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harry potter
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 21 - Family
~~~***~~~

The balls Harry had been juggling in the air began to crash down to the floor. One by one, precious orb by precious orb, each and every ball was being sundered. No sooner had he plugged the dyke with one finger than a new spout of water burst forth from somewhere else. And all around, in every direction, those he loved, those who loved him were dying.

“I DIDN’T WANT THIS BLOODY WAR!”

Harry flung his cup of tea against the stone wall and it smashed to pieces, shards tinkling to the ground, and drips of brown liquid streaking the wall. Sirius drew his wand cleaned the mess, reassembled the cup and levitated it back down on the table in front of Harry.

“Well, that’s too damn bad now, isn’t it?” Sirius poured more tea into Harry’s cup. “A little sugar?” he asked. Harry clenched both his fists and looked up at his uncle.

“Yes, please,” he said through gritted teeth. Sirius dropped a teaspoonful into Harry’s cup and the spoon began to stir by itself as he sat back down across from Harry.

“We’ve been over this a thousand times, Harry. There’s nothing you could have done.”

“You sat right there last summer, Sirius, and told me, warned me not to listen to him.” Harry donned his best Sirius-like voice. “‘The time will come when he asks you to do something you know in your heart is wrong. When he does, talk to me.’ Well, I didn’t talk to you first, did I? And now Molly Weasley’s dead, the Ministry despises me, Lucius Malfoy’s Death Eaters have Gabriella, and Voldemort is out there looking for my son so he can… Merlin only knows what. NOTHING I COULD HAVE DONE?” Harry’s fist wrapped around his cup and he began to lift it once again.

“Ah, ah, ah!” chimed Sirius, waving his finger back and forth, and then tapping it to the table. Harry put the cup down. “You know it was your father that was always the calming influence on me.” He began to smile. “Once Peter…” He paused as his eyes grew distant. “Never mind.” Sirius took a sip of tea.

“I can’t just sit here and do nothing,” said a very frustrated Harry.

“That’s exactly the attitude that nearly cost me my life,” Sirius answered. “A little thought, a little patience. Cho and Anthony and Jamie will be safe here. No one knows there here and if they did they still wouldn’t know how to get in. I think you’ll make an excellent Secret Keeper, and the spell you cast on the castle to make it unplottable… Well, you didn’t learn that at Hogwarts.”

“I don’t know,” said Harry, pondering the flashes of skill that had penetrated his being since the Joining. “It just came to me.”

“As for Gabriella,” said Sirius, “the entire Order is out looking for her, Harry. Until they get a lead, there’s nothing you can do.”

“I can talk to Draco.”

“After what he’s done? He can cool his arse for a few more days.” Harry slouched back in his chair.

What had Draco done? Had he planned the whole thing? Was he somehow behind Gabriella’s capture? Did he intend for Harry to be ambushed at the Ministry? It was Draco, after all that had suggested the cloak be used as a Horcrux, but to what end?

“Two steps ahead,” Harry whispered.

“What’s that?” Sirius asked.

“I’ve only been thinking two steps ahead,” Harry answered. “You were right; I need to be thinking four more. Only, I can’t.” Harry’s fingers began to tap against the table top. “But I know someone who can.” Sirius leaned forward.

“Harry, you can’t go there today… not today. Besides, you won’t be able to get within miles of the Burrow. The Ministry will have the place surrounded. Maybe after the holiday, when they go back to Hogwarts—”

“I can’t wait!” Harry snapped. “You know what they’re doing to her right now, don’t you? You know!” Harry’s hand slammed the table and he stood. “When the three of us are together… I don’t know, the fog clears.”

“You can’t Apparate in, and they’ll have every entrance guarded,” Sirius asserted.

Harry closed his eyes and concentrated. He hadn’t tried his skills as a Metamorphmagus since summer and he’d only done Ron twice. Catching the right shade of red was particularly difficult. Carefully, he focussed on his best friend. It lasted some five minutes – black to red, a stretch of a few inches, a bit deeper voice, and a strong need for more socks. Looking at a redheaded Harry in clothes a full size too small for him, Sirius had to smile.

“I don’t suppose you’re going dressed like that.”

“Guess I forgot,” Harry answered sheepishly.

“Yeah… you can’t even think one step ahead,” said Sirius rolling his eyes. “Maybe you’re right after all. Grab one of the black robes out of my closet and be off with yeh.” Harry nodded and turned toward Sirius’ room.

“And, Harry, if you get a wild hair to put your neck in another noose, let me know before they tighten the knot, okay.” Harry nodded again.

“Promise?” asked Sirius.

“Promise,” Harry answered. Once again he turned toward the corridor only this time he stopped himself and turned back toward Sirius. “Christmas,” he said looking at the decorations Sirius had strung, as best he could, about the walls. “It’s a time to be with family. Cho should be with her brother at St. Mungo’s. I should be here with you.”

“And little Jamie?” Sirius asked.

“Life is never what we plan, is it Sirius?”

“No, Harry. No, it’s not.” Sirius rose from his chair and walked over to Harry putting his arms about his godson. He sighed and looked into Harry’s freckled face. “I think maybe, with a little thought, you might make your family’s Christmas a bit brighter.” He ruffled Harry’s red hair. “Say, ‘Hi,’ to your brother for me.”

For a moment Harry didn’t understand, but then he whispered, “Bloody hell.” He ran down the corridor his pants three inches too short. Sirius chuckled, poured himself another cup of tea and wandered down the corridor to find Cho, Anthony and Jamie.

Pulling off his over-tight shirt in Sirius’ room, a cold shiver passed through Harry. It took him a minute to realize that it was a ghost, one of the many that haunted the castle. It was a young man, dressed in a tunic.

“I don’t recall… wait… a disguise. You’re the Potter boy aren’t you?” Harry glared at the ghost.

“I’m no boy,” said Harry, his eyes filled with fire. The ghost chuckled soft and whispery.

“Child, I have walked these grounds for over three thousand years, this castle for the last five hundred. To my eyes, to Helen’s you are all children.” He moved closer, reaching out his hand to Harry’s shoulder. “Is it true what she says?” His hand touched Harry’s bare shoulder. It was ice, but substantial, rough and calloused, and Harry instinctively jerked away.

“Ho, Ho!” cried the ghost. “Helena was right! You walk the precipice then?”

“Precipice?” asked Harry, slipping on Sirius' robe.

“The knife-edge between this plane and the next, life and… death. Some part of you has died, the rest has cheated death. The part of you that has died lingers with its living self; it has no choice. But it yearns to return to the golden light… to find its way home. Can you not feel it?”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Harry dismissively. He turned and found nearly a dozen ghosts gathering a round staring at him. They all were smiling as if looking at a new born baby in a bassinet.

“What are you staring at?!” Harry snapped.

“Perhaps once in an age, does one such as yourself appear.”

“So?”

The gathering ghosts laughed. Then, they began to hum; it was a slow soft buzzing that built itself into a chant. Each recited a different language, but in Harry’s mind they sang in unison with a common tongue that, somehow, he knew they had hummed for centuries.

The golden light shall always call
its wayward children home.
Yet those who ill chose found the fall,
remain adrift, alone.
Till comes the day a new sun born,
when dragon wakes the world
and all the darkness deep be torn,
and coming light unfurled.
We wait the day the dragon comes
One blind who regains sight
We wait the day the dragon comes
To guide us to the light.

“My child, those you see around you have been trapped in this plane of existence for centuries, regretting each moment the decision they made on the day of their death, each searching for the blind dragon that would lead us from our folly. Only now are we sure. Only now do we have hope. Through you, when the new sun is born, we have the chance to answer the question again… to pass into the next plane, to die utterly.”

“I haven’t time for this nonsense,” said Harry, pulling his wand.

“Over the last hundred years, ghosts have gathered to this spot never truly understanding why, never knowing what called them. The answer has now been revealed – they have waited for you – the blind dragon that sees again.”

“You’re crazy and I have to go.” Harry raised his wand preparing to Disapparate.

“You mustn’t put yourself at risk!” said the ghost with concern. “If the rest of you were to die, there would be no hope for those here.”

“Not to worry. I have no intention of dying.” Indeed, he focused his mind on much happier thoughts. There was a snap – Harry had Disapparated.

When he reappeared, the air was just as moist but far more frigid. The sun was still high in the sky, casting a myriad of shadows through the leafless trees above. There was a thin dusting of snow on the ground and all about him the trees rose like skyscrapers, reaching for the heavens. He loved this countryside, he always had and having his eyesight back made it just that much more beautiful. For a moment he just looked about taking in the scenery, wishing that he could just… he reached down and made a small snowball in the palms of his hands. Smiling down at the white orb, he heard a distant snap in the trees to his left. An Apparation? A stick? He dropped the snowball and pulled his wand.

He squinted, but saw nothing. Then, he closed his eyes and reached further. Even with his mind’s eye, searching for an aura of life ahead, he could not distinguish anything through the brightness of the living trees. Shrugging, he slipped his wand away and made for the road that led to the Borough. He walked for about ten minutes when he found the road. He cast a quick spell, cleaning the snow and debris from the bottom of his robes. He could see up ahead three, no four wizards certainly part of the Ministry, guarding the roads leading to the Borough, protecting the Weasley family from interruption on what must surely be a sad Christmas holiday. Once more, he concentrated on his metamorphosis, making sure that every feature was the image of his best friend, Ron Weasley.

As he moved forward, he noticed that the wizards were wearing black, not the normal Ministerial purple that Mr. Weasley’s guards would normally wear. Probably in honour of Mrs. Weasley’s death, Harry thought. Believing it would look awkward for Ron to try to sneak by, Harry decided it best to simply walk forward with his head up as if he had nothing to hide.

“There,” one of the guards ahead cried out, pointing at Harry. “Right there!” Two others turned toward Harry.

“It’s one of the Weasley boys!” one shouted. Harry smiled to himself. His disguise was working.

“Take him down,” another barked out with a gruff, commanding voice.

“Immobulus!” cried the guard nearest the Ronald Weasley look-alike. Harry didn’t understand. Why were they attacking him? He had no time to draw his wand. Instead he held out his hand, hoping that if he focused hard enough…

“Áreddotu!” he commanded and the beam reflected back to the sender, freezing him where he stood. The quiet afternoon air suddenly filled with a blaze of beams from the remaining three wizards, all attacking Harry. But before even the second spell, a stunner, flew threw the air, Harry had his wand at the ready and began to deflect them as best he could. The reflected beams crashed into trees, cracking some in two and starting fires in others. Soon the nearby forest was ablaze and a black billowing smoke rose to the dusty blue sky above.

Off to Harry’s left, another wizard in black robes appeared as Harry continued to press forward. A beam of blue light flew towards Harry who directed it skyward with a shield charm; it exploded into a canopy of blue sparkles like a Filibuster Firework. All of Harry’s spells to this point were defensive, and then he came to the wizard that was prone on the ground, the one that cast the first spell. Dangling down around his neck was a mask – the mask of a Death Eater. Death Eater? Harry looked ahead at one of the other attackers. He too had his mask down about his neck. Evidently, they’d removed them to take in the sun’s warmth on the cold, winter day.

Something was wrong, terribly wrong. Had Voldemort’s men, or Malfoy’s, taken the Borough as they had done the year before? Last year the Weasley home had been vacant, but this year… this year… his friends… his family! Harry began to attack.

He felled two almost at once with a stunning spell. Diving down low to avoid another stunner from the front, a slashing hex sliced across his left shoulder leaving a nasty gash; he screamed in pain as the wizard to his left laughed. It was the last sound he made. Harry spun and took that wizard down, leaving only the two in front of him. Pulling from the lessons he’d learned from Greg Goyle, Harry sent a broad, powerful stunner toward the pair. It blasted both backward to the ground. Harry pressed forward along the muddy roadway, wand held firmly in front. One wizard stayed down, while the other rose unsteadily to his feet.

“Incarcerous!” shouted Harry. Ropes wrapped about the prone wizard, but the other deflected the spell.

“You’re too young to be the older boy,” the wizard in front asserted breathlessly, his wand held at the ready. “The one that plays with dragons.” He Disapparated and re-apparated to Harry’s right, near the trees, casting a stunner that flew wide.

“You’re too skilled with a wand to be the young one,” the wizard argued wisely. Again he Disapparated and re-apparated this time back towards the road. “Incendio!” he called. Had Harry not been a member of the Votary, trained to withstand fire, he’d have most certainly been incinerated. Instead, the flames wrapped about his body like loving snakes. Harry simply pointed his wand forward, toward his adversary, and the flames flew back toward him, encircling him like snapping piranha. He began to scream and Disapparated once more.

There was a SNAP to Harry’s left; this time Harry was ready, sending a particularly strong stunning spell in the direction of… purple robes. The wizard flew backward and crumpled to the ground.

“Oh, no,” Harry whispered and he ran toward the fallen wizard from the Ministry. He looked down to see the wizard, a man Harry recognized from the Hogwarts Express earlier in the year – the same wizard Harry had felled during the Dementor attack.

“Oh, no.”

Almost immediately, the air filled with the crackling of popcorn. Harry ignored the sound to see if the man before him needed assistance, but before he could even place a hand on the wizard’s chest the air crackled and everything went black.

As he began to regain consciousness, he noticed he was being jerkily jangled about like so much loose change in someone’s pocket. He was being carried; they were running. They were arguing in hushed whispers.

“I’m not the one who just blasted the Minister’s son!”

“It was an accident! I thought—”

“You thought wrong! The boy sends out a distress flare and you go in wands blazing.”

“Would you two just stop arguing?” It was a female voice. “Get the boy inside; I need to get the others to see if there are more of Malfoy’s men than those Ron took down. Incredible! He takes out five Death Eaters and our own man shoots him in the back.”

“I said it was—” There was a pop and she was gone. Harry, still looking like Ron Weasley, began to stir. His head was pounding, his left shoulder aching.

“Hey, I… I—”

“Stay still, Ron; there’s a good lad.”

“Yes, son, best not to speak.”

Harry opened his eyes. They had just passed the wooden fence that skirted the front of the Weasley home. Harry had never seen it in such good repair. They headed up the front steps, when another wizard in purple robes opened the front door. Behind him was Hermione Granger. For an instant, Harry met eye to eye with her, and in that instant he revealed one of those eyes as a flash of green. She gasped, covering her mouth.

“What’s going on?” asked the wizard.

“It’s the youngest Weasley boy,” replied one of the men carrying Harry. “He was ambushed just down the road. He took down a few Death Eaters with him by the looks of things.”

“Ron?” questioned the wizard at the door. “I just saw him not twenty minutes ago… upstairs in his room reading a—”

“Erm, he left for a walk,” interrupted Hermione. “All the stress… he needed to get away.”

“He should know better. Wait until his father finds out.” Harry noticed Hermione quietly slip away.

“He was hit with a neuropathy jinx,” said the wizard that had struck Harry from behind. “Best that we get the cobwebs cleared before he—”

“How can you be so sure? That’s a very complex spell. Besides yourself, only a very few—”

“Look, I know okay!” the wizard snapped irritably.

“Yeah, you know all right,” muttered the other.

“Let’s just get him inside, okay?”

As they moved him into the house, the sound of wand fire could be heard off into the distance. Evidently, Harry had stumbled across only one group of what was to be a combined attack. Once inside, Harry was taken to a small room just off the kitchen. His legs began to tingle. He didn’t remember this room being here before. It was a small medical suite used for treating minor injuries. He was placed on a tall, hard bed and the wizard that had greeted them at the door began to examine him.

“That’s a nasty gash.” He bathed it in blue light, and then reached into one of the cabinets. “Here, drink this.” He handed Harry a potion and, though his hand was shaking badly, Harry drank it down. The tingling in his legs stopped as did the pounding in his head. “It’s good they got you here while you could still drink. Potions always treat neuropathy better than spells.” Harry began to sit up, but the wizard pushed him back down.

“Best if you rest a bit, Ron. I’ll go get your father.” Harry dropped his head back down as the wizard left the room. Half a heartbeat later, Hermione slipped in quietly and walked over to his side.

“Harry?” she asked uncertainly. He smiled, shakily.

“Not quite how I planned it,” he said using his own voice.

“Your eyes… one’s turning green again.” She touched the side of his face which was still grimy from falling face first into the mud.

“I needed to see you guys,” said Harry, rising to a seated position. “I couldn’t wait and I thought—” The door opened and in walked Ron.

“What in Merlin’s— whoa!” Ron yelped, seeing his own likeness. Slowly, he closed the door behind him, and then stepped over for a closer look. “Harry?”

“Who’s that?” exclaimed Harry, grasping Hermione by the hand. “What have you been doing behind my back, Hermione?”

“I… I didn’t know, love,” said Hermione, clinging to Harry’s arm.

“You can’t be serious,” said Ron. The two just stared at him blankly. “I mean… I’m Ron, right?”

Harry and Hermione began to laugh and Harry transformed back into himself – Sirius’ robes growing large for his smaller frame.

“You!” Ron snorted, poking Harry in the shoulder. “I should—”

“We’ve got to get him upstairs,” interrupted Hermione. “Quick, swap clothes.”

“But—”

“Just do it!”

The two swapped clothes, Ron’s jeans dropping down about Harry’s waste. Hermione ruffled Ron’s hair and wiped some mud from one of Harry’s boots onto his face.

“Pretend you don’t remember a thing,” said Hermione.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” complained Ron.

“Perfect,” asserted Hermione. She spun toward Harry. “Now… erm, do you think you could become Percy? He didn’t want to be here for Christmas.”

“I… I don’t think so,” stammered Harry nervously. “I can’t really copy someone I haven’t… someone I don’t know well. Not exactly.”

“Here then,” she grabbed a large blue towel and put it about his head and shoulders. “Just pick some other face then… well, other than yours, and let’s get you upstairs. Ron, I’ll be back in just a minute.”

The commotion outside the house had drawn all those inside to the front door. Even Ginny was plastered against one of the front windows wondering what was going on. Quickly, Hermione and Harry made their way up the stairs to where Ron’s room was. She sat Harry down on the bed.

“There,” she said, “no one ever bothers to look up here. Only Mrs. We—” She stopped herself. “Hey, are you… alright?” The expression Harry gave her was the one she’d expected. He was not alright; he was in pain and not from any physical injury. “Look, just rest a bit and I’ll get Ron up here as soon as I can.” She started for the door, then stopped. “Are you hungry?” Harry shook his head, no, and Hermione nodded that she understood. “It won’t be too long,” she said softly and left the room, closing the door behind her.

Harry let out a long slow sigh as he looked about the room. It hadn’t changed much from the first day he came to visit the Borough. He remembered arguing with Ron about Quidditch. Somehow, life seemed simpler then, but really it wasn’t. Life had never been simple for Harry, nor had it ever been simple for those near him. He stood and walked over to a photograph that hung on the wall near a Cannons poster. In the frame, the family was trying to stand for the photographer, but Fred and George had smoke billowing out of their ears. Mrs. Weasley was furious and kept trying to smack them to stop. She missed every time. Harry smiled as a tear ran down the right side of his face. He wiped it away with his hand and noticed the scar on his right forearm – the mark of the dragon. Staring at the mark, he turned his back to the wall and slid down to the floor.

“What good have I been?” he asked defiantly. “A magnet for death everywhere I go. Why me, Soseh?” He dropped his hands to the floor and wrapped his fingers around a pile of dirty clothes laying there. He looked over toward the open window. The sound of wandfire had silenced. Whatever threat there was had been defeated. Harry continued to whisper to the mother of his girlfriend, trying to find the meaning of it all. The back of his head banged against the wall with a thud.

“They’ve all died because of me, and now your daughter’s in Malfoy’s hands. If she’s even still alive.” He looked around the room, his eyes misting over. Near Ron’s bed was a picture of Ron and Hermione glaring at each other and then suddenly breaking out in laughter followed by a kiss and an embrace. “Why am I here?” Harry muttered, his heart beginning to beat faster. He was putting them in danger once again. It was all a mistake, every bit of it – a grand, cosmic error in the machinery. He had to leave.

Harry stood to his feet and tried to Disapparate. Vision... Pathway… He couldn’t create the pathway. Something was blocking him. “Of course it’s blocked,” he muttered to himself. “I’ll need to leave the—” The door opened and in came Ron and Hermione. Ron had a bottle in his hand filled with some sort of potion.

“Hey, mate,” he said, holding up the bottle.

“Hey. Erm, I’m… I’m sorry,” said Harry. “This was a mistake. I need to go.” Hermione looked at Ron, and he at her. Then Ron looked back to Harry.

“Not so fast,” he said. “They wanted me to drink this, but I expect it’s best if you—”

“I’m fine,” Harry cut in sharply. “I just need to—”

“You’re a bloody crank is what you are. Well… at least that’s normal.” Harry glared back at Ron.

“Go on, Harry,” encouraged Hermione. “Drink the potion; your brain’s been addled and the neuropathy hex requires two doses.” Ron held it up again and this time Harry took it.

“This is stupid,” Harry said, shaking his head and offering the bottle back, “I shouldn’t have come here. You… you need to be with your family.” Harry’s voice was shaky and he could not hold Ron’s gaze. “I need to go.” Ron did not take the bottle in return.

“Look, Harry,” he said, “just drink the gunk.”

“If you have to go,” added Hermione, “it’ll help you keep your wits along the way.”

Harry held up the bottle containing a brown, burping liquid.

“Did they have to make it look so vile?” he asked with a squeamish face.

“Go on,” said Hermione. “It’s the only way I could get them to let him come up to his room. I have to show them he’s drunk it down, or they’ll be up here snooping around.”

“Fine. I drink this… I go… you have a Happy Christmas… or at least… ah, crap.” Harry gulped the thick liquid in one swig, then handed the bottle back to Hermione. “There you go,” he said. “Tell them Ron finished his medicine and is feeling f—” The room turned a bit and Harry reached out, taking Ron by the arm.

“What is it, mate?” Ron asked with a bit of slyness in his eyes.

Harry tried to speak. In fact, he was speaking; only the words he was saying didn’t make any sense. Even Harry knew he was speaking gibberish. He pointed to the bed, but it was too late. He collapsed to the floor. Ron took one side and Hermione the other and they lifted Harry onto Ron’s bed. Everything was growing foggier and foggier – the sounds in the room more distant. Before everything faded to nothingness he heard Ron say…

“Blimey, it’s Christmas, Harry. It’s a time to be with family. Don’t you get it? You’re right where you need to be.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 22 – Friendship
~~~***~~~

It was a deep, restful sleep, the kind of sleep that takes the mind to happier places and more pleasant times. Cool placid waters, barefoot walks and simple gazing at the stars, stars with no gleaming red Mars to disrupt their harmony and no comet Ebyrth to mark the return of war. It was well into the morning after Christmas day when Harry began to stir, ever so slightly, from this place of deep and forgotten memories. His mind was just beginning to process the voices about him, those of friends and family.

“Vampires?”

“Dozens. And so many Dementors they blocked out the bloody sky.”

“No,” Ginny gasped.

“I’m telling you,” answered Fred, “he was right in the thick of it.” Someone seated on the end of the bed shifted their weight and it let out a small squeak.

“Shhhh. You’ll wake him.” That was Hermione.

“The whole lot of them,” continued Fred, “was marching up the mountain like a great swarm of black locusts. We were outnumbered ten to one… easy!” Ginny gasped again. “The werewolves were the primary line of defence. We attacked first, of course.”

“That’s only because you stink so bad,” said George. “No one in their right mind would be caught on the same battlefield. The odour… it’s overwhelming.”

“Not the dragons?” queried Hermione.

“Yeah, well,” said Fred, falling a bit off the tracks of his story, “I don’t really remember much after the change. Except one thing… he saved my life.” Harry felt a hand on his arm. “That I know as sure as I’m sitting here.”

“Is it true what they say about… You-Know-Who.”

“If what Harry says is true,” said Charlie, “yes, Ginny. Voldemort’s alive.” Harry could feel the entire room squirm upon hearing the name. “Some of us…” There was a slap.

“Hey! That hurt,” said George. Charlie continued.

“Some of us climbed Singehorn’s mountain by foot. I met quite a few wizards, holding sentry at a number of outposts on the way up. To a wizard, they all talked about a blonde beast, controlling the dark forces at the base of the mountain.”

“Blonde?”

“Lucius Malfoy.” Almost everyone in the room hissed… or growled.

“After the battle, they also spoke of how the Primate met him face-to-face and sent him running.”

“What’s a Primate?”

“Harry is, sis. They’re calling him the Primate of the Votary of the Dragon. Some say, he was leading the battle for the dragons. Don’t ask me much more, because I’m still trying to figure it out. All I know is that afterward he began to heal folks like little brother here and it nearly cost him his life.”

“I… I should have been there.” It was Ron. He was seated somewhere in the far corner, somehow distant from the others. His voice was sullen and quite.

“Ron,” chided Hermione, “you were in hospital.”

“You don’t think he’d have tried to sneak out if the tables had been turned?”

“You were unconscious for three days!”

“I should have been there.”

“No,” muttered Harry, his mind clearing ever so slightly. “No, Ron…” Harry tried to sit up.

“Easy, Harry,” said Hermione, touching his shoulder softly, “the sleeping draught isn’t supposed to wear off for another hour or two.” Harry struggled to bring his head up and looked over at Ron who was slumped in the corner on the floor.

“You’re wrong,” Harry said, his thoughts still fuzzy and his ability to pull a coherent sentence together somewhat impaired. “It… it wasn’t just Fred, or Remus. You were there. You… you were all there… right… right here.” Harry patted his chest and fell back onto the bed. “Whoa, that is a bit potent, isn’t it? George, you could put it… put it in a nougat. Erm... Nighttime Nibbles. What do you think?” Everyone in the room began to laugh, but the joviality was silenced instantly when Mr. Weasley suddenly appeared at the doorway.

He was wearing black robes, wrinkled and somewhat stained as if he’d left them on for days and hadn’t bothered with a spell to clean them. His face was tired, thin and pale, and his eyes were distant. Harry suspected that they still, however, bore the same expression of heartfelt anger as when Harry had last seen Mr. Weasley over the body of his wife. The fire in them was penetrating.

“IS THIS THE RESPECT YOU SHOW YOUR DEAD MOTHER?" he cried. He looked at Charlie, seated on the floor by Harry’s bed; the eldest Weasley in the room.

“We could use with a bit more laughter ‘bout here,” said Charlie softly. “Don’t you thing dad?”

“I want him out of here today,” he said shortly, thrusting a sharp finger at Harry. “Today! Do you hear me?” Everyone in the room moved uncomfortably, everyone but Charlie, who rose to meet his father.

“His name is Harry, Dad,” he said. “You remember Harry don't you? He saved you from being crushed by a giant last year. He’s that wizard that may just have saved every one of us yesterday by breaking up a Death Eater plot to kill us all right outside our front porch.” Mr. Weasley let out a short, snorting laugh.

“Is that what you think?” he said incredulously, his eyes narrowing on Charlie and then to the others in the room. “Saved us? Is that what you all think? Haven’t you figured it out by now? The boy carries Death Eaters in his back pocket; when he pulls off his trainers Dementors come pouring out. They’re with him wherever he goes. Why do you think Death Eaters were on our doorstep in the first place?”

“Dad, how can you say that!” exclaimed Hermione; it was the first time Harry had ever heard her refer to Mr. Weasley in that way. Now she rose to her feet to defend Harry. “He only ever—”

“Stop it!” demanded Harry weakly, looking at the others. “All of you, just…” He was struggling to fight the potion still coursing through his veins. Even though he was waking, there were still a few cobwebs in his head and he was still having trouble trying to find the right words. “Your father’s right. As ever… erm, as long as I’m here, I danger you. I shouldn't...” Harry fought to sit up, grimacing at the ache that lingered where his shoulder had been slashed. Ginny had to help him. The room was so crowded that he had to put his hand on Charlie’s hip to push him aside, giving Harry a clear look at Mr. Weasley. Try as he might, he was having tremendous difficulty focusing on the man he so much respected.

“I… I’m sorry, sir,” Harry said humbly. “I just needed to see…” He looked over at Ron who was still seated against the wall. Their eyes met and Harry could tell that his best friend was very upset, but he had no way of telling why. Harry pulled in a breath.

“No. I should never have come. I'll… I go now.” Putting his hand on Ginny’s shoulder, he tried to stand, but his knees wouldn’t hold and he crumpled to the ground, banging his head against the rail that ran across the side of Ron’s bed. A cut opened on Harry’s forehead where his scar had once been and a small trickle of blood weaved its way down, not unlike the shape of a lightning bolt. With George’s help, Ron lifted him back into bed.

“He needs to rest,” he said.

“He needs to go.”

Ginny, the youngest of them all, yet perhaps the most brave, stepped over to her father and gently took his hand in her own, holding it up to her chest as she looked into her father’s eyes. When Mr. Weasley looked down into his daughter’s eyes, he found tears there. She sniffed, searching for the right words.

“If Mum were alive today… where do you think she would be right now? Dad, you know what she’d say?” Mr. Weasley’s jaw clenched as Ginny handed him a small crumpled piece of parchment. For nearly a year, Harry’s carried this note with him wherever he’s gone.” She looked back at Harry. “Sorry Harry; Gab told us and we saw it on the nightstand with your things.” She turned back to her father. “Read it dad. Read what Mum says.”

Mr. Weasley opened the worn paper and when he first caught sight of the script, his wife’s handwriting, he pulled in a great gasp of air to keep from crying.

“Please dad, read it,” whispered Ginny, supporting her father by the elbow. Slowly, struggling through nearly every word, Mr. Weasley read the note.

“My dear Harry,

“Would that I could reset the hands of time and set the world right, but alas my magic is no match for the fate that stands before each of us. It is clear to all that the path you’ve been forced to travel has been cruel and unkind. And still, with all the adversities you have faced, with all the battles you have fought, you have found time to smile, to care, to love. Could there be someone else in all the world with more loyalty, with more bravery, with more compassion?

“We are all forever in your debt. You faced death but did not strike, and in so doing brought light to darkness, life to death. It is by your example we still have hope that, one day, we will win this war against hatred.

“With all the love a mother can give her children, ~M~.”

Mr. Weasley’s eyes began to mist and he pulled his daughter close to him, clinging to her as if she might slip away and never return. It lasted a beat, perhaps two, and then, suddenly, the mist in his eyes was gone; he became rigid and let go his daughter.

“All of you,” he said sharply, “get out. I want to speak with…” He swallowed. “…with Harry alone.” There was a bit of complaining, but most took the mention of Harry’s name as a good sign. “Go on. Out… now.” His voice was stern and they knew he meant it. One by one they all began to leave. Hermione, the last out the door kissed Harry on the cheek and then did the same to Mr. Weasley.

“I love you both,” she said before she left. Mr. Weasley gave her a slight nod and then closed the door as she departed with the wave of his hand.

He stood there for some moments, silent, stoic, unwilling or unable to speak. Harry tried to find the strength to stay awake, but the warmth of the room and the faint sound of birds chirping in the distance were lulling him to sleep once more. Finally, Mr. Weasley walked over, handed the note back to Harry, and sat on the chair next to Ron’s bed. He had to sit on its edge since it was covered in layer upon layer of Ron’s dirty clothes. He leaned forward toward Harry, his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped tightly together.

“You…” he began, “you think you killed Molly.” It was not a question, but rather a statement, Harry felt the need to respond anyway.

“It’s all me,” answered Harry dully, trying desperately to focus his thoughts. “My faults.”

