As the weeks went by the years pattern formed. The boys and men would gather at Hagrid's on Sunday afternoons and the ladies would gather in the Room of Requirement for social time. Harry made rings for Sirius, Remus and Hagrid, and did the Potter core augmentation charm as well as the ambient magic ritual. Hagrid started to train with them in defense. He had gotten a new wand and was working on revising his classes to complete his OWLS and NEWTS. It turned out that he was like Neville, talented but with confidence problems. Seeing Hagrid reach beyond himself for what he had always wanted was a Patronus worthy sight. Watching Snape teach Hagrid was always fun for the class that Hagrid attended. Snape didn't dare be to acerbic, Hagrid wouldn't stand for it.

Gradually Snape's teaching methods improved as did his impartiality. He wasn't happy about it but he did it. At first he would be snide, snarky and mean when helping non Slytherins, but slowly he lost the viciousness that had marked him and became more entertaining. Few outside Slytherin would admit it but a good Snapely put down was an admired art form. It could be born when administered evenly and with cause. Neville began to do better in potions. His self esteem, always his cross, was bolstered by his amazing progress in defense, his excellence in herbology and his new supportive friends.

The weekend of Halloween was a Hogsmeade weekend. The Combat Team had their usual training in the morning then split into couples for the day. Harry had made rings for Angelina and Katie as well as doing the core augmentation and ambient magic ritual. They were training now with the advanced classes and with the Combat Team. As the students lined up to get checked by Filtch and allowed into Hogsmeade there was a definite sense of celebration. Harry had been working hard and was ready for a good break. He and Hermione strolled into the town intent on nothing more than some light shopping and The Three Broomsticks.

The first stop was, of course, the bookstore. Hermione cruised through the aisles browsing and humming to herself. She was always excited and happy in a bookstore. Harry spent some time in the DADA section and the Quidditch section. He got the latest Quidditch magazines "for Ron" and wandered the Arithmancy section. He was almost done with revising the previous year and was starting to really understand the current lessons. A relief from the helplessly confused feeling he had at the start of the year. He got himself a book that he hoped would help in his work on deconstructing the killing curse, a project he had yet to give up. They wandered into a clothes store that stocked muggle items and came out with some new jeans, Harry had a black turtleneck and a new sweater Hermione insisted he get. She thought the color set off his eyes. It embarrassed and pleased him when she cooed. She got a few tops and a new skirt which Harry insisted on buying.

Honeydukes was next, for chocolate stores replenishment, then off to The Three Broomsticks for a bite and some butterbeer. They were just settling into a booth when their rings got warm, the warning for Death Eaters nearby. Harry grabbed Hermione's hand and they ran out the door into a growing sense of cold and despair. "Dementors! Bloody hell what are they doing here?" Harry whipped his head around looking for the shades. "There! Over by the train station!" Hermione had seen them first, a mass of them, well over fifty were drifting down to the street level and headed towards people in the area. Harry and Hermione lifted their wands and cast together, hands still clasped "Expeto Patronum". A huge lion sprang out from their wands and streaked towards the Dementors. Other Combat Team members moved towards the train station casting their Patronuses. Neville called the Team to form on him and they did with practiced ease as their Patroni chased the Dementors from that end of the village. The creatures fell back into the forest.

The sense of unease, despair and cold didn't leave although it lessened for a bit. Their rings got warmer. Neville called for a defensive position and the Team moved to the center of the village, conjuring blocks of marble to break up any incoming spell fire.

"Why didn't the Dementors leave Harry?" "Don't know Nev, they always do if you run them off once. I don't like this new behavior, and there are Eaters around." Everyone was scanning the streets looking for the next threat. The students were clearing the streets, headed for school and out of immediate harms way. "Ron! Whats next?" "They are regrouping after that feint. I think two groups, from two directions, first a wave of Dementors then Death Eaters." Nev gave the orders. "Alright you lot, Harry and Hermione will be reserve, guys take the Death Eaters, girls the Dementors then shields if we need them, call your targets, four to a team, put them down hard, no stunners." "Aye Nev."

Harry could see one Dementor at extreme range, watching. "Soon" he murmured and squeezed Hermione's hand. She returned the pressure. The streets were empty except for the Combat Team. Harry could see some students sprinting up the road to the school, help would come. They just needed to hold the line until the Aurors and the teachers could get here, keep the enemy occupied and away from anyone trapped in the buildings and houses.

Just as Ron had predicted they came from two sides. Harry cast a series of the one syllable blasting hexes at a group of Death Eaters that chewed through their shields hitting a few, the other boys on that side slicing up some more Eaters. He thought of his Hermione and cast his Patronus. This time it was his familiar stag, and charged into the Dementors on his side.

