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Introduction:

harry potter
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High above the entrance hall of Hogwarts, the flickering light of candles floating over head shone down on the battle-weary wizards below. The familiar, golden glow made Harry feel safe at once. Hogwarts had always been home and he felt its arms wrap around him the moment he entered.

The entrance hall, however, was anything but inviting. It wasn’t so much what one could see, but rather feel. Harry took a step forward and, sensing the danger, stepped backward. Enchantments? He’d never really had that sort of sensation before. Not like this. He held out his hand. There was definitely an energy here, waiting to be released.

Hundreds had already passed through the front doors, making their way to positions throughout the castle and into the caverns below. There were a few remaining – the leaders of the various covens, each waiting for their final orders from the Headmaster, Sirius Black. Among them were a number of professors, including McGonagall and Flitwick. An apparent whirlwind was weaving its way through the crowd and it took a moment before Harry realized it was Madame Pomfrey, trying to treat the injured as best she could. She was having trouble with a witch suffering from a particularly bad burn to the side of her face and neck. Harry stepped over, drew power from the stone and healed her. Madame Pomfrey looked up in astonishment.

“Harry… Harry Potter? Is that you?” she asked.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied with a nod.

“My goodness,” she said with a mixture of gratitude and concern. “You… you’re covered in soot. That’ll create a rash if you don’t let me ”

“That will have to wait, Poppy,” a voice called from behind Harry. He turned to see Sirius entering the hall from outside, shutting the doors behind him. “Harry has other things to attend to right now. Please, let’s get the remaining injured to the caverns below as quickly as possible. Mr. Zabini could use some help.” With the assistance of another wizard, Madame Pomfrey escorted Blaise, now able to walk on his own, and a handful of other wizards down to the caverns. He cast one look back at Harry before disappearing behind the crowd.

“Sirius!” snapped Professor McGonagall. “Retreat is madness. They’ll overrun the school in less than an hour. We have to go out and—”

“If Harry is right about the dragons,” interrupted Sirius, “then going out would not be something that I would recommend. Not yet, at least.”

“The enchantments will hold, Minerva,” added Professor Flitwick. “Voldemort’s minions will be lucky to reach the front door.”

“But—”

“Professor!” called Harry, moving quickly toward his godfather until he could hold him by the front of his robes. “Sirius… Neville and Hermione… they’re still out there. Neville might be hurt. We have to—”

“Harry,” said George softly, stepping to his friend’s side, “Neville was right in the centre of the explosion. We felt the blast from here. There’s no way anyone on the ground could have survived. And, even if he did, by now Voldemort’s men have regrouped and have him.”

Harry couldn’t process the possibility. He’d watched as Patrick died and now… now Neville and… and maybe Hermione. Why hadn’t she come to the castle? She and Grawp were first over the outer wall. He clenched his hand, feeling anger ebbing just below the surface – anger he’d not felt since last year.

“We can’t lock the doors!” snapped Harry. “Her… Hermione might still try to get in.”

“The doors are not locked, Harry,” said Sirius calmly. “At least, not locked for those who remain friends of Hogwarts. Hogwarts will always welcome those who come to its aid. Others will find a much different reception.”

Sirius raised his hands and called out interrupting the general murmur of activity. “Attack Covens! Make your way to your respective towers. Healers and assistants, tend to the injured in the caverns. If they do break our defences, we make our stand in the castle tonight! This I promise you – Hogwarts will not fall!”

There was a general cheer and Harry was surprised to see so many smiles. “The air”, he thought. “There’s an energy here that was absent from Hogsmeade. They’re drinking it in like mead.”
Even Harry was feeling the rush of power permeate his being. It was beating back the anger and sorrow he felt about Neville and the fear he felt for Hermione. Sirius was commanding the troops; it was a side of Sirius he’d never seen, but maybe had always known was there. For a moment he could see what had attracted his father to Sirius, why they were best friends.”

“Light the floo,” Sirius said to George, one hand upon his shoulder. “Send word to the Ministry, to your father, that the wall has been breached. Tell him,” he paused, contemplating his next words, casting a glance toward Harry before continuing. “Tell him that the dragons are not our allies. They intend to attack all wizards tonight.”

The groups began to disperse, each going to their appointed locations about the castle. Harry, however, couldn’t pull himself from the front doors. Sirius stood at his side, answering the occasional question as the entrance hall thinned. When it had quieted, Harry placed his hands upon the front doors and turned to Sirius.

“I can’t stay here,” he said. “I have to go to the forest, to Terntalag. I have to find Jamie.”

“Outside, you’ll have no protection against the dragons, assuming they’ll attack.”

“They’ll attack,” Harry quickly responded. “But they’ll be looking for large numbers of wizards.” He turned the black ring upon his finger. “And I won’t be defenceless. I could make my way through the caverns and—”

“Those ways will be watched, Harry.”

“I could—”

“You could fly,” said Sirius. Harry’s eyes widened. Why hadn’t he thought of it? “Sorry, no P2s, but there’s an old Firebolt in my office. Take off from the window there.”

“Will you watch for Neville?” Harry asked, resigned to his friend’s fate. “Maybe George was wrong,” he added, knowing that George was never wrong. He sighed. “The explosion was tremendous.”

“Perhaps too tremendous,” said Sirius stroking his beard. “I don’t see how the Death Eaters could muster the magic. Perhaps the dragons have already started.”

Harry reached down and tried to hold his mind open, listening for Singehorn, or some other sign that might lend insight to what was happening, but all was darkness. The dragon had cut off all communication. “Perhaps… if I can find Dakhil…” Harry muttered to himself. He sighed again. His mind was addled and he couldn’t seem to hold everything together.

“Harry, don’t worry about the school. We’ll be fine. You find your boy; help Cho and Jamie. That’s all you need to worry about. Not the ghosts, not the dragons, not the Centaurs, not Voldemort. Cho and Jamie. Do you understand?” Harry nodded and started to walk toward the Headmaster’s office.

“You’ll be safe?” he asked.

This time Sirius nodded with a smile, albeit grim. “Yes Harry we’ll be—”

There was a tremendous pounding on the front doors to the castle. It startled both Harry and Sirius who simultaneously drew their wands. Again – another pounding, the doors creaking from the force, but holding steady.

“I thought you said it’d be an hour before they got to the doors!” hissed Harry under his breath.

“It could be Hagrid.”

“If it’s Hagrid, why doesn’t he just come in?”

Sirius looked at Harry. “Like I said, it could be Hagrid.” He stepped closer to the door motioning Harry to do the same. “Go ahead. Open it. It’s not the wood protecting us.”

“I’m glad you’re so confident,” said Harry sarcastically, tipping his head toward Sirius’ wand. “And why am I the one that has to open the door? You’re the headmaster!”

There was another sharp bang at the door, followed by what could only be described as the scratching of a claw against the wood. This was followed by a long, low, angry screech that pierced both their ears.

“Sounds like a friend of yours,” said Sirius slyly.

“Riiiiight,” Harry said with a smirk. “I’m not the only one here that has a furry friend with claws, you know.”

Sirius nodded in agreement, but still motioned Harry to the door. Harry shrugged, wrapped his hand about the door’s handle and, wand at the ready, swung it open.

If it had not been for the crumple of dark blue robes dangling from the creature’s enormous mouth, Harry would have struck him down, or at least tried. Standing upon the stone steps of Hogwarts was a massive vampire. It was half again as tall as Harry with shoulders twice as wide. Its hands and feet were clawed and its bat-like wings rose up and over its pointed head with a single talon at the pinnacle of each. His body was covered in bluish-green scales that shimmered in the moonlight. As Harry stepped out, the creature’s eyes narrowed and it growled, its mouth full of blue cloth.

The vampire spit the bundle out of from between its teeth and tossed it like a soiled rag into Harry’s arms. The weight pushed Harry backward into the entrance hall. It was a man… a wizard. Neville?
His face was charred, his body limp, but he was breathing.

“Sirius?” gasped Harry. “It… I think it’s…” He held out his hand to heal his friend, but realized at once that there was very little wrong. He was unconscious, burned slightly, but nothing more. “He’s… fine. Unconscious, but fine.”

“Let me have him, Harry,” said Sirius, taking Neville from his arms. “That…” he pointed at the creature, “one of ours?… A friend of yours and Dakhil’s?”

“Yeah,” answered Harry, not really sure.

“Well, thank him and be on your way. We haven’t much time.” Levitating Neville, Sirius started toward the entrance to the caverns beneath the school. “And… Harry… be careful.”

“Just as careful as you will be; I promise.” Harry watched until his friend and godfather disappeared into Firenze’s classroom, the secret entrance to the caverns, and then turned back to the vampire. The creature growled again, this time bearing two pearly white fangs. He lumbered toward Harry, placing his arms against the doorframe. It looked as if he was flexing his pecs. If he was trying to intimidate Harry, Harry wasn’t having anything to do with it. He rubbed his onyx ring with his thumb and was about to say something when he looked more closely into the vampire’s eyes. They were cold, grey and full of anger… and mischief.

“Draco? Draco, where’s Dakhil?”

“I risk my neck saving that twit of a friend of yours from a half-dozen Chinese Fireballs and that’s the thanks I get? That’s all you can say? Where’s Dakhil?” He growled and slammed his fist against the door frame. The whole wall shuddered. “I should crush you right now and fly you back to Voldemort.”

“You could,” answered Harry, “but he doesn’t want me anymore. Well, I’m not as valuable to his plan as I once was.”

“Are you sure?” snapped Draco, wrapping a massive, clawed hand about Harry’s throat. Harry just glared, taking Draco by the wrist, his own hand barely able to take hold. At the touch, Draco released his grasp and pulled away. Again he growled.

“Dakhil has gone to find the dragons. He thinks you’re wrong.”

“I wish I was, but I’m not.”

“Smug as ever. Would it be so terrible for the famous Harry Potter to make a mistake?”

“I’ve made too many to count. Are you one? Why are you here? Sewing fear into the hearts of all those who would face your true master?”

“Watching, Harry. Just watching. I watched the Inferi plunge through Hogsmeade, killing more to raise their number. I watched them be incinerated by the best wizards the Ministry has to offer, only to see the same wizards smashed by giants and sucked dry by Dementors. I watched you take down that giant and saw those house elves turn him to powder… stupid beast. And then I watched those… those things take Nott under the ground. I should have let Neville die for that. If he hadn’t helped Blaise…”

“Draco,” said Harry, awkwardly placing a hand on Draco’s wing, “Neville wasn’t in his right mind… he… well… war… it’s turned him ugly… cruel. All the stories of gallantry and heroism, how war brings out the best in people.... They don’t tell you the other half. Even if they did, I wonder if it would make a difference.” Harry sighed, patting Draco’s wing. “Thank you for saving him; and you’re right – I am an idiot. I should have thanked you straight away. It was brave of you to risk your neck like that.”

“Merlin, you babble on,” drawled Draco. “I should have snuffed you out when I first saw it was you that opened the door.”

“Good to see you still care, but I told you. It’s not about me anymore, Draco.”

The vampire scowled. It had always been about Harry. He was standing here now, a horrifically powerful vampire, all because of Harry Potter. Nott was being eaten alive because of Harry Potter. Voldemort was about to control the world because of—

“The cloak… where’s the cloak?” demanded Draco suddenly. Here, in the end, was how it all started.

“Destroyed,” answered Harry calmly. “It’s nothing but ashes.”

“No it’s not.”

“Yes it is.”

“You smug son-of-a-bitch. The dragons… now this? You don’t think that he could sense its absence?” Draco spun and faced the forest. “He’d know if it wasn’t here. Why do you think he’s moving his army here?” He spun back on Harry. “Where’s the cloak?”

For a moment, Harry hesitated, unsure of the true motives behind the vampire mask.

“I told you, Draco,” said Harry coolly, “It’s destroyed. Voldemort… he doesn’t want the cloak, he wants my son.”

“Don’t you get it, Harry? The air of Hogsmeade is lifeless, yet here… here near the forest there’s power. If you’d open that empty shell of a brain of yours, you’d see; you’d sense… the cloak is near. We had a deal! Now tell me where it is!”

Draco’s words were unsettling. The cloak was destroyed on Singehorn’s mountain. Gabriella said that Talisan had incinerated it. He paused. No. Gabriella said that Talisan had done her best. A cold shiver weaved its way about Harry’s spine. She was oh so much a Slytherin. Believing in his heart she wouldn’t lie to him, he tried to recall her exact words.

“I’ve never seen Talisan’s breath burn brighter.”

“Damn,” Harry cursed. “Damn it to Hades!” He turned toward the vampire. “Tell me, Draco,” he said. “If you’ve been watching, have you seen her? Have you seen Gabriella?” The vampire roared and at the same moment the sky over Hogsmeade burst into a ball of fire. The dragons were attacking the town. Screams filled the air. Refusing to answer Harry’s question, Draco turned to leave. Harry understood why, but had to know something more.

“Draco!” Harry called. “You say we had a deal. That goes both ways! For whom do you fight?”

Without turning Draco looked down at the ground and answered without hesitation. “Tonight? Tonight I fight for Dakhil and, though they still deny me, I fight for the Votary.”

“Then you fight for me,” Harry asserted. Draco turned, his eyes keen, but sad.

“Potter, you’re as dense as Luna Lovegood. I’ve always fought for you.”

Draco unfurled his wings. “Find the cloak, Harry, and destroy it before it’s too late,” he growled. “And keep an eye on Blaise. Make sure he stays safe.” With a tremendous woosh, he leapt into the air and disappeared in the night sky.

Harry watched as Draco disappeared into the stars overhead and then his attention turned toward the castle grounds. So far, they were secure. The fires of Hogsmeade were dying down. Perhaps there was nothing left to burn. If so, then why weren’t the Fireballs attacking the school? He closed the door and headed to the Headmaster’s office. Harry had some flying of his own to do.

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Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 44 – Flight to the Falls

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Riding high upon Grawp’s left shoulder, Hermione looked up to see a large, green dragon swooping down toward her. Common Welsh, she thought. She and Grawp had just leapt over the wall surrounding Hogwarts and were bounding, much to Hermione’s irritation, toward the Forbidden Forest. She had told Grawp to head home, but what she had meant was Hogwarts Castle. Grawp instead took that to mean Forbidden Forest. She was trying to convince him to turn around when the dragon flew past the full moon, casting a sudden shadow that turned her head upward. Its bat-like wings seemed to fill the sky, its eyes were on fire and its teeth flickered white, curling upward in something that resembled a smile. It had seen them and its sudden arc in the sky suggested that it was here to greet them warmly, very warmly.

She was certain that in few moments both she and Grawp would be consumed in a giant fireball, so she pulled her wand preparing to cast a shield charm and wondering if it would withstand the dragon’s breath. In contrast to Hogsmeade, the air here was charged. Rolling her wand in her fingers, she could sense its power. So much power in fact that she began to dismiss the idea of a shield charm in favour of attack. Yes… she would defeat the beast! But a voice inside said, “Are you crazy! It’d take three wizards at least to take on an adult dragon out in the open!” She shook her head, pulling in a deep breath and coming to her senses.

“Hurry Grawp!” she yelled, not really caring which direction he was headed. Anywhere was better and the forest, at least, would offer some sort of cover. “Run!”

Grawp responded, but so too did the Welsh Green. Closer… closer… she could hear the beating of its wings heavy in the air. The dragon’s mouth began to open. He was about to blow! Hermione focused her attention upward, raising her wand high above her head.

“Proteg—”

She was struck broadside in the chest, her lungs collapsing as the air burst through her lips. The force had ripped her from Grawp’s shoulder and the giant cried out. She was airborne, her legs dangling freely as the ground and dragon fell away, as if she were being pulled by a giant tether high up into the sky. She was surprised; Grawp was surprised; the dragon was surprised. He was about to follow, when he noticed another wizard dressed in blue over by the front gate – easier prey. Hermione tried to call out Neville’s name to warn him, but the air had been knocked out of her and she was far too far away to be heard.

“Hold on!” a voice yelled and she was suddenly turning about in a large arc, unable to see what was becoming of Neville.

“Ron?” she squeaked. “Ron. Neville.” She pointed back over her left shoulder almost in the direction they were now headed.

“Swing your leg over,” Ron yelled again, trying to pull Hermione high enough to climb onto his broom. She was swinging wildly and missing.

With each swing and miss she would say, “We have to… get Neville,” not noticing that they were moving farther into the forest, not toward the gate. Finally, she hooked a heel and swung up onto the broom, grabbing tightly to Ron’s waist; the broom’s gripping charms took hold. Ron shook his freed arm, trying to regain some sensation. Hermione, instinctively, held one hand to her belly and tried to regain her breath.

“For a bit there, I thought I was going to drop you,” he said, nosing down on the broom and forcing it to pick up speed.

“Ron,” Hermione called, “Neville’s at the gate; we have to—” A giant flash filled the night sky followed by an enormous boom. Hermione looked back to see a huge fireball rising upward from where Neville was. “Neville!” she cried. It was clear that the dragon had struck. Nothing could have survived.

“Ron! Why didn’t you go back?” She slapped him on the back.

“The broom wouldn’t hold the three of us,” he said grimly, holding steadfast to his present course.

“We could have fought!”

Ron did not reply, but she felt his shoulders slump. No… no they couldn’t have, not that near the front gate. The magic there was too thin. They would have all been incinerated. She began to cry. “What was he doing there, anyway? He should have been with Harry, headed to the castle.” She paused. “You don’t think… Harry too?”

“That explosion… that was more than dragonfire,” said Ron. “And it wasn’t one of Sirius’ traps.”

“We need to tell the others. We need to see if Harry’s okay. We need to go to the castle and—”

“We need to follow orders,” Ron interrupted. The broom veered slightly to the right, heading deeper toward the heart of the forest. “Our coven is meeting at Terntalag. We need to…” He paused, twisting the shaft of the broom in his hands. “We need to regroup there.”

Somehow, to Hermione, Ron’s words were out of place. Follow orders? It didn’t sound like Ron. Sure, they were with Professor Firenze’s coven, but Harry… hopefully, Harry was with Sirius at the castle.

“But the castle… Harry…” she offered.

“It’s not about Harry!” he snapped. “It’s about… Aahg! Just this once, would you just trust me. I… I know what I’m doing.” His voice trailed off with these final words. They did not instil confidence, leaving Hermione to wonder. Still, she didn’t object. The thought that there might be more dragons back at the castle… she was getting tired of fighting.

They flew for about five minutes before Hermione began to notice the sparkling beneath them on the forest floor. As the canopy would break, shimmers of white and silver shown through. It was as if the ground was covered with twinkling fallen stars. She was trying to figure out just what they were when the broom stopped abruptly, smashing Hermione’s face between Ron’s broad shoulder blades. In the clearing below, Hermione could now see that the flashes of light were ghosts, hundreds of ghosts. She pulled on his sleeve, but Ron’s attention wasn’t focused on the floor beneath. He was looking intently straight ahead into the darkness.

“Do you see anything,” he whispered.

“The ghosts,” answered Hermione.

“Not there. There!” Ron pointed directly in front of them. Hermione squinted, only able to see the moonlit top of the forest canopy and the dark outline of the mountains behind. “I don’t like it,” Ron whispered again. “I can hear them talking.” He pulled out his wand. “Whatever happens,” he said, “don’t let go.” Hermione’s grip tightened.

She knew that Ron’s telepathy was growing stronger again. This time there’d been no outward signs that anything was physically wrong, but as he had reached farther out trying to make it easier to learn such things as enemy plans, particularly near the Slytherin table, it had also been more difficult to shut out the voices. He’d grown jumpy, rash, irritable, and often sought any refuge to keep away from people. It was why, even though the two of them had grown close again, it was difficult to discuss her situation. Now that she thought about it, his need to escape the voices would explain their journey to Terntalag instead of the castle. Now, in the midst of nowhere, she was glad he had such a phenomenal internal radar.

After an eternity of silence, he hissed through his teeth one word, “Vampires.” Hermione drew in a noticeable breath, trying hard not to shudder. Ron closed his eyes and cast his focus forward. “They don’t know we’re here. They’re hiding in the tops of the trees, waiting for something, or someone.”

“The coven?”

“Maybe… maybe, the coven. Yeah, that makes sense. It’s an ambush.”

“How many?” Hermione asked.

“Three,” answered Ron. “Maybe more.” He shifted on his broom. He tried to wet his lips with his tongue, but his mouth was too dry. “We could send a message back and go around.”

“We could,” agreed Hermione, knowing full well they wouldn’t.

“Three…” Ron muttered out loud. “We could take… no. We need to get to Terntalag.” There was a long pause. Hermione was stunned at the words of her fellow Gryffindor. Ron’s excuse made it that much worse. “It’ll be too hard to fly. If you knew how to shift your weight in the air… Maybe next time you’ll take me up on my offer to teach you how to—”

“So now it’s my fault? Don’t blame me for being ambushed and hauled away into the air!” said Hermione. “I was perfectly fine with Grawp! It wasn’t my idea to—”

Suddenly to their left, a Threstral broke above the treetops of the Forbidden Forest. It was only five meters away when it reared back and let out a wild screech. Hermione cried out for only a heartbeat before she realized what it was. The creature beat its wings rhythmically, hovering above the forest, its skeletal black body shimmering in the moonlight. Then, as quickly as it appeared, it dipped back beneath the canopy.

“Well, that’s bad luck,” whispered Ron calmly.

“Oh, Ron,” chided Hermione. “That’s just superstition.”

“Oh, really?” he replied sarcastically. “That’s funny, because here they come. Get out word, just in case.” He pulled in a deep breath and squeezed the broom handle.

Hermione turned and sent a patronus back toward Firenze and the wizards and witches he was leading through the forest to Terntalag. All she had time for was Ambush. The bright white light from the otter erupting from her wand blinded her temporarily as she turned back around and peered over Ron’s shoulder into the darkness. She couldn’t make out the approaching vampires until they were about twenty yards away and closing fast. What appeared out of the darkness was a human face as white as the shining moon and something else with two glowing eyes that looked more bat than human. Almost simultaneously, Ron and Hermione cast stunners at the creatures. The bat-like vampire swerved in midair avoiding the beams of light, but Hermione’s spell struck the other square on. He yelped like a kicked dog and fell from the sky. Ron leaned forward and followed the crumpled mass downward.

“Keep casting!” he called to Hermione. “I’ll do the driving.”

“Why does that not comfort me?” she called. “Reducto!” she cast, but again missed the bat vampire. “Sly devil, that one.”

It was difficult twisting backward and casting spells, but she was beginning to see a pattern in the vampire’s flight. She was about to cast a spell when another creature appeared on their left, so grotesque in appearance, Hermione froze for but a moment. His face was green and skeletal as if someone had poured candle wax over a rotted corpse and the wax had not yet set. His red eyes were piercing, but the look gave Hermione an idea. She held her wand out at the newcomer.

“Incendio!” It wasn’t a true hit, but the tatters of robes the vampire had draped over it caught fire, forcing him to stop in mid-air to attend to the flames.

“Duck!” yelled Ron. Hermione complied, almost sensing the guidance before Ron said it. A tree branch flew past. It struck the bat-like vampire, plunging a broken fork of wood some six inches into its chest. Blood spattered from his mouth and he crumpled to the ground below. She cursed herself for letting him get that close.

Ron flew like a madman, moving fearlessly through the forest trees. Branch after branch whizzed by their heads and more than a few scraped at their robes. She was beginning to think that maybe they had lost their pursuers. Ron may have too, because the sharp turns and zigzags were diminishing. It was then that the vampire with the green head appeared directly in front of them and with him was another bat-like vampire, its fur a golden beige. Ron stopped suddenly, causing Hermione, who was turned backward, to nearly flip off the broom despite its gripping charms.

“I thought you said there were only three!” she cried.

“I said maybe three!” snapped Ron, pulling the broom hard left as Hermione cast another fire spell.

“Well there were more! Oh, Merlin! The new one… it’s a wizard!”

The beige one held a wand in the fingers of his clawed hand, growled, and cast a beam of green light.

“Turn!” Hermione cried, but Ron already was. It was as if he was anticipating their every move. He deftly avoided three more spells without once looking back over his shoulder.

“Hold tight.” Ron pulled up on the broom, breaking through an opening in the forest canopy. All of them shot up in the night sky, the moonlight glistening off the vampires, giving Hermione an easier shot, but also making their position more vulnerable. Ron shot forward in a straight line over the treetops, the vampires in direct pursuit, their huge wings brushing the tops of the trees.

“Incarcerous!” Braids of rope spewed from the tip of Hermione’s wand and, with a little flick of her wrist, a large net flew backwards. It engulfed the skeletal vampire, pulling his wings in and turning him into a large flying rock. She could hear the bones breaking as he crashed into forest canopy.

In return, the wizard vampire cast a stunner that struck the bristles of Ron’s broom, singing Hermione’s robes and burning her left leg. The broom lurched briefly to the right before he got it back under control.

“That was too close,” said Hermione, trying to heal the injury.

“Yep.”

“I like the trees better,” she said, almost immediately regretting the words.

“Me too,” Ron agreed and he nosed down on the broom descending back into the darkness.

Once again, the branches tore at their robes until they finally plunged through the canopy. They were moving as fast as Ron dared, flashes of white streaming by on either side. Ghosts continued to fill the forest.

“He’s still on us!” called Hermione, forced to cast a shield charm in defence of the vampire’s last stunner. “We better do something soon; this isn’t working!”

“I know!”

There was an enormous tree in the distance and Ron willed his broom faster. He would have to time this right and with two it would be difficult. Faster. All thought was on the impending tree when he saw her. In a clearing, just to the right of Ron’s path to mutual assured destruction, was a brilliant white Centaur. Golden hair draped loosely down her shoulders. She was nude from the waist up with only a quiver of arrows hung over her back connected to a leather thong that passed between her two ample breasts.

Faster… Thought of the tree flickered as Ron’s attentions suddenly swung toward the Centaur. He was so enthralled he didn’t even notice her notch the arrow.

“Bloody hell,” he muttered, now looking back at her and totally disregarding the tree.

“Ron! Turn!”

He spun around just in time to pull hard left, but it wasn’t enough. The trunk of the tree clipped their already tattered broom bristles sending a shock that shattered the entire broom into a thousand splinters. The pair went tumbling in the air, crashing through bracken to the ground below. Ron bounced like a basketball upon the forest floor till he came to rest under a clump of ferns. His ears ringing, he lifted his head off the ground just in time to see the vampire land on Hermione.

He screamed her name, reaching for his wand, but it had been lost in the fall. Wandless, he jumped to his feet and ran at the creature. “Get off, you fucking—” He threw himself on the vampire’s enormous back, wrapping both arms around its neck and heaving as hard as he could to pull it off her. “I’ll rip your—” Surprisingly, the vampire didn’t resist and he flung it over on its back only to see an arrow plunged deep into its throat.

Breathing hard, a small gash dripping blood down her forehead, Hermione stood unsteadily and took Ron by the arm.

“Are you okay?” he asked. But Hermione stepped past Ron toward the creature on the ground. Together they looked down as it gasped for air like a fish out of water. Its eyes were no longer red, but blue.

“He needs our help,” she said, reaching for the arrow.

“Hermione—”

“That will not be necessary,” said a voice to their side. There was a fzzz-thwup and another arrow pierced the vampire’s chest. Instantly, its laboured breathing stopped. There was a long, slow exhale. The bat-like features faded, replaced by those of a wizard… a wizard Hermione recognized from a shop in Diagon Alley.

With one last effort he reached up and grasped Hermione by the robes. “The boy,” he breathed and then went silent, closing his eyes.

“Harry?” questioned Ron.

“Jamie,” Hermione whispered, looking up into Ron’s eyes.

“The boy of Harry Potter,” said the white Centaur in agreement with Hermione, stepping closer to them.

“You… you…” Ron muttered and then looked away. “You know Harry?”

“I trained with him,” she replied. “I am Felspar.” She slipped her bow back over her shoulder.

“I am Hermione. This is Ron. We’re Harry’s friends.”

Felspar looked closely at Hermione. She reached down and held her bushy hair in her fingers and then looked back to the sky. Hermione couldn’t make out the expression on her face, but it was not a welcoming one.

“We have met, Hermione Granger. Two years ago my uncle nearly killed you for entering these woods. If it had not been for Albus Dumbledore, we would have certainly slayed the witch protecting you.”

“Protecting me?” said Hermione incredulously.

“Umbridge,” whispered Ron.

“You would be wise not to speak such a name in these woods, Ron Weasley.”

“Felspar, Professor Umb… er, that woman was not protecting me. She was wicked and vile.”

“On this we can agree, Hermione Granger.” Felspar stepped over and placed a hoof on the dead wizard’s chest. She reached down and retrieved her arrows, the blood vanishing from them as soon as they were exposed to the air. His corpse sunk into the earth below. “These creatures are rare in our woods,” she said, slipping the arrows in her quiver. “Ronan said the night would be… interesting. He is never wrong.”

Ron, his ears still ringing from the collision with the tree, shook his head, trying to focus on his original plan. “Are you going to Terntalag?” he asked.

“I patrol this portion of the forest,” replied Felspar. “I believe Ronan thought it would be safer here, farther away from the forest edge. So, perhaps, he is not always right… but I wonder.” She looked up to the sky not fully answering the question and frustrating Ron despite her beauty.

“Can you take her? I mean, can you take Hermione to Terntalag?”

“What?” asked Hermione. “You mean take us, right?”

“You can’t be out here, Hermione,” said Ron, holding her by the hands. “Terntalag is safer.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked irritably, wiping the drips of blood out of the corner of her eye. “I can fight just as easily as—”

“Your mate is right,” inserted Felspar. “While it is noble to offer, your condition warrants that you not fight.”

“My con—”

“Hermione,” said Ron, grabbing her by the arm, “you nearly died today!”

“Humph!” Hermione exclaimed dismissively. “I’m not the one without a wand!” With a flick of her own wand she summoned Ron’s and handed it to him. “Here,” she said snidely.

“Not here, not up on my broom,” said Ron, bringing her closer. “In the caves, after the explosion with Patrick, I… I thought I’d lost you. You don’t even see it, but you were gone. They said you were going to die. Harry brought you back and nearly died trying and you think you just had a nap.”

“I don’t think—”

“I won’t let that happen again… not again. I can’t.” He caressed her face with his hand. “Please… just go with Felspar.”

Hermione took Ron’s hand in her own and brought it down, holding it over her heart. “Ron, do you think I could live with myself, if something happened to you?”

“Nothing’s going to happen to me. You need to—”

“We need to,” said Hermione. “Don’t you remember? Forever… together—”

“—till the end.” Ron moved in closer. “Yeah, I remember,” he muttered, looking down at his feet, not wishing to acknowledge his pledge when they were engaged. But at the same time he was suddenly glowing inside. It was the first time since Voldemort had taken control of Ron’s body that she had even acknowledged they were still engaged. She had stopped wearing the ring long ago.

It was also the first time that Ron felt Hermione press in closer. Before, as they would hold hands, or come nearer, he could sense an underlying repulsion as if he wore some hideous mask that disgusted her no matter how hard she tried to see past it. For the first time, she overlooked the scars of his soul and held its true warmth.

“I love you,” he whispered and they kissed. When she pulled back she was glowing, a warm smile spread broadly across her face lighting up the world. Then, for an instant, it faltered, her mind remembering something that she quickly pushed away.

“I love you t—”

Something crashed through the forest on their left. They looked up just in time to see a flash of black pass by. Neither Ron nor Hermione could make out what it was, but Felspar knew at once.

“Shahan,” she muttered. “He was to watch the southern quarter.” Her hoof clawed at the ground.

“Shahan?” asked Hermione. “I’ve heard that name. Harry mentioned it. He trained with you too? He’s a Centaur.”

“My cousin,” answered Felspar. “His foolish ways will kill us all. He was supposed to watch the southern quarter.”

“Yeah, you mentioned that,” said Ron coolly.

“He can not go to the north. The falls…” Her hoof clawed at the ground again. It was clear she was agitated. She looked to the sky as if searching for answers. Both Ron and Hermione turned their gaze upward as well. It was then they saw them – about two dozen dragons, a mix of Welsh Green and Chinese Fireballs, heading from the north. The beating of their wings in the air was rhythmic and pulsating. Every now and then one of them would breathe fire and the others would cry out in an awful roar.

“Laughter,” muttered Felspar.

“Where are they headed?” asked Hermione.

“Hogwarts,” suggested Ron.

“No,” corrected Felspar. “The creatures fly toward Terntalag. They are drawn to the wizards being guided by Firenze.” She said these last words with contempt. Her gaze then returned to earth, looking north in the direction that Shahan was running. Which way to go? Then her mind began to focus as she recalled one of her lessons.

“In this forest, all living things are connected. When one feels joy, all feel joy, and when one feels pain…” She spun about and, before Ron or Hermione blinked, she launched three arrows at a distant tree. From the darkness, Hermione heard the faint thwump, thwump-thwump as they struck their target.

“The message has been sent,” said Felspar. “I must now go retrieve my cousin before he is lost forever. Good-bye Hermione Granger. Good-bye Ron Weasley.” Felspar bowed respectfully. “It is good to see love such as yours in these times.”

“Wait,” cried Hermione. “Please, take us with you!”

“It’s not safe here,” added Ron. “The falls… you mentioned the falls. Others are retreating there.” Felspar looked curiously at the red head, tilting her head slightly to one side.

“Who in their right mind would suggest such a thing?” she asked. “None save the Chosen could survive their touch.”

“I have,” said Ron quietly.

Felspar reared backward and then, slowly, moved closer, looking intently into Ron’s eyes, trying to discern truth from lie. With a graceful, yet strikingly swift motion, she grabbed a knife hidden along the edge of the leather thong she was wearing. “There are those, even among the Centaur, who blame you for the death Albus Dumbledore.”

“I know,” said Ron, sadly, still holding her gaze. “They would be right; it was my fault.”

“That’s not true!” said Hermione, coming to his side, almost using herself as a shield. “It was Voldemort; he’d taken control. Ron had no way to withstand the power that had overtaken him.”

“Can you be so sure?” asked Felspar. “Even a mouse will take on the Manticore when cornered.”

“But the mouse becomes the meal nonetheless,” countered Hermione.

“Yes,” pressed Felspar, still holding the knife in Ron’s face, “but did this mouse fight? Did this mouse, who claims to have survived the Cleansing, fight still knowing he could not win?”

“Yes,” answered Hermione.

“Can you be so sure he fought, not just for himself, but for the others he loved?” Felspar’s eyes moved from Ron and narrowed on Hermione.

“Yes,” said Hermione instantly as Ron turned to look at her. “Yes, I’m sure.”

As quickly as it had appeared, the knife vanished. Felspar smiled slyly and placed her hands on the top of their heads, patting them as if they were pets. “I see now why your love is so strong.” She looked back up toward the stars and whispered, “An interesting night, Ronan.” She looked back at the couple.

“I think Shahan would say you lie like wizards. I guess we’ll find out.” Felspar then turned north. “Climb on you two. If my dam hears I had a wizard on my back, let alone two… No matter. If the signs hold true, we head to our deaths anyway.”

Ron helped Hermione climb up and then she lent him a hand as he climbed on as well. In a flash they were racing through the forest at amazing speed, Ron clutching on to Hermione’s waist and Hermione clutching onto Felspar.

“Bloody hell,” Ron muttered.

“What is it?” asked Hermione.

“Nothing,” said Ron ruefully, wondering why he hadn’t climbed on first.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 45 – To See Again

~~~***~~~

The halls of Hogwarts were deserted as Harry made his way up to the Headmaster’s office. He’d been down this corridor many times before, after curfew, in the dark, alone, with only the stoic suits of armour and sleeping patrons of the portraits for company. Tonight, however, many of the portraits hung empty. The few who remained in their frames were frightened, huddled behind whatever scenery they could, some consoling the charred victims of portraits from Hogsmeade. The muffled sobs and hushed condolences accompanied Harry as he walked, filling the air with fear and sorrow. So much so, in fact, that even the armour seemed to shiver in anticipation of what was to come. He was halfway down the long corridor when he noticed that they had noticed. A few had recognized him and they, in turn, were telling others.

“It’s him.” “He’s back.” “Who?” “The Potter boy.”

There was a rustling among the portraits as fear began battling with confidence, and sorrow was challenged by hope.

“The Professor’s have retreated.”

“They haven’t retreated; they’re taking up positions about the castle!”

“Ohhh, our doom is at hand.”

“You heard what Dumbledore said. The end is near and it’s not ours; it’s Voldemort’s!”

Then there was a loud, commanding voice that called from the left, “Harry!”
He turned to find Sir Cadogan in a nearby portrait of fruit. He was dressed in sterling armour, a lance, with a skewered pear at its tip, in his right hand. “My boy, are you here to defend the castle? My informants tell me that the enemy has breached the gate. Glory is at hand! Where’s your armour boy?”

“Erm… Sir Cadogan… er… I’ve been sent by the Headmaster to deliver a top secret message. I have to leave for a bit, but…” Harry moved closer to the portrait and lowered his voice. “I need your help.”

“Anything… anything at all!”

“We can’t have people huddled in the corners of their pictures, hiding. All eyes must be open wide and all information must be passed to the Headmaster. This is not a time for fear, sir; it’s a time to show the true colours of Hogwarts!”

“Well, said!” cried Sir Cadogan. “I’ll muster our troops immediately!” And at once he started racing from one portrait to the other, gathering the residents and telling all to remain vigilant in this their hour of need.

Harry smiled as he continued to the Headmaster’s office, sensing the panic being pushed back and wondering if, out of the corner of his eye, he didn’t see the suits of armour stand that much more erect, holding out their chests and gripping their weapons that much more tightly.

He arrived at the circular staircase in surprisingly good spirits and was about to say the password when the whispering began again. “Your love, Harry.” It was like a fly buzzing in his ear and he tried to swat it away. “Tonight, she dies.”
“Stop it!” he cried to the empty air. “Leave me alone!” He muttered the password, flea-collar, and began the ride upward even as his spirit began to sink. He was about to step off when a ghost rose up out of the floor. Hoping it was Peeves, he pulled his wand, but instead saw it was Sir Nicholas wearing an expression of fatherly concern.

“Hello, Harry,” he said solemnly. “Terrible night, eh?”

Harry nodded, tried to muster a smile and said, “It’s good to see you, again.”

“Ever the brave one, aren’t you, Harry?” said Sir Nicholas proudly. “Gryffindor through and through.”

Together they stepped to the Headmaster’s door. “I’ve never really been brave,” said Sir Nicholas pensively. “I was a blubbering cry-baby when they chopped my head off.”

“Nearly, chopped your head off,” corrected Harry.

“Yes. Nearly,” answered Sir Nicholas, rolling his eyes. “I didn’t stop crying until the twentieth chop and I probably would have continued if my windpipe had remained connected.” He sighed. “I never understood why Headmaster Fortescue allowed me to be resident ghost of Gryffindor. For hundreds of years I’ve haunted these halls, wondering why Gryffindor. Tonight I finally understand. It’s because of you, Harry.”

“Me?” asked Harry. “Why me?”

“I’ve spoken with Helena. The path to the other side is at hand and you will be our guide. Some are confused… others are frightful, doubting your true intentions with their souls.”

“Intentions? What—”

“But I know you,” interrupted Sir Nicholas. “I’ve known you for seven years, but more importantly I was there when you first crossed over.” He placed his hand upon Harry’s shoulder. “I watched, tonight, as you brought back Hermione.” Harry could feel the weight and the pressure of Nicholas’ fingers gently squeezing. “It’ll be up to me to lead the others who wouldn’t otherwise take the journey. For the first time I see my true destiny.”

Harry was about to say something when the whispering began again. “Hurry, Harry. Hurry.”
“Hmmph,” grumbled Sir Nicholas as he narrowed his eyes.

“Did you hear that?” asked Harry eagerly. Sir Nicholas scowled.

“Shoo!” he said waiving his hand in the air as if he were coaxing a dog off the front porch. “Go on! Get out of here!” He waved a few more times and then seemingly satisfied wiped his hands on the front of his clothes. “Ghastly things.”

“What… what are they? What did you see?”

“Reapers, Harry.” Sir Nicholas clucked his tongue. “They should know better, talking to the living.”

“Reapers?”

“Harvesters of souls, Harry, and the ghosts wandering the forest are proof enough that they don’t do a very good job!” He raised his voice at the end, as if hoping there might be a reaper or two within earshot. “That one…” Nicholas pointed somewhere behind Harry’s left ear. “That one was supposed to collect you after your run in with Greg Goyle’s broom, only he was flirting with a ghost in Hogsmeade, as if he could ever…” Sir Nicholas crossed his arms and Harry sensed a bit of jealousy. “They’re supposed to watch silently until the moment arrives, but are all too often distracted. If you fail enough times, you get assigned to cat patrol.

“You’re the first botched job that I can recall that’s come back still alive. Tonight makes two. There was reaper waiting for Hermione. If they botch a job and let one slip through their fingers, they tend to hang around… try again. Usually, they follow the spirits of the dead who haven’t chosen to be ghosts. If a soul doesn’t outright turn down an offer to cross over, they always have another opportunity, so reapers try to convince them to get their soul count up. Young spirits are usually the easiest to persuade. You see, if no one tells you you’re dead when you die, sometimes you just keep on going and, when a reaper comes later, you just don’t believe them. Professor Bins’ reaper was assigned to cat patrol in London a century ago.”

“What are young spirits?” asked Harry.

“Young spirits, newly dead. They often have difficulty revealing themselves.” Sir Nicholas looked down and to the side of Harry as if gazing at another student. “Like your friend here. If he’s been following you about, that might explain things. I always liked you, Patrick, but you really must leave Harry alone. The reapers are annoying and he has things to—”

“Patrick!” exclaimed Harry. “Patrick’s here?” A subtle tug on Harry’s arm from an invisible force answered his question. “Are you okay?” Harry asked, holding out his hand to the empty air.

“Of course he’s not okay,” chided Sir Nicholas. “He’s dead and, I might add, he’s made a terrible choice to ignore the reapers.” Nicholas turned to the invisible Patrick. “You need to listen to their offer, boy! If you had any sense at all, you would— No need to get angry!”

The floor began to tremble and, for a moment, Patrick appeared at Harry’s side. He was a shadow of his former self, constructed of nothing more than a faint cloud of white mist. The expression on his face, however, was one of pure exacerbation. He grabbed Harry by the front of his jacket.

“Ron!” he yelled, but it came out in a whisper. “You need Ron. Hurry!”

All at once, Patrick faded and the pressure on the front of Harry’s jacket released. Harry called his name, but there was no answer.

“A bit too much for him, I’m afraid,” said Sir Nicholas. “He’ll need to gather his energy before he can do that again. If you’re smart, Patrick, you’ll muster with the rest of the ghosts when the time comes and leave Harry here alone.”

Harry wasn’t listening. His mind was swirling. Before Patrick had died, one of the last things he said to Ron was that he could defeat Voldemort. But how? Where to start? He didn’t have a clue where Ron might be. And what of Jamie and Cho? Gabriella, at least, was safe in the caverns below. But then Harry’s stomach began to twist into a knot, recalling the reapers words. Perhaps she wasn’t so safe after all.

“Terntalag,” he muttered to himself. “I’ve got to get to Terntalag.” He turned and opened the door to the Headmaster’s office only half acknowledging Sir Nicholas with a distracted wave of the hand and saying, “Thank you, Patrick,” to the ether. No sooner had he closed the door than his arm began to burn. He put his left hand over the sensation, knowing what it was, but unwilling to look.

“That took you awhile.”

Sirius was standing at a table with the same magical instrument Dumbledore had used to track his friends and foes. Stars of multi-coloured lights swam about in a great sphere.

“I got distracted,” answered Harry, quickly moving toward the window. There was a broom leaning there and the window was open. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“There’s a lot to be done.” Sirius shrugged and then pointed at Harry’s arm. “Are you injured?” he asked.

“It’s nothing,” said Harry, but the sensation was getting worse. He tried to rub it, hoping it would stop, but the burning only intensified.

“They’re calling you, aren’t they?” Sirius said knowingly. “Your friends… the dragons.”

“Friends? They nearly killed Neville,” spat Harry. “They can rot for all I care.”

“And yet they call.”

“It doesn’t make sense. Singehorn can’t really think I would join them in the fight against the castle.”

“He already challenged you to join them,” said Sirius, still examining the sphere. “You should answer it. Let him know your answer.”

“He knows my answer. Besides, it may be a trap to keep me held in the other plane.”

“I doubt it. Time has no meaning there, Harry. They can’t hold you forever.”

Harry recalled Singehorn’s sudden surprise when he was attacked while still in the other plane, saying that the sands of time don’t stay perfectly still. He pulled his sleeve back and looked at his right forearm. The dragon was writhing wildly on his arm and the Viswa Vajra was pulsating. If Harry understood correctly, the dragons were in battle against evil and needed his help. Well, what they believed was evil anyway.

“I won’t help you destroy the Wizarding world,” he muttered to his wrist as if Singehorn was somehow listening on the other side. The dragon on his arm seemed to look up at him and smile in response. Harry yanked his sleeve down and reached for the broom.

“Is Blaise, okay?” he asked.

“He’s walking about, watching the wireless with the others. Whatever Neville gave him has him back on his feet again.”

Satisfied that he had fulfilled Draco’s request Harry nodded and, before he left, he looked back at his godfather to ask one last question, a question he already knew the answer to.

“Sirius, Gabriella is supposed to be in the caverns below the castle too. Is she?”

“No Harry. She’s somewhere in the Forbidden Forest.”

“Do you know where?”

“No. The gathering of so many ghosts makes it difficult to see, but for now at least she’s fine.”

“Damn it! I told her…” Harry sighed with resignation. “What about—”

“From what I can see, all the others are fine, and they’re all in the forest, which is where they’re supposed to be. Still, their centres are not quite right. Something tells me that they’re not exactly where they’re supposed to be.”

“I understand,” Harry said with a nod.

“This too. There’s a darkness moving in from the north. It might be Voldemort; it might be something else. Whatever you had hoped the dragons would protect is no longer secure.”

“Terntalag?”

“I’d start there, Harry, but it might be the falls. There are wizards heading to both, but Terntalag is the most vulnerable. First, see if Firenze needs help, then try the falls. In about two hours we should know how the night will end.”

“What do you mean? What happens in two hours?”

“Just be at the falls by then, Harry. I’ll see you there.”

“How—”

“Play it smart, Harry. I’ll see you there.”

Harry was about to press the question, when his arm bit at him again, sending a sharp pain all the way up to his shoulder. His mind turned to the dragons of the northern mountains and then to Terntalag. The urge to fly there was overwhelming. When he looked up, Sirius was gone. Harry climbed onto the broom, took one last look at the office he’d come to love, and flew out the window.

He slipped past the south tower and noticed witches and wizards taking up positions at all the open windows and along the ramparts. Out behind the Quidditch pitch, four giants sat with trees in their hands. Hagrid was talking to one, his arms swung out wide to emphasize whatever point he was making. As Harry swooped around Gryffindor, he looked south. There, marching up from the front gate, was an enormous host. Half a dozen giants led the way with a swarm of Dementors swirling about them. There were a number of Death Eaters dressed in black, marching behind the giants and in the air, yet further back, vampires hovered. Flashes of light filled the night sky as the protections about the castle came to life. One giant was blasted off his feet. Landing backward, he crushed a number of wizards on the ground. Harry pumped his fist, admiring his godfather’s handiwork.

Knowing in his heart that there were none near, Harry still scanned the sky for dragons. Finding only the moon and the comet Ebyrth plummeting toward Mars, he had a strong desire to stay and fight. He wanted deeply to protect Hogwarts his home, but again his arm burned and, almost reflexively, he tilted the nose of the broom, arcing in the sky and heading towards Terntalag. He had a duty to help the Centaurs if he could and his arm was urging him forward. He was refusing to answer the call of the dragon, but knew he was being pulled uncontrollably toward them.

It was exhilarating to be flying again. Harry skimmed close to the forest canopy and could sense the strengthening of the forest’s energy as he drew closer to the source of its power – the falls. It was a healing sensation, strengthening him from within and vanquishing whatever depletion he suffered from healing Hermione. As he flew he cast his patronus randomly about the forest, calling for his friends and hoping they might respond. It wasn’t long before he saw, in the distance, the glint of scales in the moonlight and the flashing of flames above the treetops. Terntalag was on fire; he was too late. Without thinking, Harry tucked and accelerated. In a matter of seconds he found himself in the midst of a dozen dragons; most were Chinese Fireballs. None were faces he recognized, but with the ring he could hear their laughter.

“What are you doing!” he cried out. “Stop!”

“Ahh, look,” growled a greenish Fireball, “The Hungarian lapdog!” The dragon was battle weary, Harry could sense that. Fresh gashes dripped blood from its long neck. They were not the marks made by Wizarding spells.

“Arrows?” he thought to himself.

The dragon stopped its dive on the village below and turned in a large arc toward Harry. Its fellow dragons moved higher into the air as if they were taking seats for a Quidditch match. Harry looked down, searching with his mind for life within the fire, but the flames were too bright.

“Primate,” hissed the dragon as smoke billowed from his nose. He was about to strike. “I’ll show Singehorn what I think of his Votary.”

Harry wasn’t sure that it would work, but something inside told him that it might. For an instant, he thought it too cruel, but hearing the name Singehorn infused Harry with a greater aggression and with the dragon ready to erupt the moment of compassion passed. Harry held out his hand bearing the ring of Pravus in something of a fist, the black stone facing the dragon, and cried, “Stop!” centring his mind on that of the beast before him.

The great head of the beast seemed to stop in mid-air as it cried out in pain unable to resist. With a loud crack, its body swung forward below its neck, sending it into a great cartwheel through the sky until it began to plummet to the earth. When the dragon struck the ground it erupted in a great fireball, razing the nearby trees.

“That went better than I had hoped,” muttered Harry to himself. Suddenly the dragons that had been watching shook the stun of defeat from their minds and attacked in unison. Flame rained down upon him, but it was not concentrated and had no effect. Swinging his broom out from under the onslaught, he again used the ring. He picked the two closest dragons and commanded, “Protect!”

It was as if he was using the Imperious Curse, only now he meant it and he didn’t care what others thought. Harry smiled, feeling the pain and turmoil of the beasts as they unwillingly turned on their own. They threw themselves into the paths of the others, breathing fire and slashing with their claws. Two of their friends were gutted in mid-air, completely unprepared for the attack. The others realized what was happening and killed the two under Harry’s control, but not before one lost a hand to his ally.

“He has the ring,” growled the dragon as he cauterized his bloody stump with his breath. “Swirl!” he called. “Quickly! Dragon’s breath!”

Harry thought they might retreat, but instead they started spinning about the sky, faster and faster. It was a giant tornado of flame, hovering above the treetops. He couldn’t see where they were in the giant fireball and, if they all exploded forth at once, he’d have no chance of simultaneously focusing on their thoughts. For a second, his courage faltered. He was alone, his village in ruins, and a flight of dragons was about to destroy him. It was suicide. But then, the burning in his arm began to radiate strength to his shoulder. It was not pain he now felt, but a warmth that spread across his chest and then throughout his body. “Singehorn would not back down,” thought Harry. He pulled his wand and began to fly toward the fireball.

The air filled with the faint aroma of cigar smoke. A vampire appeared on Harry’s right side, his fangs glistening in the moonlight. Harry could hear his thoughts.

“Perhaps this is what Soseh meant when she said I should be by your side.”

“Dakhil?” asked Harry, wondering where he’d come from and whose side, exactly he was on. “What do you want?”

“The question, Primate, is what do you want?”

Harry didn’t have time to argue. “What are they doing?” he called, the two flying straight toward the fire-red tornado. As they grew near, the wind became stronger.

“It is a dragonstorm, Harry. They used it on the Centaur village below earlier tonight. Invented in the east by our friends here, it is an incendiary nightmare, but it cannot harm you – I think. Fly toward the tip of the funnel. That will be the point from which the fire erupts. When they break formation, they’ll move outward from the fireball, not down. We’ll be underneath. Aim for their bellies; we’ll only get one shot.”

“Oh sure,” muttered Harry to himself. “Fly into the heart of an incendiary nightmare and, maybe, I’ll survive.” Twisting his hand tightly about his broom, Harry nodded and moved his broom toward the centre of the funnel. Dakhil, flying with extremely powerful wings and holding his own in the ever increasing wind, was at his side. “Not so bad for such an old man,” thought Harry.

They were about fifty yards away from the bottom of the funnel, which was now glowing white, when a dark cloud passed in front of Ebyrth – more dragons. There were four, five, maybe more. “Dakhil!” Harry pointed.

“Damn it!” cursed Dakhil in anger and without a hint of fear.

Harry was impressed at the old man’s bravery. Their situation had been tenuous at best, but with more dragons coming to fight, it was hopeless. There was no way Harry could control enough with his mind before the others took him down, no matter the tricks Dakhil had up his sleeve. Still, the vampire seemed to smile, not focussing on the new attackers, but on their original prey.

“Prepare yourself, boy,” he yelled over the roar of the dragons, which explained the deafening wind. “You’ve never been through this sort of fire. Pray you never will again.” Dakhil held out his wand and tapped Harry’s broom, bathing it in a blue glow – a protection charm.

In that instant, all hell exploded and the entire sky lit up in a blinding white flash. Harry was forced to shield his eyes, but he knew that when he opened them it would take too long to recover his sight, so he reached out his mind, searching for the dragons through the power of their flame. Even then, there was too much energy to see through. He would have to wait, but that presented yet another problem. The heat was growing more intense with each passing moment. At first he sensed a burning sensation, nothing more than placing one’s hand over a flame. But that quickly increased to pain as if he was stepping barefoot on hot coals, before he had learned how to allow the heat to pass around him.

This was different. The heat came from everywhere. There was so much energy that he could not detect Dakhil who he knew was at his side. The pain grew more intense, which was acceptable as long as he remained focused on protecting his body from physical harm. He could hear the perspiration sizzle off his forehead and the first sense of doubt crept into his mind. What if it was a trap? What if Dakhil had been baiting him all along? He was feeling the need to cast a shield charm, which was the absolute wrong thing to do. A shield charm would be worthless; his wand would be vaporized. Unfortunately, the thought of such a charm broke his concentration. He could smell smoke – something was burning and it wasn’t his broom.

“Use the stone.”
It wasn’t a voice; it was a thought. No. It was a voice, the voice of the kindest dragon Harry had met – Tanwen. There were few on earth, man or beast, that Harry had greater respect for.

“Use the stone,” she repeated and at once Harry knew what she meant. Instead of letting the energy flow around him, he needed to let it flow into him, into the vivificus stone laying along side his liver. If he was wrong, however, his insides would be vaporized. He swallowed hard. It was time to stop doubting. He exhaled and let the fire pass into him. The Heart of Asha was thirsty for energy and it pulled the fire of the dragonstorm into it greedily, remaining cool to the touch. The pain Harry had felt was quenched, the heat vanished and at once his mind could see the targets in front of him and Dakhil, still flying at his side.

Without hesitation, he let fly three stunners and each struck true to the underbellies of the dragons he aimed for. The first spell was so amplified that it shot straight through the unsuspecting dragon and erupted out its back. He fell out of the sky like a rock while the other two were sent into unconscious spins toward the ground. Likewise, Dakhil cast two spells that dropped his dragons from the sky. There was a roar of approval from Tanwen, who was closing in. The new dragons, sensed Harry, were Hungarians and, instead of attacking him and Dakhil, they attacked their remaining dragon foes.

Harry opened his eyes and adjusted to the dim light. The moon shimmered off of Tanwen, who was not in the battle directly, but flying down to the ground as the Chinese Fireballs fell, dispatching them before they could regain flight. He could tell she was hurt by the way she flew.

“Your injured,” he called to her with his mind.

“I’m fine,” she growled. “Finish your job before… too late.”

There was a great roar high in the sky above them. For a moment, the moon vanished casting the earth below into darkness, yet before that Harry knew who it was – Singehorn. When the great dragon arrived there was only one Chinese Fireball still fighting. When it heard the roar, it arced in the sky and began to fly south. Singehorn, with only one good wing and a bad arm, chased the Fireball down and bit through his neck with a loud crunch. He shook the dead creature wildly and then flung downward, roaring viciously once more.

Singehorn then turned toward Harry and flapped his one good wing.

“To the ground,” called Dakhil with a sharp sense of urgency in his voice. “Make him follow us to land.” Harry obliged, not sure if Dakhil was warning him that an attack was imminent or not.

The two landed, followed by the Hungarians, just outside the burning ruins of Terntalag. Harry was anxious to search for survivors, but the six wounded dragons towering over him suggested that he remain where he was for now, focusing all his attention on their needs. They all waited as Singehorn circled, wondering if he would land, if he could land at all. But, at last, he descended, destroying a Quidditch pitch of trees in the process and shaking the ground. Tanwen went to his side and put her wing around him. It looked as if she was guiding him over and Harry didn’t understand why until they came closer. She was speaking to him in a way that Harry could not hear. Singehorn nodded at her words as he lumbered forward, dragging his right wing and bearing little weight on his right leg. He was severely injured.

As the two approached, Harry looked more closely at the others. Each one of them had been slashed and scorched in some way. Some had boils, or blisters that suggested the work of wandfire. Even Dakhil was missing a portion of his left ear and had a faint red line that came down across his neck – a gash that had already begun to heal.

He whispered in Harry’s ear, “Choose your next words wisely, Primate… if you are afforded any to choose.” Then, Dakhil stepped away, leaving Harry to stand alone in the middle of the ring of dragons.

Tanwen spoke first. “Three days ago, Singehorn was taken captive by Ti-Lung, leader of the Dragon Lair of the East – Anagas. A friend of all dragons, he was taken against his will, chained and bound.”

Harry recalled his last meeting with Singehorn in the other plane. There, Singehorn held a large chain which he pulled behind him. Harry had thought it was a whip. Realizing the mistake, Harry looked at Singehorn.

“I was a fool. Why didn’t you tell me?” cried Harry. “Summon me? I would have—”

Singehorn smiled. “Yes. I believe you would have,” he said with a raspy voice that was far weaker than Harry was accustomed to. “You would have tried and you might have succeeded, but that was not your fate. Your services were needed more urgently elsewhere with your own kind. Still, I called Dakhil and, when you told me the Hungarians were gathering, I held hope that they were coming to my rescue and they were. As you see, it was a hard fought battle, but—”

“Let me help you,” said Harry moving to Singehorn’s aid, but the dragon raised and lowered his leg, creating a small earthquake that nearly knocked Harry off his feet.

“LISTEN!” the dragon cried. “While I was in the east, the plan to destroy the Wizarding world was created.”

“Then it’s true,” whispered Harry. “There was a —”

“We argued,” continued Singehorn, ignoring Harry’s ramblings, “about how to take advantage of this war of yours and turn it in our favour. I tried to persuade Ti-Lung and the others of a less violent way, but centuries of mistrust and mistreatment are not easily swept away. A great number of dragons came to see the situation as did Ti-Lung. But others agreed with me – the Romanian Longhorns and the Ukrainian Ironbellies. I believe that Soseh may have had a hand in uniting the dragons of the mountains. Unfortunately, our count was too few and the plan of Ti-Lung was chosen.”

“But—”

“Duty bound, I swore allegiance. Though I knew another way, a better way to end the dominion of wizards over dragons, I followed the will of my kind.”

“The will of some of our kind,” interjected a spectacularly green Hungarian that stood taller than the rest and was covered in more blood. Harry had never met him before, but, even injured, the dragon was formidable.

“True enough, Drahmir,” agreed Singehorn. “True enough. I ignored the great strength and kindness of the Votary. I was so blinded by my hatred of all the ills done to dragons at the hands of wizards, that I was easily swayed. We all were. It was not until coming to Britain and speaking with Callum, a Hebridean Black, that my eyes were opened. Years ago, I had met Dumbledore; the stories of his ways are legend, but it was the Hebridean that convinced me of their truth. And then, flying over these lands, I saw them with my own eyes. That he would reach out to the Centaur and other living creatures of the forest. That he would show such kindness on Hagrid who is known well by the dragons… Callum then pointed to your works, Harry, inspired, he said, by the hand of Dumbledore.” Harry nodded in agreement. “No, I could not murder on this ground. The way to winning this war is to win the hearts of wizards, not to destroy them; to expand the Votary, not deny it. We will win by turning more minds, not by severing more lives.

“When I protested, declaring that, with the addition of the Hebridean Lair, the number in favour of my position was greater, Ti-Lung took me captive so that it would appear I remained his ally. There was no honour on that day and that arrogant action has cost many lives. Still, I have returned and with your help we shall turn the tide in our favour. But it has come at a cost; the northern border has been breached. The darkness flows through unabated. The dragons are in disarray and it will take some time before I can restore order.”

“Restore order!” growled Tanwen. “My lord, you can barely fly. You need to be healed. And then, you must rest.”

“There is no time for rest, Tanwen,” the old dragon grumbled. “I must pay for letting the darkness cloud my vision.” Then he turned once more to Harry. “Forgive me, Primate. I was blind, but now I see.”

There was a glint of white that appeared briefly at Harry’s side, but quickly vanished.

“Patrick?” asked Harry to the air. “Patrick, was that you?”

The air was silent and the others looked at him as if, perhaps, he’d lost his mind. Harry tried to think what it might have been that caused Patrick, if it was him, to try to regain shape. Was it a warning? A signal? Harry searched and scoured his mind, trying to replay Singehorn’s last words over in his mind and then from somewhere, deep in the woods behind them, he heard once again the chant that the ghosts had been saying since first he heard it in Greece. And that’s when the words hung in the air

…We wait the day the dragon comes,
one blind who regains sight…

Harry’s heart skipped. The ghosts had it all wrong. It wasn’t Harry that represented the blind dragon, the one who would see them safely to the other side. It was Singehorn.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 46 – Girl’s Night Out
~~~***~~~

“My duty is here,” said Macleta calmly. “I must stay and protect my home.”