“Shhh,” hushed Mr. Weasley. “Rest, Harry. Just rest.” He put his head in his hands, looking down at his feet. “I wanted to speak with you months ago; do you remember? I asked to meet with you on the Hogwarts Express. I knew then… or thought I knew, but I let the day-to-day business get in the way. Minister of Magic… what a joke. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months, and before I blinked Voldemort had been reborn and my wife was dead.

“I wanted to warn you then, that day on the train, that he might not be dead, that he might have used a Horcrux. But I couldn’t mention such a thing in front of the others. Maybe… maybe if I had… maybe we would have talked; you could have confided in me; we could have worked together. I never dreamed… the cloak.

“It was me, Harry. My fault on so many levels.” Mr. Weasley’s hands began to tremble slightly. He looked as if he might be sick and Harry, once again, tried to sit up, but Mr. Weasley moved forward, setting his knees to the ground and taking Harry by the hand, once again hushing him. His hands were icy and the trembling grew steadily worse.

“We were on the third floor together, making preparations. It was to be a grand celebration. I was focused on its representation for the defeat of Voldemort – the Dark Lord’s last remains on display for all to see. What a grand day for the Ministry, for me; only in my heart I knew better. Molly was more excited about what a grand day it would be for you, Harry. All she could talk about was how proud she was, how you’d be the youngest in history to receive the Order of Merlin, and how you so deserved it for all you had tried to do to ensure Muggle safety, especially during Anaxarete’s bombings last year. It was Harry this and Harry that. I see now… my ego…

“Shacklebolt was with us. He was supposed to take the cloak up for display. Molly and I were going to go home, eat and get some much needed rest before the following day’s festivities. But I grew a bit miffed that my wife spoke more about you than her own husband. It seems so… so petty now.” He chuckled – a short, sad laugh. “Why wouldn’t she go on about one of her own children? Why wouldn’t she boast in front of Shacklebolt how wonderful you were? Any mother would, and you were as dear a son as any roaming these halls with red hair.

“No, Harry.” Mr. Weasley shuddered. “I killed Molly. In my… in my desire for a moment’s respite from my own stupidity, I asked her to take the cloak up for display. I- I sent her to her death.” He grabbed the edge of the sheet on Harry’s bed and began to weep quietly into the linen. Finally, he looked back at Harry whose eyes were open, but distant.

“I’m so sorry, son. Piling sin upon sin, I had the audacity to blame you… you who would have sooner died trying to save her. I saw the remembrance photographs; my security staff replayed the entire scene in my office. I must have watched them continuously for days and days. How could a boy kill my Molly?” Mr. Weasley brought himself up to one knee. “But it was no boy, was it Harry? We both know that.” He took in a deep breath and then put his hand on Harry’s head.

“Forgive me? Please?”

Harry shook his head. “My fault,” he whispered, a tear running down the side of his face. Mr. Weasley wiped it away and smiled.

“Harry, you’ve never done anything that wouldn’t make your parents proud. Molly’s with them now, and they’re all looking down on you and smiling. We’re all smiling because were so proud of all you’ve accomplished.” Mr. Weasley stood to his feet, his smile broadened. “Except for that time you and Ron stole my car.” He stepped toward the door.

“Get some sleep, son. When you wake, there are gifts to open.” He pulled the door open and a mass of red hair, Weasley child after Weasley child, tumbled into Harry’s room, spilling out onto the floor. Mr. Weasley gave a particularly hard kick into George’s side. “All of you! Get out and let him rest!” Once again he shooed them all away and just before he shut the door one last time he looked back at Harry – who was asleep.

When the potion had finally lost its effects, Harry woke and found that at least physical weariness of war had left his shoulders and his legs. The gash that had torn his shoulder was all but gone; only a thin white line remained. He was suddenly concerned what Gabriella might say if she saw it, and his mind turned in an instant.

“Gabriella!” He sat bolt upright and turned only to find Hermione and Ron slumped in the chair behind him. They were both asleep. It was still light outside, but the trees were casting long shadows on the lawn in front and soon the sun would be gone. He’d lost another day. He began, as quietly as he could, to dress himself. An old set of clothes had been set out for him; he recognized them as something Ron had worn last year. Too small for Ron now, they fit Harry fine.

He reached for the sweater and his hand hesitated. It was a crimson sweater, knitted by hand with a large H on the front. It wasn’t old – it was new, knitted most certainly by Mrs. Weasley. Slowly, Harry picked it up and held it in his hands. He paused for a moment, said a silent, Thank You, and slipped on the sweater. For the first time in days, he felt warm.

He was ready to leave when he realized he didn’t have his wand. He began to look for it and finally noticed it on the table by his bed – just next to Ron. He didn’t want to utter the spell to summon it, but he’d have to lean over the two of them to retrieve it.

Carefully, he stepped over and reached for his wand, trying hard not to brush up against Ron who was snoring slightly. His fingers were almost there when—

“Where are you going?” Ron asked as he grabbed Harry’s outstretched arm by the wrist. Harry extended, the wand snapped into his hand, and he then pulled free from Ron’s grasp, slipping the wand into his back pocket.

“To find some pants that fit me,” he replied. Hermione began to stir.

“Is he… is he awake?” she asked Ron blearily.

“Yeah, he’s awake,” Ron answered, stretching his legs forward. “And he’s trying to slink off. Told you he’d try.” Soon, all three of them were on their feet. Only, Hermione made a point of standing in front of the door, blocking Harry’s path.

“I’m not slinking. I have to go.”

“You heard Dad,” said Ron, extending his arm and pointing to some unknown spot below the floor. Harry wondered if Mr. Weasley was actually there. “He forgives you.”

“Well he shouldn’t!” Harry snapped, and then his posture slumped, regretting his tone. “He shouldn’t.” The scene began to play in Harry’s mind once again, much like the movies of Sirius’ death had haunted Harry over a year ago. He sighed. “Like I said, I have to go.” He moved to the door, but Hermione wouldn’t budge.

“Go where?” she asked.

“I have to help her. I have to get her back.”

“You don’t even know where she is.”

“I don’t care! I have to look.”

“Why in the bloody hell did you come here then?” asked Ron sharply. “Is Dad right? Did you just blunder by, bringing the Death Eaters with you?”

“No!”

“Then why? To rant on about how you shouldn’t be here? To bawl like a bloody baby?” Ron moved closer. “To cry so Dad would feel sorry for your pitiful—” Harry drew his wand; Ron paused. “To hex me?” he said more softly, with the slightest hint of a smile.

“I came here to see YOU, damn it!” Harry yelled. “And a lot of good it’s doing!” He slipped his wand away. “What a waste of time.”

“You’re right,” answered Hermione smartly. “Gabriella could be dying and you’re fiddling around trying to figure out what to do, wasting time, when you already know what you need to do.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Hermione and I talked about it while you were sleeping,” said Ron. “You’ve got to go see him.”

“Who?” asked Harry.

“You know.”

“Draco? Hah! That rat can—”

“You’re as stubborn as he is,” said Hermione.

“And it’ll get Gabriella killed,” added Ron. “Then you will have something to blame yourself for.”

“But your dad… true or not, your dad thinks he had a hand in your mum’s death.”

“No… no he doesn’t.” Ron picked up the picture of his family and looked at the moving people. “He was angry. He just needed someone to blame, anybody to blame, but he couldn’t get his hands on the one wizard he knew was guilty. So he lashed out at you, at James, at Draco. When they were well enough to walk, he had them both imprisoned on Fengsle Isle east of Shetland.”

“James? But James had nothing to do—”

“If you sat and watched as he cast the spell that killed my mother over and over again, you’d change your thinking about him. I don’t care how rational you are. It’ll take every ounce of control not to blast him to bits when I see him again.”

“But—”

“It doesn’t matter,” Hermione interrupted. “Ron’s dad sent word after talking to you. James is to be released and you’re to meet with Draco today.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small white envelope. “I wish you could stay, but I know you won’t. If you have to go, you need to make your first stop here.” She handed Harry the envelope. “It’s a Portkey, the key inside that is.” Harry opened the envelope and saw a small gold key, and then looked up at his two friends, standing arm-in-arm. They were both smiling, but their eyes were sad.

“Tell him… tell him Blaise is better,” said Ron. “They’ve lifted the imperious curse. Everyone at Hogwarts has been screened, even the professors. And Harry, let us know what you find out. We’ll do whatever we can to help.”

“I know you will. I know you will.” Harry chuckled to himself. “That’s what worries me.” Just before he took the key, he stopped and looked back at them. “Thanks,” he said and added, “Merry Christmas,” and then grabbed the key.

There was a whoosh and a moment later he found himself in front of a large stone wall on what appeared to be a small rocky island. The sky was blue, but the wind was bitterly cold and blew through the knit of his sweater. All around were splotches of snow, worn down by the wind. The waves were rough and crashed into the rocky coastline sending large plumes of sea spray high into the air. Further up the surf’s spray froze, making the upper shoreline sparkle like so many diamonds.

“Hello!” Harry tried to yell above the wind, his arms folded about him. There was no answer. A particularly large wave crashed behind him and he pulled his wand to cast a shielding charm, but nothing happened and the frigid mist sprayed him, dampening his clothes so that the wind was just that much more chilling.

“Is an-n-nybody here?” he cried out, teeth chattering. Still nothing. He was about to grab the key again, to return to the Borough when the ground began to rumble. He was looking at the wall, expecting some passage to open up before him, but nothing appeared. He stepped back to get a better look when he slipped on an ice covered rock; someone grabbed his arm.

“Sir?”

Harry spun, saw dark robes, and “Stupefy!” he cried, but again there was no magic… nothing, not even a sparkle from his wand. Before him was a man in dark blue robes, wearing a thin smile.

“A bit jumpy are we?” he asked. “I can understand. You are Mr. Harry Potter I presume?”

Harry just gawked. Looking past the wizard before him was the ocean, well, not the ocean. It, or a good portion of it, had disappeared. It was as if Moses had split the Red Sea; a great hole at the seashore plunged down below the waters. Stairs had appeared at the rocky edge and disappeared into the sea below. It looked as if great glass walls were holding the water back and Harry saw any number of sea creatures looking back at him, some he’d never seen before.

“Harry Potter?”

“What? Erm… er, yes.”

“Very good. Please follow me.” The wizard turned and began his way down the steps; Harry followed, looking up, as he went down, at the ocean above him, wondering if at any minute the sea would fall back on top of him. Deeper and deeper they climbed, lower and lower. Soon the light of the sun was nothing but a dark green glow. Some minutes later, they came to a great iron door, baring the passage through the face of a rock wall. Water dripped into small pools, echoing eerily in this make-shift cavern. Neither said a word until the wizard pulled a large iron key and turned it into the lock. Click-click-clank! The door creaked open.

“Best to step briskly, sir,” said the wizard. They’d been walking so slowly, Harry, teeth still chattering, was confused and then he heard the crashing sea. He looked back and could see the froth and waves curling into the canyon through which they’d just travelled.

“Please, sir.”

Harry didn’t need to be told twice. Quickly, he darted in through the door; the wizard followed behind him, closed the door and turned a large handle sealing it tight. A moment later, Harry heard the sea crash against the door and it groaned miserably. He felt certain it would breech, but the wizard in blue robes was as calm as ever.

“I take it, sir, that this is your first visit with us?” The wizard placed his keys over a large hook on the wall.

The place was dark, damp and had an odour of sour seaweed. The small entryway they were in was tight, confining, and the lighting was dim at best. A large rat scurried across the floor, reminding Harry of Scabbers.

“Allow me to introduce myself. My name, sir, is Winston, Keeper of the Keys at Fengsle Isle. Welcome to our humble abode.” He held out his hand and Harry took it in his own. The middle-aged man seemed quite affable, but reminded Harry a bit of his Uncle Vernon. He wondered what was truly behind the Cheshire smile. Winston went over to a rough hewn table and lifted a set of papers.

“Let me see… yes, here they are. The Minister has authorized you to see Master Malfoy.”

“Master?”

“Sir, certainly you are aware that the Malfoy name is one of the most distinguished in all Britain. It matters not what sort of nastiness the young lad found himself in at the Ministry. He is still a Malfoy. One must always show a modicum of respect. Besides, as I understand it, you are here to set things straight.”

“Right,” Harry said sceptically.

“He’s just down this way.”

They left the antechamber and started through another door that opened out onto a long corridor. Cells lined the path that was just wide enough to keep Harry and Winston out of arm’s reach. In nearly every cell they passed there was a prisoner. Some yelled out slurs, others curses; some cried for food or water, while most simply screamed schizophrenic gibberish. There were dozens in this miserable place, but Winston ignored them all, while whistling a happy tune.

“Are you the only one here?” Harry asked, wondering how only one could manage so many. His question was answered almost immediately when a torch appeared near the end of the long corridor some fifty yards away.

“No, Mr. Potter. My wife is here with me,” said Winston. “That’s her now. Ah, and that must be the Chang boy with her.”

“James?”

“Yes… yes, he’s being released today… poor lad.”

“What do you mean, ‘poor’?”

“Well, he killed the Minister’s wife, didn’t he? He’s been here for his own protection. Once he’s out, I don’t hold much hope that he’ll…” Winston leaned in, lowering his voice to a whisper. “Well, some people can be vicious, can’t they Mr. Potter?”

“Yes,” replied Harry, looking around at the squalid conditions of the prison. “Yes they can.”

Finally, they were close enough that Harry could see James’ face. When James saw that it was Harry, there was a wrathful reaction.

“You!” he hissed with a high cold voice. He raised his hand to strike Harry when the woman who was evidently Winston’s wife grabbed him by the arm. “I hate you… I h-…” James’ posture drooped; his eyes squinted in the darkness. “Harry?” he said with a child’s voice. “Harry, is it really you?” This time he reached out to put his arms around Harry, but again the woman stayed his hand.

“Let him go!” Harry snapped, and she did so with a nod of her head. James rushed Harry and held him tight. The second year was trembling with fright.

“What’s happening to me?” James whispered. “I wanted to die, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t stop it. And then… and then… They say I killed… I killed…”

“It’s okay James,” Harry answered, holding him in his arms. “It’s okay.” He turned to Winston. “Hasn’t he gotten any help?”

“They come from St. Mungo’s every day, sir. He’s to head back there now. Perhaps, when the new school year starts Dumbledore will take him back.”

“Sooner than that,” answered Harry quickly, more to assure James than anything else. “He will; I’m certain of it.”

“Yes,” said Winston’s wife, “I’ve heard he’s that way.” The manner with which she spoke had a disparaging tone, and the hair on the back of Harry’s neck began to prickle. He was about to say what exactly he thought of her opinion when Winston interrupted.

“Dear, please take the boy to the front. They’ll be sending for him shortly.”

“Of course,” she replied, and she reached for James, but James didn’t want to let go of Harry. Slowly, Harry pulled his hands away.

“You’ll be fine, James.” He looked into the boy’s eyes, his son’s uncle. “I’ll be over to see you just as soon as I can. First, we need to get you out of here. Go, on. Let her take you to get help.” After a moment, James nodded his head and walked past Harry and Winston to the front of the prison. What was most noticeable was that the howls and jeers that had accompanied Harry on his entrance did not accompany James on his exit. If anything the prisoners made every attempt not to be noticed. All that is but one near the end.

“I’m with you, my Lord,” he cried out madly. “We will be victorious!”

Harry watched until the pair disappeared.

“Shall we?” Winston asked. “Master Malfoy is just a little further.”

The two continued on. In this part of the corridor, all the cells were empty and the rooms thirsted for more light. Harry was about to use his second vision, when, finally, they came to a loan cell lit by a handful of candles. The door was mostly solid except for a small window, no bigger than a man’s hand, protected with three narrow iron bars. Winston pulled out his keys and slid them in the lock, turning it with a loud clank that rattled down the empty corridor.

“Yes, nothing but the best for our Lord Malfoy,” said Winston, pulling the door ajar.

As the door opened, a tremendous stench rolled out and it took Harry a few moments to gather himself before he stepped inside. There was a plate of food at the door that looked as if it had not been touched. A rat was nibbling at its contents and Harry kicked the pest away. It squealed, landing into a scattering of dead rats, all in various stages of decomposition. Harry gasped just as another rat came to take its place. He was about to smash that one with his boot, when he saw Draco curled up on a pile of filthy straw, his clothes in rags and his appearance gaunt and muddy. Even with all the noise, it took Draco a moment to realize that someone had entered his cell.

When at last he noticed he had visitors, Harry thought for a moment there was a glimmer of happiness, but it faded instantly and the dull, sallow look appeared. Harry remembered it from last year when Draco was nearly destroyed by drugs, but there were no drugs this year. The face before him, barely able to lift itself from the fouled bedding of straw, was pure misery.

“The best?” Harry yelled, turning toward Winston. He reached for his wand, but stopped remembering that magic would not work here. “Leave us!”

“As you wish, Mr. Potter,” said Winston with a bow. “I will be just down the corridor, attending to other prisoners if you need anything. Simply call my name when he’s decided to agree to the exchange, or if perhaps,” Winston licked his lips, “you need assistance persuading him.”

“GO!” Harry snapped. Again Winston bowed and shut the two in the cell. Harry heard the door lock with a clank and he turned back to Draco, dropping to one knee. The smell was worse here, much worse.

“Draco,” whispered Harry, “what in Merlin’s name have they done to you?”

“Harry?” Draco whispered back. He looked up and blinked. Slowly he lifted toward a seated position, eye to eye with Harry. He was as pale as Harry had ever seen him, and about his eyes there was something… in the darkness Harry could not tell. “Harry… my old friend.”

“Draco, why are you letting them do this to you? Why not just do the exchange?” Draco swayed and Harry held him up by the shoulders.

“Knowledge is power, Harry,” he said slowly, glancing toward the closed cell door. “I taught you that, remember?” Rolling his eyes, Harry nodded.

“I’ve… I’ve a little secret,” Draco continued, “and I need you to help me keep it, see?” He put his hands up between Harry’s supportive arms and on top of Harry’s shoulders.

“I think I know,” said Harry. “But Draco, why not—”

“Do you?” Draco asked. “Do you really?”

In a flash, Draco’s hands were around Harry’s throat. Harry moved to pull them off, but they were locked like a vice, slowly clamping down.

“I tried to teach you, Harry,” said Draco, lifting the much heavier Gryffindor from his knees and onto his feet. “But you wouldn’t listen. Ignorance… ignorance spells destruction. It’s time you learned your lesson.”

They struggled, Draco clearly in control. Harry gasped for air and then he saw them in the flash of candlelight. The blonde’s eyes… the pupils were slit. And then, when Draco smiled, Harry shuddered. A pearled, ivory tooth protruded from each corner of the Slytherin’s mouth, the fangs of a vampire.

“You’ll make a much better snack than a rat.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 23 – Reunion
~~~***~~~
Author’s Note: After writing this chapter, I’ve changed the rating for this story to ‘M’. Mature themes and more explicit language. Proceed appropriately and feel free to tell me if you’d rather it be toned down.
________________________________________




In the darkness, the blood to his brain cut off by the steel grip of Draco Malfoy, Harry’s sight began to fail, tunnelling in at the pale face of anger before him. He could hear only the squealing of rats, fighting over the pickings of their dead cousins, the raspy puffs of Draco’s breath, and the ever quieting thud-thump of his own heart.

“I’ve wanted this in so many ways, Harry,” hissed Draco through his gritted teeth, fully exposing his two bloodsucking fangs and sending a splattering of saliva across Harry’s face. “So many ways.”

“Draco, please,” mouthed Harry silently, holding Draco’s wrists, but unable to pull himself free.

“The taste of your—”

“Help me.”

There was a flash of recognition in Draco’s eyes that wasn’t there a moment earlier. Suddenly, the grip released and both young men fell to the floor.

Heaving in huge gulps of air, Harry reached for his throat with one hand and pulled his wand with the other.

“Stupefy,” he gasped. Nothing happened. Draco lay prone on the floor laughing sadly to himself. “STUPEFY!” Draco only laughed more, a laugh that quickly turned to a deep, rattling cough. Still coughing, Draco turned over onto all fours. The cough worsened and ended with a retching sound that resulted in Draco hacking up a ball of bloody sputum onto the mucky, straw strewn floor.

“That’s not good,” he said, wiping his mouth with his arm. Then he collapsed, falling face forward into the filth. The rats were on him at once. He couldn’t, or wouldn’t move. As much as Harry wanted to murder Malfoy, he wouldn’t let him be ripped to pieces by rodents. He hurried over and began to kick them away.

“Get away from him!” he yelled. There were so many, Harry decided to call for help, muttering, “Winston,” to himself. But before he could call out, Draco stopped him.

“No,” he breathed. “No others.”

“Draco, I…” He kicked another. “I can’t stop them!”

“H-Help me up,” Draco asked weakly, holding out one arm towards Harry as rats clawed at his already tattered clothes. Instinctively, Harry moved to help his fallen adversary, but hesitated. He was nearly destroyed by such a move before, by Grigor, Gabriella’s father. Another rat began to claw at Draco’s face.

“Harry,” Draco whispered, falling back to the floor. A swarm of rats covered his head.

Finally, Harry could bear it no more and he lifted Draco away from the writhing swarm of fur and gnashing teeth. That’s when Draco noticed the black onyx ring on Harry’s finger. “Pravus,” he muttered, grabbing the hand that bore the ring in his own and gathering his strength as best he could.

“Focus… your mind,” Draco breathed. “The ring… command them.”

Instantly, Harry felt warmth run from the joined hands and up his arm. For a moment, he heard, or felt, Draco’s thoughts.

“Of course,” Harry whispered, recalling the ability vampires had to control the minds of others. He took in a breath and concentrated on the swarm below.

Together, both young men began to reach out their minds, speaking to, instructing the rats below to leave at once. Harry could hear their voices cry out in hunger, but heard also an almost rhythmic command of Draco, telling them that there was danger, that they needed to flee for their lives. The scrum of rats stopped. One, then another, ran to a crack in the far wall. Soon, they began to fight each other to escape. Before long, Draco and Harry were alone; both sat back to the floor, exhausted. Draco held up Harry’s hand in his own.

“I’ve heard the stories about this ring,” he said with wonder. “I’ve seen pictures, but never dreamed…” He chuckled to himself, pulling the ring closer, trying to examine its blackness in the dim light. He looked at Harry. “You don’t have a clue, do you?” Harry remained silent. “With your powers, Harry, there’s nothing we couldn’t accomplish together.” There was a pause and he let go of Harry’s hand.

“How the hell did you get it?” Draco asked. The voice was suddenly smug, arrogant, but before Harry could answer, the wind spilled out of Draco’s sails and he followed with a tone that was much more sorrowful. “Why did you come? You should have left me here to rot. I just want it over with.”

His head fell back against the rock wall. And Draco tried to pull in a breath of air that didn’t quite seem to satisfy his thirst for oxygen. He gulped for another. In the light, Harry could see the traces and windings of tiny, blue veins just under the pale skin of Draco’s face and neck. It was there he saw them—two small, faintly red scars not much more than an inch apart. Harry touched them; they were real.

“I… I thought… maybe, it was hoax,” he muttered, moving somewhat away from Draco, who noticed the motion and sadly closed his eyes. With a thud, Draco slightly banged his head against the wall. Harry noticed straight away the agony on the blonde’s face and regretted his own fear. He remembered back when students at Hogwarts would avoid him as he walked down the corridors – the Heir of Slytherin. He moved closer.

“Did it hurt?”

“I told you… Father’s a madman.” Draco kept his eyes closed, reaching up his right hand to the two marks on his neck. His fingers were trembling as he slid them against the two tiny scars. His breathing was growing more noticeable. “‘Immortality, Draco!’ I refused.

“But while I slept… without my willingness…” Draco opened his eyes and looked at Harry. He gathered himself and provided his best Malfoyian drawl. “The finest vampire in all Britain turned me – an almost Royal bloodline dating back to the age of Morgana. Isn’t that special?” He coughed. “Father says I should be proud.” He coughed again.

“Merlin,” Harry gasped. Nothing his Uncle Vernon had ever done came close to—

“No,” Draco corrected. “I said Morgana. Merlin was a Muggle loving, son of a—”

“Draco, when?” Harry interrupted.

“Just before we came to the Ministry. I must admit, I wasn’t in best form; I could hardly stand, but he didn’t care. His mind was bent on you. Father half-hoped we’d meet, you and I. ‘If you see the bastard, go for his throat, Draco! Suck him dry!’ I told him I would.” Draco laughed again, and this time the coughing that followed was more pronounced. When the spasm past, he drew in a deep breath of air. “And now… damn, I must look awful. I feel it.”

“Why don’t you tell that bastard of a father of yours to go to hell?” Harry spat. It did not elicit the response he expected. In a great whirl, Draco pounced on top of him, grabbing his throat once again, pressing Harry’s head against the stone wall, only this time the grip was weak and Harry grabbed Draco’s wrists, easily pulling them away.

“Worry about my father, when you have one of your own!” Draco cried, spitting into Harry’s face. Draco’s effort had drained him. His eyes were rolling in his head and it looked for a moment as if he might faint.

“My god, Draco, a stiff wind would blow you over.” Draco began to chuckle. The chuckle grew to a laugh and he began to cough, falling off Harry and onto his side. Laugh-Cough-Laugh. Draco was obviously very ill and, perhaps, quite mad.

“You know what I mean,” said Harry. The coughing stopped almost instantly and Draco crawled over to Harry, wheezing badly.

“Do I, Harry? Do I?” He moved closer, placing a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “You’ve never really been straight with me, have you?” He began to smile, and the growing snicker turned to another spasm of coughs. When they subsided, he pulled his hand away from his lips and found it bloodied.

“What’s happening to you?” Harry asked.

“It appears that a vampire does not exist on rat blood alone,” Draco answered, wiping his hand against the wall. “It took some doing, but I finally learned to command them to come to me. It helped, but I guess not enough.” He fell to one elbow, looking up at Harry who was still seated against the wall. “I had hoped you’d come sooner.”

“Your father had other plans,” Harry said curtly. “I had to protect Singehorn’s lands.”

“He attacked the mountain?” Draco asked in disbelief, his voice raspy from the coughing. Harry wondered if this was why Dakhil’s voice sounded more like steel dragging across pavement. “He wouldn’t be so foolish to move so soon.”

“It wasn’t your father,” answered Harry. “It was Voldemort.”

“WHA… WHAT?” Draco’ wheezing was growing more noticeable, his thirst for air more unquenchable.

“Voldemort has been reborn; he took control of the nearest body – your father. There was another Horcrux; not just the cloak, something else. But then… you knew about that, didn’t you, Draco?” His breathing growing more laboured by the minute, Draco did not respond. “DIDN’T YOU, DRACO?”

“It… doesn’t… matter, Harry. You’d never understand.” Draco swallowed, but there was nothing in his mouth to swallow. He let go another heaving cough that sprayed blood everywhere. Draco looked at his hands and dropped them to his sides. “Fuck. I’m dying.” Harry grabbed him by the shoulders.

“You can’t die, damn you!” he cried. “They have Gabriella! YOU CAN’T DIE!” Draco looked up as if he was about to say something, then looked away shaking his head and collapsed.

“NO!” Harry grabbed Draco and once more pulled him to a seated position. Draco’s head hung limply to one side, his eyes closed.

“I won’t lose her.” Harry pulled the sleeve of his sweater up and held his wrist in front of Draco’s mouth.

“Drink!” he yelled. Draco did not respond. He grabbed the blonde by his hair and forced his mouth about Harry’s flesh. “Drink, you goddamn vampire!” Deliberately, Harry slid one of Draco’s fangs against his flesh, slicing the skin. The reaction was immediate, instinctive – Draco began to feed, grabbing Harry’s arm with both his hands and pulling it tight against his lips.

The draughts were long and hard as Draco drunk deeply. It was only a matter of seconds before Harry felt the effects of the blood being drained from his body. He tried to pull his arm away, but Draco held fast. He pulled again, but could not escape. Finally, he clubbed Draco on the side of the head with his fist and yanked his arm away. There was a screech of anger that rang from Draco’s bloody lips. He moved to pounce on his weakened foe, but stopped, gathering his wits. He pushed himself backwards, away from Harry as quickly as he could, crawling into the darkened corner.

Harry looked down at his bloodied arm. Unwilling to damage the sweater, he reached up and tore his undershirt and wrapped the shredded cloth about his wrist.

“Better?” Harry asked the figure that had disappeared into the shadows.

“Better,” came the response. The voice, for the first time since Harry had arrived at the cell, sounded like the voice of Draco Malfoy. “You… are you okay?”

“Oh, yeah,” answered Harry sarcastically. “Peaches and cream over here, mate.”

“Sorry,” Draco whispered, walking out of the shadows and this time helping Harry to his feet. “A pint goes a long way, a gallon… well, that’s to die for.”

“All mark that down.”

“How did you know? You know… that you could…” He gestured to Harry’s arm.

“Knowledge is power,” snipped Harry. “Some of my best friends are vampires.” Draco smiled and nodded.

“I was being kind of an idiot,” said Draco. “Uttering gibberish and all that rot. I… I wouldn’t, erm…”

“Right. Speaking of knowledge,” Harry cut in, “you should know that Blaise is better. They lifted the Imperious curse. It was Voldemort the whole time.”

“That’s… that’s good news,” said Draco, almost as if trying to convince himself of the fact. “Blaise is… important to me.” Harry nodded, knowingly. “But if Voldemort had a hand in his actions, it’s possible…” Draco’s face grew alarmed. “Tell me at once – what do you know of my father and Voldemort?”

Harry didn’t much like the tone, but for the next few minutes, he explained all that had transpired since Draco had been imprisoned. As intrigued as Draco was about Harry’s new son, he asked more questions about the joining of Voldemort and his father. He was particularly concerned that Blaise may have let slip certain information.

“He’ll kill me if he’s found out,” said Draco, leaning against the wall.

“You don’t know that,” answered Harry only guessing at what Draco meant.

“Oh… and I suppose you do,” drawled Draco. Then the blonde began to speak to himself. “Maybe not, if he’s the only one that knows; he’ll try to use it to his advantage somehow. But, if I’m an embarrassment… or if he thinks I’ve been disloyal… I’m dead.”

“You’re being overly dramatic.”

“I saw him use the Imperious Curse on Bellatrix for forgetting to add two sugars to his tea!” He spun toward Harry. “Was that overly dramatic?” Draco began to pace, tapping his fingers together in front of his chest.

“Sorry I wouldn’t make the exchange. They tried to take me out during the day,” he said to Harry over his shoulder, kicking at the pile of dead rat carcasses. “That’s why I wouldn’t go. I haven’t yet learned to withstand the sun’s rays. I… I won’t let anyone know what I’ve become.” He paced some more. “If I do this, it’ll have to be by night.”

“IF you do this?” bellowed Harry. “You’ll do this or you’re dead where you stand! I may not have a wand, but I can still kick your arse!”

“Do you think?” Draco asked, but more as if it was a question to himself. “That might work. What time is it now, Harry?”

“I don’t know; not quite midnight, why? What are you going on about now?”

“It may be that the Dark Lord has found my father again, but he may have found someone more suitable to his needs. He’s after your son now, after all.”

“I don’t need a reminder.”

“Then stay vigilant. Trust no one.”

“Does that include you?”

“Exactly! They may think that we are… friends. We can’t let that happen. If there’s even the slightest suggestion that…” Draco stepped over to Harry. “Hit me.”

“Hit you?”

“You heard me. Hit me. It has to look good. I want your hands bloody and my face swollen. Everyone has to know that you hate me for putting your girl at risk. We may be under the sea, but word will get out… word always gets out.” Harry just stared. “Go on, Harry, kick my arse! You know you always wanted to. Here’s your chance.”

“I’m not going to hit you, Draco. You may have had a little blood, but it’s not enough for me to risk your life and I’m too damn tired.”

“If you want your precious raven haired beauty to return to you, hit me!”

“There’s got to be a better—” Draco reached back and belted Harry across the chin. The jolt sent stars flickering into Harry’s vision. Harry fell to one knee and looked up at the Slytherin who now had his hands rolled into fists. He could taste the blood in his own mouth. “You bastard!”

Harry slammed his right fist into Draco’s stomach, doubling him over like a folded lawn-chair. He then jabbed upwards, toward Draco’s exposed face, snapping his head back with a sickening crack. Draco staggered backward as Harry stood up. There was blood streaming from Draco’s nose.

“It’s so much better than using a wand, don’t you think, Harry? Flesh against flesh.” He charged Harry and threw a punch that wildly missed. Again Harry caught him in the mid-section and then threw two punches that tossed Draco’s head from one side to the other. A moment ago Harry didn’t want to throw a punch. Now, he didn’t want to stop.

Still bent over, Draco charged Harry again and this time caught him in his arms and threw him against the wall. The back of Harry’s head slapped against the stone, drawing yet another trickle of red gold. Draco threw a punch that Harry just dipped away from and his hands crashed into the wall. With a yelp, the blonde reached up and began to claw at Harry’s face and this time Harry could taste the blood on Draco’s fingers. It was unnatural, almost sweet.

With his knee, Harry caught Draco between the legs and as he began to collapse, Harry bashed the back of his neck with both his fists curled together with a downward pounding. Draco was on his knees.

“Winston!” Harry cried. “Winston!”

Draco reached up and grabbed Harry by the waist of his pants and pulled him to the ground. He climbed upon him and began to strike madly at Harry’s head. The door opened with a clank and a flash of red light filled the room, from where, Harry never saw. Draco was nearly lifted off the ground before he crumpled, unconscious at Harry’s side.

“I’d kill the bloody bastard if I didn’t need his sorry arse!” Harry yelled. “Drag him out of here!” Winston smiled as if enjoying a tasty desert.

“As you wish, Mr. Potter,” he said, grabbing Malfoy by the back of his hair and dragging him along the ground. “Did he agree to the exchange then?”

“Do you hear him saying, no?” Harry sneered.

They made their way down the long and narrow corridor, Winston dragging Draco by his hair and Harry cursing Draco’s name the whole way. Just as they were in the thick of the prisoners, Draco began to stir.

“Let go of me!” he yelled. “Let go of me!”

“Did you see what he did to my face?” Harry yelled. “Shut the fuck up, you son of a bitch!” He kicked Malfoy soundly in the ribs. “You’ll do the exchange, or I’ll slice off your fingers, one-by-one! DO YOU HEAR ME?”

Winston just chuckled as he continued to drag Draco along.

“I’ll kill you!” yelled Draco. “The first thing I’ll do when I get back is hunt your arse down. I’ll have your heart on a pike!”

“You do that!” Harry challenged and then spat at Draco. “I’ll be waiting!”

The prisoners all began to jeer at Harry and cry out support for Draco. “Kill him, Master Malfoy! We’re with you! In the name of the Dark Lord! Kill Potter!”

It wasn’t long before the three made it into the antechamber. No one said a word as Winston bound Draco’s arms behind his back, cinching them particularly tight. Where James was, or Winston’s wife for that matter, Harry did not know – they were no where to be seen. Winston offered Harry a cool towel for his face, but nothing more. Then he placed his hand against the door that led to the sea and uttered some sort of incantation. He reached over and took his keys off the hook and unlatched the door. When it opened, not a drop of water flowed into the antechamber. Harry punched Draco in the back.

“Get moving, slime. One false move and you can take a crash course in underwater drowning.” Draco moved forward as the other two followed, Winston sealing the door behind them. When they reached the island, the stars were flickering brightly and in the night sky, approaching from the east, Ebyrth glowed.

“Oh my,” said Winston. It was the first such tone he’d heard from the key keeper. “Do you see that star? Or is it a comet?”

“You see it?” asked Harry. It was the first time anyone other than a Centaur had professed such.

“It’s like a glowing diamond, just like in the books,” said Winston almost in a whisper. “They say it’s what all this nastiness is about with the Centaurs. I don’t much see why people care.” This made Draco laugh which cost him another slap by Harry who had noticed that the marks on Draco’s face were already healing.

“You know how to treat them, don’t you Mr. Potter?” Winston asked. “I doubted at first, but I see now, you understand.”

“The exchange?” Harry asked, ignoring the comment.

“Yes… yes…” said Winston, pulling a small glass orb from his pocket. “Here sir,” he offered it to Harry. “It’s a Portkey.” Harry withdrew his hand.

“Portkey?” I don’t want to go flying into Malfoy’s minions. Winston laughed.

“No sir,” he said with a chuckle, “nor do I. It’s an exchange Portkey, sir. Only when both prisoners are holding the orb simultaneously, and only the two prisoners, will the exchange take place. “You can hand it to the boy, or stuff it in his face.”

Harry looked at Draco. His face was swollen, one eye was clotted over, and he smelled worse than a troll. Then he realized, shoving the orb in Draco’s mouth would add a nice touch upon delivery. While Winston wasn’t looking, Harry offered and Draco nodded, opening his mouth. Harry shoved the ball in and noticed that the fangs had disappeared. He was about to whisper in Draco’s ear when the Slytherin vanished in his arms. Harry looked around nervously.

“Well?” he asked impatiently. “Where is she? Where is—” There was a flash of white light and Gabriella appeared. She was in a seated position when she arrived, but then crumpled to the ground. Harry was at her side in an instant. Her eyes were shut, but she was breathing.

“Gabriella! Gab! Are you okay?” Harry called out, but there was no movement. “GAB!”

“Sir,” said Winston, “it isn’t safe here. You must return with her at once.” Harry looked at him, puzzled. “Your key, sir.”

Holding Gabriella in his arms, Harry pulled the white envelope out of his pocket and clutched the golden key inside. There was a swoosh, and he was gone.

Winston looked up once more at Ebyrth and turned back to the dungeons, shaking his head. As he continued to climb down, his keys jangled at his side, his fingers rubbing against their metal surface. He stopped once more, looking back at the icy, night sky and muttered, “I love it when two people hate each other so much.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 24 – Nightmares
~~~***~~~
________________________________________


