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The Greatest Power by MuggleMomma
Chapter 27 : Chapter 27: Reward to the Faithful
 
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Chapter 27: Reward to the Faithful

Harry and Ron ran at top speed to Dumbledore's office, not caring that it was nearly three in the morning and not worrying about whether they would be caught out of bed. Harry was desperate to tell the Headmaster what had happened, even though he knew it was too late to save any of the people of the village. Ron, for his part, did not really know what had happened, but the fact that Harry had nearly attacked him when he woke up alerted him to the seriousness of the situation, even though his shock had not yet completely worn off.

When they reached the Headmaster's office, Harry gasped out the password; he was accustomed to running after all the training he had done as part of Tonks’s class, but combining the tearing dash through the corridors with his near panic, he found himself quite out of breath. They did not wait for the slow ascent of the spiral staircase, but took the steps two at a time and pounded furiously on the door when they reached the top.

"Come in, Harry," the Headmaster greeted them from inside the office, and Harry and Ron exchanged a quick glance as they opened the door. How had Dumbledore known Harry was coming?

"I am not surprised to see you, Harry," Dumbledore said gravely, motioning towards the two chairs in front of his desk. "And Mr. Weasley, of course. I am glad you are here as well."

"Professor Dumbledore," Harry began quickly, not wanting to bother with the niceties, "there's been an attack –”

Dumbledore raised his hand to silence Harry, and regarded him for a moment over his half-moon glasses before saying, "I was made aware of it, Harry, just a moment ago."

Harry noticed that Professor Dumbledore was fully dressed in dark blue robes with silver moons embroidered on them, and he wondered whether the Headmaster ever slept. "How did you know?" he asked, his voice slightly hollow as the details of the dream resurfaced in his mind.

Dumbledore sighed heavily. "Hestia Jones alerted Auror Headquarters as soon as she heard the attack began, and Kingsley, in turn, notified me. I am afraid that they arrived too late, however. Harry, am I correct in assuming you saw the attack?"

Harry nodded and Ron broke in, his voice worried. "Harry's scar was hurting earlier today. But, Harry, I thought that your Occlumency kept you from having visions like this."

"The link between Harry and Voldemort is very complex, Mr. Weasley," Dumbledore said before turning back to Harry. "How did you see this attack?"

"I was dreaming," Harry said confusedly. "Just like always."

"No, Harry, what I meant to ask is whether you saw the attack through Voldemort's eyes and whether or not you felt his emotions while it was happening."

Harry screwed up his face, concentrating on his dream, but he could not remember feeling any particular emotion as he had watched the attack. His emotions had not come into play until he had woken up and the horror of what he had witnessed had set in. "I don't know whether or not I was seeing through his eyes, sir," Harry said in frustration.

Dumbledore's glance flicked to Ron and then back to Harry. "Would you mind?" he asked softly.

Harry looked over at Ron, who had a confused look on his face, before nodding almost imperceptibly. "All right, sir," he answered softly, and he let his Occlumency shield down for the first time in weeks.

Ron looked on in amazement as Dumbledore looked intently into Harry's eyes, and no one spoke for a few moments. After the Headmaster had settled back into his chair, Ron began, "What..."

"I have just looked into Harry's memories of the attack, Mr. Weasley," Dumbledore explained. "Harry, please be so kind as to put your shields back into place. Now is not a good time for you to be vulnerable."

Harry nodded, and Ron watched with a look of dawning comprehension as he saw an expression of intense concentration pass over Harry's face and then vanish a moment later. He understood now that Harry had allowed Professor Dumbledore into his mind, but he was amazed that Dumbledore had to ask Harry to take his shields down to do it. Had Harry grown so advanced in Occlumency that he could block even the Headmaster?

"What do you think, Professor?" Harry asked after he had rebuilt his shield.

"I believe you did see the attack through Voldemort's eyes, Harry," Dumbledore replied simply. "However, now that your Occlumency shield has grown powerful enough to block intentional attacks, I believe that you have also become able to keep your mind separate from Voldemort's. You may be taken involuntarily into his mind due to your connection with him, but you no longer lose your sense of yourself. This is good news, Harry."

Harry gulped slightly before he asked, "And, Professor, what I saw...did it all happen? Hestia Jones and her family..."

