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harry potter
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 31 – A Dangerous Game
~~~***~~~

The third staircase on the climb up Gryffindor tower locked into place. A few of the wizards in the portraits against the wall stirred, but most just continued sleeping. Even though she was exhausted, Hermione’s heart pounded faster and faster the closer they got to the Gryffindor common room.

On their climb out of the dungeons, she explained everything that had transpired. Snape cursed Harry’s reckless behaviour.

“He’ll get them all killed is what will happen,” Snape had hissed. “Foolish, just like his father.”

But even still, he was intrigued by the possibility that Voldemort could have taken control of another student, perhaps too intrigued Hermione pondered. As they climbed, Snape tried to convince her that everything was and would remain just fine. Voldemort was certainly miles, if not countries, away. His words contradicted his eager expression. Nor was Hermione so sure that Voldemort had left Hogwarts once he had been forced to leave Gabriella’s body.

Harry was certainly impulsive, but there was always an edge of truth in everything he said. It’s just that he had a problem taking the time to think it all through. She wished that, at least sometimes, Harry would sit down and just contemplate the implications and intricacies of his actions and the actions of those around him. Ron had the same impulsive streak in him; perhaps that’s why he and Harry were such great friends, but he was also, when he took the time, a great strategist. He could weave the moves four, or more steps ahead. Hermione knew that Ron’s brothers, Fred and George, had long ago mastered that skill and that, one day, Ron would as well. Perhaps that’s why she and Ron made such a great couple. Or, maybe, it was because he was such a good—

“Well, here we are,” said Snape in a long drawn out sigh. “Shall you do the honours, Ms. Granger?” he asked, holding his hand out toward the sleeping Fat Lady. Hermione cleared her throat. The Fat Lady didn’t move. She coughed louder. Still nothing happened.

“Excuse me,” she said softly.

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake,” snapped Snape. He pounded on the portrait’s frame. “Wake up, woman!” he yelled. The Fat Lady nearly jumped out of the frame. Her hair was skewed to one side and her lipstick had somehow smeared across her cheek.

“How dare you interrupt my—” She stopped, realizing that a professor was present and then quickly tried to adjust her appearance. “Is there a p-problem Professor?” Snape looked at Hermione impatiently.

“Ms. Granger?”

“Er… sorry, ma’am. We didn’t mean to—”

“Ms. Granger?”

“Why, yes, sir… Demon dippers.”

The portrait swung open and Snape and Hermione stepped into the Gryffindor common room. Hermione expected to see Ron, pacing back and forth with his wand drawn, looking expectantly out the window for Harry’s return. Instead he was sprawled out on the couch in front of the fire… asleep. Or was he d—?

“RON!” she cried. The redhead jumped up, nearly throwing his wand into the fire.

“W-What,” he sputtered groggily. “What the bloody—”

“Worse than worthless,” muttered Snape.

“Are you alright?” Hermione asked, running to his side.

“Er… yeah,” he answered, rubbing his eyes with one hand while reaching down about the bottom of the couch to find his wand. Realizing he’d simply fallen asleep, Hermione’s demeanour instantly changed and, bent down as he was, she kicked him in the arse, flattening him to the floor.

“How could you fall asleep?” she yelled, kicking him once more. “Harry could be back any minute now and… and—”

“Stop kicking me!” Ron yelled back. “Ow! So help me… I’ll—” Finally, he found his wand, spun onto his back and held it up at her, waving it like a first year.

“You’ll what?” snapped Hermione, kicking his thigh. “I should—”

“Eh, hem.” Snape gave a little cough and the two stopped to look at him. The irritation in his eyes was enough for Hermione to put her wand away. It took Ron a moment more.

“Sev… er, Professor,” he said, slipping his wand away and rubbing his hind quarters. “Of course.” Ron rose to his feet and put his arm, haltingly, about Hermione’s waist. He looked into her eyes and whispered, “No need to go mental. I was awake. Reflexes of a cat. You know that. Meeeeowww.” He made a clawing motion with his right hand, and Hermione, against her will, smiled.

“Is the boy still upstairs?” Snape asked with an obviously dispassionate voice.

“Er, Patrick?” asked Ron. “Sure. Probably still in bed. I haven’t heard a thing since he left to the dormitory.”

“Obviously,” drawled Snape.

The three made there way to where the second year boys slept. Already, the early glow of dawn was beginning to reveal itself through the window. Hermione glanced out through the pains of glass and noticed a somewhat sickly looking wizard approaching the front doors of Hogwarts with great haste. She recognized, Remus Lupin at once, and his presence did not, in her mind, portend as a sight of great things to come. She watched as the castle doors closed behind him.

“I suggest we proceed with due caution,” offered Snape quietly.

All three held their wands at the ready as Snape carefully pulled back the curtains on Patrick’s bed. He was there, asleep in a foetal position. Looking down at him, Hermione felt that the whole concept that this angelic looking boy could be possessed by Voldemort was fantastical.

“It doesn’t seem possible,” whispered Hermione. The words, though soft, startled Patrick and he jumped up, seeing Ron at his bedside first.

“Oh crap!” Patrick exclaimed. “Did I miss Quidditch practice? I was going to watch—” He stopped, noticing Snape. “Professor?” Then he saw Hermione. “What’s wrong?” It took him a moment to process and then he yelled, “It’s Harry!” The other second year students began to stir at the commotion. “Where’s Harry? Did something happen today in the forest?” Patrick was agitated and tried to rise to his feet, but Ron held him down.

“He was supposed to see Dumbledore,” Patrick continued. “I knew he was in danger. Where’s Harry? I tried to warn him, but he wouldn’t listen! He never…” Again, he tried to get up, but Ron held him fast. “Let me—”

“Legilimens!” whispered Snape with one hand against Patrick’s shoulder. The connection lasted for only a heartbeat or two and stopped as abruptly as it began as Snape jerked his hand away.

“Well, Professor,” asked Hermione, her wand drawn, but her hand shaking. “Can you see anything?”

“Nothing that would concern you, Ms. Granger,” answered Snape calmly. “But, if this was He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, I doubt I’d be able to discern a thing.” Ron sniggered.

“Then why bother?” he asked.

“Because,” replied Snape, “if it was… him, he most certainly would have killed the three of us for even trying.”

“But—”

“If he had, it would have been a foolish move, revealing his presence,” answered Snape before Hermione could ask the question. “His plans, whatever they might be, would have been foiled. A worthy sacrifice, don’t you think, Ms. Granger?”

“Voldemort?” muttered Patrick, somewhat confused.

“I could have a go,” offered Ron. “Maybe you just need to—”

“No,” said Snape shortly, holding his arm in front of Ron and blocking his way. Ron’s temper flared.

“But I healed the Longbottom’s minds; maybe I can see what happened to the Dark Lord. I know he was in there.”

“Dark Lord,” queried Hermione softly to herself. She’d never heard Ron refer to Voldemort in that way. And the tone was almost deferential.

“This is a job for Madame Pomfrey,” insisted Snape. “I’m afraid your suspicions may have been properly founded. Young Mr. O’Riley here has no memory of this morning’s breakfast.”

“What are you talking about?” said Patrick, irritably. “I had kippers and orange juice and—”

“They served kippers yesterday, not today,” interrupted Hermione.

“It seems, Mr. O’Riley,” said Snape, “that you have no memory since sometime midday yesterday.”

“That’s not possible! I was just—” He looked to the window. “It’s dark. But…” His head fell. “It’s not… not again. Please… not again…” He began to cry, wrapping one hand about Hermione’s robes. “Why me?”

“Because,” said Hermione gently, “he knows that Harry is fond of you. You’re the brother he never had.” Her eyes flashed to Ron, but his expression did not register what she had just said. Instead he was more intent on Professor Snape. Her words, however, did appear to calm Patrick, if only a little.

He was still crying as they made their way to the Hospital wing. Hermione couldn’t help but feel miserable for him. He was obviously unnerved and upset and worried. He clung to her as if she were a singular piece of driftwood in a vast open ocean. She stroked his head, trying to calm him, but little would help. Then, suddenly, he stopped and stood upright.

“James!” he cried. All at once, he turned and tried to head the other way. “We have to see if James is—”

“Hold on,” said Hermione, struggling with the others to hold him in place. “We need to get you to the hospital and then… then we’ll go check on James.”

“But maybe—”

“Mr. O’Riley,” spat Snape struggling to hold him as well. “If you don’t turn the other way, I’ll bind and gag you and have Mr. Weasley here drag you the rest of the way.”

Snape’s threats didn’t work. In fact, it took some time to get Patrick headed back toward Madame Pomfrey, but, finally, Hermione was able to assure him that they would see James right away.

When they arrived, they were surprised to see Madame Pomfrey still dressed in her nurse’s robes and wide awake. A further push of the door revealed why. Theodore Nott and his pals had been healed and were being released. Nott first saw only Hermione and took a step back.

“Stay away, you!” he yelled.

His recoil could not have stabbed further into Hermione’s heart. She had nearly killed him last year, slamming his skull into the stone walls of the dungeons. There was still part of her that was happy he had been punished, but no part had wished him death. That her actions had nearly cost Nott his life had haunted Hermione all summer long. She had never told anyone about the nightmares, not even Ron, and the fact that Nott seemed so afraid of her, here of all places, shook her to the bone. She wanted to reach out to him, but knew that, especially with his pals here, that she would simply make matters worse. As her own sadness deepened, the flash of fear in his eyes quickly vaporized and a sense of anger filled the void.

“I… I mean,” Nott sputtered, putting on a show for the others, “if you know what’s good for you!” He had regained his composure, but not before Ron chuckled slowly as he walked through the door with Patrick in his arms, Snape a few paced behind. The subtle laughter did not go unnoticed by Nott or Hermione.

“Ron!” she whispered.

“What’s that Weasles?” challenged Nott unaware that his Head of House was just behind the door. He moved forward, reaching for his wand.

Nott had taken only two steps forward before Patrick held out his hand and, struggling to break free of Ron’s grip, cried, “Crucio!” At the same instant that Nott cried out in pain, Hermione and Snape cried out to stop Patrick. The spell was broken at once, and he began to shake uncontrollably.

Quickly, Madame Pomfrey ushered Patrick to a bed just as Nott’s gang ushered him out of the hospital ward before he could verbalize what had just happened to him.

“You will wait for me in the common room!” Snape called after them. “Buffoons,” he muttered to himself.

Patrick took a drink from a dull green potion and fell fast asleep. There was clear pallor to Madame Pomfrey’s complexion that wasn’t there a moment before.

“I… I never…” she muttered to herself.

“No, Poppy,” said Snape, “but the darkness has clearly seeped within the walls. Whether he had taken control of Mr. O’Riley’s body, or simply used him as a pawn remains to be seen.” He looked into Hermione’s eyes. “He is, perhaps, closer than we can imagine.”

She could feel Snape’s eyes penetrating her own, searching for something. There was a pulse of pain in her right temple. She was about to challenge Snape for looking into her mind when Ron bumped his shoulder and broke the trance.

“Yeh think?” snapped Ron angrily, brushing past Snape and toward Patrick’s bed. “Now maybe if you let me have a look, we can find out exactly—”

“Mr. Weasley,” said Snape, placing a firm hand on Ron’s shoulder. “You were the last one to see Patrick, is that right?”

“Yeah. Why?”

Hermione watched as Snape’s hand tightened slightly about Ron’s shoulder. She knew that he was trying to search Ron’s mind as he had searched hers. But Ron’s mental skills at both Occlumency and Legilimency were ten-fold her own. Ron slapped Snape’s hand away and there was distinct pop as, somewhere, the air had arced between them.

“Oi! Don’t think so, Professor.” Ron took a step back from Snape. “Harry told us not to trust anyone, and as much as I’m sure you’re not Voldemort, I’m just as sure you are.”

“Voldemort?” whispered Hermione under her breath. Had Ron actually said the name? Her eyes scanned him for any hint, any suggestion that maybe—

“Yes… well,” began Snape, twirling his wrist so that his cloak repositioned itself on his forearm. Hermione wondered if it might be to more readily grab his wand if need be. Ron took it exactly as such, as if he’d seen the move many times before and knew exactly what it meant, and for the briefest of moments, it was almost a twitch, he reached for his own wand and stopped.

“I see,” said Snape, his eyes glancing back between Patrick and Ron. “Well, I think Madame Pomfrey can handle things from here, and I will go and speak to Professor Dumbledore directly.”

At these words, Hermione brushed aside her own concerns as being paranoid and a great wave of relief past over her, certain that at last action would be taken. “Excellent, professor,” she said with the faintest hint of a smile.

“Shall we go with you?” offered Ron. But before Snape could answer, Hermione replied.

“Oh. I don’t think so, Ron. Harry asked us to be ready for him and I think it best—”

“But Dumbledore,” interrupted Ron with unexpected vigour. “He may want to hear the whole story. He may not believe—”

“I can assure you, Mr. Weasley,” said Snape smoothly, “that Professor Dumbledore will believe what I have to tell him.” Ron’s arms crossed. It was clear he was trying to assemble a new argument, but, before he could, Snape added, “And you bring up a good point, Ms. Granger. Someone should be ready to greet Harry and the others should they arrive; I think it wise that you alert Professor McGonagall.” He held up his hand and a quill floated in the air and a small scroll appeared from between his fingers. He began to scribble hastily. When he was finished, the quill vanished and he rolled the parchment in his hands, uttering words Hermione did not understand… an old Germanic tongue she thought. “Take this to her.” He made a fist so that his ring, bearing the crest of Slytherin, faced a green wax disk that had appeared and aligned along the seam of the rolled parchment. It flashed bright yellow and sealed the note shut. “It explains everything.”

Hermione took the note from Professor Slytherin and started toward the exit. She was at the door when she realized that Ron was not following her.

“Ron!” she called. “You are coming, aren’t you?”

Ron’s eyes rose to meet Snape’s. The redhead smiled an odd smile and, his eyes still focussed on Severus Snape, said, “Absssolutely!”

Within minutes they were halfway to Professor McGonagall’s. Hermione was surprised that Ron did not take her hand in his as they walked. It was his custom. But maybe with the thoughts of war floating in the air, he was too nervous. Moving briskly, they turned the corner to Professor McGonagall’s office.

“You really shouldn’t be like that, you know,” scolded Hermione. “He’s changed.”

“What?” asked Ron, distracted.

“I heard the emphasis on the Sssss. I thought you and Harry agreed that he was—”

“I think I know where Sev- Snape’s loyalties lie.” They walked a bit further and Ron’s hands kept flexing into and out of fists. “There’s one way to find out.”

Hermione stopped. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you acting this way?”

“First, let’s get that very important note to Professor McGonagall, as if she’d have half a clue as to what to do with the information, and then… well, we’ll prepare a welcoming party for our Harry.”

She didn’t like the tone in his voice. Now Ron was being disrespectful to both Professor Snape, Professor McGonagall and his best friend.

“Look,” she said irritably, placing her hands on her hips, “I know you’re nervous, but—”

“Come on!”

This time, he had grabbed her hand and was nearly dragging her down the hall to Professor McGonagall’s office. Before she had a chance to complain, Ron was banging loudly on the Professor’s door. Suddenly, his whole demeanour changed. His shoulders, which the moment before were tall and defiant, had slumped. The fire that was in his eyes a moment before faded to fear. Then, for an instant, the fire and posture returned.

“Give me that.” He snapped the parchment with Snape’s seal on it and his figure slumped once more just before the door opened. Professor McGonagall was still in her nightgown; her eyes were tired but the tightness about her lips suggested that she had been in some way interrupted.

“What in heaven’s name—”

“We need your help P-Professor,” said Ron nervously. “Professor Snape insisted we g-give this to you. Harry’s in trouble.”

“Potter?” asked Professor McGonagall, concerned with the uncharacteristic appearance of Ron’s emotions. “What’s he gotten himself into this time?” She stepped backwards into her front office, leaving the door open as on offering for the two students to enter.

“Well, it’s not exactly about Harry,” began Hermione. “It’s about Vold—” She felt Ron’s hand dig into her wrist. She yanked her hand away.

“It’s unusual that Severus should use his seal,” said McGonagall, holding up her wand. She tapped the green disk and it vanished; the tight role of parchment uncurled. Hermione paid no attention. She was furious at Ron.

“I don’t see why you should be so squeamish about me saying it, when you just used his name upstairs!”

Professor McGonagall looked up over her glasses at the two students.

“Read the note,” snapped Ron, before Hermione could answer. “Please.”

Hermione had never been so angry at him. She huffed and folded her arms, taking a step back and waiting for Professor McGonagall to look at the piece of parchment in her hands. As she stood, Hermione noticed the small door that was behind the desk in Professor McGonagall’s office was ajar. She’d never seen it open before. Hermione could make out some paintings and a small sitting chair and table – an entryway to a larger space beyond from which came the light of flickering candles. Hermione’s eyes shot back to Ron, who was eagerly waiting for Professor McGonagall to read the note. He had never been this way. Moody, yes, but not like this. Usually, he was ready for a fight, perhaps too eager. Now… now his emotions were swinging from one direction to the next. He was edgy, rude, frightened, bossy… it was like he was two different people. Two different—

“Patrick’s well then?” asked Professor McGonagall shortly. Her voice was firm and the expression on her face had not changed. Apparently, the note from Snape had not impacted her in any discernable way. Ron just stared at her, transfixed, not saying a word. Hermione was just about to answer when the left side of Ron’s face twitched upward, curling his lips into a smile.

“Well played, Minerva,” he said softly with a cold voice. “It is unfortunate… isn’t it?”

Hermione watched as the colour of Professor McGonagall’s face blanched, though her expression remained stern. Instinctively, the professor looked back behind her toward the open door. There, on the table next to the sitting chair, was her wand.

“Ron?” Hermione asked. “What’s—”

“RUN GIRL!” cried Professor McGonagall just as she lunged toward the steely eyed redhead before her. With a wave of his wand, he sent her crashing against the far wall.

“Stupefy!” cried Hermione, but, without even looking back towards her, he deflected the spell as if he were swatting a fly. He stepped toward the professor, crumpled on the floor, shattered shelves were strewn about the floor.

“Run!” called Professor McGonagall again. “It’s—”

“A serious lapse in judgement, Minerva. So like a Gryffindor.” With a flick of his wand, Ron sent a shattered piece of bookcase flying out of his way. “Still, I need to see the note. I need to know where Snape’s loyalties lie. Did he tell you outright, or could you see through his lies?”

It was him. It was Voldemort! He’d taken… he’d taken Ron. A wave of panic rushed across Hermione and she was certain she would wretch at any moment. Her breaths became short and laboured. The wand in her hand was shaking violently. She cast another spell and another spell, each he flicked away with ease, never looking back toward her, ever moving toward his prey, the defenceless professor, crawling across the office floor toward the open door behind her desk. As he drew close, he held his wand inches from her face, but she ignored it, continuing to crawl toward her goal, her left leg twisted in an odd direction. The lack of fear drew rage from the evil controlling Ron. Hermione continued to fire spells to no effect.

“Would you die for a piece of parchment, Professor?” Voldemort sneered. “It was sealed and sent to you! You know for me to read it, you must hand it to me!”

Professor McGonagall stopped crawling, resting one hand against her oak desk. Instead of looking toward Ron, her eyes met Hermione’s. There was fierceness and an anger – anger that Hermione had seen in those same eyes before, when students did not listen or pay attention. All too often she’d seen the look directed at Ron, but now they were directed at her.

“Run!” she said with a hushed but determined voice. It penetrated Hermione and, against her will, she turned and moved toward the office door, leading to the outside corridor. After only two steps, however, the door slammed shut, locked tight.

“I’m afraid I have run out of time to play more games,” said Voldemort. He held his hand down toward the broken professor. “Give me the note!” Professor McGonagall took one glance at Hermione and a tear traced down her cheek. “How very touching,” Voldemort jeered. “GIVE ME THE NOTE!”

Professor McGonagall looked once at Hermione and then at the desk before her. Voldemort snarled.

“AVADA—”

“Rennervate,” whispered Professor McGonagall. Without another word she, and the note, were gone. It looked as if they’d simple melted away directly into vapour.

“—KEDAVRA!”

A flash of green exploded into the office floor sending shards and splinters of wood everywhere. Hermione could see at once he was confused, his eyes darting about looking for where the professor had gone. He turned and faced Hermione, looking as if he might ask her where McGonagall had vanished to when, at the same moment, the old oak desk rose up on two of its legs and crashed down on top of Voldemort. There was a terrific crunch.

“RON!” cried Hermione. She began to move forward when the desk turned on its victim and faced Hermione.

The centre drawer moved out and Hermione heard it say, “Run!” in a dry, scratchy voice. She didn’t need to be told again. Unable to open the front door, she ran toward the back door that was still ajar. Just as she passed the desk, it burst into flames and she saw Ron rising to his feet, his wand arm twisted in an awkward direction. Her emotions had sundered – half happy that her fiancé was still alive, half defeated that Voldemort was rising for the attack.

Hermione cast a spell to make it rain in the office and slammed the door shut behind her, locking it with a wave of her wand. Almost at once, she could hear Voldemort, blasting away. It would only be a matter of seconds before he was through. She ran back, further into the room, looking for another way out. She came to a small room that was evidently Professor McGonagall’s sleeping quarters. Portraits lined the walls, pictures of Minerva McGonagall with friends and family. She was smiling in nearly every one. To Hermione, the smiling and jovial Professor McGonagall seemed, somehow, out of place. She wondered who these other witches and wizards were. There was another blast and she pulled herself away to look for an—

The door exploded open, Ron stepping through the billowing smoke and dust. Hermione’s heart was crashing against her chest. She was trapped. There was no smile on his face, no interest in banter. He was furious that things were not going the way he had planned. He raised his wand with his opposite hand and pointed it at her face. She knew that she could not beat the wizard before her. Instead of attacking back, she raised her wand high into the air.

“Bombarda!” she cried, bringing down the roof above him. He stopped the falling timbers in midair and flung them aside. His eyes flashed red.

“Avada Ked—” He stopped, a small look of discomfort crossed his face, almost as if he’d swallowed a fly. He tilted his neck to one side, causing it to crack and then he spit the dust from his mouth. He shook his wrist and held his wand upright again. Hermione was backed against the wall.

“Ron… please.”

“Avad—” Again Voldemort faltered. The fire in his eyes grew bright. He raised his wand once more, preparing to cast the killing curse, only this time he couldn’t even begin the incantation.

“Ron?” Hermione asked. For a moment she thought she saw a flash of his blue eyes look back at her, but at once they were extinguished. Voldemort spat again.

“Very well,” he hissed. He pointed his wand at Hermione and this time she felt her feet leave the floor. A moment later, she was flung onto Professor McGonagall’s bed. “You don’t want to see her die?” he asked, staring at his reflection in the glass that covered one of the portraits hanging on the wall. He turned back toward Hermione. “Perhaps there is time… time for one more game.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 32 – Death Divined
~~~***~~~

The air was cool, but she felt hot, perspiration dripping into her eyes, making it difficult to see the way forward. She was running, running, was it, to save someone? She couldn’t remember. Running away from someone? Her heart was pounding in her chest, but not from exertion… from fear. Her head snapped this way and that, her stinging eyes straining against the murkiness to see through the dense trees, but there was only the thin veil of a gray mist that filled the voids between the trunks, eerily lit by some unknown light from above. They were here, she knew that, watching her; they’d always been here, but why was she? The sweat that now coated her body and soaked her nightclothes was chilled by an unnatural breeze and Gabriella could feel an overpowering fear work its way up from her bare feet, to her chest and, finally, it constricted about her throat. She wanted to scream in the darkness, but she couldn’t; the fear had consumed her.

There was a distant splash off to her right and she ran through the bramble in that direction, hoping beyond hope that someone was there to save her from the forest and the murdering creatures it contained, now closing in around her. She burst through a collection of branches and found herself at the edge of a rather small lake, her feet skidding to a halt in the moss-covered earth. Her nightclothes had vanished, replaced by splendidly white robes. Somewhere beyond the veil, she could hear the water’s source – a great falls roaring and churning just outside her vision. The lake’s surface glittered from the light above and it caused her eyes to move upward, only to find a great comet roaring through the night’s sky.

“Ebyrth,” she whispered to herself. Someone suddenly grabbed her from behind and held her gently about the waist.

“I wonder how something so beautiful could—”

She spun, ready to strike like a cornered serpent, but then stayed her hand.

“Harry?”

He was smiling, his gaze still upward toward the comet. She could see the reflection of its fiery tail burning across his eyes. He looked back down at her with nothing but warmth in the same pools of green and it filled her heart with hope.

“I’ve always loved this place,” he said softly as he kissed her forehead. “He can’t beat us here.” There was a snap, a branch breaking, and then Hermione Granger appeared from the darkness.

“Harry, why are you here?” she called angrily. “We need you back at the castle. We’re under attack! The Dementors—”

“Don’t you see that there are other things more important?” Harry yelled back.

The moment the words left his mouth a Centaur with a dark black coat stepped out of the forest, a large bow in one hand and a quiver across his back. Gabriella saw Harry’s eyes meet the Centaur’s.

“I… I didn’t think you’d join us,” said Harry with a tone of surprise in his voice.

“Impudence!” the Centaur called to someone out across the lake, hidden in the mist. “You were right, my Lord!”

Seeing the hatred in the Centaur’s eyes, Gabriella pulled back, pulled away from Harry. She’d seen those eyes before; it was happening again. Harry turned.

“Gabriella?” he asked. “What is it?”

The Centaur notched an arrow in his bow, but Gabriella was silent, her voice strangled once again with fear. All she could do was reach out a hand and point a trembling finger at the Centaur now drawing the string back on his bow.

“NO!” a voice cried from across the lake. Gabriella spun and there, somehow floating above the surface of the water was Severus Snape. He was wearing a large black cloak with a hood that covered the top his head, but there was no mistaking the pale skin, the long, hooked nose and the thin lips now twisted with fury. He was screaming like a madman. “NO!”

There was a flash of green light, the twang of a bowstring, and Gabriella could feel herself slip from her body and hover off the ground – now an impassioned observer. There, face down in the reeds and mossy earth, she laid — a Centaur arrow in her back.

Her spirit drifted upward, higher and higher, until the vision of her death below was covered in mist… and the darkness enveloped the mist… and the pain throbbed in her left arm… and the sound of crying filled the air… a baby… crying.

Gabriella’s eyes opened; the ash and heated dust still floating in the air made them burn and water. A large timber, flames still lapping up its side, was across her chest, making it nearly impossible to breathe. She tried to yell for help, but the weight against her chest was too great. Somewhere, out of her vision, she heard Cho coughing. There was the sound of clatter, but Gabriella could not see what was happening.

“Jamie?” Cho called out with a hushed and panicked voice. “Jamie, are you— shhhh. There, there. It’s okay. I’m right— Oh my god, Gab! Wingardium Leviosa!”

The timber rose into the air and the oxygen rushed back into Gabriella’s lungs. Her first reaction was to cough. She tried to sit up, but a sharp pain in her left arm told her that it was broken.

“Gab!” cried Cho, stepping over to her friend. “Merlin, it’s your arm.” With blinding speed, her wand was out, bathing Gabriella’s arm in a blue light. She could feel the bones knit back together; it itched. She was sure it was done and began to rise to her feet when Cho told her to wait. A second light erupted from her wand, this time white, and she muttered an incantation for strength. When it stopped, Cho held her hand out to lift up Gabriella. “It’s the only way to make sure the bone sets properly. If you— Oh… your wand. Here.” Cho reached down and picked up Gabriella’s wand.

Taking the wand from Cho’s hand, Gabriella muttered, “Thanks.” Her head was pounding and it took a moment for Gabriella’s eyes to focus. Finally, Cho’s face became clear. Her clothes were badly burned and her left arm and shoulder were blistered, raw and red. In her other arm, was baby Jamie without a mark on him, only a smudge of soot marked the left side of his face. “The blessing,” Gabriella thought to herself.

“Cho,” she said. “Your arm, it’s burned. I’m pretty good with those; let me—”

“Tony!” cried Cho, a sudden look of realization spreading across her face. She spun from Gabriella. “TONY!” Gabriella stood up and began to scan the ash covered debris for Anthony Goldstein. Only then, did Gabriella fully take in the scope of the devastation. It was hard to believe that anything could survive the wreckage that surrounded them. Her mother had told her what anger and hatred were capable of… warned her to take her duty seriously. Until this moment, she didn’t believe that Harry would—

“TONY!”

Carefully, Gabriella levitated one of the charred couches that looked like it might have been the one on which she’d seen him reading. Beneath it was a small corner of a newspaper that caught her eye, a tiny white square popping out against a purely black background; the rest had been burned away; not even cinder remained. Cho saw it and began to cry, repeatedly screaming Anthony’s name through the sobs, one arm holding Jamie and the other holding her wand levitating nearly the entire room into the air. Looking up at the swirling, sooty mess, Gabriella saw a flash of blue – the bottom of a trainer.

“Cho, there!”

Hovering in the air with the other debris was a long mass of gray ash. It could have been a rolled up rug, or a large cushion, or any of a number of burnt household items now charred beyond recognition, but it wasn’t. When Cho brought him toward her, the breeze brushed away the ash and revealed that it was a corpse, covered in soot, burnt beyond recognition, and lifeless. Cho began to tremble, threatening to drop him and everything else she had levitated into the air.

“Let me,” offered Gabriella, and she took control of Anthony and brought him down to a, more or less, sheltered corner of what once was a room. There was a crash as Cho let everything fall behind them and it sent up a great plume of dust and smoke. For a moment, Gabriella thought she’d heard someone yelling outside and her thoughts rushed toward Harry, but first she had to be sure. She knelt down toward Anthony and vanished the ash that covered his body. Cho let out a gasp and turned away.

“Rennervate!” called Gabriella, knowing that it wouldn’t work. Well over half his body was badly burned. His left arm was nothing more than a blackened stump and the whole side of his face was more skeleton than flesh. “Renner—”
“Stop!” Cho took her by the wrist. “He… he wouldn’t want to come back, not like that.” Tears were streaming down her face. Her hand was trembling as she turned to face the north and its darkening sky. “Those bastards!” She moved forward and this time Gabriella held her.

“No Cho, you don’t understand. You can’t.”

“I can and I will! Look what… look what they’ve done!”

Gabriella scanned the devastation and in her heart she knew that this was not the work of a Death Eater, or even a dozen Death Eaters. The earth was scorched as far as she could see, its surface a glossy glass that was cracked and bubbled, and the castle behind her was now little more than a ruin. How Cho survived was a miracle. She knew the source of this devastation and knew, by the warmth in the ring that was upon her finger, that he was still alive. Just like Cho, she too wanted to run to find Anthony’s murderer, only for very different reasons. Gabriella took in another deep breath. She needed to get Cho to safety, before she discovered the truth.

“Cho, they’ve come for Jamie. You’ve got to get him back to Hogwarts. It’s the only place that’s safe.”

“I… I…” Cho was dazed, angry and confused. Her eyes kept darting from one direction to the other, looking for what she must do. Finally, looking down at Anthony’s body, she said, “No. I won’t leave him, not like this.”

“I’m serious. You don’t understand. If—”

“I understand just fine! Don’t you see what they’ve done! They must be punished. They will be punished.” With a flourish of her wand, Jamie rose into the air out of Cho’s arm and toward Cho’s back. Then, he was held in place with a sticking charm. She winced as his hand brushed against her blistered shoulder. She muttered another incantation and he disappeared, almost. It was a tremendous camouflage. She began to move toward the shattered window; melted shards littered the ground.

“Cho, it’s suicide. I won’t let you—” began Gabriella.

“You can’t stop me!”

“Fine, then let me heal your arm. If you’re going to fight, you’ll need to stay focussed.” Cho stopped and, without saying a word, nodded her head.

Gabriella healed the burns as best she could, but the shoulder was badly scarred.

“I can’t do anything about the scar,” Gabriella said sadly. “Not here. Maybe with some potions, when we get back to the castle.”

“No matter,” said Cho. She closed her eyes and her short black hair grew down about her shoulders covering the disfigurement. She wiped another tear from her face and placed a gentle hand on Jamie’s head. “Now, be good for mum, sweetheart.” She tapped his forehead and Jamie was fast asleep, magically pinned to his mother. Again, she moved out from the shattered walls of Sirius’ castle.

“Where are Sirius and the others?” asked Gabriella as they moved out onto the scorched earth.

“They took the hippogriffs to scout the grounds. They heard that there was— Oh my god.” For a moment, Cho’s burst of bravery faltered. High above, the clouds had darkened the sky, but they both knew by the sinking feeling in their hearts and the cold in the air that the clouds weren’t clouds at all, but a swarm of Dementors. They were swirling about an area maybe two hundred yards away – an enormous tornado of blackness that was being repelled, somehow, from touching the ground. The pointed mass of black resembled an arrow pointing downward and Gabriella’s eyes followed it quite naturally to the earth below. Flanked in the distance by at least a dozen Death Eaters in black robes was a lone blonde wizard. The two witches realized simultaneously who he was, but Cho had never really believed that Draco was still alive.

“Malfoy?” Cho muttered. “That’s not possible.”

