Ginny Weasley/Harry Potter
Harry Potter
The Harry Potter at Hogwarts Years
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire
Published: 09/18/2001
Updated: 03/30/2002
Words: 425,244
Chapters: 21
Hits: 583,257

Harry Potter and the Time of Good Intentions


Story Summary:
During his fifth year, Trelawney did a Tarot reading for Harry. She told him he would have to make a choice that could "change the world as we know it." At the beginning of his sixth year, Harry chooses, and the world does change. Does it change for the better? If he wants, can Harry change it back? Or is giving Harry exactly what he wants Voldemort's ultimate revenge? The sequel to
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Chapter 09 - The Heir

Chapter Summary:
During his fifth year, Trelawney did a Tarot reading for Harry. She told him he would have to make a choice that could "change the world as we know it." At the beginning of his sixth year, Harry chooses, and the world does change. Does it change for the better? If he wants, can Harry change it back? Or is giving Harry exactly what he wants Voldemort's ultimate revenge?

Harry Potter and the Time of Good Intentions

(or: The Last Temptation of Harry Potter)

Chapter Nine

The Heir

Harry felt like a bit of an idiot; his girlfriend was kneeling on the bed beside him, half-naked (she was still wearing her knickers), and he tried to speak, but the English language had left him.


"Harry," she breathed, leaning over him once more; she brushed her lips against his, then teased his jawline with her lips, then his earlobe...He stroked her smooth bare shoulders, moved his hands further down her back; she lowered herself onto him to kiss his neck and he gasped at the exquisite sensation of their chests meeting, skin again skin. She breathed warmly on his throat. Then suddenly, without warning, she cried out and collapsed on top of him.

"Ginny!" he cried out, trying to sit up and failing. She looked up at him and he pushed her hair out of her face. "Are you all right?"

She nodded, biting her lip, but a tear streaked down her cheek, betraying her.

"Liar," he said to her softly. "You're in agony. We shouldn't be doing this; we're neither of us in a fit state. I know it's tempting when we'll be spending the night in the same room, but we're both here for a reason. And this isn't it."

Even to his own ears, he sounded annoyingly like an adult. Ginny looked up at him. "It was worth a try," she said softly.

He shook his head. "No it wasn't. You still need to rest and get your strength back. And anyway--I didn't realize that you, um, felt ready for more of a, er, physical relationship. I thought you wanted to wait until you were older."

She sat up next to him, kneeling again, making him draw in his breath at the sight of her. "When did I ever say that?" He thought for a minute and realized that she hadn't; he'd been thinking of the Ginny in his old life, putting off Draco Malfoy. "Harry," her voice grew softer, "I never told you...I wanted to, in my letters this summer..."

"What?" For some reason they were both whispering now.

"Well--I never really minded you following me about. I thought you were rather--"

"What?" he said again, not sure whether he wanted to hear the answer.

"--cute." She looked at him shyly. "But I couldn't admit that to Annika and Zoey. I wished that you would ask me out or something concrete; instead you just kept following me around, and then I lost that bet...I was really terrified of kissing you. I had, um, fantasized about you a bit, and it was just a little awkward...And I had to pretend to Annika and Zoey that I didn't want to do it, and then I hurt your feelings terribly..."

"You--you fantasized about me? Your stalker?"

She lowered her mouth to his again. "You have no idea how much..."

He clutched her to him, all thoughts of sending her away quickly evaporating. He moved his hands around to her front, making her throw back her head and give her lovely throat to his lips. Her breathing grew raspy; his heart felt like it was running away from him, the pounding filling his ears as he moved his hands...

"Aaahh!" she cried out, but not in a good way. She was in pain again, sitting back in a kneeling position once more, hugging her midsection, sweat breaking out on her face. He silently cursed himself for getting caught up in her again, but it was so difficult not to...

"Ginny," he said, reproving himself as much as her. "As much, er, fun as I'm having here, you really need to go back. You have to take it easy a little longer."

She nodded in agreement this time, an angry and frustrated expression on her face as she swiped away some tears that had escaped from her eyes when she had strained herself again.

"We'll talk to each other," he said in a soothing voice. "Across the infirmary. Jamie and I used to do that when we were little; she'd come into my room when she had nightmares. And when I first started at Hogwarts, Draco and I would talk away a lot of the night. Nott and Zabini sleep like the dead, they don't care. Last year we stopped doing that..." Harry paused, trying to remember why he and his best friend no longer had night-time chats. Oh, right; Draco was often out at night shagging girls...Harry pulled his mind back from this thought before he found it too difficult to banish Ginny to her own bed. "I haven't done that with anyone in a while," he said. "It's nice; just talking about anything and everything, lying in the dark..."

"I--I never did that. Until I came to Hogwarts, I'd never shared a room with anyone. Six brothers; you know. And Annika and Zoey don't do that; when they want to sleep, they go to sleep. Maybe if I'd had a sister...Oh, Harry! Do you think Maggie would come to visit our house? At the holidays? She could stay in my room with me, and we could talk all night and get to know each other."

"That's possible. But remember; she's all grown up, and married. She might want to stay in a room with her husband."

Her face sank again. "Oh. Right." Her voice became very soft. "I guess we'll just have to talk at other times."

She sighed and stood carefully to put her smock on again; Harry saw her wincing as she did this. He forced himself to say nothing as she covered herself up, hoping sincerely that this wouldn't be the last time he would see her like this. When she was dressed once more, she leaned over and gave him a lingering kiss; he sank his fingers into her hair, then used this hold on her to break the kiss and remove her mouth from his. They'd made a decision; they needed to stick to it, for both their sakes.

After she had returned to her bed, he called to her as he had before, and she answered. He asked her whether she remembered their meeting at the World Cup in Spain, and she told him some funny things that had happened on that trip, pranks that the twins had pulled on Percy when he was sleeping...He countered with stories about his own twin brothers, growing up with Jamie, memories of his mother getting married for the second time, meeting Draco...

He wasn't sure how long they talked, whispers echoing off the hard surfaces in the room, memories and impressions shared and dissected, occasionally laughing softly. When they'd been talking for some time, the moon set and they were lying in impenetrable, inky blackness. At length, the silences between their utterances grew longer and longer, until finally, Harry whispered into the dark infirmary, "Good night, Ginny," and let himself be taken prisoner by the realm of sleep.

* * * * *

For two nights he and Ginny talked into the wee hours, and Harry knew he'd miss this when he returned to his dorm. Draco had been staying in the sixth-year Slytherin dorm at night lately (Harry knew that Draco knew he would suspect him of cheating on Jamie if he were to sneak out) but talking to Draco just wasn't the same as talking to Ginny. It looked like she would still be in the infirmary when he left. Harry wished, not for the first time, that the wizarding world weren't so dead set against surgery. He knew that Muggle doctors could have operated on Ginny to quell any problems with her internal injuries; Madam Pomfrey had to keep monitoring her and performing spells and giving her potion when necessary. Wizards were much better at dealing with injuries like his, broken bones, or the common cold (which hadn't been a problem for wizards for a thousand years).

On the third night he was in the infirmary, his brother Stuart was brought in by Simon; he could tell them apart by the sweat across Stu's brow and his jaundiced color. His parents came running in after Madam Pomfrey went to her office and used the fireplace to summon them from their respective offices; now they had two children in the hospital wing. Harry thought of the liver transplant Stu needed and wondered whether his mother would ever dare just take him to a Muggle hospital and flout wizarding convention. If she didn't, his brother might die before his seventh year...

He observed Simon sitting by Stuart's bedside, watching him sleep. Simon would be sent back to his dorm for the night soon; he lifted his eyes and met Harry's gaze. Harry put aside the animosity he'd sometimes felt for his brothers. Some things were more important than worrying about tattling and pranks. These were his brothers. He gave Simon a feeble consoling smile. His brother blinked as if he had done nothing.

"Harry," he said softly in a croaky voice; oddly, Simon's voice had been changing, but Stuart's had not yet. "Why is it him? Why isn't it me? We're identical."

Harry swung his legs over to the side of his bed; he was wearing pajama bottoms and a dressing gown, having finally convinced Madam Pomfrey that she was never going to get him to wear the hospital smock. He had been practicing walking during the day, and now he made his way shakily over to Stuart's bed. Harry sat in a chair on the side opposite Simon, drew his lips into a line and shook his head. "You're not completely identical, remember. You're a fraction of an inch taller. Mum said you came out all pink and healthy when you were born, and then when it was Stu's turn...Well, he was small and blue and Dad had to really work to get him breathing. And then less than a day after, he was yellow and jaundiced...This has been going on all his life, Si. Do you want it to be you?"

His younger brother stared at his twin, and Harry wondered, How strange is that? Looking down at yourself, lying in bed, ill? "I would trade places with him in a minute, if I could," he said softly.

Harry studied his face; he wore a very serious expression for a twelve-year-old. "Don't tell him that," Harry advised him. "Even though it's true. It's not possible, so it's pointless to tell him. You know him; that's what he'd say, that it's all very well for you to say it when it can't happen. Just be here for him; during the summer, when he was in hospital, whenever you weren't around, he just looked lost."

"Thanks for letting me sleep in your room this summer, Harry," Simon said softly, and Harry remembered now; whenever Stuart had been in hospital, Simon had come to sleep with him. Most mornings, Harry found him stretched across the bottom of the bed as though he were a family dog that had come to sleep on his master's feet. Simon didn't want to talk when he came into Harry's room, unlike Jamie. Harry had taken to curling in a ball to sleep so he wouldn't accidentally kick him. Even though each twin had his own room, they usually picked one in which to sleep at night. They all had rather large beds; it wasn't a problem to share. Their mother was accustomed to finding Stu in Simon's room or vice versa. Once, when Harry was ten, he had gone to wake them, and when he entered the room, he just stopped, watching them sleep. They were six years old, thin and pale, each curled into the identical position on his right side, not touching, faces so peaceful and careless. He'd had no idea who was who. Since they'd come to Hogwarts, they no longer had to go to any effort to sleep in the same room. Although Simon didn't talk to Harry when he visited him at night, he and Stuart were notorious for talking into the night, bothering their dormmates.

"I have to go back to the dorm soon," Simon said softly.

"If he wakes, I'll tell him you were sitting with him. You can come back in the morning, before breakfast. Madam Pomfrey won't mind."

When Madam Pomfrey emerged from her office and told Simon she was putting the lights out, he nodded to Harry and received a smile from his older brother. She left again, muttering, "It never rains but it pours..."

That's an odd thing to say, Harry thought. There's only three of us.

Once he was lying in bed again, darkness shrouding the infirmary, Harry heard Ginny's voice from across the room.

"That was very sweet of you. As much as you say they get on your nerves, I can tell you really love your brothers."

Harry instinctively gave a shrug, which Ginny, of course, couldn't see. "They're my brothers."

"And you know I love my brothers, right? No matter what I say..."

He laughed. "Of course Ginny."

"Good. I--"

Harry waited. Had she forgotten what she was going to say? Was she having a twinge of pain? Was she possibly bleeding internally?

"Ginny!" he said in a loud whisper, pulling himself out of his bed and hobbling across the room, staggering from bed to bed. When he reached her, she was staring up into space, her eyes alarmingly vacant. "Ginny!"

She shifted her head and even in the inadequate moonlight he could tell that she was looking right into his eyes. "Ssshh!" she said, her finger over her lips. "I'm listening," she whispered, sounding urgent. "Don't you hear that?"

Harry stood as still as he possibly could, considering that he had to lean heavily on her bedside table to avoid falling over. His ears strained to find the sound that Ginny was listening for; at length, he thought he heard someone straining, and Madam Pomfrey's soft, encouraging voice saying, "That's it, that's it, just a little more, I promise, you're almost done..."

Ginny's bed was closest to Madam Pomfrey's office; Harry helped Ginny stand and they made their awkward, pained way to the office door. When they put their ears against it, the sounds were louder, but clearly not emanating from the office itself. Harry tentatively put his hand on the knob, turning it slowly. Crossing to the door labeled Apothecary, they found that the sounds were still louder when their ears were pressed to this door, and yet whatever was going on was not happening in that room either.

Harry gently turned the knob to this door, wincing when the hinges creaked, but a split second later, they heard a sound which sufficiently drowned out the creaking hinges such that it ceased to be a concern.

It was a baby's first cry.

They looked at each other in alarm; neither commented. There was nothing to say; it was very clear what had made that sound. Once in the apothecary, they followed the sound to a wooden door on the far side. It was slightly ajar; Madam Pomfrey must have been in such a hurry that she didn't notice it wasn't properly shut. Harry put his eye to the crack, mentally cursing his glasses. Ginny crouched to look through the thin opening.

He could only see a sliver of the room, but he could unmistakably see a bed like the ones in the infirmary, and Madam Pomfrey wrapping a reddish baby in blankets, a tuft of dark hair visible above the folds, then handing the child to a person whose face Harry couldn't see unless opened the door a little wider, which he didn't dare do.

"Have you picked a name?"

