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Magic Never Dies ~ Chapter Eight

May 1st, 2006 (08:51 pm)
sleepy
Tags:

current location: Same old, same old
current mood: sleepy
current song: Rainy Day - Guster

Title: Magic Never Dies
Author: Lynney
Pairing: Harry/Hermione
Chapter: Eight
Word Count: 6,436
Rating:R
Summary: This Fic won Portkeys' Felix Felicis Fiction Competition and garnered over 2,700 positive reviews. This is a completed alternative version of Book 7 for the Determinedly Delusional H/Hr shipper. Action/Adventure/Romance/Humor - a bit of everything.


Official Fine Print: Nope. Not mine. The brainchildren of the mighty pen of JK Rowling. Just playing with them. Honest.

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The Ron vs. Hermione argument of the morning - the day, Harry sincerely hoped - revolved around the decision to apparate just outside Hogwarts' gates or Floo to Hogsmeade and walk to the school.

Hermione thought apparition the only logical choice.

Ron liked the idea of Flooing because they could stop in at Honeydukes on their way `and no one ever left anything important behind in a fireplace.'

“How about we apparate there, and floo home?” Harry asked through gritted teeth, resolving never to have children. Assuming he lived long enough. Although the whole making them thing was…

“Okay,” agreed Ron happily.

“We could stop in at the Hogs' Head as well, I suppose,” rationalized Hermione. “See if we can find out any more about Mundungus' connections. In broad daylight and hopefully without Death Eaters this time.”

Harry privately thought a great deal of the edginess was the result of the idea of being back at Hogwarts under such changed circumstances. He himself felt a wave of apprehension boarding on nausea at meeting with Professor McGonagall in Dumbledore's office and speaking with the portrait. There was so much he wanted to say, so much he wanted to know. As often as he kept reminding himself that the portrait was just a magical imprint of Dumbledore's essence and not the Headmaster himself he feared that he was going to come away more aware of Dumbledore's loss than ever.

“Let's go then,” he said. “McGonagall always did have a thing about being on time.”

“On the plus side,” supplied Ron, “no more points to lose!”

“On the down side,” Harry told him, preparing to apparate, “she's now free to move on to limbs.”

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All three managed to apparate successfully to a point just outside Hogwarts' front gates. Hermione was gazing fondly at the winged boars flanking the entrance when she felt the hair on the back of her neck begin to creep. She spun around to two entirely surprising sights. The first was a group of three Death Eaters running at top speed in their direction from the edge of one of the nearby fields that flanked the road to Hogsmeade. The second was Ron and Harry, wands already drawn, standing shoulder to shoulder in front of her as though the thought that they would be greeted by a welcoming committee of Death Eaters had more than simply occurred to them; they had in fact expected it. Harry turned slightly toward her, keeping one eye on the approach of the hooded figures.

“Hermione, send your patronus up to the school to get someone to let us in. Tell them there's three Death Eaters at the gates.”

“Harry, my patronus is an otter. Do you have any idea how long it would take an otter to reach McGonagall?”

“She's expecting us, there may even be someone on the way already.”

He swore then as one of the Death Eaters began firing off curses hoping to get in a lucky shot despite the distance and timed a shield to allow Ron a couple of clear shots back. She could see his eyes darting around, seeking a safe place for them to fight from; their backs were literally against Hogwarts' wall.

She gave up, hoping for the best, and raised her wand, envisioning as she did so their location and embedding the message just as he had taught them. She closed her eyes as she focused on the incantation and the happy memory that charged it. Her mind returned unbidden to the night before and the image of Harry's eyes, dark and full, as they… She gasped as she felt her wand suddenly tug and dip, a different sensation altogether to the usual feeling her patronus evoked and opened her eyes to find a wide eyed doe deer white-tailing it up the path towards Hogwarts.

For a moment she panicked, afraid McGonagall wouldn't recognize the patronus or think it a trick.

