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 25

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 to my beta, Mistral, for all her help despite her busy real life. I appreciate it. Thanks also go to my pre-beta, Dianne, for all the encouragement.

Chapter Twenty-five


The castle was filled with a flutter of activity as Valentine's Day approached. Cordelia had made it her mission to ensure that there were plenty of activities for those students wishing to celebrate the holiday. Unlike his second year, there wasn't an over-abundance of pink or little hearts, but more subtle, romantic gestures around the castle. Owls delivered single roses in various colors, and the candles in the Great Hall were dimmed to create a more romantic atmosphere.

Harry found the Valentine excitement didn't annoy him nearly as much as it had in years past. Maybe it was because he was older, or perhaps it was the fact that it gave him an excuse to spend time with Ginny. He was thoroughly looking forward to spending the evening with her.

On Valentine's night, Cordelia converted the Room of Requirement for a special evening open to couples only. She hoped it would avoid anyone showing up simply to cause trouble by setting the couples rule. She was very secretive about the nature of the event, which made it all the more exciting and appealing. There was no age limit, as long as the participants arrived with a partner.

Dress for the event was supposed to be summer casual, and Harry wore crisp white trousers with a bright red T- shirt. Ginny had insisted he had to wear red, so at least one of them would be festive. She said it couldn't be her, since it clashed with her hair. Harry laughed and said her whole head looked decked out for Valentine's day. She'd promptly smacked him in the arm and called him a prat.

Harry and Ginny arrived early, with the other prefects, so they had a chance to look around before the rest of the students arrived. Ginny wore a short, denim skirt without her school robes, so he had a rare and unobstructed view of her legs. He kept getting distracted, watching her, and was having trouble stringing his words together. The rational side of his brain thought it was a good idea that the girls were usually so well covered under bulky robes or he'd never get any work done; the hormonal teenage side of his brain wanted to smack himself for that thought. He was glad there were no Legilimens around who could read it.

When the doors opened, and the prefects all entered, Harry felt his mouth drop open along with everyone else. As they stepped over the threshold, it appeared as if they had left Hogwarts and entered a lush, tropical rain forest. A clearing had been made in the jungle, and a huge bonfire had been erected. Around the edge of the clearing, there were tables overflowing with food and drink surrounding elaborate ice sculptures. Harry was certain that he could hear a waterfall in the distance. Blazing torches lit up the night sky, and a steel drum band added to the tropical atmosphere.

Dobby and the other house elves had prepared a wide variety of sweets and exotic delicacies for the event. A large boar, complete with an apple in its mouth, was roasting on an open pit, while pineapples, mangoes and passion fruit adorned the tables. Abe had secretly smuggled in several cases of butterbeer and charmed the bottles to kiss back when the bearer took the first sip.

Ginny slipped her hand into his. "Whoa," she said, her voice sounding awed.

"This is bloody brilliant," said Ron, who had spent the past week complaining about even having to attend.

"I thought you didn't want to come," Ginny said, teasing laughter obvious in her voice.

"I didn't expect this," Ron said, his eyes still trying to take in their surroundings.

"You know Cordelia. You should have known that she wouldn't have done anything ordinary," Hermione replied.

Harry had to agree with her, even though, like Ron, Harry hadn't expected this. He'd suspected some kind of dance or maybe a Muggle-style movie. This was loads better. As the rest of the students began to arrive, Harry watched their faces as they entered the room. All of them wore the same gobsmacked expression that he knew had appeared on his own face.

Blaise Zabini arrived with Daphne Greengrass, a stunningly pretty blonde girl with cold, pale blue eyes. Both seemed pleased with the atmosphere and appeared to relax. Daphne walked over to where some of the other Slytherins were standing and waved a greeting. Blaise's eyes met Harry's for a moment before walking towards him.

"Evening," Blaise said smoothly. "Nice set-up. Our new Potions professor scored some points."

"Yeah. This should be fun," Harry replied, wondering what Blaise had on his mind. They'd settled on an uneasy truce since the duel in Snape's class. Each had realized that their preconceived notions about the other might have been false. Harry didn't agree with Blaise's political opinions...but he didn't think he was Death Eater in training, either. Still, it didn't stop either of them from getting in a dig when the opportunity presented itself.

"I heard you're up for an award at the Ministry, Potter. I suppose Draco was right all along in his accusations that you enjoyed - even craved - all the attention." The Daily Prophet had run a story about Harry's award, much to his dismay. Rita Skeeter had been running daily articles, speculating on whom he would bring as a date. Harry hoped he could see the look on her face when he arrived with Albus Dumbledore.

Harry rolled his eyes and was about to give Blaise a hard time about not ranking an invitation himself when Ron - who didn't share Harry's tolerance of the Slytherin - snarled. "Sod off, Zabini. Why don't you go and stick your head back in the sand with the rest of the little junior Death Eaters over there," Ron said, nodding towards the group Daphne had joined.

"What's the matter? Am I stepping on your turf? Potter isn't allowed to have any sidekicks besides you?" Blaise asked, causing Ron's ears to go bright red.

"I said, sod off!"

"A bit touchy, are we, Weasley?" Blaise asked with an amused grin. "You aren't so good at taking what you like to dish out, then?"

