Chapter 37 : Chapter 37: A Plot Revealed
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The spring air was chilly and damp in Lord Voldemort's seaside stronghold, and he had assembled almost all of his Death Eaters in preparation for what he had been informed was about to happen. His masked followers waited silently, and tension was thick in the air, for it seemed that not one among them knew the reason why they had been called together.
They waited this way for more than ten minutes before a loud knock announced the arrival of the only two Death Eaters not already in the room. Every masked head turned toward the door, wondering what was about to happen.
"Bring him in," Voldemort ordered in his highest, most cruel voice. The door opened and the missing Death Eaters proceeded up the center aisle towards the dais, one of them looking angry and proud, the other looking terrified, as though he thought his very life was about to end. Both were wearing black robes, but neither was wearing a mask.
Narcissa Malfoy could barely conceal her gasp of surprise and horror when she saw her husband marching towards their Master, one hand clasped tightly around the forearm of her son, on whom there was no evidence of the traditional Malfoy pride. There was no color whatsoever in his face, and he kept his eyes cast downward as they approached Lord Voldemort. She wondered what had happened, for she could see no reason why Draco would be out of school.
"So," Lord Voldemort hissed, and had it not been for the echoing acoustics of the dungeon chamber, no one would have been able to hear him from more than a few feet away. Narcissa Malfoy tried not to tremble as she noted that his voice was at its most dangerous.
"I have brought him, my Lord," Lucius Malfoy said, shoving Draco roughly forward and taking his place on Voldemort's right side. There was no sign of pity on his face as he looked down at his son.
"Young Mr. Malfoy," Voldemort said. "I would not have expected to see you in my presence on a Monday afternoon."
Draco made no answer, but dropped to his knees on the hard floor, not even wincing as the rough stone cut into his skin through his robes. He kept his head and eyes carefully down, and Narcissa's heart leapt in terror at Voldemort's next words.
"It seems you have failed in every aspect of your mission," the Dark Lord stated with no sign of mercy in his voice. "You have failed to bring me any useful information on Harry Potter, and now you have managed to be discovered. Neither of your primary directives has been met, and I find myself much disappointed. I expected better from a Malfoy."
"For - Forgive me, My Lord," Draco stammered softly, never raising his gaze. The panic was evident in his voice, and as every assembled Death Eater knew from first-hand experience, there was good reason for it.
"Lord Voldemort does not forgive," said the cruel voice, and Draco heard the swish of a long cloak as the Dark Lord rose from his chair and withdrew his wand. "Crucio!" he cried, looking on dispassionately as the sixteen-year-old dropped the rest of the way to the stone floor, screaming and writhing in agony as every nerve in his body seared with white-hot pain.
Narcissa was fortunate that she was wearing her Death Eater's mask so no one saw the tears dripping from her chin to the front of her black robes as she watched her only son being tortured.
It seemed ages before Voldemort lifted the curse. Draco did not move from the floor, instead positioning himself so that he was lying prostrate at the feet of his tormenter.
"I have been told that you did not discover the reason behind Potter's trips to London," Voldemort hissed. "I have also been told that your invisibility cloak has been confiscated."
At these words, Draco could not help lifting his head a bit in surprise. He did not remember having his cloak taken from him, of course, as Tonks had modified his memory shortly after doing so.
"Ah, yes, Severus Snape has kept me well informed of your activities, young Malfoy," Voldemort said, and then looked around at the masked figures. "Snape!" he called. "Come forward."
One of the assembled figures made his way to the dais, and as Draco heard him approach, he swore under his breath. He should have known that it was Snape who had been reporting his moves to the Dark Lord…how could he have been so stupid?
"You surely did not believe that I would leave one as young as yourself in complete charge of such a vital mission? No, no, Malfoy. I used you only because it would have been quite unwise to put my spy in such a vulnerable position."
Draco's body began to shake as Voldemort questioned the Potions Master. "Tell me, Snape, about your student's activities since the start of school."
"Malfoy has continually engaged in very sloppy attempts at carrying out his mission," Snape replied, his voice as oily as ever. "He did not report his findings in a timely manner when he did recover any information of import, and after his cloak was confiscated and his memory altered, he made no discernable attempts to continue his mission. He refused all offers of assistance."
"As I suspected," Voldemort replied coldly. "The information you have brought to my attention has been of much higher value, even while you maintained your cover as a member of Dumbledore's 'Order.' You will be rewarded." He turned his attention back the young man on the floor before him.
"Stand, Malfoy!" he ordered. "Stand and face your Master. You have been placed under a Memory Charm, I see, and for any Professor to do such a thing to a Hogwarts student must mean you did indeed stumble, however clumsily, onto some valuable information."
Draco rose shakily to his feet, looking at his Master for the first time since entering the dungeon. Voldemort spoke no words, but waved his wand slowly in a complicated motion before pointing it at Draco's forehead. Narcissa Malfoy gave another shaky gasp as her son began to speak.
"Potter…" he stammered almost incoherently. "Breaking in…your mind…"
The rage was apparent on Lord Voldemort's face as he immediately understood the information he had been given. He flicked his wand again, strengthening the memory recovery spell with utter disregard for the permanent damage he was causing to his young follower's mind. "When," he hissed.
"Twice a week," Draco said, his voice now airy, as if he were under the Imperious Curse. "Since start…term…" His voice trailed off again as his eyes rolled. Narcissa Malfoy was no longer trying to conceal her sobs as Voldemort took away everything that had made her son the young man that he was.
"So Potter has been training in Legilimency," Voldemort stated, his voice laced with his most malicious tone. "He has been attempting to breach my shields, and he has done so undetected. He must have been training all year for this task." The rage in his voice was apparent as he continued. "What else, young Malfoy?" Again, he flicked his wand, and Draco's eyes rolled all the way back into his head as he answered.
"Dueling…" he said, before he began to laugh. "Training…" He was now laughing maniacally, the horrid sound of it echoing off the chamber's stone walls and ceiling.
"Your most vital task was to inform me of Potter's progress," Voldemort said, "and I find that you have not only failed, but that due to your stupidity my own defenses may have been breached. I have no use for a follower who would let such a thing happen."
