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Harry Potter and the Perversion of Purity
Book 3: The Looming of Shadows
Chapter 27: Beyond Repair
May 29, 1994
The Great Hall
Harry's heart gave a nervous jolt as he walked into the Great Hall that morning. There was no way anyone could know what had happened in the Shrieking Shack, but the hall was abuzz with chatter; every drop of air saturated with tension. His pulse quickened with every step towards the Slytherin table.
Then he saw the Daily Prophet's front page:
AZKABAN DESTROYED, HUNDREDS KILLED!
By Rita Skeeter
Merlin, I'd almost forgotten about that. It had taken some time after the flashes from Voldemort to realize what he'd seen. I guess it's easy to skip over things while in the middle of murder.
A part of him had expected to feel differently after killing Sirius Black. It was something he had yearned for since his escape from Azkaban almost a year ago.
There was pride at first, but it soon faltered, giving way to a hollow void.
Nothing's changed. My parents are still dead, the Dursleys still ruined my childhood. Not that he regretted it. Black betrayed his friends and ruined my life; he deserved it and worse. It wasn't difficult to look back on that moment, and he doubted the kill would keep him up at night; he had just hoped for something more satisfying than the revelation that nothing had changed.
Nothing but what Voldemort had changed himself, and as Harry read the Daily Prophet's front page, he wondered just how much that was.
The famed Azkaban Prison fell last night. More than a hundred aurors were deployed following a detected breach, but the ministry soon lost communication with them all.
Another team arrived on the island this morning only to find the long-standing prison reduced to a ruin, with no sign of the prisoners, nor the dementors.
"We urge the public not to panic," said Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic. "The entire situation is under control. The prisoners cannot have survived that destruction, and the dementors will be taken in hand."
The minister was quick to lay blame at the feet of Sirius Black, whose whereabouts remain unknown.
"It doesn't take a genius to work it out," Fudge said early this morning. "Black was taught by You-Know-Who himself."
I, for one, agree with our minister, but I do wonder exactly what happened to the prisoners.
The ministry claims escaping such destruction was impossible, but they appear reluctant to proclaim Sirius Black dead.
If Black escaped, could the others have followed? Could this have been a coup within You-Know-Who's ranks? Was it that the Death Eaters refused to follow Black when he arrived the same way they used to follow You-Know-Who?
Or was this Sirius Black's magnum opus — a mass breakout to make his own escape look tame?
They really know nothing if they think Black did this. All their bark was a lot worse than the dog's bite.
Looks passed up and down the Slytherin table. Theodore caught his eye and he returned a nod. Draco looked paler than usual this morning. Odd. I wonder how much he knows.
Harry wondered just how many of them with Death Eater ties believed the Prophet and how many had suspicions of their own. Voldemort had taken a large risk if he wished to remain in the shadows — now it was time to see if the world wised up.
A storm of beating wings raged overhead — a mass of grey so thick, it blocked much of the light streaming down from the enchanted ceiling. Never had he seen so many owls in the hall at once; it was like every member of every family wrote letters checking if Hogwarts too had fallen.
Harry received no letter, but his correspondence had already arrived. His eyes flicked down towards his bag stuffed beneath the table, in which lay the enchanted journal gifted to him by Voldemort.
June 3, 1994
Severus Snape's Office
Harry winced, his head throbbing so badly it was hard even to think. Snape had been in a storming mood all week and he had felt his wrath tonight. Every Legilimency probe had been launched with malice, slamming into his shields again and again. They held more often than not despite his impression that, tonight, Snape had hardly held back at all.
"Good," he said, his wand sliding up his sleeve. "We are done."
Harry made himself smile through his grimace. "Thank you, sir."
"This will be the final session this year. I will soon have piles of pointless dribble to grade and the headmaster thinks it's best if you focus on your upcoming examinations."
Harry bit down his retort. I don't need to worry about exams. "Of course, sir."
Snape nodded, less curt than he had been all night. "You have done well, Potter. Much of your thick-headedness seems to have been cured and you have taken no incessant risks I'm aware of this year. I can no longer call you an embarrassment to our house."
It was the most backhanded compliment he had ever received, but he took it with grace. "Thank you, Professor, you've been a great help this year."