Four fairies fluttered over Gabriella’s unconscious body, each empathically reflecting the state of her seven chakras. Alternating in colour and brightness, they were immediate visual indicators of both her physical and magical well being. In all the days Harry had been at St. Mungo’s, more than he could now remember, he had only seen such fairies used in two ways: to monitor those soon to die, and to scrutinize those soon to be imprisoned. The fairies could sense when death was near, alerting family members to come to the bedside, but they could also sense a patient’s desire to commit a criminal act before it actually happened, warning staff of any impending wrongdoing.

Gabriella had been released from the Stasis spell almost immediately after Harry had arrived with her from Fengsle Isle. She was fine; at least, Harry thought she was. The only thing unusual was that she refused to let her mother, Soseh, fret over her. Despite her generally good health and well being, the Healers of St. Mungo’s encouraged by Aurors from the Ministry poked and prodded her mercilessly, convinced she had been hexed or was under the control of an Imperius curse. Her mind was probed, her body scanned – all to no avail. She remembered nothing after having been apprehended just after leaving Cho and Anthony’s apartment. That she would not tell the Aurors why she was in France to begin with, only fed the flames of their suspicions. Soseh was incensed that they were treating her daughter so poorly, while Harry wondered to what extremes Draco was being put to similar tests.

Gabriella had just been given a light sleeping draught to help her rest after the evening’s tortures had ended. Soseh kissed Harry’s cheek and stormed out of the room, cursing in Armenian; he agreed with some of the more choice expletives and flopped down in one of the chairs to rest, if only for a moment. He had just closed his eyes and was beginning to drift off, when the door opened. It was Sirius. Harry straightened.

“Sirius?” Harry asked. “Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be—”

“How is she?” Sirius cut in. Harry slumped down, his head dropping back against the wall as he rubbed his face with his hands.

“Well, if she didn’t hate the Ministry before she came to Britain, she certainly will now.” Harry looked over at Gabriella as she lay on the bed. “She’s yet to ask me to help get her out of here and she won’t let her own mother near her. It’s like she has something to prove. Almost as if she wants them to test her; it’s crazy!” Harry stood. “Soseh on the other hand.” He shook his head. “If she could use a wand, she would have hexed half the staff back to the stone age. I’m still waiting for a dragon to show up outside the window.” Sirius mustered half a smile.

Harry walked over to Gabriella’s bedside, held her hand, and began to stroke it with his own. Even now, asleep with thoughts that wandered the world, she was proud, defiant, more capable than Harry could imagine – next to Molly Weasley, perhaps the strongest woman he had ever known. His hands began to tremble.

“You love her, don’t you?” Sirius whispered, placing his arm about Harry’s shoulders.

“I would die for her,” Harry whispered back.

“Oh, Harry,” said Sirius, squeezing his godson’s shoulders, “you’d die for a lot of people. I heard what happened outside of the Burrow. You know, it’s no good dying for someone if all you do is stand in front of a freight train.”

“Sorry.”

“Sorry?” Sirius snapped. “Sorry? Harry, you need to remember there are far more good reasons to live than there are to die, and I’ve been watching over one of them for you for the last week. You’re no good to Jamie dead; you above all people should know that.”

Harry’s thoughts fell on his own son and what Voldemort intended to do with him, if he could be found. It was one thing to put his own life on the line, but now… now so many were in danger. The trembling of his hands moved up his arms and soon his whole body began to tremble; he turned and held Sirius in his arms, squeezing the cloth of his robes in his hands. With each passing day, it was becoming clearer to the Gryffindor what the ultimate fate of the prophecy would be, and the signs, as he read them, were not in his favour.

“Haven’t you heard? I’m already dead; part of me at least,” Harry choked into Sirius shoulder. “I’ll never—”

“Don’t talk like that! Don’t ever think it!” Sirius held Harry by the shoulders and looked into his face. “It’s those bloody ghosts! Yeah, I’ve heard them talking in the corridors of the castle. It’s rubbish!” Harry wiped his eyes with his sleeve.

“Is it?” he whispered. “I wonder. I think maybe they know more than they let on.” He turned back to look at Gabriella and tried to gather himself. “I… I guess we won’t be making it to New York this year.”

“No,” said Sirius sadly. “Maybe summer.”

“Yeah… maybe summer.”

There was a long pause as they watched the fairies float about, each shining as brightly as ever. Finally, Harry looked back at Sirius.

“So… Jamie’s okay then? And Cho?”

“And Anthony,” added Sirius deliberately. “They’re fine. They’re all fine. Anthony returns to Hogwarts tonight. In fact, I better be going. I don’t want them alone when he leaves. I just needed… I just needed to be sure you were okay. Are you?”

“Last year,” Harry began, “just two rooms over… two rooms… Cho nearly died in my arms. There were no fairies then. I guess they figured there was no hope.” He took in a deep breath. “But then… then she came back to me.” Harry walked over and looked out the window. Snow was lightly falling onto the street below where Muggles past oblivious to the magic all around them. Harry’s forehead pressed against the glass.

“I did love her… you know? At least I thought I did. But Cho and me… it just wasn’t…” Harry shook his head and walked over to Gabriella’s side, taking her once more by the hand as she slept. He stroked the long strands of black hair that ran down the side of her face, as the fairylight danced across her closed eyes. “Oh, Sirius… for her… for her I’ve walked through fire and been tempered by it. You’re right, I love her. But I’d do far more than die for her… I’d kill.”

Harry kissed her on the forehead, his own pounding from lack of sleep. He faced his godfather and pointed toward the window.

“He’s out there, searching for them now,” Harry whispered. “He won’t rest till he’s found them, and I won’t rest until I’ve found him. It won’t end until one of us dies.”

“And it’s NOT going to be you!”

Harry looked down at his hands and then back to Sirius. The trembling had stopped.

“No. No it’s not.”

“Good.” Sirius started for the door, touched the handle and then turned around.

“Harry, you haven’t told her, have you? Where they are?”

“No, but she asked… more than once.”

“I knew she would. You want to tell her, don’t you?” Harry shook his head, no, but looked away. “Liar,” Sirius said with a smile. “Harry, I don’t need to tell you how imperative it is for the Secret Keeper to keep the secret. There are only the five of us that now know, and, until we get a handle on where Voldemort is, you can’t tell a soul. No one, do you understand? Return to Hogwarts, watch and wait, but tell no one, not even Ron or Hermione – not even Dumbledore.

“I know.”

“Do you?”

“I KNOW! I won’t let it happen again!”

“Then you’re a better man than me,” said Sirius with a look of pride in his eyes. “And my work here is done.” Once more he started for the door only to stop again. This time he did not turn back toward Harry, but instead spoke to the closed door, his hand lightly touching against the wood. “You know I love you, don’t you?”

“I love you more.”

Harry did not see the smile appear and broaden across Sirius’ face as he opened and left the hospital room. Nor did Sirius see the smile on Harry. Neither needed to, for both already knew. As the door clicked shut, Gabriella began to stir behind Harry.

It began with a mutter, and then her hand began to shake. Soon her whole body was convulsing. One of the fairies flashed from blue to green; it bore a startled expression upon its face. As the bed shook violently, Gabriella’s mutter turned to a moan, the moan to a scream, and the scream became unearthly.

“NOOOOOOOO!” The blood curdling cry pierced Harry’s ears as the door swung open and the Healer ran in. Gabriella sat bolt upright and screamed for help. The Healer pulled her wand and a yellow light began to bathe Gabriella’s open but blank eyes. It had no effect. Nothing worked until Harry grabbed her in his arms and tried to calm her.

“Shhh,” he whispered. “I’m here. I’m always here. It’s okay; you’re safe.”

Gabriella began to come out of the nightmare.

“H-Harry?” she breathed. “Harry. Oh, praise Asha.” She grabbed him in her own arms.

“What was it, Ms. Darbinyan?” asked the Healer. “What were you screaming about?”

Gabriella looked up at the Healer, confused. The trembling was gone and her eyes clear.

“Screaming? I wasn’t screaming,” she said indignantly. “I’m fine. Why? What’s the matter?”

“Gab, baby,” Harry said gently, “you were having a nightmare. You were crying out.”

“Nightmare?” asked Gabriella incredulously. “I just now woke up. I feel fine… really.” She smiled as if nothing had happened.

“Curious,” muttered the Healer. She began to scan Gabriella once again with her wand. Harry noticed that the fairy that had flashed a bright, pale green was once again a beautiful, deep, cobalt blue. “The Death Eaters have clearly done something to her, but what? Perhaps more tests are in order. I think—”

“How do you know it’s not from something you people have been doing?” spat Harry angrily. “I’d be screaming too after some of the things you’ve done to her.”

The Healer nodded dispassionately, conceding the point.

“True. That is possible, but we really should examine—”

“GET OUT! GET THE FUCK OUT! Or you’ll be screaming in three seconds!” Harry pulled his wand. “TWO!” The healer darted for the door. “ONE!” She was gone. Gabriella began to laugh, oblivious to the tension of the situation, as if she’d just woken during a summer cruise on the Mediterranean, needing a bit more suntan lotion.

“Harry!” she exclaimed. “That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?” She laughed again, covering her mouth with her hand.

“You… you don’t remember anything, do you?” Harry asked.

“Remember what?”

“They were turning your brain inside out three hours ago!”

“No.”

Harry began to pace the room. “I have to get you out of here.”

“Don’t be silly!” Gabriella exclaimed. “They won’t let me return to Hogwarts if they don’t think I’m… well, me.”

“Damn it, Gabriella, you’re not you! Something’s not right. You were fine when you arrived, but now… if they’ve hurt you… so help me I’ll—”

Soseh burst into the room, waving a parchment in her hands.

“You are free!” she yelled. “Put on your clothes. We leave, now!”

“Mama, I can’t—”

“You can. You will. The Minister has signed the papers. Now gather your clothes.” Gabriella obliged and got of bed as if nothing had happened.

It took less than an hour for Harry to escort Gabriella back to Hogwarts. She had insisted that her mother not come along, which hurt Soseh somewhat, but Gabriella would not sway from her position. She demanded that she be seen as strong when she returned to school and having a mother hold her hand as she entered the front doors would not convey that impression. Finally, Soseh agreed, but before she had a chance to kiss her daughter goodbye, Gabriella took the Portkey that transported her and Harry to the front of Hogwarts. Harry scolded her for treating her mother so poorly, but she didn’t seem to care.

Professor Dumbledore greeted them at the castle steps and invited them into the Great Hall to tea. He was particularly interested in Harry’s story of the battle on Singehorn’s mountain. He was not the only one. A number of students had already arrived; some had stayed over the holiday. Most of the others would return tomorrow on the Hogwarts Express. The white-haired wizard looked tired, but his eyes were clear and as blue as ever. He didn’t ask any real questions, but instead lamented that the holiday decorations would be taken down in the morning.

“All things must come to an end,” he said with a sad smile, and then took another sip of tea. “But even after the decorations have been put away into their boxes, the spirit of Christmas lives on in each of us. Don’t you think, Harry?” For an instant, Harry caught a glimpse of blue from the corner of Dumbledore’s eye, but the aged wizard looked away. Harry nodded, but was feeling the furthest he’d been from Christmas cheer since his days with the Dursleys.

That night, they all went to bed early. It would be the last such night. Classes began the year in earnest. Homework was worse than ever and everyone was complaining about the burdensome workload. Harry found himself spending more time with Ron than with Gabriella. Since returning, she was somewhat smothering when they were together – constantly trying to get Harry alone, asking dozens of questions, and reminding him of Rita Skeeter. At first, Harry thought she was just extremely curious about what had happened since she was under the Death Eaters’ Stasis spell. But those types of questions ended a few days ago and now they were growing more personal, probing for information about Harry’s friends and family.

“I’m tellin’ you mate,” said Ron as the two made their way back from the library, “she wants a ring around her finger.” He sang the last part as he swirled one finger about the ring finger on his left hand. “Valentines is just around the corner!” Harry just shrugged, letting out a long sigh.

“Maybe.”

It was late and he was tired, wondering why in Merlin’s name he decided to return to Hogwarts. It was bad enough that he had to prepare for his NEWTS, but he also had to finish up last semester’s work as well, while trying to follow the battles going on around the world in hope on picking up on Voldemort’s whereabouts. What little spare time he had on evenings and every Saturday was spent training with Ronan and the other Centaurs of the Forbidden Forest. Quidditch practice was squeezed in on Sundays and Ron managed practices in the afternoons. As the weeks passed, it was growing more and more taxing, and he was thankful that no matter how grumpy and upset he could get, Ron seemed to be feeling worse. Not only did he have nearly everything Harry had on his plate, but he also had something far worse – a wedding to plan.

“I swear on Morgana’s grave, Harry, if she asks me ‘Pink or mauve?’ one more time, I’m going to bloody explode.” Ron let out a low groan and Harry patted his friend’s back.

“Just warn me, okay?” requested Harry with a smile.

They were commiserating as they dragged their way back to Gryffindor Tower when someone called from behind.

“Harry!”

Harry looked back down the corridor to find, much to his surprise, Tracey Davis running towards him. Tracey had become close friends with Gabriella over the last year and she was, for Harry’s Knut, one of the better Slytherins he knew. Her face was flush and she was clearly out of breath, having just climbed the staircases from the dungeons. She ran up to Harry and Ron, and then took Harry by the arm.

“It’s happening again. Come, quick.”

Harry didn’t need to be told twice; he knew. They had talked about it just after they started the new year and Harry had asked that Tracey watch Gabriella in case the symptoms reappeared. The three students began to run down the steps and, as one staircase began to slide into position, Tracey finally had a moment to catch her breath and explain.

“She fell asleep reading her Potions book. She’s been working so hard – making up for last semester. I had just put a blanket about her shoulders, when I heard it. At first, it was just a whimper. I thought it was just a little bad dream, but it kept getting worse and worse. She began to scream, then she started to howl your name and now she won’t stop. It’s like she’s locked in a trance, she can’t see anyone, but keeps screaming your name.”

Within minutes Harry, Ron and Tracey were climbing down into the girls’ dormitory. Harry could hear the screams.

“Blimey!” exclaimed Ron as they pushed open the door to the room.

When they walked in, they found Millicent Bulstrode and another female Slytherin casting silencing spells, but they were having no effect. Just seeing someone point a wand at Gabriella in that way irritated Harry and, as he pushed them aside, he expelled both their wands with the wave of his hand.

“Get out!” he yelled.

“You can’t tell me—”

“GET OUT!”

Both of them left, Millicent casting him a nasty stare. If she had glared at Harry a moment longer, she would have hopped out of the room as a toad. Gabriella howled again and Harry came to her side and dropped to his knees.

He grabbed her trembling hands in his and called her name. There was an immediate look of recognition in Gabriella’s eyes. The distance cleared and they focused back to the here and now. She grabbed Harry and pulled him close. The trembling stopped. The screaming stopped. Then the most obscure thing happened: she yawned. She let go of Harry’s hands, stretch out her arms as if rising from a long slumber and… yawned.

“Harry?” she asked curiously. “What are you doing here? Don’t you know what trouble you’ll get into?” Her eyes began to dart around, seeing Tracey and wondering what she’d say. Then she saw the other boy in her dorm. “Ron?” she asked.

“Hi,” he said meekly and waved. His eyes were fixed on a lace nightgown that was draped across Tracey’s bed – dark green, but sheer enough to show the white sheets beneath. “Erm….”

“You were screaming, Gabriella,” said Harry, taking her by the hand. “They couldn’t get you to stop.”

“Don’t be silly,” said Gabriella. “I only just now fell asleep.”

“What he says is true, Gab,” said Tracey. “It’s been almost thirty minutes. The whole dorm knows.” Gabriella stood up, a bit indignant.

“This is just ridiculous. I was just taking a nap! I should know if—”

“If it was just a nap,” interrupted Ron, “why are you dripping wet?”

Gabriella looked down at her own robes. She was sweaty; not just a little glow about the eyes, but drenched through her robes as if she’d just run a marathon. When she looked down and recognized just how wet she was, she finally had to admit that something happened, that she was somehow not herself. The realization coupled quickly to a sense of fear.

“What… What’s happening to me?” Her voice quivered, her hands pulling the wet robes from her body. She tossed them at Ron who tried to look away. She turned to Tracey. “I screamed?”

“It’s the damn Ministry!” Harry spat. He reached behind the curtains that hung over Gabriella’s bed and his hand reappeared with a shower robe. He draped it across her shoulder and Ron wondered how Harry knew that the robe was—

“They should have left well enough alone,” snapped Harry. “They’re all a bunch of sycophantic, sadistic pigs.”

“Hey!” snapped Ron. “That’s not called for. The Ministry has been doing all it can to protect us from the Death Eaters!”

“Protect us?” Harry exclaimed as he stepped forward. “Are you serious?”

Ron stepped forward to meet him chest-to-chest. “Are you saying different?”

“Look,” cut in Gabriella, “we’re all a bit tired. I’ll be all right. I didn’t mean to worry you guys. I’ll go see Madame Pomfrey in the morning. Maybe she can give me a sleeping draught. Why don’t you two go to bed?” She turned Harry away from Ron and kissed him on the cheek.

If only that had settled things, but it hadn’t. The two Gryffindors argued with each other all the way up the staircases to the tower. After each of his invectives against the Ministry, Harry kept saying, “… which has nothing to do with your father being the Minister.” The repetitive turn of phrase only made Ron angrier. He accused Harry of being “ignorant” and “growing up Muggle”, which only flared Harry’s concerns about how Ron felt toward other races. By the time they were at the Portrait of the Fat Lady, they were nearly at blows.

“Godric’s…”

“… Goblet!”

“My… don’t you two seem angry,” she said drowsily, opening the portrait.

“SHUT UP!” they howled in unison.

They didn’t speak another word the rest of the night, and neither slept well. Both heard the other tossing and turning, muttering this or that, replaying the argument in their minds. Neville finally told them to shut up, and they did. Thankfully, the next morning was Saturday. At breakfast, Hermione didn’t even ask why the two weren’t speaking to each other. Harry, glad that he had training with Ronan, left the Great Hall as soon as he was finished eating. He was headed down the stone steps of the castle toward the forest when Gabriella came out from behind a pillar and grabbed him by the arm.

“Hi, handsome,” she said with a smile and kissed him with a peck. She hadn’t mentioned that she would meet him, and he didn’t feel much like talking. Still, it wasn’t an altogether unpleasant surprise. It was the first time they’d been truly alone since they both returned to Hogwarts and he sure didn’t feel like being with Ron.

“Hi,” he replied, but not with much exuberance.

“Don’t tell me,” she said, holding one hand against his face. “You fought all night with Ron.”

“Wow… you’re psychic,” he said dully, rolling his eyes in their sockets. She pinched his side.

“It doesn’t take a psychic to know when you two are squabbling. It’s like you were an old married couple.” She smiled. “Hermione and I don’t have anything to worry about, do we?” Harry smiled in return and kissed her hard on the lips.

“Hey Harry!”

Harry pulled away, looked up and saw Patrick poking his head out a window from the fourth floor.

“What is it?” Harry called.

“McGonagall says Dumbledore’s lookin’ fer yeh!”

“Come on,” whispered Gabriella. “Can’t the old coot give us five minutes alone?”

“But—”

“Come on.”

Harry craned his neck and looked up at Patrick. He was so small against the enormous castle walls.

“Later!” called Harry.

“She seemed teh think it was—”

“LATER!” Harry yelled with a scolding tone. He took Gabriella’s hand and started across the grass to the Forbidden Forest. “Old coot? Are you serious?” Gabriella just chuckled as the walked along. The sun was trying to melt the last snow, but the air was still cold and she pulled close to Harry.

“Have you seen Madame Pomfrey?” he asked absentmindedly. His mind was still back at the castle, pondering the fact that he had been rather nasty to Patrick since the start of the new year. With James still at St. Mungo’s, Harry’s fellow orphan was lost. Nobody would speak to him and part of Harry didn’t much care. He knew it was wrong, but he couldn’t help himself. Every time he saw the boy he grew angry, so Harry just tried to avoid him completely. He shook his head in disgust at his own actions and started back toward the castle – it was time to make amends, to apologise to Patrick and set things straight. Gabriella grabbed his arm.

“Er… Yes, I saw Madame Guérir this morning,” she said, coaxing Harry along their original path. “She’s quite capable. She gave me a potion to try at bed time.”

“Good,” Harry said, nodding his head as if trying to convince himself that that was sufficient. “Good.”

“Oooh, look!” She pointed her finger at some large animal tracks in the snow that traced a path leading to the forest. “What are those?”

“That’s a… that’s a Gytrash!” Harry said with surprise, losing all thought of Patrick. A year ago, he would never have been able to distinguish the track, but learning the life of the forest was part of his training with the Centaurs. Now he knew every creature that roamed the dark woods, and using the powers of the onyx ring that wrapped his finger he was slowly learning to communicate with them. “I’ve seen them in the forest, but never this close to the castle. By the arrow’s point, what would a Gytrash be doing here?”

“I don’t know,” whispered Gabriella, her voice concerned. She didn’t much feel like following the tracks that disappeared as they wove their way into the forest, but she didn’t want Harry to return to the castle now that she finally had him alone.

“Shall we… shall we see?” she muttered, vexed.

She walked with him about two-thirds of the way to the forest and stopped. Harry sensed her apprehension and knew what it was. She had dreamed, after all, that a Centaur arrow had pierced her back. Gabriella appeared conflicted – part of her wanted to go, but the other part refused to take another step.

“You could go with me, you know,” he said softly. “Then you’d see, you’d know… the Gytrash… even the Centaurs… they won’t hurt you.” Gabriella mustered a smile.

“I’ll… er… I’ll meet you here at lunchtime. You will be back for lunch?”

“Yes,” answered Harry, starting toward the forest. Gabriella mustered a deep breath and walked with him, still holding him by the waist. Harry rubbed his forehead; he was tired. “I told Ronan that I had to study. He doesn’t see the point and frankly I’m beginning to wonder myself. When I train, I forget half the stuff from class, and when I study, I forget half the stuff from training. I’m no good to anybody the way I am.”

“You’re good to me, baby,” Gabriella said, following Harry to the wood’s edge, out of sight of the castle walls and Hagrid’s hut. She slid her hand down his side and Harry could feel a penetrating, fiery warmth – a heat that would burn anyone, anyone but a member of the Votary. To Harry, it was a tickling, sensual sensation and as it ran up the inside of his spine the feeling was hypnotic. He continued, unsteadily, to move in among the trees.

“I was thinking,” she said soft and low. “Maybe tomorrow we could sneak away and visit Cho and Jamie. You know, just to see how they’re doing. I’m sure they miss you.”

“I’ve… I’ve told you a… a dozen times… I, er… I don’t know where…” Harry shook his head trying to clear the cobwebs. He couldn’t think straight. He leaned against a large tree a few yards into the forest. In the seclusion, Gabriella slid her hand downward.

“Don’t you miss your boy, Harry?”

“S-Sure.” Harry swallowed. The heat was intense, oscillating between pleasure and the edge of pain. “Maybe we could… ohh,” Harry groaned and his breaths quickened.

“Where are they?” whispered Gabriella.

“You… you know…”

Gabriella said nothing, but moved closer, pressing her body against Harry’s. His back against a large tree, he could smell its wood smoulder. The tree, unsettled by the sensation, began to shudder and Harry moaned again.

“Last summer… Greece… at—” There was a snap, perhaps a small twig breaking, somewhere in the distance, barely noticeable. He didn’t care, but Gabriella did. Her muscles tightened.

“Tell me… now!” she spat impatiently. The voice was contorted, but the contortion only partially pulled Harry from his trance.

“Tomorrow… I’ll show you,” he said with a smile, reaching down to kiss her. Gabriella pulled away. “No! Don’t stop!” Harry pleaded, holding her by the wrist. “Tomorrow…” Gabriella raised her other hand as if to strike him, but Harry was oblivious. “…together we can go to S—”

THWANG!

Gabriella let out a scream as a Centaur arrow pierced her hand and pinned it to the tree next to Harry’s head. It was a high, cold scream. She spun toward her attacker and her spell over Harry washed away.

“YOU FILTH!” she bellowed to the forest, but before she could reach her wand with her good hand, another arrow pierced it. Now both hands were held fast to the large trunk. The tree moaned, irritated that it had been pricked.

Suddenly, Harry became aware what was happening, at least partially. Nearly a hundred paces away, barely visible through the dense forest, stood Ronan, bow in hand. He was preparing another arrow. Even to the most accomplished wizard, the speed at which arrow met bow would be indiscernible. A Centaur could fire a dozen arrows in less than a second. The third was already on its way, headed straight for Gabriella’s heart.

“NO!” Harry cried. He watched as the arrow flew toward his girlfriend and with a movement taught him by the Centaurs themselves he guided its point to miss the intended target. It struck the tree with a thump – it moaned again and the earth began to shake.

“Help me, Harry” whimpered Gabriella, her voice as sweet and vulnerable as ever. “I told you! They’re going to kill me! Strike him down!”

Another arrow flew through the air, and again Harry deflected it.

“Stand away, Harry Potter!” yelled Ronan. “Can you not see the beast next to you?”

Harry turned to look at Gabriella. The tree trembled as its sap mixed with the blood that dripped from her palms while she struggled to get free. It was hopeless; the enchanted arrows would never release their prey.

“They’re mad, Harry! Help me,” she pleaded.

“Not with your eyes, wizard!”

