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like a phoenix from the ashes

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like a phoenix from the ashes

In the years that follow Harry and Ginny’s resolve to start over – however much the resolve to turn their backs on what came before both breaks Harry’s heart and leaves him relieved in equal measure – things are always a little unsettled. They’re friends, but not quite: there’s too much history there to entirely wipe away, however much they try. And yet...

It’s Ginny who isn’t surprised when Harry starts melding magic and mechanics together, not merely copying muggle inventions but going a step further to create new inventions which draw from both worlds, magical and muggle. It’s Harry who isn’t surprised when Ginny talks of going into politics one day, however much her brothers decry her ambition (it’s only Percy who smiles, and says ‘good on you, Ginny,’ and he doesn’t understand, as Harry does, that Ginny’s ambition is for the sake of making the world better, not ambition for its own sake). It’s Ginny who understands the look in Harry’s eyes when he and Hermione put their heads together with Dobby the house-elf, and plan their inevitable revolution.

No one around them can understand why they don’t go to the Yule Ball together, in Harry’s fourth year and Ginny’s third. Everyone thinks that they’re made for each other. Bets may or may not have been laid.

But Harry takes Luna Lovegood to the Yule Ball instead, and they spend all night laughing and chatting, while Ginny goes with quiet, stammering Neville Longbottom.  Harry and Ginny only dance once, in the entire night: but they dance like two people who understand each other inside and out, performing a dance from another world, one which exists in memory alone.

The onlookers only know that Harry and Ginny move like two halves of a whole, anticipating each other’s movements in a way none of the other dancers can match. Not even Fleur Delacour, with all her ethereal beauty, can steal the spotlight back from them for as long as they dance.

And Harry and Ginny – they look into each others’ eyes, and smile ruefully, and continue to dance.

The song they dance to is a Celestina Warbeck cover called ‘Love in the Dark of Night,’ and no one but Harry and Ginny know how aptly it summarises their relationship, as it speaks of heartbreak and never quite being able to break free of a love that binds.

It’s in fourth year that everything goes wrong – Harry’s name is entered into the Triwizard Tournament without his permission, and he is left with no choice but to compete. He earns the highest score in the first two tasks, with a mixture of bravery that has the Gryffindors roaring their approval and of cunning that has the Slytherins reluctantly admitting that perhaps the Gryffindor Golden Boy is a little less golden than they thought.

But Harry enters the Third Task drugged, although no one knows it: secretly fed a poison which slows the reflexes and makes the mind move sluggishly. Later a Hogwarts house elf will cry when she realises how she was tricked by a man masquerading as a trusted professor, but in the meantime, Harry makes his way to the Triwizard Cup, and is pulled away to a dark and gloomy graveyard where trouble awaits. The drug makes him a little too slow, and Harry is unable to dodge the stunning spell which comes his way.

When Harry wakes, bound and bloodied, a resurrected Lord Voldemort is standing over him, smiling with that lipless mouth, red eyes glinting the colour of blood in the moonlit night.

“Where is your wandless magic now, Potter?” Voldemort taunts, his voice soft, and Harry thinks of a tall and handsome boy who spoke in exactly the same cadence, as he stares up at the snake-like horror above him.

Harry is so dizzy he can barely see straight, but when Voldemort challenges him to a mockery of a duel, Harry stands, and takes his wand from Pettigrew’s grip. Harry closes his eyes, and despite the state he’s in, the Force is there, as always, telling him when to duck and dodge and weave and when to fight back – and Harry fights an entire duel with his eyes closed, right up until the last minute when he dives for the Triwizard Cup, and returns to Hogwarts with Voldemort’s yell of fury still in his ears.

It’s Ginny who fights her way through the curious and perturbed crowd, and sees Moody guide Harry to his office instead of the hospital wing, Ginny who stuns the professor in the back, because she is smart enough to see when something isn’t quite right. When the professors come running, they find an unconscious and bound ‘Alastor Moody,’ and a thirteen year old girl struggling to support a boy who by now is barely able to stand, let alone walk.

