Horizon, Part One
Narcissa, the Lady Malfoy, felt the mask with which she held the world in cool disdain momentarily slip.
“You!,” she charged.
She winced inwardly, appalled that she had allowed a reaction of surprise to overcome her inherent iciness. Being unoriginal was a grievous sin.
“Me,” Anya agreed.
“What do you want, Anyanka?," Narcissa asked, struggling for composure normally easy to muster.
Anya shrugged. “Just a small favor.” She determined that as Narcissa seemed unaware she was no longer a demon, there was no good reason to inform her otherwise. Inspiring fear was fun.
“I owe you nothing. I made a wish and you granted it. The end.”
“I disagree,” Anya gently argued. “Of course, if you believe that Lucius wouldn’t care to be informed that I cursed him in your honor, I will leave you alone in your empty mausoleum of a manor and seek an audience with him.”
Narcissa’s eyes narrowed and she waited.
“Your wish bound your husband to your side and ensured the birth of your son. Had it not been for me, Lucius would have left you, taken your inheritance, and you would have been resigned to a life of poverty and ostracism.” The ex-demon paused. “I have no desire to hurt you, Narcissa. Your wish was justified, and I was happy to assist you. However, now I
need help, and you’re the only one in a position to do that.”
“You need my help?,” the woman almost screeched, abandoning all pretense of apathy in favor of shock and righteous indignation.
Anya nodded. “A friend of mine has been cursed with an extremely powerful gift, one far beyond the boundaries of either of our worlds.”
Narcissa widened her eyes. She was fairly certain she knew what Anya meant, at least in the abstract.
“All I’m asking for is information. I want to help this person, but I am at a loss as of where to turn. I need direction.”
“What aren’t you telling me?" The question was more of a blunt demand.
Anya paused, unsure of how much to reveal, aware that Narcissa’s loyalties extended only to herself and her son, and not to the Dark Lord. However, she wasn’t sure if she was willing to place the lives of Cordelia, Xander, and herself on the line to test that belief. Finally deciding that, in this case, discretion was not the better part of valor, she inhaled deeply and launched into an explanation.
“The person who requires assistance is a True Seer, a direct conduit to the Powers That Be, and this person has ties with not one, but three Champions, as well as being a Champion in their own right. The anomaly is that this person is mortal.”
Narcissa swallowed with difficulty, trying to digest this information. “You mean a Muggle, a pure Muggle?” She was both intrigued and appalled.
Anya wrinkled her nose and nodded. “Really, Narcissa, that term is so ludicrous, I thought it beneath you, especially as you’re wise enough to stay out of our world. But yes, this person manifested absolutely no magical ability prior to receiving the visions.”
“Which is not to say they have no inherent magic.”
“That is...very true,” Anya grudgingly admitted, annoyed with herself for not seeing the obvious and at the woman’s haughty, triumphant sneer. “It is possible that there is latent ability, perhaps suppressed because of their time spent on the Hellmouth.”
Narcissa ceased breathing. “The active Hellmouth? This person is from the Hellmouth?”
“Born and raised.”
“This is,” Lady Malfoy frowned, “interesting.”
Her mind opened itself to the possibilities such a situation engendered. If the person for whom Anyanka was acting as envoy was indeed a True Seer with no other magical safeguards in place, then most likely the Muggle was already insane or half dead. The physiological damage might be able to be arrested, and even possibly reversed, but psychological scars were almost impossible to erase.
Anya had already gleaned the woman's thoughts. “We are talking about a rather remarkable individual, Lady Malfoy. If I am correct, this person might well indeed be a Natural Occlumens. Insanity is not yet a factor, nor do I believe it ever shall be. However, the cumulative damage caused by the visions has resulted in coma. I doubt mortal physicians have much hope of rousing this person, but rather will be forced merely to render the body comfortable.”
Narcissa did her best to hide her surprise and was remarkably successful. Although extremely rare, it was not unheard of for a Muggle to be skilled in the art of Occlumency. Certain people simply had a predisposition to guarding their minds, especially when raised in an environment in which personal weakness could be exploited for another’s gain; she herself was a Natural Occlumens, for which she was endlessly grateful, what with having a sibling like Bellatrix. Undoubtedly, it was this talent which had allowed this person of whom Anyanka was representing to rail against the curse of the visions, which often resulted in severe mental instability.
The Lady Malfoy was heavily weighing her options. On the one hand, she rarely acted with benevolence in regard to another, especially a Muggle. However, a True Seer was a case worthy of consideration, particularly with Voldemort’s rebirth and looming presence in her life and that of her son. If it could be determined once and for all that Voldemort would fall at the hand of Harry Potter, she might finally free herself of the albatross which was her husband, stop hedging her bets, and do everything within her power to protect her son. She had foolishly bided her time, intending to approach Sirius for assistance, but then her idiot cousin went off and got himself killed by her accursed sister. She had then set her sights on Severus, but that meant asking Bellatrix for aid, a truly noxious thought. Further, she often wondered just how deep Snape’s affection for her son ran, and she was not about to put Draco in a position which might compromise his virtue, even for the sake of his own safety.
Also true was that Anyanka’s threat was valid: were Lucius ever to learn she had him cursed so that he would remain faithful only to her and thus unable to sire an heir with another Pureblood, he had, under the Old Laws, the right to have her executed, and there would be any number of people ready and willing to assist him. The curse would then be rescinded, Lucius might disinherit Draco solely on principle, and he would then be allowed to beget offspring with a new wife. Worse yet, he could simply turn her over to the Dark Lord, who would deny her a painless death. She shuddered to think how his potential treatment of her would affect Draco; it might be the final impetus for her son to affix firmly his pledge to Voldemort, and then he would be hunted and killed for being a Death Eater.
However, were she to accede to Anyanka’s request, she might have considerable time to plan her defection and take Draco with her, while still allowing her last card to stay safely hidden up her sleeve. She had waited so long to play it, however, she just hoped it still held power.
“I have conditions."
