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Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling and Warner Bros. I in no way claim ownership of any rights to the Harry Potter Universe.

Author's Note:

Chapter 20: The Truth Will Out
Monday started off just like any other day for Harry. He woke up early, met Ginny in the common room, went for a jog out on the grounds, and worked out in the room of requirement. After breakfast came a double session of Transfiguration; thereafter, Hermione departed for Arithmancy, and Harry retired to the common room for a game of exploding snap with both Ron and Neville. Lunch was one of the rare meals that Harry and Ginny ate separately – the first sign of any abnormality.

It was after lunch, however, that the day really took a turn away from the norm. Harry, Ron, and Neville were walking on the grounds on their way to Care of Magical Creatures. They were still a good ways off from Hagrid’s hut when Harry noticed something peculiar. A fence had been erected behind the hut. He could not yet see what the fence was meant to enclose, but it surprised him that he had not noticed the structure that morning. Then again, he supposed it would be easy to miss if you were not looking for it. He pointed it out to Ron and Neville, and the three began speculating what the fence could be for.

“You don’t think he brought back the Skrewts, do you?” Neville asked, his face going a bit pale at the prospect.

“Nah,” Harry replied. “It has to be something worse.”

“What makes you say that?” Ron questioned.

Harry shrugged as he replied, “Hagrid didn’t see the need for a fence the last time we covered the Skrewts.”

“Bugger,” Neville muttered under his breath.

Meanwhile, Ron exclaimed, “Bloody hell! What could be so dangerous that even Hagrid thinks it needs to be fenced in?”

“Think he managed to get Norbert back?” Harry asked jokingly.

Ron stopped in his tracks, forcing Harry to turn around to face him. “Don’t joke about things like that.”

Harry rolled his eyes at Ron. “Dumbledore wouldn’t let him bring a full-grown dragon to class.”

“I don’t know, Harry,” Neville input. “Dumbledore hasn’t ever stepped in before.”

“True,” Harry admitted. “But even he has to draw the line somewhere. Come on, or we’ll be late.”

And so the three continued their trek, wary of what the class would hold for them. When they finally made it to Hagrid’s hut, they found most of the class crowded in front of the fence peering off into the distance to try to glean what was inside. As far as Harry could see, it looked empty.

“Come now, gather roun’,” Hagrid’s booming voice called, pulling Harry’s attention away from the enclosed area. “Some of ya may ‘ave noticed that ya can’t get pas’ tha fence, an’ I’d a’vise ya nawt ta try it. Had Dumbledore ward it specially so none of yeh’d get ‘urt.”

That statement brought Harry’s thought processes to a screeching halt. If Hagrid had taken precautions to ensure their safety - Harry unconsciously gulped – that could not bode well. His eyes travelled back to the fence wondering just what could be contained within. He only looked back when Hagrid continued.

“He’s a lil’ shy now an’ aint use’ta ‘is new home yet, but I’ll see if I kin get ‘im ta interduce ‘imself,” Hagrid continued. “Gather roun’ tha fence while I go round’im up for ya.”

With a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach, Harry glanced at his friends as they slowly approached the fence. Unsurprisingly, none of the students were all that eager to get too close. After several years of classes with Hagrid, they were all wise enough to keep their distance.

They watched as Hagrid went through the wards and into the enclosed area, heading deeper and deeper until even his massive form appeared as only a speck to their eyes . It was at this time that curiosity began to get the better of some of the students as they crept a little closer to the fence, straining to see into the distance.

After about ten minutes of waiting, Harry heard something coming from inside the tree-line, past the fence. It started distant and indistinct, but began growing louder and clearer. There was a lot of thumping, but that was as likely to be Hagrid as whatever creature he might be bringing along with him. Accompanying the thumping, though, was an occasional screeching noise. If Harry had to guess, he would say that the animal was protesting whatever Hagrid was trying to do. What he was doing became clear a moment later.

Hagrid’s form emerged from the tree line with his back to the students. He was tugging on a rope with all his might. Anything that required that much force to move had to be both massive and powerful; that revelation did nothing to relieve Harry’s worries.

As the form of the creature began to emerge from the forest, Harry felt his jaw dropping of its own accord. “No,” he whispered. “He couldn’t have.”

He turned to look at Ron then Neville, the latter of which commented, “At least it’s not a dragon.”

“Bugger,” Ron responded in a whisper.

“I’m inclined to agree with Ron on this one,” Harry said as his eyes travelled back to the creature.

Intelligent yellow eyes surveyed the crowd of students as the creature continued to fight against Hagrid. Undeterred, the half giant continued to pull closer and closer to the class. “He’s a might bit fussy,” Hagrid grunted over his shoulder. “But ‘e should ligh’en up some over time.”

Harry was not inclined to agree with that statement. It did not look like it would be warming up to Hagrid or the environment in any way, shape, or form. In fact, if looks could kill - well, a griffin does not really need a killing stare, does it? How Hagrid thought he could tame a griffin, Harry had no idea. How exactly does one communicate with an incensed magical animal?

Suddenly, something Hedwig had once told him leapt into his thoughts. All magical animals could communicate with their minds, just as owls did. Well, if that was true, perhaps he could help keep this from turning disastrous. “Hello. We mean you no harm,” Harry sent through mindspeak in what he hoped would be interpreted as a friendly and soothing voice.

As soon as he sent it, the griffin stopped protesting against Hagrid. Its head turned and its eyes immediately locked onto Harry. Harry, transfixed, stared into its gaze as a scene formed in his head. He was inside the fence instead of Hagrid, and the griffin was every bit as annoyed as he was now. Instead of fighting against the rope that Harry held, however, the griffin slowly stalked towards him. Then, suddenly, it pounced.