“Please don’t let this happen!” cried Gabriella. “You must take me to the falls!”

At this Macleta’s demeanour stiffened. “Must?” she queried. “You presume much, child. Such words, spoken among others of my herd, would be your last. I offer you my hospitality because you belong to the Chosen. Don’t think for an instant that your kind are welcomed here.”

Gabriella stepped back as Macleta stepped forward. Anger mixed with fear was beginning to roil up within her and she knew she was sensing something similar from the Centaur. It was rare for a Centaur to reveal such an emotion as fear, but Macleta was a rare Centaur.

Gabriella’s mother had taught her to hold on to the emotions of others and to examine them… use them to reveal the nature of the person in front of you. She couldn’t just come out and say Shahan was a murderer; he hadn’t done anything yet… she hoped. The thought that he might, however, was making her more anxious by the second. Despite her desire to argue, she chose another path… one of diplomacy.

“F-Forgive me, Macleta,” she said softly looking down. “The battle, the night… wizards do not hold their minds on the moment as well as the Centaur.”

The response seemed to satisfy Macleta and she turned, once again, her gaze to the celestial events above them.

“It’s just that,” Gabriella continued, “since I was a very little, I have had a vision.”

Squeezing her fingers tightly together that the rest of her might remain calm, Gabriella waited. It felt like an eternity… the fire crackling, the wind beginning to pick up in the trees overhead… Finally, without moving, Macleta said, “Go on.”

“It used to come to me in my sleep…”

“Of course.”

“And, more recently, the vision has grown stronger, coming to me while I’m still awake. A smell… a sight… anything can trigger it. I think that’s because what I once dreamt as a child is about to come true.”

“Reasonable.”

“It’s a vision of me in white robes… dead… an… an arrow in my back… a Centaur arrow.”

Macleta dropped her upward gaze, but did not look at Gabriella. “It would be wise not to wear white,” she said, “though the robes may carry other meanings.” The words were not so much dismissive as reflective. Macleta was trying hard not to reveal what she was thinking. Gabriella could tell by the way the Centaur suddenly began fiddling with her fingers. “As for death… it hangs heavy in the air for us all.”

“True,” Gabriella agreed. “But recently I’ve been wondering, looking at the vision from a different perspective. What if… what if the person in my dream wasn’t me? What if it was someone else with long, black hair wearing white robes, a tw—”

“—twin,” Macleta completed the sentence.

“What if the Centaur was the angriest Centaur in the forest? A Centaur who hated wizards and all they stood for? A Centaur who would do anything to bring down the Chosen and all he loved?”

“Shahan,” whispered the Centaur.

“Macleta, I believe,” said Gabriella, “that I had interpreted my vision incorrectly. I think now that the arrow is not meant for me, but for Cho. Perhaps the arrow is meant for her child and strikes her instead.”

“A Centaur does not miss,” said Macleta softly.

“Perhaps… unless you were still in training and unable to control your anger, letting emotions cloud your vision and muddle your thoughts. It’s the very thing the Dark Lord searches for to join his legions.” Gabriella stepped closer to the fire. It suddenly seemed quite cold. “This Centaur… I’ve seen his dark coat, Macleta.” She stopped unwilling to say his name, but she didn’t need to; Macleta knew.

“Not even Shahan knows where the two are in hiding. If she stays in place, she’ll be fine.”

“I only know what I’ve seen,” said Gabriella. “Even you have said that visions can be flawed.” Gabriella bent low to the fire, picked up a branch that was half-burnt and set it in the middle of the glowing embers. “You said that Terntalag will fall tonight, so I understand why you don’t want to leave. But the battle for us all is not here, it’s with Jamie, the Chosen’s child. I know this as I know the sun will rise in the morning. If the Dark Lord captures him, more than Terntalag will fall. We mustn’t let the stars determine our fate, let them instead reflect our choice to make a difference. Please help me; I need you.”

Without speaking, Macleta drew an arrow and fired it into the trees. After a moment, there was a loud thunk – it had struck its target.

“I will not leave Terntalag unprotected,” she said, her eyes focused forward on the dimly lit trees.

“But—”

“Nor will I let the darkness converge on our forest unabated.”

A Centaur moved forward out of the trees. “Yes, my lady,” he said holding his fist over his chest with a subtle bow. Macleta just looked at him intently for a moment. Gabriella wanted to scream to hurry, but then she noticed the younger Centaur nod. They were communicating telepathically. Another moment passed and then, without speaking, he suddenly turned and shot four, maybe five arrows so quickly Gabriella couldn’t see his hands. There was silence and then the trees seemed to groan. Macleta nodded as if she understood their meaning.

“The northern border has been breached,” she said. “Ronan knows this and his herd is moving to intercept, but they are being thwarted by dragonfire.”

“Dragonfire?” asked Gabriella.

“Their path, my lady,” said the young Centaur. “It will bring them dangerously close to our village.”

Macleta nodded. “Magorian has made the choice. We must first defeat the darkness.”

Gabriella sighed with relief. But Macleta was not finished.

“The dragons harassing the herd are not our only threat. To the south is a large gathering of wizards and other creatures. They too are moving toward Terntalag. Ronan and his troop will have come and gone when the next wave arrives. If the dragons don’t raze Terntalag, these wizards might. Hagrid has sent word that it is your army in retreat, but many of my kind believe it to be an invasion.”

“They’ll help,” implored Gabriella. “I’m sure they’ll help.”

Macleta pawed the ground restlessly. She was having trouble choosing the path ahead. The sacrifice would be great. Once more she turned to the stars for answers. Finally, she said to the young Centaur, “Gronyn, find Firenze. He knows these wizards better than even Magorian… perhaps too well. Nonetheless, we will defer to his judgement in this matter. Warn him of the dragonfire and ask he proceed with haste.”

Gronyn nodded one last time and disappeared. There was but a gust of wind that rustled the leaves where he once stood. Macleta stepped past the fire and looked down the main street of the village. “From the east,” she said, “Felspar sends word that she carries two of your kind to the falls even as we speak. The three were attacked by vampires. None are injured, but they insist that the falls must be defended.”

“Harry?” asked Gabriella anxiously. “Is he okay?”

“No child, not the Chosen. He has taken refuge at the castle.”

“Refuge?” asked Gabriella in disbelief. “Then who… Macleta, none of this makes sense. Which friends?”

“Hold my hand, child and we will find out.”

Gabriella reached up and took Macleta by the hand. In a flash she was lifted bodily upward and then the world stood still. The flames of the fire hung frozen – suspended in mid air; the breeze stopped and leaves of the trees grew still. In the next second, everything was a blur. Trees and bushes flashed by. Creatures, illuminated by the moon’s light, looked like powdered statues. A minute passed and they were flanked by two white male Centaurs, perhaps the largest Gabriella had ever seen. Their chests were massive and their arms as big as tree trunks. Each carried a spear and they ran with a grace that was unsurpassed. She couldn’t help but think that one, who had hair as white as his coat that ran down and over his shoulders, gave Macleta a sly smile.

Gabriella tried to ask if female Centaurs took more than one mate, but when she tried to speak the words would not leave her mouth. Then, as quickly as they had arrived, the white Centaurs left, pealing off and disappearing into the forest, heading back the way they came.

“The attack on Terntalag has begun,” she heard Macleta say, but they weren’t words. They were thoughts. Still they moved forward, the air growing noticeably moister.

It was then that the onrush of memories struck her. The scent of wet loam filled the air. They were close. As if sensing Gabriella’s reaction, Macleta slowed down. The wind began to blow again and, in the distance, the sound of a roaring river could be heard – the falls. Macleta lowered Gabriella to the ground and she began to run at once, but Macleta held her back.

“From here we must proceed with caution,” the Centaur said.

“I’m not afraid,” declared Gabriella.

“You say your vision was of your death. I would not dismiss lightly that that possibility still exists. Visions of our own death always portend some danger, twin or no twin. We are at the top of the falls and there is no fence to keep you from falling over the edge to your death and the edge never likes to stay in one place for long. So, unless you can fly, I suggest that you proceed with caution.” Gabriella nodded in agreement.

They moved slowly toward the rushing water, following a path of sorts, worn only by a handful of the forest’s creatures. Its tortuous path swung wildly in one direction and then another, sometimes backtracking, but steadily moving toward the falls. As the proceeded, Gabriella noticed the ghosts. There weren’t any. And the more she thought about it, the more she realized that those they saw along the way were heading in the direction from which they’d just come. Something was drawing them toward Terntalag, but what?

“Near the top of the falls,” Macleta whispered, “is an outcropping of rocks. There we will find your twin hidden. There is a secret—” She stopped, her keen eyes focused on something directly ahead. The bracken blocked Gabriella’s view.

“What is it?” she asked Macleta. “What do you see?”

“The witches of your kind are very perplexing,” Macleta sighed. “She and her child sit… exposed on a rock near the river.”

Gabriella began to run, but Macleta grabbed her by the arm. “Wait, child,” she whispered. “The other of my kin told me that there are wizards nearby, moving in from the north.”

“Then we must hurry. We can’t wait! It’s… it’s all my fault.” She ran calling Cho’s name, but Macleta held back and reached for her bow. As Gabriella approached, she could clearly see by the light of the comet and moon above the pair still seated on a low rock near the river’s edge. Jamie was cradled in Cho’s arms, a shock of unruly black hair setting stark contrast to the brilliantly white robes Cho was wearing. So white, in fact, they seemed to glow – iridescent in the moon’s light. You wouldn’t need to be a Centaur to see her marching about the forest. The closer she got, the more familiar everything became and fear began to rise up in Gabriella’s throat. It was Cho, however, who was first startled.

Hearing the rustling approach her, Cho brandished her wand, but before she bellowed out a warning, she realized who was approaching and sat back upon the rock, holding Jamie in her arms. There was no joy in meeting her friend. Instead Cho crumpled upon the stone, he shoulders hunched over in resignation. She was crying; streaks of wet glistened down her cheeks. Dropping down on one knee, Gabriella placed her hand on Cho’s arm.

“You can’t be out like this,” she said softly. “It’s too dangerous.” Gabriella’s eyes cast about searching for any sign of black, but with the light of the moon and Ebyrth overhead, the whole forest was awash in various shadows, most of them threatening. The roar of the falls made it impossible to hear any threat approach.

“I have to do this,” muttered Cho incoherently. “I have to, but I can’t.”

“Cho, what is it? What’s wrong?”

“I love him so much.” She began to sob again, pulling Jamie close. The young boy was awake, his dark eyes enthralled with the running water, flashing sparkles of the celestial lights above.

“M-mai!” he babbled, pointing at the water.

Cho began to shake, holding him out in front of her. “The water… it cleansed Harry. Voldemort doesn’t want him anymore. Why wouldn’t it cleanse Jamie? Then he wouldn’t take my boy.” She stood and stepped toward the water’s edge.

“Cho….” Gabriella cautioned. Her friend stopped.

“Just a dip,” she said, looking back over her shoulder. “I’ll hold on to him.”

“Cho, when Ron touched the water’s surface, it pulled him in. You can’t trust it! It might kill you both.”

“Not Jamie,” Cho argued, her eyes blank. She’d been thinking about this for days, turning the possibilities around in her mind. “He’s pure… I know he is.” But then she hesitated as the doubt rushed in. “But what if… what if he was born bad? What if the stain runs so deep it can’t be polished away without taking his life? I couldn’t bear to lose him.” She began to cry again. “Not my Jamie.”

Gabriella stepped over and put her arm around her friend, but not without thoughts that she should just rip the cloak off her at this very moment. She couldn’t risk conflict. Not so near the water. “There’s nothing bad about Jamie. Look at him!” She tickled his chin and he giggled, smiling back at them both. “He was born out of love, Cho.”

“But the spell…” begain Cho, “…your father’s spell over Harry. He didn’t know what he was—”

“Harry?” Gabriella laughed under her breath. “He knew exactly what he was doing. His emotions weren’t altered, only amplified. Cho, we were in very different places last year, you and I. He may have been interested in me, but he loved you. I know this with all my heart. He always has… and a first love never dies.”

The words made Cho shudder. Her thoughts flashed on Cedric, whose memory still haunted her. “No,” she said quietly. “No it doesn’t. It’s eternal. It’s pure.” Resolved to put Jamie in the water she moved closer and bent low.

“Cho,” said Gabriella suddenly. “You know… I’m not sure what kind of effect the magic on that cloak will have near the water. Maybe you should let me hold it for you. And let’s move further from the edge of the falls. I’ve heard the rocks here shift. We don’t want to go tumbling over.”

“I thought you said it would protect me?” asked Cho. “Why would the water not—”

“I’m just not sure it’s safe… that’s all. I don’t want anything to happen to either of you.”

To Gabriella’s relief, Cho nodded. She was stepping over to Gabriella to have her hold Jamie when a Centaur appeared from nowhere. It was about fifty yards away opposite the direction of Macleta. Gabriella’s wand was out in an instant and she cast a shield charm. Then she noticed through the glimmer of the shield that the Centaur was white with three torsos.

“What in Merlin’s name?”

Then it was clear. There were riders. Down dropped a flash of red hair in dark robes and then a young woman with bushy hair in scarlet.

“Is that Ron?” Gabriella asked incredulously. “Ron Weasley?”

“It’s Ron and Hermione,” said Cho with surprise. “What are they doing here?”

Gabriella maintained the shield, unsure what to think. In the distance she could see Felspar was cautioning Ron and Hermione, probably in the same way Macleta cautioned her.

“I think you can drop the shield,” said Cho softly as Jamie tried to touch its shiny surface. Gabriella obliged and stood. “That certainly lit up the night.”

Gabriella laughed. “Well,” she said, “if we were hidden before, we aren’t now. The only thing brighter is that cloak of yours. Maybe you should fold it away for now.”

“I think—”

There was a tremendous roar overhead. A number of dragons, Hungarian Horntails, were moving southward. Gabriella tried to reach out to them, but all she could sense was anger and despair. “They want blood,” she whispered in disbelief. Last in the line was the largest of them all. Her heart fell when she saw it was Singehorn, silhouetted against the moon’s light. He appeared to be struggling to stay aloft, but he too, perhaps more than the others, was filled with rage. “Macleta was right,” she said with a sigh. Still, her heart held on to hope that somehow they were mistaken. When she looked down she was surprised to find Ron and Hermione only a few yards away, while Felspar had disappeared.

“They’re following the Fireballs,” said Ron pointing to the southern sky. Felspar says they’re going to attack Terntalag. They’ve already started on Hogwarts.”

“That’s a lie!” snapped Gabriella.

“A lie?” snapped back Ron. “We were there! A dragon almost barbequed Hermione!”
Hermione grimly nodded in agreement. There was no joy in being right on this account.

“It’s not possible,” said Gabriella quietly.

“Well, at least you made it here safely,” said Ron, searching for the other witches and wizards who were retreating toward the falls. “Where are the other—” He stopped when he heard Hermione squeal. They both suddenly realized that the other witch was Cho Chang and in her arms was a baby. Well, not so much a baby anymore. Hermione began to swoon immediately.

“Cho!” she cried with a grand smile. “And this… this is… Jamie?”

“Hermione,” answered Cho with a soft smile. “Why am I not surprised? It’s good to see you and Ron… I had heard… well, I’m glad you still have each other.”

“Thank you,” said Hermione, looking back at Ron who seemed to have started a minor quarrel with Gabriella. “It’s been hard. I’m sorry we weren’t there to meet you and Tonks in Hogsmeade. I heard it was awful. Draco… a vampire…” She shook her head in disgust.

“You have nothing to apologize for. In Merlin’s name, Professor Dumbledore, murdered. I only hope I can be as noble as you, when the time comes.”

“I don’t know how noble I was,” whispered Hermione, her skin starting to itch at the thought of what had happened. “Dumbledore’s death… it changed things. Ron and I… we’re just only now setting things right again. He’s a good— What?”

Cho looked up at Hermione with a sparkle in her eyes and a wry smile upon her face. Even little Jamie was smiling brightly. Cho glanced over at Ron and then winked knowingly at Hermione who distractedly began straightening her robes. “Harry said you were engaged. Where’s your ring?”

Hermione waved her right hand over her left and there upon her finger appeared the engagement ring Ron had given her. “It’s never left my finger,” she said.

“Beautiful,” exclaimed Cho. “Absolutely beautiful. Why hide it?”

Again Hermione looked back at Ron and Gabriella. This time they were looking back right at her. She swallowed and then smiled at Ron as she answered Cho’s question. “It’s just a shield to keep it from being snagged on the bracken. Now that we’re out of the darkness… I can show it off.”

“We’re not out of the darkness yet,” said Gabriella grimly. “And it’s not just Voldemort we need to worry about. He has spies all through the forest and, Cho, you’re their number one target and wearing white only advertises that fact. We have to get that cloak off you and find cover.”

“I can’t hide,” said Cho. “Not before I take care of Jamie.” She lifted him into her arms and stood.

“What is it?” Hermione asked.

“She wants to put him in the water.”

“The water!” cried Ron. “Are you barmy?”

“No,” said Hermione. “That glow… over there. See?” She pointed her finger over the falls and past the lake beneath to the south. All of them, even Cho with Jamie in her arms, turned to see. It didn’t take long to realize there was a contingent of over three hundred wizards marching toward them. In their number was a handful of giants and leading them through the forest were about twenty Centaurs. They were a good three miles away down the mountain and moving toward the lake.

“You got to be kidding me,” breathed Ron. “I knew they’d be close, but I didn’t think they were going to go for a swim. If they get near the lake… Bloody hell.”

“Sirius sent them this way,” said Hermione. “He thought the water could protect them if the dragons attacked.” Gabriella’s jaw clenched and she grabbed Hermione by the shoulder.

“Listen to me. The dragons won’t—”

The forest swirled about them. They were standing in the same place, only everything was somehow different. The night was not so bright and the energy that had been swirling about them only a moment ago had vanished. There was a splash and they both turned to see Harry stepping out of the water, holding a child in his arms – Jamie? He and the child were naked and Harry’s expression was one of intense pain. The scene changed. The energy had returned. Hermione stood motionless. Gabriella still held her shoulder, but then suddenly dropped her hand to her side, fear filling her eyes. Ron and Cho, unaware of the mental connection that had just taken place, were still looking at the approaching army below.

“It’s here,” gasped Hermione. “Isn’t it? This is the spot. This is the vision.” She looked around and tried to take in a deep breath, recalling the sights and scents she had seen earlier in the year when both she and Harry had a glimpse of Gabriella’s vision. Gabriella’s eyes were terrified.

“We need to get the cloak off of her,” she whispered. “We don’t have much time!”

Hermione looked at Cho and back at Gabriella, trying to understand and then it became clear. From the back, Cho and Gabriella were the same height. They had the same build and the same black hair that swirled down to the same spot on their back. From behind, they could be twins.

Hermione gasped. “Cho? Cho!” she called. “Come away from the edge. Felspar said something about a stronghold. Is it nearby?”

“We can’t go underground!” argued Ron. “Someone’s got to go down there and tell them to keep away from the water’s edge. Some wizard will go in for a drink and never come out again.”

“Ron,” said Hermione firmly, “the Centaurs won’t let that happen. This is—”

“First, I take care of Jamie,” said Cho. Once again she turned toward the river of magical water feeding the falls.

Ron moved to stop her, but he never had a chance. A blast of red light erupted from the trees behind them. A stunner knocked him to the ground; he was out. Another beam of red shot straight at Cho, but the robe deflected the spell like a mirror. She pulled Jamie in beneath the folds of the cloak and knelt low as Gabriella and Hermione pulled their wands and returned fire at the tree line.

“I can’t see anything or anyone,” whispered Gabriella as they crouched near the rocks.

“Neither can I,” said Hermione. “Cho, stay down.”

Four more spells were cast directly at Cho. Two struck true and both bounced away harmlessly.

“Is that it?” Cho cried looking at Gabriella with mistrust, not sure exactly where her wand should be pointed. “Is that why you wanted the cloak? Was it to protect yourself, or to make me more vulnerable? Who are the spies you spoke of, Gabriella?”

Gabriella’s eyes narrowed and she stood. “You don’t understand,” she spat. Pointing her wand at the unseen attackers, she cried out something in Armenian and her wand erupted in a glistening blue light. When the light hit the trees, they burst into flame. Screams could be heard from behind the wall of fire and three Death Eaters ran forward, their bodies engulfed in flames. No one came to their aid as the screams quieted and they finally fell silent, smoke billowing up from their charred bodies.

“You need to get into the stronghold, Cho,” insisted Hermione. “Where is it?”

Cho suddenly doubted who she should trust. “Where’s Harry?” she asked nervously.

“At the castle,” answered Hermione. “He’s protecting the castle.”

“No,” breathed Cho. “That’s a lie. He would never leave us alone.”

“She’s right,” Gabriella agreed with Cho. “He’s not at the castle.” She rubbed the ring on her finger. The firestones began to glow brightly. “He’s speaking with—”

More spells were cast from behind the burnt trees. All of them were stunners; none were meant to kill. Suddenly the air grew cold. Cho kept glancing nervously toward the water, trying to decide if she should make a run for it.

“Filth!” spat Gabriella. Above the trees a darkening cloud hovered toward them. Dozens of Dementors were moving closer. Ron was still unconscious on the ground and little Jamie, sensing the approaching evil, began to cry.

“Expecto Patronum!” cried Hermione. An otter pushed back at the centre of the black cloud, but was swallowed by the sheer number of Dementors. Gabriella followed in kind with similar results.

“There are too many,” exclaimed Hermione. “We have to move back.” But there was no going back. They were pinned against the falls. Their only choice would be to go over, and that was no choice at all. She began to shiver, losing her ability to think of happy thoughts. Gabriella gasped. To their left a dozen Centaurs appeared. They drew arrows and fired into the sky. The arrows whizzed upward and struck the cloud, exploding into an enormous fireball. Dementors began to scream falling lifeless from the sky.

Another volley of arrows shot up from their right followed by a similar explosion. The Dementors tried to push forward, but the volleys came faster and faster. Soon the sky was on fire, streamers of burning light falling to the ground. The cold was filled with a tremendous heat.

It looked like, with the Centaurs help, they might be able to make a stand, though they still didn’t know the number of enemy forces they were facing. Hermione moved to revive Ron, but before she could the ground beneath their feet began to rumble. The earth was shifting. What little space between them and the edge of the falls began to crumble away. Gabriella ran over and, together, they pulled Ron from the approaching cliff. A large rift to their right sent the herd of Centaurs that had been protecting them tumbling down the mountainside. The others began to back away and, in their confusion, they were trapped by a series of Incarcerous spells. The Dementors were gone, but the Death Eaters were alive and well behind the trees.

As if satisfied it had eaten enough, the rift to their right closed again and, in its place, the water feeding the falls began to pool into a small lake some fifty yards across. Hermione and Gabriella pulled Ron over to an outcropping of rocks that looked relatively stable and started toward Cho when she gasped, holding her hand over her mouth.

“Expelliarmus!” cried a familiar voice, cold and high. Both Hermione and Gabriella’s wands flew from their hands. Only Cho held on to hers, the spell seemingly had no effect. On the other side of the newly formed lake a figure approached in dark robes surrounded by a number of wizards wearing Death Eater masks. The wizard looked irritated that the water was thwarting his way, but there was a contingent of his allies moving toward the witches from the near side of the lake; they were the Death Eaters that had just incarcerated the Centaurs.

As he moved closer, it was clear to see by the moon’s light the pasty white face of Severus Snape. He held out his wand and without saying a word flicked it down. Hermione and Gabriella fell to the earth reaching for their throats, gasping for air.

“Hello, Miss Chang,” he said with a greasy voice. “I’m sorry we have to meet like this, but I know you’re a… bright girl. I’m not here to harm anybody. Your boy has something that I want and, when I’m done, you can have him back. No harm done, I swear.”

“Liar!” Cho cried out across the waters. They seemed to ebb and burble at the words. “You’ll kill him!”

“I’ll do no such thing,” Snape said calmly. “I’m no… monster.” He moved closer, being careful to avoid the water’s edge. “I can promise you this, however…” again he twirled his wand and tightened the stranglehold on Gabriella and Hermione. “If you don’t hand me the boy right now, your friends will die.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 47 – Twins
~~~***~~~

Three years ago, Harry flew for his life – chased by a Hungarian Horntail fiercely protecting its clutch of eggs, a singular golden orb hidden among them. Her scales were black and her eyes were yellow and, at the time, Harry thought them evil. Now, instead of staring up at hundreds and hundreds of faces from the crowd, he stood surrounded by seven such dragons, an emissary to the magical link the Wizarding world had with these great creatures. Their eyes were also yellow, each with a distinctive hue, and they bore no ill-will. He wondered why he hadn’t noticed the same bravery, the same wisdom, the same kindness before. Conceivably, it was Harry that was growing wiser.

The Votary stood as the servants of the dragons and he was their unworthy leader. Others of that Order had worked decades with Singehorn and his kin. Some like Dakhil had served for centuries. Harry, to the contrary, had joined the Votary only a few months ago, and yet, the dragon leader saw something in him that was commendable. What it was, Harry had yet to learn, but this much at least he knew – the magnificent dragon wounded before him had a great role to play in the events that were about to unfurl. Already, ghosts were swirling about their position as if something might happen at any moment. The young dragon, Tûzkár, swatted at them with his tail, but to no effect.

Overhead, the comet Ebyrth burned as brightly as ever. So much so, in fact, that Mars was nowhere to be seen. The moon, unwilling to be outdone, seemed to puff out a bit and appeared unnaturally large in the sky above, blanketing the night with a sea of light. It was enough to reveal that Singehorn’s chest had been slashed badly. Claw marks crisscrossed and blood seeped freely from the wounds, dripping to the charred forest floor.

Harry wanted to talk about the ghosts. He wanted to do what he could to stop the Centaur village behind him from burning. He wanted to defend Hogwarts against the onslaught of darkness descending upon it. He wanted to run to the falls to protect his family and friends. There was so much to explain, so much to do and so little time, but first Harry had to heal the dragon that had risked his life to save them all. He stepped forward.

“Let me—”

“You’ll do know such thing, Harry,” Singehorn growled; Harry’s ring helped him understand perfectly. “I already know what you did this evening for the girl. Your strength, even with the stone, needs replenishment.”

“True,” Harry agreed, rubbing his hand over the chest wound that still had not fully healed. A vision of Draco Malfoy spilt into his thoughts and Harry quickly tossed them aside, unwilling to face the contempt he was feeling. “Or, at least, it was true. Tanwen told me to use the stone to catch the dragonfire of the Chinese Fireballs. I did and I don’t need to check to know that its energy pulsates, waiting to be released. I won’t need to use much of my own to help heal your wounds, Singehorn. You are not of the Votary; hence, it is not forbidden.”

The great dragon growled and, without asking permission, Harry summoned the stone into his hand and whispered the incantation, “Bravery… Wisdom… Love.”

The dragon’s injuries were extensive, but the stone’s energy helped weave the wounds together without much direction on Harry’s part; all that is except for a small stain of green near the dragon’s heart. Try as he might, Harry couldn’t remove it. Finally, unwilling to risk more of his own energy, Harry retreated. The circle of dragons spun about as he fell to his knees.

“You weren’t supposed to use your own power!” chided Tanwen.

“Only a little,” offered Harry weakly. Singehorn stood, raised his neck toward the sky and roared. Harry could see he was both pleased and perturbed at the same time. As the young wizard elevated to one knee he sensed that Dakhil was gone; turning he confirmed it was true. The vampire was nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s Dakhil,” he asked to no one in particular. “I couldn’t have been gone more than a moment. Where did he go?”

“I assumed you knew,” Singehorn said with significantly greater strength in his voice now. “The moment you used the stone, he vanished.”

Harry was curious why Dakhil had left, but thought he might know the reason why. The old vampire was still holding a grudge. Certainly Dakhil thought that he should have been the Primate of the Votary, not Harry. He probably didn’t care to watch as Harry used both the Ring of Onyx and the Heart of Asha to help care for their leader. It was understandable, if a bit petty. No matter… Harry had other concerns.

“Singehorn,” he began with a grave tone. “About your heart… There’s a—”

“I know, Harry. I know,” Singehorn interrupted. “It is no injury. It is simply the clock of my fate. There is nothing you can do to set me apart from my destiny with the stars.”

“The stars?” Harry asked.

“Great dragons…,” began Tanwen.

“Truly great dragons,” corrected Drahmir.

“Yes. Truly great dragons,” continued Tanwen, slightly irritated at the interruption, “when they die, are raised to the heavens.”

“Wizards believe in something similar,” said Harry. “They believe—”

“No, you misunderstand,” interrupted Tanwen. “The gr— truly great dragons are raised to the heavens for all the universe to see. Not their bodies of course, but their fire, the essence of all dragons. It is not another plane of existence, or an alternate reality. Their fires are set anew in the heavens above us. They become a star.”

“A star?” Harry asked in disbelief. “Like… a star – star?”

“True enough,” said a cold, stern voice suddenly at Harry’s side. A hairy arm was raised above Harry’s head. It held a bow with an arrow notched and aimed directly at Tanwen’s heart. It was Firenze, and his eyes burned with anger. His coat was lathered with sweat and he smelled of fury. “The Centaurs have known of your blessing since the early times. We once thought you noble creatures; tonight has changed all that. At this range, I’m certain to send three, or four of your kind to see if they are truly great dragons. Somehow I doubt we’ll see the birth of any new stars sprouting forth from your demon blood.”

“Firenze,” said Harry with a hushed voice.

“Tell me, dragon,” said Firenze, still starring at Tanwen, his jaw clenched. “Did you enjoy burning my home to the ground? Were you laughing as you breathed fire to incinerate the homes of my kin? Are you disappointed that our mares and our young escaped and you spilt no blood? Or were you unaware, you stupid beast, that the herd knew of your devilry long ago.”

Tanwen shifted and Firenze made to let the arrow go, but Harry stayed his hand. Firenze looked down upon him fiercely. “I’ve killed three of their kind tonight already. They are swift in the air, but on the ground, from this distance… one arrow each will do. They’re not much more than overgrown chickens after all.”

“These aren’t the ones that attacked Terntalag, Firenze,” said Harry quickly. “They’ve come to help. I swear. Look to the east and you’ll find the guilty.” Harry pointed toward the dead Chinese Fireballs. “It is unlikely that any new stars were born this evening on their account.”

Uncertain and still aiming the notched arrow directly at Tanwen, Firenze looked down at Harry and then toward the direction the wizard was pointing. Slowly he said, “I was told specifically by Magorian not to question you tonight, Harry Potter.” He ground his teeth without saying a word more and disappeared. Before Tanwen could ask where he’d left to, he had returned, a shimmering green scale in his hand. This time, his bow was strapped to his back.

Firenze looked up at the black dragons before him and then back at the green scale. They were clearly different. He nodded his head in approval and then turned to Harry.

“This one…” He held up the green scale. “…has been gutted by another great beast.” He looked keenly at Tanwen, noting the blood that still trickled down her neck. “It is a strange war indeed. You speak to them?” Firenze asked. “They understand you?” Harry nodded. Fearless, Firenze stepped toward Tanwen and held the green scale up.

“Is this then my enemy? Is this the dragon that attacked Terntalag?”

Harry translated and Tanwen nodded, bowing her head slightly, a puff of smoke issuing from her nostrils.

“The enemy of my enemy is my ally,” said Firenze with far less passion in his voice. “I am in your debt and, if there is ever a way I can repay it, I will honour that alliance.” He paused, unsure how he might continue. Finally, he found the words.

“Now, however, I must ask yet another favour of you. I have led many wizards to this place and they will be here shortly. As you may know, Wizards are not as level headed as Centaurs. On our way, we have been attacked by many dragons bearing this same scale. We have defeated those who would challenge us, but another foe is close behind – Dementors. There are too many to keep pressing through the forest with our injured, and our bows are too few. I would need but two of your fire breathers to send them to their doom. Would you help us?”

The other dragons looked at Singehorn. It was not their nature to meddle in the affairs of wizards. The pleadings of a Centaur held little more importance. The Hungarian’s willingness to stop the attack on Terntalag was more coincidence than desire. The Horntails were out for blood and the Fireballs happened to be above the village. Even so, their leader shifted his weight and the ground rumbled.

“What says the Primate?” asked Singehorn, looking intently at Harry. But Harry didn’t hesitate.

“I would ask you send two – Drahmir and Talisan,” Harry said. “Two will suffice and not frighten the wizards more than they already have been.” Then he turned to the Centaur. “Firenze, you’ll need to send word that the battle has changed. It is not what I was led to believe. The Horntails are joining us and, at the castle, perhaps the Hebredean Blacks. The wizards need to know the difference and, if they don’t, they should keep their wands sheathed. That goes for the Centaur herd as well.”

“The Covens are but a mile away, Harry Potter,” said Firenze coolly. “Before the next shooting star, the entire forest will know.” Firenze turned the scale about in his hand, the moon’s light shimmering from its surface, squeezed it once as if imbuing it with the anger he would not show, and slipped it away into the leather pouch that hung at his side. Before Harry could thank him, the Centaur disappeared toward the south.

“Tanwen,” said Harry, looking up to his enormous friend, “thank you for your patience. Your wisdom in not striking will go a long way towards Singehorn’s plan.”

The dragon bowed her head slightly, but said naught else. She, more than the others, could see the hatred in Firenze’s eyes. Harry wondered if she were convinced that the Centaur would keep his word. With over a hundred wizards marching toward them, they were extremely exposed squatting on the ground and surrounded by trees.

“We should all take to the air,” she offered Singehorn.

“As the Primate has spoken, Drahmir and Talisan will attack the Dementors chasing the wizards our way,” said the dragon leader. “If we destroy that which drives them forward, we will have more time to heal our wounded. Igneus and Rakesh are weak and need rest, if only for a moment.” Harry looked at the two great brothers and, scratches aside, could not discern anything of significance wrong with either of them. Rakesh began to protest and Singehorn growled, cutting him short.

“Erm… yes, Singehorn,” Rakesh rumbled. “I’m not sure I have any fire left in me and… em… my tail aches.”

“Then it is decided,” said Singehorn. “Make haste!” Drahmir and Talisan nodded and, unfolding their massive leathery wings, took to the sky, swirling the ash that hung in the air from the burning village. Harry also noticed that the nearby ghosts seemed to move in the gust of wind, almost as if they had substance.

“Fire will fill the sky!” roared Drahmir as he flew south.

Harry looked at Singehorn. “By making the problem your own,” he suggested, “you had justification to act… to choose sides.”

“Sides? Life, Harry,” said the great dragon, “has many sides – not one, not two, but a number of facets which, depending on how the light strikes, reveal a spectrum of colours that spans the rainbow. All too often, wizards seek the absolute, because they like the cleanliness of ‘choosing sides’ – left or right, good or evil, black or white. They’re unwilling to shade the lights and brighten the darks, unable to add the colours that make life’s choices so difficult. And while, sometimes, the choice before us is clear, when life and death hang in the balance, it should never be easy. My failure is proof enough of that.”

There was another rustling in the bracken as someone approached, but even before she appeared, Harry knew who it was. Somehow he was linked to the members of the Votary. Just as he knew that, at this moment, Dakhil Barghouti was filled with anticipation, so too did he know that Katana was overcome with relief at the sight of the flight of dragons before her.

“You’re safe!” she cried out breathlessly, stepping out of the trees. The flames of the village flickered off the sweat of her brow. “I thought… perhaps the Centaur…”

“Katana!” called Singehorn. “It is good to see you well! But should you not be in the East, searching the world as is the rest of the Order?”

“You sent the Order away on some ruse of a treasure hunt!” exclaimed Harry in disbelief. “That’s why I have only sensed Dakhil. Why did you scatter them across the globe?”

“It was not safe here. I was only trying to protect them, Harry. The Votary may be able to withstand dragonfire, but your flesh may still be slashed with a well placed talon.”

“Dakhil gave us the orders,” gasped Katana, a thin smile upon her face. “He is not a good liar.” She was panting, and her left side was covered in blood, gluing together the rings of her chain-link mail. Still, she walked in among them proud and, as she drew near, her tremendous white smile erupted, glowing in the night. There was a large gash on her shoulder that had been hastily healed and looked like it might open again at any moment. Harry was about to treat her when Tanwen bent low and blew flame upon the wound. For a dragon, it was a whisper of a flame and it reminded Harry of a mother that might kiss a boo-boo… not that Aunt Petunia ever paid him the same kindness. When it was over, the wound was healed and Katana placed her hand on Tanwen’s snout in gratitude.

“I understand why you did not want the others here,” she said solemnly. “I would not have believed it myself, if not for my own eyes.” She took in a deep breath, regaining her strength. She had run hard to be so close behind Firenze. “The Fireballs attacked us… attacked me though I reached out and signalled our intentions of peace.”

“Madness has consumed our friends,” said Singehorn. “It consumed me as well, though I see more clearly now. It will take many years to repair the trust that has been destroyed here today.”

“You would go back to the old alliance?” asked Harry, incredulously. “Even after all they—”

“They, Harry,” interrupted Singehorn, “is not all Fireballs. Ti-Lung was hungry for vengeance and thirsty for power, not unlike your Dark Lord. We are all ready to be free of the shackles of wizards. Giants do not fare much better at the hands of your kind. Would you condemn all giants because a few battle against you this evening in service to a madman?” Harry shook his head. “No, I thought not,” said Singehorn pleased with Harry’s response, though he expected no other. “Anymore than I would condemn all wizards because of the pain a few have caused the dragons.”

“Quite a few,” added Tanwen. Singehorn looked at her and nodded.

“True enough.” He let go a forlorn breath and glanced toward the south. “And while I have faith that those of your kind approaching do so in friendship…

“Tanwen, your words, as always, are wise. You and the others take to the air. Stay vigilant; you are not the only creatures of power flying on this night. Rakesh, I hope your fire has returned.” Without speaking Rakesh raised up and roared at the stars. An enormous burst of flame issued forth. Harry could sense the creatures about him recoil in fear.

Following the flame to its tip, Singehorn looked up at the lights burning bright overhead, not unlike a Centaur. “Harry and I have some things we must attend to.” Tanwen nodded. As she and the others began to lift off, swirling a hoard of ghosts out of their way, Harry could sense Singehorn calling him and Katana to the other plane.

When they arrived, the great stone steps that Harry had climbed when first he met Singehorn and been destroyed. Great crags of rock were strewn about the desert landscape, being reclaimed by the wind and sand. Katana was dressed in a white gown, but Harry wore red, a symbol that he was Primate of their Order. It felt awkward. There was clearly a formalism that Harry had not yet embraced. For his part, Singehorn the man wore robes of cobalt blue that shimmered like the sea. He towered above them both, but his eyes were smiling.

“What has happened here?” asked Harry.

“This…” Singehorn gestured with a wave of his arm. “This is what I have built. This is what, by my own hand, I have destroyed. I doubt I’ll have the time I need to restore it to its glory. That task will be left to Tanwen.”

“Tanwen?”

“Do you not approve, Harry?” asked Singehorn in return.

“No… er… I mean yes, but—”

“My time is near at hand,” Singehorn interrupted. “I doubted that I would see the dawn, but you…” He patted his chest. “You have given me a while longer. Perhaps, there will be time to set things in motion – to restore peace among our kind. I hope you will guide Tanwen on such a path. If the Centaur had not been at your side this evening, I doubt she would have resisted the temptation to strike first. Tonight… as they fell from the sky... she did not need to utterly destroy our brethren and yet…” He sighed and sat down in the sand, crossing his legs. Harry and Katana did the same. “She is fiercely loyal. Will you help her, Harry?”

“I have sworn my allegiance and my oath is to serve.”

“As is ours to you,” said Singehorn. “I have chosen well, don’t you think, Katana?” She nodded in agreement as Singehorn closed his eyes and bowed his head. Perspiration began to drip from his brow and Harry looked to Katana for some assurance, but she seemed as uncertain as he. Then, to the right of Katana appeared another figure in white robes – Merek – the Healer that had returned Harry’s sight. He was followed by eight other members of the Votary. They all sat, adding to the circle with Harry and Katana. The last to arrive was Antreas Darbinyan, Gabriella’s brother. He looked at Harry with surprise and concern, but Harry was unable to offer reassurance in return. In all, there were eleven members of the Votary present and one noticeably absent – Dakhil Barghouti. The sense of foreboding Harry had experienced earlier began to grow.

Singehorn wiped his brow with his sleeve and drew in a deep breath. Summoning the council had clearly taken a toll on the dragon, though how that manifested itself in the real world, Harry didn’t know. Singehorn slipped his tongue across his sharp teeth and considered the words he was about to say.

“We have precious little time and there is much to accomplish. I am now in the West with Harry and Katana. There has been a fissure between the dragons and, at this time, we are no longer safe among the Chinese Fireballs. Nor would I put faith in the members of their Order. As you know, battles are rising up all over the world, none more dire than the one now upon us here in Great Britain.”

“Singehorn,” began Marek, “are there injured? Do you need aide?” This first question began an avalanche of questions and offers of assistance, none more strident than the pleas of Antreas to return to Britain.

“Enough!” roared Singehorn, silencing all conversation at once. “Your offers of aid are generous, well intentioned, but improperly focussed. I need your help, but not here in the forest behind Hogwarts Castle. All of you are scattered about the globe. It was not my original intent, but it will now pay in our favour. By now you will have discovered the secret rookeries hidden in the countries to which you’ve been sent. I need you to make a difference right where you are. You must try to convince any dragons that will listen of our plight. Where they exist, sway the thoughts of the members of their respective Orders. Word of tonight’s events will have reached most, but not all. Those willing to lend aid are days away, unable to immediately offer tooth, talon and flame, but all know the old ways. Our Primate, Keeper of the Black Ring and Caregiver to the Heart of Asha, goes to battle the darkness, let them share their fire that we might purify this land.

“All must know that we do this, first and foremost, to unshackle ourselves from the yokes of wizards. It cannot be accomplished by flying the clouds to war. Instead, it begins by demonstrating our power and our compassion. Throughout, we will include those wizards that seek light above darkness, truth above deceit, love above hate. It is by these precepts we abide: Bravery… Wisdom… Love. So it was when the Great Alliance was made and so it will be again with all the Wizarding World. Now more than ever we must push back the darkness seeping into all corners of our world.”

Without speaking, the various members nodded in agreement. Harry, as Primate, felt the need to affirm Singehorn’s words. He did so and added, “If it is within my power, I will strike down the evil we now face before it can do more harm. But I will, above all, follow our code. I will not wield the power you have bestowed upon me needlessly, or recklessly. Bravery… Wisdom… and above all – Love. I failed you earlier this year; it will not happen again.”

While he sensed that some members felt he should wield his power, no matter the cost, he saw a thin smile curl up at the corner of Katana’s mouth. “Then it is decided,” she said. Again all nodded, but Antreas looked as if he would burst.

“Singehorn,” said Harry, “I would ask a favour of you. I know the Carpathians are far, but it would be best if Antreas join us in our battle as soon as he can arrive. He was the linchpin to our success protecting your home and, without Dakhil, Katana and I need another member of the Votary to represent the dragon’s interests should it be needed. He is closest. There are three battle sites, hundreds of wizards and other magical beings and soon the Hebredeans will join our cause. I could sure use his wand here, steeped in the magic of Grigor Darbiyan. This war has many fronts and I am but one.”

“So be it,” agreed Singehorn, as relief washed over Antreas. “Though you will find, Harry, that you are not alone. You have made alliances that Dark minds can only dream of, and they will provide you powers that are unimaginable. Tonight, we all will be tested; what remains in the crucible will guide the fate of the next age.”

With that the vision passed and Harry found himself back in the forest, face to face with Singehorn. Little time had passed. The other dragons were still just rising to the sky as the village behind him crackled and popped in the flames. The large Hungarian looked quite pleased with what had just come to pass and Harry could sense the welling of hope. Still, the dragon’s eyes looked weary. Two ghosts swirled by, one a youth riding a skateboard and pushing it along through the air with one foot. It was the strangest… A flash of light caught Harry’s eyes. It looked like wandlight.

“Singehorn,” Harry said urgently. More lights began to flicker through the trees. He could hear voices in the distance. The wizards would soon be upon them. “The ghosts… they think I will lead them to heaven. But I think they have it wrong. I think that you—”

Harry’s left hand suddenly burned; more specifically the ring finger of his left hand. He looked down and the etched band about his finger, the marking on the flesh itself, glowed red.

“Gabriella!” he cried in agony. Pain swept up his arm and into his shoulder, driving itself into his mind. At once he could feel her anguish, he could taste the wet dirt, he could sense the water and he knew she was surrounded by evil. She was in trouble and needed help. “She’s at the falls! Voldemort is there!”

“Then you must run, Harry!” Singehorn said, stretching out his wings without hesitation to join the others in the sky. “You will be faster afoot. We will follow from the air. Go to her, but don’t be brash. Be wise!”

Harry watched as the dragons spun once about and then followed their leader toward the falls. At the same moment wizards, giants and Centaurs burst through the trees, Firenze at the fore. Some paused momentarily to watch the dragons ascend and disappear, but most moved straight toward Terntalag, quenching the flames as quickly as they could. Firenze stopped at Harry’s side.

“Your friends have left you,” he said, pointing to the sky. “It was not necessary. The Dementors were defeated and the forest now knows the kindness they have shown us.”

“They race to the falls,” said Harry quickly. “As will I. Voldemort has come.”

A few of the wizards heard the name and echoed it. Word spread quickly, but everyone held to the task at hand – saving the village. Harry was surprised to see Frank and Alice Longbottom leading them into the flames, their wands spraying water everywhere. For a moment Frank caught Harry’s eye. His lips were tight with determination. He smiled, revealing wrinkles about his eyes that harkened back to happier memories, winked and disappeared into the flames. Harry wondered about Neville and again Draco crept into his mind.

“Go with haste, my friend,” said Firenze. “Know this much at least… Felspar and Macleta are near. They will do whatever is in their power.”

Harry turned to leave and ran head long into Ronan. His fur was wet with sweat and smelled burnt. Splotches of black goo were splattered all over his coat – Dementor blood. Harry wiped it from the side of his face.

“Ronan?”

“Hurry, colt!” he snapped, ignoring pleasantries. “Run with your—”

“—second sight,” finished Harry. “Yes, I know.” And before Ronan finished his bow, Harry plunged into the forest, running toward the falls and contracting space as best he could. His mind was set on where he needed to be and the trees and creatures of the forest swept past him – blurs of another world less perceptible than the wings of a hummingbird.

Harry’s finger throbbed, sending jolts of pain up his arm. Flashes of what Gabriella was seeing, or sensing dashed across his mind. He ran faster, if that were possible, ignoring his disagreeable body. His arm became heavy as if a great vine of Devil’s Snare was trying to pull him down. It worked its way up to his throat and he could feel it squeeze. As he struggled to pull in great gulps of air, it was difficult to remind himself that it wasn’t he that was choking… it was Gabriella.

He shook his head, pushing the vision aside and drew in a deep breath. With his forearm he roughly wiped away the drips of sweat that were now running into his eyes. He tried to concentrate on the images that he was seeing through Gabriella’s eyes, but the ghosts he kept passing through were too distracting. They were thick, like a swarm of mosquitoes thirsty for blood and, just like insects splatting against his goggles as he flew on his broom, Harry would splat into one and for an instant sense their joy, their apprehension, their sense of urgency. These and the images he was receiving from Gabriella collided into a great cacophony of thoughts. For the first time he began to appreciate what Ron felt when he couldn’t shut out the voices he was hearing with his mind.

“Fo-cus!” he yelled at himself.

There was an image of Snape smiling, his yellow teeth cracked and gnarled. Dakhil… yes, Dakhil was there – impassive and stoic. That’s how he looked on the outside, but inside was something quite different. Harry already had known the vampire’s feelings were in tumult. Then he saw it – the cloak. Gabriella was wearing the… no it wasn’t Gabriella… it was Cho. Jamie was in her arms. There was Ron… Hermione… Centaurs and Death Eaters….

As he grew near, the images became more clear, more intense. They were at the falls. Jamie was crying… both Jamies…

Again, Harry shook his head; he was seeing twins. Cho was standing defiantly by the falls. No… Cho was standing by a large outcropping of rocks. Cho and… Cho. There were two Cho Changs, and each held a baby in their arms. Each wore a brilliant white cloak. “The Horcrux,” Harry whispered to himself. “Draco was right.”

Just as the muscles in his legs began to scream in protest, Harry started to smell the forest growing damper… danker. He knew this smell well. He slowed watching the path ahead closely with his second sight. To Harry it seemed like it had taken hours, but he covered the distance in minutes. The falls were only a hundred yards ahead, when a Centaur approached him quickly from the north. Her hand touched his shoulder.

“Harry Potter.”

He blinked and looked up to see Macleta, her eyes more fierce than ever he had seen them before. “Your mates are under attack by the Dark One who has come in from the north with two dozen of his followers. Their friends are no match for his skill with a wand. Some of my kin staved off an attack by Dementors, but the grounds are unsteady and many fell over the cliff to the rocks below. Others have been trapped by the Dark One’s wizards. Felspar leads a contingent that is sweeping around the other side of the lake that has formed near the top of the falls. They will move in from the west and offer aid soon. These grounds continue to shift and all would do well to leave them quickly. Time is short. Below the falls, your kin have arrived. You know these waters are dangerous and many may be thirsty. It is an unfortunate combination. While the greater evil is before us, the greater danger lies below. Dozens could die. I will travel down the falls to your kinsmen for I know your fate with the darkness ahead has already been sealed.”
It was the most Harry had ever heard a Centaur speak in his life, and then he realized she hadn’t said a word. She was speaking telepathically, an honour shared only between Centaurs. He nodded, pulled his wand and began to work his way closer to the clearing of the falls. Again Macleta stopped him.

“One thing more,” she said and now her face bore an expression of confusion. “You have but two mates, is that not true?” she asked.

“Yes,” Harry said.

“There is a third,” said Macleta, “and she too bears a child in her arms; she is a twin to Cho Chang. When first she appeared, it confused me, and now it confuses the Dark One. One of them is a deceiver, Harry, but I now see her purpose. It will not be long before he realizes as well. Move quickly… move cautiously… know that our friends are near and, Harry, use your—”

“—second sight,” he finished. With her bow ready in her left hand, she lowered her head and in a flash vanished to the south. For his part, Harry moved toward the sound of the rushing water. At first he used his second site to discern where the wizards ahead were. It was clear that Voldemort was flanked by about two-dozen Death Eaters, but no more. He was using stealth, deliberately travelling with a small contingent in hopes that all focus would be on his large army to the south that, even now, was attacking the castle walls. If he were successful here at the top of the falls, the wizards below would have no hope of defending against the torrent of dark magic that would rain down upon them.

He could smell the burning carcasses of Dementors, but his heart told him that there were more swirling deep in the trees behind. In his mind the water of the falls radiated like the sun and Harry had to forgo his second site to see anything near the water’s shore. When he did, he saw Cho holding Jamie near the edge of the falls. Ron lay motionless on the ground and near him were Gabriella and Hermione, each holding their throats gasping for air.

He was about to rush in when another witch near his friends, wearing white robes shouted out a spell. Harry didn’t understand it, but it sounded Chinese. The roots of the trees beneath Snape’s feet sprang up and grasped him by the legs. Momentarily, the spell on Hermione and Gabriella was broken and they retrieved their wands. Then Harry’s heart stopped. The witch that had just cast the spell was Cho Chang and in her arms was little Jamie. It was impossible.

She was standing alone on an outcropping of rocks. It was near Cho’s hidden stronghold. The Cho near the falls seemed not to be confused that her identical twin was carrying an identical child and wearing an identical white robe, but Gabriella and Hermione were dumbfounded. Three blasts of red coming from Death Eater wands shot directly toward the Cho at the rocks and she let them strike her. They ricocheted harmlessly off her cloak like ping-pong balls.

“The cloak,” Harry breathed to himself. “The Horcrux.” Then he looked at the Cho near the falls. She too wore a white cloak. But which one? And which Jamie?

Pulling Ron with her, Gabriella knelt behind a large stone for protection. “Who are you?” she yelled at the new arrival.

“Cho!” yelled the one near the rocks. “She’s an impostor!” She pointed at her twin near the fall’s edge.

“Take them both!” cried Snape in exasperation as he slashed away at the tree roots still tangling his legs.

All this time, without realizing it, Harry had been moving closer and closer to the skirmish now before him. Gabriella was placing hands on Ron to help revive him. Hermione was trying to pull the one Cho away from the water’s edge, but she refused to move as she struggled against little Jamie who was wriggling in her arms to be free. When he looked back at the Cho on the rocks… she was starring right back at him. No one else had seen him, but it was as if they were connected somehow. “Cho?” he lipped silently. Slowly, she set Jamie down and the child stood, clinging to his mother’s leg. Her attention snapped to Snape.

“Harry will destroy you, Voldemort!” she cried. “You’re just too blind to see!” She cast another spell and this time the trees behind him split in two, dividing like a single-celled amoeba. The space between trees was now half what it was an instant before. A few Death Eaters found themselves trapped behind, but the ones already near the Cho on the rocks continued to move toward her, albeit slowly. Cho Chang was accomplished, but such magic was beyond her.

“Your second vision…” Harry chided himself. He closed his eyes and looked toward them, examining each aura. The waters were blinding, but he could just make out his friends and family… Cho, Jamie, Gabriella, Ron, Hermione and at the rocks, more discernable because she was further from the water’s edge, a rainbow of colours that could only be… Nymphadora Tonks. Clinging to her legs was Dobby the house elf, a small beacon of energy compared to that of the wizards about him. How she had done it, Harry didn’t know.

What he did know was that Voldemort would uncover the deception soon enough. She couldn’t keep the ruse up indefinitely. Instead, she was using tactics to distract, to buy… “Time,” Harry whispered. Sirius said he’d be at the falls in two hours and… how long had it been?

“Call for them, Gabriella!” Tonks yelled to Harry’s wife. His love pointed her wand to the heavens and cast a beam of blue light that shimmered and sparkled like the tail of a comet. She was summoning the dragons; she didn’t know they were already on their way. He needed to help them… to offer more confusion, to purchase them more time. As much as he wanted to rush in, wand blazing, he knew he’d never win a duel against Voldemort. He never had.

“Play it smart, Harry,” he whispered Sirius’ words to himself. If there was another, larger plan in play, Harry would do just that. “Someone I’ve been close with,” Harry said smiling to himself. “Easy.” Concentrating on Cho Chang he metamorphosed into her shape. His unruly locks straightened and stretched down his back. He bleached his robes white and enchanted them with a shield charm. The charm would work for a few spells, but not all night and not against a Killing Curse, but Voldemort knew that history. He would never attempt it again. Then he picked up a large stone and transformed it into something resembling a squirming child. He wrapped it in his cloak to conceal his somewhat pathetic attempt of transfiguration. Professor McGonagall would not have been pleased. Finally, he took only a few steps into the clearing on the side of the small lake nearest Voldemort, choosing again to use his normal vision. For this he would need to see Snape’s eyes so that he could know the reaction.

“Have you come for my child, Voldemort?” Harry cried. “Or do you desire all that remains of your eternal soul?” Harry rubbed the cloth of his robe between his fingers. He half expected to be blasted, but Snape’s eyes kept darting from one Cho Chang to the other. Ordinarily the Dark Lord would have been able to discern the difference at once, but not, for some reason, on this night. It may have been the purifying energy of the waters pooling all around, or some mind trick Dakhil was playing at his side. Perhaps it was something more, something Sirius knew was about to happen. Harry could see that Snape did not look well. He took another step into the clearing.

Three Cho Changs stood at the top of the falls hidden deep in the Forbidden Forest. Each held a child, but only one held the child Voldemort coveted. What Dakhil’s role was, Harry couldn’t determine. It was unsettling to watch him quickly help Snape to his feet, freeing him from the roots that had ensnared him. He then cast a spell turning the loamy earth to stone, blocking any second attempt at the same magic. Could they have been allies all this time? Snape nodded to Dakhil and quickly regained his composure. He had a number of Death Eaters at his side and still more trapped behind the trees, searching for a way to join their master.

“Bring me the boy!” he hissed. Harry thought he meant James, but instead Dakhil walked backward toward the trees, reached through an opening too small for any full-grown wizard and pulled out a Hogwarts second year student – James Chang, Cho’s brother.

The moon was near its apex in the night sky and just to its right roared the comet Ebyrth. Its tail seemed to curl and Harry wondered if it hadn’t just missed the red planet. Ghosts began to swirl about the clearing, moving in and out of the trees and with each passing moment, their number grew. The light was intense and in that light Harry could see James Chang’s eyes. They were open, but blank. He looked like a walking corpse. Harry could hear Hermione shudder near the falls. Cho took a step forward, but Tonks deliberately pre-empted her.

“Leave my brother alone, you bastard!” she cried. She grabbed the white cloth in her hands. “Touch one hair on his head and I’ll destroy this! I swear I will!”

“Liar! The cloak is mine to destroy!” yelled Harry in return, hoping it might keep Voldemort off centre.

“Ladies,” said Voldemort with a smug bow. “Did you think that Patrick O’Riley was the only weak minded wizard I left a little… gift with?” He began to chuckle, straightening his robes. “Which one of you truly loves their brother?” The chuckle turned to laughter and in between guffaws Voldemort began an incantation. Suddenly, Gabriella stood, dropping her wand at her feet. A moment later, Ron also stood at her side.

“No!” yelled Hermione, “Ron. RON!” But Ron’s eyes were blank, his face expressionless and, together with Gabriella, he began to walk along the edge of the small lake toward Voldemort.

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 48 – The Death of Harry Potter
~~~***~~~

The night of the full moon was as bright as day and the pooling water feeding the falls shimmered beneath the fierceness of Ebyrth. The comet’s tail curled in an unnatural way about the planet Mars. Was it some strange gravitational pull, or was something greater at work? Ebyrth had passed the god of war and it appeared that the planet would be untouched by the comet’s fire. Ebyrth, unwilling to surrender, seemed to reach out in one last desperate attempt, but it was to no avail. There would be no grand collision this evening. The cycle would remain unbroken and the war between Centaur and Dementor would continue again when next the comet returned. Worse yet, Mars, unchecked and undamaged, would continue to grow brighter as it neared the earth, an increasing cycle of violence that the Centaurs knew all too well.

