Dumbledore is shocked. Several times.
A/N: This chapter was a beast to write. I've had to cram a lot of information into just a couple of conversations, so the flow is far from what I'd like it to be. Think of it as a necessary evil.
Unfortunately, this might well be my last update of the summer for this story. My workload has been on the rise, and it won't stop until just before I return to school. I'm hoping to get another chapter of Stolen Magic out before then, and that's taking priority for the moment. I am most of the way done with it, if it makes you feel any better.
If any of you guys are tired of coming to ficwad to read my smut, it can now be found on firewhiskey(dot)net as well. The review count over there sucks, but I don't mind.
Finally, I've posted a very anti-Hermione and Ginny oneshot on every site that features my stories. Be warned: Harry/Hermione shippers have already flamed the shit out of it. While it's not that great, I wanted to get a bit of the anti-Hermione out of my system before introducing her character in any of my stories. We're not there yet, but we will be fairly soon both in this and in Stolen Magic.
Bella nodded in satisfaction as Harry finished his story. She didn't need to ask if he had left anything out. "The warding around the place was done too quickly and too completely for it to be only one person. Who do you think was behind it?"
"Cassandra Yaxley was Voldemort's ward crafter during the First War, wasn't she?" Harry asked. He waited for Bella's nod of confirmation before continuing. "She was probably at the head of it, but there's no way of telling who helped her."
"If you had to guess?"
"Lawrence Crabbe, but only because his best friend was there."
Bella nodded again and rose to her feet, motioning for Harry to do the same. "You've used a lot of magic today. Go on upstairs and get some sleep. Don't forget, we have Dumbledore visiting tomorrow morning."
Lucius Malfoy fell to the ground before him, jerking around awkwardly and screaming in pain. Harry smiled and released the curse.
"Lucius, I'm shocked! Were you really so naive? Even if your attack had gone off without a hitch, I would be unable to look past the fact that you ignored the one and only order I've given you since my return. Tell me, what was that order?"
"Y-you said to avoid arousing any suspicion at all costs," Malfoy stuttered. From the way his voice sounded, he had been screaming for a while.
"And did you, or did you not, do the exact opposite of that?" Harry asked, his voice smooth and cruel.
"I did, milord," Malfoy said.
"You did indeed," Harry said. "I find myself at a quandary right now, Lucius. I would like nothing better than to kill you where you kneel, but alas, I am quite short on manpower at the moment. Every Death Eater is essential right now, no matter how pitiful and selfish. What would you suggest?"
"I can recruit more loyal-"
"And who would you recruit? Children? No, it isn't time for them yet. But what to do, then, what to do." Harry shook his head, his face twisted into a mocking smile. "I have no choice but to move up our other plans. You will be taking over for Macnair until he returns. Do you understand?"
Though Malfoy looked terrified the prospect of his assigned task, he nodded.
"Excellent. Leave me now, and send in Yaxley. You aren't the only one who has disobeyed my orders, after all."
Harry woke up screaming.
Albus Dumbledore hummed tunelessly as he walked to breakfast the following morning. He was in a good mood, considerably better than even his usual cheer, and that could be attributed to one thing.
"Harry Potter replied to his Hogwarts letter this year," Albus told Filius Flitwick, the only other professor at the school who could match him smile-for-smile. After receiving Bella's response to the letter four years ago, Albus had carefully monitored their outgoing mail, intercepting Harry's letters in the intervening years. He didn't want the boy to feel nagged, after all.
"That's wonderful!" Filius exclaimed, displaying the same range of happiness that Albus possessed. "Did I mention meeting him yesterday?"
The staff table's collective response to that extraordinary statement was immediate. A sudden bought of coughing and sputtering indicated all eavesdroppers. Albus, who was choking down a bite of sausage, only had a second to be glad that Severus wasn't around before poor Filius was effectively assaulted by the his colleagues' questions.
"You met him?" Minerva McGonagall asked furiously. "And you didn't see fit to tell us until just now?"
"I was being questioned by the Ministry until late last night about the attack on the Browns," Filius reminded her. "I hope you're not too cross about the fact that I deemed the deaths of Miss Brown's family as a bit more important than the identity of the boy that helped me save her."
A moment of silence followed that statement, but it didn't last long. "That's where you met him?" Septima Vector asked. "Then again, I suppose it makes more sense for him to be fighting off Death Eaters than anyone else."
