Ginny Weasley/Harry Potter
Ginny Weasley Harry Potter
Drama General
The Harry Potter at Hogwarts Years
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Order of the Phoenix
Published: 11/27/2004
Updated: 07/12/2005
Words: 244,604
Chapters: 33
Hits: 95,778

Harry Potter and the Curse of the Damned


Story Summary:
Seventh-year sequel to Power of Emotion. Harry is recovering from his captivity, but he's hiding how much it's affecting him. With his powers increasing, and Voldemort now aware of the prophecy, can Harry find the secret to destroying him before Voldemort discovers what's in the ancient texts?

Chapter 24

Chapter Summary:
Seventh year sequel to Power of Emotion. Harry is recovering from his captivity, but he’s hiding how much it’s effecting him. With his powers increasing, and Voldemort now aware of the prophecy, can Harry find the secret to destroying him before Voldemort learns of the existence of these ancient texts? Would this be HP fanfiction if it were that easy?
Author's Note:
Thanks go to my great beta, Mistral, both for keeping this readable and for teaching me so much. We’re getting there and it’s been a pleasure to work with you.

Chapter Twenty-four


Harry and Ron sat on a comfortable sofa in Professor Dumbledore's office, sipping hot chocolate with the headmaster. The candles were all burning brightly, and it gave the office a tremendous warmth and comfortable feeling. Harry wondered if Dumbledore ever slept; it seemed the office always felt this way, no matter what time of the night he arrived.

He and Ron had made their way slowly up to the headmaster's office from Gryffindor tower while Harry explained to Ron exactly what Ron had done and said. Ron had no recollection whatsoever of saying any of the cryptic words. The last thing he remembered was waking from Harry's horrific nightmare.

Professor Dumbledore had ushered them both inside his office and told them to make themselves comfortable.

"Now, which of you gentlemen would care to enlighten me on the reason for this late night visit?" he asked pleasantly.

"Um, I somehow got trapped in another one of Harry's dreams," Ron said, his agitation making it hard for him to sit still.

Harry leaned back on the couch and let Ron begin the tale. His head still pounded painfully, and he was amazed that he'd even remained upright during the walk to Professor Dumbledore's office. The hot chocolate was soothing, and he sipped it gratefully while listening to Ron's voice.

"We were in the Chamber of Secrets. I walked around for awhile before Harry entered and screamed for Ginny. I swear she wasn't there when I first looked, but when I turned around, she was lying on the floor..." Ron continued, describing the entire dream without interruption from Professor Dumbledore. When Ron came to the part where Voldemort possessed Ginny, Harry cringed. He could feel the headmaster's eyes upon him, but he refused to open his own eyes to meet them.

"Well, we know, of course, that Miss Weasley lived through her ordeal. It does not sound as if any part of this dream is a memory. The last time this happened, it was a flashback of events that had already occurred. Is this true, Harry?" Professor Dumbledore asked when Ron finished speaking.

"I don't think it was a memory, either," Ron interrupted, sloshing his hot chocolate over the side of his mug. "Harry and Ginny weren't kids in this dream. They looked the same way they do now. I remember a similar dream he had once before this."

"It wasn't a memory," Harry said tiredly without opening his eyes. "It's a recurring dream."

"Recurring?" Ron asked sharply, a hint of panic in his voice. "What does that mean? Do you think he's going to kill Ginny?"

"No!" Harry shouted, opening his eyes and glaring at Ron. "That is not going to happen. I won't let it."

"Well, if you're dreaming about my sister dying on a regular basis, Harry, then I want to know about it," Ron shouted. "I know you won't let anything happen to her, but you can't possibly be with her all the time. I want to protect her, too."

Harry's anger deflated, and he was filled with an overwhelming despair. "I don't know what it means," he groaned, sinking back onto the couch and running a hand through his already mussed-up hair. "I've been having that same dream since last year, but it's got much more intense and frequent lately."

Ron stared anxiously at Harry for a moment before turning back to Professor Dumbledore. He shuffled his feet and opened his mouth several times before blurting out, "That wasn't the only thing that happened, but I think Harry has to tell you the rest."

Professor Dumbledore's blue eyes turned to Harry. It was only at this moment that Harry realized that Dumbledore's eyes weren't really sparkling. They were dull and tired, and it frightened Harry almost as much as the dream.

"Harry?" he prompted.

"I don't know how, but I think Ron made a prophecy," Harry said.

"It couldn't have been a prophecy," Ron said hotly. "It was just something weird; I'm no Seer. I don't even pay attention in Divination. I make it all up as I go."

Professor Dumbledore smiled as he quirked his eyebrow, causing Ron to flush brightly when he realized what he'd just admitted.

"Er..." Ron began.

"I believe I am suffering from an excess build up of ear wax and missed your last statement," Professor Dumbledore said, waving away his explanations. "What makes you think there was a prophecy, Harry?"

"We were each sitting in our own beds right after the dream. Ron sort of went rigid, and he started speaking in a voice that didn't sound at all like him. It reminded me of what happened with Professor Trelawney in third year," Harry said. "Afterwards, Ron didn't remember any of it, but the rest of us all heard him. None of the rest of our dorm mates knew what was happening; Seamus thought we'd been drinking."

"What exactly did Mr. Weasley say in this voice?" Professor Dumbledore asked, leaning forward in his chair.

Harry rubbed his aching head furiously. "That's the tricky part - I can't remember exactly. My scar was throbbing, and it happened so fast. Something about it being almost time and a servant would make a sacrifice. The servant's decision will determine if the apprentice reigns and the mighty will fall...something like that. Can you make anything from it? Do you have any idea who this servant or apprentice is supposed to be?"