Anya nodded; she had expected as much, for she didn’t believe someone as cunningly shrewd as Narcissa Malfoy would allow this opportunity to pass by without getting as much out of it for herself as she possibly could. She listened patiently as the woman outlined her demands, which Anya felt were more than reasonable. Further, said plans would have no affect on her, Xander, or Cordelia, so she felt no compunction about complying. Seeing Narcissa’s visible relief heartened the ex-demon, but Anya was too intelligent not to recognize the woman’s capacity for great treachery.
“I accept your terms,” she stated, “but I must insist on an Unbreakable Vow before we proceed any further.”
Narcissa instantly agreed, as there was no reason not to. “We need a witness.”
Anya reached up and pulled Spike down into the fire, the vampire protesting the entire time. When he finally realized he was not burning, he settled down somewhat, though he pouted that magical fires apparently did not provide the warmth he craved. He then took one look at Narcissa and began to pour on the charm, but the woman was unimpressed.
“This is a vampire,” she sniffed.
Anya shrugged. “I live on the Hellmouth."
The Lady Malfoy offered a very much put-upon sigh but at last acquiesced.
“Spike! This is what I need you to say...”* * * * *
With Lucius away, undoubtedly serving whatever sadistic proclivities the Dark Lord fancied this night, and with Draco on holiday with the Zabini family, Narcissa was able to escape the Manor with relative ease. How Lucius had managed to evade the Aurors after that night in the Department of Mysteries was beyond her, but happily he saw fit not to return often. He was most likely off toying with her sister or something even more unpalatable, such as kissing the hem of the Dark Lord’s robes. Disgusting.
She Apparated to the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. Casting a quick Concealment Charm, she entered and approached Madam Rosmerta, asking the bar matron to contact the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Narcissa offered the password which Albus Dumbledore had instituted more than fifteen years ago, shortly after Draco’s birth, hoping it was still in effect.
Madam Rosmerta’s eyes widened, and while she was unable to see through the Concealment Charm, she was nonetheless aware that her visitor was most likely under the fealty of the Dark Lord. She quickly owled Dumbledore and anxiously awaited his response, indicating to the unknown woman that she should take a seat at the bar.
A short time later, the bright song of a phoenix burst forward into the Three Broomsticks, and Narcissa breathed an audible sigh of relief. Now, the only task left was to get Dumbledore to agree to her request while still ensuring that the insufferable old git was unable to manipulate her into further action.
“There’s a portkey tied around Fawkes’ neck,” Rosmerta said. “Simply touch it and both of you will be taken to Dumbledore.”
Narcissa’s eyes narrowed. “I thought portkeys didn’t work on school grounds,” she huffed.
This was most distressing, for it meant that Draco was far more at risk than she ever realized. She then suddenly remembered that an active portkey had found its way onto the campus less than a month ago. Now she realized that Lucius must have been involved, or at least had knowledge, despite his pleas of ignorance. Well, that was something she would have to address.
Rosmerta smiled diffidently. “You would be surprised at the amount of power Dumbledore has.”
“You wouldn’t believe just how unsurprised I am.” With that, the Lady Malfoy took hold of the portkey, and felt that familiar pull behind her navel.* * * * *
Lady Malfoy appeared in the Headmaster’s office, immediately removing the Concealment Charm as Fawkes alighted to his perch. The phoenix was extremely unhappy about being forced to travel via portkey, and took the opportunity to squawk his rebukes in his human’s direction.
“Well, well, Narcissa,” Albus began, eyes twinkling, “this is a surprise.”
She snorted. “I highly doubt that, Dumbledore. I imagine you’ve been expecting this for quite some time, so do me the courtesy of sparing me the twinkling eyes and the grandfatherly persona, and let’s get down to business.”
“Direct as always. A rare, but nonetheless appreciated, tack.”
“I’m surprised you know the difference,” she waspishly countered. “You’re so adept at playing the master puppeteer, I doubt that half those dangling at your fingertips are even aware they’re on a string.”
His eyes darkened stormily, but her unnerving responsive glare indicated that she was not about to be cowed. He narrowed his gaze and subtly prodded at the outskirts of the woman’s mind before she forcibly shut him out.
“How dare you!,” she seethed.
“Merely an attempt to ascertain that your intentions are honorable.”
She laughed uproariously. “I am not a blind Gryffindor, old man, nor a naive orphan boy; I see you for exactly what you are. I will not deny that you are at times magnanimous and generally of good character, but do not insult my intelligence by playing the beneficent benefactor. You and I both know that you care for me no further than what I can do for you. However, you should realize that, unlike Severus, I owe you nothing. You best remember that whatever comes of this meeting, my loyalties remain to myself and my child.”
The Headmaster kept his face a blank mask, though he was shocked that she apparently knew Severus Snape was his spy against Lord Voldemort. What else did she know? Dumbledore sighed.
“Fine, then let’s get on with it. I have a new term for which to prepare, and many other matters which require my attention. You’re obviously here only because you have information from which you can benefit, and you would not have approached me if you hadn’t discerned that said information might also assist me.”
Narcissa nodded, grateful for the loss of pretense. “How aware are you of the extent of knowledge of magic in the Muggle world, Dumbledore?”
He frowned in both curiosity and confusion, wondering where this was going. “Are you referring to knowledge in the possession of those witches and wizards not of Muggle birth?”
“Frightfully little, I’m afraid,” he admitted. “It has long been suspected, however, that Muggles must have some rudimentary grasp of the concept of magic, lest they would have been storming the gates by now and hunting us. Muggles have at their disposal any number of weapons which might seriously cripple the wizarding community. I have to believe that those in the know keep our existence hidden, if only for their own ends.”
She gave a curt nod. “This is true. However, to what I am referring is the active practice of magic by Muggles who have absolutely no magical heritage as we know it, but have been imbued with power nonetheless.”
His eyes widened. “You mean?"
Again, the witch nodded, this time with more hesitancy. “I do not mean Muggleborns. There are Muggles who have magical power derived from sources not of our community, Albus. I have tonight been approached by one to whom I owe a questionable debt, who is searching for asylum for a friend.”
