Never had a summer seemed so interminable. How was it time had seemed to fly by so much faster when Harry had had the delightful prospect of returning to Hogwarts awaiting him at season’s end—versus now, when all that stretched before him was a forbidding morass of unknown and uncertainty? Wasn’t it supposed to feel like the things you looked forward to would never arrive, and those you dreaded crept up before you noticed?

He could hear the Dursleys puttering about downstairs—hopefully packing, as they’d been instructed to do. He kept an ear out, alert for the heavy tread of Vernon’s boot on the stair, bound to start up with Harry again—something they’d taken to doing on a daily basis in the past week or so. It wasn’t as if it had been Harry’s suggestion they seek refuge as his seventeenth birthday approached, after all—that had been the Order’s doing. But the Order members didn’t have to live under the Dursleys’ roof, and so Harry received the brunt of their moaning and whinging as they dithered on, unsure as to whether or not they ought to actually believe they were in mortal danger once Harry came of age and the magic shielding the house broke.

Uncle Vernon still seemed convinced that this was merely a clever ploy on Harry’s part to seize control of the house—as if he hadn’t been left a mansion in Grimmauld Place by Sirius the year before. It had only been Harry’s explanation, delivered with a smile and in graphic detail, of what would likely happen should Voldemort arrive and find the Dursleys still about when he came for Harry’s head that had pushed them over. Uncle Vernon had finally set his family to packing what they could into a set of musty suitcases they hadn’t used since a trip to Euro Disney several years back, all the while making sure to mutter (in tones just loud enough for Harry to catch) words like solicitor and lawsuit and squatter.

But he heard no sounds suggesting a small hippopotamus was tromping its way toward Harry, so he turned his attentions back to his task: he still had loads of packing of his own left to do. His trunk was still half-full with the detritus of six years at a magical school, and he needed to sort through it all to decide what he was and wasn’t taking Horcrux hunting.

He was frankly amazed to have gotten his trunk back at all—the last he’d seen it, it’d been shoved in a corner of his dorm room in Gryffindor Tower. Having seen the state of the Tower at Dumbledore’s funeral, he didn’t know how the trunk had been found in one piece, and yet remarkably, it showed relatively little wear—only dented in a few spots with the brass fittings scuffed and scraped.

He took a deep breath, bracing himself for this last push.

Those items he’d be leaving behind sat in a mound in the corner—likely to be burned by the Dursleys once they were well rid of him: his robes (Quidditch as well as school), unwieldy potions tools and supplies (Hermione would probably want to use her own anyway; Harry’s cauldron had seen better days), parchment and quills and all of his schoolbooks (here again, Hermione had probably prepared a portable library or else had everything of import memorised).

It sat heavy on him, having to not just leave this stuff behind but likely never see it again. After all, this had been his life—the very best parts of it—for the past six years. He wouldn’t shed a tear to say goodbye to Privet Drive, certainly, but even the most seemingly insignificant piece of his time at Hogwarts held a special place in Harry’s heart.

But he couldn’t take these things with him, nor had he the time to try and consign them to storage. He would only be bringing along the bare necessities, as Hermione anticipated living rough and needing to move often. In a rucksack, stuffed to the gills, he’d packed Muggle clothing, his Invisibility Cloak, a portable potions-making kit, the photo album Hagrid had gifted him years back, and his wand and the Marauder’s Map. The fake Horcrux sat in his pocket, never off his person.

Beneath the window, collecting dust and in want of reading, was a stack of Daily Prophets he’d had delivered—the subscription his only link to the wizarding world during the doldrums of summer. It had been difficult, skimming the headlines of each issue and knowing there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to prevent or even address the horrors splashed across the front pages. He knew Dumbledore had wanted him to enjoy this special protection the Dursleys’ home offered him for as long as possible, but he was certain he could have handled it better if he could have been preparing for Horcrux hunting in the open, instead of sitting here cooped up in his room, avoiding his relatives.

Still, the article by Elphias Doge had been nice, in the wake of Dumbledore’s passing.

He leafed through the issues until he found the one in question and ran a finger over the border of the picture accompanying the obituary. It looked like it had been taken fairly recently, for Dumbledore appeared exactly as Harry remembered him, though for all he knew it could have been taken fifty years earlier. Dumbledore seemed immortal in Harry’s memory—even if he clearly hadn’t been.

Doge had been kind in his words, but the article spoke of Dumbledore not as Harry had known him—the wizened Headmaster with a peculiar fondness for sweets—but as a boy, and then a man. A human being with faults and foibles.

It had underscored, in bold lines, that Harry hadn’t known Dumbledore at all. It was a fact he was only beginning to come to terms with, and quite against his will.

In the picture accompanying the article, greyscale Dumbledore peered over the top of his half-moon spectacles with his familiar, kindly smile that somehow seemed to see right through Harry. Well, that made one of them.

Harry gently tore the obituary from of its page, folding it carefully and tucking it into the folds of the Marauder’s Map. He then threw the rest of the papers onto the growing rubbish pile and turned to face the room. The trunk was empty of all he couldn’t bear to part with. Let the Dursleys chuck it out on the kerb if they liked.

He turned back to make a final sweep of the room; all that remained unaddressed was today’s issue of the Prophet, waiting on his bed where the delivery owl had dropped it.

Settling onto the edge of the mattress, Harry picked up the newspaper, running his eyes over the headlines. In his rush to finish his packing, he hadn’t had a chance to really sit down and leaf through it, but he found his eye drawn to a bold headline at the bottom half of the front page, set over a picture of Dumbledore wearing an uncharacteristic frown as he glowered at the photographer and seemed to hold one hand up, waving them away: DUMBLEDORE – THE TRUTH AT LAST?

“Be sure not to miss the latest revealing tell-all from journalistic genius Rita Skeeter. Out next week is her newest book, jam-packed with lurid details concerning the late Albus Dumbledore, considered by many to be the greatest wizard of his generation but with a fair few skeletons hidden deep inside his closet. Read as Skeeter Vanishes the venerable veneer of the well-respected former Hogwarts Headmaster and digs into the disturbing details of his chaotic childhood, fraught by fractured family ties, and his decidedly less-than-law-abiding youth—along with the ne’er-do-wells with whom he consorted. Check out the Prophet-exclusive interview with our own Betty Braithwaite (page 13), where Miss Skeeter dishes on several particularly juicy nuggets uncovered in her insatiable quest for the unvarnished truth. Dumbledore allies, beware! You might get squeamish!”

Harry felt something pop inside his brain, and with a rising tide of fury fuelling him, he tore into the paper, scanning for the article. He quickly found it and began feverishly reading. His gorge rose with each line—utter tripe that could have been penned by Rita herself. Perhaps had been; maybe this Braithwaite was merely a pseudonym Rita used to make it seem like people actually read the shit she spewed.

In the article, she gushed about her vaunted reporting techniques, deriding Doge’s thoughtful, moving obituary as rose-coloured and naïve and suggesting less than subtly that she had a trusted source who’d given her exclusive insight into the real Albus Dumbledore.

