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The day before Harry and the others were supposed to return to Hogwarts, a surprise visitor showed up at the Burrow. Mrs. Weasley answered the door. Standing on the steps, wearing white jeans, a white tee shirt, and tons of gold jewelry, was Alexandria Write.

“Can I help you?” Mrs. Weasley asked.

Alex swallowed but tried to smile pleasantly through her nerves. “Hello. I’m looking for Draco. I was told he was staying here.”

“Oh, yes, he is.” Mrs. Weasley looked her over once more with a curious expression before inviting her inside.

“What are you doing here?” Draco demanded the second he saw her.

Alex stared at him smugly. “I came to see you, snakehead.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Snakehead?”

“Keep out of it, Potter,” Draco muttered before standing up to give Alex a hug. “Seriously,” he said, looking her up and down, “I thought you said your dad wouldn’t let you visit me over the holiday.”

“I told him today was the day that school started again,” she explained, shrugging. “He doesn’t need to know all the details. Besides, after you wrote about what happened here I wanted to make sure everything was alright. Are you okay Harry? Ginny?”

Both nodded. “We didn’t get hurt,” Harry promised.

Alex seemed to relax. “That’s wonderful news. Have there been any Death Eater sightings since then?”

Mr. Weasley shook his head. He was about to go into work. “Nothing at the Ministry has been reported.”

“And nothing from the Order members either,” Dumbledore supplied.

Alex jumped. “Professor! I didn’t see you there.”

Dumbledore smiled over his plate of scrambled eggs. “That is quite alright, Miss Write. When one’s gaze is strictly focused on their beloved it is hard for them to see much else.”

Both Draco and Alex’s faces turned as red as the Weasleys hair. Everyone tried not to laugh. Alex cleared her throat. “Yes, well, you are right, of course, sir.”

“Do you fancy a walk?” Draco asked, clearly desperate to leave the house.

Alex nodded.

“Stay within the barriers, Mr. Malfoy,” Dumbledore called as the two headed out the front door. After it closed he said to no one in particular, “Getting along quite nicely, those two.”

Aberforth frowned. “And why the sudden interest, Albus?”

“You know I always have an interest in my students, brother.”

“Where their education is concerned,” Aberforth pointed out.

Albus shrugged. “You of all people should understand the joy I experience of seeing love blossom.”

Aberforth snorted into his mug of coffee. “No comment,” he muttered.

Harry found Ginny staring out the front window, her brown eyes following Draco and Alex with slight caution. Leaning over to speak lowly, he said, “You’re being a little overprotective, don’t you think?”

Ginny jumped and turned to focus on Harry. “I just want to make sure they stay in the boundary.”

Harry, perceiving that there was more she was leaving unsaid suggested that they go up to her room. Smacking George in the back of the head over a small joke involving the suggestion to leave the door open, Ginny followed Harry up the stairs. Harry made sure to purposefully shut the door before occupying the chair in front of Ginny’s desk. “So,” he said, “what’s the real reason for staring at them so intently, Ginny?”

Ginny bit her lip. “For some reason I don’t feel exactly comfortable around Alex.”

Harry’s attention perked at this. “What do you mean?”

“That’s just it,” Ginny sighed, obviously frustrated. “There’s nothing suspicious about her at all and yet I feel uncomfortable around her. I feel like she’s hiding something.”

Harry studied her silently. She noticed and fidgeted uncomfortably. “Am I overreacting?”

Harry wanted to tell her. He wanted to share what he’d witnessed in the forbidden forest, everything about Great One and a plot about Alex nurturing a Sacrifice; but he couldn’t bring himself to tell her. He didn’t want her to worry. Forcing his face to remain neutral, Harry shrugged. “It’s never a bad thing to be weary of others. Our past experiences prove this true. But I think Alex is a good person.”

“I do too,” Ginny said, desperate to quell her doubts. “So I am overreacting then?”

Harry smiled. “Perhaps a bit.”

Ginny’s shoulders slumped. “Maybe that’s why she feels uncomfortable around me. I have to admit I feel like I haven’t been a very good friend.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, when she’s needed someone to talk to, I’d try to make excuses to avoid conversing,” Ginny admitted. “And I haven’t wanted to study with her so I’d ask you if I could study in your common room all the time.”

“So you only studied there so as to hide?” Harry asked, trying to mask his hurt.

Ginny gasped. “Harry, I didn’t mean it like that! Of course I wanted to see you too. Sometimes I’d study at your place just to be with you. Honest!”

Harry pursed his lips and then sighed. “Let’s talk about something else.”

And so they changed the subject to school, trying to predict how terrifying the lessons and homework were going to be when they got back. Two hours before sunset Harry left Ginny’s room to pack his things together in his trunk. He was amazed how all of his things had managed to scatter themselves all over the Weasleys home. After much searching and a couple of stubbed toes later (from walking into his trunk), Harry had all of his things packed. Sighing, Harry called for Kreacher.

The elf appeared with a crack. After instructing him to return his trunk to the school, Harry slumped over to his pad and collapsed onto it. He felt absolutely exhausted and he hadn’t even transformed yet. Already dreading the unavoidable pain, Harry secretly wished he could be asleep when he changed. No sooner had he thought this, his eyelids closed and the exhaustion he’d felt outweighed his consciousness.

*~*~*~*~

Harry awoke with a start moments later to find that he’d turned into the stag. He thought he’d woken from the intense throbbing of his muscles but a sudden BOOM convinced him otherwise. Wishing he hadn’t shut the door, Harry came to his feet just as another BOOM sounded and the whole house shook. Using Obscurvirgum, the door clicked open and expanded, allowing Harry to step into the hallway. Shouts were coming from out on the lawn. Harry went into the kitchen where he could look out the window.

His eyes widened. What met his eyes was a full scale wizard battle. Dumbledore’s all powerful indestructible barriers had been completely demolished. Fragments of the spells floated through the air like strange green snow, mixing with the natural white flakes already occupying the sky. Out on the lawn, battling furiously through the snow with Harry’s loved ones were twenty black robed wizards and witches with masks. At first Harry thought they were Death Eater masks but upon closer inspection he discerned that the masks were silver, covering every inch of the face. There were no defining noses or mouths but there were slits for eyes; though a veil of darkness covered the wearers actually irises. Then Harry noticed the symbol.

