to get through. They spilled out onto the front lawn like a wave, breaking and separating. Everyone was running for the main gate. Ginny saw Hagrid, out in front, yell something and the gate creaked open. Everyone pushed through, trying to get a glimpse of the solitary figure trudging up the path towards them.
The front runners stopped and were almost bowled over as the people behind them ran into their backs. The road down from the gates was slanted, so everyone could see. See the figure that was definitely Harry.
His robes hung off one shoulder, the rest torn and trailing behind him. The whole left side of his face was covered in blood, down onto his shoulders too, caked on and streaked. One of his boots was gone, Merlin only knew where. His left arm had an ugly burn over the elbow, red and raw and black in the middle.
The entire of Hogwarts stared at him. Harry raised his head painfully.
"Well... would..." Harry swallowed and licked his lips. "Would you believe I fell down some stairs?"
"Mr Potter where were you?"
You know where.
He knows where. Of course he does. Stupid Dumbledore.
"Were you at the Baker residence Harry?"
There we are.
"How did you leave school grounds?"
You don't need to know that.
"Harry answer me!"
"What do you want from me Dumbledore?" Harry pushed a blood-entangled dreadlock of hair out of his face. "What do you want me to say?"
"I want the truth!" Dumbledore was yelling, every portrait on the walls of his office watched in silence. Apart from them the room was empty. "I want you to tell me where you went! Where you go every night! I want answers!"
"I don't give a damn what you want."
Rather incongruent seeing as we just asked him.
"Harry if there is a breach in the wards of Hogwarts I need to know about it."
Damn. He might actually be right. Voldemort sure as hell knew about the chamber.
"Chamber of secrets." Harry met the Headmasters gaze but gave nothing away. His occlumency was getting better too. "Remember? There's a passage that lets out on the side of the lake."
"The... a passage." Dumbledore nodded faintly. "Yes... yes I knew about it."
"But it slipped your mind when you were shoring up the wards."
"You're not a god Dumbledore." Harry broke in. "You can't do everything. You are incapable. You make mistakes. It doesn't have to be this way between us, admit you made a mistake with regards to me. I can help you fight. Help the order."
"You are not of age."
"Screw that!" Harry yelled wildly. "There's two people living tonight because of me! Two kids who are not orphaned because of me!"
"There are also five dead death eaters."
What... the... hell...
"Stunned." Harry corrected hopefully. "Stunned death eaters."
"Dead." Dumbledore's face grew stony. "Killed with an mysterious toxin. Seen only once before."
No... no no no no.
"Stop!" The Headmaster cut him off. "You have already demonstrated a bloodlust that disturbs normal, decent wizards."
"When I need to!" Harry was breathing hard. "When my friends lives are at stake!"
"You are out of control Harry."
"I didn't kill them." Harry held up his hands. "I didn't, I swear. I stunned them, then left, then called the aurors to pick them up."
"I cannot believe that Harry, I cannot. Not with all I know."
"Legilimence me." Harry released his defenses. "You'll see. You'll know."
"I will not know. I will not know because I cannot be sure that you have not reached a level of proficiency at occlumency where you could show me whatever fabricated memory you wish to."
"THEN WHAT DO YOU WANT!"
"Anger Harry? You have a lot of anger don't you."
Yes. Harry hung his head tiredly. There is no answer to your questions. Nothing that will satisfy you.
"You will stay confined to the castle." Dumbledore ordered. "You will attend all lessons. A guardian appointed by me will walk you to and from each lesson. You will do these things or I will hand you to the aurors."
"I didn't do it." Harry whispered, more to himself than anything else.
"I cannot take that risk."
Wait! The Prophecy!
"The prophecy." Harry blurted. "What are we going to-"
"Stop thinking about such things." Dumbledore cut him off. "They are no longer your concern."
"But I have to stop Voldemort. I'm the only one who can."
"This discussion is over Harry. Leave."
Harry stood. There was no point drawing it out. He walked towards the door, but didn't go through it. He felt drained, completely. But some residual well of stubbornness wouldn't let him leave without one last word.
"You're making a mistake." Harry said over his shoulder. "You do make them remember."
"I do. But I correct them." Dumbledore said sharply, but sadly. "I am correcting one right now."
Damn. He still got the last word.
Harry turned and passed out of the office. There were important decisions to be made.
"Deja vu." A voice said over Ron's shoulder.
"Malfoy!" Ron spun on his bench. "Do you just sneak around everywhere?"
"Hard to sneak in the middle of lunch." Malfoy seemed agitated. "Harry's gone again."
"Like this morning?" Hermione asked.
"He said he was going to go to sleep, but his bag's gone." As Malfoy spoke they heard a noise from the high table.
Dumbledore had just shoved his chair back roughly and strode quickly from the hall.
"He knows about-" Ron began but stopped as a feathered shadow dropped onto the table.
Digger cocked his head and hopped about a little nervously. He kept looking at first one face then another as if he didn't know who to deliver his message too.
Ginny reached forward and took it off her. She spread it out on the table. It was short, but it had a lot of subtext. It simply said.
Take care of him
Review, or I will use my gravemetric inversion ray to smash the moon down onto the surface of the earth! Destroying it utterly! You have just one hour! Mru Ha Ha Ha Ha! Ha. Ha.
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Ah well... such is life.
"Is there no news?"
"No Albus, there is not." Minerva shook her head. "He appears to have vanished."
"Has a watch been set on the borders? All ways that he could leave the country?"
"Yes Albus." As if that had ever stopped Harry. "But do you really think he will try to leave? Everything we've seen suggests he will stay and fight."
"I do not know Minerva." Albus shook his head. "I am not sure of anything anymore."
"Stay strong Albus. The order needs you."
"Yes... yes we must go on."
The marauders, bundled up against the cold, sat quietly before a huge bay window in Malfoy manor. They had gone there straight from Hogwarts, with a guard the entire way. They were in the minority for leaving, a lot of students had elected to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas. It was safer. They were not the only ones there though, Terry and Anne Baker (none of the marauders had really known them) had been dragged along looking confused.
That was until they reached the house and had a tearful reunion with their parents. Apparently someone had saved them from the death eaters. Emphasis on someone.
The manor was filling up, loads of people. Refugees almost, people that had been targeted or were in danger of being. It was scary, seeing the fear in their eyes, the feeling of being hunted. The marauders were the same, unable to leave, scanning the papers for any hint of Harry. They found nothing but they kept looking. Guilt was a powerful thing.
So now they were stuck in the mansion, unable to leave its walls as snow blanketed everything outside. Even if they could have gone outside would they have had the heart to play? Maybe, maybe not. So they sat in front of the huge open window and watched it fall.
The adults had tried to make it cheery, there was even a tree. It hadn't worked though.
"We should go have lunch." Someone murmured. No one moved. Eventually someone else echoed the sentiment and they began to get up, slowly, silently. They had just about reached the kitchen when Tonks burst in.
"Have you heard the news?" She blurted.
"We read the prophet-" Hermione began before Tonks interrupted her.
"No, no. This just happened." She shook her head. "Two death eaters just got dropped into the ministry foyer. Flued in. They were stunned and tied up with ribbons. They're processing them now. Where's everyone else?"
"Most of the adults eat in the tree room." Ginny pointed and Tonks hurried out.
"Do you think it was Harry?" Neville asked quietly.
"Of course it was Harry." Malfoy said flatly.
"It could have been someone else, someone else trying to stop them."
"Someone who tied them up like presents and dumped them Christmas eve? It's Harry." Padma grimaced. "He's out there fighting."
"On his own." Her sister echoed.
They sat in silence for a while. The only sound was Ron rhythmically munching on bread.
"Do you think it was us?" Ginny found herself whispering. "Do you think we drove him out?"
"You certainly didn't help." Draco sneered.
"Shut up Malfoy! You were the one helping him!" Ron reached over and tried to thump the Slytherin. "If you hadn't he wouldn't have thought he could fight them!"
"He was getting help from other places than me. Someone else I'm sure, he was getting better too fast." Malfoy shook his head. "No, I withdraw what I said before. You didn't push him towards this. This was inevitable."
But we abandoned him. Ginny thought darkly. Maybe if he would have stayed longer if he thought he had something to stay for. Or at the very least he'd know he wasn't alone. Merlin, how had things gone so wrong?
"It's my fault." Hermione murmured suddenly. "I said that... stupid thing about choosing between-"
"It wasn't you." Ron broke in. "You heard Malfoy, it was inevitable."
"We need to do something." Parvati said. "Bring him back. Tell him it's ok."
"How?" Draco shook his head. "Take out a personal ad in the Prophet?"
"Well why not?"
"Because it's ridiculous. And because all it would do is assuage your guilt. It wouldn't help him."
"Well what would help him!" Fred asked angrily.
"I don't know!" Draco shot to his feet. "Why are you asking me anyway? I don't even like you." He turned and stalked out of the room. Ginny watched him go. She'd never thought about it before but Harry leaving had probably hit him pretty hard too. He didn't really have any other friends. Maybe that had been why he helped Harry for so long.
"We need to do something." Parvati repeated again.
"What sister? What?" Padma frowned at her sister darkly. "Don't just keep saying 'do something' and expect everyone else to come up with something."
"I don't hear you coming up with anything!"
"There's nothing we can do!"
They lapsed into an angry silence again. There was too much stress, too little sleep. They were all at the end of their tethers. Just like Harry had been. Ginny shook her head, they should have gone easier on him. A little selfish part of her felt glad that she had not been part of that first argument with him. Another part blamed her for starting it. If she had just dodged he wouldn't have hurt her shoulder and then they wouldn't have...
It was pointless to think about it. The argument had happened, but a little part of her still irked. They shouldn't have blown up on him, so what if he said he chose an army... Wait... Was it possible? Was she really thinking about this?
"I can think of something we can do." She said, her voice catching in the middle. It hadn't done that in years.
"What Gin?" Fred asked without looking at her.
No one was looking at her. No one was paying attention. Marauder rules...
"HEY!" The table jumped as Ginny slammed down on it hard. The marauders started like rabbits. Oh great, now everyone was looking at her. She stood, keeping her hands flat to the table. "I know what we can do."
"Wh... what?" Hermione asked hesitantly.
"Exactly what he asked." Ginny said confidently. "He wanted an army. He needs an army. He's fighting out there on his own so he deserves an army! We can be it. We can help him!"
For a few moments there was silence, then...
"But... but we're just kids." Neville was biting his lip.
"We're as old as Harry." Ginny stated defiantly, glossing over the fact that she wasn't.
"We don't know how to fight like him." Ron was staring at her wildly.
"Harry learnt, so we can." Ginny folded her arms. "Harry wasn't even that good at defense and look how far he's come. We can do it."
"We could..." Fred murmured, and is twin began nodding thoughtfully.
"There are only eight of us." Hermione pointed out.
" I think other people in the school would be prepared to help Harry if we told them. The old chosen... others too." Ginny tried to look confident. "And besides, Harry's just one person!"
"But Harry's Harry!" Hermione shook her head. "He could get away with that sort of thing! He has some... ability... some reason he survived. A power! That's it! Like the prophecy said. 'A power the dark lord knows not' we-"
"The only power Harry ever displayed was stubbornness." Padma interrupted her. "Stubbornness and bravery."
"And the fact that he never gave up." Her sister added.
"And we shouldn't either." Padma nodded.
"So you..." Ginny turned to them grinning.
"We're in." Padma said, her eyes hard and determined. Her sister nodded her support.
"Us too." George folded his arms just as his brother said,
"We can't give up on Harry."
"And you three?" Ginny turned to the last three undecided marauders. Neville shifted nervously,
"I... It could have been me." He was looking down at the table. "It could have been me. I wouldn't have survived this long. No... but I can't just ignore it. The fact that it could have been me I mean. I... I feel like I have to help if I can."
"I don't know how much help I'll be."
"You saved me." Ginny smiled desperately. All the marauders had to join, it was like fate. For some reason she felt like that. If they all didn't join it just wouldn't work. "And Harry would have wanted it."
"He understood you." Padma chimed in, smiling. "More than the rest of us I think."
"I'll help, if I can." Neville said, in a small voice. Ginny breathed out in relief, one down two to go...
"And you two?"
Hermione and Ron shared a look. Ginny knew she could tease her brother into it, Ron was a sponge for peer pressure, but she wouldn't. Not a choice like this.
"We'll have to miss some lessons." Ron said suddenly and Hermione put a hand over her mouth, chuckling. "Think you can handle that Hermione?"
"I guess so." Hermione turned back to Ginny. "For Harry."
"You're in?" Yes, yes, yes! "Both of you?"
"Us too." A voice came out of nowhere. Ginny spun and fixed on the large double doors. Standing in the open crack were two brown haired children. Terry and Anne Baker. They had been listening in, eavesdropping. And they had managed to do it undetected. Wow, Ginny thought. They've already got what it takes to be a marauder.
"What?" Ron stood, clearly unable to see them properly from where he was. "You two?"
"We heard what you were saying." Anne said, obviously trying to sound older. Ginny wondered if she had looked like that a few moments ago. "We want to help too."
"Harry saved our parents." Terry added in. "The ministry didn't even know they were a target. We want to help."
"You realize what this means don't you?" Ginny said clearly. "We're talking about fighting. Fighting death eaters. Maybe dying, almost certainly getting hurt. This isn't going to be fun."
"We know that." Terry nodded. "You think we don't know? We saw Harry when he came back that morning just like the rest of you. That's the kind of stuff you're talking about right? Well that night he was out saving our parents. Saving them was what hurt him so bad, so its... like I don't know. Only fair, I guess, that we should do that for him."
"You could die." Padma said flatly.
"If Voldemort wins we die anyway." Anne matched her flatness. "With parents like ours we'll be on the top of his list."
"We know what were getting ourselves into." Terry said defiantly. "We want to join Harry's army."
"Harry's army?" George snorted. "Is that what we're calling ourselves?"
"I don't like it." His twin agreed.
"It does sounds like something from world-war-two." Hermione agreed.
"How about the chosen? We've been that before." Ron suggested.
"We're the marauders." Ginny overrode him. "We've always been the marauders we always will be. It's what Harry would have wanted."
A murmur of agreement went up from around the table and Ginny felt a surge of pride. She beckoned the Baker twins over. As she did she suddenly realized something, she had made everybody look at her and they were still looking. Her brothers had happily accepted her lead, they all had. And now she was about to ordain two new marauders, a privilege only previously granted by Harry.
What can of worms had she opened today?
"But wait." Padma said suddenly. "How are we going to train properly? Harry had a teacher, he had to. Where are we going to get one?"
"I can think of someone."
Draco turned in shock to look at the crowd in the library doorway.
"Yes?" He looked across them. "Can I help you?"
"We've decided what we're going to do." Ginerva said from the front. "We're forming an army. We're going to fight for Harry. We want your help."
The library was silent for a moment. Draco met the eyes of each of the marauders, were they really serious? Legillimancy gave him the answer.
"Well would you look at that." Draco murmured, then smiled. "Lets get to it."
"You realize this means the marauders now have members in every Hogwarts house." George commented as they walked down to Harry's old training cellar.
"We don't have any Ravenclaws." Ron said. Hermione shook her head irritably.
"You would think you'd remember Ron, after all the times she's saved our skins."
"She doesn't count." Ron said with authority before being clipped around the ear by Ginny.
“Watch your mouth. Harry wouldn’t stand for that sort of talk.”
“Besides, you‘re all wrong anyway.” Draco said dryly from the front. “Harry made myself and Tonks marauders at the end of last year. You‘ve been cross-house for months now.”
“Why didn‘t you tell us?” Ron asked him.
“Would it have made a difference?”
“Well... maybe.” Ron shrugged. “Marauders have different rules than ordinary people.”
“Yeah, that part I got.” Malfoy reached the door to the cellar and threw it open. It was exactly how they had left it. Huge piles of broken furniture and burn marks on the walls. “Right, well we don‘t have impact spheres or a siswai‘aman or muggle gonnes-”
“Guns.” Hermione corrected.
“Them either.” Draco stepped into the center of the room. “Actually I do have some impact spheres but that‘s not the point. We don‘t have time to go to four continents and pick up the best weaponry like Harry did, so I‘m going to focus on this...” Malfoy drew his wand and held it out in front of him.
“Terry, Anne.” Ginny turned to the two newest members. “How are you at defense class?”
“We‘re both getting Es.” Anne said quickly.
“Marauders should know how to lie better than that.”
“Same as Harry last year.” Ginny told them encouragingly. “Hermione? Can you bring them up to speed real quick?”
“I... I guess so.”
“Good.” Ginny turned back to Draco and nodded. He smiled at her as he directed the others into dueling lines. Her stomach did a little floaty lurch.
Just stress. She told herself. Just stress because we’re joining a war. Natural to be nervous, especially since they seem to have elected me leader. I’m not nervous for any other reason. No reason at all.
Neville collapsed into a chair in his room. He ached everywhere. Malfoy had pushed them all day, fighting. They had only quit for the night when the Baker kids couldn’t stand up any more. Neville hadn’t been far behind them.
This must have been what it was like for Harry.
Neville shook his head, earlier Padma had told him Harry understood him. Neville didn’t know whether that was true. He certainly didn’t understand Harry. But maybe he watched him more than the others, keeping quiet on the sidelines maybe he saw more. Saw more about people... about Harry.
Maybe there was one other thing they could do for Harry.
