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Free Life Posted on 8/16/2014 1:03:46 AM
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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 9: Happy Anniversary: A Halloween Party
As the week passed by, a growing feeling of dread began to fester in Harry’s stomach, and he thought he might know why. He voiced his concerns to the Headmaster during their weekly Occlumency lesson. “I think Voldemort is up to something. I think it’s going to be starting…tomorrow.”

Dumbledore sighed heavily, the twinkle noticeably absent from his eyes. “I had wondered….It would make sense that he publicly announce his return on the 15th anniversary of his supposed downfall. Have you had a vision?”

“No,” Harry replied, shaking his head wearily. “Not a vision or anything. And I can’t say my scar has been bothering me much more than usual either. It’s just a gut feeling, like I know something bad is coming.”

Dumbledore nodded, his fingers steepled in front of his face. “The Order will be on full alert tomorrow, but I’m afraid that as of right now we have no leads as to what he may be planning,” he revealed.

“It’s going to get ugly pretty quickly, isn’t it?” Harry asked trepidly, knowing the answer even as he voiced the question.

“I’m afraid so,” Dumbledore admitted. “In the height of the last war, there were attacks almost daily. Once this war starts in earnest, I’m afraid it will most likely escalate back to that level rather quickly. The Ministry, while they have admitted his return, have taken his silence as a sign that he is nowhere near his former power. They are not prepared for a full scale war.”

Harry nodded. “I was afraid of that. Fudge really is a bumbling idiot. We need someone more competent in his position before things get too far out of hand.”

“Cornelius is not an ideal choice for Minister,” he agreed, “but removing him from office could potentially be disastrous. There are many who could do a much better job, but we could not guarantee that one of those candidates would get the position. Indeed, someone much worse could fill the vacancy. It’s not as simple as just getting rid of Fudge. But anyway, enough about that,” he suddenly shifted gears. “Let’s get on with your lesson, shall we?”

The feeling got worse the next day, and Harry would be damned if he was going to sit around and do nothing. Harry told Ginny about the feeling he had and his conversation with Dumbledore the night before. When Harry told her that he didn’t plan to just sit and wait at the castle, she immediately began to worry.

“But Harry, what do you plan to do?” she asked him, pacing back and forth in front of the fireplace in his office. “You don’t know where he’s going to attack. And even if you did, you can’t go alone.”

“I don’t know,” Harry admitted. “I just wish there was some way I could find out what the Order was up to. Dumbledore said they’d be on full alert, so they must have people keeping eyes out in places they expect Voldemort might attack.”

“If you could somehow sneak into Headquarters you probably could. Any news is bound to go through there,” Ginny mused.

Harry’s eyes lit up. “Ginny, you’re brilliant!” he exclaimed.

“How’s that?” she asked in a mixture of confusion and amusement.

“Grimmauld Place,” Harry explained as if it were obvious. “All I have to do is wait around there and listen for any news.”

Ginny stared at him as if he was stupid. “How do you plan on doing that? First of all you’d have to get inside, and you can’t apparate directly into it. Secondly, don’t you think someone would notice you hanging around?”

Harry gave her a smirk that clearly told her that he knew something she didn’t. “I think it’s time I let you in on another of my secrets.” She cocked an eyebrow up so high that it almost disappeared past her hairline. Never much a man of words, Harry let his transformation speak for itself. Where he once stood, a black owl appeared. He flapped his wings to bring himself up to her eye level and green eyes met brown.

“Harry?” she asked disbelievingly. “But…what…how?” She shook herself. “I thought you were a panther.” It was said almost accusingly.

Harry changed back to human form. “I am a panther,” he said, and a moment later a black panther with the same green eyes was staring back at her.

Ginny swayed on her feet. Harry was back in human form and guiding her into a chair in an instant. “Easy there, Gin. You don’t look so hot.”

“How is this possible?” she asked more to herself than Harry. “How do you have two forms? It’s not supposed to be possible. Everyone knows that.”

“I don’t know,” Harry replied honestly. “I was as stumped as you are. When I took the potion, I had two different visions, one of a panther, the other an owl. And I was able to transform into both.”

“I always wondered…” she trailed off. “You were there on my birthday. I should have known. Your eyes were the same. They never change. From human to panther to owl, they’re always the same. And you’re the one that was out flying with Hedwig.”

“Yep,” Harry laughed. “You have no idea how much I laughed when you first suggested that I keep an eye on Hedwig and her new friend. Then when Hermione was going on about their flying being some sort of mating ritual….” Harry couldn’t go on as laughter overtook him.

Ginny joined in. “Oh…my…god…” she choked out in gasps.

“I know,” he replied once his own laughter began to die down.

When she finally managed to get herself under control she asked, “So what’s your plan then?”

Harry thought quickly. “Have you written to your mum about your new dress robes yet?”

She shook her head. “No, I’ve been meaning to, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

“Good,” he replied. “She’s the most likely to actually be at Grimmauld Place. You write her a letter, and I’ll deliver it tonight. Then I’ll stick around and wait to find out if and where the Death Eaters attack. Then I can leave and apparate to the spot.”

Ginny’s face took on a worried expression. “But Harry, why not just let the Order handle it?”

“I can’t just sit back and do nothing, Ginny,” Harry protested passionately. “This is my war too. And I intend to be a part of it.”

“I’m just worried about you,” Ginny admitted, standing up. “No one else knows you’ll even be out there. What if something happens to you? What am I supposed to do while you’re gone? What if you don’t come back? What’ll I do then?”

Harry could clearly see that Ginny was beginning to panic. She had begun pacing back and forth again. He strode toward her and grasped both shoulders, forcing her to face him. “Ginny, it’s alright. I’ll be fine, trust me. I’ve been training hard since the start of summer. I can help. I need to help. I promise I’ll come back. I’ll let you know as soon as I do get back so that you don’t have to worry about me all night.”

Ginny threw her arms around Harry, and he instinctively pulled her into himself. “How can you be so calm?”

Harry shrugged in their embrace. “Maybe it would make you feel better if you saw me in action,” Harry half asked. “We can go to the Room of Requirement, and I can show you a little demonstration of the kind of training I’ve been doing.” Ginny just nodded against his shoulder.

They held each other for another long moment before separating. Harry noticed that Ginny’s eyes were sparkling with unshed tears. He hoped that he could allay some of her fears. Ginny took a moment to compose herself, then the two of them headed for the seventh floor. There was only about fifteen minutes left until the start of lunch, so it would have to be a short demonstration, not that Harry minded. He didn’t want to over exert himself. He was looking to have a long night ahead of him.

When they reached the portrait of Barnabus the Barmy, Harry paced back and forth three times thinking of his usual training room and dummies. He opened the door and ushered Ginny inside. He cast his usual locking and privacy spells on the door before leading her over to the dummies. He briefly explained to her what the dummies were and what he was going to do with them, then sent her over to a corner that was marked off. The training dummies would not pass into that area.

Harry set two of the dummies up at auror level and taught them several standard spells. The first five minutes he spent mostly dodging and blocking spells. After that, he launched into the offensive, and both dummies were down within two minutes. Ginny was staring dumbfounded at him as he walked over to her.

“Where did you learn to do that?” she asked him.

“I told you I’ve been practicing,” he pointed out.

“Well yeah,” she admitted, “but I figured you were just practicing new spells or something along the lines of what we do in HA. That was incredible.” There was awe in her voice which oddly made Harry feel distinctly proud.

“Thank you,” he said genuinely. “Now do you feel a little better about what I need to do tonight?”

She nodded absently then added verbally, “But I still don’t like it. And I better hear from you the moment you get back, or I’ll bat bogey you back to Merlin’s time.”

“Deal,” Harry immediately agreed.

They sat next to each other at lunch and both unconsciously sought the other after their classes that afternoon. They spent most of their time in companionable silence, just drawing comfort from the other’s presence. Ginny wrote her note to her mum just before dinner. The usual Halloween feast was served to them at dinner time, but Harry and Ginny were both subdued. Considering that Harry lost his parents on Halloween, his behavior was not seen as anything abnormal. After dinner, Ginny made the announcement that she was headed for the owlery. Harry claimed that he had a lot of work to attend to in his office.

Once Harry made it to his office, he shortened his hair, turned it brown, and put a glamour over his scar. He put in his color contacts, changing his eyes to brown as well. He also changed out of his Hogwarts robes, wearing a simple muggle outfit: dark blue jeans and a black form-fitting t-shirt. He threw his invisibility cloak over himself and made his way to the owlery. When he arrived, Ginny was alone. He took off his cloak, and she was startled with what she saw.

“It’s me,” he explained simply.

She nodded absently. “How did you…never mind,” she said shaking her head. “I’ll ask later. Just change into an owl, so we can get you out of here.”

