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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 21: A Test of Loyalty
Harry’s eyes widened in shock. “Remus,” he began, his voice a whisper, when a loud bang reverberated through the hospital. Tonks and Ben immediately rushed back into the hallway.

“It sounded like it came from upstairs,” Ben briskly stated.

Harry nodded his agreement. “Come on. Let’s go.” He glanced briefly at Remus, who gave him a fractional nod as if to say, ‘I’ll keep quiet for now, but we will be discussing this later.’

Harry once again followed behind the two Aurors as they led the way to the staircase. He jogged alongside Remus but pushed the matter of his revealed identity out of his mind. There would be time to worry about it later. For now, they had to concentrate on the matter at hand. Harry trailed behind Tonks as they ascended the stairs. It was not the main staircase that Harry had taken earlier but another one separated from the hallway by a door.

As they reached the next landing, Ben stuck his head out the door and looked both ways. As he retreated back into the stairwell he said, “Nothing. Let’s try the next floor.”

Harry had positioned himself such that he ended up first in line up the stairs this time. He sprinted up two steps at a time and paused as he reached the door. With a glance back to make sure everyone was ready, he wrenched it open and stuck his head out. He saw nothing but heard a commotion coming from his left. He turned back to the others and whispered, “Sounds like there’s something coming from around the bend.” His eyes glanced momentarily to each of their faces before he turned back, opened the door fully, and walked out. As he approached the bend in the hall, he stepped lightly on his toes to avoid making a sound.

Peering around the corner, Harry saw a couple scattered bodies in the corridor. There were a few cloaked figures moving about carefully, going into this room or that. He could see the illumination of different spells in some of the rooms and then saw a head peek out from the far end of the hall. It was not masked, but Harry could not make out any of its features from that distance. He ducked back and quickly explained what he had seen to the others.

Just as he finished his description, a voice called out, “Drop your wands, or else the boy dies.”

Harry would recognise that drawl anywhere. “Malfoy,” he muttered. Ben moved to peek around the corner to see what was going on, but Harry reached out to stop him. “No, wait,” he whispered. “I’ve got an Invisibility Cloak.”

The man hesitated a moment before nodding. Harry took several steps back and pulled out his trunk. Taking out the cloak, he shrunk and stuffed the trunk back into his pocket and turned to the others. He held up a finger, donned the cloak, and then stepped back around the corner. He quickly surveyed the scene before stepping back around the corner and lowering his hood. “There are seven of them in the hall, but it looks like there is activity in some of the rooms. They’ve got a man with red hair bound on the ground in the hall with their wands all levelled on him.”

Harry’s stomach was clenched in both fear and anger. What he neglected to tell them was that he was all but positive it was a Weasley, but he was too far away to distinguish which one. He forced down the feeling knowing it would not help in the current situation.

“Every second you hesitate brings the boy closer to his death,” Malfoy’s voice again rang out.

“They don’t know we’re here,” Harry quickly explained. “They’re all facing the other way. I’ll sneak up behind them and try to free the man before they kill him.”

“Not alone, you won’t,” Remus said tersely, looking Harry straight in the eyes.

“The cloak will only fit one,” Harry stated with a warning glare at Remus. “Wait for my signal, then come ready to fight.”

Harry reached to pull his hood back on, but Remus interrupted him. “Wait, take these.” He held out a hand with four snitch-sized balls with a slight depression in them. Harry almost smirked. The twins had managed to convince Dumbledore after all. “Press this button and you’ll have three seconds before it explodes with a bunch of minor hexes. It won’t do any lasting damage but should confuse them at the very least.”

Harry nodded, took the four magic grenades, and flipped his hood back on. Careful to stay light on his toes, he hurried down the corridor closer to the Death Eaters.

“Very well,” Malfoy stated, stepping forward. “You’ve sealed the boy’s fate.”

“Wait,” a voice called out. Harry recognised it all too well. Professor McGonagall’s face appeared from around the corner, holding out her wand in a non-threatening position. She placed it on the ground and remained still with most of her body still hidden.

“The other two as well,” Malfoy demanded.

Harry wanted to scream at her that Malfoy would never keep his word, but he held his tongue, knowing he needed to keep concealed as his intervention would likely be the only thing able to save them.

McGonagall disappeared for a moment, then came back holding two more wands which she placed on the ground next to hers.

“Fools,” Malfoy spat, summoning the group of wands. “Come on out quickly or his life ends.”

Three figures moved out of their hiding: McGonagall, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and a man Harry did not know.

Malfoy laughed at them. “Now you can watch as he dies.”

With two balls in each hand, Harry pressed all four buttons at once and bent down to roll them towards the crowd. Counting in his head, Harry kept a close eye on Malfoy as he stepped towards the prone figure. It was Bill Weasley. One. Malfoy raised his wand and began moving it in a pattern Harry was growing all too familiar with. Two. Harry raised both hands and extended them towards the Death Eaters, keeping one trained on Malfoy as he fired off two bludgeoning hexes. Malfoy’s voice once again poisoned the air with his malevolent drawl. “Avada…” Minerva, Kingsley, and their companion suddenly sprang into action, pulling out wands and firing curses. Three. “…Kedavra.”

The four grenades exploded in a shower of multi-colored hexes just as Harry’s spell connected with Malfoy. The lights blinded Harry from seeing whether any spells had reached in time to spare Bill’s life. He had no time to dwell on it at the moment as he fired off two Everberos into the confused crowd of Death Eaters. Confused by the spells coming at them from all directions, all seven Death Eaters were incapacitated in a matter of seconds.

For a moment Harry was confused as to where the other three had gotten extra wands when the realisation struck him. They had given up phoney wands; Lucius never bothered to verify that they were real. Harry pulled off the hood of his cloak and nodded at Minerva’s surprised face. Turning, he saw Remus, Tonks, and Ben sprinting down the hall towards them. Just then, a commotion sounded from one of the rooms, and Harry was reminded that there were more Death Eaters to be dealt with. He looked intently into Minerva’s eyes and cocked his head at the room. She gave him a fractional nod as Harry flipped his hood back up and went to investigate.

Harry saw Kingsley kneel down beside Bill but was unable to determine Bill’s condition as he forced his concentration forward into the room. He opened the door as quietly as possible, but, for all the good it did him, he may as well have kicked it in. Though he was invisible, a torrent of spells was launched the second the door opened. Seeing an opening, Harry ducked in and stepped out of the way of the curses, doing his best to stay quiet and light on his feet.

He manoeuvred his way around the perimeter of the room, careful not to touch anything lest he give away his presence. There were six Death Eaters in the room, and they were all facing the doorway. Harry slowly made his way past the Death Eaters and turned to face their backs. It was as he was turning that Harry noticed something that made his heart drop into his stomach: Neville’s mother. She had just sat up in her bed and looked around as though surveying her surroundings. One of the Death Eaters noticed her movement and turned to fire a curse at her, but Harry beat him to it, knocking the man off his feet with a quick Stunner.

Unfortunately, two of the Death Eaters in the room had turned at the motion of their comrade and noticed Harry’s spell. While they still could not see him, they knew roughly where he was and began firing spells his way. Harry was able to knock out one of the other Death Eaters before the rest turned their attention towards him.

Harry dropped to the ground to avoid the barrage of spells. He rolled underneath one of the beds and took aim at the legs of two different Death Eaters. One noticed the spell just in time to throw up a shield; the other was not so lucky. He had to roll quickly to the side as several spells flew his way. One connected with the bed making Harry very glad it was unoccupied.

His Invisibility Cloak rode up on his legs as he rolled, giving his position away to his attackers. Harry jumped up to his feet and just sidestepped a Killing Curse when one of his foes fell suddenly. Harry spared a brief glance at the door to see Remus throwing another spell at one of the two standing Death Eaters.

With Remus in the fray and only two Death Eaters left, Harry was able to relax slightly and focus more on offence. He managed to trip up and disarm one of the men and then stunned him for good measure. Harry turned to the last Death Eater and watched as the man blocked a spell from Remus with his wand hand while his other reached into his robes. Harry quickly shot an Impedimenta at the man, but he was too slow. Just before the spell reached its mark, Harry saw the man’s arm jerk, and he disappeared – along with the five Death Eaters on the ground.

