Act IV, Chapter 8: The Fall from Grace
Ginny followed her mother and brothers down the halls of St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies, Lightning the kitten gripped tightly in her hands. The steps she took made no sound, the voices she heard were muffled and far away, and the constant pain in her hand served as the permanent reminder that it was her own foolishness that had caused this. She'd known the dangers of using the Sagittarius Rune, but she'd screwed with fate and paid the price. Now she was forced to watch in sorrow, unable to even speak or touch anything, as her whole family gathered around the hospital bed of Arthur Weasley, who was barely clinging onto life. Worst. Christmas. Ever.
Her father looked horrible. Shallow in the face, his skin paler than snow. He had dozens of monitors attached to him, but Ginny knew, just like everyone else in the room, that they were all mostly for show. Her father was dying. And she couldn't even say goodbye.
"Arthur… it's Molly. Can you hear me?" her mother asked, tears streaming down her face as she sat in a chair next to the bed. Dad shifted slightly, muttering something that sounded like "Mollywobbles," and Mum burst out in wailing tears. Bill, tears streaking down his own cheeks, stepped over to the nurse. Ginny, unable to watch her Mum, followed him.
"How long does he have?" Bill asked as Charlie and Ginny followed him into a corner.
"If we draw it out? A week, maybe two? But it'll be painful." The medi-witch admitted solemnly.
Charlie jaw twitched, before running a hand over his forehead, "First Percy, then Ginny, now Dad. Merlin, what's happening to our family Bill?"
'I'm here. I'm okay. I'm just trapped,' Ginny exclaimed, unable to hold in her tears any longer. She ran her uninjured hand through Lightning's fur and sobbed.
"I don't know, Charlie. I just don't know." Bill sighed before looking the Medi-witch in the eye. "Let him go. I don't want him in any more pain," He whispered.
"But your mother…"
"Doesn't need to know. Understood?" Bill said, a sternness appearing in his voice that Ginny had never heard before.
"Of course, Mr Weasley," the woman said, before slipping out of the room. Bill and Charlie looked back to Dad's sleeping form, where the twins were trying to console their mother, who was attempting to squeeze Dad's hand back to life all on her own. Ron was standing at the end of the bed, eyes staring vacantly at his father's swallow face.
"What do we do now?" Charlie asked quietly.
"I'm… I've given my notice of resignation to Gringotts. After we're done here, I'm going straight to the Burrow, look over all the papers, mortgage, loans, bills, the lot. Everything. Then I'll have to start looking for a job here in Britain. I've got savings backed up, money Dad wouldn't let me send back that I kept in a vault. Gringotts pays well, so we should be fine for a while at least. If worst comes to worst, I can ask Fleur, a… friend from Gringotts for help. We won't have to pull the others from Hogwarts," Bill said, fiddling with his fang earring.
"Sounds like a good enough start. I've got two weeks leave for Christmas break, and I'm using up all my leftover leave for the rest of the year to make another, so I'll be here to help you with anything you need for a month at the least."
Bill slapped his brother on the back, "Thanks, mate."
"Don't mention it," he replied. Then the door crashed open, and Percy all but barrelled into the room, wide-eyed as his gaze latched onto Dad, lying on death's door in the hospital bed.
"Merlin, Dad." Percy, suddenly realising the rest of his family was in the room, looked to Bill and Charlie.
"I came as soon as I heard…" He choked on his words, taking several deep breaths before speaking again. "An Auror told me. I came straight away… what happened?" Bill stepped over to Percy and pulled his younger brother into a fierce hug.
"I'm sorry… I… I shouldn't have said what I said. I was just so angry and…" Mum looked up from the bed and locked eyes with Percy. She jumped to her feet and almost tripped on her nightgown she ran to them so fast. She pulled both boys into her arms, and Ginny couldn't take it anymore. Cat in hand, she ran through the hospital wall and out into the corridor beyond. She bolted down the hallway and down the stairs until she found herself in a waiting room. She dropped to her knees, and sobbed in anguish, oblivious to the dozens of people that stepped through her intangible and invisible form as she wept.
Whatever dimension she was stranded in had no concept of time Ginny had learned. She could close her eyes for one second, and what appeared to be days passed all around her. Or, on the flip side, she'd be forced to watch everything, unable to sleep or eat to reprieve herself. She didn't get hungry, and she wasn't tired. But it was cold. Merlin was it cold. Not like a winter cold, but an empty, lonely cold. Ginny's skin had gone numb, and her sense of touch and temperature was all but gone. And that wasn't even the worst part. The worst part was the Gemini Rune. It was lifeless, all its power vanished. But she could still feel it, like a faint buzzing on the edge of her consciousness. Just enough to let her know that Harry was still there, she was just too far away for anything but the patchiest of signals to get through. It was just her and the kitten, whom she named Lightning. And she refused to even let go of the cat. Lest the tiny furball leave her too.
