The Sugar Quill
Author: Sanction (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Phoenix and the Serpent  Chapter: Chapter Three: The Leavetaking
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The entire Harry Potter universe belongs to J. K. Rowling. Any original characters belong to the author and may not be used without permission.

    Chapter III : The Leave-Taking


Thursday evening.

She walked amidst a cluster of other girls, but he easily found her by the sound of her laughter and that telltale bright red hair. Harry stood in the corner of the antechamber, watching as Ginny Weasley made her way to the Great Hall.

It was dinnertime, but he did not feel like eating. His feet took him here out of force of habit. He had just spent hours of his free time walking aimlessly through the halls. He was sure had been buried in thought, but for the life of him he could not remember what those thoughts were. And like yesterday, nothing he had seen or heard around him seemed completely real. He might as well had been sleepwalking.

The sight of her pierced through that unreality, bringing him back into focus.

She was talking with her friends, completely unaware of him standing there. She had her hair pulled back in its usual ponytail, but a few red wisps had escaped and clung close to her soft brown eyes. He used to remind her to fix it, but she’d always say it was too much of a bother untying her ponytail just to tuck away a few unruly strands. She didn’t know he just wanted an excuse to see her hair undone, even for a moment.

As always there was an ache inside that wanted him to go to her right now and tell her something, anything. Maybe tell her that he was sorry.

He couldn’t, of course. Seven months before, he had decided not to tell her that or anything else.

But should I tell her I'm going away?

What a reckless, silly, selfish thing to do! he thought. Hadn’t he said he didn’t want to do anything that would compromise the mission? Hadn't he decided himself that his two best friends could only know so much of the plan? And why should he disturb her by telling her any of this? What in the world for? So that she would be concerned over him?

She had no reason to be. They hadn’t had a conversation in seven months. Ginny now lived a life far removed from his. Even during his stay at the Burrow last summer, she maintained a polite distance from him, greeting him in the morning, nonchalantly passing him the plate during dinner, letting him use the stairs first...there was no longer warmth in her eyes when she looked at him. Just a foreign, bland stare.

We don't owe each other anything, he sternly told himself. We had good times, good memories. Let's just leave it at that.

She walked through the large double doors, out of sight.

Harry trudged on, wandering the halls of Hogwarts alone.

It was quarter to seven when his feet led him to the entrance to Dumbledore’s quarters. He was half-afraid no one would be there, but then he saw Hermione standing conspicuously by herself in front of the stone gargoyle. He tried to ignore his disappointment at Ron’s absence, and smiled at her in greeting.

She smiled back, though her eyes were sad and muted. He stood beside her without saying anything. Prior to coming here, he had decided not to ask about Ron if he hadn’t already shown up. Ron hadn’t spoken to him at all after that fight in Dumbledore’s office; he buried himself in the covers of his bed that night and the next day left the dormitory before Harry even woke. They met each other in the Great Hall for breakfast, but neither one spoke to the other—Ron idly stirred the remaining cereal in his bowl and scowled down at the soggy mess.

But Hermione didn’t wait for Harry to ask. “I talked to him about tonight, but like the prat he is he didn’t give me a straight answer. Kind of like you, don’t you think?”

Harry shrugged with forced nonchalance. “Well, we still have a few minutes.”

She crossed her arms. “It’s your fault too, you know. You just had to pick a fight with him. Knowing Ron...oh, what’s the use? I’ll never understand you two.”

Harry simply smiled. “Guess I haven’t been having much luck with Weasleys recently.”

He immediately regretted saying that, because she turned to him and asked, “What about Ginny? Did you—”

“I haven’t decided yet,” he said.

She looked at him as if she knew he was lying, but said, “You don’t have much time left to do it. You don’t have to tell her anything else, but at least let her know you’re going away. At least tell her goodbye!”

“I know.”

She just watched him, and said nothing further.

They waited together in the hallway, but seven came around and there was still no sign of their friend. Harry knew it was time; they had to go on.

“Let’s go up.” He couldn’t believe how quiet his voice had become.

She turned to look at him, biting her lip. “Would Dumbledore mind terribly if we were a few minutes late?”

“I rather think he would,” replied Harry, “given how important this is.”

She nodded her head, eyes downcast.

“It’s not your fault,” he said. He turned to the gargoyle and said, “Fiddlesticks!” It jumped aside, and let them through to the moving stairs.

“I’m sorry, Harry,” said Hermione, as they stepped together onto the moving stairs. He simply replied, “It’s not your fault.”

They arrived at the door and Harry knocked. “Come in,” Dumbledore called from the other side.

He hesitated a moment, then turned the knob and walked in. “Good evening, Headm—“

His tongue froze against his teeth as the man standing beside Dumbledore’s desk turned to face him. There, dressed in a brown, shaggy cloak and gazing at him with his fearsome, magical eye, was Alastor Moody.

Dumbledore smiled and stood up, motioning with his hands. “It’s alright, Harry. Do come in. You too, Ms. Granger.”

Noting Harry’s hesitation, Moody nodded in greeting and said, “S’alright, lad, miss. Nothing to worry about here.”

Harry nodded, though he was only slightly reassured. The image of Barty Crouch Jr. behind that gnarled face remained fresh in his mind. Still, he stepped into the room. Hermione followed him, her wide-eyed gaze caught not by the sight of Moody, but by the objects lying on Dumbledore’s table.