Professor Dumbledore knitted his brow and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Harry, I am going to ask you to lower your Occlumency shield and allow me access to the memory. I need to see the full contents of the prophecy before I can begin to make any interpretation of it."

"It wasn't a prophecy," Ron repeated adamantly. "It was just weird."

"Nevertheless, I think it might be beneficial if we could all have a look," he said, staring at Ron thoughtfully. Rising slowly from his chair, he walked towards a cabinet in the corner. He withdrew his pensieve from a shelf and laid it on a table in front of Ron and Harry.

"Harry, I believe you are familiar with how a pensieve works. This will not hurt a bit; you will find it rather calming, actually. I need you to lower your shield and concentrate fully on the memory of what happened in your dormitory."

Harry shut his eyes and did as he was asked. He felt the tip of Professor's Dumbledore's wand touch his head briefly. He experienced a brief, tugging sensation. He had the distinct impression of flowing water before his senses cleared once again. He opened his eyes in time to see Dumbledore placing a silver strand into the pensieve.

"Now, let us see what we can make of this," Professor Dumbledore said as he waved his wand above the pensieve. A cloudy mist rose above it, the figures within undistinguishable for a moment before finally forming into a picture of the seventh-year dormitory.

Ron's surreal image repeated the words in that eerie voice:


Then, the mist became cloudy once again and resettled within the pensieve.

"Bloody Hell," Ron said, breaking the silence. "What was that? I don't remember saying any of that. How can I say something when I don't even know what I'm talking about?"

Harry glanced towards Professor Dumbledore, who was rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "What do you think it means?" he asked.

"I fear our time is running out." Dumbledore sighed wearily.

"Obviously, but we've known that for a while now," Harry said.

Dumbledore looked up sharply and gave Harry a piercing look. "What have we known?" he asked.

Harry shrugged. "That the time was drawing near. I'm assuming it means the time I'll have to face Voldemort; it'll be soon. We knew it would happen this year."

Dumbledore ran a hand across his eyes. "Are you certain?"

Harry felt confused. Although no one had ever claimed the final battle would take place this year, he'd always just known it. He felt it. He had assumed everyone did.

"I...I mean...yes, I'm certain. I can feel it," Harry said.

"Very well. I believe that you are the apprentice, Harry. The identity of the servant is less clear. Something this servant will do shall determine the outcome of the battle, but I am stumped at the moment, trying to figure out what it means. I shall need to think on it. We all need a good night's rest. With clear heads, we can work out the mystery in the morning."

"What do you think it means by sacrifice? It sounds like this servant has to make a sacrifice," Harry said, feeling a panic bubbling inside him. Not again, please, not again.

"Harry, do not alarm yourself yet. Prophecies are tricky things, and some Unspeakables spend a lifetime studying them. Fortunately for us, we have our own expert right here at Hogwarts," Dumbledore said, laying a comforting hand on Harry's shoulder.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Please tell me you're not referring to Sybil Trelawney."

Dumbledore smiled in amusement. "Alas, no. I was referring to Firenze. Centaurs are expert at deciphering prophecies. In fact, I want Mr. Weasley to have a discussion with Firenze on the nature of this vision, anyway."

"Me? I can't tell him anything; I don't even remember saying those things," Ron said. He'd sat on the couch in a numb state of disbelief after hearing the prophecy, but now his panic was returning in force.

"Nonetheless, you did make a prophecy. I don't recall any Seer blood in the Weasley or Prewett family lines. Has anything like this ever happened to you before, Ronald?" Dumbledore asked.

Ron jumped to his feet. "No! I'm not a Seer. This is ridiculous. Tell him, Harry," Ron said, looking at Harry desperately.

Harry frowned in consideration. "Is that why Ron picks up on my dreams? No one else has ever done that. I know you said that it was my subconscious reaching out, but could it be why it was Ron who picked up on it?"

Ron looked at Harry with a mixture of incredulity and betrayal. "Well, that never happened until this year, either. I'm no Seer! I think we've all gone mad."

Professor Dumbledore rubbed his chin. "Perhaps it has something to do with your experience with the brain in the Department of Mysteries. You may have had latent abilities that have been brought forth."

Ron opened his mouth several times without speaking. Finally, he flopped back into his chair muttering, "Bloody Hell. I'm no Seer. Hermione will straighten all this out"

"Do not distress yourself now, Mr. Weasley," Professor Dumbledore said, resting his hand on Ron's slumped shoulder. Ron did appear to calm under Dumbledore's touch. "I will speak to Firenze, and he will be in touch with you tomorrow. Harry, I would like you to come see me tomorrow evening after dinner. I want to test your Occlumency and Legilimency shields to see if I can discover a weak spot that Voldemort is using. You did say your scar was hurting when you awoke."

"Yeah. It was...it's still kind of burning, actually," Harry said, rubbing his forehead. His thoughts and emotion were so jumbled and confused that he thought it would take more than a single evening to sort them all. Fawkes soared across the room to rest on Harry's shoulder. Harry scratched the phoenix's head absently while Fawkes tilled a few soothing notes.

"All right. That is enough for tonight. I'll be in touch with both of you tomorrow," Professor Dumbledore said, rising from his chair and putting an end to the conversation.

After dinner, Harry sat in the common room, watching the clock impatiently while awaiting his meeting with Professor Dumbledore. Ginny had gone to her Animagus training with Professor McGonagall, and Ron had left right from dinner to meet with Firenze. Hermione and Neville had gone to the library to work on homework, which left Harry alone in the common room, staring at the fire.

