Discussions are Held, and Wounds are Healed
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And So It Begins
Harry made it no more than a few feet beyond the gargoyle before a female voice called out to him.
Turning around, Harry was presented with three confused witches, all of whom seemed to be demanding clarification.
"I don't suppose you would care to elaborate on all that, would you?" Tonks asked forcefully.
"Would I care to? No, not especially," was Harry's faux-lackadaisical reply.
"Harry..." Tonks breathed through gritted teeth.
Sighing in resignation, Harry did a quick scan of the area to ensure that they would not be overheard and tried again. "Look, Nymph... Bella... Cissy, I know this seems rather farfetched, but it is actually quite simple. The magical world has been circling the drain for generations, slowly ostracizing different groups and promoting isolationist policies. It just so happens that I am the one sent to fix it. I am still me, no matter what name I might have been called once. If it makes it any easier, just pretend I fell into a very old pensieve and picked up a few new tricks."
Taking a breath while he gathered his thoughts, Harry continued, "Ladies, I can only imagine how odd this must seem to you, and I'm sorry that you all got caught up in this. That is why I am giving you an out - right here and now. I am going after Voldemort and all those who willingly serve him, and I am going to destroy them. I have no choice; it is my destiny. However, it does not have to be yours. If you decide that accompanying me on this little crusade is more than you feel comfortable with, I will understand. You may leave now, if you wish, with nothing more than a quick memory charm of the more... spectacular recent events. This is war, after all, and any knowledge can be a formidable weapon in the right hands." Sensing a sudden tension envelope both of the Black sisters and correctly identifying the root cause, Harry looked at Bella and Cissy and added, "No matter what you choose, you will not simply be thrown to the curb and abandoned. You have my word; you will never be forced to return to either Voldemort or those ogres who call themselves your husbands."
Tonks squared her shoulders and looked Harry straight in the eyes. With the most serious demeanor Harry had ever seen the metamorphamagus exert, Tonks said, "I'm sure that we're all going to need some time to digest all of this, but I can tell you this much right now. No matter how many times you have come back from the dead, you are still Harry Potter to me. As an Auror, I swore to protect this nation above all else, even from itself. In addition, I am not the only Auror who has wished for its change but been unable to do anything about it. I believe that I can best keep my oath by being at your side. I'm with you, Harry, for as long as you will have me."
Loosing some of her confidence, Tonks stepped forward and quickly embraced Harry in a loose hug, before stepped back a few paces with a slight blush coloring her cheeks.
Harry just smiled gently at her and said, "I'll be honored to have you fighting alongside me, Nymph. Moreover, I am still serious about that dueling training seeing as I'm about a millennium out of date and could use a refresher course on modern tactics."
Turning to the two other women, Harry raised an eyebrow and asked, "Have you decided yet? You can have some more time, if necessary."
"I've already made my decision..., Harry," Bellatrix spoke aloud. "I'm tired of being nothing but a toy for the Death Munchers' entertainment. If you are really going after the bastards, then I am with you to the end, and beyond. I only ask for one thing." At Harry's inquiring look, Bellatrix said, "If you, or anyone under your command, obtains Rodolphus, I want him first. You can have whatever's left."
Harry gave her a piercing gaze, which she returned fully. Bearing in mind her resolve on this issue, Harry conceded to her claim with a nod of his head. Seeing the wizard grant her request that she halfway expected to be denied immediately, Bellatrix gave a true smile and, following her niece's example, stepped forward, and wrapped her arms around Harry's waist. Leaning forward, Bellatrix brushed her mouth against the wizard's ear and whispered, "Thank you... for everything. I promise you won't regret it."
Not sure how to interpret her last response, Harry just smirked as the ex-Death Eater returned to her former position with perhaps a greater sway to her hips than absolutely necessary.
Choosing to ignore Bellatrix's newfound playfulness, Harry turned his attention to the remaining Black sister, who appeared lost in thought. "Cissy...?" he prompted.
Successfully gaining said woman's attention, Narcissa eyes focused on Harry as she said, "As a girl, I heard all the fairy tales, all the fables about heroes so noble, so invincible, that they couldn't possibly exist in the real world. As the years passed, I found out the hard way that there are no heroes anymore, that there were not individuals who could take on entire armies and win by sheer force of will. After all these years, when I discovered that I could not free myself from the trap my parents willingly threw me into, I gave up hope of ever escaping Lucius's grasp. And now thanks to all of you, I am free from him. On top of it all, I find out that man chiefly responsible for my freedom is the stuff of legends. My mind tells me that what you're proposing is lunacy, that you cannot possibly succeed with what you propose to do... and yet, my heart believes that you really are the real thing and that you really can do what you promised."
Waving her hands in the air in a distracted manner, Narcissa continued her heartfelt monologue, "I guess what I'm trying to say is that I want to help. I want to know that I did something to ensure that others do not have to live through what my sister and I have. I may not have Nymphadora's Auror skills, or Bella's dueling experience, but I can still help. Over the years, I have learned a great deal in both Arithmancy and Ancient Runes, and have much experience in experimental spell crafting. You have given me a second chance at life; I want to make it mean something. I pledge my life in service to you, for as long as you have need of me."
