Categories > Books > Harry Potter > The Darkest Hour

Picking up the Pieces

by Ham 1 Reviews

Sixth Year!PostOOtp Its Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts and he has to make some hard decisions in order to survive. But will these decisions help him or make him weaker? Martial arts, dueling, anima...

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Romance - Characters: Dumbledore, Ginny, Harry, Hermione, Neville, Ron, Voldemort - Warnings: [!] [V] - Published: 2007/04/19 - Updated: 2007/04/19 - 6152 words

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Title: The Darkest Hour (18)

Author name: Ham

Summary: Harry is back in Privet Drive just a few days after the happenings in the Department of Mysteries. He is struggling to cope with his loss and the immense burden placed on him. He suddenly finds it very hard to go on - to find a reason to live. Will his task break his spirit? After all he is just a sixteen year old...

He knows that he must fight. Knows that he has to win at all costs. But he knows that if he even is to have a slim chance of defeating Voldemort he will need to make some hard decisions. Decisions that would hurt him and those close to him.

But will Harry be able to take the hard road back when he finally realizes that his decisions only made him weaker? That they took away his only reason to live. His only reason to fight.

DISCLAIMER: No I don't own Harry Potter. I just write fanfics for fun and make absolutely no money out of it. It all belongs to the great JK Rowling.




~~~*~

Picking up the Pieces

~~~*~




Amelia Bones sat in her office at Gryffin Manor, the official residence of the Minister of Magic, busy studying the proposal to allow Aurors the right to kill in self defense. The whole thing was distasteful to her. In all her years as Law Enforcement she had always believed that there were some things one just didn't do. By passing this decree she knew that she would be giving the Aurors almost a free hand to deal with the Death Eaters.

She had been Head of D.M.L.E for a long while and she knew the Aurors. They were furious and thirsty for revenge. Their comrades had been killed and they were eager to retaliate.

By signing this decree it would mean the beginning of a bloodbath.

There was also the risk of the government becoming too militaristic. By changing the law to try and stop Death Eaters she was also creating the possibility that a few rogue Aurors might harass innocents.

She sighed. No matter how worried she may be at the consequences she knew that this new law was very necessary. The Aurors would not last long if they could not protect themselves. When push came to shove the Death Eaters were animals. Anybody who tortured and killed innocents for sport deserved to die.

She was reaching across her desk for a quill when the door to her office flew open and five Aurors led by Kingsley Shacklebolt rushed in. The Aurors wasted no time in locking the door and then warding it with the most powerful wards they knew.

"What is the meaning of this?" Amelia asked sharply, glaring at Kingsley.

"Get down under your desk and stay there, Minister," Kingsley said urgently.

Amelia knew what that tone meant and complied immediately.

The next second the door to the office blew apart into smithereens.

