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The Greatest Power by MuggleMomma
Chapter 26 : Chapter 26: Progress All Around
 
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Chapter 26: Progress All Around

Kingsley, finally satisfied that Harry could dodge as well as any Auror and better than some, allowed Harry to use his wand in practice about half the time, teaching him some of the more complex defensive spells, and practiced wandless magic with him the other half, which was proving to be the most difficult thing Harry had ever tried. Harry finally lost his temper in their session on Halloween after he had been hit by a powerful Impediment Jinx for the fourth time in a row, having been unsuccessful in his attempts to cast a shield charm without his wand.

"Give me a break, why don't you?" Harry said bitterly to Kingsley.

"No, Harry," Kingsley responded seriously. "You have the necessary power to duel wandlessly, and I am here to teach you how to do it."

"Let's see you do it, then!" Harry retorted.

"I cannot," Kingsley answered.

"What do you mean you can't?" Harry asked, confused.

"Harry, understand that the ability to perform focused magic without a wand is very rare. Few wizards are able to accomplish it, and I am not one of those few."

This admission stopped Harry's protests as effectively as if he'd been hit with a silencing charm. If Kingsley, one of the most senior Aurors in the Ministry of Magic and the most effective dueler that Harry had ever encountered, could not duel wandlessly then how could they expect him to be able to do it? When he asked Kingsley this question, however, the Auror had assured him that he did indeed carry this ability.

"Harry, if I had any doubts as to your abilities, they were erased in the few times I have seen you manage wandless magic. I do note, however, that so far you have only been able to do so when you are feeling a powerful emotion, or when you are feeling desperate. That is what I seek to change – I want you to learn to harness your power in a way that will allow you to perform magic wandlessly with little more effort than you would expend if you used your wand."

"How?" Harry asked, once again overwhelmed with all of the expectations that had been placed upon him. Until this point, Kingsley had goaded him into performing wandless magic by pushing him to his very limits, until Harry became angry enough or desperate enough to call upon his deepest reserves. He had only managed simple spells even then – usually summoning charms to allow him to get his wand, and once, a banishing charm that had sent one of the stacked tables flying into the far wall of their classroom.

Kingsley sighed, and moved to their small table in the corner of the room, motioning Harry to follow him. He had planned to move into this area of study today, but he suddenly wondered if Dumbledore, one of the few wizards who could perform wandless magic, would be better suited for teaching Harry. Dumbledore, however, had insisted that the work on Legilimency was too important to abandon, and had offered Kingsley a few pointers in Harry's education.

As Harry sat down, Kingsley removed a small wooden eggcup from his pocket to use as a lightweight object on which to practice. He set it in the center of the table and focused on his student.

"Harry, how do you perform magic with a wand?" Kingsley asked.

Harry stared at him. "Er, you say the incantation and focus your intent on your wand as you wave it," he said uncertainly. The truth was, even in all his classes, he had never paid much attention to how his magic got from his mind into his wand.

"It's hard to explain, is it not?" Kingsley asked. "Most wizards never think about the focus of their magic on their wands – but that is exactly what you must do if you are to accomplish your goal."

"Where do I focus, then, if not my wand?" Harry asked.

"My suggestion would be the tips of your fingers," Kingsley answered. "Or even the tip of one finger at first. From what I have heard, you have to attune yourself to your magic in a way that many wizards are unable to do. You have to be able to feel your power coursing through your body, and direct it to your hands rather than to your wand."

Harry nodded. He actually understood what Kingsley meant – during the times he had been able to perform wandless magic, he had been able to feel a power, rather like electricity, coursing through his chest and then his arms.

"Harry, I believe I am correct in saying that you have learned several meditation techniques in your Occlumency sessions with Dumbledore?" Kingsley asked.

Harry nodded again. These meditation exercises had been the reason that he had been able to keep many of his nightmares at bay since he had come to school.

"All right," Kingsley continued in his deep voice. "I would like you to close your eyes and concentrate for a moment. See if you can bring yourself to a level at which you can feel your magical energy."

"My magical energy?" Harry asked blankly.