Along the water’s edge, Ron and Gabriella walked toward Snape, Voldemort’s host. His white face was more pale than ever and his shoulders were hunched. He appeared more aged by the moment, but he refused assistance, revelling in the death that was about to be dealt out. At his side Dakhil Barghouti continued to smoke his cigar, twirling it in his fingers in eager anticipation. In front of them, James Chang stood, as lifeless and zombie-like as Ron and Gabriella. The three of them had been hosts to Voldemort’s evil and somehow he had left a controlling curse that would spell their doom as it had Patrick O’Riley’s.

Behind the trees Death Eaters still struggled to rejoin their master. Only a few were free, standing near Tonks who still resembled Cho Chang. They had been commanded not to attack her for fear they might harm the child – Voldemort’s last hope of regaining his true form. Harry, who also transfigured to resemble Cho, was the closest to Voldemort and he rolled his wand in his fingers considering Dakhil’s true intentions. Harry could see that the vampire’s emotions were as heightened as ever, but what did that mean? He stepped closer with his rock that almost resembled a small child, but upon close inspection would look more like a squiggling cantaloupe with eyes. He tucked it further within the flaps of his cloak.

Hermione crouched low next to Cho who held James tightly in her arms. They were nearest the edge of the falls and had no way to escape. Harry wished he could get to them, but the magical lake was pooling between them and he wasn’t willing to risk what might happen if he should fall in those waters again.

Unable to stand still any longer, Hermione ran to grab Ron, but was repelled by some sort of protection charm. “Ron!” she screamed. “Ron!”

“Hermione, stay back near the rocks!” commanded Tonks. “You’re too exposed!”

No sooner had she said the words than a Death Eater cast a stunner. It flew at Hermione whose eyes narrowed as it approached. With the instincts of a cat, Hermione deflected it deliberately toward Voldemort, forcing him to use a shield charm and duck. Unable to move as quickly as he would like, his body recoiled when the spell struck and the action caused him to grimace. Clearly he was in some sort of pain. When he straightened, his eyes were on fire.

“I had considered killing James first,” he said with a sneer, “but perhaps I shall kill your fiancée for your impudence! A shame really; he was my most worthy adversary. Not even Potter matched his skill. Where is your friend anyway? Perhaps friend’s not the right word, if he won’t dare to show himself. I suspect he’s finally realized his place – cleaning the Centaur shit holes.”

Again, Harry stepped forward. From across the water, Tonks noticed and slightly shook her head. She motioned that he should move toward Cho and away from Voldemort. He wasn’t sure what she meant since it was impossible for him to cross the water. That position would place him directly opposite Tonks; they would be like goalposts on opposite sides of the falls. He was about to shake his own head in opposition when he heard a faint voice calling his name.

“Harry!”

It was thin… less than a wisp of a cloud.

“Harry. Where are you?”

Harry looked to the forest and then to the waters. Ghosts were swirling about, but this voice was familiar, though distant. He closed his eyes and reached out his mind taking in all the life forms around him. Seeing Gabriella’s aura almost made him sick. It was weak as if she were giving up her life force to the cosmos. He then looked at Ron’s and…

“Harry. Are you here?”

Ron’s was burning brightly. He opened his eyes and fixed them on his best friend. Barely perceptible, behind his right ear, what looked like a large vein was protruding. Harry hadn’t seen that since last year. Ron must have been using the massive energy churning about the falls to amplify his mental skills, but it was taking the same physical toll as last time. Somehow he was shielding Voldemort’s control in a ruse to… well, Harry didn’t know why.

“Ron!” Harry called back across the bridge that his friend had erected for him. “I’m here!” They knew this dance well and once they were connected the conversation could have been as simple and as clear as sitting before the hearth in the Gryffindor common room.

“Where’s here?” Ron asked, still keeping his face blank and his shoulders slack as he proceeded with Gabriella toward Voldemort.

“I’m… erm… I’m Cho,” answered Harry awkwardly.

“No shit, Sherlock? Which one?”

“Across the water.”

Ron deliberately tripped on a stick so that he could turn and get a look at Harry on the other side of the small lake. Harry swore he saw a twinkle in his eyes that vanished the moment he began to turn away.

“Don’t worry,” Ron said. “I’ll break his hold on her and, after that, I’m taking him down. I just need to get… a little closer.”

Ron and Gabriella were about twenty yards away. They looked like the walking dead and no one knew what to do. As they drew closer, Ron’s eyes remained locked on Voldemort who was more interested in the three children, one of which was his prey.

“Damn,” he communicated to Harry. “He looks weak; you could blow him over with a feather.”

“Don’t underestimate him, Ron!”

“I did that once already. It won’t happen again.”

Harry considered Patrick’s words about how Ron could defeat Voldemort, but if that was the case, the prophecy was wrong… Dumbledore was wrong. He watched as Ron drew closer… ten yards… Eventually, Harry could no longer sit idly. He had to move in.

“Ron, I can’t let you do this. He’ll kill you.”

“For once in your life, Harry, keep your wand in your pants!” Ron hissed back, giving Harry a mental shove while the redhead stepped ever closer. “I can… I can hear his thoughts… barely… there we go… Yes! He wants Jamie, but… now that he’s seen it, he wants the cloak too. He knows its power, but there’s something more. Just a little… closer.”

Watching Gabriella move within arm’s reach of Voldemort was more than Harry could bear. He began to move in. “Ron, I’m—”

There were shrieks from the others, a ‘Swoop!’, and suddenly Harry’s feet were leaving the ground. Long talons clasped tightly about his shoulders – one claw digging into the wound on Harry’s chest. Blood began to drip down the front of his imitation white robes. He’d been taken up by Draco, in full vampire form, and in his surprise Harry dropped his rock-child to the ground. The stone began to scream loudly and then sprouted legs and ran into the forest. It all happened so quickly, no one noticed that Jamie was nothing more than a transfigured rock. What they did see was that little Jamie, if he was the right little Jamie, was disappearing into the trees and Merlin only knows what kind of dangerous creatures. A dead Jamie was no use to the Dark Lord.

“STOP HIM!” cried Voldemort, his voice high, but thin. For a moment, Harry thought he was talking about Draco, carrying him around the falls as if her were a rag-doll taking a tourist ride, but he was pointing instead to Harry’s little rock-child. Evidently, he hadn’t noticed that it was a fake.

Harry fumbled with the black ring on his right hand. “I can make you put me down, Draco.” In response Draco carried him over the edge of the falls, just above the sharp jagged rocks below.

“Would here work?” Draco drawled, chuckling in a very beastly sort of way. He briefly loosened his grip, then dug his talons in more tightly than ever. “Have I told you? You’re such a drama queen, Potter. And what’s with the Cho Chang getup? It’s really a crappy disguise. I would recognize your ass from a mile away. HE didn’t notice. Did you notice he didn’t notice?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Of course you wouldn’t notice; too busy worrying about her.” Harry dangling from his clutches, Draco turned toward Voldemort and Dakhil, unwilling to trust either of them. “I’m talking about our chance, Potter; our opportunity. Something’s wrong.”

“Draco! What are you doing?” The words came from Dakhil in yet another unspoken tongue – vampiric. They were sharp and biting.

“What?” questioned Draco silently in return. “You didn’t think I’d find you out? You didn’t think I’d discover your change in allegiance?” He roared, flapping higher into the air. Unlike Dakhil, Draco’s words were pitched high. They were bitter and sad. “If you’ve taken his side old man, then so shall I!” He kept flying higher. “I don’t care how great a wizard Potter is; he still can’t fly without a broom!” Draco brought his cheek next to Harry’s. The smell of dried blood filled the air. “Can you, Potter?” he whispered.

Suddenly, Draco turned and started to dive straight toward Voldemort, Dakhil and the others. “Want to feel speed, Potter?” He accelerated. “Ten times faster than the P2,” he spat. “If he doesn’t save your life, I’ll know. Either way, know that I’ll finish the job.”

The wind was screaming in their faces. Below, only Dakhil was looking their way. The others were fixed upon the distant forest into where Harry’s rock-child had run.

“You’re being foolish, boy!” cried Dakhil. “Put him down!”

“Oh, he’s going down,” said Draco with a toothy grin. “This time, for the last time!”

Draco released Harry like a missile hurtling toward the earth in front of Snape’s feet. Dakhil slipped out his wand, but didn’t hold it up. Instead, he pointed it down so no one would see. Though the wind was blinding Harry’s eyes, he saw a blue light strike the earth below. He hoped that was a good thing, or this was going to hurt.

“Retardus!” Harry cried out, hoping to slow down. The spell was too little, too late. Its only real effect was to draw everyone’s attention to the sky. They all cast shield charms, thinking for an instant that it might be an attack, just as Harry smashed into the dirt. He was expecting a crunch, but the earth gave way and he sunk some two feet into the wet loam. Draco came to a gentle stop at his side. Directly to the vampire’s left stood Ron, James and Gabriella – statuesque spectators.

“The Malfoy boy!” said Voldemort, curiously enamoured with Draco’s form. “I had heard you were… turned.” He stepped closer to the pit of muck that Harry had just made. “I understand your anger at the girl, Draco,” Voldemort said tenderly. “I understand that you think she should pay for what she did to your father.” Then a flash of anger flushed his face.

“Crucio!” Voldemort cried. Draco was down on his knees, screaming in pain. “But I gave specific instructions to leave these ladies alone until—”

“This one’s… no… lady, my lord,” said Draco with an indistinguishable growl. The pain stopped. “It’s Potter!”

Dakhil began to translate. “He said—”

“I know what he said,” Voldemort cut him off. Though his mind was a bit cloudy, he was a good enough Legilimens that he understood what Draco had been trying to say.

“My lord!” cried one of the Death Eaters from near the trees where Harry once stood. “We’ve captured the… the boy!”

One of the Death Eaters brought Harry’s rock-child over to their master and held it up so he could see it. He began to laugh. “Your son, Potter?” Voldemort heckled. “HE must be. You share the same thick expression and dull intellect; as it was with your parents, now that I think about it. Right off the old rock pile.” Voldemort held out his wand and cast the killing curse, shattering the stone into dust and killing the Death Eater holding it in the process. Ignoring the wizard as he crumpled to the ground, Voldemort muttered, “One down… two to go.”

Harry transformed back and pushed himself out of the soggy earth, wiping the mud from his face. He’d twisted his ankle, but there were no broken bones. Pure hate flamed from his eyes as he looked up at… Draco. “You’ll die before the sun rises, Malfoy.” He spat into the vampire’s face.

“I had heard you were… friends,” said Voldemort, looking closely into Draco’s eyes and then into Harry’s. Both bore nothing but animosity for the other. “Clearly there’s no love lost here.” He stepped over to Harry, holding his wand just under Harry’s chin. “I wish you could be there, Potter, when I am born again. Your child’s blood… a little magic… By Morgana, perhaps I’ll even take this one.” He stroked Gabriella’s hair. “She will certainly have her uses, or haven’t you discovered them yet?” He jabbed his wand tighter into Harry’s throat. “I’ve waited all year to say good-bye… Harry Potter.”

Voldemort planted his feet in the earth, drawing from what energy it would give him. His eyes were filled with hate.

In the distance, Hermione cried out, “Severus… no!”

His wand ready to explode with green light, Snape’s hand began to tremble. He brought the left over to the right to regain control, but the shaking became worse. Slowly, the wand pulled away from Harry and pointed into the air. Snape spun staring at the redhead who had stepped in front of Gabriella and was looking straight into his eyes.

“YOU!” he screeched in a high, cold voice.

“Time to dance, Tommy boy!” whispered Ron.

The remaining Death Eaters were stepping somewhat away from their master and only those nearby could clearly see what was going on. Ron and Voldemort were having a mental go of it. Harry could see the gnarls of nerves winding about the nape of Ron’s neck. Immediately, the hold on James and Gabriella was broken.

“Run,” Ron hissed. “I can’t…” His eyes twitched; a drip of blood pooled in the corner of one eye and trickled down the side of his face. “Damn it, run!”

Gabriella looked over to see her love standing in front of her. “Harry?” she asked disoriented and in disbelief. She wrapped her arms about him. They kissed, but Harry quickly pulled away.

“Get out of here!” he commanded. “Both of you! Run!”

They took only a few steps when Dakhil raised his wand.

“Incarcerous!” he cried, wrapping both Gabriella and James in ropes.

“What are you doing?” cried Harry. “He cast a spell that freed the two and they began to run, again.” Dakhil cast another spell and missed as they went to join Tonks who was still disguised as Cho, standing near the door to the stronghold. Dakhil simply grunted as if he’d missed a rabbit and that there would be more.

“Pain?” replied Ron to an unheard question. Harry’s attention turned to his best friend. “I’ll show you pain!” Voldemort dropped suddenly to one knee and cried out in agony. “Do you know what you’ve done to me? DO YOU KNOW!”

Voldemort fell to two knees. While the whites of Ron’s eyes had turned red to match the colour of his hair, blood began to trickle out of Snape’s ears.

“Ron!” said Harry. “Ron, stop, you’re killing—”

“Leave them, boy,” snapped Dakhil. “If you interrupt now, they both could lose themselves in the other’s mind. Detached, they could die. They could both die.”

Harry raised his wand and pointed it at Dakhil and then at Draco, moving it back and forth between the pair he said, “You! How could you? You’re a traitor to the Votary, to Singehorn. And you, by all that is holy, how—”

There was a familiar hiss. Harry turned to see the arrow coming. He tried to react, but it was too late. It pierced Ron in the right shoulder, spinning him to the ground. If there was such a thing as an abrupt interruption, that was it. Harry looked up to see two Centaurs standing in the clearing – Bane and Shahan. Bane had cast the arrow. From this distance he would have easily killed Ron, if that had been his intent. What was he up to?
“Ron!” Hermione screamed. Tonks sent out a blast of red light that struck the Centaur, dropping him to the ground. Hermione cast another at Shahan who moved out of the way. Not sated, she began to attack the half-dozen Death Eaters that were near Tonks. They returned fire. In seconds, everyone was firing spell after spell. Huge chunks of earth and stone were ripped and torn and flying with blasts of light. Draco pulled his wand to join the fray, but Dakhil stayed his hand, taking a quick glance up to the moon.

“You will know the proper target when the time is right,” said Dakhil with his gravelled voice. Harry looked up to see that the moon was near its apex.

He ran to Ron’s side, hoping he could stop the bleeding and heal the wound. He was surprised to find that the arrow was neither poisoned nor enchanted, nor had it struck any vital organs. Ron reached to his shoulder and groaned.

“Harry?” he whispered. “Bloody hell, I had ‘em.”

At the same time Voldemort began to gather his senses and Dakhil helped him to his feet. “Are you well, my lord?” he asked as a blast of blue light shot over their heads. “The boy didn’t harm you, did he?”

“Boy?” asked Voldemort, taking Dakhil’s hand. Another blast of red crashed into the ground before them. “What… what’s going on?”

“You were attacked. The men started fighting.”

He looked up to see his two Cho’s, the real and the imaginary, fighting for their lives. In the mayhem, Cho set Jamie down at her feet beneath the protection of her robes that she might better attack those pelting her with spells. Dobby, still resembling Jamie, began to wander from Tonks’ side. Something about the water was calling to him. Tonks was forced to deflect the spells being cast at her. Professor Flitwick’s enchantment skills had been spectacular, but her robe would not hold out for much longer.

The occasional spell would come close to Dobby who, somehow, was able to deflect them without much difficulty. In one case he appeared to catch a stunning spell in his hands. The red light balled up and exploded, sending sparks into the air that rained down over his head. It was this that Voldemort saw and it was this that convinced him that he had discovered the true Jamie.

“Hhhhiiimmm!” he hissed, pointing at Dobby.

“Excuse me, my lord?” asked Dakhil, apparently unable to understand.

The real Jamie saw the flash of sparks and, unbeknownst to his mother, slipped out from under her robes and began to walk unsteadily toward Dobby who was now near the water’s edge.

“’gain… ‘gain!” cried Jamie with joy. Dobby smiled at his twin, but the water continued to beckon. He bent low at the shore’s edge.

Simultaneously, both Cho and Tonks saw one Jamie running toward the water and the other reaching down to put his hand in. They had each lost track of which was which and they both began to run toward them. Voldemort noticed the boys nearing the water as well.

“Stop them!” he cried, pointing to the twin Jamies, but his Death Eaters took the command to mean the girls.

There was a flurry of more spells, but none struck true. Harry heard Shahan snort in disgust. It was followed by a hissing sound that Harry recognized at once and this time prepared for. The enchanted arrows sang out in the air toward their victims. Thwish! Thwish! Thwish! Three poisoned arrows, cast by Shahan, with the sole purpose to kill. The first was aimed at Harry who caught it in his hand. The second was aimed at Cho Chang, the real Cho Chang. Is struck the cloak with a clang and fell to the ground. The third was aimed at Tonks and it struck her straight between the shoulder blades. With a gasp, she fell face first onto the wet ground near the rushing water that plunged over the falls.

“You fool!” yelled Voldemort.

There was a small outcropping of rocks near Harry and the others. Severus climbed up to get a better look at the girl that had fallen. She was the true mother of the boy he had identified as Harry’s son. It had happened again – a mother’s life for her child – ancient magic. His face was white with horror and his raging eyes on fire. He looked up toward the night’s sky and let loose a piercing scream.

“NOOOOOOO!”

The earth shook, splitting the trees behind Voldemort and allowing a handful of the trapped Death Eaters to join their master.

“Avada Kedavra!” Voldemort cried. A blast of green light erupted from his wand and struck Shahan before he could even begin to comprehend. The colt fell dead, his eyes open, staring at the heavens above.

“Dakhil,” hissed Voldemort. “Now I’ll never….” He began to cough.

Casting an accusatory glance at Dakhil and Draco, almost daring them to take action, Harry lifted Ron to his feet.

“Come on, Ron,” he urged. “We have to get out of here.” Already Hermione was at Tonks’ side trying to heal her. But Ron held fast, refusing to leave.

Snape coughed some more only this time blood splattered from his mouth.

“It’s poison,” whispered Ron. “I knew there was something.”

On the other side of the water, Gabriella stood frozen, looking down at the scene playing out before her. Hermione was casting spell after spell in a frantic attempt to save Tonks’ life. For a moment, they were the only spells being cast. The attention of the Death Eaters had turned once again toward their master who appeared more ill than ever.

Watching Tonks transform back into her own image, Dobby followed in kind, but Voldemort, hunched over his own pool of sputum and blood, never noticed. James ran to his sister’s aid, swooped up Jamie, and placed him into his sister’s arms as she stepped over to help Hermione.

“She came to protect me,” Cho said, holding back the tears. “Why? Why her and not me?” Then her attention turned to Gabriella. “You know, don’t you? What’s special about this cloak?”

“It’s Voldemort,” whispered Gabriella, tears streaming down her eyes.

“It’s Voldemort’s?” asked Cho.

“No. It is Voldemort – the soul of Tom Riddle. It is all that was ever good in him and he cast it aside. Still, he covets it. Harry took it from the Ministry to hide it away. I thought… I thought it would protect you.”

As if she were covered in spiders, Cho began to rip the cloak off her body. “Voldemort?” She balled it up and tossed it on the ground, backing away. Gabriella reached down and picked it up. The cloth was brilliant white, unstained by the muddy earth. Then she considered the waters rushing over the falls.

“Voldemort!” she called out. “If you want your soul back, come and get it!”

Voldemort looked up to see Gabriella holding his cloak in her hands. He held out his arm as if he were about to say something, when she cast the cloak into the pooling waters. It didn’t sink; it didn’t drift with the current. It simply floated on the water’s surface, slowly making its way upstream to the centre of the lake.

He coughed again, splattering blood onto the ground. “Thirsty, Draco?” he said with a smile and then he began to laugh a slow, sickening laugh. “Release the Dementors,” he whispered. Dakhil echoed his orders and a cool wind blew forth. Above the trees behind Voldemort a dark cloud grew. Harry could hear some of the Death Eaters still trapped behind the trees scream. It was an alliance of convenience and the Dementors were hungry. Harry looked at Draco, wondering when the last time was he had fed.

An enormous black cloud rose up from the north. It would be impossible for them to stave off the attack. Worse, Voldemort might be dying, but it wasn’t really Voldemort at all. It was Snape. Harry surmised some Death Eater had poisoned him, or maybe… maybe Dakhil. Voldemort wouldn’t care; he’d take a new host. Harry looked about wondering which new Death Eater would serve their master. None, willingly, he was sure.

The cloud came up and over the trees. Already the falls were crusting with ice. James and Gabriella began casting patronus spells, trying to push back the darkness. The free Death Eaters were about to join the Dementors in the attack when a red glow grew out of the east. The ground began to rumble and then a tremendous hissing filled the air.

Hundreds of arrows began to explode in the night sky as nearly two dozen Centaurs, Felspar at their lead, stampeded over the rocks where only a moment before stood Tonks. Along side of them were a number of wizards, which Harry couldn’t make out because the air began to fill with too many ghosts. The Dementors began to scatter and Harry thought they might have the advantage when, above the roar of the falls, screams could be heard coming from the wizards below. The Dementors had realized there was more to feed on below the falls than above them.

“A host,” coughed Snape. “The boy’s right… poison. Severus has betrayed me.”

“Thorfinn!” called Dakhil. “Your time has come.”

Harry looked over to see a large brutal-faced Death Eater fighting hand-to-hand with a Centaur. He was tall enough to meet the Centaur eye-to-eye and held the creature’s arms behind its back. He was holding his wand to the Centaur’s head when Dakhil called his name again. A look of horror filled his eyes. The indecision cost him his life. He lost his grip, the Centaur spun, and an arrow pierced Thorfinn’s chest; he was stabbed through the heart.

Undaunted, Dakhil called impassively to yet another. “Selwynn!”

“There’s no end to them,” thought Harry as he watched bodies drop all around him. One body would be as good as another and eventually… eventually he would find Jamie. He looked over to Cho and his child crouching over Tonks’ body, James attempting to shield his sister. Together with Hermione they were a whirlwind of fire, but it wouldn’t matter. At some point they would lose… they would all lose and Voldemort would come back as strong and as powerful as ever. The cold and sorrow began to penetrate Harry’s mind and he began to weep.

It was then that Harry felt them. It was warmth replacing the cold. Drahmir and Talisan were near. They had finished their work on the Dementors near Terntalag and had come to help dispatch these. Harry fiddled with his wand. He had to do something to stop Voldemort, but he didn’t know how. If he killed him, all he would do is kill Snape. Voldemort would rise from the body and take over someone else.

He could hear Drahmir and Talisan beckon to him. They were excited, perhaps too excited. “The stone… use the stone!” they called out, eager to see more fire fill the air and, for a moment, he considered the proposition. With their help it would be possible to atomize everything within a hectare. Certainly, Voldemort would be destroyed then. The fighting would end. That’s all Harry really wanted. It had to end. Gabriella and Jamie would be protected; his family would be safe. His mind flashed back to Greece, when he used the purifying power of the dragons Casinius and Crestian to destroy the onslaught of Dementors overwhelming his godfather’s castle.

His eyes looked at the waters and up to the stars. He raised his wand, his eyes in some other place, some other time – the Heart of Asha beating in his chest. The mark of the Viswa Vajra burned brightly upon his forearm. “To destroy all evil,” he whispered.

“Harry?”

A hand touched his arm – Ron’s hand. The fire of Asha’s heart cooled as Harry looked back at his friend and then up to the dragons flying near. “Stay behind the trees. Take out the Dementors,” he commanded. “Nothing more. Do not enter the battle at the falls.” He slipped his wand away and took Ron by the hand lifting him to his feet.

“Let’s get out of here,” said Harry as fire began to light the sky above them. He was beginning to enjoy the screams of Dementors and he wasn’t sure if that was a good thing. He turned and snapped Dakhil and Draco a look of pure hatred.

“No!” argued Ron. “Now… we have to do this now! If you won’t I will!” Ron pulled his wand as Harry looked over to find that the Death Eater Dakhil had summoned, Selwynn, was gone. He had run off into the trees. Ron continued toward Snape who continued to cough blood. Harry grabbed his arm.

“You’ll just kill Severus,” said Harry.

“For once, you’re right, Potter,” said Dakhil. “Clearly, your fool of a Potions Professor thought he could kill our Dark Lord by committing suicide, but that’s all it is… suicide. The Dark Lord will rise again. Harry could sense that Snape had little time left. For a moment, he considered trying to heal him. As if reading Harry’s thoughts, Dakhil handed him his cigar.

“Here, boy,” he sneered. “Put yourself to good use. Hold this. I’ll no longer need cigars.”

Harry took the cigar. He was about to throw it away when he felt something hard, something very un-cigarlike. Dakhil stepped down toward Snape and helped him to his feet.

“It would be better, my lord,” said Dakhil, “if you make the transition before death.” All Snape could do was to nod his head. “Then, if you would have me, I offer you my body.” Dakhil held out his arms. “It would be an honour, my lord.” Voldemort nodded weakly in agreement.

“No!” yelled Draco, but all that came out was a horrible screech.

“Fool!” snapped Dakhil.

Voldemort looked at one and then the other. He held up a weak finger toward Draco and whispered, “Let me see your form.” Harry could feel Dakhil grow very nervous.

Draco nodded, but before he transformed he looked at Harry and said, “Remember, shit for brains… the headline has both our names – Malfoy and Potter.” He looked away. “I want it that way… at least once, anyway.”

He then transformed into his human self. He stood before Voldemort a pale nude; his youthful, muscular body in stark contrast to the aged Vampire next to him. Voldemort tried to stand taller and took Draco by the arm.

“Like the son I never had,” he hissed. “I thought perhaps Nott, but you… a vampire. I never considered it before. I will share this power with you my son. You shall be my Phobos… the centre of my Shield of Herakles, for when wizards set eyes upon your terrible form, all will fly in terror, knowing that Voldemort has arrived.”

Voldemort muttered some words then held up his face to the sky and opened his mouth. A green smoke issued forth and Snape fell to the ground, gasping and coughing as he clutched his throat.

“Don’t do it, Draco!” cried Harry, but Draco just stood there smiling at Harry. The smoke wrapped once around him and then began to enter his body.

“In Asha’s name!” cursed Dakhil, his eyes darting about, trying to figure out what to do. “You!” He pointed at Ron. “Use your mind… hold him. Don’t let him take control!” He then turned to Harry. “You! The cigar you idiot. Give it to Snape before he dies.”

Ron grabbed Draco by the shoulders and looked deeply into his eyes. “Stay with me, Draco. Stay with me.” The neural tendrils began to wind their way down Ron’s back. “That’s it,” he muttered, straining. “Push him away.”

Nervously, Harry pulled the cigar apart to find a glass vial. It fumbled in his fingers and nearly fell.

“Don’t break it!” yelled Dakhil

Harry dropped to his knees and swung Snape around, holding him in his arms. Carefully, he poured the golden liquid down his throat. At once Snape’s breathing eased and the colour, what little there was, returned to his face. His eyes closed and he fell asleep in the middle of the battle. He set him back to the ground and looked up at Ron and Draco.

“You can’t have him!” Ron snapped through gritted teeth. Whatever fight was taking place, it was taking its toll on Ron. The tendrils were growing larger, bulging out through his skin like raised, red welts the size of giant slugs.

“We need to get him into the water while we have the chance!” cried Dakhil.

Draco began to chuckle and it wasn’t clear if it was Draco, or Voldemort. For an instant, standing in the nude, he glanced down at Harry. His two grey eyes bore nothing but pure happiness. Then he spoke, his words distant, yet deep.

“There is another name for Phobos, my lord… Flight!”

Draco shoved Ron aside and ran toward the rocks at the fall’s rim, beyond which was a sheer drop of over a hundred meters. Without looking back, he took one leap high into the air and disappeared over the edge.

“Draco!” Harry screamed.

“Yes!” said Dakhil. “The falls. The water below will—”

Harry’s heart sank. Rising above the falls in full vampire form was Draco, his batlike wings pulsating rhythmically.

“Did you think you could so easily defeat me, Potter?” he screeched.

“It’s Voldemort!” Ron yelled.

“The time has come,” the voice of death whispered in Harry’s ear. “You’ll lose one you love.” He looked over at Tonks. Was there still time to save her? The mark on his arm began to burn again. The Viswa Vajra, raised and red, would not be denied. Harry had one last chance to destroy him… here and now. Once again, he could feel the Heart of Asha burning with anger inside his chest. He could sense the great dragon Singehorn approach.

“Finally,” he whispered. Voldemort moved in closer, moving away from the precipice and over the pooling lake. Harry recalled Dumbledore saying that Tom Riddle didn’t care much for heights.

“Come closer,” Harry whispered.

Seeing their master with renewed strength, the Death Eaters regained their courage and began to fight harder. The wizards that had accompanied the Centaurs began to pull back.

“You will die with your boy, Harry,” sneered Voldemort. “The name Potter will be stricken from the records and no one will speak the word under penalty of death.” Voldemort held his wand down toward Cho and Jamie. As fast as a Centaur, Harry was at their side, rolling him and Cho away as a blast of green light cratered the ground near Hermione and Tonks. James was knocked to the ground, but unhurt.

Voldemort was about to blast again when he looked down and saw his white cloak, still floating, motionless in the water. It wouldn’t hold his attention long. Harry was wishing that they had more help when he thought of Helena’s words. “If you need us, call,” she had said. “One of us is always near, and never forget, Harry Potter… you are one of us.”
“Helena!” he called, hoping that somehow the ghosts nearby would understand. “Help us!”

Mist began to pour through the trees and hover about the lake. It concealed Voldemort’s cloak and he screamed again, casting spells that had little effect on the spirits. More and more flowed in and they began to slowly swirl like some celestial galaxy. Gently, imperceptibly they were causing the water to rise beneath the mist, while Voldemort refused to fly higher. He cast more spells, inflicting pain to shoo them away, but for every one that scattered two took its place. The forest of ghosts was emptying out over the lake and there were hundreds.

Harry rolled back over, Jamie in his arms, and saw Hermione still trying to heal Tonks. He handed Jamie to Cho and crawled over to her. Tonks was taking in short, sharp breaths and Hermione was sobbing.

“The arrow,” she said woefully, “it’s enchanted. Nothing I do…”

Harry knelt over Tonks and took her hand; it was cold. He reached out to heal her, but all he could find was an empty void. There was no hint of life energy. He began to reach deeper, pouring some of his own energy into hers, when her hand touched his lips.

“No,” she whispered softly. “Save your strength.”

What he thought was just a little effort he recognized was much more. Pulling back, he found that he was dizzy and the forest was tipping to one side. She was right. If he tried to save her, he would not be able to do anything to protect the others. A tear slipped down his cheek.

“She’s been with Cho since she entered the stronghold,” said Hermione. “I had told her about Gabriella’s vision.”

“Why, Tonks?” he asked. “If you knew Gabriella’s vision… why?”

“I wasn’t going to have another Potter grow up without his mother. Not… not this time.” She smiled, brushing the back of her hand against Harry’s cheek and wiping away the tears. “Kill the bastard.”

Her hand fell, lifeless, in Harry’s lap.

The sprits that had been hovering on the edges of the forest, nearest the trees, moved in and, for the first time, Harry had a clear view of the wizards that had come to help them. Sirius stood near Felspar. She was firing into the Dementors above and he was attacking Death Eaters below.

“Sirius!” called Harry.

“Sorry, I’m late,” answered Sirius. “The Hebrideans routing Voldemort’s army made it tough to leave.”

Another wizard in green robes rushed forward. Harry knew the colours of Slytherin and drew his wand. He was about to fire when he recognized the wizard as Blaise Zabini. The Slytherin’s eyes kept flashing between the Vampire encircled by ghosts over the water and the group about Harry.

“S-Sirius wants you back in the stronghold,” said Blaise. “There, behind the rocks.” Blaise was pointing them toward safety, when Voldemort let out another scream. There was a flash of light from his wand and the impulse pushed the ghosts back ten metres. Blaise stepped to the water’s edge.

“Don’t let him take you, Draco!” he yelled. Voldemort turned toward Blaise. He held out his wand to cast a curse, but his hand began to shake. He turned and again took out his frustration on the swarming ghosts. There was a roar overhead that shook the ground. Singehorn had arrived and he circled them just above the treetops, his massive body dwarfing the trees.

A Death Eater, realizing the new threat, sent out a killing curse, missing low and blasting off the top of a large pine tree.

Just as Harry was about to respond, a small hand grabbed at his legs. He looked down to see Jamie, his lip curling up as if he were about to cry.

“NO!” he yelled, pounding the ground with his foot in something of a tantrum. A whip of water flung out of the lake, grabbed the Death Eater by the legs and pulled him into the waters.

“NO! NO! NO!” Jamie yelled repeatedly. Three more whips flung out of the lake and three more Death Eaters disappeared beneath the lake’s surface. The others began to step away from the water, leaving their master hovering alone above the cloak he coveted.

“The mark,” Gabriella gasped. “The mark on his arm. He has shown a kindness to the dragon!”

Harry wasn’t sure what she meant when he looked down to see Jamie’s arm glowing. The Mark of Asha had been set upon his arm and the image… the image was that of Singehorn.

As the ghosts pressed in on Voldemort once again, Singehorn called to Harry.

“Use the stone,” he commanded.

“I know what you would do,” answered Harry, “but there are too many lives to be lost. We cannot turn to evil to fight evil. There are hundreds below.”

“You have learned the cleansing power of both fire and water, Harry,” said Singehorn. “It is why you came to this place. It is why destiny has brought us all together that we might see the prophecy fulfilled. Command the stone to use the elements at your disposal and I will offer what fires are left within me.”

Harry looked up as Blaise kept calling Draco’s name. Harry bit his lip. “I need him lower,” he whispered. There was a roar at the far end of the falls as Dakhil Barghouti rose from the shore as a vampire. He flew out to meet Draco, trying to pull him down toward the water. There was also a ghost climbing upon Draco’s back, choking him from behind. Harry was stunned to see that it was Patrick and the choke hold was working. Voldemort began to descend as the ghosts swirled about in a giant spiral.

“Now!” Dakhil called to him. “Everything you’ve got, man. Everything!”

Harry summoned the stone and held it high in his hands. In his struggle, Voldemort saw it in Harry’s hands.

“The stone!” he gasped.

“FIRE!” Harry called. What he meant was for Singehorn to release his flame. What resulted was that every wizard and Centaur sent all they could at the vampires fighting above the lake.

Harry looked up as Singehorn roared down from on high, opening his gaping mouth wide. Beyond him Harry watched Ebyrth strike its target – Phobos, the moon of Mars. The heavens exploded in a flash of light. Above the lake, just as the arrows pierced their victims, the dragon let loose his flame.

“Incendiamos aqua!” cried Harry.

The water ignited as if it were nitroglycerin and rose up to meet Singehorn’s fiery breath. The explosion filled the air, focused by the stone in Harry’s hands and amplified a hundred fold. Draco and Dakhil were ionized and vanished. Singehorn, the great dragon, burst into flame and smoke. Moulding this tremendous energy, trying to keep the others safe, Harry could feel the force of the heat shredding through his body in a fantastic white light. His flesh ripped open and his cells began to tear apart. He thought of Gabriella and his heart sank, knowing that he would never see her again. He looked down, hoping to catch one last glimpse of little Jamie at his feet, but all sight had failed him. He could feel the atoms that were Harry Potter disintegrate.

A gentle hand touched his soul. It was Helena.

“At last, Harry Potter,” she said warmly. “Your destiny is fulfilled.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 49 – Three’s Company
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Author's Note: I had a chapter mixup and posted this as chapter 48. That is now corrected and the proper chapters are up. Please check and make sure you read, Chapter 48 "The Death of Harry Potter."
~~~***~~~

Ron Weasley watched in horror as Draco jumped to his death over the falls. It was a strange sensation – one mixed with joy for the triumph over darkness that it represented, pride in seeing the Slytherin take control, destroying the evil that had once controlled them both, and sorrow at the loss of someone he now considered a friend. Ron had remained connected mentally to Draco, and felt him battle the Dark Lord as Voldemort tried to take command of his body. Ron did what he could to help, but he knew it wouldn’t last forever; so did Draco. When the blonde ran to sacrifice himself over the falls, Ron’s connection was severed. Draco would plunge into the magical waters below and die, the evil of Voldemort washing away forever.

The exhilaration of victory and grief, twisting in Ron’s guts, gave way to dismay when he saw the giant bat-like creature rising above the waters. He knew at once that Draco had lost the battle with Voldemort before ever striking the purifying waters. They had lost their last best chance at victory. Having Draco as his host, the Dark Lord would be more powerful than ever.

“It’s Voldemort!” Ron yelled, trying to warn everyone, but that’s all he could do. Ron tried to reach out with his mind, but the vampire was too far away for Ron to penetrate his thoughts. In fact, he appeared to be hovering at the far end of the falls for that very reason. All Ron could discern was that Voldemort’s mind was fully turned on his hatred for Harry and his words echoed those thoughts.

When Harry vanished from Ron’s side and appeared near the blast of green that pitted the ground on the other side of the small lake, Ron thought Voldemort was deliberately targeting him. But then he realized that Voldemort wasn’t trying to kill Harry, he was trying to kill Jamie.

Ron turned to Dakhil and said, “He’s trying to kill Harry’s son.”

Dakhil’s expression showed that he was conflicted, unsure exactly what he should do. Seemingly unconcerned over the fate of Harry’s child, his eyes were fixed on Draco. He picked at his teeth with his fingers, found a bit of tobacco with his tongue and spit it out into the air.

“Not to worry, Mr. Weasley,” Dakhil said with steely eyes that never left the vampire hovering above the waters. “He’ll try to kill us all before the morning sun rises.”

Ron could only nod in agreement as he turned and levelled his wand at Draco. He’d never used a killing curse and while the waters seemed to speak to him, telling him to defend and not to attack, Ron was beginning to believe that murdering the murderer was their only recourse. Just when he had nearly convinced himself to let loose the spell, Dakhil pulled his arm down, motioning toward the cluster of rocks near the falls. “More targets for the arrogant bastard,” he whispered. Popping over the ledge was Sirius Black and a handful of other wizards and Centaurs.

“The cavalry has arrived,” said Ron smiling.

“It won’t be enough,” replied Dakhil calmly. “There are more Death Eaters moving in from the north. They’ll be here soon. It simply means that when the end comes, more will die.” His eyes looked up toward the heavens, but Ron wasn’t sure what he was looking for. More vampires? Dementors? At the same time the ghosts began to move in toward the water. Dakhil sighed.

“I have lived a long time, Mr. Weasley, a long time… But I have never seen such a sight as this.” The ghosts began to swirl about the waters. “If this is the night we die, know that you have witnessed what will be a history for the ages. If you survive, commit it to memory that your child and the children of those who have died this evening will know of this great magic and learn its meaning.”

“Child?” asked Ron. “I don’t have a—”

Someone yelled. There was a commotion going on over by Harry, but the density of the ghosts made it impossible to see exactly. Then Dakhil patted Ron’s back and smiled. There was a shift in Dakhil’s demeanour and for the first time a glimmer of hope flashed across his eyes,

“I knew it. He is here.”

The earth rumbled as a dragon appeared from behind the trees and roared. Curses lit the already iridescent sky as the spells shot up from the ground. But, they missed their mark and, without apparent reason, Death Eaters began to fly into the water, disappearing beneath its surface.

“Did you see that?” he exclaimed, but Dakhil wasn’t listening. Instead, he was lost in thought staring, trancelike, into space; he was having some secret conversation. He blinked and the conversation was over as quickly as it had begun.

“A new member,” he muttered with a chuckle that sounded like to large stones banging together. “It was a pleasure knowing you, Ron Weasley. In all my years, I have met few friends as loyal as you.” Dakhil began to laugh, slowly at first, but then it built up into a tremendous roar. Ron fell backward onto his arse as he watched Professor Barghouti transform into a vampire with arms thicker than Ron’s thighs. The enormous creature shot from the ground and in an instant had his hands around Draco’s neck. The ghosts kept swirling and for a moment Ron thought he saw a ghost that looked like Patrick trying to help Dakhil choke the life out of Draco. The tussling vampires began to descend toward the water; the white-tops that had been spun up in the whirlwind of the ghosts were churning higher and higher.

Ron rose to his knees and when he looked up he saw the comet that had been travelling across the night sky for the last many weeks. Like the ghosts over the lake, its tail also swirled about the planet Mars. He narrowed his eyes at the strange sight, wondering if it was some bizarre celestial illusion, but then the entire sky flashed and filled with light. Fred and George couldn’t have done better. The light was so blinding, he was forced to turn his head away. That’s when he felt the heat. The dragon had let loose its flame.

Shielding his eyes, he stole a squinted peak and watched as the flame struck down, past the two vampires fighting in the sky until it kissed the water. Steam exploded upward. The dragon wasn’t going to stop. He kept flying down toward the vampires, emptying all the fire in his belly. The enormous winged beast was only a few yards from Dakhil and Draco when a small beam of red light, like a stunner, shot toward Harry. He was holding something in his hand. Ron couldn’t see it, but he could hear Harry thinking about it. It was the vivificus stone – the Heart of Asha. The beam recoiled back a hundred times brighter. Dragon, water and the power of the stone struck the two vampires simultaneously and the world exploded. Ron was forced to close his eyes completely and then covered his face with his arm, but the blinding light still shone through. The pain was excruciating, as if his brain was being sucked out of his ears. In that moment, all he could think about was Hermione and how he wished he could have said he loved her, just one more time before they died.

If this was how it was to end, so be it, he thought. The mixture of emotions that had twisted his stomach just moments before had returned. They would win, but at what cost? What about the hundreds of wizards below the falls? He could only hope that Harry hade done the right thing. Ron relaxed, readying himself to pass into the next plane. In those final moments, he realized that hope had nothing to do with it. Ron Weasley was a fiercely loyal friend. He knew Harry maybe better than Harry knew himself. Perhaps he and the others would be casualties in the last great battle against Voldemort, but at least the fighting and the meaningless deaths would come to an end. The loyal friend was confident that Harry had indeed done the right thing.

Light gave way to dark and the world ended.
~*~
________________________________________



Everything was black – not black like night time black, but black like I’ve just been buried alive six feet under the ground kind of black. Was this it? Was this… death? Almost too scared to try, Harry made to breathe. His lungs filled with air, or at least they seemed to. The air here was still and heavy with a rich, damp, loamy odour that reminded Harry of… something. His heart was beating too fast to think properly. Beating?

He was on his back, lying on some sort of pad. A coffin? He had been vaporized; how could he be in a coffin? His hand reached out to touch the pad and he realized it wasn’t a pad at all, but something thick and soft, layered in what felt like a spongy moss. When he turned to get on his feet, a wave of dizziness passed over him accompanied by a sharp pain in his right knee. Instinctively, he reached for his wand. It was there. Strange. He hadn’t expected to carry his wand to heaven.

Harry readied to cast the spell and noticed that the mark of the dragon on his arm was radiating a dim orange glimmer. If it had been more intense, he would think it was a summons… but a summons to where? He straightened his leg and cast a blue light over his knee to knit the tendon that had been torn. Then he held the wand up high.

“Lumos Forte!” he cried. The wand lit bright, too bright to look at, but even with its intensity Harry couldn’t discern the black velvety floor beneath his feet until he held the wand just inches away. Beyond that, all was darkness, no walls, no ceiling, nothing.

Harry didn’t understand. Up until now the planes between life and death where one’s life force hovered before choosing the final path it might take, those planes were coloured and beautiful. Birds were singing and the flowers were blooming in the plane where Harry had saved Hermione. Then a dread began to wash over him. Harry had visited Hermione in Hermione’s plane. What if Hermione had been good and Harry had been… he didn’t dare think it, but the thoughts came anyway. It was true. In his arrogance, he had led Voldemort to the Ministry and now Molly Weasley was dead. He had chosen power over love and, though he had committed himself to a new path, he was guilty of the greatest sin of all. He had murdered Anthony Goldstein after having sworn an oath to the waters of the falls. Was this to be his punishment for all eternity? An endless night?

He took a few steps, his feet making no sound as he moved forward. To his right, a white puff of smoke pushed through the spongy floor and disappeared into the inky darkness above. Then there was another… and to his left another. The puffs flitted upward and disappeared so quickly he had no chance to see their shape. Yet the puffs looked to Harry like—

Whispers.

Harry stopped with only the beat of his heart and the occasional flash of smoke and mist for company. Whispers – from somewhere behind. He turned and strained to hear more clearly. Someone was speaking. “Damn,” he cursed under his breath. “If only I could…” Harry’s eyes rolled up in his head amazed at his own stupidity. Of course he could. He didn’t need his eyes to see. He closed his eyes and reached out searching for the auras before him and was immediately blinded by the intensity of life surrounding him.

How was it possible? This was death. Everything had been destroyed, yet he was surrounded by light everywhere. It was as if he was staring into the sun, its nuclear furnace burning a thousand times brighter than any known star. His brain ached and he closed off his second sight. The whispers continued unchanged in the dark distance. Unable to see a thing before him, he cautiously began to step toward the voices and, with each careful step he took, the sensation began to grow in his mind that someone or some thing was watching him.

He walked slowly, blind and unwilling to risk falling off some sort of cliff, or ledge. Thirty yards must have taken nearly thirty minutes; at least it felt that way. The voices grew clearer and what had sounded like hushed whispers was now becoming normal conversation hushed by the strange cavern he was in.

“For the last time, Draco,” said the gravelled voice of Dakhil Barghouti. “This is not death.” Another fluttering of mist shot up on Harry’s left. He froze, wondering if the response would be that of Draco, or of Voldemort.

“I want it over with, Dakhil!” cried Draco. “You! You know the way! Where is it?”

“Yes, my son,” said a high, cold voice. “But it is not our time. It is not my time. We will find the way out of this strange plane, but I assure you it will not be to cross over into eternal slumber. No. My path leads back to Hogwarts and you will be at my side and, as your father before, you will learn to like it there. Together we will see Hogwarts rebuilt anew, with the vision of its true creator. Together we will see to the final and utter destruction of Harry Potter. In the end, all will see that I am undeniably the greatest wizard of the ages.”

Dakhil began to laugh. “The greatest wizard of the ages!” he said mockingly. The laughter stopped. “You are nothing but a cheap, second rate charlatan, boy!” There was a crack of green light that fizzled from Voldemort’s wand some thirty meters away. “What? Did I hurt your feelings, boy? Your evil has no power here.”

As Harry peered intently into the dark, trying to discern movement of the people he knew were out there, another wisp of white smoke rose directly in front of him; only this one hovered for a moment. Its shape began to shimmer and transform into the likeness of Patrick O’Riley. The dead second year stood in front of Harry, looking up at him with two bright blue eyes and a toothy smile on his face.

“It’s happenin’, Harry,” he said with excitement. “The gate… the gate teh heaven is openin’ and yer carryin’ the keys. You… and the other blind dragon.”
~*~
________________________________________



“Ron!” a voice cried from the darkness. “Ron!”

It was an eerie sound, as if someone were calling to him in the caverns beneath Hogwarts. Only a moment before there was the sound of crickets and other creatures stirring in the Forbidden Forest. There was the flow of the water crashing over the falls, the roar of the dragon and the beating of wings and stomping of hooves. All sound had fallen away save for the lone voice now calling him.

“Stay there, James! And for Merlin’s sake don’t touch anything. I said DON’T TOUCH! RON!”

The voice was nearer now. Ron lifted his hand up to his face and rubbed his eyes. His head ached. He lifted himself off his back onto one elbow and saw Gabriella running toward him, an eerie orange light bathing the left side of her face. Her eyes were open wide, two black dots staring back at him with concern.

“Ron!”

“I’m… I’m fine,” he replied groggily, waving his hand dismissively. He shook his head trying to clear his thoughts. It felt as if he’d just apparated into a brick wall. He sat up, looking at the water across the small lake. Its surface glittered, but something wasn’t quite right and his brain couldn’t put it together. Before he could figure it out, Gabriella was at his side, bending low and asking him if he could walk. She smelled of flowers and sweat and the mixture sent a tingle down his spine that cleared his senses immediately.

“Yes, I can stand,” he said trying to pretend he didn’t need her help. When he did rise, the earth seemed to tip a little. He spun and caught his balance just in time to come face to face with a Death Eater. He grabbed his wand. “Stupefy!” he cried, but nothing came from the wand. It didn’t even fizzle. Ron backed away, yelling again. “Stupefy!”

Again nothing happened and he cursed the new wand, questioning if Old Man Ollivander had duped him with a dud. He kept backing away until he tripped over a root and fell backwards into Gabriella’s arms. She lifted him back to his feet.

“It won’t work,” she said dispassionately, “not that it matters. He can’t hurt you, at least not yet.” She lifted Ron back to his feet and stepped over to the Death Eater who hadn’t moved since Ron rose. She pulled off his mask to reveal Mr. Crabbe, Vincent’s father. His eyes were open wide with amazement, but there was no life in them. Gabriella dropped the mask and Ron waited to watch it hit the ground, but it remained suspended in mid-air.

“What… what…” he muttered, pointing at the mask. Then he glanced around. They were surrounded by Death Eaters and Centaurs, wizards and witches, but all were frozen as if they’d been blasted with a giant Petrificus Totalus spell. Nothing was moving except for the occasional wisp of white mist that would come in and out of view – the same ghosts that had been collecting and swirling around the lake since he’d arrived.

“I’d say time has stopped,” said Gabriella, carefully placing the mask in its original position over Crabbe’s face, “but not for everyone. The ghosts… you, me, James…” She glanced over to see James Chang leaning over his sister. “Don’t touch her!” she yelled.

“But—”

“I said DON’T TOUCH!” James leaned back and nodded his head. “Who knows what will happen if we distort the timeline,” she said to Ron as if he were thinking the same thing.

That’s when Ron noticed the water. It too was still as ice. Even the splashes cascading over the falls were suspended in air, like diamonds captured in some frozen photograph. But, with the waters stationary, the glistening sparkles didn’t make sense. That is, until he looked above the placid pool. Ten meters over the water’s surface was a glowing sphere, an orb of fire at least a meter across. It was the same spot where Singehorn had come crashing down upon Dakhil and Draco, the same spot where the steaming waters had rushed upward, the same spot that Harry had—

Ron’s eyes shot over to where Harry had last stood. He was gone.

“Harry,” he whispered.

“Look,” said Gabriella suddenly. She had been taking in the scene too, trying to discern what was going on. She pointed up to the spot where Ebyrth had been passing by Mars. The comet was gone and in that corner of the night sky the heavens appeared to be on fire – some sort of giant supernova. Did comets do that? Was Mars destroyed? Were the Centaurs right, was Harry Mars? And if Mars was gone, was Harry….

In that moment her bravery failed her and she began to weep. Ron took her by the arm and together they walked near the still shore toward James who appeared to be more in shock than anything else. Something was bothering him about Cho, but he wouldn’t, or couldn’t say what it was. It was understandable; hunched as she was over the ground, she looked dead. His head pounding, Ron wasn’t sure he was in much better condition.

“Why us?” James finally asked, looking up at the pair as they approached. He kept kneeling next to his sister, Cho, and then pulling away as Gabriella had instructed. “What’s happened?”

“The real question, James is not what happened, but what’s happening?”

Gabriella stepped over to check on Tonks. Blood spotted the white cloak she was wearing. Guilt welled up in Gabriella’s heart and the tears clouded her eyes.

“It’s okay,” said Ron, touching Gabriella’s shoulder and then leaning over himself to look at Hermione who had been trying to save Cho. In her final moment, she was looking at the spot where Ron had stood, her mouth open as if in mid speech. “I love you to,” he whispered, lightly brushing her hair.

“Ron, please… best not to touch.”

Ron nodded as he watched a ghost swirling about the sphere of fire. The orb burned brightly above the still lake. Another ghost joined him. They drew near the sphere and, in a flash, plunged into the fire.

“What are they doing?” asked Ron. “Some sort of suicide?”

“I think…,” said Gabriella slowly as two more ghosts paused and then entered the orb. “I think the gate has been opened. Harry spoke to me of this, but we both thought it impossible. Now… now I am not so sure.”

“What gate?” asked Ron.

“A golden light… a new sun born… It looks like a sun, don’t you think Ron? And above… in the heavens… something strange is happening.”

More ghosts passed into the sphere.

“A gate to heaven?” asked James.

“A gate to the other side,” answered Gabriella. “The House of Hayk believes that it is different for each of us. A resting place for all souls. Even the most evil of spirits, given a second chance, would choose to pass over.”

“Evil?” Suddenly, Ron had his wand back in his hand. “If it’s a gate, Gabriella, a gate that opens and closes… does it work both ways? Can ghosts pass from the other plane to here?”

“I suppose,” she answered uncertainly. “But what person would choose to?”

“I can think of one,” said Ron his fingers tightening about his wand.

It was then, they all three noticed. The white cloak, Voldemort’s white cloak which had been floating in the middle of the lake, began to rise. It hovered above the water as if worn by some invisible wizard and then slowly turned to face them. For a moment it stayed in that position, the flickering fire shining above, reflecting off the iridescent robes, but then it began to move silently across the water… directly toward them.

“That can’t be good,” said Gabriella, pulling her own wand to the ready. “James, stay down.”

“These things won’t work, will they?” said Ron, giving his wand a bit of a twirl in his hand.

“No, they will not,” said Gabriella flatly. “Even if we could cast a spell they would have no effect on the cloak. It’s impenetrable.”

“Bloody hell,” said Ron, shaking his head. “What do you suppose it wants?”

“Don’t be silly. It wants us.”
~*~
________________________________________



The more Harry gawked, the more Patrick materialized before his eyes. His shape became more real, his bearing more human. Still, there was a bright aura about him that Harry could plainly see and Patrick’s eyes, bright blue, glowed against the darkness like two perfectly set sapphires.

“I… I can see you,” said Harry with astonishment.

“I’ve been with yeh the whole time, mate,” said Patrick, still smiling. “Pretty crazy out there, eh? That dragon!” Patrick brushed himself off, removing some unseen soot and debris. “And the waters! Weird. Yeh didn’t think I’d leave yeh?”

“Your… your eyes… they’re glowing blue.”

“They’ve always been blue. You know that, Harry,” said Patrick, still smiling. He let out a considered breath. “Yeah, they say I take after me ma.” For a moment, the smile faded and any doubt Harry had about who was standing before him faded as well.

“Me too,” said Harry, breaking the brief silence. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to—”

“S’alright,” said Patrick. “I’ll see her soon enough. But first, you and I have some unfinished business don’t we?” He winked and pointed into the darkness toward the voices.

“Do you know this place?” Harry asked.

“Not a clue,” answered Patrick and he strode off into the darkness. Before he faded from sight, he turned back to Harry. “Yeh comin’?”

“Yeah… yeah, I’m coming,” replied Harry and he began to follow. As they walked, Harry’s mind relaxed and his thoughts contemplated his surroundings. He had been here before; he was sure. “Singehorn’s mountain,” he whispered. The ground gently shook and Harry looked down. It was as if the earth were giggling.

“Here we are, mate,” said Patrick brightly.

Harry looked up and came face to face with the likeness of Voldemort. His flat face lit by the light of Patrick’s aura lacked colour and contrast. Still, the expression bore pure hatred and Harry was caught so off guard he prepared himself to be vaporized. He’d been betrayed again.

“YOU!” Voldemort cried in high, cold voice. His right hand reached about Harry’s neck, but the fingers passed through his flesh, sending a blast of cold and giving Harry something of a brain-freeze. Unlike, Patrick, Voldemort had no corporeal form. The ground giggled again.

Voldemort drew his wand and Harry responded in kind. He would kill this time.

“Put it down, man. Those powers have no place here.”

“That’s right, mate,” echoed Patrick. “The sword defends it does not attack.”

“The waters…,” Harry muttered. He turned to see Dakhil standing next to Patrick, his hand upon the boy’s shoulder. Beyond them, sitting on the spongy floor was Draco, his blonde fringe hung over the grey eyes that refused to look up. Still holding his gaze on Voldemort, Harry stepped over to Dakhil and slipped his wand away.

“You’re okay,” he said with excitement. “You’re alive.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure,” said Dakhil as another ghost passed from the ground to the ceiling above.

“Where are we?” asked Harry.

“You don’t remember?” Dakhil asked with a hint of disappointment.

“Singehorn’s mountain,” said Harry slowly. “Before the Joining. I was with Sirius…”

“You still forget that you’ve been joined. You overlook all that that entails, don’t you, Potter? Flashes of thoughts… unexplained ideas… they trickle across your mind and you have no understanding as to why. I would have liked to have taught you how to better draw on that knowledge. Now there is no time.” Dakhil pointed at Voldemort.

“Our friend here is as lost as you are, but then… you’re not really lost, are you, Harry?”

Harry’s mind began to close in on the answer just as Voldemort swept forward.

“YOU THINK I DON’T KNOW DEATH!” he spat. He moved toward them, gliding across the floor, his eyes blazing red as ever. “I have been to hell and back again. I have seen every imaginable gateway and have passed through fire and brimstone, extending life to its very limits. It is only a matter of time and the riddle here will be broken.”

Two wisps of white streaked upwards and disappeared. A moment later another streak of similar colour came back the other way. It disappeared through the floor.

“He’s going to tell the rest!” said Patrick with excitement. “As soon as they realize it’s safe, there’ll be a torrent of ghosts swarmin’ through here from outside.”

“The gate goes both ways?” Voldemort observed.

“What? Are yeh dense?” replied Patrick without much thought. “Of course it—”

“Don’t even think about going back,” interrupted Harry. This time he went to grab Voldemort’s sleeve, but his hands passed through completely.

“Back?” asked Voldemort innocently. “I’m not thinking about going back… not alone.”

He was smiling broadly, his eyes fuelled by hatred. Harry had seen that look before and it always ended badly. He was about to ask Patrick if he knew how they could force Voldemort through to the other side when the chamber began to grow noticeably colder. If it was possible to discern at all, the darkness above their heads seemed to swirl in different shades of black. It was as if a small thundercloud had appeared above them and was working its way down from the darkness. An instant later, Voldemort appeared – a second Voldemort. He materialized behind Dakhil and his hands were at his throat. This time the grip held fast, causing Dakhil to give a small gasp, though he did not struggle, nor did he seem in the least surprised at what had just happened.

Still lit by the light of Patrick’s aura, Harry looked from one Voldemort to the other. He recognized this newcomer. He was more familiar. They had met before, many times before. The last encounter was in the Chamber of Death deep in the bowels of the Ministry.

“I… I killed you,” Harry whispered, staring at the Voldemort that held Dakhil.

“And yet… here I am,” was the reply, lilted with too much bravado. The chamber filled with the sound of dripping water and it took a moment to realize that it was coming from the robes of this new Voldemort. Small ghostly drips fell to the floor disappearing, but still making a distinctive drip sound.

“I’m beginning to like these odds better,” said the wraithlike Voldemort. “Still, we could do better, I think.”

Another blast of cold air filled the room. The darkness above them swirled. This time Harry was ready, though unsure what or who exactly to expect. Lucius? He pulled his wand. Dakhil made to say something, but his words were cut short by the new Voldemort.

“Harry!” yelled Patrick. “Watch—”

Too late. Someone had their wand at Harry’s throat.

“Drop the wand, Potter.”

The voice was young and commanding. Harry obliged and turned round to see Tom Riddle, still wearing the green robes of Slytherin. They were stained black with ink and smelled of the girl’s toilet.

“I- I killed you too,” Harry stammered.

“A mistake that will soon be remedied,” replied Riddle. He gnashed his teeth with a distinct clicking sound.

“Yes, yes,” said the drippy Voldemort. “The time of our retribution is at hand.”

“Draco!” yelled Harry. “Do something!”

But Draco continued to stare down at the dark ground, his mind in another world. Patrick ran towards Riddle, but the moment he tried to attack he was repelled by some sort of shield charm.

“Curious,” Riddle said with an evil grin. “Perhaps, when I return, I will be fortunate enough to retain this power. It would serve me well.”

“Return?” asked Harry nervously. The wraithlike Voldemort moved closer.

“I may not have been able to return in full form alone,” he said. “But my souls are now together; the Horcrux can be rejoined. We will return more powerful than ever! All we need is a little willing blood. Rise Draco and stand ready to rule the world!”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 50 – Love Lost
~~~***~~~

Their feet but a few metres from the motionless lake, Ron and Gabriella continued to hold their wands at the ready, pointing them steadily at a hovering piece of fabric that looked little more than a cheap prank on Halloween. The shimmering, disembodied fabric, however, was no tawdry parlour trick, for it was imbued with an ancient and dark magic that few wizards would dare think of attempting and fewer still could succeed at accomplishing. This was the final Horcrux of Voldemort’s making. The only thing accompanying them was the great burning sphere above the lake, its flames shifting colour between gold, red and purple. Unaware of the unholy trinity now taking place in the gateway opened by Singehorn above the waters, Gabriella thought that, if they could destroy it, they would have finally defeated Voldemort. Unfortunately, she was completely wrong.

