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Abandon the Prequel: Sixth Year

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Harry Potter stared dully at the man standing in front of him. "You want to train me," he repeated, numb.

Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody kept one eye on the teen while the other – hidden beneath his bowler hat – rolled in its socket, watching tirelessly for any approaching danger. "Dumbledore agreed to let me teach you a couple of tricks," he agreed. "Auror tricks."

Harry offered a bitter smile. "Why? So I can die slower?" He snorted and turned away. "We both know there's no way I could ever match Voldemort in a duel. I'm better off just letting him kill me."

"That's your grief talking. Be sensible."

"I am being sensible," Harry muttered, glancing over his shoulder at the ex-auror. "There's no point wasting your energy on training me when it won't do any good." He shrugged and started away from the man, thinking, If the prophecy is to be believed, it's going to be some secret power I've already got that's going to save me, not some bloody magic that someone wastes time trying to teach me.

"Potter!" Mad-Eye shouted. The boy stopped walking, but didn't turn around. "I'll be here when you've stopped wallowing in self-pity."

Harry spun to deliver a scathing reply, but Mad-Eye had already apparated away with a 'crack'. The teen huffed and kicked at the road beneath his trainers. "If you're going to be an arse, at least stick around so I can tell you where to shove it," he complained, then turned and started back towards his relatives' house. He still had chores to do before Uncle Vernon got home. Don't have time for any training, anyway.

-0-0-0-

A week later, Harry approached Mad-Eye, left eye black and blue. Bruises and small cuts littered his body and he'd developed a limp, but a fire had returned to the impossibly green eyes. "I want you to train me," he said, not giving Mad-Eye the chance to ask about his wounds.

Mad-Eye considered him. "I can get you special dispensation to use magic during your training, but you won't be allowed to use any magic against..." He trailed off, not sure exactly what to call Harry's violent cousin. The bigger boy was a bully, and there was no question in Mad-Eye's mind about who had attacked the younger wizard, but to actually refer to the boy's cousin that way...

Harry smiled grimly and looked down at the scrapes on the palm of his wand-hand. "I don't care. This isn't about Dudley, anyway. This is about me." He looked up and met the single beady eye, determined. "This is about being able to survive."

Mad-Eye nodded, approving. "Good lad. I'll get the forms today. Your lessons start first thing tomorrow morning. Meet me here as soon as you've finished your breakfast."

Harry ducked his head in understanding, then turned to walk back toward his summer home.

"Potter!" Mad-Eye snapped, holding out a potion he'd taken from one of his pockets.

Harry eyed the vial suspiciously for a long moment, then downed it without a word and started back toward the house. By the time he'd reached the front door, his limp was almost completely gone.

Mad-Eye let loose a smile that had sent battle-hardened aurors running. The first thing he needed to do was make sure the boy stopped being so trusting of everything that was handed to him, no matter who offered it.

-0-0-0-

"Stop being so lazy and get the fuck up," Mad-Eye ordered.

Harry groaned and slowly pushed himself to his feet, wincing at how sore everything was. Three weeks of training proved just how hard a task-master Mad-Eye was, and Harry found himself looking forward to the start of school, when he would be able to practise magic without being half-killed by his instructors.

Mad-Eye trained both eyes on Harry as the boy fell into a ready position. Before Harry could even think of a spell, Mad-Eye shot off two in quick succession and the boy was scurrying out of the way of one of them while throwing up a shield against the other.

"Fuck! You bastard!"

Mad-Eye smirked. "You're too lazy," he told the younger wizard as he shot off three more curses.

"Fuck you!" Harry shouted, then groaned as a tripping jinx – a fucking tripping jinx – caught him and sent him sprawling on to his face. "Bastard," he groaned into the ground.

Mad-Eye came to stand next to him, still smirking. "Do you need a break, Potter?"

Harry turned a wary eye on the ex-auror. "No."

"Then get up and let's try that again."

Harry sighed and forced himself back to his feet.

Mad-Eye didn't even wait for the boy to get into the ready position before he started sending off curses, cackling when Harry couldn't even duck the first one. "Too slow, Potter!"

Harry groaned.

-0-0-0-

"Ow," Harry muttered, dropping bonelessly to the ground next to his current tormentor. "Fuck, Mad-Eye."

Mad-Eye raised an eyebrow at the teen, unimpressed. "Next time, duck."

Harry moaned and lay back on the bare floor, wincing when his bruises' bruises landed on some of the tiny stones Mad-Eye had been throwing at him for the past hour. "Merlin-damned..." He sat back up and jerked his wand at the mess, sending the stones skidding across the floor and into a wall. Once the spot was clear, Harry lay back down again.

Mad-Eye watched the whole thing with an amused expression, mystery flask in one hand.

Harry squinted up at him. "You're a bastard. And a sadist."