A lone Dementor moved towards Harry. He directed Prongs to attack it but Prongs was swept aside. Harry stood shocked. Prongs had never failed him. Overwhelming despair gripped him, the other Dementors had been swept away by the girls, defeated. Harry cast again, Prongs jumped out and charged the lone Dementor only to be crushed again. "Hermione! We need to cast it together! He gripped her hand, his mind awash in the terrible sound of his mother dying. They raised their wands and his scar burst into massive pain. Blood spurted from his scar and he screamed, falling to the street in convulsions. This was worse than Crucio, this was worse than death, to hear his mother screams mingled with his, to feel Hermione's despair as he vomited. He felt his hand released by Hermione and she screamed something over him. He was only pain. He would let go, he would let go and be at ease. So simple really, just fade from his body. He would be at peace and Hermione would be here. Face to face with whatever was coming. Slowly, doing the hardest thing he had ever done, he stood. He couldn't let her stand alone, he had to protect her.

The Combat Team was in major trouble. That single Dementor was drifting closer as the whole team concentrated on it. Death Eaters were blowing away the protections offered by the marble blocks. The green flash of the killing curse crashed against stone blowing chunks of it away. Harry concentrated, taking Hermione's hand again, sending her his love, his hope and getting hers back. He opened up on the Death Eaters putting several down with a stream of one syllable reductos. Their shields blew apart under the concentrated fire and pieces of Death Eater spattered onto the street. The Death Eaters fell back abandoning their wounded. "Dobby! Get Dumbledore now! Winky get the other teachers and then get to the school both of you."

Harry fell again screaming as the elves popped out. "I am here Potter, this time you will not find it so easy to be rid of me. I will suck the soul out of you. Your friends tire, soon the Patronus will be too difficult to cast and I will Kiss you."

Oh bloody hell, he's taken over a Dementor. Harry felt another wave of despair crash over him. A Dementor possessed by Riddles soul. His mother was screaming again, getting louder and clearer. Harry felt himself slip away as the roar of battle mixed with the popping of apparition. Harry faded to black.

Hermione stood over Harry. He had screamed and dropped, she had to let go of him, he was moving, he was alive, she didn't know for how much longer. All the girls were concentrated on that one Dementor now. They could see the red slits of eyes under the hood. Patronus after Patronus charged the figure only to be brushed aside. Each casting held the Dementor for a bit. It couldn't advance against the barrage. Neville was raising holy hell with something behind her. She felt revived as Fawkes flamed into being, leaving Dumbledore in their midst, and circled over them, singing. The Death Eaters were either not moving or not in sight. The boys joined in casting their Patronus charms. That single Dementor stood against them. Dumbledore's phoenix Patronus charged the lone Dementor and it was finally pushed back a step.

Hermione screamed out "Combat Team join hands and cast at the same time, on three. Hands fumbled and found one another. On three they all screamed "Expecto Patronum" An enormous ball of golden light flashed at the lone Dementor and it was gone, along with the few surviving Death Eaters.

She gathered Harry into her arms, there was a pulse, just barely a pulse. "Dobby! Harry to the hospital wing NOW!" She never saw Dobby and couldn't really hear if it was just one crack or two, but Harry was gone. She vomited and went to her knees, wiping her mouth. She began to cry and shake, shaking harder and harder until she collapsed to the ground. Winky was with her and a flash later she was in the hospital. The beds were filling rapidly now. "Harry, how is Harry?" At first her voice was a whisper. She kept asking at increasing volume until she was screaming just his name over and over. People were trying to hold her, they were trying to keep her from him, she staggered around looking for him, he was two beds away, still, white. She stumbled towards him, almost blind with tears. Everyone within ten feet of her was shoved away, furniture hurled into the walls, Madam Pomfrey cast a shield charm to protect the other patients. Hermione got to his side, "not breathing, Great Merlin he's not breathing."

She tipped his head back and checked his airway, then climbed on the bed astraddle him. Something red flashed towards her and was reflected by a golden shield that sprang around the bed, Fawkes had arrived and had shielded her. She didn't hear the shouting, the screams. She began to compress his chest, stopping every ten strokes to breathe for him. No pulse, no breath. Around her the shouting got louder but Fawkes was with her and that meant she had hope. The phoenix was perched on the headboard singing and watching Harry. Slowly a dark shadow seeped from Harry's scar, formed into a snakelike shade and began to drift to Hermione. Fawkes gave a cry of rage and dove. The shade retreated back into Harry. Fawkes flamed into Harry's chest and her hands. She felt intense heat, but no pain, the fire passed and she felt cleansed, calmer. She leaned forward to give Harry a breath and saw his pulse, felt his chest lift. She toppled to his side. The phoenix chick rested over Harry's heart as she faded from reality.