Harry looked at them as well—and was amazed. On the left side was a large sealed jar with a small glass spigot on its side. It was filled to the brim with clear liquid, and floating in there was something that resembled a curled-up human fetus. It only resembled it, though, for on closer inspection he realized that it didn’t have eyes, or a nose, or a mouth.

On the right side of the desk was something familiar—the Pensieve. The bowl that reflected Dumbledore’s thoughts remained much the same, except that its contents didn’t look at all like liquid silver. Instead, they were as clear as spring water.

Dumbledore activated the Security Charms and walked towards them, still smiling. “Good evening to you both. Now that you are here we may begin immediately. We have important things to do before the hour ends, so I take it…” his eyes flickered from one to the other, “…all are here that would be here?”

Harry and Hermione exchanged glances, and Harry nodded. “Sorry, sir.”

“We shall make do, Harry, never fear.” He took him by the shoulder and motioned to Moody. “I will now introduce to you the first of your bodyguards…”

“Alastor Moody,” the other man said, hobbling forward. He extended his hand to Harry. “We’ve never been properly introduced.”

Harry shook hands and said, “How do you do?” Moody’s lips split into a grin that Harry didn’t find entirely pleasant.

Dumbledore said, “Your other bodyguard, Daniel Oaks, cannot be with us at the moment as his presence here will not go unnoticed by spies. You will meet him later on.” He motioned with his hand, and three chairs scurried over from the sides of the room and stopped behind his guests. “Now, if you will make yourselves comfortable, we can begin.”

“Um, Professor,” Hermione timidly said as they sat down, “that thing in the jar…”

Dumbledore nodded. “I trust you know what a homunculus is? Ah, but I should know better than to ask, Ms. Granger.”

He caught all of them in his gaze and went on, “The first of our tasks is to ensure that Harry will be completely safe on this journey he is undertaking. Bodyguards, of course, will be necessary, but as an added precaution we will be using this,” he gestured at the jar on the desk. “This is the main reason we are here tonight—the creation of the homunculus.

“Now Harry, if you don’t mind—“

His speech was interrupted by a knock on the door. Immediately, Moody’s hand slipped into his pocket and his eye swung to the entrance. All gazed tensely at the door.

Finally, Moody said, “Potter, Ms. Granger, I don’t suppose either of you have any red-headed friends?”

Hermione practically leaped out of her chair. “Ron!” she cried and ran for the door. Against his will, Harry felt a smile growing on his face.

“Well, well,” said Dumbledore, beaming at Harry. “I thought it would be out of character for him not to be here.”

From behind him, Harry heard snatches of rapid conversation:

“You made it! You prat, I’m going to kill you—“

“Hermione! Not here, okay? Why’s it so dark—

“Get to your seat already! You really had us going there, you dope—“

“Well, I had to take dinner first, you know—“

"For heaven’s sakes, you’d be late for your own funeral—“

“Say, isn’t that—“

“Yes, he’s Harry’s bodyguard—“

“What!?! You’ve got be kidding—“

“Shhhh!”

Hermione dragged Ron to where Harry was, another chair scampering up behind them.

“Good evening, Ron Weasley,” said the Headmaster. “I’m glad you could join us tonight.”

Ron flushed slightly and said, “Good evening Professor Dumbledore, Mr. Moody. Sorry about being late.”

“No harm done. Please, take a seat while I make my preparations.”

The chair positioned itself between Harry and Hermione, and Ron sat down. Hermione pursed her lips as neither boy acknowledged the other’s presence, but stared straight ahead. Ron’s composure, however, collapsed quickly when he spied the jar in Dumbledore’s hands. “What the bloody hell is that thing?!” he cried.

Hermione slapped at his shoulder. “Mind your manners, Ron! That’s the homunculus. That’s what Harry’s here for.”

Ron eyed it, looking rather queasy. “Um, it’s really not alive, right?”

“No it’s not, Ronald,” replied Dumbledore, “but the success of our plans rests on its pretending to be alive.”

He turned to Harry. “Please sit next to the Pensieve.”

Harry stood up and walked over to the bowl. The chair skittered forward to stand behind him. “Now, Harry,” said Dumbledore, “we shall give the homunculus your thoughts. To accomplish this, I have modified the Pensieve: it will copy your thoughts and memories, and transfer them to the mind of the homunculus. Its behavior will then be attuned to yours. You need not worry about anything—this process will not harm your memories in any way.

“To begin the thought transfer process, I must cast a spell on you to put you to sleep. The transfer will take one hour. We can start anytime you are ready.”

Harry turned his gaze to where Ron and Hermione still sat. Ron’s mouth was a tense, narrow line. There was apprehension in Hermione’s eyes, but she smiled encouragingly and reached for Ron’s hand.

Without taking his eyes off them, Harry said, “I’m ready.”

Dumbledore approached him, his sky blue robes blocking Harry’s friends from sight. Harry looked up at the old man’s kindly face, and at the wand slowly descending upon him.

“Hypnos.”


