Disclaimer - As always, no ownership of the Harry Potter universe. They belong to someone else and I just play with them.
Acknowledgements- This was a very difficult chapter to write and rewrite as was the case. The members of Alpha Fight Club really helped out on this one. Kokopelli's excellent beta work is noteworthy as well. He overcame computer issues as well as an idiot author sending him the wrong version of this chapter.
Chapter 37 -Hidden Agendas, Open Hostility
Monday September 23rd, 1996
The Horror at Hogwarts
When I first heard the accounts, I thought to myself that it must be a horrible joke. You, my faithful readers, know as well as I that it was no joke - as reported in the Monday edition of the Daily Prophet, the Hogwarts Infirmary was acharnel house. Inside, our worst fears realized as thirteen schoolchildren - a sampling of the next generation that had been counting on us, had been cut down even before the prime of their lives had started. As of this writing, two additional young ones hover closely at Death's door, too injured to be moved, with healers being brought from St. Mungo's in aheroic effort to cheat the Grim Reaper out of a portion of his ill-gotten booty.
Owls bearing the ghastly news began to arrive at households across the land by lunchtime. The war had come home to our children, the ones least capable of defending themselves. How could this happen? Where does the responsibility lie? Who will ensure that this does not occur again? Filled with moral outrage, I have set out to answer these questions.
The 'Butcher of Hogwarts' was not the Dark Lord, but rather a fellow student named Neville Longbottom, son of the missing former Auror, Frank Longbottom, who was recently kidnapped along with his wife from the long term spell damage ward at St. Mungo's by forces opposing the Scrimgeour administration. For all intents and purpose, Neville was orphaned in the earlier attacks this summer and was actually commended for killing one of the Death Eaters who had massacred his family on that terrible night.
The saying 'you reap what you sow' has never been more true. For in destroying his family, but leaving him alive, the Dark Lord himself must bear part of the blame in creating the monster who, if the current rumors are to be believed, is also responsible for the other nine deaths that have occurred under the age addled eyes of Albus Dumbledore this year.
I have often in my columns referred to him as 'the ageless blunder', and have called for his sacking on at least four different occasions in the past. I should feel smug knowing that I was correct in my assessment that he is a threat to the welfare of the students he claims to cherish above all other things, but I am not. Instead, I am empty and hollow - chilled by the cries of the twenty wounded students, and further subdued by those who will never cry again.
Suffice to say that if the Dark Lord helped to create this savage creature devoid of morals, it was the so-called watchful eyes of Albus Dumbledore that allowed the beast to roam the halls and mingle amongst our children. These two legends play a game of chess with our lives, so I wonder how surprised they were when one of the pawns developed plans of their own.
Was it not Dumbledore who hired the Vampire known as Coedus or Darius Longbottom? This is the second time just the last three years that the white bearded fool had employed a Dark Creature as a teacher! His power may indeed rival Merlin's, but his judgment rivals the common village idiot!
How much influence was the Vampire allowed to have over his descendant is a matter for conjecture? It fled Hogwarts, shortly before the massacre with rumors of Harry Potter in hot pursuit. The world may never know as Minister Scrimgeour, from his ad-hoc office at Auror Headquarters issued a 'terminate on sight'directive concerning the Vampire Coedus.
The environment surrounding the directive does not fill me with hope. Our Minister was driven from his seat of power by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named at the very same time the first of many children lay dying at the hands of the thrice-cursed Longbottom boy. Despite all the press releases surrounding the numerous arrests and seizures of property, it would certainly appear that the war isn't going nearly as well as the wandthumpers on the wireless programs would have us believe.
For every report of a group of foreign fighters and auction of seized property, there are rumors of Dark Creature movements and widespread disappearances. Dare Iask if anyone really believes that Cornelius Fudge is still alive and hiding in exile? No one ever found his body...
From my corner office here at the Daily Prophet, I can look out the window and see the empty streets of Diagon Alley. I've been firsthand to look upon the damaged hulk of our seat of government as the witches and wizards of Britain hunker down and wonder if their homes are warded as well as they could be. I cannot be certain anymore who is 'winning', but I know deep in my heart that we are all losing.