A bright golden ankh, the Egyptian symbol for life, covered most of the mask’s surface, the two short ends cutting through the eyeholes with the top loop resting on the forehead. The longest part sloped down like an odd nose, the base stopping at the chin. Each mask held this symbol and each one burned into Harry’s retinas like neon signs.

The masked figures were engaged in furious battles, fighting two to one, with all the Weasleys, both Dumbledores, Draco, Alex, and Andromeda. Harry wondered where Teddy could possibly be but then he heard the little one crying in the living room. Torn between running out to help his friends or checking on his godson, Harry chose the latter. Turning around, he bounded into the sitting room and came over to the pen where Teddy had been left.

The baby’s face was brick red from crying but upon seeing Harry, he seemed to calm a little. Harry lowered his head and Teddy immediately latched onto it, holding it tightly.

“It’s okay, Teddy,” Harry whispered.

The baby looked at the stag. If he was surprised to find it talking to him, Teddy didn’t let on. Harry continued to offer words of comfort though to him they sounded halfhearted. His thoughts were too preoccupied with what was occuring outside. What in the world was going on? Who were these mysterious people? Harry maneuvered himself a little so he could glance out the window. Ten feet away, Dumbledore was dueling four masked people at once. Once more Harry was reminded of the power of his headmaster.

Dumbledore’s wand seemed to move on its own, twirling and swirling around in the old man’s grip as if it were made of water. Spell after spell shot from the tip, ranging from flames, to blasts of pure energy. As Dumbledore managed to catch one of his opponents with a fiery barbed net, he stepped out of Harry’s line of vision. That’s when he noticed Ginny.

She twenty feet away, dangerously apart from the others, and it appeared as if the two people she was dueling were trying to push her farther and farther into the road. Harry looked down at Teddy. He couldn’t leave his godson but his fiancée needed help. Mind split with indecision, Harry looked up again. Ginny was definitely being pushed back.

Randomly, Harry shouted out, “TONKS!”

She magically appeared at his side, no Gate Frame required. “Go!” she said.

Harry didn’t need telling twice. He bounded out of the room, smashing the front door apart with his antlers. Leaping into the night, he dodged countless spells flying through the air. Harry felt like he was part of a firework show, bright oranges collided with deep purples, pops and bangs rattled his eardrums. Yet he kept running. A masked figure materialized in his path.

“What’s this? A wild animal deciding to join the party? Or perhaps an animagus? AVADA KEDAVRA!”

Harry cast a powerful spell that collided with the curse. A flash of brilliant blue light temporarily blinded the masked man giving Harry just enough time to slip out of his gaze and continue running to Ginny’s aid. She was at the edge of the trees now on the opposite side of the road. Harry was rushing towards her, desperate to stop her from disappearing into the forest. Then he saw a figure just within the trees’ shadows.

He was tall, six - no - seven feet. A mask similar to the others in black robes covered his features. Somehow the gold mixed in with the red of his robe made him have the appearance of fire shrouding his head. Usually the thought of someone with their head on fire would seem highly humorous but Harry had no desire to laugh. He actually was experiencing the opposite emotion: terror. He felt that this red robed man was capable of bursting into flame at any given moment.

A chilling, deathly voice filled the air. “Hurry!” it commanded. It was muffled behind the silver mask but it didn’t stop a shiver from crawling down Harry’s back. It was the same voice as Great One.

Harry picked up his speed, lowering his head, his antlers directed towards the attacker on Ginny’s right. Two seconds later, the man let out a scream of pain as Harry’s antlers collided with his back, ripping though his robes to pierce his skin. The impact caused the masked man to fly three feet before landing in the snow with a crunch. His head appeared to have smacked into the base of a tree.

Ginny’s other attacker ignored the state of their friend and grabbed Ginny by the arm, dragging her closer to where the red robed figure stood waiting. Ginny punched and kicked but this only lead to her captor casting a freezing charm on her. Ginny’s limps became completely immobile. But in the split second the captor had decided to use this charm, Harry had cast a spell of his own. The unspoken incantation caused the desired affect: the captor immediately lost consciousness, dropping to the snow infested ground.

Casting a shield charm over himself and Ginny, Harry lowered himself to the ground. In two seconds he’d managed to get her onto his back (looking back he had no idea how he’d done it) and was cantering off towards the Burrow away from the red robed figure. Harry looked over his shoulder once but to his surprise and confusion found he was not being pursued. Instead the red robed man had stepped out of the shadows and was staring at him in contempt.

Then he raised his hand and snapped his fingers together. The sound was like a shockwave. The black robed followers rapidly burst into red and gold flames, leaving nothing, not even ashes, on the wind. Right after they’d all disappeared, their leader followed after them in the same fashion except his flame-filled exit was ten times brighter, the fire climbing twenty feet before dissipating into oblivion.

A surprising shockwave from the man’s exit smacked into Harry from behind and he went flying several feet into the air. Ginny rolled to his left, performing several summersaults while Harry tasted snow face-first before rolling end over end a few feet. His front right leg slammed into something hidden in the snow and Harry experienced excruciating pain as a horrible crack rent the air. He cried out, gritting his teeth as tears sprung to his eyes.

Ginny, finally free from the binding curse, rushed over to his side, spraying snow everywhere. “Harry! Oh my gosh...HELP! Harry’s hurt!”

Dumbledore seemed to materialize out of thin air next to them. His beard was slightly smoking as he peered over Harry with silent scrutiny. Several others gathered round, including Ron and Hermione. Harry tried to breath normally – that is until Dumbledore touched his injured leg. Harry gasped, trying hard not to cry out again. Dumbledore sat back. “Clearly it’s broken,” he muttered.

“How can you tell?” Percy asked, standing behind Charlie and Bill.

“Well, as the bone is clearly visible I would say that’s an obvious assumption,” explained George.

Percy scowled. “I couldn’t see that,” he muttered.

“Aberforth, can you get Madam Pomfrey?” Dumbledore asked over his shoulder.

