- Ginny Weasley/Harry Potter
- Harry Potter
- The Harry Potter at Hogwarts Years
- Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Published: 04/17/2002Updated: 01/04/2004Words: 584,432Chapters: 31Hits: 808,247
Harry Potter and the Triangle Prophecy
- Story Summary:
- Harry's 7th and final year of school. In a time of uncertainty, the Muggle world has found a source of comfort and stability. Only Harry suspects that it isn't safe. Wizards are more concerned about themselves than Muggles since Voldemort's return, but are only Muggles at risk? Will anyone listen to Harry? He must decide whether to make a sacrifice that will change him--and the wizarding world-- forever.
- Read Story On:
Chapter 26 - Axis
- Chapter Summary:
- Harry's seventh and final year of school. In a time of uncertainty, the Muggle world has found a source of comfort and stability. Only Harry suspects that it isn't safe. Wizards are more concerned about themselves than Muggles since Voldemort's return, but are only Muggles at risk? Will anyone listen to Harry? He must decide whether Draco Malfoy is ultimately friend or foe and discover the identity of the Daughter of War and get her help in defeating Voldemort; and finally, Harry must decide whether to make a sacrifice that will change him--and the wizarding world-- forever.
- Author's Note:
- The quotes at the beginning of the chapter are from page 51 of
In purely formal terms, Stonehenge is both subtle and imaginative. Its plan
is both centralized--disposed around a vertical axis--and longitudinal,
developed along a horizontal axis set into the central plan. ...it has been
suggested that the intricate, circular plan of Stonehenge mirrors the cosmic
lunar/solar eye of the Great Goddess; and that the unusually flat upper
surface of the great outer circle of lintels was for a purpose, namely, that
the 3.5 foot-wide surface formed an elevated walkway for some ritual...
--Marvin Trachtenberg & Isabelle Hyman, Architecture: from Prehistory to Post-Modern
Some myths temporalize the fall from absoluteness and speak of various ages
of man...Other myths imagine a sort of spatial hierarchy with the relative
below on earth and the absolute above in heaven....In this case, the two are
connected by an axis mundi...that stretches from one realm to the other.
--Barbara C. Sproul, Primal Myths: Creating the World
As they approached the ring of standing stones, Harry looked about; for acres around, Salisbury Plain was a seething mass of humanity. Harry wondered how far away some of the Muggles had had to park. Shading his eyes with his hand and looking toward the village from which they'd walked, he thought he saw a cluster of buses in a car park near where the village ended and the plain began. Had Jeffries been busing people to this event? he wondered.
He heard music and turned his head; people were up on top of the stones that served as lintels, resting on top of the huge uprights that formed the ring. The lintels formed a circular walkway far above the ground. A murmuring rhythmic sound was coming from the people up there; Harry realized that they were singing the percussive beginning of Jeffries' theme song, The Impossible Dream.
"BUM ba-da-da bum bum bum bum...BUM ba-da-da bum bum bum..."
The choir had to be a hundred strong, rather than the two dozen or so singers Harry had seen in Surrey. They were all wearing long apple-green robes, the color of spring. Many of the singers had wreaths of flowers on their heads. Beside him, Hermione clutched at his arm, a shocked look on her unfamiliar face. The blonde woman whose appearance she taken on was much paler than Hermione usually was, and her face was growing paler still.
"What are they doing?" she said, aghast. Harry frowned. She tried to stand still, but the crowd made that impossible and they had to move forward whether they wanted to or not. Ron was on Hermione's other side and Katie--no, Ginny--was on Harry's right.
"Well, you've heard of singing, right?" Harry said, motioning with his head to the people on top of the stones, some of whom were starting to sing the lyrics while others continued to be a human orchestra, humming the chords in strict rhythm.
"To dream the impossible dream....To fight the unbeatable foe..."
"Of course I've heard of singing, Harry," she said acidly. "I mean--well look at them!" she said, pointing.
Ron, Harry and Ginny looked; they didn't know what Hermione was going on about. But then Maggie--he still had to get used to her looking like Dorcas Sinclair, let alone calling her that--rushed up and grabbed Snape's arm, doing just what Hermione had done.
"What are they doing?" Maggie exclaimed, also as though she had not heard of singing. "Every Muggle here will need to be memory-charmed!"
Hermione looked at her triumphantly. "Thank you!" she said, nodding at Maggie.
"To bear with unbearable sorrow...To run where the brave dare not go..."
Harry turned to Snape, whom he had seen as Duncan MacDermid before, at the ceilidh in Hogsmeade in his fifth year. "I take it," Snape said to Maggie and Hermione, not bothering to imitate his uncle's accent, "that you have both seen Muggle photos of this monument?" Maggie and Hermione both nodded at him. His mouth went very thin. "Well, what is not generally known is that the people who created this did not allow it to fall into disrepair--they were probably the first magical people who thought to protect their monuments by using a Confundus Charm to make Muggles believe that it was a ruin. It looks perfectly normal to those who are magical as long as they have never seen a representation of the ruined version first. If that is what you expect to see, then it very likely appears to you at this moment as if those people are walking on air--" he said, nodding to the singers atop the stones, "--rather than on solid rock. The monument is actually completely intact. Just tell yourself it is so," he said to Maggie and Hermione.
"To right the unrightable wrong...To love, pure and chaste from afar..."
Harry looked at Ginny, who took her sister's hand. Maggie nodded. "Like when I couldn't see Ascog Castle right off because I'd seen a photo of the ruins first?" Snape nodded to her. She closed her eyes, clearly concentrating very hard. Hermione held Ron's arm and did the same; when they both opened their eyes, they gasped.
"Oh! I see it! You're right, it's there! Amazing! All this time!" Hermione exclaimed.
"Yes, but even though they assumed that the ruins would make it uninteresting, they didn't reckon on many things. For some time now the Ministry of Magic has had to work closely with the Prime Minister to ensure that the National Trust--which is about half wizard--keeps too many people from coming here," Snape told them.
"To try, when your arms are too weary...to reach the unreachable star!"
He snorted and added, "That idea has clearly gone up in smoke. The Muggles here also won't believe people can be walking on the air up there for very long; soon they'll all be able to see it for what it really is: a completely intact monument from thousands of years ago. And once they start seeing through those charms..."
Hermione gasped. "Will they--will they start seeing through others?"
Snape looked very grim. "It's a danger. We usually have walls separating the magical and Muggle worlds....This Jeffries is trying to bring them crashing down," he said quietly. Harry didn't think Snape shared Sirius' view of Jeffries' harmlessness. He swallowed.
"No wonder he wanted my aunt working for him," Harry said slowly. "A witch who doesn't think about keeping magic hidden, who's had no formal training..."
Sirius finally spoke, although Harry was still thinking of him as Aberforth. "Now, Harry. I've never seen your aunt perform magic while working for Jeffries..."
"Maybe she behaves herself when you're around, so you can't grass on her!" he said hotly.
"This is my quest! To follow that star! No matter how hopeless! No matter how far!"
"I saw what my aunt was capable of when she thought no one was watching. Her best friend caught her at it, cleaning the kitchen back in Surrey! She's never done anything in moderation, whether it's hating me or spoiling Dudley and Dunkirk. We have to find her!" he said in frustration, frowning at the sea of bodies moving steadily toward their goal, albeit more slowly than Harry would have liked.
"The staff headquarters are in that large tent," Sirius said, pointing. They were approaching from the west, but they could easily see the huge white tent about thirty feet northeast of the stone circle; a steady stream of people were going in and out.
"To fight for the right...without question or pause...to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause!"
"Your aunt will be there, probably giving out the press passes and checking credentials. We need to do a little swimming upstream to get there, but I think we can manage it."
They stuck together very closely and tried to make their way toward the large tent, but they kept getting pushed off-course and having to veer north again to compensate.
The choir continued to sing while they moved toward the tent. Harry could see Muggles pointing at the stones, patting some of them and exclaiming, and he knew that the charms that had kept non-magical people from seeing Stonehenge as it truly was for thousands of years were no longer having any effect upon many of Jeffries' ecstatic followers.
Glancing again at Ginny, who was wearing Katie's form, Harry was suddenly reminded of casting the Revelatio spell in Jeffries' tent and seeing the images of the Muggles, as though every person present had performed magic. And now he realized that they had. It wasn't necessarily to do with the music, as he'd thought the previous summer.
He turned to Snape. "Is--is seeing through a concealment charm itself a kind of magic?" he wanted to know.
He rubbed his chin--or Duncan MacDermid's chin--with his hand, looking thoughtful. "One might consider that to be magic..."
"Because I think that's why there were magical signatures in Jeffries' tent! Last summer, I--er, Katie, that is--cast a Revelatio spell to find out whether he'd been doing magic at his shows, and it looked like everyone there was doing magic. I think this is what they were doing. They were believing! That was the magic that was being performed!"
Hermione stopped, gawping at him. "Are you saying that believing something is the same as doing magic, Harry?"
He was very excited. "It's a kind of magic. Come on. We need to believe in what we're doing to cast spells. And if having the ability to believe that I can do something lets me do it, why shouldn't Muggles believing something also be a kind of magic?" They were farther from the singers now and the music had receded into the background.
"When everyone knew about witches and wizards and magic, Muggles saw magic because they expected to, I reckon," Sirius said thoughtfully. "When magical people started hiding themselves from Muggles, it became rarer and rarer for most people to see magic, and even when they did, much of the time they didn't think that was what they were seeing...."
"They didn't believe," Harry said excitedly. "They convinced themselves that they were seeing what they expected to see, which is to say not magic..."
"Is that also a kind of magic?" Ginny wondered softly.
Snape seemed to consider this. "Self-delusion? In its way..."
"They're just believing something else, but they're still believing," Harry said walking faster now in his excitement. "And they have to do that, convince themselves that they're seeing what they expect to see, because otherwise the world wouldn't make sense to them, and the world has to make sense, or they'd go mad."
Ron nodded. "I can speak from experience," he said grimly.
Something else was percolating in Harry's brain though; he slowed down and walked on in silence, Ginny's arm linked in his. He stared into space, hardly paying attention to the other people around him as he tried to work though this new theory.
"Well, here we are," Sirius said as they approached the tent. "I've been to see Mrs. Dursley a number of times, so hopefully there won't be a problem..."
"Aunt Petunia!" Harry said suddenly. "That's it!"
"What's it, Harry?" Ginny wanted to know.
He grinned at her. "That's how Aunt Petunia became a witch!"
Sirius' brows drew together. "What are you talking about, Harry?"
"Hear me out....When my grandmother was dying of cancer, Aunt Petunia wanted my mum to cure her. She believed that magic would save their mother. Then, when she got cancer, and she went to Jeffries, he told her to believe, and she did! But what she believed was that if she became a witch she could cure herself! So--she did! Become a witch, that is. And she did cure herself! Don't you see? She truly believed that that was what was necessary."
He paced excitedly. "And Jeffries....he tells that story about Voldemort attacking him in Westminster station. Perhaps it was because Voldemort had just got his body back and his magic wasn't quite normal again yet, I don't know, but when he attacked Jeffries, I think that because he was a Squib, Jeffries believed that if only he was magical, he could do something to protect himself. That's what he believed was necessary for him to be safe and when Voldemort cursed him that's what happened! He became a wizard! Perhaps his belief interacted with Voldemort's spell somehow. And I think since then Jeffries has worked it out--that the basis of all magic is belief, and that if you can truly believe something you can make it so. That's why he tells people to believe. But I don't think he can make just anyone magical--I think he can only do it for people who know about magic, and who believe that that's what they need. Someone like my aunt would know about magic because of my mum, and she was convinced that magic would cure her mum, so I think that's why she thought she needed to be a witch. Jeffries knows about magic because he's a Squib. Or was one. You see?"
"I think so," Hermione said uncertainly. "But magical genes are still what determine what sort of magic you can do, and how powerful you are. Your aunt had a magical sister, and probably had some magical genes already. Jeffries was a Squib, so he had magical parents and also probably already had some magical genes, just not enough, until the Westminster attack..."
"So, a combination, then, of belief and magical genes. But remember what Dumbledore said about Muggles collectively doing magic? When they put their magical genes together in one place, along with belief..."
He felt very excited, very close to figuring something out, bouncing on the balls of his feet as Sirius drew back the tent flap and ushered them inside one of the less-well traveled openings. The tent seemed to be divided up into a maze of cubicles; it was very stuffy, despite sweeping up and up. It was several stories high and listening to the noise contained within it was like holding up a conch shell to one's ear, except that the roar of the ocean had been amplified a thousand times. And it was just as intelligible. Hermione and Ginny immediately put their fingers in their ears. A middle-aged balding man in a spring-green robe was passing by in a sort of corridor between the cubicles, but when he saw them he immediately stopped and entered the cubicle into which they'd all stumbled, pointed his finger at them accusingly.
"'Ere now, 'oo are you?"
"Armin!" Sirius said, extending his hand, grinning. The man didn't take it. Sirius was confused. "It's me. John--"
Snape suddenly trod heavily on his foot, and Harry was standing close enough to him to hear him whisper, "Wrong face, you idiot."
"Erm," Sirius said feebly. "My--my friend John Norwich said I should come see you. Didn't he say anything? We're here to see Mrs. Petunia Dursley."
Armin looked surprised; what hair he had left was very dark, as were his heavy brows, under which his small suspicious eyes surveyed them all warily. "I dunno 'bout that. Mrs. Dursley don't take kindly to people botherin'er on setch a busy day..."
"She's my aunt," Harry said. "I came a long way. I haven't seen her in months."
