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Harry Potter and the Truest Power


by -> JustLikeHermione
Reviews (361) | Updated : 25/07/05 | Published : 12/08/03 | Mystery/Romance | Rating: R
This chapter was posted on: 08/10/04



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Chapter One

BACK TO THE BORROW

Author's Note:

Thursday, October 7, 2004

Yesterday I received the devastating news that ff.net had decided to remove Truest Power on account of its rating, despite proper warnings, disclaimers, etc. throughout. I'm excited that portkey.org will likely become my story's main home, though I wish I did not have to go through the process of editing and uploading 700+ pages!

I am one chapter away from completing TP, and there will be sequels. (Year six is tentatively called Harry Potter and the Eagle's Sapphire.) I would probably have gotten done this weekend if I did not have this story to edit and upload. I have all the edits on paper, you see, but it's a big job just correcting everything on the computer.

To everyone from ff.net, thanks so much for all your support there. To everyone from portkey.org, I appreciate so much having a place to host TP so much. Those of you that have been reading for awhile will notice a change in my chapter system here. I am combing as many as five of the earlier chapters together and renumbering accordingly to have a more regular length. Thus, the first four chapters have become “Back to the Burrow,” chapter one, and the most recent chapter, chapter 99, “Come Back to Me,” should be chapter 37.

Please e-mail if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, or if you want me to add you to my update list. Everyone, thank you so much. I love you!

Elle

* * *

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. J. K. Rowling does. I do not intend to infringe on her copyrights or the copyrights of Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, Raincoast Books, Warner Bros., Inc., or any others. I'm just a fan with a lot of extra time.

WARNING: THIS FAN FICTION CONTAINS MENTIONS OF ABUSE, A NON-GRAPHIC RAPE SCENE, MANY MENTIONS THEREAFTER OF RAPE, AND SOME VIOLENCE, AS APPROVED BY MODERATORS. PLEASE DO NOT READ IF YOU FEEL THIS WILL BE OFFENSIVE OR WILL TRIGGER PTSDS. E-MAIL ME BEFORE HAND ABOUT THE NATURE OF ANY OF THE AFOREMENTIONED IF NECESSARY: I DON'T WANT ANYONE TO BE NEGATIVELY AFFECTED BY TRUEST POWER.

* * *

It was, without a doubt, the worst summer Harry Potter had spent with the Dursleys since he had begun attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry just short of five years before. It was much worse than the summer Aunt Marge had come to visit, and he hated it even more than the diet of his cousin Dudley's that he'd been forced to follow the summer before. Harry had always hated summers, but he hated this one with a particular passion.

If he had had all of his magic things and, perhaps, any correspondence from his two supposed best friends, Harry might have been able to bear all the foulness of the season. On his very first day back from Hogwarts, when Aunt Petunia had insisted Harry set the table for a fine luncheon with some of her friends, he had dropped and broken one of her finest china plates in his haste. Both his aunt and uncle were furious, and they took away his small bedroom and locked him in his cupboard once more. An entire weekend went by before the lock turned again, an entire weekend with barely any food and without clean clothing or even Hedwig, his pet owl, for company.

When they finally did let him out, Uncle Vernon had taken every last bit of his Hogwarts things and hidden them so securely that Harry hadn't been able to find them once, even after weeks of searching the house each night after the Dursleys had gone to sleep. Uncle Vernon had even gone so far as to clear out Hedwig's cage, sending the snowy owl out the window and shutting it firmly behind her. Much to Harry's relief, however, his pet reappeared several days later, albeit in much shakier form. It appeared that she had been in some kind of tango with a bird from the Muggle world, and it didn't look as if she'd taken the better end of it.

Harry had cared for her at least another week before she was well enough to flutter around the cupboard in slow circles, and he had a feeling she wasn't going to be up for a long flight to any one of his friends or Sirius Black, his godfather. Uncle Vernon seemed quite pleased with the state of Harry's beloved pet, and Harry had come to suspect that his uncle had something to do with the condition Hedwig had fallen into. If his godfather had known how Harry was being treated, then there would have been a hefty price for his Muggle family to pay.

The Dursleys' opinion of Harry had, indeed, reached an all time low, yet Harry couldn't see how the breaking of just one dish could make them despise him so much more than last summer. Perhaps the answer lie in their son, Dudley. It was just before breakfast, one morning early in Hedwig's recovery, and Harry was feeling particularly down, when he first got such an inkling.