"See that it is not wasted." Snape hesitated, those dark eyes boring a hole through Harry. "Exercise that same caution you've shown throughout the year this summer."
He knows about Voldemort. "I will, sir."
"You may leave."
Harry wondered just how much Snape knew. Surely not that Voldemort had approached him or what he planned to do, but he certainly knew something.
The passage he took led up to the third floor and near the marble staircase, which he took up to the seventh.
"Sugar quill." The gargoyle stepped aside, revealing the spiral staircase and wooden door at its top.
Harry stepped inside the office when called on. There was more paper strewn across Dumbledore's desk than usual and a tight weariness in his eyes.
"Good evening, Harry."
"Good evening, sir. You look tired."
"It has been a tiresome week. Please sit down, there are things to discuss more urgent than Transfiguration."
"Azkaban," said Harry, taking a seat across from Dumbledore.
Dumbledore pushed back his silver hair. "I'm afraid Azkaban is just the tip of the iceberg."
He widened his eyes and forced his breath to hitch. "Just the tip of the iceberg? Does this mean… does this mean that he's back?"
"I have suspected so for some time, but this is confirmation."
"You're sure it was Voldemort? The ministry thinks it was Black."
"The ministry appears to think all sorts of things these days. I am quite sure it was Voldemort. Professor Snape has confirmed so."
Harry frowned, not having to act this time. "Snape?"
"Professor Snape, yes."
"Sir… how did he confirm it?"
"Professor Snape was not always the man he is today. Ill-thought choices in his youth took him down a dark path — one that led to his branding by Voldemort."
This time, Harry's eyes really did widen. Bloody hell, has he been spying on me all year for Voldemort? Why did he give me the spell to fight Black? "You mean… you mean he has the Dark Mark?"
"Yes, he does. I ask that you don't go around sharing that with anyone who doesn't already know. It is publicly on record, but many don't realize and that really is for the best."
Harry tried to keep calm. He let a Death Eater teach me? Even knowing Snape hated me. "Of course, sir."
"Doesn't the Dark Mark burn any time Voldemort summons his Death Eaters?"
"Yes. It was used that night. Professor Snape ought to have noticed it growing stronger long ago, but his marking was placed under the Fidelius Charm last June."
Voldemort plays well… "I didn't know you could use the Fidelius Charm for things like that."
"You can use the Fidelius Charm on most things, but most ensure they use it wisely since you can only be the beneficiary of one at a time."
"So Voldemort used it on Snape's mark so you wouldn't discover he was back? That means he can't use it on anything else, right?" Then, another thought dawned. "Professor, how did you figure any of this out if it's under a Fidellius Charm?"
"It is no longer under the Fidelius Charm. The spell broke the night Azkaban fell. I believe that Voldemort ended it of his own free will."
What? "Why would he do that?"
"Because Voldemort was once Tom Riddle, a boy I knew well. He must have correctly guessed that I would take the destruction of Azkaban to mean he had returned, whether I had the mark of proof or not."
"Quite, but then, Tom was always brilliant."
"Professor, what does this mean? Voldemort being back again?" He forced his voice to tremble, just a touch. "He'll come after me, won't he?"
Lines deepened in Dumbledore's face. "Yes, Voldemort will not stop until he has killed you."
"What do I do, sir? I can't fight him, I'm not ready."
"Ready? Harry, I hope you never become ready to face Lord Voldemort. That path is one of tragedy and sacrifice and I would never wish it upon anyone."
"But what do I do?"
"You continue your education. The official standings are forthcoming, but you will have topped your year yet again so long as you perform adequately on the upcoming exams. I encourage you to travel abroad with the other top students. Not only is it a wonderful opportunity, but it will make striking at you more difficult. Tom's influence never did stretch much farther than the British Isles. I think you will be safe from him abroad, at least for now."
Something about that doesn't seem right. "You said Voldemort was wary of you, right? Not afraid, but wary?"
Dumbledore's face was unreadable. "I did."
"Is it still true? The Azkaban breakout was bold."
"I think he remains wary, but unafraid. It was once said that Grindelwald feared me, for he never did siege the British Isles. The truth is that he knew a duel between us was uncertain and I think he feared that more than he feared me. Not of losing, but of being uncertain. He never did handle uncertainty well."
