Categories > Books > Harry Potter > A Slytherin Revolution

The Great Horcrux Hunt

by overkill 0 Reviews

Harry and Co. follow up a lead on the Horcrux.

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: R - Genres: Fantasy - Characters: Bellatrix,Harry,Salazar Slytherin,Tonks - Warnings: [!!!] - Published: 2007/12/12 - Updated: 2007/12/12 - 18158 words

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Chapter Eight

The Great Horcrux Hunt


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“It sounds as if you have had a great deal of excitement these last few days, Harry,” the bemused voice of Albus Dumbledore said. After informing the Hogwarts’s headmaster of the availability of headquarters and convincing the man to come immediately, Harry had let the older wizard to a nearby sitting room, where he had apprised Albus of the new developments, including the information obtained from Wormtail revealing the location of one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes. Harry also touched on the necessity of moving the Tonks family into Grimmauld Place.

“Well, as I’m sure you have realized, since both Mr. and Mrs. Tonks were already knowledgeable of the Fidelius over this place, that Nymphadora’s parents are already members of the Order, so their presence will not impede our functioning. I am most curious, however, as to the current location of the would-be assault team. If you would be so kind, what became of Mr. Lestrange and Mr. Pettigrew?”

“They are in a secure area,” Harry evaded.

“Harry…” Albus said, not fooled for an instant by the elusion.

“Albus, you still serve in a formal capacity in the Wizengamot, do you not?” Harry asked.

“Yes…” the old man answered, not seeing the relevance.

“Do you not think that you, having had a hand in Lestrange’s incarceration, will not be questioned when it is discovered that he, along with Malfoy and his other cronies, escaped from Azkaban?” Harry asked reasonably.

Sighing, Albus admitted, “I suppose that such an event is likely.”

Smiling, Harry concluded, “Not just likely, but inevitable. In which case, would it not be best if you had… ‘Plausible deniability’?”

“Exactly what are you saying, Harry?”

“I’m saying that it may be in your best interests to not know the details, Albus,” Harry answered. “That way, if some twisted bureaucrat – let’s call this hypothetical individual ‘Fudge’ – happens to ask you ‘Twenty Questions’, you can honestly say you have no idea of their whereabouts.”

Albus looked slightly pained as he said, “I don’t particularly like this plan, Harry.”

Harry smiled as he said, “Now you know how the rest of the world feels when they confront the ‘infallible Albus Dumbledore’. Don’t worry; they’ll be properly questioned and any useful information will be promptly relayed to the Order. I was thinking about asking Mad Eye to tag along; I’m sure it would make his week.”

Choosing not to press Harry further at present, Albus asked, “You are most likely correct. Alastor has a… deep commitment to his vocation.” Deciding to change the subject, the old man asked, “So, what do you propose to do now?”

“I’m thinking we should split the Order into task groups. One group will be responsible for the apprehension of the Horcruxes; we’ll need our better duelers for this one. I recommend at least one, if not both, of us in addition to Remus, Bella, Nymph, Moody… that sort of person. Another group will research their probable locations as well as the best method of destroying them; I thought that Hermione or Cissy could lead the research part while Mundungus and his contacts look into the… seamier side of our world. Now that I think about it, Bill Weasley would be a great person to look into the best route to destroy the objects. Hermione would be better placed to determine if Voldemort can detect when the individual horcruxes are destroyed. If he can, then we should capture as many of them as we can and then destroy all of them at once. If there is no way for him to feel what we’re doing, then I vote to destroy each artifact as we encounter it. In between all of that, I plan to visit our potential allies. I’ll discuss the specifics with Remus and Hagrid tonight and see if they’ll accompany me on the trip to the werewolves and giants.”

Albus nodded finally and said, “That seems the most reasonable course of action. In fact, Hagrid is on his way back from parlaying with the giants outside of Normandy, and he should return by tonight. On a related noted, are you sure that you want your younger friends involved this heavily with the Order?”

“Do I want them to be? Honestly, no, I don’t,” Harry answered. “However, we can use their help, and it would ultimately be safer for them if they have an inkling of what’s coming.” Seeing Albus start to interrupt, Harry continued, “They aren’t children anymore, Albus. They have done more for the fight against Voldemort than most of the Order; they deserve to be kept in the loop, at the very least. Besides, I believe we’ve already discussed how well the ‘information blackout’ strategy performed, correct?”

Albus closed his eyes as a tired sigh escaped him. “I apologize, Harry. Due to their under-aged status, they will not be eligible for full membership, but I will allow that they can aid in an advisory capacity.” Albus’s expression suddenly changed to something that Harry would classify as a smirk, had it been on anyone else. “I do believe that Molly will strongly disagree, however.”

Harry just waved him off. “I’ll deal with that one myself. I’m sure she’ll object to my own involvement, so I may as well deal with all of it at once.”

Chuckling softly, Albus changed the subject. “When do you want to retrieve the locket from the cavern?”

“Do you have anything planned for just after the meeting?” Harry asked innocently.

“Nothing I can’t postpone,” Albus answered in a like tone. “I’m sure that Alastor and William will be able to join us. What of your lovely ladies? Will they be available?”

“I’ll be sure to ask them as soon as we finish here,” Harry assured the older wizard. “And just for the record, they are not mine; they are their own persons. They most certainly do not belong to me. I’ve never had much appreciation for enforced servitude, human or otherwise.”

“I meant no offense,” the older man answered quickly. “You do realize that their presence at the meeting will engender no small amount of controversy?” Albus asked. “There are some who will not easily accept Mrs. Malfoy or Mrs. Lestrange, no matter their testimony.”

“The Order doesn’t have to accept either Miss Black’s word for the matter; I’ll vouch for them, and there’s not a person among the Order that can call my commitment to the fight into question. Not to mention that you are satisfied that they’re being truthful. Between the two of us, I’m sure that we can satisfy their concerns.”

“’Miss Black’?” Albus questioned.

“Yes,” Harry confirmed. “Actually, it was Nymph’s mother who gave me the idea. She had explained that the Black family administered the family’s structure with an old tome, and I figured out how to use it. I just did a little cleanup on the family in general. You know: Andromeda Black Tonks reinstated, violated marriage contracts sundered, Malfoy junior ejected from the family, that sort of thing.”

“My, you have been busy, haven’t you?” Albus asked after he got over yet another shock from the young man sitting in front of him.

“I suppose so,” Harry answered noncommittally. “How about you, though? How goes the search for Slughorn, or the accommodation with Amelia Bones? Any good news?”

“Yes, actually. I have a meeting with Amelia in the morning. As for Slughorn, I am still following his trail. He’s been moving most erratically as of late; ever since Voldemort’s return was announced, as a matter of fact.”

“Good,” Harry finally replied. “Everything seems to be going as well as expected, then.”

“So it would seem.” Albus replied smoothly. “Can I assume that you will continue to allow the Order to use this house?”

“With a few conditions,” Harry answered. “I would like to be notified of any Order activity on the premises, the kitchen should remain unoccupied during normal meal hours, Grimmauld Place will not be used to house stolen merchandise… that sort of thing. Other than Hogwarts, this is my home for the moment, and I would like it to be treated as such.”

“I believe that we can accommodate those requests,” Albus assured the younger wizard. “Will that be all?”

“That should cover everything until we meet tonight. You might want to advise Moony, Bill and Mad Eye to be ready tonight, though,” Harry returned.

“I shall,” Albus said. Changing the subject, the elderly man asked, “So, how are your new house guests settling in?”

“Well enough, it would seem,” Harry answered. “The Tonkses brought several of their possessions with them, plus Cissy had packed quite a few items yesterday as well; between them all, I’m sure we’ll manage. We are going to need to get a house elf, however.”

Cocking an eyebrow, Albus inquired, “Oh?”

Harry nodded and said, “I’m afraid that the esteemed Kreacher attempted to murder his new owner, and ended up committing suicide.” Shaking his head while assuming a solemn expression, Harry placed his hand over his heart and continued, “His derogatory comments, ethnic slurs, and bad hygiene shall be sorely missed.”

Choosing to ignore Harry’s foray into stand-up comedy, Albus just inquired, “Should I even ask?”

Harry recovered instantly and smiled as he replied, “Hmm… no. I don’t think so. However, if you wouldn’t mind losing a couple of your employees, namely Dobby and Winky, I’m sure that we’d all appreciate it.”

Wondering, not for the first time, if Harry was acting insane purposefully or if he had truly lost his mind, Albus slowly rose to his feet and invited Harry to mimic his gesture as he made his way towards the door. “Well,” he said, “That should not be a problem. I shall contact them upon my return to Hogwarts. If you’ll excuse me, I shall make those floo calls and tie up a few loose ends. The Order has already been notified, and should start arriving around 6:00 this evening.”

“Six o’clock it is,” Harry confirmed. “Would you like to use the kitchen floo to return to your office?”

“That would be most helpful, thank you,” Albus replied.

The duo made their way back towards the kitchen, where the house’s other occupants were gathered. After pleasantries were exchanged, Nymph picked up part of a newspaper that had been spread over a good portion of the table. At her gesture, the other Black family members seem to tense up. Pointing to an article on the front page, Nymph only said, “it looks like the information finally got leaked.”

Steeling himself, Harry accepted the publication from the young witch and held it so that both he and Albus could read it.

HARRY POTTER: THE CHOSEN ONE?

Rumors continue to fly about the mysterious recent disturbance at the Ministry of Magic, during which He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was sighted once more. “We're not allowed to talk about it, don't ask me anything,” said one agitated Obliviator, who refused to give his name as he left the Ministry last night.

Nevertheless, highly placed sources within the Ministry have confirmed that the disturbance centered on the fabled Hall of Prophecy. Though Ministry spokeswizards have hitherto refused even to confirm the existence of such a place, a growing number of the Wizarding community believe that the Death Eaters now serving sentences in Azkaban for trespass and attempted theft were attempting to steal a prophecy. The nature of that prophecy is unknown, although speculation is rife that it concerns Harry Potter, the only person ever known to have survived the Killing Curse, and who is also known to have been at the Ministry on the night in question. Some are going so far as to call Potter "the Chosen One," believing that the prophecy names him as the only one who will be able to rid us of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The current whereabouts of the prophecy, if it exists, are unknown, although {ctd. Page 2, column 5).

Having finished the article, Harry handed the paper off to Albus and began pacing, a foreboding look on his features.

“I’m sorry, Harry,” Albus finally said, “I had no idea that Cornelius even allowed the Ministry to mention the break-in.” None of the room’s other occupants seemed to have anything to add.

Harry closed his eyes as he squeezed the bridge of his nose. Exhaling deeply, Harry responded, “It’s hardly your fault, Albus. Every other aspect of my private life seems to demand immediate publication. My only surprise is that it took them this long to ferret out their version of the truth.” Chuckling darkly, he continued, “they even got most of the story correct this time. At least they didn’t mention any other names. All the same, I think you should contact the Weasleys, Grangers, Lovegoods, and Longbottoms; advise them of their elevated risk and extend an invitation to reside either here or at Hogwarts.”

