Chapter 9 - A Pleasant Surprise and First Blood
“So whats this all about?” asked Alyx. She was busy looking at the strange harness that Bob had strapped her into.
“It's part of the new disclaimer,” Bob replied.
Alyx eyed Bob nervously. “What new disclaimer and why does it need a harness?”
Bob reached down and lifted up one end of a curled rope which he then attached to the harness.
“This is Chapter 9 of Mutant Storm, you're going to tell the readers we don't own Harry Potter or any part of the Potter Universe,” he replied before walking over a trap door.
“Where does that lead?” Alyx asked suspiciously.
Bob looked up at her. “Ummm down?”
Bob walked over to Alyx and took her by the hand, leading her towards the gaping hole in the floor.
“It goes to the center of the earth,” he replied smugly. “I dug that hole last week with the help of some gnomes and a legion of llamas.”
“That's a long way down isn't it?” asked Alyx.
“More than 2000 miles,” Bob replied.
“Ok so we have a hole and how does this harness fit into it? You better not be thinking of lowering me down there buster!” she blustered.
“I wouldn't lower you down,” Bob replied. “You're going bungee jumping.”
“Oh that's better. And I tell people the disclaimer while I jump?”
“Yep!” Bob replied, then he shoved Alyx into the hole.
She screeched as she dropped into the darkness, the plans for the disclaimer forgotten.
Bob glanced down at the coiled cord that was quickly playing out. “I wonder if I should have tied off the other end first?”
He shrugged, then turned to the audience. “It's a minor technical glitch, we'll have it fixed in time for our next disclaimer. In the meantime, on with the chapter.”
A Pleasant Surprise and First Blood
Gryffindor Common Room (the next morning)...
Harry walked into the common room still deep in thought. He had talked with Jean before leaving her quarters and she had told him about his revealing his abilities in front of witnesses. She'd told him that she had explained his abilities to Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey, only after they had promised not to pass the information on. She was sure that they would keep their promise, and she warned him that Professor McGonagall would want to talk to him later today.
He didn't remember much about the meeting in Dumbledore's office and had decided to trust his mum and her judgment. He was coming to realize that he needed others if he was going to survive this.
He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he didn't notice the large number of people blocking his path until he walked into Ron. He staggered a few paces and blinked owlishly. The room was full of people, all looking at him expectantly.
“Erm... what's going on?” he asked warily.
Ginny stepped in front of the students, with Hermione, Neville and Ron backing her up.
“With the exception of the traitor, who's currently taking a bit of a nap, this,” she said, waving to the students behind her, “is all of Gryffindor, from fourth year and up. We wanted you to know that we're with you to the end. No matter what.”
Hermione moved to stand next to Ginny. “When you left here the other day and became so distant, we knew what we had to do. We spread the word among the other houses and had a meeting last night with prefects, except Slytherin, of course. We're organizing.”
Harry looked down at his feet, embarrassed by the show of support.
Ginny moved close to him and lifted his chin until his eyes met hers. “We're not going to let you fight this war by yourself. You've been doing that for too long,” she said softly.
He stared into her eyes for a moment longer, then looked around “McLaggen?” he asked.
“As Ginny said, he's currently napping,” Neville told him, a smile tugging at his lips.
“Word is being passed quietly through the prefects we can trust,” Hermione said. “We need to get rid of these students, but we'd like your help and ideas.”
“My ideas would be rather brutal. I don't believe in resorting to stunners anymore,” he said quietly, though his words carried to all those in the room.
“I can live with that,” growled Neville.
Several people glanced at the normally reticent Gryffindor and nodded in approval.
“Harry, we're not just fighting to help you. It's our own lives we're trying to protect. I don't know about the others, but I want to grow up and have a life and a family,” Ginny added.
Harry nodded and turned to Hermione, who he knew would be the biggest stumbling block. “And you?”
She sighed. “Last year I would have never dreamed of saying this, but after Dolohov used that curse on me and nearly killed me? I find myself in agreement. I still think we shouldn't kill anyone except in self defense, however.”
Harry nodded thoughtfully. “All right, then. How about we meet with the prefects tomorrow evening in the Room of Requirement and we'll start organizing and making plans? In the meantime, watch your backs, and for Merlin's sake, this is for all of us. If you see a student from another house being roughed up by one of these people, do something! Even if that means just getting a teacher. The lower grades are prime targets. It's our job to protect them, most of all.”
He looked around as the sea of faces nodded at him.
“Someone go wake up McLaggen. And remember, from here on until we move, do nothing to give away the fact that we know who the marked ones are,” Harry said, then he moved to sit over on a couch near the fire. He closed his eyes to think. Things were happening so fast around him lately that he was having trouble keeping up with everything.
“Where were you last night, Harry?” Ginny asked softly. She sat down next to him, close, but not crowding.
He opened his eyes and looked at her, then his friends who had gathered around. Seeing the questions in their eyes, he sighed and stood up. “Why don't we go to breakfast? I think the old man will have an announcement this morning that will answer at least part of the questions I know you want to ask.”
Curious, they nodded at him.
“Let me shower and change, then we'll go down to the hall. I'll be back in fifteen minutes,” he said, then he turned and walked towards the stairway.
Before he could place a foot on the stair, a hand tugged on his sleeve. He turned to see Ginny standing behind him. “Are you all right?” she asked softly.
He could see and feel her concern. She was worried for him.
He smiled at her. “No, not entirely, but I think I'm getting there.”
She nodded. “I want you to know something. The rest are fighting for their lives. They're afraid that if they don't, they'll end up dead. I'm fighting for yours. I don't think I want to live in a world where there is no you.”
He tilted his head and stared at her.
Smiling at him, she went up on her toes, slid her hand behind his neck and pulled him down close enough to give him a light kiss on the lips. “I'm fighting for you, never forget that,” she whispered. She released him, turned and walked back to join Hermione and the others.
Harry stood, stunned for a minute, then his fingers touched his lips. Her kiss was unlike anything he had shared with Cho.
Still bemused, he turned and wandered up the stairs.
“I think you broke him,” Hermione murmured, as Ginny stopped beside her.
“He'll be fine. He just needs time to adjust,” she said serenely.
“What was that all about anyway?” Hermione asked.
Ginny glanced over at the stairs to the boy's dorms, then back to her friend. “I told him what I'm fighting for.”
“And what are you fighting for?” Neville pressed, leaning closer to the two girls.
Ginny paused for a moment. “I'm fighting for him. No one else seems to be. I'm not complaining about everyone wanting to get involved. But my reasons are simply so that Harry can live a full, normal life when this is over. Hopefully that life will include me, but that's secondary at this point.”
“Come in, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall called from the chair at her desk. She calmly closed her grade book and placed it to one side.
Harry entered and closed the door behind him, his eyes sparkling with amusement. Dumbledore had announced at breakfast that Professor Umbridge would no longer be teaching at Hogwarts. His friends would soon know the truth, even if the staff preferred to tell the students that she had left to deal with a pressing family emergency.
The Defense class would no longer be taught by one instructor, but many. He was extremely pleased that Jean had forced Dumbledore to omit Snape from the list of temporary teachers.
McGonagall looked up at him and her lips tightened into a thin line. “Have a seat, Mr. Potter. I am not going to bite you in this form.”
He smiled and moved to sit in the chair placed in front of her desk.
She leaned back slightly and watching him for a moment. “You know that your mother told us about your mutant talent, but only after she made us promise not to divulge the information to anyone.”
He nodded. “Mum told me, Professor. I mean, Professor Summers told me.”
She smiled thinly. “I think you used the right word in the first place, Harry. Try not to judge her too harshly. She is trying very hard to balance what you perceive your needs to be, versus what she perceives them to be. On top of which, she's still learning what it's like to be a mother to a teenage son and... Well, it's not a easy job she has.”
McGonagall sat forward. “I didn't ask you here to discuss your mother, however. I did want to talk to you about your talent and what you've managed to accomplish with it so far.”
He looked at her curiously. “Professor?”
Her expression softened slightly. “Harry, I will be honest with you. The Headmaster looks at you as a means to an end, and despite my prodding, he seems unwilling to change that viewpoint. Frankly, I do not care if your talent will allow you to kill Voldemort or not. I am more concerned that it helps you survive this war so that I may someday again teach first year Potters in this school.”
Harry's eyes widened slightly, then he took a deep breath. “What is it you wish to know?”
“Yesterday, you turned transparent. Jean says that it's part of your talent that allows you to travel from one place to another. Are you affected by wards?”
He shook his head. “I discovered the teleportation ability when I was trying to avoid Malfoy and his cronies last year. I teleported between floors in the school. After that, I discovered I could easily move between here and Headquarters.”
“And nothing can touch you when you're transparent?” she pressed.
“Nothing has so far, but then I haven't asked anyone to shoot an Unforgivable curse at me. When I phase, it's like I'm not fully in this dimension, but in a way I am, because I can cast magic while I'm phased,” he replied.
She nodded. “It's good to know you have a way of escape that cannot be affected by magic. Now, I'm wondering if you would be willing to add another ability to your list of things you can do?”