“But mark my words, Betty: anyone labouring under the delusion the dearly departed Dumbledore was the saint he played at being is in for a rude awakening! After all, saints don’t dabble in the Dark Arts with one hand while rallying the charge against the likes of Grindelwald and Voldemort with the other, do they? I don’t want to divulge too many secrets before the book’s even hit the stands, but let’s just say the late and great one might have had more in common with those wizards he stood against than he let on! Dumbledore had a murky past indeed—not to mention a rather fishy family situation that he worked very hard to keep quiet.”

Harry slogged through as much of the drivel as he could stand, getting as far as Rita hinting at salacious details regarding “the Potter-Dumbledore relationship” before he chucked the newspaper at the wall, sending pages of print fluttering. His chest felt hot, his cheeks too, and his head throbbed with a rage headache.

This was just Rita Skeeter, notorious gossip who’d never met a wholesome biopic she didn’t feel like she ought to drag through the mud. She was just trying to make a Knut off the backs of witches and wizards far greater than herself—it was lies, all of it. Certainly Dumbledore hadn’t opened himself up completely to Harry, always the sort to play things close to the chest, even Doge had admitted, but some of these wild suggestions of Rita’s were just beyond the pale—


Harry gave a start at Uncle Vernon’s blustered shout, and he huffed in irritation, glaring at the closed door. This was it, he supposed. With great effort, he eased off the bed and only just kept himself from Incendioing the remains of the newspaper and the tripe it tried to pass off as journalism; he could always use the pages to line Hedwig’s cage.

“Don’t make me come up—oh.”

Vernon shut right up when Harry appeared at the top of the steps, rucksack slung over one shoulder and affecting as disdainful an air as he possibly could. He’d only have the opportunity to take this attitude with his relatives for a short while longer; Harry intended to enjoy it while he could.

He began to trundle down the stairs, taking his time, then paused with two steps to go and leaned on the banister. “Having third thoughts, now? I didn’t think you had that many stuffed inside your peabrain, but stranger things have happened.”

Vernon purpled in anger, and his ham-fists clenched at his sides as his moustache ruffled under the force of his heavy breathing, but he only ground out, “Some of your lot are here. Come deal with them.”

Harry perked up at this, eager to relieve whichever poor soul had been forced to make nice with Aunt Petunia and Dudley in the living room as quickly as possible. Rounding the corner, he was greeted by Hestia Jones, one of the younger Order members, and Dedalus Diggle, a squat little wizard wearing a purple top-hat that made up almost half of his height.

“Hestia, Dedalus—all right there?”

They nodded, and Dedalus squeaked, “Fantastic! We were having the loveliest conversation with your relatives!” Gauging Petunia’s and Dudley’s faces, Harry very much doubted the feeling was mutual. Dedalus nodded to Harry’s rucksack. “And all packed, I see! Well then in that case, there’s no sense dawdling any longer. Let’s get to it!” He turned back to Petunia and Dudley, with Vernon lurking like a vulture just behind the sofa upon which they were sat. “I’m sure Harry has explained the plan to you in great detail, but I’ll briefly go over it once more just to be sure we’re all on the same page. Now—” He slipped a hand into his waistcoat, tugging out a pocket watch the size of his own head and checking it with a frown. “Hestia and I will be your escort. With our Harry still being under-age, it’s far too dangerous to chance any spells under your roof, lest we give the Ministry leave to try and arrest the poor lad under false pretences—so we’ll ride in an autumnobile for a bit before Side-Alonging you all to a safe location of our choosing.” Here, he turned to Vernon, brows lifted hopefully as he asked, “I take it you’re familiar with the workings of an autumnobile, Mr. Dursley?”


“A car, Dad,” Dudley muttered, soft so as to avoid drawing the attention of their visitors.

“Well—of course I ruddy well know how to drive!” Vernon spluttered.

“Fantastic to hear! Hestia and I, we’d just be Confounded if pushed to navigating using such a contraption, but with you taking the lead, my good sir, we shall be in fine hands indeed!” Harry understood Dedalus’s fawning flattery to be just that—Vernon probably thought he was being patronised. Dedalus then turned to Harry, though, and said in an aside after clearing his throat softly, “…We’ll ask you to wait here, Harry. Your own escort will be along shortly.”

Harry frowned. “…But I thought that Mad—”

“There’s been a change of plans,” Dedalus said gravely—then offered Harry a reassuring look. “Not to worry—just the Order being overly cautious. Can’t be too careful these days, wouldn’t you say?”

“…No,” Harry said, nodding. “I suppose not.”

Dedalus gave a nod of his own, then snapped his oversized pocket watch shut, tucking it back into his waistcoat and hopping to his feet. “Right! Now, we’re on a very tight schedule—so are we all packed and ready to go?” He directed this question to the Dursleys, whose confidence in the plan seemed to be flagging by the second. “We’re trying to time everything so that the Charm breaks just at the moment you all head to safety. For that, we’ll need everyone moving in synchronisation—like clockwork!” He patted the pocket into which he’d slipped his watch.

As the family gathered their things, Hestia rose to her feet, wringing her hands with a knowing glance between the Dursleys and Harry. “Perhaps we should wait in the hall for a moment, Dedalus. Let them say a proper goodbye.”

Harry appreciated her tact, but it was wasted here, honestly. She probably thought there would be tears and loving embraces as they exchanged their farewells. Harry felt more inclined to flip them all the bird and send the trio off with pig tails sticking out of their backsides, just for old time’s sake.

Vernon shuffled forward, arms swinging awkwardly at his sides. He looked, for a moment, like he might try to shake Harry’s hand in a gesture of politeness, but he seemed to recall himself at the last minute and just nodded, grunting, “Suppose this is goodbye, then, boy.”

There were to be no drawn-out goodbyes, no. After all—what did you say after sixteen years’ solid dislike? Harry didn’t bother responding, and Vernon didn’t seem to expect it, instead herding his family into the entryway.

Aunt Petunia busied herself with checking the clasp to her handbag, patting her hair in the hall mirror to avoid having to make eye contact with Harry, then looked back to her son with a tight, forced smile. “Ready, Diddy?”

Dudley was the only one who seemed still hesitant, and he stood before Harry with his mouth slightly ajar, lost for words.

Vernon gave him a clap on the shoulders. “Let’s be off, then.”

He brushed past Dudley, when there seemed to be no moving him until he was ready, and was already grabbing their bags at entrance to the living room when Dudley mumbled, “But—what about him?”

“Who, Poppet?” Petunia asked, stroking his hair.

He ignored her, directing his focus now to Harry. “What about you? Why’ve we got to leave, and you’re staying?”

