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Chapter 17 Disclaimer: not mine Snape looked up at the sound of the knock on his door, and set aside the essay he had been grading. An abysmal effort by a second year Hufflepuff, barely worth the parchment it had been written on.

He opened the door to see Black standing on the other side. Sirius tried not to let any apprehension show. "Snape. You wanted to speak with me?" Snape nodded and stepped aside, gesturing for the Defense professor to enter his office. Once the two men were inside, Snape put up several privacy wards. That act done, he leaned against his desk, and observed his onetime nemesis.

Black looked composed. He was wearing his public face, the one Snape had seen staring up at him in an article in the Prophet a few weeks ago, when Umbridge had been arrested, Fudge ousted from office, and Bones named Interim Minister. His expression gave nothing away. Severus knew he would have to be the first one to speak here. He had, after all, been the one to ask Black for a word. His conversation with Minerva had been rather enlightening, and he knew that she was right.

It was time to let it go. Black may have been a prat, and the bane of his existence back in school, but he had to admit, he had seen how much the man had changed.

The Sirius Black at fifteen, or sixteen, or even seventeen, was nothing like the Sirius Black, Harry Potter's guardian, fiancé to the Interim Minister of Magic. After several minutes of silence, Snape finally spoke. "I talked to Minerva a few weeks ago," he admitted gruffly. Sirius raised an eyebrow. "Oh?" he queried blandly. Snape nodded. "I've had some concerns about Albus for a while, and I thought she should know.

As it turns out, she was already aware of most of it." "And the rest?" Sirius asked, crossing his arms across his chest and shifting his weight to one leg. Snape shrugged. "Albus wants me to teach Potter Occlumency this term." Sirius furrowed his brow.

"Harry's already mastered Occlumency," he informed the potion's master. Snape nodded. "I know. And I would bet anything that Albus knows that as well. So why ask me to teach him?" "And just how do you know that Harry's mastered the subject?" Snape bit his lip. "I read cursory thoughts and emotions on occasion," he admitted. He saw Sirius gearing up to tear into him, so he hurried on with his explanation.

"I never go deeper without permission, but sometimes hearing those surface thoughts can stop something from happening. Especially in the past, before Potter's club united the majority of the school." Sirius nodded slowly.

"I understand. I might not like it, but I do understand. Does Albus do this as well?" Snape shrugged. "I'm sure he's tested Potter's defenses, but I haven't been able to get anything from the boy in over a year, not even surface thoughts, so I doubt he has either." Sirius smirked internally, knowing that no one would have been able to see anything once Harry had begun wearing his charmed bracelet; the Blacks were a paranoid bunch, and their Family Magic was strong.

Those charms he and Harry had used were powerful. "So why ask you to teach him?" Snape shook his head exasperatedly. "I think he sees it as another test, another way of gaining control over the boy.

Either that or he's hoping I'll wear him down or something; it's not any secret that I can't stand the boy. But I'm seeing fewer and fewer reasons to go along with his plans." Sirius essentially smiled. "Good," he said. "Albus has a lot to answer for. The real question is, can we put aside all of our history to actually work together?

Harry says you've been better over the last year, but he's also told me about his first three years of Potions. Did you really ask him questions about things he wouldn't learn for at least another two years in his first class?" Snape actually looked guilty, turning his gaze to the floor.

"I spent so long hating James Potter, that I immediately transferred all of that to his son, before I had even met him. It wasn't right, and I know I should speak with him.

I was so lost in my own pity party that I didn't see the signs." Sirius leaned forward slightly, confused. "What signs?" Snape looked up, focusing on the man in front of him.

"How much like Lily he really is. And what was going on with his relatives." Sirius started. "You know?" His voice was quiet. Snape nodded. "Minerva told me, but when I think back to the last few years, I could see signs. I know how an abused child acts. I ought to, after my own childhood. But I was so set in my ways, unwilling to see the truth when it was staring me in the face, that I ignored it.

Even if he weren't Lily's child, no one should have to deal with that." Sirius sighed, rubbing a hand across his face. "What are you hoping will happen today?" he asked curiously. Snape shrugged again. "Minerva suggested I speak with you.

And she's right. Everything between us… it's in the past. Mistakes were made on both sides, and maybe there's too much between us to actually be friends, but I'm tired of being angry.

I'm tired of holding onto the hate." Sirius raised an eyebrow. That was certainly unexpected. "For what it's worth, I am sorry. I never actually expected you to go to the Whomping Willow that night. Merlin, Snape, you never listened to me before, why that one time?" Snape shook his head. Truthfully, he really didn't know. "So…" he hedged. Sirius let out a chuckle. "We can't really start over, and yeah, I don't know if I'll ever actually like you, but… mutual nonaggression?" Snape snorted.

"Sounds good," he agreed, holding out his hand. Sirius took it, shaking firmly. A knock at the door distracted them, and the Black Lord looked over, confused. Snape looked uncomfortable. "I did say I should speak with Potter. I asked him to come down here after his Quidditch practice was over. Enter," he called out. Sirius stepped aside and watched as his godson walked into the office, looking nervous but trying to hide it. "You wanted to see me, Professor?" he asked cautiously, raising his eyebrow as he noticed his godfather in the room as well.

"Am I in trouble?" "Not at all," Sirius replied hastily. "I didn't know you were coming. Should I leave you two alone?" he asked, turning to Snape.

Snape considered, and then gave a single nod. It might be easier to have this conversation if it was just him and Potter. Sirius returned the nod, and turned back to Harry.

"I'll see you later, all right?" Harry smiled at his godfather, but knew it probably showed all the butterflies in his stomach, as the man left. When it was just him and the Potions professor alone, Snape gestured for the teenager to take a seat, which he did, his nerves jangling. Snape studied the son of his childhood nemesis and his best friend, while Harry grew increasingly anxious.

After a minute of silence, Harry finally spoke. "Is everything all right, Professor?" Snape nodded, sighing. His mask dropped a little, and Harry was surprised to see the emotions on the professor's face. There was trepidation, tiredness, caring, and even a little fear.

"I'm not sure if you are aware that I attended school with your parents." He paused and waited for Harry's nod to tell him that the student had known.

"Your father and I did not get along. He, Black, Lupin, and Pettigrew spent most of our seven years at school playing pranks on the Slytherins, but me in particular. That's not to say we did not retaliate, and to be fair, our retaliation probably did cross over into cruel and vindictive on more than one occasion." Harry nodded. He remembered Dumbledore telling him that Snape and his father hadn't gotten on at school, and how his father had saved Snape's life, which was why the professor had saved him from Quirrel's jinx on his broom, his first year.

Sirius had given him more information, telling him about his prank on Snape that had almost gotten the Slytherin killed, and how much Sirius regretted it. How his father and Remus hadn't spoken to Sirius for two months afterwards, how he had had to work to regain their trust, and how much more he treasured their presence in his life when they were friends again he had run away from his parents' house the summer after that incident, knowing that he needed to get out from under their dark influence.

Snape shifted his stance. "Your mother and I, on the other hand, were very close, for a few years. Did you know that we grew up in the same neighborhood?" Harry shook his head, surprised.

Why had no one told him that before? Snape nodded, his eyes glazing over a little as he thought back to his childhood friendship. "I was the one who told Lily she was a witch. I told her about Hogwarts, and the wizarding society as I knew it.

She helped me so much more, though. My home life was not exactly what one would call good." Harry looked even more surprised.

Could it be that he had more in common with the Potions master than he thought? "Lily was my escape. My muggle father was a very unhappy man, and he took that out on me and my mother on more than one occasion." He wasn't quite certain why he was telling Harry this, but he figured, if he was to start over with the boy, Harry deserved honesty.

"Even after we were sorted into different houses, Lily and I remained close. She received a lot of grief for it from her friends, but she wouldn't give up on me. I think Alice Prewitt was the only one of her friends who never tried to get her to stop speaking with me." "Neville's mum?" Harry cut in, and then winced, expecting some sort of blow up from the professor.

But Snape just nodded, his thoughts still in the past. "Alice was a very kind girl, an attribute she never lost as she grew up." He paused again, unsure of how to cover his falling out with his best friend. Of course, Harry asked the question before he was really ready to speak about it.

"What happened between you? Sirius mentioned some sort of altercation your fifth year, but he wouldn't say much about it." Snape sighed.

"Not one of my finer moments." He admitted, rubbing a hand over his face. "Your father and I got into a somewhat public argument after our OWL exams, in front of a rather large crowd. Lily tried to come to my defense, but in my embarrassment, I called her a mudblood." Harry inhaled sharply, and Snape looked up, the shame clearly written on his face. "It's something I've regretted since I said it. I tried to apologize, but for Lily, it was just the final nail in the coffin, and she was probably right to leave me behind by that point.

I had spent so much time listening to, and spending time with, various future Death Eaters Avery, Macnair, names you probably know all too well and she hated how I would treat her well, and then put down every other muggleborn in the school. She should have left me behind long before she did." Harry felt the sympathy rise in him. He could clearly see how much Snape regretted his decisions. "Why did you switch sides?" he asked. "If you're willing to tell me." Snape felt his heart stop.

He swallowed harshly, and closed his eyes. "I will tell you, but you'll probably want nothing to do with me afterwards." Harry grimaced. "I need to know. I can see how much you regret everything you've done, but if I'm going to trust you, I need you to give me a reason." Snape nodded slowly. "Roughly sixteen years ago, Dumbledore was interviewing a potential candidate for the position of Divination Professor.

I was sent by the Dark Lord to spy on the headmaster, to gather information. I wasn't expecting to hear anything that day, but as the interview wrapped up, I overheard the first part of a prophecy. I was thrown out before I heard all of it, but I reported what I knew to the Dark Lord." "And he went after my family," Harry breathed, his eyes wide.

Snape sighed. "As soon as I heard that he thought it applied to you, I went to Dumbledore. To my shame, I didn't really care what happened to you or your father. But I couldn't bear it if I had some role in getting Lily killed.

But in the end, it didn't matter. She died anyway. In my grief, Dumbledore had me vow to protect you." He trailed off into silence, and waited for Harry's response. Harry's emotions were turbulent. He had known that it had been a prophecy to start Voldemort on the path to destroy his family, but he hadn't known how the Dark Lord had been set on that path.

He didn't know what to think. On the one hand, Snape was the reason his parents were dead. The reason he had grown up with the Dursleys. The reason Sirius had gone to Azkaban well, there were many people who had some part to blame in that, but if Voldemort had never killed his parents, Sirius wouldn't have been locked up.

On the other hand, Snape had told him. He had disclosed the information willingly, trusting him to be able to handle it. He could see, just looking at the anguish on the Potions professor's face, how much the man regretted his choices. "What did it say?" he asked quietly, his voice even, giving away nothing. Snape bit his lip. "The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches, born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies. That's all I heard, so I don't know the rest." Harry nodded slowly.

"You've done more than Dumbledore ever has, so thank you." Snape started, surprised.

Harry almost smiled. "Dumbledore's known the prophecy for years, and I've asked why Voldemort came after my family, but the headmaster seems to feel I don't deserve to know." There was a hint of steel in his tone, annoyance for an old man who wouldn't let him live his own life. Snape chuckled a little, a sound that Harry had certainly never heard coming from the stoic man before. "The old man does certainly play things close to the chest." Harry raised an eyebrow.

"A muggle expression, I'm impressed." The chuckle turned into an actual laugh. "I am a halfblood, Potter." Harry nodded, and the professor sobered. Harry shifted in his seat. "I can see how much you regret everything. And I can understand why you hated my dad. Sirius has told me a lot about their school days, so I know that they were bullies. Spoiled, selfish, and arrogant. I've heard those words used to describe them many times. But you took that anger and put it on the shoulders of an eleven-year-old boy who had never known the man you despised.

How was that fair?" Snape winced, and couldn't answer. It wasn't. He really had no excuse. Harry waited for another minute, but when no explanation was forthcoming, he just sighed. "As for the prophecy… it doesn't point exclusively to me. Why did he come after me?" Snape bit his lip. "I believe there were two options. You and Longbottom were both born at the end of July, and your parents had both defied the Dark Lord three times before your births. As for why you… I cannot speculate to the Dark Lord's reasoning.

I am sorry." Those three words, more than anything else, stopped Harry in his tracks. Had Snape just… apologized to him? Snape sighed again. "It was not right for me to place my hatred for your father on you. I have no excuse for that." Harry cocked his head to the side slightly.

"Something changed last year though, didn't it." It wasn't a question, even if it was phrased as one. "You used to pay a lot more attention to me in class. You picked on me for three solid years. So what's different now? What changed?" One side of Snape's mouth quirked upwards.

"You did. Something about living with Minerva and Black brought out the Lily in you. Or at least, it opened my eyes to the realization that you are so much more like your mother than I had realized." "How so?" Harry asked curiously. Sirius had told him a lot about his parents, but he was interested to hear what Snape thought. Snape smiled reminiscently. "Lily was a kind and caring person, who tried to see the good in everyone.

I believe that leaving your muggle aunt and uncle behind allowed you to open up more. You've become more outgoing, something all the professors noticed. Just like Lily. Your schoolwork has improved significantly. Lily was incredibly gifted, particularly in Potions and Charms, two areas I believe you inherited her talent." Harry raised an eyebrow. "After three years of calling me a dunderhead, you're now changing your mind?" Snape shook his head.

"Your work improved a great deal last year. I'm assuming you spent some time revising the subject?" Harry snorted. "You could say that. My aunt and uncle always punished me when I did better than Dudley in school, so I guess subconsciously, I was still holding back. Aunt Minerva took me to Flourish and Blotts and helped me pick a bunch of books on Potions. It was so much easier once I knew more about why cutting ingredients and stirring certain ways was important.

Potions was the subject I was looking forward to most when I came here, until you started in on me immediately, in my first class.

How was I supposed to know the answers to those questions? I looked them up later. Those questions wouldn't have come up until third year at the earliest." Snape winced. "Not one of my finer moments," he admitted ruefully. "I do apologize for that. But I can see, now, how your talent in the subject has emerged. The mark of a good brewer is intuition, and I can see that in you.

To that end, I will promise you to stop subjecting your grades to bias. I hope you can understand that I will need to maintain a public dislike of you, for those children of Death Eaters who still report back to their parents, but I won't go too far, and I'll give you the grades your work deserves." "Can you maybe lay off the Gryffindors as a whole, at least a little?" Harry asked reasonably.

"I know you've got that image to maintain, especially if any change might get back to Voldemort, but just… tone it down, all right? I've had to work really hard on Neville's self esteem, something you've contributed negatively to for years.

He's actually not that bad, without you breathing down his neck." Snape let out a breath of air. "I'll try," he agreed. "I have to admit, Longbottom and Weasley have improved this year as well. I'm guessing you leant them some of your books?" Harry nodded. "Ron was a little more hesitant, but even he had to admit that Potions Making for Dummies was one of the best books he's ever read." Snape chuckled. "That book is very informative.

Perhaps I should consider adding it to the first year booklist." Harry nodded eagerly. "It would have been very helpful to have a few years ago," he agreed. There was another moment of silence, as they each tried to think of something to say. Harry stood up awkwardly. "Look, Professor, I know you regret everything, and I know you wish you could change it.

But there's something I want clarification on." Snape nodded stoically. "You said that when you heard it might apply to me, to my mum, you switched sides." Snape nodded again. Harry sighed. "Why should it have mattered? If it was me, or Neville, or anyone else.

Would you have cared so much if he went after Neville?" Snape winced. Truthfully, he probably wouldn't have, back then. He looked into Harry's eyes, and he could see that the teenager knew his answer. He clenched his hands into fists to stop them from trembling. "Honestly, Potter, no. I probably wouldn't have. At least, not then. I switched sides because Lily was threatened. I can understand how horrible that sounds, and I know it was wrong, now, but back then, all I cared about was my childhood friend." Harry opened his mouth to speak, but Snape kept going, his eyes glazing over a little as he got caught up in the past.

"All I wanted was revenge. On my father, on your father, on Black, on everyone who had made my life a living hell. When I overheard the prophecy, I thought that was my ticket to power. I thought I could get my revenge. It took me a long time to realize that an eye for an eye does in fact make the whole world blind." Harry snorted at the muggle saying, even through his anger.

Snape shook his head, sighing ruefully. "Revenge doesn't solve anything. And power just corrupts people." "Absolute power corrupts absolutely," Harry broke in, smiling softly. Even if he was upset, he could see Snape's regret. Snape nodded. "So that's what happened to Albus," he mused quietly. Harry snorted again, agreeing, and Snape looked up, right into those bright green eyes. Lily's eyes. "If I had one wish, I would go back and not tell the Dark Lord anything," he stated. "I wish I hadn't gotten involved with the Death Eaters.

I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of, Harry, but betraying my best friend tops that list." Harry bit his lip, thinking over what he had learned that evening.

He didn't really know what to feel. Snape had been honest, but he was also the reason why his parents were dead. And more than that, he had willingly admitted that the only reason he had switched sides was because it had been Lily who had been threatened.

If Voldemort had focused on anyone else, Snape would probably still be a willing Death Eater. Maybe. Harry truthfully didn't really know what else may have contributed to Snape's change in views, but for him to be thawing out, and sharing this information, surely there had to be other factors involved.

After several minutes of silence, Harry sighed. "I should probably get back to my friends. I'm sure Ginny's wondering where I am." Snape nodded, taking down the privacy wards.

"Thank you for hearing me out," he said, the words forming uncomfortably in his mouth. Harry shrugged. "Thanks for telling me the truth. I'm not really sure what to do with everything you told me, but I'll think about it. Did you have a similar conversation with Sirius too? Is that why he was here?" Snape nodded again. "We've put aside the past, and while we probably will never become friends, we will be able to coexist in peace." Harry smiled.

"Good," he replied. "I know he regrets how he acted as a teenager." Snape shifted uncomfortably. "I do as well. We all have regrets, Potter… Harry.

The only thing we can do is to acknowledge our mistakes and promise to do better in the future." Harry was unused to a philosophical Snape, so he stumbled out a good night, and headed up to find his friends.

Ginny had told him that they were going to spend the evening in the Room of Requirement, studying, so he headed up to join them. Ginny looked up as Harry flopped down next to her on the solitary sofa in the room they had created for animagus practice.