“I'm talking about Animagus training, Mr. Potter. Few wizards have power enough to become one, but since your parents were both capable, you should be, as well. I was planning on offering the chance to you and Professor Summers.”
“My mother was an animagus?” he exclaimed.
McGonagall nodded and her expression darkened. “I apologize, Harry. Someone should have told you this before, but I taught your mother how to be an animagus in her sixth year. She was a ginger colored tabby, much like Miss Granger's familiar. I think it was one of the ways she managed to stay one step ahead of your father. He didn't learn her secret until after graduation.”
He grinning at that, then shook his head. “But won't training take a long time, Professor?”
She smiled at him. “Not really. You're the same age your mother was when she started to learn, and although your theoretical scores have not been all that good until recently, your practical work has always been above excellent. You and your adoptive mother both have strong mental skills, which is a prerequisite for learning the art, and you are both excellent in Transfiguration, although you are further along than your mother.
“Your father, Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew took three years to learn what I can teach in less than a year for a student starting from scratch. With you and your mother, I'd guess half that time would be necessary. Sirius Black, Merlin bless him, was an honorable man, but only a fair student. Your father was an excellent student who seemed to learn without much studying. The rat... Well, the less said about him, the better.
“Your mother was a remarkable student, and I tend to believe I am a better teacher than three students bumbling around for three years doing what should have taken them a year or less.”
Harry looked undecided. “Professor, I don't want to turn you down, but to be honest, I don't think there will be much time for this sort of thing in the near future. Professor Dumbledore and I disagree on many points and I do not believe that problem is going to go away any time soon. In fact, I know it won't.”
Her brow furrowed. “I see. Tell me, Mr. Potter, will this argument between you and the Headmaster spill over into the school?”
He looked at her. “With all due respect, Professor, I'm not going to answer that question. Your loyalties and responsibilities are a known quantity, and frankly, I respect them and you very much. But this no longer involves just me and Professor Dumbledore.”
“I see,” she replied. She was unhappy with his answer because it implied that he didn't trust her. Although she had to admit that she had done little of late to earn that trust. “You may go, Mr. Potter.”
He stood and nodded. “Goodnight, Professor,” he replied neutrally, then he turned and left the room.
Minerva dropped her stolid mask when he left and scowled. Damn, Albus! she swore to herself. What have you done to that boy? I don't know what Harry's done, but he's planning on a confrontation. In fact, he seems almost eager for it.
She stood and walked over to her floo. She needed to talk to Jean and Poppy.
The Room of Requirement (The following night)...
Ginny was one of the last prefects to enter the room. She had stationed herself outside the door, waiting and watching until everyone had entered.
Harry was right, she thought as she entered the room. Dumbledore had made an announcement concerning the termination of Dolores Umbridge. Harry had told her about Umbridge being arrested. She had been horrified to discover that Harry had been badly injured by the witch in an altercation in Dumbledore's office. She'd watched him carefully since learning of the incident and knew he was in pain, though he tried to hide it.
Ginny closed the door and leaned her back against it. She signaled to Hermione, who nodded and nudged Harry.
Harry walked to the front of the room and stood for a moment, looking nervous. He glanced at Ginny, who smiled encouragingly, before turning back to those in the room.
“If I can have everyone's attention for a moment,” he said.
“You can have anything you want!” shouted Terry Boot, a Ravenclaw prefect, Muggle born and one of the few openly gay students in the school.
“Sorry, Terry, but I don't bat for the home team,” Harry called back to the laughter of everyone present. The room grew quiet as he began to speak once more. “Look, you've all seen the list of names. It clearly says two things.”
As he began to pace in front of them, he held up a hand, one finger raised. “One: Dumbledore doesn't care about our safety. He'd rather give marked Death Eaters a chance at redemption than safeguard this school and the students.”
“Two: We are on our own, as the members of staff answer to Dumbledore and are following his direction. The staff are turning a blind eye to what the Slytherins are doing, leaving us without any authority we can turn to.”
He paused and grinned at Hermione. “Since some people would prefer that we don't kill these people, despite the fact that they are already killers...”
Susan Bones gasped. “What do you mean?” she asked, interrupting him.
Harry stopped his pacing and faced her. “One of the things that both the Ministry and Dumbledore have hidden from the general public is that, in order to receive the dark mark, one must kill a Muggle,” he said quietly.
Many in the room paled at the news.
“Why hasn't anyone said anything about this before?” Hermione asked, standing up suddenly.
“That should be obvious, Hermione. Politics,” Neville said. “Take a man like Lucius Malfoy, who used an Imperious as defense against his actions in the first war. He had power, he had money to bribe the officials holding him and he hadn't killed anyone important in their eyes. But in order for the Imperious defense to be accepted, one had to forget that people were killed at all, because a controlled wizard cannot generate the necessary hatred and anger to cast the killing curse. The Imperius creates a sense of euphoria, which is completely opposite of what you need to cast either the killing curse or the Cruciatus.”
Harry nodded in agreement. “I couldn't have said it better. Thanks, mate.”
Hermione looked between the two, then she sat back down next to Neville. She glanced at him and noted he was looking at her. She looked down at her hands and blushed slightly, then looked up at Harry. “I think we should give Dumbledore a chance to clean up this mess on his own, first.”
Harry's expression darkened and she held up a hand. “No, hear me out. I'm not suggesting that we tell him and forget about it. I think we should give him an ultimatum. Either he cleans up the mess, or we will. And if we have to do it, he's not going to like the results.”
“It has the advantage of being done semi-legally. I mean, at least he'll have a chance to do it,” Neville added after some thought.
“It would pit us firmly against Dumbledore, though. Are we ready to go against the Leader of the Light?” asked Ginny.
Harry snorted. “He's no leader, of the light, of this school or anything else. The leader of the light wouldn't keep a man on staff who revels in torture and rape,” he said bitterly.
Those in the room fell silent and watched Harry as he paced in front of them. He seemed oblivious to everyone.
Ginny shook her head and walked to the front of the room, placing herself in Harry's path. When he reached her, he stopped suddenly and looked up in surprise.
“What are you saying?” she asked.
Realizing he had said something he shouldn't have, he quickly waved away her question. “It's not important. What I'm saying is that everyone has this great vision of Dumbledore as an infallible white wizard. Take it from me, the man makes mistakes. A lot of them. And while he's not as dark as Voldemort, he is not working for the light. He is working for himself. I think he has his own agenda. He likes to say that he's working for the greater good. What I think he means is that he is working for the greater good of Albus Dumbledore, not the wizarding world.”
“If we do this, Dumbledore is likely to punish us severely. He will almost certainly strip most of you of your prefect status. Are you sure you want to risk that?”
Hermione stood up. “It's no secret that I've wanted to be Head Girl since I first arrived. But I have to be alive to be Head Girl. Leaving these Death Eaters in place puts that at risk.”
When she paused and took a deep breath, he cringed a little inside. From experience, he just knew she was going to spring something on him.
“At this point, Harry, for your own sake, I think it would be a good thing if you weren't so visible in our efforts. I'm not asking you to bow out, but I don't think it would be a good idea for you to lead us.”
Ginny's head whipped around and she glared at Hermione. “Why not?” she demanded angrily.
Harry moved to stand next to her, slipping her hand in his. “I think she has a point,” he told her. “There's too much friction between the Headmaster and I. We'd fight over this and I can almost guarantee that we'd be hexing each other. There's also the chance that he wouldn't take anything you say seriously, as he'd assume that I put you all up to it.”
She looked at him and something in his expression caused her gaze to soften. Reluctantly, she nodded and smiled apologetically at Hermione. His earlier comment nagged at her and tickled something at the back of her mind, something she remembered from a class.
“How about this?” Neville asked. “Let each house choose one person. Together, they will draft a formal letter to be delivered to McGonagall as a collective, along with the signatures of everyone involved.”
“The more people we can get involved with this, the less likely they'll be to punish us. House points only mean so much when the entire house doesn't care. All of Gryffindor is in, except for our resident Death Eater,” Hermione added.
“Sounds like a good idea,” Susan Bones offered. “The Puffs will go for it.”
“I'm for it and I think I can convince most of the Ravens,” agreed Cho.
“Hermione,” Harry said quietly. “I have one more job for you.”
She turned to him.
“Figure out a way to enter this room and find out why Malfoy comes here several times each week,” he said. “He's up to something and we need to know why, preferably before anyone confronts Dumbledore. I don't know why, but something tells me it's really important that we find out what the Ferret is up to.”
“All right then, I'll let you guys figure out among yourselves what you're doing,” Harry said, then he turned and walked towards the door.
“Harry,” Cho called.
He turned to look at her quizzically.
“Thanks. Just knowing who isn't on our side makes life simpler,” she said softly.
Several others nodded their heads, but Ginny gritted her teeth and tried not to be jealous.
Gryffindor Girl's Dorm (Later that same night)...
Hermione sat at a desk in the sixth year dorms and was absently brushing her hair while looking over her notes.
“What do you think Harry meant by that comment tonight?”
She lifted her eyes and looked up at Ginny. “Which one?”
