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

16. Choices

by moshpit 7 reviews

Chapter 16

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: 2006-12-31 - Updated: 2007-01-01 - 12161 words

Warning: This story is rated R for many reasons. This chapter is one of them.

Chapter 16: Choices

Harry started blinking furiously, his eyes watering from the flash.

His left shoulder was tender, and he could feel a nasty lump forming on the back of his head from where he had hit the table.

Harry realized that these minor details were the least of his worries. While he was unsure what had been the source of the bright flash, he found his vision returning much faster this time. Despite the large spots that still remained to cloud his vision, he could make out the Headmaster turning to face the door, his movements hauntingly odd.

Harry recognized Remus' distorted voice coming from outside, and Cyril was also faintly shouting out something urgent. Harry could not make out what exactly they were saying as his ears were still ringing from the impact of his head on the table.

Dumbledore headed for the doorway as Harry struggled to his feet, but then Harry was pitched sideways onto the ground, the floor tilting suddenly as his vision swam with red light. When he looked back up, he saw another spell fly from Dumbledore's wand just before Harry was thrown bodily into the wall. Harry's vision sharpened even as his right shoulder throbbed painfully, resonating with the intensity of his left one.

Through the haze of pain, Harry sensed that something was clearly wrong with the Headmaster, but it was beyond his ken for the moment. He once again attempted to rise to his feet but with no success.

Clearly dismissing Harry as a viable threat, Dumbledore turned and strode to the door. Exerting an enormous amount of effort, Harry somehow managed to stand and pull out his wands, just as Dumbledore was throwing the first spell into the garden. Harry's first stunner was off target, instead hitting the doorframe right above the Headmaster's head. A large chunk of wood was blasted out and would have fallen directly on top of Dumbledore, but he managed to conjure a large golden shield to block the debris. Harry's second stunner immediately followed from his other hand and was on target, but the Headmaster had turned quickly, causing the stunner to hit the golden shield, ringing it like a bell.

Dumbledore replied with a string of curses that narrowly missed Harry as he reflexively rolled away from them. The curses continued in their fanning pattern and blew holes in the walls of the cottage. Harry could see waves of power radiating from the ring on the old man's left hand, seeping into the wound where he had sliced it open in order to gain access to the cavity behind the concealed brick. Concurrently, magical bolts were leaping like lightning from Dumbledore's feet and apparently feeding more power into the ring.

Harry's ingrained training screamed that, given the situation and being wounded as he was, he needed every advantage he could get or create. Harry rapidly cast a Banishing charm at the man's head, causing Dumbledore to automatically raise the shield as a block, the old man returning a fast Incendio around its edge in retaliation. The Headmaster's use of the shield as a barrier blocked his vision, which provided Harry's first opening for a counter-attack as he cast a second Banishing charm on a nearby chair. The magnitude of the spell propelled it into the old man's legs, knocking him to the ground forcefully.

"Cyril!" Harry yelled as he rolled away from the fire that the Headmaster's curse had started. The flames were rapidly trying to engulf the kitchen wall behind him. "I could use a hand in here!" He let fly two Accio spells at the same instant, one to the chair now behind Dumbledore and the other on the man's wand.

Dumbledore regained his footing and firmly pulled his wand to his chest, safeguarding it from the summoning charm by interposing the golden shield. He did not see the chair that Harry had summoned, however, and it smacked viciously into the back of his legs, forcing the old man to tumble backwards into it. The jet-black bolt of magic forming on the tip of the Headmaster's wand luckily went awry, and half the kitchen table simply disintegrated into fine sawdust from the wayward spell.

"You're on your own, Harry!" Cyril's voice trailed in faintly through the doorway. Harry could hear grunts and odd sounds coming from outside. Clearly Cyril was having a few problems of his own with tea time this afternoon, leaving Harry to his own devices. Thankfully though, the ringing in his ears was receding, although he still thought it sounded as though there was a fire engine in the distance racing his way.

As Harry realized he was well and truly stuck with a crazy old man, the Headmaster's off hand reached into his robes as the man regained his feet. Somehow, Harry did not think that the man was going to offer him a sherbert lemon for once. As the golden shield abruptly disappeared, a wall of small flying objects shot out of Dumbledore's wand. Harry dropped into a sideways backward roll to let the objects fly over his head. Knowing that a moving target was much harder to hit, Harry switched to a full side roll, but he still needed to erect a standard sphere shield to deflect another curse that Dumbledore sent his way.

Panting slightly, Harry shot off a tight pair of low-power charms of his own that no shielding spells would stop. The Headmaster's eyes flickered in surprise when Harry's spells arrived on target. The first spell caused his robes to warm considerably, and the second one compelled his beard to fly into his face and obscure his vision.

Harry quickly Disillusioned himself while Dumbledore was distracted with his beard. Crouching down, he fired a pair of additional warming charms at the Headmaster's clothes. The small fire in the kitchen was now rapidly spreading to the rest of the dining area, and the smoke thickened as the temperature in the cottage steadily increased.

"Harry! Hurry up! We need to get out of here!" The fact that Remus' voice was laced with pain and that he was actually verbalizing his spells told Harry that the situation outside the cottage was likely no better than what was happening inside.

Dumbledore had regained control of his beard and was scanning the room carefully, apparently ignoring the heat his robes were radiating and the sweat beading on his brow. It was clear to Harry that the ring was influencing the Headmaster's behaviour, and the repugnant aura of the thing was gradually creeping up the man's left arm. Harry was terrified of what would happen when it reached the Headmaster's head.

Harry scanned the room, his mind rapidly devising and discarding several ideas on neutralizing the Headmaster without seriously harming him. The fundamental problem was that Dumbledore had age, experience, and repertoire on his side. All Harry had was a basket of craftiness and a painfully deep understanding of how magic worked. He had no desire to lose everything today because of some poor bit of a riddle left behind.

Harry found the opening he needed to go on the offensive when the Headmaster swiveled round to cast bolts of pale pink light around the room in a seemingly random pattern. Swiftly gliding away from the kitchen, Harry fired twin banishing charms in rapid succession and then rolled forward to close the gap separating himself from the Headmaster. The first charm hit the center of Dumbledore's back, but the Headmaster was already conjuring a shield as if he had expected the attack. The second spell splashed harmlessly against it. Once again, Harry was disturbed to see that the Headmaster completely absorbed the first spell without any visible effect.

Harry switched the path of his forward roll to avoid the apparently unfazed old man, angling his course parallel to Dumbledore. He knew that his Disillusionment would not hold perfectly, as the camouflage magic took a little over one second to adapt to the area, making it mainly useful for either motionless targets or scenes that changed little when used up-close. Indeed, even as he continued to roll forward, Dumbledore locked on to the distorted edges of Harry's shape and fired rapid curses at him. The first two missed, further demolishing the walls of the cottage, but the third one hit home.

Harry felt his entire right side scream in protest as he was violently hurled into an empty bookcase. Harry heard the wood breaking apart as shelves collapsed on top of him. Harry lay motionless, hoping the Headmaster would decide to leave his body alone as he had done before when he apparently thought that Harry had been rendered helpless.

"Harry!" Cyril's distant voice floated into the cottage. Harry surmised that Cyril and Remus must be making their way into the woods and then swore sulphurously under his breath when his Mentor then commanded, "I am ordering you: Use Any Means Necessary!"