Draco continued to laugh, and Narcissa Malfoy's world went into slow motion as her husband looked on coldly and Voldemort raised his wand.
"Avada Kedavra!" he cried, and the insane laughter was cut off abruptly as Draco Malfoy crumpled to the floor, his bloodshot eyes wide open and unseeing.
"No!" Narcissa whispered through her tears. Although several Death Eaters around her heard her cry, not one move was made to comfort her from the loss of her only child.
"Remove the body," Voldemort said without emotion as he returned to his seat. "Snape," he ordered, looking to the Potions Master, who was standing stiffly, looking down at the body of the young man who had once been his most favored student. "You must find out what Dumbledore knows. It may be necessary to speed up our plans."
Snape nodded and turned to leave the room.
"Snape!" Voldemort called after him, and the man turned back toward the dais. "I will not tolerate another failure."
"There will be no more failure, my Lord," Snape said quietly, and walked quickly out of the room.
"You have all been reminded of the seriousness I place on each of your missions," Voldemort proclaimed, looking at his followers. "Go, and do not fail. Our plans will be carried out before the month is through."
The Death Eaters dispersed silently, sobered by what they had witnessed, although most of them felt nothing but a stab of fear as they realized that they, themselves, would suffer the same fate as the Malfoy boy if they failed their Master. Lucius Malfoy remained at his Master's side, and not one sign of emotion showed on his face as two masked men removed the body of his son from the dungeon, taking it, he knew, to be burned.
Narcissa Malfoy did not immediately leave the chamber, but turned her masked face toward the dais, hoping desperately for some sign of humanity, some sign of emotion, from her husband. She found none, and if anyone could have seen her face they would have seen an expression of utter grief and regret as she slowly turned and left her husband behind.
I could have stopped him, she thought, not stopping the tears as they dripped steadily from her previously cold blue eyes. I could have stopped him killing my son, just as Lily Evans Potter did sixteen years ago. I could have, but I did not.
As she waited her turn to floo away from the seaside headquarters of Lord Voldemort, she knew she would never return. She stepped out of the grate in Malfoy Manor, and stripped her Death Eater's vestments from her body as though they were burning. Without another glance at them, she threw them into the fire and went to her room to dress.
She left Malfoy Manor with two regrets: that she had not taken Draco and gone months, years before, and that she had not had the strength of Lily Potter, the strength to die for her son. Even in the midst of her grief, she turned towards the one place she knew she could be safe from her son's murderers, the one place in which she knew she would be allowed to mourn. After walking down the lane in front of what had once been her home, she found the secure and hidden apparation point just outside the boundaries of the wards, and with a loud 'pop,' she headed towards Hogwarts and the only man her Master had ever feared.
"Good morning, Harry," Albus Dumbledore greeted him as he walked through the office door for his usual Tuesday lesson with the Headmaster.
"Good morning, sir," Harry replied respectfully, setting his bag on the floor and sitting down in his usual chair in front of Dumbledore's desk.
The Headmaster peered closely at Harry, and he did not like what he saw. Harry's eyes were bloodshot and there were black bags under them. His whole body seemed to radiate exhaustion and worry, and although Lupin had told Dumbledore about everything that Harry had said on Saturday after his second successful use of Legilimency against Voldemort, he decided to speak to his student about it in person, and possibly peer into Harry's mind himself.
"Harry," he began, sitting behind his desk as he usually did and steepling his fingers under his chin. "Regretfully, I believe we must discuss what you saw in Lord Voldemort's mind once again. Remus Lupin informed me of what you told him, but I find that I am never quite as happy with second-hand information. I quite prefer to hear news directly from the source wherever possible, do you not agree?"
Harry nodded, not in the least surprised. Actually, he would have been surprised if the Headmaster had not wanted him to go through the memories again, and he was truthfully eager to do so. He hoped very much that Dumbledore would be able to discern some plan, something concrete from what he had seen.
Just as he had with Lupin, Harry began to describe everything he had seen while inside Voldemort's mind. Unlike Lupin, however, Dumbledore did not listen quietly. He nodded several times, and when Harry began to describe the maps and the plans he had seen, the Headmaster stopped him.
"You say you saw a map of London in Voldemort's mind?" he asked ponderingly. "Tell me, Harry, did you happen to notice which part of London was featured on the map?"
Harry screwed up his face in thought, but all he could remember of the map was the long blue line that represented the Thames River and innumerable scribbly-looking lines which he supposed represented roads. "I don't know, sir," he finally confessed. "All I can remember is seeing the river running through the middle, and there was a red star…and other than that, all I can remember is lots of roads." His voice took on a frustrated edge. "I don't know much about London. The Dursleys hardly ever let me go outside Surrey, so I wouldn't really recognize much."
"Quite all right, Harry," Dumbledore said, but Harry could tell he was disappointed. "Please continue with what you saw."
Harry thought back once again to the flashes he had seen. "I saw…a blueprint, isn't that what it's called, those drawings of buildings that show all the rooms?" For some reason, he was finding it hard to remember the details of things like that lately. It seemed that the more imbedded he got in Wizarding society, the less in tune he was to the Muggle world.
Dumbledore nodded, worry and understanding coming into his eyes as he began to make connections.
"A blueprint of the Ministry of Magic," Harry continued. "I knew it because the rooms were labeled. I saw the Department of Mysteries, where we were last…" His voice trailed off at the memory of the last time he had visited the Ministry, the night that Sirius had died.
"The Department of Mysteries," Dumbledore repeated contemplatively, seeming oblivious to Harry's discomfort. "A place of great fascination, to be certain," he continued before looking up at Harry, who was surprised at the sudden fierce light flashing within the Headmaster's eyes. "Harry, what else did you see?"
"I saw a piece of parchment," Harry answered promptly, for this detail had been bothering him. "It had Imelda Arnold's name written across the top, but it was blank after that."
"Imelda Arnold?" Dumbledore asked. "You are certain, Harry?"