“Do you really think that’s necessary?” Albus asked.

Harry shot him an incredulous stare. “Do you really think that Voldemort will pass up another chance to strike at me through someone close to me? He’s morally bereft, old man, not stupid. I am positive that it is necessary. If they do not like the idea of staying either here or at Hogwarts, urge them to take a long vacation far from Britain. Just make sure that they aren’t sitting ducks.”

“Wait!” Andromeda said. “You mean this gibberish is actually true?”

Harry exchanged looks with Albus before he just shrugged. “Well, since the proverbial cat is out of the bag… Yes. It is unusually accurate, in fact. I wonder if they’ve hired another editor…” Harry mused.

“So that’s why he’s been ignoring everything and everyone else while he went after you,” Narcissa said disbelievingly.

“It’s actually rather obvious, if you stop to think about it,” Harry said quietly. “I mean, the whole dying-mother-sacrificial-love-charm idea makes a very good bedtime story, but it is hardly realistic. After all, there have been many families destroyed by that animated corpse, including many infants being held by their mothers, and yet none of them survived. That fact alone should have indicated that something was interfering with the natural order of things.”

“How can you so easily discard the theory, Harry?” Albus asked confusedly.

Harry just snorted. “I never told you what juicy little tidbit the Dementors dredge up whenever they get near, did I?” he asked. At Albus’s shake of the head, Harry continued, “I recall the night they died. When the herd of over a hundred of the beasts took up residence at Hogwarts three years ago, I more-or-less viewed the entire incident. From my perspective, Voldemort-” Harry studiously ignores the elder Tonks’ flinches “-blows the front door off its hinges and enters the house. My father tried to hold him off while my mother took me away. The house must have been warded since she ran up the stairs instead of Apparating away. Voldemort bested my dad after the exchange of pleasantries and followed her up to what I guess was my room. For whatever reason, he offered to let my mother go if she just turned me over to him. She refused, he killed her before she could even draw her wand, and then he gloated for a few seconds before trying to kill me. I blacked out at this point, but I saw no evidence of her ever performing any charm work of any variety. She didn’t even have her wand in hand.”

Harry made a dismissive gesture as though trying to shoo the unpleasant memory away. “So, while the notion of my mother spontaneously – not to mention, miraculously - developing a counter curse to ‘Avada Kedavra’ would be a comforting thought, the fact is that I’m alive only because fate seems to hate me – nothing more, and nothing less.” Shrugging, Harry said, “the ‘whys’ are irrelevant at this point, anyway. What matters is that I did survive, that I am the only one who can kill him, and that now we have the means to do so.”

Harry started pacing again, until he stopped as a new thought hit him. “I suppose this could be a blessing in disguise,” Harry thought aloud. “Even an idiot like Fudge knows how important it is to play to the public. With the masses once more thinking that I can walk on water, he won’t dare challenge me openly. In fact, ten galleons says that he’ll attempt to lure me into supporting his shoddy excuse for a government.” Running a hand through his hair in aggravation, Harry lowly growled, “I hate politics!”

Groaning to himself, Harry shook his head and muttered, “Nothing is ever easy.” Snapping out of his reverie, Harry looked back at Albus and said, “Yet another matter to bring up in tonight’s meeting.”

“Indeed,” Albus replied. “Do you wish to discuss this now?”

“No,” Harry answered after a moment. “I still need to think the situation over and decide on my best course of action. You have plenty to do already; I’ll be fine.”

“Very well,” Albus conceded as he stepped to the fireplace and took a handful of floo powder from the pot above the mantel. “Until tonight then.” Throwing the powder into the flame, he called out, “Hogwarts Headmaster’s office!” and disappeared into the fiery green swirl.

Harry dropped limply into a seat and stared off into space. Just as he was getting lost in his thoughts, Harry was interrupted by a quiet voice.

“I didn’t know that.”

Harry looked up to find himself once more the center of attention. Glancing at Nymph, who had last spoken, he asked, “You didn’t know what?”

“That you remembered… that night,” Nymph replied, “That Dementors dragged that out of you.”

“Most people don’t,” Harry answered bluntly. “In fact, I think that I only told Ron, Hermione, and Remus. Most people seem to assume that I came out of the womb with a wand in hand, and have a hard time believing that I’m just as susceptible to the effects of a Dementor as the next man – more so, actually.”

“Can you blame them?” Nymph burst. “I mean, you ran off over a hundred of the things all by yourself when you were thirteen, and just a year ago drove off a pair with no prior warning and with no visible effort.”

Harry scoffed, “That’s hardly evidence of my being some sort of superhuman. It is merely a case of wills – they were set on devouring my soul, and I was intent on keeping it a while longer. Being more stubborn than your opponent is hardly a news-worthy topic.”

Bellatrix jumped in to answer his rebuttal. “I think the issue is that, on one hand, you have the typical wizard or witch who has never even seen a dementor, or a dragon, or a werewolf, or whatever, and is entirely too afraid of looking for one. On the other hand, there is you, who has run into all of those and more in varied combinations and – as your title implies - ‘lived’.”

Harry just snorted ruefully. Narcissa, recognizing that a change of topics was needed, asked, “So, what now?”

Harry paused for a few moments before replying, “We’re as prepared for tonight as we can be. None of us can go any further until Albus gets me some information. For now, you can just finish settling in. I have already sent a note to Gringotts allowing all of you access to the Black family’s vaults if you need to pick up anything. Albus also promised to send a house elf or two over here to replace Kreacher. I’m almost positive that Dobby can’t be kept away, but I’m not sure if the other elf, Winky, will be interested. If they show up, just set them to cleaning the more depressing a-bric-a-brac out first. I recommend the house elf heads get incinerated immediately, but that’s just my preference.”

Getting up from his chair, Harry strode distractedly towards the exit. “I’ve got some detailed planning to do,” Harry informed the others, “so I’ll be holed up in a bedroom upstairs if you should need me. I’d appreciate it if someone let me know when the Order members start arriving.” At getting several affirmative nods, Harry dipped his head in reply and said, “Until later, then.” With that said, he was gone, the antique wooden door sliding shut behind him.

The remaining people looked at one another, not willing to break the silence. Andromeda gave in first and said, “If ever there was a person who could be said to have an ‘old soul’, I think he just left.”

She could not help but notice how both her sisters and her daughter seemed to tense at her comment. ‘Odd,’ Andromeda thought to herself, ‘I wonder what that’s about!’

“What do you mean, Mum?” Nymph asked, with a barely detected waver in her voice.

“I mean that he should be a sixteen year old child, but he carries himself like a hundred and sixteen year old man,” Andromeda answered. “Didn’t you think his interaction with Albus as an equal was a little strange?”

Narcissa stepped in to prevent her niece from making a blunder and revealing one of Harry’s best-kept secrets. “I would imagine that having a dark wizard hunting you for your entire life would tend to mature one rapidly. Not to mention all the near-death experiences.”

“That could be true,” Andromeda conceded, “but I keep getting this strange feeling. I can’t describe it, but something about him just seems… unusual. I guess you’re right; I’m probably just imagining things anyway.”

Andromeda again noticed a change in her female companions; this time, the room seemed to become more relaxed as the tension seemed to disappear. At that point, Andromeda vowed to herself to pay closer attention to the mysterious Mr. Potter. ‘After all,’ she mused silently, ‘it’s a mother’s prerogative to investigate her daughter’s potential suitors.’

Apparently, her husband was of a similar mind. “Well, that wasn’t quite how I had planned the whole ‘meet the parents’ scenario,” Ted proclaimed while looking at his daughter’s vacant gaze at the doorway through which their host had just vanished. The young Metamorphmagus jerked her head around to stare unbelievingly at him as he continued, “I was expecting you to bring home some young Auror, and then I would get to see how many veiled threats he could tolerate before running away. Somehow, us meeting one of the most famous wizards in today’s society and then moving in with him never occurred to me.”

“It isn’t like that, Daddy,” Nymph groaned.

“Oh?” he asked mock-confusedly. “Then it was your boyfriend’s idea to introduce himself?”

Nymph squeezed her eyes shut tight before saying “He is not my boyfriend!” through gritted teeth.

“Well, it certainly looked that way, dear,” Andromeda said through a smile. “After all, you did escort him around the entire house by the hand.”

“When you weren’t using him for an airbag, that is,” Ted cut in.

This was finally too much for the eavesdropping Black sisters. While Narcissa limited herself to a silent smirk, Bellatrix demonstrated no such restraint, resulting in Narcissa futilely attempting to cut off a string of guffaws from her younger sister. “Excuse us,” Narcissa said to the three Tonks, “we’ll just be… settling in,” before dragging the bemused Bellatrix towards the door. As they were leaving the room, Bellatrix choked out, “No, I really want to hear the end of this!” before practically collapsing in laughter, ending with Narcissa using her wand to levitate the other witch from the room.

The three remaining occupants blinked owlishly at the door yet again before pointedly ignoring the reportedly insane woman and returning to their previous debate.

“Yes,” Andromeda agreed with her husband’s observation, “there was the one time that I saw you land right on top of him, right after you tried to brain him with a crate. Not to mention that not only did he refer to you by your given name, he called you by a shortened form of it. Knowing you like I do, I found it most curious that there was no protest made by you, or any threats issued.”

“Harry is just a good friend – that’s all!” Nymph protested. “And as for him using my name, I’ve already told him not to use it. It is not as if I can use the same old threats with him, after all. This is Harry I’ve-Lost-Count-Of-How-Many-Times-I’ve-Spited-Voldemort-Personally-And-Got-Away-With-It Potter we’re talking about here! So far, I haven’t come up with one single threat that he would even begin to take seriously.”

The elder Tonks shared a look before Ted quickly jumped out of his seat. “Well, I’ll just go send a note to my boss explaining the situation then, shall I?” Without waiting for a response, the wizard quickly departed the dining area, leaving Andromeda and her now-confused daughter to themselves.

“Nymphadora, dear, I think it’s time that we had another Talk.” The suddenly wary Metamorphmagus eyed her mother sharply, hearing the pronounced emphasis on ‘Talk’.

Nymph’s worst fears were confirmed when the next words out of Andromeda’s mouth were, “Let’s discuss your affiliation with the young Mr. Potter.”

The younger witch’s mind halted as the classic ‘deer in headlights’ expression became etched on her face.


