...And spits out Spider-Man!
He woke up with a start after only a couple hours sleep. He was about to turn over and get some more sleep, but the curtains to his bed were suddenly pulled open and a loud voice shouted his name.
"Harry! Good, you're up! Come on, let's get to breakfast already! I'm starving!" Ron Weasley, his soon to be dead best friend of six years, shouted at him enthusiastically.
"How is it, all of a sudden, I'm the one being dragged out of bed, by Ron?" Harry asked himself as he got out from the covers and stumbled his way to the bathroom to get ready for the day.
An hour later, they were down in the Great Hall, and Harry was feeling much better, having gotten some real food into his system. Hermione Granger, their other best friend, had joined them and was finishing up a few last second touch-ups to her homework. IE, add another half a foot to the essay that was already two feet longer than it was required to be. She shot him a look after seeing him and Ron almost competing to see who could devour the most food. Well, Ron might have been competing, Harry was just plain hungry!
The morning post came in it's usual flurry of feathers and flapping. Hermione collected her copy of the Daily Prophet, while Harry fed Hedwig some bacon to see if she had brought him anything, and Ron tried to get Pig to calm down. Starting with Hermione, silence slowly spread across the Great Hall.
It wasn't until there were hardly any sounds, save those of quiet conversation and silverware clinking as a few that were still ignorant continued to eat, that Harry finally looked up at Hermione and saw the expression on her face.
"What is it?" he asked.
Mutely, she handed over the paper and just sat there, her expression one of stunned disbelief. The headline couldn't be missed, even if he'd still been half-blind without his glasses.
DEATH EATER ATTACKS AVERTED! MASKED VIGILANTE SAVED WHOLE FAMILIES BEFORE AURORS COULD RESPOND! WHO IS THE SPIDER-MAN?
Harry blinked, his expression soon matching Hermione's. He hadn't considered this aspect when he went out last night. Finally, after a few seconds for his brain to reboot as it were, he realized he needed to say something, anything to throw any future suspicion off him. But... what would he ask or say if he wasn't the vigilante in the first place?
"Is this for real?" he finally asked, sounding rather numb about it.
Hermione was shaking her head, saying, "I don't know."
"Wicked!" exclaimed Ron as he got the paper next.
His friends turned to look right at the excited redhead. "Wicked?" repeated Harry.
"The Chudley Cannons won their game last night!" he commented, flipping the paper completely over so the headline was obscured.
In silent fury, Hermione grabbed the paper, flipped it over, and then stuck the headline right under the redhead's nose. It took him a few moments, but he quickly comprehended with a quiet, "Oh."
"Wait a second!" Harry did a sudden double-take, "The Cannons won their game?!"
There was a sudden rustling of papers as people turned and looked for the article, and even more cries of disbelief. Hermione huffed and crossed her arms, asking her friends, "How is that more important to learn that someone is out there fighting You-Know-Who and his Death Eaters?"
"Hermione, it's the Chudley Cannons!" he said to her like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
After a second she shrugged and nodded her head, acknowledging the point. "All right, fair enough. But what about this masked vigilante? And why is it you think they call him Spider-Man? Does he have eight limbs or is he part arachnid?"
Ron shivered, "Ugh, spiders!"
"I don't know. There isn't a picture," Harry said, while privately adding, 'Thankfully.'
"Let me see," Hermione grabbed the paper again and began reading through the entire article. "He saved no less than three families from attacks by Death Eaters and werewolves. Although it is hinted that he prevented two other attacks. Oh! Uh, also, there was another break out at Azkaban. The Aurors responding to the families, claiming they were attacked, didn't even notice the alarms coming from the prison until it was all over. It says here that one of the families even managed to get the Minister so worked up that he called extra Aurors from the prison to help in the response, leaving only a handful at the prison. All of them are now missing, along with a number of..." she stopped reading and was visibly distraught.
Clearing her throat, she continued where she had left off, "... along with a number of high profile prisoners that had been arrested in the Department of Mysteries in early June. Including, among others, Lucius Malfoy, Walden Macnair and Tiberius Nott." She stopped reading and looked up at the two of them. "They're out. All of them."
Harry frowned and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.
"Yeah, but," said Ron, "they're not going to try anything. Not here. Not while Dumbledore is still around. You-Know-Who is scared of him. Remember?"
"But the Professor has been disappearing off and on for weeks at a time," Hermione argued.
"Don't worry about that," Harry assured her. "What else does it say about the vigilante?"
