DISCLAIMER: The Harry Potter series and all the characters associated with it are the property solely of J. K. Rowling, her agents and publishers. No infringement of any rights is intended from the creation of this story. Nor is any money being made from it.
Circles of Power
Part Thirty - Tying The Loose Ends
By Mad Martha
"Dear God," Draco whispered, although even he didn't know if it was a prayer or a curse. Not ten feet away from him, three of Voldemort's zombie servants were repeatedly stamping on and beating the unmoving body of Avery.
Voldemort's torturer hadn't stood a chance once Ron had set them on him.
Draco moistened very dry lips. "Ron, you've got to stop them."
There was no reply. Ron was in panic-mode, frantically trying to find a way past the wall of fire Voldemort had erected. Draco raised his voice desperately.
The redhead looked around; his face was streaked with tears. "I've got to get him out of there!"
"And I can't help you if you don't call off those those things!" Draco snapped back at him. "I need his wand, dammit!" And pray to God it isn't damaged or broken, he added to himself.
Suddenly the servants stopped what they were doing and shuffled away from Avery's bloodied body, returning with slow and uncertain steps to their fellows by the wall. Shoving down his nausea, Draco pounced on the corpse and turned it over, running his hands through the man's robes. Fortunately, like many wizards Avery kept his wand in his sleeve and it had received minimal damage. He dragged it out with an exclamation of satisfaction
- just in time to see the fire-wall drop. Which could only mean that Voldemort himself had released it.
For a moment Draco froze, preparing to see the Dark wizard emerge from the duel victorious and ready to deal with Harry's remaining friends. But instead all he could see were two crumpled bodies lying in spreading pools of blood.
Oh God. Oh no, no, no ....
Ron was already on his knees beside Harry, desperately running his hands over the dark-haired young man's arms and throat. Draco could hear his sobs and all he could numbly wonder was how on earth he was going to persuade Ron to leave here if Harry was dead.
He dragged himself to his feet and, holding Avery's wand defensively, went to check on Voldemort. The body sprawled on the stone dais had taken on a grey tinge, like a dry, empty husk, and Draco was reminded of a dead snake he had once found coiled on a shelf in a barn at Malfoy Manor, its corpse desiccated and as light as paper.
But still he didn't quite trust what he saw. Approaching cautiously, he stooped by the Dark wizard's head and reached unwillingly for the throat. It was sticky with blood and faintly scaly under his fingertips. There was no pulse.
"Is he dead?" That was Ron, his voice thick and harsh with tears.
"I think so "
"Are you sure?"
"I " Draco swallowed and forced himself to lean closer to the body. He lifted a cold arm there was no pulse there either, and when he released it, it dropped to the floor with a dull thud. "Yes. Yes, he is."
"Then get over here now!"
"What?" But Draco scrambled to do as he was told. It was a severe effort of will to look at Harry's white face and still form, and Draco found he couldn't do it. It was easier to focus on the practicalities. "Ron, we "
He had never heard such a note in Ron Weasley's voice, and when he looked at him, the red-rimmed blue eyes were glaring at him fiercely. Then he said something that really shocked Draco.
"Do you want him to live?"
Draco gasped. "What! What kind of a question - "
"Do you want him to live! Really and truly?"
"Of course I do, but "
"Then hold this and wish for it as hard as you can."
Then he saw what Ron was holding it was a small pendant in the shape of a wishbone, hanging on a fine chain around Harry's neck. Draco had seen it before; it had appeared after Harry's birthday and he had guessed it was a present from Ron.
"Damn it, Draco, just do it, will you? We have to pull it at the same time. And remember wish as hard as you can."
Shaking his head, Draco did as he was bidden.
"Pull!" commanded Ron.
There was a tiny puff of fine sparks, like the dust left behind fairies when they vanished, and a soft glow seemed to settle over Harry's chest.
They waited, Ron chanting over and over "Come on, come on, come on ...." Moments ticked past.
Draco had just reached the point where he was beginning to think This is hopeless, I should convince him to leave here, when Harry suddenly coughed, making them both jump.
The smile that flowed over Ron's face was blinding in its intensity.
"We've got to get back home," Harry said quietly.
He was sitting beside the dais now, mostly all right although not quite his usual robust self. Draco had cast a cleaning charm on his clothes, but it hadn't worked very well Avery's wand was, the blond wizard claimed irritably, predictably temperamental.
"Try and find ours," Harry advised him.
Draco nodded and got up, going first to rifle gingerly through Voldemort's robes. He found Voldemort's wand which he decisively snapped before either of the others could stop him but nothing else, so he headed for the door, casting a "point me" spell on Avery's wand.
"Be careful!" Harry called after him, but Draco waved him off with a good-natured yeah yeah gesture.
