Lupin sat once again in the old armchair in Sirius's room, watching Harry's chest rise and fall as he slept. He had not yet awoken following his successful use of Legilimency against Voldemort over two hours before, but Dumbledore had assured them all that Harry had expended a great deal of magical energy and would wake up soon.
"When he wakes up, he must not be alone," Dumbledore had advised them seriously. "He has been through his greatest ordeal to date. Miss Weasley, I believe it is particularly important that you be with him and in physical contact, as it has consistently been your face which Harry seeks when he awakens."
Ron, Hermione, and Lupin had all looked slightly hurt by those words, although all three had quickly tried to conceal it. After Lupin had moved Harry into Sirius's old room, a short consultation had been held in the hall, missing only Ginny, who had refused to leave Harry's side. When the door had opened once more, only Lupin, Hermione and Ron had come inside. Silently, Lupin had settled into the armchair and Ron and Hermione had retreated to the wingbacks in the small sitting area. Ginny had already been sitting on the bed next to Harry, one hand softly smoothing his hair, the other clasped in his.
Molly Weasley looked carefully at her daughter as the others opened the door, and a bittersweet feeling of satisfaction and loss coursed through her heart when she had seen Ginny's face so full of love and concern for Harry. It had become obvious over Christmas just how close the two of them had become, and now it seemed as though their relationship had progressed far beyond a normal teenage romance. Molly knew that Ginny could have chosen no person better than Harry Potter, but she could not help feeling an immense weight of sadness for both of them, knowing everything that still lay ahead for Harry before he could even begin to consider a normal life.
No one in the large bedroom spoke until, almost three hours after the connection had been broken, Harry's eyes began to flutter and he squeezed Ginny's hand.
Ginny's gaze warned the others to remain quiet as she leaned down to whisper into his ear. "Hello, my love," she said. "Are you ready to come back to us now?"
Harry opened his eyes to look at her, and then shifted his gaze to the others. Ron and Hermione were standing at the foot of his bed, holding hands and looking extremely worried, and Lupin was now leaning forward in the armchair, his gaze as intense and full of sadness as it had ever been.
Ginny followed his gaze, and then looked back at him. Their eyes met, and she knew that he wanted to be with her alone for awhile. He just wasn't ready for the questions and the worry and the offers of sympathy from the others yet. She looked up at Lupin, then at Ron and Hermione, and nodded her head toward the door.
"Ginny, I - " Lupin began.
"Harry will speak with you in a bit," Ginny said firmly, nodding once again toward the door, her eyes pleading with Lupin to trust her and not to argue.
"We'll see you in awhile, Harry," Hermione said softly, smiling at her friend though her eyes remained full of worry. She grasped Ron's hand and pulled him towards the door, understanding exactly what Ginny was trying to do even as she wished she could stay with him.
"Er, right, mate," Ron stuttered as Hermione pulled him. "Later, then." He didn't know what his girlfriend was on about, but he knew it was either go with her or have a row right in the room with the rest of them, so he didn't argue.
Lupin still hadn't moved from his seat in the armchair when the door clicked shut behind Ron and Hermione, and Ginny's pleading gaze quickly turned into a glare when she saw that he was not moving.
"Professor, Harry needs some time," she said, struggling to keep her temper. Honestly, sometimes the adults around Harry are so obtuse, she thought furiously.
"I am his guardian, Ginny," Lupin said, his tone measured and even. "I've just as much right to be here as –"
"It's not about who has the right to be here," Ginny said, her eyes blazing. "It's about who Harry wants here, and right now he wants me."
Lupin looked down at Harry, who had not said anything to this point, and found that he was not looking at either of them. Harry had closed his eyes again, and Lupin let his gaze drift down to where Harry's hand was grasping Ginny's so hard that it appeared painful. Harry's body was trembling slightly, and it was obvious that he was about half a step away from a complete breakdown.
"Ginny, it is my responsibility to stay with him," Lupin finally replied, putting enough firmness in his voice that he was sure Ginny wouldn't dare to argue with him. "You can stay as well –"
Once again, Ginny did not let him finish. In a blaze of temper, keeping one hand clasped firmly in Harry's, she rose to her knees on the bed and pulled her wand from the pocket of her robe with the other. "Get out," she said flatly, pointing it directly at his face.
"Ginny, point your wand down. Harry needs an adult," Lupin argued, his eyes now fixed on her wand.
"An adult," Ginny sneered. "Based on the success rate of the adults in his life, I'd say that's about the last thing he needs. Get out, Lupin."
"Moony, just go," Harry said, his voice sounding much stronger than they would have expected, and Lupin was startled to hear some anger in there as well. "Leave me alone."
"Harry," Lupin began.
"Just go!" Harry repeated more emphatically, and Ginny tried not to wince as his grip on her hand became even tighter. She kept her wand pointed at the older man, who now seemed to be losing some of his resolve.
"All right, Harry," Lupin said, his tone dripping with what seemed almost to be disappointment. "But I'll be right outside if you need me."
"Go with the others," Harry said, sitting up suddenly. "I don't need to have some long drawn-out conversation about how this all makes me feel, don't you get it? You all want me to save everyone's arses, but when it comes down to it, you don't think I can handle it, is that it?"
"No, Harry," Lupin said, noting that Ginny had put her wand down but was still staring at him, her gaze unyielding. "I just want –"
"To act like my father," Harry finished for him, all the frustration he had been feeling for the past few weeks coming suddenly to the surface. "Well, I don't have a father, Lupin. Bloody Voldemort killed him, remember? Only now I'm not a kid anymore, and I'm working my arse off to make sure that doesn't happen to anyone else."
Lupin stared at Harry, his eyes wide. This was not the same boy who had come to Grimmauld Place only a few months before, broken and near death.
"You want to help me?" Harry asked him. "Then back the bloody hell off and let me do my job."
Even Ginny was surprised at this statement, but she didn't let it show on her face as Lupin finally stood. "We all want to help you, Harry," he said. "Tell us what you need, and we'll do our best to make sure you get it."
"I need for you to leave me be so I can figure out what I'm going to do next," Harry said somewhat cruelly.