"Every wizard has it, Harry. It is why we are able to perform magic. The difference between you and others is that you seem to have the ability to direct yours with less effort than most."

Harry didn't agree that he was any better at directing his magic than anyone else, but he resolved to try. He closed his eyes, shutting out everything but the beating of his own heart, just as Dumbledore had taught him to do. It did not take long before Harry felt a small crackle of the "magical energy" Kingsley had described, and, his eyes still shut tightly, he tried to push the feeling from his stomach into his hands, and then through his fingertips.

Kingsley watched Harry closely, seeing his face relax as he settled into a meditative state, and then tense with concentration. Suddenly, Harry's right hand twitched slightly, and the eggcup wobbled, seemingly of its own accord. Harry opened his eyes to see Kingsley nodding at him.

"Excellent work, Harry," the Auror said.

"But I didn't do anything," Harry protested.

"You did, Harry – even though the amount of energy you summoned was small, it was enough to move the eggcup slightly, and you did it without having been provoked. Would you like to try it again?"

Harry nodded. Finally, they seemed to be getting somewhere, even though he could not quite see why making an eggcup wobble was such a big accomplishment. Hadn't he sent a table flying just the other day?

"This time, don't close your eyes. Whatever you found within yourself last time, find it again," Kingsley prompted. "Use an incantation if you would like to."

Harry concentrated on the eggcup, searching for the small spark he had felt during his meditation. When he found it, he directed it into his hands, noting that it already seemed easier to accomplish.

"Reducto!" he said intensely, and grinned when he saw a crack run the entire length of the eggcup. He may not have reduced it to small bits as he had planned, but he had at least produced a noticeable result.

"Excellent, Harry," Kingsley congratulated him, keeping his astonishment in careful check. He had not expected his student to catch on so quickly and he found himself wondering, not for the first time, exactly how much power was contained within this boy. "Now, as you have seen fit to damage our practice object, I would like you to repair it."

Harry concentrated hard before muttering "Reparo!" as he waved his hand slightly towards the eggcup. To his delight and Kingsley's carefully concealed amazement, the crack in the eggcup vanished, leaving it looking as good as new.

Kingsley took the eggcup off the table and replaced it in his pocket, having decided that he wanted to discuss Harry's progress with Dumbledore before they continued. "I think we will leave it here for today, Harry," he said calmly. "It's Halloween, and I daresay that you might enjoy spending some time with your friends tonight."

Harry shrugged. Halloween or not, he doubted that he would have any more free time tonight than he did any other night.

"I mean it, Harry," Kingsley said. "You've earned a break, and I want you to take tonight off. I release you from your assignment of working on your dueling until Monday, and I believe Tonks gave her classes the weekend free from physical training as well."

Harry nodded. What he did not know was that, on Remus's insistence, Dumbledore, Kingsley, and Tonks had conferred and realized that Harry needed a break. If he kept going at the current pace and had no time to at least try to be a normal teenager, he would lose sight of what he was fighting for. Remus had been rather alarmed with Harry's messages over the past couple of weeks, thinking correctly that the boy sounded exhausted and at the end of his ropes, and the others had agreed with no argument.

"Go and have a good night, Harry," Kingsley said. "Spend some time with Ginny – I daresay that is a bit overdue." He grinned slightly.

Harry was a bit taken aback by this sudden attempt at levity from the Auror, but he smiled back and nodded at him before gathering his things and leaving the classroom over an hour earlier than usual.

* * *

Harry arrived in the deserted common room some time before anyone else had been released from class, and he had to admit that his heart felt lighter than usual at the prospect of a weekend without dueling practice or long runs around the grounds. He would still have to do his homework, and there was a Quidditch practice scheduled for the following afternoon, but he thought that he might actually be able to act like a normal student, if only for a couple of days.

Harry decided to use the time alone to his advantage, and by the time the others had come back from classes to get ready for the Halloween feast, he had showered and dressed in a clean set of robes. He felt refreshed, and for once, cheerful. The only thing that bothered him was that, for the past couple of days, his scar had prickled more than usual, but he had kept his Occlumency shield up and reminded himself that irritation with his scar was hardly abnormal. Even though he hadn't had dreams or been attacked lately, it still twinged almost constantly. This was only a little worse, and he supposed that Voldemort must be feeling some kind of powerful emotion that Harry was alerted to through their connection.