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Several hours passed, and several members of the Order had begun to arrive. It had been mutually decided that both Bellatrix and Narcissa should remain out of sight until their presence could be properly explained, which left the youngest witch of the house to retrieve one Harry Potter from his upstairs quarters. Still smarting from the very embarrassing conversation with her mother, Nymph made her way to the uppermost floor. Finding the one closed doorway emitting light from its edges, the Metamorphmagus raised one fist and knocked briefly on the ancient wooden entrance. At getting permission to enter, Nymph found Harry collapsed in a large padded and hide-bound chair in the dreary room with what she thought to be a photo album lying open in his lap.

“Yes, Nymph?” Harry prompted the witch quietly, his eyes never leaving the tome.

As she approached the limp form of one of the few people who had gained her respect, the witch noted at a glance that the volume was indeed a photo album, and that Harry’s attention was riveted to the scene of his parents’ wedding. In the brief moment that she was looking at the photograph, Nymph noted that the photograph showed the infamous Sirius Black in addition to both of the Potters.

“Are you okay, Harry?” she asked in the same soft tone that was used to address her.

Harry opened his mouth to give his standard ‘I’m fine’ response before he breathed noisily out of his nose and closed his eyes briefly. Opening them again, Harry looked up at his visitor with a solemn gaze, conveying a weariness that no normal sixteen year old could ever be encumbered with.

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, since the magnitude of everything I have yet to do hit me a few hours ago,” he finally answered. “I’m essentially declaring war on behalf of a nation, Nymph; potentially all of Europe! I’m practically being forced to topple a government who has been safeguarding the magical community for a thousand years! And if that’s not enough, I’m fully intending to revise the entire structure of this empire, affecting the lives of every witch, wizard, and magical creature alive in all of Europe, and possibly the world. I find myself asking, not just if I could, but if I should.” Shaking his head to clear his jumbled thoughts, Harry continued, “I know that our motives are different, but I can’t help but wonder if the united front I want to form is all that different from Voldemort’s ultimate empire?”

“Of course it is!” the addressed witch all but shouted. “The two of you couldn’t be more polar opposites! Voldemort lusts to have power over everything and everyone, and will sacrifice anything he has to in order to accomplish his goals. You could never do that!”

Smirking slightly, Harry replied, “That’s another point. I am not ‘me’… not exactly. I mean, not the ‘me’ that I used to be and everyone thinks I still am.” Taking another deep breath, he said, “I know that I’ve changed. These past two days… I’ve done several things that I wouldn’t have dared tried before Bellatrix delivered the Chroniculus. I mean, I still remember everything that the sixteen year old Harry Potter did, but I view it from a vantage point of several years beyond even Albus’s age. I have these two points of view, and they seem to have merged together somehow. For example, I used to strive to appear as normal as everybody else, to fit in; now, as far as I’m concerned, they can either take me as I am, or leave me alone. I still believe that Voldemort is unequivocally wrong and must be stopped, but I no longer feel obligated to put my neck on the proverbial line to protect every last mindless sheep which will change its mind in a week’s time and decide that I’m too violent, or too untrustworthy, or whatever. That’s no longer me, and I don’t understand why I even previously bothered to try.”

Harry lowered his eyes back to the still-open photo album and asked, “I’m going to turn our world on its ear, Nymph. Do you think they’d approve, or even understand?” referring to his parents and godfather. “Will the others understand why I do what I plan to do?” this time, with regards to his friends.

“Oh, Harry,” Nymphadora Tonks sighed before crouching to down to eye level with the seated wizard and placing her hands on his shoulders for balance. “You may be very mature for your age, but then, that’s hardly a new development. You haven’t changed as much as you think. If you’ll remember, it was you who led Aunt Bella and myself to Malfoy Manor, evading its many protections in the process. It was you who took out the majority of the opposition. And it was you who defeated Lucius Malfoy and gained Aunt Cissy her freedom. That was vintage Harry Potter at its finest, and it was definitely after you handled that memory orb thing. So what if you think and act as an adult now? Where it really counts, you haven’t changed a bit from the Harry who we’ve all come to know and love.” Smiling shyly through a reddening blush, she added, “And for what it’s worth, I believe in you. Out of all the people involved, you are the first person to suggest a proactive solution that just might end this war. I understand exactly what you want to do and why, and I trust you still. I’m sure that my aunts would be quick to agree with me on this matter as well. I’m also sure that Sirius would be very proud of who you are right now, and from what I’ve heard of them, I can’t imagine your parents not approving of you either. And as for your friends… the situation may come as a shock to them, but I don’t see why they would abandon you over it.”

Squeezing his shoulders reassuringly, Nymph recommended, “Give the others a chance. They just might surprise you.”

Harry smiled at the young witch’s overwhelming faith in those around her, even when his experiences, both ancient and contemporary encouraged him to expect the worst. “Thanks, Nymph,” Harry earnestly replied. Realizing that she had sought him out for a reason, he asked, “What did you need with me again?”

“Oh,” she responded, before getting back to the reason she was in his room in the first place. “The rest of the Order will be arriving in a few moments; you asked to be informed when they did.”

“I see,” Harry responded, glancing over at the room’s clock and seeing the onset of evening. “Thanks, Nymph.” Harry closed the tome in his lap before rising to his feet and crossing the floor to replace it in his trunk.

As he was already dressed in an appropriate plain set of black robes with green trim, he shut the lid. The young woman saw him take in a deep breath while he was still bent over the container. When he straightened and spun around, the desolate look was gone from his eyes and all the witch saw was the self-assured wizard that everyone expected him to be, not the insecure man he had allowed her to see. The witch intuitively perceived that the man standing before her was extremely introverted, which spoke volumes regarding the amount of trust he had placed in her by allowing her to see him in such a compromising condition. Feeling another burst of affection for the wizarding hero in front of her, Nymph smiled brightly while offering one extended arm. “Shall we go entertain the masses, my Lord?” she asked playfully in a highborn tone.

Returning her radiant grin with a smirk of his own, he took her arm in his and replied in like manner, “We shall, my Lady. We shall indeed.” With that said, the unlikely pair - one tall, dark, and solemn; the other shorter, colorful, and boisterous – marched out of the room and down the hall, neither of whom knowing that they headed towards one of the most pivotal points in their nation’s history.


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The duo approached the kitchen just in time to witness a large crowd of redheads come racing out of the floo. The first person to exit the fireplace was Ginny Weasley. After a brief struggle to regain her balance, the lithe witch quickly moved away from the mantel.

“Hello, Ginny!” Harry called out. “It’s good to see you.”

The girl in question looked in the direction of the voice to find a boy – or rather, man – with shoulder-length black hair and green eyes standing next to her friend, Tonks. Ginny squinted at the unknown man in an attempt to determine his identity before the figure in question moved his head, causing the hair lying against his forehead to shift slightly, revealing a telltale lightning bolt-shaped scar.

Ginny’s eyes bugged out as she attempted to reconcile the average-height, scrawny boy with the rather tall, well-muscled young man before her. She eloquently summarized her thoughts with a gasped, “Oh Merlin!”

“Actually,” Harry responded cheekily, “’Harry’ will suffice.”

“Harry!” Ginny screamed, just before Harry suddenly had an armload of Weasley attempting to cut off his air supply.

Chuckling, Harry squeezed the girl briefly before releasing her and answering, “I missed you, too.”

Before her reply could be given, the flames turned green yet again, and a soot-stained Ron Weasley appeared on the floor. His gaze immediately swept the room for his sister, finding her embracing an oddly familiar wizard. As the man – surely the person was too old to be called a boy - pulled back slightly to speak with his sister, recognition sank in. “Merlin’s beard! Harry?”

The aforementioned wizard turned from the petite witch to face him, the corners of his mouth twitching as he heard Ron’s humorous expression of disbelief. Reaching out, Harry grasped Ron's limp hand and shook it sharply. “That’s the rumor,” Harry confirmed, releasing his grip on his friend’s outstretched appendage. “Hello, Ron.”

The fire flared twice more in bright green, depositing the Weasley twins onto the premises with a large box held between them.

“Blimey! You’re not a midget anymore!” Ron pointed out unnecessarily while looking him up and down with wide eyes.

“I suppose not,” Harry answered evenly, though his jaw muscle twitched slightly. “Good to see you, too, Gred. Forge.”

“Harry?” George demanded incredulously. After the initial shock wore off, he added, “Looking good, mate!”

“Yes,” Fred agreed immediately, “Quite smashing!” The mischief-oriented twins then noticed that said wizard had the resident Metamorphmagus’s arm in his own, and couldn’t resist heckling the duo. “And what a lovely couple you two lovebirds make!”

George immediately backed his twin’s ploy. “Yes, quite stunning indeed! Lady Nymphadora’ll be the envy of witches everywhere, won’t she, Fred?”

“I’ll show you ‘stunning’,” the witch growled as she made to draw her wand from its holster in her sleeve.

“Calm down, Nymph,” Harry said calmly as he gently flipped the end of her nose, much like one would to get the attention of a rambunctious puppy. “Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber didn’t mean anything by it.”

As expected, the once-again pink-haired witch glared at Harry. Unlike the watching Weasleys expected, however, she then grinned wickedly as she dropped his arm and playfully jabbed Harry in the ribs. “I wasn’t gonna hurt them… much!” she confessed.

“Right…” Harry said in a tone sharp with disbelief. Ignoring the dumbstruck looks as to how he had retained consciousness after abbreviating the young witch’s given name, Harry said, “And you’re both well aware that, so long as Voldemort’s around,-” Harry rolled his eyes at the slight flinches the ‘dreaded’ name produced “- my dating someone would inscribe their name on the top of his ‘To Kill Immediately’ list. And that,” Harry said firmly, “is something that I cannot allow. In any event,” he attempted to lighten the mood, “I’m sure that our lovely Miss Tonks has suitors by the score following her around; I sincerely doubt that she’d ever be desperate enough to settle for me.”

The witch in question was shocked that Harry believed that she would have to ‘settle’ for him, though she made a valiant effort to hide any visible indication of her bewilderment. The comment about the increased risk from Voldemort and his Death Eaters was no surprise; she had expected no less when she first privately admitted to herself that she had feelings for the wizarding hero that went more in line with a crush than simple friendship. Then, her recent heartfelt – and highly personal - conversation with her mother regarding her feelings on the subject brought the issue to the forefront yet again. But, as she had painstakingly made clear to her mother, it was a risk whose rewards were much greater. Being in danger wasn’t exactly a new concept for her, after all.

The shape-shifting woman vowed to explain her position on the matter to Harry himself as soon as she could get him alone again.

This exchange also shocked all of the Weasleys present, Ron most of all. They all noticed how this Harry seemed much more mature than the burdened youth they saw only a month previously, and the change was not just physically. Had they not already known that Harry had yet to reach his sixteenth birthday, they would have guessed him to be around the same age as their older brother Charlie, or possibly even Bill. While there were several subtle changes in their friend since they had last seen him, the single most inexplicable change was the absence of his world-renowned wire-rimmed glasses. Though repeatedly broken or lost in the course of his adventures, none of the redheads could recall a time when the spectacles were absent from their friend’s face during waking hours. Now, Harry's famous – and frequently swooned over - green eyes were free to view the world, unobstructed by glass or plastic. No one who had seen him up close at the end of the previous school year could miss the fact that the emerald eyes were now much more focused and seemed to be much less distraught than had been when the group made their return trip on the Hogwarts’ Express just a few short weeks ago.

