Moody's Blues by gryffins_door



Summary: The adults in Harry's life start acting more like adults; in the meantime, Harry discovers something special in Ginny. Starts late in OotP; mostly canon to that point. Total AU after Book 6. H/G, mentor Moody.
Rating: PG-13 starstarstarstarhalf-star
Categories: Post-OotP, Alternate Universe
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2021.08.21
Updated: 2022.07.09


Index

Chapter 1: Question
Chapter 2: I'm Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band
Chapter 3: Dear Diary
Chapter 4: Departure
Chapter 5: Tuesday Afternoon
Chapter 6: The Voice
Chapter 7: Melancholy Man
Chapter 8: Steppin' In A Slide Zone
Chapter 9: The Day We Meet Again
Chapter 10: Fly Me High


Chapter 1: Question

Author's Notes: Originally conceived for challenge "The One Where Everyone Finds Out," this story came to me while I was streaming a playlist from one of the great bands that pioneered progressive/symphonic rock. Feel free to listen while reading; chapter titles are song titles.

Dedication: He didn't know much about Harry Potter, but he knew about life - a man of exceptional character, intellect and strength - my personal mentor, my dad, went from independent elder gentleman to dreaded diagnosis to his next great adventure in a matter of weeks as I started on chapter ten of this story. He hikes the hills of heaven now.


- 1 -
Question

Why do we never get an answer
When we're knocking at the door?
With a thousand million questions
About hate and death and war

o

But in the grey of the morning
My mind becomes confused
Between the dead and the sleeping
And the road that I must choose.

- The Moody Blues

o o
o

Harry Potter sat by the shore of the Black Lake, feeling like a boat adrift, buffeted by the emotions that stormed wildly just below the surface, ready to leap outward at anything that came too close.

It was only the third day since that fool’s errand to save his godfather, Sirius Black, in the Department of Mysteries only to find that his godfather didn’t actually need rescuing. It had been instead a trap meant to bring him to the Hall of Prophecy and retrieve a prophecy he didn’t even know existed. It resulted in his godfather rescuing Harry then losing his own life through the Veil of Death.

It was a tragic irony, and the feelings of guilt and foolishness would not leave him alone despite how much his friends tried to convince him that the fault did not lie with him, but the Dark Lord who engineered the trap.

And then - the evening’s coup de grâce - Headmaster Dumbledore gave him the contents of that same prophecy, which said that he was marked the night his parents were murdered, that he must kill their murderer or be killed himself. And he had no idea how to share this with his friends, making excuses and running out of the hospital wing when it came up. He had gone to see Hagrid, but the groundskeeper kept on about how sorry he was about Sirius, so Harry had to escape from there as well.

“I see you’ve found my favorite spot to brood,” said a familiar voice.

Harry turned to see Ginny Weasley, youngest of those same five friends - these amazing friends of his who insisted on going into the unknown with him and were all recovering nicely from the ordeal, thanks to the healing magic of Madame Pomfrey. Ginny’s sprained ankle and Neville Longbottom’s busted lip had been fixed in no time at all, Ginny’s brother Ron was under observation after coming into contact with disembodied brains, and Luna Lovegood hadn’t been injured at all. Only Hermione Granger was still on a strict potion regimen after taking a nasty Death Eater’s curse.

“Mind if I join you?” Ginny hesitated. “Or I can leave, if you’d rather be alone.”

“No, it’s OK, I’m just feeling a little tetchy still. I’m trying not to be a git about it.”

“Well, that’s something, I suppose,” she said with a chuckle, settling herself beside him. “I saw McGonagall is back.”

“Yeah, she gave us fifty points apiece for the other night, so Snape would have some to take away.”

“Snape took points? What was it this time?”

“I ran into Malfoy and his goons and they started trash talking. I guess I was supposed to be all bothered by their threats, but I wasn’t so they went for their wands -”

“And you were faster?”

“Yes, but Snape was right there.”

Ginny smiled. “He was probably waiting there the whole time, just to catch you in the act. He didn’t take points from the Slytherins, I bet.”

“Of course not.” He looked at her appraisingly. “You’re probably right. The whole thing may have been a setup.”

“It’s what I would do if I was a sneaky, greasy bastard like him.”

“Ginny!” Harry cried in mock horror. “What would your mum say?”

“Nothing at all,” she said imperiously, “because no one is going to tell her I said that, right Potter?”

They laughed for a fleeting moment, then remained staring out at the shimmering water as the giant squid playfully splashed its tentacles.

“Thanks, Ginny,” Harry said.

“Hey, what are friends for, right?”

He looked away. “I’m kind of dangerous to have as a friend, you know.”

She reached for his arm. “Harry, we are not going to stop being your friends because we ran into a spot of trouble.”

“Ginny, we could have gotten killed and I . . . don’t know how to deal with that. Sirius is gone because I was stupid. Trouble sort of follows me around. And . . . it’s not going to get any better.”

“Why, just because a random prophecy probably says you and Tom have to battle it out sometime?”

He dropped his head.

“Merlin,” Ginny gasped, “you know what it says, don’t you?”

“Ginny…” Harry looked back at her, his eyes reflecting the depths of his despair and anguish.

“Oh, Harry,” she sighed, wrapping him in a hug.

Harry’s emotions were riding high again, for this impossible task that lay before him, for the loss of his godfather, and for the knowledge that his parents were gone because of him, and no matter how much he fought to avoid it, Ginny’s arms were squeezing them over the edge.

He wept.

The tears leaked slowly at first, but it was as if a gate opened and the pressure gave way. Ginny felt her shoulders getting wet as he shuddered in wracking sobs. She held on, trying to outlast his grief, nearly coming undone herself.

o o o

Ginny observed that Harry remained quiet - distant even - from everyone the last few days of term. He had apologized after his breakdown by the lake, but she had reassured him that everyone needed to “let it all out” occasionally and she was glad to be there for him. Hermione in particular seemed to want to talk to him about the death of Sirius, but Ginny and Ron kept running interference for him.

Ginny thought he was grateful, but there was something else going on with Harry. Maybe she was imagining it, but he seemed to glance her way more often, like she was a piece to a puzzle he was trying to solve.

Wishful thinking, she was probably imagining things. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t wind him up a little.

The opportunity presented itself on the Hogwarts Express end-of-year return journey. Ginny was in a compartment with Harry and the others who had assisted him on the Ministry mission, when Cho Chang, along with DA traitor Marietta Edgecombe, passed by their window, looking embarrassed. A lively conversation ensued about her relationship with Harry.

“Mate, she’s good-looking and all that,” said Ron as he surveyed the chess board between himself and Harry, “but you really want someone a bit more cheerful.”

Harry shrugged and looked back at the chessboard, not really caring to impress the Ravenclaw seeker anymore. “She’s probably cheerful enough with someone else.”

“That someone else would be Michael Corner,” Ginny chimed in from behind the Quibbler magazine she was reading.

“Michael Corner?” said Ron, turning to her. “But you were going out with him!”

“Not anymore,” she returned. “He got really sulky after Gryffindor beat Ravenclaw at Quidditch. He wouldn’t let it go so I ditched him - the sore loser - and he and Cho got together to comfort each other.”

Harry let out a small huff of amusement at that.

“Well, good for you. I always thought he was a bit of an idiot,” Ron said, glancing up towards Harry. “Just choose someone - better - next time.”

“What about Dean Thomas,” said Ginny, “would you say he’s better?” She caught Harry’s sharp look and gave him a quick wink.

Harry turned away in surprise as Ron went on a mini-rant about how his little sister was going to get a reputation if she wasn’t careful. Harry could not avoid the heat rising in his cheeks as Ginny laughed away everything her brother threw at her. What was this feeling he was having? Was he still self-conscious over his meltdown by the lake, or was this something else? He couldn’t think clearly on it, only that there was something different about Ginny Weasley this year, more than just her brilliance in the DA and her assistance at the Ministry.

The only thing he was sure about was that, unless he was invited to the Burrow in short order, he would have plenty of time to think about it at the Dursleys’.

o

Back to index


Chapter 2: I'm Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band

Author's Notes: Ch 2 in which Harry receives a unique gift from a unique friend...


- 2 -
I'm Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band

A thousand pictures can be drawn from one word
Only who is the artist
We got to agree
A thousand miles can lead so many ways
Just to know who is driving
What a help it would be

- The Moody Blues

o o
o

The ride back to Number 4 Privet Drive was thankfully very quiet. Harry's Uncle Vernon was still fuming over the intimidation tactics used by members of the Order of the Phoenix at the train station. After Vernon's blustering attempt to tell them off, Harry had almost convulsed in laughter when Mad-Eye Moody turned his fake yet magical eye onto Vernon, sending him into the wall in terror. It was a memory worthy of a patronus.

Three days later Harry had sent off his "well-being" letter to let everyone know that his relatives were still letting him be. Harry was quite alright with being ignored; it was a far sight better than their usual haranguing.

His snowy owl Hedwig returned through the open window of his bedroom with a package.

"Hey there, girl," he said, stroking her beautiful feathers, "what did you bring me?"

She hooted as if to say, see for yourself .

"Fine, fine," he said, removing the package. "Here's a treat for you."

She affectionately nipped his finger, snatched the treat and flew to her perch.

Harry opened the attached note and smiled, seeing it was from Luna Lovegood, who always had a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything, almost as if she lived in some kind of parallel reality. He still reflected on her recent insights on death and the veil in the Department of Mysteries.

Dear Harry:

I wanted to say how sorry I was for the loss of your godfather, Stubby Boardman. Since he was a musician and music always makes me feel better, I am sending this record so that you might feel better too. It was a favorite of my mum's and we listened to it together a lot before she died.

Your friend, Luna.

Harry shook his head. This message, despite her continued insistence that Sirius was a famous singer in disguise, was remarkably straightforward for her.

Death, he mused, had a way of clarifying things.

He tore open the thin package revealing a muggle LP record album; the cover art appeared to be a barren landscape with a title floating in a gray sky:

The Moody Blues
Seventh Sojourn

Somewhat surprised that magicals would listen to muggle music, Harry thought about why she would send a recording from this particular band. He knew some of their songs and "Nights in White Satin" came to his mind immediately. He remembered it as a song of love despite loneliness and loss, and for some reason he always thought of his parents.

His relatives had a stereo sound system downstairs that he was normally not allowed to use, but he supposed that it was because he didn't have any records of his own.

That was no longer the case.

Uncle Vernon was at work, Aunt Petunia had gone to the market and his cousin Dudley was probably with his friends terrorizing the smaller kids at the playpark. There was no one to tell him he couldn't play his own record.

So he did.

Harry began to listen, and he enjoyed it as much as Luna predicted he would. Even more, several of the songs spoke to him. He certainly felt like he was "Lost in a Lost World" at times; the songs about desperation in the desire for freedom struck a chord deep in his soul that he wasn't even aware he had. What was freedom? Could he ever be free if he had a destiny with the darkest wizard of the age?

When he heard "I'm never gonna lose your precious gift, it will always be that way" in "New Horizons" he immediately thought of Sirius. That gift was hope - hope in a future that his parents would be proud of, that the sacrifices they all made for him would be worth it. As the song ended, "I know I'm gonna find my peace of mind, someday," he determined to make that peace a reality, not just for himself, but for his friends and everyone else as well.

The next song caught his breath - it sounded something like an accordion made of flutes with guitar accompaniment - and it was mesmerizing. Hermione could probably have told him of the keyboard instruments like the Chamberlin and the Mellotron that played recorded tapes of actual instruments, but to him it seemed like a beautiful dance. It was a love song contrasting the "stormy seas" of the singer's life with the safe port offered by his love, where he could release all his troubles, giving his life completely "For My Lady."

These weren't sappy pop lyrics; this song went far beyond teenage infatuation. There was a sense of tenderness and dedication between two persons that truly cared for each other and together could take on the world. He began to feel that this was a part of life that he was missing, and a longing for something began to ache in his chest. Was this what love - or the lack of love - did to someone? Was this what Dumbledore had spoken to him about; was this his unknown power?

The record ended with the driving "I'm Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band" which he knew as a really good rock and roll song. Listening closely, as he did with all the songs on the album, that somehow the lyrics related to some aspect of his life experience. People "frightened by the people who are scorching this earth" reminded him of the aftermath of the Quidditch World Cup when the Death Eaters decided to come out and play with the Muggles that owned the land. He suspected that there was much more and worse coming in the near future. The song seemed to be a call for action when it said "Don't tell me I'm just a singer in a rock and roll band." It made him even more determined to be ready for the coming storm, whatever shape it took.

He was well into his third listen of the album when he heard the front door opening and, unable to break out of his trance, his Aunt Petunia was standing beside him, grocery bags in hand, brows furrowed.

"Where did you get that record?" she insisted.

"A friend sent it to me," he said in a rush. "I waited until everyone was out so I didn't bother you."

She stood motionless for a long moment, listening.

"It was one of the few things Lily and I never disagreed on," she finally said, almost reverently. "Music, especially the Moody Blues, was something we enjoyed together."

Harry gaped at her. His aunt never said anything nice about his mum.

She indicated the cabinet next to the stereo. "I have almost the whole collection in there. I trust you know how to handle a record without fingerprints or scratches?"

Harry nodded.

"Don't let Vernon or Dudley see you. Vernon hates rock music and you know your cousin would tell him."

Harry nodded again. His aunt was actually giving him permission?

She started toward the kitchen, then hesitated. "The last letter I got from her, she said she sang one of their songs to you as a lullaby and you really liked it - 'Nights in White Satin.'"

Harry's eyes began to glaze over.

Just what the truth is, I can't say anymore. 'Cause I love you, yes I love you, oh how I love you.

"Days of Future Passed," she said.

"What?"

"That's the name of the album," she said, turning away.

Harry got the feeling her eyes were shining as well.

o o o

Professor Dumbledore picked Harry up at the end of two weeks, despite his doubts it would actually happen. After a frank discussion with Harry's relatives and establishing that Harry was indeed Sirius' true heir in everything - including the miserable house-elf Kreacher - he and the headmaster had an odd encounter with an old teacher named Horace Slughorn, successfully convincing him to come out of retirement and resume his position at Hogwarts.

Once that mission had been accomplished, Dumbledore side-along apparated Harry to the Burrow, the magically quaint home of the Weasleys. They ducked into the old broom shed for a quick private word before going their separate ways.

Dumbledore thanked Harry for his assistance with Slughorn and mentioned that he seemed to be doing well with the loss of his Godfather, all things considered.

"I know Sirius would be extremely proud of how you have handled yourself," he said.

"Thank you, sir," said Harry. "I've had a chance to think about what is coming and I know I have to be ready. It still hurts knowing that I won't be able to see him anymore, but he would probably tell me off if I spent a lot of time mourning what could have been. Life's too short - look at what's happened to Madame Bones and the others - the Death Eaters will be coming after me and I want to take down as many as I can, and Tom too, since I know he won't stop."

"Very well said, Harry, and you're probably correct about what Sirius would say. Now, I gather that you have been reading the Daily Prophet recently?"

"Yes, sir, and they can't stop talking about our trip to the Department of Mysteries and calling me 'The Chosen One' - everybody knows now -"

"Actually, Harry," Dumbledore said, "They do not. You and I are the only two people in the world that know the full contents of the prophecy. It has been speculated that Voldemort and his Death Eaters went to the Hall of Prophecy to attempt a theft of a prophecy that might have concerned you, but they have no specifics and we intend to keep it that way. I do expect, however, that you may want to share it with your closest friends; they deserve no less."

Harry hung his head. "I haven't yet, but Ginny . . . she sort of figured out the gist of it when we were talking a few days after. It was still pretty fresh on my mind and I couldn't . . ."

"Do not trouble yourself over it. Miss Weasley is a bright and observant individual, not unlike Miss Granger in that regard."

Dumbledore was thoughtful for a moment.

"Tell me, Harry, have you discussed events surrounding the Chamber of Secrets with Miss Weasley?"

"No, sir, not really. I guess it was something we both would rather forget."

"Yes, understandably so, but unfortunately some things are not so easily forgotten. How would you describe your encounters with Tom over the years?"

Harry frowned. "Mostly pretty traumatic. I always felt dirty afterward, yet glad to have survived."

"Yet they were brief, while Miss Weasley suffered his possession for several months."

Harry considered that as the discussion continued. She had reminded him, quite emphatically, when Mr. Weasley was in hospital after Nagini's attack, and he felt guilty of neglecting to do what Dumbledore was suggesting.

The headmaster closed by urging Harry to keep his invisibility cloak on hand at all times and informing him that he would be giving Harry special lessons the coming term, but was not forthcoming on exactly what would be included in those lessons.

Yet the lessons were not what Harry was thinking about as they approached the Burrow - it was something else that Dumbledore had said.

"Not all scars are visible on the surface, Harry."

o

Back to index


Chapter 3: Dear Diary

Author's Notes: Ch 3 in which Harry finally has a birthday party…


- 3 -
Dear Diary

Dear Diary, what a day it's been
Dear Diary, it's been just like a dream
Woke up too late, wasn't where I should have been
For goodness sake
What's happening to me?

- The Moody Blues

o o
o

Ginny flopped back again to her right side and stared at the limply hanging moonlit curtains. The third week of summer and she was already feeling restless. Sleep was fleeting this night, so she decided a visit to the kitchen was necessary. Desperate measures and all that, she thought wryly.

Donning her old dressing gown - really needing a larger one now - she negotiated the steps down, avoiding those notorious for their squeaks and groans. Oddly, the kitchen was already lit, but it was no surprise seeing the dark-mopped head sitting there sipping on a tea mug.

"So you've found another of my special brooding spots, Mr. Potter. If I didn't know better, I'd say you must have some talent in divination."

Harry looked up, startled at her voice. Then he snorted. "Divination? I did well as long as I predicted some personal disaster every week."

Ginny sat, looking thoughtful. "I do believe you have a point."

"What, that I'm good at divination?"

"Hah - as if!" Ginny said. "No, I meant that you seem to have some of the worst luck of anyone I know. What was it you said - trouble follows you around?"

Harry nodded. "It seems that way sometimes."

"Ever since I've known you, you've had more bad things happen to you than should be allowed. And I only heard stories about what went on before that, and what your life was like before Hogwarts."

"Yeah," Harry said, wincing, "but I'd rather not get into all that."

"And then," she continued in earnest, "you just recently found out that this nonsense started even before you were born! What I want to know is, who died and made you Fate's personal chew toy?"

Harry stared at her incredulously, then began to laugh.

"Fate's chew toy?"

"Harry, what exactly did Dumbledore tell you about the prophecy?"

With a sigh, Harry told her the story he'd heard the night after their trip to the Ministry of Magic, how the headmaster was interviewing Trelawny for the divination post and was ready to dismiss her when she went into a trance and uttered the words that changed his life.

"And he's sure that you were the one that met the criteria?"

"He said at first there was one other, but when Tom 'marked' me, that sealed it. And the Unspeakables must've agreed, because they put my name on the bloody orb."

"And this power you're supposed to have?"

Harry looked down at his mug. "It was kinda strange - he talked about a locked room in the Department of Mysteries where they study this wonderful yet dangerous thing, something that Tom never had or understood but I am supposed to have a lot of . . ."

Ginny held her breath.

"Heart."

"What?"

"Dumbledore thinks that I care for others so much and that's what is going to help me defeat Tom. But . . . I have no idea how that's supposed to work."

Ginny laid her hand on his. "He's not wrong, you know."

Harry stared at her hand, how small it seemed, yet full of warmth.

"What else did he tell you?" Ginny said, finally breaking the silence.

"Oh, some death eater was hiding outside the room and overheard the first part before being caught and tossed out of there."

Ginny sucked in a breath. "And of course he reported it to Tom straight away, setting up what happened that Halloween."

Harry could only nod again.

"So Tom didn't know that by 'marking you' - I assume with that scar - he would basically set the prophecy in motion?"

"Yeah, that was Dumbledore's thought, too."

"And this was months before you were born."

"Uh-huh."

"See what I mean? Fate's chew toy!"

Harry's face darkened. "Ginny, Dumbledore said I could talk to you guys about this, but you can't tell anyone that you know anything about it. I haven't even shared the details with Ron or Hermione yet."

"Really?" Ginny said, surprised that Hermione's thirst for knowledge hadn't bubbled over into an interrogation session. "Any bets on how long she'll last?"

"I'm deadly serious about this," Harry returned. "In fact, don't even let them know I've told you about it. That way no one can get that information out of their heads."

"You're keeping secrets from them?"

"Look, everyone knows that Ron, Hermione and me hang out together and share everything. They don't know about you - you can pretend that you're not close to us and they won't come after you - "

"And that's worked so well in the past? What about Malfoy and Tom's diary?"

Harry sighed. "Ginny, I am so sorry that happened to you, but Malfoy was targeting your dad through you. You were just a means to an end, you know?"

"But Tom ended up using me for his own ends!"

"Yes, he did, but that was just young Tom trying to find a way out of the diary. He wasn't after you specifically."