Harry complied. He alighted on her outstretched arm and allowed her to tie the letter to his leg. She gave his feathers a few strokes and whispered “Be careful.” He hooted in reply and gently nibbled on one of her fingers in an attempt to mimic one of Hedwig’s affectionate nips. She giggled at the action, greatly lightening the mood. They locked eyes for a moment just before he took off. He soared through the window directly in front of her and flew out into the open sky. His owl senses were telling him exactly which way he needed to go to find his target. Ginny didn’t move until she could no longer see the black speck that was Harry. With a sigh, she headed down to the Gryffindor common room, where she would spend a long, restless evening waiting for Harry’s return.

Harry, meanwhile, was enjoying his flight. Flying always cheered him up, but he knew it would be foolish to try to fly the entire way. Not only would it tire him out, but it might end up taking him too long. During his flight he had an idea. He was weary about showing off his wandless magic in public, even if he was doing it in disguise. It would just raise too many questions if anyone were to see him at it. He needed a way to hide his ability. But he couldn’t use his wand because it could be tracked back to him. After about an hour of easy going flight, Harry landed in a clump of trees, reverted to human form, and grabbed a stick off the ground. He transfigured the stick slightly to resemble a wand, then replaced it for his real wand in his holster. He took out his trunk and stored his real wand inside. He then apparated to Grimmauld Place, London. He moved to a nearby alleyway and changed back to an owl hoping nobody noticed his presence.

Harry was sincerely glad when his senses told him that his quarry was nearby. He had apparently judged the situation correctly. Mrs. Weasley was currently at Headquarters. He was wary of delivering his message right away, however. He needed to be around when the Death Eaters began attacking, assuming that they did in fact launch their attack today. But he didn’t think that it would be happening quite this early. The sun had only just set. But he wasn’t about to wander away just in case something did happen. So he settled for perching in a tree within sight of the house, hoping that he would be able to tell if activity within the building suddenly picked up.

Harry waited for quite some time before he decided that it was probably safe to deliver his message. It had to be past 9:00 at this point. He could give her the letter, then find an out of the way place to perch to observe the goings on in the house. Harry swooped out of the tree and down through the open window leading him into the kitchen, where he expected Mrs. Weasley to be, and where an owl would be expected to deliver a letter.

Mrs. Weasley was momentarily startled when the black bird flew through the window. She clutched her chest with her left hand, while her right had immediately gone for her wand. When she realized it was only an owl, she scowled at her reaction. Granted, she did have plenty reason to be a little wound up that evening. If their estimations were correct, there would be some sort of large scale Death Eater attack happening within the next couple of hours, and she had several family members that would most likely be in the thick of it. Luckily none of the other occupants of the room seemed entirely concerned with her reaction. They were all a bit jumpy.

In the room were several members of the Order that Harry recognized. Tonks and Remus were sitting next to each other at the table. Every so often they would speak to one another in hushed tones. Emmeline Vance was also sitting at the table across from Hestia Jones. The two were mostly quiet, but would catch each other’s eyes every once in awhile. Dedalus Diggle and Elphias Doge were the only other two occupants of the room.

Mrs. Weasley shook her head and approached the owl that had landed on the back of one of the chairs at the table, holding its leg out to her with a note attached. She reached out to untie the letter, then turned her body away as she peered down at the envelope. Harry took her moment of distraction to fly up into a corner of the room on top of a cabinet, which left him shrouded in shadow. He hoped that nobody else was paying attention to his presence. His black feathers ought to blend right in; it was only his eyes that he was worried might give him away. So Harry closed his eyes as he waited somewhat impatiently for some news.

Mrs. Weasley, meanwhile, was turning the envelope over in her hands unsure if she wanted to read it right away or save it for later. On the one hand, it would be nice to read what her daughter had to say. It wasn’t all that often that she received owls from any of her children, much to her chagrin, but she cherished each letter that was sent. She had no doubt she would love to hear what Ginny had to say. On the other hand, she was incredibly distracted at the moment with everything going on that night, and she wasn’t sure now was really the time to be reading the letter. Perhaps it would be better to save it for later.

She was still absorbed in her thoughts, absently fumbling with the envelope, when the fire turned green, and a disembodied head appeared in the fire. “Diagon Alley!” it shouted. Harry’s eyes shot open at the sudden sound, as everybody else shot out of their chairs. “It looks like a full assault. We need all the backup we can get.” The voice sounded somewhat frantic.

“Right, you heard the man,” Lupin took over. “Everyone grab hold of the tea kettle.” Everyone did as he ordered, except Molly Weasley, who was, as he guessed, remaining behind. Remus took a moment to look into all their faces before he said, “Activate.” There were several items left out of place on the table, Harry noticed, as he surveyed the room. They must have had several different portkeys set up for all the obvious places where an attack might take place. In a flash, Mrs. Weasley found herself alone in the room.

Harry was just about to launch himself out the window when the fire erupted in green sparks again and a different voice shouted. Only this time the voice shouted a different location entirely. “Hogsmeade! Over a dozen Death Eater’s just apparated in from what we can see. We need back up as soon as possible.”

Molly once again found herself clutching her chest. “No,” she said simple, resignedly. “They all left. Diagon Alley…a full assault.”

“Shit!” the voice announced, then disappeared entirely. Harry didn’t stick around to hear any more. He was already zooming out of the window. He flew a bit away from the house into another alley, reverted back to human form, and apparated to the outskirts of Hogsmeade, as he had done so often the previous summer.

When he arrived, Harry was ever so grateful for his ability to muffle the popping sound most people make when apparating. Standing about twenty feet in front of him was a line of six Death Eaters beginning to stalk their way into the town. None of them heard Harry arrive behind them. Harry could already see the lights of wandfire going off in the distance.

He slipped his fake wand out of his holster and prepared to assault the unsuspecting Death Eaters, who were still marching forward into the town. Harry crept a bit closer, careful not to make too much noise. He held his left hand out, palm extended, and pointed his fake wand forward with his right. He fired off two stunners simultaneously, taking down two of the six Death Eaters. Before the red lights even reached their targets, he had sent another two sets of the red light.

As soon as the first two Death Eaters fell, the other four reacted instantly. One was too slow to dodge the red beam of light before it struck him in the chest as he turned around. The other three all spun around a little more quickly, and the other Death Eater he had aimed at was just able to get a shield up in time to deflect the light.

Harry swore under his breath. Now that they were facing him, he would be constrained to only using his wand arm to cast spells, lest he give away his abilities. The two black clad figures who were not busy shielding themselves each shot a spell towards Harry. He rolled to the side to avoid the wandfire, firing off three stunners in rapid succession as he did so. He sent all three at the same target. The first shot was a little wide to the left, the next two were dead on, however. Either the Death Eater didn’t see the third spell, or he was unable to hold his shield in place for it. After he managed to block the second stunner, the third one caught his shoulder, and another Death Eater was down.

Harry, meanwhile, was scrambling to avoid the bursts of light being shot at him from his other two opponents. He sprung out of his roll fluidly and was able to dodge the first spell to reach him, a deep blue light. He threw up a shield to block the yellow light that was due to hit him. Harry was glad that the shield was able to block it because he had no idea what spell it was. He spun out of the way of another spell, a red one, and fired back a flurry of his own spells at his enemies.

As Harry ducked out of the way of another spell, several spells quickly closed the distance to their single intended target. All of them were right on the mark. The Death Eater threw up a shield and stood confidently as the spells began to deflect back. The first two spells were both red and were deflected harmlessly away from the man. The third spell, however, was a dark purple color. When it struck the shield, it did so with a force that jarred the man slightly, making his wand arm slip. The fourth spell cleaved through the dissipating shield and struck the Death Eater, sending him flying into the wall of the building behind him and rendering him unconscious.

With only one opponent remaining, Harry had little trouble avoiding the spells flying in his direction. He quickly closed some of the distance between himself and his enemy as he began flinging out stunners with reckless abandon. The man didn’t stand a chance. When he too fell to one of Harry’s stunners, Harry summoned all their wands to him. He snapped each one individually.

His next course of action was to summon any portkeys they may have been wearing. Harry was careful not to touch them as six portkeys zoomed towards him. Instead, he vanished the lot of them. He then bound each Death Eater and moved them into an alley. He set up a quick and simple illusion charm followed by a confundus charm to keep anyone from noticing the bodies there.

With that accomplished, Harry set off into a brisk jog into town. He could still see some wandfire in the distance, so he knew that this battle was not over yet. The streets were shrouded in darkness, hardly any light to guide his way. No lights were on in any of the houses that he passed. The town looked eerily deserted. Harry changed into his panther form to cover the distance more quickly.

