The Awakening Power


Story Summary:
Complete! Challenges fill Harry's busy sixth year: growing powers, Snape becomes defense teacher (and Harry's not in the mood for abuse), a new Potions teacher, a girl with a new crush on him, Quidditch, Voldemort, and a certain redheaded girl named Ginny who may help him through all of it. What are the goblins up to? Will Ron win Hermione back? And what exactly is Voldemort's diabolical plan to kill Harry and plunge magical society into anarchy? Lots of romance, drama, action and humor! Voted Phoenix Song's Best Novel-Length Story (along with Best Harry and Best Kiss).

Chapter 20

Chapter Summary:
Harry’s powers are growing very strong, and Dumbledore is worried about his control. Meanwhile, Snape has become the new Defense teacher, and Harry resolves not to take his abuse this year… Will Harry notice Ginny? Will Ron win Hermione back? Who has a new crush on Harry? Who is the new Potions teacher? And what exactly is Voldemort’s diabolical plan to kill Harry and plunge magical society into anarchy? Lots of humor, drama, action and romance as all these questions are answered and much more in Harry’s busy sixth year.
Author's Note:
Harry’s sixth year, after OotP. H/G, R/Hr, PG-13 rating.

Chapter 20: Practical Defense

* * *

Ginny sat in the library in the early evening, surrounded by a large pile of books. I'll never survive this year, she thought forlornly. She had believed the workload was heavy before Christmas, but with OWL exams approaching, the teachers apparently felt the students needed additional stress.

Of course, it didn't help that she happened to be starving. Her stomach gave a growl as she tried to concentrate on her work. It was about dinner time, and her appetite was not letting her forget the fact. She sighed as she continued on with her work, knowing that almost everyone else was at dinner.

Later on after the evening meal was over, she looked up and saw Hermione sitting down at her table, smiling at her.

"How's it going?" asked Hermione.

"Exhausting, honestly," Ginny said tiredly. "I don't know how you lot got through last year, on top of Umbridge. I saw some Hufflepuff girl crying in the corner a while ago, and I felt like going over to join her."

Hermione nodded sympathetically and patted her hand. "You'll get through it."

"Yeah. Ron got through it and got eight OWLs, so I suppose anything's possible," she said, giggling. "Well, he should probably give you a couple of them for keeping him on task."

Hermione laughed at that. "I noticed you weren't at dinner tonight," she said.

Ginny's face took on a guarded expression. "Yeah. A bit too busy... lots of work to do," she said, gesturing at her large pile of books, as if she needed to prove the point.

"Yes," Hermione said, nodding innocently. "I can see you have quite a bit of work here. In fact, I've noticed that you've been skipping dinners a fair amount lately."

"Busy. Terribly busy... you know how it is... OWLs are a killer year..." Ginny said, unable to keep her eyes from darting away.

"It's funny, though..." Hermione said, looking like she was giving a matter some serious thought.

"Er, funny?" Ginny said nervously, feeling a sinking sensation in her stomach unrelated to her current lack of food.

"Yes... I couldn't help but notice how Harry disappears the nights that you seem to skip dinner..." Hermione said, eyebrows raised.

Ginny's face took on a bit of a blush. "All right, Hermione, you can stop," she said. "Harry usually shows up to take me down to the kitchens and we get something to eat together."

Hermione grinned at her. "And you wouldn't be intentionally starting to miss dinners lately, now would you?"

Ginny felt even more embarrassed. Damn it, she is way too observant, she thought, feeling aggravated. "All right, all right. Maybe a little. But no one else is noticing, are they? No one's talking about it?" she asked desperately.

Hermione giggled. "Don't worry, no one's noticed anything, least of all Harry."

"Good," Ginny said, feeling relieved. She rested her chin on her hands glumly. "I'm so pathetic, aren't I?"

"I think it's sweet," Hermione said, smiling. "And let's face it, with Harry, it's best to take what he's willing to give."

"Yeah. That's what I figured," Ginny said, still looking gloomy.

"You should see him when comes into the Great Hall, though..." Hermione said, lowering her voice and snickering. "He looks around for you, and looks almost disappointed if he sees you. If you're not there, then he eats hardly anything."

Ginny looked embarrassed. "Oh, he does not," she said, hoping he did.

Hermione nodded, grinning. "So something must be happening..."

"Hermione, I just don't know," Ginny said, with a heavy sigh. "If it were anybody else, I'd think something was going somewhere, but..."

"But what?" Hermione said.

"I mean, we're spending a lot of time together, he's even been talking to me a little, you know? But then... nothing."

