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harry potter
Harry Potter and The Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 6 - Too Close an Encounter

~~~***~~~


When Harry shut the door to his room and descended the stairs he was, perhaps, the happiest he had ever been in all his life. The sun sent golden rays streaking through the coloured windows above and cast a golden image on the floor below, tinged with enough red to make Harry think fleetingly of Fawkes. His hair a tangled mess, he was wearing a T-shirt, boxers and socks, one with a rather large hole through which the large toe on his right foot protruded. He scratched his stomach as his nose took in the scent of something that resembled the smell of burning ham. He took one step down and turned to look back at his room. His room? His house? No, not really. Not anymore. And he was grateful for that and smiled all the more as the aroma of fresh coffee filled the air, perhaps the only thing Sirius could prepare properly.

When he pushed open the doors to the kitchen of Number twelve, Grimmauld Place, he found Sirius working feverishly in front of the stove. His wand was casting spell after spell, not so much at the food preparation, but in an effort to clear the smoke that was billowing throughout. Harry walked over and turned down the flame with a wave of his hand.

“Here,” he said gently, “let me help.” His godfather looked wounded.

“No, really, I wanted to make you breakfast. You know, first day of school and all.” He cracked an egg and put both liquid and shell in the same bowl and started mixing it with his wand. Harry chuckled kindly and shook his head in disbelief. It was great being free of Privet Drive, to be here with his godfather, to feel wanted and appreciated. It was probably the first time he had ever opened a package of bacon for breakfast without a sour taste in his mouth. He gave Sirius a look that said, “Get real,” and then positioned himself squarely in front of the stove.

“I’m not bad at this,” offered Harry, cracking four eggs at once into a bowl and discarding the shells with a flick of his wand. Sirius shrugged and started to sit, but Harry stopped him. “Oh no you don’t. You need to see how this is done, and when I come back for Christmas it’ll be your turn.” Sirius seemed to like the challenge, and the idea that he would be spending Christmas with Harry.

“You know,” said Sirius pouring two cups of coffee, “I hear New York is spectacular at Christmas time. Have you ever been to the States?” Harry shook his head. “Maybe we could go for a quick visit.”

“I promised Gabri—”

“Visit,” Sirius cut in. “That’s all. Maybe Gab can come along.”

“If we’re not at war,” said Harry glumly.

“Or if the war’s over by then,” suggested Sirius with more optimism. Harry nodded plating the food and levitating the plates to the table.

Sirius ate like a dog and finished in about three minutes. Harry was more pensive, and while he did finish, it took him much longer. The nicest thing about being of age was that he didn’t have to walk or take a car to go to King’s Cross Station. For that matter, he didn’t need to go to King’s Cross at all; he could Apparate to Hogsmeade and walk in from there. Only the Head Boy and Head Girl had to take the train with their housemates, and this year the Head Girl was none other than Hermione Granger. Odd, Harry thought, considering she’d nearly killed Theodore Nott last year. He smiled and took another sip of coffee. Hermione didn’t know who the Head Boy was, but it wasn’t Ron. Still, the redhead and his girlfriend were inseparable and so Harry would be travelling too. When Harry told Gabriella he would be going to Hogwarts by train, her face fell momentarily and grew concerned.

“Then I go as well,” she declared, and she began to shiver slightly. The thought sent a cold chill down Harry’s spine as the warm coffee slipped down his throat.

“Any more bacon?” asked Sirius rummaging through the crusted pans about the stove.

“That black stuff you fried up over there on the side is bacon; at least it used to be.”

Sirius poked at it a few times, and then finally took a bite. His face took on a slight bitter tone as it scrunched ever so slightly, then he took another bite, shrugging his shoulders. His teeth and tongue covered in charcoal he said, “You’d better get ready. Is your trunk packed?” He glanced at the hourglass on the counter.

“Er… yeah,” Harry lied. “Just a few more things.” He levitated his plate to the sink which was piled high with pots and pans from the last few days. “Do you want me to take care of these before I—”

“I’ll take care of it,” Sirius lied. “Go get yourself ready.” Harry shrugged and nodded his head, and started up the stairs, once again scratching his stomach and knowing full well it would be days, perhaps weeks, before the sink was cleared.

It was strange really, getting ready for his last year at Hogwarts. So often he was rushed in the hustle and bustle of the Weasley family. This year, however, Harry wanted to be with his own family — Sirius Black. And it was the best decision he’d ever made. It had only been a few days, but in that short time Sirius and Harry did absolutely… nothing. There were opportunities to talk about the old days when Sirius palled around with James; there were chances to practice advanced spells or learn the operation of some of the golden instruments that still lined the walls in the Black family study; there were times when they could have discussed how Harry brought Sirius back from behind the curtain; and at every turn, at every open door, Harry and Sirius simply took the time to enjoy each other in the here and now. They played chess; the played cards; they raced Caduceuses across the London sky at night; they drank, probably too much; and they laughed more than they had laughed in a long, long time. Sirius’ eyes had never been brighter, and Harry’s heart had never been lighter.

This time when Harry readied himself at the front door to leave, there was no dark cloud hanging over their heads, but rather an eager excitement about the year to come and what it would bring. They drew strength from each other knowing that whatever war was around the corner, whatever darkness rose on the horizon, they would face it together. For a moment they just stared at each other and around the room.

“Er… Right then,” began Sirius. “Off you go.” He nervously patted the sides of his hips with his hands.

“I’ll… I’ll owl you when I get in,” replied Harry. Sirius nodded. Silence. “Right, then.” There was another long pause. “Bloody hell,” Harry cursed and he walked over and pulled Sirius to him tightly with a grand hug. Sirius responded in kind.

They held each other for more than a moment and then Sirius whispered in a somewhat raspy voice, “Be careful.” Harry pulled away wearing an enormous smile.

“I’ve never been anything but!” He winked, there was a crack, and he was gone.

He Apparated to an out of the way location just down the street from King’s Cross Station and began walking. The late morning was clear, and he was surprised to find the air so cold. He’d been spending so much time inside with Sirius he hadn’t thought much about the weather. His coat was in his trunk, and he didn’t feel much like opening that in the middle of a street filled with Muggles. He shivered, rubbed his arms, and continued on his way. He was coming to the first steps of the station when a beggar boldly stepped in front of him demanding a donation. Wearing a good three days’ stubble, his clothes were filthy, and his breath smelled strongly of alcohol.

“Come on, mate,” he wheezed. “Just a pound fer me condition. I ain’t eatin’ in days.”

“Sorry,” said Harry earnestly, “I don’t have a pound.”

“Surely a schilling?”

Harry kept walking trying to ignore the intruder. “Really,” he said over his shoulder, “I don’t have any money.” The man grabbed Harry by the arm.

“I can hear the jingle in yer pants, boy!” It was true that Harry had a few galleons in his pocket, but no Muggle money of any sort. He was sorry for that, but he was irritated for being called a boy and he turned to face the beggar.

“Call me a boy again, and you—”

“You’ll what!” spat the drunk, stepping toe-to-toe with Harry. The sight was a bit comical since Harry was not the small child he once was. Indeed he was a strapping young man, and he stood a good four inches taller than his adversary. Curling the fingers on his right hand, he was about to say just what he’d do when a familiar tingling ran up his spine. He grabbed for his wand, but too late. Or at least it would have been if he had been the target. The drunk stood motionless, eyes glazed, body frozen in position. Harry looked up just as a hand gently took him by the arm.

“Sorry about that, sir,” said a young man not much older than Harry. “I… er… I wasn’t paying attention. Won’t happen again, I promise.”

The man, still in his teens, wore a dark gray suit with thin blue piping, a burgundy tie and white shirt. The dark glasses reminded Harry of old James Bond movies, but the white tennis shoes with red laces told Harry at once he was dealing with a wizard. Then he noticed the shape of the jaw, the voice, but the hair—

“Finnius?” Harry asked, wondering if he was talking to the former Head Boy of Hufflepuff who at graduation had a start at a beard and hair that hung down to his waist. “I thought you were going to start a band? The… er, The Grindly Gutters?”

“Erm,” said Finnius, looking around nervously, “can we keep going?”

“Why? What’s the matter?”

“Well… see, I’m supposed to—”

“Not you?” Harry exclaimed in disbelief. “Surely the Ministry—”

Finnius pulled Harry by the arm just as the drunk began to come to his senses. Quickly, they climbed the steps and found themselves in a sea of people heading to their platforms at King’s Cross. Perspiration was popping out on Finnius’ forehead and Harry wondered if he hadn’t wet himself he looked so nervous. “It’s just… well, I promised Tonks and already I’ve made a mess of things.”

“You work with Tonks?” Harry asked with a bit more excitement and interest. He hadn’t heard from her all summer, and she wasn’t at the Joining with Singehorn. “Is she okay? Where is she?” Finnius continued to usher Harry toward platform nine and three-quarters holding Harry with his right hand and wiping his brow with his left.

“Yeah, well, she’s the one that convinced me I could be an Auror. Said she’d train me, see… herself. But since that business at the Ministry last year, she’s been in and out of hospital and… well, now she’s in and… well, she made me promise. See?”

Harry didn’t see, and he was getting a bit irritated. He yanked his arm out of Finnius’ grip. “What do you mean she’s in hospital? What’s wrong?” Finnius looked away from Harry’s intense gaze.

“Ah, here we are.” They were at the platform. “Just in time too!” Before Harry could say another word, Finnius gave him a bit of a shove and he plunged through the wall and found himself on the other side standing just in front of the Hogwarts Express. Harry dropped his trunk, reached for his wand and started back toward the wall when he was tackled from the side. The flash of raven black hair in his face told him at once it was Gabriella.

“You made it!” she cried. “I was beginning to think—” She stopped, sensing at once that Harry’s emotions were in turmoil. “What’s wrong?” And then she too looked at the wall to the outside world. “Who’s out there?”

The frustration on Harry’s face was clear; he was about to charge back out when his eyes caught something he had never before seen: Neville Longbottom was hugging his parents, Frank and Alice, good-bye. Alice held his face in her hands and planted a big wet kiss on his cheek. They were all smiles as Neville wiped it with his sleeve. Then Frank Longbottom handed his son something and, as Neville wrapped his fingers about the object, a more serious look came into his eyes. His dad slapped him on the shoulder and a thin smile appeared again as Neville boarded the train.

“He’s Head Boy,” Gabriella said warmly.

Harry looked at Gabriella, then at the wall behind, and back to the train, then back to the wall. “Come on, let’s—”

“ALL ABOARD!” the conductor called.

“Dean said he’d save us a spot,” said Gabriella, taking hold of Harry’s hand. Harry took one last look at the wall behind them, and then the two boarded the train. The corridor was crowded with students, particularly first years who were completely confused. What was noticeable, however, was that the normal demarcation of house zones seemed to be somewhat blurred. There were Slytherins purposefully mixing in with Ravenclaws near the front of the train, and a group of third year Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors in another carriage playing snap. A few cars down Harry just caught a glimpse of someone in Gryffindor robes disappearing into a carriage and so he and Gabriella followed. He pushed open the carriage door only to walk in on Neville and Helen kissing; a sweet fragrance filling the air.

“Oh,” said Harry. “Sorry.” Neville had Helen up against the wall and there was some sort of vine with delicate pink flowers wrapping itself around her arm and abdomen. She was wearing a smile and blushing slightly. “Er… seen Dean?” Neville who seemed about three inches taller than when Harry last saw him which was only a few weeks ago spoke through a beaming smile.

“Yeah, he’s up forward.” Then, with a confident flick of his wand Neville shut the door in Harry’s face, following that with a charm that sealed it tight. Gabriella just raised her eyebrows and smiled.

“See what happens when you’re late.” She smacked Harry’s stomach. “That could have been us!”

They continued moving forward past various carriages when the flash of red hair caught Harry’s eye. It was Ron, and he was bickering with Hermione. The floor of the carriage they were in was littered with clothes, books and various things Harry knew to be Ron’s, most notably by the overabundance of socks.

“Honestly, Ronald,” said Hermione in a scolding voice as if talking to a four year old. “If you don’t find it soon you’ll have to tell Professor Flitwick, and if you won’t I will.”

“Is that a threat?” shot back Ron, holding both hands on his hips and kicking at the pile of clothes on the floor. Gabriella walked in first.

“Is there something wrong?” she asked gently, Harry only a step behind her.

“No, nothing’s wrong,” snapped Ron immediately. “Er… hey, mate!” he said with a wave at Harry.

“He’s lost his wand,” exclaimed Hermione.

“I haven’t lost anything,” retorted Ron in defiance. “I’ve just… er…”

“Have you tried summoning it?” asked Harry, starting to rummage through the clothes on the carriage floor. The steeled look of fire in Ron’s eyes said that they had certainly tried that and many other things and would Harry just not make any other suggestions because Hermione has already made every possible suggestion known in the Wizarding world and none of them have worked.

“Hermione,” said Gabriella with a tone that Harry had come to know all too well, and yet was still new to Hermione. “Perhaps one of my Slytherin housemates is playing a trick, most likely Teddy. Would you join me and perhaps together we can solve this little problem.” Knowing Hermione’s disposition toward Nott, Harry wondered if it was a wise idea to put the two in close proximity, but Gabriella may have been on to something. Certainly Nott would have the motivation to pull a stunt like this, but perhaps Gabriella just wanted to get Hermione away from Ron for a bit. He smiled to himself realizing that it was probably both.

“Sure,” said Hermione. She cast one more look at Ron before she left and said, “And don’t you stop looking!” The moment the girls departed, Ron flopped down on the carriage bench and blew the hair out of his eyes.

“Bloody hell.”

“Well, Fred or George can certainly get you a new wand,” offered Harry, sitting down across from Ron. “Or maybe we can sneak out this weekend and Apparate to Ollivanders.” Unfortunately, Ron’s face did not brighten at the suggestion.

“Look at us, Harry,” said Ron with a whimsical look on his face, tinged with a bit of sourness. “We were here six years ago, you and me. Do you remember?”

There was a moment of silence as Harry watched the countryside slip by. It wasn’t the same train as six years ago, but it might as well have been.

“Yeah,” said Harry, almost in a whisper as he nodded his head, “I remember.”

“Things haven’t changed much.”

“They’ve changed loads.” Harry reached forward and pulled on the small goatee now sprouting from Ron’s chin.

“Really?” asked Ron with a snicker. “Back then you were Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived, and I was Ron Weasley with a smudge of dirt on my nose.”

“That’s not—”

“Now we’re both of age and you’re Harry Potter, Protector, Guardian and Emissary, the wizard that destroyed Voldemort and brought peace with the giants, and I’m Ron Weasley the kid that can’t find his BLOODY WAND!” At the last words he stood up, kicked at the wall, and put his boot all the way through.

Harry was trying to muster something to say when the door began to open. Angry, Ron instinctively reached for his wand to slam the door shut, but it wasn’t there. He growled like a lion and was about to physically slam the door shut when Patrick O’Riley, now in his second year, poked his head through.

“Was that you, Ron?” asked Patrick brightly, nodding his head toward the hole that now protruded into the corridor. Then he noticed Harry. “Hey, Harry! Dean said you were going to be up in his carriage.”

“Later,” answered Harry. “Right now I’m just—”

“Patrick,” cut in Ron, doing his best to remain calm, “we don’t have time to—”

“Prob’ly mad ‘bout losin’ this,” interrupted Patrick, and he held up Ron’s wand. For a moment Ron sputtered, unable to speak. Finally, he grabbed the wand and pulled it close, cradling it like a baby as a wave of relief passed over his body.

“Where’d you find it?” asked Harry.

“Oh, I didn’t,” said Patrick, “James did. When he showed it teh me, I knew at once whose it was. He was on his way teh take it teh Flitwick, but I told him I’d get it teh yeh.”

“Er… thanks,” answered Ron. “You’re okay, kid.” At last Ron smiled as he slipped his wand away.

“Why don’t you and James stay in here,” offered Harry. “I haven’t heard from the Changs all summer and was wondering how Cho was doing.” At these words, Patrick became noticeably uncomfortable.

“Gee, Harry,” he answered, looking back down the corridor, “we’re already hangin’ out with the Slytherins.”

“Slytherins?” asked Harry. “I thought James was going to start Gryffindor this year. He knows he can pick whatever house he wants doesn’t he?”

“Yeah, well, he changed his mind o’er the summer, I guess.” Again he glanced nervously down the hallway. “Well… see yeh!” He smiled and disappeared down the corridor to the back of the train.

“That was a bit odd,” said Ron, sweeping away a few pairs of socks with his hand and sitting down on the bench.

“Yeah, it was.”

“Why on earth would anybody choose Slytherin over Gryffindor? Everyone knows they’re nothing but a bunch of—”

“Yes?” Gabriella stood at the open door, her fingers drumming against the frame.

“Er….”

“…Sweethearts!” chimed Hermione gaily as she stepped into the carriage with Gabriella. “Except maybe… Teddy.” She flopped down next to Ron.

“He didn’t take it too well when we asked if he’d stolen Ron’s wand,” continued Gabriella as she sat next to Harry. Hermione took Ron’s hand and pulled him close to her.

“No, but he didn’t dare use a cross word or raise his voice,” said Hermione. “Quite the gentleman for a change.”

“Being nearly killed can do that to some people,” said Ron.

“I could sense right away he was telling the truth,” said Gabriella, “so we decided to come back. Patrick told us he found your wand.”

“No, James Chang found it,” said Harry. “Patrick only returned it. Did he tell you that James has decided to go with Slytherin this year?”

“There, you see!” said Gabriella, “Another fine example. James was one of the better first year students as I recall.” Ron pulled out his wand and looked at it closely.

“I should probably have it examined,” he said. “Maybe Nott put him up to it.”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous,” said Hermione, slapping his hand. Then she turned to Harry, trying hard to ignore the mess on the floor. “So how’s Sirius doing at Grimmauld Place?”

The hours passed quickly as lunch came and the late afternoon brought drooping eyelids to everyone. Dean never made his way back to the carriage, and they never endeavoured to move further up the train. They were all nodding off to sleep when the train began to slow.

“Hogsmeade?” asked Ron groggily. The midday sun seemed suddenly to fade to darkness as if someone had just pulled down the curtain.

“No,” said Hermione with a bit of concern. “It’s too early.” They all noticed the last word leave her lips in a puff of smoke -- the air was growing colder by the second. They knew at once what was happening and each had their wand at the ready. The darkness outside the train filled with flashes of light. Ministry guards had moved out to meet the onslaught which was centred toward the front of the train. Incantations filled the air as Patronus after Patronus was being sent out against the attacking Dementors. There were screams all up and down the corridors, mostly from the youngest students.

“Ron,” said Hermione with a commanding voice. “Help me gather the first years.” Ron was up in a flash, and a moment later his voice was barking orders down the corridor for everyone to remain calm, calling for the first years to muster at the galley. Students began to move toward the rear of the train, away from the fighting.

“They’re looking for you, Harry,” said Gabriella, holding her wand at the window. She cast a spell at the glass, protecting it from attack, just as other windows began to shatter about the train.

“Well they’re about to find me!” shot Harry as he started for the door. Gabriella grabbed his arm.

“You can’t be serious. Who knows how many are out there. Your best using the train as a—” The train lurched forward causing collective screams all up and down the corridor. Then it began to move -- chug… choo-choo… chug… choo-choo… She was quickly gathering speed. There was another flurry of bright white flashes of light cast against the darkness, and the afternoon light suddenly reappeared and the warmth returned. Everyone cheered as the veil of darkness became nothing more than a dark cloud on the horizon behind the train.

A look of relief spread across Gabriella’s face, but darkness still remained in Harry’s eyes as he reached and grabbed the wrist of the hand that was holding his arm. Slowly, but firmly he pulled her hand away, and looked at her with a very grim expression. She sensed his emotions before he said the words and she didn’t like what she was feeling. Finally, he spoke in a stern and heated voice.

“Don’t EVER do that again.”

“But—”

There was a scream that Harry knew at once to be Ginny’s. In a flash he was out the door and down the corridor, only a step ahead of Neville Longbottom, and two steps behind Ron. Ginny was on her knees in the carriage, broken glass everywhere and tears streaming down her eyes. She grabbed her brother by his sleeve.

“Do something, Ron!” she cried out. “They’ve taken him. They’ve taken Dean!”

“But… but he’s right here, Gin” answered Ron, looking at Dean who was still seated on his chair, but looking out the window at the rural setting running past. It was Gabriella who noticed first.

“Oh, no,” she whispered, stepping past Harry and turning Dean to face them all. There was a collective gasp. Still breathing, his eyes were blank, his face sunken, and his skin almost pale. He gave them no reaction at all. Ginny stood up and wrapped him in her arms, rocking him back and forth. On her finger was the ring Dean had given her the year before. The firestone with which it was set had lost its brilliant glow, its fire, its love extinguished.

“They’ve taken him,” she cried again. “They’ve taken his soul.”



________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Burden of Becoming

Chapter 7 - The Lost Soul

~~~***~~~


Harry clenched his fists and spat, “Fucking war.” Other than that, only the rumbling of the train and the wind whistling through the shattered window accompanied Ginny’s sobs. He stepped next to Gabriella and watched helplessly as Ginny, a soul mate if ever he had one, rocked back and forth with Dean in her arms. Dean, breathing but lifeless, made no response. He might as well be a corpse – he’d be better off. Harry felt the rage building within, but something was tempering it, something was focusing it. He gazed into nothingness as smoke streamed by the broken window and a tear tracked down his cheek.

“Ginny,” Gabriella whispered, then louder, “Ginny.” The redhead, her face wet, looked up at Gabriella. “May I see him?” Ginny sniffed, wiped her face and nodded silently. Someone, a girl, screamed at the door and then ran down the corridor yelling for help.

“I’ll get a Healer,” said Neville despondently to Harry. His voice was much older and much sadder than Harry had ever heard before. They both knew it was pointless.

“It won’t do any good,” thought Harry to himself, reaching for his wand and then nervously fiddling it with his fingers. Then, out loud, he whispered, “He’s gone.” The rage roiled in his mind as he watched the green hills roll by – a picture perfect day. Finally, his mind found its clarity. “This was past forgiveness,” he thought to himself and his hand clenched tightly about his wand as he pulled it to the ready. “I’ll kill them! I’ll kill them all!” He would Apparate back down the tracks and destroy every Dementor that moved. He began the wrist movement when Gabriella grabbed his arm. His eyes shot fire into hers. “I told you—” he began.

“You’re not thinking,” interrupted Gabriella, staring at him intently with dark black eyes that demanded he not be so brash.

“I don’t care how many of them there are!” cried Harry.

“I’m with you, Harry!” yelled Ron. “We’ll kill ‘em all!”

“YEAH!” cried others. “LET’S GO!”

Wands began to appear from everyone.

“Harry!” shot Gabriella. “THINK!” She pulled him close. “You know a better way!”

Harry’s mind began to race; there was no time for this. The stone? Was she talking about the stone? Certainly she didn’t mean that he could heal Dean’s soul using the stone. “I don’t have time—”

“Your voices, Harry,” she said softly but with a sharp tone.

Voices? Voices! She couldn’t be serious. She had wanted to work with him on the voices, the gifts of those who had touched him at the Joining, but he chose instead to spend his time with Sirius. All those present at the Joining on Singehorn’s mountain were, in various ways, a part of him now. They had shared of themselves freely, but there were so many he couldn’t sort them out and time was dripping through his fingers.

“I can’t.”

“You must.”

For a moment, as more voices clambered about the corridor for a counterattack on the Dementors, he tried to reach down deep inside, calling to those who had shared of themselves, scanning through countless memories, snippets of pictures that spanned centuries.

“This is impossible,” he said with a sigh.

“Come on, Harry! Let’s kill them!” someone called from behind. It was Anthony Goldstein. Very well said, thought Harry, but Anthony’s Patronus would be lucky to push away a single Dementor let alone dozens. Unfortunately, before Harry could say another word, Anthony gave Harry the most peculiar look and shouted, “For our family, mate!” There was a pop and Goldstein was gone. It was followed by another pop and another snap. Senior students were Disapparating from everywhere.

“Wait! STOP” Harry yelled. “You’re… you’re not ready!”

“Mama’s seen them, Harry,” said Gabriella above the snaps and pops. “She may know. Think of her… be her!”

Harry closed his eyes once again and focused on Soseh. His mind dwelt on the warmth of her hospitality and the aroma of her kitchen, but Gabriella turned his mind.

“Coldness. Emptiness,” she whispered. “The smell of decay, of death.”

Images filled Harry’s mind. Images of what was, what is, what might be. He saw Dakhil, a much younger looking Dakhil, blood dripping from the corner of his mouth; he saw himself hanging from the window on Privet Drive, an odd glow surrounding his half-naked body; he saw Grigor looking cruel and defiant; he saw the cold dead body of Antreas, stab wounds covering every inch of his bare chest; death, and then he saw them.

It was night and the only sound, beyond a lone scream in the darkness, was the raspy breath of the oncoming Dementor. Just a few feet away, a young girl was cowering beneath the cloaked figure. Just to her left was a man, somewhere in his late twenties, a dragon emblazoned on his right forearm. Ignoring the man, the Dementor pulled back his hood revealing its skull-like masque of horror, a large hole where perhaps a mouth should be. The vision seemed so real Harry tried to reach for his wand, but found his arms shackled to a stone wall.

The girl screamed as the Dementor drew in its breath in a great wheeze. Another scream… another wheeze. On the third wheeze, the girl made no sound; her dull eyes opened, staring blankly up at her attacker. It was then, as if empowered with a second vision, Harry saw it: the glow. He watched the faint golden white light being pulled into the hole in the Dementor’s orifice. He expected it to disappear into the darkness, but it didn’t. The Dementor pulled his hood up over his skull, but Harry could still perceive the glow trying to fight its way out. It was as if the Dementor was shining, backlit by a spotlight from above. “I see,” Harry whispered and the darkness rushed away to be replaced by the lights and rumblings of the racing Hogwarts Express.

“I see!” cried Harry. “I…” He paused. “Soseh can see,” he said slowly shaking his head. “Soseh has the gift, I don’t, at least not yet. I haven’t tried. There’s no way I can—” Gabriella’s eyes were fixed on his. He knew she bore her mother’s gift of sight, and her eyes were telling him that she too must go. “No,” he said flatly. “You’re staying here.”

“It’s the only way, Harry,” she said, still holding his arm. “If we find the one in time, then… then you use the stone to draw back Dean’s life force.” Everyone looked at the two as if they’d both gone mad. There were footsteps racing their way down the corridor. Harry glanced back, knowing that once the Aurors found out about the attack and the flight of the students they’d be blasting Dementors right and left. With one wrong spell, Dean’s soul would be lost forever.

“We must go now,” she insisted. Harry held the hand clutching his arm and nodded his assent.

On two, they both Apparated back into the darkness. It was as if they had just landed themselves in the middle of an ominous thunderstorm that had extinguished the sun. All was blackness save for the flashes of lighting – wandlight from the attacking students. Harry felt the heat rushing out of his bones and heard the screams in his ears.

“Can - you - see - the - one?” Harry yelled over the din. His voice held hope, but his heart had none. There were at least a hundred Dementors swarming about, skimming across the hillside, trying to decide if the recently arrived wizards were to be feared or consumed. Harry saw a Patronus, the shape of an enormous owl, plunge into a group of about a half dozen Dementors and sent them flying. About thirty yards away, near a stand of trees, Goldstein’s wand was doing little more than lighting up the small clearing of grass in front of him. A Dementor was closing in on him when three students from Ravenclaw converged, simultaneously casting an Incendio spell and incinerating the creature. Harry’s heart skipped. Could that have been—

“This way!” hailed Gabriella, pulling on Harry’s arm as she held her eyes shut. She was pulling them closer into the pack. Harry conjured a stag that split the sea of Dementors , if only for a moment, the rift closing behind the bright beast as it passed through. But in that moment, Gabriella squeezed Harry’s arm.

“Yes!” she said with more certainty. Her eyes still closed she cried, “Follow me!”

They were plunging right into the heart of the swarm of blackness. Gabriella was moving more swiftly. She let go of Harry’s arm and began to jog ahead. Harry followed sending another Patronus ahead of her and splitting them away. Rather than focus on Harry and Gabriella, the Dementors seemed to prefer the easier prey near the trees and began to move away. He could hear the screams behind him as Gabriella pulled her wand and uttered something in Armenian. A white glow enveloped her as if she held a star at the tip of her wand. She pressed on ever forward, her pace gathering speed, but her wand dimming as each new Dementor tried to penetrate its glowing surface.

“Hurry, Harry!” she called back. The terrain was rockier here and they were moving along the side of a hill and the further they moved along the more steep the incline grew, making it more difficult to traverse. Harry heard a collection of snaps behind him; the Aurors had arrived. He looked back at the great cloud of Dementors unwittingly racing toward the new collection of emotions. Just as he turned back to look at Gabriella his foot slipped on a stone and his ankle twisted under his weight. He fell to the ground and tumbled a good twenty feet down the side of the hill, scraping the side of his leg badly before he came to rest.

He looked up and saw the flickering glow of Gabriella’s wand disappear over the edge of the hill. Three Dementors swarmed over him – it was the last thing they ever did. Black blood sprayed all over the ground as Harry blasted his way through, grimacing from the pain in his ankle as he took each long stride. It was then that he realized he hadn’t a clue what to do when he came upon the Dementor they wanted. Gabriella had said to use the stone, but how? And how would he keep the Dementor from simply fleeing? His ankle throbbing, Harry past another large tree and came up over the side of the hill. The ground opened up beneath him, running down maybe twenty yards and then spreading out into a vast plain that stretched on until it disappeared into the dank mist of darkness. Sunlight was trying to penetrate the misty swarm of blackness casting an eerie red glow over the green landscape before him. It was then when his heart sank.

Just at the end of his vision, Harry could see the flickering glow of Gabriella’s wand. Only now it was more flicker than light. About her were two Dementors, the only two to be seen and they were circling her like vultures. Each would swoop around and then plunge at Gabriella only to bounce from her failing shield charm. It wouldn’t be long before—

The shield failed, and Harry heard her scream. He was too far away to do anything but run, and that’s just what he did. He ran with all his might, pain stabbing at his leg with each strike at the ground as if a snapping snake were ever at his heels. He was perhaps fifty yards away when an enormous red light burst from Gabriella’s wand, filled the air about her, and one of the Dementors burst into flame. Harry could hear its gurgling cries as it tried to fly away, but plunged into the grass starting a small fire, black smoke billowing upward. Harry was now twenty yards away as he watched the second Dementor crouch over Gabriella and he heard her screams.

There was a pop just off to his right. An Auror appeared, wand drawn.

“No!” Harry cried. The Auror looked only briefly at Harry then set to cast a spell at the Dementor hovering over Gabriella.

“Petrificus Totalus!” called Harry. The Auror went erect and fell to the ground. Ten yards. Gabriella screamed again and this time Harry could hear the raspy wheeze of the Dementor as it tried to pull away her soul. With a great leap Harry jumped forward, wrapped his arm around Gabriella and the two of them rolled away from beneath the clutches of the Dementor. When they came to rest, Gabriella was on top of him; the golden necklace he had given her with the Gryffindor signet – a lion baring two ruby red eyes – that came from Professor McGonagall hung round her neck and swung back and forth in front of Harry’s face. He had remembered McGonagall’s words: “For times of darkness.” And then he heard the voice of Dumbledore, as if he were whispering in Harry’s ear, only the whisper was coming from Harry’s lips.

“Really, Nicolas? An enchanted golden chain will trap them? I never heard of such a thing.”

The Dementor’s growing wheeze signalled its approach when Harry grabbed the tiny golden chain off Gabriella’s neck. He rolled her to the side, feeling the cold approaching from behind. With one last great effort he heaved himself upward, tossed the chain in the air and cast a spell he had never uttered before, but one that Dumbledore knew. The tiny golden chain grew snakelike in shape and dimension, but its head was the head of a lion with flaming red eyes. With the flick of his wand Harry levitated the glowing, golden, lion-headed snake toward the coming cold, and it began to coil itself around the Dementor several times. Round and round in less time than it takes to untie a shoelace the Dementor was cinched tight from head to toe. Struggling to escape, the black beast could not move and ultimately fell to the grass.

“Harry?” Gabriella’s voice whispered weakly from behind. “Harry?”

He knelt down by her side at once. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“The stone. Use the stone before the others come.”

The vivificus stone had not been used since it was charged at the Joining. Singehorn had told Harry that fire was good but love was something far more endurable. And the stone, snuggled close to Harry’s liver, was already covered in Harry’s blood. All that remained was the incantation: “Bravery, Wisdom, Love.”

In an instant, Harry found himself in what he had, in his own mind, decided was an antechamber of sorts. All was white waiting for his request. For a moment his mind hovered on Gabriella, but he knew he was forbidden on using it to the advantage of another in the Votary. Instead, he called to the open nothingness, “Show me Dean’s soul!”

He expected to see a swirl of colour, but instead he saw a swirl of black. His heart skipped for fear that he had done something wrong, but his own spirit held tight to the need to save his friend if at all possible. The darkness spread before him and in this emptiness a stench filled Harry’s nostrils. It was then when he realized where he was, what he was entering – the life force of the Dementor.

Blackness and rot filled his vision. Strands of oily fibre hung from above and when Harry looked to see their origin, all that was visible was utter darkness. He was reminded of the crevasse into which he and Sirius had fallen and a very real part of him wanted to leave this place as quickly as possible. He was cold and growing colder as he forced is mind’s eye to press onward into the depth of the Dementor’s essence, an insatiable need to feed.

At first, the sounds were distant echoes coming from down a long tunnel, voices perhaps, or animals screaming. Harry moved toward the sound and found the darkness pressing in all around him. Though in here he really had no corporeal form, something wet and sticky splattered against his face; the desire to wretch was strong. Then he heard the sounds again.

Yes, they were screams, but human screams, calling just ahead. Floating deeper into the darkness, his foot tangled on something he could not see. He pulled and freed himself and then realized his teeth were chattering. “This is not possible,” he thought to himself and now an even greater part of him wanted to return. “I can’t do this.” He glanced back to see a tiny patch of white no bigger than a postage stamp miles away. He could be there and back to safety in the flash of a thought.

Then he heard a voice, clear and strong above the others, telling them to quiet down, to listen. It was familiar, but it wasn’t Dean’s. There was something nurturing about this voice, something that made one feel safe. Harry pressed forward. It felt like hours, although it was probably little more than the time it takes a star to twinkle, when he saw the faint golden glow ahead. He ached and felt that at any moment he would collapse and be trapped in this darkness forever. The voice called out again and his pulse quickened as he hurried forward. Against his body he felt the sensation of ice-cold hands pulling at his sprit, trying to stop him, but still he moved ahead. The cold was unbearable, the sense of fear was overwhelming, and that’s when he saw him, towering tall above the others huddled in the black muck: Mr. Silverton. It was the same wizard from Hogsmeade that had tried to save Draco’s life the year before, but had failed in the attempt. Harry had always seen him as a rather meek yet friendly man when he visited Hogsmeade, but here he stood taller than life, translucent in a golden splendour.

“Hurry, save the children!” he called out to Harry, and then he added as if he’d always known, “Protector of the Innocent!”

Harry looked down to see those huddled at Silverton’s feet. They were there, nearly a dozen souls, children mostly. Each was translucent, each glowed bright, though some more than others. The brightest of these was the young black wizard, who seemed utterly lost. Dean looked straight at Harry, but did not recognize him.

“Help,” he pleaded in a weak, raspy voice. “Where am I?”

“No one stays behind,” Harry said to Silverton. “I’m taking you all.” And without another word he reached out his hands and with his mind summoned the souls toward him. Silverton stood firm as if guarding the procession, guiding them toward Harry’s summons. First, and most willing, came Dean, then a young girl with black hair… a boy with bright blue eyes… and on… and on…. Each soul came to… came into Harry as if he were an enormous vacuum pulling them in. When the last left the mire at Silverton’s feet the older wizard smiled.

“You have done well,” he said warmly. “Release us now, and I will lead them home.”

The cold was pressing in on Harry once again, fighting one last desperate attack to keep its precious treasure as Silverton floated toward Harry.

“H-Home?” Harry asked through chattering teeth. “H-Heaven? D-Dean needs t-to—”

“Release us, Harry,” breathed Silverton as he became one with Harry.

“Home.”

The blackness began to rush away with a great tearing sound. Harry felt as if his legs were being pulled backward by a tether that held him tight to the world behind. Flashes of varying shades of gray screamed past, and then with a tremendous wooosh Harry found himself back in his body on the grassy field looking upward at the milky-blue sky.

“Harry!” Gabriella cried as his eyes blinked against the sudden brightness.

He felt dizzy, then strong, more powerful than he had ever felt. But then he realized why; he still held their life force. He could use this energy, this power in the war to come. They could be victorious! Then, a slow sigh slipped past his lips, and before he lifted his head off the grass he closed his eyes and whispered, “Hhhhome.” It was a long, slow, breathless word that sent chills down Gabriella’s spine. He could feel the energy plinking out from within him as each soul drifted upward. Perhaps it was a hallucination, for Gabriella said later she saw no such vision, but before Harry the translucent bodies of all the children hovered for a moment just above him. They looked down, smiling when at last Mr. Silverton emerged. He took the small girl’s hand and in the next moment they all rose above the treetops and disappeared from sight, Dean travelling with them ever upward.

Harry was certain he heard Dean’s voice utter, “Goodbye.”

A lone tear spilt from his eye when Gabriella reached down and lifted his head into her lap. Harry raised his hand and summoned the golden chain that surrounded the Dementor. “This is yours I think,” he said softly.

“But—”

“It’s dead,” Harry answered before she could ask. And indeed the Dementor lay lifeless on the ground, deflated somewhat, as if it had been decaying there for months.

The air blasted with the report of two loud pops as a pair of Aurors appeared clad in red Ministerial robes. One noticed the Auror some yards away on the ground still stiffened by Harry’s spell. The other reached down to help Harry and Gabriella to their feet.

“You can’t stay here,” the Auror said, then he noticed who he was speaking with and turned to his companion. “It’s Potter!” He held Harry more firmly as if his life might depend on it. “You’ve got to return to the train. Miss, will you help—”

“Hey! He fired on—” the Auror that had been petrified began, but in that instant both Harry and Gabriella had Apparated back to the train.

They appeared in the corridor of the train, near the rear, and Harry stumbled to the floor when he landed. He hated Apparation, and this was his first attempt at hitting a moving target. If Gabriella hadn’t been holding his hand… He didn’t want to think about it.

He was a bit dizzy and disoriented, but he grabbed a carriage door handle and pulled himself up to his feet, taking a shaky step forward. “Dean,” he muttered. “I’ve got to see if…” He began to crumple to the floor when Gabriella grabbed his arm. He looked at her clenched hand and then at her eyes and smiled. “Thank you,” he said softly. “Did I ever tell you that I thought you were brilliant?” Her face did not smile back. Her nerves were too wracked with concern as her eyes darted up the corridor.

“Yes, yes,” said Harry. “Let’s go.”

Two cars down there was a throng of students that only parted when they realized who it was. When Harry made it to Dean’s car he stepped in to look straight in on Ron’s back. His clothes were a mess of mud and pine needles, and the side of his shirt was torn, blotches of blood seeping through, red mixing with splattered black. His red hair draped down over an arm that was hugging him tight. It was Ginny’s and she was crying. Harry’s heart plummeted and he dropped his head; they had failed. Dean had died.

It was then that he heard Gabriella give a sharp gasp as she gripped his forearm. He looked up to see her pointing at Ginny’s hand. On her ring finger was the golden band Dean had given her, only now the firestone was glowing as bright as ever, shining through the strands of Ron’s red hair.

“He’s fine Gin; Madame Pomfrey will have him patched up in no time.”

It was Dean’s voice, talking about Ron. It was shaky but clear and Harry watched as two arms of deep chocolate wrapped around the redheaded brother and sister in a large hug.

“Dean?” choked Harry, his heart skipping out of his chest and the tips of his fingers and pads of his feet starting to tingle.

“Harry?” asked Dean from behind the Weasley’s. Ron spun round and, as he did so, Ginny saw Harry. She immediately let out a squeal of joy. A second later her arms were around Harry, tears streaming down here cheeks and cheers rising up all around the train. Soon, they were all hugging. Word spread that the counterattack had been a success, at least with the help of the Aurors that had been guarding the train. If it hadn’t been for—

“Where’s Anthony?” shot Harry, realizing that the last he saw was what could only be called a herd of Dementors stampeding away from Harry and toward the Ravenclaw.

“Right here, Potter; no thanks to you.”

Harry turned to see a very bruised and a very battered Anthony Goldstein. There was dried grass in his hair and a bit of blood at the corner of his mouth, and he still clutched his wand as if ready to cast another spell at whomever or whatever might cross him.

“Merlin’s beard,” said Harry, stunned. “You’re alive.”

“Cho said you weren’t that smart,” sneered Anthony with somewhat of a chip on his shoulder, “but I don’t think she realized just how daft you really are.” He was itching for a fight, but Harry simply smiled.

“You were brilliant out there today, Goldstein,” said Harry loud enough so everyone could hear. “If it hadn’t been for you—”

“That’s the one!”

Everyone turned to see two Aurors in their embattled Ministerial robes making their way through the throng of students. One, the one pointing his finger at Harry, was promptly recognized. It was the Auror Harry had dropped in the field. He was holding the other Auror by the sleeve and pulling her almost against her will.

“That’s the one, right there – with the glasses. I’d recognize the face anywhere. Greasy little git.” The pair parted the crowd and were now right in front of Harry. “Thought you could get away with it, did yeh? Little prat. You could have had us all killed.” Then he turned to the other Auror, a very tall woman with deep blue eyes and an expression somewhere between exasperation and exhaustion. She was about to say something when Anthony Goldstein stepped in front of Harry.

“Do you have any clue who you’re talking to?” he asked with a smug air of superiority that almost sounded Ministerial. Certainly, Anthony was destined for great things in government. It was then that the woman recognized Harry, but the other Auror was having none of it.

“Get out of my way, you!” he shoved Anthony to the side, and almost at once there was a rush of students like a wave breaking against the shore filling the gap and forcing the two Aurors backwards.

“What’s this?” the Auror yelled, and he pulled his wand. In response, over two dozen wands suddenly appeared pointed directly at him, inches from his face. The woman reached up to pull her companion’s hand down just when there was another voice from the far end of the carriage.

“Strickman! PUT THAT DOWN!” If Anthony’s voice was Ministerial, the new voice was all that and more. Strickman’s eyes widened in shock. He’d heard this voice before, last year when he graduated from the Auror Academy . Everyone turned and saw the shock of red hair and knew at once who it was.

“Dad!” cried Ron, whose height gave him the better view over all his peers. Wands quickly found their way back to their proper positions as all the students tried to act as normally as possible, considering they had just been through a Dementor attack.

“Ronny. Ginny.” He was trying not to show that he was there to learn the status of his own children, but the tremble in his voice and the look of relief on his face were obvious for all to hear and see. “I came as soon as I heard.” Then his eyes met Harry’s as he moved past the two Aurors and a look of wonderment filled them. “Harry?” he breathed in disbelief. “I had heard you were taken. That your soul—”

“That was Dean, sir,” answered Harry.

“Dean? Beasts of Bulgaria , not—” His eyes saw Dean standing next to Ginny. “I… I don’t understand.”

“Harry brought him back, Dad,” Ginny answered her father’s questioning eyes. “He brought his soul back.” Arthur Weasley looked at his daughter and saw that she was sincere. Then he looked back at Harry.

“That… that’s not possible,” he whispered. “Not even Dumbledore—”

“That’s right, Minister,” spat Strickman. “It’s not possible! This little prat—”

“SHUT UP!” yelled Minister Weasley. “If you say another word, I’ll have him do the same to you as he did to Voldemort!” The word stung many ears and there was a collective groan, but not as universally as there might have been the year before. Only then did Strickman finally realize who he had been calling a prat.

“P-P-Potter?” He began to apologize, not to Minister Weasley, but to Harry; he never had a chance.

“You’re dismissed,” shot the Minister, “both of you.” It was the female Auror who was now doing the grabbing and dragging as she pulled Strickman by the back of his cloak and tossed him into the forward carriage.

“Here’s your hero, sir,” said Harry, pulling the grimy Goldstein forward. “He led the counterattack. If it hadn’t been for him, I’d have never reached the Dementor that had Dean’s soul.”

Arthur was still struggling, trying to comprehend what it was that Harry was saying. Nonetheless, he patted Anthony about the shoulders and said, “Well done, young man. Goldstein is it? Yes, I know your mother. Runs a coven in Colchester .” He gave Anthony, who was now beaming, another pat. “Well done.” Arthur then turned and hugged his two children and then he said in a loud voice, “I’m glad everyone’s safe and I assure you the rest of your trip will be uninterrupted, if not completely boring.”

With the bickering and fighting over, most the students returned to their carriages, muttering about the battle as they went, and the crowd in the corridor thinned. Arthur Weasley put his arm around Harry just as Hermione entered the train car.

“Harry, you’re safe!” she cried. “They’re saying you captured a—”

“Hermione,” interrupted Mr. Weasley, “might I have a word with Harry… alone?”

“Oh, certainly, sir,” she answered. And as Harry and the Minister started down the corridor he could see Hermione grab Gabriella’s hand and heard her ask what had happened as they disappeared into the carriage with Dean, Ginny and Ron.

