Minerva McGonagall stood in her tartan dressing gown, listening closely for any sign of disturbance within the school and awaiting a second message from the Headmaster. He had directed her to remain at the school while he and Professors Flitwick, Sinistra and Tonks as well as Madam Pomfrey had hurried down to Hagrid's cabin. In the current climate, the students could not be left unattended even for a moment, and Professor McGonagall took her responsibilities seriously.
Since the news of Fudge's sacking and Imelda Arnold's rise to the top position in the Ministry, Dumbledore had requested that the teachers at Hogwarts stay even more alert than usual. Nothing suggested that anything was amiss, but in times of war and political upheaval, one could never be too certain. Most of the professors had been around long enough to know just how true that could be.
The familiar translucent silver signal came through her office door a few moments later, and McGonagall listened attentively to the message Albus Dumbledore had sent. The tone of the message was as calm and even as ever, but she thought she detected a note of extreme worry behind the sedate words.
"Minerva," the Headmaster's voice echoed around the wood-paneled office, "Rubeus Hagrid has been seriously injured, and it appears as though there is a giant in residence in the forest. We will be bringing Hagrid back up to the school. Contact as many Order members as possible to conduct a search on the premises."
As McGonagall went about the methodical business of contacting the Order, she wondered how a giant could have been living in the forest without anyone's knowledge. With the strict security measures imposed upon the school this year, she just didn't see how it had happened. She supposed that, as long as the giant had remained in the forest the wards would not have detected it, but why hadn't Hagrid himself seen it? Was this the reason Draco Malfoy had been visiting the forest regularly since the beginning of term?
Her fire burned green and Order members exited one by one, received their updates and instructions, and left her office as quickly as she came. As McGonagall stood post at the school, Bill, George, Percy, Molly and Arthur Weasley came through the Floo one after another, followed closely by Remus Lupin (who perhaps knew the forest better than anyone), Kingsley Shacklebolt, Mundungus Fletcher, and two newer members who she hadn't met yet.
After the last Order member had been dispatched to search the Forbidden Forest for the giant, McGonagall prepared to go up to the hospital wing to check on Hagrid. She had received no further message and did not yet know whether he had survived. As her thoughts returned to Hagrid, she suddenly stopped in her tracks and mentally chided herself for not realizing exactly what she needed to do.
The only possible answer as to how the giant was living in the forest without having been discovered was that Hagrid, much as he had with the baby dragon all those years ago and the acromantula when he was in school, was actively hiding the giant there. The questions were twofold: why would he do such a thing, and why had the giant turned on him?
Her lips thin, Minerva McGonagall abruptly changed directions and proceeded up the many staircases to the one place in which she was certain she could find answers. Potter, Weasley and Granger had a habit of knowing more about what went on at Hogwarts than most of the professors and sometimes even Albus Dumbledore. As she approached the portrait guarding the entrance to Gryffindor Tower, McGonagall hated the fact that she was about to deliver more bad news, but she knew they would find out soon enough, and she badly needed the information they might have.
* * *
Harry had not even begun to fall asleep when Ron burst through the door, looking highly alarmed.
"Harry! You still awake, mate? Professor McGonagall's downstairs and she wants to see all four of us immediately!"
Harry sat straight up and grabbed his glasses from his side table. "What does she want?" he asked.
"I don't know, but she looks really mad or upset, or something..." Ron trailed off as Harry quickly pulled on his robes and shoes. Professor McGonagall never came to the Gryffindor common room unless something was seriously wrong.
When Harry had finished dressing and had armed himself with his wand once again, he hurried down the stairs after Ron to meet Ginny, Hermione, and a grim-looking Professor McGonagall. The rest of the Gryffindors had stopped working on their homework, chatting and playing games to stare at them, wondering what had happened.
"Potter, Weasley," McGonagall said seriously, "I would like the four of your to come with me to my office."
"Yes, Professor," Harry said, "but what –"
"We will discuss it in my office, Potter," she responded, and the four of them followed her out the portrait hole and to her office, which unlocked and opened magically for them as they approached.
When they had all entered the office and McGonagall had closed the door behind them, Hermione was the one who spoke first. "Professor?" she asked tentatively. "What's happened?"