His thoughts mulled about in his head at lightening speed, and it was making him nauseous. The idea that someone else would have to sacrifice his or her life for him terrified him. Too many people had done that already, and he didn't think he could take it again. Harry lowered his head into his hands and tugged at his hair until it was standing on end. He and Ron had only told the girls that Ron had taken part in another one of Harry's nightmares, but not the exact nature of the nightmare, or anything about the prophecy. Knowing how Hermione felt about Divination, Ron didn't want to say anything about the Seer stuff until he'd spoken with Firenze. Harry simply didn't want to talk about it at all until he had some answers.

"All right, Harry?" Neville asked from behind, startling him.

Harry turned to see Neville staring at him in concern. "Oh, hi, Neville. I thought you went to the library with Hermione."

Neville's cheeks flamed, and he stared intently at the floor. "Um...no. I'm not going to the library."

Harry furrowed his brow. Neville was obviously heading for the portrait hole, but he seemed rather reticent to reveal his plans. Harry wasn't certain if he should ask or not. Ginny would have just come right out and asked where he was going, but Harry couldn't bring himself to do that. Neville would have said where he was going if he'd wanted to share.

"All right, then. Well...have fun," Harry said lamely.

"Yeah," Neville said and quickly climbed out the portrait hole.

Harry stared at the closed portrait hole for several minutes, pondering Neville's hasty departure. He rubbed his eyes tiredly. He hadn't been able to fall back to sleep after all the excitement the night before, and his exhaustion was catching up to him.

Standing up and stretching his legs, he decided to begin his trek towards Dumbledore's office. Better to arrive early than sit here and miss the meeting entirely because he fell asleep.

When he rode the moving staircase up to Dumbledore's office, he found the headmaster awaiting him at the top.

"Ah, Harry, you have arrived. Come in and have a seat; we've a lot to discuss," he said, guiding Harry into the office.

"What have you deciphered from Ron's prophecy?" Harry asked without any preamble. His anxiety had made his heart rate speed up the moment he'd entered the office.

Dumbledore smiled as he handed Harry a cup of hot chocolate. He sat in a chair facing him and began arranging the chess pieces on a board between them. Harry automatically began doing the same with the pieces on his side of the board. He and Dumbledore had played several times before while Harry had been learning Occlumency. Professor Dumbledore had him study the chessboard in order to clear his mind.

"I have shown Firenze the pensieve memory, and he concurs with my first judgement that you are the apprentice, Harry," Dumbledore said as he made the first move.

"But...why? Does it mean I'm Abe's apprentice?"

"It could be. Or it might mean Jonathan's apprentice, or mine, or Remus's...or magic's in general. You are still learning, and it is your destiny to decide if light or dark shall reign. As for the servant and the sacrifice...the possibilities are still too numerous to..." Dumbledore was seized by a fit of coughing. When he'd finished and caught his breath, he smiled tiredly at Harry before moving his bishop to claim Harry's rook.

"Are you well, sir?" Harry asked timidly, watching his piece being dragged from the board.

"As well as can be expected for someone who is 157 years of age. I am old, Harry, and my body is growing weary."

Harry's eyes widened in alarm. He looked up from the chessboard. "But you'll be all right, won't you?"

"I am not telling you this to alarm you, Harry. I am not planning on departing this world anytime soon. I still have some unfinished business to attend, and I have every intention of seeing you through your ordeal. However...there are some things I would like to have settled between us before either of us discovers that it is too late."

Harry's heart pounded within his chest, and he felt a Bludger-sized lump lodged in his throat. He knew that he wished he'd had the time to talk with Sirius and Jonathan before he lost them, but wasn't certain if he could actually sit and calmly discuss Dumbledore's death. Then again, it could be his own death that they were discussing. With the final battle looming, it was equally possible that it would be Harry who would die first. Steeling his resolve, he nodded for Professor Dumbledore to continue.

"Do not look so alarmed, Harry. Death is part of the natural circle of life. Unfortunately, all of your experiences with losing someone to death have been sudden and traumatic and tragically unexpected. But that is not usually the way. I look on death as my next great adventure, and I am eager for the challenge. My body is old and tired, and I've lived a full and happy life. I am ready to move forward. This is how it is supposed to be. You only know the heartache of being left behind, and I don't want you to feel that way for me. Grieve, share your sorrow, but don't let it consume you. Know that I was prepared and more than ready to go," Dumbledore said, smiling gently.

Harry blinked several times to clear his glassy eyes, but remained silent.

"When I see so many of your loved ones beyond the veil, I will tell them how extraordinary you are. Harry, you are a powerful wizard in your own right, and that has nothing to do with Tom. You are as strong with the light as he is with the dark. What do you know about the nature of magic?" Dumbledore asked.

Harry was caught off guard by the abrupt turn in the conversation. His mind still struggled with the idea of losing Dumbledore, and he felt that familiar numbness seeping into his soul. He welcomed it; he didn't want to feel right now. "Sir?" he asked with a quavering voice.

"Magic surrounds us - it is in the air we breathe, in the earth where we walk, in the light we see, and in the water we drink. It is a living thing, as natural as the elements themselves. Not even a powerful wizard can control the elements; they cannot be controlled, as they are all equal to magic. They are a natural force and are unpredictable. There are those of us who have learned to influence the elements...to bend them to our will, but it is never an exact thing. A wizard might call upon a bolt of lightening to strike, but he can't control the wind that would cause the spread of fire once it had done so. Any kind of attempt at using powerful magic has a cost and drains the wizard of some power. You experienced this at the end of last term.