"Yes, Harry," Dumbledore answered, even though he knew perfectly well that Harry knew what he had seen was accurate. Sadness weighed his voice as he continued, "Hestia Jones and her family did not survive the attack, nor did any of the other wizarding families in her village, and several Muggles were killed as well." He spoke bluntly, knowing that Harry was well past the time at which events could be kept from him.

Harry looked down. Hestia had been a member of the Order and had been part of his Advance Guard when he had left the Dursleys the summer before his fifth year. The list of Order members killed in the line of duty had grown to three: Sirius Black, Arabella Figg, and now, Hestia Jones; the list of wizards and Muggles killed was becoming longer by the day. He knew he was not ready for the final battle yet, but he felt the same flare of anger and cold determination that he had felt after Mrs. Figg's death.

"Harry, do not let your anger rule you," Dumbledore said quietly, and Harry looked up at the Headmaster, his eyes hard and unyielding.

"How can I not be angry, sir?" Harry asked fiercely, and Ron looked at him in shock that he would dare to speak to Dumbledore in that tone of voice.

Dumbledore closed his eyes for a moment, remembering another dark-haired student from more than fifty years before. He had failed Tom Riddle, but he would not repeat his mistake with this boy sitting in front of him with such rage in his eyes. "Anger is a perfectly justifiable and normal human emotion, Harry. I do not ask that you not be angry. I ask simply that you do not let it rule your life. Remember to love, Harry, above all else."

Harry did not respond right away, and Ron watched the entire scene with amazement. He had not had occasion to witness the new relationship between Dumbledore and Harry, and he was quite taken aback by their openness. This was definitely a new development.

"It's escalating, isn't it?" Harry asked finally. "He went to that village because Hestia was there."

"Yes, Harry, the war will escalate from here. The attack on Mrs. Figg was not widely known because she was a Squib, whereas this attack will be known throughout the wizarding world. That particular village was chosen not only because it was Hestia Jones's home, but because there was a sufficient number of wizarding families to ensure that national notice would be taken."

"You-Know-Who wants us to know where he is now?" Ron finally spoke up.

"Voldemort," Harry began firmly, his determined gaze remaining on Ron as the redheaded boy winced at the name, "wants us to be afraid of him. Fear is his greatest weapon."

"Harry is correct," Dumbledore told Ron, "and as the war escalates, every person who fears Voldemort will only add to his power."

Ron nodded his understanding, but Harry did not have to use Legilimency to see the fear in his best friend's face. As Ron caught his gaze, however, Harry noticed that there was also another emotion flashing dangerously in his eyes: anger. And unless Harry was much mistaken, that anger was not directed towards Voldemort, but towards him.

Dumbledore appeared not to notice the sudden animosity in Ron's expression as he said quietly, "Unless you have any more questions, I believe you will want to return to bed. Harry, please keep me informed if ever your connection with Voldemort alerts you to anything else."

At the Headmaster's dismissal, Ron and Harry stood and Ron headed immediately for the door without looking back. Harry glanced at Dumbledore questioningly, but the older man just smiled sadly and said, "Good night, Harry. I will see you on Tuesday, unless, of course, you need to speak with me before then."

"Good night, Professor," Harry responded politely. Over the course of the term, he had grown used to Dumbledore's attempts to get him to talk, but even though Harry no longer felt any animosity toward the Headmaster, he felt no particular desire to confide in him either.

Ron was waiting at the bottom of the revolving staircase, but said nothing until the two had reached the Grand Staircase when he suddenly stopped and turned to Harry, the tips of his ears glowing pink as they always did when he was angry or under pressure. Harry, though, was unsure why Ron was angry with him. What had he said or done to upset his friend while they had been in Dumbledore's office?

It immediately became apparent that it had not been something he had said; rather, it had been something he had not said. "Why didn't you tell Professor Dumbledore that you attacked me when you woke up?" Ron demanded aggressively.

Harry was startled. He had already apologized and explained himself to Ron, and he had thought his apology had been accepted. Apparently, this was not the case. He opened his mouth to say something, but Ron cut across him.

"I guess the fact that you could have killed me wasn't important, was it?" he spat bitterly.

