Midnight Duel, Midday Love
Cho stopped in front of the large statue guarding the office of the headmaster. Frowning deep in thought, she wondered what password Dumbledore would be using now. She and Harry had enjoyed a few laughs over the headmaster's choices in the past, but now, even knowing the password was probably a sweet, Cho had no idea.
"Um, headmaster? Help?" she said hopefully.
Cho jumped and managed to bite back a yelp of alarm at the sudden sound of stone grating on stone. Slowly, the head of the statue turned to face her, its eyes moving independently to finally focus on her. She swallowed nervously.
The statue seemed to find what it was looking for, because it moved aside and revealed the moving staircase.
At the top of the stairs, Cho gently knocked on the door, which swung open at her touch. Dumbledore was looking at Professor Moody's head in the flames in his fireplace.
"Thank you Alastor. I shall see you in the morning."
The Defense professor nodded and disappeared. Even to the headmaster, he only spoke when it was necessary, Cho thought.
Dumbledore turned to face his new guest. "Welcome, Miss Chang. Please, take a seat. Would you like a sherbet lemon?"
Cho shook her head. "I need to find Harry."
Dumbledore chuckled. "It would appear that Mr. Potter's traits are rubbing off on you. Without further ado, I will inform you that Harry has been found. He is currently safe at Black's Pad, under the watchful eye of both his godfather and Defense professor. I have already dispatched another level of protection for him too."
Cho visibly sagged as relief flooded through her. "Can I go and see him?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "Harry has had a very busy evening, Miss Chang. According to Sirius, he is out like a light. Given the emotional turmoil he has suffered this evening, I have no doubt he will remain asleep for some hours yet."
"Still, I'd like to be there for him when he wakes up, sir."
Dumbledore nodded. "I understand your desire, but I'm afraid that will not be possible." he held up a hand to stop Cho's protest before it began. "Please, sit. There are a great many things to discuss, and unfortunately, Harry may not be returning to Hogwarts."
Cho's mouth dropped open at that announcement. Without conscious thought, she found herself sitting in one of Dumbledore's comfortable armchairs.
"Now, first of all, your vision was surprisingly accurate, Miss Chang. Harry did indeed duel with Victoria Pritchart this evening. In front of a burning building, just as you predicted."
Cho nodded, not doubting it for an instant. "And he isn't hurt?"
Dumbledore smiled. "Not in the slightest, at least physically."
Cho frowned. "He has been hurt mentally?"
Dumbledore shook his head slightly, then stopped, thinking deeply. "I had meant emotionally, Miss Chang. However, he may well have been mentally harmed by tonight's events."
"What happened?" Cho asked, exasperated.
Dumbledore looked down at his clasped hands, then stood up and turned to look out the window into the inky dark sky. "I must ask something of you first, Miss Chang. Something that you will probably agree to willingly now, but feel a great temptation to actually do once you hear of tonight's events."
Cho tilted her head to one side. "What?"
Dumbledore turned his head towards her, but didn't completely face her. "I must ask that you do not go and visit Miss Weasley again. Not tonight, nor when she has recovered."
Cho sat back, blinking in surprise. "Can I ask why?"
"The answer will undoubtedly send you to her immediately. I need your assurance you will not go to her." Dumbledore turned completely about to face her.
Cho shook her head. "Can I go and see her one last time? She has been so supportive of Harry over the last few weeks that I'd just feel bad if I couldn't thank her."
Dumbledore paused, and then shook his head. "I don't believe Miss Weasley would react to your presence the way you believe she would. Please. Promise me you will not seek her out."
Cho frowned, but nodded. "Very well. I promise."
Dumbledore nodded, looking relieved. "It was Harry who attacked Miss Weasley tonight. He lashed out at her with an unfocused, wandless, magical blast."
"Why?" Cho whispered, shocked.
Dumbledore sighed, obviously frustrated. "There was the usual sprig of mistletoe hanging inside the door to the Great Hall. When Harry and Miss Weasley kissed, he recognised her kiss, and knew he had kissed her before."
The colour drained from Cho's face as she realised what the headmaster was saying. "No!"