After a brief struggle with herself, Narcissa yielded to the same impulse that had befallen the other two witches and glided forward before wrapping the now thrice-hugged wizard in her arms. "I know you said that you wanted no payment for what you did for me, but unlike most of my 'family', I still believe in living with honor. I know that Bella was the one urging you to come save me, but that does not change the fact that you saved my life. Whether it was your intent or not, I owe you a life debt, Mas... Harry. I know you can feel my obligation through our connection just as well as I can. Until my debt can be repaid, I shall follow you wherever you feel led to go." With that impassioned plea, Narcissa gracefully stepped back to the other two witches, watching the famous wizard absorb what they had just said.
By this point, should one have looked at the goings-on inside of Harry's mind, one might be reminded of the central London thoroughfare during rush hour. Harry had already steeled himself against the inevitable, where he believed at least the two Black sisters would choose to remain in the safety of Hogwarts, or some other undisclosed location. In fact, he halfway expected Tonks to choose her ties to the Order and the Ministry over him, offers of private tutoring or no.
Instead, he is accosted by three eager offers of support, to be used however he deemed best. In addition, all three of the women had professed - if he was reading their intentions correctly - at least some degree of personal interest. 'Which is completely absurd,' /Harry thought to himself, /'since they hardly know me. For Merlin's sake, Nymph hasn't known me but a year, and both Bella and Cissy don't really even know me at all.'
Aloud, Harry answered, "I don't want servants, but I do need allies. If you three are completely sure of your decision, I will welcome your help." At the three decisive nods he received, Harry continued, "Very well. If you'll follow me, I'll drop off our guests and then show you to your rooms."
Taking but a moment to determine the quickest route to an appropriately equipped dungeon, Harry turned and led the three witches on a descending route through Hogwarts. While they were walking, Harry began to ponder exactly how he managed his current situation. So engrossed was he in attempting to make sense of this new information that Harry didn't even notice that the Occlumency shield he placed over the connections to the three witches lost its coherency and unobtrusively faded, allowing the three women to unintentionally eavesdrop on his mental debate with himself.
'Okay,' Harry said to himself, 'go with what you know. Unlike original expectations, all three women appear to seriously want to take an active role in this war, even though I have explicitly told them of the inherent dangers. Unexpected, but still within the bounds of reason.'
'Next, within the past twenty four hours, each of them has expressed some sort of interest in me, personally. While a stretch, I suppose a relationship with Nymph is conceivable. After all, we do know at least a few things about each other, have common interests and goals, and now seem to be about the same age physically. However, what of Bella and Cissy? I mean, we've never even talked to one another before yesterday.'
Upon considering the point, Harry conceded, 'Well, I suppose it could just be a sense of gratitude, and nothing more. That would explain this bonding scenario. If not that, then it could simply be meaningless flirting.'
The more contrary portion of Harry's mind chose this point to interrupt the internal monologue. 'But what if it isn't something so benign? What if the three of them actually have feelings for you?'
'Impossible,' /Harry's other thought process fired back immediately, /'Love-at-first-sight exists only in the minds of poor romance novel writers.'
'Oh?' the other Harry replied mischievously, 'and what of Row? You know, Rowena Ravenclaw, attractive little witch, your wife of over a hundred years.'
'That was an isolated incident!' the first Harry roared.
'An isolated incident?' Harry's devil's advocate snorted. 'As soon as you entered that baron's castle and met the charming indentured chamber maid, you were besotted. Was it not you who ultimately purchased the freedom of not only her, but her entire family?'
'Yes...,' Harry's other impulse grudgingly allowed.
'And after you discovered her own immense talents for witchcraft and trained her as you were taught, did she not join you on your journeys?'
'Yes, after years of working closely together and earning each other's trust,' Harry's doubtful side submitted triumphantly.
'Correct,' the more worldly Harry agreed, 'it took her several years to completely learn to control her powers. But once she mastered her abilities and saw what tasks lay before you, didn't she join you under similar pretenses?'
'Yes, but she knew exactly what she was getting into beforehand.'
'As do they. Rowena saw that the world was in a sad shape and that it could be so much better for everyone - as do they. She believed, in the very core of her being, that you were the one who could accomplish the task, and swore to help you wherever and however she could - as do they. Such was her faith in you that Magic itself took a hand, expressing her unwavering devotion as a bond from heart to heart, strengthening you both - as with them.' Harry's more perceptive side sounded almost smug as it brought the only possible conclusion to the fore.
'You know perfectly well that such a bond of the heart as the four of you now share can only exist if there is at least some amount of love on both sides.'
Almost desperately, Harry's other voice replied, 'There is love between friends, or between close siblings. That would facilitate such a bond just as well as your idiotic theory.'
'Idiotic?' /the other Harry replied condescendingly, 'look who's talking to himself. Anyway, the only real question left is, what are you going to do about it?'/
'What am I going to do about it indeed?' Harry asked himself, as he continued to debate with himself over how to explain yet another major irregularity to the three women behind him. With his focus primarily on potential solutions to this latest dilemma, Harry failed to notice that the witches in question had heard his deliberations and were already informed of the significance of their associations with him. He was equally unaware of three identical expressions of shock, which were replaced by a display of determination as the three females wordlessly agreed to discuss the ramifications of this latest information as soon as they could get alone.