She was adamantly opposed to disclosing to the insufferable pillock that Anyanka was, in fact, a demon.
“And this friend is one of those Muggles of whom you refer.”
She debated for a moment before deciding it would be more amusing to watch the man before her squirm. “This person is apparently a Natural Occlumens, as well as being a True Seer.” She adored shock value, despite it being a rather Gryffindor tactic.
“Ridiculous!,” the man exclaimed, slamming his hand on his massive desk as he rose to his feet. “True Seers are merely myth.”
“As our world is to Muggles?,” she asked with a raised brow. “There are forces in this world beyond either side’s control, and there are a handful of people to whom those forces have blessed with gifts. A True Seer is only one instance.”
Bristling at his imperious tone, Narcissa quickly outlined for the Headmaster a number of magical creatures which existed in the Muggle world, but of which only certain Muggles were aware, predominantly in their roles as protectors, or Champions.
“Then the person for whom asylum is sought is one of these Champions?,” he queried, his elderly frame shaking slightly as he tried to reconcile this new information, knowledge which he castigated himself for not being aware.
She nodded. “True Seers are rare, and their existence is often kept closely guarded, as they are hunted by others for their eyes. However, the hallmarks of the visions are even more deadly than the machinations of a Seer’s enemies. The two most common are complete insanity and cerebral death.”
“And the condition of this alleged Seer?"
“Currently comatose. The Muggle healers give this person little chance of survival.”
“Who is this person? What do you know of them?”
“Nothing,” she said. “That was part of my agreement, one for which an Unbreakable Vow was administered. All I know is that this person was born on the active Hellmouth, has been gifted - or cursed - with the visions and, before this setback, was in the service of a great Champion. Apparently, this individual is also on the road to becoming a Champion in their own right.”
“What on earth is a Hellmouth?,” Dumbledore roared.
Narcissa sighed wearily. This was going to take more time than she thought. She had honestly believed the man would have been more knowledgeable of the universe outside their insular world. Of course, given Dumbledore’s preoccupations with Grindelwald and then Voldemort, she supposed he had neither the time nor inclination to study magical matters which were not direct threats upon their own community. Still, his ignorance was offensive.
She quickly gave him a small history lesson of the true nature of this world.* * * * *
Albus Dumbledore sat back in his chair, staring unabashedly at Narcissa Malfoy, absolutely gobsmacked.
If her information was correct and, for whatever reason, he had no doubt that it was, there were far more perils facing this world than he ever realized. He cursed himself for never bothering to learn all of the traditions and the history of Muggles beyond that which he felt essential to his cause, never truly deeming their struggles as congruent to those of the magical community. He had just been handed a rather harsh blow to his ego, and an unwelcome prejudice within him had made itself known: while he respected Muggles and their right to live their lives in safety and with dignity, he had, on some level, deemed them inferior.
It was as if he were seeing the world with new eyes. True Seers and another species of vampire; Champions and Slayers; witches of both genders achieving tremendous power, though not born from that power; languages whose titles he couldn’t even repeat, let alone comprehend; places of mystical convergence which were quite literally Hell on earth. Muggles had been confronting these things since time immemorial, with no assistance from the wizarding community, who, by all accounts, had no idea what was happening outside its confines. An entire race of wizarding people who did not use wands; a people who had no institutions like Hogwarts to guide their progress and development; a people who were persecuted over a period of centuries by their own, simply because they had powers they neither understood nor could explain.
He briefly wondered what would have become of Muggleborn witches and wizards like Hermione Granger and Dean Thomas had the magical communities not developed measures by which to track promising students. Apparently, however, there were entire segments of the global population who were bereft of this intercession, and had been forced to hide and deal with their magic without assistance from anyone, save a handful of Muggles who guided their own.
This was deeply troubling to the Headmaster. He had made it one of his life’s goals to assist all magical children with their inheritances, only to realize now he had failed miserably.
“How do you know all of this?,” he weakly demanded.
“Know your enemy. You forget, Dumbledore, Sirius and Andromeda were the aberrants in the Noble House of Black, not me nor my sister. We were raised knowing the ways of the common and magical Muggle so that we might better understand what, or should I say whom, we were intended to fight, or better yet avoid.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Our family has been studying their world for centuries, carefully taking note and avoiding those Muggles whose power is greater than our own, and there are indeed such individuals; people whose abilities may even surpass those of the Dark Lord.”
She paused to allow that tidbit to sink in to the doddering fool’s brain.
“When Voldemort first rose to power, the family thought that his strength might be enough to rid the world of these Muggle practitioners once and for all, so that they might no longer be considered a threat. However, it was quickly realized that the Dark Lord had no real concept of magic in the world which lies outside our own. It was only luck that he never encountered a truly magical Muggle for, as they had been persecuted for eons, they would have banded together to rid the world of a megalomaniacal savant like Tom Riddle.”
“You know his history? You know who Voldemort really is?,” Albus whispered, stunned.
She laughed mirthlessly. “If you are questioning whether or not I know that Voldemort is simply a half-blood with delusions of grandeur and a breadth of knowledge which eclipses his rather poor reserve of innate power, then yes. I have made a quite a study of the Dark Lord since Lucius aligned himself with Voldemort. Bella worships power, but is at heart a sycophant. Sirius and Andromeda, as well as Nymphadora, understood exactly what Voldemort was, or perhaps I should say was not, and dedicated their lives to fighting him. Regulus learned all too late.”
“And you? What of you?"
She shrugged. “Indifferent. My primary concern after giving birth was keeping my son safe; he is the heir both to the House of Malfoy and the House of Black.”
He kept his face a blank mask, both surprised and pleased that she had no idea as to the contents of Sirius Black’s will; hopefully, he would be there to see the shock on her face on the day it was read. He was actually rather startled she hadn’t already tried to force the issue with Gringotts. Of course, the goblins would have laughed in her face, which was also something he would have enjoyed seeing.
“To that end,” she continued, “I am willing to align myself with whatever power which can deliver that hope. I was thrilled when Voldemort was seemingly vanquished by an infant, but I knew I was biding time. I knew he would return and that I must have contingencies in place were Draco and I to survive.”