He had thought of it before but hadn’t mentioned it. No reason to tell `people, especially if he was wrong. It’d just make him look stupid. It probably wouldn’t help anyway. But it was worth a shot.
Neville drew a piece of paper towards him and grabbed a quill. He chewed on the end nervously, how did you start a message like this?
Dear... No, to familiar. Neville shook his head, it didn’t matter what words he used. He should just get the thing written. He cracked his tired knuckles and started again.
To The Pythea
My name is Neville Longbottom and I’m a friend of Harry’s. I don’t know if he told you about me.
Neville winced, this was harder than he thought.
Harry’s in trouble, or he might be. He’s left Hogwarts to fight. We’re worried about him. We’re worried he might die. I don’t know if you know about the Pr...
Neville stopped writing and thought for a moment. The letter might get intercepted by someone.
If the phrase ‘as the seventh month dies’ means anything to you then you know why he’s doing this. I don’t know if you can help him but if you can then please do, and tell us what we can do to help. We’re already doing everything we can but it may not be enough.
Neville read the letter over nervously. He was writing to ask the help of one of the most powerful women in the world. He signed it, his hand shaking enough to make the signature illegible, then squeaked his chair back and made for the owlery.
Digger was awake and waiting, like he knew. The owl didn’t even bother to look at the address, it just glanced at the name and took off. Neville watched it go, hoping...
He got no reply over Christmas. The marauders opened presents with aching bones while their parents watched before begging out and going back down to the cellar. Neville was surprised that the Baker children didn’t complain about being worked on Christmas day. Perhaps they really did understand what they were in for.
Snow kept falling intermittently, not enough to cover the ground again. It just ended up slush. Neville wondered if Harry was outside, cold, right now, then felt stupid. If Harry could get weird dark weaponry out of the blue then he could keep warm in winter.
"Neville!" He heard Fred yell at him. "I thought we were dueling not staring out the window."
"I'm coming." Neville turned and raised his wand. "Just a second."
We're doing what we can Harry, just you wait.
Harry crouched on the roof of a house, careful not to slip on the wet tile. The house across the way was owned by a prominent member of a pure blood family. Not his main house obviously, pokey little place like this, but one of his properties.
A property with a large cellar. A property that had been taking in large supplies of meat, bad meat too. Off cuts, the kind you would give animals.
It was a lead. Harry smiled grimly, he was on to them. He could wait here all night...
“Severus the children at headquarters keep disappearing during the day. Do you know where they’re going?
“I do not Albus.” Technically true though any sensible person could guess.
“Do you think they might be planning to follow Harry?”
“It is possible.” I hope they are.
“This troubles be Severus, they should be kept safe.”
“They are children.” Technically true though not actually revealing his opinion.
“You will tell me if you hear anything I should know.”
“Of course.” Anything I think you should know.
“Now," Dumbledore looked around the hall, meeting the eyes of the four order member. Snape, McGonagall, Tonks and Moody. They had all been asked here. None of them knew why. "I believe I have found Harry."
"Are you sure?" Minerva rose to her feet, shock evident on her face. "How?"
"Harry has been too trusting of Gringots." Dumbledore drew a thin folder of parchments towards him. "He forgets that they have human employees as well as goblin ones. I have managed to obtain records of Harry's transactions. I believe I have pinpointed his location."
"So why haven't you brought the poor boy back?"
"Because Harry will have an exit strategy." Dumbledore shook his head. "If he sees me he will run, and I cannot guarantee I will be able to catch him. You are the order members I believe he will trust. You must approach him. You must bring him back."
And what if I don't wish him back. Snape was careful to shield his thought utterly. What if I merely wish to make sure he's safe.
"This is the location." Dumbledore floated a sheet of parchment to each of them. "We will go. Now."
Snape looked up at the flickering bulb above him and scornfully flicked it off before lighting his wand.
"The top floor?" The auror Tonks was looking at the map drawn by Dumbledore. "Why would he be on the top floor? It's a dead end. No way out."
"The boy's smarter than that." Alastor agreed as the four of them reached the stairwell of the muggle building. It was not vacant, indeed Snape could hear muffled voices and clicking from adjacent rooms, but the top floor was closed for renovation.
"Perhaps Dumbledore was wrong then." Was that a hint of hope in the voice of the young auror?
"More likely Harry has a broomstick up there." Minerva snapped.
Harry would not have a broomstick. Snape shook his head but said nothing out loud. He is more likely to have a pet dragon up there than a broomstick.
"Quiet." Moody was up ahead, his magic eye scanning above them. The old auror cursed. "Damn evil eye! There's bags up there, and papers. But I can't tell if there's a person."
"Let me see." Minerva slinked into her cat form and carefully padded up the steps. Then came back down, her eyes twinkling. She transformed back and said, "Harry has been here. His smell is everywhere."
"Do you know if he is there now?" Snape asked.
"He is there. The scent is too recent for him not to be."
"Then we go in." Moody stalked forward. "No wands visible, don't spook him."
They walked up the bleak concrete stairs. The door was closed and covered by a plastic sheet. Snape was reaching out to cut it aside when they all heard,
"Don't bother, I've cut a slit in the one round the side." The four order members stopped dead. The voice continued. "And if you want a more dramatic statement, you are Moody, Snape, McGonagall and Tonks."
"Harry?" Tonks asked loudly. "Is that you?"
"Did I not make that clear?" The voice said cheerily. "Come in if you want. With your hands up if you please, we don't want any surprises.”
“You don‘t trust us?” Tonks asked.
“Constant vigilance.” Harry replied.
Snape chuckled as he dropped his wand in his pocket and walked around the corner. There indeed was a break in the plastic curtain, it was waving in the cold wind. Snape stepped up to the gap and pushed it aside. Harry was standing in the open bay window, leaning easily against the edge.
He looked... tired. Beyond tired, his eyes were sunken and his skin pale. Did he look worse than when he left Hogwarts? Yes. He most certainly did, there was no denying. It could not just be tiredness, it could not. He seemed happier though, his eyes sparkling mischievously.
“Harry.” Snape greeted him as the other order members filed in behind him. “It is good to see you. You are looking well.”
“No I‘m not.” Harry was watching them all closely. “But I‘m surviving. How did you find me?”
“I‘m afraid we can‘t-”
“Gringots led us here.” Snape interrupted McGonagall, who glared at him. “Dumbledore found you here with their information. He sent us here to bring you back.”
“And are you going to?”
“We just want to talk to you Harry.” McGonagall stepped forward, her hands spread peacefully. “It is not safe for you out here.”
“It‘s not safe anywhere.” Harry shrugged. “And I‘m helping out here. I‘m fighting the death eaters. What are you doing? Looking for a lost child? Let me ask you, which of us is doing the more useful task?”
“Potter don‘t be an idiot.” Moody growled. “You may have caught a few death eaters but it‘s only a matter of time before you‘re caught and you better pray it‘s by Dumbledore and not the dark lord. If you die we all lose.”
“If I fail we all lose.” Harry shifted closer to the window.
“Harry, we‘re just trying to help you.” Tonks stepped forward. “We all know what‘s at stake here.”
“This scene is recap.” Harry scoffed. “I‘m leaving.” He turned to the window and dropped.
“No!” McGonagall yelled, snatching for her wand but Moody was faster. The old auror summoned Harry roughly, drawing him across the floor and disarmed him with a flick of the wrist.
“Son of a bitch.” Harry tried to stand but Moody jabbed his wand and Harry was pushed back to the ground. “Trusted you...”
“Sorry Potter.” Moody growled. “Trusted you too. You pissed on that when you killed five men didn‘t need to be killed.”
“That’s not true.”
“The part about killing them or the part about not needing to?”
“To be honest, both.” Harry made a lunge for the door but McGonagall stepped in front of him. Harry cringed, then tried to stand. “This is pointless. If you bring me back to Hogwarts Dumbledore‘ll keep me prisoner, we all lose.”
“I trust Dumbledore more than I trust you right now.” Moody raised his wand. “You disappointed me. Now Stup-”
“Stop!” Snape struck sideways, sending Moody’s wand sideways. As the auror's eyes jerked open in shock Snape stunned him and whirled, holding his wand on McGonagall. “Don‘t move Minerva. In fact back away.”
“Severus what is this?” Her eyes were wide in disbelief.
“Please don‘t talk.” Snape glanced at Tonks standing twitchily in the corner, her hand hovering over her wand. “And you? Do I need to stun you too?”
“I... no.” The young auror’s eyes flickered down to Harry. “Take care of yourself Harry. Please. Please do.”
“I‘ll try.” Harry nodded, walking over and grabbing his wand. “And I won‘t use Gringots any more.” The boy started for the window.
“Harry!” Snape called out. “Moody caught you. You let your guard down. You have to be better than that.”
“I know. I screwed up. Constant Vigilance.” Harry nodded towards Moody. “You should tell him that too when he wakes up.”
“He will probably kill me first.” Snape shrugged.
“Not likely.” Harry stepped up the edge. “He‘ll probably trust you now.”
Harry grinned and dropped off the edge.
Snape waited a long moment, long enough for Harry to reach the ground, then lowered his wand. McGonagall just looked at him. No student with late homework had endured so withering a stare.
“Well Severus, now that you have betrayed the order, what do you intend to do now?”
“I will go back to Dumbledore.” Snape stepped over to wake up Moody. “And I will try to explain.”
The auror blinked to life and grabbed his wand. He levered himself to his feet and looked Snape up and down with his piercing electric blue eye.
“Well well, your true colors at last.” Moody spat.
“Trelawney once told me my color was pale fuchsia.” Snape commented as he made for the door. “If I‘m showing that color you may want to get your eye checked.”
“My eye‘s fine.”
“Good, then I‘ll meet you at Headquarters.” Snape apparated away, the cold pressing abyss of void giving him a moment of peace before he dropped to his feet in front of the doors. Three pops behind him told him the other order members had followed.
“Don‘t do that again you slime.” Moody growled, wand out. “If you try to apparate again I‘ll assume you‘re trying to escape.”
Snape took three steps, into the grand hall.
“There.” Snape raised his hands. “Now I can‘t escape.”
“I don‘t trust you.” Moody shook his head. “Give me your wand.”
“No.” Snape turned towards the main hall and walked calmly. Surprisingly he felt calm, he was comfortable. He was sick of being Dumbledore’s lapdog, and now he had finally acted on it.
He pushed the double doors open and found something he didn’t expect. The whole order was there, lining the walls. Dumbledore had called a meeting, to discuss Harry being back. Snape stopped, his arms crossed and the three following him walked past into the room. Tonks was still quiet, fading into the crowd, her hair unconsciously turning mute brown. Moody and Minerva walked straight up to the head of the table.
“You failed to catch Harry?” Dumbledore clearly suspected something. He was using the stare that used to pierce Snape to the soul, now it just made his eyes itch. “What went wrong Severus?”
“I decided that greater good could be served by letting him free.” Severus stood calm against the angry muttering that rose at that. He found Natalie’s eyes in the crowd,
I am tired of leashes.
You aren’t finished are you. It wasn’t a question.
I am not. I mean Dumbledore to know I am no longer... tame.
Well this should be fun.
Snape couldn’t help but smile.
“You think this is funny Severus!” Dumbledore had stood, his eyes flinty and hard.
“How dare you!”
How dare I? Snape snorted, this was the way things should be. He felt more comfortable with everything against him.
“Snape this time you have gone too far.”
Oh good, if you’re going to be this predictable this will go far easier. Snape just smiled.
“Do you have nothing to say!”
“No. I have nothing to say.” Snape kept his voice irritatingly cool “The only explanation I have you will not accept. And I cannot formulate one you will because you I do not know what you want.”
“I want someone I can trust!”
“No you do not. You trust no one. You never have. Not with any secret worth knowing. You are a closed system, no one is told anything.” Snape glanced around the office at the other order members, practically everyone was there. Everyone there to witness his humiliation, that was what Dumbledore wanted anyway. If Snape had his way it wasn’t going to happen like that. “None of these people know anything do they.”
“I am speak-”
“You‘d think that would bother them.” Snape continued. “You‘d think one of them would worry about you.”
“Each of them thought another had your ear. Minerva thought Lupin, Lupin thought Moody perhaps. I don‘t know who Moody thought. But none of them did, none of them know.”
“No man is an island.” Snape smiled, after all these years he knew how to get to the old man. “No man is an island unless he makes himself so.”
“Severus I will not listen to-”
“You will listen. You can‘t not.” Snape shook his head. “Something has frozen you. That is what you do isn‘t it? You shrink, like a turtle. Back into your shell.”
“And what is my shell?” Dumbledore growled with uncontained rage and frustration.
“Your past. Your reputation.” Snape sniffed. “The last war, your glory days. Ha ha... you have retreated into repetition and now? Now you are paralyzed by it. We are not fighting this war, we are reliving it.”
“You have made it clear what you think about-”
“Shut up.” Dead silence. Snape folded his arms, grinning faintly. Behaving like Harry was fun. “I am talking now and you will listen. You are paralyzed by something. Guilt I would guess. I don‘t know of course, no one knows, but I would... well... safely assume that it is guilt. Everyone is motivated by something, we each have something that makes us... tick. You have guilt, great swirling pools of it. In every pore of you, in every facet of your mind. It‘s been there since the first time I ever saw you, I didn‘t recognize it then of course, but it was there. By the time I came to work for you I was old enough to recognize it. Something in your past, in your present too, fills you with a festering remorse. And it just gets worse and worse, makes you doubt yourself, makes you think you are never worthy. Makes you turn down the position of minister for magic. Over and over again. I know what made you like this, you think I would work for you and not investigate your past. You know I am more careful than that. You must have known that I knew. You must have known that I had found out about Kendra.”
Dumbledore froze, every tendon tensed. Snape breathed a sigh of relief in his mind. He had not known for sure, not until that moment. He still didn’t know really, not what had happened in that room. That secret would probably be taken to the graves of the men concerned. No matter, Snape could gloss over the details.
“It was there in the first war.” Snape continued, his harsh voice the only sound in the packed hall. “Back then it was... helpful. It made you careful. It made you weak but... it made you careful. I do not understand what has happened since then, perhaps it is as Harry says and you are simply senile, but it is worse now Previously guilt made you careful, sensible. Now it makes you useless. Useless and broken. You are no longer the famous Albus Dumbledore, you are a fractured version of him.”
“Something destroyed you.”
“I don‘t know what it was.”
“It must have been something terrible.” Snape smiled slyly, letting his words sink in. Weakening. “Whatever could it have been? You don‘t have another sister...”
Darkness falling, falling everywhere. My fault, always my fault. I shouldn’t have put him there, no right I had no right. I condemned him, his death. My one charge. Failure. No. Must be done. Hope. Death. Failure. Truth shrouded so deeply. So deep it hurts. The truth would break us all. But even without we are doomed.
It is all a lie and we are all doomed.
Everything you know I told you.
Everything you know is lies.
Snape tore his mind away, shaking. He fell to his knees on the floor, the horror, the confusion, filling him. Dumbledore had fallen too, back into his chair. The old mans face twisted in pure agony. To keep a truth locked inside for nine years only to have it roughly ripped from you? It must have felt like his heart had been torn out. Snape shook his head, it could not be true, it couldn’t be. But behind the dark mutterings of Dumbledore’s mind, behind the aching remorse the real memories hid. He had pushed them deep, as if trying to forget them but they were there. They were impossible to forget. Snape knew he never would. The magnitude of what the old man had done hit him and he doubled over, vomiting onto the cold stone floor.
He felt hands on his shoulders. Natalie. He reached up for one and grasped it, holding on to something real as parts of his universe fell apart. He tried to stand and found he needed Natalie’s help to rise to his feet. His legs felt like water, his feet like led. He tried to make his mouth work, things needed to be said. Something needed to be said.
“How dare you?” Predictable, but Snape could think of nothing better. “How could you do that? To a child!”
“It... was necessary.” Dumbledore’s voice was barely a murmur, a faint whisper in the air. “It had to be done. It had to be done. It had to be done.” Dumbledore mumbled that phrase over and over like a prayer.
“Necessary?” Snape found his tongue and used it to growl. “No. No it was not. Not even you believe that.”
“BE SILENT!” Snape snapped, the headmaster cringed back as if struck. “I am leaving Dumbledore. I am going to help Harry. To find him and help him, and you will let me. You have no right to have anything to do with that boy. You have no right.” Snape turned towards the door, but stopped as his eye fell on Lupin.
“And you.” Snape sneered. “You... for going along with him. For keeping it a secret. For treating Harry the way you do because of something that was none of his doing. Something that was done to him. You... you are a monster. One that has nothing to do with the moon.” Snape turned away and hobbled from the room, leaning heavily on the small woman beside him.
“Severus!” Dumbledore called after him, suddenly sounding scared. “You will tell no one! Surely even you can see that this must remain a secret!”
Snape kept walking, not trusting himself to speak. They reached the door and he stiffened, his heart felt like it had a thousand tiny hooks in it, each one attached to a weight.
“Severus?” Natalie murmured beside him. “You need to go home, I‘ll take you-”
“No. Not home. Hogwarts.” Snape shook his head. “Hogwarts first.”
“Alright.” She didn’t argue, she knew when his mind was made up. There was a short, sharp chime and the woman he was leaning on had blond hair and pale white skin. Of course, she was supposed to be dead. Trust her to remember details even at a time like this. They stepped outside the boundary of the wards and apparated, the cold and pressing void once more enclosing him.