Harry sighed, fighting the urge to roll his eyes or bang his head against the banister or both. He’d had hopes, once upon a time, that Dudley might not turn out to be quite the stubborn dunderhead his father was, but those were quickly fading. “Listen, Dud—I’ve explained it a million times. It’s not safe for you here—”

“Yeah, so why’re you staying? Isn’t it not safe for you too?” He flicked a glance at Hestia and Dedalus, who had drifted in from where they’d been waiting in the entryway, doing a very poor job of eavesdropping. “If that squirrelly fellow’s coming with us, who’s watching you? Why can’t you—” Dudley faltered, evidently struggling to form his thoughts into words, and he looked back and forth between Harry and his parents. He’d gone red with the effort. “But where’s he going to go? If it’s so dangerous?”

“That…” Petunia began, then her words seemed to flee her, and she worried her lip, looking to her husband for support. Dudley threw tantrums all the time, but even Harry could tell this felt different, and Petunia didn’t know how to react.

Vernon cleared his throat and tugged his trousers up by the belt loop. “Well that’s none of our concern, now is it? The boy’s clearly got his own business to deal with, and we ought to…we ought to get out of his hair. Plus—” He gestured to Harry, snapping his fingers. “He doesn’t even want to come with us, do you?”

“Not in the slightest,” Harry said with bald honesty. He thought he’d rather drive off into the sunset with Voldemort at this point than Vernon Dursley.

“There, see? So come on, son—let’s get our things and pile into the car. You heard the man: we’re in a hurry.”

“I don’t give a fig,” Dudley said, and Petunia gave an audible gasp, handbag hitting the floor as she covered her mouth with both hands in white, wide-eyed shock, as if Dudley had just uttered the most horrific of slurs. In a sense, Harry supposed he had. “And I’m not gonna run off and hide while he’s a sitting duck.” He sniffed. “‘S not the manly thing to do.”

Vernon’s moustache bristled, and he seemed to recall now that he was Dudley’s father and not his friend, rallying for a good row. “Now you listen here: we’re going, we’re leaving, and that one—” He stabbed a finger in Harry’s direction. “Is staying here with his lot, doing whatever it is those types are getting up to these days.”

Dudley held fast, though, unmoved by his father’s bluster. Normally, Harry might have been impressed; as it was, he was quietly astounded.

Evidently unable to restrain herself any longer, Hestia spoke up, voice a bit shrill with disbelief. “With our lot? Whatever those types are getting up to these days?” She whirled on Harry, eyes wide. “Haven’t they the faintest clue who you are? What you’re dealing with? What your safety and security means to—”

“No, they don’t,” Harry said, sighing inwardly; this was going to become a scene if he didn’t step in. So many witches and wizards seemed flabbergasted Harry’s relatives cared so little about the whereabouts and well-being of what they had understood to be the most famous wizard in living memory (or second, perhaps, behind Voldemort). It got a little tiresome, having to witness their rude awakening. He took a step forward so he was directly in Hestia’s line of sight. He didn’t want her drawing her wand inadvertently, even if the Dursleys deserved to be taught the full seven years of Hogwarts lesson on jinxes and hexes. “And it doesn’t matter, honestly, so can we just get on with this?”

Doesn’t mat—” Hestia’s voice caught, and she pressed her lips tightly together. “But you’re Harry Potter! You’re—”

“Just Harry Potter,” he said, cutting her off before she could really get going with an indifferent shrug. “Just Lily and James’s brat. Absolutely nothing special. These people think I’m just a waste of space—”

“I don’t think you’re a waste of space.”

Harry had to turn, physically gauging who’d spoken, because otherwise he’d never have believed those words had come from the lips of Dudley Dursley.

Perhaps reading on Harry’s face the doubt and shock, Dudley seemed to collect himself, repeating, “I don’t. You’re…you’re all right.”

Quite wrong-footed, not knowing how to deal with a Dudley saying decent things instead of teasing or throwing a punch, groped for a response. “That’s…nice, I guess. Thanks?”

Dudley just nodded, features still scrunched up as he grappled with thoughts he was clearly unaccustomed to dealing with. “…I mean, you saved my life. I’ve been a right shit to you—I don’t think I would’ve saved yours if the situation’d been reversed. Just being honest.”

Nor would Harry have expected him to. He didn’t say this, though, only: “I didn’t really save your life, you know,” not wanting to part ways with Dudley thinking he owed Harry any sort of life debt. “Dementors are more about devouring souls—not actually killing people. You would’ve survived. ” Though Dudley wouldn’t have had much in the way of life without his soul, probably. This he also didn’t say.

Dudley seemed to struggle to process this, failed, then shrugged it off.

It was here that Aunt Petunia, overcome with emotion, burst into tears and rushed past a still-boggling Hestia to throw her arms around Dudley. “Th-that’s the sweetest…what a treasure my Dudders is,” she sobbed, mussing her carefully coiffed hair as she nuzzled her son’s cheek. “Making amends with his cousin, saying such sweet things! Oh my lovely, lovely boy…”

“That hardly constituted saying something sweet!” Hestia huffed, indignation thick in her voice. “He only said Harry wasn’t a waste of space, and that he was all right!”

Harry found himself torn between irritation and amusement at the display—it was the most love he thought he’d ever felt from any of these people, and he took a mental snapshot of the scene, thinking that he kind of wanted to remember this moment when his terror of a cousin had said, in his own special way, “I’m sorry, and I love you.” Maybe it was best it came out this way—Harry didn’t think he would have believed it otherwise.

At length, Dudley finally managed to extricate himself from his mother’s sobbing embrace, approaching Harry with his hand thrust out. “…See you, Harry. Try not to run into any more of those Dementeds, yeah?” He wanted to shake Harry’s hand, it distantly registered.

It was an absurd gesture that, despite being coupled with I don’t think you’re a waste of space, did nothing to mitigate the years of neglect and bullying and terror he’d had to endure from these people, his purported family, but somehow…well, it meant something, Harry was sure. He just didn’t know quite what. He took the proffered hand and gave it a firm shake, one Uncle Vernon might have been proud of in another life. “Yeah,” he said. “I’ll try.” And then, because it came to him: “…Take care, Big D.”

Dudley’s shoulders sagged in evident relief, and he finally allowed himself to be shuttled to the front door. Aunt Petunia scurried after her son and husband, dabbing a handkerchief over her eyes and still avoiding looking Harry in the face. She stopped at the threshold, though, as Vernon and Dudley stepped out onto the front stoop, and looked back. Something unreadable passed over her features, and she opened her mouth a tick, like she’d meant to say something—before thinking better of it and pursing her lips. With a tiny jerk of her head, she was off, Dedalus bringing up the rear to close the door behind them.

Harry waited until he heard the car’s engine turn over and the crunch of tyres against pavement before he allowed himself to relax. Hestia frowned in concern. “All right there, Harry?” He nodded; he wasn’t really all that all right, but it would do for now. “Is that all you’ll be taking with you?”

She gestured to his rucksack, and he rolled his shoulder, letting it slide to the floor at the foot of the stairs. “Not quite—I’ll just run upstairs and fetch the rest of my things.”