Harry is confined to the hospital wing for several days, and he dreams of Palpatine and twenty-two long years of horror, of visions of Padme dying in childbirth, of his son writhing and crying out in pain as the Emperor’s Force lightning arcs through him. Harry wakes on the third day, shaking, but lucid for the first time since the drug took hold, and finds Ginny asleep in a chair by his bedside while Ron and Hermione and Luna sit playing exploding snap nearby. They’re delighted to see him awake, and Harry wishes he could smile at them, but he can’t. The memories of what-once-was are still fresh and vivid in his mind in a way they haven’t been for years, and Harry knows that this world could end up just as terrible as the one he left behind.

The year that follows is a dark one. There are Dementors in Little Whinging, and although Harry overcomes them both, they resurrect memories he would rather not relive, and he is left pale and shaking, with eyes that blaze like embers as the Dementors flee his unearthly Patronus. There is a sham of a trial for underage magic and breaking the Statute of Secrecy, and although Harry walks free, it sets the tone of the year to come. The Ministry brands Harry a liar and Dumbledore a fool, and does its best to discredit them both. If Harry doesn’t already know, he learns for certain who his friends are in this year: there are so many willing to see him tumble off the Boy-Who-Lived pedestal, and so few willing to listen to what he has to say. Harry tells them all the truth anyway, and is branded with ‘I must not tell lies’ for his troubles, as his words are explained away as the results of a drug-addled mind.

Harry sees Hogwarts descend into the grip of tyranny, almost as bad as that of the Empire. He knows that Ginny sees the parallels as well. But for all that the situation stokes his carefully-contained rage, at least he is on the right side of things, this time. The boy who was Darth Vader, leading a rebellion against the darkness: the irony is palpable, and Harry laughs bitterly, sometimes, whenever it particularly strikes him.

He hates Dolores Umbridge, with all her petty, pointless malice and the satisfaction she finds in the students’ misery and pain. It takes everything he has not to go searching for her with murderous intent the day that Ginny comes back to the Gryffindor common room with ‘I must not speak out of turn’ engraved on the back of her hand and a look of defiance on her face. Instead, Harry helps prepare a bowl of diluted essence of murtlap for Ginny to soak her hand in, to ease the sting and the likelihood of scarring, and vows to do everything he can to fight the darkness. It may be a pettier less grandiose darkness than Voldemort’s, but is it darkness all the same.

With Hermione’s help, he starts up a Defense against the Dark Arts club in secret, to teach the willing all the things that Umbridge refuses, and much more – and because of Harry’s particular brand of humour, he calls it the Rebel Alliance, or the Alliance for short. No one else understands the joke – not even Ginny, although she looks at him suspiciously when he suggests the name – but it doesn’t really matter. Harry finds it darkly funny, all the same.

Things come to a head when there’s a raid on the Alliance, and Harry is caught while stalling for time so that the other Alliance members can get away safely. Ron and Hermione and Ginny refuse to leave Harry to face the music alone, and so all four of them are marched to the headmaster’s office, the condemned going to face their fate.

Umbridge expels Harry, and when the others refuse to renounce him, expels Ginny and Ron and Hermione as well. The Aurors move to snap their wands, but Harry knocks them all out with the Force before they can get near him and his friends. Only they and Professor McGonagall and Professor Dumbledore are left standing.

“Professor,” says Harry, “I don’t suppose you know of somewhere we could go?”

“Well, Harry, as it happens...” Dumbledore begins his reply, and by the time that Umbridge and the others are brought back to consciousness Harry is in the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, otherwise known as Sirius Black’s hated family home.

Sirius is delighted to have company, but Harry is unimpressed when his godfather tells him that James Potter would have done the same thing Harry did.

“I never knew him, so I wouldn’t know,” says Harry, and watches Sirius’ face fall. He doesn’t say anything more than that, even though he wants to: Sirius is a broken man, after Azkaban and Peter’s betrayal and Harry’s parents’ deaths, and now he is relegated to the sidelines in a war which, in some ways, Sirius thirsts for. Not for the deaths the war will bring; not for the way it will shatter lives. But for a chance at vengeance, the chance do to something useful, the possibility of living – and, Harry suspects, the risk of dying – Sirius desperately wants.

