Harry and Bella join the Order.
A/N: Long story short, my life is very busy, and my muse is equally lazy. There is, however, one thing you need to know. No matter what site you're reading this on, my profile on fanfiction(dot)net has a lot of stuff that you probably want to read if you like my other stories, and are curious about my future projects.
I don't want to keep you guys waiting longer than I have to, so enjoy the chapter and please remember to review!
"This is one thing I'm glad that I didn't inherit," Bella commented, wrinkling her nose up in disgust.
"We have had many years to improve the interior," Dumbledore said with a smile. He stood with Bella and Harry on the walkway in front of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, the pair having arrived moments earlier via Portkey. The building itself was a fairly large manor, but it somehow seemed more like a shanty to anyone able to see it. Its stone walls had built up a truly astonishing amount of grime from years of being under complex Weather Protection Charms, and its windows were almost black, as if they had been burned.
"If the inside's so nice, why are we standing around out here?" Harry asked, slightly nervous in such an unfamiliar setting.
"Why indeed," Dumbledore echoed, pulling the door open and gesturing for Bella and Harry to enter before him. The entryway was surprisingly modern, suggesting that Dumbledore had been telling the truth, that the Order really had renovated the place in the recent past. They didn't have much time to look at their surroundings, though.
"You must be Harry, dear," a kind-faced woman with bright red hair said, striding up to meet them. She seemed on the verge of giving him a hug, but then thought better of it. "Everyone is in the next room over, if you'd like to go and meet them."
"This is Molly Weasley," Dumbledore said. "Molly, allow me to introduce Harry Potter and Bella Black."
The Weasley woman's expression soured slightly at Bella's name, but she was all smiles again a second later. "Lovely to meet you both."
"Likewise," Bella said softly, a smile that Harry knew to be fake on her face. He only managed a nod himself. A faint murmuring noise had permeated the room, causing Harry, Bella and Mrs. Weasley to look around curiously. Dumbledore only smiled.
"Would you lot go to your rooms already!" Mrs. Weasley shouted a minute later once she had discerned the source of the noise. A gaggle of redheads and a pair of brown-haired children of varying ages were whispering to each other at the top of the staircase. At Mrs. Weasley's command, they scattered.
"Albus, I'm afraid we're going to have to use an Imperturbable Charm tonight," Mrs. Weasley said tiredly. "I won't have gotten all of Fred and George's extendable ears from just the one purge. It always takes at least two or three to get everything."
"It's quite all right," Dumbledore said, still smiling jovially. "I'm sure that Harry would be happy to oblige, wouldn't you?"
"Er, I'm underage," Harry said, unsure of what Dumbledore was playing at.
"Of course you are, my apologies," Dumbledore said. "It's so easy to forget now that you're joining the Order." Mrs. Weasley's expression tightened noticeably at that, and she sent what she probably felt was a subtle glare at Bella, silently blaming her for Harry's upcoming induction.
Harry nodded in understanding. Dumbledore was using Mrs. Weasley's inability to hide her emotions to show him that his joining the Order would make waves, and that the tendency was clearly to blame his guardian for his own choices.
"Shall we, then?" Bella asked Harry pointedly, gesturing the same doorway that Mrs. Weasley had pointed out earlier. The door was open a crack, but not wide enough for Harry to spot anyone.
Rather than reply directly, Harry forced a smile and strode purposefully towards the door, pushing it open without preamble. A small crowd of perhaps a dozen or so individuals was gathered, all seeming fairly at ease with one another. At Harry's entrance, they looked up as one and as quickly as he had entered, Harry found himself surrounded by unfamiliar faces as they pressed in on him.
"It's an honor to meet you, Mr. Potter, I-"
"Diggle's the name, my boy, Dedalus Diggle-"
"I've always wanted to thank you for-"
"It's amazing, the resemblance to your father is quite-"
"Professor Flitwick!" Harry exclaimed, slipping past the crowd with no small amount of relief to greet his future professor.
