Training and Confrontations


Story Summary:
A sprawling tale set in many places and dimensions, as Harry finds himself, finds his abilities grow, and trains for that final confrontation with Voldemort. A H/L/Hr tale, with N/G, R/T, and a paternal Ron.

Chapter 31

Chapter Summary:
A sprawling tale set in many places and dimensions, as Harry finds himself, finds his abilities growing, and trains for that final confrontation with Voldemort. A H/L/Hr tale, with N/G, Remus/T, and a paternal Ron. Part III (the autumnal term until New Year's Day) continues through Chapter 35.
Author's Note:
A typical autumn, to a point: the next Hogsmeade visit.

Chapter XXXI

The middle and end of November meant the first pair of Quidditch games. The first game, on the 16th, was between Slytherin and Gryffindor. The second, on the 30th, was therefore between Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw.

For those who thought of such things over the summer, the pre-term favorites had been Ravenclaw and Slytherin, both teams having all returning players. With the Weasley twins leaving, Crabbe and Goyle had a chance to become the dominant Beaters. The Slytherin Chasers and Keeper were also thought to be slightly better than the Ravenclaws, although most would have picked Cho over Malfoy as a Seeker.

Since Montague and Crabbe were now gone, however, Slytherin needed a new Chaser and a new Beater. Malfoy, the new Captain, chose a Second year girl as the new Chaser, while Millicent Bulstrode took Crabbe's place. Ravenclaw then became the pre-season favorite.

While Hufflepuff needed to replace a Chaser and a Beater, the Gryffindors not only needed to replace two Chasers, neither of the Beaters were terribly interested in playing again. Since they were not all that good, no one tried terribly hard to talk them out of it.

Ron, having seen Ginny and Neville play while they were combat training, had no trouble accepting Ginny as one Chaser and convincing Katie and McGonagall that Neville would make a good Beater. In tryouts, Third year Natalie Macdonald came out on top of the Chasers, while the Fifth year boy's prefect, William Lloyd, took the second Beater slot.

Katie Bell had quickly shown in the first game that she would be the dominant Chaser of the year, with Ginny not far behind. Natalie showed that Gryffindor had some hope for the future. While Goyle was even stronger than Neville, and Millicent was stronger than William, the two Gryffindors were slightly better flyers, evening things out.

The game ended when the Snitch appeared almost next to Harry's right hand. Gryffindor won 300-90, after seventy-five minutes of play. Ravenclaw had a slightly harder time with Hufflepuff the following week. When Cho had finally out-faked the Hufflepuff Seeker, Ravenclaw had won 270-120 after three hours of play.

Other than the Quidditch matches, life at Hogwarts went on in a very low-keyed fashion. Snape was still trying to track down who might have had access to the specialized compulsion spell. He had never heard of it, and as far as he could determine it was not mentioned in the Forbidden Section of the library.

This displeased him, because if it had been there then two of the more likely candidates would have been Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood, who were both known to somehow wrangle more passes than usual for the Forbidden Section.

Dumbledore of course knew that this was something Harry could have easily learned from the Dragons, or even from the mysterious cache of books he had read over the summer. The others in his group could have found it in the Dumbledore villa as well. Harry had merely sworn, when directly asked, that he had never made such a potion, and would say no more. Dumbledore would not, of course, use Legilimency on students he suspected Harry might have told without further evidence. He kept an even closer eye than usual on Harry and the people around him, however.

Nothing had been heard from Voldemort or his remaining Death Eaters. The house in Grimmauld Place was still hidden, although everyone who knew about it suspected Dumbledore had some way of monitoring it on some level.

Harry was very happy by mid-November and on into December. He, Luna, and Hermione were still sleeping in the Gryffindor common room, and even though all they could do was sleep, all three liked it a great deal. The DA was making some real progress, although Harry had some serious doubts about how effective most of the students would be in a real fight.

He was in no hurry to see them tested, however.

Alastor Moody had a different idea.

He had taught Harry just about every trick he knew, although Harry still needed to learn how to do many of them more naturally. Because of his handicaps, Moody did not really pose a real challenge to Harry. Neither did Remus nor even Tonks, although any two of the three of them could take Harry more than half the time.

The DA had continued to meet every Sunday, sometimes in the late afternoon, other times right after dinner. Remus was usually nearby or with the group, and Moody and Tonks made a number of appearances as well. Before the start of the meeting on December 1, Moody approached Harry with a challenge: to meet a mystery challenger the following Sunday.