Lupin did not say another word as he turned his back and left the room, the door clicking softly shut behind him so that Ginny and Harry were finally alone.
"So what do you want to do next?" Ginny asked, giving Harry's hand a squeeze. He was still looking toward the door, his face cloudy.
"I know what he wanted," Harry said, ignoring her question. "He wanted me to cry and moan and tell him how terrible it was seeing Mum die."
"Wasn't it?" Ginny asked softly.
Harry sighed, coming down a bit from his annoyance with Lupin. "Yeah," he admitted. "I've heard it before, whenever the dementors got too close third year, but seeing it was different." For the merest fraction of a second, it looked like he was about to cry, but instead he took a deep breath and fixed Ginny with a piercing stare.
"I've got to have another go," he said firmly. "All I got were memories, and all the good they did was showing me just how evil that git really is. There was a door, a locked door. I've got to get past that."
"A locked door?" Ginny asked in some confusion. She had Harry had never really talked about the specifics of Legilimency and Occlumency.
"That's where his defenses were way up," Harry explained. "Whatever's in that part of his mind, he doesn't want anyone to find out."
"But he doesn't know you're doing this, does he?" Ginny asked.
"I don't think so," Harry replied. "If he had, he would have pushed me out as soon as he realized I was in there. Voldemort doesn't trust anyone, even the Death Eaters. He'd have that wall up so no one could gain access."
"What all did you see?"
"Memories, mostly. I saw someone that looked like a younger Dumbledore - that must have been when he found out he was a wizard. I saw people he's killed, places he's destroyed - things like that."
Ginny was a little surprised at the offhand way in which Harry seemed to be recounting the memories, almost as though seeing things like that no longer upset him at all. Truth be told, it scared her. "Harry, I think you should wait a bit before you go again," she said firmly.
"Don't you understand?" Harry said. "The longer I wait, the more time he has to do these kinds of things. You didn't see it, you didn't feel the way it made him feel. He's evil, Ginny; he likes doing these things."
"I know he's evil, and I know you've got to stop him, Harry," Ginny said. "All I'm saying is –"
"I know what you're saying, Ginny," Harry said, grasping her hand in both of his. "But we can't sit around and wait anymore. That time is over."
Ginny nodded, willing herself to stay strong. The last thing Harry needed was a weepy girl on his hands, and she knew that. She kept her eyes dry and her gaze steady as she looked at the man she had chosen to love. "You're right, Harry," she said, and her voice shook only the slightest little bit. "We can't let him hurt anyone else."
Harry leaned forward and kissed her, pulling her into his lap, where they sat in silence for a few moments. As he stared straight in front of him at the bedroom wall, only one thought was in his mind: no matter what else happened, he would not let Voldemort or any of his minions touch Ginny Weasley.
He drew her closer to him as his green eyes filled with tears he refused to shed. The faces of his parents, of Sirius and of the countless friends he had vowed to save flashed through his mind, and even through his tears, his eyes flashed with purpose.
* * *
At Dumbledore's insistence, Harry did not make another Legilimency attempt against Voldemort that day. The Headmaster had pointed out that the morning's success had been quite enough for one day, and that if Harry tried again, he would find it harder to remain undetected.
"You have expended a large amount of energy this morning, Harry," he had said. "And although I have no doubts that you could successfully breach Voldemort's mind again, I fear that you would not be able to keep your presence hidden. That would undo all of the work we've done."
Harry had finally agreed, mainly because Dumbledore had not once suggested that it had been too much for him. What the Headmaster said had made sense, and Harry could find no argument for it. What he didn't know was that Lupin had told Dumbledore about what Harry had said to him, so he had not even attempted to take that tack on the situation, knowing he would meet only resistance.
In their usual class sessions that week, Harry worked with the Headmaster on various ways to get past the inner defenses in Voldemort's mind, specifically the door with the iron spikes. Dumbledore had been quite interested in Harry's description of that door, and indeed of everything else Harry had seen, even though it did not seem to Harry as though any of it was of any real importance.
"Our memories, Harry, can be as telling as any glimpse of the future," Dumbledore told him. "The memories you accessed on Saturday were those at the forefront of his mind, and thus, easiest for you to reach. They are memories which he is particularly proud or fond of, or quite ashamed or afraid of."
"He's fond of his memories of murder?" Harry replied incredulously.
"Indeed," Dumbledore replied, settling back into his chair, his fingers steepled under his chin and his gaze fixed on Harry. "You told me that you felt his enjoyment at the things he had done, did you not?"
Harry nodded, but even though he had felt Voldemort's emotions, he was having trouble understanding how anyone could actually look back on memories of murder and be proud of them.
"And were there also scenes which gave you a feeling other than enjoyment?" Dumbledore continued.
"When I saw the burning wardrobe," Harry said, wondering where this was going, "he didn't like that. And then, when I saw you."
"Correct, Harry," the Headmaster replied. "As a matter of fact, those two memories are related."
"How, sir?" Harry asked, becoming interested in spite of himself.
"You see, I was the wizard who set Tom Riddle's wardrobe aflame nearly sixty years ago," Dumbledore said calmly. "Tom wanted proof that magic existed, even though he already knew by that point that he was different from the other children. I sensed correctly that there were some stolen articles in the wardrobe, so I chose that place for my demonstration. The wardrobe was not harmed, of course."
The wardrobe wasn't harmed? Harry thought. He's talking about Tom Riddle's memories and he thinks I'm concerned about a wardrobe?
Dumbledore seemed to read Harry's thoughts at that moment. "It never does well to destroy the possessions of others, Harry, when it can be helped."
Briefly, Harry wondered if this was a rebuke for his behavior in this office almost a year before, but when he looked at the Headmaster's face, he found that the old man's eyes were twinkling. He's teasing me, Harry thought, once again slightly incredulous at Dumbledore's levity when the stakes were so high.
The Headmaster's expression turned serious once more. "Why do you suppose, Harry, that these memories inspired dislike, even fear, in Voldemort when others, so much more terrible, sparked pleasure for him?"
"Because they had to do with you, sir," Harry said. "Everyone knows you are the only wizard Voldemort has ever feared."