"It's good to see you again, my boy," Flitwick squeaked, offering his hand to Harry, who latched onto it like a lifeline. The diminutive professor turned to face the room at large. "You should have seen him fighting Avery yesterday, possibly the best young duelist I've seen in all my years!"
"Some of us have already been on the receiving end of his skills," a pretty girl with bright green hair and a heart-shaped face said, chuckling to herself. "I'm Tonks, by the way."
"That sounds like a surname," Harry said, shaking her hand. He didn't recognize her from the fight in the Ministry, but she could well be poking fun at some of the others.
"That's because little Nymphadora doesn't like her first name very much," Bella's opponent from the Atrium put in, smiling at Harry. "I'm Sirius Black, by the way, your godfather." He leaned forward for his own handshake until Tonks poked his side with her wand.
"Oi! What have I told you about using that name?" she demanded.
Harry was distracted from the pair's amusing banter by another familiar face, his own main opponent from that same fight. "Kingsley Shacklebolt," the black Auror said, shaking Harry's hand with a smile. He had a very deep, comforting voice, and Harry felt instantly at ease in his presence. "And this surly fellow over here is Frank Longbottom."
"Glad we're on the same side," Frank said gruffly, taking Harry's hand once Kingsley had released it.
"So am I," Harry said with a nervous laugh. He was saved from further response by a man who he vaguely recognized, but couldn't recall from where. He looked young, but showed several signs of premature aging. His brown hair was already streaked with gray, and he had the beginnings of age lines around his mouth. Still, his eyes twinkled when they met Harry's. "Remus Lupin."
"Bella's told me loads about you," Harry said, shaking the werewolf's hand enthusiastically. And she had. Remus Lupin was an individual whose skills and intelligence were respected by both sides of the war. Unfortunately, mentioning Bella's name was not a good idea. His expression twisted briefly, but it was gone a moment later. He obviously had some sort of problem with Harry's guardian.
More noticeable was the reaction from Sirius. His face scrunched up in disgust even quicker than Molly Weasley's had, and showed no signs of changing back anytime soon.
A few other members had pulled their gazes away from Harry in favor of Bella, who was still standing near the entrance with Dumbledore.
"Hello there, my name is Dedalus Diggle," a wiry man with watery green eyes said immediately, not taking his eyes off of Bella's face for a second. Harry could almost hear her sigh of frustration from across the room.
"Bella Black," she said politely, taking his offered hand and only just managing to keep her expression neutral as he kissed it.
Several others followed Diggle's lead and introduced themselves to Bella, including Shacklebolt as well as Alice Longbottom, Frank's wife, though no one else put on such an amusing display.
An awkward silence fell, with several holdouts refusing to greet Bella. Thankfully, Dumbledore took the opportunity to clear his throat, immediately gaining the attention of everyone present. "Now that the introductions have been made we really ought to start the meeting. If you'll all make your way into the kitchen..."
The group immediately began to move towards a set of double doors at the far end of the room. Harry separated himself from Remus Lupin to find Bella behind everyone else. She met his eyes briefly, and Harry knew that she hadn't expected a warmer welcome. As he moved to stand beside her, he found his way barred by an aged witch who hadn't introduced herself to either one of them.
"Hello, Mr. Potter, I thought I'd say hello before the meeting starts. My name is Professor McGonagall, and I shall be teaching you Transfiguration."
"You're the Head of Gryffindor, right?" Harry asked, falling into step with her a pace ahead of Bella. He knew his guardian well enough to realize that she wouldn't be bothered by his lack of attention.
"Indeed I am," McGonagall said, a thin-lipped smile gracing her features. "But I have already heard that my House has lost you to the Ravenclaws. I don't suppose you play Quidditch, Mr. Potter?"
Harry shrugged. "I fly for fun, but there's hardly time for Quidditch in a world at war."
McGonagall's expression darkened at that, the line of her lips threatening to disappear entirely. "I'm sorry you feel that way, but if you inherited any of your father's skill on a broom, my House will be relieved."