“Harry?” she started, but realized he rather had his hands full at the moment; he and Ron were tag-teaming a rhythm of curses and shields that kept the three hooded figures just far enough at bay that neither side had thus far sustained serious damage.

“Tree?” she heard Ron say cryptically.

“Your side or mine?” Harry asked without shifting his eyes.

“Mine. Four and half meters.”

“Take Hermione. I'll cover you, you cover me when you get there,” Harry said.

“No one has to take…” she started again, but Ron had already grabbed her by the waist; she felt her feet leave the ground and they were speeding to the shelter of an enormous oak tree. Harry remained in front of the gates running through a gamut of spells in search something they weren't blocking. One of the Death Eaters' spells flashed off Harry's protego and smashed a wing on the leftmost Hogwarts' Boar to smithereens.

She heard Ron shout, “Now you, Harry.” He crept around the far side of the tree and fired off a couple of blasting spells while Harry ducked low and ran toward them. A hastily fired leg locker connected with just one of his legs and he fell, crawling the rest of the distance until Hermione could perform the counter.

“Thanks,” he panted, rolling behind the tree trunk beside her. “You know what scares me?” he told Ron after catching his breath. “I don't recognize any of them. I know you can't always tell in the robes but I've been able to suss out at least one or two of them before. It's bad news for us when he's got all new friends.”

“If you can get up in the tree,” Ron said, “I can lure `em close enough that one of us can blast them and take a look.”

Hermione felt like her head was going to explode. “You CAN NOT be serious. We're just going to wait here until they get the message up at the school…”

“Hermione,” said Harry with a great show of patience. “Dumbledore is gone. Who exactly at the school do you think is going to come and save us? Flitwick? I mean, no offense and charms are certainly very important and everything but I think I'd rather take my chances with Ron, thanks. You do realize there's no one up there but children and some very brave but outnumbered… teachers?”

“And Aurors! The ministry's meant to have a full complement of Aurors up there as well!”

“Well where are they? They're supposed to be guarding the gates too!” Ron griped. “Tonks told Harry the Ministry pulls them off whenever there's a big incident somewhere else, they don't have enough Aurors to leave that many here full time. We can take care of this ourselves.”

Hermione realized again just how much familiar things had changed. The safety of the castle was no illusion; Hogwarts was a powerfully magical place on its own and at least some of Dumbledore's added enchantments had surely survived him. Getting into it, however, had suddenly turned in a dangerous proposition and she was stunned at the metamorphosis of Harry and Ron from boys into young warriors. The she remembered the Department of Mysteries and realized that it wasn't so sudden after all; they had recognized the danger and responded accordingly. She'd been the one who'd been distracted from the DA by Ron's romances and Quidditch insecurities and Harry's seeming obsession with his potions text and Malfoy's plotting. She was the one who was now a liability, unready.

“Alright,” she said firmly. “Let's do it. And no, I'm not going to duck and hide behind the tree until it's all over, so don't start.”

Ron looked like he was going to argue. Harry appeared torn, as though he'd like to but was too well aware of the pointlessness. A spell struck the trunk above their heads, sending smoking chunks of wood raining down on them.

“Fine,” he said. “Do you think you can climb the tree? You're the lightest and smallest, the branches won't move so much and they won't be expecting you.”

Hermione looked up; the tree was quite old, the first branch a good distance above her head.

“You can climb on me,” Harry said, weaving his fingers together for her to step on to.

“Can I remind you once again you're a bleeding wizard!” Ron griped, and flicked his wand in her direction. Hermione flew into the air and up to within arms reach of the branch. Unfortunately, he'd also used the Levicorpus spell Harry had learned from Snape's potion book and she was now upside down, her robes and hair obscuring everything.

“Ron!” she hissed.

“Grab hold! In front of you!” she heard Harry call softly, and groped with her hands until she felt the branch, grasping it. One of them must have done the Liberacorpus, her body was abruptly reclaimed by gravity and swung down. She held on with all her might and scrambled up the trunk as soon as she felt control return to her legs.