Dudley, who was just Harry's age and about ten times his size, had begun attending a private school, Smeltings, the same year Harry had started at Hogwarts. Their summers overlapped, and the last time Harry had seen Dudley, he was roughly the size of a young killer whale. Now, Harry supposed it was more accurate to say his cousin was the size of a killer whale, plain and simple. He even had a notion as to why Dudley had grown to such an enormous size: ever since he had been expelled from Smeltings, Aunt Petunia had been consoling him with as much television and junk food as the large boy could handle.

On the particular morning in question, Harry had woken early and reached the kitchen before either his aunt or uncle. Dudley, on the other hand, was still parked on the sofa, still as glued to the television as he had been the night before. Dudley had grown so large that Aunt Petunia rarely made him go up to his room to sleep if he didn't want to. Half of the time he tried to walk up the stairs, he found himself stuck tightly between the wall and the railing. Harry couldn't help but regard these scenes as hilarious.

Noticing Dudley was awake, Harry crept as quietly as possible to the kitchen, hoping to grab something—anything—to eat without being noticed and slip back into his cupboard. Dudley must have been waiting for him.

“Good morning, cousin Harry!” he called out in a singsong voice filled with mock sincerity and cheer. “How are you this morning, good cousin Harry?”

With that, he broke out into an all-consuming laughter. Harry stood in the doorway of the kitchen, silently, without moving an inch. He didn't particularly want to do anything to provoke Dudley if harming him wasn't already the plan. There was little doubt in his mind that Dudley could crush him flat if he ever had the opportunity to sit on him.

“How come you won't answer me, cousin?” asked Dudley, his voice full of contempt now. “How's that dumb owl of yours?”

“Hedwig's just fine, Dudley,” Harry offered bravely. He took two more steps into the kitchen.

Dudley snickered. “That's an awful dumb name for a pet, even for someone as awful dumb as yourself.”

Harry whirled around. The older Dursleys weren't in the room, and he couldn't resist. “If I'm dumb, Dudley, I'd hate to see what they consider you. I'll be going back to Hogwarts at term and you won't be going back to Smeltings ever again—”

Harry caught himself from saying more, but the sound of heavy footsteps told him that it was already too late. Uncle Vernon appeared before him, looking like some sort of angry demon.

“THERE WILL NOT BE ANY TALK OF YOUR SCHOOL AND ITS MAGIC NONSENSE WHEN YOU'RE WITHIN THESE WALLS!” he roared. In no time at all, Harry found himself lying on the floor. Uncle Vernon was a blur above him, and Harry faintly realized he'd been knocked across the room and lost his glasses. However, Uncle Vernon wasn't done with him yet.

“AND DON'T YOU DARE INSULT MY SON!” he hollered, stomping his foot. Harry cringed at the loud crunch, knowing his glasses were little more than shreds of plastic and glass now. “How many times must I tell you that Dudley's expulsion was nothing more than a clerical error? Just you see! It will be resolved before the start of the next term! As for your... your... your magic, one more word about that nonsense, and I will have you taken to the nearest orphanage, which is just where we should have put you fourteen years ago!”

There had been a lot of rough shoving following Uncle Vernon's outburst, and Harry found himself locked into the closet again, a stay that would last for two more long days. Outside the door, Aunt Petunia, who had come down at the sound of her husband's outburst, was soothing Dudley.

“Oh, sweetums,” she cooed. “Oh, popkin, don't you let your ignorant cousin's words go to your head. He's just a fool.”

“Why does he stay here? Can't his stupid school keep him over the summer? We should just get rid of him completely!” Dudley whined.

“Oh, oh! I'm so sorry, Dinky Diddydums. I won't let him ruin another minute more of your holiday. I'll see to it personally that your father punishes him justly. We'll see to it dear, I promise.” Harry could almost imagine her pinching Dudley's overly plump cheeks and patting down his thin blonde hair. He could actually hear Dudley make a whimpering sort of noise, the same one that he always used to get some kind of sweet or candy out of his mother. “Oh, you poor precious. How would you like a nice jelly donut? Two? I'll see right to it...”

Harry heard one last disturbing tidbit before lying down on his bed and trying to fall back asleep.

“We've been too soft on him,” Uncle Vernon was saying. “You shouldn't be afraid to use some good old-fashioned discipline on that kind of child.”