Armin looked Harry up and down. "Well, I reckon you're about as she said you are. Wot's yer name again?"
"Harry," he said simply, not giving his surname, should any wizards be nearby. Armin continued to examine him and he self-consciously smoothed his fringe over his forehead.
"Wait 'ere," Armin said at last, disappearing into the maze of cubicles. Soon he was back and Harry's aunt was with him. When he saw her he dropped his jaw.
She looked at him with narrowed eyes. "Don't gawp like that. You look dreadful! Is that what you do every year when you're off at school? Let your hair grow like a hippie? And what on earth are you doing here? I have work to do. Six American reporters turned up with no credentials. They claim that they write for 'web sites,' if you please..."
"Oh, they're files that people upload onto computers called servers that are connected to--" Hermione started to say brightly, but Petunia Dursley frowned at her and backed up warily. Harry realized that the members of the party who had used the Polyjuice sweets were not going to be recognizable to his aunt.
But there was one person his aunt thought she knew. She turned to Ginny, still holding onto Harry's arm. "Oh, hello there Kitty," she said to her, evidently thinking that she was Katie Bell. "I didn't realize you two were still together," she added a little stiffly, nodding at Harry. "I just saw your father a few minutes ago. Did he become separated from the rest of you? We've tried to warn large groups to stay together, and in the packets we sent out we recommended that groups traveling together wear matching outfits or have flags they can wave, to make it easier to find each other," she said briskly, sounding very much like an event organizer. In that his aunt was indeed one of the most frightfully organized people he knew, apart from Hermione, it seemed like a good fit for her.
However, he had a new problem: Sam was here. "Are you sure it was Sam?" he asked, his voice shaking. "Where? When?"
She sniffed. "I really haven't time for this. You should keep better track of--"
"Aunt Petunia!" Harry said quickly. "I'm sorry, I'm letting myself get distracted. I--I mainly wanted to come see you to make certain that you're all right," he said, trying again to assimilate her new appearance. As far as he could tell, her face hadn't changed. But she looked very different despite this. She'd dyed her hair dark red. Is she trying to look like my mum? he wondered, noting that she was wearing it the way that his mother had worn her hair in his other life, long but with some of it gathered together on her crown with a clip, so it wouldn't be in her face. It actually made her look absurdly youthful, he thought, but the very strange thing was that, in combination with her face, she could, for the first time Harry could remember, very easily pass for Lily Potter's older sister. He glanced uneasily at Sirius, wondering whether he'd seen her look like this before and why he hadn't said anything to Harry after one of his many trips to check on Jeffries.
"I'm just fine," she said quickly, checking her watch. "Although if I don't get back to work the reporters will start finding dreadful things to say...."
Harry drew his lips into a line. "Uncle Vernon misses you!" he said suddenly, before he lost his nerve. She froze.
"Vernon Dursley," she said, ice in her voice, "misses someone to clean up after him, cook his meals and wash his clothes. He misses clean towels after his bath and fresh sheets when he's ready to sleep at night. If you're so concerned about him, I recommend that you inform him that all of those services are available from fine hotels." She pursed her lips more tightly even than McGonagall could have managed.
He stepped toward her. "I don't think that's the only reason Uncle Vernon misses you--"
She looked a little guilty as she backed up from him. "Nonsense. He's taken me for granted for over twenty years. I've had enough. And I have to get back to work now, so if you'll excuse me....Enjoy the show, everyone!" she said brightly, as though she hadn't just been discussing her husband in the coldest possible terms. "Do be certain to fill out the form in the program--you did all get programs?" She looked at their empty hands nervously, then rushed over to a large crate sitting in the corner of the cubicle, practically throwing thick programs, like glossy magazines, in their general direction. "We're trying to compile data about why each person has come, where they first heard about Rodney...."
When she was done giving them all programs, she walked off, calling behind her, "Don't forget to complete the forms! I must fly!"
When she'd gone, Harry turned in shock to Sirius. "Did you know she'd dyed her hair?"
Sirius looked guilty. "Well--I wasn't sure how you'd take it. I didn't think I should even mention it, since by the time you saw her she could have changed her mind..."
"And Sam's here..." Harry shook his head at Sirius, surveying his tanned skin and white hair, the familiar twinkling blue eyes. "I wish you really were Aberforth; I wish I could ask him what he thinks he's doing, letting Sam come to this thing..." Then Harry bit his tongue, remembering that he'd once thought Rodney Jeffries would be a perfect solution to Sam's problem. That seemed a very long time ago.
Ginny looked up at him, her eyes moist. Harry had to keep reminding himself that she wasn't Katie. "You know why he's come..." she said softly.
Sirius nodded. "Right. He just wants to be back to normal--for a wizard. The way he was before Azkaban. Remember, he was a powerful Auror. But in prison, he didn't have the option of turning into an animal, like me. Dementors didn't get to me the way they did to most prisoners. And he had cellmates, others going mad around him, which may not have helped his state of mind. The sanest man in the asylum will probably eventually go mad. Just from proximity..."
"Or if he wasn't mad, he'd seem so by comparison. After all, isn't it mad to be in an asylum if you aren't mad?" Ron said in a sardonic voice.
Harry swallowed. "Yeah, I used to think Sam could be 'fixed' if he went to Jeffries, but now--I don't know. I don't trust Jeffries," he whispered cautiously, looking around, lest any of Jeffries' lackeys should hear him. "I think we should try to find Sam..."
As they were leaving the tent, Hermione pulled on his arm to delay him. "Was that a dig, Harry?" she wanted to know.
He frowned at her. "A dig?"
"Ron is here so he can be cured by Jeffries, or did you forget? But you just said you don't trust him. He cured you, but Ron doesn't deserve the same treatment?" she said acidly.
He snorted through his nose. "I was burnt. And even Sam--well, he used to be able to do magic and now he can't. I can understand why he's here. But Ron's fine as he is. He doesn't need to be changed, Hermione, and you don't even know that Jeffries could do it. Not to mention, this was all your idea. I haven't once heard Ron say that he wants to be cured, have you? He's here for you. He doesn't want to be here, I don't think. But at this point...I think he's afraid you'll leave him if he doesn't go through with it...or if it doesn't work..."
"I wouldn't do that!" she exclaimed, her unfamiliar light eyes large and worried.
Harry looked at her very directly. "Don't tell me; tell Ron," he said grimly. They exited the tent, joining the others. Harry swept his eyes quickly over the sea of humanity, despairing of finding Sam in such a crowd. "We'll never spot him in all this..."
"Well, he'll have to go forward to be healed, won't he?" Ron said logically. "There's a queue for it. Let's take a look at who's waiting."
They wove their way very slowly through the crowd, the singing sounding louder again as they drew nearer to where Jeffries stood at the altar stone. There were about six people waiting on either side of him, wearing rough robes that appeared to be made from sacking. Harry looked back in the queue and saw Jeffries' people carrying armfuls of the simple robes, helping people into them, creating a procession of identically-clad pilgrims, all eagerly awaiting the moment when Jeffries would lay his hands upon them. Harry anxiously scanned the faces of the waiting faithful, hunting for Sam's auburn hair and work-tanned face. It was Ginny who clutched his arm tighter and pointed.
Sam was very close to the front of the part of the queue still outside the circle, already wearing a rough robe. It was strange for Harry to see him like this; he'd only seen him in Muggle clothes. A month earlier, when giving his daughter away to Percy Weasley, he'd been all smiles. He looked anxious now, peering around nervously, as though worried that someone might recognize him. He didn't seem to have noticed Sirius, who was wearing Aberforth's face, nor Ginny, who was now his daughter's double. Harry wondered whether the real Katie knew he was here.
There was a roar from the crowd and Harry redirected his attention to Jeffries, who was being hugged by a large middle-aged woman, her robe pulling tightly over her massive body. She was smiling and crying all at once and looked like she just might end up strangling Jeffries, from the hold she had on his neck. But he was laughing along with her, and gave her a kiss on top of the head (this was easy, as she wasn't any taller than Mrs. Weasley). Some of his retinue helped her along, moving her out of the way so that he could turn to the man on his left. The singing had been reduced in volume, Harry realized, the elevated choir humming lightly, but now a crescendo of noise grew again from the singers, and they belted out the chorus again with renewed fervor:
"This is my QUEST, to follow that STAR..."
Harry winced; they'd just passed under one of the lintels and the noise seemed to have suddenly been dropped down on top of his head quite violently. Looking up, he saw the choristers link arms; perhaps that would keep anyone who had vertigo from feeling dizzy and falling. Above them the sky was a perfect blue with large, white fluffy clouds filling most of the sky, helping to cut the sun's glare, drifting before the sun periodically, but not oppressively. There were a few dark clouds near the horizon, but they seemed too far away to worry about. He looked around again; they were inching through the crowd very slowly, the sound of the singing pounding in Harry's ears. Sam still seemed miles away, progressing through the queue, only two pilgrims between him and Jeffries now as the music grew louder still....
"And the world will be better for this," they all sang in unison; "that one man, torn and covered with scars...still strove with his last ounce of courage..."
They inched forward some more; Harry didn't know how long it took. Just as he saw that Sam was second in the queue, the sun seemed to go out. He looked up; an enormous fluffy cloud that he'd seen in the sky only minutes earlier had drifted in front of the sun, but instead of making the light only a little dimmer, it appeared now that a raging storm was going to strike, it was so dark. The center of the cloud was deep grey shading to black here and there, although the cloud was still quite light around the edges. There were no longer dark clouds at the horizon. Harry frowned. How could the cloud have filled with moisture so quickly? Why was the darkness so oddly-shaped, and why did the cloud seem to be so low?
He pointed and said to Hermione, "Do clouds usually look like that before rain?"
She tipped her head back, shading her eyes with her hand. "Rain? Oh, god, I hope it doesn't rain. With all of these people here, that would be complete chaos!"
"My brothers and sisters shall come."
"What?" Harry said to Sandy quickly. "What did you say, Sandy?" He'd been glad of the opportunity to bring her with him, since he'd arrived by Portkey, but at the same time, her predictions always made him very apprehensive.
"My brothers and sisters shall come."
"What is it, Harry?" Ginny said, clutching his arm more tightly. "What did she say?"
"Who?" Hermione and Maggie said together.
"Sandy," Harry said slowly. After he'd told them, the girls all immediately lifted up their robes and looked around their ankles. Sirius snorted and Hermione glared at him.
Ron frowned at Hermione and his sisters. "What the hell are you all doing?"
"Snakes!" Hermione exclaimed. "Sandy told Harry that there are going to be snakes! Who knows how many!" Snape raised one eyebrow and Harry nodded at him.
Maggie looked at Harry and he could see she was thinking very hard. Is that what Sandy said, Harry? she asked him, this thought appearing inside his head suddenly.
Well--yes. Kind of. But I never know when--
I--I had a strange dream last night, Harry, she told him now. I wasn't sure whether I should say anything. It's possible that she doesn't literally mean 'snakes'...
A scream went up from somewhere and Harry lost his concentration; Maggie's thoughts disappeared from his mind. He looked around frantically. "What happened? Who screamed?" He searched the ground, wondering whether he could talk to dozens of snakes simultaneously, whether they'd listen to him if he asked them not to hurt anyone...
"Look up!" Hermione cried. Harry froze; somehow he'd never seen something he liked when she'd said those two simple words. But when more screaming erupted from the crowd, he threw back his head and saw two huge shapes descending through the low, dark cloud. They were the reason why the cloud had appeared to have large, bulky shapes within it. They were hiding above it, far up in the sky (even though it was lower than clouds usually were), and now they were descending in tight corkscrews, each with a small rider. And the first two were followed by two more, and two more after that....
"Dragons," he whispered in awe, watching the enormous forms draw nearer with a fatalistic fascination. Around him he heard strange pops! and cracks! punctuating the screaming, but he couldn't move. He felt like his feet were bolted to the ground.
"The Swedish Shortsnouts, from the reservation," Ron breathed. "Bloody hell. The Death Eaters are going to attack all of these people with dragons."
"More to the point, Ron," Hermione said with a shaking voice, pulling her wand out of her pocket, "they're going to attack us, too. And we need to try to stop it," she added, sounding terrified but determined.
"Stop it?" Ginny said, her voice going up an octave. "Just how, might I ask? When Harry went up against a dragon he at least had his broom..." She was now gripping his arm quite painfully and trembling head to toe. Hermione's mouth had gone very thin; she had no answer for Ginny. "And what about the restriction on underage magic, for me? Or restrictions on doing magic in front of Muggles?" Ginny demanded.
"There will just have to be memory charms afterward," Snape said tersely.
"And as for you being underage...well, let's worry about all surviving this first," Harry said softly, his insides clenching with fear for her as he gave Snape a worried look. If anything happened to Ginny...
Ginny took out her wand. "Right. Good point. I have no intention of going back to my parents in a coal scuttle," she said in a low, determined voice. She looked up at the dragons, her face very hard. "The Ministry be damned," she added, sounding less convincing. Harry tried to forget about his old nightmare, Ginny turning into a skeleton....
"One thing is for certain," Ron said his wand also out now as the dragons drew nearer to the earth and the crowd around them began running in all directions, panicked and clueless. "We know now why all of these people have been gathered here." He looked levelly at Harry. "Jeffries must be in league with You-Know--I mean Vol--Voldemort."
Harry shook his head. "We don't know that. I'm not defending Jeffries. I wouldn't put much past him. But this might be just as much of a surprise to him as to us. I once thought that Voldemort might not like Jeffries, and maybe this is just confirmation of it. There are loads of Muggles and Muggle-friendly wizards here; he also hates them, and this gives him a lot of them in one place to attack. Very convenient."