In particular, Ron could not help but notice that the green orbs were sparkling in a way strangely reminiscent of Dumbledore at his most mischievous, and he desperately tried to suppress the small feelings of anxiety that this observation uncovered.

“So, Harry, mate,” Fred spoke up, “what happened to your glasses?”

“Yeah,” picked up George, “did you get those Muggle… content lenses?”

Harry smiled and shook his head, feeling grateful that the changes in his appearance were written off as a normal growth spurt. “Contact lenses,” he corrected, “and no, I didn't.”

Ron was just as curious about the matter as his brothers and asked, “So what happened then?”

“I honestly don’t know,” Harry answered out loud. ‘After all, there weren’t supposed to be any physical side effects to the Chroniculus, now were there?’ He continued mentally. Aloud, he expounded, “I got out of bed yesterday and could see without my glasses. It seems to be permanent, and no negative side affects have developed, so I’m happy to leave matters as they are.” At seeing their slight wariness at such a spontaneous occurrence, Harry added, “I’ve already met with Dumbledore; he didn’t seem to think it a problem.”

His audience seemed to relax at this admission, so Harry asked a question of his own. “Have you heard from Hermione yet?”

“Yeah, she’s just behind us. Her parents left her at the Burrow yesterday,” Ron answered before remembering how upset Harry was the previous summer when they left him in the dark. “We would have written,” Ron said quickly, “but Dumbledore did tell us that the owls could be tracked.”

“Uh, you aren’t… upset, are you?” Ginny asked worriedly.

“No,” Harry said easily. “You wouldn’t believe how much one’s temper can improve when certain Dark Lords aren’t running rampant and projecting their little temper tantrums directly into your mind.”

“So, you figured out Occlumency then?” Ron hazarded a guess.

Harry nodded. “You might say the answer just jumped out at me.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nymph’s shoulders start to shake. When she noticed their attention on her, she quickly transformed the poorly hidden laughter into a hacking cough.

Their discussion was halted again by yet another incoming floo traveler who, after the dust settled down, was recognized as one Hermione Granger. The young brunette witch took in the scene in an instant before approaching the group, her attention focused on the tall wizard staring at her friend, the ever-cheerful Tonks.

The stranger was just a shade taller than either Ron or his older brothers, and sported a slender athletic figure that any reasonable hot-blooded female would consider attractive. He seemed handsome enough from the side profile she was exposed to, and she noticed that the way he held himself spoke of a good deal of confidence.

‘Tonks’s boyfriend?’ the witch asked herself. Giving the unknown man an once-over, she decided, ‘Not bad at all.’

Extending her right hand in the man’s direction, she spoke up, “I'm Hermione Granger.” She wondered shortly what was funny as she noticed that all four of the Weasleys were suddenly sporting grins and/or suppressing laughter, and that Tonks herself seemed to be deeply enthused about something. Before she could think the matter over any further, the tall person turned in her direction and she noticed a set of piercing green eyes crinkled in mirth.

A set of extremely familiar green eyes.

‘It couldn’t be…’ Hermione thought feverishly.

Taking her hand in his own, he gave it a firm shake. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Granger,” he said charmingly, but with a mischievous smile, “My name is Harry Potter.”

‘It is…’ the young witch groaned mentally, resigning herself to the ribbing that the now openly grinning Weasleys would give her. She looked around at the heaving forms of her friends and said, “I really set myself up for that one, didn’t I?”

“Just a bit,” Harry agreed amiably. “I tried to stop myself, I really did, but you just walked right into it.”

Ginny nodded her head and patted her shoulder sympathetically as her brothers slowly calmed themselves.

“That was brilliant!” the twins exclaimed simultaneously.

“I-I hardly recognized you,” Hermione stammered while taking in Harry's changed appearance. “I mean, you’ve grown, Harry!” Hermione then unconsciously tried to top Ginny’s earlier performance of Harry-strangling, executing a perfect running-tackle culminating in Harry struggling to draw breath as the pair of arms and mouthful of bushy brown hair blocked off all of his air passages.

Upon seeing Harry’s face beginning to purple, Ginny and Nymph pulled the girl off the asphyxiated wizard. After Harry regain control of his respiratory system, he said in an awed tone, “It’s the strangest thing. It seems all the guys my age are coming down with it.” Which was true, the group realized as they finally noticed that Ron now stood roughly even with the ebullient twins.

The small group’s deliberations were interrupted once more by a kindly voice inquiring, “Harry, dear?” The assemblage turned, finding Molly Weasley standing in the foyer and staring at Harry with wide-eyed disbelief. Hermione saw Harry glance sideways at Tonks and mutter, “I seem to be getting a lot of that.” At normal volume, he said, “Good evening, Mrs. Weasley.”

Harry held one arm outstretched for a handshake in a futile attempt to prevent another round of suffocation, but it was not to be. Fortunately, the elder female Weasley didn’t hold on to him nearly as long as the younger witches, but Harry did make a mental note to have his spine readjusted at the earliest opportunity. Before Molly could begin asking questions of him, Ron’s stomach interrupted the greetings. Looking a trifle sheepish, Ron asked, “So… when’s dinner?”

Rolling her eyes, Ginny complained, “You just ate an hour ago!”

“So?” Ron protested.

Mrs. Weasley, having a great deal of experience at negotiating such disputes, answered smoothly, “In just a few minutes, Ron dear. Why don’t you boys go set the table? Girls, come with me and we’ll get everything ready.”

“What can I do, Molly?” said Tonks enthusiastically, bounding forwards.

Mrs. Weasley hesitated, remembering the various disorders that Tonks had previously brought to her poor kitchen. “Er — no, it's all right, Tonks, you have a rest. I’m sure you've had a busy day, after all.”

“I’m fine, really. I can help!” said Tonks brightly.

The Weasley matriarch was looking distinctly uneasy before Hermione offered a solution. “Why don’t you round up everyone and let them know that the food will be just a few more minutes.”

“Okay!” Tonks chirped before walking away briskly.

Mrs. Weasley shot Hermione a look of gratitude as the two teams of conscripts went to their separate labors.


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The dinner went as expected, with the Weasley family joined by Dumbledore, the Tonks, Harry, and Hermione. As the meeting’s start time drew nearer, Molly stood up and began fussing. “Alright, children, hurry up and finish your dinner. The rest of the Order will be arriving soon and we will need the kitchen for the meeting.”

By the time the four underage magicians were finished with their food, Mundungus Fletcher, Snape, McGonagall, and Mad-Eye had arrived. Those individuals in the kitchen heard several of the Order personnel loitering out in the atrium comment on the vacant space of wall adjacent to the staircase. There was a brief exchange of smiles between Harry and the Tonks family at some of the more extravagant theories on how the portrait was removed, but none of the seated mages volunteered any information as the remainder of the Order began filtering into the kitchen for the meeting.

Molly began to shoo Ron, Hermione, and Ginny out the door when she noticed that Harry had not gotten up. “Harry, dear, come on we need to get the meeting started.”

Harry merely dipped his head. “I agree with you; however, those three will be joining us this evening.”

“That’s just perfect, Potter! You’re as arrogant as your father!” snapped Snape.

“And you are as presumptuous as ever, Snape!” was Harry’s quick retort.

Molly could not contain herself any longer. “Harry, none of you are adults yet. It is not your place to join in the fighting. We are supposed to be protecting you.” Turning to the wizened old headmaster, the matron redirected her plea. “Albus, can’t you talk some sense into him?”

Dumbledore shook his head, “No, Molly, Harry is right. While they are not necessarily joining the Order tonight, they are involved in the fight, regardless. I believe it best if they at least have some forewarning of what is to come.”

Molly looked positively livid. “Albus, you can’t be serious! They are just children! They can’t handle something like this!”

Albus just glanced at Harry as if to say, ‘Good luck.’

Harry placed both hands flat on the table and leaned towards the concerned woman. “Mrs. Weasley, I appreciate your concern regarding our welfare, and your dedication to your family. In fact, I do not know of anyone who could set a better example of what a mother should be than you.” Harry then changed the direction of his monologue, his inflection suddenly reflecting the gravity of the situation. “That being said, I would like to point out that we are not the children you seem to believe us to be. Each of us are just as deeply immersed in this conflict as you are, if not more. Each of us has fought just as fiercely as you have, if not more. This is our battle, just as it is everyone else’s in this room.”

“Oh, Harry, be serious,” the woman replied. “You lot aren’t old enough. The Order is for adults that know how to handle themselves in situations that require courage and quick thinking. It’s far too dangerous for the likes of you.”

While Ron, Ginny, and – to a lesser extent – Hermione looked furious at this voiced slight, Harry’s only visible reaction to this was the tightening of his jaw. “’Too dangerous for the likes of us’, is it? Exactly what scale did you use to determine that?” Harry demanded in an even, emotionless tone. “Personally, I believe that we have already proven our merit, many times. For example, when was the last time you dueled with Voldemort?”

Everyone in the room flinched at the name except Hermione, Tonks, Lupin, Moody, and Dumbledore. “We’re not old enough to deal with situations that require courage, but you can’t even stand to hear our enemy’s name spoken aloud? Where is that vaunted courage that you just spoke of, Mrs. Weasley? What is it about that ridiculous anagram that has you so frightened?”

“Voldemort!” Harry abruptly shouted. The room flinched again. “See? It’s a name, nothing more,” Harry pointed out. “Like any other name, it has no power over you but what you yourselves grant it. I spoke it. If it will help, I will even insult the snake-faced hypocrite! Voldemort’s an ill-tempered illegitimate half-blood orphan with poor personal hygiene and severe anger management issues!” Harry then made a show of looking around the room and paying special attention to what was not right behind him.

“As you can see,” Harry continued as his friends retook their seats, “I am not dead. No Dark Lord suddenly appeared behind me. I wasn’t struck by lightning, or run over by the Knight Bus, or even came down with the sniffles, so please try to put this foolishness behind you.” Harry met the eyes of the gathered Order members before looking back at Molly Weasley – who had dropped back into her own chair - and continuing his rebuttal. “Now that that is settled, let’s get back on topic here. In spite of your efforts, we have been fighting Voldemort and his sycophants since each of us was eleven. I would also like to point out that, in all my five years at Hogwarts, there has never been a time when we were safe. Apparently, a few of these incidents have slipped your minds. First, there was Quirrell, a possessed host used by Voldemort’s wraith form.” Harry looked pointedly at the professors seated a few seats down from him as he continued speaking. “Despite many of you knowing Quirrell personally, none of you investigated the cause of his abrupt change of behavior. When we children discovered that Albus had been tricked into leaving the Sorceror’s stone unprotected, we brought the matter to the attention of an Order member at the castle, only to be scoffed at and turned away. So Hermione, Ron, and myself went after the stone ourselves, circumventing the numerous safeguards that the Hogwarts faculty laid over the stone to ensure its protection. In addition, remember that those safeguards just happened to be the only thing standing between the means to immortality and any wandering dark wizard wishing to seek it. Oddly enough, those tasks required a certain amount of quick thinking, and more than a little bravery.”