“Harry,” began Mr. Weasley, “I need to speak with you about something very important. I was hoping to take you back to the Ministry with me right now, but under the circumstances it’s perhaps best that you stay put. Once you’re settled at the school, I’ll call for you.”

“What is it, sir?”

“Not here, not now, Harry. The walls…” Mr. Weasley smiled, but it was not a happy smile. “…the walls have ears.”

“I don’t hold much faith that the walls at the Ministry are any better, sir.”

“No. No, I know you don’t,” answered the Minister as he stopped to look at Harry. “But this is something too important to discuss anywhere else, even at Hogwarts. I’ll send for you in a week or so, okay?” Harry nodded. “And don’t worry, Harry. Where we’re going no one knows about. Not even I knew about it until just last week. But if what you say is true about Malfoy and the Dementors, and certainly this attack points to that, we must act soon and we must act decisively. It’s time to take the offensive.”

“You know I’ll do whatever it takes,” answered Harry.

“I know you will, son,” answered Arthur. “I know you will. That’s what frightens me.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 8 - Engaged

~~~***~~~

The Snitch flitted upward time and time again only to be snatched into his hand after every escape. He was actually getting quite good at it really. Nearly twenty minutes without a—

“Damn!”

The Snitch slipped through Dean’s fingers and began to zip about the boys’ dormitory, bouncing off the wall above Harry’s head. With a flash, few but Ginny Weasley could appreciate, Harry had his hand around the winged orb.

“That was great, Dean!” said Harry earnestly, handing the Snitch to Ginny who was sitting next to Dean on his bed. While Dean was practicing, Harry had been reading a story headlined Miracle at St. Mungo’s which described how nearly a dozen patients, all victims of Dementor attacks, had suddenly and inexplicably awakened – their souls intact. He turned the page with a smile as Dean continued to practice.

Madame Pomfrey had prescribed the exercise of Snitch snatching as a sort of therapy to help Dean regain control of his neuro-synapses. Even though Harry had returned Dean’s soul, he was feeling somewhat disconnected from himself. It was hard to explain just exactly how he was disconnected. Sometimes he would reach for something, like a shaker of salt, and it would fumble through his fingers for no reason. Sometimes his love for Ginny was strong, while at other times it seemed as if he had no feelings for her at all. In Magical Arts, Dean would paint portraits of birds, animals, or even people but the images wouldn’t move; they remained lifeless on the canvass. It was all very strange, and no one, not even Madam Pomfrey, knew exactly what to do.

“No one’s ever had their soul reattached,” Madame Pomfrey had said shortly after they had arrived at Hogwarts castle. Her solution was to try to re-stitch Dean’s soul by having him exercise both his body and spirit.

Ginny held steadfast at Dean’s side; a lesser woman would have left at once. Watching the two of them these last few days, Harry wondered if his love for Gabriella would be able to withstand such a test of faith. Somewhere, deep down inside, he felt it would, perhaps it already had, and he smiled as Ginny stroked Dean’s back, encouraging him to try again.

“Nah, Gin,” answered Dean, truly exhausted. “I’m… a bit tired.”

“You’re right, babe,” Ginny replied. “Rest a bit and we can go to dinner later.”

“Thanks,” said Dean with a weak smile. They kissed and Ginny turned toward the staircase down to the Common room.

They had been at Hogwarts for three days and even though the familiar rhythm of classes and course work pulsed on at Hogwarts, something was distinctly different. Maybe it was the attack on the train, the anticipation of what was to come, or simply that they were in their final year. Whatever it was, there existed, most certainly, a palpable sense of anticipation as if it any moment something spectacularly wonderful, or devastatingly dreadful was about to happen.

As Ginny stepped from their room, Harry turned to Dean and said warmly, “She’s wonderful, isn’t she?”

“She’s my world, Harry.” He lay down on his pillow, folding his arms behind his head. “I wish I knew why… sometimes…” Dean let out a large sigh and turned over on his side, his back toward Harry. Over the last year, Dean had grown confident in his relationship with Ginny and Harry no longer shook the foundation on which their relationship was anchored. Dean continued, “I think… maybe this year at Christmas—”

There was a sudden scream from down in the Gryffindor Common room. It was Hermione’s scream; Harry was sure. Not an instant later, Ginny cried out, followed by a cacophony of screeches that rivalled the arriving owls during the morning post.In an instant, both Harry and Dean had their wands at the ready, and started cautiously for the landing. Just as Harry was about to look down on the Common room below, Patrick appeared from the Second years’ dormitory; his wand also drawn and his face concerned. There was a third year passing Patrick and running the other direction, trying to escape whatever danger was causing the commotion. Harry didn’t recognize the boy from behind, but the thought of a coward in his house bristled the back of his neck. “A Gryffindor?” Harry cried out.

The moment’s distraction was enough to cause Dean to bump him slightly from behind. Harry tried to adjust his footing by stepping forward, only there was nothing on the circular staircase to step out on. Instead, he completely lost his balance and began tumbling, down and around, head over heals until he landed prostrate onto the floor. Dazed, he looked up to see Ron on the ground also. Well, almost… he was down to one knee, a look of pure terror in his eyes. Harry grabbed his best friend by the shirtsleeve and pulled himself up aligning back to back with Ron.

“Where are they?” he cried to Ron over his shoulder, wand at the ready. Quickly, he spun around and saw Hermione looking down at him. “What’s going on?” Harry asked excitedly. “Why did you scream?” Then, looking to the side, Harry noticed the large number of Gryffindors looking down at him, all with rather cross expressions on their faces. It was Parvati who stepped over and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, pulling him away from Ron.

“You idiot!” she hissed under her breath.

Her cheeks a brighter colour of red than Ron’s hair, Hermione had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing. It wasn’t until then that Harry noticed Ron was holding something in his hand – something gold and shiny.

“Er… so, yeah then…” Ron sputtered. “Well?” Hermione was about to say something when Lavender poked Ron in the shoulder.

“Well, what?” Lavender said sharply. “Go on, Ron. Ask her properly.” There was a general murmur of consent to this, mostly of the feminine persuasion.

“Yes, go on, Ron,” followed by, “Do it right.”

“Bloody hell,” Harry whispered, stunned by what he was seeing. Parvati pinched his neck and pulled him to his feet. Dean was stepping slowly down the staircase and came to a stop on the lower flight, wrapping his arm about Ginny’s waist. She had been transfixed, but the warm touch caught her attention and she wrapped both her arms about Dean, smiling as she watched her brother propose.

“Yeah, yeah,” said Ron, wiping his forehead with his left sleeve while still holding out the ring with his right. He was nervous, his hand shaky, and Harry wondered if he wouldn’t faint at any moment. But when Ron’s eyes rejoined Hermione’s the shaking stopped and he regained his voice. He held the ring a bit higher.

“As I was saying before our dearest friend dropped in,” he cast Harry a glance and smiled, “would you do me the honour of being Mrs. Ronald Weasley.” There was a pause. “Or Mrs. Ronald Granger… you know… however that’s supposed to work, if you want to keep your—”

He never had the chance to finish. In that instant, Hermione was down on her knees kissing him deeply, and the Common room whooped out a cheer that was heard throughout Hogwarts castle. Later, even Hagrid said he heard the revelry when he was out feeding the venomous lava lizards.

“Well?” cried out Seamus. “Answer him proper!” To this there was rolling chorus of “Here, here!” called out mostly from the masculine members of Gryffindor. Hermione pulled herself away from Ron’s mouth and he held the ring before her.

Hermione held out her hand and said breathlessly, “Yes!” There was another cheer, more resounding than the first, as Ron slipped the diamond ring upon her finger. They kissed again.

Harry wasn’t sure who was responsible, but suddenly food and drink appeared, and before you could blink music was playing, people were dancing and an impromptu party was in full swing in the Gryffindor Common room. It was loud and boisterous, but Hermione had set a silencing charm on the walls, and outside of Gryffindor the night was quiet. Harry poured himself a drink and suddenly felt very awkward. Everyone was congratulating Ron and Hermione, hugging them, smiling. Harry sunk back into the corner. Why hadn’t Ron told him that he was about to propose? He watched the smiles and the laughter, but somehow couldn’t feel any warmth himself. Indeed, the thoughts that were passing through his mind brought back memories of the year before, bad memories of jealously and uncontrollable anger. He gulped the drink, and poured another.

Still standing in the corner, Harry was watching Neville help Dean back up the staircase to the boys’ dormitory, when a voice startled him.

“Pretty amazin’ ain’t it?”

Patrick was seated in a chair next to Harry. How long had he been there? Most of the younger students had gone to bed or were ushered away. A slow song began to play and Ron took Hermione in his arms. The candlelight in the Common Room dimmed and soon everyone was dancing. Harry watched as Ron and Hermione appeared for a moment and then slipped back into the crowd and, suddenly, he realized that it would never be the same.

“Yeah,” Harry whispered back, taking another drink. “Amazing.”

“I mean,” Patrick continued, “to love someone so much.” Still sitting, he pulled his knees up to his chin and wrapped his arms around his legs just gazing at the dancers. “Do you think he’d die for her?” The question was odd, but Patrick was young and Harry was a bit drunk.

“He’d die for anybody in this room,” Harry answered with strong tone of pride. “Merlin, he almost did last year, more times than I can—” Harry stopped and looked into his glass, drinking the remains in one final splash against the back of his throat. He could feel the burn make its way down his chest as he stared at the empty glass and could feel it fill with guilt. How often had he put both of his friends in jeopardy? They would both sacrifice themselves to save Harry, and if the war was truly coming, and it was, Harry knew they’d risk life and limb once again.

“Do you think you’ll marry Gabriella?” Patrick asked, filling the silence. Harry whispered something and the glass in his hand vanished. Patrick raised an eyebrow, but said nothing about the wandless magic.

“Gabriella?” Harry asked, looking blankly ahead. He chuckled to himself, but the laughter was more sad than happy. Already she’d risked her life and the school year hadn’t even started. How many more friends would have to die before—”

“I don’t think I’ll marry,” said Patrick emphatically. “No kids fer me.”

“I’m sorry?” asked Harry. Patrick looked up at him with an expression that was torn, shredded in some way Harry couldn’t comprehend, at least not in his present state of mind.

“No kids. No orphans.” Patrick uncurled his legs and stood up, walking over to Harry. “I plan teh fight, Harry. There’s no room fer love if there’s the chance you’ll die.”

“Patrick, that’s not true.”

“Ain’t it? I won’t leave grief behind. I won’t leave my child without a da. Not like me parents did me. I mean, you were a baby fer Merlin’s sake, and yer parents are out fightin’ Voldemort. Why didn’t they just leave well enough alone? Wouldn’t yeh rather have ‘em at yer side right now?”

Harry was warm, his head cloudy, and the familiar screams were calling from the fog in his mind. It’s not your battle, Harry. Let it go.

“What is your problem!?” Lavender’s voice snapped. She was only a few inches in front of Harry, and her expression was very cross. “Are you going to stand here all alone all night?”

“I was just talking to—” He turned to point to Patrick, but the boy was gone. Harry looked about and then to the staircase, but the second year was no where to be found.

“If you don’t think they’ve noticed,” hissed Lavender, “you’re wrong.” She grabbed him by the arm. “Now get out there and pretend you’re happy for them. Merlin knows you’ll be the godfather to all their children; now start acting like it.” Lavender pulled Harry onto the dance floor. “I never thought you’d ask!”

She danced with Harry, haltingly toward the just engaged couple, and then deliberately twirled her partner into Ron just as the song was ending.

“Hey, Harry,” said Ron, smiling. “Whew, I could use a break; how ‘bout you Hermione?”

“Some punch would be nice,” she answered with a twinkle in her eye. She took Ron by the arm and they started to walk toward the snacks. Harry just stood, his feet frozen. Finally, Lavender took him by the arm.

“Why, I’d love some punch too, Harry. Thank you for asking.” She deliberately stepped down on his foot, hard, and then whispered in Harry’s ear, “So help me, Harry Potter, if you ruin this evening for them I’ll curse you from here to Durmstrang.” A flash later her face was all smiles as she squeezed Harry tight just behind the elbow and walked over to wear Ron and Hermione were standing.

Another pat on Ron’s shoulder and a hug for Hermione. Harry swallowed hard.

“I… I’m happy for you; for you both,” Harry started as Lavender began to pour herself a cup of punch. Still smiling at Ron and Hermione he took the cup out of Lavender’s hand without asking and gulped it down with one swig. “It’s fantastic.” He took the ladle from Lavender’s hand and poured himself another cup. “I mean… Wow! What a surprise.” He gulped again.

“I was going to tell you,” said Ron with a sincere tone of regret, “but I didn’t pluck up the courage until you were at Grimmauld Place.” Harry just looked at Ron like the answer made absolutely no sense. “You said you didn’t want to be disturbed… remember?”

“Yes, I remember,” replied Harry, turning his back completely on Lavender to face Ron. The heat was definitely rising under his collar. “But surely… on the train—”

“Blimey! You’re joking, right?” Ron interrupted, drawing in Harry’s irritation and reflecting it back. It was a dance the two played many times and Hermione took notice.

“Now, Ron, I think what Harry’s trying—”

“And last night? Were you too busy last night?” Harry snapped, and then he remembered not seeing Ron last night. “Where were you anyway?” Hermione began to blush violently.

“It’s none of your bloody business where I was last night,” said Ron, his voice elevated. “You’re not my keeper, Harry.” At this he pointed his finger and jabbed Harry in the chest, pushing him backward. Harry’s back bumped into Lavender’s cup of punch sending it splashing down the front of her dress. The two young men took no notice. Harry balled his right hand into a fist and pulled back ready to let throw.

“I should…” he began. Ron stepped closer, clenching his own fists and drawing them near his chin.

“You should what?” he challenged.

They stood there, toe to toe for more than a few heartbeats; not too long considering their hearts were pounding so quickly. Finally, a small smile shattered Harry’s scowl and he let go. He threw his right fist past Ron’s left ear. Ron saw the smile and returned the wayward punch with an undercut from his own right hand that flew past Harry’s midsection and up under his left arm. The two clenched in a machismo sort of way.

“You know I love you,” Harry whispered in Ron’s ear. “I love you both.”

“I know,” Ron answered quietly with a warm smile.

“I… I don’t want to lose you. Not again.” Harry pulled back so that his vision took in both Ron and Hermione. “Not now.” Hermione stepped close. She remembered uttering the same words to Harry last year at the Ministry and she remembered what Harry said.

“You’re not going to lose us, Harry,” she said, tenderly taking him by the arm. Harry grabbed her and pulled her into the hug. He’d had a little too much to drink and his words were taking on a tinge of regret.

“I want to see a dozen little bushy haired, freckle faced Weasley’s running about. Do you hear me!?”

“Harry!”

“I want them to be as smart as Hermione and as loyal as… as…”

“As me!” Ron helped Harry finish. “And don’t forget they’ll be brilliant Quidditch players just like me too! Let’s hope they don’t take after their mother when it comes to flying, eh Harry?”

“Ron!”

Harry’s eyes were beginning to fog with dampness. If they continued to fight by his side, he might lose them. Patrick was right; it wasn’t worth it. Their children deserved to have both their parents. Harry squeezed both Ron and Hermione tightly toward him.

“It’s brilliant. I… I just can’t be here right now.” He turned without saying another word, without looking at another face, and left the Common room.

The halls were quiet; it was nearly curfew. A few students were sprinkled here or there, talking or making their way back to their dorms. Harry walked aimlessly down the stone steps and found himself near where Tonks had her old office last year. They had yet to learn who would be teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts. That class had been cancelled this morning. The lanterns dimmed a bit, signalling that it was time to return to the dorms, but Harry didn’t hold much by that signal. He’d rarely obeyed it in all his years at Hogwarts, and he wasn’t about to—

“Hey, Potter.”

It was Blaise Zabini rounding the dark corner of the corridor and saying Harry’s name without a drip of sarcasm. It was odd, Harry thought, to see Blaise so far off the beaten track, especially at this time of night. Cloak and dagger stuff wasn’t part of Blaise’s makeup. The handsome wizard was more comfortable standing in the centre of a group of others to be looked at and admired. He hung with Draco on occasion, but never when it meant danger was about. That sort of stuff was for Nott, or Crabbe or G-Greg. A shiver passed down Harry’s spine recalling the death of his friend last year.

“Blaise,” Harry answered with a nod.

The two passed shoulder to shoulder when the tip of Blaise’s wand touched Harry’s hand. Harry felt a piece of parchment suddenly appear on his palm and his fingers curled around it. He stopped to look back at Blaise, but the Slytherin never stopped walking and never turned back to look at Harry. Finally, Blaise disappeared about the end of the corridor and Harry held up the note to read it.
Do you miss me? Sorry about the ugliness on the train. Sent someone to warn you at the station, but an Auror intervened. I heard Weasles bought a pretty expensive ring in Diagon Alley. You two aren’t engaged now are you?

Since I can’t be there, my messenger is going to help be my eyes and ears at Hogwarts. Don’t tell a soul or it may mean his life. Have you spoken to the old dodder about it yet? Hurry or it may be too late.


He just finished when the lanterns went dark, signalling curfew. Instead of returning to the party at Gryffindor, Harry sat down on the stone floor and leaned back against the stone wall.

“Lumos!” he whispered. He held up the note and read it again. Was it really from Draco? And what was he supposed to speak with Dumbledore about? What was it he had sensed during the Joining? Hol… Hor… Horcrux? It seemed so distant now. Perhaps it was some sort of secret weapon that the Dementors would use against the Centaurs. Perhaps it was—

“Out all alone, boy? Do you think that wise?”

Harry spun on the words, jumping to his feet and preparing his defence. A dark figure emerged, dimly lit by the faint glow of Harry’s wand.

“Dakhil!” Harry hissed. What was the leader of the Votary doing here?

“Impressive.” The word dripped with sarcasm. “I would have thought you would forget my name again the moment you returned to England.” He drew nearer and Harry lifted his wand higher. “Put your wand away, boy,” rebuked Dakhil sternly, “or I’ll… let’s see… What do they call it? I’ll take points away from your house. Although why you would care about such meaningless games when the war is upon you is incomprehensible to me.” Harry lowered his wand and the light was extinguished. They were in utter darkness.

“You can’t take—”

“Oh, I believe any professor can—”

“You’re not a professor! You can’t… Oh, no.” He leaned back against the wall and, in the darkness, noticed the thin hint of light emanating from a cracked door, the door to Tonks’ office. Harry sighed. “Defence Against the Dark Arts, is it?” Harry could tell by the low grunt that a grimace had appeared on Dakhil’s face. Clearly, he didn’t like the idea any more than Harry.

“I’m afraid so,” he answered. “And instead of taking points away, perhaps it is time for your first lesson.” He spun his cloak and disappeared into the darkness. “Follow me, boy!”

Harry shoved Draco’s note into his pocket, clenched his teeth, and followed. Once, after banging his knee, he tried to light his wand but was scolded by Dakhil who insisted on total darkness. “Can you not see?” Dakhil sneered.

“I’m no vampire,” retorted Harry. Dakhil stopped.

“There is an energy that binds all living things together, Harry. You draw from it every time you cast a spell. It pulsates on the wind as the breath of the trees; it bubbles from the soil crawling with worms and roaches. In the very darkest of places, it shines as a beacon to all who would call on its name. It is a skill all members of the Votary learn before the Joining, save for you.” Dakhil stopped. The odor was strong here, damp and dank and musty with a strong sense of decay. “Even in death, life is reborn. Reach out to it.”

“I can’t see a bloody—”

“Not with your eyes, fool!” Harry heard Dakhil sit as an old wooden bench creaked under his weight. “What Soseh sees in you…”

“She uses more than her eyes, I suppose.”

Harry had seen the life force of others he had try to heal. It was like going to another plane of existence. He just needed to… “Focus,” he whispered to himself. In the darkness Harry closed his eyes and opened his mind, reaching out for anything however small that might indicate life. At first there was nothing, and then a bright glow began to appear, red and throbbing. “Dakhil,” Harry thought. And then he saw it, the corridor they were in. Something was glowing on the walls. Mould? Spores? It was as if the structures surrounding them were splattered with an eerie fluorescent paint and lit up by a black light. “I see,” he whispered in amazement.

“As long as one sees, one is never lost.” Dakhil pulled his wand and a tremendous burst of light shattered against the wall breaking through to open air. The two emerged from some broken down shack into the depths of the forest.

“The trees!” Harry said, looking at the white glowing pillars that climbed to the sky.

“Your enemies, even though they hide behind such grand structures are brighter still. It is a crucial skill. With one hand, Dakhil pulled Harry out of the splinters of wood and stood him on his feet in the forest. “Now look up.”

Harry looked to the sky. It was sprayed with stars of every colour imaginable. But in the centre was a blue glow brighter than all the others, a golden trail following it in the sky.

“Ebyrth,” Harry whispered.

“Correct, Mr. Potter,” said Dakhil, slapping Harry on the shoulder. He started walking past the trees back to the castle which glowed bright through the branches. “As I said earlier, your time to die is near at hand. You may not realize it yet, Mr. Potter, but, aside from both being in the Votary, you and I have one thing, at least, in common.”

“And what’s that?” Harry said with more of a sneer than anything else.

“We are both already dead.”



________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun
Chapter 9 – The Bending of Space and Time
~~~***~~~


The rhythmic beating of Gabriella’s heart lulled Harry as she stroked the side of his head with her hand. He sighed deeply as she played with the hints of curls that wrapped about his shoulders. He forced himself to stay awake, if only to savour every moment that he was being held in her arms. Through the thin slits in his eyes he watched the lake vanish and reappear into view as his head rose and fell with each breath she took. The sparkling waters brought his mind to the beaches of Lebanon and he visualized walking with her at the ocean, watching the waves crash again and again against the shore. It would be a perfect place to ask her, he thought. A gentle breeze brought with it the cool breath of fall and for a moment he thought he could smell the cool salt air of the sea. Yes, the perfect place.

“We’ll miss dinner,” she whispered.

“I never want to move again,” he muttered, barely opening his lips. Her hand slipped down to his shoulder and then stroked the muscles of his arms. They were sore and yet with her touch he could feel the ache ebb away.

“If you’re going to keep working for Hagrid in the forest,” she said more firmly, “you’re going to need to keep up your strength.” Her fingers slipped down to his side and playfully gave him a quick pinch.

“AYY!” he said, jumping. It was more tickle than pain, more peck than poke. “Not fair! I was… I was just going…” He closed his eyes and began to lay his head back down on her chest.

“Oh no you don’t,” she said, pushing his shoulder back and sitting up herself. “I like what working for Hagrid’s done to you.” She slapped his stomach which held tight. “Besides, Mama would kill me if she heard I let you skip a meal.” She rose to her feet. “Come on, let’s get you fed.” She held out her hand to help Harry to his feet. Her head was turned so that her gaze was not at Harry but at the castle.

An image of Grigor flashed across Harry’s mind and a cold shiver ran down his back… he hesitated. How could she know? She couldn’t. She was so much like her father, and for the briefest of moments Harry was taken back to the torture chamber at the Ministry -- the chamber where Sirius had been lost and found again, the chamber where Gabriella’s father, Grigor, had held his hand out innocently toward Harry, just as Gabriella was now doing, only to bind him and prepare him for death.

He drew in a deep breath, shook the memory from his mind, and took Gabriella’s hand, rising to his aching feet. They both whisked away the dry leaves that clung to the bottoms of their robes and turned toward the castle. Harry could feel the sting in his legs as they climbed the castle steps. Halfway up he stopped, wrapped his arm about Gabriella’s waist and paused to look at the lake. She took it as a romantic moment and leaned her head against his shoulder. Harry, however, was too sore to step higher. Even Madame Pomfrey’s potions weren’t enough to remove the throbbing that worked its way into both muscle and bone. A nerve in his right thigh shot a jolt of pain up into his back and his gaze turned toward the forest.

Working for Hagrid? No. For the last few weeks he’d been training with the Centaurs. Only he’d felt uncomfortable sharing that with Gabriella. He had never been able to bring up a conversation with Gabriella about them without her making an excuse to change the subject. It was clear she did not like Centaurs, but she never explained why and Harry was unwilling to push the issue. Another twinge flicked down the muscle of his left calf and his mind drifted to the day’s training session. Recalling why his legs hurt so, he wasn’t so sure he liked Centaurs either.

“Jump, Harry Potter! Jump” cried Ronan. The red-haired Centaur fired an arrow that nicked the left heel of Harry’s bare foot. “Speed is a Centaur’s greatest ally. With it we can outpace the Dementors when they try to flee. Run!” he bellowed as Harry began to slow. “If one of our number needs aid, would you just walk to their side?”

“I’m… not… walking…” yelled Harry back over his shoulder, as he ran from the Centaur barefoot through the forest. His lungs were bursting for air and his feet were on fire. He’d already run for miles; Ronan would make him run miles more. For his part, Harry had already decided that there was nothing the Centaurs could throw at him that he couldn’t handle.

“Ayyy!” he cried, slashing his foot against a jagged stone.

“Run!”

Perhaps he was wrong.

He had been forbidden to use a wand, and wore naught but a thong made of tree bark wrapped about his waist with a sheath for a small dagger used to slash at vines and other vegetation that blocked his way as he ran. In one hand he held the dagger and in the other he carried a stone nearly too large to fully grasp. In battle he would carry a shield, but a stone was more awkward to handle, forcing more muscles to lift and control it. He was being trained as all colts were. In fact, there were two colts running far ahead of him already – Shahan, with a coat so dark Harry could no longer see him in the distance, and Felspar, whose bright white coat shone like a star ahead – way ahead. Sweat dripped into his eyes and he wiped his brow with his right forearm. Running blindly he slashed wildly at a Tentacula that reached for his neck.

“You should have seen that, stripling, long before it struck at you!” cried Ronan, loping along. There was the sound of a thwwwwp and a few paces ahead Harry saw a large spider dead near the path he was taking, an arrow between its eyes. Looking back as he ran ahead Harry tripped on a root, twisted his ankle and fell to the ground, his left knee grinding into a collection of small stones. The fingers of his left hand were crushed between the stone he was carrying and the stones upon which he’d just fallen. The dagger fell from his right hand and skittered forward, but before it came to rest, Harry reached his hand forward and without saying a word the dagger returned to his grasp. There was a slight grunt from Ronan. It was neither disparaging, nor approving. It was more a grunt of satisfaction, but Harry did not look back into Ronan’s eyes to see if the satisfaction was directed toward him. His knees and hands bleeding, he stood to his feet and began to run again. Now, even Felspar was out of view. He’d taken only three or four strides before Ronan called.

“Stop!”

Breathing hard, Harry turned and for the first time all afternoon he looked up into the Centaur’s eyes.

“I… I can… catch them,” Harry heaved.

“I know you can, stripling, but do you know how?” Ronan smiled, revealing a sly grin. Harry had never seen such a look on the face of a Centaur before. It was riddle.

“I hate… riddles,” breathed Harry.

“Shahan and Felspar have been studying for decades the essence of Earth’s mysteries. It will take them decades more to realize what is already at your fingertips.” The Centaur stepped closer, forcing Harry to bend his neck upward. A muscle twanged past his right ear. Still Ronan advanced until he was only inches from Harry, who could smell the strange mix of sweat and hair. Ronan looked skyward.

“To see without eyes, to feel without fingers, to hear without ears, to taste without tongue…,” he looked back down at Harry and tapped him on the side of his nose, “…to smell without nostrils. These are gifts you have already been given, and yet you know them not; you have but to unwrap them.” With a movement that was but a blur to Harry, Ronan notched another arrow and shot at a large flying… thing with large teeth that was advancing on them. It fell silently to the forest floor. To Ronan it was like little more than swatting a fly. He continued, “You must learn the power that took your sacrifice and cleansed you, the power that has no strength. What you must master, Harry Potter, what you must endeavour to achieve is to be without being.” Harry scrunched his nose splotched with dirt.

“Did I say? I really hate riddles,” he muttered, beginning to catch his breath.

“Take my hand, child,” commanded Ronan.

The moment Harry took the Centaur’s hand the world spun upon its head. Green and brown and yellow and gold flashed past them in a swirl of colours. Then, inexplicably, Ronan was gone, and Harry was suddenly running, loping, galloping. He felt giddy, proud, arrogant, childish…

“I told you the Wizard was a fake!” he cried back over his shoulder. “Ronan’s an old fool!” He kicked his heals and accelerated forward, the wind whistling past his ears.

“You’re wrong!” yelled a voice from behind. “He’s been chosen! Ronan said so!”

“Nothing but silly Centaur fairytales from a doddering old fool!” Harry yelled back, but his eyes were steadfast forward. The flag was ahead; he could see it, maybe three or four miles ahead. A smile split across his face, an arrogant smile; he was going to win this race and prove Ronan wrong, prove to all of them that HE, Shahan, was the Centaur that would save them from the onslaught of Dementors that was soon to come.

A voice whispered in Harry’s ear. It was Ronan’s. “You see with Shahan’s eyes. Where would you be, Harry Potter?”

Harry looked back. Behind him was Felspar, the dazzling white Centaur that he’d been racing. Then he noticed his own haunches. They were black as darkest coal. He was Shahan, the lead Centaur colt. But how? His head twisted forward toward the waiting flag and the gathering of Centaurs that watched to see if Ronan’s prophecy was nothing more than wind and myth.

Where would I be?

“The flag,” Harry whispered to himself, to Ronan, to the nothingness. He focused again. He knew how to get there with a wand: Vision, Pathway, Reconstruction -- Apparation. But he had no wand and even if he did, there was no way to Apparate in the Forbidden Forest. The flag, a red beacon in the distance, was maybe two kilometres ahead of Shahan now and probably three kilometres from where Harry’s body stood breathless back in the forest with Ronan. He’d been practicing wandless magic all summer. What if…?

Harry willed himself from the eyes of Shahan and back to his own body. There was a snap – he had returned, his lungs still gasping for air and Ronan still at his side. Harry closed his eyes and his mind imaged the flag that was ahead; he imagined being there. Space and time began to collapse, swirling itself, revealing itself. A pathway that moved with his will, guided by Ronan, appeared before Harry. He took in a deep breath and stepped forward onto the path. The great span of distance between himself and the red flag suddenly collapsed. Felspar was just out of reach, Shahan appeared to be only a few paces in front of her, and the red flag appeared as just a few tens of metres away. Harry began to run. The colours of the forest swirled by him, as if everything stood still, including the two Centaurs. He ran past Felspar and then Shahan and, in an instant, he appeared only inches from the flag that marked the end of the race. He was surrounded be Centaurs of every colour, each with fierce eyes marked by only the slightest astonishment of his arrival. As he came to rest, he saw, in the distance, Shahan and only a few strides behind him Felspar. They were both galloping like the wind, swallowing up huge swaths of turf with each stride. They would be upon him soon.

Harry felt it was, somehow, a cheat. Could all Centaurs bend space and time? His eyes caught Shahan’s in the distance, and the once confident, defiant gaze turned to one of near horror. He galloped faster, as if possessed, but it was no use. With one hand, his bloody left, Harry reached up and pulled the crimson flag from its standard. There was a collective cheer as Harry held the flag over his head, spinning to show the gathering. It was then that he saw Ronan, standing in the centre of the group of nearly one hundred Centaurs. An instant later Shahan pulled up at Harry’s side, his breath heavy, his coat lathered with sweat.

“That’s not possible!” he cried. “He… he used his wand!”

“No,” answered Ronan, stepping forward from the others. “He used the skills you yourself may one day master, Shahan.” Ronan turned to the other Centaurs. “He has been given the gifts.” With this there was a general murmur and neigh of surprise and approval from the Centaur herd. Facing the others, Ronan flanked Harry nudging him forward just as Felspar arrived, also out of breath, a gash upon her right front flank.

“I foretold of the coming star,” Ronan called to the gathering. “And yet you did not believe. I sought out the Sacrifice against your will, and the waters returned him to us. Only once before has this ever happened, and when that battle was won so too began the Great Age of Centaurs!” Harry expected a cheer, but none came. Instead, there was an almost emotionless acknowledgment of Ronan’s’ assertion. “This,” he pointed toward Harry, naked and bloodstained, his lungs still craving for more oxygen, “this is our Sacrifice. Cleansed and returned, he shall lead us to victory!” Again there was little more than the nods and stomps of the Centaurs at the gathering. No one refuted Ronan’s claims.

“You’re hurt,” said Harry, approaching Felspar and looking carefully at the wound.

“It was a Bearwicken,” said Felspar quietly.

“He’s a fraud!” cried Shahan in a tone that was more animated than any Centaur Harry had ever seen. He stepped forward, pushing Harry aside, but Harry ignored the rudeness and focused his attention on Felspar. “He’s no leader! He’s a wizard! It’s trickery I tell you.”

“Let me help you,” whispered Harry as he held his open hand a few inches away from the gash on Felspar’s flank. Harry closed his eyes and muttered the incantation that he knew would work with his wand, and then something caused him to extend further, to reach beyond. His hand had not touched the Centaur, but he could feel the blood, slippery wet, between his fingers. He reached out without moving and willed the gash shut, and the gash obeyed, closing as if a curtain had been pulled shut tight about the wound.

“Like all wizards, he’ll kill us all when we turn our back!” yelled Shahan again.

“The Chosen heals!” asserted a large, female Centaur from the gathering. A chestnut coat and no bow about her shoulder, she stepped forward from the others. “Did the waters teach you these gifts or is this wizardry?” The last word was disparaging and even evoked some hisses from the others.

“Mother!” cried Felspar. “He’s the Chosen. How dare you question his gifts!” Felspar, wound healed, turned to Harry and bowed low on one knee. “As long as Ebyrth shines, I am in your service. Only death will cheat us of time.”

A number of other Centaurs followed in kind, each bending low to one knee and bowing their heads. Ronan approached Harry, nodding his head and bending to one knee as well.

“You still lack strength and endurance, Harry Potter, but these things can be learned. Now, it is time to rest.” He held his hand to Harry’s eyes. “Return to the forest’s friend.” Harry’s mind immediately thought of Hagrid. “Run!”

The vision of Hagrid’s cabin firmly fixed in his mind, Harry willed himself there. Again a path opened up and he took off running. Moments later, he found himself where he began the day, seated on Hagrid’s chair next to the burning fire, Fang laying at his side and Hagrid singing some song in French. The logs on the fire cracked as Harry, still naked, looked at his Gryffindor robes that hung from a hook near the door. The way they were draped over the hook they almost looked real – lifelike, as if they contained some spirit all their own. Harry’s stomach churned just as Hagrid turned, surprised to find Harry in his hut.

“Harry?”

“Harry? Shall we go inside?” Gabriella had spun to face Harry whose eyes were distant and bent on the far horizon above the lake. Her voice snapped him back from reliving the memory. He had learned something great today, and he’d learned it from the Centaurs.

“Harry? Are you okay?”

Harry looked down into her eyes and smiled. He was sore and tired; dark rings hung under his eyes. The thought of going inside to face three scrolls on the healing plants of Kirkcaldy was almost too much to bear.

“They’re not that bad you know,” he whispered. Her eyebrows furled in confusion. “Centaurs,” he added.

“Look, you’re tired and it’s time for dinner,” she said, deliberately changing the conversation. “We can talk about the stars later.” Harry nodded silently and together they entered the castle and began to walk to the Great Hall.

Near a large suit of armour Harry noticed Patrick talking to James Chang. James was leaning against the stone wall, his arms crossed as well as his legs. He was either extremely bored, or he didn’t like what he was hearing. Still, Patrick was quite passionate about it; his arms were swinging wildly about and more than once Harry heard him raise his voice.

“It’s gone I tell yeh! There nothin’ there but dust. And there’s no way I’m—”

James noticed Harry and Gabriella and stood straighter, stopping Patrick’s story with a motion of his hand. Harry smiled and waved, and James returned the gesture with a smile of his own. Patrick turned to see who James was looking at and when he saw Harry, his face bore an expression of great concern.

“No wonder,” Harry thought, “I feel like I’m going to blow chunks. I must look like hell.” As he and Gabriella continued toward the Great Hall for dinner, the more nauseous he felt.

“Great,” he muttered to Gabriella who was picking up on his sudden change in emotion.

“I’m taking you to Madame Pomfrey,” Gabriella insisted. “Something’s wrong.” She turned him to the staircase.

“I can’t climb those.”

“I’ll levitate you if I have to.”

Patrick followed James into the Great Hall just as Ron and Hermione appeared from Gryffindor tower. They were headed, arm in arm, into the Great Hall when Ron noticed Gabriella trying to help Harry toward the staircase that led to the hospital wing.

“Harry?” called Ron. Quickly, he came over to Harry and helped Gabriella support him. Hermione was right behind him.

“What happened?”

“I’m fine, really,” demanded Harry, and in fact he was beginning to feel better although the floor was still a bit unsteady under his feet. They stepped him over to a long bench beneath a large portrait of a great ninth century battle scene. Harry hated it here, he always had; the clang and crash of sword against armour was always deafening when the combatants weren’t sipping tea together, discussing whose strategy was superior in the last battle. Ron noticed a bruise beneath Harry’s collar and leaned in close to Harry’s ear.

“You went out again today, didn’t you?” he whispered. His tone was more angry than concerned.

“CHHHHT,” shot Harry with a blast of air between his clenched teeth, trying to quiet is friend. Seated between a mind-reader and an empath, Harry had little hope of keeping anything secret, but he didn’t want to discuss his training with the Centaurs in front of Gabriella.

“You said you’d take me,” complained Ron. “‘The next time I go,’ you said.” Ron crossed his arms. “I thought maybe this year would be different.” Harry opened his mouth to explain.

“Ron,” injected Hermione, “they’d just as soon skewer you as anything else. Harry’s just trying to protect you.”

So, Hermione knew. So much for Ron’s sworn oath that he wouldn’t tell a soul. Harry rolled his eyes and shook his head knowing that Hermione was only partially correct. She was right about the skewer part, but Harry knew at once Ron would take the protect part the wrong way. He did.

“I don’t need Harry’s protection! We’re at war!”

“Ron,” Harry began, holding up his hand, “the thing is—”

“Skewer you?” asked Gabriella. “What are you talking about? Was Hagrid making you work with Stabbing Snapspiders again?”

Hermione’s eyes narrowed on Harry, whose own gaze darted away to look at Ron who was ignoring Gabriella’s question and was now standing in a huff and about ready to storm off. Harry stood too, the dizziness he was feeling all but gone.

“Ron,” Harry said, taking hold of Ron’s arm, “I said you would go with me the next time I could. This morning I asked you know who, and they said I had to go by myself. I had a test… of sorts.”

“Test?” asked Ron, now with more interest than anger.

“They?” asked Gabriella, taking to her feet.

“This morning you were supposed to help Professor Barghouti’s second year class for their DADA lesson,” scolded Hermione, also rising.

“What kind of test?

“Who are they?”

“Didn’t you hear what happened to little Nolie Langston from Slytherin?”

Harry feigned dizziness again and tilted in toward Ron who grabbed him by the shoulders. “I think I need to eat,” he muttered, and then leaning closer he whispered to Ron, “Saturday.” Gabriella knew he was feeling fine; she could sense that. Hermione knew he was feeling fine; she’d read the Harry Potter book long ago. Both women just glared, while Ron was steadfast.

“Can’t you see the man’s exhausted? He has to eat!” he exclaimed. “Blimey! Give him a break for Merlin’s sake.” He put Harry’s arm about his shoulder. “Come on, mate. Let’s get you a bite and then we can go over the weekend’s practice schedule. I know Ginny’s been playing fine as Chaser and all, but I think if….”

In the Great Hall, Dumbledore had the houses sit wherever they wished for breakfast and lunch, but for dinner each house ate at separate tables from the others. It was a compromise between the vision of the future and a respect for tradition. Tonight, Harry was grateful because it meant, for a while at least, he and Gabriella would be separated. As they entered the Great Hall she kissed him on the cheek, holding his left hand. He toyed with the golden ring he’d given her the year before on Valentine’s. There was a twinkle in her eyes and a sly smile upon her face.

“You will tell me later?” she asked, but the tone was more suggestive of a statement than a question.

“You know already. You just won’t talk about it.” His smile had a tinge of sadness as their fingers let go of each other. Her twinkle faded and her eyes would not hold his gaze as she turned away. Harry did not look back as he followed Ron to the Gryffindor table.

Lavender and Parvati were having an animated conversation about the meaning of a large stain on the tablecloth. Parvati had spilt her drink and it left a dark, twirling outline of something resembling, at least to Harry, a large toadstool. He sat down realizing he did, very much, need to eat.

“It’s a Celtic spiral,” said Lavender, her finger tracking the outline of the top of the toadstool.

“A Crane,” countered Parvati, pointing at the long crooked neck of the toadstool.

“That makes no sense,” said Lavender. “No, it’s a Celtic spiral and,” she pointed to some dark inner spots, “with these here it would represent eternal life.”

“No. See this here? The way the whorls dissolve away? Not eternal life… life, death, and rebirth. It’s clearly a crane,” Parvati said, pointing out the bird’s features. “Here are the eyes, the curled neck, the long legs.” She grew more confident with each description.

“Then you’re both right,” chimed in Hermione. The two young ladies looked up, stunned expressions on both their faces. “The crane represents longevity. Eternal life… longevity… same thing.” She shrugged her shoulders and took a bite of dinner.

“NooOoo,” both Parvati and Lavender harmonized in a rather long and melodious tune. “It could mean deception if—”

Deliberately, Harry accidentally spilled his tea onto the stain covering up any discernable detail. The liquid began to pour off the edge toward Parvati and Lavender and they both took to their feet.

“That looks like a murky pond to me, Harry” said Ron, chewing on a stick of bread. “See the large ripples flowin’ down the table.”

“Honestly, Ron,” sighed Hermione, whisking out her wand and vanishing the tea and stain together.

“HERMIONE!” cried Lavender.

“How could you!” scolded Parvati.

“ME?” queried Hermione, clearly flummoxed. “But they—”

“Come on, Lavender.” Parvati spun on her heals and took off, Lavender right behind her, but not before she shot a scathing glare at Hermione. No sooner had they left the table than Ron let out a snort, a piece of bread shooting from his nose.

“Ronald Weasley, I should…”

“Honestly, Hermione, Harry just wants to eat. You can’t begrudge the man his peace after all he’s been through today.” Ron took another bite of bread and looked at Harry’s plate. “Are you going to eat those?” he asked pointing at some chips. Harry just glared back. Ron shrugged and took another bite of bread.

“And as for you,” Hermione continued, now turning to Harry, “you better tell Gabriella straight away what you’re up to, or it’ll spoil what you both have.” Setting down his fork, Harry looked up at her.

“Oh, right, and you two are the poster couple for honest and open discussions.”

“Harry,” said Hermione without losing stride, “you know there’s something bothering her. You need to find out what it is.”

“Don’t you think I’ve tried!?” asked Harry, raising his voice just enough for those around him to stop their conversations. He knew he hadn’t, not really, but he also knew that Hermione didn’t know. Her eyes simply looked into his, probing, her expression calm. The look was unnerving because he knew his own expression was giving him away. “Well I have,” he insisted, pushing his plate in for good measure.

He wasn’t sure the drama was having the effect he wanted. Ron simply nipped one of his leftover chips and Hermione only let out a long disapproving sigh. Past the point of return, at least for this argument, Harry stood up and left the Great Hall in as foul a mood as he could muster. His mind focused on the Gryffindor table, he didn’t notice the Slytherin that stood as well and followed him out of the Great Hall.

Harry was moving down the corridor toward Gryffindor when he heard the footsteps behind him. He stopped and turned; only no one was there. He looked over past a suit of armour and then behind a pillar – still no one. Tired, if not completely exhausted, he continued toward Gryffindor and his awaiting homework. He was nearly at the portrait of the Fat Lady when there was a tap on his hand and a whisper in his ear.

“Your days grow short.”

Harry felt the note appear on his palm and spun at once.

“Blaise?” he whispered back, but there was no answer.

Harry unfolded the piece of parchment. “They think it’s at the Ministry. Is it?” was all it said. The portrait swung open and Harry quickly moved to hide the note, only he didn’t have to. It flashed in a puff of smoke and disappeared. Neville stepped out of the Gryffindor Common room followed by the most unlikely of faces – Severus Snape. Strangely neither took much notice of Harry. Beyond a slight head nod by Neville, it was as if he didn’t even exist.

“The thing is, Professor,” Neville was saying as he past Harry, “if the two roots are to have the effect you want, they’ll have to be grown to exactly the same length.”

“Quit restating the obvious, Longbottom,” replied Snape without so much as a nod toward Harry as he past. “The questions is can you do it?” Neville scratched his chin as they disappeared down the corridor.

“I think so, with the right light. If I can borrow some…” and the conversation faded away.

Amazed, Harry shook his head and turned toward the portrait of the Fat Lady.

“Password?” she asked with a smile.

Just before he answered, Harry paused, scratching his chin much as Neville had just done. What was at the Ministry? The Horcrux that Draco had mentioned? Whatever that was.

