The Unknown Power
January 26 to June
Harry / Ginny ship and Ron / Hermione ship
The next afternoon Harry went to his regular Animagus training with McGonagall. He was just inside the doorway to her classroom when he became aware of the third person in the room.
"Hagrid!" Harry smiled at his first real friend.
"Hiya, Harry. Professor McGonagall asked me ter speak with yeh. She says that yer havin' trouble with yer new form?"
Surprised, Harry shot a questioning look to the Transfiguration professor.
She nodded. "I asked Professor Hagrid here due to his extensive knowledge of animals, magical and Muggle. As you know, you've been able to transform all parts of your body except your torso. You have been stymied at this stage for over a week now, despite your rapid progress on all other stages. I hope that with Professor Hagrid's knowledge and unique perspective, we might be able to overcome this final obstacle."
Harry nodded, turning back to Hagrid. "I hope you can help. This last stage is driving me batty since it just doesn't want to work."
Hagrid asked Harry to recount his totem dream and then transform every part that he was capable of. Through it all, Harry became more and more impressed with his large friend's professionalism.
McGonagall saw it. "Within his field," she whispered while Hagrid was staring at the ceiling in thought, "Hagrid is a widely accepted expert. He has been used by the Auror Division on occasion when one of their trainees is having Animagus difficulties just as you are or with a dangerous or unknown magical animal."
"Harry," Hagrid said with a small smile. "Outside o' classes, wha' do yeh like ter do the most?"
Harry frowned in confusion at the unexpected question. "Well, Quidditch. Why?"
"Quidditch or flyin'?"
McGonagall's face changed into a pleased little smile as she clearly realised something.
Hagrid nodded to her. Turning back to the confused Harry, he said, "Harry, there's a rare breed o' horse that is very differ'nt than regular horses. Horses are norm'lly very shy creatures, boltin' in retreat at the firs' hint o' danger. This other breed is much more intelligent and very, very protective o' its herd. The alpha stallion will lead the rest o' his herd in defence o' his foals or territory if 'is enemy invades."
"Horses are normally very shy and instinctive creatures," Professor McGonagall added. "When you told me about your Animagus form, I must admit that I was surprised. If what Hagrid and I now believe turns out to be the case, it would explain a great deal."
"I'm glad you both think you've figured it out," Harry said in mounting annoyance. "Could you please explain it to me?"
Far from being angry at Harry's attitude, Hagrid merely chuckled. "Yeh always were inpatien', weren' yeh, Harry? 't any rate, I don' think yer a horse 't all."
"But all of my transformations already look like a horse. Everything except my chest."
"Torso," McGonagall corrected.
"What's the difference?"
"Torso is chest and back, Harry. Now what migh' be on a horse's back that has ter do with flyin'?"
Harry's jaw dropped as he finally realised what his friend was trying to tell him. "A PEGASUS? I thought Animagus forms couldn't be magical creatures."
"They can't," McGonagall affirmed. She gave an unladylike snort. "If they could, you'd probably be a phoenix instead of a pegasus. Back to your form, though, a pegasus isn't magical. It's just very, very rare. Wizards have hidden them from Muggles to prevent their being hunted."
"I'm a pegasus?" Harry asked, still trying to wrap his mind around that fact and hardly having heard any of the rest of McGonagall's words.
"I 'spect so," Hagrid said, rummaging around in his oversized coat.
"I would suggest you do a bit of research in the library now that you have a different form to study."
Hagrid withdrew a book from his coat and started flipping through it.
Harry nodded to his Transfiguration professor and was about to leave for the library, but Hagrid spoke up. "Hold on, Harry. I think I have somethin' for you." Hagrid reversed the book he was holding and jabbed a thick finger at a diagram of the skeletal and musculature structure of a pegasus.
Harry blinked in surprise to find exactly what he was after. As he took the book, he glanced at the title, Rare and Uncommon Muggle Creatures. He looked up at Hagrid. "You always carry this book with you?" The one time he'd gotten an inkling of what all was in the coat (immediately before his first visit to Diagon Alley with his new, large friend), it had seemed to hold a whole array of fascinating stuff. A book on non-magical creatures was still a bit unusual.
Hagrid laughed. "Naw. I only had it since I was gonna talk with yeh today about yer Animagus form."
Harry nodded and bent his head to study the diagrams. Fortunately, everything was basically the same as a horse with the exception of the wings and the huge sets of muscles that went with them.
After a few minutes of study, Harry laid the book aside and looked over at McGonagall. He knew that she wanted to watch, and he was making sure she was ready.
At her nod, Harry closed his eyes and envisioned his torso slowly transforming into the new form that he'd just been studying. Once he had the process firmly in mind, he released his magic. He was immediately rewarded by feeling his body thicken and lengthen. When it stopped shifting he opened his eyes and looked.
Sure enough, he was taller (his trunk from shoulders to hip had lengthened considerably) and his torso was a thick cylinder all out of proportion to the rest of his body. Objectively, he knew he looked absolutely ridiculous, but the partial transformation stages frequently did.
McGonagall slowly circled around the standing Harry, nodding in satisfaction. "With wings," she pronounced.
Harry tried to twist around to look, but all the muscles on the newly transfigured portions of his body weren't responding to commands right. Not being successful with that attempt, he tried to move the muscles in the middle of his back.
McGonagall, who was still circling him, was nearly knocked over when one of Harry's wings suddenly shot out to its full extension of nearly ten feet and then held there.
She took a few cautious steps back. "Harry, it might be a good idea to not try to use the wings until you're fully transformed. Your human brain can't cope with this partial physiology very well. When you're a full pegasus, the brain and nerves will know how to deal with them."
Harry nodded and tried to relax his back. The extended wing made one "flap" before settling itself onto his back again.
Unfortunately, the one motion it did perform nearly knocked Harry over and he fetched up against McGonagall's desk. He grunted as he collided with the immoveable object.
"Are yeh alright, Harry?"
"Yeah. Just learned that the desk is harder than my leg. I'm okay."
Hagrid nodded and stood from the wall he'd been leaning against since giving the book to Harry. He gathered up his book again and strode toward the door. "Will ye let me see yeh once ye're fully transformed, Harry?"
"Sure thing, Hagrid. Thanks for the help." Harry concentrated for a moment and his body reverted back to normal.
"'s alright, Harry. I told yeh that yeh'd be a thumpin' good wizard, didn' I?"
Harry laughed. "That you did, Hagrid. That you did."
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Monday evening, Harry entered Dumbledore's office after dinner. "Thank you for agreeing to see me, sir."
"Not at all, Harry. Please have a seat."
Harry nodded to Snape, who nodded back. Since the beginning of the year, they'd tolerated each other but little more. The fact that he'd showed up at all was somewhat surprising and gratifying.
"I'm sure you both recall the events around the Chamber of Secrets," Harry said.
"Distinctly," Snape said, a flicker of interest appearing in his eyes.
Harry turned to him. "I told Professor Dumbledore all of what happened. How much of it do you know?"
"Very little. All that Albus informed the staff of was that the Monster of Slytherin had been slain, the Chamber of Secrets opened and the heir stopped."
"Do you know what the monster was?"
Snape blinked and leaned back in the chair. He folded his hands, staring away in thought for a few seconds. "Evidence supports a basilisk." He saw Dumbledore's nod. "Has the beast been killed?" Dumbledore again nodded. "May I ask why the staff was not informed of this? You know the prices of potions ingredients, Albus. Depending on the size of that corpse, we could save a great deal of money."
"I did not inform the staff for two very good reasons, Severus. I did not want to subject Harry to again visiting that Chamber, as he is the only person I am positive could get us in."
Instead of Snape's expected sneer, he turned inquisitive eyes to Harry.
"The passwords to get in there are in Parseltongue," Harry explained.
Snape nodded acknowledgment and turned back to Dumbledore. "Two reasons?" he asked.
"Unlikely as it may have been, consider the repercussions if Voldemort had learned of the corpse."
Harry was suddenly glad he didn't know all the uses of various basilisk bits.
"So you're now willing to take us down there?"
Harry started slightly at Snape's question. "Yes."
"Severus," Dumbledore's tone was mildly warning.
"It's okay, Headmaster," Harry said. He turned to Snape. "Frankly, I was asked by someone I need to prove it to. He's becoming an ally, and I need to solidify it. That is the Slytherin reason." Though the tone was lightly sarcastic, Snape nodded agreeably. "The Gryffindor reason is that the Chamber is a potential security risk to the school."
"This is just now occurring to you?"
Harry studied Snape for a moment, trying to decide if that was a sarcastic question or not. "No, it didn't just occur to me. I'm one of only three Parselmouthes I'm aware of. Tom is the second. The less attention I drew to the Chamber, the better for all concerned, don't you think?"
"Miss Weasley is the third Parseltongue?"
Harry nodded, not surprised that he had made the conclusion so quickly. "I don't know that for sure, but you have to be a Parseltongue to get in there. As Tom's diary got her to go in, I assumed he had given her the ability."
"Perhaps or perhaps not," Dumbledore said. "It is possible that the diary had been charmed to produce the appropriate sounds, and Miss Weasley was needed to merely carry it."
"If she weren't a Parseltongue, how did she order the basilisk to attack Muggle-borns only?"
"It is possible, even likely, that a Muggle-born's blood smells different than a pure-blood magician's," Snape speculated.
Dumbledore nodded. "Whether Miss Weasley is a Parseltongue or not is immaterial, however. Harry, may I presume you are suggesting an expedition into the Chamber of Secrets?"
Harry nodded. "Yes, sir. Multiple reasons. First, as I said, I need to prove something to Simon. Second, I figured you or Professor McGonagall would like to determine if the Chamber is a weak point in Hogwarts security. Third," he turned to Snape, "I've been told that a basilisk corpse can produce a lot of potions ingredients. You indicated this just a few minutes ago as well."
"Indeed," Snape inclined his head, but Harry fancied that he could see the gleam in his eye from just the thought of what a treasure-trove a fully-grown basilisk corpse could be.
"Before we go, however, I have a request of you, Professor."
Snape suddenly looked a lot more wary.
"I would like you to teach two people how to brew Wolfsbane Potion."
Snape suddenly looked a bit uncomfortable. "Even given my history of . . . denigrating your work, Mr. Potter, I must honestly tell you that you do not have the skills needed to brew it. Neither does Mr. Lupin, whom I presume is the other potential brewer you had in mind."
Harry shook his head, pleasantly surprised that Eloise hadn't yet spoken to him about it. "Not me and Remus, no. Eloise Midgen and Hermione."
Dumbledore twinkled. Snape blinked.
"Hopefully they're going to be brewing Wolfsbane for me every month starting this summer. I'll distribute it to any werewolves who want it. Once I prove that werewolves can be real people too, I'm going to get the laws changed to allow them back into society so long as Wolfsbane is available to them. Back to the point, though, Eloise has agreed to do this but asked that you supervise the first couple times until she's comfortable doing it on her own. Hermione has agreed to sit in as a backup."
"Yes," Snape slowly said, "Miss Midgen and Miss Granger are adequate brewers."