The only time she had any reprieve was when she was in the Home. Maybe it was because the Home was in another dimension as well, Ginny didn't know. But when she was in the Home, she could touch things like walls or furniture. Food and drink were beyond her still, but she could sit on a bed without falling through it – even if she couldn't use the sheets. It was also somewhere she could be sure no one would walk through her, as the Home had been left to gather dust thanks to Dumbledore and Umbridge.
"I'm here to see Arthur Weasley."
Ginny's gaze snapped upright, fixating on Harry, who was standing at the front desk, Defenders cloak draped around his shoulders. Two Defenders stood behind him, their cuffs marking them as Hermione and Matt, though they kept their hoods up. Ginny glanced to a clock on the wall and realised it had been several hours since she'd abandoned the ward.
"I'm sorry, Mr Potter, but Mr Weasley passed away less than fifteen minutes…"
"Harry!" Bill's voice exclaimed. Ginny, the only thing stopping her from being sick on the carpet being the fact that she hadn't eaten in months, spun to the stairs. Bill and Ron were walking down the stairs, their clothes a mess, and their eyes puffy and red. Harry followed Bill's voice, and as Ginny's eyes locked onto his face, tears began trickling down her cheeks again. Harry was a shadow of himself. His usually vivid green eyes, the ones that used to light up the second he realised she was in a room, were cold and dull. His hair was no longer any sort of maintained, growing out to the point where it had become a shaggy mop rather than the spikey birds' nest she loved. He had even started growing facial hair, but it was patchy and of intermittent lengths, and Ginny knew he hadn't even considered shaving – he didn't even know how. The only thing about him that was clean was his clothes, obviously done not by him, but by Dobby. To say he looked like death warmed up would be an understatement. And all she wanted to do was run to him. To wrap her arms around him and feel the warmth of the Gemini Rune again.
"Bill. I came as soon as I heard. Nobody would tell me anything, I had to weed it out of McGonagall, then I may have blown up the Gryffindor Tower Floo with the amount of powder I used and…" Harry was rambling, all of his pent-up emotions spilling over in a single instant. His eyes were watery, and his left-hand kept twitching.
"It's alright," Bill said tiredly, waving him off. Hermione pulled back her hood, her own tear-stained eyes coming into view, and she launched herself at Ron. The second they pulled each other into hugs, they both broke down into tears.
"I'm sorry," Harry said. Bill grabbed Harry's shoulder and sat them down in a chair on the other side of the room. Harry then turned his gaze onto the receptionist, and the three other people in the room, all of whom were staring at Harry.
"Give us the room," Harry said, a tone of command to his voice that warned all not to test him. Everyone quickly scurried away. Once everyone was gone, Bill made to start talking, but Harry held up his hand, eyes fixed on Matt.
"Anything?" Bill looked incredibly confused, but Matt simply pulled his hood back.
"All clear. There's no one else on this level, and no listening or monitoring spells that I can detect." Both Harry and Ginny let out a breath of relief.
"How can he…" Bill began.
"Matt was in an accident when he was a kid. He might be blind, but he can hear better than anyone else on the planet and see the auras people give off. We're still working on his codename though." Harry tried to laugh, but it came out more like a cough.
"Bill, what happened?"
Bill lost all his composure. His shoulders slumped, and his head fell into his hands.
"The doctor says he was found by an Unspeakable this morning, somewhere in the Department of Mysteries. He'd been bitten by an animal of some kind, in dozens of places. The bites were bad, but it was the venom that killed him. Snake venom." Bill sighed, "What was he even doing down there?"
Harry's face contorted in rage. "Damn you Dumbledore. What's so important behind that fucking door?!" he growled.
"What door? What does Dumbledore have to do with this?!" Bill exclaimed, looking up at Harry in shock.
"Dumbledore's had members of the Order on duty monitoring a door in the Department of Mysteries since Voldemort's return to power. But he won't tell anyone what's behind it. I sent the Dragons in there to try and find out when I went into the Ministry earlier this year, but they couldn't get past the front door. There's something down there that interferes with their powers." Harry slammed his head against the wall. "I'm sorry I have to be the asshole that says this, but I can't stop thinking about it. If your Dad was on duty guarding Dumbledore's door…"
"Did You-Know-Who get someone… or something… past Dad and into the DoM?" Bill breathed. He shut his eyes and rubbed his temples.