Harry looked at Ron, who hadn't left his side for a moment, and smiled, patting his arm affectionately. They hadn't talked about the charmed pendant yet; that conversation, they both knew, would come later. Nor had they talked about Harry's strategy to rid the world of Voldemort, and that was one conversation Harry was definitely in no hurry to have.
"Check on Dumbledore again, will you? He can't walk, and I'm trying to think of a way to get him home with us. It's a long way to Apparate, even with the circle."
"If Draco can find our wands, I think I know of another way," Ron replied, getting up.
Dumbledore was still alive, breathing but unconscious. One of the first things Ron and Draco had done when they was sure Harry was safe was to make sure the elderly professor was also alive and in no immediate danger. Ron had also pulled off the chain and collar in disgust and fury, and cast them to one side. Now, with a grunt of effort, he managed to lift the old man and carry him over to Harry.
"He needs to see a mediwizard, and soon," he commented worriedly.
"It all hinges on finding the wands," Harry said, his brow furrowing. "I suppose we might make do with Avery's, but personally I wouldn't trust it to four of us." He glanced at Ron's hands. "We need to get that thing off your wrist as well."
"Can't happen soon enough for me," Ron muttered. He hunkered down next to Harry again, looking around. "I'm wondering where the Seers are," he said, after a moment. "There wasn't much resistance when I took over the servants, and I haven't felt any attempts to re-take control of them either. Do you think they ran for it?"
"Maybe. Or maybe they're hiding, waiting to see what happens," said Harry, grimly.
"If it was me, I'd be out of here at the first opportunity, and sod loyalty to Voldemort."
"True. Ron, can you I don't know release the servants at all? Stop them being zombies?"
"I'll need to destroy the original spell," Ron replied. "It'll be a container of some kind, probably a glass ball, holding some bits and pieces graveyard dust, blood from a chicken sacrifice, and so on. If Draco can find my wand, I can do it without even seeing it. But finding it and smashing it would do as well. Then I can just command the dead back into their graves." He cocked his head to one side, looking at Harry. "Then what?"
"Then we get out of here," Harry said. He was starting to look grey and weary. "But we need to destroy Voldemort's body first, and personally I'd like to destroy this entire castle if possible."
"Won't the Romanian Ministry want to look over it?"
"I don't care if they do. While it's here, it's a risk. Besides, I think they knew it was here all along and just didn't say anything."
"What makes you say that?" asked Ron, surprised.
Harry gave him a half-smile. "Come off it! A bloody great castle like this, on the side of a mountain? You'd have to be more than blind to miss it! You might get the local Muggles to think its a mouldering old ruin, but you'd never fool a wizard. Like Sirius said, they have a different attitude to the Dark Arts in this part of Europe. I think I want to make sure that no more would-be Dark Lords can take up residence here, just in case."
"Fair enough oh! Uh-oh "
"What?" Harry looked up; Ron was getting to his feet nervously, looking at Voldemort's body. It had started to twitch.
"Looks like our friend is trying to rise again. Oh shit, what do we do?"
Harry smiled. It was weird how suddenly he couldn't feel afraid anymore . "Get a couple of the servants to sit on him until Draco gets back," he said calmly.
Draco returned, triumphant, twenty minutes later, although this was fifteen minutes too long for Ron and Harry, who had to bear with the unnerving experience of hearing a dead body rant at them in a variety of European languages. By the time the blond wizard jogged back into the hall, Ron had upped the number of zombie servants sitting on Voldemort's corpse from two to five, and he was swearing creatively in his agitation.
Draco's solution was to point his own wand at the corpse and bind it up with flexible steel cords, adding an impressive metal gag that appeared to be riveted across the body's mouth.
"Easy when you know what you're doing," he told Ron loftily.
Ron's response was unrepeatable. He snatched his own wand out of Draco's hand and snapped, "Evestigatus calathum spiritu!". A small spark leapt from the tip of his wand and disappeared out of the room at high speed.
"What was that?" asked Harry, dragging himself reluctantly to his feet.
"Something to find and destroy the zombie spell," Ron replied. "Could one of you get this thing off my wrist?"
It took a couple of attempts to remove the leather bracelet. Simple severing charms wouldn't work, and nor would a sharp knife when Draco conjured one. Finally, Harry had to expand it and levitate it from Ron's wrist, whereupon the thing seemed to contract in onto itself until it was nothing but a hard little ball of leather strips.
"It's tempting to take it home with us and see what the Unspeakables make of it," Draco commented, kicking the ball aside, "but God only knows what it'll do to us if we try to Apparate with it in a pocket or something."
"We shouldn't risk Apparating with Dumbledore anyway," Harry replied. "Let's see if we can make him more comfortable, though. We need that bottle of Restoria Vitae potion from our closet, Ron."
The three of them looked at each other a little doubtfully.
"That's a long reach," Ron pointed out. "And you're not exactly fit to leap mountains yourself."
"I know, but we need to do it and preferably before I keel over," was Harry's pointed comment.
