Harry runds errands and holds discussions, while others discuss their options
Hermione warily sat down on the sofa next to Harry. There was a conjured fire in the fireplace, which none the less sent off a little warmth.
"Eat something," Harry said, handing Hermione a cup of her favorite tomato soup. He looked over his shoulder. "Luna? come on in and have a seat."
Luna shyly did so. Harry handed her a mug of mushroom soup, while he took some chicken soup for himself. "Are you as afraid of me as Hermione is?"
"I'm not afraid of you," Hermione protested. When Harry looked her, Hermione squirmed a little. "I think I'm afraid for you, though. Harry, what you did tonight. . . ."
"I defended my friends," Harry said defensively.
"You did. And I'm not questioning the fact that, out-numbered as we were, you even had to kill. It was, well the way you did it, the ease that you showed. . . ."
"There was no doubt that before tonight you operated at a higher level than any of the students in the DA," Luna remarked. "Still, it was nowhere near auror level, let alone the level of magic you showed tonight. Something happened."
"Harry," Luna repeated, "something happened. I will understand if you can't tell me, but tell someone."
"I trust you both," Harry said. He flicked his wrist.
"What was that?" Hermione asked.
"Privacy wards. Like I said, I do trust you. But remember, both Snape and the Headmaster not only practice Legilimency, I think they routinely use it on all the students."
Hermione frowned, so Luna supplied, "Thought magic. An expert can read your surface thoughts without your even knowing it. A master can probe your thoughts, and under some circumstances, again you might not know it. It's most commonly countered by a type of magical mind discipline called Occulumency."
"I know all that," Hermione protested. "I was just realizing that Harry could be right; that Snape, and maybe even the Headmaster, might violate our minds." She turned to Harry. "And you're seriously worried that Professor Snape will do something, even though the Headmaster. . . ."
"Hermione," Harry interrupted, "you need to get over your fixation on authority figures." Hermione blinked in shock. "You got over Umbridge, but you have to realize that people like Snape and yes, even the Headmaster, have their own agendas. Just because they are in a position of authority doesn't make them any more right than Umbridge or Fudge."
Her cheeks flushed, but Hermione demanded, "Or you?"
"Or me, or yourself," Harry agreed.
"And if we learn Occlumency?" Luna asked.
"Then I will be able to tell you both more," Harry affirmed. The two teens nodded tiredly. Harry soon herded them off to bed, allowing both to shyly hug him good night.
Harry immediately stood straight, all appearances of fatigue disappearing. He transfigured his clothes into well-fitting dark Muggle casual clothes. Harry tossed some floo powder into the fireplace, and even though it should not have been connected to the floo network, and would not allow him back, Harry picked up the invisibility cloak Dobby had brought him, whispered, "Diagon Alley," and disappeared into the floo.
The group in the Headmaster's office looked exhausted, despite energy potions. "Where can they be?" Sirius complained, looking with distaste at the untouched luncheon which had been set out over an hour earlier, at noon.
"I believe they are in what I have learned is called 'the Room of Requirement'," Dumbledore answered. "We have exhausted all other reasonable options, and if Harry needed the room to be inaccessible from the outside, then it is." He frowned. "I shall have to see that the approaches to the area are passworded."
"So, there's nothing we can do until they decide to show up?" Remus demanded.
"I believe not," Dumbledore stated.
"Something needs to be done about the lot of them," Snape stated coldly.
"Your hooligans. . . ." McGonagall started, but Snape interrupted her.
"Whatever we think of that idiot Umbridge, she was the acting Headmaster, and they were working under her orders," Snape broke in, defending them.
"They took advantage of their position to go past bullying," McGonagall said tiredly. She had, after all, come back from St, Mungo's early. She paused in thought. "Where is dear Dolores?"
Snape paused in thought as well. "Actually, we don't know what happened after they injured. . . ."
"After they escaped from your thugs," McGonagall broke in on Snape. Her recent injuries had left her somewhat less compliant than usual in accepting Snape and his actions.
"We may have to visit what the Inquisitorial Squads did in general," Dumbledore stated. "However, Severus, what does it say that four students, two fourth and two fifth years, were able to disarm and capture a much larger group of fifth through seventh year Slytherins?"