"How long," McGonagall began sternly, "have you known about the giant in the forest?"
Ginny's mouth dropped open; when Harry, Ron and Hermione had told her about Grawp, she had assumed that Dumbledore and everyone else already knew about it. "You didn't know?" she asked.
Harry, Ron and Hermione, however, shifted uncomfortably in their seats. They had known about Grawp since the end of last term, when Hagrid had asked them to care for his half-brother if he got sacked by Professor Umbridge. They were fully aware that Dumbledore and the other teachers had known nothing about it.
"Potter, Weasley and Granger," McGonagall said, correctly interpreting their discomfort, "you will tell me anything you know about this immediately."
"Grawp is Hagrid's half-brother," Harry began, but it suddenly occurred to him that there must be a good reason why McGonagall had come all the way to Gryffindor Tower after curfew to ask them about this. If she had only wanted to give them a telling-off for knowing about Grawp and keeping it secret, she would have waited until morning.
The same thought seemed to occur to Hermione. "Professor McGonagall," she asked, "why are you asking us this now?"
"Miss Granger," McGonagall answered severely, but she seemed to soften slightly before she continued. "All of you, listen to me. Hagrid's house has been attacked."
"Hagrid's house?" Ron asked disbelievingly. "But what about the wards?"
"It appears that the giant – " Professor McGonagall began.
"Grawp," Hermione supplied. "That's his name. Hagrid brought him the summer before fifth year, after he went to see the giants in the mountains."
"It appears that this creature came out of the woods less than an hour ago. We were alerted when the wards bordering the grounds were breached."
"What about Hagrid?" Harry asked, his heart sinking.
"Professor Dumbledore has informed me that Hagrid has been seriously injured," Professor McGonagall said, her voice growing worried. "I do not know anything else at present."
"Hagrid?" Ginny asked softly. "But why did Grawp attack him?"
"It doesn't make any sense," Hermione said. "Hagrid's been taking care of him, and at the end of last term, he even said that Grawp was becoming more social. He was learning to speak English! So why would he do it?"
"Giants are violent, Hermione," Ron said, in a tone suggesting that everyone knew that. "Likely Grawp decided he didn't like living in the forest."
"Professor," Harry asked, "how did Grawp do it? Did he attack with his bare hands or did he have a weapon?"
"I don't know, Potter," McGonagall answered. "We will have more answers when Professor Dumbledore comes. While we are waiting, I need to know anything you know about this giant."
For the next few minutes, Harry, Ron and Hermione filled McGonagall in about Grawp while Ginny listened, interrupting only once. "None of you ever bothered telling me any of this!" she exclaimed indignantly just after Harry and Hermione had finished explaining how they had left the final Quidditch match early and had met the giant for the first time.
"You were playing Quidditch at the time, Ginny, and we did tell you later," Harry said hastily, and she nodded.
"Anyway, Professor," Hermione said, and went on to describe Grawp's intervention when she and Harry were about to be attacked by centaurs. Just as she was describing how the giant had called her "Hermy" and had asked for Hagrid, another translucent silver shape passed through the office door. Professor McGonagall shushed Hermione just as Albus Dumbledore's voice sounded through the office. Harry, Ron, Ginny and Hermione, none of whom had actually been on the receiving end of one of the Order's messages, all jumped slightly at the sound.
"Hagrid is being taken to the hospital wing," Dumbledore's voice said. "Kindly find Mr. Potter, Miss Granger, and Mr. Weasley and bring them along, as I believe they may have information that could be of use."
Harry, Ron and Hermione looked uneasily at one another at these words, and Harry wondered whether they would be told off for not having told anyone about Grawp. There was no time to think on it, though, as McGonagall shooed all four of them out of the office in front of her and toward the hospital wing.
When they got there, they found Hagrid lying unconscious atop the largest hospital cot Harry had ever seen. Ginny gasped and buried her head instinctively in Harry's shoulder at the sight of him. Part of his face seemed to be crushed, and his dark, bushy hair and beard were matted with blood. Harry could tell by the way Hagrid's body was positioned that the rest of his body was badly broken as well. His face was grey and without color, and to Harry and his friends, he looked to be near death.
"Will he…" Hermione whispered, tears running down her face.