Harry understands Sirius better than he’d like, but he’s grounded in a way that Sirius isn’t. He has Ginny, and Ron and Hermione, and Luna: they are all there with him, their moods grim, but alive, and on his side. Harry has learned to see the joy in life’s possibilities again, instead of mourning what can never be. He hopes that the brewing war will not take that from him.

Harry has other concerns as well. He’s been experiencing pains in his scar and visions of a long, mysterious corridor. The pains in his scar are merely a nuisance: he’s experienced far worse. But the visions terrify him. Anakin Skywalker experienced visions twice: on the first occasion, his mother died at the hands of Tusken raiders, and on the second, his wife died in childbirth. What the mysterious corridor signifies, or what’s behind the door beyond, Harry can’t even begin to guess – but he’s terrified, all the same, that it holds some inescapable fate that will seal his doom.

This time, there is one mistake he doesn’t make. He tells Ginny of the visions. She doesn’t understand them anymore than Harry does, but she succeeds in reassuring him. Whatever waits, she says, Harry will not face it alone. He has his friends to face it with him, and this time he will not be seduced by the dark. Harry looks into Ginny’s resolved face, and knows that as long as she is by his side, there is no obstacle he cannot overcome.

When Harry receives a vision of one of the Alliance students being tortured in the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry, he leaves Grimmauld Place with his friends by his side. He leaves a letter on the kitchen table for Sirius, and sneaks out of the house with Ron and Ginny and Hermione and Luna, and the Ministry’s number one fugitive heads for the Ministry of Magic to save a boy who deserves better than to be abandoned to his fate. He doesn’t leave word for any of the adults but Sirius; he knows that he can only trust the others to stop him.

But when they arrive, there is no sign of Neville Longbottom… only a glass orb with Harry’s name on it. While Harry is pondering the sudden wrongness – this isn’t like his vision – cloaked shadows loom out of the darkness, and Harry and his friends are surrounded by Death Eaters.

“Where is Neville Longbottom?” Harry demands, stepping out in front of his friends, to shield them.

The Death Eaters laugh.

“It’s time you learn the difference between life and dreams, Potter,” says a drawling voice which Harry recognizes, and Lucius Malfoy steps forward, his wand aimed at Harry – and Harry realises that somehow, the vision was falsified.

Neville isn’t here. He was never here. Harry has brought his friends here for nothing.

“Give me the prophecy,” says Mr Malfoy, holding out an imperious hand.

Harry’s eyes widen as he puts two and two together, and realises what the orb is.

“The orb. It’s a prophecy,” he says, and the word tastes bitter on his tongue. “About me and Voldemort.”

“Very good, Potter,” Mr Malfoy drawls, “now give it to me, and no one need get hurt–”

He doesn’t expect Harry to start laughing.

Harry!” Hermione says, in an undertone, her voice close to panicked.

“Harry, what is it?” Ginny asks in his ear so that the Death Eaters can’t hear her, so close that Harry can feel her breath on his skin. Her voice is urgent, but Harry, for the life of him, can’t stop.

Stop laughing!” screeches a female Death Eater; Azkaban has not been kind to Bellatrix Lestrange, and Harry can see the echo of beauty in her face, but nothing more – time and the Dementors of Azkaban have ravaged her. She raises her wand to curse Harry, but Malfoy yells, “Not yet!” and deflects the spell which comes out of her wand. It smashes a shelf full of prophecy orbs, and small, ghostly figures appear, their wispy voices barely audible, before they vanish.

Harry finally stops laughing, and says, “And here I thought I was done with prophecy.”

He feels Ginny’s hand on his arm tighten as she comprehends the reason for his laughter.