His brother came into view, limping slightly. “Sure,” he grunted. His ankle, Harry guessed, must have been hit somehow. Harry heard him grumble through the snow before he disappeared inside.

Dumbledore took off his cloak and threw it over Harry.

“Thanks,” Harry managed to say, trying to keep his mind focused on anything else but the pain coursing through his leg. “What happened? Who were those guys?”

Mr. Weasley’s face darkened. “It would appear that the Death Eaters have changed their dress code.”

*~*~*~*~

Harry had passed out right after Madam Pomfrey had fixed his leg and given him a sleeping draught. He assumed that someone had either carried or hovered him into the living room because he woke up there in the morning. Opening his eyes, Harry suddenly realized that the thing he was using for a pillow was his mother’s lap.

“I’m sorry,” Lily muttered. “Did I wake you?”

Harry shook his head, rubbing his eyes. He would have sat up but for some reason his limps wouldn’t respond. Sighing, he instead relaxed where he was on the sofa. “How long have you been here?”

“All night,” James answered somewhere to Harry’s left.

Harry managed to turn his head. His father, Sirius, Remus, Tonks, and to Harry’s surprise, Severus Snape, were all sitting around the living room. The light from the window was not very bright, giving Harry the impression that it was an hour after dawn. Feeling like he’d just been kicked in the head by a hippogriff, Harry reclosed his eyes and breathed deeply.

“Are you alright?” his mother asked.

Harry nodded. “My head hurts.”

“I’ll say,” Snape muttered. “That sleeping draught Pomfrey gave you was meant to keep you under until late this afternoon. You’re experiencing a headache because you’re fighting the potion.”

“Severus, do you have anything that will cancel it out?” Lily asked.

Snape put a hand into his robe. “Here,” he said, handing it over.

“Do you always keep a wake up potion in your pocket?” Sirius asked, slightly mocking.

Snape frowned. “It just so happens Dumbledore summoned me first so as to ask me to bring the potion as a precaution. And to stop your next taunt, I was brewing one this morning for someone else in Paradise and I happened to have extra.”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”

James accepted the offered vial and handed it over to Lily who in turn gave it to Harry. Harry mustered enough strength to lift the liquid to his lips and drink. The potion was slimy and left a bad aftertaste but Harry still thanked his previous professor for providing it.

“Try not to thank me, Potter,” Snape muttered.

Harry sat up and stretched his stiff muscles. “I thought I was the only one who could summon you guys.”

“Albus has special privileges in dire circumstances,” Sirius explained kindly.

“Where is everyone?”

“Asleep,” answered Remus.

“Except me of course,” said Dumbledore as he came into the living room holding two mugs of hot chocolate. He smiled at Harry as he passed him the other mug. “It’s good to see you awake, my boy.”

“Thanks,” Harry murmured. He took a sip of the cocoa, which slightly burned his tongue. It warmed him immediately. “Professor, what exactly happened last night?”

Dumbledore set his mug down on the table in between them, threaded his fingers together, and sighed. “I’m afraid that the Death Eaters have found a new master to serve, Harry.”

“What?! You’re joking!”

Dumbledore shook his head. “I wish I were,” he muttered sadly.

Harry felt like a deflating balloon. Not really looking at anything in particular, he stood up and went over to the window. Leaning against the sill, staring out at the welcoming sight of the morning sun, he felt a weight of despair sink into his visage.

“I get rid of Voldemort,” he muttered, “and now, before I can get rid of all of his stupid followers, another maniac manifests himself. I understand that there will always be dark wizards to fight – that’s why the auror’s program exists. I just didn’t think there would be another one this soon.”

The others felt very sympathetic towards the young wizard. Being part of the war, they understood how he was feeling to some degrees. They had all longed for peace and thought that there would be a substantial amount of time before a new evil rose. And now they were realizing that this wasn’t the case. It was a hard pill for all who had suffered to swallow.

“Do we know who it might be?” Tonks asked.

Dumbledore shook his head. “I’m afraid not.”

Harry however, scuffled his feet. He had a deep suspicion, almost plain conviction, that Great One was Sephtus. The key to finding out the truth laid with Alex. He was convinced that the two were linked. But he couldn’t tell anyone about Sephtus without invoking the maniac’s wrath. He was stuck in a terrible situation with no current way to escape.

“Harry?”

Harry looked up at his mother. Apparently he’d just been asked a question because everyone was staring at him. Feeling slightly sheepish, he said, “Sorry, what was that?”

Snape snorted. “Even when he’s not in the classroom he doesn’t pay attention.”

James frowned while Sirius looked at Snape like he was a dirty rag. But Harry somehow recognized that the malice that used to be in the Potions Master’s tone was not present in this ribbing. Trying not to grin from the realization that Snape was being sarcastic towards him, Harry shrugged. “My thoughts were occupied, sir.”

“Hmph…obviously,” Snape muttered, sneering.

Lily smiled, recognizing Snape’s sarcasm easily. “Now, Sev, that’s enough,” she said pleasantly.

Snape rolled his eyes.

James looked from his wife to Snape and back again. Brow furrowed, he muttered, “Did I miss something?”

“Sev’s just being sarcastic is all,” Lily explained gently.  

“What?” James cried, looking at Snape like he was some alien life form with three heads. “Snape? Joking?”

Snape snorted. “Did you think you were the only one capable of cracking wise on others, Potter? My, your head is still as large as it was when you were alive.”

“You’re being sarcastic right now, aren’t you?” James said.

Snape rolled his eyes. “And apparently he developed a small amount of brains – Lily’s doing no doubt.”

Dumbledore, chuckling from the stunned expressions of the three marauders, turned to Harry. “I asked if you suspected who might be our new enemy, Harry.”

Harry stiffened. Looking into the old headmaster’s bright blue eyes, he immediately closed his mind and shook his head. “No, sir,” he muttered, looking away. Even to him, his words sounded false. He knew the others were all staring at him.

“Harry,” James prompted, “you know something, don’t you.”

Harry swallowed. “Excuse me.” And he set his mug down and left the house, praying no one would follow after him.  

Ginny found him an hour later leaning against the far garden wall just inside the barriers that Dumbledore had remade after the battle was over. “You really shouldn’t be outside,” she muttered.