In the rest of the space, Hermione was working on levitating her feather, while Susan was working on transforming her arms into wings, Ron had managed to change one arm into a fur covered limb, and Neville had successfully traded his arms and legs for those of a wolf's.

"What's wrong?" Ginny asked worriedly, taking in his almost shocked expression. Harry looked over at his girlfriend.

"Snape just apologized to me." His declaration caused Neville to return his limbs to normal, while Ron lost his concentration, the fur retreating and his arm returning to a human's, Susan's wings disappeared, and Hermione's feather dropped back to the ground. "What?" Ron asked, his eyes widening as he looked at his best friend. Harry grimaced. "He apparently has had a change of heart, and decided that holding onto a two decade old feud with a dead man was not healthy. He talked to Aunt Minerva a while back, and I guess she convinced him to speak with me and Sirius to clear the air." "What did he say?" Neville asked cautiously.

Harry looked over at his friend. Of all of them, Neville deserved to know. He repeated the lines of the prophecy that Snape had told him. "He was the one who told Voldemort." He barely acknowledged Ron's lack of a flinch at the name. "When he found out Voldemort thought it might be me, he went to Dumbledore. Turns out, he and my mum were really good friends in school." Neville furrowed his brow. "The prophecy doesn't seem to point to you directly," he commented quietly.

Harry nodded somberly. "Snape doesn't know the rest of it, but with the part that he overheard… there were two options. Me or you." Neville inhaled sharply. "So… why you?" Harry shook his head, biting his lip. "Snape doesn't know, and neither do I." "So what did you say to all this?" Susan asked curiously.

"Snape's the reason Voldemort went after your family." "I know," Harry nodded. "But… I could see how much he regretted it. For some reason, I trust him. He actually told me why he switched sides. Dumbledore just says he trusts Snape, but that doesn't really mean anything to me. Snape actually gave me a reason. Even if, indirectly, he is the reason why my parents are dead, it helps.

He may have hated my dad, but I don't think he wanted him to die." Hermione smiled softly, leaning forward. "I'm proud of you Harry.

And I'm glad that you'll both be able to put aside the animosity. Hopefully things will get a little better from here." Harry sighed.

"He'll still have to act like an arse," he admitted. "There are still children of Death Eaters who report to their parents, so he can't give them a reason to doubt his support of Voldemort, or he's dead. But he did agree to stop laying into the Gryffindors so much, and to grade our work fairly." "I'll take what I can get," Neville said, chuckling. They all agreed that it could only be a good thing, and went back to work for another hour or so, before it was time to return to the common room.

Are you sure you're all right? Ginny asked as they headed back to Gryffindor Tower. Harry sighed mentally. I don't know, he admitted. I know he regrets what he did, and I know my dad and Sirius weren't blameless, but he still hurt me a lot. And he's spent the last few years hating me for what my father did to him.

Ginny nodded. It's not right, but I'm proud of you. Harry quirked an eyebrow, and Ginny smiled. You're willing to rise above all the animosity.

You're a good person, Harry Potter. Harry blushed as they reached the Fat Lady's portrait and entered the common room. It was easy to see how much he wished he could go back and do things differently. He blames himself for my mum's death. They grew up in the same neighborhood, and were really good friends, until he called her a mudblood in their fifth year.

He felt Ginny's gasp of horror as he collapsed into an armchair by the fireplace. Ginny sat next to him on the same chair, forcing him to scoot over as much as possible, as she cuddled into his side.

I believe him when he says how much he regretted it from the moment the word came out of his mouth, but their friendship was over after that. According to him, mum didn't like how much time he spent with his Death Eater friends. Avery and Macnair, and the like.

I really think he would jump at the chance to go back and redo everything. Ginny nodded, understanding. Harry looked over at her, his eyes almost amused. He did say something interesting though. 'We all have regrets. The only thing we can do is to acknowledge our mistakes and promise to do better in the future.' I never thought Snape could be philosophical.

Ginny snorted. He's right though, she said. The only thing we can affect is the future. Worrying about the past won't do anything but make us depressed. Harry nodded, and gave her a kiss, and then pulled out his Charms textbook to work on an essay that was due at the end of the week, before he and Hermione had to head out for a patrol.

XXX Ravenclaw beat Slytherin in a narrow victory at the end of January, and Gryffindor slaughtered the badgers two weeks later. The lions were firmly cemented as the front-runners for the Quidditch cup, something that the entire house was ecstatic about.

Lucius Malfoy tried to run against Amelia for Minister of Magic, but failed to even receive the necessary number of supporters in order to be put forward for general election. In order to run, a witch or wizard needed to obtain the backing of at least thirty Wizengamot members and/or department heads, which Malfoy failed to acquire. He could barely get ten, as a matter of fact. Even many of those Dumbledore had written off as dark but in reality were more neutral, or leaned towards whichever side was shaping up to be the strongest would not back the Malfoy Lord.

And so, on February the Second, Nineteen Ninety Six, Amelia Bones was sworn into office as the official Minister of Magic. There was a Hogsmeade trip on the weekend before Valentine's Day, which made everyone happy.

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Harry and Ginny spent the morning in the village, before returning to the Castle to have an 'outdoor picnic' in the Room of Requirement. It was a beautiful setting, a grassy field, complete with wildflowers, mountains in the background, and an overly full picnic basket courtesy of Dobby. Ron and Hermione enjoyed their day as well, wandering through the village, and having lunch at the Three Broomsticks, before heading back out and spending the rest of the afternoon walking around and talking.

Neville had asked Hannah Abbott to accompany him, while Susan accepted a date with Michael Corner from Ravenclaw. Both had a good time, but weren't sure if any relationship would develop from the dates. XXX On the actual day, Ron and Harry greeted their girlfriends with a kiss, before they headed out for their morning run. They returned an hour later to shower and get ready for the day; Ron surprised Hermione as they met in the common room to head down to breakfast, presenting her with a wrapped package, his expression a veil of nervousness.

Under her friends' gazes, she opened the present to find a pretty charm bracelet. There was only one charm on it, a silver cat. Hermione almost tackled her boyfriend, kissing him joyously.

"Thank you so much, Ron, I love it!" Ron smiled happily, and they headed down to the Great Hall. Ginny's hand found Harry's as they walked. Did you help him at all? she asked curiously. Harry shook his head.

I'm proud to say that Ron figured this one out all on his own. I really think he's growing up. His mental voice was amused, and Ginny knew he was joking. So do we have any special plans for today? She asked impishly, as they reached the Gryffindor table and started eating. Harry smiled mischievously. Meet me in the Room of Requirement for dinner.

Dress nice. Ginny nodded, and they turned to their meals. XXX Ginny showed up at the Room of Requirement at six o'clock that evening, wearing a simple navy blue dress that cut off at the knees. It was accented by a silver band around her waist, and had off the shoulder cap sleeves. Harry looked up at her arrival, and smiled. "You look amazing, Gin," he said, his voice a little breathless. Ginny returned the smile and went over to kiss him. "You look good too, Harry," she replied, stepping back half a step.

He was wearing black slacks and a light blue button up shirt. Harry led her over to the table, which was laden with a feast for at least four. He noted, as he held her hand, that she was wearing his mother's engagement ring that he had given her on her birthday. Ginny smiled as she felt him caress that finger.

"I wanted to wear it tonight. On my finger, where it should be." Harry nodded. "Soon, Gin. I promise." The pair did their best with the food, but there was still a sizeable amount left over at the end.

Harry chuckled. "Dobby's great, but he can be a little overenthusiastic at times." Ginny nodded, smiling. "Well, despite there being way too much, it was great. I'm stuffed!" Harry stood up and held out his hand. "If you're not too full, would you care to dance?" Ginny nodded again, taking his hand as Harry pointed his wand at the wireless sitting in the corner.

Music started playing, and the pair spent the rest of the evening dancing in each other's arms. When it was almost time to head back to Gryffindor Tower, Harry led Ginny back to the table, where he pulled out a small box. "Happy Valentine's Day, Gin. I love you." Ginny's heart felt like it was full to bursting. "I love you too, Harry. You know you don't have to keep getting me things. Just you is more than enough." Harry smiled. "I know," he replied.

"That's one of the things I love about you. I want to give you things though. All that money in my vaults means nothing to me. You're what's important." Ginny blushed, and opened the present. It was a pair of earrings. "They're beautiful," Ginny whispered, taking out the earrings she was wearing currently the sapphire ones Harry had given her last Valentine's Day and putting the new ones in.

Fourteen carat gold, shaped like a phoenix, with a small topaz stone embedded where the eye would be. When the new earrings were in her ears, she looked up and gave Harry a kiss, pulling back and showering him with a blinding smile.

"Thank you so much, Harry. I love them." Harry smiled back. "I love you, Gin." "I love you too," Ginny replied. She then reached down and pulled out a wrapped box of her own. "It's not as much as your gift, but " "I'm sure it's amazing," Harry cut her off. "Thank you, Ginny." He took the present and unwrapped it. It was a book. Harry looked up, confused. He already owned the seventh year Charms textbook, having received it as a gift from Aunt Minerva for his birthday the summer before.

This copy also looked rather worn. Ginny just smiled. "Open it," she said softly. Harry did so, and then felt his breath catch in his throat. There, written on the inside cover, was the name Lily Evans. He looked back up at Ginny.

The fourth year leaned closer, resting her hand over his. "Professor McGonagall helped me a little. She said that a lot of students donate their used textbooks to the library when they graduate, and she was sure your parents did.

I spent the last six weeks searching through old books. I was hoping to find a book of your dad's as well, but no luck. You should really read through it. There's a lot of handwritten notes in the margins. Your mum was a genius." Harry nodded distractedly, and flipped through a few pages. He saw a few recipes written on the pages, instructions for potions he was sure she invented herself; there were a few paragraphs that looked almost like journal entries, some that seemed to be spells she had invented.

His heart thudded painfully as he saw, written over and over again on the back cover, 'Lily Potter. Mrs. Lily Potter. Mrs. James Potter. Lily Evans Potter,' and several other variations of the name. There were tears in his eyes as he thanked Ginny, hugging her tightly, trying to convey everything he was thinking. Ginny just smiled and returned the hug. She understood. _ _ _ Chapter 18 Disclaimer: not mine As January turned to February, and February to March, Harry and his friends were busier than they could ever remember being.

Between classes, homework, the DA, Quidditch practice, and Prefect duties for Harry, Hermione, and Susan, it was a wonder they got any sleep at all. Slytherin just barely beat Hufflepuff towards the end of the month, and Hufflepuff narrowly won against Ravenclaw in March. All eyes would be on the final match, between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw at the beginning of May. With the way the points stood, as long as Gryffindor won, they would win the Cup.

At Hogwarts, Snape had kept his word, and was treating the Gryffindors, if not well, at least neutrally. It was so different and unexpected that more than one Gryffindor wondered if perhaps the world was coming to an end.

Harry and his friends spent one dreary afternoon at Hagrid's in late March, interrogating him on his injuries. It had been months, and he yet he still sported recent bruises and cuts. Something was going on, and they wanted to know what it was.

Under the scrutiny of the six teenagers, Hagrid broke down and told them about his half brother, Grawp. He had smuggled the giant back with him, and was now hiding him in the forest. He wanted to introduce them, but at least had the presence of mind to know that it wouldn't be safe for them until he had Grawp a little more trained. Harry was worried about a Giant taking up residence in the Forbidden Forest, but he couldn't betray Hagrid's trust, the same way he hadn't told anyone about Norbert; the same way he had gone into the Forest his second year because the gamekeeper had told him and Ron to 'follow the spiders'.

Hagrid promised he was making progress, and hoping to be able to introduce Grawp to outsiders soon. The Daily Prophet reported many more attacks on muggles and wizards, as well as a few reported Dementor attacks that had many students thankful that Harry had taught them the Patronus Charm.

Most of the first and second years hadn't managed to get more than a thin silvery mist, but almost half the third and fourth years had managed to produce a corporeal form, something that made Harry truly ecstatic. He had produced an animal at thirteen, so he knew it could be done, but then, he wasn't normal, and he was happy to see how determined and indomitable his fellow students were. They wanted to learn.

They wanted to be able to protect themselves. The DA was doing incredibly well. The meeting time had stayed at two hours, even though there was no more need to include a special portion of time just for Defense lessons. Instead, they had introduced dueling. Not the frumpy, wait until the count of three formal duels that Lockhart had tried and failed at teaching them. Sirius had put forward the lessons he had taught Harry and his friends over the summer: teams of varying numbers would go up against each other, and they would fight with all they had.

There was only one rule: nothing lethal. Anything else was fair game. Everyone loved it. In animagus training, Neville finally managed to complete the transformation, two weeks before Susan also successfully made the change. She had to work a little harder than the rest of them; it was one thing to transform into an eagle, but flying threw her for a loop for a little while, until she got the hang of it. Ron had changed both arms into a dog's, and Hermione had finally had complete success at the wandless levitation; once she mastered that, it was only a matter of time.

She was quickly catching up with Ron, managing to change one arm completely with just two days of practice. Harry and Ginny spent several free Sundays on their own, working on their phoenix form. They had studied the bird as much as possible, but so far, hadn't managed to make any progress. Ginny huffed, annoyed. "Maybe there's something we're missing. Maybe we can't actually change into a phoenix at all." Harry didn't say anything.

Inside him, he felt something like a fire work its way from his chest out to his arms. He closed his eyes, and concentrated. Ginny looked over at her boyfriend. "Harry?" Harry opened his eyes as he felt an almost melting sensation on his arms. He smiled. Instead of arms, he now sported two black wings. "You were saying?" he asked cheekily. Ginny huffed again. "Not fair," she grumbled. Harry laughed. "Look at the bright side. At least this means we can actually change into phoenixes." Ginny shook her head.

"How did you do it?" Harry shrugged, concentrating to turn his arms back to normal. "I felt something almost like a fire in my chest. Before I knew it, wings." "Not helpful," Ginny commented. Harry chuckled. "Sorry," he apologized. He then glanced at his watch. "We're going to have to pick this up later. The others should be here soon." Ginny nodded, and stood up. Harry closed his eyes in concentration, and all around them, the room changed to a meadow.

They had taken to using this location for their animagus practice, now that the majority of them had mastered their animal forms. Harry, Ginny, Neville, and Susan would spend the time playing, while Hermione and Ron worked on their transformation. Soon enough, everyone else had arrived, and they spent the rest of the afternoon playing in the open expanse of land. It really was amazing what the room could do, Harry mused as he, Neville, and Ginny played a strange game of tag while Susan watched, flying above them.

An excited shout drew them back to Hermione and Ron shortly before supper. Hermione was beaming, the cat's arms and legs looking extremely odd on her human torso. Ron congratulated her with a kiss, squashing down the jealousy at her quick progress. He had still not managed to get passed two dog's arms, but Sirius had told them that, no matter what, their progress was amazing. It had taken him, James, and Pettigrew years to complete the transformation.

XXX The days and weeks continued to pass, the fifth and seventh years now working late into the night, and most times, the early mornings, as the OWL and NEWT exams loomed even closer. Meanwhile, a notice had gone up on all the message boards in the house common rooms, listing meeting times for each fifth year to attend career counseling with their Head of House. Pamphlets appeared in the common room, with information for various jobs in the wizarding world. Harry had loaned his book on careers to several friends.

He himself didn't know exactly what he wanted to do with his life; he had more than enough money to survive comfortably without having to work at all, but he suspected he would get rather bored very fast. Hermione spent hours poring over the information on various careers, going back and forth between at least ten different job possibilities. Neville knew he wanted to go for a Herbology Mastery, while Susan was seriously considering joining the DMLE upon her graduation, and Ron, like Harry, didn't really have a set idea.

The fifth years all spent a good deal of time reading the pamphlets in the common room, when they weren't doing homework.

The leaflets all made the jobs sound interesting, from 'have you got what it takes to train security trolls?' to 'so you think you'd like to work in muggle relations?' Harry hadn't been able to hold in the snort as he'd read that pamphlet over Hermione's shoulder.

'A passing grade in muggle studies and a good sense of fun'. "You need more than a good sense of fun to deal with my uncle," he commented, drawing Ron, Neville, and Ginny's attention towards him.

"Good sense of when to duck's more like it." Ron and Neville laughed, but Ginny and Hermione looked distinctly upset at the mention of the walrus. Even over a year later, they still weren't so quick to let the mention of the abuse he had suffered go.

Seeing this, Harry rolled his eyes and settled down with a pamphlet on spell crafting. With the amount of homework they had, the Easter holidays weren't nearly as much fun as the Christmas ones had been. The fifth years spent the time digging their way out of the mountain of homework, and looking through the career pamphlets. Of course, Angelina still managed to schedule four practices that week, much to the annoyance of the fifth and seventh years on the starting and reserve teams. Even with all the work piled on them, Harry and his friends still managed to retreat to the Room of Requirement a few times for animagus practice, for Ron and Hermione, and to just relax for the others.

Playing in their animal forms was a good way for them to let go for a little while; even though they maintained their human instincts, thoughts, and memories, life as an animal was simpler. The mind of an animal was less complex than that of a human. Sunday evening, the night before classes resumed again, Hermione finally had success, as she completed the transformation, joining her friends in cat form. Ron managed to change his arms and legs, and was determined to finish the transformation before the end of the school year.

Monday afternoon, Harry reported to Minerva's office for his mandatory career counseling session. Minerva greeted him with a smile. "Come on in, Mr. Potter, and take a seat." Harry did so, closing the door behind him before heading for the chair set in front of his guardian's desk.

Minerva waited for him to get settled, before she spoke again. "Now, as you are aware, this session is merely a guide for you, to help you think about what classes you will want to continue with next year. You should also be thinking about possible careers you wish to pursue. Do you have any ideas in mind?" Harry grimaced lightly. "I'm not sure," he admitted. "I was thinking about becoming an Auror, or maybe a Curse Breaker. Or maybe Quidditch? I know I don't really need to work at all, but I think that would be dreadfully boring." Minerva chuckled a little.

"Indeed, I suspect it would," she agreed. "Well, you are still rather young, so you don't need to have a set idea right at this moment. Which classes are you most interested in continuing with next year?" Harry smiled. "Defense, Potions, Transfiguration, Arithmancy, Ancient Runes and Charms, definitely. Maybe Herbology if I can." Minerva nodded. "Well, your schedule will certainly be full with all of those classes, but I have no doubt of your ability to handle it.