The three of them touched wand-tip to wand-tip and concentrated. It seemed like a very long time since they had last done this, but Harry pushed that thought aside and prepared for the wash of power that would hit him when Ron performed the spell.
Molly Weasley screamed when Draco Malfoy tumbled out of the long mirror behind her living room door; and she kept on screaming as he was closely followed by Harry Potter, her youngest son Ron and looking a faded shadow of himself Albus Dumbledore.
Her yells brought her sons Charlie and Percy racing into the room, wands at the ready, and it was a miracle that no one got hexed in the confusion. Dumbledore was quickly helped to a chair and Ron nearly smothered by his mother's loving embrace, while everyone else tried to ask questions and nobody got any answers.
Finally, Ron had to break free from his mother, and grab Percy by the front of his robes and shake him, saying loudly: "Voldemort is DEAD and Lucius Malfoy is masquerading as Dumbledore "
"Impossible!" Percy spluttered indignantly. "What on earth do you think you're talking about? Why "
"Oh shut up, Weatherby," Ron snapped in disgust, and he turned to his mother and Charlie.
"Voldemort's dead?" Charlie demanded, before anyone else could speak.
"Pretty much," Draco said. "And so's Grindelwald again."
"Never mind that," Harry broke in quickly. "Voldemort's definitely dead. But the important thing "
"That's not important?"
"Shurrup!" Ron cried, exasperated.
"Ronald!" his mother reprimanded him, shocked.
"The important thing is that Lucius Malfoy is pretending to be Dumbledore," Harry said a little desperately.
"So where's the real Dumbledore?" asked Percy, rather foolishly.
There was a tiny pause as everyone gave him incredulous looks. Then Dumbledore himself said, with a ghost of his old twinkling smile, "That would be me, I think, Mr. Weasley."
"But where have you all been?" Molly cried before anyone else could say anything, "and how can You-Know-Who be dead?"
"That's very long story," Harry told her apologetically, "and we simply don't have time to tell it now. We have to find Lucius Malfoy and stop him before he gets half the Order of the Phoenix killed."
"I suspect he will go to either the Ministry or to Hogwarts," Dumbledore said.
"The Ministry building's gone," Molly said, and a sudden silence fell as the new arrivals absorbed the shock.
"How?" demanded Draco.
"It was one of the first places the Death Eaters attacked," Percy replied, and his pompous tone was gone, leaving him sounding very subdued. "We couldn't work out how they got through the wards "
" But if it wasn't really Dumbledore," Molly finished for him, "well that would explain it. Fudge is dead," she added.
"Where's Dad?" Ron asked anxiously.
Her eyes were grim and worried. "He set off for Hogwarts half an hour ago, with old Mad-Eye. There were rumours of a large band of Death Eaters heading that way, and of course it's term-time so all the children are there "
"Minerva will put the emergency evacuation plan into operation," Dumbledore suggested.
But everyone looked doubtful at this. Professor McGonagall had been as duped by the false Dumbledore as the rest of them.
"Professor Snape?" Percy suggested.
"We have to assume he was as fooled as everyone else," Harry said.
"Not quite everyone," a new voice said, and Bill walked into the room. He was a mess, covered in soot and dirt and running with sweat. Molly let out a cry of relief when she saw him.
But Bill was looking at Harry. "It's true then about Dumbledore?"
Harry stepped back so that he could see the elderly headmaster sitting at the kitchen table. "It's true," he said, "but how did you know?"
"Remus Lupin and Sirius Black," Bill replied. "Lupin was suspicious when we were trying to control the damage in Diagon Alley. He said he smelled something odd, and Black backed him up." He looked at Dumbledore. "Professor?"
Dumbledore gave him an apologetic look. "I regret to say that it is true, Mr. Weasley. But that is unimportant now our young friends here must find Lucius and prevent him from doing any more damage."
"Dad and Mad-Eye took a portkey to Hogsmeade as soon as we heard the school was likely to come under attack," Bill said, "but Black and Lupin should already be there. Let's go."
"There may be a quicker way," Dumbledore said, as they prepared to Apparate. He looked at Harry, Ron and Draco. "Gentlemen, Lucius will either be in my quarters or - if he realises his disguise has been penetrated he may try the dungeons. He knows them well, and also the most damage may be done to the castle from that point. Use the castle mirrors. There is a magic mirror in my private chambers, Harry, and the Mirror of Erised can also be used for transportation if you are careful.
"And Harry, " he added.
The younger man looked back.
"You have died enough today, my boy," Dumbledore warned him. "Let others take the lead now."
Harry paused to consider this, then nodded just once and was gone.
"We could have used the Map for this," Sirius Black muttered, as he and Remus Lupin picked their way along a very tumbledown passage under the school dungeons. "I don't remember this part at all, and I'm sure we're going in circles."