"Yeah," Harry answered. "Yeah, it was definitely her name. It was written in large letters, and it was fancy, like the top of the letters I've gotten from the Ministry before."
"There was no other writing on this parchment?" Dumbledore asked.
"Nothing else, Sir," Harry replied.
"Very well," Dumbledore said. "Was there anything else you can remember, Harry?"
Harry gulped, knowing this was the time to talk to Dumbledore about what Voldemort had said about taking Ginny…but, as before with Lupin, he found it hard to repeat what he had heard, hard to admit that he had actually heard it.
"There was a smell," he said suddenly, just remembering. "It smelled…salty, I think, and wet."
"Salty and wet?" Dumbledore asked. "Like seawater, perhaps?"
"Could have been," Harry said. "I've never really been to the sea, unless you count that one night we spent in that cabin before Hagrid came and told me I was a wizard. But I don't really remember the smell."
The Headmaster leaned forward, gazing once again at Harry. "Is there anything else you can remember about that smell, or a glimpse of a room or a place?"
"There was a room," Harry confirmed. "It was round, and it had sort of a platform in the middle of it." He was surprised that he had not remembered the smell and the room before, but then, he had been so worried about protecting Ginny that he hadn't given as much thought to anything else.
"Harry, this is of utmost importance," Dumbledore said. "Anything you can tell me about that place would be most helpful. You see, Voldemort himself is the Secret-Keeper for his stronghold, and this may be our only hope for finding the location. I am sure you can understand why this information would be so vital."
Harry nodded. "There was nothing else, sir, but when I go in again…" he trailed off. He had been about to ask Dumbledore if he could attempt another break-in that very day, so anxious was he to find out anything else they could use to stop Voldemort from carrying out his plans, but he knew without asking that the Headmaster would never allow him to attempt Legilimency without the others. He had often cautioned Harry against this very thing, reminding him that it was the love and loyalty of his friends which had allowed him to breach Voldemort's senses…for Voldemort could have no possible defense for a power he neither recognized nor understood.
"I am afraid, Harry, that we have reached the end of our ability to safely attempt to breach Voldemort's mind," Dumbledore said seriously, sitting back in his chair and surveying a spot somewhere over Harry's shoulder.
"You mean," Harry began, hardly believing what he had heard, "that we're not going to do it again?" He jumped up in his agitation and was about to begin speaking rather more loudly than usual when Dumbledore held up a hand to stop him.
"Harry, you no doubt have heard that Draco Malfoy has been asked to leave Hogwarts." He stated this rather than asked, because after so many years of being near the students, he knew that the gossip and rumor mills at Hogwarts were always quite well intact.
"Yeah, I know, but -" Harry was about to ask Dumbledore what Malfoy's obviously-deserved expulsion had to do with his Legilimency attempts when the answer hit him, clear as day. "You think Draco Malfoy knew what we were doing when we went to London?"
"Draco Malfoy," Dumbledore began sadly, "chose a path that one so young should never have been offered. When he took the insignia of the Dark Lord, I doubt he understood the seriousness of his obligation."
"He knew," Harry growled. The very thought of Draco Malfoy filled him with an anger he could not completely understand, and the fact that he had been correct about Draco's status as a Death Eater was little comfort.
"I believe that few are actually prepared for the requirements of becoming a follower of Lord Voldemort, Harry. Be that as it may, however, we are now forced to assume that the Dark Lord is aware of your attempts on his mind, even if he is not yet aware of your success. The consequences to his awareness of your success would be disastrous, and it is a something we simply cannot risk."
Harry sat back down, stunned. How was he going to know how to protect Ginny if he was not to be allowed to perform Legilimency against Voldemort again? He said the first thing that came to his disgruntled mind. "If I ever see Malfoy again, he's going to regret the day he was born," he grumbled, just barely loudly enough for Dumbledore to hear him.
"Harry, how many times have I told you that you must not dwell upon revenge as your motivation?" Dumbledore asked sadly, peering at his student. "I do understand your anger. It is quite justifiable, but you must not let it rule you. You must not, Harry!" The headmaster's voice became a bit strained, and Harry looked up to see the old wizard looking as sad and as old as Harry had ever seen him.
"Professor?" Harry asked when Dumbledore had not spoken for a few moments.
"I received word late last night, Harry," Dumbledore said, his voice filled with regret deeper than Harry had ever heard from him before. "Draco Malfoy was killed yesterday afternoon at the hands of the one he called 'Master.'"
Harry felt the color drain from his face, and he searched his mind for something appropriate to say. He could not honestly say he was sorry, as he had wished for this very event on more than one occasion. Still, though, to hear of the murder of someone his age, of someone he knew…to hear that Voldemort had killed a boy of only sixteen, one of his own followers, at that…
"What about his father?" Harry asked. "I thought Lucius Malfoy was right up there with Voldemort. Surely…"
"Lucius Malfoy did nothing to prevent the death of his only child," Dumbledore interrupted with a trace of something like bitterness in his voice. "He has spent so long dwelling in the darkness that his heart has forgotten what it was like to feel love, if indeed it ever knew. Draco was nothing more to him than another Death Eater by the end."
Harry was silent for a moment, trying to understand, but he found that he could not. Ever since his entry into the Wizarding world, he had lived with the knowledge that his parents had died in order to save his life, and though at times he had found that knowledge almost too much to bear, he had never once had he doubted their love for him. With a start, Harry realized that Voldemort had taken Draco's father away from him just as surely as he had taken James Potter fifteen years before. He could not bring himself to be sorry that Malfoy was dead, but all the same, he felt the rage for the man who called himself 'Voldemort' simmer just a bit closer to the surface.
He looked back to the Headmaster suddenly, a new thought now inside his head. "How do you know all of this, sir?" he asked. "Snape? If Snape was there, why didn't he try to stop it?"
"Professor Snape was unable to intervene," Dumbledore said, correcting his student almost automatically, but Harry couldn't help but notice that he had very carefully avoided saying that Snape himself had brought any information about Malfoy.