Harry grinned at her briefly before looking around at the room they had just entered. The kitchen was as modern as the rest of the place, though they had kept the old stove, presumably to avoid any ambient magic interfering with an electric one. Harry noted that there weren't any adjacent seats left for them, and the only available ones were next to Molly Weasley or Sirius Black (McGonagall found a seat at Dumbledore's left). Sighing imperceptibly, he slid into the chair next to his godfather, enjoying the Weasley matriarch's sour expression as Bella sat next to her.
Dumbledore waited until Bella was fully seated to stand from his own seat at the head of the table, clasping his hands together and smiling at the group before him. "Now that everyone is here, we can begin the meeting." As he spoke, he withdrew his wand from his sleeve and cast a pair of nonverbal charms at the double doors, causing them to slam shut and seal themselves from any and all outside eavesdropping attempts. "The first order of business is, of course, the induction of our two new members. If anyone has any reason why the either or both of them should not be admitted, please speak now, or risk irritating the rest of us later." How he managed to say that with a straight face was a mystery to Harry.
Molly Weasley raised her hand immediately, as did Remus Lupin and a dignified young witch who had previously identified herself as Emmeline Vance.
"I myself have objections to both of them joining, Albus," Molly Weasley said, speaking before the aged headmaster could wave anyone else forward. To her right, Bella was clearly trying not to laugh, and to her left, her balding husband was shaking his head as if stubbornly denying his wife's foolishness.
"Let us address your objections one at a time, if you don't mind," Dumbledore said. "Begin with whichever one you feel is most vital."
"Very well," Mrs. Weasley said, giving Harry a patronizing smile. "I'm afraid that Harry is far too young to join the Order. He hasn't even reached his majority yet!"
Several Order members spoke out in response to this, but beyond Sirius' obvious disagreement with the woman's statement, he couldn't tell who had come down on which side.
"Silence," Dumbledore said clearly, the word carrying with it a magical compulsion. The room immediately fell deathly quiet. "Your objection would be valid, Molly, if I planned on sending Harry out into the field. As it is, his membership is little more than the knowledge of our secrets and the right to a voice of his own in our meetings. Besides, several people in this room can already attest to both his uncanny ability to circumvent the Restriction of Under-Age Sorcery as well as his skill in combat. Do either of you have further objections to Harry's admittance?" Dumbledore finished, nodding at Lupin and Vance.
"I do," Remus said, giving Harry an apologetic look. "It's not that I don't respect his abilities, but are we absolutely certain that he should be learning our secrets? Isn't he also a potential security threat?"
"Perhaps he would be under different circumstances," Dumbledore said. "It is here that I'm afraid you and anyone else harboring similar doubts must simply trust my judgment. Harry has shared enough about himself to convince me to allow him full membership without reservation. He knows that keeping a low profile is a must, and as such is not asking for any field assignments before his majority. Harry, have I left anything out?"
"Not really, Headmaster," Harry said, trying to keep his tone as respectful as he possibly could. "I might have more to say about objections to my guardian's membership, but only if the objectors," here he nodded solemnly at both Vance and Mrs. Weasley, "aren't satisfied by your own justifications first."
"And on that note, Molly, I believe you also had some form of objection to Bella's upcoming induction?"
Mrs. Weasley looked downright mutinous at being all but ignored, but seemed willing to take Dumbledore's word on the matter. Harry didn't have more than a second to be grateful for her blind follower mentality before she was at it again, her shrill voice angering Harry more than he would have thought possible. "Albus, she was a Death Eater! She kidnapped poor Harry! How can we possibly be expected to take her word on anything?"
Harry looked around the table for reactions, seeing everything from smug approval (Sirius) to complete disgust (Shacklebolt). Bella, on the other hand, smiled.
"Molly, I'm afraid you've rather thoroughly answered your own questions," Dumbledore said, his own maddening smile undisturbed. "Indeed, she was a Death Eater. And while kidnapping is a rather serious crime, I myself would be hard-pressed to criticize her parenting skills, if the result truly is this young man sitting before us. And finally, considering the fact that I interviewed the pair of them before inviting them here, I believe it is safe to say that you're taking my word rather than either of theirs. Miss Vance, have you anything to add?"