“The one about rape,” Ginny said, shivering slightly.
Hermione frowned. “I don't know. I mean, how would Harry know about that sort of thing? All of the girls in school are accounted for. and as far as I know, none have been attacked.”
Ginny nodded absently and sat on the edge of the desk, thinking hard. “What if he wasn't speaking literally?”
“You mean he was speaking metaphorically?”
Ginny nodded. “Yes. What if he didn't mean rape in the usual sense?”
Hermione scowled and looked down at the desk. She jumped when Ginny grabbed her shoulder.
The younger girl gasped , her expression paling.
“Remember what McGonagall said about Legilimency? Remember how Harry looked coming back from those lessons with Snape? Don't they remind you of something?”
Her eyes widened in remembrance and her expression fell. “This explains so much,” Hermione whispered. “Oh, Harry.”
“We can't say anything. Merlin, he'd be mortified if he knew we'd figured it out,” Ginny said
Hermione's expression hardened. “No, you're right about that. We won't say anything to Harry, although this does explain things. Snape, on the other hand...”
Ginny nodded. “He has to pay,” she replied grimly. No one was going to hurt Harry and get away with it.
Hagrid's Hut (Mid October)...
“Hagrid, are you there?” called Harry.
He stood outside his friend's hut. There was a lit candle inside, so he assumed that Hagrid was home.
The door opened. “Harry!” the half giant exclaimed, smiling. “Come in! Come in!”
Harry entered the small cluttered hut. It wasn't so much that the hut was small as much as it was Hagrid was so large. He grinned at his friend.
“How about a cuppa?” Hagrid asked.
He nodded. “Please. My mum will be by shortly. I wanted to talk to you both. And I happen to know there are no spying charms on this cabin.”
“Spying charms, eh? I don' think anyone wants to listen in on me, Harry.”
“Oh, I don't know, Hagrid,” Harry teased. “I know the fifth years have a betting pool on what creature you'll bring to class next. No one thought you could top the Acromantula, but then you showed up with a Gorgon. Now they're betting on all sorts of things. They even have a pool on whether or not Colin Creevy will survive your class.”
“Harry,” Hagrid said softly. “Tha' only happened once. How was I supposed to know the Sphinx would step on him like tha'? We found all his pieces, an' Madam Pomfrey put him back together,didn' she? An' I'll have yeh know he found it really cool to be stomped on like tha'.”
He chuckled and shook his head. A knock at the door drew their attention away from the conversation and Hagrid went to open it. Jean walked in a moment later. She sat next to Harry and Hagrid poured her a cup of tea.
“All right Harry, what is it you wanted to see us about?” asked Jean.
He looked between the two for a moment, then he let out an explosive breath. “I gave Hermione a list of names.”
“Names?” asked Hagrid in confusion.
“You gave her a list of names!” exclaimed Jean in dismay. She knew already what he was talking about.
Harry turned to face Hagrid. “Yes, Hagrid, a list of names. There are more than twenty people in the castle wearing the Dark Mark. Death Eaters,” he replied tensely. “I gave Hermione a list of names and she and a few others are organizing the school. It was suggested that I stay out of the coming conflict and I intend to try.”
“Dumbledore wouldn' let Death Eaters stay in the school. He wouldn' endanger the students,” Hagrid grumbled.
Harry turned to Jean. “Are you going to tell him or shall I?”
Jean sighed and rubbed her temples tiredly. She could see both sides of the issue and she wished that Harry hadn't given out the list.
“It's true, Hagrid. I informed the Headmaster at the beginning of the term and he's decided to do nothing about it. He wants to give them a chance to see the error they are making,” she said, then she turned back to Harry. “So do you know what Hermione's planning?”
Harry shrugged. “I can't honestly say I do. Even if I did, I'm not sure I'd be willing to share that information. If I know Hermione, she'll start slowly with a series of carefully orchestrated requests of the Headmaster. At each refusal, she will escalate things until we have a full blown confrontation in the school. She has the backing of all of the prefects and they're passing the list around. I expect that, in a day or two, most of the unmarked students in the houses will know about it.”
“What the bloody hell is Dumbledore thinkin', lettin' tha' scum in the school,” Hagrid rumbled.
Harry sipped his tea then he looked at his oldest friend. “He's hoping they will change their ways, Hagrid, even if that means putting every other student in danger.”
Hagrid stood and walked over to his fireplace. Sitting on the mantle was the huge crossbow he normally carried for protection. He cocked the massive weapon and threaded a bolt into it before placing it next to the door.
As their conversation moved onto other matters, a small beetle moved away from window sill. It only flew the short distance into the tree line of the forbidden forest where it came to land on a tree branch. The beetle paused to consider it's next move.
The wolf spider had been hunting all day without much luck and lunch just landed on it's front door. With lightening speed, it pounced, sinking it's fangs into its victim and injecting it's paralyzing poison. Rita Skeeter, award winning Daily Prophet journalist, has just missed her last deadline.
Harry and Jean stood to leave Hagrid's when he stopped them. “Have yeh figured out what to do with the scale K'nor gave yeh?”
Jean and Harry exchanged a curious look, then turned back to Hagrid. “No. What should we do with it?” asked Jean. “I sort of thought about putting it in a frame and hanging it up somewhere. It's very beautiful.”
Hagrid rumbled in that characteristic low laugh of his. “Take it to Gringotts,” he said when he finally regained control of himself.
Harry blinked in surprise, then he nodded. “Of course! How could I forget that?”
Jean looked at him. “What?”
“The Goblin craftsmen could use the scale and make something you could wear, Mum. They're the best when it comes to making jewelry and armor.”
She frowned at him and wondered if she'd ever learn the things she needed to know about this world.
“Mum, I can take the scale to them on the next Hogsmeade weekend.”
“Now, Harry, yeh know the Headmaster won' allow yeh to go to Diagon Alley,” Hagrid rumbled.
Harry smiled at him. “Then I guess it's a good thing I'm not planning on telling him.”
Jean looked at him, her eyes narrowing. “And why are you going to Diagon Alley?”
He shrugged. “I want to go through my family vault to see if there's anything that belonged to my parents in it. Besides, Christmas is coming and I'd like to do a bit of shopping. Hogsmeade is all right, but if I want quality, Diagon Alley and London are the places to go.”
Jean folded her arms and stared at him. “Won't you need my approval for any withdrawals?”
“Only for the Potter accounts, Mum,” he said, smiling. “I have full access to the Black accounts. Look, I'm not going to go crazy, but spending a few thousand galleons on my family is something I want to do. Other than friends, I never had anyone to give a gift to.”
Jean nodded slowly. “All right, but nothing too expensive.”
He nodded, his eyes sparkling. Hagrid's suggestion fell in line with something he had been considering. “Excellent. Shall I swing by your quarters tonight to pick up the scale?”
Hermione was in her element, surrounded by books as she was. Since just after breakfast, she had been searching for something to use against Snape. She was joined not long afterward by Ginny, and then later, Luna. They had told Luna what they were looking for, but not why, though she seemed to have figured it out herself.
“It can't be a common curse,” she muttered.
“Something uncomfortable, like a Sneeper infestation,” offered Luna.
Hermione lifted her head from her book and stared at Luna incredulously. “Sneeper infestation?”
“You don't want to know,” Ginny said softly.
Neville walked into the library and approached their table. He pulled back a chair and sat down, then he reached into his bag and pulled out a glass bottle that had been sealed with wax for extra protection. He placed it down on the table along with a parchment.
Hermione snatched up the parchment and read it aloud for everyone.
“Bavarian Snowflake Flower. Location: Bavarian Alps.
“This rare flower grows in mountain pastures or high plateaus and is usually found around magical springs. The blossoms, when culled fresh in January, produce a golden powder with many interesting properties.
“The most notable use of the powder is its uncanny ability to damage the mental shields of an Occlumencer, without them being aware of the damage. This little known fact came to light during the rise of Garblak the Gnarled in the Goblin Rebellion of 1091.
“The powder is odorless and tasteless and should only be handled by someone who does not practice mind arts. It can be absorbed through the skin or administered orally.”
Ginny looked up from examining the bottle. “So, that's why you've sealed it in wax.”
Hermione placed the parchment carefully on the table, stood up and threw herself at Neville, hugging him tightly. The boy turned several shades of red, each darker than the previous, while he awkwardly returned the hug.
Ginny and Luna exchanged smug, knowing looks. Hermione and Neville seemed to be clueless about what was slowly happening between them, but no one else was.
Ginny waited until the hug ended. “Neville, how did you know?”
He looked down at the table for a moment, then he looked up, his expression determined. “I suspected for a while now. And when Harry made that statement, it all clicked into place. A lot of pieces about Harry's life are falling into place.”
Hermione looked down, ashamed for not confiding in him. “Neville, I'm sorry, I should have...”
“No, you shouldn't Hermione,” he said, jumping in. “It's Harry's tale to tell, or for us to figure out by ourselves. I think I know him well enough to know he'd be embarrassed to death to know we figured it out.”