“Find a good vantage point and give us a signal when you're ready. We'll lure `em in and you stun them, okay?” Ron indicated several branches arching out over the ground in front of the tree. She could see the Death Eaters closing in and growing bolder with every step.

“Okay,” she agreed. She took a last look at Harry's anxious upturned face, and climbed up and out into the still leafy canopy of the tree. When she'd found a good solid branch to shimmy out with a decent clear view of the area in front of the tree she used a tickling charm Ginny had taught her to alert Harry. She saw him swat at his neck several times before cluing in and raising his eyes to her. She nodded, and watched him motion to Ron.

They appeared from either side of the trunk, keeping some distance between themselves to widen the target. Seeing them in the open did indeed bring the opposition in quickly the rest of the way and a flurry of spells were exchanged along with, for the first time, words.

“It's Potter!” one shrieked victoriously and made to fire at him, Hermione took aim but another grabbed the first by the wand arm, cautioning, “Alive. You can stun him but remember we must bring him in…”

“Get behind me, Ron,” Harry hissed. Hermione could see that the idea disagreed with Ron but she was enormously impressed as he complied without argument. He fired off a lucky petrificus as he did, and one of the three stumbled and went down. The other two were thrown by this; instead of releasing their fallen comrade they charged on without them. The first one struck Harry with a slasher and he retaliated furiously, issuing a stunning spell that ricocheted off their shield with enough raw energy to send them smashing into the ground anyway; Ron was struck a glancing blow by the return blast while shoving Harry out of range of a spell from the second hooded figure moments before Hermione stupefied them both.

In the ensuing silence all she could hear was the frantic thumping of her own heart.

“Are you guys okay?” she called out, inching her way back along the branches and trying not to look down. It came to her in a rush now that it was over that trees weren't all that preferable to brooms or hippogriffs.

“Gworf ide” she heard Ron say.

“He means we're fine,” came Harry's tired voice. She reached the first branch and saw him waiting down below. “Just swing and let go,” he said. “I'll catch you.”

“You've got to be kidding.”

“Or Ron could levicorpus you again…”

She swung and hung by her hands, dangling in the air above him. His arms were outstretched, waiting; she closed her eyes and forced her fingers to let go. He caught her but took a step backward as her body crashed into his; Ron had unfortunately just moved behind him to pick up his wand and all three ended up in a single heap.

“That,” came a voice that Hermione immediately recognized as Professor McGonagalls' “would have been worth at least a hundred house points. Each. Thankfully I don't have to decide whether they should have been given or taken away.”

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Their triumphal return to Hogwarts thus included limping up to the castle in various states of disarray. Hermione's hair had acorns in it; her robes were torn and dusty. Ron had taken the rebounded impact of Harry's stunner directly to his jaw and was now sporting a blossoming bruise and talking even more unintelligibly than usual. Harry's robes and his shirt beneath them were torn and bloodied where the spell had struck him and his glasses were broken once again.

Professor McGonagall had brought two Aurors with her from the school. Ron's guess that the ones meant to be watching the gates had been called away by the Ministry proved to be correct. They had unmasked the still stupefied figures before binding them and apparating them away; the one who had triumphantly recognized Harry turned out to be Millicent Bulstrode. The other two were several years older and spoke with heavy accents when they cursed their captors. Harry recognized at least one of them as a member of Durmstrang's delegation to the Tri Wizard tournament.

“I always thought you were too goodie-goodie to be real,” snapped Millicent at Hermione. “And I was right. Left school to live with those two. Mudblood slut.”

Harry saw Hermione's jaw drop and her wand hand begin to lift. He moved beside her as subtly as he could and coughed “spots” into his hand. Ron hacked “warts” into his on the other side. He saw her eyes narrow and her wand barely move. Her mastery of the nonverbal spell was soon apparent upon her target's face, a fact to which Millicent seemed to remain blissfully unaware as they sprouted. The Aurors both smirked.

