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harry potter
Harry Potter and the Burden of Becoming

Chapter 11 - An Unhappy Inheritance
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It was dawn, but still quite early. The sky was a glowing deep purple and in the dim light it took Harry a moment to adjust his eyes and clear his head. He slipped on his glasses and patted the edge of his bed where Hedwig hopped to his side. He untied the post from her leg and held it in his hands. The dreams of the night before were washed from his mind as he looked at the writing. It was addressed simply: Harry, My Love. His heart began to pound. “This is silly,” he thought. “Get a hold of yourself.” Before he slipped the seal, he took in a deep breath and resigned to stay the course he had laid down. He would not be swayed. She was safer where she was and that was the end of that. Carefully, he opened the letter.


My dearest Harry,

Hedwig was in my room waiting for me when I got home. Mama asked why I was crying so, and I told her that you had gone. I saw them gathering your things through the window. It was Fred and George. I grabbed Fred when he came out; I think I frightened him a bit. (Tell him I’m sorry I was so rough.) He walked with me and we talked. He’s not too bad, really; in fact, he’s sweet. He says you’ll be off to school soon.

You have nothing to be sorry for. There’s nothing I would have ever done differently. You say you travel your path alone, but you don’t. From what Fred tells me, there are many others who walk on either side. I’ll be happy to stay a few steps back, for now if that’s what you want. Don’t think you’ll get too far ahead--you won’t. I’m keeping your heart and soul though. I’ve got this pretty little box Mama made to keep them in. I think you might be surprised how quickly you will have us all back.

I’m going to the store tomorrow to buy some decent food for Hedwig. I expect to see her again, and before too long. I asked Fred to let me keep one thing of yours -- just something to remember you by when I brush my hair at night. I hope you won’t mind, but it’s Padfoot’s mirror. I guess if you do mind, you can come to get it.

I’ve glimpsed a bit into your heart, and if you look into mine you’ll see that I will hold yours warm and safe in my little box. You’ll also see that I love you, and will wait for you to return.

Love--now and forever,

Gabriella


He read the note several times, and with each reading his smile widened. He had thought of giving her the mirror himself, but it was foolishness to think he would use it to speak with her. He would do all he could to shield her from the Wizarding world. One day, they might reunite and just knowing that she had the mirror made him feel happier. Hedwig gave a little hoot.

“I’m sorry girl,” he said. “All I have is a bit of bread. There might be some mice outside.” She nipped at the piece of bread. “We’re leaving to Grimmauld Place today. If you decide to wander off, meet me there, okay?” He stroked her feathers and she flew out the window. As soon as she left, Harry got up and put his clothes on. He winced as he pushed his arm through his T-shirt. His mind flashed back to when his body was sliding along the pavement. Looking at the bandages, he stretched the fingers on his right hand. He was lucky he even had an arm.

The basin by the mirror had been filled again with water. He splashed his face, ran his fingers through his hair, and toweled off. He put his glasses on and walked over to the flowers. He remembered the day he saw Gabriella looking at the flowers in her new garden and then he remembered his own loitering outside looking for weeds he knew weren’t there. “Was she outside on purpose?” he wondered. “Waiting for me?” That moment, Mrs. Weasley entered his room.

“Good morning dear!” she said smiling. “Good, I see you’re dressed. We can go now or after breakfast, which would you…”

“Let’s go now. I just need to know… my wand?” he asked.

“Oh yes, I nearly forgot.” She reached into a large handbag and pulled out his wand. “Here you go, dear.” She paused and checked the room. “The twins have gathered all your other things and brought them to the house. Shall we go?” Harry looked around at the room, then up to the open window. The sun was starting to fill the frame. He nodded and walked out the door, Mrs. Weasley at his side.

St Mungo’s was the same as he had remembered. He thought of the Longbottom’s and touched his forehead. “What if this belonged to Neville instead?” he thought. As they walked down the corridor, they past a sign: ARTIFACT ACCIDENTS. “Mrs. Weasley?” he asked.

“Yes, Harry?” They entered the main atrium.

“Mr. Weasley had two others in his room with him. I was by myself. Why?”

“It was just safer, dear.”

”So, I’m still being watched?” he asked coolly. Her face reddened.

“No one’s been watching you; we’ve just been making sure you’re safe, that’s all.”

“Because you think he’s after me?” The pink in her face turned ashen. She nodded. “Do you know why?” he asked simply wondering what her answer might be. Instantly, the blood returned to her face, and fire lit her eyes. She placed one hand to Harry’s cheek.

“He’s pure evil Harry. Even when he was simply Tom he would never consider failure an option. Now he sees himself all-powerful and yet a mere child has bested him. Well, not so much a child anymore, are you?” She now had to look up to see his eyes. Pausing for a moment, she took his hand. “He won’t stand for it. He’ll risk all to rid the world of you, Harry. It’ll be his ruin; I think we both know that. But, it also means we must be watchful. YOU must be watchful. This is not the year to go off wandering the grounds at night, or playing with giants in the Forbidden Forest.” Harry’s eyes widened. They stepped to the street where a limousine was there to take them to Grimmauld Place. She looked up and down the street. “We must all be extra careful this year.” They stepped to the car and soon left St. Mungo’s behind them.

When they walked through the front door of number twelve, Grimmauld Place, Harry stood awestruck. The first thing he noticed was the light. It wasn’t dark and dingy but bright and airy. The next thing he noticed was the smell, or rather the lack of smell. The air was fresh, not dank and moldy. The first words out of his mouth were, “Where’s his mother?”

“Oh yes, well, that required Dumbledore’s help. He stopped by the house here only a few nights after… well, after Sirius had left us. The old hag began to scream bloody murder calling Sirius a mudblood lover and a traitor to Wizarding kind. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Albus quite so angry. He simply raised his wand and she was gone. He hasn’t said how or where. None of the Order could even get her unglued from the wall and believe me we all tried. Makes for a nice change, I think. Well, let’s see who’s here.” She started forward to the kitchen door, but Harry’s feet were somehow stuck to where he was. “Come on, dear.”

He didn’t want to move. He couldn’t move. He felt weak; perspiration began to prickle on his forehead. It was suddenly very hard to breathe. He reached for the edge of the door as the room began to spin upside down. Mrs. Weasley quickly grabbed him by the arm just in time to stop him from collapsing to the floor.

“Harry, what’s wrong?” He couldn’t answer. The room’s air had disappeared. His sight was failing; everything was turning dark. “Ron! Hermione!” he heard her yell as if from far, far away. Soon, everything was black.

A voice echoed from the darkness. “He’s not gone you know, just on the other side.” It was Luna Lovegood, but he couldn’t see her. “The voices… didn’t you hear them? If only we could find a way to see them. But you know the way, don’t you, Harry? Can’t you see the key? It’s right here.” But Harry couldn’t see anything. “If anyone can find a way, Harry, you can. If you see my mother, tell her I miss her so.” The voice was fading… “Harry, can you hear me…” Another voice broke the blackness.

“Harry! Can you hear me?”

It was Hermione. Cool air seemed to rush into his lungs; he could breathe again. Slowly his eyes opened. He was in bed in the room he had stayed the summer before. The same empty portrait of Phineas Nigellus hung on the wall opposite. The bed was bigger, and he looked up to find four faces staring down at him: Mrs. Weasley, Hermione, Ron and Remus Lupin.

“I don’t know,” Mrs. Weasley spoke first. “Perhaps it was too early to bring him home. They said he’d had a bad night.”

“Give him time, Molly,” Remus replied. “Harry, how are you feeling?” Harry brought his head off his pillow. He was a bit confused.

“I’m okay,” he said, not really sure how he felt. “I don’t know what came over me,” he lied. He knew exactly what it was. He knew before he’d walked through the door. It didn’t matter how much Mrs. Weasley had cleaned. He didn’t want to be here. The thought of Sirius hung in the air. It was part of the walls that still had the portraits of the Black family. It would be only a matter of time until he saw Sirius’ photo again, as Moody had shown him the picture last year of his parents before they had been murdered.

“Here,” Lupin said, “try this.” He handed Harry a large bar of chocolate. Harry was still somewhat unsteady.

“Dementors?” he asked thinly.

“No,” said Lupin with a smile, “great deal on Fizzing Fudgebars at Honneydukes. Then he turned to the others in the room. “What do you say we give Harry some time to rest?”

“No,” Harry said taking a bite of chocolate, “I’m okay really.”

“Now dear,” said Mrs. Weasley taking Harry’s hand, “they said you should just rest for a couple of days.” Everyone began to file out of the room. He was desperate; he didn’t want to be left alone, not here, not now.

“Remus?” he called. “Do you have a minute?” Remus returned and sat down in a new chair that was not in the room last year. Harry searched for something to say--anything. “Where’s the other bed?” he asked.

“Well, Molly’s spread things out a little. Fred and George aren’t here this summer, Ron’s in their room. She and Arthur are staying in,” he paused, “in the master bedroom. Ginny and Hermione are still rooming upstairs. We haven’t decided what to do with Buckbeak, yet.” He shifted in his chair and looked uncomfortably at the empty portrait. “The fact is Harry we need to talk; I just don’t think now’s such a good time.” Harry put the half-eaten chocolate bar on a small table next to his bed.

“All I have is time, Remus.” His words were hollow.

“Then… then you should know that the Weasleys are only living here temporarily. It’s Arthur’s new position that puts him and his family at risk--just a precaution really. They were too exposed out at the Burrow.” He paused, again searching for words to say. “Harry, Sirius has left the house to you. There’s more than just the house; we found the papers downstairs after he died. Essentially all he had, all the Black family had goes to you, Harry.”

Harry looked at the walls. They were clean, and looked freshly painted. The carpet, a light baby-blue, looked as if it had just been installed. Tears began to fill his eyes, and he looked to the ceiling. “I don’t want it,” he whispered.

“He didn’t want it either,” Lupin said kindly. “Too many memories… too many bad memories, really. But you have a chance to start some new ones Harry--maybe some good ones.” Harry didn’t answer; the tears were falling back on his pillow. “Well,” Lupin said as he stood up, “you need to know it’s yours. Molly’s been waiting to get your permission to take care of a number of things. One of those is Buckbeak.” He walked over to the window, the sun glowing off bright-white curtains. “You also need to know that there’s more to the Black estate — other homes and, of course, an account at Gringotts. Well, not really an account, more like a fortune.”

“I don’t want it!” Harry yelled. “I don’t want any of it!”

“Of course you don’t, Harry. No good soul wants to come into money like that, but it’s yours. It’s never about how much, Harry. What you do with it, how you use it and to what purpose, that’s what makes the difference.” Remus walked over and sat at Harry’s bedside. He took Harry’s hand. “Your father and Sirius were my family. They were closer than brothers. I’d be dead now if it weren’t for the two of them. Before Sirius died, I made a promise in case something should happen to him. I swore I’d watch out for you, and I will.” He squeezed Harry’s hand tight. “And I swear to you now, Harry. We will destroy those who took them away from us.” For a moment, fire flashed in his eyes. Harry could make out the werewolf in Lupin’s face, but the look soon softened and the grip on Harry’s hand relaxed. “There is much to discuss, Harry, but not now. Now, you need to rest, if only for an hour.” He started out of the room. “Ron and Hermione have missed you terribly. Perhaps, you could put on a face of reciprocation.” He paused for a moment, looking down at his shoes. “Cherish your time with your friends, Harry. It is precious,” he choked and left the room.

Harry turned on his side and cried. The tears soaked his pillow, and still he cried. All the money in Gringotts couldn’t bring them back. All he would ever have was pictures. He held his bandaged hand flat against the wet white sheet. He needed her here; he felt so terribly alone -- it hurt.

Harry did not leave the room that morning. It was not until Mrs. Weasley came to the door that he lifted his head off the pillow. “Harry, dear,” she said, “you really must eat something. I can bring it up if you’d like to be alone.”

“I’ll be down,” he called. “Just give me a minute.”

“Take all the time you need dear; we’re not going anywhere today.”

He sat up at the side of his bed. His hair was wet. He felt miserable. He walked over to the dresser where Mrs. Weasley had set a basin of water and fresh towels. On the wall was a mirror. He looked at his reflection. He not only felt miserable, he looked it. His face was puffy and his eyes swollen and red. His wet hair hung down limp like the greasy strings dangling from Snape’s scalp. He took a towel and leaned over to dry his hair as best he could. “Get a hold of yourself, Harry,” he thought. He closed his eyes and tried to relax, standing up with the towel over his face. His hands were flat against his cheeks, and his fingers gently pressed his eyes. He took a long deep breath, tossed the towel aside and reached for a brush in a hopeless attempt to set his hair straight. When he looked back to the mirror, he stood frozen.

The reflection looking him in the face was not there a minute ago. The puffiness was gone, the circles around his eyes were gone and, he leaned closer, the redness had disappeared. “That’s impossible,” he whispered. He looked down at his two hands turning them over in front of him. “Who are you?” he said out loud, and then, looking back at his reflection, he said “What are you?” He could hear his name being called from downstairs. “Coming!” he yelled. With his left hand he felt the bandages on his aching right arm. He reached for his wand in his back pocket. It wasn’t there. He glanced across the room and saw it lying on his bedside table. It was some ten feet away, not much more than it had been last year. He held out his right hand. The door to his room creaked open and at the very same instant he called “Lumos!” The wand burst into a brilliant white light.

“It’s true!” said Hermione standing at the door, a slight look of surprise on her face. Behind her, looking over her head stood Ron, his jaw hanging somewhere around his shoes.

“Bloody hell,” was all he mustered.

Harry felt the fingers in his right hand begin to tingle. He made a small fist and stretched his hand, and the odd sensation disappeared. He knew they were standing there, but he wanted to try. He raised his hand again and commanded, “Accio wand!” Nothing happened. “Accio wand!” Again, nothing happened. “Well, not so spectacular is it?” He sighed and walked over to pick his wand up.

“Are you kidding?” Ron exclaimed. “That was fantastic. I mean… well… here.” He put his own wand on the bedside table. He walked over to where Harry stood, held out his hand and called “Accio wand!” Nothing. “Accio wand!” Nothing. “Lumos!” Again, nothing. Hermione let out a great sigh. Ron glowered at her. “Well, let’s see you try then!”

“I’m not going to try,” she said. “I can’t do it. I don’t know of anyone that can, not like that. I mean, we all can do a little something without our wands, right?” Ron just looked at his shoes. “Magic slips out, usually when we’re emotional or upset. Chants and incantations for charms or hexes require constant eye contact and tremendous concentration.” She looked at Harry and shook her head and then repeated, “I don’t know anyone who can do it like that. But I’ll find out if there have been others when we get back to Hogwarts.” The cogs of Hermione’s mind began to turn. “It won’t be in any of our old books. Maybe I can look while we’re at Floursih and Blotts buying supplies.” For a moment, Hermione was lost in concentration, then shook her head and returned to the present. “Let’s go, Harry. You need to eat, and besides you know better than to…” A sudden flame burst in the center of the room, a note, and a tail feather… a phoenix tail feather. Harry grabbed the note.

Harry,

As much as I admire your capabilities, magic by students is forbidden outside of Hogwarts, with or without a wand. And please be sure to remind Mr. Weasley as well.

Headmaster Dumbledore

He stared at the note dumbfounded. “But how?” he whispered.

“How what, mate?” Ron took the note and read it. “Blimey, that’s impossible! He’s half-way around the world trying to recruit supporters.” He looked at Hermione. “It’s from Dumbledore, he knows Harry’s done magic!” He handed her the note. She read it and shook her head.

“Well, however he knows, you’re lucky Dumbledore’s in charge again, Harry. You could have been expelled,” she chastised. Ron rolled his eyes. “And that goes for you too, you know,” she added.

“I’m hungry,” was all Harry could say. “Let’s eat.”

The three made their way down the stairs to the kitchen. The smell of browning sausages and roasted potatoes filled the air.

“Well, it’s about time,” Mrs. Weasley scorned. Then turning to Harry and directing him to a chair she asked consolingly, “Are you feeling alright, dear?”

“Much better, thanks.” Mrs. Weasley filled their plates, and they began to eat. Harry was famished. It was the first time he could remember asking for a second plate before Ron. Half way through he noticed. “Where are the others, Remus and Ginny?”

“Remus had some work to take care of,” Mrs. Weasley said, “and Ginny’s visiting the Thomas’s.”

“The who?” he asked.

“Dean,” injected Hermione. “She’s visiting Dean and his family. They’re traveling up on the… Well, on vacation.”

“Is that safe?” Harry asked.

“Exactly what I said Harry.” Ron jumped in. “Traipsing off all over the country when You-Know-Who’s trying to kill us all.”

“Oh, Ron,” Mrs. Weasley scolded, “be quiet. You know perfectly well Mad-Eye’s with them, and if he’s there, nothing’s going to happen.” Ron seemed to slump somewhat.

“It’s just not…”

“Ron,” Hermione interrupted, “we’ve been over this time and time again. I know Harry hasn’t heard it all, but would you please wait until later so I don’t have to hear it again for the two-hundredth time?” Ron just sat and sulked.

The afternoon was growing late. Harry had had his fill, and was feeling somewhat tired again. His head still didn’t seem to be on all the way straight. He sat up off the bench and started to the door. “I’m sorry, but I think I’ll rest for a bit.”

“Hey mate, you dropped something.” Ron reached to the floor, and picked up a small white folded envelope. Harry’s heart skipped. It had fallen from his back pocket.

“Oh, yeah, that’s mine.” Harry walked briskly to snatch it from his hand just as Ron was pulling the folded paper closer to his face.

“…my Love,” he read out loud before Harry had a chance to tear it from his hands. Harry quickly slipped it back into his pocket and began to walk to the door. But before he made his escape Ron queried, “My Love, what?”

“I don’t know, just found it at St Mungo’s.” Harry was grasping for ideas to cover his tracks.

“Found it?” Ron asked again blankly. “Well, then, let’s have a look. Might be kind of fun. Have you read it already?” He stood up and was walking toward Harry, when Hermione stood up blocking his path.

“Come on, Ron,” she said. “You heard Harry. He’s tired. Let him rest.”

“Yes, Ron,” Mrs. Weasley added to Harry’s defense. “Leave the poor boy alone. Go on Harry. Ron, you can help wash these dishes and make sure they clean themselves properly this time.” She waved her wand and brushes began to soap the plates in the sink. Ron sighed and sulked over to the sink grabbing his wand and pointing it at a towel. “Come on Harry, let me walk you to your room.”

“I’m alright, really.”

“I know; there’s just one thing I want to talk to you about.” As they were climbing the stairs, she said. “You understand we’re only here temporarily.”

“I know, Remus told me,” he replied.

“Yes, of course. And you know then that this… all of this… belongs to you.” Harry nodded, swallowing hard. “I’ve tried to leave as much of Sirius in the house as I could. I wouldn’t presume to know how you feel. I can take it all down or leave it all up, or anything in between. Just give the word, Harry, it’s your house, and we’re grateful we can stay here.”

“You can have it,” he said with an empty voice. “I don’t… I don’t…” He began to shake and Mrs. Weasley reached out and held him tight in both arms.

“I know, dear, I know. We’ll get through this together; I promise you that. But, maybe you could promise me something?” She held him back and looked into his eyes. “Don’t try it on your own, Harry. Have faith in those around you, those that love you, and those that you love. They’ll bring you strength, Harry.” She let go and escorted him into his room rubbing his back.

She picked up the wet towel and scanned for anything else. “Fred and George brought your trunk last night. You have your broom and a few more items in the closet out in the hall. They say they had help making sure you got all your things. I guess it’s about time that uncle of yours started acting like a human being. Later, I’m afraid, we need to discuss two more items… Buckbeak and Kreacher.”

“Kreacher!” The hair on the back of Harry’s neck rose instantly and he started for the door. Mrs. Weasley took his arm.

“Kreacher’s dead, Harry. He came back to die. We think he returned to fulfill his one true dream of being mounted with the other house elves in the hall. Arthur has him in a box upstairs. We can’t… well, it’s not for us to decide, Harry.”

The film in Harry’s mind began to play again… Kreacher’s betrayal, Harry’s folly, Sirius’ death. He wouldn’t have the head mounted in the hall to remind him everyday of how Kreacher outsmarted him, of how he stood there and lied to his face, and how stupid Harry had been for believing only because he wanted Hermione to be wrong, only because he wanted to be right, to be the hero. He began to shake again. Mrs. Weasley walked him back to his bed and sat down beside him.

“I knew I should have waited, but Arthur wanted you to know the day you got home. He said that each day I waited would make it more difficult. Oh, Harry, I’m… I’m so sorry.” She began to cry, holding him in her arms again. “I know you loved him; we all did in our own way, and now we all miss him so.”

They sat there like that, the two, for some time. Finally, Mrs. Weasley stopped shedding tears, and Harry stopped shaking. Indeed, his eyes were quite dry. “You need to rest, dear. We’ll talk more later.” She stood up and made her way to the door, when Harry’s voice stopped her.

“Mrs. Weasley?” he called. His voice was suddenly steady, but cold as ice. “Can you get the others off the wall? The other house elves?” Without turning to look at him she nodded. “I want them out of the house. Take Kreacher and all the rest, and get rid of them. I don’t care if you give them a proper burial, burn them, or throw them in the dustbin. I don’t give a damn. I… I never want to see a bloody house elf again! To hell with them all!”

Her back still toward Harry, another tear began to streak down Mrs. Weasley’s face. “Yes, dear,” she said calmly, closing the door behind her.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Burden of Becoming