He took the stairs two at a time, wondering how Mad-Eye’s plan had changed. Would he be Apparating with Hestia instead? Maybe Mad-Eye had gotten caught up with something and had needed to entrust Harry’s escort to another Order member. Or would they be travelling by Portkey perhaps? Back in his room, he snatched up his Firebolt leaning against the wall by the door with one hand and Hedwig’s covered cage with the other, whispering to her, “Give a hoot if you’d like one last look before we piss off from here forever.” When nothing came, he smiled to himself and stepped back into the hallway, glancing at the photographs on the wall—none of them including him—and saying his own colourful goodbyes to Petunia and Vernon in his head. If Dudley turned out all right in the end, it would be despite his parents.

A sudden, deafening roar jerked him from his thoughts, and his hand went immediately to his wand, stuffed in his back pocket. “He—Hestia?” he called, then gave another jolt as a screeching whinny rent the air.

Hestia showed her face at the base of the stairs, beckoning Harry down. “Come now, come! Everyone’s just arriving!”

Harry felt his heart settle back into its chest, thudding along at a more moderate pace instead of breakneck speed. “E—Everyone?” He toddled down the stairs, awkwardly holding Hedwig’s cage at arm’s length, and Hestia took it and his broom from him when he hit the third step up. “Who’s here? What was that sound?”

“Why not go check?” Hestia said, a twinkle in her eye, and Harry rushed into the kitchen, tugging aside the faded curtains covering the window over the sink. He was certain he’d heard the strange sounds coming from the back garden.

The sun had set not ten minutes earlier, just as the Dursleys had set off, and in the dim haze of early twilight, Harry thought he saw the air over the turnip bed shimmer and blip as figures—people—began to shed their Disillusionment Charms. With the spells lifted, Harry could now see where that unearthly roar had come from: the engine of the enormous motorbike Hagrid sat astride, tugging off his helmet and goggles and shaking his great head of shaggy hair. Harry scrambled for the back door, nearly pulling it off its hinges as he wrenched it open. Hagrid gave a wave when Harry stumbled onto the back stoop. “Ready to be quit o’ this place, Harry?”

Harry!” Hermione cried, launching herself into his arms and giving him a tight hug as Ron brought up the rear with a crooked grin.

“Definitely,” said Harry, glancing around at the others dismounting from brooms and—in two cases—a pair of Thestrals beating the air with their bat-like wings and snorting impatiently. “But—there’s so many of you!” There had to have been over a dozen bodies filling the garden altogether—most familiar, though some less so. “Are you all escorting me?”

“Change of plan,” growled Mad-Eye Moody, tottering forward, and his magical eye spun in its socket, scanning the sky and house and garden for imminent danger. “Into the house, the lot of you. No sense in exposing ourselves more than necessary.”

Harry showed everyone into the living room, almost disappointed the Dursleys had already taken their leave. What he wouldn’t have given to have seen the look on Petunia’s face as Hagrid took up the whole length of the sofa by himself, setting it to groaning under his girth. The others scattered around the room, taking seats where they could or standing with determined, serious expressions.

It felt like the entire Order was here—Ron and Hermione he’d half-expected, but Fred and George had tagged along as well, amusing themselves with Aunt Petunia’s curio cabinet and the knick-knacks therein, while Bill, his long hair tied tightly at his nape and tucked into his collar, hissed at them not to touch anything and silently begged Fleur for back-up she seemed disinterested in giving. Mr. Weasley, his spectacles sitting awry, traded quiet words with Kingsley—and Harry felt his stomach give a guilty jolt. He hadn’t thought about Malfoy in what felt like ages, and he wondered once again what had become of him. Surely after nearly two months the Ministry would have him sorted, right? Curiosity roiled in his gut, and he decided he’d try to get a word later, shifting to the side as a grey-faced Remus shuffled past with Tonks in tow, her short hair her favourite shade of shocking pink. Moody shut the door just as Mundungus Fletcher scuttled inside, looking rather twitchy underneath his mess of matted hair and trying to avoid eye contact with Harry.

Harry felt the tension in the room skyrocket with the soft snick of the door locking, and his mind buzzed with the prospect of a daring escape versus the cloak-and-dagger route he’d assumed he’d be forced to take. There was no way Moody had brought along a small army not expecting a fight. Harry had been cooped up, barred from using his magic, all summer, and he could feel the arcane energy itching to escape him.

“Alright there, Hestia?” Moody asked. “No trouble from the Muggles, I take it?”

“No more than we were prepared for,” Hestia said, suddenly all business. “Dedalus set off with them around sunset. I noticed nothing amiss at their departure—though that isn’t to say they couldn’t have met with misfortune once out of view.”

Moody nodded, muttering, “Well, we’ve got rather bigger fish to fry at the moment. You’re relieved, Hestia.” She nodded curtly. “Make sure you cast your Disillusionment Charm good and tight when you go, and no Apparating within—”

“Within one hundred paces, yes, I know.” Moody growled in the back of his throat, clearly irritated with having been interrupted, but Hestia seemed unbent. She tipped a nod to Harry, patting him on the shoulder. “Good luck, Harry. I certainly hope to see you again.”

“Er, yes—sure, same here.” He didn’t quite understand what he would need luck for, but he appreciated the sentiment all the same.

With Hestia off, Moody cleared his throat, and the low hum of chatter in the room died away. He turned to Harry. “I’m sure Hestia and Dedalus have already explained that we’ve had to abandon Plan A. Seems Pius Thicknesse has been turned.” Across the room, Kingsley gave a solemn nod, arms folded and brow beetled. “That presents a rather large problem, as he’s made it an imprisonable offence to connect this house to the Floo Network or to place a Portkey here or Apparate in or out.” Moody’s craggy face scrunched up, and he seemed to be trying to roll his one good eye. “All done in the name of your protection of course, to prevent You-Know-Who from getting at you.”

Harry frowned. “But—I thought my mother’s charm…?”

“Yes, yes, it’s working perfectly fine still—which is how you know the reasoning’s nothing more than a cover to prevent anyone from springing you before You-Know-Who’s had a crack at you. Further mucking things up is the fact that you’re still under-age, which means you’ve still got the Trace on you.”


Moody stamped his foot impatiently and looked like he was about to pop a vein, when Hermione hissed to him, “The charm that detects magical activity around under-seventeens, knowing when they’ve done under-age magic in a non-wizarding household or in view of Muggles.” Oh, Harry supposed he now recalled several prior incidents where he’d been royally rolled by that thing.

“Right,” Moody grunted. “Which means if you—or anyone around you—were to cast a spell to rescue you from this little fortress of yours, Thicknesse would know about it, and by extension the Death Eaters. So if we spring you early by magical means, they’ll know, and if we just wait for the Trace to break naturally, as it will the moment you turn seventeen, then you’ll lose all the protection your mother gave you and be a sitting duck, hit with a dozen curses before you can even start on the first of your Ds to Apparate.”