"Madam Pomfrey expects Hagrid to make a full recovery," Dumbledore said calmly, "although it will take some time."
"Professor," Harry said as they left the hospital wing and stood in the corridor. "Grawp didn't do that with his hands. Did he have a weapon?"
"He had a large club," squeaked Professor Flitwick.
"A club?" Hermione echoed.
"How'd he get a club?" Harry wondered. "I know Hagrid never gave him any kind of weapon. And what made him turn against Hagrid anyway?"
"I have several theories on that, Harry, and I assure you that we will do all we can to see that nothing of this nature occurs again. It would have been helpful, however, if we had known of this situation before it went so badly awry." The Headmaster looked at each of them in turn, but there was no condemnation in his gaze.
"He asked us not to tell, Professor," Hermione said nervously.
"Loyalty to a friend is indeed a fine quality, Miss Granger," Dumbledore replied simply. “Now, I believe if all of you were to go directly to my office, you might find a surprise waiting for you there."
"A surprise?" Ginny asked. This did not seem to be the time for presents, and she could not imagine what might be in Dumbledore's office that would serve as a surprise for them.
"Yes, Miss Weasley, a surprise," Dumbledore answered, smiling kindly at her. "Best be off now."
The four of them took their leave of the group of professors, but Harry stopped halfway down the corridor and looked over his shoulder. He had just noticed that Professor Snape was nowhere to be found, and just as he noticed that, another thought occurred to him.
"Where is Grawp now?" he asked.
"We have not found him yet, Harry, and we were forced to call off the search due to the darkness. Rest assured, he will be found," Dumbledore answered. "Now to my office, all of you."
* * *
The "surprise" turned out to be five dirty, disheveled Weasleys. Molly, Arthur, Bill, Percy and George had just returned from the forest and had requested to see Ginny and Ron before going back to the Burrow. Molly had no sooner heard them coming up the stairs than she was out of her own seat and hugging each of them fiercely. Her children had only been gone for a couple of days, but after Fred, she could hardly bear to let any one of them out of her sight.
"Mum!" Ginny exclaimed, hugging her mother tightly and then stepping back to let Ron have his turn. "What are you doing here?"
"The Order called us out to help search the forest," Bill answered, seeing as how his mother was too busy crushing Ron's ribcage in a fierce hug to answer.
"For Grawp?" Harry asked, just before Mrs. Weasley moved on to hug him.
"Grawp?" Mr. Weasley replied.
"That's the name of the giant who most likely attacked Hagrid," Hermione explained.
Mrs. Weasley sighed, releasing her hold on Harry and settling back down into her chair. "What do you four have to do with this?" she asked tiredly. It seemed as though Harry and her children were always in the middle of whatever was going on.
"Nothing, Mum," Ron answered hastily, knowing his mother would not take kindly to the news that her son had helped harbor a giant in the forest just outside of the school grounds.
For a moment, it looked as though Ginny was going to tell her mother everything she had heard, but glancing at Harry's worried face, she decided to keep it to herself.
"You just make sure you're concentrating on your studies, all of you," Mrs. Weasley said. "Now, tell me about your first day back at classes."
They passed the next hour pleasantly until Arthur regretfully broke up the party, suggesting that the teenagers would need to get a good night's sleep and that the rest of the Weasleys had busy days ahead of them.
After Harry had hugged Mrs. Weasley and shaken hands with Mr. Weasley, Bill, George and Percy, he headed towards the door. It was almost midnight by now, and although he did not like to admit it, he was tired.
"Percy!" Ginny exclaimed as she reached the door. "When did you become an Order member?"
"Just today," Percy replied.
"Right after he came to work for Weasley's Wizard Wheezes," George said seriously, and Harry's jaw dropped. Percy was working for a joke shop?
"I know we all have a lot to talk about," Arthur said, "but now is not the time. We will see one another soon enough, and I trust that you will send Pig and Sammy to us regularly with updates."
"Of course we will, Dad," Ginny said, giving her father an extra hug.
"Now, to bed, all of you!" Molly chided, shooing them out the door before they could see the tears that were once again threatening as she sent her children out of her sight once again. As Ginny passed her on the way out, she gave her mother another hug and whispered something in her ear. Molly looked startled, but nodded, and Ginny hurried to catch up with Harry on their way down the revolving staircase.