Rita handed the parchment with tomorrow's lead story to her new 'editor' from the hastily formed Ministry of Public Information, Edgar Rhys-Smyth - every bit as pretentious as his hyphenated last name indicated. The wizard looked at the writing in front of him and pondered for a moment before taking a quill out and scratching through various words and lines.
He stopped after a third of the story had been 'sanitized' for release. "I'll be honest with you, Miss Skeeter, it'll be easier for you to just rewrite it. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named needs to be changed to He-Who-Must-Be-Defeated. Dark Lord is no longer authorized verbiage, you can say Dark Enemy or Dark Forces, but Lord implies that he has a noble standing and in a sense it legitimizes him. The whole part about it being unclear who is winning needs to go. We're not here to incite panic and this kind of negativity isn't helping anyone. You should mention early on the Minister's heroic escape from the Enemy's ambush. It is important for the public to understand that the Ministry will be rebuilt stronger than before and you need to emphasize the fact that had the Wizengamot approved the Minister's 'Defense of the Isles Act,' that the War could be better prosecuted in a more orderly fashion."
Rita stared incredulously at the man, "I figured this was coming! You've been trying to slap a muzzle on me for a decade now. You must be lapping this stuff up, Edgar."
The Ministry official, one of Scrimgeour's speech writers, shook his head. "I'm afraid you are mistaken, Ms. Skeeter, I am just doing my job like the 'efficient little Ministry Drone' you've delighted in calling me for so long." He paused and cleared his throat, "The Dumbledore stuff is fine. In fact, you can even take it up another notch or two if you so desire."
"So, you're really going through with this," she replied. "You won't get away with silencing the press."
"The State of Emergency Declaration passed by the latest session of the Wizengamot does give the Minister of Magic the authority to act in the best interest of the people of England - effectively for the next six weeks martial law has been declared. The owner of the Prophet stands to gain a good deal. His circulation goes up here and abroad he can act with righteous indignation and his circulation goes up everywhere. You of all people know how scandal sells. Listen Rita, this isn't a negotiation. It's the way it's going to be. You can be a part of the team...or not, the choice is yours. We can put your column on hiatus for a few weeks, if you don't really feel like writing right now. Let me just say that the administration will look more favorably on the reporters who cooperated with us during the State of Emergency."
"Is that a threat?"
The man, whom she had skewered on several occasions, grinned wolfishly at her, "No, my dear. I'm merely explaining the new reality, Rita. Right now there's a tide of support for the Minister. The Defense of the Isles Act /will/be passed soon and not even a so-called 'Dark Lord' can stand against an army. When we win, we're going to look out for the people who helped us get there. You're the biggest name at this paper and we'd love to have you onboard with our team, but we're not going to strong arm you or anything. It's really you're choice."
"Merlin himself will return before I let you tell me what I can or cannot write!"
"I'm really sorry to hear that from you Miss Skeeter. As I recall, you're only forty-three, and the current phrasing of the mobilization section talks about able-bodied Wizards and Witches under the age of forty-five and you know that any exemptions need to be approved by the Ministry. You don't have any kids to take care of and if the paper were to let you go, you wouldn't even have that to fall back on and your registered talents as an insect Animagus are highly coveted. When you think about it, that's a bit of a sticky situation to be in, if you know what I mean? It's really not a good idea to be unemployed right about now. You can either fly with the wind or against the wind. Tell you what, you go take the rest of the day off and think about your role here. For tomorrow's issue, we'll just run aheartfelt apology and tell your fans that you are far too distraught to piece together a proper article. I just don't want to see you make a rash decision that you'll up regretting later..."
Rita walked away from the smiling man knowing that she was in a no-win situation, but like everything other challenge life had thrown at her, she'd find a way to come out on top - she always had before. The winds of change shift all the time and without warning.
Draco Malfoy limped along the halls of Hogwarts, for the first time in the three days since the attack - headed for a triumphant return to the Slytherin common room. Every step was a painful reminder of the still-healing flesh on the backs of his legs. It was ironic that he used to mock all the younger years that were forever crowding the hallways making noise and carrying on.
