Categories > Books > Harry Potter > Echoes of Power, Part I: Anger

8. . . . Until Opposed

by moshpit 2 reviews

Chapter 8

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: R - Genres: Action/Adventure - Characters: Andromeda Tonks, Angelina Johnson, Arthur Weasley, Barty Crouch Jr., Bellatrix, Bill Weasley, Blaise Zabini, Cho, Colin Creevey, Crabbe, Dean Thomas, Dobby, Draco, Dudley, Dumbledore, Ernie, Fleur, Flitwick, Fred, Fudge, George, Gilderoy Lockhart, Gi - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2006-12-30 - Updated: 2006-12-31 - 8770 words

Chapter 8: ... until opposed

WARNING: Disturbing imagery ahead. This story is rated R for many reasons. This is a different one of them.

Arriving outside the Come and Go Room, Harry again summoned his private training room. Walking inside, he cast perimeter charms on the outside of the door so that he could work without fear of intrusion.

He placed his three rocks from the lake shore on the desk along with the book on wards. Turning back to the book's discussion of buffers and moving wards, Harry studied the diagrams and theories before picking up the first rock, a mostly opaque collection of white quartz.

Harry carefully began the complicated ritual of casting the most basic Spell-Draining Ward. He directed the ward at the area around the rock, with the rock as the anchor. Even though it was a straightforward spell, Harry still felt a little drained after setting the ward. Wiping his brow absently with the back of his sleeve, he studied the rock closely and could see a faintly glowing aura around the tips of the quartz protrusions.

Harry backed away from the desk before casting a basic low-energy hex at the rock. "Rictumsempra!" he incanted. The glowing energy signature impacted on a flickering golden shield, which had suddenly appeared about two feet in front of the rock and then dissipated. Harry walked over and felt the rock, noticing its slight warmth.

For his second test, Harry opted for a more powerful curse. "Incendio!" he called out. The energy impact caused the golden shield to flare brightly before collapsing and flickering. The shield had weakened the curse but was unable to block it, so the curse left a scorch mark on the wall.

Harry sank to the floor and consulted the book. Seeing that his observations matched the book's assumptions, he decided to add motion into the experiment. Tossing the rock in a gentle arc, he cast the tickling hex at it again. This time, the shield flared brightly but only weakened the curse; it failed to absorb it entirely.

After consulting the book on adding buffers to strengthen wards, Harry went through the ritual to embed a buffer and link it to the magical field. He was surprised at how tired it left him; he was breathing heavily and sweating freely. He wondered why the book failed to mention how much effort it took to place wards. Then again, the book had come from the private library of Dumbledore, so he surmised that the intended readership knew better than to randomly experiment with setting wards.

Harry stood up to once again cast a Tickling Hex at the rock and watched the shield flare absorb the entire curse. The Burning Hex, he was pleased to note, was likewise completely absorbed, but he was a little worried at how warm the rock felt.

Stepping away from the rock, Harry concentrated on his magic and called out, "Reducto!" The heat he felt from the drain on his core let him know just how substantial that curse was. Watching with morbid curiosity instead of ducking for cover, Harry saw the curse hit the shield, causing the rock to split into roughly four small pieces with a muffled crack! The curse smashed into the far wall where it left a deep pocket in the rock.

Sighing, Harry pulled out the small piece of granite to restart his experiments. Certain it was going to be a long afternoon before he met George for tea, he cast a delay alarm on the door to alert him 10 minutes before tea time and then returned to his efforts.

The suddenly screeching of the door made Harry realize that it was time to meet George, and possibly, Fred. Having destroyed both the quartz and granite rocks, he found the unknown rock to take a buffer and weak ward; it also seemed to work whether it was stationary or mobile. Unfortunately, it was also somewhat erratic, regardless of the amount of motion, which was not what he had hoped for. Tonight he would have to write Remus about his experiments and see if he or Edgar could come up with any ideas. Putting the rock in his left pocket, he packed away his failures and the ward book before heading down to the secret passageway the twins had shown him that morning.

George was already nonchalantly loitering at the entrance by the time Harry showed up. They both entered the dark passage and lit their wands to make their way through it. Harry conjured a comfortable recliner based on a model he saw in a store, with a foot rest that popped out, before turning his attention to George who had just managed to conjure a straight-backed wooden chair.

Harry dropped into his plush recliner, waiting for George to either stop pacing or start speaking. It was clear that for a bloke that came across as mostly happy-go-lucky, he was working himself up for something major. In all probability, he was about to hear the /Big Brother Protection Speech #43-A/, followed by the /Riot Act About Little Sister #2-D/. Of course, both speeches would be a waste of time, but Harry would try to get George as completely worked up as possible before pointing out the reality of the situation.

George finally stopped pacing and sat down on the rather stiff and uncomfortable desk chair, much like the ones filling Hogwarts classrooms. "Look, Harry, we need to talk about some difficult things. Fred and I have gone back and forth over how to do this, and this is the best we could come up with. We want you to hear what we have to say, but more importantly, we want you to listen to what I'm trying to tell you. Don't take it personally, right? I want you to sit there and be quiet until we finish."