Luna leaned over and pulled the bottle from Ginny's fingers. “This alone isn't good enough. We need more if we want to accomplish the goal of ridding Hogwarts of it's resident spy. This is only the first step. We can start slipping it to him, but we need more than just this.”
Hermione looked up and stared at Luna. “What are you on about?”
Luna shrugged. “I thought it was obvious. This alone will weaken his shields. So what? No, we need to give Snape proof of his duplicity so his master will find it.”
Ginny's eyes widened and she nodded eagerly. “I have just the idea, but we'll have to learn how to Obliviate someone before we can try it.”
The four leaned in closer to make their plans.
From her position at the other end of the library, Madam Pince could barely make out the four students in the back, whispering about their assignments. They would talk for a bit, then all four would scribble furiously on parchment before talking some more. It was times like this that she felt especially happy that she could offer this sacred sanctuary to students dedicated to learning.
Harry stood staring out the window, his eyes unfocused. His mind kept roaming over the same facts over and over and finding no resolution. He didn't want to fight for the Wizarding world, and yet, he was a mutant wizard. But Voldemort wouldn't let him live in peace either. He didn't want to kill, ever. That was the thing he dreaded the most. The fact that sooner or later he'd be forced to kill someone in order to defend himself. No matter how he approached it, it was a nasty vicious circle he had built for himself. And the solution escaped him.
He sighed and refocused on the empty classroom. He'd needed a bit of space to think, and the common room had been a little too crowded.
A pair of arms encircled him and he flinched hard before he realized who it was.
“I'm sorry,” Ginny said softly against his back. “I didn't mean to startle you.”
“It's all right, I just wasn't expecting it.”
She gently turned him in her arms until they were facing each other. “You aren't used to anyone touching you are you? That's why you flinched.”
“Not many have, Ginny. It's what I'm used to. The Dursley's touch meant only pain. I'm trying. Mum says I'm getting better.”
“But you rarely initiate contact on your own?”
He frowned, thinking about it. “It's hard to get used to the idea that someone actually wants me to touch them. Like that hug I gave you a few weeks back. As much as I wanted to do that, it felt weird. I thought for sure you'd yell at me or something.”
“I liked that hug,” she said smiling. “And I like it when you touch me. I'm not going to yell at you, or bite, or hit you for it.”
Harry's eyes widened in surprise. “Y-Y-You like it when I touch you?” he stammered.
She nodded and hugged him a little tighter. “If I didn't like it, I wouldn't want to go out with you,” she whispered.
He looked at her for a moment and his expression confused her. His eyes had darkened to a deep green. She couldn't recall ever seeing him look like that and it was beginning to worry her.
“Would... Do you... Can...”
He stopped and took a deep breath. Reminding himself that no one had ever died of embarrassment or rejection, he smiled slightly. “Can I kiss you?” he blurted quickly. Flushing, he realized how awkward that sounded.
Ginny laughed quietly, then slid her hand up behind his neck and gently pulled his head closer to hers.
As first kisses went, it wasn't spectacular. There were no fire works, no deep, burning passion. In fact, it was pretty ordinary, if a little clumsy.
But to the participants, it was everything they dreamed of and more.
Ginny melted against him as he backed off, then he leaned in and kissed her more seriously. She could feel her pulse speed up. A strange sensation washed through her, starting at her lips and radiating outwards. It was like Harry was somehow channeling his magic into her.
When he finally pulled back, she sighed. That kiss was better than any fantasy she had ever had.
He leaned his forehead against hers and chuckled softly, waiting for her to open her eyes.
“Where did you learn to kiss like that, Potter?” she said. She was shocked at how low pitched her voice had become. She could still feel his lips on hers. “Who taught you that? I want to thank her.”
He looked at her funny, then he released her and stepped away. “What am I going to do with you, Ginevra?” he asked, slowly shaking his head.
She blinked and stared at him, confused. How could the mood have shifted so quickly? “What do you mean?”
He ran a hand through his hair. “Just about every time I think I've finally convinced myself to let the British fight Voldemort without me, your face appears, or your mum's and everything gets all confused again. I don't understand this power you have over me. Part of me wants it so very much...”
He slumped against the wall and looked at his feet. “I don't want anything to happen to you or your family. But I don't want to be a killer, either.”
She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him. “You're not a killer, Harry. Even if you do kill Tom, he's not human anymore. You said that yourself, after he was resurrected. He's not human.”
She looked up into his eyes and saw the confusion in them. “I don't think I really realized, until now, just what has happened to you.” She reached up and cupped his cheek, and he leaned into her touch. “You've been treated wrong for so long that you think you aren't capable, or worthy of being loved. Am I right?”
He nodded, his eyes still closed and she sighed softly. She reached out and caressed his cheek softly with the tips of her fingers.
“Harry, no one is more deserving of being loved than you. I'm going to show you exactly what being loved and being in love means. And I intend to keep showing you until you get it through your head.”
His eyes sprang open and he stared at her incredulously. “But... that... you...”
She smiled at his reaction and placed her fingers to his lips. “Yes, even that. That isn't going to happen today, or next week. But someday we'll share something very special. You don't have to worry about that for now. I'm not ready for that and you're even less ready than I am,” she grinned impishly at him. “I have a lot to teach you before we reach that point.”
He wrapped his arms around her and lowered his face, burying it in her hair. They stood motionless for some time, both content to just be.
“I'm sorry,” he whispered some time later.
“For what?” she asked, drawing away slightly so she could look at him.
“I'm haven't been very good boyfriend, have I?”
“Oh, I wouldn't say that. You get better at this every day and if I had known you could kiss as well as you do, I would have fought Cho to get my hands on you last year. You keep kissing like that and I think you'll do just fine,” she said, winking at him before turning serious. “No one starts off being good at this. As with many things, we learn from experience.”
“True. It's just that I'm starting out behind the curve. But I've been told that I'm a pretty quick study, when the subject is interesting enough.” He grinned at her, then bent down to kiss her once more.
Gringotts (October 30th)...
The last two weeks of October slid by without any major problems. Hermione, Luna, Neville and Ginny were deep in plans that they weren't sharing with anyone, including Harry. Ginny only told him not to worry, that they were going to take care of matters and that he'd be pleased with the results. It was a quiet time, a lull before the storm broke. It gave him time to concentrate on other, more pleasant things.
Thanks to the help of Senior Manager Pageknock, he had made arrangements to visit with the Goblin artisans.
He was surprised to be met at the door to Gringotts.
“Welcome, Mr. Potter. Or would you prefer I use your title?” asked the young goblin that met him.
Harry shook his head. “Please, just Harry, or if you must be formal, Mr. Potter is fine,” he said. He looked more closely at the goblin. “I remember you. Didn't you take me to my vault the first time I was here?”
“I'm pleased to know I made that much of an impression on you, Mr. Potter,” the goblin said, pleased to be remembered.
He nodded. “Yes. I am apprenticed to Senior Manager Pageknock. In time, I will assume his position as manager of your accounts. For now, he's assigned me to assist you in any way possible.”
“Good. Then the first thing you can do for me is tell me when I screw up. I'm trying to learn more about your culture, but there isn't much written about it, I'm afraid.”
Griphook nodded solemnly. “Wizarding printers seem reluctant to print anything about us. I will speak to Pageknock about obtaining some translated works from our own libraries, if you wish?”
“That would be wonderful,” Harry said as Griphook lead him to a different cart than the one normally use to visit the vaults.
Seeing his inquisitive expression, Griphook explained that this particular part of the track led down to one of the largest goblin communities on the planet and was separate from the track that went to the vaults. He also cautioned Harry to remain by his side. All wizards had to be escorted when visiting the Halls of Gringalt.
Harry nodded as he listened to Griphook, then he pulled back his sleeve and deactivated his wand holster so it would not automatically extend his wand.
Griphook watched him from the platform. “What did you do, Mr. Potter?”
“I deactivated my holster. I understand the nervousness that your people have and I do not wish to offend. There are times during normal activities that my wand has been drawn inadvertently. I don't wish for that to happen today.”
Griphook nodded thoughtfully. Climbing into the cart, he checked to make sure his passenger was secure. A few seconds later, the cart took off, hurtling downwards towards Gringalt.
After a long ride of nearly an hour, they entered an immense cavern. It was so large, Harry was unable to see the far end. Looking up, he found himself unable to see the ceiling of the cavern, either.
A blue mist hung just below the cavern ceiling, glowing brightly and illuminating the city. The city itself was amazingly neat looking, despite the large number of buildings, some of which were tall enough to rival Muggle skyscrapers.
When the cart came to a halt in a large terminal area, Harry climbed out with Griphook.
“We'll be meeting with Stonefist, one of our leading Master Artisans, Mr. Potter,” the goblin told him.
Harry nodded, pleased that Pageknock and Griphook had gone to so much trouble for him.
As Griphook led him out of the terminal, Harry was tempted to slow the walk and sight see, but decided against it. He wanted to build a better relationship with the goblins before he asked for such privileges.
He couldn't help notice the wide variety of building materials used in the city. None of the buildings seemed to be made of wood, but stones of various types. There were buildings using the white marble similar to the Gringotts in Diagon Alley, as well as buildings that seemed to be made out of quartz crystals. There was even a building that looked like it had been constructed entirely from brass bricks.