"But what if he finds out it was me that was possessed by that thing, and he wants to follow up with something else - some kind of evil ritual for something we can't even think of - "

Harry saw the panic forming in her shining eyes and quickly moved around the table to embrace her in his protective arms.

"I don't think he would, Ginny, but I promise to do everything in my power to make sure that doesn't happen."

Head tucked into his shoulder, Ginny hid her gasp as a sniffle, feeling the pulse of magic from Harry's vow envelope her. He was probably unaware of what he had just done, and Ginny could only marvel at this amazing boy as they clung to each other, alone in the quiet of the kitchen.

If Harry's secret power was indeed his incredible heart, Voldemort was as good as gone already.

o o o

A summer routine began to form. During the day they all made an effort not to be discouraged by the abundance of dark news printed in the Daily Prophet and tidings from Mr. Weasley and their oldest brother Bill, who heard about things that didn't make it into the newspaper. The four Hogwarts students also made a game of avoiding "Phlegm" - Ginny's pet name for the former Beauxbatons Triwizard Champion Fleur Delacour, recent fiancée to Bill and current house guest - but mostly played two-a-side quidditch. Harry and Hermione usually paired against the two Weasleys since they were most evenly matched that way. Ron especially had been surprised at how good his sister was, unaware she had been borrowing her brothers' brooms at night for years, something Harry found very amusing.

Harry and Ginny continued to find themselves in the kitchen late at night when unable to sleep, which seemed to be most of the time. Harry found Ginny open, honest, and very easy to talk to. Not only was she a good listener, but her insights helped Harry think through some of the things that had been troubling him.

Harry gradually worked through the details of his history at Hogwarts - the trials, triumphs, and tragedies. When it came to the previous year's occlumency lessons from Snape - a disaster even by Dumbledore's reckoning - he paused at the memory he had seen in the pensieve, a victim of temptation and his own reckless feeling of having to know.

He had seen his father humiliating Snape as if it was an everyday occurrence - a normal act of bullying another for entertainment.

Snape had been livid about it and made him swear to tell no one else, but he had no love and even less respect for the dour potions professor, justifying a private discussion with Ginny. They had already agreed that all topics would stay between themselves.

"Everyone says my parents were both really great people," Harry said, "but I wonder if their memories are colored by their deaths during the war. From what I saw in Snape's memory, I'm pretty sure I would not be friends with the Marauders if we were in school together. Everything Snape said about my father being arrogant was right there - even my mum told him off."

"But you said Snape pulled it out of his head so you would not see it," said Ginny. "How does that make sense?"

"That's what bothers me - I feel like there's something missing that I don't understand. Maybe it was because he tried to fight back and they kept harassing him. Maybe it was something that happened later that I didn't get to see."

Through all the discussion, Harry took the opportunity to study his new favorite subject - Ginny herself. She had blossomed from the cute little fangirl he met at King's Cross into a vibrant young woman with an athletic yet enticingly curvy frame, a wicked sense of humor and most important, she now seemed to see just Harry, without all the Boy Who Lived nonsense.

There seemed to be genuine affection between them - casual touches from her that were anything but casual in his mind, smiles and even hugs when they finally said good night. He thought about ways that he might express how much he fancied her, but he was afraid she no longer held her childhood crush on him. He didn't want to lose her - it wasn't like he had friendships to spare.

"Didn't you say that Remus Lupin was there that day?" Ginny asked, bringing his attention back to the topic at hand, referring to one of his father's surviving friends.

"Yeah…"

"Mum said he might be coming tomorrow - you can talk to him then!"

"What's tomorrow?"

Ginny stared at him as if his nostrils had sprouted some sort of magical herb. "It's your birthday, silly! Did you honestly forget?"

"Not like I celebrate much…" he mumbled.

"Well, you get to celebrate with us this year," Ginny said warmly, "and mum is baking all your favorites."

The next day, Molly had indeed outdone herself with a small feast for Harry's sixteenth birthday party, the first time he had celebrated with someone who actually cared, but the festivities were dampened considerably when Remus Lupin brought grisly news of dementor attacks and the discovery of Igor Karkaroff's body. Despite Mrs. Weasley's efforts to change the subject, the discussion then turned to disappearances in Diagon Alley, particularly Florean Fortescue, who ran the ice cream parlor where Harry had spent many pleasant hours before third year, and Ollivander the wand maker.

The news was getting more and more depressing since Lord Voldemort had made his rebirth known. At least Harry wasn't the laughingstock he had been the previous year.

Harry felt a little awkward being the only one opening gifts, still having difficulty accepting that it was perfectly normal to celebrate that way. Most of them were either practical (books or things to wear) or edible - he was definitely not throwing away the Honeyduke's chocolate from Ron this year.

One small envelope held a simple note, along with a tiny photograph that slipped into his lap. Harry unfolded the note to reveal a few words in his aunt's neat script:

I found this when cleaning and thought you might want it.
- P

His relatives had never acknowledged his birthday except to remind him how much of a burden he was or some such, so Harry was floored they sent him anything. Then he picked up the photo.

His own eyes stared back at him from a beaming young girl's face framed by long auburn tresses.

"Mum…" he breathed.

"Oh, Harry!" Hermione gasped over his shoulder. "She's so cute!"

Harry could no longer make out her image. He handed the picture to Hermione so that his tears would not ruin it, the first time he had seen his mum so young.

"Remus," he said after swallowing, "how old do you think she is there?"

Remus looked closer as Hermione held it up. "Oh, my, this was well before Hogwarts. I would guess around eight or nine, probably made as a school portrait. Your aunt might be able to tell you."

Harry shook his head. "Doesn't matter, not really. I just can't believe she sent it. I thought she'd binned all these years ago."

"Harry, surely she wouldn't have -"

"Remus," Harry interrupted, determined to get some answers to questions that had been plaguing his recent thoughts. "You're the only one here who was close to my parents in school. Please be honest with me - what were they really like at my age?"

"At sixteen?" Remus reflected. "They were both brilliant and passionate in their own way, but you have seen from being around your own peers that teenagers can be immature as well. What exactly did you want to know?"

Harry took a deep breath. "Was my dad a bully?"

Mrs. Weasley huffed indignantly. "That's hardly a question for your party, dear."

Harry focused resolutely on Remus. "I need to know."

"It's alright, Molly," Remus said, noting that everyone was paying close attention, Lily's photograph held forgotten in the hands of Fleur Delacour.

He cleared his throat. "James always loved his pranks - he and Sirius were the drivers in forming the Marauders in the first place - and most of the time they were just for laughs."

"But that depends on who's laughing," Harry said. "So he did cross the line sometimes?"

"Yes, he did, but rarely without reason. His primary targets were the Slytherins who were leaning towards the pureblood movement - future Death Eaters - and they had no qualms about cursing us if they thought they could get away with it."

"So he never harassed anyone just because they happened by at the wrong time?"

"Not that I can recall…"

Harry was going to have to press a bit. "What about right after OWLs? I heard he targeted someone just because they existed, I believe is how he put it. And I also heard you were there."

"Ah," said Remus in resignation. "Did Severus tell you about that?"

"Snape has told me nothing," Harry insisted, thinking how that was technically true, "except reminding me how awful my dad was. And now I'm wondering if he's been right all along."

Remus pinched the bridge of his nose. "Severus was a special case."

"How so?"

"Aside from being one of those Slytherins I mentioned, there were two other reasons. One of them was me."

Harry was not expecting this, but suddenly it made sense, how Snape had been curious about Remus' monthly "illness" and following Sirius into the tunnel at the Whomping Willow would have meant the werewolf Remus became during the full moon would have killed him if not for his father's intervention. Of course, all of them would have been expelled and possibly sentenced to Azkaban, so it could have just been self preservation.

"Dad was protecting you."

"Yes."

"What was the other reason?"

"Lily," Remus said. "Severus was best friends with her since before Hogwarts."

"What?" Harry said, totally blindsided. He glanced wide-eyed at Ginny, who had a similar expression of sudden realization - with a quick nod she agreed, this was the missing piece to the puzzle they had been working on.

"It's obvious, innit?" said Ron. "The gits both had a jealous crush on her," indicating the photo that was now in Bill's hands.

"Merveilleux, Ronald!" said Fleur. "C'est brillante!"

Ron blushed while his siblings all chuckled at his expense. Hermione turned a slightly different shade of red, glaring at both Ron and Fleur.

"But Snape insulted her," Harry said, still confused.

"I wondered about that as well," said Remus. "They were never as close afterwards. I believe Lily was getting frustrated with things that she didn't approve of, but I don't know enough to say. Unfortunately, we can't ask her, and I don't think Severus will be forthcoming on the topic. None of us are proud of our indiscretions when we were young and impetuous."

Harry nodded, knowing that with certainty. Snape didn't like to reveal unpleasant moments in his past any more than Harry himself did.

"She didn't think very highly of James either," Remus continued, "until seventh year when they were head girl and head boy. James had finally matured enough to where she stopped calling him names and finally agreed to go out with him. James had insisted all along they were destined to be together, but it still surprised him when he realized he had actually been right."

Harry grinned at that. "What sort of names did she call him?"

"'Arrogant toerag' was probably her favorite," Remus said, returning the smile, "but she had plenty of others."

And for the next little while, they laughed while discussing the meaning and merits of the insults Lily Evans directed towards her future husband.

Harry enjoyed every minute of it, soaking up the familial camaraderie like a dry sponge.

o o o

"So your mum and Snape? I bet that's a real club to your cauldron."

Ginny sat beside Harry at the kitchen table in what had become their nightly ritual. Harry was still staring off in wonder.

"It's just so unbelievable, but if it's true, it makes so much sense. I need to contact Aunt Petunia and see if she remembers him. I'm guessing they lived in the same village or something for them to have met."

"You going to send a letter with Hedwig?"

"I don't know, she would much prefer regular post or even a telephone call. Hey, how did Ron call me that time?"

"I think they went to a call box in the village. You need to ask him."

"Thanks, Gin, that's a great idea. I'll do that tomorrow."

"I hope you enjoyed your birthday party today. I'm sorry we didn't do anything fancy -"

Harry sat back and smiled at her. "No worries there. It was the best - really the only party I've ever had. You guys were brilliant."

Ginny glanced at the clock and looked at him slyly. "Look, it's not quite midnight yet - still time to celebrate a bit."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "What did you have in mind?"

She scooted closer. "I think you deserve one more present."

Suddenly the kitchen seemed to disappear around him, there was only Ginny and a strange feeling that she was too close, but also much too far away at the same time, and his mind was turning to porridge.

"But I got some great presents already…"

She gave him a blazing look that was both terrifying and arousing, and something rose inside his chest - a monster he never knew existed was growling, as if hungry for a sustenance that had been missing his entire life.

"Surely there's something you want, Harry, just ask the question…"

He gaped at her - this amazing beautiful girl, offering him… what? What did he want?

She licked her lips.

His mind solidified enough for one conscious thought.

"A… kiss?"

Even as she leaned into him, she said, "I thought you'd never ask."

And their noses bumped before he remembered to turn his head, and their lips finally touched.

She was soft and warm and the monster inside him roared in triumphant joy.

"What's so funny?" she said.

"I'm not laughing," he said, "I'm just so happy right now, I can't stand it."

"Good," she said, grinning. "Then you won't mind if I give you your present now."

Before he could protest, she sat on his lap, wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him into a full-blown snog.

He felt as if he was sunning on a beach, waves crashing over him, fully immersed in the love pouring from her. He was drowning in her, and held onto her once again, but this time she wasn't just a buoy in the storm, she was the storm - she was life and with her everything else became like grains of sand.

Eventually they had to stop for air. Ginny studied him with a brilliant light behind her bright brown eyes.

"Happy Birthday, Harry."

And it was.

o

A/N: So if you were waiting for the tension between them to wind up tight enough to fling Grawp across the Black Lake, sorry to disappoint, this is not that story. :-)

Again, thanks for the faves, follows and reviews, you folks are wonderful. Sorry about the slow updates, you may want to bring snacks.

Back to index


Chapter 4: Departure

Author's Notes:

A/N: R.I.P. Moody Blues drummer and co-founder, Graeme Edge, 30 March, 1941 - 11 November, 2021, who also wrote poetry for the band, such as Departure, which is the prelude to Ride My See-Saw.

Ch 4 in which Diagon Alley is a depressing place...


-
Departure

To have all these things
In our memories hoard
And to use them
To help us
To find...

- The Moody Blues

o o
o

"I was right! My mum and Snape grew up in the same town!"

Gathered with the Weasleys in the kitchen preparing for dinner, Harry had received a letter back from his Aunt Petunia a mere three days after writing through normal post. He, Hermione and Fleur joined Ron, Ginny, Bill and Molly; only Arthur had yet to arrive home.

"Huh," Harry continued, "she says she told me about Snape a year ago. It was him who described what dementors were. I assumed she was talking about dad… She says that Snape was always meeting my mum at this park nearby since he lived in the bad part of town, but that stopped after her fifth year. That's when he insulted her. She wouldn't talk to him after that."

"That's good to know, Harry, but why is this so important?"

"I don't know, Hermione, it's just a gut feeling I have."

"And you know we have to trust Harry's gut," Ron chortled.

"At least Harry doesn't have to be stuffing his gut all the time," quipped Ginny.

Harry laughed at the siblings taking the mickey. This was what family was supposed to be like. "Maybe I just want to know why Snape hates me so much. At least I don't have to deal with potions anymore."

"Why wouldn't you have potions?" asked Bill.

"Snape requires an O on the potions OWL and I didn't get it." It had been a blow to learn that his dream of becoming an auror had become dust even before he started.

Bill frowned. "I thought you said Slughorn was coming out of retirement."

"Yeah," replied Harry, remembering the adventure with Dumbledore. "Apparently I helped talk him into it. Why does that matter?"

"He was the potions teacher before Snape. Mum and dad told us all about him."

"He was very good," Molly added absent-mindedly as she organized the food for cooking.

Harry stared at him in disbelief. "If Slughorn is teaching potions -"

"Of course," Hermione said. "Snape has always wanted the DADA position; Dumbledore must have finally agreed to it."

"Oh, Merlin," moaned Harry, "this is the year that I die for sure."

"What? Why do you say that?" pressed Bill.

"It's no secret," said Ron, "every DADA teacher we've had so far has tried to do Harry in. Fortunately, they weren't very good at it. Snape, on the other hand -"

Fleur started to laugh, but stopped when she saw everyone else was nodding with serious expressions. "Surely zis ees a joke, oui?"

"I wish it was," said Harry. "The toad from the ministry tried to give me the dementor's kiss last summer before school even started. When that didn't work, she put me on trial for underage magic, then at school she followed up with intimidation and torture."

He showed her the back of right hand that still bore the scar, I must not tell lies, in his own handwriting.

"Mon Dieu," she gasped, grabbing his hand for closer inspection.

Harry thought it odd that he felt none of the allure coming from her. He saw Ginny looking at him curiously and he gave a small shrug.

He continued, "You know about the Death Eater impersonating Professor Moody during the Tri-Wizard Tournament - he packaged me up for Voldemort to use and abuse before a final go with his favorite curse. I was really lucky that brother wands don't work properly against each other."

"Brother wands?"

"Yeah, our wands both have a feather from the same phoenix. The year before that Remus Lupin forgot to take his potion during the full moon and the werewolf would have killed all of us without Sirius' intervention. The year before that Gilderoy Lockhart tried to remove our memories and leave us trapped in the Chamber of Secrets so he could write a new book touting his latest imagined achievements. We were saved because he tried to use Ron's broken wand. Our first year, Quirrell tried to kill me at least three separate times while he was possessed by Voldemort."

"You're forgetting that he let in the troll as well," Hermione said.

"Yeah, but it was trying to kill you, so I'm not counting that one."

Fleur looked back and forth between the Hogwarts students in horror, noting how frequently near-death experiences happened to them. It seemed the dangers of the tournament were little different to their normal lives. "How ees zis possible? What happened to zese teachers?"

Harry sighed. "The toad walks free, but she did get to spend a night in the Forbidden Forest in the tender care of the centaurs. Remus had to resign, but he was the only one who was not trying to kill me on purpose. The others… they... aren't really with us anymore."

"What does zat mean?"

"The Death Eater got the Dementor's Kiss, Lockhart blasted his own memories away and is permanently in hospital, and Quirrell… well, I sort of killed him myself."

"Harry," Molly chided as she continued to direct a set of magical knives that were slicing a small mountain of vegetables, "that was self defense. Dumbledore said you were very brave."

"Yeah," Ron agreed, "probably the first time anyone's got points for offing a teacher."

Harry scowled, "Not funny, Ron," while the others laughed anyway.

"But where were ze teachers that were supposed to be preventing all zis?" asked Fleur. "Who looks out for you?"

"We look out for each other," said Ron. "Me and Harry saved Hermione from the troll, she bumped into Quirrell at the Quidditch match when he tried to jinx Harry's broom -"

"And we all worked together to save the Philosopher's Stone," said Hermione. "I don't think any one of us could have made it through all those traps alone."

"Probably not," said Harry, "but you worked out the most important clue that a basilisk was Slytherin's monster so that we could rescue Ginny from that diary version of Voldemort."

"Hold on," Bill said, "what exactly was this 'diary version' of You-Know-Who?" He remembered his mum and dad just said it had done some sort of mind control on her, but the explanation seemed incomplete.

"Basically a memory of himself that he created while still in school. The more life force he drew from… the person he possessed," Harry said, trying not to look towards Ginny, "the more corporeal he became. He was already more substantial than a ghost when I saw him in the Chamber."

Bill nodded, deep in thought. He barely registered the continuing discussion about how they had saved each other's lives several other times during their school years. This diary could not contain normal magics to behave as Harry described. The only ones he knew about were dangerous and very dark. A discussion with Professor Dumbledore was probably warranted.

o o o

"There's a bright side to all this, Harry."

"And what would that be?"

"If you can take potions under this new professor, then you can still be an Auror."

"Ginny, that's brilliant! I knew there was some reason I liked you."

"And this had nothing to do with it?" Ginny pulled him into another long, tender kiss that left them both breathless.

Harry held her closely in their new favorite late-night hangout - the lounge settee - where it was much easier to relax into each other's embrace.

"Yeah, that's always gonna be a winner." And he returned the kiss.

"Harry?"

"Um-hmm?"

"Do we tell the others we're going out now?"

Harry thought back to his birthday and her "special gift" just before midnight, which led to more kisses for a time that seemed to last no time at all. He had asked, "So what does that make us now?"

She had impishly replied, "What do you want us to be?"

And that's how they became secret boyfriend/girlfriend.

Harry pulled her back so he could look at her directly. "Gin, I promised to keep you safe. If that means we need to keep this new 'us' a secret, then that's what we'll do. If we need to break up -"

"That is not happening, Mr. Potter!"

"If it keeps you safe, and that's the only choice, I would do that, Gin, even though it would tear me apart inside. You are the best thing that's ever happened to me."

"Even better than being made Gryffindor Quidditch Captain?" she said slyly.

"No comparison," he said with certainty. "As for being captain, I'm still pretty clueless, but I'm definitely going to skip Wood's speech of 'beat them or die trying.'"

"I'm sure you'll do fine, Harry, as long as you remember who your best chasers are."

Harry laughed. "You and Katie are both shoo-ins. No one else holds a candle to you."

"You sure know how to flatter a girl, Mr. Potter. Now, do you remember how to kiss her?"

o o o

The day finally arrived for the annual Diagon Alley shopping trip. The teens were excited by the presence of a Ministry car in front of the house, and even more when a familiar face stepped out from the passenger side.

"Everyone needs a list of what they need and where to get it," barked retired Auror Mad-Eye Moody. "We can't be wasting time standing around the Alley as potential targets."

"Constant vigilance!" yelled Ron.

"Damn right," growled Moody, and the group was chuckling as they climbed into the car.

They were all impressed with the obvious expansion charms on the interior. Molly and Arthur climbed in front next to the Ministry driver, followed by Moody who sat on the outside, always on the lookout for threats, yet there was plenty of room for the four of them.

In the rear, Hermione and Ginny sat on one side of the car, giggling conspiratorially, while Ron slipped in beside Hermione with Harry last.

"What's up with them?" asked Harry, indicating the girls.

"Dunno," said Ron with a shrug. "They were looking back at the house, pointing at something, then they started up like that."

Harry remembered Bill and Fleur were at the kitchen window, grinning widely as they waved goodbye, and suddenly Harry's face heated as he realized what they could be getting up to with the Burrow all to themselves for the next few hours. He caught Ginny's eyes across the back of the car and noticed how they were sparkling at him. He forced his gaze forward before he got even more embarrassed than he already was.

They were in front of the Leaky Cauldron in London in a surprisingly short time.

Expecting a small detachment of Aurors, Harry was more than pleased that Hagrid was their security detail for their jaunt in the Alley, despite having to check that all his body parts were intact after the half-giant's sideways hug.

"Dumbledore said I was good enough ter watch ya, especially if Mad-Eye was helpin'," he said with a proud smile.

Harry had no doubts that it was true.