And Harry slipped down a dark tunnel, ending in a place that glowed blue as a perfect sky. He lay there suspended for what seemed ages, feeling weightless as air. Then the wind came. Its cold touch cut through mind and memory, emptying him of joy, sorrow, fear. Visions flashed like lightning—he could see the faces of people he knew, he could see—

The Snitch clasped in both his hands, the crowd cheering wildly in the stands—

His Patronus, a brilliant silver stag, gracefully leaping past him—

Cedric Diggory, lifeless on the ground, fear and confusion the last thing in his eyes—

A jewel, red as blood—

A horrible face with crimson, reptilian eyes—

Standing stones, ancient, grey—

A rose—

A forest—

A bowl of water—

An empty, dust-filled house—

And Ginny, replacing the glasses on his face and smiling, gazing at him with an emotion he could not (would not) name—


He woke with a start as a hand roughly grabbed his shoulder. “Harry,” someone cried, shaking him, “Harry, wake up!”

Harry blinked rapidly and adjusted the glasses on his face. His body felt stiff and his mind cobwebby, like he’d been asleep for days. He peered up and saw Ron’s worried face.

“What happened?” asked Harry. He gazed bemusedly at his right hand, dipped into the waters of the Pensieve. The liquid was no longer clear, but a strange azure.

Dumbledore spoke from behind Ron. “Please help him stand, Mr. Weasley. We need to discuss something.” Ron quickly obeyed, gripping Harry by the arm and pulling him to his feet. Harry withdrew his hand from the Pensieve, unsurprised that it was not the least bit wet.

Dumbledore was sitting between Moody and Hermione in a circle of chairs. The Headmaster’s expression looked grave. Hermione’s face was pale, and Moody’s jagged brows were knit into a scowl.

“Are you alright, Harry?” asked Dumbledore. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m okay,” said Harry. “I feel like I’m made of jelly, but I’m okay.”

“That sensation will go away in a few moments. Miss Granger, please get him some water from the pitcher by the cabinet over there. Thank you.” He motioned for Harry to sit beside him. Ron helped him there and sat down himself.

“I’m afraid I have bad news,” said Dumbledore, and nodded to Moody. The other man said, “Just after you went to sleep an owl arrived from Headquarters. They received a message from one of our informants in the south.” He raised a piece of parchment clutched in his bony hand. The muscles on his jaws tightened; he looked almost feral. “Two hours ago, Death Eaters attacked the village of Thistleberry in Wales. Five civilians dead, six are missing.”

Harry felt the bottom drop out from under his guts. “Voldemort’s already made his move,” he said. Ron shot him a nervous look, but he didn’t notice.

Hermione came to his side and handed him a glass of cold water, which he downed quickly. “What do we do now?” she asked quietly.

“Now,” said Dumbledore, “I’m afraid we’ve precious little time. This attack is just a prelude. Within the next few days, more vicious ones will occur. We must act now.” He looked each of them in the eye. “I propose that the journey begin the day after tomorrow, on Saturday. Hogsmeade will have a festival then, commemorating 500 years since its founding. Perhaps we can make an exception this year and have our Hogsmeade weekend a little early. With this as cover, we can attempt the switch. Are we agreed?”

Harry’s felt his spirits plummet. Did he have to leave so soon? He looked about and saw his feelings mirrored on the faces of his friends.

But no one objected.

Dumbledore nodded sagely. “Very well. The homunculus will be ready by tomorrow. I will send you your final instructions by then.”

Moody stood up. “Can’t waste any time then,” he said. “We have to get this little bugger on its feet before tomorrow night.” He lurched over to the jar and conjured a bucket beside the table. Turning the spigot, he began draining the clear oily substance into the bucket.

Dumbledore said to Harry, “There is one last thing that brooks attention. Have you chosen an alias?”

Harry nodded. He’d picked the most forgettable name he could think of. “Robert Jerome Smith.”

The Headmaster nodded in approval. “Hold out your hand.”

Harry did so. Dumbledore placed a yellow pill on his outstretched palm, pointed his wand at it, and muttered the name.

“Er, what’s that, Professor?” Ron asked, eyeing the tiny object.

“This is the last of Harry’s safeguards,” Dumbledore replied, “a Polymien Pill. It is a more stable version of the Polyjuice. As he is, Harry will have a difficult time traveling without detection. In order to preserve his safety we must keep his identity locked away. From the moment the switch has taken place, his double will be Harry Potter and he will be Robert Jerome Smith.”

He turned to Harry and said, “The command word will be your full alias. Say it completely and your disguise will activate. Remember to keep it on over the course of your journey. If for any reason you must reveal who you are, the command word to revoke the disguise is your real name—middle name included. Take the pill now Harry, but do not activate the disguise until after the switch. Do you understand?”

“Yes Professor,” said Harry. Gathering his courage, he downed the pill and reached for the glass beside him.

“Good,” said Dumbledore, then turned to the Ron and Hermione. “Do you have any questions about the instructions I gave you?”

Both replied no. Curious, Harry asked, “What instructions?”

“Our job is to watch over your double,” replied Hermione. “We’re to make sure it will behave exactly like you. It may have a hard time adjusting to its environment at first, even though it has your memories and basic personality. We have to make sure it behaves right. Clandestinely, of course.” Her eyes suddenly sparkled with excitement. “This is going to be so interesting! I get see first-hand how a magical humanoid construct operates!”

Ron looked on in distaste. “Hate to break it to you, Hermione, but I don’t think you’ll be writing a research paper on this one.”