After thirty minutes of walking, he found himself confronted with the oldest Goblin he had ever met. He was a good five inches shorter than Griphook and his back was hunched with age. His ears drooped, and one looked as though it had been partially bitten off at one time during his life.
“Lord Black,” muttered the old goblin. “Manager Pageknock requested I meet with you.”
Harry tore his eyes away from the perfection of the jewelry and metalwork that hung from the walls of the small workshop. He looked at the wizened old goblin and bowed. “May your enemies bleed. Master Artisan Stonefist.”
Stonefist arched an eyebrow at him, then instinctively returned the formal salutation. “May your enemies feel the weight of your power against their necks.”
He gestured toward a table with several chairs, then hobbled over to one and sat down. Neither knew just how prophetic their greetings would be.
“Stonefist, I come seeking the help of one who is capable of working with only the finest materials and enchantments,” he said, then he opened a pouch at his belt and removed the dragon scale, placing it on the table.
Stonefist gasped and picked up the shimmering scale. “Sea Dragon, freely given and still imbued with the creature's power.” He looked up at the young wizard. “This is a mighty artifact, Lord Black.”
Harry nodded. “I understand that you can craft some suitable pieces for a red headed human female? My sources claim that the goblins are the finest jewelers and armorers in the world.”
He was playing this extremely carefully. The scale was important, but equally so was this expansion of his relationship with the goblins. Even after he relocated his money to America, he wanted them to continue maintaining his accounts, so he needed their good will and trust.
Stonefist placed the scale down on the table reverently and looked at Harry with a shrewd eye.
“What is it you want of us?” he asked bluntly.
Harry smiled and pulled out a parchment, which described his ideas. He even included several rough sketches. “I dare not presume to tell you your job, good Master. However, this parchment describes what I hope to accomplish. By my own poor estimation, this would use less than half of the scale. I am willing to supply the materials, including the scale and the metal. You may keep the excess for your own purposes.”
Stonefist glanced down at the parchment, reading it briefly. “The metal?” he asked, curiously.
Harry reached into the same pouch that had held the scale and pulled out an ingot of True Silver, weighing nearly three kilograms.
Stonefist eyed the ingot greedily. Even if he made the jewelry extremely heavy, more than half of that ingot would be his!
“I note there are more pieces on this list than one person can wear,” he observed carefully. He wondered exactly what this strange human had in mind. He had never met a human wizard who was as respectful as this one appeared to be.
Harry smiled. “While my principle concern is for my mother, there are others that I would like to be able to give some small token of my esteem to.”
Griphook, who had been sitting quietly, watching the exchange, nearly laughed at the term “small token”. Harry was talking about commissioning pieces that would be priceless, one of a kind items.
“And the enchantments?” Stonefist asked carefully.
“I will leave that to your discretion, good Master. I would like the pieces to be protective in nature, perhaps even potential heirloom material,” Harry answered carefully. He knew he had just upped the ante. Heirloom magic was a specialty of the goblins and rarely done for humans. It meant that an item would tie to a family's blood line and only work for descendants of the person activating them.
“That might get expensive,” Stonefist said dubiously. It was magic beyond his skills and he'd have to hire the spellcrafters for the task.
“I understand,” Harry replied, then he placed a second ingot on the table.
Stonefish blinked in surprise. The second ingot changed everything! He'd be able to hire the best and still rake in a handsome profit, not counting what he could make on the follow on pieces from the left over scale and True Silver!
He nodded eagerly, then he reached for a standard contract, which he kept around for dealing with wizards. “Will you insist on using a wizarding contract, Lord Black? I have one such contract here,” he offered.
“I was under the impression that your word was as good as Gringotts,” Harry said frostily. He knew the goblins hated the wizards for forcing them into the binding contracts.
“My lord?” Stonefist said uncertainly.
“Is your word not good enough, Master Artisan?” asked Harry. “I accept the word and promise of Gringotts to manage my money, why should you be any different?”
Stonefist blinked and threw the contract over his shoulder with a grin. “My word has been good for three hundred and forty years. It's only wizards who insist on binding contracts.”
Harry laughed. “What wizards do and what I do are generally quite different.”
“So I am coming to understand. When will you require the pieces?” asked Stonefist, turning back to the job at hand.
“Will Mean Geimhridh be soon enough?” Harry asked, using the old name for the Druid Yule celebration. The Goblins and the Druids shared many similar holidays and their languages had mixed a bit over the centuries.
Stonefist nodded in agreement. “That will be suitable. I will inform Manager Pageknock when your commission is ready.”
Harry stood and bowed to the old goblin. “Thank you. May your gold flow, Master Artisan.”
Stonefist grinned. “May your gold flow as well, Lord Black.”
Griphook led Harry out of the building and back towards the track terminal.
“Yes, Mr. Potter?”
“Would it be possible someday to come back here and just take the time to visit in your city?”
Griphook stopped him with a touch and looked into his eyes. “You would wish to visit Gringalt because?”
“Because it's beautiful. I would like very much to see more of it. Perhaps to even share it with others that would appreciate it for the work of art it is.”
Griphook nodded in satisfaction. “I will speak with Manager Pageknock and see if some arrangements can be made.”
He entered the terminal building with Griphook and immediately stopped.
Griphook, caught by surprise, bumped into him. “Mr. Potter, is there...”
“Shh! Something is wrong. I can feel it,” he replied harshly. Every instinct he had was screaming danger at him. The very hairs on the back of his neck were standing up and tingling.
“How dare they turn us down!” exclaimed a voice.
“The Master will make them pay,” said another.
Harry sucked in his breath. He knew both of those voices intimately. He had dreamed of them many times in the past months. His eyes widened and he glanced back at Griphook, who was now listening intently. The goblin's expression had turned grim.
“I think, my dear Bella, that we should give them a taste of what is to come.”
Harry peeked around the corned in time to see Bellatrix LeStrange grin madly, then pull out a knife and plunged it into the back of the goblin escort who had been warily watching Lucius.
Harry snarled and reached for the goblin, bringing the injured being to his spot, then he stepped around the corner.
“Reducto!” he snarled, casting wandlessly.
Bellatrix blinked in surprise, then she dove into the cart.
Lucius Malfoy was still turning to orient on the new threat when his head exploded like a ripe melon. A fine blood red mist expanded from where his head used to be.
Bellatrix screeched. “Crucio!”
The curse hit Harry, who was still trying to comprehend what had happened to Lucius, and he fell to the floor screaming in agony.
Griphook stepped around the corner and gestured, sending Bellatrix diving out of the way of his cutting curse.
Harry took several shuddering breaths, then slowly climbed to his feet.
“Avada Kedavra!” shouted Bellatrix.
A thick green beam lanced from her wand and Harry grabbed Griphook before he entered his phase space. He turned so that his back covered Griphook. The beam passed right through his back and through Griphook. Exhaustion washed through them both as the spell passed. It surprised Harry that the spell still had an effect, albeit not the intended one.
Bellatrix stared at the pair in shock, not understanding what had just happened.
That was all Harry needed. He was tired as hell, but wasn't going to let her get away again. This woman had taken too much from him and his friends. He wanted to kill her, but magic wouldn't do. He wanted to feel her die under his hands.
Without considering the consequences, he teleported Griphook to the entrance of the terminal, then he spun and leaped upon Bellatrix. Hitting her in the face with the heel of his palm, he shattered her nose. She screeched again and dropped her wand in an effort to drive him off her. He ignored her blows and his hands tightened around her neck, crushing the life from her.
“Time to die, bitch,” Harry snarled, squeezing as hard as he could.
Bellatrix's expression turned to panic and she reached into her robe. She pulled out a small knife and plunged it into Harry's side.
He roared in pain and his hands burst into a coruscating aura of light. Bellatrix's eyes bulged and her head separated from her shoulders from the garroting effects of his magic. Blood fountained, covering Harry. Shock rushed through him and he stood up and staggered back to stare at the corpse still pumping blood.
He turned and vomited over the side of the cart, then he walked shakily back onto the platform. All around him goblins rushed into the terminal and an eerie siren sounded throughout the structure.
He fell to his knees and stared at the blood that covered him. Some was his, but most belonged to the two dead Death Eaters. He reared up on his heels and tried to vomit again. Several Goblins, armed with halberds, approached him carefully.
He looked at his hands again and howled in anguish, then he simply vanished.
Far above, Gringotts in Diagon Alley went into full lock-down as the alarm spread. The treaty had been broken. Wizards had dared to fight in Goblin territory, goblins were injured and someone would be made to pay!
Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry...
Dumbledore just reached for his cup of tea when Fawkes squawked unhappily and someone started pounding on his door. Alarmed, he pulled his wand and left his desk to answer the door. Whoever was on the other side was in a great hurry.
He opened the door and Ron Weasley stumbled in, wheezing and out of breath. “Headmaster... Harry... Showers...”
“Is something wrong with Harry Potter?” asked Dumbledore worriedly. As far as he knew, the boy was out of the castle today and not supposed to return until tomorrow morning.