"Get under the stones!" Snape yelled, hustling them to the nearest megaliths. The choir had ceased singing; they were almost all crouched on the enormous lintels, huddled in shaking groups of three and four. They were only about fifteen feet in the air, but the crowd was too thick around the megaliths; it was impossible for them to just jump down. Harry was trying to work out how they could help the singers, but this train of thought was brought to a halt as one of the dragons abruptly stopped spiraling down and suddenly swooped down over the landscape, making a terrific chorus of screams erupt from tens of thousands of throats. The great beast was heading toward some people on the edge of Salisbury Plain, from what Harry could see. It was quite some distance from where they were, pressed against one of the enormous stones ringing the ancient circle.
In its way, the Swedish Shortsnout was quite beautiful, with its shimmering silver-blue scales. Harry could see now that the dragon's rider had a helmet and was controlling the dragon with a bit and reigns, sitting on a saddle that was carefully strapped around the beast's ribs. As he watched from a distance, Harry saw the dragon expel a huge blast of fire into the air over the heads of the crowd, causing the people to scatter before it. No one actually appeared to be hurt, however; it looked to Harry as though the wizard rider had pulled the dragon up at the last minute, so that the fire didn't go too low.
"Why'd he do that?" Ron said, having noticed the same thing. Harry bit his lip.
"Dunno. Since when are Death Eaters afraid of hurting people? Seems that if you come to a crowd like this riding a dragon, your goal is probably to hurt people."
Ron shook his head, frowning. "Yeah. I don't get it. And we still don't have any ideas for how to fight the bloody things." He held up his wand as though it were utterly useless. "I knew I should have gone on that trip with Mum and Dad to Romania. Maybe Charlie could have taught me a thing or two about dragon-handling. Sirius recommended that Conjunctivitis Charm for you, even though he didn't get to tell you about it, but I haven't learned it and I don't think you have either."
"No, it was a good thing I summoned my broom..." He opened his eyes wide. "That's it! We need brooms. Loads of them, not just for us, but for any other witches or wizards who might be here. Although..." he went on, thinking, "I could have sworn I heard some people Disapparating. Any witches or wizards who were here might be gone now..."
"If they can Apparate. Not everyone can," Hermione reminded him.
"Hermione!" Harry said urgently. "Listen, you need to go back to Hogwarts and get help. Not just brooms, although they would be good. You have to tell Dumbledore what's happening. He can contact the operatives. And see if he can bring some teachers, or maybe the Dueling Club. And the Elven Army. But not all of them. We don't want to leave Hogwarts defenseless, in case this whole thing is meant to be a distraction..."
"Some bleeding distraction!" Ron said, watching two more dragons fly over the crowd at the edge of the plain and breathe fire over the heads of the running, panicked people.
"You never know with Voldemort," Harry said grimly.
Sirius had heard what Harry had said. "I'll go with Hermione. After we Apparate to Hogsmeade we can both change into our animal forms and run to the castle much more quickly that way. I can talk to Dumbledore while Hermione collects brooms. Once he knows what's what he can make an announcement for certain people on the staff and Dueling Club to go to the entrance hall. And he can contact the Ministry for Aurors."
"Right," Snape agreed suddenly and unexpectedly. "But don't take too long. We're going to need those brooms," he said tersely, watching the dragons with his uncle's dark, troubled eyes. Sirius and Hermione Disapparated with a double pop!
They continued to watch apprehensively, the only still people in the enormous, frightened crowd. Four dragons were at the edge of the plain, as though assigned to the cardinal points, and two others were swooping over the sea of people, making them run back and forth in panic. From what Harry could see, the dragons were breathing plenty of fire, but whenever they seemed to be flying too low, their riders pulled up, to keep the fire above the crowd. They seemed very purposefully to avoid hurting anyone. The crowd had gone from running away from the standing stones to running toward them; the dragons made it impossible for anyone to leave the plain. Suddenly the ring of stones seemed like a haven, away from the dragons, even though they could fly to the circle in a trice.
Harry saw Ginny drop her jaw. "They're herding the crowd!" she cried suddenly. "Don't you see? They're trying to get everyone in the center!"
They all stood watching in shock as the crowd surged toward them, and Harry could also see numerous people who were being knocked down and trampled in the process. This was going to be very bad, he could tell. He looked up, his mind working furiously.
"We need to do some herding of our own, then. First--can you and Ron try to get as many people as possible into the big tent?" he said to Maggie. He turned to Ron. "Put a fire shield charm on it first. And it's a good thing you're strong--if anyone resists being taken into the tent, just pick them up and carry them. They'll probably go along pretty quickly when they find out they can't fight you. The three of us," he went on, indicating Snape and Ginny in addition to himself, "will try to get the choir down to the ground. They could be fried to a crisp up there. Oh, and expand the interior of the tent, too. We need an enormous fire-proofed space where we can put all these people." Maggie and Ron ran off, hand in hand, and Harry turned to Snape and Ginny. "What do you reckon we should do to get them down? Sir," he added, addressing Snape.
Severus Snape regarded the frightened people above them with narrowed eyes. "If there weren't so many already milling around I'd recommend softening the ground and getting them to jump, but there's no room. We could Transfigure them into small birds, but then they'd just fly off in fright and we wouldn't be able to remove the spells again...." He frowned, clearly frustrated. There were just too many people, Harry thought. And still more dragons had descended from the clouds; there were eight of them now, driving the multitudes toward the center of Salisbury Plain, and the screaming of the terrified people was so constant that it had become a kind of white noise to Harry.
"I could change into a griffin and fly a few people down at a time, but that could take a while, and I'd still need more space than we have right here..." He swore. "I'm starting to miss fighting giant spiders," he said bitterly, glad that Ron had gone off with Maggie so he wouldn't hear Harry say this. "For some reason that didn't seem so bad, compared to this..."
Ginny's eyes lit up. "That's it!"
Harry and Snape both frowned at her. "What's it?" Harry wanted to know.
"Don't you remember? The way we got the people away from the spiders? The pulley system, conjured ropes flung over broomstick handles. Well, this is actually an easier problem to solve. All we need to do is conjure some ropes for each stone bridging two of these tall stones and secure them. Then the people can just climb down the ropes! Or we could conjure ladders, but the ropes would take up less space. And ladders could be knocked over by the crowd and end up hurting people."
"Yes, " Snape agreed, "that would be the best thing, probably."
Harry eyed the dragons, still hovering around the perimeter of the plain; he could see that the riders were watching the panicked, screaming crowds converging on the standing stones. Ginny was right; they were definitely herding the people into position. And Harry had a very bad feeling that once they were all where they were "supposed" to be, the dragons would be allowed to vent their full fire-breathing ability on the crowd...
"I may still have to change into a griffin before this is all over." He looked at the abject terror on every face in sight. "Of course, with so many people seeing dragons, I think it's already a foregone conclusion that loads of memory charms will be needed." It was time to forget everything they'd ever learned about hiding magic from Muggles; Harry, Ginny and Snape aimed their wands at the high lintels and long ropes erupted from the tips, wrapping themselves tightly around the top stones and hanging down within a few feet of the ground.
Harry pointed his wand at his throat and said, "Sonorus." He looked up at the terrified people, none of whom had attempted to start climbing down, "Just climb down," he told them. "The ropes will hold. You can't stay up there, you're targets if you do. Those dragons are Swedish Shortsnouts; they can turn you all into cinders in a few seconds. Climb down now!" he ordered them. He took the Sonorus spell off himself again.
"Harry!" Ginny said anxiously, watching the crowd around them as people on the ground had taken notice of what he'd said. "You're going to panic everyone!"
He grimaced, seeing that she was telling the truth; some people were running in aimless circles now that he'd explained just how bad it was. "They need to know!" he shouted so she could hear him over the screaming of the crowd. "Look! They're doing it!" Some brave souls had begun to test the ropes and were sliding down to the ground. Harry smiled, turning to Ginny. "Come on! We need to have ropes all around!" He pointed his wand at the next lintel, while Ginny aimed at the one just beyond that. Soon all of the stones in the circle had ropes and the choir members were sliding down. Ginny had seen that some of the people were in pain from rope-burns and she started to move toward them with her wand out, but Harry barked at her, "There's no time for that! They have to get to the tent. They can't stay out in the open!"
He, Ginny and Snape tried to send as many people as possible in the direction of Ron and Maggie, near the tent, pushing people along who weren't moving quickly enough, but the mass of bodies still seemed largely to be moving in aimless circles. Harry moved back to the standing stones to see just how many people were outside the ring on the open plain; it seemed to be tens of thousands still. Everywhere he looked there were people, people.... Ginny and Snape were with him again, also mesmerized by the sight of the dragons swooping over the crowd. There were some stragglers who seemed to be trying to make a break for it, at the southern edge of the plain.
"Oh, no," Harry breathed, as one of the dragons turned, the rider pulling on his reins, bearing down on the breakaway group. Harry saw the rider crack a whip; a split second later the dragon emitted a cloud of fire, blue-hot, incinerating the would-be escapees. Ginny's scream felt like it pierced his eardrum; Snape's face (or rather, Duncan MacDermid's) was utterly white, sweat pouring down it. He clutched his wand tightly, impotently. The mob of people nearest the casualties screamed even more loudly when they saw the bodies, running straight at the circle of stones to try to escape the same fate.
"Where are they with those damn brooms?" Snape growled. Harry held Ginny and patted her back while she sobbed into his shoulder, forcing himself to look at the blackened corpses. One or two figures were still leaping about, seemingly made of flames, screaming horribly, just as Harry remembered Evan Davies doing, a sight he still saw in nightmares... They'd been a warning to others: Do not try to escape. "I don't need a broom," Harry said suddenly, setting his jaw stubbornly. "I can fly without one."
Ginny lifted Katie's tear-streaked face to him and cried, "No, Harry!"
"I have to!" he shouted above the chaos around them, his stomach clenching as he realized that this might be the last time he held her, and it wasn't even her face he was able to see, her body he was holding. "I need to try to do something!" Hoping he wouldn't start crying, he pulled her to him and kissed her deeply but quickly. "I love you Ginny. Always remember that." He looked at Snape. "Take care of her."
Snape surprised him by suddenly pulling him into a brusque hug, patting him earnestly on the back. Harry nodded at him, then stepped back and closed his eyes, feeling the change roll through him. He felt his paws touch down and opened his eyes, seeing that the crowd had spread out around him, several people screaming at the sight of a green-eyed lion in their midst. He took advantage of the extra space he was now afforded to spread his wings and leap into the sky, hearing Ginny cry out behind him, "Good luck, Harry!"
He moved his wings as quickly as he could, climbing higher and higher above the circle of stones. Most of the dragons were still fairly close to the perimeter of the plain, urging the crowds toward the interior. He decided to start with the bastard who had murdered those people in cold blood, the Death Eater who had made his dragon breathe fire at poor innocent nobodies who had never crossed Voldemort, apart from being born Muggles. He was high in the sky now and the people below him looked like so many confused ants; he could see Ron and Maggie pushing people toward the enormous white tent, and he hoped that Ron had been able to fireproof it, but he didn't want to take the chance that he hadn't. The dragons had to be kept away from the tent.
When he was at a good height, he dove toward the dragon that had murdered the people, feeling the wind whistling past his ears, squinting so that the rushing air wasn't quite so painful on his eyes. Things always looked different to him when he was in his griffin form, but the dragons looked very peculiar, their silver-blue hides shimmering with magic, except-- There, he thought, spying it even as he was zooming down toward the beast. He was a magical beast himself, at the moment, and he could see the magic imbuing the dragons' hides in iridescent waves. But along the spine of each enormous animal, where the plates of armor met, there was a narrow line, a division that allowed them to move freely. Between the shoulder blades and the haunches there were larger gaps, to give the wings and limbs adequate movement. The Death Eater was between the shoulder blades; Harry would land on the rump, closest to the other large gap in the armor. He was very grateful that Swedish Shortsnouts did not have the kind of tails Hungarian Horntails had.
He managed to set down while the dragon was being steered back to the perimeter, his hind legs landing on the thick silver-blue scales, but his forepaws landing on the fleshy unprotected area revealed by the armor gap. He sank in his claws. The dragon roared in fury and released a burst of blue fire that towered in the air over the frightened crowd. The Death Eater was flung back and lost his seat; he was lying on his side behind the saddle. His helmet fell off and Harry saw long light hair and a pale, pointed face staring at him in horror, and then contempt....
"Potter!" Lucius Malfoy spat, as though uttering an obscenity. Harry dug in his claws, feeling the dragon's impressive muscles tense as it rose higher in the sky and jerked back and forth, trying to dislodge Harry. This made Lucius Malfoy slide off the beast's back, but he still hung onto the reins. Dangling by the dragon's left wing, he was getting beat about the head every time the beast drew its wing back and forth. Harry wondered whether he would be concussed as a result.
Malfoy released his right hand from the reins and plunged it into his robe pocket, pulling out his wand even as he dangled at the dragon's side, still holding onto the reins with his left hand. He pointed the wand at Harry and said something Harry couldn't hear, but when Malfoy was finishing the incantation, the dragon suddenly swooped upward, ruining Malfoy's aim, causing the curse to bounce harmlessly off the dragon's magical hide.
Harry squinted into the wind, which was whipping his mane around his head; he clenched his claws, holding on as tightly as he could, so that they went very deep. He could feel the dragon's blood seeping out between his paws and its flesh. Malfoy pointed his wand again, but once more, the dragon's unpredictable movements caused the curse to go awry. However, this time, Harry could see the amber beam of light ricochet back at Malfoy himself, rather than shooting harmlessly into the air, and he saw Malfoy recoil as his own curse struck him. He released the reins with his left hand and fell down, down....