Well, that was quite a pickle, wasn’t it? Harry finally understood the tension in the room, and the adrenaline that had been pumping through his veins started to peter out, leaving lethargy in its wake. “But then…what are we going to do?” Were they going to do battle after all? Wait for the Trace to break and then throw up whatever Shield charms and Patronuses they could to give Harry time to escape? That didn’t sit right at all, and he had protests ready on his lips.

Moody, though, smiled—which looked a bit frightening on him, honestly. “They can’t Trace you if we don’t use spells—so we’ll just have to do things the old-fashioned magical way: brooms, Thestrals, and that infernal contraption of Black’s. We’re choosing to break the protection early—it’s the safest way we can imagine.”

A glance around the room, and the subtle nods from his friends, told Harry the time for debate on this point had long passed, and he was expected to just duck his head and go along. He didn’t like that either, but Moody carried on as if Harry wasn’t there. “Now, the good news is that You-Know-Who doesn’t know we’re moving you tonight—Kingsley and Arthur have leaked a fake trail to the Ministry, so they think you won’t be leaving until the thirtieth, which should let us catch them off guard.”

Harry didn’t think Voldemort was the type to be so easily confounded, though. “Sir—the Ministry’s one thing, but the Death Eaters…You-Know-Who…I doubt they’ll take any chances.”

“Right they won’t. He’s bound to have a few of his lackeys patrolling the skies in the general area as we speak, just in case. For that reason, we’re going to have to try and outthink them. We’ve slapped a dozen different houses with every protection in our arsenal. They all look like they could be used to hide you, and they’ve all got some connection with the Order: my place, Kingsley’s, Molly’s Aunt Muriel’s…” He gestured vaguely. “You get the idea.”

Harry thought he got the idea rather well indeed and frowned. “You mean…you’ve set up decoy houses? Houses…lived in by real people? Who could get hurt by Death Eaters trying to get at me, thinking I’m holed up there?”

“Everyone knows what they’ve gotten themselves into,” Moody growled, sounded suspiciously like Hermione and Ron had, back at Dumbledore’s funeral. Knowing people were willingly laying their lives on the line for him didn’t suit Harry any more than them doing it unwillingly, though. “Now—you’ll be going to Tonks’s parents’. Once we’ve seen you safely inside the boundaries of the protective enchantments on the place, you’ll be able to use a Portkey, which will take you to the Burrow.” Moody’s magical eye spun a circuit up and down Harry’s body, and Harry had the unsettling feeling it could see right through him. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna need a hair.”

Harry took a step back. “Wh—a hair?” He frowned. “…What for?”

“Because, Potter, without your hair, our intrepid volunteers here can’t Polyjuice into you.”

And there it was. The rub. “You’re having them all pretend to be me? And act as decoys, drawing Death Eaters away while I scurry off unscathed?”

“Well I wouldn’t go getting my hopes up about getting out of tonight ‘unscathed’, but that’s the general idea, yeah. Fourteen of us breaking for Tonks’ parents place would be a dead giveaway, don’t you think?” Well, yes it would have, and he’d been wondering how Moody had planned to address that particular flaw, but this was not the way to go about it. “It’ll be seven of us heading in seven different directions, accompanied by seven Harry Potters.” Moody drew out a flask filled with a dark, viscous liquid that looked like muddied coffee and tasted, Harry knew, not much better. He felt his stomach bottom out—and shook his head with conviction.



“No way!” he snapped, taking a step back from Moody, who was growling low in the back of his throat. “Absolutely not. The houses are one thing—but I’ll not have any of you lot risking your own lives for me!”

“Because it’ll definitely be the first time any of us have ever done so?” drawled Ron. “Being your friend at all’s a risk.”

“This is different,” Harry huffed, irritation heating his cheeks. “It’s—it’s one thing to help escort me somewhere, it’s another thing entirely to pretend to be me!” He pointed to his scar. “You’d be putting a target right square on your foreheads!”

“And what a lovely target it is,” Fred said, flicking Harry’s scar—but Harry batted him away, not amused in the least.

“Admirable though your concerns for all of us are, I’ll remind you again that everyone here is over-age and able to make their own decisions,” said Moody, swirling the Polyjuice in the flask. “They’re all here of their own volition—no one’s been forced.”

Given the way Mundungus flinched, Harry wondered just how Moody defined ‘forced’. “There…there must be a better way. A way, at least, where no one’s going to get Unforgivables flung at their heads!” He waved around the room. “We’re all so preoccupied with not violating the law getting me out of here, but what’s the point? The Death Eaters aren’t gonna follow the law, and the Ministry will change it just to suit their whims if they’ve been turned like you say.”

“Some of us still have positions we’re maintaining for cover, Potter,” Kingsley said, and Arthur wasn’t meeting his eye just now. “We can’t be implicated in anything untoward.”

“There’s no other choice,” was Moody’s flat reminder. “Your safety is our top priority tonight, whether you like it or not. And the only way you’re getting out of here alive, the only way we’re going to chance as few of us kicking it as possible, is with this plan.” He nodded to the front door. “As mentioned, You-Know-Who’s probably got at least a few Death Eaters patrolling the area at all times, waiting for you to just try and sneak out, so unless you’ve suddenly managed to become an Animagus in the past few months, disguises and decoys are our only options.”

Harry grit his teeth. He considered for a moment flat-out refusing—they needed a strand of his hair to finish the potion, after all. But there were thirteen of them and one of Harry (for now), and he didn’t see them finding it too difficult to overpower him when he couldn’t even use magic.

“Now, Potter.” Moody held a hand out. “If you’re through dithering, we’re on a tight schedule. The sooner we get on with this, the sooner we can kick back with a bit of Ogden’s Old and toast to You-Know-Who’s imminent downfall.”

Seeing no way around it, and being sure his displeasure showed itself on his features, Harry reached up and grabbed a few stray hairs peeking out of the birdsnest that sat upon his head, giving a tight yank and passing them to Moody, who slipped them into the unstoppered flask and gave a good shake. After a few seconds, the muddy potion fizzed violently, before turning a clear, bright gold, like a warm Butterbeer.

“Ooh, you look rather tasty, Harry! Definitely some of the better we’ve tried,” said Hermione, in what she probably thought was a cheering compliment. Ron frowned at her, and she flushed, ducking her head as she pushed back into place a strand of hair that had sprung free from the plait she’d tamed it into.

“Now let’s get all the decoys lined up over here. Too easy to mix you up otherwise,” said Moody, and Ron, Hermione, Fred, George, and Fleur all moved into the kitchen. Mundungus was showing his reluctance rather overtly now and had to be bustled over by a sharp glare from Moody.

“I’m better as a protector,” Mundungus grumbled. “‘T ain’t right, pressing me into service like this. Wasn’t part of the plan.”