Gabriella turned to Cho and held her by the arms. “Cho, this is insane. We can’t possibly defeat them all. You’ve got to get out of here before the Dementors block any hope of Apparation. You have to think of Jamie.” Cho’s eyes were at first defiant, but another look back at what they had to face and she nodded her head reluctantly. She pulled her wand out to Apparate.

“You both need to get to the castle, get to Hermione. Do you understand? Just Hermione. Trust no one, not even your own brother.” Gabriella wasn’t sure why she didn’t say Ron, or Patrick, or one of the professors, but something in her visions, in her spirit, was warning her against it.

“But… Harry. Where’s Harry?”

Hearing his name, a stab of fear struck Gabriella’s heart and, for the first time, a tear began to make its way down her dusty face. Her eyes looked toward the skies. “I don’t know,” she whispered. “Now go. I’ll be there… I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Gabriella gave Cho a hug and kissed the sleeping Jamie on the forehead. They held hands for just an instant; Cho raised her wand to Apparate — Gabriella flinched. She’d heard a bloodcurdling scream that felt as if it had shaken the earth. “Harry?”
“What?” Cho asked.

“You didn’t hear that?” Gabriella asked. She looked back and saw the Dementors swirl more aggressively above Draco. She moved a few paces forward as Draco cast some sort of spell onto the ground. There was another scream that reverberated in her mind. It filled the air and felt as if it echoed from the wall of Dementors flying high above.

“Gab, what is it?” Cho asked, noticing the look on Gabriella’s face, but again not hearing the scream.

“He’s killing him,” Gabriella said, her voice trembling. Harry was calling out to her, but from where? She was unwilling to believe that Draco could betray Harry, but then she saw him, little more than a black cloth folded out upon the scorched earth. “What is he doing?” she asked, her words quivering slightly. The Dementors suddenly spun downward and looked as if they were going to attack both Draco and Harry, but Draco cast a Patronus that sent them fleeing upward. Still, the dark cloud hung high in the air above his head. “It doesn’t make sense. You’re their target. Voldemort wants Jamie. Harry’s of no value… unless—”

Without warning, while Gabriella tried to gather her thoughts, Cho took off running, nearly knocking Gabriella over. Lucius Malfoy had appeared and it was his appearance that convinced Cho that he was to blame –she knew beyond reason Lucius had killed her husband. He was too embroiled in some argument with Draco to notice her running at them. Instead, the first to move was a Death Eater some thirty yards beyond. Cho didn’t see him move, nor did she care. Gabriella noticed and began to chase her down.

“Never again!” Cho spat at full stride, but the two Malfoy’s did not hear her.

Instead, the Death Eater, standing behind Lucius that had seen her, pulled his wand to attack, but no sooner had he moved to protect the Malfoys than Lucius spun on him and a jet of green erupted from his wand and dropped the Death Eater to the ground. The other Death Eaters chose not to move close enough to give him another target. As Cho and Gabriella ran across the open field, the two Malfoys remained oblivious to their approach as the wizards both bent low over Harry’s body.

“Cho, wait!” yelled Gabriella with a hushed voice. She reached out her hand to pull Cho’s arm. “Harry’s—”

Again a scream filled Gabriella’s mind; pain stabbed at her temples. She halted, grabbing her head between her hands. They were torturing him. She tried to gather herself and realized Cho had escaped her. “Cho! Don’t—”

“Avada Kedavra!” Cho cried. The way she was bouncing as she ran, Jamie jangling on her back, it would have been hard to hit the side of the barn, if it had still been standing. Trying to strike a crouching wizard was harder still. Her spell sailed above the oblivious wizards. Then, unexpectedly, Lucius Malfoy, jumped up, as if his hand had been stung. Gabriella could hear him curse and saw him pull his wand, pointing it not at the ground, but at his son. Even in the waning light, blocked be the swarming Dementors, Gabriella could see that he was furious. His hand pulled back for the strike and then he appeared to freeze in place, a white shimmering mist swirling about him.

Then, just as suddenly, Draco held his wand, ready to cast a spell at Harry. He pulled back, but then noticed the two young women running toward him. Gabriella was slowly closing the distance between herself and the witch waving her wand wildly.

“Avada Kedavra!” Cho hissed through gritted teeth, anger firing her eyes. Draco slammed his body to the earth next to Harry. The bolt of green past over his head and struck the petrified Lucius Malfoy at the neck. Without a sound, he crumpled to the ground.
________________________________________


Lucius Malfoy smiled an evil smile as his fingers prepared to tug the loose flesh on Harry’s side. Writhing in pain, Harry couldn’t believe that Draco had betrayed him. Somehow, Harry always knew this moment would come, but there was still part of him that thought that there was some part of Draco Malfoy worth saving. Why had Harry hesitated when he had the chance? He should have destroyed Draco when he had first seen him. Even though it was now Lucius Malfoy asking the questions… “What do you say, lad?”… and it was Lucius Malfoy threatening to torture him, Harry’s eyes, filled with contempt, were firmly fixed on Draco.

Harry was contemplating just what exactly he would do to Draco if he was ever released. If only Lucius was foolish enough to— Harry suddenly felt the liberation of his vocal cords as Lucius touched his forehead. Before his eyes darted back to Lucius, Harry could have sworn he’d seen an evil smirk pass Draco’s face. But why?

Lucius began to tug on the flesh dangling loose on Harry’s side. The pain was intense, but Harry was distracted when, looking up past Lucius’ face, Harry saw a flash of green fly past, its light neon-like against the darkness of Dementors above. Lucius hadn’t seen it, but did he know it had come? Was he trying to threaten Harry with the killing curse? Harry decided he wasn’t going to sit still to find out. He swallowed, trying to ensure that the spell would work the first time.

“Fodio Serpetia!” Harry hissed sharply. The spell pierced the hand Lucius was using to tear at Harry’s flesh. The elder Malfoy cried out in pain, jerked his bleeding hand away and reached for his wand. “That’s right,” jeered Harry, still unable to move. “You did have one good arm left; not any more. Enjoy the stinging of a dragon’s bite, while you can.”

“Damn you, Draco!” Lucius spat. The skin on his fingers began to blister, his knuckles curled. Then the redness began to trace its way up to his wrist and then disappeared under his cloak. “You knew! You knew he could—”

“Father,” drawled Draco, “how could I possibly—”

Suddenly a ghost appeared, swirling out of the ground at Malfoy’s feet. It was the old man who had beseeched Harry to stay at Sirius’ castle. The ghost enveloped Lucius and, for a moment, he stood frozen in place, a dull look of horror in his eyes.

“What is that?” cried Draco, drawing his wand. “What have you done?” Harry thought quickly, searching for what to say.

“He’s er… frozen,” Harry mumbled, trying to fight back the tears of pain in his eyes. “R-Release me now, or… or he’ll die!”

Draco flicked his wand without saying a word and the spell binding the rest of Harry’s body disappeared, as did the ghost, but not before it looked into Harry’s eyes and whispered, “It will be the moon.”
“Let him,” drawled Draco. “I could give a— What in the name of Hades?”

Suddenly, Draco slammed to the earth next to Harry. At first he thought Draco wanted to fight, a battle Harry knew he couldn’t win, not with his chest sliced open as it was. But then the corner of his eye caught the second glint of green. Harry watched as it past over them and struck Lucius in the throat, dropping him to blackened soil. In the distance, Harry heard a voice yell, “Murderer!” It was Cho Chang.

“Father!” screamed Draco, crawling over to Lucius, who was motionless on the ground. Harry, barely able to move, watched as the rage spread across Draco’s face. Evidently, Draco wasn’t as dispassionate as he made out to be. “You bitch!” he hissed, his fangs flaring as he popped to his feet with his wand drawn. The earth began to rumble as the ring of Death Eaters that had been held at bay began to move forward. Then there was a screech from above. Five Dementors fell dead from the sky.

The cloud of darkness screeched again. Harry heard one of the Dementors cry, “Hold your position!” But his comrades evidently did not heed the command. The darkness separated and the sun’s rays broke through to the blackened soil. Still on his back, Harry watched as five hippogriffs plunged through the opening, clawing and tearing at the blackness before them. In the lead, Sirius was riding Buckbeak, and every Dementor they faced, fell dead, dropping with a sickening snap as they struck the earth.

Another bolt of green past above Harry’s head and just missed Draco. Harry struggled to raise up high enough onto one elbow and was able to see Cho and Gabriella running toward him. Looking back up at the sky, Harry realized that more members of the Order were plunging through the gash made in the shield of Dementors by the hippogriffs. Just as Draco began to utter the killing curse, the sun struck the vampire in the face and he cried out in pain. He too looked up and became instantly aware that his situation was precarious. Stunning spells and death curses began flying in both directions. Harry reached for his wand, but Draco kicked him in the side and Harry’s vision filled with stars.

“You… I did this for YOU!” Draco’s face was red and bulging, not so much from the stinging rays of the sun, but from the fury swelling inside him. “And this is how you repay me!” He glared at Harry, pulled a vile from him robes and threw it to the ground, shattering the glass and splashing a green liquid everywhere. Then his gaze drifted toward his father, prone on the ground. The anger driving his expression crashed into a look of defeat.

“I’m done,” Draco muttered. “You can all go to hell. I’ve nothing left.” Draco bent down to hold his father’s arm and, without so much as a flick of the wrist, the pair Disapparated. Immediately after, the air filled with pops and snaps as the Death Eaters followed. The remaining assemblage of Dementors, lacking the luxury of such a hasty escape, battled in retreat. The creatures looked like a distant, burgeoning thunder cloud as Dementor after Dementor streaked from the sky in a constant downpour of death, bolts of light flashing against the darkness.

Harry’s vision began to tunnel as his mind tried to hold on to Draco’s last words, but they slipped past just as the ground exploded next to him. Cho, oblivious to Harry’s presence, was casting spell after spell, onto the spot where Lucius had lain but a moment before.

“Die! Die! You bastards!” She screamed, holding her wand in a trembling hand, her knuckles white with anger. He’d never known this person and, as his mind reached out to sense her aura, his heart skipped. Two colours flickered in his mind’s eye as Cho crumpled to her knees and began to sob violently.

Harry tried to focus, to understand what he was seeing, but his mind couldn’t hold on to anything; he’d lost too much blood. For the first time, he looked down at his chest. The gashes were wide and blood continued to trickle freely between the flaps of flesh.

“Oh,” he muttered, clawing blindly at the ground to find his wand. He needed to try to stop the bleeding. There was a scream. Gabriella was standing over him. “Hi,” he breathed. “Bit of a mess, eh?” His elbow gave out and he landed flat on his back. “I… I thought you said it never gets cold here.” He began to shiver uncontrollably.

Blue light filled his vision and Gabriella began an incantation Harry didn’t understand. Then there was another voice.

“Gabriella? Harry?” It was Sirius. “Bloody hell!” There was a low screech and the fluttering of wings.

“Buckbeak?” Harry asked weakly. “I thought I’d—”

“Shhhh,” interrupted Gabriella, placing her fingers over Harry’s lips. “You need to rest.” She turned to Harry’s godfather. “Sirius, praise Asha you are well. Was that Nymphadora?” Another blue light, tinged in green, sprang from Gabriella’s wand and bathed Harry’s chest. The wounds began to fade as his skin began to stitch itself together only the bonds weren’t holding as Gabriella expected.

“Half the Order’s here. Remus sent word that there might be an attack. We went out to scout and found ourselves up to our necks in Dementors. I thought we were all done for, but then there was the explosion and the sky filled with fire.” Sirius took Harry’s hand. “They scattered. Harry, how did you—”

“Murdering Malfoys,” spat Cho. “They killed Tony.”

“No,” Sirius gasped. “Where? How?”

“The explosion,” said Gabriella. “It blew the castle walls in and the air filled with fire.”

“And Jamie?” asked Sirius anxiously. Gabriella touched the head of the sleeping child on Cho’s back and revealed his presence. An audible sigh of relief past Harry’s lips as he understood the reason for the two auras.

“No fire can penetrate one with Asha’s blessing,” said Gabriella. Cho, still dazed, seemed not to understand.

“Of course,” Sirius whispered.

The cobwebs began to clear from Harry’s mind and, at last, he was able to pull in a full breath of air into his lungs. Against Gabriella’s protestations, he sat up, running his fingers across the thin lines on his chest. They were still oozing blood.

“I can repair those in a few days,” said Gabriella, “but you need to rest. I can’t refill the blood you’ve lost.”

“I… I can’t rest,” said Harry. He grabbed Sirius by the sleeve. “Where is he? Have you seen him? Did he reveal himself?”

“Who?”

“Voldemort!” snapped Harry. “He… he couldn’t have taken over Lucius. Not the way Draco was talking to him.”

“We had some decent fights on our hands, Harry, but no one’s shown power like Voldemort. I’m sure he’s not—”

“He’s here!” interrupted Harry. “I know he is!” There was a wild look in his eyes that sent a blast of cold into Gabriella’s heart. He tried to bring himself up to one knee. “Jamie. We’ve got to get Jamie to Hogwarts.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” said Sirius. “Not in the condition you’re in now. You couldn’t Apparate from here to the… where are the stables?” Harry swayed and Gabriella caught him.

“Gone,” said Harry, shaking his head to gather his senses. “I—”

“What do you mean, ‘…no one’s shown power?’ Why couldn’t he have been Lucius?” asked Cho, now holding Jamie in her arms. “Maybe I’ve destroyed him.” The boy stared at Harry, his bright green eyes seemed to be asking why Harry had killed his father.

“I’m sorry,” Harry whispered.

“Sirius,” said Cho with a short snap, “look around you. You don’t think this took power? This had to be Voldemort’s hand.” Harry seized on the idea. Anything to get Cho and Jamie away from here, especially now that the castle’s protections had been breached.

“Yes,” he said. “Hogwarts. You two have got to go back to Hogwarts.” Gabriella cast him a scathing glance, but said nothing. “Ron and Hermione are expecting you.”

“Hermione,” added Gabriella, almost as if correcting Harry. “Go see Hermione.”

“But—”

“Ron won’t understand, won’t appreciate what’s just happened,” said Gabriella. “You know what he’s like when it comes to dealing with emotions, Harry. Hermione will know what to do to take care of Cho and Jamie when they arrive.” Harry pondered this for a moment and then nodded his head in agreement.

“Well, they won’t be travelling alone,” said Sirius. “I’ll send a group of—”

“We can’t announce to the world that something’s up,” said Harry. “No one must know they’ve arrived. If they can get to Hogsmeade undetected, they’ll be safe from there. I’ve already made the arrangements.” Sirius stroked his moustache.

“Then Tonks,” he said finally. “She can look like another student, or maybe James, Cho’s brother. What do you think, Cho?”

“We need to bring Tony back to his parents,” she said, her eyes now set on the broken castle in the distance. “They need to know what Voldemort did to their son.” Harry could feel Gabriella’s fingers grip tightly into his arm, her nails ready to break through the skin. Still, he said nothing.

“I’ll make sure it happens,” said Sirius solemnly.

It took some time before the other members of the Order returned from the fight. Harry was forced to sit in one of the corners of the rubble while others cleared debris. Tonks did little more than nod at Harry and helped about the castle in any way she could that meant she didn’t have to interact with him. Harry was surprised that George was there, but grew uncomfortable when he and Kingsley began discussing how Voldemort had nearly melted an area over two kilometres in diameter.

“I could have sworn I saw two dragons heading north,” said Kingsley. “You don’t think they’ve joined forces with him. If the dragons take his—”

“Don’t say another word,” snapped Gabriella. “I won’t stand here and listen to such rot.”

“Of course not, my dear,” said Kingsley with a bow of his head. “Of course not.” He put his arm about George and the two continued to chat in hushed whispers as they walked to the further reaches of the castle.

Gabriella cursed under her breath and flashed eyes of fire at Harry. She had grown more and more agitated as the preparations were made for Cho’s and Jamie’s departure and was now pacing back and forth, biting the nails on her right hand.

In all the activity, Harry’s mind faded in and out of awareness. He was suddenly roused when Tonks announced they were ready. When he looked up, he saw Gabriella talking to Tonks, but then Gabriella, a second Gabriella, walked into the room. The first Gabriella turned and Harry realized it had been Cho all along. The lengthening of her hair had confused him.

“You two could be twins,” he said with a smile, but neither returned the expression. Instead, Gabriella made one final plea that everyone stay put, just through the night. But even Sirius was concerned that the Death Eaters might return with reinforcements. Harry stood, and immediately began to sway. His vision, once more began to tunnel. Gabriella offered her support as he limped over and hugged Cho. His mind flashed at once to the fateful moment. What had possessed him? A great lump landed in Harry’s throat and he dwelled on what he’d done to Anthony; it was all he could do to hold back the tears. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered, his knees weakening. “I swear I’ll make it up to you. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Tonight, if possible.”

“You’ll be lucky to make it there in two weeks,” said Sirius.

Tonks stepped forward and changed her appearance; she now looked like Madam Rosmerta, only Harry never noticed Rosmerta wear such a glum look before. “Let’s go guys,” she said, and Cho stepped over to her, Jamie once again camouflaged and held in a magical sack on her back. Harry kissed his son on the head.

“Don’t listen to Sirius,” he whispered. He was feeling a bit dizzy now. “I’ll protect you now; I swear. I’ll protect you both. Don’t… don’t let these wounds fool you. I have the power to—”

“They’d best be going,” Gabriella interrupted. Harry took a moment to realize she’d spoken and then nodded his head.

“Right. Good-bye, Tonks,” he said with a wave. He took in a gulp of air, trying to gather some semblance of control and composure, but it didn’t work. Everything was losing its colour, taking on casts of gray. Tonks just barely acknowledged his gesture with a nod of her head. “By the way, what ever happened to Finnius?” Harry asked about the wizard that had been following him earlier in the year. “Is he an Auror yet?”

“He was killed in France,” replied Tonks with no emotion whatsoever, her eyes not meeting Harry’s, but instead drifting to Gabriella. For a moment Harry’s heart filled with distrust and he closed his eyes looking to examine Tonks’ aura. He was amazed to see the multiple colours. It was like looking at a flaming rainbow.

“Metamorphmagus,” Harry muttered to himself. Of course she would appear like that. He moved to hold out his hand in front of his face, just to see if maybe he too had the same property. He tried to transform, but the effort was too much for him and his hand dropped to his side. Gabriella grabbed his shirt just to keep him from falling. The effort, however, caught Tonks’ attention and for the first time she looked at Harry.

“Have you practiced at all?” she asked.

“Not really,” he said. “I can’t do it unless it’s someone I’ve been close with.” Tonks nodded knowingly.

“You know, Harry. You’re as great a wizard as there ever was. If you put your mind to it, in a year’s time you’d be teaching me a trick or two.” She made an effort at a smile.

“I’ll try.”

“Oh, Harry,” said Tonks. “That’s not near good enough. If you want to win this war of yours, you’ll have to do a hell of a lot more than just try.” She took Cho’s hand. “Ready?” she asked. Cho nodded and the two Disapparated.

“I don’t know, Harry,” said Gabriella, her voice uneasy. “Maybe I should—”

Harry’s eyes rolled up in their sockets, his knees buckled, and he collapsed in Gabriella’s arms. He heard, as if from a distant cave, Sirius bark orders to get him moved. Gabriella began to curse something in Armenian. Whatever it was she thought she should do would have to wait. She cursed again. Harry’s translation skills were spotty at best, but they’d spent enough time in Armenia that he’d picked up a few words. In the mist surrounding his mind, he could have sworn he heard her pray to Asha to protect them all from Ron Weasley and Severus Snape. “That couldn’t be right,” he thought.