"Not exactly, Harry, and I daresay Voldemort does not fear me nearly as much as people believe he does. Think hard. Can you find no other major difference between the two sets of memories?"
Harry screwed up his face in thought for a few moments, and then the answer started to come to him, almost as if he had known it all along. "Power," Harry said. "When he kills and destroys, he has power, and that's what he wants."
"Go on, Harry," Dumbledore urged.
"Tom Riddle was used to getting what he wanted," Harry continued slowly, piecing it all together as he remembered the scene with the two cowering children in Voldemort's memory. "He had power, he knew that, and he used it on other kids."
"That is correct, do continue."
"When you came and set fire to his wardrobe, it was the first time he knew he'd met someone he couldn't bowl over with his abilities," Harry said. "He was scared, and he's been scared of you ever since."
"An astute observation, Harry," Dumbledore said, inclining his head. "First impressions are indeed powerful, and that is one advantage you yourself possess."
"I've never made an impression on Voldemort," Harry said.
"Indeed?" Dumbledore asked, looking surprised. "I no longer believe I am the only wizard Voldemort fears, if indeed he fears me at all."
"You think Voldemort is scared of me?" Harry said, trying to suppress a sarcastic laugh.
"Harry, think about what you have just discovered," the Headmaster prodded. "You said that Voldemort's greatest fear is the lack of power, did you not?"
"Erm," Harry replied, not at all sure whether or not that was what he had said.
"You have confronted Voldemort five times in your short lifetime, Harry," Dumbledore said gravely. "And each time, you have not only escaped but defeated him in some fundamental way. He has never held any power over you."
"But all those times, someone helped me. I've never done it on my own," Harry said in confusion. "Why would he be afraid of me? I'm no match against him, and he knows it."
"And yet, time and again, you have proven yourself as more than a match for him," Dumbledore insisted. "And not because of others - what help you have received has come about as a direct result of the strength and power you hold within yourself. It is indeed the 'power the Dark Lord knows not,' Harry. He can never hope to have your kind of power, and it will be his undoing."
Harry didn't know what to say. Dumbledore had told him something similar at the start of the school year, and he had not really believed it then. Now, understanding what he did about Voldemort's want, no, his need for power, he had to wonder. Was Voldemort truly afraid of him, as Dumbledore suggested? Almost as soon as the thought entered Harry's mind, he rejected it. It just wasn't possible, wasn't plausible that the most feared wizard of their time was afraid of a sixth-year student who still couldn't manage a simple conjuring spell.
"Now, Harry, about your next Legilimency attempt," Dumbledore said, almost as though they had not delved into Tom Riddle's past. "I believe you have a Quidditch match on Saturday?"
"Yes, sir," Harry answered. The match against Ravenclaw was on Saturday, and Ron was relentlessly working his team in preparation for it.
"It would certainly not do for you to be tired out for Quidditch" Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled.
"I –" Harry said, looking down, hating what he was about to say. He had not considered the fact that the actual break-in to Voldemort's mind was much more taxing than his unsuccessful attempts, and that he would be in no shape for the Quidditch final after another episode like the one the previous weekend. "I don't have to play. There's a reserve Seeker, well, actually, it's Ginny, so we'd use a reserve Chaser instead." He rambled slightly. Quidditch was one of the few things he still looked forward to, but he knew that the war was infinitely more important.
"Quite noble, Harry," Dumbledore said, "but it is unnecessary. Variance is a key factor in any wartime strategy, and we must all take time to enjoy life lest we forget what we are fighting for. I believe that Sunday morning would be an ideal time for another attempt." The Headmaster smiled kindly at Harry, who looked relieved in spite of himself. He had not liked to think of what Ron would say if he found out Harry would not be playing in the final game of the season.
"I believe it is time for your lunch, now, Harry," Dumbledore continued. "Off with you, and good luck on Saturday."
"Thank you, sir," Harry said, his mind still working furiously at the information he had received during that session.
Dumbledore watched him leave, feeling the familiar balloon of pride in his own chest at the young man walking so much more confidently from his office than he had a year ago. With a pang of sadness, he thought of all Harry had faced and had yet to face, but he no longer wished someone else could take the mantle of responsibility from his student. It was clearer now than it had ever been - Harry Potter was not only the man destined to fight Tom Riddle, but was the man destined to defeat him.
* * *
The morning of the Gryffindor versus Ravenclaw Quidditch match dawned cool and incredibly windy, rendering Ron completely speechless over breakfast. As Hermione urged him to eat, he kept glancing up, watching the swiftly-moving white clouds race across the bewitched ceiling of the Great Hall as they all listened to the windows rattle with the force of the spring wind.
After breakfast, the Gryffindor team shouldered their brooms and walked together to the pitch, their free hands clenched tightly to their robes to keep them from blowing right over their heads. When they had all changed into their red and gold Quidditch uniforms, they sat on the benches, waiting expectantly for their Captain to make his traditional pre-game speech.
Harry was reminded forcibly of Oliver Wood's extreme nervousness before the Quidditch final at the end of third year, which had been Wood's last chance of seeing his team win the Quidditch Cup. Ron stood before the other six members of his team, the confidence and leadership he had shown during their many practices seeming quite gone as he nervously cleared his throat, his eyes darting from one of the players to the next. Harry felt Ginny squeeze his hand slightly before letting go and raising it into the air.
"Yes, Ginny?" Ron asked, his voice barely more than a croak.
"How should we adjust our strategies?" Ginny asked him. "What with the wind and all, some of the distance plays we've been using probably won't work quite as well, will they?"
Harry had no doubt that the three Chasers, who worked seamlessly with each other in all conditions, could deal with the wind easily, but the question had seemed to be just what Ron had needed to snap back into his usual Captain's demeanor.
"Right," he said, suddenly sounding a bit more confident. "Ginny, Katie, Meg, for this game I want you staying in close formation. Don't separate until you move in for a goal, and get as close as you can to the hoops before making your shot."
The three Chasers nodded seriously, although Ginny shot a quick grin at Harry when Ron turned his focus on Sloper and Kirke, the two Beaters. "Right, you two," he said briskly. "The Bludgers are going to be even more out of control than usual in this game, so keep a sharp eye out. Kirke, I want you to focus on defending the Chasers. Sloper, your focus is to be on Harry. He's going to have a right hard time finding the Snitch with everything blowing around like it is, and he doesn't need to be worrying about Bludgers any more than he has too."