“What nonsense are you spouting, Potter?” Mr Malfoy demands. “Hand over the prophecy – now –”

Harry knows that he and his friends don’t have the skill or knowledge to face fully-trained adult wizards in battle. Darth Vader could probably have killed them all easily, but… Harry refuses to return to the Dark Side. There must be another way.

“You want this?” Harry asks, plucking the prophecy orb off its shelf. “Any idea what it says?”

“You jest, Potter,” says Lestrange.

“Nope, not jesting,” says Harry. “What does this thing say?”

“Can it be?” Mr Malfoy looks vindictively delighted, and for a moment very like his son. “Dumbledore never told you?”

Harry goes still, as fury lances through him.

“Dumbledore never told me what?” he demands, and it’s his voice of command, his Vader-voice.

The Death Eaters look startled at his sudden change in demeanour, but only for an instant.

“Why,” says Malfoy, drawing it out, “that the reason that the Dark Lord tried to kill you as a baby… was this prophecy…”

Harry closes his eyes for a moment, against the rush of rage that rises in him. It should not surprise him that Dumbledore has kept this from him… he has always known that the headmaster has an agenda of his own…

“I see,” says Harry, as calmly as he can, opening his eyes. “Well, all I can say is – catch!

“What?” asks Bellatrix Lestrange; but Harry is already throwing the orb high into the air. In the same moment, using the Force, he flings a dozen prophecy orbs off the shelves. The one with his name on it is lost amid the rain of orbs.

“Don’t let any of them break!” Mr Malfoy shouts, and Harry pulls on his friends’ arms and they run.

What follows is a battle through the Department of Mysteries. Harry friends don’t do too badly; he’s drilled them on battle formations at Alliance meetings, pulling out all the stops during his lessons. But they’re up against battle-hardened Death Eaters, and sooner or later, the Death Eaters are going to prevail.

Harry readies himself to do some deeply distasteful things, but at the very last minute, the cavalry arrive.

The Order of the Phoenix streams in, and takes the brunt of the Death Eaters’ attentions upon themselves. Sirius duels his cousin Bellatrix with reckless abandon, and almost takes a dive through an ominous looking archway – Harry saves him at the last minute with the Force, stopping Sirius’ momentum before he can go through the veil that flutters within the archway.

And then Voldemort arrives, and it all really goes to hell.

Harry cannot see, cannot speak, as the monster holds him tightly in its coils and speaks through his mouth. All he knows is pain, and for a moment it is debilitating. But then he understands: this is how the false vision was sent. The enemy has been in Harry’s head, all along.

For a moment Harry knows nothing but despair, but then he thinks of Ginny – of Ron, of Hermione, of Luna – and resolve fills him as he thinks of the love he feels for his friends, of the absolute loyalty he has given them.

Voldemort flees Harry’s body, Harry’s boundless love causing the Dark Lord as much pain as his possession was causing Harry.

Harry sits up as the Minister arrives, just in time to see Voldemort leave. Dumbledore and the Minister are talking, but Harry is too tired, too sore to care what his going on. He staggers to his feet, and his friends rush to him. By some miracle, they have all escaped mostly unharmed.

Afterwards, they return to Grimmauld Place, and Dumbledore asks to speak to Harry.

As soon as they are alone, Harry asks, “He’s in my head, isn’t he? In my scar.”

Dumbledore sighs, and says, “I am afraid so.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Harry shouts, furious. “Those lessons you wanted me to take with Snape, which I refused – they were to keep him out of my head, weren’t they?”

Dumbledore only nods, looking terribly weary. Harry has no sympathy for him.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Harry says again, and this time Dumbledore answers.

He tells Harry of watching him grow up, of falling prey to caring about him, of not wishing to spoil Harry’s childhood. Harry can tell that he is sincere. That doesn’t make it any better.

“My childhood?” Harry echoes. “What childhood? I was abused by the Dursleys for years, until they were stopped – how could I possibly have been a child even if I wasn’t –” he stops.

“Wasn’t what, Harry?” Dumbledore asks gently, and Harry glares at him.