Harry stepped back and closed his eyes, reaching out first toward the Centaur – a brilliant white camouflaged in a field of living light, but still noticeable to Harry’s, now trained, inner eye. The Centaur had stayed his hand; he did not nock the arrow, but instead held it at the ready.

“Hurry!” called Ronan, moving closer, but slowly.

“Don’t listen to him, Harry. Please… I don’t want to die! Strike! Strike him now!”

Harry turned his mind toward Gabriella. Instantly, his heart sank to the utter depths of despair. There, before him, was an aura of green, glowing fierce and strong, but the drips of blood falling to the forest floor were blue, a glowing cobalt blue… Gabriella’s blue. As for the green, Harry had seen it twice already. The green was easy; it had a sickening pallor all its own, and a visible stench that could only belong to Voldemort.

“I told you! Now, stand aside!”

Harry’s resolve faltered.

Ronan let fly another arrow.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 25 – The Fealty of Fire
~~~***~~~

________________________________________



The great wizard, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.” Muggles measure it by the number of ticks on the face of a clock. Wizards record its passing as they watch grains of sand fall to the bottom of a glass. Centaurs simply gaze at the sky, surveying the sun and stars as they pass overhead, and yet they, more than all of God’s other creations, control time’s power over their lives.

The arrow had left its bow; Ronan had called the warning. Harry had but to stand aside and the arrow would most certainly pierce Gabriella’s heart, killing her instantly. Would Voldemort die with her? Centaur magic is deep and Harry had learned but a small portion of Ronan’s wisdom, but Harry could not bring himself to believe that a single arrow, however magical, could destroy such evil. Certainly the Dark Lord would be forced to leave her corpse to search for another victim to possess. Perhaps such a plan was already accounted for and the unfortunate Death Eater was near at hand, waiting for just such a contingency.

Was this the vision that Gabriella had so long feared? And was Gabriella, like her mother ‘always right’? As these fleeting thoughts passed through Harry’s mind, the arrow drew ever closer. He could sense its approach and the time consumed in indecision had cost him dearly. There was now no chance, even with his training, to slow down time fast enough and still turn to deflect the arrow now coming toward his back. No, Harry had time only to stand aside… stand aside. Ronan’s words echoed in Harry’s ears as Gabriella’s eyes looked up at him, pleading for mercy… a falsehood Harry now knew. He sensed the red smouldering beneath the pools of black.

In this darkest moment, when all time was lost, Harry grinned back at his adversary. This time was a very good one – a time to live, a time to die. He did not step aside; he stepped forward toward Gabriella, toward the darkness that held her in its will and, like the darkness, Harry embraced her and held her tight. There was no time for words; the arrow struck before Voldemort could even register Harry’s action. Harry could feel the tip pierce his back, just below the right shoulder blade and sensed it ripping his lung tissue as it passed through his body. It clipped a rib just below his right breast and deflected upward. Save for that, the arrow would have struck Gabriella in the heart. Instead, it hit high, missing her vital organ, moving though her lung as it did Harry’s and then striking the tree behind. They were now both pinned together like two rag dolls poked with push pins.

Harry tried to take in a breath and a sharp, stabbing pain told him that each such attempt would become more difficult. The face before him contorted into an evil grin.

“I’m not - dead, Harry,” she wheezed, her throat whistling with each hard won gasp for air. “But you – will – be. Both of – you. Before you – die, tell me… where – is – the boy? Make it easy on – me, and I’ll make it – easy on – our – Jamie. Greece? Where?” Gabriella placed her forehead against Harry’s face and a searing pain plunged into Harry’s skull. Voldemort was probing for the answer. Having practiced often with Ron, Harry had learned to parry the thrusts of a Legilimens, but he could not withstand the likes of Voldemort forever. Even as Ronan closed from behind, Harry grabbed Gabriella’s head and pulled it away from his.

“Do you like… argh… fire, Tom?” Harry asked with blazing green eyes.

“Are you mad!” yelled Ronan. Harry could hear the Centaur approach. He could feel the Centaur grasp the feathered tip of the arrow now pinning Harry to Gabriella. He was going to release its clenching charms when Harry stopped him.

“STAY BACK!” Harry commanded with tremendous effort.

“But—” Ronan didn’t get a chance to finish. Flames erupted from Harry’s right arm, forcing the Centaur to retreat.

“A little heat… Tom?” Harry asked again. The look in Gabriella’s eyes was confused. “Incendio Forté!” Harry whispered with gritted teeth. The flame exploded, engulfing them both in fire. The tree behind Gabriella ignited and flames raced up its thick trunk. It cried out shaking the ground worse than ever. The temperature rose higher and higher as Harry concentrated its energy at the centre of Gabriella’s being. Her face was panicked, but Harry’s was focused and stern. She, as Harry, knew the ways of the Votary, but Voldemort did not and he had no way of casting a shield charm.

“Stay with me, baby,” whispered Harry, hoping that some part of Gabriella knew what was happening, could fight against its captor. Blistering, searing flame, and finally Voldemort relented. Harry knew that look of anger, like a spoiled child being refused a second ice cream for desert. Her scream was pitched high and the voice was cold. Harry watched as the green left Gabriella’s body, rising upward with the curling smoke and lapping flames. Ronan shot arrows at the evil mist, but they had no effect. As for the arrows pinning Harry and Gabriella to the tree, they ignited and turned to black ash. At once the two fell to the ground.

Gabriella began to cough, short, sharp, shallow breaths. Blood was running freely from her wound. It had soaked her blouse and was dripping onto the forest floor. Harry went to move toward her, but the sharp pain in his chest held him in place; he could taste the blood that had worked its way up into his mouth. Ronan was upon them.

“You fool,” he snapped, gathering leaves and pressing them against Gabriella’s chest. Gabriella continued to cough, but the breaths were shorter and shallower. The Centaur cursed. “Use your powers boy,” he demanded, “before she dies.”

Harry pulled his wand and cast a spell to stop the bleeding, it helped, but not much. The Centaur arrow was enchanted to defeat such magic.

“I… I can’t,” said Harry, his voice hollow.

“The stone you told me of,” insisted Ronan. “Use the stone.” Harry’s soul grew cold.

“Not… possible.” Harry could sense his vision narrowing. He looked down and watched as, with each heartbeat, another spurt of blood dribbled out his chest. Ronan placed an herbal compact similar to Gabriella’s against Harry’s wound and cursed again.

“She’ll die. You’ll both die!” cried Ronan. For the first, time Harry saw the Centaur panicked. But, as always, Ronan was right. If they didn’t do something soon, they both would surely die. How could it end like this? Had she been right all along?
Harry just shook his head. He’d sworn an oath. He’d sat with the dragon Singehorn himself and sworn an oath. He would not break it; not when Gabriella had rejected his offers to use the stone to heal her mother and her dieing father the year before.

“It… it is…” Harry spat out the blood pooling in his mouth. “…forbidden.”

His vision finally failed. His thoughts turned to Singehorn. The dragon had always told him that he could call on him if ever he were in trouble. It was an alliance, a blood oath, and now, more than ever, Harry was in need. He turned his mind to the dragon and suddenly the cool, moist air of the Forbidden Forest was parched… dry. Harry opened his eyes and the sands of a vast desert opened up before him.

The large hand of a black man reached down and took Harry’s hand in his own. The face of the usually jovial figure was stern, almost angry, but the anger was not directed at Harry. Of this, he was sure. Singehorn, the man, pulled Harry to his feet. There was no forest, no pain, no blood. Harry, Primate of the Votary, stood in red robes before his master.

“I sense the Phantom’s presence,” said Singehorn with concern.

“Gabriella,” Harry whispered, “he took her.” There was a moment’s pause as Singehorn’s face drew in and his eyes looked outward, but then he shook his head in disagreement.

“No,” he said. “She is in pain, but there is no such evil.” Harry grew impatient.

“There’s no time for this. We must hurry.” Singehorn laughed a deep, throaty laugh that shook the ground and made Harry angry. “She’s dying!” he cried. Singehorn held Harry’s chin in his massive hand. The calluses scratched as the man pulled Harry’s eyes upward to meet his red. There was a smile across his mouth, the faintest hint of fang.

“You both are dying, Harry. But there is no hurry.” He let go of Harry’s chin and stroked his own in thought. “Here,” he held out his hands and showcased the desolate countryside, “here we have all the time in the world. In here,” Singehorn tapped the side of his head, “the mind processes millions of thoughts a second… even in the mind of a wizard. It’s amazing really. And in here, time stands still. You can dream a lifetime in the blink of an eye. Time here, Harry, has no meaning.” Singehorn crossed his arms and regarded Harry carefully. Again he shook his head and then, smiling, patted Harry on the shoulder.

“Soseh is quite the woman. She’s never wrong,” Singehorn whispered. “I did not think it possible.” He stepped closer to Harry and put his arm upon his shoulders. “I could not be more proud as I am at this very moment. Darkness covers the earth, but there is one shining light that will shatter its shade. I doubted. I doubt no more. Though you are young and you will stumble, I am now convinced that your path will end in light.” Singehorn grabbed Harry’s left hand and held it up, moving the ring finger that bore the ring of onyx closer to Harry’s face.

“Life, Harry, is all around us. Sometimes, even the greatest and most powerful must summon the smallest and least consequential to their aide. Most are too arrogant, others too stupid to realize the energy and power that permeates the world around. The ring, Harry, lets you speak with any beast, any creature. If you but ask, they will do your bidding.” Singehorn bent low to one knee, grimacing as he did so.

“Your body has fallen in a ring of fire; all about you is dead. But, beneath the ashen loam upon which you lay, a creature survives, millions of them now energized by the heat of your flame. The light of life erupts from the ground beneath you; use your gifts and you will see. Call to them; ask them to help Gabriella, to help you both. Some will not survive, but if you ask, they will oblige, for we all stand against the dark. Blessings upon you my son, and also upon the House of Hayk.”

“The House of—?”

The scene snapped back to the forest and Harry was instantly aware of the sharp pain in his chest. Gabriella’s coughs had stopped and been replaced by a thin, whistling pant.

“… both die!” cried Ronan.

“It… it is…” Harry spat out the blood pooling in his mouth. “…forbidden.” His vision failed, but his mind’s eye turned downward as Singehorn had said and there they were – specks of glowing dust, just below the scorched surface – a sea of microscopic life. Harry made a fist and clutched the ring to his chest, focussing now on the life beneath him.

“Help us,” he whispered, not really knowing what to expect. “Please, help - us.” He coughed and another splat of blood fell to the ground. And then, from out of the ether, Harry heard the reply of the tiniest of voices from the largest of crowds.

“Your wounds are too high!” it called. “Come down to us.”
“Ronan,” Harry breathed, “lay her… flat against the earth.”

“But—”

“Do it!” A streak of pain shot through Harry’s chest. “If we die, we die here, but don’t… don’t move us until the stars rise.”

Ronan obliged and rolled Gabriella onto her back. Harry, as well, turned upon his back. For a moment, he could see again and he gazed up at the morning sky. He could feel the blood dripping from his back as a light, white cloud drifted overhead. It was the shape of a dog and Harry smiled, coughing again as blood dripped from the corner of his mouth and into his ear.

“A Grim,” he groaned with a smile, pointing one finger upward to the sky. His body was growing colder… colder… The last thing he remembered was the thin wisp of a voice calling to its friends.

“In here!”
________________________________________


Drip.

An icicle clung to a large pine tree with great branches that stretched over the path of a tiny brook. Drip. A single drop of water fell from the frozen crystal and landed on the water flowing gently below. Just one drop, among many that filled the tiny brook on its way to who knew where – Harry decided to see. He’d only walked perhaps a hundred metres when the brook joined another somewhat larger creek. There was a tiny waterfall that cascaded over a handful of large rocks. Harry jumped down and continued to follow the water’s path. The air grew damper and the fertile earth of the forest floor filled his nostrils with a rich earthy aroma of life and decay.

Eventually the tiny creek grew, as more brooks and tiny rivulets joined it. It matured into a small stream and as he followed its winding path, it continued to expand. Harry didn’t know how many hours, how many days, how many lifetimes he walked until the stream became a river with rushing rapids and great still pools. Tirelessly, he followed until the river emptied out into a great ocean that extended beneath an azure blue sky as far as the eye could see. He walked along the sandy shore, looking for others, but none were to be found. The air here was also rich with life and decay, only the salty sea air made the aroma more pungent and biting, filled with greater possibilities and more ferocious consequences.

He walked onto an outcropping of rocks and looked for life in the sheltered tide pools. A great wave careened against the rocks sending white spray and foam high into the air and soaking him from head to toe. The water was cold, but inside he was warm. He wiped his dripping face with his hands and stopped. Holding out his hands in front of his face he observed a single drop of water run down his finger and he wondered if it might not have been the same drop that had started him on this journey. Drip. So tiny, so inconsequential in its own right, but when joined with others… he gazed out across the ocean and another wave crashed violently into the rocks only this time the surge knocked Harry from his feet and he fell headlong into the water. Drip.

Harry woke with a start, his eyes opening upon the ceiling above him. The flicker of firelight danced across a thatched wood woven of stick and branches – native plants he now recognized as common to the Forbidden Forest. Outside the plant-covered walls, it was raining steadily and as the smell of the damp, loamy earth filled his nostrils, his dream haunted him. An instant later his memories rushed back and his hand shot toward his chest to feel for the hole left by the arrow that had run him through, but his fingers found only smooth, flat flesh. He sat up and recognized at once, though he’d never been to their encampment before, that this was a Centaur hut. A flash of anger flamed briefly through his body and then he looked for Gabriella. The hut was empty and, when Harry tried to stand from the low mat upon which he rested, he found his strength failing him. He sat back down and tried to gather himself.

“Ronan!” he yelled as loud as he could. “Ron—” Before he finished, a Centaur with a chestnut coat entered the hut. It was not Ronan, but rather Felspar’s mother, Macleta. Harry had seen her often, cantering next to Ronan during some of his training sessions with Shahan and Felspar. Her face was placid and her dark eyes deep. She bowed to Harry as she approached him.

“Ronan is in meditation,” she said softly. “He has seen many things under the passing stars, but today’s events have shaken him.” She bent low and placed her hand against Harry’s face; the touch was soft, warm, and the dizziness in Harry’s head began to fade at once. “And you, my child,” she began again, “I see your wound has mended, but how is your spirit?”

“Gabriella? Where’s Gabriella?” Harry struggled to get up, but Macleta placed her hand against Harry’s shoulder and the steady weight pushed him back onto the bed. Ordinarily, Harry would have resisted, but there was something calming, something reassuring in the pressure of her hand and, without saying a word, Harry knew Gabriella was well.

“I myself have made poultices from the Fungerum to heal the wounds of my brothers and sisters. It was fortunate that the soils upon which you fell were rich with their healing powers. Still, even I, who saw the passing of Ebyrth in the last age, have never seen them cure so severe a wound so quickly, as if they were driven to save your lives.”

“I… I asked them to help us,” said Harry quietly. Macleta laughed.

“I do not doubt it,” she said with a smile. “As for your mate, she too has been healed of her injuries. It is but—”

“Then let me see her!”

“Her spirit was not well when she arrived. When Ronan told me of the Dark Wizard…” Macleta let out a long, low sorrowful sigh. She could see the fear filling Harry’s eyes and again a warm smile graced her face offering reassurance. “She grows stronger by the minute, but it would be unwise if she saw your face right now. Your link to Voldemort was once strong and the reaction might not go well.”

“But I was Cleansed!” Harry protested. “Surely there’s—” Someone shouted outside the hut. There was a rumbling of hoofs and a sloshing of mud.

“You brought IT here?” a voice cried out in anger. Harry recognized at once it was the voice of Shahan, the black colt he had been training with these last many months. The tone was not surprising, since every time the young Centaur opened his mouth it was usually filled with vitriol. His words now, however, carried the slightest tone of fear. “It’s darkness; it’s hatred! Where is Ronan? Why did he not crush it when he had the chance? You must send it away and let it die!”

“She carries now no darkness.” The new voice was that of Felspar. “The darkness has fled her. It would have fled her in either case. How then could we leave her to die?”

“What is that to us?” snapped Shahan. “And this one!” he sneered. Harry could almost feel Shahan’s heavy breaths as the Centaur leaned close against his hut. “This one cost the lives of half the herd in the Carpathians. They died trying to serve his will. Is that what you want for your family? I will not wait for him to lead us like blind molamars to our deaths.”

During the argument, Macleta, her expression serene, bowed her head to Harry and excused herself without saying a word. A moment after her tail passed through the door to Harry’s hut, Shahan was about to say something else when his voice was cut short. Harry had trained and even battled with the Centaur and was unable to fathom what power would have the colt gurgling, gasping for breath.

“You will learn your place,” whispered Macleta calmly, “or you will leave the herd.” Suddenly, Shahan heaved in a gulp of air. There were no more words, only the sound of rain splattering into the puddles collecting outside. Naked, as he always was with the Centaurs, Harry stepped outside. It was night; a steady, cold rain continued to pelt down. Macleta and her daughter were standing next to each other as if they were speaking, but no words were passed. Shahan was nowhere to be found. Harry stepped over to them, the mud pushing up through the toes of his bare feet.

“Is everything okay?” he asked, drips of water streaking down his face. Felspar bowed her head.

“It is good to see you well,” she said. “I am glad that you have finally come to see our home.”

For the first time, Harry took in the encampment which was really more like a small village, just a little smaller than Hogsmeade. He’d never seen it before, but he did know its name – Terntalag. There wasn’t so much a main street as a main path. Huts and shops were an organic part of the environment around them; it was difficult to tell where Centaur construction ended and nature began. He looked back at his own hut which had a fire burning warmly inside, but outside there was no chimney and no smoke rose to the air. There were a few older colts, full grown Centaurs, and two aged Centaurs that made Macleta look young still walking about. All noticed Harry as they passed by and all nodded their heads, but none stared, they simply went about their business. Harry had a chance to take in many expressions and appearances, and his first impression was that Felspar was among the fairest of them all. He had never really noticed before, but there was something more energetic, more innocent, and yet wiser that graced her form – traits he now noticed in her mother as well.

With Macleta’s permission, Felspar walked Harry to Gabriella’s hut, but warned him not to go in. Instead, she offered to show him the rest of their encampment. As they walked, the rain began to stop and Harry saw a flash of white he thought might be another Centaur the colour of Felspar, but as quickly as it appeared it faded from view.

“What was that?” he asked.

“A spectre,” she replied calmly. “Since word reached us of the battle in the Carpathians, strange things have been happening in the forest.” Harry pondered how things could be stranger than they already were. “More giants have arrived, establishing a camp near the caverns of the falls. Ronan says they are here to help, but others aren’t so sure, least of all Shahan. Stranger still are the white spectres that pass in and out of existence. I have seen such creatures before, but never so many and their numbers continue to grow throughout the forest. Mother sees it as a sign, but of what she will not say.”

“And the Dementors?” Harry asked. Felspar hissed.

“Would that they try to slither onto our lands,” she said and then spat on the ground. “Nothing has passed our borders without our knowledge. That is why Shahan is so angered that Voldemort himself could make it on to our forest.”

“But she… er, he didn’t,” said Harry. “Ronan saw at once.”

“His hesitation for your sake, may have allowed Voldemort to escape. That he nearly killed the Chosen in his haste… it is a delicate balance, and he now questions his heart. To what cost may one destroy the darkness? That is why he meditates. May that you never need make the choice.”

They walked a bit further. Felspar showed Harry a great opening, beneath a canopy of trees, lined with tables but no chairs. It reminded him a bit of the Great Hall. Here, all the Centaurs ate together in a common meal. They continued to walk and talk. It was the first time they’d had a chance to do such a thing since they’d begun to train, and it was the first time Harry had had the opportunity to get to know the filly. She was sweat. Her smile glowed and her white hair matched the colour of her coat, but unlike most of the other Centaurs it was cut short, reminding Harry a bit of Tonks.

At one point the conversation lagged and Felspar’s eyes gazed upward to the heavens. It was a common look among Centaurs and even Harry found himself gazing at the stars unable to comprehend what exactly the Centaurs saw. He noticed that her expression saddened and her eyes squinted, although Harry knew by now that Centaurs weren’t using their eyes to gaze at the heavens. She was looking toward Ebyrth, now visible to all – even Muggles.

“What is it?” he asked. “You seem troubled.”

“The other day, Ronan told me, but I did not believe him.” She continued to gaze intently at the comet. “But today… I think I can see.”

“See what?” Felspar pointed toward Ebyrth… almost. Her finger aimed just to the east of the comet – toward Mars which flickered red in the night sky.

“It will be close,” she whispered. “But what it means, not even Ronan will say.”

“Close?”

“Ebyrth approaches Mars. They have never been so close. It is possible that they will collide.”

“Is that bad?” Harry asked. Felspar shrugged her shoulders. But in a flash her dower face brightened.

“Gabriella wishes to see you now; she is well.”

Harry ran, Felspar at his side, and before another word was spoken he was outside Gabriella’s hut. A Centaur stood guard outside, a large spear in his hand. As Harry moved to enter the Centaur barred his way.

“Only the gentler race,” he said. Harry’s eyes flashed red. He was about to take action that was anything but gentle when Felspar stepped between them.

“They are mates,” she said and the guardian nodded with comprehension. He pulled back his spear. Harry looked at Felspar and began to blush. “Well you are, aren’t you?” she asked. There was something coy and flirtatious with her tone. Harry smiled and stepped inside.

Covered in a red woollen blanket, Gabriella lay on a thick pad on the floor of the hut. An elderly female Centaur crouched low to her side. Both their eyes were closed as the Centaur held a hand across Gabriella’s forehead. Harry wanted to interrupt, but a voice inside told him to be silent. The moment soon passed and the Centaur removed her hand and both women opened their eyes. They smiled at each other – almost laughing.

“Thank you,” said Gabriella with a soft voice. Her eyes fell upon Harry and her smile widened.

“I never thought I’d see you smile at a Centaur,” he said, wearing a grin himself.

“I never thought I’d see you running around naked for the whole world to see,” Gabriella retorted. Harry blushed, realizing that he must look strange to someone who didn’t understand their ways.

“Erm… well, I guess you just get used to it after a while.”

“I think you enjoy it,” said Gabriella suggestively. The Centaur stood and bowed to Harry. She was quite large and looked down on Harry as she spoke.

“Your mate is well, though there are still scars upon her spirit that may never fade away. That which bites has been banished.” Harry bowed in return.

“We are forever in your debt.” The gesture surprised the elderly Centaur. Her eyes twinkled with satisfaction and she looked back at Gabriella with a smile.

“You have chosen well,” she said approvingly. “We all have.” Then she turned and exited the hut, leaving Harry and Gabriella alone. Harry fell to his knees at Gabriella’s side and took her by the hand.

“How do you feel?” he asked.

“At peace,” she said as she sat up. “I was so scared, Harry. I wanted to die. But now, I am, for the first time since my family left Lebanon, at peace.”

“I thought…” Harry wavered. “I thought your vision had come true.”

“Evidently, I am not my mother. I do make mistakes. Thank Asha for that!”

“Are you ready to travel?”

“I can travel, but I’m not walking through the forest naked.”

Harry smiled. “What about walking naked around your tent?” he asked, flashing his eyebrows up and down. “We are mates after all.” Gabriella took Harry’s left hand in both of hers and looked up into his eyes. Her expression deepened.

“Are we? Are we really, Harry?” The question was slow and deliberate. He knew what she was asking. He took her right hand and wrapped it in his. He fingered the golden ring that he had given her last year on Valentine’s. The ring was woven from spun gold and laced with scarlet rubies that glowed in the dim light as he touched them. She wore it on the middle finger of her right hand. He slipped it from her finger and held it in his own.

“If Voldemort only knew what he had in the palm of his hand,” Harry whispered. “Do you remember last year when I asked you to hold my heart and soul until the time was right?” Gabriella giggled a bit, remembering the banter of their letters to each other.

“Yes,” she said.

“Well… it’s not a Horcrux, but in here I’ve given a bit of myself that has always been yours to keep. I poured my love into the ring, Gabriella, and that energy is locked into the weaves of gold. If Voldemort had known, he could have controlled me utterly.” Her eyes widened in disbelief and Harry stroked the long strands of hair from her face.

“Funny thing is… I thought I’d given it all to you, all I had, but in here…,” Harry held his hand over his chest, “it’s as if my reservoir has been replenished. Nearly twelve months and the love I have in here surpasses the love held within this ring. It’s time you had it all.”

“What are you talking about?”

Harry placed the tip of his finger over the row of rubies, pressed down and slid them with a click to one side. An explosion of white light struck the top of the hut. Its intensity was blinding and Gabriella had to shield her eyes.

“It’s my love. And, at the time, it was all I had.” Harry placed his hand over the ring. “But now, I have more and I give it all to you.” He closed his eyes and uttered an incantation that ended with:

“Amoramendum!”

His arm and hand began to glow a vivid blue. Gabriella could feel the energy fill the air. The glow flowed down Harry’s arm and spit out the tip of his finger like a small lightning bolt into the ring. When it was over, the light radiating from the ring was so intense Gabriella had to look away. Harry pressed the jewels and slid them in place; there was a click and the light faded. When Gabriella looked back at the ring, the row of rubies had been replaced. In their stead was a row of sparkling fire stones – more rare than diamonds, more brilliant than sapphires, they glowed the colours of the rainbow and in their centre was mounted a dragon stone. Its glow was fiery red and not but a member of the Votary could tolerate the heat with which it burned.

Harry again turned the ring about in his fingers and then his green eyes met her black and a grin creased his face.

“I’ve fantasized about this moment for months, but I never dreamed we’d be doing this in our birthday suits. I was hoping for the beach and a golden sunset, not with mud up to my knees on the dirt in a Centaur hut.” He positioned himself on one knee and at once Gabriella began to tremble.

“Oh, Harry, I didn’t mean you had to—”

“Shhh,” he whispered, “you’ll make me forget my speech.” He cleared his throat and held the glowing ring out with his hand. “I wish that I had had the chance to ask your father for your hand. I can only hope that, before he died, he knew how much I loved you. It’s important that you—”

“How much we loved each other.”

“Would you let me finish?” He cleared his throat again. “Erm… That said, I have received your brother’s blessing to—”

“No!” Gabriella gasped in surprise. “You asked Antreas? What did he say?” Harry sighed.

“Well, if you must know, he said that if one day the stars so choose, he could think of no other that he would rather call brother.” Harry shifted position; his leg was beginning to fall asleep. “Now… as I was saying—”

“That was sweet. Don’t you think?”

“Yes… I do, but—”

“And if you think about it, a part of Papa is within Antreas and always will be. So… in a way—”

“Damn it, Gabriella!” Harry yelled. “WILL YOU MARRY ME OR NOT?”

At last, Gabriella was silenced and slowly she held out her trembling left hand. Harry let go of the ring in mid-air and it hung there suspended as Gabriella extended the fingers on her hand. Without touching the ring, Harry held up his hand and flames sprang forth from his palm.

“Is that a yes?” he asked smartly. Gabriella’s hand steadied.

“Yes,” she breathed.

“Iunctura!” Harry breathed and the fire pushed the ring forward, glowing white, onto the ring finger of her left hand. “By Asha’s breath we are bound forever.”

For a moment they sat and watched the ring on Gabriella’s outstretched hand as the glowing gold dimmed, but the stones never lost their fire. Finally, Harry took her hand into his and kissed it. He could feel the heat burning his lips, penetrating his tongue. He looked up into her eyes.

“I love you,” he said gently. “Did you know that?”

“You talk too much,” she replied and her eyes began to twinkle. With a move worthy of a matador, she spun the red blanket from off her bare breast wrapped it about Harry’s bare back and pulled him close. “Time to ride, stallion.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 26 – I do
________________________________________

Night gave way to morning and the sounds of hooves stomping past the hut woke Harry, but Gabriella still slept. The long strands of her hair wrapped Harry’s bare chest like a warm blanket and he began to stroke the side of her face, slipping his fingers gently about her ear and down the back of her neck. He pulled the wool coverlet up over her shoulder and kissed the top of her head. Still, she did not stir.

Was it possible? Were they really—

A familiar cough came from outside the hut’s door, deliberate and loud.

“Enter,” Harry whispered softly, knowing that the Centaur could hear half as soft a voice. Macleta entered, wearing a warm smile. She bowed her head and then stepped forward.

“I trust all is well?” she asked.

Harry nodded silently in reply.

“The morning meal will soon be served. It would do you both well to eat.”

“She’s tired,” Harry said softly.

“Yes,” replied Macleta, “it was a long night, I’m sure.” Her eyes twinkled, but her face was serene.

Harry could tell she was being feisty, but her expression was unchanging, very much in the manner of a Centaur. He smiled and raised his free hand to shake a finger at her, and it was then that he noticed the mark on his left ring finger. It looked as if someone had tattooed a band upon his skin. It matched the weaving of the gold ring he had given to Gabriella, only the colours woven were red, blue and green. They flowed in and out of each other like a braid that wrapped about his finger. Macleta noticed the confusion on Harry’s face. She stepped closer and admired the symbol’s clarity and coloration. It was no mere marking, for when it caught the morning light slipping in through the hut’s door it shimmered, making Harry believe that he could grasp it and slip it off. Harry was surprised when he saw the faintest hint of a smile appear upon Macleta’s face.

“Hmmm. Dragon fire. It is… what you have done… a tremendous act of devotion.”

“Devotion?” Harry asked.

“A connubial ring,” Macleta answered quietly. “There are few Centaurs capable of—”

“But I never even tried to—”

“One does not wear a connubial ring because they think they should. They cannot wave a wand and make it so. Such a symbol can only come from the heart. It is a deep magic, rarely seen, but, for the faithful, the forest provides such. Your connection with the great beasts and with the small is strong. Since first you arrived to our lands, these trees have known your name, even the earth, as it did yesterday, springs forth to help save your life. The forest has been one with you, nature your ally. Firenze saw it first; soon after you met, he discerned your path. It was he who convinced Ronan to consider the possibility that you might be the Chosen. That was four years ago, before any knew that Ebyrth would return.”

“Firenze?” Harry asked, not really expecting an answer. He leaned back and again began to stroke Gabriella’s hair with one hand, holding the other up near his face to examine his finger. He was not disquieted by it appearance. To the contrary, he found the unique banding a comfort and smiled to himself, releasing a soft, contented sigh. “I have not seen Firenze for quite some time. Is he well?”

“Yes,” answered Macleta, “but quite busy. He was here earlier, but had to return to his duties. He was asked to leave word with your Dumbledore that you are both healthy and that you shall return today.” A brief expression of sadness crossed her face. “Firenze did bring news that may trouble you. Though none of us can cheat the cycles of the sun, he asked that you be told. Your Master’s star wanes.”

“What do you mean?” asked Harry. “Dumbledore?”

“I saw the day when his star was first born.”

“When Dumbledore was born?” The beat of Harry’s heart began to accelerate. He was about to sit up, but forced himself to relax, to control his emotions, and let Gabriella sleep. Macleta’s expression grew distant, whimsical as she remembered another time, not better, but perhaps more dear as memories often are.

“Not when he was born,” she corrected. “When his star was born. Long ago, my mother foretold the coming of a new age for the magical beings of the earth – a small seed that would change the enmity that had so long grown between our races. Dumbledore’s star was born when he defeated Grindelwald, and the darkness of hatred was diminished. For years, his star waxed bright in the morning sky. It was this brightness that convinced Firenze that it was time for Centaur and wizard to work together against the darkness, to protect you against Voldemort when you were less than a colt. Others were not convinced that the time for such an alliance was at hand.”

“Yeah, and some still aren’t,” said Harry. “Shahan for example.”

“Centuries of mistrust and disparity are not easily washed away, Harry Potter. It was but two years ago that a mad witch began wildly firing at the herd – at the time, she was the very leader of the school you are so quick to support.”

“Umbridge,” Harry hissed. “She wasn’t my leader!” The loudness aroused Gabriella if only for a moment. Her arm stretched and her hand came to rest upon Harry’s belly.

“There is much work to be had by both sides.” Macleta bowed her head once more. “Please, you must come… eat and prepare for the new day.” Without another word she slipped out of the hut, before Harry realized he’d forgotten to ask her what exactly she meant by Dumbledore’s star waning. He was about to call for her, when the hand on his belly began to slide up his chest and back down. Gabriella began to finger the trailing of hair beneath Harry’s bellybutton.

“I thought she’d never leave,” she whispered. “Are you ready to get up?” she asked, her hand slipping lower. She lifted her head to look into his eyes. He wondered if ever he would be able to say no to her and quickly realized that his fate was sealed. He kissed her on the lips.

“Yes,” he replied, rising.

Some time later, Harry, with Gabriella at his side, emerged from the Centaur hut. He held her arm in his and even she marvelled at the new scintillating symbol emblazoned upon Harry’s ring finger. Soseh had told her of such things in stories when she was quite young. It was the stuff of fairytales and magic. She pulled Harry close, imagining, if only for a moment, that he was her prince and she his princess.

Together with Felspar, they moved toward the great opening where the herd was assembling for breakfast. Neither wore clothes, nor did they bear weapons, for it was forbidden within the confines of the Centaur village. Harry told her she’d get used to the feeling, but she was unconvinced. In fact, she was more nervous about being naked than fearful from the Centaurs that passed by – a tremendous improvement, Harry figured, in Centaur-Wizard relations. Not once did she refer to them as ‘beasts’.

Harry noticed that as the Centaurs approached them they would first bow their heads to Gabriella and then to Harry. After this had happened a few times, Gabriella looked up at Harry and said, “They don’t bow to each other like that. What’s it all about? And why me first? I feel a bit like royalty.” The morning sun caught the band on Harry’s finger and dazzled his eye.

“I think, in a way, you are,” said Harry, bowing his own head, returning that of the last passing Centaur. They had spent nearly the entire year together since Harry first encountered the Centaurs and was thrown into the Falls of the Forbidden Forest. Yet in all that time, Gabriella refused to speak with him about his experience. “Gabriella,” he continued, “where the Centaurs are concerned, we have some catching up to do.”

When they came to the large gathering for their meal, they found the tables filled with food and nearly a hundred Centaurs waiting to eat. Harry was shocked to discover they were all delaying their meal for the arrival of the Chosen one and his mate. Ronan met the two as they approached and took Gabriella by the hand, escorting them to a table that very much resembled the head table at Hogwarts.

“I must offer you my apologies,” he said to Gabriella, “for it was I that struck you near your heart.” Without thinking, Gabriella’s hand moved up to the spot on her breast where the arrow had pierced. No mark now remained. Her mind fell back to that moment when the arrow struck and Voldemort still had control of her consciousness. Her body shuddered – not for the arrow, but for the darkness that had so utterly controlled her.

“Are you okay?” asked Harry. All Centaur eyes were upon them, but he turned to face Gabriella. “We don’t need to do this.” She looked past him at those assembled. At the centre of the head table, Magorian, their leader, stood with two open spaces at his right.

“Yes we do,” she said quietly. She took in a large breath, as if preparing for a dive in the lake and then let it out slowly. She smiled, kissed Harry on the cheek, and then stepped up onto the rise where the great stone table before Magorian sat. Gabriella bowed as she approached, placing a fist to her heart as the Centaurs had earlier done to her; she did resemble royalty.

“Sir,” she said deferentially. Harry followed in kind. Magorian appreciated the gestures and bowed his head. He raised his hands and demanded the attention of all those gathered. It was hard for Harry to fathom why they would all wait to eat until the two of them had arrived.

“Not since the days of old, when Gryffindor ate at this very stone, a stone he helped my great-grandsire hew, has a wizard supped at our table. We welcome, this morning, our Chosen and his mate, that they might stand as an eternal flame against the pressing cold that would consume us.”

No one said a word, but there was a near deafening pounding of hooves, although, against a thatch covered wall to his left, Harry noticed a few fuming faces. Among them were both Bane and Shahan; the latter’s eyes were filled with a greater expression of rage, well out of place among the mostly dispassionate Centaurs. Then Magorian looked at Harry, who took a moment before he realized he was supposed to say something. Stepping forward, he cleared his throat, searching for words.

“Ebyrth… Ebyrth has returned, marking the coming of yet another battle against the darkness. It is a battle I fought just last year, a battle I thought I had won.” He glanced at Gabriella. She stood proud and impassive, her eyes fierce, but unyielding of emotion. Harry could not help but smile, knowing that she was sensing the emotions around her and reflecting them back in her facial expression to the crowd. A perfect Centaur, he thought.

“You well know that we fought hard in the Carpathians. A great many brave Centaurs lost their lives that night, but many more of our foes fell and the darkness was repelled. But that did not, that will not end the onslaught of darkness. The Dementors—” There was a low hiss. “The Dementors have joined with the wizard, Voldemort, who darkened your doorstep just yesterday – the foe I failed to vanquish last year and who has dogged me and mine these last many months. It will not be long before he gathers the Dementor darkness and others who would serve his will. Soon they will arrive here as one. On that day we too must stand together, wizard and Centaur, elf and goblin, even the merpeople of the lake – all must stand united against this darkness… this evil.

“My… mate and I owe you are lives.” Harry turned to Ronan and nodded toward him, but the Centaur looked away, almost embarrassed. “I have trained hard to learn your ways, to fight as one with the Centaur herd. My knowledge is less than that of a colt, but I will do all that is within my power to defeat that which threatens both our peoples. Together, we can—”

There was a crash. Shahan slapped a clay pitcher of mead with the back of his hand and it smashed against the trunk of a tree, shattering to pieces and spraying liquid high into the air. He turned to leave.

“Shahan!” called Magorian. The young Centaur stopped and turned to face his leader. His eyes smouldered as he crossed his arms, but he spoke not. Magorian continued in a firm, but fatherly voice. “There is a darkness on your soul that stains your mind and weakens your heart. You would do well to step back from the brink and meditate on its source. Stay alert this night under the stars and divine its meaning.” Shahan huffed, but said nothing. Again, he turned to leave.

“And Shahan,” said Magorian with a voice of steel, “if ever you embarrass our herd again, you will be banished. Is that understood?” Shahan nodded, but the gesture was insufficient. “IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?”

“Yes, Magorian,” muttered Shahan, placing a fist over his heart and offering a bow. For a moment his eyes drifted over to Harry; there was hatred. “It is understood.” He turned and left in silence, his hands clenched so tight his knuckles were white.

“Let us eat!” called Magorian. Harry was about to dig in when every Centaur placed arm to chest, and raised their faces toward the heavens. There were no words spoken and the silence lasted but a few seconds. Then, Magorian and the others lifted their heads and all began to eat.

The meal was simple, but satisfying and both Harry and Gabriella ate their fill. There were no chairs and they stood throughout, sharing simple pleasantries with Magorian. At the meals end, there were no house elves to usher plates away. Instead, a good portion of the herd remained behind and assisted cleaning the dishes using dry sand and water. By the time they left the tent, the sun was high above the forest canopy and Harry and Gabriella said their good-byes.

Firenze had left fresh clothes for the two of them and they dressed before leaving Terntalag. Quietly, Ronan escorted them back to the edge of the forest without incident. Occasionally, Harry noticed a fleck of white appear behind the trees. He knew that it was Felspar, following them. With few words, they came to a charred depression that spanned the ground a good twenty to thirty feet across. In the centre of the ashes was a small sapling, some two feet high.

“The same tree?” Harry asked. “It survived?”

“No,” replied Ronan. “But the cycle of life can still continue. Felspar planted this tree last night in the rain. She has named it Cariad.”

“Love,” whispered Harry. Gabriella looked into his eyes and took him in her arms.

“Very good, Harry Potter,” said Ronan with a nod of his head. “You show much promise. I only wish we had some years to prepare.”

“Please, give our thanks to Felspar, Ronan,” said Gabriella with heartfelt sincerity.

“None are required. It is our charge in these magical lands. Now, be on your way.”

Arm in arm, they walked out of the forest and onto the castle grounds. The air was cool, but the sun’s bright rays were warming, and quite a few students were out on the grounds. Nobody seemed to notice that Harry and Gabriella had been gone for the day and night, or if they did, they didn’t care. As they stepped toward the castle, Harry’s pace slowed.

“We cant’ tell them you were possessed,” he said. “Nobody has to know.”

“We have to tell—”

“You don’t understand,” he interrupted. “Just like Ginny, they’ll never look at you the same. Ever since the Chamber of Secrets was opened, they still fear her. Oh, they’ll smile to her face, they’ll act friendly, but they won’t get close, not alone close – none, but Dean.”

“Even still, we have to tell Dumbledore,” Gabriella argued. “He has to know.” Harry nodded silently. They walked a little further and he slowed again.

“And the ring?” he asked.

“Rings,” she corrected, holding his left hand up so that the band upon his finger caught the afternoon sun, its iridescent glow forced him to squint his eyes.

“You know what Ron and Hermione will do if they find out that we—”

“I won’t take it off.”

“No. But… let’s just say that… that we’re engaged. That… that this…” he touched his left hand with his right, “…this is just a tradition of the Votary.” Her face scowled, none too pleased with the idea. “They’re my friends,” he added. “I’ve upstaged Ron every day since we’ve been at Hogwarts. I want him to have his moment, without thinking that I beat him to it.”

“Okay.” Gabriella nodded. “For now, but don’t be surprised if Hermione recognizes a connubial ring when she sees it. They’re in all the great romance novels.” She smiled, her eyes twinkling. They stopped halfway to the castle and kissed each other. The embrace was interrupted be an acerbic drawl.

“Well, if it isn’t the king and queen of the ball!”

Harry spun to see Nott, flanked by Crabbe, Millicent and a few other younger Slytherins. What surprised Harry the most was the presence of Blaise Zabini a few steps behind the cluster of green, but clearly a member of the pack. Nott stepped toward Harry, glancing from left to right, and his followers fanned about, shielding the scene from any prying eyes. Blaise was still a few paces back, but pulled his wand with all the others. Harry had not carried his wand to training, but Gabriella slipped her hand around hers without pulling it forth. Nott, certain that he finally had the advantage, was emboldened and slipped his own wand away, stepping closer until he was toe-to-toe with Harry.

“What? No wand, Potter?” asked the Slytherin. “That’s a bit daft, don’t you think? Everyone knows…” he dropped his voice down low, “the Death Eaters are out to kill you.”

Without reaction, Harry closed his eyes, reaching out his mind to see if any of those facing him might have been taken by Voldemort. Each individual aura, however, bore a single colour. Some were scared, others filled with hate. Blaise, however, was the calmest of them all, which was also the most disquieting to Harry. Still, relieved that he was simply facing his fellow students, Harry opened his eyes and smiled.

“Teddy, you’re looking well,” he said calmly. “I see that your, erm… fits have subsided long enough to convince the crew that you can be their leader again!” Harry referred to the sloshes in Nott’s memory that had left him speechless, or speaking gibberish for no reason at all. The leftover effects of James’, or rather Voldemort’s mental attack on him. “If only you recognized the master you truly serve… you might be more prudent in your actions.”

“You’re in no position to prattle, Potter.” Nott pointed his finger in Harry’s face, but in a whirl Harry grabbed him by the wrist. “What? You think I’m frightened of you, Potter? You’ll do what I say, or…” There was a burning smell in the air. “…be a good boy and… Hey!” Nott noticed the small plume of smoke rising from his right arm. The black band of ebony upon Harry’s finger, the ring of Pravus, had burned through the outer sleeve of Nott’s robes and now he was beginning to sense the heat. He tried to pull away, but Harry held him fast. “Let me go!” he yelled.

The smell of burning cloth gave way to burning flesh, and Nott began to cry out, now in pain. Millicent cast a spell at Harry, but Gabriella shielded it. Then Crabbe and another Slytherin raised their wands, but they were stopped short by a flash of purple light.

“Bohaira!”

The ground erupted before them and dust filled the air, blotting out all vision. Harry felt Nott being yanked away. Unable to see, he reached out with his mind. Blaise still stood off and to the side, but the others, including Nott, had plummeted down. Gabriella reached for Harry’s arm, supporting herself in the whirlwind. At first, Harry thought that the group had been blown to the ground, but their bodies were not prone, but erect. They were standing, but beneath the surface of the earth. When the dust finally settled, he looked down to discover all of them buried up to their necks in the soil. Barely able to move her head, Millicent began to scream in panic, suddenly drawing attention to the gathering. Harry watched as Blaise slipped his wand away.

“You?” Harry mouthed. Blaise just smiled and retreated toward the castle, his fellow Slytherins unable to turn their heads to see him. Students began to rush over, as Nott spat dirt from his mouth, cursing Harry for what he’d done.

“You’ll pay for this, Potter!” he yelled. He tried to twist his neck, but was unable to watch as Harry and Gabriella followed Blaise up toward the castle’s front steps.

While they walked, Harry looked down at the black band about his finger and, wondering, touched his tongue to its glossy surface. It was hot, but it didn’t burn, at least not Harry.

Gabriella stopped Blaise just before he reached the castle steps. “A bit risky, don’t you think?” she asked. “Going against your Slytherin mates and all.”

“You’re a Slytherin,” he said with a sly smile. “Besides, they think Potter did it, not me. I’ll just say I ran.” He chuckled to himself. “They’ll believe that.”

“But why?” asked Harry. “It’s not going to do much for House unity.”

“Isn’t it?” queried Blaise. “A friend asked that I watch your back.”

“A friend? Draco?”

“Patrick.” Blaise drew in a breath of air. “He and I share a common bond. We’ll both see Voldemort pay for what he’s done to us and that includes any bastards that support him. I don’t care what house they’re from.”

He turned and started up the steps, Gabriella and Harry continued to follow as students tried to extract Nott and his pals from the soil without much success. Someone had tried to explode them out and Nott was yelling that they nearly tore off his head. Just after the three passed in through the castle doors, Blaise looked around to ensure that they were alone and stepped close to Harry – so close he could feel his breath.

“As for Draco…” said Blaise in a hushed voice, “…you’ve sent him to die. You know that don’t you? If Voldemort has taken Lucius again… if Draco’s with him now… he knows, Harry… he knows. I… I told him when he was here, when he was James. He knows about you two being… friends.”

“But Blaise, I… we—”

“It’s worse,” Blaise interrupted Harry. “He knows… Draco and I… he… he and I… Damn it, Potter! I told him not to go near you! You had a fanatical enchantment over him and it’s spelled his ruin.” Without reason, Blaise grabbed Harry by the front of his shirt. “You… you don’t even care, do you? He never… he never had a chance and now he never will.” Blaise’s eyes turned to fire, suddenly hating Harry, but they also bore in their depths a deep sadness. He shoved Harry against the door and left.

“A chance for what, Blaise?” yelled Gabriella. Just before disappearing down toward the dungeons, Blaise paused and looked back at his fellow Slytherin.

“He never had the chance, Gabriella,” he called back, a tear slipping down the side of his face. “Not even with his own parents.” Blaise shook his head, wiped his face roughly with his palm and disappeared.

Harry took Gabriella’s hand with one of his own, rubbing his freshly bruised shoulder with the other.

“What’s he babbling on about?” Harry asked. Gabriella squeezed his hand and looked at Harry. Her own face was melancholy. There was a burst of laughter as the castle doors opened and a group of Ravenclaws made their way in, reciting the scene playing outside on the castle grounds. Gabriella’s face remained stoic, a mirroring of the queenly image he had seen in Terntalag.

“Love, Harry. He’s talking about love.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 27 – Choices
~~~***~~~
________________________________________


