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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Fourteen

HEARTBURN

Mrs. Weasley stopped cold at the sight of Fred. Harry half-expected her to collapse, but she instead assumed a calm demeanour rather unlike the woman that he knew. “I’ll get a cloth,” she said, and returned to the kitchen.

“Where is George?” Mr. Weasley asked.

“The Lovegoods were attacked as well. We fetched Madam Pomfrey, and George stayed behind,” Fred said.

Mrs. Granger followed Mrs. Weasley into the room. She showed no sign of panic whatever; this woman is all business, Harry thought.

“Sorry about the carpet, ma’am,” Fred said meekly.

“That’s a low priority at the moment,” Mrs. Granger said. “You need to stop talking while we attend to your cheek. If I can get pressure on…”

“Pressure?” Mrs. Weasley asked. “Oh, of course – you’re stopping the blood flow, aren’t you?”

“Sorry, Molly,” Lupin said. “I gave it a go, but my – er – condition takes the edge off of healing charms.”

Mrs. Weasley gently moved Mrs. Granger’s hands away. “Allow me,” she said kindly. With two flicks of the wand, the bleeding stopped.

Mrs. Granger shook her head. “For the first time, I think I’m truly jealous,” she said. “You could charge five hundred pounds for that, you know.”

“And the NHS would keep all but five pounds of it,” Mr. Granger added. “I’ll fetch a clean shirt for him, Molly.” He was fully as collected as his wife.

“Did you say that the Lovegoods were attacked?” Ginny asked from the doorway.

“Mr. Lovegood has a nasty head wound, and Luna…” Fred stopped.

“What about Luna?” Harry asked.

“Oh, Harry – they tore into her something awful,” Fred cried. “Thank Merlin that George can keep his head about him. She… she sent you a note, insisted on it. It looked like she was ready to owl it, before the attack.” He held out a crumpled bit of parchment.

Mrs. Granger took the parchment, and handed it off to Harry. He read it, and then read it again.

“What is it?” Hermione asked.

“They’re coming here next,” Harry said angrily.

“That’s not possible. Wizards can’t even see this house, excepting members of the Order,” Bill said. “I’m proud of these wards.”

“Dad,” Fred said, “They shouldn’t have found the Burrow, either. George had a thought – perhaps they’re looking for gnomes?”

Lupin’s eyes widened. “Does anyone know if…?”

Tonks frowned. “I de-gnomed the garden here last week. The area’s ripe with them; they’re definitely attracted to the wards.”

Mr. Weasley paled for an instant, and then took command. “Remus, rally everyone you can – go!”

“I've already put word to Albus,” Lupin said as he hustled out the front door.

“Bill, Fred, you’re with me; we’ll plan a perimeter,” Mr. Weasley went on. “Tonks, get Hestia from the yard – we want to pull in close to the house. Molly, set up a safe room upstairs. Everyone else goes with Molly. We defend Harry and the Grangers to the death, if necessary. If they come, we’ll make sure that they regret that choice.” No one hesitated. Harry was startled by Mr. Weasley’s presence. At some level, he’d always assumed that Molly Weasley was the official cook for the Order and that Arthur Weasley was the parliamentarian or something of that nature.

Harry recovered quickly. “Mr. Weasley, I am an adult. I expect to be put to work,” he insisted.

Mr. Weasley frowned. “You’re sixteen years old,” he said briskly. “Until Kingsley tells us you’re trained up, you’re with Ron, Ginny and Hermione.”

“If Voldemort comes, I have to be with you,” Harry said. Hermione twitched, and her knees buckled. Mr. Granger, who was coming down the stairs, dropped the shirt that he was carrying and rushed to her.

“If Voldemort comes, we’ll need Dumbledore,” Mr. Weasley said.

“In the end, Dumbledore won’t be able to help you,” Harry assured him. “You’ll need me.”

“Harry, dear, we know you’ve faced him, but Dumbledore…” Mrs. Weasley began.

“Dumbledore can’t kill him,” Harry said. “I can. I’m the only one who can. Do you understand?”

Mr. Weasley hesitated. “You?” he asked. “It’s you?”

“Wicked,” Fred said quietly.

“Hermione… wake up, Hermione,” Mr. Granger said gently. When there was no response, he turned and announced, “I think she’s having a seizure! Cordelia, fetch the bag from the study; I need a tongue depressor – now.”

