Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.
Chapter 62 - Stonehenge
During the daytime hours, Stonehenge was typically crowded with tourists from all over the world. But that night the site was empty of Muggles, the vast plains and the enormous grass-covered barrows that dotted the land were silent save for the sound of the wind. There was a highway that ran near the site, but it too was unusually empty, and the few Muggles that drove by in cars never glanced in the direction of the ancient monument. The Muggle parking lot was utterly still and the night watchmen had fallen asleep.
But it was the monument itself that surprised Harry the most. He'd seen photos of Stonehenge, but this looked nothing like he'd been expecting. This was not the ancient ruin depicted in photographs. Just like Hogwarts appeared to be nothing but ruins to Muggles, Stonehenge was the same. But to Harry it was rebuilt, the stones all back in their proper places, unbroken and strong. The thin rope barrier that circled the monument and kept the Muggles from walking across the ancient earthen bank that surrounded the stones was gone, and the ditch that edged the bank was now lined with burning torches in a fiery circle that lit up the stones with flickering lights.
Harry felt immediately drawn toward the enormous heel stone of the circle where there was a break in the earthen bank as if indicating the entrance point to the circle. He took a step toward it, only to notice immediately that Dumbledore had taken a step in the opposite direction. There were other Wizards and Witches arriving, all moving to various positions in the circle. When Harry glanced uncertainly at Dumbledore, the old man just smiled at him. "Go on, my boy," he urged, nodding toward the heel stone. "We must each take the places meant for us."
A sense of melancholy washed over Harry as he realized what Dumbledore meant. He was ultimately alone in this -- his place was different and he would have to proceed alone from this point on. Dumbledore reached out and squeezed his hand. "I don't know what you will learn this night, Harry," he said calmly, his blue eyes unusually bright behind his glasses. "But you are not truly alone. All who love you are always with you. Do not forget that."
Nodding, Harry squeezed the old man's hand before releasing it and turning away. The bell was tolling louder and the circle's entrance was calling to him.
The distance to the heel stone was longer than he'd guessed, the circumference of the outer circle much larger than he'd expected. The main stone circle itself was far smaller. In the flickering torchlight he could see men and women taking up places along the outer circle, standing in the torchlight and staring around in awe as the night wind whipped about them. He couldn't help but wonder what it was he was expected to do here -- Dumbledore believed he would learn something.
As he walked, his eyes were drawn to the large shadow of the barrow on the far side of the Muggle roadway. He found himself shivering as he stared at it, and it occurred to him that while this was a place of power, it was also a place of death. High overhead in the night sky, he saw the black shapes of two ravens circling, and he wondered again how he had come to such a place.
While to the Muggle eye the path up to the heel stone was only a faint depression in the earth, to Harry it was a clearly marked path lined with crushed white stones. The moment he stepped upon it, he felt a shudder of energy move through his body and for an instant he saw brilliant lines of power radiating out in all directions from the center of the great monument, like a burning spider's web upon the earth.
He shivered and pulled his coat tighter around his shoulders. The air was cool and sweet, the scent of grass and distant rain surrounding him. Overhead the sky was lit brilliantly with stars, no nearby Muggle lights to dim their clarity. The standing stones were shadows in the moonlight, the torchlight dancing upon their surface.
He had dreamed of this, he realized, these lines of power. He could feel them now deep in his bones and he understood that they did not simply crisscross England, but rather circled the earth, connecting all things together. For one brief moment he felt connect to everything, all things past and present, unified in this field of magic. He wondered if this was what he had been meant to learn?
He stood there in the dark moonlit shadow of the heel stone and stared at the stones before him. To his right and to his left, fanning out along the great earthen bank were Wizards and Witches all standing in silence, waiting for him, in a perfect, enormous circle.
Now feeling the power flowing through the earth he sensed something else. The half circle to his right felt far different than the half circle to his left. He wanted to classify the sensations instantly as good and evil -- the men and women to his right were good, and those on the left were evil. He found his eyes searching the flickering torchlight of the left-hand circle. There was something off here. The right-hand circle was nearly filled -- several hundred Wizards and Witches standing waiting for him with only a few broken spots in the circle where someone might be missing. But to his eyes the left-hand circle looked largely empty -- only a few men and women lining the path.