Harry shook his head for a moment, trying to work out if George was going to give him a talk about Ginny. "Is this some kind of weird approach on the over-protective big-brother talk? You're wasting your time. I'm not interested in dating your sister."

George sighed and looked at the ceiling. "Harry, we don't care one way or the other about that. We will talk about that this afternoon, but Ginny is a big girl. She can date who she wants. If her boyfriend makes the colossal mistake of stepping over the line, her six big brothers will take care of whatever she leaves behind. Right? Now, be quiet and let us tell you what you need to know."

Harry shrugged and settled back in his chair. Clearly, things were not going along expected lines.

George continued staring at the ceiling as he began slowly talking. "Alright, consider this... if you want to marry a woman who is English, a witch, and within a few years of your age, then chances are that she is here at Hogwarts right now. Why do you think so many of us get married within a couple of years of leaving school? We all date a lot while we're here, but we know that if we don't find our potential mate at school, then we're out of luck for a witch. A lot of us want someone who's also magical to share our lives with, otherwise all kinds of problems can come up with the dynamics of a family. If you don't find your potential partner here, there's very little choice unless you're going to marry a Muggle or you don't plan on sticking around in England, see?"

Harry, more confused than ever about the sudden turn in conversation, decided to just shrug noncommittally.

George now turned his gaze directly at Harry. "Now, because of the war with Voldemort, the number of young witches and wizards in our age bracket is unusually low - it used to be double that of the present population. But think about the numbers - there are about 40 students here in the school right now in your year. If we were living in ideal conditions, that number would probably be around 80 students, maximum. If we add those who attend the smaller schools or remain home-schooled, that makes a staggering 120 people your age, give or take."

Harry watched as George stood up to pace again. "Given the fact that only about half of that number are female, and that most of them are here at Hogwarts, there is a very high probability that the person you'll eventually marry is somewhere in this building right now."

Harry nodded. "I rather fail to see where this conversation is headed."

George held up a hand. "Bear with me, Harry. I promise, there is a point to all this." He sat down again and continued his discourse. "Okay, in case you didn't know, most wizards and witches live to be maybe a hundred years old and some of the really powerful ones may make it to 150 years or more, but that's very rare. So you're looking at a combined magical population of witches and wizards of at best 12,000 people in all of England. That means under good conditions, about 1 out of every 5,000 people is magical."

George stopped talking and started playing with the trim on his robes. Harry waited patiently as George gathered his thoughts. "You're a celebrity of sorts, but only in the Wizarding world, Harry. The reason everyone knows your name is because there are so few of us, just that 12,000 or so. What you did changed everything for all of us. Every magical being was affected in one way or another, good or bad."

George shifted around for a moment, trying to get more comfortable.

"I want you to think for a moment about what it's like growing up in a magical family, Harry. I know you didn't get the chance to, but think about it, especially from the point of view of girls around your age, Harry. This is going to be hard for you to understand."

George frowned at Harry for a moment. By now, Harry was completely confused. George had him baffled. What was he going on about?

"Let's only consider girls that are within a few years of your own, right? These girls were born during the incredibly stressful end of the war with Voldemort, or during the euphoric period right after his downfall. Times were still hard at that point, but the world seemed a lot brighter because you suddenly brought hope back for all of us, Harry. You became a hero to many Wizarding families. It didn't matter that you were too young to even realize what you had done. It isn't about /reality/, Harry. It's about the fact that one little boy brought down the monster that so many others before him had tried but failed to destroy. That the little boy lost his parents made his situation even more tragic and romantic. You were a true, honest, proven knight in shining armor, and, as such, you starred in bedtime stories in many wizarding homes."

"Before you came along, the only heroes girls could fantasize about were blokes who had been dead for centuries, or were so old that they might as well be dead also - like Dumbledore." Harry gave an appreciative snicker at George's last comment.

"And then suddenly, here you were - the Boy-Who-Lived, the perfect person to dream about and sigh over. Poor little orphaned Harry Potter who triumphed over the evil villain." George wiped away an imaginary tear. "You became every young, and maybe not so young, witch's fantasy - the gallant knight who would sweep them off their feet and carry them off into the sunset. That one was a popular story, but, ugh, some of the fantasies we've heard about you... well, never mind."

George flushed as he appeared to recall some of the more disturbing stories about Harry he had listened to when he was younger. Harry, in turn, felt his cheeks burn, his imagination of what those dreams about him might have implied sufficiently embarrassing.

George cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Okay. Now you're this hero, this knight in shining armor, come to save everyone, and at the same time, you're sent off to live with your Muggle relatives. The air of mystery becomes even more palpable. No one knows what's going on with you despite you being the wizard of the hour. For years, the only information we could obtain about famous Harry Potter came from what the papers would print about you, and they were mostly rumors about where you were, what you looked like, unsubstantiated sightings, that sort of rubbish. Despite the lack of accurate information, no one was willing to let go of your story and let your name fade into the background."

George started to look rather uncomfortable. "This was especially true of the Ministry of Magic. That lot exploited your fame to further its own reputation. They soon realized that the mere mention of your name boosted morale and kept people from asking too many questions about their own shortcomings. They could get support for whatever they wanted to do. It wasn't right; it wasn't fair, but that's the way it happened. With me so far?"