Harry stood and spoke the prophecy, every word of it. “I’m the one,” he added. “I was born on the last day of the seventh month. My parents defied him three times. I was marked with the lightning scar. That’s what all this is about. That’s why everyone around me is in constant danger.” Hermione gasped for air, and curled into a foetal position.

Harry turned to Mr. Granger. “That’s why you need to take her and go, as far away as you can. No matter what happens here, you need to go.”

“Harry, I…” Mr. Granger began.

From the floor, Hermione moaned, “Why don’t you just take out an advertisement in the Daily Prophet?”

“Thank Merlin,” Harry said. He moved quickly to help her stand up.

“Don’t you presume to make decisions for me,” snarled Hermione, shaking off Harry’s help.

“Look, you can hate me later,” Harry said. “We need to talk about Luna’s note – now, while there’s still time.”

“What else could it possibly say that outweighs…?” Hermione began.

“Harry, you’ve just given us even more reason to protect you,” Mr. Weasley said. “Upstairs, now – off you go, the lot of you!”

Harry helped Hermione – who was clearly unsteady – ascend the stairs, and he motioned to Ron and Ginny. He led them all into the first guest room, and closed the door before the Grangers or Mrs. Weasley could follow. As soon as she sat on the end of the bed, he thrust the note at Hermione and hoped that he appeared calm… or normal… or something less than flaming crimson. She shot him a dubious look, and then read it.

I’m sure that No-Name knows. We certainly didn’t see the Godfather. Ask the one in the strapless dress. Better still, ask the one in the white bathrobe. I hope you understand, or there will be terrible trouble – even for the one sorely in need of a longer skirt, I think. Sorry I didn’t write sooner – I took quite a long fall, and just awoke.

TTFN,

Butterbeer Cap

The note shook in her hand. “That was… you mean that… we were all there? And he wasn’t Sirius… he was… Oh! You… I mean, we… Good Lord, we didn’t… we couldn’t have… could we…?” Tears formed at the corners of her eyes.

Ginny seized the note. She read it several times, and her face fell further each time. “Gods,” she said at last, “it was real. It wasn’t Sirius, it was Voldemort. Sirius wouldn’t have cut me to the quick like that – I knew it!” She looked at Hermione with an unreadable expression. “It was you, then. I disappeared, and he settled on you.” She turned to Harry. “Unless it was Daphne Greengrass... please lie to me if that’s the case!”

“Daphne Greengrass? What the… let me see that,” Ron demanded. He read the note, looked up in confusion, and read it again. “What kind of game is this?” he asked. “Strapless dresses, bathrobes, skirts – this doesn’t make any sense whatever. What does she mean, that she ‘took quite a long fall’? And who the bloody hell is No-Name…? All right – never mind that part.”

“Fred said the note was to be owled,” Harry said. “It’s intentionally vague – and well thought on her part.” He waited for Hermione to agree – she typically paid compliment to intellect, after all – but agreement didn’t come.

Hermione hugged her knees to her chest. “It couldn’t have been real. It was just a dream – please tell me it was just a dream,” she said. Her cheeks were damp.

“Luna was wearing a silver dress with sparkles. She had a copy of the Quibbler,” Harry said gently.

Ginny shuddered. “I had this horrid strapless thing on. I changed into a jumper and denims. As for Greengrass… what she was wearing is no one’s business.”

Ron appeared to suppress a fatuous grin. “In need of a longer skirt, right? Well, that’s a matter of opinion… er… sorry, Hermione; no offence meant.”

Hermione snapped at Ron, “How can you sit there and think about Daphne Greengrass’s skirt? Death Eaters attacked Luna, in case you missed that bit of news! It was Voldemort, you thick prat! Voldemort pulled us into Harry’s dream, or pulled all of us inside his own head, or who knows what else? Voldemort dressed me in Harry’s bathrobe, and paraded me around –”

Ron’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Harry’s bathrobe?” he asked no one in particular.

Harry watched her carefully. He felt a strong urge to wipe the tears from her face, but thought better of it. ‘Please tell me it was just a dream’, she said. That tells me where I stand, he recognised.

Hermione glared back at him with pure venom. She shouted, “How could you let him in? How could you let him do this? How could you? I thought you had defences! I thought you would protect us! I thought…” She looked away from him, and quietly finished, “I thought you would protect me.”