“Erm, sorry,” said Harry, “changed my mind.” He turned and headed back down the corridor, wondering if his secret note giver was still nearby. As much as he hated the thought of climbing back up the staircase, he had to go down and speak with Dumbledore. Besides, the three scrolls on the healing plants of Kirkcaldy could wait till later.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 10 – Visions
~~~***~~~
________________________________________



Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz… Tink.

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz… Tink.
The silver instrument rose and fell on Dumbledore’s mahogany desk as Harry stroked Fawkes’ feathers, waiting for the headmaster to return. Not much bigger than a breadbox, it was a strange collection of gears and springs and Harry spent some time trying to deduce its meaning. The contraption, rimmed with winged creatures Harry couldn’t recognize, reminded him of a similar device in the Black family estate at Grimmauld Place. It too had the same circular rings that ran up a notched staircase only the Black device was golden, its winged creatures looked more menacing, and Harry had never seen it operate.

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz… Tink.

Shot by a spring, another silver ring ran up the staircase only to reach the top, falter, and fall into a pile below. The pile seemed to be shrinking as Harry stood watching, but he could not see where the rings disappeared to, nor could he discover the source for the rings that sprung forth from the bottom. There it was – a never ending procession that seemed to have no purpose.

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Unable to contain himself, Harry reached out and grabbed the silver ring before it had a chance to fall from atop the small staircase. The scene changed and he suddenly found himself on the Hogwarts Express walking toward the front of the train, two paces behind Greg Goyle. But, this couldn’t be – Greg was dead. It took him a moment to realize that he’d traveled back in time. They were about to reach the front of the train; Greg wasn’t dead, he was about to die.

Harry tried to speak, but no words came. He tried to reach his hand up to stop Greg, but it would not move. Unable to control his motion, Harry could do nothing but watch history unfold as it had last year. He poked his head into a carriage, telling a group of fifth years what was up.

“I’ve been wondering what was taking so long with the food trolley,” said Ernie Macmillan. Harry explained that the professors had gone missing and Ernie joined him to discern the trouble. As Harry slipped back out of the carriage with Ernie, Goyle took the point and started toward the front of the train. Once again Harry tried to stop his friend when, through the glass doors to the box ahead, Harry saw a witch in dark robes suddenly appear in the corridor. Anaxarete. Harry wished he could cast a killing curse, but it was no use; he could do nothing. She glanced back, revealing a sinister smile and piercing green eyes. Harry tried to place himself in front of Greg, but was unable to pass Goyle’s broad shoulders. It didn’t matter; an instant later she was gone and an instant after that the front of the train exploded with a tremendous white flash.

Harry fell to the floor of Dumbledore’s office, the silver ring firmly clenched within his hands. He was shaking, the explosion still ringing in his ears, when he opened his eyes and found Dumbledore looking down at him. The headmaster bent with difficulty to one knee and held out his hand.

“I take it you did not find yourself in one of Professor Binns’ lectures, Harry?”

Harry took Dumbledore’s hand and rose to his feet. He held the ring out between his thumb and forefinger.

“What… what is it?” he asked still shaken. Dumbledore took the ring and placed it back atop the silver staircase.

Tink.

It fell into the pile below which now was growing larger as Dumbledore stood and spoke with Harry.

“It is a memory book of sorts… a photo album.” Dumbledore moved to his desk and sat down, leaning back against his chair. “Different for each who reads it.” Harry couldn’t help but think that the greatest wizard of the age was beginning to show signs of wear. He had grown much thinner since Harry last saw him at the end of the school year, and his hands were beginning to curl in an unnatural way.

“Like a Pensieve?” Harry asked.

“Not quite, Harry,” replied the Headmaster. “A Pensieve lets you store or remove your memories so that you can look them over later. You can select the memory to remove, to examine.” He leaned forward and held his hands together. “This is a Möbius Machine. It reflects a wizard’s life history. It is a never ending loop that plays over and over again, shrinking or expanding to suit the viewer. Each silver circle is a ringlet of a portion of your life. While the rings play in order, there is no way, unfortunately, to determine which memory, which life experience you will visit.”

A shiver past by Harry again, and for a moment he thought he felt the breath of death whisper its name against the nape of his neck.

“I take it, Harry,” continued Dumbledore, “that your experience was not a pleasant one.”

“No, sir,” answered Harry, sitting himself. “It was… on the train; when I was with Greg, just when… just when…”

“I understand.” Dumbledore sighed. He stood and walked back to the device. He waived his wand and uttered an incantation and the rings stopped running up the staircase, and fell wherever they were in the cycle. “I wish your memories could be happier, Harry. I would hate to see you as a tottering old man, sitting down in a dusty office wondering if you could risk reliving the tragedies that grasping a few rings might bring. Fawkes quietly vocalized his agreement, as Dumbledore slipped his wand away and placed his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “I know you have been chosen, Harry. But you need not place yourself between the Centaurs and the Dementors; it is not your war.”

“You said it yourself, Professor,” said Harry, looking up into Dumbledore’s still bright blue eyes, “it’s the paths we choose that make us who we are. I’m not doing this because I was chosen. I’m doing this because it’s the right thing to do. Lucius Malfoy is going to use this to try and sweep the darkness back across this land, and I won’t let him.” Harry’s own eyes were fierce with determination and defiance. “I’ve been training with Ronan.” Harry paused. “Are Centaurs magical?”

“Very much so, Harry,” said Dumbledore with a smile. “It is folly for wizards to believe they are the most powerful creatures on this earth. You know, of course, Centaurs have keen sight and are skilled with a bow, but these things are physical skills that many wizards dismiss. Ahh… not so, Harry… not so. Why do you think a Centaur never misses his target?” Harry shrugged. “Because a skilled Centaur can follow the arrow all the way to its destination, nudging its flight along the way. They can bend space and time, Harry. Even while wizards are unable to Apparate on Hogwarts grounds, Ronan can disappear and reappear wherever he pleases simply by using his mind.”

“He showed me today. He taught me today.”

Dumbledore said nothing. Harry could tell by his expression that he was impressed, or surprised, but the old wizard made no word of it. Instead he stood from his chair and walked over to his telescope.

“They are much better stewards of such skill than wizards would ever be,” the aged wizard whispered, looking down into the lens of the telescope. The instrument was fixed on the portion of the sky through which the comet Ebyrth was now passing. Harry no longer needed a telescope to see the comet’s bright tail.

“It is not your war, Harry,” said Dumbledore still looking into the lens. “The Ministry can handle the likes of Lucius and his ilk.” He adjusted the focus. “They have no strength in numbers, no allies for support, no sanctuary in which to hide. It’s only a matter of time.”

“Then why haven’t they been caught?” asked Harry. “It’s been months, and nothing.”

“Lucius is no fool,” answered Dumbledore. “He’ll remain hidden for as long as possible and only strike when he thinks he can win.” The wizard looked up. “He can’t win, Harry.” But Harry wasn’t so sure. He turned his back on Dumbledore and walked over to Fawkes, stroking the bird’s feathers. Harry didn’t know how to bring it up, but he had to ask.

“What if… what if he had a weapon? A secret weapon?”

“Secret weapon?” asked Dumbledore, turning to face Harry more fully. “What do you mean?”

“A… A Horcrux.”

The portraits that were earlier minding their own business, napping, reading the paper, or off to some other place were suddenly thrown into a tumult. The headmasters of old began complaining at once about the impudence of the young man to discuss such matters here.

“It’s an abomination, Albus!” one cried.

“Lucius is cunningly evil,” called Phineas, “But he would never crawl to such depths.”

Dumbledore finally quieted them all by threatening to bring down a sheet of darkness. His face was grave, almost pale and the tone of his voice was filled with great concern. Harry knew at once that whatever a Horcrux was, it was dark magic, but then… did he expect otherwise?

“Harry,” began Dumbledore slowly, his voice quite and sombre, “what makes you believe that Lucius Malfoy would employ a Horcrux?” Harry turned away from Dumbledore, not willing to maintain eye contact. “Certainly such news does not come from our friends the Centaurs.”

“Well… I… I heard that…” He stalled and then turned back to face Dumbledore. How could he know how one employed a Horcrux if he didn’t even know what one was? “Professor, what is a Horcrux?” Dumbledore walked back to the silver machine that was now quiet on the table. He tapped it with his wand and the silver rings began to roll again. He took a ring and held it in his hand for but a moment when he laughed and placed it back along its path.

“Precious,” he whispered to himself. “So precious.”

“Professor?”

“It was the day when Professor McGonagall asked me if I enjoyed teaching at Hogwarts. She was thinking of applying to teach here as well, but wasn’t sure if her husband would agree.”

“Husband?” asked Harry incredulously. “Professor McGonagall was married?”

“Oh yes, Harry,” answered Dumbledore. “And very happily I might add. He was killed by a Death Eater when Voldemort first returned. She joined the Order of the Phoenix soon after. Since then, she’s been our strongest ally against the darkness.” This new news had Harry’s head spinning just a bit. He’d always assumed…. Dumbledore turned back to the silver machine. “Can you imagine what it would be like if Professor McGonagall did not have the memory of the murder of her husband?”

“I… I suppose she’d be happy.”

“But she is happy, Harry. Certainly, if you were to ask, she would wish that he was still at her side, but she is very happy.” Dumbledore’s hands squeezed the wooden table and he drew in a deep breath. When he turned to look back into Harry’s eyes, his face was grave and his own eyes stern. “What I’m about to tell you, Harry, is not supposed to leave this room.” Harry glanced toward the door as if there might be someone there. “Harry, I know with whom you would like to share. You should know that it is forbidden. I would not even speak of it with you, had you not brought it up first. Do I have your word?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Harry, his voice smaller than he thought it should be. He began to wonder if he should have ever asked. Dumbledore stepped close.

“Imagine for a moment that I could split you into three people. Not copies mind you, but three distinct parts of your very essence… your soul. One would stay with the body you now possess; the other two would be put away for storage you might say. If you, the part of you that inhabits the body you now have, were to die, one of the other parts would seek out another body to inhabit… to control. You, part of you, would live again.”

“Part of me?”

“The part that you hid away.” Again Dumbledore turned to the machine on the table. “The pile of rings that you see in front of me here, Harry, is larger than your was. Why?”

“You have more memories, more experiences.”

“Precisely! But a split soul would only take with it portions, shadows of the memories the original soul carried. Imagine, my boy, if you had to choose… what portions of your soul would you carve away? What part of you would remain? There are many choices. You could carve out the bad memories, perhaps the death of Greg Goyle, and go on believing that he had never died? But then, what would happen if you were to die, and the Horcrux storing only the bad memories was released? What sort of soured soul would remain?

“Then there are those wizards who believe that it is the tragedy of a wizard’s life that drives him forward? Such a wizard might keep the tragic memories at the ready erasing all joy and happiness, perhaps the day you first arrived at Hogwarts? .

“And it’s not just memories, Harry. It’s also the essence of who we are, what we have become, both good and evil, darkness and light. A wizard must decide how to separate each slice of joy and sorrow into tiny pieces, sprinkling a little bit of everything into each portion of your soul, splintering all you ever were into shards of fogged glass that can never really be made whole again. Tell me, Harry, what choice would you make?”

“I… I wouldn’t choose such a life, sir,” replied Harry, horrified of the thought.

“No, Harry, nor would I.” Dumbledore’s shoulders drooped slightly as if a large weight sat square upon them. “Thankfully, most wizards and witches would refuse to choose as well. Fewer still know that there is such a path one can take; and only the most powerful of those would be able to take it.” Suddenly looking quite tired, Dumbledore returned to the chair behind his desk and let out a deep sigh, closing his eyes. “The Horcrux is simply the storage vessel… it could be a rock, a cloak, a cup—”

“But Lucius—”

“Think, Harry,” Dumbledore interrupted. “It might even be a book…” There was a long pause. Harry could hear a number of the portraits on the wall mumbling to themselves. Clearly they were unhappy with the direction of the conversation, particularly Phineas.

“The diary?” Harry answered finally, his voice more certain than uncertain, and with each new question the uncertainty vanished. “Tom Riddle’s diary? That was a Horcrux? Voldemort used a Horcrux.”

“Lucius is cunning, ruthless and evil, but I have seen deeply into his eyes. He could not master the Horcrux even if he desired to.”

“But I saw Voldemort die,” said Harry. “There was nothing left.”

“Yes,” said Dumbledore, nodding. “You also saw Tom Riddle die in the Chamber of Secrets. I had always assumed he had divided himself in two. Who would risk fracturing themselves more than once?” Dumbledore chuckled to himself grimly. “Who indeed?” Then he turned back to Harry. “This news palls the horizon with a new darkness. Tell me, Harry, why you believe that someone is employing a Horcrux because, if someone is, Voldemort is most certainly behind it.”

Again, Harry found himself turning away. He didn’t want this news. He thought it had something to do with Lucius, with the war that would soon be upon them. He didn’t want to believe what he had felt all summer, what he had felt since returning to Hogwarts, that Voldemort was somehow still alive. But where? How? Harry, his eyes sincere, looked back at Dumbledore.

“Sir, I… I can’t. I gave my word.” Dumbledore’s eyes narrowed and then, quite naturally, he smiled back.

“Well, I suppose if you told me, then your promise to keep our conversation of the Horcrux private would mean nothing.”

“If it does exist,” Harry said anxiously, “we have to find it before it’s too late.”

“Harry,” said Dumbledore with grave concern, “such waters are filled with Grindylows and Inferi.” Harry looked at Dumbledore, confused.

“Inf—?”

“It’s far too dangerous for you to begin some journey to search the world for a Horcrux. Voldemort’s been to the edges of the globe and beyond; it could be anywhere. More likely, it has already been activated. No, I will speak with the members of the—”

“Sir, you can’t. I swore that I’d—”

“Relax, Harry, there will be no need to implicate your involvement. In fact, it’s more to our advantage to keep your name completely out of the picture.”

Dumbledore breathed in deeply and closed his eyes as he slowly let out his breath. “Yes, I think I understand. He didn’t just split himself in two. He may not have stopped at three. There’s no telling.” He walked over and stroked Fawkes’ feathers, clearly uncomfortable with what he was about to say. “I despise secrets, Harry, but if Voldemort has reanimated he may, once again, have agents working within the school walls. I’m sure Lucius does. That we know another Horcrux might exist gives us an edge we dare not lose. Do you have any idea—” The chimes of the great clock struck twice.

“Oh dear,” said Dumbledore. “I’ve made you late for class.” He paused, struggling for the briefest of moments about what to say next. “You best be on your way. We can continue this later. Tell Professor Barghouti it was all my fault and I’ll confer with him about it later.”

“But—”

“Go on, Harry,” interrupted Dumbledore.

Harry sighed, grabbed his books and started for class. Just as he was about to wave his hand across the large brass doorknob, Dumbledore stopped him.

“Harry, there are those that we can trust—long-time friends and soul mates. I understand that you may be compelled to seek assistance. If you must discuss this, keep the conversation within the walls of Gryffindor.” Harry paused for a moment, taking in the headmaster’s words.

“But that means—”

“You know what it means. Now, be on your way.”

As Harry walked down the corridors toward Defence Against the Dark Arts class, his mind was spinning with the new information and trying to digest everything that Dumbledore has shared with him. Within the walls of Gryffindor. Even though this year students were free to enter the Common Room of any house into which they were invited, Harry knew exactly what Dumbledore meant; he shouldn’t trust Gabriella. He pondered how he would keep Gabriella out of any discussion he might have with Ron or Hermione concerning the Horcrux. Maybe he was better off not saying anything to anybody. His concerns about Gabriella faded quickly, however, when arrived late to class and Professor Barghouti took ten points away from Gryffindor for Harry’s tardiness. He wouldn’t let Harry say a word about where he was or who he was with.

Normally, Harry arrived early to class so that he could sit in back. He like the majority of the class wanted to sit in as far away from Professor Barghouti as possible. For most students it was because their professor was a vampire; Harry simply didn’t like him. Every time Harry looked into his eyes he felt that he had to prove himself worthy; that he was somehow lacking when it came to the Votary. Now, having arrived to class late, Harry had to sit in front next to the only other students who would: Hermione and Gabriella. Harry took his seat next to Gabriella who offered him a supportive smile after he was chastised by Barghouti about time management.

“Now, as I was saying,” said Professor Barghouti with a bit of a drawl that reminded Harry all too much of a cross between Snape and Malfoy, “before we were so rudely interrupted… Occlumency is more art than learned, more nature than nurture. Nonetheless, even the most inept wizard,” he looked at Harry, “can learn to repel at least rudimentary attempts to penetrate the mind. Fortunately, most of you are sorely lacking as Legilimens.” Barghouti stared once again at Harry.

“I want each of you to find a partner and while one tries to penetrate his partner’s mental defences the other will use the techniques you described in last night’s homework assignment. For those of you who found the assignment to tedious and chose instead to practice Quidditch,” again he looked at Harry, “expect to spend the evening with Madame Pomfrey as she treats your headache.”

“But, Professor,” complained Hermione while raising her hand.

“Yes, Ms Granger?”

“What if people don’t want to have their minds read? It is, after all, a violation of personal space.”

“True, Ms. Granger; it is a violation. But then, so is the Killing Curse and we’ve learned to defend ourselves, as best we can, against such an attack. Would you prefer to have your thoughts read freely by Lucius Malfoy’s spies? Have them know your plans so that they can kill you or your loved ones when you least expect it?”

“But—”

“Pair with someone you trust,” he interrupted. “We’ll talk of this no more.”

Hermione’s lips pursed as she crossed her arms. Harry knew that look before. Still, he didn’t think that it was such a big deal. Instinctively, he paired with Gabriella. Ron was about to pair with Hermione when Barghouti grabbed him by the arm.

“I think not, Mr. Weasley. I understand you’re quite gifted in this area. Today, you can be my partner.” Barghouti offered a rare smile and both Ron and Harry expected to see his fangs, but all that appeared was a straight row of bright, pearly teeth.

Harry turned his desk about and sat opposite Gabriella. He had let her into his mind many times before. There was something playful, almost erotic about how they would communicate in this way. While she had become quite adept at curling herself around Harry’s thoughts, she never went deeper than Harry offered. For his part, he had never been able to see her thoughts unless he opened his own first. They always had to play in Harry’s mind, and he had never tried to push her away. She was smiling at him, a twinkle in her eyes, as she took his hand in hers. It wasn’t until their hands touched that his heart skipped. Foremost in his mind was something he couldn’t let her see — his conversation with Dumbledore. His hand pulled away; he couldn’t stop her from sensing his emotions, but he could stop her from reading his mind.

“Harry,” she asked, sensing immediately his emotional shift, “what’s wrong.”

“Erm… N-nothing,” he answered evasively. “I… I mean we already know you can get into my head. How ‘bout I try to get into yours first?” She said nothing, trying to put his words in alignment with the feelings she was sensing. “That’s okay, isn’t it?” he asked.

“Sure,” she said slowly. She reached out her hands again, but Harry placed his own in his lap.

“Erm… Let me give it a go without contact.”

“You know you can’t.”

“I can try,” he shot back with a bit of defiance. His voice was heated for no good reason, and he knew she’d sense that as well. If he stayed flustered, she’d be right; there would be no way for him to come close to reading her mind.

Around the class some students were having better success than others. Most attempts were fairly week and were being met by immediate repulsions. This resulted in more than a few students being knocked backwards out of their chairs. Ron was popping down on to the ground more times than you could shake a wand at and Barghouti was taking great satisfaction in being able to repel Ron’s advances. Just behind Harry, Hermione had teamed with Neville who, at the moment, was trying to penetrate her mind. Avoiding Gabriella’s eyes, Harry took a deep breath.

“Ready?” he asked.

“Go tiger,” said Gabriella with a smile.

Harry began to focus as best he could on Gabriella’s thoughts, but all he was sensing was the back of his eyelids. Squeezing his eyes closed more firmly, he heard another large thump that he took to be Ron’s arse once again striking the slate floor. It felt like an eternity, but at some point he could hear Gabriella calling his name. Not with her mouth, but with her mind. Instead of pushing him back, she was trying to coax him in. Even with the help he was finding it extremely difficult to push his way through the darkness to her thoughts. Not aware that he was now grabbing the edge of the desk with his hands, he redoubled, tripled his efforts to push his way in.

Suddenly, there was a jolt from behind. Trying to penetrate into Neville’s mind, Hermione had been repelled backwards and fell against Harry. She grabbed his shoulder and began to pull him backwards. Without thinking and still focused mentally to penetrate Gabriella with all his power, he reached out toward her. She grabbed his hands and when she did the scene in Harry’s mind changed. The sound was sucked out of the room and all was darkness. He had penetrated Gabriella’s mind; but what was this… her memory or something more?

The commotion of the class had disappeared and an eerie silence surrounded him. He heard first, a rushing of water, a drip-drip-drip, a rustle of leaves and then crying… Then the air filled with a musty, wet scent of pine and loam… The Forbidden Forest, he knew at once. Slowly, a brightness began to open up before him and he realized that the crying came from the baby he was holding in his arms. This was no memory; Harry was himself in this vision. He found that his robes were soaked. Both he and the young child, still less than a year old, looked as if they’d just come from the lake. The baby, glistening wet, was wrapped in dark folds of damp cloth, dripping on his boots. A hand touched his shoulder from behind.

“You’ll have to take care of him now, Harry.” It was Hermione, her voice seeped in sadness. “She’d want it that way.”

A rush of fear began to pour itself over Harry. He was cold, shivering, teeth chattering, the child in his arms continued to cry out for its mother, but Harry knew that it was a cry that would never be answered. He wanted to scream, to run, but when the child looked at him his heart warmed and his resolve strengthened. Slowly Harry’s finger brushed the child’s cheek.

“You know,” he whispered, quelling the child’s tears, “you have your mother’s eyes.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 11 - Notty Boy
~~~***~~~

Bass pounding, strings reverberating, the band was loud and Harry was not feeling all that well. He slumped back, sinking into the large, overstuffed chair and rubbed his temples. Why did he let Ron and Dean challenge him into a drinking duel upstairs? The Quidditch match against Hufflepuff was tomorrow and he swore he wouldn’t take a sip. But then Ron convinced him that they were two-hundred point favourites over their sister house and why not celebrate… a little? It was Halloween after all; their last at Hogwarts.

Feeling a bit drunk, he then had let Neville convince him to eat far too much during the feast. Why not? It was, after all, their last Halloween together. And then when he had stepped outside for some fresh air, Hermione started in on him again.

“I saw it. You saw it. By the way she’s acting, all three of us saw it, Harry.” Her voice was more sympathetic than chiding as she set her hand upon his shoulder. She had tried this approach once already; it hadn’t worked then either. Harry didn’t know why she wouldn’t just let it go. Okay, that was a lie – he did know. That was just what Hermione did. She wanted to solve a problem that she didn’t understand and not knowing the answer was driving her mad. Nonetheless, after her protestations, Harry had simply rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders.

“If she doesn’t want to talk about it, then—”

“You need to tell her what you saw,” Hermione had said, stepping in more closely to Harry, but his mind had grown foggier than ever. Instead of being refreshed by the night air, he was just cold and drunk. He shook his head, disagreeing with Hermione, unceremoniously pushing her gentle hand away, and had wandered, stumbling a bit, back into the dance, where he had found the nice cushy chair he now was melting into. Frustrated, Hermione had left his side before he entered the Great Hall, and he was thankful for that. Rubbing his temples, Harry considered the new song. Yes, the band was very loud, but everyone was having a great time.

The Great Hall was dark save for the spots that bathed the band in an eerie orange and purple light. Now and then a row of candles burning at the front of the stage would flash bright, sparkling into the air. It was the only time you could make much of anything out, except when a professor’s wand grew bright, lighting up two snogging students typically in a darkened corner covered by the fog that floated some three feet off the floor.

Harry was surprised to see Patrick dancing with a third year girl from Slytherin, if you could call his gyrations dancing. The lad was flailing his arms and pounding his feet; Harry expected to see him smiling, but Patrick didn’t seem too pleased with it. Ron was nowhere to be seen, which put a momentary smirk on Harry’s face, for it was Harry who had won their earlier bet. He smiled even more broadly, thinking that Ron would have to go three nights straight without wearing any socks. There was another bright flash and he caught sight of Gabriella passing by James Chang as she entered the Great Hall. Eyes blurred, Harry thought she had been carrying something, but couldn’t make out what it was before the room went dark again. His stomach churned; he did not feel well at all. A moment later she was at his side with a stone mug in her hand, steam boiling out the top and rolling down over her hand.

“You owe me for this!” she called out over the raging music. “Ginny told me what you did upstairs. You can’t do that, Harry. It’s too dangerous for you to be this vulnerable.” She handed the mug to Harry, who was nodding his head even though he couldn’t make out a single word she was saying, and squished in next to him on the oversized cushion. Harry took a tentative sip. Feeling her warmth next to his, Harry was sure she had been praising him for drinking Ron and Dean under the table. There was another flash of sparks and he noticed a few of the younger students including James and Patrick were leaving. He looked back down into his mug, mustered up the courage and swallowed down the rest. The effect was nearly immediate. The nausea passed and his vision began to clear. He was feeling better, but he was growing tired. When he set the mug down, Gabriella took him by the hands.

“You did a wonderful job helping Professor Flitwick with the decorations. The snake that kept swallowing first years was quite creative.”

“A Slytherin inspired me,” replied Harry, smiling back at her now that the ringing was leaving his ears. He glanced over at the snake that was over in the corner of the Great Hall. The few first year students that remained were still lining up to be swallowed by the large, greyish creature with fierce yellow eyes. Once swallowed, students were transported to the front of the stage where the band was playing. It was the only way the younger students could make their way to the front of the horde that crushed up against the stage. If they were lucky, they got to sing with the band. If they weren’t, the older students would toss them to the back of the crowd. This late, it became more a game than anything else with first years finding some sort of treat or concoction from Fred and George’s shop in their pockets by the time they were flung out of the crowd.

“I can’t believe you’re the only one who offered to help,” said Gabriella.

“Flitwick usually does it all himself. Er… last year… I made a promise, I guess.”

Harry was suddenly nervous, remembering where he was and what he had done last year at Halloween. At first he tried to look away, but he could feel Gabriella’s black eyes penetrating his feelings, so he turned to her and tried to change the subject to something he knew she wouldn’t want to talk about, especially not here.

“You know… Hermione thinks you should tell us what we saw.”

At best it was difficult to hear, and with the long pause and total lack of reaction on Gabriella’s part, Harry wondered if she’d even heard him. He tried to repeat himself.

“I said, Hermione thinks—”

“I know what Hermione thinks,” Gabriella snapped. “AND I know what YOU think.” She let go of Harry’s hands and crossed her arms and legs. Her eyes were not angry, they were sad, almost frightened.

“I didn’t mean to—”

“You just don’t understand, Harry.” Her jaw was set as they watched another first year go flying off the stage and be thrown to the back of the Great Hall, disappearing into the swirling fog that hung low on the floor. Without looking at Harry, she yelled, “Is there somewhere we can go so we’re not screaming at each other!?”

Harry was taken aback. He didn’t expect that she’d want to talk at all about it. His eyes darted toward the antechamber off the Great Hall. No one could get in there save professors; yet Professor Dumbledore had taken Harry there the year before and he remembered how to get in. Still he hesitated, but then his heart began to race a bit, thinking of the possibilities. It was dark; if they stayed close to the wall no one would see them slip behind the stage.

“Well?” Gabriella called out.

Harry took her head and nodded for her to follow. It wasn’t easy making it to the wall, but the crowd was focused on a particularly screeching song by the lead singer with bass notes that pounded the floor and tossed folks off their feet. Undetected, Gabriella and Harry slipped into the side room and the music instantly fell away. The antechamber was dimly lit by the warm glow of the fireplace and a handful of lit candles. Beyond that there wasn’t another stick of furniture in the place. Harry paused, thinking about the right spell, but before he put it together, Gabriella had conjured up a nice loveseat near the fireplace.

For the briefest of moments he thought to ask Gabriella about what he had seen in her mind, but being in this particular room on this particular night caused memories of Cho to rush over him. His emotions were mixed between excitement and concern. He hadn’t heard from Cho since school let out and when Gabriella offered to visit Cho at her home, Mrs. Chang said that she had gone to the States and wouldn’t be back for the rest of summer. The only student who had any contact with her at all was Anthony Goldstein who seemed to be her boyfriend now. He seemed to gloat that he knew something that Harry didn’t and he wouldn’t say a word about what Cho was up to; only that she was healthy and happy and that they’d be seeing a lot more of each other after he graduated.

“Has she answered your letter?” Harry whispered without thinking.

“Who?” asked Gabriella, a bit confused.

“Cho. Only Anthony seems to know anything, but he seems to be playing Prince Valiant by keeping mum. Have you heard anything?”

“You know I haven’t,” answered Gabriella. “Why do you—”

“I hope she hasn’t relapsed,” said Harry with concern.

To Gabriella, Harry’s sudden concern for Cho was odd, out of place. Why here? Why now? Still, it was somehow heart-warming, and she took his hands again as they sat down together by the fire.

“If something was wrong, we would have heard,” she said comfortingly. “If anything, Anthony’s filled with pride and happiness. I can sense it. He feels as if he’s doing something tremendously important. Is it so bad if he won’t share? Why?” She smiled devilishly. “Are you jealous?” Gabriella pinched Harry’s side and made him yelp.

Harry put on his best Bogart impersonation. “These eyes are only green for you, sweetheart.”

He leaned over and kissed Gabriella hard against the lips. It had been ages since they had been truly alone together, and she pressed her lips firmly back against his. Her arms wrapped around his back and she pulled him tight to her breast. His hands slipped to the warm, soft flesh of her belly. Thoughts of Centaur visions slipped past both their minds in favour of other, more enjoyable, activities.

Later, as Harry was tying up the lace of his trainer, he realized how artfully Gabriella had managed to keep him from asking her about the vision they’d seen. She kissed him one last time as he reached for the knob on the door that led back out to the Great Hall. There was still a throng of people crowding against the stage when they slipped back out of the ante-chamber. They chose not to dance and instead made their way out to the front of the castle. It was well past midnight, but there were still a few couples huddled together, watching the night sky. It was the most spectacular Halloween Harry could remember. The stars were brilliant, but then he saw it. His gaze froze and his smile fell.

“What? What’s the matter, Harry?” Gabriella placed her hand against the side of Harry’s face and then looked to the heavens above her shoulder. “What’s wrong? What do you see?”

“Ebyrth,” said Harry flatly. Gabriella leaned her head against his shoulder and patted his back, saying nothing. Harry sighed deeply. “I… I just don’t get it.”

“What?”

“I don’t see how it can grow much brighter. I see it during the day now.”

“It may be bright for you,” she answered quietly, “but most the rest of us can’t yet see it at all.”

“Where’s the war? I don’t know why things haven’t started already,” said Harry, but then a deep, scratchy voice broke the night’s stillness.

“What makes you think they haven’t?”

Both Gabriella and Harry jumped. It was Professor Barghouti. The moment the other couples saw him they began to scramble up the fronts steps of the castle, constantly casting backward glances to make sure he wasn’t following them, and occasionally reaching for their necks as if to reassure themselves that they hadn’t been bitten. Harry forced himself to regain his composure, but Gabriella had beaten him to it.

“Dakhil, where have you been?” she asked. “I’ve been looking for you all day?”

“I had a visit with a werewolf,” he answered. “Only fitting, don’t you think?” He laughed at his own joke and while Gabriella laughed as well, Harry was having none of it.

“Just got back then, did you? Wings a bit tired? Slurp up a few tourists along the way?”

“Harry!” Gabriella snapped.

“Yes, boy,” said Barghouti unimpressed, “as a matter of fact…,” he ran his tongue across his teeth, and this time a row of jagged, razor-sharp teeth appeared, “…I did.”

“Dakhil!” chided Gabriella. Barghouti merely chuckled again and the teeth became straight and pearly white.

“You may not see it, boy,” said Barghouti, tapping Harry across the face with his large hand, “but your war has begun. Does that make you feel better?” Harry’s eyes were incredulous.

“What do you mean?” he asked. “There hasn’t been an incident since the train.”

“The Centaurs of the Great Forest are not the only Centaurs in the world, boy. And, as much as you might like to believe that England is the centre of the world, it is but a very small part of it.” He looked at Gabriella. “It is as I had feared. The war has begun at home.”

“I thought you said you didn’t care about the war,” queried Harry. “Why the long face now?”

“Because, oh chosen one,” Barghouti sneered, “your friend Lucius Malfoy has enlisted the help of vampires and hence his choice of first strike – the Carpathians. Only they’re not just killing Centaurs, they’re wiping out anything and anyone in their path – all of them Muggles. A whole village was destroyed. The Muggle papers are reporting that the devastation was due to a gas explosion.” A burst of air popped between his lips. “I must return to Singehorn for a few days. I fear my old friend may move to intervene and repeat old mistakes. Professor Dumbledore has been informed and Professor Lupin will take care of my classes.”

“Wait! I’m going with you,” said Harry emphatically. Barghouti snickered and turned. “I said—”

“You wish to save the world, boy?” Barghouti snapped, spinning back upon Harry. He was clearly angry, as if Harry had started the whole thing; as if Harry had placed the comet in the heavens himself. “Why don’t you try saving this school first? Why don’t you try saving THEM?” His hand shot out toward the trees that surrounded the school; all was darkness. Harry squinted, which only made Barghouti all the more exasperated.

“Have you learned NOTHING?” he cried. There was a small squeal from one of the remaining students near the castle doors who quickly ran inside, slamming the door behind her. “Can you not SEE?”

Harry looked again into the darkness, squinting. Then he remembered. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Then, he reached out with his mind toward the forest. As Dakhil had shown him before, all living things began to appear before him – the grass, bushes, and trees all glowed brightly. He scanned further out and then saw it: a Centaur some ten yards into the trees, bow in hand. Motion to the right caught his vision again – another Centaur, another bow. Harry continued to scan. Every thirty to fifty yards another Centaur stood guard, watching over the school in the darkness. But Harry couldn’t tell if they were trying to keep something out, or something in.

“What are they doing?” he whispered.

“I am weary of teaching the ignorant,” Barghouti muttered. “The Centaurs can smell the darkness, fool. It is already upon you. You would be wise to find its source before it swallows you whole.” In a swirl he disappeared before Harry had a chance to say another word. The sound of flapping wings, faded to nothingness. What he noticed, after the dust settled, was that Gabriella’s fingers were digging into the soft flesh of his forearm.

“What—?” He looked over at her and saw pure fear on her face. She was mesmerized, staring intently at the darkness of the forest. Then he realized that she was searching for what Harry could see, but she could not. She was afraid of the Centaurs. She took a step behind Harry, almost as if using him as a shield against the darkness, and then pulled him toward that castle doors.

“Let’s go inside,” she breathed.

“They’re protecting us, Gab,” said Harry, trying to calm her nerves. “They won’t hurt you. They would never hurt you.” Her eyes never left the forest and, if anything, the fear that filled the black pools of her eyes slipped toward anger.

“Now.”

Harry sighed and nodded his head. “Alright,” he acquiesced, and followed her up the stairs, noting that she was ever sure to keep his body between her and the darkness of the forest. When the door finally closed behind them, he could see the weight lift from her shoulders and the relief spread across her face. She leaned back against the doors, placing her hands over her face. Harry stepped closer, touching her shoulder softly.

“Baby, what is it?” he asked. “What’s wrong?” The hands upon her face began to tremble and tears began to streak down her cheeks, one by one, but she would not cry, not out loud. Slowly, her eyes turned to the side to look at Harry. He’d seen that look when Gabriella lost her father, Grigor. It was a look of uncertainty, of fear, of death. Without saying a word, she shook her head and turned to walk away. She’d gone only a few paces before Harry called her to stop, but she wouldn’t listen. She past the stone column and began to head down to the dungeons, to the entrance of Slytherin. Her foot did not make the first step before Harry grabbed her by the arm and spun her around.

“Tell me what’s—” He never finished. She didn’t use her wand; she didn’t need to. Her free hand came up under Harry’s neck and he was out cold on the floor.

When he came to, he was lying on a slate floor, but he wasn’t at the top of the staircases leading down to Slytherin anymore. He was bound with ropes, unable to move, in some room, well lit by torches. The walls were stone, and along their top was a crown-moulding made of oak. Along its face, every few feet, was engraved a snake’s head.

“Slytherin,” Harry hissed.

“Well done, Potty.” The voice came from behind and Harry had to roll over to see who he knew to be there.

“Hello, Teddy,” Harry said, knowing Nott hated the name. Harry was not surprised to find Crabbe at Nott’s side. “Taken to kidnapping now? A step up from watching murder I suppose.”

“Just gathering road-kill, Potty,” Nott retorted. “A little bird told me you’d been drinking… a bit too much. Imagine my surprise when I found you passed out on the stairs to Slytherin.” Nott stepped closer. “Were you trying to find your true love?” Harry said nothing. “I can find you a mirror if you’d like.”

“I see you found yours,” Harry smirked, tossing his head in Crabbe’s direction. Crabbe took more offence than Nott and kicked Harry in the side. The blow was hard and a burst of air shot from Harry’s mouth.

“Why don’t you untie me Crabbe, and then let’s see how brave you are?” Harry’s eyes were on fire. Fearful, Crabbe stepped backward.

“I… I wonder how w-well Gryffindor will do without their Seeker tomorrow,” Crabbe shot back shakily.

“So that’s it, is it?” asked Harry.

“I wonder,” added Nott, “what the Wizarding world will do without its hero. How ever will we get on… once you’re dead?” Harry’s eyes narrowed on Nott. Crabbe’s eyes darted nervously toward Nott.

“Dead?” he muttered under his breath. Evidently, he was not in on Nott’s full plans.

“That’s a bit bold for you, Teddy, isn’t it?”

“Did you know?” asked Nott, ignoring Harry’s question and Crabbe’s fear. “Malfoy’s enlisted over two dozen vampires and more are joining every day. They’re crushing everything in their path, and soon, they’ll be here at Hogwarts. Soon, they’ll be coming for you, and they don’t die, Potter.”

“Oh, they die, Teddy. I’ve seen them die. Didn’t you know? I was attacked by them this summer. Turns out that a well placed Centaur arrow… thwup… and they die.” Harry chuckled deliberately. “Funny thing, vampires. When they’re pierced, their vampire shell sheds away and for a minute they’re who they once were, the madness gone.” Harry looked up at the green ceiling. “I like to think that in that moment, goodness had a chance to rush in and fill their souls once more. They have a chance to be saved.”

“Rubbish,” shot Nott, believing more than disbelieving.

“Yes,” said Harry still looking upward. “Vampires, at least, have a second chance.” He turned to face Nott. “You on the other hand… I suppose you’ll rot for all eternity.” Crabbe’s face was white, but Nott’s was flushed with anger and frustration. It was his turn to kick Harry hard in the gut. It was all Harry could do not to vomit.

“Don’t worry, Potterkins. You won’t die tonight. But you will lose to Hufflepuff in tomorrow’s—”

“Bloody hell! I knew it!”

A flash of red hair told Harry at once who had just entered the room. Ron was breathing hard, his wand drawn, but his hand was shaking noticeably, not because he was scared or winded, but because he’d had too much to drink. Harry could make out a flash of green robes behind him; he assumed it was Gabriella which, with Ron in his present condition, he was thankful for. Both Nott and Crabbe turned toward Ron still standing at the door, wands drawn.

“How’d you find this place, Weasley?” spat Nott.

“A little bird told him,” said the voice behind Ron. It wasn’t Gabriella, it was James Chang; Harry’s apprehension began to grow once more. There wasn’t much of a chance if Ron couldn’t pull it together… and quickly. The second year who had freely chosen to be in Slytherin this semester stepped in front of Ron with his wand drawn.

“Chang?” Nott asked, almost laughing. “You little—”

“Obliviate!” chanted James, casting a spell well beyond his years. A burst of orange light erupted from his wand throwing both Nott and Crabbe against the wall, knocking them unconscious, and wiping their minds of recent memories. The strength of the Obliviate spell determined how much memory was removed. Normally, a second year wouldn’t even be able to cast the spell, but Harry was sure that the effect would be lasting.

Ron released Harry from his ties while James bound his two house brothers. “They’ll be the ones missing the match tomorrow,” he whispered with a smile pursing his lips.

Rising to his feet, Harry felt a little light-headed, the nausea once again returning, and had to lean on Ron for support. He looked over at James, wanting to thank him for his help, but more curious about the spell.

“James,” he asked, “how did you—” He was struck from behind.

“Harry!”

It was Gabriella, followed closely be Patrick. She wrapped him in her arms.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sooo sorry.” She kissed his neck and cheek, and then looked into his eyes. “Can you forgive me?” Harry looked over at the two Slytherins on the floor and back at James.

“Let’s go,” he said, a cool sweat beading on his forehead; the potion Gabriella had given him earlier was obviously beginning to wear off. “This place gives me the creeps.”

They made their way up a narrow row of stone steps that opened out on the Slytherin common room. Harry hadn’t been here since he was a first year. James and Patrick nonchalantly split away from the group to talk to some other second years that had just returned from the evening’s party while Gabriella walked Harry and Ron out. The three began their trek up to the Gryffindor tower. By the time they made it to the tower, Harry was feeling much better and it was Ron that was leaning on Harry and Gabriella.

“I hope James blasted Nott’s memory to the Stone Age,” said Ron.

“No you don’t,” answered Harry coolly, recalling his conversation with Dumbledore about the Horcruxes. “Two years ago I think he might have taken this chance to kill me, just to prove himself to his father and the other Death Eaters. Tonight, he was just a bag full of hot air. He’s learned something since then, since his father died.” Harry paused. “Compassion I think.”

“Oh, p-lease!” cried Ron. “Nott? Compasshhhionate? James said he was goin’ to turn you over to them… to the Death Eaters. He might not have delivered the blow, Harry, but he still would have been dancin’ on your grave.”

“James told you that?” asked Gabriella. “Patrick told me that they were going to throw him in the lake.”

“If they had tried, they wouldn’t have gotten very far,” said Harry calmly.

“What makes you say that?” asked Ron, just as the reached the portrait of the Fat Lady.

“Centaurs,” answered Harry, he looked at Gabriella. “At night, they’ve got the castle surrounded.”

“Cool,” said Ron with a smile, rocking a bit on his own two legs. Harry didn’t think it would take much to knock him over. “I’d like to see Nott with an arrow up his arse.” Gabriella tried to muster a smile, but couldn’t.

“Ron,” she said, “you go on in. I need to speak with Harry alone for a moment.” Ron grinned.

“Sure,” he said. “I get it.” He turned toward the paining. “Err… Erm….” He turned back to Harry. “P-Password, mate?”

“Toffee drops,” said Harry and the painting swung open and Ron stumbled through. Before it shut, he looked back at the two, pointing his finger in no particular direction and shook it. “But not too long, P-Potter. It’sss game night!”

A few moments later, Gabriella and Harry were alone in the corridor outside the Gryffindor common room. Gabriella walked him over to a stone bench and the two sat down. Even though the walls and floor were now spotless, he never liked sitting here, remembering the Dementors that had nearly killed Professor McGonagall the year before. There was a sense of death in the air and for a second Harry felt a cool rush swim up his spine, whispering death’s name. Gabriella held his hand, but would not hold his gaze. Instead, she watched their fingers intertwined and mingling.

“Mama has the sight,” she began. “You know that, Harry. Me… I can only sense the emotions of others. I can’t see the doors and windows that open on to the other planes.”

“But—”

“Shhhh.” She put one hand gently across his lips. “Since I was young, before I ever went to Al Bsahri, I have had one sight. Sometimes years would pass before it would return, the same scene, over and over. Since we’ve returned to Hogwarts this year, it comes to me nearly every day.” She leaned her head against Harry’s shoulder. “Yesterday, I asked Mama what happened when you and Hermione plunged into the scene that has been playing in my mind without you for so many years.” There was a long pause, and Harry could hear laughter coming from way down the staircases below; it died away.

“And?” he asked, nudging Gabriella along.

“A vision from another plane is like a finely cut jewel, a diamond with many facets. One can look in and see different images from all angles. You and Hermione became part of my vision and somehow shared it from your own perspectives. We all saw the same thing, but all differently. And what we each saw can mean different things.”

“Then why don’t you want to—”

“No vision is perfect, Harry; and, like time-turners, there are also rules about looking into the future. Most would make changes based on the imperfect knowledge they see, often changes that lead to more devastating outcomes. Only the best, those like Mama, have any hope of moving the sands of time to shape the outcome of the other planes. Others go mad trying to change what n-never was to c-come.” She began to tremble as she delivered the last words and in the silence that followed Harry felt a tear drop onto his forearm. He put his arm around her and held her tight.

“Gabriella,” he asked, “what is it? You need to lift this weight from off your soul. I swear I won’t do anything to change the future.” Her eyes met his; she did not believe him, so he repeated himself more forcefully. “I swear on my parents that I won’t do anything to change the future. Please, tell me what you saw.” Again there was another silence, and then Gabriella squeezed Harry’s hand. Finally, not looking into Harry’s eyes, she began to whisper.

