Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the end of the sixth part of the story, but I'll continue it in the next set of seasonal fics, From Samhain to the Solstice.
Sweet Are the Voices
Harry never expected to be so glad that Snape is yelling at him. But this time, he knows why. He smiles up at Snape as the man comes to a trembling halt before the Ravenclaw table.
Luna leans a little against Harry, seeking reassurance, and Harry's amusement turns to anger. As far as he knows, Snape hasn't bullied Luna for years, because Harry made it clear what would happen if he did. But that doesn't mean raised voices and yelling and the glower Snape has on his face don't frighten her.
"Yes?" Harry asks, popping a piece of buttered toast into his mouth and chewing slowly. It's a giant insult for a goblin, showing that they're more concerned with the taste of their food than the enemy in front of them.
Of course, that completely whistles over Snape's head. He bares his teeth in a silent grimace and has to struggle for a long moment before he can get the words out of his throat. "You are the one responsible for most students in my NEWT Defense class telling me they will no longer attend?"
Snape stares at him in disbelief, and then looks around, his eyes locking a moment later on a nervous-looking Cho Chang. He flings out a finger, which Harry only doesn't cut off because Snape still hasn't answered his challenge. "Miss Chang told me-"
Harry leans forwards and lets Snape see the look in his eyes that Harry had when he was fighting Voldemort. Snape promptly stares at him with a paling face that makes Harry think he must be smarter than he seems, after all. "You're the one responsible for most people deciding not to attend your NEWT Defense class, Snape. You were the one who bullied them mercilessly for years, and gave no sign that you wouldn't do the same thing even now that you're teaching a different subject. You're the one who flings around insults and acts as though your cowardice is more important than students' well-being. You're the one who can't control yourself even when dealing with people decades younger than you are. I know now why you never accepted my challenge. You can't stand the thought of facing an opponent even slightly equal to you on the dueling field. You have to face someone weaker, or your cowardice would make you choke up and not be able to cast a single spell."
Snape is fumbling for his wand by the end of Harry's little speech. Harry hugs Luna with one arm one more time, and stands. "Shall we take this outside the Great Hall, so that we don't damage anyone else?" he asks politely.
Dumbledore is bearing down on them. Harry conceals a sigh, but it's difficult. That man is always ending Harry's fun. He turns around and tries to make his face as bored as possible. "Yes, Dumbledore?" he asks.
Snape looks as if he might not listen to Dumbledore. His teeth are locked, and at least one hand is fully curled around his wand by now. Harry turns a little so that his face is still to Dumbledore but Stargazer is facing Snape. He can feel the thrum of wary power through the dagger. It'll defend him if Snape flings a spell.
"You cannot...this is not wise," Dumbledore says, slowing to a stop and panting.
"Of course not," Harry says, and gives a little bow. "You're protecting him because he's your spy, and spies don't need to have courage. But spies also don't need to be bullies. You're the reason that students have poor Defense teaching in this school, Dumbledore. You've decided to sacrifice our well-being to your need to control the war."
Dumbledore's face turns red, but he hangs onto his temper. "It is more than that, Harry. If we might discuss this in my office. Harry? Please take your hand off your dagger."
"When he takes his hand off his wand."
"Severus," Dumbledore says, and then moves nearer and says something too soft for Harry to hear, to his regret. Whatever it is makes Snape slowly, reluctantly move his hand off his wand. Dumbledore sighs in what looks like relief, and motions them towards the door out of the Great Hall.
"We have Herbology soon," Luna whispers to him.
Harry winks at her. "Don't worry. I'm not about to let that git make me miss a single moment of a class that I actually want to go to," he says, loudly enough for Snape to hear.
The man's back goes ramrod straight, but he also keeps walking. Harry shakes his head to himself. Well, it was a valiant attempt to make Snape accept the duel. He pats Luna's arm and follows the two men.
"We only have ten minutes for you to tell me the truth, Headmaster. I have to get to Herbology soon."
Dumbledore has been alternately staring at him and Snape for five minutes now as they sit on chairs in front of his desk, so Harry doesn't feel bad about the warning. Snape is the one who clears his throat and says, with poisonous hatred, "Let us not keep Mr. Potter from his education, Albus."
Dumbledore takes a deep breath. "When you were a baby and Severus overheard part of the prophecy that he took to Voldemort-"
"Oh," Harry breathes, swiveling around to stare at Snape. "Oh. I didn't realize I owed you for that, too."
His breathing is fast and his head is light. He feels like he should have connected this before now. Of course Snape was once an unrepentant Death Eater, and no matter what he did to make up for it, it's not something he was punished for.
"Harry, if you will listen to me."