“I don’t know how it happened, Hermione. I didn’t know that it happened at all, until just now. I didn’t feel him inside my head,” Harry tried to explain. “I think… I think I had a headache, but it wasn’t the same as – you know – as when my scar hurts.”

“I had a splitting headache when I woke up,” Ginny recalled.

“When you woke up… how is it that you were asleep, anyway?” Harry asked. “It was late morning, right?”

Ginny crossed her arms. “It’s the summertime. I slept in.”

Harry played out his thought. “What about Luna, I wonder… or Daphne Greengrass? We had to be asleep all at once…”

“Then we were inside that monster’s head,” Hermione cried. “We were inside his head – you and I… we were in his head… he was there - watching!

“Will someone clue me in?” Ron asked. “There was a dream, obviously. All of you apparently thought it was yours, which must have been rather confusing.”

“I still think it was my dream,” Harry said. He described the circumstances in detail, stopping at the point where all but Hermione disappeared. Ron didn’t easily grasp the concept of a game show, but did pick up on the sequence of events. Ginny and Hermione listened with interest, especially to the first portions of the dream.

Ron suggested, “Perhaps you were dreaming about Sirius, and Voldemort found a way in. I rather doubt he subscribes to Teen Witch Weekly, but his followers –”

“Or their children,” Hermione said icily.

Harry took the meaning. “There’s no reason whatever to suggest that Daphne set up this situation,” he insisted.

“We’re on a first name basis now, are we? You’d better not be leaving out any prelude to the dream – anything whatever that Ginny or I missed,” grumbled Hermione.

“You’re aware of anything that may have been left out,” Harry said carefully. Hermione faced away from him.

“As I was saying, Voldemort found out about the article,” Ron continued. “For whatever reason, he wanted to narrow the field – but why?”

“He wants to hurt me,” Harry said. “Voldemort said that he wants my rage. Dumbledore didn’t know why – or if he did, then he saw fit not to tell me.”

Ginny appeared confused. “He wants your rage? Whatever for?”

“It was ‘rage’, specifically? Not anger or pain, but ‘rage’?” Ron asked. Harry nodded.

Ron went somewhere else – Harry recognised his chess match demeanour again. “What is it, Ron?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” he said distantly. “It’s…” His eyes focussed on Harry. “It’s a puzzle that I intend to solve,” he said resolutely.

They heard the unmistakeable sound of breaking glass. “You'd best solve it quickly, then,” Hermione urged.

The door to the room burst open. “Come! Now!” Mrs. Weasley barked. She herded Ginny and Hermione and forced Ron down the hallway toward the master bedroom. Harry stood firm.

“I’m going to fight,” he said firmly. “It won’t do to interfere.”

Mrs. Weasley took a half step backward. “Please, Harry… please do as I say.”

He shook his head. “I intend to defend these stairs,” he said.

Her eyes grew misty. “Please,” she begged him.

“I’m with Harry, Mum,” Ron said from behind her, and she sagged in defeat.

“They need you,” Harry said, pointing toward the master bedroom. “You have to protect them.”

“Mum, don’t let Ginny out of your sight,” Ron said. “No matter what happens, keep her away from us.”

“Be safe,” Mrs. Weasley whispered, and raced for the master bedroom. They heard the squelch of the door sealing before they reached the base of the stairs.

“I’m with you to the end, Harry,” Ron told him.

“Seeing as how we’re about to be attacked by Death Eaters, that’s not exactly reassuring,” Harry said casually. “How’s your conjuring?”

Ron shrugged. “I don’t know – not bad. I managed well enough on the O.W.L.s. Why?”

“I need work – nothing that I conjure seems to last very long. I tell you, I’d give a small fortune for a pocket mirror,” Harry said. He pressed himself against the wall of the stairwell, and Ron followed suit.

“A pocket mirror? I don’t need a fortune,” Ron said. “How about a bottle of Ogden’s?”

“Firewhisky? Are you daft?” Harry asked.

“No,” Ron answered. “Just thirsty.” He tapped his wand to his palm, and called out, “Creo pocket mirror!

“Cripes, Ron! Are you trying to rouse the dead?” Harry whispered frantically. “It’s not an exam – just say it and concentrate… what colour is that - pink?”