The Dark Lord was here.



~~~*~



Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry.


Albus Dumbledore was sitting in his office looking over the plans for the upcoming school year. It was a thankless job, being Headmaster. Dealing with budget cuts, hiring new Defense teachers every year, dealing with the endless legalities that were required.

Things were so much simpler when he was just a teacher. All he had to worry about then was making sure that his pupils were kept interested in the intricacies of Transfiguration. Now it was so much more complicated. One wrong move on his part could destroy so many lives.

He suddenly noticed that one of his instruments in the office was flashing red and he frowned.

Who had come to Hogwarts at this hour? He tapped the instrument with his wand, muttering under his breath. The object stopped flashing and emitted a puff of smoke which formed a name.

Dumbledore frowned. This was very curious, indeed. He threw a pinch of floo powder into the fire. "Minerva McGonagall."

McGonagall's face appeared in the fire, she looked as if she had been woken up from deep sleep.

"Neville Longbottom is about to reach the main gates in a few moments, Minerva. If it isn't too much trouble would you kindly meet him and bring him up to my office," Dumbledore said apologetically.

McGonagall nodded and withdrew her head from the fire, rushing to do as the Headmaster had requested.

In almost no time at all the doors to his office flew open and a red faced Neville rushed into the office like a hurricane.

"Professor, please, you have to help me," he pleaded, almost in hysterics.

"Calm down, Mr. Longbottom," Dumbledore said kindly. "What seems to be the problem?"

"Death Eaters attacked us," Neville said urgently. "My Grandmother is trapped in there."

Dumbledore wasted no time in acting. He grabbed some floo powder and threw it into the fire. "Auror Headquarters."

A young Auror answered the call. "Can I help you, Headmaster?" he asked nervously.

"There has been an attack on Longbottom Manor. Send Aurors there immediately," Dumbledore replied, his voice conveying the urgency.

"Yes, sir," the Auror said quickly, running off to do as he was bid.

The call finished, the aged Headmaster looked up to see his Deputy standing there, her face white with shock.

They both knew that Augusta Longbottom was dead.

They waited in silence, waiting for the call confirming what they both knew but hoped was untrue. Neville was sitting in his chair, trembling with fear. Every single second seemed like an eternity to him, time lost forever, leaving him unable to help his Grandmother.

The fire flared again and Mad-Eye's face appeared in the fireplace. The scarred Auror shook his head sadly. "We were too late, Albus."

Neville slumped in his seat at hearing these words, his world crashing down around him. He dimly registered McGonagall's hands on his shoulders, offering comfort, but it didn't help. Nothing would help anymore. He had failed his Grandmother. He had run away like a coward, leaving her to die.

"Have Aurors make rounds of every Order member's house," Dumbledore said gravely. "I suspect that this wasn't just a random attack."

Alastor nodded and closed the connection.

Within a few minutes it had become very apparent that his hunch had been correct. Dumbledore aged years in that short span, thinking of all the lives that had been destroyed. He was further worried by the news of the Weasleys, Lupin and Tonks having gone missing. He had a good suspicion as to their whereabouts and realized with a pang that they couldn't have chosen a worse night to pay the Dursleys a visit.

As soon as the news of the mass attacks had reached his ears he had sent for Madam Pomfrey and Snape and sent them over to Headquarters to help the injured trickling in.

Dumbledore turned to his deputy. "Would you be so kind to take Mr. Longbottom to Headquarters, Minerva? I shall follow you there as soon as possible."

McGonagall inclined her head, wordlessly agreeing.

Dumbledore turned to Neville. "The Location of the Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix is Number 12 Grimmauld Place."

He had barely finished speaking when the fire flared again. "A young Auror's face appeared in the fire, panic clear on his face.

"Headmaster, he's after the Minister. The Dark Lord is at Gryffin Manor!"

Dumbledore's face hardened. "Fawkes."

Fawkes appeared above him in a flash of fire and a second later Dumbledore had disappeared from Hogwarts.


~~~*~



Molly, Arthur, Remus, Tonks and the others appeared quietly into the hall of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, fully expecting that everybody would be in bed at this unearthly hour. They knew that if anybody was awake some awkward questions could be asked.

They immediately realized that something was very wrong. Headquarters was a scene of utter chaos.

The teenagers, who were all supposed to be asleep, were sitting around the Hall, their faces reflecting the enormity of what had come to pass.

Ron and Hermione were sitting together on a couch, holding hands, trying to lend each other whatever support they could. Harry sat in a matching armchair besides them, staring into space, a blank look in his eyes. Only his clenched fists showed that he was feeling any emotion at all.

Pat, Sean, Jack and Alan just sat in a corner looking stunned and overwhelmed. The day had been so perfect, like a fairy tale. Magic was such a wondrous thing, filled with such limitless potential for good. It was the second time in their short contact with the magical world that they were seeing the destructive side of this amazing power and it horrified them more than a little. It almost seemed comparable to man using fire to burn people at the stake rather than to cook his food or keep himself warm. It seemed monstrous to misuse such a gift.

The floo kept flaring every few minutes as Order members entered or exited Headquarters, their faces showing the strain of the immense blow the light had suffered.

They noticed Madam Pomfrey moving about rapidly in the kitchen, which she had converted into a makeshift medical center. She was currently trying to stop the extensive bleeding of a badly injured Emmeline Vance. Other Order members sat around, nursing injuries ranging from broken bones to severe burns.

Snape was busy in a corner of the kitchen, brewing healing potions that Madam Pomfrey required as fast as he could. His movements were steady and sure, those of an expert who knew his job and could do it in his sleep. It was truly amazing to see him brewing half a dozen potions at once, never making a single error.

Ron looked up suddenly and his eyes fell on his parents and siblings. "Where were all of you?" he burst out. "We were so worried!"

