Please consider this a replacement of the sixth book, since it was begun well before the release of the Half Blood Prince. I will not be changing this to accommodate the HBP plotline, since I feel that the Order of the Phoenix leaves a greater degree of flexibility for fan-fiction writers.
Thank you to all of the readers who have supported me throughout the writing of this piece.
I cannot express my gratitude enough to all of you who have made me the Number 1 Favorite Author, and this story the Number 2 Favorite Story, the 7th Most Read Story, the Most Reviewed Story Ever in the site's history, and for several months between August and early November of 2005 the Number 1 Favorite Story.
~ Vincent VonStolburg ~
Fall ~ 1997
It slammed into the courtyard like a battering ram, unleashing a thunderous roar.
"We're fucked! Absolutely FUCKED!"
Harry's back slammed into the wall alongside Ron's with rib-breaking force, heat blasting out right behind him like a detonating wave.
Fire whipped past their alcove so fast that it sent their jackets whipping around them, the air temperature alone painful.
He'd narrowly missed being burnt to a charred black husk, Harry heaving a heated breath. "Oh, you think?!" he bellowed caustically back.
The dragon let out an earth shattering roar.
"No sense of humor, that one," Ron snarled, grabbing a hold of his freely bleeding arm and clenching hard to slow the flow.
They were trapped.
Around them the courtyard's ground shook, pieces of rubble and debris vibrating ominously with each step the beast took. He and Ron had dove into an alcove where a statute of a centaur had once stood, only now it lay beheaded and broken, strewn across the grounds.
Outside screaming could be heard, Harry risking it and ducking his head out, his green gaze sighting upon Hermione and Luna doing the same from their shelter, two alcoves over.
His heart practically burst out of his chest in damn relief.
"Harry!" Hermione shouted, acrid black smoke billowing in coils behind her. Harry grabbed onto Ron's good sleeve and tugged. They had to move.
The four ran.
The dragon saw and screeched.
Harry's feet beat against the ground harder and faster than he even thought possible, lungs burning as he vaulted over a pile of stones, unable to stop at the sight of a crushed and oozing arm beneath it. They were gone. They couldn't help them.
Arches crumbled down around them in a deadly rain of bricks, the horntail's claws pulverizing the castle's outer defenses. It swung its head, its tail taking out a series of once peaceful arches where lazy afternoons had been spent studying, Hogwarts' ancient pillars crumbling beneath its might.
They reached the open grounds, green grass underfoot as they hurtled themselves through spell fire towards the Whomping Willow.
They had one mission: one. Get off the grounds, get to safety, then find and kill the rest of the horcruxes.
Everything within Harry screamed to do the exact opposite, to go back for her, to go back for all of them.
But they couldn't. He couldn't. If he did, then everything they'd already done had been for naught.
So Harry ran, barreling across the grounds, wand slashing as Voldemort and Ministry forces tore across the once pristine sanctuary in a deadly wave.
A whirl of black smoke flew past in a blur, a wyvern crashing down in front of them, its wings flaming-
"Mittent rete!" Luna's voice rang out, a cargo net of thick ropes flying out from her wand and snaring around the creature before it could fully lunge to kill.
Hermione spun and threw a blasting hex behind them, a crater bursting out of the ground, the Death Eaters tumbling into it.
The dragon found them.
It slammed down into the ground before them, the dirt flying up around its claws as if it had just liquefied the ground. Its head reared back, snout bared wide-
It happened in slow motion.
Ron's feet dug into the ground, sliding as he grabbed a hold of Hermione. Luna slammed into Harry's back, all four trying to instantly
They were out in the open.
There was no shelter.
They could see the Whomping Willow behind it. Its branches were already burning, leaves sizzling, the secret passage that would take them to Hogsmeade the escape they needed.
The dragon was between them and it, a blast of incinerating flames lashing out towards them, a hateful roar rattling them to their very bones.
Ron grabbed Hermione and threw himself on top of her.
Harry was screaming, having thrown his wand out, "PROTEGO!" bellowed, a massive sheet of blue bursting forth. A second spell slammed out alongside him, Luna Lovegood standing there, pale hair blowing in the scorching breeze as the fire slammed against their shields.
Harry's arms were screaming in pain, his entire magical core straining as they were engulfed in orange flame and black smoke, the heat so intense he could no longer hear himself. He could no longer hear Luna. He never heard Ron and Hermione's wands joining theirs, death imminent-
The flames died, their vision clearing-
Harry had fallen to all fours, Luna right alongside him on the ground, panting as sweat dripped freely down her face. In exhaustion he reached across the leaf-strewn dirt, grasping frantically at her hand, squeezing tight before the finishing round struck.