"There are a very few wizards whose magic can be enhanced through the use of a familiar. This can aid them in combating the drain of one's magical reserves. Magical creatures can never be owned as pets, as some would like to believe. They choose their companions and aid them as they see fit."

"Fawkes?" Harry asked as he captured Dumbledore's knight.

"Yes, Fawkes is my familiar, and some of my power is derived directly from him. Fawkes values loyalty above all else...that is why I believe he has chosen you as his next companion."

Harry's head shot up. "Me? No. Fawkes hasn't chosen me. Why would you think that?"

"Yes, Harry - you. When Fawkes answered your plea in the Chamber of Secrets all those years ago, he chose you," Dumbledore said gently, smiling at the gobsmacked expression on Harry's face.

"But...but...I don't want him to do that. Not if it means you'll have to die," Harry said, feeling a knife twisting in his heart. He may have had his own problems with Dumbledore in the past few years, but he didn't want to lose him. He took several deep breaths and willed the numbness to settle back over his heart.

"That is inevitable for all of us, Harry. As my own mortality looms, I have been doing a great deal of thinking about my life and the choices I have made. My one, greatest regret is placing you with the Dursleys all those years ago. If there were one thing I could go back and undo, that would be it," Dumbledore said sadly, the regret evident on his face.

Harry shook his head. "It doesn't matter now."

"It does matter; you matter, Harry. You always have, and I regret my part in making you feel as if you don't. That night that your parents were murdered was one of the worst in my entire life. I cared a great deal for your parents and had truly done everything within my power to keep them safe. My best obviously wasn't good enough. I wish that I had insisted that I be their Secret Keeper."

"Why didn't you?" Harry couldn't stop himself from asking.

"I offered, but your father insisted on Sirius. They were like brothers, and he knew he could trust Sirius with his life. More importantly, he knew he could trust him with your life, Harry. You meant the world to James. His eyes would light up with joy whenever you were in the room. His pride and adoration were as plain as the nose on his face."

Harry's vision blurred, as he wished desperately for the chance to have known his father.

"I was fond of Sirius, but I thought he was reckless and impulsive, and not a good choice for their Secret Keeper. I warned your father that Sirius would be the first one suspected of being his Secret Keeper. I've often wondered if that conversation was the reason Sirius and Peter switched places," Dumbledore said, his eyes glazed and distant.

"So...you believed that Sirius had been the one to betray them?" Harry asked. He'd often thought about it; Dumbledore always appeared to know everything.

Dumbledore sighed wearily, his gaze lost in the past. "At the time, things were so chaotic and confusing. I didn't have the luxury of time to look further into why Sirius would betray your parents. The attacks on the Longbottoms happened shortly after Sirius's apparent murder spree, and my attention was diverted. Sirius had already been sent to Azkaban by the time I thought of him again. I was angry - angry at him for his betrayal, angry at myself for not insisting that I take the role of Secret Keeper, angry in general at having the lives of so many on my shoulders."

Harry nodded, knowing that feeling well. He often felt the need to lash out at the unfairness of it all, but was never certain where to direct that anger.

"You must remember, at the time the war was not going well for us. Voldemort had been at the height of his power and times were dark. There didn't seem to be much hope that the wizarding world would be able to continue existing, as we knew it. After the attack on your parents, the wizarding world was overcome with joy, and everyone wanted to celebrate, rather than concentrate on any of the darkness. I knew that Voldemort was not gone forever, and I had to act quickly. I knew that your mother had a sister in the Muggle world. I thought that by placing you with her that you would not only be removed from the eyes of a public who was touting you as its hero, but also from the disgruntled Death Eaters who were on a rampage, trying to figure out what had happened to Voldemort.

"I knew Lily and Petunia were not close, but Petunia had a child the same age as you, and I thought, in time, she'd learn to not only accept you, but love you, as well. You were only a baby; I didn't think she'd hold the difficulties she had with your mother against you. Alas, it seems a mistake I was doomed to make again and again. I repeated the same error in judgement years later, when I asked Severus to instruct you in Occlumency. I thought he could move past his hatred of your father."

"So, you left me on the doorstep and just hoped she'd take me inside? What if she'd sent me to an orphanage? How would you have known?" Harry asked, feeling some of his long-buried anger over his treatment surfacing. A part of him suspected that his life might have been better if Petunia had simply dropped him at an orphanage.

"I left a note with you in the basket, explaining what had happened and how you needed protection, and, in turn, how you could protect them. She brought you inside her home, thus accepting the choice to raise you," Dumbledore said, the twinkle in his eyes completely dimmed.

"But...it was ten years. Why didn't you ever check on me?" Harry's throat felt extremely raw, as if he'd screamed the words rather than whispered them.

Dumbledore's eyes filled, and he blinked back tears. "I had Arabella move into the neighborhood to keep a watch on you. I was dismayed by her reports on how they treated you. I knew that your cousin bullied you, but families often go through a certain pecking order. From the outside, it didn't appear extreme, and we didn't know all that was going on behind closed doors. That letter was a magically binding contract, and my part of the agreement was that I wouldn't interfere with their lives unless you were in mortal danger until the time arrived for your magical education to begin."

"What about Remus? Why couldn't I have gone to live with him? Why didn't he visit me?" Harry asked angrily. Now that this can of worms had been opened, he was determined to have his questions answered.

