Harry woke the next morning to a warm yet empty bed. Ron and Hermione were both still asleep and the bathroom was empty. The sun wasn't quite up yet, so Harry dressed quickly, hoping to read a few more reports before anyone other than Draco rose. As he was walking down the stairs however, his hopes died. It was so noisy he was astounded that he was able to sleep through it all. Talk slowly began to teeter off as he stopped on the bottom stair, he could feel every eye in the room on him. Draco was standing awkwardly towards the back, so he made his way over.
"What's happening? Who are all these people?" Harry whispered. There must have been at least twenty strangers in the entrance hall.
"Order supporters apparently, they started turning up an hour or so ago." Draco handed him his half-finished coffee and Harry gulped it down gratefully. "Severus and Remus are in the kitchen."
"Well why are we here? Let's join them, I think that old woman in the corner wants to eat me." A small grey-haired woman was indeed staring at Harry as if he would be a great side dish. Even without the inappropriate woman in the corner, the room seemed too full. Apparently only having your best mates for company for almost a year tends to cause a touch of claustrophobia.
Harry cast a series of locking and silencing charms on the kitchen door behind him and Draco, not wanting to be interrupted. "We need to talk." He was looking at Kingsley. "I don't think we should take the fight to him, we need to drag him out, force him to fight."
"Harry," Remus groaned, sounding very much like a petulant two-year-old. "I haven't slept, and the sun isn't up yet. Let's eat, Severus and I will nap, and we can talk strategy later, please?"
Harry scowled but could tell by the looks on everyone's faces that he was out numbered so he released the charms on the door and slumped into a chair. Just as Remus handed him a fresh coffee a booming voice blasted through the house.
"Where is he? Don't look at me like that Mavis! Where's my boy?"
"Now, now my dear, calm down we'll find him." Came a gentle male's voice.
"Draco, I think you have a visitor." Kingsley smiled at him.
"Me?" Draco knotted his brow in confusion. "Who'd be looking for me?"
The answer came bounding into the kitchen, almost knocking the door off of its hinges. The family resemblance to her sister left little doubt for Harry as to who this woman was.
"Andy you can't just barge through doors, you don't know what people could be doing." The short man behind her sighed.
"Draco Malfoy." The woman said standing over him.
"Yes?" Draco shot Harry a confused look. "I'm sorry who are you?"
Andromeda visibly sighed in relief and pulled Draco off of his chair into a fierce hug. Draco opened his eyes wide and his arms hung loosely at his side. When she let him go, her eyes were shining with tears. "I'm your aunt, before I was married, I was Andromeda Black."
"Black?" Draco asked, perplexed. "So, you're my mother's sister?"
Andromeda smiled. "Cissy wrote to me when Lucius was arrested. It took some convincing on my end, but we were starting to mend things between us before," Andromeda's voice started to crack, and she was holding back tears, Draco wasn't appearing to be doing much better. "Can we talk?" Andromeda took Draco's hand when he nodded and led them outside.
"She's been looking forward to this for so long." The short man said, he held his hand out for Harry. "Ted Tonks, I believe you knew my Dora."
Harry let the conversations around the table drift over him, he had no interest in the small talk between Ted and Kingsley. He barely acknowledged Snape and Lupin when they went upstairs nor when Ron, Hermione and Mrs Shacklebolt joined them. He merely pushed the plate of eggs around that was handed to him around his plate. They were wasting so much time, why was he the only one who saw that?
"Harry if you do not stop shaking the table, I will put a full body bind on you. Don't think I won't." Mrs Shacklebolt chastised. Harry was indeed shaking the table with his knee so much that the glasses were rattling.
"Ron, Hermione why don't you take Harry up to the study and he can fill you in on what he read last night." Kingsley suggested. "It's up the first set of stairs, second door on the left."
Harry was on his feet and out of the door before Ron and Hermione could respond. He looked at the floor as he walked through the crowd, it seemed that the amount of people gathered in the entrance hall had doubled. When he found the study, he paced the room irritably waiting for Ron and Hermione to join him. The stack of parchment he had been reading the night before was stacked neatly on the desk.
It took over an hour to catch Ron and Hermione up and to convince them that his plan was the better option. It was dangerous, and the chances of failure were huge but the poetics of it could not be ignored.