He shrugged off all thoughts of this as Ginny arrived from her Care of Magical Creatures class, her cheeks pink from the cool air and her hair slightly mussed from the breeze. Finding Harry sitting comfortably in his favorite place by the fire, rereading Quidditch Through the Ages for the umpteenth time, she went straight to him and pulled him up into an embrace, kissing him softly.

"Hi," Harry said, smiling at her.

"Hi yourself," she responded, and kissed him again.

"Oi!" said an indignant voice from the portrait hole. "Can't you two be decent?" Ron entered the common room, looking a bit disgruntled at finding his sister and his best mate embracing in front of the fire.

"Oh, Ron," Ginny said, sighing and throwing him an impatient look. "If you think this is indecent, I feel sorry for Hermione."

Ron flushed and muttered, "Just because you two are dating doesn't mean I want to see you snogging him, Ginny."

Ginny rolled her eyes. "This is hardly snogging, Ron, but I would be happy to show you what snogging is if you want me to."

"Ginny!" Harry exclaimed, flushing with embarrassment.

"Come on, Harry. If Ron doesn't want to see us together, what say we go for a stroll around the grounds before the feast? We have a couple of hours," Ginny said, grinning wickedly at her brother, who shot Harry a warning glance.

"That sounds great!" Harry replied enthusiastically, avoiding Ron's gaze. The truth was, he had barely had time to see much of Ginny over the past month, and he was afraid she was becoming a bit put out with all of his obligations, although she bore it silently and without recrimination.

"I'm just going to go and freshen up a bit," Ginny said loftily, leaving Harry and Ron staring awkwardly at each other.

"Er, Ron?" Harry said. "You don't mind, do you mate? Only Tonks and Kingsley both gave us the night off from practice, and I haven't really had time to spend with Ginny lately..."

Ron sighed. As much as he loved both his sister and his best mate, he couldn't help but be a little uncomfortable with their relationship. He knew that Harry was not the first person Ginny had dated, but this was really the first time that he'd really had to see her with someone, and it was definitely weird. "No, it's all right," he answered with difficulty. "Hermione and I were planning on spending some time together tonight, anyway...just..."

"Just what?" Harry asked.

"Just, er, be a gentleman, okay?" Ron finished quickly, his ears flaming.

Harry would have laughed but for the uncomfortable look on Ron's face. He wondered if Ron had been given the same admonition by Mrs. Weasley regarding Hermione, and guessed rightly that he had. "Okay, Ron," Harry said as seriously as he could manage. He knew his best friend was a little uneasy about his relationship with Ginny, and he and Ginny had both agreed to try to be as sensitive as possible, if for no other reason than to avoid the fights that could ensue if they weren't. All of Ginny's older brothers were extremely protective of her.

At that moment, Hermione entered the common room, looking harried, with Seamus following closely behind her. Seamus ignored both Ron and Harry as he had been doing ever since the Quidditch tryouts, and Hermione heaved her book bag onto a table with a sigh. "You wouldn't believe the amount of homework we've got for Ancient Runes," she groaned, and Harry and Ron grinned, knowing that she actually enjoyed the work once she started on it.

"Don't you even think about starting it tonight, Hermione," Harry said firmly. "We're all taking the night off."

"Harry, what about dueling practice?" Hermione asked. "I thought that after the feast, we could go – "

"No way, Hermione," Ginny said, coming up behind them, her face freshly scrubbed and her hair pulled back into a plait. "Harry and I have a date tonight, and so do you and Ron, if I'm not mistaken."

"Yes, well," Hermione replied, looking serious. "We've still got a lot to work on."

"Maybe Hermione's right," Ron said, suddenly looking doubtful. "We should probably still take a run, and then do dueling practice..."

"And then, Harry, there's a fascinating chapter I read in Defense for the Defenseless that I want you to go over. There's a new spell – "

"Hermione, Ron," Harry began firmly, "Not tonight. I'll do my homework and go to Quidditch practice, but that's it until Monday."

