"I suppose it started when Mum and Dad were in their seventh year, but we can't really say for certain, because Voldemort didn't make any truly overt moves until several years afterwards. What I mean is, nothing that happened could be traced back to him. Everyone naturally blamed him for things that went wrong, but we had no direct proof. No, that's not really true because...let me start over again," James took a deep breath, and tried to gather his thoughts. He sat in Dumbledore's office, along with Harry, Ginny Ron, and Hermione, as well as Professor McGonagall. The Headmistress had turned the other Gryffindor students away with her usual efficiency.
"War wasn't openly declared by the Ministry of Magic until after Cornelius Fudge was killed. I suppose you could say the war started earlier, and certainly you could say it started earlier for Dad."
"What do you mean?" Harry broke in.
"When Sirius was killed. That's when you really started concentrating on the war effort. For you and Mum, and Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron, the war started much earlier then it did for the rest of Europe. Unfortunately, you let the other areas of your studies slide. I don't mean that as an insult, Da-er, Harry, just a statement of fact." James paused for a moment to gather his thoughts again. "Where was I? Oh. The war with Voldemort started in earnest several years after you left Hogwarts. It was after Voldemort attacked Hogwarts for the first time. Dumbledore repelled the attack, along with help from you three. What we didn't learn until later was that Hogwarts had wasn't the real target at that point," James continued, but Harry interrupted him again.
"What was the target?"
"You. Let me finish. Like I said, the war effort caused you to neglect certain other skills you could have developed. The most beneficial of which would probably have been Occlumency," James turned back to Professor Dumbledore and went on, "Harry was hit with a curse which knocked him out for several minutes, but didn't really seem to do anything. We later figured it out to be a spell Voldemort had devised, to allow him to create a greater hold on Harry's mind," James stopped and took three shuddering breaths, before continuing.
"By the time anyone noticed anything was different, it was too late. Voldemort already had complete control of Harry's mind. It was as if Harry was like one of Voldemort's arms or legs. The whole process took years. But Voldemort was patient. By the time I was in fifth year, Voldemort was ready. Late at night several months ago, Harry and Draco Malfoy were able to enter Hogwarts undetected by anyone. Most of the younger students died that night. The battle eventually settled in what used to be the Great Hall," James stopped speaking completely, and held his head in his hands. The sound of one of Dumbledore's clocks ticking filled the air for several moments, before James was able to continue.
"Dumbledore and Harry fought for a long time. Used spells I'd never even heard of. In the end, Harry was killed. Professor Dumbledore had to use the Killing Curse on him."
"So it can hurt Harry," Hermione muttered softly.
"Grandma Lily's shield protected him the first time, but not the second," James confirmed. "The shield was part of Harry's blood. Blood which Voldemort shares now."
By this time, Harry had clamped his hands over his ears and was humming loudly to himself.
"What is wrong with you?" Ginny snapped at him.
"I've no intention of listening to how I got killed, thanks!" Harry snapped back. James nodded.
"Understandable," James muttered. "It was worse to watch."
Harry shuddered visibly.
"There's something I don't get," Ron said, the first words he'd spoken since asking James if he really knew about Quidditch.
"What's that?" James asked.
"How do you know so much about the Salem school, if you were born and raised here? And why act so excited about Hogwarts?" Ron asked.
"Hogwarts underwent a lot of changes, Ron. This place is totally unlike anything I knew of the school I attended," James said.
"And the Salem school?" Ron repeated. James sighed.
"Hermione did an essay on it, once. I read it one night while I was waiting to get killed. Most of my friends had already died, so I figured it wouldn't be long before someone got me, too. Anyway, the essay seemed like a good cover story. I used the library, of course, to bolster my knowledge, but most of what I said was on her essay,"
Hermione's face shifted expressions rapidly, as though she couldn't decide whether or not to be annoyed. Ron rolled his eyes and nudged Harry.
"What did I tell you? Hermione is handy."
"Shut up Ron," Harry retorted, still shaken over the recount of his death. Ron shut his mouth, seeing the look on Harry's face.