"My parents were married," Mad-Eye sniped, then proceeded to take a long swig of his flask.

Harry huffed. "Sadist."

Mad-Eye just raised an eyebrow at him.

Harry rolled his eyes and heaved himself up on his elbows, feeling a little too restless to continue laying in the middle of the floor. "What's in that thing?"

"Liquid."

"Pumpkin juice? Water?"

Mad-Eye grimaced and glanced into the opening. "Think less primary school."

Harry snickered, then groaned as some of his bruises reminded him they were there. "Fucking..." He lowered himself back onto the ground. "Firewhiskey?"

"Could be," Mad-Eye allowed.

Harry closed his eyes. " 'Could be'?"

"Don't really remember what sorts of alcoholic drinks I poured in this morning."

Harry snorted, then took a breath and shoved himself back into a sitting position, one hand held out for the flask. "Let's try it, then."

"You're going to spit in it," Mad-Eye accused.

"If I spit in it, you have my permission to make my life hell," Harry replied drily. As if it isn't already.

Mad-Eye considered that for a moment, then held out the flask.

Harry took a sip and grimaced. "Merlin's balls."

Mad-Eye smirked. "I bet you're a light-weight." He held his hand out for the flask.

Harry took another swig, trying not to wheeze at the burn going down. "Not a light-weight," he insisted.

The ex-auror's expression set off warning bells in Harry's head, but the teen refused to back down; his honour was on the line, now.

"Prove it," Mad-Eye insisted, sitting back to watch.

"How much is in here?"

"Ever-full spell."

Harry almost considered letting the issue go, but in the end he took another swig, then handed it over. "Let's see who's out first."

Mad-Eye cackled and took a swig.

Harry had a sinking feeling he was never going to live this down.

-0-0-0-

"Harry!" Hermione cried as soon as the green-eyed teen stepped into the train compartment. She didn't even give him the chance to drop his things before she hugged him around the neck.

Harry stiffened at the initial contact – he always had, and the events of the summer hadn't helped – but forced himself to relax and hug his best female friend back almost immediately. "Hey, 'Mione." He pulled back and smiled at her, then glanced over at where his other best friend sat, grinning. "Ron."

"Hey, mate. We missed you at Headquarters."

Harry shrugged. "I didn't much feel like staying there," he admitted, turning to his trunk, which he'd dropped half out the door. He tapped his wand against the worn leather and cast a feather-light charm, then lifted it up onto the rack above the seats.

Hermione chewed on her bottom lip as she and Harry both sat down. "How have you been?" she asked and they all understood she was asking about Sirius.

Harry shrugged again, uncomfortable with the question, but knowing better than to refuse to answer. "Okay. I've been keeping busy." He absently rubbed a still-healing bruise on his upper arm.

Hermione reached forward and gently lifted the sleeve of his t-shirt. "Harry, what happened?" she whispered.

"Was it your cousin again?" Ron asked, blue eyes dark with anger for his best friend.

Harry shook his head and smiled. "No, it wasn't Dudley," he assured Ron, then looked down at Hermione. "It's fine, really. I just tripped and fell against my desk while I was packing last night."

Hermione gave him a suspicious look, but his smile was honest and she eventually let up, leaning back in her seat. "Okay."

Harry nodded, then glanced over at Ron. "What have you two been up to all summer, then?"

Hermione and Ron traded looks and the red-head launched into a story about something the twins had done just last week.

Harry sat back and allowed himself to relax and laugh.

-0-0-0-

"It's times like this I miss Professor Lupin," Ron complained as they made their way out of the Defence classroom.

"And fake-Moody," Harry agreed, rubbing tiredly at where a headache was forming between his eyes.

Hermione shot him a worried look, then offered, "We could start the DA back up."

"Why?" Ron complained. "We don't have OWLs or anything to worry about this year." He glanced over at Harry, looking almost apologetic. "Not that the DA wasn't fun..."

"A lot of the charm of the DA was the act of sneaking around under Umbridge's nose," Harry agreed.

"Just because we don't have OWLs or NEWTs this year doesn't mean that other people don't," Hermione snapped at Ron.

Ron rolled his eyes. "What do I care for other students?"

"One of those 'other students' is your sister," Hermione reminded him, glaring.

"Huh."

Harry smiled at the two. "We can certainly ask around and see if people are still interested," he offered.

Hermione visibly brightened. "Really? You're okay with doing it again?"

Harry shrugged, still smiling. "Sure. It was a lot of fun, and I wouldn't mind practising some real Defence, even if it's in a group I'm running."

Hermione nodded. "We could actually ask a teacher to help this time," she pointed out.

Ron made a face. "Ugh, no. Hermione, that would so completely ruin it."

Harry chuckled. "I'm with Ron, 'Mione. Sorry."

Hermione sighed and shook her head. "I suppose it wouldn't be the DA if there was a teacher present."