“It begins with a flash of light, a fire erupting from a glistening emerald lake. We are surrounded by them. There is a scream and then silence. And then there is me… face down in the tall grass. I… I am dead, Harry. Buried deep in my back is the long wooden arrow of a Centaur.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 12 – Blind Fortune
~~~***~~~

The air was warm for fall, yet the sky was a heavy grey. Flying with the charms of his Caduceus P2 off, Harry could feel the wetness in the air. He knew it would rain soon and that, more than anything else, focused his energies on finding the Snitch. It had been hard concentrating. Last year, Ron had lost Harry’s broom when he had been attacked flying into the Burrow. So this year he was riding the latest model of Caduceus, the new P2, P for Potter. Cleansweep was paying him a small fortune to use his name for their new broom, monies that Harry was using to assist the families who had lost loved ones in the war. That didn’t seem to matter much. Even his own house was ribbing him for the branding of his name and it didn’t help that smack in the middle of the visitors stand was a ten foot by twenty foot crystalline portrait of Harry flying the new broom and waving at the crowd. Every so often words would appear: The Caduceus P2. So fast it’ll blow the competition away. It was a play on the story run by the Daily Prophet about Harry’s defeat of Voldemort. The story said that the spell Harry cast was so powerful, not only did it destroy Voldemort, but it nearly took the Ministry down with it. Even now, the Ministry was digging out and repairing the gaping fall into nothingness that remained after the floor of the death chamber fell away, swallowing whole the Curtain of Phenolem and the dais upon which it stood. Harry glanced again at the huge sheet of crystal, his own image smiling back at him and waiving, and shook his head to clear his thoughts.

He’d been distracted all day and most folks thought it had to do with first game jitters. He was Gryffindor’s Quidditch Captain this year and nearly everyone believed it a folly decision. Since the attack on the train, the whole school knew that he was going to be fighting the Dementors when the war with the Centaurs came. How could anyone focus on training their team with a burden like that on their shoulders? Indeed, even Professor McGonagall thought that Ron Weasley might make the better choice; she told Harry so.

“If I can’t have your mind on the game, you’re no use to the team, Mr. Potter,” she had said in confidence. “Ron Weasley bleeds Quidditch and his mind is sharp when it comes to analyzing the other teams’ weaknesses.” Harry had nodded and had turned to leave her office when she stopped him. “But no one commands loyalty like you, Harry. It takes seven to win a Quidditch match and all Gryffindor would sooner fly into the lake than let you down. The question is — can you keep from letting all Gryffindor down?”

“No, ma’am. I mean yes ma’am,” Harry sputtered. “I mean…” He sighed. “I won’t lie, professor. Ron’s the better strategist, and there’s no one better in northern Britain when it comes to keeping a Quaffle from skewering the rings. Dennis Creevey is the fastest in all Hogwarts and is starting to come up with plays I could never dream of. Jack Sloper’s put on thirty pounds since last year and he can knock a fairy off a fencepost at fifty meters. Slytherin was the only team that had a prayer to beat us, but with Malfoy gone they don’t have a chance. The team doesn’t need me to lead them ma’am. Anyone can guide us to the cup.” McGonagall looked at Harry over the top of her glasses.

“Is that so?” she had asked. “Well then, Mr. Potter, I suppose you’ll do then. I want the team roster, to include the player replacing Katie at Chaser, and the weekly practice schedule by tomorrow morning. And, to keep you motivated since this will be such an easy year, let’s say that if we don’t win every game by more than one-hundred fifty points, you’ll be back in my office on Sundays for detention.”

“But—”

“Three hours, each week. Good-day, Mr. Potter.”

Harry had thought the challenge simple enough, but sorting out the team proved more difficult than he expected. They couldn’t find a good Chaser and when Jimmy Peakes tried out for Beater he played ferociously, unseating Hooper from the team. Finally, Harry selected Demelza Robins as Chaser, if for no other reason than she was particularly good at dodging Bludgers. The shuffle caused a lot of growing pains and hurt feelings, but after three weeks of practice Harry was confident once again that the team could not be defeated.

Now, flying high over the pitch, Harry wasn’t so sure. Trying to ignore his own face, he glanced at the scoreboard to find Gryffindor up by forty which, as far as Harry was concerned, was pathetic. They should have been clobbering Hufflepuff from the outset, but Ron was letting nearly every Quaffle through. Having heard that the coach of the Magpies, Bernard Bennegin, was coming specifically to scout Ron’s performance he was a nervous wreck. To make matters worse he was suffering from a hangover and was having trouble seeing the Quaffle, let alone stopping it. The only good news was that Jimmy and Jack were keeping the Bludgers off the team while Dennis and Demelza were scoring nearly at will. Ginny could have been too, but she was so busy yelling at Ron for being such a git she hadn’t scored a single goal.

Harry scanned the skies once more, searching for the Snitch. The Hufflepuff Seeker, Summerby, had seen it about an hour earlier. Harry had been well out of position, and if it hadn’t been for a well placed Bludger by Sloper, Gryffindor would have lost. It was then Harry turned off the charms of his broom, hoping that he might better sense the Snitch’s location. Suddenly, the yellow side of the pitch erupted in cheers; Hufflepuff had scored. Harry forced himself not to look at the scoreboard. He had to remain alert, but before you could say snicklfritz the crowd erupted again – another score for Hufflepuff. Finally, Harry called timeout.

The team gathered over by Ron whose ears were flaming red with embarrassment. Ginny began to tear into her brother.

“So help me, Ron!” she yelled, “The next Quaffle that goes through one of those rings is going to find its way up your—”

“Hang on!” Harry interrupted. “We’re not here to fight with each other; we’re here to find a way to win.”

“You could be looking for the Snitch!” snapped Ginny as she pulled out her wand. “So help me, if either of you two drink on a game night again, I’m going to hex you both back into Professor Trelawney’s class!”

“You think you can threaten me?” yelled Ron at his sister as he pulled his own wand, however shaky his hand was.

“Stop it!” yelled Dennis above the fray. With a no-nonsense voice that commanded attention, Dennis Creevey, who was still the smallest on the team, began to point out what needed to be done.

“Ron, they’re constantly feinting right and shooting left. If you move higher in the air and hold position just a little longer, you’ll stop them. Ginny, we could use a little more of your attention on the Hufflepuff side of the field. Dem, they’re starting to catch on to Harry’s first few plays.” His eyes dotted to Harry who nodded in agreement. “I think we should move on to what he was showing us last weekend.”

“But we’ve only flown that three or four times,” argued Demelza.

“Dennis is right,” countered Ginny. “At the worst we’ll have given them a new look. At the best we’ll score three or four before they catch on.”

“Jack, Jimmy, you guys have been flawless. Just keep the Bludgers off our backs and we’ll score for sure.” Then Dennis looked at Harry. “Harry, I don’t blame you if you tell me to sod off, but…”

“Go on,” said Harry.

“Well, it seems like you’ve been day dreaming up there, Harry. I know there are a thousand things you should be thinking about besides Quidditch, but we’re gonna need the Snitch today, and if Summerby sees it again we’ve lost. Are you with us?”

Harry had to smile at the new general on the field. “Our own little Napoleon,” he thought. Madame Hooch blew the whistle for play to resume. Hufflepuff broke their scrum and began to fly into position. Harry looked down on the pitch below. There was nothing he loved more in the world than flying.

“I’m with you,” he said with confidence. “Summerby won’t have a chance. I swear.” Harry shot into position just to the west and a little below Summerby. If anything, the sky was growing darker and the air colder, but he resisted the temptation to engage the charms of his broom.

Dennis had been right. Over the next forty minutes or so, Ron had blocked six straight Hufflepuff attempts while the Gryffindor Chasers had scored four times. Still, they would need the Snitch. He flew over by the Slytherin stands and heard a handful of hisses, and one cheer.

Harry could think of few Hogwarts women besides Gabriella Darbinyan able to withstand the taunts and jeers of Slytherin for being Harry’s girlfriend. Of course, there were no taunts or jeers, because all of Slytherin was deathly afraid of Gabriella. Perhaps because she came from a school known for its dark magic, but more because any comment usually meant the commenter had a one-way ticket to the hospital wing. Harry looked down and saw her smiling up at him.

“Go, Harry!” she cried. Harry waved back, smiling and giving her a thumbs-up. “NO! GO!” she yelled, pointing her finger. The gesture and the gasp of the crowd told him at once that the Snitch had been seen. He spun to see Summerby plunging toward the turf at the north end of the pitch. Below him was a glint of gold, racing low and heading toward the visitors’ stands. Summerby was ahead by at least fifty meters when Harry began to charge.

“You bloody idiot!” Harry cursed at himself as he clenched his teeth. “You flobberworm sucking idiot!” The wind roared furiously at his face. The Snitch was flying low to the turf and Harry could see that it would have to turn or rise once it hit the stands on the opposite side of the pitch. Even as good a flyer as Summerby was, he would not reach the Snitch until it hit the wall. Harry leaned forward, accelerating his broom. “It will rise,” Harry whispered to himself, focusing wholly on the gold globe that was coming closer. “It will rise.” He chose to fly the straight line to intercept the Snitch where he thought it would be. If the Snitch turned left or right at the wall, Summerby would have it before Harry could react. If the Snitch flew up… Harry groaned. At this speed it was still impossible. Harry poured all his energy into making his broom accelerate. The tails of his robes began to tatter in the vicious wind and his goggles were pressing hard against his face. The pressure tunnelled his vision, but he didn’t care. He could still see the golden glint growing larger before him. “Faster! Damn it! Faster!”

The pitch below him was a haze; the stands faded to dark and all that Harry could see was the golden Snitch and the trail of yellow that followed it -- the trail of yellow that Harry was passing. Faster! A sheet of purple — the visitors’ stands. The golden Snitch flying upward. Yes!
Harry’s fingers pressed firmly against the winged Snitch when he heard the screams of terror. They conflicted with his own sense of joy.

“We won!” thought Harry, feeling the hard metal in his clutches. “Why would anyone be—?”
Then everything went violently red… just before he lost consciousness.

Waking, and still feeling a bit groggy, the first thing Harry recognized was the sound of plastic being unwrapped, torn and then crumpled. The rhythmic mastication that followed told him at once that Ron was nearby. Harry smiled. He tried to open his eyes, but couldn’t. He leaned to his right side and felt a dull ached that ran up the left half of his body. With his right hand he felt the sheets about his chest, the pillow behind his head, the bandages that wrapped his face.

“He’s awake,” whispered Gabriella out of the darkness. A warm touch took his hand. “Hi, sweetie,” she said softly. “How are you feeling?”

“Hey, mate,” Ron added before Harry could answer. “Erm.. don’t worry; Madame Pomfrey will have you back to new in… in no time.” The voice had a bit of a tremor in it and it wasn’t because a chocolate frog found its way down the wrong pipe.

“That’s right,” added Hermione with a stiff and unnatural tone. And then voices, dozens of voices it seemed to Harry, added their agreement.

“You’ll be fine, Harry.” “Don’t worry, Harry.” “Flyin’ in no time, you’ll see!” “Shut up, stupid.” “Hey, I didn’t mean—”

“Alright… Alright…” echoed the voice of Madame Pomfrey. “You’ve seen him move, now be off, all of you.”

A number of folks touched Harry’s good arm. He felt of few kisses against his cheek. He heard a few cheery Good-byes and Later, mates, but he also heard a few sniffs and sobs. The door swung closed with a deep thunk.

“I’m still here,” whispered Gabriella and she took his hand once more. With his sore arm Harry reached up to pry off the bandages that wrapped about his face, just to have a peak.

“No you don’t, Mr. Potter!” cried Madame Pomfrey. She grabbed his arm and gently pulled it down. “The bandages are to remain on for the next three weeks if you wish to have any hope of seeing again.”

Okay. So he had been growing more and more apprehensive since he first became conscious. And the bandages were starting to freak him out… just a bit. Something in the back of his mind had said the word, but he had pushed it back down. Only problem was… the dark corners of Harry’s mind were shouting now.

“See again?” he asked. “What the hell does that mean? I… I’m blind?” he asked weakly. Madame Pomfrey let out a tremendous sigh.

“Oh, dear,” she said quietly, “I didn’t mean for it to come out that way.” Gabriella’s hand tightened about Harry’s and he felt her shudder.

“It was the crystal portrait, Harry,” Gabriella said sadly. “You slammed right through it, sending splinters of glass everywhere. They shattered your goggles and your… your…”

“Your eyes were shredded, Mr. Potter,” cut in Madame Pomfrey. “I wish I could say I’ve seen worse, but I haven’t. I had Healer Sventstein from St. Mungo’s perform the operation. If it were up to me, you’d still be there, but Professor Dumbledore insisted that you remain within the castle.”

“You’ve b-been out for two days, Harry,” said Gabriella, another shudder of sadness cracked her voice. Harry reached up and touched the bandages wrapping his face.

“Mr. Potter,” snapped Madame Pomfrey. “If you keep touching your wraps you’ll assuredly disturb their charms! I will not have you go blind! Do you hear me! If you keep moving your arms I will immobilize them.” Her voice was husky. She’d been crying; Harry could tell. The sadness in the room was almost overwhelming. Finally, he turned his head in the direction of Gabriella.

“Did we win?” he asked.

“What?” she replied, still dazed.

“Did we win?” he repeated. “I did catch the Snitch. Hooch saw that, didn’t she? We did win, didn’t we?”

“Harry, how can you—”

“RON!” Harry screamed. In a flash the door burst open.

“What? What is it, Harry?” Ron called nervously.

“Did we win?” Harry asked. Without Harry saying another word, Ron began an exposition that was nearly poetic. At least… he thought it was.

“Blimey, Harry,” he began, “it was amazing. There you two were, screaming across the pitch to the north. Everyone was standing, even Professor Snape. Although, who he was cheering for, I don’t know. But he was screaming just the same. Summerby was flying low to the ground, his robes flicking up dried grass and tossing it into the air. The blowing dust made it look as if his broom was on fire.

“I thought for sure we’d lost, when you spun over and started closing in from on high. The Snitch was flying just to my right and I could have sworn there were sparks flying out the tail of your broom. It was glowing red. Heading toward the stands, it was clear you were going to pass Summerby, but you were too high; everyone could see that. But it didn’t matter. No one has ever seen someone fly that fast at Hogwarts… ever! Crimey, maybe in all Britain!

“When you passed Summerby, I thought you’d dive to avoid the stands, to grab the Snitch that was still screaming low to the ground. But you didn’t; you stayed straight on. When the Snitch darted up toward you…” Ron sighed in ecstasy. “It was a miracle, mate. Like you were calling out to it and it obeyed. Pop! Right into your mitt.” There was a long pause. “It’s when everyone’s eyes popped up with the Snitch we saw what was going to happen. That’s when the screams began.” Ron walked over next to Harry’s bed. “Summerby smashed into the supports down low. Broke his leg and lost a couple teeth. He got out of the hospital yesterday. You… you…” Ron swallowed hard.

“You held on, mate. Yeah, we won, alright.” Ron patted Harry on the chest. “Best damn Seeker in all Britain.”

“You still think Krum’s better then, do you?” asked Harry with a smile. Ron sat back down next to Gabriella.

“Well, now,” Ron answered, “I know you’ve had your fair share, Harry, but I still think Victor can handle a shot to the head with a Bludger better than you.”

“That’s because there’s nothing up there to hurt,” added Gabriella.

“Okay, okay you three,” said Madame Pomfrey. “Mr. Potter needs his rest.” She shuffled the two friends outside the room, but not until Gabriella kissed Harry on the lips.

“I love you,” she whispered into his ear. “Whatever happens, I love you.”

When the door closed, Madame Pomfrey walked over to Harry’s bed. He was wondering if he’d ever look into the dark pools of Gabriella’s eyes once again. He was scared.

“Harry,” she said softly. “We’ll do everything possible, but you need to give them time to heal. The wraps will stay on for at least three weeks. Your lids will be sealed longer still. Even when you can open your eyes, Harry, I don’t suspect you’ll see more than shades of light and dark. Once we know what you can and can’t see, Healer Sventstein can begin making the proper corrections. You’ll have to be patient, my dear, very patient.”

He could hear her folding some papers, putting trash away he thought, and then she stepped over to the side of the room and poured something into a glass or goblet.

“I need you to drink this,” she said, helping him sit up and wrap his hands around the cup. He winced when she held his left arm. “Yes, the whole left side of your body was pretty much hamburger meat. We’ve summoned out all the glass shards we can. There may be a few that aren’t responding. I’ll work on that more tomorrow.” She sounded tired, so Harry decided not to argue about the drink and swallowed it down in one long draught. The pain running down his side ebbed away and the apprehension about his vision faded. Soon he was asleep.

When Harry woke, he found himself confused and disoriented. He couldn’t understand why he couldn’t see and he began to flail around, rising out of bed, the stone floor cold beneath his bare feet. He was about to reach up to his face when a hand took him by the arm. At first he was startled, but the voice settled him at once.

“Easy there, flyboy.” It was Sirius. “Bad dream?”

“Sirius?” Harry asked to the darkness, reaching out and touching Sirius’ face.

“Afraid so,” Harry’s godfather responded. “I was in the area; thought I’d stop in.” Harry began to move forward.

“Hold on! Hold on!” Sirius stopped Harry from running into the candles hovering at his bedside. “Let’s er… let’s get you back in bed.” Sirius helped Harry climb into bed and pulled the sheets back over him. “There, that’s better.” He patted Harry’s good leg and remained standing at his bedside.

“What time is it?” Harry asked.

“Not quite three in the morning.”

“Three in the morning?” He paused, rising up on his elbows and looking about the room. “Anyone else here?”

“Just you and me little brother. How are you feeling?”

“Blind,” Harry answered flatly, dropping back against his pillow.

“Yeah,” agreed Sirius smartly. “That’s what I hear.” Harry could hear Sirius sink back into his chair and sigh. “I have to admit, Harry, that was the fastest I’ve ever seen a broom fly, and I’ve seen a few Quidditch matches in my day. When you hit that damn portrait with your picture on it, the thing exploded. It was like a giant crystal firework. And that you still held onto the Snitch… well, it’s been all over the papers. Most figure you broke the record, but the folks from Cleansweep want you to come out and perform a fly-off against Comet — twenty thousand galleons to the winner’s charity.” Harry turned on his side, his back toward Sirius.

“Like that’s ever going to happen,” he muttered.

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean,” Harry answered curtly. “If they’ve told anybody, they’ve told you. I’m blind and I’m… I’m going to stay blind.”

“That’s not true, Harry,” began Sirius. “Madame Pomfrey—” Harry spun and faced Sirius. Sirius didn’t need to see Harry’s eyes to know the look he was getting right now. He sighed. “Ten percent is not zero percent,” he whispered.

“Yeah, right,” Harry replied and dropped back down again. Likewise, Sirius sunk back into his chair, crossing his arms and searching for what to say. There wasn’t much he could say. Harry, after all, was correct. Once a witch or wizard lost their eyes there was often little that could be done—eyes simply hold too much magic. Healers could re-grow many things, but the eyes… the eyes, particularly of a powerful witch or wizard, were nearly impossible to repair. Sirius let out a low groan as the silence stretched between them. After that, the flicker of candlelight was the only noise that accompanied their breathing. At last, it was Sirius who began again, not sure if Harry was even still awake. His voice was unsteady, recalling a part of his past he had never shared with Harry.

“When I… when I was in Azkaban, there was nothing to see but darkness, nothing to smell but the stench of death, nothing to hear but the cries of lament, nothing to taste but the remnants of tears that had long since died away, and the only thing one felt was the cold breath of despair. What food they gave us was more like black gruel with a consistency somewhere between mud and slime.” Sirius chuckled grimly to himself. “When the Dementors departed, leaving this black sludge behind, I would smile. It was the only joy I had, sensing their departure, knowing that however awful the food was, the emptiness that screamed from my belly would soon be staved for another day. That crusty bowl of crap and my pure hatred for Peter Pettigrew were all that kept me alive.

“I never dreamed that one day…” Sirius’ voice halted and he had to swallow to gather himself. “That one day… the son of my dearest friend would parlay my ten-percent of nothing and save me… not from the Dementors of Azkaban… not from the Curtain of Phenolem, but… from myself. I was used up inside, Harry; a shell of a wizard and less a man. You’ve shown me, even now as darkness rushes in toward us, how to live again… how to love again. I’m amazed that today, I once again walk the halls of Hogwarts—a free man, not because I’m free of the horrors of Azkaban, but because I’m free of the darkness and hatred that once consumed my soul. Because of you, I’m free to taste the delicious fruits of life once again.”

“Erm, surely you’re not referring to your cooking?” asked Harry, turning back to face Sirius. Because I think you could start your own restaurant for Black sludge.”

“If I could smack you, I would,” shot Sirius, kicking the post of Harry’s bed with his foot, a tear sliding down the side of his face.

“Bring it on, old man!” called Harry, rising up in bed and brandishing two fists that were swinging wildly in the air—something akin to a boxer’s position. “I can take you with both eyes tied behind my back!” Harry was smiling as Sirius rose to his feet. The older wizard wiped his eyes and then, gently, took Harry’s hands in his own.

“You just have to believe that it’ll get better, Harry. It will. I know it will.” The smile on Harry’s face drooped.

“Sirius, if I can’t see, I can’t battle… I can’t fly… I can’t….” Harry shook his head and then looked toward where he knew Sirius to be. “So many people are depending on me. I can’t let them down. I can’t—”

“Enough already! Stop telling me what you can’t do! I don’t want to hear it anymore!” This time Sirius’ voice was heated. “I still wake in the middle of the night grasping for my sheets, fearing that it has all been a dream, wondering if in the nothingness of night I’m really still trapped behind the Curtain of Phenolem. One day the nightmares will end; I know so, because I believe they will. Until they do, I will go to sleep at night, searching for those dreams that will carry me through till morning.

“Harry, you need to believe that one day you will see again.”

“Yeah, but—”

“And more than that,” Sirius interrupted, “until the day comes when your vision returns, you’ll have to find a way to see through your blindness.” Harry’s immediate reaction was to let a burst of air push through his lips in scoffing dismissal of Sirius’ words. He began to fall back into his pillow when he stopped himself and held fast to Sirius’ hand. To see through blindness? Might it still be possible?

Not sure what to expect, Harry reached out with his mind as Dakhil had shown him — to see without seeing. Why hadn’t he thought of it before? Almost immediately he could recognize the brightness of Sirius before him. It wasn’t an image so much as an aura of light that shown bright. Harry leaned forward in his bed. Reaching out further he began to take in the dim glow of the organic life that clung to the walls, ceiling and floor. Without saying a word he let go of Sirius’ hand and rose out of bed.

“Harry, I don’t think—” But Harry held up his hand and his godfather simply watched.

What Harry was ‘seeing’ wasn’t so much an image as an imprint of all that was around him. It would take time to decipher the shapes, hues and intensities. There was a glow coming toward them. Harry pointed at the door.

“Someone’s coming,” he said. Sirius spun, confused. An instant later, Madame Pomfrey walked through the door.

“Harry Potter!” she cried. “Get back in bed this instant!” Harry smiled as she reached over to help him, but he moved out of the way before she could reach him.

“I should have known it was you by your colour,” he said happily. “Bright blue — the colour of a healer’s spell.” He looked back at his godfather. “Sirius, you’re a bit orange right now. You were brighter a minute ago. What’s wrong?”

“My god,” whispered Sirius. “You can see.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 13 – The New Addition
~~~***~~~

“The stream. The stream! Do you see the stream?”

“Ye… yes, Ro… Ronan. I… I see… the bloody… stream.”

“Jump!”

Ronan didn’t need to tell him. Harry had already started the leap.

It had been bitterly cold all day, but with all the running Harry was beginning to regret his decision to wear clothes. They were pushing the limits between physical and magical exertion and Harry’s feet, well clad in a pair of trainers, were on fire. The light jacket and pants he was wearing were suffocating and felt like they weighed a thousand pounds.

Once again he was training with Shahan and Felspar. Over the last few days, the three had been put though their paces by Ronan, Firenze and others — running, lifting, and shooting arrows from one side of the Forbidden Forest to the other. Harry was exhausted — a feeling he was beginning to enjoy. If anything, he preferred to be out in nature.

Still blind, he was developing his limited ability to reach out and sense the aura of life around him. While he could make impressions about where things were at Hogwarts, occasionally very clean objects would miss his attention. A group of Slytherin fourth years had discovered this about a week after Harry had returned from Hospital and had taken to conjuring marbles in areas where they knew Harry would be walking. Harry, in turn, developed a few spells that helped clear his way. The tinkling of marbles usually meant that a Slytherin was nearby, waiting to watch Harry tumble. But since Harry could observe someone’s aura, even through walls, the culprit was usually found fastened to the wall with their underwear on their heads and nothing else. It was a page out of what Nott and Parkinson had done to Ron last year and Harry didn’t mind a little playful retribution.

In the forest, however, Harry felt as if his vision was better than having sight. Everything was alive and vibrant. Trees and vegetation, the largest animals and the smallest spores, Harry could see it all as if he’d never been blind.

Shahan had cleared the stream ahead and was already pulling away. Felspar came a bit short and she splashed water into the air. Harry, just a step behind Felspar, was shorter still, landing a full meter away from the bank’s edge. His feet landed firmly in the water and he struggled to keep his balance so as not to fall into the icy water completely. He’d only taken three steps when he noticed the coolness around his feet. When he focused his attention downward he could sense clearly that his trainers were gone, the bottoms of his pants in tatters. Where the splash from Felspar hit the front of his jersey it had dissolved away as if it had been burned by acid, the aura of his bare skin underneath beaming through.

Stepping backward as he moved out of and away from the stream, Harry focused at the running water. For the first time he noticed that its colour was different than the other streams he’d seen through the forest. The light emanating from this water was whiter, more crystalline, more pure. With a great leap Ronan, who had been following, jumped from bank to bank with ease. Harry expected to be chastised for stopping, yelled at for falling behind, but Ronan said nothing. Harry noticed that the whitish-gray of Ronan’s aura warmed a bit. He’d learned, at least with his friends, that such a change meant a smile. He wondered what it meant with a Centaur.

Shahan had long disappeared in the underbrush ahead, but Felspar stopped short of the thickening trees and returned to Harry and Ronan.

“Is something wrong?” Felspar asked.

“Only one of the three has seen it,” answered Ronan coolly. “I asked you not to depend on your site and to reach out with your vision.”

“But Shahan said—” Felspar began, but Ronan cut him off.

“You are your own Centaur, Felspar! You have passed these waters so often, and yet you still can not see?” Felspar stepped closer to the stream, staring down at its ripples.

“Not with your eyes, foolish one!” snapped Ronan. Felspar stepped back and closed her eyes. A moment passed before she rose up on her rear legs and spun toward them.

“The falls!” she cried with excitement. “The stream that feeds the falls!” Then Felspar stepped over to Harry, noticing his bare feet and ankles. “Harry Potter, your fetlocks are bare.” She stepped closer. “But the flesh is unharmed. If ever I held doubt in the Chosen, they have forever washed away.” Felspar nodded with a slight bow. Harry nodded in return and the smiled as he saw Felspar own fetlocks.

“And I thought you couldn’t be any whiter,” Harry said, grinning.

“The boy is right, Felspar,” said Ronan. “Your own fetlocks have grown brighter. Like the Chosen, you now wear socks.” He laughed as Felspar looked down to see that indeed her white coat was glistening more brightly from the knee and hock down.

“Perhaps you should jump in wholly,” suggested Harry.

“No,” said Felspar immediately, backing away from the water. “I would not place the purity of my heart at such a standard. Indeed, if I had known these were the very waters…”

“Felspar,” said Ronan, “catch up to Shahan if you can and tell him that we are done for the day. He has, once again, failed the test. You are fortunate that you stopped to return. In these times we must remember to think of the herd before our own interests.” Felspar bowed.

“Shahan will not be pleased,” Felspar said to the ground.

“As I am not,” retorted Ronan. “For three straight days Shahan has failed to comprehend the lesson. Firenze says Shahan did not even bother to search for Ebyrth. The Centaur is of no use to the heard if he refuses to learn our ways. I care not that he is young.” Then Ronan stepped closer to Felspar; his posture becoming rigid. “You would be wise not to listen to Shahan’s thoughts, Felspar. That your coat should change colour at all is not a good sign. Your mother has raised you better.” Then Ronan’s demeanour changed back to one of teacher.

“Focus your mind on where you need to be, Felspar.” He said nothing more, but Felspar turned toward the portion of the forest through which Shahan had disappeared. A moment later in a streak of white she was gone.

“Is that not an Apparation?” Harry asked.

“One cannot Apparate on these grounds, Harry Potter. The earth is too filled with magic. The Centaur can bend space and slow time so that distances travelled can be covered far more quickly than on hoof alone. You have accomplished this already. What’s more you have learned to leave your mortal body and travel with the other living spirits of the forest.”

“You helped me… when I was with Shahan.”

“Yes,” answered Ronan. “But I need not show you again; these skills are yours to command. Do you sense the Bowtruckle staring at us from across the stream? Perhaps he can help you see what you’ve thirsted for. Reach out to the creature’s mind.”

When Harry did reach out, he found it far easier than he first expected. The energy of the forest seemed to imbue him with added insight, guiding his thoughts as he became focused on the creature, leaving his own self, releasing his corporeal form behind and melding into the essence of a stick. In a flash he was one with the woody Bowtruckle. His eyes blinked. Ahead, across the stream were a Centaur and young man with tattered pants and no shoes. Harry tried to step forward, but the creature would not respond. It was as if he were simply eavesdropping. Suddenly, he felt quite hungry. Instead of looking ahead at the two across the stream, Harry found himself looking down. There was a rather large stink worm wriggling its bulbous head between two leaves. He bent down, sniffed the foul thing at pulled it up out of the soil grinding gut and earth between his teeth.

“Yack!” said Harry, returning to his own body and spitting out what wasn’t there. Ronan remained expressionless.

“Well done, Harry Potter. It has been less than a year since the Cleansing, and already you have learned the Centaur Arts. It will take much more time to master them and many years to understand their true nature. It is…” Ronan paused looking toward the western sky. “…unfortunate that we have so little time.” His hoof clawed at the ground. “It does not go well for our brothers in Eastern Europe. Wizards have joined the Dementors and brought a new ally to the war.” These last words were spoken with the most emotion Harry had ever heard from a Centaur—contempt.

“Vampires,” said Harry quietly. “It’s the work of Lucius Malfoy.”

“It is the work of Ebyrth. Malfoy is but its tool.”

Harry could feel darkness falling, and for the first time he was beginning to feel cold. Ronan sensed this at once.

“It is time for you to return to the castle, Harry Potter. I have been training you far too hard and far too fast, I’m afraid. So it is with Shahan and Felspar. You are all learning before your ability to comprehend. If we were greater in number…” Ronan let out a long sigh as Harry turned to face him.

“Why wage war,” asked Harry, “simply because Ebyrth has returned to the heavens? How is it that this solstice is any different than last?”

“That is not a question for the Centaurs, Harry Potter,” said Ronan defiantly. “It is a question for the Dementors. It is not our war; it is theirs. It is not the Centaur herds that are destroying the villages of Eastern Europe. That is the work of the Dementors and their ilk. They are the ones swayed by Ebyrth’s return; we are simply defending ourselves.”

“I read that in the Battle of the Fifth Age the Centaur herds nearly obliterated Dementors from the face of the earth.”

“Would that we had,” said Ronan coolly. “Their darkness has no purpose other than destruction. Near the end of that war, only a handful escaped into the swamps and bogs through which we could not travel. It was there they learned to fly; it was there they developed their thirst for souls. Now, from a scattered few, their progeny have multiplied. They outnumber the Centaurs two to one. For that we can thank the Wizarding world and the world of man whose greed has consumed the earth and produced sustenance on which the Dementors feed.

“No, Harry Potter, you fight on the side of righteousness, as the Centaurs have for centuries. But, I am afraid, virtue alone will not be enough to lead us to victory. We will need your strength and more.”

“It doesn’t help that I’ll never see again,” said Harry, rubbing his arms with his hands to bring some warmth to them.

“It is the will of Ebyrth. There is a reason and you will discover it. Already your blindness has taught you to see many things.”

“Yeah, right,” said Harry a bit sarcastically. “I see that everyone’s their own pretty colour. If I had a few centuries I might be able to recognize everyone’s particular hue.”

“It is a window to the spirit that lies within. This vision you have goes beyond external appearance and penetrates the essence of the creature before you. My people hold their emotions well, so they appear gray or white. Have you noticed that house elves are nearly always—”

“Green. Er… greenish. Yeah, I noticed.”

“Goblins, whose natures are always angry, are almost always flush with red. While wizards and witches carry the colours that suit their nature, colours the trained Centaur mind can discern. It does not take long to recognize the given hue.”

“Or hues,” added Harry.

“Excuse me?” asked Ronan. “What do you mean?”

“Well, when they have more than one colour. You know, say green that sometimes turns blue.” Ronan was staring blankly at Harry. “You know, the guy’s kind of blue sometimes, kind of green other times… right?”

“Unless there is a phenomenal transformation, a spirit carries but one hue, Harry Potter. It may brighten or darken, but the hue remains the same. Unless…”

“Unless what?” asked Harry. Ronan stepped back from Harry and scanned the forest about them.

“Do you see this in many?” he asked cautiously. Harry had to think for a minute.

“No, not really. Now that I think of it. Just a handful… in the school.” Ronan stepped closer.

“There are ways you might see two hues, Harry Potter. Some wizards or witches are known Animagi. The creature inside can represent a different hue, although even among the Animagi it is rare. Usually, the creature reflects the nature of the witch or wizard.” There was a long pause.

“And the other?” asked Harry.

“It can be the work of a fractured spirit, someone who is really two people, or possibly under the control of another.”

“The Imperius Curse?” Harry asked.

“Perhaps. Such is the way of wizards and my knowledge falters there. I hope this is not someone close. Someone in your confidence?”

“Erm, no… not really,” Harry lied. “I’ve got to go, Ronan. Thank you for your teachings today.” Harry’s mind was clicking of the list of names. He focused on bending the space between where he was and Hagrid’s hut. “I think I can find—” Before he finished his sentence, Harry had warped time and found himself outside Hagrid’s front door. He’d covered the distance, some miles, in little more than the blink of an eye. Still, in so doing he’d exhausted what little resources of strength he had left. His clothes shredded, he was about to knock on Hagrid’s door when he sensed that someone was hidden in the trees behind the garden. Harry reached for his wand and held it at the ready. Barefoot, he began to step silently toward the spy. It was one technique taught him by the Centaurs and for the fleetest of moments Harry thought he’d prefer a notched arrow right about now.

Stealthily, Harry moved closer. The figure, with a bright emerald green aura, didn’t move. Its position continued to rest against the tree. Just a few yards away Harry’s nostrils took in the smell of smoke, a distinctively aromatic smoke.

“Draco!” Harry hissed quiet and low. This close, Harry could see the figure, still leaning motionless against the tree, bring his hand to his mouth. He was taking another drag on his cigarette. Harry could hear the exhale, long and slow.

“Damn, Potter,” Draco said, pulling himself away from the tree and turning to face Harry. “I thought you’d never get here.” Draco took a step closer. “Merlin, what the hell happened to you?”

“Draco, you can’t be here. Do you know what will happen if—”

“You don’t know yet, do you?” said Draco in a long low drawl. He liked knowing more than Harry and didn’t mind showing it, if only for a moment. “How long have you been in the forest? All day?”

In the darkness from far up the hill Harry could hear the front doors of the castle open with their characteristic crack. What he didn’t expect to hear next was Ron Weasley’s voice.

“He should be there by now, I’m sure.”

Followed by his father’s.

“I should hope so, Ron. I don’t have much more time and this is quite important.”

Harry spun to see three figures walking their way down to Hagrid’s hut. One he didn’t recognize, but was sure was Mr. Weasley. The other two were Ron and Professor Dumbledore.

“I thought the old man would be dead by now,” said Draco with a matter of fact tone as he pulled what was left of Harry’s jersey toward some thicker underbrush. Harry acquiesced and the two withdrew deeper into the woods as Ron, Dumbledore and Mr. Weasley made their way to Hagrid’s hut. When Hagrid answered the knock he was livid.

“Yeh should have been here an hour ago!” he called from inside. “I don’t care what Ronan tells yeh; the forest ain’t safe after dar—. Er… Professor Dumbledore, sir. Erm… Minister. I… er… I wasn’t expectin’ company.”

“I take it,” said Dumbledore, making his way into the hut, “that Harry has not yet returned from his time with the Centaurs?” A moment later and the door shut leaving Harry alone with Draco once again.

“What’s going on, Draco?” said Harry not holding the proper line of sight with Draco’s eyes. “I thought you were going to use Blaise to—”

“So it’s true,” said Draco, waving his hand in front of Harry’s face. “You’re blind.” Able to see the glow from the life-forms that clung there, Harry grabbed Draco’s arm.

“You can read!” said Harry dismissively. “It’s been in every paper I can think of.” Draco ignored the crack, reached up and touched the side of Harry’s face.

“Does it hurt?”

“I’m too cold to feel anything right now,” said Harry rubbing his arms again. “What’s up with Blaise?”

“Blaise has been… compromised. He and I have a magical catch phrase that we use to ensure the other is mentally free from any… tampering. For the last two weeks, Blaise has tried to contact me without using that phrase. He’s someone else’s now.” Draco took another long drag on his cigarette. “How father found out… I don’t know.” His words were deeply troubled. It was an emotional shift in Draco that Harry had rarely seen. “We were careful; more than careful. You need to know that there’s a spy in the castle. I thought maybe Nott, but he doesn’t have the skill to cast the Imperius.”

“You’re r-risking your life to tell me there’s a spy?” asked Harry incredulously. “There’s p-probably a dozen!” His teeth were beginning to chatter as the cold set in.

“And you’re supposed to be our saviour? We’re screwed.” Draco flicked his cigarette into the air and it vanished. “Here.” He passed Harry his cloak and wrapped it around his shoulders. “You know, aside from being scratched bloody, having essentially no clothes, and looking like you were just run over by the Hogwarts Express, you’re in pretty good shape. Maybe if you stopped running around the forest butt naked—”

“T-Training,” Harry interrupted.

“Right, like that’s going to save your sorry ass. I don’t know what potions you’ve been taking, but you better wake up and see what’s going on around here.”

“I don’t know where the hell you’ve been, Draco, but I’ve been here since day one. I think I know what’s going—”

“Cho and Goldstein are going to be married over Christmas. Did you know that? A secret wedding.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“I’ve been here since day one,” Draco mocked Harry. “Yes, you’re so in tune, so enlightened. Hell, Harry, that’s not even the interesting news.”

“Married? Goldstein?”

“Not even her little brother knows they’re getting married. Quite scandalous.” Draco chuckled to himself and then sat cross-legged on the ground. “But I suppose you, all knowing oracle of the blind have insight to that.” Harry said nothing, but sat down next to Draco crossing his arms and legs under Draco’s cloak.

“Come on, Potter,” drawled Draco once again. “Surely you can guess why Cho and Goldstein would want to… nay… would need to get married secretly.” Again there was a long pause and Harry pulled Draco’s cloak tighter about his shoulders. He was feeling a pang of jealousy and he had no right to. He had loved Cho and he would always love her, but their paths were never meant to travel together. His path was and would forever be entangled with Gabriella. It wasn’t perfect but the attraction was strong and the love firm and the uncertainty of any given day that kept Harry forever on edge tickled a very Slytherin part of his spirit that wriggled deep inside him. Finally, Harry breathed.

“Cho’s pregnant,” Harry whispered. “That explains why they’ve been meeting secretly for months. Goldstein won’t say where.”

“France,” answered Draco with a sly smile. “Don’t tell anyone, Harry, but Goldstein’s guardian may be their chaperone by day, but at night he’s a Death Eater in my father’s service. It’s a tryst of little consequence to my father and it pays the bills for Henry, the chaperone, but I knew you might have a special interest.”

“I never thought that Goldstein and Cho would—”

“Oh, but I’m not done, Harry. Cho Chang spends her days in France, in a little villa just north of Marseille, a town called La Mure. She and the—”

“When’s she due?” Harry asked. “Do you know how far along she is?” At this Draco smiled.

“Witches can hide that fact until the very day of delivery, Harry. Have you ever seen a pregnant witch?” For a moment, Harry pondered the idea. No, he hadn’t ever seen a pregnant witch. And then he remembered that he’d seen Geoffrey Hooper’s mother just a few weeks before her baby was born and she looked no different than the year before.

The door to Hagrid’s cabin opened and the giant stepped out for just a moment looking toward the forest. “Should be any moment, sir,” he said to the folks inside. “Any moment.” Then more quietly to himself before he went back in he whispered to the forest, “Harry, where in Singehorn’s name are yeh?” Harry began to stand, but Draco pulled him back down. For a flash, Harry was irritated, but caught himself.

“You know, Draco,” Harry said gently, “if we walked in there right now, together, Dumbledore and the Minister would take you back. You’d be—”

“Dead in about two days,” cut in Draco. “Not by the Ministry’s hand, but by its dark underbelly.”

“Then why are you risking your life right now? It’s not to gossip on about some girl and guy you couldn’t give a damn about. What’s so important that—”

“They’ve found it,” Draco interrupted. “Months ago I asked you to find it first, and you didn’t even try. Now they have it.” He flicked a twig into Harry’s face. “Blaise risked his life and you did nothing. Now he’s been found out.” Draco leaned over and grabbed the cloak about Harry’s neck. Harry could feel the cloth tighten, not by Draco’s hand, but another force. “You’re going to get it back, dearest, or I’ll kill you myself.” The cloth tightened further. Harry reached for his wand, but found the cloak held his hands tight.

“Draco,” he gasped, “I don’t know what you’re—”

“Save it for someone who gives a damn.” He leaned over Harry who was gasping for breath now. “Funny thing… magical cloaks. They can hold so many enchantments.” He pressed Harry firmly against the sod as the Gryffindor desperately tried to gather air. “Understand, Harry, I don’t want it and I sure as hell don’t want my father to get his hands on it. But he will if they have their way. Get it out of the Ministry before it’s too late.”

All of a sudden, the cloak released Harry and he began to cough, heaving in as much air as he could. Draco took to his feet and wrapped the black cloak about his shoulders, his long blonde hair starkly white in contrast. Still coughing, Harry stumbled to his feet and pulled his wand. Draco ignored the gesture and turned to leave. But then he stopped as if suddenly remembering a forgotten thought. The door to the Hagrid’s hut opened and Ron stepped out. He’d heard the sound of Harry’s cough.

“Harry?!” Ron called to the darkness.

“Oh, and Harry,” Draco said, looking Harry in the eyes even if the glance was not returned. “Cho isn’t pregnant.” He turned to leave. “It’s a newborn baby boy. Well, not so much newborn any more. You’ll never guess the birthday… it’s the same day as yours.”

“Harry!” Ron called again. This time, by the tone in Ron’s voice, Harry knew they’d been seen. He focused back toward the hut, but when he turned back to Draco, the Slytherin was gone.

“That’s not possible,” he whispered at the emptiness. The sound of footsteps came charging up from behind and Harry could hear the commotion on the front porch of Hagrid’s hut. A hand touched Harry’s shoulder.

“Was that who I think it was?” Ron asked quietly. Harry simply nodded. “That can’t be good,” Ron muttered.

“No. No, Ron, it’s not.”

“Harry? Is that you my boy?” Arthur Weasley called from the hut. “Harry, come inside. Get out of the cold.”

“I told you, Arthur,” Dumbledore said gently from within the hut, “nothing to worry about. Come in and let’s finish our tea.”

“My god, Albus!” cried Arthur as Harry and Ron returned to the cabin. “Look at the boy!” Harry was still barefoot, what remained of his clothes in tatters, his face covered in mud and now a thin red line that wrapped about his neck shown through the grime. As he climbed the steps with Ron’s assistance his teeth once again began to chatter.

“Yes, yes,” said Dumbledore, dispassionately. “I see they’ve been working you rather hard today, Harry.” The statement was more question than anything. “A lot to think about?” Harry just nodded and walked through the door. “Well, it’s not going to get any easier, young man.”

“Get o’er by the fire, lad,” said Hagrid, offering a blanket. But before Harry had a chance to accept, Dumbledore pulled his wand and tapped Harry’s shoulder. The grime disappeared and a Hogwarts robe covered his body. The thin red line about his neck and the aching muscles, however, remained.

“Hagrid,” said Dumbledore, “perhaps some tea and some…” Harry tried to catch Dumbledore’s eyes to tell him to stop, but found, as it had been since his accident, he could no longer effectively communicate silently with his eyes. “…stone cakes.”

Warming his muscles by the fire, sipping a bit of tea, and pretending to enjoy Hagrid’s rock-hard stone cakes, Harry was beginning to feel himself again. He assured Arthur Weasley that he was fine and that his dishevelled appearance was all in a day’s work, training with the Centaurs in the forest; but the Minister was none too convinced.

“Your clothes were in tatters, Harry, and it still looks as if you’ve been strangled.”

“Just a little work with Devil’s Snare is all, sir,” answered Harry, rubbing his neck with his left hand and sipping some more tea with the other. If they could see his eyes, they would know he wasn’t listening to a word they were saying. Draco probably thought his little show would centre Harry’s mind fully on some Horcrux that the Ministry had no doubt just found, but Harry’s mind was anything but centred. After a bit more banter about school, regrets about Harry being blind, and news about the battles raging in Eastern Europe, Arthur Weasley finally got down to the purpose of his visit.

“You know, I’m sure,” he began, “that we have been excavating the collapse that occurred at the Ministry last year, beneath the… erm, chamber.”

“What?” Harry exclaimed. “Why?”

“Well, to try to recover the bodies, Harry,” answered Mr. Weasley, surprised somewhat at Harry’s reaction. “Many Aurors lost their lives that evening and their bodies have never been found — at least, not until last week. Since the collapse we tried for months to find the bottom with no success. We encountered one magical portal after another, and the workers were none too inclined to accidentally stumble across the Curtain itself.”