Then, before the fog consumed him, he was sure she muttered to herself in a faint whisper, “Duty first. Mama, you were right.” He was being lifted and Gabriella’s voice faded. “If I must, I will kill him.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 33 – The Final Passing
~~~***~~~

On the wall, in the portrait opposite his bed, the four masters performed. The viola, cello, and two violins were, as always, played with perfection even when the notes didn’t seem quite right. The piece, Mozart’s Dissonance Quartet, was apropos, he thought, and each note that hung in the air helped to soothe his soul. That they played at all hours in an effort to calm his nerves was a blessing he could never repay – particularly now, in his final hours.

There was a bright orange flutter; he watched as a feather slowly fell to the floor. He knew, before it struck, and he grabbed the sheets of his bed tightly, steeling himself. The room exploded with a thunderous clap and it felt as if a symbol had been slammed against each ear, squashing his head between with a tremendous crash. His mind seized, splintering the pain like shards of glass that raced down to his fingers and toes, shredding every nerve along their way. Since Christmas, he’d been having good times and bad times. This was not a good time.

Albus Dumbledore slowly took in a long, deep breath, and exhaled, trying to find some moment of rest in the night’s darkness. His magic had been fragmenting and what he once was able to control and focus with tremendous might was now scattered and, in the worst of times, dangerous to any around him. He heard someone, the portrait of Dilys Derwent, offer him warm assurances as she prodded him to rest and he tried to oblige, rolling on to his right side and curling into a ball with his pillow held in both hands and his knees caressing his elbows.

Raising his head slightly, Albus focussed on the lone candle in his room, flickering in the corner and, without saying a word, thought the incantation to extinguish it. If anything, the flame grew larger. He cursed his ineptitude under his breath and laid his head back onto his pillow. He sighed; the candle sputtered and went out. How had it come to this?

"Goodnight, Dylis,” he whispered glumly as he closed his eyes, hoping that his episode had passed, but knowing that, even if it had, he would not sleep, not tonight. As he shifted on his perch, Fawkes sang a soft tune that blended seamlessly with the strings. Another feather fell to the floor, but this time its meeting with the hardened wood below went unnoticed. Instead, Albus held his eyes shut, but his mind open, expanding his consciousness outward, across the castle. It was a night time stroll he often performed with his mind and, even now, he used it to keep his mental faculties as sharp as they would allow.

The darkness was here, he knew that, but how or where, he hadn’t the strength to discover what would reveal itself soon enough. Acknowledging his own inability, he let his mind turn to Harry and there it stayed for some time, resting in the confidence that the young wizard would be ready when the time came. “Yes… ready,” he muttered to himself, shifting beneath the sheets. Then doubt crept in…

Really? Do you think so?

Yes.

You thought his parents were ready too, didn’t you?... Didn’t you?... But they died. And now you place your decrepit hopes in the strength of their child! He's a boy, Albus!

They weren't much older.

And they died!

It’s not the same! His skill without a wand. His experience facing Voldemort.

They faced him too… three times!

His gifts. The blessings. This will be different. You don’t understand.

I don’t understand? Me? That’s comical. I understand everything all too well, but then so do you, don’t you? Where is he, Albus? Where is he now? How could you let him go, when you know… you know that within these walls—

I’m too tired for this.

Then die and get it over wi—

There was a gentle rapping upon a distant door. It opened. Albus had no inclination to get up to see who it was. He already knew.

“Professor? Professor, you said it was urgent.” The voice of Remus Lupin made its way from Dumbledore’s office. Fawkes called out, saving his master the strength of doing so himself. The music stopped and Albus heard the door to his bedroom creak open. Still, he did not move, but merely opened his eyes to stare toward the empty chair at the side of his bed. Remus moved to sit in it. Their eyes met and Dumbledore smiled, blinking.

“Welcome,” he whispered. “Would you like some tea?” Without saying another word, a teapot and cup appeared at the table beside the chair in which Remus sat. “Just one lump, I recall.” And a small cube of sugar appeared with a spoon. Yes, he was tired, but he would never be considered an ungracious host, or maybe he just wanted to prove to himself, his doubting self, that his strength was surging forward again, if only for the time being.

“So tell me, Remus,” began Albus, his blue eyes twinkling, “have the rumours leaked out that you’ll soon be the new headmaster at Hogwarts?”

“They have,” answered Remus, dryly.

“And have you now come to take your place of honour?”

“You know, of course, that most everyone believes you’ve gone mad,” said Remus. Then a thin smile creased his lips. “Fortunately, if you can call it that, Arthur Weasley has kept the idea of a werewolf at Hogwarts alive at the Ministry. If there’s a plan to kill the future headmaster of Hogwarts, then you’ve set the bull’s-eye squarely on my back. Although, the rightful target might be a bit more suited at protecting himself than am I.”

“Yes,” answered Albus, “I’m sorry about that, but then I’m sure he’s enough to be getting on with about now.” Remus nodded and took a sip of tea. For a moment, Albus’ mind drifted to all the lives lost that had offered their service upon his advice. He wasn’t very proud of the number – some of the finest witches and wizards that he had ever known.

Like Lilly and James.

Nor, did he take satisfaction in counting the number of lives saved.

It was Ron that saved the Longbottoms, not you.

Suddenly, he was quite tired again.

“Does anyone else know you’re here?” he asked.

“I had been expecting Severus to meet me at the entrance,” said Remus with some bit of concern. His voice was quiet, but nervous. “I’m sorry I’m late. There’s some disturbing news coming from Greece. I only received half of Sirius’ last message. It sounds like the Carpathians all over again. I don’t like it. The Centaurs have been losing ground and dragons have been seen in the area. I don’t understand it at all. The last time I spoke with Antreas, he told me that the dragons had no interest in a war that didn’t concern them. I’d go to the castle, but Harry’s somehow made it unplottable. And now, I hear, the boy has gone to enter the fray. He believes Voldemort is searching for his son… Harry’s son.” Albus shifted on the bed, and Remus noticed. “How long have you known, Headmaster?”

Albus looked into Remus’ eyes. It didn’t take a Legilimens to know that the man seated beside him was looking to get a reaction. He sat up in his bed, pushing the pillow against the headrest and then leaned back against it. Another cup appeared on the table, the teapot poured more tea by itself, and the cup floated over to Albus’ hands. He took a sip.

“Our Harry’s no longer a boy anymore is he, Remus?” said Albus, and then he took another sip of tea. A tinge of concern crossed the right side of his face, but he pushed it aside. He’d hoped this news would be held more tightly. “Who told you?”

“Hermione Granger,” said Remus, leaning forward. “Earlier this evening. And there’s more, Albus. She doesn’t believe that Voldemort has left Hogwarts as you had suspected.”

Albus grumbled to himself. He should have known who before he asked the question – a sign that his powers were slipping. Of course Hermione would turn to Remus for help. Who else was there? Minerva didn’t exactly evoke a motherly persona. He was weary, but moved to sit at the edge of his bed. Remus came to assist and he defensively pushed him away.

“I am not an invalid!” he snapped, trying to untangle his bedclothes from about his ankle. He regretted his actions almost at once, but chose not to apologize. He held out his hand and summoned his wand without speaking. Then, he blasted the bit of cloth still trapped about his foot, releasing it and letting it fall to the floor at the side of the bed.

“Better,” he whispered, looking down at his bare feet and wondering if, perhaps, he should have worn socks to bed. The evening was, after all, a bit chilled and, what with the fire unlit, his bones were—

“Forgive me, Professor.” Remus interrupted Albus’ train of thought. How long had his mind been wandering? “About Voldemort… I fear he may still be within the castle walls.”

“Fear, Remus? There’s nothing to fear. And... yes, he is within the castle walls. Hermione was right to be concerned; the brightest witch I—”

“You knew?” said Remus, rising to his feet. “Why in Merlin’s—”

There was a sharp knock at the door outside followed by a louder, more emphatic pounding. Albus closed his eyes and took in another breath. It was all happening too soon. He was supposed to be ready, to still have his powers in full command. He wasn’t supposed to be some doddering, old—

“Shall I open the door, sir?” Remus asked irritably. It was clear Remus felt confused, and there was some part of Albus that enjoyed knowing that he still had the upper hand. He would keep it that way… for awhile.

“Enter, Severus,” Albus muttered quietly and the door flew open. There was a hurried sound of footsteps and then a swirl of black issued through Albus’ bedroom door – always the dramatist. Snape’s eyes were wide and concerned. He took one look over at Remus, who now stood, and the side of his lip curled just a bit.

“Professor… Lupin,” drawled Snape, slowly and deliberately with just the faintest tilt of his head. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I believe we have a… situation.”

“Severus,” said Albus with a sigh, “certainly, by now, you know that you may speak openly in front of our future headmaster.” Snape blanched slightly at the word.

“Do you think that wise, sir? I’m not sure we can trust…”

“A werewolf?” snapped Remus. “Is that it, Severus? You can’t stand that I’m here speaking with Professor Dumbledore about the future of this school. You think, maybe, you should be Headmaster?” Remus stepped forward to face Snape. “Is that it?”

“More than one within these walls has fallen prey to the Imperius curse, Remus,” countered Snape in a very steady tone. His calmness only angered Remus more. “Forgive me, Headmaster, but your skills at Legilimency are not as foolproof as they once were.”

“Which puts into question where your loyalties lay, Severus,” said Remus, before Albus could answer.

“Enough!” cried Albus, rising to his feet and suddenly appearing more dangerous than ever. “Severus, you have something you wish to say, say it!”

“It appears that Patrick O’Riley has been under Lord Voldemort’s control, at least since he was last seen leaving the Forbidden Forest.”

“The Imperious you just spoke of?” asked Remus.

“No,” answered Severus, and then he held the silence to add import to his following words. “He was under the control of Lord Voldemort, possessed of mind and body. Sometime, within the last hour, Voldemort has found another host.”

“So he never tried to escape, once he was forced to flee Gabriella’s body,” asserted Remus. Albus stepped over to a basin that filled with water and he splashed his face, as Snape began to ring his hands.

“What’s more,” added Snape, “Mr. Potter has left the school to fight Voldemort, believing that the Dark Lord is leading the attack upon his godfather in Greece. So typical,” he breathed. “What’s worse, he has some misguided intention to bring back a rescue party to Hogwarts, believing it safer.”

“We need to warn him,” said Remus.

“It is safer,” asserted Albus proudly. For a moment, he almost believed it true himself.

“Professor, you can’t mean that!” said Remus moving closer to the headmaster. Then he turned to Snape in some hope that he might agree, but Snape didn’t come to his aid. Then Remus said, “Do you know where Voldemort is, Severus? Who is the new host?”

For the first time in days, things began to clear in Dumbledore’s mind. He knew what Snape was about to say, before he said it, and the regained power caused his lips to smile with satisfaction. The others took it as a discordant expression.

“He’s taken over another student, Remus,” said Snape. “Hermione Granger or her fiancé, Ron Weasley… probably the boy.”

“WHAT?” cried Remus.

Ignoring the outburst, Snape continued. “They should be speaking with Minerva at any moment. I suggest we—”

“You let them walk off!” Remus cut in.

“What would you have me do? I tried to see which one was possessed, but was unable. If I had prodded further, Voldemort would have left none alive – that’s not a sacrifice I was willing to take.”

“Who? Your life or the student’s?”

“Silence,” snapped Albus. He’d heard enough. He knew what needed to be done, but for the first time in a long time he questioned the outcome. He stepped over to his clothes-closet and the door opened by itself. An instant later, he was adorned in an ornate, red robe. It had once been worn by Gryffindor, and Albus felt it a fitting way to end his tenure at Hogwarts. He took his first step toward the door, unsteadily. Remus moved to help him, but Albus pushed him away.

The elderly wizard stepped out into the office and walked over to a large silver instrument that had stars flying about it, some red, some white, and some green. He tapped it once with the side of his wand. The field of stars rotated into a new orientation. Each point of light represented a witch or wizard that Albus had been tracking through the year. The new orientation was now centred over Greece. He watched as the pinpricks of light representing Lucius and his son Malfoy continued to slide down from the north of the country. They commanded a great host of Dementors and a tingle of concern ran up Albus’ back. Harry’s faith in Draco was commendable, but Albus wasn’t so certain.

The Dementors the Malfoy’s commanded needed to be destroyed. They had multiplied far beyond their natural number; some black magic was at work. The Centaurs had no chance to survive the onslaught, and the number of wizards willing to battle was insufficient, once matched against the supporting Death Eaters. There was only one hope for success – dragon fire. But Remus was correct when he quoted Antreas; the creatures cared little of what Dementors destroyed so long as they did not cross dragon boundaries. Since the Carpathians, the Dementors moved with the knowledge of what had happened to their number there. In Greece, the Dementor army took care to stay away from dragon territory. Albus had tried to sway Grigor to call for the help of the dragons, but he had refused. Nonetheless, Albus was well aware of how the war was irritating the dragons. All it would take would be one small match to call them to service – Harry.

He tapped the side of the instrument once more and it shifted over Italy. There he saw two white lights in Apparation toward Greece. Harry had to complete this mission, even if he didn’t know what it was. That, unfortunately, left the castle at risk; Albus knew all too well the prophecy. With Harry in Europe, Albus would have to face Voldemort without hope of winning. But then, what, really, does winning mean? With another tap, all the lights flickered out. Albus turned to face Remus and Severus.

“Remus, you must go to Hogsmeade,” he said. Remus began to object, but Albus flashed him a glare that made him feel as if he were back in school. “If the rescue party arrives, we must be prepared to act quickly. You mustn’t bring Harry’s child to the castle; it’s not safe. Instead, go to the forest, to the Centaurs. I’ll send word to Magorian.”

“Magorian?” Remus cried. “Why would he—”

“Because with you will be the child of their Chosen,” Albus interrupted. “He will ensure you are safe, for now.”

For how long, Albus did not know. Soon, the board upon which each of them played would change. The armies of Greece would focus back to Great Britain. Hogwarts would become a battle ground. There was only one thing about which Albus was certain – no matter the outcome of that battle, the war would be over, for better, or for worse.

“Go on, go on,” said Albus, shuffling Remus out of his office. “Even should the Centaurs fail, within the forest are powers that will move to protect you. Find Hagrid… Have him escort you to Terntalag.”

“Professor,” implored Remus. “You haven’t the strength.”

“I have strength enough for this.”

When the werewolf was gone, Albus moved to Fawkes and stroked the Phoenix’s feathers. “Soon, it will be my turn to burst into flame. Will you send for me one last message, my old friend?” He summoned a small roll of parchment and imprinted a message upon it without saying a word. “Find Dakhil and bring him back. Do not take no as an answer.” There was a tremendous flash of fire and the bird had gone. Suddenly, Albus felt dizzy and his balance began to falter. Severus held him by the arm until the sensation past.

“Headmaster,” said Severus dryly, “do you think it wise to trust the fate of Hogwarts upon a werewolf, a vampire and a Death Eater? If we should fail, the history books will point to your decision to entrust the three of us as the reason for our downfall.”

“And when we succeed, Severus. What then?”

“They’ll say you were a genius, and hate us just as much.”

Albus shook his head. “Severus, your attitude has been your—” A flash of fire filled the room. There, near Albus’ desk, stood Dakhil Barghouti with a small, featherless Fawkes cupped in his hands. Offering only the smallest of nods toward Severus and Albus, he walked the bird to its perch and set it gently down. He stroked the bird’s bare head.

“I thought the boy was to handle this,” he said sullenly, his back still toward Albus.

“Harry is… preoccupied,” said Albus with the smallest of chuckles. Dakhil spun to face him.

“Is this some sort of game to you, Dumbledore? Every moment that that stupid comet hangs in the sky, every second that passes where Centaur and Dementor battle, Singehorn grows irritated by what he sees as petty bickering. That wizards have taken sides… Arrgh! You know what happened before!” Dakhil’s eyes were on fire, but Albus took no offence.

“That is why we must act now, Dakhil, before it is too late. He’s here, and he’s not as strong while possessing another.”

“This was not Soseh’s vision,” said Dakhil sternly.

“No, but it is mine,” answered Albus, and in that moment his stature rose and he looked down upon Dakhil without his half-mooned spectacles. Dakhil’s eyes did not flinch.

“Without me there to sway his thoughts, Singehorn will take matters to the next level. Are you prepared to live with the consequences?”

Albus’ thoughts rolled to those earlier in the evening. How many more must die? Then, almost reflexively, laughter burst forth. “Live?” he said sardonically. “If I’m not mistaken, none of us in this room plans to live much longer, or am I mistaken?” His eyes scanned Dakhil and Severus; each held his gaze with pride. “Good, then we are agreed. No one is to warn Harry.” He tightened the scarlet cloak about his shoulders.

“And you Severus, will he trust you still? Does he yet suspect?”

“Upon her life, Minerva would never show him the letter I sent her. He will wonder, but he won’t know. Leave that to me, Headmaster. In the end, he will have no choice but to trust me.”

“And are you prepared?”

“Longbottom provided me with the two identical roots just last week. He grew them in the caverns by the light of fireflies. Amazing, really. I would never have dreamed…” Severus took a deep breath and exhaled. “The potion is ready,” he said, patting the left breast pocket of his robes.

“Good… good,” said Albus. His heart was beginning to race with anticipation of what they were about to do. “Let’s—”

“Professor!” cried one of the portraits. “Minerva, she’s under attack!”

“Damn!” cursed Snape. “She didn’t have her wand.”

“Quickly!” said Dumbledore, not moving toward the front door, but, rather, toward a large dressing mirror that stood in his bedroom.

“After over 60 years, I have a learned many things within these stone walls and still this castle holds secrets it may never share with me.”

“So it is with dragons, Headmaster,” replied Dakhil.

Without saying another word to the others, Albus jumped through the mirror and appeared into the corridor leading to McGonagall’s office. A moment later, the other two appeared as well. Still quite early in the morning, a few students had been roused by the large explosions that had taken place. A group of ten to fifteen stood nervously outside McGonagall’s office, its door shut. Smoke was billowing out through the crack at the top of the door, while water seeped out through the crack at the bottom. Most of the students were unwilling to approach the door, but two students kept casting various spells in an effort to open it – James Chang and Luna Lovegood. James was about to, physically, take another run at the door, when Albus called for him to stop.

“Stand aside, Mr. Chang,” he commanded. The students all plastered themselves to the walls of the corridor as Albus, Dakhil and Severus moved forward, but James stayed at the door.

“Is it true what they say, Professor?” James asked. “Has he taken Ron now? Is he in there… Voldemort?”

“Yes,” answered Albus, stepping in front of James. Albus reached for his wand.

“Then he’s only used the killing curse,” asserted James knowingly.

“And how would you know that, Mr. Chang?” drawled Severus.

“Because his wand’s cursed, Professor. Ron’s is anyway.” James quickly became agitated and uncomfortable. “I was sleeping and… somehow… remembered. When I went to Gryffindor, the Fat Lady said he’d left. Then I heard the explosion.” James’ fists rolled into a ball. “It was… I did it, when he was me… in me… on the train. He knew Ron would never use a killing curse. It’s supposed to explode if he uses a stunner. He was hoping Harry might be nearby.”

“Explode?” snapped Snape. James nodded without holding the professor’s gaze.

“It should kill him,” he muttered to the floor. “And anyone nearby.” The three professors exchanged looks.

“We can use this to our advantage,” said Dakhil.

“Knowledge is power,” said Albus brightly. He held his wand against the door. The resultant tingling in his fingers ran down his forearm and stopped.

“Tom was in a hurry, when he shut this door,” he whispered to himself. “Sloppy. Maybe he’s being sloppy about other things as well.” He tapped the door with his wand and whispered, “Domito!”
The door swung open and water gushed out into the corridor. Inside, everything was drenched, but various pieces of wood continued to smoulder, sending an acrid smoke into the air. Albus stepped forward; the office was a disaster. In the centre was a large oak desk, tumbled to one side. Few would notice the marking on the desk’s back matched the embroidery of Professor McGonagall’s evening shawl.

“Minerva,” he gasped, running to the desk. When he touched it, Professor McGonagall transformed back. The left side of her body was badly burned, but she was still alive. When he repositioned Minerva onto her back, her eyes opened and she began to cough.

“Hermione,” she gasped. “He’s got… the girl.” Her finger pointed to the room behind her office. Normally, there would be a door there, but now some band of darkness had sealed it shut. Dakhil called for James and Luna to take Professor McGonagall to the hospital wing. Luna levitated her off the floor and James helped guide her through the doorway.

“Don’t worry, Professor,” said Luna calmly to McGonagall as they made their way out into the corridor. “With all this business about dragons, my dad just discovered that Skrewt manure makes a wonderful burn salve. Jeanie!” she called to one of the Ravenclaw second years. “Go into my trunk and get out the big brown burlap sack.” Jeanie took off in a run. “It’s the one with the oozing green stuff on the outside!” Luna called after her. Minerva groaned, but Albus didn’t think it was because she was in pain.

For the briefest of moments, he smiled to himself. Such joys always happened in the twinkling of an eye and, if one were not vigilant, they could slip by unnoticed. He drew strength from that joy and turned to face the band of darkness now baring their way.

“This may prove more difficult,” he said softly. Again he touched the darkness with his wand. There was a flash of pain, and then glaring red eyes.

“I’m not finished,” whispered a cold, high voice. The vision vanished, leaving Albus in front of the door again.

“This is my house, Tom,” said Albus defiantly at the entryway. “Here, we play by my rules.” He looked back at Dakhil and Severus. “Prepare yourselves,” he said with a voice that was itself cold and empty. “Dakhil, take care of the girl. If we succeed, you know what must be done.” Dakhil bent down, tapped a piece of trash and, without touching it, levitated it to an inner pocket in his robes. “Severus?” Snape removed the stopper from his vial and drank the thick, black liquid inside.

“My friends, this may be our only chance,” said Albus with the voice of a soldier about to send his troops into a battle he knows they cannot win. “Whatever the cost, he must never touch Harry’s boy.” He slipped his wand into his robes. “Tell Harry—”

There was a scream from within. Forgetting what he was about to say, Albus placed his hands on the stone wall. He whispered a few incantations and then, as if he were a ghost, his hands melted into the wall. He took one last look back at the wizards standing beside him, a twinkle sparked in his eye, and he disappeared completely into the stone. Suddenly, the walls sparkled bright, glowing with tremendous ferocity. Albus had become the walls and the two wizards watched as the glow spread from one side of the room to the other. Soon, the glow enveloped the doorway. They waited in anticipation. Albus made his way, slowly spreading across Professor McGonagall’s bedroom like an inkblot on white linen.

Hermione lay unconscious on McGonagall’s bed, her clothes torn from her body. Ron, or rather Voldemort, was slipping on his robes, oblivious to the glow enveloping him; it was a light of goodness that he was blind to. When Albus had sealed the room, he concentrated his energy on the doorway and sundered the spell blocking the entrance.

Dakhil ran in first. With the instincts of a cat, Voldemort reached for his wand and green light erupted, striking the vampire squarely in the chest. Nothing happened.

“I expected more,” said Dakhil with a scratchy voice that was almost scolding. Before Voldemort could react, Dakhil had jumped upon Hermione. He reached into his robes for the Portkey he’d just made and the two vanished.

“A vampire,” said Voldemort with a disinterested sneer. “Pah, I was done anyway.” He stepped to the doorway just as Snape entered. Voldemort didn’t notice, but the dark bands had now been replaced with glowing ones.

“My lord?” asked Snape, uncertainty seeping through his expression. “Is it… is it really you?”

Voldemort reached for his wand, but Snape made no effort to protect himself. Just as Voldemort was about to cast his spell, the walls, the floor, the cracked and broken ceiling began to shake violently.

“I… have… you… both!” cried the stones in a low baritone voice that rumbled like thunder.

“Parlour tricks don’t scare me, Dumbledore,” said Voldemort, looking around with concern. He stepped toward the doorway, but found it sealed. He cast multiple spells at it, and still he could not pass. Then his wand turned to Snape. “What is this trickery?”

“Did you both think you could fool me,” the stones rumbled again, “within my own castle walls? Now you’re both mine!”

“I came as quickly as I could, my lord,” implored Snape. “I followed the—”

“Crucio!”

Snape began to scream in agony, but the screams were short lived. Voldemort was more concerned about the box he was in. The fact that he left Snape alive made the walls glow more brightly, a brightness he still could not see.

The walls shook again, only this time they began to move inward, making the room smaller.

“Your end is at hand Tom; there is no escape,” they rumbled. Then they shuddered, “You will both pay for your deceit.”

Voldemort glared at Snape as dust and pebbles rained down upon their heads. “Is he in the walls?” he yelled, his voice growing a bit more unsteady. Snape, still curled on the floor, nodded his head. Voldemort cast a killing curse at the walls. A few stones shattered, spraying debris everywhere, but the walls continued to move inward. Voldemort cast another curse, then another and another. Still, nothing happened. He was so intent upon the wall moving toward him, that he didn’t see Snape muttering a shield charm and moving away, as far away as he possibly could.

At last, Voldemort stopped and just glared at the wall. Frustrated and desperate he yelled, “STUPEFY!” The ten inches of ash exploded, throwing Ron against the far wall with a sickening crack.

The smell of burning flesh filled the room as Snape stood up and placed the side of his face flat against the wall.

“Guide him to the falls, Severus,” said Albus. “Make him believe.”

Severus nodded and walked over to the crumpled heap on the floor. Ron’s eyes were open, his legs twisted in an unnatural way and most of his right arm was gone. Snape watched and waited. What should have been instantaneous, was taking far longer than either Snape or Albus anticipated. After a moment, Snape began to bend down next to Ron to see if, perhaps, he was mistaken. It wasn’t until he touched the side of Ron’s neck that a thin green smoke began to billow out of the young wizard’s open mouth. At once, Snape fell to one knee.

“My lord,” he whispered with bowed head. The smoke swirled about him once, as if sniffing for a trap, but then entered Snape.

From brick and mortar, Albus watched as Snape rose to his feet and turned to face the wall. There, before him, Snape’s black eyes turned red. He pulled his wand and an expression of pure rage spread across his face. He pointed the wand at Ron’s lifeless body.

“Dare try to take me with you!” Snape kicked Ron in the side like a sack of potatoes. Then, he moved to cast a spell and the room shuddered again, closing in yet tighter. Snape withdrew his wand.

“There’s still time, Dumbledore, if you still have the strength. Want to trade? Will you let me go to save this boy, or will you choose to let his spirit forever haunt the girl he loves so dearly?” He chuckled in a high cold voice. “Though I doubt she’ll love him hence.”

There was a large snap at the doorway as Albus released the spell at the entrance. Snape tapped the area once with his wand, and then ran away, disappearing into the outer corridor.

Albus pulled away from the walls and reappeared in corporeal form next to Ron. The old wizard’s knees were weak, and his scarlet red robes were torn and scorched. He ignored the commotion in the outer office as he placed his hand on Ron’s forehead and then closed the boy’s blank eyes. He slipped his wand from his robes and began to mutter the incantation he had used to save Harry the year before. This… this would be more difficult, but it was the only thing that could be done, if there was still time.

The clatters and screams from outside fell away as Albus probed inward, searching for Ron’s life force. It was not unlike Legilimency, but finding the delicate threads of life from one so near death was much more difficult. Hoping for some sign of life, he expected to see not but darkness, when a glowing tentacle of pure energy whipped around from nowhere, grabbing his own life force by the throat. It was the first time Albus had been truly stunned in nearly seventeen years.

“You’re going with me, Voldemort!”

It was Ron’s will, his mind fighting to hold on to the darkness that had controlled him. That explained what had taken Voldemort so long to emerge from Ron’s body. Ron knew he was dying and had tried to take Voldemort’s life with him. If it hadn’t been for Snape’s touch, providing just enough life energy for Voldemort to escape, Ron might have been successful. Even now, nearing the terminus of this plane, Ron’s energy was formidable. If Albus wasn’t careful, they might both be lost.

“It’s me, Mr. Weasley,” he gasped, choosing not to struggle against Ron’s entangling snare. “Professor Dumbledore.”

“You think I’m a fool?” Ron’s voice echoed from the darkness beyond. Albus could tell that, this time, the voice was fainter. Ron’s energy was moving away.

“Mr. Weasley, only I know why you’re hoarding socks. Not even Hermione knows that, does she?” The grip about Albus’ neck slackened.

“Professor?”

“Voldemort has escaped; I’ve come to save you.” Albus held out his hands and the darkness erupted with green flame that spread outward in all directions.

“No!” cried Ron. “NO! You can’t! Not after what I’ve done. I won’t go back.”

Spreading, reaching, the flame finally touched Ron’s life energy and Albus sensed at once that it was somewhere above and to his left. In this realm of nothingness, a vast desert between life and death, he saw a golden light flickering at the edges of the expanding green flame. He reached out with all his strength to take hold, but it resisted, pulling away. Albus’ own energy surged outward and away. He might be able to try one more time. If he failed, they’d both be dead.

“Mr. W— Ronald Weasley,” his tone was deliberately scolding. “What would your mother say? Do you think, when you slip into her arms on the other side, that she will greet you with warmth and affection? She might apply a properly placed switch of hickory, if she has one ready. Do you think she died fighting Voldemort so that you could simply run away? Will she introduce you to Godric as a fine example of bravery and loyalty to his friends?”

“But—”

“I don’t care what that filth made you do. Your friends will always love you. Hermione needs you. Harry needs you. We all need you, now more than ever. Will you turn your back on all Hogwarts? Dying is the easy part; living is the greatest risk of all.”

The golden glow flickered and then flamed bright. Albus knew Ron was trying to return and, in that instant, reached out again with one last, great surge of energy, giving all of himself to ensure success. Their life forces united and Albus pulled him close, infusing Ron’s energy with his own.

For a moment, surrounded by a glimmering green glow, the two wizards met face-to-face in the plane between life and death. Albus took one of Ron’s hands and then waved his other revealing a passageway, rimmed in luminous alabaster. “Your destiny lies beyond that door, Mr. Weasley. Your mother will be proud. I’m sure Godric will never hear the end of it.” Albus’ face beamed, but Ron’s was frightened and his shoulders slumped.

“I’ll never be able to face her,” he whispered as his anxious eyes stared warily at the door.

“Ms. Granger?” said Albus kindly. “She could not live knowing that she might have done something to prevent your death.”

“There’s nothing she could have done!” snapped Ron.

“Then tell her that,” said Albus. “And when you do, look in the mirror and say the same thing to yourself – there’s nothing you could have done.” The aged wizard felt his life force ebbing away and his hand slipped from Ron’s. “Through the door, Mr. Weasley.”

“Professor!” cried Ron. “Wait! You can’t—”

“And tell Harry…” interrupted Albus as he began to fade into the dimming flames of green, “…tell Harry that I’m sorry, but all I ever did was out of love.”

“But—”

“And Ron, tell him not to worry. He’ll make a wonderful father… as will you.”

The distance between the two wizards stretched to infinity, and Albus could feel the last threads of life slip away. Still, he held fast to the earthly realm until he was certain: Slowly, Ron moved toward the rim of alabaster, passed through the door and returned into the brightness of life. Satisfied, Albus smiled and turned to face the brightness now waiting to greet him.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 34 – A Point of Departure
~~~***~~~

It was a stone. It wasn’t a very large stone, more like a pebble, but one corner of it, at least, was very sharp. It protruded up off the ground and nipped at Harry’s back like a baby dragon nibbling at its mother’s haunches. Only, Harry’s back was much less forgiving and the stone far more tenacious. He lay there, in the darkness, debating what he should do. He knew, on Merlin’s grave, no matter how hard he tried, there would be no chance that he would simply go back to sleep. He’d already tried to shift… a little, but that only caused the stone’s sharp edge to scrape across Harry’s back. There was nothing for it; he would have to get up. Besides… he had to pee.

But on second thought, he could reach for his wand. That wouldn’t hurt… much. Maybe he’d summon it under his breath. He could just pee where he lay and then clean the mess up after. Who would know? Gingerly, his hand slipped further to the right, but then stopped. Gabriella, now sleeping at his side so close he could feel her breath against his shoulder, might know if he weren’t fast enough… and, the more he thought about it, he did have to pee pretty badly. That wouldn’t do; being married was no excuse. The stone nipped again, reminding him of his predicament, as the light of Ebyrth streamed through the crumbled walls of the castle and bathed the couple in a white glow now more intense than any full moon.

Swearing he wouldn’t swear, at least not out loud, Harry rolled over onto his right side to better position himself so that he could then rise to his feet. The motion wasn’t much, but the sensation was intense. Stars of pain filled his vision as the agony screamed across his body. It radiated outward from the wounds on his chest that refused to heal properly and penetrated every limb, striking the tips of his fingers and toes like a sledge hammer and bouncing back to his very core. Clenching his teeth, he fell to his elbows, his forehead flat on the floor, and he swallowed the scream.

Harry, Gabriella and a handful of the Order were still on the grounds of Sirius’ castle, but there had been so much damage caused by Harry’s spell, a spell he still had not admitted to casting, there were only a few places safe to sleep in. Despite everyone’s efforts to magically support the structure, portions of the ceiling would crumble down, walls would collapse, or, worse, suddenly appear. Sirius had asked Harry to travel to St. Mungo’s, but he refused. In his present state, he felt he was too great a target and he already knew that St. Mungo’s was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a safe haven from darkness.

Harry lightly slapped the floor with his palm, sending dust into the air. Weeks!

It had been weeks and still his wounds would not mend. Early after the attack, a Healer from St. Mungo’s had come to see Harry and had muttered some gobbledegook about vampire venom. “Quite an unusual case,” he had said, passing Sirius a few potions and telling him to administer them with caution because of their potency. They were worthless. No, thought Harry, as a pang poked at his lower abdomen. They were less than worthless. They only made him need to pee!

“Fu-uck!” Harry groaned out in anger, pounding his fist to the ground. He regretted it immediately. Before you could say, “They shoot horses, don’t they?” Gabriella was awake and at his side.

“Harry,” she exclaimed, gently placing her hand on his back. “Sweetheart, what in Asha’s name are you doing?”

Too late. A puddle pooled about his knees.

“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”

Without a word, Gabriella had it cleaned. “You should have told me you needed help. I would have—”

“I don’t need help!” he yelled. He would have pushed her away, if he hadn’t known the agony he would have to endure for even the slightest motion. She said nothing and simply waited in the silence at his side.

The truth was he needed her more than ever. Without her help, without her support, he would have surrendered to his injuries long before now. Still, no matter how much love she could offer him, there was still nothing that could be done. No one’s attempts to cure him had worked and the pain was growing worse with each passing day. Even being levitated from one place to another was pure torture. He could, no longer, count on one hand the number of times he’d been tempted to turn to the vivificus stone to heal his own injury. Once, late at night, he’d gone so far as to remove it from its hiding place next to his liver and hold it in his hand, rubbing its moist surface with his fingers. He could not remember how much time had past before he returned the stone to its home. Now, his thoughts skittered on summoning it again.

He took in a deep breath and dropped flat onto the dusty floor. Another pebble poked at his shoulder. He smiled.

“Well, hell…” he said, blowing a small plume of dust with his words, “at least I don’t have to pee anymore.”

“Let me call Mama,” said Gabriella, lowering herself down, laying her head flat in the dirt to look Harry in the eyes. “I’m sure she could—”

“No.”

“Harry, don’t be silly. You know her skill with potions, her relation with… Dakhil. If anyone has the experience to heal your wounds, it will be her.”

“I told you already. It’s not safe here. Merlin, you shouldn’t even be here. You should be back at—” Harry stopped before he said Hogwarts and swallowed. Word had arrived the day after Cho and Tonks had left with Jamie. Dumbledore had been killed by Voldemort. Cho, Tonks and Jamie had disappeared, but so had Remus and Snape.

Dakhil was the one that brought the news, a bit too gleefully, Harry thought. He seemed to enjoy repeating how wrong Harry had been in assuming Voldemort had come to Greece. He never said it directly to Harry, but repeated it to nearly everyone, just so Harry could hear… over and over. It had been a trap all along and Harry had fallen for it. When Dakhil had examined Harry’s wounds, his eyes showed recognition, but he shook his head, commenting on how nasty they were, and had denied knowing of any cure.

He left, vaguely assuring Harry that all was well at Hogwarts. “They are hidden beyond even my reach,” he had said. “As for Voldemort, that path depends on the strength of Professor Snape. By the count of three full moons, we will know.”

“Why, what happens then?” Harry had asked, but Dakhil only smiled, flashing two rows of sharp teeth. “When you are well,” he hissed, and disappeared.

Gabriella pinched Harry’s earlobe, perhaps the only place she could touch that wouldn’t send him into convulsions of pain. “You are NOT a magnet for death, Harry!”

“You’ve seen the ghosts that are left hovering about,” said Harry, waving a finger into the air without lifting his wrist from the ground. “They think I’m already dead. The rest are at Hogwarts, thinking I’ll bring them eternal peace, or something. Although, now that I think of it, I could use some eternal peace right about now. Gabriella, will you kill me when the time comes?”

“Argh!” she yelled in exasperation. “I don’t care anymore.” She let go of Harry’s ear and crawled over to sit on the blanket where she and Harry had been sleeping. “I can see my mother anytime I want and I haven’t seen her since Christmas. I don’t need your permission, even if we have been joined.”

Gabriella crossed her legs and held her hands together in her lap. She closed her eyes and a faint glow began to surround her. She was summoning her mother, Harry knew that. It was the way of the women of Asha. They were all linked; distance made no difference.

“I will not allow you to—” Harry began, but with a strike faster than a basilisk Gabriella had tapped him on the head with her wand. He was out cold.

Harry woke to the warmth of morning sunlight against the side of his face and the intense aroma of cooking sausages, wafting through the air. Notable was that the aroma didn’t carry with it the blackened smell of burning meat, which told him at once that Sirius was, thankfully, not cooking this morning. He had yet to open his eyes, but when Gabriella began to laugh somewhere just to his left, he knew that she wasn’t the cook either. He didn’t need to open his eyes to know that Soseh had arrived. In fact, he kept them closed and, instead, Harry reached out to sense the auras surrounding him. He had not used this power since the attack and was surprised to see his vision filled with tremendous brightness. Nearly all the rubble still clustered in piles was glowing bright orange as if it were alive. It took some time for him to adjust to the brightness and detect the people about him: Gabriella… Sirius… Mad Eye… some unfamiliar wizard Harry couldn’t recognize, standing in a pile of glowing orbs… Soseh! He dwelt upon her for a moment, and noticed her aura brighten. She was suddenly smiling.

“Gabriella!” yelled Soseh from near the fire and the cooking sausages. “Your husband is hungry. Can you not sense it? I thought I taught you better than that.” A cool sense of fear splashed across Harry’s insides. Without thinking, he brought his hands together to cover the ring burnished into his flesh. He didn’t notice that the motion was not painful.

“Even an old woman like me can tell—”

“Sorry, Mama!” replied Gabriella, but there was a slight sense of exasperation in her voice which Harry had rarely heard when Gabriella spoke with her mum. She dropped next to him on her knees.

“I already knew you were awake,” she whispered irritably. “You should know better than to go probing around with your mind and not expect Mama to sense you.” He kept his eyes shut.

“I didn’t know—”

“Is it true? Are you hungry?”

He understood the sceptical lilt to her question. Even though Gabriella was a wonderful cook in her own right and had fed the others until they burst, Harry had eaten little, particularly over the last week or so. The pain that had penetrated through his flesh and into his bones had been growing worse and even potions were difficult to swallow. He really had not been hungry and held a hidden fear that the reason for his lost appetite was that his cravings might one day turn toward blood.

Hungry? Now that he thought about it… the sausages did smell pretty good. He opened his eyes and took her by the hand, rolling her ring in his fingers.

“You told her?” he whispered. “About… us?”

“I didn’t have to,” she whispered back. “She saw the rings. When she asked, she saw my eyes. There was nothing I could do. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

“Sorry?” He reached up to touch her face. It was then that he noticed; he had lifted his arm into the air and it didn’t hurt. He smiled… for many reasons. “I love you. Have I told you that?”

“Not lately,” she said with a sharp smile.

“I know. I’m sorry for that. I’ve been…” He turned and, for the first time that he could remember, looked down at the wounds on his chest. The gauze dressing that had been constantly seeping with blood had been changed and the velveteen cloth that now covered his chest was coated with some sort of paste that smelled of cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Steeling himself for the stabbing pain that did not come, he took in a deep breath. He exhaled in ecstasy.

“And did I tell you I love your mum more?” He smiled blissfully as he relaxed and glanced over toward Soseh who was busily preparing food, although Harry felt as if she was watching him nonetheless. Further beyond, Sirius and Mad-Eye were erecting a stone wall with their wands. Harry was surprised to see that they’d actually made great progress since last he’d looked. There was a young wizard with them, perhaps twenty-five, that Harry didn’t…

“Antreas?” he asked, looking back at Gabriella and resting back onto the floor.

“Mama called for him, when she found out… about us,” said Gabriella quietly. “She’s all but told me that there’s going to be a proper ceremony. She insists that it happen quickly because I’m not getting any younger. And if I hear one more crack about…” Gabriella drew in a deep breath, clenching her teeth. “Can you believe… she actually chided me for being one down to Cho?”

“One down?” Harry asked, trying to grasp the meaning. “Ohhh…” Harry couldn’t help but smile. “I’m not really sure here’s the best place to get started, but… if your mum insists...”

“Would you stop!” she said, pulling his fringe down into his eyes.

“Give the man some room, Gabriella,” snapped Soseh. “He needs to eat!” Talking to Gabriella, Harry hadn’t noticed how close Soseh had come. In her hand was a mug of steaming broth. Harry began to salivate, but the back of his throat was still sore and he didn’t think he could swallow more than a sip.

“I need you to sit up, Harry,” insisted Soseh. “Sit straight. We don’t want this to go to waste.” She held up the mug. Harry tried to sit up.

“Maybe just a little. I’m not really ready to—”

“Don’t be silly,” she interrupted and put her left hand behind Harry’s back, while holding the mug with the other. With astonishing strength she lifted him forward. He expected her to lift the mug to his lips, but instead she held it against his stomach, just below his breastbone. “A sá, se leen,” she chanted.

Harry thought it was an illusion of some sort. For an instant, her hand holding the mug disappeared into his abdomen and then reappeared. Harry believed he was seeing things until she held the mug upside down and smiled, flashing her gold tooth.

“Try to keep it down and in a few minutes you will eat properly.”

She stepped back over to the stove and called for the others to come eat. While they gathered at a large wooden table near the stove under the open sky, Harry felt the warmth spread within him. Then, abruptly, there was an overwhelming urge to burp, but he resisted. The sensation past and with its passing came a new sense of strength and vigour. Yes, he was hungry. Gabriella noticed the change.

“Harry?” she asked cautiously. He sat up completely, which drew some smiles from the others, most noticeably Sirius.

“Well,” he sneered, taking a roll from a bowl in the middle of the table, “we nearly have the first floor finished and you decide it’s time to get up from your nap. What a sluggard!”

Harry glanced over to the work that had been accomplished. For weeks, Sirius and various members of the Order had attempted to reassemble the walls of the castle, but always with little success. Shacklebolt had insisted that some nefarious dark magic was at play, and no one disagreed, figuring that whatever curse Malfoy had set upon the castle to destroy it was still present in the air. When the conversation led to such discussions, Harry always found his pain more agonizing and was rarely able to speak. Gabriella would wipe his brow with a cool rag, but the whiteness of her lips told him she knew more than she was willing to speak openly about.

Before joining the others at breakfast, Antreas cast one more spell at the wall. He spoke in Armenian, but Harry understood the spell: Rest.
“Rest?” he whispered to himself, but Gabriella heard.

“Look at the stones Antreas has set, Harry,” she whispered back. “See what the others cannot.”

Harry let his mind reach out and noticed at once that the stones in the standing wall were cold, emanating very little light as he would expect. But the stones still piled about, remnants of the spell he cast that destroyed the castle were glowing hot as if they were still on fire… as if the very rock was alive. Gabriella took him by the hands.

“The stones hold too much energy to be mortared back together with simple magic,” she whispered. “Antreas, one with the Votary, saw it when he arrived this morning. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so afraid before.”

“Afraid?” Harry asked. “Afraid of what?”

“Not what, Harry. Who.” Her eyes were stern and unforgiving as she pulled him to his feet, kissed his cheek and breathed into his ear, “Smile. It is expected.”

It was the first time he’d been on his feet since the attack, and the motion drew applause from the others. He’d taken a few steps, when he realized he’d left his wand on the ground behind him. He turned, held out his hand and summoned it into his palm without saying a word.

“Okay, now you’re just showing off, Potter,” said Sirius with a smile. Harry’s godfather then looked over to Soseh. “You’re a miracle worker, Soseh,” he said grandly. “A miracle worker.”

“Such wounds are not uncommon to my people, Sirius,” she said graciously. “You must spend more time in the mountains and you will learn as all those who have served the dragon.”

“I think I’ll stay right here near the sea, thank you very much.” Sirius took a sip of coffee. “And with Antreas’ help, we might just get this place done in a day or two.” He repositioned a chair, pulling it out from under the table.

“Here, Harry,” he said. “Take a seat. You still look a bit pale.”

As Harry sat down next to Sirius, Gabriella moved over to help her mother. They were whispering, but Harry couldn’t tell what they were saying. As Soseh turned toward the table with a platter full of food, she called to Gabriella over her shoulder, “And I don’t see what a war has anything to do with me not having a grandchild!” She placed the platter in front of Harry.

“Have a sausage, dear,” said Soseh, patting Harry’s back, “and a few fried potatoes. And sip on this.” She positioned another mug with a steaming potion in front of Harry.

“Would you stop, Mama!” cried Gabriella, taking out her wand and vanishing the mug from Harry’s hands just before it reached his lips. “He barely had strength enough to walk over to the table!”

Soseh simply shrugged, rolled her eyes, and returned to the stove with a sly smile. Harry looked at the empty space between his fingers, where the mug had been, as the others laughed.

“Not all potions are healing potions, Potter,” said Mad-Eye with a chuckle. “You’d best start carrying your own drink, if you know what’s good for you.” Mad-Eye pulled out his familiar flask, cheered Harry, and took a sip.

Nearly an hour had past before Harry had satiated his hunger. He ate slowly, with some effort, but enjoyed every bite. The others went back to work before he had completed the meal. Gabriella seemed to be watching her mother quite carefully, but there were, apparently, no more attempts at tinkering with Harry’s food or drink.