"This just keeps getting worse," he whispered.
"I'm sorry," Harry said.
"Not your fault. Do your friends have any idea what You-Know-Who…" Bill swallowed hard, "Do you know what Voldemort wants?" Ginny gasped and looked to Bill. His face, a few seconds before so broken, was now hard, his eyes fixed on the wall ahead. She knew that look. That was the same look he got when he told Mum he was going to Egypt, despite her refusing to let him.
"No. And nothing I've tried gets me any closer. I'm running out of allies Bill. The Dragons are gone. Vanished after an explosion in Wakanda. No one, not even Will's sister, knows where they are. Doctor Strange is battling Dormammu in the Dark Dimension. Umbridge has taken over Hogwarts, which means I'm being watched like a hawk and can't do shit. Fudge – who I thought I had on my side – is ignoring me at every turn. And Gin…" Harry cracked. His head sagged down over his lap, and his body was racked in sobs. Ginny knelt beside him, her heart splintering as she watched him sink into despair. She tried to grab his hands, but she just slipped through. It was the most terrifying thing she'd ever seen.
'I'm here! Hear me! Come on! COME ON!' She screamed. But no one could hear her, and the only result was that the scar on her hand hurt even worse than before.
Bill shifted in his seat slightly and placed a hand on Harry's shoulder.
"I miss her too. I…" But whatever Bill was going to say was cut off by Matt, who'd spun around, ear strained towards the door.
"Malfoy. He's coming this way. Allisandra's with him… and the Minister." Harry's head shot up.
"Fuck!" He exclaimed.
"What could they want?" Bill exclaimed as both of them jumped to their feet.
"Brains! Get out of here!" Harry yelled, and Ginny spun around. She'd completely forgotten Ron and Hermione were even there. The duo leapt to their feet, and Ron took charge, pulling Hermione's hood over her head and yanking her up the stairs out of sight.
Bill pulled out his wand and drew a rune in the air in front of Harry's face. It wasn't a pattern she recognised immediately, but the results were obvious. The tear stains and untidiness of Harry's face vanished in an instant. He gained a few inches in height, and his body filled out slightly. His eyes regained their sparkle, and his hair reverted to its traditional look. Virgo: the rune of illusion.
"Thanks," Harry said quickly, ensuring his wand was within easy reach.
"Sirius is on his way up with Betsy and Brian Braddock and two Goblins… wait they've been stopped by Fudge's personal guard at reception. Shacklebolt's here too, so the Headmaster can't be too far behind," Matt said quickly, before pulling his own hood back into place.
"Something's happened," Bill said.
Ginny held her breath as the door's swung open, revealing Minister Fudge standing between Lucius Malfoy and Allisandra Jones, flanked by his personal guard of Kingsley Shacklebolt and John Dawlish.
"Minister, a pleasure to see you. Are you here to answer my letters by any chance?" Harry said evenly. The Virgo Rune did wonders to hide his emotions and appearance, but no obscuration could fool Ginny. He was angry, and she wished with all her heart that she was there with him.
"Indeed, indeed. Good to see you too, Harry. Mr Weasley. Dreadful news," Fudge said, shaking his head softly, "Has there been any news of your friend, the one who ran away?"
Ginny winced. "She didn't run away. She vanished after a detention with your High Inquisitor. The one I have sent several notifications to you about inappropriate conduct, not to mention using methods of torture on school children." He didn't yell, but his voice was dripping with such venom even an idiot could tell he was pissed.
"I don't know about that. Dolores assures me everything is well in hand and that you're moving back to the proper curriculums…"
"If by proper curriculums you mean, sacking the only competent teachers in the school and replacing them with deadbeats, then sure, she's done a fantastic job," Harry bit back, rolling his eyes.
"Now, now, Mr Potter. That's no way to speak to the Minister for Magic," Malfoy drawled, a smug smile on his face.
"Oh, shut up, Lucius. The day I care to hear your opinion will be the day Han Solo sells me the Millennium Falcon for free." Lucius' smug grin faded into a look of pure confusion, and Ginny burst out into laughter, not that anyone could hear her. No one except Lightning at least, who purred in her pocket at hearing her voice, rare thing that it was these days.
"What do you want?" Bill asked flatly, folding his arms.
"Ah, yes. Dreadful business, you see. It seems that, as much as we'd like to, the Ministry will be unable to pay compensation for your loss, Mr Weasley," Fudge said. Ginny's jaw dropped open.