Harry felt torn between amusement and disgust. He never had any love for the Ministry, and these revelations only confirmed his low opinion of them. Taking Harry's silence as permission to continue, George restlessly rose to his feet before resuming his narrative.

"One of the biggest headaches of the Ministry was this pure-blood fixation by some of the old Wizarding families. They've always campaigned for discrimination against those witches and wizards who were not of pure wizarding stock. This idea has been around since the beginning of time in one form or another, but it was always done in the background, with bribery and well-placed proponents in the Ministry. All of this changed with Voldemort - he openly declared war on those who were not pure-blood.

George gazed at Harry, his face grave. "We were told stories about how kids weren't even allowed out of the house to play. It simply wasn't safe to be out on the streets, or even in our own yard. All that changed when you defeated him. After his downfall, things got better. Kids were allowed to visit friends, run around where they wanted - everyone breathed a sigh and relaxed. The evil Wizard was gone."

"A few years before you were supposed to enter Hogwarts, the rumors and whispers started again. People began disappearing; most were never found. A few did turn up, but they were too far gone - their minds empty husks. Very few people were aware of these disturbing events, as the Ministry took great pains to keep everything quiet, but our dad works in the Ministry, so we heard what was really happening." George drew himself up proudly. "Our family has always held that the purism dogma is crap, so we're reviled by the purists as blood-traitors."

George snorted scornfully and ran his hands through his hair. Harry felt like a front-row spectator to a man talking himself into getting a gun and shooting some people. "The blood-purists started talking and acting more assertively, especially those families who had initially claimed that they had been placed under the Imperius curse by Voldemort. One of those families - the Malfoys - used their money to make sure that they always had the ear of the right people in the Ministry. Fudge is practically eating out of Malfoy's hands."

"When that prat Draco Malfoy showed up at Hogwarts, it signaled the beginning of a dark period. People who spoke out against his family or against the importance of being a pure-blood would suddenly find themselves having all sorts of little problems - losing homework, 'tripping' down the stairs, nasty rumors - you get the idea. By the end of his second year, they weren't little things anymore. We started noticing the older Slytherin students doing his bidding, but we don't know if they're part of some power hierarchy or if they're hired muscle. The Malfoy coffers run deep, and with Voldemort gone, it seems like maybe Lucius Malfoy is setting himself up to be the new number one and is trying to recruit new followers to his cause."

"People were harassed a lot, and in the last two years alone, the bullying has become increasingly physical in nature. We complained, but since Snape handled any grievances, there's been no form of investigation whatsoever. The situation here was tense - there were all these incidents, and no one could stop them. There was no evidence, and the accused always had alibis. We decided to take matters into our own hands. We started pulling more pranks to get back at the Slytherins in general, and Malfoy in particular."

George stopped pacing to pull back his robes and show some faint marks across the left side of his ribs. "Most of us have taken a few hits, or maybe a busted bone or two. That's fine for us blokes, I suppose. By the time events had become really serious last year, the students had been conditioned to not bother reporting anything short of attempted rape or murder. It was very crafty, the gradual increase in the frequency and intensity of events. I hate to say it, but even we gave up trying to do anything about it aside from pranks." George looked guiltily at Harry. "We didn't even try and tell our parents anymore, mostly because there was little they could do without tangible evidence, and the Slytherins were always very careful to leave none. It was a desperate situation for everyone."

George covered himself up again. "The girls, however, are another matter. They were also threatened and harassed, but a lot of them - some of the boys too - held out hope that when you, Harry Potter - their knight in shining armor - finally made your appearance, you would save them, and Hogwarts would once again be a place that was fun and exciting. When you never appeared... well, all kinds of rumors were flying around, some positive, many negative, quite a few suggesting you were going Dark yourself." George shrugged.

"Reality sunk in. After a while, all they really wanted was someone to help them hide, help them go unnoticed, and to try to survive. Their hero never arrived to save them. No one was going to take on the forces of darkness for them. He just wasn't there. It was as if he turned his back and walked away, but no one understood why."

"Do you know what that did to them, Harry?" George shot Harry a penetrating look, who stared back calmly. "Your nonappearance crushed their hopes."

Harry felt profound anger for anyone putting him on some silly pedestal as well as the faintest traces of shame. What he so wanted to prevent was happening anyway.

Seeing Harry's expression, George hurriedly added, "We're not trying to blame you, Harry. You have every right to live your life the way you want. You did nothing wrong, but because of your legend, you were larger than life. When they needed you most, you weren't there. We're telling you this so you'll understand how things are."

Harry suppressed a sigh of irritation. George had rambled on for a good ten minutes or so, and Harry still had to see the point he was trying to make. George stopped pacing and collapsed back into his chair, almost seeming to deflate in front of Harry.

George had an almost wistful expression on his face as he resumed talking, his voice low and strained. "Fred and I, we can't claim to know how deeply all these goings-on have affected the students - no one likes to talk about what happened to them. We can't even tell you what happened to Ginny, but we will tell you what we do know. We're not doing this to break any confidences, we're doing this so you won't go and do something stupid, right?"