Tonks’ exclamation of “Bloody hell!” confirmed Harry’s suspicion that the Death Eaters in the hall had disappeared as well. At least they had thought to put up the anti-portkey wards on the ones downstairs.

As the danger passed, Harry felt his energy drain off of him. He felt bone-weary and had to put his hand on a nearby bedpost to steady himself for a moment. Every inch of his body ached. He wanted nothing more than to just crawl into a bed and remain there for days, but that was not an option. He lifted the hood of his cloak fully off his head and looked at Remus. The two men stared at each other in silence for a long moment. Harry was unsure what to say or do. He knew he should not linger. He needed to get out of there and back to the castle as soon as possible, yet he was wary of leaving things unsettled with Remus. He needed to make sure Remus would keep his secret, at least until they had a chance to talk things over.

As the silence stretched on, Harry could finally take no more. He stepped forward and said, “Remus…” he paused at a loss for words before finding himself again. “I know I owe you an explanation, but I need to get out of here.”

“I think you have some questions to answer first,” Remus replied evenly, not moving an inch.

Harry stopped to study him. “We can’t now. If anyone finds out…” he left the statement hanging in the air. “I need to get out of here before too many questions are asked and before anyone misses me.”

“Why should I help you keep your secret?” Remus asked in a harsh whisper. “You nearly got yourself killed tonight.”

“Because you know very well that I can fight as well or better than most of the Order,” Harry fired back. “Listen, you don’t have to make a decision now, just promise me you’ll wait until we can talk things over.”

There was a short moment of silence interrupted as Tonks called out for Remus.

Remus looked at the still-open door then back at Harry. “Meet me in the shack Tuesday night. I’ll keep quiet until then.”

“Thank you,” Harry said as he flipped his hood back up and disappeared from view.

Not a moment later, Tonks stuck her head in the doorway. “There you are,” she called as she spotted Remus. Harry slowly backed out of the way as Tonks walked into the room. He carefully made his way to the door and paused as she asked, “What happened to your friend, Jim?” Her tone of voice made her feelings for Jim perfectly clear.

“Disappeared,” Remus responded. “Right after the Death Eaters. He must have had a portkey or something.”

Harry sighed silently and began to walk silently out the door. Not knowing whether or not it was safe to Apparate, he thought it best to leave the hospital first. Just as he was exiting the room, he heard Remus ask, “Is Bill okay?”

Harry froze in mid-step. How could he have forgotten about Bill? Not only was he practically family, he was also Ginny’s brother. Harry did not so much as breathe as he awaited Tonks’ response.

“He’s pretty banged up, but he’ll pull through.”

Harry felt his body relax as a long breath left his lungs. Reassured in the knowledge that Bill would be okay, he walked out the door and manoeuvred his way around the loitering Order members, making his way down the stairs and back into the lobby. He stepped through the exit leading into Muggle London without running into another soul and proceeded to Apparate back to Hogsmeade where he ditched his disguise before wearily transforming into an owl and taking flight towards the castle.

He quickly made his way down to his office where he planned to take a quick shower. Truth be told, he wanted nothing more than to skip the shower and collapse into his bed, but he needed to erase any evidence of his involvement in the battle.

He opened the door of his office and stepped inside. He was surprised to find Ginny waiting there for him. As he saw her staring past him with a hopeful look on her face, Harry found himself suddenly overcome with emotion. Throwing off his Invisibility Cloak, he rushed forward to envelop her in his arms. Ginny returned the embrace just as fiercely, holding onto Harry as if for dear life.

Harry felt his head spinning as the events of the evening caught up with him. He had thought he would never get a chance to see Ginny again, and now that he had her back in his arms, he never wanted to let her go. He kissed the top of her head and held her tightly, too choked up to say a word.

He had no idea how long they stood there in their embrace, nor how many times he pressed his lips into her hair against her head. It was only when he was suddenly overcome by the need to feel her lips pressed against his that he eased his grip on her. And even as she began to pull away, he pulled her back in, ducking his head down to kiss her.

She kissed him back for a short minute but eventually pulled her lips away from his. Undeterred, Harry kissed along her jaw, her neck, her cheeks – placing desperate kisses on any piece of skin his lips could find. “Harry, what’s gotten into you?” Ginny asked breathlessly. “What happened?”

With some effort, Harry began to rein in his emotions. He held her cheek in his hand, stroking her skin with his thumb as he stepped back from her. He felt the back of his legs brush against the sofa, and he let go of her face as he allowed himself to fall back. He closed his eyes without even thinking about it and did not open them until Ginny’s voice again permeated the air. “Harry?” she asked, her tone laced with concern.

He opened his eyes and turned his head to find that she was sitting beside him. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I just – I needed to be close to you. And I needed to kiss you.”

Ginny reached her hand out to cup his cheek and then let it fall down to his side where she clasped his hand.

Taking a moment to compose himself and his thoughts, Harry continued, “I had a bit of a close call tonight,” he admitted to her, wary of her reaction yet wanting to be completely honest with her.

He felt as much as heard her sharp intake of air. “How close?” she asked, her voice a harsh whisper.

Harry sighed and resigned himself to explaining the night’s activities in detail. He left nothing out. When he told her about being held under the Cruciatus Curse, he felt her hand squeeze his. When he explained just how close he had come to his death, her grip had tightened painfully. She gasped when he revealed that Remus had found him out, but she never interrupted him as he continued the story.

She did not interrupt him, that is, until he mentioned Bill’s name. He hastily assured her that he was okay if a bit banged up, and she sagged against him at that revelation. He slipped an arm around her as he continued his story, ending with his short talk with Remus and their scheduled meeting Tuesday night.

When Harry had finished speaking, they sat on the couch in silence for several minutes. Just as Harry’s eyelids began to droop and his exhaustion began to claim him, he felt a sudden jolt and was suddenly quite aware of his surroundings, only they were not the surroundings he expected to find.

“Tell me how it is that you could possibly have failed me so completely!” Voldemort demanded. “Weeks of careful planning and preparation, and you let yourselves be bested by that Muggle-loving fool’s incompetent lackeys.”

“My Lord,” Malfoy pleaded as he prostrated himself before his master. “They were there too soon; they must have known. We did not have time to…”

“You did not have time?” Voldemort’s voice was a harsh whisper. “Tell me, how long did it take you to arrive?” He paused as if waiting for a response but continued on before one could be given. “Your excuses have exhausted my patience, Lucius.” Voldemort languidly reached into his robes to draw out his wand. He revelled in the fear he felt exuding off his servants. Here there were some of the most powerful and influential wizards in the nation cowering before him – not lifting a finger in defence. That was true power. “Crucio,” he hissed, as Malfoy’s body collapsed before him, twitching on the ground as the man struggled unsuccessfully to contain his scream.

Harry felt his scar erupt in pain, but he struggled to contain the feeling. His body was back at Hogwarts. He was in Voldemort’s mind. They were separate, if still connected. He pushed the sensations away as well as he could and concentrated on remaining invisible. He was only partially successful, but it appeared to be enough as Voldemort did not appear to take notice of his presence.

After a long minute, Voldemort lifted the curse, taking a moment to survey his servants. “Perhaps you are correct, Lucius. Perhaps there is a spy among us.” The Death Eaters all shrank back a step at that statement, their fear evident. Harry concentrated as a few names drifted across Voldemort’s mind. Most of the names Harry had never heard, but he recognised a few. Snape’s name came up as well, and Voldemort lingered on it. Snape was the most logical choice even if his loyalty had been proven in the past. He was in the best position, and his Occlumency skills were impressive.

The beginnings of a plan began to form in Voldemort’s head, but he shunted the matter aside for the moment. He had other matters to deal with right now, particularly the punishment of many more servants. Voldemort barely addressed the cloaked figures before the tortures began. Harry felt his scar sear in pain yet again, and he struggled to separate himself from Voldemort. It was a long couple minutes of agony before he felt himself falling away and jerked back to awareness in his own body.

Ginny was there with him, her arms wrapped around him securely. He held onto her tightly as he struggled to regain control over his breathing. It would seem this was becoming a regular occurrence for them, Harry absently mused, but he knew it was merely a bad coincidence. He released his grip on Ginny and pulled back from her.

“Are you all right?” she asked in a whisper.