Feodor Romanov's face swam behind his eyes, consumed in a flash of green light all because of what he might one day do. "I've heard some people say you were afraid of him." He knew he ought not to have said it, but the words just slipped out.
"I feared not what Grindelwald could do with a wand. I knew we were equals, perhaps I a shade more skillful. There were other things about him I feared, but we need not discuss those today."
It's not like I don't know already. "So you think I should go to Beauxbatons and Durmstrang?"
Harry made himself frown. "But if Voldemort's wary of you, surely the safest place is Hogwarts, right?" It stung saying it. There was nothing he wanted more than to see Durmstrang in person, but he had to make Dumbledore believe he was worried.
If he suspects anything, I'll still be controlled.
Dumbledore looked out the window and over the lawns, mostly blanketed in shadow as the last rays of sunlight tumbled behind the castle's highest tower. "I do not expect to remain at Hogwarts next year."
Harry almost choked. "What? Are you going on the trip?"
"I think not. I expect that, under the direction of Cornelius Fudge and Lucius Malfoy, the Board of Governors will soon relieve me of my position as headmaster. I fear this absence may not end as swiftly as the last."
He really was shocked now. "Relieve you? They can't —"
"Oh, they can. It was a near thing this past summer. Miss Skeeter's book was well-researched and did quite the number on my reputation. Having me as the headmaster was poor publicity. Had Cornelius not intervened, I doubt I would be sitting here now."
"But Fudge will step in again, won't he?"
Dumbledore's lips curved up into a sour smile. "Not likely. He has been quite closed-minded about the idea that Voldemort may truly be back. I've met nothing but resistance on the matter. He has politely asked that I stay quiet, but I'm afraid that won't be happening."
"He really doesn't believe that Voldemort is back?"
"No, least of all with Lucius Malfoy in his ear. Until Tom comes out into the open, I doubt Cornelius will change his mind. I'm sure it will lose me his support, but I have no plans to remain silent. Most will dismiss me, but if one in every ten wizards believes when I say that Voldemort is back, my job here is a price I will pay tenfold."
"Fudge is mine, my lord, and thereby yours. I swear it; he will quiet any stirs."
"Will he stand against Dumbledore?"
"Yes. He's become too dependent on my support this last year. His career will sink if it's retracted, and he knows it."
Voldemort knew that Dumbledore wouldn't keep quiet. He only let the charm fall because he knew Dumbledore would throw away all the influence he didn't lose last summer. "So the best way I can stay away from Voldemort really is by going abroad." That's awfully convenient for me.
"There is one more thing." Something in his voice sent a shiver up Harry's spine. Dumbledore looked like he had aged another ten years. "I would ask that you return to your aunt and uncle's this summer."
An icy vice closed around his chest. That bastard! "You said you wouldn't make me go back." His voice was colder than the storm inside his chest, so cold that Dumbledore's eyes fell.
"Times have changed. Lord Voldemort has returned and you are safest at your aunt and uncle's."
Harry laughed; a bitter sound, almost like the shattering ice around his chest was seeping out his mouth. "Safer? Do you really think living with three worthless muggles is safer than the wards on Black Manor?"
"Muggles are not worthless —"
"No, they're worse." This was stupid. He knew this was stupid, but he didn't give a damn. Sirius Black had died for forcing Harry there; Dumbledore could burn if he planned to do the same. "All they do is destroy anything they don't understand. They've done nothing but massacre witches and wizards for centuries."
"Do witches and wizards not destroy?" Dumbledore's voice was calm, probably meant to disarm him, but it failed.
"Have witches and wizards killed millions of people each year? Have witches and wizards blown up cities? Have witches and wizards burnt children alive, or stoned them, just because they were different?"
"I have no doubt purebloods would do all those things to muggleborns if they could."
"If they could. Muggles don't care; they just kill, and kill, and kill. Anything that doesn't suit them is destroyed."
"There are more important things right now than discussing our respective opinions of muggles."
"I won't be living with muggles."
Dumbledore studied him. "Would your opinion change if I told you the wards on Privet Drive were more powerful than anything cast around Black Manor?"