Since George was obviously expecting some reaction from him, Harry slowly nodded his head. This was definitely not the conversation he had been expecting.

"For lack of a better example, let's talk about my sister. Growing up, Ginny was a spunky and friendly girl. She wouldn't hesitate to pull a prank, she talked a lot and she was a right little hellion most of the time. She had to be, in order to survive having six older brothers and be noticed. It helped that Ginny harbored very powerful uncontrolled magic. Trust us, you don't want to get on her bad side." George shook his head and smiled. "But Ginny was just as quick to defend us and lend a sympathetic ear if you were hacked off over something."

George leaned back in his chair, his face becoming serious again. "When Ginny arrived at Hogwarts, she was as excited as anything to finally be here. Unfortunately, over the first three years, we watched her slowly change from the Ginny we knew and loved to a shadow of her former lively self. She hardly participated in anything beyond Quidditch after a while, no matter how hard we tried. She kept insisting that everything was alright. We didn't know what to do."

George held his head in his hands now, and though his voice was a little muffled, it was still clear how unpleasant his memories were. "And then something happened about half way through last year. She skipped dinner one night. When she showed up for breakfast the next day, she begged us to let her go home. We suspect that she had a nasty confrontation with Malfoy and his goons, but we couldn't get her to talk. We were able to calm her down after a while, but it took the rest of the weekend for us to realize that something really bad must have happened for her to be so adamant about going home. There wasn't any real physical evidence of anything, but emotionally, she was a complete mess."

"She wasn't doing very well in her classes, she avoided talking to anyone, and she steered clear of the Slytherins. We made sure at least one of us or someone she trusted was with her at all times because we noticed that those tossers seemed determined on stalking her. It got a little rough when she wasn't looking, but we kept her as safe as we could."

"She was like that for about a month or so, and then, some of the old Ginny seemed to resurface. She became obsessed with learning how to fight back - both magically and the Muggle way. She was always asking us and the Muggle-born kids to teach her stuff. We didn't really know more than what they taught us in class, but we tried anyway." George shrugged.

"We made an effort to keep her spirits up, encouraging her interest in defending herself. She pestered us non-stop to show her more hexes and curses, and she devoured defense texts. We reckon she realized no one was going to save her, so she had better learn to save herself. We tried to keep her spirits up, but she knew that we hadn't been there when it counted and that it would happen again. Our old Ginny never really came back, Harry, but we're learning to live with this new Ginny. Mum was in a right state this past summer, not knowing how to handle her own daughter."

George leaned back in his chair. Harry had no idea how to react to this information, but he could tell George had more to drive home.

"So now we come to today. We want you to think really hard about what's happened since you showed up on that train, Harry. You came in, the lost knight, shrouded in mystery, and literally took on three of the worst Slytherins. You overpowered them, got them chucked out, and had them /arrested/, just like that." George snapped his fingers for emphasis.

"Then, for an encore, you challenged the Head of Slytherin House, the slimy git, and took him down as well. You've taken on the bad guys, you've won the first round, and, according to our Quidditch girls, you're a right handsome bloke. What do you think is going on in everyone's mind right now - all those people who had given up hope, all those girls who fantasized about you - what do you suppose they're making of this entire ruckus you've managed to stir up in just 48 hours?"

George leaned forward and stared hard into Harry's eyes. "It may not even matter to you, Harry, and it sure as hell isn't fair, but because of who you are - whatever you do, be it as trivial as breathing loudly - all your actions have repercussions. You need to realize just how much the people out there need you, whether you like it or not. So whether you're here to stay or just passing through, try not to act without thinking first, yeah?"

Harry merely raised his eyebrows at this, his expression unreadable.

"We're speaking on behalf of all the students, and we are especially asking for Ginny's sake. She was completely broken after her encounter with those berks, and it was hard to watch and not be able to do anything about it. She's been slowly recovering ever since. Her behavior yesterday and today was a surprise to us - we haven't seen her so... so Ginny since she started school five years ago. We want her to stay that way. Don't make things worse. We're begging you as her brothers, Harry, please, /please/, don't make things worse."

George sat up straight and stared vacantly for a long minute. "Right, well, there's nothing else we can think of, except..." His face split into a wide grin as he looked back at Harry. "I suppose you realize you're the most desirable boyfriend a girl could have right now, eh? And when you think about that whole population, dating, and marriage thing... your life is about to get rather interesting, Harry."

George stood up and stretched his lanky frame. "And Harry, if you and Ginny do decide to date and not just flirt outrageously, well, that's between the two of you. We're just going to warn you about one thing. She still has bouts of accidental magic, even though that's supposed to stop once you start magical schooling. She's gone out with a couple of guys briefly, but they have a strange way of ending up in the Hospital Wing after each date. Romantic, eh? Don't hack her off, and you'll be fine. Of course, you've already hacked her off, so... cheers, Harry. I'll leave you to ponder things, shall I?" Not waiting for an answer, George started walking back toward the staircase.

Harry called out, causing George to pause at the bottom of the stairs.

"Hey, George. I'll let you in on a secret. You want to know why I'm here now?"