“I will be,” Harry replied. “I just need some sleep, but first, I need to get cleaned up. You should go get some sleep.”

“I’ll wait for you,” she said, leaning back in her seat.

Harry was about to insist that she go to bed, but he decided not to bother. It was a pointless argument, and he really did not have the energy for it anyway. He pulled out his trunk and climbed inside, heading straight for the shower.

******

The second Harry disappeared into his trunk, Ginny lost her tenuous hold on her emotions. A sob escaped against her will as tears began to trail down her cheeks. Her worst fear had very nearly been realised. She curled her legs up to her body and let go, allowing her emotions the release they so desperately sought.

She could not fathom what she would do if she lost Harry. She knew the dangers he put himself in. Every time he left the castle, fear and worry gripped her heart. It was this more than anything that pushed her to begin training with Harry. She could not sit idly by while he risked his life. She needed to be there with him, to make sure he was okay.

She did not begrudge Harry his involvement in the war. She felt that same pull. And unlike her, he took the initiative to prepare himself long ago. She, like many others, wanted to contribute, but she had never been willing to put forward the effort – not until she had seen Harry’s example. That was the crux of it; she needed Harry.

So many of them did. It was Harry, after all, who was teaching their HA classes. It was Harry giving them the tools they would need to survive the war. Harry was the only person they could count on to take them seriously and to teach them how to fight. Harry was the one who constantly pushed her. It was Harry who believed in her and offered encouragement at every misstep.

But she needed Harry so much more than that. He was her best friend. He was the only person she could be completely honest with – the only person who could understand her. And she almost lost him. She hugged her knees tightly to her chest. Her eyes were clamped shut, and she did nothing to stem the flow of tears. She could not imagine her life without Harry in it.

So consumed was she that she did not notice as Harry reemerged from his trunk. She did not hear his footsteps as he padded over to the sofa. But she heard clearly the ache in his voice as he said her name. “Ginny.”

She felt the shift in the sofa as he sat beside her, and she allowed him to gather her in his arms. She felt stupid and silly to be caught crying, and yet now that she had let the tears flow, she could not stop them. She burrowed deeper into Harry’s embrace, seeking the reassurance of his warmth – the strength and solidity of his body.

“Shh,” he tenderly whispered. “It’s all right. I’m okay. Bill’s okay.”

She could not stop the sob that was wrenched from her throat. Harry tightened his hold on her and pressed his lips to the top of her head. They stayed in that position for several minutes while Ginny struggled to regain her composure. As she began to get a handle on her tears, she felt her body relax, and, in turn, Harry’s grip relaxed as well.

She wanted nothing more than to remain with him, yet she knew that she and, more importantly, Harry needed their sleep. Wiping the last of her tears with her sleeve, she extricated herself from Harry’s embrace. She felt him hesitate before letting his arms fall to his sides, and she looked up into his eyes from beside him. His eyes were red, and she could just see the track left by a single tear that had traced its way down his cheek where it now rested at his jaw.

With a soft sigh, she rose up onto her feet, holding her hands out to Harry. “Come on. I’ve kept you up long enough. You need to get your sleep.”

Harry grabbed both her hands. As he stood, he dropped her hands and encircled her in his arms once again. It was with great reluctance a moment later that they broke apart to walk back up to Gryffindor Tower where, after one final kiss, they separated to their respective dormitories to try to get in a couple hours of sleep.

******

Morning came much too quickly for Harry. He had not fallen asleep quickly, unable to erase the image of Ginny crying the night before. He wanted so desperately to be with her, to hold her in his arms, both for her sake and for his. Even having opted to skip his morning workout routine, he was still exhausted that morning, having only experienced a sparse couple hours of troubled sleep. Now more than ever he regretted his overindulgence of Invigoration Draught the week prior; otherwise, he would be able to take a dose to help him through the day. Now, however, he was forced to suffer sans potion.

Breakfast was a relatively subdued affair. Harry was too tired and distracted for conversation, and the meal passed slowly by until it was time to head to Transfiguration. Throughout the class, Harry struggled just to remain awake as Professor McGonagall lectured them about something or another – Harry was too tired even to grasp the basic topic at hand. He was only mildly surprised when after the bell, the Professor asked to see him.

Harry was dreading the conversation, knowing that she had no doubt noticed his inattentiveness. He was faintly surprised when, after the door to the classroom closed, the first words out of her mouth were spoken with an almost affectionate concern. “Are you all right, Harry? You don’t seem very well today.”

“Sorry Professor,” Harry replied. “I haven’t been sleeping well lately.”

“It’s Minerva, Harry,” she corrected lightly before asking, “Is it visions?”

“Most of the time,” Harry answered. “Sometimes it’s just dreams, but last night… Last night I had two visions.” He looked at her levelly and found that she did not seem the least bit surprised, not that she should considering she was at St. Mungo’s. “I had one before the attack, and I ran down to Professor Dumbledore’s office to warn him. I had trouble falling asleep afterwards, and when I did, I had yet another vision. Voldemort was not too happy.”

“I thought that might be the problem,” she said. “I want you to visit Madame Pomfrey in the hospital wing after your last class. I’ll let her know to expect you and to have a Dreamless Sleep Potion prepared for you. You’re in no shape to get any work done this evening anyway, and the extra sleep will do you good.”

Harry nodded his head knowing that she was correct. Loathe as he was to skip his training in the afternoon, he knew he lacked the energy for it.

“And I want you to let me know if you continue to experience trouble sleeping. We can’t give you a Dreamless Sleep Potion every night or you’ll risk dependency, but there are other avenues we can look into.”

“Thank you,” Harry stated, genuinely warmed by her offer and her concern.

She smiled at him as she laid a hand on his shoulder. “You’re welcome.”

Harry returned to Gryffindor Tower where he spent the rest of the time before lunch engaged in a game of exploding snap with Ron and Neville. Hermione questioned Harry at lunch about what Professor McGonagall wanted to talk to him about, so Harry told his friends that he had not slept well the night before and that she had noticed his drowsiness. His lack of sleep led to more questions, and he was unable to avoid the topic of his visions. He did not let on how often he had them, only that he had experienced two the previous night, which was why he was so disoriented.

Wary of the crowd around them, nobody asked for any specific details about either vision, for which Harry was thankful. He really had no desire to discuss them at that moment. He knew he needed to tell Dumbledore about his second vision, but there was no great rush, except to warn Dumbledore that Voldemort suspected a spy. As long as they could keep Voldemort from truly suspecting Snape – though a part of Harry was not all that concerned about the Potions professor’s well-being – it could actually work to their advantage. If Voldemort’s attention was focused on the possibility of a spy, the attacks might slow down.

At any rate, the news could hold off for a day at least. Now all Harry had to do was make it through Care of Magical Creatures before visiting Madame Pomfrey and sleeping the rest of the day away. Of course, with a homicidal griffin as the subject matter, that was easier said than done. Harry tried once again to communicate with the creature, sending an image of himself gently running his fingers through the feathers on the griffin’s head and neck as Fawkes seemed to enjoy.

He gave up trying when the griffin bit off the hand of the illusionary Harry. Other than that minor glitch, the class went by relatively smoothly. His curiosity in the griffin helped keep him alert throughout the class, and before long he was packing up to head to the hospital wing. Madame Pomfrey had a dose of the potion ready for him when he arrived. She informed him that the draught would put him out for at least twelve hours, probably more. She then proceeded to give him a short lesson about the dangers of taking too much Dreamless Sleep Potion and the risks of addiction and dependency should he use it too often.

Having previously read all about the potion, Harry only paid enough attention to nod and give his agreement in the right places. He left for his dormitory with a full flask in hand after promising the matron that he would not detour along the way and that he would ingest its entire contents right away.

Harry took a minute to sort through his memories for the day before downing the liquid and sinking back into his bed. His last thought before sleep claimed him was one of regret that he did not get the opportunity to wish Ginny good night.

Harry was up early the next morning feeling refreshed and invigorated. He awoke a full hour before he normally would, so he took the opportunity to get some work done prior to his workout with Ginny. As he worked on an essay for Potions, he could not keep his mind from wandering off topic. There was one particular person upon whom it was intent to dwell, frustrating Harry to no end.