"You have five minutes to speak," Harry says softly, without taking his gaze from Snape.
"Excuse me, Harry, but according to my calculations, it should have been nine."
"Four minutes is how long I'll take to kill him," Harry says, and draws the basilisk-fang dagger.
Snape is staring at him. Dumbledore speaks fast. "Severus overheard part of the prophecy and took it to Voldemort, yes. But he became repentant when he realized that it endangered your family. Your mother was once his best friend. He swore a vow to protect you in the aftermath of her death. So, you see, you cannot kill him. He is an oathsworn protector. I know that such things matter even more among the goblins than humans. You cannot hurt him."
Harry pauses. That information does make a difference. But on the other hand, the oath obviously didn't keep Snape from treating him with utmost hatred and contempt. He loved Harry's mother, clearly, without caring much for Harry.
He puts away the basilisk-fang dagger and draws Stargazer. It hasn't been vibrating much up until this point, but now he can feel the quiet thrum of power running through it, and smiles. He trusts its judgment as he can't trust his own.
"What is that?" Snape rasps. His gaze is locked on the dagger. Harry wonders if he was once close enough to Lily Potter to sense part of her essence in the blade, or if he's seen the lily on the hilt.
"Part of my mother's soul formed into a dagger," Harry answers gravely. "She gave it to me as a gift, and I forged it into this." He balances Stargazer across his hands, and opens his palms. Stargazer continues hovering horizontally for a moment, before tipping up vertically, point aimed at the ceiling. Snape is still staring like someone who's seen a Fascination-Owl. "She has the right to judge you, I think, since I would be taking vengeance partially for her, and she died during that ambush you caused, while I lived."
"Harry," whispers Dumbledore, but it sounds as if his voice has no strength.
Stargazer floats towards Snape, who doesn't move or run away. In fact, he's staring at the dagger with his mouth slightly open. Harry thinks he might be able to stab him with the basilisk-fang knife right now, and he wouldn't move.
Not that Harry would. He can't think of anything less honorable at the moment, except what Snape has done to students for the past fifteen years.
But he can step back and leave the judgment up to his mother. He waits there, while Stargazer turns slowly back and forth in front of Snape, seeing into his soul, thinking, judging.
Then it floats closer, tips down, and gives Snape a single, long scratch down his cheekbone from his right eye to his jawline.
Snape doesn't react for a long moment, then shouts and clutches the wound. Harry nods as Stargazer turns and comes flying back to him. The minute it lands in his hand, he knows what to say, the way he knew how to forge the blade when the right time came.
"My mother deemed you worthy of that vengeance," Harry tells Snape, who immediately stops whining to listen to him. "Nothing more. You don't need to be punished further, and you don't need to die. But the wound will scar, and you'll wear that scar forever. If you try to hurt someone else who can't stand up to you, even if it's only with words, it'll start burning the way it burns now. I withdraw my dueling challenge, because my mother's judgment takes precedence." Harry half-bows and tucks Stargazer away.
Snape is still staring at him and clutching at the wound, which means that Dumbledore is the one to speak. "Isn't this a little hasty, Harry?"
Harry glances at him. "My mother is the one who chose this, Dumbledore. Not me. I would have chosen something more extreme if it was up to me." Stargazer twinges in its sheath, a twinge that travels through his whole body, and Harry sighs and pets the hilt. "Yes, I know. I don't need to question your judgment."
"But to scar Professor Snape..."
"He was the one who was partially responsible for my parents' deaths," Harry says. "He was the one who was partially responsible for my being left with those abusive Muggles you wanted me to live with. He was the one who continued to treat me poorly despite the oath he swore to protect me. That is a matter of such dishonor for a goblin that the contradiction should have killed him, but I'm learning it's different for humans." Snape flinches from the contempt in Harry's voice. "He was the one who bullied other students for no other reason than that he could. They had no connection to my parents or his sadness. He did it because he's a petty tyrant and a dishonorable person."
Dumbledore sits there as if he's not sure how to absorb that. Something moves behind his eyes that Harry hasn't seen before, but hopes is, finally, Dumbledore understanding that Harry means what he says and says what he means and sees no need to deviate from his words, unlike humans.
"Very well," Dumbledore says. "Does that mean that you will attend Professor Snape's NEWT Defense class, and advise other students to do so as well?"
"He already knows more than I could teach him," Snape says hoarsely before Harry could respond.
Harry looks hard at Snape. Snape avoids his eyes, but Harry can see some of the answers in both the scar on Snape's cheek and the way his fingers curl around the edge of his jawline.