George nodded, his face curious.

"Voldemort's back. Thanks for the pep talk, by the way."

Harry rose from his recliner and walked over to George, who was staring at him in utter disbelief. Harry clapped him on the shoulder and continued up the stairs.

"I'll leave you to ponder things, shall I?" Harry said, mimicking George's earlier flippant tone. He smirked briefly before strolling out into the hallway, leaving a shocked-looking George staring after him in mild horror.

As Harry walked down the hallway, he decided that some fresh air would do him a world of good. In some ways, George's information had been expected and even known, but he had to admit that he had been disturbed by some of the revelations.

Harry was troubled by the realization that even though he had tried his best not to let innocent people like Ginny Weasley become victims of the ongoing battle with Voldemort, they had suffered and were still suffering from the consequences of the war. He may not be the direct cause of the events in question, but the timeline George had presented matched too closely with his activities to be called a coincidence.

As he exited the castle, a voice spoke in his ear. "Well, Mr. Potter, what do you think about that?"

Harry was less than surprised that Floppy suddenly decided to start talking again. The hat would always poke and prod him after he learned something new, which, given his track record, typically meant something unpleasant.

"I think George is right, Floppy. They made me a hero, and then they fault me for not living up to their expectations. It's not particularly fair. I didn't ask for it, and I find the entire situation hypocritical."

Floppy was silent until Harry reached the edge of the lake and started walking around it. "Perhaps, Mr. Potter, the only person to not think of you that way is you."

Harry wanted to tear the hat off and give it a good dunking in the lake, but he doubted it would appreciate the frustration he was feeling even if he did so. "I don't care what others think, Floppy. I don't particularly need any of these people. I just don't want them to be fodder for that evil snake's plans."

The hat fell silent. Harry continued his walk around the lake, knowing the hat was waiting for just the right moment to land a killing verbal blow and then it would go back to ignoring him. Realizing he had no desire to eat with the other students, Harry decided to head into the kitchen for a private dinner.

As he crossed the path up to main entrance, Floppy abruptly stirred. "Regardless of what you may think, Mr. Potter, you need these people."

Despite Harry's deliberate insults, barbs, and loaded statements, Floppy refused to say anything more on the topic of George's monologue. Studying the remains of his dinner, Harry felt uncomfortable both with his attempts to bully Floppy into talking and the unease that had been settling over him since George gave him a level of insight that he wished he never had earned.

The elves' sudden scurrying about and loud chatter made him look up. He saw Dumbledore walk into the kitchen, his blue eyes twinkling as he caught sight of Harry.

"Ahh, Harry, I was told you might be here. Dinner is over and most of the students have returned to their common rooms. Shall we proceed to our meeting?"

Conceding that today was doomed to be a string of mild setbacks and partial successes, Harry thanked the elves for dinner and followed the Headmaster back to his office. After securing the room, Dumbledore looked at Harry for a long moment before starting the conversation.

"While I am disappointed, Harry, that Draco and his friends have been expelled and we must resign ourselves to their choices, I am learning to be thankful that they are no longer here. I have spent some time going over the reports from Madame Pomfrey, and I am disturbed by what I have found. As you have repeatedly suggested, I have many questions for Severus when he arrives tonight. In the meantime, there are repercussions from your actions that are happening."

Dumbledore reached into his desk and pulled out a long golden chain with a heavily embossed pendant in a mixture of red and green. Dumbledore put it on, the engraving of Merlin's Staff on one side clearly visible.

Recognizing the pendant as the symbol of office of the head of the ICW, Harry rose to his feet to hear what official news was going to be conveyed.

Dumbledore adjusted the pendant around his neck and began speaking. "As Supreme Mugwump for the International Confederation of Wizards, I hereby notify you, Mr. Potter, that the War Mage Committee is meeting one week from today. You are to Apparate to Geneva at 2 pm local time, in order to discuss recent events. Moreover, Mr. Potter, as you are not yet a full War Mage, a temporary mentor, Cyril Feiner, has been assigned to you, and he will be here tomorrow evening to discuss your training. Normally this would have waited until the October Convocation, but given events over the summer and this past Friday, the Committee felt this was the prudent interim measure. You have permission to continue as per your current instructions unless told otherwise by myself after a vote of the ICW body, or if you receive a signed document from the committee, or if your mentor Cyril gives you new instructions. Do you understand these directions?"

Harry was surprised that no efforts were being made to curtail his level of privileges. "Yes, Mugwump, I do, and I agree to comply with each item you have indicated."

Dumbledore nodded briefly. "So mote it be, Mr. Potter." After Dumbledore removed the heavy chain and placed it back in his desk, Harry sat back down, feeling more comfortable. So far, the repercussions were surprisingly light for taking on Malfoy.

"With that bit out of the way, I was also asked to pass along a brief message from Cyril. He asked me to tell you that your sense of subtlety is reprehensible. Of course, this is a bit of a double-standard, coming from the man who prevented the battle at Bastione from becoming a slaughter by challenging Grindelwald's forces to individual melee combat."