"What?!" Bill exclaimed, "He died in the Ministry of Magic! The Law states that at the very least, the Ministry should be paying for his funeral!"
"We're afraid those laws only apply to people who die on Ministry premises. And as your father tragically died here in St Mungo's, our hands are tied. We truly are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused," Allisandra said sweetly. Harry balled his hands into fists at his sides. Bill looked ready to draw his wand and murder all of them in one fell swoop. With Harry's help, he could probably do it too.
"And to make matters worse, it seems as though your father had substantial debts to pay on both his children's – your sibling's – school fees and his property. Both of these charges now fall to you to repay, but, because I am generous and always willing to help people in need, I have agreed to purchase all your outstanding debt, on a few conditions of course." Malfoy's grin as he said those words made him look more monster than human. Alessandra seemed equally pleased, while Fudge looked indifferent. Maybe he was under the Imperious Curse? Surely no one could be that stupid? Ginny's knees started shaking, and she resisted the urge to scream.
"You son of a b…" Bill, Harry and Matt all went for their wands, but at that exact moment, Sirius ran into the room, flanked by a witch and wizard she didn't recognise. The man wore robes like Sirius marking him as a member of the Auror Corps. The woman worse business robes beneath a purple sash with the Gringotts Crest on it.
"Mr Weasley remain silent!" the woman exclaimed, rushing to Bill's side. Harry's hand dropped from his wand as he looked to Sirius, who mouthed "just go with it."
"Who are you and what are you doing here?!" Malfoy snapped.
"My name is Elizabeth Braddock, Chief Cursebreaker for Gringotts International – British Division. I am here to inform Mr Weasley, who is an esteemed employee of Gringotts International, that he is not to say anything to you, or any parties interested in the purchase and acquisition of the Weasley Family Property in Ottery St Catchpole until a lawyer provided to him by Gringotts International is present. I am also here to inform Mr Lucius Malfoy that his accounts with Gringotts International have been temporarily frozen on the account that the seizure of mortgage owed on the Weasley Family Property in Ottery St Catchpole without notification or agreement to by all parties concerned was against bank policy. Please visit the nearest Gringotts International branch at your earliest convenience to settle this matter. Now, on behalf of Gringotts International, I will escort Mr William Weasley – Gringotts Employee – and Mr Harry Potter to Gringotts immediately for consultation." Ms Braddock gave the Minister – who seemed incredibly confused – Malfoy, – who looked like someone just stole his favourite toy – and Allisandra – who seemed amused by the whole thing – a slight curtsey and smile, before ushering a very shocked looking Harry and Bill out of the room, Matt, Sirius and the other man trailing behind.
Eventually, the room was empty save for Fudge, Malfoy and Allisandra. And Ginny.
"What in the name of Merlin just happened?!" Fudge exclaimed, turning to Malfoy.
"The Goblins have seen fit to step above their station. They will need to be dealt with, lest they gain even more ideas. It seems Harry Potter's radicalism has taken root with them. It's as I've been telling you, Minister. Potter is trying to gain as much power as he can. My son is trying to determine what he's up to at Hogwarts, but he has over half the student population on his side. Them, his red-cloaked cronies, and now the Goblins. Who's next? He already stole my House Elf. And I don't believe for a second that his little friend ran away of her own accord. She's on a mission for Potter. I'm sure of it," Malfoy explained, staring at the door by which Harry had vanished.
"I'll have to tell Delores to step up her campaign. Potter's influence must be curbed. If things keeps going on like this, he'll put the entire Wizarding World at risk," Fudge huffed, apparently chugging Malfoy's bullshit like it was the best Butterbeer he'd ever tasted.
"An excellent idea, Minister," Allisandra said, lowering her head slightly in deference.
"Well, best be back to the Ministry for me. I'll see the pair of you soon I expect." With that, Fudge straightened his bowler hat and walked out the door. The second he left, Allisandra gaged and turned on Lucius.
"Laying it on a bit thick, weren't you?" She said sharply, glaring at the blonde-haired man. Malfoy rolled his eyes.
"Fudge only understands the most basic of explanations. You can't let him come to his own conclusions, because he simply won't be able to. Why do you think Amelia Bones and Albus Dumbledore were the real powers in the Ministry?"
Allisandra shrugged, "Good point." Then she turned serious. "Did you speak to…"
"Yes. He was most annoyed. Killed one of the young ones. I can't remember his name."
Allisandra shuddered, "Did the mission fail, then?"