Dumbledore sighed heavily. "Remus was in no condition to care for a child at that time, Harry. He went through a bit of an emotional breakdown. His friends were his only family, and he'd just lost three of them by the hand of the fourth, or so we believed. Even if he had been in a state to care for you, the Ministry would have never allowed it, because of his werewolf status. They would have taken control of your custody and paraded you around like a trophy, not a little boy. I had to act quickly and place you somewhere that they couldn't find legal objection. Family always comes first under wizarding law."

Harry's eyes prickled; the numbness refused to return, and his heart simply ached for what could have been. He'd had enough of this. What was done was done, and no matter how badly he wished for a different answer, he wasn't going to get one, because the past could not be changed. Dumbledore admitted he'd make a mistake and wished it could have happened differently. What more could he ask from him? If Harry couldn't move past this, he'd be no better than Snape.

"It's all right, sir. I survived, and I don't fancy being your biggest regret."

Dumbledore chuckled and moved his castle. "In fairness, if we are being totally open and honest with one another, there is one more thing I need to discuss with you."

Harry braced himself. He didn't like the tone of Dumbledore's voice. "What is it?"

"Ms. Granger found a book on Old Magic during a recent Hogsmeade weekend. She discovered a spell that involves transference of power through a Legilimens. Like most ancient magic, the spell works on emotion. The protective love felt for someone can be cast to destroy a threat to that love. Your friends have been working on learning the spell. Their feelings for you are strong, and they can help you. They want to do their part."

"No! No more sacrifices. What if this prophecy means one of them is the sacrifice with this spell? I won't do it," Harry said hotly. Damn! They've been keeping secrets from me again.

"I understand your concern, Harry, but you do not have a choice. This is something they have chosen to do for you. They are serving a part in this war, the same way you are. You cannot deny them that right."

Harry felt sick. Absently and without really realizing what he was doing, he moved his queen to take Dumbledore's king. "Checkmate," he whispered.

Dumbledore's eyes widened in surprise. "Ah, it would appear that I am not as good as I used to be. Well done, Harry."

Harry didn't know why actually winning a game of chess should make him want to cry.

Dumbledore placed his hand on Harry's shoulder. "Before we retire for the evening, I want you to know how proud I am of you. You have consistently amazed me with the way you handle the many burdens placed upon your young shoulders from the first day you arrived here. I may have not always had the right answer or made the best decision, but I've always had your best interests at heart. I could not be prouder of you if you were my own. No matter what the future may bring us, Harry, I want you to know that I love you, and that I've done my best to try to care for you."

Harry swallowed painfully, feeling his defensive walls crumbling. Dumbledore loves me. There was a time several years ago that he would have given anything to hear those words from him, but he probably wouldn't have accepted them at that time, either. He'd been so angry and bitterly disappointed in the man. In truth, he'd felt abandoned and utterly rejected.

It was Ginny who showed him what love was and how to recognize it - and also that loving someone didn't always mean having the right answers. His emotions towards his aged headmaster were complex and powerful, but through it all, he did know that he felt the same way - and he had for a long time. "I know, sir; I love you, too."

Dumbledore pulled Harry into a one armed embrace and patted him on the back. Harry allowed himself to be held for a moment, feeling a warmth and security he'd never known fill his very soul. As he relaxed into Dumbledore's hug, he allowed his Occlumency shield to drop and found himself inside Dumbledore's mind, watching images of himself during his years at Hogwarts. Little glimpses of moments in time - some that he'd already forgotten - and had never realized Dumbledore had witnessed. He felt Dumbledore's love and admiration, along with his overriding sadness over the fact that he thought Harry looked so very young, but had such a weary old soul.

While Harry struggled to conceal his trembling shoulders and pull back from Dumbledore's mind, he felt as if Dumbledore was filling him with a healing energy - much the same as Fawkes's tears. Harry pulled back and smiled wobbly before he turned and hurried from the room.

Once outside the door to Professor Dumbledore's office, he rested his head on the wood and breathed heavily, fighting the heaviness in his chest. He felt so much pressure to defeat Voldemort, since the only way he could ensure that all those he cared about could live was to beat him. Then, he realized that no matter what he did, or what the outcome of the final battle would be, Dumbledore was going to die, anyway, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it. Despite everything he'd ever been up against, everything he was still up against - he'd never felt more powerless in his life. His eyes stung as he clenched his teeth and hated the unfairness of it all.

Harry returned to the common room late that evening with a very heavy heart. He'd spent some time wandering the hallways before going back to Gryffindor tower, trying to get his thoughts in order. He expected to be caught by Filch, but he never ran into anyone. The conversation in Dumbledore's office played again and again in his mind.

It suddenly, and for the first time, dawned on Harry what an incredible burden was placed on Professor Dumbledore's shoulders. Everyone looked to him for guidance and answers, yet he was the first one they turned on when things went wrong.

Harry's relationship with the headmaster had been strained over the past two years, but Harry thought things might be all right now. He'd had a chance to say some things that he never would have freely admitted on his own. He'd always wished he'd told Sirius how much he loved him before it was too late. He wished he'd have demanded some answers from Aunt Petunia about his mum. He wished he'd taken the time to really thank Jonathan for giving up his chosen exile to come and train Harry. That decision had cost Jonathan his own life. He wished he'd told Charlie how honored he felt to be included amongst the Weasley brothers.

There would never be time to say any of those things to the others, but with Professor Dumbledore - he'd made his peace. Somehow, it made the heavy burden on Harry's shoulders a little lighter.