"That reminds me, with Moldywart doing a fair imitation of fertilizer, you're probably out of a summer job. Would you like the chance to do independent research on the Wolfsbane Potion, aimed at making it permanent or a real cure?"
Dumbledore twinkled brighter. Snape blinked harder.
"This is an honest offer, sir. Much as you and I disagree on a personal level, I DO respect your potions skills. If you don't feel up to it or honestly think someone else would be a better researcher, I'd appreciate another name."
Snape almost smiled. "Appealing to my professional pride, Potter?"
Harry shrugged agreeably. "Whatever works."
Snape stared at Harry so hard that Harry put up his rudimentary Occlumency shields.
That certainly wasn't what Harry was expecting. He tilted his head for a moment in thought at the multi-faceted question.
"Depends on which question you're actually asking. Why am I asking you to help Eloise and Hermione? You're the school's Potions professor and Eloise asked for you. Why am I offering this job to you? I've already told you that you're the best Potions Master I know. Why did I ask you for names of others? You're the ONLY Potions Master I know. Why am helping werewolves? They deserve the same chance the rest of us do, and it's helping to repair some of the damage Voldemort and Fudge have done to them. Why am I doing this for Remus? I love him and Sirius, Mum and Dad would want me to do it. Why am I doing this at all? It needs to be done and nobody else is doing it."
"Bloody Gryffindor," Snape muttered. Instead of the sarcasm Harry had expected from such a phrase, he almost sounded resigned to the situation. Or was that his version of approval?
Harry studied his potions professor in confusion for a few seconds before hesitantly asking, "Professor Snape? Please don't get angry over this question, but why are you nicer to me this year than the past five?"
"Harry," Dumbledore's tone matched what he'd used on Snape not five minutes previously.
"No, Albus," Snape stopped him quietly. "As loath as I am to admit it, it is a fair question." The expression on his face could be called a smile if only the look in his eyes had changed in the least little bit. "More correctly, your question should have been why I dislike you less than previously."
Harry refused to let the grin show, but he did tilt his head in acceptance of the correction.
"Your words at the beginning of the year were correct, Mr. Potter."
Harry knew that that was as close as he was ever going to get to an apology from Snape or even acknowledgment that he was ever wrong in his thinking.
"After that point, I endeavoured to treat you as every other non-Slytherin in the school. After Halloween . . . Much as I may dislike the fact, I owe you a life debt now."
Harry nodded, having somewhat expected an answer like that. "Okay, one last question and we can stop being civil to each other again."
A flash of humour crossed Snape's face so quickly that Harry wasn't sure he'd ever seen it in the first place.
"Why do you treat your Slytherins so differently than the rest of the school?"
Snape sighed. "There are multiple reasons, Professor Potter." The way he addressed Harry told him that the reasons he was going to give were going to be the real, adult reasons and at least as importantly, he'd better treat them as such. "I'm head of Slytherin house and expected to treat them better than anyone else is. I'm showing them that there is someone here in the school that is on their side, always. My hope was that it would either get them to open up to me as needed or perhaps sway some from following a darker path than they otherwise would. Now, before you point out that I could be on their side without being against everyone else including you Gryffindors, there is a reason for that as well. You all need to learn that sometimes the world isn't fair for no other reason than it can be unfair. Most of my Slytherins learned this long before Hogwarts. Most non-Slytherins have yet to learn it."
Much as he disliked it, the reasons actually made a certain amount of sense to Harry. "How do you stand it?" he asked, honestly confused.
Snape cocked his head in a silent question.
"The students. You have to know that every other student in the school hates you for how you're treating us. I know you were a special target of the twins for exactly that reason. The other professors can't like you much better."
Snape sighed, suddenly looking old and tired. "I endure it as I must. Albus knows my reasons as you now do. He at least UNDERSTANDS why I do as I do." He gave a sudden grin that made Harry glad he wasn't in class. "As for the two Mr. Weasleys, I do enjoy a good war. Even if my opponents don't totally realise it."
"I trust you hold this entire conversation in confidence?" Dumbledore ordered in the form of a question.
Harry nodded to the headmaster. He cocked an eye at Snape. "Who would believe the truth, anyway?"
"Indeed," Snape responded, wrapping himself back into the persona that Harry was used to. "I agree to your immediate terms, Professor Potter. In exchange for unlimited access to the basilisk corpse, I shall tutor Miss Midgen and Miss Granger in the Wolfsbane Potion this summer. As for the research position, I shall let you know."
"Within two weeks?" Harry asked. "If you turn it down, I need to find someone else. At any rate, Hermione or I will get the specifics to you in a few days. Eloise also already knows about this."
Snape inclined his head in what Harry took for agreement.
Harry turned to Dumbledore. "When shall we go down to the Chamber?"
Dumbledore ran a finger though his beard for a few moments. "I believe the both of you have free periods late tomorrow afternoon, do you not?"
Harry and Snape nodded.
Dumbledore said, "Very well, Minerva shall accompany you. She shall bring brooms as I believe you indicated that there was a significant drop?"
Harry nodded. "I have my own broom, but as I said, I invited Simon Firthquill. Could she bring three brooms?"
Dumbledore nodded. He turned his head and asked, "Fawkes, would you be so kind as to do an old man a favour and accompany them? I do not foresee any difficulties, but one can never be too careful."
Harry smiled at the phoenix. "Besides, you helped me out a lot last time we were in there. You're my good luck charm, Fawkes."
Fawkes puffed himself up a bit and trilled a clear affirmative.
"Two o'clock tomorrow in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom?" Harry asked the two men.
"I wish you the best of luck," Dumbledore bid them.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
"I cannot believe I agreed to do this."
"I can't believe you had a civil conversation with Snape," Ron retorted.
Harry rolled his eyes. He hadn't told his friends all of what had been discussed, but did mention that he and Snape were getting along better than ever.
"You're welcome to come along," Harry reminded Ginny.
She shivered beside him. "Thank you, no. I have many, many memories of that place that I'd rather forget. My one fond memory is easy to re-create outside of that awful place."
"Really? How?" Hermione asked from across the Gryffindor lunch table.
Ginny suddenly pulled her hand back from her plate. "Ouch!"
Harry turned a concerned face toward her.
Ginny smiled at him before turning to Hermione. "There you go."
It took a few more seconds to realise what she meant, but Harry smiled. Ron still looked blank.
"Harry looking at ME in concern," Ginny explained to her dense brother.
Harry rolled his eyes before he glanced at his watch. "Come on, you lot. We have McGonagall for an hour, and then I get to dive into the bowels of Hogwarts to study a rotting snake." He stood and collected his bag, absently rubbing his leg.
"What's wrong with your leg?" Hermione asked.
"Just bumped it on Sunday. I'll be okay."
"I'll rub it out properly later," Ginny offered with a smirk directed at her brother.
Ron grimaced but didn't comment.
Ginny nodded in satisfaction. "You're finally learning, Ron." With a quick peck on Harry's cheek, she moved off toward her Charms class.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Harry approached the first floor girl's bathroom with his Firebolt slung over one shoulder to find Simon already waiting on him.
"I see you got my owl."
Simon nodded, eyeing the broom in curiosity. "Honestly, I was surprised that we're doing this so quickly."
Harry shrugged. "Why wait?"
"Indeed, Harry. Why wait?" McGonagall asked as she walked up with three brooms. She handed one to the arriving Snape and another to Simon.
Simon looked at the old Cleansweep in his hands with a distant smile.
Harry led the foursome into the permanently out of order bathroom. Fortunately, Myrtle wasn't present and therefore didn't delay them. Harry went directly over to the sink in question. Looking, he spotted the miniature snake scratched onto the side of the tap. Working himself into the correct frame of mind, he hissed, "Open up."
The sink sank into the floor, exposing the large pipe Harry remembered.
Okay, not QUITE as he remembered. It seemed somewhat narrower than he recalled. That, or he'd gotten bigger in the intervening four years.
Harry looked at each person in turn, all still holding their brooms and eyeing the pipe dubiously. "I don't suppose any of you know a good Shrinking Spell, do you?" Harry asked with an apologetic grin. He knew one, of course, but his own attempts with a living subject had been . . . unfortunate.
Simon laughed. Snape heaved a much put-upon sigh.
McGonagall whipped out her wand and waved it over each man in turn, muttering a spell that Harry didn't catch. She shrunk herself last of all.
Harry was still staring at her actions when the sink beside him seemed to grow a great deal taller. He looked at it in surprise before noticing that everything else was also a lot taller, except his three companions.
McGonagall primly mounted her broom side-saddle and said, "I assure you the spell is only temporary, Harry. Please lead the way."
Harry nodded and pulled out his wand. "Lumos Maximus." His wand now producing enough light to put a Muggle torch to shame, he hopped onto his trusty Firebolt and floated over to the now comfortably large opening. Exercising all of his considerable flying skill, he floated nearly straight downward, wand light leading the way. He called up a warning to take it slowly before the next flyer ran into him. Remembering his slide downward, he kept to the largest, most direct pipe and ignored all the intersecting pipes. After flying downward much further than he recalled sliding, the pipe levelled out. Harry cautiously moved forward until the pipe ended in a rock tunnel that looked comfortably large.
When the other three had moved out into the tunnel and were hovering around him, Harry asked, "Shall we stay small, or go back to regular size?"
"You told Albus of a rock fall ahead?" McGonagall asked.
"I suggest we stay in our reduced size until we're in the Chamber proper," McGonagall said.
Harry and Snape nodded in agreement. Simon was looking around in unabashed curiosity.
Harry again led the way, making good time flying through the damp tunnel. He quickly came to the cave-in and flew through the hole that Ron had dug so long ago. Immediately on the other side he spied the moulted snake skin.
Harry looked at it in surprise, having forgotten about it completely. "Not as decomposed as I would've thought," he said absently, studying the thing.
"Not decomposed?" Snape asked in shock. "It's been reduced to nothing but skin!"
"Oh, it was like this the first time I was through here. The corpse is further along. This skin was just like this four years ago. Doesn't look like it decomposed much, surprisingly enough."
Snape calmed down when he heard it was just a shed skin. He waved his wand over himself and cancelled McGonagall's Shrinking Charm. Again full sized, he withdrew a bag from within his robes. Using waves of his wand, he levitated the basilisk skin, shrunk it, and moved it into the bag, lecturing all the while. "A basilisk is a very magical creature. Various parts of it will have no doubt fallen to scavengers." He indicated the field of rat bones on the floor without commenting on them directly. "Beyond that, other than some of the internal soft tissue, most of the body will unlikely be decomposed to any degree."
"Fawkes destroyed its eyes during the fight," Harry mentioned.
Snape sighed but nodded.
"Speaking of which, where is Fawkes? Professor Dumbledore said he would -"
The sentence wasn't even complete when the phoenix burst onto the scene with his customary flash of fire.
"Hullo, Fawkes," Harry greeted the relatively huge bird.
Simon floated on his broom, mouth agape.
Fawkes chirruped to Harry and McGonagall.
Harry privately thought that the phoenix was laughing at the half-sized humans.