They had been very worried. The hands on Harry's watch for Ginny, Fred, George and Remus had been pointing at Mortal Peril. This was due to the fact that the spell they had been casting on the Dursleys would have been fatal for them if miscast or if the Dursleys had been innocent, but Harry and the others didn't know that. Ron had been particularly upset. His entire family had gone missing and he was terribly scared of the prospect of losing them.

None of them knew what to say and looked at each other uneasily.

"Order business," Tonks said finally.

"Right, might I ask when Ginny joined the Order?" asked Ron sarcastically.

"That's enough of your questions, Ronald," Molly said sharply. "What happened here tonight?"

Her answer came from another quarter.

"Death Eaters attacked," Harry said tersely. "What seems like every Order member who wasn't at Headquarters was hit."

Tonks gasped. "Did... did anybody... did everybody... make it out?" she stammered.

Harry shook his head, his face bitter with anger. "We don't know. Dumbledore got Mad-Eye to send Aurors to every Order member's house to check up on them. We haven't heard back from them yet so there's no way to tell."

This bit of news hit Molly, Remus, and the others very hard and left them wanting to sink through the floor in shame. The very night that they had chosen to cast the curse on the Dursleys was the night the Order had really needed them. They had failed their fellow members and now it was too late. Nothing could undo the damage done.

The floo suddenly flared and a chubby boy dressed in pyjamas tumbled out. His wand was held limply by his side and there was a haunted look in his eyes.

"Neville?" Hermione called out anxiously, as she rushed over to his side. "What happened?"

He didn't even glance at her, it almost seemed as if he didn't notice her, or anybody else in the room, for that matter.

The fire flared again and McGonagall stepped out, her face tight and gaunt.

"Professor," Hermione asked timidly. "What happened to Neville?"

McGonagall was silent for a long moment, her posture defeated. "Longbottom Manor was attacked."

Hermione gasped and wrapped her arms around Neville, hugging him tightly. Neville didn't respond. His hands still hung limply by his side as he stood there, as still as a statue.

The bushy haired girl very quickly realized that her fellow Gryffindor was in shock and she gently pulled him to a couch and sat him down. Then she hurried off into the kitchen to ask Madam Pomfrey for a calming draught for him.

Harry and Ron walked over to their friend, trying in their own awkward way to offer their support. But Neville didn't respond at all. His life had never been ideal, he had never been popular or talented or powerful. He had to see his parents in a catatonic state every time he visited them at the hospital. All he really had was his grandmother.

Augusta Longbottom had never really showered him with love and affection. She had never shown that she was overly proud of her grandson, hardly ever shown her approval. But he knew that she loved him and her actions of tonight had proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Remus turned to the others. "I think we should pair up and make a sweep to check if anybody needs help."

Bill nodded. "I'll take Fred with me. Charlie you take along George. We'll take Diagon Alley and Gringotts and you two check up on the Burrow."

Charlie nodded and both parties Apparated away. Remus and Tonks popped away to Auror Headquarters to see what kind of a mess they were in.

Molly turned to Arthur, her face reflecting her fear. "Percy hasn't turned up yet... do you... do you think he's all right?"

Arthur put his arms around his distraught wife. "I'm sure he's okay. I'll just go over to his house to check up on him, anyway."

"Bring him and Penelope back here," Molly said, wringing her hands with worry.