The passageways of Hogwarts were deathly silent in the wake of the 'Longbottom Massacre.' Students were not allowed to roam the halls without an adult escort. Meals were being served in the common rooms. Dumbledore had promised harsh penalties for the next person to draw their wand in anger. After all these years of posturing about no wandwork in the hallways, they were actually going to enforce it.
Despite it all, Draco was back on top. He had stopped the killer. After all this time, he actually was a hero! Even a few of the Ravenclaws had congratulated him - true they were the close friends of the one Ravenclaw student Longbottom had killed, but even so.
Waking up in the infirmary, he heard Pansy of all people arguing with McGonagall and Vector. It seems that the necklace Longbottom had given her was a bride tether and according to the laws that were still in effect, but rarely enforced, Pansy was claiming to be the Matriarch of the Longbottom line. She said that the use of that artifact, the fact that Pansy was of age and the relationship had been consummated was evidence of a legitimate betrothal, and as such, she was insisting that she be transported to the next Wizengamot meeting to claim the two votes held by the Longbottom family and a follow-on trip to Gringotts for a full accounting of her new holdings.
He was actually impressed by the bint! It might be months before she could walk on her own again and a full year until she was fully recovered, but it looks like Parkinson's ship had finally arrived, even if its pier was nothing more than asmelly broom cupboard. Still it was nice to know he was free of her. She had given him cow eyes in the Infirmary, but there was no way he was taking her back - not now.
Draco had other options and had earned cheers of his own for his actions that night. With the majority of the house in the hospital wing, Dumbledore had brought the rest of the Slytherins in to talk to them as a whole. He let the old fool prattle on about the great loss, the hopes for a speedy recovery by all, and the efforts to contact parents and family members who were unable to come to the castle because of certain legal problems. When Dumbledore finished, Draco's prefect badge landed at the Headmaster's feet.
"Your words are meaningless - like this badge! I, for one, do not suffer fools and I will not wear your symbol anymore. What good are your apologies to the bodies in the storage room? Why should we believe that you will keep us safe in this school? People in my father's generation always spoke of you as alegend, but you're nothing but a faded has been! Where is your pet bird? Why does it not come here to cry healing tears for us? Are we Slytherins not good enough for you? I heard that a week ago it was singing a command performance for Potter!"
There were cheers of agreement as Draco finished his rant. The wizard he insulted retrieved the badge and stared at it before answering. "Regrettably, Fawkes has just had his burning day. It will be another three days before he can be asked to perform any tasks. Rest assured that I will indeed bring him into the ward as soon as his powers can be of any use. I am deeply saddened that you have chosen to resign from your position. I would ask that you take time and reconsider this and we can discuss this at a later date-- in private."
The Head Girl spoke up as well, waving a piece of parchment, "I have something to say as well, Professor. I will stay on as Head Girl, but only at the behest of my father. You have lost any and all respect that I had for you. I've heard that the necklace Longbottom used was either given to him by Potter or stolen from Potter's private quarters depending on who is telling the tale. Whichever story is to be believed does not matter! What matters is why the bloody hell Potter was able to bring such an artifact into Hogwarts in the first place? What other threats to our safety are you allowing your'chosen one' to harbor in his private sanctuary? Everyone is claiming that Longbottom was twisted into a pawn by the Vampire who was conveniently driven out of the castle by Potter."
She paused for emphasis stopping at one of the badly injured third years and looked down in pity, "Maybe Longbottom really was Potter's pawn and Potter is even now covering his tracks. After all, Parkinson said that Longbottom admitted to the dead Weasley girl that Potter was in on it. Parkinson will even verify it under truth serum! Will Potter submit to truth serum, or will you protect him, as you always have? I'd love to ask him if he has ever personally used that necklace on anyone, or if he has ever performed any other Dark Rituals? I demand to be present when you personally search his quarters and remove his cache of Dark Artifacts and illegal tomes. Just this morning, in my capacity as Head Girl, I asked the leader of the House Elves to tell me the names of the books on Mr. and Mrs. Potter's private book shelves. Would you care for me to read the list aloud? A good number of them are on the Ministry's banned and restricted list and I do believe that possession of two of the tomes in and of itself constitutes acriminal offense. I have already sent this list to my father, so you'll likely be hearing about it at the next Wizengamot session as well."