Within a few minutes, Harry had led the witches down to the lower dungeons, beyond even where the much-feared potions classes were held. Eventually, Harry stopped at the end of a dead-end hallway. In front of the group stood two large suits of armor, one on either side of a massive shield mounted on the stone wall. On its surface was the familiar Hogwarts' crest, displaying the devices of the four founders. Stepping forward, Harry placed his hand on the shield so that the appendage contacted all four insignias simultaneously. The instant his hand touched the shield, the suits of armor awakened and, before any of the three women could even draw their wands in defense, both had a large broadsword pointed unwaveringly at Harry's throat. The aforementioned wizard made no move to defend his self. Instead, Harry smiled slightly at the ladies' reactions and said clearly in Latin, "Loyalty above all, save Honor." Receiving the correct password, the vacant knights dropped their weapons and resumed their previous stances as the giant shield raised itself, exposing a set of stone steps descending into a dark space.
Stepping onto the first step, torches along the wall burst into life, efficiently illuminating a dungeon typical of the holding facilities of the late 900s. Descending the stairway, Harry made his way to one of the vacant cells along one wall; Harry again placed his palm against where otherwise the keyhole would be held. Feeling the cell door recognize him, Harry silently cast 'Alohomora' and the enchanted wrought iron portal swung open, granting access to the enclosure within. Withdrawing the larval insect-laden jar from within his robes, Harry entered the cell and placed the jar on the floor at the center of the small room. With a slight wave of his wand, the conjured container disappeared, leaving the six unconscious maggots lying on the stone floor. Another wand wave restored the six terrorists to their former shapes. A few quick summoning charms ensured that the captured death eaters were relieved of wands, weapons, and portkeys, all of which Harry sent into a quickly conjured sack, which was then returned to one of the pockets in his robe. Satisfied that they had no instruments to aid their escape, Harry turned around and left the cell, absentmindedly closing the cell door as he passed.
The three witches were interrupted in their examinations of their surroundings by the resounding clang as the door shut and the latch rolled back into place. Looking at the source of the noise, they saw the six prisoners, still lying unconscious on the floor of the cell.
"Hmm...," Tonks mused, "so Hogwarts really does have a functioning dungeon, after all. I had thought old Argus Filch was just delusional."
"Actually, there are seven scattered around the lower levels," Harry responded. "But I sincerely doubt that the caretaker knows about these. Hogwarts contains many secrets, most of which we four never passed on. As it happens, the equipped dungeons are among those secrets."
Showing her inquisitive nature, Narcissa asked, "And what else is among those secrets?" while smiling innocently.
Raising an ebony eyebrow at the increasingly playful blonde witch, Harry smirked while answering, "Now, if I were to tell you, then they wouldn't be a secret any more, now would they?"
At the witch's lighthearted glare, Harry just chuckled. Turning his attention back to the disposition of the prisoners, Harry called out, "Dobby?"
Barely a second later, there was a loud pop to signal the arrival of the very hyperactive and worried house elf. "Yes, Mr. Harry Potter Sir?" Taking in the surroundings, Dobby asked, "Mistress is okay! Dobby knew that Mr. Harry Potter, Sir, would free Mistress, just like he freed Dobby! Dobby always says that Mr. Harry Potter, Sir, is a great wizard!"
Deciding to stop the little elf before Harry completely died of embarrassment, Harry said, "Err...Thank you, Dobby. We could not have done it without you. Upon hearing this, Dobby's huge eyes began to water over. Before the house elf had a chance to completely break down, Harry continued, "I have another favor to ask you, Dobby. In fact, you may need to get some of the other elves to help out with this."
"Dobby is doing anything, Mr. Harry Potter, Sir," the elf replied immediately.
"Wonderful. Dobby, we have six prisoners in that cell over there," Harry said, pointed to the now-occupied holding room. "No one must know that they are here, okay? No one!"
"Dobby is understanding, Mr. Harry Potter, Sir."
"Good, Dobby. Now, they will need the basics: food, water, that sort of thing. Can you keep them supplied without too much trouble? We may need them later, so they have to survive. For now, at least."
Dobby took in the prisoners' appearances before noticing that both Lucius and Draco Malfoy were among them. After spotting them, Dobby grinned most disturbingly and said, "Not to worry, Mr. Harry Potter, Sir. Dobby knows what to do."
Deciding not to inquire further into Dobby's plans for the Malfoy inmates, Harry just nodded and said, "Thank you again, Dobby. We'll just leave them in your capable hands, then." At the elf's departing bow, Harry left the small dungeon, three witches in his wake.
The short journey through the halls passed in silence, as Harry's mind dwelt on the various matters requiring his attention on the coming days and the three witches ruminated upon all the earth-shattering facts that they had witnessed this day. Within the course of a few short minutes, the four found themselves facing an antique wooden door, with wrought iron banding the planks together. As with other wizarding doors, this portal contained no visible means of entry.