"Well, not much I'm afraid," she answered. "It was a man and he demonstrated superhuman powers. He crawled on the walls, swung on webs, which it says the Aurors found at the scene, but were too degraded to get an accurate magical scan from. The only other mentions are that he was very fast, very strong, and had the symbol of a spider on his chest."
"Well that says it all right there," Ron exclaimed. "He's evil. Has to be. Anybody that puts a spider on his chest." He shivered again. "Evil. Pure evil."
Harry rolled his eyes, but said nothing.
"And the fact that he saved several people's lives while fighting dark wizards and werewolves?" she argued with the redhead.
He just shrugged and shook his head. "Doesn't matter. May not be Death Eater evil, but still evil."
"Oh honestly!" she rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the paper.
For the rest of the day, the only thing anyone would talk about was Spider-Man this, or Spider-Man that. Harry truly had no idea before now just how much people would see anything special in standing up against Voldemort, or even just his forces. Although given the way they kept placing him up on a pedestal, it really shouldn't have been that much of a surprise after all. Only Dumbledore and his Order of the Phoenix had ever stood against the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters and lived to tell about it. That there was a single individual who not only had defied them, but outright defeated them without being killed or worse... it was sending shock waves throughout the school and undoubtedly the rest of the Magical Community.
Harry just hoped that nobody ever thought to interview the Acromantula or Centaurs.
As luck would have it, right at that precise moment, Luna Lovegood strode right up to the Gryffindor table, a quill and parchment in hand with her blonde hair done up in a messy bun and poor-fitting glasses on the tip of her nose. Minus the acid green robes and the addition of her typical radish earrings, it looked to Harry like Luna was trying to make herself look like Rita Skeeter.
"Luna? What are you doing?" he asked, doing his best to hold back the laughter.
"I am investigating. Miss Skeeter, amateur that she is, seems to be able to get... the scoop on whatever story she is pursuing. I imagined that even though she is still an amateur and no longer a professional, she must be doing something right. What do you think?" she replied with a matter-of-fact tone.
Harry had to be honest. "I think you mimicking Rita Skeeter is one of the scariest things you've ever done and as your friend, I'm asking you to please stop."
"OK," Luna smiled and let down her hair and took off the glasses. "What do you know about the Wizard-Acromantula?"
Unfortunately, Harry had been taking a sip of his juice just as she asked this and he couldn't help doing a classic spit-take, spewing his juice all over Ron.
"Oy! What's the big idea Harry?" he protested, wiping the juice off him.
Shooting Harry a concerned look, Hermione turned her attention to Luna and asked, "What do you mean, Luna? What is a... wizard acromantula?"
"You're reading about him in the competition's paper," she pointed at the article about the Spider-Man. "Do you happen to know if he's responsible for all the extra webs that have been found throughout the area? Or perhaps if he happens to have a craving for liquified organs?"
They just sat and stared at her.
"How else would he replenish his Acromantula powers?" she asked, sounding genuinely curious.
"Er, what makes you think he has Acromantula powers?" Harry asked in reply.
"Well," Hermione interjected, "I'm regretful of saying it, but even I can see how one could come to that conclusion." Picking up the paper, she scanned and read off key excerpts. "Immense strength... webs... sticks to the walls... webs... crawls on the ceiling... webs... disappears into the shadows and dark corners... oh look, yet another mention about the webs he used. And then there is the interview with the Jameson family, each of whom was rescued and sent by this masked hero to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. They all confirmed that he had the symbol for a giant spider on his chest. Hm... Perhaps it is the suit that gives him his abilities?"
"But then anybody could be a Wizard-Acromantula," Luna pointed out. "Even several people at once."
"Whose to say that it isn't?" Hermione argued back. "After all, these attacks supposedly took place last night within minutes of each other, and yet not one of these listed locations are within 'swinging' distance of each other. He would had to have either known exactly where the attacks were taking place and had a series of Portkeys made ready, or Apparated there. Either way, it's highly suspect as he would had to have known precisely where to be beforehand."
"What about the Floo?" Ron mumbled.
"No, there's a side article here in the travel section stating that the Floo network has been down since last night. Some kind of malfunction with a number of locations, so the whole thing has been shut down for maintenance." Hermione stated.
"Bloody hell! That is a big deal!" Ron's eyes went wide as the revelation of the primary means of wizard transport had been taken down overnight.
"Not really," Hermione shrugged, moving on to other sections of the paper. "They say they'll have it back up and working by noon today."
"Did the article happen to mention what the exact malfunction was?" Luna asked, suddenly sounding suspiciously curious.