"Indeed I wouldn't mentally associate any of our current students with such a conflict," Albus said, taking control of the situation.
"Enough about that, what's the boy like?" Aurora Sinistra asked, her eyes alight with curiosity.
"I really didn't get much of a chance to speak with him," Filius confessed. "I feel a bit bad, truth be told. After we had gone upstairs and seen poor Jasmine's body, we heard a scream from young Miss Brown's room. Harry and I went inside and stunned the two Death Eaters present, but not before the one I was facing got off a full body bind. I unthinkingly deflected it right into poor Harry's face and then forgot all about him for who knows how long while I was tending to Miss Brown."
Albus smiled in amusement, but he was the only one able to find humor in the story.
"It wasn't your fault, Filius, surely the boy knows that," Pomona Sprout said in a hollow voice. The death of her favorite student, Cedric Diggory hit her hard, and Blake Brown had been one of her Hufflepuffs as well.
"He didn't seem angry," Filius ventured.
"Then he probably wasn't," Albus said. "What I find myself most curious about is what House he'll be sorted into."
"I'm sure you assume he'll be a Gryffindor, like his parents," Aurora said.
"And why shouldn't he be?" Minerva asked dangerously.
"No reason at all," the astronomy professor replied. "But I think whoever raised him will have a stronger effect on what house he'll be in than the boy's lineage. Can any of you picture a Gryffindor kidnapping him like that?"
"Not a freshly sorted one, at least," Albus agreed. "But remember the Sorting Hat's favorite joke. He only sorts them at eleven because if he tried to at fifteen, the lot would belong to Slytherin!"
Aurora said nothing, content with smiling in satisfaction.
The meal continued on that vein until Severus arrived, when Filius chose to ask him which house he thought the Potter boy was likely to be in.
"I don't much care, as long as it isn't my own," was the potions master's biting reply.
Albus decided it was as good a time as any to leave when the rest of the staff burst into gales of laughter.
He had received a letter the previous night inviting him to take a provided Portkey to Harry's residence and finally meet his guardian. The Portkey would only work for one person, which told him that their trust in him was limited.
A casual glance at his watch told him that he only had another six minutes until the Portkey's activation. Even with the deadline so close, Albus kept his pace leisurely until he reached his office. After climbing the spiral staircase, there was only a minute remaining. He quickly summoned the Sorting Hat and swapped it with his own, ignoring the enchanted object's vocal objections.
"Not now, Alistair," Dumbledore said, summoning the Portkey from his desk. "I am about to take you to meet someone very special."
"The Potter boy, eh? I'll be the judge of just how special he really is," the hat said. "Tell me, have you even met him?"
"Not since he was a baby," Albus admitted.
"Then don't be so sure. He could be anything from an arrogant fool to a sniveling coward," Alistair warned.
"He has already fought Death Eaters independently of his guardian, and I have reason to believe that the two of them defeated a team of eight Aurors the very same day."
The Sorting Hat didn't have time to respond before the Portkey activated, whisking Albus and his passenger to the southern end of the British Isles.
Upon landing, Albus completely ignored the sparsely furnished den around him, instead focusing on the other two people present. His eyes fell on Harry first, noting his father's hair and his mother's eyes. But he had expected more or less what he saw from the boy, it was his companion that caught the old wizard completely by surprise.
"Bellatrix Lestrange," he said, carefully avoiding any movements that might be construed as threatening.
"Bella Black," the beauty before him corrected with a soft smile. "I imagine you have questions."
"Have a seat, Professor, neither one of us means you any harm," Harry said. Albus noticed for the first time that the boy looked a bit under the weather, despite his healthy build, from a combination of glassy eyes and pale skin.
Trusting his instincts, Albus conjured his signature purple armchair and sat down, turning to the boy with a look of kind concern. "Did something happen to you, Harry?"
"I let my Occlumency shields slip again last night," Harry said dully. "Voldemort was torturing Lucius Malfoy and Cassandra Yaxley for disobedience."
"The attack yesterday," Albus stated rather than asked.
"Because so many Death Eaters were captured, he's moving up his plans. Malfoy is taking over Macnair's next assignment, whatever that is," Harry said.
Albus nodded, taking it all in. "Perhaps we should start from the beginning. I must confess, I'm having trouble focusing on anything other than the you being Harry's elusive guardian, Bellatrix."