Hermione looked scandalized. "Until Monday? Harry, that's too much time. We need to work!"

Harry felt his temper begin to boil. All he wanted was to spend some time with his girlfriend. Why was that so much to ask?

"Look, you two," he said, glaring at the both of them. "Just because some stupid prophecy says that I have to duel with bloody sodding Voldemort sometime in the future does not mean that I have to give my entire life up to it until then. I'll do my part, all right? I'll duel him, and I'll do my best to win so that all of you can be safe. But this weekend, I just want some bloody time off!" His voice rose in volume even as he tried to remain calm.

Tears of hurt filled Hermione's eyes. "Harry," she whispered. "We're not trying to do this so that you can save all of us."

"No, mate," Ron agreed, looking as hurt as Hermione. "We just want..." his voice trailed off uncertainly.

"We just want you to survive, Harry," Hermione finished for him. "We're afraid, and this is the only way we know how to help you. We can't just do nothing."

Harry's temper dissolved as quickly as it had crept up on him. He knew that Ron and Hermione were pushing themselves as hard as they were pushing him. "I'm sorry," he said honestly, and he felt Ginny put her hand on his arm. She knew how frustrated and overwhelmed he had been feeling, and she knew that guilt for his outburst was already beginning to creep into his mind. Harry continued, "It's just that you two aren't the only ones pushing me this year. I've got Dumbledore, and Kingsley, and Tonks...I'm just worn out, that’s all, and I'm looking forward to having a bit of a break. Kingsley said I didn't have to practice this weekend."

"Kingsley said so?" Hermione said, her expression clearing a bit.

"Yes," Harry answered.

"Besides," Ginny broke in, "Harry hasn't been paying me nearly enough attention lately. It's high time he did, or I might just have to find another boyfriend."

Harry looked at her, horrified, but was relieved to see the teasing glint in her eyes.

"So," Ginny continued. "Are we all agreed that Harry gets the weekend off?"

Ron and Hermione nodded, and Harry had a sudden idea. "Hang on, Ginny," he said, and he ran back up to his dormitory with no further explanation.

As they watched him leave, Hermione said to Ginny, "You already knew how he was feeling, didn't you? Why didn't you tell us?"

Ginny shrugged. "I know that Harry has to train and has to get ready for his battle. You two really are helping him, but he does need a break sometimes, and so do we."

Hermione nodded, and then said, "I don't know how you can think that you don't understand Harry as well as we do, Ginny. You already understand him even better, I think." Ron nodded in agreement.

Ginny shrugged again, smiling a bit. She had begun to realize as she and Harry drew closer that she did understand him better than she had thought. She had, after all, been watching him from afar during her entire time at school, and now he was letting her past his defenses more than he ever had before. Her smile broadened into a fond grin as her boyfriend came back down the stairs, his hair as unruly as ever, hiding something underneath his robes. She was glad they were finally getting a chance to have some time to themselves.

* * *

"Harry, what – " Ginny asked in surprise as Harry, who had been leading her down the marble staircase towards the entrance hall, suddenly pulled her onto the fourth floor landing, down a corridor, and behind a tapestry.

"Shh...close your eyes," Harry said mysteriously, and Ginny did, wondering what in the world they were doing behind that tapestry. In a moment, she felt a cool cloth settle down over her body, and then Harry standing close next to her, one arm wrapped tightly around her waist.

"Harry, are we under your invisibility cloak?" Ginny asked, giggling as she opened her eyes. They were not out past curfew or breaking any school rules, so she could not imagine why he would feel that they needed it.

"Yep," Harry whispered, reaching out to push the tapestry back and guiding Ginny slowly back to the staircase.

"Why?" Ginny asked quietly.

"Later," Harry advised, placing his finger over her lips. They walked in silence, their bodies pressed together and the cloak wrapped completely around them. Even though Ginny was entirely clueless as to why they were doing this, she had to admit that she found that she quite liked the physical closeness that was necessary if they were both to remain covered by the cloak, and she relished the fact that they were walking through the entrance hall at five in the afternoon, but no one could see them.