Ron nodded. “You have to come, the tower...” he gasped.
Dumbledore nodded and glanced to his phoenix. The large bird sprang aloft, gliding across the office to land on his shoulder. He grabbed Ron and they both vanished in a ball of phoenix fire.
They appeared a moment later in the Gryffindor common room. A large crowd of students were gathered around the base of the stairs to the boy's dorms. The door to the common room opened and Hermione entered, leading Professor McGonagall. She paused to hold the door open for Jean and Neville.
“He's upstairs, Headmaster. In the shower,” Ron stammered.
Hermione went over to Ginny, who stood with tears streaming down her cheeks. They had already encountered Harry.
Neville had found Harry and called for the others to try to help, but Harry had been unreachable, even by Ginny.
With a determined look on his face, Dumbledore purposefully strode up the stairs to the sixth year dorm and turned into their bathroom. One of the showers was running at full blast and steam filled the room. A shimmering blue bubble filled the showers. It snapped and sparked malevolently and air thrummed with magic.
Slowly, Dumbledore approached the showers more cautiously. He could see Harry sitting on the floor, his clothing stained light red from the blood that had washed away. Harry paid him no attention, he kept making a motion with his hands, as if he were washing them. The hilt of a knife protruded from just under his ribcage, blood seeping from around the wound at an alarming rate.
“Harry!” shouted Jean.
Harry didn't looked up, but kept washing his hands. Blood flowed from his nose and down his lip. His face was heavily bruised and one eye was swollen shut.
Jean started to walk forward, but Dumbledore grabbed her, holding her back.
“Let. Me. Go,” she said angrily.
“Jean, that shield is dangerous, possibly lethal,” he said in protest.
Jean turned to examine the shield, testing it with her psionics and found it prevented her from entering. Without approaching it she could feel the lethality of the shield.
Dumbledore turned to Minerva. “Professor, have a house elf turn off the water to the tower,” he said. The sound of the rushing water was making it difficult to hear himself think.
“Harry,” Jean called. She carefully knelt as close to the shield as she could without touching it.
Harry ignored her, continuing to wash his hands and mumble. Suddenly the water reduced to a mere trickle. With the showers turned off it was possible to hear the threatening hum of Harry's shield.
“Aclaro!” Dumbledore intoned, waving his wand. Almost instantly the steam swirled and vanished.
“Harry, drop the shield,” Dumbledore urged gently.
Harry looked up at him and his expression darkened. “You're like Vernon, always taking, hurting and pretending it's for my own good. You've made me like them. You put this blood here.”
He coughed and sprayed blood, then he tried to use the pool of water he sat in to continue cleaning his hands.
“Harry, it's mum, please drop the shield, sweetie. Let us help you,” Jean pleaded.
He shook his head. “It's no use,” he whispered. “It's going to end in death anyway, so why fight it? He wants me as his weapon,” he said, jerking his head at Dumbledore.
Dumbledore frowned and refrained from speaking. He didn't want to antagonize the lad any further.
“We must find a way through this shield,” Minerva said, her hardened facade crumbling. One of her Gryffindors was bleeding to death on the bathroom floor and she could only watch helpless.
Poppy entered the bathroom carrying her kit. “Let me through.”
Jean grabbed her, holding her back. “No, don't touch the shield.”
Poppy stopped and stared at the sparkling blue field uncertainly, then she stepped backwards. She wasn't used to having her patients surround themselves with dangerous magic.
Harry coughed up more blood and shook his head as if trying to clear it. The shield wavered for a moment, then firmed up again.
“Professor,” Jean said to Dumbledore. “I think I know a way to help him, but I need a portkey to the common room downstairs.”
Dumbledore blinked, then nodded. He grabbed a towel and murmured a quick “Portus” over it. It glowed blue for a second, then he handed the newly made portkey to Jean. “Tap it with your wand to activate.”
She threw the towel over her shoulder, then twisted her ring, activating her Blackmoor castle portkey.
“Minerva, go down to the common room and clear the space in front of the fireplace. That is where they will arrive,” Dumbledore commanded.
McGonagall turned and ran down the steps.
“He's seriously injured, Headmaster,” commented Poppy.
“I am aware of that fact, Poppy. Yet he is managing to hold a lethal shield, despite his obvious confusion. He was not even supposed to be in the castle today,” Dumbledore replied.
“So you don't know what happened?” she pressed.
Dumbledore shook his head. He was in the dark and it was a situation he did not like.
She frowned, then looked back at Harry. “Mr. Potter,” she called, expression softening, “please let me through so I can tend to your injuries. I have your bed in the infirmary ready for you. You can relax there and visit with your friends.”
Harry shook his head and looked at her, blinking rapidly. “It's no use,” he said, then held his palms up so she could see them. “No matter how hard I try, he keeps getting me bloody. I'm going to be hip deep in blood before I die,” he ended in a whisper.
Poppy leaned back on her knees, frowning. Clearly he wasn't thinking straight and she was getting very worried. His frame was wracked with tremors and his ashen complexion said he was going into shock.
For several more minutes nothing happened other than the pair of them watching Harry grow weaker, while he continued to wash his hands and mutter to himself.
A low pitched whine interrupted their vigil as Professor Xavier, Logan, Scott, Jean and Professor McGonagall entered the bathroom.
Logan took one look at the shimmering blue shield then turned to Jean. “You want me to go through that?” he asked incredulously.
Jean looked torn. She knew it was going to be painful, but there was no choice. “If there was another way, I wouldn't ask you, Logan,” she whispered. “He's dying in there. The longer we wait, the worse he gets.”
Logan nodded and turned to examine the bubble again, then he shrugged. “Oh, well. Here goes nothing.”
Logan took a deep breath, then he jumped into the shield.
“NO!” yelled Dumbledore.
His bellow was echoed by Poppy and Minerva.
Logan screamed and collapsed on the floor inside the shield.
Poppy whirled on Jean. “How could you?” she demanded. “It killed him!”
Minerva took a step backwards, her face ashen, both hands covered her mouth in horror.
A low groan startled everyone as Logan slowly pushed himself up. “Damnit, Wiz, you know dying always gives me a headache. This better be worth it or I'm gonna beat the shit outta you for this.”
Harry looked up from his hands. “Wolverine?”
“You were expecting Tinkerbell?”
Harry held up his hands to Logan, his expression tortured. “I can't get the blood off them. I killed them both to save that goblin and now I can't wash off the blood. I'm turning into a monster, just like Riddle.”
Jean gasped at his words and choked back a sob. Xavier frowned and maneuvered his chair closer to the shield. “Logan, try talking to him,” he urged.
Logan didn't look back, but he nodded and lowered himself to the floor. “Who did you kill, kid?”
Harry coughed hard, spraying blood down the front of his shirt. “Lucius Malfoy and that bitch, Bellatrix LeStrange. She stabbed a goblin,” he said, then he lifted up his hands staring at them intently. “I wrapped my hands around her neck. She killed Sirius, she tortured Neville's parents into insanity and I wanted to feel her die. She was like a rabid animal. Maybe now Sirius will leave my nightmares and find peace.”
His expression grew feral and he glared up at Dumbledore. “You did this to me. It was bad enough that you had to create Voldemort. But you couldn't stop there, could you? You had to repeat your mistakes with someone else. You weren't content to make one monster, you had to turn me into one, too,” he snarled.
Harry's hands started to glow and Dumbledore stepped back, ready to cast a shield. The heavy smell of ozone filled the bathroom and the very air started to whine from magical overload.
“Sorry, kid,” muttered Logan. “I'm all for revenge, but we need to get you patched up, first.” Reaching out, he clipped Harry hard against the side of the head.
Harry's eyes rolled up in his head and he slumped down. The shield wavered and vanished.
Poppy pushed her way forward and dropped to her knees next to Harry. She glanced over at Logan.
“I will deal with you next. Don't go anywhere,” she commanded, then she turned back to Harry and cast a diagnostic charm.
“I'm fine,” protested Logan.
“I'll be the judge of that,” Poppy said absently. She was distracted, trying to assess Harry's condition. She pulled a potion from her bag and carefully administered it to her patient as Jean knelt down beside her.
“He's got a punctured lung, Poppy,” she said softly.
“I know,” Poppy snapped, then she sighed. “I'm sorry Jean, but I'm his healer. You're too close to him. You know the rules.”
Jean nodded unhappily and stood up, then backed a few feet away. Scott stepped over to her side and wrapped an arm around her.
“Logan, come along,” Xavier said softly. “Let her do her job.”
Logan nodded and backed away from Poppy and Harry.
Xavier turned to Dumbledore. “Albus, given what's happened, might I ask that you put us up for a few days? Harry is going to need some help to get through this crisis.”
Dumbledore nodded absently, agreeing to the request, while keeping his eyes fixed on Harry. He was most curious to find out how Harry had managed to arrive in the showers without anyone seeing him. And he definitely wanted more information about LeStrange and Malfoy.
Once she was finished giving him the potion, Poppy conjured a stretcher and floated Harry onto it before floating the stretcher. With him secured, she left the room hurriedly. Jean and Scott followed behind her.