"Albus, you can make light of her crimes all you want, but that doesn't change what she's done," she said harshly.
"Let's not forget that she isn't the first Death Eater to join our ranks," Frank Longbottom said, jerking his head at the man to Dumbledore's right. Harry hadn't noticed him before, but Bella's descriptions had proved perfectly accurate.
There was no mistaking Severus Snape.
"And if we're taking Dumbledore's word on me, we can't very well judge another one too harshly, can we?" Snape spat, his dislike for most (if not all) of those present clearly evident in his tone and posture. His black eyes swept across the room until they finally met Harry's. The man's lips curled into a sneer, but he said nothing.
Harry, for his part, did what he could to remain expressionless. He hoped he had succeeded.
"Snape's got a point," Elphias Doge wheezed, weighing in for the first time.
"What about you, Dung?" Sirius asked, drawing the room's attention. "Didn't you say that she once threatened you?"
Harry's internal question about the name "Dung" was answered a moment later when a pile of rags in the far corner of the room shifted to reveal a squat, bandy-legged man, who had apparently been dozing when Harry was introduced to the rest of the Order. Even though he had hardly moved, his slight stir was enough to send a foul, unidentifiable aroma wafting straight into Harry's nostrils. He tried desperately not to choke as the man spoke.
"Bellatrix Lestrange! Wake up and pay attention, mate!" Sirius looked a little less than pleased with the knowledge that his star witness had been sleeping through the meeting.
"Oh right, 'er," the smelly man said dazedly. "Well I 'ad just bought a fine set of watches from, er, well never you mind where from, but it was completely legal, I swear-"
"Today, please, Fletcher," McGonagall said impatiently.
"An' she an' that rotten 'usband of 'ers jus' grabbed me and asked where somefin was, can't rightly remember what..."
"Fletcher!" McGonagall snapped.
"Right, sorry Perfessor. Well 'er 'usband was all for torturin' me, an' she told him to back off and looked at me, looked me right in the eye, an' said, 'If yeh don't tell me what I wanna know, no one'll ever find yer body,' or somefin like that. Yeh got the long an' short of it, though, right?"
The collective gaze of the table moved to Bella, who shrugged unconcernedly. "Well it isn't as if I actually killed him. Ask your Auror friends here how many similar threats they've made."
"Not a one!" the green-haired girl said exuberantly.
"Tonks," Alice Longbottom began, "be a dear and shut up for a moment."
The young Auror complied, giving Harry a wink.
"That evidence isn't nearly enough to keep her out of the Order, Sirius," Lupin said in a weary tone. "It isn't even as bad as half of the things we did back in our Hogwarts days."
"A fact that I was about to point out myself!" Flitwick added, eliciting a few laughs from around the table. Harry saw that Snape's expression hadn't changed. It was obvious, however, from the looks of barely contained anger on Molly Weasley, Sirius and Vance's faces that the motion was about to be dropped.
"If there are no other objections, then it is time to swear our new members in," Albus said. "Minerva, if you would do the honors."
What followed would have put Harry to sleep, had he not been required to participate for half of it. He and Bella both had to recite a vow that must have been five pages on paper, and then sign their names on what was no doubt a jinxed piece of parchment. When replaying it in his mind later, Harry would wonder if he could have used Occlumency to prevent the jinxes from taking hold, like Snape probably had.
"On to the main agenda, I think," Dumbledore said after Harry had signed, pocketing the parchment. "We have a great deal to discuss today, but a very limited time to do so. Our first order of business, of course, is the attack that occurred in Diagon Alley. Is everyone familiar with the attack itself?" At everyone's nods, he continued. "Very well, then I give the floor to Alice. Tell us what you have learned from the prisoners."