Harry was set to meet Remus that night in the Shrieking Shack, and he was quite worried about how the encounter would go. On the one hand, he trusted Remus. He had no doubt in his mind that Remus would always act with Harry’s best interests at heart. While that was all well and good, Harry feared that Remus’ concern for Harry’s well-being would interfere with his judgment.

The fact that he had been able to convince Remus to keep his secret until they had a chance to talk gave Harry some hope. It meant he was at least willing to hear Harry out and consider the matter before making his decision, but that also meant that Harry would have to convince Remus to keep the secret, which would involve revealing a lot more secrets. If he did not reveal more, Remus was sure to tell Dumbledore and the Order. If he revealed his secrets and Remus still chose to give him up, however, Harry would be in even worse condition.

It was not a good situation. With his mind so distracted, he did not notice when Ginny descended into the common room until he heard her voice as her hand touched his shoulder. “Harry?”

He nearly jumped out of his seat in shock and had to take a moment to regain his bearings.

“What’s wrong?” Ginny asked in concern. “Didn’t you sleep well last night?”

“Yes,” Harry responded. “I slept very well, actually. I was just lost in my thoughts.”

“What were you thinking about?” she asked as she leaned over him to look at the scroll and book on the desk. “Something tells me it had nothing to do with Potions.”

Harry hesitated half a second in his response, holding his head in his hands and running his fingers through his hair, staring off into nothing. “I was just thinking about Remus. I’m supposed to meet him tonight, and I’m worried how things will go.”

“Understandable.”

“Would you…” He paused and turned to look up into her eyes. “Would you come with me?”

“Sure,” Ginny replied. “If that’s what you want.”

“Thank you,” Harry said, reaching out to squeeze her hand.

The day crawled by at a flobberworm’s pace for Harry. He found himself constantly distracted by thoughts of that evening. His anxiety built as the day progressed, every minute bringing him closer to the inevitable encounter. He paid for his distraction in Potions as he was not paying attention and either made a mistake in his potion or otherwise failed to notice one of Malfoy’s sabotage attempts. Regardless of the cause of his failed potion, Harry was treated with a ten minute monologue on his incompetence and ineptness from Snape.

With that little hitch out of the way, the rest of the day passed without incident. Harry had not set any specific time to meet Remus, but he thought it safe to assume they would meet around the time they usually did on a full moon. His BHA class that evening was especially rough, but he forced himself to concentrate and was able to make it through.

Afterwards, he gave up on getting any sort of work done and asked Ron for a game of chess. It proved to be a decent diversion as he was free to let his mind wander while Ron carefully planned his strategy. The fact that Harry was beaten quite thoroughly in each game aroused absolutely no suspicion since it happened every time he played Ron.

When the time began to grow late, Harry made his excuses and headed up to his dorm. He set up his usual illusion and grabbed his Invisibility Cloak as a precaution. Opening the window, Harry transformed into an owl and flew out into the brisk night air. Wary of the branches of the Whomping Willow, Harry flew swiftly into the opening at the base of the enchanted tree.

He waited there for a few minutes before he heard Ginny’s spell depress the knot just outside the tunnel’s entrance. He held his hand out to her as she approached and, as her invisible hand gripped his, guided her down the slight slope. As she removed her Invisibility Cloak, he greeted her with a quick kiss. “Hi.”

“Hey,” she replied. “Are you ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Harry responded with a slight quirk to his smile.

She rolled her eyes at him. “Oh come on. There’s no sense worrying over something you can’t control. Besides, Remus kept the secret of your Animagus form. I’m sure we can convince him to keep this one as well.”

“I hope you’re right.”

With that the two set off. The tunnel was too narrow to walk side by side, so Harry led the way with Ginny trailing close behind. As they walked along, Harry, for what seemed like the thousandth time that day, began rehearsing what he would say to Remus. An idle fear gripped him that when confronted he would forget all his arguments, so he quickly ran through each one over and over until the tunnel began to rise and Harry was confronted with a door in the ceiling.

Exhaling deeply, Harry grabbed the rung and pushed up.

******

Remus paced back and forth impatiently over the already worn floor. For what seemed like the thousandth time, he glanced down at his watch. Harry was due to arrive any minute. Despite the fact that he had suspected him for quite some time, Remus still had a hard time grasping the fact that Harry was Jim – that Harry had managed to sneak out on his own at least four times now to fight Death Eaters.

There were so many questions to answer before any of it added up. How was Harry even able to perform magic outside of Hogwarts without drawing the Ministry’s attention? Where did he learn to Apparate? Where in Merlin’s name did he learn to fight like that? The question of why was an easy one. It was in Harry’s nature to get involved, to try to stop something wrong or bad. It was one of Harry’s most endearing and frustrating qualities.

Remus had absolutely no idea what he intended to do after this little meeting. That would depend largely on what he learned from Harry. Part of him insisted that Harry needed to be protected, even against his will, but another part was willing to look objectively at the situation. Harry could fight, plain and simple, and right now they needed all the help they could get. He had already proven himself capable, of that there could be no dispute.

That is what made the situation so difficult. If he was not so effective in battle, it would be easy to just say he was too young and inexperienced to be involved in the fighting. Harry, however, would be involved in the war whether or not he was directly involved in the fighting. Voldemort would go after Harry regardless.

Then there was the prophecy. Remus was not privy to its full contents, but he was able to put two and two together as well as anyone else. It was clear Harry had a major part to play in the war. Perhaps Harry needed to be involved.

In all his pacing and musings, Remus had paid little attention to his surroundings. It was the sound of the trapdoor opening that finally managed to pull him out of his head. He stopped dead in his tracks and stared at the newly revealed entrance as Harry’s head popped through. Their eyes met, and he could immediately tell that Harry was just as nervous and anxious for this meeting as he was.

He was only mildly surprised when, after Harry had stepped out of the trap door, Ginny’s face appeared behind him. So she knew. He had wondered whether or not Harry had confided in her fully. Once Ginny had climbed out of the tunnel, Harry closed the trap door with a thud that reverberated throughout the otherwise silent room. No greetings were exchanged as Remus surveyed Harry, and the two teens surveyed him.

The silence pervaded the room as the sound of the door faded into nothingness. Remus was not even sure what to say or ask – where to begin. He opened his mouth several times, but no words came to him.

Finally, Harry spoke. “Thank you for agreeing to meet me.”

Remus looked squarely into his eyes as he responded. “I owe you that much at least.”

Harry nodded and hesitated for a moment. Ginny sidled up next to him, taking his hand in hers, and Harry turned to smile at her before refocusing on Remus. “Do you want to start or should I?”

“I think you better,” Remus said at once. “I can’t even think where to begin.”

“Well,” Harry began, “I guess the first thing you probably need to know is that I discovered I’m rather good at wandless magic.”

“Wandless magic?” Remus repeated unconsciously. Whatever he had expected Harry to say, he was not prepared for that statement.

“This could take some time,” Harry stated. “Maybe we better all sit down.”

Remus nodded and reached for his wand when Harry held out his hand to interrupt him. “Allow me.”

With a wave of his hand, an armchair and a settee materialised in the centre of the room. Harry led Ginny into the latter, and, after gaping wordlessly for a moment, Remus walked over to the other, sinking back into the comfortable chair.

“How did you…?” he began to ask once he had seated himself, but the question died on his lips.

“How did I learn to do wandless magic?” Harry asked for him. Remus nodded. “Well, two summers ago, you remember when I was attacked by Dementors in Little Whinging?” Again, Remus nodded. “My cousin, Dudley, had punched me, thinking I was playing some trick on him, and I dropped my wand. It was so dark that I couldn’t see where it went; meanwhile the Dementors were rapidly closing in on us, and, in my panic, I said “Lumos” while desperately wishing for some light. My wand lit up.”

Remus furrowed his brow wondering why Harry had never brought this up in the past, but before he could ask, Harry resumed his explanation.

“At the time I didn’t think much of it. There was so much else going on that I completely forgot all about it. But then I learned how difficult it is for the average wizard to perform wandless magic, even a spell as simple as Lumos. When I learned that, I began experimenting with it and, after some trial and error and a whole lot of practice, I managed to get the mechanics down to where any spell I could cast with a wand, I could also do without one. As I continued to practice, it became easier and more natural until I was casting spells more quickly and efficiently than I ever did with a wand.”