Just as the griffin started to tear into his flesh, Harry was drawn out of the vision by Ron’s voice.

“Harry?”

“Huh?” Harry said, shaking his head clear.

“I think ‘e likes ya, Harry,” Hagrid called jovially, looking back between him and the griffin, whose eyes were still boring into Harry’s.

“Is he joking? It looks like it’s sizing you up for a meal,” Neville whispered at his side.

“I think you’re right,” Harry said as he realised what had just happened – and why. Hedwig had told him that all magical animals could communicate with their minds but that most could not use language; rather they used visions and emotions instead of words. All he had succeeded in doing was drawing the griffin’s attention to himself. Based on its response, Harry thought it was pretty safe to assume that it wanted to eviscerate him. He turned back to the creature to find that its gaze had not faltered at all.

It took a moment before he realised that Hagrid was speaking again. What he heard did nothing to improve his mood. They would be working with the griffin off and on for the rest of the year. This was not going to be an easy term.

For the rest of the day, Hagrid’s latest subject material was the talk of the castle. A small selection of students were thrilled and marvelled that an actual griffin was on the grounds. The rest of the school could not quite believe that anyone could be stupid enough to allow such a dangerous creature at a school. Needless to say, the griffin was the subject of much controversy and speculation.

“I just don’t see what he could be thinking,” Hermione exclaimed that night in the common room. “Griffins are class four dangerous creatures. It’s practically impossible to tame one, and even those that have been tamed are usually used to guard treasure because of their aggressive nature. I’ve never read of a griffin that could be considered docile or even non-threatening to all people.”

“Trust me, this griffin looked anything but docile,” Neville commented at Harry’s side.

“He looked like he was ready to eat Harry alive,” Ron added helpfully.

Harry shook his head at his friend across from him. There was no denying that Ron was speaking the truth, but he would rather not draw attention to the fact that the griffin was focused entirely on him.

“What do you mean?” Hermione asked shrilly. “You didn’t go inside the fence, did you? Please tell me you didn’t.”

“Of course not,” Harry retorted. “Why would I go inside the fence?”

“Well if you didn’t go inside the fence, why was the griffin focused on you?” she queried.

Harry shrugged his shoulders. “Damned if I know. Besides, Hagrid had Dumbledore ward the fence to keep us out and the griffin inside, so it’s not as if I could have just gone in on a whim.”

Hermione’s gaze lingered on Harry for a short moment, but she did not question him further, for which he was glad. The four of them all worked on homework quietly until Harry packed up his things and bid them all good night. He always went to bed earlier than any of his peers, but even this was a bit early for Harry. His scar had been prickling annoyingly throughout the day giving him a headache. It was preventing him from concentrating on his work, so he decided to turn in early.

Stopping briefly to wish Ginny good night, Harry made his way up the stairs to his dormitory and quickly changed into his pyjamas. Once in bed, he retreated into his mind to sort his memories from that day before relaxing and allowing himself to drift off into a fitful sleep.

******

“Pray tell you have good news for me, Augustus,” Voldemort hissed impatiently. Harry did his best to quiet his thoughts and lock up all his emotions – particularly his annoyance at having his sleep interrupted yet again – as he focused all of his attention on what was happening to make sure he did not miss a thing.

“I’m sorry, My Lord,” the cloaked figure responded, unable to even meet his eye, “but we have not yet heard any word. We knew it would take some time to get around the wards. I’m sure it won’t be much longer.” Harry could feel how pleased Voldemort was at the level of fear this man showed for him.

“My patience wears thin,” Voldemort responded scathingly as he fingered his wand tip in his hand, finding amusement in the way his servant’s eyes followed the action.

“Yes, My Lord,” the man nervously spoke. “If there was any way I could check on him without risking his exposure… but until he is able to break through the wards, all I can do is wait.”

“Rookwood, you fool,” Voldemort hissed menacingly. “Do you think I don’t know this? I allowed you to give this job to your cousin because you claimed he was one of the most skilled curse breakers you knew. If he fails in this task,” he paused, indulging in the dread he could feel exuding from his servant, “his failure shall be your failure.”

“My Lord, he is one of the best in his field. He won’t let you down.”

“You better hope your faith in him is not misplaced,” Voldemort warned. “Your service to me has been lacking of late. Pray you do not outlive your usefulness, or I will be forced to find other uses for you.”

“M-my L-Lord,” the man stuttered.

“Be gone!” Voldemort commanded, taking satisfaction in how the man jumped at the sound of his voice and ran from the room. He continued to face forward even as he detected movement coming from the shadows at his side. It was not until the figure presented himself in the centre of the room that Voldemort spoke. “Be ready, Lucius. We must act quickly. The Aurors are not so incompetent as to not notice after the wards have fallen. I expect you and your men to be ready at a moment’s notice.”

“My Lord,” Malfoy intoned with a slight bow of his head. “I will await your orders.”

“Good,” Voldemort said. He paused a moment before adding, “Fail me this time, Lucius, and the consequences will be severe.” His voice was menacing in its eerie calm.

“We will not fail you, My Lord.”

Voldemort did not answer but turned his head away from his servant. He tired of talking with his inferiors. Harry felt himself withdrawing into his mind as he pondered what he had just witnessed. As he did so, he felt his consciousness returning to his own body as he woke up. He sat up in his bed for several minutes, lost in thought. Whatever Voldemort was planning, it had to be big.