Ginny held Harry's hand tightly, pulling him a bit back from Ron and Hermione. "No more secrets, Harry," she said quietly as they walked.
"Secrets?" Harry replied blankly. He was tired, and for the moment thoughts of Grawp and Hagrid had eclipsed the new assignment about which he had not told his friends.
"You didn't tell me that no one knew about the giant," Ginny said simply, and when it looked like Harry was about to protest, she added hastily, "That's okay, I understand. We weren't together then."
Harry wondered where all this was going. "Yeah, I know, and you were playing Seeker when Hagrid introduced us to Grawp, because I had been banned, remember? So it's not like I really had a chance to talk to you about it."
"I know, Harry, but that is not the case now," Ginny interjected. "I'm not upset about that, not really. But I do want to know what else you are hiding, and I know that whatever it is, it's big. I haven't seen you looking so worried in a long time."
"There's nothing –” Harry tried to insist.
"Don't be a prat, Harry," Ginny said. "I know you don't want to tell us whatever it is, and I'm sure you have your reasons, but don't you dare lie to me and tell me there's nothing going on. I'm not stupid, you know, and I'm not a little girl." Her last words sounded almost bitter, and Harry stopped in his tracks, causing her to stop as well.
"Ginny, I never said you were stupid or a little girl," he told her. "It's just that…"
"Just what, Harry?" she asked, but before he could answer, she ducked behind a tapestry and into one of the many secret passages in Hogwarts. Looking around to make sure they would have privacy, she sat with her back to the stone wall, and pulled Harry down to do the same.
"Ginny, it's late," Harry began.
"You're not getting off the hook that easily, Harry Potter. The quicker you tell me what's going on, the quicker you get to go to bed," she insisted.
"Ginny, there are just things you don't need to know!" Harry said with sudden vehemence.
"That's bunk, Harry," Ginny said, putting one finger on his chin and turning his face to look straight into hers. "If something concerns you, it concerns me."
"That's – " Harry began to protest. He did not want her to have any information that could put her in more danger.
"I love you, Harry, or have you forgotten?" Ginny said passionately. "And that's what love is; it means that whatever concerns you, concerns me. It also means that I'm going to worry about you no matter what you do or do not tell me. I know what you're facing, Harry, we all do, and whatever this is, it can't be worse than that. Please tell me, love. Tell me so I can support you, stand with you. It's what I want."
Harry was startled, and if he would admit it, deeply moved by what she had said. He had never in his life have someone speak to him like that, never had someone love him so openly and without reserve. As he looked into her brown eyes, he couldn't find it in his heart to deny her anything.
So, his back against a freezing stone wall and his buttocks growing colder every moment, Harry sat in that secret passageway and told Ginny about everything - about his lessons, about the Order's new plan, about everything he was worried about. He realized about halfway through that he had never even told her that he was learning Legilimency, but she let it slide. When he was finished, there were tears swimming in her eyes, but she kept her head proudly up. Her voice did not waver.
"Is this what has to be done?" she asked directly.
"Yes," Harry answered her, looking away from her face for a moment.
Once again, Ginny turned his head to face her and he could see that her face was set in determination, despite the tears that threatened to fall. "If this is what you have to do, Harry, then I'm with you," she said, her voice steely with strength. "Damn Dumbledore, damn the Order, and damn that evil, twisted bastard who's wrecking everyone's lives. I promised that you would never be left alone again, and if you don't think I meant that, then you should think again. No one has the right to make you do this on your own, and I won't allow it. Never again."
She finished her speech, breathing heavily, and Harry once again was left not knowing how to respond. She saved him the trouble, however. Without even a glance around her, she pulled Harry into a fierce embrace and kissed him long and hard, the first time she had done so since Fred died.
When they finally returned to Gryffindor Tower and to their dormitories, Harry found that falling asleep was not so hard after all.
* * *
Ginny and Harry caught Ron and Hermione on the way to breakfast the following morning, and after everyone else had cleared the common room, told them about Dumbledore's plan. It was a sign of the seriousness of the situation that Ron never once complained about missing breakfast. Ron's and Hermione's reactions to the news were almost exactly what Ginny's had been. Hermione looked highly worried and Ron swore that Dumbledore was mental, but they both promised Harry that they would support him in whatever way they could.