Raising his hand, Harry again placed his palm against the smooth metal plate covering where the keyhole would be on a muggle door. Upon contact, the mages could hear the sound of many locks disengaging before the door swung inward slightly. Keeping his hand against the door, Harry spoke, "I grant Nymphadora Tonks, Bellatrix Black Lestrange, and Narcissa Black Malfoy permission to enter and leave as they please." The lock plate glowed blue shortly to confirm Harry's order before the radiance faded. Pushing the door the rest of the way open, Harry stepped into the room. As with the other magically governed rooms within the castle, the area suddenly illuminated as the torch sconces lit ablaze as if by an unseen hand.
The women, who had clustered at the doorway, were awestruck as the immense common room was revealed. As with the student common rooms, the exposed area was composed of stone walls, floors, and ceilings. The main living area contained scattered chairs and tables, most of which were facing a now-blazing fireplace. A giant woven rug lay beneath the furniture, offsetting the otherwise bleak appearance of the room. Unlike the student areas, however, was the fact that the walls were covered in loaded bookshelves, broken only to provide access for the scattered doorways.
Narcissa was the first to regain her composure, asking the question that was on all three women's minds.
"What is this place?" Narcissa inquired.
Harry gave a depreciating shrug and said, "This used to be our rooms." Appearing to shake off some old memory, Harry continued, "Feel free to take any of those bedrooms over that way," he gestured off to one side of the room. "They should have been cleaned out before the staff started moving to the upper levels." Making his way to the group, Harry fished out one of the trunks within his pocket and handed it to Tonks, explaining that it contained her clothes she had brought to Privet Drive.
Turning his attention to the other two women, Harry said, "If either of you still needs a change of clothes, just call for one of the house elves. They keep extra garments on hand for such circumstances." Stifling a yawn, Harry continued, "Well, it's been a long day, and tomorrow morning will be quickly approaching. I am going to call it quits for the evening. Good night, all." With that, Harry made his way over to one of the doors he had designated as available sleeping quarters and shut the door behind him.
The three witches looked at one another before Narcissa took charge and said, "I believe that we have some things to discuss...?"
Bellatrix just nodded while Tonks murmured, "Definitely."
The women made their way to the chairs closest to the roaring fire, moving them so that each chair faced the other two.
"So," Narcissa started out while casting a local silencing charm to ensure that the volume did not reach to Harry's room, "can we assume that each of us overheard that mental debate of his?"
The other two witches just nodded.
"Do either of you know how we overheard that mental debate?" Narcissa asked almost desperately.
Bellatrix was the one to respond. "Well, Nympha-" Tonks huffed irritably "-our niece and I started sharing his headspace this morning. Like he mentioned, the... Chronikus-"
"Chroniculus," Narcissa interjected.
"Right, Chroniculus. Anyway, that thing got set off when Harry grabbed it, and it surrounded him with this green dome. One thing led to another, /Nymph/," Bellatrix used Harry's nickname for the ex-Auror, "and I had a little argument, and we unintentionally swore allegiance to him. The green dome thing apparently heard us, because it exploded outwards and hit the two of us, knocking us both out. When we came to, we were in his bedroom at this distasteful muggle shack and found out that we are now bumping minds. Oh, and it is a two-way connection apparently. Harry had kept my wand when I first dropped in on them, and I really needed it to curse that fat pig of a relative of his. Anyway, Harry heard exactly what I said, even though I never spoke it."
"I had forgotten that he could 'hear' us, too," Tonks said.
Bellatrix snorted before continuing, "As for you, I would guess that Harry forcing your... husband... to yield any magical bindings he had used to hold you was responsible for you being added to this little club. If what we heard from Harry was correct though, that shouldn't have affected you like this unless you had sworn to him as well."
"I'm curious about that as well," Tonks said shortly, still a little distrustful of the two other women being so close to 'her' Harry. 'Her Harry?' Tonks asked herself. 'Where the hell did that come from?'
Smirking at the younger witch's possessive streak, Bellatrix continued, "And that couldn't be the case, now could it? After all, wasn't it you who said that he was exceptionally lucky, but otherwise unremarkable?"
Not meeting her sister's gaze directly, Narcissa replied, "I... changed my mind."
Grinning broadly at the blonde-haired beauty, Bellatrix inquired, "Oh? I don't suppose the whole knight-in-shining-armor, damsel-in-distress bit had anything to do with it, did it?" Much to Bellatrix's internal shock, a rosy blush began to form on the otherwise glacially calm face of her older sister. Refusing to give up, especially when she had earned such an unprecedented reaction from the 'ice queen', Bellatrix relentlessly continued, "Or was it when the two of you were making googly eyes at each other?"
Even through her unease at the presence of the two older witches, Tonks could not help but add, "Don't think we missed how you were staring at him, either."
Narcissa snorted before responding, "Don't worry, 'Nymph'. I'm not going to steal your boyfriend from you." Tonks was not sure, but she thought she detected a slight pang of regret from the attractive blonde woman.
Glancing at her sister, Narcissa continued, "But to answer your juvenile questions... yes, that was when I reevaluated him." Shooting Bellatrix an irritated glare, she continued, "We weren't making 'googly' eyes, 'Bella'. You know perfectly well he was looking for what Lucius had done to me."