"Well, he's certainly not spending this much time with any other girls," Hermione said.

"Yeah, that's something, I know... but you remember you're telling me that he might need a little push?" Ginny asked.

"Yes..." Hermione replied.

"Hermione, believe me, I've not been exactly passive in this whole thing," Ginny said, a bit embarrassed. "It seems like he responds, but... the only thing I haven't done is outright kiss him, and I just can't. It's like I said over the summer... I need to know that it was his idea."

"What's the worst that could happen if you did kiss him first?" Hermione asked.

"If I kiss him first, then I'll always wonder if I roped him into it. You know, maybe he didn't really want to, but then he's stuck with me, and resents it," Ginny said, looking shy. "I know it sounds really insecure. And maybe it if it was anyone else, I wouldn't have such a problem, but... you know the history, here. I had a crush on him for so long, and made such a fool of myself, and now..."

"Now what?" Hermione prompted.

"I know I said I was going to try and not get emotionally involved again, but... I care about him so much. And I just don't want to get so impatient that I mess it up," Ginny said.

Hermione nodded. "I understand. It's best with Harry to let him work it out at his own pace. He does care about you, though, Ginny."

"I want to believe that... and I suppose I do..." Ginny said hesitantly. "I guess I'm just not certain if he will ever care about me... that way. It seems like sometimes... he does..."

"Well, that's something... I think you have good instincts about this," Hermione said.

"Maybe. But then why doesn't he DO something!?" Ginny suddenly burst out with frustration, her hands unconsciously held out in front of her in a choking gesture.

"Welcome to my world," Hermione said dryly.

Ginny couldn't help but laugh at that. "Yeah, you're right. So, speaking of the git, what's going on with my dear brother?"

Hermione heaved a great sigh. "I haven't the faintest idea."

Ginny shook her head. "He is really trying for that prat-of-the-year award." She abruptly banged her fist on the table angrily. "Hermione, I'm telling you, that idiot I call a brother fancies you. There is zero doubt in my mind. Things have to be reaching a breaking point with him. It's only a matter of time."

"I just don't know anymore. I mean, for a while there, over the summer... I thought things were moving. But once we got here to Hogwarts, he's just been... different. Have you noticed how much he's been studying?" Hermione asked.

"Yes. Something certainly lit a fire under him. I've never seen him so interested in school stuff, not even when Mum taught before Hogwarts," Ginny said, giggling. "And let's just say that Mum didn't take no for an answer when it was time to study."

"You know, I never thought I'd say this... but between Ron wanting to study all the time, and Joseph wanting to study, I'm getting a little tired of studying," Hermione said.

"I never expected to hear that," Ginny said, snickering.

"All that, and extra studying I've been doing for Harry... and the D.A. meetings... I mean, I'm really happy that Ron is taking things so seriously now, his marks have really improved, but I sort of miss having a little fun, you know? He actually turned me down for playing chess the other night, because he said he had an essay to finish!"

Ginny shook her head. "Hmm. Well, so what's going on with Joseph?"

"He's very..." Hermione paused. "studious."

Ginny laughed. "Well, there's a ringing endorsement."

Hermione blushed. "Well, I didn't mean it that way. He's really very nice, and we have wonderful conversations about lots of different subjects. He's very intelligent."

"It's good that you two seem to have a lot in common," Ginny said.

"Yes. I mean, we both enjoy learning a lot of different things. I did have a lot of fun in Hogsmeade with him..." Hermione said, trailing off.

"But?" prompted Ginny.

Hermione sighed. "I kept thinking about Ron the whole time. They're so different... I have great analytical conversations with Joseph, but Ron... he makes me laugh."

"Do you think your relationship with Joseph has any potential?" Ginny asked.

"Maybe... I don't know. I mean, I like him..." Hermione leaned forward a bit. "He kissed me the other night."

Ginny raised her eyebrows. "Really? Where?"

"On the lips... Oh! You mean where..." Hermione said, blushing.

She hurriedly continued as Ginny grinned at her. "In the Astronomy Tower. We went up there to do some homework, and we started talking. He said he really liked me, and leaned over and kissed me." Hermione said, a bit shy.

Ginny giggled. "How was it?"

Hermione paused, trying to think about how to put it. "It was... a kiss, I guess. I don't know what I expected. I kept thinking about this book on kissing that I read."

Ginny laughed. "Normally you just enjoy it, you don't analyze it."

Hermione looked embarrassed. "Yes, you're right. That's what I told myself afterward; that I need to not think so much."