Andrew Kirke and Jack Sloper both nodded. Harry thought it was pretty smart of Ron to give them such specific assignments. Although the Gryffindor Beaters were playing much better this year than last, their strategies were far from flawless and they had the tendency not to pay as much attention to their teammates as they should.
"Harry," Ron said, turning at last to his Seeker. "You've been a bit distracted lately, mate, and we can't afford that today. Stay high, away from the rest of the game, and keep your eyes open and your mind on the Snitch. Cho Chang's playing better than ever this year, and this is her last shot for the Quidditch Cup, so she's going to be on her game."
Harry scowled a bit as Ron pointed out his lack of focus, but his scowl quickly changed to a suppressed grin when he felt Ginny bristle next to him at the mention of the Ravenclaw Seeker. Although the two girls were civil, even cordial to one another at D.A. meetings, it was obvious to everyone that there was no love lost between them. Ginny was still annoyed at the way Cho had treated Harry the previous year, and Hermione insisted that Cho was jealous of Ginny, although Harry could not see why. Whatever the cause, though, he wondered whether their mutual dislike would have any effects on the pitch.
"Right," Ron said, his voice becoming nervous again. "Are we ready, then?"
"Absolutely," Ginny said strongly as she stood and shouldered her broom. "C'mon, Meg, Katie. Let's get out there." The other two Chasers joined her and they waited at the entrance to the pitch for the rest of the team.
"Ready, Ron," Kirke said as he and Sloper joined the girls.
Harry nodded at Ron, still feeling just a slight bit irritated that Ron had pointed out his lack of attention in front of the whole team. Still, though, the small voice inside his head reminded him honestly, he's got a point, hasn't he?
The roar of the wind and the crowd greeted the Gryffindor team as they flew as one to the center of the pitch, where they all fought to keep their brooms in a still hover as they waited for the blue-clad Ravenclaw team and Madam Hooch to join them. Harry had to lean to the right, holding his Firebolt tightly, to keep himself still, and he made mental adjustments to his flying strategy based on the direction and force of the wind.
Just as he had determined in what ways the pull of the wind was going to affect him on what areas of the pitch, Madam Hooch's whistle sounded and the game began. Harry pulled his Firebolt into a steep vertical ascent, soaring above the game and watching as Cho did the same on the opposite end of the pitch. She nodded to him slightly as they began circling the pitch in opposite directions, fighting hard to keep their brooms under control as the wind threatened to send anyone foolish enough to be in the air soaring to the ground.
Harry could hear nothing of Justin Finch-Fletchley's commentary over the roaring of the wind and the crowd below, but he made it a point to glance at the scoreboard each time he passed it. From the looks of things, the both the Ravenclaw and the Gryffindor Chasers were doing a fine job of flying in close formation, and half an hour into the game, the score was 130-100 in Gryffindor's favor. Harry had caught no sign of the Snitch, and with the score as close as it was, he knew he could take no chance of Cho catching sight of the tiny gold ball before he did.
The crowd gave a gasp of delight as Harry pushed his Firebolt into a tight downward spiral, heading towards the center of the pitch. He had thought briefly of using the Wronski Feint again, but he didn't find nearly as much satisfaction in the thought of Cho getting ploughed as he had of Malfoy the previous fall. As he spiraled through the players, keeping tight control of his broomstick, he noted with satisfaction that Cho had stopped circling the pitch and was watching him closely.
Putting on his best look of fake concentration, Harry suddenly pulled his broomstick out of the spiral and began to race toward the Gryffindor goal posts. He could not hear the whoosh of Cho's broom as she dove from her position to follow him, but he grinned in satisfaction as she pulled down beside him. Pretending to get caught in a particularly nasty gust of wind, he slowed and veered slightly off to the right, allowing her to pull just ahead of him.
Before he had a chance to react, however, Cho quickly pulled her broom up and began ascending in a sharp diagonal, still going in the same general direction. Harry's heart sank as he realized what he had done.
At the Gryffindor end of the pitch, glittering just above Ron's head, was the Golden Snitch. Harry's feint had not had the effect he had planned; rather, he had brought Cho and Ravenclaw closer to victory and had all but sealed Gryffindor's fate when he had slowed down, intending to race off in the other direction.
He leaned forward, willing his Firebolt to go faster, but in the strong headwind, he knew he was unlikely to catch up to Cho no matter how superior his broomstick was to hers. He had given her too much of a head start.
Harry caught Ron's look of horror when he realized what was happening and he continued to give chase, hoping upon hope that the Snitch would change position in his favor. He closed in on Cho, getting close enough that he could almost grasp the tail of her broom. He reached out, hoping he could slow her down, but before he had a chance to grab hold, he heard a great crunch as a great red ball smashed right into Cho Chang's side, just as she was reaching for the Snitch.
Even as he watched her fall, Harry instinctively flew the last few feet forward and caught the struggling Snitch. He held it up to the cheering of the Gryffindor fans as he turned sharply and stopped his broom, now leaning to the left to keep it from blowing off into the wind.
Over the sound of the gusts of air, he heard the familiar chorus of "Weasley is our King" coming from the Gryffindor stands, but it sounded a bit different than it had before. It was only when the chorus was repeated that he realized that the Gryffindors had changed the words slightly. They were now singing, "Weasley is our Queen."
I wonder what that's about, Harry thought as he flew towards the center of the pitch to join his celebrating teammates. As he flew, still clutching the Snitch, his face lit into the biggest grin he had worn in awhile as he replayed in his mind the moment before he had caught it. The ball that had hit Cho had been red, which meant it had not been a Bludger.
"Harry!" Ron cried as he reached the center of the pitch. "You did it, mate! I thought we were sunk for sure!"
"I don't think it was all my doing," Harry called as he inched his broom closer to Ginny. "Who threw the Quaffle at Cho?" he asked loudly.