He stepped out himself onto the grass before the gates and allowed himself to be led up the long path to the castle. Corridors passed and Snape realized he was being led to his quarters. Good. The walls are warded so no one will hear. As they reached the door Snape pushed it open and went directly to the liquor cabinet. He poured himself a whisky and drunk it down, wincing at the burn in his throat.
“Ghost Myrtle Henderson.” Snape called out softly. Ghosts could always hear their names. A few moments later the shadowy shape of Moaning Myrtle sunk out of the ceiling.
“Why did you call me?” She asked impudently. “I don‘t answer to you.”
“I called you because the house elves report to Dumbledore as do the other ghosts. I need these words to be private.” Snape snapped quickly. “I need you to bring professor Michelson down here and I need you to tell no one.”
“You can’t order me ar-”
“It is about Harry.”
“Oh. Oh...” Myrtle nodded fervently and shot back up through the stone. Snape turned to Natalie, now back to looking like her old self, waiting patiently.
“You don‘t have to tell me.” She said understandingly. “I understand if it‘s something you want to keep to yourself. After all Dumbledore-”
“Was wrong.” Snape cut her off. “And I will tell you. If nothing else I need your help to make sense of it.” Snape took a deep breath and began explaining. He could have just given her the memories but he didn’t want her to get the shock he had. It didn’t actually take that long to explain, in the end it was so simple. When he was finished she just sat there, staring at him. As if willing him to jump up and yell ‘fooled you!’, but knowing he would not.
“This... this changes everything.” She said breathlessly.
“It changes nothing.” Snape gritted his teeth. “We still need to help Harry.”
“You‘re right, we still do. But it changes everything else Severus. Everything else. You cannot deny that it does.”
“No. No I cannot.”
They fell into silence as the door was pushed open. Markus Michelson strode in, looking around the small room quickly.
“The ghost said this was about Harry.” He said, still glancing around as if Harry would spring from a sideboard. “Do you know where he is?”
“No, but I have... I have left the order to search for him. To help him with what he is trying to do. If I can.” Snape fixed the other man in the eye. “I know you‘ve been teaching him. I would appreciate your help.”
“Well finally!” Michelson threw up his arms. “I was beginning to think I was the only one in this place with my head on straight.”
“You are not far wrong.” Snape shrugged.
“So what does this make us?” Natalie smiled. “The order of the Kneasle?”
“The order of the Nundu more like.” Michelson cracked his knuckles.
“You know, I think it makes us marauders.” Snape smiled faintly. “James Potter must be spinning in his grave.”
Half of my reviews seem to have disappeared... very sad... :(
You all have to review twice now to make up for it. If you do leave a review then a fairy will visit you while you sleep and sprinkle fairy dust on you. The fairy dust won’t do magic or let you fly or anything but it’ll be very pretty.
Harry Potter and the Changeling Child: Chapter 5: The dark market
Harry travels to find information.
This reporter has some shocking news. News that will strike you, good reader, to your very core. Harry Potter has been declared a dangerous vigilante by the ministry. Yes, Harry Potter the-boy-who-lived, is a murderer. According to ministry officials Harry has been responsible for at least six deaths and possibly more!
Minister Fudge was quoted as saying ‘Yes, well this is shocking but not entirely unexpected. Just look at his actions during the Triwizard Tournament, the boy stole a ship for Merlin’s sake. He’s always been a loose cannon that boy has.’
This announcement came at the same time as his official expulsion from Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry.
The marauders looked at each other along the long table in the great hall. None of them said 'Is this a joke?' or 'No way' or anything naively childish like that. They were past that. They had all known, on some level, that this was possible. Maybe even inevitable.
"Changes nothing." Fred was the first to speak. "It's all bollocs so it changes nothing."
"This is crazy! Do they think we're stupid?" Ron was almost spluttering in anger. "No one's gonna believe any of this!"
"I almost wish people did." Hermione was shaking her head as she peered down at the front page article.
"What! You want people to believe Harry's a-" Ron rounded on her, about to let loose, but Ginny held up a hand to bring him up short. He was still fuming though and said, more reasonably. "Maybe you should explain that comment."
"Because no one will believe it Ronald." Hermione bit her lip worriedly. "Or at least many people won't. And people will blame the ministry. People will hate the ministry for attacking their hero."
"Remember the riots last year?" Padma said darkly. "Imagine that. Except much worse."
"Oh..." Ron's face fell. "I guess that is bad."
"It changes nothing." Malfoy said sharply. "Not really. We all knew this was a possibility."
"Right," Ginny nodded, putting on her leader face. "He's right. All this does is make what we're doing even more urgent."
They all nodded, they had been training ever since they had got back to hogwarts a month ago.
His description has been given to every ministry law enforcement official and hit wizard. His position on the ministry's wanted list is only a few places short of the known death eaters!
According to the ministry Harry's M.O. is to use poison to do his dirty work. A poison there is no known antidote to.
Harry's description is known to every wizard and witch alive but you should be aware that he may be in disguise.
"This is Dumbledore's doing." Natalie shook her head as she slid the paper over to Snape. Michelson had already flicked his copy closed and was staring at it angrily, as if blaming the paper itself. Snape sighed, he had already read the offending article.
"Dumbledore undoubtedly had a hand in it." Snape tried to stop his ire rising to the surface. Keep it under wraps, save it for when it was needed. "Perhaps he thinks he can scare Harry back to him."
"Then he doesn't know Harry." Michelson stood and began pacing angrily, obviously he felt no need to keep his ire under wraps. "This'll just make Harry even more sure that everyone's against him!"
"Undoubtedly." Snape flicked through the rest of the newspaper. "At least there is some good news..."
Harry may be active in Leeds. Yesterday the ministry was handed an anonymous tip that led them to a house there that had been converted to house dark creatures. No death eaters were caught (perhaps the bodies are hidden elsewhere!) but the basement was a nest of lethifolds, swarming in the darkness in numbers never before seen on British soil. I do not need to tell you, good reader, that if they had been unleashed they would have caused untold destruction. The lethifolds have been disposed of by the ministry.
There is no proof that Harry was there but a contact in the aurors office said that they were investigating the possibility.
Harry is to be considered as dangerous as any death eater. Perhaps more so.
Harry dumped the paper in a trash can. It didn't matter anymore. He coughed roughly, clutching at his stomach. It didn't matter if the ministry caught him so long as he did what he had to do first. What the hell did he care what everybody else thought? It just meant he had to be more careful.
Harry shoved off the wall and flicked his hood up before walking off down he alleyway. There was still work to do.
"Is it true?"
Ginny turned at the sound, the angry and forceful sound. The marauders spun with her, almost in synchronicity. Cho Chang stepped back fearfully. In her defense the marauders now numbered eleven, filling the hallway with uniform anger. They had also all drawn their wands at the same time as she spoke, in response to the possible threat.
They must have truly looked like an army.
Cho had frozen in place, anger turned to stunned silence. Ginny stepped forward.
"Of course it's not true." She said simply. "How can you even ask that?"
"I just..." Cho swallowed, fear still flickering across her face. "Is Harry Ok?"
"We don't know."
"Where is he?"
"We don't know."
"Does he need help?"
"We don't know. We're trying to help him." Ginny said curtly. She was beginning to get tired of Cho's stupid questions. Ginny turned to leave when Cho broke in,
"Well I want to help too!" Ginny felt a little mental groan. That was just what she needed, a complaining pretty-girl in the ranks. A constant irritation at best, a liability at worst. Cho went on, "I'm older than you, and I'm a Ravenclaw. I must know lots of spells you don't know yet! You should let me join."
"No you don't you arrogant stuck-up..." Ginny clamped her mouth shut and took a deep calming breath. "This isn't the bloody gobstones club. You can't just join on a whim. We're training to fight, really fight. Fight death eaters."
"I know that." Cho looked down her nose arrogantly. "If you can do it then I can too."
"You don't understand! You..." Ginny gritted her teeth tight together again before turning to the marauders. "Vote. All of us. I vote no."
The marauders glanced about between them. Some of them had obviously been thinking of voting yes before she made her feelings so abundantly clear. After some embarrassed shuffling Draco stepped forward, eyeing Cho up and down silently. Ginny felt another spurt of bile rise in her gut.
"You accept the fact that you could die?" Draco asked flatly. Cho nodded, her eyes wide. Draco looked into her eyes for a moment, Ginny thought she heard him mutter something under his breath. Draco cocked his head to the side and asked another question. "Do you accept the fact that you have to take orders from Ginny?"
YES! Take that you bitch! Ginny was shocked at the level of glee her subconscious threw up at that question. If her subconscious was happy with the question, her entire brain grinned when Cho grimaced and nodded.
"Fine." Draco shrugged. "We need more people. I vote yes. If she doesn't work out we can always make her leave."
"We vote yes." Fred said, shrugging. His twin added, "Sorry Ginny."
"I... yes." Parvati nodded, a little hesitantly.
"No." Padma shook her head, earning her a shocked glance from her sister. "We don't need her. No reason to take on another project when we don't need her."
"Look just put your hands up." Ginny said tiredly. "Hands for no?"
Three hands rose, herself, Padma and Hermione. Ginny's stomach dropped, this didn't look good.
Five hands were raised. Ron had followed his older brothers. Ginny turned to silent three remainders.
"Neville, Anna, Terry?" Neville shifted uncomfortably and the Baker twins looked at the floor. "You need to vote."
"I don't want to vote." Neville said quietly.
"And we're new." Anna shrugged. "We'll let you decide."
"You see!" Cho said triumphantly. "I'm in!"
Ginny turned slowly, it was done. Time to make the best of it.
"Fine. Meet us here after lessons today."
"Today? But I've got quidditch practice."
I know. Ginny didn't say it, but she so wanted to. "This is more important than quidditch. We all understand that. You need to."
With that she turned and strode away. She hoped Cho wouldn't turn up tonight. That would really make her day.
Ginny survived herbology with a book of curses propped up against a plant pot. She did the same in Defense, professor Michelson was being oddly blind to the transgressions of the marauders. After the lessons were done she slammed her books away and dashed for the door. She ran for the meeting place but slowed down before she got there. She wouldn't come all covered in sweat and breathing hard. She wouldn't give Cho the satisfa...
Cho wasn't alone.
Ginny stopped with the marauders a few paces away from the newcomers. Lucy Kingston stood by her Ravenclaw friend with her boyfriend, Joshua Split, standing on her other side. The two ex-Slytherin Gryffindors, Vanessa and Elizabeth stood in front of him, eyeing Malfoy warily. It irked Ginny that all of them were here. It irked her more that they were probably the people she would have chosen to admit to the marauders herself. Stupid Cho.
"You told them." She tried to make her voice come out icily angry, hoping it didn't just sound peevish. "You told all of them. What the hell do you think-"
"I don't tell them!" Cho interrupted her. "Everyone in the school is talking about the news about Harry, and everybody knows you lot are doing something secret. They just..."
"We eavesdropped." Split interrupted. "We want to help Harry too."
"This is getting ridiculous." Padma muttered from the depths of the marauders.
"We heard what you asked Cho." Split went on. "And we understand the risks. Lets face it, if you trust him," Split jerked his chin towards Malfoy. "You have to trust us."
"I don't have to trust any of you." Good, that sounded like Harry. "Listen I don't care what you say. We're going to train now. If you can keep up you can stay, we don't have time to slow down for you."
"Fine with us... madam sergeant." Split added sarcastically.
"Idiots." Ginny muttered as she led the amassed hordes off down the corridor.
Malfoy stopped and turned towards Split. The older boy had halted them just outside the entrance to the marauders attic, everyone else was already inside.
"Yes?" Malfoy said evenly. "Can I help you?"
"I just want you to know we're here for Harry." Split said challengingly. "We don't trust you. We don't forgive you."
"You're here for the same reason I am then."
"Whatever." Split shook his head. "God knows why she trusts you. Let alone... well you know."
"I know what?" Malfoy looked around in confusion. "She who?"
"You don't know?" Split almost seemed to smile. "Idiot."
"I expect she'll let you know in her own time."
Harry pushed his way out of the old shop he had flued into and a blast of heat hit his face. He dragged a broad brimmed hat out of his bag and pulled it low over his eyes. Ah, that was better. His coat and it's various enchantments would have kept his body cool but it would have looked incredibly conspicuous here. He winced in the harsh light and shucked his bag up on his shoulders before setting off along the dark tarmac street.
Muggles walked past him without a second thought, jabbering to each other in French. The accent was very different from what he was used to but that was only to be expected. Harry had learnt French in Switzerland and only spoken it to the students of Beauxbatons. Harry idly wondered if his French had a Swiss accent or an English one.
No matter, he was in Marrakesh, thousands of miles from France or England. He would stand out as a foreigner whatever he did. No point trying to blend in with the locals, much better to just look like another stupid tourist. There were one or two others around. Harry picked up his pace as he crossed the street and into the souk.
Why is it that I always find myself in mazes? Harry thought to himself chuckling as he skirted around a stall of vegetables and slid through the crowd of shoppers. The muggle souk was bad enough, a gigantic warren of streets and alleyways full of shops and market stalls selling everything from spices to electronics. Harry kept on an unerring course through it, it wasn't his destination.
Hopefully he knew where his destination was, his information was sketchy at best.
Harry came to the stall he wanted, a dark hole in the wall selling decrepit and moth eaten clothing. He took a black t-shirt with a star on it off the rack and glanced at the aging shopkeeper. There was a barely perceptible nod. Harry stepped behind a screen, a rough changing room, and pulled the curtain shut. He held the shirt up and tapped the star twice. With a sharp groaning the floor began to grind slowly downwards.
Harry tried not to touch the sides of the stone passageway as the opening at the top got further and further away. Ten meters... twenty.... thirty.... forty- clunk. Harry snapped to attention as the floor stopped descending. The stone in front of him split apart slowly, light spilled in, and air. The smells... every scent imaginable, burning, animals, food of every kind, incense made of spun lightning, every scent a wizard with no regard for the laws of chemistry could create hung in the air as Harry stepped out of the dark entrance into the under-souk, the dark market.
Knockturn alley had nothing on this place.
Harry looked up at the ceiling a far above, mosaics kaleidoscoped over the rounded surface, changing every moment. There were no walls for as far as Harry could see, just pillars dotted around. In no pattern Harry could see. Every one as wide as an oak, twisted and gouged and splaying up into that fantastic ceiling. Disappearing into it. And down at ground level? It was indescribable. Every kind of shop, every kind of stall. Some sellers just sitting of a mat, arrays of bottles out in front of them. Others had displays that looked like insane and un-feasible pop up books, everything spilling out of everything else. The noise was deafening, worse than up above because the noise of sparking spells and fuming potions was added to the general noise of people, and there was the occasional screech as another shopper was brought down by one of the entrances.
There was no finding your way in this place. Not unless you grew up down here. Harry scanned the area while walking calmly forwards. Many stalls had tall flagpoles to identify them from far away, he was looking for... ah. Harry spotted the flag he was looking for and headed for it, surreptitiously checking his disguise as he did so. Harry flicked a black robe out of his bag and threw it over his shoulders. Like this he looked like about thirty, maybe more, with long black hair and a deep scar on his cheek. Threatening, but not obvious.
Harry smelt his destination before he got there. The smell of animals and animal dung beating out the other odors more and more the closer he got. He came to an open place in the market, a place where the stalls had been pushed aside to make room for rank upon rank of cages. Harry recognized some of the creatures in them, others were a mystery, all he gave a wide birth. The cages seemed almost stupidly sturdy, surely they used unbreakable charms. Surely they did...
Harry felt himself edging away and forced himself to calm down. He looked into one of the cages, a monstrosity made of whole I-beams, and saw the eye of a dragon staring back at him. Somehow they must have stopped it flaming, they must have. Harry stepped calmly up the rough desk at the end of the cages. It was surrounded by bags of what looked like some sort of feed. An ordinary bird cage sat on the corner with a small golden bird fluffing its feathers. The heavily bearded and mustachioed man sat behind it looked up as he approached.
"Yes?" He asked in easy English. "Are you look for something?"
"My name is Jack Caiman. I have come for you to tell me the progress of an order." Harry pulled back his sleeve, revealing the dark mark. The shopkeeper recoiled, glancing about fearfully.
"Put that away!" He gestured wildly. Harry calmly rolled his sleeve back down.
"You have nothing to fear." Harry said airily. "Not while you do the dark lord's work."
"Why you come here?" The man's eyes were still shifting nervously. "All on schedule."
"There have been some problems at the other end."
"Not my fault." The seller shook his head. "Got them safe to you. You lose them after it not my fault."
"Of course not." Harry smiled in an uncomforting way. "You mistake me. I merely meant that we have reason to need to make sure this delivery goes smoothly. There can be no mistakes. You understand."
"Of course, of course." The man nodded rapidly. "Do not worry. You can tell your master not to worry. Everything is fine."
"Where are the creatures now?"
"They are on ship." The man shuffled back to his desk and sat down. "Loaded on two days ago."
Damnit, Harry cursed inwardly. It would have been so much easier if they were still on dry land.
"Tell me their course." Harry leant down threateningly. "My master is thinking of sending some people to ensure there are no... mistakes."
"No mistakes." The man nodded again, dragging a map out of a drawer in his desk. "No mistakes."