Snape accepts the wound, but he resents it. If Harry did go back to the Defense class, not that he has any intention of doing so, Snape would begin to pick at him again, and the scar would flare with pain, and Snape would pull himself back in and yet resent Harry for that.
He knows when to retreat, and there's a shred of honor in that. But if he had more honor, he would never have been such a bully to a child he had sworn a vow to protect, let alone others who had no connection to Harry or Lily.
Harry shakes his head, and walks out of the office, leaving silence behind him. He hopes it's a considering sort of silence.
But if it's not, then it's not his responsibility to do anything about it. He has nothing to do with Snape anymore.
Snape's NEWT Defense class continues to be small. And the Goblin Dueling classes are going better than Harry ever thought they could.
He has already taught several students to handle wooden blades, and Granger and Terry are doing well at casting spells through them. There are some others who Harry thinks will probably do well when they get metal knives, but he's not about to hand those to someone who has no competence even with practice ones. They can wait.
And they're learning other things, too. The ability to dodge. How to toughen their muscles by running and swimming and climbing. The way that objects can help them during battles if they listen respectfully and speak only at need.
It helps that the classes are mostly in the Room of Requirement, which is eager to do anything inhabitants of the castle require it to do. But Harry is careful to hold some of the practices outside that Room, too. A fine teacher he'd be if someone under his tutelage died because they didn't realize that other areas of the castle, or outside it, will need more time to consider their requests.
Granger does have more trouble with the object-speaking than she does casting spells through the practice blades. Harry finds her hunched on the shore of the lake one day in a huff, and he sits down next to her.
Luckily, Granger doesn't need more invitation than that to speak, and doesn't consider it rude of him to ask her to do it with a glance. She faces him and glares.
"Why does the door to our room refuse to shut all the way when I ask it to?" she demands. "I'm polite. I'm respectful. I'm not asking it to do something it can't do. And I'm just asking it to shut out the noise of the common room!"
Harry leans on one elbow in the grass beside the lake and considers Granger carefully, glancing up at the cool October sky as a cloud passes overhead. The water of the lake murmurs to him, and Harry touches it with a hand, sending down ripples of greeting to the merpeople underneath the surface.
"How do you ask it?" Harry turns his head to look at Granger.
"I told you! Politely! Respectfully!"
"Not your tone. Your method."
Granger stares at him, and Harry stares back, and they float on either side of that gulf of incomprehension that was once so familiar to Harry and which he never wanted to be familiar again, before Granger looks away and mutters, "I lie in bed and ask it to shut after I'm ready to go to sleep for the night."
Harry sighs a little. "The communication by voice is convenient for you, but it isn't for the door. It's better when you can touch it, and absolutely necessary when you're asking it to perform some task that's pretty complicated, like hiding your knives inside it."
"You can do that?" Granger is wide-eyed with fascination for a second. Then she slumps again. "Not that I can, if I can't even get my own damn door to shut."
"Listen to me," Harry says, firmly enough that she focuses on him again and does. "Stop referring to it as a damn door. Stop thinking of it just in the realm of what it can do for you. Stop acting as if your own convenience is more important than anything else. Take some time to talk with it, and touch it, and make it see that you want a relationship with it."
There's a little silence that makes Harry wonder if he's going to have another miscommunication gap, but then Granger says, faintly, "A relationship with it?"
"What do you have with other things you talk to?" Harry challenges her. "Other people, other beings?"
Granger shakes her head, but not in what looks like denial. "Fine, but-a relationship? With a door?"
"You have to expand your ideas of what's right to talk to and address." Harry smiles at her and tries not to roll his eyes at the blank look she gives him. At least she seems willing to listen, though she'll never get far with objects helping her in battle unless she is also willing to listen to others. "It'll help you with fighting for the rights of magical creatures as well as talking to objects, you know. Or were you planning to exclusively argue with other humans in that future and not ask magical creatures what they wanted?"
Granger starts, and a huge blush spreads across her cheeks. "I'm not-I wasn't-"
Harry nods. "I know. But you have to start thinking of it in those terms, or you'll be one of the humans who end up in the Ministry thinking complacently that you know best and that you're fighting for our rights while really you keep supporting more and more restrictive laws." Well, the Ministry might not exist when Harry is done with it, but he doesn't know how long his fight will take.
Granger closes her mouth and sits there to think about that. Harry stares across the lake and considers whether he should contact Blackeye about the disturbing behavior Dumbledore has displayed lately. He's backed off on trying to order Harry around, but he always seems to be watching him, and glancing away when Harry tries to catch his eye. Harry doesn't see how there can be another Horcrux in this situation, but it would be worth bringing to Blackeye's attention nonetheless.