"That, my love, would be me," Ginny yelled, her face flushed with victory as she grabbed onto the same hand in which Harry held the Snitch. With her other hand, she pointed down to the grassy pitch, where Madam Pomfrey appeared to be mending several broken ribs in Cho's right side.
"Well, you saved the game, didn't you?" Ron said, clapping his sister on the shoulder. "There's a Weasley for you!"
Harry supposed he should have felt somewhat embarrassed that he had only been able to catch the Snitch due to Ginny's intervention, but as he looked into her glowing face and those of the rest of the players, he couldn't find it in himself to feel anything but happy. He and Ginny raised their joined hands, the Snitch still struggling to free itself from Harry's grip, and the crowd roared its approval as Madam Hooch flew towards them, the huge silver Quidditch Cup held tightly in one arm.
She handed it to Ron, who accepted it with a momentary look of complete reverence. He held it in both his hands, his knees clasped tightly around his Cleansweep, and for a moment, he did nothing but stare. The crowd went a bit quieter as the students waited to see what Ron would do, and for the first time, Harry could hear Justin Finch-Fletchley's voice over the magical megaphone. "And this victory leads Gryffindor to their third straight Interhouse Quidditch championship," he said, his voice sounding only slightly more excited than it usually did.
These words snapped Ron back into the present, and he nodded his head, indicating that he wanted his team to gather beside him as he held the glittering cup high in over his head. The crowd once again roared its approval as the scarlet-clad Gryffindors began to spill onto the pitch. The team sank as one to the ground, only to find themselves hoisted onto the shoulders of the crowd and taken towards the castle, feeling as though they were riding atop a wave of chattering monkeys, for in the excitement, not one word from below could be understood.
Harry and Ginny were still holding hands, grasping the Snitch between them, and he turned and grinned at her. "You really don't like Cho, do you?"
"How could you tell?" Ginny replied coyly.
"Well, you nearly knocked her off her broom with that Quaffle, didn't you?" Harry said, laughing at the somewhat wicked grin on his girlfriend's face.
Ginny leaned in close to him, causing the two third-years who were carrying her to stumble and run into the two who were carrying Harry. Ignoring the havoc she was causing in the crowd below, she put her lips right up to his ear. "If that's what it takes to make you laugh, my love, I'll do it every day."
Harry blushed a bit. He didn't know how to respond to that, so he cleared his throat and said a bit too loudly, "Well, you did it, anyway. You won the game."
"No, Harry," Ginny said, sitting up straight again and causing her carriers, who had just adjusted to the new position, to stumble again. "I didn't win the game. Neither did you. We did it together."
Harry ascended the staircase to the boys' dormitory late that Saturday night, stuffed to the brim with snacks and Butterbeer from the party in the common room, his lips tingling from Ginny's goodnight kiss. He did not have a thought in his mind besides how great it had felt to have something to celebrate, and how Ginny's smiles had seemed to light up the whole room.
As Harry turned his bedclothes down, he had mixed feelings when he saw his amulet lying where he had left it, just below his pillow. It was glowing blue, and without touching it, Harry knew it would be warm to the touch. He sighed, telling himself that Lupin was probably already asleep as he picked the amulet up by its leather chain and depositing it on his nightstand. He just wasn't in the mood to talk to his guardian.
A slight feeling of guilt nagged him, but he did not change his mind. Instead, he closed his eyes and firmly shifted his thoughts back to Ginny and the way she had held him for just a few extra seconds before he went to bed, letting him know that she would always be beside him.
* * *
It was with grim determination the following morning that Harry traveled from Hogwarts to Grimmauld Place. He nodded his thanks to everyone as he sat in the chair in the middle of the parlor and they gathered around in their customary places. He did not wait for any preparatory words or warnings from anyone, but as soon as he felt Ginny's hand in his, he closed his eyes and began to focus.
It did not take him nearly as long as it had before to gain entrance into Voldemort's mind, and this time, Harry was ready for what he would see. As he had practiced with Dumbledore, he imagined flipping through Voldemort's memories as he would pages in a diary, skipping the ones he had already seen. To his great surprise, it worked.
Those standing around Harry saw little change in him as he did this. The only indications were slight twitches around his eyes and the way his grip tightened on Ginny's as he sped through what he had already seen. As he passed the memory of his mother's death, a single tear fought its way free of his fluttering eyelid and trickled down his cheek, but he gave no indication of anything else.
For Harry, slipping past the memory of that night when Voldemort has murdered his parents took more strength of will than he would have thought possible. It seemed almost a betrayal of them to skip past that snapshot of their last moments, but Dumbledore had warned him about that very thing.
"You must not allow yourself to dwell in the past or expend energy on emotion," he had counseled Harry. "Your parents would never have wanted you to see what you have been forced to see, and if this is all to be worth the pain it has caused you, you must move past it and deeper into Voldemort's mind."
Harry had agreed, but it was easier said than done. Still, he felt his heart burst to the breaking point as he heard the echoes of his mother's pleas as he sped past the memory, and he took a moment to regain his calm, squeezing Ginny's hand for comfort.
He saw little that he had not seen before as he rushed through the forefront of the Dark Lord's mind, and he tried to ignore the dripping blood that framed each of the memories. He stopped short when he reached the door that had been haunting his thoughts all week, the dark, heavy door with the lethal-looking metal spikes.
This is it, Harry thought as he imagined himself cautiously approaching the door. If I can't get through, there is no point to any of this. He took a moment to clear his own mind of thought as he shored up every remaining bit his energy, sure that the others would be able to feel him drawing on their strength through the contacts of their touch.
"You must remember," Dumbledore had advised him, "that the door in Voldemort's mind is not solid. It simply seems so because that is how he wishes it to seem. You will succeed in gaining entrance, Harry, but you must also endeavor to remain invisible. My advice to you would be to pass through the door rather than attempt to break it down."
Remembering this advice and the practice runs he had taken on Dumbledore's own shields, Harry shored up his courage, trying to ignore the blood dripping from each of the spikes, reminding himself that it was not a physical thing and that it could not hurt him. Drawing once again from the strength of his friends, he focused on the door and sped towards it, fully expecting to be impaled as he drew closer.