Draco smiled recalling the angry shouts of the students that pretty much drove the old man out of the ward as the Nurse attempted to restore order. His wistful smile also included the wink and the ruthless smile on the Head Girl's face when they locked eyes.
"It is good to see you smiling, my son."
He regarded his'escort', "I do not require conversation, merely an escort to the common room."
"Step into this room, Draco." The gentle tone of his mother vanished as she gestured towards adoor in front of him.
"I don't believe I will. Unless things were different when you were a student, that door doesn't lead to the dungeon and I do not need to listen to any more of your worthless prattle." He wondered if his haughty tone would remind her of his father.
Narcissa responded to his cold glare by grabbing his head and using it as a door knocker. She then turned the handle and thrust him in the room. "I was not asking, in the room, now!"
He stumbled into the room and spun trying to draw his wand only to find hers leveled at his chest already. "Don't even think about it, Draco. I brought you into this world, and I can damn well take you out of it. If I wanted to harm you, you'd have more than a thump to your thick head right now. I spent the entire morning preparing this room so we can talk without anyone hearing. My privacy wards are among the best in all the land. We can speak freely here."
"Like I have anything to say to a blood traitor, even one that I used to call my mother."
"Fine, I'll talk, you listen and you better damn well listen hard, boy. I'm trying to make certain we both live through this. I'll make myself useful to the so-called 'light' side and you keep doing what you've been doing. When the time comes both of us can call in our markers to spare the other one's life. Whichever side wins, we will be safe. Had you taken my offer to go to Durmstrang, our dangerous game would not be necessary, but no -- you had to come back here. Now, I am going to tell you what I know and you are going to deliver that information via the Caruthers girl."
Draco was shocked by the forceful tone. "What do you know?" he managed to say.
"Potter and Dumbledore are having our old estate warded. The boy intends to celebrate the Winter Holidays there and celebrate a formal wedding, beyond the handfasting. Potter is against it, but Dumbledore and supposedly the Minister want to give the people a symbol of hope. I have volunteered the location of the secret entrance to our former estate."
Draco immediately understood his mother's statement. There was more than one secret entrance to the estate.
She smiled,"That's right; we will arrange a crucible and put all the warring factions there. Whoever comes out of that place alive will most likely be the winner - winner takes all. The best case for us is that they destroy each other, but as I am in good with Potter and Dumbledore's faction, I believe that I can spare your life if they are victorious. I am counting on you to do the same with mine, should the Dark Lord triumph."
Draco thought about this for a moment, "I don't know if that is within my power. You were directly responsible for the death of one of his inner circle."
His mother scoffed at him, "I don't picture the Dark Lord crying into his cups about my sister, husband or the other fallen members of his inner circle. You seem to be under the notion that being a Death Eater is like being a member of a Quidditch team. They are a means to and end. Why am I still discussing this with you? Never mind, I will Obliviate you and approach the Head Girl directly. I had hoped you had the required skill to help me pull this off ..."
"Wait, Mother!"Draco hastily sputtered, "Give me a moment to thing this through." In his mind, Draco's thoughts raced over the possibilities. "Yes. It could work."
"I wouldn't have proposed it, if it would not work, but I am pleased that you can see the possibility of a favorable outcome. You and I can end this before this idiotic war insures that there is no Magical Britain left for our family to rule. If the slaughter goes on much longer the Goblins will sense a weakness and rise- perhaps even the centaurs as well. Regrettably, we are almost out of time and I need a decision from you - in or out?"
Draco looked squarely at the cold eyes regarding him, "I'm in."
Harry pressed arejuvenating draught to his lips- his second of the day. In his Animagus form, he was able to rest at night and ignored the ravings of the thing that masqueraded as his mother, but the ever present drain was still there. Initially, Flitwick had balked at letting Harry return to training and still worried about the amount of rejuvenating drought Harry was consuming. Professional Duelers called it 'pump and burn' and the Charms Master warned him that long term usage could create health issues for him in the future.
Harry was still angry that Dumbledore, the Head Boy and Girl, and the four heads of house had'inspected' his room and removed several books and items. He had been warned that it was going to happen by the paintings at Dumbledore's behest and that allowed him to hide the Black Family Tapestry. Susan's pregnancy -and Narcissa's --would remain hidden for as long as possible.