The requirements for acceptance into the Auror training program are at least five NEWTs, with at least an Exceeds Expectations. The suggested classes are Defense, Potions, Transfiguration, Charms, and Herbology. If you were to proceed towards the career of Curse Breaker, Arithmancy and Ancient Runes would be very helpful.

And as you know, with Quidditch, it's all about getting noticed by a scout, which I am certain you shall have no problems with. With the way your grades stand currently, you should have no trouble proceeding to the NEWT classes for each subject. You are averaging between an E and an O for all the potential classes right now.

I must admit to some surprise at seeing the grades Professor Snape passed to me in preparation for these sessions. Remarkably, your entire year has risen at least a full grade from just a few months ago." She gave him a knowing look, and Harry blushed.

"We had a rather interesting conversation a few months back. I'm not really sure where he and I stand, but I think I do trust him, and he did promise to start grading the Gryffindors more fairly." Minerva nodded, smiling proudly.

"I am glad for that, and I'm proud of you Harry, for putting aside the animosity. I am thinking about bringing Severus further into our confidence, perhaps over the summer, if you are in agreement, though I will of course speak with the others beforehand." Harry pursed his lips.

"I think he'd be a powerful ally and a good asset," he agreed. Minerva nodded again, knowing that they shouldn't speak more about this subject now; it wasn't safe to do so without privacy wards, which she had not erected, not intending to need them for a career counseling session.

"We're getting off track," she commented. "I think you should definitely take the classes you want, and if you think you can add Herbology to that course load, by all means, do so.

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It won't be strictly necessary for either career path, but it may come in handy." Harry smiled. "Thanks," he said. "I'd like to stick with Herbology, but even if I don't, I can still do self-study and take the NEWT, right?" Minerva nodded.

"Yes, you can. Not a lot of people are aware that they can take the exams for classes without attending them. Self-study requires a bit more discipline, but you are certainly capable. If that is your wish, I will speak with Sirius about getting a private tutor for you." Harry shrugged. "I have a feeling if I go that route, I can learn everything just from listening to Neville." Minerva laughed lightly.

"I have no doubt of that. You should, however, mention to your friends that, if they fail to meet the required score for any course they wish to continue with, I am more than happy to offer them the use of our facilities, such as our Potions laboratory." Harry snorted. "I actually suggested to Ron last summer that he consider continuing Potions with a tutor, rather than take the NEWT class.

I'm not sure if he'll manage an O, but he's definitely doing better now that Professor Snape's mellowed out a bit. I'll pass along the offer, I'm sure it will be appreciated." Minerva nodded. "Well, it is nearly time for your Transfiguration class, so shall we head to the classroom?" Harry smiled and stood up.

Together, they made their way down to the classroom, arriving a few minutes before the rest of the class.

XXX After supper, the six friends all headed up to the Room of Requirement to tell each other about their career counseling sessions. Hermione and Ron had had theirs with Professor McGonagall before lunch, while Neville had gone before Harry, and Susan had met with Professor Sprout in lieu of attending Arithmancy.

Hermione, naturally, was the first one to speak. "Professor McGonagall told me that I should have no problems continuing with any of my classes," she told them, beaming. "The only problem is narrowing it down. I'm still not sure what I want to do. We talked about careers at the Ministry, but as a muggleborn, my chances of advancement there are slim." Her eyes grew depressed at that. Harry shook his head. "It's not right," he told her compassionately.

"Maybe we can do something about that in the future. There are actually several laws in place preventing muggleborns from advancing very far, or holding department head positions. I've spoken with Sirius about massive reforms, but with the threat of Voldemort, we have to pick our battles right now. With Amelia in office, the path will be a little easier, but until the war is over, we've just got more pressing issues to deal with." Hermione nodded.

"I understand," she replied. "And I would still consider a career in, say, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, or perhaps in the Department of International Magical Cooperation. I'm also interested in spell crafting and design.

Professor McGonagall suggested continuing on with Arithmancy and studying for a Mastery. There are just so many possibilities!" They all chuckled a little. A knock on the door interrupted Ron as he was about to tell them of his session.

Confused, Harry stood up to open the door, letting Blaise, Daphne, Luna, Fred, George, and Cedric enter. He returned to his seat, surprised and confused. "How did you know we'd be here?" he asked curiously. Blaise smirked. "You really think you're being sneaky when you come here?

You guys all spend a lot of time in this room, we just thought we'd join in tonight." He looked a little uncomfortable for a moment. "Luna, Daphne, and I were hoping you might be able to help us with Occlumancy. We've read the book and been practicing, but it's hard to tell without someone to test us." Cedric and the twins nodded their agreement. "We overheard them talking about finding you, and thought we'd tag along," the Head Boy added. "We'd like to see how far along we are as well." Harry bit his lip.

"I'll write our tutor and see when he can test you," he said. "Unfortunately, none of us know Legilimancy, so it might have to wait until summer." They all nodded, understanding. "So what are you guys doing in here?" Fred asked, sitting down next to Ron, while George plopped down next to his twin. Cedric took a seat in between Harry and Neville, while Daphne sat next to Susan, and Blaise and Luna on Daphne's other side. "Talking about our career counseling sessions," Harry informed them.

Blaise looked interested. "Daphne and I had ours today as well. Went pretty well, I'm looking forward to dropping History and Astronomy." "What are you thinking of as a career?" Harry asked curiously. Blaise shrugged. "Possibly a Healer. Or maybe something with Gringotts. I'm taking the classes required for both, so hopefully I'll have a better idea in a couple of years." They all laughed. "I know what you mean," Harry said, still chuckling.

"I'm debating between Auror and Curse Breaker, or Quidditch, though I might also consider getting a Mastery in Charms. Daphne, what about you?" The Slytherin Prefect smiled. "Potions Mistress," she said confidently. "Professor Snape said he has no doubt I'll succeed. As much as he praises Malfoy in class, he confided in me that if his father wasn't Lucius Malfoy, he wouldn't give the prat the time of day." They all laughed even harder at that.

Daphne shook her head. "Something certainly changed him this term. He's been almost… human." Harry shared a look with Ginny. He knew that it had been his conversation with the man back in January, but he wasn't quite willing to tell the Slytherins, or Luna, Cedric, Fred, and George just yet. Not until he knew they had mastered Occlumency. Ron piped in next. "I was thinking about becoming an Auror too," he admitted hesitantly, looking at Harry.

"Or maybe a professional Quidditch player, but I know how hard it is to actually get offered a spot on a team. I don't know if I'm good enough." Harry smiled. "I'm sure you've got a chance, Ron, just as much as I have. Just keep practicing." Cedric nodded. "Scouts usually come to various games throughout the year, to look for potential players. There's a good chance you've been seen by some of them this year. And you've got two more years. Who knows?" Harry looked over at his older friend.

"Do you know what your plans are for after graduation?" he asked. "You guys are the ones who really needs to be worrying about this career stuff right now," he indicated the three seventh years in the room. Cedric smiled. "I've already been offered a job with the Department of Magical Games and Sports. Something about my dad working for the Ministry, my stellar grades, and, oh yeah, being one of the Triwizard Champions." The group chuckled, and offered the seventh year their congratulations, which he accepted with humility.

Fred and George, of course, had grand plans to open up their own joke shop, something the group was already aware of; their owl order business was doing well, and, adding that profit to the money Harry had given them at the end of the previous school year, they felt certain they would be able to put a down payment on a location in Diagon Alley by the beginning of the summer.

They already had a shop in mind, and it was perfect; a basement they could convert into a Potions laboratory, and a flat above the store that was included in the lease. Neville went next, telling them of his plans to study for a Herbology Mastery. He wasn't planning on taking Potions after this year, in addition to dropping Astronomy, History, and Care of Magical Creatures.

He was considering dropping Charms as well, but hadn't quite decided. Harry informed both Neville and Ron of Minerva's offer to use their Potions laboratory for private tutelage, if they wished to complete a Potions NEWT and didn't make the required grade for the class.

Both looked intrigued, and promised to consider it. "It would probably be a good idea to continue studying Potions," Neville admitted ruefully. "Professor McGonagall told me I'm averaging between an A and an E in the subject, according to Professor Snape's most recent grades, so I probably won't make it into his class, but I should have a background in Potions, right? As a subject, it complements Herbology." They all agreed.

Susan was the last one to speak, telling them about her desire to join the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, like her aunt. She was thinking about joining the Aurors, but wasn't completely certain; however, there were many facets to the DMLE, so there were many options to consider. The gathering broke up when it was almost curfew, and they headed back to their separate common rooms.

Harry wasted no time in heading up to his dorm room and sending a letter to Jason Holding. He had several reasons for doing this, not least of which was asking if the man was willing to test some more of his friends.

XXX Harry received a reply from Jason three days later, and he waited until he was alone before he opened the letter. He didn't want anyone around to potentially see the response, fearing what the answer may be. He was worried the Mind Arts Master would tell him his idea was impossible.

Harry, I was very happy to hear from you, I am glad you are doing well. I would be pleased to test your friends' defenses, just let me know when. Perhaps sometime in the first week of your summer holiday? As for your second query, Legilimancy is a very complex art.

Even I, as a Master of the Mind Arts, will not claim to know everything about it. I would be happy to teach you, but you will need to take an oath to never use the skill in a nefarious manner. I am sure you will willingly submit to this oath; I trust you.

You presented a very interesting problem. The Cruciatus Curse is one of the most heinous I have ever seen, and the way it damages the mind, while studied, has never been able to be countered. I am not sure if anyone has addressed the problem from the point of view that you posed to me. Theoretically, I do think it might be possible to rebuild the damaged mind, but it would take a true Master with a good deal of power to do so.

I don't think I would have the ability. I hope this helps, and please feel free to contact me at any time. The Mind Arts Identified should give you a grounding of the art of Legilimancy, and I have included in this package another text that focuses solely on the art. Please read it through, and then contact me again. Sincerely, Jason Holding Harry furrowed his brow as he read.

He was glad that a Master of the Mind Arts thought his theory might work, but he still didn't want to tell anyone, just in case. Merlin, he hoped he wasn't crazy for thinking it. He really wanted to do something for his friend, a boy who had suffered just as much as he had. The book Jason had sent him was slim, barely fifty pages in length, but flipping through it, Harry could tell that it would do a great deal to enlighten him on the art of Legilimancy.

XXX Probably because they had already mastered one animal form, it didn't take nearly as long for Harry and Ginny to complete the transformation to phoenix, once they had gotten through the first block. Ginny managed to feel the fire inside her that she immediately linked to the magical bird, and felt it break through, giving her wings and a beak, which looked rather strange on her human body, though Harry did make a valiant effort not to laugh.

He then proceeded to transform completely into a phoenix, midnight black that faded to gold at the tips of his wings, and emerald eyes. Not to be outdone, Ginny immediately followed, changing to a brilliant red bird, her wings, too, tinged with gold. A few brown speckles decorated the underside of her wings. Even in phoenix form, she couldn't escape her freckles.

Harry let out an amused trill, and took to the sky, Ginny following him. Susan had taken a while to get the hang of flying down, but Harry and Ginny were such naturals in the air, that they needed no time. This is amazing, Harry thought. He was startled when he heard Ginny agree with him.

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I feel so free, the redhead sighed, flying in circles around the room, which was the meadow they always used to play in. Gin? Yes, Harry? Ginny asked, glancing over at the black phoenix. So we can still communicate in animal form. Harry sounded confused and surprised. He probably shouldn't be, but they hadn't really tried it when they played as panther and lioness. Ginny gave a mental hum of agreement. It would appear so, she responded. That's a good thing, right?

Definitely, Harry replied immediately. I was just surprised. They two spent another couple of hours flying and getting used to their phoenix form, before they landed and changed back. Harry concentrated, and the Room shifted around them, changing to a comfortable sitting room. The two snuggled on the couch for a while, talking about the future.

"I think we really need to tell someone about the bond," Harry admitted. "We've put it off too long as it is. Aunt Minerva, Sirius, your mum and dad… they deserve to know what's going on between us." Ginny nodded reluctantly. "It's getting harder to say good night to you, and then go to separate rooms." Harry smiled. "I know. I feel it too. I just don't want to be separated from you." He suddenly looked a little guilty. "Will your feelings be hurt if I tell you that it scares me?" Ginny shook her head forcefully.

"I'm scared too, Harry. Even with this bond, we're still only fourteen and fifteen. I shouldn't want to go to bed with you. Right?" Harry shrugged. "We're not ready to go that far," he looked embarrassed now.

"But I still want to sleep in the same bed as you. Not doing anything," he hurried to explain, "just being together. Cuddling, and sleeping." Ginny nodded her agreement. "We're not ready, though I am glad that Sirius taught you the charms and potions needed in case we do get carried away. Your talk was probably much better than mine." She looked mortified now.

Harry chuckled. "What did Mrs. Weasley say?" Ginny huffed. "She told me I'm too young, and that my body is going through changes, but not to listen to my hormones. She wants me to wait until I'm done with school, which kind of makes her a hypocrite, because I can certainly do the math. She and dad had Bill six months after they graduated." Harry blushed and shook his head. "I really didn't need to know that, Gin. But technically, we don't really need her permission.

We're married, even if it's only in the eyes of the Goblins, and other magical races. The Old Laws accept the union. We could move into Potter Manor tomorrow, if we wanted. But I don't want to alienate your family." "They're your family too," Ginny cut in firmly. Harry nodded contritely. "Our family," he agreed.

"So how about a pact? We don't have to wait until we both graduate, but… not before you turn sixteen, all right?" Ginny smiled and leaned over to kiss him. "It's a pact," she agreed happily. "But I'm expecting it to be amazing, Mr. Potter." Harry nodded seriously. "As you wish," he replied, making her smile even more as he quoted one of the movies they had watched last summer.

She had loved the epic tale of love in the face of all adversity that The Princess Bride exhibited. Should we tell anyone about our second animagus form? Ginny wondered as they headed down to meet up with their friends for dinner. Harry gave a mental shrug.

Maybe, he hedged. Let's tell Aunt Minerva and Sirius over the summer. They might have an idea of why we have two forms. Ginny agreed to the plan as they sat at the Gryffindor table and started serving themselves, integrating into the conversation of their friends around them with ease.

_ _ _ Chapter 19 Disclaimer: not mine April waxed and waned, and before they knew it, May had arrived. Ravenclaw and Gryffindor played in the final match of the season, with the Gryffindors coming up victorious after ninety-eight minutes of play. With Harry catching the snitch in a truly impressive dive that had the entirety of the stands gasping for fear of the seeker's life, the lions won in a landslide, 340-50, thus cementing them as Quidditch Cup winners for the second year in a row seeing as how no one counted the year before, there not having been any Quidditch at all.

Minerva was crying with joy as she held up the cup to the roaring approval of the Gryffindors, and the polite clapping of the other three houses. With Quidditch over, most now had no excuse to avoid studying for their elusive exams. First through fourth, and sixth years only had to worry about the end of year exams, however, the fifth and seventh years were reaching a new level of panic, Hermione in particular, though Harry did his best to calm his friend down.

She stayed in the common room, studying, for hours after everyone else had gone to bed, and would be up before everyone else. She even stopped going on their morning runs, insisting that that time could be better put towards revision, until Harry took her aside and told her that keeping in shape was just as important.

Exam grades mattered, but being able to fight without becoming winded or tired out might mean the difference between life and death. He then, in the nicest way possible, told her that if she didn't start getting more sleep, she would most likely do even worse on her exams, and make mistakes due to her tiredness. At least he told her off in private, she mused, as she watched him walk away. As much as she hated to admit it, he was probably right. Hermione cooled off a little after that, something the entirety of Gryffindor was pleased about even those who weren't studying for their OWLs or NEWTs.

Hermione had taken to telling off anyone who made any noise above that of a whisper in the common room. Yes, the entire House was happy to see her mellow out a little.

She even apologized to the first and second years, who had been the most upset at her scolding. She was a Prefect, leader of the DA, and had been a great role model for them over the year, and there were a couple who had been in tears after her reprimands. By the end of May, many of the fifth and seventh years were ready to crack. The professors had officially abandoned homework now, in favor of revision. Hannah Abbott had broken down in Charms, crying that she was too stupid to learn anything, and wanted to leave school, and had to be taken to Madam Pomfrey for a Calming Drought.

Fortunately, thanks to the guides the professors had handed out in the DA back in January, the students had been focusing on their trouble areas, and most felt relatively prepared, though it didn't stop them from being nervous, by any means. June brought with it beautiful weather, and yet the grounds were nearly empty, as students crammed into the library, DA lounge, and common rooms, studying.

At breakfast on the Friday before the exams were set to begin, the Heads of Houses descended on their respective tables, handing out schedules. The exams would be administered over the course of two weeks, with the fifth years taking the Great Hall, while the seventh years would be tested in several magically expanded classrooms in another part of the castle.

Harry looked over the schedule with his friends, worrying his lip as he mentally prepared a revision plan for the weekend, including time for work, as well as periods to relax and prepare for the chaos the next couple of weeks would bring. OWL exam schedule Week One: Monday Charms Tuesday Transfiguration Wednesday Herbology Thursday Defense Against the Dark Arts Friday Morning Ancient Runes Friday Afternoon Arithmancy Week Two: Monday Potions Tuesday Care of Magical Creatures Wednesday Morning Divination Wednesday Evening Astronomy Thursday Morning Muggle Studies Thursday Afternoon History of Magic Harry looked up at his friends.

"It's going to be a busy two weeks," he commented dryly. They all laughed weakly, acknowledging the truth in his words, before they got up and headed to their last classes before the exams. XXX They spent most of Saturday revising for their Charms exam on Monday, but Harry called for a DA meeting on Sunday, where they spent the morning just relaxing and having fun.

Some Ravenclaws, and Hermione, tried to protest the waste of time, but Harry, with the professors' approval, told them that sometimes the best thing to do before a big exam was to take a break. After all, if they didn't know the material by now, they probably wouldn't know it by the next day. The group had a lot of fun dueling and playing games.