In the parlor at Grimmauld Place, the force of Harry's push into Voldemort's mind caused the floor to shake and the knickknacks on the mantle to rattle as though the house was haunted. Dumbledore, the only person in the room not in direct contact with Harry, leaned forward and stared at his face intently. The others, particularly Remus and Ginny, also kept their eyes trained on Harry, but it would have been obvious even to a casual observer that this particular experience was having more of a direct effect on all of them than the others had.
Harry was reminded of his first time to pass through the gateway of Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. He had fully expected to run into the wall, and if it had not been for Molly Weasley's advice, he might never have made it. The feelings of surprise and wonder he had felt at passing through what had seemed to be solid rock were no greater than the surprise he felt now when he realized he had not been impaled by the bloody iron spikes of the Dark Lord's defenses. He shook off his surprise and began probing into the darkness.
This layer of Voldemort's mind, even though he had gotten past the initial defense, was proving much harder to access than the original memories, and Harry was careful to remain low-key as he searched, drawing desperately from the others as he felt his own strength begin to weaken.
The first images Harry received were quite different than what he had expected. These scenes were not framed in blood like the first ones have been, but were almost sepia-toned, like old-fashioned Muggle photographs.
A young boy of perhaps five years, dark-haired and nervous looking, waited outside a drab-looking office and cringed as his name was called sternly from within. Harry did not follow, but almost felt sorry for the boy he understood to be the young Tom Riddle as he heard the swish of a cane and the cries of the child as he was beaten for some unknown offense.
The next image was similar to the first. The young boy, now perhaps eight years old, waited outside the same office. His look was different now. There was no nervousness in his expression, but a hatred which did not seem fitting on the face of one so young. There were no cries from within this time as the rattan cane swished through the air and landed with painful-sounding smacks, and for the first time ever, Harry began to understand part of what had made Tom Riddle who he had become.
As Harry felt the strength of his friends begin to weaken, he knew he must press on, and he sped past other sepia-toned memories of Tom Riddle's childhood in search of something that would help him in the here-and-now.
In the parlor, Harry's friends grew paler as they felt their strength being drawn through their connection with him, and the others gasped as Hermione was the first to fall. Slowly, as if she had been given the Draught of Peace, she fell to her knees and her contact with Harry was broken as she fainted.
"Don't move!" Dumbledore ordered, his own face paler than usual. "Miss Granger will recover after some rest. It is imperative that the connection not be broken!"
The others set their faces into expressions of resolve and wrenched their gazes away from Hermione's still form to bring their focus back onto Harry, whose expression was changing rapidly from one of sympathy, to one of confusion and finally to the angry expression that told him he was most likely witnessing another one of Voldemort's attacks.
Harry was not, in fact, seeing anything of the kind. After he had gone past memories of Voldemort's past, he began to see what he suspected were plans for the future. Maps of London, of the Ministry of Magic...a piece of parchment with Imelda Arnold's name emblazoned boldly across the top...a dark, dank room, the center of which held a dais with an empty chair in the middle...the smell of seawater, the stench of blood...
Harry's strength faltered as Tonks broke the connection and sat weakly on the floor, taking Hermione's hand shakily, marveling to herself at the amount of power Harry seemed to be able to glean from his friends, but knowing that she herself had nothing left to give. Of the six still touching Harry, only Ginny, Molly and Remus seemed to be holding onto their strength, but Harry himself began to weaken from his own effort.
The images inside Voldemort's mind began to fade as Harry's strength waned. Just before the connection broke, one phrase echoed through his mind, a phrase that filled him with alarm.
"Take her," Lord Voldemort's high voice ordered. "Bring her to me."
With a snap, the connection was broken as Harry faded into unconsciousness. One by one, the others let go of him, each one of them sinking to the floor in stunned disbelief. Dumbledore himself was the only one with strength enough to move, and he used his wand to levitate Harry's lifeless form up the stairs and back into Sirius's old room. The others followed as they were able, and in less than ten minutes time, all of the previously unoccupied rooms of Grimmauld Place held the sleeping forms of Harry's friends and family. Only Lupin and Ginny refused to nap, preferring instead to take their places by Harry's bed to wait with him until he woke up.
* * *
As much as the experience had drained everyone at Grimmauld Place, the adults woke up shortly before Hermione and Ron and long before Harry. Downstairs in the kitchen, Molly, Tonks, McGonagall and Arthur were holding a heated conversation with Dumbledore as they sipped steaming mugs of Molly's peppermint tea.
"You cannot be thinking of letting that Malfoy boy stay, Albus!" Molly exclaimed furiously, having just heard Tonks's account of catching Draco Malfoy spying upon them in February. "It's obvious that he was told to spy by that no good –"
"There is more than that, Molly," Albus said seriously. He knew it was time to inform the Order of Malfoy's status as a Death Eater, and he had chosen this moment to do so.
"More?" Molly said disbelievingly. "How could there be more, unless…Dumbledore, are you telling us that Draco Malfoy is actually a Death Eater? He couldn't possibly be –"
"Why not?" Tonks asked. "It would be the perfect cover, wouldn't it?"
"The perfect cover," Dumbledore agreed. "I myself, though I suspected that Draco Malfoy might eventually be seduced by his father's master, did not immediately guess that he had already been accepted into Voldemort's inner circle."
"He's too young," Arthur interjected. "He's still a child."
"Are any of them still children?" McGonagall asked quietly, looking deeply troubled. "Was what we witnessed today the work of a child?"
"When did you become aware of Draco's status?" Molly asked, her tone measured and even.
"Over the winter holidays," Dumbledore answered simply. "I suspected before that, but I received proof when Draco went to Hogsmeade a few days before Christmas. He met his father there as well as Lord Voldemort."
"Christmas!" McGonagall exclaimed. "Albus, that was months ago." Her tone regained its usual curtness as she realized how much the Headmaster had been keeping from all of them.
"You mean to tell me that my children have been attending school alongside a Death Eater and you knew about it? Knew, but did nothing?" Molly asked dangerously.
"I do not believe Draco Malfoy's heart is fully in his mission," Dumbledore replied. "It was, and still is, my hope that he will come to us as he realizes what true allegiance to Voldemort entails." He then described what he had witnessed at the Shrieking Shack so many months ago.