“Alright, my friends,” said Dumbledore, “Alastor and I shall take it from here. You all need rest, so off to bed with you. Leave the work to us old men.” He smiled at them once more, despite the worry in his eyes. “Please remember not to discuss the matter beyond this room.”

They filed out, and the last thing Harry saw before he walked out the door was the Headmaster holding the Pensieve in both aged hands, slowly tipping it into the open mouth of the jar. The azure liquid washed over the head of the inhuman fetus, like a strange form of baptism.

Moments later they were in the hall again, and Harry found himself face to face with Ron. It struck him then that they had spent a whole day without a proper conversation.

Ron stared at him quietly. Finally, he said, “Hey.”

“Hey,” returned Harry. He fiddled with the sleeves of his robes, wordless, then said off-handedly, “Didn’t think you’d be coming.”

Ron was just as nonchalant. “Didn’t you now?”

“Well, you seemed pretty worked up back then.”

Ron shrugged and scratched an ear that had gone slightly red.

“Yeah…well…I couldn’t let you face this alone, right? Even if it’s going to be just sitting on the bleachers again for me. Not that I enjoy rooting for a bum like you.”

“It would help if you weren’t such a pig-headed prat.”

“Pot.”

“Kettle.”

“Oh,” Hermione cut in, exasperated, “When are you two going to knock it off?”

Harry stopped fighting it—he smiled, and so did Ron. Watching them, Hermione heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Boys,” she muttered, as she started for Gryffindor.

Harry and Ron caught up with her. “You can’t understand us, you know,” Ron said to her, grinning. “Stop trying and just live with it.”

“Idiot,” Hermione retorted. She linked one arm with Ron’s and the other with Harry’s, pulling them closer to her. They were quiet for a time, as if this simple act said everything that needed saying and mended everything that had been damaged.



Friday morning.

Alastor Moody stood on the platform of the Hogwarts Express, suitcase in hand, patiently waiting. The smoke from the locomotive mingled with the early morning mist, scattering sunshine around him. There was a chilly nip in the air, a sure signal that autumn was near. Soon he would feel his scars aching more often, like a hundred little stitches on his flesh.

Moody pulled his ancient, mouse-colored hat lower over his eyes and meticulously searched the faces of the people nearby. That spy business itched in his brain. He wished there was some way to get a crack at that intruder, despite Dumbledore’s orders. At least find out who it was. If he only had some clues...

But no one from the handful of people around him seemed out of the ordinary, just a bunch of Hogsmeade residents on their way to London, perhaps for some frantic last-minute grocery shopping before tomorrow’s festival. It looked like a peaceful, uneventful, thoroughly boring journey back. It was just as well: he and Dumbledore had been working on the decoy all night.

Presently, he saw Dumbledore striding towards him from station entrance. As usual, the man didn’t look the least bit tired. Moody had to envy him for that.

He removed his hat, met Dumbledore halfway, shook hands.

“Goodbye, Alastor,” said the Headmaster, “it was a pleasure seeing you again.”

“Same here, Professor,” Moody replied, loud enough for all to hear. Then he leaned forward and whispered, “How’s our little friend?”

“I imagine he’ll be wanting a set of clothes,” the Headmaster whispered back. Then he said in a normal voice, “I hope you enjoy your trip. Say hello to our friends for me.”

“I shall.” Moody released his hand as the train whistle sang. He put on his traveler’s hat and stepped off the platform onto the train. Five minutes later, the train began to roll away from the station. As it picked up speed, Moody stuck out his hat and waved at Dumbledore, who waved back. A few seconds later, the train vanished into the forests surrounding Hogwarts.

Several hours later, the Hogwarts Express reached Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross, London. As the passengers disembarked, the conductor noticed that they were missing one person—a strange old gentleman wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a heavy traveler’s cloak. He had passed that man’s compartment several hours back and heard him blissfully snoring in his seat. Thinking that he was still asleep, he hurried along the corridor to wake him up.

When the conductor reached Moody’s compartment and slid open the door, there was only a quiet, empty room…and an unlatched window.

At around the same time, in a hidden base somewhere in the mountains north of London, Sirius Black received an owl post from Hogwarts. The letter read as thus:


I will be detained here for a while. Came down with a nasty bout of flu and rheumatism to boot. The Headmaster has suggested I stay for treatment. I will let you know when I am scheduled to return. Give my regards to the old farts.

A. M.



Saturday morning.

The long line of sleek black carriages bearing the Hogwarts studentry rattled along the bumpy road to Hogsmeade. Visitors usually traveled to the wizard town by foot, but this year was clearly an exception. Dumbledore had decreed the day before that, for security reasons, it would be best for the students to travel by carriage. Everyone was elated by the announcement. Carriages would surely cut the travel time to Hogsmeade by half.

No one had considered that speed would come at the price of comfort.

“H-How much l-l-l-longer-r till H-Ho-Hogsm-meade?” Hermione managed to say, as she clutched tightly at Ron beside her. Around them the carriage was shuddering so violently over the uneven country road that Harry thought it a miracle it hadn’t fallen over.

“C-C-Can’t say,” Ron replied. “Sh-shouldn’t be m-mu-much further-r-r.”