Harry laughed again. "That's impossible."
Dumbledore shook his head. "Your mother died to save you; her protection stopped even the Killing Curse. Your aunt shares her blood and that protection lives on inside that house. So long as you remain on Privet Drive, Voldemort cannot touch you."
Blood magic? Dumbledore used blood magic; my mother was the sacrifice. He would never have imagined, yet… It's not something he knows well. "Magic is about intent, sir."
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. "I am quite aware."
"I stopped intending to live on Privet Drive a year ago. I don't think those wards are still standing."
"Faintly. They could be repaired —"
"No! I am never living with muggles, least of all the Dursleys."
Dumbledore closed his eyes. "Very well. What about the Weasleys? Mrs. Weasley is a wonderful woman and —"
"I'm happy at Black Manor, Headmaster. It's the first time I've ever been happy away from Hogwarts."
Dumbledore took a deep breath. "You are aware of Lord Black's previous affiliations?"
Taking this angle, is he? "Regulus was never convicted as a Death Eater. He was never even tried."
"Many were never convicted, and not just those who escaped via the Imperius Defence. I ran my own opposition against Voldemort separate from the ministry's. I am certain that Regulus was a Death Eater."
"If Regulus was a Death Eater, then why did he tell me his brother is an Animagus? Why did he explain what he was like and tell me how best to deal with him? Why did he warn me, Headmaster? If Voldemort has been back, then why am I alive? He could have handed me over last winter."
"The time of Voldemort's return is unknown —"
"And that doesn't answer any of my other questions."
"Harry, I do not claim to understand each and every thought passing through Regulus Black's mind, but if you think for a moment that any of Voldemort's servants would hesitate in handing you over —"
"Regulus will not hand me to Voldemort." I actually believe that. His shock was so strong that his anger momentarily faded. Stupid! Of course he'd hand you over; get a grip. "I trust him, sir." It's not like he can hand me to Voldemort if I do it myself.
"You are making a grave mistake —"
"And it's my mistake to make. Was that all, Headmaster?"
"You have changed, Harry. Your opinion of muggles, your growing anger, your analysis of magic you should know no part of — I urge you to reconsider your path. It is one of peril and your soul will suffer if your trek continues. Some damage is beyond repair."
Harry stood to leave, transfiguration practice long-forgotten. "Thank you for your advice, Headmaster. I'll take it under consideration."
June 9, 1994
The Grounds of Hogwarts
Excitement wafted through warm summer air, floating through a deep blue sky. Harry and his friends — both younger and older — gathered in the shadow of a large oak tree near the Black Lake. Branches swayed in a light breeze, the green leaves drifting back and forth above them. Harry watched them move, lost in his own thoughts as his friends droned on about the end of exams.
It was difficult thinking about them at all. How was he to think about exams after everything that had happened and knowing what was on the horizon?
Warm fingers wrapped around his own, squeezing to get his attention. "What's wrong?" Pansy asked.
Harry took a deep breath. Their relationship had gotten off well, but things had slowed down this last month. There was just so much going on. "I'm just a bit distracted is all."
She pouted. "You're always a bit distracted nowadays."
"Made for a good show last night," quipped Cassius. "Here's Snape giving this dramatic speech about Lupin only to notice you weren't paying attention to a word of it."
Harry shrugged. "I already knew he was a werewolf."
Draco spluttered. "You what?"
"Regulus told me. I sort of just assumed anyone who was well-connected knew."
"Didn't stop Snape from ripping into you," Cassius said with a smirk.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Snape never needs an excuse to rip into me, but he'll take one when it's given."
"I wonder what has him in such a mood," said Cassie.
Oh, if you only knew…
"I'm glad he was in a mood," said Diana. "The fact we were taught by a werewolf all year…" She shuddered.
"Snape really should have said something sooner," Pansy agreed.
"Speak for yourself." Everyone stared at him. "What?" asked Harry. "Are any of you going to deny he's the best Defence professor we've had?"
"Well, no," said Draco with the air of someone explaining something to a slow child, "but he's a werewolf."
"Did he bite anyone?"
"Well, no, but —"
"There you go, then. It's not like he's a muggle; he can use magic and didn't cause problems. That's good enough for me."