Finished, Snape slipped the bag back into his robes and re-mounted his broom.
Harry led them further down the occasionally twisting tunnel. Around one bend, they came upon a wall blocking their path. Carved into the wall, two entwined serpents with emeralds in their eyes seemed to look with bored indifference at the interlopers.
"Open," hissed Harry.
The wall obligingly slid apart, revealing the opening to the Chamber of Secrets.
Harry landed and looked around. Apart from the size difference, it was the same as he remembered it. He let the other three take in the long room, stone pillars, and carved snakes. After a few moments, he strode forward, bringing them past the pillars and into the Chamber proper.
Directly across from them, the ostentatious statue of Slytherin still stood, mouth hugely agape. Harry pointed at it and turned to McGonagall. "The basilisk came from there."
But she wasn't looking at him. Her attention was riveted to the side of the large room.
Harry turned and saw the basilisk corpse in all its glory. Aside from the ruined eyes and one fang that was on the floor next to a black ink stain and huge bloodstain, the body was in relatively good condition. Harry remembered Snape's comment earlier about scavengers and figured that would account for the slightly deflated look that the body had.
"You beat this thing BY YOURSELF?" Simon asked in an awed whisper.
Even Snape looked vaguely impressed as he turned to regard Harry.
Harry blushed and shrugged.
McGonagall cleared her throat. Turning to Harry, she asked, "It was lairing up in the statue's mouth, you say?"
She mounted her broom and floated up.
Snape moved over to the corpse and started pulling bags, jars and assorted tools out of his robes. Simon just drifted around, eyes taking everything in. Fawkes had landed and was walking around the corpse, apparently studying it.
Harry jumped onto his broom and followed McGonagall up. "Is there anything I can do to help, Professor?" he called into the gaping mouth.
Her voice floated back out. "Thank you, Harry, but it doesn't appear to be needed." She came flying back out. "That is merely a nest." She looked around the room and began slowly flying the perimeter, examining the walls.
Figuring she'd give a shout if she needed help with anything, Harry floated down to Snape. "Need a hand?"
Snape spared him a glance. "Thank you, no." If Harry didn't know better, he'd think Snape was in a state of near ecstasy as he was waving his wand at the rapidly dismantling corpse.
With nothing else to do, Harry floated back over toward the entryway and sat down where he could watch each magician work.
Simon finally came down near Harry and hesitantly asked for a narration of the events that had occurred.
Having nothing else to do and no reason to withhold it, Harry told the story to him, starting at the time he entered the room. The only thing he left out was the identity of the duped student. Based on the speculative look Simon had, Harry doubted that minor omission went unnoticed.
At the point of Harry telling how he was dying of basilisk venom, his voice caught. Taking a deep breath, he was about to go on when he heard a soft crooning sound from beside him. Turning, he saw Fawkes standing beside him, having arrived unnoticed during his narration. McGonagall was also nearby, clearly listening to the story.
Harry smiled his thanks for Fawkes's soothing song and completed the story with no further problems.
When he wound down at the point of Fawkes flying the three children and one memory wiped adult back up the pipe, Snape was standing over Simon's seated form, listening as intently as the deputy headmistress still was.
"Thank you for telling me, Harry," Simon solemnly said.
"Indeed, Harry. Thank you," McGonagall echoed.
Snape didn't say anything, but instead gave Harry an abbreviated bow.
Harry nodded to them. Standing and trying to throw off the unease he felt despite Fawkes's crooning, Harry asked, "Professors, is everything done?"
Snape and McGonagall glanced at each other before both nodded.
Harry jumped on his broom and floated up. "Let's get out of here, then."
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
The Sunday following Valentine's Day, McGonagall stood up at the end of lunch. "Are all of the fifth and sixth year students here as requested?" A scattering of affirmative answers floated back from the few knots of students still in the room. She looked around. "Mr. Malfoy, would you retrieve Mr. Nott and Miss Parkinson, please? I require ALL of the fifth and sixth year students to be present."
Malfoy made a face but didn't try to defy a direct order. He slunk out of the Great Hall in search of his two absent housemates.
Idle chatter broke out among the gathered students plus the other year students who were now staying out of curiosity.
"I know that Professor Tonks asked us to stay after lunch today, but I don't know why," Hermione fretted. "Ron, Harry, Ginny, do any of you know?"
The other two prefects just shrugged. When Harry didn't respond, Hermione turned a piercing stare onto him. "What do you know, Harry?"
"Nothing for sure," he replied, totally unconvincingly. He knew this was coming, but still wasn't all that excited about it.
Hermione didn't get a chance to grill Harry further. Malfoy came back in with the two missing students, both looking a bit flushed.
McGonagall nodded as the three Slytherins took their seats again. "To begin, thank you all for listening to your professors and being here for this school announcement. I am going to be telling you about an addition to the NEWT level Transfiguration course. If a student received an Outstanding OWL and has exemplary coursework in their sixth year, they will be invited to take a new, supplemental course that Hogwarts will be offering beginning next year. I am talking about Animagus studies."
An excited buzz went around the room. Hermione and Ginny looked at Harry with wide eyes.
He did his best to ignore them and keep his attention on Professor McGonagall.
"As many of you know, three former students of Hogwarts became unregistered Animagi in your parents' generation. One of them wrote a notebook as he was learning and practising. As it was written by a student, it is easier for a student to follow than some of your other text books perhaps are. For anyone taking this supplemental course, a copy of the notebook will be provided. These three students took approximately three years to learn how to be Animagi. They did not have any assistance from a Hogwarts professor, however. I am confident that with an Animagus professor assisting them, nine months will be sufficient. In fact, I am aware of at least one student who took less than three months to complete his training under similar circumstances." She waited for the excited whispers to die down again. "Now, before anyone gets an idea of transforming into a dragon or some such thing, I would like to warn you that Animagi are always non-magical creatures. Animagus studies are very difficult, so this is not something someone should start on a whim." She nodded toward Padma Patil's raised hand.
"Who is the student you were referring to, Professor?"
McGonagall's eyes turned toward Harry, to nobody's real surprise. He was the one who brought Sirius's notebook to the public's attention, after all. "Professor Potter, would you please come forward and show us your Animagus form?"
Harry shakily stood and walked toward the head table. The students' excited buzz grew once again, and even Tonks, Hagrid and Dumbledore (the only professors left in the room) looked excited.
"POTTER?" Malfoy bellowed in disbelief.
The room quieted and more than one set of eyes narrowed at the arrogant Slytherin. Harry ignored him and continued forward.
"I can't believe that Potter, of all people, has the power or skill to pull off something like an Animagus transformation."
Harry stopped near the head table before turning toward Malfoy and transforming. He'd been practising with McGonagall for weeks and it took less than a second. It wasn't quite as quick as he'd seen Padfoot or McGonagall transform, but the Transfiguration professor assured him that speed would come with further practise.
All of the students were staring. Hagrid was beaming. McGonagall and Tonks looked proud.
Malfoy's jaw dropped at Harry's display. Despite his momentary lapse, he quickly regained his composure. As neither McGonagall nor Dumbledore had repremanded him for his earlier words, Malfoy erroneously concluded that they tacitly supported him. Summoning his scathing tone again, Malfoy said, "A HORSE? What kind of form is that? How utterly useless can you really get? That is a prey animal, quick to run from danger and totally worthless except as a stupid beast of burden."
"At least he isn't a ferret," Ron commented, his voice easily carrying through the room.
Almost every student laughed.
Malfoy flushed before going on as if he hadn't heard. "The vaunted Boy Who Lived, and he becomes such a worthless, land-bound animal."
Harry, who'd been looking toward Malfoy the entire time without moving, had understood every word. As he'd hoped, Malfoy had just run his mouth off too far. He'd been counting on exactly that when he asked Professor McGonagall not to limit any derogatory remarks Malfoy might make toward him.
Malfoy was still pontificating to his attentive audience, "As proud as he is of his flying, you'd think he'd at least become some type of bird."
Harry spread his wings.
One or two nearby Hufflepuff fifth year girls shrieked at the wings suddenly hovering near their faces. Every other student gasped. Though his facial muscles couldn't support it very well, Harry was smiling widely. Hagrid's smile got wide enough to split his face in two. Tonks stared in amazement before her own room-brightening smile blossomed. Dumbledore's twinkling soared to new heights.
As he'd been directly facing Malfoy since transforming and they had been tight to his back, the Slytherin could not have seen the wings. The students to his sides and the professors behind him could have seen the wings earlier, but had not recognised them against his mottled brown coat.
"I'm afraid Harry has to settle for being a pegasus instead of a bird, Mr. Malfoy," McGonagall said dryly.
Malfoy's mouth gaped open and closed a few times.
"Maybe he'll be a goldfish instead of a ferret," Ron reconsidered his earlier assessment.
This time, the laughter drove Malfoy back down to his seat. He spent the rest of the meeting glaring malevolently at Harry and Ron.
Ginny stood and approached Harry as he folded his wings back. She reached up and ran one hand down his neck, the other rubbing the lightning bolt shaped blaze between his eyes. "So beautiful," she whispered.
Harry nuzzled her head and whinnied softly before transforming back into a human.
"That was . . . wow," Ginny breathed, wide-eyed.
Harry smiled down at her and gently guided her to a nearby seat at the Gryffindor table.
Once all the attention was back to her, McGonagall said, "As you can see, it IS possible for a student to learn to become an Animagus. Heredity does help; Mr. Potter's father was one of the students I mentioned earlier. It also takes skill and commitment to become an Animagus. This course will be by invitation only for exemplary students going into seventh year NEWT Transfiguration. I've included the fifth year students in this demonstration in case any of them were considering whether or not they wanted to take NEWT level Transfiguration next year. Now, I'm sure you all have questions. Let us see if I can answer most of them quickly. Mr. Potter started studying at the beginning of Christmas holidays, though he'd read the notebook prior to that. Once returning to Hogwarts, he continued work under my supervision. He has just finished his training this past week. The exact mechanics of the training are not open for discussion unless you are in my class beginning next year. Are there any other questions?"
"You studied and practised over the holidays? Did you do it alone, or did you have someone helping you?"
"No, I did NOT do it by myself. Sirius's notebook explained one or two examples of their early attempts and some of them were not pretty. I didn't want to try without someone nearby who could help. Professor Lupin stayed with me over the holidays, and he helped me a lot."
"Could we read the notebook?"
McGonagall shook her head. "Copies will be made available to students only once they are accepted into the course. Due to the volatile and potentially dangerous applications of this skill, the notebooks themselves will have many protective and anti-tamper charms upon them, so only the appropriate students will be able to study them and only within Hogwarts."
"It was written by Sirius Black?"
Harry nodded. "Yes. Professor McGonagall has read it and made one or two corrections. I will be adding a few suggestions and observations myself before next year."
A short pause as all the remaining students looked around at each other.
"No more questions?" McGonagall asked. After another pause, she nodded. "Very well. Invitations to the course will come with summer school lists to those who qualify. Thank you all for your attention."