Harry rose out of bed and quietly got dressed. It was early still, but he did not want to wait. Glancing at his watch, he thought he would have time to get back before Ginny woke up, so he exited the common room and began his trek down to the Headmaster’s office, his scar stinging every step of the way. Harry gave the stone gargoyle the password as he approached, and it sprang aside to grant him entrance.

Harry let the staircase carry him up and knocked on the door to Dumbledore’s office. “Come in,” the old man’s voice called from inside. Harry entered the room to find the Headmaster sitting behind his desk as if it was the most natural place to be at such an ungodly hour of the morning. “Good morning, Mr. Potter,” he greeted. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”

As tired as Harry was, he opted to skip the usual pleasantries and cut straight to the point. “I had another vision.”

“Please, have a seat,” Dumbledore said as he motioned his hand toward the seat in front of his desk. When Harry had seated himself, he continued, “Now, what is it that you saw?”

Harry explained, in as much detail as he could recall, all that he had learned in his latest vision. When he finished his explanation, Harry leaned back in his chair as he watched the Headmaster. There was a prolonged silence hanging in the air before the old man let out a weary sigh, and Harry caught the first signs of fatigue in his face.

Harry decided to speak, “It doesn’t really tell us much, except that it could happen at any moment – whatever it might be. Lately my scar has been bothering me more than usual as well, and I think it’s because Voldemort is getting anxious.”

Dumbledore nodded. “It does eliminate a few things if he is most worried about the Aurors noticing the tampering in the wards, but there are many places the Aurors could be responsible for. I will talk to Kingsley and Tonks and set them on alert for anything strange or out of the ordinary. In the meantime, we will simply need to wait for either more information or for the attack to begin.”

“Sir, what about Rookwood’s cousin?” Harry asked. “Do you know who they were referring to?”

Dumbledore sighed wearily before answering. “That is an avenue to pursue, but I fear it will prove to be more difficult than you imagine. Without knowing whether it is a first cousin or some distant relative, it could take weeks to look into every possibility. Even if we do learn his identity, there is still the matter of locating him. Since we do not know their target, we have no idea where to begin searching, and wherever he is, he is likely doing his best to remain undetected as he tries to dismantle the wards.”

Harry nodded tiredly and unsuccessfully tried to stifle a yawn. “Well, it’s almost time for my morning jog,” Harry stated as he rose from his chair. “I’ll let you know if I remember anything else or if I have another vision.”

“Thank you, Harry,” the Headmaster stated, and Harry could feel the sincerity in his words. Somehow he thought Dumbledore knew how much it bothered Harry that he was still trying to shield him from the war and knew that a part of Harry wanted to return the favour in kind.

Harry bid his goodbye, stopping briefly at Fawkes’ perch to greet the phoenix, and exited the office. He stumbled down the steps and out into the corridors where he slowly made his way back up to the common room. Ginny was just coming down the stairs as he was walking in and looked at him in confusion as he walked towards the two staircases.

“I had another vision,” Harry explained when he had drawn close to her.

Understanding passed over her features, and, without uttering a word, she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him, holding him tightly in her embrace. He returned the hug and just stood there in her arms for a long minute, inhaling the scent of her hair – free of any shampoos or other perfumery – and let out a contented sigh. For the first time that morning, he felt his body relaxing. He had not realised how tense he had been until that very moment.

As she released her grip, Ginny rose onto her toes to kiss him on the cheek, and Harry felt a tug at the corner of his lips at the action. “Thanks Ginny,” he whispered. “I really needed that.”

He was rewarded with a wide, dazzling smile, and he leaned down to give her a short kiss. “Let me go change, and I’ll be right back down.”

His morning routine went a long way in waking Harry up and preparing him for the day ahead. He survived his morning classes, but by lunch time, he felt fatigue creeping up on him. After lunch, instead of going to the room of requirement for his usual training session, Harry took a detour to his office. He dug out his potion supplies and began preparing ingredients for an Invigoration Draught. He had a feeling he would need it to make it through the rest of his day.

He missed out on his entire training session and instead settled on his sofa to read while the potion simmered. When after only about ten minutes Harry was snapped awake as his head bobbed down, he knew he had made the right call about the draught. He got up and paced around for a bit in an attempt to wake himself up before settling down in his desk chair. It would force him to sit up and would hopefully be enough to keep him from drifting off again.

He found it much easier to concentrate on what he was reading from an upright position, and it was not long before the potion was ready. He had made a few doses, so while he prepared one dose to take right away, he bottled up the rest of the potion and stored it in his trunk. He downed the potion in one gulp and spent a little more time reading before the time came to leave for Charms.

Harry’s scar continued to bother him throughout the week. He could sense a building anticipation in Voldemort’s emotions. What that meant for Harry was constant worry accompanied by frequent headaches. It also meant that what little sleep he got was fitful at best. He was embarrassed to admit to Ginny on Saturday that he had already finished his supply of Invigoration Draught. When she warned him of the danger of getting addicted to it, he knew he had better not brew another batch right away. She was right. The temptation was just too strong when the potion was sitting right there. He would only make more when he absolutely needed it.

In lieu of taking another potion that day, Ginny insisted that he take a nap in the afternoon. She also insisted that she be there to ensure that he rested well. Part of him wanted to object, but he knew that he could use the extra rest, and he was grateful to her for looking out for him. Harry was not about to suggest they use the bed in his trunk, so instead he retired on the sofa in his office. Ginny sat down on one end, and he lay across the rest of the sofa with his head lying in Ginny’s lap.