Arthur nodded and Apparated away.



~~~*~



Gryffin Manor, the Minister's Office.


The dust had barely even cleared when the Aurors acted, sending several powerful blasting curses at the space where the door used to be.

They hit a shimmering barrier and all of them were reflected back at the casters. The six Aurors dodged as best as they could, but two of them were hit by the reflected curses, ending their lives on the spot.

A cold laugh echoed through the chamber, sending chills down their spines. "Foolsss, surrender, run away while you still can," a sibilant voice hissed from behind the shield.

"Hold your positions," Kingsley said softly to his fellow Aurors. "Whatever happens, do not let him get to the Minister."

"So be it," Voldemort said coldly.

A flash of green light flew out with deadly accuracy, ending the life of another Auror.

The Aurors responded by throwing the most deadly spells they knew at the hooded figure before them but they all dissipated against the Dark Lord's shield or were reflected back almost effortlessly.

Voldemort flicked his wand and a deadly whip of flame sprang up from it and rushed at two of the remaining Aurors. It wrapped around them tightly, the bright blue flames burning their bodies to ash in no time at all. The screams from the two Aurors were terrible to hear, sending chills down the spines of the Minister and the remaining Auror.

Kingsley suddenly knew with sickening certainty that he was not going to be able to hold off the Dark Lord. He was going to die in the next few seconds.

A flash of memory suddenly assaulted him and he was reminded of a green eyed boy who had dared to stand up to the monster before him. Dared to defy him and win.

Kingsley clenched his jaw. He would not go without a fight. He could not let anything happen to the Minister.

"Avada Kedavra!" he screamed.

The killing curse raced towards the Dark Lord but before it could hit him a chunk of the destroyed door flew in to intercept the spell.

Voldemort stepped into the room, eyeing the tall Auror with an amused smile. "You fought bravely. But you forget that bravery does not make up for lack of skill or power."

He raised his wand, ready to cast the spell to end the life of the last of his obstacles.

"Avada Kedavra!"

Kingsley closed his eyes, knowing all was lost. He wondered whether it would be painful.

A second later he heard an angry hiss. "So we meet again, Dumbledore."

He opened his eyes to see a sight for sore eyes. Albus Dumbledore stood beside him, wand drawn, magic literally rippling around him in his fury.

"I suggest you leave, Tom," Dumbledore said in a low, furious tone.

Voldemort replied by shooting a killing curse at the Headmaster. By the time it was halfway to him Dumbledore had already disappeared.

He reappeared a little distance away and flicked his wand. A beam of raw magic thundered towards Voldemort.

The Dark Lord conjured up his strongest shield, even then it was barely enough. He was pushed back a few feet by the sheer power of the spell.

"Always so ready to protect everyone, aren't you, Dumbledore? It is your biggest weakness," Voldemort spat, sending the killing curse towards an unsuspecting Kingsley.

"You have always underestimated the power of love, Tom," Dumbledore said calmly, as he pushed Kingsley out of the way of the spell with a brief wave of his hand. "And this has already set the path to your doom in motion."

Voldemort laughed. "My doom? Your precious Order has been taken apart by me in one night. That traitor you tried to use to spy on me has been keeping me informed of all your activities throughout the last year."

Popping sounds from behind him alerted Voldemort to the arrival of more Aurors. He turned to Dumbledore to get in one last word. "Now you will watch as I destroy your followers one by one. The Potter boy won't elude me forever, either. Do what you can to protect him."

The Dark Lord then whirled around on the spot and disappeared.

"Is he gone, Albus?" a shaken Kingsley asked.

"Yes," Dumbledore said tiredly. "Get Amelia and let's head to Headquarters."



~~~*~



The night so far had been long and terrible. For the teenagers there had been nothing to do but wait. The seconds had ticked by like an eternity and just when the wait got unbearable more bad news had trickled in.

There was utter silence in the room, none of them knew what to say and nobody dared to break the fragile atmosphere. The looks on the faces of the adults, the news of utter destruction coming in every second and seeing with their own eyes the horror of war had aged all of them, stolen their innocence.

The Dark Mark shone bright all over the country that night, mocking the side of the light. The people gone could never be replaced. The blood spilled could never be washed away.

The young teenagers had a first hand glimpse of the terror of the first war. Harry finally understood why grown wizards feared to say the Dark Lord's name.

Voldemort was undoubtedly powerful, but what made him so feared was his cunning and viciousness. He struck swiftly and suddenly, like a striking snake, leaving nothing but pain and destruction behind. There was nothing that was sacred to him and he showed no mercy to his victims.

Fortunately, there was some hope still left. The relief on the faces of the Weasleys when Arthur had arrived back at Headquarters with Percy and Penelope had been plain to see. Molly had leapt up and hugged him fiercely, the long minutes she had spent praying for his safety wordlessly being conveyed by the strength of her embrace.

Bill and Fred returned soon after, with more good news. Gringotts and Diagon Alley had not been targeted at all. The goblins had been alerted and they had put the bank into a state of temporary lockdown. Even the Dark Lord would have trouble getting past the wards now.

The injured Order members had all been seen to by Madam Pomfrey and most of them would make it through without any lasting damage. The more serious cases had been sent over to St. Mungo's where the healers were already working overtime.