Had they refused to come, Harry wondered. There in the center of that half circle he could sense a shadowy form and he shuddered in realization. Voldemort was here -- already waiting for him. But for some strange reason he had come alone. Were there so few dark wizards in the world that there were none left to hear the call?
And yet that half of the circle did not feel empty -- far from it. It radiated with as much power as the right side did.
Harry frowned in confusion. There was something here he was not understanding. He looked to the right -- so many good Wizards. And yet that did not seem right either -- could he truly classify the power he was sensing from this side as good? Different yes, but was it truly, utterly good? Confusion swirled within his mind.
And then the bell grew silent, the tolling finally stopped and Harry felt the world holding its breath. The calling was over -- those who would come had already arrived. They were waiting for him, and he understood now that he was meant to walk this circle, meant to face each of those who had answered the summons, to judge and be judged.
There was no power on this earth that would make Harry choose the left side first, so he turned immediately to his right and stepped forward, beginning the long journey around the great circle to learn whatever it was he was meant to discover.
He did not know the first man he met -- an old Wizard whose eyes had turned white with blindness. But the moment he stopped in front of him Harry felt the man's power. Strong and ancient, this Wizard was a force to be reckoned with, one of the elite of their world. Despite his blindness he smiled at Harry and told him his name. Harry moved on to the next place in the circle.
One by one Harry greeted the Wizards and Witches that waited for him. After only a few he understood now who had been summoned -- just like the students of Hogwarts were the strongest of their generation in England, these people were the most powerful Wizards and Witches in the world. All of these people were like Dumbledore -- young and old alike -- all radiating a powerful energy that the average Wizard or Witch could not even imagine.
They came from all parts of the world, and more than one barely spoke enough English to tell Harry who they were and where they had come from. And Harry had been right when he'd questioned their inherent goodness -- more than one man or women had a look in their eyes or an air about them that left Harry feeling uneasy or mistrustful. Perhaps it would be best, he thought, to categorize them as Light Wizards -- but Light did not necessarily mean good.
Nor were all of them strangers. He recognized Nicholas Flamel the moment he stopped in front of him -- the ancient man looked just like his picture on his Chocolate Frog Card. Flamel happily shook Harry's hand when he introduced himself. "So sorry about all that trouble with my stone, dear boy," the old man apologized. "If I had known it would cause so much trouble I would have destroyed it centuries ago."
Harry assured him he did not hold a grudge.
Also amongst the group was Mr. Ollivander who gave him a mysterious smile as he said, "Did I not say that we could expect great things from you, Mr. Potter?" He seemed extremely pleased with himself at the confirmation of his statement.
He found himself smiling when he recognized Neville's grandmother Augusta Longbottom in the group, and his estimation of the clumsy Gryffindor went up considerably. It seemed Neville did come from a strong family and might one day grow out of his insecurity. The old woman greeted Harry with a surprisingly approving smile and she nodded her head in satisfaction. "You'll do," she decided and Harry couldn't help but feel grateful for her attitude.
Dumbledore stood in the exact center of the circle, and now that Harry could sense and feel the power levels of these Wizards he understood exactly the place the Headmaster of Hogwarts held in this world. There were none on this side more powerful than the old man, and he felt deep down in his bones than there were likely none as good as the old man as well. He hesitated a moment as he approached him and took a brief glance behind him across the great circle to the far side where the Dark waited. Voldemort stood directly opposite of Dumbledore, his polar opposite in all things. Harry shuddered at the realization.
"He and I are not equals, my boy," Dumbledore told him when he saw the direction his gaze had gone.
"You must be," Harry argued.
But Dumbledore shook his head. "You will understand when you get to that side."
Harry shivered at the thought -- he did not want to cross to that side. It seemed madness to do so -- to place himself directly into Voldemort's path. Even the Wizards and Witches here, the most powerful in the world, were watching that far side warily, nervously. But Dumbledore just smiled reassuringly at him. "Tonight there will be no violence," he reminded him. "The magic that called us all here is ancient and powerful -- it will not allow this place to be desecrated."
Harry nodded reluctantly and began his walk again to finish out the last portion of the Light Circle.