"Well, he doesn't seem like a bloke who's particularly experienced, either, so I'm certain it'll get better," Ginny said supportively.

Hermione sighed. "I suppose we'll see how it goes. I'm trying not to have expectations for anyone. Those only seem to lead to disappointment."

"I know exactly what you mean," Ginny said, nodding.

"Well, as for Harry, I have noticed that he seems a lot happier lately," Hermione said. "Even if it's not moving as fast as you'd like, you're having a good effect on him."

"I hope so," Ginny said. "I don't know. You know, the last Hogsmeade... it almost seemed like he wanted to ask me to go with him." Her face grew into a scowl. "Then I saw him there with Parvati." She said the name as if it was a curse.

"You don't think Harry asked her, do you?" Hermione replied. "Harry went by himself, but she saw him and trapped him."

"I suspected as much, but I wasn't certain," she sighed, and looked annoyed. "It's just - does every girl fancy him this year? I'm sure I've spotted Cho sniffing around again, and there's this Hufflepuff girl that Harry is oblivious to..."

Hermione giggled at that. "There's another Hogsmeade weekend coming up. Are you going with anyone?"

"Well, I was hoping Harry would ask, but who knows what he'll do," Ginny said, rolling her eyes. "I'll probably go with my friends again."

"Joseph asked me, but I told him I was going to go with Harry and Ron. It seems like with everything we haven't had too much fun together lately. Say, why don't you come with us? Maybe spending the day with Harry will loosen him up and he'll be less shy about next time."

"All right," Ginny said, smiling. "That sounds like fun. And I suppose it's like you say - when it comes to Harry, I should take what I can get."

* * *

Hermione sat with Joseph in the library, reflecting on her conversation with Ginny. Where was it going with Joseph? She had fun with him... was she giving him enough of a chance? Perhaps she was expecting too much; after all, only stupid romance novels had expectations of fireworks with every kiss.

"Hermione?" Joseph said, interrupting her thoughts.

"Yes?" she said, looking up from her essay.

"You know... I've really been enjoying our time together this year... since... er, we've been going out..." Joseph said, looking nervous.

"That's nice of you to say," Hermione said, flattered, although she wondered if "going out" was exactly the right term.

"You know, Sunday after next is Valentine's Day. I was just wondering if, er, you wanted to have a picnic on that day... I was thinking I could pack us a lunch and... er... we could find a good spot somewhere on the lake... there's this winter picnic spell I've been dying to try. It's supposed to make the snow appear like grass and warm up the spot," he said.

Somewhere private, presumably, Hermione thought. Well, now was the time to give him a chance, if that's what she wanted. "All right," she said, smiling.

Joseph smiled back, looking a little relieved. "Great! It'll be fun. I think I'll bring -"

Suddenly a drawling voice came from behind them, causing Hermione to flinch in surprise. "Well, what have we here?" Malfoy said.

Hermione turned around and glared. "What do you want, Malfoy?" He had come in with Crabbe and Goyle behind him, the two of them sniggering stupidly.

Malfoy ignored her as he smirked at Joseph. "O'Donnell, isn't it? I believe I recognized the pointy head."

Joseph pursed his lips angrily, but said nothing.

"Come now, O'Donnell. Surely you've learned to speak by now? Or didn't those Muggle schools teach you the finer points of articulation?" Malfoy sneered.

"Just ignore him," Joseph said to Hermione.

"Just ignore him," Malfoy mimicked him, in a high pitched voice. "You know, O'Donnell, I hear they have very good growth charms these days. You're looking a bit... small, shall we say?"

"Malfoy, I'm warning you..." Hermione said, growing angry.

"What? Do you have to defend your little boyfriend here?" Malfoy said, laughing mockingly.

Joseph looked extremely embarrassed.

"Oooooh... are you getting a bit peeved?" Malfoy said. "I better watch out... a Ravenclaw would know some pretty nasty hexes, right boys?"

Crabbe and Goyle nodded, looking a bit fearful. Malfoy rolled his eyes at them.

"But then, he'd actually have to have the guts to use them. Say, where's the weasel, anyway? Don't tell me he's finally grown tired of you, Granger," Malfoy said spitefully. "Or did that crow's nest you call hair finally scare him away?"

"I'm going to tell Madam Pinch," Joseph said warningly.

Malfoy put a mock look of horror on his face. "Ooooooh! Not that! Come on boys, we'd better go! He's going to tell a librarian." Malfoy laughed as they strode off to another table.

Hermione seethed as she sat in her chair, trying to resist the urge to show Malfoy what a real hex looked like. As she calmed herself, she couldn't help but compare Joseph's reaction with Ron, who would have... what?