Lucius grinned evilly, "Oh no. The Dark Lord found the prophecy concerning him and Potter, but the shelves are spelled in such a way that only he or Potter themselves can remove them. I believe he intends to lay a trap for Potter somehow that way he can retrieve the prophecy and kill Potter at the same time. Without Potter, the alliance he's built will crumble." Allisandra breathed a sigh of relief.
"Good. Let's go see what these fucking Goblins have up their sleeves then." Together the pair stalked from the room, leaving an invisible and intangible Ginny Potter shaking like a leaf behind them.
When Harry stepped out of the Gryffindor Tower Floo, he wasn't surprised to see Umbridge waiting for him.
"Mr Potter, how lovely of you to return to us." Harry, Bill's Virgo Rune still in place, merely pulled the finger at her before trudging up the stairs to the boy's dormitory. He barely even noticed that Umbridge was following him. When he reached his dormitory and stepped inside, all he could do was sigh. Neville, Lavender and Dean were refolding his clothes into his trunk, most of which remained strewn across the dorm. His letters had been pilfered through, and the parchment holding the secret of the Marauders Map was torn on one side. The photo frame that held the picture of his parents was cracked across the front, and one of the hangings had been torn from his four-poster bed. The Invisibility Cloak was gone.
"Mr Potter, I'm afraid, due to numerous infractions against school policies, the least of which being leaving the school without a guardian or informing the faculty, I, as High Inquisitor, have been forced to conduct a search of your dormitory for any illicit objects. To ensure the safety of the students, of course," Umbridge chirped. Harry, all the fight having long since vanished from him. Merely muttered, "Of course, Madame Umbridge."
"Good boy." Harry rolled his eyes but said nothing. Lavender looked at him apologetically, and Neville was biting his lip, casting glances at his own trunk as if he feared Umbridge would ransack it too.
"You'll also be serving detention with…"
"Professor McGonagall. Yep." Harry muttered, before walking over to his bed and whispering a thanks to his friends as he picked up a shirt and began to refold it. Umbridge let out a long breath. Harry didn't care if she was angry that he'd been the one to find a way for everyone to get out of her Detentions or not. Hogwarts Duty of Care stated that students could request that detentions be served with their Heads of House if they felt in an unsafe environment. He just didn't have the energy to fight with anyone today. Not after… not after Mr Weasley, or Malfoy's attempted ruining of the entire Weasley family.
While Miss Braddock and her brother had taken Harry and Bill to Gringotts, Sirius had quickly filled them in on what he could. He and Brian Braddock – who were now partners – had been assigned Mr Weasley's Case, and had found out about Malfoy's attempted move on the Weasley's a few moments before Fudge set off for the hospital. They'd contacted Brian's sister Betsy, who worked for Gringotts, who'd immediately gone to a Gringotts Legal Team. It was a miracle Bill had made millions of galleons for Gringotts over the years, or the Weasley's might have ended up on the street, and Bill forced into Voldemort's ranks. Say what you would about Goblins, but they protected their own, and Bill was part of that. Ragnok had even offered Bill a job in the British Division of Gringotts, so he wouldn't be out of work anytime soon. The Director had also assured Harry that, given the current climate, his Vault security status had been upgraded to 'Severe' and its contents moved deeper into the caverns. He also had several Goblins (members of the Clan he and Ginny had returned the seized heirlooms to the previous year) on 24/7 guard duty at the door. Also, there were now two Dragons on patrol. At least he wouldn't be cashless any time soon, so that was a problem he didn't have to worry about.
Umbridge, on the other hand…
"If you step one more toe out of line, Mr Potter, I will be forced to take drastic actions against you. And if I find even one of your red cloaks in this school, I'll have them expelled in an instant." She was a problem that just wouldn't go away.
The toad woman turned on her heel and stalked from the room.
Neville raced to the door and stuck his head out, seemingly watching her leave. Harry sat down on his now messy bed and picked up his picture frame. He drew his wand and repaired the glass, before placing it back on his bedside table, watching as young and carefree Lily and James Potter danced around in circles. Not for the first time, he found himself angry at his future self. He'd had one chance to see his mother again, thanks to Ghost. And his older self-had sent her to deal with relationship advice ahead of the Yule Ball? Now, with everything crumbling around him, was when he needed her advice. To hear her voice telling him everything would turn out okay. Not before some stupid dance!
"We're so sorry about your stuff, Harry. She just stormed in here with Malfoy and his shmucks. We made sure they didn't steal anything," Dean said, patting him on the back.
"There is one thing though," Lavender began, but Neville spoke up before she finished.
"Umbridge is gone." He said, his voice shaky. Lavender and Dean breathed a sigh of relief.