He recognized a few other Wizard and Witches by name only -- surprisingly many of them had Chocolate Cards, and he found it bizarrely amusing to think that something so silly was literally the Who's Who of the Wizarding World.
One Witch in particular caught his eye -- a young girl perhaps no more than fifteen years of age. She was stunningly beautiful, with ebony hair and an exotic, mocha-colored skin not common to Britain. Her eyes were a startling green, several shades lighter than his own, and they lit up with delight when he finally stopped before her. He found his eyes drawn to the heavy ornate collar she wore draped over her shoulders -- it was made of solid gold and inlayed with lapis-lazuli and other precious gems. A large golden ankh hung from it and rested against her chest. He knew a once that this was the current Pharaoh of Egypt, Nitrocris.
She smiled at him and took his hand between her own, holding it briefly. "I have to thank you, Harry Potter," she said, startling him with her words.
"Thank me?" Harry frowned. He knew there was some gossip about the two of them floating around, but he did not know its origins. He had never laid eyes on her. He was certain he would have remembered.
She just gave him a mysterious smile, and he saw that there was something hard and fierce gleaming in her eyes. "I am the rightful Pharaoh of Egypt, but when my father died my uncles took over. They have ruled Egypt, not me. Because I am a woman they told me I was not strong enough to rule our land -- that no one would listen to me." She glanced rather pointedly around the circle at the other Wizards and Witches present. "But I look around now and I do not see any of them. Not one of my uncles or their men were called to this place. Only I was called -- only I had the power to hear this summons. You have shown me my rightful place in this world, and come tomorrow things will change in Egypt. For that you have my gratitude."
With her words it occurred to Harry that his gathering was not entirely about him -- this was not about him learning his place in this world. This was about all of them -- all of them realizing just what position they held in the hierarchy of power, and what responsibilities this placed upon all their shoulders. There were leaders and warlords amongst this gathering, as well as healers and teachers and masters of all the different arts. This single moment in time would likely change all of them -- some subtly, some greatly as it apparently had this young girl.
Nervously Harry moved on, reluctantly approaching the end of the half circle. Taking a deep breath he stepped toward the first member on the Dark half and found himself staring into red eyes of a Vampire. Harry tensed in shock, his body poised for fight or flight. When the man smiled slowly at him, he saw the tell-tale fangs behind his lips.
"I cannot help but wonder if the change that is coming will aid or destroy my people," the creature said.
"Change?" Harry frowned. The Vampire made no move to attack him, and while he could sense that the man's power was far different than anything he was used to, he did not feel unduly threatened.
"An event such as this suggests that a great change is coming -- one that will literally reshape the world as we know it," the Vampire replied. "Some say this event heralds in the end of the world -- or perhaps the beginning." He glanced briefly toward the dark shadow that waited at the center of this half circle. "I have tried hard to keep my people out of the coming conflict, but perhaps I can no longer remain neutral."
Shock shuddered through Harry's body when he realized the implication behind this dark creature's words. This was a vampire -- evil by all the stories he had ever been told. And he had just informed Harry that as of now he was still neutral in this conflict, as were his people."
"Whose side will you join?" Harry asked.
The Vampire's red eyes flashed in the torchlight. "I suppose that will depend on what each side asks of us."
There was more implied in those words, and Harry made a decision that he hoped was the right one -- without anyone to guide him he could only go on his instincts. "I will ask nothing of you that you will not freely give." He knew his offer was more than what Voldemort would ever grant the man.
The Vampire inclined his head. "I will keep that in mind, Harry Potter."
Anxiously Harry moved on. The place next to the Vampire was empty, and yet as he paused in front of it, he realized that there was something there, a presence, a power, and yet no man or woman filled the place. He was right -- it was not empty, but rather simply not occupied. There was something holding this power here in the world -- something using this energy. He had sensed something similar with the few empty spots on the other side of the circle.
He moved on and found himself standing face to face with his godfather. Sirius Black smiled at him.
"Sirius!" Harry exclaimed, feeling momentarily as if his thoughts had derailed.
Sirius shrugged almost sheepishly. "I heard the bell earlier when Dumbledore mentioned it, but I didn't know what it meant. And I'm not entirely certain what I'm doing over here on this side." He glanced warily toward the shadow waiting in the center, and his eyes darkened with anger. "That's him, isn't it?" he asked. "He murdered James and Lily."