Dumbledore nodded, suddenly looking older than Cho had ever seen him. "On recognising his rapist, Harry's instincts took over, his unconscious magical assault putting Miss Weasley in the hospital."
Cho put her face in her hands. When she looked back up, her expression was one of stone. "Why? Why did she do it?"
"Miss Weasley chose not to confide her motive to me. I suspect it has something to do with her crush on Harry growing into an obsession."
Cho abruptly stood, and began pacing. Finally, she rounded on the headmaster.
"Just what are you going to do about it?" she demanded, ignoring her inner voice that told her she was letting her anger out on someone who didn't deserve it.
Dumbledore took off his half-moon glasses and carefully laid them down on his massive desk. He gently massaged his temples with his fingertips before answering. "Nothing."
Cho stopped pacing, sure she had just heard wrong. "Pardon?"
"Nothing, Miss Chang. At least, nothing publicly."
Her inner voice silenced its objections. "Would you care to explain why?" she said carefully.
Dumbledore nodded. "So far, there have been three unpublicised attempts to remove Arthur Weasley from office. Two of those attempts were shown to have been financed by people with sympathies to the Dark Lord. The other was a more direct method. Fortunately for us, Arthur Weasley is a very misunderstood, and underestimated man. He managed to fight off the assassination attempt."
Cho swallowed and sat back down.
Dumbledore continued. "If any of the attempts had been successful, the current government model of the wizarding world would have collapsed. Anarchy would have reigned. Imagine the sort of problems the wizarding world would have to overcome without the services of the aurors or the magical reversal unit. Our presence would have undoubtedly come to the notice of the muggle world.
"From that standpoint alone, Arthur must remain in power. There is no one else with the required political skills that has both the reputation for honesty and lack of personal ambition that allows members of the public to trust him. At this time, after being lied to for so long by Fudge's administration, there is an amazing lack of trust among the wizarding public for the Ministry.
With a snarl, Cho growled, "What has this got to do with Harry?"
Dumbledore sighed. "Should it become public that the daughter of the Minister raped The-Boy-Who-Lived, Arthur will be forced to resign his position. Nothing could be worse, Miss Chang."
Cho's anger built up higher. "So you are going to just let her get away with it?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "No, once Miss Weasley has physically recovered, I shall be informing her mother of her actions. Though she will not be publicly punished, many people in the wizarding world will see my actions as violations of the Geneva convention on deploying cruel and unusual weapons." he said with a small smile, hoping to lighten the mood.
It didn't work. "Not funny." snapped Cho.
Dumbledore sobered. "I know, my small attempt at humour was quite ill-timed. But the fact remains that because of Arthur's precarious position, no action can be taken against his daughter."
Cho shook her head. "I can't believe this. Ginny is a rapist; Harry was her victim. For punishment, you are going to tell her mother, and from what you said before, expel Harry?"
Dumbledore nodded, a pained expression on his face. "Harry's actions forced this, Miss Chang. He-"
"Don't you dare try and blame this on Harry! Just don't you dare!" Cho screamed.
Silence filled the room for long moments after Cho's outburst.
"I'm sorry." Cho finally said, uncomfortable at how she had just spoken to the headmaster.
"Quite understandable, Miss Chang. Though I must say it is difficult to believe that it is the same student in front of me. The last time you were in my office alone, I could barely detect a spark of any emotion."
Cho blushed. "Are you really going to expel Harry?"
"I can't think of any other outcome, Miss Chang. Harry has the ability to live on his income from his assets and investments quite handsomely. In fact, I don't believe he could spend his yearly income if he tried. He will not want for anything."
"Except an education, companionship and his reputation." Cho said. "It sounds remarkably like you are trying hard to justify your decision.
Dumbledore sighed and picked up his glasses. "It pains me to have to do this, but the belief that Harry would agree with me does ease my conscious somewhat."
"You think he will agree with you?"
"I believe so, Miss Chang."
Cho shook her head. "He may have, before the entire world betrayed him. He may have, before he was raped by a friend. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he doesn't agree."
Dumbledore closed his eyes in resignation. What happened next left Cho feeling petrified, alone, and vulnerable.