"It wasn't Snape who told you all this, was it?" Harry asked shrewdly. After the entire year of meeting with Dumbledore at least once per week, he had grown able to read the Headmaster's voice and body language better than any of the other students and most of the professors, and he knew without a doubt that he was hiding something.
"Harry," Dumbledore said, his voice weary, "that is a matter we will discuss on another day. For the present, I would like to speak about you."
"Me?" Harry asked, wondering at the sudden change in subject.
"You've been worried," the headmaster stated simply. It was a massive understatement and they both knew it, but Dumbledore felt that it would be wisest not to alert Harry to the level of their concern. Remus Lupin had told him that Harry believed Voldemort to be after Ginny, and both men had observed quite well just how much he cared for her.
Harry knew that the time had come to talk to Dumbledore about Voldemort's plans for Ginny. He had to keep her safe. "I heard Voldemort say that he was going to take Ginny," he said quickly, trying unsuccessfully to keep all emotion out of his voice when the truth was actually that the very thought of it put him nearly in a panic.
"Did he mention her by name?" Dumbledore inquired, already knowing the answer.
"No, but who else could he mean? If he wants me, there's no better way to do it. I already told Lupin, I…" Harry trailed off at the look of understanding on the headmaster's face, remembering that Lupin had already disclosed everything he had said.
"I believe that we must consider it a serious possibility that Voldemort was speaking of Miss Weasley," Dumbledore said, and in spite of himself, Harry breathed a sigh of relief. At least the danger was being taken seriously and he could count on some help in protecting her. "She is safe enough within the walls of Hogwarts, and rest assured that we will do everything we can do to protect her. Our resources are formidable."
"I need to go in one more time," Harry said with determination. "I need to find out what his plans are so I can protect her, so I can make sure that he doesn't get to her."
Dumbledore was both impressed and sad to hear the strength and resolve in Harry's voice, and once again reflected upon how much the boy had grown in the past year. "I am afraid we cannot risk that, Harry, as much as we would like to obtain more information. What you have told us thus far has been quite useful, but I cannot allow you to risk using Legilimency again when the probability is so high that Voldemort will be expecting you to do so."
"But Tonks put a memory charm on Malfoy," Harry argued, his voice growing louder. "He can't have told Voldemort anything."
"Memory charms can be broken," Dumbledore said heavily, and once again, Harry had the distinct impression that the Headmaster was not telling him everything.
"But we've worked so hard on this, and I tried and tried for months to get into his head! Now that I have and I've found something important, you want to stop me going again?" Harry was growing livid.
"Harry, the circumstances have changed," Dumbledore said calmly. "Please sit down."
Harry didn't even realize that he had been standing, but he was in no mood to sit. He began pacing Dumbledore's office in agitation, realizing that his worry for Ginny was causing him to act irrationally, but not really caring.
"I can't believe this!" he shouted, resisting with great difficulty the urge to begin throwing Dumbledore's possessions around the room as he had done the previous spring. "All that work, and for nothing!"
"Not for nothing, Harry," Dumbledore said, his voice still irritatingly calm. "I am afraid that you will need this skill at a later time, though I frankly wish that I could say you would never use it again."
"If I can't save her, it's for nothing," Harry said, his voice laced with bitterness and frustration.
"We must not lose sight of the other possibilities, Harry," Dumbledore reminded him. "It may be Ginny Weasley who is in danger, but there is also the chance that he was referring to someone else."
"And we can't know that because you won't let me go in again," Harry said, breathing heavily. He stopped his pacing to look directly at Dumbledore. "Once more," he said, but there was no pleading in his tone. "Once more, to find out what his plans are."
"Harry," Dumbledore said, "we do have one other source of possible information. Would you allow me to find out what I can from that source before you attempt something so dangerous? You have my word that, should that information prove to be inadequate, we will make one more attempt to use Legilimency to get what we need. In the meantime, we will give Miss Weasley the highest level of protection we can offer her, particularly when she is outside the castle."
Harry sat back down in his chair, willing himself to calm down. The rational part of his mind knew that what Dumbledore was suggesting was perfectly reasonable, but he was finding hard to ignore the voice in his head, a voice full of rage, which was suggesting that the Order was once again using him as no more than a pawn, a game piece to be manipulated.
"Harry," Dumbledore said, knowing exactly what was going on in his student's mind at that moment. "I am asking you to place your trust in me."
Harry stared at the headmaster for a moment, and the battle going on inside his head was evident in his eyes. It could not have been clearer than he no longer knew whether or not he could trust Dumbledore, and he tried to ignore the obvious pain in his mentor's eyes as he thought about what he should do. Finally, he nodded stiffly, turned, and left the office without waiting for permission.
"The three D's! Remember the three D's!" Hermione hissed at Ron while they waited with the other members of their class who had reached seventeen years of age.
"Right, the three D's," Ron repeated, his skin carrying the slightly green tinge that it had had before his first Quidditch match.
The sixth-year students at Hogwarts had been studying apparation since Christmas, spending one evening a week in the company of a cheerful old wizard, popping with various degrees of success into and out of hoops. Harry had learned along with the rest of them, but like a few other students, his seventeenth birthday would not come until the summer, so he would not be taking the test with the rest of them.
After Harry had wished Hermione and Ron good luck on their Apparition tests, he walked slowly through the castle, enjoying the warm, early summer weather even as his mind remained as alert as it had for the past two weeks since he had last broken into Voldemort's mind.
Ginny's safe for now, he told himself firmly. She's in the library studying for her O.W.L.'s. Going there right now will only distract her! He repeated this mantra to himself as he went to the owlery to visit Hedwig, then again as he walked his favorite path around the lake, thinking of all he still had to do.
He killed time until lunch and perked up slightly after eating with Ginny in the Great Hall, but he was now used to the feeling of extreme unease that now followed him whenever they weren't together. It was enough that Harry probably would have gone to study with her for the afternoon, distraction or not, but he couldn't. Today, he had been asked to meet Kingsley and some others in their classroom for what the Auror called "real dueling practice."
Harry reminded himself once more that Ginny was safe in the library before opening the door to their usual meeting place and being greeted by not only Kingsley, but Remus Lupin, Mad-Eye Moody, Tonks, and Dumbledore himself.