Remus felt his eyebrows slowly rising up his forehead as Harry continued his story. A stolen wand he had suspected. He had briefly considered that perhaps Harry had found some way to break the tracking charm on his wand. But wandless magic? Never in his wildest dreams.

“When I learned that the Ministry tracked spell-use based on the wand and not the wizard, I knew it was safe to practice over the summer.” Remus smiled ruefully as he realised that he had quite freely given away that piece of information to Harry.

“And that’s when I got the idea to try casting two spells at once.”

Remus’ thoughts derailed. “Two spells?” he uttered.

Harry nodded. “At first I was only casting the same spell in both hands at the same time, but I was eventually able to get it so that I could cast two different spells simultaneously.”

Remus was not sure he had ever seen Dumbledore cast two spells at once, but then again he may have been so surreptitious about it that there was no way you could tell even if he had.

“I was training throughout the summer, and I’ve been using the Room of Requirement to train every day since school started back up in September. Oh, and I still run and work out every morning as well.”

Harry paused in his explanation, giving Remus a moment to process everything he had just been told, but Remus knew it would take a lot longer than a few minutes to do that. And yet there was still so much left unexplained.

“Where did you learn to Apparate?” he asked.

Harry did not immediately answer. Instead, he looked to Ginny, who looked back at him, serious expressions on both faces as they seemed to communicate with just a look. After a short moment, Harry turned back and, after clearing his throat, said, “That’s a little difficult to explain.”

That is a little difficult to explain?’ Remus thought to himself incredulously. If that was more difficult to explain than his proficiency in wandless magic, he was not so sure he wanted to know. He wondered if his brain could handle it, yet he thought he might explode if he did not hear the answer soon.

“I’ve got time,” he eventually responded.

Harry did not seem particularly pleased to hear that. Remus noticed as Ginny’s hand found its way to Harry’s leg just above his knee where she began to run her fingers back and forth. After a short moment, it seemed to have a noticeable effect on Harry, soothing him. Swallowing heavily, Harry began speaking, “What would you say if I said that Sirius taught me?”

It was surprising, but given the fact that he had started Harry on the Animagus transformation in secret, it was not all that big a shock that he had included Apparition lessons as well. At least, Remus was not all that shocked until Harry finished. “Last summer.”

Remus felt as if he had just been punched in the stomach. Then, with a sudden realisation, he unconsciously said, “No. It couldn’t be.” He stared at Harry for a long moment before turning away and continuing quietly to himself, “It couldn’t have been real.” There’s no way it could have been real. Sirius died. He saw it happen. There was no coming back. He turned back and looked steadily into Harry’s eyes, whose gaze did not falter in the slightest. “What do you mean?” he finally asked.

Harry sighed. “He sort of visited me in my sleep,” he explained with a half shrug. “I don’t know how to explain it better than that. He said he was stuck in a place between the living and the dead for a time, and that while he was there, he could visit my dreams.”

“Just your dreams?” Remus queried anxiously.

“Well, no. I think he said anyone he had been particularly close to in life,” Harry answered with his brow slightly furrowed. “Why?”

“Just curious,” Remus hastily responded. “Tell me more.”

“It was a bit weird, but we could control the environment to an extent, and we were able to use magic as if we were in the real world. He helped me train over the summer and into the school year. He – uh,” Harry paused and swallowed. Remus noticed Ginny’s fingers tighten around Harry’s thigh. “He moved on a little over a month ago.”

Remus was quick to notice the correlation between when Sirius supposedly passed on and when he had his own encounter with his deceased friend. “So Sirius taught you to Apparate then, in this dream world?” he asked, though he knew that was exactly what Harry had said.

“Yes,” Harry stated, though his tone made it clear that he did not think Remus would believe him.

Remus noticed Ginny whisper something to Harry, though he could not make out what it was. She kissed him on the cheek and settled back at his side. Harry turned and looked adoringly at her for a moment before refocusing his attention.

“So then you learned to Apparate wandlessly as well?” Remus asked for clarification.

“Yes.”

Remus nodded. He knew he needed to tell Harry about his meeting with Sirius, but he was somehow reluctant to do so. He had hardly dared to allow himself to even consider the possibility that it had been real before that moment. He needed time to reevaluate the situation, yet he knew after all Harry had just shared with him, that he owed it to Harry at least that much.

“He – I mean Sirius – he – uh, well,” Remus began, taking a deep, steadying breath before finishing. “He visited me once, I think just before he passed on.”

Remus felt as much as heard Harry’s sharp intake of breath. “What did he say?” Harry asked in a tightly controlled voice.

“Not much, unfortunately,” Remus responded. “Basically just that, when the time came, I should trust you.” He decided to leave off what Sirius had implied about Harry’s strength and ability. Even though Sirius had not told him anything specific, he thought it best not to call Sirius’ loyalty to Harry into question.

Harry relaxed noticeably at his words. A moment later, a small smirk appeared on his face as he asked, “So how did you finally figure it out?”

“Well, it was mostly the panther form, like I said,” Remus answered. “Though I did get thrown for a loop when Dumbledore said one of you had a bird Animagus.”

“One of us?” Harry inquired.

“Oh,” Remus said, smacking himself lightly upside the head. “The Order and Dumbledore think you’re actually two people.” Remus stopped as Harry and Ginny turned to each other and abruptly burst out in laughter. He too joined in, though much less enthusiastically.

“They – they think that – that I’m two people?” Harry asked in between fits as his laughter began to wind down.

“I did too, for a short time,” Remus added. “I figured if it was you, then your partner in crime was obvious.” He gave an unnecessary nod at Ginny. “But things never quite added up, and when the bird Animagus theory came up, I didn’t know quite what to think. I guess they were just wrong about that.”

Harry and Ginny shared a short, conspiratory glance, but neither commented.

“So what do you plan to do now?” Harry asked after a moment.

A sigh escaped Remus’ lips as he felt his shoulders sag. “I don’t know,” he said tiredly. “This is quite a bit to swallow.” Remus paused a moment before an idea struck him. “What would you do, in my shoes?”

Harry’s expression mirrored his puzzlement at the strange question. “Honestly? I’d try to remember what it was like for me growing up when people refused to look past my age to the person I am. It’s not our age that defines us.” Sirius’s parting message rang in his ears at Harry’s statement.

I know he is still so young, but don’t let his age cloud your vision the way it has Dumbledore and so many others.

He shook his head clear as Harry continued. “I wish I could just be another kid, Remus, with only school and my girlfriend and Quidditch to worry about, but I can’t. I’ll be a part of this war regardless of what anyone wants, so, to me, it makes more sense to work with me rather than against me.”

Remus nodded. “And what about you?” he said, turning his focus to Ginny. “What do you think of all this?”

She sat up a bit, pulling her hand from Harry’s leg up to her hair. “It’s not easy watching Harry go, knowing the danger he will be putting himself in. But where would I be if it weren’t for him? Dead, twice over.” The frankness with which she spoke struck Remus, and he realised her intentions before she had a chance to voice them. “There’s nothing harder in the world than sitting in the castle while Harry, you, and my family fight this war. I support him because I understand where he’s coming from and because I have every intention of fighting alongside him – as soon as I can.”

It was Harry now, Remus saw, who offered the comforting hand to Ginny. He knew he was not sitting across from an ordinary teenage couple. Their maturity shone in their relationship and in the way they held themselves, and the strength of their convictions was clear. Despite their ages, Remus knew that sitting across from him were two adults – a mature, loving couple.

It was almost like stepping back in time, watching James and Lily together shortly after their seventh year at Hogwarts. They needed only to switch Harry’s eyes with Ginny, and he would hardly be able to tell the difference. He marvelled at how this development could have happened so quickly and so completely out of notice. Was he that blinded by their ages that he had not noticed previously?

When Remus learned of Harry’s relationship with Ginny, he had been happy for them. His experiences with the two of them had shown that the two cared for each other and shared a strong bond, but for the first time he was able to truly appreciate the depth of their relationship.

And so, with that insight, Remus knew there was only one course of action he could take. Almost dreading the words as they formed on his tongue, he asked, “How can I help?”

******

Harry stared blankly at Remus a moment before the words caught up in his mind. “You mean you won’t tell Dumbledore or the Order?” he asked quickly, hardly believing it could be possible.