They stayed quiet as Harry led her around to the tree by the lake, the same tree in front of which she had told him off at the beginning of term. He pulled her down to sit next to him, carefully keeping the cloak around them as they settled themselves comfortably on the cool earth.

"Harry, why are we under your invisibility cloak?" Ginny asked finally. "Please tell me you're not going to start wearing this thing all the time...Mum told you to be careful, not paranoid."

Harry laughed. "No, that's not it. It's actually something Moony told me. When my dad and mum were dating, Sirius used to follow them around, waiting for a chance to prank them. So, one night, my dad decided that he and mum should go out under the invisibility cloak so no one could see them and they wouldn't be bothered." Harry colored suddenly as he realized how this must sound, and he didn't want Ginny to think that he was trying to...er...not be a gentleman.

Ginny giggled. With all the attention Harry had been getting from Ron and Hermione, not to mention the D.A. members, the professors, and the Order, she could hardly blame him for wanting to hide, and she thought it would be nice to spend some time with him without the inevitable interruptions that apparently went hand-in-hand with dating the Boy-Who-Lived.

"All right, Harry," she said, leaning back into his chest as though settling in. "What do you want to do, then?"

"Er," Harry said, wishing he had planned this a bit better. Now that he and Ginny had successfully avoided any prying eyes, questions, or distractions, he was quite unsure of what he should do next. "I guess we could talk..." Ginny was so close that he swore he could feel her heartbeat on his chest, and the feeling it gave him was at once wonderful and terrifying.

"I think we've done far too much talking lately, Harry," Ginny said in a voice that he barely recognized, and before he could really process what she had meant by this surprising statement, Ginny turned so that she was facing him and kissed him more passionately than she had ever done before.

Harry's breath came in gasps as he returned the kiss, shyly at first, but then with more abandon as time passed. He was not aware of the several students that passed them on the path around the lake, all of whom wondered at the strange rustling noises that were coming from the area under the tree. He was not aware of the painful twinge of his scar, and he did not think of the war, or of Ron and Hermione, or of wandless magic or Legilimency – all he could think about was the feel of her body pressed so close to his, the softness of her lips, the smell of her hair...he was living nowhere but in the moments that passed under the tree by the lake, so close and yet so far away from the world around them.

As their kiss grew more heated, Ginny's hands caressed Harry's back and ran through his hair. He responded in kind, holding her as if he never wanted to let go.

As the sky darkened, Ginny broke off with one last, lingering kiss, and leaned her head against his chest, noticing how muscular he had become over the past two months. She and Harry were both breathing quite heavily as they tried to recover sufficiently to go inside for the Halloween feast, which would start in less than half an hour. They sat in relative silence for a few moments, and then Ginny turned once more to Harry.

"Harry," she said hesitantly. "I wanted you to know...that...well...I love you, Harry." She said the words so softly that he could barely hear her, but even if she had not said it, Harry could have seen it in her eyes if he had known what to look for. He had never heard those words uttered directly to him before, and he stared at her, too stunned to even smile for a moment.

"You don't have to say anything," Ginny said quickly, afraid that she had frightened him. "I just...well, I had to tell you. I've wanted to tell you for so long, but I was afraid..."

"What were you afraid of, Ginny?" Harry asked, but to his great confusion, she didn't answer, just continued to look into his eyes, searching for something. Harry didn't know this, but it was the first time she had said those words to someone outside of her own family, and her heart was in a turmoil of emotions as she waited for his response.

After a few moments passed in awkward silence, Harry finally whispered the words, feeling the emotion spreading inside of him more powerfully than the most potent magic. "I love you, too."

* * *

After making sure that there was no one near them, Harry and Ginny removed the Invisibility Cloak before beginning the walk back to the castle for the Halloween feast. They were both grinning harder than either had ever grinned before, and they held hands as they always did, but the grip was somehow tighter than usual. Before they entered the castle, however, Ginny suddenly pulled Harry to the side.

"Harry, you look a fright!" she exclaimed suddenly, fussing over his hair and his robes in a rather motherly fashion. "If we walk into the Great Hall like this, everyone will know exactly what we've been up to!"