"The Map is hidden somewhere in Dumbledore's office," Lupin reminded him, "and you don't remember these passages because we never came down this far. So they wouldn't be on the Map anyway." He looked down at the tiny, glowing tracer spell in his palm. "Not far now."
"Where the hell are we?"
"I'm not sure."
"I find it hard to believe that Lucius Malfoy's been using this place as a base ever since he escaped."
"Agreed. On occasion, perhaps, but - "
"It's not quite fancy enough for a Malfoy," finished Sirius, with a twist of his lips. He had lived in far worse places while he was on the run, but his sensibilities weren't as nice. "I still think Marcellus Malfoy's been hiding him. Although I'd love to know where, we've searched his house from top to bottom - "
"It's not important. All we need to know is what the hell he's playing at and what he's done with Dumbledore. And we're here."
Lupin extinguished the spell, and the two men came to halt just short of a bend in the passage. They looked at each other for a moment.
"You remember how to do this?" Sirius asked his friend softly.
"I remember the instructions," Lupin replied wryly. "It remains to be seen whether Severus's new potion works as it should, though."
"Moony, it's a full moon tonight and you're still you. For once I'm prepared to cut Snape a little slack." Sirius caught the look on Lupin's face, and grinned slightly. "Don't ever tell him I said that."
"Never," the other man said gravely.
"Good. Then let's do it."
Sirius changed quickly into his canine form, and waited. Lupin was wearing a look of intense concentration that his friend hadn't seen since they were children at school together, working on new transfiguration projects. Then the former professor's outline blurred.
It wasn't quite like an ordinary Animagus transformation. There was a definite transitional period between human and animal forms, and it took two or three seconds to complete. But when it was over, there was a fully grown male wolf standing beside Sirius; a wolf that was looking at him with human understanding and intelligence in its eyes.
And even a tiny touch of humour.
Something inside Sirius wanted to whoop and punch the air like the boy he had once been, the feeling of happiness inside him was so large. All that stopped him was the knowledge that the one other person who would have understood and been equally overjoyed at the news, was not here with them ... and would never be here with them again. The days of the Marauders were over forever.
One last prank, then, Sirius thought stoically, for old times' sake.
With a wave of his tail, he led the way out into the dripping passages, sticking close to the walls and keeping low. There was a light far ahead of them, dim but undoubtedly enough for someone who had become accustomed to the dark down here. Sirius's canine nose could smell slightly fresher air, heavy with water, but also bearing towards him on a slight breeze was the musky scent of a human male ... and something else. Something metallic and sulphurous.
He paused and Lupin drew alongside him, his keen wolf nose also sampling the air. There were faint sounds too, of wood splitting and the whisper of half-voiced incantations.
What the hell was Malfoy doing?
They set off again, now more cautious. The passage they were following continued on, straight ahead and away from Malfoy's location, but a number of smaller tunnels branched off, damp and rank with old, complex scents. Lupin had surmised earlier that they were descending to sewer level, and Sirius's dog nose had just confirmed that. But whatever they were heading towards was definitely not a sewer.
Not unless the Founders of Hogwarts had built a cathedral into the sewer system.
The little tunnel ended abruptly with a rusted iron grill that faced out onto a chamber that rivalled the great hall many levels above them. But this hall was vastly different.
Two long rows of statues faced out over a long, wide aisle. At one end was an old iron ladder leading up to a circular stone door set into the wall. The door appeared to be shut tight. At the other end was an enormous carved face of a man like something chiselled out of the cliffs in Monument Valley.
Standing before the stone face, surrounded by a shallow pool of water and the slimy bones of some enormous dead monster, was the eerie form of Albus Dumbledore only the scent, which was clearly that of Lucius Malfoy and not the old headmaster, enabled Sirius to look at him without a terrified prickle running up his neck. He was working over a pile of small wooden barrels, cracking them open with a chisel or hammer, inserting something into the hole, then banishing them who knew where with his wand.
There was a small gap at the bottom of the grill. Sirius flattened himself to the ground and eased himself through it, although not without difficulty. Behind him, Lupin followed. They emerged into a gap between two of the statues which Sirius could now see were stylised snakes and used the nearest one to cover them as they watched the other wizard. From here, they also got a closer look at the barrels, and Sirius felt a sudden chill as he recognised the "WWW" labels on them.
When Diagon Alley had first been attacked at the end of August, the premises of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes had been burned out. At the time the twins had expressed considerable surprise that the building hadn't actually exploded, taking half the street with it, as they had been storing a large supply of magical explosives in the cellars below the shop, for use in their own, improved version of Fillibuster's Fireworks.
But when the Aurors and other investigators had examined the premises later, they hadn't found a shred of evidence that the barrels had ever been there (which had been good news for Fred and George, as they escaped penalties for storing such a dangerous substance without a licence in the first place), so what had actually happened to the explosives was a mystery.