The more he ate the more strength he gained. Before he was half done, his mind began to turn toward Hogwarts and the familiar anxiety about what was happening there began to creep back in. Injured and unable to do anything, he had been free not to take action. But with his strength now returning, he felt obligated to do something. Growing more anxious, his finger began to tap the side of his plate and Gabriella noticed his nervous foot tapping against the leg of the table. When he finally put his fork down, he’d felt for the first time in ages as if he was his old self again. But with that old self, came the old commitments and responsibilities that were, even now, beginning to weigh down Harry’s heart.

“Thank you, Soseh,” he said, “I owe you my life.”

“Something like that,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. Sitting across the table from Harry, she leaned toward him. Her eyes were piercing, penetrating, but her expression was as warm as any mother’s. Somehow, he knew that she knew… his mind had turned toward Hogwarts and what he must now do.

“In your heart,” she said softly, “you would go to protect those whom you love. I see you, even now, searching for the words to say good-bye.”

Harry’s eyes looked away. Soseh reached across the table and held his hand.

“My son, all the world calls for your aid, and you would do well to serve the noble causes that summon you. But…” Her hand gently tightened about his. “… you will be unable to serve anyone faithfully until you right the wrongs with which these grounds are suffused.”

Harry looked over to Gabriella whose expression was sad… perhaps frightened. He’d never seen that look before and felt himself coming to a precipice. His heart told him that Soseh was right. He’d been living a lie, letting the others believe that Anthony had died at the hand of Lucius Malfoy and his Death Eaters. But his mind was calling him to defeat Voldemort before the darkness consumed his son.

Harry’s eyes met Soseh’s. “There’s… there’s no time,” he said, shaking his head, his foot tapping up and down now, worse than ever. “I must return to—”

“If you leave now,” Soseh interrupted, seeing the agitation in Harry’s demeanour, “the curse you placed here will go uncured. Antreas can help to rebuild these walls, but only you can banish the anger. Only you can set right your own wrongs. If you choose to leave this darkness unchecked, the curse will follow you. You may succeed in saving your friends, but you will suffer the fate of Pravus.”

The time Harry had spent with Gabriella’s grandmother in Armenia last summer flooded back into his memory. He recalled her stories of Pravus, the ages before and the ages yet to come… the curses and counter-curses… the defeats and the victories of beast and magic. It was the stuff of myth and legend, the tales of old wives’ and fairies. Why couldn’t Gabriella and Soseh understand? Didn’t they realize that Cho and Jamie could die? He needed to save them… save them now.

“Don’t you see?” asked Harry, his hand now unconsciously tightening back about Soseh’s. “Dumbledore’s dead. I can’t wait. Otherwise—”

“Harry, listen,” said Gabriella anxiously. “You don’t yet understand the extent of your powers. What you did here, not even Pravus was capable of, not alone. To summon the power of the dragon like you did… please, you need time… time to understand how to control your powers, time to explore how your strength and emotions connect. Anger only serves to—”

“I don’t have time!” Harry snapped back, slamming his hand into the table. He saw Soseh wince. Without saying a word she pulled her hand back.

“Mama?” said Gabriella with concern. Harry looked down and saw that one of Soseh’s fingers was turned in the wrong direction. He’d forgotten they were holding hands when he slammed down into the table. He had broken her finger, but she hadn’t made a sound.

Gabriella held her mother’s wrist, pulled her wand and set the bone straight. For one, brief moment, Soseh looked up at Harry. She bore a sad smile, stood from the table and, before Harry could gather himself to say a word, walked away, disappearing behind a pile of rubble that bordered the edge of the repaired castle walls. Gabriella’s expression, however, was the furthest from a smile. Harry had seen her upset before. He had seen her angry. He would sooner look into Voldemort’s eyes than hold the expression now before him. He searched for what to say… what to do.

“I… I’m sorry.”

Facing him, Gabriella stepped back from the table. The ground rumbled as another wall fell into place somewhere nearby. How close the others were, Harry didn’t know. She pointed her wand straight at his chest and Harry fully expected to be blasted. He made no attempt to reach for his own. He deserved what ever he was about to get. But instead of casting a spell, she reached over and pulled the golden ring off her finger. With eyes of fire, she stepped close to him, and dropped the ring at his feet.

“I will not be married to the second Pravus,” she said and slapped his face. Harry closed his eyes, there was a snap, and when he opened them, Gabriella had disapparated.

The ground rumbled again and Harry heard cheers from down a corridor. Antreas and the others were celebrating some sort of victory, perhaps another wall had been erected. He reached down and picked the ring up from off the ground. He looked at it for a moment, then slipped it into his pocket.

Alone in a kitchen with one wall that was open toward the sea, he looked around at the work that still needed to be accomplished. Perhaps twenty yards away was where Anthony had stood when Harry incinerated him. Suddenly, he felt very cold again.

Even if he could help to repair the damage he had done, it would take days to reassemble the final walls and then begin on the higher floors and parapets. Even if he was able to correct the wrongs of his actions, he had no idea how long removing such a curse would take – certainly longer than the time he had at hand. Voldemort could be attacking at any moment. Jamie was in danger and, if Voldemort reached Jamie, the world would be at risk. Harry would have to open the book on curses and fairytales another day.

As if in defiance, the walls rumbled again, but the shudder wasn’t because of construction. There was a crash down the same corridor from which came, only moments before, the cheers of the others. Except, this time, Harry heard one of them desperately cry out, “Sirius!”

Harry pulled his wand…

“There isn’t any time,” he whispered to the walls.

… and disapparated.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 35 – Light to Darkness
~~~***~~~

Tears clouded Harry’s eyes as he tried to wind his way through the rock and brush, climbing Ostrý Roháč, Singehorn’s Mountain. He was cursing with nearly every step – cursing his fate, cursing his destiny, cursing his stupidity. In his haste to leave, he’d forgotten that he couldn’t apparate directly to the dragons’ rookery and now found himself at the foothills of the mountain. More inept was his failure to consider the weather. It had been warm near the sea, but here in the mountains separating Slovakia and Poland over two feet of snow blanketed the ground and the skies were threatening more to come. He was fortunate that he had pants and trainers, but his shirt was just a cotton gauze that covered the velveteen fabric, dressing Harry’s chest wounds. He’d forgotten completely about bringing a jacket or coat. It was so cold that the tears rolling down his cheeks were beginning to freeze.

“No time,” he muttered to himself, plodding through the snow and pondering what fate might have befallen his godfather Sirius just before he’d disapparated. If he’d taken the time to think things through, he could have checked on Sirius, would have thought ahead enough to wear proper clothes, would have taken a broom as George had done and would, even now, be at the top of the mountain retrieving Voldemort’s cloak. Instead, in advocating the need for haste, Sirius was somehow hurt, Harry was freezing, and he was now forced to climb by foot the very path that he had taken when he first met the dragon – a process that would take half a day even in the best of conditions. And then, of course, there was Gabriella.

“Second Pravus!” he spat, thinking of her last words. “B-Bitch! I’m going to s-save the whole b-bloody world!” His teeth began to chatter as his words died in the snowy silence. Crawling through the drifts, it didn’t look like he’d be able to save himself, much less the world. The way ahead was as clear as ever; there was no chance that he’d get lost. There was, however, every chance that he’d freeze to death if he didn’t do something. It’s just that… he didn’t want to do anything about his predicament. “Pay with your pain, Potter,” he whispered, his words like smoke on the wind.

Absentmindedly, he thrust his trembling hands into his pockets and his right hand caught on something sharp. He pulled it out; a pinprick of blood dripped down his finger. The firestone of Gabriella’s ring had caught the flesh. The sensation only made his heart ache more. It wasn’t much more than a scratch. He could heal it with a thought, but he didn’t have the heart. So much blood had been spilt on his account, what did a few more drops matter?

He sniffed. “Still biting at me, Gab?” he asked the frigid air, watching the small drip of blood flow down his knuckle until it caught the ring of onyx and swirled about his finger on the stone’s surface. “I deserve it.” As he observed the blood pool between his flesh and the dark ring of Pravus, a burst of anger filled his heart… destiny be damned! And he tried to pull the ring from his hand – it wouldn’t move. If anything, it felt as if the cold stone had tightened about the bone. He pulled once more and his hand slipped away.

“Damn you!” he cursed, yelling across the rocky mountain ridge and hearing the echoes of his voice curse him back, again and again. The clouds above were rent and the snow began to fall. For a moment he laughed, but then he fell to his knees and wept.

The snow piled up around Harry’s shoulders, melting down his neck and soaking his clothes. The right thing to do would be to return to the castle, to apologize, to seek Soseh’s advice and to help Sirius. But a foolish sense of pride, perhaps ego, prevented Harry from drawing his wand. He couldn’t bring himself to do it. Beyond his unwillingness to return was a driving force calling him forward and he felt that, if he went back, he might never make it to Hogwarts in time. Instead, he would allow himself to be punished, to suffer his sins and climb the mountain on its own terms. Only, right now, the mountain was winning. It was with reluctance that Harry, nearly frozen, pulled his wand and cast a simple shield charm to protect himself from the elements.

The earth rumbled… violently. Stones, boulders, heaps of sand and debris began to cascade down the mountainsides from each edge of the valley pass Harry was climbing. He strengthened the charm as boulders crashed into and over him. While the shield held, the impact was jarring and he felt something give, tear. He looked down at his chest. The dressing Soseh had used to cover his wounds had pulled away just below his right collar bone and a tiny trickle of blood began to ooze out, seeping into his white shirt.

The earth shuddered again, only this time an enormous boulder pulled away from the side of the mountain. Harry tried to disapparate to keep himself from being crushed like a bug, but he’d passed too far into Singehorn’s lands to do so. The enormous boulder spun around and Harry closed his eyes preparing for the impact.

“H-Harry?” came a low rumbling voice above Harry’s head. Harry opened his eyes and looked up. The boulder was hovering before him, only it wasn’t a boulder it was a giant.

“F-Florge?” Harry asked back. It wasn’t the giant’s appearance, Harry had been blind when the two first met, but rather the low, rumbling voice, that was so gently and yet so terribly frightening at the same time. The ring that Harry had cursed only a moment before, was serving to translate the giant’s words so Harry could understand, just as Florge could understand Harry.

“You’re still here?” Harry asked. “On the mountain?”

“Good rock,” answered Florge with a broad smile that revealed rows of large, squat teeth. “And venison.” Florge flopped down to sit and another avalanche of rock began to tumble down. Harry brought up his shield again, but Florge scooped the stones away as if sweeping dried rice from off a tabletop. He popped a few stones in his mouth and chewed. As he continued to speak, gravel dribbled out the sides of his lips. “No venison now though. So Florge sleeps.” He smiled again bringing a large finger up to his cheek. “But one eye always open… for Talisan.”

“T-Talisan?” asked Harry, his teeth still chattering. “Why n-not Singehorn?”

The giant shrugged. “Talisan asks, not Singehorn. The Great Dragons are very busy in the east.” Florge leaned toward Harry. “You are cold little one.”

Harry, his arms crossed tight about him, looked away and shrugged much as the giant had.

“You are hurt!” said Florge suddenly. He had seen the blood on Harry’s shirt. Before Harry could blink, the giant scooped him up into his hand and began to bound up the mountain. Harry remembered the last time he’d been held in a giant’s hand and the memory was not a pleasant one.

“No, really, erm… I’m fine.”

“Me chatting like an old granstone,” said Florge, more to himself than Harry. The climb up the mountain was astonishingly fast. “I must sound the alarm. Were you attacked?”

“No… no… I… I tripped. Just a scratch, that’s all.”

Primate. A voice spoke in Harry’s mind. Knowing a dragon was calling to him, he looked up and there, flying almost too high to be seen was Tanwen. There was a large screech from above; she was calling for the others to prepare the gates. By the time Florge had Harry to the wall, the great hidden gate had been opened. A handful of people waited at its entrance. Votary. It was astonishing that they could have assembled so quickly, almost as if they’d been expecting him. Florge set Harry down by the group. The first to greet him was Katana.

“Primate,” she said without much of an expression, as was her demeanour. “An unexpected surprise.” She bowed to him and he returned the gesture, wondering if she had been surprised at all. She continued, saying dryly, “The lands have been quite still of late. Perhaps the weather. If we had been told you both were coming, we would have been more properly prepared. I had assumed your plans would take you… elsewhere.”

Harry looked up at Florge and then back at Katana. “Both?” he asked.

The giant reached over and patted Harry’s head with a thump. His vision, momentarily, filled with stars. “I go now to rest at the bottom of the mountain.” He rubbed his stomach and picked at his teeth with his tongue. “Perhaps some more granite. Then a nap. Keep one eye open, Harry. One eye… always open.” As Florge headed down the mountainside, Harry looked toward the sky.

“Talisan, can you hear me?”

“Yes.”

“Can you find Florge something more suitable to eat? Perhaps a large buck?”

“Certainly, Primate.” Harry watched as the dragon swooped toward the forests.

“That was kind of you,” Katana said, her voice softening. Evidently, she was eavesdropping in on Harry’s conversation with the dragon. Grigor had said that she was one of the elders of the Votary, but she looked no older than Sirius or Remus. As they walked to the caves, she offered another short observation. “Florge is unique among the giants. He has been quite loyal to Singehorn and has become good friends with Talisan.” It was enough to cover the facts, but tickled Harry’s curiosity for additional information.

“Where is Singehorn?” he asked.

“East.”

There was a long pause and Harry finally felt compelled to say something more.

“Erm… I had hoped to climb the mountain myself,” he said importantly, “but Florge thought I was wounded.”

“As you are,” said Katana calmly. The blood on Harry’s shirt was now quite noticeable. “We have known of your injuries for some time. It is good to see you walking, but climbing the mountain alone is not wise, even in the best of times… even for one the likes of Pravus.” They entered the caves, and Harry couldn’t help but think that there was an edge, or purpose, to the words she’d just spoken. It was clear that the name Pravus was distasteful to Katana, but she had made a point of associating it with Harry. He dismissed the thought to his sometimes overactive imagination. There was no way Katana could know about his argument with Gabriella.

“Would that it was within his power to do so, Marek is not here to heal your wounds,” said Katana as they made their way to where the injured had been treated during the battle. “There is, as I’m sure you know, one from the House of Hayk that can see to your dressing.”

Harry wasn’t sure who Katana was talking about. And he really didn’t want to be winding his way further into the caves. He needed to get to the rookery. He needed the cloak… Voldemort’s cloak. He needed to be off to Hogwarts. He needed to save Jamie from a developing darkness that was surely drawing down upon his son. He needed—

“Wait,” he said, pulling his wand, “I can take care of a little bleeding.” He cast a healing spell to knit the small gash that had reopened on his chest. Nothing happened. The original wound had crossed from his right shoulder to his left hip. It had been completely closed by Soseh, but now a small opening, little more than two centimetres long, had appeared below his collar bone. It had seemed, to Harry, smaller when he first felt the tear at the bottom of the mountain. He cast the spell again, strengthening it with both word and wrist movement. He could feel the warmth of the blue light, the sensation that often accompanied such healing spells, but the spell had no effect on the wound.

“Understandable,” said Katana, walking once again deeper into the caves. “Your training is incomplete.” She chuckled to herself, which took Harry by surprise. “It appears that, by day’s end, we both will have learned something we should have known already. At least one can hope. It is fortunate that you are still bound, otherwise you might not have found your way here in time.”

“Bound?” asked Harry, trying to decipher Katana’s words. “To Singehorn? Yes, well, that’s not why I’m here exactly. I… erm,” he stopped, wanting to turn back toward the rookery, and held Katana’s forearm to stop her as well. It did not appear that she appreciated the gesture and Harry quickly removed his hand. “Look, I really need to get to the rookery.”

“Did you say, to Singehorn?” she asked. “You are not bound to Singehorn,” she said, shaking her head. “You may remain Primate for as long as you desire, or choose your successor as did Dakhil.” She started moving again. “We must be quick, before your wound worsens.”

“It’s fine really. I just—” Harry stopped. The wound on his chest had grown. Not by much, maybe half a centimetre, but he could see the gash had lengthened and the blood began to ooze from the wound more freely. Katana was a good ten paces ahead and still moving. Harry started after her. “Wait. Dakhil chose me? I thought—”

“You are not bound to the dragon, Primate,” she said. “You are bound by the dragon, indeed by nature itself. By your own action, by your own fealty, you wear the connubial ring and that is a bond that cannot be broken except by death.”

Harry was confused and the blood dripping onto his shirt allowed an inkling of worry to worm its way into his mind. He did not want to become bedridden again. “To the dragon… By the dragon… Am I missing something.”

Without saying a word, Katana cast him a look that said far more than a resounding yes, and then turned toward a cloth curtain that covered the passage to a room lit by firelight. Harry was too far back to see into the room as Katana pulled back the curtain. She bowed to someone inside. “With greatest respect to the House of Hayk, I must acknowledge that you were, in this instance, correct. I will mark it against my ignorance and thank youth for reminding me the magic of the old ways.” Katana bowed again, but held the curtain open for Harry to pass within. “Primate.”

Harry turned into the room. Seated on the floor with his back toward Harry was a healer, apparently a young healer, wearing a white cloak somewhat too large for him. Perhaps they were robes; it was too difficult to tell with the healer cross-legged on the floor, meditating in front of a tapestry that was not unlike the one Dumbledore had shown to Harry at Hogwarts. A white cowl covered the healer’s head. As Harry stepped inside, Katana released the curtain and walked away. He listened as her footsteps disappeared down the passageway. The healer did not move, nor did he react in any way.

“Excuse me… erm… healer?” said Harry, not really sure how to address the person before him. The way Katana was speaking, you would have thought he was royalty and Harry didn’t want to say the wrong thing. Still, he felt kind of stupid talking to the back of the guy’s head. When the healer didn’t respond, Harry became a bit irritated. The guy should have risen the moment Harry had entered the room. Harry was, after all, Primate. “Hey, I don’t want to interrupt your trance… er… thing-y, but I could sure use your help.”

The healer took in a deep breath, seemingly a calming breath, but still he didn’t move. Harry couldn’t quite understand what the big deal was and then, in his own mind, he understood, at least he thought he did.

“Oh! I get it. Hey, there’s no need to be nervous or anything. I mean, I may be Primate, but it’s not like I’m almighty. I’m just an ordinary guy… really. You shouldn’t be scared of me. I’m just a simple wizard with an ordinary…” Harry’s voice trailed off. There was nothing about Harry Potter that was ordinary. He’d nearly killed Seamus last year, and had just killed his son’s stepfather, Anthony. Maybe word had reached the mountain. The dragons that had assisted Harry incinerate the Dementors may have spread the news. Perhaps that’s why Katana was so cool toward him, dropping the name of Pravus like so much ice.

Harry looked down at his ebon ring and could see his own distorted reflection in its glossy surface. How often had Pravus seen his own such reflection? Had he always been evil, or had he changed over time, slowly corrupted by ultimate power? The scratch on Harry’s finger left by Gabriella’s ring had already scabbed over, but the wound left by Draco was growing worse. Soseh’s mends were becoming undone and he was now feeling the early pangs of the pain that had debilitated him.

“Please,” said Harry, an edge of sadness mixed with insistence in his voice. “I won’t… I won’t hurt you, but you really must take a look at this cut and then I’ll go. I’m… I’m kind of in a hurry.”

There was another long sigh.

“Look!” snapped Harry, all patience lost. “Get off your arse and take a look at my wound! I don’t have much time!”

“None of us do, Harry. If this is what you’ve become, none of us do.”

Harry fell against the wall, all sense of strength leaving his legs. He only saved himself from collapsing completely by grabbing the edge of a tall chair carved of hickory. The healer stood and turned to face Harry, but Harry already knew who it was.

She pulled the cowl back and her long, black hair fell down around her shoulders. Her eyes, blacker still, were cold and angry. The tapestry behind her flashed bright with flame and then dimmed.

“Tell me, do you even know why you are here?” she asked Harry, who thought he might lose consciousness at any moment. “You said that you were headed to Hogwarts, that you needed to save your friends, that you were out of time. And yet, here you are as am I, both seeking the same thing I suspect.”

Gabriella Darbinyan calmly walked over to a large stone basin filled with water and washed her hands, drying them with a simple chant.

“When I arrived,” she said softly, her voice distant and sad, her eyes still focussed upon her hands as she rubbed her fingers together, feeling for some filth that she could not cleanse, “Katana told me that you were off to fight the Phantom in England, to find your glory, to exercise your power. I had not spoken a word and still she knew these things. Did you know that you were so tightly bound to the Votary? She wanted me to chase after you, to stop you, fearing what you might become. But I told her that you would travel here to the mountain. She didn’t believe me. I wasn’t sure myself, but I guess some magic can never be broken.”

“I… you…,” stammered Harry. “I Apparated just after you. How could know and how could you reach the top before—”

“Talisan was waiting in the village when I arrived. She flew me here.”

“Waiting?”

“Why do you bother with such silly questions? Your Phantom awaits. If you’re in such a hurry, why don’t you just leave? Are you not still out of time?”

The question was meant to be provoking and Harry responded angrily.

“People could die!”

“People, already have!”

“That was an accident!”

Gabriella glared. “It was a choice.”

“I needed to stop the Dementors! I didn’t think…” He paused, realizing that he hadn’t thought at all. Singehorn had warned him about fuelling his thirst for revenge with fire, that the power of the stone, imbued with love, should not be turned to hate. He had been deliberately tempted and had failed. Still, his ego would not let go. Knowing that he’d lost the argument before he started, Harry decided to press the point by raising his voice.

“It could have been worse!” he yelled. “I could have destroyed everything… everyone! I had it in my power!”

“You must be so proud,” said Gabriella with disgust.

“I stopped myself. ME! I-I could have—”

“What’s it like, Harry, knowing that you could cleanse the world of all its darkness? Just burn the face of the earth and start fresh. Would you be the new Noah? What ark would you have us build? Would it carry only those who worship you?”

“That’s not fair! I’m not… I’m not him.”

“Pravus? Or the Phantom, Voldemort?”

Gabriella walked past Harry to leave, but stopped just short of the curtain. For a moment her gaze held Harry’s gash, her face grieved, but the moment was lost and the hardness returned.

“Long before our oath to the kin of Asha, has the House of Hayk watched over those of power. Yes, Harry, Hayk. It is my name as it was my mother’s and her mother’s before, as far back as the dust of this earth. Before Pravus, before Charlemagne, before Atilla, before Alexander, before Moses, have the women of my house watched what becomes of men graced with gifts such as yours.” She reached out and touched Harry’s face. His heart skipped and a sensation of love that he’d not felt for many weeks flared in his soul.

“It’s not your fault, Harry,” she whispered. “It’s mine.” Her eyes began to mist and a tear slipped down her cheek. “I’ve lost you. I’m sorry.”

She turned and pushed through the curtain.

“You haven’t lost me!” cried Harry, plunging through the curtain after her. The corridor was dark, her white cloak, in stark contrast to her surroundings, glowed in the dim light. Wiping at her face with her bare hands, she was walking toward the entrance of the caves. The corridors were deserted.

“Wait!” Harry yelled. He held up his hand and a wall of flame filled the corridor in front of Gabriella. She walked through it without hesitation. “I’m serious!” he yelled again. He pulled his wand. “I need to speak with you!”

“Petrificus Totalus!” Purple light left his wand and struck Gabriella squarely in the back, but the spell deflected off her as a ray of light striking a mirror. Undaunted, Harry yelled again, “I said stop!”

Ignoring the command, Gabriella, continued ahead, so Harry ran up and grabbed her by the arm. She spun at once, snapping the fingers in his hand and knocking his wand to the stone floor. His eyes flared red as he held out his arm toward her.

“Stupefy!”

Gabriella raised her arm as a shield. The spell struck the sleeve of her cloak, and again it was deflected without Gabriella saying a word, or lifting her wand. It returned back on its caster, striking Harry in the chest and tossing him backwards. The gash on his bosom ripped open and blood began to flow freely as he fell to the floor.

In an instant, his white shirt was soaked with blood. He summoned his wand and it flew back into his hand. Gabriella stood there, fear filling her eyes as she stared at Harry. What she was afraid of, he didn’t know. Certainly she wasn’t afraid of Harry. She could just as easily crush me, if she wanted, he thought.

The splattering of blood onto the stone floor was amplified by the confined walls made of rock. The wound was flowing freely now. If it kept up like this, he would surely die. Is this how it was all to end? His betrothed, fully capable of saving his life, would watch as his life ebbed away and disappeared into the ether. How could she despise him so for just wanting to help? The flickering need to show the world that he could save his friends, could save his son, flashed across his mind and in that instant an overwhelming need to cure himself by whatever means necessary became his singular focus.

“The stone,” he whispered quietly to himself. His eyes narrowed and he smiled at Gabriella. He had won. He didn’t need her help. He didn’t need anybody’s help.

“I don’t need you!” he hissed, his thoughts blurring as more blood spilled out onto the floor. “I have the stone!” With a thought he summoned it into the palm of his hand. Covered in his blood, it was warm and sticky to the touch. He leaned his shoulder against the wall. Gabriella’s expression was the same – frightened, but in control, as if she was watching a first class horror movie for the fifth time.

“Harry,” she said sharply, her voice reminiscent of Molly Weasley scolding Fred or George, but with more caution, more concern, “you don’t want to do this. You have a choice.”

“Why can’t you see?” he spat. “They need me!”

“Do you really believe it’s about what they need, Harry. Or is it about what you need?”

“Are you mad?”

“It’s been seven weeks! Seven weeks without their saviour, Harry Potter, and everyone at Hogwarts is fine. Cho and Jamie are hidden safely within the forest, Ron and Hermione are healed, and preparations are underway for the induction of a new Headmaster.”

“Remus,” Harry muttered.

“Not everything is what it seems, Harry,” cautioned Gabriella. “Does the darkness approach? Yes. Is Snape possessed, gathering Death Eaters to his side? Yes. But no one’s calling for a hero, Harry. You need to set your own affairs in order first. If you try to destroy this evil now on your own, to destroy because you can, you will have failed. Please, Harry, if you fall to the temptations of the stone, all will be lost.”

“This?” Harry yelled, holding the stone high in his shaky hand. “This is all that stands between me and death. You know the prophecy! If I die, Voldemort wins! I won’t let that happen!”

Even as Gabriella shook her head in disagreement, Harry held out the stone. Before she spoke again, he called out, “Bravery, Wisdom, Love!”

Even as his own words echoed in his mind, the familiar antechamber of white appeared before Harry, waiting for his command. What were, in this chamber, the possibilities? He had never really explored them before. While he had no corporeal self in this realm, he sensed a tingling at the tips of his fingers and he was suddenly disappointed that he had not explored all that he could do with the stone, that he had not explored its true powers, powers for him to control, to wield. But then the eagerness, perhaps even giddiness, with which he wished to use the stone, was tempered. Another voice crept into his mind. It was Gabriella speaking the incantation that she had inscribed on the base of the dragon statuette she had given him last year: “Out of bravery, fire. Out of wisdom, blood. Out of love, true power.”
Out of love…?

For a moment, his mind was conflicted. From the distant recesses of memory came another voice that penetrated his thoughts, this time Molly Weasley’s. Lifted from the page of a crumpled piece of parchment that, even now, was with him in his pocket came the words: “You faced death but did not strike, and in so doing brought light to darkness, life to death.”
Swooning he yelled, “HEAL!”
The problem was he hadn’t said a name. He wasn’t sure why he didn’t say, “Heal me!” or “Heal Harry Potter!” But, he hadn’t. Without guidance, the stone presented options before him. Swirls of colour, mixes of black and white, virtuous alternatives and self-serving ones, each offering paths that Harry could take. All that was required was the thought and will to make it happen.

He was at the Ministry; did he want to heal his relationship with the great wizards of power? They would serve him well in his glory. He was over a battlefield secluded within some vast jungle; did he wish to heal the bodies littered upon the ground, crying out in agony. They would be forever grateful. He was at a bridge in a major city, dozens of cars flowing across it in each direction as its girders began to crack; should he seal the growing seams, not unlike the wounds upon his own chest? He would save countless lives. He was in a desert, the faces of sick children, begging for food. Should he heal the children or the parched earth? Nature and its creatures were in need. All over the world appeared the cries of dying men, women and children. And beyond that was the earth itself, calling him to come to its aid.

In this churning of choices the stone made no distinction, no judgement as to which Harry should select. That is… nearly. There was one distinction. Those alternatives that Harry felt as good and noble presented themselves in swirls of colour, while those he knew in his heart to be corrupt were a mist of black and white. Dozens, hundreds, thousands of images flashed before him, too many to endure. He was about to scream for it to stop when there at last appeared to Harry two quite distinct scenes.

The first was that of Sirius, on a red pad lying on blackened earth, a small patch of checkerboard it seemed. There was a Healer bending over him and at his side knelt, of all people, Professor McGonagall in dark blue robes. The healer whispered, “The bones are repaired, but the internal injuries are great. I don’t understand why he’s not healing properly. It appears that your plans and precautions may have been for naught. If this continues, I’m afraid—”

The scene changed to that of Harry, pale and slumped against the stone wall, blood dripping down his chest onto the floor. Gabriella stood motionless over him. But this last scene, in stark contrast to the one with Sirius, was in black and white. No colour filled the image. Gabriella’s robe was radiant above all else, while the blood dripping from Harry’s chest was black as darkest coal.

Trying to focus his will, he reissued the command, charging, “Heal…” And again he faltered. Heal who? Heal what? Am I so much more important than all the rest?
Pondering the countless possibilities, of which his own wound was only one, he realized that, even with the stone, he would be unable to mend the world of its woes. It was beyond him. To truly make a difference, he would need the help of others; he could not accomplish it all on his own and that included going to Hogwarts to save Jamie.

“Out of love, true power. Light to darkness.”

The words penetrated his mind, his soul. Perhaps Harry’s earlier statements were true. He was an ordinary wizard, no better and no worse than any other. He had been cursed and blessed and had led a life of wonder and woe as had all wizards, each in their own way. Take away these few trinkets and he was not so unique. Gabriella, her mother, or others of the Votary would find someone more worthy to wield them. Brought back to strength, Sirius would be able to enlist the help of others to fight back Voldemort, to protect Hogwarts in a way Harry felt was somehow entwined with his godfather’s destiny.

Prophecy be damned! Harry would not take the first easy step down a path to serve his own needs, for each next step would be just that much more simple, explainable, justifiable. If he started down that path, he would never selflessly serve the needs of others again.

“Heal… Sirius,” he whispered. “Heal the land that now lies cursed by my hand.”

There was a swirl of colour about Sirius’s castle, a breath of fresh, clean air, a flower reaching up through the crusted soil, and all flashed black. He was back in the cavern, a pool of blood about his feet, blood that did not stain the bottom of the white robes before him. By comparison, only a small patch upon the sleeve of his white shirt was unstained, a white that matched the colour of the skin protruding from it.

As all strength left him, the stone fell from Harry’s hand and rolled across the floor. A hand, copper brown, reached down, clasped the stone and lifted it from the floor. Slumping against the stones, Harry’s head tilted up to gaze upon the face of his love before he died. The dark black eyes glistened in the torchlight. She was smiling.

Harry gasped, and in so doing realized that there was no pain. He looked down at his chest. The skin was still bloody, but the wounds had vanished; he was healed.

“Since the passing of Asha,” Gabriella whispered, choking back the tears, “only twice has a wizard held the stone within his hand and discovered its true power. You, my love, are the second.”

Again, Harry took in another breath, trying to fathom it all, trying to understand what had just happened. “Is it over then? Are Sirius and the land about the castle healed?”

“The castle is still not complete, but all else is well. Help Sirius finish the castle and you will have but one task remaining,” she replied. “It is, perhaps, your most difficult, but you owe it to her, to your son to tell the truth. If you can set right this last darkness upon your heart, then it will be over and your true quest shall begin.”

With a waive of her wand, the blood vanished. Harry’s shirt was white again, but he was still weak. It would take time to regain his strength. Gabriella reached down and lifted him from the floor. Slowly, the two made their way down to the healer’s chamber. Neither said a word until Harry sat upon the edge of the bed. Finally, he looked up into her eyes again. There he found love, and faith in what he might become. That morning, she had dropped the ring at his feet, knowing that they were not bound by metal bands, but by something far more enduring. And now, he would return it to its rightful owner. His hand trembling, he pulled the ring from his pocket and held it out to her.

“I’m not… Pravus.”

She took the ring from his hand and wrapped him in her arms, kissing his neck and holding him tight. He could feel warmth returning to his heart, strength to his bones. Energy radiated from her body and passed to his as she wept softly.

“I’ll do it,” he whispered in her ear. “But before I return to Sirius, before I go to Hogwarts, I need to—”

“You seek the cloak… Voldemort’s cloak,” she snapped, abruptly pulling away. He expected to see anger, but instead a sly smile danced across her glimmering eyes.

“You… you knew?” he asked. He’d only mentioned the cloak to one person, Antreas, whom he’d asked to conceal it in the dragon’s rookery. Antreas had sworn not to tell Dakhil, but not his—

“Knew?” she interrupted. “Harry, I’m wearing it.”

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Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 36 – The Quality of Mercy
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A/N: In this chapter, rather than having direct breaks in the POV, I’ve decided to transition from one POV to the other. I imagine myself something like Rita Skeeter, buzzing from one person to another. Please let me know if it’s impossible to follow. In this chapter, we start and end with Cho.
________________________________________





How long had it been? It felt a lifetime ago. She was not the same woman when last she walked these streets. The flashes of red and white in the storefront windows, hearts and cupids hailing the coming of Valentine’s, brought back a sudden torrent of memories. Three years were lived in the blink of an eye and a tear spilt down her cheek onto the frosty earth.

Would everything and everyone she touched turn to dust? Cedric, Anthony and now Harry… His wounds… poisoned with vampire venom, they were still bleeding when she and Tonks disapparated. Cho had read about such wounds and knew that he would not get better, but rather grow progressively worse until he was either turned, or… or… she pulled in a deep, shuddering breath and looked over to Tonks.

“What now?” she asked, wondering why she had left her son’s father in the first place.

They had apparated twice to arrive at Hogsmeade. The trip was simple, uneventful. She had expected more, but there was no more, only the pounding of her nervous heart and a sleeping child that knew no better. Past midnight, the streets of Hogsmeade were quiet. The moonless night sky was sprinkled with stars and the bright comet, Harry spoke so often of, flared low on the horizon near the planet Mars, which was as red and bright as ever. The only real excitement was that Jamie would begin to fuss after each apparation. If there had been someone watching, their position would have been given away immediately. Now, however, he was peaceful. He squirmed, made a little yawning squeak and fell back to sleep.

“Shhhh!” said Tonks softly, holding one hand to her lips and extending her arm and pressing her other hand against Cho’s chest, guiding her to slowly step backwards until their backs were against the wall of Zonko’s. From here they could see fairly clearly down to the post office and beyond that to the windows of the Weasley’s shop. Its windows were brightly lit and, within, something was flying about… a white cupid? Cho couldn’t tell.

Tonks was intently staring at something down the street. She was clearly agitated and pulled on the cloth of Cho’s robes, silently asking her to follow. She slid across the wall to the side of Zonko’s so that they were out of sight of the street. After they both made it about the corner, Tonks relaxed a bit, letting out a long, soft breath.

“It’s too quiet,” she whispered as the two looked out at the great lake. “I don’t like it.” Cho began to slip her wand away, but Tonks shook her head. “Keep it ready.” She took Cho by the arm and led her a little way from the building. She pointed out across the train tracks, some fifty meters ahead, toward the lake twice again the distance beyond the tracks. “See that cluster of trees? We go there. We don’t dare try apparation. We can’t afford Jamie crying again. If they’re watching, they’ll be watching up near the station and they’d hear him for sure. Beyond the cluster of trees will be the boats. We’ll take one toward the castle, turn north and make our way to the forest.”

“But—”

“The road’s too dangerous and we don’t have the time to hike around.”

They had taken one step, maybe two, when the sound of laughter somersaulted down the main street. Two men had just left the Hog’s Head and were coming their way.

“I tell yeh, there’s no finer brew in all of Britain,” declared one blissfully.

“One more and you’d be on yer arse! Yeh’ve gotcher orders. Keep an eye!”

“I don’t see no Dark Lord about, nor have I yet. All we have is a boxful of Malfoy’s lies and yeh heard what Dinkins said… the man’s dead.”

“Aye, but he also said that the Malfoy boy killed Potter and then ate his liver.”

The drunk Death Eater began to laugh, slapping his legs with the flats of his hands. “As if!” he cried.

“True or not,” said the one Death Eater, trying to straighten his drunken friend. “If the boy’s father is dead, yeh’d best show some respect teh the lad.”

“I’d sooner show respect to a pock ridden hag!” snapped the drunk. They were slowing, positioning themselves near the bend in the cobblestone road through town so that they could better see down both directions of Main Street. It was nearly the same spot Cho and Tonks had apparated to not five minutes before.

The drunk pulled his wand. “Malfoy, or not, he’s a filthy vampire! I don’t give a damn how much coin he has in his pocket, he’ll see no respect from me.”

Across the street, toward the back of the post office, Cho thought she saw, if for only an instant, a bright orange glow, a small ember blazing against the night that disappeared in a puff of smoke. Tonks must have seen it too, because she decided that it was safer to start moving, slowly, toward their objective – the boats.

They’d taken only two steps when there was a whisper and the quiet night erupted in a flash of green. From the post office a bolt of green lightning… the killing curse… shot across the street and struck the drunk Death Eater dead. He crumpled to ground without so much as a sigh.

“Run!” cried Tonks in a hushed voice.

The Death Eater’s partner, oblivious to the two witches, returned fire on his attacker – stunning spell after stunning spell lit up the side of the post office in flaming red, but there was nothing there, nothing but a lingering puff of smoke. Cho turned toward the lake and began to run.

They were nearly to the tracks when Cho heard two large snaps. She froze. Two wizards, in dark robes, had apparated to their left. They were up near the station and had a clear view of the two witches. Only, when the wizards heard the wand fire up the street, their attention was diverted and they began to run toward the commotion. Soon, the buildings of Hogsmeade were shielding their escape and Cho began to run again. She could hear the wizards shouting at each other in the distance.

“Move!” hissed Tonks again. Her voice was more urgent than ever.

There was yelling, arguing, and then quiet. Only their footsteps crunching across the frosty earth made a sound. When she crossed the tracks, Cho slipped and Jamie gave a little complaint. Not so much a cry as a yowl. He settled quickly, but the sound was enough.

“There!” cried one of the Death Eaters.

Sprays of multi-coloured wand fire flew over their heads. There was no point in trying to keep hidden.

“Apparate!” called Tonks. “To the boats.”

Cho held her wand high and focussed her vision, but something was blocking it. She tried again… nothing. “There’s an anti-apparation charm!” she called back, starting to run once more toward the lake.

“That’s not possible,” said Tonks, deep puffs of billowing smoke escaping from her lungs as she too jumped the tracks. “Unless—”

A stunning spell glanced off Tonks’ shoulder, dropping her to the ground as she screamed out in pain.

“Tonks!” yelled Cho, turning back to help her friend.

“Run!” returned Tonks, turning about onto her back and returning fire from the ground. “I’ll hold them off as long as I can!”

“No! I won’t—”

“You must protect the boy! That’s what they want. Now RUN!”

Cho had almost forgotten that she was now speaking for two. For a moment, she’d lost herself, but then a rush of motherly instincts flooded her emotions and she turned and ran toward the boats.

The cluster of trees was still dusted with a fine powder of frosty snow. The white reflected the colours streaking across the sky from behind in a panoply that would have, at any other time, been beautiful. As she passed beneath the boughs, sprinkles of snow fell down onto Jamie’s face and he began to cry.

The trees, here near the lake, were dense, and Cho had to weave her way through the brambles. For a moment she stopped to take one last look back and the vision lifted her heart. Others from the town had entered the fray and Tonks was now not the only wizard fighting the Death Eaters.

“Thank Merlin,” she whispered, and moved deeper into the trees that enveloped her, hiding her from Hogsmeade. For a moment, she stopped to gather herself. She checked on Jamie who was now awake, but seemingly curious about the white branches above his head. He kept pointing his finger, smiling at the branches, or maybe at something beyond.

“Time for a boat ride, little one,” she said softly, dusting a bit of snow from his face with the back of her hand. The thunder of spells from the nearby town was growing louder. Quickly, she checked that Jamie was secure in his pack, put him on her back and broke through onto the shore of the lake.

The water was still, frozen in spots, but easily passable by the small boats that were just a ways up shore, moored at the Hogsmeade dock. As she moved up the shore she noticed the different coloured boats, each one representing the four houses of Hogwarts. Why had she never noticed before? She remembered Hagrid taking her across as a first year. That was a wonderful time… a time before trolls, before basilisks, before Dementors, before dragons and death, before… Harry.

Her heart shuddered at the thought and she cursed herself for letting her mind spill into a sinkhole of pity. “You’d be dead if it weren’t for Harry,” she whispered to herself. “And there wouldn’t be…” her hand reached back and touched the foot of their son, “…love.”

She had reached the dock in silence. Clearly the wandfire had pulled anyone and everyone to the town. Now was their chance to slip away. She came up the dock and made her way to one of the boats, pulled off the heavy burlap cover and untied one of its two ropes. She made sure there were oars and then proceeded to untie the second rope. She had just loosened the knot when a voice startled her.

“Going somewhere?”

She spun, wand at the ready. Leaning against the boathouse, smoking a cigarette, was Draco Malfoy. He took a long drag from the fag, tossed it into the air and vanished it. Then, he let out the smoke into a continuously expanding plume. He was dressed completely in black, but his face and hair were as white as the snow and against the moss covered boathouse they shown as a moon in the darkness with two grey eyes filled with hate. Seeing his smirk, rage began to fill Cho’s heart for what Malfoy had done to her husband Anthony and to Harry.

“YOU!” she spat, standing tall. Malfoy took but one step forward and Cho, choosing not to enjoin his conversation, cast a stunning spell. He deflected it, but did not return fire.

“Did you think you could kill my father and I would do nothing?” he asked, stepping down the dock toward her. She cast a slashing spell and again he deflected it, only this time with some difficulty. That irritated him.

“If you didn’t have the child on your back, you’d be dead where you stand.”

Silently, Cho slipped the pack off her back and set Jamie gently down into the boat. She turned and faced Malfoy. They were some twenty paces away, each standing tall in the darkness.

“You don’t think I can handle the likes of you?” said Cho with steeled determination. “You’ll have no excuses on my account, murderer.” She stepped closer. “It was you in the shadows, wasn’t it? Killing your own?”

Malfoy drew nearer still; each ensuring the next spell would strike true. His face was contorted, his eyes unblinking.

“You’re here now, aren’t you? Why do you think that is? Can’t you hear the battle raging as we speak? But you and me… we’re here all alone… just the two of us.”

“I don’t know what you’ve done to yourself, Malfoy, but I know what you did to Harry and what you… you did to Anthony.” She tried not to show her sorrow, but it spilt out anyway. Then, pulling her emotions together and focussing her anger on Malfoy, she snapped through gritted teeth. “You and your pathetic excuse for a father.”

The lips about Malfoy’s fangs curled. A sneer and then a smirk. “What I did to Harry? I saved his life!” he yelled. “And I saved yours!” For a moment, Cho actually thought that Malfoy believed his own words. “And as for your pathetic excuse for a husband… no Malfoy had a hand in his pyre.”

Cho’s eyes narrowed.

“What? You don’t believe me? Look in my eyes.” He stepped closer still and she could see truth lingering in the grey pools that were rimmed in red.

“My dearest Cho, you’ll have to look much closer to home to know who fried Goldstein. But then, he wasn’t much of a father, was he, letting himself get killed by his own. Tell me… I know he gave you a child and all, but was he really much of a husband? You know, where it matters?”

A flash of red skimmed past Malfoy’s head.

“Oh, you want to play, don’t you? That might be fun. I can almost taste you from here.”

A bolt of green flashed from Cho’s wand, but Malfoy disapparated and reappeared behind her, between Cho and her child. He bent down near the boat, too close for Cho to risk another spell.

“Oh my… tsk… tsk… A bit careless for a new mother, I’d say.” He chuckled. “I guess you can blame the anti-apparation charm on me.” Red erupted from his wand and struck Cho in the chest, even as she tried to deflect the spell. She flew backward onto the dock, dazed, but still conscious. “I’ll kill you soon enough! But first… perhaps a little Goldstein appetizer.” He reached down and stroked Jamie’s head.

“Get your hands off him you filth!” cried Cho, casting another killing curse, but this one deliberately high. “I’ll kill you. I swear!”

Malfoy lifted Jamie out of the pack and pulled him close, his fangs glistening in the starlight.

“NO!” Cho began to stumble toward him, but another spell from Malfoy locked her legs.

Anger, hatred, vengeance filled the grey eyes of Draco Malfoy as he prepared to destroy the child of the woman who had killed his father. It had been a long time since he had tasted human flesh. He bared his teeth and, as Cho screamed for him to stop, pleaded for his mercy, he… stopped. He moved Jamie so that he and the child were face to face.

“Green eyes?” As if he’d just touched a spider, he dropped Jamie to the decking and backed away, his hands trembling. As the child screemed, so to did Malfoy. “Green eyes!” Then he spun on Cho. “You bitch! How did you convince him? What treachery…. Do you know what this means? No wonder he wants the child! It’s… it’s… you bitch!”

He raised his wand over Cho.

“Avada Kedavra!” he cried. A blast of green issued forth, for an instant Malfoy’s vision failed him, all was dark. He blinked. Cho was gone. The night was still. He spun. The child, Harry’s child, was gone. The lake was still, as the small boat, still holding Cho’s pack, rocked back and forth in the twinkling night. Draco, confused, stepped over to the boat and reached for the pack. Suddenly, something grabbed him by the throat and lifted him off his feet.

Gasping for air, he wrenched himself around and saw a giant creature looming before him. It had golden brown fur with black dots that speckled its head and ran down its back to where they converged into great, black, bat-like wings that shadowed the night sky behind. Its eyes were yellow, glowing in the dim light. Its ears were also bat-like, and its face wolfen with long rows of teeth. It gave a great, gravely growl, revealing two particularly long canines in front. Malfoy knew, somehow, that this creature was, like himself, a vampire, great of power, filled with strength, and ready to kill given the slightest provocation. But the eyes, the eyes were not wild, but knowing… sinister, but filled with wisdom beyond Draco’s comprehension. In a heartbeat they were above the trees. Below, were a number of wizards, many in ministerial robes, battling in the streets of Hogsmeade. More Death Eaters had apparated in. Near the tracks, Malfoy could see Remus Lupin standing next to the prone body of Tonks. In town, George Weasley, or perhaps Fred, had stepped out from his shop and was blasting down Death Eaters as easily as if he were swatting flies.

It was so dark most normal eyes would have missed it, but from behind the station Malfoy saw a Death Eater moving in on Remus who was fighting two others closer to town. Malfoy tried to point, but wasn’t able to speak. The creature had been holding him with both hands, but shifted him into one hand, squeezing his neck all the more. The dark-cloaked wizard below raised his arm to strike Remus.

Somehow, the scene changed. They were no longer high above the battle, but were directly above the wizard. Malfoy saw a wand in his captor’s hand. A wizard? There was a silent flash of light, and the Death Eater’s head fell to the earth, his body, seemingly surprised, crumpled shortly after.

Watching the scene, the circulation of blood being cut off from his mind, Malfoy wasn’t sure if he was happy or not. He blinked and they were at Remus’ side.

“They are safe Remus,” growled the creature, again in a deep, gravelled voice. Malfoy was sure it wasn’t human speech and yet, somehow, he understood. So, too, did Remus.

Without concern, Remus turned away from the fight to look at the vampire next to him.

“Are you sure, Dakhil?” he asked. Dakhil simply growled.

“Of course. I’m sorry.” Remus turned and cast a hasty stunning spell which, nonetheless, struck true. “Then we stay with the plan. Here once more, on the night of the third moon, and we don’t let Harry—” Remus suddenly realized that Dakhil had in his grasp, Draco Malfoy. It looked as if Dakhil were holding a dead chicken, or at least a dying one, by the neck.

“Dakhil!” exclaimed Remus. “You’ll kill him!”

Dakhil began to laugh a cavernous, throaty laugh. “Doesn’t he deserve it?”

“No!” said Remus. “It is not for us to determine that destiny, if it can be helped.”

“Well,” replied Dakhil, “not to worry, my friend. The boy’s a vampire. It will take much more than lack of oxygen to kill him now. Still, I’m told Harry has an interest in the lad and, just now, he warned me of a Death Eater about to strike you down.” Remus spun and saw the decapitated foe toward the station. “And now you say he shouldn’t die. Perhaps he has some other role to play.”

With a great woosh Dakhil spread his wings and was gone, Malfoy dangling like a rag doll at his side. Remus watched as they disappeared into the night sky. When his eyes returned to Hogsmeade, the sound of cheers filled the air. There had been a half-dozen Death Eaters hiding in town and another twenty or so had come to join them. All were now defeated, many dead, many wrapped in ropes. Remus knew that it was only one battle and their only chance to win the war would be some weeks to come. While members of the Ministry moved in on their captives, George came running over to Remus.

“You alright, mate?” he called. Remus noticed that there was a smell of smoke about George and then he realized why – the boy’s left side had been burned, his hair singed and his clothes blackened.

“Me? What about you?” He pointed at George’s burns.

“Yeah, well, I think I got the worst of anybody. I was the only one stupid enough to be hit.”

“The only one brave enough to stick their neck out, you mean. I saw what you did when they were about to take out Old Man Dinkens.”

George only shrugged.

“Here. Take Tonks’ hand,” directed Remus. “She’s been hurt, I’m not sure how bad, and I want you both to the hospital.”

“But—”

“Do it!”

George obliged. Remus lifted a small candle from his pocket. “Now take my hand.” Again George took hold. Remus kneaded the candle’s wick between thumb and forefinger until the waxy coating rubbed away and there was naught but wick. The Portkey worked, and flung them back to the hospital ward at Hogwarts. He had expected to find Madam Pomfrey at the ready, but instead, standing in front of them was Madame Guérir, tears streaming down her eyes.

Beds lined both sides of the long walls of the ward. At the bed nearest Remus was Professor McGonagall, her face blistered and red. At the far end was Madam Pomfrey. She was weeping as she tended to two other patients – Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Hermione was badly bruised, but sleeping. Ron was pale, almost ghostlike.

“Ron?” called George, realizing that his brother was in the room. He walked quickly to Madam Pomfrey’s side. Remus turned to the nurse before him.

“What happened, Madame Guérir?” he asked.

“Some nastiness in Professor McGonagall’s office, I’m afraid.”

“Here. Help me with Tonks.” Remus lifted the unconscious Tonks up onto one of the beds.

“Is Minerva going to be okay?” he asked, but Madame Guérir, unable to speak for grief, only nodded back a reply, working hard to keep herself from crying. Holding one hand across her face, she continued to examine Tonks. The Auror’s shoulder was bleeding and there was a large bruise on her head. Madame Guérir pulled her wand and did a quick scan and then sealed the open wound.

“She’ll… She’ll be fine, Headmaster,” she said, sniffing. “Nothing a good night’s rest and a spell or two won’t cure.”

“Headmaster?” Remus chuckled. “Just Professor, Juliette,” he said with a smile. “Just Professor.”

Madame Guérir lifted her eyes toward Remus. Another tear fell. “Professor Dumbledore is dead, sir. I was told…” Her eyes floated over to the bed where Professor McGonagall lay. “I was told that you were to be the Headmaster, at least for a while.”

“Dead?” Remus choked in disbelief and yet part of him knew, had known before he was sent to save Harry, Cho and their child. Cho and Jamie were safe, but there was no Harry. Tonks had told him he was injured, was unable to travel. The night had gone poorly, save for the fact that Cho and her child were safe. “When did it happen, Juliette?” he asked.

“Tonight, sir. They say the Headmaster saved the young Weasley boy there. Gave his own to save another. I always knew that’s how it’d be… I always knew. No deathbed for Albus Dumbledore.” For a moment, her eyes shown bright and she smiled. She took in a short breath and returned to healing Tonks.

“And the others?” asked Remus. “How are the others?”

“Oh, terrible… terrible…” She clucked her tongue. “The villain had control of the boy and that… well, we know what it did to young Mr. Chang. And the young Ms. Granger… she suffered a terrible beating… at the hands of her own fiancée no less. Can you imagine?” Then Madame Guérir turned to Remus and whispered, “And there’s a deeper damage, sir, but Madam Pomfrey won’t speak of it and she won’t let me near the girl.”

A quiet laughter came from the other end of the ward. Ron was awake, his brother, George, smiling down on him, only Ron’s face was not jovial at all. It was weary and distant. Madam Pomfrey shuffled George over to yet another bed and the nurse began to work her wand along the side of his burned body.

“And Harry?” asked Ron. “Did you see Harry?”

“No, little brother.”

Remus left Madame Guérir and moved down the ward. “Harry was injured in Greece,” Remus said to Ron. “It may be some time until he’s well enough to travel.”

“Who? How?” asked Ron, turning toward the new, temporary Headmaster.

“There’ll be time for questions and answers later, Mr. Weasley. For now it’s best that you—”

There was a groan. Hermione was stirring. Ron suddenly realized that she was in the bed next to his. All the horror that had just happened in the last hours dropped into his mind like a bad dream. He rose and, hesitantly, went to her bedside.

“Hermione,” he whispered. Madam Pomfrey, who had been treating George, turned to see Ron at Hermione’s side.

“Mr. Weasley, you mustn’t—”

“Hermione… it’s me, Ron.”

Madam Pomfrey began to move quickly, but she wasn’t quick enough.

“Ron?” Hermione muttered. She opened her eyes to see Ron, smiling down on her. She began to scream.

“STAY AWAY!” she cried, raising her arm and flailing them wildly at Ron. “GET BACK!” Suddenly, Ron, Madam Pomfrey and Remus were all flung backwards against the wall. Instruments and potions came crashing to the floor. “STAY AWAY!” Hermione, her eyes wild with fear, grabbed her sheets for protection and crawled out of bed, scrambling away from them.

Ron rose to his feet. “Hermione, it’s me, R—”

“DON’T TOUCH ME!”

Without a word the bed rose into the air and hurled itself at Ron, smashing him into the wall. There was flash of yellow and Hermione fell, unconscious to the floor. Madame Guérir had cast the spell, and quickly hurried over to lift Hermione back onto another bed. Remus went and pulled the debris off of Ron, who rose to his knees looking dazed as to what had just happened. There was a nasty gash high across his right cheek that ran from the corner of his eye to just below his ear. Madam Pomfrey knelt down to seal it, but Ron pushed her away.

“Leave it alone!” he snapped. “I don’t care what it looks like. I… I deserve it.” George helped him to his feet.

“Let’s get you back in bed, little brother.”

“No,” answered Ron with a forlorn voice. “Take me home. I’ve failed her. I don’t want her to see my face again. Not after what I’ve—”

“Ron,” interrupted Remus, “you mustn’t think that it was your fault.”

“No? I was there Professor!” yelled Ron. “If not me, who was the one that… that—”

“Voldemort!” snapped Remus. “What? Do you think that you should somehow be more powerful? There are dozens of wizards, far older and far more experienced than you Mr. Weasley, that have fallen victim to Voldemort. You weren’t the first wizard to be bent by his will and you weren’t the last. Already he’s taken another.”

“Snape,” whispered Ron, remembering Snape’s offer to be taken over freely. “How could he?”

“That is something for us to discuss later, which is why I need you to stay at Hogwarts. For now, I think it best if you and your brother get some rest.” He turned to Madam Pomfrey. “Poppy, can you take them to the other ward?”

“Certainly, Professor,” she said softly. She took Ron by the arm, half an eye toward the blood dripping down his face.

“Don’t even think about it,” Ron warned.

“Mr. Weasley,” she said, as they made their way to the double doors. “All you need is a little patience and a little time. You’ll see. Some say that time alone heals all wounds, but, sometimes, it takes a wee bit more. For now, my child, let us work with what we have – time. The rest can come later.”

And in fact, for a while at least, time was a commodity to be had at Hogwarts. Remus had thought that, once Dumbledore’s death was announced, Voldemort would move immediately upon the castle, but such was not the case. Perhaps it was the defeat that the Death Eaters had suffered in Hogsmeade, maybe it was Snape exerting what will he could, but all had been quiet.

Days turned to weeks and the weather began to warm, hailing the arrival of spring. Though the Headmaster had passed, April came to Hogwarts as it had every year. The buds of the trees were burgeoning and the birds had returned to the castle grounds, calling beautiful songs in hopes of finding new mates. But not all was well at Hogwarts. Ron had elected to stay, but he was unable to go near Hermione, not out of anger, but rather out of guilt for what he’d done to her. Hermione did not complain. In the days that followed her release from the hospital, she seemed more timid, more jumpy than ever, never offering to answer questions in class, and refusing to point attention to herself in any way.

The news discussed about town and in the Daily Prophet was not much better. There was word of a rising mist in the dales outside Glasgow and moving north toward Hogsmeade and the environs. Edinburgh had suffered a tremendous earthquake, or so the Muggle papers reported it. According to the Ministry, nearly a dozen giants had crossed the sea and landed on Edinburgh’s shore. They were, even now, making there way toward Hogwarts. Hagrid had gone on to discover their purpose.

While the darkness slowly pressed in on Hogwarts, Cho Chang was hidden deep within the Forbidden Forest. The Centaurs had taken both her and her child to a small, but secure stronghold near the top of the magical falls at the heart of the forest. Only a handful of Centaurs knew of their presence, one of them was Macleta who was charged for caring for the two, while Ronan ensured their safety. As she watched the season change to spring before her eyes, Cho listened to the Centaurs talk in riddles about the stars and about the coming darkness. The last few weeks had been quiet and restful, but over the last few days she had noted a tension in their words, the slightest of lilts that wasn’t there earlier. Something was about to happen, something bad.

On this night, as the stars began to take hold of the darkening sky, Cho curled Jamie in her arms next to the warmth of the fire. She sat with Macleta outside the stone walls of the stronghold, as they often did, to take in the beauty of the world about them and to draw from nature’s energy. Tonight, however, Jamie was tense, unwilling to sleep, his green eyes searching for something in the dark, just beyond the light, flickering against the trees. Ronan and the other Centaurs were out on patrol and Cho, while confident in their skills to protect her child, was ever watchful.

The aroma of the burning wood was calming. The crackling of the embers and the forest’s song of night was soothing. She drew on the world about her and tried to wrap that energy around her son. Slowly, she began to rock, back and forth, humming a tune she knew as a child – a lullaby her mother had sung when Voldemort was on the rise in Britain. Soon the tune broke out into soft, soothing song.

Hush my darling little one.
Rest your head tonight.
Dream of laughter; dream of fun.
Dream about the light

Comes the tiger to the gate,
searching to get in.
Hold my fingers, while we wait.
Watch the darkness thin.

Light will soon shine down on us – the birth of a new day.
Let the warmth of mama’s arms chase your fears away.

Should you find yourself at night
as the tiger nears,
know my spirit wraps you tight,
holding back your tears.

Matters not the tiger be,
though he break the gate.
All our love we give to thee –
strength to strike that fate.

Fire will burn the tiger’s tail – flame the dark away,
bringing morning’s gentle song – the birth of a new day.

Hush my darling little one.
Rest your head tonight.
Dream of laughter; dream of fun.
Dream about the light.

On the second singing, Jamie drifted off to sleep and Cho laid him gently on a bundle of blankets. There was a snap of a twig in the trees just in front of her. Ordinarily, she would have thought nothing of it, but when she turned to check on Macleta, she realized the Centaur wasn’t there. How was it possible? The Centaur had never left their side. She reached for her wand and stood, facing whatever might have caused the sound beyond the light of the fire. There was another snap, clearly a footstep.

“Come out!” Cho commanded. “Show yourself!”

A wizard emerged, dressed in dark blue robes. How long he’d been standing there, she didn’t know. As he stepped into the light of the fire, she saw by its golden light that his face was wet with tears.

“Harry?”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 37 – Alliances
~~~***~~~