Harry looked down into Gabriella’s eyes and then glanced back toward the steps that led to the dungeons of Slytherin. Blaise had long since disappeared, but Harry’s glance still lingered for a moment. Then, his hand took hers and his fingers turned the ring that had bound them forever. How could he be so blind? He knew and yet, until now, he didn’t truly understand. When Harry’s eyes returned to Gabriella’s, they were pained.

“Draco…,” whispered Harry, “…no wonder he’s so… so…”

“Viciously evil?”

Harry’s eyebrows furled. “No! Well… maybe. He’s tried so hard to love, but no one’s ever loved him back. Not really.” Harry’s hand caressed the side of Gabriella’s face. “Not like this. Not here… in the open.” Her eyes slid back toward the dungeon steps, at the nothingness left in Blaise’s absence.

“I do not know, Harry. I think there may be some things about Draco Malfoy we will never learn. As for his love life…” Gabriella clenched the front of Harry’s shirt and pulled him close, smiling. “You, my dear, are mine.”

Harry was about to say something when the front doors burst open again, flooding the front corridor with light. A group of second years was carrying a student in their arms. His face was somewhat charred, the front of his robes were scorched, and the smell of burning hair filled the room.

“Out of the way!” one yelled.

“We’ve got to get him to the hospital wing,” yelled another.

“He tried to turn his toad red and his wand backfired!”

The smouldering student groaned as Harry stepped in front of the group.

“Let me see,” he said dismissively, rolling his eyes.

“We need Madame—” The student stopped, realizing who he was speaking with. He pushed back one of his chums, yelling, “Let him see! Let him see!”

They set the student down onto the stone floor, his head making a hollow thump as it hit, and Harry placed his hand just above the boy’s chest, closing his eyes and reaching forward to find the injuries.

“My name’s Harry,” he said to the injured boy. “What’s yours?”

“R-Ralph,” muttered the student. The left side if his face was pretty badly blistered, as was his wand hand, but overall the injuries were minor.

“Hufflepuff, right?” Harry reached out and began to heal the wounds without using his wand. “I think your mates, here, would have fought Voldemort himself to see you to safety.”

“Y-Yeah, I… what the… hey!” The wounds were healed, though his face and arm were still covered in a blackened mess. He shifted up onto one elbow, staring at his hand. “The pain… it… it’s gone.” Harry reached for Ralph’s hand and pulled him to his feet – the small group gathered all clapped.

“Fine house, Hufflepuff,” he said. “Where’s your wand?”

“What?”

“Your wand… where is it?”

“Here,” said one of Ralph’s friends. “I picked it up for him.”

“Good,” said Harry, taking the wand from the student, examining it for a moment, and then handing it back to Ralph. “Never let it out of your sight, Ralph. In the wrong hands a cursed wand can kill.” Ralph’s eyes grew large and his rather large head nodded vigorously. “What was the spell?”

“The spell?” asked Ralph.

“Yeah… the spell to turn the toad red.”

“Oh… that.” Ralph pointed at one of his classmates. “Spaldy taught it to me. Erm… Sunshine, Daisies, Buttered Bread; Turn this stupid fat toad red.” Harry glared at Spaldy, who began to slowly slink away.

“Elfsmora!” cried Harry, sending a greenish light from his wand and striking Spaldy on the head. The young man’s hair disappeared and his ears curled up to tiny points. The group gasped. Harry turned to Ralph. “Hufflepuff’s a great house, but you never can be too careful. I’d talk to Baldy a little more about that spell of yours.” Spaldy started to move more swiftly down the corridor; the others giving chase.

“Wait a minute, Spal!” one yelled.

“And ask him what he did when he borrowed your wand!” Harry called after him.

“I thought I sensed deceit,” said Gabriella. “I just wasn’t sure who.”

“Good,” said Harry. “I was just guessing.”

“Harry!” chided Gabriella. “You should never—” Again the doors opened.

“Who in blazes name is it this—” Harry looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun, to find Dumbledore framed by the castle doors. He was wearing long blue robes and, backlit by the sun’s streaming rays, he appeared almost godlike in stature. His attention was focused, however, out on the castle grounds.

“VERY NICE!” Dumbledore cried out to someone well out of sight. His voice was so loud it shook the floor itself, but Harry noticed a thinness that wasn’t there before. “Quite an excellent idea, Mr. Nott! It is always good to see the youth of today trying to learn more about their roots.” Almost absentmindedly, Dumbledore turned into the castle, stopped himself, and spun back outside.

“Mr. Creevey!” There was a slight pause. “No. Yes, you Colin. Please add a little water to our troupe of truth finders. Buried as they are, I’m sure it will help to sprout some new ideas!” Harry heard Dennis, Colin’s brother, yell something back in agreement, there was a pop, and then a screaming sound, and then Dumbledore turned inside, this time to find Gabriella and Harry, smiling at him.

“Ah! Mr. Potter and Ms. Dar…” His eyes caught the flash of gold on Gabriella’s finger. Dumbledore’s eyes darted to Harry. The change of his finger did not go unnoticed. Still, Harry slipped his left hand into his pocket. “A pleasure to see you both well.”

“Sir,” said Harry, “we need to speak with you about—”

“I was hoping I might find you, Harry,” Dumbledore interjected. “Firenze provided me with a quite extraordinary tail. Even he was excited in its telling and for Firenze that’s saying something.”

“Sir, about that. You should really know—”

“Would you like to join me for some tea?” Dumbledore interrupted again.

They followed the Headmaster down a long corridor and Harry presumed they were heading toward Dumbledore’s office, but they past the extremely ugly stone gargoyle and continued down the corridor toward the staircase leading to the astronomy tower. On a few occasions, Harry tried to tell his story, but each time Dumbledore would interrupt him by whistling, or describing some cryptic historic fact about a wall, or stone, or suit of armour. When they past the staircases to the astronomy tower, Harry began to wonder what exactly Dumbledore was up to. Harry had been down this way, and he knew it was nothing more than a dead end – Amortentia Alley. Sometimes students would use the benches to snog late at night, using the excuse, if they were caught, that they were just coming down from stargazing and had turned the wrong way. Walking down here with the Headmaster made Harry’s palms sweat; it just wasn’t right.

At mid-afternoon on a Sunday, the corridor was deserted. A dim light made its way in from the windows high above that lined the walls. They walked until they could walk no more. All that was in front of them were a half dozen wooden benches with various inscriptions and hearts wanded into them and the stone wall some fifty feet high and twenty feet across that was covered by an old tapestry that had hidden the bare stones since Harry was a first year. He looked up at the windows, wondering if they would now try to somehow levitate up there; it seemed, to him, the only way left to go. He could make out the blue sky, but nothing else. A bird flittered by just as he heard Gabriella gasp.

Harry diverted his attention back to Gabriella. Her hand was over her mouth and her eyes were fixed on the tapestry. She was backing away from the wall. Harry glanced at the tapestry, noticing some bird holding what looked like arrows – some American thing. Gabriella continued to back away.

“What’s wrong?” he asked her, but she said nothing. He looked at Dumbledore. “Sir?”

“Nothing is wrong, Harry,” Dumbledore answered quietly. He sat down on one of the benches, took out a small gumdrop from his pocket, unwrapped it, and popped it into his mouth. “Perhaps you too should step back and admire the weaving. It has draped this wall since I was a student here.” Dumbledore smiled and his blue eyes twinkled. “In my fourth year, little Terry Pensington and I would…” He shook his head, smiled and began to chew a bit more vigorously, scanning one end of the bench he was sitting on for something.

Harry walked over to Gabriella and put his arm around her, and then he turned to face the tapestry. He’d never before given it a moment’s thought, but it was actually quite amazing really – some sort of medieval battle scene set in perhaps the ninth century. Visible through a dark moving mist, there were all sorts of creatures that came into and out of view as the scene on the tapestry changed, much like the movement of people in the portraits that lined the walls. Arrows shot through the black clouds; soldiers, wearing armour, slashed with their swords and occasionally a flash of flame or bolt of lighting would cross a portion of the landscape.

A rather large Centaur caught Harry’s eyes. He’d never noticed Centaurs in the scene before, but he’d never really paid that much attention. Looking more closely, he noticed that it wasn’t just one Centaur, it was an entire herd. The dark clouds weren’t clouds at all, but swarms of Dementors blocking out whole portions of the countryside just as they had in the Carpathians. The clash forced Harry’s eyes upward and there he saw, high above the scene, the comet Ebyrth floating in the sky – a shining omen of war and despair. Harry’s heart began to race as he felt himself being drawn into the tapestry; it was as if he was on the battlefield again. His arm began to ache and he looked down to see the familiar mark, raised and red.

On the tapestry, there were giants and vampires, werewolves and wizards, all battling because the Centaurs and Dementors had been compelled to do so. Only, in this scene, the selected allies were different; friends of today were foes of old. The comet flying through the heavens above had ordained war and the sides were drawn to fit the age. The battle raged with no victory in sight for either side. It was a battle scene not unlike many in the castle. All such battles told the same story and Harry wondered why this one, more than any of the others, besides its more present implications, would cause Gabriella to look so stunned and his arm to ache.

He didn’t need to wait long for the answer. Her hand tightened about his as the large bird Harry had seen earlier broke through the clouds of darkness. That’s when Harry noticed it wasn’t a bird at all, it was a dragon. A female Hungarian Horntail as ebon as the dark of night, her scales shimmering like a million tiny stars, opened her great mouth and flame roiled out enveloping the entire scene. In her claws she held not arrows, but a lightning bolt, no, two lightning bolts. They crossed each other as she flew high toward the comet – the Viswa Vajra. Harry felt his hand stroke the scar upon his forearm, his thumb sliding against the similar symbol at his own wrist, a rune uniquely his in all the Votary.

From below, a Centaur appeared, took aim and shot at the dragon, but before the arrow left the bow a woman, one of the commoners by the looks of her tattered garb trapped within a vice of war, threw herself in front of the bowman. The arrow pierced her breast and she fell dead. The dragon turned and attacked the Centaur and all below. The scene filled with fire, was blank as if someone had cleared a chalkboard with the wave of a wand, and then the action began anew, like a movie replaying itself over and over again.

“Asha!” Gabriella whispered.

“Yes, it’s amazing,” answered Harry.

“No,” Gabriella corrected. “Asha… Asha and Aniente.”

“Aniente? Your great, great—”

“She laid down her life that the dragon might live.”

“And ever since,” said Dumbledore, taking to his feet, “the Votary has been bound with the dragon.” He too faced the tapestry. “It was the second coming of Ebyrth. Your great ancestor, Aniente Hayk, died protecting Asha. In this war, Dakhil was a young wizard of seventeen. He was one of the first members of the Votary. When Asha died, the evil of that age attacked him, thinking that he might have held the dragon’s heart. Fortunately, it was hidden elsewhere and his refusal to speak kept it safe, but he paid a terrible price.”

“Vampires,” Harry hissed just under his breath.

“Yes, Harry,” Dumbledore said with a slight nod of his head. “Vampires.” He reached back into his pocket. “Taffy?” he offered. The two shook their heads. Dumbledore shrugged and began to chew.

“I don’t know why I never noticed,” said Harry as the Centaur reappeared in the scene.

“Few students who wander back here ever do. I suspect your mind was on… other things. Come, I promised you tea.” He started back toward his office.

As they walked, Harry looked over his shoulder. The scene on the tapestry once again filled with flame and reset itself. His forearm continued to tingle.

“Sir,” he asked, “how did the war end? What made them stop fighting?”

Dumbledore let out a long, slow sigh as they came to the gargoyle. “Death,” he said softly. “They all died. Teatime Taffy.” The staircase emerged and they hopped on as it spiralled upwards. Gabriella’s eyes met Dumbledore’s as the staircase rose. For a moment they locked, but then her eyes fell and her head and shoulder slumped.

“But how?” Harry asked, pressing the question. “If I knew how the evil was destroyed, perhaps I could—”

“NO!” Gabriella snapped. “Never think it!” The doors to Dumbledore’s office opened and the three entered. Fawkes squawked and Harry would normally greet the bird, but Gabriella’s reactions surprised him. She was clearly agitated, but didn’t want to say more. Dumbledore decided to explain.

“It was the dragons, Harry. They tried to remain neutral, but their lands were being threatened, much as they were in the Carpathians. They decided to stop it.” The expression on Gabriella’s face was pained.

“Please, Professor,” she pleaded.

“The truth is simply that… Ms. Potter,” Dumbledore said, slipping into his chair. Both Harry and Gabriella looked at each other and then to their rings. Harry took her hand. Their bond, right now, was a second concern. Harry needed to know how to defeat the Dementors.

“But sir, if I could only—”

“They incinerated everything!” Gabriella snapped. “They purged the battlefields.”

“They killed the Dementors? Their allies? Isn’t that a good thing?” Harry asked.

“Not just the Dementors, Harry. Everything and everyone. Centaurs and Dementors, werewolves and wizards, it didn’t matter what side they were on, they were all destroyed.”

“The dragons called it a purge,” added Dumbldore. “Truly a scorched earth policy. The destruction led to famine and plague. Its repercussions were felt for nearly a century. It was guilt over the devastation that turned Asha’s heart to Gabriella’s kin, the only humans that had ever shown them kindness. Although, some say it still bears the anger of the age, tempting those wizards who would try to control it.”

“But couldn’t the wizards just—”

“Not in those days,” said Dumbledore. “In the earliest of times, dragons held the strongest of magic.”

“They still do,” said Gabriella shortly. Dumbledore nodded kindly in agreement, not willing to argue the point.

“But in the tapestry… the symbology… the dragon held the Viswa Vajra… to destroy ignorance and evil.” Harry didn’t notice how he clutched his own arm, nor did he hear how his voice was almost pleading for support.

“Can you think of a better definition for war, Harry?” Dumbledore asked simply. “During the second coming of Ebyrth, the dragons didn’t care whose side was right. They only wanted the battle to stop. They chose the only logical path available – complete, combined annihilation of both sides. Since then, at the first sighting of Ebyrth, they have been courted by both sides to join their cause.”

“And refused,” Gabriella added.

“Until now,” Dumbledore said. “And the champion of that cause bears not only the likeness of the dragon on his arm, but the symbol that represented Asha’s very spirit, a spirit that killed everything to balance the scales of justice. And though you have been chosen by the Centaurs, dragons have never held any affection toward our forest friends. Knowing your connections, Lucius Malfoy chose to attack, hoping to rekindle the rift, hoping they would fight against each other once again so that he could get to you. He failed.

“Voldemort found himself in the middle of a battle that was already underway. He will not make the same mistake again. Through you, Harry, the power of the dragon remains undiminished. When the choice comes near and the darkness closes in from all sides, the choice of annihilation will be within your power. What then will you choose to stop the madness, Harry? It will not be Singehorn’s breath of dragon fire that destroys; it will be your power, a power you have only just begun to understand.”

“I won’t destroy the whole fucking world to wipe away the darkness!” Harry asserted. “That’s insane! I mean… erm… Sorry, sir.”

“In the beginning, Harry, when first we begin our righteous journey, the precipice is never so clear. The crevasse opens with the simplest of things: the bending of good and right for noble causes; the abandonment of justice in favour of expediency; the temptation that, because we are more powerful, we are somehow wiser. Harry, I wanted to show you the tapestry because you needed to see it; to truly understand the history that is now at work, a history that must be woven into the decisions you will make, decisions that I will soon not be able to advise you on.”

At these words, cold darts buried themselves deep into Harry’s heart. He’d heard Macleta’s words, but…

“What do you mean?” he asked, already knowing the answer. Dumbledore leaned back into his chair.

“I am dying.”

There was a raucous cacophony of protest by all the Headmasters and Headmistresses within the portraits that adorned Dumbledore’s office. He held up his arms to quiet them.

“Why?” Harry asked, ready to attack the foe, or heal the illness. “What happened?”