Well, it's a mystery no more, Sirius thought grimly, and he marvelled at the nerve and planning it must have taken for Lucius Malfoy to lift so much explosive safely and without anyone noticing. Conceivably this had been the entire purpose behind the Daigon Alley attack in the first place. He made a couple of mental notes to find out who had supplied Fred and George and who had known where the explosives were stored, and to slap a penalty on the twins anyway, now that the existence of the explosives was established.
The chill inside him was spreading though, as he watched the Death Eater preparing and dispatching the little barrels one by one. He was beginning to have an idea of what the man was planning to do, and when he glanced at Lupin, the wolf gave him an oddly human-looking nod.
They crept out from their hiding place and began to approach Malfoy, clinging to the cover of the statues until the last possible minute. Finally, when they were within feet of him, the two of them changed back to human form, wands at the ready.
And Malfoy turned to face them, hands folded in front of him, maintaining the pretence that he was Dumbledore to the last.
"Gentlemen," he said gravely, inclining his head to them. It was an award-winning performance.
"Nice try, Lucius," Sirius said admiringly. "But you miscalculated slightly the old canine sense of smell, you know. You're no more Albus Dumbledore than my grandmother's prize-winning pig. Tell me, what did you do with him?"
The sudden change in the familiar face was unnerving.
"I would imagine he is dead by now," was Malfoy's cool response, a little smile playing around the bearded lips. "My master never did have much affection for him."
"I see," Lupin said, when Sirius didn't respond to this. "Very well, we'll deal with that later. But for now the game is up. You'd better come along with us."
"To where?" Malfoy looked amused. "To what purpose? Your precious Order of the Phoenix is in tatters. And do you seriously think that without Dumbledore or Fudge, or God help us your sainted Harry Potter, you have a hope of recovering? Their day is done, werewolf. The Dark Lord rules here now, as you will soon discover. He is coming very soon."
"Save the rhetoric, Malfoy, you'll need it for your trial," Sirius told him shortly, and he ignored the laugh this got from the other wizard. "Instead, tell us what the hell you're doing with Fred and George Weasley's firework powder."
"This?" Malfoy waved a hand at the last couple of barrels on the floor beside him. "An interesting substance, gunpowder don't you think? Remarkable properties, especially when it has a little spell to help it along. And so little can achieve so much when placed exactly so."
He waved his wand.
There was a wick sticking out of the top of the nearest barrel. As Sirius and Lupin watched, alarmed, it began to smoulder and burn.
"Sirius, put it out!" Lupin snapped, waving his own wand at it as he spoke. A shower of water made no difference. The wick continued to burn with magical zeal, quite unaffected by the damp.
Lucius Malfoy chuckled. "Futile," he said coolly. "It will burn now until it reaches the gunpowder, no matter what you do." As an afterthought he added, "I do hope you both made your Wills before you came down here."
"What the hell are you playing at?" Sirius demanded, a dreadful fear rising in his chest. They had warned Minerva McGonagall, but she would never have time to get all the children out of the school ....
"I imagine that should be obvious even to your limited intellect," Malfoy retorted, with a look of contempt. "I'm doing the only thing that can be done to cleanse this place of its wretched infestation of Muggles and halfbloods. Later, a new institution can be raised by Lord Voldemort in its place, for the proper education of Pureblood witches and wizards, as the Founders once intended "
"I suppose the fact that you're going to die with us is irrelevant?" snapped Sirius. The wand he kept pointed at Malfoy shook slightly.
"I've made my arrangements, Black - "
The wick was burning perilously close to the top of the barrel now. Shoving Malfoy aside, Lupin kicked the barrel over and ground the wick under his heel. Powder spilled out of the hole and across the ground.
The wick continued to burn and before Lupin could knock it away, the flame touched some of the spilled gunpowder ....
There was a tense pause as all three men stared at it.
"You're sure that it being damp won't make a difference?" Sirius asked snidely, although he was pale with relief.
"That's odd," Lupin said, and he crouched down by the upturned barrel. He sniffed warily then licked his fingertip and touched it to the powder, rubbing the sample of it between his fingers. "It doesn't smell of sulphur anymore. And it's crystalline." After a moment's hesitation, he touched his fingertip to his tongue. And smiled in surprise. "It's sugar molasses sugar!"
Malfoy let out a cry of rage and lunged at Sirius. Taken by surprise, the Animagus was knocked to the floor and before he or Lupin had a chance to recover, Lucius took to his heels, running for the cover of the nearest statue.
Snarling, Sirius transformed and gave chase, Lupin following.
They managed to follow his trail through the sewers for the next ten or fifteen minutes before losing it in the newer and more widely-used sections of the system. Finally they were forced to concede defeat.
"He must have had a portkey or something," Lupin concluded, when they stopped for breath. "The school anti-Apparition wards probably aren't as strong down here as they are above ground."
Sirius wasted several minutes and a lot of breath venting his feelings, before letting his shoulders sag in acceptance. "We'd better go back and secure that barrel as evidence."