"Minister Fudge insisted on being present at the interrogation, and made himself as much of an obstacle as he possibly could. One of the only things we were able to obtain for the record is that the Death Eaters-and they were Death Eaters-that fled the scene were Lucius Malfoy, who orchestrated the attack, Cassandra Yaxley and both Alecto and Amycus Carrow. We obtained a warrant to search all of their family homes, but found that the Death Eaters had fled. Minister Fudge again intervened during this part of the investigation, insisting that we not do anything more invasive than question Narcissa Malfoy at her manor without any form of truth serum. As expected, we learned nothing."
"Just another piece to add to our Obstruction of Justice case against Fudge," Sirius said bitterly.
"A case that's nowhere near ready to be presented," Hestia Jones added. "What can that man possibly be thinking?"
"Unfortunately, his disbelief isn't at all unreasonable, at least not from his perspective," Sturgis Podmore put in. "The evidence of You-Know-Who's return isn't overwhelming, especially given our lack of eye-witnesses. Still, he had no business impeding an official investigation like that. Protecting those that line his pockets is my guess."
"What have Amelia Bones and Rufus Scrimgeour got to say about the situation?" Flitwick asked.
"They've issued standing orders-off the record, of course-to interrogate any more Death Eaters we find before bringing them in. Scrimgeour is especially interested in what Lucius Malfoy will have to say about Fudge under Veritaserum," Shacklebolt said.
"Bella, do you have anything to add?" Dumbledore asked. "Any places that the Death Eaters might have fled to?"
"Voldemort was always careful about where we met," Bella said, watching nearly everyone around the table flinch. "He had three places that he regularly called us, but they were all warded and dark enough that I never had any idea where I was. The Dark Mark was designed so that we couldn't locate him except to apparate to his side."
"How did you know that they were three different places, then?" Vance asked skeptically.
"I could see enough of the floors to recognize different types of flooring," Bella explained.
"We might actually have something for you on that, Albus," Frank said, gesturing to include Sirius. "The Carrows have been spotted multiple times in the Great Hangleton area, shortly before they disappear."
"No apparition?" McGonagall asked sharply.
"Nor Portkeys," Sirius said. "We think that Voldemort could be somewhere in the area, or at least some sort of Death Eater hideout."
"Severus?" Dumbledore asked, effectively shifting all eyes to Snape.
"As Bella said, I do not know where the Dark Lord calls us to, except that it is never the same location twice," Harry couldn't tell if he was lying or not, and from her expression, neither could Bella.
"What about what Bella said, the bit about having three different locations on rotation?" Tonks asked.
"The Dark Lord has changed his pattern of behavior," Snape said. "He no longer risks using the same location twice."
"But that doesn't mean that Great Hangleton isn't worth investigating," Sirius pressed. "If Voldemort is always calling them to a different location, then he probably has a home base that he doesn't want everyone to know about. It's possible that the Carrows are privy to that information, or it could just be a safe house. Either way, we've got a warrant for their arrest, so we're checking it out."
"I trust that you will keep us informed about anything else that comes up during your investigation," Dumbledore stated rather than asked.
"Of course," Frank said.
"What else is do we have to cover?" Tonks asked curiously after a suitable pause.
"I had thought we could use the remaining time for any questions for our newest members," Dumbledore said with a slightly embarrassed smile at Bella. "If that's all right, that is."
"We won't answer just anything," Bella warned, "but I don't see what harm a few simple questions could do."
"I'll excuse myself," Snape snapped, rising from his chair and striding out of the room without another word, slamming the door behind him.
"Stupid bloody wanker," Sirius muttered as Dumbledore recast the Imperturbable Charm on the door.
Bella looked up and down the table, but no one seemed willing to ask the first question. "If no one has any questions-"
"Where did you go?" Tonks interrupted. "Where did you take Harry?"
"Cameroon," Bella said, smirking as several people gasped.
"How in the name of Merlin did you get them to let you into one of their villages?" Podmore asked incredulously.
"I taught them a few combat spells. Nothing Dark, but enough to give them a definite edge," Bella said, choosing to omit the first chief's other demand.