“Time, Harry,” Dumbledore said tenderly. “The one warrior we can never defeat.” There was a pause and then he looked sadly at Gabriella.

“Two years ago, I would have seen the evil that darkened these walls. I would have been able to see the poison that had held James in its grip. The mist fogs my eyes and I no longer see as I once did. I can no longer draw, as I once was able, from the deep magic that permeates this school. Soon, the ability will fail me utterly. How you were able to flush him from your body—”

“Fire,” Harry whispered, hardly able to speak. Dumbledore smiled.

“Of course.” The old wizard nodded with approval. “You’ve both been tempered by the dragon. Very good, Harry. Very well done. When the time comes, I’m confident you will be ready. You would do well to listen to the very capable witch at your side. You must both be ready, for he has again escaped. Another vessel was waiting; who I do not know. They had to leave the forest quickly. Perhaps by broom, or a flying beast of some sort, though I doubt it; Tom hates heights. It was more likely a Portkey.” Gabriella stepped to Dumbledore’s desk and took his hand in hers.

“Sir,” she said softly, “is there anything we can do. You know the talents of the Votary, of the gift Harry carries. Even time may be cheated for a little while.” Dumbledore took her hands in both of his.

“I would see this battle through, if it was within my power, but the prophecy is clear it is not my war to win.” His eyes fell upon Harry. “My only wish is that I would have come to know you and your family sooner.” He let out a contented sigh. “I spoke with your mother just yesterday – a delightful woman. She offered me a delectable dish of desert pastries. Made by hand! Incredible! She was, of course with Remus, with whom I have been discussing transition plans.”

“But, sir—”

“Enough, Harry!” Dumbledore cut in. “Like many of those I hold dear, I’ve written you a letter. Though I must say, yours is one of my better efforts. I think you’ll find, when you open it, a rather…” His blue eyes twinkled with delight. “What will be can wait till it is. What is must be acted upon now.”

Dumbledore rose from his chair, stepped from behind his desk and walked toward the silver instrument about which pinpricks of light floated randomly. At least, it looked random to Harry. Dumbledore examined each glowing point with interest. There was a large cluster he was particularly concerned with.

“Lucius Malfoy,” said the Headmaster, his eyes never leaving the instrument, “has moved a large number of Death Eaters and Dementors into Greece. Curious. All within the last few hours. Wizards are Apparating in all over the country. The Dementors have abandoned their attacks on Centaur herds throughout the Carpathians and are moving south. It’s as if they’re dragging a net from the north down, looking for something… or someone.”

“Cho’s child,” whispered Gabriella with a furtive glance toward Harry. Dumbledore didn’t raise an eyebrow.

“Sir, I’ve meant to tell you, but I swore. And now… you’re dying… and I…”

“Go, on,” Gabriella coaxed.

“Well… Cho had a baby last summer... my baby. His name is Jamie.” The crow’s feet of Dumbledore’s eyes rose jovially and the blue behind the half-moon spectacles flashed a deep azure. He placed a large hand on Harry’s shoulder and smiled.

“Are you happy?” he asked.

“No… er, yes. I mean, I was,” Harry sputtered. “He has a target the size of South Benton on his back. Voldemort intends to take him somehow. Use what spirit he has left and the blood that runs through Jamie’s veins to bring himself back again.”

“And Greece?”

Harry stood silent. He refused to say a word. Gabriella saw the pain on his face and decided to speak what Harry could not.

“They’re in hiding,” was all she said.

“I can imagine where,” said Dumbledore, “but… strange. I visited Sirius just last summer and now… I can’t remember…” His eyes fell on Harry. “You’re the Secret Keeper.”

“I won’t—” Harry started, but Dumbledore stopped him.

“Nor should you,” he said, his face suddenly appearing more forlorn and weary. “I told your parents to hide, to remain hidden in secret, to let only one know their whereabouts – it failed them.

“No place is safe, Harry. Wherever they are in Greece,” his eyes fell back on the specs of light floating about the instrument, “they will be found. If you wait more than a few days to move them, the net will have been drawn too tight and they will not escape. If you move too quickly, without proper planning, you run the risk of a rash mistake and its consequences might… well, you understand more than any.

“You might consider moving them to the Ministry, where Arthur’s private Aurors would offer some protection, but where there are more protectors, there are more betrayers.

“You could consider bringing them to Hogwarts, but there are dark forces at work here that even I cannot control. You have done much to bring the houses together. Are they ready to stand, to step up to the challenge of uniting against the darkness, or would they turn on you for bringing it here and putting them all at risk?”

Harry shook his head with uncertainty.

“You have a great decision to make, Harry. It is not to be taken lightly. As you can see, I am not yet dead, but I would guess that I will not see the end of the school year. I’ve asked Remus to take my place here and have coordinated it with the Minister. Remus is a powerful wizard, Harry. More powerful than you realize and yet, more importantly, he has a warm and caring soul.

Harry swallowed hard, not sure how he felt, or what he thought. “I love Remus with all my heart, sir,” he said, “but he would have killed Draco last year given the chance.” Harry watched as two more pinpricks of light appeared on the instrument.

“More Death Eaters?” he asked.

“Yes,” answered Dumbledore.

“I… I want you to see him… see Jamie.”

“I’m sorry, Harry, but that’s no reason to risk his life,” said Gabriella cautiously. Harry nodded.

“But—”

“Gabriella is right, Harry. But that does not mean we won’t meet some day.”

“Then… then I’ll go… stay with him and protect them.”

“And your oath to the Centaurs?” Gabriella asked. “The Dementors in the Carpathians may be moving south, but the Dementors in Britain are moving on the Great Forest here at Hogwarts.” Harry growled and slammed his fist against the table.

“I didn’t make these choices!” he cried. “They chose me!”

“You may not have chosen to have a child, Harry,” said Dumbledore, “but you chose the actions that led down that path. You were drawn to the Darbinyans from the first day they arrived across the street. You may not have heard the dragon calling, but it was, and you answered.” He looked down at the band wrapping Harry’s ring finger. “And sometimes, as it was with the Centaurs, destiny is thrown upon us and all we are left to do is to live and love and… sometimes… fight.

“Think well upon what you must do, but do not dally. I will support your decision,” Dumbledore smiled, “however foolish.”

Harry stepped over to Albus Dumbledore and hugged him. Then he reached out and took Gabriella’s hand and pulled her in as well. Fawkes let out a squawk as the three embraced. Finally, holding Gabriella’s hand, Harry stepped back.

“Sir… would you… you are the closest person I have to being a father. Would you give us your blessing?”

“I would be honoured, Harry.”

Dumbledore held out his hands and softly spoke a chant. A golden, glittering light grew from his hands until it filled the room, making it difficult to see. With Gabriella at his side, Harry could feel the golden light brush across his face, penetrate his body and warm his soul. When the light faded, Dumbledore looked fatigued. He moved back to his desk to sit down and Harry knew that it was time to go.

“Thank you, sir,” he said. “I’ll think about what we’ve talked about.”

Harry and Gabriella were about to leave when Dumbledore stopped them.

“Harry,” he called, still looking down at the mahogany top of his desk, “when was Jamie born?”

“Harry and Jamie have the same birthday,” Gabriella answered brightly.

“A wonderful surprise,” Dumbledore said with a nod of his head. “Wonderful.”

Again they moved to leave. Harry had opened the door when Dumbledore called one more time.

“Harry, has Cho ever faced Voldemort?” Harry looked perplexed, not understanding the question. “Since Voldemort came to life after the Tri-Wizard Tournament, has she ever seen him?”

“No, sir,” said Harry shaking his head. “I battled him at the cemetery and then again at the Ministry. She was never with me.”

Dumbledore’s eyebrows furled and he gave his head a sharp shake, as if trying to bust loose a spider clinging to his beard that just wouldn’t let itself loose. The problem was, this spider was weaving a web with each passing moment, becoming more entangled and entrenched. It would never let itself go, no matter how hard Dumbledore would try.

“And Gabriella...”

“Yes?”

“As I understand it, your custom is to bless the males of Harry’s line, no matter their mothers. Has Jamie received Asha’s blessing?”

“I had just finished and was returning home when I was taken by Malfoy’s Death Eaters.”

“Did Cho or Anthony know that’s what you were doing?”

“The specific blessing will be revealed to Jamie, and only Jamie, when Asha deems it so. Even I do not know what its nature will take.” Seemingly satisfied, Dumbledore nodded at the information.

“Enjoy the sun,” he said with a wave of his hand. Harry was sure he felt a slight shove push him through the door. “And please, should you get the opportunity, tell Patrick O’Riley to report to my office.”

“Yes, sir,” they said in unison.

Streaming through the windows high above, the sun was warm and bright, as the two made their way down the corridor from Dumbledore’s office. It would be a glorious day and, before too long, signs of spring would begin to emerge in the barren soils about the castle grounds. Neither felt like talking. They were nearly to the front entrance when Harry’s hand tightened about Gabriella’s. He was suddenly finding it hard to breathe. Fighting back the mist in his eyes, he stopped and looked to the blue sky above. He stood there for a moment, locked in a silent prayer and then fell to his knees and wept.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 28 – The Best Laid Plans…
~~~***~~~
________________________________________


“What is that?”

“What is what?”

“That?”

“What?”

“THAT?”

“Nothing.”

“Bloody, hell! What is it?”

“Just a ring.”

“Let me see. Come on! No. Take it out of your pocket. Come on…. That… is it… it’s a tattoo or something?”

“Or something.”

“It’s catching the light like it was silver or copper, but it’s on your skin. What is it?”

“I said… just a ring. You know… like a promise or something.”

“Promise? Valentine’s isn’t until… You didn’t ask her, did you? Did you?”

From across the dining table, Harry felt Ron begin to penetrate his mind – something he still did on occasion when he really, really wanted to know a secret and Harry really, really wasn’t going to tell him. Harry’s defences shot up and pushed him away, but Harry didn’t complain. He’d gotten use to the sensation, and Ron got so used to being pushed back he stopped saying sorry. Harry didn’t give it more thought than swatting away a fly, but that didn’t make Ron buzz any less.

“It’s not an engagement ring, if that’s what you’re asking. It’s just… well… it has to do with the Votary and a bunch of stuff you don’t what to hear about. I love her, you know? And she love’s me. And, the other night, I went to sleep thinking that there would never be anyone else, and, somehow when I woke up, this was on my hand. Don’t roll your eyes like that! It… it’s no big deal. Just don’t make a scene about it in front of—”

“There you two are!” Hermione called stiffly as she approached the Gryffindor table for dinner. As she came closer, Harry noticed the look she was giving Ron; it wasn’t pleasant. He looked up at her pleadingly.

“I was hungry! And… and there’s practice tonight!”

“Ten minutes! You couldn’t wait ten minutes?”

“You’ve said ten minutes before and it’s never just ten minutes.”

“What do you mean, never?” she scolded. “If I had a Knut for every time you said just ten minutes when you’re talking to somebody about Quidditch!”

“That’s different!”

“DIFFERENT?”

A plate of food appeared before Hermione as she poured herself some spiced tea, slamming down the pitcher. Harry was thankful she and Ron were arguing again; it made things feel… normal, if only for a little bit. She was about to turn her wrath on Harry, who wasn’t really feeling that well to begin with, for coming down to dinner with Ron ten minutes early, when Dennis and Colin Creevey sat down for dinner laughing hysterically.

“I think his ears started to sprout tulips… At least… I think they were tulips. They looked like tulips, didn’t they? Hah!”

“I don’t know, but the lot of them are with Madame Pomfrey right now.”

“They need Professor Sprout!”

“And when Luna thought they were seriously trying to grow roots and—”

“—and she added fertilizer! I thought I was going to—”

“What did she call it?” Dean asked down the table. Luna, who happened to be just across from him at the Ravenclaw table, turned to face him.

“They were horklump droppings,” she said with a steady voice. “And I don’t understand what you see that’s so funny about the whole thing. Even Professor Dumbledore knew Nott and his friends were seeking nature for answers. It was probably very hard for the Slytherins to admit that they needed to find another part of themselves. My dad’s paper did a story about it – Splinching with Nature. ”

“And what part is it you think they found?” asked Dean.

“Well,” she answered straightforwardly, “I think it may be more a question of what they lost. I know, when Crabbe finally came out of the soil, he said that he’d never again be able to—”

“Attention!” called Professor McGonagall as she tapped the side of her goblet with her wand. The room went silent at once. “Professor Dumbledore is not well this evening, but he asked that I pass on a few announcements. First, he reminds students that, while he appreciates that the Valentine’s holiday will soon be upon us, the Forbidden Forest is just that – strictly forbidden. No student, or pair of students, is to wander off into the trees, even near the forest edge.

“Secondly, Mr. Filch has been finding gum under student desks in the classrooms. There is no excuse for such poor behaviour. Desks have now been enchanted to chew back any student trying to do so again.

“Finally, you should know that a handful of students from the Olympian Academy, in Athens, will be joining us tomorrow. As you will no doubt read in the morning’s Daily Prophet, the school was attacked today and many of the students are fleeing. I trust you will welcome them warmly. That is all for now.”

The Great Hall exploded in a low rumble of murmurs and whispers as if no one wanted anyone else to hear what they were thinking. The sound harkened back to the darkest of times last year. It was a room filled with accusation and uncertainty.

“Why would they want to come here?” someone said with a hushed voice.

“It’s no safer with us so close to the Centaur herd.”

“That’s why he doesn’t want us near the forest.”

“The Centaur herd isn’t the only thing they’re after.” Some eyes shot toward Harry.

“It’s not the first time they’ve tried; it won’t be the last.”

“Well, you know the way to solve the problem, don’t you?”

“If they want to attack, let them come!” cried Dennis Creevey. “I’m not going to crouch in fear and try to make deals for what portion of my soul I get to keep.”

“Yeah!” yelled someone from Ravenclaw. “We’ve smashed ‘em before. We’ll smash ‘em again.”

“With Barghouti here, it’s not like we don’t know a thing or two about how the dark side thinks!” Dakhil, who was seated at the head table next to Hagrid, tried not to look pleased, but a smile escaped his usually scowling face.

What Harry thought was going to turn into an indictment against the Centaurs and a vilification of him, turned out to be, thanks to Dennis, something quite different. Lavender stood up, her hair as perfect as a portrait, and her winter dress turning most male heads in the Great Hall.

“If they creep in so much as one dark fingernail onto Hogwarts grounds, trying to attack Firenze, I’ll fry them myself!” Her eyes flashed with fire and, for the first time, she actually frightened Harry.

“She will!” yelled Padma. “Barghouti taught her the spell and Harry told her where to aim! And if they think the other witches of Hogwarts are soft, they’ve got another thing coming! It’ll be enough to make a Dementor pee his pants! Erm… if they do that sort of thing.” The witches in the hall howled in approval.

“We’ve learned from the best everything we need to know!” Luna called out. It was the most animated he’d ever seen her. For a moment, her eyes caught Harry’s and somehow he felt she knew everything there was to know: why Anthony was absent, why Harry’s finger suddenly bore a ring, why Greece was under attack. He subtly nodded his head approvingly in her direction.

Then someone from the back of the Hall, someone Harry couldn’t see, yelled, “With what Harry’s taught us, we will stand together! If we do, no darkness will dare cross onto castle grounds!”

Cheers rang up everywhere… even at the Slytherin table, with the notable absence of Nott and his gang. Instead the Slytherin cheer was led by Gabriella, who stood in affirmation of the preparation provided by the professors as well as Harry’s prowess. But then, the clapping and cheers died almost instantly, like a wave crashing against rocks at the shore, when people realized who had called out the last words. Standing at the entrance doors to the Great Hall was James Chang, fresh out of St. Mungo’s.

Here, before the entire class stood the man, the boy, that had killed the Minister’s wife. Harry glanced over at Ron, whose knuckles were white as his hand squeezed a roll of bread so hard it oozed butter out onto the table. It was in this Great Hall where James was the first student accepted into all four houses, but, at this moment in time, it was very questionable if any of the four houses would accept him at all. Yet, there he was, looking as healthy as ever, if not a bit pale, maybe even a bit taller than when Harry had last seen him, cheering the school on to victory against the very evil that had nearly driven him mad.

You could have heard a ghost pass through a wall it was so quiet in the Great Hall. Nobody moved; nobody breathed. They just all gawked, unknowingly, at the uncle of Harry’s son. The bluster and bravery that had filled the hall just seconds earlier was spilling away. Harry was trying to will himself out of his seat – to stand and say something noble. But the feverish face that screamed at him in the bowels of the prison on Fengsle Isle haunted his vision, and the flash of green that flew from James’ wand, killing Molly was too much to bear. He found himself using his second sight, looking at James only to discover that it held but a single aura – Voldemort free. Harry wondered why he hadn’t used the skill on others since facing Nott and his gang. He scanned about the Great Hall, but the sheer numbers made it impossible to discern one aura from the next.

There was a scraping noise from up at the head table – Professor McGonagall moving back her chair, struggling herself to think of something to say. Harry opened his eyes and looked back at her with normal vision, but before she had a chance to stand, Patrick O’Riley, isolated and alone at the end of the Gryffindor table, stood from his bench and ran over to James Chang. From where he sat, he had to run the length of the Great Hall, his footsteps echoing off the walls, the only sound, besides his own breathing, to be heard. When they met, Patrick wrapped his arms about James and hugged him. At once, they both began to cry.

Their sobs were heavy, heartfelt, as James kept repeating the word, “Sorry.”

Gabriella was the first to leave the Slytherin table. She had grown close to James in her conversations with Cho, and she too gave him a hug. Then Owen Cauldwell from Hufflepuff, who often played wizard’s chess with James, started moving toward him. Su Li and Orla Quirke who doted on James last year when he visited Ravenclaw ran up to him as well. Harry looked over at his best friend, seated directly across from him. Ron’s eyes were on fire, his buttery hand now fingering his wand. Hermione reached over and touched his wrist. He jerked, then, realizing who it was, slipped the wand away and tried to relax; he couldn’t.

“Ron,” she whispered softly, cautiously, “if you stood… and took his side right now, the rest of the school would follow.” Looking deeply into Hermione’s eyes, Ron’s own softened, but his jaw remained set.

“I… I can’t. My… He… he…”

“No he didn’t,” Ginny said sharply, but quietly, as she rose to her feet. “If he did, then I released the Basilisk. I nearly killed your fiancée. I nearly killed you all.” Ron shook his head in disagreement.

“But that… that wasn’t… this… this is different.” Ginny held her hand out to her brother.

“Ron, we need to do this… together.”

He looked toward the small group surrounding James. The hall was growing more animated, but uncertainty still permeated the air. All it would take is one accusation, one harsh remark, one misguided spell or hex, and the animosity would be reborn. Ron looked at his sister and then at his best friend.

“Don’t look at me,” Harry said. “Hermione’s right – everyone knows how you feel. If Ginny walks up alone, it won’t matter. You’re the eldest here. You’re the seventh year.”

“I’m also the best friend of Harry Potter.” Ron smiled for the first time.

“That might get you a liquorice whip at Honeydukes, but that’s about it, mate.”

“Watch,” Ron said with an air of confidence worthy of a Gryffindor. He took Ginny’s hand and started to the doors of the Great Hall. He was easily the tallest boy in school and as he proceeded down the path between the benches, the seats behind him cleared as student after student followed. By the time he and Ginny made it to James, not a seat was empty. Perhaps the students were supportive, perhaps they wanted to watch the bloodbath, but the whole school was surrounding James and the Weasleys, some standing on tables to get a better view. Even the professors at the head table were all standing, all except Dakhil who seemed more interested in the viscosity of the fluid contained within the goblet in his hand.

Harry stood, but he didn’t leave his place at the Gryffindor table. There was something to be said for taking in the scene from a distance, and in his heart he knew what was about to happen. Those feelings were confirmed when a tremendous cheer filled the hall as Ron put his hands around James. When he did so, everyone closed in, welcoming their classmate.

Love, warmth and power filled the room. Harry could feel it swirling about him like an invisible ethereal mist – compassion, energy, strength. Then he realized that it wasn’t just filling the room, but being pulled in toward him. The Heart of Asha was drawing the power to it, gorging itself with the strength. He had experienced the same feeling at the Joining with Singehorn. The vivificus stone, the stone of life, was now more alive than ever. Harry felt that, if he could draw from just a portion of the stone’s growing power, he could end this war, once and for all. He could destroy them all; he could crush—.

A hand gently rested upon his shoulder. It was Hermione Granger.

“You did this,” she said with a hint of a smile upon her face as she watched the students at the far end of the hall each try to say something to James, welcoming him in some way. Any tension, any concerns had been washed away. It took Harry a moment to regain his composure. For a moment, he had lost himself in the possibilities of power. Hermione took it as a sign of emotion, looking into his eyes and brushing the hair from his scar-free forehead.

“No,” said Harry, drawing a great breath. “Ron did.” He turned, put his arm about Hermione, and looked back at the gathering which now included some of the professors. “It’s easy to see the strength of unity when you see friends. It’s far harder to embrace an enemy. Ron… he’s had to fight, to dig deep to find that part of himself that can accept. I didn’t show them how to embrace a foe. They wouldn’t have seen it through me if I had walked up there and hugged James, any more than when Patrick did. But Ron… Everyone here knows how he feels about James. But he pushed past all that. He showed every student and professor here that it can be done and now… now they believe.” He paused for a moment, still sensing the surge of power within him. “Now… they’re ready.”

“Ready for what, Harry?” she asked. He held her by the hand and looked about, ensuring they were out of earshot.

“Tonight, after midnight, meet me and Ron in the common room.”

“Why? What are you—”

“Midnight,” repeated Harry, and he strode away, not to greet James, but to pull Gabriella aside and let her know his plan. Then, he skirted the crowd gathered about James and disappeared through the doors to the Great Hall.

It wasn’t until near midnight that Harry had almost everything in place. Skipping Quidditch practice, he’d asked Dobby to arrange things with the house elves and to discuss Harry’s plans with the few goblins in Hogsmeade that could be trusted. With that done, Harry went and told Professor Dumbledore and then Dakhil of his plans. The complexion and overall appearance of the headmaster was far worse than when he’d met with Harry just a few hours earlier. Dumbledore had answered the door to his office in his bed clothes. He was generally pleased with Harry’s decision, but something was bothering him, something that he wouldn’t share with Harry. As for Dakhil, Harry had caught up to him in the dungeons and the vampire shook his head with disapproval.

“You’re putting all your pieces into the battle, boy – wizards, elves, werewolves, Centaurs and goblins. I doubt the dragons will come to your aid, but let’s say they do. Let’s say, for one day, you can keep them all from attacking each other. There’s nothing left – no other creature to come to your rescue should the battle last long and they begin to turn on each other as things falter. And you WILL falter; don’t think for a moment that you won’t. I’ve seen it before… they all falter.”

In the Forbidden Forest, Harry had met with Ronan, Magorian, and a number of the other Centaurs preparing for battle, and had told them that he was leaving. Still, he reaffirmed his oath and swore that he would see to their protection in his absence. When Shahan scoffed at his assurance, a pang of rage snapped inside Harry and, for a second, a ball of fire appeared about his left fist, glowing as bright as a small star, forcing them all to turn their heads. Magorian rebuked Shahan and the flame about Harry’s hand diminished and disappeared. Before Harry departed, Ronan glanced to the evening sky and had commented to Magorian that Ebyrth had grown brighter and that, as he said, “It will be close.” Harry looked up at Ebyrth. Low on the horizon, it was close to Mars. Magorian grunted in approval, but Harry had no idea what they were really talking about.

Now, alone in the boys’ dormitory of Gryffindor Tower, Harry sat on the edge of his bed with a small bag of clothes and other items he might need in Greece. His intent wasn’t to stay long, but he would be prepared if his intentions failed. Dakhil had been correct to caution that the strategy might not be as quick as Harry hoped, and Harry was thankful that the vampire offered to devise another back-up strategy. Harry took in a deep breath trying to gain some energy, but he felt tired and his stomach was a bit unsteady, probably from not finishing his evening meal.

Ron and Hermione were already waiting downstairs in the common room, still wondering what he was going to do. On his desk was a blank parchment next to a book on healing potions. Harry shook his head. He’d only just caught up, and now he would be leaving for who knew how long. For the first time at Hogwarts, he actually was saddened for missing Snape’s class. He stood from his bed and the blood drained to his feet, causing stars to appear in his field of view and the room to tilt just a bit.

Evidently, the fury of the day’s activities had drained him. So, he went to the bathroom and threw some water on his face, hoping to revive his tired eyes. It didn’t help much; he still felt a bit dizzy and nauseous. As he was leaving, he ran into Patrick who was going to take a shower before getting ready for bed. His face was smiling until he ran into Harry; the appearing scowl was deliberate and enhanced for Harry’s viewing pleasure.

“Hey, Patrick,” Harry tried to say with as light a tone in his voice as he could.

“Bugger off,” Patrick muttered, pulling the curl of his lips down a bit further at the corners and refusing to meet Harry’s eyes.

“Hey,” said Harry, taking Patrick by the arm, “what’s up?” A wand appeared from nowhere and, in a flash, was in Harry’s face. The move surprised the older Gryffindor.

“Let go me arm,” said Patrick with cold eyes. Harry eased off.

“No need for that, eh? We’re friends, right?”

“Right,” spat Patrick, still holding his wand at the ready and backing slowly away – a move Harry had taught in the DA meetings earlier in the fall. “That’s why yeh haven’t said two damn words teh me since I’ve been back. Since… since…” Patrick’s hand began to tremble and his eyes grew moist.

“Harry P-Potter,” he said, forcing himself not to cry. “What a joke. What a lie. I thought yeh’d be different. I thought yeh’d understand.”

“I do understand.”

“Yeah, and that’s why yeh left the Great Hall today without even looking at James when he came back. Yeh’ve hated me. Now, yeh can hate him.”

“Pat—”

“Yeh think he didn’ notice?” Harry didn’t respond. “Well? DO YEH?”

Harry dropped his pack to the floor with a thwump and fell to a squat beside it, in similar fashion. He rubbed his face with his hands. It was late; he was tired, and it was taking all his energy not to be pissed off. Harry took a deep breath, trying hard to regain control of his emotions.

“Do you…,” Harry began, his voice steady, if a bit thin, and his eyes on the floor. “Do you know who convinced the Minister to let James free?” Patrick just stood silently, refusing to lower his wand. “He was imprisoned beneath the ocean for Merlin’s sake! Surrounded by the worst filth… I was there when he was released.” Harry raised his head so that his eyes met Patrick’s. “I held him in my arms when he still wasn’t sure who he was. It’s just… I didn’t expect him so soon. I was going to visit, but time… it’s more fragile than I thought.”

“That doesn’t explain why yeh’ve been an arse teh me, or why yeh left when James came in.” Patrick was defiant and surprisingly dignified, though he stood with nought but a pair of slippers, holding a towel in one hand and a wand in the other. Harry rose to his feet, a bit too quickly for Patrick’s liking. A stinging spell spat from his wand and headed to Harry’s face. With a wave of his hand, Harry quickly deflected the spell, but it still nipped his shoulder, making him wince. Patrick’s eyes grew concerned about what Harry might now do to him – concern, but not fear. Harry just sighed.

“I deserved that,” he said, rubbing his shoulder. “You’re right, I’ve been an arse. I’ve been stupid and unfair and I could have set an example, but instead I just avoided you. I’m sorry.” The words took away the irritation from Patrick’s expression.

“Yeah… well, I really didn’ mean teh zap yeh like that.” He lowered his wand again. “Sorry. I… I only ever wanted teh help.”

“Look, Patrick, I’m leaving to Greece, tonight. Voldemort’s found another body to possess and now he’s started his own battle, searching for… for James’ sister, Cho.”

A look of surprise spread across Patrick’s face and, for the first time, it appeared as if he might believe what Harry was saying. Still he said, “I… I don’t believe you,” but the words held little conviction and were imbued, instead, with a sense of excitement. “Why would he care about Cho?”

“Don’t believe me!? Why the hell do you think I have this pack?” snapped Harry. The tone in Harry’s voice brought Patrick’s wand out again. “What? You still …” Another wave of fatigue passed through Harry. “I don’t have time for this. Come on. If you don’t believe me, come with me. Come see with your own eyes.” Harry turned and headed toward the door. Patrick’s wand tracked him as he went, but the boy’s feet didn’t move from the spot where they stood. Harry turned back to face him.

“Well, are you coming or not? I swore to you we’d stick together so get your arse in gear and—” Patrick looked down at what he was not wearing.

“But I can’t. I don’t have any—”

“Bah!” Harry chided. He pulled his wand, tapped Patrick on the head, and Patrick found himself wrapped in a set of Gryffindor robes, his slippers now a pair of black boots.

“Straight from your trunk. Now,” said Harry, “Follow me.” He began to walk, then stopped and looked at Patrick. “That is… if you think you can trust me.”

Harry didn’t again look back at Patrick as they made their way to the common room, but he could hear the young man’s footsteps just behind his own. As they came to the top of the circular staircase, Harry grabbed his broom, which was leaning against the wall, held it behind him without looking back and said, “Hold this. We’re going to need it in a bit.”

Patrick took the broom and said, “Sure,” his voice almost eager with anticipation.

In the common room, Hermione sat next to Ron by the fireplace. Ron held a broom in his hand as well.

“You two ready?” Harry asked. They both looked at Harry and then at Patrick. Ron pointed with his finger.

“Why is—”

“Don’t ask.”

As they made their way down the staircases to the castle’s entrance, Hermione continued to express her concern that Patrick was with them.

“He’ll lose house points, if he’s caught out after hours.”

“Like the rest of us aren’t? I’m sure the Head Girl,” said Ron, “will be able to—”

“What took you guys so long?” said Gabriella in a hushed voice, stepping out from behind a column. “Why is Pat—”

“Don’t ask!” the three said in unison. Gabriella shrugged and took Harry’s hand.

They made it out the door with only one close call from Mrs. Norris; she had come round a pillar, but had meowed just before, giving herself away and allowing the troupe to hide in the corner as she passed down toward the dungeons.

Once out on the castle steps, Ron and Harry climbed onto their brooms and invited the others for a ride. Hermione hopped onto Ron’s and Gabriella hopped onto Harry’s. She held her hand out to help Patrick on, but he declined, choosing instead to ride with Ron and Hermione. As soon as all were mounted, Ron and Harry took the brooms upward, climbing the face of the castle to its highest tower. Hermione kept her eyes shut. They stopped against the tower’s wall some fifteen feet down from the top. There, Harry found a small red stone, no larger than a galleon, hidden among the large, gray, rough hewn block of the castle walls.

He pulled his wand and whispered. “It’s well past midnight, we swear it’s true. Open up and let us through.” The group shrunk until the stone appeared to be a large, red cavern.

“Hold tight,” Harry suggested and they flew into the spot with a tearing, slurping sound and emerged on the other side. “Welcome to The Marauders’ Eye!” he said brightly. It was the most energized he’d felt all night. Harry pulled his wand and tapped a black pillar; music began to play. Hermione noticed some magazines on one of the tables piled in a sharp stack – clearly Dobby had seen that the space was kept clean.

“These are recent,” she said with surprise. She glared at Ron. “You said it was nothing but a dusty old bin of a room. You’ve been sneaking up here, haven’t you? Haven’t you?” She started moving toward Ron, when Harry intervened.

“That’s not why we’re here,” he said, holding them apart. “Geesh, you’d think you were married already.” His eyes danced toward Gabriella’s for but an instant. “Just… sit down.” Everyone obliged. Harry brightened the candles floating in the corners and leaned back against the wall.

“I’m leaving,” he said briskly.

“WE’RE leaving,” corrected Gabriella.

“You’re staying here,” corrected Harry. “It’s too—”

“Too dangerous?” she snapped. “You think I don’t understand danger?” She took to her feet. “I knew danger before you knew you were a wizard! Don’t lecture me about—”

“Going where?” said Ron, raising his voice above the growing din.

“I’m going to Greece.”

“WE are going to Greece,” snapped Gabriella.

“Greece?”

“But the war,” said Hermione with concern. “The Olympian Academy… you can’t think you’re going to battle again. You’ve done enough already.”

“That he’s alive at all, Hermione, is because of my blood,” said Harry, his voice darkening. “Whatever part of him that’s still alive needs it again, only the darkness he touched me with when I was a baby no longer flows through my veins. I was cleansed by the falls, so he’s finished trying to seek immortality through me, but that hasn’t stopped him from searching for another source of Potter blood.”

“Jamie,” whispered Hermione.

“Who’s Jamie?” asked Patrick. Hermione shot Harry a look and he nodded in return.

“Tell him,” he said.

“Harry has a son,” she said quietly. “His name is Jamie, after Harry’s father James.” Patrick just looked at Harry with astonished eyes.

“And he’s in Greece?” asked Patrick with a bit of excitement in his voice. “Where?”

A bit ashamed, Harry couldn’t hold Patrick’s gaze. Instead, he looked away and found a rather soured expression on Gabriella’s face. “Fine! You can go!” he said. But she did not acknowledge his words. Rather, she looked about the room, as if searching for something that was causing an offensive odor. Ron noticed her expression as well.

“Dean had a bit too much to drink last time we were here,” said Ron and then he looked at Harry. “I thought you got all that up.”

“Ron!” chided Hermione.

“It wasn’t me!”

“Oh, right. I’m sure you were an angel.”

“Look,” said Harry cutting in before they could gather up too much steam. He wasn’t feeling well and was irritated for not having left an hour ago. “I should be back before breakfast. If I’m not…” he hesitated, “…if I’m not, you’ve got to be ready. Tomorrow morning you’ll need to assemble the DA. They have to be ready for an attack on Hogwarts.” He flipped his summoning coin to Hermione.

“But—”

“I’m not saying it’s going to happen, I’m just saying you have to be ready. And don’t plan on Dumbledore to help you. He’s… He’s dying.”

“Dyin’!” cried Patrick. “That ain’t possible. He can’t… What happened?”

“Old age,” said Gabriella, almost as an off hand remark. She was standing in the far corner of the room still looking for something, only now her wand was drawn.”

“Are you sure, mate?”

“He told us himself. But don’t tell the rest, not yet at least.”

“I can’t believe it,” Hermione whispered to herself. She looked pale. “If they find out, they’re sure to center their sites here. Voldemort’s always wanted—”

“That’s why you can’t tell anyone and why you have to be ready while I’m gone,” said Harry with a stern voice. Perspiration was beginning to prickle on his forehead. He was really not feeling well. “Voldemort’s attacking Greece to find Jamie. He needs him to bring himself back. I’m not going to let that happen. I… WE are going to go get him out of there and bring him back.”

“Back?” asked Patrick.

“Yes,” answered Harry. “But, while we’re away, I still need to fulfill my pledge to protect the Centaurs. If there’s an attack, I need to know you’ll help. I need to know you’ll all help.” He looked at Patrick. “Will you?”

“As if we were brothers, Harry,” said Patrick, rising to his feet, but not stepping closer. “Sorry fer what I said before. Yeh know me, I’ve got yer back.” Exhausted, Harry slapped Patrick’s shoulder and smiled.

Hermione stood up and took Harry by the hand. “We’ll take care of things while you’re gone. Don’t worry.”

“Come on, Gab,” said Harry. “You wanted to go. Let’s go.” Gabriella scanned the room once more and slipped her wand away.

“There is something not right here, Harry.”

Ron stood up, swiping one of his fingers across the table, only to find it perfectly clean. He said, “I’ll have one of the house elves give the place a total scrub down before you get back.”

”Ron,” scolded Hermione.

“What? They like that sort of stuff.”

“Don’t think for a minute—” Before Hermione finished, Gabriella climbed upon Harry’s broom, held him by the waist, and they were both through the red curtain and back to normal size, flying high above the castle grounds.

The night air was refreshing and Harry could feel it clean the cobwebs that were beginning to encroach upon his mind.

“It’s gone,” whispered Gabriella from behind him.

“What’s gone?” asked Harry.

“I’m not sure,” she said. “But I can sense the change in you, just as I sense that I can once more breathe the fresh air again.”

“Probably everyone’s emotions about Dumbledore,” he said. He leaned forward on his broom, willing it faster, and the broom responded, forcing Gabriella to tighten her grip about Harry’s waist. He smiled, but her face still bore an expression of concern.

“Perhaps,” she whispered. “Perhaps.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 29 – The Road Divides