Harry had reluctantly taken up the challenge. Moody, to Harry's annoyance, had announced the challenge to the DA at the end of the meeting.

Many of the DA members spent the next week speculating on whom the 'mystery duelist' would be. Two Gryffindor Fourth years even started a betting book Monday afternoon on whom Moody was bringing in.

For the first time since July, Harry felt annoyed with Moody. He did not like being put on the spot like this.

When Harry asked Moody why he was setting this up, and putting so much pressure on him, Moody simply reminded Harry, "You can't always know you're the top dog in the yard, Harry. Sometime, you're going to have to face opponents you know little about. Better to face a few under controlled situations before facing people trying to kill you. After what you did to Dolohov and Lestrange, nearly every Death Eater will hex first and brag second."

Harry could not really argue with that, although he really wished that he could.

Tuesday, December 3, 1996

Minerva McGonagall surveyed her Sixth year N.E.W.T. class as they made their way into class. She was not pleased with them. Not because they were doing poorly. Her N.E.W.T. classes did not do poorly. Ever. No, she was unhappy because two students were doing far too well.

The class had spent most of the first two months learning the theory they would need over the next two years. There had been few surprises there. No, the surprises had started in late October, when the students had started practicing chameleon spells.

Most students had progressed as expected. They could all easily transform their partners into solid colors to match a solidly colored background with some ease. After four weeks, only two could perfectly match their partners to any background no matter how complex. More surprising, they could already fully animate the spell, so that the person could move, which normally occurred only after months, if not a year, of practice.

More surprising had been the previous week. To show the students where the chameleon spell led, she had ended the class by discussing the Disillusionment spell. Few fully qualified wizards or witches could totally disillusion another person. Fewer could disillusion themselves.

Potter and Granger could already do both.

It was aggravating, especially to the other students, who were still struggling with their basic chameleon spells. It did, however, solidify McGonagall's determination to give the pair a rare chance.

Transfiguration got out early, which surprised everyone. It was nearly unprecedented, even though it was only five minutes early. When Harry and Hermione were asked to stay back, the other students left them with Professor McGonagall with looks of sympathy (or, in Malfoy's case, a slight sneer).

"This summer," McGonagall said as soon as they were alone, "I consulted with the Headmaster. He agreed I could offer any of you animagus training if I felt you were up to it. If you two would be interested, we can start the preparations."

Harry and Hermione looked at each other, shocked.

"I realize this is a surprise, but do you have any interest? It is quite alright if you do not."

"Professor . . . has Professor Dumbledore mentioned this since early August?" Hermione asked.

"No, but I do NOT believe I need any special permission, Miss Granger."

"I realize that," Hermione temporized, embarrassed.

"What is the difficulty?" McGonagall demanded.

While Hermione looked for the words, Harry decided to simply take action. Hermione's eyes went wide. McGonagall frowned and turned around to see what Harry was up to, and found herself face-to-muzzle with a Kodiak bear. Even sitting on his haunches, Harry's maw was slightly above McGonagall's head.

"What is the meaning of this?!" McGonagall demanded in a shrill voice as she backed up a step. She turned to Hermione, and saw the largest green parrot she had ever seen.

"Animagi! Animagi!" the parrot shrieked.

"What!? When!? How!?"

Harry transformed back. "All six of us underwent the procedure this summer," Harry said. "We had assumed Professor Dumbledore would have told you."

"Well, he didn't!" McGonagall snapped. She instantly calmed down. "I apologize. Could you please transform again, Potter?"

Harry did so, and started to amble around the room.

McGonagall turned to Hermione. "Can you fly, Miss Granger?"

Hermione took off and flew around the room. "I see," McGonagall said as Hermione landed. "Well done, both of you. I shall speak with you and your friends later. Now, off you go."

"I wonder what she'll say to the Headmaster," Hermione pondered as they walked down the corridor.

"I think we'll know what she'll say," Harry replied, "we just don't know how she'll put it."

"It's difficult to understand why the Headmaster didn't inform Professor McGonagall!"

"Just another of his games, I guess," Harry said. "Sometimes, I swear, he makes Moody seem trusting and informative. Remember, he obviously didn't. . . ."

"Didn't what? Oh, good morning, Mister Filch."

"Shouldn't you two be in class?" the caretaker demanded.

"No, we don't have any more classes this morning," Hermione stated.