"Wait Harry, take a break instead. Thirty minutes and we can begin again. You have returned to form, but you lack your former staying power. Since we cannot locate the source of your drain to eliminate it..." Filius paused - his mother had been one of his favorite students and it was a reminder to Harry that there were others that held her memory sacred.
Finally his instructor continued, "Let's change tactics, shall we? We will have to work within your current limitations rather than try to push you to your breaking point. In place of unsustainable raw power, we will work on precision and accuracy. Transfiguration will replace conjuration. Where appropriate, animation replaces transfiguration. You will work on ending the fights quickly. When you shield, only use partial body shield instead blanket coverage. Ironically, this may actually make you a better fighter."
"How do we go about doing this?"
"I'm going to bring some potions to our next training sessions."
"Wait, I thought you didn't want to use more potions."
Flitwick scooped up the empty vial that Harry had used an hour earlier. "These will be about as far as you can be from restorative draughts. Imagine this is filled with ground fire crab shell commonly used in blistering powder, true Greek fire, darkness powder from Peru, or even simple sneezing powder. You smash it to the ground and immediately follow with Vertixcis. The gust of wind blows the powder at your enemy. It's is a far less draining spell and the unconventional tactics are harder to defend. Quite illegal in a duel, but you're not learning how to duel. In the next few weeks, you must not become a Charms master or a master hex warrior. You must become the dirtiest, most underhanded trickster who is willing to do whatever it takes to seize the advantage in a fight and pound it home. If you want to really test your mettle against the likes of Albus Dumbledore, honor and fair play need to be forgotten. Do you think you can do that?"
It took less than an instant for Harry to answer, "Yes."
"Good. Up until now, I have worked you to fight one on one and against multiple adversaries. After our session tomorrow, the people you face will be wearing Death Eater Cloaks. You will no longer know who your opponents are. I need to remove the 'respectful' aspect of your fighting. The'faces' of your opponents need to lose all meaning to you. Eventually, I'll start working with you. You don't have to be alone on the battlefield, hopefully you will not. You have a much better chance against him if both Albus and I are fighting him at the same time."
"When do I get to try my hand against Dumbledore?"
"I think I can have you ready in two weeks. I'll charm a bracer that will keep potion vials attached to it and unbreakable until you remove them. You should be able to carry two potions at a time. Tomorrow, we'll get started on the various combinations to see which suits you. You'll need to practice your bubblehead charm for best speed. Hopefully, you can get it down to arapid smooth motion - throw with left hand and shatter, while wanding the charm to your head and then blow the powder towards your opponent."
Harry woke up in a cold sweat and shifted back into human form. Susan wiped his head with a damp cloth.
"Rough one, huh?"
"I keep telling myself that it's all in my mind, but somehow it doesn't really help." He regretted waking her. She was pregnant with triplets and already the sleep deprivation had begun.
"Were you able to transform and get away from her?"
"Not at first, we ended up wrestling each other to the ground. Once I got free, I was able to fly away."
"So what made this one worse than the others?" She snuggled against him, whispering despite the fact that there were alone.
"It's probably, Dumbledore's theory about her using my thoughts against me. She really tried to hammer home that I was responsible for what Neville did." Harry answered slowly echoing the sentiments of what gossip was coming out of the remains of the Slytherin house. He skirted the real issue - it went much deeper than that. 'Lily' had spent most of the session explaining in vulgar detail how he didn't love Susan and was just using her. It was cruel to listen to, but made much worse by the grain of truth it contained. Did he really love Susan or was the term 'pity fuck' as applicable as the demon in his subconscious made it sound?
She yawned rather loudly and then chuckled at herself, "Sorry. Well, three hours is more than you've been usually been getting. You should relax for a while and calm down before you attempt round two."
"You should get some rest. If I can't get back to sleep, I'll do some reading, even though they took the most useful books ..." he muttered.
He felt Susan shift behind him and rolled back over finding her propped up on one elbow. "Still a bit bitter about that, eh?"
"A tad - you go ahead and go back to sleep," Harry hesitated before adding, "I love you." He had said the words before, but this time it was almost as if he was trying them out.