“Oh no,” says Harry. “You don’t get to learn my secrets, after keeping this from me. How is he in my head? What has he done to me?”

And Dumbledore hesitates.

TELL ME!” Harry roars, and everything in the room rattles.

So Dumbledore tells Harry of a theory he has, of Horcruxes, and as the explanation unfolds Harry stares at him in growing horror.

“Is there… is there any way to destroy a horcrux which doesn’t destroy whatever it’s housed in?” Harry asks, even though he already knows.

“I am afraid not, my boy,” Dumbledore says sorrowfully.

There is a heavy silence.

“I have to die, don’t I?” Harry asks, and wonders – is this his penance? To die, now that he has found a new life, one with a chance of happiness in it?

Dumbledore only looks at him, and Harry knows that the answer is ‘yes.’ There is more silence.

“I am deeply sorry to burden you with this, my boy,” Dumbledore says, but Harry’s back straightens, and when he looks at Dumbledore his eyes are blazing.

“If my death will save them –” he says, and there is nothing but determination in his gaze.

“Yes,” says Dumbledore, and his voice is choked. “It will – it will save them, Harry.”

Harry nods, and is resolved, no matter how much the thought of leaving his friends – his angel in particular – hurts.

“How many other horcruxes does he have?” Harry asks. “How many must I destroy, before I die?”

Dumbledore is not quite sure, not yet: he plans to do more research over the summer holidays.

“But I hope to have an answer for you by the beginning of the next school year,” Dumbledore adds.

Before he leaves, he tells Harry that he and the others have been pardoned by the Minister, and that they will be expected back at school tomorrow morning.

Harry somehow keeps his new burden secret, somehow keeps up the pretence of normalcy around the others.

The only one who is not fooled is Ginny. That night, when Harry is lying in bed, staring at the ceiling unable to sleep, the door creaks open, and Ginny pads in, shutting the door behind her.

“Tell me what troubles you,” she says, and Harry shakes his head.

“I can’t,” he says, but Ginny persists.

Finally, he tells her the truth.

“To destroy Voldemort, I have to die,” he blurts out, and sees horror bloom across Ginny’s face as he recounts what the headmaster told him.

“There has to be another way,” Ginny says.

“There isn’t.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Professor Dumbledore was certain,” Harry says, and doesn’t tell her that he’d already worked it out before he’d asked the headmaster for confirmation.

“Oh, so now you trust the headmaster?”

Harry sighs, and rubs at his face.

“Ginny – he’s in my head,” he points out. “Bound to me through my scar. This is soul magic, the deepest magic – it can’t just be undone. Besides…”

“Besides what?” Ginny wants to know.

“Besides,” says Harry slowly, “maybe this is what I deserve.”

“Stop talking like that!” Ginny snaps at him. “You’re not Vader anymore! You’re not even Anakin!”

“Aren’t I?” Harry asks heavily.

“No, you’re not.” Ginny’s voice is firm. “Tomorrow we’re going to tell Hermione everything that Professor Dumbledore told you, and we’re going to find a way to destroy the piece of Voldemort’s soul in your scar without killing you.”

“Gin, just trying to find a way to reliably destroy a horcrux was beyond Professor Dumbledore’s research skills. Theoretically the killing curse should do it, but the only reason he knows that basilisk venom will do the job is that you managed to destroy a horcrux with it, back in your first year.”

“I don’t care,” says Ginny, low and fierce. “I don’t care – you don’t just get to die, Harry Potter. You mean too much to all of us for us to just let you go. We’ll find a way.”

Harry smiles sadly at the strength of her conviction, even though he knows it’s fruitless.

“All right,” he says, to make Ginny feel better, not because he believes there’s any hope for him. “We’ll tell Hermione.”

Thank you,” says Ginny, and she reaches out to squeeze his hand. “You don’t have to face this alone, Harry.”

“You don’t know how much that means to me,” Harry says, and means it. He doesn’t know what he did in this life to deserve such loyal and devoted friends.