Harry swallowed, seeing how very high in the sky they were; the people on the ground were quite tiny. He couldn't possibly survive a fall like that. Harry thought fleetingly of Draco, of his reaction to seeing his father die in the Pensieve. Shaking himself irritably, he put his mind to the task at hand and began inching his way toward the saddle, having to push his paws down between the plates of the dragon's thick hide at every step, to find a new fleshy spot where he could dig in his claws, to keep from flying off into space like Malfoy. The dragon continued to swoop and plunge, trying to shake him off.
When he had finally reached the dragon's shoulder blades, he quickly changed back into a human and made a grab for the reins, so that he might control the beast himself, although he wasn't sure how to get a dragon to do as he wanted. He gained the seat Malfoy had abandoned and gripped the reins hard, pulling up, hoping that would mean the dragon would go higher into the air, where it wouldn't put more humans at risk. Harry worried that, having killed some people already, this one might be hungry to repeat the experience.
As he soared up and up, his stomach flopping uncomfortably inside him (it was nothing like a broom, a hippogriff or flying on his own), he said quickly, "Are you okay Sandy? Sorry about suddenly transfiguring like that. And you know, any time you'd like to tell me that you've Seen something, you're welcome to. You wouldn't be able to explain the last thing you said, would you? I'm still trying to work out that one. Have you Seen anything else? Anything that might help me?"
"Tooo whooom are yooo ssspeeeeking, Two-Foot? From where deeeed yooo come? There wassss a winged beeeeasssst heeeeere, a hurtful beeeeasssst...Whooo eeess theeess 'Sssandeee?'" said a booming voice. After a moment's hesitation, Harry realized that it was the dragon.
Nervously, he spoke to Sandy again. "Erm, Sandy, did you hear the dragon say anything?" He felt like his arms were being pulled from their sockets as he struggled to hold onto the reins.
"Yes, Harry Potter. Of course I did."
"So--I could have just spoken to the dragon during the First Task?"
"I do not know what you are talking about," Sandy informed him archly, and he remembered that he didn't have her during his fourth year.
"What I mean is--dragons speak human language?"
"Oh, no, Harry Potter. They speak Wyrmtongue."
Harry dropped his jaw. "So--so I'm not just a Parselmouth? I'm also a--what did you call it? I'm a Wyrmmouth?" He thought for a moment. "That sounds dreadful."
"No," Sandy said, unperturbed by his last comment. "I have never heard of a human who can speak Wyrmtongue."
"Then--they how could it understand me?"
"Wyrmtongue and Parseltongue are related because dragons and snakes are related," she informed him. "I learned many things in the year I was not with you. Some dragons are merely snakes with wings. The basilisk is like a dragon with no wings, really...it understands the speech of snakes and the speech of dragons..."
"So--it could understand me because I was speaking Parseltongue to you, Sandy?" he said, finally starting to understand. "And I can understand what it's saying because its language is similar to Parseltongue?"
"Yesss, Two-Foot. But I steeel do not underssstand tooo whooom yooo are sssspeeeking..." the dragon boomed again.
"Please, erm Mr. Dragon, sir. I have a snake companion. Her name is Sandy and she's wrapped around my arm...." But he stopped suddenly in confusion. "Sandy," he said, "what I just said to the dragon sounded like English to me."
"It was," she informed him.
"You cannot speak Wyrmtongue. I have been with humans--before I met you--and understand human speech, although I can only be understood by a Parselmouth. You must speak to the dragon through me. It does not acknowledge human speech."
"Oh," he said, unsure about this. "Okay then...I was just saying that you're my snake companion and that your name is Sandy and you're wrapped around my arm...." He hoped the dragon was paying attention.
"That exxxplainssss eeet...." the dragon acceded. Harry held onto the reins more tightly, pulling back when it seemed that the dragon had started to descend toward some people still outside the standing stones. He'd been understood. He was making progress.
"I'd like to tell the dragon that I'm sorry, Sandy, about hurting him with my claws, when I was a griffin--a winged beast," Harry apologized awkwardly. It felt strange to not be able to address the dragon directly, but he couldn't help that. He needed to make friends with the dragon, and the first thing he'd done was to hurt it a great deal. Harry glanced back quickly; the dragon's hide had a gush of silvery-white blood staining it, as it poured from the wounds along its spine. "I needed to make sure I didn't fall off, Sandy. I was trying to get to the man who was controlling the dragon, the rider...."
"Oh?" the dragon said, barely interested. "Eeesss the other Two-Foot gone? Goooood. Heee alsssso had clawssss....Thank yoooo for ssstopping using your clawssss...." They swooped toward another dragon, and Harry thought quickly. Malfoy must have been wearing spurs, digging into the flesh just behind the shoulder blades.
"I won't use my claws on the dragon again, Sandy. I promise. But I need his help. Do you think he could ask the other dragons to stop attacking the people on the ground?"
As the great beast continued to fly, it moved its head around so that Harry was eye to eye with it; he wondered whether it could injure itself by blasting Harry with fire at this moment. Harry gripped the reins with white knuckles, his heart in his throat and his life passing before him as he gazed into the hypnotic vertical pupils of the dragon.
The dragon's long forked tongue slithered back between its saber-like teeth. Harry let out a long sigh of relief. The dragon turned his head and plunged down, approaching one of the other dragons, bellowing at it; Harry had to strain to understand what it was saying, as it was speaking more quickly to its mate than it had to him.
"Ceasetheattack, Obrothersofthemountains!" it cried. As he listened, the words began to separate themselves in his mind so that it wasn't so difficult to make out anymore. "Cease the attack, O sisters of the hills!" He wondered, if he'd tried harder, whether he could have made out some Wyrmtongue when Hagrid was showing him the dragons in his fourth year, before the First Task. But they might just have been bellowing in pain and fury, because of their imprisonment. They might not have been speaking at all....
"I wish, Sandy," Harry said loudly, "that the dragons could know that the people on the ground do not wish to harm them and that the men, er, Two-Foots on their backs do. I wish the dragons knew that I have a friend who knows dragons, Sandy, a friend who will help them get back to their home in Sweden, where they will not be at the beck and call of Two-Foots..."
"O brothers and sisters!" the dragon he was riding called out, making Harry grin. The dragon told the others what he had said, although Harry didn't managed to catch everything he said, and they started to rise into the sky, leaving off herding the people into the ring of stones (although that task was largely finished; Harry could see the mass of people moving toward the tent instead, where they would be safe--hopefully).
As for the question of whether the dragons could be injured by fire from one of their fellows, that was answered for him soon enough when a Death Eater dug his spurs into the dragon he was riding and struck it with a long, curling whip, trying to get it to dive down again; it was no longer obeying him. Harry felt his dragon lurch beneath him and dive toward the other one, about a thirty-foot drop, and he felt a blast of hot air strike his face painfully when his mount sent a blue spurt of fire at the figure riding the other dragon. Harry wanted to scream in horror, but his throat felt utterly parched, as was the air all around him, it seemed. In seconds, the Death Eater was a blackened corpse, holding onto the reins in a kind of rigor mortis. Harry thought his gloves might have fused, from the heat, so that they couldn't be released from the reins now. The dragon flew on with its inert rider; it was no longer under the control of a "Two-Foot."
Harry's skin felt very tender simply from being exposed to the air around the dragon when it had been so super-heated; he understood now why the Death Eaters were wearing helmets. His skin was starting to smart very badly, and he wished he dared take out his wand to ease the pain. He tried saying to Sandy, "I--I wish the dragon hadn't done that, Sandy, so we could bring these men--these Two-Foots--to justice--" He wasn't sure he meant it, but he was certain that he couldn't take seeing someone else killed in this way without spewing onto the dragon's neck. His stomach churned inside him, and not from the dragon's flight. He actually found himself hoping that Malfoy had survived his fall....
Suddenly, one of the other Death Eaters seemed to leap into the air and away from his dragon; Harry's heart leapt into his throat as he braced himself for yet another death, but this quickly proved to be unnecessary. The man had had a broom with him, wedged under the saddle; this Death Eater was an impressive flyer, swooping around the dragons, who were going after him now quite aggressively, despite their riders trying to restrain them. (Harry's mount had not communicated his wish to the other dragons that the riders be spared.) More than once, he just barely missed being fried to a crisp, and he actually caused two of the dragons to collide with each other with a clever feint, making Harry wince instinctively, and causing the enormous beasts to roar with inarticulate fury.
As the dragons went after him, he continued to elude them, swooping and tumbling through the air, going straight up and then into a daring dive, pulling out suddenly and whirling in the opposite direction. Harry was convinced that he'd never seen anyone fly so well, with the possible exception of Viktor Krum, who was now dead.
Who the hell is he? Harry wondered.
Suddenly, the Death Eater turned and aimed his broom upward, outstripping his dragon pursuers. He flew straight toward the enormous cloud which still hovered high above the circle of stones; Harry noticed for the first time that there were still dark, bulky shapes discoloring the cloud, and even as he watched, two more dragons descended through the mist. These dragons also had riders, but that wasn't all; these dragons were larger than any of the previous eight. They bore under their bellies enormous carriages, as though the dragons were passenger-carrying dirigibles, and with horror, Harry remembered Percy saying that this was how the dementors had been removed from Azkaban.
And now he knew why they'd been removed. The carriages were full of dementors, making Harry's blood run cold, even from a distance. Such a huge concentration of them was already affecting his mind; he started to lose his grip on the reins...
"The Ministry is infested with Death Eaters," he heard his mother's shrill voice in his head. "It's rotten to the core; there's no way to be safe if the Ministry arranges our going into hiding. We'll all be dead within a week. No; there's only one way--"
"Expelliarmus!" he heard his own voice explode.
Suddenly, he was falling; he jerked his eyes open. He'd slipped from the dragon, the dementors having taken over his mind, even at a distance. The ground was rising at an alarming rate and thinking quickly, Harry became a griffin, spreading his wings, swooping down in a low glide, brushing the grass before he started moving his wings, ascending again. He tried not to think what would have happened if he'd taken longer to transform...
His head felt clearer again now that he was in his griffin form; it was harder for the dementors to affect him. But he could see that the people on the ground weren't so lucky; as the dragons with the dementor-filled carriages descended toward them, he could see that they were starting to move more slowly, lackadaisically, with no rhyme or reason. That was why the dragons had been herding people into the center of the plain.
The dragons' riders had them set down the carriages outside the circle of stones, one to the north and one to the south; the dementors, he could see, immediately started spilling out of their transports, gliding eerily toward the cowering, gibbering people who couldn't even see them, unless there were still any witches or wizards who hadn't fled. Harry wondered where Snape and Ginny were, whether they were well away from the dementors.
If he was going to conjure a Patronus, he'd have to risk returning to his human form. He swallowed, watching the dementors' other-worldly movements, the jerky flight by Muggles who had no idea why they felt such hopelessness, despair, and an inner coldness.
The Hopeless ones shall walk the earth....and happiness this earth shall flee...
He thought, Oh, god. Maggie's Fraserburgh Prophecy. Harry flew toward the ring of stones and carefully landed on the central lintel on the east side, facing the altar stone. What he saw there shocked him; he'd been unable to see what was going on in the circle's center, partly because of the sheer numbers of people, partly because of the five stone archways arranged in a horseshoe pattern behind the altar stone. From his new vantage point, he saw that Jeffries was standing on the altar stone, higher than the rest of the people, and he was shouting. After a confused, moment, Harry realized what he was crying into the wind: "Believe! Believe! Believe! Be--"
Harry could also see he was growing weaker by the moment as the dementors drew nearer; he was pale and sweaty, trembling head to toe. There were still too many people in the ring, huddling between the inner horseshoe of uprights and the outer circle. It seemed that Jeffries' die-hard supporters were loath to leave him, and he wasn't being parted from the altar stone. Harry folded his wings against his flanks, hesitating to change back to his human form, knowing he would be hit with a wave of cold and despair the moment that it happened, that he would have to struggle very hard to come up with a happy thought to conjure a Patronus strong enough to drive so many dementors away. But just as he had this thought, something that helped him feel much happier did in fact occur. Suddenly, he had company on the top of the lintels; members of the Elven Army were appearing all along the top of the ring, and a few at the bases of the standing stones, with loud cracks! Dobby himself appeared not two lintels away from Harry, who immediately changed back to his human form then, so Dobby would know it was him, and the other elves would know as well. After all, he was their general. The moment he was in human form again, Dobby cried out and ran along the lintels, jumping on him in a most unmilitary-like manner.
"Harry Potter, Harry Potter!" Dobby screeched excitedly. "The Elven Army is here, the Elven Army is here!" Abruptedly, Dobby seemed to realize that he wasn't exactly obeying protocol; he leapt down before Harry and saluted smartly. "Lieutenant Dobby reporting, sir!"
Harry tried to smile at him through his discomfort; feeling utterly cold inside and hearing his own voice and his mother's voice seconds before he killed her weren't exactly conducive to his being a good general.
"Get those people into the large tent, Dobby!" he cried with effort. "I'll try to draw the dementors away from them!"
Dobby saluted again and whistled loudly to the army. The elves were also starting to be affected by the dementors, however, so Harry amplified his voice again and gave all of the elves his orders. This seemed to wake them up a bit and they leapt into action. Where are Sirius and Hermione with those brooms? he wondered, glad that they at least had sent the elves. He didn't dare Apparate back to Hogsmeade, not with Sandy on his arm. He couldn't afford to lose her; she'd proven invaluable in managing the dragons.