Harry remembered Diagon Alley when Hagrid brought him here the first time - had it been five years ago? He was shocked at the difference as they walked through the arch from the Leaky Cauldron - several shops were boarded over, every smooth space covered in posters with security advice from the Ministry or displaying wanted fugitives from the Ministry, angry faces that tried to leap off the wall and devour passers-by. Refuse littered dead corners, and the few people that hurried through looked as if they didn't want to become part of that refuse. It was as if a fog of depression had settled over the whole area and made it a bleak reminder of its former self.

Several shabby-looking stalls had been erected that hawked even more questionable merchandise. Arthur threatened at least one of the seedy vendors who leeringly suggested a cheap-looking protection amulet for Ginny as they passed.

It got Harry to thinking - did someone here sell legitimate products like that?

To save time, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley took Ginny to get their books while Ron, Hermione and Harry headed to Madam Malkins' shop to get the larger robes they all needed.

Unfortunately, Draco Malfoy and his mother Narcissa were already there. Draco was in quite the strop, fussing about where the seamstress poked her needles, and didn't get any friendlier when the others entered the shop.

Draco began insulting Hermione as soon as he saw the trio, and found himself facing the wands of both Ron and Harry, despite protests from Madam Malkin.

As Hermione protested that it wasn't worth them getting into trouble, Mrs. Malfoy implied that Harry could be joining his dead godfather soon.

Mad-Eye Moody, who had been outside chatting with Hagrid, walked into the standoff and cut off Harry's intended comeback.

"Madam Malfoy," he greeted her with a semi-respectful nod, "I don't believe you're in any position to be making threats, veiled or not."

"As I recall, Mr. Moody, you are retired and in no position to do anything about it."

"I suppose I could just walk away and let these lads loose on you, eh?" Moody replied, indicating Harry and Ron, who still held their wands pointed at the Malfoys.

"You would allow them to get in trouble for you?" Narcissa sneered.

"The only trouble I see is this young man following the same mistaken path as his father," he said, suddenly grabbing firmly at Draco's left wrist.

Draco yowled and jerked his arm out of Moody's grasp. "Let go of me, you crazy senile blood traitor!"

"Funny, you calling someone else a traitor, Malfoy," said Ron. "Maybe you should look that up so you know what it means."

Draco scowled murderously at Ron before pulling off the new set of dark green robes and throwing them at Madam Malkins' feet. "Mother, the company here has become unbearable, and I don't want these anymore. Let's go someplace else."

Narcissa Malfoy's glare matched her son's as they stalked imperiously away, much to the relief of the seamstress, despite not making a sale to the wealthy purebloods.

"Good one, mate," Harry said, slapping Ron on the back.

"Yes, Ron, well done," said Hermione before she turned to Moody. "What was that with Draco, Professor?"

"I was never your professor, lass," said the retired Auror, his magical eye still following the retreating Malfoys. "And we can discuss that little episode later," tilting his head, indicating the shop staff.

Madam Malkin was apparently still flustered over the confrontation, but eventually the robes were complete and everyone was glad to get on their way.

Once clear of the shop, Hermione rounded on Mad-Eye Moody.

"So what was that about with Draco? Did you see something?"

"I might have. What of it?"

Harry remembered that Mad-Eye Moody's magical prosthetic eye could see through solids. He had grabbed Draco's left wrist, which seemed to be very sensitive, like he'd just gotten a -

"Oh, Merlin," Harry breathed. "Tell me he doesn't have the Dark Mark."

Moody stared at him appraisingly for a few moments. "I wish I could."

"No!" cried Hermione, "surely he wouldn't - he couldn't have!"

"Hermione," Harry said, "do you really think Voldemort's above using kids to do his dirty work? Draco probably jumped at the chance."

"Aye," said Moody, "it's not safe to assume there's anything the Dark Lord won't do. However, this is dangerous information; it's not gossip material for the classroom nor the dorm room, so keep a lid on it. I'll report it to Dumbledore - just in case."

They met Ginny and her parents heavily laden with books on their way to the apothecary, where they all refreshed their potions kit, making small talk about what the new potions professor might be like. It was a safe bet he would not be worse than Snape.

Everything else accomplished, they wandered towards the location that Fred and George had set up premises.

Nothing prepared them for the riot of color and movement of the Weasley Wizard Wheezes window display, including the not-so-subtle insult on You Know Who being less important than their new product U No Poo - "the constipation sensation that's gripping the nation."

Mrs. Weasley was aghast. Harry and Ron thought it brilliant and laughed at the sight.

The shoppers seemed to agree with the boys for the shop was the only one Harry had seen that was packed, the customers eager to see the latest pranks and novelty magic.

Fred and George gave Harry the grand tour and eventually showed him the area where they kept items unavailable to the general public. Shield hats - originally designed as a novelty - had led to a whole line of special defense products for the Ministry.

"This is brilliant, guys - way more than I could have imagined!" Harry said as he picked up a decoy detonator - a portable distraction device that he thought might be useful.

"Take whatever you want," one of the twins said. "You gave us the start-up funds after all."

"Hey, I did that because I knew you could use it, not so I could get free stuff off you."

"Don't care," said the other twin. "Your money's no good here."

Their generosity did not extend to Ron, which frustrated the youngest brother to the point of cursing, earning him a reprimand from his mum.

Harry laughed and watched Ginny playing with a cute little furball called a Pygmy Puff, before he caught movement behind her.

He turned to Hermione and Ron. "There goes Draco, and his mum is nowhere around."

Ron said, "You're right - he's up to something."

Indeed, the young Malfoy seemed to be nervously checking behind him as he made his way past their window.

"Harry…" Hermione said warningly.

"No time for discussion," Harry said, throwing his invisibility cloak over them as he pulled them towards the door. "He's getting away!"

However, no sooner than they had crept out into the alley, Mad-Eye Moody - whose magical eye had the ability to see through such cloaks - blocked their path.

"And where might you three be off to?" he asked in a tone that demanded an honest answer.

"Sorry, sir," Harry said in a rush. "Draco Malfoy looked very suspicious walking down this way, and he's alone."

"He got rid of Narcissa somehow, eh?" Moody said thoughtfully. "I hear you have good instincts. You two - " he said, indicating Ron and Hermione, "stay here and if they ask, let them know Potter's with me on an errand."

Reluctantly - Ron more so than Hermione - stepped back to the store entrance.

"Be careful," Hermione said plaintively.

As Harry threw the cloak back over himself and the retired Auror, Ron quipped, "Don't worry, he'll be fine. Harry will take care of him."

Hermione stared dumbfounded at Ron, then snorted. "Oh, you," she said, shaking her head, "let's get back inside."

Ron laughed as he held the door for her.

Meanwhile, Harry finally spotted Draco turning into Knockturn Alley. "There! To the left!"

"I saw him," Moody said with a low growl. "Let's move before he ducks into one of the shops."

When they entered the alley known for its concentration of unsavory businesses and clientele, Draco was nowhere to be seen. When they finally discovered him again, he was inside Borgin and Burkes, the one shop that Harry had visited before, a mishap during his first encounter with floo travel.

"Do you have some kind of eavesdropping spell?" asked Harry in a low voice, huddling outside the shop window. "I have no idea what he's saying."

"Yeah, but it won't work through walls or windows. We'll just have to guess."

"He keeps pointing at something behind that cabinet," Harry said, recognizing it as the cabinet he had hid inside from Draco and his father. How ironic that he was back here hiding again. "Can you see what it is?"

"No, there's nothing there," replied Moody. "He seems interested in the cabinet itself. From here, it looks like it might be a vanishing cabinet, but those always come in pairs."

"Do you suppose he's trying to find the other one?"

Moody grunted in response, indicating his lack of knowledge. They continued to watch as Draco argued with the shop owner, eventually directing his attention to his left forearm. Mr. Borgin suddenly appeared frightened and Draco intensified his argument.

"He just showed off his Dark Mark, didn't he?"

"Aye, lad, it looked that way. He's still not getting whatever he's wanting though."

Indeed, Draco soon left the shop muttering angrily without making any purchases. Harry and Moody had to quickly press against the wall to avoid getting bumped and discovered. Draco eventually turned back into Diagon Alley, disappearing the way he came.

"Can you find out from Borgin what that was all about?"

"I could try if I wasn't retired, but Borgin didn't break any laws that we could see, and he would deny anything we tried to pin on him. So no, I don't think a meeting would be productive."

"All right," Harry said, disappointed.

They slowly made their way back towards Fred and George's shop. Harry couldn't help but think the chase had been a useless exercise, just an opportunity to wander the Alley almost alone.

Which gave him an idea.

"Sir," he said, "could I ask a special favor… possibly two?"

o

Back to index


Chapter 5: Tuesday Afternoon

Author's Notes:

A/N: Up to this point I have been mainly tweaking canon text to fit my purposes (such as Bill & Fleur at the kitchen window - straight out of HBP chapter 6, just not the reaction by the teens). However, this chapter puts this story firmly in the AU category; it contains some echoes of Book 7, but otherwise is completely new in celebration of the New Year. May it be wonderful for you and yours!


I confess that I spent countless Tuesday Afternoons attempting to sing like Justin Hayward; if I cranked the stereo volume high enough, I could convince myself that I was.


Ch 5 in which Ginny celebrates a birthday and Harry has some memorable encounters...


- 5 -

Tuesday Afternoon

Something calls to me
The trees are drawing me near
I've got to find out why
Those gentle voices I hear
Explain it all with a sigh

- The Moody Blues

o o
o

“Ow! I think he bit me.”

“Well, you were biting me, so he’s just showing how well he defends me.”

“But mine weren’t really bites -”

“How is Arnold supposed to know that? Besides, his teeth are so small he couldn’t have done much damage.”

Arnold was Ginny’s new Pygmy Puff - a miniature puffskein purchased at Fred and George’s new shop - and Harry was thinking of what an annoying menace he was, except that the tiny creature was just so ridiculously cute. Not to mention that Ginny loved it as well.

“I’m starting to think you care more for that little furball than for me,” Harry said with an overly dramatic sigh. “Another failure in the long list of lovelorn losses for the Boy-Who-Lived, details on page three.”

Ginny covered her laughter to avoid waking the whole house. “Are you channeling Rita Skeeter now?!”

“Nah, she’d make it page one for sure. My relationships are headline news, you know.”

“We can’t miss what’s important,” Ginny giggled.

“It’s a requirement for all those with hyphenated aliases, apparently.”

Their banter might have continued for a considerable time longer, but the kitchen clock decided it had heard enough and chimed the hour.

Once all twelve bells had sounded, Harry pulled Ginny close again. “It’s midnight - Happy Birthday, Gin!”

“Does that mean I can get my present now?”

“Of course!” Harry gave her a peck on the lips. “But that’s not it.”

“It’s not?” Ginny said with a mock pout.

“No, I got you something else.” He handed her a small package with silver wrappings, including a small bow.

She took it slowly, surprised that Harry would have been able to get her a real gift. She carefully removed the trimmings to reveal a small box. Opening it, she discovered a small golden amulet with delicate patterns on a fine gold chain.

“Ooh, Harry, it’s beautiful! Thank you! These look like runes - does this mean something particular?”

“Yes, those are runes, and after I put it on you I’ll activate them.”

“What does it do?”

“Ginny, this protects you from mind magics - legilimency, the Imperius curse, certain potions, even possession can be blocked while you are wearing this.”

Ginny was speechless. She knew he had promised to protect her, but this was too much. She also knew that could not tell him that, because he would probably feel that to reject the gift would be akin to rejecting the giver.

“How ever did you manage it?”

Harry smiled. “I asked Mad-Eye if there was a store that sold real protection items, not the junk from the street vendors. He took me there after our wild goose chase of Malfoy. I hope… it’s okay?”

“It’s… wonderful. Thank you, Harry,” she said, almost in a whisper. “So much. Put it on, please?”

She gathered her long red hair and pulled it aside. Harry loved when she did this when they were close together, because her fresh flowery scent would envelop him in a euphoric high - a heady mix of affection, desire, and care for her. She said it was just the shampoo she used, but he wondered if it had something magical in its ingredients.

He tenderly pulled the chain around her slender neck and fastened the clasp, which disappeared so that it could not be removed by anyone she did not specifically ask to do so. He brought his wand to the amulet and read carefully from a slip of parchment that came with the necklace.

When he completed the incantation, the amulet glowed for a moment, and Ginny felt a tingle wash over her as the powerful enchantment took effect.

“Wow, that feels amazing.”

The tingling disappeared after a couple of minutes.

“I don’t feel anything now. Is it still working?”

Harry studied the parchment. “You shouldn’t notice anything normally, unless someone tries to invade your mind. Then you should feel some kind of pressure, like it’s pushing back, so that you know you’re being attacked.”

“So I’m not under attack right now?”

“Apparently not. Unless you want me to return the birthday gift you gave me - “

“Oh, I don’t mind that kind of attack from you!”

And Arnold was unable to defend his mistress from the onslaught, because the poor Pygmy Puff had been returned to his box.

o o o

It was a beautiful day for Ginny’s birthday and the whole Weasley family was there, except for Percy who was still being a git, and Charlie who couldn’t get time off for frivolities such as the birthday of his youngest sibling. The twins had even closed the shop for the afternoon.

Fleur was still there, as were Harry and Hermione, and Harry was surprised to find that Luna Lovegood was also invited to the outdoor luncheon.

“Oh, Ginny and I’ve known each other since we were little,” the young blonde explained when he asked. “Our house is just over the hill to the north so we’re some of the closest neighbors. It was very different coming here - so many boys.”

“I can imagine,” said Harry as they stood near the tables. “I wanted to thank you for the record you sent me last month. I wasn’t dealing with things very well and it helped a lot. I’ve listened to it several times now. I know it must have been special to you, so you’re welcome to have it back if you’d like.”

“That’s nice of you to offer, Harry, but I prefer the version that plays in my head. That’s the one where Mummy sings along.”

Harry had no idea how to respond to that. Luna had a way of expressing painful truths with elegant simplicity, and his reply was unavoidably awkward. “Erm, okay. Of course. Still, thanks.”

Luna was studying him, head tilted, a hand to her chin. “It must have worked. Your wrackspurts have gone away.”

“Wrackspurts?”

“Yes, they’re invisible creatures that float into your ears and make your brain go fuzzy. You had a nasty infestation by the end of the school year.”

“So, if they’re invisible, how do you -”

“I can feel them somehow.”

Harry glanced to where Ginny was sitting, trying to hide a smirk behind the back of her hand. “What about the rest of us?”

“Oh, Ginny had one when she was going out with Michael. I think that’s why she was dating him.”

Ginny smiled, “Why thank you, Luna, that confirms a lot.”

Harry let a small chuckle escape.

Luna continued, “Hermione and Ron, I believe, will have theirs until they admit they like each other.”

They all looked down the table where the two in question were arguing over place settings.

Ginny raised her eyebrows. “But the wrackspurts are keeping their brains fuzzy…”

“So we don’t expect any developments for quite a while yet,” finished Harry, laughing.

Once again, Luna was studying Harry, but now she included Ginny in her discerning gaze. “And is your announcement today?”

“What announcement?” said Ginny warily, glancing at Harry with concern.

“Oh, I see,” Luna said, before continuing in a whisper. “It’s a secret.

Harry realized they needed to have a long talk with Luna very soon.

The rest of the party was great fun with plenty of raucous sibling banter and less of the dire news that had accompanied Harry’s birthday. Ginny loved being the center of attention - until the subject of potential boyfriends came up.

“As I told Ron,” she protested, “I dumped Michael when he became a sore loser. I am not dating Dean Thomas - at least not yet. I just said that on the train as a possibility. So if and when I do date somebody else, I definitely won’t be broadcasting it to you lot.”

Harry sat between Ron and Luna, laughing along with everyone else, when the young blonde leaned to his ear.

“You’re doing very well, Harry. I would be very upset if someone denied me in front of everyone that way.”

Startled, Harry nearly slipped off his chair, but he eventually whispered back, “It’s to keep her safe, you know that, right?”

Luna beamed at him. “Good answer. Be good to her.”

“I will. Thanks, Luna. You’re a good friend.”

“I think Daddy would like to meet you. Would you like to come for tea? The others should come too, so it doesn’t look like I'm trying to steal you away.”

Harry smiled. “No problem, Luna, that sounds great.”

It wasn’t until she was about to leave for home that she mentioned it to the other teens.

“That would be wonderful, Luna,” said Ginny. “When should we come?”

Luna’s eyes unfocused, lost in a far-away place, and she began to sing:

“Tuesday afternoon, I'm just beginning to see, Now I'm on my way.

“It doesn't matter to me, Chasing the clouds away…”

Her focus returned to the Burrow as she stepped back into the fireplace saying, “See you then!” and threw down a handful of floo powder.

“Lovegood Roost!” she exclaimed with a smile and a wave, then with a flash of green she was gone.

All but Harry stood staring blankly at the empty fireplace.

“And that’s why they call her Loony,” muttered Ron.

“Ron!” chided Hermione, who then turned to Harry. “Was she really singing the Moody Blues?”

“Yeah,” Harry said with a grin, “she’s a big fan.”

And that led to more questions, so he related the whole story of her summer gift, which led to a much better understanding of the only non-Gryffindor that fought at the Ministry with them that spring.

o o o

Tuesday mid-afternoon found the teens popping out of the floo at the Lovegood home, into a perfectly round kitchen decorated with brightly-colored flowers, insects and birds in what Harry thought might be Luna’s style. Despite being somewhat cramped, the unique space was efficiently designed with all the cupboards and appliances curved to fit the walls. 

Dainty feet appeared in a spiraling wrought-iron stair in the center of the room, descending with legs and then a full body attached, and then Luna’s radiant face became visible below the ceiling.

“You’re all here! This is so wonderful! Can I get you anything, or would you like a tour? Should we start with the house or the garden?”

“Luna?” Ginny said, trying to get a word inside Luna’s verbal cascade. “We’re fine. Are you okay?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, finally reaching the bottom of the stairs, “I’ve never had friends over and I’m just so excited.”

“Perfectly understandable,” Ginny soothed, pulling the blonde into a hug. “Just relax. We’re all friends here - we can do whatever you want.”

The words helped Luna settle down and show herself to be a very capable hostess, taking them first out the front door to walk around the quaint little garden, full of interesting plants that they didn’t usually see outside the Hogwarts greenhouses, including dirigible plums that appeared to be growing upside down and a gnarled stump that was most likely a Snargaluff and therefore deserved a wide berth.

The round kitchen was explained when they looked up at the house, which looked like a large chess rook, impressing Ron more than anyone else.

Returning inside, they went up the spiral stair to the first floor - a round sitting room that also contained a work area with several shelves groaning with papers and books, a small mechanical printing press and a crowded table, where a thin white-haired man sat scrawling on parchment.

The man rose to greet them as they entered the room and announced, “Xenophilius Lovegood, at your service. It’s so very nice to see friends of my Luna.” As he greeted Ginny and Ron he asked, “You are Arthur and Molly’s youngest, are you not?”

“Yes, sir,” they chorused.

“My, it’s been some little while, then. You’re both all grown up, just like my Luna.”

Harry stepped forward to grab his hand. “I’m Harry, Harry Potter.”

“Yes, Mr. Potter, we finally meet in person. The Quibbler with your interview remains our highest number of reprints ever. Just give me the word when you’re ready for another one and we will make room for you.”

“Thank you, sir,” Harry said diplomatically. “I’ll keep that in mind. And this is Hermione Granger -”

“Ah, Miss Granger. I still have trouble believing you persuaded that Skeeter woman to write an intelligible article, and that it sold nearly as well as it did.”

“Thank you, sir. She wouldn’t have gotten to write it otherwise.”

“Fabulous! It’s so nice to see some friends of my dear Luna - come, sit down and have a cuppa.”

“Sir,” Harry began hesitantly, “I wanted to apologize for getting Luna involved at the Ministry last month -”

“Nonsense,” Xenophilius cut in. “Keeping my Moonbeam from an adventure is like telling the wind not to blow. She’s rather like her mum was in that regard.”

Harry glanced at Luna’s wide smile and then knowingly at Ginny, who returned his glance. They silently agreed, Moonbeam was a very fitting name for their young friend.

They chatted for a while about school, adventuring and other topics while Luna brought up tea, biscuits and some other treats.

“Don’t take anything Daddy offers you. His taste buds were damaged from a strain of wizard flu and he loves everything uncommonly bitter. You wouldn’t like it.”

Hermione began to remark how terrible that must be, but he waved it off.

“It’s actually become quite the boon, you see. You would not believe how much you can learn from tasting a sample of fresh feces in the wild - the type of animal, it’s diet of course, it’s range if you are familiar with the botany of the region -”

The teens began to look at each other, wondering how they got on this topic, and Hermione was desperately searching for something, anything to change the direction of the conversation.

“Oh, that’s a fascinating medallion you’re wearing. Does that symbolize something in particular?”

Xenophilius’ train of thought crashed head-on with another and he sat momentarily stunned.

“My dear,” he said in a low, deliberate tone, “I take it you are unfamiliar with the Deathly Hallows.”