In his previous life he’d had Padme, whom he trusted with everything, and Obi-Wan, whom he trusted to an extent. But Obi-Wan had been a Jedi to the core, and there were some things which, Anakin knew all too well, Obi-Wan would never condone – including Anakin’s marriage. Padme had been the only one Anakin could fully trust, and by the end, miscommunication and Anakin’s misplaced loyalty to Palpatine had put their relationship under strain, even if he couldn’t really see it, at the time. But then, everything else had gone to hell – perhaps it isn’t surprising that he tried to cling to his marriage as one last, perfect thing, and closed his eyes to any signs that it wasn’t.

But in this life, he has Ginny, and Ron, and Hermione, and Luna, who he knows would do practically anything for him – and then there’s the Alliance, who while not as devoted as his friends, nonetheless believe in Harry.

Harry has never had this much support in his life with which to weather an oncoming storm, and it occurs to him that he should be grateful. And he is – really. He just wishes that the oncoming storm which his friends will be there to help him weather doesn’t inevitably involve his own death.

So Harry squeezes Ginny’s hand in return, and knows that she understands.

They wait a couple of days before they tell Hermione. Harry can’t bear to tell anyone else, to see the looks on their faces as they realise the inevitability of the truth; but he promised to tell Hermione.

Hermione doesn’t believe him and Ginny at first, when they tell her what Dumbledore said; when she does, she cries, but promises to find a solution, just as Ginny has also promised. Hermione turns her attention from the emancipation of the house-elves (a cause still close to both her and Harry’s hearts) and says that the clue to Harry’s survival must be out there, somewhere.

“I refuse to believe otherwise,” she says, her eyes wet with tears, but her gaze determined.

“Thank you,” is all that Harry can find the words to say, and he’s only a little surprised when Hermione throws her arms around him and hugs him.

Harry spends a couple of weeks at the Dursleys to cement the blood wards, as he does every year, before going to stay with the Weasleys.

Sixth year passes in a blur – there are frequent meetings with Dumbledore in-between classes, research on horcruxes with Ginny and Hermione, and all the usual drama that follows a school full of teenagers.

Ginny is made fifth-year prefect for Gryffindor, and takes her position very seriously.

Hermione isn’t speaking to Ron, who’s started dating Lavender Brown, and being very unkind about it.

“I understand that Hermione has no say in who you date,” says Harry to Ron, after watching Hermione descend into tears a little while earlier thanks to Ron’s jibes, “but do you have to rub her face in it? You’ve been downright nasty to her, this year. What’s going on, Ron?”

Ron goes red in the face, and tells Harry to bugger off. Harry leaves Ron be, after that; and if he spends more time with Hermione and Luna and Ginny and even Neville Longbottom (who’s somehow become one of the friends Harry would trust with anything, over the last few months) than with Ron, well, Ron seems to be too busy with Lavender to notice.

Meanwhile, Hermione isn’t the only one who’s miserable. Ginny is as good a friend to Harry as ever, but she’s just started casually dating Dean Thomas, and…

Harry can’t handle it. He just can’t.

Every time Harry sees Ginny so much as smile in Dean’s direction he goes into a paroxysm of jealousy that he can barely contain. Dean is a nice guy, Harry knows that, and if he were dating anyone else, Harry would be happy for him. But this is Ginny, the love of Harry’s life, and while Harry wishes her every happiness – even if it means she goes on to achieve it without him – there are some things that are too painful to witness in person.

Harry and Hermione take to sitting and commiserating with each other, each of them in love with someone who seems not to return their feelings.

“I wish her every happiness,” says Harry, and means it. “I do. Even if it’s not with me. It’s just – couldn’t she have waited until I was dead, and I wasn’t here to see it?”

Harry!” Hermione rebukes him. “We’ll find a way to save you – we’ve been over this.” But then she sighs, and adds, “I understand the feeling, however. Ron has been… insufferable.”

They sit in silence for a while, and then Hermione says, “Do you and Ginny ever talk about your past lives?”

Harry shakes his head.