In the split second that Harry had concentrated on Cyril's voice, Dumbledore had transfigured several broken pieces of furniture into black-furred wolves, each of which was looking at Harry as though dinner was imminent. Deciding it would make little difference at this point, Harry rose to his feet and released the Disillusionment. As he stowed his right wand with a sharp flick of the wrist, Harry dodged to the side, then immediately vaulted backwards in mid-leap when Dumbledore cast a string of powerful Diffindo charms right where Harry would have landed, creating long trenches through the exterior wall behind Harry. As Harry came down from his reversal, a waiting wolf buried its teeth in Harry's left leg, causing him to grunt a muffled curse.

The dragon hide armour prevented the fangs from puncturing his skin, but the pressure of the wolf's jaws would break his leg if he failed to quickly dislodge the transfigured animal. Two other wolves were coming at him swiftly, and Harry knew that this situation was rapidly meeting his criteria for a pretty sticky wicket. Before Harry could move, he was hit in the chest by a deep purple curse cast by Dumbledore. Once again, Harry was flung into a wall, this time it was the wall by the front door. His chest armour was smoking, and bubbles were rapidly forming on the outside. Harry's involuntary scream had more to do with the blood running down his left leg. The first wolf was holding shards of dragon hide armour in its mouth, its broken fangs lying on the floor between them or fragments of them embedded in Harry's skin.

Striding towards a slightly stunned Harry, the Headmaster's eyes blazed with an unholy glee. As Dumbledore raised his wand, in what Harry knew was the beginning of a fatal spell, the entire cottage shuddered violently. The house was slowly collapsing due to the massive damage it had suffered in the course of Harry's losing battle with the Headmaster.

With a rippling shimmer of magic and a loud crack! the Headmaster Disapparated.

At the Headmaster's disappearance, the wolves streaking toward Harry instantly shimmered back into broken fragments of wood which clattered to the floor. Harry barely had time to limp outside before the cottage finally toppled.

Harry could see Cyril and Remus at the edge of the tree line, sending curses into vague shapes moving about. They were both clearly rather bloodied, and Harry noted that Cyril had an arrow protruding out of his thigh, a recent decoration.

Dumbledore flicked into existence behind Remus. Cyril must have caught the motion out of the corner of his eye, as he turned and let loose a point blank barrage of silver arrows straight at Dumbledore. The golden shield was back, however, and rang with the rat-a-tat-tat of solid metal impacts, causing Remus to spin around. Dumbledore's wand immediately erupted with a sickly yellow curse, but Cyril dived to the side to avoid it and fortuitously also avoided three more arrows that came flying out of the tree line.

Dumbledore let fly immediately with a second yellow curse, this one aimed at Remus. As the unprepared werewolf crumpled silently onto the ground in mid-spell, Harry felt the loose chains which he normally kept on his temper shatter. Dumbledore flicked out of existence again, shield and all, with a faint crack!

Pulling his katana out with his right hand, Harry used his left wand to seal the blood coming from his leg. Pain is the focus, sharpener of the mind. Pain is always Master, the body the Student. Embrace Pain, Embrace Life. The droning litany faded into the background of his mind as Harry gathered his concentration.

Cyril arose in a rolling motion, limping heavily with the arrow embedded in his thigh now snapped off just above the flesh. Harry's Mentor fired a second swath of silver arrows into the tree line before turning to look for Dumbledore. Just as he turned back, Dumbledore appeared with another crack! directly behind Cyril and smashed him in the head with the oversized shield, leaving Cyril an unmoving heap at the Headmaster's feet.

The air around Harry screamed in protest as the thunderclap of Instant Apparition placed Harry directly in front of Dumbledore, straddling the body of Cyril. As the Headmaster's wand came down in an arc toward Cyril, Harry's katana whistled through the air as he swept it in a hard reverse /kesagiri/, both of his hands driving the blade with all the force he could summon, sweat rolling off his brow.

At Harry's sudden reappearance, Dumbledore jumped backward and thrust his shield outwards to deflect the sword. Sparks flew from the impact between blade and shield just before the katana shattered the conjured shield. The blade angle deflected slightly upward from the impact, slicing through Dumbledore's armour like paper and skittering across the Headmaster's ribs, leaving a dark crimson trail of pain. A half-formed spell flew out of the old man's wand, causing a nearby tree to shake violently, as though caught in a hurricane.

Dumbledore quickly recovered his balance, and his aura began to radiate a tell-tale shimmer. Right before he Disapparated again, Harry finally laid his wand on the man's robes and transfigured them. The sudden inrushing of air caused the old man's beard to whip wildly as the sweat was partially dried from both their faces. When Dumbledore reappeared a few steps away with a /crack!/, he immediately collapsed under the weight of all his clothing and armour, which Harry had transmuted to solid lead.

As a result of Harry's transmutation spell, the Headmaster's clothing and armour had become approximately 17 times heavier, turning a tolerable 24 pounds into an unbearable 400 pounds, trapping the man on the ground. Harry cast two full power Stunners at the Headmaster as he lay supine and helpless, not really caring at this point if the old man survived the suffocating weight or not. All Harry could think about was getting to Remus.

He was already halfway to his friend when he heard several soft thrummm! sounds, triggering his mental reflexes, and he threw himself to the ground. A handful of arrows arced through the air that Harry had just occupied, plunging harmlessly into the earth. Continuing into a rolling motion, Harry saw shadowy figures moving just inside the tree line. Whatever was in there appeared to be humanoid, but that was using the term loosely, as Harry realised when he took note of the large jackal heads grinning toothily at him from above furry bodies clothed in some kind of boiled leather armor.

With a grunt of displeasure, Harry realized that Cyril and Remus had been fighting off a band of Cynocephaly. Individually, they were no more trouble than a feral human or an overly intelligent but violent Grim, but in packs they could be something else. They were able to see heat signatures, so hiding was futile. At least they seldom had any sophistication in their weapons or skills. The primary problem was that a band of Cynocephs rarely numbered less than 15 to 20 adults, which meant that their sheer numbers would wear you down before you could subdue them. As they generally preferred dark habitats, caves and the like, their presence so close to a Muggle town in broad daylight was distinctly unusual, despite the rare band that would raid human villages. Harry presumed that their behaviour was related to whatever was going on with Dumbledore, but explanations would have to wait until later.

A few more arrows shot out, but Harry was relieved to note that most of the band was already down, presumably due to Remus and Cyril's efforts. The throaty barking and grunting sounds indicated that the Cynocephs were angry but also scared and trying to work out what to do. Cyril was moaning and starting to come around, but most of Harry's worry was focused on the still silent and motionless Remus. He needed to get these idiot dogs out of the way.

With another thunderclap of Instant Apparition, Harry moved himself directly behind the remaining few jackal-men and unbound the magic in his core. The resulting wandless stunner left him hot, drained, and breathing heavily, but the rolling magic wave knocked the remaining four Cynocephs out for the count.

Harry took a deep breath and hobbled his way towards a still motionless Remus and a moaning Cyril. He was only part way there when he saw the Headmaster's form shimmer once again but in a different pattern. The old man stood up, his robes and armour now transfigured from lead into a pure snowy white cotton-like material. Harry mentally groaned. Despite the proximity of the flux line, his magical core was severely drained after the wandless Stunner and two Instant Apparitions, and he was in no condition to continue a protracted fight.