“S-Silly?” Ron stammered. It was all he could do to keep his wand steady and with good reason. The battle about the lake had been raging for over an hour and nothing had harmed the cloak. It wasn’t tattered, or soiled and looked as if it was fresh from Madam Malkin's. “I’m not being silly. If spells can’t harm it, and arrows won’t pierce it, what are we going to do?”

“You’re the mind reader!” snapped Gabriella. “What does it want?”

For a moment, Ron hesitated. If anything was silly, reading the mind of a bolt of cloth was at the top of the list and if it was Voldemort in there… He shuddered. He’d been preparing for that eventuality since he’d been taken over in the Gryffindor common room. It had worked with Snape and a little with Draco, but he had their help then. This was different.

“Well?” asked Gabriella.

“Give me a bloody minute, woman!”

He steadied his thoughts and reached out with his mind to see if the floating piece of fabric had a consciousness. The surface images he received were simple, clear and powerful – the robes wanted something and Ron and Gabriella had them. In some respects it felt like the mind of a child, but when he tried to press further he was repelled immediately. Only Harry had developed that skill; Harry… and one other. He staggered backward.

“I guess that means something?” said Gabriella, a bit of tension rising in her voice.

“You’re right. The bloke’s coming for us… all of us. Something’s compelling him. It’s like… like a kid in a candy store that wants… no… he thinks we’ve taken something of his and he wants it back. He won’t tell me what it is. He thinks reaching us is his sole mission. M-Maybe he needs a body.”

“Then you felt something? Someone was… was there?” They both took a singular step backward as the robes drew nearer. “Because, all I’m sensing is fear and—”

“I’m not afraid!” said Ron emphatically. “Someone’s there, damn it. It’s alive, or as alive as something like that can be.”

Gabriella’s hand began to shake. The tremble began at her fingertips, moved to her shoulder and then consumed her whole body. Still holding her wand high, tears began to streak down her face. She had to wipe them away with her free hand to keep from clouding her vision. Again, they each stepped backward.

They were even with James now, who simply gawked at the robes hovering over the water. Ron grabbed him by the shoulder with his free hand. “Move,” he said, but James pulled away. He would not leave his sister. Then Ron noticed Gabriella crying.

“What is it, Gab?” he asked. Again they stepped back. “I know you’re not afraid. What’s wrong?”

“Harry…” she began, but had to swallow, doing all she could to keep her voice steady. She was beginning to realize the implications of the risen robes. “If the Horcrux has been woken, then… then… then it worked. Voldemort’s wraith is dead. Singehorn gave his life and destroyed them all. Draco’s dead, Dakhil’s dead, Harry’s… H- H-,” she breathed, but could not bring herself to say it.

“That’s not true!” Ron barked. “He… he wasn’t over the water. He was there, right where you’re standing. He can’t be… he can’t—”

“Then where is he, Ron?” Gabriella screamed back. “WHERE IS HE?”

Steeped in their feelings for someone they loved dearly, they took another step back, not registering that James and his sister were now between them and the approaching white Horcrux.

“I don’t know,” whispered Ron, a sense of finality in his voice. “I don’t know.” For the first time, he was beginning to truly believe that Harry was gone, gone forever. He grew angry.

“Incarcerous!” he yelled, hoping to trap the robes, but his wand did nothing. Gabriella repeated the spell, but with the same failed results.

“Useless,” she whispered with a sniff. “Time is frozen.” They both slipped their wands away.

As the robes grew near the shore, she noticed small silver fingers of water rise up out of the lake. They curled around the tips of the white cloak. Ron hoped that they would attack and pull him under, but they appeared more playful, like a litter of little puppies jumping about their master’s legs. Finally, he was on land, still hovering off the ground as if the robes were worn by an invisible man. It was then that Gabriella realized that James was still crouched over his sister’s body, muttering something.

“James,” she said in a half-hushed voice, trying to get his attention without rousing the robes any more than they were. “James, come here!”

James looked up at Gabriella, but the move put his back toward the robes. He stood.

“RUN!” she yelled, but it was too late. They watched as the robes lifted an invisible arm that looked as if it grabbed James by the neck. A white sleeve hung straight out and, though no arm or hand could be seen, it was clear that Voldemort had a hold of James.

The boy’s eyes popped open as if a cold poker had just been run through his heart. His mouth was wide with horror and out of the gape came a puff of black smoke. The other arm of the white robes rose up and the smoke disappeared down the sleeve. James’ eyes closed, his mouth closed, and he fell motionless on the ground.

“NO!” Gabriella cried out, but neither she nor Ron had any idea of what they might do to stop the Horcrux.

Voldemort, if that’s who this now was, continued to slide across the ground toward the body of Tonks. The move wasn’t random; it was purposeful. His arm reached out again, but not toward Tonks. This time it was toward Hermione who sat frozen in time, leaning over her dead friend.

“Ron…,” Gabriella whispered.

Voldemort’s arm reached out toward Hermione’s back

“Stop it!” yelled Ron.

“Don’t do anything—”

Ron rushed the robes, screaming loudly as he went. If he couldn’t use magic, he’d tear the threads to pieces. Voldemort shifted and held his left arm out. You couldn’t see the hand, but every sense projected that there was some human shape controlling the magical robes. Ron punched at where a head might be. The robes staggered for a moment. Gabriella sensed the reaction to pain; the robes were mad. The left arm spun and grabbed Ron by the wrist. Instantly, he froze. His expression bore the same eyes and the same mouth, and the same black smoke issued forth and, just like James, Ron crumpled to the ground next to Hermione. Gabriella screamed.

Undaunted, the robes bent back down toward Hermione. There was a blue light that erupted from the left sleeve that passed back and forth from her shoulder blades, to the bottom of her spine and back again. There was no black smoke this time and nothing seemed any different after Voldemort had finished. Maybe he could only kill the ones that were walking around. None of it made any sense. She was the last one standing and she had no idea what to do.

Voldemort slid back toward the water’s edge. For a moment, she thought he might return to the lake, but as he approached James and Cho he stopped. Stepping over James’ body the robes bent low toward Cho and the sleeves moved out toward her. There was a giggle as the robes pulled a small boy out from under her robes. Little Jamie had been hiding there and unlike all the others in suspended animation, he was every bit as active as Gabriella.

“Jamie,” she breathed. It was all that she had left of Harry and she wasn’t going to let the beast have him. She would have to make her charge, but how?

The robes carried Jamie back toward the water. What was he doing? The little fingers of silver reappeared at the water’s edge in eager anticipation. Voldemort took Jamie in both hands and bent down. Surely the water wouldn’t hurt a child. The fingers reached up. Gabriella thought that if she knocked them both into the lake, she could at least get Jamie and run. He can feel pain. While he wasn’t looking, Gabriella made her move.

She ran hard and, approaching the robes, leapt high into the air, planning to strike him squarely at the top of his spine with her foot, hoping to drop him where he stood that she might save Jamie. She’d practiced this move for years, but had never really used it on anyone because the result could be fatal. It was her most powerful move and, for Gabriella, that meant something.

The robes, unlike a human body, were more flat than filled – almost two-dimensional. He must have heard her approaching because he stopped bending over to see what the sound was. When he turned to face her, the robes nearly disappeared, at least from her perspective. There was nothing left to kick. Her foot missed completely and she tumbled in the air, straight into the water.

Harry had told her of the water’s cleansing powers. She had seen with her own eyes what the lake had done to the three Death Eaters that had been pulled into its depths. Now it was her turn. She was worried and with good reason. The purity of the lake was the last place Gabriella wanted to be. After all, she had murdered her headmaster at Al Bsahri and had just intended to kill again.
________________________________________


~~~***~~~

“I’m done,” Draco whispered to the floor. “I’m not going back.”

“You don’t seem to understand, boy,” said the wraithlike Voldemort. “You don’t have a choice!” The other splits of Voldemort’s soul began to murmur their agreement. The one Harry had killed last year, still held his wand at Harry’s neck and the younger, evil, Riddle still held Dakhil by the throat.

It was obvious to Harry that Dakhil could have done something to free himself, but he chose to simply stand in the dim light of Patrick’s glow, biding his time. The wraithlike Voldemort moved toward Draco.

“Stand up!” he commanded. He grabbed Draco by his hair and pulled. Draco reached up with his right hand and grabbed Voldemort’s wrist. In an instant he had the evil creature on his stomach, flat on the ground, Draco’s knee firmly planted in his back.

“I told you,” said Draco, leaning toward Voldemort’s ear. “I’m not going back!”

The Voldemort that had been guarding Harry turned his wand on Draco. Harry reached to grab his arm, but his hands passed right through as if the Voldemort he had killed last year was nothing but mist. The exact same thing had happened when the wraithlike Voldemort had tried to grab Harry by the neck. He was nothing but vapour.

“Avada Kedavra!” cried the Voldemort by Harry. His wand sputtered, sparked and fizzled, but nothing more. Dakhil chuckled.

“This one,” said Riddle, referring to Dakhil. “I could use this one to return.”

Harry began to realize that, wherever they were, wands had no power to attack. Somehow, the waters of the lake were having an effect. Seeing the opportunity, he ran toward Riddle and moved to tackle him. He wondered if, like Patrick, he’d be repelled, but no such force shoved him backward. When he reached around Riddle’s middle, Harry’s arms slipped right through as if he were trying to hug a cloud. Riddle continued to hold Dakhil by the throat.

Draco noticed and, as if to test a theory, grabbed the Voldemort he was holding and lifted him off the ground by the neck. But, when he tried to throw him to the ground, he found that his arms would only set his enemy down gently. Clearly, powers centred on evil or ill will, were of no use. Draco couldn’t harm them unless he was defending himself, nor could the Voldemorts attack and, as their powers were centred on dark magic, they were at a loss for what to do.

“What is this place?” Draco asked as he walked over to Harry to help him off the ground. When Harry reached to take the offer, his hand passed completely through Draco’s. Harry felt the heat of Draco’s presence penetrate his body, but not his touch.

“You’re cold,” Draco whispered. He glanced at the other Voldemorts and then back to Harry. “It’s not them; it’s you. You’re a ghost.”

“That… that’s ridiculous,” said Harry.

“You’re the only one that can’t be touched, Harry,” said Draco. His eyes grew wide. “You’re… you’re the one that’s dead. You’ve already passed over.” Draco paused for a moment and then knelt next to Harry and whispered, “Take me with you! Take me now, before it’s too late. I don’t want to go back. I want to move on.”

“Draco, I’m not dead! And, if I was, I couldn’t—”

“Bullshit, Potter!” yelled Draco. “You can take me, but you won’t! You’re such an—” Draco moved his hands to push Harry over, but his hands shot straight through Harry’s body. The sensation was uncomfortable for both of them.

Dakhil cleared his throat. It was subtle, but not so subtle that Draco didn’t go quiet. “I’ll be happy to be your host,” said the old man with surprising calm. “Ruling the world… Well, that sounds like fun, doesn’t it?”

The two Voldemorts moved closer to take a better look.

“He’d old,” said one.

“As a vampire he’s formidable,” said the other. “And he is wise with a wand.”

“Yess… yess that would work nicely.”

“But difficult to control.”

“Not if he is willing.”

“Would you let go my neck,” Dakhil asked Riddle.

“No tricks?”

“No tricks, I assure you,” answered Dakhil. The grip around his neck loosened and for the first time Dakhil was able to see the three pillars of evil standing together before him.

“Don’t do it, Dakhil!” cried Draco. “They’re filth! Because of them I’ve… I’ve—”

“You’ve made your choice, you snivelling child!” spat Dakhil. “Death… death is so much simpler, isn’t it? Three months you studied with me and all I heard about was how powerful you were going to become and now… now when you finally have the opportunity at your fingertips, you let it pass! Wizards will be as worms beneath my feet and the world of Muggles will be sundered!”

“Yessss,” said the Voldemort Harry had killed last year. “Yesss, he will do.”

Dakhil turned toward the trinity of hatred and straightened the dark brown robes he was wearing. He rummaged in his pocket for something, but couldn’t find it. “Damn, smoked the last one.” He took in a sigh. “Well, let’s get this over with.”

“Dakhil, don’t!” cried Harry. “You swore an oath! An oath to—”

Dakhil’s hand raised, he whispered something, and Harry’s voice went silent.

“Prattling prick,” he muttered. The Voldemort’s laughed, convinced now he was sincere. “Now then,” continued Dakhil. “Just one more piece of business at hand. Which one of you will be the lead soul to whom I shall give this power?”

“I will,” they all said in unison.

Dakhil chuckled. “No, seriously. There must be one soul to which the others shall give up their essence. The memories will merge, but the one will control the others.” He stepped closer and narrowed his eyes. “Is that not the way of the… ancient magic? What once was sundered must now be joined to the one – Horcruxian Fusion. Dark… very dark and dangerous. It must be well planned. To whom do I give my body?”

“Me,” said Riddle immediately.

“You?” snapped the wraithlike Voldemort incredulously. “Why you? It should be me.”

“I made the two of you!” said Voldemort. “You’re simply the parts I was willing to discard. If anyone should rule the three, it should be me!”

And so it began. A simple question began to turn into and all out brawl. While the three argued, Dakhil slipped over by Patrick, Draco and Harry.

“That should keep them going for awhile,” he said with a smile. “I hope…” Harry was talking to him, but no words were coming out of his mouth. “Oh, sorry. Necolo!”

“…then why didn’t…” Harry coughed. “I… I can talk.”

“Your genius astounds me, Potter.”

“Why can you use magic, but they can’t,” asked Draco.

“Simple,” answered Patrick before Dakhil could. “He didn’t use it to attack.”

“Very good, young man,” said Dakhil with a smile. “I don’t believe we’ve spoken. You were a student of mine at Hogwarts, I believe?”

“Second year Gryffindor, Professor Barghouti. I’m Patrick… Patrick O’Riley. I’ve seen yeh teach the Dark Arts. I was the one that—”

“Ah yes,” interrupted Dakhil. “Tragic. And you chose not to cross over? Why? Revenge?”

“No, sir. I promised Harry. We’re both orphans yeh know? We swore an oath. I’d watch his back and he’d watch mine. I couldn’t leave ‘im alone. Not while these three still had a chance ter hurt ‘im and his family.”

“Impressive,” said Dakhil, first looking at Patrick and then at Harry. “You do know, Mr. O’Riley, if it hadn’t been for your friend Harry, Voldemort probably would never have tried to use you to kill him. If it hadn’t been for Harry, Hogwarts would never have been attacked. If it hadn’t been for Harry, you would have been a happy second year without a care in the world.”

“No, sir,” Patrick disagreed. “You’re wrong. I don’t know much about prophecies and destinies. All I know is that Harry was me first true wizard friend. If it hadn’t been fer Harry Potter, I’d a never had the heart to speak to James Chang and Dennis Creevey and Cynthia Cormack and, well, if it hadn’t been fer Harry… I’d be walkin’ the halls at Hogwarts, but I’d be as dead as me parents. No, sir. Harry brought me me first smile and I wouldn’ trade it fer all the could-a-beens in the world.”

Dakhil nodded and smiled. “There’s something to be said about that kind of conviction, Mr. O’Riley. I see the heart of the dragon in you.” Dakhil reached out to shake Partick’s hand and, when Patrick held his out in return, he reached up and grabbed him by the wrist. They shook in something of a roman handshake, a greeting that Harry remembered from last year when he took Mr. Darbinyan’s hand in the same way. He rubbed his forearm.

The ground trembled, but the three dark wizards, locked in their power struggle, didn’t notice.

“They’ll figure it out, you know,” said Draco with a nod toward the bickering Voldemorts. “By force most likely, if they can figure out a way. Do you have any other trick up your sleeve when that happens?”

Five more ghosts slipped up through the floor and shot toward the ceiling. Harry could hear them laugh with excitement. They were followed by another puff of white that materialized right next to Harry. It was the ghost of a woman, somewhere in her mid-forties a gash about her neck. She was radiant with joy, but was taking her time in crossing over, savouring every moment. When she saw Harry she swooped over to him, gave him a hug and kissed his cheek. He could feel her touch.

“Five hundred years… I never thought I’d see this day.” She touched the gash on her neck, her eyes wandering to some distant memory. “Thank you, Mr. Potter.”

She floated up and out of view, her light disappearing into the darkness above.

“New girlfriend, Potter,” drawled Draco.

“I… I felt that,” Harry said.

“Well of course you did; you’re both ghosts.”

“I’m not dead! I can’t be…” Harry held out his hand to touch Draco’s shoulder. It passed straight through. He repeated the experiment on Dakhil with similar results. When he turned to Patrick, he was sure that he’d feel solid matter, but when he moved to touch him, Harry’s hand passed through him again. He looked at Dakhil. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“Draco’s right, you’re dead, Harry,” answered Dakhil. “Part of you, at least. And that part wants to go on – to pass through this gate and enter the next plane. I think, perhaps, it’s the part that feels responsible for so many deaths – your parents, Greg Goyle, Grigor, Mrs. Weasley… so many others. They call to you, Harry, not because you’re guilty, but because they love you. With so many loved ones on the other side, it is an enormous temptation.

“The rest of us… me, Draco, the Voldemorts, even Patrick here… the rest of us are drawn to return.”

“I’m with Harry,” contended Patrick. “If he crosses, then I’m goin’—”

“Your heart is still at Hogwarts and as loyal a compatriot as you’ve been to Harry, your best friend lies on his knees next to his sister near at the falls of the Forbidden Forest. Without you, Patrick, your friend James will wander the halls alone and lifeless. This, your heart will not allow.”

“It’s not true, Harry,” said Patrick looking up at his fellow Gryffindor, but his voice lacked conviction.

Harry wasn’t really sure it mattered. Patrick would live a cursed existence as a ghost and Harry wasn’t really sure why Dakhil was tempting him to return when he finally had a chance at eternal peace. Yet those questions were secondary. What mattered were the three evil wizards now nearly coming to blows in the darkness.

“If I’m to cross over, Dakhil?” Harry asked. “Can I take them with me?”

“This is crazy,” interjected Draco. “You’re not going anywhere, Harry. I have no intentions of going back. If anyone’s doing any crossing, it’s me, is that clear! I’ll take the bastards to Never Never Land. How do I do it Dakhil?”

“Like always,” said Dakhil, “you deceive yourself, Draco. We heard him, you and I, when we were fighting in the air over the falls. I saw the flash in your eyes, the glimmer of recognition that allowed you to, if only momentarily, push away Voldemort’s domination of your mind and take control yourself long enough to see Mr. Zabini calling your name. You whispered his name return, just before we were trapped into the dragon’s eye. Like Patrick, your heart is at the shores of the lake above the falls, not into the ether above.”

Draco began to say something, but Harry jumped in first. “Dragon’s eye?” he asked excitedly. His arm was tingling and for the first time he allowed himself to believe that Singehorn was not dead. Thoughts, ideas, broken phrases ran across his mind. He knew this place. It was the same place he had fallen into when he had rescued Sirius. The eyes that had been staring at him, watching him… They weren’t eyes at all; it was one eye… one watcher… “Singehorn… Singehorn’s Eye…” Harry muttered aloud.

His mind thought to the Marauders’ Eye, high on the tower of Hogwarts. Dimension, space, even time had no meaning there. He’d never said, but he and Ron could watch three Quidditch matches and be back to bed before two in the morning, though the next day always felt as if they hadn’t slept for a week. They both had been sure Hermione would want to stop them so she could investigate.

But the Marauders’ eye was always well lit. This place was dark, beyond reason. No matter, Harry knew the spell to free them. He pulled his wand declaring, “I can get us out of here!”

“Wait, Harry,” implored Dakhil. “If you leave now, it’s not clear where you’ll end up. A gateway has been opened and your compass is not pointing in the right direction. You may pass through to the other side.”

“You’ve been talking about hearts, Dakhil,” said Harry with confidence. “Then you should know where my heart lies. Gabriella was also at the falls. I would never leave her! Never!”

“I understand, Harry,” said Dakhil softly, but his face was conflicted. There was something he needed to say, but wasn’t sure how best to say it. It was the first time Harry had ever seen Dakhil at a loss for words. His eyes were pained and that look began to penetrate into Harry. Fear began to build in his heart.

“What is it, Dakhil,” he asked. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“Gabriella’s vision was not wrong,” he said finally.

“I know that,” said Harry. “I… I saw Tonks die tonight. She was the one wearing the white robe, not Gabriella. What’s your point?”

“The vision Gabriella has had since a child, the terror that welled up from within her, the horror of facing her own demise… they were all tied together. White robes… her own death. One was not separate from the other. She did not understand this, but Soseh did. She told me.”

“Told you what?”

“Gabriella’s fear of death was real, Harry, because she knew she would die. Her mind interpreted the arrow and the white cloak as the cause, but it needn’t be both. If she had not truly been destined for death this evening, then she would have clearly interpreted the vision of Tonks’ death. Instead, she tied the two together into one. That was a mistake, but Soseh chose not to tell her. It was, she said, in fate’s hands. Somehow, this evening, the white robes will have a hand in the death of your wife.”

“Take it back!” Harry yelled, balling his hands in a fist, knowing that even if he wanted to strike, he couldn’t, not here.

“You know as well as I – the Votary and the House of Hayk are intertwined. You bear a connubial ring; you don’t need me to know her fate, Harry. Your soul knows already. What does your mind tell you?”

Harry had been so engrossed in what had been happening to him that he’d lost sight of Gabriella and he cursed himself for it. He needed only to reach out slightly before he sensed her terror. She was being attacked.

“NO!” Harry cried. The shout was enough to disrupt the arguments of the Voldemorts.

“Singehorn!” yelled Harry. “SINGEHORN! I know you’re here! As Primate of the Votary, I command you – show me my wife!”

The floor began to rumble, rolling into a violent quake and tossing everyone to the ground. Suddenly a dome of fire appeared above them. It was like looking up at the ceiling of a planetarium that suddenly split open, revealing the heavens above. More properly, it was as if a giant dragon had just opened his eyes and they were inside looking out. The great darkness that had surrounded them opened up into a night time sky that was on fire, only the scene kept moving as the dragon looked around. They were peering through fire and, as the scene changed through the flames above, he could see the reflection of a large sphere ablaze with wisps of gold, red and purple upon the still surface of water. It was a bit disorienting. Like hanging vampire bats, they were looking up at the lake of the falls, but nothing seemed to be moving. Even the splash of the white water over the rocks seemed petrified.

“Look!” said Patrick as he pointed at James who was kneeling at his sister’s side. He was moving, but Blaise who was still standing at the lake looking up at them, appeared frozen in time. Draco looked down on him with concern. A white cloak floated at the shore’s edge as if someone was actually wearing it. The eye continued to open until they, still standing on a dark velvety platform of some sort, could see in all directions.

“Gabriella!” exclaimed Harry, moving toward the edge of their glasslike enclosure. The eye stopped moving and held its gaze upon her. “Gabriella!” he cried again. Then, turning to Dakhil, he asked, “Can’t they see us? We’re standing right here!”

“No. We are but fire and light in their eyes,” said Dakhil shaking his head.

Harry could see Gabriella and Ron with their wands out. Then he watched in horror as events unfolded. First the glimmering white robes, Voldemort’s Horcrux, dropped James… then Ron… Voldemort grabbed Jamie and when Gabriella leapt to save him she splashed into the waters and disappeared.

Voldemort held Harry’s son to the waters, silvery fingers wrapping about the child’s arms and legs. Did he think the waters would destroy the child? He withdrew from the lake and glided over to Cho. He held his arm out and Jamie’s smiling face went blank, his body stiffened and black smoke issued forth into the robes. The child fell lifeless at Cho’s side.

“No,” Harry whispered. “NO!”

In a matter of seconds, everything and everyone he loved had been destroyed. “It can’t be,” said Harry in a hushed voice. “Singehorn! Let me go!” He pounded on the surface of the eye. Harry wasn’t the only one watching as the scene played out.

“There it is!” Voldemort sneered, cold and high. He was standing next to Harry, peering out at the same scene. He pointed at the white robes. “Yes… YES… He can choose, for he is naught but honesty and light. He has no interest in our future and, if asked, he will select the most capable of leading this trinity. It is beyond him, after all, to tell a lie. Shall we go by the word of Tom Riddle? Is it agreed?”

The three swore an oath and bound it with some sort of dark evil that Harry didn’t understand, nor did he care to. He was busy watching in horror as not even bubbles breached the surface where Gabriella had disappeared into the depths. His heart sank with her.

“Begin the summons,” the wraithlike Voldemort demanded. “I am eager to leave this gateway.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 51 – The Death of Tom Riddle
~~~***~~~

When Gabriella splashed into the lake she was surprised to find that the water wasn’t wet. The sensation was more akin to being thrown into a great thicket of nettles. The small pinpricks tore away her clothes and began to plunge into her flesh; she covered her face with her hands and screamed in agony. The pain was intense and she wondered if, perhaps, this was what it would feel like to burn alive. The only thing saving her from plunging into pure terror was the belief that she would soon be with her Harry. The wars of the world would fall away and, at last, they would simply have each other to hold and to love. A wave of peace passed over her and, in that moment, the pain ceased.

Still holding her breath, she looked upward to the water’s surface. All was dark accept for a fiery circle she knew to be the glowing sphere that hovered over the lake. She tried to swim up, but something had hold of her ankle and was pulling her deeper down. When she could bear it no longer, she gasped for air. There was none to be had, nor was water spilling into her lungs. She didn’t know if she were suffocating, or if she was already dead. She continued to descend and the glowing disk above began to fade to darkness. When all light faded, she heard voices.

“The sword defends; it does not attack!”

“Murderer!”

“Defender of the innocent!”

Something, or some things were swirling about her. Initially, Gabriella couldn’t make out who or what they were, but their bodies began to shimmer and then glow. Flowing strips of golden and emerald cloth slipped by in the water, lit by some unnatural light that made them sparkle like the stars at night. The light became more intense until she could discern the colour of their hair and the radiance of their eyes. One’s hair flowed in wisps of ebon smoke while the other was brilliantly blonde.

“She killed her father!”

“You can’t be serious. She is a child of the deep waters.”

“The salt water has affected your senses, sister; she belongs to me!"

"Nymphs!” Gabriella whispered in astonishment.

The one with black hair stopped in the water and turned toward Gabriella. She was somewhat larger than the other nymph in both stature and girth, but she slipped through the water like a hummingbird in the air. The top of her torso bare, shimmering emerald fabric draped about her waist and flowed down her hips in something of a tattered skirt. She was no mermaid for she had legs and no discernable gills. She appeared quite human, but her appearance was more beautiful, bearing a majestic manner. Her eyes radiated a cool green light that was neither threatening, nor welcoming and her dark skin suggested that she might belong to the Mediterranean and, in this regard, Gabriella felt an immediate kinship.

Her sister, if she could be called that, was slender and wore a similar garment that began at the waist and flowed about her hips. Her skin was fair and the fabric she wore was a glittering gold. Her eyes radiated a warm golden yellow. The two were different in stature and wore different clothes, but this one’s expression was anything but impassive. She was furious and eager for judgement. Her eyes told Gabriella that her moments left in this world would soon be at an end, if they weren’t already.

The dark haired one swam closer, held out her hand and somehow stopped Gabriella from sinking further into the water. Instead, she was frozen in place. She could move with difficulty. It felt as if she were being suspended by some invisible net. The larger nymph came nose to nose with Gabriella, her green eyes penetrating Gabriella’s mind.

“Nymphs?” she said irritably. “Did you call me a nymph?”

“You mean us,” said the other condescendingly.

“No, my dear Melusina… Clearly you could be a nymph. If only you’d eat more than watercress and silverfish. I on the other hand am a—”

“—Big, fat manatee is what you are, Maia!”

The still water began to boil. Gabriella could feel the heat and drew energy from it. She was, somehow, alive.

“Your temper has the better of you, Mel,” said Maia coolly. “This evening alone you have claimed a half-dozen. More if you include those below the falls. I understand your anger at the battle now waging about your waters, but you rush to judgement. Can you not discern the difference now before you?”

“You’re as soft as your flesh!” snapped Melusina. “None have been worthy, let alone the sea snake slithering there.” Maia turned back toward Gabriella and shrugged.

“You may be right.”

Gabriella tried to speak, tried to protest and assert her innocence, but no words would come. The waters had silenced her. Maia noticed the attempt and smiled, knowingly. She then reached her hand toward Gabriella’s forehead. Gabriella could feel the power of the goddess approach even before her touch. In an instant, her life flashed by and Maia withdrew her hand.

“The darkness here does not run deep,” said Maia softly. “It would be a simple manner to—”

“You’ve said that before!” yelled Melusina. “‘Purity of spirit,’ you said. And what happened? Tell me, Maia, what happened!”

“He was defending!”

“That’s a lie!” hissed Melusina. “He thirsted for power and wielded it like all the others. He is now a murderer… a murderer just like this one. And she… she gave that power to him. Duty bound to protect one of nature’s greatest gifts… this one knew and let it happen.”

Melusina swam up behind Maia and placed her hands on her shoulders. They both now faced Gabriella who felt more and more like a rat in a cage waiting to be fed to a snake.

“Even now,” whispered Melusina, “our waters mix with the fires of the dragon and peer into the gate beyond. He is there. You know this. All he needs is a small… push… and you will have corrected a great wrong.”

“It is not so.”

“Isn’t it?”

Melusina slipped in front of Maia, grabbed Gabriella by the left wrist and held up her hand in front of her. The touch was cold and when Gabriella looked, she saw her fingers begin to darken to a bruised purplish-blue. Melusina then swirled her other hand in small circles until a golden bubble was created in the water. The sphere was about the size of a Quaffle.

The tips of Gabriella’s fingers began to tingle and when she tried to move them, she found she couldn’t. Again she opened her mouth to complain, but her voice was silent. Maia simply looked at them both, pensive in her demeanour. It was then Gabriella noticed her ring, the one Harry had given her. The firestones had never dimmed on the ring. To the contrary, they had grown brighter with each passing moon. Only now, their brilliance had faded completely. Melusina’s golden eyes beamed with satisfaction.

“Observe,” she said with a smirk. “Let’s see what precepts the Chosen will follow when all is lost.”

Images began to appear in the silver orb that she had created with her other hand. They were outside the Dragon’s Eye, looking in. There was Patrick’s ghost and next to him… Harry. Gabriella gasped and struggled to get a closer look. Was it him? Was he a ghost too?

His hands appeared to be pressed up against the clear sides of the orb floating in front of Gabriella. He was looking at something, a look of terror on his face. Then… then he noticed something on his hand. His face went pale and he crumpled to the floor.

“HARRY!” screamed Gabriella. This time both Maia and Melusina heard her.

~~~***~~~
________________________________________

Harry’s face was pressed up against the clear surface of the Dragon’s Eye as he watched her splash in.

“GABRIELLA!” he cried out as he pounded the clear surface holding him within the gate. It was then that he noticed his hand. The band on his ring finger was fading. One could always see it, even in the dark, but now it only shimmered against Patrick’s glow and even that was weakening. Harry reached out his mind, searching for his love and felt nothing but the pained heart of Dakhil Barghouti.

She was gone.

He smashed against the fiery sphere that was the gateway to death and cried out her name once more. The ground rumbled in sorrow, but that’s all it could do. Singehorn, whatever he had become, was no more in control of what was happening than Harry was.

A gathering of spirits flittered upward through the floor and Harry’s heart skipped for a moment, wondering if perhaps… “Gabriella?” They disappeared and Harry crumpled to the ground, his eyes beginning to mist.

Nothing was left. His wife, his child, his friends, everything had been destroyed. Harry had been defeated by the final Horcrux, because he wasn’t there to defend them. Had it happened again? Had he used the stone for his own self-serving purposes? Was he no better than the darkness now huddled together in front of him, discussing their plans? What did it matter? Maybe Draco was right, maybe it was time to pass on.

Dakhil knelt to one knee and placed a heavy hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Do not let this defeat you. You must return,” he said. Harry just shook his head.

“I’ve lost. It’s over.”

Draco pushed Patrick out of the way and grabbed Harry by the front of his cloak.

“What are you talking about, Potter?” he asked with a tight voice. “They just murdered your family and you’re going to let them get away with it? The deal was we destroy them while we can and you…,” he patted Harry’s chest just over the stone, “…you have the only way we can do it. Close the gate and destroy them all! Send us all to oblivion, I don’t give a damn! I won’t let him win!”

The idea began to burn into Harry’s mind – one last cleansing. The fire would destroy them all, but what of the robes still on the lake? And what of the ghosts now passing to the other side? Would the gate close? Did it matter? Would any of it even make a difference?

Riddle and the two Voldemorts began to chant.

“Get up, Potter!” snapped Draco. “They’re calling him, the last Horcrux. When he arrives, use the stone!”

“Yes… yes I could use the stone,” thought Harry, anger burning in his empty heart, revenge filling his lost soul. He could wipe them all out in one final blast of power; he knew it was still within him. What did it matter to Dakhil? He’d lived long enough.

In that moment, Harry heard the distant giggling of a woman echoing about the chamber. He turned, but saw no one. Shrugging, he searched his mind for ways to destroy them all, using the memories given him at the Joining. Finally he settled on one, a powerful spell of destruction. It came from the age of Pravus when he used it to destroy the wizarding city of Petroska. The city, like the Dragon’s Eye, had been enchanted so that it could not be attacked directly, but it could be cleansed and, after all, that was what he was doing – cleansing. They would be wiped clean; nothing would remain. It was the last time Pravus used the stone; the House of Hayk saw to that.

Harry was concentrating on the spell, considering where to centre its energy, when a flash of white light blinded them all. He saw the white robes appear and, holding his hand over his chest, raised his wand. “For you, Gabriella,” he whispered.

“Harry, no!” implored Dakhil, but Harry’s mind was bent on hate and revenge. It would end as Draco had demanded – they would all be sent to oblivion.

“Minuo Maxi —”

Harry stopped. Looking up at him was a child not yet six years old draped in a white robe that made him appear as if he’d just stepped from the bath. His small, bare feet looked as if they should be wearing bunny slippers. Like Patrick, the child’s body glowed with a blue aura and, though his skin was pale, his form was solid and substantial, lacking the transparency of the others. In contrast, his dark hair was ruffled in a dozen different directions not unlike Harry’s own. His dark green eyes were wide with curiosity, taking in everything about him and, when they set upon Harry, he smiled.

“Hello,” he said with a high voice that was not cold at all, but warm and welcoming and eager. Just one word, asking for a simple response, but Harry was having none of it. He’d not be tricked again. He was ready to kill and kill he would. Again, echoing all about the cavern, he heard the giggling of a woman. He shook his head and refocused his thoughts. He’d destroy them all and centre that hatred on this one just for good measure. The prophecy would, at last, be fulfilled. He lowered his wand directly at the child and his hand began to shake.

Three times he tried to form the words in his mouth and three times he failed. He was beginning to feel physically nauseous and perspiration was popping out all over his forehead. Gabriella had told him that he would always have a choice, but what choice was this? Killing a small child?

Harry bit the side of his lip. This was no small child – it was evil incarnate. He tried to form the spell again, but there was something greater than hate inside him, holding him back. She had said that the robes were everything pure about Tom Riddle. If not, the waters of the lake would have washed them away.

“I… have to… kill you,” sputtered Harry, his own voice shaking with his hand. Tom Riddle’s smile faded and he padded over to the Primate of the Votary and stood only a few feet from him, examining the holly in his hand as if it was nothing more than the branch of a tree.

“Why?” Tom asked innocently.

The voice was small and thin, but filled with unencumbered compassion so sincere that Harry broke down again. It was if he could hear her calling to him – Gabriella would not want this. Visions and emotions of the hearts that had touched his mind in the Joining slipped through his thoughts. There he saw laughter and love, compassion and forgiveness. Harry fell to his knees and dropped his wand in defeat.

“What am I doing?” he whispered to himself as he looked down at his hands. “Not like this… I can’t let it end like this.”

“Harry, no!” said Draco angrily.

“What is this scab?” screeched the wraithlike Voldemort, pointing at the young boy. He turned to the others. “Thiss is what you would have determine our fate? I thought… Argh!”

“The boy will still choose,” said Riddle with confidence, perhaps recognizing a closer kinship to this soul than the other two. The other Voldemort stepped forward.

“He is still one of us. Come here, boy!” he commanded. Tom did not respond; he was so curious about the wet drops falling down Harry’s cheeks that he didn’t even hear the demand.

“I said, come here!” Voldemort yelled again. This time he stepped over and grabbed Tom roughly by the shoulder. The child, his back toward his attacker, held up his hand and a flash of yellow light pulsed outward in all directions, throwing Voldemort a good ten metres backwards on his arse. Then, slowly, he turned to see the three souls that had cast him away. His brow furled with concentration, trying to understand, trying to remember why they seemed so familiar. A spark of recognition appeared. He brought his two hands together and cupped them.

“I- I thought these were mine,” Tom said, looking down at a number of tiny glowing lights that were floating in his hands. They were green and sinister. “I found them by the lake; others had taken them.” He looked back at the two Voldemorts. “I guess… I guess they belong to you two. I’m sorry.”

Three tiny lights floated up out of Tom’s hands and passed toward the wraithlike Voldemort; another went to the Voldemort Harry had killed at the Ministry. They were the darkness, the stain that they’d left behind in the others. Tom had taken the evil, the touch of death Voldemort had deposited, out of Harry’s friends, had removed the stain of the curse that Voldemort had passed to Harry and he to his son, and in removing that death left them to sleep in suspended time with all the others about the lake. They had been freed from Voldemort’s touch and were now, unremarkable like all the others, waiting for time to restart.

The tiny lights shot toward the Voldemorts and penetrated their eyes, the sudden inrush of evil causing even them to scream in agony. Riddle laughed at his soul mates.

“There will be opportunity enough to plant more seeds when we return to Hogwarts. Ginny Weasley comes to mind,” he said with a snicker. “Now, boy, come over here. We have a question for you.” Again Tom’s brow furled.

“It’s too noisy here,” he said. There was a snap and white walls popped out of the floor, surrounding Harry and Tom in small room. They were alone – Harry on his knees and Tom Riddle standing, looking at him eye to eye with curiosity.

“What’s your name?” asked Tom.

“Harry… Harry Potter.” The Gryffindor just looked down at the dark ground.

“Are you sad?”

“No… Y-Yes.”

“Why?”

For a moment Harry didn’t answer. His mind was mulling over what had just happened. His friends had not been destroyed; they had been saved from the hidden darkness Voldemort had implanted within them, the same darkness that had killed Patrick. Even his son, Jamie had been cleansed. But Gabriella… Gabriella had fallen into the lake and Harry knew the waters would not be kind to her. The fading band about his finger was proof enough of that.

“I’ve lost someone very dear to me,” he said finally. Tom simply nodded his head, perhaps not truly understanding what that meant, but wishing it to seem that he did.

“I lost my mother,” he gave in response. “She died when I was born. Her name was Merope.”

“I lost my mother too,” said Harry, the words spilling before he realized he was beginning a conversation with the one who had killed her. Or had he? “When… when I was very young. Erm… her name was… Lilly.”

Again, Tom Riddle nodded his head knowingly and then sat down next to Harry.

“Those three…” He pointed through one of the white walls. “Do you know them?”

“They’re your… your brothers,” answered Harry not really sure how to explain, not really sure if Tom could understand, though something in the boy’s eyes bore a wisdom far greater than that of a small child.

“Well, they’re not very nice.”

“No, no they’re not,” agreed Harry grimly. “But we don’t get to choose our family, do we?” said Harry. His thoughts turned to Vernon and Petunia. And then, his mind on Dudley, he said, “Still, sometimes things change.”

“You’d make a nicer brother than any of them.”

Harry shrugged.

“I mean, your mom died, my mom died. We both have black hair and green eyes. We’re like twins! Can you talk to snakes?” he asked eagerly.

Harry nodded.

“Excellent!” Tom moved so that Harry could look him in the eyes. They were shining brightly with glee. “Can we be friends then?”

“Yeah,” said Harry with a sad smile. “Sure. We orphans… we have to stick together, eh?”

Whispers began to flit about Harry’s ears. “You left the orphan to die, Harry.” They were the whispers of death he knew all to well. He half-expected a reaper to appear at his side, but he was trapped alone with Tom Riddle. The thought of the four white walls being a trap made his heart skip. The whispers grew louder. “Will you right the wrong, Harry?” Tom noticed the expression on Harry’s face.

“Can you hear them too?” he asked. “The voices just on the other side?” Tom shifted his position uncomfortably and sighed; the innocence on his face waned. “It won’t matter where I go, you know. They’ll find me. They’ll come back.”

The echoes of the veil in the Death Chamber at the Ministry where Harry had first lost Sirius slipped into his mind. And then Luna’s words soon followed. "They'll come back; they always do in the end.”

“Gabriella,” he whispered, a glimmer of hope entering his heart. The floor rumbled. Tom didn’t seem to notice. His eyes were focused straight at the wall, the other side of which stood his soul mates.

“They don’t think I know,” he said staring blankly ahead. “They think I haven’t seen.” He turned to face Harry and now tears were streaming down Tom’s cheeks. “But I have seen, Harry. I have seen.” He was scared. “Your… your mother, she was a proud and beautiful woman and she… she loved you so much.”

He began to cry and Harry couldn’t help but to offer him comfort. Tom fell into his arms and wept into Harry’s shoulder. “I was there… I was always there.”

Holding Tom as he cried, images began to flash across Harry’s mind too fast for him to take them all in. An orphanage, a small child bleeding from the ears for no apparent reason. Hogwarts, the summoning of the Basilisk and the death of Myrtle. The assembly of Death Eaters and the creation of an inferi army. The search for the child of the prophecy, Harry’s parents and the blinding white flash – death. Harry pulled away.

“Y-You…” Harry stammered, pushing himself backward away from Tom. “You were there. You killed my—”

“No!” pleaded Tom. “No, it wasn’t me! I tried to stop them, but they wouldn’t listen. They never listened.” Tom’s face fell into his hands. “And then he ripped me away, used me to keep him safe so he could… so he could…” He shuddered and then brought his face from his hands and looked at Harry once more. “I’m so sorry, Harry.”

Little Tom’s eyes were red, but not with evil, with the pain of enduring decades of evil. He had been trapped to endure atrocities Harry couldn’t even begin to imagine. The child was alone; he’d always been alone. The emotions of Harry’s childhood in Little Whinging came flooding back. In many ways, they really weren’t that much different; Harry’s pure voice had been just a little bit stronger.

Harry stepped over to Tom who had crawled into the corner to cry. He took him by the shoulders, turned him and knelt to one knee. With his thumbs he wiped the tears away and ruffled Tom’s hair.

“It’s okay,” he said softly. “It’s not your fault. I… I forgive you.”

He hugged Tom and the ground rumbled again. Again, he heard a female’s voice, or voices… laughter mixed with screaming… voices coming from a distant cavern that faded to nothing. When he pulled back, Harry moved to wipe the tears from Tom’s face once more. The crying had stopped and something of a smile had replaced the sadness. Brushing Tom’s cheek he noticed his own hand. The band on his ring finger had darkened, the imprint of his love had returned.

“Gabriella!” he said out loud. Harry looked at the four walls and then back to the little boy. “Tom—”

“I know… we can’t stay in here forever.” He raised his hand. “I wish we could, but we can’t.” He took in a deep breath as if gathering himself for something. “I’ll miss you, Harry. Will you do me one more favour?”

“Sure, what is it?”

The walls dropped.

They were still in the eye, still looking down at the motionless lake, reflecting the fiery orb and the heavens that glowed above. Patrick stood next to Dakhil; they had been talking. Draco was standing near one wall as it fell; Riddle, and the two Voldemorts stood by another. Harry ran past Draco to the edge of the eye and pressed himself against its surface.

“She’s still there!” he said. “I know she is – just beyond the surface. Can you sense it, Dakhil?”

“You didn’t kill him!” yelled Draco.

“Come here, child!” yelled Voldemort. Harry turned back and saw them grab Tom by the robes he was wearing.

“Leave him alone!” he yelled. “He doesn’t belong to you!”

“And what do you intend to do about it, Potter,” sneered Riddle. “You’re nothing but a wisp of smoke, not long for this world. Go on… pass to the other side and get it over with! I’ve been there… you deserve each other.” Riddle stepped over and jokingly poked at Harry’s chest, expecting his hand would pass all the way through. It didn’t and Harry grabbed his finger and held it tight.

“I can send you back to hell,” Harry hissed. “That’s what I can do about it!”

Fear spread across Riddle’s face and his companions grabbed the boy and held him like a shield as they stepped back from Harry. No one was sure what was possible in the gateway and they weren’t willing to take any chances.

“Kill him!” cried Draco.

“No!” yelled Tom. “Harry, don’t. You can’t.” He shook loose of Voldemort and stepped toward Harry. “You’re wrong; I do belong to them. We belong to each other.”

“The boy speaksss sense,” said the wraithlike Voldemort with a hiss. “Lisssten to him!”

“But—”

“Let me do this, Harry,” interrupted Tom. “Trust me.”

The other Voldemort laughed, but then quickly stifled his mirth to conceal his enthusiasm. “Yes, trust us!”

Harry let Riddle go and the three souls of evil surrounded the one shining star.

“We have agreed,” said Voldemort in eager anticipation, “by the Unbreakable Oath, that you shall decide which one of us is to lead our return. It is left to you, boy. Choose wisely.” Voldemort stepped closer, perhaps thinking that it would give him the advantage.

Surrounded, Tom surveyed the evil enveloping him. He stepped toward Riddle who was handsome and smiled. He turned and examined Voldemort who stood tall and powerful. He then looked the wraithlike Voldemort in the eyes, assessing his cunning and stealth. Then he looked over at Harry who was lost as to what he might do should Voldemort return to plague Hogwarts and the rest of the Wizarding world once again.

“I have decided,” said Tom with a small voice. All three stepped closer. “I will lead our return.” There was a cacophony of screams and cries of protest. Almost at once, Riddle and the two Voldemorts began to fade. The deal had been struck. The soul which would lead the return of the others was that of Tom… Tom Riddle.

Harry wasn’t sure what that meant. Tom had told him that he didn’t have the power to fight back against the others. Would he be consumed once more by the darkness inside him? Tom stepped toward Harry. His soul mates, compelled to do so, followed in his wake.

“I will lead our return… and the return will be to the other plane. Our time on this world has come to an end!”

There were more screams. In their haste to bind the oath, the dark wizards hadn’t specified where they would be returning to. It had seemed so obvious that their return would be to the earthly plane. Voldemort who was only half as substantive as he was a moment before screamed the least, for his eyes glimmered as if he knew something the others did not.

“You’re a fool, boy!” he snapped. “Your path leads only one way and that is back to the forest below. You have no pass to the other plane, for you haven’t died! You can not will yourself beyond without another’s hand.”

“You are right, brother,” said Tom. “I must give my spark to another.” He stepped toward Patrick and held out his hand. In it was a bright blue glow, his life’s force. The others tried to swipe at his arm, but they only passed through like smoke.

“I have harmed you wrongly, Patrick. I have harmed many wrongly, but I only have one life to give and you… you are here. Harry says that we orphans have to stick together.” He smiled. “Will you take this spark as your own, turn what it might have been into something that will heal our world?”

Patrick’s jaw dropped and his eyes opened wide. He stepped toward Tom in disbelief, but stopped and looked at Harry, asking with his eyes if it was okay.

“SSSSily boy,” sneered the wraithlike Voldmeort. “Patrick, the spark will only bring your spirit back to life. Without substance, you will still be little better than a ghost. You will be forced to seek a host as did I. All will fear you as they feared me. It will be a cursed life, a half life.”

“It is true,” said Tom in agreement, “but it is all I have to offer.”

“Take me!” called out Draco. “Take my body. Let me pass to the other—”

“No,” interrupted Dakhil. He began to laugh and walked over to Harry. “You’ve done it, man!” He reached out and grabbed Harry’s shoulder. The grip was firm. “Soseh said… and I couldn’t… I wouldn’t believe.” He sighed and turned back to his protégé.

“I’m an old man, Draco. The world has changed and I’m tired of changing with it. There will be more battles, more darkness to fight. That’s a game for young men. My time has come at last.”

He placed his palm on Draco’s head. “All that was mine is now yours.” A dark green glow spread out and covered Draco’s body. He shuddered and the light vanished. When he looked back up to Dakhil, his eyes were pained. Then, he nodded.

“I understand,” he said to his mentor.

“Patrick, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather do this for. You stuck by Harry when you could have been with your parents… your family. You will see them soon enough. For me, it’s been a millennium; I’m ready to let go. I can give you my corporeal form, but I don’t know what that will mean. Will you be a vampire? An old withered man? I don’t know. What I do know is that you will be able to breathe, and smile, and love, and enjoy the company of those who love you back. You’ll have a life and it will be yours to live. Will you take my offer?”

Again, Patrick turned uncertainly to Harry. This time Harry nodded.

“If yeh see me mum an’ da,” said Patrick, looking up to Dakhil, “tell ‘em… tell ‘em I love ‘em. ”

“Dakhil,” added Harry. “I don’t know what you’ll find, but if you see Luna Lovegood’s mother, tell her the same, will you?”

“Bloody owl is what I am,” he said with a smile. “You both have my word. Tom, shall we begin?”

“It requires the hand of another,” said Tom. “Harry, you know the spell. Gabriella used it to bring her brother back to life. Will you do this for us… one last favour?”

Harry nodded.

“No!” yelled the other Voldemorts. They tried to move in on their innocent soul, but a sudden onslaught of ghosts shot up through the floor and began to swirl about. They were hollering and laughing. It sounded like a drunken party and they wanted the Voldemorts to join in.

“We’re heading home! We’re heading home!” they cried with glee.

In the confusion, Harry held up his hands and began to chant in a tongue that had been passed to him from Gabriella during the Joining, a chant he had heard her utter in the Death Chamber below the Ministry when Grigor gave up his body to Antreas’ life force. His voice grew louder and stronger with every verse and a blue glow began to appear about his fingers.

“By the Heart of Asha!” he declared and he pointed his wand at Tom. The glow of his hands traveled down the holly and a swirl of glowing blue mist spun in towards Tom’s chest.

“The Joining!” he cried out, and then, “Patrick O’Riley!” The spark of Tom Riddle passed from his body and penetrated Patrick’s chest. At once, Patrick’s body began to become more substantive. Tom, to the contrary, began to fade and, as he did so, he collected the others with him. They were ripped from the revellers arms and were absorbed into his back. Dark shadows appeared under his eyes at once as their faint screams of protest died away.

“The gate will not be open long,” he said, struggling to control the evil within. “I must go.” He held out his hand and one of the partying ghosts grabbed it. “We’re going home!” He smiled. There was a flash of light and the white spirits ascended through the eye and out into the heavens, disappearing into a background of fiery stars.

Dakhil turned to Harry. “Primate, give my best to the others and my love to Soseh. If I had been younger…” He sighed once more and smiled.

“I will,” said Harry softly.

“I look forward to the day we meet again. Take this, he may find use for it.” He handed Harry his wand, ten inches of solid oak. “Our time together has been short, but by Asha’s Heart what a lifetime of stories it will bring!” Dakhil moved toward Draco and placed his hand on his shoulder. “Draco, you have seen the incantation. You know its purpose. I ask that I leave this world by your hand. Will you give me the honour?”

Draco looked up and a tear slipped down the side of his face. He nodded and Dakhil gave him a small bow.

Draco repeated the spell, only this time Dakhil placed his hands on Patrick’s shoulders. A golden glow travelled down his arms and into Patrick’s body. Patrick fell unconscious to the ground. Harry started forward, but Dakhil stopped him.

“He’s alright,” said Dakhil, his form now fading as well. “The new trinity within him has to meet, must get to know each other. That will take time. It’s like being born anew.” He continued to fade.

“Remember, Harry, stories… I expect to hear some good stories.” He looked to the heavens above. “I do so hope they have pipe tobac—” Dakhil disappeared, a white glow in his stead. It hovered for a moment and then shot upwards, following the path Tom and the other spirits had taken. With Patrick asleep on the dark ground, Draco and Harry were alone.

They were silent for some time and at last Draco looked up at Harry. “She said it would happen… I wanted it to be true. I just didn’t think…” He shook his head.

“Who, Draco?”

“Soseh. The night we first met she took my hand. She said that, in the end, you and I would stand alone… victorious against the darkness. I though if we could kill them, we would…” He swallowed and shook his head, looking at his feet, long strands of grimy blond hair hanging over his face. “I don’t feel much like celebrating.”

Harry looked down at the waters. “No… there’s still work to be done.” He examined his hand. The band about his finger continued to grow brighter. He was confident she was alive; he could sense her presence, but she still had not appeared at the water’s edge.

“I’m not going back, Harry.”

“But you said—”

“He needed a reason and I gave him one. Dakhil’s wrong, there’s nothing for me out there. You… you’ve got… you’ve got family. Me… I thought maybe Dakhil, but now…” He shook his head. “There’s no one left that would die for me.”

“I’d die for you, Draco.”

“Potter, you’d die for anybody.” Draco laughed, trying to be comical, but his eyes betrayed his sadness. He stood up and gently pushed Harry on the chest. “Go on. Get out of—” It was then he noticed the talisman hanging about Harry’s neck by a thin strap of leather. It was a small flat disk.

“You… you kept this?” asked Draco, fingering the flat disk as it revealed his own reflection. Harry nodded with a smile.

“Come here, Draco,” he said, waving his friend to follow. “You need to see this.”

Draco walked over and looked down at the wizards suspended in time. Some held out their wands, still in the midst of battle. Others were panicked and scared.

“There,” said Harry pointing near the cluster of rocks near where Tonks had been killed. He didn’t need to; Draco’s eyes were already set to the same spot. There, holding his hands about his mouth, was Blaise Zabini. He was calling up to them, calling up to Draco. “I think, if you looked in the mirror again, you’d see something different.”

“I’m a vampire, Harry. There’s no way he would—”

“What the hell do you think you were when he called out to you?” Harry snapped. “Do you think he didn’t know? He was at the castle when the attack came. He was injured and could have stayed in the caverns with the other students, but he risked his life to join Sirius and the others to come to the lake. Why is that, Draco? Was it his bravery? Do you think it was for me? For Hogwarts? Hah! Zabini’s a Slytherin. The only thing he cares about is himself and maybe… maybe you, Draco – vampire face and all.”

Draco moved to the invisible wall and held his hand flat against it as he gazed down.

“Whatever Dakhil gave you just now… don’t waste it. You’re immortal, Draco. You can be part of something that lasts forever, something that has a mission to do good for all eternity. Let me help you get started. After all this… don’t I count as family?”

He began to reach for the Ring of Onyx, but the ground began to rumble once more. The giant lid started to close and the cloak of impenetrable darkness returned without the aid of Patrick’s glow. They both lit their wands as another spirit rose through the floor. The wisp of white smoke took shape. It was Helena. She was smiling brightly.

“I am the last, Harry. The gate begins to close.” She held out her hand, her radiance and beauty filling the darkness with light. “Will you come with me?” For a moment, Harry considered it. He took a step forward and Draco grabbed him about the chest.

“He’s got family to attend to,” Draco snapped. “We both do. Be on your way!”

“I understand,” Helena said with a courteous bow. “She is quite gorgeous.” She stepped over and kissed Harry on the cheek and then did the same to Draco. “You were both very brave tonight. Because of you, thousands have made their way home.”

Her form dissolved to smoke, there was a flash and she shot upward through the darkness. As they watched her disappear, they noticed the darkness brighten. The fire was burning its way inside the chamber. Flames of red and gold and purple were closing in on them. By the second, both heat and light grew more intense. Harry could withstand the flames, but not Patrick, not Draco. He positioned himself next to Patrick’s body.

“Draco!” he called. “Come here! Take my hand!”

Draco seemed stunned, watching as the flames continued to roil, growing brighter and brighter. He held out his hand, the heat singing his flesh. At last he had overcome his fear.

“HURRY!”

Harry’s cries broke Draco’s trance and he ran over to join him. Harry grabbed his hand and pulled him close, pressing him down against Patrick and shielding them both with his body. The ground began to quake fiercely.

Harry held his hand against the dark loamy earth. “Good-bye my friend,” he whispered. “May you find a special place in the heavens.”

There was a tremendous explosion and they were engulfed in streams of flame and unimaginable heat. The explosion roared in their ears – a thousand dragons breathing fire. The deafening roar continued as the explosion blasted outward. Then, suddenly it stopped and all went quiet. An instant later, everything that was exploding outward began to implode inward. The sound now was a great swoosh as if the air and everything else were being inhaled backward into a small tin. Holding tightly to Harry with one hand and Patrick with the other, his eyes squeezed down to thin slits and the wind buffeting his face, Draco tried to yell something, but Harry couldn’t hear him. The flames, the heat the black loamy earth, Patrick, Draco and Harry were all drawn down to a singular point in space and time until… in the end…there was nothing.