She'd always told herself that she wished Ron would be less impulsive in his dealings with Malfoy and let authority handle it, but sitting there now, she couldn't help but feel a bit... disappointed. Hermione felt extremely confused as she examined her own feelings. If she was really honest with herself, she had to admit that she liked when Ron defended her. But was that really the right way to go about things?

"Come on, Hermione, let's go back to work," Joseph said.

Still feeling very puzzled at her own reaction, Hermione smiled somewhat weakly at him and went back to her work.

* * *

"Ravenclaw," Ron whispered at his teammates, as he paced in front of the bench. "Clever blokes. A dangerous team this year."

He stopped and looked around suspiciously. He continued in a conspiratorial voice. "They want it this year. I'm telling you I can smell it in the air. There is nothing more dangerous than a team with their backs against the wall. They lost their first game against Slytherin. They're hungry," Ron said, eyes wide.

"HUNGRY!" he suddenly yelled, startling everyone. "They know that if they lose this game, they're in a deep hole. Look out for them to play very aggressively. We have to be on our toes today."

Ron smacked his fist into his palm for emphasis as he continued. "We have an amazing chance this year - a chance to repeat as champions. I've said it before, but let me say it again. I've never been so proud as I was at the end of the Hufflepuff game. I can feel it. This team is special - we have the potential to be one of the greatest teams in Hogwarts history. I can feel it!" Ron said, looking as if he might choke up.

Ron's face abruptly took on a look of warning. "But it won't be given to us. We have to earn our place in history. We have to embrace the passion... show everyone and everything that were worthy of being called champions. Show the students. Show the teachers. Show the field... the hoops... even the snitch!"

Ron raised his arms toward the sky, his eyes wide. "SHOW THE ALMIGHTY QUIDDITCH GODS IN THE SKY THAT WE'RE WORTHY!"

"Are we worthy?" he yelled to the team.

"YES!" the team fired back.

"Are you ready to play like champions today?" Ron yelled.

"YES!" The team yelled back.

"Then get out there and crush them!" he finally screamed.

* * *

Ron slowly awoke, feeling extremely groggy. He tried to remember where he was, but felt very disoriented. Gradually he realized he was in a bed, but he couldn't tell what sort of room he was in.

Someone was speaking to him, speaking his name. He tried to focus on the voice...

"Hermione?" Ron asked, vaguely focusing on a brown mass in front of him.

"Oh, Ron, how are you feeling?" she asked, very concerned.

Ron thought about it. For some odd reason, the question felt exceptionally difficult to answer. He realized that his head was pounding, and his entire body felt as if it had been beaten recently with large clubs.

"Awful," he said finally.

"Ron?" asked a voice... it was Harry. At least, the voice sounded like Harry, and he could see a black-ish mass next to what he thought was Hermione. He could also see a reddish-looking head that might be Ginny.

"Oi, mate," he said weakly. "What happened?'

"You got hit in the head by a bludger," Harry said.

Suddenly everything came back to Ron... "Oh no!" he said, trying to sit up in bed, but just flopping back as his body failed him.

"Ron! Just lie still!" Hermione ordered, then her voice softened. "Just... just lie down, all right?"

"All right," Ron said, sighing. "Just tell me - please tell me we won."

There was an awkward silence in the room, giving Ron a sinking feeling. He groaned. "We didn't lose, did we?"

"Well, I'm afraid so, Ron," Ginny said consolingly. "It wasn't a big loss, though! We can still make up the points in the Slytherin game..."

Ron was devastated. His first loss as captain, and he felt as if he'd let the team down. "What... what happened?"

"Well, after you were hit, Katie Bell took over at Keeper. She did pretty well, but... it was hard to score and defend two on three. Sam did his best, and Harry caught the snitch as fast as he could, but we were way down on points by that time. We lost by eighty points."

Ron had an urge to start throwing breakable objects. Somehow the loss was even harder to take than the ones last year, but then he thought he should set a good example as captain. The team probably felt bad enough.

"I'm certain you all did your best," Ron said, forcing a grim smile to his face.

Just then Madam Pomfrey came into the room. "Well, Mr. Weasley. Awake, I see. How is your vision?"

"Still a bit blurry, but better than when I woke up," Ron replied.

"You'll need a few days with me, I'm afraid," said Pomfrey.

Ron groaned. "Not again," He suddenly looked abashed. "Erm, I didn't mean it that way..."

Pomfrey smiled. "I understand, Mr. Weasley. I'll have you out and about as soon as possible. Now, I think you've had enough visitors for now. You need some rest."