Chapter 12 - A Scar Too Deep
~~~***~~~


Buckbeak seemed to smile at Harry as he entered to spend yet another evening with the Hippogriff. The day had been cloudy and offered one of summer’s first respites from the heat. Harry bowed low and when the creature returned the gesture he patted it on the neck and fed it a rabbit. Harry sat down on the floor of straw finding it difficult to think about anything other than Gabriella. For two weeks the Hogwarts students had remained in the house. Hermione tried to analyze Harry’s powers, but unable to try some of her ideas until they returned to Hogwarts, they soon dropped the subject completely. Harry kept quiet about Tonks’ hint that he might be a Metamorphmagus. In fact, he kept quiet about a lot of things. He couldn’t bring himself to talk about Gabriella in front of Hermione, and he was never alone with Ron long enough to tell him. Harry had decided they would release Buckbeak when they all left for school. He would be setting free yet another reminder of Sirius, and he found himself spending much of his days alone with the creature listening to the Walkman Tonks gave him.

He had sent no more letters to Gabriella. There had been several attempted starts and stutters, but he always found he had nothing to say. His letters became lists of twenty questions asking about Duncan, Emma, or the other things that were going on in town. If he hadn’t been such an idiot, her hands could be around his waist right now. He was imagining the two of them on his motorcycle riding down a country road, but then his mind flashed to the accident, which had now so often played like the film of Sirius’ death. He could see them in slow motion flying through the air, the policeman, Gabriella lifeless on the ground. A stabbing sensation shot down his right forearm.

He’d left the bandages on because his arm still ached and because of his last memory of what it looked like--ground hamburger meat. It had started to smell a bit and he imagined it would be terribly scarred. Of course they’d probably be able to heal that, or maybe had already. Still he was strongly apprehensive, even when Mrs. Weasley suggested he take it off at breakfast earlier that morning. Buckbeak walked to the far corner of the room when Harry decided to take a peek.

He started at the bicep and began to unravel the bandages. The first layer revealed a second thinner wrapping around his forearm. The foul smell grew strong, but his upper arm seemed unscathed. Slowly, he began to remove the bandage around his forearm. All looked well until he noticed a small bit of scarring on the soft fleshy inside of his forearm. “To be expected,” he thought. He unwrapped another turn. The scar appeared to be a shape. “What?” he whispered. Another turn of the cloth, and there was no mistaking an odd looking lightning bolt and the tail end of a serpent. He froze as adrenaline began to pump through his veins. “How?” His heart raced. “No!” he whispered again. His mind was flashing to the marks of the Death Eaters. “It can’t be.” His breathing quickened. Finally, in a sudden flurry, he unwrapped the cloth completely and held his forearm tight with his other hand and examined it closely.

Thinly etched on the soft skin, as if carved with a knife, were the winding coils of a snake. The tip of its tail began where two small lightning bolts crossed, then wound up to form the handle of a sword. Below the hilt, the coils flared out to make the guard and then wrapped more tightly, straightening, until halfway down his forearm the flat blade erupted from the snake’s mouth poised ready to strike. The blade extended to a sharp point just above Harry’s wrist. It looked to Harry like a Basilisk spitting the Sword of Gryffindor. It wasn’t the Dark Mark of Voldemort, but what was it?

He was frightened, but the pace of his heart began to slow. At first he was hesitant, but then slowly the fingers of his left hand traced the edges of the scar. It didn’t hurt, but it was real; it was his skin. Had they done something to him at the hospital? Was this some kind of trick? And if it wasn’t, what then? Most wizards would probably take it as the Dark Mark, nobody would think there was a difference, or perhaps they’d think he did it on purpose, just trying to get attention.

There was a knock on the door. Ron poked his head in. “Hey, mate., mind if I…”

“Er, no,” Harry said panicking, “Buckbeak, he’s… he’s really in a state tonight.” Buckbeak continued to stare placidly at the wall munching on a rabbit bone.

“Seems okay to me,” Ron said and started to enter.

“No! Really, I uh, I…”

“You took the bandages off! Did it heal okay?” Ron continued to press toward Harry who was now looking for an escape that wasn’t there. Harry put his arm behind his back.

“It’s not too good Ron,” he said. “I think I’ll need to put the bandages back on again. You really don’t want to see.” The ploy failed and only made Ron more curious.

“Let’s give it a look then.” Harry closed his eyes and screwed up his face. If he was going to tell anybody, he could tell Ron, right?

“Swear to me you won’t scream and run out the door?”

“Just let me see the thing!” Slowly, without looking, Harry brought his forearm around revealing the fleshy underside to his friend.

“Oh no!” Ron screamed. “It’s horrible… just horrible!” He held his hands to his face his eyes wide, and then he started to laugh and shoved Harry on the shoulder. “You’re so full of every-flavor beans. Come on, mum’s got dinner ready and we have guests! Ginny’s back with Mad-Eye.” Ron started out the door.

Harry was lost. He watched Ron leave, and then looked back down to his arm. The scar was gone. His arm was perfectly smooth as if nothing had ever happened. He was dumbfounded, where did it go? He picked the bandages up off the floor and put them in the dustbin. On his way down to dinner he stopped at his room and put on a long-sleeved shirt. If it was going to pop out again, he didn’t want anyone noticing.

When he walked into the kitchen, everyone had already started to eat. A place had been set next to Mad-Eye who had yelled out “Hello Harry!” just before he opened the door. As he entered the kitchen, Mrs. Weasley started for him.

“Ron says the bandages are off. Let’s have a look!” He’d had his hand on his forearm the whole time, and hadn’t felt the scar rising on the skin. Quickly he pulled back the sleeve, showed her the back of his arm and elbow, and pulled the shirtsleeve down. “How does it feel?” she asked.

“Just fine,” he lied, hiding the fact that it still ached. “Everything looks wonderful!” He took his seat at the table.

“Hi Ginny!” said Harry with a smile.

“Hi Harry! How was your…”

“What’s that on your ear, Potter?” Mad-Eye asked, not turning his head from his plate; although Harry knew that his magical eye was probably turned right at him.

“An earring,” he answered.

“Yeah? Where’d you get it? Not off some stranger, I hope. It might be charmed! Hasn’t anyone checked?”

“Erm, it’s fine, really.”

“Molly! You let the boy come here with that in his ear. I hope you tested it to make sure it wasn’t hexed!”

“I’m sure it’s fine,” she spoke up in Harry’s defense. “Still, if he wants, we can have Remus take a quick look when he gets back.” Harry, his mouth full, nodded his head and that seemed to satisfy Mad-Eye. Ginny passed him the milk.

“How was your summer, Harry?” she asked. “I heard you had an accident.”

“I dropped Sirius’ motorcycle, and hit the curb. I was just going too fast.” Ginny gave a small gasp.

“He was almost taken is what happened,” Mad-Eye interjected. The whole table turned to Mad-Eye. Harry had deliberately been vague about the accident and the news was a surprise.

“Now Mad-Eye,” Mrs. Weasley spoke out, “we don’t know that Harry was almost taken.”

“Don’t we Molly? A police officer was on the scene of the supposed accident. He had a fourth-degree stunning spell slammed straight into his chest. If they hadn’t gotten there the moment it happened he would have died, and Harry would have been next!” Hearing Mad-Eye’s words everyone gasped.

“Harry!” Hermione sputtered. “You didn’t say anything about being stunned!”

“I wasn’t stunned. I-I left before it all happened. There were people coming out of their houses, and I just… I left.” His shoulders slumped. Hearing the words from his own mouth churned his stomach; suddenly he wasn’t hungry anymore. Mad-Eye gave a small grunt, but nothing more. Harry, pushing the beans around on his plate, felt a dozen eyes staring at him. Ginny tried to break the tension.

“Well, I like your hair and your earring Harry. It grew pretty fast in just a couple months.” Harry simply nodded.

“Thanks,” he said. Then Harry tried to change the subject. “How was Dean?” he asked, and a broad smile broke out on Ginny’s face; it was just the right thing to ask.

“He was perfect. His family was so sweet and kind.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Weasley with a bright smile, “the Thomas’ have always been the very best of people.”

“What did you do?” Harry asked.

“Er, Harry,” Ron interrupted, “can I talk with you for a second.”

“Harry is talking to me now, Ron,” Ginny snapped. “You can wait.”

“Well, I don’t need to hear more about Dean Thomas this, and Dean Thomas that, do I?” he yelled, and he stood from the table and left the kitchen in a huff. Harry was confused. Hermione sighed.

“Let me go talk to him,” she said and left to bring him back.

“Good riddance,” Ginny continued, clearly agitated. “He’s been nothing but a royal pain-in-the-neck since I told him about Dean on the train. You’d think I’d stolen the boy away from him, honestly!” She took a spoonful from her plate. “Anyway, we had a wonderful time. Spent most of the week up on the North Coast. The humpbacks are migrating. They were spectacular! One whale flew straight out of the water,” her hand shot up in the air, “turned on its side and CRASH! What a huge wave!”

“Humpbacks?” Harry asked, one eyebrow raised. “How was the weather?”

“Wonderful really, not nearly as hot as down here, but you could still wear a T-shirt. Dean bought me this.” Around her neck was a gold necklace from which hung a bluestone whale charm. Harry could see that her eyes were twinkling just thinking of Dean. He was truly happy for her.

“That’s fantastic. I always knew Dean had good taste,” he said with a grin and Ginny blushed.

“Well, Miss Weasley,” Mad-Eye said with a growl, “you’d better have that little token checked as well, before you wake-up in the middle of the night with it choking you to death.” At that both Harry and Ginny had to laugh.

“And what about your summer, Harry?” Ginny asked. “Were the Dursleys awful again?”

“No, not too bad.” His mind wandered. “Uh, look I better go check on Ron. We can talk more later, okay?”

“Sure,” she said. “Maybe tomorrow at Diagon Alley?” she asked and Harry nodded.

He stood up from the table, thanked Mrs. Weasley for dinner and excused himself. Outside the kitchen door, the entranceway was empty. He started toward the study, but the thought of seeing the Black family tapestry on the wall turned him to his own bedroom. Perhaps he’d try a letter again tonight. The stairway was now unadorned with the heads of house-elves; a simple shimmering blue covered the walls. When he arrived at his room, he heard arguing further up the stairs; it had to be Ron and Hermione. He took a few steps upward. He could make out Hermione’s words first.

“Well, if he didn’t have a pretty clear idea at the hospital, he’s dead sure now.”

“I didn’t think…”

“No, you didn’t think! You never think. We agreed we wouldn’t tell him, right?”

“Well, that was before.” Ron was trying to find his voice in the argument.

“Before what?” she snapped.

“They tried to kill him, Hermione! Didn’t you hear Mad-Eye? Harry didn’t tell us that, did he? Why not, do you suppose? He’s hiding something, too.” Suddenly Ron’s voice softened. It was almost tender. “Hermione, I’ve never kept a secret from him, not like this. I can feel the tension in the air whenever we’re together. He has to know.”

“You know what it’ll do to him? Oh Ron, we can’t,” she pleaded. “We were off battling for the Order and Harry was left out of it for his own safety. Leave it alone.”

“I don’t know,” he whispered.

“Harry has to be on top of his game this year. He can’t be distracted. We’re talking about his life, Ron. Leave it alone.” There was a long silent pause.

“Okay,” he said with a sigh, “for now.”

“It’s the right thing Ron, really.” They started toward the stairs and Harry quickly stepped down and into his room leaving the door ajar. Hermione was first in with Ron close behind.

“Hey, mate,” Ron said. “Diagon Alley tomorrow, eh?” Harry shrugged his shoulders. Sitting in his chair, he feigned reading the Daily Prophet. “I wish I’d done as well in my O.W.L.S. as you two,” said Ron forlornly. “I guess this makes the first time that…”

“Yep,” Harry interrupted not looking up from the paper. “The first time we’re not in the same classes.”

“Well,” said Hermione, “that’s not completely true. We’ll all have Defense Against the Dark Arts, won’t we? And then there’s Charms too.” She seemed to be making Ron feel worse. Ron had not done well. He was not admitted into McGonagall’s N.E.W.T., nor Snape’s -- Transfiguration and Potions. The tension Ron had spoken of began to fill the air. Harry continued to read the same page of the paper. Finally, after a silent five minutes, Ron spoke.

“I think I’ll go to bed. See you in the morning.” He was clearly down, but Harry was in no mood to pick him up. Ron had folded under Hermione’s thumb.

“Yes, I’m rather tired too,” Harry said pointedly at her. She opened her mouth to say something, but simply stood up as well.

“Goodnight, Harry,” she said. “Should I shut the door?”

“Yes,” he said, “I think you’re smashing at it.” Her eyebrows furled, but rather than fight back she closed the door behind her. He was alone. But then, when wasn’t he alone? “You’ve been alone since you walked in the door,” he thought. He pulled the sleeve up on his right arm. He could see nothing. Had he imagined it? His fingers stroked his forearm. He grabbed parchment and quill and began to write.


Gabriella, my love.

I miss you. I miss the twinkle in your eyes. I miss the small dimple in your cheek when you smile. Your letters mean all the world to me. I will continue to write, I swear.

Could you ask your mum a question for me? I saw a drawing of a snake coiled around a sword with the blade springing from its mouth. Its tail ended in the crossing of two lightning bolts. Does that mean anything? Just thought it looked interesting is all.

Tomorrow I’m off to buy books for school. Such a simple thing, really. And yet, I hate the thought. It takes me one step further from you and one step closer to the end. I wish I could see the future and tell you all will be okay. I guess we’ll both know soon enough.

I love you,

Harry

It was all he could do to not throw the entire note in the dustbin. Instead, he gave it to Hedwig and sent her flying. He turned to see his reflection in the mirror. He stared, trying to assess the person standing before him. “Who are you, Harry Potter?” he whispered. Again he rubbed his right forearm, but nothing was there. “Was it a dream?” he thought. He took his clothes off and climbed into bed. Outside his door he heard Mrs. Weasley and Ginny ascending the stairs. Ginny was still going on about Dean. Harry smiled; at least someone was happy in the house tonight. He took a deep breath and cleared his mind. Soon, he was asleep.

The next morning was warm, but Harry slipped on an oversized long-sleeved shirt anyway. He was still unconvinced that the mark had disappeared forever. The breakfast conversation was quiet and Mr. Weasley was quickly off to the Ministry. Harry noticed that the lines in his face had returned. After they ate, Mrs. Weasley gathered the four Hogwarts students to travel to Diagon Alley by floo powder. Mad-Eye would be tagging along today. Harry knew he was there for extra protection. “Potter duty,” said Harry sighing to himself. Was he to be watched for the rest of his life? “Well that might not be too long, eh?” he thought dully. Thankfully Lupin, who had returned during the night, would stay behind. He was still sleeping when they left.

When they arrived, they found Diagon Alley a mass of students.

“Dean said he might be here today,” Ginny said brightly scanning the crowd.

“Nobody wanders off today,” Mad-Eye lectured the group. “You stay within sight of me or Molly, is that clear?” All nodded.

“First stop is Floursih and Blotts,” Mrs. Weasley said brightly. Hermione surveyed Harry for the slightest moment.

“Yes,” she said, “there are a few things I need to find out.”

It took only a few minutes for Ron and Harry to gather their books. Ginny was off with her mother and Hermione had disappeared behind the stacks, Mad-Eye keeping his magical eye fixed in her direction.

“Mister Moody,” Harry called, “can Ron and I sit out in front? It’s getting awfully hot in here.” The perspiration was beading on his brow,

“All right,” he said. “These women will have us here all day. Don’t move more than ten feet from the door, agreed?”

“Agreed!” Ron said, glad to be free if for only a moment.

The two sat at the curb just outside the door. Quite a few students came up and said hello. Many, to Harry’s surprise, were greeting Ron first. His brilliant play in last year’s Quidditch victory had made him quite a celebrity; even Padma Patil stopped to speak with Ron, after only giving Harry a polite, “Hi, Harry.” He watched the passersby as Ron and Padma chatted. He was looking behind Ron, when something caught his eye. The T-shirt Ron was wearing had pulled up his back revealing a deep red scar that traveled from below his waistline and disappeared up into the shirt as it curved around Ron’s side.

When Padma walked away, Harry had to ask, “What’s that on your back?” Ron quickly pulled down his shirt.

“Nothing,” he said nervously.

“Ron, don’t give me that. What is it?” Ron was silent. Then Harry remembered. “I thought they’d healed; I thought you were okay?” His voice was anxious. It was Harry’s fault Ron had been hurt in the first place.

“It’s nothing, mate, really.” But his voice was too nonchalant to be convincing.

Harry looked him in the eyes, and then said, “Not this too, Ron.” The redhead quickly looked at his shoes, then out into the street.

“Well,” he said slowly, “Madame Pomfrey did all she could. There were just some marks that ran too deep, that’s all.”

“There’s more than one? Let me see.” Harry reached to look at Ron’s back.

“No!” Ron stopped him. Harry sat back on the curb glancing at Ron’s back and then back to his face. “I haven’t told anybody, Harry. Not Mum, not Hermione…” He looked at the sky. One lone cloud sat motionless against a bright blue background. “I mean, they can see the scars on the outside, but I haven’t told them… the healers… they… they couldn’t get it all.”

“What do you mean? The scars? They couldn’t get the scars?” The pitch in Harry’s voice was raised.

Ron looked at Harry and held his arm. His eyes were fixed and his jaw set. “Swear, Harry… swear you won’t speak of this to anybody.” For a moment he saw the same eyes Ron’s mother had shown in St. Mungo’s.

“You know I won’t,” he said.

“The brain at the Ministry didn’t just wrap itself around me,” he said slowly. “It grew into me.”

“What!” Harry cried out. “How? Where?”

“Shhh,” Ron hissed. He pulled back his collar revealing the nape of his neck. A deep red scar curled and plunged toward Ron’s spine. “They tried to take it all out, but it had wrapped around my spine and… and into my own brain.” Harry was stunned; his face turned white. How could he have let this happen?

“But, but you’re okay, right?” he stammered. “I mean, it doesn’t… it hasn’t done anything to you, has it?”

“Before I left Hogwarts, I asked Madame Pomfrey not to say anything to my parents. She agreed as long as I let her check in on me over the summer. That’s why she came for a visit last week.”

“And?”

“And as far as she knows, nothing’s changed. In fact the marks are going down, so she figures I’m healing myself… ‘Rejecting the foreign invasion,’ she said.” He looked down at his shoes again.

“But you lied to her, didn’t you?” Harry asked quietly. Ron nodded. “What’s happening, Ron?”

“Voices,” he whispered. “When it had me, I thought… I thought I was going to die. I don’t know how to explain this... it was like drowning… drowning in thought. I had lost myself in a sea of voices. Other minds all fighting with each other for control. When I woke up at Hogwarts, they had disappeared. I thought they were gone forever, but…”

“But what?” Harry prodded.

“They’re coming back. Usually, when it’s crowded, I hear them; and, if I try to concentrate…” He glanced over across the street. Andrew Kirke was there looking at a parchment in his hands. “He’s going to yell for his father,” Ron whispered. A moment passed, then another. Harry was starting to think Ron was pulling his leg when Andrew’s face suddenly became vexed.

“Dad!” he yelled down the street. A dark haired man in brown robes came trotting up to his side. “I can’t get this all myself! You said you were going to give me a hand.” Moments later the son and his father walked into a shop at the corner. Harry sat in shock.

“You can read minds?” he asked. “Legilimens?”

“I don’t want to, Harry. I can’t stop it. I’m afraid if it gets to be too much, like it was in the ministry…” Ron shuddered and gasped for air.

“Then tell someone,” Harry urged. “Tell Madame Pomfrey.”

“She’ll tell my folks, and then… well, you said it Harry, I’ll become some kind of experiment or something.” He shook his head. “No, it’s not that bad. If it gets worse, I’ll let someone know.” Harry looked at him doubtfully. “I swear Harry, I’ll tell.” Ron suddenly closed his eyes. “Oh, no. He’s here.” Immediately he got to his feet and Harry followed. The same instant a familiar drawl hit their ears.

“Well, if it isn’t Potter and Weasels holding hands again.” Draco Malfoy had just come around the corner dressed in leather pants and a sweatshirt. It was too hot to be wearing long-sleeves, Harry thought touching his arm. Malfoy was thinner than Harry expected; his blonde hair without a wisp out of place. As usual, he was flanked by Goyle, but Crabbe was absent.

“Hello, Draco,” Harry spat. “Where’s your boyfriend Crabbe? Gone to visit his dad at Azkaban? Or, maybe yours?” Malfoy’s face suddenly contorted.

Malfoy reached for his wand; Harry was an instant faster. Suddenly a searing pain ran down Harry’s shoulder. He grabbed his forearm, facing Malfoy but wincing.

“Harry!” a gruff voice boomed. “Put it down! You too, Malfoy.” Draco hesitated at Moody’s command. “I hear you make a great ferret,” Mad-Eye said holding his wand straight at the blonde’s head. Reluctantly, Draco slipped his wand back up his sleeve.

“It’s only a matter of time, Potter,” he snapped. “They’ll be free, you’ll see. And you’ll pay! I swear you’ll all pay.” He turned and stomped away, Goyle following his footsteps.

“Come on boys,” Moody called, “back inside. Let’s find the girls and be on our way.” Ron and Harry followed Moody back into the bookstore. The door shut behind them ringing a small bell. Harry began to rub his arm.

“What is it Harry?” Ron asked.

“My arm,” Harry replied, “it still burns a little.” He sat in a chair as Ron watched. Carefully he slid his thumb under the cuff of his shirt. He felt the tip of the sword running to his wrist--the mark had returned. His face became panicked.

“Come on, Harry,” Ron pressed, “what is it?” Harry sat silent. It was his turn to stare at his shoes.

Suddenly his mind was asking him to speak, to tell Ron, what was going on. A vision of the police officer stepping out of his car flashed in front of his eyes. Then a voice in Harry’s mind called back, “No!” The film turned off and another began to play… he was surrounded, captured, choking… In the bookstore, there was a commotion and the film stopped abruptly. Harry looked up to see Ron tripping backwards over a stack of books on the floor as if someone, or something, had just pushed him.

________________________________________
With one hand Ron began to gather the books he’d scattered across the floor while he rubbed his head with the other; Harry helped him straighten the pile. No sooner had they finished, than Hermione walked in through the front door. Harry had to look twice.

“I thought you were in the stacks?” he asked.

“I was,” she said simply, “but I needed to get new quills.”

“But Moody said you shouldn’t leave his sight,” Ron warned.

“I’m not the one whose life’s being threatened; it’s you two and Ginny. Mad-Eye won’t care if…”

“Where were you?” Moody’s voice boomed from across the bookstore. He was clearly distressed. Hermione’s voice suddenly became smaller.

“Just getting quills,” she said holding a bag of feathers in her outstretched hand. Moody stomped up in front of her, staring down at it.

“Quills? From where?”

“The stationery shop across the street. I didn’t go far.”

Moody’s face became even more concerned. He turned his head to look behind him into the stacks, then looked out the window. Clearly something was bothering him, but what it was he wouldn’t say. His good eye was fixed on Hermione, its eyebrow raised. The magical eye had spun backwards.

“Finally,” he said, exasperated, “Ginny has all her things. Let’s get out of this place.” A moment later, Ginny and Mrs. Weasley appeared from behind some shelving. A note of concern appeared on Mrs. Weasley’s face. Harry saw her eyes dart from himself to Ron.

“What’s the matter with you two? You’re both so pale.” Harry looked more closely at Ron and indeed he did look a bit peaked. He also realized his arm was still aching and a quick check with his thumb confirmed the scar was still there. Before either of them had a chance develop an explanation, Moody spoke.

“It was Malfoy, the little ferret. Tried pullin’ his wand on Harry here.” Mrs. Weasley gasped. “Bit too fast for him though, weren’t you boy?” Moody slapped Harry on his bad shoulder making him cringe. “Tell me, what was the spell going to be?”

“Well,” Harry said, somewhat encouraged by Moody’s praise, “I thought I’d…”

“That’s enough of that sort of talk,” Mrs. Weasley cut in. “We still have loads to buy, and very little time.”

The rest of the afternoon was spent purchasing all sorts of supplies. Mad-Eye had gone off with Hermione. Punishment, Harry thought, for running off without permission. He was still a bit confused about how she could have run past him and Ron in the front of the store without being seen. He found himself with the Weasley family. By the time the afternoon sun began to wane, they all had most everything they’d need for the year. Ginny had just purchased a new cauldron and all that was left was a broomstick maintenance kit for Ron.

“I’ve got to keep it in good shape, don’t I?” he said. “We’ll have a shot at winning the cup this year.” He glanced at his sister and smiled. “I imagine the team will have two Weasleys, eh?”

“I won’t make a very good Chaser with the broom I have, Ron,” said Ginny with a frown. “I doubt I’ll even be able to make the team.”

They had just threaded their way through a large crowd to the front of the broomshop. The crowd had gathered at the storefront window where on display was the year’s latest model. Harry had never seen a crowd like it, not even for the Firebolt; people were lining up into the street just to get a glimpse. It was too much effort to try to push their way to the window.

“Well Ron,” said Mrs. Weasley, handing him some money, “run on in and get your kit. Don’t dawdle.” He grabbed the coins, gave his mom a wink, and ran inside. His smile simply made Ginny seem more miserable. Harry couldn’t think of what to say. She was right, her broom was awful, and Chasers had to have speed.

“You’ve got tremendous skill,” he said finally. “You’re sure to make the team.”

“No, Harry,” Mrs. Weasley spoke up, “really, her broom is bloody awful.” Both he and Ginny looked at her in surprise. She was always one to be satisfied with their financial circumstance. “So, I spoke to Arthur yesterday and,” a twinkle was glinting in her eye, “he thought that an early birthday gift might be in order.” Ginny gave out a tremendous squeal.

“Are you serious Mum? Really?” Mrs. Weasley nodded. Ginny wrapped her arms around her mother, kissing her face and nearly knocking her over.

“Well,” she said, “your father’s doing a bit better with his new position, but we won’t be able to buy anything new.”

“That’s okay!” Ginny yelled again. “I don’t mind, I was thinking…”

“I said it was a gift Ginny,” her mum said, “and Ron’s in to get it now. Your father was here last night and made the arrangements.” Both Harry and Ginny spun around to face the shop; Ron was still inside. Suddenly, Harry had an idea. He held his hand to his stomach.

“Uh, Mrs. Weasley? It’s been quite a while,” he said rubbing his hand in a slow circle. “I really need to, er… you know. Can I go inside?”

“Oh, very well, but straight in and straight out, and tell Ron to hurry; tell him I just couldn’t keep it a secret,” she said with a bit of excitement in her own voice.

Harry had been in the broomshop every time he’d been to Diagon Alley. He ran in just as Ron was coming to the counter. He grabbed his arm, whispered in his ear and headed to the back. “It’ll only take a few minutes,” he called to Ron. At the rear of the shop was a large fireplace. A wizard and his son were just emerging from the ashes. In a blink of an eye, Harry was at the entryway to Grimmauld Place. There stood Lupin.

“Sorry, Remus!” he called running up the stairs. “Can’t talk now!”

Lupin caught him on the way down the stairs. “What’s going on, Harry?”

“You said it yourself, Remus, right? It’s what we do with it that matters!”

A flash, and Harry was back in the broomshop. Ron was waiting anxiously.

“When Mad-Eye finds out he’ll have a fit!” he said. Harry simply grinned. The two went to the counter, and after an exchange of some money Harry was first to emerge from the broomshop. Ginny and Mrs. Weasley were sitting on a bench in the shade across the street. Ginny stood up first and ran to Harry.

“Is that it? Is that it?” she called.

“Sorry, Ginny,” Harry said walking to the bench. “This one’s mine; I couldn’t resist.”

In his hands was the greatest broom known to the Wizarding world--The Caduceus. At first Ginny just sighed looking past Harry’s shoulder to see if Ron was coming. There was a commotion down the street: “Potter’s got one!” someone yelled. Moments later they were surrounded by the crowd.

“Give me a look, Harry!” yelled Geoffrey Hooper, a fellow Gryffindor. “Blimey, that’s beautiful. Man, I know I could fly better if I had a broom like that! My dad just wastes his money; he has no idea. Do you think I could still try out for the team, Harry? Who’s the Captain this year? I heard it might be Katie; I hope not, I don’t think she likes me very much.”

“That’s because you whine all the time,” Harry thought. He really hadn’t had time to admire the broom in his hands, or to think about it at all. The crowd was pressing in on him a bit too much; it was starting to get uncomfortable.

“Hey, clear out now!” a voice boomed. “Give the boy room ter breathe, why don’ yeh!” It was Hagrid! Harry beamed and gave him a hug before the half-giant could say another word. “Well, now,” he said patting Harry on the back, “I’m happy ter see yeh too. Wha’ makes yeh so popular now?” he asked with a broad smile. “Oh my, if yeh haven’ changed yer look some, Harry.” He touched the side of Harry’s head, his hand blocking out the sun.

“It’s great to see you too, Hagrid!” said Harry warmly. Mrs. Weasley stood up and walked over to them.

“Wonderful to see you Hagrid!” she called. And then she looked squarely at Harry. “I thought you needed to use the bathroom!” she scolded, squinting one eye in his direction. Harry smiled back.

“Well, I never said…” he began, but Ginny stopped him short with another squeal.

“Is that it? Is it? It is!” Ron had emerged from the shop with a broom in his hands. Ginny finished squeezing her mother and ran to Ron. “It’s perfect! It hardly looks used at all,” she said at first, just looking at the broom’s shaft and not paying much attention to the design

“Locked up for most of a year,” Harry whispered to himself.

“Oh mum! A… a… Firebolt,” she beamed, “it’s fantastic!” She held the broom in her hand examining every inch. “Will we see Dad tonight?”

Mrs. Weasley seemed a bit confused. Clearly she had been expecting the Nimbus 2000 that Ron had almost purchased when Harry ran into the store, but Mr. Weasley had made the arrangements and perhaps there had been a change. Unsure, she decided not to say anything about it.

“Yes, we will,” said Mrs. Weasley, a bit vexed. “I want to speak with him too.”

“Well, Ron yeh jus’ won’ stop growin’, will yeh!” Hagrid ruffled the redhead’s hair. “Where’s Hermione?”

“Off with Mad-Eye,” Ron answered.

“Well, tell her I said hello. I’m off ter pick some things up fer school.” He winked and was off.

“Well,” Mrs. Weasley said, adjusting her blouse, “it’s been a long day. Alastor said they’d meet us back at home if we didn’t get together on the street.” She suddenly looked very tired. Harry saw her eyes wander off somewhere and a glance at Ron’s expression showed it wasn’t a happy place.

“Mrs. Weasley,” he said, “how ‘bout we get a bite to eat before we go. There’s no reason you should have to cook tonight.”

“I don’t know, Harry,” she said looking at the sky. “It’ll be dark soon.” There was the faintest hint that twilight would soon be upon them.

“Come on, Mum,” Ron said putting his arm around her shoulder. “You saved a bundle on that old used thing.” He shook his hand and it rang with the clang of coins. “I’ll buy!” he said grinning.

A few minutes later they were all seated at a table in Dedalia’s Diner. The meal was warm and filling. Ginny, against her mother’s protestations, kept the Firebolt at her side during dinner. She only took her hands off of it to put another forkful in her mouth. Harry set his broom up against the wall and it soon was the center of attention as patrons walked in and out. He looked at Ginny and smiled. She had been the one bright spot in his life since leaving Privet Drive. He took a drink of butterbeer, and then remembered. He slipped his thumb up the sleeve of his shirt; the mark had gone. At least he couldn’t feel it. He took a quick look down at his wrist below the table and saw nothing. That instant everything went black.

“Hello, Harry! Guess who,” a gentle female’s voice whispered in his right ear. Her hands, covering his eyes, were warm. He didn’t need to guess, he knew.

“I’m not sure,” he said playfully. “Pansy Parkinson?”

“Oh, you beast!” she said, shoving him on the shoulders. Harry turned smiling.

“Cho, it’s you!” He continued to grin. He stood up from his chair and without thinking twice put his arms around her and gave her a hug. “I wish you could have been here sooner; we’re just about done.” Cho seemed only slightly surprised and hugged Harry in return. Then he saw, standing next to her, a reddish-blonde that Harry knew only too well, Marietta Edgecombe. He could feel his temperature suddenly rising.

“Hello, Marietta,” he said, forcing a smile.

“Hello Harry,” she returned, but would not hold his eyes. Cho reached for Harry’s head.

“I love your hair,” she said. “Ooh, and a piercing too! My, my, are you turning into a rebel?” she asked with a mischievous grin. “Oh, I forgot, you already are.” Her hand remained on Harry’s face, and then realizing it, she quickly brought it down to her side. “Well, we were just leaving.”

“How’s Michael?” he asked. The words just fell out of his mouth, he didn’t know why.

“Michael?” she asked back.

“Yeah, Michael Corner. I thought you two were, er…”

“Oh, that.” She suddenly reddened. “Well, he was a good shoulder to cry on I guess, but I’m done crying, Harry. We have work to do, don’t we? All of us?” Her eyes had a fire he’d only seen when she was on her broom in the midst of competition. “I’ll see you on the train then?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he mustered, “on the train.” She gave him a kiss on the cheek and left. He turned to the table to see everyone smiling at him. “What?”

“Nothing,” Ron said, “but something tells me she still fancies you.” Harry sat back down and finished his dinner. He smiled a little to himself as he took in Ron’s words. In the same moment a pang of guilt hit him for feeling that way. Well, he wasn’t going to have time for anybody this year. Surely Cho would find someone else to keep her company. And with that thought firmly implanted in his mind they returned to Grimmauld Place.

They arrived home to find Hermione, Moody and Remus having dinner with Mr. Weasley, Fred and George. Ginny burst in to the kitchen and gave her father a hug.

“Oh, thank you Dad! You’re the greatest, I love it!”

“Well dear, it’s the least we could do. We’ve got to give Gryffindor a fighting chance for the cup this year, don’t we?”

“Yes,” said George, “you’ll have to uphold the Weasley name, won’t she Fred… Fred?” But Fred was staring, mouth open wide, at Ginny’s new broom. George looked to see what had taken Fred’s attention. “A Firebolt!” he gasped. “But Dad, you said…”

“Fred, George,” Harry cut in. “can I have a word with you for a moment?”

“But Harry did you see…”

“Now, please!” he insisted. The twins rose from their seats and came over to Harry. “I have something upstairs I need to show you.”

“Look, Harry,” said Fred glancing back to the Firebolt, “I’m sure it’s fascinating and all, but…”

“Have either of you two heard of a little something called the Caduceus?” he asked simply. George’s eyes opened wide.

“You didn’t, mate?”

“He did,” chimed Fred.

“I love having wealthy friends.”

“But,” Harry began, “if you’d rather…” Snap. Fred and George disapparated before his eyes and seconds later he could hear the sounds of howling from upstairs. Behind him, Ginny was talking to her father non-stop about the specifications and capabilities of the Firebolt.

“…and did I say it could accelerate from 0-150 miles per hour in ten seconds?” Mr. Weasley was having trouble finding his bearings.

“Yes, dear, yes I believe you did,” he muttered looking to his wife. “Molly, I thought…”

“Yes,” she replied, “so why did you change your mind?”

“I didn’t change anything,” he answered. Ron stopped talking to Remus and began to walk to Harry who was still standing by the door. “Ron?” shot his father in a sharp voice.

“Really, Dad,” Ron said, “we better get up there before they ruin the Caduceus.” Ginny turned to Hermione to elaborate on the Firebolt’s turning ability. It was Mr. Weasley who came over to Ron and Harry.

“Come on boys, lets see it together,” he said with a smile, but the tone was less than jovial. They headed to the entryway, but then turned to the study. The room was dark, save for the golden magical instruments glittering in the candlelight. Harry began to examine some markings on one when Mr. Weasley took his attention. “Suppose you tell me what happened.”

“Well,” Ron started in his best honest voice, “Mum said to ask for the best used broom they had and the shopkeeper would understand. That’s, er, that’s what he gave me.”

“Come on, Ron, that Firebolt’s worth ten times what your mother gave you to pay for a broom. It was supposed to be a Nimbus 2000. Excellent condition, yes, but nowhere near a Firebolt. And she said you had change left over.” As he said the words a look of understanding came upon his face. “Harry, where’s your broom?”

“Fred and George are looking at it in my room right now,” he said innocently.

“Harry Potter, you know what I mean.”

“Honestly, Mr. Weasley, once I had the Caduceus, what was I going to do with an old Firebolt?”

“I should have known. I should have known.” Mr. Weasley began pacing the floor. “Well, she’ll have to give it back to you, that’s all there is to it.”

“What?” Ron yelled. “You can’t… you won’t.”

“I can, and I will! Harry, I appreciate you wanting to give her this gift, but we can’t…”

“I didn’t give it to her,” Harry said flatly.

“Of course you did,” Mr. Weasley said dismissively.

“No, I didn’t.” Harry said defiantly. “I sold it to Mr. Tridman at the broomshop. I’m not saying I got top dollar for it, but it was enough that I could afford to buy the Caduceus.” Harry walked over from the shelf holding the golden instruments to Arthur Weasley and looked him in the eye. “Ron is telling you the truth: He asked for the best used broom they had… it was the Firebolt.” The cogs were rolling in Mr. Weasley’s mind. It was Ron who began to smile first.

“Yes!” Harry heard him whisper.

“Alright then,” Mr. Weasley said as he let out a sigh, “alright, I’ll tell Molly what happened, but something tells me I owe you a few dinners Harry.”

“It’s a deal,” Harry said with a grin, “as long as Mrs. Weasley’s doing the cooking.”

A few moments later, he and Ron were with Fred and George examining the Caduceus for the first time.

“It’s spectacular, mate,” said Fred. “Did you know it has twice the acceleration of the Firebolt? Special adhesive charms to keep you from being thrown off.”

“Storm-repellent spells to keep you warm and dry in cold, wet weather,” added George.

“And,” continued Fred, “its own specialized servicing kit.”

“Caduceus?” queried Ron. “What kind of name is that?”

“It’s the staff that the Roman god Mercury carried with him as he zipped about,” explained George. “Two serpents coiled around a winged staff. You’ll be the only one at Hogwarts with one of these, Harry.” Just then there was a hoot in the window. It was Hedwig.

“A post for Harry?” teased Fred. “Hmmmm, I wonder from whom it could be.” Harry took the envelope and held it in his hand.

“Look guys,” he said, “I’m getting tired.”

“Sure you are,” said George. “Ah well, let’s go Fred. We’ve got work in the morning. Come on Ron. Ron?” Ron was sitting in the chair by Harry’s bed, his face pale and his eyes closed.

“I’ll kick him out in a bit,” said Harry. The twins said goodbye and disapparated. Harry sat down on his bed across from Ron, turning the envelope over in his hand. Finally he looked at Ron. “You know, don’t you?”

“It was raining,” he whispered. “Some girl through a window… your window? She has very dark skin.”

“Yes she does,” Harry said staring at the envelope. “It’s the most beautiful copper brown I’ve ever seen.”

“I could tell from Fred that she likes you,” Ron spoke softly. “Do you like her?”

“She’s a Muggle, Ron,” he said, expecting the worst.

“Haven’t you figured it out yet, mate?” Ron opened his eyes. “We’re friends, right? Hell Harry, more than friends. I’m closer to you than I am to Fred and George.” He paused. “Well, aren’t I?” Harry nodded.

“I love her, Ron. I love her and she loves me. She was with me the night of the accident. I thought… I thought I’d killed her.” The picture of her lifeless body flashed before his eyes; they became damp. “I was going to leave you all behind, just to be with her.” Ron stirred in his chair, but remained silent. “Then I realized I’d be putting her life in jeopardy just to keep her at my side.” He fell back on his bed. “I won’t hold her lifeless body in my hands, not again, not ever.”

“So, who knows?” Ron asked.

“Fred and George found out. Tonks…”

“Tonks?” Ron asked.

“She was my watcher this summer,” Harry said shaking his head. “And after the accident, well, your dad.”

“My dad knows too? Merlin’s beard, Harry, half the world knows and you wanted to keep it secret from me?”

“She’s a Muggle, Ron,” he repeated. “I wasn’t sure what to expect.”

“It’s not the only thing you’re hiding Harry, is it?” His voice had a slight edge to it.

“Well, Ron,” Harry snapped back, “I suspect we both have our little secrets, don’t we.” His voice was becoming heated. Ron took to his feet, he looked torn.

“I’m… I’m not the one who nearly died and won’t tell anybody about it!” he yelled.

“Aren’t you?” Harry rose to his feet. They were toe-to-toe. “Aren’t you?” he repeated pitching his voice to match Ron’s. “Brain-boy! You may enjoy slurping other people’s thoughts Ron, but you can stay out of my head!” Ron’s face instantly fell.

“I don’t need this,” he said shoving Harry aside and leaving the room.

“I don’t need it either!” Harry called after him. He dropped back to his bed. “I don’t want any of it,” he whispered to himself. For a moment he looked to the door. Ron was sick, and he’d used it to his advantage. “The one friend you’ve got, Harry,” he thought, “you’re a jackass.” He got up to go apologize, and realized he still had the letter in his hand. He sat back down in the chair, pulling his right sleeve up. There was no mark. He slipped open the letter and took a deep breath.

Harry,

(His name had a little heart around it.)

I miss you too. Your mirror is keeping me company and so are those two other little things I’ve hidden away in my wonderful box. Life’s been rather dull around Privet Drive. A bit of good news--Duncan’s decided to stay on and finish school, even though Emma was determined to leave. He says what’s good for Harry is what’s good for him. I spoke with Mama this morning. I haven’t told her about Hedwig, yet. I just asked your question. She seemed fascinated by the whole symbology.

Two lightning bolts crossed are most commonly linked to the Tibetan symbol for the Viswa Vajra representing that which cannot be destroyed, but destroys all evil. The snake may represent lightning as well, the flow of energy, which creates us and makes us alive. Mama calls it the divine energy, or life force in us all. She also mentioned the Khadga, a sword that first destroys ignorance to then allow enlightenment.

I’d like to think there’s a life force that binds you to me Harry. The way I see it, one step closer to school, is one step closer to the end of school, and that’s one step closer to me.

Be strong, Harry. I love you,

Gabriella


He folded the note and looked at his arm again. Still nothing. He closed his eyes and fancied the two of them connected by an invisible beam of energy. He saw her face before him and the twinkle in her eyes. He smiled putting the note in his pocket. Thoughts of Gabriella and the summer lightened Harry’s heart. He made up his mind; Ron was right. “Time to destroy a little ignorance,” he thought. He stood and climbed the stairs.

As he made his way to the upper story, he once again heard voices--hushed whispers. He knocked on Ron’s door. “Ron?” he called. His knock pushed the door open. There was the familiar sound of a snap just before Harry put his head through. “Can I come…” he stopped, horror struck. Ron was sitting at the foot of his bed, his shirt off, and his back toward Harry. “My god,” he whispered.

The scarring Harry had only glimpsed earlier in the day was now laid out before him. Ron made no effort to move. “You said it was getting better?” he gasped, slowly walking to Ron’s bedside.

“It’s been a hard day, Harry,” he said with a deep breath. “Diagon Alley, and then tonight.” The scars were darker and deeper than earlier in the day. The small strip running from Ron’s tailbone weaved its way up his back like a twisted root, branching out from his spine into a network of tinier scars. Finally, the system made its way to the nape of his neck where it seemed to disappear into a circle the size of a galleon. “There were so many voices today.”

“Does it hurt?” Harry asked, holding out his finger but resisting the temptation to touch.

“No,” Ron said simply. “It must look hideous.” There was a long moment of silence. Harry felt his mind being forced back to Privet Drive. Ron was trying to reach in. Unwillingly, images of the pool began to flash in his mind, and then his birthday party. Suddenly, the pain was back in his arm again. He reached for his scar and could feel the razor-thin etching lift from the surface of his skin.

“Ron!” Harry yelled. “Stay out of my head!” The images stopped, but the throbbing remained. Harry sat at Ron’s left side. Ron looked down at his own hands.

“I didn’t mean to…”

“I know, Ron,” Harry said. “Look, this has all been my fault. I was just being a jerk; I’m sorry.” Ron, looking pale and completely drained nodded, but said nothing. There was another long pause. Harry pushed his thumb under his sleeve; the scar was still there. “Ron,” he said, “you were right. I am hiding something. I don’t know why I didn’t show you straight away.” Ron turned to look at him.

Slowly, Harry pulled up the sleeve on his right arm, the fleshy underside pressed flat against his lap. For a moment he paused. He took a deep breath, and then turned the arm over.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Burden of Becoming

Chapter 14 - A New Map
~~~***~~~