Within a couple of minutes, Harry could see what all the commotion was about. Barricaded against the front wall of the Three Broomsticks were Kingsley Shacklebolt, Mad-Eye Moody, and Minerva McGonagall. They were holding off Death Eaters attacking them from all sides but were having little luck doing anything more than just surviving. They could hardly get any spells off without taking a hit, and when they did, they hardly ever hit their mark. The Death Eaters had them cornered.

And while that was going on, Harry could see random Death Eaters in the streets knocking in walls and starting fires. It appears that Mrs. Weasley wasn’t able to summon much help for Hogsmeade. Harry began with the Death Eaters causing damage, separated from the main group. He was hoping that he could eliminate each threat without drawing any attention to his presence.

He began with the Death Eater furthest away. He was easy to dispatch, not really paying much attention to his surroundings as he tried to cause as much destruction as possible. Harry snapped his wand, vanished his portkey, and tied him up, leaving him in another alley. He didn’t bother with any illusions this time.

He came upon a pair of Death Eaters next and knew that he would have to strike them both at the same time if he wanted to remain incognito. Even just a second delay could give the second man enough time to call for assistance. One man was casting reducto into a building, while the other was casting flame spells to light it on fire. Harry could see that this seemed to be a trend as he looked further down the street to see walls banged in and a blaze that was starting to spread.

Harry crept as close as he felt comfortable doing and sent out twin stunners to take out the pair. He repeated his same process of snapping wands, vanishing portkeys, and tying up his victims. He left them in the alley between the last two houses they were attempting to destroy. Harry took down two more Death Eaters before he made his way back to the group.

There had to be at least fifteen Death Eaters surrounding the three Order members. Harry studied the battle for a minute, trying to come up with some plan of attack. He didn’t know how the Order would react to his presence. He was unknown to them. He assumed that they would continue to concentrate on the Death Eaters once they noticed that he was on their side. He continued to watch and noticed that only Kingsley and McGonagall seemed to be firing back now. Was Moody down?

He wished they hadn’t spread out so much. This was going to be a difficult battle. He crept around to the back of the Three Broomsticks and decided to attack from the alley way and work his way around. He didn’t want to start by attacking the middle of the Death Eaters’ formation, only to have to defend from both sides from the onset. If he could keep all the Death Eaters in front of him, he might just be able to do this.

Harry wasn’t holding any punches this time around. He couldn’t risk allowing anybody to reenter the fight with a simple ennervate. So he didn’t cast a simple stupefy to stun his opponents this time around. He had been practicing a more powerful stunner for a few weeks now. It was time to see how everbero worked in real live action.

As he raised his fake wand from the alleyway, he pointed it at his second target. His left hand was held out toward his first one. Harry pushed out with his magic and two deep red lights shot out into the battlefield. When the first man was hit, he was lifted bodily off the ground and thrown several feet through the air. As luck would have it, he was thrown directly into another Death Eater. The second target sailed into the wall of the building across the street and slumped to the ground. All attention turned toward Harry as he stepped out from the shadows.

“Is this a private party? Or can anyone join in?” Harry asked loudly. That was when all hell broke loose.

In the distraction that his presence caused, the two remaining Order members were able to stun two of the Death Eaters. Harry, in the meantime, was doing away with all pretenses and holding up a shield with his left hand as he fired spells with his fake wand. A few of the Death Eaters remembered themselves and went back to firing at the Order members, while about ten black robed figures focused on Harry.

Harry began firing everbero at anything that moved. Most were able to construct a strong enough shield in time to block the spell. He did notice that one Death Eater was not so lucky. He too was thrown clear across the field of battle. Harry was a constant flurry of motion. He never stopped, lest he end up in harms way. There were not just stunners and minor hexes headed his way, and he was not confident that his shield would be able to block everything.

Harry paid special attention to the colors of the spells flying in his direction. Anything resembling the green of the killing curse or the brownish-orange of crucio, he avoided at all costs, even if that meant walking into another colored spell. He would just have to hope that his shield would be enough. Harry continued to fire at his attackers, but he was gaining little ground. With so many of them, he was hard pressed to knock any of them out of the fight.

When one stopped attacking to throw up a shield, there were still nine or ten others bombarding Harry with spells. He knew that he would have to find some way to begin evening out the numbers. The only question was: how? The problem was that all of the Death Eaters were able to conjure a shield in time to block his attacks. He couldn’t continue to give them the time to do so because he would quickly become exhausted in a fight like this.

Some people might have called his next move suicidal, but to Harry, it was the only way he saw to win this battle. Rather than keep his distance from the Death Eaters, Harry charged them. He continued to hold up his shield against the onslaught of spells, while avoiding any particularly dangerously colored spells, but he was beginning to grow weary. He knew that he would not be able to hold up his shield much longer, which made it all the more important to end this fight quickly.

With his closer proximity, Harry began scoring hits against his opponents. He managed to catch one with his powerful stunner and another with a cutting curse across his wand arm. An unexpected advantage of his new tactic, was that the Death Eaters now had to be careful with their own spells, lest they hit their comrades. The green lights stopped entirely, and the orange lights were now few and far between. Harry managed to stun two more Death Eaters with everbero before he knew he had to drop his shield.

Kingsley and Minerva were only being covered by a handful of Death Eaters now, so they weren’t as limited in their actions as they had been. The Death Eaters did keep a continuous stream of spells coming their way, but they were able to peek out and send several spells of their own. Kingsley managed to stun one of their attackers thanks to McGonagall’s skillful Transfiguration work. She transfigured a rock into a cat which she sent out to distract her opponents, leaving Kingsley open to stun the Death Eater as the cat clawed at his legs. They didn’t have any idea who it was that had come to their rescue, nor did they have much time or energy to spare to see how he was doing. They could only hope that he could hold them off long enough for them to dispatch their own enemies.

Harry was down to six opponents when he finally had to drop his shields, and one of them was injured on his wand arm. Harry was exhausted already, but he could not allow himself to slow down. He couldn’t stop moving, especially now that his shield was no longer there to protect him. He rolled out of the way of a purple light, and shot an everbero at one of the Death Eaters as he jumped back up to his feet, bringing their number down to five.

He dove out of the way of a yellowish curse, casting a stunner on his way down. Four remaining. He rolled over to avoid another flash of light, but he was a little too slow. The curse connected with his left shoulder and sliced down almost to his elbow. Harry let out a scream of pain, but he shot back up to his feet and ignored it as best he could. He shot out another everbero toward the Death Eater who just struck him. The man tried to erect a shield to block it, but Harry was angry. And his spell reflected that anger. The red spell cleaved the shield in two and struck the Death Eater in the chest. It was with slightly less force, but enough to knock him out. Only three left.

Harry rolled out of the way of an orange spell. Unfortunately the action caused him to roll temporarily onto his injured arm. He had to bite back the groan of pain as he continued moving, avoiding a yellowish spell. The action pushed him right into another spell, however. Another gash appeared just below his knee on the back of his leg, stretching down his calf. Another howl of pain and rage escaped his lips as he let out a bludgeoning curse toward the offender. His shield didn’t make it up in time to block or otherwise lessen the blow. The man was rocketed out of sight. Only two left to dispatch.

McGonagall and Kingsley tried the same tactic to distract their next target, but he was prepared for them. He shot a reductor at the cat as soon as it drew close enough to him and was able to recover in time to block Kingsley’s stunner. Not one to be dissuaded, Minerva McGonagall transfigured three cats and sent them all out. This proved to be too much for the man, and he too fell to Kingsley’s stunner. They repeated this tactic again to take out another Death Eater.

With only two Death Eaters left covering their position, they risked going on the offensive. Kingsley was able to quickly down his opponent, while McGonagall dueled her own enemy. Once Kingsley finished off his own Death Eater, Minerva’s didn’t last long against two opponents. The two Order members turned toward their mysterious savior to see him take a cutting curse to the back of his leg and the resulting bludgeoning curse that sent his attacker flying through the sky.

The two quickly rushed to his aid, managing to down one of the remaining attackers. The last Death Eater seemed to realize that he was the only one left, for he stopped his attack. Instead, he reached inside his cloak and screamed out “Activate.” The field that was littered with Death Eaters was now empty but for the two Order members standing ten feet off from the stranger.

“Shit!” Harry eloquently screamed in frustration. He dropped to his knees and punched the ground. Then he seemed to remember his injuries for he clutched his left arm with his right hand, while his left hand went to his right leg.

“Easy there,” Minerva soothed, stepping towards him. “Looks like you got cut up there a bit. Let us take a look at that for you.”

Harry’s head snapped up and he seemed to notice their close proximity for the first time. “There are about ten Death Eaters hidden in alleyways throughout the town. I vanished their portkeys, so they should still be there. I need to go,” he told them as he rose shakily to his feet.