With horror, he saw that his aunt was next to the altar stone, but it seemed that she was there because she was trying to convince Jeffries to get down and follow her to the tent, as she was pulling at the sleeve of his robe. Around them, the elves were pushing a sea of people toward the tent. Some of the more reluctant ones were being levitated by the elves, making Harry wonder whether that was really a good idea. (The sheer volume of the memory charms that would need to be cast was starting to make his head ache.)
There were still people in the ring, including his aunt and Jeffries. The dementors were entering through the uprights, left and right. Dripping with sweat, Harry lifted his wand, crying loudly, "Expecto Patronem!" A wisp of grey smoke emerged from his wand and he flapped it with agitation, repeating, "Expecto Patronem, Expecto Patronem!"
A slightly stronger-looking silver cloud flew from his wand, but he knew that his thoughts weren't happy enough at the moment for him to produce a Patronus that would drive the dementors away. He kept trying, feeling more and more frustrated, and glad that he wasn't seeing Snape or Ginny anywhere about (they must be in the tent, he realized), although he could have used Snape's Patronus.
Suddenly, a series of pops! exploded all around him, on top of the lintels, where he still stood, and on the ground far below. Hermione and Sirius appeared on top of some stone lintels, carrying armfuls of brooms. They wore their own faces again; the Polyjuice sweets must have worn off, Harry reckoned. The two of them stood just above where the dementors had passed through into the circle. Some of the Hogwarts teachers appeared as well as some of the seventh-years who were in the Dueling Club and who had learned to Apparate. There were also some people Harry took to be Aurors and operatives, many of them appearing rather far out on the plain, beyond where the dementors had landed.
But best of all, near the center of the circle, facing Harry stood the imposing figure of Albus Dumbledore, his wand raised. Dementors flanked him, yet he waved his wand authoritatively, crying, "Expecto Patronem!" with a ringing voice. From his wand burst an enormous white cloud, and Harry was confused, having expected Dumbledore to be able to produce a corporeal Patronus. After a moment he realized that it was a solid Patronus, but like Snape's, it appeared to be made of multiple creatures.
The bees swooped and dove at the dementors, and they turned, gliding back toward the carriages which still rested on the ground outside the ring of stones, beneath the weary dragons. The dragon Harry had ridden was keeping his compatriots flying high in the sky, well away from where they could provide any help in herding people. They seemed very small now. The remaining Death Eater riders did not seem to be able to control them.
Hermione and Sirius made their way along the lintels to Harry, each hugging him awkwardly, because of the brooms; Sirius handed Harry his own broom and Harry nodded at him and grinned. He was glad to see his godfather's face again, much as he liked Aberforth Dumbledore. It hardly seemed to matter now whether they were disguised.
"Shall we?" Sirius said with a lopsided smile.
"Harry!" Hermione cried out suddenly.
He saw where she was pointing; behind Dumbledore, two dementors who had not been driven away by his Patronus were bent over, respectively, his aunt and Rodney Jeffries.
The dementors had taken their hoods down, to give the Kiss.
"Noooo!" Harry cried, leaping onto his broom and raising his wand in the air. "Expecto Patronem!"
This time it worked; as he dove toward the altar stone on his broom, a tremendous stag leapt from his wand tip and galloped past Dumbledore, who nodded at it with approval; Harry's Patronus drove the dementors away from both his aunt and Jeffries, who appeared rather glazed-over. Harry turned in the air and went back in the direction from which he had come, dropping down and landing beside his headmaster.
"Professor Dumbledore!" he cried. "Can you help me get the two of them to the tent?"
Dumbledore's face was terrible to behold as he realized what the dementors had nearly done right behind his back. "Get some of the students to do that. And find Professor Snape; we need more people out here who know how to conjure a Patronus if we're to get the dementors under control," he said sternly, his eyes hard as steel.
Harry nodded and aimed his broom up again, directing Parvati Patil, Susan Bones and Millicent Bulstrode forward to help his Aunt Petunia, whom they recognized from Hogwarts. He got Justin Finch-Fletchley and Ernie MacMillan to help Jeffries; he seemed to be gibbering. While they were doing this, Harry flew to the tent ahead of them, but just as he was going to land and enter, to look for Snape, his Potions professor emerged from one of the openings about fifteen feet away from him. Like Sirius and Hermione, his Polyjuice sweet had also worn off and he appeared as his usual self.
"Dad!" Harry said without thinking, flying toward him quickly. "I mean--"
"I know what you mean, Harry," Snape said quickly. "What should I do?"
"Conjure a Patronus. We need to get the dementors under control."
Snape nodded grimly, gripping his wand with white knuckles; he didn't comment on the advent of the dementors. When he'd gone into the tent, the chief problem had been dragons. "I see the others finally got here," he growled.
"I'll try to get you a broom," Harry said, kicking off again.
"Expecto Patronem!" he heard Snape cry behind him, and, looking over his shoulder, Harry saw a flock of white bats burst from his wand and shoot at the nearest dementors, some of which had been trying to enter the tent, sensing the crowd of people in there.
Harry found Sirius, flying toward some dementors with his wand raised. Harry turned himself around and flew by his side, asking him, "Is there a broom Snape can use?"
"Sorry, Harry! Gave them all out!" Sirius accelerated and pointed his broom up, over the standing stones, and Harry did the same, following him.
"That's okay!" Harry said, having decided what he was going to do. He flew back to Snape and landed next to him, then dismounted and mutely handed him his broomstick. Snape looked at him in horror. Harry yelled at him, "Take it! I don't need it!" And to emphasize this, he dropped the broom and changed into his griffin form, spreading his wings and taking to the air again. He heard a rushing sound nearby and turned his head momentarily to see Severus Snape flying by his side, his wand lifted like a saber and his robes flapping around him, looking for all the world like a cavalryman riding into battle.
Harry banked and flew straight down toward the circle's center again, where Dumbledore stood, wand raised, as though conducting the movements of his Patronus--and maybe he was, Harry thought. This was a level of control over a Patronus that he had not yet learned. As he watched Dumbledore, an image leapt into Harry's mind that almost made him crash. He managed to touch down without incident, though, and folded his wings before transforming. He started speaking the moment he was in human form again. "Sir--I've just thought--a way to deal with the dementors--"
Dumbledore's face was grim and terrible as he moved his wand, and the ghostly swarm of bees swooped at a dementor, driving it from Professor Flitwick. "I'm listening," he said, still watching his Patronus. "You could conjure a Patronus yourself..." he added.
"That's just it! Just doing that forever--that's not an answer! A Patronus just pushes them around. They need--they need a destination, and not just the carriages!"
Dumbledore looked at him over his half-moon spectacles. "What did you have in mind?"
Harry told him; for a moment Dumbledore stared at him in surprise and shock, but he very quickly closed his mouth and nodded. "You're right. It's the only way. But we need to make certain that no one else is affected, understood?"
Harry nodded. "I'll try to get everyone out of the center; this would be a good place for it. We can drive the dementors back through the stones into the circle..."
Dumbledore nodded at him again. "You go far out on the plain; take others with you to help. Try to get anyone who does not have a broomstick into the tent. I will await your signal. I believe that I have a way to stay rather close without a problem."
"What about the elves, sir?"
Dumbledore thought for a moment. "Tell Dobby what is going to happen; the elves should leave again, I believe; they would very likely be at risk, as they are so small..."
Harry nodded. "I'll tell him." He changed into his griffin form again and took to the sky; it felt like it took him forever to stop beside each person, transform himself, tell them what was going to happen, then change and move on. The first two people he managed to talk to, luckily, were Hermione and Snape, so they told some of the others, and soon the word had been passed to everyone. Dobby was in the process of getting the elves to leave.
Harry flew up high above the plane, bringing his wings together once, twice, three times. Dumbledore saw this signal and engorged his wand into an old-fashioned wizard's staff, striking the ground at his feet with it, shouting an incantation which echoed unintelligibly from the enormous stones surrounding him. A fissure ripped the ground in two at his feet along the east-west axis of the circle. The stone arches that formed the circle were not affected, however, as the rip in the earth defied the laws of physics and stretched open, to the south and north, like a great maw. But the five arches that were around the altar in a horseshoe shape were affected; the central arch split down the middle, each half of the enormous lintel cantilevering over the chasm. The altar stone also cracked down the middle, half on each side of the split now, far away from each other on opposite sides of the circle. The rumbling of the earth tearing itself apart was deafening, but Harry saw that Dumbledore was standing his ground on the north side of the fissure, although even in the air, Harry could feel the vortex of Limbo pulling at him, and he could see Dumbledore's robes being whipped around his legs as though he was standing in the eye of a storm.
But Dumbledore did not waver; he thrust his staff into the air, crying out another incantation. Harry saw his Patronus appear again, the bees rushing to do their master's bidding, and Harry landed and transformed, pulling out his own wand to conjure his Patronus anew and send the dementors toward the chasm.
It was working; his Patronus and at least ten others' were goading the dementors toward the ring of stones, and Harry wanted to cheer when the first one slipped over the edge and plunged into Limbo. They were being drawn even more quickly toward the opening now, and Harry couldn't help the feeling of elation springing up inside him; his happiness made his Patronus even stronger, and the silvery stag leapt about Salisbury Plain, rushing at stray dementors, herding them into the circle, pushing them toward their new home.
But then suddenly, Harry looked down and was surprised to see that he was standing only about twenty feet from the circle of stones; he'd been utterly unaware of being drawn toward the vortex of Limbo himself, and even as he realized this, he looked down in fascination, watching his own feet moving inexorably forward, as though they belonged to someone else, as though he no longer had control over them. He tried to think about becoming a golden griffin, but his mind seemed to be confused about how to accomplish this, as though he had a kind of amnesia, and he continued to march toward the circle...
As he passed the perimeter of the circle, someone cried out his name; he looked up to see Snape flying his own broom overhead, looking like he was straining not to end up in the chasm himself. In fact, he had taken one of the ropes that had been hanging down from the lintels--the ropes they had provided for the choir--and had tied it around his waist. "Grab one of the ropes, Harry!" Snape cried. Even as Harry watched, Snape seemed to feel compelled to dive into the abyss on the broom, joining the dementors, and he disappeared completely from sight, the rope going taut, before he zoomed up again, shaking and sweating, as he battled his attraction to the vortex.
Seeing that, Harry came to his senses for a moment and reached out for the rope dangling down from the lintel under which he was inexorably passing, wrapping it around his waist and securing it with one of the many sailor's knots he'd learned at Severus Snape's knee. He still felt himself drawn to the abyss, but a part of his mind was able to fight it, to say, No. I'm not doing that....I won't...
Suddenly, a loud crack! made Harry turn his head; Dobby appeared beside him. "Harry Potter! You are all right! I had to see..." But within seconds, Dobby was being drawn toward the chasm.
"Accio Dobby!" Harry cried quickly, making the elf suddenly fly into his hands. Harry's heart was beating so loudly it seemed to be in his ears, and he could hear that Dobby was breathing very hard.
"Dobby thanks Harry Potter," he said, wheezing. "Dobby worried that Harry Potter--"
But suddenly, a beam of red light struck the huge standing stone to Harry's left, causing him to duck under the lintel, Dobby under his arm. Harry looked up in alarm, seeing the Death Eater who was the phenomenal flyer. He swooped down again, clearly aiming at Harry, and Harry could see his face this time, angry and contorted though it was. He had evidently abandoned his helmet after leaving the dragon he'd been riding. In his shock, Harry's grip on Dobby wasn't what it should have been, which allowed Dobby to leap up in the air and take the curse meant for Harry. Harry realized too late what it was he'd heard the Death Eater saying, as he watched the crackling green light hit Dobby and took in the sound of speeding death.
"Noooooo!" he cried with every ounce of his being, watching the inert Dobby fall to the ground. To Harry's surprise, though, Dobby was no longer being pulled toward the fissure; only living creatures seemed to feel the attraction toward the abyss. Not Dobby, no, how could this happen....
He swooped over the lintel where Harry was grasping the rope, and Harry pointed his wand at the man's broom, crying, "Accio broom!" His means of transport abruptly whipped out from under him and he fell to the earth--or he would have, if there had been earth below him. But there was not, and Harry had only a split second in which to see Ludo Bagman's surprised face before he disappeared below the earth and into Limbo.
Seeing a human fall into the abyss, Dumbledore struck the earth again with his staff, crying out the incantation to close the earth, and Harry noticed for the first time the rope that was tied around Dumbledore's waist like a belt, leading back to another standing stone; he'd decided not to take chances. A great wind swept down from the sky, knitting the earth back together, including the sundered lintel and altar stone, and soon the grass in the ancient circle was as pristine and undisturbed as it had been before Dumbledore had invoked Limbo. Stonehenge was intact once more, as it had been for four thousand years.
Harry stood in shock, holding Ludo Bagman's broom in his hand, staring at Dumbledore. The old man did not seem to be judging Harry, though. Instead he took the rope from around his waist, saying calmly, "You can untie yourself, Harry. And now we need to do something about the other Death Eaters who have played a role in this," he said, nodding at the dragons flying about in the sky, their riders still trying unsuccessfully to control the animals now that they'd decided they didn't want to be ordered about by "Two-Foots." The Death Eaters who had been riding the dragons with the dementors' carriages strapped to them had long ago leapt down onto the ground and presumably Apparated to safety.
Harry gazed down at Dobby's inert form. "But sir--" he choked out.