"Dean and I were… well, we were already in here when Neville burst in yelling about Umbridge. We went for your trunk and grabbed the most important thing we could find." Lavender, who now that Harry thought about it was wearing her clothes quite dishevelled, and her hair – usually platted or braided – was down, with no sign of her usual scrunchy, opened Neville's trunk, and withdrew a shiny silver fabric he knew only too well.
Harry let out a sigh of relief, "Thanks, guys. I owe you all. Big time. It's one of the only things I have of my Dad's." Lavender and Neville sat down on the bed beside him, and Lavender offered him the cloak, but Harry shook his head.
"Keep it. It'll be safer with you. Umbridge won't think to look with your stuff. I'm too much of a target."
Lavender gasped, looking from the fabric to Harry, then back to the fabric.
"Are you sure?" She asked in disbelief, "It was your Dad's. It's invaluable!" Harry nodded softly, locking eyes with her.
"I trust you. Tell no one you have it, even Hermione, and it should be safe. Maybe if I survive this, I'll be able to come back for it one day." Then Harry saw something he'd never seen before. Lavender's eyes filled with determination, she squared her jaw and nodded her head sharply.
"I won't let you down, Harry. I promise." Harry smiled softly at her, and Lavender blushed red as a tomato.
"Don't you worry, Harry," Dean said, putting on a brave face, "you'll survive this easy. Dolores Umbridge won't be what takes you down. You're brilliant. You're the only one who's teaching us what we need to know. You're the only one actually trying to protect our families. Fuck knows what the Ministry is doing, and Dumbledore's sitting on his ass while Umbridge takes over the school. You're the best bloke I know, and the only one who's getting shit done. This is bigger than just sticking it to the toad, I understand that now. It's what you said that first meeting, and at the Hog's Head. It's about our friends, and it's about our school. You can count on us to have your back. If we're the Defenders Army, then you're our General. We'll back your plays, and if you go down, well, I like to think I'd be damn proud to go down with you." Harry turned his gaze towards Dean and saw the same fire reflected in his eyes as he saw in Lavender's. It made his heart swell with pride. The idea that two people he wasn't even particularly close with could trust him enough to put their lives on the line. But…
"Thanks, Dean. I mean it. But… but it's bigger than even that. I… I lied to you all. I've lied to the whole god damn country." He said solemnly, and he couldn't bring himself to look at Lavender or Dean's eyes. He didn't want to see the failure and disbelief that he knew would be there.
"About what Harry?" Neville asked softly as Harry kept his gaze firmly centred in his lap.
"The terrorist group that attacked me. I said I didn't know who their leader was. I lied. It's…"
"You-Know-Who," Lavender finished. Harry looked up at her in confusion.
"It wasn't that hard to figure out," Neville admitted, folding his arms, "Given what Dumbledore has been saying."
"I'm sorry," Harry said, dropping his gaze once more, "I didn't want to lie. It was just that Fudge was going after anyone who even mentioned Voldemort was back. I had to find a middle ground. Get people to start preparing, but not make myself a target. Fat lot a good it did though. Umbridge is trying to crucify me on Fudge's orders, and all it achieved was lying to my friends. I don't deserve your trust. I'm not ready to be a leader."
Lavender grabbed Harry's hand and squeezed.
"The fact that you think lying to us makes you unfit to lead is all the evidence we need to know we picked the best man for the job."
"Lav's right, Harry. Like I said, we're behind you, because you're the only one who actually cares what happens to us at the end of the line. The only one who thinks we're more than just pieces on some grand chessboard between You-Know-Who and Dumbledore," Dean said firmly, grabbing Harry's shoulder as he spoke.
"You're the leader we need Harry. Like Dean said, the General of the Army. So, lead. Tell us what we need to do, and we'll do it," Neville proclaimed. Harry finally looked up, sitting straight up and looking between the three Gryffindors. And what he saw was three people who believed in him. Three people who believed he could make a difference, no matter the obstacles that stood in his way. Then Harry's eyes caught on a letterhead lying discarded on the floor, and he had an idea. For the first time since Ginny vanished and the Gemini Rune lost its warmth, Harry smiled.
"Well, then. I think it's time we kicked our Army into shape, don't you?"
"Alright!" Dean exclaimed, high fiving Neville. Harry squeezed Lavender's hand back before letting go. Then he stood on his feet and walked to the door, Lavender, Neville and Dean following behind.