Harry took a deep breath as his gaze flitted around the room, noticing that he had definitely gotten the Order’s attention. “Then, we have another debacle in the form of Gilderoy Lockhart, one of the biggest disgraces to the name of wizard that I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. Due to reasoning which I still cannot comprehend, this abysmal person was granted professorial status, even though his incompetence was blatantly obvious. I mean, honestly, the fool was outwitted by a dozen Cornish pixies! Pixies!” Harry yelled in disgust.

Calming himself, Harry resumed his narrative. “During this time, one of the new students was held in thrall by a dark artifact for the majority of the school year, with none of the Order members the wiser.” Harry noticed that Ginny was looking down at her feet and several members of the audience were looking regretful, but Harry pushed on. “This led to several attacks which incapacitated over a half-dozen people. Again, while the Order was at a loss to explain the situation and was mired in inaction, we children resolved the crisis. Hermione single-handedly deduced that a basilisk was the cause of the petrifications, and I discovered the entrance to its lair. While the faculty’s – and by default, the Order’s - chosen champion was attempting to flee the castle in fear, Ron and I restrained him and entered the Chamber ourselves. After the idiot attempted to obliviate Ron and I, Ron kept an eye on him and cleared the exit, while I entered the chamber to stop the basilisk and retrieve the ensorcelled student. Please note that these acts required your pre-requisite bravery and quick thinking.”

Smiling fondly, Harry commented, “As for the one year not directly confronting Voldemort, when all of you believed Sirius to be my parents’ betrayer, he managed to get into our dorm room at a time we thought he was trying to kill me. This all occurred while having a real killer and my parents’ actual betrayer lying in our room for three years in the form of a worn-out rat. Again, this took place in spite of the Order’s efforts.” Looking the now-glaring Snape right in the eye, Harry said, “Despite the counter-productive bumblings of one Order representative, we children discovered the truth, and prevented the even-more-incompetent Ministry from executing Sirius on the spot.”

Harry glanced around at his captive audience as he mentioned, “Oh, and we also had to fend off a hundred Dementors or so at the time. Fortunately, Remus was kind enough to teach me the Patronus Charm during the holiday break.” Pasting a look of confusion on his face, Harry commented off-handedly, “And I seem to recall hearing once that few adult wizards, even among the Order, were capable of casting such a Charm. Strange that a mere child could do such a thing.”

Returning to his main set of points, Harry admitted, “I think that does it for that year. Of course, year before last the Order managed to let a Death Eater parade as an Order member for an entire school year, even though the imposter had to drink a potion every hour to stay that way. However, in the interests of being fair, my friends and I were unaware of this situation as well, so I won’t count it. Of course, had we known the person beforehand, we could have probably noticed the many discrepancies…” Harry paused for a moment in thought before resuming. “Then, I had to duel Voldemort himself, after winning a tournament in which wizards far older and more experienced than I had perished. Oh, and let’s not forget that it was the imposter who managed to magically bind me to complete said contest against my will in the first place. Seeing as how every other wizard – save Albus – who has dueled Voldemort has died, I feel that my survival was a notable achievement. And let me assure you, surviving against Voldemort and his entire Inner circle in a duel takes a great deal of both bravery and quick thinking.”

Snorting ruefully, Harry said, “And then, there was last year. I really do not even want to begin detailing all the events that transpired during that time. I do want you all to know that the toad masquerading as a Minister’s aide tried to cast the Cruciatus on me, and had me write thousands of lines over the course of the year with a blood quill. Oh, and when I brought this to the Order’s attention, I received another scolding and threats of even more unjust punishment for my trouble. The toad also thought it a grand idea to dump an entire vial of Veritaserum into a cup of tea she tried to get me to drink. I am not too concerned over this one, though, seeing as she possessed all the cunning of a two year old. I am, however, a trifle vexed that she received the controlled ministry substance from one Severus Snape.” Harry shook his head before saying, “Another incident involved one of your sentries, who would have died from extremely potent snake venom without any member of the Order knowing had I not been able to pick up the event in Voldemort’s thoughts. And the grand finale, and an event which I’m sure you all remember vividly, is the battle in the Department of Mysteries. After receiving no support from the Order for the entire year, we children infiltrated one of the most closely guarded installations in Wizarding Britain and engaged over twice our number in Inner Circle Death Eaters. And for the record, we were holding our own. Had we had any training or support whatsoever, we would most likely have had them subdued long before reinforcements arrived. Instead, we were using only the mild curses and elementary jinxes taught in the standard Hogwarts curriculum while our opponents were throwing Unforgivables around, and we still were not defeated! Of course, had we been briefed on what Voldemort wanted in the DoM, we would have never even needed to go there in the first place. In any event, you all know what happened after that, so I won’t go into it.”

Harry leaned back in his chair with an emotionless expression on his face. “So,” he said, “I appreciate your sentiments of wanting to keep us safe, but that is not something that any of you can do. Personally, I am going to face Voldemort in battle again – as many times as necessary - and I am going to kill him.” Gesturing to his friends who were looking at him as if he had two heads, Harry mentioned, “My friends have their own reasons for being a part of this fight, but they are involved whether you like it or not. The way I see it, we children have contributed more to the downfall of Voldemort’s second attempt at power than the Order, save Albus himself.”

By this point, most of the people in the room were looking at their feet. Molly was crying, while the other three under aged magicians bore a look of surprise mixed with pride. Tonks was sniffling while Albus outwardly looked as unaffected as ever and Snape seemed to barely refrain from unleashing a caustic reply.

After watching the stupor linger for several moments, Albus attempted to get the meeting back underway. “Thank you, Harry,” the old wizard said, “for that very… comprehensive explanation. Were your objections adequately addressed, Molly?” The stout matron just dipped her head jerkily.

Harry thought about whether he should say something further, but her continued sobbing made his mind up for him. “Mrs. Weasley?” When he had her attention, Harry explained, “I’m not suggesting that we join the Order and begin going on missions tonight. I just think that everyone in this room deserves to know exactly what is going on regarding the war. That’s all.”

His reassurance seemed to help a little – the maternal figure was no longer sobbing audibly, at least – and Harry mentally groaned as he made a note to himself to speak with her in detail at the earliest opportunity. ‘Thrice damned saving-people thing!’ Harry concluded silently.

Across the table from him, Harry heard Snape mutter something.

Apparently, the Supreme Mugwump had heard him as well. “Yes, Severus?” Albus asked. “Did you have something to add?”

“I am merely curious as to why we are yet again allowing Potter to waste our time with delusions of grandeur,” Snape said with an impressive glare at Harry, who didn’t seem to find the glare nearly as impressive, judging from the slight smirk gracing one side of his face.

“Severus,” warned Albus, “Please control yourself.”

“Yes, Snape,” Harry called softly, “Do choose your words carefully. One might get the impression that you are allowing personal matters to interfere with your professional responsibilities.”

Everyone in the room was following the exchange between Harry and the hateful man. A few of the observers began to feel uneasy when they caught sight of the intensity in Harry’s eyes.

“Why you arrogant little whelp!” Snape snapped pulling his wand. Snape stopped himself as he caught sight of a few people scooting their chairs away from the table as Harry’s wand suddenly appeared in his hand long before Snape completed his own draw.

Harry grinned sharply at the other wizard’s brief flicker of surprise at being outdrawn. “So this is what you were referring to when you first began that sham of an Occlumency class,” Harry said in an obviously false tone of sudden comprehension. “‘Fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions, who wallow in sad memories and allow themselves to be provoked so easily — weak people, in other words — they stand no chance against his powers!’ That was how it went, wasn’t it, Snape?”

The addressed wizard eyes narrowed sharply as he spat, “You little bast-”

“Severus!” Albus snapped. “We appreciate that you are under a lot of pressure at the moment, but that does not excuse your behavior. Harry, Professor Snape is still a standing member of the Order, and you will show him the respect he is due.”

“Perhaps he has your respect, Albus,” Harry said smoothly, “but he has done nothing to earn mine in any way, shape, or form.” Throughout his entire response, Harry’s gaze never let that of the Order’s spy, so he missed the incredulous expressions that several of the silent observers adopted at the apparent familiarity between their leader and the scion of House Potter. “However,” Harry conceded as his wand disappeared back to wherever it originated, “we have other, more important matters to discuss tonight. Please continue.” With that said, Harry leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers together beneath his chin, obviously intent on Albus handling the hurdle of introducing Narcissa and Bellatrix to the Order.

“Thank you,” Albus replied. “We have another two guests who will be joining us tonight, both of whom have recently escaped incarceration at the hands of Lord Voldemort. As a gesture of good faith, they have also provided helpful information regarding Voldemort’s plans. With their permission, I have verified their claims with Legilimency and found them to be completely truthful. Since they may be able to supplement our plans tonight, they have been invited to attend.”

Alastor Moody looked at Albus suspiciously and growled, “I take it that your two informants are Death Eaters, then?”

“Only in the most unwilling of capacities,” Albus answered calmly, “but, yes, they could be considered as such.” Seeing that his friend was about to question their claims’ veracities, Albus commented, “And, yes, Alastor, I did seek to confirm that they were truthful in this matter. I would like to think that I could not be so completely deceived by a person one-fifth my own age.”

The battered old man just dipped his head sharply, acknowledging that there was no one that could hide any trace of dark intent so fully from Albus’s Legilimency techniques.

“So, who are you expecting, Albus?” Minerva McGonagall demanded.

“The remaining two members of Sirius Black’s family,” Albus answered, bracing his self for the impending cacophony.

And, as the true import of his words dawned, he was not disappointed. Looking around at the source of the impressive amount of yelling, the old wizard observed most of the room’s occupants on their feet attempting to yell over each other. Mad-Eye Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt seemed more composed, having remained in their chairs, and were currently staring at Albus intently while waiting for a more detailed explanation. The Tonks family, Albus noted, had resorted to clamping their hands over their ears in an attempt to preserve their hearing. And Harry…

Harry appeared to have unobtrusively conjured a set of earmuffs for himself and was now casually lounging in his high-backed chair with a bemused smirk upon his face as if to say, ‘I handled the last one. This one’s yours.’

Albus decided then and there that – perhaps - he shouldn’t have taken so much glee earlier when he maneuvered Harry into resolving the conflict with the Weasley matriarch.