His friends exchanged looks. "You're an odd bloke, Harry," said Cassie, reaching over and patting him on the shoulder. Pansy bristled beside him, but he was unsure why.
Later that day, in the library…
Harry strode through towering shelves, sliding unseen between two upper years and into the shadowy corner he so often occupied.
Astoria was already waiting. She smiled when his Disillusionment Charm fell. Merlin, she's come a long way. She'd have jumped a foot in the air earlier in the year.
"Hello, Astoria. How did exams go?"
Her face split into a wide grin. "I couldn't believe how well I did in Charms! Professor Flitwick told me I scored top of my year! Can you believe it? I couldn't even cast a Levitation Charm before you started helping me!"
He actually smiled. Merlin, that feels good after these last couple weeks. "You know, for some reason, I can believe it."
"Thank you so much! I would never have done it without you."
"You might have figured it out eventually, especially if you knew what was causing it. I just tried things until they started working." It had actually been quite fun. The whole puzzle had been giving Grindelwald fits; not even he had seen the likes of Astoria's condition.
"I still didn't do well in Transfiguration, but I can't believe the rest went as well as they did."
"You should start believing. Things only get easier when you do." Something in her smile now looked strained. His eyes narrowed. "You wrote me asking to meet you here. You've never done that before. Is something wrong? Has your sister been causing trouble again?"
"No," Astoria said in a rush, "it's nothing like that, I just… I wanted to talk."
Harry's lips twitched. "You spend most of your time around me nowadays; we can always talk."
"I don't mean like that."
"What's up, then?" Harry asked, his expression smoothing.
Astoria glanced around the library. "How good are your wards?"
He shrugged. "They could be broken by your sister or someone else good enough, but no one who isn't actively trying to break them will hear anything. Why?"
Astoria bit her lip and looked away from him. "I owe you the truth."
"The truth about what?" She remained quiet. "Astoria —"
"I was a Maledictus!"
Harry blinked. "A what?"
Now it was Astoria who looked surprised. "You don't know?"
He smirked. "Believe it or not, I don't know everything. I've only known about all of this for about two years; I still have a long way to go."
"Oh." She blushed. "Sorry, I just never think of you like that."
"Don't be sorry. That's the best compliment you could give me. Now, what's a Maledictus?"
She took a deep breath. "It's a person who has a blood curse that will eventually transform them permanently into an animal." She rattled that all off with the air of someone who had done it numerous times before.
Merlin… "What? You're —"
"I was," she corrected with joy in her eyes. Then her gaze fell towards the table. "It's why Daphne's so good at Arithmancy and Magical Theory. There's no official cure for Maledicti, so she decided she was gonna make one."
"Your sister created a cure for an incurable blood disease?"
Astoria tugged at one of her fingers. "Daphne's really smart. Like, really smart. She's never been the best at casting spells, but my mum started calling her the smartest in the family before she even came to Hogwarts."
She really is a savant. Shame she's such a bitch; that could have been useful. "And her curing the disease affected your casting?"
Astoria kept her eyes on the desk. "We don't really get it. Daphne said it had something to do with magic turning inwards, but —"
"That can't be right. Magic isn't a part of you; it's just something we conduct."
Astoria rolled her eyes. "Daphne's the super smart one, not me. I just say what I was told."
"I'm going to figure it out." He would, too. He liked Astoria, and besides, this sounded like the sort of thing Grindelwald would be interested in.
A strange yearning filled him as of late. The memories had once been a plague that haunted his nightmares, but now they were like an extension of his own life. It felt almost like a part of him had died when Grindelwald stopped sending them, and he missed how often they'd talked in those last few months when they had begun coming faster.
It's also not like I've gotten anywhere trying to figure out why dementors are all over me. Both puzzles were fine excuses to talk with Grindelwald.
Astoria looked up, wide-eyed and blushing. "No, that's not what I mean. You don't have to —"
"I want to, Astoria. Not everyone does things for you because they have to." I remember when I would never have believed that.
"Thank you," she said, voice quiet. "I can explain what she did if you need."