"Yes, well after Voldemort's curse backfired, I saw an opportunity and seized it."
"You killed your husband," Albus said, his tone openly curious with only a hint of disapproval.
"I did," Bella said. "I fled with Harry that very night."
"Where did you go?" Albus asked. That was one of the questions he had been most desperate to have answered.
"Cameroon," Bella answered, privately enjoying the look of shock on the aged headmaster's face.
"How did you persuade one of the villages to let you in?" Albus asked. Wizarding Cameroon was famous for its separatist ideas, after all.
"The chief of Nanultka, the village we chose, demanded two things of me," Bella said. "He was familiar with the Death Eaters, and had seen the Mark on my arm, so he demanded that I train the villagers in combat."
"And his other demand?"
"He wanted me to become his concubine," Bella said dryly. "That's when I killed him. The next chief was reasonable enough to strike the second request."
"She hasn't killed since," Harry said, seeing Albus' reaction.
"I wasn't averse to the possibility, though," Bella admitted. "Now the only people I'd seriously consider killing are my former comrades. And perhaps a few politicians. You have Harry to thank for that change."
"How long did you stay in Africa?" Albus asked.
"We left when my first Hogwarts letter arrived," Harry said.
"You were afraid of being tracked?" the aged headmaster guessed.
"It obviously isn't possible, given the fact that you didn't know where we were, but seeing Nanultka there on the envelope was enough for me," Bella said. "We've been living here ever since."
"We're in Kent," Harry said, seeing Albus' questioning look. "One of Bella's Black family homes."
"Indeed," he said, smiling at the both of them. "Is it safe to assume from yesterday's events that Harry has kept up with his various courses while in your care?"
"Harry could probably pass his N.E.W.T.s with ease already," Bella said, a note of pride in her voice.
"I have little doubt," Albus said. "Harry, as you might already know, students are required to take certain core subjects, but there are additional electives that you may choose from."
"I've chosen Arithmancy, Ancient Runes and Care of Magical Creatures," Harry said.
"He's as well-prepared for those classes as he is for the rest," Bella promised. "We haven't had many opportunities for practical exams in Care of Magical Creatures, but advanced lessons from various texts along with his experiences in Africa when he was younger should more than make up the difference."
"No doubt Professor Grubbly-Plank will agree with that assessment," Albus said amicably before changing the subject. "Harry, I would like to discuss the visions you've had, but first there is one last thing that we must take care of regarding your upcoming time at Hogwarts. A tradition, if you will, that I don't want you to miss out on."
"You're going to sort him," Bella guessed, noticing the tattered hat sitting atop the headmaster's head for the first time.
"I am not going to do anything," Albus said, his eyes twinkling. "The Sorting Hat will be doing the honors." Harry eyed the proffered hat apprehensively even as he reached out to accept it.
"Go on, my boy," the hat rasped, causing Harry to jump. "We haven't got all day, you know."
Harry sighed and placed the ancient hat over his head.
"Let's see what we have here...if you don't mind lowering your Occlumency barriers just a tad. Everything in your head is confidential, you have my word on that."
What good is the word of a hat? Harry thought to himself.
"Much better than the word of a wizard, in most cases," the hat replied. "There we are, was that so hard?"
Harry didn't answer.
"I didn't think it was. Now you've got plenty of courage, but I'm afraid that no one is as brave as a child. Our fear becomes far too logical as we grow older. I haven't sorted someone your age in well over two centuries, so this is a bit complicated. I'll have to use a whole different set of standards."
Just keep me out of Slytherin, Harry thought. I don't want to have to worry about Death Eater spawn sleeping in the next bed over.
"No, I don't suppose I would fancy that much myself. I'm afraid I can't put you into Gryffindor with good conscience, either. When it comes right down to it, Harry, you seem to prefer your solitude. Granted, you haven't had much contact with your peers to compare it with, but no, I believe that you will want to spend a lot of time alone. Neither Gryffindor nor Hufflepuff suits that sort, and you've already decided against Slytherin. It's a good thing you've got a good head on those shoulders, my boy, because you're best suited for RAVENCLAW!"
Albus clapped, looking distinctly pleased at the result. Bella was nodding with approval as well.
"Is that the last of the Hogwarts business?" Harry asked as he handed the hat back, not particularly looking forward to their next topic of discussion.