Harry felt his temper flare. It wasn't as if he had actually hurt Ron, and he was making it sound like Harry had done it intentionally. He felt bad for what had happened, but it wasn't as if he's been talking to Dumbledore about the weather or anything ridiculous like that. "Ron, I saw a battle, not an ice cream social," he retorted as they reached the seventh floor landing. "Hestia and her family are dead, and so are a lot of other people." Harry's heart lurched as he said those words; how many deaths would there be before this was over? Harry tried to calm himself a bit as he added sincerely, "Look, mate, I'm really sorry."

Ron snorted at this, and Harry's temper flared again. "Ron," he said sharply, quite ignoring the Fat Lady, who was glaring sleepily at them as they bickered. "I was there, all right? At the attack. I just stood there, locked inside bloody sodding Voldemort's head, watching it all happen, and then all of a sudden you're shaking me and shouting. It took me a bit to realize what was going on."

It was a sign of how angry Ron was that he didn't even wince as Harry said Voldemort's name. "It's a good thing Neville was there, or you could have bloody well killed me! You should have told Dumbledore, you prat, but Merlin forbid you let anyone know the ruddy Boy-Who-Lived lost control!"

"Don't call me that," Harry hissed furiously.

"Well, it's who you are, isn't it?" the Fat Lady interrupted haughtily. "Now, are you going to give me the password or not?"

Ron and Harry didn't even hear her – they were too busy glaring at one another to notice anything else at the moment. The Fat Lady gave a great sniff, turned, and walked out of the left side of her frame.

"I'll call you whatever I want to call you," Ron said loudly. "Tell me something, then. What if it had been Ginny and no one had been there to stop you? What then, hero?"

"I would never hurt Ginny," Harry retorted.

He found out almost immediately that this had been the wrong thing to say. Just as Harry opened his mouth to say he wouldn't have hurt Ron or anyone else either, Ron began to shout. "So it's quite all right if you nearly blast my head off, is it, but you'd never hurt Ginny! Thanks a lot, mate." Ron paused to take a breath before continuing just as loudly as before, "Next time she can be the one to wake you, then, if you're so sure you wouldn't hurt her –"

"Mr. Weasley!" exclaimed a very angry voice. "You will control yourself! Such behavior!" Minerva McGonagall stormed up the corridor towards them, her lips pressed into a dangerously thin line. As she reached them, Harry saw the Fat Lady reenter her frame, looking smugly at him. He scowled at her. Things were going quite badly enough without the doorway portrait telling their Head of House they had been arguing in the hall.

"Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley," McGonagall said sternly. "Would you be so kind as to tell me why you are standing in the corridor at this hour, shouting at one another?"

Harry willed himself to speak calmly to the deputy Headmistress. "We went to see Professor Dumbledore –"

"I am well aware of where you have been, Mr. Potter, and that is not what I asked you," McGonagall interrupted. "I would like to know why you are shouting." Her tone left no room for protest. Harry stayed silent. Ron had started this, so he could explain it to Professor McGonagall.

"Harry was having a nightmare," Ron said, his voice tightly controlled. "When I woke him up, he grabbed his wand and held it at my throat. He could have killed me!"

"I said I was sorry, Ron! What else do you want me to do?" Harry demanded. The truth was that, as he thought about it, he was horrified that he had actually pointed his wand at Ron. What if he had hurt him?

"I wanted you to tell –" Ron began, his voice once again growing louder.

"That will be quite enough from both of you!" McGonagall interrupted angrily. "Five points from Gryffindor for this disgraceful display! Mr. Weasley, I suggest that, should you find it necessary to wake Mr. Potter in future, you do so from a distance. It is only natural for him to be on the defensive if he has been forced into a battle. Mr. Potter, I will wish to speak to you further about this tomorrow evening. Now, go to bed, and not another word or I shall give you both detentions!" With that, McGonagall turned from them and strode down the hall, her tartan dressing gown flapping behind her.

"Carpe diem," Harry snapped the password at the Fat Lady, who was smirking at them. Neither Harry nor Ron spoke as they returned to the dormitories and pulled the hangings around their beds.

It was at least an hour before Ron's snores alerted Harry to the fact that he was finally asleep. As angry as he was at Ron's attitude and what he considered to be a lack of priorities in the face of Hestia's death and the village battle, Harry knew that he could not risk a repeat of what had happened that night. As soon as he was certain that he would not be overheard, he pointed his own wand at his throat and whispered, "Silencio."