Narcissa's eyes became unfocused as she continued her explanation. "It was... incredible. I am not sure how to describe it. It is like casting a Flame-freezing charm and standing in a giant roaring fire, or wading beneath the water's surface at the beach with a bubble-head charm as the tide comes in. It wasn't like the intrusions I had felt whenever Lucius or You-K... /Voldemort/... raped my mind. It was different. It was more intense, more powerful... more elemental. As he was examining my magical core, he wrapped me in his own. I saw exactly what he is capable of, and it is... awe-inspiring. I mean, I just knew that, had he wanted to, he could have destroyed me, and there was nothing I could do to stop him. Yet at the same time, I knew that he never would. I've never experienced something like that, ever."
"I've never gotten that close to him," Bellatrix admitted, "but I know what you mean. All that raw power is... intoxicating, isn't it?"
Both Narcissa and Tonks had to agree to that sentiment.
"I know I shouldn't feel that way," Narcissa confessed. "I know that, before he went through so many of those rituals, Voldemort was just as charming, but I can't help it. I feel irrefutably drawn to him regardless."
"I'm right there with you," Bellatrix responded without a trance of her previously playful demeanor. Her lips quirked, though, as she added, "But our darling niece here has us both beat. She's already sleeping with him."
Tonks turned bright red as Narcissa raised one cultured eyebrow and asked, "Oh?" Do tell."
"It's not like that! He wanted me to show him some Auror stuff. You know? Basic training and the like. When Fudge laid me off, I was coming up short and was about to lose my flat when Harry offered me a place with him. And we were in separate beds!" Tonks grate the last remark towards a smirking Bellatrix.
"And I'm sure you had no designs on a certain wizarding celebrity whatsoever?" Bellatrix taunted.
"He means a whole lot more to me than some stupid publicity figurehead!" Tonks snapped, before realizing what she had said and blushed furiously.
Seeing Bellatrix open her mouth to make another comment, Narcissa interrupted her with a seemingly unrelated bit of information. Affecting a disinterested tone, Narcissa said, "You know, I seem to recall a younger sister of mine that, after first reading about the history of Hogwarts, spent countless hours daydreaming about using a ultra-powerful time turner to go back in time a millennia so she could marry Salazar Slytherin, the 'bestest wizard ever', when she got older."
Tonks couldn't help but burst into laughter as Bellatrix literally growled at her sister, her own cheeks turning just as red as Tonks's had a few moments prior, before launching a nasty hex at the instigator of her current embarrassment. A short, spirited duel followed as the two Black sisters strove to best each other. While they seemed to be pretty evenly matched, Narcissa finally won by using a complicated illusion of herself to distract her sister before she snuck around to Bellatrix's back and disarmed her. After a short victory dance that Tonks could not believe the prim and proper witch would perform, Narcissa handed her sister back her wand and they retook their seats.
"So," Tonks asked as the other two women regained their breath, "what do we do about Harry now?"
With a mischievous gleam in her eyes, the ebony-haired witch said facetiously, "Well, we could share him!"
The metamorphamagus's eyes popped out of her skull as a strangled noise worked its way up from her throat.
The other Black sister, however, had a contemplating expression upon her face. "Well, it's rare, but there is a precedent."
Not following her more intelligent sibling, Bellatrix asked, "There is a precedent for what, Cissy?"
"For a wizard or witch to have multiple partners," the blonde-haired beauty replied. "It's rarely discussed these days, but there used to be many arrangements along those lines. In fact, several notable wizards throughout history have had harems."
"I can't believe that you're seriously discussing the idea! It's preposterous!" Tonks exploded. "Not to mention the vast age difference. I mean, I've got him by a good six years, and the two of you are old enough to be his mother!"
"At yet, he's also a fully-trained wizard, who has already lived through well over a century of life," Bellatrix commented. "Mentally and emotionally, he is older than the three of us put together. Physically, any of us are perfectly compatible. Both of you appear to be in your low twenties, and Cissy and I are no more than ten years beyond that."
"Besides the compatibility issues, is it really all that preposterous?" Narcissa questioned. "Personally, I don't intend to just jump head-long into another disaster. And then there is the fact that Harry will spend most of his attention on the war." Taking a breath, Narcissa concluded, "I plan to take it a day at a time. I have already promised to help him in this fight. If, along the way, something between us works out, then that is perfectly acceptable to me, monogamous relationship or not."
Following Narcissa's lead, Bellatrix added her own viewpoint. "As for me, I don't know if I could ever have a good relationship, not after how... how Rodolphus and the other death eaters have treated me. However, if I could someday have such a rapport with a man like Harry, I would take him however I could get him. After all, Cissy and I have shared just about everything over the years; sharing a lover hardly seems to be out of the question." Seeing an affirming nod of the head from Narcissa, both of the Black sisters looked at the younger witch.
Tonks felt more than a little nervous speaking of such personal matters, but felt that if her aunts - who she had never been close to - could be so open about their own feelings with her, it was only fair that she shared equally with them. Taking a deep breath to calm her nervous, Tonks said, "I'm not really sure how I feel about Harry either. I know I feel something for him, something that I have never felt towards any would-be suitor, but I do not know if it is just a silly crush or something more. With or without an extra set of memories, Harry is just so easy to love. As odd as it is to admit it, I think that I would take whatever part of his heart that he is willing to offer. I won't pretend to be even remotely comfortable with the notion of sharing someone like I would a cloak, but I'm afraid that I would accept such a role eagerly, if that was the only way."