Not for the first time that evening, Remus heaved a weary sigh before responding. “No, I won’t reveal your identity at this time. There may come a time when I will have little or no choice, but I will do my best to keep your secret as long as I can – and as long as you are safe.”

A wide smile stretched across Harry’s face. He turned and gave Ginny a brief kiss, laughing to himself in relief. “Thank you, Remus.”

Remus shrugged, responding, “You made a valid point. I shouldn’t judge you based on your age, and that would be the only reason to try to stop you. You’ve already proven yourself, as far as I’m concerned.”

Harry could not have been happier. It was such a huge relief after all the anxiety the last two days had brought him. If he was completely honest with himself, it was comforting to share his secrets with Remus. He hated lying to his friends and sneak around all the time. He would still have to do that, only to one less person.

“Will you keep me posted on what’s going on with the Order?” Harry asked hopefully. He had planned on asking Fred and George for that favour when they made it in, but Remus would provide a much better source as nobody would suspect him of any sort of duplicity.

“I suppose I can do that,” Remus replied. “Though I think it would be best never to do so via owl post, so you may only get updates once a month.” Harry nodded understandingly, and Remus continued, “Now what do you want to do about your alternate persona, Jim?”

Harry tapped his chin as he thought it over. “I think we should encourage them to think of me as two people. The next time we end up in battle together, I’ll slip up and reveal that I don’t work alone.”

“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea,” Remus cut in. “At least, don’t make it obvious. Right now they think you’re trying to confuse us as well as the Death Eaters. They think it likely that you have an identical twin and that we’ve actually seen the both of you – just never at the same time.”

“Oh,” Harry replied. “Well that makes sense then.” He pondered the situation for a long moment before Ginny spoke up.

“Well, if the Order already thinks that each of you has a different Animagus form,” she said to Harry, “and if you technically don’t know that they’re aware of either of those Animagus forms, maybe you could try to confirm the two different Animagi theories.” There was a suggestive lilt to her voice that Harry did not miss. She was clearly hesitant of revealing Harry’s second form to Remus, though she seemed to think it would be a good idea to do so, and to use his two forms to his advantage.

“Well, I get how he would do the panther, obviously, but how are we going to confirm the bird Animagus?” Remus inquired.

Harry smiled sheepishly as he answered, “Well, you see, the thing is that I sort of have two Animagus forms.”

He watched as Remus lurched forward, his head falling hard into his hands as his thumbs began to idly rub at his temples. Harry worried that something might be wrong when Remus suddenly looked up.

“Two? You have two Animagus forms?” Remus stood and began pacing back and forth across the worn floor.

Harry tracked his progress with his eyes. “Yes.”

“Unbelievable.” The word was said so quietly that Harry nearly missed it. Remus abruptly ceased his pacing and turned to Harry. “How…just how?”

Harry shrugged. “When I took the potion, I had two different visions: one as a panther, the other as an owl.” Harry thought about adding in the fact that he could communicate with other owls as well but thought Remus might implode if he revealed that secret right now.

“Okay,” Remus said to himself, then again to the others. “Okay. The Order is already sure of the panther form thanks to Ginny here. The owl form they only heard about second-hand from Snape who had heard it from one of the Death Eaters who was at Amelia Bones’ residence, and he apparently had not actually seen you transform. But again, you want to be secretive, so don’t show it off. When you have an opportunity, show up at a scene in the owl form and fly around in plain sight, but fly off somewhere hidden when you transform.”

“All right,” Harry agreed.

“And even if you ever need to show your panther form, always take the name Jim,” Remus continued. “You’re trying to make yourself out to be one person.”

“Right.”

“Right,” Remus parroted. “Any other big surprises?”

“No,” Harry said smilingly as he stood from his seat, offering Ginny a hand up as well. “I think that’ll do for tonight. Gotta save something for next time, right?”

“I hope you’re kidding,” Remus stated in a deadpan.

Harry only shrugged in response, and Remus shook his head. The smile faded from Harry’s face as he adopted a more serious tone. “Thank you, Remus. I know I’m asking a lot of you, and I want you to know that I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome, Harry. It’s the least I can do,” he replied. When Harry moved to speak up again, Remus held out a hand. “I mean it. It may not seem like much to you, but the fact that you’re here with me every full moon is a very big thing to me. And beyond that, I owe it to James and Lily… and Sirius. This was Sirius’ last request of me, and I have no intention of letting him down.”

Harry felt a sudden prickling behind his eyelids at Remus’ words. Overcome suddenly with emotion, he stepped forward and embraced Remus. It took only a second before he felt Remus return the hug. A moment later, their arms relaxed, and Harry took a step back.

“Just do me one favour, Harry,” Remus said, with one hand lingering on Harry’s shoulder. Harry looked him straight in the eye as Remus continued. “Don’t get too reckless. Wait for us to arrive before you rush into things.” There was no judgment or condescension in his tone, and Harry knew he was not trying to belittle or even make demands of him. He was just asking for a little common sense.

“I learned my lesson,” Harry answered. “I’ll be more careful from now on.”

“Good.” Remus let his hand fall from Harry’s shoulder, and his gaze shifted past Harry as he continued, “Ginny, it was a pleasure as always.”

Harry looked over his shoulder to see her smile in response. “It was nice to see you too. And thank you, both for Harry and for me.”

Remus chuckled humourlessly. “Well, I can’t say I’m eager to see you out there, but I hope all goes well in your training.”

“Thank you,” she replied, stepping up beside Harry and slipping her hand in the crook of his elbow.

Harry turned back to face Remus. “Well, I guess we’ll see you in a couple weeks if not sooner.”

“Let’s hope it’s not sooner,” Remus responded.

Harry nodded, lingering for just another moment before leading Ginny to the trap door and back to Hogwarts.

******

Despite the late hour at which they had returned, Harry actually slept well that night and woke feeling refreshed and rested – which meant he was back on his normal training schedule. After giving the matter some thought, Harry altered his regimen slightly due to his experiences in St. Mungo’s. He no longer spent all of his time duelling in wide open spaces; instead, he opted to vary the environment. Sometimes it was a confined hallway. Other times there were odd corners or various objects that could be used for cover.

During their weekly lesson, Harry told Dumbledore about Voldemort’s suspicions. He not only warned the Headmaster of Voldemort’s thoughts on Snape but also pointed out that Voldemort would likely know the spy was Harry if he was able to spy on Harry the way Harry was able to spy on him. Dumbledore had only nodded and warned Harry not to become too complacent as things were often not exactly as they appeared to be. Harry could hardly deny the man’s words, though he would have liked more of a response than that.

The only other anomaly to Harry’s week was an abnormal lack of visions. His scar had prickled a few times here and there, but Voldemort seemed to be lying low for the time being. Harry’s sleep was still troubled at times, but he was able to catch up on a whole lot of rest in that time and was feeling great by the weekend. The spare moments he was able to share with Ginny were a lot more lively than they had been over the past couple weeks, leaving both of them in high spirits.

Sunday morning brought with it his double BHA class. When it came time to separate his seven advanced members, he was struck by a sudden inspiration. He spoke briefly with those seven before whistling and calling the attention of the rest of the class. When they had all quieted down and turned their attentions to him, Harry silently cast Sonorous on his throat and began speaking.

“Thank you. You all have no doubt noticed the duels being performed by your seven classmates here,” Harry gestured to his students behind him. “Today, for a bit of fun, I thought you might all enjoy watching the seven of them team up to duel against me.”

The students all looked at each other, the silence lingering for just a moment before they all began chattering excitedly. Harry smiled and turned to look at his soon-to-be opponents behind him. They offered him nervous smiles, clearly not all too confident of the impending duel even with their numbers.

Turning back to the rest of his students, Harry held up his hands for silence. It took only a short moment until all attention was once again fixed on Harry. “You will find seating behind you. I will have to ask that none of you attempt to enter into the field of battle, which you will see marked clearly in front of you. You will be protected from any stray spells in your seats.”

Turning around, the students were all surprised to see the bleacher-like seats that had materialised while their backs were turned. As they all began shuffling towards the seats, Harry turned around and addressed the combatants. “Nothing more powerful than a Stunner, and no reviving. Beyond that, anything goes. You’ll have several places for cover. Your primary goal is to survive to the end of the battle. If you manage to defeat me, all the better. Understood?” Seven heads nodded simultaneously. “Good.” Harry offered them a warm smile. “Don’t hold anything back. I’d like to see for myself how far you’ve come along.”