"We'll come back soon, Ron," said Hermione sympathetically. "Can I bring you anything?"

"Let me know what's on the dinner menu tonight... I'll let you know," Ron said, grinning.

"All right, I will," Hermione, smiling back.

Ron had a number of visitors the next day. Hermione spent most of the day with him when she wasn't in class, playing chess and exploding snap. Ron felt very gratified to have her with him.

At one point in the afternoon, Padma Patil stopped by. Ron noticed nervously that she looked very pretty.

"Hello, Ron," she said shyly. Hermione looked at her suspiciously.

"Hi, Padma," Ron said, grimacing a bit as he shifted position.

Padma looked at him worriedly. "How are you feeling? That was so frightening, watching you fall..."

Ron smiled bravely at her. "Well, you know how it is... bit of a bludger to the head," he said, rubbing his head. "...and hitting the ground... broke a few bones, but nothing serious. A bloke has to be able to take the punishment." He waved his hand nonchalantly. "Rough game, Quidditch."

Ron tried to avoid looking at Hermione as he could see a scowl forming on her face.

"You know," Padma said, moving closer to the head of the bed. "I try and cheer for Ravenclaw... but I like to see you do well, too... Your win against Hufflepuff was really... impressive."

Ron felt his ears heating up a bit. "Well, erm, you know, my teammates played really well," he said, trying to be modest.

Padma smiled at him warmly. "Well, I better let you rest... maybe after you get out, I'll... see you around?"

"Yeah... see you... all right," Ron said, feeling nervous. Hermione was looking extremely annoyed.

"Well, bye," she said, putting her hand on his arm before exiting the infirmary.

Hermione glared at Padma's retreating back as Ron carefully inspected his fingernails. She appeared about to say something when Harry walked in, carrying a package.

"Harry!" Ron said loudly, relieved at the distraction.

"Hi, Ron," Harry said, grinning at him. "You got this package from Fred and George."

"A... package?" Ron said fearfully, eyeing the box.

"They wouldn't send you a joke package when you're in the infirmary from a Quidditch injury," Harry said.

"You never know with those two," Ron said.

"I'll open it," Harry said.

"Thanks, mate," Ron said gratefully.

Harry opened up the box and pulled out an odd-looking pair of shoes and gloves. "Here's a note," he said, handing the parchment to Ron.

Dear Bro,

We heard about your little bludger accident, and of course we're impressed that you sacrificed sound body for the good of Gryffindor. Well done!

We'd say a little gift is in order. We think this will cheer you up - it's our latest invention. If you wear these shoes and gloves, you'lll stick to any wall, letting you climb anywhere you want. We think you'll agree that these will be highly useful for troublemaking opportunity.

Your Brothers,

Fred and George

"Whoa," Ron said, impressed. "I can't wait to try them out."

Hermione looked rather disapproving as she read the note. "Well, I can't deny that it's an interesting bit of magic, but they're not particularly practical, are they?"

"Practical?" Ron said incredulously. "Are you kidding? With these I can climb anywhere!"

"Yes, Ron, but doesn't it seem as if there's no, well, legitimate reason to have something like this?"

"Legitimate?" Ron looked at her suspiciously. "You're not going to tell McGonagall, are you?"

"No!" Hermione said, a bit stung. "But Ron, we're prefects! What kind of example are we setting when we have things like these shoes and gloves... they're intended for rule breaking!"

"Yeah..." Ron said, looking dreamy with the possibilities. He seemed to snap back to reality as Hermione glared. "All right, all right. I'll stay out of trouble. Okay?"

"Well, all right," Hermione said, not looking completely convinced.

* * *

Harry sat in the common room, doing his homework with Ron and Hermione. Tomorrow was to be a Hogsmeade visit, and he was trying to work up the nerve to ask Ginny. Parvati had cornered him earlier and asked him if he wanted to go, but he had begged off, telling her he was going to study.

He felt a twinge of guilt at the lie. Well, if Ginny doesn't want to go, then I'll stay behind anyway, he thought. Probably Hermione is going with Joseph, and Ron will study.

He had been struggling mightily to figure out his feelings, but he felt mired in confusion. He knew that he enjoyed her company, and that he found himself missing her when she wasn't around, but what did he really feel? It felt different from what he'd felt with Cho.

Of course, the other factor was that he had no clue how she felt about him. He kept coming back to the fact that Hermione had said she was over him. True, they had been spending a lot of time together lately... The truth was that he wasn't even certain why she would have any feelings for him beyond being friends.