Molly Weasley seemed shaken as Dumbledore described Voldemort's use of the Cruciatus Curse on Draco. "That poor child," she said softly. "His father did nothing to stop it?"
"You don't stop Voldemort from doing anything that he wants to do," Remus said as he entered the room. "Harry's awake. Ginny is with him now. What are you discussing?"
"Draco Malfoy is a Death Eater," Tonks supplied as Remus tiredly sat down next to her.
"A Death Eater? We know this for certain?" he asked in some surprise, and his voice took on a hard edge.
"I caught him under and invisibility cloak trying to listen to a conversation between Harry and myself awhile back," Tonks said.
"And you never mentioned it to me?" Remus asked, looking disgruntled.
Tonks did not reply, but no one at the table missed her sidelong glance at Dumbledore.
"You knew," Molly stated, the shakiness gone out of her voice. "You not only knew that Draco Malfoy was a Death Eater, but that he has been actively spying upon the other students."
"Indeed, Molly, I knew," Dumbledore affirmed. "I thought it best that it be kept quiet until I had had a chance to gather more detailed information."
"What other information could you possibly need?" Arthur asked. "If the Malfoy boy is a true Death Eater, the safety of the students should be your main concern. He can't be allowed to stay." Arthur, ever sane and reasonable, made this statement more passionately than was normal for him. When the safety of his children was at stake, he found it much more difficult to be objective, especially after Fred's death.
"As I said a few moments ago, it was and is my hope that Draco Malfoy will see the error in his ways and come back to us. If that happens, he would be a useful source of information."
"Why have you chosen today to give us this information, Albus?" McGonagall asked. She, above all others, knew well enough that nearly everything Dumbledore did had a clear and calculated reason behind it. "Why now, after all this time?"
"As we approach the time at which Voldemort's plans are to be carried out, and I believe that will occur sooner rather than later, we must keep a closer eye than ever on potential enemies, and I am afraid that outweighs my hope for the boy's redemption."
"I confiscated his invisibility cloak," Tonks said with some satisfaction. "That will make sneaking about more difficult, won't it?"
"We can't guarantee that he doesn't have another one," Remus pointed out.
"I am afraid that Mr. Malfoy's duties have extended beyond mere spying," Dumbledore said gravely. "With appropriate caution, spying can be dealt with. However, it seems that Lord Voldemort is not satisfied with the limited information he has been given."
"What do you mean, Albus?" McGonagall asked, and she suddenly felt afraid of his answer.
"I am sure you all recall the attack on Rubeus Hagrid?" Dumbledore asked.
"That was Malfoy's doing?" Arthur asked sharply.
"I am afraid so, Arthur," the Headmaster replied.
"Albus, you can't be serious!" McGonagall replied. "How could he have been?" As she said this, however, she remembered her suspicions from the beginning of the spring term. When she had found out about the giant in the forest, she had wondered then if that had anything to do with Draco Malfoy's frequent visits.
"I am quite serious, Minerva. We were aware of Malfoy's visits to the forest, and it had been my intention to have him followed on one of them as soon as was possible. I believed, mistakenly it seems, that he had been meeting his father in the forest, and I thought it unwise to alert him of our suspicions."
Molly had been strangely silent through the last part of this exchange, and Arthur glanced at her warily. The tips of her ears were quite red, and as the discussion had continued, there had been a definite flush creeping into her cheeks. It came as no surprise, then, that when she finally began to speak, she had some sharp words for Dumbledore.
"Once again, Albus, your mistakes could have cost my children their lives, and I simply will not tolerate it for one more instant," she said, her tone laced with steel. "Draco Malfoy is a Death Eater, he has somehow been in communication with the Dark Lord, he has been spying upon Harry and he nearly caused Hagrid's death. How could you keep this secret? How could you allow him to stay at Hogwarts, knowing what you do? It's preposterous!" Her voice increased in volume as she continued. "If you do not have that boy removed from Hogwarts, and I mean immediately, I will remove all of my children from the school and teach them myself! Remus, I am not Harry's guardian, but I would strongly advise you to do the same!"
"Molly, be reasonable," Arthur coaxed tiredly. The truth was, he agreed with his wife's words to a certain extent, but he had a strong feeling that, regardless of the Malfoy boy's status as a Death Eater, his children were safer at Hogwarts than they would be at any other place.
"Reasonable, Arthur?" Molly asked him coldly. "Tell me, is it reasonable that our children have been allowed to attend that school for months when there is a known Death Eater attending classes alongside them? It is one thing when the danger is unknown, but this man has knowingly put each and every student in the school in danger. I've a good mind to write the Prophet about it!"
"Molly, you will do nothing of the sort," Remus said firmly. "What you do with your own children is your decision, but no good can come of telling the Prophet about the goings-on at the school. There would certainly be an inquiry, and we would risk too much exposure."
"How dare you order me about, Remus!" Molly shouted. "You are supposed to be Harry's guardian, the closest thing he has to a parent. I find it unbelievable –"
"Molly, think this through," Arthur pleaded. "Ginny has her O.W.L.s coming up in a little over a month. What chance will she stand if she leaves school now?"
"I am more concerned for her life, Arthur," Molly replied. "I will not lose another child!" Her voice caught as she remembered the child she had already lost, then grew stronger as her resolve grew. "I will remove Ginny and Ron from the school if Draco Malfoy remains there, and that is final. Again, Remus, I would advise you to do the same with Harry, and he would be welcome at the Burrow."
"Harry Potter will not be removed from Hogwarts," Dumbledore said simply. "He must continue the training he is receiving there. However, Molly, I will concede your point. Draco Malfoy must be asked to leave, although I despair of his chances to reconsider outside of school."
"For what it is worth, Professor," Tonks spoke up from her place next to Remus, "I seriously doubt Malfoy will change his colors. He is too far in already, and look at his family."
Dumbledore nodded sadly. "Very well. I will inform Severus of Mr. Malfoy's expulsion as soon as I return to school."
Molly looked a bit surprised, but upon reflection, she wondered if this decision had not already been made, and the Headmaster was simply letting them know before the news got out. It seemed more likely the more she thought about it, but she decided not to voice her suspicions at this time. There were more important things to worry about.