"I--I was hoping for a girl. I didn't really give a thought to boys' names. I should have, of course." At first, Harry had thought that this must be someone married to a teacher; no one had suspected that he and Jamie were living in the staff wing when they were small, and no one would know whether a teacher had a wife who was expecting a baby. But when he heard the voice...He not only felt it was someone young, probably a student, but he couldn't help think that the voice was familiar, that he knew this girl who had just performed this miracle and produced the squirming baby he had seen Madam Pomfrey swaddling.

"When is he coming?" she asked Madam Pomfrey.

"I called him from my office to tell him he'd soon be a father. I'm sure he'll rush to get here as quickly as he can. Perhaps he'd like the boy to have his name."

There was a pause. "I hope not. Maybe--maybe my father's name. Have you called my father?"

"Yes," she said tenderly. "He's on his way. I thought he'd be here before the baby, but it came fast for a first child."

"Fast? It felt like it took forever...."

"Ah, well, that's because I gave you the potion. If you were a grown woman, I'd tell you to buck up and bear down and the pain be damned; but I can't bear to see a young girl suffer....The problem with the potion is that even though it cuts off a lot of your pain, it also diminishes your muscle control, which makes pushing harder. And I can't give you anything so strong it will affect the baby. You did fine. Now, you should give him to me so I can clean him up proper. Then he'll be fine in his cot until I'm done with you."

"I thought I was done."

Madam Pomfrey. "I know, I know. New mothers always forget about the placenta. But it's important that we get it out properly, both for your health and because of the necessary ritual that requires its use, if the babe is to be healthy and have a good life. If you were all grown up and going to proper wizarding childbirth training, you'd know all about the ritual. It's supposed to be done with the father. I hope he's up to it..."

Harry didn't hear a response; perhaps she nodded. "When did you say he was coming?"

"Now, don't you worry; he'll be here soon."

Then Madam Pomfrey moved out of sight again, presumably cleaning the baby and putting him in a cot. She returned to the bed where the girl was, and then he heard grunting and straining and Madam Pomfrey apologizing to and encouraging the unseen girl all at once. After what seemed an eternity, Madam Pomfrey was in view again, holding a small white-enameled metal bowl which had blood spattered on the side and a quivering, bloody red mass in it. Harry felt his gorge rising; what the hell was that?

He saw Madam Pomfrey smiling. "Perfect! Flawless placenta. Not a rip or tear. A good omen. I'll put a preservation spell on it to keep it well until you can perform the ritual."

"Is it a boy or a girl?" came a whispered voice at Harry's ear. He jumped, and had to bite his tongue to keep from crying out; Stuart was standing by his side, looking waxy and inhuman and unstable. In fact, he started to wobble to one side, and he and Ginny each grabbed one of his arms and hastily led him back through the apothecary and Madam Pomfrey's office to the infirmary, where they put him back in his bed.

"You shouldn't be up, Stu," Harry said sternly, trying to act the role of the big brother.

He snorted. "You think my liver's not going to take a walk to the birthing ward? Walking isn't what's killing me."

Harry swallowed, startled by the casual way Stuart was speaking about his health. Sometimes he really reminded Harry of his stepfather. Severus Snape must have been a very strange child. Stuart Snape was as well.

Harry sat on one side of his brother, Ginny on the other.

"Birthing ward?" Ginny said, curious. Stuart snorted again.

"Do you know how much time I've spent in here since I started my first year? She was one of the quiet ones. You should have heard some of the stories Pomfrey fed me to cover up the screaming. I guess charms can only do so much; howling because you're doing something kind of like pushing a Bludger through your nostril is probably going to strain any silencing charm."

Harry fought the urge to laugh at Stuart's description of childbirth. He had no idea that his brother was spending so much time in the infirmary, and that he was aware of any student births.

"What do you reckon?" Harry asked him. "How are they covering it up? How many girls do you think have had babies since you started school? Why didn't any of them ask Pomfrey for Prophylaxis Potion?"

"For what?" Ginny and Stuart said in unison.

"Prophylaxis Potion. It's a little like your Porphyry Potion, Stu; it uses spleenwort for the main ingredient. Only when a woman takes that, she can't conceive, even if it's, um, afterward..."

"Oh. Even if she's already shagged someone."

Harry blushed furiously, as did Ginny. "Yeah."

Stuart rolled his eyes in his waxy face. "Come on, Harry. I'm twelve, not two. I know where babies come from." Harry looked at Ginny briefly, then away; when he thought of what had almost happened between them during his first night in the infirmary...

"Anyway," his brother went on, "covering it up is easy. Robes. I reckon there's been a girl in here giving birth about every two months. So maybe it isn't all that often..."

"That's still five a year! And those are just the ones you know about. Why? Why didn't anyone tell them about the potion?"

"Who told you?" his brother asked him.

Harry paused, then told the truth--in a way. "Sirius." It was Sirius in another life, but it was Sirius.

"He means Professor Black," Stuart said, turning to Ginny.

"I know," she told him. Harry was glad to see that Stuart wasn't fazed by having a Gryffindor nearby, the very girl whom Harry used to follow around the castle.

Stuart looked back and forth between Harry and Ginny now. "So; what have you two been up to the last couple of nights in here? Has tonight's performance put you off more shagging?"

"What?" Harry cried somewhat loudly, prompting the other two to hush him. When he spoke again, it was in a whisper. "What do you--"

"Oh, come off it Harry. Simon and I know you two are a couple. Draco told us; we caught him and Jamie snogging and we told them we'd tell you. I mean, it never occurred to us you would know about something like that and not try to stop it. Then Draco said, 'Harry knows all about us. Why don't you go bother him and Ginny Weasley, they're probably shagging in the infirmary.' Jamie hit him, she did, when he said that. She said, 'You weren't supposed to say anything!'" Stuart's voice went rather squeaky in an effort to portray his sister--very poorly, Harry thought. "Your best friend is terrible at keeping secrets. So, have I put a crimp in your nighttime plans, or do I get a front-row seat?"

They looked at him open-mouthed in disbelief. "We are not shagging!" Harry finally said in a hoarse whisper. Ginny looked quite frightened; who else might know they were a couple? It was typical of Draco to assume that's what they were doing. (Of course, we almost were, thought Harry. If I didn't have two broken legs and if Ginny weren't recovering from being hit by a car...)

Stuart shrugged. "If you say so..." He didn't sound convinced; Harry knew this was calculated to get under his skin, to get a reaction, and he counted under his breath to resist the urge to respond.

"I'm glad you believe us," he said sarcastically. He looked up at Ginny; she was gazing at him hungrily, making it very hard for him to look away. He remembered in his old life, his eyes locking with Ginny's in the Gryffindor common room, how difficult it had been to break that bond....

He shook himself, then yawned hugely and said, "We should probably all get some sleep. Oh, Simon was here to see you earlier, Stu. I said I'd tell you." His brother nodded, with that forlorn look he wore when he thought about being separated from his twin. "G'night, Stu."

"G'night, Harry. Can you pull the curtain around my bed?"

Harry did this, then turned to Ginny. She looked shaken, having heard the unseen girl giving birth, and now knowing that the twins knew about them. Harry leaned against one of the empty beds, taking her in his arms. She pillowed her head on his shoulder, her arms loosely draped around his waist.

"I wonder whether she felt a great deal of pain," she said softly after a while. Harry put his cheek on her soft hair.

"It sounds like Madam Pomfrey took care of that," he tried to reassure her. She sighed and snuggled closer to him, as if for safety. He felt a huge responsibility weigh on him, the responsibility of protecting her from what that girl had experienced. He needed to be the strong one; as tempting as it was, as tempting as she was, until she asked Madam Pomfrey for the potion, they couldn't take any chances.

And yet, standing with her body pressed so warmly against his...He swallowed and looked down at her. "We--we should get some sleep, Ginny," he said softly. She nodded again and looked up at him, her eyes shining, and he leaned down to give her a chaste good-night kiss. She, however, moved it well beyond chaste very quickly, opening her mouth under his, pulling his head down more firmly. He went along, feeling as though his bones were on fire, and it was only by a great effort that he pulled back from her. When he did, he was quite certain that he saw Stuart's eye at the opening in his bedcurtains. He and Ginny said goodnight and returned to their beds. Harry thought he couldn't possibly sleep after what they'd just discovered, but he soon dropped off, exhausted.

He was woken in the night by a type of voice usually unheard in the infirmary unless a professor came by: an adult male. Two of them. Harry sat up and put his eye to the slit where the curtains around his separated. In the dim light, he could clearly see the two men who went from the infirmary door to Madam Pomfrey's office. His jaw dropped; he knew them. One must be the father of the baby, he thought, and one must be the father of the mother.

It was Roger Davies and Sam Bell.

Sam Bell! That meant that the poor girl they'd heard giving birth was Katie! And Roger had impregnated her sometime during the previous spring, when he was a seventh-year and she was a sixth year. Good going, Roger, he thought. Really bright.

Harry lay back in bed, listening to Roger's and Sam's footsteps as they crossed Madam Pomfrey's office, then the sound of the Apothecary door opening. He tried to stay in bed, he really did...but soon he found himself creeping to the office door, opening it carefully, and then listening at the Apothecary door before entering. The door to the birthing ward was closed firmly this time, but when he put his ear to it, he could hear muffled conversation.

He thought he heard, "Mumble mumble wedding in June mumble mumble..."

Then a louder voice--Sam's, he thought--said, "That's my girl!" proudly, and Harry smiled, picturing him. Many wizard fathers might be upset with Katie, but Harry knew that after ten years in Azkaban, after missing a decade of his daughter's life, Sam wasn't about to be alienating her for any reason. Wait, he thought; had Sam spent ten years in Azkaban? Then he remembered that he'd accidentally killed his wife before Harry's parents--well, in this case, just his father--had been killed by Voldemort. Unless he had been released early for some reason, Sam had still served his prison term in this life.

"What are you going to do with your thousand Galleons?" he heard Madam Pomfrey say loudly; it occurred to him that she always spoke rather loudly. Until now, he hadn't realized how loudly. Maybe she was getting hard-of-hearing, he thought.

A thousand Galleons. What was she talking about?

Mumble mumble...

"No!" came Katie's voice, rising. "That's for Adam!"

"Adam?" Harry thought this might be Roger now. "Who's Adam?"

"That's his name," she said clearly, and Harry knew now that she'd thought of what she wanted to call her son.

Perhaps it was an inheritance or something, he thought. Not wanting to be discovered, he crept back to the infirmary and climbed into his bed again.

He had a lot to think about. Then he had a horrible thought; what if Draco was a father? No, he told himself; Draco wouldn't keep that from me. Then he thought, What if Draco doesn't know? That was possible, even likely. Harry shivered all over at the thought. He tried to think whether he'd seen all of the girls he knew Draco had been with, and whether they had looked like they had a bulge of some kind under their robes, or whether they had been absent from classes for extended periods of time. No one came to mind, but that was probably because he hadn't known what to look for previously. Could Draco be single-handedly responsible for all of the girls Stuart has heard in the birthing ward? Then he thought of Katie. Okay, he thought, so Draco isn't single-handedly responsible for all of the pregnant girls at Hogwarts. But I'll bet he's responsible for at least one of them....

In fact, Harry didn't know whether Draco had ever taken any precautions at all when he was with his many conquests. His best friend, he thought again. And now--

His sister's boyfriend.

* * * * *

When he and Ginny were both out of the infirmary again, they were still a little shaky. Harry went back to running, but he didn't do as much as he had been accustomed to right away. He worked on his Animagus form too, but for only half the time he had before his Quidditch accident (he was able to completely transform now, even down to the griffin's wings). The one good thing that had come out of the day he'd broken his legs was winning the match and keeping Hufflepuff scoreless. That helped to balance out the defeat he'd caused them to suffer at the hands of Ravenclaw House. He had also been practicing pain-blocking with Draco before the match, but now that he was out of the infirmary, he wasn't in the mood to experience the Passus Curse repeatedly right away.

Harry had been thinking of the big picture concerning Muggle-born witches and wizards while he was lying in the infirmary, and he had a proposal to make to Draco, his sister and Ginny. Since it involved Ron and Charlie, he was especially concerned about Ginny's reaction. It was his fault that Muggle-borns were excluded from the wizarding world; until he could find a way to change everything back completely, the least he could do was to rectify some of the horrible things that had occurred because of his saving his mother's life.

He wished he remembered the names of more Muggle-borns from his other life. When he watched Annika and Zoey visit Ginny in the infirmary on his second day there, he thought of more: Ruth Pelta, who should have been in Ginny's year and whose parents were both rabbis. There were the Creevey brothers, Colin and Denis, who should have been in fifth and fourth years. When Percy had visited Ginny with Bill and the twins he had also thought of Penelope Clearwater, who had never met Percy Weasley in this life (and who, presumably, had not killed herself).

In fact, he realized, Penelope's whole family should be fine, including her little brother Jeremy, who would have been a first year at Hogwarts. So Jeremy Clearwater was another Muggle-born wizard...Oh, wait, he thought; Jeremy would have been conceived after my father died. He probably doesn't exist in this world; but if Penelope had any younger siblings, since two of them had been magical in his other life, there was an excellent chance that any additional Clearwater children would also be magical. Both Creevey brothers were. Of course, his mother and his aunt weren't, so it didn't always work that way...