Lavender and Parvati squealed and darted out of the Great Hall, heads together. Just outside the door, they stopped to give Harry dreamy smiles before intervening students blocked their sight.
The rest of the students made their way out, many stopping to congratulate Harry on his accomplishment. Dumbledore simply laid a gentle hand upon Harry's shoulder and smiled. Hagrid thumped him on the back hard enough to make him stumble.
Once the room was mostly cleared, McGonagall said, "I shall prepare the paperwork for you to register at your graduation, Mr. Potter. Might I impose upon you to assist me next year in teaching the class?"
Harry nodded. "I'd be honoured." He shot a sideways glance at Hermione. "Assuming, of course, any of your current sixth year Transfiguration students are good enough."
Hermione gave a mock pout and a, "Hmmph, really!" as Ron laughed.
McGonagall fought her grin. "Good evening, Mr. Potter, Mr. and Miss Weasley, Miss Granger, Professor Tonks." McGonagall changed into her own Animagus form of a tabby cat and made her swift and silent way out of the Great Hall.
"Show off!" Harry called after her in amusement.
Tonks came down from the head table, still smiling at Harry. "Remus will be so proud."
Harry shrugged in embarrassment. "It was Hagrid who figured out that pegasus was a better match for me than a horse. Once I knew what form I should be taking, it was all easy from there."
Tonks rolled her eyes. "'Easy,' he says. What Professor McGonagall said about it being difficult wasn't exaggerated, Harry. I've heard that only ten percent of all wizards have the skill and power to even attempt it. Of those, half don't have a totem dream. Few of the remaining five percent have the patience to do it. I think there are only twenty registered Animagi in Great Britain right now."
"Plus one unregistered that I'm aware of plus me," Harry added. "With this course, though, those numbers will go up. Professor McGonagall is expecting about one a year to do serious training."
"Wait, unregistered? Do you mean Pettigrew?"
Harry shook his head. "He's in Azkaban, probably as insane as he deserves by now. No, I wasn't counting him." He held up a hand to Tonks's gathering frown. "Don't bother asking. I'm not going to tell you. I'd rather have the leverage against them than turning them in."
Tonks raised one eyebrow. "How very Slytherin."
"Why thank you."
Tonks turned to Ginny. "So, I've waited months to ask this and now I can."
"Is he really hung like a horse?"
Hermione broke into laughter. Ron made choking noises.
Harry hoped for a meteor strike, preferably right at his feet.
"No," Ginny answered without batting an eyelash. Harry was just registering her answer when she added, "He's hung like an alpha stallion pegasus."
Tonks and Hermione stopped laughing and their eyes widened.
Ron groaned and put a hand over his eyes. "Bad image, bad image," he muttered to himself.
Ginny turned to Harry. "So when can I ride you?"
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
A Saturday in late March.
Normally, that would be a day for Harry and Ginny to practise for the upcoming Ravenclaw Quidditch match, revise, do homework or relax a bit. If it were a Hogsmeade weekend, then perhaps they would be walking hand in hand and going towards the Three Broomsticks and Honeydukes.
In point of fact, Harry and Ginny were indeed walking hand in hand and going toward Hogsmeade.
This did not mean it was a Hogsmeade weekend. Moreover, it did not mean they were happy.
This was because this Saturday, specifically the twenty-second, they had a different obligation to attend to.
"It's for Wolfden. It's for your father. It's for Remus," Harry was muttering. It was unclear whether he was speaking to Ginny or merely to himself.
"This has to be done, and it's for the best," Ginny comforted her boyfriend. It was unclear whether the reassurance was more for him or herself.
Much too quickly, they moved past the Apparition wards around Hogwarts. The couple heaved nearly identical sighs.
"Are you ready for this?"
"Would it matter if I said, 'No'? Best get it over with, though."
They dual Apparated (neither was quite sure who Apparated who, not that it really mattered) to the Ministry incoming Apparition zone.
Predictably, the slavering horde descended.
"Do you know what the new fountain will look like, Mr. Potter?" Yes, that's what we're here for, isn't it, you idiot? Both Harry and Ginny were thinking loudly, but they held their tongues.
"Is there any truth to the rumours that you're pregnant, Miss Weasley?" Wouldn't that have required me to have had sex?
"Ginny! Look this way!" Flashes and the whir and click of cameras came from all directions.
"Where will the new fountain's donations be sent to?" Let us through, watch the bloody ceremony, and you'll be finding out.
"Harry, any truth to the rumours that you're an Animagus?" Yep.
"Would you care to comment on Cornelius Fudge's accusations of voter fraud?" Both students were very tempted to start laughing hysterically at the unmitigated hypocrisy of the man. He was accusing someone else of cheating?
"Mr. Potter, what do you think of the sentence handed down to Bellatrix Lestrange?" Anything short of evisceration by dull spoon is too good for her. Harry was only slightly ashamed of his opinion.
"Miss Weasley, do you have anything to say about Mr. Fudge's firing of your estranged brother Percival?" What? Fudge fired Percy? I wonder what that was about.
"Miss Weasley, any truth to the rumours that your father fought to have the statue be of the two of you?" Nope. In fact, all three of us fought AGAINST such a blinding show of narcism.
"How would you characterize your relationship to Remus Lupin, Mr. Potter?" Don't you people actually read the Prophet? Simon wrote it out so even primary school kids know the answer to that one.
"Mr. Potter, how do you respond to Bellatrix Lestrange's accusations of you having used an Unforgivable?" I was exonerated, you blistering idiot. Pay attention next time.
"Mr. Potter, rumours abound about all the job offers you've received. Would you care to comment?" Nope.
"Mr. Potter, given your relationship to a known werewolf, what is your opinion on lycanthropes' rights?" I think you answered your own question, there.
The two finally broke free of the reporters when the Auror guards let them through their cordon in the lobby. Arthur had already arrived and smiled at the pair. "Ginny! Harry! Thank you for coming."
Harry shook his hand and Ginny gave him a quick hug, resulting in another hundred camera flashes.
Dropping her voice, Ginny asked, "What was that about Fudge and Percy?"
Arthur shook his head slightly. "I'll explain it later. Meanwhile," he waved at the crowd of reporters, Ministry officials and curious public, "we have a statue to unveil."
"Joy," Harry sighed so only Ginny and Arthur could hear him.
Arthur gave him a look of wry amusement, knowing Harry's opinion on all this pomp and circumstance, no matter how necessary it is for the public.
Subtly squaring his shoulders, Arthur walked up to the lectern. "Good morning, witches and wizards, and thank you for coming. As you're all aware, the Fountain of Magical Brethren was destroyed during an attack by Death Eaters and Lord Voldemort last June." Arthur continued speaking through their reaction to the name. "In November, I was appointed to chair a committee to put a new fountain into the Ministry lobby. After consulting with Mr. Potter and Miss Weasley, we chose a form and commissioned its construction by Mr. Hawat," he indicated a large, long faced man on the other side of the lectern from Harry and Ginny. "Mr. Hawat has completed the work and we're now ready to unveil the new fountain. On behalf of the Ministry Atrium Restoration Committee, I give you the Fountain of Remembrance." He waved his wand at the Privacy Shield behind him and the charm evaporated.
A seven foot tall obelisk rising out of a simple fountain was revealed to the audience. The obelisk was four sided, two feet on each side at the bottom and slowly tapering to approximately one foot per side at the top. As they were close enough, Harry and Ginny could read the names and dates that were forming at the bottom and scrolling smoothly but slowly upward, only to disappear at the top. Most of the names meant nothing to Harry, but he did recognise some surnames. Prewett, McKinnon and Bones all were visible from where he was standing. He swallowed thickly as he realised that the dates were all from before Halloween of 1981. He was afraid that the names with dates in the 1990's would no doubt be well known to him, even if these were not.
Arthur turned back forward. "Those of you close enough can perhaps read the names and death dates of the victims of the self-named Lord Voldemort." Again, the audience shivered. "It includes magicians and Muggles, those killed directly by his hands, and those killed under his orders. We also decided to list those people who, while not technically deceased, were rendered into a state that is just as bad. The money donated into the fountain will be going toward a new foundation called 'Wolfden'. The money will be used to research an improved Wolfsbane Potion or a permanent cure for lycanthropy." He paused for a moment. "That is all I had prepared. Are there any questions?"
"How many names are there?"
"One thousand, six hundred and fourteen" Arthur answered. Harry shuddered.
"Who decided on this . . . symbol?"
"Miss Weasley made the original suggestion, I believe. The committee considered it, along with several others. This one was chosen."
"You said it also listed people not technically dead, but just as bad. What did you mean by that, Mr. Weasley?"
"Those who improperly received a Dementor's Kiss at Voldemort's direction, or those whom were rendered into a catatonic state due to prolonged exposure to the Cruciatus Curse, also at Voldemort's direction."
"What can you tell us about Wolfden?"
Arthur looked over at Harry.
Harry nodded and stepped forward. "The Daily Prophet will be running a story tomorrow detailing Wolfden. In short, we invite all werewolves to come every full moon. Wolfsbane Potion will be distributed free of charge. A place to safely transform will be provided to all, whether they take the Wolfsbane or not."
Several reporters babbled questions simultaneously. Harry let them sort themselves out for a few seconds before they came to some sort of pecking order again.
"You said 'we'. Are you going to be a part of this Wolfden, Mr. Potter?"
"I founded it."
"Wolfsbane Potion is expensive and very difficult to brew."
"I'm also funding it for the moment. I'm also examining possibilities for private funding. As for brewing it, Hogwarts Professor Severus Snape, who has been providing Wolfsbane for Remus Lupin for years, will be brewing it initially and teaching others how to do the same."
"Mr. Weasley also mentioned research?"
"Yes. In addition to brewing the Wolfsbane Potion in time for full moons, Professor Snape will be doing research on how to improve the potion, make it permanent, or how to produce a real cure for lycanthropes."
"How is he going to —"
Harry held up a hand, cutting the question short. "Potion research is something I know precious little about. I trust Professor Snape to know what he's doing, though I don't know what or how he's going to do it."
"You're placing a lot of faith into a professor with whom you're rumoured to have an ongoing feud."
"Professor Snape and I have had personal disagreements in previous years. I believe we are over them. As a professional matter, I have always respected his potions skill and knowledge."
"How do you think the werewolves of Great Britain will react to your foundation?"
"I can't speak for all werewolves," a voice said from the side.
Everyone's attention shifted over and Remus made his way forward. He ignored the few gasps and subtle attempts to get out of his way. The Aurors let him into the open space after a nod from Arthur. Harry easily made way to let Remus stand behind the lectern.
"As I was saying, I can't speak for all werewolves, but this werewolf thinks it's a great idea."
"Mr. Lupin, what do you think of this fountain?"
Remus turned and studied it for a few moments. "My own parents' names are up there. There are three more names that were as close to me as family. I think this memorial to them and the others who gave their lives to defeat a dark lord is fitting."
"Could you characterize your relationship with Mr. Potter?"
Remus looked at Harry with a slight smile. "I wish he were my son."
Harry's eyes immediately started tearing, which he tried to unobtrusively wipe away.