~~~***~~~
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Author’s Note: Still a few more chapters to go. Feel free to say, “That sucked!”, or “Update soon.”

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Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 52 – Love Found
~~~***~~~

The ground rumbled. The sound of wandfire and screams of pain bounced around the trees surrounding the lake like ping pong balls trapped in a turning bingo cage. The ground rumbled again. Ron Weasley opened his eyes and discovered he was face down in the dirt, starring at a rather large spider. Without flinching he reached over and smashed the creature between his thumb and forefinger. Okay, it wasn’t that large… but it could have been. He rolled over and blinked to get the sand out of his eyes. When he rose to one knee a stunner shot past his head, shattering a large stone behind him. To his side, he heard weeping; it was Hermione. Time had restarted.

The wandfire spread out all along the tree line; the battle was still raging. Across the lake, someone was tending to Professor Snape and others that had fallen. At least the rocks near Ron’s position provided their small section of shoreline a modicum of protection. He scanned about and found that Cho was also crying, her brother James held tightly at her side. He couldn’t see Jamie. Ron reached for his wand, but it was missing. It took him a moment, but he found it a few feet ahead of him in the sand. He crawled over and picked it up, and then continued to crawl along the ground toward Hermione whose back was to him. She was still near Tonks’ body and was crying worse than ever. He placed his hand on her hip.

“Hey… It’s okay, Herm—” She screamed.

“RON!”

In a flash she was upon him, squeezing for dear life. In a matter of seconds, Cho was holding him and then James. He felt sort of like a kitten in a pre-school, unsure what the fuss was about. Tears and hugs diminished and at last Hermione grabbed him by the front of the robes. She was… upset.

“You couldn’t have Apparated, could you?” she asked, confused. “Where have you been?” He wasn’t sure if she was more upset that he’d been missing, or that she didn’t understand why. “We thought… we thought you were…” She shook her head and turned away. He placed his fingertips on her chin and pulled her back so that she could look into his eyes.

“I’ve been right… right here,” he pointed to where he had fallen after trying to bring down the robes. The robes! He raised his wand higher and scanned for some shimmer of white. There was nothing except the burning orb still hovering above the lake.

“See! I told you!” complained James to his sister. “Ron, she wouldn’t—”

“James appeared only a few minutes ago,” said Cho. “He gave us some demented story that we were all statues and that you were together… you, him, Gab and… and Jamie?”

Her questioning tone made Ron look around for the child. It was then he noticed that the boy was missing.

“He’s gone? And Gab?” Ron muttered suddenly spinning around, searching for her as his thoughts became clearer. “Where’s Gabriella?”

“You were both across the lake,” said Hermione. When the dragon attacked there was an explosion of cold fire and then you disappeared, all of you including Gabriella, Harry, Draco, Professor Barghouti, James and little Jamie. You all just vanished and that… that thing appeared.” She pointed at the flaming sphere.

“Ron… does he have my child?” asked Cho nervously. “Does Voldemort have Jamie?” Her eyes, already red, began to glisten once more.

“It was the robes!” said James.

“Stop that nonsense,” snapped his sister.

“She was right there,” said Ron, pointing to where Gabriella had stood when he leapt at the white robes. “And you… you had Jamie in your arms. And the robes… the robes attacked James first.”

“Seeee!” James sneered.

“She was right here with me! Gabriella!” Ron cried out. “Gabriella!”

Hearing the name, a large wizard in brilliant, red robes strode over to Ron and spun him by the shoulders. “You’ve seen her? Where has she gone?”

“Who… who are—”

“Where’s my sister?” he demanded, his azure blue eyes filled with fear and anger.

“This is Antreas, Ron,” said Hermione, trying to make a quick introduction. “Remember from last year? Gabriella’s brother. He arrived about an hour ago, searching for her.”

“An hour?” said Ron in disbelief. “It’s only been—”

“Where is Gabriella!”

Ron looked back at Antreas. He was not the same broken young man he’d met in the Ministry last year. He was nearly as large as Ron but his chest was broader and his demeanour more regal. His robes were scorched and smeared with grime and blood. There were scratches upon his face, some deep, and a small piece of his left ear was missing. He needed a healer, but was clearly focussed on his sister.

“She was with me…” Ron looked about as if he were searching for the keys to his dad’s flying Ford Anglia. The only place he didn’t check were the pockets of his robes and the last place he’d dare consider was below the surface of the water. “She couldn’t be far. An hour? Antreas, how’d you get here anyway?”

“Drahmir bore me,” he said with the majesty of a young prince. Ron’s eyes furled.

“I don’t know any Dr—”

“His dragon,” explained Hermione.

“Drahmir is not my dragon! The dragons belong to no wizard!” he snapped. He still had not let go of Ron’s robes and Ron, though the larger of the two, felt his feet leaving the earth as Antreas lifted him bodily from the ground. “Now, Ron, tell me where my sister is!”

“We… we were fighting…”

“Fighting!”

“Fighting Voldemort.”

“The Phantom!” Antreas exclaimed, his blood pressure elevating even as he lowered Ron to the ground. “Tell me all you know!” The two crouched to get out of the line of fire. The others followed in kind and waited in eager anticipation for what he had to say. Ron touched Hermione’s face.

“You were frozen in time and the… the white robes. They were reaching for you,” he said. Hermione looked back to the lake to the spot where the robes had been floating. They were gone. Ron took her by the arm and examined her up and down to see if she’d been harmed. “He attacked James and then you and I… I couldn’t let him, so I punched him in the head. Knocked ‘em back pretty good.”

“You punched the robes? In the head?” asked Hermione, trying to understand. “Ron, that doesn’t—”

“Well, it’s not like they were just robes, were they? And then… I don’t remember. I was here.”

“But I’m not injured.”

“Well… he had his wand out and—”

“My sister… where’s Gabriella?”

“She was—”

“Mama!”

Cho suddenly lost her breath.

“Mama!”

At the water’s edge was little Jamie. He was smiling and stepping unsteadily toward her. She ran and quickly swept him into her arms.

“That’s three,” whispered Hermione and, looking toward Antreas, her eyes held out hope that more would magically appear. “Gabriella will come too. You’ll see. I think time is returning to each one in the order they were touched by the white robes.” There was another blast of red and she watched it arch over their heads.

“The battle’s moving north,” said Ron. “We must be winning.”

“No,” said Antreas. “The Phantom is playing games. This thing…” He pointed at the burning sphere. “If it captured the great Singehorn, it is some sort of evil trickery! See how it pulls in the spectres that come near it!” Ghosts continued to swirl about the orb and disappear. In fact, the forest was thinning of its spectres. “Even as our defences are being pulled north this… this evil remains. We should destroy it!” He pulled his wand.

“NO!”

A flash of green robes had Antreas about the arm. It was Blaise Zabini. He’d been standing by the lake, looking up at the orb and, every so often calling Draco’s name. Antreas was about to level his wand and Blaise, when Ron stepped between them.

“There’s enough to be getting on about without the few of us fighting amongst ourselves. If Blaise says no, then there’s a reason and you’d better listen to what it is.” Antreas clenched his jaw, nodded, and slipped his wand away. He offered Blaise a hand and Blaise took it.

“You mustn’t destroy it,” said Blaise. “It’s a door, a gateway and they’re in there. I know it. Maybe your sister too. Don’t… don’t close it before they’ve had a chance to get out, to come home.” He walked back over to the shoreline and called Draco’s name.

“He’s a bit touched,” said Hermione. “When the dragon swallowed Draco and Dakhil in a fury of flame and they vaporized, he… sort of lost it.”

“No. He’s right,” said Ron. “That’s what Gabriella thought too… that a gate had been opened allowing ghosts to finally pass to the other plane.”

“Gates open both ways,” said Antreas, pulling his wand and twirling it in his fingers as he eyed the orb.

“That’s what I said.”

“Were you in this gateway? Was my sister?”

Ron shook his head just as the ground began to quake. A group of Centaurs galloped out of the forest on the far edge of the lake, warning everyone to step back from the falls and to stay away from the water.

Bubbles began to churn on the lake’s surface, frothing it white. Cho was the first to notice.

“There!” she cried out. “The water – something’s happening!”

A head covered in long black hair appeared rising just above the foam. It was Gabriella. She gasped desperately for air and swam toward the water’s edge. Antreas pulled off his boots to dive in after her, but Ron held his arm.

“Didn’t you hear the Centaurs? The waters, they’re like acid. If they don’t like you, they could kill you.”

“That’s my sister!” Antreas yelled, marching toward the water’s edge. He was about to jump in, when Gabriella yelled at him to stay put, water gurgling in her throat.

“Let her come to us,” said Ron, wondering if Gabriella could make it and considering if he should jump in after her. He had, after all, survived his last encounter. She wasn’t that far from the shore, but the current was swift and she already looked like a drowned rat. If the current caught her, it would only take a few seconds to go over the edge, crashing to the rocks below.

She continued to swim against the current and, slowly, made her way to the lake’s sandy shore. Finally, she crawled out of the water and collapsed. She was naked, but completely dry and Antreas quickly summoned a dark blue cloak with which to give her cover.

“Gabriella,” he whispered. “What’s happened to you?”

She was shaking, but when she lifted her head, she smiled. Her teeth chattering, she said, “I’ve been c-cleansed.” She hugged her brother. The darkness of murder and death had been lifted and her face glowed.

“Cleansed? Cleansed of what?” Gabriella’s smile dimmed.

“Where’s Harry?” she asked. A group had gathered about her. Behind them she could still hear the sound of wandfire. The battle had shifted and was now moving nearer. She turned and found Ron, grasped his robes and pulled him close. “You’re okay,” she said with half a question in her voice. “He said… but I wasn’t sure… I c-couldn’t see. Where’s Harry?”

“Why am I the one that’s supposed to know where everybody is?” Ron asked. “I’m not a blinking owl you know. You know as well as I do that he was on the beach when—”

“DRACO!”

It was Blaise. He was yelling again at the burning orb that still hung suspended above the waters of the lake. His voice was more panicked than ever.

“Something’s wrong. The gate… the gate. It’s closing. DRACO!”

“The orb,” whispered Gabriella. “It’s still there. How is that possible?” She ran to her fellow Slytherin’s side. “Blaise, tell me, what do you see?”

“They’re in there!” he pointed at the burning sphere. “But there’s fire… fire everywhere!”

They all looked toward the orb. The flames surrounding it were growing more intense as one last white wisp of ghost entered it. Gabriella, unable to move her eyes from the brightening orb, said, “How can you be so—”

“I just know, alright?” he yelled. “Feel, Gabriella! Just feel!”

It was then that she too began to sense Harry’s presence and the more she reached out, the more she was certain that he was—”

The sphere of fire suddenly imploded, sending out a flash of light and a shockwave so powerful it knocked everyone near the lake to the ground. The Centaurs were thrown back into the trees. When Gabriella looked up, it had vanished.

“He’s gone,” breathed Blaise suddenly unable to take in enough air. “It… it can’t be.”

“It isn’t,” said Gabriella with confidence. The firestones set on her ring were glowing as brightly as they ever had. “Harry,” she whispered to herself, “where are you?”

“But the gate, it’s gone. I can’t sense him, Gabriella,” said Blaise holding on to her sleeve. His voice was pitched and his eyes fearful. “Even when he was below Fengsle Isle I knew he was alive. Now I can’t—” Blaise suddenly stopped and his gaze shot out over the lake. “Did you see that? Out there?” He pointed over the empty waters. Rings were spreading in ever larger circles as if a large stone had fallen into the lake at a singular point directly below where the orb had hovered only moments before.

“Oh, no,” Gabriella said softly. “Yet those who ill chose found the fall, remain adrift, alone. Draco, what have you done?” She slowly shook her head. If Draco had been torn, if they had not just returned, but fell instead into the waters, then they would be facing the same questions, the same challenges as she had just gone through. Harry had survived that fall before and her ring was telling her that he’d survived again, but Draco… Draco was an entirely different story. The darkness inside him was deep and if Blaise was no longer sensing his presence—

“I’m going in after them.” Blaise tore off his shirt and started for the waters, but Gabriella grabbed his arm. “You can’t. The lake… it might kill you.”

“It didn’t kill you!” Blaise snapped back.

“Yes it did,” she replied. “Part of me anyway. And the Death Eaters pulled in by Jamie’s command have been utterly destroyed. Blaise, believe me; I know you well enough to say that you might survive, but I’m not certain. If you dive in, you may never come back. All that is you will simply dissolve away and flow over the falls and out to the sea.”

Blaise sat down on the rocks and began to weigh his chances.

“It is over,” said one of the Centaurs across the water. Gabriella saw Macleta, a rare smile upon her face. “The dark menace has been defeated!” she cried out

All fell silent. Only the sound of crickets and chattering clabberts filled the air. The wandfire had stopped. In the night sky, Ebyrth had disappeared and in its place was a swirling glow of magical flame that resembled an enormous, swirling galaxy, blazing as brightly as any aurora.

Centaurs readying their arrows to strike their sworn enemies stayed their hands as the Dementors in kind drew back their attackers. With the comet gone, their reason to battle had gone with it. The dark creatures slipped away into the forest heading toward the mountains.

Death Eaters, cursed to follow the will of the dark lord had been set free. The dark marks set upon their arms had vanished. Some ran, some dropped their wands, others simply stood frozen unsure what to do given their own free will. An enormous cheer erupted around the lake. Word quickly spread down to the wizards and witches below the falls their shouts of joy were deafening.

Some of the Aurors and wizards from Hogwarts began to give chase to those trying to escape, but Sirius stopped them. It was time to tend to the injured and he sent word for any healers to join them. Make shift tents were suddenly popping up all over the lake. Some were for the injured, others for the dead. Sirius stepped over to them and carried Tonks away in his arms. A few hours passed and he returned.

“Any sign?” he asked as Gabriella, Blaise and the others sat, keeping watch over the waters.

“No, sir,” said Gabriella. Sirius looked out across the waters and nodded his head. He waved his hand and a set of green Slytherin robes appeared in midair; they floated over to Gabriella.

“These should fit a bit better than that cloak of yours,” he said softly. “Cho, you and the baby should be tended to.” Cho nodded. “In fact, you should all—”

“I’m not going anywhere!” snapped Blaise. “Not until… not until…” He began to shake and Gabriella took his hand.

“We’ll just wait here, professor,” she said, rubbing the ring on her finger and trying to conceive what might be happening. Sirius nodded and walked away to help the others.

“He’ll come out,” said Blaise. “You’ll see Gabriella. Just like you! Any minute now.”

Minutes turned to hours and hours to days. The tents about the waters disappeared and the wizards in the forest began to make their way back home. Blaise and Gabriella refused to leave the water’s edge. Hermione, Ron and Antreas tended to them as best they could. Eventually, only one tent was standing. Cho, Jamie and occasionally the others would use it, or the stronghold in the rocks to sleep and prepare meals. On the third day, Sirius suggested, once again, that it was time to leave. Gabriella, sitting on the large stones near the water’s edge, was asleep, her head tilted over against her brother’s shoulder. Blaise, his eyes blinking with exhaustion, continued to look out over the stillness.

“We’ll stay a while longer, sir,” said Antreas. “As long as the stones burn bright, I suspect we’ll stay.” He held up his sleeping sister’s hand, showing off her wedding band. “Mama was a bit upset when we did not have a proper ceremony.”

“Ceremony?” asked Hermione.

“A connubial ring sits upon Harry’s hand,” said Antreas. “Extraordinarily rare. Leave it to my sister to land the wizard that could conjure that. They wanted it secret,” said Antreas. “I’m not sure why.”

Hermione looked at Gabriella as she slept, knowing the love it would have taken to create such a bond and wondering how she could have been so blind as not to have seen it. Perhaps Gabriella had enchanted them somehow. She smiled knowing that her two friends cared so much about her and Ron that they wanted them to have their own moment first. Since Dumbledore’s death, it didn’t appear that that would ever happen. Tonight, Ron and Hermione had found each other once again and when the bushy haired brunette looked at her fiancé, her eyes began to tear. He took her hand and held her in his arms, giving her a hug. They began to walk, arm in arm, about the lake, talking. As they moved away, you could hear their gentle laughter just above the roar of the falls. They had, at last, wholly reconnected.

Sirius sat down next to Blaise and put his arm around him. Gabriella roused and sat upright, rubbing her eyes and yawning.

“Mr. Zabini,” he said softly, “I would love to give you a lifetime to wait here by the waters. I can’t.”

“But—”

“I can give you a day more, but then you’ll all have to return. The forest is reverting to its natural state and there is a reason it’s forbidden. I’ve set enchantments about the waters as best I can, and they will hold against the most vicious of beasts. But there are no such enchantments for anxious parents. I’ve already received five owls from the Minister himself. Fortunately, he too is a bit busy. The Ministry did not fare well – treachery from within.”

“When Harry disappeared,” said Gabriella, “he was gone for three days. That’s not how it happened to me today; it’s not how it happened to Ron, but maybe…” She shrugged.

“I hope you’re right, Mrs. Potter. For now, I have some other anxious parents to meet.”

Gabriella’s eyes widened as she slipped her hand behind her back. Sirius stood and began to dust the bottoms of his robes with his hands, then stopped. Looking down, he laughed.

“I never used to care about how my robes looked before.” His eyes looked to the stars and twinkled. “Damn you, Albus!”

He waived his hand and vanished.

An hour passed and they were all sitting about a small fire that Antreas had conjured. Cho had to keep scolding Jamie for throwing rocks in the lake.

“They’ll get mad at you,” she warned, shaking her finger.

“Pio!” answered Jamie, pointing to the dark depths. “Pio!” Cho groaned.

“Then come with me,” she said with a sigh. “We’ll go potty up here.” She began to walk him away just as Hermione and Ron returned. They were smiling and holding each other tight. Jamie pulled his hand away from his mother’s and ran back to the water.

“What did he say?” muttered Gabriella.

“He needs to go potty,” said Cho, waving her hand dismissively. Gabriella shook her head.

“No… he said something... a word. What was it?

“Peee? Peeeo?”

“Pio? Are you sure?”

“It would make sense,” said Antreas a tinge of excitement in his voice. “Yes… if he said Pio!”

“It is an ancient rite of purification.”

“But how would the child know?” asked Antreas.

“Pio?” Cho laughed and shook her head. “That’s just—”

“He won’t survive,” said Blaise taking to his feet. “If they’re doing to him what they did to you, Gabriella, he doesn’t have a chance. Three days… four days…” He shook his head. “You heard Sirius. We’re running out of time. I won’t leave him down there to die.” He again made to jump into the water.

“Blaise, please,” Gabriella pleaded. “The waters… what you’ve done with the Death Eaters this last year… I know where your heart is, but they’re not the forgiving type. They could vaporize you.”

“You don’t get it, do you, Gabriella? If Draco’s gone, truly gone, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care. For five years I thought he was nothing but a prig, but then I began to see, began to understand. It’s not just black and white.” He chuckled as thoughts of Draco brought the first smile his face had seen in days. “He’s been risking his life for something greater, something bigger than himself. Now it’s time for me to do the same.”

He moved to jump into the waters when a large ball of pale flesh breached the lake’s surface. It shot upward as if coming from a canon and screamed toward them. Actually, it was more like hysterical yelling mixed with laughter. Draco Malfoy had been spit out from the lake and landed unceremoniously in his birthday suit with a thud just behind where Blaise and Gabriella stood. The sand cushioned the blow, but the air was knocked from his lungs. Blaise was at his side in an instant.

“Draco!” he called, pushing the hair from his face. “Draco, are you okay?”

“Blaise?” Draco coughed water and spit sand. “Blaise, you stupid… you could have … you could’ve died … don’t ever go near those damn waters. So help me, if—”

“Merlin’s beard! Can you stop spouting orders for five minutes? Just… just shut the fuck up!” Blaise placed his hand over Draco’s mouth and looked him in the eyes, narrowing his own. “I knew you’d come back, I knew you would.” He smiled and held him close.

Gabriella summoned black robes and handed them to Blaise and he in turn slipped them over Draco’s shoulders.

“Draco, where’s Harry?” she asked nervously. "Was he with you?” Draco looked up at Gabriella, Blaise still at his side. He was tired and looked as if he hadn’t slept in weeks, but his eyes held a joy that she had never seen there before. He smiled silently. Looking at Blaise and then back to Gabriella, he let out a soft chuckle.

“Was he with me? He’s been with me for days, Gabriella. Down there.” His head nodded toward the waters. “They threatened him. They cursed him, but he wouldn’t leave. I thought turning to a vampire was painful, being eaten alive by rats, having your flesh flogged by Voldemort’s wand… but those waters…” He swallowed as the smile wavered on his face. “Harry helped me through it, helped convince them, but they still weren’t going to let me go until…” He looked at Blaise and put his pale white hand against his dark cheek. “It was you, Blaise. You were going to sacrifice yourself… for me.” Tears began to form at the corner of his eyes and he shoved Blaise backward. “Barking mad, son of a bitch.” Blaise just smiled.

“Then where is he?” asked Gabriella. “If they let you go, where’s Harry?”

“He’s fine,” said Draco, stepping close and taking her by the hand. “You’ll see; it won’t be much longer. He had to gather Patrick. Well, what Patrick was… or will be. The thing is—”

“Over there!” yelled Ron. “The water’s boiling again.”

They all looked to find steam starting to rise out of the water. It was churning like a cauldron, frothing white foam that travelled with the flowing water out over the falls. Gabriella’s heart was pounding in her chest. Slowly, a shock of black hair emerged straight up out of the bubbling water. Harry was naked and in the crook of his left arm was an infant child, crying loudly as they approached. He raised his right hand and the waters in front of him began to boil and bubble as well. He began to step toward them across the surface of the lake. It wasn’t until he was a few yards away that Gabriella realized he was calling the fish to the surface of the water that they might lift him and the tiny newborn out of the water. A few feet from the water’s edge he let the fish go and sunk down so that he was less than knee deep at the lake’s shore. He began to step forward when Gabriella rushed him and held him in her arms.

The crying stopped. She looked down at the child and realized that she had been mistaken. It wasn’t an infant after all, but a toddler about the size of little Jamie, but with beautifully brown skin. It couldn’t be Patrick. Flashes of her vision crossed her mind… the water, the robes, death, the crying child. She looked back up to Harry.

“You’re brilliant, did I ever tell you?”

“Maybe once,” he smiled and kissed her.

“Harry!” called Ron. “Get the bloody hell out of the water!”

Gabriella looked at Ron for only a moment and then back at the child. The boy in Harry’s arms was no longer a toddler, but perhaps six years old and was now standing at their side. He had dark black hair and brilliant green eyes.

“Eyes like… your mother’s. Harry, who is this?”

As they stood in a few inches of water, she watched the boy’s hair grow longer, his stature taller, and his eyes darker and keener. He was aging before them; each few seconds was another year.

“It’s the water!” cried Hermione. “Get out of the water!”

“I said that already!” yelled Ron. “Did I not already say that?”

They all stepped out onto the sand and this time it was Hermione handing out robes, one for Harry and one for the young man about twelve years old at Harry’s side.

“We made it, Pat,” said Harry gently squeezing the boy’s neck with a smile. “I told you we would.”

Gabriella had heard Draco speak of Patrick, but this wasn’t Patrick. He didn’t look anything like him. If anything, the boy looked Armenian.

“What’s your name?” she asked. The boy furled his eyebrows, as if trying to remember where he’d left his shoes. Finally, a look of satisfied recognition filled his eyes.

“Me name’s Patrick… Patrick O’Riley,” he answered with a perfectly Irish accent.

Harry, a broad smile across his face, slapped Pat on the back with a look of complete satisfaction. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a wand, ten inches of solid oak, and handed it to the young man.

“We orphans…” he said looking to the heavens, “…we’ve got to stick together.”
________________________________________


Author's Note: Still a ways to go... Hope you're having fun!

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 53 – Nobody’s Perfect
~~~***~~~

Harry looked about at the astonished faces. Only Draco, whose arm was about Blaise’s waist, understood what had happened. Then Harry noticed something else interesting. Hermione was holding tightly to Ron’s arm. He looked at the others. Cho, James at her side, was cradling little Jamie and Antreas had his hands upon his sister’s shoulders. Harry smiled. The energy of the love surrounding him was palpable and he could feel the stone drinking it in. He closed his eyes and observed their auras. There was joy everywhere. Even Patrick, whose energy showed three distinct colours, was radiant. Harry opened his eyes and stepped over to Gabriella taking her out of Antreas’ arms and into his own. He wasn’t sure why, but he began to cry.

James somehow knew that behind the different features of the boy before him was the same dear friend with whom he’d faced death. Patrick had been the first one to stand by him when he returned from Hogwarts and he would not return that great favour by questioning his appearance. He ran to Patrick and they embraced, both shedding more tears than they would later admit. Indeed, there were plenty of tears to be shared for plenty of reasons. The drips of joy that fell to the ground worked their way to the lake and the water, which had been a murky brown, briefly glistened gold.

It was awhile before Ron, wiping his own face, tapped Harry on the shoulder.

“Hey, mate, no need to be going on like that.” He sniffed. “You beat him. You won!”

Harry pulled his face from Gabriella’s shoulder and looked about the lake. The shoreline was empty and the waters were again dark. No trace of a battle remained, save for the scorched tops of the trees.

“They cleaned up pretty fast around here, didn’t they? Wizards are good at that – hiding death so nobody can see. But the ground is soaked in blood and the blood has seeped into the waters and the waters never forget.” Harry looked back at Gabriella.

“Did she make it? Tonks?” he asked, already knowing the answer in his heart. Gabriella shook her head. “And Sirius?”

“Sirius is fine,” said Gabriella, stroking his hand with hers.

“Many died, Harry,” added Hermione, “but many more were saved because of what you did. What you both did.” She looked at Draco.

“I thought, for a moment, we had him there, eh, Ron?” said Draco, smiling at the redhead. “Of course Potter has to come and do something far more dramatic – dragons and magical stones and fiery explosions. It’ll be the stuff of legend.”

“He’s good at that,” said Ron with a grin.

“And the castle?” asked Harry still focussed on business.

“There is a lot of damage,” said Antreas. “Drahmir and I fought our way through that battle on the way here, but the Hebridean Blacks arrived as promised. The blood that fell on that battlefield was vaporized before it ever hit the stones.”

“Your ear,” said Harry, noticing that part of Antreas’ ear was missing. Antreas turned away. “Come here,” said Harry waving his hand. “Let me see.” He touched the ear and healed it. “Why didn’t you do that?” he asked Gabriella with a tone that was sharper than he intended.

“We were a bit preoccupied,” snapped Gabriella indignantly, “wondering if maybe you and Draco had been turned into two cabana boys to service Maia and Melusina.”

“Don’t even think it,” groaned Draco.

“I wish I could have been here to help,” said Harry quietly. “To heal.”

“The injured may not be here, Harry,” said Hermione, “but your touch would be welcomed at St. Mungo’s.”

“That’s true,” said Cho. “The hospitals across Britain are full. Many are being treated at Hogwarts and could use your… touch.”

“Cho,” Harry whispered, as if seeing her and his child for the first time. He briskly walked over and held them both. “Thank god you’re safe. It’s over… the nightmare. I swear. I’m so sorry that I—”

“We will never speak of it again,” Cho interrupted. “Not in front of your child.”

“No,” argued Harry. “He needs to understand what evil… what hate can do. He can’t grow up thinking I’m a hero, because I’m not. He’ll be famous, you know, because his father destroyed Voldemort.”

Draco cleared his throat and lifted one finger in the air.

“That’s it exactly!” said Harry, pointing to Draco. He stepped over and put his arm around Draco’s shoulder. “It wasn’t Harry Potter that destroyed Voldemort. It was Harry and Draco…” He moved about the group. “…and Ron and Hermione… and Snape and Dumbledore… and Dobby and the Grawp… and Ronan and Macleta. It was all of us! It was Singehorn and Dakhil and Patrick. It was little Jamie, pulling Death Eaters into the Lake of Purity. And, in the end, it was the goodness of Tom Riddle. We all destroyed the darkness and gave birth to light.” His arm was now wrapped about Patrick’s shoulders.

“Harry,” said Gabriella gently. “Who is this? You say his name is Patrick, but he’s clearly not.”

“Yes he is,” said James defiantly. “You’d have to be blind not to see it.”

“James is right,” said Draco. “Dakhil and Tom sacrificed themselves that Patrick might live again. Their spirits are free, but he has a piece of each of them in his soul now. If you close one eye and think of cigar smoke and warm soup, you’ll see a bit of Dakhil.” Patrick smiled. Harry took Gabriella’s hand that bore the ring of firestones and held it to his chest.

“Dakhil is dead,” he whispered. Her knees went weak and he held her up in his arms. “But not completely. Like Draco said, he gave himself up that Patrick might return. This young man here is Patrick O’Riley. The spark of life was given him by Tom Riddle, the part of his soul that only knew purity, and his body is that of Dakhil Barghouti. I’m not sure if it comes with a set of fangs yet.” He smiled gently. “Dakhil’s left me a message for your mother; remind me when we see her.” Gabriella nodded and Harry kissed her forehead.

“That’s not possible,” said Hermione. “You can’t just give your body away.”

“No?” asked Draco, a gleam of mischief in his eyes. “Let’s find out.” In an instant he transformed into his vampire shape, causing Cho to shriek. He leapt into the air toward Patrick, but before flapping his wings a single stroke, the boy transformed himself into a vampire, lean and muscular with fur identical to that of Dakhil’s form. Before Draco landed, Patrick was in the air and had him by the neck. They hovered there for a moment, then settled back to earth and transformed back into their human shapes.

Everyone was stunned. James and Jamie were smiling, but Cho was trembling. Draco stepped toward her, realizing that he had frightened her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t—”

“Stay back!”

Draco stopped and nodded his head even as his shoulders slumped.

“He didn’t mean anything by it!” said Blaise angry at Cho’s reaction, though even he was shaken a bit.

“It’s okay,” said Draco, wondering how he could have enjoyed that same look when he considered killing her in Hogsmeade. What sort of monster was he? “I was being stupid. I… I should go.”

He started to walk away from the group when Patrick grabbed him by the arm.

“Yeh can’t go,” he said. “We need yeh.” Draco looked back wondering what Patrick was talking about.

“You don’t need me,” said Draco, slipping away.

“Harry?” asked Patrick, hoping Harry would understand. “We orphans… we have teh stick together, right?”

“I’m not an orphan!” snapped Draco.

“The gate…” Ron muttered under his breath.

“What?” asked Hermione.

“Someone’s thinking about the entrance gate to Hogwarts.”

“I am,” said Harry. “Draco… don’t you dare leave.” He began to fiddle nervously with his wand. “Is it possible, Pat?”

“I was dead, Harry. I would know if they had died too. He’s still under there. It’s the last bit of cleanin’ up left teh be done and we’re the only ones, besides Neville, that know they’re there.”

“Theodore?” asked Hermione, her voice rising. “Theodore Nott’s still alive? Neville was just being melodramatic. They couldn’t have survived, buried under the earth. Those things were tearing them apart before they went under.”

“The parasites are eatin’ ‘em from the inside out, but they’re also keepin’ ‘em alive. If we leave ‘em be, they’ll suffer down there fer months, maybe a year. Then, when the body’s consumed a tree grows and more seed pods wait fer new victims.”

“I haven’t read about—”

“It’s dark magic, Hermione,” Patrick interrupted. “Yeh wouldn’t find that in any library you visit. All the trees have been destroyed; supposed teh be extinct. The Ministry’s seen teh that. How Neville got his hands on the pods, I don’t know.”

“Then let’s get them out,” said Hermione. “Sirius can pull them up, or we can remove the dirt.”

“He could. We could,” said Patrick. “But the seedling parasites are extremely fragile. If they’re exposed teh air, they’ll die. And, if the parasite dies, the host dies.”

“We could use water; we could—”

“It’s been tried, Hermione. It’s all been tried and it’s all failed. That’s why the trees have all been destroyed. Once you’ve been infected, you’re as good as dead.” Draco moved closer.

“You know this because Tom knows this,” he said, not really questioning, but Patrick nodded anyway.

“It’s like the Joinin’, Draco. I carry ‘em both with me,” said Patrick. “I’d never seen a live dragon, ‘till tonight.” He exposed his forearm to reveal the mark of the dragon. It symbolized his membership with the Votary, but the mark was not the same as Dakhil’s. The dragon was there, but at the base, where Harry had a Viswa Vajra, Patrick’s symbol was a singular spiral with three arms, resembling a spinning galaxy.

“I know this rune,” said Hermione, examining Patrick’s arm. She pointed at the passages between the spirals with her finger. “Life, death, rebirth.”

“That’s me,” said Patrick with a smile. Gabriella came over to have a closer look.

“Excuse me,” said Draco, stepping in front of her. “I still don’t understand. If they can’t be saved, why do you need me?”

“We can’t save ‘em all. We can only save one and, if he comes to his senses he’ll need teh listen teh someone he trusts. That’d be you, Draco.”

“Why only one?” asked Antreas. “Who is it?”

“Nott,” said Harry.

“Theodore?” asked Hermione, her face grim as she recalled the memory of nearly killing him last year.

“You helped nurse him back to health after you… well, you know, after Dumbledore placed him in Gryffindor,” said Harry. “He said that it would knit a strong magical bond. I guess you two are linked somehow. Maybe you could pinpoint him under the ground, or you might be able to hold on to his spirit just long enough for me to heal him. Is that it, Patrick? Can we use their connection?”

“It’ll be the only way teh keep his life force strong. We also have another magic teh work in Nott’s favour – we made our pact at Hogwarts that orphans need to stick together; Nott became a member when his mum committed suicide last year. All of that, working in concert with Draco’s help, might be enough teh hold ‘im here while yeh use the stone.”

For ten beats of a quickening heart, all was silent. No one spoke, as the water continued to roar over the falls.

“It’s a stretch, I know,” said Patrick. “But we made a pact, Harry.”

“We have to try. How do we get there?” asked Hermione. “Through the forest, it’s an hour at least. Harry, you can run. Draco, you can… fly, but you can’t take us all.”

“Our friends are near,” said Antreas.

“More than you know, brother,” said Harry. He closed his eyes and before they opened a white Centaur appeared, the same Centaur that had brought Ron and Hermione to the falls. “Hello Felspar.”

“It is in an honour, Harry Potter” she replied with a low bow. “Word has already spread through the forest of your return.”

“How is your home,” Harry asked with concern.

“That you place it first upon your lips shows all you do indeed hold the heart of a Centaur.” This time Harry bowed in deference to the compliment. “Already the vines return and the bulbs begin to flower. Terntalag will soon be whole again. Two great wizards have worked tirelessly these last few days helping in its restoration.”

“That’s good to know. And the Dementors?”

“That battle…” She looked to the sky towards Mars. Ebyrth was gone and the red planet could not be seen. It was blanketed with a multi-coloured glow that flickered and flamed as if that region of space were on fire. “It is over, Harry.” She looked down on him and a thin smile crossed her face. “Over forever. Yesterday, Firenze laughed. It was the first sign of mirth Terntalag has seen in centuries and Magorian, overhearing, did not scold him.”

“Your ways then,” said Harry, “are changing for the better.”

“Our ways, Harry,” she corrected. “Our ways.”

The sound of wings beating overhead signalled the return of dragons – Drahmir, Talisan and a Hebridean Black Harry didn’t know. When they landed at the forest edge, little Jamie’s eyes grew bright with excitement. He pointed, urging his mother to take him closer, but Cho was nervous.

“We’re not actually…” she began.

“No. I’ve asked Felspar if she will carry the two of you and your brother to Hogwarts and she’s agreed.” The Centaur nodded.

“I will see you safely through the forest,” she said gently. “Firenze will be joining us.”

“I’m staying with Patrick,” James protested.

“I’ll meet yeh at the castle, James,” said Patrick. “We won’t be long, but it’s somethin’ we got teh do.”

Reluctantly James nodded. He and Cho climbed on Felspar’s back with help from Antreas and Harry handed her their son after kissing his cheek. As she took Jamie from his hands, they began to shake and he drew in a deep breath to gather himself. Now was not the time.

“I would like to see Terntalag again,” said Cho. “One last time before we go.”

“Certainly,” said Felspar. “But you will always be welcome. You are, after all, the mate of the Chosen.” Cho looked at Harry to say something, but before she could Felspar took off and they disappeared in a blur. The others turned to look at the dragons.

“Bloody hell,” Ron said with a groan. “I’ve already been torched once. I don’t much care to repeat the experience.”

They stepped toward the forest’s edge, away from the falls. The ground rumbled and the earth shifted. The small damn that had been causing the river to pool behind the falls fell away and the water crashed over the rocks emptying the lake in a matter of seconds. Harry expected to see an enormous pit perhaps a hundred meters deep, but it appeared that the water had only been waste deep, no more than a single meter. When the water drained away it revealed a shallow grassy marsh. Those that had been under that water were shocked.

“Morgana’s main, Potter!” exclaimed Draco. “Now you can move mountains?”

“It wasn’t me! I swear!”

“You’d think you were frickin’ Moses!”

“Moses had a bigger wand,” Gabriella chimed in flatly.

“Hell, little Jamie’s got a bigger wand than Harry,” said Ron with a snicker.

“Draco,” said Harry, trying to quickly change the subject, “it’ll be faster if you fly yourself. You can carry me, I don’t mind. Then we can go by twos – Ron and Hermione, Patrick and Gabriella, and Antreas and—”

“I’m going with Draco,” said Blaise.

“But—”

“We have some catching up to do.”

“I’ll have to transform.”

“Your breath can’t be any worse than Antreas’. He’s been eating garlic balls all night.”

“Fare enough,” said Harry as Antreas sniffed his breath off his hand. “Patrick is with Antreas. Sorry, Pat, but you are the second year after all.” Harry went over and patted Ron on the back because he was looking a bit pale. “Don’t worry, mate. It’s a bit like riding a Hippogriff, only… bigger.”

“Yeah… right.”

By the time Ron and Hermione were situated on top of Talisan, Draco and Blaise were already well on their way. Patrick and Antreas were circling on Helfure, the Hebridean Black. Talisan rose first and then Drahmir lifted Harry and Gabriella into the air. He and Talisan were the only Norwegian’s left in Britain. The others had returned with Tanwen to the Carpathians to prepare for the ceremony of Singehorn’s passing.

They flew over Terntalag, but it was too dark to make out much more than the handful of torches that lit the main path of the village. It wasn’t long before they came out from the forest and made their way over the pitch at Hogwarts. There were white tents set out all over the field below. They swept wide over the school and Harry noticed that half the Ravenclaw tower was missing and what was left was scorched black. Hogwarts was badly damaged, but the giants had done far more damage the year before. Evidently Sirius’ enchantments had held.

They flew on toward Hogsmeade. There, Harry’s heart sank. The town was completely levelled. Only the goblin branch of Gringotts bank still stood – the only building more than a story high. Fred and George’s store was gone as were so many others. Worse, the homes skirting the main town had been decimated as well. That explained the tents on the pitch. There was nothing but flat, scorched earth as far as the eye could see. Grass and other vegetation had already begun to reclaim the town.

“We’d best swing wide,” suggested Talisan to Harry. “Even though we brought the Fireballs out of the sky, the wizards below get a bit nervous when we fly too near.”

“Our work is at the gate,” said Harry. “Head there. It’s late enough, no one should see.”

The dragons landed and quickly departed leaving their riders behind. Draco and Blaise were already there. Tears were glistening off of Blaise’s skin as he stood motionless, transfixed at the patch of dried earth below which his comrades were being tortured. Harry wasn’t sure it was such a good idea for him to be there. When the battle had come to the gate, Blaise might have been able to help his friends, but it could have meant killing Neville, maybe even killing Harry. Now his friends, if they could be called that, were facing a hideous death and it was clear he was beginning to regret his decision. Draco had his arm about Blaise’s shoulder as they walked around the spot where the group of Death Eaters had plunged into the ground.

“How did the seeds get water?” asked Patrick, surveying the scene.

“The lake,” answered Harry. “The merpeople.”

“Complex… insidious… Neville had teh work quite hard to unleash so much hatred.”

“Pat,” said Harry a bit nervous about where the conversation might head, “we have to get going. I don’t feel much like drawing a crowd just now.”

“No… you’re right. Hermione, I need you to— Hermione?”

The bushy haired Gryffindor was frozen to a singular spot, staring down at the ground by her feet.

“I can hear him,” she whispered. Her hands trembled as she reached out and held her palms flat as if she were warming them by a campfire. “It… it’s awful.”

“And the others?” asked Ron, putting his hands on her shoulders. She spread her hands wider and nearer the ground as if she were trying to feel some warmth rising from the surface and then she shook her head.

“Just Theodore,” she whispered again. “So much pain.” Her whole body began to tremble and Ron held her from behind.

“What do we do, Pat?” asked Harry.

“Hermione’s already doin’ it. See her hands? She don’t know it, but she’s bringin’ him to the surface. She’s re-established the link and it’s drawin’ him toward her. Draco… Harry… be ready.”

A minute of silence passed and suddenly Nott, covered in mud with long slices all about his body, appeared in Hermione’s arms. A white glow surrounded the two of them, knocking Ron backward on his arse. It was a like a clear, shimmering cocoon. Patrick moved in closer.

“Harry, when I remove the parasite, he’ll die. You’ll have teh heal him before he can cross over. Draco, talk teh him. Convince him that Harry’s there teh help. Okay, boys, here we go.” He pulled the oak wand from his robes.

“Neco Vermis!”

A green ray shot from Patrick’s wand and burrowed through the silver shield enveloping Nott and Hermione. It slipped in one of Nott’s wounds like a snake and he screamed in pain opening his eyes and mouth wide. Green light erupted from his mouth and eyes and each wound on his body sending out a shining green beacon in all directions. Harry touched his hand over his chest. “Bravery. Wisdom. Love,” he whispered. A moment later he asked to heal Nott and found himself, oddly, in the middle of an endless grassy plane. It could only mean that Nott had already begun to cross over.

The grass was dried and yellow and less than knee high, but it spread out in all directions with nothing else in sight. Harry felt as if he was in the middle of a recently harvested Kansas wheat field and a House was about to fall from the sky at any minute. As it turned out, that’s nearly what happened. From nowhere a small, rundown cottage appeared on the grassy plane. It was a faded green with chipped gold trim. The front of the cottage had a small porch and to either side of the front door were two plate glass windows that were dark. On the backside was a brick chimney from which a small bit of smoke rose to the sky. Standing in the doorway was a weedy-looking young man, wearing a pair of worn out denim overalls. He was barefoot, had no shirt and was chewing a long straw between his teeth. Nott stood there, looking blankly out over the grassy plane with one hand on the door knob. Harry stepped over to the front porch and was about to ascend the steps when Nott noticed him.

“You!” he sneered. “I thought I heard Granger. Get the fuck out of here, Potter.” He turned to enter into the cottage. Green light began to stream out through the windows.

“Ted, wait!” said Harry. Nott stopped, now silhouetted in a brilliant green light. He turned back and faced Harry. When he did, Harry noticed dozens of gashes on his skin, each oozing blood. When he stepped out to the porch he left a trail of bloody footprints.

“You did this to me, you bastard! Why the fuck should I wait for you!”

“I can help you!”

“I don’t need your goddamned help!”

“We want you to stay.”

“Why? I’m… I’m not going back to him, and I won’t let you send me to Azkaban. That life… there’s nothing left. By Hades, look at this place!” He waved at the barren earth. “It’s a wasteland. It always has been. I wanna farm where the soil’s fertile.”

No sooner had he said the words than a collection of green plants began to spring up near Harry and spread out around the cottage. In the distance, mountains rose, breaking the flat horizon and nearer still, trees began to spring from the ground fully grown.

“Hermione,” Harry whispered to himself, and then he turned to Nott. “See, that’s changing,” he said. “The war’s over Ted. Voldemort’s been destroyed. He can’t hurt you again and we won’t send you to Azkaban. Professor Black wants you to come back to Hogwarts.”

The surroundings. were growing more green and inviting by the minute. Flowers were beginning to blossom and in the nearby trees the sound of birds could be heard chirping. Nott stepped to the railing of the porch and held it with both hands. Blood dripped down his shoulders. The wounds were growing worse, opening up to reveal the flesh on the inside. For a moment, he considered his new surroundings, but then his eyes narrowed on Harry.

“Fuck you and fuck your dog of a headmaster!”

A hummingbird zipped from nowhere and hovered between the two of them, seemingly looking at Nott. Its breast shimmered red and gold and briefly his expression softened, but then he growled and pushed away from the railing.

“No! I’m not going back! I don’t care what she says!”

“I always knew you were a chicken shit, Nott.”

The two turned to find Draco standing on the right side of the porch, the sun was setting behind him and his bland hair reflected the fading light in such a way he seemed to glow.

“Malfoy?” asked Nott in disbelief.

“By Morgana’s grave, you’re daft!” said Draco, moving over to the front of the porch. Harry stood his ground as Draco passed in front of him always looking at Nott. “Look at you! Your flesh is falling away from your bones! You’ve got maybe two minutes to get this figured out, or you’ll be hamburger in the afterlife.”

“How’d you—?”

“I kicked his arse, that’s how! The bastard’s dead. He nearly killed me first, but I came back. Then, I don’t fucking no why now, I asked Potter here to come save your sorry arse and you have the balls to tell him, ‘No?’ I always knew you were an idiot, but this… this is something more, and I don’t think it has anything to do with bravado, do you? It’s not that, is it, Nott? You’re a chicken shit, aren’t you? You’re fucking afraid of Potter!” Draco made his way up the porch steps.

“I’m not afraid of anyone!” yelled Nott, blood spraying from his lips.

“Then let him heal you, you wuss. Face him like a man.”

Nott looked at Harry, but hesitated. He looked back at the door through which the glowing light still gleamed. The hummingbird reappeared and landed on Harry’s shoulder. It let out a high, shrill chirp then flew over to Nott, landed on his shoulder and chirped again. Whatever anger Nott had within him vanished and with it his strength to stand. He crumpled to his knees in a pool of his own blood.

“Hurry, Harry,” Draco breathed, one hand upon Nott’s shoulder.

Harry ran up the steps and placed both hands on Nott’s face.

“Ted, let me see your eyes.” Nott looked up just as the sun set.

It was cold, very cold, but Nott’s life force was clearly within Harry’s grasp. It reminded him of the first time he’d ever healed anything – one of Mrs. Figg’s cats. Instead of using his own energy, he let the energy of the stone that had just been charged with the love of his friends, flow out and fill the emptiness glowing before him. The light grew and grew and then flashed, throwing Harry backward. When he opened his eyes, he was back at the front gate to Hogwarts flat on his back. Finally, a face looked down at him smiling. Draco offered him his hand.

“You okay?” he asked, lifting Harry to his feet.

Harry nodded and turned to see Nott sitting on the ground next to Blaise. They were surrounded by the others.

“I have to admit, Harry, that’s a hell of a trick.”

“How did you… appear?”

“I guess… I guess because you wanted me there. It was kind of nice actually.” Draco smiled again, but it soon dimmed and he took in a deep breath. “Now the bad part.” He stepped over toward Nott and Blaise and sat next to them on the ground. Nott had been covered in mud, but Hermione cast a spell and removed every trace of grime. When the dirt vanished, it was clear to all that there wasn’t a scratch on his body.

“Nott, has Patrick told you what happened?” Draco asked with a steeled voice.

“He didn’t have to. I knew the minute those things entered me. It’s like… like we were linked. I don’t know what was worse, the pain, or knowing that it would last for months.” He began to tremble and started to nervously look around. For a moment his eyes rested on Harry, but then they turned to Hermione.

“I guess… I guess I should thank you... you know… for saving my life and all.”

“It wasn’t really me,” she said, kneeling down to look at him. “Harry and Draco… they did all the—”

“If that was true, Granger, why aren’t the others here? They’re still down there, aren’t they? I’m not stupid, Hermione. It was you that took my hand and pulled me from death. It was you that convinced me to fight to live long enough for Harry to heal me. The dude’s just got a stone. You… You’ve got the heart.” He took her hand in his and smiled softly. “Thank you.”

“Yeah… well,” said Ron, helping Hermione to her feet. “She does what she can; don’t you love?” He kissed her cheek.

Draco helped Nott stand, though physically he didn’t need the assistance. Nonetheless, his body still trembled and his eyes didn’t leave the ground beneath his feet.

“Pansy’s still down there,” he whispered. Everyone but Blaise gasped.

“Pansy? Pansy Parkinson?”

“What the hell do you think?” snapped Nott. “Don’t look at me like that! It isn’t like we had much of a choice in the matter, did we?”

“I don’t know,” said Harry coolly. “It looked like you and your chums were having a good ole time just before you tried to kill me. You had a choice then, Ted, and you chose murder.”

“Look, Potter… I—”

“You still have your wand, Ted. The energy has returned. If you wanted, you could have a go now. What are the words again? Avada Ked—”
“Harry, stop it!” yelled Hermione, but Harry simply moved in closer.

“I won’t stop anything! I won’t listen to lies. Don’t tell me we don’t have choices… we do. Dakhil Barghouti left this plane tonight because he chose to give Patrick a chance to live again. Draco Malfoy survived the waters of Melusina because he defied the darkness of Voldemort and had friends like Blaise willing to sacrifice themselves for him. My son is alive right now, because Tonks offered her life to save his. Nobody made them do these things. They chose to do what was right, what was noble.

“Pansy Parkinson isn’t buried under the ground being eaten alive by some hideous parasite by accident. She’s there because of choices. Neville chose to let hate take control. Ted, he cursed you with those damnable things, not out of some sense of justice, but because he simply hated you and wanted revenge for the evil you’d brought to Hogwarts. It was your choice to allow that evil to control you. It was Pansy’s choice to follow you. All choices and not one of them were virtuous or noble. Now she, and all your Death Eater friends, if that’s what you think they were, are little more than maggot meat.”