He wrote to Maggie with these names, asking her whether she could somehow track them down. He thought that it shouldn't be too difficult to find Ruth, if Maggie just called synagogues looking for rabbis named Pelta. It was probably an uncommon name in England, and synagogues weren't as numerous as churches (she could also immediately rule out the ones that didn't allow women to be rabbis). He didn't know anything helpful about the Creeveys or the Clearwaters, the way he'd known that Justin would probably be at Eton or the fact that Alicia's parents raised horses and that Dean followed the West Ham football team in his other life. Oh well, he thought. We'll see what's possible...

Harry was released from the infirmary the morning after Stuart was brought in by Simon. Ginny was finally released a day later, on the condition that she come back once a day for pain potion, if she needed it, and to be monitored for half-an-hour. Harry asked Draco, Ginny and Jamie to meet him in the anteroom on Saturday morning a week after the Quidditch match. When he arrived, they stared at him listlessly; he was making them miss the fun of skating on the lake, and enchanted snowball fights, and sledding. Fortunately, Ginny's pain potion would allow her to engage in physical activities like this. The first snowfall had occurred two days earlier, and the entire school had spilled out of the castle doors after breakfast on the first Saturday since the ground had become blanketed with white. There had been a fresh snowfall overnight, too, covering up all of the footprints to and from the greenhouses. Harry had been forced to take up running in the Great Hall.

He knew they were impatient, so he tried to go quickly. After he announced his plan, he realized he'd gone too quickly, he hadn't adequately prepared them. They stared blankly back at him.

"A General Strike?" Draco said incredulously. "Where do you get terms like that?"

"Well, it's kind of a Muggle thing, but I think it could work! If we have complete cohesion and unanimity!"

"So," Jamie said slowly, "all of the students--"

"And teachers."

"--all of the teachers and students agree to avoid classes until the Board of Governors resends--"


"--the ban on Muggle-born students?"

Harry beamed at them. "The school will shut down. I'd like to see whether we could get the folks in Hogsmeade involved too. A General Strike would shut down the town. All the shops closed."

Draco made a face. "Why would they do that? They have to make a living."

"Because the ban it just isn't right! It's caused a labor shortage, it's allowed dark wizards to take over the government. The people who run around monitoring the Muggle-borns are overtaxed and all kinds of magic probably gets seen by Muggles; I'm betting those memory charms don't get done before everyone has left the scene of an accidental magic incident. Some people have to be falling between the cracks. The Ministry doesn't seem to be aware of any accidental magic Maggie's done over the years."

"But," Ginny said hesitantly, "why do you need Ron and Charlie to head up the General Strike? Why not do it yourself?"

Harry frowned. "I'm a Slytherin. I'm the last one the rest of the school would follow. We need Ron to be the public face of our campaign; he's the Gryffindor Quidditch captain, he's the most likely sixth-year prefect to be Head Boy next year--" he tried to ignore Draco's angry scowl "--and you and Ron and the rest of your family have just recently been reunited with your sister who's lived all of her life as a Muggle. Think what it's been like for her! Not knowing why strange things happened around her, not getting to go to Hogwarts. Is it fair what happened to her? Think of every single Muggle-born witch or wizard going through the same thing. Is it any more fair for them? They weren't kidnapped, but still; they're being denied their magical heritage. They're being excluded because of their birth, and those of us living in the wizarding world are also suffering because of it."

"But," Draco choked, "why does the General Strike have to include no Quidditch?"

Harry smiled. "Because that's something that's really going to hit them where they live. No Quidditch practice at all; none. Do you know how many parents--especially board members--come back to Hogwarts for Quidditch matches, so they can support their houses? Those are tickets they're buying for the train to Hogsmeade, if they don't Apparate or use Floo powder, and refreshments they're buying on the train or in Hogsmeade..."

"But if the businesses in Hogsmeade all shut down, they wouldn't have anyplace to buy food anyway."

Jamie rolled her eyes. "They could just pack picnic baskets; plenty of people do. Look, Harry this will just hurt the people in Hogsmeade..."

He relented. "Okay, okay. We won't ask the businesses in Hogsmeade to shut down, not right away. But if we take away their Quidditch traffic, they'll see a difference anyway. That's going to be another group of people haranguing the Board to change the policy. And I happen to know that a number of Board members are part- or full-owners of Hogsmeade businesses..."

Draco looked exasperated. "What if they just expel all of us and fire any teachers who get involved?"

"There's already a labor-shortage. They can't afford to do that. If they start expelling any student who voices dissent, those people won't be able to help with the labor shortage when they finish school."

"What if," Jamie said softly, "they send the dementors?"

Harry set his jaw and looked at the three of them. "I can handle dementors," he said stubbornly, but he felt a familiar cold lump in the pit of his stomach when she'd said this. He had a world-class Patronus, he reminded himself. Let them send dementors...

"I still think you're the one who should head it up," Ginny said. Whether this was because she wanted him to get credit if it went well or protect Ron and Charlie if it went badly, he didn't know.

"You know the other reason that Draco and I can't be associated with this," he said softly. She nodded; the initiation was very close now. A fortnight away. Harry tried not to dwell on it, but this was difficult when he was lying in bed at night, seeing in his mind's eye again the Draco Malfoy from his other life receiving the Dark Mark... If he and Draco were going to be spies, they couldn't be public about leading the General Strike.

"So you'll talk to them?" he asked Ginny. She frowned.

"I still think it should come from you. I'll be with you...Charlie's your friend. Talk to him first, convince him. Then when we tell Ron that Charlie's on board..."

"No. We should ask them both at once," he said firmly, having just decided this. His throat felt tight. Please let them agree, please please please please please...

He decided they had talked long enough and they could go join the rest of the school outdoors. He tried to be lighthearted, throwing snowballs at Draco and Jamie (but always missing Ginny on purpose). They met up with Ron and Neville and Seamus and had a battle with them, Ginny standing next to Ron behind a snow bank, pelting Harry with snowballs until he fell in a heap on the ground, staging an elaborate death-scene complete with a great deal of very bad acting. Ron was actually laughing at this. Harry sat up and grinned at him; hopefully he would agree to be involved in the General Strike, to be the public leader of the movement. With luck, it would work and the ban would be lifted.

He was going to meet with Charlie and Ron in Charlie's office Sunday after lunch. Ginny and Jamie would come--but not Draco. (Harry needed Ron to temporarily dissociate him from Draco.) If Ron and Charlie agreed, the General Strike could be organized for the beginning of the new term. During the Christmas holidays, they would send a letter to the Board of Governors demanding that the ban be lifted and threatening the General Strike. If they didn't agree to the demands in the letter, instead of the new term beginning on January second, the entire population of the school would congregate on the lawn of the castle, protesting the policy.

That's what should have happened when it was first proposed, Harry thought. Instead, everyone took it meekly and let everything in the wizarding world go to hell...

Thinking about organizing the General Strike helped to take his mind off the impending initiation somewhat (when he was busy, instead of lying in his bed brooding). He wondered how closely it would mirror the initiation he'd see in his other life. He thought of Draco Malfoy putting the Hara Kiri curse on Karkaroff before Voldemort killed him....Perhaps in their pain-management practice, they should start trying to put that curse on each other and trying to overcome the pain. He didn't like the idea of putting this curse on his best friend, but if he was forced to do something "evil" for the initiation, he'd rather use this curse than an illegal one.

Harry couldn't eat breakfast or lunch on Sunday. Everything he tried to get down stuck in his throat. This is it, he thought. We're starting the wheels turning. We're going to try to change the wizarding world back to the way it's supposed to be.

He and Jamie ran into Ginny and Ron on their way to Charlie's office after lunch. Ron spoke to his sister as they climbed the stairs. "What's up, Gin? D'you know why Charlie said he wanted to see me in his office? He must have me confused with someone who takes his classes....Oh, hello," he added brightly, seeing Jamie. She flashed him a brilliant smile, her green eyes glittering.

"Hello. We're going to Charlie's office too," she told him cheerfully, with no additional explanation. He looked pleased about this, grinning at her, and Harry had to try very hard not to roll his eyes. Ginny saw his expression and she widened her eyes and shook her head at him when Ron wasn't looking at her. Harry shrugged and continued climbing the stairs. Now that Jamie was almost fifteen, clearly Draco wasn't the only boy he had to worry about.

Charlie's office door was open; he'd lit a cheerful fire in the grate and was lounging on the threadbare rug, petting his fluffy black Kneazle, Wronski (named for his favorite Seeker). He greeted the four of them effusively, but didn't get up. Harry wasn't acquainted with any other adult who regularly sat on the floor; this lack of self-consciousness was yet another thing Harry appreciated about Charlie. But would he join the General Strike?

Jamie and Ginny went down on their knees to pet Wronski, cooing and mock-purring to him. Harry and Ron took the comfortable chairs pulled up to the fire, each watching the other's sister with Charlie and the Kneazle. Harry raised his eyes to Ron's face first, glad that Ron didn't seem to have noticed the way he was looking at Ginny. Now, if only he didn't look at Jamie that way...

"So!" Charlie said from the floor. "What's up, Harry?" Harry tried to smile at his friend and teacher, looking up at him so disingenuously. You'd think he was the youngest person in the room, Harry thought, instead of the oldest. One of the only times Harry had seen him look his age (older, actually) was when Charlie had learned that Maggie had been found, and he was clearly reliving the despair he'd felt at thirteen, when he was convinced that it was all his fault that the girls had disappeared.

Ron looked at him suspiciously now; it appeared to be dawning on him that Charlie hadn't suggested this gathering. Harry took out his wand and pointed it at the door; it closed and locked itself. "I don't want others to be able to hear this; I'm proposing something rather, er, controversial."

Now both Weasley brothers furrowed their brows. The family resemblance was eerie. Ginny jumped to her feet. "Let me say something first. Jamie told me how she and Harry feel about--about the reason for us all being here. They have a good reason for feeling that way. I suggested he talk to the two of you because--well, I know how I feel about finding Maggie. How terrible it is that she was cut off from her family all these years, that she never knew who or what she was..."

"What are you on about?" Ron wanted to know, scowling.

Harry looked at him levelly. "I have a proposal to make to the two of you. I want to organize what amounts to a rebellion. But I'm the last person in the world who can lead it. We need a student leader and a staff leader. All of the students and teachers need to back this or it won't work. I know they won't follow a Slytherin." He nodded at Ron. "But they'll follow you. You're captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. You're a prefect. Chances are, you'll be Head Boy next year. And you," he said, nodding at Charlie, "are the most popular teacher in school. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if you two say no, this isn't going to happen. You can make it or break it." He was well aware of the power he was giving them, saying this, and he hoped they would take it the right way, as a sign of trust.

Charlie and Ron looked at each other, perplexed. Finally, Charlie looked at Harry and said quietly, "What's this rebellion?"

Harry took a deep breath. "We are going to draft a letter to the Hogwarts Board of Governors demanding that they lift the ban on Muggle-born students."

Ron and Charlie looked at each other again, then at Harry. "That's it?" Ron said, laughing dismissively. "A letter? You want to write a letter to get them to lift the ban? Our dad's on the board, and I don't think he's interested in getting rid of that. And if he doesn't want to..."

"I don't expect them to just agree. The letter's more of a formality. That's so they can't say we didn't warn them. I fully expect them to disregard the letter. That's not what we need you for."

Ron sat back, looking skeptical. "What, then?"

Harry leaned forward in his chair. "When they don't do what we ask--and they won't--we stage a General Strike."

"A what?" both Charlie and Ron said. Harry explained it to them.

"In January?" Ron went on. "Standing out on the castle lawn in January?"

Ginny threw up her hands. "What are you objecting to, Ron? The fact that we're witches and wizards, so we can make fires without wood to keep ourselves warm, or the fact that we can set up tents on the lawn that are just like cozy, three-bedroom cottages inside?"

"Well, for one thing, I object to anyone protesting a policy that our dad helped pass..."

Ginny crouched next to his chair and looked up at him. "I don't believe dad did that willingly. He said it was to protect Muggle-borns from Death Eater attacks, but I've heard him say things over the years..."


She took a deep breath. "I don't think he did it to protect them. I think he did it to protect us. His family. He was pressured to go along with it, I'm quite certain." Harry was surprised; she hadn't mentioned this to him. "Think of all those people, just like Maggie, having no idea they're witches and wizards. Think of how different things would be with them in the wizarding world! There's got to be well over a hundred students who haven't gone to Hogwarts in the time that the ban's been in effect, and that's to say nothing of the Muggle-borns who've been killed by Death Eaters or who have left the wizarding world and gone underground to protect themselves--"

"Aha!" Ron said, pointing at her. "Then you admit that leaving the wizarding world is safer for Muggle-borns."

Ginny sighed. "It is as long as we're not all in solidarity with them. And remember the Squibs...The way they just vanished overnight...Remember Mum trying to explain why we weren't going to see cousin Edwin any more? The accountant?"

"It was after that that dad agreed to the ban, Gin!"