"Exactly," Ron said, nodding.

Harry chuckled again and absently reached up to rub his forehead.

Hermione reached out and laid her hand against the spot that had been hurting. "Harry, your scar is on fire," she whispered, eyes wide in fear.

Harry carefully ducked away from her hand and managed a tired smile. "It just aches a bit," he fibbed. "Don't worry about it."

"Have you been having visions again?" Hermione asked, reaching up again to touch the burning scar.

Harry tried to duck her again, but she backed him against a wall and... well, her cool hand felt nice. "No," he promised, completely honest. When both she and Ron gave him sceptical looks, he added, "I've been working on Occlumency all summer. No visions, but it burns sometimes." He ducked under her hand again and stepped away from the wall. "It's fine. I promise."

Ron and Hermione traded worried looks, but they both nodded and none of them mentioned it again. (Though, Hermione got into the habit of casting a cooling charm on a handkerchief she carried with her and giving it to Harry without a word when he rubbed at his scar.)

-0-0-0-

Harry was enjoying a quiet morning next to the lake – Hermione was looking up spells for the DA in the library and Ron was sleeping in – when Mad-Eye found him.

"Potter," the old auror said as he leant back against the tree Harry was sitting in the branches of.

Harry glanced down at his teacher/tormentor. "Mad-Eye. What are you doing here?"

"Looking for you," Mad-Eye replied and Harry got the feeling that the man's electric-blue eye was staring up at him.

Harry swung his feet a bit, almost sad that his legs weren't long enough to reach the man. "Huh," was his only response.

They remained silent for almost twenty minutes before Harry hopped down and glanced back at the older wizard curiously.

Mad-Eye smiled his disturbing smile and said, "I never said our training was over, boy."

Harry narrowed his eyes. "You never said we were continuing, either."

"We are."

Harry sighed and rubbed at his scar. "Fine. When and where?"

"Saturday mornings. Meet me here by six and don't expect to be back until lunch."

Harry nodded. "Yeah. Okay."

Mad-Eye reached forward and snatched Harry's hand away from the inflamed scar so he could see it better. "You can always quit," he commented, shooting a cooling charm at Harry's forehead.

Harry shrugged. "I could."

Mad-Eye smirked and stepped back. "I'll be seeing you next week, then."

"Yeah," Harry agreed. Mad-Eye had already started walking away when he called, "Hey, Alastor?"

Mad-Eye glanced back at him, cocking one eyebrow.

"Thanks."

"Don't go thanking me yet, Potter; we have almost an entire month to make up for," Mad-Eye shot back, then continued toward the gates of the school.

Harry sighed and turned to the castle, intending to sit down with Hermione and absorb a few spells.

-0-0-0-

"Hey, Harry?"

Harry glanced back at the mostly empty Room of Requirement. Hermione was over in the far corner, reading a book the room had supplied, while Ron was flirting with Lavender by the exit. Neville was the one who'd called his name, though, so Harry offered his roommate a smile and asked, "What's up?"

Neville looked nervous and glanced around to make sure none of the others could hear them. "I'm having trouble with that spell."

Harry blinked and nodded. "Okay. We can work on it in here, or go find an empty classroom, if you'd prefer?"

"The classroom, I think," Neville replied, relieved.

"Okay. Let me tell them we're off, then," Harry said and led the way over to Hermione, who glanced up with a smile. "Hey, 'Mione, I'm off to get some help with Herbology. Nev said he's willing to help me."

Hermione blinked in surprise and glanced over at where Neville was looking a little confused. "Okay. Have fun."

Harry grinned and waved at her, then hurried over to Ron and clapped him on the back. "Hey, Lav. He telling you about his catch yesterday?"

Lavender nodded. "He's such a good keeper," she said with a dreamy smile.

Ron puffed up his chest like a peacock and Neville thought he heard Hermione scoff.

"You should tell her about the dive you managed just before we ended," Harry told Ron, then turned to Lavender. "It was brilliant."

Lavender's eyes lit up and Ron grinned at Harry. "Really?"

"Brilliant," Harry assured him, nodding. "And I'd stay and help you tell her all about it, but I'm off with Neville. That okay?"

"Yeah, yeah. Have fun," Ron replied, already turning back to Lavender about the dive he'd supposedly made yesterday.

Neville snorted as they stepped out of the room. "Seriously, Harry?"

Harry grinned a bit madly. "They make it so easy," he said by way of explanation.

"You could have just told them you were helping me with a spell."

"And deny myself that feeling of accomplishment?"

Neville laughed. "Oh, never mind. You can help me with the Transfiguration essay, too."

Harry snickered and draped an arm around Neville's shoulders. "What makes you think I know anything about Transfiguration?"