McGonagall stepped closer to him and held out her hand in a calming gesture. “Wait. You’re in no condition to go running off on your own. Let us take a look at your injuries first. We owe you at least that much for saving us back there. Where did you learn to fight like that?”

“I’m sorry,” Harry said, shaking his head. “But I need to go. I’m glad you’re alright.” He disapparated with a crack.

He reappeared back at his regular apparation point on the outskirts of Hogsmeade. He held his right hand over his left shoulder and began healing his arm. The only thing he had ever healed before were small cuts, scrapes, and bruises. He had never attempted to heal a wound like this before. He just hoped that he was able to do so.

A soft blue glow emitted at the top of the gash. It slowly began to spread down the rest of his arm as Harry guided the healing spell. As it traveled down, Harry noticed that it was closing the wound. It wasn’t perfect, leaving a scar in its tracks, but it was enough to get by for now. After a minute he had completely closed the wound on his arm, and he shifted his attention to his leg. After another minute or so, that wound had also closed.

Both wounds were scarred, and it was noticeable that he had been in an attack, but he would worry about that later. For now, he needed to get back to Hogwarts before anybody noticed his absence. He transformed into an owl and took to the sky. His night vision was vastly improved in owl form, and he could clearly see Hogwarts castle in the distance. He noticed that his left wing was a little tender, and his right leg ached a bit. His wounds in human form must transfer over to his owl form, he mused.

It only took him a few minutes to reach the castle. He landed in the owlery. After a brief greeting with Hedwig, he landed and changed back into his human form. He dug his invisibility cloak out of his trunk and slipped it on. He made his way to his office to change out of his bloody clothes before making his way to the Gryffindor common room.

He didn’t run into anybody on his trek, for which he was grateful. When he reached his office, he pulled his trunk back out and stepped inside. He went into the bathroom and stripped out of his clothes. He jumped into the shower to wash himself off. If anybody besides Ginny was still awake, it wouldn’t do for them to see him all sweaty and dirty. Besides, he didn’t exactly want to sleep in all that filth. Despite how relaxing it felt for his sore and tired body, he tried to keep his shower quick because he didn’t want to keep Ginny waiting. He knew she’d still be awake in the common room waiting to make sure he made it back alright.

Several minutes after entering the shower, Harry was reluctantly toweling himself off. He threw on his school uniform and reverted his appearance back to normal before exiting the trunk. He shrunk it down and returned it to his pocket before exiting his office for the Gryffindor common room. His leg and arm were still aching, forcing him to concentrate on his movements. He made sure that he didn’t walk with a noticeable limp just in case anybody saw him. And he didn’t want to worry Ginny when she saw him.

He made it to the Fat Lady’s portrait without interruptions and quickly crawled inside. It was late, but not so late that it would be unheard of to see somebody awake, so Harry was not sure what to expect when he entered. He was hoping it would be deserted, but he wasn’t counting on it. He could just imagine Hermione sitting there waiting for him to return so that she could set in on him. But as luck would have it, only one person inhabited the room, and she was sitting in front of the fire, staring at the portrait hole.

When Harry climbed through, she shot up out of her chair and ran toward him. She threw her arms around him, and Harry couldn’t hold back the wince that escaped him as she squeezed against his injured left arm. He hoped that she didn’t notice, but he was disappointed.

She pulled back sharply. “Are you okay?” she whispered frantically, eyeing him searchingly, eyes darting from his eyes to his arm. “Are you hurt? Do you need to go to the Hospital Wing? What happened?”

Harry held up a finger to her lips to quiet her. It did the trick. As soon as his finger touched her lips she stopped in her tracks and froze noticeably. “Shhh. I’m okay. Let’s sit down, and I’ll tell you what happened. But let’s make it quick because I’m exhausted.”

She gingerly took his right arm and led him to a cough in front of the fireplace. A small fire was still going in the grate, but it wouldn’t be long until it was reduced to only glowing embers. It was still enough that he could feel the warmth radiating from it. Once they were settled she spoke, “What happened?”

Harry sighed and jumped into the story. He told her about his trip to Grimmauld Place, how he hid in a corner after her mother had taken his note. He told her about the first fire call and how everybody left for Diagon Alley, then how a second fire call came in asking for reinforcements in Hogsmeade. He told her that he headed to Hogsmeade because nobody but her mum had been left at Headquarters at that point.

He gave her a brief synopsis of his time in the town. He downed several Death Eaters who were off doing their own thing, causing random acts of destruction. Then he told her how he confronted the group of Death Eaters surrounding the three Order members. She gasped when he told her that a group of ten plus Death Eaters attacked him, and she grasped his hand tightly. He told her that he managed to down them one by one but that he took cutting curses to his left arm and the back of his right leg. He let her know that he was able to close both wounds but that they were still a little tender, which is why he winced in pain when she greeted him so enthusiastically.

“I’m so sorry, Harry,” she immediately apologized. “If I had known you were hurt…”

“Shh Ginny,” Harry silenced her, shaking his head. “You couldn’t have known. It’s alright. I’m just not quite as gifted a healer as Madame Pomfrey, so it will probably be a day or two before I’m completely back to normal.”

“Are you sure you don’t need to go to the Hospital Wing?” she questioned. “What if they leave scars?”

“Then I’ll have two more scars to add to my collection,” Harry attempted to joke. She did not look amused. “Look, Ginny. I can’t go to the Hospital Wing. What would I tell her? Besides, McGonagall and Shacklebolt saw the injuries that I had. It wouldn’t take them long to put two and two together and realize it was me out there. I can’t afford to let that happen.”

She sighed, but relented. “Fine. But if they still bother you in a couple days, you’re going to let Madame Pomfrey look at them even if I have to stun you and drag you to the Hospital Wing myself.”

“Deal,” he readily agreed.

She was still tense but had relaxed slightly at his agreement. “So what happened next?” she inquired.

“McGonagall and Kingsley must have been able to stun the Death Eaters that were still trying to hole them down, because they came and downed one of the two Death Eaters still attacking me,” Harry explained. “The last one must have realized that he was the only one left, because he activated a portkey, which took all of the Death Eaters away.”

“Oh no,” Ginny cried, though she didn’t let her voice carry lest she wake up half their house.

“I know,” Harry sympathized, “but at least I was able to vanish the portkeys of the Death Eaters I had stunned earlier. They should at least be in Ministry custody now, so it’s not a total loss.”

“That’s true,” she consented. She ran a tired hand through her long mane or red hair and let out a sigh. “I still can’t believe you fought off over 20 Death Eaters tonight. What the hell were you thinking when you started attacking that big group? You could easily have been killed.” Her words were scolding, but he could see in her eyes that she wasn’t so much mad at him as she was worried.

“I couldn’t let them just keep attacking McGonagall and Kingsley. By that time Moody was already down. It was only a matter of time before the other two fell as well. I couldn’t just let them do that,” Harry practically pleaded with her to understand him. “I did everything I could to take out as many as possible without letting the others find out. But that whole group was concentrating on the two of them. There was nothing I could do except just to attack them.”

Her eyes were beginning to become glassy, and he was starting to fear that she would cry. He didn’t have the best track record when it came to dealing with crying girls. “I just don’t want to lose you,” she said, sniffling. “We just started to really become friends, but I can’t imagine what it would be like without you here. I just wish you would be more careful.” She swiped a hand across her eyes to brush her tears away which had been pooling up in the corner of her eyes, threatening to fall. She then very carefully but determinedly scooted toward him on the couch and wrapped her arms around him, careful not to come into contact with his left arm.

He returned the gesture, wrapping his arms around her and whispered into her ear. “Shh. It’s alright. I’m alright. I’m not going anywhere. We’ve still got a date to go on. I wouldn’t want to break that commitment, would I?” He continued to whisper to her as she clutched him tightly. He awkwardly rubbed a hand up and down her back in an attempt to comfort her. As he held her there, with her head tucked under his chin, a flowery smell invading his senses from her hair, his exhaustion finally caught up to him, and he began to doze off.

********************

Ginny Weasley was having a wonderful dream. It wasn’t terribly exciting or anything; she wasn’t even really doing anything at all. She was just laying back and spending time with…with…well with someone she cared for very deeply. She was being held in his arms, as they laid together outdoors on a grassy knoll, staring up at the sky. It was a very peaceful day. It was warm out, but not uncomfortably so. There was a slight breeze as well, which kept the two of them quite comfortable wrapped in their embrace.

They weren’t talking to each other at all. Talking didn’t really seem necessary at the time. It was enough just that they were together, in each other’s arms, relaxing and enjoying the beautiful day. He shifted slightly, and she responded by burrowing closer to him, enjoying the warmth of his body and the feeling of his arms wrapped around her.