"Mr. Potter, are you doing all of this merely for Mr. Lupin's benefit?"
Harry's eyes narrowed. "Not at all. It's true that Remus is one of the people who will benefit most from Wolfden, but then so will all other werewolves. They have been victimized, persecuted and shunted aside for far too long. They are people, too. It's about time we started treating them as such."
There was a short, uncomfortable silence as the audience absorbed that. Arthur was smiling proudly, as was Ginny.
"Miss Weasley, you have not said anything to this point."
Ginny looked at the young witch who'd asked the non-question. "You're from Witch Weekly, aren't you?"
Unused to answering questions herself, the witch merely nodded.
"Okay, before you think that I'm letting Harry speak for me, he isn't. He's not speaking FOR me, he's just answering the questions the same way I would. Therefore, I have nothing to add." Her eyes narrowed. "And for your information, I am NOT pregnant, so you can keep the rumour-mongering to yourself."
Arthur looked both proud and surprised.
The witch at the receiving end of Ginny's temper shrunk back. The press had long since learned to treat Harry with respect, and it apparently applied to the fiery redhead at his side.
"If there are no further questions?" Arthur asked.
Arthur Weasley nodded. "Thank you all for your time." As the crowd slowly started to break up, he turned. "You two want to stay here for lunch? You, too, Remus."
"Leaky Cauldron?" Harry offered. "My treat."
The other three shrugged agreeably, and they all moved toward the outgoing Apparition point without interference from the reporters. Once safely at Diagon Alley, they turned toward the pub.
"I'm relieved to hear you're not pregnant, Ginny, but what brought that on?" Arthur asked as they walked along.
She blushed. "Oh, that was one of the questions thrown at us before we got to where you were standing. Witch Weekly and Teen Witch Weekly are getting upset with me since I keep refusing to do interviews with them. They're accusing me of being a brainless bimbo, unable to think on my own and following the great Harry Potter around just because of who he is. I'm sure you can imagine why they think he tolerates my presence."
Surprising the other three, Remus snickered. "You just had to stomp that idea out of them, then?"
"Something like that," Ginny agreed, giving a small grin that each man was glad wasn't aimed at them.
Once they were into the Leaky Cauldron, Harry turned to the proprietor. "Everything set, Tom?"
Tom looked up from filling the drink orders of the early lunch crowd. "Yessir, Mr. Potter. The private dining area is all set up, and your guest is already here."
"You planned this," Ginny accused her boyfriend playfully as they headed toward the appropriate door.
Harry shrugged and opened the door to the private dining room.
Ginny walked in and was not the least bit surprised to see Simon sitting at the table. "Hi, Simon."
"Hi, Ginny. Mr. Weasley," he also nodded to the second one through the door.
"Arthur," he corrected, smiling at the reporter. "Anyone who's so clearly in Ginny and Harry's confidence certainly has that right."
"Why are you the only reporter who seems to have two neurons to rub together?" Harry demanded, dropping into a chair.
"Good morning, Harry. How has your day been?" Simon asked as if Harry hadn't spoken.
Harry blushed. "Sorry. Good morning, Simon."
Remus laughed as he took the last seat. "As you can guess, the dedication ceremony was . . . eventful. Your esteemed colleagues shouted questions at them from the moment they Apparated into the Ministry. Most of the questions weren't at all relevant, and the rest showed that the reporters weren't looking for news, but rather sensational quotes."
Simon looked mildly embarrassed. "On behalf of the honest reporters, I'd like to apologise. What all did you get asked?"
Remus started ticking them off on his fingers, "Something about Bellatrix's sentence, her charge against Harry, his relationship to me, whether Ginny was pregnant -"
Simon visibly winced at that one. "Let me guess. Veronica."
"Cute, young, from Witch Weekly?" Arthur asked.
Simon grunted, which everyone took as an affirmative. "She may be cute, but she also thinks that Rita is a real reporter. She can be vindictive, so be careful if you cross her."
"Too late," Ginny cheerfully said.
Simon sighed. "What did you do?"
"She implied I was an airhead with loose morals, so I implied she wasn't a real reporter."
"Fred and George would be so proud," Harry observed.
"How's that?" Arthur asked.
Doing a poor but still identifiable impersonation the twins' voice, Harry said, "Our own little Gin-Gin. All grown up and making enemies in the press."
Arthur and Ginny laughed. Simon, never having been exposed to the twins directly, just looked confused.
"Maybe ignoring Witch Weekly and Teen Witch Weekly was a mistake," Harry pondered. "If you'd given them an interview back at the beginning, maybe they wouldn't be pursuing you like this."
She turned to stare at him. "Are you suggesting that I give them the interview they want, just to get them off my back?"
Harry shrugged. "Welcome to my life. You're in the spotlight as much as I am now. I'm not saying do something you don't want or answer questions you don't like, but giving them an interview just to prove you're not 'an airhead with loose morals' would calm them down."
"If you do the same thing with them that Harry did with the Prophet, maybe not quite so publicly or dangerously, you'll also make it clear you're not going to get pushed around by idiots like Veronica," Simon offered.
Ginny looked thoughtful for a moment before giving a slow nod at the recommendation.
"Actually, the lack of some questions was very disappointing," Harry lamented.
"They didn't question how the werewolves would know it was safe."
Remus snorted. "You think they honestly care about how werewolves will view this?"
Simon nodded. "As much as I dislike it as well, he has a point. The general opinion will be that the werewolves should do it and be thankful to the public's generosity while they're doing so."
"What does the public have to do with this?" Ginny asked in a near growl. "Harry's funding this whole thing."
Simon shrugged. "Werewolves are looked at as so low that they should be thankful that we let them live with as few rights as they currently have."
Tom knocked and entered, levitating a tray with five shepard's pies and butterbeers. He distributed the meals with practised ease and swiftly left.
Harry looked at Remus sadly. "How do you live like this?"
"Because I must," Remus answered, beginning to work on his lunch. After swallowing his first bite, he explained, "If I give up, the Ministry and Voldemort have won. If I let my anger control my actions, the wolf within me has won. Twenty years ago, your parents and Sirius taught me that life was worth living. I'm just doing what I can to do so."
"You're a good man, Remus Lupin," Simon said with a look of respect.
Idle chitchat was the rule among the five until the food was gone. After that Simon and Harry began strategizing at one end of the table.
Ginny turned to her father. "What was that about Percy and Fudge?"
Arthur sighed. "Before he was voted out, Fudge fired Percy. Nobody seems to know why, or at least nobody will tell me."
"What was he working on?" Remus asked.
"Not really sure. Rumour had it he was working against Harry, but I don't honestly know."
"Is he okay?" Ginny asked in concern. Estranged or not, he was still her brother.
Arthur gave a helpless shrug. "I don't know. He isn't answering owls from me or your mother."
"I hope he's okay," she fretted.
"He's a big boy," Remus soothed her.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Harry had to drag Ginny out of the Gryffindor common room. The OWLs approached, and she was buried as deeply as her classmates into revision. While he remembered his own panic just a year ago, he also knew that a bit of fun was also in order for his overstressed girlfriend.
"I don't have time for this."
"Yes you do. If you keep working yourself at this pace, you'll have a breakdown before you even take the OWLs."
"You three survived it. So can I."
"Taking one afternoon to relax won't hurt. Working yourself this hard isn't good for you, Ginny."
"Now you're the expert on my work habits?" she asked with an edge to her voice.
Harry shut his mouth. He supposed he could press the point, but he'd long since learned that arguing when she was angry didn't lead to pleasant conversations. Knowing when to shut up, he figured, was the primary reason they'd had so few fights since getting together.
Another hundred yards along, she let out a quiet breath. "You're probably right."
Harry did not allow his expression to change.
After studying him out of the corner of her eye, she gave a tired chuckle. "Very good. No gloating. You're learning."
"Thank you," he replied evenly. "Anywhere in particular you need to go? Gladrags, Scrivener's, Honeydukes?"
She shook her head. "A warm butterbeer and some quiet time sounds good, actually."
He frowned at her. "We can get that in my rooms back in the castle."
"True, but we'd be in the castle. I'd feel I have to study. Getting out and not thinking about it all will probably help."
He chuckled and laced his fingers with hers. "Just don't let Hermione hear you say that."
She tiredly chuckled back and brought her other hand up to first stifle a yawn and then to rub her eyes. Blinking them clear again, she looked up and blinked hard. "Harry, is that Percy?"
Surprised, Harry looked up and looked at a man standing at the gates of Hogwarts. His red hair looked unkempt and a scraggly beard added to the appearance of a wizard who was not taking care of himself, but Percy Weasley was indeed recognisable. "What's he doing here?" Harry's tone wasn't accusatory, rather purely curious.
The couple stopped in front of Percy, who had his head up and was looking at the castle instead of at the couple.
"Hi, Percy," Ginny greeted her brother uncertainly.
Percy started and looked down at them. A wisp of a smile appeared. "Ginny." He turned his head, and his expression faded to neutrality. "Mr. Potter."
Harry nodded cordially. "Mr. Weasley."
"Percy, what's going on?" Ginny asked.
His gaze went back up and to the castle. "I don't rightly know," he whispered. "At first, I thought I was here to speak with Professor Dumbledore. Now, though, perhaps I should speak with you two instead."
"Sure," Ginny agreed. She nodded toward Hogsmeade. "Would you like to have a butterbeer with us?"
Percy suddenly looked uncomfortable. "I don't know if that's a good idea."
"If it's Ron you're worried about, we'll keep him away from you."
Percy frowned and scuffed his toe on the ground. "No, it's not that, exactly."
Harry looked at the wizard in front of him and noticed not only the messy hair, but also the slightly ragged robes and gaunt features. "I have a better idea," he announced, surprising the two Weasleys. "Let's go to my place. We can have some peace there as well as getting a spot of lunch."
Ginny looked at him strangely for a moment.
Harry gave her his best, "I'll tell you later," look.
She pasted a smile on her face and said, "Good idea. I'll meet you there." She Apparated out.
Percy started. "She can Apparate?"
"Yep. We got our licenses at the beginning of the year."
"I don't know where you live, Mr. Potter."
Harry shrugged and reached out a hand, gripping Percy's shoulder. They were suddenly standing in Harry's parlour.
Percy's jaw dropped as he looked around.
Harry casually leaned against the couch as he allowed his new visitor to look around. He now understood what Remus meant about dual Apparating being a draining experience. Taking Percy along for the ride had been a lot more tiring than he'd expected.
"Did you just dual Apparate us?" Percy asked, wide-eyed.
"Yes, he did," Ginny confirmed, coming into the room. "Lunch will be in a few minutes," she announced. She waved a hand and led Percy toward the dining room.
"Ginny, are you sure you should be taking such liberties with Mr. Potter's home?"
The couple frowned at him. "What do you mean?" Harry asked.
"She Apparated herself into your House, and I presume gave orders to your house-elves," Percy answered as if it were obvious.
"Yes . . ." Ginny trailed off, not seeing the problem.