"I can take anything you want to bring on. How about you? Have you figured out which side of this war you're on yet?" Ron asked

Blaise rolled his eyes, speaking slowly as if to a small child. "I already told you, neither. I'm not getting involved."

"So, you and your family hide on the sidelines where it's safe and watch? Waiting to see where the pieces fall and how you can come out ahead, no matter who wins and who dies in the process?" Ron asked in disgust.

The color in Blaise's cheeks rose for the first time. He lost his trademark amused expression as he took a step closer to Ron. "My family isn't any safer in this war than yours, Weasley. In fact, they've probably been threatened even more intensely, since they are purebloods who aren't known blood traitors and are expected to fall in line. By not openly becoming Death Eaters, their own allegiance has been questioned. I won't stand here and tolerate you belittling them. You have no idea what they've had to face."

Ron blinked, momentarily derailed. It didn't take long, however, for his own ire to rise. "Yeah? I'm so sorry that they're under so much pressure. Maybe the fact that one side is threatening them ought to let you know which side you should choose. I don't see Dumbledore threatening anyone with bodily harm for not wanting to protect the Muggles - even though people should."

"I already told you, I don't want to kill any Muggles or mudbloods, but I'm not about to put my own neck on the line for them, either. I want to get through his war alive and able to continue living my life, regardless of which side is victorious," Blaise said angrily.

"What is going on here, gentlemen?" Snape's oily voice said from behind Harry.

He started and spun around; he hadn't heard the man's approach, and that was not good. Constant vigilance, he reminded himself. Moody would be so disappointed. His relationship with Snape had taken another strange turn since their duel. While not anything near friendly, it wasn't as openly hostile as it had been, either.

They would never like each other; they'd probably never even be able to work together without a third party running interference, but by besting him in the duel, Harry had removed Snape's ability to bully him. It was almost as if Snape didn't know how to interact with him if he didn't have the upper hand. Harry suspected Snape still resented Harry's role in all of this, but he'd resigned himself to the fact it couldn't be denied.

As Harry looked at his Defense teacher, he was amused to notice that Snape was still dressed all in black, including his heavy robes. He looked impossibly out of place in this tropical atmosphere, and he was sweating heavily. Harry wondered how Cordelia had managed to get him to agree to be a chaperone. Then again, the idea of impeding any fun the students might be enjoying was probably considered a good evening for Snape.

"Hello, Professor Snape," Blaise answered. "We were just having a discussion on the finer points of the war."

"I see," Professor Snape said, his eyes boring into Blaise and the four Gryffindors. "Perhaps it would be wiser to leave such discussions to adults and enjoy your little festivities."

All of them, even Blaise, bristled at the inference that they were merely children. Zabini recovered his poise first. "If you'll excuse me, I'm being rude to leave my date unattended on Valentine's Day," he said smoothly, nodding towards the Gryffindors and making his way towards Daphne.

Snape turned towards Harry with a sneer. "For someone who thrives on being noble, you're remarkably careless, Potter. If you think your attempts at influencing Zabini go unnoticed, think again," he hissed.

Harry knitted his brow. "Who would care that I-"

"Not you, Potter. Not everything is about you. I suppose it is useless to hope you will ever realize that. It's Zabini's life you're putting in jeopardy."

Harry hadn't considered this. If his family was already getting pressured for not joining Voldemort, Blaise's apparent friendship with Harry wouldn't improve their situation.

Seeing the light dawn on Harry's face, Snape sneered and moved away.

"Git," Ron mumbled under his breath.

"At least he didn't take any points, though," Ginny said brightly.

"He's right," Hermione said, watching Snape scolding some students for putting sunglasses on the roasting pig. "Blaise and his family will be targeted if Voldemort thinks they are siding with Harry and Professor Dumbledore."

"Since when did you care so much about Zabini?" Ron asked.

"I don't like him, Ron, and I hate what he stands for, but I don't want to see him hurt," Hermione said.

They were interrupted by the arrival of Neville and Hannah. Hannah looked pretty, in a white skirt with a pretty pink sleeveless top. Neville nearly strutted as he escorted her over to the group.

"Hi, Neville; hullo, Hannah," Ginny said brightly.

Hannah glanced nervously at Ron and Hermione. "Hi," she said shyly.

Hermione scowled, causing Hannah to retreat a step. Ginny stepped in front of Hermione and smiled at the skittish girl. "Isn't this just amazing? Professor Monroe did such a wonderful job. Why don't we all go try some of the food? I'm starving."

Ron perked right up at the mention of food, even though he was the only one who had still attended the regular supper in the Great Hall earlier that evening. "Me, too," he said, directing Hermione towards the food tables. When Ginny walked ahead with Hermione, he leaned back towards Neville and Hannah. "You two look good together," he said quickly before hurrying over to the roasting pig.

Neville's cheeks burned, but Hannah smiled and nodded before he left.

Harry watched them all for a moment, feeling pleased that it had all worked out in the end.

After they'd had their fill of the interesting foods that were available, Harry pulled Ginny away. For this one night, he didn't want to think about the war; he wanted this night to be just about them. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pressed her body close to his as they swayed to the music.

"Happy Valentine's Day, Harry," Ginny said, smiling sweetly.

"Happy Valentine's Day," he replied, kissing her softly.