So now he surreptitiously watched her across the room, wishing for some miracle that would help him ask her...

"Ron?" Hermione asked, looking up from her homework and interrupting Harry's thoughts.

"Hm?" Ron grunted, barely looking up from his work.

"Are you going to Hogsmeade tomorrow?" she asked.

Ron looked up at that, appearing a bit petulant. "Maybe," he said, shrugging. "I suppose you're going with the Runt."

Hermione looked very angry. "Well, I was thinking of going with you and Harry. We've all been so busy that we haven't spent much time together this year, but if you're going to be that way, then just forget it!"

She slammed her books closed and got up to leave.

"Hermione! Wait..." Ron said desperately, rising to his feet to stop her. "I'm sorry... Really. I'm sorry."

Hermione looked slightly mollified as she looked as if she was trying to decide whether to stay or not. Finally she sat down again. "All right, then."

Ron looked happier than Harry had seen him in quite some time as he grinned happily at Hermione. She finally couldn't help but grin back as the tension left the table.

Harry felt conflicted. On the one hand, a day with Ron and Hermione sounded really good... but he really wanted to go with Ginny, too...

"One more thing," Hermione said. "I hope you don't mind, but I invited Ginny along, too."

Harry blinked. "Ginny?" Suddenly Harry's spirits rose considerably. He made a mental note to buy Hermione some of her favorite sweets at Honeydukes.

"Yes. I need a new coat, so she's going to help me shop," Hermione said, looking a bit too innocent.

Harry glanced over at Ginny, who happened to look up. He smiled at her and gave her a wave as he went back to his work.

* * *

The next morning, the four started off to Hogsmeade. The day was a bit cold as they trudged through the snow. Gray clouds covered the overcast sky, but Harry felt in a bright mood regardless. It was good to have a day with Ron and Hermione, and having Ginny along made it all the better.

They entered the Three Broomsticks, deciding to have a Butterbeer to warm themselves up after the cold trip. As they sat chatting, Harry noticed someone looking at him. He glanced over, and with a sinking feeling, he saw Parvati. A surge of guilt rose up in him as he recalled telling her that he wasn't going to Hogsmeade.

He couldn't help but notice that she looked a bit hurt, but she gave him a wave anyway. Harry felt obligated to wave back, which caused Ginny to notice where he was looking. Her lips pursed tightly for a second, but then she smiled, but it looked somewhat forced.

Harry felt extremely confused. Ginny had looked annoyed for a second; what did it mean? Did she think I was rude? Did she think I wanted to be with Parvati instead of all of them? He groaned inwardly. It was far too complicated to figure any of these things out.

After their drinks were finished, they decided to look around Hogsmeade, enjoying the crisp air and pretty snow around the village. As Harry walked along the snow-covered street, he noticed that Ginny had disappeared. Suddenly a snowball hit him hard in the head.

"Augh!" Harry shouted. He noticed Ginny had taken cover behind a large snow bank. Another snowball came launching through the air and caught Ron direct in the face as he turned to look.

"Ginny!" Ron shouted. He quickly reached down and picked up a snowball, launching it at Ginny. She ducked just in time, laughing.

"Come on, Hermione! Get the boys!" Ginny shouted. Hermione ran over to the bank as Harry and Ron took cover behind another snow bank. They spent several minutes laughing and launching snowballs. Harry noticed that all the Quidditch practice had made Ginny's aim deadly as she scored a lot more hits on him than he scored on her.

Harry leapt up and was about to throw another snowball when abruptly a large amount of snow flew up, leaving a large gouge in his snow bank. He stared dumbly, wondering why the girls were using magic outside of school.

"Harry!" Hermione screamed. "Get down!"

Harry dove to the ground as a spell flew straight through the air where he'd been standing only a split second before. Ron threw himself down next to him. A surge of adrenaline rose in him as he gripped his wand tightly.

"Harry! Across the street, three of them, two feet to the left of the Curio Shop sign!" Ginny yelled. "They're moving toward you..."

Harry leapt up, ready this time. He saw three black-hooded wizards cautiously approaching, but as they saw him they started running toward him.

"Stupefy!" one of the wizards shouted.

Harry blocked the spell automatically; all his practice paying off. He immediately launched a return spell, which was blocked by one of the wizards.

The three seemed taken aback that Harry had blocked the spell so easily as they veered off, taking cover. Anger surged through Harry as he worried about his friends, and coming so soon after the Goblin attack, he was tired of messing around.

Ron got up to his feet next to him, a determined look on his face. He launched a stunning spell, which was again blocked by the wizards.