“Now?,” she repeated. “I believe Harry Potter has shown that he will eventually defeat Voldemort. The question is one of how long this will take and the impact the war will have on our people, specifically my son. Most take comfort in their denial that Voldemort has not truly returned. This is a belief the Dark Lord, of course, perpetuates. While he is exceedingly vain, he is also a master strategist and he knows the value of catching people unawares. That insipid Minister's refusal to acknowledge the rebirth allowed the magical community to play right into Voldemort’s hands. Perhaps it will be different now, but damage has been done.”
“What is it that you want, Narcissa?,” he groused, any pleasantries long since abandoned.
This woman was obviously more of a player than that for which anyone had given her credit. Her loyalties were bought, which made her incredibly dangerous, given the amount of knowledge she possessed. Knowledge translated to power, and Narcissa Malfoy would be a great coup for either side to claim as their own for, unlike her sister and husband, she had never taken the Dark Mark. He supposed he should simply be grateful that she had remained on the fence, watching from a distance, though he found her disinterest in profuse loss of life to be galling. Still, little overrode the instinct of a mother to protect her young. There were some exceptions, of course, like Lily Potter, who placed her life as substandard to that of the greater good, although that decision, no matter how unselfish and noble, had cost many people a great deal, and he had abetted it.
“What I want is for you to allow this person to seek amnesty at Hogwarts. They will need to be trained in all areas of magic and there is little time. Fortunately, my contact assures me that this person is exceedingly bright, much along the lines of Potter’s Muggleborn witch.
"Further, this person has been actively involved in the Muggle magical world for almost five years. There are diagnostic potions of which Severus is aware that can be brewed and administered to determine the subject’s potential, and in what areas they will both excel and fumble. Madam Pomfrey is the leading mediwitch in the Isles and has contacts throughout the wizarding world; if there are treatments for the damage caused by these visions, she will find them.”
“Have you any idea this person’s age?"
Again, she shrugged. “Not really.” She paused, considering Anyanka’s appearance and assumed the demon’s friend was a contemporary of sorts. “I imagine, however, that they are relatively young, perhaps not much older than a seventh year. This is just an impression I got from the envoy.”
“Well, what I am supposed to do with them?,” he thundered. “I can’t very well matriculate them at this point in their life! How am I to explain why a Muggle has suddenly come into their gifts at this late stage?”
“I have a suggestion,” she purred.
“Oh, I’m quite sure you do.”* * * * *
It took another hour, but Narcissa finally managed to convince Dumbledore not only of the feasibility of her plan, but that any detour would be tantamount to spectacular failure.
When he seemed hesitant, she was not beneath threats and intimidation; while she was not herself a Death Eater, she nevertheless held some modicum of influence over her husband and sister, and if Dumbledore didn’t act to ensure the survival of Anyanka’s friend, Voldemort would. If the Dark Lord understood and craved anything, it was power, and he would take any offering, no matter how small or how misunderstood, in order to achieve greater strength; he would use this Seer until her mind was shattered, and then dispose of her like rubbish.
Narcissa subtly implied that, should Dumbledore refuse, it would become common knowledge that he was implicitly involved in the death of another innocent Muggle. Further, and even more important in terms of strategy, what could Voldemort accomplish with a True Seer under his thumb?
Dumbledore kept his face an impassive mask, but inwardly marveled at her gall. He had planned for Voldemort, he had taken into account the cunning of Lucius Malfoy and the insanity of Bellatrix Lestrange, but he had never seen this woman coming. He wondered if anyone truly had. It was rare that someone or something surprised him, outside of Harry Potter, of course, and even the boy’s two closest friends, but when it happened, he sat up and took notice.
“I will agree to your plan,” he said evenly, “as I apparently have no other option, but I want to know what exactly you hope to get out of all of this.”
She paused, unsure herself of the answer. “To have the life of myself and that of my son spared. Beyond that, I truly don’t know. I’m not even sure I care.”
It was a better - and more honest - answer than he had expected.* * * * *
After returning to the Manor, Narcissa quickly devised a coded message to Anyanka, which would be delivered in the care of a house elf purchased just for the occasion. Owl and Muggle post were out of the question, as both took too long and were too easily intercepted. After the message was delivered, the elf was to report to Hogwarts and enter into the employ of Albus Dumbledore. It was the headmaster who had devised the scheme, and Narcissa had to give credit where it was due. Nothing could be traced back to her, and house elves were under the control of no one save their masters, and no one at all if they were free. They could defend themselves if captured, and had the ability to Apparate independent of the Ministry’s tracking.
Handing the letter over to the elf with the preposterous name of Serena, Narcissa watched the messenger Disapparate before retiring to her sitting room and pondering what was to come from all this. Effectively, her role was now terminated; she had fulfilled Anyanka’s request, and Dumbledore would be stepping in to ensure its execution. Still, she knew she would do well to pay careful attention as to how Dumbledore would play this. Perhaps she had been remiss by sitting out this game. Of course, her insistence upon Harry Potter’s involvement would ensure that Dumbledore wouldn’t get too out of hand. She laughed silently as she considered what would happen to Dumbledore when the Potter child came into all of his powers and decided he had enough of being an old man’s pawn. Oh, she so hoped she would be there to see it!
Lady Malfoy was pleased. She had avoided the wrath of Anyanka, and therefore that of Lucius as well, without compromising herself or Draco. Dumbledore would be sure never to discount her again, yet would constantly be on the defensive, unable to determine her next move. True, the thrill of getting a leg over on Albus was one which would not soon die, and all the while she had kept her last secret deeply buried. If the life of a Muggle was saved in the process, so be it. Narcissa knew her reckoning would one day come, and she would face it with the regal bearing befitting one of her station. Now, all she had to do was sit back and watch it all unfold.
“Check.”* * * * *
Harry Potter sat atop his pitiful bed in his cousin Dudley’s second bedroom at Four Privet Drive in Little Whinging, Surrey.