Harry stood up and hugged her tightly. “Are you alright?” he demanded, looking her up and down.

She nodded fervently. “I’m fine. It’s you I’m worried about. You broke your leg last night. It was terrifying, watching you in so much pain and knowing I couldn’t do anything. I felt….completely helpless,” she muttered.

Harry took her hands and kissed them gently. “Nobody there knew how to mend a broken leg, Ginny. There’s no reason for you to feel that way.”

“Dumbledore can,” Ginny muttered, sniffling slightly.

Harry half smiled. “Well, he’s Dumbledore, isn’t he? He’s not human.”

Ginny cracked a smile. “Yeah, I guess so.” She hugged him again. “Thanks for coming after me, Harry. I didn’t even realize what was going on.”

“I’m just glad I got to you before anything terrible happened.”

“Me too.”

The two of them were silent for a while.

“Do you know when they attacked last night?” Harry asked.

Ginny nodded. “It was an hour after you’d transformed. I was about to come in and wake you when the first attack occurred. It sounded like George’s loudest set of fireworks going off and then a horrible hissing noise comparable to a kettle on the stove. Dumbledore was the first out the door, yelling that we were under attack. I didn’t know who the masked people were until I heard Avery’s voice under one of the hoods. He tried to disarm Andromeda when she wasn’t looking. Dumbledore stepped in and caught him in this fiery kind of net. After that I started dueling two others and lost track of where everyone was.”

“So Avery was taken to Azkaban then?”

Ginny looked stricken. “I’m afraid not, Harry.”

“What? But I thought you said Dumbledore caught him.”

“He caught three but all of them disappeared the same as the others. It was as if Dumbledore’s capture spell had no effect.”

Harry did not appreciate hearing this. Dumbledore’s detaining spell worthless? If Dumbledore couldn’t capture them, what were his chances of doing so? The Death Eaters hadn’t been able to flee from him before when he’d caught them in Harry’s fifth year. How did they escape? Did it have something to do with Great One? Were his powers greater than Dumbledore’s? Harry shuddered just thinking about it.

Ginny, mistaking his trembling for the cold, wrapped an arm around him and said sternly, “You should be inside. It’s too cold and you’re still recovering.”

Instead of arguing Harry allowed himself to be led back inside. Breakfast was in full swing when they came back into the kitchen though the mood was very grim. Conversation was plentiful but it seemed to have the reoccurring questions of whom this new enemy was and why had the Death Eaters joined forces with him. Harry kept a discreet eye on Alex but the girl didn’t give away any guilty expression. She played with her food in a dejected manner but it was the same action as what everybody else was doing. Frustrated but still determined, Harry decided to keep a sharper eye on her from now on.

After breakfast, Dumbledore stood up and cleared his throat. “I hate to leave the Burrow after such a terrible attack last night but the school term starts today and I must return. Those of school age must return as well.”

“Don’t worry about us, Albus,” said Mr. Weasley. “We’ll be fine.”

Dumbledore looked at him critically. “I will contact some of the Order members to stay here, Arthur, just in case another attempted attack occurs. The last thing I want is to put your family in any more danger than they’ve already experienced.”

Mrs. Weasley smiled, trying to be strong. “Thank you for your concern, Albus.”

“Your servant as always, Molly,” Dumbledore replied, taking off his hat. He turned to Professor Merrylow. “We’d best get these students off, Elle. You go first to make sure they return to the castle safely while I stay here to make sure all is well until everyone is gone.”

Professor Merrylow nodded. “Alright, come on you lot!” Heading over to the mantle, she pulled out a small bit of floo powder, shouted “Great Hall, Hogwarts!” before disappearing into a flare of green flames.

Draco and Alex went right after her, followed by Hermione, Ron, Ginny, and finally Harry. Aberforth had been asked to stay behind to be with the Weasleys until further help arrived before Dumbledore followed in Harry’s wake. Right after Dumbledore stepped out of the hearth in the Great Hall he turned and sealed the fireplace.

At Harry’s questioning look, he said, “The other students are coming back to school by the Hogwarts Express. I had the Great Hall connected to the floo network this morning so we could arrive back here quickly and safely.”

“Good thinking,” Harry commented. “But will the other students be safe, sir?”

Dumbledore nodded. “The Death Eaters will know that I never would let you travel on the train, Harry, especially after last night’s attack.”

Reassured by his headmaster’s words, Harry nodded and turned to follow the others out of the hall.

“Harry,” Dumbledore called.

“Yes, sir?”

Dumbledore stared at him intently. “Do not, under any circumstances, go outside or travel anywhere alone.”

Harry sighed. “Yes sir,” he muttered, dejected. He turned and followed the others, his head hanging low with the realization that once again he had to experience hiding like a fugitive.

*~*~*~*~

Understandably, the next month Harry had a hard time concentration on his studies. He had a lot to think about but timing was not doing him any favors. His N.E.W.T.s were creeping up faster than the Yule Ball back in his fourth year and Harry was not doing as well as the other students. He didn’t have sufficient strength in the evenings to truly experiment new spells even with his Obscurvigrum skills. Practicing just one advanced spell zapped too much energy away, sometimes even leaving him breathless on the ground. His teachers tried to be lenient with him but he could tell that even they were slightly disappointed.

It was the middle of February when Harry finally cracked during Potions class, Monday afternoon. Slughorn had just stopped at his table and peered into his cauldron. Taking one whiff, he shook his head and stepped away, muttering, “I really expected better from you, Harry.”

Already being chewed out by Professor McGonagall that morning, Harry’s anger finally snapped. Standing up, he kicked his cauldron, sending the contents of the acidic potion all over the dungeon floor. There was a terrible hiss as the concoction connected with his bag, the acid eating everything in a matter of seconds.

“Harry, my boy, why did you –?”

“I’m done!” he shouted and giving his cauldron another kick, he left his half eaten bag on the dungeon floor and stormed out of the room. His mind whirled as he stormed passed the Great Hall, up the marble staircase. What he really wanted was to run away outside, to feel the open air, but he’d been stuck in the castle under Dumbledore’s strict orders. He felt like a caged animal, suffering abuse in the form of disappointment from his teachers.