"How could Dumbledore ask you not to say anything, Harry?" Hermione said with the merest hint of disapproval in her voice. "Hasn't he always told you that your ability to love and be loved is your greatest strength? Why would he want you to isolate yourself?"
"I don't know," Harry answered. "He just didn't want anyone to find out, I guess."
"But he knows he can trust us," Hermione said indignantly.
"I don't know, Hermione, all right? Let's just go downstairs, or we're going to be late for classes." The truth was, the more Harry thought about it, the sorrier he was that he had told his friends. Having this information just placed them in more danger. They were already in danger of being used as bait, much as Sirius had been at the end of last term, but if Voldemort found out they had information this crucial to the war, he would not hesitate to do whatever he had to do to get it.
Ginny seemed to know what he was thinking as she walked him down to Dumbledore's office. She squeezed his hand and said, "We'll be all right, Harry. Don't worry about us."
"I can't help it," Harry said honestly as they reached the stone gargoyle in front of the Headmaster's office.
Ginny nodded toward the gargoyle and asked him one more time, "You have to do this, right? There's no other way?"
"There's no other way," Harry said resolutely, his heart racing at the thought of what he was about to do.
"Then go do it, Harry," Ginny told him, standing on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek. "I'll be waiting for you after classes." With one final glance, she broke away from him and walked down the hall, her steps marked by determination.
Harry gulped as he said the password and traveled up the familiar staircase to Dumbledore's office. He had no idea how he was going to do this, and the more he thought about it, the worse the idea began to come. What if Voldemort detected him and used this to break through Harry's defenses? The thought of the information about his friends that Voldemort could find in his mind was enough to terrify Harry. Keeping his defenses up had become second-nature to him, but he knew how hard it would be to do so while he was trying to perform Legilimency, especially over a distance. No one else, not even Dumbledore, could do that, and Harry knew how difficult it would be. The only reason he would be able to do it at all would be because of the connection the two wizards shared, but Harry was worried that even that might not be enough this time.
"Come in, Harry," Dumbledore responded in his customary fashion after Harry had knocked on the door.
"Good morning, Professor," Harry said politely as he set his bag on the floor and seated himself in his usual chair before the Headmaster's desk.
"Are you ready?" Dumbledore asked without preamble.
"I'm ready," Harry said, hoping his voice sounded stronger than he felt.
"I would like to give you one last opportunity to refuse this assignment, Harry, for once we begin there can be no turning back. Are you certain you wish to go forward?"
"I'm sure," Harry answered.
"Then let us begin the training. We will not actually make an attempt today, but rather we will be getting you prepared to do so as quickly as possible. What you must understand is that your ability to connect with Voldemort over large distances; indeed, even when one of you does not know the other's exact location, is something which has never been known to happen, therefore much of what we must do is engage in guesswork until we hit upon a method which works."
Harry nodded, feeling a bit less nervous once he knew he would not actually be breaking into Lord Voldemort's mind that day.
"Now, Harry," Dumbledore began, leaning forward in his chair and resting his arms on his desk. "At the end of your fourth year, you dueled with Lord Voldemort just after his return."
Harry did not even bother to nod, resigning himself to the fact that Dumbledore, once again, was going to begin the lesson with a rehashing of things everyone already knew.
"I remember you telling me what happened as your wands refused to duel with one another," Dumbledore continued. "Can you remember now?"
"I couldn't forget, sir," Harry said quietly. "The wands connected, and it was like there were, I don't know, beads of light on the connection. Voldemort was trying to force them back at me, and I was trying to force them back at him. I don't know what they were, but when they got to his wand –”
"Thank you, Harry," Dumbledore interrupted before Harry would have to describe Cedric Diggory and his parents coming out of Voldemort's wand and helping him escape. "What we are interested in today are those beads of light, that connection between the two of you. When you have practiced Legilimency on me, how have you forged the connection?"
"Through your eyes," Harry answered automatically.
"That's correct, Harry, and it is how Legilimency is traditionally performed," Dumbledore continued. "Our difficulty here lies in the fact that you will not have the ability to look directly into Lord Voldemort's eyes as you make the same attempt with him."