* * *

Thanks to a front-page article in the Daily Prophet the next morning, the whole school knew of the village battle before breakfast was over. One Ravenclaw second-year had lost an aunt and two cousins that night. For many of the students, this attack brought the war into sharper reality than any other events had done so far. For days, the entire school buzzed with anxious chatter, the students feeling the first hints of fear. Harry and his friends, including Neville and Luna Lovegood, suddenly became the focus of even more attention than usual as people began to ask them questions about the Department of Mysteries battle over half a year before. Harry was in no mood for it. He felt he had quite enough to deal with, especially considering that his row with Ron seemed to be an ongoing thing.

Besides to criticize his technique at Quidditch practice as much as possible, Ron had not spoken to Harry all week, and this was doing nothing for either boy's temper or concentration. Everyone that saw either one of them – teachers, professors, D.A. members, and friends alike – could not help but notice that both of them were running on short fuses and a severe lack of concentration.

Harry had gone, as requested, to speak to Professor McGonagall on Monday after classes, but she didn't have any new information for him. She simply requested that he continue to be diligent in practicing his Occlumency each night before bed, and she suggested that he stow his wand in his night table drawer so that he would have to wake up a bit more fully before he retrieved it. When Harry protested, she reminded him rather sternly that the wards around the school had been set up by Dumbledore himself, and they would know about any intruders far before they got as far as Harry's bed. Harry had nodded, swallowing a retort about Sirius having been able to make it up to the dormitories without detection, but he knew he would no more store his wand out of his immediate reach than he would eat a dinner of fried flobberworms.

Harry continued to cast a silencing charm on himself each night before he went to sleep, feeling safer in the knowledge that if no one could hear him, no one could try to wake him up. As long as Harry remembered to cast the counter-charm each morning before he tried to speak, no one would be the wiser.

Hermione tried her best to stay neutral in the conflict between Harry and Ron, saying only that she was glad Ron had not been hurt, and sympathizing with Harry over what he had been forced to witness. As the week drew on, though, and Ron's anger showed no signs of abating, Harry saw less of both of them, and practiced dueling with Ginny only each night. He was glad to see that, although she was not much of a challenge against him, she herself was improving rapidly.

Harry could not understand why Ron was still not speaking to him – he had thought that once Ron had had some time to think, he would come around to forgiving Harry. By Friday, however, Harry had been driven almost to distraction. He knew now that there must be more to this, but he could not figure out what it was. His classes weren't going well, nor were his Legilimency practices with Dumbledore. He tried as hard as he could, but he could just not muster the concentration required to break through the Headmaster's Occlumency shield. When he wasn't having mental flashbacks to the battle, he was worrying about his friendship with Ron.

Dumbledore, as always, was very patient with Harry, and chose not to dwell on Harry's lack of concentration. He suspected what had caused it, and he hoped that it would resolve itself with time. He had tried to gently press Harry to talk about what he had seen, but the boy remained reticent, and Dumbledore knew that such confidence could not be forced.

Kingsley Shacklebolt, however, was not nearly as forgiving. He had seen what lack of focus could do to a person in battle, and he felt it was his responsibility to make sure that didn't happen to Harry.

He watched critically as Harry raised a flawless shield charm with his wand, still a transparent gold and impervious, Kingsley suspected, to all but the Unforgivable curses. He nodded after his student had deflected or dodged three strong jinxes almost effortlessly. "Excellent, Harry," he said. "Now, have you been practicing your wandless magic as well?"

Harry nodded, but did not mention the fact that he had been mostly unsuccessful even with the simplest of spells this week. His heart just wasn't in it.

"Stow your wand, then," Kingsley requested, and waited while Harry complied, noticing that the boy looked a bit nervous. "Before we progress into today's duel, Harry, we will practice a bit on objects around the room," the Auror continued. "I would like you to begin by levitating that book." He pointed to a heavy defense book on one of the tables.

Harry tried to concentrate, but he knew even before he had said the incantation that it was no good. Neither student nor teacher was surprised when the book did not move.

"That is unacceptable, Harry," Kingsley said, and Harry nodded. "You must have more focus. That spell is one you have known since your first year, and you would have been able to perform it easily if you had been practicing."

Harry opened his mouth to reply, and Kingsley did not know whether the boy was going to argue, or explain himself, or apologize, but he did not let him say even one word before he continued, "There is no excuse for this, and if you are not going to focus, you are wasting my time."