Stalking past several classrooms and moving up many floors, Harry found himself heading up to the owlery. He hadn’t visited Alomier in a long time. If there was enough room, maybe he could become a gryffin and occupy his thoughts with chasing the owls around the tower. It was a rather appealing idea, especially since he was still fuming about what had just occurred.

By the time he actually reached the owlery, he’d already made up his mind that he was going to do as he proposed. Once inside the tower, he immediately transformed, not even bothering to check if there was enough room for him. To his great fortune, there was.

The owls looked down on the strange visitor, some hooting a tad warily. Harry let out a loud squawk, snapping his beak and flapped his wings, trying to stir the birds up a bit. It worked. Several took off in alarm. Harry immediately leapt into the air, dodging the rafters to fly towards a hole in the roof. Unfortunately it was a little small and his lower half got stuck. Using his extremely sharp talons, Harry scraped around until he found secure holds on the roof before beginning to wiggle. After many squawks and breaking of tiles, Harry managed to get his lower half out of the hole. By now there were no owls to pursue but the blast of cool winter air had chased the birds from Harry’s mind.

Bird vision was a tad different from human. Everything was in sharper focus and every small thing that moved caught his attention, from the trees of the forbidden forest to swirls of snow drifting around in patterns of the wind. Harry’s brain in gryffin form seemed wired on trying to focus his attention on all of these movements in rapidity. As a small bird flew below the grey clouds Harry had a wild desire stir in his gut to go chasing after the animal. His wings were already unfolding from his body when the warning words from Dumbledore to stay within the castle settled into his brain. Squawking longing at the bird that he wouldn’t be able to play tag with, Harry turned around and gave common sense his attention.

Scrambling back inside, his talons connected with a large rafter. Once the owls perched upon it saw him, they took off in a flutter of multicolored wings, leaving the whole wooden beam up for grabs. Balancing on the rafter, Harry found, was completely natural. Walking across it until he was in the middle, he lay down on his belly, crossed his front talons, let his tail dangle, and lowered his head in between his claws. It was strange but laying there, letting the cool air from outside sweep around him in spurts from the many holes and windows, Harry felt himself calming down.

A flutter of wings disturbed him and he opened on large eye to find Alomier walking along towards him somewhat hesitantly. Harry lifted his head and clicked his beak in a friendly way. Alomier let out a soft hoot and picked up his pace. He leapt into the air only to land on Harry’s head. Hooting happily, the owl jumped up and down twice before settling in right where he was, completely content. Harry almost shook his head but refrained from allowing himself the satisfaction. He was happy that his owl had recognized him and it was nice having a friend hanging around, even if he was perched on his head.

Harry and Alomier stayed in this same position for a long time until the owlery door opened and two first years came in. Harry was glad to be up on one of the higher rafters because he was sure his presence would have freaked out the small boys.

“I still don’t understand why I had to come with you just so you could mail this to your mum,” one was saying. He had bleach blond hair and wore a Hufflepuff scarf.

His friend, possessing a particularly large amount of overly curly black hair, pushed the blond. “You owe me. I came with you last time.”

“That was different,” Blondie said. “It was at night and the castle was dark.”

Curly scoffed. “Whatever. You know I’m afraid of birds. That’s why I asked you to come with me.”

Blondie shook his head as he took the letter from his friend’s hand and began to look for a school owl to use. “I still can’t believe you’re afraid of birds, especially owls. Wizards use them for everything.”

Curly shuddered. “I know. Just pick one out, fast.” He was looking antsy, gripping his Hufflepuff scarf tightly in his hands.

That’s when Blondie decided to look up. “Wow!” he exclaimed, his eyes turning as big as moons. “Thomas, look!” he shouted, pointing up at Harry.

Curly, or Thomas, looked up. The color seemed to drain from his face. “W-What is that?!”

His friend continued to look up in awe. Harry had an idea. It was his last year; he was entitled to a little fun. Besides, his mood would definitely improve by scaring a couple first years, right? Shaking his head to get Alomier’s attention, Harry slowly stood up, making sure to keep his eyes focused on the two students.

Thomas gulped. “Bert, what do you think it’s doing?”

Blondie, or Bert, shrugged. He was mostly expressing awe but a part of him looked to be a little fearful. “I don’t know.”

Harry let out an earsplitting squawk and expanded his wings in less than a second. Leaping from the rafters, rocketing towards the two petrified kids, Harry clawed at the air, shrieking like mad. Thomas and Bert screamed, turned around, and ran out the door. Harry flapped backward to stop himself from colliding with the wall. He could hear the two first years screaming bloody murder as they ran down the steps of the Owlery. Clicking his beak happily, Harry returned to his rafter, thinking how fun it would be to scare other students. Alomier decided to settle next to him instead of on his head. Harry was just beginning to doze when the door to the Owlery opened again.

Harry stiffened in dismay. Professors McGonagall and Sprout came into the room, immediately looking up into the topmost part of the tower. Realizing that he’d never told his professors that he was an animagus, Harry looked down at them uneasily.

“I honestly didn’t believe those two were telling the truth but there you are,” Sprout muttered, staring up at Harry. “A gryffin in the Owlery; this is one I’ve never heard of. How are we going to get it out?”

“I’d like to know how it got in,” McGonagall muttered, her eyes scrutinizing the many holes in the roof. Then she noticed the large one that Harry had slightly dug himself through and she pointed. “There’s my answer.”

“Gryffins don’t eat owls, do they?” asked Sprout.

“I highly doubt it Pomona,” McGonagall said.

“Then why is it here?”

McGonagall stared out the window at the winter storm that had started to rage ten minutes ago. She looked a little distracted, worried even. “What ill timing this creature had,” she mumbled more to herself. “We have other pressing matters to attend to and yet it decides to grace us with this problem.”

She looked up at Harry with a firm scowl, reminding him of how she always looked at any rule breaker.

“Should I get Hagrid?” Sprout suggested.

“He’s too big to fit up those stairs,” McGonagall pointed out. “No, I’m afraid we’re going to have to coax it out of the hole that it came from.”

“You mean use magic against it?” Sprout asked, aghast.