The headmaster seemed to sense Harry's unease. "I'm afraid so, Harry. Your letter covered every detail of his return quite nicely, but I'm afraid that I must ask you to relive last night's vision."
"I already told you what happened. It was mostly torture. Macnair is gone somewhere, and until he returns; Malfoy is going to be doing whatever his next task was supposed to be. That's all."
"Very well," Albus said thoughtfully. "What do you know of Walden Macnair?"
"I know what Bella has told me," Harry said confidently. "He's been working for the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures at the Ministry since he had to spend his family fortune to stay out of Azkaban. He's a sadist, and doesn't much care who or what his victims are. Magically, he's only marginally above average, and his knowledge of the Dark Arts is less than that of most of the other Death Eaters."
"Very succinct," Albus said. "Do you have any idea what either his current job, or the one Lucius Malfoy is taking over for him might be?"
"Voldemort was talking as if he was away, and as if communication would be difficult," Harry mused. "That eliminates foreign recruitment, but beyond that, he could be doing just about anything. Maybe he's negotiating with the giants?"
"That is my fear," Albus said. "I have sent envoys to the giants as well, but without the Ministry behind me, I do not expect much success."
"Sir, did Voldemort make any other grabs at power before this last year?" Harry asked, seeking to divert the conversation away from his visions.
"He did, as a matter of fact," Albus said. "Why do you ask, Harry?"
"His scar was hurting a lot during what would have been his first year," Bella explained.
"That was indeed when his main attempt occurred. He possessed one of our Professors, and I was forced to kill him in order to flush out Voldemort's spirit, which subsequently escaped. He was after the Philosopher's Stone."
"You have one of those?" Bella asked incredulously while Harry looked on in confusion.
"A friend of mine once did, but we destroyed it after such a near miss," Albus assured her. "The next two years were far less eventful. I believe Lucius Malfoy attempted to murder the Weasley family's youngest with an artifact belonging to his master, but fortunately Arthur discovered it in time and was able to wrestle it from his daughter's grasp. I destroyed it that very day."
"When did that happen?" Bella asked while Harry simultaneously said, "You call that less eventful?"
"It happened the following year," Albus said, ignoring Harry's incredulity. "Since then, I'm sure you know as much as I do. Voldemort's mystery servant replaced Alastor Moody, killing him just before he escaped from Hogwarts. Alastor joined the short list of casualties that signify the beginning of this Second War."
"Bertha Jorkins, Barty Crouch and Cedric Diggory," Harry whispered, a haunted look entering his eyes.
"And judging from your attack on the Ministry yesterday, you are already aware of the prophecy's contents."
"I am," Harry said, looking up into the headmaster's eyes. "Will you be able to help me, sir?" It came out as more of a plea than anything else, and it broke Albus' heart to see someone so young have such a thing forced upon him.
"I shall teach you as much as I possibly can," he promised. "And I will do my best to fight by your side when the time comes."
"Thank you," Bella whispered, tears of relief in her eyes. Harry's eyes were dry, but they held no less emotion.
"Now I'm afraid we must discuss our more immediate concerns," Albus said after a giving them a minute to collect themselves. "If you would prefer to remain here for the remainder of the summer, I won't stop you, but you are both welcome at the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix."
Harry and Bella exchanged looks before the former spoke up. "Who's staying there at the moment?"
"A great deal of us are in and out," Albus said. "The Weasley family, including their four youngest are staying there, as are the Longbottoms. Both families have sons your age, Harry. The Longbottoms, incidentally, might have your actions to thank for their very lives, Bella."
"What makes you say that?" she inquired.
"The very day after Harry's kidnapping, several Death Eaters attacked the Longbottom's home, searching for information concerning their master's whereabouts. Frank and Alice were able to fend them off until help arrived, but one of the attackers was Rabastan Lestrange. Had you not killed his brother, the extra fighter might have allowed their attack to succeed."
"Is anyone else living there?" Bella asked, not too keen on discussing her former brother-in-law.
"Your cousin, Sirius, along with his wife, Anastasia, though she is currently in France attempting to rally support for our cause. Remus Lupin and his wife, Melinda also live there. I know that both men are eager to meet you, Harry. They were close friends with your father at school."
Harry nodded, having already heard as much from Bella. "Anyone else?"
"I don't believe so," Albus said, stroking his long beard thoughtfully. "But as I already said, many other Order members are coming and going throughout the day. I'm sure Bella will meet them, assuming, of course, that you're willing to join the Order?"