Moody brandished his wand in threat, idle though it may have been considering the Trace. “Like I told you before, you’re safer as a Potter than a protector. The Death Eaters will have orders to capture you—not kill you. You-Know-Who’ll want to finish Potter off himself, Dumbledore always said. It’s those of us who’re guarding you lot who’ll be risking life and limb. Now, if you’re dead set on being a target, I’m happy to reconsider, ‘cause I’m a reasonable sort like that, but I’d give it another long, hard think if I were you.”

Mundungus seemed to have a few more good protests in him, but Moody was already rifling through Petunia’s cupboards, apparently in search of cups, for he gave a raspy Aha! when he came upon a tea service set on one of the higher shelves. It was the set that, Harry knew, Petunia would have only ever brought out if the Queen were visiting.

He poured out a measure of the Polyjuice into each cup and passed them around, stoppering the flask once the sixth had been distributed and stuffing it back into his cloak. “…Right! Cheers.”

Harry forced himself to look away—but he could still hear the changes being wrought upon his friends, and it was no trouble at all to imagine the horrific image of Hermione and Mundungus sprouting upwards while Ron, Fred, and George shrank to match Harry’s middling height. The Weasleys’ hair would undergo no remarkable transformation beyond darkening to black as if put to flame, but Hermione’s plait would be ruined, and Fleur’s…well, it didn’t bear mentioning.

Moody seemed entirely uninterested by the horror show unfolding behind his turned back, accepting a large sack from Hagrid and rifling through it until the transformation had finished. When he turned back around, Harry joined him, finally risking a glance, and found six Harry Potters gasping and panting in the middle of Aunt Petunia’s gleaming appliances and freshly mopped linoleum.

While everyone marvelled at their new bodies, Harry caught Tonks watching them all with an almost wistful gaze, her pink hair flickering to charcoal black and back again. He wondered if Mundungus wasn’t the only one disappointed with their role in the evening’s escape plan. Remus placed a hand on her shoulder, though, whispering something in her ear, and she nodded quietly, her hair settling down once more into bubblegum contentment.

From the roomy sack, Moody drew out identical shirts and pairs of trousers, urging everyone to change quickly—which they did so, stripping with far more impunity than they ever would have done in their own bodies. He kept a particularly close eye on Hermione and Fleur, just in case they started investigating more of their new body than Harry thought appropriate—Fred and George had already done so and flashed Harry a thumbs-up.

“You’ll find glasses in the pocket of your trousers. Once you’re changed, I’ve got dummy luggage for you to carry as well.” Moody gave the sack a shake, and Harry could hear loud banging from within what seemed to be a far more copious interior than was obvious.

At length, the six doppelgängers finished their preparations, and there in the kitchen stood seven Harry Potters, each with a rucksack, broomstick, and cage holding a snowy owl (stuffed in all cases but one).

Moody looked them over, checking the non-Harrys’ opinions, before eventually deciding they passed muster. “Right then. Now, Mundungus will be travelling with me, by broom—” He shot a look (with eyes both magical and otherwise) at the Harry nearest the back door, who was shifting nervously and wringing his hands, as if he expected further protest but received none. “Arthur will be travelling with Fred—”

“Age before beauty, I get it,” a presumably-George Harry nodded solemnly.

“George’ll be with Remus. Miss Delacour—”

“—Is riding with me on a Thestral,” Bill said, explaining to the group with a sheepish grin, “Fleur’s not too fond of brooms.” Fleur sidled up beside him, giving his arm a squeeze before slipping her—Harry’s?—fingers through his. It was a decidedly odd picture they made.

“Probably musses her hair,” the Harry next to Harry whispered—he was pretty sure this one had been Ron.

“Miss Granger will be riding with Kingsley, again by Thestral.” The Harry on the other side of Ron-Harry had a look of immense relief on his face. “And finally, Tonks will be with Ron.” Tonks pumped the air with a fist, and Ron-Harry gave her a weak smile, clearly envying Hermione being allowed to ride with one of the older, more seasoned Order members.

“So tha’ leaves you’n me, Harry!” Hagrid said with forced enthusiasm, honestly looking just a little anxious—which did nothing to mitigate Harry’s own nerves. “Not a lot o’ room on the bike with me on it, though, so we’ve got a sidecar for you.”

“That sounds…” Harry searched for words that would not hurt. “Manageable.” He trusted Hagrid with his life—on the ground. In the air…well, he would keep his Firebolt very close, he decided.

Perhaps sensing his hesitation, Moody sidled up close. “You and broomsticks, Potter…it’d be a dead giveaway. They’re probably gonna expect you to be with me—”

What?!” Mundungus-Harry shrieked from across the kitchen.

“—and Hagrid can more than handle himself in a fight, so it’s the best strategy we’ve got.”

And the time for argument, it seemed, had passed. This plan would go off with or without his cooperation—so he owed it to these people risking their lives for his to do whatever he could to ensure everyone came out of this in one piece. He slung his rucksack over one shoulder and his broom over the other, nodded to Moody, then brought up the rear of the line as everyone filed out the back door and into the garden.

He ran his eyes over the bike Hagrid had arrived on, seeing it in a new light with Moody’s mention of that infernal contraption of Black’s and licked his lips. “Is that…was that really Sirius’s bike?”

Hagrid patted the seat, beaming. “Indeed she was—I suppose this’ll be your second time on ‘er then, eh!”

Harry arranged his luggage in the sidecar before climbing in himself, feeling the tiniest bit humiliated, as he had his knees uncomfortably drawn up to his chest to make room for Hedwig’s cage and sat several feet below everyone’s eyeline.

“Now, don’t you worry,” Hagrid said, patting the handlebars as he mounted the motorcycle. “I’ve had Arthur trick ‘er out just a little bit—anyone tries to mess with us, they’ll soon regret it!” He gave a gruff little chortle that did nothing to settle Harry’s mounting nerves—or diminish his likely misplaced excitement.

Please be careful, Hagrid,” called Mr. Weasley, already astride his broomstick with Fred-Harry at his back. “Make sure to only use it in an emergency—it hasn’t been thoroughly tested.”

“Use what?” Harry asked Hagrid, apprehension still thick in his voice, but before Hagrid could explain, Moody announced, “All right then! Be sure we all launch at the same time—everyone get on their marks!”

There was some last-minute shuffling and scurrying as everyone made their final checks. Harry wished he’d said something inside—maybe thanked them for doing this, for risking their lives like this for him, because there was a chance, and not an unlikely one, that this might be the last time he saw some of them—

Hagrid kicked the motorbike into life, and it roared with an animalistic fury that Harry felt he’d heard somewhere before but couldn’t recall. The sidecar began to vibrate violently, and Harry grabbed onto it, white-knuckled.

“Good riding, everyone!” shouted Moody over the din. “Until we meet again! On the count of three now: one…two…THREE!

The sidecar lurched, and then with another angry roar of the engine, they were off, the motorcycle rocketing into the air so quickly Harry’s neck nearly snapped. The wind whipped at his face, screaming in his ears, and his eyes watered to the point of pain. Jammed into the sidecar as he was, Harry’s legs were already starting to go numb, and by the time he thought to glance over his shoulder and take a final look at Number 4, they were already too high to tell which was the Dursleys’ home. Ah well.