“Yes,” McGonagall replied firmly. “Don’t be so afraid, Pomona.”

“It’s just… gryffins are known for being extremely powerful creatures, Minerva.”

“I’m not afraid of a giant bird-lion,” McGonagall snapped. She pulled out her wand.

Harry, suddenly immensely grateful that he was capable of using Obscurvirgum, remained in a leisure state as his professor advanced.

“Diffindo!” Professor McGonagall shouted.

Harry, thinking the spell was aimed at him, was not prepared when the beam underneath him split in half. Squawking and flailing around, he managed to get his wings open before hitting the ground. Flapping upward to another rafter, he perched on his haunches, now very aware of his teachers movements. McGonagall used a repairo spell to fix the beam she’d just broken.

“Careful, Minerva,” Sprout muttered as she took out her wand. “We don’t want to demolish the Owlery.”

McGonagall kept her eyes on Harry. “I’ll repair any damage that we do. Look, it’s already closer to the hole.”

Harry made the mistake of taking his eyes off his attacker to look at where she was pointing. The next spell hit him right on the side. It was silent, so it was completely unexpected. It felt like someone had set a red hot poker to his body. Letting out a terrible squawk, Harry looked at where his side burned. There was no mark. He rubbed his beak against his fur and the scratching up and down somehow made the pain lessen. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw McGonagall raise her wand again.

Ready this time, he waited for her to wave her wand before putting up a powerful blocking curse. The spell slammed against it and a noise like a gong echoed off the walls. Both professors covered their ears. After the noise died, Professor Sprout looked at her colleague.

“Did it just stop your spell with a blocking curse?”

Professor McGonagall looked stunned.

Harry couldn’t help it, he squawked mockingly.

McGonagall froze. “It’s laughing at us. It’s laughing at us!”

She raised her wand and sent another curse at him. Settling down on the rafter in complete comfort, Harry flicked his tail before sending up another powerful block. Interestingly enough, he couldn’t believe he wasn’t even tired. Obscurvirgum always left him exhausted yet right now he felt as if he could take down an army of Death Eaters.

After ten minutes of throwing curses, charms, and various spells with no results, both professors looked at each other in complete befuddlement. Deciding to add another blow to the fact they were being whipped by a magical creature, Harry sent them each an Expelliarmus. Both wands flew out of their hands and up into the rafters. Harry caught them with his lion tail.

McGonagall looked like she was about to faint. “It-It just –!”

“Stole our wands!” Sprout shouted.

Harry decided to be a little mean. Standing up, he spread his wings and flapped them a few times, shrieking just like he had to the two Hufflepuffs. Both professors backed up to the Owlery’s entry and exit, eyeing him fretfully.

“What are we going to do?” Professor Sprout asked. “We can’t just leave it here unguarded. It might chuck our wands out the window! Or worse, use them as chew toys!”

“Don’t give it any ideas,” Professor McGonagall said back. “Here’s what we’re going to do. I’ll go get Albus. You keep an eye on it.”

“Me? I don’t have a wand anymore!”

“Fine. I’ll get Aurora up here and she’ll keep an eye on it. But you stay here until I get her.”

“Okay.”

Ten minutes later, Professor Sinistra arrived behind Professor McGonagall to relieve a wandless and slightly frazzled Professor Sprout. Harry had decided to mess with her a little bit by squawking at her whenever she took a step forward.

“I’ll be back with Albus in a moment,” Professor McGonagall assured the astronomy professor. “Try not to cast any spells at it and don’t move.”

Professor Sinistra didn’t look too happy about having to play babysitter but Harry was kind. The fun was about to end anyway. Dumbledore would figure things out in a less than a minute, he was sure. Fifteen minutes of silence later, footsteps were heard and then Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore arrived. Dumbledore glanced up at the gryffin, eyeing the situation as well as the wands that were gripped in Harry’s tail, swishing back and forth.

“I’ll take it from here, Aurora,” Dumbledore said. “Minerva, go back to searching for Harry. We need to find him before sunset.”

“Alright, Albus, if you’re sure,” McGonagall mumbled but she hesitated.

“Don’t worry. I’ll get your wand back,” Dumbledore promised.

Only after this reassurance did the deputy headmistress finally decide to leave with Professor Sinistra.

Harry and Dumbledore played a silent staring contest for a few minutes. Then Dumbledore straightened, pulled out his wand, and cast a spell so fast that Harry didn’t have time to block it. A net made of silvery light wrapped around him in a matter of seconds. Harry, squawking and wriggling, lost his balance and fell off the rafter. But instead of plunging to the floor with a loud crunch, he was lowered slowly but the hand of Dumbledore’s wand.

“My, my, my,” Dumbledore muttered, coming closer. “Aren’t you a fine looking creature.”

One of Harry’s wings didn’t feel right against his side, like it was slightly bent. Struggling to get into a position so as to fix this discomfort, Harry fought against the net binding him. After several attempts he was able to straighten himself. Looking up at Dumbledore, he saw that the old man had lowered his wand. Taking a few steps closer, Dumbledore inched around him to where his tail was. Striking like a cobra, Dumbledore snatched it. Surprise alone caused a loud squawk to escape Harry’s beak. Dumbledore stepped back a moment later holding both Professor McGonagall and Sprout’s wands firmly in his grasp.

“Sorry but magical creatures are not supposed to take a witch’s or wizard’s wand,” Dumbledore said gently. “Though I must say I am curious as to how you managed to get them. Minerva told me that it appeared as if you used magic to disarm both her and Pomona. I wonder…”

He waved his wand and the net disappeared. Harry stood up and ruffled his feathers while stretching. He hadn’t realized it before but the net seemed to have drained a lot of his energy. His whole body felt like it had been though an attack with the Whomping Willow; he could barely stand. Deciding to sit on his haunches, Harry turned his sharp yellow eyes onto Dumbledore. The old man raised his wand and waved it with a flourish.