The door opened to Remus, Severus, Kingsley and Draco.
"How was it?" Harry asked as Draco sat on the couch beside him.
"She asked me to move in with her and Ted, once this is all over." Draco smiled slightly.
"That's great Draco." Harry smiled back. He was glad that his friends were making plans for what would happen next, it gave them something to fight for. Draco was building his family up again and Ron and Hermione would go to the Burrow and find themselves together again. Harry had been invited to the Burrow as well, but he couldn't plan for it. Not because he didn't want to, he did, but because he honestly couldn't envision a life after this, after Voldemort. Holding out hope always led to disappointment.
"So, Potter, do enlighten us with this grand scheme of yours." Snape said, pulling Harry out of his musings.
Harry sat up straight. "I'm sorry but attacking the ministry is a terrible idea. Most of us in this room have fought there before and it is not easy, safe or smart. There are too many innocent people there and too many ways to escape. We need somewhere open and where we know we can draw him to. Somewhere he couldn't deny us the chance to fight him head on."
"You're an even bigger idiot than I imagined if you think that fighting at Hogwarts will mean we're guaranteed to win." Snape glowered at him.
"Nowhere guarantees us a win." Harry glowered back. "But Hogwarts means too much to him to let us just walk in and take it. If we make a move on the ministry, he'll just rebuild it somewhere else. The building itself isn't overly significant."
"But you just said that there were too many innocent people at the ministry." Remus said incredulously. "The school is full of children, how to you propose we keep them safe?"
"The Marauders." Harry smiled over at Remus. "After curfew we sneak anyone under age and not willing to fight out through the secret passages and we attack the Death Eaters there at daybreak. The teachers would help us, I know they don't want them there. Any student that has sympathy to Voldemort, we body bind them, it's not nice but if we have to do it, we have to do it."
"I like it." Kingsley nodded. "It's got the space and there's less chance of a surprise attack."
The seven of them sat and planned together. A more accurate description would be that most of them sat and planned. Ron and Harry paced the room, both full of nervous energy but listening intently. Ted Tonks kept them updated on the growing number of supporters turning up while supplying them with food and drinks. Kingsley sent word to the Weasley family, at Harry and Ron's behest, to let them know of their plans. Once they had finished with dinner, they were finally at a point where they all felt comfortable enough to sleep. Snape gave them all a dreamless sleep potion, knowing the next day would be difficult and needing everyone at their peak mentally.
Harry stepped out of the bathroom, Ron and Hermione having already taken their potions were fast asleep. He had lifted the vial and was about to swallow his own when Draco's hand covered his to stop him. The warm grey eyes stared through him and Harry felt the heavy weight he didn't know he was carrying lift. Tomorrow could very well be his last day on earth, but at least he would be leaving it a slightly better place.
Draco grabbed his chin and pulled him into a slow, deep kiss. "Good luck Harry."
Harry rested his forehead against Draco's. "You too."
"Promise me something?" Draco whispered. "Promise me you will at least try and survive. If there is a way for him to die and you to live, take it, please?"
"I'll do my best, I promise." Harry kissed him once more before swallowing his potion and lying on his bed. His last thoughts were of wonder at what the world would look like after tomorrow. Would it be a world of peace? Would it take years to find stability again? And, if he failed, how much worse could it get?
"I swear to all that is sacred Weasley if you step on my foot one more time I will tie your legs together and you can bloody well hop." Draco barked in the dark.
During their careful planning to day before, Harry had failed to consider that he was significantly taller than his 13-year-old counterpart. Or that he had only been through the tunnel between Hogwarts and Honeyduke's on his own. With seven fully grown wizards, the trip was slow and hot. Even Remus who had done this as a group of four seemed to have forgotten the tight squeeze in the twenty years since his last journey.
Eventually after a few tumbles and some not so subtly veiled threats thrown between Ron and Draco, Harry was finally able to tap the back of the statue of the one-eyed witch. Professor McGonagall stood in the hall lips pursed and hands on her hips. "What time do you call this Potter? We only just got the students out! You were meant to be here to assist! Have you still failed to understand how to tell time?"
"Sorry professor." Harry looked down at his feet. He hated that he suddenly felt eleven years old again, how did this woman always have the ability to make him feel like this? "But you got them all out safely?"