Ron frowned. “It’s salmon, I think. Take the damn mirror,” he grumbled quietly. “What do you want with it, anyway? Checking your grooming before battle?”

“Something I saw done the other day,” Harry whispered. Thank you, Remus, he thought, as he eased the mirror around the edge of the stairwell.

“That’s clever,” Ron whispered back appreciatively.

As he slowly rotated the mirror, Harry asked, “Why did you tell your mother to stick with Ginny? Did you figure that Hermione could handle her parents?”

“I’m not going to die today,” Ron said with certainty. “That means you’re not going to die today, nor is Hermione. I don’t know about Ginny, so it stands to reason that Mum should focus on her.” Harry wanted to quibble with Ron’s idea of ‘reason’, but thought better of it.

There was no one to the right that they could see. The settee was still in front of the oaken door, but the large window adjacent to the door was broken and the floor of the front room was littered with shards of glass.

“Bloody quiet,” Ron whispered in Harry’s ear. Harry jumped, but stopped himself before he leapt from the stairwell. “Sorry,” Ron added. Where did everyone go? Harry wondered. An explosion echoed from the yard, followed by the crackle of powerful spells.

“Shall we?” Harry asked.

Ron hesitated. “I don’t like it.”

“It is too quiet,” Harry admitted.

Ron shook his head. “That’s not what I mean… all the pawns have been drawn forward, and the King is exposed… I think it’s a minority attack.”

He looked up the stairs, just as the clatter of shattering glass echoed down from the bedrooms.

“I was afraid of that!” Ron shouted, and he scrambled up the stairs ahead of Harry. A red blast of light shot just over his head, and Ron flattened himself against the steps.

Harry crawled up behind him. “Has it occurred to you that a person can be hurt very badly, without dying?”

Ron grunted, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right? Stupefy!” Harry heard the whump of a Death Eater hitting the floor. “Who said that, anyway?” Ron added. He abruptly jumped up and ran madly down the hallway, amidst a hail of red flashes.

Harry scrambled to the top of the steps, and pointed his wand. “Percussum!” he shouted, and whipped his wand across the path of a Death Eater unlucky enough to step out of one of the bedrooms. The Death Eater’s head snapped around, and ground to a halt against the opposite wall.

“I like that one!” Ron shouted. “Percussum!” The Death Eater he struck shook his head vigorously, and raised a hand to his cheek.

“With authority, Ron!” Harry urged him on.

Percussum!” Ron roared, and dropped the shaken Death Eater atop one of his felled colleagues. “Yes!” he shouted triumphantly, pumping his fist.

“What’s that sound?” Harry asked, looking up and down the hall for the source.

“I don’t know,” Ron answered.

The ceiling split open, and a Death Eater hopped from the attic into the hall.

Stupefy!” Harry called from one end of the hall. “Percussum!” Ron called from the other end. The Death Eater spun a full circle, and fell flat on his back.

“I hadn’t thought of the ceiling,” Ron said tentatively.

Harry heard the sound again, and he was certain that this time it came from the master bedroom. He wiped sweat from his eyes with the back of one hand, and waved his wand with the other.

“Move!” he shouted at Ron. The instant that Ron was clear, Harry thrust his wand toward the master bedroom door.

Everbero!” he boomed. The door shook, followed by a loud squelch, a pop!, and a crack! It landed inside the room, in five sections and some bits.

One Death Eater lay on the floor, beneath two sections of the door. A second clumsily exchanged wand fire with Mrs. Weasley. Ginny stood in front of the Grangers’, her eyes trained on the doorway and wand at the ready. Hermione called out “Stupefy!” and narrowly missed Harry, who was racing down the hall toward the room; he heard someone behind him fall.

Another Death Eater leaned out of the widening hole in the master bedroom ceiling just as Harry ran into the room. A purple flash narrowly missed Hermione, and the bottoms of Harry’s glasses fogged. He barked “Percutio!”, with his wand directed at the leaning Death Eater’s arm. Hermione recoiled as blood flew in spatters and the Death Eater’s wand fell.