This time, Harry did not try to reply, but closed his eyes and began his meditation exercise. He knew Kingsley was right, and if he could not muster the strength to perform such simple magic, he may as well walk up to the Dark Lord with a target painted over his heart and say, "Here I am, you evil old git. Go ahead and kill me now."

It took Harry several minutes to reach the level of concentration required to locate his magical reserve and bring it under his conscious control, but he was finally able to manage it. He opened his eyes and said, "Wingardium Leviosa!" To his immense relief, the book on the desk levitated three feet into the air and floated serenely for as long as Harry held his hand extended.

"That was much better, Harry," Kingsley said.

"But, sir, in battle I won’t have the time to do all of this," Harry said. "What's the point?"

"Harry, you will learn to perform wandless magic with ease in time," Kingsley said. "It takes practice, just as everything else does."

Harry nodded. By the end of the lesson, he had managed to levitate and summon several objects in turn as well as to produce a shield charm, though it was much weaker than the one he could conjure with his wand. As they were packing up, Kingsley advised him to begin practicing wandless magic in his practice duels with his friends, but Harry was not ready to let them know about that particular facet of his training.

* * *

After a dinner in which Ginny and Hermione tried fruitlessly to start a conversation involving both Ron and Harry and an evening in the common room silently revising for midterm exams, Harry finally excused himself and went up to the empty dormitory to try and talk to Remus. He hoped that his guardian was wearing his amulet tonight, as he really hoped to have a conversation with him, rather than just leaving him a message.

Harry got his amulet out of his trunk and pulled the hangings around his bed. He held it tightly in his hand and concentrated on contacting Remus. He had found, ironically, that the easiest way for him to make the connection was not to focus directly on Remus, but to imagine dialing a Muggle telephone. Even though the connection was not actually auditory but more of a form of telepathy, Harry thought it was actually quite like its Muggle equivalent.

It seemed that luck was on his side tonight, and Remus greeted Harry when he felt his own amulet grow warm. "Hello, Harry. How was your week at school?"

"Not so great, actually."

"Why not?" Harry could hear the concern in Remus's voice as clearly as if they had been in the same room.

"Ron and I are still not speaking, and I don't know why," Harry responded. He had talked to Remus the day after the village battle, and he had told him about his falling-out with Ron.

"Has he said anything more? It doesn't seem like Ron to stay angry for so long after you had already apologized."

"No, he won't say anything to me," Harry replied.

"Harry, friends will have their disagreements. If you have already apologized and shown yourself willing to reconcile, you can only wait until he is ready to do the same. I know how frustrating it is, but he will come around. Sirius and James had rows quite often, actually...and they always made up."

This actually made Harry feel a bit better. Sirius had been the best man in his parents' wedding, so he knew that their friendship had not been harmed by their bickering. "But did either one of them ever hold a wand to the other's throat?"

Remus chuckled. "Actually, I quite remember a time when they did quite worse than that. Sirius always had the worse temper of the two of them, and your father made one crack too many about Sirius's latest girlfriend. I wasn't there at the time."

"What did Sirius do, and how did you know about it if you weren't there?"

"Well, I found out about it when I found James floating near the edge of the lake about three hours later. Apparently, Sirius had petrified him and cast a floating charm, then put him out on the water. When he started feeling bad about it, he found me and told me where to find James...he was afraid of what your father would do to him when he was un-petrified!"

Harry laughed aloud, glad that no one in the dormitory was there to hear him. He always enjoyed Remus's tales of his days in school. He felt like he got to know his father, Sirius, and Remus better each time he heard one.

"So how was your lesson with Kingsley today?" Remus asked.

"It was hard. I've been distracted with all this stuff going on, and it was hard to concentrate enough on wandless magic. I got it in the end, though, and I even raised a shield charm."

"Harry, I am sure Kingsley told you this, but as you master wandless magic, you will be able to do it more easily with time. Do you remember the amount of focus it took your first year to do even the simplest spells? Yet, once you learned them, they became second-nature. Do you understand what I mean?"

Harry nodded, and then remembered that Remus couldn't actually see him. The clarity of the conversation in his mind made him feel so much as if they were in the same room that it was easy to forget that Remus was not actually there.