"Seriously? After I just saw you pull that on Ron and Hermione?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I'll help you. But, really, what would you do? Tell them I'm ditching them to hang out with you because I think they're being stupid?"

"Is that why you've been ditching them lately?"

Harry snorted. "Yes. As soon as they get together and break up, things will be so much easier."

"You don't think they'll stay together?"

"Those two? They'd kill each other in their sleep."

Neville laughed.

-0-0-0-

"Hey, Alastor?" Harry asked one afternoon in mid-November.

Mad-Eye glanced up from where he was healing Harry's broken ankle. "What?"

"Last week you hit me with a curse I didn't know," Harry said, watching Mad-Eye like a hawk.

"I hit you with lots of curses you don't know," Mad-Eye retorted, turning his attention back to his healing spell. "Be more specific."

"The daggers."

"Centum pugionis; the Curse of a Hundred Daggers."

Harry nodded. "Can you teach it to me?"

Mad-Eye glanced at the teen, frowning. "Why?"

Harry blinked. "Because it could be useful?"

"It's Dark," the ex-auror said, getting to his feet.

Harry stared at his mentor for a moment. "But you... You hate the Dark Arts."

"I dislike people who use illegal Dark magic to do harm to others," Mad-Eye corrected. "It's easier to–"

"Fight things you already understand," Harry muttered, pulling himself to his feet and testing his ankle. "Yeah, I know. But you've spent your whole life hunting Dark wizards and witches."

"The ones who use the magic for nefarious purposes," Mad-Eye agreed. "Did you think Crouch would have got away with allowing use of the Unforgivables during the war if I wasn't willing to use them myself?"

Harry nodded. "Then... will you teach me the spell?"

Mad-Eye took a moment to watch his student with eyes that pierced through the Gryffindor bravado to the terrified teenager beneath. His real eye widened minutely. "You've already tried casting a Dark spell."

Harry looked down at his wand and shrugged. "It didn't work," he admitted. "Not really."

Mad-Eye grunted and waved a couple of chairs over from where they'd shoved them against the wall. "Sit," he ordered as he sat in the chair that stopped next to him.

Harry considered the second chair warily and shot a couple of spells at it to block any hexes Mad-Eye might have added before sitting.

Mad-Eye grinned at Harry's paranoia for a moment, then leant back in his chair. "What do you know about the Dark Arts? Specifically, the difference between them and the Light Arts."

Harry swallowed and thought back to the lessons with the fake Moody. "While the Light Arts have the potential to cause harm, it's not in their nature to actually do so. Most Light Arts involve simple spells that don't actually have to damage anything or are meant to protect the caster." He scratched the back of his head. "Like, uhm, most shield spells are Light, and the ones that aren't are usually Grey. Neutral. The Tickling Charm is a Light spell, since it's not intended to cause harm, but it's possible under the right circumstances."

"That's not the Dark Arts," Mad-Eye commented drily.

Harry scowled. "I'm getting there." He huffed and rubbed at where he could feel a bruise forming over his knee. "The Dark Arts are naturally intended to cause harm. They're damaging either mentally or physically and there's really no way to use them that wouldn't result in harm. A few of them have been shown to be semi-helpful in certain instances, however, so they're legal, but you'll still get looked at funny for using them."

Mad-Eye shrugged. "Why couldn't you get the spell you cast to work? Do you know?"

Harry was silent for a long moment, debating his response. Mad-Eye watched him think, fake eye rolling around and watching the front door of the safe house they'd taken to using. Technically, he'd only had the use of the building for the summer, but what the Ministry didn't know wouldn't hurt them, and the boy-saviour needed the training, no matter what Albus said.

"I didn't want it enough," Harry finally said. "I was..." He winced minutely, then sat straight in his chair, determined. "I was angry, but just being angry isn't enough. I didn't...didn't want it."

Mad-Eye nodded. "Close enough. As with Light magic, casting Dark spells requires that you know how the spell is cast, as well as how it works. The difference, however, is that you need to understand and accept the consequences of casting the Dark spell for it to fully work. If you were to cast the Killing Curse, for example, you could know how it works and that someone will die at the end, but if you cannot accept that death, the spell won't work."

Harry nodded slowly. "So, it's not that I didn't want it enough, it's that I couldn't bring myself to cause her pain..."

Mad-Eye narrowed his eyes, suspicious, but agreed, "Most likely. Those raised as Light wizards often find themselves struggling to get past the acceptance of what will happen once the spell is cast." He motioned for Harry to stand and pointed at the far wall. "Try casting at the wall," he ordered.

Harry coughed. "Erm, what should I try casting?"

Mad-Eye grunted. "Centum pugionis. That's what got us started on this. You've seen the effects–"

"Been on the receiving end, more like."

"–and you know how to cast the spell. You can't harm the wall; at least, not irreparably."

Harry nodded and took a deep breath, then focussed on the wall and whispered, "Centum pugionis."