"I'll take care of him, Harry. Right now it's the living who need you more," he said gently. Harry bit his lip to keep it from shaking, nodding to Dumbledore and trying to focus. He used Bagman's broom to fly with Sirius up to one of the dragons; Harry conjured a rope to hold the man in place while Sirius stunned him. Speaking through Sandy, Harry managed to thank the dragon for his help and promised that they would all soon be returned to their proper home in Sweden. The dragon flew to the ground and settled down to wait; Harry marveled at how docile dragons could be when spoken to in their own language (or Parseltongue, which they understood nearly as well).
As he was flying back to the stone circle, the Death Eater suspended between his and Sirius' brooms, he saw two people trying to apprehend another Death Eater and not faring nearly as well; this one fought back. Harry heard a cry of, "Crucio!" and saw the spell head right for Ginny just as he noticed that it was her; she'd been swooping toward the dragon on her broom.
She screamed when the curse hit her, falling from her broom, which luckily caused the curse to break, but Harry suddenly abandoned what he was doing, diving quickly so that he was under her falling body. When she landed across the twigs of his broom, he reached behind to keep her in place, realizing too late that abandoning Sirius meant that his godfather was now plunging to earth under the weight of the Death Eater. To his relief, Sirius got his bearings and managed to point his broom up again, although the Death Eater's stunned body now trailed along well below it in a rather sloppy manner, the man's mouth hanging open slackly.
Harry flew to the ground with her, stumbling off his broom and holding her in his arms, crying freely, patting her cheeks. "Come on! Wake up! Are you all right? You have to be all right...." Her eyes fluttered open and she seemed surprised to see Harry. But before she could speak, he had pulled her into his arms again and was kissing her. A moment later, however, he was very confused, as she was pushing him away quite hard.
"Harry?" she cried, her breathing labored. She was turning bright pink. "Is that you behind all that hair? What do you think you're doing? I'm married now, remember?"
He stared down at Katie's face, realizing that she really was Katie Bell--or Katie Weasley. Since Sirius, Hermione and Snape's Polyjuice sweets had already worn off, Ginny's probably had as well, and if she'd been flying around with the dragons she'd have looked like herself. Katie must have been one of the Aurors who had come to help, he realized. She didn't know he'd grown his hair as part of a disguise; she wasn't Ginny.
Harry thought that what skin showed on his face was probably redder than a Weasley's hair. "Erm, sorry. See, Ginny took this Polyjuice sweet to look like you, and I thought--"
"I know," she said, nodding. "Percy selected the sweets for your trip himself. But I'm really Katie, and you're not my boyfriend anymore, Harry..." she said, starting to smirk, but instead wincing and groaning. Harry hovered over her, uncertain of what to do. "I think I cracked some ribs when I landed on your broom," she said in a soft, pained voice. "Small price to pay," she said in a falsely bright voice; Harry could still hear the pain behind it. "I would have been much worse off if I'd hit the ground from that height. Don't worry, Harry," she said hurriedly. "I don't know how many bones I broke over the years, playing Quidditch at school, let alone during my Auror training. I probably haven't got a single bone in my body that hasn't been healed at least once."
He nodded. "Do you--do you mind me carrying you? Or do you think you can walk?"
She looked like she was going through an internal struggle, but finally said, "Actually, if you wouldn't mind--" She seemed a bit embarrassed about it, but he tried to smile reassuringly at her, picking her up and carrying her to the tent while she held the broom. Once inside the tent, Harry saw that a sort of hospital had been conjured in an area cleared of the cubicles. Rows of camp beds held the wounded, or in some cases, judging from the vacant stares, the Kissed. The dementors had reached some unfortunate people before being sucked into Limbo. Harry spotted a familiar figure bending over his Aunt Petunia, in a camp bed next to Jeffries, trying to get her to eat some chocolate. There was a pervasive odor of cocoa in the tent and a number of people were sitting on their camp beds devouring large pieces of chocolate. He carried Katie to her.
"Nita! What are you doing here?"
Her hair was clustered around her forehead in damp, humid curls, her usual blonde bun tumbling down at the back of her head, becoming more of a ponytail. When she looked up in surprise, her lips pursed, and he could see that her blue eyes were very guarded behind the spectacles. To his surprise, she was dressed as a Muggle, in plain jeans and a grey fleece jacket. "I was looking into Jeffries, after you told me that he'd healed you. I--I wanted to see how--how he did it--" She frowned, then waved her wand, which she removed from her jacket pocket, and conjured another camp bed. "Put her down here. You're a lot hairier than the last time I saw you," she commented. But before he could explain, she was back on Katie. "What's wrong with her, she wasn't Kissed, was she?"
Katie frowned after Harry gently lowered her. "No, I was not Kissed," she said acidly. "I still have my wits about me. I've just cracked some ribs. Who are you again?"
Nita raised one eyebrow as she poked and prodded Katie's mid-section. "I'm Dr. Anderssen, of St. Mungo's. And you are--?"
Nita stopped what she was doing. "Weasley? How--how is that possible?"
Katie frowned. "How is what possible? I'm married to Percy Weasley. You've heard of marriage, I suppose? It's not like we invented it," she added caustically; Harry reckoned the pain was making her a bit cross.
Harry turned at the familiar voice; Percy was striding through the rows of camp beds. His hair was as neat as ever, but his glasses were askew and he looked slightly singed, soot on his face and hands. When he reached his wife, he sat on the edge of her bed, brushing the hair from her brow and smiling lovingly at her. She took his hand in hers and kissed it.
"I'm all right, love. I would have had a bad time of it, but Harry caught me. I have some cracked ribs, that's all." She gave him a gentle smile.
Percy turned to Harry, his blue eyes wide behind his glasses, reminding him a great deal of Ron. "Thanks, Harry. I--I don't know what--"
"It's okay, Percy," Harry said quickly, deciding not to tell him that he thought he'd been saving his sister.
Almost as though the thought of her had summoned Ginny, he looked up to see her making her way through the rows of beds, looking quite anxious, and he half-ran to meet her, holding her tightly against him, feeling like he would never let her go. She buried her face in his neck, sobbing. "Oh, you're all right, you're all right," she repeated like a litany. He tilted her face up and she immediately opened her mouth under his, her fingers sliding up into his lengthened hair, not caring who saw them.
He reluctantly separated his mouth from Ginny's, seeing Ron and Hermione walking towards them. There were more hugs all round and backslapping.
"The Aurors and operatives are rounding up the Death Eaters. Some of them have actually surrendered," Hermione said breathlessly. "It's even possible some of them will give evidence, to get off more lightly. And the dragons are behaving very strangely. They're all sitting out there on Salisbury Plain looking like oversized nesting hens. I remember how much trouble the handlers had with the dragons during the First Task of the Tournament. Ron said Charlie wouldn't believe his eyes if he saw them like this. Do you think they're drugged by the Death Eaters, perhaps? Maybe they gave them some kind of potion?"
With a little foot shuffling, Harry explained that he'd spoken to them through Sandy, that the dragons understood Parseltongue, and that, when he really concentrated hard and they talked slowly, he could make out Wyrmtongue, but couldn't speak it. They were shocked.
Dumbledore appeared behind Ron, reaching out and putting his hand on Harry's shoulder. He didn't seem to have heard what Harry had been saying about the dragons. "Good idea you had, there, Harry," he said with a small smile. "I never did like dementors," he added simply. Harry started to smile at him, but then he remembered Dobby.
"Where's--where's Dobby, sir? He--he saved my life--"
Dumbledore sighed. "He is on the other side of the tent with the other--casualties. I will see to it that he is returned to Hogwarts quite carefully and respectfully." His hand tightened on Harry's shoulder. "He did what a good lieutenant is trained to do; protect his general," he said quietly.
Harry had a lump in his throat which wouldn't go away. Hermione's hand had gone to her breast. "Oh, no...not Dobby..." She buried her face on Ron's chest and he patted her back gently, although his face said that he'd never understood Hermione's obsession with the elves. He seemed to understand Harry's grief, though, in that Dobby had died for him.
"He was a good little bloke," Ron said to Harry in a matter-of-fact voice. "Saved your arse in the Second Task, didn't he? I'd still be in the lake..." Ron had a feeble smile and Harry tried to smile back, but those muscles no longer seemed to function for him.
He saw Snape, Sirius and Maggie making their way through the beds now, looking exhausted. Sirius was also a bit singed, like Percy, and Snape afforded Harry a rare smile when he saw him holding Ginny. Maggie, however, looked straight ahead as she walked, a very single-minded expression on her face, but she also seemed to be in another world, seeing something the rest of them couldn't. She didn't look at her younger sister and brother at all, nor Harry and Hermione, but moved purposefully toward where Nita Anderssen sat on the edge of Katie's bed, moving her wand over Katie's ribs and murmuring something.
Maggie was clearly hesitating to say anything, and Harry thought this was odd, as she had thus far seemed to get on well with her new sister-in-law. But then Harry saw that Maggie wasn't looking at Katie. "You're here," she said softly, starting to cry. "You're really here. I--I felt you. I thought I felt you at the village hall, when Ron was getting his OM, but I thought I must have been mad for thinking that, and I was talking to our mum and dad and Bill and Charlie and thought maybe the family feelings I was getting were because of them....But last night--I had a dream, I've been having dreams about seeing you again...I thought it was wishful thinking--" she babbled, her voice full of tears.
Nita Anderssen stood and slowly walked around Katie's camp bed, staring at Maggie as though she was a ghost.
Suddenly the two women were holding each other and crying, although strangely, Nita didn't seem at all shocked. Harry frowned at Ginny, Hermione and Ron, but Ron was grinning ear to ear, stepping forward to put his arms around Maggie and Nita, who each hugged him in turn, still crying. Hermione and Ginny looked as mystified as Harry felt; they both shrugged. Maggie held Nita at arm's length.
"Oh, Annie, I can hardly believe it's you...."
Harry had to pick his jaw up from the ground. He started to move forward, but Hermione put her hand on his arm to stop him as Ginny surged forward.
"You--you're not Draco's cousin after all? You're--you're my sister?" Ginny said in disbelief. Nita hesitated before nodding.
"Yes, I'm afraid so. I'm--I'm dreadfully sorry. Do you hate me?" she whispered, looking fearfully at her youngest sister.
Ginny's only answer was to throw her arms around Nita's neck and cling to her. "Of course I don't. You must have had such an awful life..."
Nita separated from her, a flush under her freckles. "Well, actually, no. Not such an awful life. Except for thinking that my own family didn't want me," she whispered. "And after Ron told me why I was kidnapped, I was afraid that I might still be a target. After all, you were keeping it a secret that Peggy was a Weasley for her protection..."
Percy stood and faced her. "Then--then you're my older sister, too," he said evenly, neither hostile nor excited. She nodded.
"And you're--you're the bloke who was born on a very inconvenient day for a little girl who wanted a sixth birthday party more than a new little brother," she admitted sheepishly. "I know now that it wasn't your fault." She smiled at him.
He put his hand on her arm. "You were only six," he said logically. She laughed and pulled him into a hug now, and he laughed too, kissing her on the cheek. "Mum is going to be a basket case when she sees you," he predicted.
Nita's face fell. "Mum...Dad...Are you sure they want to see me?" she whispered. Ron put his hand on her shoulder.
"I told you--they didn't get rid of you, they were destroyed when you two disappeared."
Ginny touched Nita's hair for a moment. "Are you a natural blonde? How odd. In the pictures of you, when you were young, you had red hair like the rest of us..."
Nita touched her hair absentmindedly, as though she'd forgotten about it. "Oh, it's a potion. I've been taking it for years. Everyone else in the family was blond, so..."
"I can't believe you grew up with the Malfoys!" Ginny eyes were wide.
"Well, technically I didn't grow up with the Malfoys. I grew up in Sweden, only visiting Britain every few years at the holidays, if that, and when I was at Durmstrang, I was off up on the Russian border..." Nita explained.
"That's right! You went to Durmstrang!" Ginny exclaimed, her eyes wide. "If you'd gone to Hogwarts, Charlie would have recognized you right off--"
"Yes. And--and if I'd been adopted by anyone else, such as a family that didn't hate the Weasleys, I might have come home long before now." Her lips went very thin. "I didn't exactly have high hopes of being welcomed back with open arms, having been consorting with Malfoys..."
"But how is it you remember everything?" Maggie said incredulously. "I had a memory charm put on me. Didn't you?"
Nita shook her head. "I narrowly avoided it. I was planning to run away. I'd put a bundle of pillows and blankets in my hospital bed, to make it look like I was still there, and I was in the corner getting dressed behind a screen when the bloke who'd kidnapped us came in to put the spell on me. I don't think he ever knew he memory-charmed a pile of laundry." She gave her sister a lopsided half-smile that reminded Harry of Ron. "I've always remembered everything," she finished quietly. "When I met Ron at St. Mungo's, I was worried that the family would reject him for being a werewolf. We spent a lot of time talking. I told him every nasty thing I'd ever heard from my aunt and uncle--especially my uncle--about the Weasleys, and Ron defended the family," she said, her hand on his arm.
"I knew something was up, though," Ron added, "and the truth finally came out, including the fact that she thought it was Mum and Dad who'd arranged for Pettigrew to kidnap them. I finally convinced her that wasn't how it happened, but she made me promise to keep her identity our secret for a while. She wasn't sure how her other mum and dad would take her finding out about all this. And--well, I went and told her that there was a chance she might be in the Prophecy, and she knew just what Prophecy I meant. So then we were both worried about Death Eaters finding out about her still being alive...."
"Like a certain uncle of mine," she said quietly, grimacing.