"Here," Hermione handed over the required section, while keeping the bulk for herself, "All I caught about it was something clogging up a number of fire places, leaving them open for most of the night."
"Hm, webs," Luna read out loud.
They all looked up at her. "I beg your pardon?" Hermione asked, her interest piqued.
"The afflicted fire places were clogged with webs," Luna smiled serenely and gathered her quill and parchment out of the air. "Thank you for your time." She then turned and walked off, her blonde hair bouncing gaily behind her.
"You don't think...?" Harry asked his two friends, trailing off before he could incriminate himself.
They shared a few glances with him and each other, and then shook their heads to the negative, saying together, "Nah!"
That night, Harry slept fitfully as he was plagued with dreams. Dreams very similar to what he'd experienced already since he'd gotten the Mark of the Acromantula and the Blessing of the Unicorns. It was also the night that he began to suspect the true meaning of the unicorn's remarks about a gift that would be revealed later on.
Voldemort was angry.
That wasn't even the scary part. No, the 'scary' part was that he wasn't showing it. In fact he was smiling and giving compliments to every agent present that had gone on the Azkaban mission. Rather than beam with pride and have some hope and satisfaction at their future as Death Eaters, every one that received the Dark Lord's compliments cowered and shivered in fear with mounting dread.
The ones not receiving compliments and praise, were left bleeding and gasping on the floor, entirely ignored. Unfortunate for those left, especially those that had been... 'rescued' from Azkaban, the only ones present to receive the Dark Lord's wrath were those that hadn't even been able to leave to go on their 'distraction' missions. The even fewer that had escaped Auror custody to report back about what had truly happened last night, they were the ones still on their knees, sniffling and shaking, still suffering from the lingering pains of Voldemort's Cruciatus Curse.
After completing his latest round of 'compliments', the very last directed to Malfoy for his "excellent job surviving the perils of Azkaban Prison", the Dark Lord finally turned his attention back to those kneeling before him.
"Tell me again," Voldemort ordered them, his tone now decidedly in the 'pissed off' range.
"It..." began one of the wizards that Harry remembered knocking out at the first house, but he was interrupted by one of the others behind him.
"He!" the follower insisted.
"He!" the first Death Eater corrected himself. "He came out of no where! We never even saw him until he struck. He took us out one by one until only a couple remained and... he was fast, faster than a unicorn in full sprint! He disappeared into the shadows every time we tried to fight him. He used webs, lots of webs, and he was stronger than a giant!"
"Who is he?"
At the simple question, all the Death Eaters that had been clamoring in agreement with their leader fell silent. As the silence began to turn deadly, one of the Death Eaters that had been left bleeding on the ground raised his head and spoke. "He... was garbed... in red," he gasped for breath, a horrid wet sound, "and blue. On his chest was the... *gasp* emblem... of a spider. His eyes, his eyes glowed white in the of the night..." the Death Eater collapsed and stopped breathing.
Voldemort scowled and gestured. One of the Death Eaters standing off to the side rushed forward and grabbed the dead Death Eater, whether to take him to be healed, or to loot the body, nobody wanted to hazard a guess.
"We... do not know who he is," the leader finally said. "Only that he is male, easily determined that he wore a skintight suit of red and blue, and he wears the symbol of the spider. His abilities... no one has ever heard of any living creature with abilities such as his!"
"Was he a wizard?"
Again, they all fell silent, some even looking to each other with a lot of shrugging thrown in. After a lengthy pause, the leader again spoke, "No one saw him cast any magic, my lord. The only weapon he wielded were the strange webs that he shot from his wrists at will. He held no wand, my lord."
"But he used the Floo?"
"Yes, my lord," was the immediate reply with a lot of head bobbing to back it up. Several Death Eaters had seen him either come out of or jump into a fireplace and use the Floo connection.
"So," Voldemort drew his wand and started twirling it between his fingers, "we are dealing with either a Squib that has somehow empowered himself beyond mortal means, or a magical creature that, regardless of either, has knowledge of how to use the Wizard-Only-Transportation that is the Floo Network... and he knew the exact addresses I had sent all of you to. Is that what I am being told?"
[AN: Warning, the following is a spoiler for JKR's "HP & the Deathly Hallows" chapter 33 "The Prince's Tale". Please don't sue me.]
The dream shifted...
Snape and Dumbledore were strolling together in the deserted castle grounds by twilight.
"What are you doing with Potter, all these evenings you are closeted together?" Snape asked abruptly. Dumbledore looked weary.
"Why? You aren't trying to give him more detentions, Severus? The boy will soon have spent more time in detention than out."