Ron shuddered when he saw the mark on Harry’s arm. In an instant he sprang away from Harry, gazing, his eyes wide, his hand held out in front of him pointing madly. “V… Vold… It’s the… the…” he sputtered.

“No Ron!” Harry cried. “I knew you’d think that.” If Ron was pale before, he was white now. Harry stood up holding his forearm closer so Ron could see. “Look, there’s a…” but Ron took a step backward. “I don’t believe this,” Harry said. He yanked down the sleeve over his arm. “What was I thinking?” Harry turned to leave.

“No, Harry, stop.” Breathing hard, Ron was trying to regain his composure. “It’s just that,” he took another breath, “well… okay…” and another breath. “Now it’s my turn to be the jerk. I’m sorry.” Ron, slowly took one step toward Harry. “Come on, let’s…” he breathed again, “let’s have a look.” At first Harry was hesitant, but then he walked over to Ron and lifted his sleeve. The scar was gone. Ron was dumfounded. “But, I saw it, a snake and a knife, or something.”

Harry sighed. “I don’t understand either,” he answered. “It was there when I first took off the bandages. I was going to show you then, but it vanished. You thought I was joking around.” He rubbed his forearm. “I wish I was.” Harry leaned back against the wall. “It popped out after we saw Malfoy today. You knew something was up, didn’t you? I sensed you then.”

“Yes,” Ron whispered. “I guess I’m sorry for that too.” Harry just shook his head.

“I told you, I understand.”

“But what is it?” Ron pressed. “How did it get there?”

“I don’t know, Ron,” Harry said desperately. “Maybe it was somebody at the hospital.”

“Why would they put the mark of the Death Eaters on your…”

“It’s NOT the mark of the Death Eaters! It’s some sort of symbol; I’m sure of it. But how, or why, I’ve yet to learn.” Harry began to lightly rub his finger up and down against his arm. His eyes looked out into space. “… he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…” he whispered.

“What?” Ron asked. Harry looked back down to his arm.

“I think… it’s about power Ron. The question is, what kind?” Ron simply looked confused. It was well past midnight and the two were both exhausted. “I better get back to bed,” Harry said. “We can talk more tomorrow. Still, I’d like to hold off telling Hermione just yet.” Ron looked up.

“Think she’ll turn you into a lab rat do you?” Ron asked. Harry nodded. “Yeah, I understand. She knows about my back, but I haven’t said anything about the voices.” Ron looked very uncomfortable. “Still Harry, we’re going to have to tell her sooner or later. We owe her that. Maybe when we get to school?” Harry simply shrugged his shoulders. “Well, if it pops up again, I’d like to get a proper look.” Harry made his way to the door.

“Ron? When I came in… there were voices. Fred and George?” Ron rubbed the back of his neck twirling his finger around the edge of the circular scar.

“Uh, yeah… Fred and George,” Ron said, looking away from Harry. “They just popped out before you came in. I think they went to say goodbye downstairs and, er, headed out the front door.”

“Sure,” said Harry with a thin smile, wondering what the truth was. “It’s late Ron. I’m calling it a night. Sleep well.”

“You too, mate,” Ron answered.

Harry returned to his room to sleep, knowing full well neither of them would close their eyes for quite some time.

* * *

Over the next ten days the four Hogwarts students, Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Harry often found themselves alone at Grimmauld Place. They spent most of their time cleaning the last vestiges of the Black household. Harry decided to keep quite a few things that he thought Sirius might want. Why, he didn’t know. He saved the Black family tapestry, portraits of his better-behaved relatives, and the odd collection of golden instruments shelved in the study for which not even Moody knew their use.

Ron seemed to do well with so few people around. The voices had subsided at night. Neither of them had found it the right time to talk to Hermione. The occasional wizard or witch made their way to visit Arthur and Molly Weasley in the evenings. As before, they were not allowed to participate in the Order’s meetings. Dumbledore had never stopped by; he was still overseas garnering support for the cause. From the snippets of information that Harry and the others overheard, he had been marginally successful.

Harry had exchanged a few letters with Gabriella. He decided to be upbeat and positive, and spoke of the summer to come. Remembering Grigor’s words to him, each letter had allowed for Gabriella to choose a path that didn’t include Harry: “I’ll understand if you don’t wait,” or “Know I’ll always love you wherever our futures might lead.” It was his effort to let her make her own choice. It was clear to Harry, however, she had chosen to be with him. Just knowing that made facing the upcoming year bearable.

His scar had only returned twice. Once after a nightmare he had that he couldn’t remember. He’d fallen off his bed, sweating, his heart racing. The pain in his arm told him it had returned. The second time was during an argument he had with Hermione. She was becoming insistent he tell someone that he could perform magic without a wand. Harry was halfway through his argument why nobody must know, when the pain shot down his arm again.

One afternoon, having just finished lunch, Harry found himself in the entryway when the door opened. It was Snape. He hadn’t been to Grimmauld Place all summer and Harry never thought to ask what Snape had been slithering at. Certainly spying for the order, up to his neck in Death Eater activities. How much did he really enjoy it?

Snape took off a heavy black cloak. “Insanity in this heat,” Harry thought, as Snape hung it on a rack near the door. He spun around toward the kitchen when he saw Harry. For a moment he froze, his eyes shrinking to two black dots framed by his greasy hairline. A thin false smile appeared on his face.

“Hello, Mr. Potter,” he said in a sickeningly sweet voice. “I understand we’ll be seeing much more of each other this year. Although, how you convinced Professor Marchbanks during your O.W.L.S. that you could mix more than water and ice is beyond me.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry replied in a truly sincere and apologetic voice. The look on Snape’s face was palatable. Certainly this was not the response he expected.

“Sorry?” he asked. “Sorry, for what?”

“That you won’t be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts,” Harry said keeping his voice level and smooth. “I guess Professor Dumbledore found someone more qualified. Who is it?” The reaction was exactly as Harry had hoped. Snake’s lips pursed and his eyebrows furrowed.

“You’ll discover that soon enough,” he snapped. “I have business to attend to. Is Arthur Weasley here?”

“Why, yes, sir,” Harry said emphasizing his politeness.

“Then where is he, Potter?” Snape snapped again.

“Well, Professor,” said Harry, deliberately being slow, “I… I believe he’s downstairs, er…” The door to the kitchen popped open. It was Mr. Weasley.

“Ah! Severus,” he called. “I thought I heard voices. The meeting has started, if you can break away from Harry.” The look of exasperation spread across Snape’s face as he left to the kitchen, flashing a stabbing glare at Harry just before he disappeared behind the door.

“Why do you hate him so?” rang a voice from above his head. It was Hermione standing on the second floor landing. Harry looked up at her.

“Hate is such a strong word, don’t you think?” he quipped. “It’s more like I wish he’d never been born.” He ascended the stairs. “Or maybe, it’s just that I’d like to see him get a big fat kiss from a Dementor.” He passed her heading to his room. “Then, I’d truly have a wonderful thought to help summon a Patronus.”

“Harry,” she followed, “you don’t mean that.”

“Don’t I?” he called continuing to climb the stairs. “He hates me because my father teased him. What an adult role model! If Malfoy ever spawns some kind of vermin, let it be said now, that, as horrible as that thought is, I won’t assume his kids are as evil and self-centered as their father.” He walked into his room closing the door behind him. Hermione, undaunted, opened it and entered right behind him.

“He’s on our side, Harry,” she said trying to convince him of what he already knew.

“And this matters to me because…?” he asked rhetorically.

“Because,” she started, “because Dumbledore won’t be around forever, Harry.”

“Okay Hermione, I’m lost. I just had a wonderful lunch and perfectly spiteful conversation with Snape, which I won I might add, and now you’re getting all mystical on me.”

“Who do you think is going to lead us in the battle against Voldemort? Dumbledore?” It was an odd question, he thought

“Of course Dumbledore,” he said not really taking the time to think about it.

“If Dumbledore was able to defeat Voldemort, why didn’t he when he had the chance? Instead, at his first opportunity, he let you face Voldemort for the Sorcerer’s stone, why? Why not finish him off when he came to save you?” Harry walked to look out his window. “And what about last year? Don’t you think it odd that he let you face Voldemort again, before coming to your rescue, only to let Voldemort slip away again?” There was a long pause, but Harry said nothing. The sun was dropping in the sky, another warm day, but Harry felt a chill. Hermione lowered her voice and walked up close behind him. “It’s you Harry, you who have to defeat Voldemort. I don’t know why, but it’s the only explanation.” Harry’s eyes searched for a cloud, but only blue sky returned his gaze. He was searching for something to say, some way to deflect her thinking, some way to turn the conversation, but every move he could make he knew would fail with Hermione. She put her hand on his shoulder. “It’s as if he’s putting you at risk, only to save you… I don’t understand.” An airplane crossed the sky, leaving in its wake a large golden contrail flaming golden-yellow against the deepening pure blue.

“Because I’m not ready; not yet,” he whispered. Hermione turned him to her. She put her arms around him and he buried his face in her shoulder. She said nothing.

“I couldn’t even stop Bellatrix.” He began to tremble. “How will I ever be able…”

“Shhh,” she whispered. “He won’t let it happen until the time is right.” Together, they embraced by the window as the contrail spread against the blue sky turning a bright orange above Grimmauld Place. After some time, the door to Harry’s room opened. It was Ron. Quickly, Harry dropped his arms, but Hermione held fast. Then, slowly, she let go, placing one hand on the side of Harry’s face. “You know, don’t you? It’s not just you, Harry. It never has been and it never will be.” He nodded.

“Erm, everything okay, mate?” Ron asked. Harry turned to the window wiping his sleeve across his face and then, making the effort to smile, glanced back at Ron.

“Yeah,” Harry said, “yeah, everything’s going to be fine.”

“Well, good, uh… he’s here.” Ron looked back over his shoulder. “And he wants to see you.”

“Who?” Harry asked. But at that moment the door behind Ron opened wide.

“I think I can take it from here, Mr. Weasley.” Professor Dumbledore walked into the room.

“Headmaster!” Hermione yelped and ran to give him a hug. Harry, instead, turned to look out the window.

“It’s wonderful to see you, too, Miss Granger! I hear you had an adventurous summer together.” Harry took note, but continued to stare at the reddening sky. For a moment, his mind turned to Privet Drive. “I’m sorry,” Dumbledore continued, “but if you two would excuse us, I have some things to discuss with Harry.” His voice was kind, but the words were heavy. Harry felt as if he was being summoned to speak with Mr. Darbinyan. The evening breeze was picking up. Warm on Harry’s face, it stung his damp eyes. He listened as Ron and Hermione excused themselves, and heard the door to his room shut, leaving him alone with Dumbledore. Still he faced the darkening sky.

“Hello, Harry.” The words were soft and inviting, but Harry stood stoic, silently looking for the first star of the evening. There was a small sigh, and then, “I see.” He could hear Dumbledore sit down perhaps in his chair, or on his bed, Harry didn’t care. “And your summer, Harry? Was it eventful?” There was another long pause. “Tell me, Harry, is the Wizarding world so cold that you did not feel it would allow you to love another?” The words cut to the bone. Harry placed both hands on the bottom of the window trying to take in deep breaths. “Is there no one you can trust with your heart?” The air in Harry’s lungs was gone. The visit from Snape and the thought of what he’d given up to be here was fresh in his mind. Still staring out the window, his knuckles whitened as he clenched the sill.

“Why?” Harry asked. The question was syrupy and biting. “Do I need more lessons on love from Professor Snape?” It was Dumbledore’s turn not to answer. Harry continued to look out the window. “Or maybe… I could talk to Mom and Dad? Oh wait! They’re dead, aren’t they--killed by a wizard.” Harry’s lungs were heaving. “Or maybe I could talk to my godfather? Oh no! He’s dead too--killed by a witch.” Harry’s nails dug into the wood of Grimmauld Place. “Why would I think the Wizarding world was cold, Headmaster? There’s all of my classmates at school. Except they think I’m some sort of parselmouth freak with a scar. There’s the Ministry of Magic, but they’d rather see me expelled from the Wizarding world then save their pitiful lives. How about the world of public opinion, the Dailey Prophet? No… they’d sooner see me in a straight jacket and carted off to Azkaban to be with those most lovely of creatures--Dementors. And I guess it would be unwise to turn to the Slytherins, or the Death Eaters, or Voldemort himself--they just want me dead!” Pain was searing down his right arm. “Why, sir… why would I think the Wizarding world was loveless and cold?”

Harry turned to face Dumbledore. Tears were streaming down his defiant face. Dumbledore was seated in the chair by his bed, facing away. Harry pressed on, “I’ve left my heart and soul on Privet Drive, and I’ve come back to Grimmauld Place to kill or be killed. That’s all there is to it. And the sooner it’s over and done, the better.” He leaned against the wall and slid to the floor hiding his face in his crossed arms. He was spent, an empty shell. For three weeks he’d been going through the motions with Ron, Hermione and all the rest, but that was all. His mind had always been turned to two things: Gabriella, and how it would end. Not thinking, he rubbed his right arm.

“No Harry, I think you’ve brought your soul with you. And, I’m afraid, you wear your heart on your sleeve.” It was Dumbledore’s turn to walk to the window. “I’ve been all over the world this summer, Harry, and I must admit you may be right. I did not find much warmth.” The curtains on the window fluttered in the breeze as Dumbledore’s shoulders slumped. “Most of those coming to our aid do so for their own selfish reasons. Very few, I’d say, feel they need to stop Voldemort to secure the safety of others. The safety of non-magic folk, of course, is their least concern, and yet for me it is our highest priority.” Dumbledore walked back to the chair, turned it to face Harry, and sat back down.