It seemed to Harry as if it time had somehow slowed. Harry grabbed the bleeding Death Eater by the injured arm, and pulled. He heard a shriek of pain echo in the distance. Stay away from them – all of them! he screamed inside. Harry grabbed handfuls of the Death Eater’s cloak and threw him. Harry didn’t know why the Death Eater, who was obviously taller and larger than he, flew across the room and bounced off the wall. He didn’t care. A guttural cry of… of something – not pain… anger, perhaps – resonated in his ears. He picked up the Death Eater and tossed him through the window glass. He turned to see the remaining Death Eater facing him, wand lowered. Mrs. Weasley gaped at him. Ron stood frozen in the doorway.

Mr. Granger stepped out nonchalantly from behind Ginny – who was also unmoving; he walked up and without hesitation swung a cricket bat into the back of the last Death Eater's head.

“Stokely House School, class of ’66,” he said as he prodded the fallen Death Eater with his foot. “I was a rather good batsman.”

Harry heard him distantly, and tried to speak but couldn’t. The room swam before it resolved again and returned to a normal speed. Hermione appeared to be holding up her mother, although Mrs. Granger didn’t look injured.

Mrs. Weasley spluttered, “I don’t… that door was warded… and you threw… how did you…and the window… he should have bounced right off…”

Harry saw movement through the hole in the ceiling. “There’s no time for this,” he said. There was more movement, in the hallway. “Ron!”

Ron dove to the floor, and began exchanging wand fire with another Death Eater. Ginny moved to join him.

“Get back, Ginny!” Ron shouted. “Percutio!” A shriek of pain resounded from the hall, followed by a hail of red flashes.

“Ron! No curses, only charms!” Mrs. Weasley protested in vain. Ron ignored her. It was obvious that there were no longer any rules - no objectives save survival.

“Where are my saddlebags?” Harry asked. “Where were they put?”

“In our closet,” Mr. Granger said. “Over there.” Harry burst into the closet and tore through his bags.

“Where are they all coming from?” Mrs. Weasley asked. “He can’t possibly have this many followers.” Hermione tore the hood and mask from the Death Eater at her father’s feet.

Ginny covered her mouth in shock. “It’s Vincent Crabbe!”

“He’s enlisting children now,” Mrs. Weasley moaned.

“Let me guess who’s in the hall, then,” Ron shouted. “Why don’t you stick your head out, cousin? It must be you – you’re never far from your goons! Is Goyle in a heap out there, or did Harry put him through the window?”

Harry peered out the door into the hallway. The end of a wand appeared from the guest room door, and pointed toward the hole in the ceiling. A muffled voice drawled “Morsmordre!” and green sparks flew through the hole toward the sky beyond.

Ron yelled, “I knew it! I knew it, you bloody ferret! Is your daddy proud of his little Death Eater?”

Instantly, there was shouting from above. “Who did that? Have you gone mad? Our Lord will have your head for that, whoever you are!”

Harry tried to understand why, and after a moment believed that he did. This is as close to a cliff as we’re likely to come, Narcissa, he thought. “There's a safe place!” he shouted. “Don’t forget the safe place!” There was the sound of scurrying, and then nothing.

Ron smacked Harry on the top of his head. “What are you thinking?”

“The Aurors will spot the Dark Mark, you git,” Harry said. “It had to be on purpose.” The Bonneville enlarged between the bed and the broken window. Ron pressed himself against the wall near the door.

“I’ll survey our situation,” Harry said. He hopped on the motorbike, grabbed the handlebars, and lined himself up with the window.

“In broad daylight?” Mrs. Weasley piped up.

“It’s a bit late to think of the neighbours now,” Harry said. “I’m surprised that the Muggle constables haven’t yet come.”

Harry heard Mrs. Granger remark, “He should be wearing his helmet,” just as he shot out the window. He immediately turned hard to the left and swooped over the roof, knocking off two Death Eaters before they understood what they were seeing.

Mr. Weasley, Fred, Bill, Tonks and Hestia Jones were all in the yard. Mr. Weasley and Bill were duelling Death Eaters in the open. Tonks had taken position in a tree, and was attempting to pick off the duellers. The high-backed benches were reorganized as cover and Fred and Hestia Jones were crouched behind, taking periodic shots as well. Collectively, they appeared outnumbered by about three to one. One Death Eater at the rear of the yard was clearly in three pieces. It took Harry a few moments to realise that he had seen his first actual splinching – the splinchee must have tried to Apparate directly onto the property, Harry assumed.