She was only able to enjoy it for a moment though because she quickly began to realize that something wasn’t quite right. He seemed worried or troubled about something. His body had tensed up suddenly, and he couldn’t seem to keep his arms still. No, nothing was right about this at all.

As she began putting things together, the beautiful setting before her faded away. The body that had been holding her remained the same, but they were no longer outdoors, and he was still incredibly tense. She blearily opened up her eyes and found herself staring into blackness. It wasn’t a deep blackness like there was no light and she was staring into shadows. No this was a black of a different nature, and she quickly realized why. It was black cloth. Her hand was on it, and she moved it around experimentally, quickly realizing what it was she was lying on.

She was cuddled up on the couch with a boy, but not just any boy. She had fallen asleep in the arms of Harry Potter. That brought a bemused smile to her face for a moment, but then she realized why they had fallen asleep together. That prat had gone and almost gotten himself killed. Sometimes she wondered how he could be so incredibly reckless with his own life, while at the same time so concerned for everybody else. He was a mystery all right.

He mumbled something then. She didn’t catch what he said, if he had said anything coherent at all, but it was enough to distract her from her musings. Something was wrong with Harry. He was incredibly stiff and was shaking slightly. A gasp escaped from his mouth, and she turned her head to see him shaking his own head back and forth as if hoping to ward off some unknown force. His face was scrunched up, and he looked to be in a terrible amount of pain. He was biting his lip, and she received quite a shock when she noticed a trickle of blood making its way down his chin.

“Harry,” she whispered trying to wake the boy. It had no effect. “Harry,” she said a little louder, shaking him a little. He still didn’t respond, but the pained expression on his face grew worse. One of his hands flew to his scar as the blood running down his chin began to accumulate. He was still biting down on his lip. “Harry,” she called much more urgently, shaking him hard. When he still didn’t respond, she scrambled out from her awkward position.

Once she left, he curled himself into a ball and whimpered pathetically. It tore at her heart to see him like this. He was normally so strong and in control, and she knew for a fact that he would never let his guard down so fully in front of anyone. Yet here he was, helpless and weak. She didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t wake him, but he seemed to be suffering. He was grasping at his scar, so there was a pretty good chance that it had something to do with Voldemort. She thought about running to get someone, but she didn’t want to leave him alone, nor was she sure that he would want her to draw any undue attention to him.

She struggled with herself over what to do for a moment before finally making up her mind. She sat back on the couch next to him and reached over to run her hand across his cheek in a soft caress. She decided that if nothing else she would try to comfort Harry as best she could. From what little she knew about Harry’s episodes with his scar, there was little that could be done except wait it out. She wasn’t content to just sit back and watch him suffer, so she decided that if she could afford him some small comfort in the midst of his torment, then she would do anything she could.

He flinched a little when she first made contact with his skin, and she wondered if this had been such a bright idea after all. But after a moment he seemed to relax just a little and accept the presence of her hand. She ran her hand across his face a little, then settled for playing with his hair. She gently massaged his scalp and curled his hair around her fingers. Then she would run her fingers through his shoulder length locks.

She wondered to herself why he had grown his hair out this summer. Was it just to help with his disguise? Did he like it like this? Did he dislike his old hair style? She had always liked his hair in the past. Sure it was messy and unruly, but it was incredibly cute. And she thought that it suited him well. She liked the new hair on him as well, but she missed the old haircut a bit.

While she idly stroked his hair, Harry began to relax little by little. He slowly uncurled out of his protective ball, and Ginny began to coax him further. She whispered soothing words to him and guided his head into her lap. She continued with her ministrations, her left hand now playing with his hair as her right hand held his left, lying on his chest. Every so often she would squeeze it gently in an attempt to offer him comfort. She was happy to find that every so often he would squeeze back lightly.

She watched his face now as he continued to battle through whatever nightmares he was being subjected to. His right hand still held onto his scar, but she noticed that it had loosened up a bit. He had stopped biting his lip, she noted thankfully. Every so often he still let out a gasp of pain, but it seemed more subdued now. He would also mumble incoherently from time to time.

They continued in that manner for several minutes before she noticed any new differences in him. He finally let his arm fall away from his forehead, and his body relaxed noticeably. There was still some stiffness left in it, but it was more subtle now. It seemed the worst of it had passed. She continued to hold his hand and play with his hair for several more minutes to make sure he didn’t have a relapse of some sort.

Eventually satisfied that the worst had passed, she once again attempted to awaken the dark haired boy. Extricating her hand from his, she gripped his shoulder gently and shook him slightly. She was pleased to see that he at least responded this time, though he didn’t fully wake up. He swatted at her lazily with one arm and mumbled something under his breath. She shook him again, “Wake up Harry.”

His eyes finally opened up, and he stared straight up. Green eyes met brown, and the pair froze for a long moment as Harry processed several things. Eventually he managed to croak out, “Ginny? What’s going on?”

“Shh, it’s alright,” she calmly reassured him. His voice sounded a bit rough, but not overtly so. “You were having a vision or a nightmare or something, but it’s over now. You’re okay.” She kept her voice soft because she didn’t want to alarm him. She wanted to keep him relaxed.

“Voldemort was mad,” he told her, frowning and scrunching his eyebrows together. He licked his lips nervously and started when he tasted the coppery substance on his lips. His left hand flew up to his lip, and he examined it as he pulled it away, noting the blood he had wiped away.

“You bit your lip,” Ginny offered by way of explanation. She began gently running her fingers through his hair again. “I didn’t know what to do,” she commented. “We both dozed off, and I woke up when you started tensing up and moving around. When I heard you gasp, I looked up at your face to find that you were in pain. You bit your lip and clutched your scar. I tried to wake you, but you weren’t responding, so I eventually just gave up. I thought about running for help but decided against it. From what I know about your scar pains, you just have to wait them out. And I know that you don’t like to draw unnecessary attention to yourself. So I just settled for trying to comfort you as best I could until it passed.” She knew she was rambling slightly by that point, but she didn’t know what else to do.

“Sorry,” he said as he sat up and edged away from her slightly. “I didn’t mean to make you worry. He was angry that his attacks didn’t go exactly as planned. It sounded like there was more than just the two attacks I heard about. But he was pretty angry about Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.”

“You have nothing to apologize for, Harry,” she said, giving him a small smile. “I just wish there was more that I could have done for you. I felt so helpless. And seeing you like that just kind of made me scared.”

“Sorry,” Harry said again. He looked pensive for a moment before continuing. “I reckon it’s not an entirely bad thing that I woke you up. I can’t imagine people’s reactions if they came down to find us asleep on the couch together.”

She giggled slightly and quickly agreed. “You’re probably right. I can just imagine Ron coming down and challenging you to a duel to defend my honor or something equally stupid.”

Harry gave a forced laugh, but it was easy to tell that he wasn’t really all that amused. “We should probably head on up to bed. We’ll be tired enough as it is without staying up half the night chatting.”

“Yeah,” she agreed somewhat reluctantly. Something seemed a bit off with him. He was abnormally subdued. It was understandable considering the night he had, with fighting off Death Eaters and receiving visions of a Dark Lord, but she couldn’t help the feeling that it went beyond that.

She stepped forward and hugged him, “Goodnight Harry.”

He was stiff in her arms, but he awkwardly wrapped his arms around her and patted her back gently as he said “Goodnight Ginny.”

He pulled away, and she watched as he walked uneasily to the boys’ staircase and began his ascent. Her gaze never faltered until a few moments after he had risen out of her sight. She sighed as she sank back into the couch they had only recently awoken from. It had been an incredibly long night. First she had been almost frantic with worry waiting for him to return. She had been short with her friends that night, and she knew she should probably apologize the following day.

It was actually her short tempered presence that had convinced Ron and Hermione to head up to bed early without ever confirming where Harry was. They had been worried when he didn’t show up at curfew. Neville had reminded them that the curfew didn’t apply to Harry any more, which set Hermione off another one of her tangents about abusing privileges. She had been going on for a solid few minutes when Ginny finally snapped at her. She told the bushy haired witch to mind her own business, that she didn’t always know what was best for every one else, and that she wasn’t always right.

Ginny knew she was overly harsh with her words, but nothing she had said was a lie. Hermione did have a problem with that. She always forced herself into other people’s business, even when they protested. And she tended to have this air of superiority about her…she just assumed that she always knew best and that others should just heed her advice and get on with it. It could be incredibly frustrating at times. She was just so bloody stubborn and pigheaded.

Granted most of the time she was right, at least in matters that were more non-personal. It was when she was sticking her nose into the personal lives of other people that she really became irritating. Like that conversation the two had shared about Harry. Hermione had reprimanded her for “coddling” Harry and allowing him to continue with his charade, allowing him to pretend that there was no war going on and that his godfather wasn’t really gone.