"Wotcher, Harry!" Tonks said cheerfully as he came into the room, and though her tone was light, Harry could not help but notice that all of the adults besides Dumbledore and Kingsley seemed particularly determined and serious this afternoon. Even Lupin seemed stiffer than usual when he gave Harry the traditional one-armed hug, and Mad-Eye Moody looked positively alarming.
Only Kingsley and Dumbledore seemed to be themselves that day. "Good afternoon, Harry," the Auror said in his deep voice. "As you have no doubt noticed, I have brought in a few people to help us with our practice today."
Harry nodded. Was he going to be expected to duel with all of these professors at once? He had seen Lupin, Moody and Tonks duel and the Ministry of Magic, and he knew that he would be no contest for Dumbledore. In spite of the confidence that had been growing in his chest all spring, he found it ridiculous that he might be expected to best anyone in the room in a duel, much less more than one of them at a time.
Lupin seemed to understand Harry's discomfort and said quickly, "Don't worry, Harry, it won't be five-on-one right away. I must admit, all of us have been curious to see what you are able to do in a duel, and if I understood Kingsley correctly, we will begin by challenging you to individual duels with each one of us."
"That's correct," Kingsley confirmed. "Harry has grown used to dueling only with me and his classmates in Defense Against the Dark Arts and the D.A., and if he is to be prepared for real dueling, he must be able to adapt to his opponent's style."
"Okay," Harry said, screwing up his determination and hoping he would be able to perform well under observation, "who's first?"
Tonks couldn't suppress a grin at the defiant tone in Harry's voice, knowing that it was a cover for the nervousness he was probably feeling at the idea of dueling in front of his professors and friends.
"I'll go first, kiddo," she answered, rolling up the sleeves of her black work robes and pulling her wand from her pocket.
As Harry followed suit, Remus couldn't help but notice that he hadn't cringed when Tonks had called him 'kiddo,' just had Sirius had once called him. He wondered if that had anything to do with Tonks's status as Sirius's cousin of if Harry had simply gotten over that particular issue. He made a mental note to ask Tonks about it later.
Before he could think much more on it, Tonks threw her first spell at Harry, who had seemed to be waiting on it.
"Protego!" Harry yelled, sweeping his free hand across his body and producing a solid-looking golden shield. Lupin and Moody looked on in astonishment. They had never seen a shield so strong from a student or even an Auror, and neither of them failed to notice that Harry had conjured this powerful shield without his wand and was holding it in place with apparently no effort at all, watching intently as Tonks's jelly-legs jinx bounced harmlessly off of it and she dodged quickly.
Before Tonks had time to send another offensive spell, however, she cried out and slumped to the ground, and the attention of everyone in the room snapped to her. It seemed that she had been hit by a Stunner, but no one had heard anything from Harry.
As Kingsley revived Tonks, Lupin and Moody turned slowly to face Harry, astonishment on both of their faces. Harry was holding his wand aloft, his shield still golden and glimmering before him, and it could not have been clearer that he had cast the Stunner soundlessly at almost the exact same time as he had conjured his shield with his wand-free hand.
Tonks broke the silence, rubbing her backside ruefully as she stood up, "Blimey, Shacklebolt," she said, laughing a little. "You might have told me he could do that."
"You should have been prepared for anything," Kingsley responded a bit sternly, looking at the young woman who was one of his less-experienced Aurors.
"I was ready for him to come at me fast, and I was ready for the wandless magic and the soundless, but I've never met a wizard who could do both at the same time," Tonks said in her own defense. "It's remarkable, isn't it?"
"Whether it is remarkable or not is not the issue, Tonks," Moody said roughly. "Fact is, he can do it, and if we're to prepare him for the real thing, we've got to react to it the way Voldemort or one of the Death Eaters would."
"I know that, Moody, I'm just saying I was surprised," Tonks replied matter-of-factly. Everyone in the Order was used to Moody's rough manner, and few let it bother them.
Harry watched this exchange without a word, and he did not see the discreet signal Kingsley gave Lupin as Moody and Tonks argued on.
"Expelliarmus!" Lupin cried from behind Harry's back.
Harry was not expecting this attack, but as Shacklebolt had done the same thing to him on a number of occasions, he was prepared. He dropped into a roll quickly, fired off a spell at his guardian as he jumped back to his feet, and immediately raised his shield wandlessly when he was fully upright.
If Lupin was surprised at his speed, he gave no indication as he began a full-strength duel against his charge. He spared Harry nothing, for even though he had no desire to hurt him, he wanted him to be ready for whatever he might have to face in the future.
Lupin was an expert at soundless magic just as Kingsley was, and much of the duel progressed without shouts of spells, only interrupted by sound when Harry cast something wandlessly. He was still not able to produce soundless magic without his wand.
To Tonks, Moody, Kingsley and Dumbledore, it was like watching a fierce dance as the two circled one another, throwing curses and jinxes, raising shields and using advanced feinting and dodging moves. The two moved in a blur, and it seemed as though they were fairly well matched. To be certain, Harry was much faster than Lupin, but Lupin had the advantage of completely soundless magic and a more advanced repertoire of offensive spells.
At one point, Lupin managed to graze Harry with a strong leg-locker curse, and he couldn't resist shouting, "great move, Harry!" as Harry simultaneously used his wand to remove the curse and used his wand-free hand to maintain his shield while he recovered. The whole process took no more than a split second, and the professors in the room knew that Harry was at a much higher level of defensive magic than any other student, including the seventh-years studying for their N.E.W.T.s the following week.
As Lupin and Harry continued dueling at lightning speed, Kingsley nodded almost imperceptibly to Tonks, who jumped into the duel, now fully aware of the range of Harry's abilities.
Finding himself in a two-on-one situation with two experienced duelers, Harry stepped up his speed and the dance continued. Tonks was easier to deal with as she was not a master of soundless magic, and he had a split-second advantage in protecting himself when she threw spells. However, the combination of Lupin and Tonks was difficult, and two minutes into the duel, Harry could feel himself beginning to tire. Rivulets of sweat streamed down his face and he could feel himself becoming damp under his robes. His breath came in gasps as he continued dodging, throwing jinxes, and maintaining his shields.