Harry buzzed two Death Eaters who were closing in behind Mr. Weasley, which allowed Tonks to drop them both. As he swung around again, he saw two more Death Eaters step through the French door, and stun both Fred and Hestia Jones unconscious. There are more in the house! he thought, and panic began to flow through him.

Two red flashes shot out of the master bedroom window. Harry raced toward the window at full speed. When he arrived, no one remained in the room. He tore over the top of the house. There were a half dozen Death Eaters entering through the front door. One looked up and saw him, and fired curses madly in his direction. He slipped back over the top of the house again, to find another Death Eater firing at him. Tonks was the only one still standing; Mr. Weasley and Bill lay unconscious and bound at the feet of the Death Eater who was targeting him. Harry shot toward the tree where Tonks held three Death Eaters at bay, cursing “Percutio!” over and over until all three lay still in the grass. The Bonneville abruptly lurched, and it occurred to Harry that it had been struck – just before he hit the ground and slid hard into the low wall that bounded the yard.


“Harry Potter? Can you hear me? I’m certain that you can. I know that you’re conscious – I can feel it,” the smooth voice said.

Harry opened one eye. His hands were tied tightly behind his back and his ankles were bound together. He was sitting on the settee in the Grangers’ front room. The figure before him could have been a Dementor – it was clad in long dark robes with head fully cloaked and hands hidden. The voice didn’t sound exactly right, but Harry knew who it was.

“Hello, Tom,” he spat. “You’re late for dinner.”

Soft chuckles emanated from within the cloak. “You’re trying to bait me – how charming. I’m sorry, but that little dig only works for Dumbledore.”

Harry growled, “What have you done with –”

“Your paramour, Miss Granger? She’s alive, for the moment. Wormtail!”

“Yes, my Lord?” Wormtail asked, approaching with obvious caution.

“You have outdone yourself, my slave,” Voldemort said.

“Thank you, my Lord – it was all to your glory,” said Pettigrew.

“Yes, it was. It is a coincidence that so many parties of interest were gathered, to be sure… but I award you credit nonetheless,” Voldemort pronounced. “Which captive would you care to kill?”

Wormtail looked away from his master. “He is not here, my Lord,” he said with obvious disappointment.

“If he arrives, then you may have him. If not, then choose another. You will leave the Weasley girl – she lives. Consider it payment for services rendered,” Voldemort ordered. He turned his hidden face toward Harry, and added, “It’s a pity she was unable to completely fulfil her role in the Chamber of Secrets, Harry. Everything would be so much simpler now. Oh – and Harry…? Crucio.” Harry refused to give Voldemort the satisfaction of a scream, and the curse was ended.

“Just a gentle reminder of who’s in charge,” Voldemort said calmly. “I grow weary of your efforts at control. You see, Harry Potter, I’m very interested in what lies beneath. I suspect that we’re more alike than you know –”

“We’re nothing alike, not in the least!” Harry shouted.

“Ah!” exclaimed Voldemort. “Now there was a crack in that reserve of yours. Your outburst at the Malfoy boy was particularly delicious – if no one had stepped in, I think that you just might have killed him.”

“I’m no killer,” Harry said.

“Of course you are,” Voldemort said soothingly. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You’ll find it a liberating experience.”

“I’m not a killer, I tell you!” Harry insisted.

“You’ve already done it once today,” Voldemort told him. “Wasn’t it everything you hoped for?”

Harry’s mouth went dry. “You’re… you’re bluffing,” he stammered, “I… I didn’t kill anyone.”

“Travers was practically nothing, but he was someone – at least until you were through with him. Your precious little friend’s father seems to think that you did it with your bare hands…”

“What have you done to him?” Harry demanded, struggling at his bonds.

“Nothing, nothing at all,” Voldemort assured him. “It’s scarcely Legilimency with Muggles – all their thoughts and fears are right there on the surface, ripe for the taking. Come. We mustn’t keep anyone waiting. Mobilicorpus!” Harry lifted off the settee and drifted ahead of Voldemort, toward the dining room.

“Does she know anything, Mulciber?” Voldemort called out.

A Death Eater at the far end of the dining room answered, “She does, my Lord, but it has been locked in. She is unable to reveal anything.”

Hermione was bound tightly, and sitting in an armchair at the far end of the dining room table. She shook uncontrollably. Harry summoned every last bit of reserve inside himself in order to remain calm.