He let the ruckus go on for a few more minutes but, when the supposedly mature ‘adults’ still persisted in acting in such a disorganized manner, Albus withdrew his wand from its holder and shot off several firecrackers around the room, effectively bringing the group back to order.

“That is enough!” Albus chastised sharply. “Both of the ladies in question have information of vital importance regarding Lord Voldemort’s machinations, and have come forward to aid us at great risk to themselves. I have already verified that they are both being completely honest about the matter. If you are incapable of accepting their confession at face value, then very well. However, you will stop this unseemly display at once!”

Seeing that the objections were – for the moment – suppressed, Albus looked to the Tonks family and asked, “If you would inform your siblings that we are ready, Andromeda?” Mrs. Tonks just dipped her head before rising to her feet and quietly leaving the room. The rest of the Order talked amongst themselves for the few minutes it took her to fetch the wayward Black sisters.

When the three women returned, Andromeda resumed her earlier seat while her sisters took two of the vacant chairs down from Harry’s position. Bellatrix kept a resolute expression on her face and refused to make eye contact, instead choosing to focus on her hands clasped in her lap. Though she hid it well, Harry could tell that she was nervous about being in such a hostile environment.

Narcissa, on the other hand, seemed perfectly at home in the Grimmauld kitchen, taking her seat with her accustomed grace and staring calmly at Albus. “You wished to see us, Albus?” she asked serenely.

“Yes, Narcissa. Bellatrix. I have just explained – obliquely - how you came to be here with us today, and that you had some important information to share,” Albus prompted.

“Very well,” Narcissa replied. “As Albus has already said, I was – until recently – an unwilling companion of my former husband, Lucius. I would prefer to leave the personal details out of it, but essentially, it prevented me from acting against his interests. That measure of control is no more, and I am willing to share all that I know regarding Lucius’ – and his cronies’ – schemes in the hopes that his would-be master can be stopped. But while I can identify several people whose sympathies lie towards Voldemort, the real information comes from Bella. Bella?” she prompted when her sister remained silent with her head bowed.

Before the addressed woman could reply, however, Mad-Eye Moody made his objection known. “Hold on, Lass. I know the sort of man Lucius Malfoy is and what he’s capable of, so I’ll take Albus at his word about you until I find different.” The electric blue eye whirled again before focusing on Bellatrix’s still form. “But it will be a cold day in hell before I accept the word of a confirmed death eater.”

Bellatrix jerked her head in his direction and opened her mouth to retaliate, only to be brought to a halt as Harry placed one hand on the ebony haired witch’s shoulder. “You don’t have to, Moody,” Harry said evenly. “You have my word. I vouch for her.”

“Harry!” Remus Lupin spoke up, the disbelief evident in his voice. “What are you doing?! She killed Sirius, and now you’re taking up for her?” Harry could tell that similar shock had overtaken most of the rest of the Order.

Harry squeezed Bellatrix’s shoulder as she grimaced at the reminder of what her body was forced to do under another’s influence. “Remus,” Harry spoke sharply, “do you really think that if I wasn’t completely convinced that her actions were not of her doing - that if I thought she had intentionally forced Sirius through the veil – that she would be anything more than a greasy spot on the floor?” When he saw that no reply was forthcoming, Harry softened his tone slightly and explained, “After Bella showed up at Privet Drive – under the Order’s nose – Nymph and I disarmed her and took her to a secluded spot to interrogate her. It turned out that she had several important pieces of information to share, not the least of which was the fact that the two Dementors that Umbridge sent after me last year intended to communicate my whereabouts to Voldemort. Bella was kind enough to send them on a pointless errand to buy enough time to warn me. After we got her statement, Nymph and I took her to Albus to confirm it.”

Severus Snape snorted before sarcastically asking, “And did it ever cross your feeble little mind that she might have been lying?”

“You will find, Snape, that I cannot be lied to any easier than your subhuman master, and for the same reasons,” Harry commented harshly.

“Am I to understand that you now claim to rival the Dark Lord at Legilimency?” the sharp-tongued man demanded.

Harry shrugged nonchalantly. “It’s a recent development.”

“Impossible!” the other man exploded. “Clearly, the recent publications and increased fame have driven what previously counted for wits completely out of your head! You are far too incompetent to learn even the basics of protecting your own mind - such as it is - much less launch an attack on another’s intellect.”

Harry could feel his patience wearing thin, and he responded accordingly. “So you wouldn’t mind me directing my pitiful efforts against a master Occlumens such as yourself, then?”

The challenge implied was enough to get Albus to interrupt. “That is quite enough, gentlemen. This is totally unnecessary!”

“I disagree,” Harry said while staring languidly at the red-faced Potions Master. “I believe that it is very necessary. It’s been long overdue, in fact.” Deciding to goad his opponent further, Harry added, “of course, if Snape wishes to withdraw his verbal excrement…”

“Do your best, Potter!” the greasy-haired man snapped. “I have nothing to fear from you.”

A smug smirk began to show itself at the corners of Harry’s mouth. “We shall see…” Harry promised chillingly. Meeting the dark eyes of the spiteful wizard seated across from him, Harry split his mental focus into two separate attacks. He directed the more obvious one directly against the other man’s mental shields, much like the psychological ‘battering ram’ approach that Snape himself used. The other, smaller focus he directed deftly at the small breaches in his opponent’s shield. While the larger attack held all of Snape’s attention, Harry succeeded in guiding the smaller probe to various pieces of information that his foe wished desperately to hide. Chuckling to himself, Harry withdrew from the other man’s mind before letting his decoy attack cease with Snape’s mind shield unaffected by the frontal assault – not that Harry ever intended for it to be successful in the first place.

The look of triumph of Snape’s face was unseemly as the man gloated. “Apparently, you still haven’t learned that fame isn’t everything. Clearly you aren’t as capable as you would have us to believe.”

While Harry had originally planned to make some small quip to silence the other man’s objections and let the matter rest, his opponent’s sneering convinced him to change his strategy. “Is that so, Severus Snape, son of Tobias Snape and Eileen Prince? So it would be incorrect to say that you are the master of Spinner’s End? That you, the ‘Half Blood Prince’,” – Harry snorted at the presumptuous title – “foolishly let Lucius Malfoy take you to get Marked the instant you graduated from Hogwarts for nothing more than the empty promises of rare potion ingredients and an unlimited research budget? That you, a half-blood yourself, decided to join a pureblood supremacy organization of your own free will?”

Harry’s fists involuntarily closed as the temperature in the room seemed to plummet. He grinned as he noticed Snape trying – and failing - to suppress his own nervousness. “Am I mistaken, then, that it was you who overheard the first of the prophecy that night? And once you were removed from the ‘Hog’s Head’, did you not immediately run to your subhuman master to repeat what you gleaned from your eavesdropping at keyholes, even though you knew you were damning not only my family but others as well by doing so?”

Dumbledore seemed to droop in his seat while everyone else in the room took in a sharp breath. Without even shifting his eyes, Harry pointed one accusing finger at Dumbledore and said, “Make no mistake, old man. We will be discussing that little tidbit in private – at length.”

Dropping his hand back onto the table, Harry again addressed Snape. “And isn’t it true, Snivellus, that as soon as my family was destroyed and your Dark Mark had faded, that you ran off to Albus and confessed all, just so that you could hide behind his robes from the repercussions of your despicable actions? And to top it off, he accepted you, offering you immunity from your rightful fate in exchange for information. In fact, he even taught you Occlumency, so that you could be even more of an accomplished liar.” Harry pushed himself back into his chair as he smiled coldly. “Did I leave anything out?”

Nearly every occupant in the room was staring at him with shock. Harry idly noted that Moody seemed to have some long-held theory confirmed, judging from the satisfied – albeit misshapen – grin upon his face.

“How do you know all of this?” Snape demanded incredulously.

“Well,” Harry drawled, “I could be the luckiest guesser in history, or I could have actually been telling the truth earlier regarding the use of Legilimency – pick one.”

At this point, Snape was both angry and bewildered. “But how did you do it?”

“By performing the art correctly, Snape,” Harry answered. “Legilimency isn't about those clumsy and brutal attacks that you so enjoy performing, but discreet probing, as any fool should know. The whole point is to find out secrets without the other person realizing that there even was an intrusion. From what I can gather, this is a principle that Voldemort understands at least.”

Ignoring the chastised man, Harry turned to Dumbledore and commented, “Even if Snape is on your side, which I still doubt, he has still betrayed your confidences. Voldemort knows full well that Snape’s efforts are insincere, seeing as how he has invaded Snape’s mind nearly every time this cur knelt to kiss that thing’s robes.”

Dumbledore gasped as did Snape. The rest of Order looked thunderstruck. “Oh, don’t worry,” Harry said cheerfully, as if the revelation was of no importance, “the Fidelius prevented him from learning where your club house was, but I would be willing to wager that the information Voldemort gleaned led him to attack Mr. Weasley during the time that Snape knew he would be alone at his post. Not to mention all those other little difficulties regarding strategy leakage that you have had. You know, like the names and addresses of other Order members; that sort of thing.”

Shrugging easily, Harry could not help but add, “For all I know, Voldemort’s whole obsession with obtaining the prophecy is due to the amount of credence you put in it, Albus, not any sense of belief on his end.”

The old man seemed to deflate even further before he said, “Severus, I believe that your time of serving in espionage has reached its end.”

Snape just nodded. Upon hearing Harry’s accusation, he had retreated deep into his mind and searched for any evidence of unauthorized access. Aside from the barely distinguishable trail that Harry had left, Snape could also detect a few of the areas where Voldemort had avoided his Occlumency shields.

“How did you learn to do that?” he asked Harry dejectedly.

The room began to rapidly warm up again as one corner of Harry’s mouth rose in a vicious smirk as he said, “Let’s just chalk it up to natural talent, shall we?”

Staring into the man’s defeated gaze, Harry could help but point out something. “You know that once Voldemort finds out about your betrayal, he will use that mark you used to take so much pride in to torture you to insanity and ultimately death, don’t you?”

“What?” Snape asked with wide eyes.

“He tried the same with Bella. Had it continued for much longer, she would have most definitely died,” Harry explained. “Neither Bella or I really liked that idea, though, so we resolved that little problem.”

Snape seemed to slump in relief at hearing that a cure had been found already.

“So what is the solution?” Dumbledore asked, interested to hear how they had managed to lessen the power of the mark, a feat none other had accomplished.

Bellatrix smiled brightly as she laid her arm on the table and drew her sleeve back, exposing her unblemished left forearm. “Harry removed the mark, of course!”

Dumbledore, the heralded leader of the Light and general fount of knowledge, felt his jaw drop open as he stared at where the hideous brand of his one-time student had been. Fortunately for him, the others in the room had similar reactions, so he was able to recover without anyone being the wiser.