"All right," Granger says finally, and Harry turns to look at her. "I'll try to be better. But in return...can you get things set up so that we can have a NEWT in Goblin Dueling?"
Harry considers it dubiously. "I don't see how it would work for the students who are taking it as seventh-years right now. That's not enough time."
"I know, but we're sixth-years, and the people who come after us should have the chance!"
Granger's eyes are shining. Harry finds himself charmed by her enthusiasm. Exam parchments and quills must like her, although Harry's not sure that she's ever listened to them speaking. "All right. I'll look into it. And I can recommend some books that you can read to cover the gaps in your Defense education."
"Are they all published by goblins? I'm not sure we'll be able to get them."
"No, most of them are ones that my godfather found for me." Harry smiles. "I got an Outstanding in an exam for a human course, remember, with human proctors who were expecting a very particular kind of performance from me."
"That's true." Granger brightens. "Why didn't you offer them to us last year, though?"
Harry blinks. "No one asked. And Professor Moody was pretty much as close to a goblin professor as a human could come."
Granger sighs, but doesn't disagree with him. "All right. I'll research what's needed to start a class with the Ministry. I'm sure it must have something to do with how classes like Muggle Studies and Care of Magical Creatures are examined, when they're not ones the whole student body takes..."
Harry lets her ramble on, noticing that when Granger doesn't focus on dominating the conversation, she's perfectly pleasant to have around. He thinks she'll probably manage the relationship with her door sooner rather than later.
This is the best year yet, he decides, as he nods to Granger's suggestion of goblin proctors. The Wizarding Examinations Authority will have a hard time accepting them, Harry knows, but honestly, that's the Examinations Authority's problem. So many more humans willing to listen than ever before.
He thinks of the scar on Snape's face. Even if they have to be threatened by pieces of my mother's soul to do it.
"I know you have a Dark Mark on your arm. The question is, do you want help escaping it, or not?"
Malfoy leaps about a foot into the air and comes down with his wand drawn. Harry already has the basilisk-fang blade and Stargazer out, because he's not stupid. Malfoy presses his back against the wall and stares at Harry without answering.
Harry cocks his head. They're outside the Room of Requirement, where Malfoy has been spending a lot of time, and there's something familiar about the wide-eyed desperation on Malfoy's face. Harry begins to extend his senses.
"No," Malfoy snarls. "You can't even prove I have the Dark Mark."
Harry casts a simple Levitation Charm on Malfoy's left robe sleeve and pulls it back. He nods. "There."
Malfoy licks his lips and looks around as if he expects Snape to loom out of a shadowy corner and save him. Harry wonders if he's noticed yet that Snape avoids even the Slytherins more than he used to. Harry has already heard stories about Snape going back to his old ways with some of the younger children, and getting pain spiked through the scar as a result.
"Do you-listen, you must know that the Dark Lord sees you as a powerful opponent." Malfoy's voice is low and coaxing. "I don't like you, but even I can admit that. You know that the Dark Lord can break into Azkaban and remove prisoners without the Ministry even realizing something is wrong. And they haven't spread the word of his presence in the Department of Mysteries despite several people seeing him there."
Harry suspects that, actually, part of that might be his fault. With his having cursed Fudge to tell nothing but the truth, Fudge can only keep silence if he wants to lie. And other departments of the Ministry either claim that they weren't eyewitnesses to Voldemort's return or have to wait for direction from Fudge to do anything.
Malfoy seems to mistake Harry's contemplation for fear, because he leans in, and his voice drops some more. "You could still have power if you come with us. The Dark Lord's regime could negotiate with goblins as equals. You could have everything you want."
"Except honor and peace and the life I want." Harry shakes his head. "I hope that you don't need to seduce human girls when you want to have sex, Malfoy. You're really bad at it."
Malfoy recoils, and yanks his sleeve back down over his Dark Mark. "Fuck you, Potter!"
"No, not interested. I'm only going to bed with a goblin."
Malfoy utters something like a frustrated scream and runs away. Harry supposes that puts paid to the question of whether he has Veela heritage. A Veela would be louder about their scream, but also more elegant, and stay to fight.
Meanwhile, Harry has something more interesting to investigate than a baby Death Eater.
He extends his senses out with a low song, allowing himself to sink more fully into the communion this time, since he doesn't have a threatening presence in front of him the way he did in Snape's office. His senses drift through the door of the Room of Requirement, still lingering in the shape Malfoy imagined for it, since he didn't get to enter before Harry interrupted him.
Harry laughs softly when a sharp sensation comes back, like a pair of jaws rasping along his magic.
It can rasp all it likes. Found you, Horcrux.