At this time each year, for the past four years, he had the bright hope of being removed from the home of his despicable relatives and spending the last two weeks of his summer holidays with the Weasley family and his best friend, Hermione Granger. However, this year was different from those past. It hardly seemed possible that Sirius had been gone for less than a month. Harry had given up hope that he might one day have a parent, a person who would love him as all children should be loved, who would place his welfare above everything and everyone, but now realized he hadn't completely abandoned that dream. More was the pity.
Sirius Black had been his godfather, though Harry had only known of this for the past two years. Still, in those two years, he had found an inner peace which he never thought possible. It didn’t matter if he didn’t live with Sirius; it didn’t matter than Sirius was an escaped fugitive, wrongly convicted; it didn’t even matter that they didn’t know each other that well.
All that had
mattered was that there was someone in the world who loved him in a way he had never before been loved; who had loved his parents and remained loyal to them and their child without question; and who had loved him as someone more than Harry Potter, a name which seemed now to have been rendered nothing more than a trademark, as if he wasn’t an actual person.
But Sirius was gone now, and while intellectually Harry understood that he should move on, emotionally he was treading water. Having known the love of Sirius, he was unable to look past what might have been and accept what his life was to become, and he was too changed to go back to being The Boy Who Had Been Resigned to Being an Unloved Orphan.
Hermione and Ron tried their best in their own maddening ways. Hermione was constantly at him to discuss his feelings, to put himself out there, even though she knew he detested such idiotic forms of psychobabble and wallowing; not that Harry was above self-pity, but he wanted it on his own terms and in his own time. Ron, as usual, was at the opposite end of the spectrum, blathering on about nothing but Quidditch and his insufferable siblings; anything but the looming elephant in the room.
Indeed, without Sirius, Harry felt as if he was drifting on a black sea devoid of light, of hope, of possibility. There was no direction but one. He had long ago accepted that his purpose in life was to fight Voldemort; he had long ago accepted that such action would most likely result in his own death. Contrary to popular opinion, he did not have a death wish. He wanted his life, and he wanted it greedily, but he was under no illusions. He could die at any moment, and not necessarily at the hands of Voldemort. Perhaps if he had been raised differently, he would be flooded with the optimism of his friends and the belief in immortality to which others of his age ascribed.
Alas, he knew death and he knew it well, and frankly, it was a relief not to be encumbered by delusions of grandeur which too often accompanied his contemporaries. While his friends tried desperately to support and cheer him, it angered him beyond belief that they were so willing to dismiss reality and live in a constant state of denial. Harry wasn’t the fatalist of Hermione’s accusations, but he was a realist. Since he had learned of magic and the expectations foisted upon him, Voldemort had attempted to kill him almost every year. In fact, it was the one constant in his life.
He chuckled to himself. The idea of attempted murder as being comfortably predictable was suddenly greatly amusing. Never would he have thought of Voldemort as the most stable influence in his life, but he nevertheless realized that resounding truth. His friends would have thought him daft, but he had no doubt that Sirius would have understood.
Harry also knew that, to some degree, his feelings for Sirius had moved past love and into obsessive worship. He quite well understood that Sirius was not everything he had made the man out to be. He never doubted Sirius’ love and commitment, but he also knew that Sirius loved him as an extension of James and, to a lesser point, of Lily. Harry knew that Sirius had great trouble at times distinguishing him from his father, and also recognized that Sirius’ time in Azkaban had a great deal to do with his conflicting emotions.
For all intents and purposes, Sirius had remained the psychological age he had been when he had first entered the wizards’ prison, and for that, Harry could find no fault. After being at the mercy of the Dementors on more than one occasion, he found it remarkable that his godfather had withstood their soul-sucking presence for an astonishing twelve years.
So, yes, he knew that Sirius hadn’t been perfect, but in his view, which was, he admitted, relatively narrow, he had been damned close.
There was still Remus Lupin, of course, but the werewolf was often away on missions for Dumbledore, and due to his ‘condition’, would never be allowed to assume custody of Harry. Still, Remus was a faithful if cautious correspondent, and the man’s continued though tangential presence helped Harry tether the ephemeral connection between he, Sirius, and his parents. Harry knew that he could go to Remus with any question, concern, or quibble, and the werewolf would always be honest and helpful, but Remus just didn’t provoke the feelings within him that Sirius had. Remus was more like a favorite uncle than a father, although that was not a bad thing; it was actually very welcome.
Harry had been pleased when Arthur and Molly Weasley had practically adopted him on first sight, and while they were wonderful people and he loved them beyond measure, Molly in particular was even more suffocating than Hermione, which might be part of the reason the two didn’t get on as well as he and Ron would have liked. Molly always appeared wary around Hermione, as if the girl were trying to steal them away from her. Hermione played it off, but Harry knew how hurt she was that every year she was the only one of the Trio not to be gifted at Christmas with a jumper created by Molly Weasley.
Then there was Molly’s rather unsubtle attempts to put him together with Ginny. Harry liked Ginny a great deal, but as for love, his feelings for her would never go beyond sisterly. He knew both Molly and Ginny were hoping for more, but he had realized last year that was never to be. And, then of course, there were the Weasley brothers: Bill, Charlie, and the twins, Fred and George, all of whom, at one time or another, he had felt, well, less than brotherly toward, except of course for Percy, who only appeared in Harry’s fantasies pleading for his miserable life while being slowly roasted on an open spit.
In fact, it was one of the reasons he so dreadfully missed Sirius. While he had allowed his latent affection for Cedric to be transferred to the boy’s bereaved girlfriend, Cho Chang, Harry had never been comfortable with the awkward moments which had comprised their brittle relationship. He had entered it knowing that Cho’s interest in him was greatly motivated by her fervent desire to grasp close the memory of Cedric, for which he couldn’t condemn her; he had, after all, been using her for the same reason.
He sighed wistfully. “Cedric really was quite lovely.”