It was dark, too dark for normal eyes, but Dakhil Barghouti could see as clearly as if the sun were streaming through the dusty windows. It was the first month of the New Year, and he was not feeling very hopeful after observing the fighting that had just taken place in Hogsmeade. With Dumbledore gone, things were certainly going to change. Still, Remus held his own, a good thing, but the girl had nearly been lost. Holding a heavy burden, he sighed, thankful to be home. Outside, the snow was falling and a blustery wind shook the shingles of the roof, rattling the whole of his home. Dakhil sighed. “It makes sense… waiting for the weather to warm,” he muttered to himself, wondering if Severus would have the necessary influence. “Our timing will need to be perfect.”

Dropping his bound package with a heavy thud onto the couch, he stepped over to the hearth and lit the fire with a flick of his wand. There was a shudder of shock that rattled behind him. It was no shingle, but the cringing fear of a newborn vampire – newborn by Barghouti’s standards. He turned to consider the blonde youth seated, or rather bound on the couch.

“You’ll have to learn to control your fear of fire,” he said impassively, now walking over to the stove to heat some soup. He despised using magic to prepare food, it never tasted right, and he wondered if Draco had yet been properly fed since his turning.

“I’m not afraid!” spat Draco, his voice cracking from the swelling in his neck caused by Dakhil’s chokehold. “Release these bonds and I’ll show you!”

Dakhil did not respond until the pot on the stove began to simmer. He added another sprig of rosemary and then walked to the fire, rubbing his hands. He reached over and grabbed the poker, adjusting the logs by hand and then, as if spearing a marshmallow, he skewered the log and pulled it out of the fire. There was no grunt of effort, no shaking of his hand as he held the burning log aloft. Brining the fiery branch toward Draco’s face, the cottage began to fill with smoke. Draco tried to shrink away, but his bonds held him tight.

“I see fear in your eyes, boy,” he said smoothly. He muttered a foreign phrase and the bonds fell away and vanished. Draco immediately scrambled back up and over the couch. Dakhil began to laugh and tossed the log back into the fire. With a wave of his wand, the smoke vanished.

“It is clear you understand some things, youngling. There are few ways you can die. Fire, of course, is one of them. It will scar you and pain you and, if left unchecked, consume you utterly. Still, it is a tool to be used like any other. It has its place in the world as do we.”

“I’m not one of you!” snapped Draco defiantly, his eyes casting about fervently for some chance for escape. Again, Dakhil did not respond. Instead, he moved toward the stove and began to stir again.

“Still, I suspect you’re hungry. It has been some time since you have… fed.”

“I… I don’t eat.”

“Don’t be ridiculous! Of course you eat.” Dakhil pulled down two bowls from a shelf and set them at a small wooden dining table. “Come. Sit.”

Draco, who had been sliding his way toward the front door, quickly turned and tried to pull it open, but the door held fast.

“Not a very gracious guest.”

“If I had my wand, I’d—”

“You’d what!” growled Dakhil, and this time the house rumbled with the thunder in his voice. He pulled in a breath and slid a chair out from the table. “Sit.” Draco, reluctantly, obliged.

“I told you, I can’t.”

Dakhil pulled the pot over and placed it in the centre of the table. “Tell me, boy, have you had no training at all? You were turned purposefully, were you not? Who was your mentor?” Draco simply looked away. “I see.”

Lifting up a bowl, Dakhil ladled in a thick ruddy broth. “Taste this, and then tell me that you don’t eat.” Draco rolled his eyes. Dakhil handed him a spoon. “Go on. I know you’re famished.”

Draco rolled the spoon in his fingers. “This is stupid. I haven’t eaten normal food since—”

“Taste!”

Draco stabbed at the broth and brought the empty, but coated spoon up to his mouth. “There! Are you…” The flavours began to wrap themselves about his tongue. He paused a moment and then he dipped the spoon into the broth and tasted it properly. His head snapped up to look into Dakhil’s smiling eyes. “What is it?” asked Draco.

“You know what it is,” replied Dakhil. “Well, perhaps you don’t. It’s pheasant, with a few spices and a dash of red wine.”

“Pheasant?” asked Draco incredulously.

“There are many ways to consume blood. While fresh certainly has its own panache, one must learn to try more civilized approaches. If you behave as a proper guest and eat, I’m sure you’ll find they both have the same end result – a satisfied belly.”

Draco didn’t ask another question. He began to spoon the broth in, then quickly held the bowl up to his mouth and drank it down. Dakhil allowed him to do this but once. When Draco asked for more he had to promise that he’d mind his manners. By the third bowl, a bit of colour entered Draco’s cheeks and the pangs of hunger had been satiated. Once again his eyes darted about the small cottage, but this time they were more curious than fretful. There was something calming about the soup.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“This is my home,” replied Dakhil, walking his empty bowl to the cupboard. He uttered an incantation and the bowl was cleansed. He placed it on its shelf. “Are you finished?”

Draco looked at his bowl and, for a moment, considered pulling it up to his lips to finish it off, but stayed his hands. “Erm…”

“Take your time. We’re in no hurry here, I assure you.”

There was something in his tone that was reassuring, soothing and, for the first time in a long time, Draco relaxed. He finished the bowl and had enough manners to clean it himself and place it back in the cupboard. Satiated and a bit drowsy he walked to the window and looked out. There was a thick layer of snow on the ground and he could just make out the lights of another cottage or two some fifty feet away.

“Are we in Scotland? I didn’t know you lived in Britain,” Draco said, watching the snow fall.

“I don’t. We’re in northern Slovakia.” Draco spun.

“That’s not possible!” he exclaimed. “We… you Apparated, pulling me along with you. No wizard could—”

“No. No wizard could,” interrupted Dakhil. “But I… we are vampires, boy. Surely you know that…” Dakhil stopped himself. He conjured a cigar out of thin air, shaking his head. He was about to light it, but then offered it to Draco. “Do you smoke?” A thin smile crossed Draco’s lips and he reached out and accepted the offer.

There was a pause and then Draco said, “Thank you.”