"After Harry was killed, my mother met the same fate, but not by Dumbledore's hand. I don't remember much of what happened next. I know Ron and Hermione's daughter was killed, but I don't know who did it. Those of us who escaped went into hiding. A new school was established beneath the Ministry of Magic, although I guess you wouldn't really call it a school. More of a training centre. It didn't help much. To make a long story short, we lost. The headmaster chose to send someone back through time, to try and prevent it. I volunteered."
James stopped speaking and looked up. Harry had his arms crossed, and his face was a mask. Ginny looked like she was going to be sick, and Ron and Hermione were avoiding each other's gaze.
"So what now?" Harry asked.
"You'll be studying Occlumency, Potter. I expect you to work harder at it than you did last year," Professor McGonagall said sternly.
"I will not study anything else with Snape," Harry said.
"Oh yes- " McGonagall began.
"No, you'll be studying it with me," Dumbledore cut in firmly. Harry's bleak expression faded slightly.
"There's something I don't understand," Hermione said quizzically. "If this was so important to keep secret, why didn't you use a stronger spell? To keep yourself glamoured I mean?"
"I did use a stronger spell. Dumbledore himself designed it before he was killed. He was going to use it to help us sneak past Voldemort's defences."
"Then how come Ginny took it off with such an simple counter-charm?" Hermione asked.
James sighed before answering. "If it had been anyone else, except maybe Harry, it wouldn't have worked. I'd have blinked a few times and gone on. The difference is in my blood. She's my mum, so the effect was much more powerful then I had anticipated. Harry could have done the same thing." James replied. Hermione nodded thoughtfully.
"Were there any other preparations made, in case of your success?" Dumbledore asked.
"Yes. I have some spells, and some improvements to the ones you've been teaching," James replied.
"Improvements?" Dumbledore asked. James' face darkened.
"I could teach you how to perform the Cruciatus curse, without having to keep your wand trained on your victim. I could teach you much more powerful forms of the Imperious curse. Or, I could teach you field medicine which would put your current techniques to shame. I'm particularly good at Transfiguration and Charms, and my Patronus is much stronger than the one you use."
"But how did you have time to learn so much if you were in the middle of a war?" Ron asked.
James stared at him for a moment before answering. "We learned what we could because we had to. There was no other choice. You'd be surprised how quickly you can learn something, when you know it could mean the difference between living or dying." Ron nodded slowly.
Perhaps we should re-establish your disguise, then- " Dumbledore began.
"We can't. It only works once. It was supposed to be much more difficult to remove after all," James said, glancing at Ginny. "I should probably talk to Fred and George, I know why they're really back, and I have some ideas they might find useful."
Dumbledore nodded. "If there is nothing else?" he asked. James shook his head.
"Very well. I advise caution. I also advise you to attempt to keep your spell use within the confines of this time period. There are certain...untrustworthy students, here at Hogwarts."
James nodded again, with a knowing look on his face. Then the four students turned and left the head office, and walked back to Gryffindor Tower.
"That's the first time I've heard him openly admit that any student was untrustworthy," Ginny remarked.
"He's right though. Especially Malfoy." Ron replied.
"I think he was the one who killed your daughter. I didn't want to say that in front of Dumbledore, but- "
"I don't want to hear any more," Harry said sharply. None of the other students contradicted him. Before long, the five students found themselves inside the tower. About ten seconds passed before James was beset with questions.
"What happens to me?" someone called, while others asked things such as, "Did we win?"
James looked from one student to the next, frowning at their eager faces. Eventually he sighed, and said flatly, "I don't know. And I don't care. All I care about is preventing it from happening again."
"But- " someone began.
"I can't answer your questions. Dumbledore said so." James said. There was a general mutter of disappointment at this.
"Does something bad happen to Snape?" Dean dared to ask, with a hopeful look on his face.
James frowned at the other boy. "As I recall, he saved your life, Dean."
Dean's face fell. "I'm gonna be sick."
After that, James, Harry, Hermione, and Ginny went to the far corner of the room, where Hermione cast a silencing charm, and the four continued their discussion.
"What do you want us to do then?" Hermione asked.