What followed was the fascinating yet bizarre story - The Tale of Three Brothers, read happily by Luna, acting out all the parts herself - as scribed by Beedle the Bard, about three brothers who tried to cheat Death by magically creating a bridge over a dangerous river. They were “rewarded” for their efforts by each being offered a gift from Death himself, who was secretly vengeful and determined to have his due. The combative first brother asked for a superior wand more powerful than any other, the arrogant second brother asked for a stone to recall others from death, but the wise third brother asked to be able to hide from Death and was reluctantly given Death’s own Cloak of Invisibility.

The first brother was killed in his sleep after bragging about his gift; the second brother tried to bring his lost love back from death but decided to join her instead. The third brother lived a long satisfying life, passing the cloak to his son before gladly joining Death as equals and going to his rest at a great age.

Xenophilius insisted that these three objects - together known as the Deathly Hallows - were real and were represented by the line (the Elder Wand), circle (the Resurrection Stone), and triangle (Cloak of Invisibility) in the design on the medallion, and that the three brothers were named Peverell. He claimed that the wand’s violent history could be traced through the ages until recent times. Only questers such as himself even knew about their real power - that whoever united the three Hallows would become the master of Death.

They were understandably skeptical, but remained polite until they departed for the Burrow.

After exiting the fireplace from their short floo trip, the teens retrieved the Weasley copy of Beedle’s storybook. Hermione wasted no time debunking Mr. Lovegood’s version of events.

“I know you want to believe your cloak is special, Harry, and it is, but Death’s own? It’s a fairy tale! It’s a lesson on morality for children, not some coded message for mastering Death! It’s utter and complete rubbish.”

“But he described my cloak exactly when he was talking about it… Why would Death need an invisibility cloak anyway?”

“Maybe he wanted to change things up a bit,” Ron said. “Sneak up on people, not all scary - flapping his arms about and shrieking -”

“But it would be pretty awesome to have an unbeatable wand,” Ginny mused, “if there was such a thing.”

“There have been records of very powerful wands over the years,” said Hermione, “the Deathstick and the Wand of Destiny -”

“Which he said might all be the same wand,” Ron reminded them. “It shouldn’t be a problem having it if you didn’t go bragging about it.”

“Like you could ever do that,” chided Ginny.

“But the most ridiculous thing,” continued Hermione, “is the way he justified the existence of the Resurrection Stone by saying ‘prove it doesn’t exist!’ By shifting the burden of proof, you could claim almost anything!”

“Harry?” asked Ginny, noting his far-away look. “Are you okay?”

“But what if there was a stone like that?” Harry whispered. “That you could actually talk to…” He swallowed hard, unable to continue.

Hermione was stricken - of course he would want to use the Resurrection Stone. He could say all those things he’d never had a chance to his parents, to Sirius… 

“Harry, I’m so sorry…”

She quickly jumped to his side and pulled him into a long hug. Ginny used the opportunity to add comfort from his other side.

“Oi, don’t smother the poor bloke!” said Ron with a chuckle.

Harry joined in the mirth at their awkward emotional display, but he certainly didn’t mind being held between two pretty girls that meant the world to him. “Thanks, guys. You’re the best friends anyone could hope for.

“Seriously, though,” Harry went on, “I asked Mad-Eye for a favor when we were in Diagon Alley. Next week he and Remus are going to take me to Godric’s Hollow. I’ve never seen where I grew up or where my parents are buried.”

“Oh, Harry, that’s very nice of them.” Both girls held onto one of Harry’s hands. “Can we come along?”

“Sorry, I asked, but they’re concerned about security; they wouldn’t budge on that. Just me, and I have to stay under my cloak the whole time.”

“That makes sense. When will you be going?”

Harry recalled the other words in the song that Luna had sung to them on Ginny’s birthday, and the anxiety to visit his original home rose another notch.

“Tuesday afternoon.”

o o o

A bloody tourist attraction, complete with graffitied sign in front - that’s what his former home had become.

Harry had been warned about the war memorial in the village square - how it would transform to a statue of the young Potter family whenever approached by magicals - but the house was something that defied description.

The last of a row of cottages on this quiet lane, it was a dark hulk of overgrown vines, nettles and shrubbery, except a blown-out gaping hole in the top story, attesting to the power of backfiring curses. Seeing it now, he had no idea how he, as a mere toddler, had survived such violence. It renewed his thankfulness to be alive and his awareness that there must be a higher purpose, that there was a reason he remained the “Boy-Who-Lived” despite all the brushes with death he had experienced.

Stupid prophecy.

Of course, he couldn’t talk about any of this right now; he was under strict orders to remain silent under his invisibility cloak.

“Sad to see what the place has become,” Remus said sullenly.

“I’m going to have a discussion with magical maintenance,” said Mad-Eye, Harry’s other minder today. “I doubt anyone’s been here since ‘81.”

As they started back toward the center of the village, Harry silently thanked them for their concerns. He understood that the Ministry had purchased the property, but this was not his idea of a suitable memorial for his parents.

A few cottages along, they were stopped by a small elderly woman.

“Alastor Moody, is that you?” she rasped.

“Aye, it is,” the retired Auror said. “Bathilda?”

She nodded shakily and looked at Remus. “Ain’t you that werewolf what taught at Hogwarts?”

He bowed. “Remus Lupin, Ms. Bagshot. It’s an honor.”

Harry stood in wonder - Bathilda Bagshot. Was this the same woman who wrote the old History of Magic textbook? Hermione was going to be sooooo jealous.

“Ah, young James’ friend. You’ll do,” she harrumphed. “I need you two to deliver Albie a message.”

“Albie?”

“I know he likes to sit in his little tower up at the school, but he needs to bring that boy to see me.” She waved idly towards the ruined cottage. “The boy probably doesn’t know his own legacy, and I’d bet a hippogriff’s hindquarters he ain’t sharing.”

Remus and Mad-Eye exchanged a look.

“Aye,” Mad-Eye said, “we can do that.”

“Make sure that ye do,” said the woman, more fervently than she seemed capable. “If he doesn’t, you also tell him that some things I know might just find themselves printed up in that trashy rag that comes out of Diagon.”

“We understand,” Remus said. “Thank you for letting us know.”

She nodded, turned, and disappeared through a rusty gate in front of what they assumed to be her own cottage.

They continued their walk back towards the village square.

“What do you suppose that was about?” Remus wondered out loud.

Harry echoed those thoughts as he walked quietly alongside.

“No idea,” said Mad-Eye, “but it sounds like she knows some secrets about both our young lad and the headmaster. If I was that lad, I would press ‘Albie’ for whatever he knows.”

“And I would probably not call him that,” Remus said with a grin.

“Aye,” agreed Mad-Eye, “she can get away with it since she was born before they had history.”

They both laughed, and Harry squeezed each man’s shoulder to let them know he appreciated what they were doing for him.

By this time, they were back at the square and walked through the kissing gate beside the small village church into the cemetery that stretched well beyond the rear of the stone chapel itself.

They began to weave their way between the headstones, which came in all sizes, styles, and ages. Harry passed one with the name Abbott carved on it, and wondered if Hannah had family here. Several others were interesting, but one really ancient headstone caught his eye and he found himself staring at the same symbol on the medallion worn by Luna’s father. He reached out to brush some of the lichen off the surface and thought he could make out a name: “Ignotus Peverell.”

Stunned, Harry stared at the headstone. This was the youngest brother that purportedly owned Death’s invisibility cloak, buried in Godric’s Hollow near his own parents. Was this just a crazy coincidence, or - 

“They should be just there, a little beyond the Dumbledores.”

Dumbledores? Harry hurried forward and saw the names Kendra and Arianna Dumbledore, mother and daughter, and the dates matched what Harry imagined the headmaster’s mother and sister might be. Had he grown up here as well? Harry noted that he had several things to ask after he returned to school.

He looked up again, and both of his minders were standing before a large white block of carved marble. He stepped around between them and beheld his parents' names, almost aglow in the afternoon sunlight. Funny, he’d never known their birthdays - his dad’s was 27 March and his mum’s 30 January. Both were 21 on that fateful Halloween night.

There was a line across the lower portion: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” Harry had no idea what to think about that - weren’t they already dead?

He felt he should say something, but he was supposed to stay perfectly quiet, and what could he say anyway? Thank you for your sacrifice? While that was true, it seemed wholly inadequate for what they went through that night. The whole scene replayed in his head whenever dementors were near.

His dad had told them to run while he made a futile stand to delay the inevitable. His mum took him to what was apparently the nursery but what followed was very curious. When Tom entered the room, he did not kill them immediately. He offered to spare his mum - his Muggle-born mother - if she would stand aside. She refused, of course, and insisted that he kill her instead of her son. He eventually followed through with that, but it was if he hadn’t really wanted to -

Suddenly, a familiar pain pierced through his scar, and he let out a soft involuntary moan.

“Harry?” Remus whispered, concerned.

Harry shut his eyes tightly to fight off the pain, and suffered a moment of vertigo.

In his mind, he was watching the backs of two men standing before a white marble slab, several rows away.

“Remus, Mad-Eye,” he forced out through clenched teeth. “We’re not alone. We need to leave, now.”

o

Back to index


Chapter 6: The Voice

Author's Notes:

A/N: This story has recently become my second most favorited and followed - thanks to all; I hope I keep it up to your expectations. Several kind reviewers (in this and some other stories) have mentioned how they like my characterizations of Harry and Ginny - I just write them as I think JKR would have if she had let them be together more often, taking many of my cues from the "horntail tattoo" scene at the beginning of HBP chapter 25 (shameless promo: my fic "Body Art" expands on that). Welcome to my headcanon.

Ch 6 in which Harry thrives in confrontations…


- 6 -
The Voice

Won't you take me back to school?
I need to learn the golden rule
Won't you lay it on the line?
I need to hear it just one more time

o

With your arms around the future
And your back up against the past
You're already falling
It's calling you on to face the music

- The Moody Blues

o o
o

"What do you mean?" asked Remus, alarmed. "Who's here?"

"Behind you," Harry said, still in pain, eyes wrenched shut. "Several rows back. I think it's the snake - his snake."

In Harry's mind, he was looking at the two men, Remus Lupin and Mad-Eye Moody, who had brought him here to this windswept graveyard in Godric's Hollow, turning from the headstone of James and Lily Potter to face his viewpoint. It still seemed odd that he was standing right between those two, but unable to be seen because of his invisibility cloak.

"Can you point me to it?" growled Mad-Eye, who already had his wand raised in defense of something he couldn't see.

Catching on quickly, Harry grabbed Mad-Eye's wand arm and reclosed his eyes. After a couple of misdirected attempts, he pointed it so that it was lined up with the source of the view he was seeing in his mind. It was like he was pointing the wand at himself.

"There! You're pointing right at it!"

Mad-Eye sucked in a quick breath. "Reducto!"

A jet of magical energy erupted from his wand, and in Harry's mind the view jumped abruptly to the side and was obscured in a cloud of earth as the blasting curse hit the ground nearby.

"We missed," Harry said, "but it was really close."

"I can see movement!" Remus cried, who began firing curses himself. "It must be disillusioned, but it's got dirt on it!"

"Right," agreed Mad-Eye, and together they rained a hail of lethal magic upon the spot where they thought the snake might be, moving between the headstones.

Suddenly, the pain eased in Harry's mind; he could no longer see the view from the snake's eyes. He opened his own eyes in time to witness a misty black cloud rise from a barely recognizable mass of a bloodied, thick ropey body. Its anguished scream was an unearthly reminder that this was no normal snake.

"Merlin," breathed Harry, as his minders looked on in wonder, "that was - "

But his thought was interrupted by a series of pops in the graveyard, and half a dozen dark figures with eerie white masks began firing curses their way.

"Get down!" yelled Mad-Eye, even as all three dropped behind the nearest headstone.

"Protego!" cried Harry, and a substantial shield formed in front of them, giving a momentary respite from the chunks of exploding headstone.

"Harry!" said Remus, "you aren't supposed to - "

"As a senior member of the DMLE," interrupted Mad-Eye, "I authorize use of underage magic for emergency defense. Keep that damn shield up!"

Harry poured out more magic to strengthen the shield as he watched Mad-Eye send off a pair of patronuses while Remus tried to return some nasty hexes of his own.

"They've blocked apparition and portkeys and have us outnumbered," Mad-Eye said. "We've got to defend ourselves until help arrives. I've notified Dumbledore and Thicknesse, let's see who gets here quicker."

Harry noticed that the Death Eaters were slowly moving closer to their position, but were staying relatively close together. He realized they would be upon them very soon if they didn't do something more offensive.

"Remus, do you think you could take my cloak and flank them?" He pulled out the decoy detonators he acquired at the Weasley twins' shop. "These set off some kind of fake explosion that may distract them. You take a couple and throw behind them, and I'll do the same from this side."

Mad-Eye nodded as he continued to fire his own curses. "Do it!"

Remus agreed and took the cloak from Harry. "You're sure?"

"I don't really wanna die on top of my parents' graves, so, yeah, go!"

"Once he starts moving," Mad-Eye said, "drop your shield and give 'em hell. He needs cover fire."

Harry began with the most powerful blasting hexes he could muster, and the headstones which hid the Death Eaters soon became rubble, forcing them to retreat behind a further row, even with two of them holding shield spells. This went on for a minute or so before two new explosions were heard further back and their attentions were suddenly divided as curses now came from the side they hadn't been protecting.

Harry took advantage and tossed his two detonators out before resuming the barrage of blasting hexes, actually getting a good hit on one of them. Three of the Death Eaters were now down, and the others were yelling and scrambling, confused about where the attacks were coming from, and then a wash of magic overcame the graveyard.

They had dropped their portkey blocking enchantments and disappeared.

Shortly after, the red-robed Aurors and Albus Dumbledore arrived almost simultaneously to find Mad-Eye Moody standing over a collapsed Remus Lupin and Harry Potter, both of whom were bloody and bruised, yet laughing uncontrollably.

"Stupid pranks," Mad-Eye grumbled to the bemused group, "and these two knuckleheads saved our arses today."

o o o

"Sure you don't want me to kiss it again?"

"It's okay, Gin, but I'd rather have you kiss me here," Harry pointed to his lips, "because they like it better."

"And it has nothing to do with that little wince every time?"

"Maybe a little," Harry admitted. The left side of his head had apparently taken a beating from pieces of the exploding headstones earlier that afternoon. Ever after a visit from Madam Pomfrey, the Hogwarts school matron, it was still a little sore.

"Any more headaches?"

"No, thankfully Tom seems to have settled down a bit. He was so mad for so long…"

"You would be too if your 'cowardly minions' had been too late to save your creepy familiar who had been stalking a likely spot that your nemesis would appear, anticipating a preemptive sneak attack that would save you the trouble of embarrassing yourself again in front of said cowardly minions."

Harry fought a losing battle to keep his laughter quiet in the otherwise still house. "Well, when you put it that way…"

They held onto each other in their collective mirth, but as their tension released, they were reminded once again that Harry had survived yet another brush with death that day.

"Is it always going to be like this?" Ginny sighed.

"Merlin, I hope not. The prophecy said 'neither can live while the other survives' and I guess this is what that really means. Dumbledore is supposed to give me lessons on how to take down Tom permanently this year, if that works - "

"When it works…"

"Right," Harry grinned, "I just might be able to live - really live - a normal life for once."

"Harry Potter, doing normal?" Ginny said with a smirk. "The world might stop from the shock…"

o o o

The Godric's Hollow attack received little attention in the press since only a snake was killed and only Dumbledore knew of its true significance. He also pressed the Aurors into neglecting to mention the involvement of Harry Potter in their public report.

The rest of the summer passed in a blur of wedding planning, quidditch, packing for school, and secret late-night rendezvouses of the two teens who were comfortable enough to relax together, sharing warmth, comfort and kisses as they needed. Yet they still kept these meetings to themselves because Harry was determined that Ginny would not be connected to him more than she already was as a Weasley.

On the first day of September the teens arrived once again at Kings Cross station, escorted this time by a couple of surly Aurors who had little to say and even less humor about it. They made it through the barrier without any problems, but as usual they were running late and had very little time to board the train. Molly delayed Harry even more by giving him one of her mothering hugs and reminding him that he was invited to spend Christmas with them this year.

"It's all worked out with Dumbledore," she said, as Harry backed onto the steps.

Harry nodded with a grin, thinking he would be wherever Ginny was.

They remained on the steps as the Hogwarts Express commenced its northward journey, hissing and chugging. Molly jogged alongside, waving them off, until she ran out of platform.

Harry nudged Ginny, one step above him. "I remember you doing that on my first trip," he said with a teasing grin.

"We Weasleys will always see you off, Harry," she said, gripping his shoulder. "I better get going unless we want people to talk."

"Right," Harry agreed sadly, watching her disappear into the carriage. It was all part of the plan to keep their relationship secret - Ginny would spend plenty of time with her own friends on the train and at school. Harry knew she would still be around, but time alone together would be harder to find, and he could already feel the emptiness in his heart.

Harry entered the carriage as Ron and Hermione made their apologies, proceeding forward to the prefects' carriage where they had to participate in the start-of-year briefing.

He found himself alone in the aisle, suddenly aware of the many pairs of eyes looking his way with awe, fear, or something else even more frightening from the girls around him, like he was just plated up for their next meal.

Luckily, he found a friendly face further ahead. "Hey, Neville, wait up!"

Together they met up with Luna and half of the "Ministry Six" finally found an empty compartment they could share. They spent an enjoyable time catching up on their summer activities and thankfully Luna did not bring up Ginny at all.

That didn't mean they were left alone. The starstruck girls kept wandering by to say hello and even invite Harry to their compartments. A bold fourth year Gryffindor named Romilda Vane was particularly insistent, but Harry took offense when she made some unflattering comments about his compartment mates.

"They think you should have cooler friends," Luna said with her typical blunt honesty.

"I don't care what they think - you guys are cool; you came to the Ministry with me and that's the kind of friends that I want."

"Thanks, Harry," Luna said, settling down wearing strange-looking 'Spectrespecs' and reading the latest Quibbler upside-down, because special content was hidden that way. Harry never fully understood, but he did find her quirkiness endearing. It bothered him that her bullies were never dealt with in the past; maybe they could do something about that this year.

"Yeah, that means a lot," Neville added, "and what you said about my wand was spot on too. My new one works so much better -"

They chatted about the Ministry battle as the train clicked along the tracks, and Harry remembered that Dumbledore had mentioned it might have been Neville who could have been chosen as the subject of the prophecy, might have become the Boy-Who-Lived, and might have experienced these crazy situations instead of himself. He looked critically at his friend and felt he was finally growing into a formidable wizard, one he would be glad to have his back.

Ron and Hermione finally returned with news that Draco Malfoy was shirking his prefect duties, just sitting with the other Slytherins and being rude to all who passed.

"It's like he has this higher calling," Ron said, "as if he wasn't stuck up enough already."

"Yes," Hermione said, giving Ron a look of warning, "but who knows what he really thinks. He doesn't have his father around to threaten anyone this year."

"Maybe we did him a favor," Harry returned, and they all laughed in agreement. Harry was aware that they weren't supposed to spread any gossip about Draco gaining the Dark Mark, but Harry also knew that he would need to be watched carefully this year.

Ron began complaining about the food trolley not coming through yet when a young girl brought two invitations for 'a bite of lunch' with their new teacher, Horace Slughorn, one each for Harry and Neville.

"Why's he inviting me?" Neville wondered aloud. "I'm not you, Harry."

You could have been, thought Harry. "You're underestimating yourself, mate, but I don't really know why he's inviting me except I met him over the summer."

"Seriously, mate?" Ron laughed.

Harry grimaced. "I'd rather not be famous, you know."

"We know, Harry," said Hermione. "You'll tell us what he's like?"

What he's like, thought Harry as he shared some of the professor's pheasant and meat pies, is larger than life. Not only did his bulk dominate the space in the compartment but his boisterous personality overshadowed everyone else he had invited.

Slughorn was also some kind of collector of the rich, famous and well-connected members of British magical society. Everybody who was anybody was welcome to join his 'Slug Club' as he called it. Sharing the compartment were a couple of seventh years whose parents were known for something - Belby from Slytherin, and the arrogant berk McClaggen from Gryffindor, who kept trying to brag his way onto the quidditch team. Besides Neville and himself, Blaise Zabini was in their year from Slytherin and had a mum who was famous for her beauty and the number of times she had been widowed, leaving her quite rich.

The lone fifth year was Ginny, who was probably the only attendee there on their own merit, because Slughorn had witnessed her performing a nasty bat-bogey hex on Zacharias Smith who had been extremely annoying. Harry was secretly proud of her for that; he had no love for Smith either.

Slughorn interviewed each of them in turn, eventually trying to get Harry to admit or deny that he was indeed the 'Chosen One' as declared in the Daily Prophet and Harry would only admit to being in the confrontation at the Ministry of Magic in June, and Ginny and Neville backed him up.

The professor spent the rest of the afternoon in long random soliloquies about his time with the rich, famous, and otherwise well-connected wizards and witches of British magical society, and the students were eager to leave once he realized they were getting close to Hogsmeade station and dismissed them.