“The Dark Lord knows what you're up to Potter. Dumbledore's gone and you're less than nothing now. It's just a matter of the right chance to take you. We may not be allowed to hurt you,” she said, her piggy eyes gleaming with dislike, “but you can bet the Dark Lord will. And he'll make sure the crucio lasts long enough that Dumbledore hears your screams in Hell.”

Harry felt the force of her words as if he'd been slapped; nothing she said was particularly new but it was hard for him to grasp at first coming as it did from her. It was Death Eater talk and she, clearly, had become one, but Harry still couldn't help but feel he'd never done anything to her personally to account for such venom. But then that was the point, wasn't it?

“Must have been kissing Malfoy last night,” Ron told her. “You're sporting the sign of the toad.”

She eyed him oddly, still oblivious to her enhanced appearance. Harry hoped they had mirrors in Azkaban.

“I'd watch your back,” Millicent retorted as the Aurors took her arms, `If Malfoy's kissing anyone these days it's more likely to be her. He's a dead man anywhere else.”

“Oh, yuck,” Hermione had said, turning to march up to the castle. “Now there's an unpleasant thought.”

Harry followed her, privately deciding unpleasant wasn't exactly the word he'd choose. Talk about dead men. If Malfoy ever so much as looked at Hermione funny again he'd make sure his perfectly pure blood made a perfectly hideous mess all over his nose for a change. And there wouldn't be any teachers to stop them or points to lose this time.

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Professor McGonagall swept through the front door and into the Entry Hall before them. Classes were changing and the stairs full of students. The Hall rung with the all the usual noise that accompanied such activity, but within moments of their entry and procession behind McGonagall up the first staircase toward the Headmaster's Office the cheerful din had trickled down to a few whispering voices.

“That's Harry Potter, the one that has to defeat You Know Who,” he heard one small boy say to his neighbor, a mixture of hero worship and fear warring on his innocent face. “And those're his friends, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. They went here too,” another girl whispered to three goggling first years.

Merlin but they were young, and so small. And defenseless.

“We were never that little,” Ron said in an undertone as they followed Professor McGonagall. “Don't they feed them here anymore?”

“They're the same size they were when you were pushing them off the sofa in the Common Room to snog Lavender last year,” Hermione pointed out.

Harry noticed Professor McGonagall still moved somewhat stiffly from her four-stunner ambush by one of Dolores Umbridges' goon squads two years ago. She, too, was beginning to show her age. His heart pushed that knowledge firmly away; she might be less approachable then Dumbledore in some ways but she had always been his champion when it really mattered. And she'd been the one to make him a Seeker, after all.

They reached the Gargolyle that guarded the door to the Head…Mistresses office.

“Sherbet Lemon,” Professor McGonagall said, with only the tiniest quaver in her voice.

The office was mostly unchanged from Dumbledore's day. Perhaps a tad tidier; the bookshelves straightened, the desk more orderly. And Fawkes' perch was gone.

“I received your message, Harry.” Professor McGonagall said quietly. “I for one will be there.”

“Thank you,” Harry responded with equal gravity, relieved at the thought that the most he should have to do at the meeting was explain to those who came about Fawkes' appearance and introduce Lupin as their new leader for the vote of confidence. The thought of standing up in front of witches and wizards like Professor McGonagall and Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt and attempting to convince them of anything made Harry's stomach clench uncomfortably.

She seemed to understand that what ever else they had to say would have to wait; Harry was being drawn to the corner of the room where Dumbledore's portrait hung with a force that made magnetic north seem like a suggestion.

As he stood before the likeness of the Headmaster who had long had such an impact on his life, Harry felt a cautious surge of hope. The portrait was slumbering, the long silver beard rippling with the passage of gentle snores.