A tear slid down Dumbledore's cheek.
Hermione knocked on the large oak door of her head of house's rooms. A crisp, angry voice responded with "Enter!"
Hermione swallowed nervously. She had never heard McGonagall speak like that before.
Turning the ornate door handle, Hermione cautiously entered McGonagall's study. The sight of McGonagall's study in disarray left her speechless.
On a normal day, McGonagall's desk would have been pristine; each stack of paper organised into perfectly squared piles.
Tonight, the Transfiguration teacher appeared to have swept the contents of her desk off onto the floor in a fit of anger.
"What is it, Miss Granger?" snapped McGonagall at the open-mouthed prefect.
"Um, I, er..."
"Out with it, girl!"
"I'dliketouseyourfire." blurted Hermione.
McGonagall frowned. "I beg your pardon?"
"I'd like to use your fire, please."
"What's wrong with the fire in the Gryffindor common room?"
Hermione bit her lip. "I assume you know why Harry attacked Ginny tonight?"
McGonagall growled in frustration. "Of course I know. It's why I'm not with Miss Weasley right now. I don't think I could keep my temper if I saw the girl."
"Well, you know that Professor Dumbledore will probably need to expel Harry. I was hoping I could contact Professor Lupin and Sirius Black. Between them, they may be able to come up with a way for Harry to stay."
"As much as I admire your motivation, why do you need to use my fire?"
Hermione took a deep breath. "Because I'd prefer to not have people come across us discussing ways to get Harry to stay."
McGonagall was silent for a moment before nodding curtly. "Brown velvet bag on the mantle. Help yourself." she said abruptly.
Hermione nodded and almost ran to the fire. Grabbing a pinch of powder from the indicated bag, she tossed it in the fire and called out, "Sirius Black!"
Parvati and Lavender giggled to themselves as they made their way back to Gryffindor Tower. The ball had been most interesting to the pair, giving them lots of juicy gossip to spread around.
The pair stopped abruptly on hearing the voice of Arthur Weasley in an empty classroom, talking to Dumbledore. The two Gryffindor witches looked at each other and crept forward quietly.
"I cannot believe the gall of that boy." said the Minister.
"I agree Arthur. However, no matter how poorly thought out his plan was, you cannot deny it was effective." Dumbledore replied.
A new voice spoke up. "I can't believe you were thinking of expelling him, Albus."
"At the time, I didn't think I had a choice, Sirius. I know as Harry's godfather you have a duty to protect him, but he and Miss Weasley managed to pull off an incredible deception this evening."
"Ginny was in on this too?" the Minister asked incredulously.
"Indeed, Arthur. Your daughter and Harry hatched a plan to capture Victoria Pritchart. Though their former teacher sprung their trap far earlier than expected, Harry was able to overcome and defeat her."
Sirius snorted. "Defeat her, he says. Albus, Harry killed her, two other Death Eaters and managed to capture a forth tonight. If he were an auror he would have been promoted at least to lieutenant by now. Probably Captain."
Parvati and Lavender exchanged glances, their eyes wide with shock. They huddled closer as Sirius continued.
"Unfortunately, by not being able to finish their plan, it now appears that Harry did in fact assault Ginny."
"What was the rest of their plan?" asked Arthur.
Dumbledore sighed. "Young Virginia was going to pretend to be completely mindless, in an effort to have Poppy send her to St. Mungos for evaluation. Harry was going to meet her there, where they would let their presence be known, inviting attack by Voldemort. Pritchart located Harry and attacked before Virginia could be moved."
Arthur growled. "I cannot believe Harry would put my little Virginia in so much danger."
"Don't be so hard on Harry, Arthur. It was Virginia's idea in the first place." replied Dumbledore.
"Come, gentlemen. Let us go to my office, and raise a toast to Harry and his success tonight. Then, we will try and come up with a reason he should not be expelled."
Parvati and Lavender gasped softly, turned and ran before they were spotted. Less than two minutes later, they were entering Gryffindor Tower, bursting with the most juicy news just waiting to be spread.
"Come, gentlemen. Let us go to my office, and raise a toast to Harry and his success tonight. Then, we will try and come up with a reason he should not be expelled." Dumbledore said, looking questioningly at Remus.