“So, what are we to do then, Harry,” he asked, “you and I? Should we leave it as it is? Should we let Voldemort have his way with the world? Is the world so hopeless it should be wiped clean again?” Harry’s mind turned to the people at his birthday party… a rainbow of colors all getting along, willing to help those less fortunate or in need. He looked up at Dumbledore for the first time, and shook his head no. Dumbledore leaned back in the chair.

“I wouldn’t be so hasty,” the old wizard said with a sigh. His eyes were off somewhere, Harry thought, and they looked old, very old. “Do you really think there’s good enough in the world to try and save it? Good enough in the Muggle world? Good enough in the Wizarding world?” His eyes returned to meet Harry’s.

Harry paused and then whispered, “Yes.” Dumbledore shook his head and held up his hand.

“Harry, until the day comes when you can open your hand to those you despise the most, when you can open your doors and admit those who you’d sooner shun, Voldemort will have won.” Again, Dumbledore stood and walked to the window.

“I see by looking into your eyes you’ve been practicing. On your own?” Harry was tired. He simply nodded his head. “Of course you have,” said Dumbledore, his breath on the wind. “This afternoon, I met with Professor Snape downstairs. He holds tremendous hatred towards your father and has transferred it to you. We spoke of this last year. It’s quite simple, really. He’s not evil. He’s not deceitful. He simply had a miserable life as a child and thought Hogwarts would make it all better. But Hogwarts, in many ways, made it worse.” His words were remorseful, and again he returned to the chair. It was almost as if he were pacing back and forth not sure where to go. “Tell me, Harry. You know Professor Snape’s faults. You’ve seen them first-hand for what they are. Is it not possible to forgive them?” Harry’s head snapped up, only to see two kind, light-blue eyes return their glare.

“Forgive them?” he choked. “Forgive Snape?”

“Professor Snape,” Dumbledore returned quietly.

“And what kindness, what reason does he give me to forgive him?”

“None,” Dumbledore said flatly. There was a smile on his face and a warmth in his eyes that was melting the ice around Harry’s heart. For some moments the two sat there, eye-to-eye until Harry rose to his feet and walked behind Dumbledore.

“Yes,” he whispered and then stronger, “I can forgive him.” Dumbledore stood to face Harry.

“It is easy to say the words, Harry. It is harder to put them into action. Consider all those around you that you despise.” Dumbledore paused as Harry’s mind began to turn the words over in his mind. And then Dumbledore began, “The Dursleys, Wormtail, Malcolm Smelt, Kreacher, Mr. Darbinyan, and perhaps even Draco Malfoy.” Harry stood stunned at the list of names. “None of them deserve your hatred, Harry. What’s more, the day will come when we will need many of these people, and more, to help us in the fight against Voldemort.” He walked close to Harry and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Would it be possible to forgive them all without being asked?” He didn’t pause for an answer. “When you can,” he walked to the door, “you will have accomplished that which I could not. You’ll have tapped into the true power that lies within each of us. On that day, you’ll be ready, Harry, and you’ll know it.” As he opened the door to leave, he turned and faced Harry. His face was troubled.

“Harry,” he asked, “at the accident in Little Whinging, you didn’t have your wand?”

“No, sir.” Harry felt his face redden, but the words were honest. Dumbledore’s face fell further.

“It may be that the charm we spoke of last year is fading. I would not have thought it possible, but Tom has his ways. If that is the case, it would be wise for you to return here next summer.” Harry opened his mouth to speak, but Dumbledore interrupted. “We will have time enough to discuss this further. I know where your mind is turned, Harry.” His eyes twinkled and a smile splashed across his face. “We will find a way, son.” And he left.

Again, Harry found himself alone. But no sooner had the thought of isolation entered his mind, it was thrust aside as the door to his room slammed open. Ron was first with Hermione and Ginny close on his heels.

“Well, mate,” he panted out of breath, “what did he say?” Harry couldn’t help but smile at the bounding energy that had just burst in.

“Come on, Harry,” chimed in Ginny. “Out with it, and don’t say he met with you alone to talk about your class schedule!”

“That’s right, Harry,” added Ron. “Blimey, he’s never even met with any of the Order one-on-one.” Suddenly a thought crossed Harry’s mind.

“Are they still here?” he asked. “Is the meeting still on?”

“Well, yes,” said Hermione. “Dumbledore left just now, and a few are still in the kitchen. It’s just that…” But Harry was already out the door.

He raced down the steps, hearing the front door slam shut. From the lower landing he saw Mr. Weasley. “Who just left?” called Harry. Mr. Weasley looked up to Harry.

“Alastor, why?”

“No reason,” Harry said. His pace slowed as he walked toward the kitchen. “The meeting’s over?”

“Yes,” Mr. Weasley responded gazing at the three others on Harry’s trail. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing, Mr. Weasley,” answered Harry. “What’s for dinner?” Mr. Weasley was wise enough to be suspicious and curious enough to play the game.

“Molly’s making meatballs,” he said. As the words left Mr. Weasley’s mouth, Harry entered the kitchen closely followed by all of them. Ginny, one eye and ear on Harry, offered to help her mother. Ron was at her side. At the table, Tonks was reading some papers. Harry expected her to fold them up as Hermione approached, but she didn’t. Instead she turned them so Hermione could have a better look, and the two women began talking in hushed whispers. Remus and Snape were standing in the far corner speaking amicably, but seemed to stop as Harry walked over to them.

“I don’t mean to interrupt,” he said, “but I thought the meeting was over.”

“You are and it is,” said Snape shortly. “Remus, we can finish this discussion later, I must be getting on.”

“Won’t you stay for dinner, sir?” The words were Harry’s and in as normal a tone as he could make them. He made every effort to be sincere. Snape glanced at Mrs. Weasley at the stove and then back to Harry.

“I think not, Potter,” he replied. Almost as if someone had given Harry a new map to Professor Snape’s face, he could see from his expression that he would rather stay. “Some of us have work to do,” he quipped and left the kitchen.

Harry alone followed him to the front door. His insides were churning over what to say, or how to phrase it. It seemed hopeless to say anything that Snape would not take as an insult. Parts of him wanted to spit in his face for how he’d treated Harry all these years, while others wanted to apologize for what his father had done to Snape when they were students. Snape reached for the handle on the door when Harry finally opened his mouth.

“Sir?”

“What is it now, Potter?” The voice was filled with vitriol.

“You… you forgot your cloak, sir.” Harry walked over to the rack by the door, took the cloak from off its hook and handed it to Snape. Suddenly, Snape became very uncomfortable, at a loss for words.

“Yes, well, thank you, Potter.”

“You’re welcome,” said Harry with a warm smile.

As Snape left, Harry smelled the wonderful aroma of meatballs and turned to hear the laughter of family and friends. The smile on his face remained as he walked back to the kitchen and whispered, “One step closer to being ready, Tom.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Burden of Becoming

Chapter 15 - Blood on the Hogwarts Express
~~~***~~~

Save for the flicker of candlelight dancing off the walls, the room was dark. Harry was sitting on the edge of the bed; Gabriella was rubbing his back. He was looking down at his forearm tracing the sharp cuts of the snake’s head and the two crossed lightning-bolts. Her hands were warm as they stroked the hair at the back of his neck.

“It’ll be okay, you know,” she whispered.

“As long as I’m with you, everything’s okay,” he said quietly and then turning to her they kissed. Her hair hung down around her neck, a silver lightning bolt glinted the candlelight from below her ear. Her black eyes were twinkling and her smile captivating. His gaze took her in. “You’re so beautiful, have I told you?”

“Yes,” she said with a grin. “And have I told you how handsome you are?” She stroked his face bringing a finger down to the cleft on his chin.

“No, I don’t think so.” said Harry with twinkling eyes.

“I especially like your snake,” she said taking his arm in her hand and kissing his new scar, and then pecking at his arm up to his neck. She nibbled at his ear until he started laughing and pushed her away.

“Stop,” he began to giggle, “that tickles.” He stood up and walked over to the mirror. He looked at his bare chest and flexed like a muscle-builder. “Not bad I’d say,” he joked.

“Not at all,” she replied standing up behind him and grabbing him by the waist. “Although it’s your eyes that do me in. I like red eyes.”

“Red eyes?” he asked. He glanced back to the mirror. There he stood with Gabriella holding him from behind smiling. But shining back at him were two red eyes. His heart skipped, for as he stared, his appearance once again began to change. His hair thinned as his face flattened. The red eyes became more snakelike and his nose disappeared into two thin slits. “Voldemort,” he whispered.

“I’ve always loved your eyes, My Lord.” The voice was thin; the hands now claw-like around his stomach. In the mirror behind him was Bellatrix Lestrange.

“NO!” he screamed. The room began to spin. He was surrounded by Death Eaters in dark cloaks. They were closing in on him.

“What is it My Lord?” they called. This wasn’t Gabriella’s room; hands were grabbing him; it was somewhere else. “What is it?” he heard again. They were shaking him. A farmhouse? “What is it Harry?”

He woke from the dream to find himself on the floor next to his bed at Grimmauld Place. Ron had him about the shoulders.

“Harry, you were screaming. Is it, is it happening again?” His eyes were filled with fear. For a moment Harry didn’t move trying to take in that the here and now was real. “It’s back,” Ron breathed. Harry looked down to see the scar on his arm raised and red. “It’s a snake Harry!” His voice was shaky.

“Yes,” Harry returned waiting for the room to stop spinning, “and a sword, and this,” he pointed to the base of the handle, “two lightning bolts. That’s not an evil symbol, Ron. It’s a symbol to destroy evil, or ignorance… I don’t know.” Ron helped Harry back onto his bed.

“It’s not the Dark Mark?” he asked again.

“You saw it in the sky, didn’t you?” Harry was becoming irritated. “That’s what blazes black on the arms of the Death Eaters! Does this look like that?” Harry shot his arm out in front of Ron. Ron didn’t need to look again.

“No, Harry, I’m sorry.” Just then there was a knock and Hermione came into the room. Harry quickly covered his arm with the sheet.

“Come on you two! Mrs. Weasley has breakfast ready and then it’s off to the train.” She looked around at Harry’s room. He’d only made half an attempt to pack the night before. “I can’t believe you two are just sitting around talking, when you’ve so much to do! Well, I’m not helping do you hear me? Harry, get dressed and get down to breakfast or Ron’s mom will go through the roof! We only have a couple hours.” They heard her footsteps descend the stairs outside. Ron stood up.

“I’m already packed. I’ll give you a hand after we eat,” he offered. You gonna be okay?”

“Yeah, just a nightmare, that’s all,” Harry answered slipping on his glasses, but he was still trembling.

“Harry, you can skip breakfast if you want. I’ll tell Mum you’re a bit ill.”

“No. I’m fine, really. Just give me a minute to get dressed.” Harry took a deep breath. “I’ll be okay.” He walked over to his trunk picking some things off the floor along the way. Ron hesitated and then left him.

Harry walked by the mirror to his room and for a moment was afraid to look at himself. Finally, he took in his reflection. It was just Harry looking back. He bent nearer to the mirror staring closely at his eyes. The same green he had always seen flashed back at him. He took off his glasses and stared even closer, concentrating. “It was Voldemort,” he thought, “Voldemort’s eyes.” It was as if he was in a trance, galvanized by his own gaze, oblivious to the world around him. And then the green began to change. He didn’t blink as the colour turned almost brown, then yellow. The pupils began to thin as the colour went orange and then red. Still he gazed intently. “I can see you Tom,” he whispered. The door to his room opened.

“You coming, mate?” Ron called. Harry quickly turned away, shielding his face.

“Uh, yeah, just a few more minutes.” His voice was hoarse and high.

“Well, she’s served everyone else. You don’t have too many more.” Ron again left the room and Harry quickly dressed.

“What were you thinking, you idiot!” he whispered to himself. He looked back to the mirror. The green had returned. “Oh! Aren’t we lucky! What if they had stayed that way?” he yelled at his reflection. He looked to his arm and the scar too had faded to oblivion. “What is going on Harry?” He put on his trainers shaking his head. “I wish Tonks were here,” he whispered.

When Harry walked into the kitchen he found it somewhat crowded. Remus was speaking with Arthur Weasley in the corner. Sturgis and Alastor were seated with Ron, Hermione and Ginny. Mrs. Weasley was at the stove, and when he walked closer, her brow furled. He was expecting admonition, but instead saw concern.

“Harry, what’s wrong?” With a flick of her wand the pans stopped moving and the flames lowered. She walked over to him and held her hand to his forehead. “You’re white as a ghost! Ron, why didn’t you say he was ill?” She took Harry by the arm. “Come over here dear… sit down.” She escorted Harry to a spot adjacent to Sturgis Podmore.

“Honestly, Mrs. Weasley, I’m fine,” Harry pleaded. “I just didn’t sleep well is all.”

“Let me get you some tea,” she said as Sturgis put his hand to Harry’s forehead.

“Listen to Molly boy, she’ll do you right,” said Sturgis with a wink. A moment later, Mrs. Weasley had a cup of tea and a small plate of food.

“Here, dear, try to eat a little something.”

“Where’s Tonks?” Harry asked scanning the room.

“Oh, she’s been extremely busy lately,” Mr. Weasley answered, “You’ll see her soon enough. Now, try and eat. I don’t want you to miss the first day, if you can help it, and we only have about an hour until the cars arrive.”

Harry tried to eat. He felt as if everyone were watching him... bite by bite. “Your last meal,” he thought, “before execution.” But worse than that was the creeping feeling that this would take him one step further from Gabriella. Was it even possible to change his mind? Dumbledore said that they would find a way, but how Harry couldn’t imagine. Finally, Harry lost his appetite completely.

“I better pack,” he said. Ron and Hermione stood up to join him.

“There’s one more thing, Harry,” Mr. Weasley said, “before you go.” He stood silent for a moment and then brought the words to his mouth. “Buckbeak. We could let him go now if you wish, but I think it wiser to wait for the darkness of night. I can release him when I get home.” Harry simply nodded. He had spent time every day with the creature, but this morning he couldn’t find the courage to say goodbye.

Despite her earlier protestations, Hermione, along with Ron, helped Harry pack. He noticed her take note of the dragonhead in his trunk. She read the inscription, looked at Harry and when she saw his glance decided not to ask and simply placed it in his trunk.

The Ministry provided two cars that expanded to fit everyone quite comfortably. Harry noticed that they were somewhat nicer than the one’s he had been in before. Mad-Eye went in the first car with Arthur, Ginny and Hermione. Sturgis and Mrs. Weasley rode with Harry and Ron. Remus stayed behind. His final words to Harry were simply, “Trust in Dumbledore.”

They arrived early to the station and it was fortunate they did. It was more crowded than Harry had ever seen it. Teenagers were everywhere. It was evident from their attire that some sort of school competition was going on. The adults left the cars first and then called the others out. They gathered their trunks and gear and were slowly making their way to Platform 9-3/4s. Mad-Eye was fit to be tied.

“This is bloody insane!” he yelled. “Let’s take him back and fly him in tonight.”

“Shhh,” hushed Mrs. Weasley, “They’ll here you.”

“They can’t hear a bloody thing!” he yelled back. And he was right. The competition turned out to be a band competition. Different schools were hoisting banners with #1 or CHAMPS on them. Many of the students were playing their instruments: trumpets, flutes, and drums. The place was a madhouse and the guards were having a terrible time trying to control this many students in one place.

When they reached Platform 6, a small fight broke out between two rival schools. One kid was using his drumsticks to attack someone in a tiger mascot suit. In seconds, three kids wearing orange and black were pummeling the drummer.

“Stay close!” Arthur Weasley yelled. But it was difficult moving all the gear they had through the melee. Moody and Mrs. Weasley started moving ahead with Hermione and Ginny. Suddenly an entire marching band cut in front of Harry, Ron, Mr. Weasley and Sturgis. By the time the group cleared, the others were ahead and out of sight.

“Arthur,” Sturgis called ahead, “take the point. I’ll watch from back here.” They had just made it past Platform 7 when Harry heard a distant voice calling his name. He looked around, but shook his head. Was he imagining it? They made it a few feet further, when he heard it again, this time closer. Harry stopped to scan the crowd, but it was impossible to see further than five feet.

Again they pressed on, making their way through a sea of multi-coloured competitors. Suddenly something, someone, hit Harry from the side. He tried to gain his balance, but his foot stepped back on his trolley and he tumbled over backward, held tight by the assailant. Ron saw the attack and pulled for his wand, but Mr. Weasley grabbed him by the arm and held him fast. Harry was flat on his face, and when he turned over he saw who was holding him tight--Gabriella Darbinyan.

Her eyes were on fire and a smile that could span the ocean splashed on her face. She grabbed his face with both hands and kissed him hard. “I thought I’d never find you in this madness,” she said and kissed him again.

“Gabriella?” Harry stammered. “You’re here, but, but how?” If it were possible her smile widened further.

“Don’t be silly,” she said helping him to his feet. “You told me Harry, at least about King’s Cross. I was able to get the day from Fred the night they packed your gear. He said you’d be leaving today at 11 o’clock sharp. I wasn’t sure. When they said no train left at eleven, I thought… but I… I found you!” And she wrapped her arms around him and held him tight. And, as if rekindled anew, Harry held her fast to him.

“You’re brilliant! Have I ever told you that?” he said grinning from ear to ear. A silver lightning bolt dangled from her ear. Her hand stroked his hair and held his face.

“You’re ill,” she said. “What’s wrong?” He looked into her eyes and could feel the tears well up in his own. It was his turn to press his lips to hers.

“Nothing now,” he answered softly.

“Harry,” Mr. Weasley called. “We really must be going. We have some time, but not too much.” Ron stood next to his father a bit stunned by what he was seeing. Gabriella looked over at him.

“You must be Fred & George’s brother.” Ron’s mouth dropped open. “I hope you’re not as cheeky as they are.”

“This, Gabriella,” introduced Harry, “is my best friend and classmate, Ron Weasley.” Gabriella took Ron by the hand.

“I take it that you’re an incurable criminal too?” she joked. Ron just stood gazing. “Doesn’t say much, does he?” she said to Harry.

“This is Ron’s father, Mr. Weasley, and this is another friend Mr. Podmore.” Sturgis held out his hand to Gabriella.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance my dear,” he bowed. Her eyes held his and her head tilted slightly to one side.

“Have we met before?” she asked.

“It is possible,” Sturgis replied, “I’ve been to many places.”

“Really Harry,” Mr. Weasley again reminded, “we must be going.” They began to inch their way to Platform 9-3/4s. Harry turned to Gabriella.

“They’re right, we have to go.” His face had fallen.

“I’ll see you on to the train,” she said brightly looking down at her watch. “Just a few more minutes.” Harry pushed his way between two tuba players shaking his head.

“You can’t. It’s, uh, well… it’s a special train for, you know, criminals. They won’t let you on. They don’t even want you to see it.” He stopped in front of a bass drum. “You’d better leave from here,” he said as he took her hand. Gabriella looked down. A tear fell on Harry’s sleeve. “No… no, please don’t cry,” he said taking her cheek in his hand. “This… this was wonderful.” He held her as a swirl of colours blurred by. The day was warm and the sky an azure blue. For the first time since he’d left Privet Drive, Harry felt warm inside. He looked deep into her black eyes.

“Thank you,” he said, “for giving me my soul back.” He held her tight and then whispered in her ear, “But keep my heart safe in your special box.” They kissed once again and then Harry turned to leave.

“When will I see you?” she yelled.

“Soon! I promise.” Harry yelled back.

“Christmas?”

“Christmas!” he called, and in an instant Gabriella disappeared in a mass of coloured uniforms.

They made it to the platform without too much struggle. Harry kept glancing back to see if he could see her, but she had gone. The four of them slipped through the gate and out to the platform where the Hogwarts Express blew steam into the air. Mad-Eye was waiting as they came through.

“I was just about to go back and check on you. She leaves in ten minutes. What took you so long?”

“Just crowded, Alastor,” replied Mr. Weasley. “Just crowded, that’s all.”

Mrs. Weasley walked over with Hermione and gave Ron and Harry a hug.

“Be careful, all three of you, do you hear me?” She was on the verge of tears.

“Don’t we always Mum?” said Ron with a smirk.

“Your mother’s right,” added Mr. Weasley. “They’ll be out to get both of you this year. Keep your eyes open and don’t wander off alone. Is that clear!” They both nodded. “Hermione, do your best to keep them out of trouble, will you?”

“I suspect that will be impossible Mr. Weasley,” she said. “But I’ll do my best.” She hugged Mr. Weasley goodbye and the three stepped on to the train.

“Where’s Ginny?” Harry asked.

“She found Dean, or he found her. He saved her a seat in one of the compartments.” Ron went scarlet.

“Dean?” he yelled. “Dean? She’s not here five minutes and he’s already making a move.”

“Oh, get over it Ron,” Hermione sighed. “He made that move ages ago.” There was an awkward pause, as she stood next to Ron, looked down at her shoes and then back up to Harry.

“I know, I know,” he said. “You’ve got to go to the prefect carriage. Don’t worry, I’ll manage.” Ron and Hermione headed up the corridor as visions of last year’s train fiasco filled Harry’s mind.

Once again he had arrived late, and once again all the compartments had been taken. He was about to give up hope when he knocked and entered what felt like the last compartment on the train. It was filled with Ravenclaws. Three sat on one side, Padma Patil, Anthony Goldstein, and a small kid Harry didn’t recognize. On the other side were Marietta Edgecombe and Cho Chang. Cho was reading a book and as she looked up her eyes brightened.

“Harry!” she said with a grand smile.

“Er, the train’s pretty packed, I was wondering if…”

“Sure,” Cho rang out. “Here, let me give you a hand with that.” She reached to help Harry with his trunk and her hand touched his as they placed it in an overhead compartment. “You can sit here.” She slid over a bit next to Marietta, but seemed to deliberately crowd Harry’s side a bit more. Harry sat.

“Harry,” said Cho, “I’d like you to meet my brother, Jim.” Sitting directly across from Harry was a thin, black-haired boy with round glasses, much like his own. “This is Jim’s first year.” The wisp of a child held out his hand to Harry, and Harry took it in his own. The shake was firm and the smile affable. Harry was finding it hard to believe that he was ever that young.

“Good to meet you Jim,” Harry said. “Are you excited about school?” Jim nodded but seemed too nervous to speak. “Got your wand?” Again he nodded and then from inside the vest he was wearing he pulled a holly wand about ten inches long. Harry pulled out his wand as Jim’s eyes widened. Harry smiled. “That’s a great wand, mine’s holly too.” A grin grew across Jim’s face and finally he spoke.

“Thanks,” he said. “I picked it out at Ollivander’s, or as he says, it picked me.”

“That’s where I bought mine,” Harry replied.

“Strange man, Mr. Ollivander,” Jim continued, “I’ve never seen….” And he went on and on for quite some time. Telling everyone in the compartment about his wand-buying experience, and how he couldn’t decide what kind of animal to bring to Hogwarts, and how he really liked Ravenclaw and all, but he thought maybe Gryffindor would be a better house, and how he hadn’t had a chance to try his wand out, and that he wasn’t sure holly would be any good, because Cho’s was willow, but now he was sure. Cho leaned in to Harry.

“He hasn’t said two words since we left the house this morning, Harry,” she whispered in his ear. “He’s been petrified.” And then looking into his eyes, she smiled and said, “Thanks.” And Harry felt her slide just a bit closer. His face began to redden.

The six students talked back and forth pleasantly for quite some time. Much of the conversation was about Harry’s new broom and Quidditch. By the time the lunch trolley came and went, even Harry and Marietta were getting along. He was finding it about the best trip to Hogwarts he’d ever had. About mid-afternoon the compartment door slid open and Ron stuck his head in.

“There you are!” Ron’s eyes first caught Harry’s and then he surveyed the rest, taking note that Cho was practically in Harry’s lap. “Why aren’t you with the Gryffindors?”

“Everything was taken; the train’s packed.”

“Tell me about it,” Ron sighed. “There’s a lot of new students this year, parents thinking their kids will be safer at Hogwarts with Dumbledore. It’s meant no lunch for the…. Hey! You!” he yelled down the train, “You can’t….” and Ron disappeared.

As the afternoon wore on, Harry and many of the others were becoming drowsy. The conversation started to slow and the rhythmic cadence of the train and track soon had Harry asleep.

He was on the beach. The day was warm and the sun bright. He lay on a towel in the sand, his eyes closed.

“You’re starting to turn red, do you want some suntan lotion?” she whispered.

“Sure,” he whispered. The squirt on his chest was cold, but the hands warm as they spread the lotion across his neck, chest, and down his arms.

“What’s this on your arm? It’s quite exotic,” she said and he felt her lips press to his.

“That? I told you about that in the letter,” Harry answered. He was feeling quite warm.

“What letter?” she asked. The sun was bright in Harry’s face. He held his arm over his brow to shield his eyes. Kneeling beside him with her hand to his chest was Cho.

“Cho?” he stammered.

“Of course, Harry,” she said, and bent down to kiss him again. The train jerked and Harry awoke.

He was leaning against the wall of the car with Cho at his side asleep, her head against his shoulder, and her hand holding Harry’s in his lap. His eyes surveyed the car. Everyone else was asleep as well. She had pressed so close to Harry perspiration was beading on his forehead. Still, for a moment he sat there stroking her hand with his. She truly was beautiful. A smile fell across his face and gently he tried to rouse her.

“Cho,” he whispered softly, “Cho.” Slowly her eyes opened and realizing her position she pulled back releasing Harry’s hand.

“I’m, I’m sorry,” she whispered straightening her hair. And then looking at Harry she moved the hair in his face behind his ear. “That’s a cool earring.”

“Yeah, thanks,” said Harry, thinking back to Gabriella. He then reached to her hand and held it in his. “Cho, you’re the most beautiful girl at Hogwarts.” She blushed. “You’re smart, and athletic, and, well, damn near perfect.” For a moment he held her eyes in his. “It’s just that, well, there’s something you need to know. This summer I…” The door suddenly slid open.

“What’s this Potter?” Malfoy drawled. “The Gryffindors boot you out?” Harry released Cho’s hand and slipped his other behind his back. His wand had fallen from the back of his pocket and was stuck in the cushion behind him. Cho stood.

“Go back to your snake den, Draco,” she hissed.

“Still having the girls do your dirty work, Potter?” he spat. “What’s the matter? Don’t tell me, the famous Harry Potter has wet himself again!” Crabbe and Goyle appeared in the doorway. By this time everyone was awake.

“What’s going on?” Jim asked. Cho put her hand on his shoulder to keep him seated.

“This must be another Chang,” Malfoy pressed. “I can tell by the slant eyes, can’t you Potter? Oh, but you like that sort of disfigurement, don’t you, Potter, being a scarhead and all.” Cho drew her wand, but Malfoy was ready. The spell hit her squarely in the chest and flew her backwards. Her head crashed into the glass of the car window shattering it. Marietta screamed. Padma, Anthony and Jim turned to help. Wind roared into the car as Harry stood in front of Malfoy.

“Well, Potter, looks like you forgot something,” drawled Malfoy once more with a sinister grin. He was looking down at Harry’s wand lodged in the seat. “This should be easy then -- first your girlfriend and now you. Let’s see how well you can fly out the window without your broom!” He lifted his wand as Harry grabbed him by the collar.

In an instant, Crabbe and Goyle were flying backwards against the other side of the corridor. The door slammed shut sealing Malfoy in. He looked back confused. Still, Harry held tight.

“Tell me Draco,” he hissed through gritted teeth, “do you want forgiveness?”

“Today you’re going to die Potter!” Again he lifted his wand.

“I thought not,” Harry spat, knowing his eyes were growing red. At that moment Draco let out a scream. His wand fell from his hand to the floor. With his left hand Harry was lifting him off the ground. There was a look of horror on Malfoy’s face. “What’s the matter, Draco? Your dad’s quite used to these eyes.”

“P-P-Potter, stop-p it. You’re ch-choking me.” Malfoy was gasping for air.

“You’re not going to die. It’s time you understood, Draco.” And Harry held his right hand to Malfoy’s face. The Slytherin screamed in agony, piercing everyone’s ears. There was a pounding on the door. Harry could hear Hermione’s voice yelling to be let in. Still, Malfoy screamed. Finally, Harry let go, and Malfoy crumpled to the floor. The door slid open as Harry turned to Cho.

“Is she okay?” he gasped. Marietta, tears streaming down her face, was holding Cho in her lap. Blood was splattered across her blouse. Anthony was busy holding his shirt across the back of Cho’s head and trying to heal the wound with his wand. It wasn’t stopping the flow of blood.

“It’s pretty bad,” he said.

“Harry, what’s going on?” Hermione yelled stepping over Malfoy, his face to the floor, as she entered the compartment.

She surveyed the scene. “Don’t move her!” she yelled and darted into the corridor. Within seconds she appeared with an older, white-haired witch Harry had never seen before. The woman stepped over Malfoy and went to Cho’s aid immediately. She was carrying a small box, opening it to reveal a silver sphere. The witch looked at Marietta.

“It’s a portkey,” she said calmly. “Take her hand dear, on the count of three. One, two, three.” In a flash, the witch, Marietta and Cho were gone. Hermione leaned down to Malfoy.

“What happened to him, Harry?” Harry was staring at a puddle of blood on the floor by Anthony’s knee when he heard Hermione cry out behind him. He turned to see that she had laid Malfoy on his back. He was still unconscious. She held her hand up to her mouth as she rose looking from Malfoy and then to Harry. Her eyes caught the tip of Harry’s wand jutting out between the seat cushions. “How, Harry?” she gasped. Harry looked down at his right hand. It was red and blistered. Then he looked at Hermione.

“It’s time he knew,” he said flatly. Ron appeared in the door as Crabbe and Goyle were slowly getting to their feet. The three Gryffindors looked back down at Draco Malfoy. The right side of his face was distorted and red with blisters. But clearly visible in the swollen mass was the thin outline of a sword surrounded by a snake. It was a mark that no magic would ever remove again.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Burden of Becoming

Chapter 16 -- The Sword and the Snake
~~~***~~~

Hermione bent low to help Malfoy with the blisters that were growing worse on his face, but Crabbe and Goyle pushed her aside. They grabbed Malfoy and trundled the unconscious blonde back to the Slytherin carriages. Ron repaired the window with his wand while Anthony tried to clean the splattered blood as best he could. Padma held her head in her hands, sobbing. Harry had his arm around Cho’s brother. Jim held his eyes unblinking at the spot he’d last seen his sister. Harry looked to Hermione.