"Only the Master or Mistress of a House should do such things, Ginny. What you're doing is a breech of etiquette."
Harry sighed as he held a seat out for Ginny. "Percy, she's quite welcome in his House and has been since I moved in. More importantly from your point of view, though, is that the house-elves already view her as Mistress of the House."
Percy's jaw dropped open. His gaze swivelled from one to the other. "You two have . . . Are you two . . . MARRIED?"
"No, we aren't married, but I'm living here as much as at the Burrow," Ginny answered.
Harry noticed her tone was even, but there was just a touch of bitterness that she couldn't quite bury.
Percy looked outraged for a moment, eyes darting back and forth quickly. He abruptly snapped his eyes closed and took a deep breath. "Forgive me, Mr. Potter. It is none of my business."
Giving an impish grin that either terrified or entranced everyone who saw it, Ginny asked, "Perhaps you could convince Ron of that?"
A ghost of a grin appeared. "Everyone knows, then?"
The couple nodded. Harry said, "Ron is less than happy, but everyone else is okay with it."
Percy nodded absently as Borry put a bowl of soup in front of him. He lifted a spoon and started eating as quickly as politeness allowed.
Harry thanked the elf and surreptitiously watched Percy eating. When Borry brought in the bread and salads, Harry whispered into the elf's ear for a moment.
The rest of the meal passed in innocuous if rather forced banter between sister and brother. Without being obvious about it, Ginny brought Percy up to date on the rest of the Weasleys. For his part, Percy told them very little about what he'd been doing.
Putting down his fork after finishing off a piece of apple pie, Harry asked quietly, "Percy, have you worked since December?"
Percy's eyes shot up and grew angry for a moment before he abruptly deflated. "How did you know?"
"The fact that you ate more than the both of us put together," Ginny said.
Percy looked down in surprise. "I did?"
"Mr. Wheezy did," Tarry confirmed, picking up the plates.
"I asked that your portions be doubled and you ate it all," Harry explained. He turned his head. "Thank you for a wonderful meal, Tarry."
"Yes, thank you," Ginny echoed.
After a startled moment, Percy also whispered a quiet, "Thank you."
Tarry blushed at the praise. Bowing deeply to Harry then Ginny, he gave a polite nod to Percy and then continued his task.
"Are you doing okay?" Ginny asked.
Percy hung his head. He took a deep breath, visibly steeling himself. "No, Ginny, I'm not."
"Is there anything we can do to help?"
Percy gave a bitter laugh. "Not unless you can go back in time and beat some sense into me."
"Not to put too fine a point on it, I'm sure the twins and Ron would be quite happy to beat some sense into you," Harry observed.
Percy's face twisted as he fought a smile. "Yes, I'm sure they would. It's too late now, though."
"What's wrong?" Ginny asked again.
"What ISN'T wrong?" Percy suddenly exploded, standing quickly. He paced around the room quickly for a few seconds before dropping back into his seat, staring at the tabletop. "Forgive me, Mr. Potter. That was uncalled for."
"Don't worry about it," Harry said. "In fact, why don't you call me Harry?"
"Because I don't deserve it," Percy said, eyes still down.
"After everything I've done to you for the past two years? Everything you said to me on Halloween was true, Mr. Potter. I had my head so far up my arse that I couldn't see the truth of the world around me."
Shock rode openly on Harry's face.
Ginny merely gave a slight grin. "I'm not going to disagree with you, Percy. What brought this realisation about?"
Percy winced at her words but looked up at her. "Minister Fudge," he answered simply. "After the press conference and the next day's articles came out, he called me into his office. He ordered me to find something to use to discredit you both. I suggested that it might be better if he were to first defend himself against what I took to be your outrageous accusations against him." Percy's face shifted to a bitter smile. "He just yelled at me for a few minutes and called me useless before repeating what he wanted me to do."
"I didn't lie about any of it."
Percy nodded. "I know that now. That means that you were right all along about following Dumbledore and opposing Minis- Mr. Fudge. When he told me that he wanted a smear campaign and then didn't even try to deny your accusations, my faith in him suffered its first blow. Calling me useless hurt, but I didn't know what he meant at the time."
"When you disinherited yourself, he lost what he saw as a spy in the Dumbledore camp," Harry surmised.
Percy winced at the blunt summation. "Yes. Then the later stories came out in the Prophet. The ones told by minor department heads and deputy heads; the so-called 'Ministry Insider Revelation' stories. Some of them I knew to be true, but he talked about firing them for it anyway. When Father was named in one, Minis- Mr. Fudge really came apart. He accused me of having leaked the story and fired me on the spot." He bit his lip. "That was in early December. I haven't worked anywhere since. Saying that I worked for the Ministry under Mr. Crouch then directly for Minis- dammit," he quietly swore to himself. "MR. Fudge. Well, neither reference is exactly impressive to any potential employers."
"You were ordered to find something to smear us with?" Harry asked.
"Yes. I produced several stories against you and leaked them to select members of the Daily Prophet. I apologise for that."
"I don't recall anything printed against either of us."
Percy again gave his bitter smile. "Immediately after defeating He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? Plus what you did against Rita Skeeter and your apparent alliance with Simon Firthquill? The press wasn't about to slander you without absolute proof of something, Mr. Potter. The only things I could prove were old news that had already been used against you. I couldn't find anything new."
The three were silent for a moment before Harry spoke up. "You were going to Hogwarts?"
"I was going to ask Professor Dumbledore if he knew of any jobs available anywhere," Percy responded quietly.
Harry was now honestly impressed. Percy had realised his errors and was now going to one of the people he'd fought against the hardest. That was until he bumped into the OTHER person he'd been fighting against. It took a lot of courage to admit his mistakes like this and go to his former enemies for help. Perhaps he was a Gryffindor after all.
"Where are you staying?"
Percy winced but didn't answer.
Harry spoke up. "Dobby."
The house-elf appeared with the usual crack.
Before he could say a word, Harry politely asked him to get the brass key from the nightstand in his room.
Dobby returned moments later with the requested key before bowing and leaving again.
Harry slid the key toward Percy. "Here's the key to your room in the Burrow. I'm sure your parents would love to have you back."
Percy's face fell into his hands. He took several deep breaths before looking up with suspiciously wet eyes. "No," he whispered. "You keep it. You've been a better son to them than I have."
"Stop being a prat and take the damn key," Ginny scolded her older brother.
"But -" he started to object.
"But nothing," Ginny interrupted. "They are your parents. They love you no matter how badly you've screwed up. And screwed up you have, but you admit that now. Tell them the same things you've told us and you'll have a home again." She gave him a grin. "Making it all up to our brothers on the other hand . . ."
Harry chuckled. "Ron's easy. He'll just break your jaw. The twins will use you for a test subject for a couple weeks then they'll forgive you."
"Maybe if I throw myself onto Professor Dumbledore's mercy, he'll hide me under a Fidelius Charm," Percy mused.
The young couple chuckled.
Sobering, Percy looked at the key in something akin to dread. "I don't know if I can do this," he whispered.
"Yes you can. Your mum will cry, hug you, feed you more than you could possibly eat and then nag you to cut your hair."
Both Weasleys laughed. Percy's was a bit more subdued perhaps, but it was still honest laughter.
"Go," Ginny ordered. "Work things out with Mum and Dad. Once you have a home again, you can start planning properly. Figure out what you want to do and how to get there. If you still need to see Professor Dumbledore, he'll still be there. Right now, though, you need to fix your life before you worry about your job."
Percy stared at his sister for a few seconds before returning his attention to the key sitting on the table in front of him. He studied it for a moment before taking it and slipping it into a pocket. He stood with a new determination. "Thank you both, for everything. May I use your Floo, Harry?"
Harry stood and led him back to the parlour. "Incoming is restricted, but outgoing Floos are open." He held up the ceramic jar of Floo powder.
Percy didn't immediately move to take any. "You and Ginny make for a good couple. I'd just prefer I didn't become an uncle quite yet."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Get out of here," he ordered, not unkindly.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
"Bow to the judges."
Ron and Padma bowed toward the table with Dumbledore, Flitwick and Tonks.
"Bow to your opponent."
The two duellists bowed to each other.
They both pulled their wands out and aimed at each other. Ron had a look of fierce concentration on his face whereas Padma merely narrowed her eyes slightly.
Harry backed off immediately as spells started flying. Once safely behind the anti-magic field, he turned to watch in interest. Ron had been relying on power and speed during his matches. Padma was more thoughtful, accomplishing more with fewer spells, but she'd nearly been defeated when she'd faced Dean Thomas, who used tactics similar to Ron's. If she could survive Ron's initial flurry, she was actually Harry's favourite to win the duel. He wasn't about to admit that to Ron, of course.
Frantically dodging and shielding, she avoided everything that Ron threw at her in the first three minutes. Once Ron started slowing down, she began to turn to offence.
Harry sighed and stopped paying close attention. Ron was powerful and would be an asset in a real fight, as he'd proven a year ago in the Department of Mysteries, but he refused to admit that his style left him dangerously exposed if he didn't win the fight quickly. Harry knew several of the stronger DA members could easily defeat Ron, just as Padma was about to do. Personally, Harry was glad it was going to be Padma and not him, Ginny or Hermione who put him out of the tournament.
True to his prediction, one of Padma's Stunning Spells made it through Ron's defences and ended the match less than a minute later.
Harry moved forward again before turning to face the audience. "Victory to Padma Patil. That ends round four. We're down to eight contestants now. Blaise Zabini, Katie Bell, Cho Chang, Ginny Weasley, Padma Patil, Hermione Granger, Ernie Macmillan and myself. The final seven duels will take place Saturday night and then we'll learn who wins those two tickets to the World Duelling Championship in July that Professor Flitwick has been good enough to provide. See everyone in six days!"
The audience applauded for a few moments before everyone slowly began filtering out.
Harry turned to help Ron up from where he'd been revived by Tonks. "How are you, mate?"
Ron heaved himself up with Harry's helping hand. "You were right, Harry." He shook his head. "I just never thought a stuffy little Ravenclaw could beat me."
Padma, who was nearby and speaking with Hermione, turned. "Ron, I've watched you win your three previous rounds. I prepared for what I knew you would try. If I could last until you started tiring yourself out, I knew I could get you."
Ginny, Harry and Hermione nodded.
Ron sighed but nodded, too. He stepped forward and extended a hand to the petite Ravenclaw. "Good match. You'll forgive me if I don't wish you luck against any of this lot," his hand waved at his fellow Gryffindors.
Padma just laughed.
As the last few students were leaving, Harry and Ginny stayed behind to help Flitwick and Tonks clear the duelling stage.
"How do you think it'll end up?" Tonks asked Harry.
Flitwick paused in his actions to follow the exchange.
Harry sighed. "Padma, Cho and Hermione think too much, so they can be taken down by someone fast and unpredictable. Ernie, Katie and Ginny are all good, but unfortunately somewhat predictable. Blaise is the real wildcard. He can either win the whole thing or fall in the first seconds of his next duel. There's no telling with him."
"And you," Tonks added, nodding at his evaluations. "So it all comes down to how each dueller is able to deal with their opponent?"