"And Harry?" Bella asked, raising an eyebrow. Her charge had an eerily similar look on his face.
"He will be welcome to join when he is of age, of course, but until then-"
"'Fraid not, Headmaster," Harry said. "If you really expect me to kill Voldemort, with or without help, I'm going to have to know everything about our side of the conflict."
"Besides, I would tell him all about the meetings either way," Bella said. "I don't keep unnecessary secrets from Harry."
Albus sighed, removing his half-moon spectacles and rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Are you absolutely certain that you wish to join?"
"What motivation could you possibly have for keeping me out?" Harry asked. "It wouldn't be too bad if I wasn't, I suppose, since Bella would tell me everything I needed to know, but I'd really like to be able to offer my perspective. You never know, I might just come in handy."
"And you wouldn't leak any information to your fellow students?" Albus asked skeptically.
"I don't even know my fellow students," Harry reminded him. "There's no real conflict of interest for me there."
"But you must plan on making friends at Hogwarts," Dumbledore persisted.
"It seems likely," Harry agreed. "But if they can't handle the idea of me keeping a few secrets from them, then what kind of friends would they be? The Sorting Hat put me in Ravenclaw for a reason."
"He's got you there, Albus," the hat put in from its perch atop his head.
"Yes, I suppose he does, old friend," Albus agreed. "We're having a meeting tomorrow night. I think it would be best for the two of you to make your first appearance then. I shall warn everyone in the meantime of your identity, Bella. In fact, while we're on the subject, how are you planning on revealing yourself to the public?"
Bella paused and cast a sideways glance at Harry, who was carefully studying the far wall. "We're having a bit of a disagreement on that subject," she confessed with a sigh. "I want to wait at least a year, until Harry has established himself."
"And I think there's no reason for her to wait at all," Harry said.
"Like it or not, Harry, you're already famous. You being raised by a Death Eater, or even a former one, will be big news, and it won't reflect well on you at all. You'll be under suspicion before you even start there!"
"I already am!" Harry protested passionately. Albus noted some of the boy's color returning and had to suppress a smile. "What kind of reaction d'you think keeping your identity a secret will garner? At least if you come out of it now, no one will be able to say that we've got anything to hide."
Bella looked at Albus, silently pleading for help. "I'm sorry, Bella, but Harry's right. You have everything to lose by waiting."
"You really want me to?" she asked Harry once more.
"It'd make me feel loads better about Hogwarts," Harry said.
"I'll probably have to go to trial at some point," Bella countered.
"I will defend you," Albus promised. "My track record in such situations is very good."
Bella sighed again. "All right, I'll do it."
"Finally!" Harry exclaimed, resting his hand on his guardian's arm, as much of a public display of affection as had ever passed between the two.
"Shall I contact the Minister?" Albus asked.
"Maybe in a few days," Bella replied. "After the Order meeting, at least."
"All right," Albus said, looking slightly disappointed. "I had hoped to be able to tell the entire staff at Hogwarts as one, but I'll wait and only tell the Order members for now."
"Which professors are Order members?" Harry asked curiously.
"Professors McGonagall and Flitwick are, of course, as is Professor Snape. Additionally, the new Defense professor-"
"/Snape?/" Harry asked, venom in his tone. "As in Severus Snape? The man who murdered my father?"
"Dear me!" Albus exclaimed. "My boy, I can assure you that Professor Snape would never-"
"Oh but he would," Bella interrupted. "I was there, don't forget. Severus Snape killed James Potter, and seemed to enjoy it, if the poor man's mangled corpse was any indicator." Albus noticed that Harry seemed completely stoic during Bella's statement, suggesting that he already knew the details according to Bella of his father's demise.
"Severus assured me that Peter Pettigrew did the deed," he protested weakly.
"Do you really think that a little rat like him could best James Potter alone?" Bella asked incredulously. "He was killed by a curse that Snape himself invented, one that I know for a fact Peter Pettigrew never learned to use properly."
"Sectumsempra," Harry supplied, still looking murderous.
"What good could Severus Snape possibly convince you that he could do for the Order?" Bella asked.
"He is our spy within Voldemort's inner circle. At great personal risk, I might add," Albus said.
"Professor, I think I've detected a flaw in your reasoning," Harry said politely, though his voice was shaking with suppressed emotion.
"Go on," Albus prompted, looking somewhat apprehensive.