Harry leapt to his feet. "The ban wasn't an answer! It was a capitulation!" He stared at Ron, knowing that antagonizing him wouldn't be useful, but he was unable to help himself. "The wizarding world, the people who weren't with the Death Eaters, they didn't close ranks to protect the Muggle-borns; they turned them out, they said, 'Oh, sorry, you're no longer our concern. We have to watch our own backs.' No. We all have to watch each other's backs, before there's no one left. Soon everyone will have to be a Death Eater, or pretend to be one, just to survive. We can't let things get that bad. Every witch and wizard in Britain is educated here. This is where we have to make a difference. This is where the front line is going to be in the battle to reclaim our world from the darkness, from Voldemort."

Ron winced at the name, but didn't say anything; Harry was glad of that. The Ron in his other life would have been screaming, "Say You-Know-Who!" He could see that Ron was thinking furiously; he had that frown he wore when he was deep in thought. Harry sat again and looked to Charlie. "Can you mobilize the teachers for us? Can you convince them to join us on the lawn? The school has to be completely shut down. Oh, and that means we need the caretaker, too."

Charlie looked at him as though he'd never seen him before; Harry fought the urge to squirm under his scrutiny. At last, he gave a small smile and said, "I'll do my best."

Harry turned to Ron again. "Are you with us?" He tried not to look too desperate; he was glad that Charlie had already agreed. Ron looked down at his brother, holding Wronski on his lap, a new resolute set to his features. He moved his eyes back to Harry. "What if they expel us? What if they take all of the prefects' badges away? I won't exactly be in the running for Head Boy then, will I?"

Jamie turned around from petting the Kneazle and gazed up at him; Harry couldn't see her face, but he knew how expressive her eyes were, and that Ron liked looking at her rather a lot.

"Our mother is a Muggle-born," she said softly. "My brothers and I wouldn't exist if she hadn't been allowed to come to Hogwarts. They can't expel everyone; that's why we have to be united."

The faint echo of her quiet voice hung in the air; Ron was still looking down at her, and Harry saw him swallow. It was a very good idea for Jamie to come along, he decided. After what seemed an eternity, he raised his eyes and met Harry's gaze.

"All right. I'll do it."

Harry tried not to grin too broadly. "Brilliant! Now; we have to keep it under wraps until we're right on the verge of the new term. Can't risk any security breaches. Are you going home for Christmas?" Ron and Ginny nodded. "Good. On the way back, on the train, you need to spread the word about the General Strike to everyone but the Slytherins. I'll get Draco to do that; he'll sell it to them as a way to get out of classes, a lark, something to go along with for fun. Some of them agree with us, but others...well, they're most likely to blow the whistle and owl their parents if it isn't put to them properly. The other houses should be all right for the most part, especially the half-bloods, but you never know. Dark wizards have come from Gryffindor and Ravenclaw. Probably Hufflepuff, too, although I don't know of any personally. Best to play it safe and wait until the last possible moment to tell everyone." He paused for breath. "Can you get Cho Chang and Liam Quirke on board before the new term? You'd still be the official student leader, but we can't do this without also having the Head Girl and Boy backing us."

Ron said he could. "Good," Harry answered, clapping his hands together and allowing a real smile now. "Are the three of you doing anything on the twenty-eighth?" Ron, Ginny and Charlie shrugged at each other. "There's a concert in London; a Muggle-born witch is playing the cello. Maggie's helping me track down some more Muggle-borns, and they're getting invitations and tickets to the concert. Could you send on an invitation and tickets to Cho and Liam also?" he asked Ron. "I want us to meet up with the Muggle-borns afterward, explain their, er, unusual talents to them. I believe we have to find as many Muggle-borns as possible and tell them what they are; one of the demands we are going to make to the Board is that they send letters to all of them immediately and start letting them catch up on their magical education. The first step is for them to be aware of what's going on."

Charlie put the cat down on the rug and sat up. "How did you find Muggle-born witches and wizards? Harry, what you're proposing now is verging on illegal. A protest is one thing, but this--"

"How I found them is a long story; there's no time for that now. As to its legality, I have one word for you, Charlie: Maggie." He looked intently at the older man, his friend and teacher, and saw the guilt that appeared on his face at the sound of this one word. He would comply; or at least, he wouldn't turn them in. Realistically, Harry thought, Charlie had the most to lose: his job. Plus, he could be branded as the ringleader, being the only staff person involved.

"When do I talk to the other teachers, Harry? Those of us going elsewhere for the holiday are supposed to arrive in Hogsmeade the day before the new term; the Headmistress will have carriages ready to bring us up from the village."

"Start feeling them out as soon as you get back. Actually, you must already have some idea who will automatically sympathize and who will require more convincing. If all else fails, you can put it to them this way: If the wizarding population goes down by much more, McGonagall will have to start putting all four houses in the classrooms for each course, and then you'll all be teaching fewer hours, and pay will be cut. Jobs could be lost, if there are fewer students. Is that what they want? To get the sack? In the rest of the wizarding world the labor shortage has meant higher pay; but it's also meant doing two jobs instead of one--like your dad does--and never seeing your family, or taking holidays. I think the other teachers will see the sense if you put it to them properly, and I have complete confidence that you will, Charlie, else I wouldn't be asking for your help."

"What about the students who don't go home?" Ron asked Harry, sounding like a concerned lieutenant now. Harry had an answer ready.

"We're going home for the holiday, but we live in Hogsmeade, so we'll be back here at the castle well before the train pulls into the station. We can start organizing as soon as we return, while you two," he nodded at Ron and Ginny, "are working the train. We'll stick to students from our own house, and students we know don't have a problem with our being Slytherins, until you arrive."

Harry felt his blood pounding in his veins as though he'd just run around the Quidditch pitch at top speed; the excitement of finally putting his plan to Ron and Charlie was intoxicating. He swallowed, looking at the four of them, for the first time convinced that this might actually work.

Ron looked at him with a curious expression. "What do you think your mum will say? And should Charlie ask your parents to support this, or will you do that?"

Harry hadn't thought of who would ask his parents. "I think Charlie should ask them. And Professor Black, too. But don't mention me or Jamie. Don't say that we have anything to do with this."

"Black?" Ron looked quizzical.

Jamie gazed up at him again and spoke quietly. "Our godfather."

Ron's eyebrows flew up in surprise. "Oh," was all he could say to that.

"You know, Harry," Charlie said, looking thoughtful. "I think it's even possible...McGonagall just might back this. And then the other teachers would have to agree."

Harry rubbed his chin with his hand; he could already feel stubble growing, and it wasn't that late in the day. "Possibly. As long as none of them are angling for her job and hoping she'll be sacked." Charlie nodded, conceding this. Harry sat up eagerly, and clapped his hands, smiling.

"So! We're all in then, right?"

He received affirmative answers, the loudest coming from Ron, surprisingly. "Oh, and when you invite Cho and Liam to the London concert," he said to him, "don't mention Muggle-borns. We'll explain to them afterward, when they've met them."

Ron nodded. He seemed to be enjoying himself now. Harry remembered the many scrapes they'd gotten themselves into in his other life, remembered the Ron who had sacrificed himself at the age of twelve after commanding the life-sized chess pieces that blocked the way to the chamber where Flamel's stone was hidden. This looked like the Ron he remembered.

Harry knew he was the right man for the job.

* * * * *

As the end of term approached, Harry found himself practically living in the library to catch up on his work. Jamie and Draco were fine, so they didn't come. This made him somewhat uneasy; he wished he knew what they were up to. Ginny and her friends were usually sitting at a nearby table helping her get up to speed after her lengthy hospitalization. They'd brought her lessons while she was in the infirmary, but she wasn't completely caught up yet. He liked being able to look up and see her, sending a secret smile her way and receiving one in return while her friends chattered on, oblivious.

He hadn't told Ginny or Stuart about seeing Roger Davies and Katie Bell's father enter the hospital wing the night Katie gave birth to Adam. (He didn't know how he'd explain recognizing Sam, for one thing). He and Jamie walked to the prefects' meeting with Draco on the Sunday evening after Harry had made his proposal to Ron and Charlie; Harry noticed that Katie was not one of the prefects who attended. He did not want to ask Ginny whether she knew where Katie was; he was afraid that the reason for his asking would be too obvious. He wondered what story Sirius had told the other Gryffindors concerning Katie's absence, but this was something else he didn't dare ask.

A few days before the winter solstice, Harry went up to the West Tower after dinner wearing his Invisibility Cloak. Once he reached the top, he took off the cloak and put it in the pocket of his robes. He swept away the snow from the terrace with a wave of his wand and walked across to the parapet. Harry looked down, contemplating the frozen lake and the frosted grounds, the Quidditch stands and changing rooms, Hagrid's old abandoned hut. The tall pines of the Forbidden Forest waved in the chilly breeze. The winter landscape was still and serene, the sky clear and crowded with stars. He sincerely hoped that he wasn't going to shatter the peaceful night by falling from the sky and breaking both of his legs again.

Harry took a deep breath of frosty air, trying to calm himself and get ready for what he planned to do. He had been maintaining his griffin form for longer and longer periods of time, but he'd been unable to find a casual way to suggest to Charlie that he acquire a golden griffin for the school, so Harry could bond with it. He tried to remember the bonding from his old life; he felt more and more comfortable as a griffin, and thought it was about time he attempted to fly. He was nervous, but not as nervous as the first time he'd flown with Hermione, when they were worried about being discovered with the unconscious Cho, and even more worried that they would wind up in the same state if they attempted to walk back through the charmed classroom doorway as she had.

It will be fine, he told himself, taking more deep breaths of icy air and exhaling in a pale cloud. Nothing to worry about...

Harry closed his eyes and put his mind into the proper state for making the transformation; he felt the change rippling through his bones, then fell forward, the pads of his front paws hitting the cold stone with a light thud. He shook his mane, breathing out another small white cloud as he adjusted to his Animagus form. Harry tipped back his head; the stars looked brighter to him when seen through his griffin eyes, but to him, the sky was no longer sapphire blue; it was deep velvety black, and the trees of the forest appeared to be various shades of charcoal grey rather than deep green. He couldn't tell the difference between the castle stones as seen through his human eyes and the castle stones as seen through his griffin eyes; either way, they were a mottled grey.

Harry blinked repeatedly, working up his nerve, then backed up as far as he could; he spread his wings, looking to either side at them, feeling a rush of power down to his core as he began to remember what this felt like. He took a few light, running steps, the pads of his paws barely skimming the stones.

Harry leapt over the parapet.

He let himself drop at first, glad that the West Tower was so high; then he held his wings still, angling them to catch the breeze. After a few seconds, he was able to bank, then he began to actually move his wings, pushing against the cold air, driving toward the forest. He ascended as he approached the stand of trees, and soon he was flying far above them, alternately banking and floating and moving his wings energetically to adjust his height or direction.

He returned to the edge of the forest after flying the length of it and back, coming down behind Hagrid's old cabin in a tight corkscrew, then letting himself collapse into the deep snow between the small house and the forest, where the wind whistled as though it were a deep crevasse. There seemed to be an ambient glow emanating from the snow itself, but otherwise it was quite dark behind the small wooden structure with its boarded-up windows. The moment he returned to his human form, he was soaking wet from the snow and his bones ached as though they'd been ground to make a giant's bread, but he still couldn't help grinning from the exhilaration of his flight. He'd forgotten how wonderful that was!

Harry was oblivious to being soaked, but it was impossible to be oblivious to the back door of the cabin being opened. An irregular rectangle of bright yellow was superimposed on the pristine snow. He looked up to see Davy, the caretaker, standing in the doorway holding a lit wand, and behind him, a cozy fire burning in the large stone fireplace. He looked up at the old man and swallowed. Had he seen him transfigure himself back into his human form? Harry didn't know. He just hoped he'd only get in trouble for being out-of-bounds after hours. If someone knew that he could do the Animagus transformation....

But Davy still hadn't said anything. He was actually smiling down at Harry, who seemed to have forgotten to breathe. Harry felt like he was waiting for something to happen. He finally became dimly aware of both of his feet being soaked by the snow that had seeped into his shoes, not to mention his soggy robes, and underneath that, his sodden shirt and trousers.

"Well," the old man said gently. "I think you'd better come in by the fire, Potter."

Harry stood uncertainly, following the caretaker into the hut and closing the door. It looked far more cozy and homey than when Harry knew it as Hagrid's residence. There was a small single bed instead of the enormous bedstead that Hagrid had used, and on every horizontal surface, it seemed, there was a cheerful lamp, sending reflections of dancing flames onto the cleanly whitewashed ceiling and walls and onto the rug-strewn floor. Is this where he lives? Harry wondered. He hadn't thought the place was in use any more.

"Oh, I don't live here," he said, as though Harry had spoken aloud. Harry looked at him nervously; if there's anything more unnerving than someone reading your mind, I don't want to know about it, he thought.