Harry suddenly thought of Ron as he noticed that Ginny, too, looked quite disheveled. He knew there would be hell to pay if Ron saw them like this, no matter how many times he and Hermione had been seen in the same state. He teasingly pulled Ginny's hair out of its ponytail and smoothed it awkwardly with his hands until she gently slapped him away, put her hair back up, and fixed her own robes. Surveying each other critically, they decided that they were sufficiently put-together, and they joined hands again and walked into the Great Hall.

To Harry, the Halloween feast was the best that had ever been held at the school – the food seemed to taste better, and the formation gliding of the ghosts suddenly appeared more entertaining than it had ever been before. After eating a huge meal, Harry sat back contentedly, thinking of going back to the common room to spend some more time with Ginny, when he suddenly grabbed his forehead as his scar gave a jolt of pain.

"What is it, mate?" asked Ron worriedly. He seemed to be the only person who had noticed Harry's sudden movement, as Ginny and Hermione were in deep conversation and Seamus was pointedly keeping Dean's attentions away from his roommates, trying to make it as obvious as possible that he still had not forgiven them for picking Ginny and Meg as the Gryffindor chasers.

"Nothing," Harry whispered furiously. "Just my scar. It happens all the time."

Ron looked at him skeptically. Harry's scar did not seem to bother him much anymore, and they had all supposed it was because of his Occlumency shield, which, as Dumbledore predicted, Harry was able to keep up nearly all the time now without consciously thinking about it.

"Are you sure, Harry?" Ron asked, still looking worried.

"Sure about what?" Hermione asked, breaking off her comment to Ginny mid-sentence.

"Harry's scar's hurting," Ron explained, and Harry glared at him furiously. This had been one of the best nights of his life, and he was not about to have it be ruined by an argument about his stupid scar.

Hermione and Ginny both looked alarmed, much to Harry's annoyance. "My scar has hurt on and off ever since the end of fourth year," he said, trying to keep his irritation out of his voice. "It's nothing, okay? Just forget about it." Just as he said it, the scar on his forehead throbbed painfully again, but he resisted rubbing it.

Ginny looked at him closely, and then said to the others, "If Harry says it's okay, then it's okay," she said simply. Harry smiled at her gratefully, and she winked at him and turned once again to Hermione, pulling her back into their previous conversation, although Harry noticed that it contained much less giggling than it had before it had been interrupted.

The look that had passed between Harry and Ginny was not lost on Ron, who had been watching both of them carefully ever since they began dating. "Harry," he asked in a fiercer tone than he had intended, "What happened with you and Ginny today?"

"Er, nothing," Harry said, trying to look innocent.

"You lying prat," Ron said half-jokingly. "Anyone can see that something's different between you two."

"We just went for a walk," Harry said, trying to shrug it off and ignoring the throbbing of his scar once again.

"Hermione and I didn't see you two anywhere on the grounds," Ron noted, narrowing his eyes suspiciously. "We were out there walking, too."

"Oh, like you and Hermione would notice anything when you're on one of your walks together," Harry retorted, trying to grin at his friend.

Ron flushed. He had to admit that Harry had a point. Still, the two boys were rather awkward with one another as the feast ended and they headed back into the common room, where they passed the evening pleasantly enough, playing Exploding Snap and laughing a little too raucously when Dennis Creevey, who had apparently been the butt of one of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, turned into a large canary a little before midnight.

After Dennis had molted and returned to normal, Hermione told off Dean Thomas and Neville Longbottom and then declared that she was tired and was ready to turn in. Ron, Ginny, and Harry all agreed, and as Harry pulled on his pajamas in the dormitories and closed the hangings around his bed, he had to admit that, scar or not, this had been one of the best days of his life.

* * *

In a small village south of London, the stars twinkled peacefully in the cool fall sky as the townspeople, mostly farmers and small merchants, slept peacefully, not knowing of the danger that lurked just outside of their doors.

Throughout the narrow, cobbled streets, men in black robes and white masks set themselves strategically in front of certain houses, houses which contained people with certain secrets, people with ties to Diagon Alley, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and the Ministry of Magic.