It never came.
Harry heaved a breath, gaze jerking up-
He saw why the dragon had stopped roaring, stopped scorching them into the earth, stopped paying attention to them.
A golden chain of light had writhed across the ground like a snake, coiling up from the raw and brutalized earth to crawl up the dragon's scales. It was punched into the dragon's chest like a scorpion's stinger, the beast rearing back its neck and screaming-
Harry's heart nearly stopped. Nearby, so, so impossibly close was Kally. He could make out her familiar features, nearly see the golden glint in her eyes, her hair a mess of impossibly golden hair.
Her wand was out, golden light bleeding from it, slowly killing the beast, or trying.
He knew what she was doing. She was buying them time. Time to get away. Time to escape. Just like she'd told him not five minutes prior when she'd broken away from them with a sob, telling them to run as she barreled back to join the resistance. He could still feel her hand within his, taste that final kiss on his tongue.
She shouldn't be here.
The entire Order was trying to buy them time.
Now it was going to kill the witch – his witch.
The girl fell to her knees, strain etched in every familiar feature as she began to lose, the dragon turning towards her-
Harry screamed for her, lunging-
Ron tackled him around the waist, dropping him to the ground before he could run, get to her.
Everything in him bellowed, magic screaming, straining violently against his veins. Hermione was screaming that they couldn't go through the Whomping Willow. It was too ablaze. It was alight with fiendfyre. They had to turn back.
Harry heard none of it; his gaze began to turn black as the dragon jerked towards Kally, the golden light suddenly flaring, dying out. A shadow darted past, a figure on a broom, Dean, barreling towards them. Harryphysically fought Ron. "LET ME GO! I HAVE TO GET TO HER!"
The dragon's mouth opened, teeth bared, tongue licking out with a fiery tendril-
Harry's heart dropped. Pain, raw and thick and undiluted slashed through his chest, so many dead because of him. No. No.
Something within the Boy-Who-Lived snapped.
Magic flared out, erupting like an explosive, a phoenix's fiery fury unleashed.
The dragon's flames were simultaneous, blazing a furious path towards her-
Luna screamed, and the entire world exploded.
The little girl with the auburn hair woke up with a scream.
Somewhere in Dublin, Ireland, in 1996, a little Muggle girl screamed, eyes widened in terror, unknowing of what was coming.
Unknowing that she was a key to it all, the child too little. She was only six years old. She was too young, too young for such a burden.
And still….she had dreamt of a magical castle, of a boy with piercing green eyes named Harry, and of a burning tree and dragon.
She was already forgetting the boy's name.
Her father yanked her into his arms, cradling her.
Little Emily Bothan sobbed unrestrainedly onto her father, scared because of the dragon. Kenneth Bothan hissed comforting words into his daughter's hair, promising that it was only a nightmare.
He had no way of knowing that it was a lie. He had no way of knowing this was how it would begin for them. He had no way of knowing how they would be yanked into the magical world. They would be on the periphery of a coming war, and yet…
The small daughter in his arms, unbeknownst to her or to anyone else, would soon become so very, very entrenched within it. Not knowing…
It was better that way.
Summer ~ 1996
Rain battered down, pelting the mud-laden ground and sending chunks of it splashing into the air.
The thick stench of burnt wood and flesh filled the air, the noxious stench assaulting his enhanced senses. The bite of a werewolf carried only that benefit: improved smell, improved vision, even if it aged him.
Remus Lupin's eyes narrowed, peering through the thick onslaught towards where Tonks stood, cloak sticking wetly to her, clinging tightly to her form from the watery onslaught. Overhead lightning flashed, lighting up the night, casting the shadowy horrors into stark relief.
Around them lay the remains of the third home this week that they had responded to. The past weeks had brought a slew of murders. No... Butcherings...
Snape had brought them disturbing news: Voldemort had been hunting rare mutations down for his own gain. Any witch, wizard, or Muggle who possessed even a trace of a magical species' blood within their veins was a target. Half-giants, the offspring of wizards who had fallen in love with veelas, partial leprechauns, metamorphmagi, mermaids, werewolves, vampires, and a slew of others.
None were safe.
Water sloshed about his mud-soaked ankles, chilling him to the bone as he made his way quickly to where Tonks stood. Beneath her feet lay the sprawled out, pale form of a young man. His hair blended into the mud, the poor Muggle face down and clearly dead.