"Study," James said flatly. Ron and Harry both groaned.
"Honestly!" Hermione said, shaking her head at the two of them.
"No, seriously, you two. You were both primary targets for the Death Eaters. The more you know, the more chance you stand of staying alive." Ron and Harry both shuddered, and began to pay closer attention.
"What did you mean when you said your Patronus was stronger then the ones we use now?" Harry asked.
"You can cast a corporeal Patronus, can't you?" James asked.
"Show me," James replied. Harry looked at him for a moment, before extending his wand and casting the spell. The stag burst from Harry's wand, and dashed forward, only to turn about and walk toward it's caster in apparent confusion when it found no threat.
"What was that supposed to prove?" Harry asked.
"Just wait," James replied. Harry shrugged, and waited. The Patronus pawed the ground for a minute or two, before dispersing.
"See?" James asked.
"See what?" Harry replied.
"It's gone," James explained.
James didn't answer right away, motioning the other four students to follow him. They left the common room, and Harry led them into the dormitory where he, Harry, and Ron slept. At the moment, no one else was there.
"Right. We're wasting ti- " Harry began.
"Excelsior Patronus!" James yelled, cutting Harry off. A wolf burst forth and circled the room, snarling. The students watched it for several minutes.
"All this proves is that your Patronus doesn't disappear as quickly," Ginny said.
"It isn't going to disappear," James said. Ginny shot him a sceptical look. The five students watched the wolf circle for a few more minutes before Ron finally said, "Bloody hell."
"Finite Incantantum!" James said. The wolf faded away.
"After the war started and the Dementors deserted Azkaban, that charm was invented."
"Whoever invented that must have an amazing grasp of magic!" Hermione said, awed.
"I'll be sure to let George Weasley know you said that. Well, him and Remus Lupin." James said.
As Hermione looked at James in shock, Ron sat down on his bed and asked, "You told Dumbledore you knew why they were really back. What d'you mean?"
"They...they aren't here because they didn't take their NEWTs. They're here for the war effort."
"What?" Ron asked, incredulously.
"Those two have a good grasp of how magic works down at its base elements. Grandma always said their joking would only get them in trouble, but...." James shrugged.
Ron nodded mutely, his face contorting slightly. James sighed. Ron wasn't the only one who was going to have an adjustment to make.
"It's odd hearing Mum called that," Ron said, as if he'd read James's mind.
"No more so than hearing me call you either of you Uncle Ron or Aunt Hermione," James replied. Ron's body stiffened.
"James," he said.
"What?" James asked.
"Never call me that again," Hermione rolled her eyes, and looked away when Ron glared at her.
"Can you teach us how to do that Patronus?" Ginny asked softly.
"Yes. If we have time." James said.
"What do you mean?" Harry asked. "It only took me- "
"I know. But you were learning a different charm, and the circumstances weren't quite as pressing." James sighed.
"Do you have any other special talents we should know about?" Hermione asked, just shy of being sarcastic.
"I can speak Parseltongue. My mother and father could both do it, so the talent passed to me."
Harry and Ginny looked at each other in shock, before Ginny stood up suddenly and stammered, "I have to go," before practically running out of the room. Hermione followed quickly after her.
"I shouldn't have said that," James said.
"Or a lot of the other things," Harry snapped.
James nodded sadly, as he and the other two boys walked out of the room and into the common area beyond.
When they got there, they found Hermione frantically trying to calm Ginny, who seemed to be trying to force her way past her.
"-think I want bits of…him, inside my mind?" Ginny yelled. Hermione shook her head.
"You don't know what it was like! I could see everything that went on, but I couldn't do anything about it!" Ginny finished.
"Ginny," Ron began, walking over to her. She slapped him, sending Ron to the floor, where he held his cheek and cursed, while Harry looked at her in shock. She stared at him for a moment, as though daring him to say something, before spinning on her heel, and storming into her dormitory.
"Best leave her be James," Ron said as James made to move in that direction.
"Trust me. I've known her for longer then you have. Well…maybe I don't. I knew her before you did, though," Ron said.