"Yes, I understand," he answered. "I just hope you're right."

"I am," Remus answered confidently, never doubting Harry's abilities for even a second. The two chatted comfortably for a few more minutes before Harry heard his roommates coming up the stairs. He quickly bid goodnight to Remus and tucked the amulet under his robes, hiding it from view. His friends knew about it, of course, but he did not want too many people to be aware of it. Maybe it was Moody's constant growls of "constant vigilance," but even though Remus had told him only they could use them, he still didn't want them to fall into the wrong hands.

* * *

"Has the giant received our gift?" the voice hissed.

Kneeling on the cold stone of the heatless room, Draco Malfoy tried not to shiver as he answered, "He has, my Lord."

There was silence for a few moments, but Draco knew that Lord Voldemort had not yet left him alone in the small dungeon chamber, so he did not get up even though his legs were quickly becoming numb with cold.

"Were you aware that you were seen entering the forest both times you have visited?" the Dark Lord asked suddenly, his cold voice sounding almost amused.

"I was wearing the Invisibility Cloak, my Lord," Draco answered quickly but softly. If someone had seen him, he knew that he would be punished severely, both by Lord Voldemort and by his own father.

"Yes, young Malfoy, I am aware of it," the voice responded. "The wards have been strengthened around the castle, and I anticipated this complication. I am told that fool of a Headmaster is the only one who has detected your comings and goings, but that he does not believe you have sworn your loyalty to me yet. He is allowing you to pass in hopes that you will see his way before you leave school."

Draco felt a surge of anger at Dumbledore at that moment. That interfering old fool made it almost impossible to go undetected for long in the castle. He felt another surge of rage as he wondered again who had told his Lord about the breach of the wards, especially considering that he, Draco, had not even known about it

"Your father will be sending you a second gift for our giant via post owl tomorrow," Voldemort said, and Draco heaved a sigh of relief as he detected no signs of anger in his master's voice. "I am not able to breach Dumbledore's wards at this time, so I would advise extreme caution on your part in all other areas. We would not want him to become suspicious." The threat was evident in his voice.

"No, my Lord," Draco said. "We would not."

* * *

The grounds were bitterly cold through the rest of November and into December, and Harry and Ginny had to use their wands to melt a path in the snow on the way back to the castle after the last Quidditch practice before the Christmas holidays.

"Harry, I know Mum invited you to stay with us over Christmas," Ginny said. "You're coming, aren't you?"

Harry hesitated. He wanted to spend the holiday at the Burrow, of course – he was quite eager to spend time with Ginny and the rest of the Weasleys, but he had two reasons for not having sent at owl back to Mrs. Weasley just yet. The first was that he also wanted to spend the holidays with Remus as well. The second was that, although the open animosity had diminished, he and Ron had still not repaired their friendship, and he was not at all sure that Ron would want him to go.

He chose not to mention Ron in front of Ginny, and he said, "Well, I don't want Moony to spend Christmas alone at Grimmauld Place, so I'll probably go there."

Ginny glanced at him. "Mum's already invited Remus to stay at the Burrow as well," she told him. "Didn't you know? She had the feeling that you would want to be with him as well, and she doesn't like anyone to be alone over Christmas, anyway."

"I didn't know," Harry said with some surprise. "Moony didn't tell me that."

"I reckon he wanted it to be a surprise, Harry," Ginny told him. "He was sure you would be spending the break with us, and of course he wanted to be with you over the holidays as well."

"I, er – " Harry began, not sure how to phrase his second hesitation.

"You're afraid that Ron doesn't want you?" Ginny said, glancing at him shrewdly.

"Well, yeah," Harry admitted.

"Don't be stupid, Harry. Of course Ron wants you to come and stay with us."

"He hasn't spoken to me since Halloween," Harry pointed out.

"When are you two going to grow up and talk to each other about it?" Ginny said in frustration. "Besides, even if Ron is still being a prat, I want you to come to the Burrow, Harry. Doesn't that count for anything?"

He squeezed her hand. "Of course it does. I just don't want to spoil Ron's Christmas."

"Then talk to him, Harry. He can't still be mad at you for what happened on Halloween night. He knows you didn't do it on purpose, so what's going on?"