When he entered the common room, feeling thoroughly exhausted and emotionally drained, he found Ginny sitting alone by the fire. She appeared to be trying to rip all the hair from her head. He walked over to her and sank down on the couch beside her, wanting nothing more than to rest his weary head on her lap.

"Hey, Ginny," he said.

Ginny glanced at him with red-rimmed eyes. "Hi, Harry," she said, sniffling.

Harry suddenly felt much more awake. "What happened? What's wrong?"

The dam Ginny had been holding back suddenly burst, and she launched herself into his arms, crying in misery.

Harry's alarm spiraled to a near panic. He grabbed her shoulders roughly and pulled her back so he could see her face. "What happened?" he demanded.

"I c-can't d-do it," she wailed.

Harry blinked in confusion, his panic settling into the pit of his stomach. "Can't do it?" he repeated. "Can't do what?"

"I've spent months on m-my Animagus t-training, and I haven't got anywhere. I'm s-sorry," she said, hiccuping.

Harry let his breath out through his nose in annoyance. He was tired and overwhelmed, and she'd just scared the life out of him. "Animagus training, Ginny? That's what you're on about? I thought someone had died," he snarled.

Ginny's stopped crying and wiped furiously at her eyes. He recognized the familiar signs of the Weasley temper rising as her mouth set in a thin line. "I'm so sorry to bother you with my trivial concerns, then. How silly of me to think you'd be willing to listen," she spat.

Harry's own temper had yet to be diffused. "Of course I'm willing to listen to you, Ginny, but I've just spent the entire evening talking about death and curses and sacrifices. Then I walk back here to find you nearly hysterical. What was I supposed to think? You scared me." His instinct was to storm from the room and away from her, but he fought it. If she wanted a row, he was itching for one.

Ginny folded her arms across her chest and tapped her foot impatiently. He watched as she twitched her lips from side to side. He recognized this as a sign that she was considering what he'd said. "I'm sorry I scared you," she said at last, her shoulders slumping. "It's just...the closer we get to all of this, the more anxious I become."

Harry sighed and felt his anger deflating like a popped balloon. "I'm sorry I snapped at you. It's been a long day, and I didn't sleep well last night. What happened with your training?"

Ginny sighed and let her head drop back on the couch. She stared up at the ceiling and said, "Professor McGonagall wants me to take a break. She says I'm not ready. She said I could try again when I was a bit older and not so distracted."

"But...she does think you'll be able to do it one day?" Harry asked.

"It's not like there's a test that will tell you if you're able to do it or not, Harry. It simply depends on your magical ability. I've always done fairly well in Transfiguration, which is why Professor McGonagall let me in her class with only an A on my OWL. It's not a common skill, because it takes a great deal of time and effort. I suspect that there are a lot more unregistered Animagi than registered ones. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the Death Eaters were unregistered," Ginny said.

"You're probably right. I know of five Animagi, and only one of them is registered," Harry said. His dad, Sirius, Wormtail and Rita Skeeter were all unregistered; only Professor McGonagall's name appeared on the Ministry registration list. "Don't worry about it, Ginny. After school is over, you can try again."

"I know...I just wanted to be special," she said softly.

Harry turned and pulled her into his arms. "What? Of course you're special, Ginny. You don't need to be an Animagus to be special."

Ginny shook her head. "It's just...sometimes I feel so useless. You're this powerful wizard who could make a Patronus at thirteen. You lead the Defense Association and are preparing to save the entire wizarding world from a madman. Hermione is the brightest witch in her year. Everyone looks to her for answers. She found the spell that might help you succeed. Ron sacrificed himself in your first year, because he knew you had to go on. He killed Malfoy to protect you last year, and now he's picking up on your dreams...

"You're surrounded by specialness. Then there's me - whose greatest claim to fame is once being stupid enough to trust a book and winding up getting possessed by a memory of the Dark Lord himself. I wanted to do something that could help."

Harry stared at Ginny incredulously. "Ginny...is that what you really think? I've been fortunate enough to manage to surround myself with the greatest friends alive. I can never hope to repay Ron and Hermione for everything they've done for me. But you...you are the most special of all. I didn't even know what love was before I met you. I wasn't a whole person. It was because you loved me that I even survived the duel with Voldemort last year. It was your love for me, and mine for you, that showed me how to defeat him. Without you, I never would have tapped into this 'power he knows not'. Don't ever doubt that. I don't need an Animgus for a girlfriend; I just need you.

"Ginny, if I'm able to defeat Voldemort, it'll be because of you. You've made me the man I am today. I don't know how many times I can keep telling you that to make you believe it."

"I want to do something, Harry. I can't stand waiting on the sidelines and watching you suffer," Ginny said, her voice muffled by Harry's shoulder.

"Do this, then," he said, smoothing back the hair from her face and brushing her lips with his own. "This is what I need, Ginny. I need to be reminded of what I'm fighting for." He pulled her into a passionate embrace and kissed her soundly. She responded instantly, winding her arms around his neck and twisting her fingers in his hair.

Things heated up quickly as they both fell back to lie alongside each other on the couch. He untucked the blouse from her school uniform to let his hands touch the warm, velvety soft skin on her back. Ginny moaned her encouragement, spurring him on.

"Hem, hem," Ron's voice sounded from behind them.

Harry and Ginny sprang apart to see Ron and Hermione entering through the portrait hole. Ginny sloppily tucked her blouse back into her skirt while Harry struggled to control his ragged breath.

"You're timing hasn't improved any," he said grumpily, running a hand through his hair, which was sticking up even more than it normally did.