McGonagall shot him a dark look. "Yes, Bill and Charlie just left with the last lot. They will use the return portkey to come back. Yaxley and the Carrows should be in the great hall soon.
"Good," Harry began to move. "Remember we need them alive."
"Potter," McGonagall put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. "It is very good to see you."
Harry smiled. "It's good to see you too."
At the stop of the staircase leading to the entrance hall, Harry could just see the sun beginning to rise over the forbidden forest. Would that be the last one he saw?
"Potter," A voice squeaked beside him. "It's good to see you alive."
Harry looked down and beamed at Professor Flitwick and realised that all of his teachers were standing around him. Every person there had helped him in more than just his studies, they gave him gifts that he would never be able to reciprocate. Without warning his ribs were cracking and his feet had left the ground.
"Ah 'Arry," Hagrid's gruff voice said, tears streaming into his tangled beared. "Never thought I'd see ya again."
"As heart-warming as this display undoubtably is," Snape drawled. "Do you think it could possibly wait?"
"Are they in there?" Harry pointed towards the great hall once Hagrid had set him down.
"Yes." Professor Sprout answered. "They are always there before the students, so they'll be starting to wonder where they are soon."
Harry opted for shock value and a show of power over a sneak attack. He pushed open the heavy wooden doors and walked down the centre of the hall with everyone following in his wake. Draco cast an incendio at the Gryffindor banner behind Yaxley's head, Harry heard his gleeful voice say, "You have no idea how long I've wanted to do that for."
"Potter," Spat the male Carrow.
Harry gave a casual flick of his wand and all three death eaters were bound to their chairs and gagged. Harry grinned at the sight as he stood in front of them.
"The school's mine now." He said simply, he didn't take his eyes off of them when he said, "Minerva, which one killed Neville?"
"Amycus, he's the one that cursed Ginny as well." McGonagall answered tightly.
Ron growled deep in his throat and Harry threw the Death Eater a look of disgust. "Then Alecto, I have a job just for you." She tried to lunge at Harry, but her bonds were too tight. "You'll do it, or I'll leave your brother alone with the Weasleys for a while and let them take their fill. They aren't very pleased with him right now."
The look she gave him had it very clear that she was trying to curse him into every corner of hell. "I want you to take a message to your boss for me. Tell him, if he wants to end this to meet me on the Quidditch pitch at sunset." Harry leaned in to whisper in her ear so that no one else could hear what he said and waved his wand. "The spell I just cast will make your veins feel like acid every time you try and defy me. Go on, try it, I beg you, think about not telling Voldemort."
Harry took the gag out of her mouth and untied her ropes. She ran straight for the double doors away from Harry but before she could cross the threshold, she bent double and screamed in agony. After a moment she turned, panting, to Harry and nodded before finally making her escape. In his two years of research Harry had discovered that there were spells that weren't unforgivable curses, but they probably should be.
"Harry," Hermione breathed behind him. "What did you do?"
"Nothing more than she deserved." Draco said, immediately coming to Harry's defence. "She would have done a lot worse to you."
"But that's beside the point." Hermione argued. "Refusing to cast spells like that is what sets us apart from them."
"No, refusing to judge someone based on archaic bloody purity beliefs is what sets us apart from them." Draco's voice was starting to rise. "You're going to see a whole lot worse than that today Granger."
"This is neither the time nor the place." Remus interjected. "We can discuss the moral ramifications once this is over." Remus shot Harry a look that clearly said that they would be discussing his choices at a later date.
Kingsley stepped up and began to reiterate the plans for the day. He, Remus and Snape would begin shepherding in fighters via portkey while the teachers set up stronger defences on the castle entrance. The goal was to keep the fighting on the grounds, the castle held too many opportunities to hide and attack when your back was turned.
Harry was meant to be helping Ron, Hermione and Draco split people up as they arrived into teams but couldn't concentrate. Instead he found himself walking through the castle, thinking about the spell he had just cast. It wasn't the first time he had used dark magic and he knew that it wouldn't be the last. The power rolling through his veins seemed to complete him, he was more focused and at peace with himself than ever before. He understood now what Voldemort had meant by there not being a good and evil, only power. There was however, a right and wrong way of going about it.