Minerva asked the house elves to provide lunch for them, and they enjoyed a nice meal in the DA lounge, different houses and age groups mixing with each other in a way that made the adults very proud. An entire generation, putting aside the prejudice and stereotypes. Breakfast on Monday was a tense affair. Many students had books propped open in front of them as they ate, cramming some last minute studying in. More were distracted by the arrival of several unknown witches and wizards, undoubtedly the examiners, when they went up to greet Dumbledore.

As soon as everyone had finished eating, they left the Hall, the fifth years mingling in the Entrance Hall while the examiners prepared the room for the exams. Ginny kissed her boyfriend good luck before she headed off to her Transfiguration end of year exam.

Several other fifth years with significant others in different years received the same treatment. Harry saw Colin give Daphne a peck on the cheek, and nearby, Luna almost tackled Blaise in her enthusiasm to wish him luck, something that had several people chuckling with mirth, though Blaise didn't seem to mind.

Finally, the doors opened, and the fifth years trooped back in. The Hall had changed drastically. Rather than the four House tables, there now stood many individual desks, each one equipped with a quill, ink pot, and parchment. At the front of the room stood five of the examiners. "Everyone, please take a seat," an elderly woman called out.

"I am Griselda Marchbanks, the head examiner for your OWL exams." She waited for the flurry of movement to die out, as the students all sat, before she continued. A wave of her wand had the parchment with the questions flying to each desk, landing face down. "This is the Charms written portion. You have three hours, and you may begin… now." An hourglass up front tipped over, and the rustling around the room indicated that students were turning their questions sheet over. Harry looked at the first question.

'Describe the incantation, and the wand movement required to make an object fly.' He smiled, remembering an incident what felt like a lifetime ago, invovling a troll, a girls' loo, and the beginning of a beautiful friendship. A knot in his chest loosened. He felt better. The morning passed by relatively quickly, and Harry was surprised at how easily the answers came to him.

Somehow, he thought the exam would be harder. But then, he was pretty good at Charms. When Madam Marchbanks called the time, he had finished the entirety of the exam, and felt relatively confident, as she once more waved her wand, causing all the sheets of parchment to come to her and collect neatly on the table up front.

The fifth years once more left the Hall so that the examiners could return it to normal for the noon meal, before they continued on with the practical portion. The fifth years all waited in a separate antechamber off the Entrance Hall while they went in a few at a time.

Their classmates didn't return afterwards, so Harry had no idea how his friends had done. All in all, he felt he had done rather well. He accidentally put too much power into his Engorging Charm, causing the small, doll sized cup he had been attempting to enlarge to turn more into the type of mug Hagrid would use, rather than one of a proper size for a normal human being, which he had been intending.

But other than that, he felt rather good about the exam. Ron had confided in him later, when Hermione couldn't hear, that he had somehow managed to turn the mushroom he had been attempting to turn orange into a flock of flamingos, and had no idea how it had happened, causing the exam to be halted for ten minutes so that they could be rounded up. Tuesday was Transfiguration, and went decently for Harry as well.

While he wasn't quite as gifted in the subject as his father had been, a lot of hard work and living with a Transfiguration Mistress had resulted in him being rather good at the subject. Wednesday was a little harder for Harry, as Herbology had never been his best subject. He did enjoy glancing up a few times during their written exam to see Neville scratching away furiously.

He was quite certain his friend would earn an O, easily, on this exam. After lunch, they spent the afternoon distinguishing between different plants, and showing the examiners their abilities to properly retrieve ingredients and handle several tricky plants. Thursday was the exam Harry looked forward to the most. He breezed through the written portion of the Defense exam, and waited eagerly for his name to be called for the practical.

He went in with several other students, including Sally-Ann Perks and the Patil twins, and was waved over to an examiner he recognized as having administered his Charms practical. The examiner put him through his paces, quizzing him on various hexes and jinxes, curses and counter curses, all of which he was able to fire off without delay.

Finally, the professor finished, marking off his sheet with a smile. "Well done, Mr. Potter," he said in a squeaky voice that reminded Harry of Professor Flitwick.

"That is all, for your practical. Although…" He leaned forward slightly, his voice dropping in volume. "I have heard that you have taught many of your classmates the Patronus Charm.

My colleagues who are testing the seventh years were astounded at the number of students who could perform the Charm. Would you be willing to show me? For extra credit, perhaps?" Harry nodded and smiled. He turned away from the examiner and raised his wand. "Expecto Patronum!" A great silvery phoenix shot from the end and flew majestically down the room.

Examiners and students stopped what they were doing for a moment to watch it pass. "Oh, well done indeed!" the examiner said cheerfully. And Harry left the room completely sure that he had earned an O. He nodded to Dumbledore as he passed, noting the old man's surprise at his changed Patronus form. He knew the headmaster would be wondering how it had happened.

Ron had a break on Friday, while Harry, Hermione, and Susan sat their Arithmancy and Ancient Runes exams. Neville had half a break, as he was taking Arithmancy, but not Ancient Runes. Finally, it was the weekend, though they didn't get much chance to relax, instead studying for Potions on Monday.

Harry felt like he was wearing himself out. His scar kept prickling, and it was starting to worry him. He would go to sleep and wake up even more tired than he had been the night before. Ginny tried to comfort him, but she didn't know what to say. Hermione just told him it was likely exam nerves. "I get them too. I woke up two nights ago and was halfway through my Transfiguration notes before I realized we had already done that exam." But despite that, Harry knew it was more.

He felt a sense of… anticipation. Voldemort was waiting for something. He didn't know what, but whatever it was, it couldn't be good. He was actually relieved when Monday came around, the days were filled with exams once more. Potions was another exam Harry was looking forward to taking. With Snape's change of attitude over the last year or two and especially the last six months Harry had found his original fascination with the subject again, the one that he had cultivated in that month before arriving for his first year, the one that had been dashed away after one class of being put on the spot with questions that were years above him by a vindictive man with a grudge against a dead man, and years of being looked down on, belittled, blamed for something he had had nothing to do with.

Harry only got stuck on a few questions for the written part, but knew that he had aced the practical; his finished potion looked exactly like it should. He even received a nod of approval from Snape, who had been watching the exam, not having an end of year exam to administer that afternoon, as he left the Great Hall.

On Tuesday, Harry and his friends had Care of Magical Creatures, where they had to answer questions on various creatures, and demonstrate the proper handling of a bowtruckle, identify a knarl, and feed and clean a fire crab, amongst other tasks. Ron and Neville had to sit their Divination exam on Wednesday morning, while the others had the day off, before they all headed up to the Astronomy tower for that exam in the evening.

Harry tried his hardest to remember the locations of the stars and planets, to fill in his chart, but he knew he had made a few mistakes. Hopefully nothing too severe, but he doubted he had achieved more than an E, and he would be surprised if he got that. It wasn't too important, he knew, as he wasn't planning on continuing with the class next year, but he wanted to do well.

He didn't want to let his guardians down. Finally, it was Thursday, and the last day of exams. They had the morning off, as none of them were taking Muggle Studies, so all they had to do was get through the afternoon's History of Magic exam, and they were done. Three hours of trying to remember names and dates, important legislations and wars. Harry knew he had done better than he would have, had he not read through all those books Minerva and Sirius had bought him over the last couple of years.

Books on Magical History that included subjects other than Goblin wars. Honestly, he didn't know why Binns had felt the need to spend five years talking about Goblin wars. It could all be summed up in one sentence: both sides fought, people and goblins died, treaties were made and then broken before the ink dried. The only things that changed were dates and the names involved.

The books he had read were so much more interesting. He doubted he did too well, but he was fairly confident that he had at least passed. And despite the constant prickling in his scar, and his tiredness, when Madam Marchbanks called for them to put their quills down, Harry couldn't help but throw up a cheer with the rest of the class. He met Ginny outside, and she immediately dragged him off with an apologetic look at the rest of their friends, who were watching rather bemusedly.

She didn't stop until they were in the fifth year boy's dormitory. She then proceeded to push him onto his bed, following closely behind. She wrapped her arms around him, and felt him burrow into her side. Just relax, Harry. Exams are over, and you are going to get some sleep.

Now. Harry chuckled through his tiredness. Yes dear, he replied sleepily. He had thought it might take some time to fall asleep, given how hard it had been for the last few weeks, but surprisingly or maybe not in Ginny's arms, he was out within seconds.

Ron and Neville came up a couple of hours later, to find both of them completely out to the world. Neville spared a glance for Ron, to see how he was taking his sister and best friend in the same bed, but Ron just smiled genially. He had to admit, they looked good together. They looked so peaceful. Ron looked back at Neville. "Should we wake them up?" he asked quietly.

Neville shrugged. "They should probably eat," he said regretfully. "I don't want to, I know how little sleep Harry's gotten lately, but Susan and Hermione told us to fetch them, and they do need to eat." Ron sighed, and moved over to Harry's bed.

He started with Ginny, shaking her shoulder gently. "Ginny, come on, wake up. It's time for dinner." "Mmmm," Ginny shifted in her position, not waking. "Come on, Ginny. You need to wake up," Ron tried again, shaking her shoulder a little harder.

Ginny inhaled sharply and stiffened, as her eyes shot open. "Ron?" she asked, surprised. Her gaze shifted over to Harry, before going back to her brother. "I can explain " Ron shook his head, smiling.

"Just help me wake him up, and let's go eat." Ginny was shocked. Her overprotective brother had just found her in bed with her boyfriend, and wasn't freaking out. She put it out of her mind for now, and turned to the task of waking Harry up.

She shook his shoulder, but he still slept on. With a devious smirk, she leaned over and planted a passionate kiss on his lips. It only took a moment for him to begin to respond, even as Ron made an annoyed sound and turned away, while Neville smiled in amusement. "I could get used to this," Harry mumbled as Ginny pulled back. "Merlin, Harry, I don't need to hear that!" Ron exclaimed, still looking at the far wall. Harry shot upright quickly. "Ron. Neville. Ron.

I can explain," Harry rushed, swinging his feet over the edge of the bed. To his surprise, Ron just laughed lightly and shook his head. "It's all right, mate. It's not like you were doing anything." Harry raised an eyebrow. That was… nice. He was glad he didn't have to defend himself from an angry Weasley. Together, they made their way down to the Great Hall, where Hermione and Susan were waiting for them. A few minutes after they sat down, Luna joined them, and then Blaise and Daphne, a move that caused a lull in the conversation in the Hall for a few moments, before people just shrugged and continued celebrating the end of their exams.

Interhouse mixing was becoming more and more common, but it was still unusual to see Slytherins and Gryffindors sitting next to each other and chatting happily. Blaise chuckled as he felt the eyes on him and Daphne.

"Don't you just love being ornery?" he asked, looking at the group around him. They all laughed, and spent the meal relaxing. Ginny and Luna had finished their exams the day before, and the fifth years were incredibly glad to be able to finally give their brains a rest. Hermione tried to spend the meal going over all of the exams, but no one else was interested. "Hermione?" Harry asked politely, looking over at his fellow Prefect, as she began to worry about some mistake she knew she had made on the Ancient Runes exam.

Hmm?" Hermione asked, breaking off midsentence. "Please stop talking," Harry said firmly. Hermione looked offended, and Harry shook his head. "I know how much you love going over exams, but please, just let us relax for now. It's over, there's no point worrying about mistakes. All you're doing right now is stressing yourself, and us, out." Hermione looked around, and saw her friends nodding, some more amused than others.

She huffed, annoyed, but dropped the subject willingly, as they finished their meal. Talk turned more to the end of term, and the summer. Harry invited Blaise and Daphne to join them at McGonagall Castle any time, either to join their Defense lessons, or just to hang out. "I spoke with our tutor in Occlumancy, and he said he'd be willing to come by and test your defenses the week after school lets out.

I'll set up a date with him, and let you know." The two Slytherins nodded. "What about payment?" Blaise asked, knowing that a Master of the Mind Arts would probably require payment for his tutelage.

Harry shrugged with one shoulder. "We didn't discuss that, but if there are any fees, I will pay them." Daphne shook her head. "We can pay, Potter. I told my father I was learning Occlumancy, and he thought it was a brilliant idea.

He would be more than willing to pay for a tutor." "My mum as well," Blaise agreed. Both Slytherins looked so resolved that Harry knew it would do no good to argue. They finished their meals before leaving the Hall and separating for various evening activities.

With a smile and a wave, Harry and Ginny left their friends to spend some time together, alone. They wandered the corridors for a while, talking through their bond. It was nice for them to relax after a rather strenuous year.

They were turning a corner to head back up to the Gryffindor common room, when their evening got a lot worse. Malfoy was waiting at the other end of the hall, sneering at the pair. Behind him stood Crabbe and Goyle, acting the part of bodyguards, just like they had for the last five years.

"Potter," the Malfoy heir sneered. "And Weaslette. How touching." Harry sighed internally. He had so been enjoying Malfoy's low profile over the term.

Clearly, it was because the git had been saving up for something. "What do you want, Malfoy?" he asked, the tone of his voice weary. He would ignore the prick, but they were standing in the way of their path back to the common room. Malfoy's sneer deepened. "You've got a lot to answer for, scar face. Because of you, I lost my badge.

And you got the Black inheritance. That position belongs to me!" Harry snorted, shaking his head. "Not in your life, Malfoy. Sirius is the Lord Black, and it's to his discretion to name an heir.

Why in the name of Merlin you thought you had a shot is beyond me." Malfoy glared, his voice lowering to a hiss as he responded. "You'll pay, Potter. The Dark Lord will kill you. I'm just sorry I won't be able to see it." And with that, he hurled an object at the ground. It appeared to be a vial of some sort of potion. The glass shattered, causing a smoky vapor to emerge from it. Malfoy and his goons were clearly prepared, and didn't react, however, Harry and Ginny immediately bent over, coughing.

Harry! Ginny shouted mentally, as she felt herself bowled over by a large object or two. Crabbe and Goyle really were built like trolls. Ginny! Harry responded, his eyes watering as he tried to see her. His wand flew out of its holster with a flick of the wrist, but it was too late. Through the tears brought on by whatever noxious gas Malfoy had inflicted on the hallway, he saw the Slytherin git throw something at him. Unfortunately, his reflexes were dimmed, and he couldn't dodge the object.

He felt the unpleasant twist behind his navel, and groaned mentally as he vanished from the hallway at Hogwarts. Not again… _ _ _ Chapter 20 I apologize that my layout for the Department of Mysteries is completely wrong. This was how it came out when I wrote it, and I did look at a few sources online, but they all say that it is next to impossible to actually map the Department, so I just made it up as I went along.

And seriously, guys, your reviews make me teary-eyed! Thank you so much for the support, and your wonderful comments! I promise that I will be finishing this series, so those of you who are worried, don't be.

I am planning two more stories after this one, to account for Harry's sixth and seventh year. It might take a while, since I have procrastination down to an art (I am currently stuck around chapter six of the next story) but I promise it will happen. Disclaimer: not mine Ginny groaned as she stood up, clutching her head in pain. There was a sickly sweet stench in the air around her, and with a start, she remembered the events that had just occurred. A glance at her watch told her that she had been out roughly fifteen minutes.

Oh Merlin. Harry… Ginny? Ginny started, looking around. Harry? Where are you? She felt Harry look around, and saw through his eyes as he did so. The Ministry of Magic, they both said together. Ginny bit her lip, already rushing towards Gryffindor Tower. Harry, how is this possible? We've never been able to keep in contact across long distances before. Harry shrugged mentally. Maybe it's just the bond getting stronger.

We have noticed that lately. We'll talk about it later. Right now, I need you to contact Aunt Minerva. Tell her where I am. Malfoy threw a portkey at me. And remember what he said. If I don't get out of here soon, I have a feeling I'll be facing Voldemort, and no matter how advanced I am for my age, I'm not ready for that. Ginny nodded mentally. Already on it, she informed him, reaching the Fat Lady's portrait and giving her the password hurriedly.

Harry gave his agreement, looking around him. He recognized where he was, partly because of Umbridge's trial. If he were to take a left, he would be heading in the direction of Courtroom Ten. Straight ahead, however, he was also intimately familiar with. It was the door outside which Mr.

Weasley had been attacked. He shivered. Please, Ginny, hurry. At Hogwarts, Ginny heard his plea, and felt her own fear spike. In the common room, she thankfully found their friends. Hermione looked up at her frenzied entrance.

"Ginny? What's wrong? Where's Harry?" Ginny stopped in front of them, breathing heavily. She wouldn't normally be winded from the run up to the common room, but her fear for Harry was moving steadily upwards and lodging somewhere in her throat now. "Malfoy… potion… Harry… portkey." Neville stood up. "Calm down, Ginny. Tell us what's happened." Ginny took a deep breath.

"We ran into Malfoy and his goons in an empty corridor. He dropped a vial with some sort of debilitating gas in it to knock out our senses. Crabbe and Goyle tackled me, and Malfoy threw a portkey at Harry.

He disappeared. We have to hurry." "That's impossible," Hermione disagreed. "Only the headmaster could make a portkey to get through the wards." Ginny shook her head. "Voldemort could probably do it as well if he really wanted to, but that's besides the point. Harry's in trouble. We have to find Professor McGonagall." They all nodded and followed the fourth year out of the Tower, heading to McGonagall's office. Unfortunately, she wasn't there.

Undeterred, they immediately went to Sirius' office. He too, was missing. Neville growled in frustration. "Where is everyone?" he asked.

"What's going on?" The Gryffindors looked up to see Susan standing there, looking confused. Quickly, Hermione informed the Hufflepuff of the situation. Susan gasped in horror. "We need to get help," she said, eyes wide. Ginny bit her lip.

"We need an Order member. What about Hagrid?" Susan shook her head. "I saw his hut out on the grounds a little while ago. It was completely dark; he's not here." Ginny shook her head slightly. "Then there's only one more that I can think of." Ron shook his head. "What is the world coming to, when we have to go to Snape for help," he groused, as they made their way down to the dungeons. They ran into Blaise and Daphne as they reached the corridor with Snape's office. Blaise raised his eyebrow.

"What are you all doing here?" he asked curiously. "No time to explain. We need to talk to Snape," Neville hurried, when Ginny made no move to speak. Her eyes were glazed a little, and he was getting worried. Daphne observed the Gryffindors. "He's not here," she informed them. "I wanted to talk to him about setting up some summer studies, but his office is empty." Ginny moaned.