Harry smiled, people were so stupid when they thought you were going to kill them.
Harry dropped back onto British soil and immediately flued again to stave off any pursuit. He walked the last long walk to the abandoned house he was staying in and pushed the door open. It was dark inside, the windows covered by anti-vandal plates put up by the police. It was empty , not even a chair when he had first arrived. But it was clean and the water was still running. Harry slouched down against the wall and collapsed. Long day. He reached over and picked up a bottle of pep up potion. He uncorked it and let some slosh into his mouth. This was his second dose today. It was growing harder to keep going... the sickness...
Harry shook his head, no use dwelling on it. Back to work. He spread the maps out in front of him on the floor and roughly arranged them out into a rough match to the coast of Africa and Europe. The maps were seriously old, like everything else wizards had, and some of the countries had the wrong names. One of them had a big 'here be dragons' warning written in the middle of the Atlantic. Knowing that it was a wizard map it might well be true.
Harry sighed as he looked at the times that were written on different checkpoints on the map. The ship was old too, or looked it. The man had sketched a rough drawing of it. It resembled nothing more than a giant wooden brick with small sails that surely could never propel it too fast. Of course it would be propelled by magic, if not it would just be stupid, but it would still take almost a month to come up from Africa. Could be take it in the middle of the ocean? Harry shuddered at the thought. Besides the coursing fear at the very thought it was impractical to boot. How would he even get on board the ship? How would he even find it on the blank featureless sea?
Harry trawled over the maps again, was there any place where it came close to land? Was there any... ambush point?
Oh of course! There's this big tree in the middle of the ocean that you can hide behind. Sharks use it all the time to catch seals.
Harry sat back tiredly, this was going to be harder than he thought. His eyelids felt so heavy... sleep...
Harry glanced around, he was in a house. A fire crackled warmly on the hearth, throwing faint shadows on the clean blue walls. The pictures on the walls, a redheaded woman, a man with a familiar face. Harry shook his head, it was a dream. He had had it before. He walked towards the door and pushed it open hurrying out of the house and into the neat garden. He glanced back, the cottage was as it always was. The cottage at Godrics Hollow. Harry shuddered, every time his dreams put him in this place he had an undeniable urge to leave. It was like putting your hand in a bucket of wriggling worms, a crawling sensation over his entire skin. And yet his dreams brought his back here again and again and again.
Harry hugged his arms to his chest. Maybe this would be one of the good nights, the nights when he managed to escape. There was a forest out there somewhere, a forest of apple trees, their blossoms filling the air. When he could find that in his dreams he slept well, he slept comfortably. But for every one of those there would be one of the bad ones, when the house kept drawing him back. He didn’t even want to think about what had happened once, when the river had come for him.
Harry pulled himself together with a force of will. Those apple trees weren’t going to find themselves. He was about to set off when a fluttering sound reached his ear. Harry spent a second wondering if it was some new unpleasantness the dream was throwing at him before he realized it was coming from outside.
Harry woke with a start and was on his feet in a moment, wand in hand. He relaxed when he saw that the sound was coming from a small white bird trying to squeeze in through the bottom of the window. The bird twittered then flickered back outside. It took Harry a moment to realize it had left something behind, a small folded piece of paper.
Interesting. Especially considering no one should be able to contact me here.
Harry stood and hesitantly poked the paper with his wand. It did nothing. He prodded it again. Still nothing. He flicked it on the floor and folded it open with the end of a fork. He bent down and read it without touching it.
I once told you to follow your own path if you thought it was right. You seem to have taken that advice to heart. I cannot and will not say that your choice is wrong, it may be, it may not be, I do not know. But you cannot destroy yourself for the sake of this battle. Do not. Your friends worry about you. They are as I write this working to help you. Training as hard as you ever did. You are not alone no matter how much you fight to make it so. There are people that will suffer if you die, even if you take Voldemort with you.
I can not offer you any information about Voldemort's plans or whereabouts. I am constrained by the rules of my order. I would break them for you but it would do no good. I would be found out long before I could divine anything for you.
The only help I can give you I have already given. I wish I could do more Harry, you must believe that.
Remember to wear the pendent.
DO NOT DIE.
Harry picked the small piece of parchment up carefully and slipped it into his breast pocket. His hand stayed there a moment longer, pressing it into his chest, before he took a deep breath and let it out.
Do not die.
He did not intend to, but it had always been a possibility. And no matter how much people would suffer if he died they would suffer more if Voldemort was left alive. Harry had a strong urge to take the missive back out and read it once again, or maybe twice or three times. But no, he had work to do. Wait... something in the letter tugged at his mind. Maybe there was a way.
Malfoy snorted as Cho was sent flying across the room. The new recruits were trying to keep up, they were just failing. He turned away, they were useless, just a waste of time for the rest of them. The marauders themselves? Draco managed a small smile for that, they were progressing nicely. They could fight. They could fight as a team. They could fight on their own. They could fight like kneazles in a sack if they needed to. And they would need to.
He moved over to a pile of faded boxes and ran his fingers over a long, thin, grey cloak inside. The Weasley twins claimed they could turn them into temporary invisibility cloaks with some more practice. Draco didn't doubt it. The charms wouldn't last for more than a day or two but that was all they needed. They could just respell them afterwards. Shield charms graced the dark grey jackets in the next box, enough to deter minor hexes. In the beginning it had just been a way to carry the charms, the same as an amulet or a ring. Rings of invisibility were common enough even though they were hideously hard to make and protective amulets were ten a penny. But the clothes were easier for the Weasleys to work, and the dark grey made them inconspicuous at night. That had been the start, but now it almost seemed more... Like they were becoming an army in truth, they had uniforms. Parvati had wanted to stitch little Ms onto the clothing as a symbol of the marauders but Ginny hadn't let her. Waste of time, too conspicuous too. Draco smiled again, it didn't matter if the clothes were plain grey or pink with little snitches. Either way by the end they would have an group of invisible, shielded, deadly fighters.
Invincible cutthroat bastards. Marauders to the core. Harry would have been proud. At least, Draco hoped he would be.
"Draco!" Ron yelled. "Break time's up get back here."
"I'm coming Weasley stop yelling." Draco gritted his teeth, all of his muscles hurt. Never mind. "Back to work."
"Stop. I need to talk to you."
The voice came out of nowhere. The marauders twisted towards it, wands out. The duels ceased, every eye widened in shock.
"I heard somebody was raising an army." Harry quirked an eyebrow. "I find myself in need of an army. Is this one for hire?"
"Hire?" George let out a laugh. "Harry this is your army."
"Good, I should get a discount."
The marauders broke and all began talking at once, it was a happy storm of sound with Harry laughing in the center. Draco stayed silent, he glanced over at Ginny, also staying back. She nodded to him, her mouth a hard line. She had realized too. Harry hadn't come back for a happy reunion. He wouldn't have. He had come because he needed them. This would be the first job of the army.
"Harry..." Draco cleared his throat. The green eyes of the boy who lived fell on him. "What is it you want the army for?"
"Oh... that." Harry reached into his bag. "Do you have a table?"
Draco pointed the way and Harry pulled a huge sheet of parchment out of his bag. Harry laid them down on the rough surface of the last surviving table in the attic. It looked like a giant copy of a map.
"There's a ship." Harry traced it's path along a long line on the map. "It's stuffed to the gills with dark creatures. Direct to the dark lord. Hundreds, including a lot that we really don't want him getting his hands on. It's not going to make port before Britain, it's going to be far out to sea. No portkeys, no flues, only way there is to fly."
"That's why you need us." Padma said thoughtfully.
"Yeah, kind of." Harry hung his head. "I can just about manage to fly in a straight line. Slowly. But out over water? With the wind and maybe storms and... and over water. And when I might have to make a quick exit? No. I need getaway drivers."
"I thought you wanted us to fight." Ron said, disappointedly. Harry's eyes narrowed, he opened his mouth but Ginny cut in.
"We're here for whatever Harry needs us for Ron." She snapped. "You should know that."
"Right." Ginny nodded sharply. Draco half expected Ron to salute. Ginny turned back to Harry. "What kind of dark creatures are we talking about?"
"Various kinds of nasty." Harry was looking between Ginny and Ron curiously. "Lots of creatures."
"Manticores?" Hermione added.
"Yes..." Harry looked at a list jotted at the bottom of the map. "Six of them."
Draco glanced at the list and let out a startled oath. They could not let this ship reach land. Even if they had to lose half the army to do it. The hellhounds had to be juveniles at least, no one could stuff six full grown ones into a ship. Unless it had been magically expanded. Which it almost certainly had. They could not let that ship reach land.
"We need to get on that ship." He heard himself saying, his voice a little breathless. "We could fly on, or... or..."
"Go onto it?" Harry let out a harsh laugh. "That would be pretty dangerous."
"Because of the creatures?"
"Because I'm going to sink it."
This is the last chapter of setup, I promise. From now to the end of the book is pure adrenalin-fueled plot.
I don't own Harry Potter. I do however own some cheese. Which is just as good.
"Sink it?" Hermione's voice was a shrill, disbelieving whine.
Ginny felt like slamming her hand up to her forehead. Of course Harry would want to sink the ship, it was the simplest, easiest, solution if you didn't care about the consequences.
"But... but... " Terry Baker raised his hand slowly as if he were in class.
"Yes unexpected-addition-1." Harry nodded pleasantly.
"Aren't there people on the ship?"
"Yes, but they'll be wizards, they can just apparate to shore. They won't be killed."
"How about the creatures?" Ron asked, scratching his head. "Won't they just swim to shore?"
"Damnit!" Harry clicked his fingers. "Foiled again! If only someone had stuffed them in big metal cages for transport. Then they'd sink straight to the bottom."
"How are you planning to sink it anyway?" Fred asked, eagerness clearly visible in his eyes.
"Well, I plan to blow a big hole in it underneath the water line. Then I'm going to put another big hole in it underneath the water line. And if that doesn't work I'm going to put a third-"
"This is a wizard boat I assume Harry." Draco interrupted. "Putting a hole in it may not be as easy as you think. It'll have all sorts of charms and protections."
"I can bypass them."
"Without the people on the ship realizing?"
"Yes." Harry folded his arms. "I have thought about this Draco. I have planned this."
The attic became silent again. Ginny could feel the cogs moving in people's heads. They were all thinking how far they were willing to go. The marauders... well they were probably in. The others? They had signed up to fight death eaters not commit acts of terrorism. How did she stand on this? On balance... with Harry. Those creatures could not be allowed to reach shore.
"We can't do this." Padma was shaking her head. "We can't sink it."
"You running away?" Harry was looking at her in horror. "You want to just let them release that kind of-"
"No of course not!" Padma interrupted him. "But you haven't thought of everything."
"Oh yeah? Well what have I missed?"
"The statute of secrecy." Padma looked down at the map, perhaps just to avoid meeting people's eyes. "If we do this they'll be this giant wreck with triple headed skeletons and they could float to the surface or get into the gulf stream or divers could find them. Not to mention that someone's going to notice a giant exploding ship off the coast. Even if we tell the ministry afterwards they can't manage this kind of cleanup, not on this scale. No one can. It'll be worse than Roswell. Keeping magic secret from muggles, the statute of secrecy, is the one thing both sides of this war agree on. If we break it then they're going to start breaking it and then we're going to be really screwed."
Harry leant back, rocking back on the balls of his feet. He bit his lip. Thinking. The marauders held their breath.
"Ok." Harry spun the map to face Padma. "Give me another option."
"We board the ship. Incapacitate the crew. Kill the creatures." Padma said definitively. "If I'm reading this right the ship only a dozen people on it. No death eaters. Most of them are just there to keep the animals in check. Shouldn't be too hard to stun them."
"And the animals?" Harry asked quizzically. "Some of them aren't easy to kill."
"The killing curse." Gasps rose from the army. "It'll kill everything on this list."
"Isn't it an instant life sentence?" Cho choked out.
"Only when used against humans." Padma replied calmly at the same time as Harry said,
"Only if someone finds out. But wouldn't any underage magic be detected.”
“Not in international waters.”
"And the ship?" Harry asked. "If we just leave it drifting won't that be against the statute of secrecy?"
"We leave the crew on it. They can get it so a safe wizard harbor."
"Hmm..."Harry folded his arms and looked at Padma appraisingly. "That... could... work. It would be more difficult, more risky... more fun... but it could work."
Ginny felt a grin. This was the almost like the old Harry back again. Sure they were planning an act of massive piracy rather than a prank but it was Harry back again.
"We can split up." Harry continued. "Send a couple of people down to the water to wait. The rest of us go in. If we can take the crew out and kill the animals we do. If not? We default back to my plan and the people in the water blow it to smithereens. We worry about the fallout later."
Ginny took a deep breath and halfway through realized that most of the marauders were looking at her. Her throat closed up and she almost coughed up her lungs. They were still looking to her, even though Harry was back. Harry was the general they all knew that, but maybe... maybe she was the sergeant or something.
"Who can swim?" It was literally the first thing that popped into her head. "Who can swim really well?"
Parvati's hand shot up instantly smiling, the two Baker children volunteered slower maybe still a little hesitant, finally Split shrugged and lacklusterly raised his arm.
"Four people." Ginny looked down at the map, at the little sketch of the ship. "We can put... two each in the water near the front and back."
"Prow and stern." Draco murmured. She glared at him.
"Near the front and back." Ginny continued. "Everybody else land on the front."
"On the back." Harry disagreed. "Here, in the steering bit with the wheel."
"Shut up. We land on the steery bit and take everybody out quickly." Harry pointed at Draco. "You stay there and keep the ship on course. You can do that? You know the right names for the steery wheel and the buttons and stuff. Yes. Good. You stay there, the rest of us go down to the cabins and stun everybody, kill the animals. Leave. We keep the brooms handy so that if something goes wrong we miko the swimmers and fly out of there."
"Sounds like a plan." Ginny nodded.
"Right." Harry reached over and drew a big cross on the map over a lighthouse, right down on the south coast of Cornwall. “I will meet you here.”
“Meet us?” Ron scratched his head.
“The ship‘s not reaching us for another month.” Harry shrugged. “You don‘t expect me to hang around here the whole time. Dumbledore‘s out for the day but I think he‘ll notice if I start appearing on his little map.”
“You thought I was back.” Harry finished for him. “Well I‘m not. There‘s still death eater‘s out there. Still work to be done. Train up, be ready, and I‘ll meet you there. Keep the map, I‘ve got copies. But don‘t let anyone see it. Goes without saying. And look up how to fight all these things.” Harry turned towards the door. He disillusioned himself with a flick of the wrist, and a moment later he was gone.
“Well,” Malfoy said dryly. “I guess we have work to do.”
“Can you believe he came back?” Ron drew his knees up to his chest. He and Hermione were in the library, the actual library, not the attic. They were on research duty and had about eight billion books out in front of them on every kind of magical creature, trawling through them for the useful ones. There weren’t many. The Hogwarts library for some reason didn’t have books on how to slaughter caged animals. Ron thought it was useless, they had already decided to use the killing curse, but apparently Harry wanted to be prepared so...
“Hmm?” Hermione hadn’t looked up from the huge book in front of her.
“Can you believe he came back?” Ron repeated. “Harry.”
“Shush!” Hermione put a finger to her lips. “We‘re not supposed to talk about him where people could hear!”
“No one‘s listening.” Ron rolled his eyes. “We’re sitting on the floor in the restricted section of the library, at midnight, under a temporary invisibility cloak.”
“It‘s not an inaudibility cloak.” Hermione hissed.
“Hermione no one is here.”
“Just keep reading.” Hermione looked back down at her book. “I‘m not doing all this myself.”
“I’d have thought you‘d jump at the chance.” Ron smirked. “With all the training it must be ages since you studied anything.”
“Yes...” Hermione bit her lip. “And the owls are later this year...”
“What we‘re doing now is more important.”
“Yes. Yes I know.” Hermione shrugged noncommittally. “It‘s just... well there‘s the rest of our lives to think about. What about after the war ends? What then?”
“Look at it this way. If Voldemort destroys the ministry he’ll probably destroy the Wizarding Examination Authority too.”
“That doesn‘t help.” Hermione stared at him angrily. Ron felt his hackles rising, another fight brewing. But they couldn’t fight, not here.
“You‘re here because if you weren‘t here you‘d feel guilty for not being here.” Ron blurted. “And you could be somewhere else but you‘d be thinking about being here so it wouldn‘t even matter that you were there because you wouldn‘t be able to concentrate because you‘d be thinking about here and him and Voldemort will kill everyone. Even worse you‘d get bad grades because you‘d be feeling guilty.” Ron ran out of breath.
Hermione’s mouth hung open, mid yell. She opened and shut it a few times before coming out with,
“Shush. People will hear you.”
I won. Ron smiled as he flicked a random book open.
“I am disquieted Severus.”
Snape stayed silent. He could not think of a safe response.
“I should be winning this war.”
Still no safe response.
“And yet things are not progressing as well as they should be.” The dark lord was staring out into the darkness through a faded window. They were in another nondescript and abandoned building. Snape felt his skin crawl, he had been summoned alone. That was worrying.
“The ministry grows weaker every day.” Snape volunteered.
“It grows more fearful each day.” Voldemort tapped his fingers on the glass. “Fear can be my weapon, but it can also work against me. They retreat, they place more guards, they make it more difficult for me to reach what I seek. Do the order still keep a guard on the department of mysteries Severus?”