The revelation of his sexuality wasn’t particularly troubling for Harry, as such things were not condemned in the wizarding world as they often were amongst Muggles; or, if they were, he was unaware of the fact. He felt no shame about his orientation, but nevertheless believed it in his best interests to keep it to himself, particularly after the fallout of the Triwizard Tournament and that insipid reporter Rita Skeeter constantly maligning him in the press, not to mention the public relations nightmare perpetrated by Minister Fudge and his personal troll, Dolores Umbridge. It was best not to provide any more fodder for the press corps cannons. Sirius would have been able to help him navigate the myriad emotions now constantly warring inside of him.
He suspected that Remus knew, but the man was simply too polite and too respectful to pry. Too, Harry often wondered just how close the relationship between the werewolf and Sirius had been. He also believed that Hermione knew about his preferences, even if only on an unconscious level, but, for whatever reason, was reticent to discuss them, for which he was absurdly grateful. He loved Hermione more than anyone in the world, except Ron, and in some ways, even more than Ron, but his desire to sleep with men was not high on Harry’s list of Things To Discuss With Hermione Granger.
Now, as he was approaching the age of sixteen, he felt an overwhelming and very confusing surge of hormones erupt throughout his body. He determined this was most likely yet another delayed development in his physical maturation. Fantasizing about sex was quickly consuming a large part of his day, and he was terrified of what he was going to do or say when it was time for him to leave for the Burrow, where he would be confronted with all types of Weasley loveliness, especially George and Charlie. He was also rather horrified at the little voice in his head which kept insisting that those feelings would soon extend to Ron, the mere idea of which nearly forced his mind to shut down completely.
His one saving grace had been his deepening friendship with Ravenclaw student Luna Lovegood. Their relationship had taken him by surprise, as he had once dismissed her out-of-turn as being nothing more than a younger version of Professor Trelawney. Luna seemed to be perpetually blustering about in a fugue state, but when she allowed her carefully-crafted veil to fall, she was startlingly astute and actually quite comforting, as well as rather frightening. Boy Who Lived or not, prophecy or not, scar or not, Harry Potter never wanted to find himself on the opposite end of Luna Lovegood’s wand.
He supposed his change of heart toward Luna began when she revealed that she was able to see the thestrals which drew the carriages of students toward Hogwart’s at the start of each term. Over the course of his fifth year, Luna had proven herself to be an exceptionally capable witch whose knowledge occasionally surpassed even that of Hermione, which was an endless source of consternation to the older girl.
Luna had also shown herself to be an incredibly dedicated friend who made no demands and was there unquestioningly at his side. She supported Gryffindor in Quidditch matches which did not pair his team against her own house, and she stood up to all of the people in her year and Harry’s, defending him at no small cost to herself, not that Luna cared one whit about what anyone thought of her. Harry was quite awed by that.
They had spent the summer so far writing daily to each other, and he felt a little tingle in his stomach whenever he saw Luna’s owl, Celesta, approaching his window. He poured his heart out in his letters, freely grieving for his parents, Cedric, and Sirius; Luna responded with her own feelings about her mother’s death and her own resulting fierce devotion to her father, which further resolved Harry to speak with Hermione about her constant slurs against The Quibbler
, a wizarding magazine published by Mister Lovegood.
Harry revealed his sexuality; Luna vowed to get him laid. He fretted about his friends’ reaction, and Luna offered to pretend to be his girlfriend if it would make things easier. He wrote of his uncertainty with regard to the final battle with Voldemort, and Luna replied that, while no outcome was certain, she believed Harry would triumph not because of a scar or a prophecy, but because he was Harry. Not Harry Potter, not the Boy Who Lived, but Harry.
Luna made him happy. He never had to be ‘on’ with her, for she had no expectations of him. He didn’t have to tiptoe around her as he did Ron, for she held no jealousy. He didn’t have to endlessly debate and justify his every thought and feeling as he did with Hermione, for Luna valued the privacy of introspection. In the wake of Sirius’ death and Voldemort’s increasing rise to power, Luna Lovegood was one of the singular things Harry was looking forward to as the fall term approached. Still, he worried over Ron and Hermione’s reaction to this new relationship. Ron was instinctively envious of anything of Harry’s which didn’t include him, and he thought Luna bizarre; Hermione resented that Luna was as smart as she, but was so impractical and flighty.
He loved Hermione and Ron more than anyone else in the world, but he was growing more and more tired of constantly trying to prove himself worthy of their notice, when they themselves often said and did things which hurt him greatly. Granted, Hermione seemed to cotton on to her mistakes rather quickly and always apologized, usually with sincere tears ringing her eyes, but Ron often needed to be hit over the head before realization dawned. Still, Harry wouldn’t trade them for anything, and no one would ever be as close to him or know him as well as they. If he believed in the idea of soul-mates, he knew he had two, and knew he was lucky to have found them so early. He sincerely hoped and prayed that the tension between them now was simply a phase which would soon die away.
There were other concerns, however, things which he had allowed himself to disregard for far too long, inconsistencies which plagued him. The more he thought of his enforced confinement with the Dursleys, the more he began to suspect that the entire plot was a contrivance of Dumbledore’s.
The Headmaster had insisted that Lily’s sacrifice had imbued Harry with blood magic which would protect him from Voldemort as long as he resided with his mother’s family. As skilled as Lily was purported to have been in Charms, Harry was beginning to doubt that she would resort to something so drastic, even if other options were sparse. From what little information he had been able to gather about his mother from Petunia, she and her sister had enjoyed almost no contact after Lily began Hogwarts. Would a loving mother so willingly sacrifice her own life for that of her only child, only to condemn that child to be raised by people who wouldn’t understand him and have no desire to? He doubted it.
Further, Dumbledore had said that the blood magic would ensure protection as long as Harry considered Four Privet Drive his home. The obvious flaw was that he didn’t, and never had. To him, it was nothing more than a house and nothing less than a prison. If anything, he considered Hogwarts or the Burrow to be his home, once he learned what a proper home was supposed to be. But how to know for sure?
Until last year during the Tournament, Voldemort hadn’t a physical body and had been unable to contact his followers, most likely because he knew the majority wouldn’t answer to a spirit or a disembodied whatsit, so therefore he could have never previously attacked the Dursleys, and the Death Eaters were unlikely to act on their own. Also, it was apparent that while Voldemort was half-Muggle, he had no clue as to how the Muggle world operated, and it was doubtful he could have found him even had he looked.