He lay on his back looking up into her smiling face as she began running her fingers gently through his hair. He smiled back at her as he turned onto his side and peacefully closed his eyes.

******

While Harry was napping on Ginny’s lap in the privacy of his office, Hermione was reading quietly in the common room when Ron’s voice drew her attention away from her book. “Have you ever noticed how Harry and Ginny always seem to be missing at the same time?” He spoke quietly at her side, settling on the arm of her chair.

Hermione paused to mark her place in her book before closing it deliberately and looking up at Ron. “You are not still on about that, are you?” she asked him with hints of incredulity and frustration in her voice.

Ron ignored her question as he stared into the common room fire. “It’s just…” He paused and shook his head before turning to face her. “Don’t you ever wonder why they’re always missing together? Don’t you wonder what they could be doing? Harry’s got his own office. They could be doing anything in there!”

Hermione furrowed her brow as she thought about that. It was a bit irresponsible to give Harry an office without monitoring what he was doing in there, but then again, Professor Dumbledore was probably keeping an eye on things. He always seemed to know what was going on – especially with Harry. She trusted the professor to keep Harry from using his office the way many students used the school broom cupboards. Besides, she knew Harry would never try to take advantage of Ginny in that way.

It was likely Ron was worked up over this because he was imagining what he would use an office for if he had one. That thought gave her a private thrill, but it also brewed indignation in Hermione. She did not want to be thought of as just a means towards some sort of physical gratification. She wanted to be appreciated for her mind. Ron admiring her body would just be an added bonus.

“What makes you think they are doing anything they shouldn’t be?” Hermione asked.

“What makes you think they’re not?” Ron fired back.

“Six years of friendship,” Hermione responded tersely but not harshly. “You’re being unreasonable, Ron. This is Harry we’re talking about. Ginny is going to have boyfriends whether you like it or not. You should be happy that it’s Harry she’s chosen. At least now you don’t have to worry about him pushing her too fast. If anything, she’ll have to push him.”

“I do not want to hear that!” Ron exclaimed, throwing his hands over his ears dramatically. After a moment he pulled his hands down. “Besides, if there’s nothing for me to worry about, then why haven’t they told us anything? If they’re not doing anything we wouldn’t frown upon, why keep it a secret?”

Hermione had to think about that for a moment. “I don’t know, Ron. It could be a variety of reasons. They may not even be together. We’re assuming a lot here. But let’s say they are. They may just want to avoid being in the spotlight. After all Harry has been through, I can’t exactly blame him for wanting some privacy. Or maybe they were afraid you’d react badly. Let’s face it; you weren’t exactly friendly with Michael Corner last year. And when you thought Dean and Ginny were together, you turned on him as well. Maybe Harry is worried that this will set you off.”

It did not explain why she too was left out of the loop, but given recent developments in her relationship with Ron, she could understand why they might lump her in with him. At any rate, her words seemed to have the desired effect as Ron slumped back a bit in his seat and appeared to be considering what she had said.

After a long minute, Ron turned his head to her and asked, “Do you really think he might be worried about telling me?”

“Yes,” Hermione responded honestly. “I do.”

“So what should I do? Just sit around and wait until they decide to tell me?” Ron asked, running his hands through his hair.

“Why don’t you talk to them? Talk to Harry. Ask him about his relationship with Ginny, and let him know that it’s okay with you if he wants to be with her. And before you even think about it, don’t even bother warning him not to hurt Ginny,” Hermione stated. “It’s insulting to even insinuate he would do such a thing.”

She spied Ron frowning at her warning, which made her all the more glad she had brought it up. It would be just like him to play the protective brother card. “You don’t have to do anything right now,” Hermione advised. “Think about it and come to terms with everything it means, then talk to Harry about it. I’m sure if you approach him calmly and keep your cool that he’ll be upfront with you.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Ron muttered, nodding absently to himself.

Hermione reached her hand out to squeeze Ron’s hand and gave him a warm smile when he turned towards her. He smiled back, and, satisfied, Hermione opened up her book and picked up where she had left off.

******

Harry had not slept so soundly in weeks, yet his nap was over all too soon. He felt refreshed afterwards but knew the feeling would only be temporary. It gave him enough energy to carry him through the evening and his two HA classes the following day. His BHA classes were progressing pretty smoothly. Having his lesson plans from the previous term went a long way in facilitating the process.

His elite group of BHA members, as he had begun to think of them, were quickly improving in their duelling skills. They were becoming much more adept in incorporating movement into their mock battles. He often put a restriction on their uses of shields just to further emphasize that facet of combat.

His IHA classes were a bit more difficult to manage. It was hard to keep a balance of duelling practice and teaching new spells. For one, it was impossible to coordinate thirty some people duelling all at once. So when they turned the focus to duelling, a large portion of the class was only watching while the rest was getting the much needed practice. He needed to find some way to organize things a little better, but no solutions were readily forthcoming.

Harry’s energy began to dissipate shortly after supper, and it was not long before he was feeling completely knackered. He stuck around the common room for a nominal period before making his excuses and heading up into his dormitory.

Harry was just about to change into his pyjamas when Ron walked into the room. It was odd to see any of his dorm mates up there even at Harry’s normal bedtime. Because of both his Occlumency exercises and his early mornings, Harry had a tendency to turn in earlier than any of the other boys in his year. Given the fact that he was early by even his own standards, he assumed there was something specific Ron was there for.

“Hey, Ron. What’s up?” Harry greeted.