The multitude of slashes across his back bared glimpses of his savaged spinal column, the marks clearly the work of a cutting curse.
Tonks made an angered, raw sound beside him, her fingers grasping onto his upper arm and clenching tight. He could only imagine the throats she wanted to wrap her hands around right now, but there was no time.
They had to complete their search before the Ministry officials arrived. By then they were to be gone, mere ghosts to have passed through, unseen and unheard.
It was only them. They had no help, no back up. The rest of the Order had gone to retrieve Harry.
The Order still had no idea what the hell had happened here, or why the Death Eaters had attacked this family.
The brown-haired Auror broke away, sloshing across what had once been the front yard of a fairly rural home. She'd dropped into the mud and muck, hands checking the pulse of another young man, this one's hair thickly matted with coagulated blood.
Remus could see through the night far better than her. He didn't have to ask if he were dead or not.
"Six..." she whispered, hissing the syllable as she stood.
He looked around, eyes narrowed against the thundering downpour. Ghostly gray images came to life, dancing before him with unearthly clarity as the werewolf in him suddenly allowed him to see everything.
Tonks eyes remained locked upon the crushed skull of a man barely younger than herself. "I really," she whispered hatefully, "would like to skin him alive." Snarling, she dangerously added, "Either that or just burn him and that aunt of mine on a stick, with marshmallows, so I can feed them to one of their pet giants after castrating him."
Remus wasn't fooled. The quake to her voice betrayed her upset.
And still..the fact that she could even fantasize about turning Voldemort into a s'more encouraged him to never, ever piss off Nymphadora Tonks.
"I hope," he stated solemnly, "you won't expect me to eat any of that."
She let out a watery snort, Tonk's Auror training kicking in as she immediately set off looking for others, for survivors.
Remus doubted there could be any; none of the other homes had one.
"What in the hell," she demanded, "was he looking for?" She spun, water flying off her cloak. They couldn't use magic. If they did in a Muggle area it would surely alert the Ministry to their presence. Remus would bet his life that the only reason the Ministry wasn't already swarming upon the scene was because a Death Eater in the Ministry was delaying it.
Dumbledore strongly suspected that the Ministry was already being taken over from within. That meant they'd have easily been able to cover up such an attack. But if more magic was done after the Death Eaters had left…
Remus swore beneath his breath. The Dark Lord had a new strategy. Snape had informed the Order weeks ago, but even now he still found it unfathomable, for the vile being was no longer content to experiment with magic.
No... Now he was experimenting with magical creatures.
His plan was to harness the powers of every magical being for himself. So he could channel them into his one acrid being.
If the thought of an even stronger Dark Lord wasn't enough to frighten someone, Remus didn't know what was. But that fear did nothing to quell his barely contained fury.
In the dark he saw something.
Instinctively his arm shot out, halting Tonks roughly in place, his dilated eyes roamed, scanning the muddied ground. Broken floorboards littered the scene, while smoke from the doused fires curled up in serpent-like tendrils, shrouding the world from view.
Yet his eyes penetrated its veil, searching for the flicker of movement that had frozen him in place.
He clenched his fingers tighter around the familiar, worn oak of his wand, bracing himself for whatever attack would come.
It was then that he heard it: a soft choking amidst the storm's howling winds.
He withdrew his arm, placing a finger carefully over Tonks' icy lips, signaling her to be silent. The only sign of her confusion was the light crease of her brow. She would, of course, have no idea what he was looking for; her hearing was not as refined as his.
But werewolf bites did things like that to a person.
It came again, a low, strangled moan, and he took off, rushing towards the source. No attacker could feign that kind of pain.
He skidded, flinging rocks in the air as he bent down beside her. The puddle she was feebly pushing herself out of was a deep black, filled with the blood of her and the lifeless man besides her. The girl's body spasmed with each choking hack as she coughed up inhaled water, her eyes glazed over from what he recognized as shock.
He pulled the girl up, speaking in low, reassuring tones as she flailed against him. She was too weak to do much damage.
Pounding feet sent a wave of water and mud slamming into him, Tonks skidding to a halt and dropping down besides them. Her wide brown eyes stared in horror, Remus understanding. The girl's injuries…
They were severe.
"Remus…" she whispered, "how is she…" alive.
Looking into the girl's glazed eyes, he suddenly knew.
There was a glint there, an aberrant glint, like tiny fairies had been shrunk into her irises to sparkle artfully after the magical drawing. Had Remus not once been a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor he'd not have known.