Remus held a hand up as he looked intently at the Improved Marauder's Map. The tiny dots indicating Parvati and Lavender moved away quickly, and out of earshot quickly. He smiled and looked up. "Perfect. Once again, simply perfect."
Hermione clapped her hands, stood up from her seat next to Remus and grinned. "Well done, gentlemen. You sounded absolutely genuine."
Dumbledore, and Sirius looked satisfied with themselves. "Are you sure this will work?" Arthur asked nervously.
Sirius and Remus nodded. "Oh yes." the werewolf said. "Those two are the biggest gossips in Gryffindor. We already performed this little show for the popular gossips in the other houses. By morning everyone in the school is going to think that Harry and Ginny planned the fireworks tonight, and that their plan didn't finish so now it looks like he will be expelled. It won't matter what reason you give for not expelling him, no one will be expecting you to anyway."
Dumbledore nodded, the most relieved look on his face. "Perhaps we should retire to my office. That toast is probably in order."
Sirius smiled but shook his head. He opened his pocket watch. "Actually, I have a favour to ask of all of you. I know it is early Christmas morning, but I was hoping you could do something for me. Well, for Harry actually."
Slowly, Harry emerged from his deep slumber feeling more peaceful than he had in months. Without opening his eyes, he luxuriated in the complete comfort he found himself in.
Whatever he was lying on was perfect, soft enough that he sank into it, but firm enough that he was supported. The cold air he was breathing in told him the room wasn't heated, but the blanket covering him was generating enough heat that Harry felt cocooned in its pleasant warmth.
With a deep sigh, Harry tried moving, but found his legs under a heavy weight.
Opening his eyes, he brushed away the sleep there with one hand, and groped for his glasses with the other. Once on his nose, Harry looked down at his blanket-covered body.
Snuffles the grim was lying on his legs, his huge bushy tail wrapped around his head. Harry grinned at how safe he felt near his godfather.
A musical trill sent shivers of delight down Harry's spine, awakening him fully. With a smile he arched his head and saw Fawkes sitting on the headboard of his bed.
"Good morning, Fawkes." he said, his voice a little gravelly from so much use last night.
Last night. Memories of opening up to Sirius came flooding back.
Harry had told Sirius everything. From the verbal abuse at the hands of the Dursleys, to the events when he faced down Quirrel, the basilisk, the tournament, and Azkaban.
The night Ginny raped him. That was the hardest.
Harry had talked for hours. Though for his entire life he had been reluctant to open up like that, it had felt curiously satisfying.
Harry thought about that that sensation. Growing up in a house where questions were greeted with verbal abuse and insults had conditioned Harry to keep everything inside. But last night, everything had flooded forth.
Harry grimaced. He had told Sirius things he thought he had forgotten. Events of his childhood that had been buried had come to the surface and divulged. With a wry snort, Harry realised he had absolutely no secrets.
And he felt great.
Harry clasped his hands behind his head and lay back down, staring up at Dumbledore's familiar. Was this what it was like to confide in your parents? To share your fears, your pain?
A day ago, Harry would have thought such inner peace didn't exist. The sensation of waking up next to a loved one was curious. Harry had heard that young children sometimes slept with their parents when feeling scared or helpless. Now, he understood why.
With a cough, snort and a small sneeze, the large black canine on his bed awoke. The pale blue eyes caught sight of Harry wide-awake. Snuffles jumped off the bed and with a faint pop, Sirius appeared.
"Merry Christmas, Harry." his godfather said with a wicked grin.
Harry smiled back. "Merry Christmas, Sirius. What time is it?"
Sirius glanced at a clock behind Harry's head. "Almost eleven."
Harry sat up with a chuckle. "I don't think anyone in the world sleeps so late on Christmas day."
Though Harry didn't notice, Sirius' heart leapt with joy at his godson's banter.
"Go and have a shower and get dressed." Sirius said. "Then come downstairs to the main living room. I have a surprise for you."
Harry stood as Sirius apparated away. He turned and stroked Fawkes' scarlet and gold plumage. "Merry Christmas, Fawkes. I'm sorry I didn't get you a gift. Is there anything you would like?"