About twenty daggers appeared in the air and sailed into the wall. They disappeared when Mad-Eye smacked the back of Harry's head, causing the teen to lose his focus. "Hey! What the fuck?"

"Try it again," Mad-Eye ordered. "You're going to damage the wall. Get over it."

Harry gritted his teeth and focussed on the wall again. "Centum pugionis!" he snapped, adding an extra jab to the wand movement.

Almost a full hundred daggers slammed into the wall.

Mad-Eye nodded. "Better. Again. And get rid of the extra movement."

Harry grunted his acknowledgement and cast again.

The full hundred slammed into the wall. Curiously, they seemed to form the shape of a man with a peg leg.

"Cute," Mad-Eye commented, earning him a smug look from the boy as the daggers faded from sight. "Now, try casting the Dark spell you failed with before."

Harry turned to the man, disbelieving. "The fuck?"

Mad-Eye physically turned Harry back to the wall, ignoring his involuntary stiffening. "Cast, Potter."

Harry eyed Mad-Eye for a moment, fear warring with disbelief in his eyes. Finally, when Mad-Eye just continued to stare at him, Harry turned towards the wall, took a fortifying breath and whispered, "Crucio."

Nothing happened when the red light impacted, but neither wizard had expected a wall to react to the pain curse.

"You've been hit with the Cruciatus before," Mad-Eye commented when Harry just stood there, pale.

Harry nodded. "Yeah."

"You know what it feels like. Can you accept that, by casting that curse, you'll be subjecting someone to that much pain?"

Harry swallowed and closed his eyes. "I don't know," he whispered.

"Good," Mad-Eye replied and Harry looked at him in surprise. "Potter, the day you know for certain that you can cause someone so much pain, is the day I hunt you down. But so long as you stop to think, stop to wonder..."

Harry nodded. "Okay."

Mad-Eye turned away from the boy and waved their chairs back into the pile. "Now, did you want to learn any other Dark spells?"

Harry considered that for a moment, then shook his head. "Not today," he modified. "Maybe next week."

Mad-Eye grunted, then motioned Harry to his usual corner of the room and pulled out his wand to knock some spells into the boy.

-0-0-0-

Harry got an unexpected visitor during the Christmas break. He was just finishing his breakfast when Remus Lupin walked into the Great Hall. The werewolf looked exhausted, but his expression brightened when he noticed Harry and his friends.

"What's Professor Lupin doing here?" Ron wondered around a mouthful of scrambled eggs.

"Ronald, that's disgusting," Hermione muttered, not bothering to look up from the book she'd checked out of the library last night. From what little Harry had seen of the book, it was something that had been published earlier that year for Arithmancers. Hermione, being who she was, had checked it out as soon as the library had received a copy, even though she'd had no intention of becoming an Arithmancer.

Lupin stopped next to where Ron was hunched over his food. "Good morning, all," he said, smiling just the slightest.

"What can we do for you, Professor?" Hermione asked, politely closing her book.

Lupin looked a little uncomfortable. "I was hoping to have a word with Harry, actually. If that's okay?"

Hermione and Ron both glanced over at Harry, who blinked in surprise. "Erm, sure?" the be-speckled wizard replied, rubbing the back of his neck. He wondered if this had anything to do with Sirius' will, wherein Harry's late godfather had declared that Lupin would from then-on be Harry's unofficial godfather, even if the werewolf could never, legally, claim the position.

Lupin's smile widened just the slightest and he motioned to Harry that they should make their way out of the Great Hall.

They were waiting on a staircase between the fifth and sixth floors when Harry asked, "Not to be rude, sir, but..."

"Why am I here?" Lupin replied, amber eyes amused.

Harry grimaced. "Yeah."

Lupin nodded toward the staircase that had finally come to a stop in front of them and they started up. "I was told you've seen Sirius' will?"

Harry nodded and glanced side-eye at the werewolf. "Yeah. I know he made you my godfather in his stead."

Lupin nodded. "I was hoping you might be willing to give it a try. My being your godfather. I mean, I know I can never offer you a home – you're getting a bit old for that, anyway – and I could never replace Sirius, but if you ever needed anyone to talk to, or..." Lupin swallowed, looking nervous.

It took Harry a moment to realise that they'd stopped on a staircase and that he was staring down at the werewolf thoughtfully. His mind was awhirl with questions, hopes, and fears. His own stupidity had led to Sirius' death; could Harry chance getting too close to his ex-professor, only to lose him?

Before Harry had fully sorted out the mess of his emotions, his mouth opened as if of its own volition and his voice said, "Yeah... I...I think I'd..." Harry swallowed and found he had control of his mouth and voice again. "I'd like to try," he finished.

Lupin's responding smile was worth every moment of uncertainty.