Harry felt the spell more than he saw it. Throwing up a shield, Dumbledore’s spell crashed into it, shattering it instantly. The force knocked Harry backward. Squawking indignantly, Harry tried to regain his balance. He was ten feet away from the headmaster now. Dumbledore looked perfectly calm as he sent another spell in Harry’s direction. Tiny fireballs flew through the air, hissing and spitting. Harry, alarmed that his professor would cast such a spell in a wooden environment, managed a transfiguration spell that transformed all the tiny fireballs into flowers.

Dumbledore stored his wand. His eyes were twinkling and a smile tugged at his beard. “Most impressive.”

Harry chirped in thanks. Dumbledore’s eyes sparkled. Chuckling slightly, the old man completely relaxed. Just then footsteps echoed up the stairs and three teachers came into the room; Professors McGonagall, Sprout, and Merrylow.

“We can’t find him anywhere, Albus,” Merrylow said, clearly distraught. “We searched every inch of the castle.”

“And the grounds,” said Sprout.

“We don’t know where he could have run off to,” McGonagall said, her expression filled with worry. “Sunset is in an hour. You don’t think he’s been kidnapped do you, Albus?”

Dumbledore looked from his professors to the gryffin with an amused expression. “You can rest your worries, professors. I’ve found him.”

“You have? Where?” Professor Merrylow asked, looking around. Then she saw the gryffin. “Wow! What’s a gryffin doing here?”

Dumbledore waved his wand and a silvery phoenix shot into the air. After whispering in its ear the phoenix flapped its wings and disappeared down the stairs. Harry assumed it carried a message to cease the search for him.

Professor McGonagall looked confused. “Why did you call off the search, Albus? Where is Harry?”

Dumbledore looked at the gryffin and sighed. “I think he wanted some alone time and decided that the owlery was a good place to cool his head. Honestly Harry, storming out of Potions class, giving everyone a fright…highly irresponsible.”

The professors noticed he was talking to the gryffin who had lowered its head as if in shame.

“You’re joking,” Professor McGonagall muttered.

“Harry, would you mind?” said Dumbledore.

Harry clicked his beak in resignation before transforming. Putting his hands in his pockets and trying to ignore the stunned expressions of his professors, Harry muttered an apology.

“Sorry?” Comprehension dawned on McGonagall’s face. “Harry Potter! You’re an animagus?!”

Harry would have smiled but the fire coming from his teacher’s eyes didn’t merit the invitation. “Yes,” Harry replied.

“When?” McGonagall demanded.

“Before Christmas,” Harry answered. “I’ve been studying about it and trying it out since the beginning of the school year.”

“You’ve been researching how to become an animagus in your free time instead of focusing on your studies? No wonder you’ve been failing classes!”

McGonagall’s words stung like scorpion venom. True he had researched the animagus thing more than he’d studied but he hadn’t failed the first semester. He’d passed with exceptional grades. Letting his anger get the better of him, Harry retorted, “I’m only failing this term, Professor.”

McGonagall breathed deeply. “Yes, you are. And you have the nerve to leave class and come up here to terrify first years and disarm your teachers.”

“You were casting curses at me,” Harry argued back. “I’m sorry I’m hardwired to disarm any opponent that poses a threat, professor. It’s kind of a reflex reaction from all the past duels I’ve had to face.”

“We weren’t trying to kill you, Potter, and you know it!” Professor Sprout snapped. “We were just trying to get you to leave.”

Harry shrugged feeling sulky. “I guess I thought differently.”

“Putting us aside, you terrorized Mr. Shepherd and Mr. Douglas,” Professor McGonagall stated.

“That wasn’t my intention, professor,” Harry replied honestly. Then he grinned. “I just wanted to stir things up a bit is all.”

Professor McGonagall stomped her foot. Turning to Dumbledore she said, “This merits a detention, don’t you think?”

Dumbledore studied Harry. “I’m afraid it does, Harry. Your actions today have not been very sensible.”

Harry tried not to be hurt by the disappointment in his headmaster’s voice. Pride wounded, he muttered, “I’ve just been really stressed lately.”

Dumbledore nodded. “Quite understandable, Harry. Come, we will discuss your detention as we walk. We need to get you back to your room before the sun sets.”

Harry grimaced and looked out one of the windows. Though there was no hint that the sun was sinking in the sky (the clouds were too gray and snow drifted in thick waves) Harry felt a tugging in his gut. Shoulders slumping, he walked passed his professors dejectedly. He knew they were all watching him but he didn’t meet their eyes.

Anger pulsed under his veins as he thought about his situation; stuck in the castle, unable to even step out the great oak doors, confined to a small space in the evenings with nowhere to run around and stretch his legs, forced to change into an animal all night, failing his studies because he couldn’t practice like the others, limited in his time to be with Ginny.

Ginny…this was all her fault! If she hadn’t left the group and picked up that stupid ancient artifact Harry wouldn’t be in this mess.

Unconsciously he kicked a suit of armor. His anger wasn’t enough to stop the pain from pulsing in his big toe. Cursing under his breath he trudged down the corridors and staircases, feeling his teachers following behind him. Harry could just imagine the worried looks they were giving each other over his sour behavior. Thankful that he couldn’t see behind him, Harry marched passed the Great Hall’s open doors and threw the tapestry aside. Only Dumbledore followed after him.

After giving the password (Bludgers cause bones to moan), Harry stomped inside. A mess of bright red hair blinded his vision as Ginny thrust him in a hug. Harry stiffened. At the present moment the last thing he wanted was to see her. Cutting the hug short, Harry pushed passed her, ignored his other concerned friends on the couch, and slammed the door to his room.

“Harry?” Ginny called.

“Go away,” Harry said loudly.

A pause. “Are you alright?”

“I said, go away, Ginny!”

“Fine!” Ginny snapped. “The next time you disappear for hours I won’t bother worrying about where you are!”

Harry rolled his eyes, turning his attention to the wall. “Whatever.”

Five minutes passed. Then Harry’s door opened and Dumbledore stepped inside. Harry tried to suppress the urge to curse the old man out of his room. Dumbledore closed the door before conjuring a stuffed armchair beside Harry’s bed. Once settled, the headmaster gazed at him with his piercing, x-ray stare.

“I hate that look,” Harry muttered after moments of silence.

Dumbledore didn’t smile. “What’s wrong, Harry?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Harry snapped.