More troubling was that Harry had nothing other than Dumbledore’s word that his parents had indeed wanted him left with the Dursleys. He had never examined his parents’ will, and was not even sure they had created one. He rather believed they had, though, because they had known of the prophecy and had known that they in particular would have been targeted. It made no sense that they wouldn’t have instituted provisions for his safety were they to perish, especially considering they had bequeathed to him a vault, knowing he would attend Hogwarts as soon as he was of age.
However, his primary concern was the nature of the blood magic itself. It had saved him in his first year at Hogwarts when he had been fighting Quirrell, but he failed to see how whatever lingering trace he might possess could be dangerous to Voldemort, since the bastard had been resurrected with Harry’s own blood. If Voldemort was running amok with Harry’s blood coursing through his veins, didn’t it stand to reason that Lily’s spell now protected Voldemort from Harry as well? Shared blood, shared wands. What possible advantage was left to Harry? Love? He snorted. Is that what he was supposed to give to the surviving families of those who had been slaughtered by Voldemort and his minions? Love?
This troubled him deeply, and he knew discussing it with Dumbledore would be pointless.
And there were other concerns, most of which pertained to Sirius and his death. Harry knew that, as the man’s godson, he was most likely Sirius’ heir, given that he had no children. How could he go about clearing Sirius’ name once and for all? He knew he would have no rest until that was accomplished, or at least until he had ready a plan of attack. And if he was the heir, did that mean he was now in control of Grimmauld Place? No, something was wrong. Even more things were being hidden from him, and Dumbledore was counting on his continued acquiescence. Well, no more.
Also bothering him this night was a niggling thought needling at him, that there was someone coming, someone new who he recognized would change his life.
He was unsure if it would be for the better, but he suspected it would be enlightening. He could have owled Dumbledore, of course, but lately thoughts of his Headmaster were more troubling and infuriating than comforting. Harry was beginning to feel more like Dumbledore’s weapon than part of his army, and truthfully, his fifth year had disabused him of the notion that Dumbledore was either omniscient or omnipotent.
Why should he settle for being part of Dumbledore’s army when it was he himself who would have to battle Voldemort in the end? Why we was he allowing Dumbledore to dictate the terms? Enough of that!
If Dumbledore had been powerful enough to defeat Voldemort, he would have, prophecy or not, especially in light of the fact that the prophecy had been made several years after the beginning of the First War, before Harry had even been born. Logically, didn’t it stand to reason that Dumbledore could have done away with Voldemort in that window before the prophecy had been pronounced?
There was more, he was sure. Things of which he had taken notice over the years, but had suppressed either by choice or need. Even now, so many thoughts were swirling about his head, that his mind ached. He simply couldn’t process them right now, preferring instead to do what he could while he thought of it, most of all concerning a strange sensation that something vaguely unsettling and new was about to exert its influence in his life. Struck with an idea, Harry called out for Dobby and hoped the elf would hear him.
He instantly appeared, nearly sobbing at being summoned by the Great Harry Potter.
“How can Dobby be of assistance to Mister Harry Potter?,” the elf wailed, prostrating himself on the floor.
Harry sighed and rolled his eyes. Honestly, Dobby’s behavior had surpassed annoying quite a while ago and was now bordering on bothersome; not to mention the angry glares Hermione sent his way whenever he encountered the elf on school grounds, when Dobby would all but the throw a parade to herald his arrival.
“Dobby,” he began with forced patience, “first, could you please erect silencing wards throughout the room? I don’t wish to have my relatives overhear our conversation.”
The elf nodded and began winding his fingers in precise, orchestrated movements. Harry was rather awed by the sight of this magic and the feeling it inspired within him, so different from his own power. He cleared his throat once Dobby was finished.
“Have you been at Hogwarts all summer?”
The elf nodded frantically, which caused the tea cozy he wore as a hat to slip off his head. Quickly scooping it up off the floor, he trained wide, unblinking eyes on the boy.
“Now, Dobby,” Harry continued, unsure as how to phrase the question, “I know that you are loyal to Dumbledore, but there’s some information I need. Can I ask you a question and, if he interrogates you, can you not reveal to him that we had this conversation? And I do not want you punishing yourself whatever the answer or outcome, is that clear?”
Again, the elf nodded. “Dobby likes Dumbly, Mister Harry Potter, but Dobby is a free elf, he is! Dobby has no master to fear, thanks to the greatness of Harry Potter! Dobby wants to help Harry Potter any way he can, he does!”
Harry sighed again and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Dobby, I’ve been feeling a bit odd these past few days, and I think something...strange...is going on. Has anything abnormal been going on at the school?”
The elf frowned and considered the question. “No, Harry Potter, sir. Nothing that Dobby can remember.”
Harry was dejected.
“But,” Dobby continued, “Winky told Dobby that Dumbly had a surprise guest earlier tonight who left Dumbly very upset.”
“Who was it?"
“Dobby does not know, sir. Winky said Dobby should know, but Dobby does not understand Winky. Winky drinks too much, Harry Potter. But all the house elves felt it when the guest arrived.”
Harry’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean you felt it?”
“Guest used a portkey, they did.”
The boy was stunned. Portkeys were not supposed to work at Hogwart’s, just like it was supposedly impossible for anyone to Apparate onto the grounds or in the school. Of course, he too well recalled a portkey that had once made its way onto the premises. One which had cost him his blood and Cedric his life.Kill the spare.
Harry shivered, but the dank chill remained. He knew he would never forget that high-pitched voice sneering at Cedric’s beautiful and terrified face. Such a waste. Such a terrible waste. Harry’s eyes looked pained and Dobby instantly blamed himself as he began slamming his head against the floor.
“Dobby! Dobby, stop that this instant! I am not angry with you, and you did nothing wrong! Now knock it off, or I’m going to send Hermione down to the kitchens every night once the new term starts!”