And then she went on to lecture her about taking advantage of Harry in his vulnerable state. This wasn’t the proper time to pursue a relationship, she had been warned. She was insulted at the insinuation. She had never hid her crush on Harry when she was younger, and she paid for that constantly through all the teasing she was subjected to by her brothers and classmates. But most of that had died off once she began dating other guys. The only two friends who had never really thrown that in her face were Hermione and Harry himself.

To have Hermione bring it up like that and to go so far as to accuse her of trying to snag Harry while he was in a “vulnerable state” was downright ridiculous. First of all, they were just friends. She could see where her friend could get the wrong impression, but to just throw out an accusation like that without verifying any of her facts was inexcusable. And second, Hermione just refused to believe that Harry might actually be okay. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Hermione was convinced that Harry was actually quite miserable inside, and that he was just ignoring his pain as some sort of defense mechanism. And she was determined to draw him out, despite his insistence that it was completely unnecessary.

So when you take her already tentative feelings toward Hermione added with the stress of knowing that Harry could at that moment be fighting for his life, it really wasn’t unexpected for Ginny to express her feelings to Hermione. And rather vehemently at that. Of course Hermione wasn’t one to take criticism lying down. She accused Ginny of encouraging his behavior, adding to the problem.

As the two began to argue back and forth, Ron and Neville had silently made their exit, unnoticed by the two girls. Eventually, Hermione had stalked off in a huff telling Ginny that since she obviously didn’t care what happened to Harry or how late he stayed out that she could just wait up for him by herself. It was actually quite lucky how that had turned out. She would have been hard pressed to suppress her reaction when Harry finally made it back.

Beyond that, Hermione would have been in a towering rage by that time. It was quite late when he finally crawled through the portrait hole. She probably would’ve insisted on leading a search through the castle for him, which could have been very bad. The last thing they needed was to call attention to Harry’s absence. And knowing Hermione, she probably would’ve picked up on something either in Harry’s behavior or her own at some point and become suspicious. Or she may have stumbled across one of his injuries. No, it was definitely for the better that Ginny was the only one waiting up for Harry.

As she thought back on their reunion, she couldn’t believe her reaction. She had completely broken down on him. But more than her own reaction, she was shocked at how well Harry had handled the situation. He had gathered her in his arms and whispered comforting words until she had finally settled down and eventually dozed off. She had never known him to be incredibly sensitive. He always seemed awkward in situations that involved much sentiment. And she remembered hearing about his experiences with a crying Cho the previous year. He had definitely not handled that as well as he had handled Ginny that night.

But he had seemed entirely different when she tried to return the favor, she now realized. When he had woken up in her lap and she began playing with his hair again, he seemed to grow rather uncomfortable. He drew away from her and beat a rather hasty retreat. It was all so confusing. Why was he so reluctant to accept comfort from her? Or was he just a little out of sorts because of the night he had? Or because of the vision? He had mentioned that Voldemort was angry. Maybe he had been torturing people again or perhaps he had even gone as far as to murder someone. That would be enough to shake anyone up.

She sighed. There was no use staying up all night thinking about it. Maybe a good night sleep was all he needed to return to normal. She knew she could sure use one. She would just wait and see how things played out the next day and reserve judgment until then. So with that decided, Ginny rose from the couch and climbed the stairs to the 5th year girls’ dormitory where she climbed into bed and eventually dropped off to sleep.

*****************

It was a battered and weary crowd that was called together. Many of the faces scattered around the table were stained with dirt and dried blood. On some you could clearly see where the tracks of tears had taken their course. It had already been a long night, but it was not over yet. Not for them.

At the head of the table, a man stood. He was a man normally filled with a youthful energy that belied his aging appearance. Tonight that energy was not present. Tonight he looked every bit his age, all 150+ years. The twinkle that was ever present in his eyes was gone, his genial smile forgotten. It had been a long time since anyone had seen him in a condition like this, about 15 years if you want to be picky.

He surveyed the assembled witches and wizards before him, taking in the exhausted and battle weary appearances. They were at war now, full scale. Voldemort was done sneaking around in the background. There would be no more peace, not for a long time. Voldemort was back and as bad as ever. The war, which had really been going on for over a year already, had officially begun. That night was the first of what would be many attacks by the Death Eaters as their reign of terror rang anew.

But for now, they must focus on the events that had transpired that night. It was Voldemort’s coming out party, so to speak. And it marked the 15th anniversary of when young Harry Potter, barely a year old, had ended the Dark Lord’s first reign of terror. He knew that it would be up to the same boy, now 16 years old, to stop Voldemort yet again. But he was too young. He was no match for Voldemort, who had an extra 50 years of experience over Harry.

No, until Harry was old enough, this was their war. They could not win yet, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t fight. The others knew nothing of this, of course. It would be terrible for morale to know that they had no chance of ending the war any time soon. There were plenty of battles still to be fought before young Harry would be ready, and they needed to hold the Death Eaters at bay in the meantime.

But he was getting ahead of himself. This meeting was about the battles that had just taken place that night. There were multiple attacks that night, too many. It had taken nearly all of their forces just to repel the attack on Diagon Alley. And despite their efforts, the Death Eaters managed to cause massive destruction to the center of wizarding life in Great Britain.

There was also an attack in Hogsmeade. He still wasn’t entirely clear how they had managed to fend off the Death Eaters there. Minerva and Kingsley were visibly distressed when they arrived back at Headquarters. They had been left, practically stranded, in Hogsmeade with Alastor as well. Alastor would not be there to attend the meeting. He was hit with a rather nasty curse in that battle. The healers at St. Mungo’s were still working on him the last time he checked.

He was not the only one absent for the meeting, however. Emmeline Vance would never again attend one of these meetings. She had been struck down in Diagon Alley with the killing curse. He could only take comfort in the fact that she did not suffer in death. Bill Weasley was also grievously injured in the battle, but he would pull through. Absent along with him, his mother, Molly Weasley, refused to leave his bedside in St. Mungo’s.

At length Dumbledore finally spoke to the assembled group. “As we had expected, Voldemort has chosen this night to mark the beginning of the Second War. The majority of his forces were concentrated in Diagon Alley, where most of our own number fought to hold the enemy at bay and to save the center of British Wizarding life. There was much damage and destruction, and we did suffer some casualties, but I daresay that things did not go exactly as Voldemort had expected.”

He paused momentarily and took a deep breath. “We were able to push back the Death Eaters and Dementors in Diagon Alley with minimal losses on our side; however, it took almost all of our members to accomplish even this, which left us unprepared to handle any of the other attacks that occurred this night. There were several small attacks on wizards and muggles alike throughout Great Britain, but the other main target was Hogsmeade. I understand that Minerva, Alastor, and Kingsley were left to protect the town. Alastor is currently being treated at St. Mungo’s, but from what I understand the three of you were able to hold the Death Eaters at bay with very little damage to the small town. Minerva, would you care to give us the details of your battle and how you three managed to hold off a force of nearly 30 Death Eaters?”

The normally collected and rigid professor rose to her feet. Had any of her students seen her just now, they would have been shocked at her appearance. Her hair, which was normally kept in a tight bun on top of her head was laying haphazardly past her shoulders. Her stern expression was gone, replaced with one of contemplation, as though she was trying to solve some riddle. She gave Albus a nod and glanced across the table to Kingsley, the only other Order member present who knew what she was about to report.

“To put it simply, Albus, we didn’t. Hold off the force of Death Eaters in Hogsmeade, that is. The three of us were quickly pinned down, surrounded. We barricaded ourselves up next to a building while more than a dozen Death Eaters kept us under a line of fire preventing us from gaining any ground. While we were occupied, the rest of the Death Eaters left to wreak havoc on the town.” She paused and shook her head before taking a deep breath and continuing. “We were helpless. They had erected anti-apparation wards, preventing us from even escaping our position. If they had wanted, they could have easily taken over the three of us, but they were content to play with us for the time being, which is what inevitably led to their downfall.”

“Alastor fell to a curse, so we activated his emergency portkey, leaving just Kingsley and I to hold off the Death Eaters. But not a couple minutes later, help arrived. Neither of us saw what happened, but somebody attacked the Death Eaters surrounding us. Most of them turned to face the new opponent, leaving only a handful left guarding us. We were able to systematically take each of them down one by one.” Throughout her speech she had directed her gaze all along the table. Her voice was almost monotonic, but not quite.