Ever since the Headmaster had slipped on the ring, it had become more and more apparent that the shiny bit of metal had completely taken control of the old man's mind and had somehow magnified his already impressive abilities. This magical behaviour was in direct contradiction to everything Harry understood about magic. Dumbledore's initial ambush had started Harry at a distinct disadvantage in this fight, and somehow, the old man was shrugging off Stunners, Banishing Charms and everything else Harry threw at him.

The only thing that seemed to work was manipulation of the Headmaster's external physical state, such as Harry's modification of the man's clothing or hitting him with physical objects like chairs or the katana. More disturbing still were the distinct bands of power that continued to flow around Dumbledore, with the sinister aura of the ring now extending to just below the midpoint of his forearm.

Harry and Dumbledore stood facing each other, separated by nearly fifteen feet. The still form of Remus lay on the ground behind the old man, and Cyril was far enough out of the way to avoid being in any urgent danger. The entire scene reminded Harry of some bad spaghetti western film, the evil old man facing down the upstart young vigilante. The only thing missing was the whistling tune accompanied by the Spanish guitar, perhaps with a tumbleweed rolling by.

Harry kept his katana held firmly in his right hand, his wand loosely held in his left, concentrating exclusively on the Headmaster's shoulders, waiting for the subtle signs that would indicate which direction any movement would go. Whether magical or physical attacks were coming next was unclear. Sweat was slowly rolling down Harry's face. The dragon hide armour makers really could learn a thing or two from studying Gore-Tex.

Whatever happened next, Harry knew that he had to retrieve the ring, in order for it to stop influencing the Headmaster. As Cyril had commanded him, that meant using any means necessary, even if it meant the death of Dumbledore.

The sudden shimmering of Dumbledore's aura just before the old man would Apparate was one of the signs that Harry had been waiting for. Whipping his wand through a delicate dance, Harry hastily conjured up a projection of his own body to stand in his place. The illusion was a little fuzzy on the edges, but Harry just needed it to hold for a few seconds. He jumped back several paces just as Dumbledore's aura flared to a peak, and the man vanished.

As soon as the Headmaster appeared with a crack! behind the illusory Harry, the real Harry's katana was already whistling through the air. The old man tried to turn as the sound registered, but it was too late. The blade made contact and clinically separated his left forearm halfway to the elbow. As the forearm and hand were severed from the rest of his arm, Dumbledore's eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he dropped like a sack of potatoes to the ground. Blood was spurting from the cut, the severed forearm lying about a foot away. Harry could still see the bands of power radiating from the ring, the aura still pulsing malevolently around the now useless forearm.

Harry quickly picked up the Headmaster's wand, then used his own wand to cast a Bubblehead Charm around the edge of Dumbledore's recently shortened left arm. Harry used the Charm as a tourniquet, forcing it to contract into a tight band until all visible blood flow stopped, the pool inside the charm no longer growing deeper.

Harry then turned his attention to the ring. Using a nearby stick to flip the forearm into the air, Harry encased it in a second Bubblehead Charm, this one large enough to ensure that the arm could not make contact with anything else. Cautiously, Harry guided the floating limb onto the prone form of the Headmaster. When it failed to react in any way to the proximity of the old man, Harry sank to his knees and quickly tied it in place inside the snowy white robes, now stained in dark crimson. The Headmaster's breathing was ragged and shallow, and Harry was sure that he had little time left before the accumulated trauma silenced one of the foremost figures of Light for all time - assuming, of course, that he was still of the Light.

Staggering back to his feet, he put his katana away and moved as quickly as his body would allow. Squatting beside Remus, Harry saw that his old friend was clearly still breathing, albeit very slowly. He tried to shake Remus awake. When there was no response, Harry tried to Re-enervate his friend but had a difficult time casting the spell properly due to the insistent throbbing of his own damaged leg and back. His adrenaline and concentration were waning quickly, and he felt like he had been in the middle of a nasty car crash. He looked helplessly at Remus, recalling that the previous spells that Dumbledore had placed on the werewolf to limit his bleeding were only guaranteed for about an hour. Time was rapidly running out.

As Harry was racking his brains on how he could get Remus safely to medical aid, he heard his Mentor moaning and looked up to see Cyril slowly rising to a sitting position. Cyril was clearly in bad shape as well, bleeding from the head and leg and random other locations Harry could not quite make out. His Mentor, however, was coming around, and he would know what to do. Harry half staggered and half shambled to the side of Cyril, absently grabbing the man's wrist to check his pulse.

Cyril started at the sudden contact but otherwise did not acknowledge Harry's presence. The head wound he received from Dumbledore was still bleeding freely, but scalp wounds tended to do that. Harry was a little concerned that his Mentor was slow in tracking Harry's movements. Resigned to being the most functional one left, Harry leaned back and looked for ideas.

He knew he had to get all three of the older men to immediate medical care, or it was likely that one or maybe even all of them would die. Taking a deep breath, Harry tried to summon the bag that he left by the now collapsed cottage. When nothing happened, Harry tried the spell verbally. "Accio Bag!"

He was rewarded when the remnants of his book bag flew from the outskirts of the ruined house and landed beside him. It was smoldering in places and had a few impressive holes, but his broom case was still inside and, thankfully, still intact. With a sigh of relief, Harry extracted the broom. Everything except the case was mangled to a fare-thee-well, so Harry thought nothing of ripping the bag to shreds.

In his drained and mildly confused state, it took several verbal attempts to get even Mobilicorpus to work, but eventually, Harry had Remus, Cyril, and Dumbledore tied to his broom, each gently bobbing in the air. The remains of his bag had made barely functional tethers for them, but it was all he could do for the moment. Holding his broom firmly with one hand, Harry slapped his watch Portkey with the other, and with four loud thumps, all of them arrived outside the Hogwarts Gates in a heap of bodies on the ground.

Harry groaned involuntarily as the pain he was experiencing reached new highs. The poor landing on his part caused him to fall on his broom, inadvertently resulting in impromptu bumper-car collisions between all of the tethered floating bodies and his own battered carcass.

The rain at Hogwarts had not abated at all. It lashed against Harry's face as he fumbled to open the gates, squinting in the gloom that shrouded the valley where the castle lay. Whether the dark evening was due to the surrounding mountains or to the stormy grey skies, Harry did not know, nor did he have time to particularly care.

He was surprised to hear a soft moaning beside him. Harry quickly checked Remus over and seeing that there was no change in his condition, he turned his attention toward his Mentor and was astonished to find the man's eyes opening slowly to look at the sky.

"Harry," Cyril called weakly, "what's the situation?"

"Ugh," Harry muttered, peering at Cyril in the darkness. "We're all bloody beaten up, that's what." Harry could not make out Cyril's face clearly despite its proximity. "Remus is in a bad way, and the Headmaster went completely nuts. I took him out, Cyril, but I don't know if he's coming back."

Harry moved to inspect the last tethered body, trying not to disturb the dangerous bundle inside the Headmaster's robes. "I've got to get Remus and the Headmaster inside to the hospital. D'you think you can help, or do you need to go with the luggage?"

Cyril slowly pulled out his wand and Harry watched his Mentor's arm waver for a moment. "I have to go to the Aurors, Harry." Cyril was spinning slightly, making Harry think his Mentor was far more likely to splinch his way into St. Mungos than successfully Apparate to the Ministry of Magic. "That place has to be dealt with."