“You recovered the Curtain of Phenolem?” cried Ron. “Why? Why in bloody—”

“No, Ron,” interrupted Dumbledore, “the Curtain and the dais were destroyed in the fall. No, just the bodies, bodies from both sides, have been returned to their loved ones.”

“Well, yes, Albus,” added Arthur with some nervousness. “Most of them, anyway. We have yet to find Draco Malfoy’s remains.” Ron began to cough.

“Hagrid,” he asked, clearing his throat once again, “do you have any more stone cakes?”

“Why sure, Ron,” said Hagrid with glee. “Come on in teh the kitchen.” Ron stood and followed Hagrid, patting Harry’s shoulder on the way.

“I don’t really see what any of this has to do with me, sir,” said Harry. “I mean… well, I’ve put that behind me now. Haven’t I? There’s another darkness we need to stave off, isn’t there?”

“Yes, yes, absolutely, Harry, absolutely.” Arthur patted Harry’s lap. “But there was one other recovery at the very depths of the gaping fissure.” All at once, Mr. Weasley’s aura faded and Harry knew the following words were a lie. “They pulled it up today, just before lunch. I looked for you earlier, Harry, but you’d already left for the forest.” Arthur Weasley stood from his chair and looked out the window facing the castle, the colour returned to his aura. “I was thinking we could have a dedication of sorts. You could come to the Ministry as we put it on display. It would certainly remind the people in these dark times that we can vanquish darkness.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but what did you recover?”

“Oh, yes, I’m sorry, Harry,” answered Arthur. “I’ve wanted to discuss our search since you and I spoke on the train. I never knew taking care of the Ministry would consume so much of my time.” His eyes wandered for a moment and then returned to meet Harry’s. “No matter,” he whispered. “In our search, we recovered the cloak. The black cloak of… You-Know-Who. The only remnant of his darkness and a symbol to all of his defeat.”

“Voldemort?” snapped Harry. “You have Voldemort’s cloak?” Harry turned in his chair. “Burn the damn thing. Destroy it!”

“I knew you might feel this way, Harry,” said Arthur with understanding. “That’s why I came myself. You must realize what an icon you’ve become in the Wizarding world. Just one picture of you, perhaps wand drawn, next to the cloak of the evil you destroyed would mean so much to—”

“It’s insane!” said Harry, rising to his feet. “Do you know what that might be? It could—”

“Harry,” said Dumbledore sternly, silencing Harry’s rant. “I think it would be wise for you to take some time to consider what all the implications are. Time to consider what’s best for… everyone involved.” Harry expected to see the warmth of anger build in Dumbledore’s aura, but if anything his light dimmed with a coolness of concern.

“I… I’m sorry, sir,” said Harry, cooling his own temperament. “Yes, that’s what I need Minister… time.”

“Please, Harry, you needn’t call me—”

“Excuse me, sir. I need to go. It’s just… I’m really tired is all.” Harry reached out his hand to shake, and Arthur Weasley took it. “Let me get my head together, and I’ll get back to you. Just a day or two.”

“Certainly, Harry, I understand. Until then, we’ll keep it safe; I can assure you.” Harry started for the door. “Here, let me walk you to the castle.”

“I got it dad,” said Ron, dropping one of the stone cakes on the table with a thud. “Finish your tea and have some more… er, cakes.” Ron ran to the door next to Harry’s side. Staring at the cake and then Hagrid, Arthur was about to say something when Dumbledore spoke out instead.

“Excellent idea, Mr. Weasley,” he said to the younger redhead. “Please find Harry safely back to the castle.”

”Goodnight, Hagrid,” said Harry to the giant still in the kitchen, baking up another batch of cakes for his guests. “Thanks!”

“Sure thing, Harry,” called Hagrid. “Anytime.” Then he turned to Mr. Weasley just as Harry began to shut the door. “Minister, try another one, hot out of the oven!”

By the time Harry and Ron were at the castle steps, Harry had answered most of Ron’s questions.

“I just don’t get it, Harry,” said Ron shaking his head. “It’s just a piece of cloth. You killed him.”

“Ron, you saw my clothes tonight. They were burnt away because I fell into the magical stream that feeds the falls. Remember when you fell in last year?”

“Pulled in you mean,” said Ron, rubbing his right wrist. “Yeah, I remember. My clothes disappeared.”

“They didn’t disappear,” corrected Harry. “They were burnt away. Clothes are unclean. They can’t survive the purity of the water.”

“That’s a Centaur tale,” said Ron dismissively.

“Tale or not, the water destroys cloth. I doused Voldemort in nearly ten gallons of the stuff. It was enough to dissolve every evil bone in his body, but the cloak… Damn! I should have known when I saw it then. The cloak survived. But why?”

“So you think it’s the…” Ron’s voice dipped low, “…the Horcrux Draco was talking about?”

“I don’t see how it can be,” answered Harry. “If it’s part of Voldemort, it should have been destroyed.” Harry sighed. “Maybe Hermione will know.” Ron shrugged and nodded in agreement as he reached to open the castle doors. Ron heaved on the heavy handle just as Harry’s hand stopped him and shut them again.

“Ron?” he asked. “You have a lot of brothers and sisters. Erm… how long does it take to… er… for a witch to… you know… have a baby, after… you know.” For a second, Ron just stared at Harry, and then reaching ever so slightly to the thoughts on the tip of Harry’s mind he understood.

“Oh! How long does it take for a baby to be born after conception?” he asked.

“Yeah… yeah, that’s it.”

“Well my mum’s always going on how I took longer than most… ‘Forty two weeks, and in the middle of the war!’ she’d say.

“So… figurin’ my birthday, what would you say… you know… for my folks to…er—”

“Do the nasty?” said Ron with a smile. Harry simply nodded. Well, Ron thought for a moment, touched his fingers and counted backwards, and then a glow of a grin crossed his face once again.

“Pretty damn near to Halloween, Harry.” He poked Harry in the ribs. “Do you think they were wearing costumes?” Harry didn’t react in the way Ron expected. Instead, he leaned his back against the castle doors and slid down to a sit on the stone landing.

“Oh, Merlin,” he whispered in a sickly sort of voice. “Oh, bloody, fucking, Merlin.”

“What? What is it, Harry?”

“Ron… I think… I think I’m a father.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 14 – Wedding Plans ~~~***~~~

When Harry and Ron passed through the portrait of the Fat Lady, Harry found the Gryffindor common room, warmer than normal. Near the fireplace sat the auras of Parvati, Lavender, Gabriella, Hermione, Ginny and Dean. Towards the back, Neville was helping Patrick and a few others, Harry had yet to recognize, prepare for their Herbology exams. Evidently, the exam involved a burning plant of some sort, perhaps fireseed, Harry thought, since there was a billowing cloud of smoke that hung over the group and nobody seemed to mind.

Harry, his mind fractured at the moment, brought his attention on Patrick. The smoke was clouding his ability to see the auras of those at the back table, but the filtered light emanating from Patrick was the same as it had been since Harry first met him after the accident – blue and green. Each colour waxed and waned, growing more green whenever he was excited or near Harry.

“Patrick?” Harry thought silently to himself, but the thought was short lived.

“Harry! Ron!” cried Dean. His voice brought Harry’s attention back to the group about the fireplace. The call sounded like a plea for help, as if Dean felt, at the moment, like a trapped rat in a snake’s cage. He began to stand when Ginny grabbed his arm.

“Oh, Dean,” she said breathlessly, “isn’t it beautiful?” Hermione was projecting an image of a young woman in a white wedding dress. The girl stood, suspended in the middle of the five students and modelled the dress she was wearing, slowly turning in all directions so that everyone could see, everyone that is except Harry.

“Er… yeah, great,” muttered Dean miserably, sinking back into the couch.

“I don’t know, Gin,” said Lavender cautiously. “I think the train’s a little long.”

“Lavender’s right, Hermione,” added Parvati. “You don’t want to deal with all that dragging behind you even if it’s levitated.”

“You could have fairy’s carry it.”

“I kind of like it,” Hermione said as she held her hand to her chin and tapped her cheek with one finger. “But I think the second…” Dean let out an audible groan, but the girls ignored him while Hermione began to flash through model after model, dress after dress, as if thumbing pages of a book. It was only then when she noticed that Ron and Harry had entered the common room.

“Ron!” she exclaimed. “You’re just in time.” Dean’s eyes grew wide and he shook his head as nondescriptly as he could to ward them off. Ron caught it, but Harry did not. “We were just looking over dresses when—” She stopped herself mid-sentence, noticing the expression on Ron’s face. “What’s wrong?”

Gabriella stood and came over to Harry. “You both look like someone died. Did Filch catch you sneaking into the kitchens again? Out with it… what happened?” Ron looked at Harry, and Harry looked blankly above the girls.

“Nothing,” they said simultaneously.

Gabriella patted Harry’s cheek.

”Nothing?” she said, sensing the swirling swarm of emotions that must have shown like a beacon for everyone to see. “Would you like to join us?” she asked. “We were just—”

“No thanks,” interjected Harry. While he had grown accustomed to seeing students from other houses in the common room, he had completely forgotten that the girls were going to get together this evening to discuss Hermione’s wedding plans for the summer. “I need to get ready for the Potions exam tomorrow.” Ginny stood, looking at Harry.

“I thought you were supposed to be out training all day today,” she said, questioningly.

“I was.”

“But you’re squeaky clean,” she replied sceptically. “You know, if you weren’t working out in the forest today, we could have gotten at least three hours on the pitch.”

“I was in the forest today!” Harry exclaimed. “Besides, you know I can’t Seak. Not like this.” He waved his hand in front of his eyes.

“You’re the team captain! It’s you’re responsibility to—”

“These aren’t your robes,” interrupted Gabriella, rubbing the cloth in her fingers. “These are new.”

“Dumbledore cleaned him up,” offered Ron. This was followed by a chorus.

“Dumbledore?”

“Well, er… he and Dad were at Hagrid’s and—”

“Dad?” asked Ginny. “Dad’s here? Why didn’t he say he was coming to school? Where is he?” It felt, suddenly, as if sharks were beginning to circle Harry and Ron.

“Well, he only had a minute,” said Ron, stepping closer to his sister. She had risen to her feet and Dean took the opportunity to quickly dart away and head toward the spiral staircase to the boys’ dormitory. “And he needed to see Harry, so I took him over to—”

“So he saw you, but he didn’t have time to see his only daughter?”

Less than a moment later everyone was talking at once. Ron and Harry were being bombarded with questions about everything from the Minister’s visit, to why Dumbledore needed to conjure Harry new robes, to what pattern Ron thought would be nice for the new china.

Unexpectedly, there was a loud explosion from the back of the room that caused everyone to shriek. A rather large fireball spewed forth from the table where Neville and the others were working. It was Neville who stopped it from lighting the whole place on fire by casting a squelching charm.

“Damn it, Patrick,” Neville said irritably, while a few of the other students laughed, “I told you not to mix fireseeds with dittany powder! If you do that in the exam tomorrow, Professor Sprout will fail you for sure.”

The commotion that had surrounded Harry, quickly gathered about the back table and the scorched faces that stood there. Harry took the opportunity to follow Dean’s footsteps up the staircase. Near the top he heard a rather dejected Patrick apologize, but what he saw was a bluish aura beaming with pride. Then Harry noticed Patrick flash him a thumbs-up from within the long sleeve of his robe, a signal that no one could see.

“Sorry, Neville,” said Patrick with a shrug of his shoulders. “I’m just no good at this kind of stuff. I’ll be lucky to make it to the third year at this rate.”

Gabriella looked back toward the fireplace to find Harry and before she could find where he was Harry disappeared into the boys’ dormitory. Inside he found Dean, belly down on his bed, reading a book about Quidditch. He loved the game so, it was a shame he wasn’t any good at it. He looked up as Harry entered.

“Are they gone?” he asked. “Did you have to blow them all up?”

“Well, I—”

“Because that’d be fine by me, Harry. I was about to blow myself up if I had to look at one more china pattern.” He looked back at the book and turned the page. “Talk about pressure… blimey.” He turned another page. “I mean… I love Ginny and all, but does she actually think I’m going to ask her to marry me?” He turned another page; clearly not having read the last. “So… last year… yeah, maybe. But that’s your fault.” Dean looked up, pointing a finger at Harry.

“Me?”

“Well, I mean, I was in a battle — fighting you for her. You know. That sort of thing, well… it gets a guy in the mood. But this stuff downstairs… wedding dresses, and colours of table clothes, and…” Dean sighed. “Talk about deflating.” Without looking back down to the book, he turned another page. Then, quite suddenly, Dean groaned and turned over on his bed, placing the open book over his chest. “Merlin, I love her.” There was silence and he sighed again. “She’s been my world. She brought me back after the accident.” Dean held his hand up, flexing the fingers in front of his face. His soul had been reconnected to his corporeal form and Ginny had been there every step of the way. “She didn’t need to do that.”

“She loves you,” said Harry, walking over to his bed, taking off his new school robes and putting on a loose pair of jeans. “Face it, Dean, you’re her world too.”

“I just don’t want to be thinking about marriage while I’m still in school,” answered Dean, sitting up on the edge of his bed and facing Harry. “There’s enough to be getting on about without having to worry about in-laws… china patterns…”

“…children,” added Harry quietly.

“Merlin, no,” shot Dean. “I can’t even imagine. But then Ginny’s handy with a sheathing charm. We’re careful… you know?” Harry nodded as a knot twisted in his stomach. “Can you believe Neville and Helen?” continued Dean. “Neither one of them used any protection their first few times. Hermione found out and had a fit.”

“Hermione?” queried Harry.

“Well, I told Neville that he was being an idiot. I told him how Lee Jordon told me that Fred told him that George hooked up with some girl in Hogsmeade last year and wound up with a case of runespoor warts. Had to go to St. Mungo’s to get them removed. Can you believe it? Yeesh.” Lee covered his crotch with his hand and grimaced.

“But why Hermione?”

“If you want to know any spell, charm, or hex to get the job done, Harry, who do you go to? Hermione.” Harry looked a bit disgruntled and crossed his arms. Dean sensed Harry’s pride and added, “After all, everyone knew she and Ron were together since the fall of last year. She knew how to be safe, and Neville sure wasn’t going to talk to Ginny.”

Harry wasn’t certain how to take that. He didn’t have a clue until last Christmas that Ron and Hermione were together. Yet, everyone else seemed to know. Further, he was pretty sure that last year Tonks had used her Metamorphosis skills to take on the appearance of Helen so that she could sneak into Gryffindor tower with Neville. It brought up memories… bad memories. Suddenly, going to talk to Hermione about anything didn’t seem like such a good idea. Harry began to drum his desk with his fingers, then crossed his arms and just looked down at the floor. He could see the aura’s of the living organisms that his mates had tracked in under their shoes. Maybe Aunt Petunia wasn’t such a crazy bat after all – at least as far as wiping one’s feet at the door was concerned.

“What’s up, Harry?” asked Dean. “Why are you so wound up anyway?”

Barefoot and shirtless, Harry walked over to the window. Christmas was a week away and, sadly, no snow had fallen. The grounds below and the surrounding forest glistened brightly in Harry’s blindness. He placed his left hand on his chest, just above Asha’s heart, the stone that even now sat hidden within him. Focusing high above the treetops he found nothing but blackness. Late in the evening, clouds had moved in, covering all in a dark blanket through which no stars shone. He peered at the same quadrant of sky in which he knew Ebyrth hung, growing ever closer. He closed his eyes and dropped his head heavily against the glass window.

Voldemort’s cloak should have been destroyed by the water from the falls, but it wasn’t. Why? Was it the Horcrux Draco thought it was, or simply an object of power that Lucius craved? There was a spy in the castle, probably within Gryffindor or Slytherin that had given up Blaise. He was now under a Death Eater’s Imperious curse. Who was the spy? Could they have turned Patrick too?

It wasn’t enough that war was raging in Eastern Europe and would soon grace the forest about Hogwarts, if not the castle itself. Now there was a child. Could it really be his? That was a stupid question. Of course it could be; the timing was near perfect and they had been… well, stupid. It was just before the Halloween feast. Harry was going to tell Cho about Gabriella… let Cho know that they couldn’t be together, that Gabriella was the one he truly loved. But then she touched his arm… the look in her eyes. Even now, the memory sent a tingle down his spine and made his insides quiver. Neither of them was in the right frame of mind, but they both knew what they wanted. Now they were both paying for it. At least Cho was. Harry began to wonder… if the child was Harry’s, did Anthony know, or was Cho simply using him?

Harry shook his head, trying to clear his muddled thoughts. Maybe he was making a big deal of nothing. Maybe Anthony was the father. But the vision… Gabriella’s vision that both he and Hermione shared. He’d seen a child. Gabriella saw her own death and yet Harry saw life. He thought it was their child, his and Gabriella’s. Now, Harry wasn’t so sure.

The window was cold and a shiver ran across his body. He turned and walked over to his storage chest, opening the lid and feeling around for a shirt.

“Harry?” Dean asked. “I know something’s bothering you. What is it?”

“Tell me, Dean,” said Harry as he found a shirt. He began to fumble about for a pair of socks.

“Yes?”

“Ah…” Harry held up two socks. “Do these match?”

“Kinda,” answered Dean, looking at black and maybe a dark navy blue.

“Good… good,” replied Harry and he slipped the shirt and socks on. He sat back on his bed and slipped on his boots without saying a word.

“Harry?” asked Dean probing. “Where are you going?”

“Accio cloak!” Harry called with his right hand in the air, fingers outstretched for a catch. His cloak flew into his face. “Almost,” Harry muttered. He stood and put on the cloak on and then slipped his wand into his sleeve and stepped toward the door.

“Dean,” he said, “please give my apologies to Professor Snape. I’ll miss the exam tomorrow I’m afraid. It’s sad really. Since the Joining, I think I had a pretty good chance of acing it. Severus, after all, shared a bit of himself with me that night.” Harry rubbed the scar on his right arm.

“Slow down, mate,” said Dean, taking to his feet. “You can’t just go off—”

“Whew! I made it!” cried Ron, jumping into their room. “I never thought I’d get Hermione’s attention. I finally had to go in through the backdoor, if you know what I mean.” He tapped his head. “She’ll be up in a… Whoa. Where are you going?” he asked Harry.

“Actually Ron,” began Harry, “I was just telling Dean that—”

“What’s all this about the Horcrux?” asked Hermione as she entered the room.

“Shhhh!” cried Ron and Harry simultaneously, ushering her inside.

“You found it?” she asked in a near whisper.

“Maybe… if you can believe Malfoy,” answered Ron.

“Malfoy?” asked Dean. “Not Draco? I thought he was—” Gabriella entered the room.

“What’s going on?” she asked. Then looking at Harry she queried, “Where are you going?”

Harry, who had leaned up against the wall near the door, began tapping it nervously with his fingers. He glared at Ron. “Great plan, mate.”

“Well,” said Ron, “I tried to—” Harry held up one finger to his lips and Ron lowered his voice. “I tried to—” Harry shook his finger at Ron. There was a bit of a rumble and Ginny burst through the door.

“What’s up?” she asked. Then she noticed Harry. “What’s with the cloak?” Harry crossed his arms.

“Bloody hell,” he whispered.

“Is that what’s got you so agitated Harry?” Dean asked as Ginny slipped into his arms. Then he turned to her. “Did you know Draco was alive?” It was a question she didn’t expect and it caught her off guard. Her eyes shot immediately to Ron and the look gave her away at once.

“You did!” cried Dean. “How could you not tell me? Did you all know?” Harry could see the fire building in Dean’s emotions. Nobody said a word. “How long have you known?”

“Get over it, Dean!” Harry snapped. “Draco wanted it secret and we’re keeping it that way. We know because we were there. Ginny knows because her brother has a big fat mouth.” Harry gestured at Ron without looking his way. “Draco’s heart is here at Hogwarts, Dean. Until we can clear his name we can’t make him out as a fugitive.”

“Clear his name?” said Dean. “He was… he is a Death Eater.”

“He saved my life, Dean,” interjected Ron. “That you do know. That I’ve told everyone. But my word isn’t enough to keep him out of Azkaban. I should know, the Minister’s my Dad and, no, he doesn’t know about Draco either.”

These words cooled Dean’s fires, if only a smidgen, and his hands found his pockets. There was a moment of silence and then he turned to Ginny reached out and took her hand.

“You know, Gin,” Dean said gently, “if we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together, we can’t be keeping secrets from one another. Secrets… they… they sour souls and twist trust. If you’d have just told me to keep mum, you know I would have. All you had to do is ask. You know that… don’t you?” Ginny reached her hand to Dean’s cheek and kissed him.

“I know,” she said softly. Then she held him tightly in her arms. “I’m sorry.”

“Well… good,” said Harry uncomfortably. “Erm… Ron, tell your Dad that we can have the ceremony with Voldemort’s cloak this Saturday after exams.”

“But that’s three days, Harry,” Ron said, “isn’t that too long to—”

“Right,” cut in Harry, “so that’s why you… all,” he waved toward the group, “can figure out how we get the cloak tomorrow night. I’ll meet you at the entrance to the Ministry at midnight. Have the plan ready and I’ll help you however I can.” He grabbed Gabriella’s hand. “Come with me.” They started for the door when Hermione grabbed the back of Harry’s cloak, stopping him in his tracks.

“What do you mean? Where are you going? Your Potions exam is tomorrow.” Harry turned back, his face stern but his eyes blank.

“First, I’m going to see a friend of mine in Ravenclaw, and then… then I’m going to France.”

There was a collective, “What!?” from everyone but Ron.

“It’s one secret I’m afraid,” said Harry, raising his hands to quiet his friends, “that needs to be kept… at least for now.” Again he took Gabriella’s arm. “Come on.” Everyone turned to Ron as Gabriella and Harry left the room. Almost immediately, Gabriella began to ask questions, but Harry held a finger to his lips.

“Not here… not now,” he whispered.

They were about to clear out through the portrait of the Fat Lady when Lavender stopped them near the fireplace.

“So I guess Hermione’s done looking at dresses for the night?” she asked.

“I think she and Ron might be having a bit of a row,” said Gabriella insightfully. “She’s definitely done for the night.”

“Ooooh,” hummed Lavender as she cast a gossipy glance toward Parvati.

“Men,” said Parvati flatly. Gabriella simply nodded, taking Harry by the arm and walking out of the Gryffindor common room.

The two didn’t speak until they reached the staircases. It was quiet with only a few students roaming about. Most were likely studying for tomorrow’s exams. The others were either heading toward or returning from the library. The two found themselves alone on the staircase as it slowly began to slide into place. Finally, Harry gathered the courage.

“Did you know…?” he began cautiously. “Did you know about Cho?”

“Cho Chang?” Gabriella asked blankly.

“Yes, Cho Chang!” Harry snapped. “How could you not know? You two were inseparable at the end of last year. She helped you through exams. Merlin, you spent more time with her than with me. How could you not know?”

The stone staircase came to rest against the wall. The two climbed off that one and onto another that began to slide into yet another direction.

“So we’re going to see Anthony,” Gabriella said knowingly. Harry said nothing, wishing only that the staircases would move more quickly. “Tell me Harry, are you still so jealous?”

“Jealous?” Harry asked angrily. “Jealousy has nothing to do with this. I have a right to know!” His last words were loud and reverberated off the stone walls.

“They have a right to their privacy, Harry,” Gabriella replied with an edge in her voice. “They have a right to keep the Daily Prophet out of their lives. Frankly, I don’t see how it’s any of your business. It’s clear Cho knew what she was talking about when she asked that I keep this from you. She said you’d react this way.”

They turned and began to make their way up to Ravenclaw tower. A third year Ravenclaw joined them on the moving case upward. Harry moved close to Gabriella failing miserably at keeping his voice hushed.

“None of my business? None of my business?!”

“Yes! None of your business! They were stupid, Harry,” Gabriella said struggling to maintain her composure in front of the third year, although Harry could sense the anger building within her. “It was a mistake, a mistake that Anthony’s wizard enough to set straight. Can’t you see that he’s trying to do the right thing by caring for what will soon be his family?”

At this, the third year Ravenclaw looked back over his shoulder at Harry and Gabriella. Gabriella flashed him a look that put the boy’s nose back into the book he was reading. The stone staircase came to a halt and the boy stepped off followed by Harry, but Gabriella grabbed his arm.

“What do you intend to do?” she asked. “Confront him? Hex him for getting your… your mistress pregnant? If that’s what she was. You hardly carry the more noble ground.”

Suddenly Harry realized that Gabriella knew, but didn’t know. She knew that Cho had had a child, but she didn’t know that Harry could be the father. He stopped and leaned against the banister. The delay was just long enough that the staircase began to move again.

“She was not my mistress,” Harry said quietly to the darkness. “I… I was not myself last year. You know—” Gabriella put her hands about Harry’s shoulders.

“I know,” she whispered sadly. Harry turned to face her.

“I’ve only ever loved you,” he said.

“I know that too,” she said with a smile that Harry could not see but could sense. She kissed him gently on the cheek and pulled him close. They held each other that way for some time and when the staircase came to a stop Gabriella moved to get off, but Harry stood still.

“I’m not jealous because of Anthony,” spoke Harry to the open air before him. “It’s just that… I could be the father,” he said softly.

“What?”

“I could be the father,” he repeated, stepping close to her. “It wasn’t Anthony that was the stupid one; it was me – Halloween of last year. Cho’s child… it could be mine.”

Harry waited to see the reaction, but none came. The news had no effect on Gabriella’s aura. Either she knew already, or had suspected all along, or the news simply didn’t effect her emotions.

“I see,” she finally whispered. “That muddies things a bit, doesn’t it?”

“I need to ask Anthony where she is,” he said firmly. “I need to see her; I need to know.”

“It seems to me,” Gabriella said slyly, “that, for someone who’s not supposed to know anything, you know quite a bit already. You know there’s a child. You know she’s in France.”

“La Mure,” added Harry.

“Then you know all there is to know, Harry. The town’s not that large and a few well placed questions will get us to where we need to go.”

“Us?” Harry asked.

“Don’t be silly,” answered Gabriella. “It’s far too dangerous for you to leave the castle alone. Besides, Professor Snape has already released me from tomorrow’s exam for—”

“—for high marks,” interrupted Harry. “Yeah, I know. I know.” He paused for a few moments and then shook his head. But before Harry could say a word Gabriella began.

“Harry,” she said gently, holding her hand to his face, “I don’t care how well you can see what others can not.” She took his hand. “You’re blind. It makes a difference. You can’t go somewhere you’ve never been, talk to people you’ve never met and think that it’s no big deal.” There was another long pause.

“Cho’s bodyguard is a Death Eater,” Harry said, more to himself than to Gabriella.

“You’re joking, right?”

“He’s not much of one, but Cho’s bodyguard is a Death Eater.” He paused, churning the suggestion in his mind. Finally he said, “You’re right. I probably wouldn’t get a chance to see her… not without help.” He squeezed Gabriella’s hand. “Besides, you need to be there. I need you to be there.”

It took twenty minutes to get what they needed before they could sneak out through the hidden tunnel to Hogsmeade. It took half that time to make it to Le Mure. Gabriella was right, Harry would have been lost without her. It was bad enough trying to remember his French; it was worse trying to figure out what hand gesture or facial expression went along with it. Blind, he could detect none of it, but Gabriella was nearly perfect. In fact, Harry began to wonder if she had known the way all along. Finally, knowing that Cho’s apartment was just around the block, the two decided to spend the night at a small inn and wait until morning. It was the first they’d been truly alone since the summer.

Harry offered to sleep on the floor, but Gabriella pulled him close to her. There was a warmth to her touch that meant more to him than anything in the whole world. That night he laid his soul bare, telling her everything he knew, everything she’d listen to, including Draco’s theory about Voldemort’s cloak. Only when he touched on his training with the Centaurs, would she noticeably change the subject. He fell asleep in her arms and woke the next morning the same way. The sun was just breaking into the window as he stroked her long black hair, wondering with some fear what the future would bring.

After breakfast, they walked down the alley toward the small apartment structure that the innkeeper had described to Gabriella. When they finally arrived, Harry covered himself with the invisibility cloak. Gabriella knocked at the door and the door opened, held open by an older man with grey hair and a tired look on his face. There were introductions and Gabriella slipped inside. The door shut before Harry could follow. There was a moment of silence and then squeals of joy. Harry knew the sound; Cho was inside. A few moments later the man left, jingling coins in his pocket. Harry’s plan had worked – Gabriella, handing the man a couple galleons, suggested he go to the corner pub for a bite and a beer or two. He wasn’t to the sidewalk before there was a snap and he had Disapparated. Then the murmurs began; louder, then softer, then louder again. Finally, Harry heard, “Don’t be silly.” A moment after that, the door opened and Gabriella ushered him inside.

All the while, Harry had seen the auras of the two young women and the older man. He watched as they moved back and forth, and as Gabriella hugged what he figured to be Cho. It had been the first time he had observed a Disapparation without his sight and he noted with interest the sudden burst of energy that accompanied it. But more than anything else his attention was focused on one thing above all – a dim reddish glow that glimmered from the back of the apartment. Through all the walls it could have been anything – a cat, a dog. But Harry knew, by how well its colours blended with Cho’s, what was there.

“Harry?” Gabriella asked to the nothingness before her. Cho stood only a few feet away. Harry sensed warmth mixed with apprehension. As for himself, he could feel the sweat of his palms as he reached up and slipped off the cloak.

“Cho?” he asked to the glow before him. The aura didn’t move, the person didn’t speak, but the colour began to blanch almost immediately. Then her hand went to her face, covering her mouth.

“Oh, Harry,” she croaked. “Tony told me about the accident, about…” Slowly she walked over to him.

“This?” Harry asked, holding his hand near his temples. “It’s nothing. Just a bit of glass. Surgery’s scheduled for next month; should have me good as new.” Cho took his hand and then touched his face.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I should have come to visit.” She took him in her arms and held him tight. He could feel her shaking in his arms. “I couldn’t… I couldn’t bear to see you again.”

“Great,” Harry drawled. “Always good to know you’re thought of kindly.”

“Harry!” snapped Gabriella shortly. She took Cho gently by the arm and said, “Cho, can we come in and have a sit?” Cho loosened her grip on Harry and wiped her face with her hands.

“Oh, yes,” she said, sniffing, “of course.”

The place was larger than Harry expected, compared to what it looked like from the outside, but it was sparsely furnished and what furnishings there were appeared old and tattered. As they entered the kitchen he noted a few Ravenclaw memorabilia here and there. He even recognized a broom, the broom he bought her last year, was propped up in the corner. Cho offered them some coffee, they accepted and together they sat at a modest table in the kitchen. There was a little talk about the weather and school.

“Are your exams over?” Cho asked. “Tony has Arithmancy tomorrow.”

“Tony,” muttered Harry through gritted teeth. Maybe he was a bit jealous of Anthony. “Er… yeah. Gab and I are done for the semester.”

“That’s great,” said Cho softly. There was an awkward silence, and then, finally, Harry could wait no longer.

“I heard… I heard you and, er, Tony were going to tie the knot… get married. I told Gab we should come by and find out when. Ask what you might need to, erm…” He looked around at the shabby furniture. “… spruce the place up.”

“Soon,” answered Cho without hesitating. “But we’re not telling anyone until after the school year. Not even my family. They think I’m here studying art.”

“I also heard,” continued Harry, not really listening to Cho’s words, “that you two had a child; a baby boy is it?” Before Cho could answer Gabriella took her by the hand.

“It’s so exciting, Cho!” she said joyfully. “I’m sure you’re a wonderful mother. The baby is so lucky to have two such wonderful parents. Both Ravenclaws!”

“Thank you, Gab,” said Cho warmly. “T-Tony’s been great.”

“Can we see him?” asked Gabriella excitedly. “I’ve wanted to see him so.” Cho was hesitant.

“Well,” added Harry, “I can’t see him, but I have a pretty good idea that he’s right through there, isn’t he?” He pointed to the back room and swallowed. “I think it’s great that you and… er, Tony are doing the… er, right thing. It sure would be great, at least for Gabriella, to see him. Just a peak?”

“He is due to eat breakfast soon,” Cho said cautiously. “Perhaps… just for a moment.”

When she returned to the kitchen, Cho was carrying a baby boy dressed in a small red jumper. He smiled and muttered a few sounds as she sat him in his chair, offering him a biscuit to chew on. The dull fog of Harry’s eyes were focused somewhere above the boy’s head, but his mind’s eye was captivated on the golden red glow before him. It was brilliant, almost blinding, and Harry wondered if the brightness of the glow was because he was a baby or something more. The biscuit snapped out of Cho’s hand and flew into the waiting grasp of the baby’s.

“Look at that! So soon?” cooed Gabriella. “He’s just perfect.” And then she began to babble baby talk to the child.

“Yes, he’s pretty special,” answered Cho.

Harry could sense that she was looking at him, centred on his reaction, but he was at a loss. To know for sure he would have to ask straight out. Now, here they were, and Harry didn’t know what to do. He half wanted to poke the baby with a stick to see what it would do.

“Has he,” Harry began, “shown any other signs of magic?”

“No. Not really,” answered Cho cautiously. “But he can stand with help and he’s already tried to walk.” She paused. “I think, maybe, he’ll be in Hufflepuff,” she added wistfully. “He loves it when I take him to the zoo.”

“What’s his name?” asked Gabriella.

“Jamie,” answered Cho.

“After your brother?”

“We just liked the name,” Cho said, not committing.

“I have to admit,” said Gabriella, “that he’s the splitting image of you. And that’s a good thing; you’re much better looking than Anthony.” She laughed and Cho did too. It sounded as if it had been the first time Cho had laughed in quite some time. But then the tone in Gabriella’s voice changed.

“In fact, he doesn’t look much like a Goldstein at all. You’re both so dark, and Jamie’s skin is so pale.”

“He… he doesn’t get out much,” said Cho, growing nervous.

“Cho, you know I love you like a sister. Don’t you?” Gabriella asked gently. “Well, I think Harry has a right to know. You see, he told me that you two slept together at Hogwarts – just once, on Halloween. Caught in the heat of the moment, I guess.” Gabriella took a breath, gathering her strength. “I don’t care why it happened. And it doesn’t bother me anymore that it happened. The fact is it happened… nine months before little Jamie here was born.”

“Well—”

“Cho,” Gabriella interrupted. “Harry may have his suspicions, but he can’t see what I can, and the eyes never lie. You and Anthony, you both have brown eyes. Both your parents each have brown eyes. It would take a powerful wizard to produce a boy with anything other than brown eyes and the magic would most certainly be to turn the colour of the eyes to his own.” Cho said nothing. Harry said nothing. “It’s true, Jamie is the splitting image of his beautiful mother. But the eyes… I think he has his father’s eyes.” Cho remained silent. Once again, Harry watched as her aura blanched.

“What do you mean?” asked Harry blindly. Gabriella took his hand.