There was an echoing silence in the aftermath of the pheonix magic. Madam Pomfrey rushed forward and checked Hermione first, she could see Harry breathing regularly and a steady pulse in his throat. Hermione had a pulse, thready and weak, but there. The matron levitated her into the closest bed and poured a few potions into her as she cast diagnostic spells. A healer from St. Mungo's bustled into the room and began triage on the other wounded, banishing all non wounded out of the ward. Two more healers showed up and soon the ward was in order and quiet.

Dumbledore edged his way through the door, gesturing vaguely at Fawkes. "Did we lose anyone Poppy?" She shook her head no. "Not permanently Albus. Mr. Potter was dead but Miss Granger and Fakes seemed to have taken care of that minor detail. Something happened that I don't understand. You will explain it to me so that I can take proper care of my patients won't you Headmaster?" It was not a question. The Headmaster agreed and slipped the new born Fawkes into a pocket of his robe. He asked to be informed when any of the injured were ready to talk and left for his quarters and some contemplation of the days events.

In Hogsmeade the Aurors were taking the tally and getting the story while other Ministry employees worked to repair battle damage assisted by the locals. The Aurors would report quite a few dead Death Eaters. Harry had accounted for at least half of them which wouldn't be a surprise to the Combat Team. It was more of a surprise who the Death Eaters were. They were all former residents of Azkaban. Not all of them had gone to prison as Death Eaters either. It seemed Voldemort had held a recruiting drive when he freed his Death Eaters. Some of the residents of Hogsmeade were suffering the aftereffects of a Dementor attack, some folks had been injured by spell fire and treated at the scene. A few locals were dead or kissed in the first attack. They had the misfortune to be near to the train station. No students had died.

Everyone was talking about the Combat Team defeating the initial feint, setting up a fort in the street then throwing the enemy back in bloody retreat or killing them where they stood. There was real horror in the tale of the one Dementor, the Dementor with the glowing red eyes. Those Death Eaters who had died were almost all from the ranks of the new recruits. The Dark Lord's Inner Circle knew better than to be in front in a fight. Thorfin Rowle an Inner Circle Death Eater was dead. He had been cut almost in half by Ginny Weasley. He was a huge man and a very powerful wizard, dangerous in a fight for his recklessness and lack of concern for anything but a body count. He had the misfortune to be in the front line and closest to Ginevra. It was his last mistake.

Bellatrix was free as were her husband and his brother, the Carrows, Dolohov, all the other psychotic murderers. The worst of the Dark Lords Death Eaters were loose along with a Dementor that didn't care about a Patronus. It was not a happy day for the Aurors. Word was they had lost ten Aurors on Azkaban Island when the Riddle Dementor had broken the prison and led the inmates against the guards. The Aurors finished their investigation and headed back to the Ministry to begin the actual reports. Tonks and Kingsley headed to the school to report to the Headmaster.

Harry lay in the infirmary remembering the pain, the horrible pain of his scar, and knowing that Riddle had really done something extraordinary this time. He drifted in darkness, feeling at peace, more at peace than maybe forever before. He didn't know yet that his curse, his little slice of Riddle had left him and then returned. The constant search for guilt to take on was over for him, at least for now. In a wash of phoenix fire he had been able to lay that burden down, he had been freed by the fire.

Fawkes had touched him burning, and had touched his Hermione also. He could feel her at the edge of his mind, she was asleep and worried. He sent her a pulse of love and felt her relax and slide into peace. He sent his awareness out into the surrounding space, and found spots of bright and dark. Here in this place there was mostly light, brilliant beacons in Fawkes, Dobby and Winky, a hooded light in Dumbledore, the many softly glowing candles of goodness and innocence that were the students. There were a few dark places and not all of the dark was in the Slytherin's dungeons. He felt the castle, old and immeasurably strong, he sensed Wormtail was present but hidden in his rat form, elusive as always. He found Sirius and reassured him that all was well with Hermione and Harry. Harry let all the Combat Team know they were alright, and felt some of the pressure in the castle lessen as word spread. There was so much of goodness here. For now here was all he cared about. He slipped deeper into the darkness after warding for Wormtail and warning the others.

Ron and Neville were talking quietly in the room where the Combat Team kept it's equipment. The rest of the Team sat around decompressing after Harry's brief message of reassurance. They had been to the edge and had survived. Their training had kept them alive. The surprise advantage they had due to their intensive training would quickly disappear, but the training wouldn't. They trusted the Sargent and their Nev. They fought as a unit, not as a street mob like the Death Eaters.