Maggie hit Ron on the chest, but not hard. "How could you not tell me, though? I can't believe you--"
But her Ron-scolding was interrupted by another family reunion. "Katie!" cried a familiar voice. They all turned, seeing Sam Bell making his way through the rows of beds to his daughter. She sat up on her elbows, grinning at him.
"Dad! What are you doing here?"
There was a moment of awkwardness. "Well, I was hoping..." He shuffled his feet for a moment and spoke to the ground. "I was hoping that Jeffries would help me..." He looked up and sought out Harry's eyes. "He did it for your aunt, after all..."
Nita frowned, shaking her head. "What? Jeffries did--what?"
Harry stepped forward to explain how Jeffries had made his aunt magical, and his idea that it was largely her belief that that was what was necessary for her to be healed of the cancer that had done it. Nita looked quizzically at Sam.
"So--is your daughter Muggle-born? You're a Muggle trying to become a wizard?"
Sam shook his head. "No. I'm a wizard. Or was. I was an Auror, in fact. But I spent ten years in Azkaban...the dementors, they..." He swallowed, unable to speak about it.
"You only went to Azkaban because Lucius Malfoy put your wife under Imperius," Harry said staunchly, then gave Nita an alarmed look. "Sorry. I know you think he's so great--"
"No, I don't," Nita corrected him. "I've learned a lot more about him recently. And while there's almost nothing he wouldn't do for family, well--let's just say that even his family members shouldn't dare to disagree with him if they know what's good for them. Aunt Cissy learned that lesson the hard way, and so did Draco..."
Harry's eyes opened wide. "Did you know where he was hiding?"
She shook her head. "Not exactly. I had my suspicions. Aunt Cissy was being very funny. And then one day he showed up in my flat, asking me a lot of weird questions about selkies and making me swear I wouldn't tell the authorities I'd seen him. I was terrified..."
Harry hit his forehead. "Mariah's mum! I forgot! What's going to happen to her now?"
"Now? What do you mean 'now?' And who's Mariah?" Nita wanted to know.
Harry explained what Lucius Malfoy had done, and Nita covered her mouth in horror. "That bastard," she breathed through her fingers. When the explanations about the Bell family and the Kirkner family and what he'd done to them were finished, she was just shaking her head in disbelief.
"And to think that all these years, he was telling me what horrors the Weasleys were..."
"Do you think he ever realized that you were a Weasley?" Ginny asked in a small voice. Nita considered this.
"I don't know. Maybe Aunt Cissy would know. I just can't take it all in..."
Sam was looking at her strangely. "I think I missed something. You're another Weasley? Are you a cousin or something?" He smiled at Katie. "It's going to take me forever to learn my way around your new family. I hope you're less confused than I am, Kate."
He was gazing at Nita again, and she seemed to go pinker the longer he did this. "Sorry. I'm--I'm Annie Weasley," she said in a shaking voice. "I'm Annie Weasley," she said, her voice stronger and clearer this time, as she extended her hand to Sam. "Your son-in-law's oldest sister."
He suddenly grinned and pulled her to him in a crushing hug, ignoring her extended hand. "You are? You really are? But that means--" He looked back and forth from Nita to Maggie and back. "That means you've both been found. Oh, god," he said, covering his face with his hands and then taking them down to look at her again in disbelief. "The day we went to Ottery St. Catchpole to look for the two of you...Two little girls, just vanished...Your mum was terribly broken up about it for weeks," he told Harry. He looked at Nita again. "And now here you are..." he said in wonder.
She turned to Sam and took his hands in hers. "You were an Auror who went to Azkaban? And--and you're without magic now? Completely? But there are others who were in Azkaban for years who can do magic..."
Sam shook his head. "Not me. Depends on how much you let the dementors into your head. I reckon I wasn't strong enough..."
Nita looked with narrowed eyes back and forth between Harry and Sam, clearly thinking very hard. "But--but Harry said something," she said slowly. "About--about belief. Is it--is it possible that you just didn't believe that you could do magic after you were released from prison--and so you weren't able to? Is it possible that--you just need to believe you can still be a wizard?" she asked him breathlessly.
Katie sat up straighter, looking at her father and the woman who'd just been revealed as her sister-in-law. "What are you saying?"
Nita turned to her. "I--I could heal when I was young. Animals, humans, it didn't matter. Real healing. As I received more training....that went away. But I was watching Jeffries before the--well, before everything fell apart. I was watching what he did. He clearly believed in his own abilities, and he made other people believe in theirs." She looked at Sam. "Maybe I can bring back both of us," she whispered to him.
He stared at her in awe; Sam was still wearing the rough robe that had been placed on him when he was in the queue. "Maybe," he said softly, never taking his eyes from her.
Visibly trembling, she reached out and placed her hand on his head, her fingers sinking into his auburn hair. She and Sam both closed their eyes and seemed to be thinking very hard. Everyone around them was very still, watching and waiting. She never said the word believe, unlike Jeffries, but Harry could feel the hair standing up on the back of his neck at one point, and there seemed to be a crackling sort of rainbow light limning Nita and Sam, especially where they were joined, her hand on his head.
Sam's eyes flew open; he looked jolted, shocked. He removed her hand from his head but held it in his as he stood, then kissed it lightly, making Nita turn deep red. He looked around as though seeing the world for the first time, an expression of amazement on his face. And Harry saw that he looked strong, stronger than he'd ever known him (and he wasn't in the habit of thinking of Sam as weak). Sam looked at Nita again and asked, "May I borrow your wand?"
She nodded and handed it to him; he waved it, producing gold sparks that coalesced into sparkling golden roses, which he presented to his daughter, kissing her on the head with a smile. Harry couldn't prevent the cheer that escaped his throat when he saw that, and the others quickly joined him. Percy was grinning and patting his father-in-law on the back and Maggie was hugging an amazed Nita again, saying, "You did it! You did it!"
Katie hung on her father's neck as he bent over her bed, clutching her roses in her right hand. "Oh, Daddy!" she choked out, half laughing, half crying, as though she were very small again, and he held her and laughed his great booming laugh. Harry couldn't resist the urge to hug Ginny again, grinning like mad. After kissing his daughter on the head one more time, Sam stood and embraced Nita.
"Thank you," he said earnestly, holding her at arms' length. She was still a bright crimson from when he'd kissed her hand.
"Oh. You're--you're welcome," she said softly, still looking shocked that it had worked.
Ginny separated herself from Harry and hugged her oldest sister, laughing. "You did it! You really are a healer!" Nita laughed with her, and Ginny told her, "You know, I always hoped I'd get to meet you. Your first name is my middle name, you know."
"Is it?" Hermione said suddenly. "Ginny Annie Weasley?"
Ginny made a face. "No, of course not. Virginia Annabel Weasley."
Hermione's mouth was saying, "Ooooh." But Harry could see that behind her face, the wheels of her mind were in motion once more. However, even as Harry thought this, Maggie pulled Snape forward and introduced him to Nita as her fiancé.
That caused another uproar amongst the people who hadn't known--unlike Ginny and Harry--that he'd proposed to her and that she'd accepted. Harry nodded and smiled at Snape, who looked quite embarrassed about the friendly approval of the Weasleys, almost as though he'd expected shocked and horrified rejection. It was a most unlikely scenario, the former Death Eater standing amidst a crowd of Gryffindors, being drawn out until he was laughing and talking animatedly, and yet Harry thought he'd never seen anything in his life--at least, this life--that felt more right.
The following days passed in a blur for Harry. It was all over the wizarding news that dragons, dementors and Death Eaters had attacked the gathering at Stonehenge and had been repelled by him, Dumbledore, Snape and the others. Ministry Wizards spent four days putting memory charms on Muggles. Charlie Weasley and other dragon-handlers managed to get the Swedish Shortsnouts back to their old reservation, with Harry's help. (Charlie was dumbfounded that Harry could speak to and be understood by the dragons, although Harry explained that he was really speaking Parseltongue.)
Six days after Dobby had been killed by Ludo Bagman, the house elves of Hogwarts held their version of a funeral for him, as was the custom. Harry had never seen anything stranger than the somber procession of small, bowed figures crossing the Hogwarts grounds, two by two, making their way to the patch of earth near the forest that had served for almost a thousand years as a graveyard for elves. He'd never noticed it before as it had always been overgrown and unkempt, the graves unmarked.
After returning to Hogwarts from Stonehenge, he had learned from Dumbledore that elves did not speak of the dead except in hushed tones, as they thought that to speak of Death would bring 'Him' round for more. (It was similar, Harry thought, to the wizarding world attitude toward saying "Voldemort.") Burials were supposed to be silent and swift, and Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny quietly followed Dumbledore and the line of elves toward the small ivy-covered patch of ground where Hagrid had already dug a hole for the unadorned wooden box that Harry had insisted upon building himself with Muggle tools, his tears seeping into the wood as he worked.
Dumbledore stood by the grave, unusually subdued in a fawn-colored robe and hat, while the elves lowered the box into the ground. Dobby's wife, Biddy, threw dirt onto the box first, her enormous eyes swimming with tears; she wore a simple little ecru dress that Hermione had acquired for her. Harry saw, as the elves stepped forward one by one, that although many of them wore small clothes now (especially those who were in the Elven Army, some of whom had been wounded at Stonehenge), the vast majority of them, male or female, still wore, like little pinafore dresses, tea towels with the Hogwarts crest.
After it was Harry's turn to throw dirt into the grave, which was very nearly full up now, he turned to Ginny, holding her tightly, unashamed of his tears, wishing elves weren't so set against speaking about death. He needed to speak about Dobby, but this was all he was going to get, this silent procession of elves throwing dirt onto Dobby's coffin.
That night he was having trouble sleeping; looking for a book to read, to tire himself out, he lit his wand and started searching through his trunk, finding instead the mismatched socks that Dobby had given him for Christmas when he was in fourth year, the socks he'd worn to the Yule Ball, even though no one except the fake Moody had been able to see them beneath his robes. Fresh sobs started punching their way out of him, so he hurriedly closed his trunk and fled down to the common room, flinging himself into a chair by the cold hearth, bringing the misshapen socks to his eyes to stem the flow of his tears. When he felt cried-out, he lit the fire with his wand and stared at it numbly, and finally, without really intending to, he opened his mouth and began to sing softly the Kaddish Ruth had taught him in his other life. He trailed off at the end, starting to cry again.
"I'm sorry, Dobby," he sobbed. "I'm sorry I ever said I'd strangle you for keeping me from going through the barrier to the train. I'm sorry I was cross with you for keeping my letters and performing that Hover Charm and making that Bludger come after me..."
"Why is Harry Potter crying?"
Harry jumped at the familiar voice. Standing before the fire, looking for all the world like he was moving the logs with a poker, was Dobby. Except that it wasn't Dobby, for Dobby wasn't white and misty and see-through. Or he didn't used to be like that.
Harry grinned through his tears. "Dobby! What are you doing here? House elves can become ghosts?"
Dobby turned and nodded at him. "Oh, yes. House elves are tending to feel that the housework is never really being done, you see, Harry Potter."
Harry nodded with understanding. "I can see that. But you were free. So why are you here? Not that I'm not glad to see you."
He lifted his large silvery eyes to Harry. "There is indeed work of Dobby's which is not done. But it is not housework, Harry Potter."
He looked down at his own ghostly clothes, baggy short trousers and a too-large shirt that reminded Harry of when he used to have to wear Dudley's old things. "Dobby had hoped that more of the elves would want to be free, you see, Harry Potter. But the elves have not asked for clothes," he said sadly. Harry sat up, gripping the arms of the chair.
"Do you--do you want me to free them, Dobby?" he asked breathlessly. Dobby gave him a huge, sappy, ghostly smile.
"Dobby would be liking that very much, Harry Potter," he said quietly. Harry swallowed the lump in his throat.
"Leave it to me, Dobby," he said. "I just need to pick the right time. And I'll need to have a lot of elf-clothes ready. Hermione, Ron and Ginny could help with that..."
Dobby's silvery lip trembled. "Oh, Harry Potter, is too good to Dobby. Dobby doesn't know what to say--" he burbled, wiping ghostly tears with the back of his ghostly hands.
"Just leave it to me," Harry said again. "I won't let you down."
"I know, Harry Potter. I know...."
He disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared, and Harry stared at the fire, feeling a sense of resolve.
He had made a promise to Dobby, and he intended to keep it.
On Saturday of that week, eight days after what was now being called The Battle of Stonehenge, the Weasleys had a huge gathering at Hog's End to welcome Nita back into the fold. Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny had received permission to accompany Snape and Maggie to Hogsmeade for the celebration; by the end of the weekend, Nita was actually answering to the name, "Annie." Harry heard more than one person call Maggie "Peggy" and get an answer. They were also able to celebrate Ginny's upcoming seventeenth birthday, and although Harry would have liked to be alone with her, he enjoyed seeing her with her family members and so happy. Mrs. Weasley told Harry, when he asked, that she'd be glad to knit a large quantity of small jumpers if he procured the wool for her, although he wasn't very clear about what they were for.
It was only the twenty-eighth of March; Ginny's birthday wasn't until the following Wednesday. Dumbledore had told Harry and Hermione that in light of the many Death Eaters who'd been apprehended, he had decided to very cautiously allow some of the students to go to Hogsmeade the following Saturday. Permission would be granted to of-age students only, and he would have the right to veto the privileges of any student he thought should not go, for whatever reason. Ginny would be squeaking in just under the wire, age-wise, but the trip would allow her and Harry to have another birthday celebration for her at the Three Broomsticks, with Hermione and Ron.