“They’re green, Harry,” she said quietly. “Almond shaped and brilliantly green. Just like yours.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 15 – Another Potter
~~~***~~~

Beyond the babbles of the baby sitting beside Harry, there was silence. Perhaps, if one were to listen closely, the sound of a bird chirping or a distant bus creaking to a halt could be heard, breaking the stillness of the morning. Then Cho’s foot began to nervously tap against the side of the table. In front of Harry, she had been confronted by Gabriella with the truth, but still she would not, or could not speak. Harry had known before they came to France that the child would be his, and though he had not heard the words from Cho’s lips, he wasn’t about to become angry; it was hard enough not to show how frightened he was feeling. No, if anything, he needed some time himself to get over the sinking feeling in his stomach, as if he’d just fallen off his broom. He would wait for Cho to be ready. He breathed deeply the aroma of his coffee, took a sip, set the cup down and put out his finger, with which the little boy began to bite toothlessly.

“Jamie?” Harry said tenderly. “I… I like that name.”

He smiled and put his hand on the boy’s head.

“Oh, my. What a head of hair! Is it black?” This simple question was purposefully directed at Cho. There was the beat of a pause before she answered.

“Yes,” she said quietly, with a bit of a crack in the word. Harry could hear her swallow.

“Thank Merlin he’s got his mother’s looks,” Harry said with a chuckle. He took another sip of coffee.

“You’ll see him one day, Harry,” said Gabriella with an encouraging tone. Harry tilted his head down and shook it slowly.

“I don’t think so,” he said quietly, his lips still turned in a slight smile.

“What do you mean?” asked Cho, surprised. “Surely they can—”

“I was just examined by Madame Pomfrey,” interrupted Harry. “The vision charms aren’t knitting. There’s still too much glass.”

“But couldn’t they just—”

“There are dozens of tiny shards – too many and too small to vanish without vanishing pieces of my eyes and if they summon them out they’ll shred whatever healthy eye tissue that’s left.” Cho gasped.

“I… I didn’t know. I thought—”

“No matter,” said Harry taking to his feet. “I can see the fire in his soul, even if I can’t see their colour of his eyes.” He went to the coffee pot to pour himself one more cup. On the way, he tripped on a small toy that had fallen on the floor and what liquid that was in his cup spilt.

“Woops,” said Harry. Cho stood to clean the spill, but Harry had it off the ground nearly before it landed with a simple wave of his hand. Since losing his sight, his abilities without a wand, abilities he rarely used in front of others, had strengthened. Without skipping a beat, he poured himself another cup, but rather than turn he continued to face the cabinetry. Yes, he could see the fire in the boy’s aura, but he would give anything to have his eyesight back… to see his child, his son. He began to tremble. For the first time in months he was cold with fear, and it wasn’t fear of a Dementor or Death Eater. It was fear for his child and his child’s mother, fear for a future that was already so uncertain, so dark. It felt as if all the air in the room was being sucked away.

“At least,” he said, holding the warm cup in his hands, “Anthony won’t need to… to look into my eyes and wonder. I… I wouldn’t want that.” Cho stepped up behind Harry and placed her hand on his shoulder.

“Anthony Goldstein, Ravenclaw Prefect at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry?” asked Cho. “He might be a bit proud at times, but he’s no fool, Harry. He knows.” She turned Harry to face her. “He’s always known that… that Jamie is your son. He came up with the name. Your f-father’s name.” She placed her hand at the side of Harry’s face. “He knew that too. I… I didn’t.” With these words, Cho began to cry. She held Harry by the front of his shirt and pulled him close, sobbing into his chest. Gabriella left her chair and the three hugged for some time while Cho repeated over and over how sorry she was, and Harry repeated over and over that it was okay, that he was the one who was sorry. It was little Jamie who broke up the trio as he began to cry.

“Oh… he’s hungry,” said Cho blotting her eyes. She picked the boy up into her arms and ushered them all into the front room where the fireplace sat cold, but the slightly tattered chairs were more comfortable. Even without the fire, Harry watched with wonder the warmth that filled the room. He could tell she loved the boy deeply. Nor, was the emotion lost on Gabriella, sitting at Harry’s side, who was gathering a glow herself as she took in the room’s emotions of love. He took Gabriella’s hand and for the first time in a long time Harry tried to relax, letting the swirling fears of the future fade from his mind. It was Cho that started the conversation as Jamie continued to suckle.

“I wanted to keep this secret, Harry – secret from my parents, secret from my brother, secret from you. At first I was ashamed and then—”

“But—”

”Let me finish,” asked Cho. “I need to finish, or I may never be able to.” Harry nodded. “Last year you wanted to tell me about Gabriella.” Cho looked at Gab. “He did so want to push me away, to tell me of the Muggle girl he had met back home.” Her eyes returned to Harry. “But I could see that, just under the skin, there was a fire of desire and I… I wanted… my broken body wanted to be desired.”

“He was cross-hexed by my parents,” said Gabriella. The words were meant to be explanatory, but Harry noted a tinge of bitterness or sadness.

“I know that now,” answered Cho. “Maybe I knew it then, at least that he wasn’t in his right mind. I could have used a sheathing charm. I thought about it. I even reached for my wand before it happened Halloween night behind the Great Hall.” Gabriella shot Harry a glance that he could not see. “But then I stopped. I wanted this.” Cho looked down at Jamie. “I wanted to have something in case… in case…”

“In case I died?” asked Harry. “Like Cedric?” Without speaking, Cho simply nodded.

“I was being stupid. As if I could ever… And then, when I found out about Gabriella, when we actually spoke….” Cho smiled. “I was so happy for you, Harry, and you were so sad.” She sighed, shaking her head. “So I hid it – I hid my pregnancy and I hid Jamie.” She put the baby over her shoulder and began to pat its back. “I thought that after You-Know-Who had been destroyed I could tell you, but then I heard about the new war… that Malfoy’s Death Eaters were out to kill you. What would they do if they knew you had a son?” She shook her head. “This summer, I travelled to the United States with Anthony… Tony. One night, I fell asleep in his arms and when I woke up the next morning the befuddling charm had warn off. I was pregnant for all to see. In that instant I panicked, horrified by what he might think, what he might do, and in the next I felt Tony’s touch, warm and caressing on my stomach. He stayed at my side and he’s never left.” Jamie let out a rather impressive burp and everyone smiled.

Grinning, Cho held Jamie in her lap and said something in Chinese as she wiped the milk from his chin.

“Tony’s hired Chalmers” said Cho, referring to the guard that was probably now close to finishing his morning meal, “to watch over Jamie and I, while he finishes school. It’s costing him every knut he has. Once we’re married we’ll qualify for benefits from the Ministry. They offer housing and, maybe, we can find a nicer place to—”

“Benefits?” spat Harry, his spine snapping rigid. “From the Ministry? You can’t be serious! You’re not going to take a dime from the Ministry. As far as I’m concerned there all a bunch of crooks!”

“Harry!” called Gabriella.

“Well, Ron’s dad. But the rest of the lot? Crooks!” He took to his feet. “And as far as living in Ministry housing… never! I won’t allow it.”

“What do you mean you won’t allow it?” said Cho a bit heatedly. “You have no say in the matter.” Harry ignored her.

“You’ll stay at the castle. It’s far enough away from what’s happening… yes, you’ll be safe there.”

“We’re safe here,” said Cho, standing herself, the baby held snugly in both arms.

“Safe! Are you kidding me!” cried Harry. “What’s his name… Chambers? He’s a Death Eater!”

“Oh,” Cho chuckled, “now you’re just being ridiculous. Chalmers wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s only working for Tony because of the kindness in his heart. He hardly makes enough money to get by on.”

“So he moonlights for Lucius Malfoy as a Death Eater!” exclaimed Harry. “At least he doesn’t know that the boy is mine. Thank Merlin for that.” Cho’s face dropped with surprise at these words.

“How could you possible know that we haven’t told him?” she asked. Now Gabriella stood, stroked Jamie’s cheek and took him in her own arms, patting his back as he rested against her shoulder.

“Because,” Gabriella said softly with a melodious voice as if she were singing to the baby, “if Chalmers knew, Lucius would know. And if Lucius knew, his son would know.”

“Draco?” breathed Cho. “I thought Draco was…” Her voice quieted and she strode over to Harry and slapped him on the shoulder. “You little liar. You looked me straight in the eye and told me he fell into the abyss.” Harry turned his back.

“Don’t you look away from me!” Cho yelled. “Let me see your face.” Harry acquiesced. When he faced her, any anger he felt evaporated and his shoulder slumped.

“This is pointless,” he breathed. “He’ll be back here any moment. Maybe he’s a kindly old doddered just trying to make a buck any way he can. Cho, you can’t take a chance.” He placed his hands on her shoulders. “I have money and it’s my responsibility. Let me at least help pay the bills until Anthony graduates. Let me at least give you a roof over your head where the fireplace works and you’ll know you’ll be safe.”

“It’s beautiful there,” added Gabriella. “Green fields… azure seas… cute Greek boys with bare chests.” She winked and kissed Jamie on the head. Cho crossed her arms and walked over to the fireplace that had no fuel for the fire.

“I… I’ll have to ask Tony,” answered Cho. “Do you think… I know it’s difficult overseas, but do you think we could connect to the floo network? I miss the family so, and we are going to tell them… after Tony graduates.”

“That’s one thing the Ministry can do,” said Harry, suddenly happy Cho was changing her mind. “But you can tell Tony later. First, we need to—” There was a snap and an instant later the front door opened. Gabriella motioned for Harry to hide. He had just enough time to dart under his cloak and gather himself into the corner before Chalmers walked through the front door.

The older man was too thin and not much taller than Cho. When he entered he took his coat off and hung it against the wall with a sticking charm.

“Beautiful day today, Miss Chang,” he said with a toothy smile. “Beautiful Day!” He stepped over and gave Gabriella a nod. “And thank you missy for the fine meal.” He paused. “It’s been a while since…” His face grew wistful, but then he shook his head. “No matter.” He slapped his hands together and pulled his wand. “Let me clear these dishes for you.” Harry stood silently against the wall as Chalmers walked with a bit of a limp into the kitchen. There was a distinct rhythm to the cadence of his walk that Harry, two months ago, would not otherwise have noticed. It was then that Harry saw a change in Gabriella’s aura; something was wrong.

“Oh,” said Chalmers with a tone of surprise in his voice. “Three cups. Did you have another visitor today?” Without waiting for an answer he levitated the dishes into the sink where the scrubbers began to wash them. Cho was frozen, but Gabriella stepped over without hesitation.

“Yes,” she said quite calmly, “a girlfriend of ours, also from Hogwarts. She had to leave early to get back for her afternoon exam.” Chalmers nonchalantly straightened the chairs.

“Well, you know how Mr. Goldstein feels about visitors, Miss Chang.” He settled himself into one of the cushioned chairs and began to unfold the newspaper, still scanning the room with the eyes. “At least strangers.” Harry could tell that the old man was on guard, sensing something that was not right. “Just tryin’ to keep you and the baby safe he is.”

Baby Jamie babbled something and then pointed at Harry hidden beneath the cloak. The motion was enough to cause Chalmers to turn and look back into the far corner at the cracked and empty wall. Jamie babbled again and gave a light laugh. Chalmers smiled.

“Well, wee Jamie is happy enough to have guests.” He held up the front page. “What’s your friend’s name, missy?”

“Hermione… Hermione Granger,” answered Gabriella. There was the slightest pause and she added, “And I should be on my way as well.” She gave Cho a hug and kissed Jamie’s cheek. “Thanks so much for letting us visit. He’s just adorable and you’re a wonderful mother.”

“Thank you, Gabriella,” answered Cho, kissing Gab’s cheek. “I couldn’t ask for a kinder, warmer friend. Please come visit after the wedding. I think I’ll feel more comfortable then – Mrs. Goldstein.”

“Oh! That reminds me,” said Gabriella suddenly. “Mr. Chalmers is it?” Chalmers set his paper in his lap.

“Just Chalmers, missy.”

“Cho was showing me the nursery and I noticed the back window. We had discussed placing a sealing charm, but I wasn’t sure if—”

“Yes, missy,” cut in Chalmers proudly. “The whole house is sealed tight. No one can get in without permission. It’s a Bucinum charm.”

“Oh dear,” said Gabriella. “A Bucinum charm?” Chalmers nodded his head. “I think a Trepidus charm would be safer.”

“Trepidus charm?” asked Chalmers blankly.

“Oh yes,” added Cho. “A Trepidus charm would be ideal.”

“Certainly,” continued Gabriella, “I mean, if someone tries to break in the Bucinum charm blows them up. That could harm the baby. Do you think you could show me where you set the charms? Together we can make the replacement.”

“Oh, please do, Chalmers,” asked Cho pleadingly. “Gabriella’s a first class witch. She studied at Al Bsahri you know.”

“Did she now,” said Chalmers with interest as he took to his feet. “I’ve heard they reopened the school this year.”

“Yes,” said Gabriella, “it’s quite lovely.”

“Well, let’s have a look around and see what we can do.” Together, Chalmers and Gabriella made their way to the back of the house, leaving Cho and Jamie alone with Harry. Even as Harry moved toward the front door beneath his invisibility cloak, Jamie followed him with his gaze, pointing with his hand. Cho walked to the door and opened it.

“When… when do you marry Gold— Anthony?” Harry asked.

“Christmas,” Cho answered. She tried to make the word sound exciting and vibrant, but it fell flat.

“Cho, you don’t have to—”

“Don’t I?” Cho snapped. “Don’t I? Tony loves me for all the world. He’d risk his life to protect me… and your son. He’s honest, hardworking, and… and… and I’m marrying him on Christmas.” Jamie wriggled in her arms, both hands outstretched toward Harry.

“You deserve to be happy,” said Harry quietly. “You deserve...” but Harry’s words failed him. “I’m so sorry.” Cho ushered Harry outside to the front stoop and shut the door behind her. She lifted his cloak to reveal his face.

“Harry,” she said. “Tony… he looks at me… he looks at me the way you look at Gabriella. What girl wouldn’t want that?” She leaned over and kissed him on the lips, and then draped the cloak back over him. “I’ll ask him about your offer. He’s a proud man, Harry, and a bit stubborn. You should be able to appreciate that.”

“I love you, Cho. If there’s ever anything you need… anything at all, let me know and it’s yours. I’ll see to it, I swear.” Cho smiled, but her eyes were sad. Jamie began to suck on his fingers. The door opened and Gabriella appeared followed closely by Chalmers.

“Ah, here you are,” said Gabriella. The sun was warm on her face as she put her arms out and gave Gabriella a hug. “The apartment is sealed tight.” Cho took in a deep breath.

“Good, thank you,” she said. “I was just giving Jamie a little sun.”

“Which he can get through the window, my dear,” said Chalmers herding Cho back into the house. “Now come inside.” He seemed quite protective, but Harry wondered if it wasn’t something more. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss Darbinyan, was it?”

“Yes, and a pleasure it was to meet you,” Gabriella replied. “It’s good to see my friends in such fine hands. Cho, I’ll be by before long with those gifts I promised.”

“Gifts?” Cho asked. “Oh, yes, gifts. Yes, yes, anytime. Be safe; there’s a quiet space to Apparate just behind that gray building over there.” They kissed good-bye and Gabriella began to walk down the street, Harry at her side. Chalmers stood for some time after Cho had gone inside, watching from the stoop. Gabriella waved one last time as she turned the corner out of sight. Harry was about to pull off the cloak when she stopped him.

“Stay hidden,” Gabriella whispered. “We’re being followed.” Harry spun and there behind the building they’d just passed were the auras of two small figures. They hadn’t been there a minute before.

“Did you see them?” Harry asked. “I didn’t hear an Apparation.”

“House elves,” Gabriella whispered, “at least one of them. The other… I can’t tell.”

“But there weren’t any house elves at the house,” said Harry.

“I know,” she replied. “They must belong to someone else, or one’s with its master.”

“Who?”

Gabriella just shrugged.

“How did he know your name?” asked Harry.

“It just slipped out. But I don’t think—”

“You don’t think Lucius would just as soon see you up on a pike as me? It was foolishness!”

“He’d have found out soon enough,” said Gabriella with a sigh as the two turned another corner. The street was deserted save for two young boys playing football near the end by a chain-link fence. Gabriella pulled her wand. She was going to attack the two that were nearing the corner, but Harry stayed her hand.

“Gab, no,” he whispered. “Grimmauld Place.”

“But—”

“Now!”

A moment later they found themselves on the streets of London, just outside of number twelve, Grimmauld Place. They waited to see if they might have been followed, then checked that the streets were clear. Finally, Harry uncloaked and walked up the steps to the door, knocking twice. The door opened of its own accord and the two walked in. There was a rustle, a thud, and then Sirius appeared atop the staircase wearing boxers and a t-shirt. Wand drawn he pointed it blindly toward the door.

“Freeze!” he screamed. “Or I’ll obliterate you!”

“I hope not,” answered Harry. “I’m kinda hungry.”

“Harry?” Sirius said, blinking his eyes. “Harry what the hell… Gabriella?” Sirius made an attempt at slicking back his hair and started down the stairs.

“It’s after noon,” Harry said. “Don’t tell me you were still sleeping.”

“I was up late last night. Remus finished grading papers and we— Hey, isn’t your Potions exam today?” Sirius’ eyes shot to the door. “And why didn’t you use the floo? What’s going on?”

“Erm… can we eat first,” asked Harry.

“What,” shot Sirius in a singularly insistent tone, “is… going… on?!”

“Sirius,” said Gabriella softly, “I think it best if we sit down.”

“You do, do you?” snipped Sirius, but Gabriella’s black eyes caught a soft-spot in Sirius’ bark. “Well… okay.”

The three moved into the kitchen and Sirius started toward the stove. He grabbed a spatula and summoned some sausages when Gabriella took his hand.

“Here,” she said softly, “let me do that. You sit with Harry.” Sirius moved to the table and sat opposite his godson.

“Well?” Sirius queried. “It’s obvious something’s afoot. Spit it out.” Harry tried, but he couldn’t hold his godfather’s gaze.

“I… I, erm…” He sucked in a large gulp of air and exhaled. “Igoterpregnant.”

“What?” Sirius asked. “What was that?”

“I… I got her pregnant.”

“What!” Sirius stood and spun towards Gabriella. “You’re pregnant?” Gabriella turned the sausages with her wand. “How could you—”

“Let him finish,” she replied, floating three plates out onto the table.

“Not Gabriella,” Harry said. Sirius turned back to face Harry. “Cho… Cho Chang.” Sirius fell back into his chair.

“Are you sure?” asked Sirius with a disbelieving tone. “Because sometimes witches can—”

“Oh,” cut in Gabriella sharply. “He’s sure.”

“Merlin,” he whispered, scratching his chin. “Harry, you should know better.”

“I know. I know I should know better.”

“And you,” Sirius said, turning back to Gabriella, “why are you here with this cheating scum if Cho’s running around pregnant?” Expressionless, Gabriella placed the sausages on the plates and added some warmed beans.

“It was last year,” she answered sitting down and handing Sirius a fork.

“The baby was born in July,” said Harry. “On my birthday. His name is Jamie.”

Sirius’ fork fell with a clank onto the plate, splattering red beans onto his white-ish t-shirt.

“A b-boy? Jamie?”

“They’re living in a dump,” said Harry quickly, “and I can’t have my son living like that. I won’t have another Potter live with dust and spiders, not as long as it’s in my power. So, I offered to have them stay at your castle. You know… until Anthony graduates. Merlin save his soul if he ever—”

“My castle? Anthony? Who’s Anthony.”

“Goldstein. Well Cho calls him Tone. How cheesy is that? Anyhow, the thing is….”

It was well into the evening before Harry had set Sirius straight on all the details, uncertain as they were. Sirius then began a speech that lasted for nearly thirty minutes and included a few references to Harry’s parents. But when Harry began to probe deeper Sirius changed the subject. After venting about Harry’s stupidity, he had agreed to take Anthony, Cho and Jamie in and help in any way he could.

The sausages Cho cooked little more than a memory, Sirius grew hungry again and he convinced them to go to a Thai restaurant that he had found just a few blocks away. When they arrived, Harry discovered that it was run by an old Muggle, but frequented by a number of witches and wizards. The occasional flashes of magic that occurred never seemed to faze the old man. Sirius called him a Savant, a Muggle in tune with the magic of the natural world but possessing no skill his own. Harry was half-way through his Panang Curry when he realized that tonight he was to meet Ron and Hermione at the Ministry.

“The cloak,” he muttered suddenly to himself, before taking another bite.

“What’s that, Harry?” asked Sirius. Harry looked up into Sirius’ eyes; they were smiling. Harry’s blindness didn’t allow him to see that the creases that had once drawn the sides of Sirius’ eyes down were now curling upward. But he could sense the brightness of the aura in his godfather’s expression. For a moment, Harry considered telling Sirius of their plans at the Ministry. Gabriella touched his hand.

“More tea?” the waiter asked, and all three nodded. Harry continued to look toward Sirius who was as happy as ever. The thought of asking Sirius to help them, particularly at the Ministry, curdled the curry in Harry’s stomach.

“I said I almost choked,” Harry said with a cough.

“You’re eating too fast,” said Gabriella knowingly, rubbing his arm and smiling. “It’s not a race.”

“Probably the curry,” said Sirius, taking another bite. “It’s a bit spicy tonight.”

“Yeah… yeah that’s it,” Harry answered. He wiped his mouth with his napkin and set it on the table. “Erm… Actually, I think I better be—”

“Harry,” interrupted Gabriella, “I have to go before it gets past midnight.”

“Is it getting that late?” asked Sirius, his mouth half full. Harry shot her a glance; his mouth frowned. He didn’t want her at the Ministry any more than he wanted Sirius. There were too many memories—bad memories. Then she said something that surprised even Harry.

“I need to see Jamie,” she said, “just for a moment. I should have taken care of it this morning, but I forgot. I’ve not been in tune with the old ways for some time. Mama would be disappointed in me.” Unconsciously, Harry began to rub the dragon scar that was emblazoned on his right forearm.

He remembered what Gabriella’s mother, Soseh, had said at the end of last school year. “The blessing is inscribed on the males of each generation by the women of the generation before. It will be Gabriella’s duty to pass the blessing to your sons.” Once it was clear that Harry would accept Jamie as his son, it was Gabriella’s duty, by oath, that she pass to him the blessing of Asha.

“The Votary,” Harry whispered quietly, staring down at the bowl of yellow and gold. Then his dull eyes looked toward hers. “It’s too dangerous,” he said sharply. “What if Chalmers has told them. What if he knew all along? What if they’re still there?”

“They? They who?” asked Sirius.

“We were followed after we left Cho’s apartment,” said Gabriella. “But it makes no difference. By honour, I have no choice. It must be done, and the sooner it’s done the greater the power of Jamie’s blessing, of his protection. He’ll need Asha’s help in these times of darkness.”

“You mentioned the Death Eater bodyguard, but you didn’t mention that you were followed,” said Sirius, his eyes turning toward Harry with a more serious glare.

“Draco said that Chalmers doesn’t work nights, at least not for Goldstein. Sirius, you need to go with her, keep her safe. That way you can see Jamie and pass on the news, maybe convince Cho to move into the castle tonight while Chalmers is away.”

“And you?” Sirius asked.

“I’ll just head back to Hogwarts. If the two were a couple of Lucius’ thugs out to get me it’d be better if I wasn’t there.” Sirius sighed, looking longingly at an untouched barbeque spare rib. He licked his lips and pushed his plate forward.

“Very well, let’s go.” They paid and made their way outside and down the street, finding a more remote alley often used by the visiting witches and wizards to Apparate. Sirius took Harry by the arm and looked him in the eyes, but Harry turned away to look down the street as a car past by.

“Straight to Hogwarts,” said Sirius sternly, “okay, Harry?”

“Straight to Hogwarts,” Harry agreed. Gabriella kissed him on the cheek.

“I can see your emotions roiling,” she whispered in his ear. “Be vigilant and say, ‘Hi!’ to Ron and Hermione for me.” She pulled her wand as did Sirius. “Oh, and don’t worry; Jamie will be fine. I’ll make sure that no evil harms your child.” Harry tried to muster a smile.

“Did I ever tell you how much I loved you?” he asked and then they kissed. “I’ll see you at school in the morning. Keep her safe, Sirius.” There was a snap and both Gabriella and Sirius had vanished. Harry focused his vision to another part of London and in the next moment found himself at a telephone box above the entrance to the Ministry. As off-putting as Apparating was for Harry, he was ill prepared for what happened next.

“Stupefy!” The blast of red light hit Harry squarely in the chest, knocking him backward some ten to twenty feet, his wand tumbling from his hand. “There, Harrington,” a large cloaked figure said with a rather blustery voice, picking up Harry’s wand, “and you were about ready to wet your pants. He is a boy, after all.” Still on his back Harry could sense them stepping toward him.

“I… am not… a… boy!” he rasped. This made the closest wizard laugh, but the smaller man behind him said nothing.

“Well, I’ve got your wand, little man. I doubt you’ll—”

“Diffindo!” Harry hissed, stretching his right arm forward. Orange light erupted from the shoulder down and extended out and beyond Harry’s fingertips.

The front of the Death Eater’s cloak looked as if a large saber had just slashed across it, tearing cloth and flesh alike up and outward. Harry could feel the blood spatter his face. The Death Eater screamed falling to his knees. Unsteadily, Harry stood. The whole place seemed to be spinning. He was dizzy and a gathering sensation of nausea was building inside.

“Accio wand!” he cried, wrenching his wand from the Death Eater’s grasp and in to his own hand. Limping forward he yelled “BOY?” Then he placed his wand on the forehead of his foe. “BOY?” Blood continued to trickle from beneath the crouching Death Eater’s ribs and between the hands that clutched his chest. “Who do you work for?” Harry asked, already knowing the answer.

Harry had focused so much attention on the large Death Eater, he had neglected the smaller one that had retreated to the shadows.

“I said WHO – DO – YOU – WORK FOR!” Standing over his cowering victim, it was then that he noticed the lights – lots of lights. Five more auras had Apparated; he was surrounded. Seemingly emboldened by the new arrivals, the smaller Death Eater emerged from the shadows and held out his wand.

“Expel—” There were three spells cast almost simultaneously that stopped the wizard before he had a chance to finish.

“Stupefy!” “Diffindo!” and Harry’s shield charm, “Contego!”

Only, Harry didn’t need the shield charm… for himself. The first spell came from one of the approaching auras Harry presumed to be more Death Eaters. The bolt, not the strongest Harry had ever seen, knocked the smaller wizard backward, albeit only a few feet. Fearing for his life, and rightfully so, the diminutive Death Eater Disapparated. The second spell came from yet another aura, small yet intense. It was directed at the crippled wizard crouching before Harry. The result was frightful and instantaneous; the Death Eater’s head fell to the gravelled pavement and his torso slumped forward, draining blood at Harry’s feet, a boiling pool of light like lave erupting from a volcano.

Harry spun to face the five wizards approaching him, holding his wand high. Two showed hints of both red and green in their auras as they drew nearer. “Imperious Curse?” Harry wondered. And then a voice came to him that startled him more than that of the previous Death Eater.

“Bloody hell, James! What in Merlin’s name did you do that for?”

The colour, the canter, the tone… Harry knew at once it was Ron Weasley.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 16 – The Burden Calls
~~~***~~~

“He was reaching for his wand,” said James, pointing at the decapitated Death Eater at Harry’s feet. “He was going to kill Harry!”

“He was on his knees,” snapped Hermione. “Harry had him firmly in control.”

“He didn’ have the… that little guy in control,” countered Patrick. “I had teh take him down.”

“You’re just lucky he was as frightened as a molamar in water,” said Anthony Goldstein with a rather haughty voice.

“Goldstein?” asked Harry in surprise as the group converged on him.

“Damn, Potter,” said Goldstein, “you’re a bloody mess. And I do mean bloody. Scourgify!” The splatters covering the front of Harry’s face, shirt and pants vanished, though the pool on the pavement remained. “There, that’s better.”

“Who in Hades told Goldstein?” cried Harry.

“Actually, Potter,” replied Goldstein, “I stumbled on this merry troupe as they tried to sneak out. Seemed like a good DA mission.

“Are you kidding?” snapped Harry, gazing at the aura of the man who’d be his son’s father. There was a purity about it, but Harry was to inflamed to consider it. “You… you can’t be here. It’s too dangerous.”

“Yes, I see that,” said Goldstein with a rather sarcastic tone. Gingerly, Harry stepped out of the blood, pooling at his feet. Hermione ran over to him and hugged him.

“Who were they?” she asked. “Nobody’s supposed to know we’re here.”

“That’s what I thought,” answered Harry. “I was trying to get an answer when James here decided to play the butcher.” Harry turned to the second year. “The next time I need your help Chang, I’ll ask for it.” Harry sensed at once the anger building within the smaller wizard, but then it subsided almost as quickly as it came.

“I… I was just trying too hard I guess,” answered James. “It was scary.”

“And why are you two,” Harry pointed to both James and Patrick, “here in the first place? Stumble across the troupe as well?” He shot Ron a glance and wished he could convey eyes of death.

“Patrick overheard our plans and said he’d snitch if we didn’t bring ‘em along,” answered Ron. “It was supposed to be quiet; I didn’t figure we’d run into Death Eaters.”

“If that’s what they were,” said Harry, still holding his wand at the ready. “They acted more like hired thugs than Death Eaters.”

The night air was cold and quiet. He could feel the dampness of a thin mist wrap about his face, sending shivers down his spine. For a moment he thought of Dementors, but the coolness, this chilled clamminess was something else, something more visceral. The whispers of death were swirling; somehow Harry knew that. And not for the man that had just been slain, the whispers were telling Harry that more would soon join the dead man at his feet. But who?

“Goldstein,” Harry said suddenly, “Anthony, really you… you have to—”

“Well, we’re here now,” said James. “Dispatchio!” The dead wizard and the pool of blood beneath him vanished. “Let’s say we get in, get the cloak and get out before anymore… er, dark wizards show up. Wouldn’t want Luci—”

“Where’d you learn that spell?” queried Hermione. “That’s fifth year.” James shrugged his shoulders.

“My sister I guess,” he said. “She’s the smart one in the family.”

“Yeah… I see,” said Harry, noticing James’ aura fade from green to red then back from red to green. For the first time, he thought James might not really be an ally. “Ron, maybe you should take—”

“James is right,” interrupted Anthony. “Best if we get down into the Ministry before another dozen Death Eaters Apparate in.”

“But—”

“Harry,” interrupted Hermione, “let’s just get downstairs. We can talk then.” Harry heaved a sigh and the group squeezed into the phone booth. Ron said the password his father had told him and a silver orb appeared, scanning Ron in a sickly white light. Then, with a jar, the elevator began to plummet. Harry tried to look at Ron and suggest to the redhead that he should read Harry’s mind, but his eyes were blank and Ron didn’t recognize the facial expression as he once would have. Harry silently cursed his blindness.

Harry’s heart began to quicken. If the two second years were under the Imperious Curse, they were likely in Lucius Malfoy’s control. He was feeling strongly like he wanted to wretch onto the polished marble floors just as the doors opened onto the resplendent entrance hall of the Ministry of Magic. The six stepped out, wands drawn.

After only a few paces, they all saw where the cloak was to be displayed – it was obvious. A large glass case had already been erected. On a pole was the torso of a mannequin and next to that a golden statue of Harry with his wand drawn. They all stepped closer. There was no cloak, but there was a plaque. It read, “This site commemorates the defeat of the Dark Wizard Voldemort by the Grand Wizard Harry Potter, Order of Merlin, First Class, who faced his foe wand-to-wand and struck him down.”
“Order of Merlin?” asked Goldstein surprised. “I didn’t know—”

“Neither did I,” cut in Harry.

“They’ll probably award it to you during the ceremony tomorrow,” said Hermione brightly. Harry turned to her.

“If we do this right, there won’t be any ceremony,” said Harry shortly. “No Dark cloak, no return of Voldemort, no ceremony. Ron, do you have any idea where—”

There was a resonance coming from down the hall and a faint glow that was growing nearer. It sounded as if someone were humming. The group began to pull back, away from the display case; all, that is, except James. Harry went to grab his sleeve, but the boy wouldn’t move.

“Is this it?” he asked, still staring at the re-enactment before him. “Is this how it happened? You struck him down? Nobody could tell me for sure, not even Gabriella.” Harry held more tightly to James’ robes and began to pull him bodily across the floor.

“James,” Harry said, huffing between his teeth, “there are some things you can’t believe. First, never believe a word Trelawney says unless she sounds like a goblin on fire whiskey. Second, never believe a word written in the Dailey Prophet, unless it’s written by Luna Lovegood. And finally, never… ever believe anything the Ministry says – ever!” He continued dragging James by the back of his collar until they were hidden between two marble columns.

“Bold words, Harry,” continued James passively. “But I never believed you could beat Lord Voldemort wand-to-wand. Tell me, is there still a part of the Dark Lord that courses through your veins? That could be useful, if—”

“Shhh.” All was silent, save for the occasional cracking ember from one of the fireplaces that surrounded the grand entrance hall and the humming that was growing louder by the minute. Again Harry tried to gather Ron’s attention, but he was busy whispering something in Hermione’s ear as they clung together behind a suit of armour opposite the Fountain of Magical Brethren. At another column just behind Harry and James, Patrick and Anthony crouched. The whispers of death were growing louder. So loud, in fact, that Harry turned to see if perhaps a ghost or something more were at his right side. Only James was there, kneeling quietly on the floor.

The light grew brighter and then the witch appeared. Harry could make out her aura, a shimmering gold, but not her features at this distance. In front of her was a cloak levitated some two feet off the ground. She was approaching the display case when James began to wriggle under Harry’s hand.

“Hold still,” he whispered, but the marble walls took in the sound, echoed them about, amplifying the noise such that it was audible to the witch at the display case. Harry noticed the hesitation. He expected her to turn, but she did not. Instead, she levitated the cloak onto the torso within the display case and closed the glass door. She cast a charm with her wand and then turned as if to leave. In turning, she revealed her face to the others, but Harry was still unable to recognize who the witch was. From the faint gasp from across the hall it was clear that Hermione, for one, knew who it was. The witch stepped toward the fountain and took something out of her pocket, perhaps a coin, Harry couldn’t tell. In a motion that was as graceful and as cunning as any Harry had ever seen, she flipped the object into the fountain. It spun high into the air and, just as it crested in its arc, her other hand pointed her wand toward it and cast the spell.

“Immobulus!” Harry recognized the voice at once; it was Molly Weasley, Ron’s mother.

Half of the light leaving her wand passed the coin cleanly and struck the witch and wizard by the suit of armour. The other half, however, glinted off the coin, reflecting toward and blasting the two wizards next to the column behind Harry. With one spell she had immobilized Ron, Hermione, Anthony and Patrick. Again, James wriggled under Harry’s grasp and again Harry held him fast.

“I know you’re there,” Mrs. Weasley said with a voice that held no fear. “I’m afraid it’s well after hours. If you’re lost, I’m sure I can help you find your way. Come out from behind the column and let’s see where you belong. Shall we?”

Again James pushed against the weight of Harry who was pressing him hard against the marble floor. Finally, Harry had had enough. He couldn’t risk what James might do.

“Incarcerous!” he called. Ropes sprung from his wand and began to wrap themselves about James.

“Sectumsempra!” cried James, slashing the ropes with his wand and pushing Harry away. Then he pointed his wand at Mrs. Weasley. “Avada Ked—!”
“Stupefy!” she called, her spell interrupting the boy’s. The red light nearly struck James who deflected it at the last moment, sending the beam into the ceiling above, showering them all with pieces of marble and splinters of walnut. This was no second year wizard.

Harry jumped to his feet and cast his own stunning spell, but again James deflected it. It was then that Molly Weasley noticed who he was.

“Harry?” she called.

“Hide, Mrs. Weasley!” he cried in return. “Hide!”

James cast a jet of red light Harry’s way. Harry focused on where he needed to be—out of the beam’s path. Suddenly, everything slowed and he found himself running to the right, toward the fountain, just as the bolt of red passed his left elbow. James smiled.

“Impressssive, Harry,” James hissed in a much higher, colder voice, a voice that shook Harry to the core. It couldn’t be. “You’ve learned well from the Centaurs. I did as well; although I suspect my methods of extracting the knowledge I required were somewhat different than yours.” There was another bolt, green, and again Harry disappeared and reappeared into another part of the grand hall.

“Diffindo!” called Mrs. Weasley. Her spell struck James on the left shoulder, leaving a nasty slash. James spun on the witch.

“Avada Kedavra!”

This time the green light sailed toward Molly Weasley. Harry began to levitate a marble bench into the beam’s path, but quickly realized the bench was too heavy and would not travel fast enough. Instead he ran, slowing time and bending the space between them tightly together. He grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her to the ground just as the blast past the pair, smashing into the wall behind and showering them with dust and rock. Harry landed on his back as Mrs. Weasley landed on top of him, knocking the air out of his chest.

“Harry,” she said sternly as only a mother could, “what are you doing here? What’s going on?”

“It… it’s Voldemort,” he gasped trying to find air that wasn’t there. “He’s… back.” He wheezed, sucking in a short breath of air. “In… James.” Without questioning further, Mrs. Weasley’s back went rigid and she rose to face James, to face Voldemort.

“Nooo,” Harry rasped, struggling to sit up, but barely able. She ignored his beckon and faced the small boy now standing only a few feet in front of her.

“Leave the boy, Voldemort,” she commanded, brandishing her wand. “He can’t possibly be of any use to you, now we know the truth.”

“Truth?” queried James as his eyes shot toward the dark cloak still protected behind the sealed glass. Harry rose to his knees, trying to bring air back into his lungs. “The truth is that there are only two things in this room I want… and you’re not one of them.” His wand rose in unison with Harry’s, only Harry was unable to gasp the spell.

“Avada Kedavra!”

Placing himself between Mrs. Weasley and Voldemort, Harry tried to rise up in front of the jet of green but the killing curse would win the race this time; he knew that. For her part, Molly Weasley cast a shield charm about them both, hoping to deflect the spell, but they all knew it wouldn’t work. In her last instant of life her hands gripped Harry by the shoulders and she cast a glance down into his blind eyes, a glance that held love and compassion, a glance that was filled with concern not for herself but for the boy before her… a glance he couldn’t see. She fell dead to the floor.

“NO!” cried Harry as he spun and cast another slashing spell against James who deflected it with ease. “You’re being controlled, James! Fight back!” James only laughed.

“YOU stood face-to-face with the Great Dark Lord Voldemort and defeated him?” James mocked. “What a joke!”

With Mrs. Weasley dead, the spell she cast on the other four wizards began to wear off. Slowly, they were coming to there senses, working to regain control of their motions. James walked over to a groaning Patrick who was still prone on the floor. He grabbed Patrick’s hair and pulled his head off the ground.

“This one here,” called James, his voice echoing off the walls, “thinks of you as a brother, Potter. He’d sooner die than see you come to harm. Yet he’s betrayed you at my every command. Shall I kill him next?”

“Expelliarmus!” Harry cried, but once again James deflected the spell.

“Haven’t you figured it out yet, Potter? Even with the skills of the Centaurs, you’re as slow as your dead parents. Nonetheless, you could be useful; the Malfoy boy suggested as much. I heard, perhaps, he’s not as dead as everyone thinks.” He released Patrick whose head cracked against the stone floor. But instead of striking at Harry, James held his wand to the glass display case. “Diffindo!” The blast of light struck the glass, but held firm as if swallowing the energy of the blast, the glass began to glow. For the first time, the smile on James Chang’s face disappeared. “Diffindo!” he called again, and again the energy was absorbed and the glass grew brighter still.

“You’ve killed your only chance for opening the case,” Harry sneered. “But then… I always heard that that was one of your greatest weaknesses… TOM… being stupid!”

Another blast of light shot toward Harry; it was red not green, not a killing curse. Once more, Harry slipped out of its way. This time he moved quickly around and behind James reappearing with his wand drawn.

“Stupefy!” Harry cried, sending a blast of red at James’ back, but again the wizard deflected the spell as if swatting a fly and then turned back toward the display case. “You’re not trying to kill me, Tom. Why not?”

“I’ll kill you sssoon enough,” James slithered. “First, the cloak. Then, I need to extract something of mine that you stole from me when you were a baby. Soon, I will be—” Suddenly two more spells came from beyond the fountain. Ron and Hermione had revived themselves enough to fight, but barely.

“No! Get out of here!” Harry screamed. “It’s Voldemort! Run!”

“I don’t have time for this,” cried James, sending three more blasts of light at the glass case. On the third bolt the glass cracked, but only just. Harry could tell that the spells that James had cast over the last few minutes were draining him. He looked tired, almost vulnerable. At the same moment the fires ringing the grand hall roared to life.

“Finally,” Harry whispered, “some help.” Wizard after wizard appeared at each hearth, brandishing their wands. “Whatever time you thought you had has just expired, Tom.”

The room erupted in red light. Seven blasts came at the small wizard by the display case. Two struck true while the others struck the glowing glass, shattering it completely. The large glass shards that scattered the floor, however, were still glowing as brightly as ever. There were more blasts of red directed at Harry.

“It’s me!” he yelled. “Harry Potter!”

“Harry!” cried Hermione from the far side of the hall. “It’s not the Ministry! It’s—” A blast of red dropped her to the ground.

“Hermione!” cried Ron. “He cast a spell knocking the wizard by Hermione backward into the wall with a loud crack. He pointed towards another wizard and ran at him. “Leave her alone, you bloody—” There was a blast of purple and he too fell to the floor.

“We’re students!” Harry yelled, but it only focused the attention of another barrage of red bolts his way. Harry cast a shield charm and sent them flying in every conceivable direction. The blasts weakened him. “Are you crazy?! We’re—” And then he noticed it – the unmistakably bright emerald green aura of Draco Malfoy, stepping from the flames of one of the fireplaces. He had warned Harry and now it was too late.

Simultaneously, ropes began to swirl about Ron, Hermione, Patrick, and most importantly James who was still motionless on the floor. Somehow Anthony had managed an escape and stood at Harry’s side. There were nearly a dozen Death Eaters moving in on them.

“Take the cloak, Draco,” drawled a tall wizard in dark black robes with crimson lining.

“Lucius?” Harry sneered in the wizard’s direction. “Is that you? I should have known by the sickening yellow colour.” The wizard said nothing, trying to ignore Harry. “Now that I’m blind, you’re much better looking in — strike that. No you’re not. You’re still as much a pig as you always were. Still, somehow… missing an arm suits you. How’d you lose it again?” The goading worked.

“Big words for a blind boy, Potter,” he snapped.

“Now, now… sticks and stones…. But then I guess six months with Dementors and dullards will curdle anyone’s conversational capabilities.” Harry could see that Draco was moving over the glowing glass and into the case to retrieve the robe. Harry turned to face him.

“Hey! Blonde bastard! I wouldn’t go in there if I were—”

“What’s this?” Draco cried out. He had come to Molly Weasley’s body. The colour of his aura blanched. “I gave specific orders! Who cast a killing curse?” Harry could tell immediately that Draco was livid.

“Gather the cloak!” yelled Lucius.

“But father—”

“NOW!”

“Don’t do it!” yelled Harry.

Draco moved forward toward the case. Suddenly, the shattered glass that was still glowing with the energy it had absorbed exploded in a brilliant white flash. Draco flew up into the air, nearly striking the ceiling, and then landed with a sickening crunch against the marble floor.

“Draco!” cried Lucius. Goldstein took the distraction as his opportunity. His wand erupted with bright bluish light, but instead of being directed at one of the Death Eaters, it was directed toward one of the portraits hanging high on the wall of the grand hall. The portrait sparked, zapping the elderly wizard that had, so far, slept through the ruckus.

“Hey,” the wizard in the portrait yelped. “No need for—”

“Get help you idiot!” yelled Goldstein. The wizard in the portrait, seeing the destruction, disappeared instantly. “It won’t be long now,” Goldstein muttered, staring at the empty portrait.

There was another burst of spells headed at the two wizards and together they fended them off, but Harry was growing weaker by the moment. Lucius ignored Goldstein’s call for aid, he ignored the battle of wands, and he ignored the crumpled heap on the floor that was his son. Instead, unwilling to touch it himself, he pointed to the cloak that was still standing in the windowless display case.

“The cloak!” he yelled again. After some hesitation, another Death Eater approached the black cloth and grabbed it just as James, still bound by ropes, began to come to his senses. With lust-filled eyes, Lucius only half glanced at Draco, still motionless on the floor, blood dripping from the corner of his mouth. Instead, he focused fully on the black robes held before him.

“Luciusss,” uttered James breathlessly, “you fool.”

Malfoy wrenched the cloth out of the Death Eater’s hands. Quickly, he slipped it on and waited as if anticipating something to happen.

“You expected, maybe, a coronation?” Harry sneered. “Perhaps a crown and trumpets as we all bow down to kiss your arse? It’s a stupid piece of cloth!”

“Kill him,” Malfoy drawled, pointing with his good arm toward Harry. “KILL HIM!” Harry grabbed Anthony by the arm as the bolts of green approached and in an instant they were on the other side of the resplendent hall that now appeared more like a war zone than the showpiece of the Ministry. Looking back, they saw that the spot where they once stood was nothing now but a crater. Goldstein grabbed Harry’s arm.

“How did you do—”

“You are NOT going to miss the wedding,” Harry snapped. He took in a deep breath, reaching out with his mind to cull any magic he could from the world around him. He let out a long, slow exhale and pointed his wand at the floor.

“Festio!” he cried, ripping dozens of marble tiles upward and sending them toward his adversaries. The Death Eaters tried to shatter the tiles with spells, but the action only served to create thousands of tiny projectiles all headed in their direction. A few cast shield charms in time, but most were struck. Above the din of screams, Harry could hear James cursing Lucius.

“Release me, you idiot! Release me now.” But Malfoy, ignorant of James’ true identity, ignored the boy’s pleadings. He had what he came for and was beginning to walk toward his son when snaps began to fill the room. Auror after Auror was Apparating within the grand hall. In an instant, spells were flying everywhere. Blast after blast of light, cutting down wizard after wizard, witch after witch. The room was filled with utter mayhem and Harry, his shoulders slumped with weariness, moved to enter the fray. Before Harry could take a full step, Goldstein grabbed him by the shoulder.

“You’re no good to anybody dead,” he whispered. “We need you, Harry. Me… I’m not much more than canon fodder.” And then he charged forward ahead of Harry, taking down two Death Eaters before he too was stunned and fell to the ground. It was then that Harry noticed James. He was beginning to slip free of the bonds that held him. Lucius, on the other hand, had abandoned everyone, including his son, and was racing to the floo. A bolt of orange light struck the wall behind Harry, casting stone and dust down his back. Lucius was about ready to escape. Harry focused on where he needed to be and before Lucius had taken another step, Harry was standing in front of him, blocking the entrance to the fireplace.

“Silencio!” Harry whispered, holding his hand between the cloak’s folds of black cloth and directly against Malfoy’s chest. The wizard tried to cast a spell, but was mute. “Now, what with the sporty arm and all… that’s what I call an improvement. You should remember to button up before you step out, Lucius. Now, take off the cloak before I blast it off.” Malfoy’s eyes glowed with pure hatred and he raised his wand. “Expelliarmus!” Harry whispered again and Malfoy’s wand flew from his hand. There was an expression of surprise in Malfoy’s eyes that made Harry smile.

“Now,” continued Harry, “as I was saying, take off the—” With a sudden shove from behind, Malfoy fell forward onto Harry and they both tumbled to the floor. It was then that Harry noticed that James had freed himself and now, forgoing the use of a wand, had his hands around Malfoy’s throat, squeezing… squeezing. He was in a frenzy of pure hatred and anger.

“Do you know who I am?” cried James. “Look into my eyes!”

Lucius, even Harry, saw the flame of red light in James’ eyes.

“N-Not pos-sible,” he gasped, unable to breathe. “D-Dead.” Then the full realization struck him. “I-I never knew.”

“You know now,” James spat between gritted teeth. “And now is sssoon enough.” A blast of red light came from the far wall and struck James in the side, but before he released his grip on Lucius, a dark acrid smoke issued from his mouth and nostrils. To Harry, it was a stream of green evil leaving the red behind. James’ grip on Lucius released and the blonde wizard gasped for air, but instead of air he sucked in nothing but smoke. Voldemort had penetrated him. Stunned, Harry saw the green surround the yellow and snuff it out. Lucius took to his feet as a blast of red struck him in the back. Nothing happened. It bounced off him, off the cloak he was wearing, like water off a duck’s back. Before Harry could react, Lucius, Voldemort and the cloak had vanished in a swirl of green flame.

There were a couple more blasts, a couple more snaps, and a couple more screams of pain, but finally the room fell silent. Only the sound of rock scraping against the floor, as the remaining Aurors stepped across the debris, broke the silence.

“Minister, over here. It’s your… over here, sir. Please.” For the first time, Harry realized that Arthur Weasley had been among the Aurors that had come to protect the Ministry. He watched as the wizard walked toward the shattered display case, while the Auror that called him levitated a wooden beam that had fallen over Molly Weasley up and out of the way. It landed with a dull thud.

“Molly?” he uttered as if trying to gently wake someone from a deep sleep. “Molly,” he said again only louder. “MOLLY!” He grabbed his wife in his arms, pulling her up out of the dust; pebbles cascaded to the floor. “Oh my god, no. No… no… no… no… NOOO!” he screamed. The grand hall rumbled, shaking mortar loose from the walls onto the floor below as Mr. Weasley buried his head into the nook of his wife’s neck. He continued to heave great sobs as Harry looked down at James, prone on the floor, arms outstretched toward the hearth. The green was gone; only blue remained, but the light was weak and flickered. He was near death. The second year began to grown, slowly looking up to find Harry.

“H-Harry? H-Help… I… I can’t….” And he collapsed to the floor. Harry looked around at the devastation. James was not the only one near death. Instinctively, he pulled his wand to summon the Heart of Asha, but before he could cast the spell, snap after snap began to fill the hall; Healers were appearing. In a matter of seconds nearly a dozen Healers had Apparated into the Ministry. One, an older wizard with bushy white hair, was at James’ side almost instantly. Scanning the boy with his wand he turned to Harry.

“You’re the Potter boy, aren’t you?” Without waiting for an answer he said quickly, “Tell me, was it a stunner? Because I’m not detecting any—”

“He was possessed by Voldemort,” Harry cut in. The Healer cringed, looking up at Harry with disbelief.

“Look son,” he said derisively, “you shouldn’t go around—”

“Damn it!” Harry screamed. “His spirit’s been sundered! It probably has been all year. Voldemort just left him to take on another host. If you don’t hurry, he’ll die.” For only a second, the Healer tried to read the expression of Harry’s face. He was old enough to know what Harry meant. He remembered the old war and he didn’t need to be told twice. Without saying another word, the Healer rose to his feet and a flash of tremendous purple light left his wand bathing James in its glow from head to toe.

Harry stepped back, twisting his ankle on a rock beneath his foot. He cursed. Other than the people swarming about the hall, it was difficult to make anything out. His vision was truly failing him in the rocky mess. He could see Mr. Weasley and heard his sobs, and tried to pick his way through the rubble as Auror and Healer alike seemed to pass him by as they rushed to another’s aid. It was as if no one knew him, or no one cared. His emotions were sloshing back and forth. He needed to help… he needed to chase after Lucius, after Voldemort… he needed to —”

“Minister!” someone cried out. “Minister! It’s your son!” Harry turned his attention on a glow that lay prone on the floor near an Auror’s feet.

“My god, Percy?!” cried Mr. Weasley still reeling from the loss of his wife.

“No, sir,” the Auror replied. “It’s your youngest boy, Ron. Looks like a stunner is all.”

“That’s not possible,” whispered Arthur Weasley, unsure just what to do. “He’s at Hogwarts.” Then he noticed Harry, stumbling blindly toward him. “Harry? My god, Harry why are you—”

“He’s back,” said Harry weakly. He was tired and sore, and his right arm was starting to prickle with pain. “Voldemort’s back.”

“What?”

“A Horcrux,” Harry whispered nonsensically, stumbling closer to Mr. Malfoy and rubbing his right forearm with his left hand. It itched. “There must have been more than one. We… we came for the cloak.”

“Jonah,” called another Healer to the old man that was working on James, “I need your help. It’s the Malfoy boy. What’s his name, Draco?”

“I thought he was dead?” the old man called back. The younger Healer looked down at Draco and then back up.

“Well, if he wasn’t before—”

“You knew?” asked Mr. Weasley, his voice sceptical. Gently he kissed his wife’s cheek and lowered her to the floor. “You knew they were coming?”

Harry was feeling dazed. He looked toward Draco, toward Arthur Weasley. His right arm was aching. He had reached Mr. and Mrs. Weasley and his heart began to sink further.

“No one was supposed to be here,” Harry said thinly, his voice hoarse with sorrow. “I just wanted to destroy the cloak before… before…” Mr. Weasley rose to his feet.

“She loved you like a son!” he yelled and slapped Harry hard across the face. “AND THIS IS HOW YOU REPAY HER!”

The blow knocked Harry backwards and he slipped on the loose stones that scattered the floor. Rising to one elbow he could taste the blood that was dripping from his cut lip, and then he noticed his right forearm – it was glowing. A thin etch of a rune had appeared, the Viswa Vajra. Harry had always wondered when it would happen, in what manner it would manifest itself, and even though he’d never seen such a glow, he knew what it meant, and he knew he had no choice but to obey.

The Minister of Magic who had loved Harry as his own son was demanding answers, answers Harry desperately wanted to give. Draco and James lay near death, and Harry had it in his power to easily save them both. Voldemort had escaped with a new body and another piece of his soul, and Harry anxiously needed to chase after them – the Wizarding World was again at risk. Once more, death began to whisper in his ear and he began to shiver.

In spite of that, none of it mattered. He had sworn an oath; it was a burden all members of the Votary carried. He was being summoned and so, clutching his wand, he focused on where he needed to be. He felt a soft touch on his shoulder and heard Hermione call his name. He looked up at her, wishing he could convey the sadness weighing on his soul.