As she continued, she turned her gaze directly to the esteemed Headmaster, and the emotion in her voice rose. “After we felled the last of the ones guarding us, we turned to our savior to find him in a duel of his own. There were numerous Death Eaters strewn about the ground around him. By the time we got to him, there were only a couple Death Eaters left standing. We managed to take out all but one. The last one activated a portkey which transported all of them away.

“It was a boy, Albus. He couldn’t have been much older than 17. He dueled a dozen Death Eaters at once. The boy had a few serious injuries. He was hit with a cutting curse on his left arm and his right leg, and that’s just what I was able to see from the minute that he was standing before me. He seemed nervous when I talked to him and quickly told me that he had managed to take out about ten other Death Eaters throughout the town and that he’d vanished their portkeys. Then he left, apparated right out.” She slumped down in her chair, finished with her monologue.

“Did you search the town?” the Headmaster queried when she didn’t continue.

McGonagall shook her head to clear it up as she looked back towards the Headmaster. “Of course. We found eleven Death Eaters total. One group of six, two pairs, and a single. All were stunned and bound, their wands snapped on the ground nearby.”

The Headmaster sighed from his seat at the head of the table, thinking over what he had just been told. A boy had come out on top of a duel with a dozen Death Eaters, and that was after he had already managed to take out an additional eleven. “Do you have anything to add, Kingsley?” he questioned the bald-headed man sitting a few seats down from him.

Kingsley looked up shaking his head. “No. Like she said, we weren’t that involved in what really took place there. We mostly just did cleanup. There were several fires that we stopped while we were searching the town. Other than that, it’s exactly as Minerva said.”

The old man steepled his fingers in front of his chin, his elbows left on the table as he pondered over the situation. “Did either of you recognize the boy?” he finally asked them at length.

McGonagall shook her head no as she responded. “No, I’ve never seen him before in my life. But he didn’t sound foreign. I’d guess that he grew up somewhere in England based on his speech. But other than that, I have no idea. I think it’s possible that he was using some sort of glamour charms because I think he recognized me. But I know I’ve never taught the boy, unless that’s not what he really looks like.”

Kingsley added his own two knuts. “Never seen the kid before in my life.”

The Headmaster nodded absently. “I think I should like to review your memory of the night in my pensieve later,” he said, addressing McGonagall. “Perhaps we can glean some new information about this mysterious young man.”

“Of course,” she replied immediately.

“Now, moving along to other matters…”

*************************

Harry awoke the next morning feeling slightly sore. He was a little late for his usual morning run and was considering just skipping the exercise altogether this morning to give himself a bit of a break after his busy night. But a nagging voice in his head would not allow him to become complacent and forced him up and out into the sunshine. It was a brisk morning, with dew sweeping across the surface of the lake. The leaves on the trees lining the lake were a mixture of greens, yellows, oranges, and reds, painting a beautiful medley of color contrasting the bright blue of the sky.

Harry absentmindedly activated his warming charm around his person to protect himself from the cold as he stepped out the doors. He was pleased to find that neither his leg nor his arm were bothering him much that morning. The flesh around his newly healed wounds was still a bit tender, but nothing that he couldn’t deal with. There was still a visible scar left over from each injury, but it was already beginning to lessen as well. Harry was hopeful that he wouldn’t be left with any additional permanent scars to add to his collection. In the meantime, he had added some glamour charms to both offending marks to hide them from view.

Harry continued through his regular routine. After finishing his jog, he headed inside to the Room of Requirement. He went through his workout routine, then showered and dressed. As he came out of the shower room back into the main workout room, he found a certain red-haired woman waiting for him.

“Good morning, Harry,” she greeted evenly.

Harry could immediately tell that she had something on her mind. He smiled reassuringly at her and returned her greeting. “Morning, Gin. To what do I owe this pleasant surprise visit?”

She gave him a small smile as she responded. “I was wondering if we could talk after breakfast.”

He wasn’t entirely surprised at the request. The previous night’s events were obviously weighing on her mind. The least he could do was meet with her to allay her worries. “Sure thing. Meet you in my office afterwards?” She nodded her agreement, so Harry strode toward her and held out his arm. “Shall we head down to breakfast then?”

She rewarded him with a wide smile as she slipped her hand into the crook of his arm. They traversed the corridors and stairways down to the ground level together mostly in silence. She seemed to have a lot on her mind, so Harry decided to let her be with her musings and to just provide silent company. The Great Hall was very sparsely populated. Being a Saturday, the majority of the student population chose to have a bit of a lie in.

The two Gryffindors sat next to each other at their house table and quickly ate through their meals. Ginny in particular seemed to be eating in a bit of a rush, rivaling Ron’s usual pace, though she didn’t eat nearly as much as Ron would. She finished eating before Harry, but didn’t pressure him at all to hurry. She just sat quietly at his side as he continued to indulge himself in the culinary skills of the Hogwarts house elves.

A few minutes later, Harry was contentedly full. Part of him wanted to hang around in the Great Hall until the owl post came. He was anxious to read about the attacks that took place the previous evening. He knew that there were at least two attacks, one in Diagon Alley and another in Hogsmeade, but he didn’t know anything about the attack in Diagon Alley since he spent all his time in Hogsmeade. What’s more, he didn’t know if those were the only two attacks. One glance at Ginny, however, convinced him otherwise. She was anxious to leave, and he knew she wanted to talk to him pretty badly if she had gotten up extra early to catch him in the Room of Requirement.

So Harry forced down his curiosity and turned to his companion. “You ready to go?”

She nodded eagerly and jumped out of her seat. Harry couldn’t help but chuckle at her restlessness, which earned him a slug on his upper arm and a halfhearted glare. He followed her as she set a brisk pace back through the halls of Hogwarts and up to the fifth floor where his office resided. She opened her mouth to mutter the password as they reached his door, but it proved to be unnecessary. With a flick of Harry’s wrist, it opened up as they approached.

The two entered the office, and Ginny immediately plopped down into one of the arm chairs in front of the fire place. Harry lowered himself onto the small sofa and relaxed into a reclined position as he turned to Ginny. She looked to be deep in thought as though she were trying to decide where to start. Harry let her continue with her thoughts as he warded the room for privacy with a few waves of his hand.

After a couple minutes of silence which he spent studying his friend, Ginny finally turned towards him. She seemed momentarily taken aback to find him watching her but shook it off and began to speak. “I’m guessing you want to know why I asked to speak with you.”

Harry shrugged. “I assumed it had to with last night.”

She nodded. “Yeah, I guess you could say that. Well I think the first thing I should tell you is what happened before you arrived. Hermione is likely to be mad at you, but you won’t be alone in that respect. We got into a bit of an argument last night after she was ranting about you abusing your privileges as an Assistant Professor by ignoring the regular curfew. I finally got so fed up with her that I yelled at her to mind her own business, which led us into a big argument before she finally stalked off and up to bed. It actually worked out better that way because it wouldn’t have done to have her waiting for you when you got back.”

Harry agreed wholeheartedly. “I was actually worried about that when I was making my way back to Gryffindor Tower. I was relieved to find that you were the only one waiting up for me.” He let out a sigh and looked deep into the chocolate brown eyes across from him. “I’m sorry about Hermione.”

She waved away his apology. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not your fault.”

“But it is my fault,” Harry insisted. “You were arguing about me. The only reason you two are fighting is because of me. I didn’t mean to put any strain on your relationship with her, or with anyone else for that matter. Maybe telling you my secrets wasn’t such a good idea. It’s just an added burden that you don’t need.” Harry was completely oblivious to the reaction of the girl sitting before him as he continued to rant away.

Ginny couldn’t believe he would say something like that. Did he really wish that he hadn’t told her anything? “Harry, shut up!” she finally yelled at him, stopping him in his tracks. “Did you really mean that?” When he just looked at her confusedly she clarified her query. “Do you really wish that you hadn’t told me anything?”

Harry didn’t miss the hurt tone in her voice and quickly realized that she had taken his statement in entirely the wrong way. “Of course not,” he backtracked. “I’m not saying that I regret telling you anything. It’s been great having someone to talk to, even just a little bit. I just thought it might be unfair to you, having to keep secrets from your friends, putting unnecessary strain on your relationships. It’s unfair to you.”

“Why don’t you let me decide what’s fair to me?” she asked him with a steely voice. “I wasn’t just blowing smoke at you when I told you that I wanted to be there for you Harry. Even if I didn’t know everything that I do know, which I imagine is still only scratching the surface, I’d still be at odds with Hermione over you. She is being completely unreasonable right now. Ron might be afraid to stand up to her, but I am not. She has no right trying to force anything out of you or trying to make you look bad just because you don’t have to follow the same rules the rest of us do. She just gets so bloody self righteous sometimes.”

“Don’t I know it,” Harry interjected. “Did she ever get you to try to join spew?”