Hermione slipped into the Room of Requirement and screamed. It wasn't a terrified scream, but one of those screams that just escapes you when you're so excited your throat constricts. Like when the new book in your favourite series comes out. Because standing in the centre of the Room of Requirement, with a smiling Harry (which in and of itself begged a lot of questions), were Peter, Gwen and MJ.
"Mione!" Gwen exclaimed. Then as a unit, they raced towards each other. Gwen and Hermione slammed into each other and squeezed for all they were worth.
"Girls confuse the shit out of me," Harry said to Peter, louder than was strictly necessary.
"Don't ask me, pal," Peter replied.
Hermione pulled back from Gwen, and then MJ was hugging her instead. Finally, they separated, and Hermione glared at Peter, who was still standing with Harry, an amused smile on his face.
"Oh, shut up you," Hermione huffed, before opening her arms. Peter relented, and let Hermione jump into his arms.
"I should have brought a video camera," Harry said, "I could watch that on repeat for hours."
Hermione pulled away from Peter and suddenly focussed her attention on Harry. He'd shaved, as bad a job as it was, and apparently cut his hair. His clothes were neat and tidy, and the bags under his eyes had vanished. His eyes still weren't what they used to be, but there was a hint of the old spark back within them.
"What the hell happened to you? You aren't moping about like the Voldemort's already taken over the world anymore." She said dumbly, trying – and failing it seemed – to comprehend the almost complete 180 in Harry's appearance and character.
"Some people reminded me that I've got a job to do, and a lot of people counting on me to do it," Harry said, an air of finality to his statement that brokered no further argument.
"Yeah man, we heard about Ginny. How are you doing?" Peter asked, putting a hand on Harry's shoulder.
Harry's façade shattered for but a moment, returning just as fast, replaced by a smile she knew was fake.
"She's out there. I just don't know how to find her. But I'll find her. If it's the last thing I do, I'll find her." The room was eerily silent for a few seconds before Hermione just couldn't wait for a second longer.
"Tell us about what happened at Oscorp!"
"It's a long story. I promise I'll tell you all soon though. On the bright side, we've got our powers figured out now. And the shooters you helped us build are working brilliantly." MJ exclaimed chirpily.
"What are your powers?!" Hermione asked, eyes flitting between Peter and Gwen. They looked the same as they always did. Maybe they were built a bit better, but underneath their jackets, she couldn't tell. They looked healthy, though, so she supposed that was good.
"Enhanced Strength, perfect balance and adhesive fingers are the main ones, but it's the precognitive sense that the kicker," Gwen said.
"I call it 'Spidey-Sense,'" Peter said, grinning slyly at MJ, who rolled her eyes.
"The rest of us don't."
Peter and Gwen's heads snapped towards the door, and a few seconds later it swung open, revealing Susan, Hannah, Danny and Ernie.
"We'll talk later," Harry said. Giving MJ and Gwen hugs of his own before stepping into the middle of the room as more and more whispering students filed inside.
"Okay, everyone. As you can see, I've managed to wrangle us some extra special guest teachers today, so let's give a big welcome to Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker!" The entire room broke out into applause and whistles, and the Ilvermorny trio all waved their hands as they blushed.
"All three of them have just completed their NEWTS at Ilvermorny school. Mary Jane received the top mark in the United States for Applied Charmwork and is working as a reporter for the Daily Bugle – she coined Spider-Man and Spider-Woman's names for those of you up to speed on the New York vigilantes. Peter received the President's Award for Arithmancy and is now heading his own sub-department at Oscorp Industries. And Gwen won the President's Award for Transfiguration and graduated Dux of Ilvermorny School. So, these guys are top of the line when it comes to Magical Studies. So, for today's lesson – where we'll finally be learning Patronus's – I thought it only fitting I enlist some help." The room broke into more raucous applause, and Harry couldn't help the grin that spread across his face. He locked eyes with Neville, who gave him a quick thumbs up.
"So, let's do this, everyone pick a spot around the room." The assembled students all broke up into groups, scattering around the room while Harry, Peter, Gwen and MJ stood in the centre.
"The Patronus is all about you. Before you can cast it, you need to think of a happy memory. The happiest memory you can. The best moment of your life. Allow it to fill you up. Then, you're going to turn your wand in a spiral, while pointing it where you want your Patronus to appear. Like so." Harry, MJ, Peter and Gwen stood back to back and pointed their wands at the roof.
Four silvery shapes burst forth, illuminating the room and bringing gasps from the assembled crowd. Harry's Stag galloped around the rafters; a Griffon conjured from MJ's wand racing behind it. Peter's Patronus was, fittingly, a Spider that scurried around above them. Gwen's was a falcon, and it flew between the students, spreading silvery vapour through the air.