"No," Harry said, wondering more than ever how they expected him to accomplish this.
"What we must do is forge the connection in another way," the Headmaster said. "Now, as a beginning exercise, I am going to turn away from you and close my eyes. I wish for you to try and perform Legilimency on me."
Harry tried, but he was unsuccessful. No matter what he did, he could not gain access to the Headmaster's thoughts when his back was turned, and he wondered again how he was going to do so with Voldemort over an even greater space.
Dumbledore turned back to him. "Not to worry, Harry," he said. "I did not expect you to be able to do it that way immediately. Now, I would like you to remember, to focus on that beam of light, and imagine a similar beam between yourself and me."
Harry closed his eyes tightly, forcing himself to remember that beam and the golden beads of light which had connected his wand with Lord Voldemort's nearly two years before.
"Would you allow me to see, Harry?" Dumbledore asked quietly when Harry's features had relaxed sufficiently to tell him that his student was picturing the connection.
Harry nodded slightly, his eyes still closed, and dropped his defenses in slight increments until he could feel the slight tickle that was Dumbledore's intrusion upon his thoughts.
"Continue to concentrate," Dumbledore said, and Harry felt the tickle increase to a more forceful push as the Headmaster continued to probe his mind. As the pressure increased, Harry fought to continue envisioning the golden connection.
Abruptly, the pressure ceased, and Dumbledore asked Harry to come back into the present. When he opened his eyes, Dumbledore was staring at him seriously. "That was very good, but tell me, why did you opt to tell your friends of our plans when I specifically asked you not to?"
Harry bristled. He did not like having his thoughts invaded, and he resented the fact that the adults in his life were still trying to make his decisions for him. "They know everything already, Professor," he said, trying not to sound defensive. "Ginny knew something was going on, and I was going crazy trying to keep it from them. We can trust all of them."
Dumbledore sighed. "I am aware of that, Harry," he said, "and I realize that I must remember that you and your friends are no longer children. It was wrong of me to ask you to bear this alone, but please understand that I had my reasons."
"I understand, sir," Harry said respectfully, but he was not about to apologize.
"With this being as it is, however, I believe that we will be able to use your friends in our endeavors."
Harry's head snapped up. "Use them?" he asked disbelievingly. "Professor, I – "
"Do not misunderstand me, Harry," Dumbledore interrupted, correctly guessing that Harry believed that he wanted to use his friends in a way which would endanger them. "I am not suggesting placing your friends in any danger. However, if a connection could be forged…" he trailed off, apparently deep in thought, and Harry waited several moments before interrupting.
"A connection?" he asked.
"Your loved ones are your greatest source of power, Harry," Dumbledore said. "That is the one thing about you that Voldemort will never be able to understand, never be able to conquer. If they are beside you in your attempts to breach his mind, you will be that much more powerful, that much more able to resist…"
"Resist Voldemort breaking back into my mind," Harry finished for him.
"That is correct," Dumbledore answered. "It is something to which I will give a great deal of thought before we begin our attempt. Now, however, I would like you to go back to that beam of light. I am going to turn my back once more, Harry, and I would like you to attempt to break into my mind once again. I will not be resisting you this first time. I would like to see what you can do without being able to see my eyes." With that, Dumbledore turned his back.
Harry once again screwed his eyes shut, imagining the golden beam of light connecting himself and the Headmaster. Slowly, carefully, he pushed the beads of light toward Dumbledore, and when he saw the usual images of himself at various ages, he knew he had succeeded and he broke the connection.
"That was excellent," Dumbledore said, looking at Harry proudly but without even the merest trace of a smile. "And now, I believe it is time for you to go. However, I would like to give you one word of advice, if I may."
Harry looked up from repacking his bag, which had fallen over and spilled all over the floor. He gazed at the Headmaster questioningly.
"I know you are busy, Harry, but what we are about to do will drain your energy and your magical reserves as nothing has ever done before. Get as much rest as you can, and do try to spend some time with your friends, especially Miss Weasley."
"Yes, sir," Harry said even as he wondered exactly when he was supposed to do that between his classes, Kingsley's lessons, Tonks' physical training requirements, and the D.A. "Thank you, Professor," he said politely as he picked up his bag and walked toward the door.