Thankfully, Davy didn't seem to be aware of this thought. He gestured to a comfortable wicker rocker near the fire; the chair was heaped with so many pillows and quilts that he could only tell it was wicker because he approached it from behind, where he could still see the basketry. "Sit, sit," Davy said absentmindedly, then after putting out his wandlight, he waved it in the air to produce a floating tea tray, with the scones and clotted cream he'd promised Harry last time. He spoke as he did these things. "I usually only come down here during the summer. When no one else is in the castle, it's such a cold and lonely place. Much of the summer, I don't even need to close the doors; I just leave them both open and let the breeze run straight through. It's very pleasant; I can just sit in the doorway and read and watch the squid in the lake and not worry about students for a couple of months. I close the doors and lock up good at night for the full moon, of course." Harry nodded; he knew the moon wasn't full yet, that's why he had planned to try a flight tonight; for the next three nights the moon would be full--including the night of his initiation.

Davy plucked the tea tray out of the air with his gnarled fingers and set it down on a low table between the rocker and another chair drawn up by the fire. He poured the tea, occasionally glancing up at Harry. Harry tried to pick up the teacup, but his hands were shaking from the cold so badly that he dropped it and sent it crashing to pieces on the stone hearth.

"I'm--I'm sorry--" he stuttered, his teeth still chattering from the cold. Davy looked sympathetically at him.

"Why don't you go into the loo," he nodded at the cupboard-like structure in the opposite corner, "and take off those wet clothes. There's a dressing gown hanging on a hook in there--wear that. Then we can use a proper drying spell on your clothes with no danger of you being hurt."

"Me? Hurt?"

"Well, we could use the Dessicatio charm on you right now, but in addition to sucking all of the moisture out of your clothes, it would do the same to you. Now if you want to die of dehydration, that's fine..."

"No, no, I see your point..."

Harry thought about this as he undressed; there was more than one spell to kill people. Avada Kedavra was only one. Sam Bell had accidentally killed his wife trying to disarm her. He wondered whether anyone had ever been killed by the Dessicatio charm.

He emerged from the loo wearing the dressing gown and carrying his clothes. Davy was standing at one of the front windows. Harry hadn't taken notice of this before; the front windows weren't boarded up. The old man looked quite unflustered as he gazed out at the starry, snowy night.

"Did you see it, Potter?" he asked casually. Harry stopped.

"S-see what?"

Davy surveyed the landscape that was visible from the window again. "A large winged beast. I saw it flying from the castle toward the forest. That's why I came down here, when I never do in the winter. I was in the corridor on the second floor, near the library. Couldn't make out what it was; I should just go to Diagon Alley, get fitted for some spectacles, but there just never seems to be any time..." Harry swallowed. He willed his heart to keep beating.


"Well, that's why you're out here, isn't it? Young, curious lad like yourself?"

Harry tried to organize his thoughts. Think think think think think....

"The thing is," Davy went on, "I can't reckon how you came to be here. There are no tracks in the snow, at least, not that I can see, and you don't have a broom with you."

Think think think think think....

"Um," Harry began, hoping the rest would come to him before long. "Yeah. I saw it, but I didn't have time to go get my broom. I erased my tracks with a spell so that--so that no one would see them and know that a student had left the castle." He hoped that Davy wouldn't ask him what spell he'd used. The spell I just made up, that's what spell, he thought. He hoped there really was such a spell, so Davy wouldn't know he was lying. Davy seemed dangerously alert, and Harry was very nervous about being untruthful to him. The old man left the window and Harry went to look at the snow himself, hoping that Davy believed that the pristine white blanket rolling down from the castle looked like it could have been walked on and corrected by Harry.

But then something disturbed him about that uninterrupted stretch of white; after a minute, he knew what it was. "But sir--how did you come down here? Without leaving footprints, I mean."

"Don't call me sir," Davy said with an irritated edge to his croaky voice. He gestured toward the fireplace. "I had this one added to the school Floo network. A closed system you know; can't go anywhere else other than Hogwarts fireplaces. Security." Harry nodded; that made sense. And hopefully Davy would let him go back that way. It was also good to know for future reference.

He sat in the rocker again and warmed his hands by the fire while Davy dried his clothes, laid out on the large wooden table that remained from Hagrid's tenure. Slowly, Harry felt that life was returning to his body; between the pain of the Animagus transfiguration and the cold, wet snow, he could have guzzled a cauldron-full of Madam Pomfrey's pain potion.

Harry helped himself to some tea once he was fairly confident that he wouldn't spill it or break another cup. It did the final job of warming his insides, and he helped himself to a scone with clotted cream, too. He didn't know when he'd had anything so good, so comforting. He doubted that nectar and ambrosia were any better.

When he had eaten his fill, he leaned back in the chair; it was tempting to just close his eyes and fall asleep, but he knew that he should dress again. While he was doing this in the loo, he heard Davy say in a loud, clear voice, "Severus Snape's Dark Arts Office."

He's calling my dad! he thought. Damn! He opened the door slightly and put his eye to the crack; his stepfather's head had appeared in the firebox, surrounded by flames that were now bluish-green.

"Albus! What can I do for you? Why are you in the cabin?"

Albus! Harry thought. He's--he's--

"Ssshh!" the old man cautioned him; Harry pulled back and quietly closed the door, in case he turned to look toward the loo and discovered Harry listening. He heard some muffled conversation again after that, and, hoping that this meant the caretaker was facing the fireplace, he carefully opened the door a few inches again.

"He's fine, Severus," Harry heard him say; he must have told his dad that he was here. "A bit wet from the snow. I've helped him get dry, gave him some tea and scones. We'll use the school Floo network to get back to the castle. Shall I write up a proper detention this time?"

"Yes, I think you'd better. Give him to me; I feel like I'm losing touch with him, somehow. He's been so distant lately..."

"I don't blame him. He's bound to be nervous about Saturday. Are you sure you don't want me there?"

"Albus, there wouldn't be any point. You couldn't take him with all of the other Death Eaters there, and there would only be six operatives, counting me, half of them mere children, in my opinion. Six of us can't take on more than sixty wizards and leave you a clear field."

"They are not children, Severus. We're talking about two eighteen-year-olds and a twenty-year-old, all of whom have completed seven years at Hogwarts. Exemplary students, as well. And when you add Harry and Draco, that makes eight of you."

"That's still not enough for us to watch your back so you can face him without interference. We're still far outnumbered by his real supporters. We need to continue to lie low. I just want to concentrate on keeping Harry safe on Saturday. I could never face Lily if--"

"Now, now, Severus. You'll be fine. I just wondered whether you wanted me to be there to watch your back. Does Harry know what to expect?"

"Not really. He asked me some questions; he suspects some of what might happen. Of course, speculation is no substitute for experience..."

"No, no," the old man agreed.

It's Dumbledore! Harry's mind screamed at him. So, he never left the school; he stayed on, taking the place of Filch, one of the Squibs who had mysteriously disappeared. He wondered how the former headmaster was altering his appearance. He didn't notice a cabbage smell in his office, and he didn't carry a pocket flask, so Polyjuice Potion didn't seem to be the answer. Harry put his hand into his pocket and touched the silky folds of the Invisibility Cloak. Davy would have found that while drying my clothes, he realized. Any normal caretaker would have seen it for what it was: a sterling opportunity to engage in mischief. Any normal caretaker would have confiscated it. But he wasn't any normal caretaker, he'd given it to him.... Harry wished he'd paid more attention to the owl he'd used when he sent his letter to Dumbledore; if he'd been alert, he might have noticed that the owl didn't need to stray from the castle grounds at all...And he hadn't given two thoughts to the owl that delivered the cloak. He should have done, he realized now. I probably would have recognized it for another school owl...

He swallowed and closed the door quietly, then started banging about in the small space as though he were still struggling to dress. He opened the door very ostentatiously and announced, "There! All done." The withered face looked back at him from where he stood next to the fireplace.

"Harry!" his stepfather called from the fireplace. "Mr. White has just informed me that he found you out on the grounds, getting soaked in the snow. I'm afraid this means detention."

Harry nodded at him. "Yes sir." He surveyed the man he now knew to be Albus Dumbledore, who was settling himself in the other chair by the fire and pouring himself some tea.

"I'll bring him directly to your office when we return, Professor."

"No need. I'm done grading essays and I'll be turning in for the night. Take him to your office, then make certain he goes directly to his dorm and nowhere else."

"As you wish."

Harry's stepfather looked sternly at him. "Good night, Harry. We'll talk about this tomorrow."

"Yes sir," he said again, just before the head disappeared from the firebox.

Harry sat by the fire again, poured himself more tea. He watched the old man while he drank, then, when the twinkling blue eyes met his, Harry knew he couldn't keep it inside any longer.

Grinning, he said, "You can stop pretending, Professor. I know it's you. It's all right; I won't tell anyone."

The blue eyes were no longer twinkling. He put his teacup down and pulled a large handkerchief out of his pocket, blew his nose noisily. While putting the handkerchief away, he said, "Sometimes," as though he were merely thinking aloud, "we don't mean to say certain things, but we do anyway. Especially if under, say, the Imperius curse..."

Their eyes met again. Harry's throat felt tight. "I won't let you down, sir. I want to be as good an operative as my dad. I don't want to serve him."

The old man fingered the bridge of his nose gently and sighed. "The only problem with going about with an engorgement charm on my nose is that it's very hard on my sinuses in the winter...."

"Engorgement charm?"

He shrugged, and in his smile, Harry saw a flicker of the eccentric old wizard he remembered. "People pay no attention to details, you know. One only needs to alter a few things about one's appearance to seem to be a different person entirely. A shorter haircut, a larger nose, stooped posture, skin that's a bit more time-worn, no facial hair....And then you say, 'This is Davy White, our new caretaker,' and they all nod and agree, pay no heed, and go back to what they were doing. Your stepfather did that for the first week I was at the school in disguise. We had a good laugh together when I finally told him." The blue eyes twinkled at him again.

"Then--then you never left! You've really been running the school all along."

"Running the school? No; Professor McGonagall is a more than able administrator and I would not dream of interfering in her decisions concerning Hogwarts. She is aware of my identity, by the way. She has only had to ask me one thing since she has become Headmistress; she wanted to know where I kept the supply of new prefects' badges. Otherwise, she has been just fine, and she knows that if there is anything else she needs from me, I am available. I did not stay at Hogwarts to help Professor McGonagall run the school. I am doing far more dangerous work."

He stared at the flames, his deeply fissured face starting to look like Dumbledore's to Harry, as long as he disregarded the nose. His voice grew softer. "As you no doubt heard from the loo, when you were pretending to dress--" Harry flushed. Why had he thought he could fool this man? "--I have a number of operatives. Some of them, like your stepfather--and soon, you and your friend Draco--are undercover Death Eaters. Others--whom I shall decline to name at this time--are external operatives. They all have real jobs; no one pays them for this. They do it out of loyalty to me and out of a desire to protect the innocent. It is dangerous work and I have never had anyone become an operative at such a tender age. You still have a year-and-a-half of school, Harry. Are you sure you want to do this?"

"I haven't much choice, have I? Someone else has decided I'm to be initiated on Saturday. I don't want to be his servant; I want to be yours."

He waved his hand, and now Harry could really see beyond the superficial external changes, could see the man he remembered in the eyes that looked back at him. "I don't want servants, Harry. We serve each other; we do for each other. We want an end of masters and servants."

This, to Harry's ears, was very radical-sounding. He remembered Jamie's reaction to his thanking a house-elf. Could there be a world without masters and servants? He doubted it...

"I don't mean literally," he hastened to add. "There will always be people whose jobs involve what amounts to serving others. I mean status, rank, caste. Voldemort and his servants. Servants who obey a master out of abject fear, out of terror. That's not servitude, which is not a negative word in and of itself; it's what humans have made of servitude. They've made it base and disreputable. Truthfully, there is no greater privilege than to serve and serve well, to know that you are useful and part of a beautifully functioning whole. I was the servant of Hogwarts when I was headmaster. Fulfilling your role in the greater scheme of things is a very satisfying way to spend one's life. If each person always felt that he had to be in charge, no one would ever be truly happy. Even if one individual was the true Master, he would be always looking over his shoulder, fearing all who are around him, always worried about being supplanted by someone else's ambition."

"Then," Harry said shakily, "I want to fulfill my role as one of your operatives. I want to be useful."

He smiled and put his teacup down. "You will be, Harry, you will be. In good time. I'm sure you shall; after all, none of my other operatives have an Invisibility Cloak."

Harry smiled. "Thanks for finding that for me..."

"Yes, well...We'd better get you back to the castle."

Harry's heart felt lighter than it had in ages as he helped Dumbledore put out the lamps with his wand. After the powder was thrown into the fireplace, they stepped into it, and with a minimum of painful spinning, they found themselves in the Hogwarts caretaker's office. They walked to the entrance to the Slytherin common room from there, and said a brief good night.

As Harry prepared to enter, the old wizard said, "Remember; you have a detention with your stepfather at eight o'clock sharp on Friday night. Now; I must fulfill my role as the person who lurks about telling wandering students to go back to their dormitories..."

* * * * *

On Friday night, Harry confessed to his dad that he knew Davy was Dumbledore. He expected his stepfather to be angry, but instead he pulled him into a hug, then held him at arm's length. "There's no finer person in this world," he told Harry shakily. "He reached out to me and pulled me back from hell. He didn't just save my life; he saved my soul. I would be like someone who had been kissed by a dementor if it weren't for him."