“Yes my lord.” For all I know they could have stopped, not likely though.
“At this point the easiest way to gain access to it may simply be to crush the ministry entirely.” He was still staring out the window. If Snape didn’t know better he would think the dark lord was worried.
“If you wish to crush the ministry perhaps we could use the imperious curse-”
“No!” The dark lord snapped. “No Severus, no more sly maneuvering in the darkness. No more subversion. I tire of it. I tire of it‘s inadequacy. I should not have to work from the shadows. Do you not think so?”
“I always work in the shadows Lord.”
“Yes... yes you do.” The dark lord narrowed his eyes. “The Potter boy is a problem.”
Snape gritted his teeth. He had to think fast to keep up with these lightning fast changes of pace.
“The Potter boy has always been a problem.” Snape said diffidently. “But he is just one person.”
“He has caused me a great deal of trouble for one person. I would once again order his death but... I fear it would do no good.”
“He wants to kill you.” Snape said, letting his mouth move as his mind worked. “We could set some kind of trap.”
“With your lord as bait?” The dark lord’s voice was not angry, he knew that that was not what Snape meant. This was actually what passed for banter.
“Of course not my Lord. I apologize.” That had been what the dark lord expected to hear.
“Is there any progress with the toxin Severus? The one that has been killing so many of our friends?”
“Not a great deal my lord.” Severus bowed his head. He had no trouble feigning shame at not being able to discover the secrets of the mysterious toxin. “It is very strange. I can not separate a single ingredient out. It is almost as if the poison was not brewed at all.”
“As if it came directly from a creature.” Though that was of course impossible. No known creature carried a toxin like this. “All I can think of is that perhaps someone has been breaking the decree against experimental breeding.”
“You do not think it was Potter?”
“It may have been.” Better to keep the dark lord guessing. “If he did not then we have two vigilantes against us.”
“Against us...” The dark lord seemed to roll the word on his lips. “Against us... people who are against me die. I have let this continue for too long. We have been forced back too much. It will cease now. I have decided. We will crush the ministry. We will obliterate them utterly. No subversion, no shadows, I will kill them.”
“Yes my lord.” Snape tried to work out how many death eaters were left. Surprisingly few. Harry had seriously cut into their numbers. Did they even have enough people for an assault on the ministry? Probably... they probably had enough. If the order helped though... if Dumbledore helped...
“We will wait for the shipment to arrive.” The dark lord said, almost to himself. “Then we will have the forces necessary.”
The shipment. The phantom shipment. None of the death eaters knew when it would be arriving. It was apparently too important.
“Yes my lord.” Snape bowed deeply. “We will need everyone for this to succeed. If I might ask where Barty Crouch is perhaps-”
“No!” The dark lord looked at Snape over his shoulder. The icy stare could have nailed oxen to the wall. “Crouch is doing what he has been told to. He will succeed, in time. He is one of the few I can trust. Him and you, Severus.”
You trust no one. Snape thought as he turned away. Now where have I heard that before?
Hermione held on tighter as the broomstick angled down. She was following the broom ahead of her but the lighthouse was already visible far below, sending out it‘s pulsing beacon across the night-time sea. The wind was hideously cold on her face and the dark lashings of rain kept spraying in through her hood. There couldn’t have been a worse day to invade a ship full of monsters.
The ground came up and she managed to land without falling. All around her she heard the rest of the army touch down. Well... most of the rest of the army... Of the new recruits only Split was there, lounging over his broomstick in his usual state of mild boredom. The others had been left behind, Ginny had decided they weren’t ready, weren‘t trained yet. Not that Split was properly ready either but he was only going in the water.
Hermione looked around. Harry was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he wasn’t here yet.
“You‘re late.” Harry faded out of nowhere, shocking the marauders. “Lets get on with this.” Harry kept glancing at the crashing waves nervously. He drew a large bottle out of his coat and took a deep gulp from it before shoving it back. "Pep up potion, didn't sleep well last night." Harry explained. Hermione tried to ignore the twin facts, one: that the bottle had been almost empty and two: that as Harry shoved it back in his pocket there had been the unmistakable chink of further bottles.
“Take these.” George broke the silence and stepped forward with a little M shaped pin and a small pair of blue tinted glasses.
“What the hell are these?” Harry squinted through the lenses. “Everything looks weird.”
“The pins are tags.” George explained. “The glasses can see the tags even under invisibility cloaks. This way we can keep track of each other.”
“Ah... nice.” Harry pinned the tag on his dark coat and dropped the glasses in a pocket. “I‘ll put them on when we get there.”
“They‘re your prescription.”
“I know.” Harry nodded. “Thanks. Who‘s broom am I sharing?”
“Over here.” Draco waved him over and Harry hesitantly flipped a leg over his broom.
“Well, we all know what we have to do.” Harry addressed the marauders. “Lets get this done before we get too wet.”
Draco’s broom shot into the air and Hermione reluctantly followed. Out over the water the wind was even worse if that was possible, she kept being buffeted one way then the other. The sea underneath a groaning grey sheet, a dull reflection of the sky. They were getting further and further from land. The occasional light of the lighthouse got more and more faint. She couldn’t see the flyers around her! She panicked for a moment until she realized how stupid she was being and slipped her blue lenses over her eyes. The little glowing sparks of the tags sprung into view, each one illuminating a little glowing blue ghost of a person. Like an outline in the darkness. Flying close, she was near the front. How did Harry expect to find the ship in this?
“ANGLE LEFT!” Was that Harry? The glowing shadows of Harry and Malfoy started to turn left. She turned to match them. What was he following? Intuition? Magic? Something he hadn’t told them about.
“I DON‘T SEE ANYTHING!” She heard Draco’s voice on the wind.
“IT‘S THERE.” Harry was hunched over on the broom, peering out over Draco’s shoulder. “WE’RE CLOSE! DROP DOWN!”
Hermione descended with the rest of them and shrieked with fear as the spray from the sea hit her legs. Surely they didn’t need to be this low? Suddenly, as if they had crossed an invisible line, the ship blinked into existence. A low slung behemoth, waves making it roll and pitch sickeningly. It looked ancient, all the wood was black with age and weather. A huge rectangular block, slowly crawling across the water.
She felt someone pass her and saw shapes flying off towards the prow and stern, keeping close to the water. Even with the lights on the ship they were still only glowing outlines. The cloaks! She pulled hers around herself and flicked the hood up over her face. She should have done that earlier. The rest of them followed until they were right up against the side of the hull. Harry leant off his broom to lean against the pitching wood. Removing the protective charms, Hermione forced herself to calm down as they hovered there just above the dark water. Suddenly there was a little pop and a small creak... the wards were down. Hermione picked out the raised back section, the ‘steery bit’. Where the rest of them were going. The brooms slowed to a crawl as they raised up the side. Absolute silence as they floated up onto the deck on the raised end section. No one was on deck, there weren’t even any lights.
Harry raised his arm and pointed to a small hatch. He moved over to it, whispered a silencing charm, then pulled it open and climbed inside. Draco went next, moving just as silently. They had worked this out too, The Weasley twins would go last to watch their exit. Hermione realized it was her turn snuck over to the hatch as quietly as she could. The stairs flattened out to a short hallway with the door to the bridge, then kept going down into the body of the ship.
The marauders were clustered around the door. Harry was crouched down looking at the lock, a look of concentration on his face. Hermione looked past him, down into the vast hold of the ship. Most of it was shrouded in darkness but she could just see the rows upon rows of cages down the side of the ship. The bars were rusted and ancient, reinforced with magic. But they looked like they were original to the ship... like they were built in. Which was ridiculous of course, unless...
Unless this used to be a slave ship.
Hermione shuddered despite herself. None of the others had realized, none of them would. Except for Harry they had all been wizard raised and he hadn’t been in school long enough. There was no point telling them, no reason to make this any creepyer than it already was.
The shadow that was Harry stood suddenly and put his hand on the door handle. What was he doing? This wasn‘t part of the plan! They were going to use gas under the door. What was going on? Hermione raised her wand, they had to stun everyone inside in a moment. Harry threw the door open unhurriedly. The sharp tang of blood filled the air. No one cast any spells. No one spoke. Harry slowly stepped into the bridge.
“Of course.” He said dryly, the first words spoken since they’d landed, spoken dispassionately while looking out over a room full of ravaged corpses. “Of course they’re loose. We‘re on a spooky ship at night full of man-eating deadly animals. Of course the animals are loose. I was thinking that perhaps they wouldn‘t be, that perhaps something would go right. Obviously I was overlooking the fact that god hates marauders.”
“What do we do now?” Neville murmured fearfully.
“Blow it.” Ginny growled under her breath. “Forget everything. Sink it now.”
“We can‘t.” Harry said angrily as he stepped over a body and stood in front of the main wheel. “At least not yet.”
“Why?” Parvati was glancing around fearfully. “Why not?”
“Two reasons.” Harry leant against the wheel tiredly. “One; the whole point was that the animals would sink in their cages, now they could swim to shore. Two; there are still three crew members alive, barricaded down in the hold where they can't apparate out.”
“How do you know?” Draco snapped suddenly.
“I know!” Harry snapped back. “We need a new plan. The creatures are mostly still in their cages, seems like it‘s just the manticores that got loose.”
“How do you-”
“I just know!” Harry rubbed his forehead tiredly, his eyes were closed. “There are compartment doors down below. If we can trap the beasts inside the hold, separate it off and ward it up good it‘ll be the same as a cage. Water gets in, animals don't get out. Just one problem...”
“What?” Ginny was eyeing the doors carefully, looking for anything trying to sneak up on them.
“The crew are down in that hold.” Harry took a deep breath and turned back towards the marauders. “Alright... this is what we‘re doing. I need four people with me down in the hold, It‘s too cramped for more. We go get the survivors, get out. The rest of you split up and watch the fore and aft doors. You lock them good the moment we give the signal.”
“Four‘s not enough.” Draco said immediately.
“I don‘t have time to argue!” Harry yelled. “You said you‘re an army this is what it‘s about! We need to do this. We need to do this. The four best. Your four best. Now.”
No one spoke, Hermione felt like kicking herself. Of course it wasn’t like old times. Of course this wasn’t the old Harry, it was definitely the new Harry. It always had been. Ginny cleared her throat,
“Draco, me, Hermione and Padma.” Ginny took a deep breath. “Ron, Fred, George, you fly over and man the other door. Everyone else watch this one. The signal is-”
“Me yelling to shut the bloody doors.” Harry interrupted. “No point being stealthy at that point.”
Harry moved slowly out of the bridge. Hermione steeled herself them followed. They stepped down the stairs slowly, the vast hold opened up in front of them. Surely it had been expanded.
“This way.” Harry whispered, pointing along a raised walkway. “Draco, watch our back.” Harry stalked forward, his wand out ahead of him. Hermione followed him. They passed a dark cage, inside it a gigantic black lump shifted near the back. Hermione tried to ignore it, the ones in the cages were the safe ones, it was the ones outside they had to watch out for. The cage ended and was replaced by another, six red eyes looked out from behind the bars. The three dog heads were pressed right up to the edge, watching them. Come to think of it the caged animals probably hadn’t been fed in a while. Suddenly the pitching and rolling of the ship seemed worse. If she fell into one of the cages...
She spread her feet further apart, trying to get more stable. This was awful, this was hell, and they were going in to save some stupid smugglers. Bad people! Hermione didn’t feel good for thinking like that. Not good at all. Harry suddenly raised a hand for them to stop.
“Get down.” Harry hissed. “One of them‘s coming. From up ahead. It hasn‘t seen us.”
Obviously it hadn’t, they were invisible. But how had Harry seen it? Hermione watched as Harry aimed his wand down the dark gangway, waited a long moment... and flicked it forward, muttering under his breath. The flash of green light was expected but still horrifying, flying into the darkness. For a moment it illuminated a rough lions mane and two shining eyes glowing green in the light. Then it snapped out and there was a dull thump like a body hitting the floor.
“One out of six.” Harry murmured, then shuddered. “So that was the killing curse. Felt like drinking nightmares.”
“Harry...” Padma began but Harry silenced her with a wave.
“It's just a tool.” Harry shook himself. “Just a tool. Just a tool. Come on, lets keep going.” Harry stepped forward, into the darkness.
Harry brought them to another staircase and quietly slinked down, his back pressed up to the wooden wall. As they crept down Harry held up a hand to stop again and dropped down to his knees.
“The other five are sleeping in there.” Harry pointed down the stairs. “Round the corner, right in front of the storage room where the crew are barricaded.”
Hermione didn’t bother to ask how he knew.
“Now the hall opens up just round the corner.” Harry sketched the curve of it with his hand. “We can hit them all before they even wake up. Draco, you kill the one up by the far left,” Harry pointed straight into the wall. "Ginny, near the left wall. Hermione get the one right next to it, closer to us. Padma you get the one right in the middle, I'll get the one closest to the stairs. Got it? Everyone ready?"
Hermione was gripping her wand hard, her palms wet with sweat. She didn't feel ready but she nodded anyway. They shifted closer towards the corner. Harry held his hand up, three fingers. Two fingers. One...
Harry swung out around the edge, his wand coming up, at the same time his knees bent down. giving the rest of them a better shot. Hermione jumped out as fast as she could, the room was pitch black! How was she supposed to-
"Avada Kedavra!" A blast of green light flew from Harry's wand, striking a dark shape on the ground and throwing the rest of the room into sharp shadows. Four sets of shining eyes perked up in the darkness. Each of them was exactly where Harry had said. Hermione aimed frantically,
"A... Avada Kedavra!" It felt like icicles were flickering down her arm, stabbing down her arm all the way down to her heart. Freezing deep into her chest, like terror. Then it was gone a moment later as the burning green light flew away, striking the manticore as it rose from the ground, throwing it back into the ground. At the same time she felt three more blasts of wind and flashes of dark magic fly out from beside her. A shattering crash of wooden splinters sounded and there was an angry inhuman roar. A shape unfurled like a spring and flew across the room towards them. Hermione felt her arm shooting up, too slowly! Too slow!
A shining white light flashed across the wood and there was a screech like a saw across glass. She felt a spray of dark blood cover her and a heavy shape flew past her, impacting with a heavy thump against the back wall. She turned to it, not breathing. It was a manitcore, or half of one. It was sliced in two, the wound leaking a sea of blood into the floor. She turned back. Harry was standing over the other half, his wand surrounded by a glowing white nimbus, extending out like a flare. Like a sword. He flicked it off and the room became dark again.
"Who missed?" Harry's voice was low and hard.
"I did Harry." Draco shook his head. "It was too far away, too little light. I saw the eyes, I-"
"Practice." Harry cut him off and turned away from them. "Practice hard." As he walked away one of the hellhounds in a cage began barking and biting at the bars. It could smell the blood. Hermione tried to ignore it, tried to remember that the bars were reinforced. But it was hard. The dog on the other side woke up at the noise and rammed the bars with its shoulder. There was a screech of metal and the dog fell back.
Harry ignored the gigantic cerberus and walked calmly through the dark room to reach the small door at the end. He thumped it with his fist.
"Hey!" Harry yelled. "Humans in there get out. We've come to rescue you, except we don't want to see any wands and you'd better have your hands up!" There was a scraping sound as if huge crates were being moved. The dogs kept scraping against the bars, biting at the wood. Hermione tried to keep calm... tried to...
Oh no. No no no no no!
"What?" Harry pushed the door open, revealing three disheveled and ragged men. "What is it?"
"Harry we need to go now!"
"Ok, ok. We got what we came for."
"NO! Harry the cages are built into the ship!"
"You released the protective charms on the ship!"
Harry's face fell like a popped balloon. His eyes shot wide.
"So those bars are just..."
"Heavily corroded iron."
"God hates us." Harry whispered. "God hates us... RUN!"
At the moment Harry yelled the left hellhound took a running pounce and shattered through the bars straight a him.
"Avada Kedavra!" Harry's wand had flicked up the instant it moved and the green light struck the massive muscled shape in the air. But it kept moving and fell like a stone onto Harry, like a mountain of black hair and sweating flesh. At the last moment he threw himself to the side and slid out from under it as it fell to the floor in a splintering explosion of wooden shrapnel.
"Well don't stand there run!" Harry yelled, pushing himself to his feet and waving them towards the door. He turned to the crewmen. "You too!"
The other hellhound had a bar in each mouth and was grinding them apart.
"Avada Kedavra!" Harry shot at it. The spell smashed one of the bars into rusty shards. "Screw that! Just run!"
Hermione spun and dashed up the stairs. Behind her she could hear more running feet and the hideous gnashing of giant jaws. Someone pushed her to the side and she saw one of the scrawny crew members making a break up the stairs. She picked herself up and threw herself forward as fast as possible. She glanced behind her, all the marauders were cannoning along behind her. Harry was bringing up the rear, sending pulses of green nightmares behind him.
They reached the passage. She could see the door! The wall exploded in splinters and four muscled arms reached out to grab her.
"Avada Kedavra!" The spell came easier this time, freezing her to the core as even as it threw the wendigo back through the wall. In a way it made it easier, it made her numb. She felt someone shove her forward and realized she had been standing still. She dashed towards the door, trying to keep away from the buckling bars of the cages all around her. They could smell the blood.
"Hermione what the hell is going on!" Parvati yelled from the side of the door as she hurtled through.