Harry had to laugh a bit about the rather uptight Englishman. Cyril was a friend of Nicholas, and Harry was looking forward to seeing him again, even if he was prone to the disease of gross understatement of facts in any situation.

"Now, Harry, on to matters closer to home." Pausing to summon his tea set and pouring both of them a cup, Dumbledore leaned back to watch Harry. "You know, the reason I always have tea on is that the heat of the cup makes my hands feel warm. A drawback of age, Harry, is that your circulation becomes poor. Age makes many things in life more complicated, does it not?"

Harry slowly nodded, wondering if Dumbledore was trying to make a point in the obtuse manner Floppy favoured. It was a paradox that as the ability to use magic improved as one grew older, the physical deterioration of the aging body meant that one was less able to perform magic. Harry thought people like the Headmaster might secretly believe that magic, like youth, was wasted on the young.

"Mr. Crabbe and Mr. Goyle are being released tomorrow, Harry, and their parents have enrolled them in Durmstrang. Lucius Malfoy has spent quite a bit of money covering the legal costs, and he is using the law firm I think you yourself have used on occasion -- Celer and Manus, I believe?"

In response, Harry simply grinned broadly at the Headmaster. Dumbledore appeared confused by Harry's unusual reaction to his news, but he continued talking.

"Very well. Lucius is also spending a lot of money trying to keep Draco out of Azkaban. He is also lubricating the wheels of the Wizengamot, trying to get some favorable legislation enacted to keep minors from facing full charges for their actions."

If anything, Harry's grin became even wider, and it now had a hint of maliciousness to it. Dumbledore frowned at Harry. "Is there anything you wish to tell me, Harry?"

Harry shook his head and, grinning like a fool, motioned for the Headmaster to continue.

"Lucius, along with the parents of Mr. Crabbe and Mr. Goyle, has also complained to the Board of Governors. They, in turn, told him to discuss it with the Ministry, since they had no grounds to overturn the punishment of expulsion, and War Mages fall outside their purview. Their complaints at the Ministry were directed to Fudge, who in turn directed them to the ICW since he has no authority either. The ICW is presently ignoring them, pending a report from the Committee after your meeting with them next weekend. This, of course, has brought me into the situation as Supreme Mugwump, Harry. Lucius' power does not extend well onto the continent, so most of the ICW is quite immune to his status here. That said, if Lucius decides to take more direct steps to protect his son from the Dementors, then I cannot say what will happen."

Harry was openly chuckling now. "Let me guess, Headmaster. Lucius is draining his liquid capital rapidly, which is going to displease Voldemort when he finds out. Meanwhile, when Lucius becomes truly desperate, he will either try to ram shoddy legal reform through the Wizengamot or attempt to attack families of the ICW body. In the first case, well, he'll not like what happens. In the second case, the ICW will officially declare war on Malfoy and those who follow him, and that means that the truth about Voldemort's return will come out. Then both the English Ministry and the ICW will have a hard bed to lie in given their recent actions."

Dumbledore was staring at Harry as if wishing he could use Legilimency to get straight answers. "Are you implying that you orchestrated this series of events, Harry?"

Harry was still chuckling, but he was shaking his head as well. "Not at all, sir, not at all. I made no effort to orchestrate these events."

Dumbledore leaned back and again studied Harry from around tented fingers. "Very well, Harry. I shall think about this and perhaps later we can discuss how best to have Voldemort's return acknowledged. In the meantime, we have nearly two hours before I must prepare to meet with Severus. Before we talk about your training, is there anything you need to discuss with me?"

Harry leaned back in turn and stared at the ceiling for a few moments. "Yes, actually, I'd like unrestricted access to all the material in the library."

Dumbledore blinked before slowly nodding. "Very well, Harry. I can see the rationale, but I ask you to be careful, as some of the material in those books is not to be taken lightly." Drawing out a parchment, Dumbledore wrote a short note to authorize Harry's free access. Harry accepted the note with a nod and slid it into his bag.

"Let us then discuss your training. You mentioned previously that you have other tutors you need to see. Can you provide days and times?"

"Pretty much every weekday, from about 4 pm until nearly 8 pm, Headmaster. I will be leaving for those lessons via secure Portkey that will be set to work just outside the Hogwarts gates."

Dumbledore pulled out a parchment that had a timetable on it and wrote the training times Harry had indicated. "And we shall have our meetings from 8 pm until curfew, is that acceptable?"

At Harry's nod, Dumbledore added the designated days and times and handed him the parchment. "This is your schedule, Harry. You will receive it officially tomorrow morning during breakfast, but for now let me explain a few things. Your schedule is in two patterns, the Monday-Wednesday-Friday group, and the Tuesday-Thursday group."

"With the first grouping, your first period is Herbology theory with Mr. Longbottom - he's the most advanced student in your year and should be ideal for it. Following that is a double period of practical Herbology, to be held in the greenhouses. Next will be Care of Magical Creatures tutoring with Miss Weasley, as she has the best marks in your year and a bit of a natural touch I suspect. Following this will be lunch, then a single period of Care of Magical Creatures practical. After this, you'll sit through a single lesson of Defence Against the Dark Arts. While I doubt you will learn anything new, I think it would be good for you to see how the class is taught here, what your peers know, and to get to know Professor Moody. You'll have your afternoon free after 3 pm, as you are overqualified for other subjects."