"What was it like down there?" Remus asked curiously.
"Quiet, for the most part," Bella said. "A bit too quiet, if I'm being honest. Still, it was an ideal place to raise Harry away from the demands of our world, even if Nanultka is technically a part of it.
"What language do they speak?" Flitwick asked.
"Several, but the most common was French," Harry answered.
"That's the only one that we bothered to learn, at any rate," Bella added. "That village is where my intentions changed."
"From those of a Death Eater to something else?" Vance asked.
"It's where she learned what being a parent does to a person," Harry said. He could see that the Order was divided in response to that. The parents and teachers were all nodding thoughtfully, with Mrs. Weasley looking at Bella as though she had never seen her before, but the rest didn't quite understand what he was getting at. "She learned to put someone else before her in everything. She loved me."
"That's when I realized that I couldn't use Harry like I had planned to. I could only raise him to be...a good person, I suppose," Bella said.
"Problem was, me being a good person wouldn't save me from Voldemort," Harry said mirthlessly, ignoring the collective flinch around the table. "So even while I was having fun and getting regular school lessons from Bella, she was helping me understand that not everyone was as friendly as the people in Nanultka, and that I would probably have to learn to fight just to stay alive. With that in mind, we returned to England on my eleventh birthday. Bella taught me all of the Hogwarts curriculum, as well as a few other things, things that I've already had to use here to stay alive."
It was Sirius who broke the ensuing silence. "I guess...good on you, Bella." It was clear from his expression that he was far from happy with his cousin, but that seemed to be the only thing he could say that would satisfy his pride.
"Thanks, Sirius," Bella said.
"What sorts of other things did she teach you?" Vance pressed.
"More importantly," Mr. Weasley cut in, seeing Harry's eyes narrow, "what will you tell the rest of the world?"
"The Ministry has already had the Prophet publish a piece about Harry being raised in an undisclosed, but safe location," Bella said. "I'm going to come forward as Harry's guardian to the right people in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and they're going to insert me in as the Ministry's appointed guardian."
"Do you really think that will work?" Frank asked skeptically.
"The Minister painted himself into a bit of a corner when he authorized that article," Bella said. "He can't call me anything but the perfect guardian unless he wants to risk his own position."
"You're even more right than you know," Shacklebolt said. "Lucius Malfoy is Fudge's main unofficial financial backer, but he's one that almost everyone inside the Ministry and out knows about. Given what Malfoy is being accused of, Fudge is already on thin ice."
"What about the prophecy?" Harry asked, knowing that Dumbledore would take the hint.
"We have round-the-clock guards stationed at the moment," the headmaster said. "William Weasley is there right now. Beginning tomorrow, I shall create a Portkey that will be passed from guard to guard. If anyone attempts to break in, use the Portkey immediately rather than attempt to apprehend the intruder. Contact me from there."
"Why the change in protocol?" Podmore asked.
"With still more Death Eaters in Azkaban, the likelihood that Voldemort himself will perform the break-in has increased dramatically," Dumbledore replied. The thought of facing down Voldemort alone was enough for Podmore to abandon that line of questioning.
"If that's all, I should probably go upstairs and warn the kids not to be concerned about Bella," Mr. Weasley said, smiling good-naturedly.
"I'll go with you, Arthur," Mrs. Weasley said, now clearly unsure of what to think of Harry's guardian.
As the Weasleys rose to leave, Harry felt something impact the palm of his hand from under the table. Looking down, he saw a small ball of parchment that unfurled before his very eyes. It read "Stay Here" in a long, slanted script that probably belonged to Dumbledore. A quick glance at Sirius' lap showed an identical scrap before both were tugged back under the table by some invisible force.
"I'll be off as well," Vance said, rising in her seat. "Coming Hestia, Kingsley?"
"You two go on without me," Shacklebolt said in his deep, calming voice. "I'm not going home straightaway."
Most of the Order made to leave with them, leaving only those who had received a parchment from Dumbledore, with one exception.