"She's a Reach," he said, hollow feeling rising.
Tonks' breath sucked in. "She can't be. They don't…" she shook her head. "She's too old."
"I don't know," he muttered, smoothing the girls mud caked hair away from her face. "Some have survived longer." The girl's body shuddered, more brown water emerging from her lips, another round of spasms racking her body violently.
Tonks stood quickly, looking around. "We have to go before the Ministry arrives. You know what they'll do if-"
"Yes," he said, eyes still upon the girl who was somehow still alive. They had to get her back to headquarters before something worse happened. Her shoulder was in desperate need of suturing, as was a lethal looking mark on her abdomen, a piece of wood outright having impaled her.
Merlin only knew what else the bastards had done to her before leaving her for dead.
Torn shards of what had once been clothing hung lightly from her, and the debris and dust sticking to her wet face made her features impossible to discern.
He let her cough up the rest of the water before stunning her. He hated doing it as he lifted her limp form from the ground, but only one thing could have survived this, and as weak as she was, he wasn't eager to get on that thing's bad side.
There was no sense in taking chances.
He exchanged a quick, meaningful look with Tonks. "Pomfrey." They had to get her to Hogwarts. No healers were currently at Number 12 Grimmauld, and the girl…
She needed one, desperately.
In a flash the three disapparated, the Ministry of Magic arriving only minutes later to find the destruction and dead untouched.
The rain poured down in cold torrents as Harry shouldered his broom, sprinting after Kingsley through the fast forming puddles of London's city streets. It was coming down in buckets now, and if he had thought flying through the torrential downpour had been bad it was nothing compared to the pounding of his feet on the slick pavement.
Moody's guttural growl sounded off to his right, not that he could see him, the rain was too thick to see much of anything. Thunder clapped, shaking him to the core, and the lightning flashed shockingly, illuminating the area to reveal Order members running in rank around him, splashing water as they went.
Five of them had shown up at the Dursleys barely an hour ago, reminding him of that night, barely a year ago, when an escort squad had shown up in the Dursley's kitchen to whisk him away to Grimmauld Place.
Only this night was different.
Promises of meeting with Tonks and Lupin in London were hissed quickly as Kingsley and Moody levitated his things, cramming them hastily into his trunk, and he had not missed how McGonagall's eyes had roamed the room guardedly. Even stern, steadfast
McGonagall was frightened.
Tonight was truly different.
Harry blinked rapidly, trying vainly to extract the water cascading into his eyes, but it was to no avail. His glasses were too thickly coated with rain droplets, and he desperately racked his mind for the spell Hermione used to repel water, for his wand was out, and he could use it.
The Ministry had removed the Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry that summer.
Dumbledore had headed up the motion, arguing that the return of Voldemort endangered witches and wizards of all ages, and that in the event of an attack, students should be free to defend themselves without the fear of repercussions.
Underage wizards still had a trace on them though. They might be allowed to use magic now, but they could still be tracked at all times if they dared to use it.
The empty lot materialized between two run down houses, and he looked quickly at the small slip of sopping wet paper dripping from his hand, hesitant to ignore his surroundings for even a second when the foreboding fear of attack hung so thickly about him.
He read it silently before looking up. The run down magical home, in the midst of Muggle London, now stood revealed to him.
Lupin materialized at the top of the creaky wooden stairs looking worse for the wear. His normally threadbare clothing was now ragged and blood stained, his eyes hollow and sunken, holding the look of prey that knew its predator to be near.
Harry stepped through the doorway, stomping his feet on the shaggy carpet, slinging mud everywhere as the others piled in. He swallowed the lump in the base of his throat, pulling his eyes from the muddy floor, forcing himself to take in his surroundings. A man named Dorbert Cheeks could be heard triggering the complicated locking spell on the front door.
A loud boom reverberated through the house, shaking the walls as indistinct voices argued in the distance. Yet this did not bother him. Even his curiosity as to why he had been pulled so untimely from his bed could not best the despair that had hit him like a bludger. In the heat of the race they had ran he had forgotten one thing.
That they were taking him to Sirius's…
This house had never been joyful, but now it seemed a hollow shell of what could have been. It stood as a painful reminder of the scrapings of a life that he and his godfather could have salvaged. But that life was gone now.
War brought casualties, casualties brought pain, and pain brought emptiness.
That was how he had felt since that night. Empty. There was nothing that could fill the void. Not even the impending terror of facing Voldemort in years to come could make him feel anything but despair again.