“We agreed to move on,” he says. “As long as we kept reliving the past, we were doomed to repeat it. We agreed that we needed to start over if we were to have any chance at happiness.”

“But you’re not happy, are you?” Hermione asks softly.

“No, but she is. And I wouldn’t ruin that for anything – even if it means she’s choosing someone else over me.”

Harry looks mournfully out at the setting sun.

He means every word he said. He just wishes it didn’t hurt so much.

“It’s not serious, her thing with Dean,” says Hermione after a moment. “And if it helps, I think Ginny’s friendship with you is much more important to her than her relationship with Dean.”

“I know.” Harry’s smile comes out twisted and pained. “But what kind of person would I be, Hermione, if I made her pick me over him? Worse – what if I made her choose, and she didn’t pick me?”

They both sigh.

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry Ron is being such an arse,” Harry says after a moment. “I tried to talk to him, but he told me to bugger off.”

Hermione smiles humourlessly.

“Yes, well, that’s Ron.”

Despite all the teenage drama, there are more ominous events coming to pass, and the threat of Voldemort on the horizon looms ever closer.

Harry and Dumbledore have spent the year trying to work out which objects might contain Voldemort’s horcruxes, and near the end of the year, they go to collect one. Things don’t go as planned, and Harry and Dumbledore barely get out of there alive. The situation goes from bad to worse when they discover that in the headmaster’s absence, Death Eaters have invaded Hogwarts.

Professor Dumbledore looks Harry in the eye, and says to him, “Whatever happens here, you must not interfere.”

There is something in the man’s eyes, something desperate, which makes Harry agree. He flings the invisibility cloak back over himself just as Draco Malfoy bursts onto the scene. Harry watches as Dumbledore tries to reason with the boy, tries to convince him to turn away from murder: Malfoy’s hands are shaking, his expression terrified of what he has been asked to do, and for the first time, Harry feels sorry for the self-absorbed brat, who has clearly (finally) come face to face with reality.

Then Snape is there, his wand raised… and Professor Dumbledore says, “Severus, please.”

For a moment, Snape stands there, a look of such self-loathing on his face that it almost hurts Harry to even look at it. Then he casts the killing curse, and Dumbledore doesn’t even try to defend himself. The green light hits him, and he topples over the battlements and plunges to the ground below.

Harry does not understand what he has just seen. If his perceptions are correct… Dumbledore just went willingly to his death at Snape’s hands. But why?

Harry follows Snape and Malfoy into the rest of the castle. The Great Hall is a battleground, and while Harry would love to demand answers from Snape, he stops, because the Rebel Alliance is there, doing their best to defend the school – but they are only children, and frightened, angry ones, at that. Harry joins them, and begins calling out tactical directions, and under his supervision the last of the Death Eaters are either captured or driven from the school.

In the aftermath, the school mourns. Even Harry is not immune: he might not have trusted Dumbledore, and may yet have questions about his death: but he is sorry that the man is dead, all the same.

While no one is paying attention to his comings and goings, Harry breaks into the headmaster’s office and steals the Sword of Gryffindor. Dumbledore’s portrait is there, watching him.

When Harry makes eye contact, Dumbledore’s portrait says, “I’ll explain to Minerva why you need it. Good luck, my boy.”

Harry attends Dumbledore’s funeral two days later, and senses the numerous eyes on him as he pays his respects. War is imminent, and many people look to Harry as a beacon of hope and inspiration.

Harry never wanted to be the Chosen One the first time around; being ‘chosen’ a second time leaves a bitter taste in his mouth. But this is the path that destiny has chosen for him, and if it saves his friends – saves Ginny

Well, it’s a price he’ll pay willingly, no matter how much he resents it.

Three days after the funeral – after school is ended for the year – Harry and his friends meet up, each of them as prepared as they can be for what lies ahead. He says good-bye to Luna and Neville, who plan to continue to organise the Rebel Alliance in Harry’s absence. But Ron, Hermione, and Ginny stay with him, ready to stand with him to the bitter end.

Together, as darkness falls across wizarding Britain, they begin horcrux-hunting.