“Harry…”

He was gone.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 17 – The Summoning
~~~***~~~

When Dakhil left Harry at the stone steps leading to the front doors of Hogwarts Castle, Harry had pleaded that he too fight the onslaught of Dementors and Death Eaters raging against Dakhil’s homeland in the Carpathians. The vampire should have been gone for only a few days, but it had been weeks and Dakhil had not returned nor had he sent word of the status of the battle. The Daily Prophet had been worthless, only reporting the difficulties that the various European Ministries were having trying to disguise the numerous atrocities as natural disasters. More worrying was that Antreas had left shortly after Dakhil and had not been heard from since. Everyone who had left to fight seemed to vanish into a great vortex of nothingness.

Before he disappeared, Dakhil had told Harry that his job was to protect Hogwarts, to protect the Centaurs of the Great Forest from a darkness within the school. Harry brushed the notion of darkness inside the castle walls aside, believing it was a backhanded insult toward Harry, but now he was paying for it. Maybe that’s why they were summoning him, he had failed in his one mission. Voldemort had not only escaped, but he had captured his Horcrux and was ready to return to power. Or was he?

Voldemort had said he needed only two things in the grand hall of the Ministry – his old black cloak and Harry. He had asked earlier if there was still part of the Dark Lord that coursed through Harry’s veins. What James, what Voldemort didn’t know was that the darkness, Voldemort’s stain, had been washed away by the Cleansing of the falls in the Great Forest. Perhaps, Voldemort was too weak without this other part of himself, perhaps—

It was hot, painfully hot – the first thing Harry noticed when he finally appeared at the summoning site – hot and dark. Not dark in the sense that there was no light, although it was that too; a lack of light wouldn’t matter to a blind man. No, it was dark in the sense that Harry saw nothing. There was no life here, no life in any direction, just heat, an intense, blistering heat that appeared, to Harry, like a dull haze as he looked to the night sky and saw Ebyrth shining as bright as ever.

He had been able to Apparate across the Channel. From there he had tried once more, but couldn’t make it across Germany. He was drained, unable to cast another spell, and the richness of the earth’s energy, normally plentiful in this area, was parched like an arid desert. There was nothing for Harry to draw on to replenish what magical energy he could cast. Instead, he used the powers of the Centaurs to bend space and slow time, and he ran. He ran until his shoes wore through and fell away; he ran over rivers that supported his weight as if they were frozen solid; he ran past flying birds that hovered in the air like floating balloons. He ran for what felt like days, stopping only to drink from the occasional stream or brook. At one point, just outside Vienna, he had grabbed half of a sandwich from the hand of a passer-by who might as well have been a statue frozen in time. His legs ached, his lungs wanted to burst and all he could hear was the voice of Ronan compelling him forward, not to meet the call of the Centaur, but to answer the summoning of the dragon.

By the time he had begun the final ascent, his mind was blurred with fatigue. He had paid no notice to the mountain he had been climbing. Sweat burning his blind eyes, he had ignored the screams and the fires through which he had past. He didn’t see the transition from life to death. He only knew one thing – the summoning site. He would not fail again, even as the last drops of strength left his being.

This… this was the spot; he was sure. Huge gulps of air splashed down his burning lungs unable to quench his thirst for oxygen. His bare feet burned. Almost forgetfully, he held out his wand, hand shaking from exhaustion and mind knowing that he would not be able to cast a spell even if he wanted to. Sweat dripped down his forehead; the heat was unbearable. He stood for a moment, wand outstretched, squinting with failed eyes into the darkness. Merlin, it was hot. He moved to take a step forward, an acrid odour filling his nostrils, when his left leg cramped and he fell face first hard into the stony ground. He didn’t have the energy to pull away from the scorching stone, nor could he spit out the sand and tiny pebbles that filled his mouth and burned his tongue.

“Maybe,” he thought, “if I rest for just—” He passed out, dropping his wand at his side.

Unconscious on the sweltering earth, swirls of smoke and light coalesced in his mind forming a scene of darkness and despair. Even in his dream the smell of burning flesh was unbearable. Yet, in his dream he could see – his vision, his sight was as good as ever. The smoke and the smell cleared and he found himself at the falls, the falls where Gabriella lay face down in the tall grass, an arrow sunk deep into her back. In the air was sadness. No… more than sadness – there was anger. It was Ron, screaming, screaming….

“NOOOOOOO!”

The earth shook.

“Take him! Take him now! Hurry!”

The scene changed. He was flying… flying in the air. Bounce. On a Hippogriff. Bounce. Harry felt a jarring pain against the side of his ribs. He blinked. The blindness had returned, but he could sense that there was a light beneath him. Bounce. A person.

“Hurry!”

The voice… he knew that voice. The darkness was clearing from his mind. He was waking. He was being carried. A group of five was climbing up the side of the mountain. One had Harry over his shoulder. Weakly, Harry began to struggle to free himself.

“Easy, Harry,” the young man holding him said gently, but with some urgency in his voice. “When we get you back to the stronghold, we’ll take a look at the burns. Praise Asha you’re a member of the Votary, or you’d be dead.”

“An-Antreas?” Harry muttered. He hadn’t heard the voice of Gabriella’s brother since the summer, but there was still no mistaking the undeniable intonation that was the exact replica of Antreas’ father, Grigor. “What… What’s going on?”

“There will be time for answers later!” cried another voice. “Run!” Harry knew at once the other man speaking. He also recognized the aura; it was Dakhil. Troubling was the sense of concern, even fright in Dakhil’s voice. He’d never heard that before, even when they were being attacked by vampires last summer. What was more troubling, however, was something that had bothered Harry since his last lesson with Ronan, something he had seen in Dakhil ever since the vampire first taught him to see without seeing. The aura of Dakhil faded from red to purple and back to red again. There were two personas present in his aura. For the first time since he’d arrived at the Mountain of Singehorn, Harry felt cold.

They continued to rush up the mountain. Occasionally, Dakhil or one of the others would cast spells back in the direction from which they came. Harry could not see, nor could he sense what it was they were firing upon. Curiously, there were no spells cast in return. Soon, he began to notice trees, vegetation, life. After a few minutes more, the band came to a large stone wall. One of the men cast a spell and an entrance appeared. They passed through and the opening in the stone sealed behind them. The entire troupe sighed with relief once they entered the compound.

“What… what’s going on?” Harry asked weakly. “Where are we? Who were you firing at? What—?”

“Slow down. Slow down,” cut in Antreas. “Let me see your face.” Antreas lifted Harry’s chin up and examined the left side, the same side that fell unconscious into the scorching earth. He reached up and pulled the glasses from Harry’s face, glasses he continued to wear in the hope, or perhaps as a symbol to others, that one day he might see again. There was an unmistakable tearing sound, and Harry could feel the plastic rims pull away from the skin on his face. When he reached to take the glasses out of Antreas’ hand, he could tell that the left half of the frame was nearly melted away. He didn’t want to think what his face must look like. It didn’t hurt. Harry moved to touch it but Antreas grabbed his hand.

“No!” he snapped, half trying to quell the distress in his own voice. He chuckled, but not convincingly. “It… it’s nothing, Harry. It’s just best if you don’t—”

“See that he has his own Healer’s tent at once!” ordered Dakhil to one of the other men that were in the group. The man began to slowly limp away. “Hurry,” Dakhil yelled. “Hurry before there’s nothing left of his face to put back together!” If Antreas had tried to calm Harry’s nerves, Dakhil had served to dismember them. “You two,” Dakhil continued pointing at two men they had passed as they entered into the compound. “Help carry the boy into the cave. I won’t lose another one tonight!”

With Antreas’ help, they carried Harry further up the mountain. Dakhil followed, but was unwilling to assist. Typical, Harry thought. There was a small outcrop of rocks off to the side and they turned toward it as Dakhil continued upward. Antreas stopped.

“If Singehorn is unable to call the others in time,” he said, “we’ll have to send for the Centaur you spoke of.”

“You were brave today, my son,” said Dakhil warmly. “It is clear your father is with you. Your mother would be proud. Keep the boy safe and see what the Healer can do with what remains.” He turned to continue upward then stopped. “Singehorn, I’m afraid, was not able to call for our friends, not tonight.” He sighed with a deep mournful breath. “Still we must stay with the plan; it’s our only hope. More may arrive before the moon’s rise tomorrow.”

Facing a stone wall, one of the men carrying Harry said something in a language he thought might be Russian and again an archway appeared where before was only rock and stone. Just before the rock face closed behind them Antreas called back to Dakhil who had followed them most of the way

“And the Centaur?” he called.

“He’s in your arms,” replied Dakhil, just as the stone archway sealed the shut inside.

“Crazy,” said the Russian, referring to Dakhil. “He’ll kill us all.” There was a wand at his neck in an instant; it was Antreas’. Harry felt like he was about to be dropped.

“There are so many injured here,” said Antreas with a heated voice, “I’m sure no one would miss you. The next time you speak of the Votary, take care to choose the words carefully. I may have to excise the offending tongue.” The Russian said nothing as Antreas pulled the wand back and the grip on Harry became more sure. They turned a corner and the cave opened out into a great hall filled with injured. To Harry, it looked as if a hundred lights had been spread across the floor. Almost immediately a murmur rippled across the large cavern.

“Is that him?” “The Chosen!” “My god what happened to his face?” “Dragons.” “It’s just a boy.” “That’s not him; some Muggle must have been caught in the crossfire.” “He’s the Chosen!”
“Marek!” cried Dakhil. “Marek! This is a priority!” Harry noticed an orange colour on the far side rise up from the ground. Marek was busy treating another patient and as he stood, Harry could tell that he was a large man.

“They’re ALL priorities!” he called back. “Have one of the others—”

“Damn it! NOW!” yelled Antreas. This was not the same Antreas that had waved good-bye to Harry and Gabriella as they began their summer vacation. That Antreas was still trying to perfect his wand work, and his confidence interacting with people was shaky at best. While he made a passable neighbour on Privet Drive, he was an absolute mess around other wizards. This Antreas, however, the one standing before Harry, was more than just a foot soldier in this mountain battle. He was clearly someone of import.

Disgruntled, but acquiescing, Marek began to cross the hall as the three moved Harry into one of the tents that were set up along the side of the large chamber. He was placed on a bed, firm, but more comfortable than a blanket on the stone floor outside. Once he was down, the two men left Antreas alone with Harry. For some time neither spoke and Harry noted his friend’s discomfort.

“What is it Antreas?” Harry asked. As he spoke, Harry noticed that the side of his face didn’t seem to move correctly. Still, there was no pain.

“I’m so sorry, Harry,” Antreas replied. “If I had known… We were losing ground and… Dakhil must have thought it would be safe. Our outer perimeter was half a mile down the mountain when he must have asked Singehorn to summon you. But then, they came so fast.”

“Who?”

“The Dementors. They’ve been swarming the mountain for days. They’ve grown so thick they can blot out the sun and when that happens it gives their allies, a band of about thirty wizard vampires, free rein to attack during the day. This wasn’t our war, but ultimately the dragons had no choice. The Dementors were moving in on their rookery. Half a dozen dragons left to scorch the earth and leave no life behind. Not even a member of the Votary could survive such fire. We had no way of letting you know, no way of knowing ourselves when… that you’d…” A big burst of air shot from Antreas’ lips.

“Dakhil had Singehorn summon me?”

“Harry, there was no way of knowing. You passed out right in the centre of the incineration. It had to have been over two hundred degrees. One of the sentries saw you first, but it was too hot. Only the Votary could get in to retrieve you.” Harry remembered Dakhil walking through the burning flames just before the Joining; he understood these words. “The Joining helped you to survive, training would have been better. Your face… you’ve been burned… badly burned.”

“But it doesn’t hurt,” Harry said. He was feeling more tired by the minute.

“That’s because there’s nothing left to hurt. Your flesh is—” Marek pushed through the opening of the tent.

“And what’s this priority?” he said wearily. “Another case of damn Dementor frost— Oh… Oh, my.” He cast Antreas a glance. “One of the civilians?” he asked, not recognizing the young man he’d met over the summer. “A Muggle caught in the fire?” Assessing the large stature of the man before him and listening closely to his voice, it was Harry who first made the connection. It was the same Marek that had taken in Ron, Hermione and the others after the vampire attack.

“Marek?” Harry asked hoarsely, finding it more difficult by the minute to move his jaw. “It’s me, Harry… Harry Potter. I could… I could sure use a glass of water.”

“Yes… I remember. You’ve put on a few pounds. Physical training?”

“He’s joined a Centaur heard in England,” said Antreas.

“So this is the one Dakhil spoke of. That would explain things. Yes, that would explain a lot.” Marek reached into his robes. “I haven’t had to deal with one of these for years,” Marek whispered, “but with dragons about, such burns are not uncommon. Praise Asha you’re Votary.” He leaned in close to Harry. “What happened to your eyes?”

“Glass,” Harry replied, wearily. “Lots of glass.”

“Hmmm. Well, let’s get started. Harry, lie back.” Harry obliged. “I have something far better than a glass of water.” He watched Marek raise his wand over his burned face. “This should only take a few hours.”

“Hours?” Harry said, bringing up his hand to grab Marek’s wrist. “I won’t take you away from helping the others just because I buggered it again.”

“It’s not your fault, Harry,” said Antreas. “There’s no way you could have known.”

“Yes, admirable qualities, Harry. But as Antreas has said—”

“I am NOT a priority! I won’t—” Blue light erupted from Marek’s wand and before he could say another word, Harry was asleep on the cot and Marek began his work. The last thing he remembered was a crackling sound and Marek’s sombre voice.

“That’ll leave a mark.”

Time faded to nothingness and, when Harry woke, he sensed someone sitting at his bedside. “Gabriella?” he asked groggily.

“You wish, mate!”

“Fred? Fred is that you?”

Slowly, Harry began to regain consciousness. He tried to lean up, but someone pressed gently back on his shoulder. His eyes closed, Harry sensed that there were two people in the room. Shaking the cobwebs free, he finally recognized the aura of the other person.

“Remus?”

“Yes, Harry,” replied Remus Lupin, “Fred and I are both here. We have been for about three days.”

“Three days!” Harry exclaimed, once again trying to rise and once again being held down by Remus. “I’ve been here for three days?”

“No, ditz,” Fred laughed. “We’ve been here for three days. You’ve been here for about, er, fourteen hours.”

“We came as soon as we heard you had arrived,” Remus added.

“I swear, Harry,” said Fred, leaning forward. “Can you ever do anything the easy way?”

While Fred was talking, Harry realized there was something on his face. He reached his hands up and felt the bandages wrapping his head.

“An interesting look, if you ask me,” said Fred. “Kind of a turban gone mad. All in all I’d say it’s an improvement. The great thing is, Harry, they gave you a whole new head! Moody volunteered his.” Fred laughed again and this time Remus joined him. A cold shiver passed through Harry. It had suddenly sunk in that Fred… Fred Weasley, was in the same room and if he’d been here for three days, he might not know….

“Why aren’t you home?” Harry asked. “Where’s George?”

“I’m flying solo, mate,” said Fred. “George is minding the shops.”

“No one can travel in or out,” said Remus. “Apparition is impossible. It’s a miracle that you made it alive. I’m sorry that—”

“What about messages,” Harry interrupted. “Can messages get in?”

“Not for two days,” said Remus. “The Dementors have the whole mountainside surrounded. I tried a Patronus. It passed through a few dozen, but there are just too many.”

“Then you don’t know,” Harry said with urgency. He sat up and this time when Remus moved to push him back down, Harry flicked his arm away. Harry tried to face Fred, but. Fred only laughed.

“You look like a walking ice-cream cone, Harry.”

“Fred,” Harry began, muffled by the bandages surrounding his face. He tried to muster up the courage, but in the last moment it failed him. “W-Why are you even here?”

“Tonight, we go on the offensive. We’re through sitting back and letting Lucius Malfoy and his army of darkness decide when and where to strike. They’re mostly vampires and Dementors with a handful of Death Eaters sprinkled in for good measure. Last we heard Lucius may have let himself get turned.”

“Turned?” Harry asked.

“The scouts were out early this morning, Harry,” said Remus, moving over and sitting next to Fred. “We’ve seen him off and on in these parts for weeks. Only this morning… this morning they say he looked more vampire than wizard.”

“He let himself be bitten, I tell yeh,” added Fred. “Just to achieve immortality.”

Harry felt as if he was going to be sick. If Lucius was here that meant Voldemort was here. Were they looking for him? For Harry? His heart began to race. There was too much to do and too little time. He needed to tell someone, but whom? His breaths quickened and Remus took notice.

“Harry… you need to—”

“He’s alive!” Harry shouted. “He’s still alive!” There was a short pause. Remus knew almost immediately what Harry meant, but wasn’t sure if his words were the result of some sort of side-effect from one of the potions. Fred didn’t understand.

“What do you mean, Harry? Who’s alive?”

“Voldemort,” gasped Harry, taking in a great breath of air through the bandages covering his face. He walked over to the side of the tent and held the fabric in his fingers. To his mind, it had a dull orange appearance, probably spores of some sort. He didn’t want to say more; he couldn’t. But he had to. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest – it hurt. His breathing grew laboured, weighed down by the burden of what he was about to share.

“Somehow… I don’t know… I don’t know how, but he took control of James Chang, Cho’s younger brother. He’s been inside James, controlling him all year at school. He was waiting for something… something important. Then I heard that they had discovered Voldemort’s old cloak. It had survived even though he was destroyed. It was there… what he wanted… at the Ministry. They brought it back out of the ashes of his demise. They dug deep, your father dug deep for what should have been left to the depths.”

“Yeah,” said Fred cautiously, not really sure what to think about Harry’s ramblings. “Mum and Dad were all excited. It was supposed to be a big deal. Sorry we had to pull you away from the award ceremony to be in this hellhole. I’m not supposed to tell, but Dad’s lined you up for Order of Merl—”

“It was a Horcrux,” hissed Harry through gritted teeth. Remus understood and gasped, but Fred still didn’t grasp what Harry was saying. “Can you believe it? Lucius wanted it for himself – maybe to extract whatever essence Voldemort had left of himself in it.” Harry madly grabbed Fred’s robes. “Don’t you see? I had to destroy it… to destroy the cloak.”

“Calm down, Harry,” said Fred slowly, his eyes glancing toward Remus with concern. “Everything’s okay.”

“No it’s not!” yelled Harry, turning from Fred and leaned against the bed. “We just wanted to take it, Ron, Hermione and me… only they showed up… and then… when we got inside… your Mum was there… and then James… I thought it was an Imperious Curse. I thought I’d be able to control him.” He breathed hard again. “But I couldn’t. It wasn’t a curse, it was Voldemort. I couldn’t stop him. I tried—” He turned back to face Fred. “He… Voldemort used the Killing Curse, Fred. I tried… I swear on Merlin’s grave… I tried.”

“What are you talking about, Harry?” Fred’s words were quiet, nervous and unsure.

“Last night, before Singehorn summoned me, in the grand entrance hall of the Ministry, Voldemort… Voldemort killed your mother.” Short gasps of air burst from Harry’s lungs and he fell on his knees in front of Fred. “She’s dead… she’s… dead.” Clutching at the bottom of Fred’s robes, Harry began to heave great sobs. His voice was weak and thin. “She’s dead.” Fred pushed Harry away and took to his feet.

“Stop saying that!” he yelled. “She’s not dead! She’s not! I just saw her before we came here. She was going to… she was going…” He slapped his hand against the bed. “You’re just messed up… the potions. You… you were dreaming… that’s all. A- a- a- hallucination or something!” He turned to Remus.

“Remus! Tell him! Tell Harry it was just a dream… a bad dream, that’s all.” Remus was quiet, stoic. He didn’t speak and he didn’t move. Fred pulled his wand and held it in Remus’ face.

“TELL HIM!”

Remus held his arms out wide and, slowly, shook his head.

“No.” Fred whispered, shaking his head vigorously in reply. “No, it’s not… it’s not… oh god.”

His hands fell limp at his sides and his wand dropped to the floor, tinkling and then rolling in the silence. Fred shuddered, fell into Lupin’s arms and began to cry.

They stayed like that for some time, Harry on the floor, Fred in Lupin’s arms, all three of them crying. Until now, Harry hadn’t had the chance to mourn Molly’s death. The pain was deep and biting. In the tears and silence, Harry wished he could take it back. His actions had cost another life and the anger in Arthur Weasley’s voice echoed within his mind.

His thoughts turned to the others who had been murdered in the battle and he wondered if James had made it. “I may never know,” he whispered to himself.

As the sadness began to subside, he mulled over how Fred and Remus had described the scout’s sighting of Lucius. If the reports were true and Malfoy had returned to the mountain, then Molly’s murderer was within reach. Harry’s pain began to turn to anger. The flap on the tent furled open and in walked Marek

“Remus, I— What in Merlin’s name is up with you three?” he said with a rather gruff voice.

“We just found out. Fred’s mother has been killed by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” answered Remus calmly.

“That… that’s not possible,” said Marek, half believing the words to be true. Fred turned, wiping his eyes.

“I’ve got to see if I can get home,” he said. He started toward the exit, but Marek took him by the arm.

“Fred, we’re surrounded.”

The redhead pulled his arm free.

“I have to go home.”

“It’d be suicide, Fred.”

“I don’t care.”

“Don’t you think your mother would!” chided Remus. “AND your father. What do you think it would do to him to lose you both?” Fred said nothing. “If you’re going to put your life on the line, Fred, make it count; make it matter.” Remus stepped toward him and held Fred by the shoulders, looking him in the eyes.

“Tonight,” he said with confidence and surety. “Tonight, you’ll have your chance, Fred.”

“Why tonight?” asked Harry.

“There are about sixty of us, Harry,” said Remus, “counting me and Fred. Tonight the moon turns full. We’ll attack with the dragons, a few dozen Centaurs, and—”

“Full moon?” asked Harry. He picked himself up off the floor and stood. “Full moon? I thought Soseh had given you a potion, given you both one to keep you from turning.”

“She did, Harry,” answered Remus. “But we haven’t taken it during the cycle. There are few creatures on earth that can challenge a vampire. Surrounded by Dementors as they are now, even wizards have little hope of conducting an effective attack. They’re a werewolf’s natural prey; Dementors and Vampires share a darkness that… How can I put it? Is tasty for a werewolf.”

“Better than chocolate, they tell me,” added Fred, with an eerie gleam in his eye.

“Besides the dragons,” added Remus, “only one creature can break through both defences. Dakhil discussed it with me some time ago and we both agreed – we needed a werewolf army. I couldn’t convince most, but I’ve convinced enough.”

“Sixty doesn’t make an army, Remus,” said Harry, stepping closer. “Sixty is a snack.”

“What you say is true, Harry – werewolf blood is prized among the vampires. Still, I think our adversaries will be surprised,” said Remus with quiet confidence. “Yes, we could have more in our number, but even with Arthur as Minister, the distrust of my kind runs deep.”

“Our kind, Remus! And they’ll be more than surprised,” snapped Fred. “They’ll be bloody petrified!”

“Well,” said Harry sardonically, “bloody anyway.”

The bandages wrapping his face were hot and heavy and he was only just able to resist the temptation to rip them off so that he could scratch the itch that was growing stronger by the minute. He placed both his hands flat against the firm bed, curling the covers in his fingers as they balled up into fists. Without looking up, he took in a breath and swallowed.

“Remus… Fred… You need to understand everything. Lucius Malfoy isn’t a vampire. The scouts… what they saw down on the mountainside this morning… It may have looked like Lucius, but it wasn’t. Yeah, he’s been taken over alright, but not by a vampire. His spirit has been consumed by Voldemort. Lucius is Voldemort.” He turned to face them. “Sixty werewolves, sixty dragons, sixty of anything… it won’t be enough.” Hearing Harry’s words, Remus stepped forward and placed a hand warmly about Harry’s neck.

“No, Harry,” he said. “No, it won’t be enough. But then, it never was. That’s why we have you.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 18 – The Ring of Onyx
~~~***~~~

The stone steps were large, larger it seemed to Harry, than they were before. Yet, the same thin white clouds dusted the blue sky, and the heated air brought Harry’s mind back to his summer travels with Gabriella in Lebanon. His mind’s eye flashed to a vision of her smooth, dark brown skin and twinkling black eyes, and he wondered how she was fairing with Cho and his son, Jamie. His heart skipped at the thought and he drew in a breath to steady his nerves. He stepped upward through the large stone pillars, upward toward the remains of the great Asian castle. Up ahead, seated on a crystal bench intricately carved in an elaborate pattern was a large black man in green and brown robes – Singehorn.

On the eve of the counterattack, the dragon had asked that the young wizard meet him in this plane of consciousness that they might speak with one another. Here, in this other world, Harry could not only speak to the dragon, he could see. He had no bandaged head, no wand, only a white robe and bare feet that withstood the scorching heat beneath them. In the cave where Harry’s corporeal body sat in meditation, the others were preparing for war. Soon, the moon would rise, the werewolves, including Remus and Fred, would turn and the battle would begin. It had taken Harry quite some time to close out all the distractions that were happening about him, but finally he made it.

As he drew closer to the dragon, the descendent of Asha whose line Harry had sworn to protect, he noticed that the man looked more aged than before and that his breathing was heavy, laboured. With effort, Harry heaved himself upward onto another stone step, and then another. On the step before reaching the landing where Singehorn sat in one of the two crystal benches, Harry saw a large ring made of black onyx. He stopped for a moment to look at it. The dragon coughed a bottomless throaty cough.

“Go on,” he said with a deep scratchy voice. “Pick it up.”

Harry reached down and took the ring into his right hand. It was heavier than Harry expected. Holding it in the fingers of both hands he examined it from all sides.

“I… I know this ring,” Harry said, trying to remember how or from where. “I’ve seen it before.” Singehorn shifted his tremendous weight and grimaced somewhat.

“The ring,” he said, “is known to many, but few alive today have seen it with their own eyes. For those few that saw it worn by its last master, it was most likely the last thing they saw. He was known for using the ring to kill.” Suddenly, Harry remembered.

“Pravus,” he whispered, remembering the portrait of the dark wizard’s hand Greg Goyle had shown him last year. Singehorn growled, long and low. Clearly, he did not enjoy the sound of the name.

“Very good,” answered the dragon. “Very good. Come… sit.”

Harry climbed the last large step and tried to dust the front of his white robes which had grown brown from the desert sand. Singehorn laughed and, as Harry looked up, the man’s mouth erupted in flames, enveloping Harry in a great white flash. In the next instant, Harry’s robes were white again and he was unscathed. Harry examined his hands, expecting to see scorch marks, but nothing was there.

“Sit,” said Singehorn again. Unlike his last visit with the man before him, the young wizard sat obediently across from his master.

“My child… not for fifty years has that ring been held by human hands, not since I tore off the arm of the wizard that betrayed us all. When Pravus was destroyed and Grindelwald defeated, I thought for certain the darkness had been, at last, beaten back for good. I was young then and naïve, but not so naïve as to trust in men again.”

“But Dakhil,” said Harry. “You trust him.”

“Do I, Harry? Do I?” There was another low grumble as Singehorn leaned forward. Harry noticed a thin, light scar that ran along the man’s face, a scar that wasn’t there before the Joining. Over the last few months, the dragon had seen battle.

“Do you see the ring on Dakhil’s fingers?” he continued. “No, Harry… Soseh trusts Dakhil and I would trust Soseh with my life, but his fate lies on a different path.”

“You need to know, sir,” said Harry with some urgency in his voice. “I’ve seen… I’ve seen two spirits inside him. He may be under the control of another.” Singehorn smiled and began to laugh. It was loud and thunderous, not the reaction Harry had expected.

“He’s a vampire, my child,” the dragon said finally. “He fights the spirit inside him every waking moment. Few have learned to control the thirst for fresh blood, the desire for death. None have fought more heroically than Dakhil Barghouti to stave off his own personal demon. But his path will soon lead elsewhere and I will need someone to take up his staff as Primate of the Votary. He would prefer I choose now, before his fate befalls him.”

Harry’s eyes widened in disbelief. Rolling the ring in his fingers he looked up at Singehorn then back down at the ring. Finally, he set it in his palm and held it out to the dragon.

“I can’t, sir,” he said, shaking his head. “Whatever powers this ring holds, I’m not ready.”

“What? No questions about what the ring does? What strength it might bring you?”

“No, sir,” Harry replied, reaching yet further toward Singehorn. The dragon did not remove the ring from Harry’s palm, but instead leaned back on the bench.

“Not even if the ring might help you defeat the one who killed Molly Weasley and so many more?” Harry shook his head. “What if it would help you win the war against these Dementors, saving the lives of countless Centaurs; these creatures you seem to care so much about?” Singehorn leaned in again. “Are you so sure that you wouldn’t wish to finally destroy the creature that killed your parents?”

For a moment, Harry’s outstretched arm receded. Once more he held the ring between thumb and forefinger, wondering what strength it might bring him. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Finally, he shook his head once more.

“No, sir,” he said softly still rolling the ring in his fingers. “When I was last here, you reminded me our calling: Bravery… Wisdom… Love.” Harry shuddered, swallowing hard. “You also told me that I needed to work on my wisdom.” Harry took in a deep breath as his eyes grew misty. “But I’ve been precious short in that regard all year, eh? I brought Voldemort into the Ministry. I brought him face-to-face with Mrs. Weasley. I should have known…. I should have been wiser. Now, he’s at your doorstep, threatening to destroy all we stand for.” Holding back his tears, Harry held the ring out once again. “Whatever powers the ring bears, there are others more worthy than me.”

With lightening speed, frighteningly fast for such a large frame, Singehorn grabbed Harry’s hand in his own, his massive paw wrapping around Harry’s entire fist and arm, squeezing the ring into the flesh of Harry’s palm and scorching the back of Harry’s hand. His red eyes glared with steeled determination into Harry’s and his claws drew blood from Harry’s flesh.

“Tell me, my son, when the darkness spreads across this mountain and threatens my children and my children’s children what will you do? There are only so many rocks to climb and the clouds will not protect us.” Harry said nothing. “When your friends charge down the mountainside to join my kin in the attack against the sludge that surrounds us, will you hide… a blind rat in a dark cave?” The dragon’s claws dug deeper, but Harry refused to cry out.

“I’d… sooner… die.”

“Harry, the monster seeks you out, but he does not want you dead, not yet. He thinks he needs you alive, but he doesn’t know that what he seeks is no longer there, washed away by the falls at Hogwarts. Without the energy he once shared with you, he is but half a man, half a wizard. In his ignorance, in his weakened state, he can be defeated.”

“Then I don’t need the ring,” Harry said calmly, withstanding the pain.

“If only it was so simple,” sighed Singehorn, still holding Harry’s hand firm. “Before the Cleansing at the falls, you joined.”

“Joined?”

“The darkness that was once in your veins… now flows through another’s.”

Harry’s heart began to race. Another’s?
“Your inherited.”

“Jamie,” Harry whispered.

“You would sooner die than see my children harmed. What would you do to protect your children?” asked Singehorn.

“My… son.”

Harry’s fingers, almost instinctively, tightened around the ring burning the flesh of his palm and in that instant his vision filled with a tremendous flash of white. Singehorn’s voice became dark and ominous.

“I will not say your decision is wise, but it is our only course. Forgive me, my child, for the power will consume you. Soseh has foreseen your greed turn to grief. On the day the dragons mark the sky, you will begin to know your true strength. How you emerge from your failing will determine the fate of us all.”

Suddenly, Harry’s sight was gone, all before him dark. When he breathed in, the damp must odour of the bandages that wrapped his face filled his nostrils.

“We’ve got to go, sir,” said a wizard somewhere to Harry’s left.

“If I have to tell you one more time to be quiet, I’ll rip your throat out,” snapped Dakhil in a low, hissing voice. “We will go when Singehorn says we can go. Do NOT disturb the boy.”

Still seated on the floor, his legs folded beneath him, Harry reached out his mind and sensed the two men arguing to his left. The one, a bright blue aura was clearly frightened; the other flashed red and then purple. The red appeared to be winning and Harry wasn’t sure that was a good thing for the man in blue whose colour was fading so fast Harry thought he might wet himself. He wasn’t the only one nearby that was frightened. In the large cavern just beyond the rock wall where Harry sat, scores of men mulled about nervously waiting for the final order to attack. Harry was about to move, to indicate to the others that he had returned, when the orange colour of Marek moved into the room where he sat.

He slipped over and placed his hand on Dakhil’s back and the two walked to the far side of the tent. They whispered and then the whispers grew louder.

“Marek,” Dakhil hissed, “I need to know. What is your opinion?”

“As a Healer or a Warrior?” the man that had worked on Harry’s face replied. He was upset, irritated perhaps of the battle that would soon be bringing the dying to his doorstep. “If we were home, I’d leave the bandages on for at least another week.”

“The boy can’t fight like that.”

“Then leave the boy behind.”

Two voices harmonized: “No!” Simultaneously, Harry and Dakhil rejected Marek’s suggestion.

“You’ve returned,” said Dakhil quietly. “Good. The time is near. The full moon will soon rise over the side of the mountain. We must take advantage of every minute it brings us the werewolves’ strength. Dawn will come far too quickly I’m afraid.”

Harry held his hand to his face. “And these? You can remove these?”

“Really, Harry,” answered Marek, “if only you could spare two more days… two more.”

“The battle will be over by morning,” said Harry, “and I can’t fight with this rag weighing me down. It’s sweaty enough as it is, and I can barely breathe.”

“Then don’t fight,” Marek said to Harry. Then he turned to Dakhil. “What possible advantage does a boy bring this battle beyond more bloodshed?” Steadying his feet on the dusty rock, Harry stood.

“I am no boy!” he said defiantly. Marek ignored him.

“Dakhil,” the Healer continued, “there is no reason to put his life… What? What is it?”

There was silence. Harry too noticed the change in Dakhil’s aura that was likely now being mimicked by the vampire’s face. The red had darkened into a rich scarlet – the emotion was a strong one, whatever it was.

“Dakhil, what are you looking at?” Marek continued.

As Harry stood, his hands, which had been covered by the sleeves of his robes while he sat, became exposed. There, on the centre finger of Harry’s right hand was a ring. Angry at being called a boy, Harry had not noticed the added weight on his finger.

“Well… that can’t be good,” said Dakhil with a rather cool voice. “I had asked for a choice, but I never…”

“I’ll take the damn bandages off myself if I have to,” cried Harry, reaching for his wand. It was then, when finger met wood, that he realized there was a ring on his finger. He let go his wand and held the ring with his left hand. He moved to take it off, but the ring would not move. He pulled again, and again the ring held its grip about the bone of his right middle finger.

“I had always hoped he might see fit to give it to me,” said Dakhil with more disappointment than anger. “I suppose Soseh has told him.”

“Told him what?” asked Harry, still trying to work the ring from his finger.

“Damn the day I met you, boy,” said Dakhil, again in a quiet, matter of fact tone. “She’s seen my death, which is not such a great concern for a vampire when such events can be centuries hence.” He paused.

“And?” Harry asked.

“And you were there, boy. You were there.” Dakhil moved closer. “So, either you’re going to wander down the mountainside, get bit and live to a very ripe old age as an immortal, or I’m going to die before the summer solstice. Curse you,” Dakhil said dryly, “I always wanted to make it to the millennium.”

“You’re both talking gibberish,” said Marek. “Would you STOP that,” he said to Harry. “You’re starting to bleed.” Harry turned his senses downward and watched as the glowing drips of blood fell to the floor from his finger. Marek pulled his wand and healed the finger. “Now leave the damn ring alone. Here, let me remove it.”

He cast a spell and nothing happened, nothing but the scratchy laughter from Dakhil. He tried a different spell and still the ring stayed clamped about Harry’s finger.

“We don’t have time for this,” said Harry finally. “Look, just take the bandages off. Place a shield charm about the skin if you must, but I can’t—”

“Very well,” cut in Marek with a sigh. “But it’s not your skin that I was worried about. “Sit over here.” He led Harry to a stone bench.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked.

“Well, Harry, while I was working on your face, I thought I might see if I couldn’t do something about your eyes.”

“But I’ve seen nothing,” said Harry. “Certainly through this gauze, I could discern—”

“I’ve sealed your lids shut so the eyes beneath could heal as the spell worked and weaved.” He stepped closer to Harry. “Son, two more days… two more days and I’m sure that the knitting will be complete.”

“And I’ll see again?” asked Harry with a glint of hope in his voice.

“You might.”

“Well… look… it’s dark anyway,” Harry said. “Take off the bandages and leave my eyes sealed. I’ll be better off not trying to discern objects in the darkness. I’ve gotten used to not seeing and trying to squint in the murky night may just make things worse.”

“There’s the problem,” said Dakhil. “The objects you wish to discern are Dementors. They suck the life from all about them. To your vision they would be darkness and on the scorched mountainside where very little life remains, it would be near impossible to detect them.”

At this it was Harry’s turn to laugh.

“Dakhil, I don’t need my sight to know when a Dementor is breathing down my neck. I’ll know where they are, believe me, I’ll know.”

“Then it’s decided,” said Marek. “I’ll remove your bandages, but keep your eyes sealed. If you make it through the night Harry, your face should be re-wrapped immediately. A shield charm might be acceptable for walking around school or sitting about the house. It will be worthless against a well placed hex.”

“Get on with it,” said Harry. “I can hear the howling already.”

And indeed he could, they all could. Some of the wizard werewolves were growing anxious. Outside, the moon was nearing the crest of the eastern horizon and some were having difficulty controlling their metamorphosis even inside the cavern, away from the moonshine. Typically, such difficulties were had by newly converted werewolves, those who had recently become. Harry wondered how Fred was fairing.

When Dakhil removed the gauze bandages, Harry immediately reached up to his face to touch, but the shield charm stopped his fingers.

“It feels like an eggshell,” Harry whispered.

“And it won’t protect your face much more than one,” added Marek. “Remember that, when you’re out there playing the hero.” Harry was about to protest but, preceded by a hiss, unexpected words left Dakhil’s mouth first.

“An Acolyte of the Votary does not play at anything!” Dakhil’s stature was suddenly somewhat larger, and his aura somewhat redder. “You would be wise to remember your position, Marek. With one thought the boy could destroy you.”

“Yes… yes, of course,” Marek apologized. “I’m sorry… I… I truly am sorry.”

There was fear in his words, far more fear than Harry thought the situation warranted. Part of him understood, something he remembered from the Joining, but there wasn’t time to well for its source; it was time for action. Harry stood and began to walk toward the large chamber.

“One moment, boy,” said Dakhil with a matter of fact tone. Harry stopped, turned and, before he had an instant to react, Dakhil had cast a spell on him. Nothing happened.

“What… what was that?” Harry demanded, still reaching for his wand.

“He’s changed the colour of your robes, Harry,” said Marek. “They’re no longer white; they’re crimson.”

“Primate Potter,” said Dakhil in an exceptionally scratchy voice followed by a short blasting cough. “Your title, when I die.” He sighed. “Asha protect us.” Harry looked down, but could sense no discernable difference. “Don’t worry, boy; those who have travelled the path through proper training will know at once the significance of your robes. We’d best hurry. There won’t be time for much of a speech.”

Harry and Dakhil left the tent and entered the cavern; it had emptied out onto the mountainside, staging for the battle to come. Soon, the gate would open and the soldiers would spill down upon their foes. Harry and Dakhil walked down the cave and as it narrowed toward its exit a young man came up and touched Harry by the sleeve.

“Asha be with you,” he said tilting his head in a slight bow.

“And with you,” replied Harry without forethought. Why did I say that?
The cavern door opened and, for a moment, Harry was blinded by the many auras gathered outside. He could see that some of the werewolves had already turned, and a group of wizards was having difficulty restraining them. No one seemed distracted by the howling, a howling that mixed with words in Harry’s mind – kill, bite, blood! He turned to see if someone was talking to him, but no one was there. Another werewolf howled.

“Patience, my friends,” called Harry to the snapping creatures and the wolves quieted at his words. That was not my voice, thought Harry. Or was it?

Everyone was listening to Antreas who stood upon a large outcrop of rock above the growing din. His words were amplified, but Harry wasn’t sure the increased intensity was necessary. He was calling out in a strong and commanding voice and Harry wondered why this role wasn’t Dakhil’s.

“….is all we need. Together we will be victorious! Together we will banish the darkness into the abyss!” The earth began to rumble with applause. Harry noticed four giants pounding their feet with approval.

“Giants?” he asked Dakhil. “I didn’t notice any giants when I arrived.”

“They climbed over from the sheer cliffs on the back side of the mountain. That way is not guarded save by Dementors, and they have no effect on such simple creatures. So it is with the werewolves.”

“It’ll m-make for a b-bloody Death Eater busting surprise.”

“Fred?”

The redhead was clearly agitated, seemingly in the midst of the change.

“Fred, please… don’t—”

“The Primate has ARRIVED!” cried Antreas with a leaping voice. He was referring to Dakhil, but Harry could feel hundreds of eyes turn toward him simultaneously. Save for the howling and the occasional spell being cast a short ways down the hill, all became silent.

“Let’s give them what they want, boy,” said Dakhil. “Up you go.” He levitated Harry some twenty feet in the air. Harry’s heart began to race as he rose, wondering what he might say.

It was like rising over the embers of a dying fire, each glowing aura a tiny coal burning against the darkness. There were hundreds gathered here. Some fell to their knees as Harry rose; most stood silently. Giants, Centaurs, wizards and werewolves, a ragtag collection of misfits all collected to fight together against the malevolence Lucius Malfoy had co-opted for his own evil purposes.

Lucius probably hoped he would retrieve the cloak and arrive at this place of battle to celebrate a great victory, the first of many. Little did he know that his former master would take up residence in his body – if only long enough to take over Harry’s. But that would never, could never happen. How the worm had turned on the blonde-haired patriarch. Soon, it would turn on the darkness worming within him. Harry raised his arms to the heavens above, a giant comet was clearly visible in the night’s sky.

“Ebyrth marks its return and now we find ourselves at its mercy. While some have come to answer the new sun’s call, others are here to protect our dragon brothers against the darkness that wishes to destroy all in its path. Tonight we fight as one. Tonight we fight with the strength of giants, the magic of wizards, the ferocity of werewolves, the wisdom of Centaurs, and the hearts of dragons!”

No sooner had the words left his mouth, than the thunderous SWOOP-SWOOP filled the air and four enormous dragons flew over the crowd, blotting out the stars and then coming to rest at the top of the great stone wall. Singehorn wasn’t among them, but Harry, though having never met them, knew their names. The three males were Rakesh, Talisan, and Igneus, and the blue female was Tanwen. As if being called, Harry looked toward Talisan, the largest of the four, with green-black scales and fierce red eyes.

“Primate!” the creature cried out. “We follow you in battle. What are your orders!”

All around Harry, wizards were clasping their hands to their ears, some falling to their knees, because of the creature’s great roar. And yet, Harry could understand everything he said. How is this possible? This was no meditation.

“Your orders, Primate?” cried the dragon again, and again those around Harry winced in pain.

“Burn them!” yelled Harry. “Burn them till your bellies turn cold. You, Tanwen, fly high above the wall. Let no enemy past the gates. Do not leave your post. We must save the rookery at all costs!” Harry pulled his red robes tight about his shoulders.

“Open the gates!” called Antreas and the army erupted in cheers and howls. A few werewolves snapped at their allies, but most caught the scent of their hated foes, enticing their senses with a bloodlust for Dementor, and quickly they began to charge ahead, down the mountainside. Dakhil brought Harry down to earth as the crowded hillside flowed out through the gate. Harry began to run, following the rushing tide, but someone grabbed his shoulder and pulled him around; it was Antreas.

“Your time is at hand, Harry,” he said with a stout voice. “I’ll lead the first wave; I dare not speak it to the others, but don’t think for a minute we’ll succeed. The scouts have told me the situation… it’s dire. When we begin to fall back, and we will fall back… that’s when we’ll need you.” Harry was about to argue, but Antreas was already swept away in the current of bodies rushing through the gate. Undaunted, Harry began to follow, only this time Dakhil stopped him.

“Tell me, boy,” he murmured quietly beneath the roaring rush of wizards pushing by. “Why are you here?”

“To fight Voldemort,” Harry spat, turning to leave. Dakhil held his arm fast and Harry glared back with furious eyes.

“Really?” queried Dakhil, still quiet, still calm, still holding Harry’s arm with a vice-like grip. “Are you… sure?” Harry tried to pull away, but couldn’t. He pulled his wand. “You don’t need a wand to dismiss me, boy. You’re the Primate now, or will be soon. If you think you no longer need my services, then dismiss me! You need only speak the words; tell me to be gone!”

He was goading Harry, trying to make him angry, trying to evoke a response. Harry slipped his wand away.

“You are the Primate,” he said softly. “Not me.”

“Wizards will never follow a vampire, boy,” answered Dakhil. “But for some reason, Asha only knows why, they will follow you. The wisdom of Grigor Darbinyan now flows in his son’s veins. Would you ignore Antreas? Shall we charge with the rest? What are your orders?”

“I’m here to serve my oath, to protect the line of Asha… as are you. We stay to protect the rookery.” Harry noted a glimmer in Dakhil’s aura… a smile? The last of the first wave had passed through the gate, leaving two giants, one dragon, a half-dozen Centaurs and some thirty wizards to wait for further orders, orders that Harry would have to give. Knowing that the number at his side were too few to fend off the coming attack, his thoughts turned to the darkness, hiding at the bottom of the mountain, searching for some way that they might defeat him.

“He won’t reveal himself,” said Harry, slowly, “until he believes they’ve won, that he can step up and take me as his prize. Antreas is right, to capture Lucius and the darkness that consumes him, the first wave must fail.”

“The enemy’s numbers are too great,” said Dakhil, releasing his grip. “Even with those still remaining, we have no hope of winning in direct battle.”

“Then the second wave must be a surprise. We must hold until the last possible moment.”

“Even then, boy, the numbers are against us.”

“Maybe,” answered Harry, “But we need only strike down one foe. What will our enemy do when their general dies? When Lucius and his master fall?”

“It is impossible to catch vapour with your bare hands. Who among us, might I ask, will bring down the Dark Lord?”