"He is his father over again —" Snape growled.
"In looks, perhaps, but his deepest nature is much more like his mother's," Dumbledore said, "I spend time with Harry because I have things to discuss with him, information I must give him before it is too late."
"Information," repeated Snape. "You trust him . . . you do not trust me."
"It is not a question of trust. I have, as we both know, limited time. It is essential that I give the boy enough information for him to do what he needs to do." Dumbledore insisted.
"And why may I not have the same information?" Snape inquired.
"I prefer not to put all of my secrets in one basket, particularly not a basket that spends so much time dangling on the arm of Lord Voldemort," the Headmaster said, his eyes twinkling somewhat.
"Which I do on your orders!" Snape protested angrily.
"And you do it extremely well," Dumbledore assured him. "Do not think that I underestimate the constant danger in which you place yourself, Severus. To give Voldemort what appears to be valuable information while withholding the essentials is a job I would entrust to nobody but you."
"Yet you confide much more in a boy who is incapable of Occlumency, whose magic is mediocre, and who has a direct connection into the Dark Lord's mind!" argued Snape.
"Voldemort fears that connection," said Dumbledore. "Not so long ago he had one small taste of what truly sharing Harry's mind means to him. It was pain such as he has never experienced. He will not try to possess Harry again, I am sure of it. Not in that way."
"I don't understand."
"Lord Voldemort's soul, maimed as it is, cannot bear close contact with a soul like Harry's. Like a tongue on frozen steel, like flesh in flame —" Dumbledore tried to explain.
"Souls? We were talking of minds!"
"In the case of Harry and Lord Voldemort, to speak of one is to speak of the other." Dumbledore glanced around to make sure that they were alone. They were close by the Forbidden Forest now, but there was no sign
of anyone near them. "After you have killed me, Severus —"
"You refuse to tell me everything, yet you expect that small service of me!" snarled Snape, and real anger flared in the thin face now. "You take a great deal for granted, Dumbledore! Perhaps I have changed my mind!"
"You gave me your word, Severus. And while we are talking about services you owe me, I thought you agreed to keep a close eye on our young Slytherin friend?" Dumbledore reminded him.
Snape looked angry, mutinous even. Dumbledore sighed."Come to my office tonight, Severus, at eleven, and you shall not complain that I have no confidence in you. . . ."
They were back in Dumbledore's office, the windows dark, and Fawkes sat silent as Snape sat quite still, as Dumbledore walked around him, talking.
"Harry must not know, not until the last moment, not until it is necessary, otherwise how could he have the strength to do what must be done?"
"But what must he do?" Snape asked.
"That is between Harry and me. Now listen closely, Severus. There will come a time — after my death — do not argue, do not interrupt! There will come a time when Lord Voldemort will seem to fear for the life of his snake."
"For Nagini?" Snape looked astonished.
"Precisely. If there comes a time when Lord Voldemort stops sending that snake forth to do his bidding, but keeps it safe beside him under magical protection, then, I think, it will be safe to tell Harry."
"Tell him what?"
Dumbledore took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "Tell him that on the night Lord Voldemort tried to kill him, when Lily cast her own life between them as a shield, the Killing Curse rebounded upon Lord Voldemort, and a fragment of Voldemort's soul was blasted apart from the whole, and latched itself onto the only living soul left in that collapsing building. Part of Lord Voldemort lives inside Harry, and it is that which gives him the power of speech with snakes, and a connection with Lord Voldemort's mind that he has never understood. And while that fragment of soul, unmissed by Voldemort, remains attached to and protected by Harry, Lord Voldemort cannot die."
"So the boy . . . the boy must die?" asked Snape quite calmly.
"And Voldemort himself must do it, Severus. That is essential." Another long silence. Then Snape said, "I thought . . . all these years . . . that we were protecting him for her. For Lily."
"We have protected him because it has been essential to teach him, to raise him, to let him try his strength," said Dumbledore, his eyes still tight shut. "Meanwhile, the connection between them grows ever stronger, a parasitic growth: Sometimes I have thought he suspects it himself. If I know him, he will have arranged matters so that when he does set out to meet his death, it will truly mean the end of Voldemort." Dumbledore opened his eyes. Snape looked horrified.
"You have kept him alive so that he can die at the right moment?"
"Don't be shocked, Severus. How many men and women have you watched die?"
"Lately, only those whom I could not save," said Snape. He stood up. "You have used me."
"I have spied for you and lied for you, put myself in mortal danger for you. Everything was supposed to be to keep Lily Potter's son safe. Now you tell me you have been raising him like a pig for slaughter —!"