Fawkes blinked. Seeing you enjoying life is gift enough for me, young phoenix-wizard. the familiar trilled. My lord-master will be pleased as well.
Harry blinked in surprise. "Can you talk to Dumbledore like this too, or just to me because my other form is a phoenix?"
I talk to my lord-master all the time. Whether he understands me as you do, you should ask him.
Harry grinned. "Thank you, Fawkes. I will. I assume he sent you to look over me. Are you returning to him soon?"
I shall return when my mission is complete, phoenix-wizard. Your dog-father and your blue-eye-teacher are protecting you here.
Harry continued to smile. The thought of having a father, even though it was not James Potter, warmed him. "Thank you Fawkes. It is always good to see you." He stroked the beautiful plumage once more before entering the room's ensuite to shower.
Harry made his way down to the main living room in the mansion. Though Harry had initially expected that being in the house would cause memories of his time spent at Malfoy Manor to resurface with a vengeance, Sirius had made enough changes that the place now only superficially resembled its original state.
The heavy drapes that gave the place a claustrophobic feel had been removed, and now unfettered sunlight streamed in through the large windows. Harry looked out one of the enormous arched windows and saw a pristine white landscape, the normally weak December sun shining brightly in the cloudless sky.
As Harry's vision swept over the snow-covered landscape, he noticed something with a start he never expected.
There was a Quidditch pitch set up in one of the fields.
The six goal rings stood proudly, three at each end of the full sized pitch. The major difference was the size of the stands. Well the stand.
A single box that probably only held a score of seats stood on a half dozen wooden pillars. Obviously, this was a coaching box, the pitch designed for practice.
Harry smiled. He couldn't imagine that the Malfoy's would have installed such facilities. Trust Sirius to add something to the Manor that would make Harry happy.
Harry finally entered the main living area, having walked for a good five minutes from his room. When he entered, he stopped still in surprise.
"Merry Christmas!" shouted the crowd there.
Harry smiled as he looked around the room. Cho was the first to break ranks, and simply flew into his arms. The pair held each other tightly, smiles mixing with tears of relief and happiness.
Remus Lupin came forward to give them both a hug and place a silly paper hat on his head. Fred and George were next, they grabbed him by the arms and led him to a large armchair in the middle of the room.
Everyone was talking at once. Harry simply held onto his girlfriend's hand and looked from face to face.
Dudley was there his arm around a smiling Lisa Turpin. Sirius was putting another hat on a vaguely familiar young witch, while Mrs. Weasley bustled forward and gave Harry one of her trademark bone-crunching hugs.
Mr. Weasley shook his hand, as did several other people from the ministry. Ludo Bagman kept trying to wheel Harry away for a private chat, but was unsuccessful.
Ron and Hermione both hugged him, thanking him for their gifts, though berating him for the gift he had given the other.
"He'll never get over his phobia now!" said Hermione.
"She'll never get over her obsession now!" complained Ron.
Cho laughed, and put her mouth next to Harry's ear as if to kiss him. "What did you make her?" she whispered.
Harry smiled. "I made her a book bag that could hold about a thousand books, but didn't weigh any more than a normal backpack."
Cho nodded in understanding, then pouted. "Where's my present?" she asked coyly.
Harry laughed. "I'll give it to you once we are alone." Cho gave him a look, obviously joking about his presumption.
A group of Asian witches and wizards descended on the couple. Cho jumped up and hugged the lead figure.
"You made it!" she said. Turning to Harry, she continued, "Harry, you remember my family?"
Harry nodded. "I certainly do. I learned more about the properties of various potion ingredients in four days than I did in four years of Potions classes."
Cho's family lit up at Harry's praise, but his heart skipped a beat when a smooth voice from behind him said, "Really? How very interesting."
Forcing himself to wear a smile, Harry turned. "Professor! I'm glad you are alright."
The Potion master still had bandages around his head, and walked with the aid of a cane. "Yes. I'm sure you are."
"I'm sorry for last night."