~~~***~~~


It was late and her feet hurt. Damn heels. Lavender had convinced her to practice wearing heals for her wedding. Now, with every step, she regretted it. They made the long climb from the castle entrance to the Gryffindor tower more exhausting than ever before. As soon as the three made their way back to the Gryffindor common room it was all she could do to pull off her shoes, peck Ron on the cheek, and say goodnight to both him and Patrick. Thinking about what might be facing Harry, even at this very moment, her eyes revealed her concern and Ron noticed.

“He’ll be fine,” he said in a strong, confident voice. “You’ll see.”

She loved that about him – his ability to find the smallest hint of light in the darkest of times. She’d seen his confidence and bravery grow every year, and his loyalty, as always, was unfailing. He would defend her to the end, as he would Harry, and he would never leave her side. She would very much love being Mrs. Ronald Weasley.

“I know,” she whispered, with less confidence. Something was gnawing on her – perhaps the way Gabriella was behaving before she and Harry left. Every time she thought her mind might get around what it might be—

“We’ll see ‘em all before the cock crows,” said Patrick, patting her on the shoulder. He was smiling at her, as fresh as if he were ready to face a new day. Perhaps all the excitement, she thought. It was understandable after all. She’d seen Patrick and Harry pal around quite a bit last year and, when things changed this year, she surmised it was just that Patrick had found someone else his own age to befriend. When James turned out to be… well, it was hard on everybody. She was happy to see that Harry had taken the extra effort to make it up to the second year. He’d been a bit of an arse, as had everyone else, forcing Patrick into total isolation. He was always alone everywhere he went. She was glad to see, with James’ triumphant return, that that would be changing.

“You bet!” she said, forcing a great smile and returning Patrick’s pat. She turned to Ron and let out a long, deep breath. “You know, I believe I’ll stay here for a smidgen, maybe read a book. I need some time to think.” Ron looked at her, then at Patrick.

“Erm, yeah. Sure. Patrick, how ‘bout you head off to bed. We’ve got a busy day tomorrow, whether he comes back on time or not.”

“Yer right!” said Patrick brightly. “Don’t know if I’ll be able teh sleep, but I’ll try. I can’t believe, we’re gonna be getting’ ready fer war!” He shook his fist with vigour.

“Yeah,” said Ron. “Not something we really want’ to be thinking is a good thing, eh? Before the next new moon, some of your friends might be dead.” Patrick’s face fell and his expression grew more sombre.

“Of course, Ron,” he said. “I didn’t mean it like that.” Then the smallest smile cracked his lips. “But, maybe later, you and I can get together and yeh can give me a few pointers on how we’ll take a hell of a lot more of them with us before we go!”

“Let’s trust that it doesn’t come to that, Patrick,” said Hermione. “We can hope, at least. Goodnight.” The tone of this last word told him it was time to leave and he didn’t complain.

“’night.”

Patrick jumped up the circular staircase, two steps at a time, and disappeared into the boys’ dormitory. Ron put his arm about Hermione.

“We’ll he’s eager at least,” he said, scratching the back of his head.

“Maybe too eager,” replied Hermione. She sighed and turned to face the fire, pulling Ron gently by the hand to sit in the small couch. The fire felt good against her skin, warming against the night’s chill air and soothing her aching feet. She had hated having to fly earlier tonight, but here, with Ron, she felt, for the moment at least, safe and secure. Yet, there was a loose thread that needed to be stitched and she wasn’t quite sure how to do it. She patted the cushion next to her. “Sit with me?”

“Like, no, is an answer?” said Ron with a smile. He sat next to his fiancé.

She watched the golden flames flicker against the blackened fireplace and smiled to herself, remembering how she originally felt when she stood in front of the hearth on the first day of school. It had been raining outside, but the day was warm and inside was warmer. They had feasted and made their way up the moving staircases. She chuckled, thinking about how out of shape she was back then, how winded that climb made her feel. When she had entered the Gryffindor common room, perspiration was dripping down her temples. The windows were shut tight against the rain and the result was a stifling common room filled with stale air. She had wondered why anyone in their right mind would have a fire roaring on such a hot day. But when she had stepped in front of the flames, they weren’t hot. She remembered how astonished she had been that the fires of Hogwarts had not been discussed in any of the books she had read. Now, she understood why. It was unimaginable to think of not having the fire in the Gryffindor common room lit, glowing brightly all year round, offering warmth in winter, light enough at night to read by, and, perhaps most importantly of all, if you knew the right spell and had the right ingredients, a way to always communicate to the outside world.

“Something’s not right,” she said, leaning her head against Ron’s shoulder. “The way Gabriella was looking around. That was just… well, weird. I wish she’d just say what she was sensing.”

“Well you asked that we not—” Hermione sat upright and looked Ron in the eyes.

“Oh, so now it’s my fault?”

“I’m just saying, she was keeping mum until she was sure. And she wasn’t sure.”

“And you?” Hermione asked. “Did you pick-up anything?”

“We weren’t alone, if that’s what you mean,” Ron said, leaning his head against the back of the couch – the result being that he now looked straight up at the ceiling. She liked that he had let his hair grow, and she couldn’t help but stroke it as it dangled down over the back of the couch. “But I get that all the time. There are house elves and ghosts and other strange creatures all through the castle. It’s hard to say how close, but there’s always someone or something close by.” He closed his eyes and the muscles on his left cheek twitched.

“There,” said Ron, leaning across Hermione and pointing to a carpet near a table where students did homework in the common room. “There’s a house elf below the floor, waiting for us to get out of here so she can start cleaning again.” He fell back against the couch and rubbed his temples. “It’s not just house elves that creep around,” he whispered, instinctively pulling his feet up off the floor and curling his legs on the couch.

“Creep?” Hermione looked at Ron, and then to the floor, then back at Ron.

“I’m not going to tell you,” he said. “You’ll just… well, I’m not going to tell you.”

She looked at Ron for a long while, but decided now was not the time. They were both tired, but she knew that neither of them would sleep until their friend returned safely in the morning.

“And in the Marauders’ Eye?” she asked quietly. “What did you—”

“I didn’t look,” he interrupted. “I told you, I get that stuff all the time.” His hand fluttered up by his head and flopped down at his side. “If I looked every time…” He stopped himself, slowly shaking his head, and absentmindedly rubbed his ankles.

“Well, Gabriella sensed more than a house elf in the wall,” said Hermione. She got up off the couch and crouched at the edge of the fire. Then, she reached into her pocked, pulled out a pinch of floo powder, and sprinkled it over the flames.“Aperito! Number five, Privet Drive,” she whispered.

“Remus?” Ron asked, leaning forward.

“Like I said, something’s not right,” she grumbled, looking back at Ron over her shoulder. “Remus needs to know there are pieces in play before he gets here.”

“He’s not going to be happy to hear Harry left Hogwarts without telling anyone. And Harry’s not going to like that you told Remus behind his back.”

“No,” said Hermione. “No, he’s not, but we’ve got to tell him. It’s our job to watch Harry’s back, since he won’t watch his own.” The flames grew green and a wooshing sound signalled that the connection had been made. She leaned her head into the fire. When she opened her eyes, she was looking out into the Darbinyan living room. Remus had been staying with Soseh and it appeared that that wasn’t going to change anytime soon. Whether they were to marry or not was uncertain, but everyone knew they were in love.

“Remus,” she called out, hoping her voice would carry to the upper story. “Remus!”

It took a few minutes before she could hear the sound of footsteps above the crackling of the fire in her ears. Remus appeared at the stairs, wand drawn.

“Remus, it’s me,” she said more quietly.

“Hermione?” he asked, still holding his wand up. “It’s the middle of the night. What is it? What’s happened?” His voice was elevated, concerned. He knelt at the fire to speak with her.

“Harry’s gone to Greece,” she told him.

“What?” he exclaimed. “Why? To fight? Surely he would have—”

“To rescue his son,” Hermione interrupted. Remus fell back on his rear, looking like someone had just kicked him in the gut. His expression told Hermione at once that he hadn’t known. She described what she knew, telling Remus about Jamie, Cho and Anthony. She explained Voldemort’s plans as best she could.

“So they’re with Sirius,” he said with a bit of irritation in his words. “Figures they’d be at his castle, at… erm… We were just there a few months ago, all of us. It’s at… I can’t remember.” Remus looked up at the glowing head of Hermione within his fireplace. “He’s made it unplottable. The Secret Keeper. That Harry could keep even me from seeing where my best friend’s castle is… that… that’s amazing.” He let out a slow breath and his mind seemed to wander for a moment. “When Soseh first told me, I didn’t believe her. Now… it’s hard to deny. I’m sure glad he’s his mother’s son.”

“What do you mean?” Hermione asked. Remus cleared his head with a short shake.

“With the powers he’s developing, he could…” His face grew grave. “Well, it doesn’t matter. Harry would never… Look, there are already a few members of the Order in Greece. I’ll send some others now we know what Voldemort’s target is and I’ll let Arthur know what’s happening. That’s all we can do until he shows up there or returns to Hogwarts Castle.”

“Remus,” said Hermione, “there may be more. Something’s going on at the castle.” She relayed what Gabriella was doing in the Marauder’s Eye and that she had her own concerns. Remus sat for a moment, thinking. He slipped his wand away and leaned in close.

“How well do you know Patrick?” he asked. “Wasn’t he under Voldemort’s Imperious Curse when he had control of James?”

“Harry trusts him,” she said. “I don’t see how—”

“Voldemort was on the castle grounds just yesterday, Hermione. He had control of Gabriella.”

“No!”

“I spoke with Albus just a few hours ago. I think, perhaps, he knew what Harry was up to, but he didn’t tell me about Harry’s son. Both Albus and Harry believe that Voldemort extracted whatever information he needed and left Hogwarts. Perhaps he escaped with the knowledge that what he needs is in Greece. You tell me that his target is Harry’s son, Jamie. So now Harry thinks, as does the Headmaster, that Voldemort is in Greece to find Harry’s son. But what if he’s not? What if it’s a ruse to get Harry away? What if Voldemort’s still in the castle?”

“But Professor Dumbledore… surely he would know if—”

“He’s lost his Legilimency,” interrupted Remus. “He’s losing many of his abilities, Hermione. It won’t be long until we’ve lost him completely.”

“Then Harry would be bringing Jamie straight back into Voldemort’s clutches!”

“Exactly,” said Remus. He took to his feet. “Hermione, I’ll be at the castle by sunrise. You’ve got to keep an eye out for anything unusual. Someone should watch Patrick, but don’t do anything stupid. If he is being controlled by Voldemort, it’s best to watch from a distance, no spells, no incantations. Wait until we can get more wizards there to help. In fact, as soon as you can, let Severus know. He may be able to sense his old master’s presence.” Hermione nodded her head; ash and amber spilt out onto the hearth.

“And, Hermione,” added Remus. “Be careful. You know what he’s capable of. He’ll sooner kill you as not.”

“I understand,” answered Hermione. “I’ll see you later this morning.”

She pulled away from the flames and found herself, all of herself, back in the Gryffindor common room. She shook the ash from her hair and looked over to find Ron asleep on the couch. She was about to slap him when he spoke.

“So, what did he say?” he asked with his eyes still closed, a curl of red hair wrapped across his face.

“He thinks Voldemort’s still here,” she answered. Ron’s eyes opened wide.

“What do you mean, here? Like here, here?”

She told him what Remus had said, her eyes darting up the stairs when she spoke about Patrick.

“That’s just silly,” he said. “Patrick wouldn’t—”

“Neither would James Chang,” she interrupted. “But Voldemort never gave him the choice.” Ron’s eyes narrowed as his hands gripped the armrest of the couch until his fingers began to push through the fabric and into the foam cushion underneath.

“There’s one way to find out,” he said, pulling out his wand.

“No!” exclaimed Hermione breathlessly. “We have to just watch. Don’t let him know that you think it might be him.”

“But—”

“Ron, it’s too dangerous. He’ll kill you. He’ll kill anybody that stands in his way.” She took him by the hand, knowing that he’d rather take action. Still, she had to try and convince him to wait. It wouldn’t be easy. “Since I can walk the halls after hours, I’ll go speak with Snape. Just stay here. Wait for Harry and make sure Patrick, or anyone else for that matter, doesn’t try to wander out.” Ron looked like he could spit venom. If he had been tired earlier, there was no trace of it on his face now.

“Sit on my arse, when the wizard that killed my mother might be upstairs napping?” he spat.

“Would you risk Patrick’s life or the lives of the other second years sleeping with him?” Ron did not answer. “Just let me speak with Snape. Twenty minutes, that’s all I ask. Just stay here on this couch for twenty minutes. Please?”

She could see him biting his cheek, mulling over a decision he didn’t want to make. She could also feel his thoughts brush with hers.

“Fine!” he blurted. “Twenty minutes.” He crossed his arms and legs and hunched his shoulders. Hermione smiled and stood.

“Patrick would be devastated if you confronted him and were wrong. It’s even possible that Voldemort may not even be in the castle, Ron. It’s just Remus’ hunch.”

“And yours, right?” Ron asked. Hermione looked at the fire, the flames flickering off her fair complexion, and slowly nodded. “My money’s on you, Hermione,” said Ron glumly. “I wish it wasn’t, but it is. It always has been.”

She leaned down and kissed him, stroking his hair between her fingers. Cheek to cheek she took in a deep breath. She loved his smell, and wished they could just curl up together and let the world pass them by. She stayed there, holding the moment, and then finally kissed his neck.

“I’ll be right back,” she whispered. “Maybe… maybe this time I’m wrong.”

She walked over to the common room entrance and disappeared out into the darkened corridor, leaving Ron alone, but not before they both said, “I love you.” The Fat Lady barely stirred in her portrait as Hermione continued on her way. Halfway down to the dungeons, Peeves appeared chattering some silly rhyme, a bucket of ashes he had collected from some fireplace in his hands.

“Who’s afoot? Who’s afoot? Soon they’ll find they’re covered in—” He halted as soon as he saw Hermione with her glowing wand. Without saying another word, he disappeared through the wall. Under other circumstances, Hermione might have smiled knowing that the poltergeist now feared her since their last encounter. Tonight, she was far too distracted to think about that.

At last, she came to Snape’s door and rapped on the wood. She could hear someone stir inside, cursing as they did so. As she waited, her mind turned to Harry in Greece, wondering if he’d already told them of the danger, wondering if they would come willingly or risk staying where they were.

A spell was cast, unlocking the door. It made her heart skip a beat.

Her mind flashed to Ron, alone and angry in the common room. Should she have left him alone? The wooden doors opened and a very dishevelled looking Severus Snape appeared. When he saw who it was, the look upon his face turned from anger to cautioned concern.

“Ms. Granger? What could possibly be wrong at this time of night?”
~~~***~~~


It took a moment before Ron noticed that Harry and Gabriella had disappeared through the Marauders’ Eye. He was halfway through some argument with Hermione, explaining why she was wrong when the familiar sensation started again. It tended to happen more when he was emotional, not being careful, and so he retracted what he likened to invisible neuro-fibroids.

Last year his mind reached out and touched everything and everyone that was near him, sending flashes of memories and feelings streaming uncontrollably into his brain. It had grown so bad that he had actually considered suicide, rather than live with the pain caused by the torrent of information and emotions flooding every waking moment of his consciousness. And even though Madame Pomfrey had helped curb the sensations, it wasn’t until he’d been taken by Harry to the falls of the Forbidden Forest and fallen in to, or been grabbed by, the water that he was truly free of the curse that had ravaged his mind.

Standing there, in the Marauder’s Eye where he and Harry often snuck off at night to watch Quidditch matches, he turned his back on Hermione and tossed his hands high into the air. “Great!” he cried. “They’re gone!” He faced Hermione once again. “I had a dozen questions and now he’s gone. For example, what are they going to do when—”

“Not to worry, mate,” said Patrick brightly. “He’ll be back before the morning sausages.” For whatever reason, Patrick’s comment irritated Ron. He was about to tell him that they weren’t mates, and he’d best keep his tongue in his mouth before—

“Patrick’s right, Ron,” said Hermione with a steadier voice than she had but a moment before. “It’s best that we get some rest so that we’re ready for when they return.” The words did not make Ron any happier, but his focus on Patrick was distracted long enough for him to settle down.

“Sure,” he conceded. “Let’s get out of here.” He grabbed his broom and the other two hopped on. They were moving out through the red eye, when he heard whispers in his ear that came from nowhere.

“Soon. I’ll have him in my—”

“Help me…”

When they emerged on the other side, he asked, “Did you hear that? A voice, or voices, or something?”

“Only that slurping sound,” answered Hermione. “Why, what’s wrong?”

Ron stuck his finger in his ear and scratched. “Just tired, I guess.”

He was indeed tired. As if school wasn’t draining enough, Quidditch practice lasted an extra hour. With Harry gone, he needed to be sure that Dennis could handle Seeker, if it came to that on game day. He tried to catch a few winks after dinner, but Hermione wanted to discuss floral arrangements for the wedding. He couldn’t understand why she thought he cared, but he was forced to participate in every decision. There were only two choices that she offered him that he really cared about. Both came after the “I do’s.” First, that there would be a live band at the reception that could seriously rock the Wizarding world, and second, that there would be plenty of Irish ale on hand. Fred and George were handling both, so Ron had nothing more to concern himself with. If only Hermione could see it that way.

By the time the three made it into the common room, he wanted to just drop on the floor and sleep, but he knew that he wouldn’t. He’d wait for Harry to return, and if he didn’t, Ron would prepare for war. He’d gotten a small boost of energy when Patrick left for the night, but it began to fade as Hermione continued to rat out poor Harry to Remus through the floo. Merlin, the woman could chat. He leaned back against the couch and closed his eyes, thinking about how Hermione’s theories were almost always right. Something was wrong, but whatever it was Ron certainly couldn’t cipher it out – not the way his brain was muddled right now. Instead, he let his thoughts turn to Quidditch. He was analyzing one of Ginny’s moves above the pitch, when he heard Hermione pull out from the flames.

“So, what did he say?” he asked with his eyes still closed.

“He thinks Voldemort’s still here,” she answered. Ron couldn’t believe his ears. It wasn’t fear that opened his eyes wide, but hope. The Dark Lord’s name held no power over him now. As far as Ron was concerned, Voldemort was the wizard that had killed his mother, nothing more, nothing less, and, given the opportunity, Ron would destroy him. He could feel the fire begin to burn in his belly, anger growing, hatred rising.

When she told him it might be Patrick, Ron’s first urge was to climb the stairs and blast him in his bed. He’d figure out the rest later. But Hermione’s cautions forced him to steady his emotions and think farther ahead. He loved that about her, the calming effect she had that balanced his instincts to be purely reactive. He was always much more effective in all aspects of his life, if he would simply take the time to think two, or even three, steps ahead. He was, after all, the Hogwarts Wizard Chess Champion two years running.

“Twenty minutes,” said Ron, finally agreeing to his fiancé. “If you’re not back by then, I’ll figure out myself what to do.” They hugged and he took in the hint of flowers that always followed her wherever she went. He loved that scent, the brush of her hair against his cheek, the confidence she held in whatever decision she made… even if she was a bit misguided on occasion.

“I love you too,” he said, an uneasy feeling turning in his innards, as if, somehow, he knew it would be the last time he’d say those words.

When she left the common room to go get Snape, Ron began to pace.

“Lumos!” he called, lighting his wand. He’d take a few steps. “Nox.”

He stopped on the carpet that he had earlier pointed out to Hermione and looked down. He hadn’t done this for a long time, at least not on purpose. He reached out his mind. The house elf was gone. Probably overheard us and ran, thought Ron. He reached further just to see if the elf was still around.

“Help me. Let me—”

There was a stabbing pain in Ron’s head and he immediately drew back to within himself. The voice… it was the same he’d heard earlier in the Marauders’ Eye, only this time it sounded familiar.

“Patrick?” Ron whispered to himself.

“Hey mate! I couldn’t sleep either!”

Ron spun to find Patrick, dressed in his school robes, at the top of the staircase. Ron fingered the wand that was still in his fingers. “Something wrong?” he asked with dubious eyes.

“Nah,” answered Patrick with a hushed voice as he eased his way down the staircase. “I’m just too excited. If everythin’ goes well, he could be back at any moment.” He flopped down in one of the overstuffed chairs. Ron noted that he was still wearing his boots from earlier. “Where do yeh think he’ll bring them when they get here?”

Ron shrugged. They’d forgotten to discuss that part. Wherever was safest he figured. But where would that be? “Dumbledore’s office, I guess,” he replied, not really sure.

“Yeh think? With old Dumbledore almost ready to kick it?”

“Don’t say it like that!” snapped Ron, irritated by the disrespect in Patrick’s voice.

“Sorry,” replied Patrick with a humbler tone that was clearly a bit forced. “You ever been?” he asked. “In the old ma— erm, headmaster’s office? Should we go there to see if he’s ready?”

“Yes,” said Ron stiffly, “I’ve been there, and, no, we don’t need to go see if he’s ready. He’ll be ready if he needs to be. Besides, if someone needs to get in to see him, it’d best be Hermione. She’s Head Girl.”

Patrick’s eyes grew distant for a moment. He was nervously grinding his teeth with a distinct clicking sound, thinking about something. As Ron watched him fidget, the fire glinted off Patrick’s eyes, casting them with a red glimmering hue. It was as if someone had poured ice water down Ron’s back and lit his stomach on fire. He was sure as he could ever be that Voldemort was sitting before him. He’d never make it to twenty minutes. But then, it wasn’t his fault, was it? Patrick had come to him.

“Where’s Hermione?” Patrick asked finally.

“Upstairs, in bed,” Ron lied.

“Funny, I didn’t see her.”

“Not unusual for a second year to miss a few things.”

Patrick stood. Ron’s grip tightened about his wand.

“Nope, I guess not. I just figured Hermione to be the last to wander off to sleep on a night like tonight.” Patrick moved closer to Ron. “Chess?” he asked, pointing to the Wizard’s Chess board that was set out on the table.

Ron didn’t answer. He really, really wanted to know… to know if this was Voldemort before him, and the best way to find out was to reach in. He opened his mind and reached for Patrick’s. There was, at first, a slight resistance, almost as if Patrick knew he was being probed. That was rare in most people and it did not go unnoticed by Ron.

The initial images flashing into Ron’s mind came from Patrick’s memories, not all of them good: The accident that killed his parents, the night his best friend James Chang cast the Imperius curse on him. Still, there were flashes of light and goodness. There was the night he first met Harry, and at this memory he heard it again.

“Help me!”

It was distant and yet near. Ron pressed deeper, but beyond the impassioned plea, something else was bothering him. Normally, he should be sensing emotions; he should be able to tell immediately if Patrick was excited, scared, or deceitful. None of that was here. All this he noticed in less time than it takes Professor McGonagall to transform into a cat. As he moved on he came to what appeared to be a wall, something baring his way. He’d run up against this with Harry and, on occasion, found ways around them. He was now more certain than ever that Voldemort was in here somewhere.

He probed a few places and then found a weakness. He pushed against it. There was resistance. He pushed harder. The barrier gave way, but as if Ron had stumbled across a weak spot on a frozen lake of ice, he found himself, slipping, falling, uncontrollably inward, sucked into a vortex from which he could not escape. He tried to pull away, to retract his penetration, but Patrick’s mind held fast. It was then that he first felt the emotion – odium, pure hatred and revulsion.

There was laughter, slow and quiet at first, but it built into a high, proud voice.

“Finally! You are mine!”

“Let ‘im go!”

“SILENCE!”

Ron could feel the pain, the pain Voldemort was using to punish Patrick for trying to exert his own will. Then Voldemort’s thoughts turned to Ron and immediately the redhead tried to shield his mind. Initially, it worked, and all Voldemort could do was continue to bind their minds and speak his own.

“I… I feel as if we’ve met before – another life perhaps.” The voice was genial, friendly, but Ron knew better than to lose his concentration. “I was right to wait. I’ve wanted you for some time, but I knew better than to cast a spell, or, worse, battle your mental powers on your home turf. No, I had to wait, bide my time, and here you are. Welcome to my vessel, humble, yet sufficient to bring Potter to his ruin.” Ron tried once more to pull away, but was held fast. He could feel Voldemort’s thoughts swirling, snakelike about his own, searching for their own way to penetrate Ron’s defences.

“Formidable,” Voldemort whispered. “Young Draco said as much, said that it would be impossible. But I need you my young friend. I’ve waited too long to find you away from her, away from your friends, willing to probe my thoughts.

“The feint on Greece has successfully convinced Harry to bring his son here. Within the hour he will miraculously battle his way through Lucius’ army and escape with the boy. But we must be ready for him when he arrives and certain people need to be… dealt with.

“First we will kill Dumbledore, after you get your filthy mudblood girlfriend to help us. Then, when he returns, Harry will be slain by his own best friend for cheating with your fiancé. You will bring his son, my blood, to me. Soon I’ll have destroyed them all.” There was a pain, sharp and steady at Ron’s temples. “We’ll destroy them all, you and I.

“Wormtail has been little more than useless this past year. But you… pure of blood as you are… you show promise, more promise than Malfoy’s boy. If you make this easy, I may find a place for you, a place of high power. Once I’ve regained my former self, you, Ron Weasley, will stand at my right side!”

“Go… to… HELL!” Ron screamed back. The outburst of emotion distracted Ron’s mind only momentarily from his steady defence, but it was all that the Dark Lord needed. The pain was excruciating as it flooded Ron’s thoughts to the exclusion of all else.

“We’ll go together!” Voldemort excitedly cried in a cold, clear voice. “Imperio!”
~~~***~~~

A/N: Thanks for the reviews!