That is what really separated him from the rest of the Order. They were all still stuck on the belief of good and evil and everything being black and white. Yes, Harry was fighting on the side of good and Voldemort was in fact evil, but reality was never that simple. The key to life is and has always been finding a balance and Harry had realised that they key to his success was embracing light and dark and forming them in a symbiotic relationship.
He found a spot in the astronomy tower to sit and watch the sun move across the sky. When it was high, he called for Kreacher to bring him lunch and focussed on the energy coursing through him. He closed his eyes and imagined it forming a ball of pure light below his ribs, muggles called it meditation. Remus had taught him when the rage he felt in his fifth year became unbearable to those around him.
He had just managed to spread the light through his body to his fingertips when Snape's Patronus pulled him suddenly and viciously back into himself. "Potter stop sulking, you're needed." Harry might have reluctant respect for the man now, but he was still a prick.
Harry jumped to his feet and looked at the sky, all of the fighters must have arrived by now. They were waiting for him to be the 'face of resistance' as Kingsley put it. Harry rolled his eyes and made his way down to the grounds. He spared a moment of dread thinking about how much worse the hero worship would get if he did manage to pull this off.
"Where did you disappear to?" Draco asked when Harry stepped out into the bright sun.
"Brooding about how hard I have it in life of course." Harry joked.
Draco rolled his eyes. "Never and I mean never leave me alone that long with Granger again. She kept asking me how long you've been using dark magic and whether you knew all of the consequences."
"She means well, they just don't get it." Harry turned to look at the crowd in front of him. More witches and wizards than Harry imagined had turned up. He recognised roughly thirty students from his year and possibly another hundred full qualified adults. "I suppose I should go, what did Kingsley say? Let them see their hero?"
He made his way through the throng, shook hands and accepted hugs. He listened to stories of heroes and ones that tore out his heart. More than once he was met with bitter resentment because of how long it had taken him to come back. He didn't make excuses, he stood there with his head held high and took the attack. Every person here was risking more than just their lives. If they were to fail today, everyone that they cared for would likely suffer. To Harry, these were the true heroes.
"Potter come with me." Mrs Shacklebolt hand forced her way towards him.
"Ok." He gave her a confused look and made his apologies to the woman he was speaking to. In the last six months she had lost her husband, a brother and her daughter, Harry marvelled that she was able to stand let alone fight.
Mrs Shacklebolt lead him inside the castle where Ron, Hermione and Draco were waiting, they all looked as confused as he felt.
"With all due respect Mrs Shacklebolt." Ron said. "We really should be outside."
"This won't take long." She promised. "As you all know, I lost my husband in the first war. It was without a doubt the truly lowest point in my life. The only thing that got me through was the support of people who had lost as much as I had, they were able to understand. I was able to lean on them and them me, slowly we all healed and grew stronger with the knowledge that those we loved died heroes. You four have lost more than any of those poor souls standing outside, do not interrupt me Mr Malfoy you have.
"I'm not just talking about the friends and family I know you have lost." Mrs Shacklebolt grasped Harry's hand. "You have lost not only your childhoods and your chance to make the stupid decisions we all make in early adulthood, you have lost your futures. None of you will have the chance to have the normal boring lives that you deserve, you've seen too much.
"I know you all have homes open to you from tomorrow, but I would like to offer an alternative. As I said I needed people to lean on who knew what I was going through, the four of you give that to each other. I'd like to offer my home, Kingsley also agrees with me, as a safe haven. When the world gets too much for you to handle you are free to come and stay. For a night, weeks or months, my door is open to you."
"Mrs Shacklebolt, I don't know what to say." Hermione smiled softly.
"No need to respond, just keep it in the back of your mind." She smiled at them all.
Before Harry could say anything, he was knocked off of his feet and into a wall. A shockwave ran through the ground, Harry scrambled to his feet and ran. When he got outside, he was surprised to see that not a single tree in the forest had fallen, every person outside however had. Harry was thrown off of his feet again when a second shock wave hit.
"Potter," The magically enhanced voice made Draco's face drain, Harry would recognise the voice of Lucius Malfoy anywhere. "The Dark Lord is not amused. He is willing to compromise though. Come down to the gates, surrender yourself and we won't attack the innocent people you're hiding behind. Bring my son with you."
"Sonorus." Harry muttered, wand to his throat. "If you think I'd honestly fall for that, you haven't been paying attention."
Draco cast the same spell. "Father, if you want me, come and get me."