“Professor Dumbledore?” he inquired softly.

The likeness made a slight grumbling noise and seemed to stir.

“Harry,” came the voice he knew so well, however rusty and unused, “considering what has come to pass between us, I rather think you can call me Albus.” And the painted blue eyes opened behind their painted-on glasses and still, somehow, managed to twinkle.

Harry stood still, immobilized yet breathing heavily, overcome with the surge of emotion the words invoked. He was vaguely aware of Hermione, Ron and McGonagall drawing closer behind him.

“Why?” he asked, the words that had been echoing through him ever since that night on the tower. “You said I could help. You brought me to help…”

“And so you did, Harry,” intoned the portrait gently. “I never could have finished that potion on my own. Only my truest, most loyal friend could have completed that bit of magic. Remember that.”

“You finally brought me with you so that I could kill you?” Harry asked brokenly.

“You did not kill me, as I believe you know only too well. You helped me complete a complex and quite dangerous task that served as a culmination of a long and full life replete with similar risks.”

“It wasn't even real, what we found. It had already been stolen and a fake left in its place.”

“I knew,” said the portrait. “It was too small and light. Have you discovered yet what happened to the real one?”

“There was a note in the one in your pocket signed R.A.B. Hermione figured out that it was Sirius' younger brother, Regulus, the one who was a Death Eater. He'd changed his mind about Voldemort and stolen it and hidden it in Grimmauld Place before he died. It turned out to be one of the things Sirius tried to throw out when we cleaning up for Mrs. Weasley in the drawing room.”

“Dear Molly. No idle hands for her. She meant to keep you children busy and your mind off the business of the Order, but she obviously succeeded in doing much more. But it is lost, then?”

“No. It turns out Kreacher kept it. Hermione gave him a Christmas present that year and when we put it in his little hide-out in the boiler closet we saw all this shiny stuff and family pictures that he'd grubbed out of the trash. She thought of it as we were sitting in the kitchen, and there it was.”

The blue eyes gleamed, Harry reckoned even allowing for the magic of wizarding portraits that Dumbledore's painter had been quite good. “Have you destroyed it?”

“No,” said Harry. “We, er… haven't exactly tried yet. We weren't sure what to do and your hand…”

“Quite a disincentive, that. It was really rather nice to be done with that in the end. But I rather think the effect may be different for you.”

Hermione spoke up. “Professor Dumbledore, why should it be different for Harry?”

“Ah Hermione. And Ron. You, too may call me Albus, of course.” Dumbledore's likeness smiled at them both. “I have had some time to ponder the issues that were absorbing my true consciousness when I… moved on, and have some new hypotheses that may or may not be of use to you. It will be up to you now which if any you pursue.”

The painted eyes shifted to Harry and took on a more serious look, “I must confess that I found myself impressed with you, Harry, after I, er… charred the dickens out of my hand destroying the soul fragment within the ring. It came to me that you managed to put the diary out of commission quite without similar damage. I was feeling a good bit old and slow until my magnificent ego came to my aid and convinced me it was something to do with you instead.”

Harry felt a grin almost reach his face.

“I began to wonder, Harry, if I was quite right about the identity of the seven horcruxes when I last spoke with you.”

The grin died. “I've thought about that as well,” he said, his eyes shifting nervously to Professor McGonagall.

“Fear not. Minerva knows all and I have duly received my earful.”

Professor McGonagall snorted. “I'm not done with you yet, Albus. You'll find that Wizengamot portrait quite appealing before I'm through. Of all the…”

The portrait quickly cleared its throat and raised its voice. “As I was saying, I've had a bit of time to reflect on the horcruxes and have come to a somewhat different conclusion based on those thoughts and recollections. We agree, I think, that there will be seven, based on Tom's questioning of Professor Slughorn and his love of myth and mysticism. Always looking for an edge in any game, Tom Riddle. Never forget the boy you saw in that orphanage, Harry, because he lurks in Voldemort still.