Narcissa, again in her role of unofficial mediator, calmed the younger witch down. "I think that we are getting ahead of ourselves. We are obligated to help Harry fight this war, nothing more. If something else comes along, then we'll deal with it then." Pausing for a second, Narcissa blinked before adding, "Besides, for all we know, he may be taken already; it's not like he isn't popular. On the other hand, he may not even be interested in getting involved with anyone. It's simply too early to tell."
With that, the three women turned their attention inward, pondering different aspects of a black-haired, green-eyed wizard, who had taken their lives and stood them on their metaphorical ears.
A winded Peter Pettigrew, also known as Wormtail, paused to collect himself before entering the closed chamber before him. The rat animagus had just managed to apparate from Malfoy Manor, having had to avoid the son of his one-time friend and his entourage. Not for the first time, Wormtail cursed his luck for always having to give his master bad news. Not only did that arrogant Lucius lose the master's property, he lost it to an under-aged wizard. At least, Peter thought that he was still considered an underage wizard. At first, he had not recognized the boy who looked as if he had aged years since the last time Wormtail had seen him. Moreover, as if that was not enough, the teenager in question was aided by none other than Lestrange's little whore, who was supposedly among the most loyal of death eaters and a member of the master's inner circle.
No, Wormtail was not looking forward to giving this news at all.
Gathering his rapidly waning resolve, Wormtail knocked on the heavy wooden doors. Upon hearing a bid to enter, Wormtail opened one of the giant doors and entered. The watery-eyed man jumped slightly as the door closed with a violent slam as he entered Voldemort's inner lair. Prostrating himself before the monster sitting upon a throne, the rat-like wizard awaited further orders.
After a few moments, Voldemort turned his attention to the supplicating wretch beneath him. "You had better have a good reason for this disturbance, Worm," the dark lord grated.
"Yes, Master," Wormtail, squeaked.
"Well?" Voldemort demanded in a harsh voice.
Nodding rapidly, Wormtail managed to choke out, "I come bearing news, Master. It regards Lucius Malfoy."
"Yes...? Where is he? Rodolphus and the others arrived back here hours ago," the monstrosity of dark magic asked.
"Captured, my Lord," Wormtail squeaked.
Glaring at the still-prone messenger, Voldemort glared at the prostate servant and prodded, "And what of his mission? Where are my artifacts?"
Bracing himself for the inevitable torture, Wormtail quietly informed, "Also taken, my Lord. There were too many of them for me to subdue. I barely escaped capture myself."
"WHAT?" the dark lord bellowed. "CRUCIO!" As the short form of Peter Pettigrew writhed in pain on the cold stone floor, Voldemort regained a tenuous hold on his temper and ended the curse. "Who did it?" he demanded of his servant. "Who so openly defied me? Surely, it was not the fat fool of a Minister! Did the old man finally grow a back bone?"
"It was the boy, my Lord, Harry Potter," Wormtail confessed. "He was helped by Bellatrix Lestrange and an Auror... that Tonks girl."
"And you couldn't subdue two mere children and one coerced whore?" Voldemort inquired coldly. "CRUCIO!" After holding the smaller man under the curse for well over a minute, Voldemort again released the pitiful man. "You fail me yet again, Wormtail, as did Rodolphus, by not keeping a closer watch on his little toy."
"Please, give me another chance, Master," the man begged, "I will not fail you again."
"You had better not, Wormtail, for your sake," Voldemort threatened.
"Never, my Lord!" Pettigrew swore. "How may I serve you?"
"The bitch must have had someone's help to regain her free will," the dark lord mused. "With her reputation, surely no one save her own family would willingly aid her. They must be punished for standing against me. She still has sisters, does she not? Start with them."
"They took Narcissa as well, my Lord," Wormtail put forward nervously.
Voldemort glared at him but -thankfully- did not curse him again. "Then move against her other sister, this Tonks woman. That whole family shall suffer my wrath. Take Rodolphus with you; leave none of them alive!"
"Yes, Master," Wormtail groveled. "And what of the boy and Bellatrix herself?"
"I shall take care of them personally. Now, go!" Voldemort ordered.
Bowing low, Wormtail scampered from the room before he could be cursed again.
Leaning back into his throne, Voldemort pondered the news that his court's favorite source of entertainment had escaped his control. After a few moments, he decided to kill Bellatrix first, as an example to his followers. 'After all,' he thought, 'I can always kill the boy afterwards.'
Closing his eyes, Voldemort concentrated on the magic shackling the life forces of his followers, both willing and not, and focused on the particular strand tied to the female Lestrange. Taking all of his anger and hatred, Voldemort forced those negative emotions down the connection, followed by the rarely used order for the mark to terminate its host.
Some inestimable time later, Bellatrix tired of the group introspection. Rising to her feet, she turned to the other two women and said, "Well, that's enough maudlin for one night. I am going to bed. Good night." She made it all of two steps before she stopped with a grimace on her still-emaciated face. A moment later, Bellatrix grabbed her left forearm, directly on the dark mark itself, and fell to the ground, screaming in agony.