"We need to hurry. He's running out of time." "OK, what's going on?" Blaise asked, looking at his friends. "Harry's missing," Ron said bluntly.

"Malfoy threw a portkey at him, and he disappeared. We tried to find Professor's McGonagall and Black, but neither one is in the Castle." "How is finding any of them going to help if you don't know where he is?" Daphne asked reasonably. That stumped most of them, but Ginny just shook her head.

"He's at the Ministry," she informed them, much to their surprise. "How do you know that?" Ron asked, confused. Ginny huffed impatiently. "No time to explain, we have to go!" She then took off, heading up in the direction of the headmaster's office, the others trailing behind her.

They stopped outside the gargoyle, and Ron looked around, as if hoping for a sign telling him the password. "How do we get in there, and do you have a plan, Ginny?" Daphne asked, looking at the younger girl. "Why didn't you go to Dumbledore first, for that matter?" Ginny looked over, her annoyance creeping through.

They were wasting time! "I trust McGonagall and Sirius way more than Dumbledore. Besides, if none of the Order members are in residence, more than likely, there's a meeting tonight, so Dumbledore won't be here either." "So what are we doing at his office?" Ron asked, looking at his sister.

Ginny sighed impatiently. "His Floo is the only unrestricted one in the castle." "And how do you suggest we get up there?" Blaise drawled, successfully hiding his worry at the thought of Harry portkeyed into an undesirable situation.

"Perhaps you should inform the guardian of the situation," a dreamy voice commented from behind them. They all turned around to see Luna standing there.

She smiled vaguely at her boyfriend, before looking at Ginny. "Hogwarts always knows." Ginny was startled, before she felt a rush of understanding, and turned back to the gargoyle. "Guardian, the Heir of Gryffindor is in trouble. We need your help." There were amazed and shocked gasps around her, as the gargoyle nodded silently and swung aside, allowing them entrance. "How…" Ron asked weakly, as they stepped onto the spiral staircase and allowed themselves to be carried up.

Ginny bit her lip. "He found out when Sirius and McGonagall took him to Gringotts summer before his fourth year. He didn't know how to tell you, and he didn't really know what it meant. The Goblins couldn't tell him either." "Hogwarts knows her heir has returned," Luna commented dreamily. "She always knows." "How did you?" Ginny asked curiously. "Are you a seer?" Luna looked at her oddly. "The dilbliggers told me." Ginny raised an eyebrow, but didn't reply, as they reached the door to the headmaster's office at that moment.

That, and because of the laughing she heard in her head, as Harry overheard that comment. She flushed a little. Are you mad that I told them, Harry? She felt Harry shake his head. I should have told them before now, I just didn't know how, and I'm still not really sure what it means. Ginny gave a mental shrug. Well, the gargoyle let us in because you're in trouble, so clearly Hogwarts wants to protect you. Harry huffed.

She could have protected me by not letting Malfoy get me out of the castle in the first place. I don't think it was just a portkey, because Hermione's right, only the headmaster has that privilege. Maybe that potion he dropped first? It vaporized in the air and came into contact with my skin. Whatever Malfoy threw at me was the activation part.

It was linked to another object, and when it touched me, I was sent to its twin? There was a stone with some rune engravings on it where I landed here. Ginny growled as they opened the door and walked into the office.

I'm going to kill that prick. Harry nodded. Get in line. There are a lot of things I'd like to say - or do - to the prat, and none of them can be carried out in front of your mother. Ginny smirked mentally as they crowded around the Floo, and with a start, Ginny realized that her friends were all looking to her for instructions. She gulped. "Susan, can you stay behind and Floo your aunt? She'll know how to get in touch with Sirius and McGonagall. Blaise, Daphne, Luna, maybe you should stay as well." She saw their defiance, but shook her head firmly.

"We're wasting time. What you need to do is get help immediately. Tell them Harry was taken to the corridor leading to the Department of Mysteries. They'll know what's going on." With that, she turned to the fireplace, and threw a pinch of Floo Powder in, stepping inside and shouting "Ministry of Magic!" in a clear voice.

Ron and Hermione followed quickly, and then Neville. Before Susan could move forward to call her aunt, Luna took a pinch of powder. "I will not just stand here when my friend is in trouble." And she followed Neville.

Susan sighed, before she grabbed a pinch of the powder and stuck her head into the fireplace, calling out "Bones Estate." Amelia looked up as the fireplace flared, startled when she saw her niece's head sticking out of it. "Susan! What's wrong?" Susan looked at her aunt, fear in her eyes. "Auntie, you have to hurry. Harry's been kidnapped." Amelia felt her heart stop. "Tell me," she commanded. With a deep breath, Susan gave her aunt the highlights, as she had been told, beginning with Malfoy's involvement, and ending with her friends following Harry to the Ministry.

When she was done, Amelia was already preparing, using her wand to switch her comfortable at home clothes for more versatile work clothes that would allow for free range of motion.

"Thank you for informing me, Susan. I will get Sirius and Minerva, and we will handle it. I need you to stay at Hogwarts." Susan nodded unhappily, but withdrew her head from the fireplace immediately, knowing that her aunt would need it to contact the Order, and probably the Aurors as well. She looked over at Blaise and Daphne, who were standing around her, waiting. "So?" Blaise asked the Hufflepuff. His veins were already singing with adrenaline.

Susan sighed. "She's going to take care of it. Told me to stay here." Blaise raised an eyebrow. "And are you going to listen?" Susan started, scrutinizing the Slytherin. After a moment, she smirked, and tossed another pinch of Floo powder into the fireplace, following her other friends to the Ministry.

Blaise looked at Daphne. She nodded knowingly. "Stay here and hold down the fort, I know," she sighed. "Be careful." Blaise smiled reassuringly. "There comes a time when we will all have to pick a side. Here's to picking the right one." And with that, he too stepped through the fireplace.

XXX When Ginny, Hermione, Ron, and Neville arrived in the Ministry atrium, they were surprised to see Luna appear immediately after Neville. "What are you doing here?" Ginny asked, looking at her friend. Luna observed the Gryffindor calmly.

"I will help my friends," she replied firmly. Ginny nodded, understanding, and they wasted no more time in heading towards the lifts to head down to level nine. Harry looked up when he heard the lift clang to life, his hand gripping his wand tightly. Ginny? He felt her presence, and relaxed slightly. We're here, Harry. Susan's telling Amelia, so help's coming. The doors opened, and Harry smiled, seeing the red blur streak out of the lift and head shoot towards him like a bullet.

"Ginny," he breathed, hugging her tightly. Ginny closed her eyes tightly to stop the tears. "Harry," she whispered. A cough brought their attention back to the present, and Harry let go reluctantly, with a light blush. "Thanks for coming," he said, trying to smooth over the awkwardness.

"Any time, mate," Ron replied, looking around. "That's the Department of Mysteries, right?" he pointed to the door at the end of the hallway. Harry nodded grimly. "Sirius told me that Voldemort wants to know the prophecy badly. He found out that only those whose names are listed on the prophecy sphere can touch it.

Remember reading about the death of Broderick Bode in the Prophet a few months ago?" Hermione nodded, but she was the only one. Harry sighed. "He worked in the Department of Mysteries. He went all funny a while back, and landed in St. Mungos. Sirius told me that they suspect he was placed under the Imperius Curse to get the prophecy, but he failed because it's not about him." "So Malfoy sent you here so that you can get the prophecy for Voldemort," Neville summed up.

Harry nodded, but was cut off when he heard the lift come to life once more. He furrowed his brow. "What ?" His eyes widened when Susan and Blaise stepped out of the lift and joined them. "Need a hand?" the Slytherin asked rhetorically, amused. Harry shook his head. "I thought you Slytherins were all about keeping your true loyalties hidden.

You take a stand against Voldemort, you fight alongside me, in Voldemort's eyes, you're signing your own death warrant." Blaise's gaze hardened. "Maybe it's time for the Slytherins to come off the bench," he replied, his voice even and determined. "Maybe it's time for us to start taking a stand, and fighting for what we believe in." Harry's respect for his fellow Prefect and good friend rose significantly, and he nodded, smiling slightly.

He opened his mouth, but was cut off by a sound coming from what seemed to be beneath his feet. He frowned.

Reklama

"Did you hear that?" They all nodded, confused, and though they didn't want to admit it, afraid. Hermione worried her lip. "Harry, we should just stay here, or better yet, head back to the atrium. Let's get out of here." Harry looked at her. "You think I haven't tried? There's a ward blocking off that half of the corridor. It's one way, so people can come down it, but no one can cross going the other direction." Harry bit his lip, considering.

He looked over at Ginny, and raised an eyebrow. Ginny seemed to know what he was thinking. "On three, we overpower the anchors?" Harry nodded. "Together, we should have enough power." The two of them raised their wands, and prepared to fire spells at two specific points that the rest of them couldn't see. Hermione made a mental note to ask later just how Harry and Ginny knew where the ward was anchored. Somehow, Harry was unsurprised when a cloaked figure appeared in front of them before they could fire a spell.

"Bad idea, Potter. We've got plans for you, and they don't involve you leaving before the party starts." Harry raised an eyebrow. Did all Death Eaters go to some course on bad witty repartee? Seriously? Before the party starts? Ginny gave him a mental shove. So not the time, Potter. Harry grimaced, agreeing.

He would think about the cheesy lines and death threats the Death Eaters all loved to spout at him later. Unfortunately, more of Voldemort's sycophants were lining up behind the first, and even though their faces were covered, he knew they were all leering at him and his friends. On three, Gin. Blasting hex, aim at their feet. As soon as the ground explodes, we run backwards. In the direction they want us to go? Really Harry? Ginny's mental voice was skeptical.

Harry shook his head in reply. We're not going to be able to get by them. The Department of Mysteries is the only direction we can go in. He felt her acquiescence, and counted to three, before they both sent out simultaneous blasting hexes at the Death Eaters' feet.

The ground blew upwards, causing the Death Eaters to yell out, in pain, confusion, or anger. Harry wasted no time in herding his friends backwards, through the door leading to the Department of Mysteries. Luna was the last to enter what appeared to be a circular room, and as soon as she closed the door, it began to spin. When it stopped, they all looked around, confused. "Now what?" Blaise asked, looking at Harry.

The Gryffindor shrugged, listening to the shouts he could still hear coming from one of the doors that led back to the Ministry hallway. "Pick a door," he replied.

"We just have to keep going until Amelia and her backup gets here." Blaise nodded, and picked the door behind them.

They all rushed in, and Hermione, as the last one through this time, closed the door and locked it with a locking charm. Looking around, Harry was almost entranced by the glittering orbs lining countless numbers of shelves, reaching to the ceiling, and in rows as far back as he could see. "Crap," Hermione muttered. "What?" Ron asked, confused, looking over at his girlfriend.

They were all surprised to hear her use less than polite language, and so were all staring. Hermione sighed. "Harry said they want him to get the prophecy for Voldemort." Ron nodded, still confused.

"So?" He may not have understood, but Susan certainly did. She gasped. "We're in the Hall of Prophecy right now. We need to get out of here." Neville nodded his agreement. "Let's keep moving. Maybe we'll find another door somewhere." They all cautiously headed down the center aisle, wands in hand as they moved, keeping their eyes open for any movement.

When they were halfway through the room, Hermione let out a gasp, just as people in cloaks descended on them. "Harry!" Harry turned his head so fast he almost got whiplash. Ginny was being held in a chokehold by a Death Eater. He growled, but tried not to let his anger cloud his judgment. They were surrounded by more of Voldemort's followers. "Now, now, now, Potter, put that wand away before you hurt yourself." Harry stiffened at the familiar drawl.

"Malfoy," he almost spat. "Fancy seeing you here. Tell me, is your son marked yet? He's certainly gearing up to follow in his father's footsteps, someone should tell him where that will lead." Lucius Malfoy kept his mask on, but Harry could hear his smirk. "Power, Potter. The Dark Lord offers power beyond all recognition." "For himself maybe," Harry now sounded bored. He knew it infuriated the Death Eaters, and anything that kept them off their guard was a good thing.

"I have little faith you or any of his other driveling followers will ever see that power." Malfoy growled. "You are lucky the Dark Lord has need of your services, Potter, or you would be dead already." "Haven't you already tried to kill me Malfoy? Tell me, how did that work out for you?" Now his voice was amused. He could feel the stares of his friends, and knew they thought he was crazy, but he was just trying to keep them off balance.

Malfoy made a move towards him, but stopped himself. "Fetch the prophecy, Potter, and I might just let your friends live." He gestured to the shelf behind Harry, and with a start, Harry realized that they had been descended on right next to the prophecy about him and Voldemort.

Well, there was no way Harry was going to give Voldemort his weapon. "Sorry, not happening." Malfoy clenched his fist. "Fetch the prophecy, or your little girlfriend is dead." Ron made a sound that was half growl, half whine, but Harry paid him no mind.

He glanced over at Ginny. Gin? She gave him a mental smirk. Kick his arse, sweetie. Harry grinned, and nodded slightly. He looked over at Neville next. The Longbottom heir was ready for anything; his eyes were trained on Harry, waiting for a signal.

Harry held up two fingers at his side, and tapped his leg once. He knew Neville would understand. Last summer, they had debated the merits of having a secret code for use in battle, and came up with a number system. One finger would mean shield, two would mean offensive, destructive hexes, such as the blasting hex or reducto, three meant offensive hexes that were not destructive, like cutting curses, four was physical defense, and so on.

The number of times they tapped their leg related to how many minutes before they were to cast whatever spell. He turned back to Malfoy, though he kept one eye on Ginny. She was subtly maneuvering her wand so that it was pointed backwards, towards the Death Eater holding her. As he threw thinly veiled insults and not so thinly veiled refusals to cooperate back at the Malfoy Lord, he felt, rather than heard, Neville getting their friends ready.

He mentally counted down. Ten seconds. Five. Three. Two. One. "Reducto!" he shouted, and heard eight other voices crying out the same spell. All around him, shelves with prophecies were blasted apart, the orbs shattering into thousands of pieces, the silvery beings contained inside released, spouting off a few words before disintegrating. The best part about it for Harry was the Death Eater holding Ginny being thrown back thirty feet before he fell to the ground, not moving.

Clearly, a reducto to the stomach at point blank range by a powerful witch was not something that could just be walked off. "Come on," he said hurriedly, leading his friends further down the aisle, running away from the Death Eaters who were now starting to get back on their feet to chase them.

They reached the end of the room, and found a door, as the shouts of the Death Eaters grew louder. Wasting no time, Harry pushed the door open and led them inside. "Lock it," he said tersely.

Hermione did so instantly, and they stayed there for a minute, listening. On the other side, Malfoy was shouting out orders. "Rodolphus, Rabastian, Bellatrix, go that way. Rookwood, Avery, you're together. Mulicber, Macnair, Nott, team up. Crabbe, Goyle, you're with me." "Oi, we don't take orders from you, Malfoy," one of the Death Eaters sneered. Malfoy cut him off quickly. "Now's not the time. Find Potter." His voice was hard and tight, and Harry knew he was imagining what Voldemort would do if they lost him.

He jerked his head to his friends, indicating that they head away from the door. They moved through a strange room filled with timepieces, passed a strange bell jar that contained a small bird, and into another room that caused them to float through the air, amongst representations of planets and stars.

Suddenly, a door opened, and they heard a shout. "Got 'em!" They all tried to get away, but Ginny, as the last one in the group, got snagged by the Death Eater. He pulled on her ankle as she struggled. Ginny! She heard Harry's mental voice, and growled. She then proceeded to blow up whatever planet they were floating beside in the Death Eater's face, causing him to tumble backwards, as she hurriedly caught up with the rest. She winced as she put her weight on the ankle the Death Eater had grabbed.

Back on solid ground with gravity fully in effect, it hurt a lot more. "Are you all right?" Harry asked, concerned. Ginny grit her teeth. "It's not broken," she assured him. "I think it's just a sprain." Harry nodded, worried. "Let's keep moving," he told them, his arm snaking around Ginny's to help her walk. Neville came up to them, and muttered a spell that caused bandages to wrap around Ginny's ankle.

"That should help a little," he said quietly. Ginny tested her weight, and while it was mildly painful and stiff, she could walk. "Thanks," she said, relieved. They moved through three or four more rooms, before they found themselves in a large airy chamber.

There were stone benches lining it, almost like a coliseum, and in the center, on a dais, was a huge arch. Harry furrowed his brow as he looked at the arch.

"Do you hear that?" he asked his friends. Most of them shook their heads. "Harry, we need to keep moving," Hermione admonished, looking behind her as if expecting Death Eaters to pop up at any moment.

Well, it was a valid fear at the moment.

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Ginny followed Harry as he moved down towards the arch. "I hear it too," she breathed. "What is that?" Luna was the next to follow. "Death holds many secrets," she commented quietly. "Even the wisest cannot hope to understand." Harry looked over sharply. "Death?" he asked, taken aback. Ginny leaned back slightly, trying to put a little distance between her and the arch. Luna nodded serenely. "Death is no more than passing from one room into another.

The next great adventure." "Are you certain?" Harry asked, his voice soft.

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Luna's gaze shifted to him. "Nothing is ever certain," she admonished lightly. "Certainty blinds you to the obvious." Harry rather felt she was pointing that jibe more at Hermione than himself, given the other witch's propensity for disputing every mythical creature that came out of Luna's mouth. Luna smiled.

"Do not despair. Death hears your struggles; he sees your fears, he soothes your hurts. Death favors you, Harry Potter." Harry felt something like a shiver make its way up his spine. "Is that the next room, you were talking about?" he asked curiously, trying to ignore the way Luna's eyes pierced him. Luna turned back to the arch.

"Our loved ones always have a way of coming back to us, sometimes in ways we least expect." And as Harry's attention focused on the arch, he thought he could hear a whisper in a female voice.

"Harry…" And then softer. "Don't give up. We love you." Wide eyed, he turned back to Luna. "How…" He was cut off as several doors to the room blasted open, and Death Eaters began entering. The eight friends prepared for a fight, standing back to back in a circle so that they could cover all angles. "Don't be silly, boy," Malfoy's drawl could be heard once more. "All we want is the prophecy. Get it for us, and this needs to go no further." "Yeah right," Ron muttered under his breath.