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Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 30 – Absolute Power
~~~***~~~

When Gabriella arrived upon the beach of the Island of Kefallinia, her first sensation was warmth. She and Harry had left the frigid weather of Hogsmeade just as it had begun to snow and Apparated across the Channel, but the Paris air was still chilled. Staying warm on Harry’s broom, they flew for awhile and then Apparated again to Greece; this time the warmer Mediterranean air wrapped her in its arms welcoming her home. Finally, she could take off her scarf. With a wave of her wand, it vanished and her boots fell at her side, freeing her feet to walk the beach bare.

Gabriella was born in the mountains of Armenia and while she loved the rugged and earthy terrain of her birthplace, the land where her grandmother still lived, she was more at home with the sea. The gritty feel of sand between her toes, the tangy taste of salt in the ocean’s breath, the ebb and flow of the ocean’s waves, and the warmth and passion of the man she loved had converged on one spot and, for a moment, her mind wandered to the summer before, when times were happier, when watching was easier. She smiled.

“What’s that for?” Harry asked with beautiful green eyes and a glowing smile of his own. She could sense that he was feeling the same joy and memories of the summer before.

“This?” she asked in return, pointing at her face. Gabriella reached over and took Harry’s hand. She pulled him close and held him tight. “I wish…” she began in a quiet whisper. “I wish we didn’t have to be here, but we are, and I’m so glad we’re here together.” She gently kissed his ear and he flinched from the tickle. “Hmmm… I think I’ve found another spot. That’s three now that belong to only me.” She kissed his ear again and Harry pulled back a bit to look her in the eyes.

“Three?” he asked incredulously. “Thirty-three’s more like and that’s only counting the surface of my skin. If I had to—”

Gabriella suddenly shuddered in his arms. An arctic blast shot across her mind, clear and cold – a vision of red and then of black. It was a sensation she knew all too well. It was Voldemort and he was punishing someone… someone dear. Her breathing quickened, as did the pace of her heart, while the image of torture, defiance and pain continued.

“Gab?” Harry called. “GAB?” he yelled. But she would not respond; her mind had been torn away. Someone was calling to her, yelling for help in one final attempt to—

The vision ended and she collapsed in Harry’s arms. Perspiration beaded upon her head, but her bones felt cold, more fatigued than if she’d just climbed Olympus. Harry continued to speak, but her mind was not yet processing it. Instead, she was trying to take in what she had seen, what it meant. Save for her nightmare, she had never had so vivid a vision in her life. What did it mean? “Red,” she whispered, trying to pull the memory back into her mind and assemble it with the disjoint pieces.

Her mother had taught her how to reassemble the fractured collections that often came with visions, even though Gabriella never showed any signs of being so gifted.

“Maybe… maybe because I was his host… maybe we were linked,” she muttered to herself. But while that sounded right, it didn’t feel right. The connection she felt wasn’t of Voldemort; it didn’t originate with him. She had heard another voice, fair and familiar. Someone calling. Red? “Blood?” she whispered contemplating the possibility, but then rejected it. “No.”

“Gabriella, can you hear me?” Harry asked again, giving her a bit of a shake. It was enough to snap her from her trance, if that’s what it was, and, for the first time, she heard his words.

“Harry?” she asked looking back into his eyes.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I… I had a vision,” she replied quietly. “I think,” she added with uncertainty.

“But I thought—”

“So did I.” Her body stiffened; she was anxious once more. She waved her wand and her boots were back on her feet. “We have to hurry!”

“Why?”

“Voldemort. I think… I think he’s attacking someone, someone right now, someone I care deeply about. I saw red.”

“Blood?”

“Or his eyes. His…” She shuddered. “…eyes.” There was a pause. “Someone was calling for help, or—”

“They may already be at the castle!” cried Harry. A cold tingle cascaded down her spine – so much for warm and tender moments.

She looked up at the eastern sky as he ran across the sand to get his broom. Sirius’ castle was still over a hundred miles away, but it was too dangerous to Apparate in. Voldemort’s army could be anywhere in their search to find the castle. From here on out, the two of them needed to move in slowly and that meant they had to fly. If the castle was already under attack, they’d never make it in time. She pondered, for only a moment, calling to the dragon, beseeching him for aid, but as her eyes scanned the distant horizon she did not see weather that would portend a great battle. Surely such a sign would hang in the early morning light, but none was to be seen. She pulled in a deep breath to settle her nerves. Perhaps her apprehension was causing unwarranted fears. Knowing what Mama would say, she kicked the earth, cursing herself for her own ignorance; clearly she had the signs wrong.

Her eyes fell back on Harry as he ran toward her, broom in hand. He paused for a moment and closed his eyes. She knew what he was doing, looking at her, wondering if by chance she was still possessed or held under the control of Voldemort. She understood; she almost wondered herself what had just happened and, when he opened his eyes and came toward her with a look of relief, the same expression crossed her own face. She was, at least, free of that madness.

She dropped her head, staring at the sand. Why was she here? It was, what she was doing, foolish. If the battle was at hand, Harry would need to slip in quickly and by stealth. Her presence would make it that much easier for the two of them to be found. Her weight would slow his progress on the broom, threatening Harry’s mission. She shook her head to gather her nerves, but when she reached up to hold Harry’s shoulder as she mounted his broom, her fingers were trembling.

Her center was tearing. Duty, honor, a bloodline of a hundred generations… they were calling on her to use her own eyes, to watch as time unfolded. She shook her head to clear the voices of her ancestors calling to her. She knew the man before her. He would never… No. It was her duty to be sure that Harry—

“You okay?” he said with concern, gently holding her by the arm.

“I… I should stay,” she said in a hollow voice. “You could be there in far less time without my weight.” She moved to get off the broom. “I’ll Apparate back to—” Harry grabbed her.

“I won’t lose you again. Hold tight,” he said sharply. If he was smiles before, he was deadly serious now. There was no mirth in his voice and, as they rose together above the sea, the sun beginning to peak above the horizon, there was no joy. It was a beautifully terrible moment – a blood red sun rising in the east and, with it, the likelihood of death.

“The coming sun will play to our favor,” she said with a tremor in her voice. “I don’t much care to see the likes of Draco, or his ilk.”

“No. I don’t either,” he said, staring straight. There was a pause and Gabriella could sense the familiar struggle rising up within Harry once again. His feelings, she knew, were quite conflicted when it came to Draco. It stewed for so long she began to regret mentioning their good fortune in timing. Finally, his thoughts cleared, focusing instead on what he must do. “Do you remember anything else?” he asked as they streaked across the sky, high above the Gulf of Corinth.

“I didn’t see much of anything. It wasn’t that sort of vision. It was more like feelings, jangled strips of emotions, each trying to say something. I need to try to piece them together, but I don’t know if I can. Mama has the gift, not me.”

“And Voldemort… you’re sure it was Voldemort?”

Fear began to wrap itself about her heart. Even though the two were alone as they flew high above the waters below, she looked behind to see if, perhaps, they were being followed. “Y-Yes, I’m sure, and I’m… I’m also sure that he was angry.” She spit toward the distant ground below for feeling so afraid, and then held tight to Harry’s waist and squeezed, drawing strength from his confidence.

She remembered back to the end of summer, when Harry first crossed into Singehorn’s lands. She was so torn, feeling his fear and forcing herself to pretend that she didn’t care. Yet, that too was her duty. He had grown so much these last few months. He was more afraid of Snape’s exams than he was of the deadly dangers that lurked about every corner. His mind was fixed on the well being of others, and he would risk his own life to see to their safety. More than anything else, she loved that quality of self-sacrifice within him, but she also worried about the recklessness of his actions. He rarely took time to measure the consequences, or to meter the possibilities. With the powers he now had at his fingertips, such choices would have far greater consequences; they would reach beyond Harry and touch others if he wasn’t careful. Mama was right; it had grown more complicated. Perhaps it was because she had lost her heart to Harry long ago, but Gabriella never expected the entanglements between love and duty to become so complex so quickly.

Wishing she could share her thoughts with Harry, Gabriella closed her eyes, leaned her head against his back and drew in a long breath of the early morning air. After a moment she added, “Whomever he was trying to control was fighting back, refusing to obey.” Dwelling upon the mental battle that she sensed being put up against Voldemort, she noted to herself that she wasn’t nearly as successful at repelling the Dark Lord’s will when he had attacked her.

“There aren’t many that could take him on like that,” said Harry, scratching the back of his head, not realizing the fear she held inside. “I don’t think Cho could, maybe Sirius.”

“Or, if they’ve found the castle, another member of the Order. Mad Eye maybe?” She knew before the words left her lips that that was wrong. She had sensed that it was a friend, someone she cared about. Maybe it was Cho.

Not knowing her thoughts, Harry nodded, trying to will his broom faster, but it was already rushing through the air at full speed. In a matter of seconds, they crossed over the Corinth Canal and out over the Saronic Gulf. The water below glimmered, a bejewelled breastplate with each island a spectacular jade or granite stone rimmed in emerald green. She was about to say they should slow down when Harry pulled back on his broom and began to descend. They would reach the castle soon and from here they needed to move in with even greater vigilance. Maybe he had tempered his recklessness after all.

They were less then twenty miles away from the castle when she saw the smoke to the north. A low, dark fog that spanned the horizon, she wondered if it didn’t reach from coast to coast. But this was no fog.

“Fires?” she asked.

“Dementors,” Harry replied coldly. “It’s what it looked like over the Carpathians – a thick, black cloud of hatred. If there’s enough to blot out the sun, then you can bet that there will be no reprieve from vampires.”

Gabriella couldn’t believe her eyes. It was a line that stretched tens of miles from side to side; a dark band hovered above the treetops. She was certain it was smoke, but she was more certain that Harry was telling the truth. She began to sense the darkness, the cold, the sorrow as they flew closer. It was a tempest of despair; she swallowed.

“Voldemort must have summoned them from all across Europe,” she said breathlessly. “There… there are so many. But they’re in the middle of their own war, battling the Centaurs. Why would they come to his aid?”

“He’s promised them his help,” answered Harry. “If they—” He halted and she felt him shiver within her arms.

“What is it, Harry?”

“C-Centaurs. In Greece, there are two great herds. I… I don’t know how I know, but… one… one just disappeared. It… it’s not possible… is it?” Harry leaned forward on his broom, trying to peer into the darkness for some clue as to what had just happened. “The other heard is being attacked! The screams… the little ones. They’re being pushed toward the sea. We have to do something!”

The broom suddenly veered from its easterly direction and started north, right into the centre of the cloud of darkness. The sensation was palpable; Gabriella didn’t need to ask. Harry was angry and growing more angry by the second. The air around them was so charged she could almost smell it.

“Harry, it’s suicide. We can’t face them alone.”

Without Harry saying a word, the broom shot upward, higher than she thought possible. The change in perspective revealed just how deep the black cloud of Dementors was. The line was wide, spreading like a swarm of giant locusts, but it was not that deep, perhaps a mile across.

“They’re sweeping across the country,” said Harry, “looking for Jamie. Centaurs are just a bonus.” He pointed down and to his right toward a small patch of green earth that stood out against the surrounding whiteness. “They’ve yet to reach the castle, but it won’t be long.”

Gabriella looked down to find the line of darkness only a few miles away from reaching its goal. They might be able to make it to the castle on time, but they’d never be able to gather Cho and the rest before it was too late.

“We don’t have enough time,” she said.

“We can, if we Apparate.”

“From here?”

“Yes, from here!” snapped Harry.

Gabriella looked into his eyes. There was something more, something he wasn’t saying, but his anger was masking the other feeling.

“You first,” he said. “Focus on the courtyard. I’ll follow.”

“What is it that you’re not—”

“There’s no time! GO!”

She was torn; something was wrong. Without saying another word, knowingly denying her duty, Gabriella nodded her head. “Be careful, my love.” She placed her hand across his face and pulled her wand. “Asha protect you.”

“And also you,” he replied, kissing her on the lips.

When Gabriella Apparated onto the courtyard, she found it quiet – too quiet. She opened a large wooden door that led to the main corridor. It creaked loudly. She quieted the hinges with her wand, but still cursed herself for not silencing them sooner. Stepping slowly forward, she found the corridor empty. She stood at the open doorway, waiting for Harry, but knowing that he wouldn’t be following her. She was unsure what to do. There was no way to Apparate back; she’d probably appear in the middle of the air. She was about to step back outside, when she heard laughter from within – a child’s. The sound pulled her in and down the corridor.

Still holding her wand aloft and following the giggles, Gabriella noticed that the ghosts that usually appeared in every corridor were absent. None were to be found hovering, or passing through walls. She continued to follow the laughter until she came to a door. She knew that it led to one of the larger entertaining chambers. Then, suddenly, Gabriella heard Cho’s voice cry out in panic.

“Jamie! NO!”

Gabriella burst through the door, ready to strike. Framed in front of a great wall of glass that faced toward Athens, was Cho, Anthony and little Jamie. Anthony sat, reading a book, apparently unconcerned about the danger they were facing. Jamie was crouched on a small swath of crimson carpet, only it wasn’t touching the ground. He was a good six feet in the air and climbing higher. Cho was chasing after him.

“Jamie! Get down here this instant!” Jamie simply laughed again and climbed higher.

Cho’s eyes met Gabriella’s and they filled with a new kind of concern.

“Gabriella?”

“Cho, Anthony!” cried Gabriella. “It’s an attack! They’re outside the grounds. Get Jamie and get out of here! Back to England. Back to Hogwarts. Before it’s—”

“Gab?” asked Cho. Gabriella stood frozen as she looked past Cho and out through the open window. To the north was the barn where they cared for the Hippogriffs. Beyond it was a rolling fog of black, surging toward them at incredible speed. It was like a giant tidal wave, rising to crash over the top of them. Gabriella took one step toward the window, watching the rolling darkness, readying her wand to cast a spell when her entire view filled with a flash of fiery light. The great glass window imploded. First she felt the heat, then she felt her feet being lifted off the ground. Then, all went dark.
________________________________________


When Harry arrived upon the beach of the Island of Kefallinia, his first sensation was that of cold. It was as if hundreds of voices were crying out in fear, but it quickly faded and the sensation passed.

“I hate Apparation,” he muttered to himself. Apparating over short distances was bad enough. Passing over hundreds of miles pushed him to his limits. His hands were clammy, his stomach churned, but he was grateful, after traveling over such a distance, that he wasn’t splinched into a rock wall.

He watched as Gabriella vanished her boots and wandered barefoot toward the water. She stopped and turned back at him with a smile, one he’d come to recognize.

“What’s that for?” he asked, walking over to her. Before he knew it, she was tickling his ear and he had to hold her away from him. He loved it, but insisted, “Would you stop—” He never finished. Suddenly, she shuddered in his arms in some sort of seizure.

“GAB!” he cried. She continued to shake, and even after the shaking stopped, she wouldn’t respond. “Gab, please!” He was beginning to panic when, finally, she noticed he was calling out to her. And, after she had explained what happened, he began to wonder if that’s what people thought of him when his forehead exploded in pain. Instinctively, he moved his hand up to rub the scar that was no longer there.

“We need to hurry! Come on!” he called. He ran and got his broom and then a cold thought shot into his heart. What if she was still under his control? He paused and used his inner eye to see that her aura was singular. When he opened his eyes, he could see that she’d noticed. He wasn’t sure what to say.

“You okay?” he asked.

When she looked at him, her eyes showed her warring emotions. She suggested that it would be best if he go alone. He couldn’t believe his ears. He’d offended her. There was no way of telling how close to danger they were. For all he knew they were surrounded right now. He’d lost her in France; he wasn’t going to lose her in Greece, not here, not ever.

He insisted she come and, once she’d mounted his broom, he flew as fast as he could toward Sirius’ castle. As they passed over the Corinth Canal, he began to hear voices cry out to him again. It was then that he realized that the minds screaming inside his head were the voices of Centaurs – stallions, foals, voices of every gender, of every age rose up into a tremendous crescendo and then sharply disappeared into silence. Though he was uncertain what it was he had just sensed, he was nonetheless confident that it had been total genocide, and the ones responsible were now being led by Voldemort towards their true goal, Harry’s child. His insides felt frozen, and a sense of anger, a need for retribution began to build within him, rekindling an unnatural warmth to fill the void.

As they approached the castle, Harry slowed his broom, proceeding cautiously. His greater desire was to attack, to exterminate his enemy – immediately. The only thing stopping him was the girl on his broom; he wouldn’t put Gabriella in any more danger than necessary. His fickle emotions were challenged more when he saw a black band of fog, rolling in from the north. He knew at once what it was – Dementors being driven forward by Voldemort. Immediately, he turned his broom in their direction, away from the castle and toward the coming darkness.

“Harry, you’re crazy!” cried Gabriella. In the beat of a butterfly wing, he’d forgotten she was there. It disturbed him, but not enough to shake his purpose. He wasn’t sure what to do… what to do…

Pulling hard on the broomstick, Harry guided their mount higher, straight up into the sky. He needed to see what the Dementors were doing, how far this band of darkness stretched. Down and to the right, he noted that Sirius’ castle was as yet unharmed, but it wouldn’t be long before it was discovered. He’d never reach the castle in time if they flew; not to do what he needed to do. Even Gabriella knew they were too far away, but for different reasons.

“We don’t have enough time,” she said, and she was right; there wasn’t enough time. Not unless… unless they split up. Gabriella would have to try to save Jamie and the others, while Harry would have the chance to destroy the swarming Dementors that had harmed his family. It was an odd sensation, but sincere – yes, the Centaurs were now very much his kin.

“We could Apparate.” For an instant, his mind dwelt on the large tapestry back at Hogwarts, showing the annihilation of the Dementors, the annihilation of everything. He looked down. Other than the castle, there were no other settlements in the area. Maybe, if he could control it—

“From here?”

“Yes, from here,” he snapped. Why wouldn’t she just go? They were running out of time. “You first,” he added. “I’ll follow.”

If she didn’t Disapparate soon, the Dementors would be too close to the castle and he might—

“What is it that you’re not—”

“There’s no time! GO!”

At last, there was a snap and Harry took in a long, slow breath. Finally, he thought. He pulled at his collar; it felt tight, restrictive. He was developing a very Centaur-like disdain for the Dementors moving toward the castle, threatening his family and friends. They had killed. So would he. He would kill them, kill them all; he knew it was within his power. He would Apparate down in their midst and— A tingling, burning sensation brushed against his ear, singed the nape of his neck. He spun to see who was there.

“Singehorn?” Harry exclaimed. The scene had changed. He was no longer flying high in the air, but was instead on a dry, arid plane. The dragon, in his massive human form, stood before him. His red eyes glared, not with anger or approval, but with an impassive curiosity.

“Do you have a minute?” the dragon asked as a matter of courtesy with his deep, scratchy voice.

“NOW! But—” Harry stopped himself. In here, in this meeting place of the minds, time stood still. They could converse for what would seem like hours, only to have Harry return back on his broom the instant he left. He nodded to the elder dragon and bowed. “Forgive me.”

“We,” began the dragon, “are not far away. There are a few of us that have been watching, waiting. These Dementors are wiser. They have avoided our aviaries on the peninsula and have steered clear of our hatchlings.”

“But they’ve killed an entire herd of Centaurs!” protested Harry.

“That is none of our concern.”

“What? You can’t be serious!”

“I am old, Harry, and have seen many evils in my day. I would not venture to choose which evil I dislike most. It does not pain me to see wizards kill wizards, Dementors kill Centaurs, or… well, I could go on for some time. They all have, for their part, done very little for our kind.”

“I’m a wizard,” said Harry, stepping closer, almost in defiance. He was still angry over the death of his own, his Centaur kin. For a moment, his inner consciousness questioned why the allegiance was so strong, but the tempering sensation was fleeting and the anger bubbled forth once more. “We have to take action! We have to destroy the Dementors and those leading them!”

“I wonder of such wisdom,” said Singehorn crossing his arms and saying nothing more. Not listening, Harry contemplated that with dragon fire he could charge the Heart of Asha far better than if he cast his own Incendio spell.

“The stone… are you near enough?” Harry asked impatiently. “You could recharge it and then I could—” Singehorn chuckled.

“Have you not learned, my child? It does not require it. Since the Joining your fire spells alone have been able to destroy these dark creatures. And it was there that Asha’s heart was charged with something far more enduring, far more powerful than fire, Harry. Do you not remember what it was? Would you then use such power to feed your thirst for revenge, to quench your hate?”

“They’re murdering vermin! The don’t deserve to—”

“Then again,” interrupted Singehorn. His demeanour seemed to change, a slight echo of Harry’s emotions, and he leaned forward toward the young wizard, his red eyes glaring. “Fire does not destroy, Harry. It is, itself, alive. It is purifying. It cleanses all that it touches.” Singehorn grinned and his smile revealed long rows of sharp white teeth. There was a glimmer in his eye that was most seducing, and Harry’s anger began to ebb to another thought – that the evil outside Sirius castle needed to be cleansed. It wouldn’t be murder. It was simply a time for a fresh start, a new beginning.

“Yes,” whispered Harry to himself. “Yes, I understand. The war… it must be stopped. The darkness on both sides… I must—”

Harry watched as the perfectly cleansed terrain behind Singehorn, the lifeless desert, faded and then vanished, and he found himself, still hovering on his broom, high in the air. Without hesitation he Apparated into the midst of the Dementors, just north of the castle, as a wave of darkness rolled past the barn where Buckbeak and the other Hippogriffs were usually stabled. For a second, he thought he heard voices… they were arguing.

It was then that he noticed a swirling Patronus, racing past the barn to meet the darkness; then another. A wizard, or wizards, was battling the onslaught from behind. Harry’s mind was cloudy, unclear on what exactly he should do. Another long, narrow Patronus passed him, a powerful one, knocking him to the ground. The tumble only served to stoke his rage.

“This war,” he muttered to himself. “It must stop!” He held his arms out wide, spanning the line of Dementors flying above him, swirling around him. It was cold, and the sounds of screams were beginning to work their way into his mind. It was then that he noticed a great, green dragon as it roared above his head – Casinius! Harry concentrated, trying to reach his mind to the dragon’s.

“Icendiamos!” he cried.

Emanating directly from the stone, hidden within his chest, fire erupted from between his outstretched arms. At the same moment, the dragon spit fire and it was like adding a tanker of propane to an already raging inferno. There was an explosion of heat and power. Harry could hear the screams… the burning, sizzling sounds… the silence. Another dragon, this time a pale blue, roared as it passed on Harry’s right – Crestian. He could hear her speaking to him and he responded. There was a another roar and the two dragons split up, strafing the line of Dementors, on either side of Harry, with fire.

Harry held his arms outward again, stretching to each horizon and repeated the spell. “Icendiamos!” This time, great spheres of fire, twisting into tornadoes of fiery gasses, roared from both his outstretched palms and swirled along the line of Dementors on either side of him. There were more screams, but this time distant, this time human.

“We can stop them,” he thought to himself with excitement. “We shall stop them! Stop them all!” …or were the dragons speaking…? “We shall cleanse the land and it shall be reborn anew.” Again the vision of the tapestry at Hogwarts flashed in Harry’s mind, the arid desert scene behind Singehorn, it was a vision of death and destruction, revealing to Harry his own sense of Centaurian rage and dragon glee and… and something more, something darker. He paused, frightened that the emotions swirling in his mind, prodding him to wield more power, weren’t truly his own. In that moment’s pause, there was a cry, faint and distant… a child’s cry from behind. Harry turned.

“Jamie?” he muttered, trying to clear his thoughts, trying to find his own centre; then he saw it. “The castle!” he breathed.

From where Harry stood, all the way to the front of the castle walls, a good football field away, nothing stood higher than a few inches off the ground, much of it polished a glossy black. No Dementor remained alive. The barn… the barn holding Buckbeak and the other Hippogriffs was gone. There was nothing but blackened ash. Whatever wizard or wizards that had been casting Patronus spells had either vanished or been destroyed.

“What… What have I done?” The two dragons circled above. He could feel their pleasure.

“Well done, Primate!” one of them congratulated him. “There are more creatures just to the north. Shall we attack?”

“GO!” he commanded. “Leave me!” They obliged, flying to the east, the fading sound of their wings beating against the air the only noise to be heard. There was no other sound of life, save for the crying coming from the castle.

“JAMIE!” Harry yelled out, running toward the broken castle walls which had fallen inward on themselves. No sooner had the dragons left than the dark cloud began to reform above the castle grounds, filtering out the sun. There was a handful of snaps and pops from behind him, and Harry looked back to see a group of wizards, some fifty yards away, wearing the garb of Death Eaters, hoods covering their faces, standing like carved statues. Harry raised his wand to strike when, from their centre, emerged a thin, pale wizard, wearing no hood and dressed in bright red robes.

“Draco?” Harry sputtered in disbelief. The blonde smiled and, even at this distance, Harry could see two long, pristine fangs. The former Slytherin was still thin, but he looked far better off than when Harry had last seen him in prison.

“I heard about the fire and I knew it was you,” Draco called, but his voice was unnatural. Had the vampirism affected him as it had Dakhil? “I had to come see for myself.”

Harry kept his wand high, but Draco made no such comparable move. Then Harry remembered Gabriella’s vision… red… was this—

“What are you playing at?” Harry called out, the cloud of darkness, Dementors, swirling high about his head, still blotting the sun. He was beginning to feel cold and the faint sounds of screams tickled the back of his mind, but there was more… a collection of voices, mutterings, and calls of command. Harry shook his head, unsure what it was he was hearing. His eyes shot around, looking for Lucius; or was Draco the vessel for Voldemort? “Where’s your father?” he yelled. “Where’s Voldemort?”

The hooded Death Eaters unmoving, statuesque and frozen in position, Draco continued to step forward as if he wasn’t listening. Soon he was some thirty feet in front of Harry, a mass of Dementors at his back. The voices in Harry’s head grew louder.

“Tell them to stay back, Draco, or I’ll fry you all. I swear!”

Draco simply smiled. “Always the drama queen,” he drawled. Again the tone of his words was surreal, as if it emanated from—

“This is ridiculus!” someone clicked and scratched. “Take his soul.” It took a moment before Harry realized he was hearing the voice of one of the Dementors. He’d never heard them speak before. Then, he remembered. For a split moment, Harry glanced to the ebon ring on his finger. Of course, not only could he hear them, he could speak to these creatures!

“Stay back, you filth!” he yelled, focusing his words to bend to their language. The Dementors halted, if only briefly, taken aback that they had all heard Harry’s words in their own tongue. Oblivious, Draco continued to swagger ahead.

His smile was Cheshire like and the arrogance was overwhelming. Every fibre in Harry’s body said not to trust him, but he was hesitating. Why? He should destroy him and the Dementors behind him now. Yet, the thought of what he had done to the barn and Buckbeak was burned into his memory; he took no action. Soon Draco was ten feet away. The screams began to crawl into Harry’s psyche, growing louder as Draco moved closer and the Dementors closed in from behind the blonde. Harry’s hand began to tremble.

“I can’t believe this is going to work,” a Dementor clicked.

“What?” Harry thought. “Work?” He hesitated no longer.

“Expecto Patronum!” he cried. An enormous stag erupted from his wand. It wouldn’t harm Draco, but at least it would repel the swirling darkness. The Dementors screeched and scattered. Harry could hear them cursing. With the cloud parted, the sun’s full rays fell on Draco’s face. There was a puff of smoke and naught but a small pile of ash remained in the place where he stood.

“DRACO!” Harry screamed out, rushing forward and falling to his knees. He’d killed him! “No!” Suddenly, a blast of cold struck Harry’s back. He never heard the spell, but he knew at once what it was – Petrificus Totalus. He could feel his body turn rigid as he crumpled to the ground.

He heard the crunch, crunch, crunch of footsteps moving toward him over the charred and kiln-dried earth. Someone took his shoulder and spun him over. It was Draco Malfoy, only he was dressed in different robes – these were green. Above his head was something that looked like a floating umbrella, shading him wherever he moved. His face was drawn and tired, more gaunt than the Draco he’d seen before, the one dressed in red. He looked ill; nonetheless there was a thin line across his lips and, when he spoke, Harry could see his fangs. They were barely noticeable, not the extended spikes curing about the lower lip of the red dressed Draco.

“I knew you wouldn’t kill me,” he whispered, kneeling down at Harry’s side. His voice was as Harry always remembered it – snide and haughty. “You’re wondering about this?” he asked, rubbing the ash of his other self’s remains in his fingers. “A bit of advanced transfiguration is all. You really should be more careful. I might not be at Hogwarts, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been training.” Harry’s eyes were on fire, anger beginning to fill his veins once again. He’d been duped. “You’re angry. I understand. I would be too, but we’re partners, right? We’re going to see this thing through to the end… no matter the cost. He must be stopped.”

There was another collection of pops and snaps in the distance. Immediately, Draco bent low to Harry’s ear. “Harry,” he whispered, “trust me… now, more than ever. This can’t look real, it has to be real.” Draco rose to his feet, fear flickering across his eyes. “I’m… I’m… Forgive me for this.” Draco waved his wand and, with a sharp tearing sound, the front of Harry’s robes were torn away, revealing his bare chest.

“Draco?” called a low, drawling voice from across the burnt field. There were more pops.

Draco looked down at Harry and mouthed the words, “Be ready.” There was the briefest of hesitations and then…

“Diffindo!” he cried. Harry’s chest exploded with searing pain. He would have cried out, but he couldn’t. Four razor-like cuts appeared across his chest. He was sliced as if a lion had run his large claws from Harry’s left shoulder to the lower ribs of his right side. “Diffindo!” Another slashing movement criss-crossed the clawing pattern on Harry’s chest, mimicking the one before and leaving an enormous, broad X created from bleeding strips of flesh.

Blood began to flow freely as Draco knelt low and drank from the open wounds. The Dementors began to move in, but Draco cast his own Patronus, a large silvery snake that coiled and struck. “Stay away from him!” he yelled. “He’s mine!”

“DRACO!” Lucius Malfoy suddenly appeared in Harry’s view. “Are you mad? What in the name of Morgana are you— Potter?” Lucius’ eyes flashed with a spark of glee. Then his head snapped up, looking toward the demolished stones of the castle. “Is this it? Is the boy here?” Then back at Draco. The younger blonde was drawing another swallow of Harry’s blood. Lucius seemed to snap to his senses. His voice was stern, reproachful. “Do you know what you’re doing? This isn’t what—” he stopped himself and then sighed. Draco had ignored him throughout, lapping at Harry’s open wounds. Harry was wincing with pain as he saw a look of disgust fill Lucius’ expression.

“What have you become,” his father drawled in disdain. Draco stopped, and, for the first time, he looked up, his face covered in blood.

“Only what you have made me, father; only what you have made me.”

“You know that the Dark Lord—”

“The bastard’s mine!” yelled Draco, rising to his feet. “I finally have him under my control and you want me to hand him over to that… that failure!” Lucius slapped Draco hard across the face, spraying blood into the air.

“Never speak like—”

“You’re a fool!” yelled Draco. He pointed at Harry. “Potter has the stone! Don’t you see? He knows where it is! With it, you could lead the Death Eaters!” Draco stepped toward his father, wiping his face with his hand and shaking the excess blood onto the scorched earth beneath. “Look around you! He did this because he has the vivificus stone. Who gives a damn about a baby? Get Potter to hand it over to you, and YOU would be the new Dark Lord! Father, whatever power he held over you twenty years ago, with the stone, you can pay that wisp of a spirit back for what he’s done to our family!”

Lucius hesitated… and then his eyes darted all about. Was he looking to see if anyone was listening? Harry couldn’t move to see if there were others nearby. He’d heard other Apparations. Where was Voldemort? Whose body had he taken control of? Lucius’ eyes settled on something or someone behind Harry. Nonchalantly, he slipped out his wand, pointed it initially at Harry, but then quickly raised it up to the object he had been looking at.

“Avada Kedavra!” he hissed. Green light sprang from his wand and Harry heard a thump as something fell to the ground. With a smirk, Lucius slipped his wand away. “I always liked Goyle, but we couldn’t have him blubbering about things he doesn’t have the comprehension to understand. Besides, he was never the same after his son died.”

The elder Malfoy stepped close to Harry and knelt. Between thumb and forefinger, he grabbed a strip of loose flesh on Harry’s chest and pulled. Harry tried to defy the agony in his eyes, but they gave him away as a tear of pain slipped out and slapped against the glassy earth.

“Now… Potter,” he drawled, “what’s say you tell me where the stone is and I heal these nasty scratches? Otherwise, I think Draco here might just have to drink you dry.” He tugged on the flesh again and Harry screamed in silence. “What do you say, lad?” Lucius placed his hand on Harry’s forehead and the Gryffindor felt his muscles release from the neck and above. He could speak. “Is it really worth it?” Harry felt Lucius get a tighter grip on the loose flesh. “Do we have a deal?”

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