“Well,” said Dakhil, conjuring another cigar. “There you have it.” He lit them both with a flash of fire from his wand and this time Draco did not flinch. “I knew there was something about you worth keeping alive.” He sat at the couch and watched the fire, blowing thick rings of smoke in the air. Draco paced for a moment, puffing on his own cigar, but then finally sat down as well next to the fire.

There was a long period of silence and, if not for the cigar in his hand, Draco might have slipped off to sleep. He looked about the small cottage with its run down appearance and rickety furnishings.

“Surely,” he began, “with the powers at your disposal, you could do better than this.”

“I have what I need,” answered Dakhil, still staring at the fire. “Would you prefer a house elf, rubbing your feet?”

“No,” answered Draco. And, in fact, he felt more at home here than he did in his parent’s mansion. He swallowed. His neck was still sore from where Dakhil had choked him not six hours before, but the tenderness about his larynx was fading. “You know, you needn’t have choked me to death.”

Dakhil vanished his cigar and turned to face Draco. “Tell me, boy. I know you would have killed the girl. What about the child?”

Draco let out a puff of smoke and then considered the cigar in his hand, hoping perhaps that it might lend him an answer to Dakhil’s question. Finally he said impassively, “She killed my father.”

“And you loved your father?”

“She had no right!”

“And you did.”

“I… I wasn’t me. I wanted…” Draco’s fingers tightened about the cigar and it crumbled in his hand. “Yes! Alright? Are you happy? I would have drained them… drained them both!”

“Well,” said Dakhil rising off the couch, “you don’t want to feast on flesh that has been struck down by the killing curse. That, I can assure you.” His face wrinkled and his tongue thrust out in a sign of distaste. “So… you are a murderer. I wonder what Potter sees in you.”

“Potter can go to hell!” cried Draco, unexpectedly irritated.

“Yes. I’ve heard him say the same of you. Curious. Perhaps you’ll both go together. One can always hope.”

Draco wasn’t sure if Dakhil was being serious or sarcastic.

“Still, there is some bond between you two.”

“The only bond we have is a common hatred of Voldemort.” At this Dakhil turned back toward Draco and moved in close so that their eyes met and they could smell the smoke on each other.

“Draco, your grief… your hatred… they cloud your vision and your choices. You know little of whom you are and perhaps less of who you were. There is time, however, if you wish to take it, to discover who you will be.” Dakhil waved his wand and was suddenly wearing bedclothes. There was a click on the far wall. “The door is open. Leave and, I fear, you will be lost forever. Stay and I will help you find your way. The choice is yours.” From his sleeve he pulled a wand, Draco’s wand, and laid it on the dining table.

There was whirl and Dakhil vanished, sinking into the floor below. Draco watched him as he disappeared. He grabbed his wand and briskly walked to the door and opened it. The snow had stopped falling and he could now clearly see the cottages that lined the street. Blankets of white made the buildings look like candy cottages, or iced gingerbread houses. The air was silent and still. He reached down and scooped up a handful of ice, forming it into a ball in his hands. Dakhil was right, he was free to go, but where? He was about to step out, but then stopped.

He threw the snowball across the street, falling short of the nearest house, stepped inside and closed the door. Shivering slightly, he walked over and warmed his hands by the fire. He would sleep well tonight and leave the rest for tomorrow.
________________________________________




Gabriella, wearing the white cloak of Voldemort, smiled as Harry looked at her blankly. She expected surprise and was well rewarded. Things were going far better than she had hoped. She had known that he would strike at her – a vision that had haunted her since he first fell ill from Draco’s venom. That he would travel to the mountains to retrieve the cloak, well, that had been only a guess, but one that she was trained to understand. She understood that the Horcrux now wrapped about her was a powerful tool and, ultimately, they all fell victim to the lure of power.

An hour ago, she had wished that she’d never fallen in love with the man now before her. At first she thought, perhaps, it was the winter’s cold, turning her heart, but she knew better. He was being consumed by hatred and a vanity of strength, willing to sacrifice all simply to be right. He had begun to comprehend the power at his fingertips – the dragon stone, the heart of Asha, was an endless well of such power. It could amplify his skills as a healer, but it could also help him decimate a village. With the abilities of the dragons waiting for his call, no wizard would be able to stop him. None that is save one – Voldemort. It would be a clash of titans and, if it were to take place in a city, it could mean that thousands would die. If the battle were on the grounds of Hogwarts, every student would be at risk.

That, of course, was why she was here; she was of the House of Hayk. Mama had known of Gabriella’s feelings the first day she had set eyes on him; perhaps she had seen more. Sooner than she would have liked, Mama gave Harry the stone and, love him or hate him, Gabriella was bound to stay close and watch the stone and the wizard that would wield it to the end of her days.

Now, however, with Harry holding her hand, her fears and regrets were ebbing away. He had pledged to set things straight and his eyes showed only truth and love. If he could master those emotions and truly tap the stone’s strength, no one need be destroyed but the Dark Lord himself. One day, perhaps, Harry would know the true depth of the relief that was now spreading across her soul. It meant the dawn of a new era. Gabriella had doubted, but Mama had been right all along.

“You’re wearing it?” asked Harry in disbelief. He was weak from having lost so much blood, and it appeared to Gabriella that, while his wounds had healed, his mind was still a bit shaky. Nonetheless, this news helped to steady his thoughts. “Why, in Merlin’s name, are you wearing it?”

“There was a chance,” she said silkily, “that you would try to hurt me. I didn’t want to strike back and I knew the cloak would protect me from your spells.”

“I would never hurt you!” Harry protested.

“You just tried to stun me!”

Harry was almost shocked at hearing the words. It was as if that… that was a different Harry. “And how did you know the cloak would protect you?” he asked.

“In the Chamber of Death at the Ministry last year, Harry. You may not remember, but the lot of us were firing spell after spell at Voldemort and all it did was slide him further toward you.”

“But Voldemort’s cloak is black. What have you done to it?”

“It was never black. Not really. What you see is the cloak’s natural appearance. He must have turned it black once he realized what he’d done. I’m not sure why he made such a choice. I suspect it was his first go at a Horcrux. An interesting decision, don’t you think, to cast this particular bit of his soul away – all that was ever good in Voldemort? It’s all here Harry, what little there was. The fabric is imbued with the goodness of Tom Riddle. Hence, the cloak is brilliantly white, for it only takes a little goodness to light the world.

“Voldemort must have been furious,” she continued. “He cast a dying charm over the fabric, a simple one at that. Mama’s used one like it before to colour my robes. His second attempt, the black snitch, I’m sure was more to his liking.”

Harry stepped over and held the fabric in his hand. “Are you sure it’s safe?” he asked.

“Yes,” she answered, taking him by the hand. “It will, I believe, protect the wearer from any sort of… spell.” Her voice wavered and her eyes revealed a flash of fear. She tried to control it, but it slipped out anyway. Harry’s eyebrows furled. He was trying to understand and she hoped, with all her might, he would fail, but the look of fear now filling his own eyes told her that he remembered.

“The cloak!” he cried. “The vision of your death… you were adorned in white robes. Harry’s face became pale. “It was no spell, Gabriella. It was a Centaur’s arrow! Take them off; take them off now!”

He began to tug at the cloak and Gabriella obliged. “Harry, you need to understand,” she said, trying to calm his nerves. “Visions… they have different facets, different meanings. We don’t know—”

“We don’t need to find out either!” he snapped, rolling the cloak in a ball and glancing around, trying to decide what to do with it. Finally, his mind settled on something and he smiled. “We’ll burn it!” he yelled and he began to jog unsteadily toward the entrance. “I’ll bet it won’t survive dragon fire!”

“Harry, wait!”

Gabriella chased after him, pleading with him to stop, but Harry wouldn’t listen. He burst through the entrance of the caverns and out onto the open courtyard, the frozen wind howling on the mountain. A few paces back, Gabriella heard the incantation in Slovakian. Harry let out a short cry and, just as Gabriella came through the opening herself, she saw him fall stiff to the ground.

“Stop!” she cried. “Hold your spells!”

Surrounding the courtyard, knee deep in snow, were fifteen of the finest members of the Votary. Katana was among them. All of them had their wands at the ready and one had cast the spell immobilizing Harry. They had been instructed to stop him, no matter the cost, if he tried to escape with the robe. Gabriella, her heart pounding, was relieved they did no more harm.

After she had explained what had happened and they released Harry from the spell, he stood up, dusting the snow off his trousers. Still pale, he was hardly able to stand. Yet, even in this weakened state, a few of the Votary stepped back, fearing retribution. Katana held her ground. She smiled, stepping forward, and waved her hand; the snow vaporized in a puff of steam. Harry reached down to pick up the bundled cloak. It was as white as ever, untouched by the muddy earth. Before he could reach it, however, Katana snatched it up.

“So you wish this destroyed by dragon fire, Primate?” she asked rhetorically. “I will see to it personally.” Harry could hear Katana call to Talisan with her mind. It was a simple call for aid that all members of the Votary were capable of, not the ability to share open discourse as Harry could do, bearing the ring of onyx. Gabriella could see that Harry was struggling with his thoughts. He would stay to see the deed done, if she let it happen. It would be best if he got off the mountain and Apparated back to Sirius’s castle. There, Mama would heal him properly.

“Harry,” she said, taking him by the arm and pulling his eyes away from the sky. “You really must go. Your acts of contrition are not yet complete. First, you must see Sirius at the castle to rebuild what you have sundered and heal the soil stained with Anthony’s blood. Then, you must see Cho to tell her the truth. Forgiveness will be hers to give or to withhold. You mustn’t wait any longer. The darkness already knows she’s at Hogwarts. If you stay, it will be weeks before you’re strong enough to fight. Mama could help you before the sun sets.”

Harry looked at Katana and the white cloak, now tucked tightly in her arm. He glanced to the sky and could see the dragon Talisan swirling in for a landing. Another member of the votary, Groslick, a Russian wizard with keen blue eyes and a sharp chin, handed him a broom.

“Katana says you are more at home in air than on ground,” he said with a thick accent. “Good for one who dances with dragons.”

“Thank you,” said Harry and then his eyes turned toward Gabriella. “Swear to me that you’ll have Talisan burn the cloak with all her power.”

“I swear.”

“And you won’t follow me,” added Harry. “Swear that. I won’t have you killed before my eyes, trying to do something foolish to save me in the Forbidden Forest.”

“Don’t be silly,” she said, trying to smile.

“Swear it!” He was undeterred, his face filled with concern, and it warmed her heart.

“I swear,” she said softly. “I won’t follow you.” Then she stepped over to him and kissed his lips. “Be on your way. The world is waiting.” With great effort, he pushed up from the ground, but, once the burden of gravity had been lifted, his spirits rose as well. He smiled and, in a flash, disappeared over the ridge of the mountains to the south just as Talisan landed on a great rock near the courtyard.”

“You do not lie, Katana,” said Groslick with a whistle. “He flies like the wind.”

Katana turned to Gabriella. “With luck he will see your mother before nightfall, but even she cannot heal his heart in but a day.”

“You’re right, Katana,” said Gabriella, taking the white cloak from her hand. “Nor will he be able to leave the castle until the walls are rebuilt. That too will take time.” Gabriella walked over to Talisan. “Incendiamos!” she cried, holding the white cloak above her head.

The dragon roared and spouted a great stream of fire directly at Gabriella. The swirling heat filled the courtyard and most of the Votary had to shield their eyes from its brightness. In a flash it was over. Gabriella was untouched by the flame, but so too was the white cloak above her head.

“I didn’t think it would work,” she said, more to herself than anyone else. She lowered the brilliantly white cloak and then slipped it on once again. Katana stepped toward her.

“But, Gabriella, you swore that—”

“I swore that Talisan would burn the cloak with all her power. She has. It didn’t work.”

“And now?” asked Talisan. “You break your oath by following him to the forest?”

Gabriella laughed. “Don’t be silly,” she said with a sad smile. “I’ll be to Hogwarts long before Harry ever arrives.” It would take Harry weeks, perhaps months to set things straight, but she now knew in her heart he would fulfil his pledge.

She whistled and Talisan dropped down, allowing Gabriella to climb upon her long neck. Soon she was high in the sky headed east toward Hogwarts and toward her destiny, however grim it might be. The wind was whipping at her eyes, but it was not the wind that caused the tears to fall down her cheeks. She was travelling toward her doom, but she had no choice. It was, after all, her duty.
________________________________________




The rushing wind, howling about the castle windows seemed more mournful than ever before. The stones themselves looked heavier than normal and the whole of Hogwarts drooped with a forlorn feeling that had not left since the death of Dumbledore some two months earlier. Even so, the coming spring would soon bring with it new life, new possibilities, new challenges. Professor Dumbledore had not been the first Headmaster to pass, nor would he be the last. The institution and its students would continue forward, learning, discovering, stepping out ever onward and with a purpose that was, now, perhaps more meaningful than could be imagined. All knew that the darkness was moving in on them – this epicentre of magic within Britain. Signs about the Isle were ominous. Worse were reports within the last week, signalling the coming of vampires, werewolves and other dark creatures all pressing in toward Hogwarts.

Not only were the signs about Britain foreboding; so too were the signs in the heavens above. The great comet Ebyrth was bright enough for everyone to see, Muggles and wizards alike, even in the daytime sky. Students in Astronomy had been given assignments to track its progress. All now knew that the flaming white comet had just past the orbit of Jupiter and appeared, for all the arithmetic celestial calculations, as if it were speeding along on a direct path toward the planet Mars. The comet’s trajectory was known to be erratic and unpredictable, but the signs seemed certain. No one knew what might happen upon impact, not even Professor Sinistra. “It would be,” she said, “a cataclysmic collision, but no more dramatic than the one unfolding before us.”

Never before had the students of Professor Barghouti paid so close attention and never before had he been so straightforward with them, teaching the moves and spells, the curses and counter-curses that they would likely need in the coming onslaught. His teachings were not so much about the learning of new spells, but rather the application of old spells in new ways. It was, for many, very much as Harry had taught them in the Room of Requirement, a touchstone for the students that made them comfortable and Barghouti used it to full advantage. Even other professors visited his classes, hoping to find themselves better prepared to defend themselves against the coming darkness.

He had been, surprisingly, a steadying influence after Dumbledore’s passing, but was rarely seen about the school at night. Once, in passing, he had mentioned tutoring a singular pupil. All had assumed it to be Harry, until word came that Harry had been severely injured by Malfoy, barely able to move and certainly unable to use a wand. The unknown apprentice was a mystery, a riddle to be sleuthed, but it was a mystery that Hermione Granger cared little of.

Instead the brightest of all Hogwarts students had, since Dumbledore’s death, withdrawn from anything that might attract attention to her. She had even stopped raising her hand in class with the result that Gryffindor was in last place for the House Cup. She cared little of house points and found herself unable to find cheer in much of anything. She attended Gryffindor’s victory over Ravenclaw, but read a book during the whole match, even though Ron had saved seven goals. When Dennis caught the Snitch and Gryffindor had won, Ron glanced her way from the rings. Because of the cheers, her eyes had lifted up and, for a moment, their eyes locked, but the moment was fleeting and when their eyes broke, both were saddened by the encounter.

She had not been able to speak with him since he had attacked her in Professor McGonagall’s bedroom. Speak to him? She could barely look at him. She refused to stay in the same room with him, unless it was for class, and she never ate while he ate, often skipping a meal to avoid contact. Madame Pomfrey said that it was affecting her health, making her more irritable and anxious, nauseous and light-headed, but Hermione refused to change her patterns, and wouldn’t speak to anybody about what had happened the night that they, in her opinion, all had died. In a very real way, all who entered McGonagall’s room that night left behind a part of who they once were and none would be the same again.

Having skipped another meal because Ron had been discussing Quidditch at the Gryffindor table with Dennis Creevey, Hermione found herself alone in the library. There were a few places, among the stacks, where students rarely wandered and, here, she was afforded some modicum of peace. Her stomach grumbled and a sharp pang stabbed at her lower abdomen. Her mind fleeted downward and she placed her hand on her stomach, but in an instant she forced her thoughts onto other things. She unfurled a roll of parchment on ancient arithmancy and began to study the intricate combinations and symbols. The sums… the sums were simple, but the transduction to lower-level magical meanings… the irrational behaviour of a spell at its foundation… before parsing and motion… the arithmetic constructs… power in amplification… her stomach stabbed again… motion in seven… chant by eight…

A tear fell onto the parchment and Hermione cursed herself for feeling.

“Stop it,” she said quietly, with a sniff. Wiping her face roughly, she shook her head and tried to focus. “Transduction of the lower primary—”

“Hi,” whispered a kind voice. “I brought you something.”

Hermione looked up to find Ginny Weasley standing above her, a sandwich in one hand. She set the sandwich down next to the parchment.

“And a bit of a drink.” Ginny pulled a bottle of ginger-ale from her pocket and placed it next to the sandwich.

Hermione looked around. “Really, you shouldn’t be bringing food into the library,” she said softly. Ginny just rolled her eyes as Hermione knew she would. Ron’s sister had been trying to speak with her for weeks, but Hermione had been doing a respectable job rebuffing her advances. But either Ginny was becoming more adept at finding ways to get Hermione to talk, or Hermione was finding the need to talk to someone so great… In either case, Hermione’s will was weakening.

“Not to worry, Hermione,” said Ginny with a sly smile. “Madam Pince is… preoccupied at the moment.”

Hermione was about to say something, but stopped short. Instead, she simply nodded and wrapped her hand about the sandwich. “Thanks.”

“Simple enough,” said Ginny, and she took the opportunity to sit as Hermione began to eat. She glanced down at the parchment and let out a soft whistle. “Arithmetic Constructs – The Ancient Transduction of Power to Magic. Sounds complicated.”

“It is,” said Hermione, taking a sip of ginger-ale. “The New Age of Arithmancy is just so tediously simple; it hardly keeps my mind busy. If I only read that text I’d—” Hermione cut herself short and took another bite of her sandwich.

“You’d what?” asked Ginny. Hermione remained silent, continuing to chew her sandwich and stare a bit above and to the right of Ginny’s left shoulder, off into nothingness. “Hermione, no one knows what happened in McGonagall’s office. Ron won’t say a word. All we know is that Dumbledore died and that Voldemort escaped by taking control of Snape. I… I don’t understand. Why won’t you see Ron? Why avoid us all? I only want to help. It’s all any of us wants to do.”

Holding the bottle of ginger-ale, Hermione’s hand began to tremble. As she set it down, the table vibrated, creating an eerily muffled rattle within the high stacks of books. She pulled her hand away and crossed her arms. Her breathing quickened.

“Hermione?”

The colour was leaving her face and, from nowhere, Hermione conjured a bag. Holding it tight over her mouth, she wretched. It lasted only a moment. With a wave of her wand the bag disappeared and she took another sip of her ginger-ale. The motion was effortless; clearly not the first time this had happened. Hermione knew Ginny would notice and she began to collect her things.

“I… I really must be going. I…”

Ginny touched Hermione’s arm. “Going where?” Hermione jerked away, fear filling her eyes. She stood and Ginny stood with her. “Hermione, maybe… maybe you’ve a hundred reasons to leave right now. I only have one reason for you to stay. I love you. You know that, don’t you? We… we miss you.”

A tear dripped down Hermione’s eye and she turned to leave. Her heart was aching. She felt so isolated, so alone, but it wasn’t possible. She couldn’t. She took a step and stopped. She looked back to see Ginny, tears filling her eyes as well. There was hurt in those eyes, anguish for a friend in pain. Hermione’s heart twisted and in that moment of hesitation Ginny reached out to hug her.

Hermione had not allowed anyone to so much as shake her hand since the night Dumbledore died. When a first year ran about a corner and nearly knocked into her in the corridor, she flung him up against the wall, sticking him there ten feet in the air and silencing his screams. As Ginny stepped forward, Hermione had the strongest urge to do the same, but resisted, allowing her friends arms to hold her. Through the tears, Hermione finally reached about Ginny and hugged her in return.

It was some time before they sat, holding each other’s hands, sniffing. Ginny resisted the temptation to prod, but instead waited patiently.

“Strange,” Hermione finally whispered.

“How’s that?” asked Ginny softly.

“You’re as dear to me as any sister could be. And yet… you nearly killed me.”

Ginny’s eyebrows furled. She didn’t understand.

“Well, not you… the Basilisk,” Hermione answered Ginny’s expression. Ginny let out a short gasp, but said nothing more. “And not really you. It was Voldemort’s fault, right?”

“Hermione, I—”

“I’ve faced him, you know? Not just Tonks dressed up to look the part, but the Dark Lord himself. I’ve heard his high, cold laugh. I even sent a curse his way, only to watch it bounce off him… about as effective as a ping-pong ball.” Tightening her grip about Ginny’s hand, Hermione’s eyes grew distant. “I watched Voldemort die that night, melt to nothingness.” She laughed, a short maniacal chuckle that bristled the hairs on the back of Ginny’s neck.

“I was so quick to tell the others to forgive… to embrace James when he returned. And then… and then I left him alone. I knew better. It’s my fault and I’ve paid dearly for my mistake. I knew…” She shuddered. “Pray you never have a wand pointed at your face, when the wizard holding it utters the Killing Curse.”

“Snape? He didn’t!” Ginny gasped. But the sad smile still remained on Hermione’s lips.

“Only Avada-. Only. You’ve heard the talk in the halls. Everyone thinks Voldemort had possessed Snape all along. It wasn’t Snape who… who attacked me. It was Ron. So, in a way… you’ve both tried to kill me, brother and sister, but you both came up just a teensy bit short.”

Hermione expected Ginny to pull away. In fact, she hoped it. But her friend held fast, refusing to move. It was in that moment Hermione’s defences fell completely and she began to sob uncontrollably. Finally, through the tears, she muttered, “Ron… stopped him. For a moment I saw his eyes return, but just as quickly they were gone, consumed by red, vicious…”

“Hermione, what happened?”

“Voldemort controlled him, but Ron wouldn’t let him kill me. Be-Before Dumbledore arrived with Snape and Barghouti… he… he raped me.” Her voice was cold and still, a billowing hatred burning fire beneath the ice. Ginny’s eyes filled with horror. She had known the oppressing power that Voldemort had over her will. That he could force Ron to such savagery… yes, she could understand.

“Gin, I can’t stand to look at him. The one person I love more than anyone in the world, I despise above all. I want to hold him in my arms… I want him dead.”

Slowly, Hermione began to reign in her swinging emotions. The tears had passed and the walls with which she had shielded herself with theses last few weeks began to grow once more. Pulling in a deep breath, she quickly gathered her things and began to leave.

“Hermione!” pleaded Ginny, but Hermione continued to wind her way through the stacks.

“I can’t forgive him Gin,” she said over her shoulder. “I won’t.”

“But wasn’t it you that told him what it would mean to all Hogwarts for him to forgive James?”

Still looking over her shoulder, she called back, “And what would happen if all Hogwarts discovered that it wasn’t Snape that killed Dumbledore. It was Ron Weas—” She slammed into someone, spilling her papers out onto the floor. She turned to see Ron standing there, his face expressionless.

“I didn’t kill Dumbledore,” he said with a dead voice. “I killed me.”

Looking briefly at Ron’s face, she wanted to scream, but quickly pulled herself together and bent down to pick up the papers she’d dropped onto the floor. Ron bent down to help, but she snapped at the papers he was reaching for.

“Go… away,” Hermione said stiffly, quietly, teetering upon the brink of an abyss she dared not look over. When she stood, papers in hand, she had no where to turn. Ron was in front, Ginny in back. She wanted to send a curse, she wanted to hear what he meant by killing himself. And then, she made a fateful mistake. She looked up and gazed into his eyes. It had been the first time she had truly looked into them since… since…

“I wish it had been me,” he whispered. “I begged him let me go.” His eyes were dead, lifeless. The depth of despair there was greater than Hermione could bear. “He said… he said that, if I died, you’d blame yourself. I… I told him it was bunk. I guess… I guess I was right.” Ron turned to leave, but then stopped and looked back at Hermione. “If I could leave Hogwarts right now, I would, but I made a promise, see? I made a promise to a man who gave his life for mine and I won’t—” Ron’s lip began to quiver; he shrugged and walked away. “I’m sorry.”

Hermione watched as Ron disappeared behind one of the stacks, walking toward the exit of the library. She wasn’t sure if it was Ginny, or something else, but she felt a slight shove push her forward, a tug pulling from her insides out. Perhaps it was a nymph of spring rekindling the fires of her heart. For what ever reason, she took a step… and then another.

“Ron,” she whispered.

She began to run.

“Ron! Wait!”
________________________________________



A/N: Did I mention how sad I was that no one reviewed the last chapter? Sniff. I know that this chapter probably bothered a few people since the timeline shifts in the three vignettes. I couldn't quite figure a good way to make it work... But I'll take suggestions! Hint... hint...