In the corridor, Harry spied Zabini walking ahead and realized he would be returning to the compartment with Draco Malfoy and friends, and he was always one to take advantage when opportunities presented themselves.

"Ginny," he whispered urgently, pulling out his invisibility cloak, "I'm going to try something crazy. I'll see you guys on the platform." And he disappeared before she could respond.

It was dicey getting into the Slytherin compartment, but Harry managed to hide on the luggage rack for the rest of the trip. Malfoy was at first curious about the meeting, but quickly bored once he determined the news was of little worth. He gave subtle hints that his status and responsibilities had improved beyond that of a simple student and left the others to make of that what they would.

Harry was so engrossed in the conversation that he was caught unawares when Goyle reached for his trunk and caught Harry hard on the side of his head. Malfoy noticed his gasp, just as he thought he had seen a flash of a white trainer as Harry first climbed up.

When the train finally pulled into Hogsmeade station, he told the others to go ahead and wasted no time sending a petrifying hex at the spot where Harry was hiding, causing him to topple and crash uncontrollably to the floor, defenseless before the angry Slytherin.

"Potter - I might have known," Malfoy laughed maliciously as he checked that the corridor was empty. "You think you're so smart sneaking in here, but you didn't hear anything I care about. But I have a message from Father for you…"

He brought his heel heavily down on Harry's face, breaking his nose and spurting blood across the compartment. He pulled Harry's invisibility cloak out from underneath him and draped it over his immobile body.

"They might find you when the train gets back to London, or they might not. I'm not bothered either way. Have fun, scarhead." With that, Malfoy took care to tread across Harry's fingers on his way out the door.

Harry could hear his steps fading away and cursed his luck. He was invisible, he couldn't move and had no way to let anyone know about it. Malfoy was going to lord this over him…

He thought he heard someone whisper a spell, followed by a muffled whump that he could feel through the floor. A moment later, the compartment door slid open and the voice of an angel called out to him.

"Harry? Are you here?"

Shuffling feet approached until they bumped his legs. His invisibility cloak was lifted away and that same voice called, "Finite incantatem."

Harry was finally able to stretch out and wipe the blood away that had been pouring into his open mouth. "Ginny! You are amazing, you know that?"

"Yeah, I know," she said with a smirk. "When you said you were going to 'try something crazy' I knew someone needed to watch your back. Here, let me fix your nose. Episkey."

"Ooh," Harry said as his nose returned to its normal shape, "that feels so much better."

They made their way down the corridor and stepped over the stunned body of Draco Malfoy.

"How did you get the drop on him?" Harry asked.

"He was gloating, not paying much attention or looking for hidden assailants, piece of cake, really…"

"Hey, there's still people on the platform. Do you wanna get under the cloak, just to be safe?"

Ginny shrugged. "Sure, I guess." She ducked under and vanished as they made their way off the train toward the carriages for the school.

"Hey, Tonks!" Harry said as they passed the young Auror providing security. "You should probably know, I just saw your cousin Draco back there; he didn't look so good. Someone may have cursed him or something."

Tonks frowned. "Wotcher, Harry, thanks for letting me know." She climbed onto the train muttering about blond ponces who deserved whatever they got…

Harry found Hermione, Ron, Neville and Luna waiting by one of the last carriages. As they all climbed in, Ginny suddenly appeared among them and only Luna noticed, giving her a big smile.

"Harry, what happened to you?" Hermione said. "You've got blood all over you." She quickly siphoned it off him with her wand.

"Thanks," Harry said in gratitude."Malfoy happened, and no, I didn't leave him any worse for wear. He's just stunned and I sent Tonks to look after him, so no harm done."

"Waste of a good opportunity, there," said Ron.

They talked and laughed the whole ride up to the school and just before they walked through the doors of the Great Hall of Hogwarts School, Harry took Luna's arm.

"Shall I escort you to your table, milady?" he said in an overly posh accent.

"Why thank you, good sir," she said, raising her chin to play along.

The procession caught the eyes of everyone - the newly self-assured Boy-Who-Lived, happily chatting with the odd girl known by many as Loony, followed by four scowling Gryffindors with wands held low but ready, focused on the wary Ravenclaw students with an unmistakable message:

Don't mess with our Luna, unless you want us to mess with you.

o o o

Despite the dark warnings by Dumbledore and the confirmation that Snape was indeed the new Defense teacher, Harry enjoyed returning to school and the company of friends. Yet he had a bad feeling that the incident with Malfoy on the train had yet to be resolved.

It was not until they were dismissed back to their common rooms that he received the summons to the headmaster's office.

"I'll see you back in the tower soon," he told Hermione and Ron, giving Ginny a glance that said I'll be alright and they can't pin anything on you.

Harry entered Dumbledore's office and was not surprised to find that Snape was already there, wasting no time to accuse him of attacking students on the train.

"Potter has gone too far this time! Chosen One or not, he should be expelled!"

Harry looked at the sour man with an icy expression. "Let me guess, it was Draco Malfoy that made this accusation?"

"It matters not -"

"Oh, I believe it does, because everyone in this room knows that he is a consummate liar. If it's not an outright falsehood he conveniently twists the truth so that it is hardly recognizable."

Dumbledore scowled from behind his desk, but he seemed willing to listen to Harry's argument. Snape, however, was another matter.

"This is not about Draco, you insolent boy!"

"No, no, of course not," said Harry, arms crossed, "it's about being attacked on the train. You obviously gathered evidence to support his claim. Did you wonder about the body-bind curse on his wand? Did you find my blood on the heel of his right boot? Did you peek into his evil little mind to see what actually happened? Oh, wait, apparently not, because you didn't realize that it was actually him who attacked me!"

"So you say, but you were seen riding in a carriage with your friends, while Draco had to be revived by Aurors on the train! You were the last to leave - he was attacked by you!"

Harry chose his words carefully, stating only the truth while hiding Ginny's involvement. "I was petrified on the floor of a compartment. There was no way for me to see who attacked him. When I was able to get up, I passed him laying on the floor of the next carriage. I told Auror Tonks about it as I left the train, as I'm sure she already told you if you bothered to ask."

Snape maintained full steam ahead. "You weren't injured when you entered the castle. That proves you are lying!"

"My friends know basic healing and cleaning spells. They took care of me on the ride up."

Snape continued on, insisting that Harry was fabricating his whole story without any evidence other than the word of a newly branded Death Eater, almost as if he was still working for Voldemort after all these years -

Snape's raving became a distant echo to Harry as the final piece clicked into place and a terrible, chilling picture formed, crystalizing in his mind.

"It was you."

The simple accusation brought a death-like silence to the room, if just for a moment.

"What nonsense is this?" Snape spat.

"In the Hog's Head, it was you that was caught trying to overhear Trelawny's interview -"

"Headmaster!" Snape protested in outrage, "you see that Potter is now trying to misdirect -"

"You're the reason they're dead!"

Snape went for his wand, but too late realized that Harry's wand was already in his face.

"Petrificus Totalus!"

"Mr. Potter!" Dumbledore said as Snape crashed to the floor. "That is quite enough!" He rose from his chair, reaching for his own wand.

Harry, however, was in complete reaction mode and whipped around towards Dumbledore.

"Expelliarmus!"

Dumbledore watched in horror as the wand that had done his bidding for the past five decades flew into the outstretched hand of a student so lost in his anger that he paid no attention to the shower of sparks the wand emitted.

"Tell me it's not true!"

"Mr. Potter," Dumbledore pleaded, "Harry, you must calm down -"

"You won't, because you can't!" Harry cried, and began pacing across the office, wildly waving a wand in each hand.

He stopped in front of Snape's rigid body, who looked up at him, eyes full of loathing.

"That's why he didn't kill her straight away, isn't it? He told her to stand aside because you asked him to spare her life, didn't you? A favor for delivering the prophecy, wasn't it?"

He leaned closer. "You miserable waste of flesh, you couldn't even do that right."

"Harry!" Dumbledore said, "I must insist -"

"Sir," Harry said, waving a wand back in the headmaster's direction, "this is not about you. I need to say this right now."

He turned back to his former potions professor. "You remember my mum's sister, Petunia, right? She remembers you. She doesn't like you very much. But I don't take much of what she says at face value, because she's a real piece of work, just like her whale of a husband and their bully of a son. None of them like me very much either."

Snape lay frozen, still fuming, but he was at least paying attention.

"But growing up with them," Harry continued, "I learned to hate bullies with a passion. So when I saw how my dad and his friends treated you, I was horrified. As the last remaining Potter, I apologize for everything they did to you, and I release any debts that you may owe. But I can't change the past.

"So I realized that while my dad was a bully, he must've grown out of it, or mum wouldn't have chosen him instead of you. You, on the other hand, still hold onto your old schoolboy grudges, insulting me from my very first day in your class - you called me a celebrity when I'd only known about magic and that my parents were not layabout drunks for a little over a month. You take Malfoy's side in every disagreement we've ever had, despite the fact that he is almost always the instigator.

"More important, you ignored us when we told you about Sirius' innocence because you were so focused on finally getting revenge. Later you taunted him for being useless stuck at headquarters, so I consider you partially responsible for his recklessness in going to the Ministry in June and getting himself killed.

"Headmaster, I request to withdraw from Defense Against the Dark Arts class this year."

Dumbledore sat back, looking worn and even more aged than his years. "I can probably guess why, but please state your reasons."

"The only reason I learned anything from this git in Potions was because I knew nothing at all. However, I am a decent student of Defense - it was my only Outstanding OWL - and despite his obvious talents and knowledge of the subject, I doubt I will learn much if his teaching is no better than it was in Potions."

"Harry, that's not -"

"But the main reason - I don't want to go to Azkaban when I kill him after he goads me once too often, nor do I want my friends to be collateral damage."

He glared at Dumbledore, who finally sighed in resignation.

"I think we should discuss this after time has allowed cooler heads to prevail. And you must realize there will be consequences for your actions tonight."

Harry nodded. "Yeah, I reckoned there would be."

He tossed Dumbledore's wand onto his desk. "May I go to my common room now?"

"Yes, I believe that would be wise."

o

Back to index


Chapter 7: Melancholy Man

Author's Notes:

A/N: "His life caught up in misery" as described in this Mike Pinder classic could refer to several members of the HP universe, but one always comes first in my mind. Many thanks for all the appreciation of the last chapter - now for the aftermath!


Ch 7 in which Severus gets a reality check, and Harry gets a bit of 'unreality'…


-

Melancholy Man

When all the stars are falling down
Into the sea and on the ground
And angry voices carry on the wind
A beam of light will fill your head
And you'll remember what's been said
By all the good men this world's ever known

- The Moody Blues

o o
o

The headmaster's office was a pool of heavy stillness for a long moment, and then another, interrupted only by the long breaths of the two men who sat contemplating the departure of one Harry Potter, who had just bested the both of them.

Severus Snape's anger at the boy could only stew inside his immobilized frame, while Albus Dumbledore slowly shuffled to a side cabinet and removed two glasses and a bottle of dark amber liquid. He placed them deliberately in the center of his desk and fell heavily into his chair.

He poured two fingers depth into the glasses before him and sat back in reflection.

He picked up the wand that had done his bidding for years, discarded by its new owner, a slight discomfort confirming that its allegiance had shifted. He waved it in Snape's direction and freed the man from his frozen state, but not his misery.

Snape stumbled into one of the empty chairs and gulped a large measure of the fiery beverage provided.

"Headmaster," he rasped, "you let him just walk away?"

"As you witnessed, I felt I had no other choice."

"Surely now… now will you see reason and expel the insolent whelp?"

Dumbledore stared at the younger man. "Tell me Severus, what did you see here tonight?"

"What did I see? I saw one of the most flagrant abuses…"

"Severus! Use the talents of the mind with which you are so gifted, and see - not through the eyes of James Potter's bitter rival, but through the eyes of an uninterested observer, one who has no emotional investment in any of the lives relevant here. Think! What was Harry's demeanor when he entered this office?"

Snape closed his eyes and tried to shake himself free of the dark memories of the past. He took several shallow breaths, then longer ones as his mind cleared.

"He was… defensive... when he saw me here. As if he knew I would accuse him."

"Did he have reason for his attitude?"

"Yes, we… have a... history."

"And when his suspicions were brought to reality?"

"He concocted a story to counter my accusations."

"Did you detect any deceit in his tale?"

"Not that I could discern, yet he was obviously omitting something of import."

"I suspect you are correct, as I had the same impression. If we accept his version of events to be true as presented, it is possible that he does indeed know the identity of Draco's attacker and does not wish to reveal that fact. It may be one of his close friends."

"That would seem… logical," Snape said, forcing his emotions down.

"And his reaction when you refused to believe him?"

"He stopped listening and… arrived at a conclusion that he should never… How did he manage that?" he finished in a bitter tone.

"I cannot be certain, but I have reports that he has been asking very pointed questions regarding his parents over the summer, seeking a more honest representation of their personalities and actions. He no longer accepts the glossed-over versions from their friends nor the lies from his relatives. I believe that he and Petunia may actually have agreed to some sort of truce."

"Petunia - She was never a… pleasant person."

"No, and her attitudes towards magic and those who wield it have only worsened over the years."

Snape winced. "Has she… abused the boy?"

Dumbledore gazed piercingly at Snape. "If you had come to know him, I believe you two would find to have more in common than either of you would care to admit."

Snape tilted back his head, eyes closed, saying nothing.

Dumbledore took a sip of his own whiskey, then continued, "After Harry's epiphany, what did you see?"

"He attacked us both," Snape said in a growl.

"And where was your wand when he cursed you?"

Snape sighed. "In my hand, rising towards him."

"Which he could have interpreted as a threat. I foolishly did the same thing, and was similarly attacked. Did you notice, Severus, that he chose spells that would not physically harm us? That he chose the lowest level of attack that would remove the perceived threat? And not only that, he chose spells that would require us to actually listen to what he had to say?"

"Surely you cannot mean that we were at fault?"

"Do you not remember the frustrations at that age when you felt that no one would listen, understand, or even care about your own concerns?"

"So youth is now a legitimate excuse for losing one's temper?"

"No, I felt he used considerable restraint here tonight."

Snape scoffed.

Dumbledore chuckled, "We would both be seeking care from Poppy otherwise. Just two months ago I spent half a morning restoring my office from the one time I have ever seen him lose control over his emotions, and he wasn't using his wand."

"And what punishments did he receive from that temper tantrum?"

"None. Nothing was permanently harmed and no injuries were caused. He had just lost his godfather and been possessed by Voldemort, therefore some kind of emotional outburst was not unexpected. I thought it best to allow it to continue in a supervised environment until he was back in control of himself."

"What of his request to drop Defense?"

It was Dumbledore's turn to sigh. "Tom still expects regular reports from you, does he not? If Harry is not a student in your class, that will raise concerns about your importance as a confidant. However, I will explain to him - as well as to you - that there are certain expectations of both of you that I must insist upon. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, headmaster." Snape wasn't going to like this any more than Potter was.

o o o

Harry collapsed on the sofa nearest the fire next to Hermione.

"Harry?" Hermione said, a note of worry in her voice. "What happened?"

"I… erm… maybe I shouldn't bother unpacking."

"That doesn't sound good, mate," said Ron, who was thrashing Dean at chess. Ginny was at a nearby table chatting with her yearmates, but paying closer attention than anyone would notice.

"What did he say?" Hermione tried again.

"At first… it was just Snape ranting about me attacking Malfoy -"

"But I thought you were attacked by him!"

"Yeah, but he wouldn't listen until… I made him listen."

Hermione scowled. "How did you manage that?"

"I… used the body-bind curse on him."

Ron laughed out loud. "Good on you mate! No one deserves it more!"

Hermione, however, was aghast. "Harry, you attacked a teacher?"

"They pulled their wands on me - what was I supposed to do?"

"They? Did you attack the headmaster too?!"

His friends stared at him in stunned astonishment as he ran his hands through his hair in obvious frustration.

"You guys will write after I'm gone?"

o o o

Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat together at breakfast the following morning, discussing the possible ramifications of Malfoy's posturing on the Express and the differences their classes would be for the new term as NEWT level students.

Professor McGonagall performed her usual duty of passing out the new schedules and confirming the NEWT studies for all the sixth years, but paused before Harry with a look of disdain.

"Mr. Potter. The headmaster has excused you from DADA classes this first week, but your request to drop the class altogether has been denied. He will explain this to you more fully in your first detention Saturday evening in his office."

Harry winced. "My first detention?"

"Yes. Following your actions last night, you should expect to be in detention every week for the foreseeable future."

Harry only half heard McGonagall praising Neville Longbottom for his efforts at the Ministry to ease the sting of underperforming on his Transfiguration OWL. He let go of a long breath that he hadn't realized he'd been holding. After a real possibility of being expelled, detention was a much preferred option for punishment, even if it lasted the rest of the year.

"I'm sorry, Harry," Hermione said. "We'll take lots of notes for you. I've got to run to Ancient Runes now, but we'll meet after in the common room."

"Right, thanks, Hermione, You're the best."

o o o

Ginny sat in the common room after her last class of the day reading up on some of her new assignments when a slip of parchment suddenly materialized on her book. On it was a familiar messy scrawl with an intriguing message:

Make an excuse to go to the library.
H

She quickly closed the book on the note and told her friends as she packed that she was going to try to get a start on some of the OWL research and she would see them at dinner.

She had a feeling that someone followed her through the portrait hole that provided the entrance to the Gryffindor common room, but she was halfway to the stairs before she felt a hand take her arm and squeeze it four times.

"OK, fourth floor it is," she muttered, thankful that they had worked out a rudimentary communication code before returning to school.

When she reached the proper level, she again felt the hand directing her down a deserted hallway and then another before arriving at what at first appeared to be a long disused classroom. She entered and the door closed behind her. She heard privacy spells being directed at the only entrance to the room.

Harry completed his security routine, whipped his invisibility cloak over his head and turned to face a glowering Ginny with her wand pointed directly at his face.

"Convince me you're really who you're meant to be," she said forcefully, "or you'll be fighting bat bogeys for a week."

Harry was shocked but secretly proud of her. "Ginny, it's really me," he said, holding up his hands. "Look over there."

Ginny looked into the shadowed recesses and saw a settee. It looked exactly like the one they'd shared at the Burrow for most of the last month.

"Harry! How did you manage?"

"Magic," he smirked, earning him a slap on his arm. "I transfigured a desk from a room further along. Do I pass?"

"Exceeds expectations, Mr. Potter. Now, what's the emergency?"

"Nothing, except I've been missing my girlfriend terribly."

"Oh, that's certainly something that needs immediate attention."

With that, she wrapped her arms around him and pulled him into a long tender kiss that got increasingly more intense, hands and arms pulling and caressing, trying to satisfy their need for closeness that they had missed for the longest time - nearly two whole days.

Eventually they had shuffled to the settee, and Harry reveled in Ginny - the softness of her skin, the taste of her lips, the smell of her hair -

"Missed you in Potions today."

Ginny thought that an odd enough remark, she stopped nibbling on his earlobe.

"What?" she said, laughing.

"Slughorn's first class. He had several examples of things he'd brewed up - one was this love potion, Amortentia - it causes you to smell what you find most attractive. I noticed this flowery scent - and I knew it was your hair. It always smells so nice."

"You're so sweet," Ginny said, rewarding him with another kiss, giggling all the while. "So how was Potions today? Slughorn as good as Mom says?"

"He seems to know his stuff, and his personality is night and day from Snape. I might actually learn something from him this year."

"Is he still bothering you about being the Chosen One?"

"No, Hermione has taken over as his favorite student. Not only did she answer practically every question, she brewed the best Draught of Living Death and won a tiny vial of Felix Felicis -"

"The lucky potion? Oh, Merlin, that's amazing!"

"It was a bit of accident - we distracted her and she made a stir in the wrong direction, then the potion suddenly turned the exact color it was supposed to."

"How strange!"

"Potions are so finicky - it's like you need a secret manual to get ideal results, where somebody has tried all the different techniques."

"Too bad no one has something like that. At least Hermione got lucky to win the prize!"

"Yeah, I can't decide if I'm happier she got it or that Malfoy is stewing because she bested him."

"Ooh, tough choice on that one," Ginny laughed. "Speaking of Malfoy, you never told me what happened last night."

Harry related the entire sequence of events in Dumbledore's office, including how he had come to realize that Snape was the one that overheard part of the original prophecy and was responsible for leading Tom to his parents. Harry had lost his temper and attacked first Snape and then Dumbledore when it appeared they might attack him first.

"And I know I deserve the detentions, but it was kind of thrilling, beating the headmaster that way."

"When do you suppose was the last time someone did that?"

"It's probably been a long time, if ever. I'm not feeling too bad about telling off Snape, either."

"Of course not!" Ginny said. "If anything, it sounded like you went easy on him. He should be in Azkaban if you were right."

"Yeah, you've got a point. At least I don't have class with him this week. Ron and Hermione said today he hadn't changed a bit - he told them to start practicing non-verbal magic without telling them a thing about the theory."

"So the old dog's not learning new tricks?"

"Certainly. And they told me something else that bothers me a bit."

"What was that?"