The silence was suddenly disrupted by a series of sudden pops and Albus Dumbledore strode into the room, followed by Minister Bones, Kingsley and Mad-Eye.

Kingsley and Mad-Eye looked just about done in and the faces of the Headmaster and the Minister reflected similar weary looks.

"Albus, what happened?" Molly asked anxiously.

"Voldemort went after Amelia," Mad-Eye growled, "If Albus hadn't made it there on time we'd be holding elections tomorrow."

"Contact everybody," Dumbledore said softly, his voice tinged with anger. "Full Order meeting in half an hour."


Half an hour later...


The kitchen of Number 12 Grimmauld Place was packed with Order members. Dumbledore had needed to expand the room to fit everybody.

Many of them sat with body parts wrapped in bandages or nursing burns. The Order had been hit very hard and it showed.

There was an uneasy silence in the room as the warriors of the light tried to predict how badly this would affect the war. This was sure to send the already terrified public into all out panic.

Dumbledore threw the meeting open and one by one the members gave their reports. It was finally it was all out in the open, all the ugly details staring them in the face. They had lost Hestia Jones, Dedalus Diggle, Elphias Doge and Augusta Longbottom, all highly respected Order members. Several Aurors had lost their lives trying to defend Amelia Bones before Dumbledore arrived to take on Voldemort.

Most of the people who had escaped the attacks were left without any homes to go to and over half of the Order was injured, some critically so.

It was also found out that while Voldemort was at Gryffin Manor a group of Death Eaters had attacked Azkaban and freed the Death Eaters that were captured by Dumbledore in the attack on Harry.

"We are going to lose this damn war if we go on like this," Moody roared. "We keep capturing them only to have those bastards broken out of prison every single time."

"Do you have a solution to that, Alastor?" Amelia Bones asked tiredly.

"You're damn right I do. A few reducting curses will take care of the problem. Permanently."

"We cannot murder them, Alastor. It would make us no better than them," Amelia said firmly.

"It's gone way beyond morals, Minister," Alastor growled. "If we don't do something soon it will be all over for us."

"The decree to allow the Aurors to use lethal spells in self defense will go through. But if they can be captured you will capture them and we will not kill any prisoners. Do I make myself clear?" Amelia said sternly.

Suddenly one of the Order members stood up, his face suffused with rage. "It's all that bastards fault," he said pointing a shaking finger at Snape. "The traitor sold us all out. Nobody could have known the identities of the Order members if not for him."

Dumbledore opened his mouth to calm the man down but before he could do so a voice coldly cut in.

"Shut up and sit down."

Everybody whirled to see where the voice had come from. They were stunned to see that it was Harry Potter that spoke. It was very well known that the loathing he and Snape had for each other was legendry.

"The man risked his life to spy for us. Yes, he got hoodwinked by Voldemort, but none of you would have fared any better. You think it's easy to go there day after day knowing that you could be exposed any minute and tortured to death? You think he enjoyed being held under the Cruciatus every time he went to one of the gatherings?"

The man flushed a bright red with embarrassment and sat down quickly, shooting a venomous glare at Harry.

"As for the identities of the Order members being secret... well, it was bound to come out some day. It would have taken just one of you getting captured and the game would have been up."

Snape stared at Harry furiously. He didn't need the brat to stand up for him and was about to open his mouth to tell him just that.

However Dumbledore chose that moment to speak. "We have all made mistakes. There is nothing to do but to learn from them and move on. Now is not the time to fight amongst ourselves. It would be exactly what Voldemort wants, and what we must deny him at all costs."

Several people flinched at hearing the Dark Lord's name and Harry knew that Voldemort had succeeded in putting more terror into their hearts tonight.

Dumbledore turned to Amelia. "There will need to be more Aurors stationed at Gryffin Manor and the wards will have to be strengthened. It is very possible that he will attack again."

"Don't worry, Headmaster," Kingsley said quietly. "From now on there will be a dozen Aurors stationed there permanently."

"There is hardly any need for that," Madam Bones protested. "The Aurors are badly needed elsewhere."

"There is no bigger concern than protecting you, Minister," Arthur said politely. "You are the person heading the magical government, the symbol of stability. If something were to happen to you the wizarding world would fall into anarchy.