He was not disappointed. By the time the battlefield was set up and the contest began, they had about twenty minutes left until the end of class. He set up a timer that would sound when only ten minutes remained and again at the end of the battle. As he had promised, Harry provided them with a few places for cover from which to work. For his part, he gave himself just one piece of wall on the other side of the battlefield. He expected the seven to remain where they were as their primary goal was only to survive, so he would be on the offensive and would need to leave his own defensive position.

Harry stripped out of his robe for the battle, wearing only a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Sitting on a waist high stone wall facing away from his opponents, Harry called out. “Are you ready?”

The answering call of “Ready” sounded through the hall.

Harry stood and turned around. “Begin!” he shouted. He was pleased to see that they wasted no time peeking out from their hiding places and beginning to fire on his unprotected form. He ducked behind the wall to observe them for a moment. He was able to locate five of them. The other two appeared to be keeping their positions hidden. He smiled, pleased with the strategy, simple as it was. It showed that they were not taking anything for granted.

Wanting to test them further, he leapt over the wall out into the open. Rather than charging forward, he allowed them to fire at him from a distance while he both dodged and shielded himself from their attacks. Their aims had improved, and they seemed to work together to try to keep him from moving around too much.

Contain the enemy. Good. But how would they respond to something a little more unexpected? With no warning, Harry turned to the offensive. He began pushing forward, firing spells at his attackers, forcing them to duck into hiding or cast shields for protection. He concentrated on his foes and noticed how a few of them, after ducking out of sight, always reappeared in the same position. He used that to his advantage, timing his curses such that he was firing when their heads were down rather than vice versa. After just a couple minutes, two of their numbers had fallen.

One of them, he thought it was Ryan, realised his strategy and shouted to his allies. “Move around more. He’s memorising our positions hoping to get us when we reappear.”

Harry knew he liked that Slytherin. He was clever and always seemed to keep a cool head. With only three attackers now firing at him, Harry was able to push farther forward. He was wary of getting too close without knowing where his other two opponents were. One of the two he had downed was hiding behind the short wall closest to him. If he could take that cover, it would make his work much easier, but he expected at least one if not both of the remaining two attackers to be waiting on the other side to ambush him when he approached.

The timer sounded for the first time, alerting Harry that he had only ten more minutes to subdue the others. Time to make things interesting. He set off in a dead sprint for the closest wall. Rather than use it as a cover, he leapt up, kicking off the wall and spinning around in the air. Sure enough, both of the missing attackers were waiting there caught completely by surprise by his sudden appearance. Both were Stunned before his feet touched the ground.

He dove out of the way of a couple curses sent by the remaining three students. He quickly ducked back behind the wall he had just leapt over to give himself a moment to catch his breath and formulise a plan. Two of the remaining three were close together while the third was quite alone. It would be much easier to take out the one and then deal with the two, but the solitary student was farthest away.

Without being able to hold up a shield wandlessly, Harry had to be much more careful in how he moved with the close ranges they were now fighting at. They were becoming far too adept at hitting a moving target. Wary of the ticking clock, Harry popped out the side of the wall and began making his way to the solitary student. The other two students seemed to recognise his plan right away and did their best to prevent him from moving towards their comrade.

Meanwhile, Ryan, Harry’s mark, seemed also to realise his precarious position. He unexpectedly left his cover, diving behind another wall closer to the other two, just narrowly escaping two Stunners Harry had hastily sent his way. Ryan had not quite joined the others, but he was no longer truly isolated from them either. This would make things much more interesting.

Harry was unfortunately left quite exposed by the unanticipated change of position as Ryan was now in a much better position to join the attacks of the two others. Undeterred, Harry attempted to flank Ryan, placing the boy between himself and his other two opponents. Again, Ryan was ready for the move and fell back to join the other two. Harry knew time was a major issue now that he had wasted so much in his failed attempt to isolate Ryan. If he hoped to defeat them before time ran out, he would have to forgo strategy and launch an all-out offensive.

That’s just what he did. Weaving in and out of spells, Harry allowed his instincts to take over, the months of training having taught his body to move and to avoid spells without conscious thought. Meanwhile, his wand was trained on his attackers, throwing hexes and curses at a furious rate, interrupting their attacks as they attempted to avoid and shield themselves from his spells. He shifted all his focus to Ryan, launching spell after spell at him. He lasted nearly a minute under the onslaught before he fell. Harry set his sights on the others: Nick and Mary-Jo.

Focusing first on Nick, Harry began anew his attack. He managed to trip him up and just as his Stunner was about to hit its mark, Mary-Jo leapt in its path with a shouted, “Protego!”

Harry was caught off guard by the action giving Nick enough time to recover himself and rejoin the battle. Mary-Jo began falling back, and Nick seemed to follow her lead. Harry followed, never breaking from his relentless attack. Limited by the rules of engagement, Harry had no choice but to stick with the low-powered hexes and curses as he pursued them in a game of cat and mouse. The match lasted only another minute or two before the timer sounded announcing the end of the duel.

The crowd of watching students, about whom Harry had completely forgotten, burst out into applause. Harry could not suppress a smile as he bent over with his hands on his slightly bent knees to catch his breath and rest a moment. That was fun!

More than that, he was incredibly proud of his students. He looked over at his two survivors to find them speaking quietly to each other, shy smiles on both their faces. He smiled and turned away for a minute to give them a moment of semi-privacy, choosing instead to revive the others.

After a couple minutes and five silent Reennervate spells, his five fallen students were all brought back to consciousness. As they rejoined Nick and Mary-Jo, he asked them all to wait while he dismissed the rest of the class. They chatted excitedly as they began to shuffle towards the door, some stopping to talk to their seven classmates involved in the duel. Harry was happy to see them all smile and laugh with their peers, no barriers between them.

After several minutes, the room had finally cleared out, leaving Harry alone with his seven students. “Let me start by saying how proud I am. You’ve all come a long way in a short amount of time. Your aim, even at a distance, was great. You took things seriously, devising a strategy to defeat me.”

“Too bad it didn’t work,” Jennifer called out.

Harry smiled. “Yes, shame, that.” He did not even attempt to hide his smile. “Nevertheless, you forced me into taking a great risk. It ended up working well for me, but if I had guessed your position incorrectly, I’d have been in trouble.” He began pacing back and forth in front of them as he continued, “One thing you need to account for in devising strategies is that sometimes the most logical course of action is not the best. As in this case, the most logical place for you to hide was at the wall closest to me, where the others could easily signal you of my approach. I was able to discern that as well as you were, which is why I rushed the wall so as not to give you the time to react to my presence.”

He paused a moment in both his pacing and his speech, giving them a moment to digest his words. After a moment Sarah met his eyes and spoke up, “You mean that sometimes the best thing you can do is something illogical so as to catch the enemy off guard?”

Harry chuckled. “Something like that. You don’t necessarily want to do something illogical; just avoid doing anything obvious – something your opponent is likely to expect.” They nodded their heads at his words, and Harry was satisfied they had gotten the message. “Beyond that, Ryan already picked out your only other major flaw – predictability. When ducking behind cover, it’s best to keep your opponents guessing where you are; otherwise you give them the opportunity to anticipate when and where you’ll reappear.”

Dropping his professorial role for a moment, Harry smiled widely at them all as he stated, “I don’t know about you guys, but I really enjoyed that.” They laughed at his candid statement until he spoke again. “I think we’ll have to do this more often.” The laughter paused a moment as they all looked at each other for a moment until they all, Harry included, burst out laughing again. “Go on,” Harry stated a moment later. “I don’t want to make you miss lunch.”

“You mean you don’t want to miss lunch?” Ryan retorted.

Harry shrugged and with a smile responded, “Same difference.”

He walked out of the room with them, heading up to Gryffindor tower with Nick as the others all retreated to their own common rooms. After lunch, Harry reflected on the earlier lesson. It was clear to him that he had made the right decision in choosing to separate those seven students and set them duelling each other. It also made him see that he needed to implement a similar scheme into his IHA classes sooner rather than later. There were only a few months left in the school year, and he would need as much time as possible to prepare them before the summer holidays when they would leave the safety of the school. He resolved to sit down sometime that week to work out the logistics of how to implement that into his IHA classes on such a wide scale.