“I was – er – wondering if we could talk for a minute,” Ron requested, noticeably uncomfortable.

Harry furrowed his brow as he wondered what had Ron so nervous. “Sure,” Harry replied, turning away from his trunk and taking a seat on his bed. “What did you want to talk about?”

Ron sat on his own bed across from Harry and wrung his hands for a moment before responding. “I know you and Ginny have been pretty friendly since the summer, but I couldn’t quite help but notice that you two seem to spend a lot of time together. And the two of you are often missing at the same times. I was just wondering what was going on with you two.”

That brought Harry up short. He knew that the truth about his relationship with Ginny would come out in the open at some point, yet he found himself woefully unprepared for Ron’s question. When he had envisioned this happening, however, he always saw himself seeking out Ron to tell him, not the other way around. For the first time, Harry began to regret his decision to withhold that bit of information from his friends. He knew, however, that there was only one answer he could give. “Ginny and I are together.” He braced himself, not knowing how Ron would react to that simple statement.

“How long?” Ron asked, not quite meeting Harry’s eye.

“A few weeks.”

Ron nodded his head as if he had expected that answer. After a moment, he looked up and asked, “How come you didn’t tell me?”

Harry blew out a breath. Something about Ron’s tone made him feel guilty, yet he could not help but feel emboldened that Ron did not seem to be taking the news badly. He knew he would have to pick his words carefully now, though, lest he make matters worse. “I don’t know exactly. Part of it was that I was worried how you’d react. I don’t really know how to explain the rest. I just – I wanted it to be something that she and I shared. I didn’t want it to be this big thing that everybody was talking about. I just wanted to be able to enjoy being with her, you know?”

“Not really,” Ron replied with a ghost of a smirk on his lips. “I know I haven’t exactly been fair to Ginny’s previous boyfriends. Well, just the one if you don’t count Dean. It’s just – it’s hard for me. Ginny’s always been my little sister, you know? I know she’s not so little any more, but it’s difficult to accept it and let go. It’s not that I don’t trust you. You’re my best mate. I just – I may need some time to get used to it is all.”

A smile slowly spread across Harry’s face. That was as good as a blessing as far as he was concerned. “We’ll try to keep from being too – erm – you know,” Harry paused as he tried to think of a good word for it.

“Yeah,” Ron interrupted, a little more loudly than was necessary. “That would be great.”

Harry smiled. “I’m sorry we didn’t tell you sooner.”

“It’s okay,” Ron replied. “I wish you had, but even I can’t guarantee how I would have reacted had you caught me out of the blue with it.”

The two of them shared a short chuckle at that. “Fancy a game of chess?” Ron asked a moment later.

Harry hesitated in his response. Truth be told he wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed and try to get as much sleep as possible. It had been quite some time, however, since he had played the game with Ron, and he knew it would mean a lot to his friend even just to go one match.

“Sure, mate,” Harry agreed.

Though Harry tried his best, Ron systematically destroyed his pieces until he was able to trap Harry’s king in checkmate. When Ron asked for another game, Harry declined, saying he had a bit of a headache and was planning to turn in early. Ron nodded his head and went back downstairs to try to entice another victim to play him in chess. Harry thought idly about trying to find Ginny to tell her about his conversation with Ron, but he decided it would hold until the morning.

After quickly running through his Occlumency exercises and sorting his memories for the day, Harry lay down in bed and closed his eyes. Just a short couple hours later, Harry woke up with a start. He bit his lip to stifle a groan as his hand flew up to his scar. He silently leapt out of bed and undressed out of his pyjamas and into a pair of jeans and black t-shirt. He threw one of his school robes over his head and rushed out the door and down the stairs. He crossed the threshold of the common room in a few seconds and burst through the portrait hole, leaving a frazzled and sputtering fat lady in his wake.

He ran down the shadowy corridors and practically flew down the stairways on his way to the Headmaster’s office. There was so little time. Panting, he uttered the password to the gargoyle, sprinted up the moving staircase, and burst into the office without bothering to knock.

It took his eyes only half a second to find the Headmaster, rising from the fire, alarm written across his face for a brief moment until he locked eyes with Harry. “It’s St. Mungo’s. They’re on their way now,” Harry blurted out around his ragged breathing.

“Yes, I know,” Dumbledore calmly replied. “I just sent word to the Order. They will be there as soon as they can to handle the threat.”

Harry stared at the man blankly for a moment before the words processed in his brain. “You knew it was St. Mungo’s?” he asked in confusion and betrayal.

“I heard word from Kingsley not ten minutes ago that something was happening to the wards there. Since then, I’ve been contacting everyone I could to get them prepared,” Dumbledore answered.

Harry nodded as his senses were catching back up with him. He did not have time to stand around chatting. “Well, I guess I’ll leave you to deal with things then,” Harry said.

“Thank you, Harry,” the Headmaster replied.

Harry nodded as he turned and exited. He closed the door behind him before springing down the stairs. He rushed into the first classroom he came across and headed for the windows. Harry reached out with his mind as he did so, calling Hedwig to him. Harry scanned the room until he found a spare bit of parchment and a quill and ink pot. He scribbled a hasty note to Ginny to let her know what happened and where he was. As he finished writing, Hedwig swooped into the room. He quickly tied the note to her leg and instructed her to take the letter to Ginny. With a hoot, Hedwig flew back out the window.

Harry transformed a second later and flew out the window behind his owl. He beat his wings hard to gain altitude and velocity. He landed a little ways outside the gates of Hogwarts and hastily changed his contacts to the brown ones, shortened his hair, and put a glamour over his scar. With that done, he threw off his robe and stuffed it into his trunk, then shrunk the trunk and slipped it into his pocket. He was gone a second later, with only a whisper left in the air from his Disapparation.