They retraced their steps.
"What I want to know is how that gunpowder became sugar in the space of a quarter of an hour," Lupin commented at one point. "I could definitely smell gunpowder when we entered the cavern."
"Speaking of which, what the hell is that place?" Sirius wanted to know. "And how did Malfoy know it was there?"
"I assume it's the Chamber of Secrets," Lupin replied, raising a brow at his friend. "Didn't Harry ever tell you about his second year here?"
"I hadn't thought of that." Sirius frowned. "But I thought only a Parselmouth could unlock the door to get into it? So how did Malfoy get in, and why were we able to follow him in there?"
Lupin considered this. "Obviously there's more than one entrance after all. In fact, that makes sense because I'm sure I remember Harry telling me that the basilisk moved around the school through the pipes in the walls and floors. So it stands to reason that it should be possible to enter the chamber through the sewers as well."
"Whatever." Sirius scowled. "We may have lost Malfoy this time, but I swear I'm going to turn Marcellus Malfoy's house and Malfoy Manor inside out when I get out of here. He has to be hiding out in one or other of them."
"We need Ron Weasley's gift," Lupin replied quietly.
There was a sudden silence as Sirius remembered that not only Ron, but also his godson and Draco Malfoy were still missing.
"Yeah, we do," he said in a subdued tone.
The two men walked on in silence until they found the little tunnel that led back into the Chamber of Secrets.
So it came as something of a shock when they walked back in there, to discover Lucius Malfoy unconscious on the floor with Ron and Draco standing over him.
"I suppose you're too grown up and busy now to bother with people like me," the girlish little voice said mournfully.
Harry winced and managed to produce a wan smile. "It's nothing personal, Myrtle," he told the ghost. It was cold sitting on the tiled floor of the old girls' toilet and he wished she wouldn't sit so close. She was even colder. "I have to work, you know, so I don't come to Hogwarts much anymore."
"You were here for a whole month over the summer!" she pointed out, in a choked-up sort of way. "And you never visited me once in all that time! And it's so lonely here, all alone in my toilet. No one ever comes in here anymore, so all I have for company is that horrid old mirror of the Headmaster's, and I'm not even allowed to look at myself in it!"
Harry glanced over at the Mirror of Erised, which was standing in a corner next to one of the cubicles. They'd used it to get here quickly from Dumbledore's office, although he'd been a little surprised when he'd found out where it was. "But it's very good of you to guard it for him," he said, a little helplessly. "After all, it's really quite dangerous, you know. And I'm sorry I didn't visit you, Myrtle, but I really was busy - "
To his relief there was a sudden clatter in the tunnel beneath the washbasins and a voice floated up echoingly.
Harry scrambled to the edge of the hole. "Ron!"
"Chuck us that rope, will you, mate?"
Harry found the end of the rope they'd conjured before Ron and Draco had gone down the hole in the floor. One end was already secured to the pedestal of one of the washbasins and the other he threw down the hole.
"Have you got it?"
"Yep. Hold on."
"Is everyone all right?"
"We're all fine," was the reply, this time from Draco.
"I suppose you'll be going away again now." Moaning Myrtle was starting to sniffle and gulp in an ominous way. "I'll be all on my own again."
Harry began to feel guilty. After all, Myrtle had been forced to haunt this toilet for a very long time. It had to be boring, especially since the facilities weren't exactly the nicest or most popular in the school.
"Look Myrtle," he said desperately, over her sobs, "maybe if I talk to Professor Dumbledore, we can sort something out for you. Find you somewhere nicer to haunt perhaps "
"Be careful what you promise," Sirius's voice said a little breathlessly, and his head emerged above the edge of the hole in the floor.
Harry grabbed his arm to help him and after a moment of scrabbling Sirius managed to haul himself out onto the floor. He stared at Harry for a moment, then seized him in a sudden, fierce hug.
"Damn it, Harry, don't you ever do anything like that again "
"It's not likely," Harry managed shakily. "Voldemort's "
" Dead, yes, I know. Ron told me." Sirius was looking him over worriedly. "He said you lost a lot of blood. God, you're as white as " he caught sight of Moaning Myrtle hovering sulkily a few feet away from Harry and changed his mind, " a sheet. Stay where you are while I bring the others up."
"I'm fine," Harry protested, but he had to admit that actually he didn't feel fine at all. Which was why he was sitting on the floor in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom instead of below, helping the others. "Did you find Lucius Malfoy?"
"We've got him," Sirius assured him, as he dropped the rope back down the hole. "Don't worry it's all over now."
Harry looked at him for a moment then smiled faintly, thinking of all the explanations and debriefings and trials and cleaning up that had yet to happen. The overwhelming mess that always accompanied an 'incident', only magnified to the power of one hundred.
"Yes," he said wryly, "I suppose it is."