"Oh . . . well then, you can give me a hand. You're a prefect. Come see the mess someone got into! You can fill out the bloody report. Maybe someone will pay attention to you!" Hermione rolled her eyes so that only Harry could see it, and followed the cranky caretaker, leaving Harry alone in the large intersection of two corridors.

Harry was about to go back to the common room. He had thirty pages he needed to read while the Transfiguration lesson was fresh in his mind. He stopped, though, because something was not right. It only took a moment for him to realize it was somewhat similar to the feeling he had had back in July, when Moody had been following him and Luna under disillusionment and aversion spells.

Harry quickly realized that there was no one in the area that he could see. He had grown used to the feel of having disillusioned people nearby over the previous week. He decided that, most likely, someone was under an invisibility cloak.

The feeling was coming down from the corridor to his left, so he and Hermione had not been followed. The feeling was lessening; probably the person was retreating slowly because Harry had been standing there, listening, for nearly a minute and whomever it was was worried Harry had detected them.

Harry faced down the corridor and breathed deeply. While in his normal form, he had nothing like the olfactory acuity of the bear (said to perhaps be 100,000 times more acute than human smell). His sense of smell had, however, had improved a great deal. As Harry moved slowly down the corridor sniffing, he quickly detected a whiff of perfume.

Harry projected a curtain of dark blue smoke right in front of him, and then moved it ten feet in front of him. It would be broken by any object it passed over, including anyone in an invisibility cloak. Harry began walking quickly down the corridor. He heard someone stumble as she turned and ran.

Harry could not run with the smoke curtain, it would not hold in place if he did. Harry still walked until the next intersection, which was with a main corridor, with a set of stairs. The woman under the cloak could have gone any of five different directions.

Harry decided he should at least mention it to Dumbledore, and, unless Dumbledore told him otherwise, to his friends, Remus, Tonks, and Moody.

Dumbledore seemed mildly interested in the invisibility cloak, and in Harry's guess as to who might have been wearing it. He did not discourage Harry from mentioning the event to anyone. Harry thought about mentioning the incident with Professor McGonagall as well, but decided that there was no good reason to forearm the Headmaster.

Harry therefore swung by Tonks' small office and told her what had happened. He then went on to the small suite under the seats of the great lecture hall. He was not surprised to find that Hermione had gone there to study instead of heading back to the common room. They decided to spend some intimate time together before reviewing the morning's Transfiguration assignment.

Saturday, December 7, 1996

Dumbledore had announced the night before that Saturday would be a Hogsmeade day. Most of the students were enthused by the idea of some Christmas shopping and a day out of the castle. They started the day at 9:30, and it would conclude at 3:30, so it was a bit shorter than usual. To help insure safety, all the students would have to leave and return together.

Harry had not been thrilled by the idea of another day in Hogsmeade, but of course went to make certain he provided any protection needed.

Harry was still upset that he had failed to destroy Voldemort during the first outing in Hogsmeade the pervious October. Had he caught Voldemort with a third power burst, he might have ended the nightmare. He was determined to take care of Voldemort, should he show himself again.

Still, there were practical considerations. Harry, Ron, and Neville broke off from the girls to do their Christmas shopping. Harry, of course, had the most shopping to do. Along with presents for his three close friends and two lovers, he also needed gifts for Mr. Lovegood, Moody, all the Weasleys, Remus, Tonks, and, he had realized that morning, all the girls in the HPSN.

Since Ron and Neville were with him, Harry deputized Hermione to get their presents. Harry arranged with the various shopkeepers to deliver the other presents to the castle over the next week.

"Are you getting Luna and Hermione the HPSN gifts, too?" Ron asked as they left the small jewelry store. He was getting each girl a charm bracelet, with an 'HPSN' gold charm.

"Of course," Harry answered. "In part because it would seem strange to the other girls for me not to, and in part because it was their idea to form the silly thing."

"I'm surprised no one has tweaked onto you," Neville said, as they stood, trying to decide where to go next.

"Well, no one has let on," Harry allowed. "I'm sure someone has caught on and just hasn't said anything."

"So long as no one catches Hermione and Luna snogging, they probably won't catch on," Ron said softly. "Until then, everyone will just think you're just casually dating the two of them. Most people think Hermione's so possessive they don't think it's serious."

"I've overheard a few of the younger Ravenclaws wonder if Luna isn't serious, but is too passive to push Hermione away," Neville said.