"Where's my present?" Ginny asked.

Harry grinned. "What makes you think you're getting a present?"

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Harry, luv, I've been pretending all week that I didn't notice you scurrying around and sending secret owls. I know you're up to something."

Harry felt crushed. He'd thought he'd done such a good job of acting casual. "I'm never going to get away with anything around you, am I?"

"Nope," she said, grinning and snuggling her head under his chin. "So, where's my present?"

"I don't think I'm going to give it to you now," Harry said, only half-kidding.

"Har-ry," she said, pouting.

He laughed at her expression. "All right, all right. Come with me," he said leading her away from the crowd. He chose a spot on some rocks by a pond; the sound of the waterfall was louder than it had been near the bonfire. He waited while his vision became accustomed to the darkness before sitting down beside her and reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a small, black velvet box and handed it to her.

Ginny flipped opened the lid and gasped, "Harry."

Inside sat a square-cut emerald ring with a diamond on each side. Harry swallowed. "It reminded me of us. We're the two on the outside, with something big still separating us," he said softly, feeling a bit stupid. "Once we get through that, though...there's so much I want to do with you, Gin. I suppose this is kind of like a promise ring - it's what I want to promise you. If I can do this, I want to marry you, Ginny. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, making you happy. Can you accept that; can you wait for me?"

Ginny had tears in her eyes as she looked at the ring. She looked Harry right in the eye and said simply, "No."

He blinked. "No?" Panic and dismay rose in his chest; she didn't want to go through this. She'd changed her mind. He always knew it was too good to last. Neither can live while the other survives...

Ginny swiped at her eyes. "No. I'll wear this ring, Harry, and I'll promise you my heart and soul forever, but it's not a promise ring. When this is done...when Tom is dead and you're finally free, you come back to me and ask me properly. You don't get an answer if you don't come back to me."

Harry smiled, his heart returning to where it should be. Sweet Merlin, Voldemort had never scared him as much. "I'll take your heart and soul forever, then," he said, feeling at that moment that he could easily take on Tom and come back for her, just to hear that promise. He took her in his arms and kissed her soundly, tasting the salt from her tears. "Don't cry, Ginny," he whispered.

"I love you, Harry. I always have, and I always will," she said, wrapping her arms around him and pulling him closer to her body.

After they'd spent several minutes completely wrapped up with one another, Harry pulled back, panting. "That's the only present I've ever really wanted," he said.

"Oh!" Ginny exclaimed, slightly dazed. "I forgot. Here." She pulled a small package from her pocket and cast an enlargement charm. "Now, it's nothing like this," she said, holding up her ring and watching it sparkle in the firelight, "but I think you'll like it."

He unwrapped a new pair of Quidditch goggles and immediately put them on. Everything went blurry.

Ginny laughed. "They're designed to automatically adjust to your eyesight so you don't have to wear your glasses under them," she said, lifting the goggles and pulling his glasses out from underneath. His vision cleared, and he could see remarkably well, without any obstruction from the rim of his glasses. The soft strap fit comfortably as he tilted his head from side to side.

"These are brilliant, Ginny. Thanks!" he said with a wide grin. Removing the goggles, he placed them back in the box and shrunk it to again fit inside his pocket.

"We'd better get back, before Ron sends out a search party," Ginny said, sighing.

Harry pulled her closer for another kiss. "Let's wait until we have to go back," he said.

It was only a moment later when they heard Ron's voice calling, "Oi, Harry, Ginny where are the two of you?"

Harry sighed. "I swear he's determined that you and I don't get any time alone," he whispered.

Ginny giggled. "You're exactly right, Harry. He doesn't want us to be alone."

"Well, we're just going to have to find some way to avoid him, then," Harry said, taking up the challenge. Sister or not, there was no way Ron was going to keep him from spending some private time with Ginny.

"Come on," Ginny said, pulling him to his feet. "Let's socialize a bit before curfew. I want to show off my new present." She waved her fingers in front of him, showing off the sparkle of her new ring.

She led him back to the party, and they spent an enjoyable evening, dancing and eating at a party in the rainforest.

The evening of the Ministry gala had arrived, and Harry stood in front of the mirror in the boys' bathroom, trying to get his hair in some semblance of order. He wore his gray dress robes that he'd bought for the Yule Ball the previous year, but his hair had chosen this evening to be particularly difficult. Harry was already nervous about facing all those people and reporters; he didn't want to look ridiculous or worse, like a kid.

After intense speculation all week about his guest for the gala, Rita Skeeter had chosen this morning to change tactics. Instead of a gossipy piece of fluff, she insinuated that Harry was craving attention again and attending the gala rather than work on his training. The man designated as our savior chooses to stroke his ego rather than defend us, the article had begun.

He was startled out of his brooding by a light knock on the door.

"Are you decent?" he heard Ginny call from outside.

"Nope," he replied, before the door burst open, and Ginny bustled inside.

"You'd better hurry up, Harry, or you'll keep Professor Dumbledore waiting," she said, pulling the comb from his hand and going to work on his hair.

"I said I wasn't decent, you know," he said, relinquishing his grip on the comb. Maybe she'd have better luck.

"I was hoping," she said, shrugging.