Opposite them, Harry could only hope this was true as he was rocked from one side to the other. He spread his feet wide and planted both hands on his seat. This helped a bit.

Hermione said, “Aft-after this jaunt I-I’m going to tu-treat myself to a n-nice sta-ble meal at The Th-Th-three Broomsticks!”

Ron cracked a grin. “C-Care for some R-Rocky Road?”

BANG.

The carriage vaulted into the air as it hit a sharp bump. Harry felt his insides drop away as he was suspended in the air for a full second. His hair actually brushed the ceiling. Then he dropped back into his seat as the carriage hit the ground once more.

Adjusting his glasses, he spied Ron clutching his head painfully in both hands. Being the tallest of the three had its disadvantages.

“Y-You ‘kay, Ron?” Harry asked.

Ron didn’t look up. “A-Ask me later when m-my head’s s-stopped spin-ning.”

Hermione was smoothing his mussed-up hair, but also said, “Take that, cornball.”

Just then, the carriage came to a halt. Harry sank into his backrest while Ron and Hermione tried their best not to fall off their seats. There was a chorus of loud whinnying, as if the invisible horses were all venting their relief.

“Finally,” Hermione sighed and threw the door open. Sunshine flooded in, and beyond lay the tranquil, picturesque town of Hogsmeade.

A large colorful banner was strung from one end of the main street to the other—“HOGSMEADE’S 500th FOUNDATION DAY,” it said in a myriad of rippling colors. Down the street and its adjoining paths, smaller banners stretched from building to building. Sunshine glittered on brightly tinted windows. The aroma of freshly cooked pastries wafted from the line of booths on the street. In the distance, a band played a few notes in practice. It was still early, but the air felt heavy with the promise of festivities.

Harry smiled, even though there was a certain heaviness in his heart. When night fell he would be leaving Hogwarts. That thought had kept him awake last night, but he forced himself out of bed that morning. This was his last day. Though he could not openly speak to his friends about it, they had forged a silent pact to thoroughly enjoy these last few hours together.

One by one they stepped out of the carriage. All around them the rest of Hogwarts followed suit, relishing the fresh air, warm sunshine, and stable ground. Here and there they spied a Hogwarts teacher standing among the students, giving last-minute instructions. Dumbledore had asked the Heads of each House to accompany their respective members, and a handful of other professors had come along for good measure.

Harry turned to Ron, who was still clutching his head. “Better now?” he asked.

“I guess,” Ron replied. “Better than poor Neville, anyway.” Ron motioned to the portly Gryffindor from the nearby carriage. Neville Longbottom had bent over with both hands on his knees, looking green and ready to retch, while Dean Thomas sympathetically patted his back.

“Where do we go first?” Hermione asked, looking around.

“With a ride like that, I don’t think I’m ready for much of a meal,” Harry said. “Let’s just shop for a bit.”

For the next few hours they wandered into all their favorite shops, starting from Zonko’s down to Honeydukes. Harry spent a small fortune there on sweets for both his friends, even as Ron and Hermione got him going-away presents—Ron’s was a regenerating stationary set (“To tempt you to write us”) and Hermione’s was a Wizard First Aid Kit (“You’ll never know what might happen along the way”). They took a long time moving from one place to another, winding their way through the overcrowded streets. There was so much to see. Harlequins bearing golden masks and wooden swords pranced through the streets. In the plaza, street performers re-enacted how Hogsmeade was founded way back in the early 1500s. Confetti fluttered down onto the cobblestone roads, dropped by battalions of owls from the local Post Office.

It was early afternoon when they finally made it to their last destination—The Three Broomsticks. “Not a moment too soon,” said Ron, looking ravenous.

“Let’s just hope we can find someplace to sit,” Hermione said as they came in through the door. “Oh, can I leave it to you? I need to have a word with Professor McGonagall over there.”

“Give it a break, Hermione,” Ron chided. “Even teachers want a vacation too.”

Hermione ignored him. “If you find a booth, could you also order a butterbeer for me?”

“We’ll handle it,” said Harry. She left as they looked about for seats.

The Inn was doing good business today, Harry thought. All around him was a motley crowd of visitors. Wizards and witches of all shapes and sizes filled the tables. Dwarves sauntered to the bar, shouting for drinks. A lone ogre sat on the other end of the room, his table nearly bending beneath the amount of food piled upon it. A few surly goblins huddled in one corner table, casting furtive glances and whispering among themselves.

He found a recently vacated table near the door. After giving their orders, Ron nudged him and pointed at the bar. Harry turned and saw Professor Summershield leaning on one elbow, having an animated discussion with Professor Sprout. After finishing her mug of butterbeer, she dropped a few coins on the bar, bid Sprout goodbye, and headed for the door.

A number of boys turned their heads she passed. Who wouldn’t? Adrianna Summershield was a pale-skinned, dark-haired, stunningly beautiful young woman. Harry didn’t find this as impressive as the fact that she was the only Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher he knew that had lasted more than an entire school year. Ron, however, thought differently. He made sure he got a good eyeful before she left the tavern. Harry had to nudge him when Hermione returned to their booth.

“Was that Professor Summershield that just passed by?” she asked.

“Dunno,” Ron replied, nonchalantly sucking on a sugarquill. “Was it, Harry?”