Ginny sat to the side. She had killed today, perhaps many times, her skill and speed pushing back the flank of the Death Eaters at least twice when Harry had broken their shields with his near constant stream of overcharged blasting hexes. She watched again as blood and bits of spine blew out of the back of the huge Death Eater. Even with her eyes open she could see it. Her hands quivered slightly. He had stumbled back and down, his eyes wide in pain and shock, going blank before his face tilted out of sight and he collapsed a pile of rags and meat, blond hair settling softly as he landed in the street. She had called her next target. No time. Tears welled slowly and dripped and she shook silently, quietly, crying for something that would never change now and innocence lost.

Neville slid onto the bench beside her, and held her on one side, while Ron wrapped her from the other. Neither spoke, there was little to say. She turned and clung to Neville, racked with sobs. Neville, strong quiet Neville, picked her up into his lap and rocked her like a child, whispering nonsense to her.

Ron stood then, looking down on them, glad for her and lonely. All of the Combat Team were changed. This was not a club and a friendly competition about being ready someday. Someday had been today and they had been ready. They were troops and this was war, a hard dirty war against a guerrilla enemy.

Luna slipped into his arms, swaying softly with him and humming a quiet pretty melody. He had seen her fight, a whirl of dirty blond hair and hexes. She had been tireless and merciless. She had called her targets and taken them down faster than the others could come to support her. She used magic almost without effort, fluid. She had danced through that first volley of killing curses while Harry was down and screaming. She had hit back so hard she had rocked a good dozen of the Eaters into going defensive and the Team had never given that advantage back. Then Harry, goddamn Harry, had stood like Gibraltar and spun that steady stream of hexes, called in support, before going down screaming again. "I see the Nargles are back Ronald. I had thought you sufficiently inoculated but I see you need another application of the treatment." Ron looked into her silver eyes, eyes that could clear and show depths beyond any he had ever seen or glaze to reflect what the watcher expected. Her eyes were clear now. He bent to softly kiss her, swaying gently with her.

The twins were quiet. That was how bad it was. Angelina and Katie just held them. They slumped into a pile on a couch once they got their gear proper and put away. Slowly they began to decompress, and to talk about it, about how it had been, not saying the really bad parts, those were understood. They were stitching together their understanding of the battle. They were finding their mutual history and each other. They had worked together to intimidate Bellatrix into retreating. The mad woman had marked them, she hadn't liked being denied blood and would be out for theirs. Bella's screaming taunts had been silenced by the continuous casting they had managed in pairs. She had stumbled into a full retreat, shocked at the damage output of the Team. Her amazing skill had allowed her to avoid a lot of the damage coming in but she had been totally defensive, taking wounds rapidly, seconds from death and running as fast as she could for cover. Her combat form was flawless, reactions so fast that she almost seemed to be sensing the future and moving before she could possibly know what was coming and how to avoid it. It would be good to kill her. Perhaps even more than Riddle she was a creature of the Dark.

It was a day and more before Harry woke up. Hermione had refused to leave him and that meant that Dobby and Winky were by his side as well. Dobby with the wisdom of a happily married man had decided that Winky should be guarding Hermione and a pair of Manor elves would guard the Grangers. So it was that the elves and Mione were hovering over Harry when his eyes creaked open a slit. "Grmmf." Hermione nodded wisely. "Headache dear?" A slow pained nod. "Water?" Another nod. Then in a ghost of a whisper "Thanks Mione." Knowing by now what he wanted she gave him the casualty figures.

"Combat Team all well, no major injuries other than you. Hogmeade citizens lost three to the Dementors. No losses of Aurors in Hogsmeade, loss of ten at Azkaban. Inner Circle freed from Azkaban and a quick recruiting drive conducted. Lost of most of the new recruits in Hogmeade against the Combat Team along with Rowle an inner circle Death Eater. The Riddle Dementor routed by the combined Patronus of the Combat Team." Harry nodded. "We were lucky again Mione." She nodded back.

"He has to be worried by now Harry. No matter what he tries he can't seem to do anything and he loses resources. He is immortal now but can't use magic. Dementors have only fear and the Kiss as weapons. He can't use a wand. Most of his power is sealed from him by his form and he can't escape it. The spells to control Dementors are known. A large group of Aurors can contain him if not kill him. He picked a bad body for ruling the world. Harry grinned a bit and nodded again. "Tell the Headmaster that Mione, maybe we can lock him up for a bit, until we find a way to destroy the Dementors. They need to die anyway, they are horrible." "He knows love, he has the Order and the Aurors looking now. Dementors don't move that fast. Aurors are shadowing a large group of them that seem to be headed towards London. Once the Aurors have sufficient numbers they will try to control them as they do at Azkaban. Here my dear, have some hot chocolate, we need to keep your strength up.

A good nights sleep and Harry was at breakfast the next day and back in full training the day after. The Aurors had managed to corral the Dementors before they got to a major urban center. No one was sure if the Riddle Dementor was in the group, that kind of close inspection was a death sentence.