Harry looked closely at Cyril as the man rocked back and forth slowly. "Right," Harry said. "Then before you go, get your body to stop floating, yeah?"

Cyril nodded in a rather strange way before moving his wand about. Harry watched as his Mentor, in fairly sluggish and sloppy form, flicked the wand a few times. Looking puzzled when nothing happened, he pointed his wand at his own head before staring down the length of it and repeating the sloppy pattern. With a shout of frustation, Cyril suddenly found himself rising higher, his limbs flailing as he revolved slowly in mid-air like a strange human balloon.

Chuckling, Harry climbed back to his feet. "Right, Cyril, you can run to the Aurors after a visit to the body shop."

Ignoring his Mentor's alternating commands and pleas for help, Harry took Cyril's wand away before he could do serious harm to himself or anyone else. After he made sure his Mentor was still tied securely to the Firebolt, Harry did the same for the other two, once again checking to see that the severed arm would not be inadvertently lost on the trip.

Harry slowly led the floating bodies through the gates, his free hand keeping a firm hold on Remus' robes. He paid no attention as Cyril began using even more colourful language to promise dire consequences for Harry. Once the gates were shut and secured, Harry climbed on his broom and flew as fast as he dared to reach the main doors to the castle. Cyril had suddenly gone silent, much to Harry's relief, but he had to trust that his Mentor was still coping during the short flight.

Leaning down from the broom to kick the main entrance doors open, Harry barely registered that the Great Hall doors were wide open and that the entire school was eating dinner as he whipped past, flying straight for the Hospital Wing. A few shouts of surprise echoed in the hallway, but Harry did not have the time or the inclination to stop and be social.

Upon arrival in the Hospital Wing, Harry flew into the swinging doors, letting them slam open as the broom and its precious cargo shot into the room. As Harry reached the first bed, he gathered from the broom shaft all of the tethers on his old wizard body collection. Resigned to be using the remainder of his bag in such a manner, he wrapped the thin strips together around the corner post to keep everyone together. Cyril started moaning slightly again, but otherwise the area was silent. The dark room and silent open door of the matron's office suggested Madam Pomfrey was down at dinner.

Turning his broom around, Harry shot back down the stairs and straight into the Great Hall, ignoring the sudden silence that settled over the students as he made a beeline for the Staff Table. Spotting the mediwitch, Harry pulled up right in front of her, ignoring the spluttering of the various faculty.

"Madam Pomfrey," Harry said quietly yet urgently, "there are three emergencies upstairs that need you. Now."

The middle aged woman had one thin hand raised to her throat as she stared at Harry without moving.

Curious, Harry looked down at himself as he realized that his shirt and most of his trousers were reduced to ribbons, he was covered in blood, and his armour was only good for making jerky for surly dogs. Between the shredded armour, the blood and the obvious wounds, it was hard to tell from more than a few feet away if Harry was seriously injured or just a bit knocked around.

Looking back at the matron, he pointed upstairs with one hand. "I'm not an emergency, if that helps." She looked ready to burst, but she quickly got to her feet and ran to the large fireplace behind the Staff table where she disappeared in a flash of Floo powder. Harry ignored the pointed looks from McGonagall, Snape, and Umbridge, and flew back out of the Great Hall.

By the time Harry arrived back in the Hospital Wing, Madam Pomfrey had her wand out and each person in a separate bed. Harry dropped to the floor by Remus' bed, letting the broom clatter to the ground, and took his old friend's wrist to check for the pulse. He was slightly amused to see the matron literally stun Cyril to get him to lie still and shut up, before she swept a series of diagnostic spells over the man. She then scurried over to the Headmaster, repeating the diagnostic spells. As she performed each spell, her complexion slowly paled to resemble the pristine white robes she wore over her deep blue dress.

She cautiously reached out and opened the Headmaster's robes, causing the Bubblehead charm holding the severed hand and partial forearm to bounce onto the floor before rolling to a stop under the bed. Harry thought that the woman looked absolutely petrified, but she shook herself after a moment and cast a few more spells before closing his robes.

Clucking frantically, she looked around before rushing over to Remus to repeat all the diagnostics a third time. Harry could tell she was unsettled by whatever she discovered, but before he could interrogate her, the doors swung open and Professor McGonagall swept into the room with an air of grace and command that would make Edgar envious.

Harry saw her eyes rapidly lock onto the prone form of the Headmaster, and she immediately glided to his side, taking note of the amputation and the Bubblehead Charm holding the damage at bay. She then walked over to Cyril and looked at him closely before turning and making her way to Remus. Harry saw her eyebrows climb well into her hairline. She finally looked at Harry expectantly, the expression on her face telling Harry that if he failed to explain things immediately, he could expect another melee, this time with a very capable witch.

Harry gestured vaguely at the door. "I'm in no shape to do magic, so can you ensure us complete privacy?"

McGonagall's eyes never left Harry's as her wand flicked in the necessary arcs, casting Imperturbable charms on every surface of the room.

Madam Pomfrey scurried to stand in front of him and made a shooing motion toward McGonagall. Turning to fully face Harry, she stared at him through narrowed eyes and pointed her wand at him. "Hold still, young man, or I'll stun you as well," she commanded, already beginning her series of diagnostics. Harry decided it was wisest to just keep still. He doubted if he had enough strength to move, unless it was a life or death situation. "Right, you're not an emergency. If they weren't here, you would be, but you'll keep for a few hours yet before you're at risk of dying."

Harry sat back with Remus' wrist in his own hand, the slow throb in the Lycan's veins calming him in some obscure way. The matron was all business as she prepared several bowls of ingredients and extracted a few potions from a locked cabinet by the doors. Her casual dismissal of the severity of his wounds was funny in a manner he would never be able to define, but he was content to wait with Remus until she had things under control, or at least to her satisfaction.

McGonagall kept regarding Harry with an expression that could have been carved from stone, but she relented when the mediwitch began working on the Headmaster. The graceful Transfiguration professor stood beside Pomfrey, calmly surveying every action taken on the man with whom she had worked for so many years.

When all of her potions, salves, and materials were prepped, Madam Pomfrey cancelled the charm on the remainder of the Headmaster's arm before rapidly casting new spells and dousing the protruding forearm with several potions. She was working quickly, but her immaculate robes looked like they would never be anything other than crimson hereafter. After nearly ten minutes of work on Dumbledore, she paused and cast another set of diagnostics across the old man's body.

Slumping with a great sigh of relief, Madam Pomfrey turned to survey the others in the room. She rapidly summoned several potions from her office and began administering them to both Cyril and Remus.

When Madam Pomfrey left the Headmaster's bedside, McGonagall apparently realized there was something under the bed and teased it out with her foot before she paled sufficiently to match the mediwitch. In one smooth motion, the Deputy Headmistress conjured a very comfortable chair and slumped into it, staring at the hand contained in the bubble of magic.

When Madam Pomfrey finally finished with Cyril and Remus, she poured out a final potion and handed it to Harry. "Drink this," she commanded abruptly, "and you'll be able to function for a while. You're about to collapse, even if you're too stubborn to realize it. You'll pay for taking this later, but I have to know what happened before I can proceed."