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 38 – The Road Rejoined

~~~***~~~

“Harry?” Cho asked, looking through a haze of smoke, billowing from the small fire burning before her. “Is it really you?”

As Cho stood and stepped toward him, he notice that she looked… thinner than he last remembered, perhaps a bit too thin. Her eyes held a wisdom he had not seen before, but at a cost – they held no joy. He wiped the tears from his face and tried to shake the haunting tone of her song from his mind.

“Hi,” he whispered with a sniff, trying to muster a smile.

The days of April saw the melting of the winter’s snow and the budding of blossoms throughout the forest, but the evenings were still frosty and, as he stepped toward Cho, he rubbed his hands by the fire. It didn’t help; he still felt cold.

On the ground beside Cho, he could see a tuft of black hair protruding from a bundle of blankets – Jamie lay sleeping. Seeing his son, the beat of Harry’s heart began to quicken. Multiple emotions swirled within him – a fullness of love, an eagerness to protect, and the first true awareness of fatherhood. Yet, even though these feelings energized his inner core, he still felt cold.

Cho stood and wrapped her arms around him and he returned the gesture, sensing, for a moment, the echoes of the love he had once felt for her, the passion they once shared, the closeness that brought them the boy that now lay sleeping. Knowing the lengths he would go to shield her from any more harm, he pulled her close and felt the beating of her heart next to his. And even as he felt her bosom rise and fall with every breath, so too did a chill rise up his spine and crash within his soul.

He began to shiver and she pulled away to look into his eyes, eyes he did not wish to share.

“Harry, what is it?” she asked, reaching up and placing her heated hand against his chilled cheek.

He could sense her gaze looking deeper within his soul, and was eager to look away that his own eyes might set upon anything but her sad face. Yet, he remained steadfast, knowing what he must do, what he must say. He took her hand into his and began to tell the story as he had promised Gabriella he would. His words were quiet, slow and deliberate; each building upon those that came before. For four weeks he had practiced them as he helped Sirius rebuild the castle Harry had destroyed, the castle in which Anthony Goldstein, Cho’s husband, had been killed by Harry’s hand. Stone by stone Harry and Sirius worked to raise the fallen walls. It was tedious and monotonous and, in those hours of brick upon mortar, as Harry mixed brawn and magic to remake what was undone, his mind calmed and his heart found the rhythm of nature that it had lost.

It was not until the last day, this very day, that Harry knew his work with Sirius was done and that it was time to complete his oath and tell Cho all that had happened. Sirius slept while Harry laid the last stone and, still upon his knees, said a prayer declaring his remorse and asking for forgiveness. It was in that moment that he could feel life return, flowing through him and infusing the stones with an energy they had not previously known under the Black family crest. The castle and all Harry had destroyed had been healed. All that is except for the life that Harry had taken, the life that could not now be restored – Anthony Goldstein’s.

Standing by the fire as he bared his soul to Cho, he watched, with each passing phrase, the colour slowly drain from her face. Her hands began to tremble as she stared in disbelief. At last, Harry completed the story’s telling, a story of fire and his unquenchable thirst for victory at all cost.

“I’m sorry,” choked Harry.

“But it was Malfoy!” she cried. “I… I saw him. I… I killed him!”

“No,” answered Harry softly, slowly shaking his head. “It was me. I ruined the castle. I destroyed Anthony.”

In a flash, Cho pulled her wand and held it at Harry’s throat; he did not move.

“YOU’RE LYING! TAKE IT BACK!”

Heartfelt pain passed across Harry’s face. He wished that he could take it back. That somehow it was within his power, but there was nothing he could do. There was nothing anyone could do. Tears began to pool at the bottom of his eyes. It was then that Cho knew. She had killed, not an innocent man, but a guilty one for the wrong reasons. She stepped away from Harry, looked at her own wand with horror and dropped it into the fire.

“No!” she wailed.

Quickly, before it flamed, Harry reached down and pulled the willow wand from the embers with his bare hand. Holding it out, he stepped toward her, but Cho stepped back.

“I… I killed him,” she said, shattered by what she’d done. “With that wand, I murdered him.”

“It wasn’t murder.”

“He didn’t deserve to die!”

“What?” Harry exclaimed. “He was torturing me and, given more time, would have killed me. This wand saved my life. You… you saved my life.” These last words held a deeper meaning and began to calm her. “After it was over, the moment I had to tell you, to tell everyone slipped through my fingers. In my mind I didn’t think it would matter, but it was really my shame. I couldn’t bear to tell you that I had killed Anthony.”

“But it does matter!” she yelled, and ran at him, hammering his chest with her fist. “It does! It does. It does.” Harry stood still, letting her collapse against him and sob into his jacket.

“I know,” he whispered. “I’ve always known. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to realize that.”

For quite some time they stood by the fire and Cho cried on Harry’s chest. She spoke of her love for Tony, and of losing the dream they shared together. She cursed Harry’s arrogance and continued, on occasion, to hammer her fist into his chest. Finally, after a long stretch of silence, Cho clenched the front of his jacket, put her head against his chest and whispered, “I understand.”

The chill in Harry’s fingers receded and the fire’s warmth spread across the side of his body. He pulled her close and drew in a long deep breath, and then, slowly, exhaled.

“Please,” he whispered, “sit with me.”

They both sat next to Jamie and stared at the fire for a while. Finally, Harry broke the silence. “How has he been?” he asked, peeking under the blanket that covered his son’s head.

“I… I think, somehow, he knows. Maybe it’s just me, but with each passing day, he’s been getting more irritable. He can’t possibly know what’s coming, but somehow he does.”

“Maybe he knows his mother’s worried.”

“Maybe,” she said, nodding her head. “But the Centaurs… Macleta, she’s been good to us. I didn’t think I’d ever get over Draco attacking me.”

“He’ll pay for that,” spat Harry fiercely.

“I don’t know,” said Cho, looking out into the darkness. “Maybe I should have killed them both.”

“You should never have been put into that position. That’s my fault. I’ll see it doesn’t happen again.”

“Well, I’m safe here. Macleta’s been watching over us both like a mother hen. She was here a moment ago; I don’t know where she just—”

“I asked her to leave before I came to camp. It’s kind of… telepathy.” Cho looked at him with surprise. He shrugged “I’ve been training with the Centaurs here for some time. She knew I was coming before I stepped one foot into the forest.”

It’s just… I didn’t want her here when I told you,” he continued. “They think we’re mates.”

“No,” Cho said. “Gabriella is—”

“And Gabriella,” Harry interrupted. “Centaurs are not monogamous and Jamie here is proof enough that you’re my first… well, Centaurs are quite perceptive.”

“They know the war’s coming here,” said Cho. “More Centaurs have been arriving every day, preparing for the battle. All they can talk about is that comet.” For the first time, Cho’s eyes left the fire and looked toward the sky. There, shimmering through the smoky haze, was Ebyrth as bright and fiery as ever. When she looked back down, her eyes met Harry’s. The shadows of the firelight made her face appear thinner, skeletal. “Is he really coming for Jamie?” she asked, the slightest tremble in her voice.

“Yes,” said Harry without hesitation. “He can’t get here by coming round the mountains. I’ve seen to that. He’ll have to pass through Hogsmeade first, then the school. If, by some miracle, he passes through both those lines of defence, he’ll find the forest holds yet more surprises. You’ll be safe.”

“We should leave,” said Cho, beginning to stand. “We’re putting everyone at risk.”

“No!” snapped Harry, taking hold of her arm. “Cho, he’s vapour, nothing more than smoke and spirit. If you leave, he’ll find you; he’ll find Jamie. Spirit will become substance, and he’ll become more dangerous than he ever was before.”

Harry turned and took Cho’s hand.

“Don’t you see?” he said. “Now is our last, best hope. Now, when he’s at his weakest, when we know where he wants to strike. There’s nowhere in the world safer than with the Centaurs. Trust me; I swear.”

Cho nodded her head and sat still, turning once more toward the fire. There was a rustling through the trees and a moment later Macleta stepped through. She wasn’t smiling, but her face was peaceful and proud.

“Your journey has been long, Harry Potter,” said the Centaur as she offered a slight bow. “Can I offer you something to drink?” Harry stood and bowed as well, returning the sign of respect.

“It’s a pleasure to find you well Macleta. I would—” He stopped, sensing that the Centaur was shielding her mind for some reason. “Is all well?” he asked.

“These are troubled times,” she replied, looking up to the stars. “Soon, there will be fire in the sky.” Harry’s mind turned toward the dragons that he had summoned to guard the mountain passes behind the forest. Time was indeed short and he had yet to visit the castle.

“Thank you, Macleta,” he said, bowing once more, “but I must be going. There are many preparations still to be done. It is my hope that his forces never make it to the forest.”

“If they do,” answered Macleta with a calm voice, “they will be decimated.”

Harry glanced once more at his son and then to Cho.

“Stay here,” he said. “You’ll be safe with the Centaurs.” He began to leave, but stopped just before he left the fire’s light. He turned back to Cho. “I love you,” he said with determined eyes. “I love you both.” He turned back toward the castle and ran.

He darted through the forest, weaving through trees, passing Centaur after Centaur. Just as he had on his way in, he noticed too the presence of ghosts, dozens upon dozens of ghosts. He would feel their chill if he accidentally ran through one and occasionally he would notice their stare – keen eyes, nervous and searching, like first year’s at King’s Cross Station, looking for Platform nine and three-quarters. Harry once had eyes like those. In fact, he wondered if— boom!

Darkness and stars filled Harry’s vision as he fell dizzily to the earth. Unable to gather his senses, he reached haphazardly for his wand. He hadn’t been watching in front of him; had he run into a tree? There was someone, something moving in front of him. Harry shook his head, trying to dislodge the cobwebs from his mind.

“Nearly a year of training and this is what you have to show for it?” blasted a stern voice, deep and sorrowful. “I told you your wizard training was a waste. You can’t even walk through the forest.”

“R-Ronan?” Harry asked, rising to a sitting position. His vision was clearing and he could just make out the Centaur in front of him. “Ronan, is that—” He stopped himself. Of course it was Ronan. He didn’t need to see to know that.

“I had heard you were in the forest,” the Centaur replied, not offering Harry any assistance. “There were those who questioned, but I knew you would return. None too soon.”

Balancing against the trunk of a tree, Harry took to his feet. He felt something trickle down his face and when he reached up to wipe it away he realized his left temple was gashed. He rubbed the blood in his fingers, pulled out his wand and tried to heal the wound as best he could. Cuts that couldn’t be seen were always tricky; those on the face being the most difficult.

“I… I had to set my affairs in order,” said Harry, wincing as his wand sealed the wound.

“Humph,” grunted Ronan. “I’ve seen your… affairs. You’ve been busy, Harry Potter, but not for the right reasons. Still, the Centaurs will fulfil their oath to the family of the Chosen. As long as I draw breath, they are both safe here. You know, two mates for one so young… it is not wise in times of war.”

“Wisdom was never one of my strong suites,” said Harry. He was about to ask what Ronan meant by both, when the Centaur snorted.

“Clearly they are from the same stock. Are they twins?”

“Twins?” asked Harry with surprise. “Not even close. You couldn’t find two women with such different—”

“Same height, same long, black hair,” interrupted Ronan. “They seem like twins to me, but then it is difficult for a Centaur to tell you wizards apart, except perhaps that red haired friend of yours. I would recognize him from a dozen furlongs away.”

Harry’s face fell almost at once. He’d heard that Ron had been taken by Voldemort. He’d heard that he had something to do with Dumbledore’s death. There was a part of Harry that was angry at his best friend and a part that was guilty for not having seen Voldemort’s plan sooner. It had all become a muddled mess and it seemed to Harry that, taken on whole, things weren’t going so well.

As saddened as Cho was for having killed Lucius for the wrong reasons, Harry recognized that the loss of Lucius’ relatively sane leadership would strike a blow at the Death Eaters. Remus had said that Snape was taken by Voldemort. Harry thought that combination might make for a formidable opponent, but Remus was more optimistic, although he never explained why. As for Draco, Harry had heard nothing of the younger Malfoy save for the disturbing news of his attack on Cho. Yet there had been no word of the wizard since; it was as if he’d fallen from the face of the earth. Harry felt in his heart that Draco had some larger role to play and, if he was now more vampire than human, more dark wizard than light, it would be incumbent upon Harry not to hesitate the next time the two wizards met. But could he kill him? It, somehow, didn’t feel right.

“You are troubled?” asked Ronan as the two walked in the loamy earth of the forest toward Hogwarts castle. Harry let out a short, tight laugh.

“Troubled?” he said, stopping to consider one particularly crooked tree. It was dead. The bark on its trunk had been pealed away and there were no leaves on any of its many gnarled branches. “There is a darkness descending upon us and I am to blame. One poor decision after another has cost the life of a friend and a… a father, our only hope out of this war.”

“I see,” said Ronan solemnly. “But do you? After all this time, have you learned nothing?” Ronan stood, waiting, Harry knew, for the young wizard to decipher his words. They would not leave this spot unless Harry… he closed his eyes and reached out with his mind to see the world around him.

The tree, which at sight had appeared so dead, so lifeless, was anything but. Its trunk was pulsating with energy and the inner core of its branches was busily preparing to burst forth with the coming of spring. Its roots were brighter still, plunging deep into the earth below Harry’s feet and then outward. Harry turned and found them connected to other such trees scattered about the forest. These were the Casses trees, an interlocked network that ran all through the forest, a network the Centaurs used to know anything and everything that happened in these woods.

“You are still so very much a wizard,” bemoaned Ronan. “If there had been more time… ten or twenty years perhaps.” The Centaur hoofed the ground, shaking his head. Then, slowly, his gaze looked to the heavens. “It is, almost always, a steady, rhythmic pattern. The sun and earth, the moon and stars, all dancing to the same music, each knowing the other’s role to play. So it is with life, Harry Potter. And yet, every now and then, something magnificently different enters the sky.”

“Ebyrth,” whispered Harry, looking to the sky himself and watching the comet high above.

“Ebyrth,” echoed Ronan. “I have seen the coming of these days for over a year. The skies have shown me the role of the Chosen, the death of Albus Dumbledore, the war and the great battle that now approaches us.”

“Then you know the outcome,” said Harry, almost as if in question.

“No,” replied Ronan dispassionately. “Ebyrth does not dance well with others. It hears a different music. Soon, we will know. It will be close.”

“What will be close?” asked Harry, frustration building in his voice. He’d heard these words before.

“Ebyrth draws close to Mars. If the two should strike, it would mean the end of Ebyrth, the end of all wars between Centaur and Dementor.”

“And that’s a good thing, right?”

“In that battle, Mars destroys Ebyrth. There are those of my kin that believe the collision is inevitable and that Mars will be victorious.” Ronan looked down at Harry, his face as grave and sorrowful as Harry had ever seen it. “You may be a wizard, but I know you understand what that means. There won’t be any more wars because there won’t be any more Centaurs left to fight. We will be shattered, consumed.”

Harry’s eyes shot back toward the heavens. He’d never really paid any attention before, but now he could see. It all made sense. Ebyrth was moving closer and closer to the red planet. He turned back to face Ronan.

“And you… what do you see, Ronan?”

The Centaur sighed. “It will be close.” He then turned and started to walk toward Hogwarts.

The two said nothing more as they made there way to the edge of the forest. They could have run, but chose instead to walk. Despite their capabilities to manipulate time and space, Centaurs rarely ever did. They chose instead to bathe in the moment of time, to soak in the here and now and so it was with Harry and Ronan. They came at last to a Centaur guard at the outer ring of the forest. There was another archer to his left and one to his right each some fifty meters away. This was the outer ring of defence and probably meant that the entire forest was encircled with hundreds of Centaurs. Looking at the lone guardian it seemed that he could be easily overwhelmed, but Harry knew that every Centaur across the forest could be at his side in a matter of moments.

As Harry started toward the castle, Ronan took him by the shoulder. “It will be hours not weeks, Harry Potter. The wave grows larger and ever closer to the shore. There is one who believes it will crest on the coming full moon.”

Harry smiled. “Ronan, are you making a prediction?”

“Just this,” said Ronan, looking above Harry’s head and toward the castle. “Your heart will soon feel great joy and sorrow. So it is with wizards.”

With these words the Centaur turned and walked away. Likewise, Harry started up the hill toward the castle. Smoke was billowing out of the chimney from Hagrid’s hut, but there were no lights on inside. It was strange, walking the grounds so late at night, and yet familiar. In an hour or two, the sun would rise and the now quiet grass fields would be bustling with students. There was a slight frost on the turf and it crunched beneath his feet. A slight chill spread through his body and he pulled the jacket Gabriella had given him as a Christmas gift tight about his neck. The silence started his mind to wondering why there wasn’t anyone about, guarding the castle grounds. It was likely that they had been positioned more forward, in and around Hogsmeade.

He reached out with his mind through the darkness. At the very entrance to the castle was a wizard. From this distance, it was difficult to make out more than that he was seated. Through the walls of Hagrid’s hut he could see the half-giant sleeping, Fang on the floor by Hagrid’s bed. It was then that he caught the glint of two others down near the lake. They were crouched, looking up toward the castle. Harry drew his wand. If they had been guards, their gaze would have been out across the water. He pulled his invisibility cloak out from his pocket, put it on and quietly made his way down toward the pair, cursing himself for not knowing some spell to silence his footsteps.

He was fifty meters away when he knew by the pair of auras who it was and he lowered his wand. His emotions began to swirl as he continued forward and, by the light of the waxing moon, could make out their faces. He stopped not knowing what he should do. They were whispering. He stepped closer to hear, but then stumbled on a stone.

“STUPEFY!”

A blast of red light flew toward Harry. He barely had time to react, only partially deflecting the spell and falling backwards on the ground. He began to slide down the slope toward the lake, his cloak slipping off and over his head. There was another blast of red light, striking just to his left, vaporizing the frosty grass and spraying his face with tepid drips of water that quickly chilled in the night’s air.

“Stup—”

“Hermione, STOP!”

“But it’s—”

“It’s—”

“Harry? Oh, Merlin… Harry!”

He stopped as his feet hit the sandy shore of the beach by the lake and, before he could gather himself, he was scooped into Hermione’s arms in a grand hug. She kissed his cheek and pulled the hair from his face, looking for some injury.

“Are you okay?” she asked. “Oh, no! Your temple. Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“That wasn’t you; that was me. I ran into a tree,” answered Harry. She pulled him close with a tight squeeze against her shoulder. “Im deh borfest,” he said through the folds of her cloak.

“Let the man breathe, for Merlin’s sake,” said Ron. He took Harry by the hand…

“Come on, mate.”

…and pulled him to his feet.

Harry began to swipe the debris from his clothes and looked back up toward the castle doors. Whoever was seated there hadn’t moved.

“Filch,” said Hermione, answering Harry’s unspoken question. “Every other wizard is sleeping or in Hogsmeade. First through third years evacuate tomorrow, well, today after breakfast; the rest of the students refuse to leave. Most of them, that is.”

“I bet you can guess which upperclassmen chose to leave,” added Ron. “Snakes, every one of ‘em. Good riddance, I say.”

Harry was silent. He’d noticed Hermione’s eyes, they were red and swollen. She’d been crying and not just a little bit. When Harry looked at Ron, he saw very much the same thing. Here they were, his two best friends, on the eve of almost certain destruction. They probably had been preparing for the battle for weeks, while Harry was in Greece, laying brick upon brick.

“Have you seen them, then?” asked Hermione earnestly. “Cho and Jamie.”

Harry nodded. “Yes,” he muttered, barely able to say a word. “They’re well. They’re safe.”

“There’s nowhere in the world safer, Harry,” said Hermione, holding his arm. “You were right to send them here.”

“Not quite…” Harry swallowed. “Not quite the way…” An onrush of guilt swarmed upon him and he began to find it difficult to breathe. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “I was such a fool. If I would have lost you… either of you…”

For a moment neither Ron, nor Hermione said a word. It was an awkward silence, Ron looking at Hermione, then to Harry, and back to Hermione again. They were talking to each other with their eyes, Ron and Hermione hiding something, but Harry chose not to press further. One thing was clear enough, what had happened at Hogwarts while Harry was away was bad, and whatever forgiveness he had hoped to garner from his friends would take some time before they shared it with him.

“Come on, mate,” said Ron, taking Harry by the shoulder. “Let’s take you up to the castle. I can smell the morning sausages cooking already.”

Hermione came to his other side and put her arm about his waist. “Ron,” she said severely, “I don’t want you playing any more tricks on Filch. I don’t care how much he’s blamed you for what’s happened.”

As they made their way up the castle steps, Harry noticed Filch seated in a chair by the front doors. Dressed in something resembling a clown’s suit, he was sleeping with Mrs. Norris in his lap. He had a bulbous red nose, his face was white, and his hair was no wig, but curled and shaded a dust colour so that it resembled his cat’s fur.

“If he calls me a murderer again,” said Ron coolly, “I’ll make sure the changes are permanent.”

As the three passed through the castle doors, Harry took one last look at the comical Filch. His insides twisted. He wasn’t sure if he should laugh, or cry.
________________________________________


Gabriella watched as Harry left Cho by the small fire outside the Centaur compound. She deliberately stayed hidden, not wanting to ruin what he was to do. When, at last, he departed, she couldn’t have been more proud, more happy. She had refused to see Harry until he’d completed his penance and now that oath was fulfilled. Mama had spoken of his anxiousness to return to Hogwarts and face the coming battle, but also of his steadfast determination to see his deadly deed undone even if it meant raising Sirius’ castle one stone at a time.

She had not spoken a word to Cho; that was for Harry to do. But now her friend needed her and Gabriella moved out of the compound to be at Cho’s side. She bowed to Macleta who nodded in return and then continued to gaze outward into the bracken of the forest. Jamie began to stir and Cho lifted him up into her arms, gently patting his back.

“Hi,” said Gabriella in a soft voice.

“Hi,” replied Cho, rocking Jamie in her arms. She chuckled sadly to herself. “He slept the whole time Harry was here and the moment he leaves… it’s like he knows.”

“Maybe it’s like Harry said,” Gabriella responded, placing her hand on Cho’s thigh. “He knows his mother.”

Cho nodded and shrugged, staring into the fire and slowly rocking her child. “You knew, didn’t you?” she asked Gabriella.

“Yes,” whispered Gabriella. “But it was not my place to tell.”

“How long?”

“As soon as I saw the extent of the damage, I knew. That’s why I tried to get you to Hogwarts as soon as I could. I could see where your anger was leading, fed by what Harry had done, but directed at the wrong foe.”

“You could have stopped me.”

“Perhaps, if Harry had not been in such pain… if I had convinced you sooner. But then, you might have come to Hogwarts as Voldemort had planned and been taken.”

Cho looked away. “I wish I had been,” she whispered to the earth. “I wish this was over.”

“Don’t say that! Don’t even think it. We need you. We need you both alive and well.”

Cho did not respond, but Gabriella bent over and kissed Jamie on the forehead and then kissed Cho on the cheek. “I will never let any harm come to you. Do you understand me? Never!” Gabriella stood. “Please, set Jamie down for a moment and stand with me.”

As Cho put Jamie down, Gabriella slipped of the brilliantly white cloak she was wearing. “Here,” said Gabriella, offering the cloak to Cho. “Put this on.”

“Gab, no,” said Cho, “I couldn’t possibly. It’s too beautiful.”

“It is magnificent,” said Gabriella with a smile, “but not too beautiful for you. Go on. Put it on.” Cho took the white cloak from Gabriella’s hand and put it on.

Macleta turned to see what the two young women were doing. She seemed disturbed. “The cloth,” said the Centaur, shaking her head, “it is pure, but unnatural. Where you found it and why wizards would wear such a thing…” She shook her head and returned to her watch.

“Unnatural?” asked Cho.

“Magical,” answered Gabriella quickly, smoothing out the wrinkles in the arms with her hand. “As long as you wear this cloak, no spell can strike you down.” Cho’s eyes widened.

“Gab, I can’t possibly—”

“You can.”

“But I’ll be here, safe. You’ll be out there—”

“I’ll be… fine,” replied Gabriella, her mind slipping to the vision of her fate. “Take it. Wear it always. Keep it as close as your dear Jamie and it may see you both through this war.”

“Thank you,” said Cho. She reached out and the two hugged.

“I best be going,” whispered Gabriella, her eyes misting slightly. “It’s been awhile since I’ve seen my… seen Harry.”

Gabriella stepped toward Macleta to ask for a guide out of the forest, when through the trees walked a young, white Centaur – Felspar.

“I’m here, mother,” said Felspar. “Shahan refused to escort a—”

“I understand,” interrupted Macleta, shaking her head with disappointment. “Gabriella Darbinyan, my daughter will see you out of the forest. There are many guardians along the way. You will be safe.”

“Thank you, Macleta,” said Gabriella with a slight bow. “You have been, these last many days, like a mother to me. I will do all in my power to keep the battle from your door.”

“We have no doors here, my lady,” answered Macleta. “Only breezes carrying the coming of spring and open skies hailing the birth of a new star.”

As Felspar walked Gabriella into the trees, the young witch turned back and waved to Cho. Her friend waved back, her white robe glimmering in the firelight. It was hard to believe that something so pure could come from one so wicked. Finally, Gabriella looked over to Macleta whose eyes were now fixed on the stars above. The Centaur’s gaze was intent and her expression peaceful.

As Gabriella stepped further into darkness, she heard Macleta say softly, “It will be close.”







________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 39 – Somewhere Between Life and Death

~~~***~~~

The castle was quiet as Ron, Hermione and Harry made their way up the staircase of Gryffindor tower. Something was making Harry anxious and he didn’t know what it was. Certainly, it wasn’t the silence that disquieted him. No, it was something else, something in the colour of candlelight, the odour of musty paintings and the dampness of the rising humidity clinging in the air that was somehow out of place, disjoint. It was as if he was walking in a separate reality, wholly different from the life he once lived when first he passed through the doors of Hogwarts. Had it been so long?

In the passage of time, what once was so familiar was now foreign and distant. His two best friends still walked at his side; the chandeliers, floating in air, still flickered in the same way; and the creaking staircases still swung and locked into the same positions. But Harry felt as if he was stepping into Hogwarts for the first time, and the grand castle was not welcoming him as it had when he was a first year. Nothing had changed, yet all was different. Dumbledore was dead, the remaining students were huddled at night in the caverns below the school, and an impending doom had set its eye squarely upon the doors through which they had just passed. Even the portraits, framed caricatures now sleeping, seemed somehow paler, diminished by the coming darkness.

“Harry, watch out!”

Too late. Harry’s foot fell through the broken step on the staircase. He fell down to his thigh, his foot dangling six stories up in the air. How often had he skipped this step as he climbed these stairs, without thought or worry? He had never fallen through, not even as a first year.

Ron pulled him up through the splinters with surprising ease. “You alright, mate?”

Harry’s face was flush with embarrassment. The rescuer already needed rescuing. Had he come to help, or just make things worse? “Yeah… yeah, I’m fine,” he answered brushing the debris from his legs. “They’ll be on us now, what with all that racket.”

“They? No one’s in the castle, Harry,” said Hermione, reaching for his hand to help him over the step. Harry’s initial instinct was to jerk his hand away; he could step over the damn thing. But, in the end, he took his friend’s hand and they continued their climb upwards. She smiled at him and, for a moment, his mind remembered an earlier, happier time. “You don’t think they’d let Filch guard anything of value, do you?” she asked.

Ron chuckled, but the question began to gnaw on Harry as they continued their ascent. He was irritated at himself for not considering Filch’s counterfeit role. It was obvious and he had missed it. Surely, everyone of import was out in Hogsmeade as part of the first line of defence. The castle would be left empty as it had been last year, during the attack on Hogwarts. The memory tickled a thought.

“Where’s Professor McGonagall?” he asked.

“Tonight, Hogsmeade,” said Hermione.

“Tonight and every night, you mean. She has a bet with Flitwick over who will have the first kill.”

“Kill?”

“Metaphorically,” said Hermione.

“Yeah… metaphorically,” said Ron with a lilt on the last word.

As they came upon the portrait of the Fat Lady, Harry looked down on the carpet. There were still a few dark splotches here and there. Most students passed over them without notice. Harry never did and the echoes of what he’d done here sent a shiver up his spine.

He stopped, looking down at the spot where Professor McGonagall had fallen, fending off dozens of Dementors. “Siad Adumai,” he whispered to himself. There was a cold breeze that brushed against his cheek and twirled within his ear.

A breathless voice whispered, “Soon.”

“What?” asked Hermione, stopping just before the portrait.

“You heard that?” asked Harry with surprise.

“Yeah,” said Ron. “Some spell? Erm, Seeyad Adaboy?” Harry took in a deep breath; they had heard only his words, not the voice that, Harry was now beginning to realize, foretold of coming death and was now whispering in his ear more than ever. He wasn’t sure, but he was coming to think that it was a voice of spirits, of the dead, of those trapped in this world, unable to make the crossing.

“Siad Adumai,” he corrected. “It…” he shrugged unable to really explain, “…it blows up Dementors.”

“Blows them up?” asked Hermione. “I’ve never heard of—” Harry brought his hands together.

“Kerboom!” he whispered, throwing his fingers outward. “Like a Filibuster Firework.”

“That’s one I want to try,” said Ron with a wicked smile, but it soon flickered. “My patronus sucks.”

“Peppermint Stick,” said Hermione sharply. The Fat Lady roused, but just barely. “I said Peppermint Stick!” The woman in the portrait, her eyes still shut, lifted a finger and the portrait opened.

“As vigilant as ever, I see,” snapped Harry.

“Harry?” the portly woman’s voice called as the three entered the Gryffindor common room. “Harry Pot—” The door closed shut.

They walked over to the fire, its flames as bright and warm as they ever were. Harry began to sit in front of it, but stopped, offering the small couch to Ron and Hermione instead. Ron sat, but Harry was surprised to see Hermione wander over to one of the tables to take a seat. Clearly, the two were in the midst of another argument. They must have been trying to work things out down by the lake, when Harry interrupted. Now he felt more uncomfortable than ever.

Harry waited a moment, and then sat by the fire next to Ron. His leg was more sore than he wanted to let on and, at the moment, he didn’t much care that they were having a squabble. He cupped his hands about his face and rubbed his eyes. “Is it bad?” he whispered to Ron. “You and Hermione?”

Staring at the fire, Ron nodded. Then he tilted his head toward Harry and whispered, “It’s getting better. We held hands tonight.”

“Held hands?” said Harry, a bit too loudly. “You’re engaged for Merlin’s sake!” He turned to Hermione. “You do know, that it wasn’t his fault don’t you?” Harry stood. “If you should be angry at anybody, it’s… it’s me.” He poked at his chest.

“You don’t understand,” she said softly with dismissive eyes.

“I don’t understand?” snapped Harry. “I understand plenty! You know… you both know. I’ve had the bastard coursing through my veins.”

Ron stood behind him. “But he didn’t take over you, did he, Harry?” Ron took Harry by the shoulder and turned him so that they faced each other. “You were able to defeat him.”

“It’s not like that. It was diff—”

“I tried,” said Ron. “I tried and failed.” Ron’s eyes fell on Hermione. “Right here… here in front of the fire. He played me like a fish and snapped my defenses like a twig. I was worthless.”

“Yeh weren’t worthless!”

Everyone turned their attention to the top of the staircase leading to the boys’ dormitory. There stood Patrick in black robes, his hands gripping the railing tightly. Ron and Harry had their wands drawn at once, but Hermione stepped forward, her head tilted up at the young Gryffindor above her. His face was pale, his eyes flickering from the fire behind her.

“Patrick,” she said softly, moving slowly toward the staircase, “all students are to be in the caverns after hours. You should be down with your friends.”

The boy’s eyes were steadfast, still focused on Ron. “When he was… in me, yeh almost broke ‘im. He was frightened; I could feel it. Fer a moment he thought he might fail.” Patrick rolled his grip back and forth over the banister, as if he were starting an imaginary motorcycle. “I tried teh stop ‘im, but I… I—”

“You couldn’t,” said Ron, finishing Patrick’s words. The redhead slipped his wand away and Harry followed in kind. Hermione had made her way to the top of the stairs and took Patrick gently by the wrists, trying to pull his hands away from the rail, but the second year resisted. It was then that she noticed streaks of blood coating the wood Patrick was clutching.

“I wanted to tell yeh,” said Patrick, now rocking against the banister, “but I couldn’t… not until he came.” He tilted his head toward Harry. “I only have… a moment.” His voice was beginning to pitch higher and his motions more frantic, but still he would not release the banister.

“Patrick, let go!” Hermione insisted.

“One… thing… teh say,” sputtered Patrick. “But first yeh need teh know…. Ron… yeh can win. Yeh can defeat— Ayyyy!” Patrick cried out in pain and suddenly his body went rigid, and his gaze fell upon Harry.

“Patrick!” cried Hermione. She pulled on his arms, but his grip would not release the rail.

“You have returned,” said Patrick to Harry, his voice thin and high, “as I knew you would. The boy, then, is here. You should know that there’s nothing you can do. Soon he will be mine.”

“That’s Voldemort’s voice,” whispered Ron to Harry.

“You’ll be dead before you come close!” yelled Harry.

Patrick’s eyes remained fixed, unblinking. “Do you miss your dead friends, Harry? Are you now truly alone?”

“We’re right here!” called Ron.

“He can’t hear you,” said Hermione. “It’s… it’s some sort of pre-recorded message.”

“Are we so different, Harry Potter, you and I? I think not. It’s a shame we won’t meet again, but fitting you should die with another orphan.”

Suddenly Patrick’s hands began to role about the railing again. His breathing became labored and, for a flash, his eyes turned toward Hermione.

“Run!” he breathed

“Patrick!”

The wooden rail began to glow, first yellow, then white. The room was filled with light and Ron and Harry had to shield their eyes.

“Hermione,” yelled Harry, “it’s a trap. Get out of there!” Ron began to run up the staircase.

“Ron, no!”

“I won’t leave him here to die!” yelled Hermione as she grabbed Patrick’s right hand and tried to pry off his fingers. “Patrick, let go!”

“I can’t… stop… please… run!”

“I’m not going to let you die!”

They could all feel the heat now; the rail glowing like a white hot bar of blazing steel. Harry couldn’t see a thing until he closed his eyes. He reached his mind out and, for a moment, his vision was overwhelmed by the energy within the wooden banister. It wasn’t normal. The wood was dead, but somehow it had been infused with an energy force. Ron was nearly to the top of the staircase. Hermione was at Patrick’s side, and that’s when Harry noticed. Patrick’s life-force was diminishing, draining into the railing, giving it his energy. Hermione pulled one hand free.

Once more Patrick went rigid. “Good-bye, Harry. Vesco!”
The room filled with a crackling sound.

“Get down!” cried Harry, even as Hermione worked to free Patrick’s second hand. Ron made it to her side and had his arms about her when the world exploded. Heat and pressure filled the Gryffindor common room. In a giant explosion of flame, Harry was lifted from his feet and sent crashing against the stone fireplace, his head slamming hard against the stones. All was dark.
________________________________________



“Harry. Harry, time to get up.”

“Get out of bed yeh lazy arse!”

“James!”

“Lilly, you’ve spoiled the boy for seventeen years and now we’re reapin’ the rewards.”

The clouds filling Harry’s mind began to thin. There was something unnatural and yet very comfortable with the sounds he was hearing. They were fighting… again. They were always fighting. He rolled over in bed and pulled his pillow over his head.

“I said get up!”

A jolt of pain sparked up Harry’s backside and he sat bolt upright. He rubbed his eyes and looked over to see his father standing in front of him with his wand drawn. His mother, at the door, shook her head and walked away.

“That’s better,” said James. “You may think the Wizarding world whirls around your wand, young man, but it doesn’t. You’ve forgotten, haven’t you? Today’s your big day, or should I say your last day.” His father turned toward the door, stopped and looked back. “Arthur Weasley is bending every rule in the book, considering your marks, to get you a job in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office. By Merlin’s beard, if you screw this up, you’re out. I don’t care what your mother says. Now get some clothes on and… and do something with your hair.” He left, shutting the door with more emphasis than was necessary. Harry was accustomed to the ceremony.

He looked around his room. It was littered with dirty clothes, Quidditch trading cards and various magazines he rarely read. A snake slithered on a dead branch suspended in the air just above his bed. Harry yawned, reached for his wand on the table by his bed and conjured a mouse, levitating it to the snake which struck, swallowed and then closed its lazy eyes. Harry sighed and fell back down upon his bed. He’d been a failure all his life. Surely he would fail today. Who cared about Muggles anyway? Never mind their stupid artifacts.

By the time he made his way downstairs, his father had already left for work. Still barefoot, Harry padded over to a plate of bacon, snatched a couple slices and then took a quick look out the front window to see about the weather.

“Your hair’s a mess, love.” His mother came up from behind and started smoothing it down.

“That won’t help you know.”

“That’s never stopped me from trying… you know. To dream the impossible dream. Your grandfather—”

“—loved that song,” he finished. “Yes, I know.”

“Then dream a little yourself. It wouldn’t hurt… you know.” She kissed his cheek and slipped on her coat. “I’m going to go to the bakery to owl your sister a cake and then I’m off to the shop.”

“You never sent me a cake at school,” he said, watching a grey cloud pass overhead; it looked like rain.

“You never had your heart broken like this, Harry.”

He turned to look at his mother as she got ready to leave. “So Dad still won’t let her see him?”

“He doesn’t see a future with Patrick. He is an orphan, after all.”

“An orphan?” asked Harry incredulously. “That doesn’t make it right. He’s twice the student I was at Hogwarts and he’s not bad with a concealment charm.” Harry smiled. “If I could pick a younger brother, he’d be the one. Well, as long as he wasn’t a Gryffindor.”

Lilly waved her wand; the dishes flew into the sink and began to clean themselves. “I really must go. You can take it up with your father this evening, if you’d like. But, if you want him to listen to you, you’d best come back with good news from your interview this morning.” She started out the door. “One can dream.”

“Bye mother,” he said glumly.

“Oh, such a sourpuss! You do realize how much he loves you, don’t you?” Her eye grew wistful. “He was about to leave me… when you came into our lives. If it hadn’t been for you, Harry….” She smiled sadly. “The things father’s do for their sons. I think… I think, for you, he’d do anything. Destroy the world, if he had to.” She let out a long breath and shook her head. “Now, be a love. Just a little effort in that lair you call a room of yours, might soften my heart as well.” She smiled and shut the door behind her. There was a bang and all the air and light left the room. The rain clouds began to swirl about Harry’s mind and he suddenly began to feel the floor fall away from his feet. He was plummeting downward into an abyss.
________________________________________



“I’m not sure there is anyone to notify. He is an orphan, after all. As for the girl—”

“Really? An orphan? How sad… Were they close?”

Harry opened his eyes. He looked up to find stone – wet granite; the ceiling glistened with moisture and the air was musty. He was in the caverns below Hogwarts – the hospital ward. He turned toward the voices. The left side of his head was throbbing, and there was a faint ringing in his ear.

“I’m… I am not an orphan,” he stammered. “My mother’s right— Mother? What’s going on?”

“Harry, lie back down.” A hand touched his shoulder and pressed him back to his sheets. He turned, ready to protest, but the fire left his throat the moment he saw who it was. “G- Gabriella? What… You can’t be here. It’s too… Who?”

“It’s okay, Harry. You’ll be fine.” She kissed his forehead.

“Here dear, take a drink of this.” Madame Guérir handed him a small goblet. The liquid smelled foul and tasted worse, but as soon as he had his first swallow the ringing in his ear vanished and the clarity of what had happened rushed back into his mind.

“Patrick!” Harry shot upward. “Where’s Pat—” The second year was on a cot, just across from Harry’s. The boy’s hands were folded upon his chest. His face was white, his eyes shut and his body still. Harry had seen death too many times not to know the look. “PATRICK!”

He jumped out of bed and grabbed the dead boy by the arm, shaking him violently.

“PATRICK!”

Gabriella pulled him away.

“It’s too late, Harry,” she cried. “He passed three hours ago.”

“It’s not too late!” he yelled, his eyes widening. “I can save him. I can… the stone. I’ll use the stone!”

“Harry! He’s gone.” Gabriella pulled him close and whispered in his ear. “There’s nothing you can do for him.”

“But—”

“It’s Hermione who needs you now.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked. “He doesn’t deserve to die! If I just—” She turned him about to face the cot on the other side of his. Kneeled at its side was a redheaded wizard, wearing a scorched cloak. His sooty face streaked from tears, Ron looked up at Harry blankly, his eyes bruised and swollen.

“He killed her, Harry. The bastard killed her.”

“Ron,” said Gabriella calmly, “she’s not dead. Not yet.”

“She’s slipping, Gabriella. Just like Patrick. She was burning hot and now she’s turning cold.”

A grey-haired healer that Harry didn’t recognize walked over to Hermione’s side and passed his wand over her head, bathing it in orange light. He shook his head. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s the same as the boy,” he said. He looked at Harry. “Your friend there is right. If you know her, son, it’s time to say good-bye.”

Harry reached for Hermione’s hand; she was freezing. He looked back at Patrick. Would it be possible? He’d always been told that he couldn’t bring back the dead, that it would kill him instead. Could he save them both? He let go of Hermione’s hand and took a step toward Patrick. What if—

“No, Harry.”

Harry stopped. The voice was whispering in his ear again, only this time it was familiar. It couldn’t be. He stepped toward Patrick again.