"It usually is," Flitwick commented. "As you well know as an Auror, Professor Tonks, the most prepared wizard is usually the winner unless there is a sufficient difference in strength."
"And since none of the ones left are what you could call 'weak', it comes down to preparation?" Ginny asked.
Flitwick nodded. "Indeed it does, Miss Weasley." With a final wave of his wand, the diminutive professor turned to Harry. "I shall see you tomorrow in class, Harry. Good night."
Tonks was also leaving. "See ya, Harry."
"Night, Professor, Tonks," Harry called. He offered his elbow to Ginny. "Shall we?"
She hooked her arm through his and let him lead her out. "So what's your weakness, Mr. Potter?" she asked, referring to the fact that he hadn't evaluated himself.
"Why you, of course," he answered, smiling down at her.
She nudged him with her shoulder. "Prat. I meant, how can I beat you Saturday?"
"If duel seven on Saturday is Potter against Weasley, then my cunning and ingenious plan for ultimate victory will be put into action."
She sighed and rolled her eyes. "Can't wait."
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
Before Saturday's conclusion of the DA duelling tournament, however, Friday evening saw the final Quidditch match of the year.
"So how've you been, Cho?" Harry asked as the two Seekers paralleled each other in their search for the Snitch.
She grimaced but didn't pause in her search. "Could be better," she admitted.
"Weasley scores! Gryffindor is pulling away with this one," the new commentator, some younger Ravenclaw witch that Harry didn't know, predicted glumly.
"You were saying?" Harry asked.
"I'd really rather not," Cho said. "My life's not going all that well, Harry. Michael and I split up right after the Yule Ball."
"I'm sorry to hear that," he said honestly. He spared her a glance to see the real distress in her eyes. "How's the NEWT studying going?" he asked next, struggling to find another topic.
"Just you wait until next year, Mr. Potter," she groaned. "I thought OWLs were tough, but they're nothing compared to the NEWTs."
"Even in Defense?" he asked with a grin.
"That is one course that I'm not quite as worried about," she admitted. "Thank you for that, by the way."
"Glad to help," he said. "However, if you'll excuse me." He pivoted in place and shot off in a different direction.
Giving a wordless cry of aggravation, she turned in pursuit. It was only a few seconds later that she realised that he wasn't out-pacing her. She pulled up and resumed her methodical sweep of the pitch.
Harry was beside her in seconds. "How'd you know?" he asked in curiosity.
She smirked. "I'm on a Nimbus 2000. The only way I could keep up with a Firebolt is if the other flyer is either timid or intentionally not going full speed. It goes without saying that you're anything but timid. The only reason you would not go at full speed is if it were a feint and you wanted me following you."
He laughed. "I'll have to remember that, Miss Chang."
She shrugged even though the two Seekers weren't looking at each other. "No problem. Now I can honestly say that I taught the greatest Seeker at Hogwarts something."
He laughed quietly.
"Great save by Weasley, and Bell takes the Quaffle up the pitch."
"I'm the greatest Seeker in Hogwarts?"
She snorted. "Harry, your replacement last year made me look like an idiot. That's kind of hard for a Ravenclaw to admit, but it's the truth. On top of that, everyone, her included, acknowledge that you're a better Seeker than she is."
"She's a better Chaser, though," Harry said, implicitly commenting on the fact that the Gryffindor Chasers were clearly the best in the school that year.
"True," Cho admitted. "After all, she's been chasing the most elusive wizard for years. Finally caught him, too. Surely that improved her Chaser skills," she added slyly.
Harry groaned at the pun. "That sounds like something the twins would've said."
"I can think of worse things than being compared to those two glib tongued pranksters."
"Penalty to Gryffindor for blatching. It DID prevent a sure goal, so I suppose it made good tactical sense. Bell takes the Quaffle for the penalty shot, and . . . she scores. One fifty to thirty, Gryffindor."
Cho winced. She knew it was up to her to pull a victory from the jaws of defeat, but she had to find the damn Snitch to do that. Unless . . . She turned and shot away from Harry at an angle. The Gryffindor Seeker shot off after her, behind for the first few seconds before his superior broom pulled alongside her. She tried to bump him out of line, hoping that if she could keep him from paying attention to where they were going, she could keep him convinced that she'd seen the Snitch.
Instead of fighting her push, he rolled with it, inverted under her, and corkscrewed back to level flight on her other side. Seeing that she was trying to get her broom back under control and not paying any attention to where she'd previously been looking, he pulled up to continue his searching.
"Good move," she congratulated him when she was beside him again.
"Thank you. Nice feint."
"It would've been nice feint if it had worked," she corrected him.
"True," he admitted. "Excuse me." He turned and took off at an angle.
Instead of moving off in immediate pursuit, she looked along his flight path. Seeing a glint of gold by the Hufflepuff stands, she cursed inventively in Mandarin and took off after him.
With a five second lead and a better broom, he was well ahead.
The Snitch, apparently knowing it was being pursued, shot off. Due to her trailing position, Cho took a shorter path and made up some of the lead Harry had. This three-way game of Snitch-chase kept up for a few minutes, the commentator yelling herself hoarse while the rest of the game came to a virtual stop as the two Seekers raced to decide the game.
Unfortunately, the Snitch was proving to be elusive. Harry kept on its tail the entire time, but kept losing ground to it when it made one of its impossible turns and he had to bank in order to pursue. Cho made up distance in the turns but kept losing it again during the straight-line flight.
The Snitch stopped and reversed direction unexpectedly.
Harry barely had enough time to stop his forward momentum. His trained eye measured distances and directions and reported that he couldn't grab it before it was past him.
The problem was that it was going straight for the rapidly approaching Cho.
Acting entirely on instinct, Harry threw himself back and down. Unfortunately, he neglected to bring his Firebolt with him.
His left hand was suddenly filled with the Snitch.
Cho, still going full speed, collided with the free-hanging Harry.
Her broom went into an immediate dive as the weight it was carrying more than doubled.
Grunting with the collision, Cho pulled up and brought the broom to a mostly controlled landing, spilling both riders into a tumbling heap on the ground.
"Potter catches the Snitch and Gryffindor wins, three hundred and twenty to forty!"
"Ow," Harry mumbled. "What happened?"
All the flyers were landing around the two, Ginny in the lead. "Harry! Are you okay?"
"Ow," he repeated, slowly moving into a sitting position. Fortunately, everything still seemed to be responding to orders.
Cho gave a soft chuckle. "If you wanted a ride, Harry, all you had to do was ask."
"You're complaining that Harry Potter jumped on top of you?" Katie asked in amusement.
Ginny threw a glare at the two seventh years before turning her attention back to Harry.
"Are you going to be okay, Mr. Potter?" Madam Hooch asked, kneeling beside him.
Harry stiffly handed her the Snitch. "I'll be fine. Nothing a Pain Reducing Potion and a hot bath won't cure." He turned his head. "Thanks for the save, Cho. I owe you one."
Cho slowly stood, rubbing one shoulder. She shook her head at him. "No, Katie was right. You're welcome to jump on me whenever you get the urge."
Most of the surrounding players and students, which now included a fair number of Gryffindors and Ravenclaws, snickered.
Ginny pulled out her wand, fire in her eyes.
Harry clamped a hand down on her wrist. "Easy, love," he whispered into her ear. "They're only teasing. Besides, I'm not going to invite THEM to share my bath." As Ginny calmed down, Harry painfully climbed to his feet with a helping hand from Madam Hooch. He draped an arm over Ginny's shoulder so he could favour his left ankle, which was unhappy with the tumble he'd taken. "Thanks for the offer, Cho, but I have everything I need right here."
Cho gave a sad little smile and nodded in acceptance. "Good game, Harry, Ginny. And for what it's worth, I wish you well."
Giving the older girl a nod and contented smile, Ginny turned Harry toward the castle and the waiting hospital wing.
Ron, excitedly chattering about the Quidditch Cup win, floated along above the couple with Harry's retrieved Firebolt.
(-) (-) (-) (-) (-)
The Great Hall was almost at capacity. While only those from the DA who wanted to participate had been involved in the duels, any student who wanted to watch had been welcome. For the final rounds of the tournament, this meant the entire school had turned out.
With the duelling platform behind him, Dumbledore stood and addressed the crowd. "Greetings and welcome to the final rounds of the Defense Association tournament. As a point of order, it was brought up that as non-members of the Defense Association, Miss Granger and Miss Weasley should not have been allowed to participate in this tournament. Professors Potter, Tonks, Flitwick and I all agreed that as adjuncts and researches to the club, they are de facto members and therefore eligible." He glanced over at where most of the Slytherins were sitting. "I trust that this answers the objections to their participation." He paused for any comments or questions and continued when only a muttering could be heard from within the Slytherin group. "As in the previous rounds, the duel is concluded if one or the other dueller loses their wand, is knocked unconscious or concedes." He looked down at the eight students in the front row. "Are the duellists ready to proceed?"
All eight nodded with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Harry and Cho's injuries had been quickly mended by the school nurse and were now completely forgotten.
Dumbledore gave one sharp nod. "The other judges and I drew lots to determine the order of the final duels. Our first duel this evening is Mr. Potter versus Miss Patil."
Harry stood and approached one of the starting positions easily. Padma approached her spot before turning to Harry with something like fear in her eyes.
Ginny could easily understand Padma's concern. Harry hadn't shown any kind of pattern to his actions in the previous duels. If she tailored her duels to the opponent, how would she deal with someone who didn't have a set pattern?
Once Dumbledore had taken his seat at the judge's table, he announced the formalities before, "Begin!"
Padma crouched back just a bit, holding her wand defensively. She apparently wanted to let Harry make the first move.
Seeing this, Harry took a deep breath and concentrated. "Stupefy!" he roared, waving his wand in an exaggerated fashion.
The usually bright red spell was nearly blinding and crashed into Padma's shield, overwhelming it and sending the girl flying backwards. Only the protective spells up around the duelling platform prevented serious injury.
Silence from everyone for a few seconds before Dumbledore stood. Still blinking spots from his eyes, he mildly announced, "Victory to Potter."
Harry went over to Padma, reviving her and handing the surprised girl her wand back.
"What was that?" she asked as she accepted his helping hand.
Harry shrugged in embarrassment. "I put more power into my Stunning Spell than your shield could deal with."
"But it's handled Stunning Spells from almost everyone else before! Even Ron couldn't break through it," she objected quietly as they went back to their seats. Katie Bell and Hermione were being called up for the next duel.
Harry leaned over Ginny's lap to whisper, "You gave me a few seconds to concentrate. That allowed me to put more power into it."
"Still," Padma said with a frown of confusion.
"Harry's also the most powerful student here at Hogwarts," Ginny added. "Giving him time just lets him maximize that advantage."
Padma nodded thoughtfully, leaning back into her chair.
Harry and Ginny looked back toward the duel in progress. Hermione and Katie were trading spells quickly. Katie wasn't doing anything very complex, but rather standard duelling practises. Hermione was trying unusual combinations of charms and throwing in random transfigurations, but between Katie's solid defence and her Quidditch reflexes she stayed out of trouble. Harry was particularly impressed by Hermione's attempt to transfigure Katie's robes to stone. It was a novel approach.