Harry looked at the goblet and then at Remus. "Err, Madam, is Remus... will he be okay?"

She merely raised her eyebrows at him in response. "Really, Mr. Potter, are you questioning my professional competence? I do know what I'm about, you know. Don't worry. He'll be fine by Monday afternoon. Now drink."

Harry looked into the goblet and back at the woman who was carefully watching him. Deciding there was no simple way to express the problem, he opted for the direct path. "Do you know what the date is, Madam, and what it means to Remus?"

The Mediwitch just surveyed him coolly. "I had been working here for a few years when he arrived at Hogwarts as a first year, Mr. Potter. I will continue to heal him until tonight, when I shall once again escort him to the Shrieking Shack. Now please, drink that energy potion."

Harry quaffed the fuming goblet as quickly as his stomach would permit. As he began to feel some life creep back into his body and the aches and pains recede slightly, Harry placed the empty goblet down on the stand beside Remus' bed, still finding that odd comfort in the contact with his old friend. He saw McGonagall had finally moved her gaze back onto him, and once again was looking at him expectantly.

Breaking the Transfiguration professor's gaze, Harry looked at the matron. "We were looking into some things when the Headmaster found something unexpected." Harry released Remus with a faint feeling of regret before limping over to the Headmaster's bed. Harry picked the bubble with the severed hand up and placed it on the foot of the bed, again being careful to note the lack of reaction from the ring contained within. In Harry's vision, it was a disgusting morass of dark colors, but he knew that the two women could only see the flesh underneath.

"This new ring on his hand... it, err... seemed to possess him. He started attacking us, at the same time as a band of Cynocephs came along." Harry slowly pushed the sphere around on the end of the bed, before picking it up and letting it settle on top of the small bedside table. "The ring and the Cynocephs were probably linked somehow. A bit of a debacle ensued, and here we are."

McGonagall looked ready to strangle Harry for his rather abbreviated version of what appeared to be momentous events, and actually rose to stalk towards him, but Madam Pomfrey held her hand up and took control. "What happened with the arm?" Her voice could easily have impressed Filch as a cleaning agent.

Harry merely pointed to the hilt of his katana and shrugged. "I had to separate the ring from him, and it was this or kill him. All other options were gone at that point. The ring is very, very Dark, and I was afraid to let its influence continue." Pausing to meet the fiery eyes of the Deputy Headmistress, Harry told her the rest quietly. "If I hadn't, he would have killed all of us."

The matron waved Harry's explanation away as though it were an annoying insect. "His mind is locked up in some manner I do not understand. His body, however, is literally quite broken."

She looked directly at Harry. "He appears to have suffered a massive blow to the back and has several broken ribs, six cracked vertebrae, a compound broken hip, and a fractured pelvis. His knees are both showing ripped cartilage. He is covered in heavy bruising as though a tree fell on him. Your quick thinking with that charm saved him from bleeding to death from the amputation. That was very good. I'll have to write that up, but he's also suffering from more than one stunning spell at close range and high power. And there is the distinct aura of very powerful Dark Magic over his entire body."

She paused to shake her head. "I can fix the body, Mr. Potter, but I cannot fix the mind. And I certainly cannot fix the mass of Dark Magic on him nor the fact that his own magic appears to have vanished."

McGonagall took two steps back, one hand covering her mouth, before she sat abruptly in the chair by Remus' bed. "Vanished?" she echoed quietly. The matron just nodded. "Permanently?"

Madam Pomfrey shook her head slowly. "Only time will tell."

Harry idly started playing with his wand. "No matter what spell I hit him with, it had no visible effect. I could only impede and injure him with physical objects." Harry slowly limped around the foot of all three beds. "It seemed like the ring just absorbed it all, leaving the Headmaster untouched. He was nearly impossible to fight given how it started. Based on the damage, though, it sounds like the ring just kept him on his feet, that the effect from Banishing spells or the like went into the body rather than acting upon the body."

Madam Pomfrey held up her hands. "What actually happened to his body does not matter, Mr. Potter. I cannot treat him until I know how his magical core will respond. I need Professor Snape to come up here and help me care for him, but I am also under strict orders from the Headmaster not to allow Severus to access anything related to or containing Dark Magic."

Professor McGonagall stood up and faced the matron. "Given the situation, Poppy, I am now in charge, and I will bring Severus here. The Headmaster's concerns must take a back seat to the situation." As she turned to leave, however, Harry cleared his throat loudly.

"Um," he started with an apologetic look, "I'm sorry but I can't let you do that. The reason Snape is under suspicion has to do with what happened today. If he were to know anything about it, I don't want to think about what would happen by tomorrow." At the woman's incredulous look, Harry held up one pleading hand. "It should be obvious I'm not telling you everything. With the little I have said, Snape could infer the rest, and you have no idea just how dangerous that is."

Looking back at the matron, Harry hoped he could work out an alternate solution quickly. "First, as I understand it, you want an expert in Dark Magic to help you assess and hopefully heal the Headmaster, right?" Madam Pomfrey nodded sharply.

Harry scratched at the back of his head for a moment before realising he was making the lump on his head hurt worse. "Right, I know a real expert, someone who will definitely know more than Snape ever could. Before I can go and get him, though, you need to wake Cyril up and let him run to the Aurors. We left a ... problem or two behind. And, well, I need his approval to fetch the person I'm thinking of."

After a quick exchange of glowers and stares between the two women that left Harry positive he would never understand a single female, the matron revived Cyril. Harry's Mentor sat up in a rush before grabbing his sides. "Oh, that's a bit uncomfortable." Cyril rubbed absently at his leg and skull while he looked around. "As I recall, Harry, I told you to leave me outside."

Harry shrugged.

Cyril frowned briefly. "We shall speak of this later, Harry. Poppy, will you release me, or must I fight my way out of here?"

Harry was surprised when the woman shook her finger in Cyril's face. "Cyril, you're in no condition to go anywhere. If I let you out of your bed to speak to the Aurors through the Floo, will you spend the night quietly? Or do I need to stun you again?"

Harry smirked before extracting Cyril's wand from the remnants of his clothes. Silently, Harry handed the wand to Madam Pomfrey, who promptly rewarded Harry with a tight smile.

"Very well, Poppy. If I may use your Floo and satisfactorily resolve our issues, I will remain. What of the others?"

McGonagall and Pomfrey both turned to look at Harry, causing him to sigh and close his eyes in concentration. The energy potion was helping, but he knew just how low his core was, and this was likely to make his headache flare to a magnitude that he would truly enjoy.

Remus will be here until Monday at least/, Harry sent through Legilimency. /She knows of his condition and has made arrangements. You are likely to be here just as long. She has said I am in no imminent danger of dying as long as I get some attention later. The Headmaster is... in great danger. We must discuss the ring later, but for now, they need an expert in Dark Magic. They want to bring Snape up here.

Cyril rubbed his temples with his fingertips, grunting slightly when Harry finished. Apparently the mental conversation was as painful for his Mentor as it was for Harry in their current respective conditions.

"You have a better suggestion?" Cyril asked after a moment. Harry ignored the startled look from the matron and Professor McGonagall.

Harry replied verbally to spare both of their skulls any more echoes. "Yes. I know someone. It requires violating the Wards of Exclusion."

"Not Edgar, then?" Cyril appeared to be faintly surprised.