“Where’d they go?” he asked. “And who was that with Cho?”

“St. Mungo’s. And that was a new healer, Mrs. Everett. Professor Dumbledore thought it wise to bring in a few healers to help Madame Pomfrey this year.” She looked at Anthony who was shaking so violently his spells were ineffective. Blood still soaked the carriage floor and his shirt. “I guess he was right to think things might be more dangerous. Let me see your hand.” He held it out to reveal the blisters that sprang from his wrist to his fingertips, oozing clear liquid. “I really need a potion for this,” she said. Then holding out her wand she whispered a spell Harry couldn’t hear. The wand emitted a blue-green glow just as had happened on the hospital ward. His hand went cold, the swelling went down and most all the blisters disappeared. She held it in her own. They could hear screaming down the corridor.

“I’ll get it,” Ron sighed as he left the compartment. Anthony stood up with Padma. He was still shaking, blood dripping from his hands.

“I’ve… I’ve got to tell the others what’s happened,” he said. His jaw became rigid as he clenched his fist. His eyes burned with fury. “Whatever you did to Malfoy, Harry, he deserved it! We’ll have every Slytherin’s head on a plate before tomorrow morning.” And as he stormed out of the compartment, Harry saw the fire begin to rise in Padma’s eyes. A moment later she plunged after Anthony.

“Harry, what happened?” Hermione asked. He looked to her eyes and then darted his own to Jim and slowly shook his head. But it was Jim who spoke.

“He… he killed her,” he whispered. “That’s what’s happened.”

“No… Jim, she’ll be fine,” Hermione comforted. “I know she will.” But the quiver in her voice revealed her uncertainty.

“I’ve seen plenty of snakes like him,” Jim spat. “They’re all the same. Blonde hair, blue eyes and as creative as slugs. ‘Hey slant-eyes!’ or ‘yellow skin, you yellow?’ or… or…” his lungs heaved. “Well, he’s the snake now isn’t he, Harry? You gave him the mark to prove it!” He shuddered and began to cry. Harry held him close.

“The mark?” Hermione whispered.

The train was slowing as it entered Hogsmeade. The shouts down the corridor were growing louder. Through the window, Harry could see in the darkness there was already a commotion starting among students leaving the train. Ron slid open the compartment door. He looked as though he’d been running. At his side was Professor Flitwick.

“This is her brother,” Ron panted. Professor Flitwick kneeled down, looked Jim over, and then turned to Harry.

“Is he okay?” he asked.

“He’s afraid,” Harry answered. Professor Flitwick lifted Jim to his feet.

“Come with me, James,” he said kindly. “We don’t have much time.” He escorted him out of the carriage. Harry looked at Hermione.

“What did that mean? ‘Not much time’?” he asked. Hermione was pale.

“She wasn’t well, Harry. She… she lost a lot of blood.” Hermione’s voice began to quake. “Oh, Harry, I’m so sorry. If she dies…” Hermione began to tremble and Ron put his arms around her holding her close.

“She’s not going to die!” Harry snapped getting to his feet.

“A head injury like that is dangerous, mate.” Ron whispered looking pale himself. “We almost lost you this summer, and you were wearing a helmet.” He continued to hold Hermione in his arms.

As students gathered their gear to depart, rumors spread like wildfire throughout the train. One told how Draco, flanked by half a dozen Slytherins, had tried to kill Cho because she was Asian, and before Malfoy could finish her off Harry came to her rescue. Another version had Cho already dead. At the Slytherin end, word came from Crabbe and Goyle. Draco had simply complimented Cho and Harry flew into a fit of jealous rage. He pushed her nearly through the window, and attacked Draco without provocation.

Ron, Hermione and Harry remained in the compartment as the students filed off the train. Hagrid’s voice was heard calling for the first years to follow him. A number of students were walking toward the horseless carriages. Harry could see the Threstrals waiting to take them to Hogwarts. They seemed nervous. One stretched its wings when Harry noticed another surge in the crowd. Somebody yelled and suddenly the darkened streets erupted in a blaze of coloured light. Students began firing jinxes and stunning spells into a group of Slytherins, who returned the fire. He could see Anthony Goldstein leading the charge. His shots weren’t very effective, Harry thought, but what he lacked in precision he made up for in quantity. He was firing like a man possessed.

“They tried to kill her, I tell you!” he screamed, and plunged into a sea of green followed by a dozen more Ravenclaws.

“I’ve got to do something,” Harry said standing to leave, but Ron grabbed his arm.

“Do what, Harry?” he asked shaking his head. “It’s madness out there.” But Harry left Hermione and Ron in the compartment and entered into Hogsmeade.

Assisted by the lead engineer, Hagrid was still calling for the first years, and they were now running for him, trying to duck the wild spells. A few hit Hagrid on the back bouncing off with the thud of a winter snowball. But they did raise his temper. To their credit, he and the engineer concentrated on the safety of the younger students. Harry ran over to help them get the first years in the boats and on their way. A beam of red light shot from the crowd toward them. Harry flicked his wand and deflected it.

“Go on Hagrid, get them to the school!” he called. “I’ll try to do something.” He looked back over his shoulder at the crowd with no clue as to what that something might be. As soon as Hagrid and the students were on their way, the engineer ran to help a fifth year who had been stunned at the front of the train. Harry turned back to the onslaught.

Screams rang out, up and down the streets. The regular townspeople of Hogsmeade were ducking into the various shops just for cover. Other parents had brought their children to meet the train and take the carriages to Hogwarts. Unaware of what had happened on the train, they were completely dumfounded. But when some students saw their own classmates being attacked, they too joined the fray.

Soon it was no longer just Ravenclaw against Slytherin. Others, out to settle scores from years gone by, began to try and get even. Before long, students were firing at others they didn’t even know just because they didn’t like the way they looked. Harry saw Ron and Hermione emerge from the train. They were yelling at the students to stop, but few would listen. Hermione was knocking the wands out of student’s hands right and left, but there were just too many. Ron seemed able to block the occasional spell that flew their way. “Brilliant,” Harry thought, “but not enough.”

Harry looked over at the Threstrals. They were becoming irritated by all the commotion. “Threstrals,” he whispered. Quickly he ran to the front of the waiting carriages. He raised his wand and cast a stunning spell into the ground before the lead carriage. The creature reared and turned toward the fighting. Harry cast another, and another. One by one each creature turned toward the melee. There was certainly the smell of blood in the air. The Threstrals were intrigued and now even more agitated. Finally, Harry conjured a Patronus and charged it into the crowd, firing on the Threstrals at the same time.

The plan worked. The horseless carriages plunged into the crowd following the stag. The students, intent at firing on one another, realized that a hundred carriages were careening their way. Some were bowled over by the invisible creatures causing even more panic in the crowd. The firing stopped and they scattered like mice. In a matter of minutes, professors from the school began to appear. Professor McGonagall had her wand raised and was yelling at the Gryffindors to gather to her. Professors Snape and Sprout did the same.

“Professor McGonagall!” Harry called. “Professor Flitwick, he’s gone to St. Mungo’s with Cho’s brother Jim!” But a flash and a snap later revealed Professor Flitwick apparating among the Ravenclaws.

“This way!” he squeaked, raising his wand. No one dared disobey.

There were many students unable to answer the call to gather to their Heads of House. Some lay on the ground unable to move; others unable to see which way to go. Anthony Goldstein ran to Professor Flitwick. “They tried to kill her!” he screamed. The words echoed down the streets of Hogsmeade. Covered in blood and inflicted with a jinx that had made one leg stiff as a board, he pleaded his case again. “They tried to kill her.” Harry could hear something more behind the words, something much deeper.

“Anthony,” yelled Professor Flitwick, “stop this instant!” Undaunted, he turned and limped toward the group of Slytherins.

He kept repeating, “They tried to kill her. They tried to kill her.” He raised his wand.

“Petrificus Totalus!” rang out. It was Professor Flitwick. Immediately Anthony went stiff and fell to the ground. Two other Ravenclaw students ran to his side.

“That is enough!” cried Professor McGonagall. “Each house will walk back to Hogwarts. Take the time to think about how foolish you’ve all been!”

And so, what would later be called the Hogsmeade March began. The sky was dark and it began to rain. Large ruts of mud splattered students as they splashed through the puddles. Each house kept a wide berth between the other. Slytherins were at the head of the line, Ravenclaws at the rear.

Malfoy was walking toward the end of the group of Slytherins with Crabbe and Goyle; at least it looked like Malfoy. His face was covered in gauze. Hermione and Ron had joined Harry at the head of the Gryffindors. Harry’s eyes trained on Malfoy as the rain splattered his glasses.

“You were brilliant, Harry,” said Hermione, holding his arm, Ron at her side. “They’d still be fighting if it weren’t for you.”

“I don’t know,” replied Harry. “You and Ron were getting on pretty good.” He smiled back at them. “It looked like the Slytherins were getting whipped pretty bad. Maybe we should have let them finish it.” The smile left his face. He knew what it was Anthony felt, holding Cho in his arms. “I hope she’s okay,” he whispered. Hermione squeezed tighter.

The glow of lit wands made for an eerie procession. The trip, which during happier times, seemed to take ten minutes, now was taking ten times longer. Students tried, as best they could, to help their hurt classmates walk toward the school. Ron stepped to the aid of Katie Bell who had been hit with a curse from a Ravenclaw while they were arguing over Quidditch. Heavy drops of rain splashed whitecaps on the lake as they passed by. The air was silent, save for the splatter of rain on the wet ground. No one spoke as the rain seemed to drain their last bit of energy as they passed the Whomping Willow swaying innocently in the evening breeze.

When they arrived at the front doors, the groups began to compress. There was a fuss and a bit of shoving when Professor Flitwick levitated above the crowd. His flaming wand lit the grounds below. “If I see so much as one false move,” he squeaked, “you’ll find yourself hanging from the seventh story by your ears!” Everyone looked up to the top of the castle and the commotion instantly died down.

Madame Pomfrey and two other healers were waiting as they arrived. “If you’re hurt come with me!” she yelled. About three-dozen students filed forward. Many more were injured, but unwilling to go. The sheer number of injuries stunned her. “Absolute foolishness!” she quipped. “In all my years… Harper,” she cast a levitation spell on Anthony, “guide Goldstein to the hospital wing. You there! Crabbe, who is that?” Crabbe looked up.

“Draco ma’am,” he said dully.

“Well, bring him here. So Mr. Malfoy, what’s happened to you?” But there was no reply. “Very well. Crabbe, help him on his way.” The healers swept the injured students into the castle. Professor McGonagall stood before the crowd.

“If you think this is finished…it is not!” she called. “Professor Dumbledore and the first years are waiting for you inside. File in quietly or you’ll have him to deal with!” Slowly, everyone made their way into the Great Hall. The familiar house banners hung over the ends of each house table. With so many in the hospital wing, the hall seemed empty, echoing the sound of every movement. As students sat, one could hear the sound of water dripping to the stone floor from their soaked robes.

Professor McGonagall walked over to the first years who, though dry, seemed absolutely petrified. Hagrid nodded to her as he took his seat at the head table. Harry caught Dumbledore’s eyes for the first time. They were grim. Were they blaming Harry? As the last students sat, Dumbledore rose to his feet.

“Today we mark only the second time in Hogwarts’ history where house has turned on house in so violent a way. At a time when it is more vital than ever that we should join together, I fear Voldemort may have already won.” There was a shudder in the crowd. “You must ask, each of you, if it is worth the price. You have saved Voldemort the effort by turning brother on brother, and sister on sister. How much easier it will be for him to take you, to take your families. Your house name will mean nothing if he should gain control of this school. And yet, you seem eager enough to be done with it.” As he stood, Dumbledore’s shoulders slumped.

“This year we have a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, an Auror, Professor Nymphadora Tonks.” Subdued applause greeted her warmly. Harry’s eyes darted to Tonks. He hadn’t noticed earlier. He was expecting to see a pink-haired girl. Instead she wore black hair and looked every bit a woman. Her face was stern and cold. He’d never seen her look like that. Dumbledore continued, “Tell me, is it pointless that you should learn Defense Against the Dark Arts? Shall I send Professor Tonks home this year?”

“No!” Harry called out. Professor Dumbledore glanced his way.

“Shall we invite Voldemort in for tea?” he pressed. This time Ron, Hermione and a few other students scattered throughout the hall joined in.

“No!”

“Shall we close the doors of Hogwarts and be done with it?” Now most of the students were standing.

“No!” they yelled.

“Please,” Dumbledore said, holding his hands high, “take your seats.” He paused, and then leaned toward the students below. “I shall ask this question only once,” said Dumbledore as his voice lowered. The only other sound was the rhythmic drip of water on the castle floor. “To raise your wand in anger, to turn on your own, to hate those who would be your allies… IS IT WORTH THE PRICE?” he commanded an answer. But, now the entire school stood. Even Crabbe and Goyle were caught up in the energy.

“NO!” they all cheered. Harry wondered if Malfoy would have risen to his feet.

Dumbledore straightened and a smile appeared upon his face. He held his hands out and everyone sat. “This year,” he said, “we will face many challenges. We will be stronger, only if we can face them together.” He turned toward the large group of first years huddling behind Professor McGonagall. “This year, the new class is one of the largest ever. I fear that their future mentors have left them with a rather poor first impression. I hope they will learn, as I already know, the great warmth and love you have for each other.” He sat down with a slight smile on his face.

Professor McGonagall placed a stool at the front of the hall. The Sorting Hat sat motionless as if scanning the students before him. Then the tear in the rim opened and he began his song. It was a melancholy tune.


Long, long ago four strangers met
on a voyage from the sea.
Of face and mind, of heart and soul,
they were different as can be.
Discovered they, a common thread
that would bind them to each other.
They'd share their gifts with sorcerers;
guide as sister and as brother.
"A wondrous thought," said Ravenclaw.
"We will build a school to teach."
"But where on earth," asked Hufflepuff,
"is from Muggles, out of reach?"
Twas Gryffindor who felled the land
from the mountain to the falls.
And Slytherin who found the gold
used to build these very walls.
Said he, "Pureblood lines set the mark
of the greatest whom shall enter."
But Gryffindor was Muggle born;
Thus was sewn the seed of winter.
Four strangers, all became best friends;
merged talent in unity.
Yet split the one school into four
so that one might best the three.
In one was placed the diligent.
One took the brightest minds.
Another took the brave at heart.
The last sought pureblood lines.
Each one searched for the perfect path
so to make their students best.
Yet, the greatest trait had sunk too low
like a red sun in the west.
Lost inside was love and friendship,
which bound them on ship at sea.
Together they held then power--
bringing life, and energy.
Too soon, the seed had grown it seemed
of enmity and despair.
When stunning spells and curses too
began flying through the air.
Each, alone, without the other
fought to stop the inner war.
But each, alone, had lost the trait,
which would bring us peace once more.
The greatest fight the age has seen
saw the closest of them all,
turn wand on wand before the school.
Twas then we began the fall.
Slytherin fought his finest friend
to prove that he was right.
Though, both his heart and hapless soul
were screaming for the light.
Gryffindor dropped his wand and turned,
but the serpent struck his back.
And thus was drawn the golden sword
so to fend off the attack.
He raised the blade high in the air
and there its head did hew.
And ignorance and enmity
laid bare for all to view.
The friendship of the sword and snake
was severed that dark day,
until it is renewed again
to save us from the fray.
The battle rages on you see,
and reaps a bitter cost.
In you the challenge lies within
to find the trait once lost.
If soon you don't find unity
within this grand estate,
the enemy will win unchecked,
and doom you to his fate.
There, now you know all that's been said.
For I've warned you once before.
Perhaps too late I truly feared
as I saw you breech the door.
New Students! Come and gird yourselves
for the challenge deep within.
I'll send you to the proper house.
Let the sorting now begin!


For the first time, in Harry’s memory, the Great Hall was silent after the Sorting Hat’s song. Scanning the tables, many were looking down at their plates or sheepishly at the house tables that stood to either side. Some looked to those they’d considered friends just three months before, but who they’d blasted just hours earlier. The Hall was filled with a tremendous sense of shame and regret. Even Harry’s mind turned to the hospital wing and Draco Malfoy. With his thumb he rubbed his forearm.

Dumbledore held out his hand toward the first years still standing to the side of the great hall. Their wide eyes were unblinking. “These students represent some of the brightest, and bravest, most cunning and diligent students ever to cross the gates of Hogwarts. They will be sorted as has been the custom, but I hope that each of your houses will welcome them as part of the Hogwarts family.”

Professor McGonagall walked over to the Sorting Hat, her steps reverberating against the walls. In front of the school she held a very long parchment in front of her. Her glasses hung low on her nose as she read the list and called the first name.

The Sorting Hat placed Spencer Allistar in Hufflepuff, Ron Atwood in Hufflepuff, Peter Black in Ravenclaw, and Rebecca Brandt in Gryffindor. Each one received cheers from their house and general applause from the rest of the school. Professor McGonagall continued down the list without thinking.

“Chang, James!” she called. There was an uncomfortable silence in the room as the name echoed off the stone walls of the Great Hall. Immediately she realized her mistake and the blood drained from her face. “Yes, well….” There were murmurs in the hall. “Let’s see then….”

“Ravenclaw!” yelled Padma Patil from the Ravenclaw table. The Ravenclaws burst into cheers. And just as the clapping began to subside, Harry stood.

“Gryffindor!” he yelled, and the Gryffindor table howled and cheered.

“Hufflepuff!” called Ernie Macmillan and they too cheered. There was the slightest pause when Daphne Greengrass stood up.

“Slytherin!” she called. And the whole school erupted in an explosion of cheers.

Somewhere, in St. Mungo’s, James Chang sat by the hospital bed of his sister, not knowing that he had just been the first Hogwarts student accepted into all four houses. A small seed of spring planted on the 1st of September that would grow into the ultimate defeat of the Dark Lord.