He grinned. "I wish you could be my date instead of Professor Dumbledore."

"Yeah, but I'm not too jealous, because I don't think he's your type. He likes rules too much," she said, grinning. "You do look particularly dashing in these robes still, Harry. I'm disappointed that I won't be able to see you get your award. Mum and Dad are going to be there, and Mum's bringing her camera."

"Great," Harry replied dryly.

"This is huge, Harry. I heard that tickets are even being sold on the black market. Professor Dumbledore had trouble even getting the Order members in. Dad managed to get tickets through a friend at the Ministry, but Bill couldn't get any. Of course, somehow Fred and George managed to get dates with tickets, so they'll be there."

"Oh, well, that's just brilliant," Harry said sarcastically. "Just what I need to make this night perfect - Fred and George's running commentary."

"Cheer up, Harry. Don't be such a grump," Ginny replied, laying the comb on the sink and surveying her work. "That looks better."

Harry glanced in the mirror and was amazed to see that she'd managed to get his hair to settle down. At least, it looked as good as it ever did. "How did you do that?" he asked.

Ginny blew on her fingers and rubbed them against her side. "What would you ever do without me?" she asked.

"Show up at Ministry parties with messy hair?" he asked cheekily.

She grinned and kissed him soundly. "I'll wait up to hear how it goes when you get back."

"You don't have to do that, Ginny. I don't know how late we'll be, and I know you've been working hard," he said, leading her toward the stairs.

"I want to, Harry. I know Ron and Hermione will wait with me, as well."

When they entered the common room, Ron and Hermione were waiting. They were sitting on the couch by the fire, and Ron had his arm wrapped around Hermione's shoulders. Harry was happy to see it; things felt right again.

"Oh, Harry," Hermione said, "you look so handsome."

Harry blushed and ducked his head. "Thanks, Hermione. I wish you lot could come with me."

"Oh, so do I. I imagine it will be very formal and prestigious. I've never been to a Ministry function like it, and I'm certain it would be fascinating to see," Hermione gushed.

Ron rolled his eyes. "Well, I don't want to have to wear any dress robes, but I wish I could be there to watch your back. Fred and George said they'd keep an eye on you."

Harry clenched his teeth. "I don't need any minders, Ron. Besides, Professor Dumbledore will be with me."

"You can never have too many eyes, and I just feel better when I can keep you in my sight," Ron said.

Harry remained silent. Ron's over-protectiveness still irritated him, but he knew it was a residual effect from everything that had happened last year. He was a good friend, even if he was a pest.

"Okay, well, I'm supposed to meet Professor Dumbledore in the entrance hall. Wish me luck," Harry said, taking a deep breath.

They all wished him luck and told him not to worry. Ginny kissed his cheek before he climbed out the portrait hole. He found Professor Dumbledore waiting in the hall, dressed in robes of deep purple with silver moons embroidered on them.

"Ahh, Harry. There you are, my boy. Are you ready to go?" Professor Dumbledore asked.

"As ready as I'll ever be, sir," Harry replied.

Professor Dumbledore smiled, his eyes twinkling. "Cheer up, Harry. It might not be as bad you think. Often the things we least want to do end up being most enjoyable."

Harry didn't think he'd ever find socializing with a bunch of Ministry politicians and answering reporters' questions as anything close to enjoyable.

"How are we getting there, sir?" he asked.

"There is a carriage waiting to take us to Hogsmeade. We can Apparate directly to the Ministry checkpoint from there, but I'd rather we go to the Leaky Cauldron and walk over. Is that suitable to you?"

Harry squinted his eyes at the headmaster. "You don't want the Ministry to know when we arrive."

Dumbledore smiled. "Very good, Harry. It is best not to let them be too completely in control of anything. We shall arrive on our own terms."

Harry liked that idea. When they left the castle, Harry was surprised to see an ornate carriage being pulled by two thestrals awaiting them. "Nice ride," he commented.

Dumbledore chuckled. "You will find that I am not a cheap date, Harry."

Harry laughed. "I can't wait to see what Rita prints about this tomorrow."

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled merrily as he extended his arm. "Let us give her something to write about, shall we?"

Harry laughed outright and took Professor Dumbledore's arm. "Right then, on with the show."

As they approached the Ministry twenty minutes later, Harry saw a large crowd gathered outside. There were reporters snapping pictures and shouting questions as witches and wizards walked across a flying red carpet suspended between the Apparation checkpoint and the Ministry. Harry recognized Neville's grandmother as she walked regally across the carpet with her head held high in the air, ignoring both the reporters and the onlookers.

"I think we can avoid most of the reporters if we merely walk over to the entrance," Professor Dumbledore whispered in his ear. "Unless, of course, you would like the red carpet treatment?"

Harry shook his head emphatically. "No, sir. Let's just get inside quickly."

Professor Dumbledore nodded and led the way towards the open door of the Ministry. Two bulky guards stood on either side, while a house-elf directed the attendees on where to go. Harry and Professor Dumbledore almost made it inside before they were recognized. Harry didn't think Professor Dumbledore's purple dress robes were the least bit inconspicuous and was surprised they'd even made it that far.

"There he is! It's Harry Potter!" A cry went up, the lights of many flashbulbs began shining in Harry's face, and the reporters began firing their questions.