Harry glanced briefly at the two women before turning back to Cyril. Edgar has the knowledge, but is less than a Squib. They need someone that can work real magic.

Cyril nodded slowly while gesturing for Harry to stop talking. "Your secrets are too loud, Harry. Bring whom you must. I'll take the responsibility."

Madam Pomfrey clucked without apparent thought. "Mr. Potter," she said with some hint of exasperation, "if it will help the Headmaster, you may go, but bear in mind, you too need a lot of work. I would not like to think what will happen to you if you're not back within the hour."

Harry nodded and looked at McGonagall. The woman was regarding Harry with a strange expression, and after a moment, he broke the silence. "Will you let me out?" The tall woman blinked twice before turning away from Harry and facing the doors to the Hospital Wing. Before she could use her wand, however, Harry reminded her of the problem. "No one except those of us already here should come in, Professor. Especially not Snape or Umbridge."

With one cool glance, she flicked her wand twice, and the sounds of yelling in the hallway suddenly entered the room. " -summon the Aurors!" Harry immediately recognized the loathsome voice of Umbridge and surmised that the hallway must be quite the scene.

With a sigh, Harry picked up his broom and looked back at McGonagall while Umbridge started up again. "Open this door! I am the Senior Undersecretary-"

"Would you mind, Professor?" Harry asked, jerking his thumb toward the doors. The Deputy Headmistress' nostrils flared as her lips compressed, and she stalked to the door before throwing it violently open.

"Silence!" She commanded in a voice that Harry was sure carried onto the Quidditch pitch. "I am in charge here, and I command you to leave the area Dolores! You too, Severus! Return to your normal duties, and do not return here unless you personally require life-threatening emergency care!"

"Minerva, surely my potions are needed to-"

"The Minister must know what is going-"

Without bothering to repeat herself, the Deputy Headmistress immediately cast two spells that left the corridor perfectly silent, much to Harry's private amusement. He was unable to see around her as she was keeping the door well blocked, but he was laughing to himself as she scolded the others. "Enough! While you are members of the staff at this school, you will follow my instructions! I have ordered you to leave! If you remain here one minute longer, you will cease to be employed here and will be seeking employment elsewhere! Is this absolutely clear?"

After a moment, Harry heard shuffling feet, and McGonagall spoke again. Her voice was still cool, but the faint air of hostility was no longer present. "And what are the rest of you here for?"

"Er, we, uh, wanted to see if, er, Harry was... er, okay?" Harry was surprised to hear Neville, of all people, talking to the professor.

"I see. And the rest of you?" After a few murmurs, the stern woman resumed speaking. "It's generous of you all to stop by, but now is not the time. Please return to your common room or other activities. Mr. Potter will be staying here for the evening, but I do not believe he's presently prepared to receive any visitors."

After another moment, McGonagall returned to the room and held the doors shut. After taking a deep breath, she flashed a thin smile at Harry. "I trust that was sufficient, Mr. Potter?" Harry smiled back, feeling a good bit of admiration for the woman. "You will, of course, keep these events to yourself. I in turn shall see to it that we remain undisturbed. After Poppy helps Cyril place his calls, I shall seal the Floo as well."

As Harry reached past her and opened the door, she leaned close to him and spoke quietly in his ear. "Be quick, please, Mr. Potter. We all need the Headmaster far more than you might appreciate. I would not enjoy feeding Hagrid's pets with your remains should you take too long." With a quick grin, Harry winked at the woman before leaving. He paused long enough to hear McGonagall lock the door behind him before he hopped on his broom and took off down the hall.

Spotting a familiar head or three slowly bobbing down the stairs toward the entrance hall, Harry guided his broom to catch up to them rather than plummet in a dive straight down and then out the doors. "Neville!" he called softly as he pulled up behind the gentle soul and stepped off the broom.

Neville, Hermione, and Ginny all whipped around to stare at Harry. Ginny was clearly still suffering from the after-effects of her little exercise earlier, almost falling down as her knees buckled briefly. Harry waved his hand at them for silence before continuing. "Not now with the questions. I need paper and something to write with. Quickly, please."

Harry ignored the close scrutiny of Ginny and Neville and focused on Hermione who immediately put her bag on the floor and rummaged for a moment. Wordlessly she handed a quill and parchment over to Harry, her eyes going wide as she took in his appearance. Ignoring their looks, Harry turned Neville around and scribbled a hasty note across the parchment, using the stocky boy's back as a convenient surface.

Padfoot -

I borrowed Moony for a bit of work with the Librarian. Things got a bit sticky, like when you got to stretch your legs again. Moony needs you tonight in Prongs' old place by the Library. Tell Eagle we're okay. The Librarian isn't, but I'm trying to straighten that out before it becomes a lights-out proposition for both of us. Wait for me in the morning.


When Harry stopped writing, he saw Ginny blatantly looking at the note in his hand with her eyes narrowed and her hand unconsciously creeping toward her wand. Harry was confident she had read the entire note. Not feeling like dealing with the girl or her sudden recollections, Harry flashed Hermione a smile of thanks while tossing her the quill back. Before any of them could react, Harry grabbed his broom and dropped over the edge of the staircase in a steep dive.

"Potter!" Harry chuckled to himself as Ginny yelled after him.

Stuffing the parchment through a hole that was far too easy to find in his dragon hide armour, he pulled open the entrance doors while continuing to ignore the redhead on the stairs calling after him.

As soon as he was outside the Hogwarts gates, he dropped off the broom and laid it across his shoulder. Taking a moment to catch his breath, he was unsurprised when he felt a few faint twitches and heat flashes in his legs. The day had already been quite long and tiring, and he had yet to have dinner. That his body was beginning to fail was inevitable. With a quiet command, Harry portkeyed to the edge of his home near Brighton.

Looking around, Harry was happy it was dry and quiet behind the cottage. Closing his eyes, Harry let his mind relax for a moment before looking toward the window of his bedroom. "Hedwig," he called in a whisper. Within moments, the snowy white owl was flying to him from a tree by the house. When she approached, he held the broom handle out for her to land on.

As Hedwig settled with a look of irritation on the handle, Harry gave her a lopsided smile. "Sorry, girl, but if you put your claws into me right now, I'm pretty sure I'd keel right over. Take this to Padfoot, will you?" With a gentle hoot and a faint rubbing of her head against his cheek, she accepted the somewhat crumpled parchment in her beak and flew back to the kitchen window. As she started tapping on the glass, Harry covered his watch again and commanded it to take him elsewhere.

By the time Harry and his guest had returned to the gates of Hogwarts, the rain was finally easing up and was now reduced to a soft drizzle. His companion towered over him, nearly seven feet tall, and wore a raven outfit of gloves, long sleeved shirt, pants, and boots. The ankle-length trench coat was as black as everything else, including his aura, the hood shrouding the entire face in shadows. Harry was amused by what he was about to do, but the various injuries he had received earlier were already starting to act up. He just wanted today to end.

Pushing the gates open, Harry reached one hand out and firmly placed it on his companion's neck, ensuring firm skin contact. It was a bit of a stretch given that Harry was a few inches shy of six feet, but it was manageable. Harry slowly reached into himself and drew out what little energy he had left in his core to alter the aura of his companion until it was no longer a flat black. The two slowly walked through the gates.