And so began the worst of Harry's must hideous summer yet.

* * *

With no other options, Harry became particularly adept at working without his glasses. Uncle Vernon had made no apologies for breaking his first pair, and Aunt Petunia made no attempt to replace them. On their orders, Harry spent all his time out of sight, in his cupboard. It was for the best, of course, for both parties. If they had allowed Harry any free roam of the house, his uncorrected eyesight would just lead to more disasters and more trouble with the Dursleys. He concentrated on nursing Hedwig and prowling the house at night in search of his things from Hogwarts. Harry also spent a lot of time peeking out his window, in hopes of receiving any kind of letters or parcels from his friends. None came, and, even if they had, Harry would still have had a lot of time on his hands. With nothing to busy him, his worries about Voldemort's revival and his remaining guilt about Cedric Diggory plagued him almost constantly.

A week or so passed, and Hedwig slowly regained her strength. Harry was still utterly baffled by whatever it was that had left her so hurt. He was sure she'd encountered troubles before, delivering his mail to every sort of place, and she'd barely needed more then a day to recover from any delivery. It made him wonder what kind of torture Uncle Vernon had surely exposed her to, all without the use of magic. Even though he had grown up among Muggles, Harry was starting to look at everything they did from the perspective of someone raised as a wizard.

Things were strangely quiet during that time. Uncle Vernon hadn't resorted to another round of “old-fashioned discipline,” and Harry quickly realized why. Even though Hedwig was injured, the Dursleys were worried his godfather had ways of knowing what was going on. But after seeing the lack of owls going in and out, it seemed the Dursleys had more confidence in their ability to be mean to Harry without anyone knowing or caring. They made Harry come out of his cupboard more often, and then they turned their backs at Dudley's tormenting him. At one particularly low moment, on the eve of his fifteenth birthday, Harry landed in a Muggle hospital for the first time in his life, for Dudley had “accidentally” broken his arm.

The day of his fifteenth birthday had been no better. Harry refused to come out of his room for obvious reasons, and he also refused to lose hope of receiving an owl. By nightfall, nothing had come. Last year, his best friends, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, along with his godfather, and even Hagrid, his friend and teacher at Hogwarts, had sent him cakes and presents. More then anything, Harry was holding out for a cake of some sorts—Dudley might have been allowed to eat whatever he wanted, but Harry was still following a rough version of the diet that had been instated on Dudley the previous summer. He had shot up three inches that summer, and he had lost more than three times as many pounds.

Somewhere in the week that followed his birthday, Aunt Petunia showed a little mercy on him after seeing him run into the same wall on four different occasions. She got him a new pair of glasses and advised him not to call any attention to them while in his uncle's presence. Her act of kindness confused Harry thoroughly; he couldn't believe she was offering him so much kindness after her suggestions to Uncle Vernon on punishing him.

Exactly a month and a day after having it taken from him, Harry managed to locate his school things. Hidden away in a corner of the basement whose existence he had never really noticed, it was quite a struggle for Harry to get the heavy trunk, along with Hedwig's cage, up the stairs and into the small doorway of the cupboard without waking the Dursleys or using his broken arm. He was delighted to have his things back, and Harry immediately went to work on his summer homework.

Three days later, Harry was positive he was in the clear about retrieving his magic things, so he figured he no longer needed to hide his work during daytime hours. Early that afternoon, knowing that his aunt was cleaning and his uncle surely at work, he quietly set out to finish the last of a grueling report Professor Snape was forcing them to write for Potions. He was so intent on getting it done and so happy to be doing anything that reminded him of Hogwarts that he began to hum to himself.

“What are you doing in there, Harry?” Uncle Vernon's growling voice startled him so much that he knocked his ink well over, creating quite a clatter and mess. Harry struggled to put his things away and conceal the spilled ink as the small door swung open.

“Un-un-uncle Vernon,” he stammered, mentally screaming at himself. Uncle Vernon wasn't a complete idiot; he'd know Harry was hiding something if he started acting too nervous.

“I checked the basement this morning,” said Uncle Vernon, lifting his nose. He grabbed Harry and dragged him out into the hallway, obviously not enjoying the scent of Harry's cramped quarters. “I was quite surprised to see your trunk missing from where I stored it.”