“Yes,” Ginny said. “She even tried to get me to help her with knitting all those stupid hats she was leaving out last year.”

Harry chuckled lightly. “Did you know that most of the house elves refused to even enter Gryffindor Tower after she started leaving all those lying around?” When she shook her head no, he continued. “Dobby was forced to clean the entire tower all on his own because all of the other elves were so insulted. He kept every single hat he picked up, and he’s not averse to wearing several of them at once.”

“He cleans the entire tower on his own?” Ginny asked him.

“He did,” Harry told her. “I’m not sure if he still does or if the other elves will help out now. I don’t think Hermione has been laying any clothes out this term.”

“That’s terrible,” Ginny said. “He shouldn’t have to do all that work on his own just because Hermione’s on a bloody crusade.”

“I know,” Harry agreed. “I felt the same way, but Dobby is thrilled to do it; otherwise I would’ve stepped in right away.”

“Even if he doesn’t mind the extra work, it’s still not right,” Ginny insisted.

Harry nodded in response. “I probably would have confronted Hermione about it, but there was just so much other stuff going on last year that it didn’t seem to be a good time to do it. The last thing I needed last year was to be in a big fight with Hermione.”

“I’ll grant you that,” Ginny said. “But if she starts up again, we are going to confront her about it.”

“Sounds fair to me,” Harry readily agreed.

“Good,” Ginny replied, then shook her head. “We’ve gotten way off topic now, haven’t we?” Not waiting for a reply, she continued. “I meant to ask you this last night, but I got distracted. How did you change your hair?”

“My hair?” he questioned. When she nodded in response, he shrugged as he said, “It’s just a simple glamour charm to change the color. I can teach it to you if you’d like.”

“No,” Ginny interrupted, “not your hair color. How did you change the length of it? You went from long to short to long again in one night. How did you manage that?”

Harry sat back in his chair to think about it. He didn’t really know how he controlled his hair length, to be honest. For most of his life he had kept it at the same length without ever really thinking about it. It was only that past summer that Harry realized that he was doing it and tried to actually change it. “I don’t know exactly,” Harry said. “When I was younger, my aunt always used to try to cut my hair, but it always ended up looking the same no matter what she did. One time she got frustrated and buzzed it all except for a small fringe in the front to cover my scar. I was so nervous about going to school the next day and getting teased for it, but when I woke up the next morning, my hair was back to normal.”

Harry took a breath before continuing. “Over the summer I thought about it and realized that I’ve never had to get my haircut. It always just stayed the same. I figured that I must be doing something with my magic subconsciously to keep it that way. And sure enough, when I concentrated enough on it, I found that I could change its length.”

When he looked up at her after finishing his story, he found her mouth open, gaping at him. Harry was confused. What was she staring at? Why was she reacting that way? He didn’t really see the big deal about his being able to control the length of his hair. Sure it helped in disguising himself slightly, but it didn’t have many uses beyond that. “Er, Gin? You alright?” he finally asked her, when she made no move to respond.

She abruptly shut her mouth and adopted a sheepish grin. “Sorry. Yes, I’m fine, but Harry, do you realize what this means?” she asked with a hint of wonderment in her voice.

“Er, no…” he responded uncertainly.

“There is no spell to change hair length,” Ginny explained. “There are potions that can speed up growth, but there is no actual spell to make it grow or shrink or anything. The fact that you can do that can only mean one thing.” She had a very eager expression on her face, as if she couldn’t wait for him to ask his question.

And he was not one to deny her. “And what would that be?”

“You’re a metamorphmagus,” she told him straightforwardly.

It was Harry’s turn to gape. “What?” he blurted out. “How can…? How do you…? Are you sure?”

Ginny nodded slowly. “It’s the only thing that makes sense. Have you ever tried changing your appearance in any other way?”

“Not beyond simple glamour charms,” Harry admitted, already beginning to think over the possibilities. It would sure make disguising himself easier in the future.

“Well you should work on that sometime. It doesn’t hurt to at least give it a shot,” Ginny suggested brightly.

“Yeah,” he said distractedly. He thought over it for a moment. “I’ll have to see if I can find anything about metamorphmagi in the library. It would probably help if I knew more about the ability.”

“Probably,” she agreed. Her face turned serious once again as she timidly said, “I have another question for you.”

“What is it?” he asked carefully.

“Well yesterday I got to see you train for the first time…” she trailed off a bit.

“Yes…” he encouraged her to go on.

“Well I was just wondering where you learned to do that. I mean, you looked like you were some professional who had been training all his life, the way you were dodging spells and everything,” she said uncertainly, not sure if she was pushing him for too much information.

He mulled over what she had told him for a few minutes. “I started training in the beginning of the summer, around the time I wrote you that first letter. I’ve been doing it every day since then.”

“But there’s no way you could’ve become that good in so short a time,” she insisted.

He blushed slightly under her implied praise. “I don’t know,” he replied, searching for the answer. “I guess I’ve always been good at stuff like that. I’ve always had good reflexes, like when I’m playing Quidditch. I think growing up with the Dursleys helped with that, actually.”

“What?” she asked, a bewildered expression crossing her face. “How could growing up with those horrible people help with dueling?”

Harry chuckled lightly. “Well, it helped me improve my reflexes, specifically when it comes to dodging.” She was still looking at him questioningly, so he continued after a small sigh. “My relatives were never exactly nice to me. And my cousin and his friends especially liked to torment me whenever they got the opportunity. So I had to be good at dodging and able to move quickly…you know, to avoid being hit all the time.”

The last thing was added on so casually that it felt almost like a physical slap across Ginny’s face. Her face flushed in indignation as she shot up from her seat and began pacing back and forth. After a minute of silent pacing, she whirled around to face him. “Your relatives hit you?” she demanded.

Harry nodded glumly, a bit taken aback at her outburst. “My aunt and uncle only occasionally hit me, but it was Dudley’s favorite hobby, his and his friends’. I always had to be careful during recess at school and when walking home after school ended. They liked to gang up on me and rough me up a bit. And they’d often throw things at me. So I got used to avoiding punches and dodging balls and rocks and things like that,” he explained to her calmly.

She sank back down into her seat with a defeated look on her face. She shook her head absently as she struggled to fully comprehend the situation. “How could anyone be so horrible to their own family?” she asked rhetorically. Harry just shrugged at her, still a bit uneasy with the current subject matter and Ginny’s reaction to it. “Have you told anyone else about this?” she finally asked him after a couple minutes of silence.

Harry thought carefully. “Not in so many words, I don’t think. Everyone knows they’re horrible; I just don’t like to get into the details,” he explained.

Ginny leaned forward and placed a hand gently on Harry’s knee. “Well for what it’s worth, I’m sorry that you had to go through that, Harry.”

Harry just shrugged at her again as he replied, “It’s alright. Like you told me before, it won’t be long until I’m out of there for good. Then I’ll never have to deal with them ever again. In fact, I don’t plan on ever seeing them again.”

Ginny looked up sharply at this admission. “What do you mean, Harry? Dumbledore’s sure to make you go back this summer.”

Harry smirked impishly at her. “Oh, I have no doubts that he expects me to go back there,” he told her mysteriously.

“So…” she prodded.

“So what if I don’t plan on letting that happen?” he asked her seriously.

“Well I imagine he would make you,” Ginny stated.

“He’d try, I’m sure,” Harry admitted. “But that’s assuming that he had any idea of what I was planning.”

“And what are you planning?” Ginny questioned, seriously interested in where he was going with this.

“Well, you may or may not have noticed, but I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately,” Harry began. She nodded as though that were the most obvious thing in the world. “One of the subjects I’ve been focusing on is wards. I’ve already read several books on various different types of wards. And I am about to start one about the Fidelius charm.”

Ginny’s eyes widened considerably at that admission. “You’re gonna hide out for the entire summer?” she asked incredulously.

“I’m thinking about it,” Harry told her.

A mischievous grin formed on her lips as she said, “They’re gonna go bonkers when they find out.”

“Too true,” Harry agreed. “Which is why it’s important that nobody finds out until after I’m already gone,” Harry said, looking at her pointedly.

She held her hands in front of herself and said, “You know that your secrets are safe with me Harry. Just so long as you’re protecting yourself sufficiently, I won’t tell a soul.”

“I knew I could count on you,” Harry told her. “Of course, there’s still a lot of time between now and then, and a lot of details to plan. I’ll have to sneak out next term to find a suitable place and to set up all the necessary wards and everything. But I’ve already managed to sneak out of the castle successfully several times, so I’m not terribly worried.”

“You sure do make life more interesting, you know that Harry?”

He smiled at her warmly. “One of the perks of being best friends with Harry Potter.”

With a statement like that, Ginny’s smile couldn’t get any wider.


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