Harry steps through the door, ignoring the way it fades into the wall behind him. He knows the Room of Requirement well, and he knows how to ask it to let him go. He looks around, and feels the draw of the Horcrux in one particular direction. He sets off for its origin, climbing over broken furniture and wobbly stacks of books and piles of broken quills that have dribbled long-dried ink onto the floor.
This is like an obstacle course. Harry thinks it might make for a good one for his students in Goblin Dueling.
The Horcrux turns out to be a silver diadem with a large blue stone on the front resting on top of a half-broken Vanishing Cabinet. Harry draws his basilisk-fang dagger and Stargazer. Stargazer hums in the back of his mind in appreciation of the danger.
Harry nods a little. He can feel it. And this diadem looks awfully like the one on the head of the statue of Rowena Ravenclaw in his House's common room. He wonders if it's actually hers.
If so, it's a shame to destroy something so ancient and beautiful, but he can't even hear the diadem's song beneath the corrupted snarl of the Horcrux. He'll be setting the beauty free if it can still feel and giving it peace if it can't.
Just as Harry lifts his blades, the diadem floats off the bust it's draped over and towards him. It obviously wants to drop onto his head.
It seems a bit confounded when Harry dodges, taking shelter behind the Vanishing Cabinet the bust sits on top of. In the moment before the diadem can reorient and present a threat again, Harry flings the basilisk-fang blade at it.
The diadem screams as the knife connects, and the blue stone shatters in half as black blood pours out of it, winding around the blade. Proof positive that it was a Horcrux, if Harry had any reason to doubt his senses. Harry stands up with Stargazer at the ready and watches as the diadem abruptly loses the power to fly and collapses to the floor.
The black blood stains the ancient robe it spills onto in a way that makes Harry scowl. He didn't know it could do that. Then again, the diary did set his bed on fire when he stabbed it.
Better to destroy the bust and the cabinet that the diadem was sitting on, just in case, and then give the remains to Blackeye for disposal in the deepest caverns.
"I'm absolutely sure that there is no Horcrux influencing Dumbledore."
Harry nods as he and Blackeye walk through the polished, smooth caverns to check on the remains of the ring, locket, and diadem. The diadem is the most recent, placed here just a month and a half ago, but Harry wants to see if it's completely destroyed before he can join the New Year celebrations. "And Malfoy?"
Blackeye sighs a little. "I only got close enough to examine him once, but no. I think it's just shock and depression. Perhaps he's waking up to the fact of what bearing the Dark Mark will mean for him."
Harry nods again. That seems likely. After all, Malfoy's depression started right after the day when Harry confronted him about the Dark Mark.
They step into the polished cavern. Harry bows his head and keeps it bowed until the stones that form the smooth overhang above them grumble to him that he can raise it.
He looks around, quietly awed. The stone in the cavern is all slick and smooth as marble with a Polishing Charm used on it, or a well-tended broomstick. Some is as white as quartz, some as grey as steel, and there are points of black that remind Harry most of obsidian. The curved walls are less communicative than any stone Harry has ever met; they're all busy singing, so busy that it takes them a moment to notice when goblins visit.
Harry and Blackeye walk, carefully keeping their balance, to the niche in one of the rounder stones where the remains of the Horcruxes have been laid. The diadem is almost gone, reduced to a few scraps of silver. The locket has only a rusted chain left.
The stone from the ring is still there.
Harry narrows his eyes at it and then looks at Blackeye. Blackeye shakes her head a little. "It seems that we have a problem," she says, mouth narrow. "I don't know why the stone should persist so much longer than the rest of the ring, or how it's resisting the magic of the caverns." She pauses. "Did you notice that the holes in the stone from your blade are closing, too? I don't know what kind of object can resist basilisk venom."
Harry almost asks if she's tried to communicate with it, but refrains. They can't chance communing with any object so tainted as a Horcrux, and Blackeye has so many people and secrets and objects under her care. She, especially, can't risk being contaminated.
"We'll come up with something," Blackeye says, gently putting her hand on Harry's shoulder. "Remember that your people stand with you. And now, come up to the celebrations. The stone is quiet. The caverns are at least keeping it from escaping or influencing anyone else."
Harry nods and forces himself to turn away. He thinks, again, of the good things that happened this year. More people listening. Snape punished. Sirius freed from the locket's influence, and Dumbledore from the ring's, and maybe Malfoy from the diadem's. More people learning about creature culture and goblin dueling.
He has wars on two fronts to fight, with the Ministry and with Voldemort, but, as Blackeye says, his people stand with him, even if he has to oppose some parts of the Ministry by himself. Harry can be confident of winning.
Together, we are strong.