He shoved Harry, hard, into the wall. “When I was growing up, any kid that did something wrong in front of my dad got more then just a disapproving lecture; he got a hard smack. I believe that practice is quite effective for keeping things normal. But, if you screw up again this summer, you're going to get more than a good smack. Come September, I'll send you right to that alternative school that I've said you went to all along instead of your abnormal institute. Now put all that nonsense away!”

Perhaps Uncle Vernon was right. After he got through with him, Harry went feebly back into his room and placed everything back in his trunk. He had no intention of doing anything to toe the line again, not for the rest of the summer. He had several angry red welts on his back at the moment, and that was more then enough.

The next day, when things had began to look exceptionally grim, Harry found a bright spot in the image of a small gray owl soaring in the direction of four Privet Drive. He recognized it at once and opened the window to allow Ron's owl, Pigwidgeon, into his room. Harry had never been so eager to receive an owl in his entire life.

Harry—

I can't believe we go back to Hogwarts in just over a week! Even more then that, I can't believe the entire summer went by without a single word from you. I kept thinking you'd send Hedwig, but you never did. You wouldn't believe the number of owls that Mum sent in Professor Dumbledore's direction to ask when you could come stay with us. She's had Pig flying back and forth nearly every day now, and Errol's not in any shape to do much of anything. Mum keeps muttering that she has an even worse feeling about those Dursleys than usual—I sure hope, for your sake, it's not true.

Anyway, Dumbledore finally gave us the okay to let you come yesterday, so I sent Pig as soon as he was ready to make another trip. Inside the parcel is enough Floo powder to get you to the Burrow, Dad got the Dursleys' fireplace connected again for this one time.

We already got our Hogwarts letters, and yours was—oddly enough—delivered in the lot. Mum's already been to Diagon Alley and wants me to tell you not to worry. She picked all of your things up with all of ours.

See you as soon.

—Ron

PS—Hermione's coming any day now. She ended up not going to Krum's for the summer... it sounds like they had a falling out. I don't know about you, but she didn't send me a single owl for the biggest part of the summer. You probably already know this, but her parents had another baby right after we got home from Hogwarts. I can only imagine how busy good, responsible Hermione must have been helping out... Maybe there'll be another witch in the family.

Harry smiled. His friends hadn't forgotten about him after all, and he was finally going to get to leave his aunt and uncle's wretched home. He grabbed the tiny parcel from Pig and unwrapped the very top corner. Sure enough, there was a bit of Floo powder carefully wrapped up inside. Traveling through chimneys with Floo powder wasn't exactly Harry's favorite thing to do, but one thing was for sure: he wasn't about to complain about anything that took him out of this house and landed in a place with his two best friends.

* * *

Ron's post had asked to see him as soon as possible, so Harry decided to waste no time. As soon as he heard Uncle Vernon's unusually loud snores, he loaded his trunk and wrestled it out of his tiny cupboard. Once he had dropped it in front of the fireplace, he went back to grab Hedwig and her cage. He reached through the bars to touch the soft owl, pleased that she had regained nearly all her strength. Hedwig let out the softest of hoots, but Harry silenced her anyway. He wasn't about to risk his chances of getting out of the dreaded house by making noise. Fortunately, she seemed to understand, affectionately nipping at his fingers. He'd sent Pig back to Ron without any note; Harry knew he'd be there before the little owl.

Harry took out his bag of Floo powder and tossed a pinch of it into the fireplace, giving a silent prayer that he'd be able to get safely to the Borrow with all of his things, including Hedwig, without too much incident. He tucked his glasses in his pocket and stepped into the emerald green flames.

“The Burrow,” said Harry, in a loud, clear voice.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut to block out the whirl of green flames, trying to keep a firm grip on both his trunk and Hedwig. A few seconds later, he tumbled, slightly stunned, into the Weasleys' fireplace. Hedwig was squawking, and he coughed a few times. He let go of his trunk to check if his glasses were still in once piece. Much to his relief, they were, and he slid them onto his nose. When he had cleared away the soot, Harry was greeted with the welcome sight of Weasleys peering in from the kitchen.

“Harry!” called Ron, rushing to the living room. “Glad you could make it! It wasn't too awful at the Dursleys', was it? I'm sorry for not writing. Here, let me help you with... bloody hell, what's that thing on your arm?”