"Not today," he said, forcing himself to smile. Merlin, why did his chest ache so badly any time he thought about what it must have been like growing up with that? "I think you've said enough for now. Want to work on something, or just hang out for a bit?"
Astoria's eyes lit up. "Can we start the second-year curriculum for Charms?"
He grinned; this girl really did have heaps of potential along with her infectious joy.
Meanwhile, in Remus Lupin's Office...
"Ah, Ron, I was hoping to see you on my way out."
The office was barren, all belongings stuffed into the same battered trunk Professor Lupin had used on the train.
"It's true, then?" Ron asked, face falling. "You're going?"
"I don't see that I have much choice. The writing was on the wall once Severus let slip my condition. I'm surprised to see you here after that."
Ron snorted. "I don't care that you're a werewolf. You're the best teacher I've ever had."
"Not good enough to teach you that charm." Lupin shook his head. "It's my one regret this year. I knew how unlikely it was, but I wanted to see it."
"You will. I've still been practicing, I've —"
"Let it rule you." Ron's sentence died, his mouth agape. "Cedric Diggory came to me not long ago —"
"On the contrary, he was very polite. He mentioned how obsessive you've become and how other things have fallen to the wayside all in the pursuit of a single spell."
Ron set his jaw. "Look, I know I haven't been a great friend or whatever else he called me, but I'm gonna get it, I'll —"
"Waste precious hours you'll never get back." Ron felt like he'd been slapped. His cheeks flushed and his jaw hung open yet again. "I'm not trying to tear you down. You are an excellent wizard for your age and scored very near the top of your year in my class. The more Cedric Diggory told me, the more I think your inability to cast the Patronus Charm has nothing to do with a lack of skill. I don't even think you've been using the wrong memory anymore."
"What is it, then?" Ron asked, his heart swelling.
"Something you will only make worse by continuing." He opened his mouth, but Lupin raised a hand. "The Patronus Charm is a manifestation of joy and happiness. It is fuelled by powerful positive emotion. How can you ever expect to feel that emotion when your entire life hinges on the success of each attempt?"
"But I'm using happy memories…" Lupin was already shaking his head.
"The memories aren't enough on their own. It isn't about the memory — it's about the feeling. Memories are a crutch. There are ways to make yourself feel those sorts of things without them, but you always start at the beginning. You're not ready for those other ways and no memory will work for you the way you're trying. You can't fake happiness, Ron, least of all when this pursuit of yours is slowly destroying everything that makes you happy."
Ron was dumbfounded. Of course the memories made him happy! He'd been using them all year, he'd been…
He could not remember feeling happy a single time whilst trying to cast the Patronus Charm — just replaying different memories over and over again.
"So what?" he asked, slumping back against the wall. "I just give up?"
"Don't think of it as giving up. Give yourself time; let your life move on. When you're sure the pursuit won't consume you, then you can try again."
Ron looked down at the floor. "I should apologize to Cedric, shouldn't I?"
"You should apologize to anyone who you think this might have affected, but those are your choices." Lupin stepped forward and placed a hand on Ron's shoulder. "I might not be an educator for much longer, but while I am, my job is to guide you. That's all I can do."
"I'll listen," Ron grumbled.
"Excellent." Lupin glanced towards the room's lone clock. "Take care, Ron. I'm sure we'll meet again and you can always write. Your owl will find me."
Ron swallowed a lump in his throat. Why's it so hard to say goodbye? "Thanks, Professor… for everything."
June 18, 1994
The Headmaster's Office
Voices came from behind the oak door and he breathed a sigh of relief. The summons to Dumbledore's office just before the students were set to depart had worried him. He had thought it had something to do with the way their last meeting ended, and dealing with any of that fallout was the last thing he needed right now.
"Enter," Dumbledore called when he knocked upon the door. "Ah, Harry, please take a seat beside Miss Granger."
Granger sat opposite Dumbledore, with Professor McGonagall on her left. The chair Harry took was between Granger and Snape.
Dumbledore laced his fingers. "Both of you have been a part of an important experiment this year." Dumbledore waited, probably for one of them to be surprised at the others' involvement, but neither showed surprise. "Your progress has been observed all year and I would like to congratulate both of you on how well you've done. You both took more classes than anyone before you and performed excellently in every endeavour." Harry dipped his head and Hermione blushed.