Ten minutes into the duel, Hermione started to tire. Another three minutes, and Katie also began to slow down, but Hermione was in worse condition. One of Katie's Disarming Jinxes finally caught Hermione before she could jump aside in time.
Both girls were panting and leaning down to rest hands on knees as Dumbledore stood and announced Katie's victory. Katie handed Hermione her wand back before both girls helped each other back to the chairs before collapsing in exhaustion.
"The third duel will be between Mr. Zabini and Miss Chang."
As the Slytherin and Ravenclaw made their way forward, Ginny and Ernie shared a quick look before both nodding. Ernie looked over at Harry with a slight trace of fear, but Harry smiled to put the Hufflepuff at ease.
Cho, knowing that Blaise was very unpredictable, started throwing spells immediately. Blaise threw up a shield and waited through the Cho's opening moves. When Cho eventually paused for a moment, Blaise went immediately on the offensive. True to form, he was using strange combinations and more than a few spells that Harry had never heard of. Cho's shield and dodging skills kept her out of the line of fire for more than a few minutes, but one purple spell made it through and impacted Cho's chest.
Nothing seemed to happen.
Blaise appeared to be momentarily surprised.
Cho started throwing spells again. Ninety seconds later, she stopped speaking in the midst of an incantation. She blinked in confusion for a moment before slowly collapsing.
Blaise smirked and lowered his wand.
Harry laughed. "Delayed Sleep Hex?" he called to the victor.
Blaise smiled wider and bowed by way of reply.
As Dumbledore announced the winner, Harry turned to Ginny and gave her a quick kiss. "Luck."
She nodded and calmly assumed her position across from Ernie Macmillan.
This duel was the longest yet. The two traded spells almost in a formalized manner. Neither deviated from the standard duelling routines. At fifteen minutes, Ernie's spells started to lose power, but Ginny was still going strong. Seeing that his power was waning, Ernie started to use lower level spells in order to keep up his rate of casting. Ginny allowed a Jelly Legs Jinx to hit her while she cast a full power Stunning Spell. After Ernie collapsed, she reversed the jinx on her before reviving Ernie and offering him a hand up.
When she'd returned to her chair, she leaned forward, panting.
"Good fight," Harry offered.
She nodded without looking up.
Meanwhile, Dumbledore was calling him back up to duel Katie.
Once he was in position, he called quietly, "I'll accept your forfeit now, Katie."
She grinned. "Naw, I'm gonna make you work for it, Harry. Besides, I may surprise you."
After bowing in the appropriate directions, they assumed duelling stances; Harry with a slight smile and Katie with a look of concentration.
Harry started quietly casting. And casting. And casting.
Katie had to keep her shield up all the time, never having a chance to do anything except shield herself. The few times she dodged, he had another spell on the way before she could cast anything herself.
After ten minutes of Harry throwing spells continuously, she grew frustrated enough that she jumped out of the way of a yellow spell and threw a Stunning Spell at him, disregarding the red spell that Harry had already thrown at her.
His Stunning Spell hit her fully, dropping her to the ground. At the same moment, Harry dropped to his back, barely avoiding her spell. He rolled over and came up on one knee, wand forward in case his earlier spell didn't work. Seeing her down, he stood and made his way over to revive her.
Her eyes came open and she stared up at him in amazement. "How did you do that?" she asked as Dumbledore was calling Ginny and Blaise up again.
He grinned and whispered his answer, "Most of the spells I threw at you were just light spells. Didn't require any energy at all. I just waited until I saw you get frustrated enough and then cast a real spell."
Surprising the entire audience who were futilely attempting to listen in, she laughed.
Once the two had taken their seats, both Hermione and Padma grinned at him. "Sneaky," Hermione mentioned, having realised his tactics.
Everyone turned back forward as Dumbledore announced, "Begin!"
Neither Ginny nor Blaise moved immediately to attack.
Seeing an opportunity, Blaise took a deep breath and narrowed his eyes in concentration.
Ginny nodded slightly and also concentrated.
"Stupefy!" Blaise bellowed.
While still brighter than normal, Blaise's Stunning Spell wasn't as bright or powerful as Harry's. It hit Ginny's shield and ricocheted into the ceiling.
Ginny immediately snapped, "Stupefy!"
Temporarily weakened by the powerful casting he'd just performed, Blaise didn't get out of the way fast enough and fell to Ginny's Stunning Spell.
"Victory to Ginny Weasley," Dumbledore announced. "The final duel will be between Ginevra Weasley and Harry Potter. In an effort to give them both a chance to recover their strength after their two previous duels, we shall take a short break. The final duel will begin in ten minutes."
Everyone in the audience stood and stretched a bit. A few circulated to some degree, but nobody moved very far.
Blaise had finished shaking Ginny's hand by this point and came down from the platform. As he walked past Harry, he muttered, "Good luck, Harry."
Madam Pomfrey bustled forward and handed cups of hot chocolate to each of the eight contestants for the evening. Harry and Ginny also received small vials of an orange liquid. "Drink up, all of you," the nurse commanded the group. She turned to see Harry's questioning look as he held up the vial. "It's simply an energy potion, Mr. Potter. I daresay both you and Miss Weasley need it after two duels and another coming up." She turned back toward her seat along one wall shaking her head and muttering, "Duelling. As if I don't have enough injuries to deal with already."
Chuckling, Harry quaffed the potion and took the mug in hand and wandered among the audience, accepting congratulations and questions regarding the previous duels.
"Harry," Neville greeted his dorm-mate. "What was it you said to Katie?"
Harry chuckled as everyone in ear-shot leaned in to hear the answer. "Now you don't really expect me to give out all my secrets, do you, Neville?"
Everyone else leaned back, mostly with audible sighs. Neville smiled slightly and extended his hand. "Well, good luck, mate."
Harry accepted the hand as if shaking hands with Neville was normal. "Thanks. With Ginny, I'm gonna need it."
"I'll try not to take that personally," Padma said, standing nearby.
Everyone laughed, giving Harry the cover he needed to slip his hand unobtrusively into a pocket. Taking his leave, he moved back toward the front of the Great Hall.
"You do realise what will happen if you and Ginevra duel," Dumbledore said to him in an undertone.
Harry nodded. The fact that Ginny had Voldemort's old wand wasn't common knowledge. "I have a plan," Harry whispered back, covering the words by finishing off his hot chocolate.
Dumbledore nodded. He moved back to the judge's table and raised his hands. "If our two contestants are prepared?"
Ginny moved forward from where she had been speaking with Hermione during the break. Ginny and Harry took their places quickly. Without bidding, they bowed to the judge's table then to each other. Pulling their wands, they faced each other, anticipatory grins already in place.
The audience hushed, eagerly awaiting this duel.
"Non Obfirmo Ornamentum," Harry muttered before Dumbledore even finished his word. He didn't know for sure if Ginny's power channel pendant was still working, but he wasn't going to take any chances over the next few minutes. He also knew that Ginny's blouse was tucked into her trousers so it wouldn't fall all the way to the floor. As the spell didn't leave a visual trace and Harry had cast the spell almost inaudibly, nobody in the audience knew what he had done.
Ginny, meanwhile, was taking advantage of Harry's apparent pause. "Stupefy!"
"Protego. I will not duel you, Ginny."
She growled in return. "Petrificus Totalus!"
"Protego. You know we can't really duel."
"Protego. Please, let's just call this a draw, Ginny."
"Impedimenta!" She was clearly getting angry at Harry's refusal to fight.
"Protego. I'm going to have to use my secret weapon if you keep this up."
"Protego." He sighed. "Okay, you asked for it."
"Everbero! Stupefy! Reverto Animus!"
"Protego." His left hand went into his robe pocket as his right continued waving his wand defensively.
"Volucris Phantasma!" she cried in exasperation.
"Protego." He went to one knee and held a jewellery box as far forward as he could yet still remain within his personal shield. "Ginevra Weasley, will you marry me?"
"Expell- What?" She'd stopped mid-spell and was now staring in surprise.
He opened the jewellery box and held it further forward. "Will you marry me?"
"WHAT?" Ron bellowed, shooting to his feet.
"Silencio!" At least five different voices had cast the Silencing Charm upon Ron, who was reduced to silent sputtering and wild gestures. Everyone ignored him to look at the unfolding drama at the front of the room.
Harry's attention hadn't wavered. "Ginny, will you marry me?" he asked for a third time, voice now quiet enough that she was the only one to hear him.
Her wand came down, and she took a step forward slowly. She suddenly stopped and raised her wand again. "This had better not be a joke, Harry," she said in a low tone.
"No joke," he assured her, putting his wand back into its holster. Dropping his voice to a whisper again, he said, "I wouldn't joke about something like this, love. Will you marry me?"
Brown eyes studied green for a moment before they widened as she realised he was serious. Wand again coming down, she drifted forward, eyes fixed upon his. Once within reach, her gaze shifted to the ring. Her eyes immediately filled with tears. She gave a quiet gasp, and one hand came up to her mouth. She dropped to her knees and dropped her wand to pull Harry into a hug. "Yes, I will marry you," she whispered for his ears only.
Seeing her actions, every student in the room broke into wild applause.
Gasping, Ginny spun to see the student population of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry on their feet and cheering wildly. She turned and buried her face into Harry's robes, totally mortified.
"Hey there, love. No need to be embarrassed," Harry teased. He gently eased her back enough that he could get the ring out of the box. Without further ado, he took her left hand and slipped the diamond ring onto the correct finger.
This, of course, caused a renewed wave of cheering from their audience.
Harry turned and saw Tonks clapping but crying through her wide smile. Professor Flitwick was beaming. Albus was suddenly standing beside the couple.
Harry looked up to see a kindly expression on Dumbledore's face and eyes twinkling merrily.
Surprising everyone, Dumbledore suddenly leaned down and scooped up Ginny's discarded wand. Handing it to Ginny, he quietly said, "Duelling victory to Harry, though I daresay you have both won this day."
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Potter Heir Born
Harry and Ginevra Potter welcomed their son, Orion James Potter, into the world at 10:31 yesterday evening. Orion James was seven pounds, nine ounces and was pronounced in perfect health by St Mungo's Maternity Ward.
Mr. Potter is Hogwarts Duelling Professor, and his wife of five years runs Wolfden Foundation, the highly popular werewolf protection and employment agency.
Neither is a stranger to the public spotlight. In addition to Wolfden, they're part owners in Weasley Wizard Wheezes joke shop franchise (majority owned and run by Ginevra's twin brothers Fredrick and George), manage the Black Muggle-born Scholarship Fund and of course were the couple who defeated the Dark Lord Voldemort eight years ago.
Their spokesman Remus Lupin announced this morning that all three are in good health, and any congratulatory notes that the public wishes to send can be sent care of Wolfden.
This paper and indeed the entire wizarding world wishes the couple and their new child their very best wishes.
- Senior Editor Simon Firthquill
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