******

Harry’s luck ran out the following week as his visions returned, though with less frequency than in previous weeks. Tuesday night he witnessed an attack on a Muggle town. It was becoming almost mechanical for him to shut down his emotions whenever a vision took him. It was necessary to do so to avoid Voldemort’s notice, yet he was almost sick with himself upon waking up for not being horrified at what he had seen. Even as he was sorting through the memory, the emotional impact was far more stunted than it should have been.

Friday night, though, Harry had a vision of an entirely different nature. Voldemort was alone. He was anxious, waiting for somebody – who it was eluded Harry. Voldemort’s thoughts were too scattered for Harry to make much sense of them. After a minute of waiting, Harry was almost positive his anticipation involved weeding out the spy in his ranks.

He could hear the footsteps approaching long before the cloaked figure appeared before his eyes. “You have kept me waiting, Severus,” Voldemort hissed.

“I’m sorry, My Lord,” Snape replied as he bowed down on one knee. “It was difficult to get out of the castle, but I came as quickly as I could.”

“Have you brought what I asked for?” Voldemort impatiently inquired.

“Of course, My Lord,” Snape uttered, reaching into his robes and pulling out a potion that Harry did not recognise.

“Yes,” Voldemort hissed quietly. “This will do just fine. You serve your master well, Severus.”

Snape said nothing, only bowing his head.

“I think I shall allow you to accompany me,” Voldemort continued, “to watch as my planning and your hard work both come to fruition.” His thoughts were too guarded for Harry to read Voldemort’s intentions. Harry was almost positive that he was testing Snape in some way, but in what way, Harry did not know.

“My Lord?”

“Come Severus, you’ve left us very little time,” Voldemort commanded.

Harry felt himself fading away, but for once he did not want to retreat to his own body just yet. He needed to ascertain Voldemort’s true aim, but there was little he could do without alerting Voldemort to his presence.

Harry awoke with a start, brushing aside his curtains and leaping from his bed. He was throwing on a robe when a voice startled him, “Everything all right, mate?”

Harry pulled the robe down to uncover his face and looked at Ron, who was sitting up in his bed watching worriedly. “Yeah. I think Snape’s in trouble.”

“Bugger it,” Ron responded. “He deserves whatever…” A yawn interrupted him, giving Harry the opportunity to butt in.

“It’ll be all right; I just want to warn Dumbledore,” Harry said. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

“Suit yourself,” Ron said, lying back down in bed.

Harry rushed as quickly as he could to Dumbledore’s office, flinging open his door to find the office empty. Momentarily caught off guard, he hesitated in the middle of the room as he tried to figure out what to do next. A trill from Fawkes diverted his attention. He looked over at the phoenix, who met Harry’s eye for a moment, then looked deliberately over his shoulder.

Harry turned on the spot to face the fireplace. “He left in the fireplace?” Harry asked and then spun around. “Did he go to Headquarters?”

Fawkes gave another trill that Harry understood as an affirmative. “Thank you,” Harry said. Turning back to the fireplace, he grabbed a pinch of Floo powder and threw it into the fire. Stepping into the rising green flames, Harry spoke, “Number twelve, Grimmauld Place.”

A short, nauseating journey later, Harry spilled out of the fireplace in his godfather’s old house. A few muttered and shouted curses met Harry’s ears as well as the scraping of chairs. He raised onto his hands and knees to find a table full of Order members looking down at him in shock. Feeling entirely out of place, he muttered, “Erm – hello.”

Several people spoke at once so that Harry was unable to understand any of them. He picked himself up off the ground as Dumbledore called everyone to order. When the room had quieted, Dumbledore turned to Harry and asked, “To what do we owe this most unexpected visit?”

“It’s Snape, sir,” Harry replied.

“Professor Snape, Harry,” the man corrected absently.

“Right, him,” Harry stated, hardly caring about semantics at the moment. “I think he’s in trouble.”

“And what has led you to this conclusion?” Dumbledore asked calmly.

Harry was suddenly wary of speaking in front of the assembled Order. His eyes raked to the side, covering nearly the whole length of the table before snapping back to Dumbledore. His Headmaster nodded encouragingly, and Harry understood. His visions were Order business. “I had a vision. Sn – Professor Snape brought some sort of potion to Voldemort, and Voldemort said he would reward Snape by allowing him to watch something with him. He never said what, exactly.”

Harry paused half a moment anticipating an interruption, but nothing came. “The thing is, Voldemort was very anxious about something, and I know he’s been trying to ferret out a spy in the Death Eaters. I think that whatever they are doing tonight that it’s some sort of test of Snape’s loyalty. That’s why Voldemort wanted Snape with him, so Snape would be there when Voldemort learned whether or not he is the spy.”

Silence met his statement. Dumbledore stroked from his chin down his beard from his place at the head of the table.

“How do you know that You-Know-Who is testing Snape tonight?” a voice challenged.

Harry turned to locate the source of the voice. It was Kingsley Shacklebolt. “I can sort of read some of his thoughts. They weren’t very clear, but I’d bet anything that whatever is going on tonight, it could mean Snape’s life if things go wrong.”

“That is troubling news, indeed,” Dumbledore said. “You feel strongly then, Harry, that this is the case?”

“Yes,” Harry replied without hesitation. He knew deep in his gut that Snape’s fate lay in the balance. Whether or not it was worth whatever sacrifice they might need to make in order to spare his life, Harry could not say.

“Thank you, Harry. You have left a very difficult decision at our feet, but I fear for what would have happened had we been unaware of the full circumstances.”

“Erm – you’re welcome,” Harry stated, once again uncomfortable with nearly every eye at the table glued to his standing form. He found it hard to mask his annoyance at the indirect brush off. He provided them with a valuable piece of information, and they pushed him right back out the door so the adults could discuss it. Harry swallowed his displeasure and did his best to adopt a neutral countenance. “I guess I’ll return to Hogwarts then?” he half asked, half stated.

“Yes, I believe that would be best,” Dumbledore replied. “Thank you, again, Harry.”

Harry nodded, gave a little wave to the table full of people, and turned around to face the fireplace, dropping his mask and allowing his displeasure to show. A short Floo ride later, he was once again standing in the Headmaster’s office with just Fawkes for company. Not in a huge hurry to get back to Gryffindor Tower, Harry walked over to Fawkes’ perch and began to stroke his feathers. Finding the action soothing, Harry felt his annoyance wash away.

“It seems I’ve been making a habit of appearing here at all hours of the night,” Harry stated to the phoenix. Fawkes let out a short trill as he leaned into Harry’s hand, encouraging his ministrations. “I suppose you don’t get a lot of company up here, except for Dumbledore and the other professors. And somehow I don’t imagine they pay you all that much attention.”

Another trill sounded, and Harry knew that he was correct. In fact, he got the vague feeling that Fawkes was thinking of both him and Dumbledore rather fondly, as if he considered the both of them friends.

Harry was warmed by the sentiment passed from the phoenix. He looked into Fawkes’ eyes and was reminded of something Dumbledore once told him. A thought had long been niggling in the back of Harry’s mind, and he did not think he would ever get a more opportune moment to voice it. “Do you think it’s right of me to hide so much from everybody – Dumbledore, my friends? Am I being too hard on them, not even giving them a chance?”

Fawkes opened his beak yet again. A short, sorrowful song rent the air, leaving Harry stunned in its wake. It conveyed loneliness and regret, but another song followed, lifting Harry’s spirits. This song spoke of strength and conviction – maturity and wisdom. There was a slight warble in it, telling of the hard times, fights with friends and loved ones – feelings of betrayal - but the song rose back up again. Reconciliation – a reunion.

It was an odd feeling, listening to Fawkes sing. Every little nuance to the pitch evoked a different emotion, telling Harry something new and different. The song filled him with hope, but it also gave him pause. He needed more time to think on it. There was something there, hanging on the edge of his consciousness but just out of reach.

With one last stroke of the phoenix’s feathers, Harry bid Fawkes a good night, thanking him for his counsel. The walk back to Gryffindor Tower felt long and tiring. He was eager, as he climbed up to his dormitory, to crawl back into bed and sleep.

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