Harry tried not to smile. “It was. I imagine Professor Dumbledore asked her to come along for security reasons.” He briefly wondered if Dumbledore had let her in on their plan.

Hermione sat down a good two feet away from Ron. “Perhaps. Or maybe she was taking the opportunity to let people ogle her. Isn’t that right, Ron?” she said, scowling.

Ron put on his best scandalized look (which Harry had to agree was rather good, for Ron). “Hermione!” he cried. “I was NOT ogling her! How can you say that? I would never—look, just ask Harry.”

She cocked her eyebrow at him. Harry merely tasted the pie that had been plunked down before him, and blandly said, “I think I need more ice cream with my slice.” He got up and strolled to the counter, leaving Ron to his fate.


They spent the next two hours there, drinking butterbeer, and talking, and talking. They reminisced about their adventures from their First year to the present, dug up and dissected every embarrassing moment, sifted through every bright memory. Eventually the discussion drifted to how Sirius and Remus were doing, wherever they were. And of course, to Hagrid, gone far too long among the giants in the hills of Northern Ireland.

They still had some time when they left The Three Broomsticks, so they walked some more, meandering through the teeming streets of Hogsmeade until they neared the outskirts of town. There the road curved around a small, grassy hill, at the top of which lay a large flat rock surrounded by wildflowers. They climbed up the hill, wisps of dandelions clinging to their legs. Without thinking, Harry bent and took one in his hand. They reached the top and sat down on the grass, leaning against the rock.

There was very little left to share, so they sat quietly together, listening as the distant sounds of voices and music drifted up to them. There was a slight chill in the breeze, reminding Harry that summer had come and gone.

All of Hogsmeade lay before them, the dwindling sunshine bathing its shops and houses in shades of orange and gold. Its streets teemed with wandering students and vendors hawking their wares. And upon the deep blue horizon, veiled by purple shadows, Hogwarts itself lay dreaming over the dark mirror of its lake. Its bright banners still floated high in the evening breeze, and the setting sun still flashed upon the highest towers.

A loud ‘POP!’ suddenly sounded from nearby. Harry looked just in time to see fireworks erupting from a house’s chimney. It hissed into the air and blossomed into a fountain of falling color. Soon other chimneys shot fireworks, illuminating the darkening sky. As they watched, the wind came again, and a cloud of dandelions blooms took to flight.

“Beautiful,” sighed Hermione as she tucked her legs beneath her. Ron merely smiled, inched closer to her, and slipped his arm around her shoulders.

This is all our world, thought Harry, spellbound. In here was everything that ever mattered to him, everything he had ever chosen to love. It seemed almost absurd that even now, a war was waiting to be waged, and that should he fail his task all this may well be blown to dust.

He was glad, then, for this moment.

Abruptly, Harry said, “Two weeks from now, we’ll get together again at The Three Broomsticks. And I’ll buy each of you a glass of butterbeer.”

Ron smiled. “That a promise, Harry?”

“Yes.”

“But don’t say goodbye yet,” said Hermione, as she rested her head on Ron’s shoulder. “Not right now. Please?”

They sat together as evening came and the stars winked into view. And while this time was beautiful, and theirs to have, Harry knew it wasn’t really perfect.

He stared sadly at the dandelion in his grasp, a memory glimmering in his mind. Even now he could imagine it held between the fingers of a pale, freckled hand, still see it being blown into a pristine puff, and hear a voice brightly coaxing, Make a wish, Harry.

Yeah, he thought. He blew at the dandelion. Tiny blossoms danced a fairy jig before his eyes.

I wish I could afford to be more honest with you, Ginny, he thought, watching the wind bear the dandelions away, And I wish you were here with us.



They stayed till six o’clock, till the windows of Hogwarts lit up as if to call them home. Then they retraced their steps to their carriage.

Their vehicle had remained where it was, but someone had drawn the shades of every window. Harry felt dread creep into his heart with every step he took towards it. He knew that the moment they stepped inside, it would be goodbye.

Hermione suddenly stopped walking. Ron and Harry turned to stare at her. She had lowered her head and was quivering slightly.

“I’ll be okay,” she mumbled. “Just…just give me a minute will you?”

If there was one thing Harry hated seeing, it was Hermione in tears. Ron liked it even less. He watched her, his lips drawing into a thin, hard line. Then he turned to Harry. “I don’t care what Dumbledore said. Just say the word Harry, and we’re going with you.”

Harry didn’t have the heart to rebuke him for talking about it. He felt that same guilt wash over him. Hogwarts was as much their world as it was his—didn’t they have the same right to protect it?

But something in him pushed that thought away. He had to do this alone. Had to.

“Thanks, Ron,” he whispered, “but the answer’s still no. You know why.”

Before Ron could reply, Hermione reached out and grasped his arm. “Don’t, you two. Just don’t.” She wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her robes and tried to smile. “I’m fine. Really.”

They stood there together for a while, not saying a word. Finally, Ron lowered his head and said, “Well, what are we waiting for?” He stepped into the carriage, taking Hermione with him. Harry followed them in.

As their eyes adjusted to the dark, they saw Mad-Eye Moody silently waiting inside, hat and walking staff on his lap. His magical eye scrutinized each of them as they took their seats and shut the door. When they were settled, Moody turned on a small lamp on the wall and rapped the ceiling twice with his staff. “Get going,” he muttered, “and slowly, mind.”