Harry nodded, knowing that this wasn't just hyperbole; his dad meant every word. His "detention" consisted of playing chess with his stepfather and talking. They sat by the fireside in his office, a new fall of snow visible through the cold leaded windows, making the cozy room seem even more appealing with its groaning bookshelves and carpeted floor and worn, sagging--and therefore extremely comfortable--armchairs.

Harry told him about the fact that he was seeing Ginny, and his dad cautioned him against it becoming public knowledge. "Don't worry," Harry told him. "We're keeping it quiet for now. I think that when we tell her brothers they'll be all right, though. We've been--"

"No," Severus Snape said to him tersely. "It's not that. You don't want certain people to find out that she means anything to you; that she can be used against you..."

Harry shivered for a moment, remembering being tied up in the woods with Harry and Ron, remembering Wormtail crawling all over his body and Hermione's, discovering their physical relationship...

"We'll be careful, I promise."

His dad nodded. "It's bad enough that we both have to worry about your mother and sister and brothers. No need to bring others into this. Checkmate." His dad's knight delivered a glancing blow to Harry's king, who fell to his knees, clutching his head and whimpering, before surrendering his sword to the knight, who looked quite smug.

Harry stared at the board; he'd been trying for years to beat his stepfather and still hadn't even come close. His dad should play Ron, Harry thought. It would be interesting to see who won...

The next day was the last Hogsmeade trip of the term. The exam results would be given out on Sunday, and then the Hogwarts Express would take students home for Christmas on Monday.

It was the Winter Solstice. Tonight is the longest night of the year, Harry thought as he sat up in bed in the chilly pre-dawn. Tonight I become a Death Eater.

But then he shook himself, annoyed that he was dwelling on what couldn't be changed. He needed to focus on what he could control. I'm going to be a spy. I'm going to work for Dumbledore. I'm going to make a difference. This thought warmed him during his morning run, and soon he was able to put the coming evening's activities out of his mind. There would be time for that later.

After breakfast, he and Jamie and Draco walked down to the village in a throng of other students, over a hundred pairs of feet crunching through the snow, all of them looking forward to a day in the village shops and the pub, topped off in the middle of the afternoon, for some of them, by a play in the village hall acted by members of the Hogsmeade Amateur Theatrical Society.

The three of them hadn't been planning to go to the play, but then Harry had received an owl at breakfast with three tickets, and a note that said simply, "Happy Christmas, Harry, Jamie and Draco." He smiled when he saw the large loopy signature underneath the short message: "Charlie." He showed the tickets to Jamie and Draco, and then he looked up to the teachers' table and gave Charlie a nod and a smile of thanks. If he couldn't have Hagrid for a friend and teacher in this life, he thought, he was very glad that he had Charlie instead.

The village was a winter wonderland; the buildings all looked sugar-coated from the snow, every shop had at least one Christmas tree sparkling with fairy lights and singing ornaments. Green garlands touched with a frosting of snow were looped everywhere--garden gates, hanging from cottage eaves, winding around lamp posts on the High Street--and a group of younger children from the village school wandered the lanes singing carols, led by one of their teachers. The young voices wavered charmingly, the smallest ones either a third higher or lower than they should be, producing that unique sound of a children's choir. Harry remembered doing that when he was younger, laughing with Jamie as they listened to the daringly rude "substitute" carol lyrics Draco would sing surreptitiously...He smiled at the small girls and boys, their breaths making little puffs of smoke before their faces, their clothes miniature versions of the adults', with their long hooded cloaks over wizarding robes. A rainbow of knit caps, scarves and mittens enlivened their otherwise dark ensembles and their cheeks glowed with the cold and the joy of the season.

Harry tried not to mind Jamie and Draco walking along swinging hands, smiling at each other. He felt a bit awkward, the third wheel, but he didn't dare walk down the street holding Ginny's hand. He probably wouldn't even see her today...After they'd been to their favorite shops and heard the village children struggle through "The Twelve Days of Christmas" for the third time (each time the "ladies dancing" seemed to belong to a different number), he started to get a little restless.

"Listen, it's early still for lunch. Didn't Mum and Dad say they were going to be at the house this morning, getting it ready for the holidays? Why don't we go help them? Then we could just eat lunch there before going to the play. We need to save money for the London trip next week anyway."

The other two agreed to this and soon Harry was opening his own front door, already decorated with a large wreath of holly and ivy. He felt a familiar warmth deep inside. I'm home. He remembered other Christmases, the joy and warmth that filled the place where he had grown up in this life. The Dursleys' house had looked impressively perfect for the holidays, so that Aunt Petunia could show off for her garden club, but Harry had been afraid to do anything but stay in his cupboard under the stairs during the Christmas season, worried about whether he would get a speck of dust on a poinsettia or upset the plastic Christmas tree that stood (it seemed to Harry) nervously in the corner of the living room, as thought it were worried that Petunia Dursley might see fit to throw it out this year and get the latest model (it was her great "secret"--which Harry thought was no secret--that she had an artificial tree, and she was always concerned that it look as real as possible).

Christmas had never been anything to look forward to in his old life until he went to Hogwarts. He walked into the entrance hall of his house now, smiling up at his parents, who hadn't noticed them yet. They were on the landing outside his bedroom, looping garlands on the stair railing with the help of some elves. He breathed in the fresh, green smell of spruce and pine, wishing that every day could be Christmas.

It was Jamie who called out to their parents, and they were immediately put to work. They didn't mind. Decorating for Christmas hardly felt like work anyway, and they were able to use their wands for most things. Three trees needed to be trimmed: the grandest one was in the drawing room, a slightly smaller one in the formal dining room and another in the kitchen. Harry always like doing the one in the kitchen best; this was the one that had all of the crude hand-made ornaments from when they were small, the crafts projects they carried home from school, their faces shining with pride when presenting to their mother the products of their toil. Harry couldn't help happily humming carols when looping the old paper chains he'd made around the tree, hanging the small origami boxes Jamie had crafted, or even nestling in the branches the stars the twins had constructed from twigs and yarn. During his first year at Hogwarts, Stuart had suggested that they get some proper ornaments for the kitchen tree and discard these remnants from their childhood, but their mother wouldn't hear of it, and Harry was glad that she had refused, so he didn't have to own up to how attached he was to these "remnants."

When noon rolled around, they sat down in the kitchen to eat steaming bowls of stew for lunch. Harry saw that his mother was taking note of the change between Jamie and Draco; she usually didn't get the opportunity to observe them together at short-range. She raised her eyebrows and looked pointedly at her son. Harry smiled and nodded, and when his sister and best friend weren't looking, he mouthed to her, It's all right.

His mother looked doubtful, but put her hand over his for a moment, showing that she trusted him to look out for his sister. He was touched; he also hoped he wouldn't let her down.

After lunch they were going to leave for the play; his mother stopped him as he was getting up from the table.

"Harry; can you wait a minute?" She nodded at Jamie and Draco. "He'll catch you up." They looked at each other and shrugged, going to fetch their cloaks from the front hall. Harry sat again, looking at his mother, who now gave what seemed a significant look to her husband, who rose and mumbled something about the tree in the drawing room. Harry watched him go, thinking, She's still doing it. She thinks she's my only parent...

"Harry?" He looked back at her. "I'll be staying here at the house tonight, so I won't have the chance to see you off later," she said softly. He watched her fingers fluttering over her lunch dishes, nervously organizing her spoon with her soup bowl, her butter knife with her bread plate, as though this mattered, as though her son weren't going to get the dark mark in less than twelve hours...

"Mum. I'll be careful." He hoped he sounded as grown-up as possible, but his voice caught at the end, and he realized that she probably still thought of him as a baby, or at least, as a little boy who ran to her with scraped knees. He hadn't been that little boy for a long time, but somehow he felt that was how she was seeing him. Maggie Parrish felt he looked awfully grown-up; his mother would have been shocked by such an assertion. To your mum, he thought, you're always about five-years-old...

"Harry," she whispered, as though she didn't have the strength to speak more loudly. "I just wanted to tell you--I'm sorry. For the way I treated you. And--for getting you into this. If I'd only done what Severus had suggested, if we'd only run far away, to Nova Scotia or New Zealand....If only I'd never made that dreadful promise...."

"Mum," he said softly, standing to leave. "I'll be fine. Really. Dad won't let anything happen to me." She looked at him listlessly, evidently unconvinced. He felt helpless before her helplessness. He didn't think he could say anything to help her through this.

"I have to go. The play...Jamie and Draco'll be waiting..."

He kissed her on the cheek and turned toward the door to the hall. He felt rather than heard her running toward him, and he turned. His mother virtually hurled herself at him, throwing her arms around him, and he held her tightly, his face in her hair, hearing her sobs, feeling her back spasming with her cries. He held her for a few minutes, deciding not to ask her not to hold him so tightly (he was having a small problem drawing breath). At length, he separated himself from her and kissed her other cheek.

"I love you, Mum."

"I love you, Harry." She leaned forward and kissed his stubbly cheek, then gave a wistful smile. "Just like your father," she mused softly. "Had to shave twice a day. Black hair, you know..."

He nodded, smiling at her feebly. He turned to leave again, but she didn't stop him this time. Harry dared not look back, so he wouldn't completely crumble to bits. He collected his cloak and was glad to feel the cool air on his face again as he opened the front door. It helped clear his head. Jamie and Draco were waiting for him, standing in the drive before the house.

They joined a steadily-growing crowd of people marching up the High Street toward the hall. Inside, they found that the tickets were for specific locations. When they had found their seats, Harry found himself grinning again. Ron, Charlie and Ginny were already sitting directly adjacent to them. Harry walked into the row first, sitting down next to Ginny. They would get to see the play together! he thought. He looked at Charlie, who gave him a friendly nod. Did Charlie know about him and Ginny? he wondered. Whether he did or not, Harry was delighted; this was almost like being on a date with Ginny. Almost. Oh well, he thought. It's better than nothing.

The play was A Christmas Carol. Harry sat back happily to watch. He found that witches and wizards had quite a lark pretending to be Muggles, but it seemed to be to show how much better off magical people were. Magical special effects allowed for spectacular scene changes when Scrooge started a tour of his past and then his present accompanied by the ghosts. A level of realism was achieved that he'd never seen before in a retelling of the tale: they had real ghosts who had come down from Hogwarts castle playing the parts of the specters. Harry almost yelled when he saw the ghost of Jacob Marley; it was Nearly Headless Nick! Nick had to be careful not to let his head wobble, since Marley wasn't supposed to have died from a botched beheading. The Fat Friar was playing the Ghost of Christmas Present, and a ghost he'd seen occasionally in both his lives, ferreting around in the corners of the library, was playing the Ghost of Christmas Past. He had always assumed she must be a former school librarian. Madam Pince was very protective of her library; she'll probably continue to lurk about as a ghost some day, he thought. In another thousand years, the library will be full of the ghosts of former librarians...

What really unnerved him, though, was the Ghost of Christmas Future: it looked exactly like a dementor. He drew in his breath, as did the rest of the audience, the first time it appeared. Was it really a dementor? he wondered. But then, under its hood he thought he caught a glimpse of silver blood; The Baron, he thought. He was surprised that they had managed to talk the Bloody Baron into participating, but considering that the role allowed him to chill and terrify an entire hall of people, he probably didn't need that much convincing. This was what he did best (and there were no lines to memorize).

Harry watched the play, watched the actor playing Scrooge grow progressively more distressed as he saw what the results of his life-choices had led to...We never know, do we? Harry thought. Even when we mean well... He turned to look at Ginny's clear profile as she gazed at the figures on the stage, smiling with pleasure or rapt with awe; when Scrooge was confronted with the possibility of his own death, she clutched at Harry's arm, and he put his hand over hers, meeting her eyes when she turned to look at him....

He wished the play could have gone on forever, that he could have sat beside her forever, gazing at her, but all too soon, it was over and they were all walking back to the castle in the dusk.

The longest night of the year had begun.

* * * * *

Harry couldn't eat dinner; he was too nervous about the initiation. Afterward, he met Ginny in the anteroom; he was expecting her to hug him to near suffocation, like his mother, but instead, she simply traced his cheek with her finger, looking into his eyes, then raised herself up to kiss him. She opened her mouth first, and he drank her in, holding her face. The soul-searching kiss seemed to go on a long time; she was the one who pulled back first. She touched his cheek again lightly, looking deeply into his eyes again. Then she left without a word. No words were necessary. He returned to his dorm and laid on top of his blankets fully clothed, but he couldn't seem to fall asleep; so much for trying to avoid yawning at the initiation, he thought. His dad said that he would come to get him and Draco. They were to meet him in the Slytherin common room precisely fifteen minutes before midnight. His stepfather had a Portkey that Mr. Malfoy had sent him; since Harry and Draco had not had time to learn to Apparate (and that skill would be useless in getting them out of the castle anyway) they were going to use a Portkey that would become active at exactly ten minutes before midnight. At that time they had to have a finger on the Portkey or be left behind. And for anyone left behind, there would be hell to pay....