"Snape was talking about the dark arts with so much drama - almost poetic - and Hermione said it was almost like me in the D.A."

It was several minutes before Ginny could stop laughing and they finally returned to the important task of snogging each other silly.

o o o

"Sir, your hand doesn't seem to have gotten any better."

Harry had arrived in a timely fashion for his Saturday detention with Dumbledore, and he assumed that the blackened hand of the headmaster's withering curse he had noticed during the summer would have been cured by now.

"No, Madame Pomphrey and Professor Snape have done what they can. Unfortunately, some curses - as you well know - result in long-lasting effects."

Harry knew he was referring to his own famous curse scar. "I understand, sir. If I may ask, how did it happen?"

"I shall divulge the full story to you in time, for it should be told properly, and I fear that tonight will not allow us that luxury, for we have much to do."

"What is it that I'll be doing?"

"Ah, I have neglected to inform you that we are in fact using the opportunity of your well-timed dispute with Professor Snape as a ruse - a cover, if you will - for the lessons that I and others will impart to you, as I discussed the night I delivered you to the Burrow."

"This isn't a real detention?" said Harry, bewildered.

"To everyone else, it will be. You did, in fact, commit an act that should result in severe punishment by attacking your teachers -"

"I know, and I apologize for losing control like that."

"Harry, I discussed your situation at length and Severus has come to understand that he exceeded protocols and that you did as well as could be expected in the circumstances. However, you must continue to participate in his class to help ensure his ability to make his reports to Tom. His role as spy is critical to keep abreast of Tom's movements and plans, such as we can."

Harry wasn't pleased about this but understood. He gave a nod in acknowledgement.

"You will remain in his class and endeavor to learn what he has to teach. In return, he will not be singling you out nor will he address you at all that is not specifically related to the lesson at hand, and then only if safety requires it. I trust this will not burden either of you to a great degree."

Harry nodded again.

"As for your Saturday evenings, some you will spend with me, learning about Tom's history and possible motivations, as well as speculating on avenues that may lead to his defeat."

"You know how to beat him? That I can survive?"

"Alas, we are journeying beyond the firm foundation of fact through the murky marshes of memory into thorny thickets of theorization where informed guesswork is the best we can hope to achieve. Fortunately, my guesses are better than most, but I have mentioned before that my mistakes are also larger by comparison. I hope that together our combined resources will be able to discern what would escape either of us alone."

"Yes, sir. What about the other Saturday evenings?"

"After the incident at Godric's Hollow, I felt it prudent for you to learn more advanced field techniques. In short, Alastor will be teaching you to fight."

o o o

When they finally got to the lesson itself, Dumbledore invited Harry to join him in his pensieve to view a memory of one Bob Ogden, formerly of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Harry was fascinated at how real the scene from decades past appeared, as if they were walking down the same lane into the village called Little Hangleton. In this case, he was trying very hard not to laugh at Mr. Ogden himself, a caricature of a clueless bureaucrat - short and plump with oversized thick glasses and a ridiculous combination of mismatched muggle attire better suited to a clown - who would take this guy seriously?

He led them off the primary lane down a long and poorly maintained dirt track between overgrown hedgerows, finally to a dark wood where a small shack - little better than a ruin - had a dead snake nailed to the front door.

The family that inhabited this hovel were as rough as their accommodation.

Harry was nearly as shocked as Ogden was when a dirty misshapen man dropped in front of him and began threatening him in Parseltongue. When the elderly father came out, Harry recognized the monkeyish appearance reminiscent of the great statue of Salazar Slytherin deep in the Chamber of Secrets at Hogwarts. Neither of them showed any respect to the younger daughter, a downtrodden wisp of a girl not much older than Harry. She shared some of the disfigurements of her brother including eyes that appeared to look in opposite directions.

Ogden had come to discuss the son's violation of the Statute of Secrecy by hexing a muggle. He ended up trying to step in between a family disagreement that escalated quickly to violence, requiring him to quickly return to the ministry for reinforcements to control the situation. Both men were sentenced to some time in Azkaban, the wizarding prison.

It wasn't until after they exited the pensieve that Harry learned the father's name was Marvolo, grandfather of Voldemort, and the pitiful girl turned out to be the mother of the future Dark Lord, who was sired by the local squire's son because of a crush and some sort of enchantment, probably a love potion. Harry had seen the handsome young man that he had been in his school days, and it was hard to imagine that he had descended from this lot.

This was what had become of the Gaunt family, proud yet pathetic descendents of Slytherin himself, demonstrated with their only remaining heirlooms - a locket engraved with a large S and something else that caught Harry's attention.

"Professor, that ring Mr. Gaunt was wearing - what became of it? Didn't you have it back in the summer?"

"Very observant of you, Harry," Dumbledore said. He reached into a drawer and removed a small leather bag, fumbled awkwardly with his blackened right hand to tip an object into his left hand.

He presented the ring to Harry. "Go ahead - it has been cleansed of curses."

Understanding that curses had been present, Harry hesitated, but only for a moment. He lifted it to his face and inspected the dark grey stone set in the plain gold band. Despite the softening patina of age, he could clearly see the now familiar markings that he had seen first in the Lovegood's sitting room and again on an ancient grave marker in Godric's Hollow. A strange feeling stirred deep within him, a wild idea of possibility that could not possibly be a reality.

"Professor, this design etched on the surface - Gaunt called it the Peverell coat of arms, yet Luna Lovegood's father called it the symbol of the Deathly Hallows - does either of those actually mean anything?"

Dumbledore sat back behind his desk. "As a matter of fact, both of those names carry some meaning given the proper context. You have met Xenophilius Lovegood?"

"I met him over the summer and he said Peverell was the name of the three brothers in the Tales of Beedle the Bard."

"From what I understand, Xenophilius is as knowledgeable on the details of the story as anyone, and to answer the question I'm sure you are about to ask, this is indeed the stone that belonged to Cadmus Peverell, the second brother."

Harry could only stare at this anomaly, this thing that defied nature itself, as Dumbledore continued as calm as discussing the weather.

"The Gaunt line ended when Tom was defeated by you in 1981, for inheritance law does not recognize his current status as living. Therefore the line of Cadmus Peverell has ended as well. The eldest brother Antioch had no offspring, so any legacy items of the three brothers pass to the line of Ignotus, the youngest of the Peverell brothers, whose line has one remaining member."

Recalling that the final resting place of Ignotus Peverell was only yards from his parents, Harry managed to utter, "Surely you don't mean me?"

"I do indeed. You already possess his fabulous cloak of invisibility, and the time has come to complete the set."

As he was saying this, he withdrew an easily recognizable object and placed it on his desk before Harry.

"Professor? That's your wand."

"It was for many years after I won it from its previous owner, but recently it was claimed by a new owner when you disarmed me."

"Sir? Are you saying that…" Harry paused, disbelief clouding his thoughts, "these things, the Hallows… they belong to me now?"

Dumbledore nodded.

"Does that mean I'm… what, the Master of Death?"

Dumbledore's eyes were twinkling in merriment, obviously enjoying the moment.

"I have no idea, but it should be very interesting to find out, don't you think?"

o

Back to index


Chapter 8: Steppin' In A Slide Zone

Author's Notes:

In case you wondered about the absence of the Prince's Potions textbook; it is not planned to leave its dusty cupboard for the duration of this tale. The mystery of its author is gone and Harry's not going to have access to all the Prince's little tricks; he was channeling his father a little too much.


Concerning Dumbledore, he is a richly complex character who says things like "From here on in, Harry, I may be as woefully wrong as Humphrey Belcher, who believed the time was right for a cheese cauldron." No one writes like that except JKR. The filmmakers' response was to omit the scene entirely, skipping the first memory and inserting inane small talk such as Dumbledore asking Harry if he's dating Hermione. No idea what they were thinking. I try to portray him honestly, but I know when I'm out of my depth.


The lyrics of this Moodies' song imply a sort of mentor relationship and the mystical funk sounded like Dumbledore theme music to me. Enjoy!


Ch 8 in which Harry plays with his new toys…


-

Steppin' In A Slide Zone

"Help me please!" I thought I said
Then something happened in my head
Music came from all around
And I knew what I had found

Standing in a slide zone
Falling through a time zone
Steppin' in a slide zone
He had me falling through a time zone

- The Moody Blues

o o
o

"Professor, I am terribly sorry about your wand - I didn't mean to -"

"Harry," Dumbledore said, "do not concern yourself over it. I still have my excellent wand crafted by Ollivander in his younger days. As for the Peverell wand, if Xenophilius told you anything of its history, you know that it does not stay with anyone forever."

"But I thought it was supposed to be mostly for dark magic - I don't understand - How did you -"

"While a particular wand may show a greater propensity for one type of magic over another, you should remember that intent is most important with magic, and the type of magic performed by this wand speaks more about the person wielding it than the wand itself. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir, I think so, but… is this really Death's wand?"

"That is the difficulty of separating fact from fiction - what part of the tale is reality and what part is the author's own creation? And that leads to another question - does the fact that a story is completely imaginary mean that it contains no truth at all?"

"So… what do we know about it?" said Harry, more perplexed than ever.

"Very good, Harry, a much better question to start with," said Dumbledore, nodding. "I do, in fact, know a fair bit about it, having had many years devoted to its study. It is made of elder wood with a core of thestral hair - a very tricky combination and possibly the only one of its kind, but not beyond the capabilities of a very talented wandcrafter, as Antioch may have been. As you are familiar with thestrals, you are aware of their connection with death, which may have been an inspiration for Beedle the Bard as he created his tale. Alas, the trail of the wand through history is strewn with many fatalities as well, earning it the 'Deathstick' moniker, among others."

"But I didn't kill you, so how did it become mine?"

"Fortunately in this case, legends do not always bear out in reality. Would it surprise you to know that the last three possession changes did not involve a death?"

"Really? How did you get it?"

"You have heard of Gellert Grindelwald?"

"Didn't you fight him to end - oh, that's when you got the wand, isn't it?"

"Yes, and he now has the ignoble honor of being the only prisoner in his own prison. He acquired the Elder Wand as a young man by stealing it from the wandmaker Gregorovitch."

"I've heard of him - he made Krum's wand."

"Indeed, he is retired but again still very much alive. I do not know how he obtained it, but returning to your question of how it became yours, you were the victor in a magical contest of wills, at least as the wand saw it."

"You make it sound like the wand is actually alive!"

Dumbledore chuckled. "There is much evidence that wands have a limited degree of sentience, probably not much more than a plant that knows how to find the sun, for instance, but Ollivander has a favorite saying -"

"The wand chooses the wizard. Yeah, he mentioned that."

"Correct, Harry, and this wand has chosen you. We can speculate as to why it switched its allegiance and we may never know with any degree of certainty. However, I do believe that you are strong enough of character to avoid the pitfalls of its legends, and it will be an aid to you as you become accustomed to its idiosyncrasies."

Harry stared dubiously at the wand. "You mean like it has odd behavior?"

"The wand has exhibited some unusual characteristics for both myself and for Gellert - it was different for the two of us, and I suspect it may vary for you as well."

"Such as?"

"Ah, that would be telling - I wouldn't want to spoil it for you." He sat back, eyes twinkling again, nodding toward the wand.

Harry wasn't sure why he was so reluctant to pick up the Elder Wand - he had held it just a few days earlier with no issues. Would acceptance of it change him somehow? Would his holly wand still perform as well as it had for the last five years?

Praying for the best, he reached across the desk and took it between his fingers.

He remembered the rush of warmth from his first contact with the holly phoenix wand in Ollivander's shop. This was almost the opposite.

A coolness like a drink of iced water on a hot day flowed through his body; every vein and sinew seemed more alive and eager to perform - like he was a predator stalking its prey, a potter forming the clay, a musician with instrument in hand -

And then the instruments were playing.

"Sir, are you hearing music?"

"Why, no," Dumbledore beamed expectantly, "I'm not hearing a thing. Can you describe it?"

"Well, it's not like anything I've heard before, but there's lots of different sounds all layered together. Some are very pleasant, like nice harmonies, but there's others that sound… well, angry, is the best I can describe it."

"Fascinating! Does it vary at all?"

Harry turned about, moving the wand this way and that. "Yes, it acts like some kind of sensor, but I don't know…"

He pointed it at the ring that still sat on the desk. "There's a certain sound that gets much louder with the ring. It's one of the pleasant musical sounds."

"Maybe the wand recognizes its brother Hallow."

Harry thought that would be a good idea to explore and pulled out his invisibility cloak, putting it before the wand. "You may be right, professor, the sounds are very similar, like the same instrument and part of the same chord."

"Extraordinary! A sound signature for different kinds of magic?"

"I reckon that's as good a name as any. I wonder…"

Harry brought the wand up to the lightning bolt scar on his forehead. "Oh, that sounds terrible - that's the angry music I'm hearing."

"That does seem appropriate for a curse scar," said Dumbledore, who then held out his right arm. "If you would?"

Harry tried not to let his revulsion show at the headmaster's withered, blackened hand that looked to be already claimed by Death. He held close the Elder Wand, but the combination of furious discordant sound, its wasted appearance and a faint odor of decay caused him to withdraw after only a moment.

"Yours is almost as bad as mine, sir. It's still angry, but not as deep sounding, and more… scratchy, I guess."

"This is a most remarkable discovery, and I hope you will continue to investigate its capabilities. I believe you should now try a few simple spells to gauge how your magic interacts with it."

Without really thinking about it, Harry uttered "Lumos" and was surprised at the brightness and coolness of the light. Various charms and transfiguration spells all worked more or less as expected, until Dumbledore stood and asked him to try some dueling spells.

Offensive spells came hot and fast and his shields were stronger. Harry could tell this was a wand for fighting.

"Very good, Harry," Dumbledore said at last. "Our last task is to ensure that no one recognizes this as my previous wand. Unfortunately, a transfiguration would not be possible on such a magical object, but a confundus might keep people from guessing that you are using a different wand. Shall I do the honors?"

Harry placed the Elder Wand back on the desk and Dumbledore muttered as he passed his original wand back and forth over it. As Harry watched, it seemed to look more and more like his own holly wand.

"That should pass inspection," Dumbledore said in a pleased tone, then cancelled the charm. "However, it would be wise to have the ability yourself should the need arise."

Harry patiently learned the charm and accomplished it a couple of times by himself, the last time outperforming even Dumbledore.

"I believe your familiarity with your holly wand has me at a disadvantage," Dumbledore said proudly. "There is one more gift I have for you, at Alastor's request, no less. He refused to work with you if a buttock was endangered, or something to that effect."

Harry smiled, "Yeah, he didn't like that I carried my wand in my back pocket."

Dumbledore said, "This should alleviate his concerns."

He presented Harry with not one, but two Auror-grade forearm wand holsters - specially charmed to secure the wand from removal by force and undetectable when worn - one for each arm.

"Thank you, sir! These are amazing," Harry gushed, becoming more thoughtful as he slipped the holsters on his arms, Elder Wand on the right, holly on the left. "But, what should I tell my friends about all these things - the Hallows? Hermione will probably go spare if she finds out they're real."

"And who are we to deprive Miss Granger of the opportunity to have her worldview upended?"

They shared a small laugh before Dumbledore lowered his voice.

"I leave it to your discretion when and to whom you share, remembering that a larger circle of knowledge may evolve into a target upon your back. Even the fact that you now carry two wands would raise questions better not asked. Tom's history is also highly sensitive information, which will become more obvious as we delve deeper into his own personal actions. Do you understand, Harry?"

"Yes, sir, thank you." Harry lifted the Peverell ring with the Resurrection Stone for one more inspection, then slipped it onto the middle finger on his left hand. He let the Elder Wand jump back into his right and he used it to cast a disillusionment charm on the ring.

"Very good, Harry," said Dumbledore. "Regarding the stone, I can only say that I hope it will help to bring you peace."

At that moment Harry found it very difficult to meet Dumbledore's eyes. "Thank you again, sir."

o o o

It was very nearly curfew by the time Harry passed through the portrait hole into the Gryffindor common room. He was dismayed to find that much of the house was still there, relaxing, playing games, or even a few dedicated to revising on the first Saturday night of term. There was no privacy to discuss anything with his friends.

The Elder Wand also had a lot to say - a chorus of overlapping textures and tones played through his mind as he walked across the room. He managed to focus enough to quiet the noise to manageable levels by the time he reached his friends in front of the fire.

"Hey, mate!" Ron called, "how was detention?"

Hermione scowled at him. "Maybe Harry doesn't want to announce it to the whole house."

"Sorry, mate," Ron said, grinning unrepentantly. "Surely he wasn't as bad as Snape or Filch?"

He glanced at Ginny's table and made sure he had her attention before turning back to Ron and Hermione. "No, it wasn't bad, just tiring," Harry said, holding his hands in specific poses - right hand with thumb and forefinger extended unobtrusively toward his watch - 6 o'clock - while his left index finger pointed to the floor - meet here. A meaningless pose unless someone was looking for it. "I think I'm gonna turn in early. We can talk about it tomorrow."

Harry ignored their weak protests as he headed for the stairs, checking that Ginny had positioned her thumb on her chin - a 'thumbs up' of acknowledgement that only Harry would notice - while she was chatting with her dorm mates. She didn't even look up as he left.

o o o

"Let me guess, he turned your detention into the lesson he was promising."

"I knew I had a brilliant girlfriend, but that was spot on. You are amazing, you know?"

"I know," Ginny replied with a proud smirk and a deep kiss from her boyfriend. They were back in the fourth floor room with Harry's version of the Weasley settee. "What pearls of wisdom did he share?"

"We took a pensieve trip and got to meet Tom's mother, uncle and grandfather - the worst excuses for pure-blood wizards I've ever seen. And even his Muggle father -" He outlined the memory from Bob Ogden while Ginny listened in fascination.

"And Mr. Gaunt is wearing this ring with what he called the 'Peverell coat of arms' and it's got that symbol of the Deathly Hallows Mr. Lovegood showed us."

"How curious! Whatever became of it?"

Harry described what little he knew of the three Peverell brothers and their artifacts. "And I'm now the only one left the last Peverell line -"

"So this ring really belongs to you now?"

Harry removed the disillusionment on the ring, "According to Dumbledore, it does."

Ginny gasped and grabbed his hand. "That's it! It's the stone, isn't it?"

Harry sat back, still tired from a long, listless night. "And that's not all of it." He described the result of disarming the headmaster after the feast and how the Elder Wand, the Deathly Hallow of the eldest brother, was now his as well.

He brought out both wands and removed the confundus on the Elder Wand.

Dumbfounded, Ginny could only stare at the ring and the wand and imagine what they were supposed to represent.

"And now it sings to me."

"What?!"

He tried to describe the way the Elder Wand reacted to magic nearby and the different kinds of sounds he heard from it.

"Wow, Harry," said Ginny, "that might be a very useful trick. It's a good thing you can turn it down or you'd probably go round the twist."

"You're assuming I haven't gone round the twist already," Harry mused. "Ginny, I can't hide this from Hermione and Ron, but I don't know how to -"

"Oh, Merlin, you're right, Hermione's going to have kittens! This is so incredible! Can I be there?"

"Of course, you might need to hold her down for me."

That set both of them laughing while they worked out a strategy for sharing the reality of the Deathly Hallows and surviving the aftermath.

o o o

After breakfast full of excuses and apologies, Harry led Hermione, Ron, and Ginny to the Room of Requirement. Harry paced three times in front of the blank wall until a door appeared. Opening it, Harry invited them into a comfortable sitting room complete with a small, crackling fire in the hearth.

"This is very nice, Harry," Hermione said. "Now why all the cloak and dagger about your detention."

"First off, it wasn't really detention. And everything we discuss stays between us four."

Ron looked at his sister. "Are you sure about this, Harry?"

Hermione was about to come to Ginny's defense, but Ginny was faster.

"After the D.A., after the Ministry, after spending summers together, you really need to ask that?"

Harry added, "Her experiences also make her uniquely qualified, in case you forgot - like I did."

Suitably chastised, Hermione and Ron would never question Ginny's inclusion again, Harry thought. He gave Ginny a quick wink when the others were looking down.

Harry began by explaining that Dumbledore had promised him lessons on how to win against Voldemort and that detention was just a convenient subterfuge.

"And you're going to get personal training from Mad-Eye?" said Ron, "If you can survive that, I suppose you're good for pretty much anything."

"Well, I haven't had any yet," Harry returned, "so I don't really know." He then described in detail the pensieve memory of the Gaunts and their sorry state of existence, how the daughter had potioned a handsome Muggle and fathered the future dark wizard.

"That's fascinating," Hermione said, "how an infusion of Muggle genes into an obviously long-inbred magical family could produce such a talented wizard."

"One who became a psychopath, but yeah," Harry agreed.

"What do Muggle pants have to do with anything?"

"Oh, Ron," Hermione chuckled. She briefly tried to explain human genetics - genes, not jeans - but after a few minutes gave it up as a bad job.

Harry glanced quickly at Ginny, who gave a small nod in return. "The thing is," he began, "I'm worried about the headmaster."

"Oh? Why do you say that?"