"Not to mention getting the upper hand of twice their number of so-called 'inner circle' Death Eaters for nearly half an hour, before Harry somehow ended things," Sirius added.
"No, since none of the Inquisitorial students were really injured, and apparently neither were the six students, at least by the Inquisitorial Squads, that at least will be a wash. Stlll," Dumbledore mused, "that does not answer the question. Did Miss Granger and Harry somehow deal with Dolores and then escape her, or just escape?" He turned to Snape. "Did your students ever say exactly where Miss Granger was leading her?"
"The forest," Snape answered, "but that does not mean that is where they went."
Dumbledore sighed. "Let me go into the forest and ask some questions. I suggest you all get an hour or two rest."
Five hours after he left the Room of Requirment, Harry apparated to near Gringotts. It took him nearly half an hour more to get to see the goblins he wanted to see. By then it was just after 1:00 pm.
"We are surprised to see you here, let alone wanting to see us," Ragnot, the chief of the London Gringotts branch told Harry as he was ushered in.
"I am sure you are," Harry retorted agreeably. "I learned several things last night."
"And you are here to share them?" Ragnot asked, surprised.
"Some of them, certainly," Harry answered. "I learned from a prophecy that only I can vanquish Voldemort." Harry was surprised, if pleased, to see the three goblins wince. He could also tell that their bought-and-paid-for Ministry sources had told them that the Death Eaters had been after a prophecy. "I grant you, wizards and goblins dislike each other. We look at many things very differently. Still, if I were to communicate with Voldemort, and tell him that I was leaving Britain, and that as far as I was concerned he could have all of Europe, do you think that would buy me at least a few years of peace and quiet?"
Seeing the stunned looked on all the goblins' faces, Harry pressed on. "Tell me, considering how incompetent the British Ministry is, and how filled with pure-blood thugs like Umbridge and those just waiting to be bought off by Malfoy, how long would it take Voldemort to take over the Ministry here?" Harry's face hardened. "And how long before he and his pure-bloods conclude that they cannot leave their major assets in goblin hands?"
The three hissed.
"Voldemort broke into Gringotts, going after the item Dumbledore or Flamel had hidden away. He was never punished. I don't know if you think you can stay neutral if you don't offend him or if you think you're his allies. . . ."
"Are you trying to start a rebellion, Potter?" the vault master demanded.
"Tell us what you want, Potter," Ragnot suggested.
"To defeat Voldemort, I need access to an item stored in the Lestrange vault. I will not destroy it or even severely damage it. I do need to alter an aspect of it. If I cannot, I will simply leave Britain and let you, the Ministry, and Dumbledore deal with the problem."
"And what else, besides the glory of helping you, do you offer us?" the third goblin, the chief craft guild master, demanded.
"We look at ownership differently, don't we?" Harry asked.
"We do," the guild master agreed with a snarl.
"How many goblin-made items are in my various vaults, Potter and the others?" Seeing their reaction, Harry smiled. "Yes, despite Dumbledore's and your desires to keep me ignorant. . . ."
"Not ours," Ragnot stated clearly
"If you say so," Harry said doubtfully. "In any event, how many items?"
"Three hundred and six. Seven, if you snuck the Sword of Gryffindor into one of them," the guild master growled.
"I do not have possession of the Sword of Gryffindor," Harry retorted. "The Hogwarts Sorting Hat has the ability to materialize it to any true Gryffindor in need. If I might go on?"
The three reluctantly nodded.
"Tell me, what do you do with any items recovered from a wizard?" Harry asked.
"We treasure them," the guild master stated.
"You don't sell, trade, or put them up for collateral, melt them down. . . ."
"We TREASURE them," the guild master proclaimed hotly. "We are not humans!"
Harry nodded. "In exchange for thirty minutes alone with the cup, which I would then return to you, whole, I will agree to joint custody of the goblin-made items in my vaults."
"And what does that mean?" the vault master demanded before the other two could.
"The makers' families or whichever goblin you decide should possess the items will have them. However, I and my heirs have the right to use them for special occasions." Harry knew there were none he would want to have on permanent display or have long term use of. At most, any women in the family might have use of the jewelry for special events. The other items Harry thought were pretty useless (he had wondered in the other time line what idiot in his father's mother's family had needed a jeweled 10 carat gold chamberpot).