He couldn't see her smile but heard her respond with her own proclamation of affection and he tried to see if hearing her say it made him feel any better. A minute passed before she spoke up again. "What does she say about me?"
Harry hesitated and Susan prodded more, "She probably says a whole bunch of things about me and you haven't been telling me to protect me - am I right?"
"Yeah," he saw no point in denying it.
"Well, if this thing is just using your self-doubts against you, you have to decide what you believe in - stray thoughts in your mind given voice by a creature trying to kill you or the warmth we share in this bed?"
"Seems kind of silly when you put it like that, doesn't it?"
"That's what Ithought. We didn't deserve this. We should be trying to figure out how to snog in broom closets and not what to name the triplets. By the way, I asked Hermione who Moe, Larry and Curly are. I'm hoping that you were joking. Two of them are girls."
Harry laughed in spite of himself, "Moe and Curly could be girl's names!"
"/Sure/they could," Susan responded, wearing her 'tell me another' expression.
"No, I was just exhausted and feeling cheeky when you ask me. How about we name the girls after your mum and auntie?"
"Why not? Dana and Amelia Potter sound like good names. What about the baby boy?"
"Albus? Sorry, bad joke, but not much worse than your three Muggle comedians."
"Oi, that's ahorrible name! Right up there with Severus? How about we call him George Rubeus Potter?"
"Not your Godfather?"
"No. If he needs a legacy to live up to, how about one guy who loved to have fun and another who was brave and loyal to a fault?"
"I'm still a bit skeptical about Rubeus as a middle name, but George gets no real objection from me."
Coedus cracked his eyelids. They felt rather heavy. It was the same feeling he used to get when he had dined on someone who'd been drunk before he'd extracted their blood. Everything was in a fog. Where was he? What was he doing here? His eyes tried to dart around the room filled with candles and pungent odors, but he felt so weak.
Something was different? He tried to put his finger on it and then saw the body flat on the slab next to him. It was his Vampire body. The thing that was different was the constant flow of blood through his veins and the steady stream of air into his lungs.
"Say something,"a tired Lord Voldemort commanded him.
"The transference worked. I am human again." Coedus said, staggering to a basin where he vomited suddenly. He purged himself twice; it was disconcerting to experience bodily functions again. Using a towel to wipe the spittle from his face, he turned and reached for the stick of wood that would truly determine the success of this ritual.
"Your old vampire body is awake, but incoherent. I have restrained and silenced it. Your first task, my newest servant, is to eliminate the creature."
His first spell in over a century! What should it be? The was only one choice that made sense. "Crucio!" The rush of power left his new wand and the immobilized pathetic beast struggled against the magic holding it in place. To have been without for so long, deprived of all but the most meager of magics, it had been agony. The agony was over. It was time for revenge! Staring into the pain-wracked eyes of his former shell, he pitied Frank Longbottom. He felt the momentary pull of the Vampiric hypnosis. Impressive for one only just turned, but futile as Coedus used the wand and severed the head from his former body in one quick violent gesture.
"Are you prepared to take my Mark?"
"Yes. Darius Longbottom lives again and I will do as you command."
"Excellent. This may hurt slightly."
"A moment of pain is nothing compared to a century of disappointment."
The Dark Lord stabbed the wand into the flesh of the forearm and branded the man, who smiled despite the obvious pain. "You have a few weeks to get used to your new body Darius. I will have need of you soon. Go and find Pettigrew. Peter will tell you where your room is. He alone knows your identity. I would recommend that you keep the mask on among my servants. Several may recognize Frank Longbottom and given the circumstances, they may hold you accountable for the boy's actions."
Darius took the robes and Death Eater mask from the table. Voldemort surprisingly had honored their agreement and now he was alive again! For the first time in what seemed ages, he was tired and looked forward to a night's rest.
Lord Voldemort watched his newly-minted servant leave. He too was exhausted from the ritual, but pleased with the result. If need be, he would sacrifice Longbottom to the most bloodthirsty of his minions, who were currently clamoring for an attack on Hogwarts itself in retribution for the deaths of their children, but it shouldn't reach that point. He had instead directed their considerable anger towards the Ministry and staged several raids using the more zealous ones.