A grin broke across Harry's face at first sight of his friend, even when Ron started in with his barrage of questions. He could tell that Ron had genuinely missed him, and it made him glad to know that at least someone cared.

“That, Ron, would be called a cast.” Harry looked around at sound of a second familiar voice. Sure enough, Hermione had just appeared on the stairs, with Ginny, Ron's younger sister, right on her heels. “How ever did you manage that?”

“Oh, I didn't really manage anything,” said Harry, grateful when Ron plucked Hedwig's cage from his arms and his twin brothers, Fred and George, appeared on either side of him to drag away his trunk. “Dudley decided to get a bit rough with me after accusing me of stealing the remote control.”

By this time, Hermione had rushed down the stairs to give Harry a very welcoming hug, which he gladly returned. She looked to Ron, and, noting the still confused look on Ron's face, she said, “Harry broke his arm. In the Muggle world, there's obviously no instant fix for it. Instead, they set the bone and put a plaster cast around it for about six weeks until it heals... and a remote control is a part of a television.”

“Oh, you poor dear!” Molly Weasley, Ron's mother, was next to him in an instant. “No wonder I had a bad feeling about your situation all summer! I just can't believe that Dumbledore insisted on keeping you there for so long. Boys, take Harry's things up to his room... you must be starving! I've never see a boy look so skinny... Ginny dear, can you get Harry out something to eat? That's it, love... thank you... here, here, you should really sit down, Harry. I'm sorry, but I don't really know what to do for your arm... I'm afraid I'd end up hurting it even more... are you sure it's okay? Well, if you really think you can wait for Madam Pomfrey to do it—”

“It's really okay, Mrs. Weasley. Thank you,” Harry paused, accepting a piece of bread and a glass of pumpkin juice from Ginny. “I'm really okay. Thanks so much for letting me come.”

“Oh, it's no trouble,” said Mrs. Weasley absently. She was conjuring up a meal of some sort. Harry was about to tell her that she didn't have to, but a disapproving look from the various Weasley children and the pang of his empty stomach stopped him. “I swear, those dreadful Muggles! What did you ever do to earn such awful relatives? If you had to be raised by Muggles, why couldn't they have been nice and accepting... oh, if Dumbledore even thinks he's going to send you back there next summer, he'll be lucky if he gets past me!”

As she continued muttering, Harry saw Ron and Hermione slide into the chairs on either side of him. It was the first good look that he got at either of them; he immediately noticed that Ron had somehow gotten much taller since Harry'd last seen him. Harry had grown some himself, but Ron was still towering over him, even more then before. On the other hand, the difference between Harry's height and Hermione's was even more noticeable. If he didn't know better, he'd declare that his friend had shrunk over the summer. There was something else different about her, though, something that Harry couldn't quite pinpoint.

Fred and George got back down to the kitchen at the same time Mrs. Weasley placed a bowl of homemade soup down in front of him. Ginny was already seated at one end of the table, and the twins pulled up chairs on the other.

“I'm sorry it's not much, dear,” apologized Mrs. Weasley. “We honestly weren't expecting you to come so soon.”

“Yes,” said Ron, quite animated. “Pig must have really flown to get to you. We didn't reckon you'd even get my letter until tomorrow, or the day after.”

“I sent him to fly back,” said Harry between bites of the soup. It was, quite possibly, the most wonderful thing he had ever tasted. “He doesn't have a letter with him. I knew that I would get here before he possibly could, and I couldn't manage him with the rest of my things in the fireplace.”

“He's a finally getting to be a good post owl,” said Ron proudly. He leaned over to Harry and whispered cheerfully, “He's gotten a lot of practice going to Dumbledore so many times! We normally would have sent Hermes, but Percy's gone and moved out!”

Harry could tell Ron was still squirming with excitement over that last bit of news, even though Mrs. Weasley was looking at down at him disapprovingly. She had obviously caught the tail end of his statement. Harry figured it would be a good time to change the subject.

“How was your summer, Hermione?” asked Harry. “Ron says you have a baby sister now.”

“Oh, yes,” said Hermione. Her tone of voice was very awkward, and Harry couldn't read it at all. “Her name is Angelica.”

She offered no more information, and Harry didn't press for any. From across the table, the twins were growing quite fidgety, and Harry could only imagine what was on the two troublemakers' minds. “What have you two been cooking up this summer?”