"Mr. Potter, how does it feel to be honored by this award?"

"Mr. Potter, what are you doing about ridding us of the Dark Lord?"

"Mr. Potter, why is it taking so long for you to act when innocent witches and wizards are being killed every day?"

"Albus Dumbledore, are you accompanying Mr. Potter on school business, or is there more to your relationship with the boy?"

The guards at the door ushered him and Professor Dumbledore inside and struggled to keep the reporters out. Harry had only a moment to breathe before the crowd inside again swarmed him.

"It's Harry Potter!" a young witch screamed as the mob began rushing toward him.

"I love you, Harry!" another witch called with tears streaming down her face.

Harry was at a complete loss on how to handle this. He had no idea what all these people were on about, or why they all seemed to want to touch him. He began batting their hands away as he backed towards the wall. When he felt his back hit the wall and the crowd continued to move closer, he pulled out his wand. He didn't want to curse anyone, but he hoped they'd at least move back so that he could determine if there was a real threat. Questions continued to barrage him, but the noise level was so loud he couldn't make anything out. He could hear his name being called repeatedly and felt his once immaculate dress robes being wrinkled in the crush.

"Oww," he snapped, jerking his head back from a particularly eager witch whom had grabbed a fistful of his hair. All Ginny's work on getting his hair to lie flat was ruined.

"Albus, Harry, this way," Kingsley Shacklebolt said. He had appeared next to them suddenly and pulled both of them through a door on the side of the room. He grinned at them in the darkened room, his white teeth flashing against his dark skin. "I'm sorry about that. We had Aurors on the other side of the carpet who were supposed to alert us when you were crossing."

"No harm done, Kingsley," Professor Dumbledore said, straightening his hat. "We sought to avoid the carpet altogether. Alas, I had not expected the tenacity of the crowd inside."

"What was all that about?" Harry demanded.

Kingsley Shacklebolt grinned. "Come now, Harry. Certainly you're used to being a celebrity by now?"

"Not like that," Harry said, shaking his head at the now closed door. "What is wrong with those people?" He felt as if he'd just been through a battle.

Professor Dumbledore grinned and straightened Harry's robes for him. "Everyone wants a piece of you, Harry. You had better get used to it. I fear it will only get more intense as the battle nears."

"Never mind after you've defeated that ruddy tosser," Kingsley said, grinning.

Harry was shocked; he had grown accustomed to everyone fearing to even utter Voldemort's name, never mind calling him names.

"We've all taken a page from your book, Harry. Most of the Aurors are describing him in most colorful terms," Kingsley said.

Harry grinned. "Well, that's an improvement, at least. D'you really think that even after I defeat him...assuming I do...that they'll still act like that?" he asked, nodding his head toward the door. He'd always imagined slipping away unnoticed to live his quiet, ordinary life. It hadn't occurred to him that the wizarding world might not be willing to let him go.

"Do not concern yourself with it now, Harry. What is coming will come, and we have more important things to worry about at the moment," Professor Dumbledore said, laying a comforting hand on Harry's shoulder. "Kingsley, I assume you have a more private way into the hall?"

"Yes. Follow me," Kingsley said, leading them down a hallway. "You still will probably get a lot of attention inside the hall, but you can sit at your table, and hopefully everyone will behave more civilly and with proper decorum. Albus, your friend Ivan Horvath approached me outside this evening and said to tell you to keep your eyes open tonight. He's heard some rumors that there might be trouble."

Dumbledore nodded. "Thank you, Kingsley. Ivan usually has a good ear for these things. Inform everyone to remain alert."

"Is Ivan here?" Harry asked. There was something about the old vampire he liked, and he wouldn't mind seeing him again.

"No, Harry. Ivan is considered a dangerous creature and not welcome at a Ministry function," Professor Dumbledore said sadly.

Like Remus

, Harry thought bitterly. Remus was unable to attend tonight's gala with Tonks for the same reason. Some things about the Ministry needed to change.

"Stay alert, Harry. Most of the Aurors wanted this event held at a separate facility, but Fudge wouldn't hear of it. He's showcasing, but Voldemort has enough soft support here at the Ministry that we can never be certain of anyone's loyalties. It would be quite a coup for Voldemort to interrupt the festivities tonight," Kingsley warned.

Kingsley led them down several corridors and up a lift before they reached another private door and slipped inside a huge function hall. It was extensively decorated, and the room glittered with polished gold and crystal. A podium was erected at the front of the room, with many circular tables arranged in front.

"You've been seated at the Minister's table," Kingsley told them, leading them to a table located in the front center of the room directly opposite the podium. Cornelius Fudge was already seated, along with a plump witch with a tight face. Harry assumed this was Mrs. Fudge. Percy Weasley and Pricilla Fudge were also seated, along with an older couple whom Harry didn't know.

"Ah, Albus, young Harry. Welcome, welcome," Cornelius Fudge said jovially. "Have a seat. I believe you've met my daughter Pricilla; this is my wife, Eustacia. Also let me introduce Maximillian St. George, who is the head our International Relations Division, and his lovely wife, Savannah."

Both Eustacia and Pricilla Fudge gave him looks that made him feel that they thought of him as the equivalent to something unpleasant on the bottom of their shoe. The St. Georges appeared pleasant enough, but Harry had the distinct impression that they were watching him closely.