“Harry!”

“It’s true! You may not hear the reapers circling us right now, but I do! And I’m so sick of hearing them I want to puke.”

While Harry was going on, Nott had reached for his wand. His whole body was trembling. Harry was so close he could feel his breath. Nott’s eyes were fixed on the earth, but his anger was now centring on Harry. He could have killed him; it would be easy. He was so close and there was no counter spell. His hand tightened about his wand in a fist and he brought it up in a tremendous uppercut, right at Harry’s jaw. Before it struck, however, Antreas cast a shield charm that knocked both Harry and Nott backwards. Undaunted, Nott rushed Harry, but the others grabbed him.

“She loved me, you bastard!” he yelled out. “I told her to leave, to go back home and stay with her mom, but she wouldn’t listen. When they started to burn Hogwarts and Voldemort slipped north, I told her it was her chance to get away. SHE WOULDN’T LEAVE!” He fell to his knees and placed his hands on the dirt. “I told her mom I’d take care of her, protect her. Now what am I going to do?” He pounded at the dirt and began to cry. Then suddenly he stopped, wiped his face with his sleeve and pointed the wand at the ground.

“I won’t let her die like that.”

“Wait!” called Patrick. “Yeh say she loved yeh. Did yeh love her too?”

“Of course I did,” said Nott, pulling in a wavering breath. “And when she dies, she’ll die in my arms, not some maggot’s.” He pointed his wand at the ground again.

“Ted, stop,” said Harry.

“What now, Potter? Want to get a closer look?”

“I want to try and save Pansy. I want you to prove me wrong. If you love her like you say you do, maybe there’s a chance.”

“Let’s do it!”

“Ted, it’s not that simple. We’ll have to bring them up, or vanish the soil all at once. When that happens, they’ll die. They’ll all die. In that moment, I need you to reach out with your heart to her and follow me to the brink of death. We’ll have maybe an instant to hold her here long enough for me to heal her. If she crosses over, it’ll be too late.”

Nott looked a bit nervous. Perspiration was beginning to build about his temples.

“Okay… yeah… erm, we can do that.”

“There’s more. If we’re too late and she crosses over, she may try to take us with her. It’ll make perfect sense when we’re there. Don’t do it. Don’t cross any doorways. Think of Hogwarts and you’ll return to your body here. Is that clear?”

Nott nodded his head nervously. “Sure. Yeah… sure.”

Hermione held his arm. “Just focus on your love for her Theodore,” she said kindly. “That’s all you have to do. Her love for you will hold her here… you’ll see.”

Blaise stepped over to Harry. “What about the others?” he asked. There are half a dozen men down there with Pansy. Can’t we do something for them too?”

“We can’t take one without pullin’ up all the others,” said Patrick. “Only Hermione’s link with Nott allowed her teh find him among the rest. Harry can’t save ‘em all. Merlin, savin’ Parkinson will be near impossible.” Patrick stepped over to Nott and looked up at him. “They’re your friends, Nott. What’s your decision?”

Nott looked about, hoping to get some guidance from someone else. But everyone else was silent, waiting for his choice. He never liked groups; there was something confining about them. That’s why he never really hung out with Draco and the others. He hated working for Voldemort. Everyone looked to him to make some sort of decision that held the lives of others in the balance. He wasn’t very good at it mostly because he just didn’t give a damn about the consequences. He just wanted Voldemort dead.

Now, his singular wish had been granted – Voldemort would never torture his mind again. He’d been saved by a bitter enemy from a vicious death. Yet again he was surrounded by others waiting for him to speak, to make a choice. His throat tightened just thinking about it. Lives would be lost either way. Better to die sooner than to scream in terror until there was nothing left.

“Bring them up,” he said at last. “Bring them all up. Whoever sees Pansy first, call out and I’ll go to her.”

The group formed a large circle and held their wands out. Hermione suggested the spell, something akin to summoning the nearest Death Eater. “It might bring them out one at a time,” she offered.

“Either way, I’ll do my best,” said Harry in return.

“Okay then,” she said. “On three.”

When they reached three, the soil within the circle began to churn like a whirlwind. Bodies in black cloaks began to rise out of the blood stained dirt. The screams of the victims mixed with the high pitched screams of the parasites then all went silent. The whirlwind ceased and on the surface of the still earth were seven prone bodies, each lifeless in a pool of blood which oozed from the parasitic gashes of their flesh.

Gabriella tried to heal the one nearest her. Hermione did the same.

“There!” yelled Blaise. In the middle of them all laid Pansy Parkinson. Her Death Eater mask was gone and her eyes were open and blank.

“Take her hand Ted!” yelled Harry and then he spoke the incantation, “Bravery, Wisdom, Love.” The Heart of Asha led him to the first gateway. “Heal Pansy,” he said. A swirl of colours surrounded him and he found himself in the middle of the same barren plane that he found, trying to heal Nott. The brown grass was knee deep and spread out forever in all directions. The only thing breaking the horizon was a small cottage painted green with gold trim.

“Pansy!” he yelled. Just like Nott, she was at the doorway about to go into the cottage when she heard him call. “Pansy, stop!”

“Potter?” she said with contempt. “So you’re dead too! Finally! Well… I guess it wasn’t all for naught. Come on then.” She waved at him to join her. “There are cookies baking inside, my mother made them.”

Suddenly, Harry could smell the wonderful aroma of fresh baked cookies. He put one foot on the porch steps, but then remembered that Nott was supposed to be with him, calling to her.

“Why don’t you come down here with me?” Harry asked. “Ted’s looking for you.” Her eyes brightened and she turned in excitement.

“Teddy?” she asked eagerly. “He’s come for me, really?” She stepped out to the banister and held it in her hands. As with Nott, blood dripped down her arms, coating the upper rail. She scanned the emptiness, but Nott was nowhere to be seen.

“What sort of trick is this, Potter?” she said, narrowing her eyes in distrust. Harry stepped to the porch and held out his hand.

“Pansy, just take my hand. I promise I’ll take you to him.”

The grass remained lifeless. There were no flowers; there were no hummingbirds. An uninviting landscape surrounded Harry and his offer was rejected.

“You’re a liar. You always were… you and your little bitch Granger. I hope she’s devastated now that you’re dead.”

“I’m not dead! I want to take you back, back to Hogwarts, back to T-Teddy.”

“Lies… all lies.” She scanned the horizon one last time. “If my Teddy was alive, he’d come for me. He’d make a river,” she pointed with her hand toward the distance, “and take me to the sea.” She turned and headed back toward the door. “I always loved the sea.”

The sound of sea birds and the roar of the ocean could be heard just inside the cottage.

“Pansy, no!”

“Shame you won’t join me for cookies. Mum bakes the best cookies.”

She opened the door and went inside. When the door shut behind her the whole cottage burst into flames. The green paint bubbled and the gold paint blistered. An eruption of heat spread out, igniting the dry grass and flashing the world in blaze of light that blinded Harry. He held his hand to his face and the darkness returned. When he removed his sleeve, he was back with the others at the gate to Hogwarts, seated next to Pansy. He expected to see her, dead in Nott’s arms, but Nott was standing away from the group. He was facing the lake, his trembling hands hidden in his pockets. Draco knelt down next to Harry and took Pansy’s lifeless hand in his own.

“He always was a loner,” Draco said dejectedly. He reached over and stroked the hair from Pansy’s face. With a wave of his hand he vanished the stains and scars that marred her. “I’ll miss you, love.” He kissed her cheek, sighed and stood up, even as Harry sat with his head in his hands. “Come on; let’s get these bodies back to the school. This place has seen enough death.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 54 – The Chimes of Hogwarts
~~~***~~~

“So, why didn’t you tell me?”

“I wanted to.”

“No you didn’t.”

“I wanted… I wanted you to have your moment first.”

“My moment?”

“You don’t think I notice? You don’t think I care? For the last month it’s been Potter, Potter, Potter. Damn, Ron, even Draco’s gotten more credit than you. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. You held control over Voldemort with your mind and let James and Gabriella escape. You dropped him to his knees without using your wand! Merlin, I saw blood dripping from your eyes before you took an arrow from a Centaur. He was going to kill me and you stopped him. I’ve told everyone I know and there’s not one word about Ron Weasley in the Daily Prophet.”

“That’s not true. Hang on…” Ron held up a finger and then began to rummage under his bed and behind his trunk until he finally found and unfolded an issue of the Daily Prophet he had saved. On one side was a large picture of Harry receiving the Order of Merlin from the Minister of Magic, Arthur Weasley. “Let’s see… Dad’s brilliance at the Ministry… Something about you and Muggles… Blah, blah. blah, Harry’s our hero… A puff piece on Narcissa Malfoy for setting up the Restore Hogsmeade Foundation… I know Draco put her up to it. Let’s see, I know it’s in here somewhere.” Ron flipped the paper. “Ah… here we go.” He cleared his throat and began to read.

“Inside sources say that the Montrose Magpies have their eyes set on a new recruit from this year’s graduating class from Hogwarts. While early reports thought that the new addition might be none other than the spectacular Seeker Harry Potter, this reporter has discovered that the player is not the actual Harry Potter, but does indeed come from the very Quidditch Cup winning team Harry Potter coached. Was there ever any doubt that Harry Potter would have such a tremendous impact on the Quidditch world?”

“See! That’s me.” Ron tapped the paper with his finger.

Sitting on his own bed, Harry balled up his sock and threw it at Ron. Holding the paper with one hand, Ron caught it with the other.

“This… is mine,” said Ron. “You know,” he said, giving it a brief sniff, “maybe it’ll be famous one day.” He tucked the sock into his storage chest along with the paper.

“Hey! I need that. It’s the last clean one I have left that doesn’t have holes.”

“You should have known better. Now you’ll have to go barefoot. I’m sure they’ll write an article about it and by next week every wizard on Diagon Alley will be walking barefoot. You should metamorph your toes into some hideous colour just to see.”

“Give me a break. It’s enough that Dean needs to needle me every minute of the day. I was trying to be serious.”

“Whatever. You’re famous; I’m not. I don’t care. The important thing is that I am going to be best man at your wedding, right?”

“My wedding? What do you mean?”

“Look, if I have to go through this nightm— this nuptial bliss with Hermione, you have to go through it with Gabriella.”

“But—”

“No! You said you wanted me to be first. That means YOU are second!” Ron stepped over to his desk. “Let me see, I think I have a book of china patterns up here somewhere for you to read.” Dean, wearing black dress robes, poked his head into the boys’ dorm.

“Are you two coming, or what?”

“Harry can’t find any clean socks.”

“Are you kidding me?” exclaimed Dean. “There are nearly five hundred people waiting in the Great Hall. Harry, you’re a god. Just go barefoot! I’m sure they’ll write about it being the latest fashion in the Prophet. Next week all of London will be barefoot!”

Ron just howled as Harry’s face reddened.

Graduation had come and gone at Hogwarts, but nearly all the seventh years and many other students and professors had stayed behind to help in the rebuilding of Hogsmeade. While all of the graduates were receiving offers of employment, Ron had refused to open any of the many owls that had come to him. The offers had arrived from various departments within the Ministry, from Gringotts, and a number of other businesses along Diagon Alley.

“I’m not getting a job somewhere just because someone’s doing a favour for someone from my family,” he had said. “I can do this on my own.” Hermione had told him he was just being stubborn.

“Just because your father’s Minister doesn’t mean people don’t want you for who you are and what you can accomplish!”

“I’m not going to work for my dad and that’s the end of it!” he had declared emphatically.

Finally, two days before graduation, an owl dropped a black scroll on his morning scrambled hash. The surface of the scroll reflected the light like polished ebony. His hands trembled when he slipped off the golden thread holding it together. It opened itself, levitated above his head, and began to play the Magpies’ theme song as it offered him a position on the team – second string Keeper. Everyone eating in the Great Hall erupted in cheers. He pressed his thumb in the lower right-hand corner and the parchment vanished in a flash of smoke, sealing the deal. That afternoon, his future now established, he set the date with Hermione and today, that day had come.

Ron wore scarlet red dress robes with gold trim. His best man and groomsmen wore dress black with a darker silk trim. Dean, who was one of those groomsmen, left Ron and Harry to tell the anxious crowd that the groom was coming.

“You know,” said Harry after Dean left, “I saw Dean and Ginny down by the pier the other night holding hands.”

“They’re always holding hands… and more,” said Ron, taking one last look at himself in the mirror. “Do you think the red’s too much?”

“This time they were just talking.” Ron turned.

“Talking? Talking talking?”

“Looked pretty serious,” said Harry, replacing Ron’s position by the mirror and straightening his tie. “Maybe it’s all this talk about weddings.” Ron thought about it for a moment and nodded his head.

“When the time comes, he wouldn’t make a bad brother-in- law. Mom always liked him.”

“She always liked Hermione too,” said Harry knowingly. “She’d be real proud of you, Ron. What you’ve done. What you’re about to do.”

Ron nodded, looking down at his shoes. He wiped his eyes and looked back at Harry, who simply looked at Ron. Ron appeared a bit peaked. There was an interminable silence until Harry slapped his hands together.

“Well, ready?”

“Not yet. Do you have the rings?”

“Yes.”

“And you’ve double checked the arrangements with Sirius?”

“Yes.”

“Hermione doesn’t know?”

“No.”

“And the band—”

“Yes. No. And YES!” Harry turned Ron toward the door. Now let’s go.”

When they made their way out onto the circular staircase there was a small round of cheers and clapping. George, Fred, Draco and Hermione’s cousin, Ralph, made up the rest of Ron’s groomsmen and they were still standing by the fire in the Gryffindor common room. Harry and Ron continued down the circular staircase listening to the sounds of laughter and snickering.

“Not again,” hissed Draco. He tried to look serious but smiled at Fred and chortled.

“Just one more time!” Fred pleaded. “Come on, one more. Please.” Draco rolled his eyes and then allowed his fangs to extend down near his chin.

“Wicked!” said Fred taking his finger and touching the point of one of Draco’s extended canines. He accidently pricked his finger and a small drip of blood appeared on the tip which Draco quickly lapped up before Fred pulled his hand away. Fred, didn’t seem to notice, or care. He sighed and slumped his shoulders. “You know, when I turn, being a werewolf and all, mine only get about—”

“Would you two just stop,” said George indignantly. “You are not going to transform during the wedding! Can you imagine the hysteria?”

“Shhhhhh!”

“WHAT!” yelled Ron. George stepped toward Ron apologetically.

“Fred’s been working with Draco and has now discovered how to transform himself into a werewolf on command,” he said followed with a great sigh.

“Not all the way yet” said Fred a bit disappointed.

“You’re getting close,” offered Draco in encouragement.

“Well, if I really want to down the buffet at the reception in a hurry, I can—”

“You wouldn’t dare!” yelled Ron, his face turning nearly as scarlet as his robes. “You will not… I’ll… I’ll kill you! I swear—”

They all began to break out laughing. Tears running down his face, Draco put his arm about Fred’s shoulder and said, “I told you he’d buy it.”

Fred reciprocated and said, “I always took you for a tight-ass prick, Malfoy, but that was pretty good!” They walked to the front door and pushed the portrait of the Fat Lady open. Draco muttered something as they went through and they both continued laughing down the corridor. Ron looked at George, hoping to get a straight answer.

“They’re not really going to do it, right George?” Ron’s brother laughed again.

“If they do, I’ll bet you’re name finally makes it into the Prophet. Come on Ralph; let’s make sure they make it all the way to the Great Hall. I’m not sure leaving them unattended is such a great idea.” Ralph looked almost more pale than Ron.

“Erm… they’re not gonna bite or anything… are they?”

“I don’t think Draco will, but Fred’s always putting his mouth where it doesn’t belong.” He took Ralph by the shoulders and escorted him through the front door. “Just keep your hands in your pockets.” He stopped and winked back at his little brother.

“One last look at freedom, Ronnykins, and then it’s off to your doom! Let’s be quick about it. The Muggles are getting restless.”

“Muggles?” asked Ralph.

“Muggles are…” began George and they disappeared down the corridor.

Instead of following after them, Ron stepped back, away from the entrance. He started breathing heavily and then buckled over, placing his hands on his knees. Harry offered his support and stepped him over to the couch by the fireplace.

“Ron? Come on, what’s wrong?” Ron just stared at the fireplace and then began to speak.

“I can’t stand this room, not anymore.” He drew in another breath. “It was in here, you know… when he took over me.”

“I know,” said Harry, worried that this was about the worst time to bring up what would certainly be Ron’s worst memory, a memory he would carry with him for the rest of his life. Harry’s own thoughts turned to Molly Weasley and James at the Ministry. Ron and Harry had both been Voldemort’s victims and that pain would not ever go away.

“It was within my reach. I should have known before you and Gabriella left the Marauder’s Eye. All I needed to do was to reach out and see.”

“We’ve been over this,” said Harry gently. “It’s not your fault.”

“You said it upstairs. I had him on his knees. Why couldn’t I—”

“Snape poisoned himself. He was weak.”

“In McGonagall’s office, I was able to keep him from killing her. I should have stopped him from… from...”

“You and Hermione squared everything at the lake… at the falls. She’s forgiven you for that.”

“Why? She shouldn’t,” snapped Ron, rising to his feet. “I’m about to be a father for something I could only… only watch happening. And I don’t know… we don’t know if… if the baby will be—”

“A demon child?” Harry asked, smiling. “With red hair?”

“I’M SERIOUS!”

“You saw with your own eyes what Tom Riddle did. The white robes were everything that was pure and good about him. Patrick explained that he took away whatever stain was there. You’re child will not be Voldemort! It may not have been conceived in love, but it’ll be born in love. It’ll be a bushy haired, red-head that’ll do some sort of wizard study on the flight dynamics of Quidditch brooms. The kid will be insufferable and adorable all at the same time. But he’ll hate his parents because they’ll look at him, all his life, as if he’s about to turn into Beelzebub. The only thing worse would be to grow up with only one parent because your mom got pissed at your dad for being late to their wedding! Now let’s go!”

Ron nodded, rubbed his eyes with both hands and let out a long breath. He started through the portrait of the Fat Lady and stopped, taking one last look at the Gryffindor Common room as a free man.

“This is it, Harry. It’ll never be the same again.”

“Ron, we’ve been here for seven years and after each year we say the same thing. You’re right; it’ll never be the same. Isn’t it wonderful? Each new day brings a new adventure. The village of Terntalag is springing forth from the soil of the Forbidden Forest. Maybe, one day, it will be possible to have an actual conversation with a Centaur! The town of Hogsmeade will be built anew – a town for wizard and goblin, house elf and even the occasional giant. Can you imagine the realization of true brotherly love? The heavens about Mars still burn celestial fire, glowing even during the day. Sinistra is beside herself wondering what will happen next. Hogwarts has a new Headmaster, the only wizard to escape from Azkaban on his own. What will life here be under the guidance of a convicted murderer and without Dumbledore’s lemon drops?

“In a few weeks I get to see Jamie without distraction or interruption. We’ll play by the sea, we’ll build a sandcastle on the beach and I’ll teach him how to fly. I can’t wait to get to know my son better, to watch him grow and to, one day, come to Hogwarts. Both our kids will be here, Ron. Jamie will be in Gryffindor of course. Your kid, sadly, will be in Slytherin because he’ll have decided to take over the world by then.” Smiling, he shoved Ron through the door and the two began to walk down the corridor.

“One sock?” a voice asked from behind? Harry turned to look at the Fat Lady as her portrait swung shut. “Not truly suited for the occasion, Harry. You are best man after all. I would have expected better.”

“What, this?” Harry asked, raising the right side of his dress robes to reveal that he was wearing two shoes, but only one sock. “Oh, I think it’s fitting, more suited for the occasion than you know, Wilhelmenia.” He winked as the Fat Lady gasped, holding her hand over her mouth, and he and Ron continued on their way down the staircases to the Great Hall and the wedding below.

“I didn’t know she had a name,” said Ron as they waited for the staircases to move into position.

“She wasn’t painted with one, but she let it slip to Sir Cadogan that she fancied Wilhemenia. She’s been guarding the door of Gryffindor for fifty years. It seems only right she be given a proper name. Ginny’ll see it sticks.”

Before the last staircase slipped into position, the voices of the crowd below could be heard. Ron looked over the railing. There were a number of wizards dressed in their finest, glancing up to see if he was coming. Percy was there and he looked pissed, but he always looked that way.

“You do know that the Minister is a very busy person, don’t you?” he called up at them.

“You’re not talking about Dad, are you?” said Ron sarcastically. “Don’t worry, Percy. Pretty soon it won’t matter. Didn’t you hear? Harry’s taking over the Ministry. It was in the Prophet, so it must be true.”

Percy growled. “Just hurry!”

“Just bugger off!”

Percy stomped away.

Enduring a myriad of slaps and offers of congratulations, Ron and Harry had to make their way through a crowd that was standing outside the Great Hall. At the entrance the groomsmen and bridesmaids were gathered together. Draco was adjusting Fred’s tie. Dean and Ginny were quickly re-lacing the back of Lavender’s dress. Hermione’s cousin, Betty, huddled next to her brother Ralph. They were both staring at Luna, who was holding an oddly shaped instrument made of brass that hung from her nose. She kept tapping it with a clang, saying it would bring fortune to the couple getting married. Gabriella briskly walked out to meet Ron and Harry. She was smiling, but Harry knew by the look in her eyes that the fangs were hiding just below the surface, ready to erupt.

“Where’s Hermione?” asked Ron, looking around.

“That’s what we’ve been asking about you for the last half hour!” Gabriella hissed under her breath. “You, on the other hand, are not to see the bride until she walks down the aisle.” Gabriella growled, or at least it sounded like it. “Do you know she actually believed you were going to leave her? Cho’s back there right now, telling her everything will be fine!”

“We were having problems with his robes, that’s all,” said Harry smoothly. “You know I’m not good with stitching. Does Hermione know he’s here now?”

“Yes, but you’ll have to give me and Cho a minute to help her get ready. Her eyes have reddened a bit.”

Gabriella huddled briefly with the girls and Harry gathered the groomsmen.

“It’s set, right?” he asked. “I know it was a hell of a party last night, but I need to be sure your heads are clear on this one. If it’s not perfect, it won’t work. And if it doesn’t work, we’ll have ruined the wedding. Everyone knows what to say?”

“Merlin, Harry!” said Dean. “We know already.”

“Then let’s get started,” said Harry with excitement. He raised his wand and a chime sounded. “Just like in rehearsal. Well, almost. Ron, it’s time to head to the front with your father. We’ll take care of business here and see you and the minister up front before you can say, ‘I do.’ The rings are right here.” Harry tapped the breast pocket of his dress robes. There was a bit of perspiration beading on Ron’s brow. “You’ll do great!” said Harry, giving him a hug. “Now go on.” Ron hesitated only a moment, nodded at Harry without saying a word, and made his way toward Arthur Weasley who was trying to be polite to everyone shaking his hand as he nervously glanced about for Ron.

“Merlin,” said Draco, rolling his eyes. “Are you sure you two aren’t the ones that should be getting married?”

“Shut up,” whispered Harry. He watched as Mr. Weasley caught sight of his son. He froze, seeing Ron dressed in his scarlet robes, and his eyes began to glisten. They hugged and with his arm around his son, Mr. Weasley walked him to the front altar that had been set up where the professor’s tables usually were. The moment had not been so emotional the night before, but they weren’t all dressed to the nines and there weren’t hundreds of people crowding about, and this time there was no turning back.

Suddenly, the entranceway began to fill with the sound of pops. A few people squealed as dozens of house elves began to appear; each was wearing a dreary smock representative of the type of work they did about the castle. Gabriella had tried to get them to wear something clean, but the effort was hopeless. They didn’t own anything clean and wouldn’t accept clothes to look proper. Still, their participation in the ceremony was vital. They stretched out in two long lines that went from the Great Hall, down the corridor, all the way to the castle’s front entrance. The first at Harry’s side was Dobby.

“We are ready, Harry Potter, sir!” he said with excitement.

“Did you get everyone?” asked Harry under his breath.

“Every servant of Hogwarts is here attending the wedding. Some are nervous to be out of the kitchens. Some have never been in the presence of wizards, but it is the Headmaster’s wish and so it will be. It is a grand occasion.”

“Very good. Remember what we talked about, Dobby? Sirius is presenting you each with swords for your bravery in the recent battle.” Dobby stepped up on a nearby chair so everyone could see him.

“Yes, Harry Potter, sir. The house elves are all aware of the Headmaster’s kindness,” Dobby said loudly, so each of the many house elves gathered could hear. “And since the swords are… not… clothes…, we can accept them graciously… in front of all these wizards.”

Dobby’s words were, perhaps, a bit mechanical. One might even say they sounded rehearsed, but the other house elves nodded in agreement and they began to line up as the groomsmen handed them each a small sword and scabbard, while reciting a brief incantation.

From the hand of the Headmaster, Sirius Black,
we present this sword, but not to attack.
Remove the scabbard and raise the point high,
to celebrate love as the couple comes nigh.
And when they walk past, both pieces you’ll own
for the bravery, wisdom and love you have shown.

“Do you accept this gift?” they would ask and to a house elf all said, “Yes.”

Each house elf kept the sword sheathed at their sides, waiting for the end of the ceremony when Ron and Hermione would step from the Great Hall and outside for the reception being held on the castle grounds. By the time each house elf had received their gift, Cho and Gabriella had returned.

“Is she ready?” Harry asked, kissing Gabriella on the cheek.

“Don’t be silly,” she replied. “Would we be here if she weren’t?” Cho stepped over and hugged Harry.

“When I told her Ron had arrived, the light returned to her eyes. I’ve never seen anyone more filled with joy.”

“Her father, however,” added Gabriella, “is a bit of a wreck. I’ve asked Parvati to keep an eye on him in case he starts to pass out or something dreadful like that.”

“Luna is going to take that thing out of her nose before she walks to the altar, right?”

“Just get on with it. I’m starting to get hungry.”

“You sound like Ron.” Harry raised his wand again and a second chime sounded. Music began to play and the groomsmen and bridesmaids lined up arm-in-arm and started down the aisle toward Ron, who was standing alone by the Minister. Harry, the best man, walked with Ginny, the maid of honour. Gabriella paired off with Draco, Dean with Lavender, Fred with Luna, Ralph with Betty. Last of the weeding party were George and Cho who while walking arm in arm were walking quite close together. Harry shook hands with Ron as he came to stand next to him as did all the other groomsmen as they passed. His hands were wet, but Harry resisted the temptation to wipe his own hands on the front of his robes before everyone gathered.

Standing up at the front, looking out over the sea of people, Harry had the opportunity to take in what an enormous crowd it was. There were visiting dignitaries near the front on Ron’s side. Hermione’s mother sat with Sirius on Hermione’s side along with a handful of other family members and the vast majority of the students. Ron’s family, brother’s cousins, aunts and uncles stretched out in a swath of red hair. Cormack McLeod,
Manager of the Montrose Magpies, was seated near the back.

At the very front, directly across from Cho, was Professor McGonagall, holding little Jamie. He seemed quite content, particularly after his mother entered, though he was less focussed on her and more interested in the swirling glow of fire represented on the ceiling of the Great Hall.

Once Ralph and Betty were in position, the music stopped and there was a moment of silence. All heads turned toward the back and, as the Wedding March sounded, everyone stood. In the back of the Great Hall, Hermione Granger came forward. Golden butterflies appeared and began to flutter about just in front of her as she stepped forward. Rose petals emerged in the air through which they flew, and fell softly into the aisle before her.

She wore the same white wedding gown that her mother had worn when she married Hermione’s father. Clearly made by hand, it was inlaid with white crocheted flowers and the occasional jewelled stud. It was simple, but beautiful. Lavender had worked tirelessly to keep that sensibility, while giving it a more modern look. The dress fell slightly away from the shoulders and the lace was less flowery and more sheer, creating something slightly sensual. Hermione added a few magical touches of her own. The threads glistened iridescent and shimmered, emitting their own light. The train was lengthened and trailed behind her never touching the ground. Harry also noticed that she must have been wearing some sort of enchanted perfume, because every young man she passed swooned as she walked by. Her face was glowing and he couldn’t imagine that she had ever doubted for a moment that Ron would be here by her side. For his part, Harry was always confident that, whatever trials they had faced, Ron would be standing right where he now was. His best friend may have been hesitant earlier, but those were just jitters. Since the day Hermione told him to clean the smudge off his nose, they were destined to be together.

Ron just stood awestruck at her beauty. As she approached the altar, Harry had to give him a little nudge, reminding him to step out and take her hand. The soon to be newlyweds were both nervous as they faced the minister.

Reverend Chalmers had been a part of the Weasley family for over five decades. He’d married Molly and Arthur, had overseen the baptism of every one of their children, had presided over his mother’s funeral and now was marrying the first Weasley child. His mind was sharp, his blue eyes keen and he spoke with a compassion and authority that was sadly missing in the Wizarding world.

As the couple began to exchange vows Harry could feel their energy and the power of their love radiate outward. It was so intense that the Heart of Asha began to reradiate its collected power throughout the Great Hall without Harry even trying. The spirits of those that had lost homes and loved ones in the recent battle began to heal. Harry was so astonished at what was happening that Draco had to poke him from behind.

“Harry,” he whispered. Harry turned with a questioning look.

Huh?”

“The rings,” he hissed under his breath. Harry turned back to see Reverend Chalmers, Ron and Hermione all looking at him.

“The rings?” kindly asked Reverend Chalmers again. Caught off guard, Harry momentarily forgot which pocket he’d put them in.

“Erm… rings…,” he muttered, patting each of his pockets. “Yeah… er… right… here.” His hand slapped the small circles of gold in his breast pocket. He pulled them out and laid them in the flat palm of his left hand and held his right hand just over them. “A blessing from Asha,” he said softly and fire erupted between his palms. The rings glowed white and then cooled. Harry then handed them to the minister who placed them on a small red velvet pillow. He held his wand over the rings and said a small prayer.

With final words, the couple slipped the rings on each other’s fingers. Holding hands, they raised them toward Reverend Chalmers who sealed their bond with his wand.

“You may kiss the bride,” he said joyfully.

Ron and Hermione kissed and the walls of the Great Hall reverberated with the cheers and clapping. A few tears slipped down Hermione’s cheeks.

“This is the most wonderful day of my life,” she said, kissing Ron again.

“Bloody spectacular,” whispered Ron as he got lost in her eyes, but then his own eyes twinkled. “But, there’s more to be had,” he said, smiling and looking back at Harry. “I’ve arranged a little present for you.”

“What? What is it?”

“You’ll see in just a moment.”

House elves moved into position, lining both sides of the aisle, swords at their sides, their dreary clothes in stark contrast to the richness and glitter of the clothes being worn around them. As Ron and Hermione moved down the steps from the altar, the first pair of house elves unsheathed their swords and held the points high. They then levitated until the two elves could bring their swords up and over Ron and Hermione’s heads, forming a sabre arch. The next pair unsheathed their swords and repeated the process until at last a tunnel was formed through which Ron, Hermione and the rest of the wedding party passed. Family members passed next and the house elves continued to hold the swords high until Professor Black exited with Hermione’s parents.

He met Ron and Hermione at the front doors to the castle and turned back to the house elves who had now dropped back to the ground, but still maintained their formation through which all the guests were about to pass. Dobby was at his side.

“My dear house elves,” said Sirius, his voice sounding throughout the castle. Everyone stopped where they were and listened. “For over a century you have served this castle and its Headmasters faithfully and have presented your talents with a skill that sets the standard by which all others dare to compare. Throughout this last year, Mr. Ron Weasley has been gathering socks from the residents of Hogwarts. It was part of a plan he first devised with the help of Professor Dumbledore quite some time ago. The socks, once owned by those living at Hogwarts, were then passed to me as the school’s Headmaster. Few knew of their precious value. Their collective travels represent a comprehensive sampling of Hogwarts grounds and of the many magics that exist here. They are, as are all of our students, imbued with the essence of all that is Hogwarts.

“Three years ago, Hermione Gr- Weasley began an organization she called the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare. Professor Dumbledore thought it then a noble idea whose time had not yet come. Today that changes. Just before the afternoon’s service, having received the last sock donated by are own Harry Potter, I enchanted the socks sealing them with the magics they have collected in their travels about this school. I transformed them slightly to better fit the swords you now hold high. They are the scabbards you carry in your left hands, the scabbards that you have sworn an oath to keep, the scabbards that are indeed simply clothes that now set you free.”

Sirius waved his wand, removing the befuddlement charm and the true nature of the socks became evident. While many remained black, many more were coloured, or striped, or polkadotted.

Everyone gasped at what this represented. Some of the house elves tried to drop the socks, but they stuck to their hands like they were charged with massive static cling. They began to approach Sirius and the looks on their faces demonstrated that they were anything but happy. Sirius held up his hands and smiled kindly.

“I am not asking you to leave,” he said loudly. “In fact, I ask that you all stay. Stay to help Hogwarts become an even better school. Help me, as has Dobby, show all wizards the wisdom, the strength, and the kindness of house elves everywhere. You demonstrated your bravery on the battlefield, now demonstrate that bravery by facing freedom head on!”

Hermione looked up at Ron as she squeezed his hand. “All year?” she asked. “You were planning this even before… before…”

“Before I asked you to marry me? You’re bloody damn right I was,” he said with a bit of a cocky smirk on his face. “And I didn’t deserve that trouncing when we were heading to Greece! Dumbledore said I needed to keep them with me as long as I could. It was like simmering a stew. If it was going to work, it needed to take time. That’s why you couldn’t just go leaving socks lying about and hope they’d take one.”

Lespty, one of the oldest of the house elves stepped up to Sirius and bowed low. For over five decades his sole responsibility had been the care and maintenance of the astronomy tower.

“The times of change are upon us all and house elves are no exception. Creatures about the world are learning that it is a much smaller place than we once thought. If we don’t take up the opportunity that Harry Potter has presented, we may never see it again. If Lespty were younger, Lepsty would travel to see the giants and learn their ways, but Lepsty is old and adventures are best left to the young. If you will have Lepsty, Headmaster Black, Lepsty will stay at Hogwarts.” Sirius knelt low and wrapped his arms about the aged house elf.

“It would be my honour, Lespty.”

Following their elder, each house elf stepped forward and presented their case for staying at Hogwarts. Sirius accepted them all, but reminded them that they were free to leave at any time and that they would receive pay and be asked to wear more proper clothing. He waved his wand and the dirty smocks that each of the house elves wore was replaced with one of silver that accented the wedding colours perfectly. Dobby was so excited he wept and blew his nose into his. Hermione hugged him and then she reached up and hugged Ron.

“I can’t believe you did this for me,” she said, barely able to control her tears. “All year?”

“Not even I knew,” said Harry as he walked past with Gabriella. “I thought he was just a nutter, but… he’s my best friend. What was I gonna say?”

Harry and Gabriella hugged them both and continued outside and down the entrance stairs to the castle toward the front lawn facing the lake below where chairs and tables had been set up for the reception. He was about to conjure some tablecloths when they suddenly appeared.

“The house elves didn’t take much time off; did they?” said Gabriella, sitting at the head table. People were filing out of the castle, hugging Ron and Hermione as they went. “Are you sure you don’t want to be in the receiving line?” she asked.

“Like we agreed,” he said. “It’s their day.” He leaned back in the sun and looked up at the sky with both hands tucked behind his head. There was still an iridescent glow that kept the sky looking as if it were on fire. He wondered if the remnants of Ebyrth would hang in the sky forever. Professor Sinistra had said that the gasses were collapsing, pulling in toward each other, but they covered so much of the sky it was difficult to tell. “Have I ever told you that I loved you?” he said looking at the sky.

“Why yes,” said a deep voice, “but only in your sleep.”

Draco pushed Harry upright and slipped behind him to sit on the other side of Gabriella. Fred was with him, but he instead chose to pace about.

“Lots of talk about brotherly love,” said Fred with a bit of irritation in his voice, “but not too many people were interested in shaking the hand of a werewolf.”

“Or a vampire,” added Draco.

“That’s not right,” said Gabriella. “Where’s Remus? I saw him with Mama during the ceremony.”

“They slipped upstairs the moment they had a chance,” said Draco, suggestively raising and lowering his eyebrows.

“Draco!” chided Gabriella.

“I don’t think you need to worry, Gab,” said Fred. “Dad went with them.”

“Oooh, even more interesting,” said Draco, smiling at Fred who couldn’t help but laugh.

“Stop! I don’t even want to picture it!”

Before long, they were surrounded by people. Ron and Hermione had joined them for the meal and then there was music and dancing and cake and the throwing of the bouquet, which Ginny caught causing Dean to turn red, if that were possible. It was, in every aspect a perfect day.

The day drew on and the sun began to set. Many of the guests had departed, but quite a few remained. Nearly all the wedding party stayed with the exception of Cho, who was escorted home by George. Harry was dancing a slow dance with Gabriella, but was barely able to stay awake.

“I overheard someone talking about how you wore just one sock to show your support for house elf freedom,’ she said with a smile. “I must have seen two dozen wizards today with just one sock. You’ve started a movement and it was Ron’s idea.” He sighed.

“It’ll make the papers tomorrow, I’m sure,” he muttered. His head was on her shoulder and he kept nodding off. The third time she told him to wake up he had to vanish the drool off her dress with the wave of his hand, hoping she wouldn’t notice. Suddenly she stopped dancing and poked him in the ribs to turn around.

“Harry?”

It was the voice of Mr. Weasley. He hadn’t spoken to Harry since he awarded him the Order of Merlin and the ceremony was so frenzied they barely had a moment to shake hands let alone chat before Arthur, as Minister, was hauled away for other business. He was flanked by Remus and Soseh who had worn their finest to the wedding. Their faces were beaming, so much so in fact that Harry wondered if maybe Remus had hit the fire whiskey a few too many times. Joining them was Antreas who wore the white robes of the Votary, which seemed a bit overkill for this late in the day. Remus and Soseh were holding hands, dispelling any doubt that they were together.

“Minister,” said Harry, holding out his hand. Arthur Weasley took the hand and pulled Harry close.

“Harry,” he whispered in his ear. “Minister? Really? Never again, at least not to my face. Is that clear? You’ll call me Arthur, okay?” Smiling warmly, Arthur pulled back to look Harry in the eyes. “Okay?”

“Okay,” said Harry happily. There was a camera flash from somewhere. Clearly Colin was about.

“We would have taken you in as a Weasley, if we could have, Molly and me. We talked about it often. You were and are always welcome. You know that don’t you?” Harry nodded and Arthur’s eyes smiled. “Particularly now that we have a free bedroom upstairs.”

“Ron!” he called out to his son, who was dancing, oddly, with Dobby, clearly a side effect of too many toasts. “You do intend to move out, right?”

“Erm… yeah,” said Ron, nodding his head, but realizing that he and Hermione didn’t really have any other place to stay. He considered asking Hermione’s father, thinking that Fred should come live with them since her parents really hadn’t had a chance to properly get to know a werewolf. Fortunately, the drinks had clouded his thinking a bit and he stopped worrying about it almost immediately. “Come on, Dobby. Let’s try a tango!”

“There is a favour I have to ask of you, Harry,” said Arthur. Almost instantly, Harry’s mistrust of everything ministerial flared and the protective walls came up.

“Yes?” he asked sceptically.

“Can you find Patrick and bring him here. We haven’t been able to find him.” It was a bit anticlimactic, certainly not the type of question Harry expected.

“Well, I saw him and James with a couple Ravenclaw students down at the lake just a while ago. Severus was showing them how to catch Grindylows. Let me take a look.” With the speed of a Centaur, Harry ran to the lake, told Patrick the Minister wanted him at the castle, told James he’d caught a fine fat Grindylow, and had returned before Arthur Weasley had had a chance to finish his sentence. “He’s on his way,” Harry said.

A few minutes later, Patrick came running, huffing hard, up the hill. Soseh had stood watch, waiting for him to arrive. When she saw him, she shuddered slightly, bringing her hand to her mouth.

“He reminds me so much of Dakhil… back in the old days.” She had been told what had happened in Singehorn’s Eye, but very few others had. Harry didn’t want anyone to know that Patrick had a bit of Tom Riddle in him. No matter how good that part of Tom was, no one would believe that anything but hate could have existed. If they weren’t careful, Patrick would be accused of being Voldemort. Having vampire blood run through his veins was bad enough.

When Patrick arrived, Soseh gave him a grand hug. They had visited and chatted often after the battle and during the reconstruction of Hogsmeade. They had grown quite close over the last few weeks. Gabriella had said it was because her mother wanted to stay, in some way, connected to Dakhil, but Harry thought that there was something more at play.

“Minister,” said Patrick, holding out his hand. “Harry says yeh wanted teh see me?”

“Yes, Patrick,” said Arthur, returning the handshake. “I have something rather important to ask you.” He put his hand on Patrick’s shoulder. “Soseh and Remus have asked to be your parents. They want to adopt you.” Patrick’s eyes widened. A part of him wanted to leap out of his skin with joy, but another part held him back, wondering if it were really true.

“Soseh and Remus?” he asked. “But… but they’re not married. How does that work?”

“We took care of that little detail just a few minutes ago,” said Arthur. Gabriella let out a yelp, covering her own mouth. Her eyes jumped out at her mother’s, but Soseh, shyly looked away. “They are now Mr. and Mrs. Lupin, and—”

“and more than anything,” interrupted Remus, dropping to one knee in front of Patrick. “More than all the stars in heaven, we want you to be our son.”

“The choice is yours, Patrick,” said Arthur, already seeing on Patrick’s face that the choice had been made. “Antreas and Gabriella will be your older siblings, but you may want to consider it would mean having Harry as a brother-in-law.”

“I knew it!” yelled Patrick with joy and he wrapped his arms about Remus’ neck. “I knew it! I knew it!” Soseh stepped over.

“Is that a yes?” she asked gently. Patrick let go of Remus and hugged them both.

“Yes! A thousand times yes!”

A small group that had clustered about to see what was going on began to clap and cheer. Gabriella looked at her brother and suddenly realized why he had dressed so well to watch the wedding. He had gone to two weddings today.

“You knew!” she hissed, pointing her finger at her brother. “You knew and you didn’t tell me.” She stepped toward him.

“You didn’t tell me you were getting married,” he said smiling, but backing away from his sister. “Besides, they needed a witness and I’m the oldest.”

“Oldest! What does that have to do with anything?”

“Mama asked—”

“Stop it!” snapped Soseh. “Come here and hug your brother!”

Gabriella stopped advancing on Antreas. She bit her lip, smiled and, together with her brother, went over to hug Patrick.

“You too, Harry!” said Soseh. “You’re family.” Harry obliged.

When he joined them all, it was hard to imagine ever being alone. He was surrounded by family. “The Lupins,” he whispered out loud, holding his hands out wide. Beyond that there were the Weasleys and the Changs. There was Macleta and Felspar and Ronan whom he held dear. And soon he would travel to the Carpathians to preside over the ceremony marking the passing of Singehorn. The dragons and Votary represented an even larger family and a grand mission remained before them.

At last it was Patrick that broke the hug and turned to look directly at Harry. His eyes were concerned as if something quite troublesome had just occurred to him.

“Harry, this doesn’t mean the deal’s over, just because I’m not an orphan anymore, right? We said teh the end – I’ll watch your back, and you’ll watch mine. We’ll still stick together, won’t we?” Harry smiled warmly and put both hands upon Patrick’s shoulders.

“We have a new deal now, Patrick. We’re bound as brothers by the blood of dragons and nothing in the world will ever change that. Now we can’t just watch each other’s backs, we have to search out and find all those who are in need. It is a new calling, a greater calling, but we’ll do it together.”

The marks on both their arms seemed to shimmer slightly and a knowing expression passed over Patrick’s face. He nodded as all apprehension disappeared and they shook hands in the manner of the Votary, true brothers till the end.

~~~***~~~

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 55 – Mother Maia

Author’s Note: This was going to be the last chapter, when all of a sudden Maia, the sea goddess that Gabriella had seen under the lake at the falls appeared. I think maybe a review asking for a story of what had happened under there summoned her. OMG! What can I say? It’s not my fault. The good news is there’s more to come!
________________________________________


~~~***~~~
It was odd, really, walking out the castle doors for the last time. Oh, he knew he’d be back, someday. His godfather was headmaster after all; there would be plenty of opportunities to visit. Years from now his son would learn to be a man here as had he, but this was different. He was leaving home, the only true home he’d ever known. It was the end of something grand and the beginning of something new, something unknown. A few weeks ago he had made fun of Ron for saying that things wouldn’t be the same. Now, Harry felt those words in his heart more than ever. Perhaps his greatest hope for change was that it would be a time of peace.

Holding Gabriella’s hand, he looked back at the large wooden doors to the castle. He just stared blankly, examining their grain and colour. He’d passed through them countless times, never truly appreciating the Hogwarts crest above the entrance. The four houses joined by the great letter H. Such different types of people, sorted by a hat because that’s what it was enchanted to do, but the distinctions were not so clear cut and the divisions which were once so absolute were now beginning to blur. It would be a new beginning for Hogwarts, and a new age for the Wizarding world.

Beneath the crest was a motto in Latin that he once knew, but it had faded into the back of his memory, an obscure remnant of class lessons and rules that was now lost. It was Latin after all. Today, he read it again for what seemed like the first time.

"Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus," he said out loud. He turned to Gabriella and said, “Do you know what it means?”

“Don’t be silly, of course I do. ‘Never tickle a sleeping dragon.’ A wise motto, though I’ve never really met one that’s ticklish. Tûzkár, maybe, when he was younger.”

Harry held up his hand and looked at his forearm. The mark of the Votary was clear and the dragon, the Hungarian Horntail Asha, was distinct. He sighed. The Prophet was calling him one of the greatest wizards of all time, comparing him to the likes of Dumbledore. It was rubbish. Harry didn’t have half the skills Dumbledore had in his small finger and he knew it. It didn’t matter. The Prophet declared him ruler over the dragons. They had no clue that the dragons were not ruled by any wizard and that he only had a relationship with just one small part of the dragon kingdom. There was no telling what the other dragons around the world would do. By Singehorn’s wishes, that had now become the Votary’s mission.

“Do you think they can keep their word?” he asked. “Can there ever be peace between wizards and dragons?”

“Ron’s dad will try with the Ministry in the U.K., and Sirius will try to make it happen here. That’s a start.”

“But inviting the Hebredians to watch the school’s Quidditch matches,” Harry shook his head, smiling. “How crazy is that?”

“Hermione told me that Ron’s been talking about starting an all dragon team. She thinks Fred and George gave him the idea.” She shrugged.

Harry just rolled his eyes. He stepped over to the doors and touched them one last time to say good-bye and then the two made their way down the castle steps. The sun was warm and summer was in full swing. They walked by Hagrid’s hut and Harry stopped for a moment as his memories there lingered. Hagrid was gone, off with Olympe to discuss relations between wizards and giants. This time not because there was a war to be had and sides to be chosen, but because it was an opportunity for greater understanding between two very different peoples, who in many ways were very much alike. Hagrid was living proof of that.

When they walked through the open gate toward Hogsmeade, they paused to say a prayer one last time for Pansy and for all those that had lost their lives because of the evil kindled by just one wizard. Harry asked that he could live the rest of his days and never see such hatred again, but both Dakhil and Dumbledore had spoken of other evils, other darknesses that would step up to fill the void. He could only hope that it would take time.

Once in Hogsmeade, they stopped by Fred and George’s shop and were surprised to see Draco there. The shop smelled of fresh paint and wet lacquer mixed with the scent of freshly opened boxes. Wearing a workman’s apron, Draco was putting some strange gadgets on shelves near the front of the store. He looked every bit as if her were a common employee, albeit with perfect hair.

There were a number of customers clamouring about. Buzzing, ringing and the occasional explosion filled the air, creating a somewhat chaotic atmosphere as Fred, working behind the register, kept taking people’s money.

“Draco?” asked Gabriella. “I thought you’d had enough of Hogsmeade?”

“Surely even you are aware, Gabriella,” Draco drawled, standing upright and wiping his hands on his apron, “that Mother’s ribbon cutting is tomorrow.”

“And you’re in here putting boxes away?”

“Just helping out a fellow outcast is all.”

“Fred, where’s George?” asked Harry over the top of three younger girls, examining love potions. Fred glanced at him briefly, held up a finger and took a galleon from a rather old lady as he handed her a small paper bag.

“Remember, Ms. Tumbledon,” said Fred, speaking somewhat louder than normal, “no more than once a day.” Harry stepped over to the counter.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Senseless Sandies – cookies that make you non-senseable. You can’t be seen, touched, heard, tasted, or smelled. They only last thirty minutes, but the side effects are pretty nasty if you use them too often.

“She wants to disappear?” asked Harry.

“No, she wants her husband to disappear,” answered Fred. “Says it’s the only peace and quiet she gets all day. As for George… well he’s, erm, out.”

“Out?” Harry said sceptically. “Okay, I get it. Out. Well remind him about the ceremony for Singehorn. You two are going, right?”

“Two?” Fred asked. “Which two?” He looked over to Draco who had returned to stocking shelves near the front window. “I mean, why would you think that—”

“You two,” said Harry in exasperation. “I already know Draco’s going.” He turned toward the window. “Draco, when are you leaving for the Carpathians?”

“We’re leaving early,” said Draco over his back. “As soon as Mother’s big show is over. You’re right Gabriella, I’ve had enough of this hellhole. Why I would ever want to see this place again is—” He stopped himself for some reason. It was as if he’d lost the thread of what he wanted to say, but he quickly found it again. “Oh, Harry. She wanted me to thank you for not coming. The less non-Narcissa publicity the better.”

“Okay… you can speed out of here, but we’re taking our time,” said Harry grabbing Gabriella’s hand just as she reached out to touch the Untouchable Underwear. He walked her toward the door. “We’ll see you all there, I guess. Erm, give our best to George… when he’s not out anymore.”

“Hey, Potter,” said Draco, just before the two exited. “We’ll be hanging out at Dakhil’s. Getting things in order… you know. If you want to come by, drop me an owl first, okay?”

“What? You and Blaise need some privacy?” Harry smiled.

Draco’s jaw immediately clenched and the front plate glass window shattered. Gabriella’s eyes opened wide, wondering why Draco was so upset. Draco pulled his wand and with a single wave the glass was repaired. He took in a deep breath.

“Just owl me, got it?”

“Sure, Draco. I can respect that.” Harry waved at Fred who was busily taking another customer’s money and stepped out onto the sidewalk with Gabriella.

“That was strange,” said Harry. “It was just a little joke. And what’s with the ‘George is out’ routine?”

“He’s probably with Cho,” said Gabriella casually. Harry suddenly stopped walking. Gabriella looked back at him. “What? Does that bother you?” she asked.

“B-Bother me? No. No it doesn’t… bother… me. I mean… That would explain… Three times I’ve been over to her parents to visit. You know? Three times I saw Jamie, but not Cho. She was… George? Really? Do you think?”

“They were getting a bit giddy together at the wedding. Maybe.”

“George?” Harry tapped his fingers against the side of his leg as he considered the implications, completely forgetting Draco’s strange behaviour. Then he smiled and began to walk. “George.” He pulled his wand to Apparate… “Thank Merlin it wasn’t Fred.” He chuckled and then his eyes twinkled at Gabriella. “You know, Cho always did have good taste in men.” There was a swish… and he disappeared.

Their trip to Greece was playful, romantic and restful. It was everything their last journey across Europe wasn’t. They made time to take in the sights they hadn’t seen and to simply enjoy each other’s company. It had been over a year since they were truly alone together for any significant amount of time. In those moments of intimacy, Harry began to fall in love with Gabriella all over again. They were learning more about each other and it was strengthening their bond, a bond which had already withstood the crucible of fire and water.

At first when people called them by Mr. and Mrs. Potter, it made Harry think of his parents, but now he was growing into that skin, becoming comfortable with what that name meant, knowing that they would live and love and grow old together. He began to daydream about their future together and the life they would share. It was becoming clear, as they made their way toward Greece, that Gabriella thrived near the water. He didn’t mind. He was beginning to take a liking to beaches, though he rarely entered the sea. A life near the water wouldn’t be so bad. Sirius had offered Harry the castle in Greece, saying that the walls needed to hear laughter and love. Harry had declined, but now he wasn’t so sure. Her joy of the salten spray was becoming his joy. Perhaps Greece would be the perfect place to begin their life together.

Nearing the end of their travels, Harry and Gabriella were sunning themselves on a beach in Italy, somewhere south San Vincenzo. They’d spent too much time in the sun and it would soon be setting, but they were soaking in the opportunity to rest without interruption. The beach was a sandy flat that stretched on forever in both directions with not a person in sight. The day had been warm, but as the sun lowered toward the horizon the breeze began to pick up and the waves began to crash more fiercely against the shore. There was a distinct marine smell in the air that reminded Harry of… He shook his head. It couldn’t be. He lifted his eyes to the sea.

Harry saw her at once, a beautiful woman stepping out of the surf. She was somewhat large, but striking in appearance. Her black hair draped down upon her bare torso below which she wore a shimmering emerald wrap.

“Maia!” he gasped. “She’s come.”

“Harry!” the nymph called out. “I thought those were your toes I saw earlier. Too scared to jump in?” She looked back over her shoulder. “The waves are a bit big today.” She stepped closer. “You’re not afraid of the water, are you? I feel like you’ve been avoiding me.”

Both Harry and Gabriella took to their feet as if they were soldiers and the commanding general had just walked into their barracks.

“Oooh. Darling Harry.” Maia clucked her tongue, looking Harry up and down. “You may want to be careful about getting too much sun where it rarely shines.” She smiled, revealing that their gesture of respect had pleased her. She waved her hand in the air. “Sit… sit.” A lounge chair made of some thatched material appeared at her side and she sat toward the sun, her back to the beach. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes.

“So tell me, Child of the House of Hayk,” she said without raising her head or opening her eyes. “Harry may not dabble much in the surf, but I’ve seen you. You like these waters, don’t you?” Gabriella didn’t hesitate.

“Yes, Maia,” she said earnestly. “Though the waters near Tripoli are still my favourite. More so now. Harry’s eyes remind me of my home.”

“Yes,” Maia nodded, “I can see that.” Her wrap began to brighten as a brilliant green weaved its way into the fabric until the colours matched those of the waters off of Tripoli. “But you haven’t travelled nearly enough… the Keys off the coast of Florida, the Great Barrier Reef, oh and Maldives – one of my favourites.” As she sighted each place, her wrap changed colours of green and turquoise and vivid blue, and then she sighed contentedly. “You simply must see them all.”

“I… I can’t wait,” Gabriella said suddenly sounding nervous. There was something in the way Maia said the last words that was bothering her. “I’m sure, after the ceremony of Singehorn, we’ll begin our travels.”

“Sure,” said Harry, “We can—”

“Now, now,” interrupted Maia. “Let’s not ruin a perfectly wonderful day. No need to prattle on.” She still lounged back without opening her eyes. “Gabriella, you know perfectly well what I’m talking about. We made a deal.”

“But—”

“No. No buts. Melusina was going to turn you to dust. This man’s love and your pledge to be a daughter of the sea… Well, the time has come. Really, you must see them all.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Harry, his mouth becoming dry. Pinpricks of tingling sweat appeared on his palms. “We’re not going anywhere.”

“Correct, love,” said Maia. “Only Gabriella.”

“What?” snapped Harry. “No! What right do you have to—”

“Right?” hissed Maia, grinding her teeth. The waves of the ocean rose high and crashed down, spraying them all, but Harry pulled his wand and repelled the water. “You pretend your memory fails you,” she said. “I would have thought better.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I saved them both! That gives me the right!” said Maia, rising to her feet and looking fiercely at Harry. “I can see your eyes betray you. You remember. Do you deny it?” Harry thought back to when he was below the surface with Draco. Melusina was challenging Draco’s life and Harry was finding it hard to defend his friend in any way that would meaningfully satisfy her.
________________________________________


~~~***~~~
How long they had been below the surface of the water, Harry couldn’t tell. Draco’s muffled screams had continued for an eternity until there was nothing left to scream. His voice had left him, but the pain remained in his eyes and across his face. The waters were dark and cool upon their bare skin, but they could breathe, if that’s what they were doing. The nymphs had refused to tell them anything about Patrick, though Harry sensed he was near and that he was safe. It was the same connection he had had with Dakhil. They also had refused to unbind Harry’s hands, fearing that he might use magic, but said that he was free to go. He wouldn’t leave Draco alone, facing the wrath of Melusina as he was, and this seemed to please Maia who, for the most part, sat in the background disinterested, sipping tea and filing her nails.

The questions were endless and no answer would satisfy Melusina. She would swim so close you could taste her scent in the water. Her eyes would flash yellow, like two burning suns, but the orbs held no warmth. They were filled with anger, or hatred, or resentment, Harry couldn’t tell which and, every so often, their attention turned to Harry and his own failings over the past year. When that happened, it felt as if a thousand wasps had landed on his naked body, stinging him all at once. Only then would Maia silently rise up, and only then would Melusina back away.

His mind couldn’t help but plot in Melusina’s destruction, perhaps out of anger, but he would have preferred to think that it was out of necessity to rescue his friend. If his hands hadn’t been tied, he most certainly would have tried, all thought of forgiveness forgotten. It was only when Maia had said that Gabriella had returned safely to her brother on the surface that the anger in his heart had ebbed. Maia had said that her fate was secured with the daughters of the waters which, at the time, sounded like a good thing. For Draco, however, the fates appeared to be leading to a wholly different ending. During a particularly vicious line of questioning, Melusina began to attack Draco’s hatred for his father.