There was a brief discussion of reimbursement from the Ministry to be given to those whose homes were destroyed and the official statement to be given to the Daily Prophet and the meeting soon broke up.


~~~*~


Severus Snape walked out of the room quickly, eager to get back to Hogwarts and away from the hate filled glares he could still feel directed at him.

He was almost out of the main door when he felt a hand on his shoulder, stopping him. He whirled around angrily ready to give whoever it was a scathing tongue lashing.

He was surprised to see that it was Harry Potter. What did the brat want now?

"Can I speak to you, Professor?" Harry asked politely.

"What do you think you are doing now, you imbecile?" Snape sneered.

"I mean in private."

Snape was about to open his mouth to say that he had no desire to waste a single moment of his time talking to him when the boy's next words stopped him.

"Please, I wont take too much of your time."

He nodded and silently followed Harry to the parlour and watched in irritation as he cast a few strong locking and privacy charms.

"Well, Potter? I haven't got all day," he said impatiently.

Harry nodded. "There are two things I need to discuss with you," he said slowly. "One concerns the Defense club that Professor Dumbledore has asked me to run this year."

"Ah, yes," Snape said silkily. "The great Harry Potter is to train the students of Hogwarts to fight the Death Eaters. They should feel safer already."

"As I was saying..." Harry bit out, keeping his temper in firm check. "Professor Dumbledore allowed me the assistance of a member of faculty and I was hoping you'd consent to help."

"You want me to 'assist' you to run your Defense club?" Snape asked coldly. "Getting ahead of ourselves, aren't we, Potter? Just as I thought your head couldn't get any more inflated."

Harry sighed in frustration. "Can we please drop the 'I've got a Dementor up my arse' attitude for a bit? I know you hate me, but would it kill you to be less obvious about it?"

Snape's eyes flashed in rage. "You insolent whelp! You think you are so special, don't you? Strutting around like you are someone special? It will take the Dark Lord ten minutes to break you and all your Gryffindor bravery."

"He's tried before, Professor," Harry said in an equally cold tone. "And I doubt he'll stop coming after me till I'm dead. But someday you might realize that it's not in your best interests to have me 'broken' by him."

"Are you threatening me, Potter?" Snape said, narrowing his eyes, dangerously.

"Not at all," Harry said calmly, reigning in his temper again.

"Look, I didn't ask for your help to show you that I'm superior to you. I still don't fully understand why Professor Dumbledore asked me to run the club. Maybe it was because you were still spying for the Order at that time. Maybe he has other reasons. I don't know. All I know is that it's now my responsibility to make sure that all those students are trained to face what's out there. And I need help in getting them ready."

Harry glanced at Snape, trying to see if his words were having any effect on the man. There was no way to make out. The Potions Master was listening to him quietly, his black eyes totally blank of any emotion.

"There's nobody on the faculty with knowledge of the Dark Arts as extensive as yours, you know first hand how Voldemort and the Death Eaters operate and you can give the students the best perspective on how to fight them. Also, there is the case of the Slytherins. I know that there must be those that do not support Voldemort, maybe they will join the club seeing you there."

"Very well, Potter," Snape said quietly. "I will help you with your club. Now, is that all?"

"No, there is another matter I need your help with... and this is more personal," Harry said hesitantly.

Snape sneered. "The day gets better and better. Very well, Potter, I'm listening."

Harry closed his eyes momentarily to bolster his courage and quickly explained what he needed. He showed Snape the book on unforgivables and what his theory was. When he finished he saw Snape was looking at him like he suspected Harry had trolls in his family tree.

"I always knew you were dense, Potter," he said disgustedly. "But this is taking it too far, even for you."

"Listen... I know it seems..."

"No, you listen, Potter," Snape snarled. "They are called 'Unforgivables' for a reason. The Death Eaters themselves do not use them lightly. They are not meant to be trifled with. Do you ever think before you come up with these harebrained schemes of yours?"

"I know the dangers. Don't think for a second that I've not thought this through," Harry said sharply. "But sometimes the gains are worth the risks."

"Risks? Do you even know what you are suggesting? You are not taking a 'risk', you are trying to commit suicide. There is no way this will work."

"I will make it work," Harry said firmly, his eyes flashing with absolute determination.

Snape smirked and turned to leave. "Well best of luck, Potter. As much as I would love to help you commit suicide it would put me in a very undesirable position were I to be caught."

"You will help me, Professor," Harry said calmly.

Snape stopped and turned to look at Harry contemptuously, a nerve on his temple ticking ominously. "What was that?"

"You will help me," Harry repeated slowly.

"What in that idiotic Potter mind of yours makes you think you can make me help you?" Snape asked silkily. "Do you think just because you told off a few people in my defense that you will be able to dictate terms to me? Or are you under the misconception that saving my life gave you the right to make demands of me?"

Harry shook his head. "You do not owe me anything, Professor. I don't intend to call in any favors for any services you think I did you. The only reason I think you will help me is because I'm asking for your help. Because I need your help. Your help, nobody else's. You will have a Potter indebted to you... isn't that what you've always wanted? And this is the only chance you will ever get to exact your revenge. Take it or leave it."

The two men looked at each other in silence, each weighing the other.

Finally Harry gave a small smile and turned to walk out of the room. "See you at Hogwarts, Professor. You can decide when you want to hold the lessons then."