"Remus, don't you think it is time we check on Harry?" she asked. "I know that being with Ginny seems to do him good, but we need to make sure he is quite all right."
"He seemed steady when I left the room," Remus replied, "but yes, Molly, I think you are right. I'd ask the rest of you to give me a few moments with him before we subject him to questioning, however."
The others nodded, and Tonks placed her hand briefly on his shoulder before he got up from the table and left the room, taking a mug of tea with him.
* * *
Harry and Ginny were not speaking when Lupin entered the room and set the mug of tea on the bedside chest. They were simply sitting on the bed, holding onto one another, and Lupin was startled to note that Harry seemed to be barely holding back a flood of tears, although is face was as set and as determined as ever. Over the past few weeks, he had become accustomed to Harry doing his best not to give into emotion, so this was a bit of a surprise. He wondered what his charge had seen to cause him so much distress, and wondered if it had to do with James and Lily.
"Harry, Ginny?" Lupin asked softly, and they both looked at him. "Would it be all right if Harry and I talked for a few minutes?" He directed this question at both of them, knowing that it would be as much of a task to get Ginny to leave the room as it would be to get Harry to speak candidly with him.
To his great surprise, Ginny nodded and kissed Harry on the cheek before she got up from the bed. She didn't say a word as she left the room, closing the door softly behind her. As she went back to the kitchen to look for the others, she hoped that Harry and Lupin would be able to work out whatever had come between them in the past months. Whether or not he would admit it, she knew it bothered Harry, and she thought he needed every bit of support he could get.
"How are you, Harry?" Lupin asked, indicating that Harry should take the mug of tea on the chest.
"I'm fine," Harry answered shortly.
For once, Lupin rather wisely decided not to pursue this. He simply nodded and waited as Harry sipped his tea.
"You've been avoiding me," Lupin noted matter-of-factly after Harry had set his mug aside. "Want to tell me why?"
"I haven't been –" Harry began, but he stopped himself before his guardian could interrupt. "I just don't want to bloody talk about everything," he admitted, his voice becoming slightly bitter again. "What does it matter how I feel about all this? I've got a job to do."
The hardness in Harry's voice saddened Lupin. As before, he reminded himself how much was being asked of Harry and forced himself not to ask Harry again whether or not he was okay.
"You do have a job to do," Lupin agreed. "But you know that you need all of us behind you to do it. No man is an island, Harry."
Harry didn't respond to this. He had variations of the same statement time and again, and he knew that they spoke the truth – didn't he need the support of his friends just to break into Voldemort's mind? If that was any indication, he knew in his heart of hearts that Lupin was right, and he would need his friends if he was ever going to have a hope of beating Voldemort.
"You know what I'm saying is true, don't you, Harry?" Lupin prodded when Harry had not spoken for a few moments.
"I know," Harry finally admitted. "But I'm not sure how my friends are going to help me when I have to fight him. The prophecy is clear – it has to be me. Doesn't it?"
"The prophecy is clear in that respect, yes," Lupin replied. "However, it never said that you were the only one who would fight at all, just that you would be the one with the power to finish the job. You are a strong fighter, but that can be taught, Harry, and I will tell you what I've told you before: you will not fight alone. You must understand that it is not only better, but it is absolutely necessary for you to allow your friends to help you."
Harry was beginning, once again, to feel irritated with his guardian. "That's all fine and good, Moony, but that still doesn't mean I want to have a long talk every time I see something about my parents. I don't have time for that, don't you understand? I have a job to do, and I have to make sure – " He cut himself off before he said what he had seen, a fact that Lupin did not miss.
"What do you need to make sure of, Harry?" he asked, leaning forward. Lupin wasn't sure why, but he thought that whatever Harry had been about to say was of vital importance. Was it something he had seen inside the Dark Lord's mind?
"I need to make sure everybody's safe," Harry said quickly, looking down. He wasn't sure why he didn't want to tell anyone what he had heard...perhaps it was simply too terrible to even think about, much less speak about.
"Everybody, Harry?" Lupin asked quietly, sure now that his charge was not telling the complete truth.
Harry's irritation was quite gone as he looked into Lupin's face, which no longer held the infuriating expression of pity and concern that it had held for the past months. With a start, Harry realized that his guardian was talking to him more as an equal than as a parental figure. Perhaps it was this that allowed him, finally, to tell Lupin what he had seen inside Voldemort's head.
For ten minutes, Harry spoke of Voldemort's childhood and his past crimes, of the dripping blood framing the earlier memories, of the spiked door, and finally, of the maps of London and the smell of seawater Harry had seen and experienced at the end of the last session. Lupin listened to all of it with great interest, not stopping him even once.
"And then, right before I lost the connection, I heard Voldemort say he was coming after...after Ginny," Harry finished, his eyes wide with the first fear Lupin had seen there since the summer before.
"Are you certain he was speaking of Ginny?" Lupin asked seriously. "What did he say? What were his exact words?"
Harry closed his eyes, trying to remember precisely what Voldemort's words had been. This was a matter in which he could not afford mistakes. "He said, 'take her,'" Harry finally mumbled. "Then he told whoever he was talking to bring her to him."
"Why are you so certain it was Ginny he was referring to?" Lupin asked reasonably. "There are quite a lot of girls in England."
"I know that," Harry replied sharply, "but if Malfoy's been running around with an invisibility cloak all year, he would know about me and Ginny, wouldn't he?" He took a breath and then spoke his worst fear aloud. "It's just like Sirius. Voldemort knew at the end of last year that Sirius was the most important person in the world to me, and he made me think he took him so I would go to the Department of Mysteries. He knows he won't be able to do that now because I've got enough Occlumency to keep him out of my head, so he'll have to really take her. Voldemort knows I'd come after her, and he knows..."
"What else does he know, Harry?" Lupin asked him, although he was almost certain he already knew the answer. He had heard James say almost the same thing about Lily nearly seventeen years before.
"He knows I'm nothing without her," Harry said, swiping furiously at the one tear that finally escaped the confines of his lower eyelid. "He knows that without her, I don't have a chance in the world."
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