While his companion showed no reaction, Harry was wincing from the high pitched whine the wards were radiating. Apparently the protections were better than he thought they were. Pushing a little harder on what little was left of his magic, Harry managed to bring the noise level down to a soft buzzing until they fully crossed the threshold onto the grounds.

Releasing his companion with a sigh, Harry closed the gates before remounting his broom. He glided alongside his guest, in order to keep up with each massive stride that brought them to the entrance of the castle in no time at all. "You're sure this is acceptable?" the voice was deep and quiet, without a trace of accent.

"Cyril said I could bring whomever I wanted." The drizzling rain was adding to Harry's already run down state, leaving him with a keen awareness of how unpleasant English weather could be if you were in less than good health.

The behemoth let out a rumble deep in his chest which sounded suspiciously like a chuckle. He pushed open the entrance doors and moved unerringly toward the staircase that would take them to the Hospital Wing. The staircase was in mid-move away from the necessary connection they needed, but as soon as the man's foot touched the bottom step it immediately swung back to where it came from.

It was amusing to Harry just how quickly they arrived outside the infirmary doors. Knocking sharply, Harry called out softly, "I'm baaaack."

The door opened swiftly, revealing a frowning Professor McGonagall. When she stepped back, Harry and his guest entered quietly. The Deputy Headmistress promptly cast Imperturbable charms about the room again.

Harry noticed Remus' bed was empty, and when he looked at Madam Pomfrey questioningly, she told him his old friend was resting in a safe place. Knowing what she was really saying, Harry slumped down into a seat, looking back at the two women and Cyril. "This is an associate of mine, a student of the Da'ath, who chooses to go by the present name of Crowley."

"Really," Crowley corrected quietly, "a student of the Da'ath Smowl."

The three elders in the room froze. Cyril looked sharply to Harry before turning back to Crowley. "Smowl, you said?"

Crowley slowly pulled his hood off his head, revealing the face of an aged goblin. A freakishly tall, yet still quite old, goblin. "Indeed." As the goblin moved to the foot of the Headmaster's bed, he reached out one cautious hand to touch the amputated arm just above the bandages.

Before anyone could blink, a bright flash of flames erupted in the centre of the room, and Fawkes screamed a cry of defiance. He headed directly for Crowley who reflexively ducked and dived under the bed. Harry jumped up and yelled to get the phoenix's attention. "Fawkes! No! He's here to help!"

Ignoring Harry, the phoenix flew lower to attack Crowley, flames bursting across its body as it screamed its hatred of the goblin. Harry limped as quickly as his body would allow him, trying to get near the Headmaster's bed, while Crowley was rapidly sliding on the floor to get away from the enraged bird.

Crowley cleared the underside of the bed, then jumped behind Harry and held on as though he was a human shield. Harry stopped moving and let out a faint gasp of pain as Crowley's iron grip exacerbated his shoulder injuries.

"Fawkes!" Harry shouted as the phoenix came up and prepared to attack again. "Let me explain! Dumbledore is hurt! He's under the control of Dark Magic!" Both Harry and Crowley had to duck and twist to avoid the flaming form of the Headmaster's familiar. "Crowley is here to break the curse! He's helped me before! It will be all right!"

Fawkes stopped attacking them but continued to fly about the ceiling in agitation with a warbling cry that made Harry shiver. Crowley held up both hands and slowly backed away from the Headmaster's bed. When Crowley was against the wall by the doors, Fawkes stopped flaming and screaming and flew down to land by Dumbledore's head, hunching protectively over his master.

"Fawkes, Crowley will stay over there, all right. Just listen for a moment, will you?" The phoenix kept one eye on Crowley and one eye on Harry, feathers ruffled and talons clenching and unclenching the railing. "Riddle left a trap. It got Dumbledore. He's going to die if we don't break the curse. We can't trust Snape right now, so I had to get someone who would know how to help. Crowley is Da'ath Smowl, but he's not going to hurt anyone!"

The highly intelligent magical sentient creature was clearly not convinced. Harry pointed to the bedside table, where the bubble of magic containing the amputated hand rested. "The trap ring is there, Fawkes. Just look at it." The phoenix shifted its body to glance at the bubble but kept one eye fixed determinedly on Crowley.

After a long moment, the phoenix let out a mournful cry and sang a short song of sorrow. Dumbledore showed no reaction, but it made Harry feel as though this was the last night that the world would ever have. Cyril, McGonagall, and Madam Pomfrey all appeared to be quite shaken both by the sudden attack and by the song. Crowley had tears running down his face as he gazed at the phoenix.

Harry slowly walked over to the suddenly silent creature. "We'll go slow, Fawkes, and tell you everything before we do anything. Will you let us help?" Fawkes swiveled both eyes on Harry. Without thinking about it, Harry leaned out and stroked Fawkes the way Hedwig liked attention, being careful to scratch in all the right places.

Taking the calming of the bird as tacit permission, Madam Pomfrey walked over and led Crowley back to the side of the Headmaster. Fawkes shifted a bit and ruffled feathers but did not attack or cry out. Crowley spent some time running his hands in the air just above the Headmaster, gradually covering every part of his body.

Turning, he approached the encased hand and ring quietly. After looking at it from several angles, he slowly shook his head. "This is unfortunate, Harry. I see the 'owth Qayin. It was not done well, and the control is severed. This traps the mind of Albus Dumbledore."

Madam Pomfrey summoned several old texts from her office, placing them on a rapidly conjured table, while asking hesitantly of Crowley, "Qayin? Is there a cure? I haven't heard of it." She began muttering to herself, half-ignoring the goblin beside her, as she paged through her tomes of magical remedies and fired off questions faster than he could ever answer.

Finally the goblin placed one massive hand across the tome she was consulting.

"There is not a cure, Madam, but there is a way to release his mind, and he should recover. I will prepare it. Perhaps you should treat young Harry for his wounds in the meantime? I will explain what I am doing as I go." Crowley looked hesitantly at the phoenix. "I shall do nothing without your permission, Flereous Yamin." Fawkes responded by fluffing his feathers and crest but otherwise remained silent.

As Madam Pomfrey pushed Harry into the bed that Remus had occupied, she kept up a stream of anxious muttering as she dosed him with potions and spells to begin repairing his injuries. The longer she worked, the more Harry realized he had been in quite a bit of pain. Crowley kept his concentration strictly on the two potions he was preparing. One would be used to bathe the wound and would be spread over the body to remove any residue of the curse. The other potion, which needed to be consumed, would restore the mind's control. If the Headmaster's will was strong enough, he would awaken after the ring was destroyed.

Harry struggled to remain conscious but found himself drifting off as the myriad potions Madam Pomfrey was pouring into him began to work their magic. In his dreams, which were occasionally interrupted by flashes of pain, he relived the attack outside the Headmaster's office, the fight at the Gaunt cottage, and the graveyard in Little Hangleton. He could see the gravestones with the large manor house just up the hill. The Muggle village was nestled in the valley below. For some reason, the entire scene was tickling the back of his brain during his dream, but he was unable to understand what it was saying.

The bright flash of light and cry from Fawkes woke Harry. The Headmaster had a faint bit of colour back but was swathed in sufficient bandages to make a Royal Egyptian mummy jealous. Crowley and Cyril were kneeling in the centre of the floor around what was left of Dumbledore's hand. The amputated hand and arm had become a black, withered lump of desiccated flesh. The ring fell off the finger when Crowley gently picked up the hand, and the glittering stone inset to the ring shattered as it made contact with the floor of the Hospital Wing.