"Just close it!" Her throat felt raw. "Close it!"
Hermione scrambled away down the corridor before turning and looking back. The raged crewmen were already huddling on this side of the door just as Ginny and Padma hurtled through with Draco right of their heels. Behind them the hold was a hellish nightmare of churning flesh, every dark shadow seemed to have a crawling beast. Harry was still in the corridor, retreating slowly as he threw spell after spell at the roaring mass.
"Harry just leave it!" Draco yelled. "Get back here!"
Harry spun and dashed for the door, the darkness following like a wave. Suddenly the cage in front of him exploded outwards, dark hair and scarred flesh coming between the marauders and Harry. Wooden sides of the cage buckled and broke, the roof came with it, filling the air with splinters and the passageway with heavy wooden spars. It was blocked.
"Close it!" Harry's voice shook the ship, amplified by magic. "I'll get out the other way."
Hermione froze. No, they couldn't. She saw Ginny glance down the corridor, then up at Draco. They both nodded.
"Close it." Ginny ordered, her voice raw.
"CLOSE IT!" Ginny suited her words and flicked her wand at the heavy hatch, slamming it shut. "Hermione ward it!"
Hermione shook as she raised her wand. It took her three tries to properly seal the door up.
"Right, now get on the brooms." Ginny grabbed hers off her back. "We get to the other side of the ship and go in after Harry."
Of course! Hermione threw herself onto her broom. They could still go in and help him!
"You three with them!" Draco bellowed at the crew members, pointing at the Baker twins and Neville. "And stay quiet."
Hermione lifted off the floor and aimed up the hatch to the outside. The rain and wind hit her but she ignored them, they had to go help Harry! Suddenly the air was filled with a buffeting wall of sound. The night air was lit up with two twin eruptions of fire. Reflecting off the mountainous waves and painting them red like a sea of lava. Under her the ship lurched to the side, there was the sound of gushing water.
"Why did you blow it!" Someone yelled behind her. Hermione turned to see Ginny leant off her broom and grabbing Split by the front of his robe.
"I got the signal." The surprised boy shook his head. "I assumed it was you."
"What's going on?" Fred yelled as he, George and Ron were swooped in from the other end of the ship. "Did everyone get out?"
Oh Harry... we should have known.
Harry leapt from the top of the cage as it disappeared under the gushing water and grabbed the beam above him, swinging up onto it with all his strength. Something below him roared but he ignored it and dashed along the thin and shaking length of wood.
This was hell. This was his own personal hell. The water was coming in everywhere, gushing up through a thousand holes in the hold. And the creatures... Harry had had to order the hold sealed. If he hadn’t they would have broken free. They were everywhere down here, he was sure that if they weren’t trying to kill each other as hard as they were trying to eat him he would already be dead. In the water beneath him the dark head of a hellhound surfaced and gulped a barking breath before a crab like beast leapt from the shadows and slashed out it’s eye. They both disappeared back under the black water, stained with blood, in a foaming maelstrom.
He had to get out of here. Harry’s eyes frantically searched for some way... any way... out. The water was everywhere! The terror rose in Harry’s throat. He couldn’t think! Couldn’t breath! NO! NO! Stay focused!
Harry leapt onto the top of another shifting cage, ignoring the floating corpse in the water nearby. There had to be some way! His eyes searched frantically but all there was was crashing water and writhing flesh. Harry was struck in the back by a gush of water, knocking him down to the metal bars below. He spun around and the waterfall struck him in the face, terror blindsided him again but he threw it down again. The gushing water was coming from a... pipe? A hole? A... feeding hole! Harry threw himself to the wall and clambered up a heaving beam, the ceiling right above him, he flicked his wand out,
“Hammus Missus!” The spinning conjured chain lashed out and stabbed into the pipe. Harry grabbed to and prayed that Hollywood got some things right. He let go of the wall. He swung out into the spray of gushing water and screamed as it splattered over his head. He was thrown out the other side but he came back just as fast. “This is ludicrous! Arefacio!” The waterfall dried up and he was able to climb a few feet up before it began gushing again.
A squawking terror exploded from the darkness to Harry's left. His wand was occupied but Harry clawed a gun from his pocket and fired wildly at the feathered beast. He didn't stop shooting until it disappeared into the water below. Harry stuck the gun in his waistband and cast the Arfacio again. He was able to pull himself up another few feet before the water came again.
By the painfully slow stopping and starting he was able (just) to reach the pipe. He cast one more drought charm and reached as high as he could in the darkness, his fingers reached the edge. Harry dropped off the chain and pulled himself up with all his strength. The water struck his head just as he pulled himself up and beached himself on the pitching deck like a seal.
The ship was already mostly underwater, there was just the smallest, highest, portion left. Sinking fast. Where were the marauders? There! Up high!
“HEY!” Harry magically amplified his voice and shouted out over the water. “I‘M HERE!”
The brooms dropped like stones, shooting right at him. Draco braked to a stop right in front of his face.
“You idiot!” He yelled, reaching out and pulling Harry onto his broom. “You complete idiot!”
“Shut up and fly!”
The light of dawn was just creeping over the horizon when they finally touched down back on land, a rough stony beach. Harry staggered onto solid ground and tried to get his balance back. He turned to the three disheveled crewmen.
“You three are going to leave now.” He growled, raising his wand. “I don‘t care where you go. I risked my arse for you but it doesn‘t make you any less scum. Bare in mind that by failing to protect your ship you failed lord Voldemort, he‘s not going to be happy with you so if I were you I‘d go far far away. Right now.”
The three men broke and ran like scared rabbits. God knows where they ended up. Harry breathed out and turned back to the marauders.
“Good. That went well.”
“Well!” Padma let out a strangled cry. “Everything that could possibly have gone wrong did go wrong!”
“And despite all that we stopped the shipment and made it out alive.” Harry sat down on the hard ground and pushed the hair out of his eyes. God he was tired. “We have to assume that the odds will be stacked against us. We have to always bear that in mind, tonight was a good example. We have to be prepared for the worst case scenario, we met that tonight. And we did well tonight. We did, we really did. I‘m proud of all of you.”
The marauders all bowed their heads, they looked as tired as he felt. They were too tired to be proud right now. Too bad this wasn’t over.
“Here,” Harry drew his bottomless bag over and pulled a tent out of it. It raised itself with a tap of his wand and would fit half a house inside. “Get inside and get some sleep. We need to be ready in five hours.”
“Five hours?” Ginny asked pointedly. “What happens in five hours?”
“Phase two of the plan. In six hours will be when the ship was meant to come into port.” Harry grinned evilly. “There will be a group of death eaters, five of them, waiting to welcome them in a hidden port site. Hidden... rocky... enclosed... good place for an ambush.”
“We‘re ambushing them?” Draco asked disbelievingly. “Today?”
“Yes.” Harry pushed himself from the floor. “Today. I mean Voldemort to feel the double whammy of the loss of his creatures and his death eaters all in one fell swoop. I mean to put to put the heat on him, really turn up the threat level you know... The creatures were the main thing, couldn‘t let them reach land. The death eaters are just the icing on the cake.”
“Harry... are you sure?” Hermione stepped forward. “We‘re all tired already... we don‘t want any mistakes. Maybe we should let this one go.”
“No.” Harry shook his head. “We can‘t. We can‘t let this one go, or any of them for that matter. Now get on into the tent, you‘re wasting valuable resting time. I‘ll take the first watch. Go on, there are beds for everyone. Huge ones, this a really good tent.”
Harry settled back down on his rock as the marauders trouped inside the tent. Harry sighed, if they didn’t like phase two they definitely wouldn’t like phase three.
Review or a giant prehistoric dragonfly will choose you to be the host for it's parasitic larva.
The next chapter's a big one so brace yourselves.
Please perform these basic safety checks before reading this chapter
1)Make sure your chair is secure and steady so that if you faint you will not fall to the floor and risk head trauma.
2)Make sure you are not in earshot of any children so when you let loose with a string of expletives it does not reach their tiny ears.
3)Check your blood pressure. If it is significantly above average you may want to read this chapter in quick dashing distance of a defibrillator.
4)Lock away all small objects you could throw at your computer screen.
This, boys and girls, is the big one...
Snape felt his mark burn in the middle of a potions lesson. That was worrying, Voldemort had always been careful of maintaining his cover. The mark burnt harder and Snape had to grit his teeth as the pain shot up his arm. This was very worrying.
“Are you alright Sir?” A Slytherin first year. No one but a Slytherin would have dared ask him. Snape lurched to his feet.
“Pack up your things. The lesson is over.” He could not leave them unsupervised with potions ingredients. Snape hurried out the door, sending a rushed patronus to McGonagall saying that he had been called away suddenly. She would know what that meant. He felt compelled to at least keep the order informed, but he could not bring himself to contact Dumbledore directly. He sent a second patronus to Natalie and a third to Michelson for good measure.
He reached the main gate and stepped beyond the Hogwarts wards hesitantly. The tugging on his arm intensified and he let himself be pulled into the void by it, drawing him along until his feet touched ground. He glanced around, another dark place. A warehouse by the look of it, dust covered the wooden boxes stacked to the high ceiling. The rest of the death eaters were already there, standing in a rough circle. Only Bellatrix had kept her mask off, she usually did. Vanity no doubt. Vanity and a need to be seen. Snape stepped into his place in the circle and waited. He did not mask himself, he did not know why. Perhaps a whim.
But were they all there? Snape glanced back around the circle, only eight figures stood sentinel in there midnight robes. At the last meeting there had been fifteen. Snape had grown to the point where he could recognize each of the death eaters by shape alone beneath their masks. Who was missing? Dolohov, Corvidae, Avery Sr, Mulciber, the Carrows and Forneus. All death eaters that Voldemort could be said to trust, if he could be said to trust anyone. That all of they would be missing at the same time... it was very worrying.
"Do not worry yourselves." The voice of Voldemort came from the air between two stacks of crates. A moment later he himself strode out, his red eyes flashing first to one of them, then to another. "Your brothers will join us soon. And with them they will bring glad news. Wait my friends, wait with patience."
Snape shifted his stance. The shipment was here, that could be the only news that would put Voldemort in such a glad mood. Snape made ready to memorize any detail that he could glean when the seven death eaters appeared. Any tiny fact that might help to at least somewhat reduce the damage.
Reduce the damage... that was a joke. Reduce it from a catastrophe to a disaster.
He was broken out of his thoughts be a loud crack. He turned to see Forneus stumble forward from his apparition point. His black robes were streaked with mud and sand and were torn raged. He collapsed near the edge of the circle, his arms out entreatingly towards the dark lord.
"Master!" He gulped, his voice full of fear. "We were attacked. Spells out of nowhere, hundreds of them. We could not hold them back."
"What?" Voldemort whirled on the prostrate wizard.
"They were waiting for us. Waiting at the dock." Forneus ducked his head to the floor. "I was the only one to esc-"
"Look me in the eye!" Voldemort hissed, Forneus was dragged to his feet by an invisible force. "Look your Lord in the eye when you admit your failure."
"There was nothing we could do my lord." Forneus cringed. "They must have known about-"
Snape watched as the white haired death eater writhed on the floor. How had this happened? Not the order, he would have been able to tell if this kind of large scale operation was in the offing. The ministry... that was just laughable. So that left... Harry Potter. This was done by Harry Potter. Snape kept his face impassive as his stomach did cartwheels. Harry was alive, fighting and apparently capable of fighting seven death eaters all in one morning. But Forneus had said there were many of them... well that explained the absences in his morning class.
The dark lord whipped his wand back, Forneus stopped shaking and instead started whimpering.
"Up Foerneus. Up!" Voldemort dragged the cringing death eater to his feet again. "I expect more from one of my oldest servants."
"What of my ship Forneus?" Voldemort stepped forwards. "Where are my creatures?"
"I... I do not know my Lord." Forneus squeezed his eyes shut. "It was not in the harbor. It was not in the bay beyond. I think perhaps... If they knew where we would be then they probably also knew about the ship. I suspect... I think... the ship may be no more my lord."
"No more?" Voldeomort repeated coldly. "No more Forneus? My shipment... my creatures... is no more?"
"I do not know my lord." Forneus ducked his head. "They were not at the harbor."
"You mean it is at the bottom of the ocean." Voldemort's voice was at it's most icy and smooth. "You mean to tell me that my creatures, that I bought with good gold and solemn promises of further gold are dead.”
"I do not know my lord."
"You do not know." Voldemort snarled. "You do not know! Crucio!"
Snape tried to remain calm. What plans would this change? How did this affect things...
"Please master..." Forneus was trying to speak through gritted teeth. "There was nothing we could do."
"Who did this?" Voldemort snapped suddenly. "Who is responsible? Speak!"
"I did not see." Forneus whimpered. "They were hiding... I did not see their faces. They were everywhere but hidden. They was nothing I could identify-"
"Let me be the judge of that." Voldemort raised his wand again. "Legilimens!"
Snape watched as the two wizards remained with locked eyes for moments, then minutes. Snape was beginning to wonder what was happening when Voldemort looked away, his brow creasing.
"Your memories have been altered." Voldemort said quietly. In anyone else Snape would have thought he was worried. "Your memories have been altered. Inexpertly, but they clearly have been."
"You... Do you think the ship may still be there my lord?" Forneus asked hurriedly.
"No." Voldemort tapped the side of his chin thoughtfully. "Your memories are your own until you remember apparating away from the fight. I suspect that you did not. I suspect you were captured and whatever was done to you was done then. You were then allowed to escape. They probably thought to follow you here. Foolish. No spell could track you here, I have warded this place against tracking spells."
Snape began to feel nervous. Harry was far from a fool, what was his plan here?
"Stay still!" Voldemort snapped at Forneus. He flicked his wand at the death eater. Nothing happened. Voldemort frowned. "No tracking spells of any kind... interesting. Turn out you pockets!"
Forneus quivered as he reached into first one dark pocket of his robes, then another. As his hand reached his inside pocket he froze.
"My lord... there is something here." He slowly drew out a flat black box, the size of a pack of cards. A little red light blinked on its surface. Forneus held it out for the dark lord. Voldemort made no move to take it but instead examined it dispassionately from where he stood.
"Interesting..." Was all the dark lord said.
Snape felt like chuckling. Voldemort clearly had not the faintest idea what that was. Neither did Snape but at least he could recognize that it was muggle technology. What could it be for? The blinking light was like a vengeful eye but it did not seem to be a weapon...
Ginny dropped off her broom and hastily stowed it in a carry case before shoving it under a cloak with the others. She checked herself to make sure no toe or lock or hair had fallen outside her own cloak... no. Good. She motioned the others to follow her as they snuck up to a chain gate. Beyond were two lined of decrepit muggle warehouses, some of them with the roofs fallen in. Harry eased up to the gate, his eyes darting down to a small device he held nestled in his hand.
"This is it." Harry nodded. "They're here. In the third one down on the left."
"Are you sure Harry?" She whispered. It wasn't that she didn't trust Harry, it was this muggle elec-tricks. Surely it couldn't be as reliable as a tracking charm. She glanced down at the bright screen on the device Harry was holding and tried to link it back to her muggle studies lessons. The thing was pretty complex, more complex than a clock. There must have been hundreds of gears inside. Ginny wondered how often it had to be wound. Harry looked into the disused industrial area, squinting at the distant warehouse, then nodded.
"I'm sure. Can't you feel the wards around this place? Give me a minute and I'll break us a way through."
Ginny tried to make herself breath as Harry knelt down and drew his wand, drawing it through the air as if trying to catch flies. She turned to the marauders and took a deep breath.
"Alright," She began under her breath. It was hard enough making speeches, it was worse when you could only see people as ghostly shadows. "Today is the day. This is it. This is what we've been training towards. We all knew it would come to this, some of us hoped it would be further away, but it's not. It's now." Ginny herself had been shocked when Harry outlined his plan, his plan to end it today. She had wanted to stop him, wanted to slap him down when he said that this was the best chance they would get. The problem was he was right. She should tell them that Ginny realized,
"Harry's right, this is as good a chance as we'll ever get. Voldemort's weak, Voldemort is running low on servants. We have the advantage of numbers and the element of surprise. They've got lord Voldemort, but we've got Harry Potter..." Ginny broke off, looking into their wide eyed faces "I know you're scared... I know that maybe, deep down, we all hoped we wouldn't have to face Voldemort himself. But we are, and by doing it we can end this here and now. We can save thousands of lives today. Today is the day. We've been an army for a long while now, we've been soldiers. But today, today we're heroes. If we pull this off, one last masterpiece of marauder mayhem. We. Will. Be. Heroes. Get ready to fight, you know what to do."
As if on cue Harry chuckled triumphantly and pushed the gate open a fraction. He slid inside and motioned the others to come after him. Ginny swallowed and followed him in.
"Whatever this device is supposed to do it is clearly faulty." Voldemort snorted contemptuously and knocked the black device onto the floor. "Foolish of them to rely on muggle devices. Idiotic."
A rough chuckle went around the circle of wizards. Snape faked laughter even as he continued to stare at the box. The red light was still blinking. Voldemort licked his lips and sucked it air in a serpentine hiss.
"A setback." He said, apparently having recover his composure. "A momentary setback. We are still the greatest wizards alive, possessing powers the muggle loving fools in the order could not even comprehend. I shall triumph."
"We wield the dark magics, the only true power! Trust in your lord and we will prevail."