"So, Albus, you did decide to accompany young Harry. I thought you'd let the boy out for a social occasion, since it isn't a school night," Fudge said, with a hint of irritation in his voice.

"While I am certain there are many young witches who would have enjoyed accompanying Harry to the gala, Cornelius, I decided that I deserved a festive night out. You did offer us just a pair of tickets," Dumbledore said, smiling and taking his seat.

Harry took his seat and allowed his eyes to scan the room. He didn't think the crowd would dare mob him while he was seated with the Minister of Magic himself, which was the only good thing about sharing a table with Cornelius Fudge. He noticed that the press had been seated at tables on the far side of the room. Cameras still flashed, but he assumed they'd been instructed to hold their questions until after dinner. He made a mental note to avoid that side of the room. His scar, which had been burning and itching slightly since leaving Hogwarts, seared painfully, making his eyes water. It lasted only a moment before receding completely. Harry scanned the room again.

He recognized some of the faces in the room, both as Order members and from past dealings with the Ministry. He could see the Quidditch recruiter, Simon Coffey, dining with several well-known Quidditch players in the League. Harry grinned, thinking about how much Ron would like the chance to get a glimpse of that table. He'd probably willingly put on his dress robes for it.

Harry turned when the chairs behind him at the table next to his were pulled out. He was surprised to find Fred and George Weasley taking seats with two stunningly attractive young witches that Harry didn't know. He grinned. It figures.

"Hiya, Harry," Fred said brightly.

"How are you, mate?" George asked. "Have you seen Mum and Dad yet? They were looking for you."

Although Harry was happy to see familiar faces, and he'd always really liked the twins, he could feel Percy's stare on the back of his neck, and he felt uncomfortable with the way all the Weasley brothers ignored one another.

"No," he replied. "I haven't seen them yet. We only arrived a few minutes ago."

"Come on, then," Fred said, taking him by the arm. "I'll show you where they are. Their table is further back, and they won't venture up this far, but they want to see you."

Harry felt another pang of sadness as he allowed Fred and George to direct him towards the Weasleys. He knew Mr. and Mrs. Weasley wouldn't approach his table because Percy was sitting there with his fiancée, and it made Harry's heart hurt. Mrs. Weasley would love to plan a wedding, but he didn't think either Pricilla or her mother would welcome her opinion. He felt a surge of dislike for the two witches, indignant on Mrs. Weasley's behalf.

Fred and George led him to a table set back from the podium and on the opposite side of the room from all the reporters, for which he was grateful. They beamed when they saw him approaching with the twins.

"Harry, dear," Mrs. Weasley said, jumping up to wrap her arms around him. She hugged him so tightly he had to gasp for breath before she let go to look him over. "You look wonderful, dear. Are these the dress robes Ginny helped you select? They're very becoming; the gray brings out the green in your eyes."

Harry blushed, causing Mrs. Weasley to laugh at him.

"You're too easy, Harry."

"How are you doing, Harry?" Mr. Weasley asked, gripping his shoulder fondly. "Have you got your speech all prepared?"

Harry blanched. "Speech?"

"Well, I'm certain they'll want a few words after they present you with the award, dear," Mrs. Weasley said nervously. She glanced anxiously at Mr. Weasley.

"Er...didn't Professor Dumbledore tell you...er...you see, Harry, it's customary to say a few words, er, after being presented with something like this," Mr. Weasley said, faltering.

Harry couldn't contain his grin any longer. "Don't worry, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley; I already know what I'm going to say. Hermione helped me put something together."

"He was winding you up!" George exclaimed, as Fred burst into laughter.

"Knew there was hope for you yet, mate," Fred said.

"Learned from the masters," Harry quipped.

"Harry!" Tonks said, bumping into several guests as she made her way towards them. She wore lavender dress robes and had streaks of lavender in her purple hair. "How are you, kid? I heard there was a bit of a scene by the entrance."

"A scene? What kind of scene? What happened at the entrance?" Mrs. Weasley asked in alarm.

"Yeah, we didn't hear anything," George said, looking at Harry.

"It's all right - some reporters asking questions is all," Harry said, shrugging.

"Yeah, and a bunch of witches trying to get into Harry's trousers," Tonks giggled, causing Harry to blush furiously as he tried to avoid Mrs. Weasleys's shocked eyes.

"I don't know what this world is coming to with the way young people behave nowadays," she said disapprovingly.

Fred and George grinned widely, and Mr. Weasley ducked his head. Harry was certain he was hiding a grin of his own.

"You'd best get back to your seats; they're waiting on you," Tonks said, nodding towards Harry's table.

He noticed that the food had appeared and people at some of the other tables had started to eat. Mrs. Weasley's dinner appeared as soon as she retook her seat.

"Where are you sitting?" Harry asked Tonks.

"I'm not. I'm working tonight, just keeping an eye on things," she smiled. "Don't keep the Minister waiting, Harry. He'll just make his speech even longer if he's in a snit."