Snape waved away the apology. "Had I not underestimated you, I would not have been hurt. It appears that due to our history, and my prejudices, I still don't give you your due respect."
Harry swallowed. "I bet that hurt to say."
Snape snarled, but Harry could tell his heart wasn't in it. "Go and enjoy yourself, Potter. Should you return, I have several projects to work on, and your assistance would be most welcome."
In his relief at the lack of ill will from Snape, Harry didn't ask about why he would not be returning.
Bill Weasley put his arm around him, steering him away from the Potion master. "Ah, Harry. We need to have a little chat."
"Those traps you laid for You-Know-Who. Dad got me out of bed early to clean up after you. I figure you owe me at least four hours of sleep."
Harry grinned. "What will you take in trade?"
"Something my father promised, but was unable to deliver."
Harry raised his eyebrows in surprise. "What couldn't your father give you?"
"He promised to make Mum stop going on about my hair. Now, since you have a ponytail yourself, could you talk with her, tell her to stop bugging me? We'll call it quits."
Harry smiled. "I'll do my best."
Bill snorted. "That's what Dad said. It wasn't enough."
Harry smiled and braced himself as Parvati and Padma descended on him. The pair threw their arms around him, earning themselves a sour look from Cho.
"Oh, Harry! You were so brave. I can't believe you managed to beat Pritchart!" Padma said.
Harry allowed himself to be kissed by the pair before gently disentangling himself.
Over the next few hours, Harry met friends of his parents and grandparents. He met his father's retired teammates from his Quidditch days, playing Chaser for England, a fact that stunned Harry. What had surprised everyone else was the fact that Harry hadn't known.
His mother's friends from Hogwarts included a rather tipsy Professor Sinistra, who confided in Harry that she had a crush on Sirius at the time his parents got together.
In a revelation that surprised both Harry and Neville, his formidable grandmother had actually dated Harry's grandfather at Hogwarts.
A massive, loud party flowed around Harry. People were constantly coming and going, taking an hour or two out of spending time with their families to visit Harry.
When Oliver Wood made an appearance, several young witches in the room started screaming lustfully at the charismatic Quidditch player, much to Harry's amusement.
Charlie Weasley's appearance had a similar effect, causing nearly everyone to scream, by his landing on the front lawn while riding a dragon.
Even Dobby made an appearance, giving Harry another gift of mis-matched socks. His high-pitched, enthusiastic voice adding to the mirth in the room.
Harry finally got to meet Hermione's parents, both of whom were awestruck by the magical house and its contents.
Harry looked at Cho, and the smile that had been present on his face for hours widened further. Since his first Christmas at Hogwarts, the day had been one of joy for Harry. This Christmas however, left Harry's heart singing.
One person most certainly wasn't enjoying Christmas.
Draco sat at the single table in the Great Hall for his Christmas lunch, looking around at the empty seats. The lone boy sat in the empty hall, his untouched meal sitting in front of him, slowly cooling.
Since publically revealed that he had abetted Harry's framing for murder, Draco had become an outcast, from his own house, to his extended family and friends.
A large black raven flew through the window and dropped a thick bundle of parchment in front of the blond Slytherin.
Draco frowned in confusion, picked up the bundle and broke the seal. His already light complexion paled further as he read.
Harry sat, his head bowed. Perspiration trickled down his face, dripped from his hair. Once more he tested his bonds, again noting that struggling was futile. Not for the first time, he pondered the course of events that led to his incarceration.
The large, oak chair was padded for comfort, but Harry had spent the most uncomfortable hour of his life tied here, his wrists and ankles fastened securely to the chair frame.
Yes, according to the clock on the wall, he had only been here an hour. It was still Christmas day. It felt like he had been here a century. He had been put through torture like nothing he had ever experienced. He swallowed painfully, trying to lubricate his dry throat.
Once again, the door to the next room opened, and his tormentor walked in. No, strutted in, knowing he was totally helpless. He let out a groan, muffled by the gag in his mouth.
He gasped in shock as the front of his robes were torn open, and long fingernails lightly scatched down his toned chest, before reaching his underwear.
With a quick tear, Harry was left completely exposed to view, his heart hammering painfully in his chest.