Both Narcissa and Tonks jumped up from their seats and rushed to the other woman's aid. At the same instant, Harry, clad only in a pair of sleep shorts, jerked open his door and hurried to the fallen woman's side.
Noticing Harry's fixation on the tightly grasped dark mark, Tonks informed him, "She was fine just a moment ago, but then she looked like she was in pain and fell to the ground screaming like this. Could Voldemort really do something like this?" the metamorphamagus demanded.
"It's possible," Harry conceded, while kneeling in front of the woman and examining the mark briskly. "I know an older spell, which was used in primitive times as a binding tattoo that showed people's tribal loyalties. It ensured that people did not betray their tribe - and if they did, they died. Voldemort must have corrupted the spell... added the pain and summoning bits."
Finally prizing Bellatrix's hand away from the marked forearm, Harry saw the mark seem to pulse with an unholy black light. Instinctively knowing that this attack was meant to be fatal, Harry barked at the other two women, "Stay back! This may get messy!" Turning his attention back to the woman in front of him, Harry took a deep breath and guided his own magic into her person - just as he had with Narcissa earlier - and he felt like his consciousness was being sucked into the pulsating evil of the Dark Mark. He could feel Bellatrix fighting with all her might, but she was tiring quickly against the dark will of Voldemort.
Harry enfolded her in his arms and pulled her to his chest. Harry then pushed his heels against the carpet and slid himself back, taking her with him as he sat up against the chair. "Bella, just as you are bonded to me, I protect you. I will not let you die like this. Do you hear me?"
She gasped in racking sobs as she raised her own pain-filled gaze to look into his eyes. She shook as she wept uncontrollably.
"You must kill me," she cried. "Please... I can stand it no longer. Please... kill me."
"I will not harm you, Bella. You are your own person, not Voldemort's. Fight him. You can do it; you've done it before. He is your master no longer."
"It hurts," she wept, "it hurts so much. Nothing ever hurt like this before. It hurts so to fight it now."
He held her tight. "I know, but you must fight it."
She put a hand to his chest and pushed back. "I can't."
Harry did not think he had ever seen anyone in such misery.
"Please, Harry-kill me. I cannot stand the pain. I beg you, please, kill me."
Harry, in an agony of empathy for her suffering, drew her back to his chest and hugged her, stroking her head, trying to comfort her. It did no good; she only screamed that much harder. Harry, still connected to that spark of magic within the tormented woman, could feel her resolve all but crumble beneath an even greater wave of malevolence from her faux master.
"Then we shall fight him together," Harry breathed in her ear. Harry sought his own magic and cloaked himself in it even as he felt the searing pain seep through him. Her pain. He felt what had been done to her, and what the lingering magic was doing to her now.
Though he did not see the events involved throughout the dark portions of her life, he understood the trail of scars they left through her soul. He hardened his will in order to supplement her own waning control. Not knowing exactly how to counter such a nefarious piece of spell work as the Dark Mark, Harry let his instinct guide him. He felt himself soaking up her suffering so that she would not have to endure it, so he could help her.
The mark seemed to pulse even stronger, and started to fight. Both of them felt Voldemort attacking their minds, as the Dark Lord realized what was going on, and tried to interfere.
"Leave her alone!" Harry yelled, his mind merging with Bellatrix's for a brief second, and they both pushed with all their combined might.
The connection to Voldemort vanished and a second later, the Dark Mark did as well.
Bellatrix's pain-filled yells ceased as her breathing evened out, and her muscles went slack against the wizard holding her.
Harry felt the pain that had come into him from her begin to dissipate. Only then did he realize he was holding his breath with the agony of it, and let the breath go.
Bellatrix carefully opened her eyes to find twin emeralds staring back at her. "I'm myself again," Bellatrix whispered. "I feel as if I have just awakened from a nightmare."
Harry held her close, rubbing her back as he attempted to calm her lingering spasms. "Me too."
Harry smiled, and then slumped back against the stuffed chair behind him, unconscious.
Tonks, sensing the worst was over, laid him down quickly, and started to cast some spells; Narcissa joined her a second later to examine her sister.
"He's exhausted," Tonks diagnosed with relief, "but otherwise just fine."
"Bella checks out excellently," Narcissa said with some disbelief. "I mean, not only does she show no lingering traces of dark magic, but she's in perfect health!"
At the blonde witch's comment, the other witch looked over sharply and the two women closely examined Bellatrix, determining that she seemed completely whole, both from the abuse of Voldemort and the effects of over a decade in Azkaban.
All three witches were shocked, but none more so than Bellatrix herself. "I'm whole," she said disbelievingly. "I was almost dead - I should have been dead! - and now, I'm not." Bellatrix turned an incredulous gaze upon the incumbent form of the wizard who had just saved her life, if not her soul - again. "How can this be?" she asked in an awe-filled voice.
"I don't know," Narcissa, said, her attention solely fixed on the exhausted wizard. "I've never heard of such a spell before."
"Welcome to the world of Harry Potter," Tonks said with a smile. Pulling out her wand, Tonks carefully levitated Harry to about waist height, before taking great care to return him to his bed.