"You've seen his hand, right? I think it's getting worse."

"Everyone has noticed," Hermione said. "It looks like some kind of curse, obviously not easily cured, or it would have improved by now. Did he say how it happened?"

"Not yet, but it happened between the end of school and when he picked me up from the Dursleys'. He also acquired that ring that belonged to the Gaunts about the same time - and he implied that it had curses on it."

"What happened to the ring? Does Professor Dumbledore still have it?"

"No, he gave it to me." Harry cancelled the disillusionment and handed the ring to Hermione. "Apparently it's a family heirloom."

"Then why would the Gaunts have it?" Hermione said, looking at it closely.

Suddenly she gasped. "Harry James Potter!" she cried, facing him stormily. "What are you playing at?"

Harry returned her gaze. "I'm not playing at anything."

"This ring has the same symbol that Luna's father was talking about - those ridiculous Deathly Hallows - and you're telling me this is not a prank?"

"No prank, Hermione. Marvolo Gaunt called it the Peverell Coat of Arms. I forgot to tell you in all the mess after, I saw the grave of Ignotus Peverell in Godric's Hollow and his marker has that symbol too."

"The youngest brother? The one with the -" Hermione's eyes grew and seemed ready to leap from their sockets. "Are you implying your cloak is the cloak?!"

"I wouldn't have believed it either, but Professor Dumbledore said it was, that a Peverell daughter married a Potter centuries ago -"

"No, no, no, no, NO!" Hermione insisted, jumping to her feet. "It's a fairy tale!"

"A fairy tale inspired by real events. Listen, Hermione, Dumbledore said something last night that I had never thought about before. Just because a story is made up, it doesn't mean that there is no truth in it. The Peverell brothers were real and they created some very powerful magical items that still exist, all confirmed by the headmaster. The part about meeting Death on a bridge was probably the Bard being dramatic or something."

Ron had been sitting in quiet amazement but his curiosity got the better of him. "You mean there really is an all-powerful wand?"

"I'm not sure about all-powerful, but the Elder Wand is real. Professor Dumbledore has been using it for the last 50 years." As he was saying this, he placed the well-known object in question on the table, and Harry almost laughed at the way each of their mouths were open halfway to the floor.

Hermione whimpered and managed to say, "How?"

"He won it from Grindelwald, who stole it from somebody else. That's why no one can know I have these things, or they'll be coming after me."

"But why do you have it?"

"It apparently chose me when I disarmed the headmaster after the feast."

"Harry, that makes absolutely no sense -"

"He's dying, Hermione. That curse - he told me nothing more could be done. He didn't say it, but I could tell. It may be weeks or even months, but I'm pretty sure it's fatal and that's why he's passing all of what he's learned to me."

Ginny gasped. "You don't think he'll live to see the end of the war."

"No, but he knows that I have to be there, so he's doing what he can to help me."

They stared at each other, contemplating what this meant for Harry, for the headmaster, for each of them.

Ron, uneasy with the silence, finally spoke. "So, how good is this wand?"

Harry shook his head, smiling at his best mate. He told them how it felt when he first picked it up, of the spells he had tried and how they performed, and how the wand acted as some sort of magical sensor for him.

"He said it was different for him and Gellert -"

"Wait," said Hermione, “the professor called the Dark Lord Grindelwald by his first name?”

"Yeah, maybe they got to know each other after the war. He seemed particularly pleased that it sounded like music -"

"He would," said Ron. "He's the one who made us sing the school song to our own tune at the same time."

"Yeah, the wand is a little like that when I listen to it. What is it he says at the end?"

"Music, a magic beyond all we do here," quoted Hermione with a wry grin.

"Barmy, he is," said Ron.

Harry took Hermione's hand and slipped the ring from her grasp. He looked slowly around at the others, searching their eyes. "You guys are my closest friends, and I need you here, right now, because I don't think I can do this next thing alone."

"Harry? Are you sure about this?" Hermione said skeptically. "Does the headmaster even know if it works?"

Harry recalled the Dumbledore family grave he had seen in Godric's Hollow. "I think… he may have used it himself."

They all gathered around him, hugging him in support, and held on to his arm or shoulder as Harry looked down at the ring in his hand.

He closed his eyes and turned it three times.

The others gasped as a figure with long tousled hair became visible before them.

"Merlin's mangy mustache," muttered Ron.

"Well, I didn't expect to see you lot for another century at least," said the figure in greeting.

Harry opened his eyes, drinking in the sight he thought he would never see again.

"Sirius…"

o

Back to index


Chapter 9: The Day We Meet Again

Author's Notes:

A/N: Justin Hayward wrote a lot of the Moodies' most heartfelt ballads, many of which were never released as singles. Closing out the album Octave, this is a beautiful song to play for a special moment in our story. I hope I'm doing it justice. Be advised, tissues may come in handy.


Ch. 9 in which Harry reaches out…


-

The Day We Meet Again

The day we meet again
We will walk in peace
Through the garden down the road
Where the mist of time is lifting
See it rising in the air
Like the shadow I was chasing
When I looked it wasn't there
Oh, no

- The Moody Blues

o o
o

"Harry, how is this possible? Where are we?"

Harry could only stare at his godfather with longing. Ginny understood his dilemma and answered for him.

"We're in the Room of Requirement - that special room at Hogwarts we told you about."

"And it can bring people back from the other side?"

"No," said Hermione, "our Harry has apparently acquired all three of the Deathly Hallows from Beedle the Bard's Tale of the Three Brothers."

"And become 'The Master of Death!'" Ron added with a dramatic flair.

Sirius grinned, "So you needed another title to go with the Boy Who Lived, eh? Oh, just think of all the pranking opportunities you'll have now!"

"Pranks?" Harry groaned. "Really, Sirius?"

"Just trying to keep a positive spin on things," Sirius said, trying to sound reassuring. "Why did you call me first?"

"I wanted to see if the stone really worked," Harry said. "I was sort of hoping that it wouldn't, because then I could pretend that maybe you weren't -" He choked, unable to say the word.

"Sorry about that, but I am well and truly passed to the other side. The arch in the Department of Mysteries is some kind of one way portal. There's no going the other way - I asked."

"Was it awful?"

"No, not at all - just embarrassing to get beat in a straight duel with my deranged cousin. I was stunned as I went through, and when I woke up your mum and dad were alternating between hugging the stuffing out of me and slapping the stuffing out of me for being such a stupid arse. I reminded them that we all had our share of being stupid, they agreed and we've been great ever since."

"Mum… Dad… You've seen them?"

"Of course! I was with them just a few moments ago when James gives me this huge grin - like he does when a really big prank is about to happen - and he tells me to say 'hi' for them. I had no idea what was going on until I showed up here."

"They knew I was calling you?"

"I suppose they did. They can see you in this world better than I can - probably because they're your parents. They'd love to see you in person."

"They aren't disappointed in all the trouble I've gotten into? I actually used an unforgivable curse on Bellatrix after she… you know…"

"Harry, your parents are not like your aunt and uncle. They love you and are very proud of you. You are the farthest thing from a disappointment. They told me they were cheering you on through the whole ordeal at the Department of Mysteries, even when you cast that curse. They had mixed feelings about it, wishing you had been able to put more into it and at the same time relieved that your soul was pure enough that you couldn't. And remember that James and I were renowned for our trouble-making. Lily is so glad you don't act like us, despite what certain greasy-haired gits tell you."

Harry was having a hard time accepting the truth of his godfather's words. Ginny kept rubbing his back to give him the comfort he needed in the hug he could no longer get from the man himself.

"Thank you," he managed.

"A few things I wanted to tell you while I'm here," Sirius continued. "Mundungus is making off with things from Grimmauld Place - not that I care about any of the Black silver goblets and what-not, but some of it is valuable and it all is yours now."

"Okay," Harry said. "What can I do about that?"

"Call for Kreacher. He can set some enchantments to block him from entering the house."

"Will he listen to me?"

"You're his master now; he has to obey you. I met my brother Regulus and he said we've all been too hard on Kreacher, that he really is a loyal and powerful house elf. He's going to tell me the whole story sometime, but apparently he's some kind of unsung hero."

"Kreacher, a hero? But he betrayed you!"

"House-elf loyalties don't work like ours, Harry." said Hermione. "If some of the other Blacks had shown him kindness, it's likely he would obey them even if he knew it would be to their master's detriment."

"You mean like Dobby did?" said Harry.

"Yes, very much," Hermione said. "Dobby's admiration for you superseded his loyalty to the Malfoys. I know Kreacher isn't the friendliest, but you need to talk to him."

"I will," Harry said, unenthused. "Sirius, I wish you hadn't -"

"Harry, stop right there. There is nothing that I would have rather given my life doing and that is coming to help you. And there's one thing I've learned since I've been here that I want to pass on to you."

Harry looked up eagerly. "What's that?"

"Don't dwell on regrets. Resolve your past and move on."

o o o

They visited for a while longer, enjoying the companionship that none of them thought would ever be possible. Eventually, Sirius said he needed to return to his proper place and Harry reluctantly let him go.

He sat staring at the empty spot his godfather had just left. Ginny could tell his emotions were wrung out so she decided to steer him back from the edge.

"Harry, he's still so stuck on pranks, I think you need to come up with a good one for him next time you call."

Harry returned to himself, eyes brightening. "I can call him again, can't I?"

"Of course you can," Ginny said. "I don't know about the rest of you, but that was exhausting. I think we need some lunch."

"I'm all for that!" Ron agreed.

"Of course you are," said Hermione.

"Can we eat here?" Harry said. "I'd rather not go to the Great Hall right now."

"The room doesn't provide food," Hermione reminded him.

"I know," said Harry, "but I know someone who can. Dobby!"

After a short moment, the house-elf in question popped in place before them. "What can Dobby do for the great Harry Potter?" he said eagerly, bouncing in place which made his big ears flop comically about.

"The great Harry Potter is hungry," said Ginny with a smirk. "And his friends are too. Can you bring us whatever is being served from the kitchens?"

"Dobby is happy to serve the great Harry Potter's friends," he said with a bow, before popping away as suddenly as he arrived.

"Don't encourage him," Harry said, grinning wryly. "I don't need any more titles."

They all laughed, and the mood lifted.

Dobby returned after only a few minutes with a platter full of sandwiches, crisps, and other snacks. There was another tray with glasses and a pitcher of pumpkin juice.

They all thanked him until he was suitably embarrassed, but obviously pleased.

"Dobby," Harry asked, "is Kreacher still working in the kitchens here?"

"Dobby is sorry to say yes, Kreacher is here, but he is not a good elf. Kreacher grumbles all the time and says terrible things about Harry Potter. Good elves don't talk about their masters that way. It upsets the other elves, it does."

"Don't worry, Dobby, I'll talk to him."

As they ate, various possible scenarios of Kreacher as a heroic house-elf were discussed, none of which were very convincing.

"I thought Sirius said his brother was a Death Eater…"

"Didn't he have a change of heart, and that's why he was killed?"

"So Kreacher was running missions against You-Know-Who?"

When lunch was finally completed, Harry called for the house-elf who served the "Noble and Most Ancient House of Black" - whatever that meant.

"Kreacher!"

The old elf appeared with a crack, none too pleased at being summoned.

"Nasty half-blood master calls Kreacher…" he mumbled, his voice as ugly as his withered appearance.

"Kreacher," said Harry, "have you found suitable work to do here at Hogwarts?"

"Master talks to Kreacher as if he cares…"

"I do care, Kreacher," Harry said, looking at the others in bemusement, "I have heard that you have served the House of Black well over the years, especially Regulus."

His change in demeanor was immediate, his face lifting in wonder. "Half-blood master knows good master Regulus?"

"I did not know him personally, but I learned that he was very pleased with you."

To everyone's astonishment, the house-elf began to wail. "Kreacher is not a good elf! Kreacher failed his last mission for good master Regulus!" He began to beat his fists against his head.

"Kreacher, stop!" Harry said in a commanding voice. "You are not to punish yourself!"

Kreacher stopped moving and remained sobbing with his head bent to the floor.

Harry dropped to his knees in front of the elf. "Kreacher, take some deep breaths. Now, tell me about this last mission for Regulus."

Kreacher slowly gathered himself and began by saying how pleased Regulus had been to become a part of the Dark Lord's mission. One day he had the need for Kreacher's services - a great honor - but what followed was the stuff of nightmares.

The Dark Lord took the elf to a remote cavern that contained an inferi-infested lake surrounding a small island. On the island was a stone basin that contained a horrible potion that Kreacher was forced to drink, reducing him to anguished cries for help that never came. When the potion was gone, the Dark Lord placed a golden locket into the basin, refilled the potion and left Kreacher to die with the inferi.

"How did you escape?" Harry asked, incredulous.

"Master Regulus told Kreacher to do the Dark Lord's bidding, and then come home, so Kreacher came home."

Harry looked at the others and they all came to the same conclusion - Voldemort underestimated the powers of house-elves, beings below his notice. It was a known weakness that might be exploited.

When asked to continue, Kreacher told how he was hidden by Regulus after he learned what happened and Kreacher was forbidden to speak to the family about it. Regulus eventually had Kreacher take him back to the cave with another locket. Regulus then drank the potion himself, ordering Kreacher to switch the lockets, leave him and return home to destroy the Dark Lord's locket. Kreacher followed Regulus' orders, including watching his master get dragged into the lake to die.

"But Kreacher could not destroy the locket," he wailed again, bloodshot eyes streaming tears. "Kreacher thought he could open it to get past the spells on the casing, but nothing worked - magics were too strong for Kreacher to break, and Kreacher has failed to obey…"

He sank to the floor, wracked in sobs. The others weren't much better off, deeply moved by the tragic tale of house-elf loyalty and the staggering sacrifice of Regulus himself.

They were both unsung heroes.

"Kreacher," Harry said quietly, "where is the locket now?"

"Kreacher managed to save it from nasty rummaging wizard who steals."

"Mundungus," muttered Ron.

"Kreacher, bring the locket to me," said Harry. "We may be able to help you."

The elf looked up, a faint glimmer of hope shining in his eyes, then he was gone with a crack.

The four of them stared at each other for a long moment.

"Can we really help him?" Ron said. "If a house-elf can't do it -"

"Then we take it to Dumbledore," Ginny said.

At the moment, Kreacher returned, startling the four teens. In his hands was the golden locket Harry had just seen the night before in a memory from years ago.

Harry stood up. "That's the Gaunt locket!" he said, realizing that there was a puzzle taking shape, not just because of the connection to Voldemort's family, but because the Elder Wand was screeching almost the same angry note that came from his own curse scar.

o o o

It was some time before Kreacher was reassured enough to leave the locket with the teens. After instructing him to lock down the old Black residence, Harry told him to go back to whatever he was doing before.

"I recognize this," said Hermione. "It was at Grimmauld Place. Sirius tried to throw it out even then."

"If it's cursed," said Ginny, "we should probably be very careful with it."

"If it was like that ring," agreed Ron, "it might be the same withering curse that Dumbledore got."

"Possibly," said Harry. "But the Elder Wand is giving me the same sound as my scar, with a little something else mixed in."

"That was caused by the killing curse!" said Hermione. "Opening it might be the last thing that person ever does."

"That sounds about right," snarked Ron. "You Know Who wouldn't want you bragging about undoing his protections."

"I think Dumbledore needs to know," said Harry, "but he's away for some time. He wasn't sure how long it would be. This thing needs to be kept someplace safe in the meantime."

"Would the room provide a safe storage place?"

"Good idea, Hermione," said Harry. "There's only one way to find out." He closed his eyes and thought 'I need a place to hide this locket.'

The sitting room dissolved into a cavernous space - a lofty-windowed cathedral piled high with the detritus of untold generations as far as the eye could see. Broken furniture, cast-off clothing, tattered texts, remains of magical endeavors such as hazardous-looking potions still bubbling ominously - with alleyways to navigate through endless rows piled twice as high as they could reach.

"Oh, my…" breathed Hermione.

"Who did this? And how?" marveled Ginny.

"It's a thousand years of throw-aways," said Ron. "This must be where the house-elves take everything the students leave behind."

"Excellent reasoning, Ron," said Hermione, "except this would probably reflect the age of the castle, so much more than that."

"Then how old is the castle?" asked Ron, "Binns only said it was over a thousand years."

"That's the infuriating thing about Hogwarts, a History - it's very sparse on dates. However, we know that Merlin was a student here and the school was built as a castle to defend itself against the Saxons, so the most likely time was around the fifth or sixth century, but no one knows for sure."

"So fifteen hundred years of refuse?" Ginny said. "There's no telling what we could find here, and some might even be useful. Just look at all the books, Hermione!"

"I see them," she replied, even as she thumbed through an ancient charms textbook with a crumbling spine.

As they wandered through the narrow aisles, Harry remained quiet, searching for a secluded niche to drop the locket where no one would suspect to find it.

They passed a large boxy shape that Harry recognized. "Huh. That's the vanishing cabinet that your brothers shoved Montague into last year."

"Served the git right," said Ron. "He was a terror all round."

They turned a corner and the Elder Wand, which had been making an unholy chorus of both pleasant and unpleasant sounds, began screeching again with the now familiar angry tone that he'd heard from both the locket and his curse scar. Harry pointed it this way and that, eventually settling on an ancient tiara in a battered cupboard.

"Don't touch that," he warned. "It seems to have the same curse as the locket."

"Merlin," said Ginny, "another one? Are you thinking it might blast us with killing curses too?"

"I'd rather not find out. But since they have the same type of curse, it makes sense to leave them together where we can find them."

They all agreed, slipping the locket into a dark corner of the same cupboard. They placed a dusty wig on an old bust of an unknown wizard and set the assembly atop the cupboard to help mark it.

"When we've the time," Ron said, "we need to search this place thoroughly."

"I agree," said Harry, "but that will take ages, and I'm not up for starting today." He gave a thought and the comfortable sitting room formed around them once again.

"The magic in this room is incredible," whispered Hermione.

"Harry?" said Ginny. "You okay?"

"Yeah," he said, breaking out of his thoughts. "This, I think, is going to be the hardest."

"We're all here for you," Ginny comforted, embracing his arm once more.

"Same for us," chorused Ron and Hermione, resuming their positions as well.

"Thanks, all of you." Harry took a deep breath. "So, here goes…"

He turned the ring containing the Resurrection Stone once, twice… three times.

Two glimmering figures in pale robes appeared before the spellbound teens.

Harry stood and stepped towards them, the one almost like a mirror of himself, the woman shorter but standing proudly, both of them wearing expectant smiles full of love and a brimming joyfulness.

"Hi," he said, clearing his throat. "I'm Harry."

The teens gaped at their friend while the woman - covering her mouth with one hand - grabbed her husband's arm with the other, causing him to let out an undignified snort.

James began chuckling, and then everyone was laughing, followed by streams of mirthful tears as they dissolved together into puddles of giddiness.

Finally, they settled enough for James to respond. "Since we're doing introductions, I'm your father, Harry, and this wonderful lady is your mum."

"Harry, my dear Harry," said Lily, "we've missed you so much. This is such a delight to see you in person - and how tall and handsome you've become!"

Harry stood staring at them for a few moments when he felt Ginny's elbow in his ribs. "Oh, Mum and Dad, these are my friends - Ginny, Ron and Hermione."

"Yes, hello, all three of you…" Lily said with warmth.

"We cannot thank you enough," James said, "for being such good friends to our Harry and caring for him when we could not. We owe you a great debt…"

Lily added, "And I wish we could just hug all of you right now!"

The three teens mumbled their thanks; Ron was particularly embarrassed being complimented by the beautiful woman with long auburn hair who looked more like Harry's older sister than his mum.

"Mum, Dad," Harry pleaded, "there's so much I want to say… to ask you… I don't know where to begin…"

"We understand," said Lily. "We're just happy being here."

"We could start with something safe," suggested James, "say the Hallows?"

"Yeah, I reckon that would be okay. Dumbledore said he knew a little, but -"

"He doesn't have the sources we do," said James. "The cloak, for instance, is a Potter family secret. Since you three seem to do everything together with Harry, you are allowed to know this but can never speak of it to anyone. Agreed?"

Ron, Ginny and Hermione all nodded, eager to learn anything they could.

"Harry, I would have told you all this when you turned eleven just as my dad did. You now know that we are descended from Ignotus Peverell, the youngest of the three brothers made famous in that story by Beedle the Bard. Albus was correct in his assumption that Death appearing before them was a fabrication of the Bard. The brothers were, in fact, very talented with magic, especially in charms. They were also very competitive and set up a challenge between them to create their own unique item for the ages. They designed the symbol for their combined projects, which was eventually engraved on the stone. Ignotus was the last to complete his and the other two brothers did not live to see the finished invisibility cloak."

"What happened?"

"They had a small herd of thestrals - the ancestors of those here at Hogwarts - and it took decades for him to harvest enough thestral hair to weave a full-size cloak."

"Thestral hair… of course," murmured Hermione.

"Since we've been on this side, we've met all three - the others are family too - and learned a bit about the other Hallows as well."

"Really? What are they like?"