If there are in fact seven fragments, we know that two are surely destroyed; the diary by you, Harry, and the ring by myself. That leaves the Slytherin locket, which you have, the Hufflepuff cup, which we at least know Tom coveted and probably killed for, something of Rowena Ravenclaw's, which we only suspect. There must therefore be two more soul fragments. One of course is in Tom Riddle himself, it is the bit that tied him to this earth when the killing curse he used upon your mother reverberated on himself.”

“You mean me. The killing curse he used on me,” Harry said distractedly.

“No, Harry. Or maybe. I can not theorize exactly how it worked, but then neither can Voldemort and he was a participant, there for it all. But I believe I may have been wrong all those years about the magic of Lily's love for you. Of course it was an act so profound as to become magic, giving up her life for her child. But knowing Lily as I did, I began to wonder if it might not be something more.”

Harry's mind had wandered down these same lines but along a much more disorganized path; suddenly the way was cleared. “It was. The Dementors made me remember what he said to her, how he told her to step aside. I told Ron and Hermione that I thought he wanted her to watch; he wanted her to have to see what he was going to use my death to do, as a sort of last laugh at the prophecy. But if she threw herself in front of the killing curse meant for me…”

“The true beauty of her selfless love for you collided with the depthless evil Voldemort was trying to force her to comprehend for the pleasure of his own immortality. If he had just gotten on with it, it might have worked the way he meant, but in the manner of all tyrants he had to have his private little joust with goodness. As it were, I believe that the killing curse claimed both your mother and Voldemort that night; Lily's gift of her own life for yours was accepted by the light of the world and the force of the curse was mirrored back upon its castor.”

“But what happened to Harry, then?” Ron asked suddenly. “Where'd the scar come from?”

“Voldemort had prepared for him to die in order to make a horcrux, I am guessing he had some significant item there which was to receive the last torn portion of his soul. Alas, when things went awry, he most likely dropped the object; it was certainly not foremost on his mind. The thing he was focused on the moment he killed your mother, Harry, was you. And so perhaps it might be you yourself that is, by accident I am quite sure, Lord Voldemort's final horcrux. The unusual powers, the parseltongue, the uncomfortable connection you have shared are due to the fragments of Voldemort's soul that reside within you.”

“Fragment,” corrected Hermione automatically.

“Alas not, Hermione,” the portrait replied. “I believe the increasing encroachment of Voldemort through Harry's scar is two-fold. When Harry destroyed the diary in the Chamber there was no backlash against him because the fragment of Tom's soul that resided in it simply joined its fellow in Harry. When a horcrux is released it seeks to reunite itself with its former whole; that is its purpose after all. To hold the soul to earth in its search for unity. It can not move on in its fragmented form. Harry therefore now bears two-sevenths of Voldemort's soul. This is important, because it already violates one condition of the prophecy to which he clings as if it is some eternal truth.

Voldemort marked Harry as his equal by infusing him with a seventh of his soul. Voldemort himself had only a seventh left, and so they were indeed equal. After Harry destroyed the diary, he actually became more powerful than Voldemort could ever have predicted. Except Voldemort still didn't know. Because, you see, he never knew what happened that night. He had no idea what he had done to Harry, he only knew that his other horcruxes had worked to keep him from dying. He was still bitterly angry, however, and ever more determined to kill Harry. When he had still failed by your fourth year he knew there was something special about Harry, but he fell for my first theory that it was Harry's mother's blood that protected him and settled for stealing Harry's blood to incorporate in his new body, never realizing that two sevenths of his former soul resided in Harry as well. He thought he'd triumphed when he could touch you at last, but the hand that rested on your face was only inches from something he in actuality wanted so much more. And he never suspected. Imagine how surprised he was, Harry, when you dueled and your strength bested his when your wands locked. He must have known there was still something about you then.