~~~*~



Harry slowly walked into his bedroom, worn out from the happenings of the night. He dreaded going to bed, knowing that the nightmares would not let him be. He pondered on his conversation with Snape, knowing he was playing with fire. But he also knew that there was no other way to get what he wanted.

The burden on his shoulders felt heavier tonight and he realized that he had failed those who had fallen today. Failed them because he was the only one who could end the war and he was too weak to do so.

How many more would fall? How many families would be destroyed before he was able to take on Voldemort? Would it be too late by then? Would there be anything left to save?

He sighed and walked over to his desk, sinking into the chair. He didn't bother to switch on the lights, the darkness suited his mood.

"Harry," a quiet voice whispered, startling him greatly.

"Neville?" Harry gasped, looking over to his bed where a shadowy figure was sitting. "You scared me mate. What are you doing here?"

"I'm sorry. I needed to talk to you," Neville said slowly, his voice so low that Harry had to strain to hear him.

Harry was silent for a moment as he wondered what his friend wanted at this hour of the night and why it could not wait. Something about it gave him a very bad feeling. "Right now? About what?" he asked warily.

There was another pause and Harry could almost see the internal struggle the other boy was going through. "We're friends, right?" Neville finally asked, almost desperately.

"You know we are," Harry replied quietly. "What's on your mind?"

"I have to kill her, Harry," Neville said slowly, his voice quavering with emotion.

"Who?" Harry asked hesitantly, knowing he wouldn't like the answer.

"Bellatrix," Neville spat. "It was her."

'It was her', these three words told Harry everything. He knew now who had murdered Augusta Longbottom.

"Neville, murdering her won't..."

"Don't, Harry," Neville said sharply, cutting him off. "I have to do it. I can't live knowing she's alive and free."

"But..." Harry tried again.

"No, don't try and talk me out of it. You can't. Just help me, Harry," Neville pleaded.

"Help you? How can I help you?" a frustrated Harry burst out.

"Train me. I'll do anything you want me to do. I'll learn day and night. You are the only one who can help me. The only one who can get me ready."

Harry looked at his friend in sympathy, fully understanding what the other boy was going through. But he also knew that it was a hopeless task. Neville would have a hard time defeating Millicent Bulstrode, much less Bellatrix.

"Neville... I can't, mate. She isn't some third grade Death Eater. She's one of his very best."

"I know all of that, Harry," Neville said stubbornly. "But I've seen you teach the DA, I've seen what you can do when you have set your mind on it. If anybody can help me it's you."

Harry shook his head vehemently. "No, mate, I can't do this. I myself have no hope of beating her. She has had years of training, knows more about the Dark Arts than most of the Death Eaters and she's very vicious. I won't give you false hopes only to have you take on something you aren't ready for and get yourself killed."

Neville got up from the bed, his body shaking from head to toe. "I'll do it with or without you, Harry," he said angrily. "I just thought that you'd understand, that you'd help me. Isn't that what friends do?"

Harry quietly watched as Neville angrily strode to the door and he knew he was defeated. There was no way he could let Neville do this by himself. At least if he was involved he could have some control over this madness. "Wait, Neville."

Neville stopped, his hand poised on the doorknob.

"Ok, I'll help. But first you must promise me that you won't do anything rash. You won't go after her till I tell you that you're good and ready."

Neville hesitated for a long moment before he nodded his head. "I promise."



~~~*~

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