They rose up through wispy clouds until the warmth of the late summer heat gave way to cooler temperatures at height—

A bolt of green light zipped past them, seemingly from thin air, and the motorbike gave a sharp jerk as Hagrid dodged reflexively.

Dozens of dark hooded figures blipped into view, suspended inexplicably in mid-air and closing in on the Potters and their escorts on all sides.

“Ha—Hagrid—!” Harry started, voice raspy, and he slapped his hand sharply against the sidecar for his attention. “Hagrid, there’s—”

A scream rent the night air, and then there were bolts of blazing green light coming from what felt like everywhere. One smacked squarely against the sidecar, and the motorbike lurched again, this time capsizing.

Harry felt his world upend—there were street lights above him now and screams and shouts all around, and he was gripping onto the cold metal of the sidecar for dear life. From between his knees, Hedwig’s cage slipped free, tumbling along with Harry’s rucksack and Firebolt into the darkness.

“No—no, HEDWIG!” he shouted, arm outstretched. The broomstick tumbled away, but he managed to seize the strap of his rucksack and the metal handle on top of the cage just as Hagrid righted them. “Oh thank god—”

Another jet of green struck from the darkness, like a bolt of lightning, hitting the cage. Hedwig gave a sharp, pained screech and then fell to the floor of the cage, unmoving.

Harry felt his heart skip a beat, like he’d been hit himself, and then began babbling No no no no no in a rapid staccato as he fumbled with the cage door, reaching in to stroke Hedwig’s still, lifeless body. “Fuck, fuck, fuck you can’t be—” The motorbike lurched again, and the cage was shoved into Harry’s midsection, knocking the wind from him. He tried to signal to Hagrid that they had to turn around—they’d misjudged their timing terribly. This wasn’t a couple of random Death Eaters monitoring the area just in case; this had been planned. They’d known.

He shoved the cage down into the nose of the car and pulled out his wand, praying it didn’t slip free from his sweaty grip. “Ha—Hagrid, we have to go back, we have to—”

“Can’ do that, Harry! I’ve got orders an’ I mean to follow ‘em! You’re the priority, and I’ll see it through to the end!” bellowed Hagrid, and he opened the throttle, snapping Harry’s neck back with the sudden acceleration.

“Stop—stop, please!” But he nearly had his head taken off by another two jets of green light. These weren’t just Unforgivables—they were Killing Curses. They didn’t care if they killed any of the Harrys or not. Hedwig was only going to be the first casualty at this rate. He wriggled round, bracing himself in case the motorbike took another tumble, and marked his targets.

A group of Death Eaters had broken away from the circle to give pursuit on brooms, and the spells they fired were aimed at Hagrid’s broad back. Hagrid was flying rather admirably, dodging and swerving as best the motorbike would allow, but numbers would soon win out. Harry kept himself low in the sidecar and raised his wand, spitting out STUPEFY! into the darkness and sending a red bolt streaking toward their pursuers, scattering the Death Eaters.

“Hold on, Harry!” Hagrid shouted over the roar of the air around them and the sounds of spellfire, and Harry craned his neck just in time to see Hagrid slam a thick finger onto a green button near the fuel gauge.

With a loud BLAT, a solid brick wall erupted from the exhaust pipe. Harry twisted back around to watch it expand into being in mid-air, with three of the Death Eaters smartly swerving to avoid hitting it. Their fourth wasn’t quite so lucky, and he slammed into the wall headfirst, his broomstick broken into kindling that tumbled along with his body earthward.

More curses flew over their heads from the remaining Death Eaters still giving chase, clearly aiming for Hagrid. Harry did what he could, throwing Stunning Spells over his shoulder. Red and green collided in mid-air, releasing a shower of sparks that must have seemed to the Muggles far below an out-of-season fireworks display, or else odd lightning bolts.

Another jet of green nearly took off Hagrid’s head, and he yelled back, “Don’ give up easily, do they? This should do the trick! Hang on to yer socks, Harry!” Hagrid slammed his whole fist on a large purple button. Harry sank as low as possible into the sidecar, shoving his wand into his pocket and grabbing a tight hold just in case.

A bellowing roar rent the night air, shaking Harry to the bone, and a burst of fire, white-hot and blue, shot from the exhaust pipe, sending the Death Eaters scattering to avoid being hit. The motorbike rocketed forward like a bullet, and the sidecar began to vibrate ominously. The force of the acceleration had splintered the metal connections to the bike, and Harry could see welded nuts and bolts shaking loose. He suspected this was the ‘it’ Arthur had advised Hagrid to deploy only in an emergency.

“H—Hagrid!” he yelled, but his voice was lost over the scream of the rushing wind. He shifted to grab his wand, the spell for a Sticking Charm on his lips, when a curse bolted out of the blue to strike the sidecar, snapping its connections clean off.

The car lurched—and then was spinning end over end, lost, until Harry finally managed to get his fingers around his wand again and pointed it at the sidecar, shouting, “Wingardium Leviosa!” in desperate hope.

His downward plummet was abruptly arrested, the car utterly unsteerable but at least still airborne. He had only a split second’s relief, though, before more curses streaked past them. That they were no longer the Killing Curse’s deadly green was little comfort, and Harry watched in horror as the three Death Eaters abandoned their pursuit of Hagrid and arrowed straight for him, the motorbike banking into a steep turn, tight on their tails and gaining.

Harry aimed an Impedimenta square at the Death Eaters and managed to hit the middle one, but the other two kept charging for him, and then the sidecar began to tilt as his Levitation charm faltered.

Before he could begin another downward tumble, though, something seized him by the collar, hoisting him from the sidecar and dropping him onto the motorbike’s seat, back to back now with Hagrid. He only just had the presence of mind to point his wand at the car once it had fallen away a safe distance and rasp, “Confringo!

His heart clenched as the sidecar exploded, and he sent a silent apology to loyal, persnickety Hedwig. He should have sent her to find her way to the Burrow on her own, he cursed himself. The Death Eaters wouldn’t have bothered with a little owl; she might still be alive, but he hadn’t been thinking, he’d foolishly assumed this would be a snap, that Moody had everything under control. That his Constant Vigilance spiel was more than just words—

“Harry, hang on! I don’t dare use the dragonfire button again, so you’ll hafta hold ‘em off of us!”

Harry could only nod, though Hagrid of course could not see him. The Death Eaters were not giving up, still locked in fevered chase and expertly dodging the Stunning Spells and Impediment Jinxes Harry was throwing at them as fast as he could execute the wand movements. One Blocking Jinx caught the closest Death Eater just on the shoulder, and his hood slipped—revealing in the light of the spells flashing back and forth the blank, vapid face of Stan Shunpike. Harry abruptly swallowed the Curse on his tongue, instead shouting, “Expelliarmus!”