Peter caught up to him in the passageway, "Milord, I have assigned the new recruit to his room."
"Excellent, leave him alone for the next twenty-four hours and then place him on Rookwood's team. Tell Augustus his next mission is a standard Muggle culling and to make certain our new recruit kills his fair share. After that, we'll make certain he sees some actual combat."
Voldemort delivered his instructions and headed for the Apparition point. He needed had chosen a course of action. It was time for Lily Potter to stalk her prey.
Standing in the Room of Requirements, Albus Dumbledore felt ill at ease, clad in a Death Eater cloak and mask. Both he and Filius agreed that Harry should face him first incognito. It would negate the considerable mystique behind the legend that he was supposed to be. A glamour replaced his missing arm. There was nothing, however, that could replace the heaviness in his heart. He had meekly taken the insults of the children. There was nothing else to do. No amount of apologies would restore their classmates. Self-doubt gnawed at him. Had he hung on too long? Was he truly afossil of a bygone time - a dinosaur roaming the land, whose time had passed?
The answer was asobering 'perhaps', but even a dying dinosaur was a fearsome opponent. His heart still beat, for now, and his lungs still drew breath - albeit with some difficulty. He had no intentions of letting Harry win. He merely hoped that Flitwick's praises of Harry's recent progress were based on reality rather than wish fulfillment.
He stared at the young man on whose shoulders were loaded with such responsibility. The room was a replica of the area around the Gamekeeper's Hut. It reminded him how sorely he missed Hagrid's zest for life. Although he was older, it seemed that the deaths carried more of a price in this war.
"Begin!" Filius'voice rang out from the small broom he rode above them.
Typically, Albus would almost always allow his opponent the first blow - however consistent with his current garb, he opted to deviate from the norm, opening with a powerful bludgeoner.
Harry dodged the spell and returned a pair of weak but fast bludgeoners of his own - likely to test the maneuverability of his opponent. He blocked both of them, opting not to yield the information the boy sought. Albus sent a flurry of weaker spells, mixing leg lockers and other incapacitation spells at the wizard. One leg locker managed to clip him, sending Harry falling to the ground, but the young man returned fire instead of trying to extricate himself. Arttero Glacis - his still-sharp eyes spotted that the ends of the ice shards were blunt instead of deadly.
Harry's control was improving. That was a good sign. Subvocalising, Albus transfigured the ice coming at him into cords of rope and then banished them back at Harry who by then had easily countered the leg locker. In mid-flight, Albus animated them and commanded the enchanted ropes to ensnare his opponent.
A strong vanisher from Harry disintegrated them. Detaching himself slightly from the battle, Albus sensed that Harry used too much power on that spell. Perhaps the control was not as good as he had hoped or more likely, the adrenaline was getting the best of him.
Albus moved confidently, conjuring a series of stones and banishing them. Harry sent a detonation curse into them and used the spray of dust to make a counter move. Harry summoned a snake and was in the process of engorging it. Albus allowed the creature to grow and killed it before it could pose a threat. A rule in dueling was to never leave debris too close to you -even your own. Albus detonated the corpse just as he had done in his fight against Tom. It was far enough away that it wouldn't harm him, but it would serve as a significant distraction. Harry rolled backwards from the blast, allowing Albus to quickly capitalize on his advantage by sending aflurry of spells at his target, mixing bindings, stunners and animal conjurations. The Gryffindor was being quickly overwhelmed. Part of Albus wanted to let up, but it would serve no real purpose. Still, being swarmed by more than a dozen squirrels was rather cruel.
He caught aglint of something in Harry's hand that he smashed to the ground. A cloud of dust blew through the rodent army he'd set on Harry.
His protective charm was too slow as some of the dust was already inside the barrier. He sneezed violently and tried to shield against the spells that followed the dust. Even as debilitated as he was and gasping for breath, he still managed to block the first two stunners, but not the third.
Albus came to with worried-looking Filius holding the cursed breathing mask to his face. "I apologize, Albus. With your damaged lungs, the powder Harry used placed you in a bit of distress. You gave us a scare there."
For his part, Harry looked mortified. "I'm sorry sir."