Harry had to hold in his snort. He agreed wholeheartedly. He glanced to his left, and shared a look with Neville. The Longbottom heir nodded, just once. He was ready. On his right, Ginny stood firm and tall, despite her injured ankle.

We protect each other, Harry. Let's do this. Harry smirked. She was right. He remembered the words Ron had said to him after Umbridge's arrest. 'You take care of us, and we take care of you.' That's how it worked. Time to kick some serious arse. "Let's give them a lesson they won't forget, sound good?" His voice was barely above a whisper, but they all heard it, and he felt their agreement, as their faces grew determined, their resolved hardened.

One of the Death Eaters off to the side grew impatient, and fired of a hex. And just like that, the fight was on. Harry lost track of time for a while, as he ducked, dodged, and fired spells back at the masked Death Eaters. He tried to keep an eye on his friends, but he was busy making sure his own skin stayed intact. A yelp to his right told him that Blaise had gone down, though when he glanced at the Slytherin out of the corner of his eye, he could see that it wasn't serious.

Blaise appeared to be nursing an injured leg, but he was getting his feet under him, and his wand was still leveled, as he spouted off curses to any Death Eaters stupid enough to get in range.

A pissed off Slyterhin was not someone you wanted to be on the wrong end of the wand from. A blast of purple from Harry's left had Hermione flying through the air and landing in a heap halfway up the stone benches in the room. Ron gave an angered yell, and immediately dispatched of the Death Eater who had injured his girlfriend.

The redhead's satisfaction only intensified when the now unconscious Death Eater's mask slipped, revealing him to be Dolohov, the same man responsible for the deaths of his mother's brothers. Harry grimaced and dodged as another spell headed his way.

He smirked when the spell intended for him caused a Death Eater behind him to drop like a bag of rocks. Malfoy, the one who had thrown the curse, growled in annoyance. "Give it up, Potter. There's no way you and your pathetic friends are making it out of here." Harry just kept fighting.

He knew that hurling insults back and forth just wasted breath. Malfoy opened his mouth to fire off another curse, when he was blasted sideways.

Harry looked up, confused, and then smiled, relieved, to see a large group entering the room, some of them firing on the Death Eaters, others making their way to the students, obviously to protect them.

It was Sirius who had dispatched of Malfoy. He nodded at his godfather. "Thanks," he said simply. Sirius returned the nod. "You get your friends out of here, Harry. We'll take it from here." Harry bit his lip, but knew better than to argue. Instead, he headed for Blaise, who was the closest; he was leaning against the dais that held the arch, and by the paleness of his face and his unwillingness to put any weight on his left leg, Harry guessed one of the bones was broken, either in the leg or his ankle.

He nodded to Kingsley, who was standing in front of the Slytherin protectively, and maneuvered his friend's arm so that it was around his shoulders. "Lean on me," he said quietly. Blaise looked like he wanted to protest, but thought better of it, and did as Harry requested. Ginny joined them after a moment, limping slightly, protecting their flank, and Harry spared a smile for his girlfriend.

She looked like a warrior goddess, her hair rippling in fiery waves down her back, her eyes hard and determined. Neville was the next to fall into line, next to Ginny, protecting the other side. Harry looked around for Ron, and found him standing next to his father, both wearing identical expressions of determination and resolve as they protected Hermione's unconscious body.

He bit his lip. Sirius had told him to get his friends out, but the injuries would make things more difficult. Hermione was unconscious, and Blaise only had one good leg. He looked for Susan and Luna, and was relieved to see them still fighting alongside the adults who were trying to protect them. Amelia wasn't in the room, Harry noted, but figured she was still calling Aurors, and would be there soon.

The Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw were doing very well, helping to shield Remus and Tonks; together, the pairs worked to bring the Lestrange brothers to heel. An angry shout brought Harry's attention back to his godfather.

Bellatrix, it seemed, had decided to engage her cousin, and was furious at the way her husband and brother in law had been taken down. "Dumbledore!" Harry looked over at Neville, to see that he was looking at the top of the stairs leading down to the dais.

He followed his friend's gaze, and, sure enough, there stood the leader of the light. Most of the Death Eaters paused as soon as the headmaster made his presence known, but Bellatrix wouldn't let herself get distracted. Harry's heart hurt, he was so worried about his godfather, but Blaise still had his arm around his shoulders, so Harry couldn't help out.

Thankfully, Minerva had seen the issue, and with a well-placed stunner, her dueling partner, Crabbe, was taken out, and she hurried over to help her former student, and good friend. Sirius, though he would deny it later, was grateful for the assistance. His cousin was talented, loath as he was to admit it. She was crazy, but the bitch knew her way around a wand. His face was a mask of determination as he ducked killing curses and hexes that would turn his body inside out. He was starting to tire, but his resolve was as strong as ever.

He would not let this bitch hurt his godson. Minerva stumbled a little as she avoided the bright green killing curse, and the next thing she knew, she was flying backwards, as the floor beneath her and Sirius exploded. She landed a few steps down from Hermione, Arthur, and Ron, winded, but conscious, and stood up immediately, barely causing to catch her breath, refusing to acknowledge the stabbing pain in her arm that suggested the possibility of a broken or fractured bone.

Sirius, on the other hand, was thrown in a different direction. It was as if it happened in slow motion, as they all watched, transfixed.

His body arced through the air, flying towards the dais, towards the arch, the strange arch, with its whispering voices and the air that seemed to shimmer when one got close enough to look. _ _ _ Chapter 21 While I'm glad some people (a surprising number of you, actually) were able to take comfort in the 'though he would deny it later' line, I have to admit, that was just supposed to be a saying.

Like, he would never admit that Bellatrix could challenge him. It wasn't supposed to be a hint of anything. And on a similar note, wow that was a lot of reviews calling me evil, or demanding that I not kill Sirius!

I can't change anything now, can I?! This is the way I wrote it, and what happens next is out of our hands. Disclaimer: not mine Harry' stomach dropped to his feet. He watched his godfather fall, and yet, he couldn't make himself move fast enough to stop it.

Minerva rushed forward to engage Bellatrix again, but Voldemort's right hand woman just laughed and turned around, running back towards the entrance. Neville growled out a curse, his eyes hardening. That woman had caused so much pain, so much hurt. He wouldn't let her leave. Before he was consciously aware of what he was doing, he was following her out of the room, taking the stone steps two at a time. "Neville!" Susan shouted, seeing his path, but the Longbottom heir didn't pay her any heed.

Harry's thoughts were hazy, but he knew one thing: he couldn't let his friend take on the bitch alone.

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He glanced up at that infernal arch. His gaze dropped slightly to the floor of the dais, where Sirius had fallen after impacting with the side of the arch. His heart rate quickened; from this angle, it was impossible to tell if his godfather was breathing. His eyes watered, and he started when he felt a small hand rest on his upper arm.

He looked over to Ginny's understanding gaze. "He'll be fine," she assured him, though he knew she was just as worried as he was.

Harry nodded. He glanced up at the path Neville had taken, and then back at Ginny. She smiled. Go, she urged him, taking Blaise's other arm so that he could use her as a crutch.

You promised Neville you'd help him collect, right? Go collect. And give that bitch a few hits for me, all right? Harry nodded grimly, and kissed her briefly. Yes dear, he replied, already running up the stairs, hoping to catch Neville before he caught up with Bellatrix. He ignored Remus, Minerva, and Arthur calling for him to stop, and instead, headed back towards the exit to the Department of Mysteries.

Bellatrix would be doing her best to get out of the Ministry, but to do that, she would need to get back to the Atrium. If Harry had to guess, that's where he'd find her, and probably Neville.

It took him longer than he had hoped to find the spinning room they had encountered first in the Department of Mysteries, and once he did, he growled in frustration. He didn't have time to open every door, looking for the right one. "Which one's the exit?" he muttered, looking around, worried for his friend. To his surprise, the door straight across from him jumped open at his words, showing him the long hallway he recognized as leading to the lifts that would take him back to the Atrium.

Relieved, he rushed through the door and ran down the hallway. A loud clattering above him told him that Neville had already come through, and was on his way to head off Bellatrix. Fortunately, there was a lift returning down to his level, so he hopped on, pressing the button for the Atrium and tapping his feet impatiently.

The sound of spell fire drew his attention before he reached the entry level to the Ministry. He gripped his wand as he prepared himself, and immediately came out of the lift, already firing, as he joined Neville.

The Longbottom heir was doing all right, but was relieved to have help. He and Harry had fought alongside each other many times in their lessons, but this wasn't a training exercise. Bellatrix Lestrange wasn't trying to make them better. She played for keeps, and it was time for Harry and Neville to put their training into practice.

They fought well together, and it was clear that Bellatrix knew it, as she lost her playful attitude, and began to fight back with a vengeance. "What's the matter, baby Longbottom?" she sneered, tossing out a Killing Curse that Neville dodged, an angry gleam in his eyes.

"Missing mummy and daddy? How are they doing?" Neville growled, but knew better than to rise to the bait. Instead, he simply put all his anger into his spells, throwing out blasting hexes, cutting curses, and stunners like there was no tomorrow. Harry shielded him as best he could, while still maintaining the offensive himself. His own spells were full of power, and he could see the sweat on Bellatrix's forehead.

"What's the matter, Bellatrix?" Harry couldn't help but jibe his enemy. "Scared?" "Not likely," Bellatrix sneered, eyes widening a moment later as she threw herself out of the way of a chunk of the building that threw itself at her, courtesy of Neville. "The Dark Lord will kill you, boy. Do yourself a favor and come quietly. He might not make you suffer that way." "You're on your own, Bellatrix," Harry retorted.

"No one to save you. Voldemort's not here." "Am I not, Potter?" Bellatrix grinned, looking even crazier than before, while Harry and Neville tried not to let the new arrival affect them. Harry turned to face the Dark Lord. "Tom," he acknowledged grimly. Voldermort's face twisted, making him look even uglier.

"Do not call me that," he hissed. Harry internally grinned. He knew that the angrier people were, the more mistakes they tended to make when fighting. Voldemort began to attack, and while Harry and Neville fought valiantly, the truth was, they just weren't a match for both the Dark Lord and his right hand woman.

Neville let out a yell as he was blasted back, which cut off abruptly as he hit the wall and fell to the floor, unmoving. Harry hid his fear for his friend, and continued to fight. He wouldn't give in, but he prayed that someone would show up soon.

He was advanced for his age, but he couldn't hold his own indefinitely. As if to prove his point, a cutting curse connected with his leg at that moment, and he went down, cursing. Voldemort smirked.

"Now, Potter. You've been causing me some trouble. It is time for you to pay." Harry didn't reply, beyond spitting at the floor in disgust. Voldemort's smirk turned into a sneer. "You are a fool, Harry Potter. And you will lose everything." He then raised his wand, the Killing Curse on his lips, when the fountain that took up part of the Atrium sprang to life. Called the Fountain of Magical Brethren, there were statues of a witch, wizard, goblin, house elf, and centaur.

All of them were suddenly alive; it was the goblin statue that stood in front of Harry, while the house elf threw itself at Bellatrix, and the centaur dragged Harry out of the line of fire, depositing him by the now empty fountain, next to a still unconscious Neville. Harry looked around, confused, before his eyes lit on his savior. He didn't know exactly what to feel, but he was relieved, as Dumbledore entered the fray, taking over the fight with Voldemort.

He was calm and composed, and whatever else Harry may have thought about the headmaster, he did admire the old man for being able to fight the Dark Lord without breaking a sweat.

Neville coughed at that moment, and Harry reached out, thankful that the centaur statue had brought him over to his friend. "You all right?" he murmured quietly, helping the Longbottom heir sit up slowly. Neville nodded slightly, but then stopped and winced.

"My head hurts," he admitted. And I think my arm might be broken." He held the limb to his chest, trying to control the pain that spiked through his body.

Harry grimaced. "Just stay still. You'll be fine." Neville nodded again, mindful of his headache this time. He probably had a concussion. "What about you?" he asked worriedly, noting the blood that seemed to be spreading from Harry's upper leg. Harry looked down at the injury. "Cutting curse," he elaborated. "Not too deep, but I'm not sure I'll be walking out of here without help." It hurt to admit that, but he knew not to lie to his friends.

They didn't deserve that. Not if he could help it. There were some things he couldn't share with them just yet, but if he could do it, he would be honest with them. "Stop calling me that!" Both Gryffindors looked over at the fight, and were amused to see how Voldemort seemed to be reduced to an upset toddler; Harry figured Dumbledore refused to call the Dark Lord by anything other than Tom, a name he knew the man or whatever he was hated.

Dumbledore still looked calm and composed. "It is over, Tom. Your followers below have been rounded up. The Aurors and the Minister are on their way." Voldemort looked furious. His eyes sought out Harry, sitting on the floor, and he smirked, before vanishing in a whirlwind of smoke. Harry furrowed his brow, and attempted to stand up, but Dumbledore's harsh voice stopped him. "Stay where you are, Harry." Harry settled back on the floor, wondering what was going on.

For the first time, Dumbledore actually sounded scared. Suddenly, he felt something like an itch inside his head. It hurt a little, but it wasn't completely debilitating. His scar prickled, and the ache got a little worse. He frowned, but still wasn't sure what was going on. A moment later, Voldemort reappeared, his expression furious. Dumbledore looked relieved, as he once more raised his wand to fight the Dark Lord.

The fireplaces flared, people stepping out, shouts ringing across the Atrium. "Halt!" an Auror shouted. Voldemort smirked, and grabbed Bellatrix, who was still sitting on the floor by an empty fireplace, and the two disappeared into the green flames. "Damn it," Amelia muttered, looking around the entrance to the Ministry.

Dumbledore went over to the Minister. "Minister Bones, I believe if you make your way down to the Death Chamber in the Department of Mysteries, you will find several escaped Death Eaters, as well as a few others, bound and awaiting justice." Amelia looked shrewdly at the headmaster.

"I will, soon. But first…" she turned to look at Harry and Neville, who were still seated by the fountain. She made her way towards the two teenagers. "Are you two all right?" she asked, kneeling down next to them. Harry nodded. "A little banged up," he admitted, "but we'll be fine. I think the others are as well, but I'm not sure what happened after we left." Amelia inclined her head in response.

"I can arrange an escort to take you to St. Mungos," she started, but Dumbledore cut her off. "That is not necessary, Amelia. I will take them back to Hogwarts. Madam Pomfrey is more than capable of taking care of their injuries." Amelia wanted to protest, but Dumbledore didn't give her a chance. He turned Harry's shirt into a portkey, and the teenager disappeared.

Amelia looked furious. "Albus, how could you. You had no right to do such a thing, especially without Harry's consent." Dumbledore maintained his calm exterior. "It is much safer for Harry to be treated within the walls of Hogwarts. I will apprise you of his condition after Madam Pomfrey has treated him." He then turned to Neville and smiled. "Mr. Longbottom, I will send you back to Hogwarts as well." Neville nodded a little uncertainly, and looked over at Amelia.

"Susan was all right when we left, but I think Sirius is pretty badly hurt." He sounded slightly scared, but it was nothing compared to the raw fear that crossed Amelia's face, before she hid her expression. She nodded curtly. "Thank you, Neville. I will come by Hogwarts tomorrow to speak with you and Harry about what transpired this evening." With that, she immediately headed to the lift to go down to the Department of Mysteries, a contingent of Aurors in her wake, while Dumbledore turned Neville's shirt into a portkey as well, and a moment later, the Longbottom heir was gone.

XXX Neville arrived at the hospital wing, landing softly on a bed near the end of the ward. There must have been some sort of alarm, because a moment later, Madam Pomfrey appeared, rushing to his side.

"Mr. Longbottom, whatever has happened?" Neville grimaced, feeling every single one of his hurts, amplifying now that the fight was over and the adrenaline was beginning to leave his body. "Long story," he replied vaguely. "Where's Harry?" Madam Pomfrey looked confused. "Mr. Potter has not shown up, Mr. Longbottom. Is he all right?" Neville was concerned now.

He thought Dumbledore would send Harry back to the hospital wing. That's what he had said, right? He grimaced. "I don't think it's too bad. He'll probably be here soon." Madam Pomfrey nodded, and got to work healing Neville's injuries.

XXX Chaos. That's what it looked like at first, when Amelia walked into the Death Chamber. On second glance, she saw that the fighting was over, and all of the Death Eaters rounded up. Most were unconscious, a few with more serious injuries. About halfway up the benches in the room, Amelia saw Arthur and Ron Weasley bending over what looked to be Hermione Granger's body. Her heart fluttered worriedly, but a shout from the floor of the room grabbed her attention.

"Auntie!" Amelia's head whipped around so fast she could almost hear her neck crack. Susan was kneeling on the dais in the center of the room, the one containing the mysterious arch. She hadn't spent much time in the Department of Mysteries, but even she knew about that arch, and that the Unspeakables spent a lot of time studying it.

Damn it, what was she doing here? Amelia had expressly told her to stay at Hogwarts. Though she had to admit, if she looked at the situation objectively, she probably shouldn't have told her niece that.

One of the first things she had learned as a leader was that she should never give an order if she wasn't sure if it would be obeyed. She knew better than to expect Susan to stay at school if her friends were in trouble. Susan was joined by Remus, Tonks, and Minerva, who all seemed to have been put through the wringer, but were conscious and alert, which she considered a plus. Amelia wasted no time in joining the group, and felt her heart stop now.

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Sirius was lying on the ground, a large bruise covering one side of his face, a line of blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. She knelt down next to her niece. Almost fearing what she would find, she tentatively reached out and rested two fingers at her fiancé's throat. Tears pricked in her eyes as she felt his pulse beating, if a bit weakly, still there beneath her fingers. She looked up, and saw that relief reflected in the expressions of everyone else around her.

She shook herself off and stood up. "Auror Tonks, are you injured?" Tonks shook her head. "A few bruises but nothing severe." Amelia nodded. "How many wounded here?" Tonks took a deep breath. "Hermione's unconscious, but her pulse is steady and she's breathing. Blaise has an injured leg, and I think Luna was cut up by some loose rock.

Other than Sirius, I don't think there are any grave injuries. Minerva, how's your arm?" Minerva grimaced. "I don't think it's broken," she assured them. Tonks nodded. "It's mostly minor injuries." Amelia nodded again. She turned slightly to see her Aurors integrating with Order of the Phoenix members, taking charge.