Narcissa shook her head before giving her sister an once-over. Seemingly satisfied that Bellatrix was not about to fall over, Narcissa nodded her head and helped her sister to regain her footing. "I believe that she has the right idea, Bella. Let's get you cleaned up and ready for bed."
Absently nodding her head in acquiescence, Bellatrix never removed her gaze from the open door through which her savior and niece had gone.
"Come on," Narcissa prompted gently, "he'll be okay. Besides, I'm sure that Nympha... Nymph will let us know if his condition changes."
Bellatrix must have disagreed with this assessment, as she gracefully made her way to the doorway. Inside, the Black sisters could see that their niece had installed Harry back in his bed and covered him with a sheet. The witch in question was currently sitting on the side of the bed next to the young man, holding one of his large hands gently with both of her own.
At hearing the scuffing of a shoe, Tonks looked up and saw her aunts at the entrance to the well-furnished room, staring at the young mage who just did what most considered impossible; nullifying the most horrid of disfigurations, the Dark Mark itself. "He's resting easily," Tonks informed the other two women quietly. "Someone should stay with him in case he worsens, but I'll do that. You two can go to bed."
Shaking her head quickly, Bellatrix replied just as softly, "No, you go ahead. I want to stay with him." At Tonks's indecision, Bellatrix added, "Please? I need to be here right now."
Debating the issue with herself for a moment, Tonks conceded. "Alright, but if anything changes..."
"I'll let you both know immediately," Bellatrix finished for her.
"Are you sure...?" Narcissa trailed off.
"Yes," Bellatrix repeated. "Go to bed, Cissy. I'll be fine."
"Okay, Bella," Narcissa said resignedly. "Good night."
"Good night," she echoed back. Once the others had withdrawn from the room and shut the door, Bellatrix assumed the seat that her niece had just discarded. Picking up Harry's hand, Bellatrix stared at the relaxed face of the man who had, for the second time that day, saved her life.
While at the time, Bellatrix had believed her sister overly dramatic when describing what appeared to be a simple magical scan, she now knew exactly the feeling that Narcissa was trying to convey. She had been locked in a swirl of hatred, of darkness, and of pain. There was no relief, and her struggles only served to drain her resources faster. However, when the last of her defenses were beginning to fall, when Bellatrix knew that her time had come, everything changed.
The all-encompassing darkness gave way to a great radiance of light, skittering away as if such warmth was deadly to it. At once, the feelings of despair, of inadequacy, of discontent, seemed to dissolve, leaving Bellatrix feeling renewed and accepted, as if within her cocoon of light no darkness dared to enter. In retaliation, the darkness seemed to grow even denser in its fury, but she felt far removed from its pull.
She clearly heard a voice from within her shelter cry out, "Leave her alone!" before the light seemed to expand, forcing the dark farther away from her. Feeling grateful, Bellatrix exerted all of her will to help the light push that much harder, driving the inky darkness away that much quicker. With one final lurch, the darkness fled, leaving only the soothing light to surround her.
The tranquil surroundings then begin to dissolve, leaving Bellatrix to find herself in the lap -and embrace- of one Harry James Potter. The following events were a little hazy to the woman, but her current surroundings were quite vivid. Indelibly carving her present whereabouts into her memory, Bellatrix gazed upon the one individual who should hate her most of all, the one individual who has every right to demand her death, and yet repeatedly went out of his way to shield her both mentally and physically.
In that instant, her entire life, everything that had ever happened to her, everything she had ever seen, heard, or done, seemed to come together in one flash of emotional violence.
Bellatrix collapsed to the floor in tears, in abject shame, in horror, in revulsion, in sudden blinding comprehension.
In pure joy.
A/N: Kudos if you spotted the heavy influence Terry Goodkind's 'Blood of the Fold' held over me on Bella's Healing. I strongly recommend that you read the entire 'Sword of Truth' saga.
I would also like to thank Yenom and Pghammer for their quick work on evaluating this latest chapter, as well as serving as a sounding board for a few ideas I've had.
I hope you enjoyed this latest installment of ASR. Please remember to R&R.
On to the reviews:
Talix: I'm still trying to get the Salazar:Harry ratio figured out. My goal is to end up somewhere between the two personalities (as I view them, at least). I'll endeavor to make harry more 'Harry-like' in the coming installments.
potterfanforever: Harry will be tutoring the trio on-the-fly, but it won't be a major point of the story (I think). Obviously, the golden trio's dynamic will change a little, but they will remain friends. Snape will be dealt with, probably in Ch 7 or 8. And finally, Harry is still Harry, just with several other memories which will flavor how he reacts to certain situations.
Captain Jack Sparrow 1: I'm trying to keep the power ranking somewhat believable. What I have in my head at the moment is Harry and Voldemort having more raw power than Dumbledore, but Dumbledore having a greater grasp on modern techniques than Harry or Voldemort. Don't worry; old Albus will still be a contender.
J or The Blind: While Harry may be interacting with Vampires or Werewolves, Nonhuman!Harry isn't on my agenda. I've been nursing a plot bunny dealing with a vampiric-GunGrave!Harry though... :)
ilyena damodred: Thank you for the warning. I originally had a footnote explaining the reference, but I accidentally dropped it off when I revised the chapter and copied the previous chapter as a template for this one. It has now been corrected.