"Master I have-"
"Forneus?" Voldemort turned on the cowering wizard. "You dare interrupt your master? You dare even after you have humiliated yourself so?"
"No my lord," Forneus bowed his head. "It's just... I have found a second device." He held it up for Voldemort to see. The dark lord took it unworriedly.
"Ha, how droll." Voldemort held the thing out for all the death eaters to see and laughed. "They have sent me a block of clay. Perhaps this is their idea of a joke."
Snape was not totally unaware of muggle technology and felt a strong urge to drop to the floor.
Harry watched as Voldemort raised the bomb above his head. He glanced to either side, there were marauders poised at each door and her knew there were more at every other entrance. He looked back to the death eaters, Snape was with them but... standing far enough away. He probably wouldn't be killed. Harry closed his eyes, Snape would understand.
Harry drew the detonator out of his robes. Hopefully this could be ended right now. With luck even if Voldemort realized what was happening he wouldn't be able to shield fast enough. The war could end there and then.
"I do have a power you know not." Harry muttered under his breath. "Turns out it goes boom."
He clicked up the cover on the detonator, and pressed the switch.
"Master no!" Rookwood suddenly yelled, whipping his wand out. Every eye flicked to him, even Voldemort's. "Protego!"
Even as the shining shield slid between the dark lord and the bomb there was an earth-shattering crack and Snape was hit by a wall of noise and light. He was lifted off his feet and thrown painfully against a crate. His ears were full of only ringing and he fell in curious detachment, not even hearing the thump as his own body crash onto the floor. Through the fog of noise and tried to move his legs, painful but unbroken, then his arms. He got to his feet, blinking as everything swam before his eyes. He raised his wand to his face and tried to fix his vision. It wasn't perfect but even the imperfect view before him shocked him to his core.
Flames licked every crate as the explosion had thrown burning shards across the entire warehouse. He could see the death eaters running about in a mad, silent, panic, their mouths open in screams of pain. Snape raised his wand to his ear and hesitantly muttered a healing charm. The shocking klaxon call of screams almost made him regret doing so. Nott ran past him, his very robes ablaze on his back. Snape ignored him, if anyone noticed his uncaring attitude to a fellow death eater they would just attribute it to shock. Voldemort himself was nowhere to be seen. Snape stumbled forward, stepping over a prone body, his head still full of fuzz.
"Stupefy!" The shot came out of nowhere, striking the flaming figure of Nott and throwing him to the floor. Snape had his own wand out but the stunners were flying faster, from everywhere. Snape's head ached, he couldn't keep up with this.
"Bhraanti taraGga urvii ca agni!" The dark spell exploded out of the earth, throwing boxes away and tearing the concrete underfoot in a burning conflagration. Voldemort appeared out of the smoke in the center of it, his arms raised as the power of the spell coursed through him. The shattering ground expanded in every direction, clearing a space in the dark warehouse. Voldemort finally let his arms fall, his eyes still blazing with power. He pointed at three cowering death eaters with his clawed hand. "You! Make a baracade there! Bella, the same there! They have surrounded us and warded this place against apparition, but we will cut them down! They will rue the day they chose to fight me!"
Snape felt his muscles moving dully as he moved to help levitate the crates into a barrier. The stunners were already flying again. The best thing was to stay silent, wait for his chance.
"Damnit!" Harry threw himself behind a pile of boxes as a killing curse burned through the air where he had just been. He rolled and came up next to where Draco was peering out the corner of a pile of sacks. Harry spun out around the corner and took in the barrier of crates. He was invisible but there was so much smoke-
Harry spun a crate into the path of the spell then banished it against the barricade. It exploded, raining beans over the death eaters.
"Galbinus digitus!" Harry whipped his wand at the green shower and vines shot out of the dried husks, binding the two wizards into suffocating heaps. Harry darted back behind the sacks as spells began to rain down on the spot he had been standing.
"Got them?" Draco yelled at him.
"Think so! How many do you-" Harry was cut off as the ground before them raised up in a roaring crash. Two massive diamond eyes fractured open in grey stone and two arms erupted up beside the creature. It punched into the ground and the two marauders were thrown back.
"Reducto!" Harry aimed at one stony eye but the spell just bounced off.
"Avada kedavra!" Draco called out desperately as they scrambled away, the curse left a massive crack through the thing's front but it did not stop it's advance. It raised it's arm like a hammer,
"Excalabus!" The shining sword crew out of nothing and sliced the golem's arm off at the elbow making it roar in pain. Harry slashed through it's body and jumped away as it crumbled into dust.
"That was Voldemort's work." Draco panted.
"Oh really ya think?" Harry glanced around for a means to attack. "They're all in one place. We're strung out over the whole bloody warehouse. He can pick us off one by one like this, invisible or not!"
"You think we should form up?" Draco held his wand out ready.
"No, they'll just escape the other way." Harry ground his teeth together.
"Maybe the aurors will get here soon." Malfoy had to duck as a spell pin-wheeled over his head. "Or the order."
"Can't bank on a maybe!" Harry glanced up and got an idea. "Hold the line, I'm going to break them up."
Snape saw a shadowy figure dashing through the smoke and aimed just behind it. This was madness, pure madness. Without Voldemort the death eaters would have fallen at the first volley, blinded and burned as they were, but with him they were holding their own against the ghost army raining spells down on them from all directions. There was no telling where the next attack would come from, even the barricades were scant protection. And all the while the heat from the burning building all around charring into his skin. Being stuck in the middle of all that and not really being part of either side... madness.
Snape hoped that perhaps Harry's invisible army would recognize him but he couldn't count on it. If he could count on not being noticed he could try stunning himself, but then he wouldn't be there to help Harry if something went wrong. Snape shielded himself from a barrage of stunners and cried in pain as a red-hot scrap of metal dropped onto him from above. He looked up in time to see a spray of sparks dislodge from the roof far above then yelled despite himself as the metal twisted inwards and Harry dropped like a diving hawk into the middle of the death eaters.
His boots struck Bellatrix in the face just as she looked up and drove her to the floor with a bone-splitting crunch. Harry rolled like and came up in a moment slashing his wand like a sword, there was a flash of white light and Rodolphus was opened from hip to neck. He went down spraying red blood across his attacker but Harry had already whirled and blew one of the barricades to smithereens.
Harry ducked the curse and shot back but he was in the middle of the death eaters now. Exactly what he wanted, Snape realized in flashing moment. He's providing a distraction for the others to attack. The problem was he would probably die to accomplish it. Snape raised his wand to help Harry but there was a sudden crack of black light and he felt pain invade every limb. An orb of darkness spun through the air towards Harry. Harry dodged wildly but there were too many other spells flying and it exploded in the air next to him. Driving him sprawling to the floor. Snape shuddered, he had just experienced the backwash of the spell and he felt like he had been kicked in the head by a horse. What Harry must be feeling he could not imagine.
"Protect us!" Voldemort snapped, his wand still smoking from the powerful curse. "I will deal with the boy."
Snape turned to make it look like he was complying but kept watch as the dark lord stepped up closer to Harry. Voldemort held out a hand and summoned Harry's wand to him.
"Very brave Mr Potter." Voldemort raised his wand. "And very foolish. You must forgive me but I don't have time to have one of our traditional chats. Avada-"
"Avada kedavra!" Harry threw his left arm up as he shouted the unforgivable. The mocking laugh died on Voldemort's lips as Harry's hand exploded in green light.
The spell flashed through the air towards the shocked dark lord. Snape watched as if in slow motion as Voldemort’s hand flew into his robes and gripped around something. The very moment before the green bolt struck him he disappeared. The spell slashed across the circle and struck Rosier in the chest, catapulting his corpse into the wall.
“Lord!” Forneus' strangled voice sounded out as she rushed forward. Harry had fallen on his side cradling his hand in agony but at the death eater's cry he unfurled and thrust his hand forward,
“Avada Kedavra!” The green bolt flashed towards the old death eater but he threw himself to one side and screamed a curse. A purple bolt flicked off the end towards Harry but he frantically waved another death eater into the path of the spell then banished the screaming figure so that it crashed into Forneus' face.
“Kill him!” Someone yelled and Snape realized that the other death eaters were turning on Harry with rictus snarls of vengeful fury. Snape’s gaze flicked from the death eaters charging to Harry, raising his arm again, and decided in a moment.
“Stupefy!” Snape’s stunner jammed Goyle’s head back with a sickening crunch.
“Traitor!” Forneus was rising from the floor with his wand pointed in recrimination. “Crucio!”
Snape ducked the spell and darted over to stand shoulder to shoulder with Harry.
Snape shielded without thinking and the flaming spell was absorbed into the general inferno.
“Tempesto!” Harry screamed, his voice twisted with pain, and waved his hand in a whirling arch. A wind sprung from empty air and drew the flaming wood into a spinning tornado of hellfire. Harry pointed and flung the firestorm at the death eaters, scattering them like rabbits. Harry spun on Snape in the short time that had gained them.
“Why did you break cover?” He yelled, swooping to grab a fallen wand. “They all saw you! Idiot!”
“No more idiot than you for coming here!” Snape shot back as he sent a stunner at a stumbling shape in the flames. “Rushing in like a fool! You are doing exactly what I said you would!”
“I had a plan!” Harry growled at him. “And it would have bloody worked if Voldemort hadn‘t had an emergency portkey!”
“You risked your life!”
“Mine to risk!”
“As is my cover!” Snape glared into the smoke but the other death eaters seemed to be trying to escape rather than fight.
“They‘re trying to escape.” Harry confirmed it and began advancing after them. His wand outstretched as he marched into the smoke. “The aurors have broken in too now. We can trap them between us.”
“Harry how have you been casting spells?” Snape hurried after him, his wand flicking towards every hint of motion.
“Harry wandless magic is beyond you.” Snape grated, it was the simple truth. “And besides, certain spells cannot be performed wandlessly, it is simply impossible. The unforgivables are among them.”
“Impossible for regular people.” Harry flashed a rictus grin through the murk.
"Harry, your hand!" Snape cried as he saw it clearly for the first time. He grabbed the arm, his eyes wide with horror. The middle finger was burnt down to a stub and his index finger was gone to the second knuckle. The entire rest of the hand was shrivelled and charred, as if it was burning from the inside out. It was boiling to the touch. "Harry what have you done!"
"What I had to!" Harry pulled his ruined hand back and held it painfully to his chest. “I‘m the boy who lived, the bloody chosen one! Come on, they‘re this way.”
Wondering how Harry knew Snape followed him into the murk.
"What is the situation?" Shacklebolt yelled as he dashed up to the side of the flaming building. Ginny turned and almost felt like hugging him. So recrimination, no asking why they were there, no telling them off, just straight to business. This must be why dad looked up to him.
"There were eight death eaters inside, at least three dead now." Ginny rattled off. "Voldemort too. They were barricaded in the middle but Harry scattered them. We haven't seen Voldemort himself since then but some of the others are still in there. Some of our people too, invisible."
"Voldemort's gone." Shacklebolt supplied. "Unregistered portkey. Fletcher, take your team to the west entrance-"
Ginny stepped back towards the building and grabbed the invisible Baker twins who were standing with her.
"We're getting everyone out, all our people." She motioned one of them to each end of the building. "We got them, we won."
"Harry give up!" Snape yelled as Harry had to jump out of the way of a collapsing pile of burning boxes. "You could be killed here!"
"They're still in here!" Harry forged onwards into the murk.
"Fool boy!" Snape's robe caught fire and he threw it off angrily before rushing forward. He grabbed Harry around the arm only to be shook off. "They will all be dead or gone by now!"
"Two of them are still in here!" Harry pointed with his ravaged hand. "They're over there!"
"The aurors will get them."
"You don't know that!" Harry staggered a few more steps before keeling over and retching onto the floor. Snape shied away, for a moment unsure of what to do. The only thing in his mind was an idle interest in the fact that the vomit was steaming as it hit the floor. Harry stumbled to his feet and Snape hissed in shock, Harry's eyes were running red with blood.
"Harry something is wrong with you." Snape stepped forward carefully. "Something is clearly wrong. You need a healer."
"I can't leave yet!"
"The aurors will-"
"No!" Harry turned and dashed into the smoke. Snape heard a monumental crack from above and swung his wand up, not fast enough. The wooden beam struck Harry in the back and drove him down, knocking him out and pinning him to the floor. Snape dashed forward, for once not even thinking of his wand, and shoved the beam off with all his strength. It thudded onto the floor and Snape rolled Harry onto his back. Blood was running down the poor boys haggard face.
"Oh Harry.... why? You fool..." Snape felt rising anger. None of it directed at Harry. "You didn't have to do this. You didn't have to do any of this. You did not have to destroy yourself.... Damn you Dumbledore!" He slammed his fist into the cracked ground and bowed his head. He didn't even notice the second beam before in struck him on the back and drove him from consciousness.
And all around the fire raged.
"Are all of your people out." Shacklebolt yelled at Ginny.
"Not Harry." Ginny frantically glanced back into the blaze. "He's still in there." She saw Shacklebolt's face fall.
"The building is not going to last much longer."
"Gone on Harry." Ginny felt herself whispering. "Come on..."
The watcher scrabbled through the flaming warehouse. He had come following the aurors, come hoping to kill more death eaters. Cause pain to the snake-one. Cause pain to Tom Riddle. But all he had found was flames, flames and death.
His eyes darted around, trying to find a way out. If he was trapped here both he and Smoky would be killed. His fingers idly caressed Smoky's scales where she hid in his sleeve. Maybe Smoky could hide in one of the grates in the floor, but he would die for sure. And if he died he would never get his revenge.
Sweet sweet revenge... He took a moment to savour the thought as the flames licked at his legs.
What was that? A hole in the floor, one of the muggle ones. A way out. He shuffled towards it and flicked the cover off with his wand. As he was about to lower himself into it he froze. Just nearby were two figures pinned to the ground by a beam. One he didn't recognize, but the other... The other was the fighter-boy the one who had reached the servants of the snake-one before him. He fought the snake-one, Tom Riddle, the thief of life, the trickster, the face-stealer, the- He shook his head as the list of hatred raged through his mind.
He lifted the piece of wood off easily with a spell and regarded them through his fading eyes. He did not remember caring about anyone, even before the snake-one did things to him. But these also fought the snake-one. And so maybe they shouldn't die. Maybe not.
He levitated them off the ground and scuttled to a faded window and threw them through the glass. There were shouts from outside and he could see the robed men clustering around them. The robed men couldn't see him though. He scuttled back to the hole in the floor and lowered himself in.
They couldn't catch him yet.
He still had killing to do.
Harry stood in the apple orchard again. The leaves turned brown for the season, the ground wet with dew. In every direction it stretched, impossibly deep.
"Why am I here?" Harry tried to say, but his mouth wouldn't make sound. His throat was closed.
What is this place?
Harry turned on his heel and there was the edge of the trees, just paces away. And beyond it... nothing. The world just dropped away as if the trees were the only real thing.
The sound of the river raged in his ears, filling him with fear. He ran from the edge, back into the safety of the trees, back into the real part. But it was crumbling now, he could see the edge crumbling away and yet somehow never getting closer. Always falling apart but staying where it was.
What is this place?
Harry hugged his arms to his chest. This was a dream, this was only a dream.
Then why does it feel like this is the only thing that's real?
Draco dropped off his hospital bed at the sound of the healers voice and hurried up to the side of Harry's bed. Most of the other marauders clustered around with him. The Weasley twins and Parvati were all in their own beds, kept mercifully unconscious while their injuries healed. They had all been hurt when they managed to drag themselves out of that inferno, it was a small miracle none of them were dead. No... not a miracle, they had trained, they had prepared. That was the reason they were still alive. Not a miracle.
Draco looked down at his friend, lying pale and wan on the hospital sheets. His eyes had cracked open, but he still wasn't moving.
"Welcome back Harry." Hermione grasped Harry's hand encouragingly. "Don't try to talk yet the doctors said you were really sick."
"... ah..." Harry licked his lips and tried again. "... Volde... mort..."
"He got away." Ginny supplied. Harry squeezed his eyes shut, a frustrated moan broke out from somewhere in his chest.
"Don't feel bad mate." Ron was clearly trying to sound upbeat. Idiot. "Only three death eaters got away. We got all the rest, all of them."
"Who...?" Harry's question was hissed out through obvious pain.
"Well, there was Rookwood." Padma began, counting off on her fingers. "He managed to slip past the aurors. Forneus too."
"And..." Padma's eyes flickered towards Neville. "And Bellatrix."
"Bella..." Harry's face contorted into a snarl. "Got her... Could swear I got-"
"You did Harry." Ginny picked up a glass of water and slowly helped Harry to drink from it. "The aurors were dragging her out but she came to in their arms, killed one of them with her bare hands and dissapperated with his wand."
"Killed? He died?" Harry's voice seemed to be coming a bit easier now but it was still at the edge of weakness.
"Yes. The only auror, order member or marauder to die yesterday." Draco supplied, he could see Ginny's head bowing. She couldn't possibly feel guilty could she? The man had let an unconscious prisoner rip out his windpipe. It was tragic, but it was no ones fault but his own. Harry certainly wouldn't feel guilty.
"We got the rest though didn't we?" Harry asked, glancing down at his bandaged hand.
"Most of them are dead." Draco supplied. "Those who didn't die in the fight died in the fire."