Lupin and Tonks seemed to move like an experienced team, and after the duel was over, Harry wondered how much time they had been spending with one another outside of Order business. They reminded him somewhat of himself and Ginny, able to anticipate the other's moves and react to them without speaking.
They had been dueling for close to ten minutes, all three of them becoming red, sweaty and out of breath, when a break finally occurred. Using a move he had never tried before, Harry let his shield go and dropped into a roll, avoiding curses thrown at him from both sides. As he was rolling, he soundlessly shot a full body-bind curse at Lupin, who was not expecting Harry to cast anything new until he came out of the roll.
Lupin's arms and legs snapped together and he fell to the ground, his eyes registering not only surprise but fierce pride.
The remainder of the duel between Harry and Tonks was short, as the young Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor, while well-trained and in top physical condition, was no match for Harry's ability to do magic with both hands. Harry obtained her wand less than a minute later, ending the duel.
Even Kingsley seemed impressed. "That was excellent, Harry," he congratulated his student.
"You have indeed come far," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling for the first time in quite a while. He was especially pleased with Harry's progress in wandless magic, but he decided to discuss that with his student in private. He still did not want anyone else to find out about the connection between Harry's wand and Voldemort's. He trusted everyone in the room implicitly, but he had learned over the years that information could be leaked in the most unintentional ways, and he preferred that this particular bit stay as secret as possible.
"Good work, Potter," Moody growled, "but can you maintain that level of defense when you are up against more than two people?"
"Harry will not be fighting alone under any circumstance," Lupin interjected.
"Be that as it may, Remus, Potter may find himself in a situation where everyone else is dead or incapacitated."
"Moody has a point, but another thing we must work on is Harry's ability to fight in tandem with others at or below his own skill."
"The term's about to end," Harry protested, though he was keep to advance his dueling ability as much as possible. "I've still got to go back to the Dursley's, haven't I?" He looked hopefully at Lupin and then Dumbledore.
It was Lupin who answered. "Yes, Harry," he said regretfully. "The blood magic will be negated when you come of age, but until then, you will need to return to Little Whinging one last time."
"That does not mean, however," Dumbledore broke in, "that you will be unable to practice until your seventeenth birthday. We will make arrangements for your training to continue while you are staying with your aunt and uncle. We will work something out."
Harry nodded, and then took a deep breath. He had thought of almost nothing else for the past two weeks, and it did not seem as though Dumbledore had managed to find any more information.
"Professors?" he asked hesitantly.
"Yes, Harry?" Tonks responded automatically, having become quite used to her title over the past year.
"I want to have another go at Voldemort's mind," he stated with no sign of fear or worry in his voice. "I've got to find out what he has planned."
Lupin glanced at Dumbledore. Both men had known that this request would come up sooner or later.
"Harry, the amount of risk involved would make another attempt extremely dangerous," Dumbledore said. "We have received some helpful information from our source, and I assure you, everything that can be done is being done."
"What about Ginny?" Harry demanded, his voice growing hard. "School's almost over, and she'll be out of the castle for the whole summer! I won't be with her, Dumbledore won't, Mr. Weasley has to work and Mrs. Weasley has all that other Order stuff she has to do. What about her?"
"We will see that Miss Weasley is protected, Harry," Dumbledore said.
"What about you?" Harry demanded, rounding to glare at Lupin. "You think it's too dangerous too?"
Lupin looked at the blazing determination in his charge's eyes and was reminded of James Potter so forcibly that he took a moment to recover. "Harry, I…" he said, trailing off and looking at Dumbledore. "Do you really think this is the best course of action?" he asked, looking back at the dark-haired mirror image of his best friend.
Harry was startled to be asked his opinion. He had expected Lupin to immediately side with Dumbledore, saying it was not worth the risk to try to use Legilimency against the Dark Lord when their plan may have been revealed. Harry strove to make his voice sound as reasonable and adult as possible when he answered, "Yes, I think this is the best course of action. I understand there's risk involved, but there's nothing happening these days that doesn't involve risk. If I can find the stronghold, or figure out what their plans are…" he trailed off, thinking of his real purpose in wanting go back. "I just think it is worth the risk. After all, he can hardly kill me from that distance, right?"
Lupin nodded, his expression a combination of troubled and proud.
"Potter makes a good point," Moody grunted.
"But, Remus," Tonks said, her face pale and still shimmering with sweat from the earlier duel, "can we really take that kind of risk with Harry, considering everything he has to do before the end?"
"Harry has the ability to do this, he wants to, he believes it is important and all of us will be there for him, just as we always are," Lupin said. "There is risk involved to be certain, but with the right precautions, I believe that it could be made safe enough."
Kingsley abstained from the conversation, believing that his role in Harry's development was far removed from matters of Legilimency and strategy. He did notice, however, that Harry had begun to have an almost maniacal look in his eyes, a wild hope that he would get his way.
That look, however, was short lived.
"Harry, I am sorry, but you have already received my final word on the matter," Dumbledore said, rising from his seat around the small table. "I am not willing to risk Lord Voldemort discovering your presence. It is not worth any amount of information you might uncover. If you have any more questions on the matter, I will be happy to respond to them at a later time." Dumbledore surveyed the table seriously before turning and sweeping slowly out of the room, closing the door softly behind him.
Harry turned to Lupin, his eyes blazing. "Moony!" he said. "If the rest of you would be there, I'm sure I still could…"
Lupin shook his head slowly. "Harry, I agree with you, but Dumbledore will have his reasons, and he is the Head of the Order of the Phoenix…"
"I don't care if he's the bloody Minister of Magic!" Harry shouted, all his frustration and fear for Ginny coming through the adrenaline that was still left over from his duel. "He doesn't understand what it was like inside Voldemort's head. He doesn't understand what's coming, and I don't think he cares!"
"Harry, I'll talk to him, see if I can at least find out why he is so adamantly against this, all right?" Lupin asked reasonably. "Can you at least let me do that?"