-0-0-0-

Harry was sitting with Hermione, working on homework; Ron had hurried off earlier, looking shifty, and the other two members of the trio had traded raised eyebrows, then both shrugged and gone back to their work.

"Remus is supposed to be coming by this weekend," Harry offered, setting down his quill and stretching.

Hermione smiled at him. "I'm glad you two are getting on so well. You're happier now than you've been since..."

"Since the end of last year," Harry finished for her. Hermione was always careful about mentioning the end of the last year, and while it occasionally drove Harry to filching Mad-Eye's flask of alcohol, he loved her all the more for it, especially on the days where he woke up from nightmares and didn't want to be reminded of his part in the whole mess.

"I'm happy for you," Hermione said.

"Thanks," Harry replied, grinning. "I like having a godfather around."

Hermione opened her mouth to respond, but the portrait hole opened at that moment and in stumbled Ron, red as the tulips in his arms and wheezing for air. Seamus and Dean climbed in behind him, smiling in the way one does when one knows something is about to happen.

"This can't be good," Harry moaned, rubbing at his face.

Hermione absently handed Harry the cloth she kept for his scar and Harry gratefully touched it to his forehead as Ron walked stiffly over to their table. He froze for a minute, staring at Hermione, then held out the flowers and gushed, "HermioneGrangerwouldyoupleaseagreetobemygirfriend?"

The whole common room had fallen silent and everyone was either staring at Ron in confusion or looking at Hermione to see how she'd respond.

"Could you... repeat...that?"

Ron looked about ready to have an aneurism, so Harry helpfully translated, " 'Mione, I'm pretty sure he's asking you out."

Ron nodded his head rather violently.

Hermione blinked in surprise then reached out and took the flowers. "I would love to, Ron."

Ron fell into the nearest chair with a breath of relief while the others in the common room either cheered or booed, depending on their personal feelings for the two involved.

Harry grinned and gathered his books. "I'll let you two alone," he promised, then moved over to where Neville was already clearing him a seat. "Hey, Nev."

"Hey, Harry," Neville replied. "So, how long do you think they'll last?"

"Three weeks," Harry said without pause.

"I give them one," Dean commented as he and Seamus joined their roommates.

"I give them a day," Seamus offered.

"What do you think, Nev?" Harry asked, turning back to the quietest sixth year.

Neville smiled at the couple. "I give them a month."

Harry pulled a galleon out of his pocket and set it in the centre of the table. "You're on."

The other three quickly added a galleon each and they talked Ginny in to holding onto the money until the bet was resolved.

"What if none of you win?" Ginny wondered. "Like, what if they never break up?"

"I'll change my name to Tom Riddle," Harry retorted, rolling his eyes.

"Is that Potterese for 'those two will never last'?" Seamus wondered.

"Pretty much," Ginny agreed, stuffing the parchment with their dates on it in her pocket with the four galleons.

"Then, yeah. What Harry said."

Harry snorted.

-0-0-0-

In the end, Neville had been the closest; Ron and Hermione were two hours shy of their one month anniversary when Ron said something stupid which, of course, started the row that ended the relationship.

"Sorry, boys," Ginny said, handing the four galleons over to Neville.

"Ah well," Seamus said, having long ago given up on winning.

"It was fun," Harry agreed.

"It kept life interesting," Dean added. "Now what are we going to amuse ourselves with for the next three months?"

"We could start making bets on Shay's new boyfriend," Harry suggested, grinning at the Irish boy.

Seamus choked and stared at Harry with wide eyes. "How'd you–"

"I didn't," Harry replied, eyes twinkling. "But you broke up with that Ravenclaw boy last week and you've usually picked up a new one within four days."

"Who is it, then?" Ginny asked, leaning against their table.

"Nuh-uh. Not telling a soul."

"We'll just have Harry follow you everywhere," Dean decided.

"Guys!"

Harry snorted at the terrified look Seamus sported. "If I swear not to go hunting, will you promise to tell us once you've dumped him?"

"Harry," Ginny whined.

Seamus swallowed and nodded. "Promise. Gryffindor's honour."

"I promise I won't go stalking you," Harry replied. "Gryffindor's honour."

Dean and Ginny both groaned.

"The way Seamus goes through boyfriends, we'll know by Ron's birthday next week," Neville commented.

"Good point," Dean realised.

Seamus sighed and covered his face with his hands.

-0-0-0-

Harry was up late, playing Exploding Snap with Ron, when they saw it.

"Is that... light in the forest?" Harry asked, having seen the glint out of the corner of his eye.

"Probably just Hagrid," Ron muttered, wiping at his singed face. "You good for another game? Harry?"

Harry didn't reply, too busy counting the lights that flickered between the trees. Twelve...fourteen...sixteen...twenty-three? Shit!

"Harry?" Ron said again, walking over to the window. He glanced down at the trees and drew in a sharp breath. "That's not Hagrid."