He appeared in Muggle London outside a worn down department store that bore a sign in the window letting shoppers know it was closed for refurbishment. Harry paid the sign no mind as he walked up to the window with the mannequin. He put his hand to the glass and found that it was still solid. He looked the dummy in the eye and hurriedly said, “I’m here to get rid of the Death Eaters.”

For a split second nothing happened. Harry was ready to start throwing blasting hexes until he forced his way into the hospital, but then the dummy beckoned him forward, permitting him to step through to the lobby of St. Mungo’s.

He looked around to try to find out where he needed to be, and he was struck by how tranquil everything seemed. ‘They must not have struck yet,’ Harry thought to himself as a feeling of relief washed over him. He blew out a long, steady breath as he considered what he should do.

Just then a loud bang reverberated throughout the already noisy room. Startled, everyone stopped to stare up at the ceiling as if expecting the source of the sound to materialise before their eyes. Harry knew that his time had just run out. While everyone else was still stationary, Harry rushed to the stairs and sped up them two – sometimes three – at a time. As he reached the first floor, he looked down the hall but did not see anything that would indicate the Death Eaters were there, so he kept climbing. When he reached the second floor, he saw them and had to duck out of the way of a curse heading in his direction.

Peeking back around the corner, Harry took a second to appraise his adversaries. There were about a dozen just in that corridor. Not seeing any better way to enter the fray, Harry stepped out from his hiding spot firing curses as quickly as he could manage them. Unfortunately, the Death Eaters were prepared for his assault. They had plenty of time to construct shields to block his volley of spells, and because there were so many of them, the others had time to start firing curses back, forcing Harry back behind the corner.

Harry shielded his head with his hands as the curses connected with the stairwell behind him, sending chunks of stone flying through the air. If the stairs took much more abuse, they would be in danger of crumbling, closing off his only escape route.

He had to get closer if he hoped to have any chance in this fight; there were just too many of them, and they were too far away for him to stand any chance of winning. The narrow corridor, however, made getting any nearer a difficult prospect. He snuck another quick glance around the corner and had to pull back as several Death Eaters unleashed a slew of curses that caused further destruction behind Harry.

Taking a deep breath, Harry readied himself. There was an open door a few metres down the hallway, and he was going to make a break for it. Forgoing secrecy, he leapt out into the corridor firing curses with both hands as he quickly ran and dove through the open doorway. He glanced around quickly and saw several patients looking at him in alarm. “Take cover, if you can,” he told them. “There are Death Eaters here.”

Harry did not wait to see if his words were heeded. He spied through the crack created by the hinges of the door and racked his brain for some sort of strategy. He needed some way to distract or immobilise the group of Death Eaters to give himself time to actually launch an attack. His mind quickly drifted back to his HA lessons. There was something hanging just on the edge of his consciousness if only he could remember it.

Then it hit him. He stepped out of the doorway firing curses with his wand hand while he shot a jet of oil at the crowd of Death Eaters with his left hand. It took them a moment to realise what was happening before one of them was able to block the stream of liquid. Harry had to roll back into the room at his side to avoid another slew of curses. He was able to just see a couple Death Eaters slip on the slick oil, pulling a couple of their comrades down with them.

A moment later, Harry rushed back out into the hallway firing curses. Unfortunately, several of the Death Eaters were ready for that, and one of them was clever enough to cast Colloportus on the door. The spell connected just a second after he had jumped out into the hallway.

As the sound of the slamming door reverberated in his ears, Harry knew he was in trouble. He had no time to reflect on his fate, however, for there was a stream of curses headed his way. One of the cloaked figures Vanished the oil on the ground as the others held their attentions on Harry. Harry was able to block and avoid several spells, but he was soon barraged by hexes as the few Death Eaters who had fallen victim to his oil spell were regaining their bearings.

Mixed in among the torrent of spells was a sickly green colour that Harry knew all too well. As he ducked out of the way of a Killing Curse, Harry had no choice but to enter into the path of another spell. His shield could not withstand the force of the spell, but it deflected the curse enough that it impacted his shoulder instead of his chest.

Harry released a grunt of pain as he was knocked back several steps. He felt a terrible wrenching on his arm at the shoulder and found that he could not move his left arm. The force of the spell had broken Harry’s concentration, and he was quickly impacted by two more spells. The first left a gash along his torso. The second spell, however, left Harry on the ground writhing in agony.

The volley of curses ceased, but Harry was unable to notice. He was too consumed by the interminable pain assailing every inch of his body. It was impossible to pin down the pain or even understand it. It was stabbing, biting, piercing, stinging, pinching, burning, tearing, bludgeoning – every type of pain you could ever experience.

Then, suddenly, it was gone. In its place set in a deep, dull ache pounding throughout his entire body. His respite was brief, however, as the pain returned in full force, drawing a ravaged cry from his throat. What seemed an eternity passed, but the pain again disappeared, only to start up again a few moments later. When the pain again stopped, Harry dimly thought he could hear voices and laughter, but he was unable to concentrate on the sounds.

Through the ache in his body and mind, Harry began to wonder if this was the end for him. A sudden fear overtook him. There was still so much he had to accomplish. He had only really just begun to train, to fight, and to make a difference. It was his destiny – his duty – to defeat Voldemort. What would become of the world with him no longer there to put a stop to him?

Ginny.