Minerva exchanged a look at Dumbledore, then turned and went down to disperse her students back to their normal activities.
An elf appeared and whispered something to Dumbledore. His eyes widened and he nodded.
“It seems that Mr. Potter's adventure today has brought us more visitors. Minister Scrimgeour is downstairs with a small contingent of goblins and Aurors,” he said gravely.
He was silent for a moment before coming to his decision. “I will ask the Minister and his guests to join us in my office. Charles, would you and Mr. Logan please join me? As much as I'd like to join everyone waiting for word of Harry in the infirmary, I'm afraid that won't be possible.”
Dumbledore led the others to his office, surprised at how quickly and how capable Xavier's hover chair was. It easily navigated the steep Hogwarts steps, including the tight circular stair to his office.
“Minerva will escort our guests here in a few moments, then we'll get to the bottom of this. I must caution you both that the Minister is unused to dealing with Muggles, let alone Mutants. That he has goblins with him only confirms what Harry was saying. Whatever fight he got into, happened at Gringotts, which is considered part of the Goblin Nation and not subject to British Ministry law.”
Xavier nodded. “You need not worry about us, Albus. My primary concern is for young Harry. I am curious to find out in greater detail what occurred to cause such a devastating break today.”
“I am also,” muttered Dumbledore in agreement. The level of hatred Harry had shown him exceeded anything he had ever experienced, except from Voldemort himself. His confidence was shaken. For the first time, he found himself unsure of events happening around him. From the sound of it, the elder Malfoy and LeStrange were dead. Dumbledore was conflicted over this loss. Given time and proper treatment, Malfoy and LeStrange might have been salvageable. Events were happening without his control and he didn't like it one bit.
Deviation from his plans could ruin everything.
The door opened and Minerva walked in. She was followed by Ministry Scrimgeour, Aurors Kingsley Shacklebolt and Michael Wood, and three goblins.
“Gentlemen, please, come in and make yourselves comfortable,” Dumbledore said. He was standing behind his desk. With a casual wave of his wand, enough chairs appeared for everyone.
Scrimgeour noticed Xavier and Logan in the room and frowned. He didn't know who they were, but the last time he had been in this office he had been thoroughly humiliated. Remembering that, he opted for caution this time.
“Who are your guests, Dumbledore?” Rufus asked, eyeing Xavier and Logan.
Logan was calmly smoking a rather pungent cigar and leaning against the wall by the window, barely hiding his sneer.
“This is Professor Charles Xavier and Professor Logan, both of whom are friends of Harry Potter and his family,” Dumbledore replied.
Logan nearly swallowed his cigar in surprise and Xavier smiled benignly at the Minister.
Scrimgeour nodded absently and dismissed them as insignificant. “Yes, well, I have important business to discuss. They can go elsewhere. I'm sure you recognize Minister Ragnok of the Goblin Nation? And this is Senior Manager Pageknock and his apprentice Griphook.”
He paused and frowned, then he turned to Xavier. “I told you people to leave!”
Xavier smiled benignly. “No, you don't really want us to leave. You want us to hear your story.”
Logan smirked. He had seen Xavier do this thousands of times.
Scrimgeour's frowned for a moment, then he nodded in agreement. “Yes, I want you to hear my story.”
The two aurors grinned happily. The Muggles weren't a threat.
The three goblins exchanged a glance but kept silent.
Xavier nodded. “Please continue, Minister.”
Scrimgeour turned back to Dumbledore, who was staring at Xavier in disbelief. “Right. Where was I? Oh, yes. It seems that Mr. Potter saved the lives of two goblins today, although one was seriously injured by Bellatrix LeStrange.
“Minister Ragnok is most upset by this breach of treaty by wizards and is concerned about Mr. Potter, who managed to vanish from the Gringalt terminal, despite the massive wards in place designed to prevent such a thing.”
“We are merely concerned, Minister, Headmaster. Lord Black is one of our largest depositors. We have been made aware of his wish to relocate his holdings overseas and have no wish to see him accelerate that schedule over this incident,” Ragnok added.
“What?” exclaimed Scrimgeour. This was the first time he had heard anything about the Potter/Black fortunes moving.
Ragnok smiled, the effect of which was rather chilling. The multiple rows of sharpened teeth were very disturbing to those in the room, except Logan, who looked bored by it all. Ragnok's smile wasn't helped by the fact that his teeth were painted with a blood red enamel.
“Yes. Harry has been considering that move, along with dropping his British citizenship in favor of his American citizenship,” said a voice from the door. “He's interested in attending one of the Muggle American technical universities when he leaves here.”
Everyone turned to see Jean, Scott and Poppy standing in the doorway.
“Ah, Jean and Poppy. Excellent. Please come in,” Dumbledore called. An elf appeared and started to pass out drinks. Tea for the humans, chilled Dubog juice for the goblins.
“How is he, Poppy?” asked Dumbledore.
Poppy frowned. She didn't like talking about her patients in front of so many people. But it was the Headmaster asking. “He's exhausted magically. He also had multiple bruises, a fractured cheek bone and a punctured lung. He's resting comfortably now and no longer in any danger, but there are aspects of this that I do not understand. I scanned him to see what curses might have hit him. He's been under the Cruciatus and there's evidence of a killing curse, which I simply don't understand.”
Minerva paled and grabbed at the back of a chair to keep herself upright. Scott's expression was grim and Jean seemed close to breaking.
“Let's just say that his other abilities allowed him to survive that curse and forget about it,” Xavier said quietly.
Scrimgeour looked at him incredulously, then he nodded amicably.
Dumbledore and Minerva both stared at Xavier in shock. He was blatantly controlling the Minister and everyone seemed to be going along with it! Xavier had correctly surmised the Goblins wouldn't care one whit about his manipulations on the wizards.
Poppy glanced over at the Muggle, then turned back to Dumbledore. In a situation like this, she was going to let herself be guided by the reactions of the others. If no one else was complaining, neither would she. “He'll live,” she concluded simply.
“All right, so he'll live. In the meantime, he killed two Death Eaters, and don't think I've forgotten about that business of him relocating. That's unacceptable! Such a move could cripple our economy,” Scrimgeour said, puffing up his chest.
“It's always about you people, isn't it?” Jean said bitterly. “Lord! I now know why Harry didn't want to come back here. My son is lying in a hospital bed, he nearly died and all you assholes can do is think of yourselves again?”
“Jean,” Xavier cautioned.
Jean's lip trembled and she turned against Scott, who wrapped his arms around her.
Scott agreed with his wife. For the first time since the whole affair started, he was seeing Harry's position. The only concern these people held for his son was in what he could do for them.
“Lord Black was kind enough to provide us with sufficient warning concerning his holdings,” Ragnok said in an offhanded manner. “If he wants to move his holdings to Gringotts, USA, or to another branch, we will, of course abide by his wishes. In the meantime, Gringotts has prepared for such a contingency so that we can weather any fiscal upheaval here in Britain.”
Ragnok looked around for a moment before continuing. He was greatly enjoying this rare opportunity to make the human wizards uncomfortable.
“As to what happened today, Lord Black was down in Gringalt, conducting business. His visit was remarkable, in as much as he treated one of our most expert craftsman with the utmost respect. It was refreshing to have a wizard of his statue and fame treat us as equals. He even went as far as asking Griphook if it would be possible for him to return someday to Gringalt and tour the city. Reviewing his visit with the High Council left many with a very favorable impression of the young man. His request to visit our city will most probably be granted.”
Ragnok paused and sipped his juice. “Contrary to that visit, we received two emissaries from the Dark Lord. Because they used the old forms, we had no choice but to receive them under the rules of parley. They demanded of the High Council that the Goblins align themselves with the Voldemort.” He smiled when most of the wizards in the room flinched at his mention of the name.
“When they were rebuffed,” he continued, “they decided to demonstrate their displeasure. Mind you, the attempt to kill their escort was sufficient to remove the protections they carried under the rules of parley.
“One of our kind was seriously injured before Lord Black could intervene. When he did, removing the injured goblin from danger, he was placed under the Cruciatus for his efforts. Griphook distracted Bellatrix long enough to break the curse. She then fired a killing curse, which Lord Black somehow negated before it struck them both, saving Griphook and himself.”
Dumbledore's eyebrows raised nearly to his hairline before remembering the strange transparency Harry had demonstrated when Umbridge had attacked him in the office. It also hadn't escaped his notice that Ragnok was referring to Harry using his title. Harry must have really impressed them. I can't even get them to call me anything but 'wizard', he thought sourly.
“Lord Black, then engaged Mrs. LeStrange, throttling her quite effectively. When she couldn't beat him off her, she stabbed him. Lord Black then used his magic to finish her off. It was a glorious way to kill an enemy! At close range, to feel their last heartbeat,” Ragnok said, his eyes gleamed in appreciation of Harry's methods. The other goblins nodded in agreement.
“When Lord Black vanished from the terminal building, we immediately initiated a search and contacted your Ministry concerning the dead Death Eaters. Bellatrix's head now adorns a pike outside of Gringotts on Diagon Alley. Unfortunately, there was not enough of Malfoy's head to display, so we've impaled the body next to Bellatrix, with a sign identifying him.”