The carriage shuddered forward, rocking from side to side. But the ride this time was stable enough for them to speak normally. Neither Harry nor his friends noticed—the cloaked stranger sitting beside Moody had completely arrested their attention.

Moody’s eye turned to his companion. “Show them your face, lad.”

The figure pulled back its hood. Ron’s mouth dropped open; Hermione gasped, eyes round; for several seconds, Harry ceased to breathe.

It was one thing for them expecting to meet Harry’s exact duplicate, but quite another to see it in the flesh. It was as if someone had placed a perfect mirror directly across Harry. The homunculus had the same mass of dark, messy hair, the same pale skin, the same emerald green for its eyes. An identical lightning bolt scar was etched on its forehead. It was even dressed like Harry, from the scarf of Gryffindor colors around its neck to the worn sneakers on its feet.

For five minutes, they stared at one another. The three of them said nothing. The homunculus said nothing back, but shifted its gaze from one person to another. It curved its hands tightly around its knees.

Finally, Harry said, “Say something.”

He had not meant to sound rude, but curiosity had completely overtaken sensibility by this point.

His double obliged him. First it did something eerily human—it cleared its throat. Then it said, “Hello. It’s nice to meet you,” and smiled.

Beside him, Harry felt Ron flinch. He couldn’t blame him—they could have been listening to a recording or a perfectly executed ventriloquist trick.

And that smile.

Moody, whose eye never ceased keeping watch, suddenly spoke up. “We’re nearing Hogwarts.” He nodded deferentially to them. “If there is anything you need to say, best say it now.”

Harry nodded back, then reached beneath his seat and felt around for the bag he had prepared the night before. Inside were a few possessions he needed for the journey—a change of clothes, some toiletries, and his Invisibility cloak. Everything else he owned—his books, the Marauder’s Map, his beloved Firebolt, was now in the care of Ron, Hermione and the homunculus.

He turned to Ron, who had woken from his stupor.

“Look after Hedwig for me, okay?” Harry said. “Don’t let her get lonely.”

Ron nodded. “I will. I promise.”

Hermione hugged him then, her voice quavering. “Goodbye, Harry. And you remember your promise, okay?”

Harry felt a painful lump in his throat as he hugged her back. “I’ll remember. In two weeks time, at The Three Broomsticks.”

“I’ll look forward to it,” Ron said, taking Harry’s hand and shaking it. Then he averted his eyes. “Take care.”

“Yeah, you too Ron. Keep an eye on Hermione. Make sure she doesn’t burst a vein studying.”

“That’s it Harry, make me feel better,” Hermione mumbled, sitting back and wiping her eyes.

“And don’t make her cry either,” Harry added.

“You’re a fine one to talk,” Ron said, grinning wryly.

Moody shut off the lamp as the carriage came to a halt. Hermione briefly kissed Harry’s cheek before opening the door and stepping out. Ron gripped Harry’s hand one last time, thumped his shoulder, and silently followed her.

“Go on,” Moody said to the homunculus. It nodded to him and to Harry, and then left the carriage, closing the door behind it. The carriage lurched forward, bearing Harry and Moody away.

Harry had to force himself from pulling the curtains back for one last look. For several moments he just sat there with his eyes closed, feeling as if all the life had been snuffed out of him. He said nothing for a long while.

When he opened his eyes, he saw the lamp was on again. Moody was watching him from his seat. “You know what must be done, lad,” said the old man, not unkindly.

Not for the first time, Harry felt doubt nagging at his mind. But he could not afford to be weak, not now. Not in front of Moody.

He took a deep breath and said, “Robert Jerome Smith.”

Immediately he felt a strange tingling sensation, beginning from his toes all the way to the roots of his hair. For few seconds he felt his flesh prickling all over, as if he were growing a second skin. Then the feeling passed.

“Give me your glasses and put these on,” Moody said, handing him a pair of silver spectacles. Harry took off his round glasses and slipped the new ones on. Moody studied him for a minute, and then nodded.

“Impressive. Not even I can see through it. Dumbledore’s outdone himself again.” He reached into his pocket and gave Harry a small mirror. “See for yourself.”

Harry peered at the glass, and received his second shock for the day. Again, it was one thing to be told he would look different, quite another to look in a mirror and see a stranger’s face.

His messy dark hair had been completely replaced by short, neatly cut auburn hair. Instead of vivid green his eyes had turned the deep blue of the lake in summer. His lips were thinner, and his skin tone tan, as if he had spent hours working outdoors. Most of all, there was no trace of the lightning bolt scar on his forehead.

It was then that Harry realized that, at least for the meantime, he had escaped his own destiny. He had ceased to be Harry Potter.



Saturday night.

Harry lay silently on his sleeping bag. He had been trying to fall asleep for some time, and failing miserably at it. He sighed and stared up at the ceiling of Hagrid’s hut.

Moody had led the carriage here, saying, “This is where will stay for now, as per Dumbledore’s instructions. We leave the grounds at midnight.” The moment the carriage halted in front of Hagrid’s house, Moody leaped out and hurried towards the door. After making sure no one was laying an ambush inside, he beckoned for Harry to follow. Moody took out his wand. With a few whispered words, he erased their prints on the footpath. The carriage clattered away, leaving them alone. Then they went inside.