Harry took a deep breath. For the first time ever, Lupin had taken up for Harry, had said that he could do something dangerous, that he was able to make a real difference. That fact did a lot to calm Harry down. However, he was not ready to concede the point totally.
"Today, Moony," Harry said, standing and preparing to leave the room. "Talk to him today. I won't wait much longer than that."
After leaving the Order members behind, Harry walked slowly back to Gryffindor Tower, exhausted to the very core of his being and as angry at Dumbledore as he had ever been. No matter how many ways he tried to explain it to himself, he could not justify Dumbledore's absolute refusal to allow him to gain entrance to Voldemort's mind just once more, to find out what he could about the Dark Lords plans.
No matter what anyone else said, Harry was absolutely convinced that the "her" Voldemort had referred to had been Ginny. The pieces fit perfectly together. Voldemort was going to use Ginny to get to Harry, just as he had planted the vision of Sirius to get him to the Department of Mysteries almost exactly one year before.
"This time, he's going to have to take her for real," Harry said to himself, fear and rage trickling up and down his spine like spiders. "He knows he can't trick me again; I know too much Occlumency for that. He'll take her…I've got to know when, I've got to know where…"
Harry continued to mutter to himself as he automatically detoured through several secret passages he had come to know over his years at Hogwarts. He did not worry about being overheard. On a Saturday with weather like this, everyone was either outside enjoying themselves or in the library or dormitories studying for O.W.L.'s and N.E.W.T.'s.
"Malfoy," Harry muttered as he climbed a steep stone staircase that connected the fourth floor with the corridor that held the portrait of the Fat Lady. "Stupid git. He deserved what he got."
Harry felt guilty even saying such a thing to himself. Did anyone really deserve to die at the hands of Voldemort? "If anyone did, Malfoy did. Bloody, stinking Slytherin…" he grumbled, kicking a loose stone on one of the stairs.
He finally reached the top of the long staircase, still muttering to himself and trying to sort out everything that had happened and to figure out what he needed to do next. Just as he was about to push through the tapestry leading to the seventh-floor corridor, a familiar voice startled him out of his reverie.
"You'll want to stop talking to yourself, love, or people might think you're touched in the head."
Harry turned around so quickly that he felt slightly dizzy. There, sitting with her back up against the stone wall, was Ginny. Her Transfiguration text was open on her lap and her other books were stacked next to her in a leaning tower of leather bindings. From the look of her, Harry guessed that she had been there for quite some time. Her face was smudged with ink and her eyes looked tired. The two feathered quills stuck into her hair gave her the look of a distracted librarian or writer, and it seemed as though she had forgotten they were there, for she had a third quill in her hand and was using it to underline important bits in her text as she revised.
"Ginny?" Harry said, quickly going to her. "What are you doing here?"
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Well, I was going crazy in the library," she began. "Everyone was whispering, and all the fifth-years were so stressed about their O.W.L.s that they kept telling other people off for talking, but they were actually being noisier than anyone else. I tried the common room, but a bunch of first-years were in there playing Exploding Snap. So, I came here. I figured you would come through at one time or another." She smiled at him, and he suddenly found himself feeling happier than he had a few moments before.
Apparently, though, his return smile was not quite bright enough, because she suddenly looked him over critically. "Harry, what's the matter?" she asked in concern. "You look rather peaked."
Harry sighed. "Nothing's the matter," he lied, not wanting to tell her about his attempt to convince Dumbledore to let him have another go at Voldemort.
"Liar," she stated simply, no reproach or judgment in her voice. "What's really bothering you? I heard you say 'Malfoy.'" She looked at him carefully as she said that. For the past two weeks, Harry had refused to talk about Malfoy's death besides the expected comments such as "he deserved what he got."
"It's nothing," Harry said, trying to sound nonchalant.
"Right," Ginny said decisively. "Go get the cloak, Harry."
"The cloak?" Harry repeated dumbly.
"The cloak," Ginny confirmed, pulling the quills out of her hair and stacking her books neatly against the wall, knowing they were unlikely to be disturbed. "You need to get out, and so do I. If I revise for one second longer my eyes will cross permanently." She made the attempt at levity, but saw that, for the moment at least, it was no good. Something was bothering Harry, bothering him badly, and she intended to find out what.
"What are you waiting for?" she urged, when Harry continued to stand there looking confused. "Go get your cloak and meet me back here as soon as you can." She stood on tiptoe to kiss him lightly on the lips and then squeezed his arm as he left.
While she waited, Ginny thought again about what must be bothering him. She didn't think it was actually Malfoy's death, because although that had been shocking, it was not as if he was anything even approaching a friend.
She knew he was itching to have another go at Voldemort and frustrated because Dumbledore wouldn't let him. Other than just being determined, she had a nagging feeling that there was something Harry wasn't telling her about why he was so adamant about it. If she was completely honest with herself, she was on Dumbledore's side, not that she would ever let Harry know that…she would support him to the end, no matter what. She considered it both her duty and her privilege to do so. She just wished she knew why. If she had been Harry, she would have been all too happy to have a reason not to intrude upon the thoughts of the most evil wizard of all time.
Harry looked slightly more cheerful as he ducked back under the tapestry and reemerged, a lump in his pocket telling her that he had indeed retrieved his cloak from the dormitory.
"You ready?" she asked with an impish grin.
Smiling his first smile since lunchtime that day, Harry nodded and took the cloak from his pocket.
A few minutes later, Harry and Ginny were carefully skirting around the students on the ground to their favorite path around the lake. They walked in companionable silence, clasping hands tightly and using their other hands to hold the cloak carefully in place. Neither of them was in the mood to be discovered.
"Here?" Ginny asked after a few minutes, indicating "their" spot under the tree by the lake.
"Sure," Harry said, but his heart had grown heavy. As they had walked, he had come to the conclusion he had been fighting against for two weeks. In order to keep Ginny safe, he was going to have to leave her, and even the thought of it was enough to fill his heart with the same kind of sadness he had felt when Sirius died.