THAT’S HIM! That’s the real one, on the motorbike!” roared Stan’s partner, his victorious shout reaching Harry even over the thunder of the motorbike’s engine and the spells flying all around. But instead of redoubling their efforts to catch Harry, the Death Eaters fell away, disappearing from view and leaving behind a deep sense of foreboding. Harry doubted they’d just caught a lucky break—but how had they known Harry was the Harry? Had they caught the others already and determined them to be decoys? God, were his friends already dead?

“Hey! They’ve stopped firing at us! Reckon they’re gone?” Hagrid’s relief was palpable, but Harry was still scanning the skies for pursuers. They’d probably gone back for reinforcements. That’s the real one, they’d said… He clambered around on the bike, adjusting his grip on Hagrid—nothing for it but to get to the Tonks’ place and then the Burrow, as quickly as possible.

“I dunno, but I don’t wanna find out; let’s get going while we can. Can you do the dragonfire thing again?”

“Comin’ right up,” Hagrid said, mashing the purple button once more, and Harry nearly lost his grip at the sudden sharp acceleration, fingers curled tight into the folds of Hagrid’s great coat. He felt the bike begin to descend, tearing through the wispy clouds, and prayed this meant they’d nearly reached their destination.

But then his scar seared, red-hot, and his forehead felt like an egg cracking open to birth some dark horror—as Death Eaters appeared once more on either side of the bike, sending Hagrid swerving into the darkness. A Killing Curse flew overhead, the arcane energy whizzing by close enough he could hear its hiss—were they insane? They knew he was the real Harry Potter, and still they were flinging Unforgivables at him? He craned his neck, glasses askew and eyes watering, to see behind—


Flying, held aloft by means Harry couldn’t see, he loomed terrible in the darkness, pale deathshead face gleaming in the light of spellfire still flying fast and furious around them. He raised his wand in his long, skeletal fingers, pointing right in Harry’s direction—

The bike lurched into a nosedive, and Harry found himself flung against Hagrid’s broad back. He clung on for dear life, angling his wand over his shoulder and sending poorly executed Stunning Spells into the darkness. Well, no one was around to give him marks now, so what was the point? He thought he heard a scream and hoped it meant he’d struck true, but it was impossible to tell at this point.

The motorbike’s engine groaned, rattled, and then released a sharp bang before erupting in sparks. Dragonfire evidently didn’t agree with the internals, Harry distantly observed, his scar burning and throbbing with such malevolent force he couldn’t tell which way was up, even as he knew they were plummeting downward. He wholly expected to die at any second, either from a Killing Curse or colliding with the ground.

He could hear the sizzle of spells flying past them, and something dark loomed in his peripheral vision—a hooded figure riding a broomstick, reaching out for him—

“NO!” Hagrid roared, a fury in his voice Harry had never heard before, and with a great kick, he launched himself at the Death Eater. Too late, the Death Eater tried to bank away, but Hagrid tackled him off the broom. Harry instinctively reached for Hagrid, knees clinging tight to the bike’s seat, but his Seeker’s reflexes failed him, and both Hagrid and the unfortunate Death Eater tumbled into the darkness, disappearing.

In a booming voice that seemed to come from both all around and at the same time inside Harry’s own head, he heard what had to be Voldemort scream in a hissing, snakelike rasp, “Mine!” The white face, contorted in rage, loomed from the darkness and barrelled for Harry, arm outstretched and wand raised with a spell ready on his lips, “Avada—”

Searing pain shot through Harry’s scar. He screamed—or at least he tried to, but his throat was too raw now to do more than rasp in agony. He brought his hands up to clutch at either side of his head—when his wand arm shot out, reflexively, taking aim square at Voldemort.

No, not his wand arm.

Just his wand, dragging his arm up and around, as if it had a mind of its own. Through eyes half-shut in pain, Harry saw a burst of golden fire shoot from his wand-tip, spangling out to slam into the acid green of Voldemort’s Killing Curse—followed by a resounding CRACK and a scream of agonised fury.

The pain in his scar subsided in an instant, and through the chorus of pinpoints flashing in front of his eyes, Harry saw the purple button on the instrument gauge blur into view. Voldemort howled, from somewhere far away, “NO!”, and Harry slammed his fist onto the button, sending the motorbike rocketing forward, down and down and down.

He flung his wand arm out, his free hand gripping the handlebar for dear life, and shouted, “Hagrid! A—Accio Hagrid!” It was useless, he knew—but he wouldn’t let what might be his last moments alive be spent cowering, waiting for the inevitable.

He could now see the lights of some township below, growing nearer and nearer. He was going to crash—Hagrid might already have. Behind him, nearer now than before, Voldemort cried, “A wand, you fools! Don’t let him escape! GET ME A WAND!”

Someone must have complied, for suddenly Voldemort was there, right beside him, red eyes boring into Harry’s, and he was not going to let the last thing he saw be Voldemort, preparing to curse him for the final time. With the last scrap of strength he could muster, he began to bring his wand around—

But then Voldemort vanished—he just was gone.

Harry glanced around in panicked confusion—just long enough to glimpse Hagrid below him, spread-eagle on the ground and approaching fast. In a last-ditch effort to avoid joining him as a mangled lump upon the earth, Harry yanked hard on the handlebars, braking with all he had, and crashed with a great KABLOOSH into a muddy pond.

Blessedly, the pond was not so very deep, so he was in no danger of drowning, but he’d landed nearly under the motorbike, and its handlebar was practically stabbing him in the abdomen, holding him in place.

After some frantic wriggling, he scrambled from the wreckage, praying he hadn’t broken anything as he slogged through the waterweeds, and crawled over to rouse Hagrid. He kept one eye on the sky, scanning the heavens fearfully. Where had Voldemort gone? He’d been right there—why abandon chase? Or why not at least check that the crash had done Harry in properly?

Hagrid’s form was quiet and motionless, and Harry swallowed down his fears that the obvious had happened. He struggled to shift Hagrid onto his back—but was unsuccessful, only managing to tilt his head to the side so Harry could check his pupils. “Hagrid? Hagrid—come on, please.” He gave Hagrid’s cheek a light slap—then harder—and when this failed to wake him, Harry grabbed hold of his coat and began to shake, as hard as he could. “Just—wake—up please,” he grit out, because he couldn’t take another death, not now, not so soon. He couldn’t have this be his fault. Hedwig had been bad luck, but this…this would be…

“Who’s out there? That you, Potter? Hagrid?” A beam of warm, golden light fell over them, and Harry squinted, raising an arm to shield his eyes as he struggled to his feet.

Harry didn’t recognise the man’s voice, but then a woman shouted, “Oh, that’s them Ted! They’ve crashed! Quick, fetch me my Healer’s kit!”

It was the last thing he heard before his knees buckled under the weight of sorrow and exhaustion, and everything went black.


Men Who Love Dragons Too Much Copyright © 2018 by fencer_x. All Rights Reserved.

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