"The second grouping will start with a double lesson in Charms, followed by a double lesson in Transfiguration. You will have lunch, followed by a single lesson tutoring period in Potions, taught by Miss Granger. I have also arranged for Mr. Longbottom, Mr. Weasley, and Miss Weasley to join you for this, as they also could use the extra study. After this tutoring, you will have a double Potions lesson. You will again be free after 4 pm. Do you have any questions, Harry?"

Harry looked up. "Have the students agreed to tutor me, sir?"

Dumbledore smiled in response. "I asked them during dinner, Mr. Potter. They were happy to offer their help, and Miss Weasley was most taken with the idea. I believe she said something to the effect of 'I'll teach him how to properly take care of magical beings.' It seems a rather vague statement, does it not?"

Harry started laughing at the image of Ginny saying that with the mischievous glint in her eye. "As you say, sir, as you say. This schedule seems fine to me." Mentally, he was preparing to read as much about the care of magical creatures as he could, since this was a perfect opportunity for Ginny to get her desired payback. Harry handed the schedule back to the Headmaster, who placed it into one of the four piles of student schedules on his desk.

"Very good, Harry. Now, with what time remains to us, I wish to-" Dumbledore was cut off as his door suddenly burst open.

Severus Snape strode into the room and Harry was almost certain that sparks shot from cloven feet with each step he took and that smoke exuded from his ears. "Headmaster, I have - Potter!" Snape spat out as he caught sight of Harry. "The brat who thought he was better than a Professor! I'm so looking forward to our time together, Potter!" Snape stopped in front of Harry, his hand reaching for his wand.

Harry shot to his feet with a wand in his right hand, his back to the solid wall. Fawkes began trilling a soothing melody, but Snape only glared harder at Harry. Dumbledore quickly rose to his feet. "Severus! You were not to return until after curfew! Explain yourself!" he said in a thunderous voice.

Snape sneered at Harry before looking back at the Headmaster. "Moody was called to investigate a major disturbance near his home, and he sent me here to ask for your aid."

"Very well." Dumbledore shot Snape a warning glance, and the Potions master slowly lowered his wand, still looking balefully at Harry.

"Harry, if you would please return to your House for the evening, Severus and I must deal with this." Pulling out an old teacup, Dumbledore tapped it with his wand and said, "/Portus/."

After both Dumbledore and Snape had disappeared, Harry put his wand back in his sleeve and turned to leave.

Storming out of the Headmaster's office, Harry fought hard to control his anger at Snape's insinuations. Harry needed to study the Hogwarts bylaws before classes began, or he knew Snape would bury him in trivial infractions of the rules. How Dumbledore could be so accepting of the traitorous man's actions went beyond the pale in Harry's opinion, and-





Bright flashes of spell magic shot toward Harry and impacted on a flickering golden shield, which crumpled almost immediately but clearly weakened the onslaught of curses as Harry was violently thrown into the cramped area between the gargoyle and the wall. His left pocket exploded as he went flying through the air with a dull /whump/, little bits of rock digging into his thigh and scattering across the hall along with pieces of his clothing.

His head pounding painfully, Harry felt the onslaught of strange sensations - he intensely disliked the closed-in feeling of the cramped nook he had fallen into, and his mind was screaming at him that he was under attack. Harry watched detachedly as the Sorting Hat slowly fell in the middle of the hall, it's the tip twirling in slow motion.

"Get him!" One boy's voice called out.

"Get him!" Dudley shouted as Harry was trapped under the garbage cans behind the school. Harry felt the panic of knowing he was unable to move and was about to receive a vicious beating.

"He's not getting away!" A different boy's voice called out.

"He's not getting away!" Piers Polkiss shouted back, the tall but scrawny six year old swinging a thick stick and smashing it across the back of Harry's leg. The muffled crack of the stick breaking, accompanied by the wave of pain, terrified Harry.

With an inarticulate cry of rage, Harry shot to his feet, his left hand flicking down as a wand slid into his grip, his right hand reaching to his left hip and grasping the hilt of a katana that had no sheath. As he pulled the hilt out, the blade grew from nothingness into a quicksilver flash of lethal steel.

"Incendio!" One of the girls shouted with her arm extended, the fire of hate in her eyes.

Harry saw the curse from the girl fly toward his head as he dove and rolled out of the way.

"Diffindo!" The first boy tried to curse him again.

Harry could see the faces of the other children through his tears, all the boys egging each other on to kick him or hit him.

Harry regained his feet, his left hand flicking his wand to make a shimmering shield appear and deflect the cutting curse even as his right hand swept the katana across from right to left in a classic shokesa slice. The girl with hate in her eyes screamed in agony as her arm below the elbow was suddenly lying on the floor, her wand still clutched in the now useless hand. Spinning slightly, Harry put the girl between him and the other attackers as the next round of curses flew and he shoved her hard in the back.

"Reducto!" screamed one of the boys.

"Reducto!" the other girl echoed.

"Incarcerous!" roared the other boy.