“I will,” Harry answered. He left Dakhil and entered into the centre of those remaining. “Gather ‘round!” he called. “Listen to what I say! Tonight… tonight we plan for victory!”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 19 – The First Battle
~~~***~~~
Flame and smoke roiled in the air from the battle below, bearing the odour of burnt flesh and blood into the secure compound guarding the rookery of the dragons, where Harry and the others waited. The earth shook as the giants, fighting their common enemies below, cast stones the size of train-cars crashing down upon their foes. Howls, screeches, and the roar of dragon-fire reverberated between the stone walls, echoing down the canyons and pitching wildly between Harry’s ears. He couldn’t see the battle raging on the mountainside below, none of them could. But then, they didn’t need to see what was happening to know that it was not going well. The burning odour was growing stronger, the shaking earth was more severe, and the howls and screeches filled the air more than ever. The battle was coming closer, higher up the mountain. Soon, it would be at the compound walls.

Harry grew more anxious by the moment. His first instinct had been to attack outright, but both Antreas and Dakhil had stopped him. Ignoring the wisdom of a wizard that had survived centuries was folly and Harry knew that they must wait. The second wave would attack when their enemies were most weary. If Harry’s force could break their lines, if they could keep heel to throat, perhaps the advancing darkness would retreat down the mountain, down to where Lucius Malfoy, now possessed by Voldemort, most certainly waited.

When the first wave began its attack, Harry had quietly sent the best Centaur archers high onto the mountainside leading down from the North gate. Hiding high in the hills, they would flank the advancing darkness and strike when Harry gave the signal. Along the edges of the other side of the valley, Harry sent the two remaining giants, Florge and Scrum, to wait hidden among the rocks. There they would hold the higher ground, preventing any Death Eaters from running away from the onslaught of Centaur arrows. Once they were set into position, the giants looked like a large outcropping of stone, nothing more. With luck they would mow down dozens with their clubs, large tree trunks bristling with barbed metal pikes the length of Harry’s arm.

Hearing, smelling, feeling the first wave retreat back toward the main gate, Harry impatiently waited to lead the second wave through a hidden gate that skirted the side of the valley wall. Then they would know if there was any hope at all. Already, Centaur runners brought back reports that the number of the enemy was twice what was first thought – over two-hundred Dementors, nearly a hundred vampires, dozens of wizards, and five giants of their own. Clearly, the numbers were against them and they all knew it.

About a small fire, Harry sat with Dakhil and two other members of the Votary, Mikael and Katana. Dakhil was roasting sausages skewered on the end of a Centaur spear. Mikael was a large man, Ukrainian he said, with dark brown hair and a perpetual three days’ growth of beard. Half of his left ear was missing and he had a wildness about his piercing blue eyes that, as Dakhil described, would frighten any living soul that dared to cross wands with him. As for Katana, she was quiet, almost subdued. Even sightless, Harry could discern how her black skin contrasted against the silver mail ringlets that covered her upper torso. Set against her quiet manner was the red aura that burned fiercely from her soul, perhaps the most intense Harry had ever seen. Unlike Mikael, she rarely spoke, but when she did it almost always carried import. The fire crackled and the sausages popped, sending a steaming squirt of burning fat onto Mikael’s arm. He yelped, but Dakhil only laughed.

“I wish that was the only sting you would receive tonight, Mikael,” said the vampire, grimly staring into the fire, turning the sausages on the spear and watching the dripping grease send little flares of flame lapping upwards.

“How you are hungry, Dakhil,” replied Mikael, shaking his head and moving close once again to warm himself by the fire. “They arrive at doorstep before you finish.” Again, Dakhil laughed.

“You should know by now, my Ukrainian friend,” said Dakhil with a smile, “I don’t eat sausages. The boy here looked a bit faint and I thought he should build up his strength.” He held the point of the spear before Harry’s face, the sizzling sausage splattering specks of hot fat against the shield charm protecting Harry’s exposed face. “One should never meet their maker on an empty stomach.”

“Thank you,” Harry said with a thin smile. He took the sausage between thumb and forefinger, but it neither seared nor burned. Without flinching, Harry slid the sausage off the spear’s metal point and took a bite. Once again, he detected a momentary smile in the aura of Dakhil. To the vampire’s left, Katana let out a small snigger. She stood, her ringlets jingling as she did so, and then she looked upward to the night sky where the smaller dragon Tanwen circled.

“Even as Ebyrth reveals itself to the world, Asha’s blessing is upon you, young wizard,” she said with a low voice that was calm and as deep as the lake outside Hogwarts. “This is good… for the time has come. Prepare.”

Scantly had the words left her lips than a tremendous roar exploded overhead. Talisan, the largest of the four dragons, appeared from no where, plummeting from the sky, streaking fire and smoke behind him and smashing to the ground, tumbling into a group of wizards that most certainly would have died in the collision had not Katana turned their attention toward the wall when she stood. Immediately, pandemonium struck the camp. Even though many knew their posts, some wizards called out to attack directly through the main gate, some scattered for the secret side gate, some ran toward the mountain’s tunnels. The Centaurs were calling for patience, and all were yelling at the top of their lungs.

“SILENCE!” cried Dakhil, his voice reverberating off the canyon walls. “Everyone, move in formation toward the North gate! There we wait until the sign comes.”

“But—”

“We will attack when the sign comes; not before! NOW MOVE!”

While the confusion subsided, Harry moved toward the fallen dragon.

“Where are you going?” questioned Dakhil.

“Talisan needs help,” answered Harry continuing to walk to the dragon.

“Your orders were to—”

“I know what the plan is, Dakhil! I made it!” Harry yelled.

“We don’t have time for this, boy!”

“I have all the time I need,” snapped Harry in retort. “Now go! Lead the others and I’ll join you when I’m done.”

“Marek can care for the—”

“GO!”

With his wand still sheathed, Harry concentrated his mind. Bending space was easier than slowing time, even Ronan, his Centaur trainer, had admitted that. But Harry needed time, even just a little more to save Talisan’s life. Right now, he was compelled. He felt that healing the dragon was more important than all the rest of it. He wasn’t sure why, but he had to do what he could. He centred on the words Ronan had taught him.

In forest glen, the babbling brook is filled with silver fish.
Slow its flow and deny each drip to put them on your dish.

The sounds about Harry became muffled. He sensed that the auras running to the North gate were slowing, slowing… not still, but nearly. Harry summoned the Stone of Cinnabar from within him. Still bloody, he cast a fire spell upon it.

“Bravery, Wisdom, Love,” he whispered and was instantly transported to the white room that waited for his command. “Talisan,” he whispered, and was immediately drawn to the dragon.

He’d healed a cat before, but never a dragon. At first he could see the enormous creature prone on the ground, the three wizards surrounding it frozen in time, but the dragon looked up toward Harry, blinking as if it could see him. Talisan’s breathing was erratic and he coughed blood and smoke. Then, as always, the scene paused, as if asking Harry to confirm that this indeed was the action he wished to take. “Heal my friend,” Harry whispered again. Colour began to swirl about… broken bones… stunned nerves… sliced organs…a pierced lung… blood dripping on the fires of life… “Yes, heal them… heal them all.”

The scene flashed black and Harry found himself on his knees, the jagged rocks tearing at his flesh, the stone of Cinnabar in his left hand. Before moving he pulled his wand and hid the stone once more inside his body, in the little pocket left by missing liver tissue. And once again, he thought of Greg Goyle and said a small prayer. Before he looked up he heard the dragon speak. His words were unsteady, but Harry could see that his injuries were healing.

“We must hurry,” Talisan said, “the… the second wave… I must—”

“You must stay here,” cut in Harry. “You must rest.”

“I can’t. It is my duty to—”

“It’s your duty to listen to the bearer of the ring.” It was the dragon Tanwen, Harry knew that, but she was nowhere near. She was still flying high above the rookery. Harry wondered how he could be having this conversation, how…

“The ring,” he whispered, touching the stone with his other hand. He took to his feet, rubbing the black stone between his fingers. He expected to feel somewhat dizzy after healing the dragon, but he wasn’t. Without turning, he noticed that the auras were beginning to funnel out through the North gate just as the injured were coming in from the main gate. They would need help too. He moved to see what he could do when Marek stopped him.

“Let me take care of the injured, Harry. If you don’t execute like we had planned, we have no hope of winning and all will be lost, not just a few lives, but hundreds.” Once more, Harry glanced to the injured streaming in. There was a strong urge to heal them all. Many were near death. For a moment he hesitated and then he grudgingly nodded his head.

“Right,” said Marek. “Get going.”

Harry ran to the side gate, reaching it in seconds. He could hear Marek calling for help from the other Healers to get the injured inside the caves. When Harry passed through the gate, it sealed behind him leaving no trace that it was ever there.

The group of wizards and Centaurs making up the second wave had not moved far past the gate. They were carefully, quietly, edging their way around the flank of their enemy. As Harry moved about one of the larger rock formations, he had his first chance to detect the advancing army. It looked formidable, but not a three to one advantage. For a moment he had forgotten the Dementors, creatures whose auras he could not see, but the moment did not last long. The wind shifted and the cool stench of their flesh filled the air. For an instant… from the canyon just below… Was he imagining it? Harry thought he could actually hear them talking to each other. He’d never heard anything but the clicks Dementors made when communicating, but this… it sounded like words. Whatever it was he was hearing, they were close. He resisted the temptation to wretch just as two of his own wizards fell to their knees in fear.

There was the faint chirp of some insect, the sign, and the air immediately rang with the whistling of arrows. The Centaurs high in position among the cliffs let go their first volley. Screeches of Dementor and vampire alike bubbled up out of the canyon like a thick ooze of pain. An instant later, another volley of arrows filled the air, followed by more screams; then another… and another. Moving his way to the front of the contingent making up the attacking second wave, Harry could hear wizards cry out from below for their lines to turn toward the side of the mountain.

“Shields!” someone called. The next volley struck many still off guard, but was less successful among the wary wizards. Harry continued to advance until he came to Dakhil’s shoulder.

“Miss me?” Harry whispered. Dakhil seemed distracted.

“They’re unsettled,” he said quietly. “If we’re going to do this, boy, we must do it now to tilt any chance of surprise. They await your command.” A burst of exasperated disgust left Dakhil’s lips, but Harry didn’t hesitate.

“Strike now!” he commanded. “ATTACK!”

Arrows from the Centaurs stationed on the rocks above continued to rain down upon the rear of the line of Death Eaters, vampires and Dementors that had now driven Antreas’ first wave back through the main gate of the compound wall. Even as the front of this dark force was cheering for victory, calling for their giants to sunder the great wall protecting the compound, others at the rear were screaming with fear. The wizards and Centaurs in Harry’s second wave cascaded down the mountainside firing arrows and filling the smoky air with an electrifying display of wand power. Spell after spell stunned, exploded and slashed their adversaries. Fear was palpable and its effect began to ripple its way toward the front. Harry could sense their auras fading against the onslaught. The Dementors could feel it too and they began to consume souls indiscriminately. It was Katana who described to Harry how, in some sort of frenzied state they began feeding on the fear of their own warriors. As the frightened minions tried to scramble up the opposite hillside they came face to face with the hidden giants.

Florge and Scrum rose as if ascending from the stone itself. With great strokes of their clubs they swatted their foes back into the advancing force, back into the frenzied Dementors, back into a boiling broth of disorder that had now made its way to the front of the lines.

What at first seemed like a rout of Harry’s side was being flipped upon its head. Centaur arrows were dropping non-wizard vampires from the sky with nearly every draw of the string. Emboldened by the success of the second wave, the healthy in Antreas’ original attacking force regrouped and began another charge. Werewolves that had scattered to the mountainside retreating from their first attack also sensed the change and returned to the fray.

Squeezed on both sides and pressed to the fore, Lucius Malfoy’s army retreated back down the mountain. With all the confusion, Harry and many of the others in his second wave found themselves in the middle of Malfoy’s retreating force. They had essentially split their enemy’s force into two, allowing one half to retreat freely down the mountain while trapping the other in a great pincher. Harry and his forces had the lower ground while Antreas and the others pressed in from above. What followed was utter destruction.

Rakesh appeared from on high and began to dive toward the dazed and disordered warriors.

“Back!” cried Harry to the others. He heard similar cries from Antreas and his men further up the mountain. The werewolves did not head the warning. “BACK!” Harry yelled again. The Death Eaters were too distracted trying to handle the attacking werewolves and their own crazed Dementors to notice the dragon moving in.

When Harry’s men moved away, the vision of auras cleared and he distinctly noticed three werewolves still tearing at the flesh of their enemies. One of them was Fred Weasley; Harry could sense his anger, his hatred, his thirst to destroy.

“FRED!” Harry screamed. “GET OUT OF THERE!” But Fred was a werewolf and nothing Harry could do would stop that. Then Igneus appeared on the flank of Rakesh; both were diving down on their encircled enemies. Soon it would all be over. Harry began to run, not away but toward his friend and the mayhem of the battle before him. Even as stunners ricocheted off in every direction and Killing Curses took down one creature after another, Harry ran. He leapt onto the red fur of Fred’s back, knocking him to the ground.

The werewolf spun, opened his great jaws and grabbed Harry by the throat. Only the light shield charm about Harry’s face was keeping him from being bitten through, but it wouldn’t last long if Fred truly desired blood. On his back, his senses facing forward, he could detect the two giant auras of the dragons racing toward them. They had only seconds. Harry held his hands about Fred’s neck, and pressed the black onyx ring against his friend’s flesh.

“Be still,” he ordered. “Be still, my friend.”

The grip about Harry’s neck loosened slightly and, in that moment, Harry spun them both to the ground and cast a shield charm. The world erupted in fire. Screams filled the air only to be silenced an instant later by another blast of heat and flame. The werewolf in Harry’s arms struggled to break free, but not wholly.

“Get off of me, you bloody idiot,” Harry heard him howl. “I swear I’ll gut you!”

“The ring,” Harry thought. “I hear him through the ring.”
“Fred, listen…” said Harry sharply. “Hold still, just one more moment. The heat… the heat will—” The werewolf broke free of Harry’s grasp and threw himself against the shield charm surrounding them. It held from within. Again he charged the shield and this time broke through. He yipped as his paws burned against the scorching earth, but in a flash he was gone, chasing after the part of the army that had fled down the mountainside.

With the shield charm gone, Harry could smell the burning stench about him. Where seconds before stood dozens of men and creatures, now only three lone wizards remained – Death Eaters that had seen the dragons in time and had shield charms of their own. One, seeing Harry stand in the glowing embers without his shield, released his own protective spell and began to run. He took two steps before his feet were in flames. He fell and began to sizzle against the scorched earth. One of the other Death Eaters killed him to release him from the misery. Harry walked toward the remaining two, the heat burning away the dirt that soiled his robes, but leaving the scarlet cloth and his skin unscathed. Somehow being here on the mountain, so close to the dragons, had steeled his ability to withstand the heat.

“It’s not possible,” said one, the dark haired wizard in black robes that had killed his ally.

“Fool,” spat the other, blonde with robes of dark blue. “He’s one of them – half-man, half-dragon.”

“He’s a boy,” said the other.

“If this boy,” said Harry, moving closer, “drops your shield charm right now, you’ll cook to death like your friend there.” The dark haired Death Eater raised his wand.

“He’s blind!”

“Stop it!” said the other. “Are you mad?! There are scores in the hills around us. We haven’t a chance.” Harry continued to advance.

“The man you serve,” Harry began, now close enough to tap the shield of the dark haired wizard with the tip of his wand, “Lucius Malfoy… where is he?”

“He’ll… he’ll be here soon enough. You’ll see. Then… then you’ll—”

“What colour is his hair?” The tip of Harry’s wand began to glow red, sending out a pinprick of light onto the light blue shield that surrounded the Death Eater.

“B-Blonde,” the Death Eater stammered, staring intently at the red glow.

“And his eyes? What colour are his eyes?”

“There… there red, damn it! He’s found a source of true power, and he’ll swat the likes of you from the face of the earth. Now get us out of this fire pit!”

“Dakhil!” Harry cried out. “Dakhil!” There was a swooping sound and the wizard flew down next to Harry on the scorched earth. He was in vampire form, the front of his robes stained red with blood that was even now vanishing, burning away from the intense heat.

“Voldemort’s alive and he’s still in Malfoy,” said Harry with a sense of urgency in his voice that was building with anger. “This battle… it’s not over. They’ll regroup, realize that they still outnumber us, and attack again. We have to press our advantage while we can.” Dakhil’s lips pulled back into a horrific smile that revealed rows of long, sharp teeth. It was enough to make the Death Eater next to them shudder.

“Very good, boy,” he hissed with a deep scratchy voice. “I will inform Antreas to pass this dead zone, when he is able, and move down. You will need to tell Rakesh and Igneus.”

“What about Talisan?”

“He is well; do you not sense it?” And indeed Harry could and, for a moment, his heart lightened. Dakhil moved to fly when Harry grabbed his arm.

“And the others? How are our numbers?”

“We will most certainly be destroyed this night,” cracked Dakhil. “Your comet, Ebyrth, will destroy us all.” Dakhil took to the sky and faded into the darkness toward the higher parts of the mountain. As the embers cooled, Harry could sense the others from the second wave moving toward him. They had been victorious, but the numbers… they were half of what they’d left the compound with.

The Centaurs stopped outside the ring of intense heat, but Katana walked though it toward Harry.

“What are your orders, Primate?” she asked. There was a nasty gash on the side of her arm and the side of her face looked like it had some hex. Harry moved toward her and bathed her face in blue light; the boils receded.

“When the area cools, Antreas will move down to join us, but we cannot wait. We must continue the attack. We are searching for their leader, a blonde wizard with red eyes, wearing a dark cloak.”

“The Dark Lord, I have heard him called.” Her voice was calm, almost calculating.

“He’s no lord, Katana,” said Harry coolly, “but he will kill anything in his path. Warn the others. We head to the wasp’s nest and the stingers there will kill.”

“And these two?” she asked, nodding to the Death Eaters still desperately trying to maintain their shield charms.

“Leave them to Antreas,” Harry said. “We can’t spare the men.” Katana raised an eyebrow and cleared her throat. Harry noticed the subtle change in her aura. “Or women,” Harry corrected with a smile. “Or women.”

Before long, Harry’s beleaguered forces were well more than half-way down the mountainside. Soon they would be outside the perimeter that marked the magical border of the dragons’ lands. During the entire journey, they had encountered no resistance. All they had found was the occasional fallen wizard or the black cloak of a Dementor; none alive. Katana and Mikael warned that they should not pass the perimeter, that the dragons would not follow beyond, but Harry already knew that. Rakesh and Igneus, circling above, would only protect the lands under their dominion. They would not attack outside it.

“Do you think Voldemort doesn’t know that?” he asked, as they continued to march down the mountain. “If we don’t crush him now, he’ll use the time to rebuild his forces and attack again, more terrible than ever.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I know that—” Suddenly, a Centaur scout, Shamire, appeared, sweat dripping from his flanks. Harry turned to him. “What news?” he asked.

“You were right, Chosen,” the Centaur answered. “They have a camp just on the other side of the border. There are wounded everywhere, and lots of yelling. They are in a clearing surrounded by large trees, but the trees… they are not real.”

“What?”

“I have never seen anything like it before. The trees look like trees, but they are not; they are dead, a fabrication. The werewolves are circling, but unwilling to enter.”

“A barrier?” asked Katana. “To protect the camp.”

“Maybe,” said Harry, “or something worse. It’s always something worse. Shamire, tell the others to be on their guard. The dragons won’t fly past the border. It will be up to us to finish the job.” As he said these words Harry looked toward the sky and saw the majestic creatures circle back, returning to the compound. “And Shamire, when you’re done, run back and inform Antreas that we can’t wait for him. We have to attack before they’ve regained their strength. There’s still fear in the air, we have to press the advantage.” Shamire nodded and vanished.

Harry and the others arrived outside the clearing. The Centaur had been right; the large tree structures encircling the clearing were dead. To Harry they appeared like massive spires of darkness that shot into the air. Each one was four to five feet across. Harry touched one; it felt like the trunk of a tree, but it was cold, lifeless. Mikael motioned for the others to spread out and encircle the camp. They were outnumbered four to one, but nearly all of their adversaries were lame, in litters or small cots that spread across the open field by the dozens. At one end was a large, black nothingness that rose from the grass to the sky above. Dementors, thought Harry. Could he hear the sound of voices, arguing? Before them was a wizard with an aura more intense than all the others. Harry knew at once who it was.

“Voldemort,” he whispered.

A few minutes later, Mikael gave the signal. Harry and many of the others surrounding the camp cast spells to push the massive trees aside. Harry was worried that they might act as an alarm and give away the moment of surprise, but the trees moved. A dozen openings appeared all about the great circle.

The werewolves were the first to leap through. From all directions wizard and Centaur poured into the field. Arrows, spells and counter-spells streaked across the air. Harry’s mind was focused on one thing – the wizard at the far end of the camp surrounded by darkness. Moving closer, he could hear the screams in his mind, but he had learned to control the fears brought on by the Dementors, to control all emotion if need be. Still, as he approached Lucius Malfoy the more angry he became. The blonde wizard’s back was toward Harry; he was seemingly oblivious to the onslaught and still speaking with the darkness of Dementors. Were they laughing? Harry didn’t care if his foe’s back was turned; he would kill this time, avenge so many of the deaths he should have stopped long ago. He was so focused on killing he barely heard Katana cry out.

“They’re Muggles!” Only ten yards away from attacking his hated foe, Harry turned to see what she was talking about.

“These aren’t wizards!” she yelled at the people laying in the litters and cots that filled the field. “They’re Muggles; they’ve been immobilized.”

Harry heard a high cold laugh from behind just as each tree surrounding the field split open with a great white light.

“IT’S A TRAP!” Harry cried, but too late. Wizard vampires and Death Eaters spilled out from the fissures in the trees that had been hiding them. Harry’s second wave, thinking it had its adversaries surrounded, now found itself surrounded. The werewolves had already started to attack defenceless Muggles, getting them to turn their attention was proving near impossible.

“Now,” hissed Lucius Malfoy. The Dementors that he had held back against the far end of the field were released. Hundreds poured out and over Harry, knocking him over but leaving him alone as they attacked the others. He could have sworn he heard one of them say, “You’re lucky, wizard.” He knew that there were far too few Centaurs to bring them all down.

Harry turned over on his belly and watched as the lights of souls smashed into one another. They were still outnumbered, only now Harry’s men were at the disadvantage and he hadn’t the advice of Antreas or the wisdom of Dakhil to know what to do. Or did he?

Rubbing the band of onyx with his thumb, Harry held out his hand toward a familiar group of werewolves that were unsure who to attack.

“Hear me!” Harry called out. One of the werewolves turned immediately. It was Remus.

“Harry?” he yelped.

“The Death Eaters by the trees!” yelled Harry. Remus and the group of werewolves turned toward the trees and ran. All that is but one. Fred remained, with eyes of fire, looking past Harry to the dark wizard behind him. He charged.

“Fred, no!” yelled Harry. “He’ll kill y—” A red stunner came from the side, slamming the werewolf to the ground. “Fred!”

All around Harry’s group was falling like stunned pixies, some by red light, some by green. Dementors were swirling about as if waiting for the order to suck the souls out of the survivors. Spoils, Harry suspected. Harry looked toward the mountaintop. Where were Antreas’ forces?

“I should have waited,” he whispered into the sod.

“It would not have mattered,” said Malfoy in a mixed high, cold drawl. Harry spun to cast a spell, but his wand was expelled before he could turn around. The next thing he knew he was immobilized, stiff as a board, but well aware of what was happening. He spit. His mouth was working, but try as he might he could not turn his head. He heard Katana screaming in pain somewhere behind him.

“Isn’t it delicious, Potter,” Malfoy asked, stepping close. Harry could smell the stench of the wizard approaching. He could not see the red eyes burning in their sockets, but he could sense the auras fighting within. Evidently, Malfoy was a bit more difficult to control than young James Chang. He wasn’t going down willingly.

“Since I was a little boy, I’ve always loved that sound, the way it penetrates the ear and rings the soul.”

“You have no soul, Tom,” snapped Harry. “You’re a shell, a third of what you once were.”

“And yet here I am, and there you are. A seventh of my power would be enough to destroy you!” Flecks of spit splattered against Harry’s face – he felt them. The shield charm protecting his eyes had been broken. Lucius touched Harry’s face.

“A few scars… not too bad. And the eyes… well, one can always find eyes from a willing donor.” He laughed. Harry could hear the battle raging behind him, but here between the two, time seemed to stand still. Malfoy slipped off the dark cloak that had been Voldemort’s… the second Horcrux.

“I couldn’t possess you before, Potter; some silliness about love. But this…” He stroked the black cloth of the cloak. “This will change all that. You might say it’s everything inside me that was ever good. Who needs such things, eh? Ah, yes… you do, don’t you?” He shook the cloak like a big blanket and wrapped it about Harry’s shoulders. “There. Its purity always protected me against wayward spells.”

“Like a shell surrounding a rotten nut?” asked Harry dryly. “Why put it on me?”

“Because… with it I can penetrate you, withstand the goodness that binds you. With it I can take control of what I once gave you. Since the night I killed your parents my spirit, my power has flowed within the very fabric of your being – a fourth Horcrux, you might say. I will use it to take utter control and when I do I will be whole once more. It does become so tiresome always having to fight the host. But you, Potter, you are already me.”

“You’re mistaken, Tom.”

“I think not.” Lucius sighed. His head turned past Harry. “Your forces are crushed. Once I take your body, I will return to the lair of Singehorn and destroy the only force that can stand in my way. With the dragons destroyed, Europe will be mine.”

“No… don’t. I- I-”

“Don’t beg, Potter. It’s not how you’ll want your last moments on earth to be remembered. Now,” he sighed again, “this won’t hurt a bit.”

There was a small flicker of intensity in Malfoy’s aura. Harry watched as the green evil began to issue out through his mouth and nose like a tapeworm being pulled from a bowel. For a moment, the green glow hung in the air as Malfoy fell to the ground.

“Don’t do it, Tom.”

The green encircled Harry and penetrated. Pain. The coils of Voldemort’s essence wrapping itself around Harry’s. Squeezing. Probing. Penetrating. Searching. Harry’s skull felt as if it might explode.

Where is it, Potter? How are you hiding it?

The coils wrapped tighter, the pain became more intense.

You have the stone… and the ring! But where is it, that which I truly require?

“Come closer, Tom… closer.” Harry drew in his invader, pulling him nearer to his inner self. “Feel true pain.”

Suddenly, Voldemort found that he wasn’t in control. The coils of his essence wrapped ever more tightly about Harry’s, but it wasn’t at his bidding. Still immobilized, Harry’s inward self fought his enemy, while his outward self saw the arrival of Antreas’ army and the retreat of Lucius Malfoy and his followers down the mountainside. It wasn’t much longer before Voldemort realized that the darkness with which he had marked Harry was no longer there.

Where is it? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?

“Purity of light. Love harbours no enemies. Champion these precepts, Tom and be cleansed!” Somehow, Harry was drawing power from the goodness of the robe surrounding him. Scenes of laughter, warm laughter from a small boy flashed across his mind. The purity, the goodness was too much for Voldemort to bear.

This is not possible!
“But it is, Tom. I’ve been cleansed. Your power over me, our oneness is no longer.”

The scene in Harry’s mind showed a small baby being born. The mother, near death, held the child in her shaking arms, smiled warmly and kissed his forehead. Seeing this expression of love, Harry’s thoughts betrayed him.

A boy? You have a boy? Try as Harry might to stop them, the coils around his essence released. He could feel Voldemort vanish from his body.

“No!” Harry yelled as he fell limp to the ground. Before the darkness came, he watched as the green cloud of mist disappeared into the forest in search of yet another body to possess – Harry’s son.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 20 - Aftermath
~~~***~~~

She was laughing at him – a joyous, playful laugh that was one part teasing, one part humour, and all of it provocative. It was the kind of laugh that makes a young man smile back even when he doesn’t want to, the kind of laugh that makes the tips of the ears turn red, the cheeks flush, and that little spot, somewhere near the stomach, twist into a tiny knot wondering if maybe… maybe tonight…. It was the kind of laugh that made Harry remember why he had loved her, why he had—

He was laughing at him – a giggly, unbridled laugh, as he jumped all about in the tall green grass beneath a clear blue sky and a brilliant yellow sun. It was the kind of laugh that made one want to laugh along, to dance and play. The kind of laugh that said, “I love you Dad!” and brought Harry to his knees for a hug and a kiss.

They were, all of them, barefoot, running and playing in the summer’s heat, splashing through the cool stream that wound its way about the top of the meadow. Faster! Faster! They ran, giggling, to where the hill turned sharply down, stopped and looked over the edge – a smooth grassy incline that plunged perhaps twenty metres before it flattened out into another meadow bursting with golden flowers.

Jamie dropped to the ground stretched his legs straight and pulled his hands in close to his chest. Roll with me, daddy! I’ll race you down! Harry grinned and fell to the grass. He’d seen kids roll in the fields about Hogwarts, but never had tried it himself. As a child in Little Whinging he never had the chance to do anything outdoors, especially if it might have been enjoyable. He pulled in his arms and began to roll.

The tall grass was soft and whisked at his face with each twirl, round and round, down the hill. He could hear Jamie laughing, louder and more boisterous than ever before. With a flash and a spin, Harry glanced at his son, seeing joy and happiness, a smile that would melt the coolest of hearts, and… red eyes.

Harry spun once round and looked again. The boy’s laughter grew more shrill, high and cold, but the face looked flattened, snakelike. He tried to reach out, to stop himself from spinning, but his arms wouldn’t move. They were pinned to his chest as tightly as his legs were held straight. Faster, Daddy, Faster!

It was as if a giant snake had wrapped itself about Harry’s entire body; its enormous coils constricting as he continued to roll, spinning uncontrollably down a hill that had no end. The grass was whipping at his face, tearing at his eyes. He tried, but he could no longer see his son. But the high, cold voice remained. Are you dizzy, Daddy? The sky had grown dark and cold and the world shuddered as the earth beneath Harry gave way, and he began to plummet downward into the abyss.

He woke, each corner of the room spinning about in a different direction. His arms flung out as he grabbed hold of the linens covering his bed, clutching them for dear life, trying to steady himself and regain a sense that he was no longer falling, no longer trapped in the nightmare – the first he’d had of Voldemort since last year. Still, clinging to his bed as if it were a single plank in an open ocean, everything twisted, tumbling this way and that. He… he couldn’t help it. His stomach turning in knots, he retched out onto his bed, onto the wall, onto the floor.

“Merlin, Harry!”

His body began to shake, and the nausea swelled up once more exploding out of him. He wanted to stand, to hold on to something more tangible than a flimsy bed pad, but he couldn’t; he was so weak he could barely lift his arms enough to turn his head to one side. It was worse than his hangover after Duncan’s last party in Little Whinging.

“The potion, by the bed, see if you can get him to take a swallow.”

A hand reached out… a blue vile. Harry recoiled.

“Come on, mate, just one swallow. Marek knows what he’s talking about.”

“F-Fred?” Harry asked weakly. The redheaded wizard, standing in front of him, pulled his wand and cleaned the bed and the floor with a flick of his wrist.

“Damn, Harry, when will you learn that I am so much better looking than my furry brother? Besides… he drools.”

“George?”

“Spot on, now take a swig.”

Harry turned his head and let George pour the blue liquid into his mouth. He swallowed, and almost immediately the nausea passed. Remnants of the weakness wracking his body still remained.

“Better?”

Harry looked up at George and found a big, toothy grin. He looked over to the corner of the room and found Marek, standing near a small wooden desk, smiling. Beside him, hanging from the wall was a black cloak – Voldemort’s cloak.

“Bad dream?” Marek asked.

“Something like that. I thought—”

He could see Marek smiling at him. He could see George’s red hair. Blinking, Harry reached up toward his eyes.

“Oh, no,” said Marek, gently holding Harry’s arm. “Best not to touch for a few days. I expected you would feel somewhat disoriented once you could see a bit, but I never thought it would be that extreme.” Harry was silent, looking about the room – the sheets were white, stained with splotches of dried blood, and there was the wooden table in the far corner. He’d sensed that before, before the battle, but never noticed the carving on its front face – a dragon gilded in gold.

“Well, go on. What do you see? Blurs? Images? Flashes of dark and light?”

“I… I see everything. You… you are George. I thought maybe Fred… Fred! Is he okay? Is he—?”

“He’s getting his things together right now,” interrupted George. “We need to get him home. I think you know why.” Harry simply nodded. “The boys about here say you had a pretty hefty hand in seeing my brother to safety, the pigheaded brute.” The flap on the door flew open and in walked George’s twin.

“Pigheaded?” he squealed. “I’m not pigheaded! I eat pig-heads for snacks. Now you, dear brother… yes, just looking at your face make’s me salivate.” Fred started to make lapping sounds as he stepped closer to George. Harry wanted to smile, but he couldn’t. His eyes were scratchy and his vision began to blur – not because of any relapse, but because of the tears beginning to well within them. He did indeed know why George had come to fetch his brother: their mother’s funeral.

“So, where’s Charlie?” Fred asked. “I thought he was going to bring the portkey and check in on the dragons.”

“Probably met some German witch in a pub on his way over here,” answered George.

“I think his tastes lean more… French, don’t you?”

“Oooh, la, la.”

There was a brief silence, and then Harry swallowed hard and asked, “How’d I get here?”

“You don’t remember?” asked Marek. Harry shook his head. “Well, the way Antreas described it, after he and his forces arrived at the clearing, the enemy began to run. It was as if someone simply popped a balloon. Whatever bluster the enemy had, whatever drove them to attack, disappeared.

“You began to heal the injured, Muggle and Wizard alike. Igneus saw that the battle was over and landed on the field, breathed fire into that stone of yours and you began to heal like a madman. There were thirty near death, including Fred there, and you saved nearly every one.”

“Nearly?”

“I’m sorry Harry, but Mikael didn’t make it. They had to pull you off when it was clear you were using up your own life force. You’d have both been dead.” An image of Mikael’s face flashed across Harry’s mind and along with it a memory of frustration. He had to use his own life energy, not that of the stone. The stone’s power may not be used for members of the Votary. It is forbidden. Harry could remember reaching further and further to find Mikael’s life force, but it had passed into the next plane. He’d paused between those two planes, wondering if perhaps he could move beyond and still bring him back. You can’t bring back the dead. It was the last thing he remembered, before the nightmare.

“How long have I been out?”

“About eight hours,” answered Fred. “We just had lunch.”

“Is that how all the Weasleys tell time? By what meal it is?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” said George. This was followed by an awkward silence. There was now one less Weasley and, at least in Harry’s mind, it was all Harry’s fault. He wanted to tell them how it happened, but he couldn’t find the words. Marek broke the stillness.

“Word of the battle got out as soon as the cloud of Dementors lifted,” he said. “The Minister in Britain asked immediately for news of the situation and the status of his son. We told him the battle had been won, but his son was in no condition to climb down the mountain to where he could Apparate.”

“A bit of a doctor’s over protection I’d say,” chimed in Fred.

“So George and Charlie were to come with a portkey and retrieve their brother.”

“And in all honesty,” added George, seemingly concerned, “he shouldn’t have been that far behind me. He said he was going to take care of a few things with dad.”

“Well he’s not much of a climber,” said Fred. “Now if there was a damsel in distress here at the compound, maybe then—” Again, the front flap of the tent flew open; it was Charlie.

“Geesh,” he said with a winded gasp. “There you are.” His face was flush and sweat was dripping from his brow. “I didn’t see you the whole way up. I was only a few minutes behind. Why didn’t you wait?” he asked George, and then his eyes narrowed. “You don’t seem too winded for having just climbed an hour.” George bore a mock look of surprise, which instantly drew a scowl on Charlie’s face; he knew a rat when he saw his brother. “There’s no WAY you Apparated here; it can’t be done.”

“OH! That’s right,” George said. “We were going to hike together from the lower perimeter. I… I guess I forgot.” George stood, reaching to the corner behind him and grabbing his broom. “I thought it might be easier if I just flew up.” Charlie looked like he was ready to explode. “Sorry, I didn’t think you might want to hitch a ride.”

“Why you little—”

“Now, I’ll have none of that in here,” interrupted Marek. Charlie stopped and pulled his wand back, giving Marek a courteous, quick nod of the head.

“Right, sir.” Regaining his composure, the older Weasley wiped his forehead, but still gave George a look of pure fire. Then his eyes fell on Harry who immediately looked away.

“Hi, Harry,” said the elder Weasley. “Good to see you’re well.” Harry said nothing in return. He was afraid that if he spoke it would all dribble out in a blubbering mess.

“Gents,” said Charlie, “do you mind if I have a word with Harry alone?”

Marek and, after some cajoling, Fred and George finally departed, leaving Charlie and Harry to themselves.

“So… I see your eyes are better,” Charlie began. Harry blinked, still not able to hold George’s gaze.

“Yeah,” Harry answered quietly with a thin sigh, “a bit better.” Charlie pulled up a chair next to Harry’s bed.

“Once I get Fred back, there’s going to be a service for Mum – with full Ministerial pageantry. Dad never wanted to be Minister; I think maybe because he knew that the day would come when… one of us… Well, we can’t always have peace, can we?” George wiped his eyes with his sleeve and took a deep breath. “There’s… there’s a part of Dad that doesn’t want you within ten kilometres of him…” Harry nodded that he understood, “…and a part of him that wants to hold you closer than the rest of us.” Harry looked up and George took his hand; both their eyes were wet. “Harry, you’re a member of the family. You were as much a son to Mum as I was and we want you at the service.”

“We?” asked Harry pointedly, but Charlie dodged the question.

“Look, if Marek says you’re well enough, will you come with us? The portkey can take us all.” Harry shook his head.

“I… I don’t think that—”

“Damn it, Harry! Don’t be as stubborn as… just say yes. We’ll figure out the rest later.”

Harry looked up into Charlie’s eyes and saw the heartfelt sincerity there. Since his accident on the pitch, he’d missed that ability, the ability to look into the windows of a wizard’s soul and know if the words and the emotions matched. Reading auras he could discern, to some extent, truth from lie, but the subtle shades of desire, the intricate patterns of joy and sorrow, those were hidden in the eyes. He could see them all playing about Charlie’s face and knew that he should join them.

He was about to say he’d go when he remembered the battle, the green smoke, his son.

“Cho,” he whispered suddenly, almost in a panic. “I- I’ve got to see Cho.”

“That’s where we’re going first,” said Charlie. Harry was confused; why would they be going to France? Charlie continued.

“I just saw her this morning with Anthony Goldstein at St. Mungo’s.”

“Anthony? Is he—?”

“He’s fine. He’s in the same room with Ron. Ron should be released today and from there we can Apparate to the Borough. Anthony should get out in a few days, hopefully before Christmas.” Charlie continued to sit as Harry sat up with some urgency and put his legs over the edge of the bed. Charlie smiled. “Cho was holding a baby boy. I guess the two of them… well, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” said Harry standing up and slowly walking over to his clothes that were folded on the table.

“Then we’re on?” asked Charlie.

“We’re on.”

Harry dressed and then folded the black cloak over his arm, as the two went out into the large cavern. Harry had expected to see it filled with injured, but there were only a handful of wizards and the few of them were simply standing about talking. Katana was speaking with Antreas and other members of the Votary. Visually, she was more striking than ever. Dakhil, however, was no where to be found. When she saw Harry, she walked over to greet him. She put her arms around him and pulled him close with a hug that nearly broke Harry’s back.

“Well done,” she said simply. “I now understand.” Just as she let go, Antreas who was only a few paces behind her embraced Harry about the shoulders, thankfully less forcefully.

“How is Singehorn?” Harry asked. “And Talisan?”

“Fine,” Antreas said with a smile. “They are both fine. Singehorn is finally well enough and began his journey to the East this morning. Creatures around the world, not just Dementors and Centaurs, are using the return of Ebyrth to ignite old hatreds. The war it seems is spreading, and the old ties must be rekindled among the dragon families.”

“And Dakhil?”

“Resting. For the first time in days the sun is shining brightly. We are, all of us, somewhat tired.”

“Just one more thing left to do,” said Harry. “I need this stored in the rookery, against the west wall where it will be safe.”

“The rookery?” Antreas asked as Harry handed him the cloak.

“Conceal it near the corner to look like the large black granite stone.”

“I know the one, but—”

“It’s important that it stay safe, that it stay hidden. The dragons will guard the rookery until the last of their fire fails. And Antreas… don’t tell Dakhil.” Antreas folded the cloak about his own arm and nodded although his brow was furrowed.

“Very well, Primate,” he said with a nod. He glanced at Charlie and then back to Harry. “You’re leaving us then?” he asked and Harry nodded.

“Yes, Antreas, as you say there are other battles to be won.” A grin split across Antreas’ face.

“Perhaps you face one with my sister for risking your neck again.”

“And yours,” added Harry with his own smile.

“It is good to see the gleam in your eyes once more.” Antreas stepped closer and put his arm about Harry. “I have to say that your healing work was miraculous at the base of the mountain, choosing to heal all rather than just your own soldiers. Mother was right to bestow upon you the stone. Your passion for life… well, it was something my father was once known for; he would have been proud. And if one day the stars so choose, I can think of no other that I would rather call brother.” He smiled as Harry’s face reddened.

“Well,” said Charlie, “the family’s growing bigger by the minute.” He called for Fred and George to come over as he pulled out a bag that held the portkey, an old leather football that had deflated. Before they all took hold Harry looked back at Antreas.

“Whatever the future, Antreas, we will always be brothers.”

With a tug and a flash they were whizzing their way to St. Mungo’s. The way things were spinning, Harry almost wished he hadn’t had his eyesight back, but before he could regret it too much it was over. They landed with a thud on a dark marble floor veined with flecks of gold; Harry had come to despise that stone. Harry fell to one knee while the others remained on their feet.

“Thank Merlin! I was beginning to worry. Is he… Harry!”

Harry looked up to find Hermione looking back at him.

“Your eyes!” she exclaimed. “You can… can you?” Harry nodded as he stood up. Hermione wrapped her arms about him in a great hug, a sad chuckle whispered across his ear. “The darkness and the light. Oh, Harry, it’s been madness.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s got Draco locked in the Ministry, and he aims to see him tried for the murder of his wife.”

“That’s ridiculous! You were there. Didn’t you tell him? Didn’t Ron—”

“Yes! But he won’t believe us. He thinks we were too stunned to remember properly. Maybe with time we could change his mind, but Draco’s confessed.”

“Confessed? Confessed to what?”

“To killing Mrs. Weasley,” Hermione said miserably. The three Weasley brothers came over to console Hermione.

“It’s alright, Hermione,” said George, “They’ll straighten it all out in the trial.”

“What trial?” snapped Fred. “The ferret confessed.”

“Draco didn’t kill anybody!” yelled Harry. “I was there, remember?” His mind moved back to the scene and his voice grew quiet. “Her hands… her hands were on my shoulders.” He reached up as if grasping for the memory of her touch. “I tried to stand in time, to shield her with my body, but… she tried to save me.” Harry smiled sadly in warm admiration. “I felt her last breath against my cheek and she died in my arms, crumpling to the floor.” Harry began to shiver. “Draco didn’t raise his wand against a soul.

“Voldemort killed your mum,” he said, looking directly at Fred, “and saying it was Draco is an abomination to her memory. Molly Weasley could eat the likes of Draco Malfoy for lunch and spit him out before supper. I’ve never seen a woman use a wand the way… the way…” He couldn’t finish.

“Harry,” whispered Hermione, “it gets worse. I need you to come over here and sit down.” Harry hesitated. “Please?” George slapped Harry on the shoulder.

“Go on,” he said, giving Harry a slight push. “We want to hear this too.” Harry acquiesced and sat next to Hermione on a wooden bench. She took him by the hands. In the corridor just outside the Welcoming Hall, wizards and Healers were walking to and fro. Some greeted each other with hugs of joy, others with tears of sorrow. Here death and life battled daily with one another, a delicate balance that had been tossed on its head upon the return of the Dark Lord.

“Now, try to stay calm.” Her words were anything but calming.

“Yesterday, Cho came with the baby to visit Anthony,” said Hermione. “Everyone believes it’s his child.”

“Yes,” said Harry dismissively. “I don’t care what people think, but I do need to see her right away. She’s still here?” Hermione nodded, gripping Harry’s hands a bit more tightly. Fred, George and Charlie were trying to take in Harry’s statement.

“When she arrived at the hospital, she asked where Gabriella was. Evidently the two were to meet here, hoping that they might find you or at least discern your whereabouts. Only, the thing is, Gabriella never showed. She hasn’t been seen since she left Cho and Anthony’s house in La Mure.” Harry moved to stand, but Hermione held firmly to his hands.

“We just got word about an hour ago,” she continued. “Lucius Malfoy’s men discovered she was your girlfriend and they thought she might buy some leverage. They’ve taken her and are holding her hostage.”

“Where? What do they want?” Harry’s words were sharp, tense.

“We don’t know where yet,” replied Hermione, “but we do know what they want.” She paused.

“Well, what is it?” asked Harry. “Give it to them!”

“They want Draco Malfoy.” Harry laughed, as a wave of relief passed over him.

“That’s easy. He’s innocent. Just let him go.”

“He’s confessed to murdering the Minister’s wife.”

“This is insane!”

“Dumbledore was here a little while ago,” she said. “He met Mr. Weasley in Ron and Anthony’s hospital room. I don’t know how, but I think he’s convinced Mr. Weasley to go ahead with the exchange.”

“Then why haven’t they—?”

“Draco refuses,” cut in Hermione. “He swears he’s guilty and must be punished. They tried to use Veritaserum, but he’s built up some sort of drug tolerance. It won’t work.” She took a deep breath.

“Then wrap his arse up and send him to his father with a red bow!” snapped Harry.

“They can’t,” answered Charlie. “It’s Ministerial law. In any prisoner exchange, the prisoner must go willingly. It’s to protect those who would go back only to be punished.”

“He’s not going to be punished!” cried Harry. “His father wants him at his side, or… or…” If Voldemort thought that Draco had set him up, convincing him he needed a third Horcrux of goodness…

“Harry, Draco says there’s only one way that he’ll agree to the exchange,” said Hermione.

“What’s that?” Harry asked, his mind distracted by the possibility that Draco might actually be in trouble.

“He demands to see you.”

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