Harry and Draco wore heavy knit pullovers and turtlenecks with thick woolen trousers, topped by wizard's robes and heavy winter cloaks with hoods. Draco wore supple leather gloves with a silk lining to keep his hands warm; Harry had lost his gloves and went without. The three of them looked at each other; Harry thought he saw a twinge of doubt in his dad's eyes. He was probably thinking, What business have I got taking two children to that monster? Harry wanted to reassure his stepfather, but he had no words. He felt in his pocket again, to make sure he had his wand. He had thought about taking his Invisibility Cloak, but he didn't like the idea of its being found on his person by Voldemort. He had given it to Jamie for safe-keeping.

He had no sooner thought of Jamie than she appeared in the doorway of the common room. "Wait!" she cried, running toward them.

She threw herself on Harry first, and he wrapped his arms around her, holding his sister for dear life, feeling how fast her heart was beating, how frightened she was for him. She was almost as tall as their mother, he noticed, as she lifted large, shining green eyes to him--eyes precisely like his own--and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Then she turned to Draco; Harry thought he'd never seen Draco look more terrified, and he held Jamie Potter to him as though he were a drowning man and she were a life jacket. She kissed him on the cheek too (their dad was present) and then turned to her stepfather.

"Dad," she choked. "Please be careful. Take--take care of them." Then she hugged him too, and Harry's heart turned over, seeing his dad's face when he put his arms around his stepdaughter and held her tightly. Finally, she delivered a kiss to his cheek too and stepped back from the three of them. She swiped a tear escaping down her cheek with an annoyed look and said softly, "Do be careful. All of you."

None of them could speak, so they all nodded, each of them loving her in his own way, glad that she had come to see them off. His dad checked his watch and asked Draco, "I have one minute to go. You?"

Draco checked his watch. "Right."

"Everyone hold on tight," his stepfather said, holding out--a can of tinned deviled ham. Harry wanted to laugh, but instead he put his hand on the can along with his dad and Draco. If he started laughing, he wouldn't stop, he'd just be stuck in hysterical laughter mode all night...."Hysterical" seemed the only way to describe his present state of mind. His heart was thudding in his chest, the rhythm of the blood flowing through his brain actually seemed to be audible, something that was filling his ears....He needed to calm down, so he looked at his sister, holding on to the ridiculous tin of meat, waiting, waiting....

When he finally happened, he grunted in surprise; there it was, the tug behind his navel and the nauseating tumbling through space, the awareness of traveling with others, Draco's elbow in his eye, his dad's black cloak enveloping all of them, it seemed....He grunted again upon landing, and Draco did too. His dad was silent; he pulled out his wand as soon as he landed, turning around slowly, checking for dangers. He looked quite formidable like this, swiveling around to take in the entire landscape, his dark eyes hooded above his long hooked nose, his voluminous cloak billowing in the wind. Harry also pulled his wand out, and Draco followed their lead.

The wind whipped their hair about vigorously. The sky was cloudless and they could clearly see the full moon sailing above them in a sky full of starshine. Short grass was trying to compete with frost on the hard ground, which stretched flat and featureless in all directions. Other than his dad and best friend, Harry couldn't see a single soul.

"Are we in the right place?" he whispered to his stepfather.

"Should be. Wait."

Severus Snape lifted his face to the sky and closed his eyes; he sniffed, then opened his eyes and nodded.

"Salt. We're near the sea. Don't you smell it?"

Harry sniffed the wind and he could smell it too; salt and a smell of decay, of old fish, or a rotting whale, perhaps.

"Dover?" he asked his dad, who nodded.

"How did you know?"

Harry shrugged, looking around. "Just a hunch."

They were quiet again, and the wind died down momentarily; now that it wasn't whistling in his ears, Harry could hear the breaking waves on the rocks. They were very close. He saw that his dad was listening too.

"This way," Severus Snape said, moving toward the sound of the ocean.

They followed him, wands out, looking from side to side occasionally, growing progressively more nervous. Eventually, a figure loomed out of the darkness: Lucius Malfoy.

"Good; you're not late." Harry squinted at him in an unfriendly fashion; he certainly sounded like he thought he was in charge. "It will be midnight in a few minutes; that's when the Dark Lord is arriving, and then he will summon the others." He was brusque and yet also upbeat; his face could have been flush with the cold, but Harry thought he actually looked anticipatory.

His son, however, was paler than Harry had ever seen him, and that was saying something. He hoped Draco wasn't going to spew; that probably wouldn't please a powerful dark wizard. He could imagine how Voldemort might punish someone for being sick with fright. He'd just love that.

They followed Mr. Malfoy to a spot near but not too near the edge of a great cliff. Harry felt torn; he was both tempted to go to the edge and peer down, and also terrified of getting any nearer than he already was. He pulled his hood up over his head, turned so his back was to the wind, and put his gloveless hands in his pockets for warmth. The metal frames of his glasses were conducting the cold all too well, and he felt as thought he had a spectacle-shaped piece of ice sitting across the bridge of his nose and resting on his ears.

Suddenly, standing not twenty feet away from them, a tall, thin figure appeared. Voldemort. If he made any noise, Harry couldn't hear it between the wind and the crashing waves. He didn't exactly smile, but he looked pleased (for him) when he saw that they were already present. He strode over to them, his long legs eating up the distance quickly. He stopped very close to Harry and Draco and looked down at them with his strange eyes narrowed. Harry shook, and he could see Draco shivering, whether from cold or fear he didn't know.

"So," he said in a rich, commanding baritone. "Our new Death Eaters." Harry was confused; he had expected a strange, high voice. But then, he realized, that was the voice of the destroyed Voldemort. And somehow the re-embodiment hadn't quite extended to the voice. It hadn't restored this voice to him. He had a very--convincing voice, Harry thought. It was the sort of voice that could get you to do all sorts of things you knew you shouldn't.

"Yes, my Lord," Lucius Malfoy said obsequiously. "My son is very excited that you want to make him your own before he is even of age."

Voldemort looked down at Draco, who had not pulled up his hood, like Harry. The wind blew his fair hair from his pale face and his grey eyes, which reflected the moon, were very wide, gazing up at the most feared dark wizard of the age as if in fascination.

"I would like to hear that from him," Voldemort said smoothly, not looking at Lucius Malfoy. Draco swallowed and blinked.

"Yes, my Lord," he said in a croaky voice. "Very excited." Draco sounded like he might very well have exhausted his vocabulary for the moment. Harry thought Voldemort looked singularly unimpressed. He turned to Harry.

"Harry Potter," he said, and Harry thought it odd that he had never heard anyone say his name in a way that made it sound more beautiful and mysterious. He shook himself mentally; this was clearly one of the ways that Voldemort had managed to garner so many followers, this Svengali-like ability to hypnotize a person by doing nothing more than saying the person's own name so that it sounded like the most lyrical poetry in the world. "I found that a very curious thing happened to me, Harry, on September first of this year. I found myself remembering all manner of things that I never had before. A great many things," he said very slowly, his eyes boring into Harry, while Harry wished he would speak again so he could continue to hear that smooth voice.... "Did you remember anything--unusual that day, Harry?"

Harry shook himself mentally again. Concentrate, concentrate, he commanded himself. Don't get sucked in.... "I don't know what you mean, my Lord. I--I did not recall anything unusual." He tried to sound as confident as the man before him, who even towered a few inches over his extraordinarily tall stepfather. Harry longed to look to his stepfather for reassurance, but he was finding it difficult to tear his eyes away from the eyes of the dark wizard; somehow, it seemed that the most peaceful and wonderful thing in the world would be to gaze into those eyes forever....

"Nothing?" the voice wondered, bringing Harry back. He forced himself to lower his eyes to the tall wizard's silver cloak fastenings, which were, after all, at his eye-level.

"No, my Lord. I--I occasionally have had dreams. Very strange, very real dreams; but that is all."

"Ah," he said, and even this was beautiful and mellifluous. "Dreams. Yes; I can see how--yes. Never mind, Harry. It is unimportant."

Harry dared to look up at those eyes again; had he believed him? Did he really think that Harry didn't remember the other life? He hoped so. It seemed like the safest thing, especially if he was going to be a convincing spy.

He turned to Lucius Malfoy. "Malfoy. Hold out your arm. It is time to summon the others."

Mr. Malfoy quaked, looking at that pale face. "Me, my Lord? I--I--"

The dark wizard made a disgusted look, then turned it into the strangest laugh that Harry had ever heard. "Oh, calm down. I'll use Snape; he can take it."

Harry turned to his dad; what was Voldemort talking about? His stepfather's jaw was tightly clenched. He wasn't going to argue with this plan, but he didn't look happy about it either. Whatever he was going to "use" his dad for, it couldn't be good...

Severus Snape pushed up the sleeve of his cloak, then his robes, then the clothes he wore under that, finally revealing the pale skin of his left forearm and the vivid mark there on his sinewy, muscular arm, strong from years of tightly grasping a broomstick while playing Quidditch. A skull with a serpent. The Dark Mark. Harry swallowed. He would have one of those before the night was over. It hurt, he knew. He wondered what--

"Aaah!" his stepfather gasped softly, clamping his mouth tightly shut, keeping the rest of his pain inside. Voldemort had placed the tip of his wand against the crook of his dad's elbow, and the mark had darkened; Harry thought he smelled burning flesh. He felt a chill move down his spine as he watched his stepfather's silent agony. Please end it, please end it, he thought desperately, wondering how long Voldemort would keep this up.

It was probably only a minute, but it felt like an eternity to Harry. Watching this man who had raised him suffer like this.... he felt so helpless. What if he had to hurt someone, to prove himself? He remembered what both of his parents had said about the impending initiation. He remembered Hermione arguing with him in his other life about why he couldn't become a Death Eater to protect them...

"But Harry, if you were--hypothetically--to become a Death Eater, what if you were told to torture people? If you didn't do it, you'd be tortured instead..."

"I don't care about that. That's just my own pain; I've coped with it before. I can do it again."

"But you see, Harry," she said pleadingly, tears starting to form in her eyes, "that's why you can't be a Death Eater. Because you'd rather suffer yourself than see anyone else suffer. You're just not cut out for it."

He swallowed. She had been right, but there wasn't much point to knowing that now. He was stuck. For now he had to go along, and hope for the best.

At first, the Death Eaters who had been summoned appeared around them one by one, but after another minute, they were coming thick and fast, until finally, a ring of at least sixty wizards (and a few witches) was formed around where they were standing. Harry swallowed; Dumbledore had said that with Harry and Draco, the number of spies would be eight. He and Draco were only sixteen, and three of the others were twenty or younger. And they would be outnumbered about seven to one. Those are not good odds, he thought. Voldemort was here, as well. This would not be a good time to start a fight. It was time to blend in and be just another Death Eater.

As Harry stared frantically at the wand touching his dad's arm, he thought about his own wand. Is it the same as in my old life? he wondered, wrapping his fingers around it in his pocket. He thought as hard as he could, trying to distract himself, dredging up a memory from over five years earlier, from the same day he'd gone shopping with his mother for his school supplies for his first year...

Harry stumbled out of Flourish & Blotts, pulled by Jamie. He had wanted to talk to the pretty girl with red hair for a few moments longer, but his sister was right; he needed a wand. His first wand! He began to slow down when they reached the narrow, shabby shop, shoehorned in between one with piles of different size cauldrons out front, and a divination supply shop. Harry became dizzy, seeing himself reflected repeatedly in the array of crystal balls on display in the window.

The gold letters over the wand shop door were peeling. Harry looked longingly at the wand in the window, lying on a dusty purple cushion that had faded from years of exposure to sunlight. Ollivanders. He was finally getting a wand from Ollivanders...

A bell tinkled when they opened the door. Inside, the tiny space was a shambles. Jamie claimed the single, spindly chair with relief; no sitting on the floor this time. He saw her look distastefully at the dust around the legs of the chair. This place could really do with a cleaning charm, he could imagine her thinking. For the first time, Harry was doubtful; how good were these wands if the shop owner couldn't use one of them to remove some dust?

The bell tinkled again as the door opened; it was Draco and his father. "Ah," Mr. Malfoy said to Harry's mother. "Lily. A pleasure, as always," he said silkily. His voice made Harry want to cringe. Mr. Malfoy looked around the messy shop distastefully. The hair stood up on the back of Harry's neck; he looked at his best friend and could tell that he felt strange too. There was something eerie about this place; the magic here was almost tangible.

"Lucius," his mother said with a nod; he wasn't going to get more of an acknowledgment from her than that. Draco's father frowned and looked as though he might say something snide, but suddenly they were all distracted by a very soft voice.

"Good afternoon." Draco jumped, and Harry spun around. Mr. Ollivander's wide, pale eyes moved closer and closer, and Harry fought the urge to run from the shop and never return. He heard Jamie make a noise like "eep."

"Yes, yes," the owner of the wand shop said. "So, it's that time already. Both Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter are going off to Hogwarts. Oh, hello my dear," he said to Harry's mother. "Your willow wand still suiting you?"

She nodded and gave him a small smile. "Quite well, thank you."

"And Mr. Malfoy..." the soft voice sounded ominous now, and Mr. Ollivander's eyes seemed to bore into Lucius Malfoy's. Mr. Malfoy stared obstinately back at him, his jaw clenched tightly as though he were biting back a cutting remark.