Mundungus cleared his throat, turning all heads towards him as he beckoned for everyone to quietly make their way to an adjoining room. He followed, his sopping wet clothes weighing him down with every step he took. But nothing could weigh him down as much as the memories, as much as the burden haunting him...the one they should have told him...
Realization hit him hard, like sudden submersion into the icy waters of the northern artic, as he wondered what they were not telling him tonight.
He glanced towards Lupin who stood protectively next to him, opening his mouth to speak, to ask, but he let it flap shut. He remembered all too well that Dumbledore would not allow them to tell him anyway. They never told him anything when it could actually make a difference...
But even if they had told him, right then, it wouldn't have mattered. There was no way any of them could have known what would happen from that night's events. At least not yet... None of them were seeing past their need to get him to a safe location, so they could not have known that the night marked a turning point in his life, as well as in the life of the only survivor of Voldemort's first wave of attacks.
The war had begun.
"It's a miracle she survived..." "Ah...but was 'hat really a good thing Professor?"
Dim voices filtered into her thoughts, her sleep befuddled mind protesting strongly as it failed to comprehend a single word.
"...has a chance."
Flashes of light and flames filled her throbbing head.
She awoke jarringly, her painful moan drowned out by the voices.
Voices that were oblivious to her awakening. Voices oblivious to the way her body recoiled in pain. Voices oblivious to how her eyes teared from the bright sunlight pouring in from the windows of the doomed room. Voices oblivious to how she clawed like a frightened animal at the thick comforter wrapped around her battered and bruised body.
Everything she loved was now gone. No explanation would be needed for her to understand what they had done.
A new despair hit her like a thousand hot knives, slicing her skin in a way the worst of the fired spells could not have.
Kalliandra passed out again.
Harry lay on the top bunk staring at the ceiling, watching the way shadows played across it as light from passing car headlights shone in through the window. Ron's loud snores drifted up, breaking the silence like a bullhorn with every breath, and it was taking every inch of the willpower he possessed, to not lean over and smack his friend senseless with his pillow.
He sighed loudly, wondering when it was all going to end. Each day the Daily Prophet brought news of more killings, more unexplained disappearances, and of more war. For several weeks he and Ron had been catching tidbits of information, slip ups by the adults in Grimmauld Place, and right now it sounded like the Ministry was in absolute mayhem. Not that he minded that fact. Anything that made Fudge's job harder amused him immensely. What he did mind was the reason for the mayhem, and that was Voldemort.
Voldemort. It was odd really, how one person could be the cause of so much death and destruction. No one should have that much power, he thought bitterly, thinking of the toll that the Muggle deaths were taking on Mr. Weasley, Ron's father.
Mr. Weasley was the soul employee in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Department, and recently, with the strain on resources in the Ministry, it had come to double as the Department of Muggle Relations. Now Mr. Weasley spent half his time performing memory charms on Muggle law enforcement, to cover up the deaths of Muggles who had been murdered by Death Eaters. Now every time Harry saw Mr. Weasley, all the man could talk about were different possible strategies for protecting the Muggle population.
Now if only a good strategy actually existed.
He rolled restlessly, spying Hedwig's gleaming eyes in the darkness. She hooted softly in acknowledgment, and he smiled in the dark despite his dark thoughts.
Memories plagued him every time he closed his eyes now. The Department of Mysteries...it was why he now lay awake.
He had willingly, foolishly, led them all into danger. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna, Neville...
Hermione had nearly been killed.
Sirius had been...
He shoved the thought aside, re-vowing that it would never happen again.
The trick was in figuring out how.
To protect them, he had tried to blatantly push them away, but they had seen right through that. He had refused to write, and his self-induced isolation ended when both of them showed up at the Dursleys while his relatives were on holiday. The two of them set up residence there the entire week, Order members circling the premises like hawks for security, while his friends had infuriated him to no end. However, he had finally realized that they weren't going to go away. If he was going to distance himself he'd have to do it slowly.
He couldn't be responsible for their deaths. He couldn't.
It was with these thoughts in mind, that Harry drifted off into another night of fitful sleep.
* * * * *
Disclaimer: The characters, places, names, and events mentioned in this story, that coincide with the characters, places, names, and events mentioned in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, do not belong to me, but to that literary genuis, JKR. Thank you so much for allowing so many of us to pursue writing through fanfiction JKR, we really appreciate it.
The fabulous banner is by SticksN'Stones.
Artwork of Kalliandra by agirlnamedbob87.
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