The three goblins talked for ten minutes in Gobbledegook, before Ragnot said, "Agreed."
Ron was the first of the five teens to wake up, and he was hungry. He was not pleased to discover that there was currently no door out of the suite of rooms.
Ron woke up the others, nearly getting hexed by Ginny, and then lectured by Hermione, assisted by Luna. It was Luna who called on Dobby, and the elf cheerfully brought the teens food, which at least quieted Ron.
"So now what do we do?" Ron asked as he and Luna polished off the sweets Dobby had brought them.
"We wait on Harry," Neville said unconcerned, which made Ron frown.
"Ron, don't you understand yet?" Hermione huffed. "No, I see you don't. Something changed Harry last night." Seeing the looks on the two Weasleys, she quickly added, "No, not as in possessed him. He learned something last night, or more likely several things."
"Such as?" Ron demanded.
"I believe he learned why You-Know, I mean, why Voldemort is after him," Luna said in a small voice. "He may have accessed the prophecy before he destroyed it, or he may have learned some other way."
"He is very determined that he can't trust the Headmaster," Hermione added. "Those initials on the prophecy, the ones that signified who heard it, must have been the Headmaster's."
"But why wouldn't the Headmaster tell Harry?" Ginny asked, confused. "Hasn't Harry asked?"
"I know he has," Hermione said, worry in her voice. "And just think of last summer, how the Headmaster kept Harry isolated. . . ."
"Like he has most of this past year?" Neville asked.
"Even more so," Hermione admitted. "For over a month, we weren't even allowed to write him."
"The Headmaster has been treating Harry like a tool, then," Luna said quietly.
"He wouldn't. . . ." Ginny started, but Luna cut her off.
"He might not believe he has. He might not acknowledge that he has. Still, the Headmaster is using Harry."
"But . . . but Mum and Dad. . . ." Ginny was too upset to complete the sentence.
"Have told us to always trust Dumbledore," Ron finished for her. "Everyone, well, everyone we don't consider to be leaning towards You-Know-Who or is a Ministry wanker like Umbitch, has said the same thing."
"No," Hermione said, shocked as she made connections she realized she should have made the summer before. "Sirius was arguing a lot, both with your parents and with Dumbledore about Harry's treatment."
"Harry's godfather?" Luna asked, making certain. When Hermione nodded, Luna said, "The Headmaster has to weigh many concerns. No matter what he feels for Harry, if anything, he might also feel he has to use Harry to some degree. Harry's godfather would be primarily be concerned with Harry."
"We all consider ourselves Harry's friends," Neville pointed out. "Are we also Harry's followers, or Dumbledore's? It might not be possible to be both."
There were several seconds of silence.
"I am both Harry's friend and his follower," Luna finally said firmly.
"So am I," Neville added, seemly surprised at himself.
"It should be possible to stay Harry's friend no matter what, but you may be right," Hermione said, slowly and thoughtfully. She thought some more, took a deep breath, and said, "I follow Harry Potter." She looked at the striken Weasleys.
"It might not come to making a choice like this," Ginny half-pleaded, wanting to follow her childhood crush, but facing a life-time of family belief in Dumbledore.
"Perhaps not," Luna said, "but it likely will."
"Harry's my best friend!" Ron cried out in pain.
"Mum would kill us," Ginny muttered.
"Ground us, at least," Ron agreed, hopelessly.
"It would be easier for you to follow Dumbledore," Hermione agreed. "Would it be right?"
"You don't seem to think so," Ginny snapped.
"I don't, but I'm not certain," Hermione agreed. "And you both have different pressures on you than I do. I agree with Luna, we will likely have to choose. Someday, but not necessarily today."
"I know Harry was fighting this, at least before tonight, but he is the Chosen One," Luna said, somewhat sorrowfully. "It is he, not Dumbledore, who has to defeat this evil."
"Yes, but that doesn't mean we should necessarily follow Harry instead of the Headmaster," Neville argued. "I plan to, but I would think we would still need the Headmaster to get Harry prepared, and close enough to You-Know-Who, to destroy him."
"I would have agreed, before last night," Luna said. "Now, I am not sure of that at all."