Harry nodded and walked with the twins back toward their tables. Harry picked at his dinner quietly, allowing Professor Dumbledore to engage in conversation with the Minister and his family. He noticed that Percy didn't really participate in the conversation, either, but kept glancing over at the table where Fred and George's laughter could be heard above all other conversation. His scar twinged again, briefly, painfully, but he picked up no feeling or emotion from Voldemort. It left him nauseous, and with a distinct feeling of unease, however, and the food had no appeal.

Professor Dumbledore noticed his lack of appetite and leaned over to whisper, "Is everything all right, Harry?"

"Scar is bothering me a bit, but I haven't picked up on anything," he whispered back.

Dumbledore looked thoughtful, but he returned to his dinner without commenting. Harry picked at his food and allowed the conversation to buzz around him. He noticed Maximillian St. George giving him a piercing stare on several occasions, but he always looked away when Harry raised his eyes. Lost in his unease, Harry was startled when Fudge rose from his chair and took a stand behind the podium.

"Good evening, witches and wizards. I am delighted to have such a splendid turnout for tonight's festivities. In these dark times, we need to remember to take the time to celebrate the joy in our magical community. This administration has always sought-"

Harry forced himself not to roll his eyes at the Minister's self-inflated speech; he knew the press was watching him keenly. As Fudge continued to prattle on over the wonderful job the Ministry was doing, Harry's eyes roamed the crowd. He noticed a lot of people's attention begin to drift away from the Minister and wondered if it was indicative of their own lack of faith in their leader.

He was startled out of his thoughts when he heard the Minister bellow his name out through the crowd, "...Harry Potter!"

Wild applause and cheering rang through the hall, particularly loud whistles coming from the direction of the twins' table. Caught unawares, Harry faltered and struggled to cover his alarm.

Professor Dumbledore smiled fondly. "I believe they want you to say a few words, Harry. Take a few deep breaths and relax; you can do this."

Harry smiled and nodded his thanks for the encouragement. Uncomfortably aware of all the attention, Harry ducked his head and refused to meet anyone's eyes as he strode toward the platform. Before he mounted the few steps on the dais, a stuffy Ministry official approached him, holding a small metal box.

"Your wand, please," the official hissed when Harry looked at him blankly. The man seemed extremely put out that Harry didn't know the protocol. Glancing at Professor Dumbledore - who nodded briefly - he placed his wand in the box reluctantly and joined Minister Fudge at the podium.

Cornelius handed him a scroll affixed with a blue ribbon and gold label. His jovial face beamed as Harry turned toward the crowd. Harry swept his eyes along the sea of expectant faces and took a deep breath.

"Hello," he said, his voice cracking. He cleared his throat and started again. "I'm not really certain why this is being given to me; there are plenty of others who are fighting in this war and doing everything they can to keep you all safe.

"Voldemort wants-" Harry had to stop speaking for a moment until the shrieks and horrified screams in the room died down.

Harry shook his head in disgust. "How can you all sit here and expect me to fight him if you can't even stand to hear his name? It's just a name. He is the evil one, not the name. Haven't you all had enough of skirting around the problem and denying that it's really there?" Harry asked, glancing pointedly at Fudge, whose cheeks reddened brightly.

Harry ignored the whispers and nodding of the crowd. If public humiliation was what it was going to take - so be it. "Voldemort wants to wipe out all the Muggles and the Muggle-born witches and wizards. That's where he's starting, but he won't stop there. Do you really think he'll stop? He's power hungry and will destroy anyone and anything that stands in his way. We need to all come together, the wizarding community as well as all the other races - the werewolves, the vampires, the centaurs, the gremlins - anyone who has a stake in our world continuing. We need to be the bigger people, the better people-"

"Thank you, Harry," Cornelius Fudge interrupted him. He could see how furious the man was and knew both he and Dumbledore were in for a telling off before the night was over. He could hear Fred and George booing the interruption. Professor Dumbledore looked decidedly smug over Harry's comments.

Harry was about to push Fudge aside and continue speaking when his head suddenly felt as if it was exploding; shards of pain ripped through his skull. He clutched his forehead as he dropped to his knees, gasping for breath. Chaos erupted in the hall when masked Death Eaters swarmed in from all three entrances. The Aurors surrounding the room were easily outnumbered. Harry watched the sickening green light from the Killing Curse fly through the room with sickening frequency. The Minister released his grip on Harry and backed away from the podium, shielding himself behind several Ministry guards and leaving his wife and daughter at their table. The St. Georges were nowhere in sight.

The pain in his head kept Harry on his knees as he struggled for control. He knew before the shrieks and gasps even began that Voldemort had entered the room. Most of the attendees had never seen the man before his rebirth had so grossly distorted him. Now, he looked like something out of every childhood nightmare, and the vast majority of the crowd appeared frozen in shock staring at him.

He strode forward confidently, his snakelike red eyes flicking emotionlessly across the crowd. Harry wasn't certain if it was his imagination or not, but he thought he saw a hideous, forked tongue flicker out to test the air. Death Eaters guarded his progress, killing anyone that moved to stop him as he approached the podium. He watched in horror as a young witch wearing pale yellow dress robes was struck with a Killing Curse aimed at one of the Aurors.