Your fifth year was a difficult one for us all. I realized that it was only a matter of time before Voldemort began to understand the true implications of your connection, Harry. That is why I began to stay away from you when I could and why I asked Professor Snape to teach you Occlumency instead of myself. I wanted to keep the knowledge from you both; as long as Voldemort was still seeking answers about your strength in the prophecy he might take longer to stumble onto the truth. I confessed to you at the end of that year my weakness Harry, how I kept the truth from you so long because I had become too fond of you to wish to place this burden on you. Even then I kept one, small piece of information I suspected back; I wished to give you time yet to strengthen your own untarnished soul. You have carried a deep blackness within you, and yet you have not shown even the slightest sign of succumbing to it; you share some of his powers without the darkness that engulfs him. Either your soul has absorbed his without incident, or his is securely contained within you, out of reach of your own. I hope and believe the latter to be true. And I believe the container to be your scar.”

There was an uncomfortable silence as they each took in Dumbledore's words. Harry's hand raised, trembling, to the mark in question.

“Then to safely destroy the horcruxes it has to be Harry who does it? He has to have five sevenths of Voldemort's soul in him before he can destroy Voldemort himself?” Ron asked in horror.

“It is not even that simple, Ron. The five sevenths of Voldemorts' soul must be entirely destroyed before Voldemort is challenged, or it will be simply as it was before; his body will die and the last soul fragment will inhabit Harry.”

“So I can kill myself, or become him? Those are my post-Hogwarts career options? So much for being an auror,” Harry laughed bitterly, but his pulse was racing so fast he felt sure his heart would explode. The thought of having so much of Voldemort's twisted soul inside him… `That's when you die, idiot…' his brain supplied. `After the last bit is inside you. You take him with you, and he will never hurt anyone again.'

Hermione's clear voice rang out. “We talked about that, Professor, Harry and Ron and I, and we have an idea. What you say changes the numbers a bit, but not the theory Do you think that it might be possible for Harry to use Voldemort's death to make a horcrux himself and remove the pieces of his soul to something that can be destroyed?”

There was a moments silence in the office and all their eyes traveled to Dumbledore's painted ones.

“I knew,” he said at last, “that there was a reason you were born to two unsuspecting muggles at exactly the right moment, Hermione. I thought at first that you and Ron were meant to reinforce for Harry the goodness of human nature and the love of friendship when he was faced with a future so bleak. I see now that I was wrong once again, and you are both indeed quite more then just his friends.”

“Er… does that mean yes, or no?” asked Ron.

“It means possibly. It is a wonderful idea, although ultimately destroying six sevenths of Voldemort's soul will still exert a powerful force. The universe was created in balance and always seeks it; when the denseness of his evil is destroyed a likewise measure may well be claimed of something innocent. In other words, Ron, much like my hand with that smaller portion, something will have to go boom.”

“Oh,” said Ron in an uncomfortably small voice. “Boom.”

“Why did you stun me? Why did you let Snape kill you? I could have helped you. Why?” Harry asked suddenly, as though his mind could take no more of the Horcrux theorizing and simply had to move on.

“Ah,” said Dumbledore. “We come at last to that.”

“Yes,” said Harry. “That.”

“Professor Snape had come to me early in term and confessed to me an oath he had undertaken while trying to be seen as remaining loyal to Lord Voldemort. It was in fact a binding oath, and Professor Snape was willing to risk his life to take it. He knew of my accelerating search for something to aid you in your confrontation with the Dark Lord and he thought it important enough to try and remain undetected for as long as he could help distract Lord Voldemort and supply information that he was willing to forfeit his own life. When I found out what his oath involved I knew there had to be another answer.