Harry propelled the wandless girl forward with enough force for her to absorb all three curses. Her body wrapped up tightly in ropes, she fell under the dual Reductor curses. Harry shot to one side and made a circular stabbing motion with his wand while sharply calling out "Foro!", directing the spell at the other girl. As the spell hit her, the girl stared dumbly at her stomach - it looked like someone had punched a hole all the way through her. Staring blankly at Harry, she sank to her feet, never realizing that she had collapsed on top of an old hat that was giving off a faint blue glow.

His cries of pain were ignored as they kicked him repeatedly, until he finally crawled behind a dumpster, and they gave up trying to drag him out.

Harry charged toward the second boy, who immediately started to backpedal, desperately trying to throw another Reductor curse at Harry. The first boy, clearly starting to panic, shouted "Sectumsempra!" as he frantically moved away from Harry.

Harry had no idea what the first boy's spell would do, so he dropped to the floor in a smooth roll, causing both of the curses to completely miss him. Harry rolled back to his feet with his katana held low, and he nonverbally Summoned the second boy. As the boy flew towards him, Harry planted the far tip of the blade on the boy's opposite hip, and using the boy's momentum, Harry drew a long horizontal do slice across the bottom of his belly before sharply twisting the blade up his side, letting nature take its course.

Silently, Harry swore to himself that, one day, when he could stop bullies, he would. In the meantime, he needed to learn how to survive in order to reach that one day.

Reflexively ducking and rolling again to keep his erratic motion going, Harry shot to his feet and saw that the remaining boy was trying hard not to turn and flee, panic written across his face and in his bulging eyes. Reducto! thought Harry, at the same time the boy said it aloud. Harry's automatic diving roll took him out of the path of his opponent's curse, but the other boy was not as fortunate. Harry's curse struck him squarely in the center of his chest, and he toppled backwards, a look of utter shock on his face. All across the stone floor, tendrils of blue were tracing across the floor in seemingly random patterns, clashing horribly with the dark red blood on ground.

"Stop him!" The scream came from behind him, and left Harry in a horrible place, fear clawing at his insides. He was facing the wrong way, completely exposed, unknown assailants closing on him.

"Stop him!" Wormtail shouted as Nicholas was struggling to get back to his feet from the surprise attack, Harry trapped beneath him. Lucius' Killing Curse took the glimmer of energy, the hint of mischief, the glow of love out of the eyes of Harry's virtual grandfather.

Harry released his bindings on his magic and concentrated hard on the wandless Area Stunning Spell, the only thing that could buy him the seconds he needed to regroup. A rolling ring of magic shot out from his body, and his skin felt like it was on fire. Harry dropped into a backroll and came up spinning to face the rest of the attackers.

Two tall boys were down on the ground, having fallen to either side of a petite girl. Raising the katana high over his head for a full skull cleaving min attack, he dimly registered her look of both horror and extreme anger before he saw an immense wave of raw magic shoot out from her and catch him in the chest. He flew through the air once more to hit the wall with a sickening crunch. Stunned, Harry heard screams and the sound of running feet nearby, and as he felt unconsciousness take him, he wondered faintly at the meaning of it all.


This chapter, technically the second half of the last chapter, was a nightmare for my betas, although I'm sure they would use more vague terms. It almost became two chapters in and of itself. While still dense and full of information that may become critical later, it reads much better now than when they first got their greedy hands on it.

So, a big thank you to my genius betas who have valiantly strived to make this story better, despite my crafty attempts to make it incomprehensible. Immeasurable thanks to Chreechree and cwarbeck.

About the population numbers, typical lifespan, and so forth. As most people are aware, JKR is infamously bad at dealing with all things numeric. The numbers presented here serve several purposes. One, it lets me have some wiggle room in JKR's sandbox while dealing with her inconsistencies with reporting the numbers behind it all. I've bounded what's current, what used to be more typical in times of peace and plenty, and give an indication about life overall. Two, these also represent a stake in the ground, providing ramifications for the story development as well as helping you gain insight on what is and isn't feasible based on population sizes. For the rest, keep reading to see how this data comes back.

Terms used in fight: sho-kesa (giri), do, min. For the record, "giri" means cut - this is the "first" (sho) "priest robe" (kesa) "cut" (giri) ... it's a diagonal slash from shoulder to opposite hip (kesagiri); the shokesa was meant to take the arm off at the shoulder, or any other convenient location. The "min" (sometimes spelled "men") attack is essentially an 'I'm going to kill you and you can't stop me' charge with the sword above the head, raised to reach full extension with wrist snap to accelerate the blade through the tip of the skull, one of the hardest cuts to make. Done properly, it will split the skull into the chest. The "do" cut (pronounced more like Homer's "D'oh"), probably more properly referred to as a "heragiri" (belly cut), is actually one of the basic triangular entry moves ("sankaku no irimi"), where you let the attacker cut themselves open as they rush past you, and you literally move around them in a triangular fashion, holding your sword firmly.

New spell: Foro, (Latin) to piece, to bore a hole
Sigh, another long A/N. Hopefully this will be the last long one. Or at least, a longer-lasting line in the sand.

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