Unfortunately, the Head Girl and Boy were not permitted to tell anyone about the Hogsmeade weekend ahead of time, and were virtually bursting all week because of this. Ginny and Ron thought they were a bit mental at times, and said so. Even among the staff, only the heads of the houses were aware of Dumbledore's plan. But it was to be a secret until Saturday morning so that no one outside of the school would get wind of it. Dumbledore didn't want to take chances, and he also didn't want any students going to Hogsmeade who weren't permitted to do magic away from school..
The surrender of the Death Eaters involved in the Stonehenge attack had led to others giving themselves up who had had nothing to do with it. Voldemort's forces, it seemed, were being depleted daily. Plus, he no longer had dragons and dementors, not to mention Lucius Malfoy and Ludo Bagman, whose role in the Stonehenge incident was still somewhat mysterious to everyone. Rodney Jeffries and Petunia Dursley were still in St. Mungo's, (their souls, it turned out, were intact, but they were still not speaking). While Harry felt reasonably good about the way things had turned out, there were still some rather large question marks hovering over everything.
As a safety precaution, on the day of the Hogsmeade trip, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny went to the village using the tunnel under the statue of the hump-backed witch, emerging under the Honeydukes sweet shop. It was Hermione's idea not to walk to the village in the open air; Harry and Ron had argued, but Hermione had said she'd give them both detention and prevent them going if they didn't agree. When they reached the Three Broomsticks, they discovered that Maggie and Snape had been busy in the short time they'd been there, while they had been plodding through the dusty tunnel. The pub was decorated for a birthday party for Ginny, who was utterly floored.
"I already had a party!" she exclaimed, laughing and hugging her sister.
"I know, Ginny, but you weren't really seventeen yet, and now you are. And this time your school friends are here. Or at least the ones who are older than you."
Even Draco Malfoy was there, mutely handing Ginny a small silver-wrapped gift. She thanked him but did not open it, placing it with a pile of other unopened presents. At one point, looking around the busy room with interest and drinking a butterbeer, Ginny asked him, "So, where's Mariah? She had her birthday in February. I don't think I've seen her."
Draco's mouth was drawn very thin. "Professor Dumbledore didn't think it would be a good idea for her to come."
Ginny puzzled over this for a moment, before say, "Oh, I see. Because--"
"--because her selkie skin hasn't turned up, yes. Nor her mum," he confirmed grimly, knocking back something in a hip flask that Harry didn't think was butterbeer. Soon after they had returned from Stonehenge, Draco Malfoy had been permitted to attend his father's funeral, and he'd been very subdued ever since. His father had indeed died from his fall. Harry hadn't revealed to Draco his own role in Lucius Malfoy's death, though he knew that he wasn't technically to blame. If Malfoy hadn't been trying to curse him....
Harry turned from Draco, unable to meet his gaze. He walked to the bar to get a packet of crisps to share with Ginny, but when he returned to their table, she wasn't there.
"Where's--?" he began to say, but suddenly, Maggie's thoughts were in his mind.
She's left the pub.
Harry glanced at her across the table, where she sat very cozily with Severus Snape, drinking some elderflower wine.
Why? It's her party.
Follow her down the High Street. Look casual about it. Try not to draw attention to yourself. The rest of the family are at the Burrow today.
What? he thought at her, confused.
Stop doing that.
Stop doing what?
Making that face. People will work out what we're doing. Just do as I told you.
Harry swallowed, putting down the crisps. "I'm just--erm, be right back," he said feebly, walking quickly toward the door of the pub before anyone could ask him a question.
When he was standing on the threshold of the pub, he looked up and down the High Street, finally seeing her standing and looking in a shop window, although she didn't really look remotely interested in anything she was seeing. He saw her gaze flicker at him out of the corner of her eye before she turned and continued to stroll down the cobblestone pavement. He began to move at an equally leisurely pace, wondering what was going on, but willing to follow her anywhere; he would have followed her to the moon and back.
When she took a step, he took a step; when she paused to look in another shop window, he paused to look in the nearest window; at one point he discovered that he was actually looking into the parlor of an old witch who had lifted her robes to adjust her tights, and she glared at him, closing the curtains with a flick of her hand. He backed up guiltily, turning and seeing that Ginny had begun to walk down the drive of Hog's End. Now she turned her head and met his gaze, saying nothing, not even gesturing, but beckoning him with her eyes. He continued to walk forward again, continuing to look into those large, dark eyes, which were drawing nearer and nearer....
When he was only ten feet away, she turned casually and walked toward the door. She whispered a password and then opened the heavy oak front door, pausing, waiting for him. When he was on the threshold, she finally moved forward into the entrance hall. He closed and locked the door securely behind them. She had already started walking upstairs, and he followed, watching her swaying hips before him, feeling more and more excited by her purposeful movements, her unerring determination. When they reached the room that had been his in his other life, he followed her in and closed the door.
Harry approached her and ran his hand up her arm tentatively, then along her shoulder to her neck; he could feel her pulse very strongly. Her heart seemed to be going a mile a minute. He wasn't exactly cool, calm and collected; he kept feeling as though he had to remind himself to breathe. He slowly pulled her mouth to his, and she was ready immediately, no hesitation at all, no questioning any more, although he could feel her shaking with nerves. Her fingers fluttered to the hem of his shirt, and the first contact they made with the skin on his stomach startled him and made him flinch. They continued to kiss deeply while she moved her quivering hands up his chest, and he moaned into her mouth as she made contact with more and more of his bare skin, and then flicked across his nipples. The two of them broke apart briefly for her to pull the shirt over his head, then her lips attached themselves to his neck, as though she would drink his life's blood. Her nerves were starting to ease a bit and he gasped from the combination of her mouth and hands. When his fingers went to unfasten her blouse, she helped him, every other button released by him, the rest by her.
Somehow, this teamwork to take her clothes off completely undid him. He gathered her to him again, twining his hand in her hair, taking her bottom lip between his teeth, gently, running his tongue along her jaw line and up to her earlobe. She trembled in his arms when he did that, then trembled more when he moved his mouth down her neck, and further....
She stepped back from him for only a moment, removing her skirt as though it was an annoyance, and helping him remove his trousers. But then she was back, and when he brought his lips down on her neck again and held her to him by putting his hands around her waist, she ran her hands over his shoulders and arms, his chest and back, over and over, the caresses frantic yet focused, seeming quite calculated to drive him mad. He moved his hands further down, cupping her bottom tenderly, pulling her against him, and she sighed happily and tried to move closer still, which made him gasp; did she know what she'd just done? he wondered. But then he looked down into her face, her beautiful, mischievous face, and from the sly expression there, he knew that she had known, that it was quite deliberate, and as she pulled him to her again, receiving him in the welcoming hollow of her belly, he wanted to kiss her breathless to both punish and reward her....
Instead, she pulled away from him again and walked toward the bed, holding out her hand to him, and he took it, following her. He remembered seeing her in the Potions Dungeon in his fifth year, after he'd thought Malfoy had attacked her (and now he knew that he really had, to a certain extent); he remembered carrying her to Madam Pomfrey afterward, his heart aching for her. She looked so different now, so self-possessed and confident as she stood next to the bed. Not taking her eyes from him, she removed her bra. He reached down and removed her last garment, pulling the elastic down over her legs slowly and deliberately, and then she did the same for him. (He had to remind himself to breathe again as she hesitated for a moment before standing.) They stood facing each other, very close, not touching, without any more barriers between them, no more obstacles. Harry couldn't take it any more, and at the same moment she lunged for him, he pulled her to his body, and now they were kissing each other more passionately than they'd yet dared, no holding back or being coy, no nervousness or second thoughts.
Their hands and mouths no longer felt that any territory was off-limits; Harry grinned when she tipped her head back and let a low moan escape her, and he almost yelped in surprise when she tentatively reached out a shaking hand to touch him; it hadn't occurred to him she would do that, somehow, but moments later, as she gained confidence and moved her hand and his mind spun, he was very, very glad she had....
They tumbled onto the bed, which quickly became a shambles from their rolling over and twisting around; every square inch of skin needing to be explored, it seemed, with kisses and caresses, lips and tongues and fingers. At length, Harry made her lie back while he started at her toes and began to move up her legs, tracing her long calves with his tongue, scraping his teeth across her knee. She was propped up on her elbows, watching him at first, but as he moved higher, she collapsed and arched her back, repeating his name in a litany that he never wanted to end. Finally, reduced to moans and whimpers, Harry felt her shivering, and he feared that she was cold; but then she tensed up all over her body, and gave a throaty cry which almost undid all of his attempts at self-control.
He moved up toward her face, trailing kisses along her body as he went, until he reached her mouth at last and took possession of that once more--only to find that he was the one being possessed. He whispered his feelings for her in her ear, and she whispered hers back, and they were the same, they could have come from the same mind and same heart. He felt an ache in his chest as he thought of how long they'd waited for this, and he kissed her again and again, making up for lost time; he felt like he could never do enough to show how much he loved her. She accepted his kisses and, separating their mouths briefly, whispered in his ear, "Now," sending a thrill through him.
And then it was as though they'd always been one contiguous body, as though this was the norm and the past separateness had been the aberration, for how could he ever want to be apart from her when being one with her was such bliss? It was as though they breathed with shared lungs, as though his heart was pumping blood for her body, as though her larynx was crying out what they both felt, as his mouth was clamped on her neck....
They moved in concord, in unison, as though following a choreography that had been programmed into their marrow from the day they were born. And when they started to tumble from the heights of passion, they were still one, and Harry knew it would be a wrench to be a separate, discrete person again, to use his own lungs instead of hers, to see with his own eyes and hear with his own ears. They lay together on their sides, dreamily running their fingers along arms and legs, along shoulders and the luscious curve of a breast....a satisfyingly complete feeling filled Harry, and he knew that separating from her was merely a physical formality that belied the truth of their connectedness. He lay on his back and she stretched out beside him, languid as a cat, ginger hair flowing down her back. She put her head on his chest, sending him flying again briefly when her fingers drifted down his body...
He smiled down at her; no, he thought. Grinned. He felt as though he would never merely smile again. This was Ginny, at last. Ginny in his arms and covering his body with hers, then the two of them combining again with undiluted ardor, with all of the enthusiasm of their first time. Just when he thought she must have sapped every last ounce of strength from him, she would kiss him again and he would feel a surge of energy start to well up from some unknown, previously-untapped inner source...
At length they did dress and went to sit together on the window seat. Clothes seemed incidental now. They touched each other freely through the layers of fabric, or simply sat resting their hands places they wouldn't have dreamed of touching before, just being together, and happier than they ever remembered being.
He leaned his cheek on her hair and looked down the High Street. Their oneness would surely show when they went back, he thought. He had no idea how he could bear to be apart from her for more than a few minutes ever again. He looked down at her and felt he could never grow tired of looking at her; he imagined her growing older, and greying, and getting smile lines around her mouth and eyes, and he knew that she would be more beautiful than ever, and it didn't matter that they wouldn't be seventeen forever, because the best was yet to come....
"How long were you planning this?" he asked her, stroking her arm absentmindedly.
She looked thoughtful. "For about--two minutes before I left the pub. While you were at the bar, Maggie had asked me what I really wanted for my birthday, and Professor Snape was sitting right there, so I couldn't really say this, you know?" she said, blushing. "So Maggie asked me without words instead, and I admitted that I had hoped to spend some time alone with you. So she told me that Hog's End was empty and recommended that I just go there. Come here, that is. She said she'd send you on after me."
"And the rest is history--" he grinned, hugging her to him tightly.
She hugged him back and kissed his neck, then settled against him, looking out the window with a contented smile; however, a moment later she stiffened and looked as though she'd seen a ghost.
"What's wrong?" he whispered. She pointed out the window toward the village, her eyes very wide and her face drained of color.
Draco Malfoy stood in the road, glaring up at the two of them, looking more furious and murderous than anyone Harry had ever seen. Harry's mind felt like it was waking from hibernation.
"Get up, Ginny," he said urgently, and she did as he asked without question. Harry stayed where he was while Ginny went to stand near the bed, and Malfoy walked closer and closer to the house. Harry watched him move up the drive toward the door. Harry finally stood and turned to Ginny.
"I'm going down to talk to him. Wait here."
She seemed to have recovered from her initial shock. "No, Harry. I'm coming with you. He needs to face this, to face us. It may seem cruel, but--he needs to hear from me that this is how things are. He had to know this would happen eventually. And even though he's got Mariah, well--he'll be angry. I mean--I never--with him--"
Harry looked down at the pale, pointed face, swallowing, knowing that this was going to be very bad, worse than when they'd been discovered in Hagrid's hut. "No, Ginny. He's not angry; he's livid. He still thinks he owns you, even after everything he's done, everything that's happened. It's not that he has a right to be, but he's going to feel absolutely violated by our being together, as much as if we'd done this when you two were still a couple. Do you get that? Do you remember how you felt about him and Mariah? Or, more to the point, about me and Mariah? Are you ready to face a Draco Malfoy who feels that way? You stay up here," he said with finality, standing and walking toward the door.
She ran to intercept him, her jaw set stubbornly. "I am not staying here. He has no right to judge me. We're not together any more and he knows that even when we were I was only doing it to protect you, that I've always loved you. I can make my own decisions about this, Harry, and not just because I'm seventeen now," she informed him, her fists on her waist. "I should think you'd want me with you to confront him. I've seen him in some very vulnerable situations, Harry, and I'm not frightened of Draco Malfoy."
He swallowed, seeing in his mind's eye the look Malfoy had worn on his face as he walked down the drive.
Well, he thought; at least that makes one of us.
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