Voldemort said, “Sit,” and Harry was deposited into the armchair at the near end of the table.

“Leave her alone, you monsters!” Mr. Granger shrieked.

“Enough, you insufferable Muggle!” another Death Eater drawled, and slapped Mr. Granger hard across the face.

“If it isn’t Mr. Malfoy,” Harry sneered. “What an unpleasant surprise.”

Mr. Weasley, who was tied to a chair along the wall, croaked, “Hello, Lucius. I’m surprised you have a cauldron left to piss in after buying your way out of Azkaban.”

Malfoy began to walk slowly toward Mr. Weasley. “Weasley, I’d have you gutted and stuffed like a Christmas goose if I thought you merited the effort. As it stands, I think we’ll just toss you out with the rest of the rubbish. Can I have him, my Lord?”

“If it suits me,” Voldemort said imperiously. “Let us see about this locking-in. Open your mind to me, girl!

Hermione screamed. It was the most horrifying sound that Harry had ever heard, and it tore through his soul. He felt as if the room had burst into flames. She slumped in her chair, and gasped for air between racking coughs.

“Dumbledore is not the virtuous soul you all think he is!” Voldemort sang out with glee. “Do any of you have any idea what he has done to this girl? Oh – Albus, my old, old friend! There may be hope for you yet!”

Voldemort reached out and stroked Hermione’s hair. She tried weakly to pull away, and failed. Harry shook madly against the ropes, but only managed to topple his chair. “Harry Potter, when I first heard that you fancied a Mudblood, I presumed that you were hopelessly underdemanding. Of course, after this afternoon… I better appreciated her charms. But now… Miss Granger, I am enthralled by your mind even as I revile your blood. You may yet be a formidable ally in the fulfilment of my plans.”

Her voice cracked, and she mustered enough energy to cry out, “I’ll die first, you bastard!”

Voldemort laughed. “The latter point is accurate, I admit. The former remains to be seen. Wormtail, Malfoy, I’m afraid that your petty grudges will have to wait for another day.” He strode purposefully toward Harry. “Now, then… to business. I have a proposition for you – a simple choice, one that will allow me to see what Harry Potter is truly made of. If you hold your place while Miss Granger is killed, then you and everyone else present may live to see another day. If you fail to hold your place, then I cannot be responsible for what will happen next.” He waved his wand, and both Harry and the armchair were righted. Harry heard a faint popping behind him, but his eyes were riveted on Hermione.

“Don’t move, Harry,” she moaned.

“They’ll kill us all anyway,” Mr. Weasley managed. “Do anything that you can – all of you.”

Harry felt his left hand drop free.

“Let us take Dumbledore’s handiwork to its natural conclusion,” Voldemort said. “Wormtail, satisfy your blood lust. Ask Miss Granger to reveal her secret. Keep asking… over… and over… and over… and over…”

Voldemort’s voice echoed through Harry’s head, and in his ears. Wormtail’s squeaky tenor joined it, bubbling through deep dark water.

“Reveal your secret! What do you know about Potter? Reveal your secret, girl!”

Hermione began screaming again. He counted heads in a vain effort to block out the awful sound. In addition to Voldemort, Wormtail and Malfoy, there were six other Death Eaters in the room, and an unknown number outside. The entire dinner party and Hestia Jones were all in the room, bound, and without wands.

“Reveal your secret, or die!”

Harry’s hair rippled in a searing draft. She’s ten feet away – just ten feet, he thought.

Wormtail forced Hermione off the chair and onto her knees. She shook, but maintained her balance. Her eyes were closed, and she was no longer screaming. She looked strong. It occurred to Harry that he wasn’t seeing strength – she was resolved to die, he knew. He felt his right hand drop free. The child who grew up in a cupboard was no more. The schoolboy who feared his Potions master and his foul classes had forever gone away. The person he had been that very morning was reduced to ashes drifting in a hot wind. He felt the rope binding his ankles fall to the floor. Voldemort had offered him a ‘greater good’ problem, and the decision was made. I don’t give a damn about the greater good, he thought. She’s not going to die today, and neither am I. Something inside him snapped, and he knew that he would never be exactly the same.