Ron and Ginny were looking more and more confused.
"You might not have to choose yet, but be prepared," Luna warned.
Harry apparated into the Shrieking Shack and moved quickly through the tunnel. He wasn't absolutely certain, but was betting that by coming in under the wards the Headmaster would not be notified.
Harry was correct, although any non-student would have tripped a different ward once they were on the Hogwarts grounds. Only when he entered the castle under the cloak did Harry trip a ward. Since he was under the cloak, the paintings could not detect him. It was therefore understandable that Dumbledore thought this was a sign of Harry's leaving the castle instead of entering it. Harry was easily able to get back to the Room of Requirement while Dumbledore, the Order, and some of the staff searched the grounds for him.
To the other five students, it was if Harry had appeared out of one of the walls. "Where have you been, mate?" Ron demanded, once his heart stopped pounding from the surprise.
"Out," Harry said simply. "Excuse me for a moment." Harry walked towards a blank section of a wall, where a doorway appeared, and then disappeared after Harry went through it. He came back out less than five minutes later.
"What is going on!" Ginny demanded before the others could.
Harry ignored her. "First of all, I want to apologize for last night. I over-reacted, and nearly got you all killed. I should have been a bit more clever. However, if the Headmaster had been even a bit more forthcoming, I would like to think I would have been a bit more cautious."
Ron and Ginny looked torn, and Hermione a bit doubtful.
"I also wanted to thank all five of you, especially you, Luna. These four know me really well." Harry smiled at them. "Of course, knowing me so well, maybe you should have known better."
"Git," Hermione said affectionately.
"I don't know what's going to happen now. It's obvious that Volde -- oh, all right, Ron -- that Tom Riddle would want to launch open attacks if he could, but it would take a normal wizard months to recover from last night, and it should take even him a few days. I doubt if Dumbledore will be any more willing to restrict the junior Death Eaters like Malfoy than he was before, so even Hogwarts will likely be directly affected by the start of school next autumn, if not before. I think I have everything Ineeded to do under control, but I could be wrong. If you feel you have to distance yourselves from me, I'll understand."
Harry face hardened. "Notice I said 'distance', not betray."
"There could be pressure put on any or all of you," Harry said bluntly. "From the Ministry, from the Headmaster, from your families. I could easily be seen as just a tool to be used by either the Ministry or the Headmaster. I will not be used any more by anyone. Ever."
Ron and Ginny exchanged a look, knowing their parents, and knowing how Dumbledore and the Order had treated Harry the previous year.
"We won't betray you," Ron promised.
"Thanks," Harry acknowledged. "I know the pressure could be the most on the two of you."
There was silence for a moment.
"Now what?" Neville asked.
"Snape, the Headmaster, and any auror could try and use something called Legilimency on you to read your thoughts. I'm pretty sure Snape's been doing it since first year. Don't look anyone like that look directly into your eyes. Look at their faces -- their mouths or an ear, for example."
They all nodded.
"Then let's go to the Headmaster's office, and we'll see if I have everything lined up like I think I do. Beyond that, it's not up to me."
The group had only traveled down to the main floor and then about thirty yards, just inside the entrance hall, when they heard, "There you are, Potter! Where have you been?"
Harry and the others ignored Snape, but kept walking.
"Potter!" Snape pulled his wand. "Stop where you are, or so help me. . . ."
Harry swirled around and voicelessly hexed Snape six times in less than four seconds. Snape was hanging from the ceiling, upside down. The ropes prevented his robes from revealing if his underwear had improved over the previous twenty years. He was also muted, and there were three wards preventing anyone from easily releasing him, unless a special trigger action was used.
The vaulted ceiling was high here, so Harry and Snape were nearly face to face when Harry walked over. "Snivellus," Harry said softly, "the next time you raise a wand at me, I will kill you. Soon everyone will know I am the Chosen One, and you are still Marked. Never doubt I will get away with it, and that Dumbledore couldn't stop me. I would prefer not to, despite the fact that you betrayed part of the prophecy to your Dark Lord in order to get my father killed, so that you could enslave my mother. Still, you are more loyal to Dumbledore than to Voldemort. But never doubt that I will kill you if I have to."
Harry marched off, with Snape motionless from the shock.