"A full-body Patronus is the most difficult to produce, but shield forms are equally useful against a variety of opponents. Wands out everyone. And let's give it a shot!" Harry exclaimed, beckoning to the crowd as the Stag dissipated. Everyone drew out their wands, and some – mostly the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs – started chanting the incantation immediately. The Slytherins and Ravenclaws just stood there, many with their eyes closed, trying to pick memories Harry guessed.
"Nice job, man," Peter said, elbowing him.
"You've got quite the thing going here," Gwen agreed.
"Thanks for taking the time to help us out," Harry said, his gaze drifting past them to settle on the Patil Twins, both of whom were starting to get a silver mist.
"Gwen, you can tackle the Ravenclaws," Harry said, pointing to the twins. Gwen nodded and skipped over to Jemma Simmons, who was staring furiously at her wand as if it had betrayed her.
A flash lit up his vision, and Harry turned to the Gryffindors in time to see Lavender Brown conjure a fully formed Direwolf of all things, though no one seemed more shocked than Lavender herself, who dropped her wand to the floor in fright.
"Fantastic Lavender! Brilliant!" Lavender turned towards Harry, cheeks flaming red, and he nodded to her. Lavender's direwolf winked out of existence, and her smile faltered.
"Just remember, your Patronus can only protect you for as long as you stay focused," Peter said, and several people nodded enthusiastically as they returned to waving their wands. Harry, MJ and Peter continued their walk around the classroom, though Peter soon ducked away to help a struggling Neville. Harry and MJ ended up helping Susan and Hannah with their wrist movements. Susan eventually managed to summon a jaguar, and Hannah achieved a Chimpanzee.
"You really are good at this," MJ said as they moved towards the Slytherin group.
"Thanks. It's about the only thing that's kept me going since Ginny…" he trailed off, biting his lip.
"Ginny's the toughest there is. If anyone could get herself back on her own, it'd be her." Harry smiled at that, the image of Ginny suddenly reappearing in the middle of the room, her hair smoking and clothes smouldering, light illumining her like a goddess flashing through his mind. But the Gemini Rune remained lifeless and dull, and the image failed as soon as it appeared.
"You're right about that," Harry said, trying his best to laugh convincingly.
The Slytherins were having the hardest time of the Patronus. Jessica, who'd been trying to create a corporeal Patronus with Professor Lupin since they started lessons with him in the Home a year and a half ago, was still nowhere closer to a solid form. The only Slytherin who'd managed anything was Astoria, who'd forged – incredibly – a bald-headed eagle that had MJ in stitches. But Harry thought he might know what the Slytherin's problems were.
"Working hard is important. But there's something that matters even more. Believing in yourself. That's the key component of a Patronus. Just think, every great wizard in history has started out exactly as we are now. Students. If they can do it, why not us?" Harry exclaimed, then he walked over to Jessica, and held her wand hand, pointing it at the roof.
"I believe in you, Jess. You can do this," He whispered in her ear. Jessica closed her eyes for a few seconds, then, without opening them, allowed Harry to guide her hand.
"Expecto Patronum," she whispered. Her wand tip glowed a brilliant white, and a Lioness leapt into the air. It slammed into Cassius, knocking him flat on his ass, before standing over him with snarling teeth. Jessica's eyes jerked open, and a brilliant smile lit up her face in awe.
"I did it," she exclaimed softly, then, seemingly accepting it properly. She jumped up in the air and yelled, "I DID IT!" She hit the ground and pulled Harry into a hug, not even caring who saw.
"YES!" Harry pulled back and rubbed his ears.
"Sorry," Jessica admitted sheepishly.
"Don't be. Well done." Harry laughed, but then an ear-shattering crack filled the room, followed by uncontrollable sobbing and moans of "Harry Potter!" Harry bolted to the centre of the room where he'd been standing at the beginning of the lesson, and came face to face with Dobby, who was staring up at him from beneath his tower of eight woolly hats, all of which were standing on top of one another. There must be some sort of magic keeping those things on, Harry couldn't help but think to himself.
The entire room fell quiet, and the few Patronus's in the into the aether.
"Harry Potter, sir! Dobby has come to warn you, he has. The bad toad lady Umbridge warned the House Elves not to tell, but Dobby is a free elf! So, he has come to tell Harry Potter and his friends, even if the other Hogwarts Elves don't like…"
"Dobby, focus! What's happened!?"
"Bad toad lady Umbridge has found Harry Potter and his friends!" Dobby exclaimed, before bursting into tears and howling on the floor.