She sighed. "Dobson, Halloway!" The two Aurors in question looked up from their position of guarding the downed Death Eaters. "Process the criminals. Remove them to the Ministry holding cells to await trial. If there are any serious injuries, contact the DMLE Healer." The two nodded and began moving the Death Eaters towards the entrance.

Amelia turned back to Tonks. "Auror Tonks, you and Auror Shaklebolt remove the wounded to St. Mungos." She sighed deeply. "I believe it might be safer if the children were taken back to Hogwarts." She didn't want to give Dumbledore anything, but she did know that, with the climate being what it was, it was safer for the students to get back to school as soon as possible.

Remus and Minerva stood up. "We'll get them back," the werewolf assured her. Minerva bit her lip. "Neville and Harry…?" Amelia grit her teeth, glowering. "Dumbledore sent them back to Hogwarts already.

Mr. Longbottom appeared to be worse off, but I'm certain I saw blood on Harry's clothes." Minerva inhaled sharply. She looked over at Remus. The werewolf nodded understandingly. "Go," he urged her. "We'll be fine, just make sure Harry is as well." The Transfiguration Professor nodded curtly, and hurried out of the room.

Ginny watched the professor leave worriedly from her spot next to Blaise near the stairs leading up to the exit of the airy room. She knew that Harry was injured, and he was currently quite angry, and quite scared. Unfortunately, his turbulent emotions were cutting off their bond, so she couldn't speak to him right now. It was the first time this had happened, and she didn't like it one bit.

She turned her attention to Amelia, who was now watching Tonks conjure a stretcher and loading Sirius onto it. She looked over at Blaise, whose weight she was still supporting. Blaise nodded knowingly. "Just help me sit down, Ginny, and go make sure Professor Black's going to be all right. I know Harry will be worried." Ginny's expression showed her surprise, but she didn't say anything, and set her friend down, hurrying over to the group on the dais.

"Minister?" she asked cautiously. Amelia looked up, and attempted a smile. "He's strong, Ginny." She knew what the youngest Weasley was asking. "I don't think it's too bad, but we're taking him to St. Mungos now. I'll come to Hogwarts as soon as the Healers give me a prognosis." Ginny nodded, and allowed Remus to lead her and Susan back down to the floor, stopping to collect Luna and Blaise before they made their way over to Ron and Hermione.

Arthur looked up from his position by Hermione's side, and smiled thinly. "She's unconscious, but I can't find any signs of spell damage. I think it's just the result of taking a hard fall." Remus nodded. "Can you carry her? We need to get the kids back to Hogwarts. Madam Pomfrey should be able to take care of her." Arthur looked back at his son's girlfriend, and picked her up carefully, while Ron watched, the worried expression never leaving his face.

He kept pace with his father as the group headed up the stairs, Remus and Ginny helping Blaise up, as his leg couldn't support any weight, and through the Department back towards the lifts to take them up to the Atrium, where they would be able to portkey back to the school. XXX Harry arrived back in a familiar office, slamming down to the floor and wincing as he felt pain thread through his body. He groaned. This was why you were supposed to be standing when taking portkeys.

He looked around, confused. Dumbledore had said he'd be going back to the Infirmary. So why was he in the headmaster's office? He stood up with a grimace, feeling his leg shudder and threaten to collapse under his weight. The cutting curse he had been hit with hadn't been too deep, but he knew he was losing blood. He muttered a spell that caused bandages to spring from the end of his wand and wrap around the wound, inhaling sharply at the pressure, but knowing it was needed to stop the bleeding.

Anger. Fear. No not fear. More like terror. His mind kept replaying Sirius being blasted back towards the veil over and over again. His godfather hadn't been moving when he had run after Neville. Oh Merlin, what if it was serious? What if he… He almost choked on the word; even in his own head, he couldn't think it.

He grimaced again as the pain flared in his leg. What about the rest of his friends? Were they all right? As if on cue, he felt Ginny's voice break through his emotions.

Harry? Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Harry replied. Ginny! Are you all right? He felt her relief. Yes, she informed him. What's going on? I haven't been able to reach out to you for a while. I think your emotions were blocking off our bond. He felt guilty now. I'm sorry, Gin. I was just so worried. How is everyone? Ginny gave him a mental smile. It's all right, Harry.

I know you're scared. Other than Blaise and Hermione, I don't think any of us will need to spend more than a few hours in the hospital wing. Luna's got some nasty cuts, but nothing too deep, so she'll be fine. Harry gulped. And… Sirius? Ginny sighed, feeling tired. He's on his way to St. Mungos now. Amelia said he'll be fine, Harry. He was breathing, and he had a pulse. She said she'd come to Hogwarts as soon as she knew more.

Harry breathed a sigh of relief. Thanks, Gin. I'm so glad you're OK. You too, he heard her reply. A pause, and then, Where are you? You're not in the hospital wing, are you? Harry shook his head. Dumbledore sent me back to his office. He sounded disgruntled now. I think he sent Neville to the hospital wing, since he's not here, but for some reason, he seems more keen on keeping me here than actually getting me healed. He felt Ginny's anger flare.

What? How badly are you hurt? Harry mentally shrugged. A Cutting Curse to the leg. I wrapped it, but it still hurts a little. It's not too deep, Gin, he assured her as he felt her worry spike. Madam Pomfrey will be able to mend it in an instant. Assuming you actually get to her, Ginny growled. Harry agreed, but didn't say anything, as Dumbledore chose that moment to appear in front of him.

_ _ _ Chapter 22 Final chapter! Disclaimer: not mine Harry glared at the old man in front of him. "Headmaster," he said curtly. Dumbledore smiled genially. "You should be happy to know that your friends will be all right," he said courteously, taking a seat at his desk.

"None of them will suffer any long-term effects from your excursion tonight." Harry just nodded. He already knew, but wouldn't let the old man in on that fact. It would cause the headmaster to ask questions he really didn't want to answer. And he pointedly filed away the almost accusing words Dumbledore used, but didn't let them affect him, since he knew it wasn't his fault. He would be interested to see if Dumbledore was actually willing to punish the idiot who was responsible.

Somehow, he doubted it. Ginny's growl in his head told him that his girlfriend had caught the accusing statement as well, and she wasn't happy. Dumbledore sighed. "I believe I owe you an apology, Harry." Harry raised his eyebrow, still not speaking. "I thought that, by keeping the truth from you, you would be able to have a childhood. I did not wish to worry you needlessly." Harry snorted.

"I never had a childhood, headmaster. Something you are already aware of. What do you want?" He knew the old man was gifted in the art of manipulation. He wouldn't let himself be swayed by any pretty words or acts of contrition. Dumbledore held in another sigh. He knew he had made mistakes, but it was all for the greater good. "Do you know why Voldemort lured you to the Ministry tonight?" Harry nodded sharply.

"He didn't lure me anywhere. Malfoy threw a portkey at me and that's where I ended up. They wanted me to retrieve the prophecy." Dumbledore couldn't completely hide his shock. "I see your guardians have already informed you of the situation." Harry shrugged. "Just that there's a prophecy about me and him, and he believes in it. They didn't know what it said." He neglected to mention that Snape had shared with him the first part of the prophecy.

Dumbledore nodded, and flicked his wand at the cabinet off to the side. His Pensieve floated out and landed on his desk. Dumbledore reached up to his head and withdrew a long silvery strand, depositing it into the ornate bowl. "I think it is time I shared with you the reason Voldemort went after your family all those years ago." Harry grimaced. He wondered if the headmaster meant it to sound like he was the reason his parents were dead.

"You see, the record of the prophecy at the Ministry isn't the only one. It had to be made to someone, and fortunately for us, that person was me." A misty replica of a woman he knew quite well as their Divination professor rose up. Her glasses magnified her eyes, and she was draped in her shawls. She looked just like that overly large glittering insect he had imagined his first class of Divination. When she spoke, her voice was not dreamy and mysterious, but harsh and low; it was a tone he had heard only once before, at his Divination final exam at the end of his third year.

"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… born to those who have thrice defied him… born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hands of the other, for neither can live while the other survives… the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies." There was silence as the image of Trelawney sank back into the Pensieve.

Harry couldn't say he was surprised. He had known it would be something like that, especially with the way Voldemort kept coming after him. He would have time later to think about the words, but right now, all he wanted was to see his friends, and make sure they were all right. "Is that it?" he asked, his voice neutral. "Or is there something else you feel the pressing need to share with me at this time?" Dumbledore blinked, and frowned slightly.

"I felt it was time for you to understand what happened fourteen years ago." Harry glared. "No, you thought sharing this information would earn some trust back. But you don't seem to realize that all you keep doing is driving me further and further away." He took a step towards the door, wincing slightly as he put as little weight as possible on his injured leg. "You're not evil, headmaster, but you've made far too many mistakes for me to ever trust you again, no matter what important information you share with me.

The greater good is a grand idea, but you can't seem to remember that we're real people, not chess pieces, and that's what makes you so dangerous." Any more conversation was cut off as the door to the office banged open.

Harry turned around quickly, and sighed in relief to see Minerva arrive. Dumbledore was a little worried as his Deputy Headmistress walked in, but hid it. "Minerva, I am so glad you are all right " "What is Harry doing here?" Minerva cut him off sharply. "He should be in the hospital wing, as you told Amelia you were sending him.

What could possibly be so important that you would ignore his obvious injuries?" Dumbledore gestured widely.

"I needed to speak with Mr. Potter about things of great importance, Minerva, surely you can underst-" He was cut off again, as Minerva slapped him across the face. Harry was momentarily shocked, but then he grinned. Minerva didn't wait for the headmaster to recover, and simply turned around quickly, and gestured for Harry to join her. He did so, wincing as his leg sent shooting bolts of pain throughout his body. Minerva let out a hiss. "I can't believe the nerve of that man," she muttered as she held onto him to keep him from falling as they limped down the hallway towards the Infirmary.

Her own arm was almost numb by now, and she knew she needed assistance just as much as Harry, but he was more important to her. Harry grimaced, but didn't say anything, as they entered the hospital wing.

"Harry!" The teenager in question looked up quickly, and felt relief course through him as he saw his friends all there. Neville was occupying the bed closest to the door, while Hermione was next to him, and Blaise next to her. Luna was sitting on the edge of her boyfriend's bed, while Ron and Ginny occupied seats in between Hermione and Neville's beds. Hermione was unconscious, but the others were all alert and relieved to see Harry enter the room.

Minerva wasted no time in depositing her charge in the closest bed, while Madam Pomfrey descended, clucking angrily. That anger only increased as Minerva told her what the headmaster had done. "The nerve," she muttered under her breath, already taking off the bandages Harry had applied himself, and begun healing the wound underneath. Harry just smiled tightly at her annoyance.

When the matron was finished with Harry, she handed him a vial of Dreamless Sleep potion. He protested, but she wouldn't hear of it. "Mr. and Miss Weasley, Miss Bones, Miss Lovegood, you should all return to your dormitories," Madam Pomfrey said strictly, gesturing towards the door. As Ron and Susan hadn't been injured, and Madam Pomfrey had already healed Luna's cuts and Ginny's injured ankle, there was no reason for them to stay in the hospital wing. Ginny looked about to protest, but Harry silenced her with a slight shake of his head.

"You guys go get some sleep," he told them. "We'll see you tomorrow." Madam Pomfrey moved over to administer a Dreamless Sleep potion to Blaise as well. Neville could probably use a sleep aid, but he had a concussion, so the healer didn't want to risk it. Technically speaking, Harry thought Hermione and Neville were the only ones that really needed to spend the night in the hospital wing, but he wasn't about to test Madam Pomfrey's wrath.

Ron, Ginny, Luna, and Susan said good night before they left, and under Madam Pomfrey's stern gaze, Harry and Blaise downed their potions, lapsing into unconsciousness soon after. XXX Harry was relieved to see both Neville and Hermione looking awake and alert the next morning when he woke up. He was also relieved that his friends had been thinking ahead, and when they visited before breakfast, Ron had brought him a change of clothes, and Daphne had brought clothes for Blaise.

Those two would be released in time for breakfast, much to their relief. Neville, if he was lucky, would be able to leave by dinner, while Madam Pomfrey, reluctant to put a timeframe on it, had indicated that Hermione might be released the next day.

Promising to come back and visit more after they ate, Harry allowed himself to be dragged out of the infirmary by Ginny. People pointed and whispered as they entered the Great Hall. Harry did his best to ignore it, and walked calmly to the empty space next to Fred and George halfway down the Gryffindor table.

After a brief pause that was barely noticeable, Blaise, Daphne, Luna, and Susan joined Harry, Ron, and Ginny, rather than separating to their own tables.

Harry saw red when he noticed Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle sitting at the Slytherin table. "What are they still doing here?" he growled lowly, glaring at the idiot who had managed to send him to the Ministry, who had put his life, his friends' lives, and so many other people's lives in danger. Ginny's eyes blazed, and her teeth clenched. "I overheard Professor McGonagall asking Dumbledore what would happen to them last night," she informed them.

"He said something about reasonable doubt, and no witnesses. Something typical about second chances. That man is going to get everyone killed if he doesn't wake up and smell the potion. Sometimes, the dog does bite the hand that feeds it." Harry raised an eyebrow and snorted, looking over at his girlfriend.

Fred and George had been filled in on what had happened last night, so they were just as angry at Malfoy as the rest of them. Harry sighed and spoke quietly to his friends, making sure no one else could hear. "We'll meet in the Room of Requirement as soon as Neville and Hermione are released. I need to talk to you all about something." They could all hear the worry and urgency in his tone, and nodded grimly, as the morning post arrived above them. Harry untied his copy of the Prophet from the post owl that delivered it, paying the bird absentmindedly, before unrolling the paper, and shaking his head.

He really wasn't surprised at the full-page article that covered the front page. YOU-KNOW-WHO INFILTRATES MINISTRY OF MAGIC! And below that: SEVERAL ESCAPED DEATH EATERS CAPTURED! And even one more: FORMER IMPERIUS VICTIMS CAUGHT IN THE ACT, HELD FOR QUESTIONING The article that followed was surprisingly factual for something written by Rita Skeeter, but then, Harry figured the woman had been threatened several times by people in positions of power to do something about it if she were to stretch the truth.

It covered the fight, but didn't mention names of the students, as they were all minors. The students were, of course, bravely rescued by prominent members of wizarding society, led by former Auror, Sirius Black, their beloved Minister of Magic's fiancé.

Lord Black had been injured in the fight, and was currently at St. Mungos, no further details were available. It also spoke about the recapturing of many of the escaped Death Eaters, as well as the capture of several upstanding citizens who had been acquitted of their crimes after You-Know-Who's downfall fourteen years previously, on the excuse of being held under the Imperius Curse.

More whispering broke out, distracting Harry from the article. He looked up at the entrance, and felt his heart thump painfully as Amelia walked in.

She looked exhausted. Her hair was hanging half out of its formerly pristine bun, and there were bags under her eyes.

She looked relieved to see Harry sitting with her niece, and hurried over to the Gryffindor table, a casual wave of her hand stopping the contingent of Aurors from following her through the Hall. They spread out by the door, watching the crowd. Amelia smiled tightly as she sat down between Harry and Susan, as they willingly moved over to make room for her.

"How are you?" she asked, observing her niece, her fiancé's godson, and their friends, searching for any sign of lingering injuries. Susan rolled her eyes lightly, but smiled at the caring she could see and hear in her aunt's face and tone. "We're fine, Auntie. Promise." Harry nodded quickly, as did the others, reassuring the Minister of Magic of their health. "How's Sirius?" Harry asked quietly, a little of his hidden fear seeping through in his voice.

Amelia's smiled got even tighter, if possible. She sighed, and reached over to rest her arm around his shoulders, drawing him closer to her. "I spent the night at St. Mungos. He's still critical, but the healers are optimistic. They're doing everything they can, Harry. I have every belief he'll be all right." Harry relaxed slightly at her words, as did Susan, Ginny, and Ron. Blaise, Daphne, and Luna also looked happy to hear that their Defense professor would be OK.

Amelia straightened in her seat. Her expression smoothed out a little, her other arm snaked across Susan's shoulders, as she drew both students closer, taking comfort in their presence.

Neither was biologically hers, but they were hers, all the same. She loved Susan and Harry just as much as if they were her own children. Taking a deep breath, she released them, and started to stand up. "When you are finished eating, please come to the headmaster's office. I will need to speak with you all about what happened last night. Just a formality, you understand," she added, seeing the alarm cross Ron's face. "I just need your statements." She then stood all the way up, and left the Hall.

Harry and his friends stayed at the Gryffindor table for ten more minutes, as they finished their meal, before they decided it was time to face the music, and left to meet Amelia. Even Ron didn't have much of an appetite that morning.

XXX Once more, the gargoyle at the entrance to the headmaster's office moved aside without a password, something they all noticed, but none of them commented on. In a school like Hogwarts, the walls had eyes and ears. It was just one more thing to talk about when they could all get together in a safe location. Harry knocked on the door at the top of the stairs, and after a brief pause, heard the headmaster call for them to enter. "Mum!

Dad!" Ginny rushed into her parents' open arms, tears of joy in her eyes. She hadn't had much of a chance to speak with her father after the fight last night, and she knew her mother had stayed at the Order headquarters, in case anyone needed to send a message. Ron also hurried to his parents, who hugged him just as tightly. Harry watched with a smile on his face, which only widened when Arthur gestured for him to join them.

He needed no further invitation, and quickly went over for a hug. Looking around the room as he stepped back, he noted the faces present. In addition to Molly and Arthur, Minerva was there, as were Amelia and Kingsley. Dumbledore was seated at his desk, a small smile on his face that gave nothing away. Amelia cleared her throat, nodding to Kingsley, as the Head Auror got out some parchment and a quill, ready to take notes.

The meeting was straightforward. Harry told them what had happened, starting from his altercation with Malfoy in the hallway, through the fight with Voldemort, up until Dumbledore sent him back to school.

The other students' accounts were similar, though less detailed, and soon enough they were done. "What about Malfoy?" Harry asked, his voice even as he looked at the headmaster. Dumbledore sighed. "I am afraid, my boy, that without more witnesses, I cannot do anything." Harry almost growled. "Nice to know you care." The sarcasm was so obvious, a deaf person would have caught it.