"I don't know," Harry said. "But he is going to have to talk to me first. I'm not upset with him. He's the one who won't speak to me." The truth was, Harry was frustrated enough with Ron's silence that he had even considered using Legilimency to see if he could find out why his friend was so angry with him, but he did not want to invade Ron's privacy like that. He didn't like to think what would happen if Ron realized what he was doing.

Ginny sighed, wondering why it always took boys so long to figure out what was right under their noses. "Hermione and I reckon that he's jealous, Harry," she said.

"Jealous?" Harry replied incredulously. "Of what?"

"Of our relationship," Ginny replied simply. "You've been his best mate for almost six years now, and Hermione reckons his feelings have been hurt because you spend so much time with me."

"I don't spend any more time with you than he does with Hermione," Harry replied in confusion. "Actually, I don't feel like I get to spend enough time with anyone with everything I have to do this term."

"I know that, Harry," Ginny replied. "But maybe he's worried that you don't need him anymore, or that you care for me more than you care for him."

"That's stupid," Harry said bluntly. "There's no rule that says I can't date you and still be friends with Ron."

"Of course there isn't," Ginny replied, the slightest hint of exasperation in her voice. "Look, Harry, just talk to him. I'm going to be upset at both of you if this stupid row keeps us from spending Christmas together."

Harry stopped as they reached the entrance to the castle and pulled Ginny into his arms. He was being stupid, he knew. No matter what was going on with Ron, he wanted to spend the holidays with Ginny as well. Now that he knew Remus was going to be there, too, he had no excuses left. "Of course I'll go, Ginny," he said softly, and he bent to kiss her softly before they went into the castle for dinner. He had to admit that the prospect of getting to spend so much time with her was rather exciting to him. He resolved to try and talk to Ron before the end of term, to see if they could reconcile their differences and be mates again. Harry had to admit that he missed him. Hogwarts just wasn't the same without having Ron by his side.

That night, Harry cast his silencing charm as usual before he went to bed. He had witnessed no further attacks since the one on Halloween night, but casting the charm had become habit, and he had taken to casting it wandlessly lately. His lessons with Kingsley and Dumbledore had improved greatly over the past month as Harry learned to put his frustrations aside and focus the way he knew he had to, and after Christmas, he and Kingsley were going to progress into soundless magic and start putting everything together for some real duels.

Harry reinforced his Occlumency shield as usual, but he had not even been asleep for an hour when the thing he had been dreading happened once again. He had known it would; his scar had been hurting for three days now, but he had hoped that his Occlumency shield would keep him from having to witness it.

"Who are you?" asked a small woman in an obviously Muggle household. "What do you want?"

"You have nothing that I want, Muggle," Harry could feel his mouth move as Lord Voldemort said the words.

"Then why are you here?" the woman continued boldly, but Harry heard a quiver of fear in her voice. He could feel Voldemort's excitement as he did not answer but pointed his long finger up the stairs to the left of the woman.

She screamed as she saw three men in black robes and masks come down the stairs, each holding a struggling child easily in his arms.

"Allow me to introduce three of my most trusted followers," Voldemort said coldly. "They have been performing their duties with unparalleled dedication, and I thought it was high time they were rewarded. Macnair, is there anyone else upstairs?"

The Death Eater holding the smallest child shook his head. "Only the three brats, my Lord," said the raspy voice that Harry recognized as belonging to Buckbeak's would-be executioner.

Harry watched in horror as the Death Eaters killed each child in turn, not with the Avada Kedavra curse, but slowly, enjoying the screams of their mother as they writhed in pain and howled in fear. She begged for their lives, offered herself in their place, but to no avail.

When the children were dead, Voldemort turned to leave.

"My Lord, what of the woman?" asked the voice of Bellatrix Lestrange.

"Kill her," Voldemort hissed unconcernedly as he swept out of the house.

Harry awoke dripping with sweat, hot tears streaking his face, his throat raw from silent screams. His roommates slept on as Harry quietly got up and pulled on his dressing gown to make another trek, this time alone, to the Headmaster's office. His heart pounded with furious rage as he walked, and he did nothing to stem the flow of his tears – in fact, he barely even noticed them. Voldemort had had no reason to attack that family. He had simply done it because he felt like it, because his blood-thirsty Death Eaters wanted a reward for their work while the next battle was being planned. Harry's disgust threatened to make him sick as he said the password, went up the revolving staircase, and knocked on Dumbledore's door.


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