“You’re wrong, sister. His love for his father is clearly there,” said Maia, briefly looking up from her nails. When Draco would try to find it, Melusina would throw all the evil things his father had done to him – the drugs, the torture at Voldemort’s hands, being turned to a vampire. The anger would rise in Draco’s heart and pain would rack his body.

“Draco, let it go,” said Harry at last, trying to break the cycle. “You have to forgive him.”

“From fire to— water,” Draco muttered, grimacing in between. “I clung to life for this?” He spat toward Melusina, with no effect. “Fire and water. I hate them both. Fire and water.” He began to repeat this over and over and then, without cause, stopped. Harry could see that Draco had surrendered. He had resigned himself to his fate. He looked up at Melusina and refused to answer any more questions. Harry could sense the surge of her punishment, but Draco didn’t wince.

“Kill me,” he said. “I’m through. Harry, get Patrick and go.” Melusina smiled and raised her hand above his head. It began to glow.

“No!” Harry yelled. Melusina was surprised at the outburst.

“You care so much for this blotch?” she asked.

“There is a connection there,” added Maia. “Surely, my dear sister, you can feel its power.”

“Nonsense,” retorted Melusina. “Nothing more than passing curiosity.”

“And the others?” asked Maia. “I have no doubt, you can hear them calling from the surface.”

“Yes, yes,” snapped Melusina, growing more frustrated. “It’s becoming meddlesome, but not beyond my power to control.”

Harry could see by the irritation in her expression that whoever was calling above was interfering with her plans for Draco. He would add his own to the voice, or voices above.

“You ask if I care, Melusina,” swimming toward her. “You already know the answer to that question. You both do. He has become a part of who I am and what I have become. He has helped me push back the greatest darkness the age has known. He deserves your thanks, not your vitriol.” At this Maia became interested once again and she swam over to join them, slipping in between Melusina and Harry, her back toward her sister who was miffed at the insertion.

“Words are easy, Harry,” she said with a smile, caressing his cheek with her finger. “Are you willing to sacrifice?”

“I would give my li—”

“Tsk, tsk,” she interrupted. “That is no longer ours to garner. No… what would you give in exchange?” She fondled his caduceus earring with her hand and then slid down his neck to the leather thong and silver disk that hung there. “What trinket would you part with? What of the ring on your finger, or the stone beneath your flesh?” Her hand slipped over Harry’s chest and came to rest just over the Heart of Asha. Would you surrender your power, or your most prized possession to set your dearest friend free?”

For a moment, Harry hesitated. He wasn’t sure that they were truly his to give. They were the property of the dragons and Harry was simply their keeper. Yet, if it was within his ability to give them away to save Draco’s life… he would. If it wasn’t, Maia would have to ask for something else and Harry had no worldly possession that he wouldn’t gladly give away to save Draco’s life. As he pondered, Maia became inpatient, shrugged and began to turn away.

“Wait!” said Harry. “Yes… yes I would—”

“Harry, stop!” cried Draco. “You’re thinking like a Gryffindor. It’s a trap. She’s holding all the cards to a game only she knows the rules to. Think it through.”

“Sister,” said Maia, “I really must get to my nails. Do what you must, but you know the rules.”

“Yes, I know the rules!” said Melusina indignantly. She glanced up at the surface and muttered something to herself.

“There’s no time, Draco!” yelled Harry. “Maia, take of mine what you will, but spare his life.”

“So be it,” said Maia smiling, she waved her hand and a bubble appeared in the water. Within in it they could see Dean preparing to jump into the water. “Did you notice this other, sister? He appears willing to sacrifice himself for his friend. Draco, you said that nobody cared, that you were a loner, and yet you have so many friends willing to die for you.”

“No!” yelled Draco, seeing Dean prepare to jump into the lake. “Don’t let him. Take me now! Don’t let him in the water! Take me!”

Melusina screamed in disgust and disappeared. A swirl of bubbles surrounded Draco and the ties about his hands floated away. Suddenly, he was launched upward to the water’s surface like a cannonball.

“Self sacrifice,” said Maia with a sly smile. “There’s so little left of it in the world.” She began to swim away, but Harry called to her.

“Well?” he asked. “What do you want? What must I give you?”

“What do I want?” said Maia still smiling. “I want to leave this stupid river, but first I must gather up your friend. What must you give me? Well, nothing for now, but I’ll decide soon enough… soon enough.”

She disappeared into the darkness and emerged with a small baby wrapped in her arms.

“Here is your friend – your protégé, your mentor; the darkness that consumed the world and the light that set it free. I would watch this one, dearest Harry,” she said, handing him the child. “There is a power here the world has never known. I must be going.”

“Who is this?” asked Harry in confusion. “Where’s Patrick?”

“Harry, dear. He’s in your arms. Now, be a good lad and make it to the surface before it’s too late.” She pulled him against her body and kissed his mouth. “You know, I had a feeling about you. I think you’re one of my favourites.” She patted the baby’s head and vanished into water.
________________________________________


~~~***~~~
Now, standing with Gabriella on the beach next to Maia, Harry wished all the more that she would simply vanish again, but it was clear she had no intention of going anywhere until Gabriella joined her.

“You agreed, Gabriella,” said Maia with a smile, “to be a daughter of the sea. And Harry, to save Draco you promised to give up your most prized possession whenever asked. Now that time has come because tomorrow it may be too late. Not to worry though. I won’t keep her forever. If you’re still around, you can have her back in ten or fifteen years.”

“Fifteen years! No!” argued Harry. “It’s a trick. You- You fooled me.”

“Does it matter, Harry?” asked Gabriella calmly. “Was it not worth it to save Draco’s life?”

“You’re not actually thinking of going through with this! Fifteen years!”

“We may not have fully understood our agreements, but we gave our word. I would hate to consider the consequences if… one does not deny a sea goddess.”

Harry held her in his arms and squeezed. His hopes and dreams of a future had suddenly come crashing down around him. His body shuddered as Gabriella began to cry.

“I’ll find a way to get you back, I swear. Until I do, I’ll wait for you,” he whispered in her ear. “Every sunset, every sunrise, I’ll stand by the ocean, waiting for you to return.”

“I- I can’t ask you to do that.” She sniffed.

“You didn’t.” He reached up and brushed the hair from her eyes. The wind had died away, but the surf continued to crash upon the beach. He looked deep into her dark eyes just as the sun touched the horizon. “Did I ever tell you how much I love you?”

“Maybe once,” she said, trying to hoist a smile upon her face. Suddenly she kissed him hard and then let go.

Without saying a word Maia took her by the hand and the two began to walk toward the surf which had suddenly calmed. When she was knee deep, Gabriella turned back to look at Harry. Tears were streaming down her face, but he couldn’t help but think she was as beautiful as ever. Her long black hair hung down to her waist around which appeared a copper brown wrap that shimmered with the glittering waves. He stood there, knowing that she took with her his heart and soul, and that he would wait for all eternity for her to return.

Silently, Harry stood and continued to watch the sea after they disappeared beneath its surface. The wind picked up, tossing bits of sand into the air, and his eyes began to sting, but he refused to surrender his vigil. Day turned to night and the stars began to shimmer off the water’s surface. Eventually, there were no more tears to be had and his heart grew numb. Tearing his gaze from the horizon, he summoned his robes, slipped them on, and looked at the emptiness about him. He wasn’t sure what he was searching for, a ribbon or a jewel, some trinket of remembrance. Whatever it might have been all trace of his love had disappeared. He spun in a slow circle, like a dog chasing its tail, unsure what he should do next. Finally, he stopped and looked up at the swirling mist of fire that still hung in the sky. Emotionless, Harry raised his wand and Apparated to the front doors of Sirius’ castle.

He knew his godfather was there. Torches burned brightly on either side of the great wooden doors. He didn’t know why he just didn’t walk in. Instead, he lifted the great iron ring and knocked three times, the sound reverberating across the countryside. His face expressionless, Harry just stared at the door’s wood grain. He’d never really considered it before, the ribbons of darkness and light that melded together, joining to create something so strong and yet quite beautiful. He fingered the surface, imagining his skin entwined with hers, until at last he heard steps. There was an incantation and the doors opened. Sirius, wearing a long white bath robe, had clearly been sleeping. He was about to curse when he realized who was at the door.

“Harry?” he asked, looking at his godson. Harry’s face was red and his eyes were swollen, but his expression was blank and his eyes were distant, looking off into some other universe. Sirius stepped out through the door and put his hands on Harry’s shoulders, but the young wizard remained wooden and didn’t react. “What is it? What’s wrong?” He looked about for Gabriella, but she was no where to be found.

“Where’s Gabriella?” he asked, still holding Harry’s shoulders.

Harry just stood there, silent. Where had she gone? Maybe… maybe it was just a bad dream. Yes, that was it – a bad dream that he would soon wake up from. He blinked hard, closing his eyes tight and thinking that, perhaps, when he opened them he would be back upon the beach with Gabriella at his side. But when they opened, the only thing he saw was Sirius’s greying beard.

“Harry?” he asked again, this time with more concern, more insistence for an answer. “What’s happened? Where’s Gabriella?”

Harry’s body began to shake. His knees buckled and he fell into Sirius’ arms. His godfather brought him inside and sat with him on a large carpet in the entranceway. The air had disappeared from Harry’s lungs and he began to pull in huge breaths, but nothing helped. Finally, he buried his head into his godfather’s shoulder and sobbed.

“They took her from me!” he cried out in agony. “Oh, god! Noooo… NOOOO!” He slammed his fist repeatedly on his own thigh. “My Gabriella… she’s gone! Sirius, she’s gone!”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 56 – Lost Hope

~~~***~~~

When Sirius finally understood what had happened, he took Harry by the arm and together they walked from the castle to the ocean. He summoned a couple lounge chairs and a whole lot of Mythos beer and the two just sat and watched the waves crash upon the shore beneath the moonlight. The sky still glowed with the fire that had lingered since Ebyrth’s destruction, though what was once spread across the heavens was now coalescing near Mars. There the sky shimmered and glistened not unlike the connubial band upon Harry’s finger. It wasn’t until the third or fourth bottle that Sirius spoke anything of consequence.

“Nymphs are smarter than most wizards realize, Harry. They’re more beautiful than the setting sun and craftier than the slyest fox,” he added just looking out over the surf and sipping his beer. “One summer your father and I got in trouble off of Cuba. A few too many drinks and a bit more bluster than we had right to. I guess, surrounded by Muggles, we had a sense of invincibility. We forgot that, even half-way around the world, Nature’s eyes still held us in their gaze.

“Cuba?” asked Harry quietly; his curiosity had been raised. “You never told me this story.”

“That’s because I’m not proud of it. Your dad… well, I haven’t had the chance to tell you how great a man he was. You have a vision, I know, of who he was and what he was like built upon small snippets of stories that people have told you. But such fleeting visions have no base, no centre and can be easily shattered; your visit into Severus’ memories are proof enough of that. Your father deserves better. I haven’t given you the foundation to be proud of him and I’d hate for you to think less.” Sirius leaned up in his chair, set his bare feet in the sand and began to draw circles and arcs through the grains with his wand. “He was a great man, a great friend, and he… he loved you and your mother… so much….

“Before you were born, Harry, James had a mean streak. We both did. I was a Black after all, but your father could be just as arrogant and far more cruel. Back in the day I used to think we were just having fun, joking around. Severus wasn’t the only young wizard we tormented. We did it because we could. We were smart and popular and powerful and no one dared touch us. But a decade in Azkaban changes a person. I see now we were just angry, angry at our lives, at the world. My parents saw my future at Vodemort’s side, while James’ parents, loving as they were, chose to keep their son hidden at home, thinking that smothering him with their wealth would make everything better. I believe the Marauders gravitated toward each other in the first place because we all hated our lives in very personal ways. None of us were very happy, but being together, sharing that pain made it more palatable.

“All through our sixth year, James and Lilly were dating, off and on. Some days they looked to all of Hogwarts like the perfect couple, destined to be the real thing, sort of like Ron and Hermione. And then James would do something boneheaded, like pants a group of second years during lunch, or cast a spell over someone’s homework scrolls that would make the ink disappear when they said the word professor, and Lilly would stop speaking to him for a week. Her heart was pure gold and she wouldn’t tolerate any joke if it came at someone else’s expense.

At the end of the year, James had convinced Lilly to travel with him to South America for the summer. They were going to study the ancient Mayan ruins and spend six weeks on a magical enrichment program. It was a chance to get away from his parents, the brewing war and be truly alone with her for the first time. He was as happy as I’d ever seen him. He could push aside his life in the UK and show her the kind of wizard he truly was.

“Then, one afternoon, we stumbled across Severus. He was just sitting there, reading a potions book and scribbling in it like a mad man. We could have just walked past, but James couldn’t help himself. Well, you saw from Severus’ mind what happened. Your mother saw too and she broke off their summer together. Rather than go alone, he dropped out of the program and decided the Marauders should run away and wreak havoc in Havana. Remus wouldn’t dare to leave, knowing there would be a full moon and Peter decided to stay with him. I decided it was the perfect opportunity to split from the Black family, so I went.

“There we were, one bleary-eyed night, the two of us, in some dive of a bar near the beach, when James decides he likes this stunning redhead in the arms of some big burly guy at the bar. I wish I could tell you that I told him to leave her alone, but I didn’t. If anything, I encouraged him. That was, after all, our nature.” A shot of disgusted air popped from Sirius’ lips. “Size didn’t matter. James could turn the big guy into a toad if he wanted to. Merlin, if your father had another twenty years under his belt, he’d have wiped the floor with the likes of Voldemort. Fate was not so kind.

“He cast a spell and immobilized everyone in the bar except the redhead. You might have thought she’d be scared, or confused, but she wasn’t. She just smiled, drop dead gorgeous, and slipped off her barstool as smooth as silk. ‘I knew you were the special one,’ she said, stepping over to your father. ‘You enjoy mischief, don’t you?’ She reached over and took his hand in hers. ‘So do I.’ She snapped her fingers and broke your father’s spell. As the whole bar turned to look at them, she kissed him hard on the lips, pulling him tight and holding his hand on her bosom. Mr. Big and Burly wasn’t too happy about that and came over to let James know it. When James and I tried to cast a spell to stop him, it didn’t work. It was like the magic had evaporated.

“The girl pretended, in an exaggerated way, that she was leaving the guy for James. ‘Leave him alone,’ she cried. ‘I love him and he loves me! We’re running away to Scotland!’ I swear I saw fire flame from the guy’s eyes. Well, he began to pummel your dad so I jumped on his back to stop him. I put my arm around his neck and bit his ear. He grabbed my arm and snapped it as he flipped me off his back. We were beginning to suffer quite a few broken bones until your dad surrendered and transformed to a stag. I followed suit and we got the hell out of there.

“It wasn’t until the sun rose that next morning that our wands worked again. Sitting out on the beach just like we are now, drinking a couple of cervezas, he and I were healing our wounds when we saw the woman again. This time she was alone, as striking and as beautiful as ever. I thought, at first, it was coincidence, but I know better now. She noticed us and came running over, all apologetic about what had happened. ‘I was just trying to have some fun,’ she said. ‘Surely you understand, James. A little mischief, now and then never hurt anyone. Did it?’

“He’d never told her his name and yet, somehow, she knew. She bent down and kissed him on the cheek and said, ‘You didn’t want me anyway, not really. Your heart… it belongs to another. Anyone can see the pain in your eyes, the kind of pain only losing your love can bring.’ She came over and lifted my chin with her finger. ‘You on the other hand…’ she began, but never finished. She kissed my forehead and the pain that was throbbing throughout my body disappeared. She winked and then walked into the surf and disappeared

“I know now she was a nymph. Her name was Bistonis,” said Sirius with a sigh. Harry could sense something rousing in his godfather’s heart. “Sometimes, on a whim, she’ll step from the beach and visit the castle.

“It wasn’t until after our little vacation, after James had the shit kicked out of him, that he began to understand. The Headmaster noticed and made him Head Boy. Since I was homeless, James asked me to move in with his family and for the first time I felt welcomed and loved. In the fall of our seventh year, he went out of his way to keep his wand in his pants, as it were, and Lilly took notice. By Christmas they were in love all over again. I’d like to say it was perfect after that, but it wasn’t. Old habits die hard, and your father was an arrogant prig. But he refused to join Voldemort despite the Dark Lord’s attempts to collect one of the greatest wizards of the time. And when he first held you in his arms, Harry, his purpose in life became crystal clear. Lilly and James committed themselves to fight for a world where you and everyone else could grow up free of darkness. They were never more in love than in those days after you were born. I tell you this, because you need to understand that you didn’t destroy them, Harry, you brought them joy and happiness and an enduring love that they would not otherwise have had.

“Bistonis set James upon the right path and your birth sealed his love for your mother. How Bistonis knew…” Sirius shrugged. “There are more magics to be had among the nymphs than any one wizard can dream to understand in a lifetime. Like your father, Harry, your heart is pure. Your love for Gabriella is strong. Maia did not choose her timing randomly, nor the selection of your precious possession. She has something in mind and it has nothing to do with taking her away to see the different colours of blue in the oceans of the world.”

Harry emptied the bottle in his hand and opened another. “I don’t remember my parents,” he said quietly. “I- I miss them so much. I wish my mom were here to cry with me. I wish dad were here to get pissed and light up the ocean.” He took a drink.

“They are, Harry,” said Sirius softly in return. “They’re here… in you. You just—”

“Yeah? In me?”

Dropping the bottle of beer in the sand, Harry rose unsteadily to his feet, extended his arms toward the sea and screamed. Fire erupted from both his hands and shot forward hundreds of feet into the water, sending up an enormous cloud of steam.

“Whoa!’ yelled Sirius. “I didn’t mean—” Harry stopped.

“That… that felt good,” said Harry, smiling for the first time as he reached down and picked up his bottle of beer. The liquid inside began to bubble from the heat of his hands as he wiped the sand from around the lip and took a sip. “I… I don’t know what I’d do without you, Sirius. Thank you.”

Sirius just shook his head as the two sat back down. They began to talk about battles and Quidditch and dragons and, after a few more stories, eventually Harry fell asleep. When he woke, the morning sky was a powder blue, but the sun had not yet poked its head over the horizon. A small fire burned in midair between Harry’s chair and Sirius’, but Sirius wasn’t in his. Grimacing from his headache and stiff muscles, Harry sat up and tried to focus his vision. In the distance, along the shore, he thought he saw Sirius speaking with someone. He rubbed his eyes. Was she a redhead? He stood up to see better, but when he looked again they were both gone.

Harry shook his head and reached to sit back down. When he turned he found Sirius in his chair, sleeping. Clearly, Harry had had way too much to drink.

“Sirius?”

“What… what is it, Harry?” Sirius asked, opening his eyes.

“You, I- I saw you on the beach.”

“Did you? How surprising,” said Sirius, reaching down and picking up a handful of sand, then letting it fall through his fingers. “How did I look, hungry?” Sirius stood up, vanished the fire, chairs and numerous empty bottles and, after ruffling Harry’s hair, went inside the castle to start breakfast.

Harry waited until the sun broke above the horizon, rubbed the connubial band on his finger and whispered, “I love you,” to the waters and headed back to the castle. Ron and Hermione would be arriving soon and he didn’t want to look as devastated as he felt.

It was awhile before Harry joined Sirius in the kitchen, prepared to face a new day and travel without Gabriella to Singehorn’s ceremony. He poured himself some coffee, sat down and started sipping, holding the cup in both hands and steadying himself by resting both elbows on the table. He did not look well.

“If Soseh were here, she’d have you fixed up in no time,” said Sirius. “Here, try this.” He levitated a small green bottle over to the table next to Harry. “Should help a little.” Harry took a swig. For a moment, he was certain that his head had just become a large popcorn cooker – pops and snaps and the sizzling sound of butter were igniting in his brain. When it stopped, the fog had cleared and the ache had subsided.

“If Soseh were here,” said Harry dismally, “she’d kill me for losing her daughter.”

“It’s not like you lost her. I’ve sent her word about Gabriella’s… well abduction isn’t the right word… disappearance. We’ll see her tonight before the ceremony. You do know that she can’t kill you. Only her daughter can.” Sirius began chewing on some bacon and held up a piece for Harry. “Want some?” Harry just shook his head. “Toast then.” Some bread flew out of a cabinet and started on fire. “I know Ron was hoping to hop on Buckbeak, but in light of the circumstances, I think it best if we skip flying the Hippogriffs and instead just Apparate up. We can take the extra time to explain things.” Harry agreed chewing his charred piece of toast.

Before they left, Harry wandered into the great room that faced north, overlooking the pastures and barns about the castle. The entire face of the castle was one giant window. Harry recalled the many weeks it had taken to reconstruct it before the glass would stop breaking. It was in this room that Anthony had died. Sirius was reading a Greek paper by the large fireplace – the castle’s floo network.

“They should be here in about five minutes,” said Sirius, not looking up from his paper. The fire crackled and popped as he crinkled his Greek Gazette and turned the page.

“It’s quiet around here,” Harry whispered, touching the stone walls of the castle with his left hand. His fingers began to tremble slightly and he quickly held them in the other hand. “The ghosts are gone, but I… I still feel Anthony.”

“I hope you always will,” said Sirius, closing his paper. “That’s a good thing. If you didn’t feel that, Harry, you’d never truly understand what happened here. Anthony’s death was tragic, but because of it part of who you were changed that day and you’re now a better man for it.” He tossed the paper in the fireplace. “Here they come.”

There was a sudden down rush of air and out of the fire stepped Hermione followed only a moment later by Ron who brushed the ashes off his dark robes. It had been barely a couple months, but to Harry he looked much older than when last they met. They shook first and Ron pulled him into a grand hug. Harry noticed the Magpies’ team ring on his right hand and held it up with a smile.

“Hey, hey!”

“No special powers, mate,” said Ron with a grin, “but it’s good for a free ale down on Diagon Alley.” Harry turned to Hermione who had just finished hugging Sirius. She clearly was not using a concealment charm and her belly looked so huge Harry thought she could give birth at any minute.

“Just a few more weeks?” Harry asked and Hermione nodded with a smile, placing her right hand on her belly.

“Two weeks and five days,” she said. “Not that anyone’s counting. Too far along to join you up on the mountain, I’m afraid. I figured I’d just stay here and watch the ocean. It’s so beautiful.” She glanced about. “Where’s Gabriella?”

There it was. He knew it would come and he knew it would come from Hermione. How many more times today would he be asked the same three words? Thankfully, before he had to screw up the courage to get through it, Sirius explained what had happened. Ron was shocked; Hermione began to cry wrapping her arms about Harry. It was all he could do not to burst out blubbering all over again.

“It’s okay,” he managed to say. “She’s fine, so I’m fine. That’s what matters. We’ll… we’ll be together one day.”

“Well, I don’t want you to stay alone,” Hermione said with concern. “Especially not in this huge old castle. After the ceremony, you come back to our place in London. No moping. You and Ron can get out and tear up the town before he’s chained to the nursery.”

“Yeah,” said Harry with a nod and a short shrug, ignoring the fact that the castle wasn’t old; he’d just spent two months rebuilding the whole thing from rubble with some of the most advanced wizardry of the time. “Sure.” It didn’t really matter. He was still a bit numb and his brain was incapable of really thinking more than a few hours ahead, let alone days. “We’ll see.” Hermione was about to say something when Sirius cut in.

“That reminds me of something, Harry,” said Sirius with a slight twinkle in his eyes. “Now that we have witnesses I can hand over the keys to you.”

“Now?” asked Harry in disbelief.

“You built it,” answered Sirius. “And I’ll now be spending most of my days at Hogwarts. Besides, it’ll be a chance for you to stay close to her, even while you sleep.”

Harry thought about it for a moment and nodded his head in agreement. “Yeah, I’d like that.” A thin smile appeared on his face.

Sirius performed the ceremony and the magical enchantments fell into Harry’s stead. He was now the owner of some of the finest magical property in all Greece. He was also responsible for its keeping and those of the grounds and the animals that lived there. Suddenly, he felt as if he’d just passed some sort of milestone in his life, letting slip the last vestiges of his youth. Perhaps he now bore the same look Ron had when he stepped through the fireplace.

“There’s just one more thing we need to do,” added Sirius. “Before we leave lets—”

There was another rush of the fireplace, the fire flamed green and out stepped Cho. She was holding Jamie’s hand.

“Da!” he yelled and ran toward Harry who crouched low and scooped him up. He was so not expecting this and so thrilled to have his son held tightly in his arms. Cho came over and kissed him on the cheek.

“I’m glad we caught you before you left. He’s been babbling your name constantly since last night and I was worried we’d miss you.”

Harry reached out and grabbed her in his right arm and squeezed. He was beginning to lose control of his emotions and she noticed.

“Harry?” Cho asked. “What is it? What’s the matter?”

Harry could feel the tears dripping down his face and couldn’t bring himself to speak. Hermione took Jamie out of his arms.

“Whooo, you‘ve gotten big!” she said brightly. “Come join Mama and me for some tea, okay?” Jamie smiled, but Cho looked more concerned than ever as Hermione led her toward the kitchen.

Ron went over to comfort his friend who had leaned up against one of the stone walls. He placed his hand on his back. “It’ll be alright, Harry. You said it yourself. As long as Gabriella’s okay—”

The fire roared once more and this time Sirius let loose a few choice words as George stepped out of the fire, brushing the ashes from a set of the finest dress mourning wear made in England. His hair was combed. No. More than that, it was styled. He looked almost dashing, standing there with a small box in his hands. He first saw Ron and Harry by the wall.

“Hey, little brother! Harry!” he said with a smile. “So we’re not too late. Awesome. Cho tried to make it through to Sirius’ castle, and when that didn’t work we figured the switch had been made, which meant that I had to get a housewarming gift, or, in this case I guess, a castlewarming gift.” He looked around for Cho. “What? Have the women already started making plans for the place?”

It didn’t take long for the general account of what had happened to be made and, while there were many thoughts about what should be done, all agreed that the priority at hand was to get to the ceremony as quickly as possible. Along the way, Ron and George would try to intercept as many questions for Harry as possible, but the general explanation for Gabriella’s absence was to be that Hermione and Cho couldn’t attend the ceremony for obvious reasons and that Gabriella was with them by the sea.

“Come on, it’s time we got going,” called Sirius. Hermione kissed Ron good-bye, but Cho just gave George an awkward hug.

“You didn’t just do that because of me?” asked Harry. “Because, if you two are in love you need to know that I couldn’t be happier.” Cho began to blush, and even George seemed somewhat sheepish as to what to do. “Go on,” insisted Harry. “Kiss her! You never know if it’ll be your last chance.” Instead of going toward Cho, George stepped over to Harry and gave him a hug.

“You’re a fine friend, Harry.”

“Not me you fool! Her!”

It was early afternoon when Sirius, George, Ron and Harry Apparated, brooms in hand, to the small village north of Chata Zverovka where Dakhil’s little hut was, the same hut where Draco now stayed. Harry had neglected to owl Draco, but since the ceremony was this evening, he assumed Draco would know he’d be stopping by. He hadn’t really expected Ron and George, but didn’t think Draco would mind. They wouldn’t stay long. After getting things in order, they’d fly up to the top of the mountain.

When they appeared outside of the town, they found it very quiet. The late summer weather was still warm, but the sense of autumn’s approach hung in the air, giving it a crispness that accompanied the light breeze. A few of the villagers were walking about, selling goods. Some knew of the upcoming ceremony and, by the look of their dress, would be attending. Harry was about to knock on Draco’s door when it opened and out popped Fred. Barefoot, he was wearing blue denim jeans but nothing more. His face was bright with an enormous, devilish grin.

“Wotcher, Harry! Sirius!” he said with a quick wave as he ran past them. He caught eye of Ron and George, stopped and tossed them each a small wrapped candy, and continued running. “Lookin’ good George!” he yelled as he quickly crossed the street. An instant later, Draco shot through the door wand in hand. He was also shirtless though he wore one sock and his pants were black and more formal looking than Fred’s. His face was smiling from ear to ear though he appeared to be in hot pursuit.

“Come back here you bloody coward, or I’ll—” Draco stopped mid-sentence when he saw the wizards at his door. He tried to stifle the smile on his face, though he was having difficulty. “Professor Black,” he said with a slight nod, slipping his wand into his back pocket. His eyes shot across the street where Fred had disappeared behind a building. He combed his hand through hair and when he did so Harry noticed the two red marks on his white neck, but he brought his hand down and the blonde hair covered them again. He looked pointedly at Harry. “I wasn’t really expecting company.”

“I’m sorry, Draco,” said Sirius before Harry could reply. “It’s my fault. Harry wanted to head straight to the mountain, but I asked if we could stop by here one last time in Dakhil’s honour.

“Of course,” said Draco with a dignity and comportment that his attire did not portray. “I understand. I can deal with Fred later. Please come in.”

Sirius stepped in first followed by Ron and George, but Harry stopped at the door to speak with Draco. He certainly had no intention of interrupting anything, least of all with the Headmaster of Hogwarts and Fred’s two brothers. Although, Fred didn’t seem to mind.

“I’m so sorry, Draco. I, erm, I didn’t know… em, “Where’s Blaise?”

“Blaise can go fuck himself.”

“Oh,” said Harry, figuring this wasn’t the optimal time to ask for details. Suddenly Fred appeared and cast a spell from across the street.

“Áreddotu!” Harry called without using his wand, sending the spell backward toward the caster. For a second, Fred disappeared in a halo of blue light. When he reappeared, his pants were gone.

“HA!” yelled Draco, pointing at Fred. “Serves you right! But don’t think for a second this is over Weasles. Good one, Harry. The bastard needed a taste of his own medicine,” he said with a grin. “Quick, inside.”

Harry expected to find the small hut empty. Instead he found it filled with people, only one of whom was fully dressed – Sirius. The others were in various stages of disrobement, including both Ron and George who were chewing the tiny candy that Fred had tossed them. Thankfully, Arthur Weasley had already headed up the mountain, but left behind were a number of other wizards and witches including quite a few Professors, Aurors, and many students that Harry knew from Hogwarts. He had to smile seeing his friends nearly naked. The hut had expanded to take them all in, but it was still one room with a dirt floor and only a cot, a fireplace and a small kitchenette. Most were trying to decipher what pieces of clothing they were missing to reconstruct what they were supposed to be wearing.

“I told you not to eat it!” Harry heard George chiding Ron.

“Then why did you, if you knew what it was?”

“Cho insisted I wear formal dress, but the tie was killing me. Voila! No more tie!”

“What happened?” Harry asked Draco.

“You weren’t the only one that decided to stop here first,” said Draco. “Thanks to Fred, the place became some sort of impromptu pre-ceremony reception. It’s been packed for over an hour, people just standing around looking at each other. Fred couldn’t take it anymore.” George, wearing one shoe and a pair of pants with only one leg, stepped over to join them.

“It seems my little brother thought it would be funny to hand out some enchanted hors d’oeuvres – bare-bottomed baguettes, nudist nougats, chicken strippers and the like. From what I hear, it took awhile for them to take effect and only about a second to figure out that the guy responsible was the werewolf howling in the corner.”

“Well,” said Draco, slapping Harry’s shoulder, “I’m going to go get dressed. If Fred tries to sneak in, nail him to the wall. I’ll be back before you can say, ‘blood pie.’” Draco held his hands to his pale chest and fell through the floor.

“Interesting trick,” said George as Luna stepped over. She had managed to reassemble her own wardrobe.

“Where’s Gabriella?” she asked as she hugged Harry. Instinctively Harry rubbed his ring finger. The band there still shimmered in the light and as his thoughts turned toward her, he sensed joy. He wasn’t sure how to feel about that. George, thankfully, interceded.

“I’m afraid she couldn’t—” and the two moved away.

“Harry?” He looked through the sea of people and saw Soseh. She was so short he hadn’t noticed her before. Fully clothed, she stepped quickly over to him and took him by the hand. “Follow me.” She grabbed the handle to the front door and the two stepped out only when they stepped through they weren’t out in the street, but somewhere else. It was dark and forested and there was a light dusting of snow on the ground.

“What? Where are we?”

“Someplace where we can talk undisturbed.” She noted the confusion on Harry’s face. “It’s something similar to your fireplaces, disgusting things. And you don’t have to be a witch to use them,” said Soseh. “Now, tell me what happened to my daughter.”

Harry explained as best he could and in retelling the tale his eyes began to glisten all over again. The thought that she would be lost for fifteen years was pulling his heart down and he needed to stay positive for the ceremony. He tried to remember Sirius’ words though they seemed distant now. Soseh was more pained for Harry’s sake than for her daughter’s. Indeed her eyes lit up when Harry mentioned that she had been asked to be a daughter of the sea.

“I know how long fifteen years sounds,” said Soseh, “to someone who has just turned eighteen. The nymphs do not mark time as do we. For them the sands in the hourglass fall upon each of life’s milestones. If you remain true to who you are, Harry, true to my daughter, you will be surprised at how quickly time can pass.”

“I would never turn my back on her!”

“I understand,” she said, patting his hand. “And soon you will too. Come, let us return.”

“Soseh?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Your clothes. You didn’t lose any? Didn’t the food affect you?”

“There are advantages to being a Seer, Harry.” She smiled slyly and walked with Harry back through the door and into Draco’s hut.

By the time they had returned, most everyone had changed. All except for Fred, that is, who had somehow been stuck high onto the wall with nothing on. He looked like some strange, living art piece one might find in a London exhibit. His voice had been silenced, but his face was flush with embarrassment. Draco, Harry, George and Ron were the last to leave.

“Can I keep him there like that?” Draco asked George. “With a sprinkling of moonbeam, I’m sure he’d be kind of cute in a furry, overgrown cherub sort of way.”

“You’d have to feed him on occasion,” said George dryly. “And I’ll need him back for a few weeks at Christmas time. The stores are a madhouse on the holidays.”

“Sweet!” said Draco. “Do you have any problem with that, Fred?”

Fred looked like he was cursing in about six different languages. His freckles had exploded across his face into a torrent of red fire.

“I don’t hear any complaining. I guess that means you’re okay with it. Thanks, George. He’ll make for a great conversation piece. In fact, I have some friends coming over tonight.” The wizards stepped outside and Draco locked the door. They all broke out laughing.

“When does the spell wear off?” asked Ron. “I mean, it does wear off, right?”

“In about an hour, little brother,” said George. “He’ll still make the ceremony.”

They got on their brooms and flew toward the top of Singehorn’s mountain. They passed over a large forest where Harry noticed the ring of trees where Mikael had been killed. Further up, the trees vanished and the countryside was rocky and lifeless. In the middle of this nothingness was a small lake ringed in the only meaningful vegetation around. It was the lake where Gabriella and Hermione had been taken during Harry’s hike to the Joining. At the time, cursing at the water’s frozen surface, he thought that they had been taken away from him forever. Even Soseh thought she was at risk for losing her daughter.

Now, he understood that there had been a purpose, a reason. Harry had to face the dragon alone; he had to offer himself wholly to the Votary not because he was in love with Gabriella, but for his own reasons. But was it like that now? Was Sirius right? Had the nymphs taken her for a reason he was yet to learn? He circled over the water. It glistened like a small jewel in the sunlight. He closed his eyes, wondering if he might see the water’s nymph, but was blinded by its energy. He pulled in a deep breath and shook his head to focus on the task at hand and started back toward the mountain peak.

As they made their way toward the cavern entrances, they flew over the ceremony site, the same great stone pad where Harry had been inducted into the Votary and where his Joining had taken place. He was stunned to see the number of wizards, witches and other magical creatures that had assembled. More were still arriving. Across the great grassy field, an endless number of huts had been set up that reminded him of the make-shift village outside the Quidditch World Cup Finals.

The others pealed off and headed to the crowd below while Harry continued toward the dragons’ home. Before he arrived he could already sense their presence. He felt a mixture of joy and anger churning in a strange swirl of emotions. He finally set down at the front gate only to find Marek and Antreas waiting for him.

“Primate,” said Antreas. “Mama says that now is not the time to ask about my sister, but I would ask—”

“Tonight, when this is over,” promised Harry. Antreas nodded and held out his hand for Harry to enter one of the great caverns, the cavern where once had been Singehorn’s lair and where Tanwen now slept.

“She is unhappy, Harry,” said Marek. “She has been seething since their return from Britain and it’s been getting worse. I’m starting to worry it may be some sort of post traumatic stress disorder. We’ve tried to find out what’s bothering her, but she says she will only speak with you. She would have called you earlier, but sensed your grief. Antreas has not yet told her the cause.”

“Not till I understand it myself,” added Antreas. “We’ll leave you alone. For some reason, she’s asked for Mama and Draco. We’ll escort them here; it should not take long.” Both he and Marek shrugged when Harry questioned them with his eyes. Then they stepped back through the entrance doors and left.

The cavern was enormous, lit by some magical stone that glowed bright white, casting the light of day all about the cavern floor. It smelt of damp and water but not of mould or mildew. He could have used the ring, but chose the more intimate link and closed his eyes and reached out to her with his mind. His forearm burned.

His eyes opened and he found himself on a densely forested mountainside. He turned around and found that it opened out with a tremendous view that continued on for miles. Green mountain top after mountain top stretched out toward the endless horizon. The sound of water flowing caught his attention and he made his way through the trees until he came to a great waterfall. It was patterned after the falls where Singehorn had died and at the base, where the water churned ferociously into a small lake, stood a very tall woman with long black hair and dark skin, somewhat lighter than Singehorn’s had been. She was wearing green robes and she was bent over the waters, twirling her finger along its surface almost as if she were having a conversation. Harry stepped closer and she rose to look at him with two great yellow eyes.

“Well, Primate,” she said with a deep voice for such a beautiful frame. “What do you think?”

“It’s… it’s spectacular,” said Harry earnestly.

“It is a vision of what might come to pass, if we can hold on to it. But soon it may be lost again to the desert.”

“Why, what do you mean?”

“Dragons about the world have joined your Votary’s call for peace, but not all. Many have chosen to side with the Chinese Fireballs which are, I’m sure, all the more bitter since the death of Ti-Lung. I’m afraid the time has come to put an end to our battle once and for all.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Harry nervously, he could sense her emotions filling him. He was feeling anger and the thirst for retribution and had to fight to discern her feelings from his own.

“Singehorn’s ceremony is not the only one we must mark this eve. We lost three brethren at the hands of Ti-Lung’s army. Only by the slimmest of fortunes are you, Katana and Antreas able to join us this evening.

“I sense your thoughts, Tanwen, but would question their wisdom.”

“Can you not see? Our path is set before us.” She sat down upon a large crystal bench not unlike the bench Harry had seen Singehorn sit upon. She brought her hands together and the look of her eyes bore pure hate. “We can no longer wait for them to attack, Harry. We can no longer spend our days living in fear for the day they do. The time of reckoning must be of our own choosing. We must be first to rise up and attack, first to destroy our enemy, first to—”

“What?” Harry yelled. “You can’t be serious? After all that we’ve accomplished, you want to throw it away?”

“They spilt our blood!”

“And we spilt theirs! You know that better than any of us! I have no doubt you still taste it upon your lips!”

“The taste of justice is sweet,” she countered undaunted. “You’re a fool if you do not see the solution at our fingertips. Outside, upon the great stone altar, hundreds of your kind join to pay tribute to Singehorn. They are, many of them, guided by your hand. If you so choose, it is within your power to lead them into one final battle against the evil that faces us. In one week’s time, the Chinese Fireballs and all dragons who dare to join them could be eliminated from the earth, those remaining would cower in terror and we would never again have to sleep in fear.”

“I would never wish such a thing,” said Harry vehemently. “And even if I did, the wizards below would never follow such a madman!”

“Do you know so little about the powers you possess?” she asked, leaning forward upon her bench. “You would only need to change the wills of a few, control the hearts and minds of others, bending their wishes to your own. The rest would follow like lemmings. So it was with Pravus, so can it be with—”

“Dearest Tanwen, you’re… you’re not thinking straight. Singehorn would never—”

“Singehorn is dead!” she cried, rising to her feet, the green grass beneath her turning brown. “I am the leader of the Hungarian Horntails, greatest clan in all Europe. You will do as I say!” Her eyes were on fire, but he could also see fear there. His arm began to burn. He looked down and the dragon etched upon his skin was writhing, raised and red, but that was not all. It was joined by the Viswa Vajra and now, more than ever, he needed its strength.

“Tanwen, please, don’t make me do this.” He nervously rubbed the Ring of Onyx with his fingers. “It won’t end well for either of us.”

“It is clear to me now,” she said calmly. “Singehorn was a fool to entrust you with the power of the ring and Soseh was senseless to bestow you with our mother’s heart. It is beyond the old woman’s power to take it from you, but her daughter, your Watcher, can.

The greenery of the forest vanished and with it the hope for a new age. The forested mountains were replaced with a vast desert plane. In front of him Tanwen stood tall and defiant. He looked down and shuddered. Beneath her right foot was—”

The scene disappeared. Harry had returned to the cavern. In front of him was the true dragon Tanwen, her yellow eyes glowing with sinister satisfaction. Beneath the giant talon of her right foot was Soseh, pinned to the ground. To Harry’s right, fear pressing him back against the cavern wall, was Draco. Marek and Antreas were nowhere to be seen. Harry began to call out when Tanwen stopped him.

“Call anyone, and I will crush her,” she threatened.

“Calm down,” he said gently, holding out his hands. “There’s no need to hurt anyone.”

“W-What’s going on?” asked Draco. “I thought you said they were your friends.”

“They are, Draco,” said Harry, casting him an eye to run for the door. Draco began to move, but Tanwen let loose a blast of fire that passed through Harry and turned the door red. Draco stopped his advance and retreated to his original position. Harry brushed off the flammable saliva from his robes. “But right now she’s a little upset.”

“Yeah… I see that.”

“Soseh, tell me where your daughter is,” Tanwen howled. Her roar echoed within the cavern. Harry knew that both he and Soseh could understand the dragon. What surprised him was that Draco seemed to follow her words as well.

“You think me such a fool to betray my own daughter?” said Soseh her eyes steeled up at the dragon’s breast. “I would sooner die.” The dragon pressed down, slightly, and Soseh cried out.

“Stop it!” said Harry, “You’re hurting her.”

“Tell me where she is!”

“She’s gone,” yelled Harry. “She’s been taken.”

“Liar!”

“She has been taken by Maia,” said Soseh with a smile. “She has become a daughter of the sea, Tanwen. No mortal creature on earth or in the heavens can touch her now.”

“She must perform the transference!” yelled Tanwen. “You will bring her to me!”

“You have seen many suns, Tanwen. You know that is impossible. There is no power that can summon the Daughters and it will be years before Gabriella returns. While her heart still beats upon the earth, there can be no transference without Gabriella’s hand even if you were able to kill him yourself, which is beyond you. No Tanwen, Asha’s heart remains with Harry.”

Tanwen was frustrated and upset. Clearly her plan was not going as she had expected.

“Deceiver, you spoke to me of your vision. This one here.” The clawed tip of the dragon’s wing pointed at Draco. “He is to be the next Primate.” Her head bent low and she looked directly into Draco’s eyes. “I can see his thirst for power, his taste for blood. Let me speak to him.”

“That is against our ways,” said Soseh. Tanwen squeezed again.

“Soseh,” yelled Harry, “just do it! It’s not worth your life.” She nodded in pain. Still pinned, she raised her hand.

“Come here, Draco,” she called weakly. Draco looked at Harry for reassurance.

“It’s okay,” he said. “She just needs to hold your hand.” As Draco stepped cautiously beneath the dragon’s breast, Harry twirled his wand in his fingers, despising the act he was now considering. It would be complicated. One wrong move and Soseh would die.

That’s when he saw it, when Draco exposed his arm to Soseh. They both looked at him, telling him with their eyes to keep quiet. It was faint. The mark had not yet been set for Draco had not yet shown a dragon the necessary kindness, but the proximity with Tanwen made it glow white. There, upon his right forearm, was the outline of a dragon. Soseh had set it upon him when first she met him in Dakhil’s cabin many months ago. But why?
“It is done,” she said, feigning exhaustion.

“Come before me, Draco,” Tanwen commanded. Draco obliged and stepped back to the spot where he previously stood. He bowed in deference.

“Good… good,” said Tanwen with satisfaction. “Your time, at last, has come. You shall take your rightful place at my side as Primate of the Votary. Together we shall create a world of lasting peace. There are but two defilers in our way – the Fireballs of China. Help me defeat them and you may rule the Wizarding world as you choose.”

“Seems reasonable,” drawled Draco. “But you said two adversaries.”

“Yes, the other is here before you. I have heard from certain wizards that there is no love lost between you. Cut the ring from his hand and it is yours to control the Wizarding world.”

“I see,” said Draco slyly, sliding toward Harry with his wand drawn. Harry followed in kind, not sure what to expect. “This little black ring would give me all that?” Draco asked.

“Yes.”

“Total control of any witch or wizard?”

“Yes.”

“The ability to manipulate all manner of creatures to my will?

“Yes!”

“Total power and world domination at my fingertips?”

“YES!”

Tanwen stepped forward in anticipation, releasing Soseh from her grasp. Harry’s mother-in-law quickly rose and ran toward the cavern’s great entrance out onto the mountain. Tanwen ignored her.

“I don’t suppose you’ll just hand it to me?” Draco asked Harry.

“I can’t,” he said with a shrug, now sensing Draco’s intentions. A wave of nausea passed over him. Knowing what they were about to do, he was beginning to feel ill. It was against his oath to harm Tanwen and yet he had to. “The ring… it’s stuck to my hand.”

“Then, I guess, you’ll have to give me your hand.”

“Just kill him!” Tanwen roared impatiently. The cave echoed and fell silent. Then there was a rumbling that came from outside like rolling thunder. It was followed by a disturbance that they all felt. A sudden flash of perspiration appeared on Draco’s forehead. Something had just elevated the temperature in the cavern by a good twenty degrees.

“Did you feel that?” Draco asked, suddenly concerned. “Who turned up the heat?”

The break in their conversation was enough for Harry to sense the others. A dozen voices form the Votary crying out and Talisan writhing in pain.

“We’re being attacked!” he yelled. “Dragons!”

No sooner had he called the alarm than a fireball began to roll down from the entrance to the cavern. Using his wand, Harry stopped it before it could reach them.

“Soseh!” yelled Draco. He transformed into full vampire form and disappeared after her into the swirling smoke.

“Damn you, Tanwen!” Harry yelled bitterly. “I should have been outside! I could have stopped this!”

“The Fireballs,” she muttered numbly. “They knew.”