"Sopor Irrationalis!" Harry shouted, giving the very powerful stunning spell. The disadvantage was that it was a rather slow spell and easy to dodge, but the wizards didn't seem to expect it, and it caught the first one, blowing easily through the shield he'd tried to cast. The wizard fell headfirst in the snow.

The other two looked at Harry, appearing much more hesitant. Harry, not feeling particularly gentle, launched several very powerful bludgeoning spells. One wizard partially deflected it, but was still knocked off his feet into the snow. The other wizard missed entirely, and Harry heard a loud crunching sound as the spell hit him violently in the chest. The wizard flew backward and crumpled to the ground, unconscious.

A loud POP sounded as the knocked down wizard recovered and Disapparated.

Harry looked around wildly, wondering if there were any more of them hidden anywhere. He saw a number of wizards running toward him. He raised his wand, intending to hurt the first one that came into range...

"Wait! Potter, it's me! Blackhorn!" a man shouted.

Harry held back, looking suspiciously at the man. As his face came into view, Harry recognized it as the Auror he had met in Diagon Alley.

"Are you all right?" Blackhorn asked, his eyes wide, scanning the area.

"Yes," Harry said, his heart racing. "There were three of them that attacked. I knocked out two of them, and one got away."

Blackhorn nodded and went over to look at the fallen wizards. He waved his wand over the stunned wizard, nodded at something, and then cast a spell that tied him up. He moved over to the other wizard, waving his wand in a similar fashion. He looked alarmed and then knelt down quickly. He touched the wizard's neck, looked a bit relieved, and then cast a spell, sweeping his wand over the body. "Smyth! I need a Healer, now! I cast an immobilization spell, but we have a severe chest injury."

Ron, Hermione and Ginny had moved over to stand next to Harry, all three looking grim. Harry also noticed that many students were milling around, looking between the Aurors, the fallen wizards and himself.

"Is he going to be all right?" Harry asked, his feelings conflicted.

"Mr. Potter," Blackhorn said as he looked hard at Harry. "Don't you worry about that, and don't you feel the least bit of guilt. These two are known Death Eaters, or at least, we've suspected them for a long time. You did what you had to do. To answer your question, yes, I think he'll live."

Blackhorn grinned as he looked at Harry appraisingly. "But I guess he knows he messed with the wrong wizard, eh? Great Merlin, you hit him with a powerful spell. You know, Tonks has been telling us how well you've been doing at your meetings... honestly, I thought she was exaggerating a tiny bit, but -"

"Mr. Potter!" Dumbledore was walking up, shooting an extremely angry look at the fallen wizards. Professors McGonagall and Snape were with him as well. "You are well, I trust?"

"Yes, Professor. Thank you," Harry said.

"Minerva, Severus, perhaps you should round up all the students. I believe it would be prudent to cancel the rest of the Hogsmeade weekend, if Voldemort's minions are getting this bold," Dumbledore said to the two teachers.

"All right, Albus. You're correct, of course," said McGonagall, looking extremely worried. Snape nodded as well as they began moving down the street, looking for students.

Some time later, all the students gathered at the road back to Hogwarts.

"Is everyone accounted for?" asked Dumbledore. Harry was very glad that Dumbledore was here; he felt extremely jumpy.

"Yes, Albus," said McGonagall. "It appears the attack was confined to Potter."

Dumbledore waved his wand, causing his voice to speak very loudly. "Students! Follow me, please."

All the students followed dutifully, as McGonagall and Snape brought up the rear. As Harry walked along, he felt guilty that the attack had ruined everyone's weekend.

"Great Merlin, Harry, you're not feeling guilty, are you?" asked Ginny.

Harry was startled out of his thoughts. "Am I that obvious?" he asked, feeling down, but smiling a little bit. He sighed. "I guess I just feel bad that the weekend was cancelled."

"Well, blame the Death Eaters, not yourself," Ginny said firmly.

"Yeah, maybe. Still, it would be nice to not be at the center of trouble for once," Harry said gloomily.

"Harry, if it wasn't you, it'd be someone else," said Hermione. "You're just the one at the top of Voldemort's list. Honestly, when you think about it, we're lucky that nothing has happened before now. Hogsmeade is pretty exposed, and it would be just like Voldemort to attack students just for terror purposes. So don't focus on the negative, be thankful that no one was hurt. Once they had you, who knows who else they might have hurt? You probably saved a lot of people today."

"That's right, mate. And that was one wicked bludgeoning spell," Ron said, smirking. "You'll forgive me if I don't feel particularly bad about what happened to him."