"You presumably trust Snape to tell you what's going on with Voldemort and his Death Eaters, right?"
"Yes, that is correct," Albus agreed.
"And you don't torture him at all, or even threaten him, right?"
"If I did, I would be no better than Voldemort," Albus said.
"So he has Voldemort's threat of death versus your threat of...what, scolding?"
"I do not think that is a fair comparison-" Albus began.
"Snape is not on our side," Bella said decisively, cutting him off again. "The sooner you realize that and begin to misinform him, the better off we'll all be. Until then, I'm afraid we cannot trust you with any more valuable information, as it seems almost inevitable for it to fall into the wrong hands."
Albus opened his mouth to reply, but Harry wouldn't let him speak just yet. "Even if you trust him, we don't. Just humor us and keep him out of the loop for a while. Give him occasional tidbits, enough to keep him convinced that you trust him, but it won't do any harm to wait and see, will it?"
"No, I don't suppose it will," Albus finally admitted. "But I am not the only one who must play a part for this to work. You both must pretend to agree with me about his loyalties, can you do that?"
"I think so," Harry said with a bit of uncertainty, looking to Bella for her opinion.
"We'll manage, Albus," she said, knowing that the biggest risk would be Harry's first meeting with the man. "This complicates things a great deal. As I'm sure you know, Snape is an excellent Legilimens. How many Order members are trained to block him out?"
"Not nearly enough," Albus said. "Minerva and Filius both have adequate shields to protect their stray thoughts, but neither one of them could defend against a direct attack from him. Of the rest, I have confidence in the Blacks, the Longbottoms, Remus Lupin, Elphias Doge and Kingsley Shacklebolt."
"That's not a very long list, but it isn't short either," Harry said.
"As long as the others don't know any essential details, we don't have to worry," Bella added. "It's safe to assume that Snape already knows what you've told the lot of them even if you didn't tell him directly, so we can assume that any information shared up until now has been compromised. My question to you is this: How much damage does that do?"
"He knows that we are guarding the prophecy," Albus said.
"You mean the one I destroyed?" Harry asked innocently.
"You destroyed the record?" Albus asked in disbelief.
"Yes, but as of now, the three of us and the Unspeakables are the only ones aware of that fact. I see no reason to make it big news."
"I cannot ask Order members to risk their lives guarding nothing," Albus pointed out.
"They must not be guarding it all the time, or we would have encountered someone," Harry said.
"We were both disillusioned at the time," Bella offered, looking at Albus.
"We always have someone in an invisibility cloak stationed there," Albus added, suddenly seeming uncomfortable for some reason.
"Fine, so someone was probably there. But if we were able to slip past them so easily, what's the point of even stationing someone there?" Harry asked.
"We will have to add new measures to ensure that no one can slip past, even if it's only to discover that the prophecy is no longer there," Albus said.
"When you do that, change your orders," Bella suggested. "Equip them with emergency Portkeys and tell them to use them if they even think someone is attacking. Have them report to you immediately afterwards, of course, so they don't think anything is amiss."
"It isn't a perfect plan," Albus said, "but it will work for the time being."
"What else have you made them all aware of?" Bella asked.
"While I have not explicitly stated anything, someone of Professor Snape's intelligence could easily use what information I've given on the subject to infer that I have sent Rubeus Hagrid, the gamekeeper at Hogwarts, as an envoy to the giants. He also may have guessed that the other person with him is Madam Maxime, headmistress of Beauxbatons."
"If they haven't been already, then they're bound to be attacked by Death Eaters at some point over there," Bella said.
"Unless Voldemort himself is at their side, attacking that pair would not be a wise course of action," Albus said confidently.
"What else?" Bella pressed.
"I do not think there is anything else," Albus said after a moment's thought. "Severus only attends Order meetings when he has information to report, and even then rarely stays for the entire duration."
"Interesting actions for a spy to take," Harry noted.
"I have promised him to keep him informed should anything important come to my attention," Albus admitted.
"Of course you have," Bella said, rolling her eyes.
"Remember, I am not yet convinced that what you say about his loyalties is true," Albus said, seeming slightly angry for the first time. "If we are going to keep coming back to this argument, I think it would be best if we parted sooner rather than later."
"Will you send a Portkey for us on Tuesday?" Bella asked, rising from her seat.