“You have your wish! A secret attack. Only… the dragon caught off guard is you!”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 57 – The Birth of a New Sun

~~~***~~~

At a podium set upon the large stone steppe just beneath the dragon rookery atop Ostrý Roháč, Arthur Weasley, Great Britain’s Minister for Magic, stood before hundreds of wizards and other magical creatures to pay tribute to the dragon Singehorn for services to his country and to the Wizarding world. Beside him stood Jozef Schuster, Slovakia’s Minister for Magic, who had just finished a stirring speech praising the role dragons play in the everyday lives of wizards and how important it was, as a sign of true international cooperation, that witches everywhere stop buying handbags made of dragonskin.

The steppe was ringed by a great grassy plane and in the grass sat dozens of dragons that had come from all parts of the globe. They were independent thinkers, some sceptical in the stability of this new peace, others confident that a new age was upon them. All were there to pay tribute to Singehorn. Unbeknownst to Harry, the leader of the Hungarian Horntails had worked tirelessly to forge an alliance with numerous other dragon clans that sought to find a peaceful coexistence with wizardom. It was the reason he had been travelling for so much of the year. Unfortunately, the alliance had not been originally large enough to sway the vote against the Chinese Fireball leader Ti-Lung. When the Hebridean Blacks joined Singehorn’s cause, Ti-Lung did not take it well and chose to forgo honour. He chained Singehorn and continued his planned attack of the wizards over Hogsmeade. Talisan, Igneous, Tanwen and the others had come to Singehorn’s aid and destroyed Ti-Lung and many of his followers.

It had been a bloody day, a terrible day for all dragonkind, but the dragons circling the stone steppe had chosen to use those memories as a means to move on toward a brighter tomorrow, while the new leader of the Chinese Fireballs, Ying-lung, had chosen to let the memories blacken his heart with hate toward the dragon that had mercilessly killed his sister in the sky over Terntalag – the new leader of the Hungarian Horntails, Tanwen.

As the speeches continued, neither dragon nor wizard knew that, at that very moment, above the top of the Horntail stronghold, eighteen Fireballs had descended upon Tanwen’s sleeping chamber that they might destroy both her and the wielder of the Black Ring of Death, Harry Potter. If the Fireballs moved quickly and decapitated the Hungarian leadership and its wizard Primate, then there was a chance that the impartial dragons below would change their minds and join the Fireballs in an all out attack upon the unsuspecting gathering of wizards. Unable to Apparate, they would be utterly decimated. Such was Ying-lung’s plan of war and, as battle plans often are, it was flawed from the start.

“I will not let this happen!” cried Tanwen as she rose on her haunches and flipped away from Harry and toward the large entrance to her cavern. Draco had just disappeared down that corridor in hot pursuit of Soseh, who had been Tanwen’s prisoner only moments before. Soseh would surely have survived such small blasts of flame, but Draco, if he were unable to properly shield, would be ashes. The dragon reared up to fly out, but Harry called out to her and she hesitated.

“You can’t go out there!” he yelled. “It’s a trap. They’re goading you to fly out. Then, once you do, they’ll pounce on you and rip you open like a cat might a mouse.

“And why would I believe you?” she yelled. “Two minutes ago, I would have had you ripped open the same way!”

Harry ran around and in front of the large dragon. He could feel the warmth of the air bursting from her nostrils, the odour a mixture of oil and venison.

“Tanwen,” he said gently. “You, more than any other, can see into my eyes and know my heart. Regardless of your deeds, I would not wish you harm in any way.”

The dragon lowered her great eyes down in front of Harry’s face. He saw tremendous sadness there as she began to realize what she had done. She had been consumed by her own anger and though she was beginning to see, pride blocked her vision.

While she stood silent, Harry took the moment to reach out with his mind to the other members of the Votary. They began to instantly communicate with each other, a dozen witches and wizards all speaking to various members at the same time. It was almost as bad as Christmas dinner at the Weasleys. Information of the activity outside was being passed, recommendations and requests were being made and Harry was being asked for the signal to counter attack.

Talisan had fallen from the sky and tumbled down the side of the mountain. Marek and another member, Ohmir, had gone to his aid. The dragons that had gathered in the grass about the stone steppe remained still, but the Horntails that were there had sensed something was wrong and were taking to the air to return to the top of the mountain. Katana was the only member of the Votary down at the ceremony, listening to the speeches. Harry sent word as to what she must do. She had been standing with Charlie and pulled him aside, letting him know what was happening.

“We must not begin a panic,” she said, but Harry needs wizards in the air to create a periphery if they attack.

“Not let them panic?” he hissed under his breath. “We have to tell them what’s going on!”

“No!” she insisted. “If the ceremony fails, then the Fireballs will have succeeded in at least one of their aims – there will be no peace between wizard and dragon. Harry asks for more time. Gather your best flyers and get into the air. Tell the people it’s just part of the festivities.”

Charlie kept clenching his right hand into a fist and releasing it. He didn’t like where this could go. His eyes scanned the vast collection of dragons surrounding them. If they turned, it would be one gigantic wizard barbeque.

“Okay, I’ll do it.”

He made his way through the crowd, first whispering to Ron who glanced over at Katana and then nodded. Ron split off from Charlie and went another direction to find another flyer. And so the paths forked again and again until there were about twenty wizards making their way toward Katana with their brooms. Charlie was not one of them. Instead he headed up toward the podium near where his father sat. With the wave of a finger, he motioned for him to come over and Arthur obliged.

“What is it?” Mr. Weasley said, seeing the apprehension in his son’s eyes. “What’s wrong?” Charlie told him what he knew and what Harry’s plans were. Arthur looked up toward the mountain top, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The sun had disappeared on the other side, casting a great shadow over the proceedings. Torches had been lit all about, though they were not yet needed. There was a chill in the air, but the late afternoon was quite peaceful. “Are you sure?”

“Dad, you should leave,” said Charlie with concern. “If these other dragons decide to join the fray, we’re dead. Shield charms will work for awhile, but the earth will surrender what magic it has and the dragons will still breathe fire.”

“I thought you liked dragons, Charlie,” said Mr. Weasley with a wry smile.

“I love them, dad. You know that. It’s just—”

“Go do what you do best,” interrupted Mr. Weasley. “And I’ll do what I do best. Harry’s right. There is a momentous opportunity at our fingertips. Many died because of the darkness Voldemort cast over our country. What irony to think that something so special could be born from such darkness. No, Charlie, I’ll help to steady the gathering of wizards, if it is needed. Eighteen Fireballs out to murder us all and Harry doesn’t want you to hurt any of them? All I have to do is to trade stories with a bunch of old government officials. Afterwards we’ll have to compare notes to see who had the harder task.”

Arthur winked and went back to sit down, shaking three or four hands along the way. Charlie turned to see that Katana had already sent the other wizards into the air. He looked back at his dad one more time and then shot into the sky to join the defence.

He climbed to where the others were gathered, hovering in a small section of the sky. High up on their brooms, the flyer’s faces were lit by the setting sun as they all looked toward the mountaintop. Ron, who was hovering next to George, pointed at the flying Fireballs as Charlie approached.

“Look at ‘em circle,” he said. “They look like vultures.”

“Two have seen us already,” said Olga Fromstein, Chaser for the Heidelberg Harriers. “Yet they ignore us.”

“They won’t risk letting someone fly out of formation,” said Charlie. “They’re planning a firestorm like they used on Terntalag. Each dragon must be in the perfect location. Three nearly killed Harry. Eighteen…” He shook his head. “They’ll turn the stone to lava.”

“We can’t just watch him get incinerated!” yelled Ron.

“He told us to stand back and guard the periphery. We can’t start a battle. The Votary can handle it.” Just then six or seven Horntails rose into the air from behind the walls protecting the rookery. Oddly, they did not fly directly at the Fireballs. Instead they chose a large loop about the mountain. They were quite conspicuous, perhaps dramatically so. When they flew near the wizards on brooms, it was clear to see that a number of the dragons had riders dressed in bright raiment. There was no way the Fireballs did not see them, but still they stayed in position, circling over Tanwen’s cavern.

“Why aren’t they fighting,” asked George.

“Like I said, the Votary can—”

“Hello chaps.”

Charlie turned to see Sirius hovering on a broom.

“Didn’t think I wouldn’t notice something’s afoot?” asked Sirius with a smile. “Now, what festivity requires— oh my.” He caught sight of the swirling dragons. “I don’t recall seeing ‘Fireballs Attack Horntail Stronghold’ on the program.

“Harry’s in there,” said Ron with a tone that suggested Sirius should do something about it.

“Oooh,” said Sirius with concern. “Eighteen against one? That can’t be a good thing for the Fireballs now, can it?”

“But—”

“I’m sure he and the Horntails have things well in hand.” He shifted nervously on his broom.

“Did you see the Horntail down there?” Ron asked, pointing toward Talisan. Marek was working with him. “He didn’t handle it so— what in Hades name is that?” A giant was moving up from the bottom of the mountain.

“Florge,” said George. He had spent enough time here during the last battle to know the locals. “He lives in the valley below. He’s gonna be pissed when he finds out that his friend Talisan was hurt. If we don’t start something, and the Votary doesn’t start something, I bet he will.”

“We can’t let that happen,” said Charlie. “Whatever happens, don’t let him past the stone walls.” He began to order the flyers into position and prepared them for a battle he hoped would never come.

Through Marek’s eyes, Harry saw the giant approach. He watched him scream in anger, seeing his friend hurt. The look of anguish was not unlike the expression now on Tanwen’s face.

“I would have peace,” she said sadly. “But we now have no choice.”

“Peace?” asked Harry incredulously. “You let the word roll off your forked tongue like you mean it.”

“I do.”

“Words are easy,” Tanwen. “One does not find peace when an adversary is at the gate by spitting fire at them.” He rubbed his temples. Trying to stay in constant communication was beginning to tire him. “It’s all I can do to stay in touch with the others. None wishes to hold back. They all want to attack. If that happens, Singehorn will have died in vain.” He stepped back from the dragon.

“Let me go first. Let me talk to them. Maybe I can—” Harry sensed the anger flash in Tanwen’s eyes immediately.

“You plan to escape! You wish to leave me here alone so they can attack and not harm you!”

“You’re speaking madness!”

“No! It’s clear to me now.” The dragon’s eyes were suddenly filled with rage. “You’ve been lying to me!”

“Stop! Summon them yourself!” Harry argued. “Listen to the Votary.”

“Your puppets? Never!” she stepped back against the stone wall and began to mutter gibberish. “Wizards… dragons… they can’t be trusted.”

She stretched out her wings to launch toward the entrance. Harry held out his right hand and cried, “Stop!” The Ring of Onyx burned upon his finger as he held the dragon’s will in his hand. She screamed in agony.

“Traitor! I knew… I knew… Let me go!”

Harry’s heart was ripping apart. His whole arm trembled as tears began to cloud his eyes. He was breaking her, he knew that, but he had no choice. Soon, her will would be his. She’d be safe, but she would no longer be Tanwen. He wiped his eyes with his left arm.

“I can’t let you commit suicide… I’m sorry.”

His forearm began to burn and flash bright red. The dragon writhed upon his skin when, suddenly, the Viswa Vajra flashed bright upon his wrist. He was being summoned. That was clear, but the only one with that power was here before him. He shook his head and concentrated to bend Tanwen’s mind. The mark of the dragon tightened upon his forearm. He knew this sensation, but it was impossible. Tanwen screamed again.

Then, a familiar voice whispered in the back of his mind. “Harry.”
Unsure if it was a trick, he let his mind travel to the meeting place of the dragon. He was back in the forest where he had last stood with Tanwen in human form. It was as green and as beautiful as ever. The water of the falls tumbled over the rocks, soothing the soul, yet pulsing with power. There, upon the crystal bench, sat Singehorn. His broad face smiled and his yellow eyes glowed with happiness. His whole body seemed to shimmer with a bluish-white aura.

Harry ran over to him, dropped to his knees in the grass at the dragon’s feet, reached his arms about him and hugged what he could of the massive man’s frame. Singehorn returned the hug, ruffled Harry’s hair and patted him on the back.

“Stand up! Stand up, Harry!” he said with a jovial smile. “Come,” he tapped the crystal bench, “sit next to me.”

“How is this possible?” Harry asked in disbelief. “You’re… you’re…”

“Dead?” asked Singehorn with a laugh. “Yes… and no. I’m not sure what I am, really. I feel… spread out, but something called to me – your anguish.” He shifted uneasily on the bench. “I’m sorry, Harry. I should have known better.”

“What? Tanwen?”

“Yes,” Singehorn with a nod and then he shook his head. “I asked you to show her the path, to help her see the way to peace. I should have known that night, after she murdered the Fireballs, when it was not needed. Ti-Lung died in battle, but his children… that was wrong. It was murder, Harry. There was no need for butchery. They had been beaten. They would have returned to the east and, perhaps, their kin would not be outside your door now. I was wrong. Tanwen was lost to us that night.”

“I tried,” said Harry miserably. “I thought, maybe, she would listen. Now… I don’t want to use my power like this, Singehorn.”

“Nor should you have to. Release her.”

“But if I do, they’ll kill her. She’s gone mad with rage. How many more must die?”

“I don’t know, Harry. I don’t know. But any dragon would rather have the chance to be set upon the stars, rather than be twisted by the Ring. Tanwen is a great and noble creature. She is no dog to be taught to obey. Let her go.” Harry nodded and stood from the bench.

“Will I see you again?” he asked. Singehorn grinned and stood up, the bench groaning as it released his weight. His massive, clawed hand rested upon Harry’s shoulder.

“I hope so, Harry.” He faded and disappeared in a twinkling of light, leaving Harry alone by the falls. He hoped that, when it was over, he could return to this place. It was beautiful.

The scene changed to the stark stone of Tanwen’s cavern. His arm was still held high and the dragon was still screaming. Harry was winning the battle to take control of her will. Trembling, he let go and dropped his arm. Tanwen roared and took off down the cavern, her large wings beating heavily to gain lift. At the last moment, not really thinking, Harry jumped and grabbed hold of one of the ridges that protruded out from the top of her tail. An instant later he was flying down the tunnel with her, his body being slammed against her scaled hide with each thrust of her wings.

He wasn’t really sure why he grabbed on to her. Part of him just didn’t want her to go, another wanted to protect her, but as they approached the entrance, he suddenly realised that his decision was a bad idea. In a moment they would be incinerated. He was bouncing so badly he couldn’t reach his wand. There was no hope of casting a strong enough shield charm as he had done over the Forbidden Forest. Even if he had the wand, the shield wouldn’t last, not with more than a dozen Fireballs preparing to create a firestorm. By the time he seriously considered letting go, they were too far off the ground.

“Igneous!” his mind cried out. That moment they burst forth from the mouth of the cavern.

“You dare to invade my lands!” roared Tanwen, her mind pressed on attacking Ying-lung directly. But he was much higher than the others and before she could think another thought, the firestorm began. It was as if a giant welding torch had just been ignited. Hoping that the Heart of Asha could contain such intense heat, he used it to pull the energy toward him. It was, at first, working, when all of a sudden two dragons above them screamed and fell from the formation.

On the ground below, the giant Florge had taken a massive stone and cast it into the sky at the collection of the Fireballs. There were so many, it wasn’t hard to hit at least one and Florge has struck down two.

“Florge, no!” Harry yelled and then turning to the dragon carrying him higher and higher into the air he said, “Tanwen, stop this madness! Return now before all is lost!”

Singularly focussed on reaching and killing the leader of the Fireballs high above the rest she ignored the parasite on her back. Florge had managed to disrupt the firestorm, but two of the dragons were now turning toward him.

“Run!” Harry called out to the giant, but he just let loose another boulder. This time the dragons were ready. Fire erupted from their mouths and the stone exploded like a giant firework. In fact, with the sky darkening, the crowd below thought that that’s what exactly it was. Harry could hear the distant sound of clapping. Another stone and another explosion. ‘Ooohs!’ and ‘Aaaaahs!’ sounded from the wizards below.

Tanwen pressed higher. She passed three Fireballs as they slashed and clawed at her. Her right wing suffered a bloody gash along its length, but she continued upward. Six Fireballs closed the gap she was trying to break through. Together, they breathed fire and Harry pulled the energy in with the stone, but their teeth and talons would be another matter.

Suddenly, they exploded apart. At first Harry thought it was another stone from Florge, but it wasn’t. It was Igneous, crashing down on the dragons from on high. While the rest of the Horntails had spread out in a circle at eye level with the Fireballs, Igneous used the distraction to climb high above them. He waited for Harry’s signal and plummeted downward like a peregrine falcon. The line of defence has been shattered and Tanwen continued to climb.

Now Ying-lung could be seen. Harry sensed his surprise, his worry. The Horntails on the outer perimeter began to move in when they saw some of the Fireballs begin to turn on Igneous. Harry could hear, but not see Florge cry out in pain from somewhere down below. The battle had begun. If left to play out it would surely spill over the mountain and down to the wizards and dragons below. Harry couldn’t let that happen. He began to pull himself up on her back and, again, he considered the black ring upon his finger.

Tanwen was cunning and fast. Quick in the air, her teeth were as sharp as razors. If she reached Ying-lung, he would be killed. Of this, he was certain. Could the Horntails turn back the attack? Probably. But not without spilling more blood.

“Please Tanwen,” he pleaded. “This is our last chance!”

“You summoned Igneous to come to my aid, didn’t you?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Harry, feeling miserable. “But he’s hurt and they’re going after him.”

“Knowing you commanded it, the others shall follow his lead,” she said. “I can feel their approach. I need only finish this last task! The battle is ours!”

Ying-lung, realizing he was about to meet his doom, chose not to run. Instead, he roared and rained a tremendous fire down on them. Only a few metres from her prey, Tanwen opened her jaws wide to snap at his neck. Before she could clamp down, a dark blur flashed in front of Harry and was upon Tanwen. She screamed in pain. At first, Harry thought it was a small dragon. He climbed further upon her back to get a better look and realized that the creature that had her by the throat was Draco Malfoy in vampire form.

The left side of his body was burned and his left wing looked somewhat withered, but he was stronger than Harry ever imagined, turning Tanwen’s head with his bare hands and forcing her toward the ground. They began to slip downward, losing altitude when two Fireballs shot toward them. One grabbed Harry in its talons, pulling him away from her back and the other began to gnash at her right wing with his teeth.

There was a whistling sound as another boulder came up from above. Again Florge struck two dragons – the one attacking Tanwen and Tanwen herself. The sound of busting bones was clear as the boulder crashed into the Fireball and then knocked him into Tanwen. The force broke Draco loose, but not before Tanwen had the opportunity to snap at his leg, ripping it down the length with her teeth. Blood began to spray onto the ground as Draco tumbled downward.

The other Horntails were closing in and Harry, clasped tightly in the Fireball’s clutches, saw three wizards on their brooms – Sirius, Ron and Charlie. Charlie had his wand at the ready, tailing the Fireball as it was lifting Harry up toward Ying-lung.

“What do you want me to do, Harry?” he asked.

“I… I don’t know,” Harry muttered, truly lost in the fog of war. In seconds the clash would begin. The Horntails had come to Tanwen’s aid including the smallest of them all, little Tûzkár. The small dragon stepped out of the rookery stunned at what he was seeing. As he stood there, the largest of all the Fireballs, his eyes flaming red, shot down toward him.

In wizard years, Tûzkár was no more than a ten year old. He’d travelled with his father, Talisan, to Britain, but was sheltered the whole time. Now, his father was injured and the little dragon had been called. Harry could sense the dragon’s fear, battling with his desire to help his father and the leader of the Horntails, Tanwen, who even now was falling like a rock from the sky.

The large Fireball, Shi-Le, was a great general in Ti-Lung’s army. He had fought off many Wizarding attempts in China to take dragons from the Fireball rookery. He was old, far older than his appearance revealed, and he held no love for wizards of any kind. Plummeting toward Tûzkár, he began to blow a plume of fire and then, as if realizing what he was about to destroy, stopped. Stalling in his attempt to kill the child, he just hovered above Tûzkár, his massive wings darkening the sky above the small dragon. Harry could hear Shi-Le’s thoughts. He was beginning to hate what they were doing, what they were becoming.

“Dragon, upon dragon,” he muttered. “This is not what Ti-Lung wanted.”

The rest of the Horntails arrived. Those without riders engaged the remaining Fireballs and began to slash and tear at each other. Antreas sat upon Casinius, the only green Horntail in the flight.

“Let us engage, Primate!” he yelled as Harry was being taken higher into the sky. If Harry was to play king in this Arthurian tail, Antreas would most certainly be his Lancelot. If the goal were to win the battle and destroy the Fireballs, Harry needed only to say the word.

“STAY BACK!” he yelled instead.

As Harry feared, the continued fighting did not go unnoticed by the wizards below. From this height, Harry could see a sea of people begin to mover toward them. A few had already made it above the ridge and stood in awe at the cause of the fireworks they had been seeing only moments earlier. They were not alone. A number of the dragons had risen into the sky. First upon the ridge stood Arthur Weasley, Katana at his side. As he implored the wizards, so too did Katana beg the dragons not to press into the fray.

“Sirius, keep them back!” Flying fast on his broom, Sirius broke away toward Arthur.

Ending their fall of hundreds of feet, Tanwen and the Fireball hit the ground with a sickening crack. Neither stirred upon the earth below, but the Fireballs were too busy to celebrate the moment. Dragonfire and hatred filled the air as they fought tooth, nail and breath against the Horntails. The dragon holding Harry presented him like a dead chicken to Ying-lung.

“Tell the Horntails to retreat and I will spare their lives as well as your own.”

“And the other wizards on the mountain?” Harry asked.

“Join me in their destruction!”

Harry tilted his head to one side, almost as if her were considering the offer.

“I see below, your general, Shi-Le, is a dragon of great honour. He will not kill for the sake of killing. Such sport is for protection and for prey, no more. You know this! These precepts span the ages long before you were born. Singehorn—”

“We will no longer stand by while wizards treat us as dogs! Singehorn could not see the future as do we.”

“If you follow this path, Ying-lung, your future is naught but death. You will be, as Tanwen below, but broken bones.”

As the battle raged around them, Shi-Le roared sending a plume of flame into the air. Harry heard him call for help, although the translation was awkward. Still hovering above the frightened Tûzkár, he sure didn’t look like he needed help. Suddenly, the dragons in the distance, which to this point had been independent, began to fly toward the fighting. As they moved out, the swarm of wizards beneath them broke over the mountain. With that, so did Harry’s heart. It was over. Things were bad, but he had still held out hope. Now with all parties pressing forward, there was no hope to be had.

“You think your precious Singehorn so special?” Ying-lung yelled. “Your leader was false! Ask any Centaur. No new star has been born in the heavens since his passing into dust. The Truly Great Dragons know of his treachery and defy his ascension!”

“Singehorn only ever wanted peace. Peace between dragons, peace between wizards, peace among all—”

Harry stopped. The sea of wizards was breaking into groups spreading out like ants on the barren mountain landscape. One such group had already surrounded a fallen Fireball. He had expected to see them destroy it, but instead they were each holding out their wands, bathing it in blue light, attempting to heal its injuries. Another group was moving out toward Marek and the injured dragon, Talisan. A few moments later it became clear; Arthur Weasley was organizing a makeshift field army of healers, consisting of some of the finest wizards on earth.

The dragons, each from a different corner of the globe, pressed toward the dragon holding Harry and Ying-lung, then suddenly broke off guided by the Horntails and the members of the Votary who resisted the temptation to fight. Groups of a half-dozen or more clustered together, much like the wizards below, then intervened in each of the individual skirmishes raging across the sky, working together to pull the adversaries apart. It felt like an eternity until the fighting dragons turned their attention from each other and saw what was happening around them.

Arthur and Katana had reached Tanwen and the Fireball next to her. Harry could tell from Katana’s heart that it did not look good for either dragon. Near the rookery, Shi-Le stood next to Tûzkár, his wing protecting the smaller dragon. They watched silently with sadness in their eyes, the sadness of an innocent child and the wisest among them. The fighting dragons, both Horntail and Fireball, ceased their battling and allowed themselves to be escorted to the ground.

“Is this what you fear Ying-lung?” asked Harry. “Singehorn’s dream is coming true before your eyes. You need do nothing, but let it happen! We can stop the bloodshed now! The Fireballs are noble creatures and deserve a better ending than this.”

Ying-lung moved toward Harry and held up a long sharp talon directly over his heart.

“It is but a pause, Primate. Your leader is beaten. If I destroy you know, there may be hope that the—”

There was a flash of purple light. When Harry opened his eyes, Ying-lung’s front claws were bound and Draco was wrapped about the dragon’s neck, his wand at Ying-lung’s throat. The lower half of his body was caked in blood.

“Harry, tell the bastard to surrender, or I’ll kill him! Assure him, even in my weakened state, I know how. I was taught by Dakhil Barghouti.”

“I can hear you myself, young one,” said Ying-lung with an almost pleased expression. “So you are Dakhil’s protégé. You remind me of him in many ways. A moment ago you saved my life, but now you wish to end it.”

“I wish for you to surrender, nothing more.”

Perhaps because his dragons had already stopped fighting, perhaps because he had other plans, Ying-lung withdrew his claw from Harry’s chest and pulled in a great breath. Then, almost as if releasing a tremendous sigh, he exhaled a puff of white smoke that floated upward in the air. It was a signal to cease the attack.

“I knew before I came, Harry Potter,” began Ying-lung, “that you would survive this night. I assumed the Seer’s words meant that I would die on these grounds. I never dreamed… I’m beginning to believe the stories about you, Primate. Tell me, why do your people heal those that would destroy them?”

Harry’s thoughts travelled instantly to Katana, who asked Arthur Weasley. Standing back from the healers working on Tanwen, he looked up at Harry and the others. His face was covered in ash and grime. He was at the bottom of a small valley and everyone was looking down on him. Haggard and yet energetic, he held his wand to his throat so that all could hear.

“Words, Harry,” he said, his voice echoing both up and down the valley. “Just words. For the last three hours we’ve all been talking to each other about peace and the meaning of true cooperation. After awhile, I think we began to actually believe that it might be possible. But words… words are easy. Committing them to action… now there’s the rub.

“We all questioned in our hearts what we might do when the moment came that tested those words. None of us dreamed it would come so quickly, but we are blessed that it did; for the words were fresh in our minds and the belief was earnest in our hearts.

“We have come to see the realization of Singehorn’s dream, a truly great vision from a truly great dragon!”

Everyone cheered and the dragons roared and the earth moved. And then a rumbling of murmurs began from the wizards below as they looked up at Harry and Ying-lung.

“So be it,” said the leader of the Fireballs. “We will seek peace with wizards!” There was another roar among the dragons. “To make that happen, Harry, I will need help to understand their ways.” Draco released the bindings about the dragon’s claws and relaxed his stranglehold, but not completely.

“You should begin your own Votary, Ying-lung,” suggested Harry.

“My thoughts exactly,” said the dragon, his eyes narrowing. “And I would start with the one who saved my life this very evening – the protégé of Dakhil Barghouti. The mark is already set upon him and I see that in his heart there is no great love for wizards, perhaps because he is no longer fully human.”

“I’m human!” asserted Draco, but Ying-lung ignored him, speaking instead to Harry.

“Yet you, holder of the Heart of Asha, consider him a friend?”

“I do,” said Harry. The murmuring below was growing louder. Perhaps they were anticipating what was about to happen.

“What say you, Draco Malfoy?” asked Ying-lung. “Do you think yourself brave enough to join with the Fireballs as we begin a new age?”

There was a pause as the general unease of the wizards and dragons below grew greater.

“Werewolves,” said Draco. “What about werewolves? Would they be able to join this little club of ours?”

“Excellent… yes,” said Ying-lung. “Let us see how truly willing the Wizarding world is to seek true cooperation among all of Earth’s creatures.”

“Very well,” said Draco with a gravelled growl, releasing Ying-lung and taking to the air. It was clear by the laboured strokes of his wings that he was injured more than he was sharing. “We have an alliance.”

Ying-lung breathed out and a flame of blue touched Draco’s forehead. His body began to glow and, in mid-air, his human form could be seen, the mark upon his forearm wrapping higher until the dragon clawed upon his shoulder. The glow disappeared and Draco was a vampire again.

“Well that was—” he began, but short shrieks from below stopped him. People were pointing at them, but then Harry realized that they weren’t pointing at them, but beyond them, higher into the sky. He turned to see; Draco and the others followed.

The swirling flame that had for so long filled the sky was spinning in on itself. It looked like a giant compressing galaxy with great glowing arms that swung out in long arcs of blue and red and gold. The whorls reminded Harry of the mark beneath the dragon on Patrick’s arm – the rune of life, death and rebirth.

The glowing arms were slowly spinning, moving toward their centre which Harry knew to be in line with Mars, though the planet could not be seen through the great light building at the spiral’s core.

Along with Ying-lung, the dragon holding Harry descended to the ground and released him as they stood their looking up at the celestial event unfolding before everyone’s eyes. Tighter and tighter, the spiral accelerated inward upon itself. The centre grew brighter and brighter until, all at once, the light completely vanished, like some interstellar vacuum had sucked it all away. In the absence of the light, there hung the red planet Mars, the same familiar planet they all knew, but perhaps a bit dimmer than it had been these past many months. There was a beat… maybe two. And a pulse of blinding light flashed outward, dwarfing the light of all the others stars and filling the sky with one last roar of fire – a roar they all could hear. The mountain filled with shrieks, but the light diminished until a steady yellow ball of flame remained, brighter than the moon, but much smaller. It spread a new light upon the Earth, turning twilight to daylight once more.

“A new star,” Ying-lung whispered. “Singehorn has been set upon the heavens and shines more brightly than all who went before. A Truly Great dragon.”

“SINGEHORN!” the Horntails roared.

“SINGEHORN!” the valley and all its inhabitants echoed. Shi-Le, the eldest of the dragons there and the greatest general of the east, flew and lit upon the stone wall protecting the rookery.

“He has been born a star!” he called out. “The greatest star in the history of their births.” All cheered. Harry held his hands together and fingered the Ring of Onyx. With it he spoke to all assembled in their own language.

“No! This is no mere star. It is the birth of a new sun!” he called out loudly. “It is a new light that now shines upon the Earth as a reminder of what was sacrificed that we might find peace among all our kinds. It is a beacon that will guide us to push back the darkness wherever it may lurk and bring forth the light of a new day!

“That new day begins now! The time for gazing at the heavens can wait. Let us now turn to one another and offer aid. Help the injured, feed the hungry. Let us set into action the words that have led us here.”

At once dragons and wizards alike returned to the task of caring for the injured. Harry turned at once to help Tanwen, but Katana was already at his side. Together they had seen many deaths, but he had never seen her cry before now. He knew at once Tanwen was gone as was the Fireball at her side.

“I’m sorry, Harry,” said Arthur Weasley. “They had both passed before we arrived. There was nothing we could do.” Harry nodded, but there was far too much work to be done to dwell on death. He spun back to Ying-lung who was already being tended to by Marek. Draco stood at his side, transformed back into human form, he looked more like overcooked hamburger meat than human. Ignoring his own injuries, Draco was locked in an intense, though silent, exchange with Ying-lung. A woman came running over to his aid. It was Soseh. Harry’s heart leapt.

“You’re alright!” he cried, running toward her, but she pushed him aside.

“Out of my way; out of my way!” she insisted, swerving past Harry to tend to Draco’s injuries. It took a moment for Harry to realize that Sirius was trailing behind her, exhausted and out of breath and carrying a large satchel strapped over his shoulder.

“She’s an old woman for Merlin’s sake!” he panted. Harry laughed slapping him on the shoulder. He looked about by the light of the new sun and saw everyone working to help in whatever way they could. The stone stirred beneath his chest, filling itself on the positive energy. The moment Harry thought he might go to help another dragon, a group of wizards or dragons was already there to assist. He was smiling, wishing Gabriella were here to share this moment with him, when Draco called his name and not in a way that made Harry feel good.

“Potter!” he snapped. Harry turned and was amazed to see that his friend already looked more human than hamburger. The burns were nearly completely healed and continued to fade even as Draco’s eyes grew more concerned. “Harry, we have to go!”

“Why?” Harry asked, stepping closer. “What’s wr—”

“Oh no!” whispered Soseh, covering her mouth. She had seen Draco’s thoughts before he shared them, and a look of fear was filling her eyes.

“Harry,” said Draco, taking him by the arm. “Ying-lung says that the Fireballs did not just attack here. They came to destroy Tanwen and you, and everything that belonged to you both.” Harry shrugged.

“So. I don’t have anything. Maia already took Gabriella from me. What possession—?” He stopped himself short. “Jamie… the castle,” he whispered, his own eyes growing large. “Just today, Sirius gave me the castle.

“Ying-lung! Stop them!” Harry yelled. “Tell them to return!”

“I can’t,” said Ying-lung, his eyes truly pained. “Our Seer said you would still be standing when the battle was done. I thought it meant that, here, we would be defeated. We knew of the ring you wear. It has the power to twist my will to your own. If I were to call them back, they would only think the battle here had been lost. Their orders were to destroy everything they could find, no matter what I might have them do.”

“But my family is there!”

“I know, my friend. I know.”

________________________________________
Harry Potter and the Birth of a New Sun

Chapter 58 – Home at Last
~~~***~~~

A/N: A reminder… this story is a sequel to Harry Potter and the Burden of Becoming. The two works are consistent with the HP canon of JKR up through book five.

~~~***~~~

Why couldn’t it have lasted just a little longer? He wasn’t sure if the crushing constriction about his chest was out of fear for his friends and family at the castle in Greece, or out of loss, having had his moment of joy snatched from his fingers. Other wizards were happy; he’d seen them. In fact, makeshift parties were beginning to break out all over the barren mountain – the most unlikely of celebratory sites. He could sense joy between the dragons and could hear their competitive roars toward the mountain top as both Horntail and Fireball began to pay tribute to their fallen. Harry could not pause to enjoy it. Now, with Gabriella gone, he wondered if he would ever be happy again. Perhaps it was one of life’s great punishments, though he wasn’t sure if he deserved it or not. Well… in the absence of happiness, there was always duty. That, at least, was something he could hold on to; something no one could tear from his hands.

“Harry, we have to go,” Draco reiterated. “They may already be there.”

Arthur Weasley, with panic rising in his voice, yelled for Ron to come join them. He explained what was happening, but Ron had trouble fathoming it. The Magpie Keeper could understand that there were dragons attacking Sirius’ castle all right, but that the girls could be in any real danger just didn’t make sense. After all, the castle belonged to one of the most powerful wizards he knew, the Headmaster of Hogwarts.

“Sirius?” Ron asked. His voice was tight and nervous. “Your protection charms… they’re impenetrable. It took an army to break a few walls at Hogwarts. There’s no way that a handful of dragons could harm your own home. Right? I mean, when it’s your own home, the enchantments are just that much more powerful.”

“True, Ron, but the castle is no longer mine. I handed it over to Harry this morning. We were supposed to set up the enchantments in Harry’s name before we left, but in our haste… Well, the enchantments haven’t been set.”

“You heard Draco. We have to go!” snapped Harry, each word pinging like a drumbeat. “Ying-lung, when we get down the mountain, we’ll Apparate to the castle. Thank you for sharing this knowledge with Draco, your new Primate. Please tell him anything you can that might turn your dragons back once we meet. I also ask that you send your swiftest Fireball. If your thoughts through Draco’s presence are unable to convince them, perhaps one of their own kind can.”

Ying-lung willingly agreed to Harry’s requests. In their last moments on the mountain, Harry tried to organize the Votary as best he could. There was still a lot of damage, and not all the injured had been completely healed. Antreas was left in charge to oversee the others, but already many of the wizards were wandering off to celebrate since their services were no longer needed. The merriment had begun to spread across the mountainside and even the dragons roared with joy as Talisan took to the air. Yet sorrow hung in the air for the fallen and too much merriment might lead to its own problems. No matter, Antreas could handle it.

Harry, afraid that a large contingent of wizards descending upon the castle would make the dragons think it a battle, chose only a small group to return to Greece. According to Sirius, their strength at home would come from family, so the selection of those going was obvious – Harry, Ron and George because their loved ones were at risk, Sirius because it was once his home, and he was bloody brilliant with his wand, and Draco to speak with the Fireballs once they arrived.

“Send word when they’re safe,” said Arthur Weasley, kissing his sons good-bye. Torn with emotions of worry and elation, he wasn’t sure what to say. “You were brilliant today! But, as this new sun still shines, the day’s not over. Send word when you’re ALL safe.” He hugged them once more, including Harry and Draco and the group mounted their brooms. Before they left, he called out, “It’s good to see my boys together. By the way, where’s Fred? Did he even come?” Harry looked at Draco who looked at George who just shrugged.

“Don’t know father. He’s always been a bit of a slacker. Guess he just got… hung up.”

The group had trouble stifling the smile, but Sirius assured Arthur that Fred was fine. In fact, as they found out on their way, he was more than fine. Just as they were about to cross out of Horntail lands, they passed over him making his was by foot up the side of the mountain. All the brooms had been taken from Dakhil’s, or rather Draco’s cabin and he was forced to climb, once Apparation was impossible. Draco was first to recognize the red-furred werewolf bounding up the mountain by the light of the new sun. A giant of a beast in his transformed state, Fred didn’t seem to be having much trouble ascending the mountain in great leaps. Draco flew down to greet him, wondering what kind of reception he might receive. Never one to carry a grudge where a good prank was concerned, unless, of course, it was to get even, Fred transformed.

“You’ll get yours soon enough, Malfoy,” he sneered as his snout receded into his face. “You do know that, don’t you?” Draco handed him freshly conjured robes without saying a word. “I’m just saying…” Fred hopped on Draco’s broom and joined the rest in their flight south. It was only a few minutes before the group lit on the edge of the forest, a place from which they could Apparate.

“So, what’d I miss?” asked Fred. “Draco won’t say a thing. Did the ceremony go okay? Did you see that star? What is that? Is it like… forever?”

Since Fred had insisted on going along, they had to give him a quick sketch of the situation before they Apparated. It didn’t take long to get him up to speed, although half of him still thought it was some elaborate practical joke, while the other half wasn’t sure.

“Ready?” asked Sirius. Everyone nodded. They each held up their wands, but couldn’t Apparate.

“What?” asked Draco. “Are we still inside the Horntail’s boundary?”

“No,” assured Harry. “It’s at least a hundred metres up the hill.”

“Something’s blocking the Apparation,” said Sirius. “And it’s powerful.”

“What’s that mean?”

“I don’t know, Harry. Give me a minute.”

Sirius held his wand and slowly moved it around. He was probing, trying to find the extent of the block, or any weakness it might have. A thin smile pursed his lips; he seemed to be enjoying the challenge.

“I couldn’t have done better myself,” he muttered, stepping a few feet forward.

“Got it!” he said at last. “Just to the south, near the beach. It’s as close as I can get, and having water nearby might come in handy. Everyone follow my Apparation.”

He disappeared with a snap. Ron went next and then George. Harry was hesitating, partly because he hated Apparation in the first place, but also because following an Apparation was tricky. The leader needed to get quickly out of the way as did each of the subsequent wizards, avoiding the wizards behind still to come. If not, the trailing wizard might Apparate right into the wizard in front. Being splinched with half your body inside of a wall or stone was bad enough. Two wizards splinched together almost never came out well. Of course, it didn’t help that the more wizards that passed through the more likely you were to pass through, or in to one and Harry now found himself the last to go.

“Vision…” he whispered to himself nervously. It was the first time he’d actually said the words out loud in nearly a year. “Channel…” he continued. A doorway opened out onto the Mediterranean Sea, but the sky was flaming orange and red. Something was not right. He saw a spot just between Ron and George and stepped through. “Reconstruction,” he said out loud as he arrived, a bit embarrassed to be looking like a sixth year student at Hogwarts.

No one was paying any attention anyway. They were surrounded by three dragons that were very angry that they couldn’t penetrate the enchantment that had been set around the castle, the same enchantment that had blocked Sirius from Apparating directly in. Thwarted on that attempt, the opportunity to fry the freshly arrived wizards was now top on their ‘To do’ list. While the three turned their vitriol on the wizards, the fourth kept raining fire down over the top of the castle. Harry watched as the fire spread out high above the castle and fell to the sides, well clear of the walls, as if a giant umbrella or dome were protecting it.

As the fire flamed toward them, Sirius erected a shield charm protecting them for the time being. George and Ron ran toward the ocean and, using their wands and some fancy wrist movements, pulled water from the sea and sprayed it like a giant fire hose at the dragons. Fred and Draco transformed. Fred sprang around the side of the castle to see if he could find a way in, or at least a way to let Hermione know that they had arrived. Draco hoped that his non-wizard form would help with what he was about to say. It had been Ying-lung’s suggestion. Harry joined Sirius and extended the shield charm to protect Draco as he rose to speak to the dragons.

“Why can’t they penetrate the castle?” Ron called out over the sizzling spray of fire and water. “Cho and Hermione are great witches, but there’s no way they could have erected an enchantment like that. It’s huge! Four dragons… and it’s not their home! What’s going on?”

“I don’t know, Ron,” replied Sirius, as he and Harry struggled to maintain the shield about Draco. It was becoming more difficult as he rose higher in the air to meet the dragons. “Unless—”

One of the dragons shrieked. The Fireball had noticed Harry and the ring upon his finger. Without being attacked, it began to back away, fearful of what might happen.

“Come back here, coward!” cried the largest of the four dragons. He sent out another blast of flame, this time deliberately directed at Harry.

“A brave move,” Harry thought. It was fortunate that he had no intention of harming the dragons, as long as it could be helped. Draco took the moment to speak as Harry used the stone of cinnabar to absorb the fire’s energy.

“Chih-lung!” Draco called out to the large dragon. “Ying-lung sends word of a new peace!”

The remaining two dragons stopped, surprised at what they’d just heard.

“What devilry is this, Primate?” Chih-lung roared, but not to Draco, rather to Harry, the only Primate he knew. Draco, beat his wings to fly higher, a bit unsteadily as he was not yet fully healed. If he rose too high, he would be out of the protection of Sirius and Harry below. Harry called out to warn him, but Draco ignored his pleas.

“I said,” cried out Draco, and this time with a sense of command bestowed him by the leader of the Fireballs, “Ying-lung sends word of a new peace!” At this, the dragon over the castle stopped breathing fire and turned towards the flying vampire, now so high in the air a single breath of fire would destroy him. The deliberate vulnerability was noticed by Chih-lung who cast an untrusting glance at Harry and then back at the vampire before him.

“What peace?” asked the dragon sceptically, but with a tinge of hope in his words.

“I can see that you have heard him calling to you, Chih-lung,” said Draco. “I know what you were told; that his mind would be twisted by the Black Ring, but see below! The Primate of the Horntails stands before you now and yet you still hear Ying-lung’s pleas for your return. Come closer and I will show you what has happened.” Draco held out his hand as Chih-lung, hesitantly, moved toward him. At last, Draco touched his forehead and a warm, yellow light radiated outward.

“The star you see above,” said Draco proudly, “is no mere coincidence. It is Singehorn, ascended as a new sun, a new calling for peace among us all.” The battle on the mountain revealed to him, Chih-lung slowly pulled away and looked longingly at the bright orb shining in the new day sky.

“Singehorn?” the dragon’s mind whispered. The other dragons had all seen what Draco had shared and all knew what Chih-lung was thinking. If Singehorn had indeed ascended, then they had better pay him tribute along with all the other stars, if ever they were to ascend themselves. Whether it was out of frustration from having breathed fire for over an hour, a true willingness to embrace the new peace, or just pure self-serving interest in their own hope for some sort of afterlife, Harry didn’t know, but all four Fireballs dropped together to the ground and paid tribute to the Truly Great Dragon now set in the heavens.

George, barely able to believe his eyes, stepped over and hugged Harry and Ron from behind. “We did it! Draco did it! Where’s Fred?” he asked. “Why are we always looking for Fred?”

“He was trying to find a way in,” said Harry, pointing to the west. “He followed the shore until he disappeared around the rocks.”

“I will be your guide,” continued Draco, kneeling before the dragons, “in these new times. At least, I will try. I have much to learn. For now, you must heed Ying-lung’s call. Your kin need you. Not all survived this day. Fly north to celebrate and to mourn. I would join you, but even I must rest to heal.” Chih-lung and the others nodded their heads, and with a deafening roar they rose up and disappeared through the gathering clouds. After they had left, Draco transformed back to wizard form and summoned his robes back into his hands.

“Those burns still need treatment, Draco,” said Sirius. “Soseh’s salves need time to work. You’ll scar if you don’t take some time to rest.” Draco examined the blistered skin upon his shoulder and nodded.

“I’d rest,” said Draco, staring straight at the castle’s front door, “but the enchantment’s still up. Ron, call your bloody wife and tell her— What the fuck?”

Fred, dressed in red Bermuda shorts and a green Hawaiian shirt, had just passed through the front doors and was walking toward them barefoot down the sandy stone steps. He had a sandwich in one hand and his wand in the other. He got to where the enchantment came down between him and his friends who were still stuck on the outside, and then tapped the shield with his wand. A wave of blue energy spread outward in all directions.

“What’s the matter, Harry?” he said trying not to smile, but failing miserably. “Didn’t you make the payments on this place? I hear the Greeks will repossess in a heartbeat. You know, if you need a galleon or two, I can always—”

“Drop the bloody enchantment, Fred!” cried Ron. “And where’d you get that sandwich?”

“He can’t,” said Sirius suddenly smiling himself. “No offence Fred,” Sirius nodded to the redhead on the other side of the barrier, “but this was accomplished by more than you can master.”

“Nom takem, Birius,” answered Fred, mumbling with his mouth full.

“Only a great wizard, one who calls this home, could have created such a powerful enchantment.”

“Jamie?” asked Harry. “He’s not even—”

“Are you really that daft, Potter?” asked Fred, taking another bite on his sandwich and revealing that he hadn’t quite yet fully transformed his canines.

Behind Fred, the ladies stepped out of the castle, each was smiling. Cho was holding Jamie, Hermione was holding her stomach, and Gabriella held her wand, waving it to drop the barrier.

“Gab?” Harry whispered to himself in disbelief. “Gabriella?” he yelled, running toward her.

Ignoring the welcoming hugs of the others around them, Harry and Gabriella embraced where the sand met the stone steps leading to the castle. He held her tight and swung her in his arms and they kissed again and again. For Harry, it had not been two days since she left and yet, in his heart, it seemed a lifetime. At last, he held her face in his hands and looked into her black eyes, ebon pools he could fall into.

“Are you okay?” he asked. “Maia… she didn’t—” It was then that he noticed something different. Her skin was darker, as if she’d been in the sun for weeks, maybe months, and, about her eyes, thin lines had appeared as if she’d aged ten years. “What happened?” he whispered gently touching the side of her face.

As Gabriella told it, not ten years had passed, but rather seven. What part of seven, she couldn’t explain – past, present, or future, in this existence, or on another parallel earth, it was a mystery even to her. It wasn’t until the setting of the second sun, as the stars began to spring forth into the night sky, that Gabriella finished telling the tale. Jamie had been put to bed and the young wizards, together with Sirius, were gathered about a bonfire near the ocean.

“It’s fantastic,” said Hermione snuggled in Ron’s large arms. “When I used the Timeturner, Professor Dumbledore told me that I would still live those moments, still age, even though I returned to the exact time I left. I aged an additional four months that year. You Gabriella… it’s incredible – seven years for seven seas.”

“And not once did you come across a wizard or Muggle?” asked Cho who was seated next to George and holding his hand. A Wizarding wireless hung suspended next to her in the air, giving her a clear picture of Jamie sleeping in his bed.

“Never,” replied Gabriella. “It was the ocean and all its creatures without mankind, untouched and undeveloped. I think it was a picture of what today might look like, if we started caring more for the world in which we live. At least, it felt that way. It was beautiful and fantastical and I learned more than most wizards learn in a lifetime, but… it was also quite lonely.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Harry, holding her in his arms much as Ron held Hermione, only his grip was somewhat tighter, almost as if he didn’t want to ever release her again.

“No, my love,” she said with fervour. “Don’t be sorry. I spent seven years perfecting my craft with Maia. If not, I would never have been able to protect the castle as I did.”

“It’s a miracle is what it is,” said Fred sitting in the sand next to Sirius and Draco. “It’s like she knew. If you’d have been on the mountain with the rest of us…” He shook his head. “Who knows what would have happened. The Fireballs here were bad enough.” He looked over admiringly at Draco. “I can’t imagine facing over a dozen of them.”

“Strength does not always lie in numbers, Fred,” said Sirius rising to his feet. Something on the surf had caught his attention. “Give me the eight wizards gathered around this fire and I could… well, if I can sense it, Harry, I’m sure the Heart of Asha is throbbing under your skin with the love and loyalty gathered here.” Sirius brushed the sand off his shorts, straightened his T-shirt, and then went over to investigate.

“That, erm, reminds me, Fred,” said Draco, mindlessly drawing an outline of a dragon in the sand. “I was wondering… erm… I know it’s kind of awkward, me being a vampire and all, but… erm… if maybe you’d like to—”

“Join the Votary of the Fireballs?” interrupted Fred. Draco looked up surprised. “Harry told me, you’d become a Primate,” said Fred with a smile.

“Well… yeah,” said Draco, his voice still a bit uncomfortable. “I mean, I would understand if you—”

“I would love to,” said Fred. “But ‘Votary’ is a lame name. We’ll have to come up with something better.”

“Like the Fireball Fanatics,” said George with a laugh.

“Yeah! Something like that,” said Fred, looking at twisting the humour into a greater meaning. “You don’t want wizards to think they can screw with us, you know?”

“Sure,” said Draco leaning back and looking at the stars, a sense of happiness warming his face. “Fanatics!” The hair slid off his neck and fell behind him, revealing the two marks upon his neck. Quickly realizing, he sat upright and pulled the hair back over them to conceal the bite. Fred leaned over and brushed the hair back behind his neck.

“Don’t,” he said firmly, almost irritated by the gesture. “It’s part of who you are. Don’t be ashamed of it. I still can’t vanish all the fur from my body and anybody who thinks that’s a problem can go straight to Hades. Be proud you’ve turned those two marks into something grand, something spectacular. Draco, you’re the bloody Primate of the Chinese Fireballs for Merlin’s sake. Leader of the Fireball Fanatics! You don’t need to give a shit about what anybody thinks!”

The group gave out a little cheer and George held up his bottle in a toast.

“To the Fanatics!” he called. “The worst smelling wizards the world has—”

“Oooh!” said Hermione sharply.

“What… what is it?” asked Ron with concern.

“Just a little contraction, that’s all. It’s nothing to be worried about.” She took in a deep breath and slowly let it out. “There… all better,” she whispered. Ron relaxed as she settled back into his arms.

“So,” said Ron. “What do we call it? The new sun?”

“Well we can’t call it the sun,” said Fred, studying the bottom of his beer bottle. “That’s already been taken.”

“Singehorn is too long,” offered Cho. “What about Singe?”

“See the setting singe!” said Fred; he snickered. “Try to say that three times fast.”

“It’s Phobos, you know,” said Gabriella. “When Ebyrth missed Mars, it passed by one of the brothers, Deimos, but made a star out of the other.”

“Brothers?” asked Ron.

Deimos and Phobos were the sons of Ares… Mars. Deimos was the god of terror, and his brother Phobos of fear. They drove their father’s chariot into battle spreading fear in their wake and routing the battlefield. The Centaurs believe that the Phantom took two brothers under his apprenticeship, two he would call his sons. Draco, you and Theodore, both brothers from the House of Slytherin, were his chosen ones, his Phobos and Deimos.”

“Nott may have led the attack on Hogsmeade, but he isn’t dead,” said Draco.

“Nor is Deimos. Instead the moon must now endure watching, for all eternity, the shining star that is its brother and wonder what might have been, if only Deimos had been strong enough to reach for the light. At best, Deimos will only reflect a portion of the light Phobos radiates every moment. It is the power of love that you are now able to share, Draco, and the love that Ted has lost.

“Sounds like a Centaur tale,” said Draco, unwilling to raise his eyes from the ground next to him as he continued to sketch dragons in the sand. “I don’t know how much love I—”

“Who’s that?” asked Cho, pointing at a redhead walking the beach with Sirius.

“Bistonis!” said Gabriella with surprise. “I’ve met her. She’s spectacular. I watched her help form a great lake in North America.”

“That had to be millions of years ago!” said Cho.

“It… it doesn’t feel like it,” said Gabriella crinkling her brow in thought as if trying to recall some distant memory. “Okay… maybe you’re right. Maybe it was the Amazon in South America.”

“We have some serious catching up to do,” said Harry, pulling her in more closely. They watched as Sirius took Bistonis by the hand and disappeared behind the rocks along the beach. Maybe something was in the air, but Draco began to nervously tap his leg with his fingers.

“Erm… Fred,” said Draco, taking to his feet. “We’re almost out of beer. Want to help me go get some?” Fred looked down at the pile of empty bottles and then up at Draco and then over to the castle.

“Sure,” he said with a shrug, rising to his feet. “I can give you a hand.”

“Why don’t you just con—” Harry began, before Gabriella poked him in the ribs.

“Why don’t you just consider something we can snack on while you’re there,” Gabriella said.

“You bet,” said Draco as he headed up toward the castle.

“We’ll be back in a flash,” said Fred, waving at the group and trailing after Draco.

“Sure you will,” said George, rolling his eyes. “Merlin the boy is daft. It’s hard to believe we share the same DNA. Harry, conjure some more beers. I don’t want to wait, not for those two.”

“I don’t get it,” said Ron. “What ever happened to Blaise?”

“He was helping Draco prepare for Narcissa’s big Hogsmeade bash,” said George. “They were over at Honeydukes having a soda and holding hands when Blaise’s dad happened to walk in. Fred was there and saw the whole thing. Blaise pulled his hand away and then introduced Draco as if they were nothing more than classmates. When Mr. Zabini suggested that pureblood wizards should not consort with those of mixed blood, meaning vampires, Blaise just nodded.”

“He didn’t,” said Gabriella, her hand over her mouth.

“I guess Ted is not alone in his lack of conviction,” said Hermione, pressing the right side of her belly a little. It was clearly bothering her. “He’d rather sacrifice himself in a magical lake than tell his own father his true feelings.”

“Some families are better at feelings than others,” said Harry. “Draco’s only just now learning to share with his mother. Maybe, one day, Blaise will find the same courage.”

“You’re right, Harry,” said Cho, leaning forward in her chair and looking toward the castle. “Draco’s a different wizard. Whatever Dakhil did to help him find his soul… I guess it worked. It’s sad. Clearly, Blaise hurt him deeply. I never thought I’d say this, but I feel sorry for Draco.”

“That’s okay,” said George, leaning forward with her. “On the way out of the store, Fred slashed the top of Blaise’s hand with a werewolf claw and then welcomed him to the pack, flashing his canines.”

“No!” said Ron. “Fred would never—”

“That’s not enough to turn a wizard,” asserted Hermione, taking a sip of her spiced tea.

“No, but Blaise doesn’t know that,” said George with satisfaction as he accepted one of the freshly conjured bottles of bear from Harry. Just as Harry levitated another bottle toward Cho, a drop of rain began to fall. Harry looked to the sky. The stars had disappeared.

“It’s dark,” he whispered.

“Light cannot always prevail,” said Gabriella. “Sometimes even the stars must rest.”

“That’s why we have my mate, Harry, here,” said Ron as he looked to the sky. “Guardian of the masses!”

“There’s a lot of anger out there, little brother,” said George. “Even Harry needs some help.”

“That reminds me of Neville,” said Hermione. “I’m worried about him, about his anger. He never really has been the same since the battle. Ever since… you know – Nott and the others.”

“Neville’s heart is innocent and, at its core, pure. Someday that darkness will pass from him. I’d worry about Patrick,” said Gabriella shrewdly. “Someone of such youth with the strength of a vampire and the wisdom to use it, wielding so much magic… Power like that can—”

“I’ll watch out for Patrick,” assured Harry.

“Listen to all of you!” chided Hermione. “The greatest day in the history of the Wizarding world and you’re filled with stories portending doom and gloom. At last we will have an age of peace. I can’t think of a better time to raise a child,” She patted her tummy.

“Hermione, you should have been in Ravenclaw,” said Cho, holding up her beer bottle in salute. She smiled, but the smile turned to a yawn.

“You are all staying here tonight, right?” Harry asked already knowing the answer, but figuring he’d best learn how to be a host and remind them they were welcome. It was the Potter castle now after all.

“Don’t be silly,” said Gabriella. “Of course they are! Cho’s nearly falling asleep already.”

“I am getting tired,” she agreed.

“And there’s a perfect room for you, George… at the far end of the castle,” said Harry, lifting Gabriella up and taking to his feet.

Drip. Another drop of rain fell upon his forehead.

“Yeah,” said George, lifting Cho up, much in the same way Harry lifted Gabriella. “Sure thing, Harry.” He smiled, giving Cho’s neck a little peck from behind. “I’m pretty tired too. Sleep sounds good.”

“So, Harry” said Ron, sitting up with Hermione at his side. “I guess now we’re both married to older women.”

“I always was older,” said Gabriella.

“So was I,” added Hermione.

“Well… I mean… you’re more experienced now,” said Ron.

“I always was more experienced!” said Gabriella.

“Wait a second!” said Harry. “I could—”

“Ayyyy!” said Hermione clenching her teeth. She began to pant through another rather strong contraction and then it released. Ron and Harry were pretty spun up about it, but Cho and Gabriella were as calm as ever. “Whew!” said Hermione. That was a strong one.”

“Just a couple more weeks, Hermione,” assured Cho, as Hermione began to stand, “and— oh my.”

“What was that?” asked Ron, his voice rising. “What the bloody hell—”

“My water broke,” said Hermione, a tinge of surprise in her voice. “I’m… erm… I…”

“You’re going to have a baby,” said Cho in a matter of fact tone. She waved her wand, vanishing the amniotic fluid. Suddenly, she wasn’t quite so tired anymore.

“Come on, you two,” Gabriella commanded, pointing at Harry and George. “Let’s get her inside. We’re not going to do this in the sand and rain.”

“She can’t… you can’t… we can’t have a baby. It’s not time!” demanded Ron trailing behind them as they carried Hermione up the stone steps.

“Oh… I think it’s time,” said Hermione. “Here comes anoth— Ayyyyy!”
“Gab, get Sirius,” said Harry as they stepped toward the castle doors. “We need a Healer.”

“You don’t need a Healer, dearest,” said a woman with a warm and natural voice, opening the front doors. There stood Bistonis with Sirius at her side. How they slipped past them up to the castle, no one knew.

“Witches have been having babies for centuries without the advances of modern magic,” she said. “Do you realize how much harm it does to have a baby teleported out of the womb? Bring her in here.” She escorted them all into the front living room. The fire was burning as rain began to pelt the side of the house, streaking down the large glass windows. A small bed was already set up for Hermione. Sirius stepped in behind the beautiful redhead.

“Hermione,” he said, taking her by the hand. “Everything will be fine. “Bistonis has delivered hundreds of babies.”

“Dozens of my own,” the nymph offered. “And most of them were human. Now, let’s have some privacy, shall we?” Ron began to step out. “No! You stay… and the ladies as well. Gabriella,” Bistonis said with a smile, “you should see how this is done. I spoke with Soseh the other day and she said to me that….” George and Harry left with Sirius and shut the doors behind them. There was another scream.

“I’m glad I’m not a witch,” whispered Harry. Suddenly, Fred and George appeared, wands drawn. Both were barefoot and Draco was wearing a green Hawaiian shirt. Harry pointed at Draco and then at Fred.

“Weren’t you wearing—?”

“It’s Hermione,” said Sirius calmly interrupting. “Their baby is on its way.” Draco and Fred nodded knowingly and slipped their wands away. The five wizards moved into the kitchen to wait. Sirius started some coffee and they each took turns, drumming the table with their fingers.

“He won’t say, you know?” said Fred, finally breaking the silence. “But he’s still scared to death.”

“No, he won’t talk about it,” snapped George in agreement. “But you don’t help, constantly reminding him of what happened.”

“No,” said Fred sheepishly. “I guess I don’t.” He sighed.

“The baby will be fine,” Sirius assured them all. “I’m sure, once they see—”

The doors opened and Gabriella walked out, tears streaming down her cheeks. She stepped over and pulled Harry tight toward her.

“What is it, Gab? What—”

“She’s soooo beautiful!” she sobbed into Harry’s neck. She sniffed and wiped her face. “A little angel with fiery red hair. Come on… but be quiet and be quick. Hermione needs to get some rest.”

The young men walked in and found Hermione seated near the large fireplace with a suckling baby in her arms. The infant was wrapped in a blanket with only a tuft of red hair popping out on top. Ron was kneeling at her side, his hand placed gently over the infant’s back. They watched as Bistonis held her hands over the baby and her family. A soft green light glowed and bathed them all.

“For the strength and conviction you have endured to bring love into this world, I bestow what blessings I am able that your lives be filled with joy and happiness.” She smiled as the green light faded and walked over to Sirius, placing her arm about his waste.

“You’ve had the most fascinating life, Sirius Black,” she said earnestly, leaning her head upon his shoulder as they stepped down the main corridor of the castle. “I knew when we first met, you’d be a thrill and you’re not yet forty!”

“Well, I’m soon to be a dusty old Headmaster,” said Sirius, kissing the top of her head. “Life for me is about to get quite boring.” Bistonis laughed.

“I think not, Padfoot. I think not. Tell me what you know about goblins.” Their steps faded away as they continued toward Sirius’ chamber.

Listening to his godfather, Harry smiled as he watched George and Fred kiss their sister-in-law and hug their brother. Draco was about to leave when Hermione called to him.

“Get over here, Draco,” she insisted, albeit with her eyes half closed. With her free arm she pulled him down and kissed his cheek. “We’re more than friends… you know that don’t you?” Draco nodded, but Hermione was unconvinced. “No! You’re family. No matter what happens, we’ll be there for you… all of us. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Hermione,” said Draco with a smile as he kissed her cheek. “I understand. But that goes both ways.” He glanced over at Fred. “I’ve learned being a vampire has its advantages. If ever the Weasley family requires my service, you need only say the word.” They touched hands once more and then Draco stepped out of the living room with the twins, George telling Cho he’d check on the baby.

When Cho said she’d be out shortly, Harry noticed a tightening in her voice and looked over to her with concern. She was standing against one of the walls, her fingers brushing up against the stone. Harry knew immediately what it was and he went over to comfort her. A singular tear fell down the side of her face as Harry put his arm around her.

“Can you feel it, Harry?” she asked, still touching the stone. “He’s here.”

“Yes,” whispered Harry. “I’ve never been in this room when I didn’t sense Anthony’s spirit. Not… not in a ghost sort of way, but rather in what he stood for. I sense his love, his loyalty, his passion for living life in the moment and squeezing every bit of that moment into his soul. I think that’s why Bistonis picked this room rather than a sleeping chamber. She felt it too.” He gave her a hug and then looked into her eyes. For a moment, he felt like dying.

“He- he loved you so much,” Harry struggled to say. “I swear, if I could take that—”

“Shhhh,” she whispered. “That moment has past and we have a far more precious moment in front of us.” They moved over to the newest Weasley family member who was now resting on Hermione’s shoulder. Two bright blue eyes twinkled in the firelight.

“Sorry, Hermione, but they’re Ron’s eyes.”

“Thank Merlin for that,” said Hermione, half asleep. “I hate my eyes.”

“Your eyes are the most beautiful brown on the face of the earth,” said Ron standing up to kiss her. “Sorry, Cho,” he said with a smile, “but I’m partial.” He kissed Hermione again. Gabriella looked around.

“I think the Weasley family needs a little better place to rest.” She started waving her wand and the living room furniture began to transform into bedroom furniture. “There,” she said with a pleased smile as the last bit of bedding folded neatly near the pillows. “If you need anything…”

“…anything at all,” added Cho.

“We’ll be happy to get it for you. For now, rest.”

“Thank you, guys,” said Ron, helping Hermione to bed. “You’ve been great.”

“Well…” began Harry. “You say that now. Wait till you taste Sirius’ cooking in the morning. If you want to sneak out early, I know this great little—”

“Come on,” interrupted Gabriella. Cho had already started for her bedroom and Jamie. “Leave them to—”

“Wait!” said Harry suddenly stopping. “A name. Have you thought of a name?” Hermione smiled and then Ron, reading her thoughts, did as well.

“Molly Joy Weasley,” he announced.

“Ahhhh,” cooed Gabriella. “That’s beautiful.” Her eyes began to tear.

“Named after one of the finest witches that ever lived,” whispered Harry. Instinctively, his hand made its way into his pocket and his fingers touched a faded and torn piece of parchment that never left his side.

“Yes. That’s a beautiful name,” he said quietly and swallowed hard. “Good-night.”

Before they went to bed, Harry suddenly insisted he needed to look in on Jamie. He kissed his sleeping son’s forehead and hugged Cho good-night. He glanced about with his eyes closed, but George was nowhere to be seen. Satisfied, he and Gabriella walked down the corridor to their own bedroom. The rain outside was as steady and as strong as ever. It would be their first night together in the castle. When Harry was building their bed chamber stone by stone, he often dreamed of that night, but never did those visions fall upon a night like this. At the time, he doubted if they’d ever have the chance to sleep in that room together, but the reapers had stayed their hands until another day. He sighed. They were the lucky ones.

“You miss her, don’t you?” asked Gabriella. “Molly?”

“I miss them all, Gab – Dumbledore, Molly, Greg, Anthony, Tonks, Dakhil, Singehorn, Tanwen… Grigor… my god… I don’t’ even want to think how many. They didn’t deserve to die, not on my account.” Gabriella sighed as she opened the door to their room.

“I’ve had seven years to think about that very question, Harry. Why did it all happen? I think, seven years from now, you’ll see that it was never really about you, Harry, anymore than it was about me, or Hermione, or Ron. Sure, you were the Chosen,” she smiled, “but you were just one cog in a great machination that is life. Maybe a bigger cog than most, but the machine needs each piece to run properly. You played your part with compassion and love and that’s all anybody can ask of you. If things don’t end up the way you planned, talk to the toymaker, Harry, not the cogs.”

She squeezed his hand and then slipped into the bathroom to get ready, but Harry just dropped his clothes at the foot of the bed and crawled in under the covers.

Drip.

The rain had stopped outside, but the roof still drained, bringing the familiar pinging of water into the pools that had formed between rock and mortar. It wasn’t the same song he remembered from last year, but it was just as beautiful. He placed his hand flat upon the sheet next to him, the connubial ring glowing brightly as ever.

The door to the bathroom opened and shut. The flames in the torches went dark and Gabriella climbed in next to Harry, kissing his shoulder along the way.

“You taste like salt,” she said.

“Seven years in the ocean and you think I taste like salt? Next time we’re on the Mountain, I’ll have the dragons use you as a salt lick! Then we’ll see who tastes like salt!”

“We’ll see who licks who!” she gripped a particular spot on the side of his waist and he began to laugh. They embraced, listening to the echoing pings of dripping water and the slow ebb and flow of the night air’s breath as it warmly wheezed down the corridors of a castle filled with loving friends and family. She sighed.

Drip.

“Merlin, Harry, it’s hard to believe the battle’s over. I feel like our little fellowship has come to an end. Everyone’s starting their own family, or going off to China,” she chuckled. “We say we’ll visit, but I can’t imagine life letting that happen, at least not as often as we’d like.” Harry stroked Gabriella’s long black hair with his hand as she laid her head against his chest.

“Dumbledore once said that all things must come to an end. But that, just like Christmas, even after all the decorations have been put away into their boxes, the spirit of the holiday lives on in each of us.

“We may not visit each other as often as we’d like, Gabriella, but the memories of what we’ve accomplished together, just like holiday memories, will live on in each of us. We’ll continue to hold each other in our thoughts, carrying a collective spirit that can only lead to greater things to come.”

“Oh?” said Gabriella with a twinkle in her eye. “What sort of things?”

“I don’t know… greater things!”

Drip.

Her fingers began to play about his bellybutton.

“Big things?” she asked playfully.

“Don’t tell me you’re thinking about family things?” he asked nervously. Her hand tiptoed lower. “I mean… after… after all you’ve s-seen tonight, you’re not thinking about trying t-to have a baby are you? You are?”

Having achieved her objective, Gabriella swung a leg over Harry’s and sat upon his hips.

“Don’t be silly,” she said with a smile. “I’m not talking about a baby. Maia says we’re destined to have twins.”

She bent low and kissed him hard upon the lips ending all talk of the Wizarding world.

Drip.

~~~***~~~
Finite Incantatem ~~~***~~~

A/N: Thank you for your reviews.

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