"Tell me, headmaster, how do you intend to fight this war if you just keep letting the criminals roam free?" Dumbledore's eyes lost some of their twinkle, as he sat up slightly in his seat. "Young Mr. Malfoy and his friends are just children. They can change." Harry snorted. "And how is he supposed to want to do that, when all you do is send the message that he can do whatever he wants without punishment?" He shook his head.

"And people actually look to you to lead?" He didn't think he could stay there any longer without copying his guardian and striking the headmaster, so he simply turned on his heel and left the office. Fighting smiles, his friends followed him down the staircase, more than one throwing a look of contempt back at Dumbledore as they left. Ginny paused at the exit, and turned to face the headmaster.

"Tell me, sir, what would you have done if Malfoy had done worse than just send Harry to the Ministry? What if his potion had done more than disorient us? What if he had killed me? Would you do something then?" Dumbledore didn't respond, something all the adults noted. Ginny made a sound of disgust, before she left the headmaster's office. When the students were gone, Arthur turned to look at Dumbledore.

"I find myself curious, Albus." Though his tone was polite, there was a hint of steel behind the words that the headmaster couldn't help but take notice of. "What would you do, if the Malfoy boy had killed our daughter?

Would that be enough for you to admit that some people just can't be redeemed?" He didn't wait for a reply, and simply led his wife in the direction his children had gone. Amelia hid her smile, and turned her gaze to Albus. "You may not be willing to do anything about it, headmaster, but you can rest assured that I will.

Draco Malfoy knew exactly what he was doing, and we are fortunate that things didn't end up worse. That boy is beyond redemption, and the sooner you realize that not everyone wants to be saved, the better things will be for this war. Malfoy is the spitting image of his father in looks and attitude. As far as I am concerned, the both of them deserve a cell in Azkaban." She was furious that Dumbledore didn't seem willing to actually take his role as a leader seriously; he truly thought that everyone would see the light eventually, but he didn't seem to realize that his actions were only harming the wizarding world.

Disgusted, she nodded a farewell to Minerva, before she and Kingsley left through the Floo. Minerva shook her head at Dumbledore's incompetence, before she went to find her charge. XXX Molly and Arthur spent the rest of the day in the hospital wing with their children. The infirmary was rather crowded, with Harry, Ginny, Ron, Susan, Blaise, Daphne, Luna, Fred, George, and the elder Weasleys all visiting Neville and Hermione.

Minerva joined them for a while as well, reassuring Harry that she was proud of him, and that the headmaster needed to hear his words. Molly and Arthur left late afternoon, and Madam Pomfrey reluctantly released Neville that evening, and Hermione the next morning. She was unsurprised to see their friends waiting in the hallway when she walked outside.

Without saying a word, the large group headed up to the Room of Requirement. The company comprised of everyone minus the adults who had visited the day before, plus Cedric. Once inside the Room, Harry called for Dobby. The excitable elf appeared immediately, clutching a large picnic basket.

"Dobby has breakfast for Harry Potter sir, and Harry Potter sirs friends." He bounced back and forth on his feet. Harry smiled. He ignored Hermione's look, and took the basket. "Thanks, Dobby. We'll let you know if we need anything else, all right?" Dobby beamed and nodded vigorously. "Harry Potter sir only needs to ask." He vanished then, and Harry and his friends took a seat on the comfy couches and chairs the Room provided.

Harry unpacked the basket, revealing a breakfast feast that would have fed twice as many people as were in the Room. Though, considering the number of males in residence, Harry figured Dobby was probably the smartest of them all.

They all tucked in with relish, and fifteen minutes later, feeling much better, they sat back to talk. The first thing Harry did was tell Blaise, Daphne, Luna, and Cedric some of the basics. He didn't give them all the details, since he wanted to make sure their Occlumency shields were firm, before he imparted with that knowledge, but it was enough for now, for them to know that Voldemort was after him for a specific reason once he knew that they could keep the secret, he would tell them what that reason was.

Fortunately, he had learned his lesson, and didn't offer them a way out after telling them, but each one felt compelled to give him their support. "Harry, if you think something like this is going to drive us away, you clearly don't know us as well as I thought," Cedric said sharply.

"I only speak for myself, but I'm with you, all the way. And as soon as you're sure that my Occlumency is up to snuff, you can tell me whatever else you're keeping back. I trust you." Harry nodded, relieved, as Blaise, Daphne, and Luna all agreed with the Head Boy. "Harry, how come you never told us you're Gryffindor's heir?" Hermione asked, once it was clear that that part of the conversation was over for now. Harry grimaced. "Honestly, I didn't know how," he replied, looking at his friends in turn.

Ginny's hand found his, and she squeezed reassuringly. "Other than a rather large vault in Gringotts, there's not much else that I know about it. My Manager told me that when I come of age, I'll be able to claim the Griffindor seats on the Wizengamot and the Board Of Governors, both of which have been mostly honorary for centuries now. I think Hogwarts will respond to me, but I don't exactly know how." "It worked that night," Ron said, leaning forward in excitement.

"When we needed to get up to the headmaster's office to use the Floo, Ginny told the gargoyle that the heir was in trouble, and it moved aside. And then yesterday, you didn't need to give a password to get passed the gargoyle." Harry nodded slowly. "Sharptooth said I'll probably have to figure it out for myself. I am sorry that I didn't say anything to you guys." They all assured him it was all right, before Hermione asked the other question they were all thinking about. "Ginny, how did you know where Harry was?" Ginny shot a panicked look at Harry, but didn't reply.

After a moment, Hermione clarified, for those who hadn't been with them at the Ministry that night. "You knew Harry had been taken to the Ministry. How?" Ginny bit her lip, but it was Harry who replied. "Hermione… can you just wait a little longer?

We'll tell you, I promise, just… can you wait until school's over?" Hermione looked a little put out, and the others looked intrigued, but they agreed to wait, and spent the rest of the day hanging out in the Room, enjoying each other's company. After a hearty lunch, provided by Dobby, Harry turned to the two Slytherins, Ravenclaw, and the other Hufflepuff in their group. "Have you guys ever thought about becoming animagi?" They all looked intrigued.

Cedric smiled. "It sounds like it'd be a lot of fun, and a good skill to have. Why?" Harry shrugged impishly, and then transformed. Before their eyes, a black panther sat, looking decidedly smug. Cedric almost fell backwards, while Blaise and Daphne looked suitably impressed, and Luna just looked dreamy, as she reached out to pet him. He leaned into her hand, and she smiled. Harry transformed back, and gestured to his fellow Gryffindors and Susan. "We started the process last summer.

If you guys are interested, I can get you the ingredients for the potion I have all of them in my storeroom, and as some of the ingredients are quite rare, it would be easier to just give them to you, rather then have you try and track them down, and Sirius can help you brew the potion if you want." They looked at him in silence for a minute. Finally, Harry shifted uncomfortably. "So… are you interested?" "Of course!" Cedric grinned.

He looked at the others. Fred and George grinned identically. "Does this mean you'll put a good word in with mum?" Fred asked. Harry nodded, smiling. "You guys are my friends. If you're serious about standing with me in this fight, you need a way to escape.

This could be your hidden weapon. I know your mum is afraid you'll just find more ways to cause trouble, but I think the pros far outweigh the cons." Blaise put an arm around Luna's shoulders. "This sounds like a good plan, Harry. I'm all for having an escape route." "Me too," Daphne agreed. Luna didn't say anything, but she nodded her approval from Blaise's side.

"So, you're all animagi?" Cedric asked curiously. In response, Harry closed his eyes briefly, changing the room around them to a meadow, before everyone except for Ron turned into their animals. Ron looked rueful. "I'm almost there," he told them, while their friends begun to play in the tall grass. Susan took off, flying through the sky, while those who were still in human form watched in awe. "I've got everything except for my head." "Can we see?" Blaise asked. Ron sighed, and sat down, closing his eyes as he pictured himself changing.

He was annoyed that he was the last one to complete the transformation; he had been so excited to have been ahead of Hermione for a while. It was a strange sight, to see a dog's body with a human head on it. "So where do you go from here?" Cedric asked. Ron looked up at the Head Boy, before he closed his eyes again, deep in concentration. He let out a startled yip a moment later, as his head changed to a dog's. As strange as it had been to see a human head on a dog's body, a dog looking surprised and startled was almost funnier.

A moment later, the dog grinned and took off, tackling the panther in a great leap. Harry was taken by surprise when the dog bowled him over, but recovered after a moment, and they spent a while longer playing in the grass, before changing back so that they could join the rest of the school for dinner. "Ron, I'm so proud of you!" Hermione beamed as she hugged her boyfriend.

"Nice job, mate," Harry smiled at his best friend. Ron blushed slightly, but looked incredibly pleased with himself, as they left the Room, heading towards the Great Hall. XXX Harry and Ginny met up in the Room of Requirement again the next day.

They made excuses to their friends, as they wanted to spend some time alone. The Room was simple, a cheery fireplace burning against one wall, with a solitary couch in front of it. The two cuddled on the couch for a while, talking through their bond and out loud. Sometimes, when they were alone, it was hard to distinguish which form of communication they were using. Harry, I really think we need to tell everyone this summer. I think Hermione might already suspect something, she's been watching us all year.

Harry nodded. Aunt Minerva and Sirius first. Then your parents. We'll tell our friends, and your brothers, but our guardians should know first. Ginny smiled in agreement. Another few minutes passed in silence, before Harry broke it.

"Gin…" He trailed off, and Ginny looked up at him in confusion. "What's up, Harry?" Harry sighed. "Have you ever thought about what happened on Halloween in 1981?" Ginny furrowed her brow in confusion. Harry bit his lip. "Dumbledore's all about defense. His Order fights reactively. Voldemort attacks, and the Order defends. You can't win a war that way." He trailed off again, and Ginny watched him worriedly.

After another minute, Harry sat up slightly. "Have you ever wondered why Voldemort survived the rebounded Killing Curse? Or why I survived?" Ginny took a deep breath to reply, and then stopped. She let the air out and slumped down. "The prophecy…" she muttered. Harry shook his head. "I don't believe in prophecy," he said firmly. "Just like I told you all last summer. They're usually self-fulfilling. The only reason this one will probably come true is because Voldemort believes in it.

He won't stop coming after me, which makes it fairly likely that one of us will end up killing the other. Voldemort marked me, and in doing so, he created his own enemy.

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If he had just ignored it, most likely, it would have just been one more premonition that failed to come true. Do you really think every prophecy we saw in the Department of Mysteries the other night has been fulfilled?

I don't." Ginny inhaled sharply. She had heard the prophecy through Harry the night Dumbledore had told him, and while she was scared, it didn't change anything. They already knew part of it, and they knew Voldemort had an unhealthy interest in him.

Just like Dumbledore. Though at least they knew what Voldemort's endgame was. Harry sighed. "We'll have to do some research," he commented. "And we should tell someone. Maybe Sirius, Remus, or Aunt Minerva?" Ginny nodded in agreement. "We shouldn't let too many people know, though. This isn't something that should get out." Harry bit his lip.

"Have you considered asking Snape?" Ginny looked over quickly. Harry, he's in Voldemort's circle. I know you trust him, but it's a huge risk! Harry reached over and encircled her in a light hug. I know, Gin, but he could prove useful. He knows a lot about Dark Arts, and he's a Master Occlumens.

He'd have to be, to fool Voldemort. I'm not saying I completely trust him with every secret I have, but I think he might be able to help us with this. Ginny sighed, but acquiesced. She understood his reasons, even if she had her doubts. Rather than spend more time worrying about all they had to do, Harry and Ginny left off the serious discussions, and spent the rest of the afternoon cuddling and enjoying each other's company.

XXX Dumbledore sighed as he watched the carriages depart for the train. How had things spun so far out of his control?

He knew Harry was bound by the prophecy, and all he wanted was for the boy to fulfill his destiny. Dumbledore was the only one who could make sure that happened.

Perhaps he had made a few mistakes, but he had done it with the greater good in mind. Everything he had done was necessary to end this war. His mind unwillingly brought back the words Harry had slung so harshly at him across his office. How do you intend to fight this war if you just keep letting the criminals roam free?

He shook his head. Surely he wasn't that bad. Young Mr. Malfoy was misguided, of course, but that was all his father's influence. Malfoy Senior had been arrested, along with the other Death Eaters captured at the Ministry almost a week earlier. Without the influence of his father, the young Malfoy would surely be able to change. He refused to consider the possibility that it was too late. It was never too late. Now all he needed to do was figure out a way to get back into Harry's good graces.

If Harry was to succeed, he would need the headmaster. Only Albus could help him. XXX Harry and his friends grabbed a compartment on the Express near the front of the train. Cedric stopped by early on and promised to come back in a little bit. As there wasn't enough room for all of them, Ginny sat on Harry's lap, while Hermione did the same on Ron's, and Luna copied their positions with Blaise.

Fred and George wanted to sit with their siblings and friends, but there wasn't enough space, so they met up with their friend Lee, who had claimed a compartment with the rest of the Gryffindor Quidditch team a few compartments down. Harry sighed, looking out the window as the fields flew by. "Excited to go home?" They all looked over at Ron's question. Harry smiled slightly and shrugged with one shoulder.

"Amelia said Sirius should be able to leave St. Mungos soon. Apparently he had a lot of internal damage, but nothing too severe, and all one hundred percent fixable." They were all happy to know that there would be no lasting damage from his injuries. The rest of the trip was spent discussing summer plans. "We usually have defense practice nearly every week day," Harry told the Slytherins and Luna. "You're welcome to join us.

We also run every morning. Ron, Ginny, and Hermione Floo over to McGonagall Castle, since they don't have enough room within their wards; if you guys want to join us for that too, feel free. That's every day, including weekends.

I know it seems like a lot, but having the stamina to endure throughout a fight might save your life some day." "Say no more," Blaise said dryly. "I know how important being in shape is. I do know how to exercise, Potter, thanks." Harry chuckled, while the rest smiled.

Luna looked up from the copy of the Quibbler she had been reading. "I'll be happy to join you Harry. Your property undoubtedly has more space than mine." Blaise rested his chin on Luna's shoulder. "Just let me know what time." Daphne nodded. "Is is all right if I pass on some of what I learn at these lessons to my sister?" Harry looked over at the Slytherin.

"Astoria? Sure, though I'd have to insist you not tell her anything that requires secrecy. Animagus training, or… well, other things…" Blaise snorted. "We know, Potter. You'll tell us when you know we can protect our minds." Harry grinned sheepishly. "Sorry." Daphne nodded.

"I understand, I just want her to be able to protect herself. Professor Black was great this term, and you said you're learning from Aurors.

We've all seen what you're capable of." Harry smiled gently. "You're welcome to teach her what you learn, Daph.

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I've seen her in practice in the DA, and she's got some talent. I daresay she'll pick it up in no time." Indeed, he remembered the plucky third year quite well. She had spunk, and he was reminded a lot of Ginny as he watched her take on opponents with fervor and vigor during their dueling practice in the DA.

Soon enough, the train rolled into London, and the students all departed. Cedric found them again as they were packing up their belongings to depart, and walked onto the platform with them. Shielding his eyes against the sun, he found his parents waiting off to one side. "I've got to go," he said, looking at Harry, "but let me know when your Occlumency tutor is coming, and I'll be there." Harry nodded.

"When do you start at the Ministry?" he asked. Cedric smiled. "Two weeks," he informed them. They all wished their friend luck, as he left to go home with his parents. Blaise and Daphne left the group next, to find Astoria, and their parents. Harry told them he'd see them tomorrow, bright and early for a run. Luna gave her boyfriend a kiss, before she followed Harry, Hermione, Neville, Susan, and the Weasleys towards the familiar group he saw standing near the portal to the muggle portion of the station.

On questioning the blonde, she informed them that her father had asked Mrs. Weasley to bring her home, as he had to work. Harry received a surprise as they neared the group. Looking pale and tired, but happy, Sirius was standing next to Remus and Tonks. "Sirius!" Harry beamed as he gave his godfather a hug. "Hey, pup," Sirius replied, returning the hug. Susan had a turn next, trying to put her relief and her joy at his recovery into the gesture.

"I'm glad you're all right," she whispered, before pulling back. Mrs. Weasley fussed over them a little, tearing up over her now graduated twin sons. Fred and George rolled their eyes at her ministrations, but secretly, they enjoyed it. Bill had joined his mother to pick up his siblings, and Fleur had tagged along as well.

She said hello to Harry and Ginny, smiling widely as she felt the bond between the pair. Those two were truly unique, and she looked forward to seeing what they could accomplish. She was incredibly glad that they trusted her enough to bring her into their confidence, and she would protect them with her life.

Augusta was also there, as were Hermione's parents. "We really should be going," Mrs. Weasley fussed, looking around anxiously. Remus nodded. "Susan, you're coming home with us. Amelia will be coming for dinner, and you'll go home with her tonight." Susan nodded, looking around.

"So where's the guard?" she asked resignedly. Remus smiled. "We convinced her that you didn't need a guard for the short walk from here to the apparation point. Let's just not make us eat our words, shall we? Keep on your toes. I doubt anything will happen, but better safe than sorry, yes?" Tonks grinned, clasping her boyfriend's hand. "And it's not like there's no Aurors present anyway. What am I, chopped liver?" Susan shook her head, but she happily followed the group as they left Platform Nine and Three Quarters, headed for the wizarding portion of Kings Cross.

When they reached the section of the train station that comprised of several apparation platforms and fireplaces equipped with Floo access, the large group of students said their good byes. Harry and Ginny drifted off to one side, while Hermione and Ron did the same a short distance away, as Mr. and Mrs.

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Granger watched, smiling. Harry bent down a little, giving Ginny a light kiss. I'll miss you, he said, his mental voice soft and loving. Ginny smiled. I'll see you tomorrow, she reminded him. Harry shook his head slightly. I'll still miss you. Ginny reached up and rest her hand softly on his cheek.

I love you. Harry moved his head a little, kissing her hand. I love you too. And though there was still a war looming on the horizon, a mad man hell bent on killing him, everything, and everyone he held dear, for right now, it didn't matter.

He had a wonderful girl to call his own, and with her by his side, he felt like anything was possible. Voldemort better watch out. If he wanted to destroy the wizarding world, he'd have to go through Harry, first.

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