He never got the opportunity to say goodbye, and he would never get to see her again. And what was worse, what would her life be like, constantly fighting and hiding? That was a sobering thought, and he latched onto it as he struggled back to awareness. He had to fight, to survive this, for Ginny. Harry blearily looked around, taking in his surroundings for the first time to find a small crowd of Death Eaters standing around him talking and laughing. He focused on their voices to find that they were arguing over who was to curse Harry next – and who would get the pleasure of killing him.

As the decision was made, one of the masked figures trained his wand on Harry while the others watched and waited eagerly. Everything appeared to Harry as if it was happening at half-speed. As the man began moving his wand, Harry lifted his right hand up with some effort, extending it toward his impending attacker. The Death Eaters all laughed and jeered at what they took as a plea for mercy. The laughter ceased, however, when a deep red jet of light flew from Harry’s palm and threw the Death Eater into the wall. The man slumped down to the ground unconscious.

The spell left Harry feeling drained of all energy, and he idly wondered if he had the strength to make it through the night – but he had to try. The other Death Eaters were momentarily stunned, giving Harry just enough time to strike again before his target was able to shield himself.

His third target was able to construct a shield just in time to catch Harry’s curse. The force of the spell was enough to send the man stumbling back into the wall, but he was still conscious, albeit dazed. By the time Harry turned to the next Death Eater, the man’s wand was already in motion.

Avada keda…

A bright light illuminated the man from behind as his voice broke off, and he fell sideways to the ground. The two Death Eaters still crowded around Harry turned their attentions down the hallway, giving Harry the opportunity to strike. He wearily cast a Stunner at one man and kicked out his leg at the knee of the other. The first was knocked out instantly, while Harry’s kick sent the other stumbling into another spell. Harry turned back to where he had last left the dazed Death Eater to find that he had already been incapacitated.

He lifted his head just enough to see his saviour, then let his head fall heavily back to the ground. He might just make it yet.

******

Remus warily walked down the body-laden hallway, peeking into doors and windows for any possible threats as he made his way to Jim. He turned back to his comrades and said, “It looks clear.”

He took two more steps forward then knelt down next to the young man. “Are you all right?” he asked with some concern. As he said it, he realised what a stupid question it was. He looked absolutely horrible.

“Splendid,” the boy replied with a deep grimace. “Good to see you again.”

Remus could not help the tug at the corner of his lips. If he still had a sense of humour, that could only be a good sign. “Likewise. I only wish we could meet under better circumstances.” He looked around briefly and saw that Tonks and her partner, Ben, were searching all the rooms. Looking back down, he asked, “Where are you hurt?”

“Everywhere,” Jim replied tightly. “Cruciatus will do that to you.” Remus nodded solemnly as Jim added, “But I can’t move my left arm.”

“You’ve got a gash across your chest as well,” Remus commented offhandedly.

“Huh?” Jim replied, trying to lift his head to look at his chest. Remus briefly wondered how he could have failed to notice the wound, but the Cruciatus Curse was enough to make you forget anything.

“That I can heal easily,” Remus said. He tore open Jim’s shirt a bit as if to get better access to the wound and confirmed his suspicion: he bore no scar. Not wasting any more time, Remus held his wand over the wound. It was just a short minute before Jim’s chest was looking as good as new. “Now,” he said once he had finished, “let’s take a look at that arm.” He looked more closely and quickly realised what was wrong. “It looks like your arm was pulled out of its socket. I could probably fix it, but Tonks has more healer training than I do. Hold on one second.”

Remus stood up and began looking for Tonks, allowing his mind a moment to ponder his latest discovery. Unfortunately for his troubled mind, it took just a minute to find her. “Tonks, I need your help,” he called, walking into the room. “His arm’s been torn from its socket, and I don’t want to risk making it worse.”

“We are in a hospital, you know, Remus,” Tonks replied. “Shouldn’t we just take him to a healer?”

“I thought they were trying to evacuate everyone?” Remus retorted. “Besides, if we get him patched up ourselves, it could prove to be beneficial.”

“Beneficial?” she asked skeptically.

Remus had only spoken of Jim with Tonks very shortly. She was not very impressed by the boy’s attitude at their last meeting, and Remus felt he needed to learn more before he shared his suspicions of his real identity. “You know how badly Dumbledore wants to know more about him,” he replied. “If we can earn his trust, we might be able to learn more about him, possibly even earn an ally.”

“All right, all right,” Tonks said, her shoulders drooping ever so slightly. “You win. Let’s go heal him up.”

Remus smiled and followed Tonks out of the room, kneeling on Jim’s right said as he explained, “It’s his left arm.”

Tonks nodded and crouched down on his other side. “Do you know what you were hit with?” she asked briskly.

Jim’s head shook fractionally. “No. There were too many of them, and it all happened so fast. I managed to get a shield up, but it wasn’t enough to stop it.”

“Okay, let’s see what we’re working with then,” Tonks said as she carefully took his arm into her hands.

Remus was glad to see that she was being as gentle as she could be. He watched as Jim winced at the contact, but the boy made no noise of pain or protest. Still holding onto his arm with one hand, Tonks waved her arm over his shoulder and arm. A soft blue light covered the tip of her wand as she ran her diagnostic spells. A minute later, Tonks looked up at Remus before focusing on Jim’s face. “Aside from your dislocated shoulder, you’ve got a couple fractures as well. I should be able to heal it all unless you’d rather wait for a healer.”

“No,” Jim replied. “Go ahead, I trust you.”