Ragnok didn't feel it necessary to inform them that they'd nailed the sign to the body, along with a warning, informing the humans of the price to be paid when breaking treaty with the Goblin Nation.
Logan grinned appreciatively. These were his kind of people.
Jean listened from the safety of Scott's arms and she shuddered at the barbarity of it all. It was downright medieval.
“Legally, Lord Black's use of magic within the confines of the Goblin Nation constitutes a violation of the treaty of 1638. However, in light of his intentions, that is, of saving a goblin from certain death and killing the criminals involved, we are willing to overlook the matter. There are some on the High Council who consider his actions heroic. For myself, I am thankful. His actions saved the lives of one of my clan and the life of another goblin. For that, Lord Black has a friend among Goblinkind.”
Ragnok stood and faced Madam Pomfrey. “Please keep me apprised of his condition. Should you require any special treatments, please carry them out and bill Gringotts for the cost. It is the least we can do.”
Poppy nodded helpless. Her experience with goblins was extremely limited. And to have Ragnok talk to her, even if it were to issue orders, was extraordinary.
Griphook and Pageknock stood and turned to face Ragnok, who held out his hand. They grasped it and the trio suddenly shrank from sight, as if receding at a high speed without actually moving.
Xavier glanced over at Dumbledore, his expression asking for an explanation.
“The Goblins have their own methods of transport. That was their version of a portkey. For a human, it is a most disturbing method of travel,” Dumbledore explained.
Scrimgeour leaned back in his seat and let out an explosive breath. “This is serious, Dumbledore. When the press finds out whats happened...”
“Then they will learn that two wanted and dangerous criminals were killed in the act of attempting to murder someone,” Xavier said mildly. “I would suggest you simply state the facts when asked about it, Minister.”
Scrimgeour's expression grew blank for a second, then he nodded. “Yes, that would work, wouldn't it? Besides, everyone knew Malfoy was a Death Eater, despite Fudge's pardon.”
Scrimgeour stood. “Well, now that we've settled everything, I'll take my leave. Keep me informed on Potter's condition, Dumbledore.” Turning, he walked out of the office, followed by the two Aurors.
“Relax, Scott. The good Minister will not say anything he shouldn't, nor will the Aurors. They have already forgotten the key facts of the case. The Goblins will keep the secret only because it is good business for them to do so. Most will, wrongly, assume the Goblins are responsible for the deaths of Malfoy and LeStrange,” Xavier said soothingly.
“You manipulated the Minister's memories?” exclaimed Minerva in protest.
Poppy stared at the man in the hover chair in shock. Dumbledore had already suspected Charles was doing something to the Minister.
Xavier shrugged. “I do not like to play with people's memories, Madam. However, for Harry's sake, I felt it would be best if his abilities and his involvement are not bandied about in the press. The Minister will simply omit certain facts and Harry's abilities will remain a secret. His enemies do not need to know he survived another killing curse.”
Xavier turned to Poppy. “You were properly concise concerning Harry's condition, but you left much unsaid.”
Poppy nodded unhappily. “As I said, he will survive this latest attack, but I'm more worried about his mental state. Prior to receiving medical treatment he was nearly incoherent.”
Xavier nodded knowingly. “Yes, he was in the throes of a panic attack and disassociating himself from reality. I thought about shutting his conscious mind down at the time, but Logan decided to take more direct action.”
Logan turned to stare at Xavier. “You let me walk through that bubble when you could of done something about it?” he asked incredulously.
“But you seemed so determined, Logan. I have learned that once you convince yourself to do something, nothing I say can stop you,” Xavier replied with a small grin.
Scott started laughing. Even Jean grinned against his chest.
“Who are you people?” Poppy demanded.
“Ah, introductions. I think you know Scott Summers, Jean's husband. And I think you know Logan, who has been helping Harry this past summer, training him to be more physically fit. I am Charles Xavier, another of Harry's teachers and I also have been helping him with certain... issues.”
Dumbledore winced at that comment.
Poppy nodded and looked at Xavier with a critical eye. “What caused your injury?” she asked bluntly.
Xavier looked down at his legs. “They were crushed in a cave in. While there was no nerve damage, they are quite painful to stand on, or to walk.”
“But the nerves are intact?” Poppy pressed.
“We can fix that, sir. It would take vanishing the existing bones and regrowing them, then conditioning the muscles to handle your weight again. It wouldn't be easy, or quick, but I can fix them. The bones can be regrown overnight. But strengthening and conditioning the muscles to allow you to walk would take a lot of hard work on your part.”
The silence in the office was deafening as his X-Men stared at him in surprise and wondered what his reply would be.
Xavier smiled. “It is an intriguing possibility you offer, Madam. I fear that current responsibilities would not allow me the time needed, but perhaps once our current crisis is passed, we can discuss it in greater detail?”
Poppy nodded in acceptance. He was a grown man and she couldn't force healing on him.
“What now?” asked Jean in a small voice.
Poppy shrugged. “We wait for him to wake up, then assess the hidden damage this attack has caused.”
Jean nodded unhappily and walked to the door. “I'll be with my son.”
So, Bob didn't do AN's on the last chapter and people were a tad bit upset over that. As a result, he's making me do them. Bastard.
Oh, and I'd like to say that this update is late due to all the people who reviewed to tell us to update. Yeah, I'd really like to say that and we'll pretend it's the truth, won't we?
So, let's see...
For those who keep mentioning it, or flat out asking – No, Magneto will not be appearing in this story. He has been mentioned in passing, and may be mentioned again, but that's all.
I'm not sure who you're quacking at, Animorpho, or why, but I'll send a growl back at ya. As for Bob's ability to 'handle' me, I should probably tell you that he self-medicates.
A Harry Potter/Jaina Proudmoore hook-up? How would that work? He's busy fighting Voldemort and all she wants to do is study. Wouldn't it be better to hook Jaina up with Hermione? Seems it would be a better.... Wait, never mind. Forget I said that. ACK! Bob, don't you dare!
Carolyn: you'll just have to wait and see. Telling would be against the rules (we have very strict rules and I wouldn't suggest breaking them...it usually leads to many Bad Things) and, really, if we told you, why would you need to keep reading?
To BJH – Okay, here's the deal. Give me Rickman and fry the llama. I've got more llama's than I know what to do with. The UPS guy's getting pissed as hell because people keep sending animals to me (never knew UPS delivered livestock!) and his truck smells...ripe. Torch Rickman and I'll bury the rest of this story in the darkest corner of the HD I can find and it will NEVER see the light of day. Oh, and I'll also be dropping a nuke on your house. I have several, and I know where ALL our readers live. You were tagged the moment you opened one of our stories.
So, what's it going to be? ~Taps foot~
00 Knight: Thanks, and you're welcome!
Nope, sorry. The Shi'ar are not in this story. No little alien friends for Professor X to run to when things get bumpy.
Mwinter: The judge was actually rather nice about the whole thing. Seems he belongs to the Fruit of the Month club and the post office had delivered one too many boxes of squished citrus to his door. For electrifying the mailbox, the judge told me not to do it again...and gave me a lovely box of apples. Bob's a bit peeved, though. He was hoping they'd toss me in jail for a few days so he could eat donuts and perv on porn :D
Sven: If we had the ability to disable reviews, we would have done so with the first story posted here. However, that option isn't currently available with this system. Also, please note: Bob's comment at the end of the last chapter about ungrateful readers was meant as humor. Most folks who've read our work before understand this. He doesn't think anyone is ungrateful...nor do either of us think anyone should be grateful to us for any reason. Gratitude, to me, implies a sense of obligation, and those who read our stories are not obligated to us in any way.
Now, for those who feel as though Harry could solve his “Voldemort problem” by working together with the US Ministry, or feel as though Jean and Xavier don't care about Harry, or that Harry should just pack up and leave and say screw it to everyone, or simply slaughter everyone and walk away....Yeah, not going to happen here. You know where the exit is. Use it. Or better yet, write your own story the way you want it and you'll never have to worry about being disappointed again! Of course, that would take some effort on your part, and we can't have that, can we? ~Smile~ I'll try to make it a little more clear for those who are new to class...we're not writing for you. We write what we like. We're happy if you happen to enjoy it as well, but we don't care if you hate it, loath it, think it's just plain wrong or unnatural.
I only say this to save you the effort of reviewing, as bypassing your review is as simple as a flick of the mouse. We do read most reviews so we can answer folks in the AN, but we're not here to try to convince you to read our work, as it's not worth our time to do so.
Read it, or don't. Like it or don't. Regardless of your feelings on the matter, we'll write what we want. Get it? Can I end my rant? Did I get my point across?
Excellent. Moving on then...
I think that wraps things up this time around. In coming chapters we have angst, canoodling, fights, much screaming, lots of blood and gore..and as a special treat, George W. Bush and the amazing technicolor troll.
We still haven't found those damn penguins...
Enjoy, or don't!
~Alyx and Bob~
This story has been marked as suitable for adult readers only.