“Impossible!” Snape gasped.

“So’s fending off a Killing curse,” Bellatrix said bluntly, “but that didn’t seem to bother him all that much.”

“But how…?” Snape asked hopefully. “I mean… I thought only the caster can remove the mark!”

Harry just shrugged again. “The idiot bound his powers to mine when I was an infant, and strengthened that with a blood connection over a year ago,” he answered. “And then of course finished the deal off when he tried to possess me a few weeks ago. One of the very few perks of this arrangement is that I seem to be able to counter his spells, even those keyed to his specific magical signature.”

“Wonderful! So you’ll be able to remove Severus’s Mark, then?” Albus asked cheerfully.

“Actually… No. I don’t think so,” Harry said, looking very pleased with the situation. His unexpected response garnered a few looks of confusion.

“But you removed Miss Black’s Mark successfully, did you not?” Albus asked perplexedly.

“Correct,” Harry answered happily.

Albus frowned slightly. “Then I fail to see the problem…”

“The problem, Albus,” Harry’s voice suddenly cooled tremendously, “is that I have no reason or motivation to do so. I freed Bella because she was marked against her will, was truly repentant of the things she was forced to do, and had given me no true reason not to help her. Your pet death eater, on the other hand, has never missed a single chance to degrade my family, my friends, my self-worth, or my honor. He is small-minded, spiteful, hateful, and at times, downright cruel. He’s a poor excuse for a professor, a wizard, and a basic human being. Snape was already in my father’s debt before he betrayed my family. As far as I am concerned, he is just as responsible for my parents’ deaths as Wormtail or Voldemort. He has already betrayed a life debt to my family once; by our law, I could strike him down right now and no legislative body in the world would convict me.”

Forcing himself to remain calm, Harry reiterated, “The problem is that while Bellatrix was forced into this situation, Snape was not. He knew what he was doing every step of the way; he is guilty of his crimes and he shall pay the price.”

Seeing that the addressed wizard had nothing to say, Albus decided to step in for him. “Then you would sentence him to death?” he asked.

Harry just shook his head disbelievingly. “Weren’t you listening? He condemned himself to death, and his chosen master shall be his executioner; don’t even try to shift his own guilt onto my shoulders. Besides, Snape wouldn’t want my help anyway,” Harry said with a sarcastic smirk. “Not only am I a good-for-nothing dunderhead, I’m also a Potter, an empty-headed celebrity, a braggart, and a grand-standing hero wanna-be with a superiority-complex and uncontrolled emotional outbursts.”

Dumbledore sighed. “I understand your position, Harry, and Severus indeed has done many reprehensible things in his life-”

Snape sunk back in his chair defeated.

“-But he has also been a great asset over the years as well,” Dumbledore pleaded. “I know that both he and I have wronged you – perhaps unforgivably so – but please, help him.”

“I suppose that I could be merciful, but there are two conditions,” Harry warned.

Albus perked up. “And what are those?” he questioned hopefully.

Harry raised one hand and held one finger aloft. “One, he resigns from Hogwarts effective immediately, and you accept it, no questions asked.” At the first signs of interruption, Harry pointed right at Albus and went on. “He doesn’t want to teach, and the students don’t want to be taught by him. There are whole groups of decent potion makers that graduate from Hogwarts every year, but only one fourth of them will get the recognition they deserve – because of his double standards. I cannot even begin to estimate the number of students chased away from potions altogether by his constant irritability. So, in reality, everyone gets what they want if he moves on to other opportunities.”

Albus looked to Snape and the two stared at one another for a few moments before Snape nodded stiffly. Looking back to his former pupil, the old wizard asked, “And the second requirement?”

“That he agrees to remain at Spinner’s End in confinement – for his protection, of course. He may leave under Order guard only, and the Order must pre-approve any visitors he receives. His day-to-day needs will be provided for – from my pocket, if necessary. Those needs will include a complete set of any and all supplies a potions master of his level would require.”

At an incredulous glance from Snape, Harry elaborated, “You don’t like me, and I most certainly don’t like you, but I’ve never doubted that you knew your craft. Besides, as you would have found out if we hadn’t been interrupted, the Order is going to need large quantities of several complex potions. You can contribute by brewing them undisturbed, which I’m sure you’ll enjoy more than the tasks that Albus has set for you recently.”

“And what might those potions be?” Snape asked.

“Veritaserum, Wolfsbane… that sort of thing,” Harry supplied. “We’ll explain in greater detail later.”

After another silent exchange between Snape and Dumbledore, the potions master looked back at Harry and said with some of his old ire, “It seems that I must accept, since I have no other option.”

“Oh, you have another choice,” Harry assured him cheerfully. “You can always accept the death that your past misdeeds have earned. But as far as alternatives where you survive, then no; it’s pretty much my offer or nothing.”

“Fine!” Snape bit out. “I accept!”

Harry remained immobile. “I’ll have your oath, to abide by the terms I set.”

Snape glowered, but finally did as directed. When the magically binding pledge was completed, Harry nodded and said, “Very well. Meet me after the meeting and I’ll take care of that problem.”

“Why not now?” Snape demanded. “Afraid I'll publicly expose you for the lying little sneak you are?”

“Actually, I was attempting to spare you an audience during the ordeal. But if you’re set on shredding what little dignity you have left, then so be it.” And without further warning, Harry’s arm shot across the table and grabbed the other man’s appendage by the wrist.

Considering that neither Harry himself nor Snape was under attack at the moment, Harry was able to take a more methodical approach than employed with the removal of Bellatrix’s mark. Extending his awareness onto the now-struggling wizard’s forearm, Harry perceived what seemed to be black threads, like fine steel wires, run off from the man’s Dark Mark and disappear into the surrounding dark, presumably to the so-called Dark Lord Voldemort.

Focusing his intent, Harry concentrated on severing the imagined wires. Not interested in another exhausting wrangling of wits with Voldemort should he detect tampering with his mark, Harry targeted all of the wires so they could be destroyed in one fell swoop.

However, unlike with Bellatrix – whom he had been attempting to console – Harry did not even attempt to buffer the bitter wizard from the repercussions of the Mark’s destruction. Snape’s eyes went wide and he screamed a howl from the depths of horror; like a struck gong, the fallen Death Eater quivered. Pulling free from Harry’s loosened grip, Snape fell out of his chair and landed on his back with his arms flung out and his chest heaving. He appeared to be staring up at nothing, and his dark eyes looked lost.

At the concern on a couple of the younger members’ faces – ‘Apparently, Snape worked hard to alienate his colleagues as well,’ he thought to himself – Harry announced that Snape was fine, and would regain his senses momentarily. As the incumbent wizard began to come to, everyone’s attention was drawn to the Dark Mark. As if they could not believe the evidence set before them, Harry heard several gasps and expressions of amazement as the horrid skull-and-snake brand slowly faded out of existence. Once the mark was completely gone, Snape’s eyes slid back into focus and he shakenly regained his seat.

Looking and sounding concerned, Albus asked, “Are you well, Severus?”

The dark-haired man just sat staring at his now unmarked forearm, his only answer a softly spoken, “It’s gone!”

“As promised,” Harry pointed out as he lounged in his own chair.

“Yes,” Albus said sadly, “you did as you said. But was all of this absolutely necessary?”

“What?” Harry asked abruptly. “Trading one service for another? What you – all of you – seem to forget is that I am a person, too. I have my own hopes and dreams, and they do not include playing the role of a djinn or Father Christmas to anyone who is happy to ignore or debase me until they need something and then come asking for it. Just because someone has a perceived need does not make it my responsibility to fulfill it. We made a business arrangement, nothing more. He got what he wanted – he no longer has to worry about Voldemort killing him as the mood strikes – and I got what I wanted – him out of the way.”

“Now, if you’re referring to how I chose to speak with him, well… he seems to enjoy being a merciless, heartless bastard to me and mine, abusing the power his former position allotted him for his own amusement at every opportunity. I thought that it might do him some good to experience that act from the other perspective. If you think that I’m overstating matters, then I dare you to ask them-” Harry gestured at the seated Weasley children and Hermione “-if he did not behave exactly as I just did to every single one of them, for much less of a reason.”

Seeing Dumbledore hesitate, Harry just grinned and said, “But you already know what they will tell you, don’t you?”

Evading the question, Dumbledore answered, “Severus has had a hard life-”

Snorting, Harry interrupted, “Haven’t we all? My life’s not exactly been a bed of roses either, but you don’t see me using it to bludgeon people around. In any event, I believe that we’ve wasted enough time on this topic. The Order was convened for a more important purpose, so… Bella, if you please, tell these nice people exactly what you told me.”

Harry let his attention wander around the room taking in the others’ reactions as Bellatrix explained about the change of allegiance in the Dementors, the escaped – or more accurately, released - prisoners, the captured dark relic, and Voldemort’s new aspirations for aide. She judiciously omitted any reference to the recovered Chroniculus.

As one would expect, news of the Dementors falling back under Voldemort’s sway brought gasps of dismay, but no real disbelief. It was expected, after all, given that their desires could only truly be met under Voldemort’s rule.

No, the disbelief arrived when Bellatrix started explaining just what Voldemort was planning on recruiting.

“Demons?” the young witch Hestia Jones blurted out. “Surely you’re joking! I mean, demons aren’t real… are they?”

“Oh, they’re as real as you and I, Girl!” Mad-Eye interrupted. “Right nasty bastards they are too. Grindelwald thought to use a few in battle several years back. You see, the magician tries to control the demon with formulas, incantations, symbols, mystic diagrams - that sort of thing. As long as he doesn't make any mistakes, the demon is his absolute slave and has to do what he tells it to do. The demon doesn't want to be a slave, though, so it keeps looking for a way to break the spell.”

"What happens if it does?" the young witch asked timidly.

“It generally devours whoever summoned it on the spot. That happens rather frequently. If you lose your concentration or summon a demon too strong for you, you're in trouble.”

“How do you counter one then?” the ever inquisitive Hermione asked.

“There’s no real counter for it, Lass,” Moody growled. “You can try to distract whoever summoned it, so that their pet takes them out itself, but you’re still left with an unfettered beast when that’s said and done. Normally, it will go after the summoner’s friends, since they are the ones who tried to enslave it, but you cannot count on that. In addition, unlike most dark creatures, only the person who raised them can banish these beasts. A devil breed can be taken down if you hit it hard enough, though. Its hide is as tough as a dragon’s, however, so it is best to face one in teams. The common varieties are about as intelligent as dragons, too, but they have a much less friendly demeanor. The final way to defeat a demon, of course, is to raise one of your own and have them fight, but then you run the risks I just mentioned.”

Dedalus Diggle took that opportunity to speak. “But if they’re so terrible, then why hasn’t He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named used them before now?”