"No, thank you, Harry," Dumbledore said quietly after the door had closed. He settled back into his chair, his expression one of great concern. In all honesty, the Headmaster had hoped it would take his student longer to master the basics of distance Legilimency. Harry's success today had only confirmed that it would not be long before he was able to breach Lord Voldemort's mind. He knew that there was no choice and that this was part of Harry's destiny, but that did not stop him from wishing once more that he could take this burden off the shoulders of one so young.
* * *
"Harry is going to do what?" Molly said in a low and dangerous voice. "You cannot be serious, Albus."
"Alas, Molly, I am quite serious. I have been training with Harry for three weeks toward this very goal."
"Three weeks? That's all?" Molly responded. "You've been working with him for only three weeks, and you want him to attempt to break into You-Know-Who's mind?" Her voice was incredulous, and her face had begun to turn red as she worked herself into a rage.
"Harry's been training in Occlumency and Legilimency since this summer," Lupin pointed out, although his already-pale face had turned even whiter at the news. "He agreed to this, Headmaster?"
"Indeed, without reserve," Dumbledore told him sadly. "He is willing and has already shown himself to be quite able to do the task."
"Then we need to move as quickly as possible," Moody growled from his seat at the long table in Grimmauld Place. They were not holding an official Order meeting because Dumbledore wished this to be kept as quiet as possible, but Moody had been by to drop off his spare Invisibility Cloak and had happened upon the conversation between the Weasley parents, Dumbledore, and Remus Lupin.
"This is insanity," Molly snapped. "He's sixteen years old, and he is not under any circumstances going to try to perform Legilimency on You-Know-Who. Don't you all realize how dangerous this is?"
"It will be the most dangerous thing he has ever attempted," Dumbledore confirmed.
"Can we be certain of his success?" Lupin asked quietly.
"I am afraid not," Dumbledore answered.
"So we're putting him through this without even knowing whether or not it will work?" Molly asked incredulously. "Forgive me, Albus, but I believe this is yet another time in which you are placing Harry directly in harm's way, and I simply will not stand for it."
"If Harry has already agreed to it," Lupin said, "he must realize the importance of the information he could bring us. It is information we need to put a stop to this war and if Harry believes himself to be the only one who can do it, he will stop at nothing. He is going to do it with or without our help now, Molly. You know that."
Molly Weasley seemed to deflate right in front of everyone's eyes, and Arthur held her hand for support as she sank back into her chair. "Is there no one else, Albus?" he asked as he squeezed his wife's hand. "What of Severus?"
"Severus is unable to report much to us anymore, and his situation has been compromised. For his own safety, he has been required to distance himself from the Order for a time. I expect a report from him soon, but I do not hold any confidence that it will contain enough information for us to move on our goals."
Moody and the Weasley parents nodded. Severus Snape's job was the most dangerous one in the Order, or it had been until this very moment.
"I believe Harry to be the only person who can provide us with what we need to find Voldemort and his Death Eaters," Dumbledore said bluntly. "And until we do so, he will continue to act with impunity. The death toll is far too high already, and I believe he has set his sights on a higher goal now. We must stop him. I am afraid we have no choice."
Molly nodded as she furiously blinked back tears, and Lupin also seemed to be struggling to control his emotions as he digested the news. They had all known that Harry would be forced to play a potentially deadly role in this war, but everyone had been hoping that it would at least wait until he was out of school.
"I will need your help, however," Dumbledore continued, and everyone looked at him seriously as he began to describe the plan which would take place only three days in the future. When he was finished, Molly had stopped crying, and her face as well as those of Lupin and Arthur were set in much the same expression of stoicism as Ginny's had been the night she found out. They had all vowed to help and to stand behind Harry every step of the way, and they would perform this duty with every ounce of strength they could muster.
* * *
Ginny, Harry, Ron and Hermione met in Professor McGonagall's office early one Saturday morning near the end of January. No one spoke, not even McGonagall, as they waited for word that it was safe to Floo to Grimmauld Place. Today was to be Harry's first attempt to breach Lord Voldemort's defenses, and Dumbledore had asked each of them to accompany Harry to London, where he would make the attempt. The wards around the old Black family home would ensure that they were not detected.