"But this is touching, Severus," said Dumbledore seriously. "Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?"
"For him?" shouted Snape. "Expecto Patronum!"
From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe: She landed on the office floor, bounded once across the office, and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.
"After all this time?"
"Always," said Snape.
[Now You Understand, Harry Potter.] The Unicorn herd spread out before him. He stood before them in the red and blue costume his silk suit had become.
"Understand what?" he asked. "These dreams? I've always had a connection to Voldemort, so it's no surprise I would be getting visions of what is happening to him... but the thing with Dumbledore and Snape...? Voldemort wasn't there. I've always had the visions from his perspective before."
[Thanks in part to Aragog's Mark, that connection has been severed.] It was the unicorn that had escorted him out of the forest. [Our Blessing washed the rest of it away and replaced it with, something else.]
[Menace.] The Unicorn Elder intoned. [The Ability Of The Unicorns To Sense Danger To Themselves And Those They Care For. And Also To Manipulate That Potential In Ways To Avoid And Protect. We Have Given You This Power.]
"My Danger Sense!" Harry exclaimed, now truly understanding.
[A Diluted And Somewhat Weaker Use Of The Ability, But No Less Useful.] The herd all were shaking their heads in approval. [With This Power, You Will Anticipate Threats To You Personally And Have Time Enough To Successfully Avoid It And Protect Yourself. Threats Not Just Physical, But Emotional And Psychological As Well. Do Not Ignore The Dreams Any Longer. Use Them. Use Them To Protect And Take Responsibility.]
The dreams faded as the sun rose...
"GAH!" Harry jumped as soon as he awoke, the transition from dreaming to fully alert and wide awake putting him on edge. And the ceiling.
Shaking his head, he let go and allowed gravity to re-exert it's dominion over him as he fell back to bed. Laying there for a few moments, he began to consider this new information he had to work with.
Thanks to Aragog, he now had powers that no wizard before had ever had. Or if there ever had been anyone before, it was so long ago that no other wizard alive is even aware of it. Thanks to the Unicorns, he also has the power of Menace, visions and a "Danger Sense" that he shares with unicorns and what makes them so damn hard to catch. Thanks to this Menace ability, Harry could now see visions in his dreams of people plotting harm against him, or those that he cares about.
Since getting this ability, he had almost exclusively had visions about Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Before, he'd just thought they were the same kind of dreams/visions he'd had before regarding Voldemort, only less painful. Now he knew better, and there was one thing he could no longer deny. The night before proved, to himself at the very least, that he now had the power to take the fight straight to Voldemort himself, and therefore had the responsibility to do just that.
Except... Except that last night he'd had more than just a vision of Voldemort learning about "Spider-Man". He'd also had a vision of a conversation between Snape and Dumbledore. A vision that, according to several aspects of it, happened while he was still awake during the day.
So, good news, he didn't need to be asleep to see the threats 'as they happened', just anytime after they happen yet still in time for him to actually do something about them.
Bad news, however, was that Snape and Dumbledore were still under the impression that he still possessed the small part of Voldemort in his scar. Both Aragog and the Unicorn Elder had told him, explicitly that the Mark and the Blessing working together removed that entirely. Dumbledore was making plans without the information he needed. Harry's first instinct was to go and tell him right away so that those plans could be changed. Then he remembered what exactly those plans entailed, and he got a bit pissed.
Well, anybody would really. After all, any plan where somebody was supposed to die was a bad plan in his book. Especially after it was no longer necessary.
And so things needed to change. Harry had to start making plans of his own, otherwise he would get swept up in the designs of others. First decision was an easy one. Don't tell anybody, not even Ron or Hermione, that he was Spider-Man. And despite Luna's insight into what he'd started calling himself, he liked the Daily Prophet's spin. For one, it rolled off the tongue easier. Second decision was not as easy, but just as obvious. Spider-Man would now fight the Death Eaters and Voldemort and anything else that threatened innocent people. It would mean a lot of late nights, lying to his friends, and enough stress to make everything he went through last year seem like First Year all over again, but it was still just as obvious.
Beyond that, he would play it by ear. Ron had tried to teach him how to 'see three or more moves ahead' while playing chess, but he wasn't the strategic type. He could usually see no more than two or three moves ahead, and that was what most called a 'tactical view' of things. Besides, it had served him well in the past, he was sure that it would all work out in the end. Especially with the suit that had liquid luck in its veins!
To Be Continued... in Astonishing Spider-Man!