"Ollivander..." Mr. Malfoy said with a curt nod.

Finally, he turned back to Harry and Draco. "Present wand arms, please." They each held out an arm; Harry his right, Draco his left. He started measuring each of them himself, all over the place, arms and legs and heads. When he began dashing back and forth, fetching wands for them to try (a great number were still on tables and counters from a previous customer) the tape measure kept up the measuring by itself. Harry could tell that Draco didn't care for this. Finally, Ollivander said to it, "That will do." It dropped to the dusty floor.

"Right. For Mr. Potter, sugar maple with unicorn hair; for Mr. Malfoy, ebony with phoenix feather." Each of them had barely touched the wands when he shouted, "Switch!" Harry handed the one he'd been trying to Draco, and Draco handed the one he'd tried to Harry. A split second later each of them had these wands ripped out of their hands by Mr. Ollivander, who had thrust two more wands at them, describing the wood and the cores. Every time he cried, "Switch!" they traded wands, and then he would pluck them from their hands and put different ones between their fingers. Harry understood now why the shop was such a mess.

Ollivander ploughed through the pile of boxes around him, and Harry was unsure how he could tell he wasn't giving them the same wands twice; it was the most disorganized thing he'd ever seen. Finally, after Mr. Ollivander said, "Switch!" for what seemed the hundredth time, Draco took the wand from Harry that he'd been using, and the moment he touched it, Harry could see that a tremor moved through Draco, and his best friend looked profoundly moved. He brought the wand down, swishing it through the dusty air of the shop, and a stream of silver and green sparks cascaded from the end.

"Oooh!" Jamie breathed. "That's it, Draco!"

Draco looked down at his hand in wonder, then up at Mr. Ollivander for confirmation. "The young lady is correct. Linden and dragon heartstring. Ten-and-a-half inches. Very good. That will be seven Galleons, sir," he said, directing this to Mr. Malfoy, who threw the money down on a dusty table with a look of disgust on his face.

"Come, Draco."

"But Dad--can't I stay and see Harry get his? Please?"

Lucius Malfoy looked down at his son as though he hated him; he saw the way the four of them looked at him and tried to rearrange his features to appear more pleasant, but Harry could tell it was a strain.

"Very well," he said reluctantly.

Harry continued to try wands. Nothing seemed to suit him. Finally, Mr. Ollivander stood holding a wand, as though he were about to hand it to Harry, but he hesitated. "Now this wand," he said, pausing. "This wand--it's not that it's not a very nice wand. Eleven inches, good and supple, holly and phoenix feather. It's just that--" and then he paused. And paused. You could hear a pin drop.

"What?" Harry finally asked, breaking the silence. If he didn't know better, he could have sworn that all of them were holding their breaths.

"It may be nothing. Why don't you try it?" He put it in Harry's hand, and immediately, Harry felt a warmth in his fingers. He swished the wand through the air as Draco had done, and gold and red sparks spilled from the end. Jamie clapped in delight, and his mother looked visibly relieved that the search was finally over, wearily reaching into her bag to retrieve seven gold Galleons to give to Mr. Ollivander.

Mr. Ollivander, however, was ignoring Harry's mother, muttering to himself, "Curious...curious..."

Harry furrowed his brow. He was about to speak, but suddenly, Mr. Malfoy's impatient voice sounded. "Out with it man!" His voice echoed in the small shop. "What's so damned curious?"

Mr. Ollivander gazed back at Mr. Malfoy, looking quite ominous again, and Harry shivered. "You'll be interested in this, Mr. Malfoy. This wand and the wand that killed the father of these children," he nodded at Harry and Jamie, "are brothers. They each have a tail feather from the same phoenix. That wand was thirteen-and-a-half inches. Made of yew. But the same core. Since they are brothers, these two wands cannot be used against each other; they will not work correctly. But in tandem..." Mr. Ollivander looked closely at Harry, "in tandem, brother wands can do great things...."

Harry swallowed; he had a wand that was brother to the wand used by his father's murderer! He wanted to drop it and flee, but suddenly, the wand was torn from his hand by Mr. Malfoy, who was thrusting it upon his son. "This is the wand for Draco! I want my son to have this wand! Why didn't you let him try it?"

Draco's father grasped his arm and made him wave the wand through the air; Harry's best friend appeared to be a very large puppet. But no sparks appeared from the wand when he used it. Mr. Malfoy jerked Draco's arm around some more, trying to get the wand to respond. Harry was starting to fear that he was going to rip his son's arm off.

Mr. Ollivander deftly removed the wand from Draco's grasp. "The wand has chosen its owner, Mr. Malfoy. You know that a wizard will never get the best results from another wizard's wand."

Harry looked at his mother, who wore a terrified expression on her face. "Are--are you sure?" she said softly. "There isn't another that might be--more suitable?"

Harry would have laughed if it weren't such a dire situation; Mr. Malfoy wanted Draco to have the wand that was brother to Voldemort's, and his mother would have preferred him to have any other. He wasn't sure how he felt about the wand's brother, but he knew that

this wand made him feel strong and powerful when he'd held it.

"I want it, Mum," he said softly. "I want that wand."

His mother gave him a dreadful look. He swallowed and looked down. Mr. Ollivander wrapped his wand and gave it to him, and his mother paid. They left the shop, all rather subdued. Outside, Mr. Malfoy stopped Harry's mother.

"Lily, let's be reasonable. You don't want Harry to have

that wand, of all wands, and I do want Draco to have it. Why can't they just trade?"

Harry could see that she looked nervous, but her voice was as confident as ever. He had a feeling that if there was something Lucius Malfoy wanted, she was determined to make certain that he didn't get it.

"I'm sorry, Lucius. Harry is keeping the wand. Come along, you two. Good day, Lucius." She afforded Draco a sympathetic smile. "We'll see you on the first, Draco."

Harry and Jamie called goodbye to Draco as they followed their mother down the winding walkway; Mr. Malfoy was holding his son's biceps. Harry looked up at his mother again. "Thanks, mum. For the wand," he said with a smile, but his mother had that terrible expression on her face again.

She looked as though he had killed her.

Was that when it had started? Harry wondered. Was that when he became convinced that his mother hated him? When it seemed she thought he'd become evil? He had no time to contemplate this; Voldemort lifted his wand and finally stopped his stepfather's pain. Harry ached inside, seeing the sweat and anguish on his face. He had only uttered that one soft cry of shock when the pain began, and was thereafter silent. Either he has also learned pain-blocking, Harry thought, or he has a great deal of control.

The Dark Lord waved Severus Snape and Lucius Malfoy to the perimeter of the large circle that had formed, leaving Harry and Draco to shiver beside him, awaiting their fate. Draco really looked like he was going to spew, Harry thought. When the assembled figures finally quieted, their master turned about, surveying them, nodding with satisfaction as he was presented with the evidence of his power and influence. He feels like he owns them, Harry thought. Property.

The circle of Death Eaters was very large compared to the one he remembered from his dream, when he'd seen Draco Malfoy initiated. In this life, there had been no dropping away of followers, but a steady growth in the ranks. Harry tried to calm his empty stomach, but it was jumping about in a most distracting way. Maybe I'm the one who's going to spew, he thought. He noticed that Voldemort did not have a snake or a wizard who appeared to be his lieutenant, as Wormtail had been. He imagined that Lucius Malfoy would like to be that lieutenant, but Voldemort's treatment of Malfoy made that seem an unlikely development.

Finally, he turned and said to those assembled, in that amazing voice, "My children..."

A chorus of voices answered, "My Lord..."

"Tonight we will add two more to our number. And not just any two; we have here "The Lion," he waved a casual hand in Harry's direction, "and the Moonchild," he said, indicating Draco. "These boys were to have been my enemies, my Achilles' heel. Instead of eliminating them, I showed mercy, I spared their lives, and they were raised to be my servants. Now they are here to acknowledge me as their true master, to join us in our circle...."

Harry tried to swallow, but his throat wouldn't cooperate. He glanced at Draco, who was shaking. Suddenly, his knees were bending and he found himself on the ground, gasping; he looked up at the towering figure before him. Draco, beside him, was also kneeling.

Voldemort walked around them, surveying them. Harry fought the urge to follow him with his eyes. "Fine specimens, aren't they?" he asked no one in particular as he walked. He was out of Harry's range of vision when he suddenly heard the cry of, "Crucio!"

He felt no pain; he turned his head and knew why. Draco had thrown back his head in agony; his entire body convulsed. His jaw was showing the strain of being clamped shut; only soft guttural grunts escaped him, but there was sweat running down his pale face, mingling with tears that had escaped from his tightly-closed eyes. Harry fought the urge to pull out his wand and put a stop to it, but then he remembered that he couldn't use his wand against this man...Did he know that? he wondered. Had Lucius Malfoy told him? Perhaps that was why--

Gasp! Draco let out a sound that turned Harry's stomach as the spell was terminated. Although he had been kneeling upright during the torture, he was lying on the ground now, in the fetal position. The tall figure waited as, breathing heavily, Draco struggled to a standing position again. He was promptly pushed onto his knees once more by the same invisible hand. Harry watched his best friend, wishing he could help him in some way, but--


The pain hit all of his body at once, like thousands of razor-sharp knives entering his skin simultaneously. He concentrated as hard as he could; then suddenly, there was no pain; there was only floating, floating above the cold grey landscape, watching with fascination the crackling amber light that connected his body with Voldemort's wand. He saw Draco's surprise; he saw his father's surprise too, and Lucius Malfoy's. Finally, he saw Voldemort's eyes widening as the torture continued, and he watched his body serenely kneeling, arms outstretched as if in ecstatic prayer, his face peaceful and serene.

At last, he saw Voldemort break the connection between his wand and the body he had almost stopped thinking of as his own. He let himself slip back down into that body, opened his eyes slowly, blinking. He saw the Dark Lord gazing back at him with narrowed eyes.

"You did not cry out," he said to Draco. "And you," he added in an even softer voice, turning to Harry, "did not appear to feel any pain at all."

Harry swallowed. "My Lord," he said, hoping he would be convinced. "I--have never felt such pain before. We--we knew it would be disrespectful to cry out. To complain about receiving what we deserve." He looked at Draco with just his eyes, not turning his head, then quickly looked back to Voldemort, wondering whether he would believe this. Voldemort was still surveying Harry with a great deal of interest, and Harry held his breath, waiting.

Finally, an eerie smile curled around the corners of his mouth. "So. You did feel the pain. It hurt, didn't it?"

"Yes, my Lord," they said in unison.

Harry shivered as he anticipated the next words: "Ask me not to do it again."

"Please don't do it again, my Lord," they both said. Harry fought the urge to look round at all of the assembled Death Eaters, to see who else had already undergone this ritual of subservience. He bade both of them to rise.

"Give me your arm," he said to Draco, who extended it, shaking. Harry bit his lip; he knew that this would be both very different and far worse than the Cruciatus Curse. Voldemort pulled back Draco's sleeve and put his wand to the pale skin. "Whose are you?"

"Yours, my Lord."


Draco's agonized scream hung in the cold air and he fell to his knees. The skull and snake figure were emerging from his flesh as though they'd been hiding under the surface and were being slowly revealed, pushed up to be seen by the world at large. Harry smelled the burning flesh, just like in his vision, when he had seen the heir get his mark. At last, it was done, and Draco slowly raised his head again, panting, cradling the faintly-smoking arm. Harry had told him what to say afterward, but he didn't do it, too bound up in his pain.

It's my turn now, he thought.

He swallowed as Voldemort turned to him. He pulled up his own sleeve and presented his arm, looking in those strange eyes and trying to maintain his sense of self, making certain he did not become immersed in those eyes, did not lose himself...

"Whose are you?"

"Yours, my Lord."


"Aaah!" he cried out once before clamping his mouth shut. He managed to do it again; he rolled his eyes back in his head and floated up, watching dispassionately as the mark painted itself on his arm, as the skull and snake appeared in inky black, a permanent mark of ownership.

Finally, it was over, and Harry sank gratefully back down into his body, fighting the urge to touch his smoking arm, looking up at Voldemort and saying what he'd told Draco to say.

"Thank you, my Lord."

As he had in that other life, the tall wizard threw back his head and laughed. He turned to the other wizards in the circle, and now they knew that they, too, had permission to laugh appreciatively, and the sound of dozens of different voices laughing at this struck a discordant note on the cold, winter air. When the laughter finally died down, Voldemort turned around in a circle, speaking as he turned, so all would hear him.

"Two more are added to our number! But that is not the only reason I summoned you all here tonight..."

Here it comes, Harry thought. We're about to find out what horrible thing we have to do, whom we must torture or kill. His stomach was leaping about again as he anticipated what this might be, who might have made a misstep and displeased their capricious master...

"Tonight--" he paused for effect, and Harry found himself grudgingly admiring that rich, persuasive voice again. "Tonight, I officially recognize before you all--my Heir."

A gasp went up from those assembled, and Harry was surprised to find that he too had gasped. The Heir! At last, he would learn the identity of the Heir!

Then another gasp died in his throat as one thought occupied his brain:

Why did Voldemort seem to be looking right at him?

* * * * *

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