He tried to dismiss it, but he was having problems drawing enough air to make a humorous remark. If this kept up, how would he ever get through his speech at the remembrance ceremony tomorrow afternoon? Helped to his feet by a boy nearly one tenth his age brought a new sense of betrayal and despair to the once mighty Albus Dumbledore. His magic felt diminished and his body amere fractured shell of what he had once been.
Fawkes was too immature to transport him to his quarters, so he relied on the young man and his Charms professor to assist him. He had never felt more pathetic in his entire life.
Susan leaned into Harry as he sagged against her. He was exhausted and she knew why. She had witnessed this morning's training session with Harry fighting Minerva McGonagall. For twenty solid minutes the two of them fought to a standstill. She had been impressed by the sheer inventory of spells possessed by their Transfiguration instructor. It renewed her respect for the head of Gryffindor's talent, stamina and power.
Harry had lost today, but he was winning as much as he was losing. He took the losses hard and shrugged off the wins as meaningless. She had to be the optimist for both of them. Now, if they could only get rid of the monster draining on his magic, Harry would truly be a sight to behold! Last night she had forced him into the Pensieve to watch her memory of the night he had saved her, if for no other reason than to remind him how far he had come in such a short period of time.
Tomorrow would mark two weeks since Neville had gone on a rampage. The teachers had waited to hold the ceremony until the last Slytherin had been deemed 'out of danger' and all but two had been released from St. Mungo's. Susan found it hard to reconcile the shy boy she had seen sobbing about his lost family over the summer with the murderous psychopath portrayed in the press.
Sitting on her right side was Hannah Abbott, who was gripped not only by her own grief, but everyone else's as well. Hannah had convinced herself that she had played a large role in the death of Ginny Weasley. Both Chelsea and her parents had insisted that she not attend such an emotionally charged gathering, but she was defiant and had come anyway. Susan squeezed Hannah's hand gently and received a grateful look from her housemate.
Behind her, at the Gryffindor table, Hermione Granger shot her a look of sympathy. They had talked quite a bit in the last few days. Not even the Abbotts were aware that she was already pregnant. Hermione was the one person she could talk to on this topic at the moment. They had never really been close, but they were becoming much better friends.
Most of the others were taking their seats and the teachers up front were looking as solemn as ever, when a disturbance near the doorway caught her attention. Harry suddenly perked up next to her.
"I said that Idon't think anything should be said about that murderous bastard Longbottom -you insipid, poorly bred Negro. Is your hearing as defective as your lineage?"
Dean Thomas, who many knew still carried a torch for Ginny, snarled back at Peter Yaxley, "And Ithink they should have given him a bloody medal!"
People stood --angry shouting started. Susan heard Hannah sob audibly as the first spells lashed out. Teachers and Aurors moved in, but the atmosphere was too charged as a brawl broke out.
Harry's weight shifted and he was suddenly crouching on the Hufflepuff table with a barricade shield absorbing a trio of spells launched in his direction. Susan's wand was in her hand and she erected her own shield in front of Harry. Harry sensed it, and unleashed a massive wave of energy. In the Pensieve memories she had witnessed Dumbledore using the same wedge stunner to evade arrest by Fudge and his supporters. Harry lacked the Headmaster's precise control to pick and choose his targets, but six people dropped and five more stumbled drunkenly. Someone, either McGonagall or more likely Dumbledore ,animated the large Hogwarts banner that then dropped on those still trying to fight, restraining them.
Dumbledore's magically enhanced voice rose above the din, "Enough! Everyone sit down! You will return to your dormitories! No one will be permitted in the halls today!"
The spell took an enormous toll on Harry, who collapsed on the table. The Aurors and the teachers began to take control. A few of the 'troublemakers' were collected; several students were injured, but none seriously. In the instance of a few Slytherins, they were returned to the care of the Nurse they had just recently escaped and all the rest of the sent back to their dormitories. Harry was supported by Susan and Remus Lupin as Tonks led the way to their private suite.
Tonks was paying more attention to the corridors in front of her rather than the carefully folded map in her hand. Even if she had been paying attention, she was scanning the castle, not the grounds. She would not have noticed a dot appearing on the edge of the map labeled 'Lily Potter.'
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