He turned his attention back to Harry and something haunted entered his blue eyes. For a moment he looked so much like the man Harry had first met in third year -- broken and drained from so many years in Azkaban.
"What am I doing on this side, Harry?" he whispered, and Harry could hear fear in the man's voice.
Harry immediately reached out and took hold of his godfather's cold hands. He could feel the power flowing through him -- Sirius had always been strong, so strong. And he had only grown stronger over these last few years as he recovered from the devastation of his imprisonment. He could feel too that the bond he had formed with Remus had strengthened his magic further. But he also understood now what Draco had meant when he'd said that the Blacks were a Dark family. The magic on the other side of the circle was Intellect and Order -- the magic on this side was Emotion and Chaos. Neither good nor evil -- but if anyone embodied emotion and chaos it was his godfather.
"There is no evil inside you, Sirius," Harry assured him, smiling at him. "Don't think for one moment that there is no evil on that side. I saw plenty. I'm glad to find out that it is well balanced by good on this side."
Sirius smiled hesitantly at that. "Well, on a good note, I guess we should be happy there are so few people on this side."
Harry nodded and glanced uncertainly at all the empty spots. They were not occupied -- but not empty. He remained silent however.
Sirius caught his hand before he could move on. "Be careful," he warned, shooting another look toward the Dark Lord who waited in the middle. He did not however make any attempt to stop Harry from continuing.
The next spot was empty, as was the one after that and the one after that. Harry found himself more and more confused as he felt the pulsating waves of power coming from each area. They should not be empty -- someone out in the world held these places, powerful men and women, and he could not account for their absences.
When he stopped again before yet another empty spot a wave of recognition washed over him, and with it came a new horror. He knew this energy -- knew it all too well. He stared at the empty stop on the ground where Lucius Malfoy should be standing, and though the man was not present he could feel his magical signature as clearly as if he were standing there in front of him.
As realization began to wash over him, he moved swiftly to the next spot, and then the next -- he recognized this signature as well. Bellatrix Lestrange should hold this place. The Black family it seemed had produced two people powerful enough to stand amongst the elite, and he knew there could be only one explanation for why Sirius was present and Bellatrix was not.
Sirius did not bear the Dark Mark.
"No," he whispered, terrified of what he would find, knowing it was inevitable. He took one step closer to the halfway point of the circle and wanted to scream in protest when he recognized this next signature as well. He knew this one so intimately -- had grown nearly addicted to its sensation. Severus Snape should be standing here, counted amongst these numbers, but the Dark Mark he bore upon his arm denied him entrance.
His eyes moved toward the shadow standing waiting for him -- Voldemort was hooded and cloaked, his features completely hidden from sight, but Harry could feel the amusement rolling off the man. These spots were not empty -- Death Eaters held each of these positions. And because all of them were bound by the Dark Mark, Voldemort held all their power in his control -- even the Death Eater who had turned traitor and married his enemy.
Most of this side of the circle was empty -- only a few spots held by actual men and women who had not for whatever reason been bound to the Mark. But the majority of the power of this entire side of the circle was held entirely by Lord Voldemort. Those few empty spots on the other side had to be Death Eaters as well.
'We are not equals,' Dumbledore had told him. He had not meant he was superior to Voldemort in any way -- he had been trying to warn Harry about how terribly skewed the balance of power truly was. This Dark Lord single-handedly held the collective power of nearly half of the most powerful men and women in the world. What hope did any of them, even united together, ever have of defeating him?
He stood there for a long moment at the place that should have been occupied by his bondmate -- would Severus know what was happening, he wondered. Would he have been able to hear the bell, and yet been prevented from answering the call? Had he known all those years ago when he attempted to right a wrong committed by his father what it was he'd been sacrificing when he'd taken that Mark? For that matter had any of the Death Eaters known? He could not imagine someone like Lucius Malfoy ever passing up the opportunity to take his rightful place in this circle.
Knowing now that there was no point in avoiding the final confrontation, Harry moved forward. He understood now what it was he'd been meant to learn, but how it could possibly help him, he didn't know. If anything it only seemed to confirm to him how utterly out-classed he was, and what little hope he had of winning.