The silence of the peaceful town was broken suddenly by a loud, shrill female voice calling "Morsmordre!" The few villagers that remained awake, consisting only of three teenagers and a farmer who was concerned about an early freeze, screamed in unison as a terrifying sight appeared in the clear sky – a giant skull made of a chilling green light.

The inhabitants of the Wizarding houses in this village rushed out of their homes, wands at the ready, dressing gowns and nightcaps flying haphazardly as they faced what they had feared ever since the article in the Daily Prophet had been published six months before.

Terrified Muggles ran for cover as spells began flying through the streets, but they could do little to stop the masked Death Eaters from entering their homes. There were a total of six Wizarding families in this village, which was far more than normal, and which was also the reason that the Death Eaters had chosen it for the attack. Most of the magical inhabitants of the town were viewed merely as eccentric by the townsfolk, and had generally been accepted into the fold without question. Now, the horrified Muggles feared their neighbors as much as they feared the strange men in masks who had come to attack. The scene was one of mass confusion as men came out the doors of their homes, holding shotguns or pitchforks or any other weapons they could lay their hands on at this late hour, boldly advanced, and then ran for the closest cover they could find when they saw what was happening.

Hestia Jones lived at the end of the village proper and was the last of the witches and wizards to hear the commotion outside. She and her husband came out at once, brandishing their wands, but they found themselves immediately surrounded. Out of the ten Death Eaters in their front garden, the Joneses managed to stun four before they and their three young children were struck down by killing curses.

When it was finally over, the bodies of each and every wizard inhabitant of the town littered the streets, mingled with those of six Muggles and only one Death Eater, who was quickly removed before the Aurors arrived, too late to do anything but try to clear the damage.

* * *

Over two hundred miles away, Ron shook Harry furiously, desperate to stop the anguished yells that had awoken everyone in their dormitory at half past two on the morning of November first. When Harry finally opened his emerald green eyes, he did not recognize Ron straight off and grabbed his wand from the nightstand, holding it against Ron's throat.

"Harry!" Neville said loudly, as Ron had gone pale, his eyes wide with disbelief. "Harry! It's us! Put your wand down before you hurt Ron!"

Harry blinked as the nightmare receded, and he dropped his wand in horror. Ron didn't move.

"I have to see Professor Dumbledore," Harry said loudly, trying to get Ron's attention.

Ron glared at Harry, any remaining sleepiness long gone. "You had your wand pointed at me, Harry!" he said furiously.

Harry's voice softened a bit – the fact that he had almost attacked Ron scared him more than anything he had seen in his nightmare – and he said, "Ron, mate, I'm sorry...there's been a battle...people are dead, and I was right there in the middle of it. I wasn't awake yet. Ron, we have to go do Dumbledore. Please. We have to go now."

Ron seemed to accept Harry's apology, and without another word, he went to his trunk to pull on his dressing gown. As Harry did the same, he heard Seamus muttering angrily to Dean, "Didn't apologize to us, did he? Potter has a nightmare and it's straight to the Headmaster, isn't it?"

It seemed that those words were all Ron needed to forget what had happened as Harry woke up. He rounded furiously on Seamus as he finished dressing and said viciously, "What was that, Finnegan? You think Harry owes you an apology?"

"So what if I do?" Seamus retorted, jumping back out of his bed and advancing on Ron. "Only this isn't the first time that prat has woken us all up in the middle of the night, is it?"

Perhaps it was the similarity of those words to what Harry had recounted from the beginning of the summer when he had woken the Dursleys, or perhaps it was pent-up rage over Seamus' attitude about the Quidditch team, or perhaps it was lack of sleep...but whatever it was, it seemed that Ron had finally had enough. Crossing the distance between himself and Seamus quickly, Ron pulled himself up to full height and shoved Seamus hard in the chest.

Harry pulled Ron back before Seamus could retaliate, saying urgently, "Ron, I need you to come with me, now! Something's happened, and we've got to go talk to Dumbledore. Come on!"

Harry and Ron rushed out of the dormitories, ignoring Seamus's rather rude exclamation as they headed down the staircase and out of the portrait hole.


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