________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Burden of Becoming

Chapter 17 -- The Metamorphmagus
~~~***~~~

By the time Harry and the others entered the Gryffindor common room they were exhausted. With the large number of new students, the sorting lasted forever. Ron thought they would never eat, and yet when meal time did come, he mostly just sat with his eyes closed. He was clearly not enjoying himself in the Great Hall. Harry thought it might be the voices again. It was all Ron could do, as Prefect, to direct the first years into the Gryffindor common room. Ron immediately fell into one of the large soft armchairs by the fire. Hermione was concerned.

“Ron,” she said, “you don’t look well at all. You didn’t eat much of anything, and that’s not like you.” She held his hand. “You’re cold. Do you want to go to the hospital wing?”

“It’ll be a madhouse in there,” he whispered. “I’ll be fine; it’s just a headache.” He turned to Dean Thomas. “Hey, Dean, would you get the first years straightened away?”

“Sure thing, Ron.” Dean smiled back. “Take it easy.” Dean stood and cupped his hands over his mouth. “Okay first year boys!” he yelled. “Quit gawking. You’ll have plenty of time to look around in a year or two. Now it’s time you get to bed. Follow me!” And the first year Gryffindors stepped behind Dean like new recruits at boot camp.

Hermione sighed. “Well, Ron, I’ll see you tomorrow. And Harry, perhaps we can have a little talk tomorrow too, okay?” Harry nodded as she called to the first year girls. They disappeared up the stairs to the girls’ dormitories.

After they had left, the common room grew very quiet. Everyone was looking at their new special guest. The result of one of the changes Dumbledore was instituting this year: an exchange program between the houses.

From each house, was selected an individual to spend the term with a different house. They would represent both the house they were visiting and the house they were from in loosing or winning house points. If they participated in competitions, like chess or Quidditch, they would represent the house they were visiting. Seamus Finnigan of Gryffindor had been sent to Ravenclaw. Taylor Watson of Ravenclaw was sent to Hufflepuff. Hannah Abbott of Hufflepuff was sent to Slytherin, remaining a Prefect. Gregory Goyle of Slytherin, fresh from the hospital wing after a rather sound round of jinxes by Ravenclaw, was now in the Gryffindor Common Room. All eyes were trained on him, as he stood motionless, and a bit pale, looking into the fire.

Finally, Harry spoke out breaking the uncomfortable silence, “Ron, do you know where he’s staying.” Ron nodded, but wouldn’t look at Harry. “Finnegan’s bed?” Harry sighed. Ron nodded again. Unhappy, but not willing to be the reason for problems, he turned to Goyle.

“Okay, Goyle, follow me. You’ll be sleeping in my room.” He started up the stairs to the boys’ dormitories. Goyle stayed planted on the spot. “Look,” Harry said, “Your trunk will be up these stairs on your right. I don’t care where you sleep. I’m exhausted.” Goyle was clearly distraught. He scanned the room.

“You’re not going to make me sleep in the same room with Potter are you?” He was looking for anyone who would come to his aid. “He’ll… he’ll kill me!”

“Look Goyle, nobody’s going to kill you,” Ron said trying to calm him.

“Did you see what he did to Draco? Did you see his face?” The blood was beginning to pool in Goyle’s large feet. Clearly without his mentor, he was at a loss. “They can’t fix it. Madame Pomfrey, and all the others tried. He’ll kill me, I tell you!”

“Alright, Goyle,” Ron stood up still shaky and casting a glance at Harry who was at the top of the stairs waiting. “I’ll keep an eye on him for you.” And Ron pulled his wand out pointing it at Harry. “No funny business, eh mate?” he tried to say in as serious a voice as he could muster.

“Whatever,” Harry shrugged rubbing his eyes.

Within seconds of hitting the pillow Harry was asleep. Whatever happened to Goyle he didn’t know and he didn’t care. When he woke the next morning, Goyle’s bed was empty. In fact, it barely looked slept in. Neville and Dean had left, and Ron was just getting up. Harry stretched as the first sunrise in October splashed across the Hogwarts grounds.

“How are you doing Ron?” Harry asked.

“Better, mate, much better.” He rubbed his face with his hands. “It was bloody awful last night. They weren’t voices,” he whispered, “they were screams. Everybody smashed together. It didn’t start to settle down till everybody cheered for Jim Chang.” He yawned. “I’m going to the shower.”

“Where’s Goyle?” Harry asked.

“He was sitting on the edge of his bed staring at you when I fell asleep. He was totally terrified.” Ron shook his head half smiling. “I don’t know where he is this morning. I wonder how Seamus is doing?”

“Well, let’s get ready and ask him.”

As the two departed through the portrait of the Fat Lady groomed and ready for the day, Hermione called from behind.

“Ron! Wait up,” she called. She ran down the steps carrying two books with her. The three continued down to the Great Hall. “Harry,” she asked, “have you read the fifth chapter in Advanced Transfiguration?”

“Hermione, why do you ask questions you already know the answers to?” Harry asked.

“Because she wants to tell you that she has,” said Ron with a smile. Hermione looked cross for an instant, then smiled back.

As they sat eating their breakfast, they scanned the tables looking for the Gryfindors that had transferred to the other houses. Seamus was just finishing at the Ravenclaw table. He looked a bit distraught as he walked by Harry, Ron and Hermione.

“I’m goin’ to die,” he moaned.

“What?” Harry cried standing to his feet. “What did they do?”

“I feel like such an idiot, and it’s only breakfast.” He plopped himself down next to Ron. “Do yeh know what they were doin’ this morning in their common room?” Seamus asked, and Ron shrugged. “Quizzin’ each other on facts from their books! Advanced, eh… somethin’ er other.” He stood. “I don’ think they’re used teh Ravenclaws losin’ points fer bein’ daft.” His shoulder slumped.

“You’re not daft, Seamus!” Hermione snapped. “And don’t let them say you are. You may be sleeping in Ravenclaw, but you’re still a Gryffindor! Don’t forget what that means.” Seamus straightened adjusting his robes.

“Right, Hermione.” He took a deep breath, and off he went, a bit taller than when he sat down. Harry watched as Seamus left the hall. Then his eyes went to the head table. Tonks had arrived and was speaking with Hagrid. The night had softened her look, and a smile was on both their faces. Harry sighed, and looked down at his hands.

A voice started to whisper in his mind. “What’s wrong, Harry?” A picture of red eyes flashed in his mind, and then Harry hit Ron on the leg with his fist.

“Ouch!” he yelped.

“Harry,” snapped Hermione, “why did you…”

“It’s alright Hermione,” Ron interrupted rubbing his leg with one hand, and his temple with the other.

“Boys!” Hermione breathed exasperated. “Well, we better be off. First class is in the dungeons, and we’ll be late if….” Ron began to push eggs around on his plate. “Oh, sorry Ron,” she whispered. He too took a deep breath and exhaled.

“It’s okay Hermione. You and Harry have a good time in Potions. I’ve got Professor Santos for Muggle Studies.” A smile began to appear on Ron’s face. “Give Snape a kiss for me, Harry.”

“Professor Snape!” Harry uttered back, in his best Dumbledore voice. The three laughed. Hermione touched Ron by the side of the face.

“I’ll see you at lunch, okay Ron?” she said with a warm smile. He looked at her and then at Harry. Hermione dropped her hand. “Potions, Harry?” The two left Ron still sliding his eggs from one side of his plate to the other.

The Potions N.E.W.T. included students from all four houses. From Gryffindor Dean had made it, but Neville had not. There were only two from Hufflepuff, about seven from Ravenclaw including Marietta, and eight from Slytherin. For the first time, Malfoy found himself in Potions without Crabbe or Goyle.

His face was covered in bandages as he sat at the back of the room as far away from Harry as he could manage. Only his right eye could be seen, with a small slit for a mouth and nose. The eye refused to look at his nemesis. For the first time, Harry wasn’t the one everyone was taking quick glances at. Indeed the class seemed intrigued with Malfoy’s new look. Quite enjoying the moment, Harry decided to go over and speak with Marietta.

“Is she okay?” he asked his voice tightening. Marietta slightly shrugged and then nodded.

“I think so Harry.” She held his hand. “They made me leave right away.” Her lip began to quiver. “She was coming around when we brought her in though. The nurse outside said that was a good sign. Just as I left, she asked if you were okay.” The steel door to the dungeon burst open and slammed shut as Professor Snape strode in, robes furled in his wake.

“I understand that you expect some special privilege, Potter. But remember that in this class you will receive none.” In the back Draco sniggered. “And, if you intend to stay in this N.E.W.T., I expect you to be ready for class before I walk through the door. Can you wrap your rather large head around that?” Harry was already walking toward his seat when he looked back at Snape. The first thought in his mind was that the only person with a large head in this class was Malfoy, sitting in the corner covered in bandages.

“Yes, sir,” he said with a pleasant voice. “Sorry, Professor.” And Harry sat back down next to Hermione. He was determined not to let Snape goad him and he was successful. Indeed, the more insults that Snape cast Harry’s way the more pitiful the man before him seemed. For once, Harry was not so irritated at Snape the man, that he couldn’t hear Snape the Professor. And, except for stirring a bit too vigorously, his portion was nearly perfect. When the lesson was over, each student poured a sample and handed it to their partner. Harry gave his to Hermione, and she to him. In the back, Malfoy found himself alone. The Jailbreak potion, as it was called, was originally concocted to shrink you just long enough to squeeze through jail cell bars, after which you would regain your normal size and run away.

Padma sat next to Marietta whose mind had clearly been on the events of the day before. When Padma took the potion, only her head shrunk. It reminded Harry of one of the Death Eaters he had battled at the Ministry of Magic--the one whose head was that of a baby. Most everyone laughed including Marietta, and after a few moments her head re-grew to normal size. Professor Snape stood over the two of them.

“As humorous as you may find your failure, Ms. Edgecombe,” he hissed, “realize that three such failures in this class and you will be removed. You now have one.” His words were ice. “Do I make myself clear?” Marietta glared at him.

“Who you need to remove, sir, is that beast in back!” she snapped. She turned glowering at Malfoy.

“Mr. Malfoy? Well, let’s see.” He walked to the back of the room. “I see you have no partner, Mr. Malfoy. Very well, take your own potion.” Through his bandages, Malfoy sipped the liquid. Immediately his entire body began to shrink in unison.

“As you can see Ms. Edgecombe, Mr. Malfoy’s potion is once again…” There was a scream in the back of the room, and then the crash of a cauldron. Two Slytherins were backing away from Malfoy. Harry watched the whole thing. Malfoy’s potion worked to perfection, but when his body and head shrunk, the bandages around his face fell to the floor. The blistering Harry remembered on the train had all but disappeared. But as his head re-grew the disfigurement became apparent to everybody. A dagger, wrapped with a snake, hung like a teardrop from the corner of his left eye. The blade plunging down his cheek and ending near his chin. Fruitlessly he tried to wrap the bandages about his face. Everyone, including Snape, stared in horror.

“Class is dismissed,” he spluttered. Everyone stood in place gawking. “You heard me, leave!” he shouted. As Harry started for the door, Snape cast him a glance from the corner of his eye.

“Yes, professor, it was me,” he thought leaving Snape alone with Malfoy who was holding his hand to his face trying to turn away.

As Harry and Hermione made their way up to the front doors of the castle, she began the questions in the most subtle of ways.

“So, did you see Malfoy’s face?” she asked looking down at her class schedule as if she hadn’t already memorized it.

“Not too well,” Harry replied. “He was on the other side of the room and all.”

“It’s the same mark he had last night on the train, I’d say.”

“Interesting,” he said refusing to give an inch. “Well, it should give him a whole new appreciation for the word scarhead, don’t you think?”

“Interesting choice Harry… that it should be a snake.”

“It’s NOT a snake!” Harry snapped. A few students turned to look, then went on about their business. Hermione continued to study her schedule. He lowered his voice and said, “It’s more, much more.”

“Is it?” she asked innocently. And in the sweetness of the question, Harry knew he’d been hooked like a fat fish in the lake. He pulled her aside, out of the flow of students making their way in and out of the front doors.

“You… you’re a sly one you are,” he said. “Yes, it’s more. We can talk about it tonight. I’ve got class with Hagrid now, so it’ll have to wait.” She stared at his face, smiling, glancing from eye to eye.

“A sword and a snake appear on Malfoy’s face hours before the Sorting Hat sings about them for the first time.” Her smile turned to concern. “I… I can’t seem to tell this year Harry,” she whispered. “Are you, okay?” He nodded, but had to look away.

“Yes,” he whispered in reply, and then louder, “but I won’t be if I’m late for class, and neither will you if you miss Arithmancy.” He left her looking at his back as he pushed open the front doors, and made his way toward Hagrid’s Hut.

Students had already gathered around the half-giant near the paddock. Harry was surprised to see more than himself and Ron. Indeed there were a number of students including an odd pair, Padma’s sister Parvati and her friend Lavender. More stunning was the presence of Crabbe and Goyle. Even though Goyle was now in Gryffindor, it was clear he was keeping the old alliance.

“It’s the only N.E.W.T. they passed,” Ron whispered in Harry’s ear. “I’ve got ‘em in Muggle studies, too,” he sighed dejectedly.

In front of Hagrid was a low table, and on the table were three small boxes. “Please don’t let them be dangerous,” Harry thought to himself.

“Gather roun’, gather roun’,” Hagrid called to them all. Nobody moved. “Come on, they won’ bite,” he coaxed happily. Slowly Harry and Ron stepped forward. “Wha’ we ‘ave ‘ere is one of the rares’ magical creatures there is.” He opened one of the boxes, and gently lifted a tiny black furry creature into his massive hand. Around it’s neck was a small silver collar.

“A molamar,” Harry gasped. Hagrid had to do a double-take when he heard Harry utter the words.

“Why righ’ yeh are, Harry. Five points fer Gryffindor.” Parvati and Lavender were now coming forward ooh-ing and ah-ing. Lavender reached to pet the creature’s shiny fur, but Hagrid pulled it away. “Not too fas’ there Ms. Brown,” he cautioned. “They may look pretty an’ cuddly, an’ there’s the problem. The molamar is famous fer two things: Firs’, when it’s dormant, like yeh see here, they don’ eat ner drink nothin’. A little warmth an’ they’ll survive fer years. Second, they’re one of the greatest minin’ creatures on earth. They’re responsible for the London undergroun’, the great diamon’ mines in South Africa, an’ the early coal mines in the States.” His face turned grim. “Problem is, they’re also responsible for the great Sahara desert.”

“Hagrid?” Ron asked, “How can this little thing be responsible for anything more than diggin’ up my mum’s roses?” Everyone laughed. The idea that the little creature dwarfed in Hagrid’s hand could do much of anything seemed absurd.

“When the molamar leaves the dormant state, it begins ter grow Ron. As quickly as it can eat dirt, it grows bigger. A full-grown molamar is about the size of a large whale, an’ no bit o magic ‘ill shrink ‘em down. Once they’re full grown, they can’t stop eatin’. It’s as if they’re makin’ up fer all the years they fasted. They tear through rock an’ stone an’ grind it teh dust tryin’ teh find any organic material they can. If a niffler looks fer treasure, the molamar looks fer carbon--coal, diamonds, and oil. An’ when that’s gone, plants, animals… and people. Unchecked, these three, full-grown, would turn the Forbidden Forest inteh a dust bowl in abou’ a month.”

“Should they even be here, then?” asked Crabbe. “Aren’t they dangerous?” Hagrid shook his head.

“Well, a lot of ‘em have been killed through the years. There are maybe a hundred left on earth. Misunderstood is wha’ they are.” Harry and Ron looked at each other raising their eyebrows. “See here,” Hagrid said rubbing the tip of one finger on the molamar’s silver collar. “The collar can’t be removed, an’ as long it’s around the critter’s neck, it can’t grow.”

Hagrid continued on with a lesson, Harry thought, even Hermione would enjoy. With the cautionary note to stay away from the creature’s collar, each of them was allowed to hold the soft furry creatures. It was amazing how well things went without Malfoy there to ruin everything. Before long it was time for lunch. As the rest of the class headed back to the castle, Ron and Harry stayed behind and helped Hagrid put the molamars back in their boxes.

“I see you’re looking well,” Harry noted to Hagrid. “Is Grawpy gone then?”

“Nah, he’s still in there. Got ‘imself a nice place now really. Tha’s where these buggers came in. Used one teh make him a nice cave near Aragog.

“Aragog?” Ron screeched.

“Yeah, well, I know yeh had a bad run in with him and all. But I’ve talked to him about tha’ and he said he’s sorry, didn’ know yeh and all. Besides he and Grawpy, they’ve become kinda friends yeh see.”

“Friends?” Ron squeaked.

“Well, he was lonely. I didn’ have a chance teh get him a partner yet. I was gonna go back this summer, but didn’ have the time. Good thing is the Centaurs are leavin’ him alone now. They won’ go near Aragog and his family.”

“No,” Harry said, “I bet they won’t.” He handed Hagrid the last small box containing a molamar. “Well Hagrid, a brilliant lesson, really, but where’s the big one?

“Ah, tha’ one. Well, I had him shipped off teh China. Big dam they’re buildin’.” Harry shook his head and just smiled.

“Come on Ron, we better be getting on.” Hagrid held Harry by the shoulder.

“Harry, wha’ you did las’ night, helpin’ the kids. That was somethin’… somethin’ special that was. It makes me proud teh see what kind of man yer becomin’.

The words were still echoing in Harry’s ears when he sat down for lunch with Ron and Hermione in the Great Hall. Again he found his thumb rubbing the smooth flesh of his right forearm. “What kind of man am I becoming?” he whispered.

“Well, Malfoy came in late to my Arithmancy class,” Hermione said. “The bandages were back.” A few seats down Goyle was eating and actually carrying on a conversation with Dean Thomas about Muggle soccer. The three of them slid that way.

“Hey, Goyle,” Ron called under his breath. “What’s up with the bandages?” Goyle simply took another mouthful saying nothing. Ron turned to Harry. “I heard Malfoy’s face was melted, and that his brains have started to ooze out of his left ear.”

“They have not!” Goyle snapped. Hermione picked up where Ron left off.

“Someone from potions told me that he has the mark of a Death Eater on his face!”

“It’s not the mark of the Dark L…” he stopped himself.

“What? What is it then?” she pressed. Goyle looked to Harry.

“Ask him! He put it there.” For a moment Goyle paused. “They still can’t get it off Potter. Snape’s going to McGonagall, and she’ll make you remove it.” Harry looked at Goyle. His green eyes were hard and his face set like stone.

“I can’t,” he said. “There’s only one person in this castle who can.” Instinctively, everyone glanced to the head table. Dumbledore sat lunching with Tonks. They were both smiling about something. Harry shook his head. “If we’re lucky, the day will come when you’ll understand.” He took another drink and left his seat. Ron stood as well.

“Hey Ron,” Dean called. “Where’s Ginny.” It was as if someone had just thrown gasoline on a lit birthday cake. Ron’s eyes instantly flamed.

“Do I look like her keeper?” he snapped.

“Hey, no big deal, I just thought…”

“You just thought what? That you could have your way with my sister?” Harry grabbed Ron by the arm.

“Come on Ron let’s go.” He began to pull him out of the Great Hall.

“Well you can’t!” Ron called back. “I’ll make sure of that!” They made it to the corridor.

“What’s up with you, Ron?” Harry asked. “You feeling okay?”

“I’m fine,” Ron snapped again. But to Harry, he looked tired. They walked silently toward the common room. Finally, Ron broke the silence. “She loves him, can you believe it?”

“Well I had an idea that she might…”

“No. I’ve seen it in her… well, you know. She is starry-eyed in love.”

“I don’t know, Ron,” Harry spoke as they started up the moving staircases. “For what it’s worth, I think Dean loves Ginny too.” They stepped off on their floor, took a few steps, and then Ron nodded.

“He does,” he spoke emphatically.

“Well, then,” said Harry wondering if he should tell Ginny, “that really is excellent, isn’t it?” Ron stopped, grabbed Harry by the robes, and darted his eyes up and down the corridor to the Fat Lady.

“No! It’s not excellent. It’s bloody terrible is what it is! What if, what if…”

“What if what, Ron?”

“He’s… well, he’s black, Harry,” Ron whispered as if saying the Dark Lord’s name himself. Harry was confused. Of course he was black. “They love each other, Harry. It’s not just some kind of fling. This might actually last. What if they want to get married?” Harry was starting to take up where Ron was going, and he didn’t like it.

“And if they did?” he asked slowly.

“Well, they might… have children,” Ron explained as if it seemed so obvious.

“Yes?”

“They’d be… they’d be half-breeds, Harry,” he breathed.

“Half-breeds?” Did his best friend just say what he thought he said? He could feel the temper rising from the pit of his stomach, but he felt cold. “I see. Half-breeds. I guess that would make you the uncle of a half-breed, wouldn’t it?” He could see by Ron’s eyes that Ron wanted to take the words back. But he couldn’t could he? They were out on the table now. Now Harry knew why he’d been so angry about Ginny and Dean. It wasn’t just that he was dating his sister, it was because he was serious about her, and she about him. And the problem with that--he was black. “What’s that make me then, Ron? Or Seamus? It doesn’t bother you that Dean’s a mudblood?”

“That… that’s different,” he sputtered.

“Why, because I’m white and he’s black?” Harry grabbed Ron’s robes this time and spun him to the wall hidden behind a suit of armor. “What if I wasn’t, Ron? What if I was a half-breed?” And as he held Ron tight against the wall, his eyes began to turn brown, and his skin began to darken. “Could I still be your friend if I looked like this, Ron?” Ron stared horror struck. “COULD I?” he yelled.

“You… you’re a… how?” The green returned to Harry’s eyes, as he released Ron from his grasp as if disgusted from the touch.

“None of your damn business!” he spat. “We’re through, do you hear me?” Harry straightened his robes. “I wouldn’t want to dirty your pure-blood doormat, Ron. It’s far too white for my filthy shoes.” And he turned and walked away leaving Ron gawking against the wall.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Burden of Becoming

Chapter 18 - True Colours
~~~***~~~

It was raining hard outside the castle as Harry made his way to Transfiguration. Students were running in from the front lawn trying to escape the sudden downpour. Harry strode through the corridor in a trance. “How could I have been so stupid?” he asked himself out loud. “A bloody racist is what he is. Why didn’t I know?” A cluster of students burst through the front doors, soaked and laughing at each other -- Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs. Harry took no notice. He was searching his mind for a clue, some hint from the past of Ron’s predilection; nothing came.

Suddenly, he found himself entering class; he was late. Professor McGonagall was at the front already discussing what was written on the board.

“Mr. Potter,” she said, “so nice of you to join us this afternoon. Please take a seat. Five points from Gryffindor.” Hermione, seated in the front, moaned. Harry scanned the room. The seat next to Hermione was already taken. He plopped down in the first chair he came to and immediately recognized his mistake; on his left sat Draco Malfoy. Professor McGonagall noted it, but made no effort to switch the pair. Harry briefly looked at the blonde whose attention was focused forward. A few students were casting glances backwards, but not at Harry. They were looking at the Slytherin, but Harry refused to look at him again and neither spoke to the other.

“As I was saying for those of you who arrived on time,” Professor McGonagall continued, “the spell is a very difficult one. Those unable to accomplish it by the end of the first term will be dropped from this N.E.W.T.”

“What spell?” Harry whispered as if Hermione were at his side. But the only sound returned was a small snort.

Professor McGonagall demonstrated the transfiguration of a pillow into a goose, and then untransfigured it back. “Today, however, we’ll start with something quite similar,” she said. She then explained how they would change a box turtle to a sphere and back again. Each pair of students had one stone box turtle to work with.

Harry reached for the box turtle. Malfoy grabbed it instead.

“I think not, Potter. Let someone who knows what they’re doing have the first crack.” He held his wand out. “You know, I ought to use this on you.” He leered at Harry with his one exposed eye.

“Yes, Draco,” Harry held the gaze. “You should.”

“Stop it, Potter.”

“Stop what, Draco.”

“I don’t know what you’re playing at, but I won’t have you call me…”

“Gentlemen!” called Professor McGonagall. “Perhaps a bit more concentration on the task at hand. Let’s see you give it a try Mr. Malfoy.” Malfoy turned his wand back on the box turtle.

“Orbista!” called Malfoy. The box turtle morphed into a solid ball and began rolling on the table.

“Exceptional, Mr. Malfoy! Now Mr. Potter, untransfigure.”

“Quadrena!” called Harry. The sphere flattened its sides and became, again, a box turtle.

“Astounding!” congratulated Professor McGonagall. “I don’t believe I’ve seen either of you two perform a transfiguration on the first attempt. Five points for Slytherin and Gryffindor.”

Professor McGonagall continued to work around the room while Malfoy and Harry continued to transfigure and untransfigure the creature in front of them.

“What’s this rubbish you told Goyle, Potter?” Malfoy asked. “You can’t remove the hex?”

“It’s not a hex and, no, I don’t know how, Draco,” Harry replied creating the sphere again. “And even if I did, I don’t know that I’d want to.”

“Oh, you’ll want to, Potter. I can promise you that,” Malfoy hissed.

“Tell me,” Harry said feeling his pulse quicken, “if she dies, will you enjoy joining your father?” Malfoy was caught between hatred and fear.

“You… it, it was an accident, that’s all. Orbista!”

“Accidents happen, I guess,” said Harry, and the sphere slipped from his fingers and rolled off the table toward the back of the room. Professor McGonagall was discussing something with Hermione at the front of the class. When Malfoy went back to retrieve the sphere, Harry stood up. Malfoy turned and when his eyes met Harry’s the sphere fell from his hands rolling across the floor. Harry reached down and picked it up. In its reflection Harry saw two red eyes staring back at him. He handed the orb back to Malfoy, leaning close. In the reflection of Malfoy’s one un-bandaged eye, Harry again caught a glint of Voldemort red. “I don’t care much for mistakes, Draco. Don’t let them happen again,” he hissed, shoving the sphere in Malfoy’s chest. Malfoy, his mouth agog, took one step backward as Professor McGonagall dismissed the class. Harry held his hands to his face and then turned to pick up his things.

“Draco. Harry. A word please,” she said, summoning the two to the front. Malfoy kept his distance. “I was very impressed with you two this afternoon. I expected to see sparks fly and you were both perfectly behaved. Further, your work was exceptional. I want to see you two sit together for the rest of the term.”

“Professor McGonagall!” they called simultaneously. She held up her hands.

“Now, let’s see how things progress. Ms. Parkinson was never much help to you Draco you know that. Nor was Mr. Weasley of great aid to you Harry. Perhaps the two of you, together, can discover yet unseen talents. At least, we can hope.” She began to walk to her desk and then suddenly stopped.

“There is the one issue, Mr. Potter,” she said clearly uncomfortable. “Mr. Malfoy here believes you placed a hex on his face. Much in the same way Marietta was marked last year.”

“A hex?” Harry feigned bewilderment. “No I never hexed Draco.” Professor McGonagall raised an eyebrow. “In fact, when Draco came in and tried to kill Cho, I didn’t even have my wand on me. It was stuck in the cushions of the carriage we were riding, wasn’t it Draco?” Harry turned as if asking an old pal to back him up.

“Kill Cho?” Professor McGonagall asked. “I don’t understand. Mr. Malfoy, is this correct?” Malfoy was silent. “Well then… was Harry without a wand when you were attacked?” Malfoy’s continued delay convinced her it was so. “Then perhaps someone else…”

“It was Potter, I tell you!” he cried out. “He’s lying. I didn’t try to kill… Okay, so… so maybe it wasn’t his wand, he used his hands or… or…. You’ve got to make him take it off Professor!” And he ripped the bandages from his face. The scar was dark-red against his pale skin. “I can’t walk around like this, I can’t!” The look took even Professor McGonagall by surprise. Seeing her reaction, Malfoy slumped to the floor burying his hands in his face. “I can’t.” Harry had never seen Malfoy like this before. He was always so arrogant, so sure of himself.

“Certainly,” Professor McGonagall continued, “you don’t think Mr. Potter could do that with the mere touch of his finger do you? No wizard could.” Malfoy looked up, rage filling his eyes.

“If you won’t make him,” he said, rising from the floor, “I will!” He stepped toward Harry and raised his wand. In the same instant that Professor McGonagall called for Malfoy to stop, a familiar pain, but now more intense, shot down Harry’s right arm. He fell to one knee, grabbing his arm as a burst of red light flew over his head. An instant later Malfoy was on the floor writhing in pain, his hands pressed to his face.

“It’s burning me!” he yelled. “Make it stop!” Professor McGonagall, her wand already drawn, turned from defender to healer.

“Harry, are you okay?” she asked briskly.

“I’m fine,” Harry nodded.

“Very well, go on your way. I’ll deal with Mr. Malfoy.” She pulled Malfoy’s hands from his face and her wand emitted a blue glow. Malfoy stopped writhing, but he was still in pain. Harry started to leave. Looking back he could see the grim face on Professor McGonagall as she tried to bring Malfoy relief. Harry wasn’t sure what he was feeling.

“Professor McGonagall,” he called, “don’t punish him for that. He’s just confused, that’s all. Give him time… he’ll learn.” Harry left, running for his next class.

Again he would be late. Basic Apparation was going to be taught by Professor Flitwick this year in the Charms classroom. When Harry arrived, the room again was filled. This time Hermione had saved him a seat next to her and Ron. She waved, but Harry slid into a seat next to Anthony Goldstein.

“You’re out of the hospital,” Harry whispered.

“Just after lunch,” Anthony whispered back. At the front of the class Professor Flitwick was discussing the fundamental theory and basis for apparation.

“Have you heard anything about Cho?” Harry asked.

“A healer arrived from St. Mungo’s this morning. All he would say is that she’s still not well… that they’d know in a day or two.” Anthony feigned taking notes, and instead was doodling on his parchment. It was a sketch of a girl on a broomstick chasing a snitch. Seeing Anthony’s other parchments, Harry noted there were many more such doodles, some from last year.

“Teaching a course like this,” Professor Flitwick continued, “is very difficult since one can neither apparate, nor disapparate on the Hogwarts grounds.” There was a general murmur in the class, as if this was the first anyone had ever heard such a thing. Hermione sighed with exasperation.

“Harry,” Anthony whispered again, “I’m with you on this one all the way. We’ll take out the lot you and me. Dumbledore stopped in the hospital wing the first night. Started going on about how we all needed to get along… find a way to unite… tottering old fool,” he hissed. “The only way You-Know-Who’s taking over Hogwarts is if the Slytherin vermin let him in through the front door. If Dumbledore can’t see that, Harry, we’ll have to make him, you and me.” Anthony grabbed Harry’s arm, the pain still there. Harry winced. “For Cho.”

Harry hadn’t said a word and somehow found himself in some sort of pact with a Ravenclaw prefect to wipe out all of Slytherin. Anthony kept whispering plans, but Harry wasn’t listening. His eyes were at the front of the class, at the redhead with the freckles that ran down his back, now blended with scars that would put Malfoy’s to shame. Scars put there in large part because of Malfoy’s father. Ron was the one friend Harry had that didn’t think he was a freak from day one. He was the one friend that had always stood by him.

Harry thought back to Ron’s willingness to sacrifice himself at Wizard’s Chess and how he stayed by Harry’s side to face Aragog. It seemed so long ago. And yet, after all these years, why hadn’t Harry seen it? Ron tried to duel with Malfoy after he called Hermione mudblood. What was it about the colour of one’s skin? Why, of all things, would that bother Ron?