"Well, I can see why they think so," Ron said. "I can see Hermione still wants to boss everyone around. Luna is just really good at putting her in her place without hurting her feelings."

"You might be right," Harry said hopefully.

"Alert," Ron whispered, meaning someone was approaching from his direction, other than the three girls.

"Hi, Dean! Seamus!" Harry said, turning.

"Good morning," Dean said.

"Where are your better halves?" Ron teased.

"Shopping, of course," Seamus answered.

"Of course."

"Say, Harry," Dean said slowly, "would you want to know what Moody has planned for you tomorrow night?"

"Sure," Harry answered. "Just because he wants to surprise me doesn't mean I want to be surprised."

"How did you find out?" Ron asked.

"Well, that's why I'm slightly torn about this," Dean admitted. Ron and Neville looked puzzled.

Harry stared at Dean for a moment, wondering why as well. Then he realized the answer. "Moody got your uncle to come?"

"Yeah," Dean admitted.

"Isn't he supposed to be one of the top aurors?" Neville asked.

"He's supposed to be about the toughest auror in Britain," Ron said. "He was even a hit-wizard for a while. Moody's not going easy by picking him."

"No, he's not," Dean said. "But, since Uncle Kingsley knows who he's fighting, I thought you should, too."

"Thanks, Dean, I appreciate that."

Dean gave Harry a sly smile. "You know, Harry, he told me this summer he figured he could take you at least nine out of ten times, maybe nineteen out of twenty."

"I'm sure he's good, but he's not that good," Harry said. "In the type of combat we'll likely do, I doubt he'll do better than three out of five."

While talking, the five had not really moved far from in front of the jewelry store door. "Excuse us, Potter. You're blocking the way."

The group looked up and saw Malfoy and Goyle. Ron opened his mouth, but Harry signaled him to be quiet. "Sorry," Harry said, taking a step back.

"Thank you," Malfoy said politely, and the pair went into the store.

"What was that all about?" Ron asked.

"As badly as Malfoy and I get along, you two are worse," Harry said. "He hasn't bugged us directly yet, has he?"

"No," Ron admitted, "not directly. Alright, fair enough. Where to next?"

The others shrugged. "Any suggestions?" Seamus asked.

"Let's just check on Zonko's," Ron said. "The twins are curious to see what he might be up to."

"It looks like everyone has invested in the local economy," Hermione said as the six friends sat down in the Three Broomsticks.

"Huh?" Ginny, Neville, and Ron all said.

"Everyone seems to have bought a lot of stuff," Hermione clarified.

"Oh," Ron said, drinking his second butterbeer.

"Are you alright, Ron?" Harry asked.

Ron shrugged.

"You can trust us," Hermione said.

"I know. I just don't like talking about . . . things."

"Shall I tell them, Ron?" Luna asked.

Ron gawped at her.

"I am a Seer," Luna said simply. "While I have not yet made a prophecy, I do See deeply inside people. I do not know the details, but I do See what troubles you."

"Go ahead," Ron grumbled, standing. "I'll get us another round."

As Ron walked away, Luna said, "Ron is slightly depressed. As the holidays approach, he regrets not being with little Sirius. He also thought he would have found a girlfriend by now. Since we all seem so happy, it makes him feel even a little lower."

"That makes sense," Hermione said.

"We can start thinking about girls for him over the break," Ginny suggested.

Luna frowned, puzzled. "For some reason, I feel that might not be necessary, but I can't explain why."

By 3:25, all the students had gathered in front of the Three Broomsticks. Harry and his friends were guarding the front of the group, waiting for Professor Sinistra and Hagrid to complete the roll call. At that point, the sextet would lead the group back to the school.

"Hi, Colin," Neville said.

"Hi," Colin responded. "Harry, may I talk with you for a moment?"

As Harry started to turn, he heard Luna scream, "Harry! Watch out!" and, strangely, Malfoy shouting, "Potter! Back off!"

Harry instinctively moved back towards Luna, but as he tried to figure out what they meant, he felt a searing pain in his left side. Looking down, he saw Colin twisting a knife up under his skin. Screams, and shouts of "Stupify!" rang in Harry's ears as he collapsed into Ron's arms.

As Harry started to black out, he heard Luna say, "That knife! It was poisoned!" Then, blackness surrounding him, Harry heard:


Author notes: Do not worry, Harry does not die from the curse. Guess whose perfume that was -- that is who sent the first message to Voldemort in his hideaway.