Ginny kept squeezing Harry's hand nervously as Ron and Hermione looked anxiously at one another, and Professor McGonagall straightened papers on her desk, unusually restless. Everyone was on edge as they thought about the danger in what Harry was about to attempt.
Hermione jumped slightly as the fire burned green in the grate and Remus Lupin's head appeared. "We're ready now," he said simply. "Everything has been secured." He glanced up at Harry before his head disappeared, and Ginny's hold on Harry's hand became almost painful.
One by one, Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Harry took glittering handfuls of Floo powder from the pot on the mantle, and they were transported to Grimmauld Place, followed closely by McGonagall.
As soon as Harry came out of the grate in the large kitchen, Remus Lupin stepped forward and seized his shoulder. "Harry," he said, looking at his young charge seriously, "you are not required to do this. If you decide you do not want to at any point, you no longer have to. Are you sure about this?"
"I'm sure, Moony," Harry answered, his voice somber and uncannily adult.
"Shall we begin?" Dumbledore addressed the room at large. "I believe the parlor might be the best location, so if you would all follow me." With that, he turned and swept out of the kitchen with hardly a glance at any of them.
Mrs. Weasley stopped Harry and gave him one of her fiercest hugs before he followed the others into the parlor. "You're so brave, Harry," she said. "We're so proud of you." She had decided after she had heard Harry tell Lupin he did not want to back out that she was not going to suggest it to him. Harry needed confidence for this endeavor if he was going to remain safe, and if too many people offered him the opportunity to quit, she was afraid he would begin to question his own abilities.
Harry nodded stiffly at Mrs. Weasley and he barely felt it when Mr. Weasley clapped him encouragingly on the shoulders, nor did he see the worried look the two parents exchanged behind his back.
When they entered the drawing room, Harry found to his surprise that all the furniture had been moved back and only a single chair remained in the middle.
"Please be seated, Harry," Dumbledore said gravely, indicating the chair. "The rest of you, I want you to surround Harry. Each of you must be in some kind of physical contact with him."
Harry sat down and the others arranged themselves around him, lightly touching his shoulders, arms, and legs. Ginny took his right hand, holding it tightly.
"It is imperative that no matter what happens, none of you break contact with Mr. Potter," McGonagall said, resting her hand lightly on his left shoulder. "It is also important that he has no distractions." She looked severely at Ginny, Ron and Hermione, who gazed unflinchingly back at her and nodded.
"Thank you, Minerva," Dumbledore said, and everyone noticed that he was not making contact with Harry like the rest of them were. "Are you ready to begin, Harry?"
Harry nodded and closed his eyes tightly. After a moment, he began to shake and then to sweat as he concentrated. Mrs. Weasley looked at him anxiously, but did not move or make a sound.
"Concentrate, Harry," Dumbledore said softly. "Focus your energy on the beads of light; force them to go where you need them to go."
Harry could see the beam of light stretching out into nothingness, and he pushed the beads with all of his strength, somehow knowing that he had succeeded in forging the connection, that Lord Voldemort was indeed on the other end of the line.
For several minutes, Harry followed the beads of light, pushing them relentlessly along the long golden thread. He could hear Professor Dumbledore's voice calling to him from somewhere far away, and it encouraged him.
Harry began to lose his strength as he continued to search, but as he began to lose his grip, he was suddenly able to feel tingles of energy coming from the hands on his shoulders, arms and legs, and with a slight squeeze of Ginny's hand, Harry pushed forward, remembering even in his trance why he was doing this.
Suddenly, the thread broke, and Harry was pushed back as if from a strong, repellant magnetic field. His scar exploded in pain, and everyone in the parlor looked panicked as his body jerked and he cried out, much as he had back in the summer when Voldemort and Malfoy had jointly broken into his mind.
The others held onto Harry as instructed, and did not move. Dumbledore, however, crossed the space between himself and his student quickly and stooped to look into his face.
"Harry!" he said urgently. "Wake up, Harry!"
When Harry's eyes remained closed, Dumbledore took his shoulders and shook them slightly. "Harry!" he called, and the whole room seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when Harry's large green eyes fluttered open, and he turned his head and slowly focused on Ginny's face.
You must be logged in to post a review on this story.