The redhead in the front row was rubbing the back of his neck. Hermione poked him trying to get him to pay attention. Well, it didn’t matter to Harry. He’d seen enough hatred to last a lifetime and he wasn’t about to be chums with a poster child for discrimination. He squeezed his right hand and flexed his shoulder. The ache had gone away and with it, Harry knew, the mark on his arm.

When the class was over Harry didn’t wait to head back to his room. Anthony tried to whisper a few things in the hallway, but Harry told him they’d have to talk in private, and that appeared to satisfy him. As he passed through the portrait of the Fat Lady, he could feel his temper rising. How could this work, how could any of it work? “Hogwarts unity?” he spat to himself, heading up the stairs. “What a joke.”

When he arrived, Goyle was sitting on the edge of Seamus’ bed. He saw Harry and reached for his wand. “Sit down you idiot,” Harry snapped raising his hand up and pushing Goyle back down on the bed, only his hand never actually touched Goyle. Flat on his back, Goyle looked over at Harry who was rummaging through his trunk.

“What… what are you doing?” Goyle asked nervously.

“Changing for dinner,” Harry said frustrated. “Honestly Goyle, if you’re going to have a heart attack every time I come into the room, maybe you should ask to go back to Slytherin.” Goyle sat back up.

“I already have,” he said and sighed dejectedly. “Dumbledore said no.” Harry grabbed a sweatshirt and pulled it over his head. Outside it was raining again.

“Damn,” he said. Goyle looked up.

“What do you mean?” asked Goyle again nervously. Harry rolled his eyes to the ceiling.

“It’s raining!” Harry exploded. “I wanted to send a letter tonight and it’s raining!” Goyle sat confused. “She hates to fly in the rain!” He was screaming at Goyle when Ron walked in.

“Hey, what’s up?” Ron called out. Harry spun on him.

“Oh, look! Mr. Prefect is back! Goyle, you’re saved.” Harry started to leave and then stopped just in front of Ron. “I know that silver badge doesn’t mean anything on Malfoy’s chest. I would have thought it meant something more to you.” He descended the stairs and strolled across the common room, heading to leave, when Hermione caught him by the arm.

“Harry! Where are you going?” she asked.

“Dinner,” he said, “if everyone will just leave me alone.” She let go of his arm.

“Look, Ron’s just gone up to change. He’ll only be a minute.”

“A minute for Ron Weasley is a minute I don’t have,” he fired.

“Don’t tell me you two had another fight,” she said with a sigh. “What was it this time?”

“Hermione, I don’t have time to play twenty questions.” Harry started to leave. “If you want to know so much… to know EVERYTHING, ask Ron.” He looked back at her as the Fat Lady’s portrait swung open. “But you two have been such exquisite liars lately I doubt he’ll be able to tell you the truth. And if he did, would you believe it?” He left, Hermione calling after him.

Harry started toward the Great Hall, but he realized he wasn’t the least bit hungry. He was headed down the first floor corridor when he changed his mind. Instead, a visit to see the only loyal friend he had was in order. Ten minutes later he walked into the owlery.

“Hedwig!” he called. The snowy owl flew down and landed on Harry’s arm. “Hello, girl,” he whispered. He sat on a bench stroking her feathers. “Tell me girl, what’s it like to be the only white owl in here? Do the other owls tease you?” He looked up at all the different owls. So many colours, shapes and sizes. Erol buzzed down to see if maybe he could carry a letter somewhere. Hedwig cooed a reproach for the intrusion. “It’s okay girl, he just wants to help. We need more Erols girl… a lot more.” He stroked her feathers for quite some time, when he heard footsteps.

“Harry?” called a girl’s voice. “Is that you?” It was Ginny Weasley, a pack hung over one arm and she held a parchment in her hand.

“Go on girl,” he whispered to Hedwig, and she flew back to roost. He tried to muster a smile.

“Hi, Ginny! How was the first day back?”

“Awful and wonderful in one,” she said whimsically. “I’ve already got more homework than I ever had before. But Dean says he’ll see me through to the O.W.L.S. and something in his voice tells me he will.” She smiled as Erol, hearing her speak, started buzzing madly about. “I hate to send him out in this weather, but I promised to write Mum.” She attached the parchment to Erol’s leg and he was off. “She’d only think the worst if I didn’t write.”

“I don’t know,” Harry said watching Erol disappear into the rain. “After last night, she may anyway.”

“Well, I didn’t really go into that much detail,” she muttered looking down at the floor.

“Ginny Weasley! Perhaps you should be in Slytherin!” Harry joked.

“She’ll find out soon enough, she always does, and with Dad where he is at the Ministry now there’s not something unusual that happens he doesn’t hear about.” There was an awkward silence as the two began to look up at the owls overhead. “Dean told me about Malfoy’s face. He saw it in Potions this morning.” Harry sat back down on the bench and looked at his hands.

“You saved Cho’s life Harry,” Ginny said, sitting down next to him. “He deserved what he got.” Harry shook his head. He wasn’t going to have the one bright light in this school filled with rubbish.

“Ginny, that’s a lie. I didn’t save Cho’s life. He goaded her in his own slimy way. She drew her wand on him first. If she would have just….” Harry took a long breath. “Well, she’d be having dinner with her brother in the Great Hall right now, instead of….” He buried his head in his hands. “He wasn’t after her; he was after me! He’s always been after me. Or, maybe it’s been the other way around… I don’t know.”

“You did the right thing, Harry. Padma told me what happened. If she lives, it’ll be because you took Malfoy down.”

“If she dies, it’ll be because I sat down next to her.” He looked up, and tears were falling down his face. “I’m a walking disaster waiting to happen. Even you… you almost died last year, Ginny.”

“Harry, I…”

“No! YOU ALMOST DIED! And why? Because I was an arrogant ass. Sitting with me right now, you put your life in danger. Don’t you see that?”

“What? You don’t think we all know you’re Number One on Voldemort’s hit list. Do you think we just hang around because you make a great Seeker?” she said, and then smiled. “Tell me Harry, if it were me, if Voldemort was flying through that window right now to come after Ginny Weasley, where would you be?” Harry looked up to the window. The rain had stopped as the moon broke through the clouds.

“Right here,” he whispered. Ginny took his hand.

“Exactly. And that’s where I am Harry. That’s where over half the school is. Right here beside you.” He wiped his face with his left sleeve. “You saved my life Harry, I’ll never forget that.” Harry tried to manage a smile.

“I’m sorry Ginny. I can’t seem to get a hold of myself this year. My compass keeps spinning every which way trying to find true north.” A Great Horned Owl flew in from outside just as the rain stopped. Harry took a deep breath. “I wish Sirius were here.” He sighed.

The two remained for some time, Ginny content to sit with Harry and let him look out the window or watch the occasional owl swoop from one roosting spot to another. Finally, it was Harry who broke the silence.

“Ginny,” he said, “you and Dean, you’ve got something special there.” A grin broke out across her face.

“I think so,” she said. “Why? What’s he told you?” Harry began to smile back.

“He doesn’t have to say anything. You can see it in his eyes every time he’s with you, or talks about you.” It was his turn to hold her hand. “Don’t let Ron spoil it for you. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

“Don’t worry about me, Harry.” She grinned. “I can handle Ron just fine, thank you very much.” Then her face turned down somewhat. “Have you noticed?”

“Noticed what?” asked Harry.

“Ron, he’s, well, he’s not looking too well. I know he was busy this summer and all with… well things. But he’s gotten worse since we’ve been here. He looked dreadful at dinner tonight. I didn’t say anything to Mum, but it’s starting to worry me a bit. You’ll look out for him, won’t you?” Harry stiffened at the question. He stood and began to brush the white down from off his clothes.

“I think Ron can look out for himself. He’ll be fine.” The words were a bit sharper than he would have liked. He was sure she’d note the tone and he didn’t want that. Ginny stood as well.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she said. “Well, Dean will be wondering where I ran off to. I told him to meet me in the library an hour ago.” She walked over to Harry. “You know,” she said, her voice low, “when you’re lost, and you need to find true north,” she took his hand and held it to his chest, “look right here.” He could feel his heart beat against her hand holding his.

“Eh, hem,” cleared a voice from behind Harry. Harry turned to see Dean Thomas.

“Dean!” Ginny called. “I’m so sorry, I thought I’d only be a minute and, well,” she walked over to Dean taking him by the hand, “I met Harry here and we got to talking and one thing led to another and…”

“I can see that,” Dean said in voice that was a bit too cold. “Are you two finished with one thing and another?”

“Ginny was just leaving, Dean,” Harry said apologetically. “It’s all my fault. I started going off about Quidditch and our chances this year if we applied the right strategy and all. She was kind enough to listen to far too many game plans.” Dean looked marginally satisfied with the explanation.

“Well, it’s getting late,” said Dean. “We only have about thirty minutes before we need to be back.” The two started to leave.

“Ginny,” Harry called, “do you have anything I can write with?”

“Sure, Harry,” she said. She pulled parchment and a quill from her pack and handed them to Harry. “I’ll need the quill back when you’re done if you don’t mind.”

“Thanks,” he said. Dean and Ginny left arm-in-arm each smiling at the other. Harry went back to the bench and started to write.


Gabriella,

One day has passed since we last saw each other, and already I miss you miserably. My mind has turned to Christmas. It’s been a long time since I’ve been home for the holiday. I suspect Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia will love the news when I tell them.

The first night back was bloody awful. A close friend was attacked and put in the hospital. They say some of the ‘criminals’ here are incurable. I hope I can change that in some small way. I was going to go to bed tonight angry and upset over what’s happened here during the last twenty-four hours. But, how can I go to bed angry, knowing that I have someone I love so much waiting for me when I return. My only sadness is that you’re not at my side right now.

I love you… always,

Harry


Harry walked Hedwig to the window and she flew off with the letter into a starry night. The clouds were thinning and the moon bathed the grounds with a faint glow. Smoke was billowing from Hagrid’s cabin. “So quiet,” Harry thought as he rubbed his right forearm. He scanned the horizon over the Forbidden Forest. Somewhere, out there in the darkness, the pieces were being positioned. Pawns in what might be the greatest war of the age. It seemed silly to think that love would be enough.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Burden of Becoming