“Yeh can’t save me, Harry. I ain’t there nomore. Close yer eyes and see; there’s nothin’ there teh bring back.”

Harry spun about looking for the prankster. The others seemed oblivious. Gabriella took his arm.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Didn’t you hear him?”

“Hear who?”

“Patrick!”

“Patrick?” she asked, looking down at his dead body. “Harry, I know you’re not feeling well, but Hermione needs you. There isn’t much time. Do it now, while I distract this new healer.” She turned to Madame Guérir and the healer at her side. “Excuse me, sir…” Taking him by the arm she began pointing at something at the end of the hospital ward. Soon, the three of them were well away.

The voice echoed in Harry’s ears once again. “Ferget about me. You’ve got teh— Oh no! I can see her! Hurry!”
Suddenly, somehow, Harry knew. Without hesitation, he summoned the vivificus stone. While Ron had his head buried at Hermione’s side, Harry whispered the incantation. “Bravery. Wisdom. Love.” All went white.

It had been so long since he’d used the stone, he wondered if it still was charged as Singehorn said it would be – charged by the ever enduring love of his friends. He would soon know. His mind turned to Hermione. At once colour began to fill the scene. “Heal her,” he whispered. “Heal her!”

The colours before him began to swirl about and a scene began to take shape. He expected to see Hermione, ill in her bed, surrounded by grey granite. But instead, the colours shifted from grey to green, green to grey, unable to settle on where they should be until finally they decided green. The vision of a forest glen appeared and in its center was Hermione, dressed in white and walking, her face bathed in the brilliant warmth of the sun.

“Hermione?” he called. At first she didn’t respond, smiling as she walked toward the sunlight. He called again. She turned.

“Harry?” she asked, her eyes squinting against the light. “Harry!” she ran over to him and hugged him, kissing his cheek. “I thought for sure you would have made it.” There was a tinge of sadness at the corners of her eyes, but they soon brightened. “Will you walk with me?” She took his hand and pulled him toward the sunlight, but he stood fast.

He understood this place. This was not his doorway, but Hermione’s. For a moment he wondered what would happen if he did take her hand and follow her to the other side. In fact, he was already sensing a warmth and happiness, if anything a yearning to walk with her through the glen.

“Hermione,” he said softly, “we need you back. This… this isn’t real. I need you to go back the way you came.”

“Are you mental?” she asked. “It’s freezing back there.”

“Here,” he held his arms out wide, “let me warm you up.” She hesitated, but his own welcoming smile drew her in. She wrapped her arms around him and he closed his eyes, reaching his mind inward, searching for her life force. It took some time, but soon he found it – a white light with what looked like a reddish twinkle encircled by an arc of icy-blue that was squeezing more tightly with each passing moment.

Harry wished that the dragons were at his side so that he could draw from their power. But then, just as the thought came into his mind, the scar on his arm began to burn, glowing white. He chuckled. They were there with him. They were always with him. He focused his thoughts on the circle of blue light.

"Incendiamos!"

Flame and heat filled his vision – a great firestorm. Red, yellow, gold swirled about as if being vacuumed into a giant bottle. There was a snap and all went green. He was in the glen again, but Hermione was no longer in his arms.

“Hermione!” he called. He began to run toward the sunlight. “Hermione!”

“Harry, stop!”

He turned to see Patrick, not so much standing in the glen as floating. Instead of forest behind him, there was a dark, tumultuous cloud. He looked thin, papery, a mere projection of the real boy.

“Yeh did it,” said Patrick with a smile. “She’s safe.” For an instant, Patrick’s eyes darted toward the sunlight, but settled back onto Harry. “It’s time yeh returned. We got a lot teh do, eh Harry? A deal to the end.”
“But, Patrick—”

The black cloud began to envelope the boy. As it wrapped about his torso, Patrick’s eyes looked back longingly upon the light. But his jaw was set, and his mind determined. He looked back at Harry and with his voice fading into a whisper he said, “I’ll watch yer back, if yeh watch mine.” Soon, the mist had taken him.

Harry reached out for him, but the ground beneath his feet fell away and all went white. A second later, he found himself on his knees, one hand steadied on the cold, rock floor, the other clutching the stone. He vanished it to its hiding place, and looked up only to see Hermione looking back down at him. She was seated in bed, Ron holding her tightly, her face radiant and her eyes clear.

Gabriella knelt down to Harry and pulled him to his feet. “Come, have some water.”

As he stood, he asked Hermione, “How do you feel?”

“Fine. I don’t know why everyone’s doting over me. Look at Ron! He’s a mess!”

Harry began to laugh, took a step and suddenly tilted a bit, his knees giving out from under him. Gabriella caught him just in time and steadied him. He was dizzy and the room wasn’t holding still.

“You’re weak,” she whispered. “You need to eat.”

“Patrick,” he said with a sigh, “he didn’t cross. Out of loyalty to me… I think he’s—”

A tremendously painful screech filled the air, followed by three short, loud howls.

“What in Merlin’s name is—”

“It’s Hogsmeade!” said Gabriella, her voice suddenly tight and panicked. “The attack’s begun.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 40 – The Second Battle

~~~***~~~

The two wizards beat their wings rhythmically against the cool breeze, steadying themselves high in the night sky. The mountain air was cold, but the air was clean and the stars as bright as ever – perfect for gazing. Directly above them, Mars burned brightly, a red dot that seemed to rage against the coming invader – Ebyrth. The comet was bright white with a tail that stretched out like a whip ready to strike. It was no ordinary comet and this was no ordinary evening. To the east the full moon was breaking over the horizon, the third full moon since the death of Albus Dumbledore. Soon its glow would join that of Ebyrth and bathe the ground below, turning night to day. The two wizards preferred darkness and, as the moon rose higher, one let out a low, guttural growl.

“After all this time, I thought you had mastered your fear,” thought the elder wizard. His protégé understood perfectly well.

“That doesn’t mean I have to like it,” he responded in kind.

“This night holds the answers for which you’ve been clambering all these many weeks. Your fate is on the precipice, Draco. The choices you make will be your own.”

“And if I fail?”

“We all fail, Draco. It’s just a question of how badly and how quickly we recover.”

During his time with Dakhil Barghouti, Draco Malfoy had learned many things. He had learned how to feed without killing, he had learned of the ancient magic and the spells that had long been lost, and he had learned how to control his transformation into a vampire, pushing the change to its limit – until no wizard remained and only the pure power of his new self remained. He was in that state now, hovering above the forest near Dakhil’s home. There was something scintillating about being so brutally powerful, but Draco still had trouble accepting his form.

Dakhil, having been turned into a vampire centuries ago, was wolfish in appearance and, one could say, attitude. His fur was a golden brown, and black dots speckled his head and ran down his back to where they coalesced into black bat-like wings. He was terrifying and yet beautiful to behold. As for Draco, he felt there was nothing beautiful about his own appearance. His shape was human, handsome even – two strong arms, two powerful legs and two great bat-like wings that rose high above his head with pointed, razor-sharp talons at the joints. His chest was muscular, certainly more muscular than his human form, with an abdomen that rippled below. His flesh, however, was lizard-like. Every inch of his body was covered in bluish-green scales which reflected his surroundings, making him nearly impossible to see in the dark.

Yet for all this, the reason he could not bear his own image was the distortion of his face and what, or who, it reminded him of. His skull was stretched tall to a dull pointed crown. His ears pointed upwards, sharp and keen. Worse yet, his red eyes and slit nostrils resembled those of a snake, and in this regard he looked in many ways the same as Voldemort when last he walked freely upon the earth. Indeed, Draco looked very much like the Voldemort of old except for this – Draco’s mouth was twice too large for his own face. It was a single circular orifice rimmed with jagged and sharp teeth with two tremendous fangs that curled down past his chin. It was a useful tool to dispatch the most difficult of prey and Draco had learned to do so without spilling a drop of precious blood. It was impossible to speak in this form, but he had learned to communicate telepathically, particularly with his mentor, and to growl his words when the mood struck him.

“I tried to walk this line before,” he growled. “It didn’t work.”

“Didn’t it?” queried Dakhil telepathically. “Your father was brought down, although not in the way you intended. Harry Potter survived.”

“He hates me.”

“He survived… and at this very moment prepares to battle the forces marching against Hogwarts; some which have sworn fealty to your banner.”

“They march for Voldemort.”

“I wonder. Magical oaths are not easily broken. For one so young, you have played your hand well. Still, your heart may be your undoing. I see it in your eyes whenever we speak of—”

“I have no heart.”

Dakhil smiled, if the exposure of the long rows of razor sharp teeth could be called such. “We have trained hard on this, Draco. Keep it hidden, particularly from your Dark Lord. You know Voldemort will mention his name and your eyes must reveal nothing… nothing but hatred.”

As the moon rose higher, Draco held his hand out in front of his face and considered it. The scales shimmered in the moon’s light and, as he made a fist, his long claws scratched against the inside of his wrist. He had often complained to Dakhil that he wanted to leave, but he never did, though he was free to do so. Tonight, he could no longer hide; he would have to choose sides. Yet tonight, he wanted more than ever to sit down with Dakhil by the fire in his hut and simply play a game of snap.

“Something troubles you,” said Dakhil.

A blur across the sky, Draco swooped away from Dakhil down to their small hut and transformed back into wizard form. His tongue swiping across the two small fangs that remained the only clue to his true identity, he took his robes off the hook by the door and slipped them on. He opened the door, only to find Dakhil inside, preparing something on the stove. Draco looked behind him and then back at Dakhil.

“How did you do that?” he asked with surprise.

“It will take many years for me to teach you everything you need to learn,” answered Dakhil. He smacked his lips. “All that flying makes me hungry. As I have said, it is best to stay fed… lest we lose ourselves to our lusts.” Dakhil flashed Draco a reproachful glance, reminding him of an error he had made just two nights before.

“I said I was sorry,” Draco exclaimed. “I told you that I’d pay for—”

“Money will not bring back their father.”

Without another word, Draco flopped down on the couch in front of the fire. He did not feel like having this argument again.

The young wizard watched the red embers glow in the fireplace. He no longer feared fire; just the opposite, daily he was growing more intrigued by fire and by dragons. And, while Dakhil normally answered every question Draco ever asked of him, he refused to say a single word about the dragons, or his work with them. Nor would he say what role Harry had in their secret society. Draco knew it was something powerful, something worth having. As he had done high in the sky, he held his hand in front of his face and made a fist. It seemed the fist of a child. He sighed, trying to understand this Jekyll and Hyde nature of himself. He wanted Harry’s power and he knew that was the very reason Dakhil would not share it with him. The old man may have taken Draco in, but he was no father – he would not give Draco everything he wanted and his rules were onerous. But Draco had come to respect him, to appreciate him, perhaps even—

“Come eat,” called Dakhil with his gruff, gravely voice. “There is little time, of this I am sure.”

Draco’s appetite was poor and, while he took a few half-hearted bites, he spent most the time watching Dakhil eat. The old man’s face was lined with deep creases and the veins shown through the thin skin of his hands. As a vampire, however, he was powerful and terrifying. Dakhil looked up and caught Draco’s eyes.

“Are you going to eat? Or are you just going to pick up a couple school children on your way to Britain?” Draco ignored the sarcasm.

“Why haven’t you…?” Draco searched for how to ask what he’d wanted to know all this time. “The things you’ve done… The things I’ve seen… As a vampire-wizard, you could defeat Voldemort single handed, couldn’t you?” The old wizard didn’t blink.

“Yes,” he answered, stabbing a bit of lamb with his fork and popping it into his mouth. “But there would be another. There’s always another.”

“But there is no other to fill your shoes, is there? Do you hate Harry? That he refused your offer to tutor him when he had the chance?”

“No. It is often the way with the most powerful of wizards. You must realize, Draco, that Harry’s life is short, while yours is eternal. Does it not then make more sense to invest in turning darkness to light while there is still hope?”

“Is that what I am? Darkness?”

“So many questions,” Dakhil said with a smile, but then his expression grew more sombre. “You were, Draco, but not wholly.”

“And now?”

“Now? Now, I do not know. The shadows you cast move with the moon. Your choices continue to be inconsistent, even when your challenges have been small. Tonight, all that will change. Tonight—” Dakhil suddenly stopped and looked down at his right forearm. There was a mark on it, the shape of an eye, which was beginning to glow white. Draco had never seen it before, but Dakhil looked as if he had somehow expected this sudden appearance on his arm. The old wizard stood up from the table and began to walk toward the door.

He was halfway across the room when the door burst open. Instinctively, Draco drew his wand, but, seeing the intruder, stayed his hand. A short, elderly woman with black hair stood in the frame of the doorway. She looked familiar, but Draco could not place the face.

“Soseh!” said Dakhil with a slight bow. “What a pleasant surprise. Mrs. Darbinyan may I introduce you to Mr. Draco Malfoy?” Soseh entered, keeping her eyes on Draco the whole time. Her gaze was neither warm, nor welcoming.

“So, this is the boy, Dakhil?”

“Yes.”

“Gabriella has spoken of him. Do you think it wise—”

“You’re the seer, my dear,” interrupted Dakhil. “You tell me.”

She stepped toward Draco. “Give me your hand, child.” She reached forward, but Draco stepped back, pulling his hand away. She stopped and turned toward Dakhil. “You realize that they’ve called you.”

“Yes.”

“Then why are you still here?”

Dakhil did not respond, but his eyes betrayed conflict.

“The attack at Hogwarts has begun. It has been an age since last I saw such darkness amass at one place. You knew of this night. You could be there already, but I find you here, having dinner with this… this…” She shook her head. “You know… H— our Primate has brought the dragons to defend the mountains, but with such a chance to wipe so much darkness from the face of the world…” She trembled slightly. “If we do not temper his response, you know what Singehorn and Ti-Lung will do, regardless the lives lost.”

“And your boy?” said Dakhil with a bit of a sardonic sneer. “The one who decimated a dozen hectares in Greece… our Primate… What will he do? Is he also ready as ever to wipe the slate clean? To demonstrate to all his true power?”

“The question is not where he is,” replied Soseh, fire building in her eyes. “The question is why you’re not now at his side?” She took Dakhil by the wrist and her finger pressed upon the glow of his forearm. “You… have… been… summoned.”

Dakhil’s eyes, thin slits, shot toward Draco and then back to Soseh. A warm smile broke out across his face. He hugged her and kissed her forehead. “Draco, if you wish to truly know the answers to your questions, do as Soseh says. There are none more wise than the woman here before you.” Dakhil slipped out his wand. “If only I were a few centuries younger…”

“And a few pounds heavier,” added Soseh warmly. “You don’t eat nearly enough.”

“And your werewolf friend does, I suppose?” asked Dakhil with a wink. He began to spin and, in a whirlwind, disappeared into the earth below. After he had vanished, Soseh let out a long sigh and wiped tears from her face. She turned toward Draco; the warmth in her eyes had vanished.

“Now, child,” she said, only now the tone in her voice was far more ominous. “Give me your hand.”
________________________________________





“Are you getting this?” The picture jarred to the right, then steadied.

“Yes, Colin,” said the announcer. “Everything’s coming in clear. Do be careful.” He cleared his throat nervously. “Witches and Wizards, as you can see… our worst fears have been realized. An attack of legendary proportion in now underway in Hogsmeade. Rest assured; the Ministry has the situation well in hand and are already prepared to— Oh my…. In Merlin’s name, what are those creatures?”

“I don’t know,” called back Colin Creevey, his voice breathless from running. “People… wizards… I can’t tell. They don’t have wands. All they want to do is destroy and there are only a few wizards here that know how to bring them down. Stunners don’t seem to have any effect. They just fall down and rise back up again.” The picture jerked again as a blast of green light jetted across the frame. “Whew, that was close.” He chuckled nervously. “Erm… there are dozens upon dozens of them. I overheard one of the professors from Hogwarts call them inferior. They don’t look very inferior to me.”

“Inferi,” whispered Hermione.

“What?” asked Ron.

“Those poor people,” answered Hermione pointing to the animated figures projected by the wireless in the great cavern. “They’re Inferi – people killed by a Dark wizard and then brought back to do their bidding.” She shuddered. “How many have they murdered on their way here?”

“Like pawns on a chessboard,” said Ron, holding Hermione’s hand.

There was a collective gasp in the great hall as a fantastic fireball filled their view. You could feel the heat. Someone, from behind the lens of Colin’s camera, had cast an enormous firespell. Flaming corpses scattered everywhere, many falling to the ground and turning to cinder.

“Wicked,” whispered Ron.

It was a horrific scene as the few remaining animated bodies ran into Hogsmeade structures, lighting them on fire. In a matter of minutes, most the shops in town were in flames.

“I can’t stay here,” said Harry weakly. “I’ve got to go.” He was standing, held in Gabriella’s arms, or more accurately, being held up by Gabriella’s arms.

“Harry, you can’t,” she said. “Maybe thirty minutes more, just till you get your bearings.”

“The town will be gone in thirty minutes.”

Hermione stepped over to bolster Gabriella’s position. “Nearly every wizard in the region is out there right now, Harry,” she said. “Hundreds have come from around the world to fight the darkness descending upon Britain. The Aurors… the professors… they can handle it.” After a moment’s hesitation, Harry nodded reaching his hand toward the arm of a chair so that he might sit down.

Suddenly, the whole cavern shook. Dust and bits of rock fell from the ceiling.

Colin’s voice could be heard calling out, “Giants! To the west, giants! Those can’t be ours… ours are… erm, that’s top secret.” His camera swung around and, after a moment, focused in on about a dozen enormous giants, towering over the train station. Each carried a club and they strode forth crashing through the station as if it were made of twigs. There were streaks of light raining down on them from on high. “There… do you see them, Smitty?” Colin called to the announcer. “On their brooms.”

More jets of light struck one of the lead giants and he fell to the ground, roaring in agony. There had to be two dozen or more wizards flying by broomstick. There was a flash of someone’s robes, black and white.

“That’s a Magpie!” cried Ron. “There’s another! Crimey it’s the whole bloody team!” Without another word, he hugged Hermione tightly in his arms.

“I- I- erm… stay safe,” he muttered. Then he turned and began to run out of the great cavern.

“Where are you going?” she asked, quickly following behind.

“To get my broom!”

“Ron!” She ran after him, the two disappearing down the corridor that led to the secret entrance of the castle. Harry groaned.

“This is ridiculous,” he muttered. “She was nearly dead an hour ago. I’ll bet a galleon to a knut she’ll be firing spells in Hogsmeade in less than an hour from now.”

“Well, she is a Gryffindor, after all,” said Gabriella warmly, stroking the side of Harry’s head. Harry tried to sit up, the small motion made the room tip on one side.

“I don’t understand it,” he gasped. “It’s never been like this before. Has the stone lost its power?”

“You’ve never walked so close to the abyss before, Harry. You heard the Healer; she was beyond hope. If but a few moments more had passed, we would have lost her.” Gabriella’s eyes furled. “We would have lost you both.” She kissed his forehead. “Rest, just a little while longer.”

Her voice was warm, and her touch soothing. Harry’s eyes closed and he began to lower his head against the back of the chair, when the whisperer returned.

“She, who you love, is soon lost.”

He froze opening his eyes wide, only to see his love looking back at him with warmth and compassion. A chill ran down his spine like never before.

“They’re talking to you again. Aren’t they?” she asked.

He had told her of the voices, the voices that he could hear before death came, voices that followed him since Greg Goyle had nearly killed him on his broom, voices that whispered in his ear since the day he once crossed over, the day Dumbledore risked his own life to save him. The ghosts said a little piece of him had died that day. Sensing his feelings and knowing the events playing out, she knew what was wrong. She always knew his heart, sometimes before he knew it himself.

“There’s death all around, Harry. Of course they’re telling you about it. Many will die tonight. Many already have.”

Harry held her shoulder and lifted himself to his feet. “This is different,” he said nervously, for it was different. He’d never been told about individuals – never been told specifics. It was always, soon, or tonight. Why suddenly now was he being given a mini prophecy? How had things changed? “I… I can’t wait here. I’ve got to fight. They can’t reach you.”

“You’re speaking gibberish. No one can reach us down here. Ten minutes, Harry,” she pleaded. “Just ten more minutes.”

He shook his head to clear his mind and tried to straighten his robes. He gathered in a long deep breath and let it out slowly. There was another gasp from those gathered around the wireless. Something exploded on camera, sending debris into the room.

“Bit close for comfort,” he could hear Colin broadcasting. “I’ve never seen so much wandfire. Wizards are starting to find it difficult to Apparate. I’m pulling back to the lake while I can.”

“Promise me you’ll stay here,” Harry said emphatically, pointing at the ground. “Right here.”

“Sure, if you stay here with me,” she answered.

“I can’t. You know I can’t. I have to stop this before… before it’s too late.”

“Jamie’s safe, Harry. They both are.”

“That… that’s not what I’m talking about and you know it.” Harry slowly shook his head. “I won’t have more die on my account.” Suddenly, his face got all screwed up and his eyes became accusatory slits. “You did burn Voldemort’s robes, didn’t you? Talisan torched them with all she could?” There was the briefest hesitation before Gabriella answered.

“I told you I would, Harry,” she answered smoothly. “I’ve never seen Talisan’s breath burn brighter.”

“Good,” he said, nodding to himself. “Good. One less thing to worry about.”

He began to walk away, weaving his way down the corridor that led to the forest entrance. He was so week, so unsteady, that Gabriella was able to get in front of him and, walking backwards, she tried to convince him to stay.

“You know… I could push you over with a feather!” she cried. “This is suicide! Are you crazy?”

Harry’s eyes were glazed and just looked passed her. “Yes.”

“What good does it do anybody, if you go and get yourself killed?”

He remained silent, pressing forward, clutching at the stones on the cavern wall every now and then for support. It took some time before they made it to the outer perimeter and passed through the hidden entrance. In that time, his strength began to return. His balance was steadier and, at least, the ground had stopped shifting beneath his feet. Gabriella still paced in circles about him and there was nothing he could say to stop her. Finally, they stepped out into the forest and both were surprised by the level of light. Ebyrth raged above and, just above the horizon, the full moon shone bright. Harry grabbed her by the shoulders.

“You swore you wouldn’t follow me!”

“I haven’t been! I’ve been one step in front of you the whole time!”

“You have to go back to the caverns. You can’t come with me!” he snapped. “So help me, if you… I’ll…”

“I’d like to see you try!”

There was a crack, a rustling of leaves. Gabriella didn’t notice, but Harry did. Quickly his head turned toward the sound and, instinctively, his mind reached out. There were four Centaurs moving quickly in their direction. Two, Harry knew at once; one was Ronan. A moment later they were at Harry’s side – an energy and nervousness in their demeanour that Harry had not seen since he first stepped into these woods. He placed his fist over his chest and bowed.

“Ronan,” he said solemnly. “What news?” The Centaur was flanked by Shahan and two others that Harry did not know. He was certain they were new to the herd. All returned Harry’s bow, all but Shahan who deliberately took a step back so the others would not notice his breach of etiquette.

Ronan stepped toward Harry and Gabriella. “The hour is near at hand, Harry Potter,” he said. He glanced again to the night sky and Harry followed his gaze, trying to decipher for himself what it was they were looking at. There was something hopeful, he thought, in that the glowing night sky diminished the red planet. Perhaps it was an omen. Harry said as much, but Ronan pointed toward Hogsmeade. The town was on fire and the billowing smoke was floating over the forest, blanketing the sky.

“You let the veil of smoke cloud your vision,” said one of the other Centaurs.

“One does not need to look to the stars to see that there is a devil among us!” snapped Shahan. “Behold! Even as we speak, his minions gather.”

Harry wondered what he was talking about, but only for a moment. A number of ghosts began to swirl about, shimmers of light fading into and about the trees and canopy of the forest. Men, women and children, all walking dead. Not Inferi, but rather unbound souls trapped here on their own accord, with the free will to do all they wished save for one thing. They could not return to the light.

“They whisper his name!” said Shahan, pointing his finger at Harry.

“Ronan,” said Harry, “they follow me, because they believe I can deliver them to… Merlin, I don’t know where. Heaven, I guess. They’re waiting for the birth of a new sun. It’s rubbish!”

The look on Ronan’s eyes was anything but dismissive. His front hoof pawed at the earth and he turned to consider the swirling spirits. He was about to say something when the forth Centaur spoke out.

“They are not the only troubling signs,” he said. “More dragons continue to assemble on the northern mountains; more than you had originally told us of. You say they follow you, but they seem impatient, wishing to join battle.”

“I’ve told them to guard that pass,” said Harry, “however impenetrable it might appear to be. The dragons and I are of one mind in this regard; you have my word. They will not join the battle of wizards who now all fight upon the front lines in Hogsmeade.”

“Then it is as I have said!” cried Shahan, glaring at Ronan as if to prove a previously argued point, his eyes wide and defiant. “Our time is at hand! No one now guards the castle. Ronan, it is our chance to regain what was taken from us! To take back that which was ours before these pests invaded. To control the magic of the forest for ourselves!”

“Control?” yelled Ronan. Harry had never seen him yell like this before. “Are you so arrogant that you believe you have any hope of controlling this forest? You have as much hope as standing upon the highest hill that you might touch the lowest star.”

“Do you not see what is happening?” retorted Shahan. “The signs?” There was a long pause – no one spoke. “You know of what I speak, Ronan. Tell your precious colt who Mars really is.” Shahan stepped forward, between the other Centaurs and came before Harry.

“Mars is not some half-wraith of a wizard, struggling to bring himself back to life. Mars holds the power to destroy us all. When he swallows Ebyrth we will all be decimated. Who, Harry Potter, holds such power? Who would swallow it?” He drew an arrow from his quiver. “Or have you not already?” Shahan held the arrow in his hand and pointed it at the Stone of Cinnabar hidden in Harry’s chest.

“YOU are Mars, Harry Potter. YOU, holding the stone of blood, have come to destroy us all!”

Shahan lunged forward, his arrow pointed straight at Harry’s heart. Before Harry could react, a shield of shimmering light suddenly appeared. The arrow struck it and snapped in Shahan’s hand. Harry stepped back only to discover three ghosts had appeared between him and his attacker.

“That’s not possible,” whispered Harry. He reached out and touched them. They were substantive, solid, but in the next instant they faded into smoke and disappeared.

“Shahan!” yelled Ronan. “Have you lost your senses?”

Shahan’s eyes were on fire, his teeth grinding so loudly they all could hear. He was ready to strike again, when a tremendous screech came from overhead. Harry looked up, half expecting to find a dragon, but instead there were a dozen spirits, diving down to attack. Shahan considered them for a moment and then turned and ran, disappearing into the dense foliage, the spirits chasing him the whole way.

“Ronan,” said Harry apprehensively, “is what he said true. Am I Mars? Is that what you believe?” He looked at the others. “Is that what you all believe?”

“What I know,” said Ronan, stepping forward, “is that you are the Chosen. As for your purpose…” His eyes lifted toward the heavens. “We will know soon.”

Ronan looked at his companions. “Come, let us find him before he is lost to us forever.” In a blur they were gone.

For a moment, Harry wanted to follow, to find out more, but then Gabriella took his hand and reached about his waist.

“C- Come on, Harry,” she stammered, her voice strangely unsteady and shaky.

In all the commotion, he’d completely forgotten about her apprehension, her fear of Centaurs, of the vision that foretold her death. Harry was certain that Shahan’s actions did not go far to dispel those fears. She pulled him back toward the entrance of the caverns.

“Let’s go inside,” she said, preparing to re-open the secret door.

“I can’t. I have to do what I can.”

He could see fear in her eyes, but now, looking more deeply into the pools of black, he wasn’t sure the cause. Perhaps Centaurs; perhaps something more… What, exactly, was she afraid of?

“I’m not a monster,” he said quietly, almost unsure himself. “I… I’ve learned. I swear. I understand now.”

She reached her arms about him and held him close, resting her head upon his shoulder.

“I’m cold.”

He stroked her back. “It’s okay,” he whispered. “I promise. I—”

It was cold – suddenly cold, as if an icy wind had just appeared from the north. It was a bad stench, from a garbage pit in which Harry had grown accustomed to working.

“Dementors,” he hissed.

He turned, brandishing his wand. Overhead, one Dementor after another passed above the trees, headed toward Hogsmeade. There were dozens. They had circled around and were going to come in from behind on the wizards protecting Hogwarts.

“I can’t blast them,” said Harry, cursing. “They’re too bloody high.” He shot a patronus upward, but it faded too soon. The Dementors took no notice, or if they did, they ignored the threat in preference to their primary mission.

“The dragons,” he whispered.

“Harry… no,” cautioned Gabriella. “Keep them away from the fight. You have to understand… Singehorn… You can’t.”

Harry wasn’t sure what to do. “I have to warn them, Gabriella. I have to. Please, go inside.”

“But—”

“Go inside!” Clutching his wand tightly, he kissed her squarely on the lips. “I promise… I won’t—”

There was an incredible flash of light that filled the sky. Not fire… more like lightening. There were screeches and then the night lit up again with explosions, almost like fireworks. Someone was casting a spell above the treetops. The second time, Harry heard it.

“Siad Adumai!”

Again the air filled with light, followed by screams and then an explosion of multi-coloured sparkles.

“Ron?” Harry muttered to himself. A dark figure with great wings swept across the sky. It was so large, as it passed in front of the moon, Harry thought briefly that it might be a dragon. There was another flurry of spells followed by fireworks. Then, everything fell silent. Harry was going to say something to Gabriella when a great gust of wind swirled about them and, only a few yards in front of the couple, there appeared Dakhil Barghouti, wearing dark robes and smoking a cigar.

He stepped toward them, took in a long draft on his Cuban import which flamed orange, and let out a long billowing plume of smoke. Smiling, he gave Gabriella a hug.

“Hello, my dear,” he greeted her warmly. “I didn’t expect to see you in Centaur country.” He cast a scathing glance at Harry and then puffed on his cigar to gather his composure.

“I’d offer you a cigar, Potter,” he said, not looking at the wizard, “but I’ve only got two left and I believe I’ll need them both this evening.”

“Was that… you?” asked Gabriella, pointing at the sky.

“Well, your mother stopped in and said that I should be here at Harry’s side fighting. You know how she can be. I didn’t expect to find you hiding in the trees.”

“We’re not hiding!” snapped Harry.

“Having tea perhaps?” said Dakhil, his words dripping with sarcasm. “Though I don’t see any of those little crackers you people seem to enjoy so much.”

“I’m headed to Hogsmeade right now,” said Harry, his jaws clenched.

“Sure you were, er… are. And you’re planning on leaving Gabriella here in the forest, alone are you?”

“Listen!” Harry yelled. “She… YOU… Argh!” He threw his hand out and a bolt of red light erupted from his palm cracking the trunk of a tree in two. The expense of energy dropped Harry to his knees. Gabriella fell to her own and offered him support.

“Curious,” said Dakhil, stroking his chin. “You should have sustained that spell.” He stepped around the two like a shark circling its prey. “Your robes are clean; you haven’t been fighting. What’s going on?” For the first time there was a sense of concern in his words.

“I don’t understand it,” said Gabriella nervously. “He should be better by now.”

A ghost appeared, standing in the middle of the fallen tree. “He has died a little more,” said the spirit with a smile. “More of his soul is turning toward the light. It is better than I had hoped, better than any of us had hoped.” Dozens of ghosts appeared in a large ring surrounding Harry, staring at him expectantly.

“Get away from him!” cried Gabriella as she helped Harry to his feet. The ghosts faded away. “He used the stone,” she said to Dakhil, “to save Hermione Granger. I think… I think he went further than he should have.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Harry indignantly. “Should I have let her die?”

“No… that’s not what I meant.”

“I did exactly what needed to be done. And… I… I am perfectly fine!” he cried, snapping his arm from her grasp. Briefly, he remembered that he had considered joining Hermione in her walk toward the light, but he shook his head and quickly dismissed those thoughts. He walked over to Dakhil. “Keep up… if you can old man.” Just as the Centaurs had done, Harry vanished in a blur towards Hogsmeade.

Gabriella gasped. “He’s not ready to fight.”

Dakhil took her by the shoulder. “My dearest Gabriella, he’s been ready all his life. To win this battle, he doesn’t need his wand. He doesn’t need magic.” He kissed her forehead. “Now, be a good girl. Stay in the caverns; you’ll be safe there.” Instantly, he transformed into a vampire and flew up above the trees, disappearing into the night, leaving Gabriella alone.

The night was still. The crickets chirped and the breeze blew lazily through the trees, rustling the leaves and, as they waved to and fro, the sound of the ocean filled the air. Gabriella closed her eyes and was transported back to the beaches of Lebanon. Wave after wave swept up onto the sandy shore, occasionally crashing with a boom upon the rocks. She could see the colours of the sunset, rippling in the waves. It was beautiful.

There was a Centaur, walking across the white sand, its dark coat wet and foamed with perspiration. He had travelled long and hard to find her. He notched an arrow in his bow, focussing on his target, slowly pulled back the string, and let if fly with a distinctive thwang!

Gabriella opened her eyes in horror. Her hand shaking, she pulled her wand and began to run through the forest, crying out Macleta’s name. How could she have been so wrong?

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