Remus smiled at Tonks briefly, and she rolled her eyes at him. She then muttered a few spells over Jim’s shoulder, and in a couple of minutes announced, “There, that should do it. You’ll want to try to keep from doing anything too strenuous with it for a bit, but other than that, you’re as good as new.”

“Thanks,” Jim replied. As he began to wearily sit up, Remus reached an arm around his back to help him. “Thank you,” he said, looking straight into Remus’s eyes. There was something in his eyes, something familiar to Remus. He almost expected to see Harry’s green eyes staring back at him; instead, he found Jim’s brown eyes.

“Is this all of them?” Jim asked, looking around.

“I don’t know,” Remus replied. “When we saw you here, we separated from the rest of our group. They could still be fighting elsewhere.”

“Well, then what are we still doing here?” Putting his right hand on the ground, Jim began to hoist himself up. Remus moved forward to give him a hand, but the boy managed it on his own.

He looked a bit unsteady on his feet at first, but he was quickly regaining his balance.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” Remus inquired in concern. “You said you were put under the Cruciatus Curse.”

“It wasn’t the first time,” Jim succinctly retorted.

Remus felt himself at a loss. “Well, at least stay with us. We’ll all be safer if we stick together.”

Jim seemed to consider it for a moment before nodding his head. “All right. How well have you searched this floor?”

“Just this corridor,” Ben’s voice called from several metres off, walking back to the group. “Several of the rooms are destroyed, and the only Death Eaters are the ones on the ground.”

“Shall we head further down to clear the floor?” Remus asked.

“We should do something with these Death Eaters first,” Jim interrupted, sweeping his hand over the array of scattered bodies. “Do any of you know how to put up anti-portkey wards?”

Remus nodded his head. “Yes, but wouldn’t it just be easier to take their portkeys?”

Jim shook his head. “I tried summoning them the last time we met, remember? They’ve found some way around that.”

“We should put them all together in one of the rooms,” Ben input. “That one’s empty,” he said, pointing to an open door further down the hall.

“Bind them and break their wands, too,” Jim said. “It never hurts to be thorough.”

Remus nodded his head as they all set to work. It took only a couple minutes to round everyone up. They piled them all into a corner of the room. Tonks asked him if he wanted help, but he shook his head. The area was small enough that it should not be too draining to manage. It took several more minutes to construct the wards. They were not his best work and would not last more than a day, two at most, but they should suffice.

After he had finished, they gathered outside in the corridor. “Well, shall we search the rest of the floor?” Remus asked.

Tonks nodded at him. “Ben and I will take point; you two cover us,” she directed before nodding at her partner and moving forward.

Remus glanced at Jim. He seemed unhappy to be given orders but thankfully did not object. He turned to look at Remus and nodded as he began walking after the two Aurors.

Remus walked hurriedly until he fell in step beside Jim. “How did you know to be here?” he whispered curiously.

Jim looked at him levelly. “I have my sources.”

Remus wondered what possible source a boy his age could have. For an average person, the only possibility Remus could fathom was either an Order member or a Death Eater – and it would most likely have to be a member of the inner circle at that. If it was Harry, though – what had Dumbledore told them last week? Harry thought he was able to witness what Voldemort was doing without Voldemort being aware of his presence. That would be the ultimate source.

They walked on in silence for a few minutes as Tonks and Ben searched each room they passed for any signs of Death Eaters. Then, Jim broke Remus from his thoughts. “I’m sorry for being short with you – last time, that is.”

Remus raised an eyebrow at the apology even as he replied, “Don’t worry about it.” It surprised him to hear Jim apologizing for his behaviour. He had been short with them, yes, but he had also just saved their lives and nearly killed himself doing it. He just could not imagine a complete stranger dwelling on something like that, especially given the situation they had been in. “We were all stressed. It happens.”

Jim nodded and turned forward. Remus followed suit, walking on, lost in his thoughts. He racked his brain trying to think of some way to learn more about Jim, to either confirm or disprove his suspicions – to try to get him to slip up and reveal something about his identity. Then, he thought of something. “Do you always work alone?”

Jim stopped walking as the two Aurors turned into a room. “Yeah, why?”

“Just curious, is all,” Remus answered nonchalantly. That eliminated the twin theory, unless he was lying, but Remus did not think so. The way Jim responded, he sounded surprised to be asked the question. He was either being honest, or he was an incredible actor. “I should tell you, we’ve wondered a lot about you for several months now. We’ve been trying to figure out just who you are and what it is you’re fighting for. I hope you don’t take offence at that,” Remus added as he saw the look on Jim’s face. “But we’re in the middle of a war, and we needed to be sure of where you stood.”

There was silence for a long moment before they began walking again. “And what did you find out?” Jim asked in what Remus interpreted as a forced calm.

“Next to nothing,” Remus replied with a wry grin. “Except…” he trailed off.

“Except what?” Jim asked apprehensively.

“Well, we believe you are a panther Animagus,” Remus told him boldly. He noticed Jim’s eyes widen momentarily before he schooled his features.

“Oh? What makes you think that?” Jim’s voice was unnaturally devoid of any emotion.

“Ginny Weasley,” Remus replied. “You saved her life over the summer in Diagon Alley.” He smiled at Jim as he added, “You know, it’s funny, but you’re the second person I’ve met to have that form.”

“Really?” Jim asked.

They both stopped as the two Aurors entered another room. Remus turned to face Jim fully and took the opportunity to study his features closely. The eyes and hair were both different, and the lack of a scar helped obscure his identity, but there was no doubt left in his mind. “Awful coincidence, don’t you think, Harry?”

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