“Then I’m afraid I’ll be sitting here for a very long time,” said Dumbledore. “Because I’m not leaving until you speak your mind.”

Harry clicked his tongue angrily. “Don’t you have other things to worry about, sir?”

“Not at all.”

Harry’s eyes narrowed.

“By all means, Harry, if you feel like having a duel, then let us begin,” Dumbledore invited. “It would be a good way to release all that anger inside you.”

Harry balled his hand into a fist and punched his pillow. “Why is it that you always have to see me when I’m angry like this?” he mumbled more to himself than to Dumbledore. “The fates are laughing somewhere.”

Dumbledore managed a small smile. Harry was calming down. “Harry, I know you better than anyone, except Ron and Hermione of course. And Ginny.”

Harry sighed. He already felt guilty for shouting at her. “I didn’t mean to treat her that way,” he muttered. “I was just so mad…”

“About your situation?” Dumbledore guessed.

Harry nodded. “…It’s just difficult… I’m frustrated and restless and it feels like I can’t do anything to change that. It’s driving me crazy.”

“Go on,” Dumbledore prompted. “There’s more than that, I’m sure.”

Harry sighed and then decided to share all his thoughts. He had to leave out the part about being angry with Ginny for picking up the Ankh of Death because of Sephtus’s warning but he told his headmaster everything else.

“Hmmm,” Dumbledore said. He appeared to be very sad as he continued, “I am sorry you have to stay inside the castle, Harry. I know that was one of the reasons you went up to the Owlery. It has the most open viewing to the outside world within the castle.”

Harry nodded. “It felt nice, being up there.”

“I’m sure it did. Harry, you know I’m only concerned for your safety. I did not sacrifice my life just to see you destroy Voldemort and then die shortly after. I want you to live a full and prosperous life, maybe even live longer than I.”

Harry smiled. “I won’t have a beard as cool as yours though.”

Dumbledore laughed. “I’ll bet on that one, my boy.” He then sighed. “This new enemy is rather elusive. There’s not much known about him, though how he managed to find the Death Eaters and recruit them to his cause is terribly alarming. Most of them had been captured right after the war but that night at the Burrow I’m sure that all of them were present. There has been a jailbreak. I will go to the Ministry and speak with Shacklebolt. Precautions need to be taken.”

“Sir, what about Alex?”

Dumbledore sighed. “She is young, Harry.”

“But she knows something!” Harry persisted. “She’s the key to figuring this out, I know it!”

“Or she may be in a similar position as Mr. Malfoy,” countered Dumbledore, “forced into serving this Great One in order to protect her loved ones.”

Harry faltered. He hadn’t thought about that. “Still, someone should be keeping an eye on her. We might be able to get a lead on the enemy.”

Dumbledore shook his head. “She could very well be being watched, Harry. No, I don’t want endangering her life even if she may know the information we’re seeking.”

Harry wasn’t satisfied with this. “What about Draco? What if she’s told him?”

“Do you think he would keep the information secret?”

Harry pursed his lips. “No,” he said finally, suddenly deflating. “Not if it was life-threatening information. Especially if the Death Eaters are involved; he wants them dead just as much as I do.”

“Do you really feel that death is the only resolve?”

Harry stared at his headmaster and sighed. “I suppose not. There are several ways to punish a human being. But…I want to bury Voldemort and anything to do with him in the ashes. I want to put it all behind me. I don’t want to have to keep facing the same enemies over and over again. I want them gone, rotting in Azkaban forever, suffering the Dementor’s Kiss, anything to keep them locked up and away from me. I’ll fight any dark wizard that does cross my path but Voldemort, I feel, is in the past and I want to keep it that way.”

Dumbledore nodded. “I understand, Harry. But it is important to remember that death is not always the answer.”

Harry suddenly thought of Grindelwald. “You could have killed Grindelwald.”

“Yes,” Dumbledore muttered, suddenly looking very weary. “I could have.”

“But you didn’t.”

“No, Harry, I didn’t. It was not my right to take away life. It is vitally important Harry to remember that. We may have power to do so but it does not make it right to kill another person. You should understand this very well. I know you will become an auror one day but one thing I want you to promise me is that whenever there is a choice, you will choose to let those live who you capture instead of killing them straight off. Promise me this.”

Harry, determined, firmly replied, “I promise.”

Dumbledore studied him intently for a long time before sitting further back in his chair. “Good,” he sighed. “Now, to other things. Perhaps we can make an exception for you to take the N.E.W.T.s during the summer. I’m sure the Ministry won’t mind if we bend the rules for you. After all, everyone owes you for saving the Wizarding World.”

Harry stiffened. The last thing he wanted was special treatment. He shook his head. “No. I’ll take the exams the same as everyone else.”

Dumbledore displayed a small smile. “I thought you’d say that,” he muttered. “Very well. The least I can do is ask your professors to leave you alone in classes. If they have something to speak to you about, they can save it after the lesson is over.”

Harry sighed. “That would be helpful. I feel stupid, falling behind. Everyone else seems to know every spell like the back of their hand.”

Dumbledore placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Harry, listen to me. I don’t want you to compare yourself with any of the others. Every student learns at a different pace. You have more potential than you yet realize. At this present moment you’re limited by what you can accomplish because of a curse that you unfortunately stumbled upon. But I can promise you that if you try really hard to study during the day, in between classes, and continue practicing Obscurvirgum that when your exams come you will have the best results out of the seventh years.”

Harry looked up doubtfully. “How do you know that, sir?”

Dumbledore smiled gently. “Because I know you, Harry.”

Harry shook his head. “You expect too much, professor. I’m not that superb when it comes to exams.”

Dumbledore chuckled. “Don’t doubt yourself. If you do, you will fail. Look deep inside and you’ll come to find my words are true.” The headmaster stood up. “It is ten minutes til the sun sets. I’ll make sure you get a decent meal, Harry, and I’ll do my best to find where the Death Eaters are lurking.”

“You’ll let me know, won’t you?” Harry asked, trying not to sound too desperate for information.

Dumbledore read him like a book but didn’t let on to Harry’s anxiety. “Of course, Harry.”

He turned and shut the door, leaving Harry alone.    

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