"Gibbons died." Neville said quietly. "I saw the aurors pulling him out. Someone should tell Vanessa. She deserves to know her father's dead. Even if he was... well you know."
"If it was me I'd be disappointed I wasn't the one to kill him." Harry said quietly, still staring at his bandaged hand.
"Harry, your hand..." Hermione brought it up and there was an instant cooling among the marauders. No one had wanted to be the one to ask Harry about it. "Your hand it..."
"Injured, I know." Harry looked over at it dully. "Can the healers fix it?"
"They... they can grow the fingers back Harry but-"
"Perfect, that's fine then."
"But how did it happen in the first place?" Hermione looked like she was trying to avoid actually looking at the hand. "Snape said you used a wandless killing curse which is impossible-"
"Apparently not." Harry cut her off. "If they can fix me then why haven't they started? I need my hand back, Voldemort could retaliate at any moment."
"Harry..." Hermione looked around, perhaps looking for backup. Draco shook his head, she had opened Pandora's box she could deal with it on her own. "Harry the hand isn't the only thing wrong with you."
"Some sort of curse or something?"
"No, at least... they don't think so."
"What are you talking about?"
"Well-" Hermione began but was cut off as a voice said,
"Let me explain." Draco looked towards the sound to see Snape striding in through the door. The marauders made way for him as he moved to the foot of Harry's bed. A white bandage encircled his forehead but he didn't seem to notice it. Snape nodded towards Harry's ruined hand. "I think I understand now. That was a Shén de shou wasn't it?"
No. No Harry oh god no! Draco felt some horrific cocktail of rage, fear and pity grow in his chest. He didn’t, he couldn’t have. But Draco knew in his heart that he could.
"By the fact that you're asking you already know that the answer is yes so why bother." Harry replied coldly.
"Harry you are twice the fool I ever named you." Snape bowed his head, his eyes closed. "That you would do this..."
"Do what?" Ginny broke in. "Do what? What's a... Shin-de-show?"
"Shén de shou, a god-hand." Draco supplied, finding that his voice was almost tinged with tears. "It's an operation, originating in china, they insert wand cores into the bones of your hand. Surgically." There was a gasp from the marauder's but Draco carried on. It felt better if they knew it too, like the horror was more spread out. "It's outlawed everywhere in the world. It is insanely dangerous, even when they are done right they damage the user since the magic has to force it's way out through flesh and skin. And casting a curse as powerful as the killing curse? He's lucky he still has an arm."
"I wasn't planning on using it levitate feathers." Harry said acidly. "It was a weapon of last resort, and it worked. I saved myself and almost killed Voldemort."
"If it were only that simple Harry." Snape still wasn't looking Harry in the eye. "Your Shén de shou may have been installed properly, it may not have been. Either way it would not account for all of your symptoms. And yes Harry, you have many symptoms. The healers found infections in your blood, some new and some just remnants. You have been sick all year haven't you? Keeping yourself going with pep-up potion as you reeled from one illness after another. And now they have all caught up with you."
He was sick. Malfoy felt dread rise in his stomach. He was sick right at the start of the year and I did nothing... I could have prevented this.
"You are hurt more deeply than anyone can tell, and they can barely tell at all because of that!" Snape pointed at the faded and chipped bracer around Harry's arm. "You have it charmed so that none but you can remove it. Your paranoia is killing you since the evil eye prevents the healers from telling what is actually wrong with you. A fact I think you know, a fact I think you know very well. You do not want anyone to know what was going on inside you. You got the Shén de shou Harry Potter, but what else did you get? You came back after a summer's time and suddenly you stand toe to toe with death eaters? People who have spent their lives learning the blackest of arts? No... no... You did not simply train over the summer months. What else festers under your skin? What else have you done to yourself!"
The silence in the room was solid as granite, and as harsh. Harry licked his lips before answering slowly, measuredly,
"If I answered you, you would have the healers remove what I had put in."
"To save your life." Snape was virtually shaking.
"My life's worth nothing if Voldemort's around." Harry shook his head. "Afterwards. I'll kill Voldemort then the stuff comes out. Until then I need it."
"Afterwards? Afterwards?" A tear squeezed out of the corner of Snape's eye, shocking everyone. It might have been a tear of rage, it might not. "Harry by then it may be too late! The healers say that you have months, half a year at very best, if we do not do something."
"And look what I've done with a year!" Harry yelled angrily. "I've pushed Voldemort back to the brink! How many death eaters does he have left? FOUR! Down from what? Twenty? Thirty? I knew I wouldn't have much time. I accepted that my lifespan would be severally cut, but I have taken my lifespan and beaten that snake faced wanker around the head with it! He is hanging by a thread thanks to me! I am the only one who can defeat Voldemort! The ONLY ONE! You know that! The freaking chosen one, I had to do this. I had to! There was NO OTHER WAY! No way for me to win, not against him. I needed every advantage I could find so, god help me, I went out and found some advantages. I had to. And if it means I win my big prophesied fight against the bastard? Then I made the right call. And if I don't? Then it won't matter anyway."
Harry cut off, his chest rising and falling sharply, showing how much his speech had taken out of his injured frame. Snape was just standing there, his face an indescribable mask of sorrow. Another tear, and another. Professor Snape looked like a man who had had a knife stuck through him, impaling his heart.
"Back on the ship." Padma's whispering voice cut through the silence like a siren. "Back on the ship you knew where the crew were. You knew where the creatures were. You even knew where the ship was in the middle of the night on a stormy sea. You knew where we were too. You put the glasses in your pocket, I never saw you put them on. We were invisible, but not to you. Oh god Harry... tell me you didn't. Tell me..." Padma reached a hand forward, up towards Harry's face. Harry didn't flinch back even as her long fingernail reached up close and tapped his eye.
The unmistakable chink of glass was like a death toll.
"Your eye..." Hermione breathed, every reverb of her voice begging it not to be true. "You... you cut out your eye?"
"No, guy at the shop did it." Harry tried to beat Padma's hand away but clearly didn't have the strength. "Don't you all look at me like that. I saw how useful Moody's was and got one for myself. This one’s better though, it can look anywhere, out the back of my head and all but it’s charmed to look like it’s pointing the same way as the other one. So no one ever knows. It's been useful, more than useful. You can't tell me it hasn't." Harry’s voice had grown more shrill as he spoke.
"But... your eye." Hermione shuddered, her hand involuntarily flinched up to her face. "How could you?"
Draco felt bile rise like a volcano. Just the thought of tearing out his own eye made him sick. What frozen and horrific will would it take to willingly chose that self-mutilation. For the first time that year, Draco began to fear Harry a little.
"Don't look at me like that." Harry was shying away from their stares, pushing back into the bed. "What... Don't! Don't look at me like you don't know why I did this! Don't look at me like you don't understand. I had to!"
The desperation in his voice. The need for them to understand, to justify what he had done. Draco shuddered. In Harry's place would he have done the same? He honestly couldn't guess. No one could. Draco cleared his throat,
"Harry, I can't guess why you chose to do this. But you need to let the healers fix you now."
"Draco, I... you too?" Harry seemed very small in that moment. Very lost.
"Please let them fix you Harry." Draco felt a small hand grasp his and glanced to the side to see Ginny. Offering support. A good friend. Thank you. "You might now even need this stuff anymore. Voldemort is weak, maybe-"
“Maybe!” Harry snapped. “Maybe, maybe MAYBE! That‘s all I‘ve heard all year! I won‘t trust to hope! It‘s too important.”
“Harry please...” Draco’s throat felt like it was closing up. “Please... you may not understand just how much damage you‘re doing to yourself. Waiting a few weeks even could-”
“Defeat Voldemort.” Harry said coldly. “I‘ve made my choice. Tell the healers to fix my hand, just the hand. You don‘t think I wish it was different? I do. But some bastard prophecy had the gall to set my life in motion long before I had any say in it. I have to win. I have to win even if I die because nothing else matters. Turns out this fight was what I was born for and I‘ll burn myself from the inside out before I lose to that snake-faced bastard. I have to win. Even if I die.”
Draco stepped back from the bed. The horrible certainty in Harry’s voice was shocking. He had accepted his fate down to his bones. He had drunk it in till it was the very core of his being. Was Harry even in there any more?
Draco was shocked out of his thoughts by a small sound. It took him a moment to recognize it, but when he did it surprised him once more. Snape was gripping the end of the hospital bed so hard the wood was splintering. When Draco looked up at the potions master’s face he almost cried out in fear. The most terrible dark rage Draco had ever seen was painted across Snape’s face, etched in every line and crease. The dark shadows in his eyes were seething pools of suppressed fury. Suddenly Snape let out an almost inhuman growl and disapperated on the spot, tearing a piece of the bed away with him.
No thought entered the red fog of Snape’s mind as he strode towards the gates of Hogwarts. His wand whipped out and the vast doors were thrown back with a rumbling crash that shook the castle. He could not care less if the whole building fell down. Minerva hurried towards him,
“Severus what is the meaning of this?”
“I am going to see the headmaster.” Snape didn’t slow, forcing Minerva to jump out of his way. He was too angry to care. He saw the gargoyle statue ahead of him and forced the password out through gritted teeth. He rode the stairs up listening to his own racing heartbeat in his ears. The stairs ground to a halt and Snape slammed the door open. Dumbledore looked up in shock from the papers in front of him as Snape strode up to him and slammed his fists down of the surface of the desk.
“Harry is in St Mungos.” He had no idea how to give voice to the thought inside him, they were too many and too powerful.
“I know that Severus.” Dumbledore replied coldly. “But you are no longer a member of the order so-”
“Do you know why Harry is in St Mungos?” Snape tried to breath evenly. “Because, in an effort to fulfill your precious prophecy, he found some black market flesh monger that would fit him with a Shén de shou.”
“A Sh...” Dumbledore’s eyes widened. “My god... he could have killed himself...”
“Yes.” Snape could fell his fingernails biting into his palms. “But not just that, he had his own eye cut out to fit a magical one. Those and who knows what other mutilations are slowly destroying him. He is going to die because of them. Because of the prophecy. Because of you!”
Dumbledore was staring off into the distance, he looked like his soul was being torn out. Good.
“The boy destroys himself, tears himself apart. He is ready to die, because of the prophecy.” Snape drew his face down level with Dumbledore’s. “I think it‘s time he learnt the truth. Don‘t you?”
“You tell him.” Snape held a shaking finger up. “I will give you one chance to tell him, to assuage some of your guilt with honesty. But rest assured, if you do not tell him, I will. This lie has poisoned too much already.”
“You realize...” Dumbledore spoke as if from within a fog. “That the truth may break him?”
“No more than the lie has.”
“Perhaps.” Dumbledore stood, leaning heavily on his desk. He seemed... ancient. Ancient and tired. “I will tell him now. Which room is he in?”
Harry glanced up as the hospital door was pushed open and Dumbledore stepped in and braced himself for being yelled at. Dumbledore just walked slowly towards Harry’s bed, his hand kept flinching out to the side as if expecting to find a cane there.
“Children,” Dumbledore addressed the marauders. “Would you leave us? Please.”
“What are you going to do?” Ginny stepped in front of the bed protectively.
“Just talk Miss Weasley.” Dumbledore’s head hung weakly. “Only talk.”
“It‘s alright Ginsters.” Harry nodded towards her. “It‘s alright.”
Ginny looked doubtful but waved the marauders to follow her out. As the door banged shut Dumbledore walked to the end of the room, glancing at each bed, then flicked the curtains closed with his wand. Another wave of his wand and Harry heard a little muffled sound from the door. Whatever Dumbledore was about to say he didn’t want anyone listening. Finally Dumbledore shuffled over to the bed opposite Harry’s and sat carefully. There was a long moment of silence that stretched on and on...
“Yes?” Harry asked, speech still hurting his throat. “You got something to say?”
“I... I do not know how to begin.” Dumbledore seemed lost, a little lost boy in the woods. “I suppose I should start by telling you how... how incredibly sorry I am. You must believe I never expected that you would do this. But that is no excuse, no excuse at all.”
“What are you saying?”
“I... Let me tell you a story.” Dumbledore licked his lips. “I am sorry but this is the only way I know to tell you. It begins about fifteen years ago, I had just born-witness to a prophecy that gave the only hope for the fall of the dark lord.”
“I know this story.”
“Harry please.” Dumbledore raised his hands. “This is hard enough... Please just let me speak.”
“I had heard the prophecy, the one you know well. I had determined that it referred to a child all of us in the order knew well. The child of Lilly and James Potter. I knew that the child was our only hope. Even before the prophecy was recorded in the department of mysteries I had already placed the Potter family under the strongest protection I could. Unfortunately I failed, I was betrayed.”
“Yes. Sirius Black. But his treachery, though it led to the deaths of two of the most brave and honorable people I know, also spelled the end of the dark lord. Voldemort was destroyed. Most of the wizarding world considered him dead. The celebrations... they went on for days... weeks truly. The entire wizarding world breathed again thanks to the sacrifice of Lilly and James Potter and the survival of their son. The boy-who-lived. The boy who showed that Voldemort was not invincible. He was the symbol of triumph, the symbol of hope. But I knew the truth, that Voldemort was not truly dead. I knew that the prophecy was not yet fulfilled and that, when the dark lord would finally rise again, the people would need the boy-who-lived. So I placed him with his mothers blood, with his aunt. The reasons were complex, the blood link provided him protection of a sort but it is unimportant now. I should have known my folly, should have known. It is my fault in so many ways. My fault in every way that matters. I should have watched closer... Because one day, when that boy was six, his aunt had taken both him and his cousin to the shops. Perhaps she was not paying attention or perhaps it was simply an accident, but the boy ran out into the road. A car struck him, terribly fast. I have watched the memories of the crash through others eyes... he flew so far... doctors worked on him, then I had him moved to St Mungos and the healers worked as hard as the could. But the damage... the wounds to his skull... his chest... he passed from this world. Just six years old. My fault. All my fault. His blood on my hands... But I knew it was not over. I knew that Voldemort would still rise, the wizarding world would still need their symbol of hope, their boy-who-lived. Their hero. So I found another boy, of the correct age, in a muggle orphanage. I worked magic to change his appearance, his voice, his memories... his memories I destroyed entirely and replaced with fakes, I even supplemented them with some of my own memories of James Potter to make the boy seem like him. Then I placed him back at Privet Drive, I changed the memories of the aunt... the uncle... the cousin. I sought out everyone who had seen the crash and tore the memories from their skulls, the doctors, the healers... I made it so that it never happened. And then a sat back and watched... I watched my fake grow up. I felt my guilt grow. But it was done, and it could not be undone. My great shame... the lie that makes everything else a lie as well. The truth is that the chosen one has been dead for nine years. You are not him.”
Dumbledore trailed off, he seemed smaller, even weaker, as if letting this great secret out of him had drained him of everything. Harry shook his head. No... No no no...
“No, you‘re lying. You. Are. Lying.”
“I so wish that I was.”
“But I‘m the... I‘m Harry Potter!” He shook his head. “I‘m Harry Potter!”
“No. You are not.”
“I have the scar!”
“I gave you that scar.” Dumbledore had his eyes closed. But even so a tear squeezed out from the side, running down his long nose and dropping to the floor. “I can remove it right now if you wish it.”
“No!” His hands jumped up to his forehead protectively. “You‘re just... you‘re saying these things... WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?”
“I am sorry. I am so sorry.” Dumbledore bowed his head. “I cannot say that to you enough. I... I destroyed you.”
“No! I... I cut out my eye!” Harry could feel his blood pumping in his ears. “I‘ve fought! I‘ve fought him all year! I‘m the chosen one!”
“You are not. There is no chosen one.” Dumbledore sounded like a man burning his last shred of hope. “The prophecy died nine years ago. Voldemort won.”
“No. No...” He was shaking, he couldn’t stop. “Lies it‘s just lies!”
“It is not.” Dumbledore shook his head. “If you want proof just look to your friends. You named them the marauders. On your very first day. How did you know that name? You know that James Potter named his group of friends the same?”
“No, he can’t have! It‘s a lie!”
“It is not. You knew the name because I put in in your mind. If you doubt me ask anyone who was at school with them.” Dumbledore was speaking in dead tones now, he had reached the bottom. “I have heard you refer to Professor Snape as Snivellus and to Remus Lupin as Moony. Those were both names James Potter invented. You also knew about Professor Snape‘s dark mark. How else would you know?”
“I... I...” The boy could feel himself shaking, his mind shaking apart.
“It is true. It is all true... I am so sorry. I am so... I cannot begin to think what this must be doing to you. What this has done to you.”
“So... who am I?” The boy looked up. “What‘s my name?”
“I do not know.”
“You found me!” He could hear his shrill voice in his ears. “You dragged me to this life you have to know!”
“I do not Harry I‘m...”
“Harry? Harry?” The boy threw his head back and screamed, a screeching cacophony of anguish. “And don‘t you dare say you‘re sorry! Don‘t you dare!”
“I... I cannot-”
“Get out!” He grabbed his glass of water and threw it with all his strength, tears blurring his eyes. It shattered against the Headmaster‘s shoulder. “Get out! Get out! GET OUT!”
Dumbledore fled the room, holding his arm. As the old wizard crashed through the doors the boy threw himself back against the wall and howled in pain and confusion, tearing at his hair with hands like claws. Tears ran freely down his face from the one real eye he had left.
Sobbing and broken he lay there, until darkness closed in.
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