Chapter 19 - Hidden at Honeydukes
~~~***~~~

The castle corridors were deserted as Harry quickly made his way down from the owlery. He was rushing to make it back to the Gryffindor common room before curfew. The last thing he needed was to get caught by Filch and lose fifty points for Gryffindor. He was passing by the spiral staircase to Dumbledore’s office when it opened up. Draco Malfoy stepped out and, seeing Harry before him, the blonde stopped. His head was no longer covered. Now, a simple flesh colored patch hid the scar beneath.

“Hey, Draco,” Harry called, briefly waving his right hand. “Love to chat, but I‘ve things to do.” And he continued to walk briskly down the corridor, half wondering when Malfoy’s hex would strike his back. Instead, Malfoy ran up beside him and kept pace down the corridor.

“Your precious Dumbledore couldn’t remove it,” he drawled. “How pathetic is that? And we’re supposed to feel so safe with that old fool watching over us.”

“I already told your crony, Draco,” Harry said calmly as he started up the stairs. “There’s only one person in the school who can remove the scar.”

“And I suppose that’s you!” Malfoy spat. “Okay, Potter, what do you want?”

“And I already told you, Draco,” Harry continued as they began down the corridor to the portrait of the Fat Lady. “I can’t remove the scar.”

“You’re a liar!” Malfoy screamed reaching for his wand. But before his hands ever touched it, Harry spun and had his wand pointed directly between Malfoy’s eyes.

“I don’t have time to play tonight, Draco,” he whispered. Calmly Harry flicked his wand and uttered, “Expelliarmus.” With a flash, Draco’s wand flew fifty feet backward down the corridor. “Perhaps tomorrow, Draco, goodnight.” Harry turned, walked to the portrait, whispered the password and passed through.

As he entered the common room, the first site to catch his eye was Dean and Ginny studying together by the fire. Everyone else had gone to bed, probably making up for the lack of sleep the night before. He’d half expected to see Hermione and was half glad she wasn’t there.

“Hi Harry,” Ginny said brightly. “Did you get your letter off?”

“Yeah, thanks Gin.” Harry walked over to the two holding hands. “Here’s your quill.” On Dean’s notes he saw intricate doodles of a girl flying on a broom. Not so much doodles, rather detailed drawings done in black ink. It was clearly Ginny Weasley. “Puts Goldstein’s sketches to shame,” Harry thought. He turned to Dean. “Chaser, or Seeker?” he asked pointing to the artwork. Dean smiled blushing slightly.

“Chaser I think,” he said with a grin, adding a bit of shading to one of his drawings. When he lifted his quill, the figure flew to a ring tossing the Quaffle through. “She’ll give Katie a run for her money this year, I’d say.” Ginny shoved Dean on the side smiling.

“As if,” she said holding Dean’s gaze in her own. Dean broke off a piece of chocolate he had with him and placed it in her mouth. Harry excused himself and started up the stairs. Ron and Goyle were already asleep, or at least pretending to be asleep. Harry undressed and crawled into bed. Goyle let out a small sigh, and Harry had to smile.

As Harry’s head hit the pillow, he realized it had been days since he’d concentrated on clearing his mind. The lack of practice and emotions of the day made tonight’s efforts more difficult. The last thing he let go of was the vision of a white owl flying toward the waxing moon.

As Harry looked on, the moon turned full, and he heard a howling out on the grounds below. Smoke still billowed from the chimney of Hagrid’s hut and, as it filled the air, the moon flushed blood red. There was a flapping of wings in the distance, a rhythmic swoosh… swoosh… swoosh… deep, even, heavy strokes. Not the wings of an owl. Suddenly the air was filled with flame and two glowing eyes were coming toward Harry. He stepped back from the window… swoosh… swoosh… swoosh. A Hungarian Horntail filled his view. Just before it was upon him, it turned sharply upwards, spinning to its left in a giant arc across the glowing sky. Another burst of flame shot from the creature’s mouth, which opened wider and wider until it swooped and swallowed the burning moon in its mouth. Instantly all was dark. Just the sound of crickets filled the air. “I know this place,” Harry thought.

And then he heard a voice calling his name. “Harry?” And again louder, “Harry!” It was Dean rocking his shoulder. “Come on sleepy head, you’ll miss breakfast if you sleep any longer.” Harry looked around. He was in bed, the morning light filling their room. Neville was just waking as well.

“Where’s Goyle and Ron,” he asked.

“They left about twenty minutes ago,” Dean answered. “They’re getting downright chummy if you ask me. At least I hope they are. Maybe it’ll get Ron off my back.” Harry sat up rubbing his eyes. Neville wandered down the hall to the shower.

“Dean, if it’s one thing you don’t need to worry about, it’s Ron Weasley. He’s all bark and no bite,” Harry said dismissively. “Anyway, it doesn’t bother Ginny, it shouldn’t bother you.” Dean sat down across from Harry.

“It does bother me, Harry,” he said earnestly. “I… love her. I don’t know. We might have a chance to make something of ourselves in a few years. How can that happen if I don’t have the support of her family?”

“There are seven Weasley children, Dean,” said Harry firmly. “Getting them to agree on what to eat for breakfast in the morning is damn near impossible. Don’t expect one-hundred percent approval.” He stood and started for the shower. “Her parents like you, that’s what counts.”

“They do?” Dean brightened. Harry smiled nodding. “Really?” Harry left Dean grinning, and punching the air in a sign of victory.

As Harry entered the Great Hall for breakfast, he saw that Hermione had an open space next to her. Ron sat across the table. He was scanning for somewhere else to sit when Katie Bell called him to sit down next to her. With Angelina graduating, she had been selected to lead the team this year. Harry felt he’d been slighted a bit. He knew far more about Quidditch than Katie.

“Morning Harry,” she said with a smile. “I heard you bought a new Caduceus, is that true?” Harry nodded. “Fantastic!” she whooped. “There’s only one other in the whole school.” Harry’s eyes looked up over his buttered toast. He was a bit surprised. “Malfoy,” she said answering his unspoken question. His eyes rolled into the air. She leaned closer to him much as Anthony Goldstein had done in Basic Apparation, her voice becoming almost conspiratorial. “Listen, I want to have tryouts this weekend. We can’t wait any longer to get a team together. We won last year, but by shear luck. The whole school was out of whack. We have to be on top of our game this year, Harry. We’ve got to!” Her voice was a bit high pitched. Oliver would have been proud.

“The thing is,” she continued, “I know some of the others might think they’re on the team just because they played last year. But there’s no way Ginny Weasley’s better than you at Seeker.”

“Katie,” Harry began, “I should tell…”

“Just hear me out Harry,” she cut him off. “I see you at Seeker, me at Chaser and, well, I know he’s your friend and all plus he seemed to get it together last year so Ron at Keeper. That leaves two Beaters and two Chasers to look for at tryouts.

“I gave my Firebolt to Ginny,” Harry said putting a slice of ham in his mouth. The bit of news had Katie recalculating in her mind. And while Katie was performing her own bit of Quidditch math, Harry was wondering about Ron. He looked down the table. Hermione had left and Ron was looking back at them. Certainly he knew what they were talking about. Could he hear Katie’s mind? Harry waved at Ron to come over. If he was going to listen, he might as well do it properly.

“Okay, she’s in at Chaser. But that’s still three positions.” Ron sat down next to Katie.

“Okay, Ron,” Harry said, “You’re in at Keeper, Ginny’s in at Chaser. Tryouts are Saturday for the other three. Start asking around and see if anybody’s been working on their flying this summer.” A grin broke out across Ron’s face and then a look of eagerness.

“What about Goyle?” he asked.

“What about, Goyle?” Katie rolled back.

“He’s played Beater,” Ron returned. “He’s pretty good at it.”

“You’re not serious,” Harry howled. “He’d throw the game in about two minutes, knocking a Bludger right at the back of my head!”

“Well, he said he was interested is all,” Ron replied.

Katie was quiet. The wheels were turning again. “We only have the one game this term,” she said pensively. “Ravenclaw.” She looked over at the Ravenclaw table. I hear they hexed him and his friend, Crabbe, pretty good as they tried to protect Malfoy. Crabbe just left the hospital wing. As much as Malfoy hates you, Harry, maybe Goyle hates Ravenclaw more. I don’t know. We can let him tryout anyway.”

“But…” Harry started.

“Let’s just let Goyle fly Saturday, Harry. No harm looking is there?” Harry looked at Katie and then shot Ron a look of pure lightning.

“You’re the captain, Captain,” Harry quipped. “I’ve got to go, class is about to start.” He stood up and so did Ron. They both had Charms this morning. Harry looked at Ron, and Ron looked back. But instead of turning to go, Harry walked toward the head table, leaving Ron to shrug and walk away. Professor Flitwick was just preparing to go teach the very same class.

“Professor,” Harry called. “May I have a word, sir?” Professor Flitwick smiled and nodded. “Any news, sir? About Cho?” The smile left his face and he walked over to Harry placing a hand on his arm.

“Walk with me, Mr. Potter,” Professor Flitwick said. The two left the Great Hall and started down the corridor. Professor Flitwick opened a door and the two walked into an empty classroom. Professor Flitwick was one of the more emotional teachers at Hogwarts, but there was no sadness on his face that Harry could read. Yet, what it was he couldn’t tell. He asked Harry to sit, and the words started his heart racing.

“You’ve always impressed me, Harry,” Professor Flitwick said sitting in a chair next to him. “I don’t think I’ve ever told you before. I’ve seen all too well what you’ve been through. Particularly last year.” A hint of fire flashed in his eyes. Again he held Harry’s arm. “You saved Cho’s life. You know that, don’t you?” Hearing the words that she would live, Harry thought he’d be jubilant. But, why then were they here? Why not just say Cho’s fine and she’ll be at school tomorrow? His palms began to sweat.

“And?” Harry asked. “When does she come back?” At these words, Professor Flitwick’s eyes began to fill with tears.

“Not for awhile, I’m afraid.” He paused. “Her brain has been badly injured, Harry. She’s not… she’s not Cho anymore.” Harry stood up.

“What do you mean she’s not Cho anymore?” he asked, his voice shaking. “Marietta said she was asking about me when they went in to St. Mungo’s. She said… the healer said….” He had to sit again.

“I know she meant a great deal to you, Harry,” Professor Flitwick squeaked. “You meant a great deal to her too. The healers call it a lasting echo in the brain. It’s all she does right now… ask about you. She doesn’t know her name. She doesn’t recognize her family. She only asks ‘Is Harry okay?’ over and over again.”

“I’ve got to see her then!” Harry exclaimed. “Let her know I am okay, maybe… maybe…”

“Yes, yes, the healers have mentioned that, but not yet. It’s still too soon. Perhaps you can see her in a week or two, if the behavior continues.” Professor Flitwick rubbed his eyes with his hands. “We must be getting to class, Harry. It has not been a very fine start this year, and I’m afraid it promises to get worse.” Harry stood with Professor Flitwick, his knees were weak, but still he felt like doing something, anything.

“Professor?” Harry asked. “Malfoy? Aren’t they going to do something with him for what he did to her? Let him join his father?” Professor Flitwick shook his head.

“I’m afraid not,” he replied. “The accident occurred on the Hogwarts Express and hence school grounds. The Headmaster has decided to wait, pending Cho’s final outcome.”

“Wait?” Harry sputtered. “Wait for what? For him to kill someone else?”

“Now Harry,” Professor Flitwick chided. “As hungry for power and attention as Mr. Malfoy is, even I don’t believe he’d deliberately try to kill someone.” He stood. “Come now, we’re both going to be late.” Just before they left, Professor Flitwick looked once more in to his eyes. “I’m sorry Harry, but I have to ask. Did you put the scar on Mr. Malfoy’s face?” Looking back at Professor Flitwick, Harry did not answer. “There are only a handful of students at Hogwarts who could accomplish the feat. There is none I know of that could keep me, or the Headmaster from removing the mark.”

“I can’t remove it,” Harry answered. Professor Flitwick nodded his head. He was turning the words in his mind.

“Very well,” he said.

They walked together down the corridor to the Charms class. Just before they entered Professor Flitwick held Harry’s arm one last time. “Harry, let the Headmaster sort this out. It’s not your job.” Harry only shrugged following Professor Flitwick into class.

The Charms class was full. Owing to the fact that Professor Flitwick was an excellent teacher, quite a few students had made it into his N.E.W.T., including Ron. A quick scan of the class saw Hermione with Ron saving a seat in front and a thin longhaired blonde next to an open seat in back. This time Harry specifically selected to sit with Malfoy.

“Potter, really,” Malfoy drawled. “Your mudblood girlfriend saved you a seat in front. Don’t ruin this class for me too.” He was as arrogant as ever.

“You didn’t kill her, Draco,” Harry whispered through gritted teeth. “She’s going to live.” Malfoy glanced at Harry, for an instant, he thought he saw a look of relief, or was it disappointment?

“Whatever,” Malfoy sneered.

“Only problem is, you’ve put her in St. Mungo’s forever,” Harry hissed. “You killed her brain, Draco. Now, it’s your turn.”

“Stop it Potter,” Malfoy snapped. A few students glanced back to look; one was Anthony Goldstein. Malfoy lowered his voice. “I don’t know where you come off calling me by my first name, but stop it. I hate you and you hate me. Leave it that way.”

“Never be afraid of a name, Draco,” Harry chimed feeling the blood boil in his veins. “I explained that to your father last year, just before, well you know.” Along with the rest of the class Malfoy’s wand was laying out on the table before him. He reached down gripping it, his knuckles turning white. In the front, Professor Flitwick had begun demonstrating a charm to make inanimate objects move in an animated way. Harry’s mind flashed to the statues in the fountain at the Ministry of Magic that saved his life last year.

“Tell me Draco, does it hurt? Does the snake sink its fangs into your cheek at night, or does the sword drip blood from your chin.” Draco pulled his wand in close. “You do look pretty horrific you know. A freaking monster is what McGonagall saw, wasn’t it? You could see it in her eyes. You can see it in everyone’s eyes, Draco. What does Pansy think? Merlin knows I think…” Malfoy jumped to his feet, but Harry remained seated keeping his back to Malfoy.

“Perfect,” Harry breathed to himself, still facing away from Malfoy. The commotion caused students in front of Harry to look back. Professor Flitwick looked up as well. Malfoy’s words reverberated throughout the class.

“Stupefy!”

A searing pain hit Harry between the shoulder blades, and everything went black. In the next instant, a bright light began to fill Harry’s eyes. He was at the pool. In the water was Gabriella in a black and red two-piece suit.

“They tell me that you’re brave, Harry,” she said, and then smiled up at him from the water. “Jump in then… chicken!” She splashed him. The water hit Harry’s legs and began to burn. Red welts began to spring up all over.

“Here, let me take care of that,” Emma called from behind him. She was dressed in black robes and a blue glow emanated from her wand.

“What’s she doing Harry!” Gabriella screamed. “She’s… she’s some kind of witch! Stop her Harry, stop her!” Harry stood up telling Emma she had to leave. Suddenly he slipped and began falling, falling backwards towards the water and Gabriella. He was waiting for the burning heat. Instead a wave of cold filled his body. Extreme cold. He was getting uncomfortable, freezing, the cold felt like…

He opened his eyes. Professor Flitwick was leaning over Harry, Hermione at his side.

“Well done Ms. Granger,” he squeaked. “Mr. Potter, can you stand?” Harry’s head was clearing. He knew he could stand, but then remembered his cause.

“Malfoy? Where’s Malfoy?” he groaned.

“Mr. Malfoy has been sent to see the Headmaster,” Professor Flitwick replied irritably. “I can’t believe he just stunned you in the back.” Harry made a half-hearted move to stand, but deliberately fell back to the floor, holding his head. Professor Flitwick turned to Ron. “Mr. Weasley, escort Mr. Potter to the hospital wing. Let Madame Pomfrey know that it was a stunning spell.” Ron nodded and reached down to lift Harry.

For a moment Harry hesitated, but he had things he needed to do and this would make it simpler. He reached up and let Ron pull him to his feet. Once they were outside the class and the doors shut, Harry let go of Ron and began walking rapidly down the corridor.

“You’re not hurt?” Ron asked a bit confused.

“Well, I was just stunned in the back, wasn’t I?” said Harry in a biting tone. “But I can walk. Why don’t you just go back to class? I’ll be fine.”

“Professor Flitwick said to take you to the hospital wing,” Ron said.

“Well, I’m not going to the hospital wing, so that would be kind of pointless wouldn’t it.” Harry began to pick up his pace. “How long was I down?”

“Just a few minutes.”

“And how much of a head start does Malfoy have?” They were nearly running.

“Not too much, why?” Harry didn’t reply. They were headed to the corridor leading to Dumbledore’s office when Ron figured it out. “You’re going to attack Malfoy!”

“Wow! You’re a mind reader,” said Harry with a smirk. “Now, leave!” he spat. “I told you we’re through. The sooner you get that through your thick scull the better.” But Ron would not leave. Together, they rounded the corridor in the final hall when they saw Malfoy. Quickly, Harry pulled in behind a column. He did not want Ron here for this. Maybe he should have asked for someone else. The hall to Dumbledore’s office was deserted. From the windows high above, the morning sun lit up the fine paintings and tapestries hanging on the walls. There was no time to wait. Harry pulled his wand. This time, Malfoy would be hit in the back.

“Stupefy!” he cried, but before the words even left his lips, Malfoy seemed to buckle in pain reaching for his face. Harry felt an almost empathetic searing rise into his right arm, pinching him about the neck. He fell to one knee.

“Stupefy!” cast Ron. The streak of red light was intense and this time true, striking Malfoy in the back before he could turn to see his assailants. Malfoy collapsed to the ground. Groaning, Harry rose back to his feet.

“Okay Ron, you’re in it now,” said Harry through gritted teeth. “I’ll watch, Malfoy. Go get my cloak from my trunk and get back here fast!” Ron sped away as Harry turned to Malfoy and whispered, “Mobilicorpus.” Then he hid Malfoy out of the way behind a huge planting box. Minutes later Ron returned, his brow wet with sweat, Harry’s cloak in his hands. Carefully, the two placed it over Malfoy’s body and proceeded down the corridor. They had just made it to the statue of the one-eyed witch when class got out.

Harry whispered, “Dissendium,” just as a throng of third years turned their way. A moment later, the two were in the cavern beneath Hogwarts and all was quiet.

“Whoa,” Ron breathed. “Where is this place?”

“It’s time for you to go now Ron,” Harry breathed heavily. “I’ve got it from here. He should be out for a few more minutes. That’ll be all the time I need.”

“Look,” Ron said, “let me just make sure you finish what you’re doing safely, and when we’re back… whatever.” The redhead shrugged his shoulders. Harry looked down the empty and dark cavern. He could use the help, particularly if Malfoy woke early.

“Okay, let’s go.” Ten minutes later, they had parked Malfoy’s body in the basement of Honeydukes. They covered their tracks as best they could and began their way back to Hogwarts.

“Brilliant, Harry,” said Ron beaming. “He was sent to the Headmaster, but instead leaves school for Hogsmeade. They’ll kick him out for sure!” Harry nodded, but he was not smiling. For once he knew he’d played the better hand, but there was no joy in his triumph. “With Malfoy out, Dumbledore’s vision of school unity might just come true,” Ron said climbing back up the stairs behind the one-eyed witch. The two dusted themselves off and walked out into the corridor.

“I’m off to the hospital wing,” Harry said. “I’ve got this period free, then lunch. I’ll just have Madame Pomfrey look me over so I have my alibi.”

“To the hospital wing then!” said Ron. He smiled at first then, seeing Harry’s eyes, his own face fell. “We’ll just say I dropped you off at the door. I’m late for…” But Ron had the period free too. “Well, I’ll go see what we missed in Charms.” And he walked the other way down the corridor.

The hospital wing still had some students recuperating from the first night at Hogwarts. When Madame Pomfrey saw Harry she was immediately concerned. Too concerned, Harry thought. It was as if she’d been waiting for him to enter.

“Mr. Potter,” she called, “over here, over here, lie down.” How did she know he was hurt? “Don’t just stand there let me have a look.” Harry removed his robes and sat down on one of the beds. “Ms. Granger was here quite some time ago looking for you. She said you had been stunned in the back! Why didn’t you come straight away?” Harry’s heart quickened. What more had Hermione said?

“I was a little nauseous,” he said. “Ron helped me make it to the bathroom. I felt better after a drink of water though. In fact, I’m feeling much, much better now.”

“Certainly, dear. Let me see your back.” Harry lifted his shirt. “Yes, there’s where it hit you. This is going to hurt, I can promise you that.” She held up her wand. “But, it will be over in a flash. Hold still you’re very bruised.” A tingling sensation prickled the center of Harry’s back, and then what felt like a knife plummeted down his veins to the fingertips on his right hand.

“Aye!” Harry yelled. For a moment he felt an overwhelming urge to crush the healer between his hands, but before he could act Madame Pomfrey was walking away.

“It’s still a bit red, one moment,” she said. “Let me see…” Madame Pomfrey walked to a cupboard and pulled out a bottle of some potion. The door opened, it was Hermione.

“Harry, you’re here!” she panted, perspiration beading on her forehead. Clearly, she’d been running. “I just saw Ron on the way to lunch and he said you’d made it to the hospital wing. He said you two…” Harry shot her a stabbing glance and she stopped abruptly. “…you two made it here as fast as you could.”

“Yes,” Harry said. “I was a bit sick, but I’m fine now.”

“Let me determine that, Mr. Potter,” Madame Pomfrey scolded. She walked around Harry to apply the potion. “Oh my!” she exclaimed. “I… I don’t understand. It was as red as a beet just a minute ago.” Her finger rubbed the skin between Harry’s shoulder blades. “It’s perfect,” she breathed. “That’s not possible.” After a few more seconds, Harry pulled his shirt down.

“Perfect sounds pretty good to me Madame Pomfrey,” he said brightly. “Don’t you think Hermione?” Hermione smiled, but a bit nervously.

“Perfect is a wonderful diagnosis,” she said. “You’re a miracle worker, Madame Pomfrey, a miracle worker.” Helping Harry off the bed, she grabbed him by the right arm.

“Don’t!” he grimaced. His shirtsleeve had been pulled up somewhat, and he quickly pulled it down. But a glance at Hermione’s eyes and Harry knew she’d seen it. At least she’d seen part of it. Harry tried to laugh. “Don’t pinch like that Hermione.” Madame Pomfrey looked at him incredulously.

“Are you sure you’re feeling okay, Mr. Potter?” she asked reaching for his right arm. Harry pulled away.

“Absolutely, Madame Pomfrey.” He smiled broadly, wondering what could possess him to want to hurt her in any way. “Just caught my funny-bone is all. Hermione’s right, you are a miracle worker.” Harry grabbed Hermione’s arm this time. “Let’s go Hermione, I’m starved.” Harry tossed his robes back on and the two left Madame Pomfrey examining the unused potion in her hand.

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Harry Potter and the Burden of Becoming

Chapter 20 - A Stunning Defense
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The sky on the false ceiling above the Great Hall was dark and threatening. Lightning flashed the room as deafening claps of thunder reverberated off the rock walls. The steady sound of rain was loud and driving. It was difficult to hear anything. When Hermione and Harry arrived, most everyone else had already finished lunch. A few students remained studying or chatting with friends. Ron was nowhere to be seen. The two of them selected an unpopulated spot at the Gryffindor table. At the end of the table, Colin Creevey seemed to be explaining a wand movement to his brother Dennis. Another clap of thunder boomed in the Great Hall. Harry looked down at the table before him.

“Is there any chance we can still get a bite to eat?” he requested. Instantly plates appeared before both of them. Roast beef and fried potatoes with crescent rolls and a small green salad. A large cup of milk for Harry, slightly warm as he liked it and an iced tea appeared before Hermione.

“Have you seen Dobby?” Hermione asked.

“Don’t you have something else to ask?” Harry quickly shot back. He was in no mood to discuss house elves, even Dobby. His years with Hermione told him where they were about to go, and part of him felt that the great secret keeper seated across the table was unworthy of the secret she was about to be given.

“Well,” Hermione scanned around her, “your arm?” She left the question simple and vague.

“You’ve seen it before, Hermione,” Harry said not wanting to make this easy. He tried to guide the direction of the conversation. “But why talk about my arm? What about being able to cast spells without a wand? Have you found anything out about that?” For a moment, she sat thinking silently.

“Malfoy,” she breathed, “his… his face.” And then her eyes began to stare into space again. Harry simply waited; he was used to this. A minute passed and as quickly as her mind had left, it had returned. She looked at him squarely in the eyes. “Without a wand?” she asked. Her eyes were large and disbelieving.

“You healed the hand that did it,” he said flatly. “Thank you by the way,” he said and smiled. “Are you going to be a healer? You’d be brilliant at it you know.” He was about finished with his lunch, but Hermione had barely had two bites. “Are you going to eat that roll?” he asked. Her eyes darted up and down the table again. The Creevey brothers had left.

“Can I see?” she whispered, her face full of anticipation. Harry smiled again.

“You’ll be disappointed,” he said. He reached for the sleeve on his right arm and lifted. The scar was gone. Hermione’s face fell. “I saw it first after St. Mungo’s. It appears and disappears, and I don’t understand why. It appeared just now in the hospital, and when it did, it burned. It always burns,” he said, rubbing his arm with his finger. “I don’t know how, but I imbedded the same mark into Malfoy’s face. I wanted to punish him somehow, to make him understand what it’s like to be different and that’s all I could think of… take my scar.” Harry’s face began to redden as the anger began to fill his heart. “Do you know what he’s done to her?” Hermione nodded.

“Ron told me,” she consoled reaching out to hold his hand. “Malfoy’s nothing but poison,” she spat. “Just stay away from him, Harry. He’s on his way to being a Death Eater, I’m certain.” Her words held a solidity about them that contained more certainty than Hermione usually gave when talking about others and they certainly made Harry feel better. For a moment they sat like that, hand in hand, then she let go of Harry’s hand and stood. “We can talk more later. It’s getting late. Professor Tonks will be waiting,” she said with a grin. Harry stood as well. Instantly their plates disappeared and the table was clear.

They were actually a bit early to Defense Against the Dark Arts. On the way to class, Hermione had told Harry about the rarity of his ability and how his wand would still act as an amplifier to his powers. “Be very careful at how you cast spells with it,” she warned him. They were laughing about how this might work as an engorgement charm against his Uncle Vernon when Ron stepped in to class. He walked to the front to sit down next to Harry, but when he did Harry stood up and walked to the back of the room.

“Harry?” Hermione asked confused. She began to walk back when Ron held her shoulder. She looked at him and he looked down. At the same time Tonks entered the classroom. Her robes were perfect, very professorial; her hair was dark and trim. She looked nothing like the Tonks Harry knew.

“Good afternoon class,” she called with a light tone to her voice.

“Good afternoon Professor Tonks,” they all chanted in unison. The chorus stopped her in her tracks halfway to the front of the class.

“You sound as if you’ve been practicing,” she said, a bit put off by the response.

“We have,” replied Dean. “Professor Umbridge used to…”

“Let’s stop there,” Tonks interrupted, “shall we?” She continued to the front of the class. Next to her stood a large suit of armor. “There are a few things we should get straight right away. First, any sentences beginning with the words ‘Professor Umbridge’ will lose your house 5 points. Is that understood?” The room clapped. “Second, when you enter this class you will have your wands ready. Is that understood?” The classroom cheered. “Finally, any student casting an unfriendly spell or hex on a fellow student without my explicit instruction will be removed from this N.E.W.T.” Her voice was steel on this matter.

“This is not the time for petty bickering, or backstabbing squabbles. I’ve left the battle to be here, to teach you what you’ll need to know in the days to come. Do not make me regret my choice.” She took off her outer robe to reveal a tight fitting duelist vest. “There is very little time and far too much to learn. We have Mr. Potter to thank that you are more advanced than most classes entering the N.E.W.T., but I promise that I will press you further.” With her wand she began moving furniture around, clearing the front of the class. “I said have your wands ready!” she barked and with a flick of her wrist Ron’s hair had turned purple. There were a few laughs, but immediately everyone had their wands in hand.

“Where is Mr. Malfoy?” she asked scanning the room.

“He was sent to see Professor Dumbledore after he attacked Harry in Charms,” Hermione replied.

“Good riddance,” muttered Anthony Goldstein. Tonks appeared to be disturbed by the news of Mr. Malfoy’s absence, but what it was she wouldn’t say.

“Now,” she continued, “who among you has seen You-Know-Who?” Instantly, all heads turned to Harry. “Not a very pleasant distinction Mr. Potter. Tell us, what does he look like.” Harry sat frozen. “Mr. Potter, is he recognizable, any interesting features that might make him unique? Or should we all be afraid of every cloaked figure we see at night?”

“You’d know,” he said.

“I’m sorry Mr. Potter, but we couldn’t hear in front.”

“I said,” his voice rising louder and pitching higher, “you’d know.” He stood. “He’s re-born with help from the milk of his snake. And his face shows it. His eyes are red, the pupils slit like a snake. His face is flat and pale, his scalp thin and grotesque. Instead of a nose he has two gashes, and when he speaks the voice is itself snakelike,” Harry shuddered and sat back down, “high and cold.” The faces of those in the class were pale, frozen on his words.

“So Ms. Granger,” Tonks broke the silence. “Would you then recognize this evil if you saw it?”

“Yes,” said Hermione at once, and then after the slightest pause, “No!”

“Explain,” Tonks replied.

“Well, he has other ways to spread his evil, doesn’t he?” she began. The Imperius Curse for one. He can also possess people. There may be other methods we don’t yet know about.”

“It is this same unknown, or the fear of it, that almost destroyed us last time. No one knew whom to trust. Mothers, brothers, Professors, they were all of them suspect. The Sorting Hat explained it well. It is during such times that the greatest battle is from within.” She walked back over to the suit of armor. “Still we must remain prepared. You-Know-Who and his Death Eaters have an advantage. What is it?” Hermione’s hand shot up, but Tonks called on Anthony Goldstein.

“They can use the Unforgivable Curses,” he said, “and we can’t.” There was a tone of regret in his voice.

“Oh, I don’t know. Let’s see. Who here has used an Unforgivable Curse?” She scanned the room, and everyone looked at her blankly. Pansy Parkinson who was sitting in the back room looked quite uncomfortable by the question. Then, suddenly, she gasped. Everyone turned. Harry had his hand ever so slightly in the air.

“A Death Eater, I believe. Wasn’t it, Mr. Potter? She had just incapacitated me, and killed your uncle.” Harry didn’t understand why she was doing this. Every question was pointing at him. It was the one thing he didn’t want. The one thing he hated more than anything else, to be the center of attention. He almost wished Malfoy was back at his side. Again he nodded.

“Tell us Mr. Potter, what was the curse?” The vision of Bellatrix Lestrange cackling at him played in his mind.

“The Cruciatus Curse,” he sighed. Again the classroom murmured.

“Did you hit her squarely, Mr. Potter? Was it a good shot?”

“Yes,” Harry said. “I knocked her off her feet.” The classroom gasped. Even Hermione was biting her lip. Harry had never told them what happened.

“Mr. Longbottom,” Tonks called. “She used the same curse on you, what did it feel like?” Neville sat trembling at the memory.

“Pain,” he croaked. “Like my insides were being ripped out.”

“So,” she continued, “Harry Potter, having been attacked by nearly a dozen Death Eaters, having seen all his friends severely hurt or possibly dead, having seen me possibly dead, and knowing his own uncle was dead, chases a Death Eater into the entrance hall of the Ministry of Magic. He casts an Unforgivable Curse, the Cruciatus Curse, on the very Death Eater he saw inflict all this pain, this death. It knocks her off her feet. And then? Did she scream like Neville describes?” Everyone was silent except Parvati who was sniffing, tears falling down her cheeks.

“No,” Harry said. Sitting at his desk, he plunged his face in his hands. “She laughed.” Without missing a beat Tonks pressed on.

“Mr. Weasley,” she called, “why was there no pain? Was Harry not a strong enough wizard?”

“I… I don’t…” he muttered, turning red.

“Mr. Neville, is Harry not smart enough to cast the spell properly?” Neville didn’t even try to answer. Hermione raised her hand. “Yes, Ms. Granger?” Hermione stood.

“It’s his heart,” she said, looking over at him. “Well, he cares. He could never enjoy inflicting that kind of pain. Not even on… never,” she ended in a whisper and sat back down.

“Exactly!” She addressed the rest of the class. “Five points for Gryffindor! The Unforgivable Curses are worthless to those who do not enjoy scrambling people’s brains, or watching people scream in agony, or savoring death. And hence, they are of no use to those whose hearts seek to restore beauty and goodness to the world.” She was walking behind Harry when she paused and then strode to the front of the room.

“There are, however, many other ways to defeat the enemy,” Tonks called to the class. “You’ve learned many spells, hexes and curses. What you haven’t learned is strategy. In this class we will take what you’ve learned in many of your classes and find better, smarter ways to apply it to our ends. There are far better ways to destroy evil than with an Unforgivable Curse. When we find we must turn to evil to fight evil, we will have lost the war.” She was pacing up and down in front of the class; the students transfixed on her every word. All except Harry, whose head was still in his hands.

“Mr. Potter,” she called, “please come to the front.” The hair on the back of Harry’s neck began to stand up on end. He could feel his blood begin to boil.

“This will only take a moment, Mr. Potter,” she coaxed. He stood defiantly, and ignoring his scowl she placed him at one end of the classroom.

“Well, Mr. Potter, you’ve been stunned in the back once today, let’s see how you fare with a shot to the face, shall we? Wands ready!” She held her wand out straight, and Harry did likewise. “Stupefy!” she called. A shot of red light erupted from the tip of her wand.

“Protego!” The shield charm deflected the beam of light reflecting it off a bookcase, which fell over. There was a collective gasp and then the class cheered. Harry rubbed his right forearm.

“Ms. Parkinson,” Tonks called. “Please come over here.” Pansy, looking around the class almost as if searching for a way to escape, walked over to the suit of armor where Tonks was pointing. “Please, hand me your wand,” Tonks asked. Pansy handed her the wand with a slight look of confusion. Harry stood at one end of the room, Tonks at the other. Between them stood Pansy and the armor.

“Mr. Goldstein,” Tonks called again, “If I were to cast a stunning spell on Ms Parkinson, would Mr. Potter’s Shield Charm work?”

“No,” Anthony sniggered. “But please let one fly, Professor. Malfoy’s absence made my day, but one more Slytherin gone would be like Christmas!” There were a few laughs.

“Ten Points from Ravenclaw.” A handful of Ravenclaws groaned. “I will not tolerate such behavior in my classroom,” Tonks said quietly. “Mr. Weasley, what will Harry do to protect his friend, Ms. Parkinson?” Ron was completely lost.

“Erm, well… er.”

“Fascinating. Well, let’s find out. I hope you have your thinking hat on today Mr. Potter. Wouldn’t you agree Ms. Parkinson?” Pansy began to shake. The class was shocked at what they were about to see. If the next spell was anything like the last stunner sent by Tonks, Parkinson would certainly find herself in the hospital wing.

“Wands ready!” Again both wands were held high. Tonks’ voice echoed in the classroom. “Stupefy!” Again red light erupted streaking straight toward Pansy.

“Locomotor Ferratus!” Harry called. In an instant, the suit of armor moved in front of Pansy taking the full brunt of the stunning spell. There was a loud gong and immediately the suit fell to pieces. Pansy, still shaking, looked down at the broken suit of armor. Her face was ghostlike. The room, including Anthony Goldstein, erupted in cheers.

“Very good, Mr. Potter,” said Tonks holding back her emotions. “You see class, there are many ways to defeat your enemy. At our next lesson bring me twenty examples of how you might win a dueling battle without ever casting a spell on your opponent. Class dismissed. There was some clapping as students left their chairs to go to the next class.

Hermione walked over to Harry. “Ron and I have History next,” she said.

“History? Why on earth would you want…” Hermione shot sparks into Harry’s eyes. Ron was already slouching toward the door. “Oh… yeah.” He said, remembering it was one of the few N.E.W.T.S. Ron was accepted in to. “Well, I’ve got Astronomy, but we’ll be meeting at night. Maybe we can talk at dinner or after I’m done watching the cosmos.” He began to walk out with her when Tonks called him back.

“Mr. Potter,” she said, “a word please.” She had started to reposition the furniture to the front of the class with her wand, but then sat on top of her desk. Harry walked over, his face tired. The classroom was empty except for the two of them. “Sorry Harry, but they need to know. And it wouldn’t be the same coming from a Professor.” Harry looked up at her.

“I can’t stand it you know,” he hissed, his arm still aching, “everyone staring at me. By this time tomorrow the whole school will know I used the Cruciatus Curse and failed.”

“Good,” said Tonks calmly. “If they believe you can’t do it, which one of them will try?” Harry looked to his shoes. She reached to his chin and pulled up his head. Her touch was soft, and when his eyes met hers, he was looking back at the Tonks he knew. Her face had a warm glow and a bright smile. “Have you written her since we spoke last?” she asked letting go of his face. Harry nodded. “Good things I hope. Not just doom and gloom, oh woe is me, kind of stuff.” Harry couldn’t help but smile.

“Has she written back?” Tonks asked. Again Harry nodded. “And…?”

“She wants me to come home for Christmas,” he replied. Harry walked over to the shattered suit of armor, waved his wand and reassembled it. “I saw her at King’s Cross. Somehow she figured out I’d be there… and when.”

“She’s smart, Harry, very smart,” Tonks said with a smile, “and not bad with martial arts either.” Her smile broadened, but Harry wasn’t paying much attention.

“I don’t want to be here Tonks. I thought maybe… maybe I could do something to try and unite us. Last year, so many houses pulled together against Umbridge. But Slytherin…” his eyes flashed. “They’re poison, every last one.”

“I don’t know, Harry,” said Tonks, shrugging her shoulders. She walked over and stroked his hair. He was determined to be upset, but her touch softened him somehow. The ache in his arm began to recede. “Some Slytherins might surprise you.”

“Never,” he whispered. Tonks dropped her arm and took Harry’s hand, examining it as if to see if it had been cleaned properly. She brought her eyes up to meet his.

“Harry, have you tried anything?” she whispered. “About what we spoke in the hospital?” His mind flashed to his encounters with Malfoy, and then with Ron. He shook his head no. “Well,” she said, “you might try something simple. Look in the mirror sometime and try the colour of your eyes.”

Her words hit his heart with a cold splash. He could feel himself turn pale. Could she tell?

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“Fine,” he lied. “Just a long day… stunned in the back and all.” Nervously, he began to gather his things to leave. “Erm… I have your Walkman in my room; I forgot to bring it. Sorry.” He was arranging the two books in his pack over and over, his voice shaking.

“Harry, don’t worry about it.” He began to leave. “Hey, are you sure you don’t want to talk about something?” she asked, sounding concerned.

“Nope,” he lied again. He wanted to talk about a million things. His heart and head were bursting with things he wanted to share. But the thought of turning into Voldemort… what would she think? Suddenly he felt very ashamed. “See you later,” he said turning to leave, but as he passed through the door his face ran into a large black cloak barreling through.

“Potter, get out of my way!” spat Professor Snape. He was clearly agitated; sweat was beading on his forehead.

“Professor Snape!” greeted Tonks. “Can I …”

“Have you seen Mr. Malfoy, Professor?” Snape interrupted. “He’s been missing since lunch.” The concern Harry had seen on Tonks’ face earlier returned.

“No, sir, he didn’t show up for class,” she said. “The students said he had been to see the Headmaster.”

“Students?” hissed Snape, narrowing his eyes. “Potter!” he yelled out the door. Harry had only gone a few feet, in hopes of hearing something. He walked back into the classroom hoisting an angelic quality onto his face.

“Yes Professor?” he said innocently, perhaps too innocently.

“What have you done with Mr. Malfoy?” Professor Snape shot.

“Sir,” Harry replied, “the last I saw Draco was just before he stunned me in the back. Surely you’ve heard I was sent to the hospital wing, Professor?” There was the slightest pause, but Harry could not resist adding. “Professor Dumbledore hasn’t expelled him has he?”

“Mr. Malfoy never made it to the Headmaster’s office.” Professor Snape’s eyes were pawing over Harry looking for a chink in the armor. Finally he surrendered. “Very well, Potter.” He turned and nodded to Tonks, “Professor.” And with a swish of his cloak he was out the door and down the hallway. Tonks looked at Harry.

“I never did much like him as our Head of House.” She was twiddling her wand in her hand.

“Snape?” Harry asked. “But… you weren’t…” Tonks simply grinned at Harry. Then she nodded her head.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Harry. But I have a propensity to bend the rules a bit.” She wore a sly smile. “My dad hated the idea of me being a Slytherin, but becoming an Auror pretty much solved any misconceptions he had about the house. Misconceptions most everyone here has about Slytherins… just because it was Tom Riddle’s house.”

“And Malfoy’s, and Crabbe’s, and Goyle’s, and Nott’s, and…”

“You can run off a list of Hogwarts Alumni who are Death Eaters, and most will be found from the great House of Slytherin,” she sighed. “Their curse was their belief in the superiority of pure blood. That’s how, at first, they were drawn to Voldemort. Some still believe wildly in his cause, but others have realized that their Dark Lord wants more, too much more. For those who question, unfortunately, there is no leaving his side, save through death.” Harry listened, but his heart was hardened.

“Yes Harry,” she continued, “Theodore, Vincent, Gregory, and Draco have fathers that are Death Eaters. That doesn’t make them Death Eaters. I would have thought you, of all people, could appreciate the distinction. Merlin knows I saw enough of your Aunt and Uncle to declare you an incurable criminal!” Her face was smiling, and then her twiddling fingers dropped her wand. It hit the floor sending out a jet of sparks at Harry’s feet.

Instinctively Harry lowered his right hand, palm outward. The sparks seemed to hit an invisible wall and ricocheted to the ground as he sidestepped out of the way. Tonks who had been fumbling to grab her falling wand didn’t seem to notice. When she looked up at him, there was no look of surprise, simply an apology.

“Oh… sorry, Harry,” she said. “I’m such a klutz.” He reached down to help her pick up her wand and their hands touched again. “Your hand, it’s red,” she said with concern. Sure enough, his hand had turned red, but had not blistered. “Was it the sparks?” she asked. It was odd, Harry thought. For the second time they were holding hands. She was quite pretty. He realized he was as comfortable holding her hand as he would be his sister’s, if he had one. He looked her in the eyes, and flashed a grin.

“It’s not red,” he whispered. “Look.” And as she looked down, the red faded leaving a golden tan in its place. She brought her eyes up to his.

“Very good,” she said with a smile. “And very sly. Have you been practicing in the mirror?” Harry shrugged.

“Not really,” he said. “But I would like to talk more. Later?” Tonks reached up and touched the silver lightning-bolt in his ear.

“Anytime, Harry. Anytime.” Harry turned to leave again. He was just at the door when Tonks stopped him one last time. “Harry, when I pushed the needle through your ear and the mirror shattered, everyone screamed, remember?”

“Not everyone,” Harry replied. “Gabriella didn’t.”

“Exactly,” said Tonks. She turned her back and began to finish straightening the front of the room.

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