Harry pursed his lips in thought, then pulled out his DA coin and switched the writing to say, 'DEs in Forest. Ent. Hall 10m'

Ron pulled his coin out and stared down at it for a moment, then shoved it back into a pocket. "Harry, we can't take on that many Death Eaters!" he hissed.

"All we have to do is hold the doors," Harry whispered back.

"Tell the teachers! They can lock the school down!"

"The school won't be fully locked down until they're already here!" Harry whispered angrily, pointing out to where the lights were starting to pour out of the forest.

Ron looked down at the line of lights headed their way, then nodded and hurried towards the portrait hole, where other Gryffindors from the DA were gathering.

Hermione took over before Harry could get close enough. "Willard Harcourt, go back to your dorm," she ordered the only second year in the mix. The boy looked a bit angry, but made his way back up the stairs. Hermione turned to the four third years. "I need you four to get the teachers; let them know what's going on." The kids nodded and dashed out the door, so Hermione turned to Harry. "Change the medallions so anyone below fourth year stays out of the fight."

Harry nodded and quickly changed it, then motioned for Hermione to lead the way out.

On their way, they ran into the group from Ravenclaw. They had forced their fourth years to stay behind, as well as the third and second years.

Hermione fell back from the lead as they reached the second floor, so Harry hurried forward and led them on.

By the time they reached the entrance hall, a few Death Eaters had already reached the doors, but the Hufflepuffs were mostly holding them off, and the addition of the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws pushed the lot out completely.

As soon as the doors were shoved closed, the Head Girl started up the series of locks to keep it barred. Harry and Hermione set about directing the DA to spread out and cover all the windows on the first floor, ordering them to make sure they could always see two other members. Then Harry led his two best friends, Ginny, Luna, and Neville into the Great Hall, where they spread out and kept their eyes on the windows and the door out to the gardens.

By the time the professors got down to the entrance hall, the front door was barred and the DA was sitting in wait. Those near the entrance hall listened in as Professor McGonagall gave orders to the other professors to spread out among the other floors of the castle, in case the Death Eaters thought to come in by broom. She could also be heard complaining about the Headmaster's poor timing for leaving the castle.

Everyone was just beginning to relax after an hour, when Marietta Edgecombe dashed into the Great Hall, eyes wild. She made for the door out into the garden, ignoring the other DA members' questions. She had just grabbed the deadbolt to pull it open when Cho Chang ran into the Hall. "No! Stop her! She's going to let them in!"

Six stupefyes slammed into Marietta from behind, but not before she managed to un-do the deadbolt. Her body was slammed violently into the wall behind the door as the Death Eaters streamed in, flinging curses left and right.

The six students who had been in the room already were able to duck down behind some tables for protection, but Cho was completely in the open and she fell to a gold curse thrown by the fourth person through the door.

"Forget about Cho," Harry ordered, gritting his teeth and flinging curses over the edge of the table in the general direction of the doorway. "If they make it into the entrance hall, we're screwed."

The other students nodded, mouths tight, and they all threw curses like their lives depended on it. They managed cover for the other DA members who had followed Cho while they hurried her body out of the Great Hall and a few joined them behind the tables, which Ron and Hermione had turned on their sides to make better shields.

They were all starting to get tired when Harry had an idea, and he only hoped he could pull it off. "Cover me," he whispered to Hermione and Neville, who knelt on either side of him.

"What are you doing?" Hermione hissed, even as she and Neville rose to help cover Harry's mad attack.

"Something a little stupid," Harry admitted, then jumped to his feet and silently cast the Curse of a Hundred Daggers. Before Harry was even back under cover, the spellfire from the Death Eaters was noticeably less and they could hear the shock from their opponents as some of the Death Eaters fell dead.

"What did you just do?" Hermione whispered, eyes wide.

Harry smiled grimly. "Nothing illegal," he promised, then glanced over the edge of the table and shot off a couple of stunners at the heads he could see.

" 'Nothing illegal'?" Hermione squeaked.

"Retreat!" they heard the Death Eaters shout. "Retreat!"

"Stay down!" Harry shouted to a couple of excited Hufflepuffs.

"But they're leaving!" one of them shouted back and poked her head back over the table.

Ginny reached over and tugged the girl back under cover as a spell zoomed over their heads. "They're not gone yet, idiot."

Harry motioned to Ron and Luna, who were at opposite ends of the table, for them to all peek over at the same time. The other two nodded and Harry gave a silent count, then they all peeked over.

The other side of the Hall was empty and the doorway out to the gardens was wide open.

Harry motioned for Ron and Luna to each creep around the ends of the tables. They needed to make sure there weren't any Death Eaters lying in wait on the far side of the Hall. Both nodded again, and slowly crept around, keeping low. Meanwhile, Harry cast a silencing charm on his feet, then hopped over the table and started creeping straight through the debris. Behind them, Hermione, Neville, and Ginny coaxed the other DA members into keeping up a dialogue about what they should do now, covering any accidental sounds by the three out from cover.