"...When we reached Hogwarts," Harry explained to Sirius, Remus and Professor McGonagall, "the first people we ran into were you, Professor, and Professor Snape trying to evacuate the school "
"Which was when Snape tried to strangle Harry, for knocking him out and locking him in his own cupboard," added Ron, grinning.
Harry gave him a poke in his side. "Shut up. So we went straight to Dumbledore's office, to find the Marauders' Map and try to find out where everyone else was. But Sirius, Remus and Lucius Malfoy weren't on it, even though we knew they had to be in the building. So Ron scryed for them in a candle and we discovered that they were in the Chamber of Secrets."
The six of them were sitting in Dumbledore's office, holding a kind of informal debriefing that was really more to satisfy everyone's curiosity while they relaxed with a much-needed cup of tea. Professor McGonagall had conjured up some extra armchairs and Dobby, having wept over everyone with joy, had helped his fellow house-elves produce a miniature feast for the group. And Madam Pomfrey had paid a visit to look over Harry, pass a few strictures on his dangerous lifestyle, and dose him up with a restorative potion strong enough to make his eyes water.
The only person missing was Snape who, having stayed long enough to hear that Voldemort really was dead and Lucius Malfoy in custody, had cast a glare of utter loathing at Harry and disappeared to organise the return of the pupils to their Houses. Mad-Eye Moody had (with considerable satisfaction) taken charge of Malfoy and borne him off to secure facilities, accompanied by Bill Weasley. And Arthur Weasley had hurried back to the Burrow to reassure his family and bring Professor Dumbledore up to date on events.
"I don't understand how Draco managed to open the door into the Chamber though," Professor McGonagall put in now. "I thought it could only be opened by a Parselmouth?"
"It can," Draco replied, and he glanced at Harry. "Harry opened the first entrance in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, but he wasn't feeling too good at that point and jumping down the hole was out of the question. So he stayed there "
"With Myrtle to look after him!" Ron added, grinning, and got another poke from Harry.
" While Ron and I went down to the passage. The trouble was that they'd forgotten the rock-fall from their previous visit, so we had a bit of a struggle getting through. Then we all linked together and Harry spoke through me to open the inner door." Draco looked rather pleased with himself. "That was my idea, by the way. Anyway, when we opened the Chamber up, my father had already made a break for it, but he must have doubled back because we found him trying to put the explosives back together. So we stunned him on the spot."
"And the gunpowder?" Lupin asked.
"I saw that while I was scrying for you," Ron replied. "Once I saw one barrel, it was easy to pick out where the others were. I'm afraid that's why we were a little slow joining you we weren't sure if we could just get rid of the stuff or put the wicks out when they started burning, so we decided to transfigure it into something harmless instead. Unfortunately, the effort nearly did Harry in again."
There was a pause during which everyone looked at Harry, and Ron in particular gave him a very meaningful look which he did his best to ignore for the time being.
Lupin rescued him. "What did you do with Voldemort's body?" he asked them.
"Incinerated it," Draco said, when Harry seemed disinclined to answer. "We had to Ron wasn't sure he could send Grindelwald back, so it was easier to destroy the body."
"And then we blew up the castle," Ron added.
Harry sighed. "We didn't blow it up, Ron. We just collapsed it."
"Same difference," Ron said, shrugging. "Either way, there's still a big heap of rubble on the side of a mountain. And good riddance if you ask me." He had one arm slung loosely around Harry's shoulders; for a moment his grip tightened, but Harry said nothing. "We couldn't find any of Voldemort's Seers or Nick Curtis before we did it, so I'm guessing they made a run for it earlier."
"We'll pick them up at some point, don't worry," Sirius said grimly. "They're small fry."
They all looked at each other for a moment.
"I think that's everything," Harry said.
"But are you going to tell us just how you managed to to rid us of Voldemort, Harry?" Professor McGonagall asked gently.
He shook his head tiredly. "No, Professor. Not now. Maybe later, when everything has calmed down a bit and I've had a chance to talk it over with Ron and Draco."
Which was, he knew, probably a little unsatisfactory for his listeners, but he strongly felt that under the circumstances the other two were owed the more urgent explanation before he decided just how much he would and would not - tell everyone else.
But when they were finally allowed to escape and find beds to fall into, Draco pushed aside Harry's attempt to draw him into the conversation.
"You don't have anything to explain to me," he said rather pointedly, although his slight smile took any sting out of the words. "I know why you didn't tell me what you were planning it was that stupid, self-sacrificing Gryffindor nobility again. And yes, I was pretty pissed off when I realised, and if you ever try anything like that again I'll probably hex you into the middle of next week. But if you're planning to indulge in an orgy of guilt at my expense, then forget it. You're forgiven. Besides, I think you'll have enough on your plate trying to placate him."
And he nodded towards Ron, who was staring moodily out of the window, before calmly taking himself off to his own room and shutting the door.
"It's a good view," Harry offered tentatively.