There in the shadows of Stonehenge he stopped in front of Lord Voldemort to confront his enemy. For once his scar did not burn in the man's presence. Despite the danger, he felt strangely calm as if his body had gone numb from all the shocks he had experienced.
"Hello, Tom," he said simply, refusing to use the self-titled name the man had invented for himself.
"Hello, Harry," Voldemort replied, and he heard a hissing laugher emanating from beneath that hood. He could not see the man's face, but suspected he should count that a blessing. "I see you understand at last what place I hold in this world."
Harry shuddered. "What you have done is wrong -- an abomination. It's unnatural." Dark or not, evil or not, the absent Wizard and Witches belonged in this circle, and keeping them from it went against the most ancient of magicks.
"What I have done will bring peace to this world," Voldemort informed him. "When I am done, there will be no more war, no more conflict. I will rule and all will be as it was meant to be. An eternal, immortal paradise."
Harry shook his head. "You're not capable of peace," he informed him. "What you did today -- that creature---"
"A necessary evil," Voldemort shrugged. "And those deaths were inconsequential. My plan is already in motion and you cannot stop it."
It confirmed to Harry what he already suspected -- that creature that had appeared today in the Quidditch pitch had not been part of some great attack. The violence they had all endured had been nothing more than an afterthought. There was something else going on -- some other terrible deed that Voldemort was planning, and that incident today had been nothing more than a small piece of it.
"Will they give you another title, do you think?" Voldemort asked suddenly. "Another ridiculous name -- King Harry, perhaps? Do you think they will crown you, give you a throne? Do you know what the other side tends to do with their kings, Harry? They sacrifice them. You stand here, the last of a long line of kings before you dating back to the dawn of civilization. And one after the other was sacrificed -- to stop a war or a drought or a famine or a flood. For some reason they seem to think that killing their king will bring them something great."
Despite everything Harry found himself shaking in fear, for he had the strangest feeling that Voldemort was not lying.
"They burn them alive, Harry," Voldemort continued. "Or they take them there to that stone table and cut out their hearts." He pointed toward a large flat rock in the center of the ring of stones. "Or perhaps they will go the more traditional route and simply hang you from a tree."
Just like the lines of power upon the ground were familiar to Harry, so too was this image. He had hung from that tree already in his dreams -- had seen this image over and over again. Was that all his future held, some sacrificial death that he could not avoid? Or was Voldemort merely stealing the nightmares from his mind and using them against him?
"You won't win," he whispered, refusing to give in to his fear.
Voldemort laughed at that. "Oh, but I will Harry," he assured him. "You see I have a learned a secret, a terrible, brilliant secret. And with it I will end this war -- and neither you, nor Dumbledore, nor your little band of merry men can stop me."
But Harry shook his head. "I will stop you, Tom," he promised. "Even if I have to. . ."
"Have to die?" Voldemort finished for him. The shadowy creature laughed again. "But don't you realize, Harry, you're already dead. You just haven't stopped bleeding yet."
Harry backed away from him, unwilling to listen to any more. He couldn't face this, couldn't accept this. He didn't want to die, but he would do what ever it took to save those he loved. But he wanted some assurance that he would succeed, that any sacrifice he might make would be successfully. How could he accept the possibility that he might lose and doom all those he loved, doom the world, to the madness of this creature?
It took him no time at all to finish the rest of the circle -- there were few places that were occupied on the last quarter of the ring, only one or two angry men and women who had not yet chosen a side. One Witch, who while not intrinsically evil, confessed to him that up until several months ago Voldemort had been actively recruiting her. But then for some reason had lost all interest and left her alone. Harry knew that whatever secret it was that Voldemort had discovered, it had made him believe he no longer needed anyone else's aid. Whatever power requirements he needed, he had already acquired.
The moment Harry completed the circle and stopped again on the heel stone path, the compulsion that kept them all there in that place lifted immediately. Instantly Wizards and Witches broke ranks and swarmed toward him -- he recognized Dumbledore and Sirius in the mix and realized it was a select group of people coming to protect him. They surrounded him on all sides, wands drawn and held ready. He was touched to see Augusta Longbottom, Ollivander and Nicolas Flamel in the group.