"Oh, I think my timing is just fine," Ron said, scowling at both of them as he took a seat on the couch facing them.

Ginny's eyes narrowed. "Exactly where have you two been until this hour? I know you didn't have rounds tonight."

Hermione's cheeks turned pink as Ron stuttered, "We...we..er...we had some work to do."

Harry turned towards Hermione. "That reminds me - Professor Dumbledore filled me in on some things that have been going on around here lately. You've been holding out on me."

Hermione flushed guiltily but raised her chin in defiance. "We knew you'd never agree, Harry. But the spell will work, and we are determined to help."

"It will leave you defenseless."

"Only until you destroy him."

"But no one knows how long that could take! What if there are other Death Eaters surrounding us at the time?"

"Then we'll have to trust the rest of the DA to defend us as well as you while we channel our power. Only those of us who love you can do this, Harry. Ron, Ginny, and I are the strongest connections you have. You have to trust us on this."

"I don't have to like it," he said, rubbing his eyes again. "I can't handle another sacrifice."

Ron looked up sharply and caught Harry's gaze. The exchange was brief, but Hermione noticed it.

"Sacrifice? What sacrifice? What's going on that you're not telling us?" she asked. "Why did Professor Dumbledore want to see you again? Why did he tell you about this spell now?"

"Do you want to tell them, or should I?" Harry asked Ron.

"Tell us what?" asked Ginny. She turned to scowl at Harry. "I knew you were hiding something."

"You start," Ron said glumly.

"Last night...after Ron and I shared the dream...er...Ron sort of made a prophecy," Harry said.

Hermione blinked and stared at them blankly.

"A prophecy?" Ginny asked slowly. "You mean...like a Seer?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Hermione snapped. "Ron's not a Seer. The entire art of Divination is extremely wooly to begin with. I know there are real prophecies, obviously, but the idea of having two legitimate Seers here at Hogwarts is rather dodgy."

"I kept telling them I wasn't a Seer," Ron said, "but Dumbledore sent me to talk with Firenze, anyway."

"Firenze? Professor Dumbledore sent you to see Firenze?" Hermione asked.

Ginny had risen from her seat next to Harry and walked over the water pitcher by the window. Harry stared at her legs showing beneath the skirt of her school uniform as she walked. They were thin, but shapely, and he couldn't help being distracted when the skirt rose as she bent over to retrieve a cup she had dropped.

"Harry!" Ron shouted, forcing Harry to focus again.

"What? Sorry, I drifted."

"Yeah, I can see where you were drifting," Ron grumbled. "I said Firenze thinks I might actually have some natural ability. He had me take a couple of tests, but I couldn't make heads or tails from what he said about the results."

"What was the prophecy? What did it say, exactly?" Hermione asked.

Ron and Harry repeated it as well as they could recall. Hermione sat back on the couch, twisting her hair between her fingers.

"An apprentice and a sacrifice, hmm. Obviously, he's right that you're the apprentice, Harry," Hermione said.

"Hermione," Ron said, startled. "Don't tell me you believe any of this sodding prophecy business."

"Language, Ron," Hermione said absently. "You know how I feel about Professor Trelawny...but everything in our lives revolves around prophecies at the moment. It would explain why you've been drawn into Harry's dreams, wouldn't it? If Harry's subconscious knew he needed some help but wouldn't ask for it, and you were able to pick up on those thoughts. It makes sense, right? What do you think, Ron?"

Ron stared at her in disbelief, apparently dumbfounded that she was actually asking his opinion on something so important. Hermione blushed slightly and looked at him with lowered lashes, causing Harry to look away. They'd certainly come a long way.

Ginny came back and sat down next to Harry. She studied his face and the dark purple patches beneath his eyes. "You look exhausted. Why don't we all get a good night's sleep, and we can pick this up in the morning?"

Harry nodded; he was drained, and he knew it. "Yes, I can't concentrate anymore."

Hermione grudgingly let them go, and Harry literally dragged himself up the stairs and into his dormitory. He stripped off his clothes and tossed them haphazardly on the floor. Climbing into his bed wearing only his boxers, he half-heartedly attempted a few of his Occlumency exercises, but fell asleep in the middle of them.

Harry sneered at the sniveling man crouched in front of him. He enjoyed seeing the tremor of fear running through the body of the robed figure. He liked that his minions feared him; he took great satisfaction it. As long as they feared him, it meant that they respected his authority, his ultimate power over them.

"What have you to report?" he hissed imperiously.

The man shuddered again and spoke without raising his head. "I'm sorry, master. I fear that the rumors of the wards weakening at the school are exaggerated. I've done extensive testing, but the wards all remain intact. They cannot be breached."

"This is not the news I wanted to hear, Morrissey," Harry said, feeling annoyed.

"No, master," the man replied, cowering.

"Crucio," Harry hissed, feeling both excitement and revulsion at saying the words. The Death Eater on the floor screamed in misery, howling until unconsciousness finally claimed him.

"Who is next?" Harry asked with immense satisfaction. He was confident whoever delivered the next item would have more pleasing results.

"I'm here, my lord," a female voice called.

Harry turned to see a blonde woman approach. She was thin, and her cheeks were sunken beneath bloodshot eyes. Fading bruises covered most of her exposed skin, but even in her state, it was obvious she had once been beautiful. She carried an air of one used to giving orders rather than taking them.

"Narcissa," Harry said, caressing her name with his tone. "I trust you are feeling better?"

"Yes, my lord. Thank you, my lord. My informant tells me that the old fool continues to train Potter in ancient magic. They have found a spell that they believe can defeat you," Narcissa replied.