I had to stun you when I saw Draco, Harry. I knew he would be unable to complete the task Lord Voldemort set him of killing me; he has been brought up under the shadow of Voldemort all his life but he does not have it in him to be a killer. Professor Snape would have to do the job; that was the oath he had undertaken to Narcissa Malfoy. And you, no matter what I said, would have tried to stop him. One of you would have been mortally hurt I am certain, and I could not have that. I knew how painful it would be for you, to be trapped invisibly. I apologize most sincerely for what it must have cost you, but I would do it again if need be. And you must realize how painful it was for Severus to do what he did. He was truly being a most loyal friend.”

“A loyal friend? Snape? Hermione and Ron are my loyal friends, and you don't see them killing me!”

“There may come a time, Harry, when you will beg them to do just that. My wish is for you to never understand what that truly requires. I can no longer insist you do anything, I am nothing but a lingering image of myself, but I beg of you to withhold your hasty judgment of Professor Snape and act as I have bidden you before. Despite your mutual…dislike, you are both striving toward the same end.”

Harry was about to spit out another volley of his feelings about Snape when the thought occurred to him that if it came down to absorbing Voldemort's soul and dispensing of himself, Snape could save Ron and Hermione an awful lot of heartache. That was perhaps the one command from Harry with which Snape would be only too happy to comply.

“So you are still certain of Snape? Fawkes has come to me and I called a meeting of the Order. Will he come?” Harry asked.

“If he can,” Dumbledore replied gravely. “He will be there. Do me the honor, Harry, of treating him as kindly as you can.”

“He's never wanted my kindness before,” Harry said. “He'll only hate me more if he thinks I head the Order. `One more undeserved privilege for Harry Potter', he'll say.” He gave his own surname the same sneer that Snape always did; the likeness was uncanny. “I'm going to ask Lupin to head it. They'll none of them listen to just me.”

“A wise decision, Harry. Remus will serve you well, I think. And you can get on with your task. How is Fawkes?”

“Well,” said Harry.

“Bossy,” said Ron.

“He misses you,” said Hermione, who suddenly realized it was true and felt badly about resenting Fawke's monopoly of Harry's time.

Dumbledore's portrait laughed fondly. “I left several things in my will specifically to you, Harry. The rest will go to the school, or to Aberforth. Minerva has promised to see that you receive them. One is the pensieve, which contains several memories I would like you to see, and which I am quite sure you will need at some point if you are to be successful in your task. The other…”

“Is this,” finished Professor McGonagall for him. She handed Harry a small parchment envelope. He drew it open to find an “empty” Albus Dumbledore Chocolate Frog card.

“Er, thanks,” said Harry. “You were my very first Chocolate Frog card, actually.”

“This particular card, however,” said Dumbledore with a pleased chuckle, “is a first edition. Essentially…” his image disappeared from his portrait upon the wall and moments later reappeared in Harry's hand, “a portrait. I did not have quite the time I would have liked to teach you all I might have, Harry. You must go on alone, but I can still coach occasionally from the sidelines.”

“Brilliant!” Ron breathed, leaning over Harry's shoulder to peak at the card.

“Thank you,” Harry said softly. “I… thank you, Professor Dumbledore.”

“Albus,” remonstrated the card, and Dumbledore disappeared to reappear again within the portrait.

“Minerva may also take advantage of this to communicate with you through me. She has quite a job ahead of her keeping Hogwarts together and the students safe, and I hope that you will help her in any way you can.”

“I promise.” Harry confirmed.

“I must confess,” the portrait said with an enormous yawn, “to feeling quite exhausted. It's hard work, acclimatizing oneself to life as a Wizard Portrait. I am sure you have more you wish to tell me, and more questions you wish to ask, but as you now have an accessible manner in which to do so, I think that if you will all excuse me I shall have a little nap.”

“What would you say,” said Professor McGonagall herding them gently away, “to lunch in the Great Hall for old times' sake?”

“I think I can quote Ron when I say `Brilliant',” said Harry. “Thank you.”

“Actually,” said Ron, “I was thinking more along the lines of `Thank Merlin! I'm starving!' but `brilliant' will have to do.

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tbc
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