They were in guest rooms at the top of one of Hogwarts' many towers and the window offered a fine panoramic landscape that stretched out for miles and allowed them a view of moonlight over the lake. The giant squid was waving a tentacle or two in the air as it moon-basked on the surface of the water.
Ron merely lifted a shoulder in a shrug, indifferent to the view. His expression was unusually bleak.
Harry bit his lip. "Are you talking to me?"
A sigh. "Would you listen to me if I did?"
"That's not fair. I always listen to what you say."
"No, Harry. 'Not fair' is not telling me when you're planning something that affects both of us in a really important way. And you were planning this for weeks weren't you?"
"Not exactly ...." Harry protested weakly, and felt the guilt like a hot lump in his stomach. "But you're right," he admitted. "There were things I knew about weeks ago that I should have told you about, and I didn't. I'm sorry."
There was a short silence, then some of the tension eased out of Ron's shoulders, although his face didn't look any happier. Harry nudged him gently back up against the wall beside the window and deliberately insinuated himself into his friend's arms, sliding his hands around his waist and leaning up against him; and after a moment, Ron reluctantly put his arms around him.
This always felt like a slightly odd position for an embrace to Harry. He could remember Ron grabbing hold of him like this when they were eighteen and first exploring the possibilities of their relationship. Then, as now, the redhead was so much taller than him that he could rest his chin on top of Harry's head. But back then Harry had been a lot less confident and emotionally secure, and a lot more nervy. He hadn't really liked being touched by other people, wasn't used to it at all, and it had taken all of Ron's determination to latch onto him and stay latched on when Harry's nerves were continually making him pull away.
But these days it was comforting; so much more meaningful than words or mere sex. The familiarity of it drew the last of the tension out of Ron, and he tightened his grip on Harry.
"You stupid sod," he muttered roughly. "What the hell were you thinking of? What did you think I'd do, if you ended up dead?"
"I don't know," Harry said quietly. He'd tried not to think about it in those last days after they returned from Hogwarts, as it became clearer and clearer to him what he was going to have to do. "I suppose I hoped you'd carry on without me."
"Doing what?" Ron's tone was scornful. "Did you think I was just going to plant you in the family plot and go back to work? "It was nice while it lasted, but hey life is short and there's plenty more fish in the sea"? Don't be daft."
"Well, what would you have done if I'd told you?" Harry countered.
"I'd have gone with you."
Harry squeezed his eyes shut. "Don't say that."
"Why not? It's true. What did you expect? Did you think that after three years together, it was just an experiment? A 'phase'? Not a hope you're stuck with me."
"I never thought it was a phase for you." And that was the truth. Ron's sincerity had been there, in his eyes and his face and his touch, from the very first. "It was me I was afraid of. I didn't want to hurt you."
"You can't hurt me so long as you're with me. But," and Harry felt the breath hitch in Ron's chest for a second, "please, don't ever do anything like that again."
"I'm not planning on it." Harry hesitated for a moment and added, "For what it's worth, when I realised what I was going to have to do, I felt ... really sick. It took me a long time to accept it. And I hated not telling you, but I didn't know what else to do."
Ron's only response was to hug him more tightly.
"You never told me about the pendant," Harry said, after a while.
"That!" And to his surprise Ron laughed softly, shakily. "The worst part about that was I didn't even know if it would work. I knew it was charmed with protection spells when I bought it I tested them before I gave it to you. But the shopkeeper couldn't guarantee that the wish was still intact, and there was only one way to find out. And I hope to God I never have to test anything that way again. I'm just grateful it worked."
Harry felt a chuckle rising up in his chest. "So that was why that Death Eater couldn't zap me on the train!"
"Pretty cool, eh? I don't suppose even the charms will work now, though."
"It doesn't matter. That's one of the best birthday presents anyone's ever given me." Harry still had the broken pendant in his pocket. He would get it mended at the first opportunity; the wish was gone forever, of course, but that didn't matter. It had served its purpose magnificently.
"I'll get you something better for Christmas," Ron told him.
But Harry shook his head, hugging his partner even more tightly. "You couldn't. I've already got everything I could possibly want."
They stayed that way, holding each other and watching the moonlight across the lake, for long time after.
- The End ... Mostly
Author's Note: I don't believe this the end! Except for the epilogue .... Doesn't seem possible. I think this is a good moment to thank everyone for following the story, for sending me wonderful, detailed reviews and for patiently putting up with the recent problems I've had at Fanfiction.Net. (Just typical that it would happen with the last couple of chapters!) I hope the new Group is working out in the meantime, and if you feel the urge to comment, please go ahead and do so *smile* I love hearing from people.
One final review to respond to ....
Jen The mirror has redeemed itself, as you can see they could never have got home without it! But yes, a bit creepy. I find mirrors in odd places are creepy anyway. I can't imagine why anyone would want them on the ceiling! And, just out of curiosity, did you guess right about who Ron would bring back from the dead?
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