On the far side of the Hall, all was silent. Harry, Ron and Luna made it safely around and quickly verified that all the Death Eaters were either dead or stupefied.

"What spell did this?" Ron whispered, staring over the bleeding corpses with a touch of green.

Harry turned away and closed and locked the garden door, then checked on Marietta. He closed his eyes in sorrow when he found she was dead, but he wasn't surprised.

"Keep the younger years back," Ron snapped angrily, and Harry looked around to where the students were coming out of hiding and poking their heads inside the Great Hall from the entrance hall.

"Show's over," Snape snapped as he swept into the room. "Dorms. Now."

No one dared defy the angry Potions professor, so everyone turned and filed out.

"Potter, Granger, Weasley, stay," Snape ordered. After a beat, he added, "Mr Weasley. Miss Weasley, return to your dorm."

As the last of the students filed out, Professors McGonagall, Sprout, and Flitwick hurried in.

"Hermione, don't come over here," Ron pleaded as the last of the Gryffindor Trio started around the table that had been blocking her view.

Hermione swallowed, determined, and stepped around. As soon as she saw the line of bodies she gasped, then gagged and hurried back around the edge of the table to throw up. Ron ran to join her, holding her hair and rubbing her back.

Harry leant down and gathered Marietta in his arms, refusing to leave the Ravenclaw to rot with the line of Death Eaters. As he lifted her away from the wall, her sleeve fell back, and he closed his eyes against the sight of the Dark Mark. "Fuck," he whispered into the red-blonde hair, but he still carried her away from the line of masked faces who were smiling at him as though they were performing some sort of demented play.

The professors stood in silent horror as Harry passed them at the end of the table. None of them threw up as Hermione had, but they'd all lived through the first war. They still looked sick, though.

Harry stopped next to the slumped form of Cho and gently placed Marietta next to her. A quick check showed him that Cho was also dead and Harry closed his eyes for a moment, feeling numb. Why does everyone close to me die? he wondered.

He stood to go back inside, but then paused to glance back down at the two dead girls. Slowly, he knelt in front of them again and gently touched what little he could see of the Dark Mark from beneath Marietta's ripped robe. :Go away,: he whispered to the tattoo, hoping it might listen to the language that only he and its maker could speak. :She's dead. Go.:

The tattoo squirmed a bit and then, much to Harry's relief, faded away.

:Thank you,: he said, then stood and returned to the hall.

"What sort of spell could do this, though?" Professor Sprout was asking as Harry got within hearing range.

Over Sprout's head, Harry met Snape's dark gaze. The man knew what the spell was – probably could guess as to who cast it. Harry wondered if Snape would tell the other Heads, or if they'd be left to wonder which child might be going Dark; there had been almost twenty of them behind the table by the end of the whole mess.

"It's no Light magic," Flitwick squeaked. "Severus, do you know this spell?"

Snape again glanced past the other professors to where Harry stood just behind them. A silent question in his eyes: 'What will you do?'

"It's the Curse of a Hundred Daggers," Harry supplied, noticing Ron helping Hermione over out of the corner of his eye.

"And how do you know that, Mr Potter?" McGonagall asked.

Harry pressed his lips together for a long moment, then answered, "I'm the one who cast it."

The responding roar was deafening as the three Light professors all tried denying the facts as loudly as they could. Hermione looked sick and Ron was starting to get red in the face, which always preceded shouting. The only silent one was Snape, and he just walked around the table and started casting spells to clean up some of the mess. Harry thought Snape had the right of it, for once, but he was too busy being yelled at to help.

In the end, it was Hermione who stopped the yelling; shortly after Ron started in on Harry for going Dark – One Dark spell does not a Dark wizard make, Ron, Harry wanted to point out – Hermione let out this terrible cry and clutched at her head, tears streaming down her face.

Harry hurried forward and pulled her in for a hug, glaring at his best friend and the three teachers who had been yelling. "If you're quite through, I think Hermione could use a trip to the infirmary," he said coldly.

The teachers all traded uncomfortable looks, so it fell to Snape to order, "Weasley, take Granger to Madam Pomfrey. Potter, get over here and clean this up."

Harry silently passed Hermione off to an ashamed Ron, then stepped around the table and started casting spells to get rid of the blood. After a while, the other professors came around to help.

By the time the aurors arrived and could be let in through the front door, the four professors and Harry had fixed the mess of dead Death Eaters to look like one of the ceiling supports had fallen on them, so no one ever needed find out that Harry had ended the battle with a Dark curse. A legal Dark curse, but still.

The Boy-Who-Lived would never use Dark magic.