"Dedalus, if you don't mind, I've got a legal matter that I'd like your advice on in the other room," Flitwick said after meeting Dumbledore's gaze.
"Of course, Professor," the man in question said, making quite a show of rising from his seat. Harry watched him sneak one last glance at Bella in the doorway on his way out.
"What's this about, Albus," Alice Longbottom asked.
"We should wait for Filius," McGonagall said.
"No need, no need!" Flitwick said, hurrying back into his seat and turning to recast the charm again.
"How did you get rid of him so quickly?" Harry asked.
"Never mind that," Flitwick said, though Harry noted that he looked a bit guilty. "What has Albus kept us here for?"
"And why us?" Sirius added.
"Because out of the entire Order, only you lot know enough Occlumency to keep a secret," Harry said bluntly.
"What sort of secret?" Alice asked.
"Snape isn't on our side," Bella said simply.
"That has not been proven yet," Dumbledore said sharply.
"The evidence points overwhelmingly in that direction, though," Harry said dryly.
"There was only circumstantial evidence presented at his trial," Doge pointed out.
"That was a simple oversight on the Ministry's part," Bella said, waving one hand impatiently. "At the time, I couldn't inform them that Snape-with the help of Wormtail-executed James Potter on Halloween of 1981. Combine that with the fact that he credited Wormtail with the kill to Albus..."
"And I've been letting him into my /home/?!" Sirius growled, clenching and unclenching his hands, a slightly mad gleam in his eyes.
"Yes, well you're going to have to continue to admit him, unfortunately," Harry said sourly. "Apparently the Headmaster isn't convinced of his guilt."
Sirius rounded on Dumbledore furiously, while Harry and Bella sat back as one, content to observe for the moment. "What is the matter with you?!"
"I do not believe Severus to be guilty of killing James Potter," Dumbledore said.
"You think she's lying," Frank said, his expression unreadable.
"No, but I believe she may be incorrect in her assumption," Dumbledore replied carefully.
"Come off it, Dumbledore," Sirius said angrily. "What in the name of Merlin could Snape have possibly told you to make you stick by him with such blind loyalty?"
"Few have ever accused me of being blind, Sirius," Dumbledore said mildly, but there was an underlying edge to his tone. "In any case, Bella and Harry have convinced me that we have nothing to lose by keeping Severus somewhat out of the loop for the time being. Unfortunately, that means keeping everyone else outside this room ignorant of some of our plans and knowledge as well. Severus is a very skillful Legilimens, as most of you know."
"What else will we be keeping secret?" Remus asked.
"As of right now? Not very much," Dumbledore replied.
"Only one thing, really," Bella said. "The prophecy record has been destroyed. That was the purpose of our little visit to the Department of Mysteries."
"We should have guessed," Shacklebolt said, meeting Sirius' gaze.
"And its contents?" Alice asked, watching Harry.
"The short version is that it's him or me," Harry said.
"/You/ have to kill him?" McGonagall asked, horrified. Everyone else present seemed to be reacting the same way.
"Yes, but I don't have to do it alone," Harry said, gesturing to include Bella and Dumbledore.
"Of course you don't," Flitwick agreed. "I'll be right there with you!"
"We all will," Remus said, looking around the room.
"No need to start planning the final confrontation just yet," Harry said with a smile. "I'm not even out of school yet."
"And while that most certainly will not stop Voldemort," Dumbledore began, pausing for the expected flinch, which came from fewer people than Harry might have expected, "it will make things much more difficult for him."
"But You-Know-Who doesn't know the prophecy, right?" Doge asked, seeking clarification.
"And that is our best weapon against him at the moment," Dumbledore said. "As long as he is uncertain of the contents, he is unlikely to risk very much by going after Harry directly. We must remain vigilant, as Alastor would say, but we cannot let fear of Voldemort run our lives."
The meeting broke up soon afterwards, and Sirius immediately took Harry aside as Dumbledore and the other professors made their way to the front of the house. "Let me show you upstairs, Harry, I'm sure you're dying to meet the other kids."