Harry laughed outright, despite a growing sense of panic. Suddenly, the red of his eyes widened. "Potter!"

"My Lord?" Narcissa asked uncertainly.

"Silence! Potter is here; he's listening to us."

Harry awoke with a start, his scar burning fit to burst. He groaned as he sat up, bending his knees and placing his head between them. He rocked back and forth until the pain subsided a bit, trying to make sense of the visions in his head. Voldemort knew about the weakening of the wards. He also knew about the old magic, or at least the general idea of what they were trying to do.

Where was this information coming from? Obviously, there was still a leak in the Order, but who? Who was the traitor this time? Harry shuddered, feeling that history was trying to repeat itself. He'd have to ask Dumbledore if he'd made any progress in determining the spy's identity.

He'd felt Voldemort's emotions while Narcissa was speaking. He had an overriding sense of disbelief and derision. He didn't believe in ancient magic. He thought Dumbledore was a fool for using it. Perhaps that blatant disregard could be used to their advantage. Regardless, he yet again had to make a trip up to the headmaster's office in the middle of the night. Somehow, he suspected Dumbledore would be expecting him.

Wearily, he pulled back the bed hangings and pulled on his pajama bottoms, slippers, and a dressing gown before making the trek to Dumbledore's office alone.

As the month progressed, Harry continued his training with Abe. He felt he was finally getting the hang of some of the advanced Transfiguration spells Abe had shown him. Even Professor McGonagall had been pleased with his progress. Ron now had some extra Divination sessions with Firenze, and his schedule became nearly as tight as Harry's was. Both longed for some warmer weather so Quidditch practices could resume.

Hermione had been surprisingly silent about Ron's Divination sessions. It was obvious she didn't believe or approve, but she was making the effort to listen to Ron when he talked about it. For his part, Ron knew how she felt, and made the effort not to shout and had even admitted to how wooly a lot of the things Firenze told him had sounded. Harry and Ginny had been stunned into silence on more than one occasion by their new, working relationship. They were acting almost...adult about things, and Harry wasn't certain how to take it.

Although his scar had burned intently, Harry hadn't had another vision, and he was careful to practice his Occlumency techniques. Professor Dumbledore hadn't appeared at all surprised over Harry's declaration that the traitor was still leaking information. In fact, neither had Hermione, once he filled the others in on his vision.

They hadn't seen a lot of Luna since her split with Neville. Ginny caught Neville trying to slip out of the common room again, and Neville had finally admitted that he'd been spending a lot of time with Hannah Abbott on an Herbology project. Neville's cheeks reddened brightly when Ron said that he thought they'd be a good match.

One afternoon, Harry entered the Room of Requirement for practice to find not only Abe and Percy, but Professor Dumbledore, as well, and none of them was smiling.

"Should I ask?" Harry asked.

"I have an official Ministry Summons here from Minister Fudge," Percy said, handing Harry a scroll secured with a neatly tied blue ribbon.

"A summons?" Harry asked without taking the scroll.

Percy tucked the scroll into Harry's bag and said, "The Minister is hosting a gala at the Ministry on February 18. You will be receiving an award for your efforts at the shopping mall in Aberdeen at Christmastime. There will also be a press conference."

Harry felt his anger growing. "I'm not going," he said automatically.

"You don't have a choice," Percy snapped. Harry could feel the irritation rising from Percy, because Harry remained unimpressed with his Ministry. "Minister Fudge feared you might behave this way, but he insists that you attend. The wizarding population needs to celebrate these small victories. It's good for morale. You are the people's hero, their savior, and they are anxious to hear from you. You haven't made a statement to the press since the prophecy was revealed, and he feels the time is ripe."

"You mean he's frustrated that I didn't immediately bow to his wishes and confront the press the moment he revealed the prophecy?" Harry snapped.

"Harry," Professor Dumbledore said. "I have already spoken with Cornelius about this, since I knew you would not be pleased. I am afraid he is most insistent. He has let the custody issue alone, but he will invoke the Right of Detainment should you refuse to attend."

"But I'm of age!" Harry shouted.

"We are aware of that, Harry. But the Statute allows for your Detainment, because of your role in the prophecy," Professor Dumbledore said wearily.

"So, I have to go to this thing whether I like it or not?" Harry asked, fuming.

"I am afraid so. You'll find that being an adult often means you have to do things you do not wish to do in order to satisfy a greater goal. You are allowed to bring a guest along. My apologies to Miss Weasley, but I plan on being your guest for the evening," Professor Dumbledore said.

"What?" Percy asked, startled. "I thought..."

"Yes," Professor Dumbledore said, smiling. "Somehow, my name was left off the invitation list, but that is of no matter. If a student of mine is receiving such an honorary distinction, I would like to see it."

"I assure you, we at the Ministry are quite capable of overseeing Harry's safety for the evening," Percy said, obviously flustered.

"Most certainly," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling merrily. "However, it has been quite some time since I allowed myself to partake in such a festive occasion. In fact, I think I shall go out and purchase some new dress robes."

Harry would have grinned at Percy's flabbergasted expression if he weren't so hacked off over being required to attend. Fudge continued to pull strings and expected everyone to jump. So be it, but he wasn't going to like his answers to the questions the reporters would ask him. He'd let them know exactly what he thought of Fudge and the entire Ministry at this point.

February 18 would be a date Fudge would not soon forget.

Author notes: Thanks to all who take the time to read and review; I really appreciate it. We're building towards the climax now, and I'm ALMOST finished the first-draft writing part of it.