They settled themselves carefully in their comfortable spot in the shade, and Ginny wasted no time in taking Harry in her arms and kissing him deeply. He returned the kiss eagerly at first, but after a few moments, he pulled away.
"Harry, what is it?" Ginny asked softly, her concern apparent. "Please tell me."
Harry took a deep breath, willing himself to remain strong. I don't have a choice, he thought. If I can't break into Voldemort's mind and find out what he's going to do, this is the only way to keep her safe…I'll make sure he knows, somehow…
"Whatever it is, it can't be as bad as all that," Ginny said, reading the obvious sadness on his face. As soon as she said it though, she mentally kicked herself. With everything that was going on, how was she to know that it wasn't "as bad as all that?"
"Ginny," Harry began, and she was startled to hear his voice break very slightly. "Ginny…"
"What is it?" she whispered, suddenly feeling very apprehensive.
"I can't see you anymore," Harry said quickly before he lost his nerve.
"What?" Ginny asked, her heart clenching inside her chest. "What do you mean, you can't see me anymore, Harry? I thought…"
She was about to say, "I thought you loved me," but didn't, thinking that the words would sound pathetic. Besides, even though the fear coursing through her soul, she suspected that there was more to this.
"Ginny, it's what I've got to do. There are no guarantees that things are going to turn out okay," Harry said. "And in the meantime, everyone I'm close to is in danger. It's the only way to keep you safe. I mean it. I won't see you anymore." His voice grew stronger as his resolve strengthened. He knew he was doing the right thing.
Ginny seemed to have other ideas. "Bullocks," she said, her voice strong and almost angry. "Harry Potter, if you think I'm going to accept an excuse as lame as that one, you've got another think coming, you prat. If you don't want to be with me, that's one thing, but you're not going to leave me because of some simple-minded idea about going off on your own and being noble. Sorry, Harry. Nothing doing."
"Ginny, you just don't get it!" Harry burst out, and it was lucky that no one was passing their spot at that particular moment, because he would have been heard quite clearly. "Being close to me is as good as having a target painted over your chest. I won't let anything happen to you, and if I have to leave you to keep you safe, that's what I'm going to do!"
"And fine protection you're going to be if you're avoiding me," Ginny shot back, her cheeks and the tips of her ears growing pink in the typical Weasley fashion. "Who do you think is going to keep me safe if not you?"
"I'm more danger to you than protection," Harry insisted. "I'm sorry, Ginny, but I'm not going to change my mind." He made to stand up, but Ginny grabbed his arm with surprising strength, pulling him back down next to her.
"Do you love me?" she asked through clenched teeth. "Answer quickly. If this is all some sort of excuse to get away from me because you don't want to be with me, tell me, and I will let you walk away. Say you don't love me, Harry. Say it now."
Harry opened his mouth, determined to end the conversation by saying exactly that, but he found that he couldn't. He looked at her soft brown eyes, which were brimming with tears either from anger or sadness, and he couldn't bear to say the words he knew she would have to hear if he was ever to distance himself from her.
"You can't say it, can you?" she whispered, her tears spilling over her lower lids. "You want to, but you can't."
"I can't," Harry said, his resolve crumbling. "I love you, Ginny. I love you so much it seems like my heart will burst right out of my chest with it. That's why I've got to leave you." His own eyes got a bit teary as he said it, and be brushed them impatiently with the sleeve of his robes.
"You won't," Ginny said with conviction. "The safest place for me to be is wherever you are, Harry. I'm not sure of much else, but I'm certain of that."
"No, Ginny," Harry said, but she wouldn't let him continue.
"This is going to end someday, my love," Ginny said, her voice growing soft once again. "You're going to do what you have to do, and you're going to do it with me and with all the rest of your family standing right beside you. And after you finish that evil git off, we're going to have a life together. You and me, Harry. It's all I've ever wanted, and I'm not letting it go for some cock-eyed idea of self-sacrifice on your part."
"A life?" Harry repeated.
"A life, Harry," Ginny responded strongly. "We're going to get married and have children, and we're going to live to be old and gray with nothing more exciting than letters coming from McGonagall when one of the kids misbehaves." She wrapped her arms around him, burying her head in her special spot at the nape of his neck.
Harry couldn't respond to this. He had never thought of it in terms of marriage and children, but he realized with a pang that he could not imagine any kind of life without the woman who was sitting beside him, holding him so passionately.
"That's what you want, isn't it?" Ginny asked, pulling away to look straight into his eyes.
"It's…" Harry began, now knowing he could never do what he had set out to do. "It's the only way I would ever want it to be," he finished, and this time, he did not wait for her to kiss him first.
Harry and Ginny spent much of that afternoon wrapped securely in the invisibility cloak under the tree by the lake, alternately talking softly and holding each other close. Their caresses that day were gentle, caring and somehow more mature and understanding than he ever had been before.
"…and neither can live while the other survives…" The words from the prophecy ran through his head as he kissed Ginny goodnight, and as he went slowly up the stairs to his dormitory and lay down in his bed, he finally knew what they meant.
At five in the morning on a Sunday, Gryffindor Tower was as still and quiet as a churchyard but for one solitary figure moving silently through the common room. Harry Potter put on his invisibility cloak before he climbed through the portrait hole and headed straight to the statue of the one-eyed witch. Checking his Marauder's Map, he tapped his wand to the statue, whispering "Dissendium."
Hogsmeade was almost as still as Gryffindor Tower had been as Harry carefully and quietly exited Honeyduke's and made his way up the main road towards the stile at the edge of the village. Wrapped in his invisibility cloak, he attracted no notice from the few villagers who were out and about that early.
He made his way around to the back of the Shrieking Shack, whispering the password to unlock the gate even though he was certain that he had been completely undetected. He wanted to take no chances. After their conversation yesterday, Harry had grown even more determined to find out what Voldemort's plans were, and when he reached the upstairs room where he had first met his godfather, he did not hesitate.
Shrugging off the invisibility cloak and placing it beside him on the dusty old bed along with his wand and the Marauder's Map, Harry closed his eyes and began to concentrate.
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