"Ignotus is a quiet sort, as you might imagine. Antioch is brash, bigger than life - the type who might want a super-powerful wand. He loves to tell about how foolish he was back then, having lost the one thing he spent the best years of his life on just because he couldn't keep his mouth shut."

"A good lesson for all of us," said Ginny, looking pointedly at her brother.

"Cadmus has, I think, the saddest part of the story," continued James, "more so than even the Bard knew. He is intensely passionate and looked for a way to connect the two worlds. To create the Resurrection Stone, he decided it must be a piece broken off the archway that now stands in the Department of Mysteries -"

"The one that supports the Veil?" exclaimed Harry in horror. "Where Sirius died?"

"The very same," said James. "Sadly his wife was assisting, and she got too close. Her last words before being pulled through the Veil were, 'I love you - finish this so I can see you again!'"

"How awful," whispered Ginny, the others struck dumb at the tragic event.

"Again, it took him years to perfect the charms that allow the stone to do what it does. After he completed it and talked with his wife, he set it in that ring and gifted it to their daughter. Satisfied with his accomplishment, he stepped through the Veil himself to join his wife, where they've been happily together ever since."

"So you're saying all's well that ends well?"

"Yes, Harry, he is," said Lily. "The tragedies of the living realm are left behind in this world. That's the beauty of the afterlife - and the hope that it can bring for those living in horrific circumstances."

"But, what about their daughter?" said Harry. "How did she feel, stuck in this world after losing her parents?"

"I'm sure she was included in the discussion, Harry," said James. "She was an adult by then, probably had her own family. Besides, she had the stone and could visit any time."

"Oh, I reckon that makes it alright then," said Harry, becoming agitated. "It's not like seeing you this way is any different than having you in my life, not really, is it? It doesn't matter that I can't touch you, that I don't really know you at all - that it's only the stories from other people and one single memory that I hear whenever a dementor wants to get friendly?"

"Harry!" cried Hermione, "surely you don't mean that - your parents didn't ask to die!"

"We might as well have," said James darkly. "We left too much of our security to others, even when we knew that he would be coming after us. And so foolish in our overconfidence - we didn't even have our wands with us that night."

"I'm so sorry, Dad… Mum…" Harry said, sniffling. "It's just that most of my life I was led to believe you were worse than worthless, and there was no one there, would ever be there…"

"Harry, baby," soothed Lily, "it tore us apart that we had to let you suffer through all that, but even though you couldn't know it, we were there. Through every time they yelled at you, hit you, starved you, overworked you, lied to you, belittled you, locked you up - we were there trying to take it away from you. We cried with you and for you when you couldn't cry anymore."

"Oh, Mum…"

"Sirius and I have been making plans for when we meet anyone named Dursley again -"

"Hush, James," said Lily. "Harry, your father likes to pretend that there is such a thing as vengeance in our world, so don't listen to him. However, if I had the chance to talk to my dear sister again, I would make it very clear the consequences of her actions - just what it is that she has lost."

"What's that?"

"She has missed the opportunity to love - and be loved by - the amazing, wonderful person that is you, my beautiful son."

With his mother's tender words, Harry came to realize the enormity of what was lacking in his childhood - without love, a gaping wound in his very soul - and the weight of it fell upon him like torrents of sand. He slumped to the sofa, weeping in earnest, trying desperately not to break down completely in front of his parents, but his composure was in a losing battle with his rampant emotions.

The girls tried to rub his arms and back, reminding him that he was loved and worthy of love. Ron held on as well, hearing the realities of Harry’s early life almost causing him to break down with his best mate.

Lily sank to the floor, kneeled in front of her son, and reached her arms out to him, desperately seeking the physical contact that they had both been missing for much too long. Her hands could only pass through him like a ghost, but both mother and son gasped at the tingling warmth of it.

'Harry," she caressed, "we will always love you, and we will always be with you, through everything you have to do. Will you remember that?"

Harry nodded, searching her eyes, almost like looking into his own, seeing the truth for himself for the very first time.

"Mum…" he choked out, "could you… sing for me… like you used to?"

Lily smiled, knowing exactly what he wanted. And while the others melted into the soothing tones of the lullaby, Harry's mother reprised the melody she hadn't sung since she'd held him in her arms all those years before.

Nights in white satin
Never reaching the end
Letters I've written
Never meaning to send

Beauty I'd always missed
With these eyes before
Just what the truth is
I can't say anymore

'Cause I love you
Yes I love you
Oh how I love you

o

Back to index


Chapter 10: Fly Me High

Author's Notes: "Fly Me High" was the first single released after new members Justin Hayward and John Lodge joined Mike Pinder, Ray Thomas, and Graeme Edge to complete the ensemble responsible for much of the Moody Blues' greatest work. Listening to this reminds us that they were once just another group of talented young guys who loved rock and roll.

Some trivia: “Nights in White Satin” (featured in the previous chapter as Lily’s lullaby) is the first of only a few songs in history to chart as a single in its original form on three separate occasions - 1967, 1972 and 1979. (Others include “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “1999”). This would be a good place to remind everyone that I don’t own any music or lyrics by the Moody Blues which appear as a transformative work under fair use rights.

Real life - it can be at times fabulous or frustrating, and occasionally… I lost my father since the last chapter was published and this story has taken on an additional dimension for me. I have added a dedication to him at the beginning of Chapter 1. I have heard some say that, even as grown-ups, when you lose both your parents you become an orphan. I prefer to believe what my father once said - that's when you become an adult.

Ch. 10 in which Harry dons his captain's robes…


10 -

Fly Me High

I'm up to the eyes and I love everyone
Today I could cry I could reach for the sun
I'm walking on air and I'm here and I'm there
I travel the sky but for what I don't care

Fly me straight and fly me high

- The Moody Blues

o o
o

James and Lily stayed with the teens in the Room of Requirement for the rest of the day, watching them eat (after meeting the amazed Dobby), sharing stories of their school days and particular events of interest. Eventually, the energy levels were dropping to the point that Harry and his friends were so exhausted that - as much as they hated to - they had to send them back.

"Remember, Harry," said Lily, "share your memory of that night we were attacked with Albus. I know there is something important that we are missing."

"I will, Mum," Harry said. "Can I call you again?"

"Yes, of course, son," James said. "We're happy to visit anytime you want us."

"We love you so much," said Lily. "And we support you in everything you do. Never forget that."

"Thank you," Harry said, visibly spent. "I love you too, Mum… Dad… Goodbye."

His parents faded from view as he collapsed onto his back, eyes closed and leaking tears. The others slid into place around him and the sofa enlarged into a platform bed with fluffy pillows and the teens quickly fell asleep in a cozy dogpile.

It seemed only minutes had passed when Harry awoke, but the stiffness in his limbs told him otherwise. He felt a head of bushy hair on his shoulder, but on closer inspection he noticed that Hermione was actually facing Ron and they had their arms draped around each other. He looked the other way into the blazing eyes of his girlfriend.

"Hey," whispered Ginny. "Sleep well?"

"Yeah, I did. How about you?"

"Fine, but apparently not as well as those two," she replied, inclining her head towards Ron and Hermione.

Harry grinned. "And they're still asleep."

"Good," she said with a matching grin. She slid up so she could press her lips against his.

Sliding his arms around her as he deepened the kiss, Harry decided that he had it pretty good after all.

o o o

Monday morning meant Harry returned to Defense Against the Dark Arts class after missing the first week. Snape was his usually surly self, but did not look Harry's way during his lecture, apparently preferring to ignore him as Dumbledore had said. He did quirk an eyebrow when Harry turned in his first week essay with everyone else, but made no comment.

Harry had been practicing all his spells wordlessly and found that this came somewhat easier with the Elder Wand. When Snape called for them to pair up and practice, he had no trouble with either the jinx or the shield. In fact, he began surreptitiously bouncing the spells shot at him to others in the room, so they had to figure out how to shield themselves from multiple directions at once. The former members of the DA that he had worked with on similar drills the previous year took this in stride, but the others found it increasingly frustrating, especially when they couldn't tell where the jinxes were coming from.

When they complained, an irritable Snape was unsympathetic.

"When you get in a real fight, your opposition will attempt to surround you," he snapped. "Adjust your shields accordingly!"

Snape said nothing directly to Harry per his arrangement with the headmaster, but that didn't prevent his scowl from bearing down on Harry whenever he was in the vicinity.

When the class period was finally over, Snape passed by and muttered in his direction, "A word, if you will, Potter."

Ron and Hermione gave him worried looks as they and the others left the room.

Snape was obviously trying to contain his ire when he turned on Harry. "With your new-found skills of deduction and reasoning, you can certainly appreciate how difficult it is for me to convince the Dark Lord that you are an average student of no appreciable talent when he sees in the minds of your peers a performance such as the stunts you pulled today."

Harry hadn't even given that possibly a thought. "So… you don't want me to do my best?"

"A little less showing off at the very least."

"Okay, so I hold back in class. Nothing I haven't done before."

"What do you mean?"

"Outperforming my cousin on a test meant a day or two locked up without food. So, yeah, I know the drill."

Snape made no comment. Harry accepted that as a dismissal, so he nodded and left the classroom.

The potions master turned DADA professor stared after the boy, unable to make an intelligent reply, for he couldn't help wondering what sort of monsters Petunia and her husband had turned out to be.

o o o

Despite a schedule that appeared to allow plenty of time for relaxation and non-academic pursuits, Harry and the other sixth years were quickly covered with so much to do that there was little time left over for such things. All the teachers seemed to be in agreement that the NEWT level students would spend any time outside the classroom in research and essay writing.

For most, Quidditch tryouts could not come soon enough.

"Is it just me, or has Quidditch become more popular this year?" said Harry, surveying the lengthy signup roster in the Gryffindor common room.

"Actually, it probably is you," said Hermione without a hint of sarcasm.

"What?"

"Well, people are more fascinated with you, Harry. You've proven yourself again against Death Eaters and Voldemort himself, that you weren't lying about him, you led the DA last year and stood up to Umbridge. It doesn't hurt that you've grown about a foot since last year - ."

"He's still a bit of a specky git, if you ask me," said Ron, grinning.

"I don't believe I asked you, mate," returned Harry.

"- and you're more fanciable than ever," finished Hermione.

"Okay, now you're just taking the mickey," said Harry.

"Take a look around, Harry, and see for yourself," said Ginny, stifling a giggle.

Harry slowly turned and surveyed the common room. Some of the blokes were looking curiously their way, but the girls, especially those in the years below him, were gazing at them - at him - with an unusual gleam in their eyes, and there was much conspiratorial whispering going on as well.

He was doomed.

o o o

"How do I deal with this?" moaned Harry, leading Ginny towards the transfigured settee. It was a rare break that they had in common and would secretly meet in their fourth floor hideaway.

"Deal with what?"

"You know - all those fangirls! You pointed them out to me!"

Ginny knew Harry hated attention, but this was just too good to pass on. "I thought you were dealing with it just fine by being your usual oblivious self."

Harry gave her a pointed look. "If I was oblivious to them, it was because I was focused on you."

"Oooh, good answer, Mr. Potter! Full marks." She pushed him back onto the settee and resumed her favorite spot on his lap. "I think you deserve a reward."

She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled her lips to his. The kiss started off tenderly but quickly became more heated as their passions built and they fell into their mutual need for each other's contact and affection.

Finally, they stopped to breathe, resting their foreheads together. They both marvelled at how well they fit together, both physically and emotionally.

"Thank you," said Harry.

"For what? The snog?" Ginny said with a snicker. "That was for me as much as it was for you."

"For that, for everything, for… keeping me sane."

He pushed her back so he could see her fully. His intense green eyes bore into her bright browns, and Ginny felt like she was being drawn into the depths of the sea.

"I love you, Ginny."

The intensity of his gaze would have melted most girls into a puddle, but Ginny was made of sterner stuff and returned his passion with a fierceness that surprised both of them.

"I know," she said after the long kiss, "it's about time you admitted it."

"Yeah?" he said, smirking.

"And I love you too, silly boy," she continued. "When I met you that first time at King's Cross, I was captivated by your eyes - they were so vivid and you had this look of wonder that tugged at my heart. When I found out that you were Harry Potter, my childhood visions of you were shattered, but I wanted so badly to find out what you were really like -"

"And your mum wouldn't let you come talk to me."

"Yes, you remember! At least I got to wave at you from the platform."

"After Hagrid, you were the first person I ever met that seemed to really care about me. I've never forgotten that, you know."

She snuggled in closer to his chest. "When Ron wrote home with all those stories, I developed a whole new fantasy about you, but then you showed up at the house and I got to know the real you at last. Of course, you had to go and save the poor damsel in the Chamber -"

"Hey," he said with a start, "Dumbledore said that Pettigrew owes me a life debt from the time I talked Sirius out of killing him. Your situation was even worse - does that mean you…"

"Yes, it probably does, and I'm okay with owing you a life debt."

"Does it change anything between us?"

"Only if we want it to."

"Okay. I like what we've got."

"So do I. Now, where were we?" She reached up to press her lips against his once again.

"Right about here," he mumbled happily.

o o o

"Bloody hell," muttered Harry, surveying the crowds of students at the Quidditch pitch, exceeding even the numbers on the sign-up list.

"You've got all years out here, Harry," said Ginny. "I recognize some firsties."

"Huh, they probably haven't even learned how to fly yet," added Katie Bell.

"That's a good one," said Ron, who rounded out the remaining members from last year's team. "See if they can actually fly a lap around the pitch."

"Great idea, mate," said Harry, so he gathered the students in groups of ten, starting with the youngest-looking ones, and set them to task.

It was as bad as expected - some had never touched a broom before, and even some who had had no idea how to get the broom going where they wanted. There were lots of collisions and cursing, but just as much laughter and giggling, especially from a group of third and fourth year girls who probably could have flown if they bothered. It seemed that this was more of a social occasion for them. One group didn't even have brooms.

More than once, Harry had to yell off members of other houses who had wandered into the tryouts, presumably to get a closer look at the new Gryffindor captain. They simply went into the stands to heckle everyone else.

"Hey, Captain, I don't need to be flying laps," said the lanky Cormac McLaggen. "I'm a seventh year."

Harry wasn't sure if McLaggen thought he was privileged for being one of the oldest trying out or because they'd both been tagged by Professor Slughorn on the Hogwarts Express.

"I don't care," said Harry, "I've never seen you fly, so right now, you're the same as everybody else."

Grumbling, McLaggen took off with one of roommates, Seth Filmore, in the last group and made the easy lap without further difficulty.

"The next phase will be Chaser drills," Harry said, "If you are trying out for Chaser, you will pair up and pass the Quaffle back and forth as you fly the length of the pitch."

Harry had Ron help keep watch on who was having the most difficulty. When Harry told them to go sit down, more than a few were blaming their partner. Harry relented on a few of these when they did have a poor partner, letting them fly with Ginny or Katie. None of them did much better.

After the second round of eliminations, Harry let them pair up again running the same passing play, but a second pair would be trying to steal the Quaffle. Tempers began to flair even more when less talented flyers got embarrassed by their housemates. Harry was also kept busy by catching those who found themselves broomless after a collision or other careless antics.

Eventually the remaining few were put through real game simulations with Bludgers from potential beater candidates until Harry was satisfied he'd found the best Chasers for the team. Katie Bell had an excellent trial as expected, but a new find named Demelza Robins had a knack for dodging Bludgers. Ginny proved to be the best of the lot, scoring the most goals and outflying everyone on the pitch. Harry's roommate Dean Thomas made a decent showing and Harry told him he might be used as a reserve.

His choices for Beaters were not up to Fred and George Weasley's level, but third year Jimmy Peakes managed to get a good hit on Harry himself, and Richie Coote could aim a Bludger just about as well.

Harry had left Keeper tryouts for last in hopes that Ron wouldn't have a huge audience, remembering his problem with nerves, but that strategy failed as no one had left the pitch and many others had come down after breakfast to watch.

"Good luck, mate," was all Harry could say to Ron, who appeared to be turning a little green as he flew up to the rings, preparing to block shots from the new Chasers.

Ron shakily but successfully blocked the first pass from Katie.

"I bet he makes it on the team just because he's mates with the captain," said a voice to Harry's right. Harry glanced with annoyance at McLaggen, who had yet to try out.

Ron's second save blocked a wicked curving shot from Ginny. He got several cheers and a few catcalls.

"His sister's going easy on him!" cried McLaggen.

"Yeah, but she's a bit of all right, don't you think?" said his roommate Filmore.

"All that long red hair?" said McLaggen. "Who wouldn't want to get wrapped up in that?"

Incensed, Harry barely noticed that Ron made another save off Demelza.

"Better her than the bushy-haired swot they hang out with," continued McLaggen, adding more insults with every play.

By the time Ron had made his last two saves, Harry had more than enough.

"McLaggen!" Harry called.

"My turn to show you how it's done?" he said, standing and stretching.

"No, you're done," Harry said angrily. "You and Filmore need to leave the pitch."

"What? We haven't tried out yet!"

"Let me put it to you this way," Harry gritted out. "Quidditch is a team sport, and you don't strike me as team players. Furthermore, my friend - the swot, I believed you called her - looks about ready to banish you into the lake. Of course, you'd have to clear the stands over there, and I'm just curious to see if you'd make it or not. Do you want to find out?"

Sure enough, Hermione stood below them with a stormy look and her wand held tightly.

The seventh years took notice and reluctantly but wisely sauntered off, mumbling insults the whole way.

"Thank you, Harry," said Hermione. "I knew they were rude, but -"

"No worries, Hermione. If you had hexed them, I would've backed you up."

"You're not worried that he might be better than Ron? He's got a Keeper's build."

"Hermione, I'd have to be knocked unconscious by a Bludger to let that guy on the team. Let's go tell Ron the good news, shall we?"

o o o

"What exactly is your goal with the boy, Albus?"

It was only the third day of school as Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody sat in front of the headmaster's desk. As always, he refused the offer of one of those infernal lemon sweets. He assumed that they were laced with calming or truth potions or both, but he never bothered to have one tested. Constant vigilance and all that…

"To survive any encounters with opponents, to be sure," said Dumbledore dryly. "Yet I am also concerned that, as he grows in ability and confidence, that he does not become reckless in his defense of others."

"He doesn't seem the type to me," Mad-Eye said. "At Godric's Hollow, he sensed danger and immediately said, 'We need to leave.' We, the adults, of course thought we knew better. His actions following that were both creative and appropriate. I wish half our Aurors had the same kind of situational awareness and focus under pressure. I'm sorry I missed him in the Tri-Wizard."

"Harry was nothing short of spectacular, but I confess to be somewhat biased. Yet he had already proven himself against a swarm of dementors, a 60-foot basilisk, and a wizard possessed by Voldemort."

"Aye, I heard stories -"

"Which probably pale in the face of the fearsome realities he experienced. Harry has a 'saving people thing' as his friends refer to it, and places the value of others' lives above his own."

"And you want me to convince him of his own self-worth? I'm an Auror, not a mind healer."

Dumbledore chuckled. "No, I'm working on that side of things. I merely need you to enhance and hone his abilities as much as you can, in as little time as you can. The approaching conflict will find him sooner than later, and he needs to be prepared."

"These tales of the Chosen One - you want the point of your sword to be extra sharp, eh?"

"As a razor, Alastor."

o o o

"Come in!"

This time, Mad-Eye sat behind Dumbledore's desk as Harry Potter walked through the door, looking around curiously but cautiously. That was good, Mad-Eye thought, he was checking the environment already in what was supposed to be the safest place in the castle.

"Hello, sir," the boy said, "the headmaster isn't here?"

"No, Potter, he has places to be, or he might be training you himself. As it is, he wants me to teach you how to fight. He seems to think you're gonna get dragged into this mess despite all he's done to keep you out of it."

"Yes. sir. I want to be ready."

"Fair enough," Mad-Eye said as he pushed up from the chair and fired a hex before he was fully upright.

The boy is fast, too, Mad-Eye mused, as he evaded both the first and then another spell.

"Nice reaction time," Mad-Eye said as he had to deflect Potter's spells before he could send more.

They began to circle the office, trading hexes, trying to find an opening. Mad-Eye was beginning to enjoy himself - the boy did have a knack for dodging, which meant he didn't have to waste time on shielding. It was an interesting change of pace and more challenging than he had expected, but he needed to end this quickly so the boy wouldn't get over-confident.

He fired off a series of disarming spells in a pattern that would be impossible to avoid completely. Sure enough, the boy lost his wand and was thrown back to the wall, where he sat breathing heavily.

"Not bad, Potter," Mad-Eye said, walking back to the desk. "You show some promise, but -"

His words hung in the air, unfinished due to the stunning spell he never saw coming from the supposedly disarmed teen on the floor.

Harry took a couple of breaths, stood and walked towards the old Auror. "Accio wands," he intoned, and the Elder Wand flew up from the floor as well as the one from Mad-Eye's hand.

"I'm probably gonna regret this," he said as he revived his opponent/mentor.

"What's this?" Mad-Eye said as he regained his feet. "How'd you manage that?"

"Constant vigilance, sir," Harry said, smirking as he twirled Mad-Eye's wand in the air.

o

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