There was a sigh and an eye roll from Mrs. Weasley, who was refilling Harry's bowl for the third time. She muttered, “They'll be quite pleased to tell you, I'm sure.”

George winked at Harry, and Fred sniggered. “We have no idea what she's talking about,” they said in unison, and Fred added, “I just can't believe she thinks we're up to—”

At that moment, the door to the house swung open, and it dawned on Harry that he had not yet seen Mr. Weasley. Sure enough, Arthur Weasley stepped into the kitchen, but the look on his face was anything but normal. His normal expression of curiosity and fun was gone, replaced with something of grim seriousness. As soon as everyone saw him, the happiness in the room seemed to vanish, and even the twins stopped fidgeting. Harry looked around, completely confused. For the first time ever, he was feeling uncomfortable in the Weasleys' presence.

Suddenly, Harry realized that everyone in the room was staring at him. “Wh-what's going on?” he stammered.

Mrs. Weasley's had flew to her mouth. “You mean you haven't heard?”

Ron didn't look nearly as surprised. “He wouldn't have. He hasn't heard from anyone this summer.”

“And he doesn't receive the Daily Prophet like I do,” added Hermione.

Harry was growing confused. “Then would someone tell me what's happened?”

Mr. Weasley shook his head. “It's happened, Harry, it's happened. There's no denying it anymore...”

“Ron hasn't told you yet?” said Mr. Weasley with a frown. “They've confirmed You-Know-Who's return, Harry. There was an attack on Beauxbatons just four days ago. Not a single person on the grounds lived, and their castle was destroyed. They found the Dark Mark, Harry. Not even Fudge can pretend it didn't happen now.”

Harry could practically feel his jaw drop as he looked around the table to gage the Weasleys' and Hermione's reactions. Everyone looked stunned despite having certainly heard the news before. He figured that it was just the shock of hearing the news, so plainly put, that had everyone looking so startled. He tried to say something, but he couldn't find any words. The first thing to break the silence was the screeching noise of a chair as Mr. Weasley pulled it out and sat down.

“The attack was most unusual,” he said, talking directly to Harry. “No one in the Ministry was convinced by the tale of the Triwizard Tournament's conclusion. Now, there isn't a single person that doesn't believe that You-Know-Who has returned. There were obviously a few Death Eaters that remained loyal after he vanished fourteen years ago, but there is no way they could have pulled something like this off without their full forces and his physical leadership.”

Harry felt his stomach churn. He had long stopped eating his food to pay attention, and he had completely lost his appetite. So he had been justified in his fears over the summer. “But how come my scar hasn't been hurting?” blurted Harry. “It always hurts when Voldemort is near!”

Mr. Weasley, along with everyone else, cringed at the name. “I'm honestly not sure, Harry. I think he may be hiding out far away, very far away, too far to have an impact on you. I believe that's why Dumbledore wanted you to stay with the Muggles for so long. He had less of a chance of reaching you amidst them.”

There was more silence. Finally, Fred had the courage to ask the question on nearly all of their minds. “What was the emergency the Ministry had to alert you about? Have they found out something new?”

“Ah, no, nothing new. Cornelius Fudge...” said Mr. Weasley, and he cleared his throat. “Cornelius Fudge has announced his resignation in wake of what happened. He's aged over the incident, and he claims he isn't capable of helping stop You-Know-Who. Everyone's in an uproar because we're currently without a Minister of Magic, but I can't say I'm not relieved. Not too many of us were feeling confident in Fudge after finding he had been told of You-Know-Who's return weeks and weeks earlier without doing anything about it.”

“At a time like this,” said Mrs. Weasley, her words nearly a whisper. Harry couldn't tell whether they were a statement or a question. “But who will replace him? Surely Dumbledore...”

Mr. Weasley shook his head. “Things would probably be best under his guidance, but you know as well as I do that he'll never leave Hogwarts, not when it may need him the most. The school might be the safest place—” he stopped abruptly. “It's a worry for another day. Perhaps everyone should head to bed now?”

“Yes, that sounds like a good idea,” said Mrs. Weasley. “Head upstairs, everyone. Off to sleep, all of you.”

No one complained, let alone disobeyed. It wasn't even until they all reached the landing that another word was spoken, and it came from downstairs.

“Harry!” called Mr. Weasley, as if he were surprised. “I'm glad you could make it!”