Harry struggled to his feet; he had to get control and find a way to focus despite this pain in his head. He closed his eyes for a moment and thought of Ginny; she always calmed him, and he couldn't let her down. As his heart soared with the memory of her gentle touch, his mind cleared enough to concentrate. He needed his wand. Although he was capable of wandless magic, it didn't work for any of the really strong spells, and he didn't want to risk using the Curse of the Damned without it. There would be too much of a struggle for power as it was.

Raising his hand towards the Ministry official holding the box who was now hiding behind one of the tables, Harry hissed, "Accio wand."

The box rattled in the worker's hands, but didn't budge. Damn! Anti-summoning box, I should have realized that.

Harry felt his panic rising. He had to get over to that box without Voldemort knowing what he was doing. He quickly raised his Occlumency shield and tried to take a step closer to where the worker was crouched. Voldemort's eyes bore into him intently; Harry was his sole focus. Harry had to think of something else. This was it; the time for a final battle had arrived. Harry had sworn that the next time he met Voldemort would be the last. Somehow, he hadn't expected to be caught without his wand, however. Moody's words - Constant Vigilance - swam in his head, and he cursed himself for allowing this to happen. He had to get that wand!

Voldemort continued to move forward unhindered as the guests in the room shied away and hid their faces from his predatory stride. His eyes remained locked on Harry, who refused to flinch or look away. His heart sped up in his chest, and he felt small beads of sweat appear on his brow. He didn't want to die today; he had to get his wand. If he was going to die, then he had to find a way to take Voldemort with him.

He swallowed and inched a step closer to the quivering guard holding the box. From the corner of his mouth, he whispered, "Toss me the box."

The guard either didn't hear or was too stunned to move, for he didn't respond to Harry at all. Voldemort's eyes glared red, causing a shudder to run up Harry's spine as he remembered a night in a graveyard years ago. He wasn't that naïve, scared, little boy anymore. He knew to expect no mercy.

It was then that Professor Dumbledore stood up, blocking the path between Harry and Voldemort.

"Hello, Tom," he said pleasantly, as if greeting an old acquaintance.

What little there was of Voldemort's nostrils flared, infuriated by the name. Harry felt his scar sear with Voldemort's anger. "You've failed, old man," Voldemort said triumphantly.

"That has yet to be seen, Tom," Dumbledore replied calmly.

Harry seized onto Dumbledore's thoughts. Through Legilimency, he said, "Professor, my wand is in the anti-summoning box. I need a wand; I can't use the Curse of the Damned without one."

"It is not yet your time, Harry," Dumbledore responded.

Several Death Eaters fired curses at Professor Dumbledore to get him out of Voldemort's path, but he easily deflected them, as if batting flies. When the green light of the Killing Curse came towards him, he transfigured his table into a rock shield that absorbed the blast of the curse, shattering to pieces in the process.

Pricilla Fudge screamed and hid behind her mother. From the corner of his eye, Harry saw Percy moving stealthily toward the guard with the locked box. He didn't have time to think about Percy.

"What do you mean, 'it is not yet my time'? Voldemort is here now; I know how to conjure the curse. Help me get a wand and let me try to end this," he demanded.

"Harry, the pieces to ensure your victory are not yet in place," Dumbledore's voice said in Harry's head. In front of him, he watched Voldemort continue to stride forward. He was nearly on top of Professor Dumbledore and only a few meters from Harry when he raised his wand.

"What pieces? What are you talking about?" Harry nearly screamed.

"I am dying, anyway, Harry; I'll be a more powerful ally this way."

Ron's prophecy - the sacrifice! Harry suddenly understood, and his eyes locked with Professor Dumbledore.

Voldemort began his curse, "Avada..."

Professor Dumbledore looked at Harry. "This is my choice, done willingly; it is not your fault."


"Don't do this to me again!" Out loud, Harry screamed, "Nooooo!" as the powerful green light began hurtling towards him, aimed directly at his head. With a grace and agility that appeared incongruous with his ill heath, Professor Dumbledore flung himself into the path of the curse. As he was struck down, all the air seemed to be sucked from the room, and the lights dimmed. The stunned stupor most of the guests had been under lifted upon seeing Professor Dumbledore struck down. People screamed and began running for the exits in panic.

Voldemort was nearly giddy with glory. He laughed out loud as he stood over Professor Dumbledore's crumpled form. "You lose, Potter! Finally, my victory is at hand. You are mine; Hogwarts is mine. It is all mine." He raised his wand again.

Harry stood still in stunned silence. He blinked in numb disbelief as he struggled to accept what had just happened. His heart ached within his chest, and he had trouble making sense of anything. The lights in the room continued to flicker as an unearthly wail began to howl throughout the hall. In a moment that could have been seconds or an eternity later for all Harry knew, Percy Weasley appeared by his side, Harry's own wand grasped within his hand.

"Take it," he hissed at Harry.

Harry blinked, too shocked to move.

Percy shoved the wand into his hand. Before he could move to raise it, before he could even register that he held it, he felt the familiar tug of a portkey behind his navel, and the room vanished from his eyes.

Author notes: Okay, I know some of you didn’t want this – I’ve even been threatened if I did it! But, I mentioned before that I think Dumbledore has to die before Harry fully comes into his own power. Don’t worry, though…Dumbledore’s role isn’t yet complete so you haven’t seen the last of him. Anyway, this is how I see it, and since I’m the one writing it…well, I got to make the call.