In the same instant, his hands were around Wormtail’s throat. Voldemort took two steps backward, as though he were moving in thick mud. He could hear Voldemort’s heart quicken; the rapid throbbing echoed in his ears. Harry picked up Wormtail by the scruff of the neck, and flung him the length of the table. He whirled, only to see Malfoy advance on Hermione. A blast of blue light rocketed across the room, and flung Malfoy backward. Voldemort pointed his wand, and Dobby was bounced off the wall. Tonks was already free, and she flung the table on its side to create a barrier in the middle of the room. Harry dashed headlong at the nearest Death Eater, and began swinging. He squeezed his eyes shut as he pounded away. There were bits of… something… flying around. This is for Sirius! Pound-pound-pound. He opened his eyes, and dove at the next Death Eater. That is for my father! Pound-pound-pound-CRASH! He ran to the next, and the next. It was as though they were petrified – unable to move away from him. That is for my mother! Pound-pound-thud-THUMP! This is for the ruddy prophecy! Pound-pound-pound-pound. This is for ruining my life! Pound-WHUMP! This is for hurting my friends! Pound-pound-pound. His hands felt warm and slick. This is for what you did to Hermione, you monsters! The wind roared in his ears. Everything was so terribly loud.

Suddenly, his scar burned. It feels good, doesn’t it? This is what you were meant to do - it’s who you are meant to be! Embrace it! And lest you forget... I'm watching you, Harry Potter... I'm always watching you... He lashed back with his mind, but Voldemort had already gone. POUND! POUND! POUND! CRASH!

His lungs seared as cool air poured into them. Sweat rained down his face. He dropped to his knees. The room was a haze of shapes and colours, distorted by a dark moist film on his glasses. His hands seemed to be bruised and wet.

No one was moving. It slowly occurred to him that some were still bound, and that no one else dared move. He looked slowly around the room. There was no sign of Voldemort, Wormtail or Malfoy. The head count was wrong, though. There were more people than before.

He walked past one Death Eater, sprawled against the flipped table and bent at an improbable angle. Another was embedded in the dining room wall. Harry thought of the punching bag in the Dursley’s cellar, and he felt bile rise in the back of his throat.

Hermione. She sat on the floor, dazed and leaning against her father. Harry approached, and her eyes widened. He approached closer, and she flinched. He stopped.

“Hermione…” His voice sounded terribly distant – he could almost feel it more than hear it.

She folded against her father, shaking in…

Fear, he thought. There’s no mistaking it. She was terrified of him. He reached out toward her, and saw his hands clearly for the first time. They were stained with blood, nearly to the wrists. It was surely blood on his glasses as well, he knew. The bile rose again, and he dropped to his hands and knees and vomited on the floor.

He felt a pair of hands on his back. Thank Merlin, he thought, and he began to relax. He struggled to his knees, and discovered that it was in fact Ron who was helping him to his feet. Hermione pulled her father’s arm around her and clung to it. She stared at him – she judged him, he was sure – and he suddenly wanted to die. He craved the release of the Killing Curse; he wanted to be the one embedded in the wall. He saw enough of the room to know that none of the other Death Eaters had made out any better. She’s terrified of me, he thought, and she should be.

Ron walked Harry toward the doorway to the kitchen, past Lupin, Shacklebolt, Dumbledore and a half dozen others he didn’t know. Harry avoided eye contact with anyone. Ron led him to the sink. He turned the water as hot as he could make it, and began to scrub. A stream of red swirled clockwise around the drain. His skin blistered and then split as he scrubbed and scrubbed. Ron’s hands clutched at Harry’s arms, and pulled them away from the water. Harry looked up. Ron’s mouth moved but said nothing, and it occurred to Harry that he was unable to hear. Ron stopped talking, then turned, and began talking to someone else.

Dobby stood on the kitchen island behind them. He put his fingers in Harry’s ears, and there was gentle warmth. When he withdrew his hands, he looked at Harry sadly.

“Harry Potter wore the wrong socks today,” he squeaked mournfully. He clambered down from the kitchen island, and disappeared into the dining room.

“I have to go,” Harry said.

“We would all be dead,” Ron told him. “All of us.”

“I have to go,” Harry repeated.

“I doubt you’ll be going anywhere for quite some time, Mr. Potter,” ventured an officious voice. Harry turned and nearly walked into the terribly flustered speaker: Cornelius Fudge.

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