Hagrid’s hut was lit only by the moonlight filtering in through the dusty windows. Moody said, “Stay here for a moment while I prepare. Don’t touch anything, and for Merlin’s sakes don’t turn on the light.” He then walked to one window and peered outside. Satisfied that they were alone, he picked up a large, framed painting that had been propped nearby. The moonlight shone on it briefly and Harry caught a glimpse of its surface. It wasn’t a painting at all, but a framed three-dimensional picture of a room. Harry quickly realized what it was—a picture of the room they were in, viewed from the outside!

Before he could form a question, Moody had fitted the frame onto the window with the picture facing out. He moved to the next window, picked up another picture of the room at a different angle, and attached it as well. Before long he had all the windows covered, and the room was flooded by inky darkness. “There,” he heard Moody say, “now when someone comes snooping about the cabin, all they’ll see living in here will be a bit of moonlight and a lot of dust sprites. Lumos.”

By the light of Moody’s wand, Harry could see two sleeping bags spread on the floor. Moody stood close to the table, busy lighting a gas lap.

“It’s a long wait till midnight, lad,” he said, without looking up. “Best you get some rest for now. Powerful long way ahead.”

“Where exactly do we go from here?” asked Harry. He tried to hide the note of unease in his voice. He still was not comfortable in Moody’s presence.

“I’ll tell you later, when we get off the grounds,” replied Moody. “Now, no talking. I’ve made the cabin light-proof but any spy worth his salt can hear us yammering in here. Try and get some sleep.”

That had been three hours before, and Harry hadn’t been able to get so much as a wink.

He looked about him. Hagrid’s hut had not changed much, at least not physically. It was the little things—the gaps on the line of tankards and pots on the shelves, the underlying scent of mothballs from the closet, the layer of dust on the tables—that marked the absence of their owner. Harry had not noticed before how neatly things were arranged in the house, how ready for use, as if Hagrid had not meant to be away for long. Harry could imagine Hagrid’s enormous frame trudging through the doorway, Fang barking loudly by his side—“‘Ello der ‘Arry. Sorry ‘bout takin’ so long. Not’un easy job being Ambassater, ye know.”

A year ago, something in him had envied Hagrid, and Sirius and Remus. They were out there doing something—actively opposing the Dark Lord—while he had to stay in the trenches with his head down. But now he could no longer complain. He was putting his life on the line along with everyone else.

Then the utter totality of that thought hit him, and he shuddered as a cold void gaped in his guts. He was not only facing the danger of Voldemort killing him, he was leaving his identity behind with someone else!

Even now he could see the homunculus sleeping (did it sleep?) on his comfortable four-poster bed. Tomorrow at breakfast it would be sitting with the Gryffindors in the Great Hall. It would be wandering the halls like any other student. It would be attending all his classes, doing all his homework, making all his grades. It would be speaking with McGonagall about the Quidditch season. It would be with Ron and Hermione—it would even be dealing with Draco Malfoy. Not only was Harry courting death, he was putting his life in Hogwarts on the line.

And on the heels of that came another thought—what if he never made it back? Would the homunculus go on pretending to be him? Would they even realize he was gone?

Would Ginny?

Harry realized that his heart was beating much too fast. Stop it, he said to himself, you’re letting your imagination run wild, you ninny! In the first place, Dumbledore had done everything possible to keep him safe. Second, dying was NOT an option. He was going to win this. He was going to come back.

He lay flat on his back and threw his arm over his eyes, as if this would shut out his fears. But the thought of Ginny refused to stay quiet.

She may never know he’d left.

“She doesn’t have to know,” he muttered, “it’s not in the plan.”

No, of course not. It’s not in YOUR plan.

Then the thought came, unbidden:

Ginny doesn’t know about the homunculus.

But the homunculus knows about her.

The thought came so forcefully that Harry sat up in an instant. It was as if a switch flicked on in his head, illuminating everything in a harsh, bright light. That decided it for him—he had to tell her. She had to know.

He turned his head fearfully to the other sleeping bag, not five steps away. Moody lay on his back, wand near his right hand, hat on his chest. Both his eyes were shut and Harry could hear him wheezing softly. The old man was fitfully asleep.

He could do it, he realized. He could go now, while it was dark and no one was watching.

Harry quietly got up from his bed and put on his shoes. He reached for his bag and carefully withdrew his Invisibility cloak. Slowly, fearing the creaking of the boards, he inched his way to the door.

Hands sweating, teeth clenched tightly, he turned the knob. It felt like ice in his fingers. The door swung two inches open. Not a sound. Glad that Hagrid was prudent with oiling hinges, he allowed the door to open a little bit more. Just a little further and he could make it out.

Creak.

Harry heard a snort behind him. The hair prickled on the back of his neck. He cast a look backwards, expecting to see that huge magical orb glaring at him, a gravelly voice demanding to know where he was going—

On the floor, Moody muttered something in his sleep, then turned on his side. His brows furrowed, but his eyes remained tightly shut.

Harry briefly wondered how Moody could afford to be a bodyguard if he slept so deeply.

I will only be gone an hour, Harry told him silently. And before his mind changed again or his courage failed him, Harry put on his cloak and slipped out into the night.



      To be continued

Sanction
//
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