"Now that the experiment has reached its end, I must ask for both of you to return your respective time turners."
This part Harry had expected. He had briefly contemplated smuggling it with him, but had decided against it. Merlin only knows what the Department of Mysteries would do if they found out. Going up against an organization possessing an unknown number of these was low on his list of priorities.
Both he and Granger removed the time turners from around their necks and placed them on the polished, oak desk. "We'll get them back next year, won't we, Headmaster?" Granger asked.
Dumbledore sighed. "I'm afraid not, Miss Granger."
The muggleborn looked aghast. "Why not? I scored Outstanding on almost all my exams!" She glared at Harry as if it was all his fault.
He raised his hands. "So did I."
"You have both performed exceptionally well; do not see this outcome as a reflection of your performance. This was an experiment. Upon review, the Department of Mysteries deemed the observed mental drain to be too high."
Harry was pretty sure no one had seen him dead on his feet; Occlumency had seen to that. Granger, on the other hand, was looking down at the desk with her cheeks stained crimson.
Ice seeped through Harry's veins. "Headmaster, I never had problems with strain or fatigue once I adapted to the time turner."
Professor McGonagall looked ready to argue, but Snape spoke first. "I can vouch for Mister Potter, Headmaster. I've watched him closely this year and he has remained in good health."
"Be that as it may, the Department of Mysteries has deemed the risks too high."
"That's ridiculous!" Everyone looked at Granger, shocked by her outburst. Her blush deepened, but she went on. "Why is Potter being punished because I couldn't keep up?" Every word came with an edge sharper than most daggers; it was like she had to forcefully drag each one from her throat.
"We don't make the decisions, Miss Granger," said Professor McGonagall.
"Well, the decision should be appealed. That isn't fair."
Snape sneered. "Granger, if you dwell on what is and isn't fair, you will not last long in this world."
"That's enough, Severus. Miss Granger," Dumbledore went on, "if I had a Knut for any time the ministry rendered an unfair verdict, I could purchase everything in this castle thrice over. It is something we must accept and do our best to change going forward, especially both of you, who may well spearhead your generation."
They left the office a few minutes later, walking silently down the spiral staircase.
"I'm sorry," said Granger. Again, it sounded like she was dragging every word.
He shrugged. "I never really expected to keep the time turner. It's crazy they gave them out at all."
"Ridiculous is what it is," she scoffed. "Imagine the damage we could have done."
I almost did plenty.
"I'm not thrilled at losing the advantage, but it's probably best that future students don't get their hands on them." He gave her a winning smile. "Thanks for trying up there; I wasn't expecting that."
She sniffed. "Fair is fair. No one should be punished for something they never did. I just wish half of what the ministry did made sense. I thought muggle governments were awful until I came here; it's like they try reminding everyone just how broken their system is."
They stepped onto the marble staircase. Loud chatter reached their ears from the congregated crowd down in the Entrance Hall, ready to depart for Hogsmeade Station.
She hesitated. "He's… doing better the past couple of weeks, but is a bit down about his rat."
Something prodded the corners of his mind but he knew not what it was. "His rat?"
"Yeah, he lost it last winter and was hoping it would turn up before the end of the year. It never did. I can understand why he's upset, but it's the least of his problems."
"Kill me if you must, but kill the rat first. Listen to me! You have to understand."
She nodded. "The dementors just made everything from last June worse. He tried learning the Patronus Charm, but…"
"That's the defence against dementors, right?" She nodded. "I never really needed it, but I've heard it's advanced."
"Well beyond NEWT-level magic." She looked uncomfortable for some reason. "Will you be travelling to Beauxbatons and Durmstrang next year? You were surely top of the class again." Some of the bitterness crept back into her voice, but it remained civil.
"Yeah, I'm interested in seeing the other schools and cultures. How about you?"
"I'm not sure," she admitted. "I'd love to see them too, but I'm worried it will disrupt my education."
They stepped off the marble staircase and became immediately engulfed in the crowd of people.
"Give it some thought," he advised. "You're too talented for anything like travel to seriously disrupt anything. Anyway, I've got to go."