* * *

An extra bed had been placed in Ron's room for Harry, and he was still lying awake in it over an hour after they had been sent to bed. He wondered if Ron was also having trouble falling asleep, but Harry didn't want to wake him if he wasn't. It turned out that he didn't have to.

“Harry?”

Harry rolled over to face Ron's bed on the other side of the room. “Yes?”

“Are you still awake?” whispered Ron.

He had to resist the urge to laugh. “I'm still awake. I just can't fall asleep. All I can think about was what your dad told us tonight.”

“Same here,” Ron agreed. There were a few more moments of silence. Then, Ron let loose a burst of quiet anger. “Why does he go around terrorizing everyone? Why did Beauxbatons deserve to be destroyed? Bloody hell, if it's power he likes so much, why didn't he work his way up the ranks at the Ministry? He could have become Minister eventually!”

Harry didn't know how to respond to Ron because he felt the same way. For every wizard or witch that had gone bad, there was a handful of those that remained good. He simply couldn't figure out why that small group had to ruin things for everyone else.

“I don't know, Ron,” said Harry finally. “I guess he just gets some kind of kick out of ruining lives and controlling those better at heart than he—”

He broke off because he heard footsteps in the hallway. He pulled his covers up, pretending to be fast asleep, and he could hear Ron doing the same. If it was either of Ron's parents, they probably won't get in trouble for being awake, but neither of them really wanted to worry the senior Weasleys anymore. There was a light rapping sound on the door.

“Harry? Ron?” whispered a soft female voice. It was Hermione. Before she got a chance to finish, Harry had gotten up, crossing the floor carefully so that the loose boards didn't creak. Once she was in the door, he shut it softly behind him, once again careful not to make any noise.

Ron was sitting up in bed by now. “So you can't sleep either?”

Hermione shook her head. She had sat down on Harry's bed and pulled her legs up under her long nightgown, wrapping her arms around her knees. “Ginny was fast asleep before I was even into my dressing gown. I couldn't sleep, and I kept tossing and turning. I just had a feeling that you two were still awake.”

Harry was quiet for a moment, and Ron leaned over the end of his bed, rummaging around in the dark for something. He tossed an extra blanket in Hermione's direction, which she gladly accepted.

“I can't believe that he got to Beauxbatons,” Harry admitted. “That's the part of it that I can't get over. It would almost be easier to take if he'd attacked a village or something, but he attacked a school...”

“And if he can destroy them, then he could be able to get to Hogwarts,” finished Hermione quietly.

“That's insane,” said Ron, but his response was almost too quick. His voice had wavered, and both Harry and Hermione had noticed. “Okay, I was thinking that too. But remember how they're always saying that Hogwarts is the safest place in the wizarding world? Remember how Hagrid said it would be even safer to keep something at Hogwarts then at Gringotts?”

“That's true, but you couldn't have forgotten the Philosopher's Stone,” reminded Hermione. “Even after all the defenses that were put in place, he and Quirrel managed to get to it. Had it not been for Harry, he probably could have taken it.”

“I think our experiences over the last four years are enough to prove that Hogwarts isn't foolproof, but, then again, no place is completely safe. I agree with Ron. No place is going to be completely protected from Vold... You-Know-Who's grasp, but I think you'd have as good of chance as any there,” reasoned Harry.

Ron and Hermione were both nodding in agreement. “I trust Dumbledore, too,” Ron added. “You could tell from the way Mum and Dad were talking that he's involved with the choices the Ministry is making. He knows what's going on, and he cares about what happens. Above all that, though, he cares about his students. He wouldn't let us all go back to Hogwarts if he thought we were safer somewhere else.”

“That's true,” said Hermione. There was silence again, and then there was a loud creak from another part of the house. Hermione was on her feet in a moment, careful not to make any noise.

“I'm not supposed to be here,” she said hurriedly. Hermione rapidly folded the blanket Ron had thrown her, shoving it back to him while giving him a one-armed hug. She was back on the other side of the room a moment later, giving Harry one also. A few seconds later, she was out the door.

“We'd better go to sleep,” said Ron. “I just had a feeling that Mum will come up to check on us sometime soon. G'night Harry.”

“'Night, Ron,” whispered Harry. A few seconds later, he heard Ron settle into a slow, regular breathing patter, and he was sure he was asleep. Harry was left to his own thoughts and confusions, and for him, sleep was a long time coming.

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