Dobby’s eyes grew impossibly larger at the threat. But he did stop.
“I have a favor to request of you, Dobby,” Harry whispered.
The elf’s widened to the size of basketballs. “Harry Potter be asking a lowly house elf for favor? Harry Potter is too kind!”
“You’re my friend, Dobby, not my elf.”
Said elf predictably burst into tears, but Harry understood that these tears came from a different place than those previous. He knew all too well what it was to be an abused creature with no friends. Dobby then finally nodded that he was ready to comply.
“I need you to deliver a few letters for me.”
Hearing this, Hedwig alighted from her perch and dived at the elf, angrily screeching.
“Hedwig!,” Harry shouted. “Leave Dobby alone! I will have letters for you, as well, but I believe Dumbledore might be tracking your movements, and I can’t afford him to discover my plans until I want him to.”
The owl paused and considered his words, realizing they made sense. Giving him a reproachful glare, she hooted softly and settled on the headboard of the bed.
“Thank you,” Harry sighed. “Dobby,” he said, turning toward the elf, “please forgive Hedwig. She’s very protective of and loyal to me.”
“Harry Potter has a most powerful familiar,” Dobby whispered, giving Hedwig a respectful look.
The owl sleepily hooted and acknowledged him with a quick bow of her head.
Harry frowned. Familiar? Well, that was certainly something to explore. He penned a few letters, some of which were quite long, and Dobby contented himself by glancing about the small room, deeming it entirely unsuitable and unworthy of his good friend Harry Potter. When he sensed Harry was finished with his letters, Dobby quickly cast a spell to charm the ink dry.
“Thank you for all of your help, Dobby. You don’t know what it means to me. I would appreciate it if you told no one we had this conversation, or about these letters. Please don’t bother to wait for responses, but also please inform the recipients that if they wish, they can send a reply to me in care of the twins.” The elf bobbed his head. “I look forward to seeing you in September, and thank you again.”
Dobby took a moment to consider things before he reacted. Harry Potter had called him his friend and had paid him courtesy simply because he felt it right, not because the wizard pitied him. The elf also realized that Harry no longer trusted Dumbledore, and while that confused him, he nevertheless determined to keep a closer eye on the Headmaster. He then began bowing and extolling the virtues of Harry Potter, and the boy supposed he should have been grateful that the elf wasn’t blowing kisses. After one more final bow, Dobby Disapparated.
Harry’s mind raced. A surprise guest who had upset Dumbledore and had arrived by portkey? He assumed that Dumbledore had either created or sanctioned the portkey, for it would not have worked otherwise. But who was the guest? Winky apparently thought it was someone Dobby should know, but that could quite literally be anyone in wizarding Britain. As Dobby had once been owned by the Malfoys, one of the premier Pureblood families in Europe, he had been made aware of all visitors to the Manor. Since beginning his employ at Hogwarts, Dobby was now familiar with all of the students and staff. The mysterious guest could literally have been anyone.
He needed help with this, and as much as he knew that his best bet would be Hermione, he wasn’t going to involve her. She didn’t like him to question Dumbledore, and he knew his recent doubts about the Headmaster’s intentions would most likely cause Hermione either to dismiss him out of hand, or go barking mad and confront the old man directly.
The one thing he recognized above any other was that he had to start taking control of his life instead of ceding it to others, no matter how well-intentioned they might have been. The problem was that he didn’t know where to begin. Hopefully, the letters he had just written would help him on that score. For the moment, and for the foreseeable future, he was more than content to keep Dumbledore in the dark for as long as possible, even knowing how exceedingly difficult that would be, especially once he returned to Hogwarts.
Thus, he would have to start small. Since he was going back to school anyway, Harry decided it was time that he made full use of its available resources. He couldn’t allow himself to be distracted any further by the musical chairs-cum-relationships of his friends, his rivalry with Draco Malfoy, his hatred for Snape, his love for Quidditch, or sneaking about the castle at night.
He wouldn’t allow himself to wallow in self-pity, or fret about prophecies, or become so mired in grief over those lives lost that he inadvertently allowed Voldemort to breach his shields or possess him again. He knew it would be difficult, and he knew that his behavior would hurt his friends, but as much as that bothered him, it didn’t eclipse the realization that it was time for him to begin making his own plans.
If he was going to win this war, he needed knowledge, born both from learning and experience. It was time he stopped playing by everyone else’s rules and starting making his own. If he wanted to be treated as an adult, he needed to behave like one. In that instant, he resolved to suck it up and start dictating his own life rather than allowing himself to be controlled by everyone else.
It would likely be met with incredulity, perhaps even outright hostility, but he realized he had to stop his waffling and dedicate himself to a path of his own choosing. He had allowed this nonsense to go on for too long, and thus had more than his share of blame in how it had all devolved into a mass of gross stupidity. He had submitted to Dumbledore’s machinations, but now Harry Potter was going to take a page right out of McGonagall’s book and do what needed to be done, regardless of anyone’s misgivings.
Right. But where to begin? Well, the letters he had entrusted to Dobby were a start, but he couldn’t count on receiving the help for which he had asked. Thus, it was necessary to explore other avenues.
He crossed the room to his desk and quickly withdrew his quill and two pieces of parchment. He sketched a couple of brief notes, and tied them to Hedwig’s leg, which she held out seemingly under protest until Harry stroked her feathers, gave her an owl treat, and cooed the appropriate affections. His owl was downright obnoxious, but damn if he didn’t adore her.
“I’ll be going out in a few days, okay, girl? You deserve a vacation as well, so after you deliver these go visit your friends at the Owlery or the Forest.” Harry paused for a moment. “I love you, Hedwig,” he whispered. “You’re the only one in my life who has never disappointed me. Please stay safe,” he quietly finished.
Hedwig softly hooted, lovingly nipped his fingers, and then shot out the open window.
He sat, watching her until she disappeared from sight, before a feeling of empowerment washed over him. Hermione might indeed be the brightest witch of her age, but when it came to a genius capable of thinking outside the box, Harry knew his brightest hope was a Ravenclaw.