He moved through the bustling crowd, worried for a moment he'd never find his friends until he caught a flash of Cassie's golden-blonde hair. Thank Merlin she's tall; I'd never have found them in this mess if she wasn't.
"What did Dumbledore want?" asked Pansy.
"Nothing really. Just to congratulate me on outstanding exam results."
Pansy snorted, wrapping an arm around his and leaning against him. "Like there was ever any doubt."
Draco sneered. "Make sure to get your own compartment on the train, love birds."
"I won't be taking the train," said Harry, quietly enough so that only his friends could hear.
"What?" Pansy asked with a pout on her lips. Theodore eyed him, but said nothing.
"How are you getting back, then?" asked Cassie.
Harry faked a smirk. "Don't worry about me; it's all sorted." That part's even true.
"We'll be seeing you soon, won't we?" Diana asked. Pansy stiffened against him, but he ignored her.
"I'll be at Black Manor before the train arrives in London."
"You'd better," said Draco. "If whatever you're planning gets you killed before the World Cup, I'll never forgive you."
"I'm sure you won't." Harry glanced up at the nearest clock. "I better be off."
"Write loads," said Pansy, standing on her tiptoes and pressing a kiss to his cheek.
"Take care," said Cassius, grasping his hand. The look in his eyes was all too knowing.
Harry moved off through the crowd, disillusioned, slipping through the large, oak doors and out onto the grounds. Thin clouds scuttled across the sky as if chasing the sun. One moment sunlight shone down and dappled across the Black Lake, and the next, it was nowhere to be seen.
The sun was still out by the time he reached the forest's edge, but its light receded fast. The canopy of leaves overhead grew so thick that, before long, he couldn't tell if the sun was out or not. Harry kept his senses open, feeling ahead of him until it was like the air grew half as thick.
He stepped across the wardline and out into a large clearing. The canopy vanished overhead. It was overcast again.
A crow cawed from a nearby tree but he hardly noticed. Now that he was here, his heart pounded. A shiver ran up his spine as he remembered opening the journal the morning after he had killed Black, remembering the words waiting for him.
I expect your answer in the next week. My plans are advancing and I can wait no longer.
It had become hard to breathe; panic had choked him and took all air away.
"You must stay calm," Grindelwald told him the moment Harry blanked his mind and appeared in his tower cell. "This was always going to come. You cannot be used if you play both sides. This is good; the games can now begin."
Harry reached into his pocket. His luggage was shrunk and contained inside, but instead of that, he removed a plain-looking stone and placed it on the grass at his feet.
Sirius Black lay unmoving in the grass, his grey eyes blank and unseeing as they stared upwards.
Harry looked at him one last time, memorizing every inch of the man he'd killed.
The sweet smell of burning flesh filled the clearing when Black's body went up in flames. Harry almost choked but forced his mouth to remain shut as the sweet-smelling smoke wafted up around him, then drifted skyward.
The nearby crow took wing, a dark shape soaring through the smoke and vanishing over the line of trees. A soft breeze followed, dispersing the smoke and taking the ashes away.
Now for the hard part.
Harry reached into his other pocket and removed a silver tie pin that depicted a large snake coiled around a tree. He closed his eyes and blanked his mind.
Time's up. Let the games begin.
Something tugged at his navel. It yanked him from the clearing in a wash of colour, his old life left behind.
TO BE CONTINUED IN
BOOK 4: TBD
What a wild ride Book 3 has been. It's easily my favourite of the three years so far, but let me know what you think of the year and its ending.
A lot of the earliest plans for this story centred around the last few chapters and their fallout, so it's crazy to have all of this finally on paper and not just swimming around inside my head. Finishing any year is surreal, but I think this one is the most surreal so far.
I plan on writing the entirety of book 4 and then revising it before it starts posting here, so there will be a bit of a wait I'm afraid. I have 18 chapters written right now and I plan to write a couple more in the next week. We will see how long it takes.
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Thank you all for your incredible support on this story and I hope you're all eager for what's next. I am INCREDIBLY EXCITED for Book 4 — maybe more so than any other year in this story — so I can't wait to share it with you all.
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Thank you as always to my lovely Discord Editors, blood and Idefix, for their corrections/contributions on this chapter.
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