"I will," Albus said. "It will come with a note attached. You both must memorize the note and burn it before taking the Portkey."
"Sounds simple enough," Harry said. "Security measures, I take it?"
"Indeed," Albus said. "Our headquarters is under a Fidelius Charm, which only remains strong if the secret remains unshared verbally. Written messages, luckily, circumvent that particular flaw in the charm."
"Maybe we should add the Fidelius Charm to our curriculum," Bella said thoughtfully, looking at Harry.
"No need to add anything new, /Professor/," Harry said with a touch of sarcasm. "I thought we agreed that I'd be able to relax this summer."
"I wasn't serious about the charm," Bella said. "Besides, I can't teach you something that complex unless I can already cast it, which I can't."
"And I'm afraid you won't be able to relax for the entire summer anyway," Albus added. "You have summer assignments that must be completed."
"What?" Harry asked. "Why weren't those in the letter?"
"The professors usually give them out individually at the end of the year," Albus said. "I'll send them along with the Portkey."
"Until Tuesday, then," Harry said, holding out his hand. Albus shook it warmly. After a similar farewell to Bella, the headmaster paused for a moment.
"Something wrong?" Bella asked.
"My apologies," Albus said, "it's just that the Portkey you sent was one-way."
"You're keyed into the wards now," Bella explained. "You can make your own Portkey or merely apparate."
"Then I shall," Albus said, drawing his wand with a flourish and tapping the bottle cap that had brought him there earlier. It glowed blue briefly before disappearing, taking the headmaster along with it.
As soon as he was gone, Harry flopped back down on the seat behind him and let out a breath. "Talking to him is exhausting."
Bella smirked. "I don't think I've ever heard it put quite like that before." Her expression turned serious. "Do you think you'll be able to handle seeing Snape?"
"It'll be tough," Harry admitted, running both hands through his messy hair in frustration. "But it won't just be the Order, will it? Maybe I wouldn't join up if that was the case, but I've got to be one of his students. There's no getting around him, so I'll do what I have to."
"That's all that you can do," Bella said. "I have trouble imagining the man as anything more or less than the unpleasant monster he was, but he may have outwardly changed. Be ready for anything, and don't allow him to lull you into a false sense of security."
"Of everything he could possibly do to me, I don't think inspiring trust is high on the list," Harry said dryly.
"Perhaps not," Bella agreed. "Be wary around the others as well. Voldemort may well have another spy planted in our midst."
"Is there anyone we can be sure of?" Harry asked.
"Besides Albus? Not without extensive contact with them," Bella replied, shaking her head. "I doubt we'll even be sure by the end of the summer. Even the children are in doubt."
"If you're worrying about me being too trusting, it won't be a problem," Harry said.
"I worry about everything," Bella said grimly.
Harry and Bella were eating breakfast the next morning when a Daily Prophet owl swooped in through the open window, depositing their paper before taking its leave. Muggle parents often elected to read the wizarding paper to help add to their knowledge of the world that their children were now a part of, so no one had so much as raised an eyebrow when a Muggle named Becky Holdsclaw took out a prescription four years earlier.
Harry looked down at the front page and winced as he saw yet another copy of the most common photograph in the entire wizarding world.
"Er, there's an article about me," Harry said bemusedly.
"What?" Bella asked sharply, looking up from her breakfast.
"It looks like Professor Flitwick gave an interview to some Prophet reporter and gave her the facts," Harry said slowly, scanning the article. "Hmm, either Flitwick gave me far too much credit in the interview, or this Skeeter woman only used a tiny bit of the facts." He handed the paper across the table to Bella. "Take a look."
Bella's eyebrows creased as she looked down, carefully taking in the story in front of her. "She was very careful to avoid using the term 'Death Eater', apparently."
"With the Ministry denying Voldemort's return, is that really a surprise?" Harry asked.
"No," Bella said.
"At least she had the good sense not to interview Lavender," Harry said, pitying the girl, who was undoubtedly reading the very same article.
Bella snorted. "Rita Skeeter is the most vile reporter I've ever heard of. She only didn't mention the girl directly because she couldn't get any juicy details out of her. There's a slight chance that Flitwick was able to protect her, but only slight. Skeeter is famous for getting impossible stories."
"Yet another wonderful facet of our world," Harry said, the novelty of the world he was now a part of having faded completely. "Is everything really that corrupted here?"
"Yes it is," Bella said. "But we'll change that."