"You destroyed the Horcrux, then?" Harry asked quietly.

Professor McGonagall looked up from her horrified contemplation of the ring. "Horcrux?" she asked sharply.

Cursing his stupidity, Harry turned to look at Cyril. His Mentor was scrutinizing the professor speculatively, and he had brought out his wand. Madam Pomfrey came bustling out of her office. "What's all this noise? Mr. Potter and the Headmaster need their rest! Cyril, you should be resting as well!"

Cyril absently waved the woman off. "Yes, yes, Poppy, in a moment. Minerva, I will require an Unbreakable Vow from you to assure me that you will keep this secret, or else I shall have no choice but to Obliviate you."

The matron stopped and watched as McGonagall slowly made the vow to keep the secrets she had learned today, to discuss them only with the people already privy to them, unless released to speak of events by either Cyril or Albus.

After accepting the vow, Cyril flicked his wand several times and cleaned up the mess from the floor. Scooping up the remainder of the ring, he slid it into a pocket. Crowley placed the desiccated hand and forearm into a bowl before filling the bowl with acid and watching everything dissolve. Madam Pomfrey offered Crowley a bed for the night, but he politely declined and said he must return to his family.

"Very well," Cyril cut into the brewing argument over whether the goblin should stay or not. "Harry, please return Crowley to his home. You and I still need to talk, so I shall wait for your return."

Grunting a bit, Harry got up and grabbed his broom, which was leaning against the small table by his bed. Harry could feel the room spinning ever so slightly, a sure sign the powerful pain potions were making him light headed. Crowley briefly nodded to Cyril, McGonagall, and Madam Pomfrey. Silently, the large goblin turned and walked through the doors, as Harry followed back into the dark corridors of the castle. Crowley covered himself again with his hood as he walked along.

"You did not tell me there was a phoenix here," he offered quietly.

Harry shot a wry smile at Crowley, but the goblin did not return it. "It wasn't at the top of my list of things to remember." Pausing for a long moment, Harry considered on how much worse the situation could have been. "I'm sorry for that. Really, though, most people know Dumbledore has a phoenix familiar. I suppose I'm not used to thinking of it as noteworthy."

Crowley remained silent as they left the castle and moved back toward the gates. Harry again carefully manipulated the aura around Crowley before they stepped through the wards. Harry was fairly certain that no one else knew how to bypass Wards of Exclusion.

Harry had stumbled across the secret by accident and had not yet shared the method with Remus. It was one of the few levers he had left in his arsenal to browbeat Remus into telling him something his old friend would rather not. Over the years, Harry and Remus had ferreted out most of each other's secrets, but it was good to always have an ace up the sleeve for the unexpected situation or two.

Crowley stood outside the gates and stared at the castle. "It was good to see it again, Harry. I thank you for the opportunity."

Harry smiled faintly. "I thank you for helping us."

With a brief wave, Crowley silently disappeared.

As Harry flew back inside Hogwarts, he caught the familiar sight of red hair slinking inside the shadowy Great Hall. Dropping off his broom and standing in the hollow behind one of the doors to the hall, he watched quietly as Ginny, Fred, and George slowly moved around the room, casting various spells as they did so.

When they appeared to be finished, Fred and George disappeared into the antechamber behind the Staff Table whereas Ginny headed for the main doors. As soon as she was abreast of Harry, he coughed slightly. Her wand was aimed at his face before he realised she had moved at all. Combined with the effects of the potions, it left him feeling slightly breathless.

Smirking slightly, he looked at her carefully. "Are you aware that you always put your hair in a plait before planning or working mischief?"

Ginny's expression was completely baffled. "What?"

Harry shrugged before standing up. "Breakfast will be interesting, I gather." He paused to survey the room, noting the faint lights radiating from dormant spells.

When Harry turned back to her, he found Ginny staring at him interestedly. Harry looked down and noticed that he was in hospital pajamas. Apparently Madam Pomfrey had changed his clothes when he had dozed off from the matron's excellent potions. "It's a new fashion trend," he joked.

"I hope it's not catching," she retorted, looking into his eyes. "You have something of mine," Ginny said quietly. "Where's my map?"

Harry leaned over to whisper conspiratorially, "It's not your map."

"Fred and George found it and later gave it to me. It's mine," she insisted.

"Oh?" Harry looked her slowly up and down. "Prove it. Tell me who the creators really were."

Ginny flushed darkly and trained her wand on him again. "I can just stun you and take it back."

Harry laughed at her audacity. "You do that. It's in my trunk. In my room. You know where my room is? It's behind the..." Harry's eyes went wide. "Bugger! That old coot is just too sly! Ha!"

Laughing at the situation, Harry looked back at a confused Ginny. "It's in my trunk. If you can get it, you can have it back." Winking at her, Harry casually grabbed his broom. "But if you can't get it, and you're really nice to me, I might get the makers to make another one." Before she could react, Harry took off for the Hospital Wing, enjoying the slightly relaxing and tipsy feeling of whatever pain potions Madam Pomfrey had him on.

The lights were quite low in the Hospital Wing when he arrived. The Headmaster still slumbered on, with no apparent change in his condition. Fawkes was sleeping with his head tucked under a wing, nestled on the pillow the old man was using. Cyril watched Harry as he came to stand at the foot of his Mentor's bed.

"What did the Aurors do, sir?" Harry finally asked into the silence as he sat in the chair beside Cyril.

Cyril looked contemplative for a long moment. "They were puzzled as they could find no bodies. It was strange that while they found clear evidence of our battle and of the Cynocephs' presence... There were no bodies. And I know we killed many of them. They are supposed to be looking into the situation."

Cyril laid back and stretched languorously. "That was quick thinking, lad. While I hope you don't have to do something like that again, your instincts were right this time." Harry watched as Cyril shook his head. "Albus will thank you later, but this is going to be hard for him to overcome."

Harry rose at Cyril's vague gesture to do so. "Off to bed with you, Harry. It seems that tomorrow will be another long day, and we still have to go to Geneva. That is, if we can escape young Poppy's ministrations. I must think on our situation and today's events before we talk more."

After they bid each other a quiet good night, Harry found himself walking laboriously to his bed. His aches and pains would probably keep him stiff for a few days, but Harry had definitely been through worse.

Apparently Cyril had not been completely idle while Harry was out and about. That mirror that was slowly driving him round the bend was standing tall beside the infirmary bed, waiting for Harry's nightly exercise in reflection. Deciding to get it over with before crawling into his bed for the night, Harry slinked over to slouch in front of the mirror and tried vainly to study his reflection properly.

It was a struggle at first. All he could see was the abundant damage he had accrued during the day peeking out around the scratchy pajamas. He would definitely need to order some replacement body armour, and he would be wearing his backup set in the interim until some replacements could be obtained. Harry would also be discarding the remains of the clothing he had set out in today.

Finally looking away from the signs of damage still remaining, Harry struggled to meet his own gaze.

No matter how he concentrated, his eyes kept drifting back to his hands.

Tonight was clearly a bad time for reflections.


As always, 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. Additional help for brit-picking is by Reg and Treecat, and a final readability check is by Sovran. Thanks to all.

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