Before Moody could speak up, Albus provided the answer. “Because after Lord Grindelwald’s reign, Alastor and several others assisted me in destroying any material related to the summoning rites that we could find to prevent such a situation from repeating itself.”

“And yet,” Kingsley Shacklebolt pointed out in his deep voice, “if this information is to be believed, then the enemy is on the verge of discovering this information yet again.”

“Well, we might have slowed him down a bit on that score,” Harry submitted. At the range of questioning looks, Harry expounded. “We believe that the ‘relic’ that Bella just mentioned is related to his plan for his demonic friends. It radiates a sense of ‘wrongness’ – for lack of better words - something fierce, but we’re not sure exactly what it does. We were actually hoping that either Mad-eye or Bill-” Harry gestured at the two wizards in question “-might shed some more light on the subject.”

“Well, let’s see it then,” Moody demanded.

Harry withdrew the shrunken Borgin & Burkes crate from within his inner robe pocket – having retrieved it from Hogwarts earlier that day – and sat it on the table. He then pulled his wand out and began to enlarge it only to have Hermione yell out, “Wait!”

Looking at the young witch, Harry asked confusedly, “Yes…?”

“Harry, if you use magic outside of school, you’ll be expelled!” she forcefully stated. “And then you’ll have to go to the Ministry again, and then-”

Seeing his friend start on another tirade, Harry interrupted her with a sharp, “Hermione!”

“What?” she demanded.

Ensuring that he spoke in a calm tone of voice, Harry asked, “Are we, or are we not, sitting inside a house protected by a Fidelius charm?”

“Of course we are!” Hermione answered immediately.

“And this charm keeps Voldemort from detecting us completely, right?” Harry pushed.

“You know it does, Harry!” Hermione said as if talking to a small child.

“Then do you really think that Matilda Hopkirk can find us when Voldemort himself can’t?” Harry concluded.

“Oh…” Hermione said after a few moments.

“And you’re forgetting that they didn’t pick up anything with Snape a few minutes ago,” he couldn’t help but point out.

The bushy-haired witch blushed slightly. “Right,” Hermione said sheepishly. “Sorry.”

“Wait!” Ron blurted out. “You mean that we could have done magic all last summer, and you didn’t say anything?”

“Well, I thought you all knew,” Harry said with a shrug. “I mean, I’m the one who grew up with muggles here, you know.”

Harry just grinned at Ron’s inarticulate groan of frustration and restored the crate to its former size. Prizing the lid off, a hush fell over the Order as the malevolence embedded in the crate’s contents made itself known. Mad-Eye and Bill had already made their way over to Harry to have a better look.

“Cissy thought that it might be Egyptian, but she wasn’t sure.”

“It could be,” Bill said non-committedly, “but it’d have to be Old Kingdom if it truly is Egyptian. The more modern Egyptian wizards never used glyphs like this. I would just have to research it first. The thing may be a focal point to some ritual or spell. Maybe it’s a key to some hidden cache or vault. It’s just too early to say.”

“Mad-Eye?” Harry prompted.

“I don’t know what its purpose is, Lad, but it’s a dark one. I can tell you that right now. I know it’s got something to do with the nightbreeds, though. You never forget a chill like that.” His wandering electric blue eye locked on with Harry’s own two emerald orbs. “Good instincts, Potter,” Mad-Eye congratulated him gruffly.

Harry just shrugged modesty. “If I didn’t have them, I’d be dead long before now,” he replied.

“Hah!” Moody burst out. “Ask any Auror and they’ll tell you the same; when it gets down to the end, always trust your instincts. I’ve seen several promising young men and women freeze up when the pressure’s on,” Moody confessed as he stomped back to his seat, “and it always costs them in the end.”

“Can I look at this more closely later?” Bill asked.

“I’d appreciate it if you would,” Harry agreed. “Whatever it does, Voldemort was very desperate to get it. If security’s an issue, then feel free to work on it here. We’ve got several basement rooms that aren’t used for anything anymore.”

“That will be fine,” the long-haired curse breaker agreed. “Err… we might want to cap it off for now, though.”

Harry looked around and took in several slightly sick faces. “Good call,” he said finally.

There were several sighs of relief from around the room as the lid was placed firmly back on the box.

“Well, that was certainly interesting,” Emmeline Vance understated. “I assume that there was other business to discuss, however, since the entire Order was convened.”

“Oh, nothing much,” Harry said easily. “We just thought that you all would like to know that we figured out how Voldemort went about making himself immortal.”

After several attempts to restore order, the group was finally quietened down, though several petitions for more details were levied. “Actually, Albus already had a large part of the answer,” Harry admitted. “I just happened to have read an obscure reference book, which filled in the blanks. The process is actually straightforward, and easily countered. I suppose the quickest route is to just show you what I’m talking about.” Harry looked over at Albus and asked, “Did you bring the Pensieve?” At the older man’s nod, he prompted, “Would you please show them the relative memories then?”

Albus produced the silvery bowl and sat it upon the tabletop before prodding it with his wand. The relevant scenes from their earlier session began to play out above the bowl for the closely watching Order. Once the memories were completed, Albus gave a brief explanation of what a Horcrux was and their theory as to how Voldemort used them.

“So,” Kingsley spoke up when Albus was done, “if we can find these… horcruxes – however many of them there are - and destroy them, then Voldemort can be destroyed? For good, this time?”

“Essentially,” Albus agreed.

“What about what the Prophet published today?” Hestia Jones spoke up. “If there’s a prophecy about You-Know-Who and Harry, can anyone else break these things, or does it have to be him?”

After garnering a few inquiring glances, Harry looked over at Albus and asked, “You mean that they spent all that time and effort guarding the Hall of Prophecy, and they didn’t even know why?” His question finished on an incredulous note.

“They knew that a prophecy existed, and that it was important that Voldemort not gain it, but that was all,” Albus responded honestly.

“Hmm,” Harry murmured, “I didn’t expect that little favor.” He continued in a louder voice. “As you probably have guessed by now, the prophecy you guarded last year involved both Voldemort and myself, and contained some fairly sensitive information. However, since the Ministry ruined your work and published a surprisingly accurate summary in the Prophet this morning, I may as well confirm your suspicions. The prophecy does discuss Voldemort’s demise, and it unmistakably references me as the one to do it.”

“Well, that makes a lot of sense,” Hermione blurted again. At several confused looks, she huffed and said, “Honestly! Every single move Voldemort has made since his return has been to get at Harry. He hasn’t worked to solidify his power base, or recruit more people, or launched any real strategic offenses. The only thing he’s done is enact different ways to stop Harry.”

The young witch looked as if someone turned on the metaphorical light as she jerked in her chair to stare directly at Harry. “And you know what that means…?” she prompted.

Harry smirked and nodded. “His greatest – and perhaps, only – fear is his death. He’s terrified of the concept of him dying and, since in his mind I represent his eminent defeat, he now fears me just as much.”

“Exactly!” Hermione agreed.

“So how does this help us?” Emmeline spoke up again.

“Just because you can’t strike at the threat itself doesn’t mean that you can’t attack its power base,” Harry responded. “There is nothing to prevent you from hunting down and destroying his horcruxes. And once those are gone, Voldemort becomes just one more dark wizard to vanquish.”

Remus put in his own opinion. “I hate to be pessimistic here, Harry, but the problem is that Voldemort will have done his best to hide them. It will be no small matter to locate those horcruxes and counter them. I mean, they could be anything, located anywhere. We don’t even know how many there are.”

Harry smiled. “It’s not as big of a chore as you might think. We already have two in our possession, and we located a third one earlier today.”

At the murmurs of amazement, Harry explained. “The first one was Riddle’s diary. What we initially took to be just some advanced charm work turned out to be the first depository of one of his soul fragments. I destroyed this horcrux over three years ago. The second, as you might have guessed from the pensieve memories, is the Gaunt family ring, which Albus found a few weeks ago in the ruins of the old Gaunt house. We haven’t destroyed the signet yet, in the hopes that we can disenchant the objects. It is possible that we will need the ring in the future, so we can’t just eliminate it.”

Taking a breath, Harry continued, “We believe that the other horcruxes will follow this set pattern. Voldemort likes to take trophies of his more… spectacular attacks, and he also has a strong fascination with the era of the beginnings of Hogwarts. The third horcrux I mentioned is a spelled locket belonging to the Slytherin family. It is currently located in a specific coastal cave where a young Tom Riddle attacked a couple of his orphanage mates years ago.”

“As for the remaining horcruxes… we suspect that a golden cup that used to belong to Helga Hufflepuff was used as a horcrux, but we don’t know its condition or location. For the others… Albus?” Harry pressed.

“Hmm…? Oh, yes. I have almost located the individual who unwittingly gave Voldemort the idea in the first place. Once we ascertain what happened then, we will have a better idea of which direction to head. In the interim, I would ask that those of you more inclined towards research endeavor to uncover as much as you can on the topic of Horcruxes and, more specifically, how to detect and destroy them. The Black family library upstairs may provide some assistance, provided we have permission to peruse it.” At Harry’s affirmative nod, Albus continued, “Additionally, the Hogwarts’ library may yield some useful information, should you wish to start there. For the rest of you, please keep a watch out for any information on potential horcruxes. As Harry said, the objects will most likely date to the time of the founders and have once been in their possession. If any of you unearth something important relating to these tasks… you know how to reach me.”

Pivoting his head to meet the gaze of everyone in that room, Albus asked, “Are there any other concerns?” His inspection found no new issues, so he finally stated, “Then I pronounce this meeting adjourned.”

“You are dismissed.”


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A/N: I apologize for the delay in this installment. The Order meeting was fairly important to me, and I ending up rewriting the entire scene four different times. Between my pickiness and the many interruptions of R/L, I was unable to meet my first of December update goal. However, I hope you all enjoyed this installment of ASR. I decided to end the chapter immediately at the end of the Order meeting due to the chapter’s length; Ch 8 weighs in at over 17,200 words!.

As usual, reviews are greatly appreciated.

Review Responses:

Brettwjohnson: Thank you for pointing out those two minor inconsistencies. They have been corrected.

Sterling-Ag: That’s the single biggest problem I have with writing this fic; I’ve read so much fanfic (and canon, for that matter) where Harry’s an incompetent weakling that I subconsciously overcompensate. I’ll try harder to make Harry more ‘Harry-like’ in the coming installments. Hopefully, the Harry portrayed in this chapter comes across as being closer to canon.

According to the HP Lexicon, Ted Tonks is a muggle-born. I think that Tonks even makes a comment in OotP about being a Half-Blood “Just like Harry”, which I took to mean one pureblood and one muggleborn parent.

Shentaro: Regarding your Ted Tonks question, see above. As for your other comment… I hope that the debate in this chapter met your expectations.

Fudge and Umbridge will be getting ‘theirs’, but not until after Harry & Co have their pow wow with Amelia Bones and the other competent ministry workers.
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