But on the far side of the circle Voldemort only laughed and backed away, disapparating almost immediately and leaving them in peace. Harry knew he had no interest in a confrontation. Whatever secret he held, he had total faith in it and did not feel the need to alter his plans.
"Get him back to Hogwarts, Albus," Nicolas Flamel urged, and the others all echoed his words. Harry felt Sirius wrap his arms around him, holding him tightly against him and he was grateful for his godfather's support. He dreaded the questions he would soon face.
"Come on, Harry," Dumbledore urged, and he and Sirius apparated him back to the castle where he hoped that for a little while at least he could find some rest.
Sorry there isn't any Severus in these last few chapters. He'll be back in the next chapter as Harry finds out what Severus experienced when he realized the Dark Mark prevented him from answering the call (this was hinted at by Alrik and Brand in the Winter Lands). It's a rather intense scene that plays out between the two of them so I'm taking some time to get it right. And yes, you will get to find out what Lucius' reaction was as well.
I've been there a couple of times, but I'm mostly pulling from my rather faulty recollection of the layout -- and obviously no one has ever seen it fully rebuilt. It's been through numerous incarnations over the many thousands of years it has stood there -- the earthen bank that surrounds it is probably from a much earlier time period than the stones. Most archaeologists believe it was probably of religious significance, was definitely of astronomical significance, and may have been a place of burial or sacrifice as well. My use of it was more of a nod toward the King Arthur legends that say it was built by Merlin.
Regarding King Harry:
When I first started reading Harry Potter, I honestly thought that this was what J.K. Rowlings was going to do with the story. The King Arthur legends say that one day Arthur would return when the land was once again in need. I always figured that Harry would take up this role -- but when I realized that she was not going to go this route, I decided to give it a try myself.
Some people take this too literally. Harry is not a descendant of King Arthur (or if he is, there's no way to prove it). Harry is not the reincarnation of King Arthur -- he isn't suddenly going to remember the round table and fighting Mordred on the field of Camlann. He isn't going to pull Excalibur from a stone or discover Avalon. And he certainly is not going to suddenly decide to change his name. I have no intention of spelling things out so literally --- rather Harry and many of the others are filling archetypal roles based on the legends. (All the main characters represent someone legendary -- which is why I really thought this was where J.K. Rowlings was heading.)
As I mentioned before, I am pulling heavily from Celtic, Scandinavian, Norse (and obviously Arthurian) legends. Those of you who know your mythology already understand who the ravens are (also not literally ravens, but rather spiritual guides that represent the knowledge that seems inherent in the role Harry is being forced to step into). They are Harry's divine guidance (and no, I'm not referencing any specific religion or god either -- Harry isn't going to suddenly start worshiping Odin). They may in fact be nothing more than Harry's magic manifesting in a way he can understand.
Harry, as I said, is stuck in this archetypal position that means something different to each group of people who see him. To the native Britons, he's Arthur returned, the Once and Future King. To the Winter Lands, he's Beowulf who defeated Grendel. I suspect to a certain pharaoh, he is the sun god who enlightened her, or perhaps Osiris who died and rose from the dead. But ultimately, he is still just Harry -- a boy who can't figure out what to do with his bondmate, and wishes the press would just leave him alone.
BTW -- did anyone notice that not one of the Ministry candidates was called to the circle?
Why wasn't Remus called:
I thought about it -- but ultimately decided against it. Remus is without a doubt 'one' of the most powerful Wizards around. He's just not quite as powerful as some of the others. Notice I also did not include McGonagall and Flitwick and they are undoubtedly extremely powerful as well.
I preferred the idea that a great deal of Remus' magical strength came not from his own magic but from the bond he's formed with Sirius -- just like Voldemort is using the Dark Mark to steal his Death Eaters' magic, Sirius and Remus can use each other's magic because of their connection. The Weasleys belong in this category too -- their strength is not individual, but rather in their devotion to one another.
Regarding the Secret:
There are a bunch of hints laid out throughout this story about what this big secret of Voldemort's is. I should probably warn you -- it's big, it's nasty and will dramatically change Harry's world. It's also going to be coming up pretty soon, so you won't have too long to wait. Keep in mind however that this story ultimately started out as a love story -- and despite the plot I have no intention of abandoning that theme. After all, love (at least in Harry's opinion) is what makes the world go round.