Harry chuckled, feeling a bit better. Hermione was probably right; it was better to focus on the fact that no one got hurt. He hoped that the rest of the year went a bit more peacefully. Two battles in a little over a month was much more than he really wanted.

But as he walked along, he couldn't help but wonder about what he'd done. I nearly killed someone, he thought, with a mix of fear and disbelief.

Harry had used an extremely powerful spell against the injured wizard. Had he really needed to use that powerful of a spell? He couldn't find too much guilt within himself about it; the Death Eater had clearly been a threat.

He had been trying to avoid the thought for months, but there couldn't be any question that his powers were growing very strong. Confusion rose in him as a mix of emotions played themselves out... pride... fear... and if he was completely honest with himself...

Harry felt very disturbed as he realized that he had a certain amount of exhilaration from using his power and taking control of events that had always seemed out of his control.

* * *

As word spread about the Hogsmeade attack, Harry noticed that many of students were giving him a lot of looks, the younger ones looking particularly more fearful than usual. Parvati made a point of running up to him and giving him a huge hug with tears in her eyes, glad that he was all right. She thanked him profusely for "protecting" her and the other students, causing Harry great embarrassment.

Entering into Snape's class with Ron and Hermione, he noticed Malfoy giving him a smirk. He felt irritation rising.

"Well, the great hero graces us with his presence," Malfoy said, giving Harry a sarcastic bow.

"Sod off, Malfoy," said Harry.

"Don't you want to tell the class about your daring deeds, Potter? I'm certain we're all dying to hear the story," Malfoy said with a drawl.

Harry glared at him, seething.

"And where were you, Malfoy? Were you cowering in fear somewhere, or were you just taking notes for your Death Eater merit badge?" Ron said.

The Gryffindors laughed loudly, as well as many of the other students, although a bit more nervously.

Snape entered the class, looking around suspiciously. Silence immediately descended over the classroom as he took his place at the front, calling the role.

"Well. Everyone certainly seems... cheerful... today," Snape said, curling his lip. "Of course, why shouldn't everyone be cheerful? Potter has saved the day once again."

Harry sat stunned, hatred rising far beyond his normal standards with Snape. He expected no less from Malfoy, but he'd figured Snape would at least give him a tiny bit of respect. He looked down at his textbook, not wanting to make the situation worse.

"Weren't you about to regale us with the story, Potter? Don't let me stop you. It's only class time," Snape said.

Harry kept his eyes locked on his textbook, trying to read a paragraph. He could sense Hermione looking at him worriedly.

"No details, Potter? Don't you want to explain to us how you recklessly took on three Death Eaters by yourself, rather than waiting for the Aurors? But then, why would you wait? Then you wouldn't be able to be... the hero," Snape said, smirking.

"That low-life scum," Harry heard Ron say below his breath.

Snape's speech was so patently unfair that Harry couldn't help but look up in disbelief. "I'm not reckless," Harry said coldly, almost shaking with rage.

"No, Potter? Then perhaps you could explain why you chose to put everyone in the street in danger; why you chose to fight them yourself?" Snape said, equally coldly.

Something snapped in Harry. He rose angrily to his feet. "You... you weren't there! How do you know what I did? You..." Harry shouted, his fists clenched tightly.

"Sit down, Potter," Snape said quietly.

Harry seethed, wanting to say more, but trying desperately to control himself.

"Sit down!" Snape snapped.

Harry sat down in his seat fiercely, his anger growing by the second. That isn't the last word on this, he thought. I swear it. He felt something inside himself growing out of control...

Suddenly he heard a loud twisting of metal, and the door to the classroom blew straight out and hit the wall outside the corridor with a deafening noise, before it fell to the floor with another loud crash.

There was dead silence in the room as the students stared in shock at the broken door and twisted hinges. Harry could feel their eyes sliding between the door and himself. He glanced over at Hermione, who had a stunned expression on her face. He looked back over at Ron, whose jaw was hanging open. Since there didn't seem to be a safe place to look, he just gazed at Snape expressionlessly and pretended nothing had just happened.

Snape had a very calculating look on his face as he gazed back at Harry.

"Twenty-five points from Gryffindor for destruction of school property," he said coldly, and began his lesson.

Author notes: Valentine’s Day coming up? Surely something has to happen on Valentine’s Day, right? Maybe… :)

Thanks and more thanks to my beta readers Allie Kiwi and DM. And Chapter 20 seems like a good time to thank all of you reviewers once again. I’ll just repeat that when the words aren’t flowing well, and I need motivation, it’s nice to know that there’s someone out there enjoying the story, so keep them coming!

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